The Great and Terrible Lie of “Today’s Special”

Part 1

Right before I moved away from the Philippines, I made one of the most remarkable purchases of my life. I felt like it was time for a new phone, and upon visiting my neighbourhood mall I was bewildered by the number of kiosks selling a range of completely unrecognizable, totally no-name Android phones at dirt cheap prices. In the end, I settled on a model from Firefly Mobile, which boasted remarkable specs for a remarkably low price of approximately $100 US. The phone ended up serving me well, its 3GB of RAM allowing me to clutter up the memory space with idle apps, and the Sony camera lens took some pretty good pictures – Even if most of the pictures in my blog don’t exactly bear this claim out.

I began raving to my friends about my magical cheapie phone, though my ardour was somewhat dampened by the fact that I left the Philippines two weeks after buying this seemingly Philippine-only brand. I only encountered one other person who ever owned a Firefly phone, and I accepted that Firefly was doomed to be one more thing among many that only I, the great bearer of that terrible burden of solitary enlightenment, can truly love and appreciate.

A year later, I returned to the Philippines to catch up with old friends and, most importantly, to see the dogs that I had given up for adoption. I stayed in an Airbnb, a tiny studio unit in a condo complex attached to a mall. The mall had its own forlorn little Firefly kiosk, which I would pass by each day. The kiosk would either be staffed by an extremely bored-looking woman with no customers, or would be empty.

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Little Lifetimes: Kuala Lumpur

When I finally left the Philippines, never to live there again, I felt lost. No matter how much I had traveled before that, often for months at a time after moving out of my latest Manila condo, I always knew that I had a country to come back to in the end – a place to settle down for another year and live something like a sane life. (And no, my birth country of Canada doesn’t count, because my feelings toward that place are so weighed down with painful memories and bad associations that I feel hesitant applying a warm and fuzzy word like “home” to it.) When I left the Philippines, I felt relieved to be free – free to travel and move around, without having to worry about my furniture, appliances and dogs. But I also knew I didn’t have the energy to embark on a whirlwind around-the-world backpacking adventure. So I paced my travel plans, let myself stop to soak up the local atmosphere in different countries, and that’s how I began living little lifetimes – Those periods when I stayed in one place for a month or less, but where the experience was so intense, and my feeling of immersion was so deep, that I felt like a different person living a different life. These little lifetimes had their own dramatic arcs, beginning with initial enthusiasm, following into frustration, and ending in peaceful acceptance of the limitations of my new, temporary life. And each of these lives would feel disconnected from everything that came before and after.

My first little lifetime was in Taipei, where I spent a month in a craggy old apartment in a colourful, historic neighbourhood, literally across the alley from a night market. I met a pretty Taiwanese woman on the subway, and we had an intense, aching, laughter-filled, strangely chaste month-long romance with a built-in expiry date. But my overall experience of Taipei remains so raw that I am not yet ready to write about it. My second little lifetime was in Kuala Lumpur. Read More

Facebook IDs Are A Thing, People!

When I try to add someone on Facebook, their ignorance often transforms what should be a simple act into an agonizing ordeal. Even people who seem fairly tech-savvy don’t seem to be aware that there is a better way to be found on Facebook than by searching for their name, which is usually shared by hordes of people. (The fact that these people usually look nothing like them sort of feels like a betrayal, but that’s another story.) “Just search for Jane Smith,” the individual will helpfully suggest. “I’m the one with the face.”

Admittedly, I am sure there are times when these individuals – say, the ones who were female and weren’t necessarily keen to have any ongoing contact with me – didn’t want to make the process of adding them any easier than it had to be. But there are other people who have shown genuine enthusiasm about forming friendships while also displaying an amazing ignorance of the basic workings of the world’s largest social media platform.

In case you want to be my friend and don’t consider me creepy and annoying (or, if you happen to like making friends with creepy and annoying people), let me help you out: Your Facebook account has a unique ID that makes it possible for you to be found instantly, just by being entered into a Facebook search box. So in a rare public service, let me show you where you can find it:

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How To Get Banned From A Houston Karaoke Bar

Whenever I fly to Latin America from Canada, I try to get the longest layovers that I can in the United States. I will strategically tweak my flight times on Google Flights so that I can stay in one city for as close as 24 hours as possible – but not more, because going over 24 hours will effectively make it count as two separate tickets and easily double the ticket price. There’s an art to it, but I’ve gotten quite good at squeezing in these little American mini-vacations on the way to my actual destination.

Now you may ask, how much can you really do in 23 hours? And if you ask this, you’ve probably never spent 23 hours in Houston. Hell, even a layover at the unfortunately named George Bush Intercontinental Airport(!!!) tends to be an experience: The airport is an incredible mix of different kinds of people, with a preponderance of gregarious Latinos traveling through this major gateway to Latin America. I also enjoy seeing how many Wendy’s I can find throughout the many terminals – I’d estimate there are about 4-5, though I feel like I’m just scratching the surface. One of my great American memories remains landing in Houston en route to my first trip to Mexico and having a Real American Breakfast at Wendy’s: a piece of fried chicken wedged between two biscuits, soaked in pancake syrup. Canadian Wendy’s is way too passive-aggressive to serve anything that awesome.

But if you can get into the city itself, Houston is really something else. I’ve tremendously enjoyed American friendliness and hospitality in comparatively sane cities like Seattle and Chicago, but each of my 23-hour stopovers in Houston has been an experience too intense and delirious to easily describe. In fact, my visits to Houston greatly strengthen my suspicions that I am actually living inside a simulation (more on that in another post). Read More