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.

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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