Materialism

It is slightly awkward and entirely satirical that I find myself writing about this topic. Over the years, I’ve read many articles that talk about over indulged developed countries juxtaposed with developing countries that struggle to feed their population. At some point in time, I have come to peace with myself that as long as I’m not spending beyond my means then it would be okay.

Last week, I battled with my own materialism, in a very real physical way. I was tasked with packing our condo for a temporary move back to my parents. We lived in a 570 sq. ft. condo, and I was of the belief that we did not own that much “stuff”. But when I began packing, I realized that “not that much” was a lot!

Here is a photo for those that want to see the progress. (Not even at the half way point yet) Untitled The realization was much more epic as I packed boxes after boxes, and somewhere along the way, I threw out my back. When we finished packing and we had approximately 35 boxes. The complete breakdown is as follows:

    • 3 boxes of shoes;
    • 3 boxes of alcohol;
    • 15 boxes of clothes;
    • 6 boxes of books; and
    • 8 boxes of kitchen/ pantry items

I’m not sure when and how all this accumulated, but the visualization of this was a bit of a shock for me. Half the boxes were food related and the other half clothes, which I think is quite befitting of our life style. And this is the after photo of me being lost in all our stuff. Untitled After packing everything away, I packed a backpack of items that I treasure which includes:

  • My Gohonzon
  • 3 irreplaceable collectors items that I will save for another time to disclose
  • Laptop & Cell phone
  • Wallet

As I looked at the empty condo, with my backpack on, I felt light. I felt like all I ever need is in this backpack so why do I have so much stuff to begin with? There was an urge at that point in time to head to the airport, see what flights were leaving YYZ, and just take off. Resisting that urge was a test of will and you would not believe how hard it was.

I remember a quote from Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, The Doctrines of Three Thousand Realms:

We see that this fleshly form received in birth from our parents, this body bound by earthly desires, is none other than the Thus Come One who has existed always and is ever-abiding. This is what is called the attainment of Buddhahood in one’s present form, the realization that earthly desires are none other than enlightenment and that the sufferings of birth and death are none other than nirvana.

At this time when we gaze at the phenomenal world, we see that all things conform to the single principle of the Middle Way, and that the Buddha and living beings are one.

This passage reminds us that we are all humans, and because we are humans we have earthly desires.  But, at the same time, it is these desires that propel us forward in life and make us continue to strive for the next best thing. What is important is to not allow these desires to engulf and blind us, while on the other hand to not deprive ourselves of the pleasures of life.

It goes on to explain that, the realization that these earthly desires, as well as birth, aging, sickness and death are all cycles of life. True happiness comes from the principle of Middle Way where we are not swayed by the ups and downs in life, and that we develop strong inner strength and character.

So after 35 boxes, 1 crazy day of moving, and a sprained back I’ve learned to come to peace with my materialism again. I’ve forgiven myself a little, learned that if I were to lose it all one day I should always remember that I already have what I need.

Helsingor

One of the most visited town for tourists visiting CPH because it’s only a 45min train ride away. A return ticket cost around 90DKK x 2 = 180 DKK. However, if you are just making a day trip, Helsingor is within the 5 zones and you can buy a unlimited ride day pass which only cost 130 DKK. (Saves you about $20 CAD)

Train travel in Denmark is very comfortable and convenient. The lovely thing is that the train stations all look very unique. This is the Helsingor Train Station. Looks like a chateau!

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Helsingborg is a small city near the port. On clear sunny days, you can see Sweden from Helsingborg. The main attraction here is Krongborg Slot.

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But the town itself is very old and shouldn’t be missed. You can expect one of those tiny cozy towns with colorful houses dotting narrow cobblestone streets.

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Among the historical buildings, this cathedral stood out. The brick work is very interesting, the patterns are bold. The garden is well kept.

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The jewel of this cathedral is the courtyard. There’s something so captivating about a perfectly squared courtyard with a single tree in the middle. For whatever reason, it felt nostalgic like I’ve seen this before. But among my travels, I don’t recall ever seeing this.

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I wandered out to the docks. The weather was fantastic before, but the clouds moved in quickly.  Created the perfect sky backdrop for this shot.

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Selfie: No pole climbing here.

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Close to the docks you will see an interesting building. It’s a community centre/ public library. You can’t miss it when you go because it is one of the more modern looking structures. I love how Danes really focus on getting light into buildings. It’s dark most of the time in Denmark, so they use larger windows and a lot of glass to maxim light from the sun.

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Standing Tall

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Photo: Ihlara Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

I’ve always considered myself to be very lucky.  Through traveling and various lucky encounters I had the opportunity to meet a lot of really amazing people in my life.

Today, for whatever reason I thought about my encounters with Spencer West.  I was really lucky to have met him through Alex, a friend from SGI.  The first time I met him was through SGI meetings, then I saw him again when I volunteered for We Day.  I also have a few friends that work for Free the Children so I was lucky enough to get a signed copy of Spencer’s book, ” Standing Tall: My Journey”.  In the book he wrote, “Stand tall Stella”. It was so encouraging and inspiring.

Spencer’s story is amazing if you have not heard of him yet. Reading his story made me realize that the a lot of the limitations in our lives are the ones we place ourselves. We must overcome our own weakness and fears if we want to take on the bigger challenge of helping others become happy.

Along the same lines, when I took this picture I marveled at all tall and straight the trees are. It made me think of this quote from Nichiren Daishonin:

A blue fly, if it clings to the tail of a thoroughbred horse, can travel ten thousand miles, and the green ivy that twines around the tall pine can grow to a thousand feet.

This quote talks about the importance of having a correct life philosophy.  Something that will withstand the test of time, and a philosophy that is for the people.  I find this is true if you have true friends in life.  Friends and mentors that can become your tree, people that can help you surpass your limit.

Friends that can help you stand tall.
So that you can stand tall for others.

Venturing East

My curiosities have taken me to the less traveled parts of Europe.  Eastern Europe has always intrigued me.  Stories of gypsies, Dracula, lonely beaches, and misty mountains come to mind.   It was a part of the world that I knew very little about, and what better way to learn about something than to go experience it first hand.  When I learned that my dear friend Olga was working in Izmir for a year, I jumped at the opportunity to go visit her and check it out.  And so my journey began -researching, deciding, changing my mind, researching, saving, saving, saving..

I had no idea that airfare would be so costly -though mind you I was traveling during Christmas peak season.  Nonetheless, I try not to let finances impact my travel decisions.  With that being said, I did have to save up a bit.  I had a bit of Petro Points saved up so I converted it all to CAA Dollars, and used it towards my flight.  It was about $1k, which really helped a lot.  (At one point or another, I’ll do a post on playing the Areoplan miles/ CAA dollar game.)

So without delving too much on expenses here is a quick breakdown of how much the entire trip cost.

Flight: $2.4K CDN
Food, Hotel, Spending: $2k CDN

I know most of you would be very interested in how much I specifically spent on each place.  Those will be detailed in my later posts.

So without further adieu, on December 20, 2013 I left for my first stop: Sofia, Bulgaria.

IMG_5704By the way, the little person on the right is Ru.  We will be braving the unknown together.

Dineen

I’ve been in downtown training for the past week, and I fully took advantage of that.  I met up with a few SGI friends who are super pro photographers to go over details for the Oct 12 concert.  We went to Dineen Coffee for the meet.  I was super excited because I always wanted to try out this place.  I’ve walked by it many times and the interior is so trendy and nice.  Perfect for a get together with friends.
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The Baristas were super nice, and we had a quick chat while they were making my latte.  My latte was okay.  The esspresso shot was very good.  It had a very earthy, woody taste to it, which I enjoyed.  The foam was slightly below par, which is why I said my latte was only okay.  The foam consistency was a bit coarser than I liked.  The temperature was done properly -which is hot to the touch at approximately just under 70 degrees Celsius.  Overall, my experience here was good.  I said the latte was okay because I’m holding it to a higher standard -but if you want to know it’s definitely better than your chain coffee shops like Starbucks or Aroma.

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Where: Dineen Coffee
Location: Toronto, Ontario

What: Latte
Verdict: Great hangout place.

Dineen Coffee on Urbanspoon

Origin

After wine class on Tuesday, R and I was on the hunt for food.  We happened to be in the area and decided to give Origin a try.  The place was fairly busy for Tuesday late night.  The menu looked really interesting and it seems like I won’t be disappointed.

R decided to have the burger with Spanish fries. The burger was fairly tasty.  The burger bun was good, the bread was soft and went well with the meat.  The meat was a bit over cooked, and too dry.  I think it would have been better if the cheese was in the middle of the burger, so that when you bite into it it’s juicy and melts in your month.  Overall, this is just your average burger.

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Spanish fries.  We weren’t sure why this is called the Spanish fries.  It was essentially a poutine.  It had sausages, cheese, sour cream, tomato…etc. It had a bit of a spicy kick to it.  It was yummy, but nothing that wow-ed us.  I think we could’ve got something similar from Smoke’s.

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I decided on the sashimi tuna salad.  It was a bit spicy, sour and sweet with avocado, zucchini, seaweed, pepper, and rice cracker bits.  There was so much sauce in the salad, it overpowered EVERYTHING on the plate. I could not taste anything but the sauce. It was to a point where you can’t even tell you were eating tuna sashimi. It was VERY disappointing.

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Where: Origin
Location: Toronto, Ontario

What: Sashimi Tuna Salad, Spanish Fries, Burger
Verdict: Disappointing. Will not go back.

Origin Restaurant on Urbanspoon

2:1

Ru and I were out again on a hunt for yummies around downtown Toronto.  After an hour of battling traffic, we finally made it downtown to our first destination: Ematei.  With 88% rating on Urbanspoon, I had high hopes for this place.  Around 8pm, the restaurant was packed.  We waited for a bit and was finally seated.

Short of dying of hunger, we quickly ordered.  Up first was the Tacowasa.  This is raw squid with a touch of salt and wasabi.  Tasted like how it was suppose to taste.

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Ru had ordered the ramen and unfortunately I didn’t get to take a photo before she started eating. The broth was very rich and had this veggie taste in it.  I also tasted a hint of butter, I’m not sure if there was actual butter in the broth or it was something else.  The noodle was a bit more al dente than we liked.  You could taste that the noodle was from a package and in fact we it tasted a bit like plastic.  The pork was over cooked and not fatty enough to make it soft and juice.  Overall verdict, not worth it.

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Then we ordered a grilled black cod.  The fish tasted very sweet and it was very smooth.  Normally I would say fish does have that sweet fresh taste to it, but this sweetness is way too sweet.  It almost felt like it was marinated in a sugary sauce.  It tasted yummy, but I question if it was from the sugar.

We were still hungry, but decided that it was really time to go as food was not that great.

Where: Ematei
Location: Toronto, Ontario

What: Tacosawa, Ramen, Black Cod
Verdict: Overrated.  Will not be back.

Ematei Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Unsatisfied, we decided that we should hit up a restaurant with higher rating.  Richmond Station was on our list for a while and since neither of us have been we decided to head over.  At around 10pm, the dining room was packed.  We tried to get a table for sit down but was told that it would be a 20 min wait.  We decided to hang out at the standing bar and have a drink.  One look at the wine list and it was unimpressive.  The selection was so small, that I probably had a bigger selection of wine at home.

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Upon the waitress’ recommendation we went with the 2011 Roussanne.  The wine was too dry without food.  It had average balance with hints of lemon, honeysuckle and floral.  Not really my glass of wine.

After being sick of waiting, we decided to order an appetizer to see how the food is here and if it was worth continuing to wait.  We debated between the smoked trout rillettes and the corn and scallop pakoras.  I love scallops but I find that it is rarely done right, so I always stay away from it.  But since Richmond Station received a lot of raves and praises on Urbanspoon, I decided to give it a shot.

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And here it is.  The sauce is spiced yogurt.  One bite into it and I could taste zucchini, a bit of chilli, coriander, chutney and corn.  But where’s the scallop?  I don’t think I need to go on to say how disappointed I was with the pankoras.  The scallop was in small tiny pieces, over cooked, and all the other ingredients over powered the taste.  Fail.  We were so disappointed, we got the bill and left.

Where: Richmond Station
Location: Toronto, Ontario

What: Corn and Scallop Pakoras
Verdict: Overrated.  Will not be back.
Richmond Station on Urbanspoon

At this point, Ru and I were thinking what is going on?  What a horrible night and such epic fail.  We thought that we should hit up one more place to round the night out.  No more disappointments.  We waved down a taxi and headed to Darwin.  We were missing the wine there and was craving the avocado shrimp.  Ru and I were here a few weeks ago for the first time and was really impressed.  We know they recently launched a bar menu on pilot and thought we’d give that a go.

When we arrived the place was still lively.  We took up our favourite table by the french windows.  Perfect for a beautiful night.

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We ordered the avocado shrimp, and was as impressed as the first time we had it.  Very delicious.  We also wanted to give the shrimp taco a try.  The taste we very fresh and unique.  I’m not sure if shrimp taco is always with deep fried shrimp, it tasted good but it might taste better if it was grilled instead.  Healthier, in my opinion.

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At the compliment of the owner, we got a nice treat.  Yucca fries.  It was my first time having yucca fries and it has this starchy, crispy texture.  It went well with the sauce which was a bit spicy and creamy.  I think this would go very well with beer.

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Then we had ratoutille wrapped in phyllo pastry, which was also a compliment of the owner.  At this point we were super full already, but thought we’d give it a taste too.  It tasted like a samosa. The concept is very unique.

After being disappointing by 2 restaurants we were finally happy with our food and hung around Darwin for a while.

Where: Darwin
Location: Toronto, Ontario

What: Avocado Shrimp, Shrimp Taco, Samosa, Yucca Fries
Verdict: Great food and wine.

Darwin Bistro & Bar on Urbanspoon

Snug Habour

Most Sundays are gloomy, as it marks the end of the weekend and imminent start of a new work week. R and I met up for lunch in Mississauga -a new and unfamiliar area for me. R wanted to check out Port Credit, which is like a waterfront area in Mississauga.  I was pleasantly surprised, as I didn’t even realize there would be a waterfront area in Mississauga.  Living in Toronto for most of my life, I’ve honestly never venture into the Mississauga area.  By the time we got there it was already around 1pm, and I was starving.

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We were seated on the patio, and it was really nice that they had these plastic covers up so that it’s not too windy and cold.  It’s been getting really cold in Toronto lately.  No doubt summer is slipping away fast.  The menu futures a wide selection of seafood from rainbow trout, salmon, oysters, and lobsters.  I had a tough time debating between the salmon and the trout.  I ended up ordering the trout and R ordered the pecan crusted salmon.

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Here’s my rainbow trout.  I really like the tiny squash on the side.  It tasted very yummy.  The trout wasn’t bad.  It was a bit fishier than I expected, and I’m a huge fish connoisseur.  The fish came with this lemon butter on the side, and I put a bit on the fish and it tasted a lot better.  I prefer not to have my seafood with butter.  I find that a) it’s super unhealthy b) if it’s good seafood you don’t need butter on it.  Overall, I was not impressed with my trout and would probably not order it again.  I also want to note that the trout was not fresh trout, I could taste that it was from frozen.

Where: Snug Habour
Location: Mississauga, Ontario

What: Rainbow Trout
Verdict: Not impressed. Will not be back.

Snug Harbour Seafood Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Marcello’s

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to officially announce that a new Friday night tradition has formed. A perfect Friday nights includes: Ru, Me, Wine, Cheese, Meat and Seafood. This week we took the celebrations to Marcello’s in Vaughn. We got there around 7pm and the place was packed! We had to wait 1/2 hour to be seated, but the waiters were nice and I can see that they were doing their best to get people seated as soon as possible.

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The wine list wasn’t long nor impressive.  We picked a random Riesling from the list and went with it.  It was odd that they had the option of ordering a litre of wine?  Well, I’ve never ordered a litre of wine at a restaurant before, so that’s exactly what I did.  I ordered the litre.  I’ve been here before, and was thoroughly impressed by their grilled calamari. Olive oil, with a bit of pesto sauce and balsamic dressing.

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We also ordered a platter of antipasto to share.  Grilled veggies, olives, meat, cheese over a bed of greens.  Perfect for sharing over wine.

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Overall, we had a fantastic night.  Good food, okay wine, great company.

Where: Marcello’s Pizzeria
Location: Vaughn, Ontario

What: Anitpasto, Grilled Calamari
Verdict: The Grilled calamari never dissapoints.  Will be back to try to pasta next time.

Marcello's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Spectacularly Simple Birthday

Ru and I met up for lunch at Black Camel.  It’s a sandwich place that received a whooping 96% review.  They are famous for the roast beef brisket and pulled pork brisket.

The CamelWhen we arrived, the shop was really small.  There was a line up, but the wait wasn’t too long.  We entertained ourselves by taking photos, selfies, and studying the menu up on the wall.  After debating for 15 mins, we decided on the roasted beef brisket.  The choice was actually easy, it was the condiments that we had trouble deciding on.  I went with slow roasted roma tomatoes and mushrooms.  Ru decided on the roasted roma tomatoes and peppers.

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Here it is! First bite, it was super yummy.  The bread was good and the beef was very soft.  Now I see why all the rage.  The tomatoes and mushroom added a nice touch to the overall taste, but I found the sandwich to be a bit dry mid way through.  Next time, I would definitely recommend some greens.  Arugula was on the condiments options.  Adding the arugula should make the sandwich less dry next time.

Here’s us with our sandwich.  All happy and no compliments here.

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Name: Black Camel
Location: Rosedale, Toronto
What: Roast Beef Brisket
Verdict: Will visit again with R. but probably not by myself. The sandwich was way too heavy for lunch, better for sharing.

Black Camel on Urbanspoon
After the super yummy lunch, I needed a caffeine fix.  We headed to Caffe Doria.  Ratings were decent at 84%.  The caffe was super cute, with an outdoor patio, indoor seating is also available and there is a row of seating that is perfect for people watching (a hobby of mine).  I had a cappuccino, and Ru had a croissant.  I honestly don’t know how someone so tiny (all 5ft tall) can eat so much.  I was super full after the beef brisket and I didn’t even finish the sandwich.

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Cappuccino was nice.  No wow factor here.  We had fun hanging out in the caffee and said that this would definitely be a place to come back to with our laptops when we are doing our trip planning to the Balkans.

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Name: Caffe Doria
Location: Rosedale, Toronto
What: Cappuccino
Verdict: Will visit again for the atmosphere.

Caffe Doria on Urbanspoon

After that, we proceeded to the destination Ru has been waiting for. All things good.  It’s a supermarket with yummy cheese.  Ru loves cheese.  I don’t eat cheese.  So I hung around for the shop while she did her cheese tasting and made her purchase.  Next we headed to the LCBO.  Ru loves wine with cheese.  I love wine with wine.  So we journey into LCBO and Ru quickly grabbed a Inniskillin Riesling.  Not a bad choice as they are probably one of the more known vineyards in Ontario.  It wasn’t until check out that Ru received her birthday present.  The cashier innocently asked for Ru’s ID.  Which, based on the way she looks is fair.  I chirped in that it was her birthday today and we both giggled.  The cashier said “Happy birthday.  Did you turn 19”.  After that remark, it was all smiles….

Happy Birthday Ru!