Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My life is virtual

Yesterday, I spent the whole day glued to a screen. Yes, unhealthy, I know. The day started out innocuously enough: meeting up for lunch with a friend at Ten Ren's Tea House. Ten Ren's was a favourite lunch spot for the summer because they have a pretty good lunch special. Now that I'm back in school, it's not as idyllic since the special doesn't apply on weekends and there is no dinner special - thus, evening and weekends, when I am usually available to go out, there is no special. The special really only benefits someone with a wealth of time on their hands, such as a student on holiday.

After lunch, my friend came back for a little bit of Rock Band 2. By a little bit, I mean hours. He was one of those people who had mastered the original Rock Band so I was encouraged little by little to up my game to the Hard difficulty setting... since I was pretty much coasting at 95% accuracy on the guitar at Medium. The Hard difficulty was aptly named as it was... hard. My arms go into fasciculations just thinking about the little orange button on that faux Fender Stratocaster guitar. Five buttons, four fingers. It's madness I tells ya... madness!

When afternoon hit evening, my friend had to pack it in and head home, leaving me with bloodshot eyes (from tracking all those little coloured rectangles up and down the screen) and twitching fingers (from trying to find the right coloured button). I decided I needed to find a less involving activity to loosen up.

As it turned out, I had rented the Wachowski brothers' Speed Racer the other day. It's on the long list of crappy action movies that I wanted to see but couldn't bring myself to watch in theatres (others include Angelina Jolie's Wanted). Watching Speed Racer was a little bit like watching the Star Wars prequels in that the set was almost entirely computer generated.

When Speed Racer came out, it got some pretty shoddy reviews. But I have to tell you, even though the acting was crap and the constantly flashing colours were like one giant seizure... it was still a pretty fun movie. At least, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a feel good movie, and when the ending credits hit with a remixed version of the original Speed Racer theme song ("Go Speed Racer! Go Speed Racer! Go Speed Racer Gooooooo!") I couldn't help but break out into dance with abandon (of course... there was nobody else around, and that helped).

Adding the icing to the metaphorical cake of my virtual life, I decided to catch up on the two episodes of Gundam 00 that I was behind in. All my other shows - Grey's, Heroes, and My Own Worst Enemy - are on break for Christmas. This is kind of counterintuitive, because I also am on break for Christmas, and with my newfound wealth of time, I'd really like to be able to watch new episodes of my favourite television shows.

In any case, Gundam 00 is one of those anime that manages to keep going by the strength of its franchise alone. After all, Gundam is one of the seminal names in mecha anime. Yet Gundam 00 is really quite horrible (and the last series before it, Gundam Seed Destiny was atrocious). Compared to other popular mecha that came out this year (the beautiful Macross Frontier and brilliant Code Geass R2), 00 is a complete flop. Yet I have to admit, I can't help but watch (and the story is picking up a wee bit) - after all, they still have some of the most aesthetically delightful (if cliché) robot designs out there.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

An empty house once more...

Christmas is always a flurry of activity and fun as my siblings descend upon Toronto from Montreal, Ottawa, and New York. As the youngest child by five and a half years, I've become quite accustomed to being alone at home. But still having spent many years with three siblings in the house, I revel in the time that we have together.

The holidays are a time for animated discussion about everything from travel to politics. For gaming (which has been, for the last three Christmases, on the Wii). For eating. For joking. For bonding. Like a whirlwind, the holidays blow through - enlivening my home for a brief period, and then vanishing, leaving a silent, empty space in their wake.

My second sister departed on Sunday and my brother caught his flight on 6 AM Monday. My eldest sister gets to hang around for a week more, but is doing so by performing her job from the her company's Toronto office (which means that she's only home in the evenings). That means that I'll have a few more nights of Rock Band (as an aside, Evey joined us in Blitzenkrieg last night and proved more proficient on the drums than both my sister and I combined despite having only picked them up once before in her life...!) but my day times are quiet.

I suppose this leaves me time to do the many things that I want to or ought to be doing. In the latter category is preparing for my Community Health presentation and Clinical Skills exam at the end of January. In the former category is watching Japanese drama (I've spent the last couple days finishing up Attention Please), playing PC games (I picked up a couple over Christmas, most notably Red Alert 3 and Knights of the Old Republic), or working on my personal projects (such as the Last Knight, my perpetually work-in-progress Turing-coded video game from Grade 11).

Yet even these quiet times seem like a whisper, ready to blow away at a moment's notice and give way to the intensity of school once more. So in all likeliness, I will probably spend much of this time savouring the aftertaste of Christmas and enjoying what is left of our brief reprieve before being tossed back into the storm.


Marking the end of Christmas, my holiday layout will be coming down soon. Thanks to everyone who shared kind words about it - I hope that it helped to spread some holiday cheer and get you all into the spirit of things.

While we're on the topic of my website - this multiple browser thing that's happening really burns. It used to be that virtually everyone used Internet Explorer (and a minority used and still use Netscape). Then Mozilla Firefox (my current browser of choice) came along - and that was great for users but also meant that my subsequent web layouts had to be tuned for both. That was quite a pain. Now this whole Google Chrome thing is happening, and since it's by Google it's more or less guaranteed to take off. I tried using Chrome a couple of days ago, and found my website layout uncomfortably broken.

Fixing web layouts is a bit like detective work, sifting through hundreds of lines of code and trying to determine what could be causing the problem in one browser (that is not causing any problems in another browser) without breaking what already works. In the end I fixed it, and so, AndyLand is proudly IE, Firefox, and Chrome compatible.

Monday, December 29, 2008

In need of decoder ring

You know how cereal boxes often have a little prize buried in them for the kiddies? And the prototypical cereal box prize is the decoder ring - the key to writing in some special coded script that only you, others privy to their own decoder ring, and mathematicians with a proficiency in sequences and series can decipher.

I bring this up because it seems like some people (or at least one person) feels like my own handwriting represents a code to be cracked. I received the following troubling message in a recent Christmas card:

Despite the innocuous looking smiley face, I was a little bit wounded and very much flabbergasted by the message. After all, I've never been accused of having "scribbly doctor's prescription writing" before... In fact, at least 50% of people who see my handwriting for the first time accuse me of having girl writing, which is an impertinent way of of saying that my writing is neater and rounder than that of the average male.

Now my writing can be messy (especially when I'm in a hurry and/or have been writing for a long time), and people do comment on it from time to time. But usually such comments come with a reference to my usual neater writing. They've never come with a superlative like "always" attached before. I was shocked.

Above is a sample of my usual handwriting taken from a Respirology seminar earlier this year. While it's not going to win any contests, I'd say it's relatively legible and pleasant looking. At least, I'd hope it wouldn't leave any pharmacists scratching their heads or any nurses scouring cereal boxes for their decoder rings...

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Blitzkrieg - Literally, 'lightning war' . A new, quick, mobile and mechanised style of warfare used by the German Army during their conquest of Europe from 1939 to 1941.

Blitzen - one of Santa's reindeer

It's hard to believe that my Christmas break is already half over! It's been a frenetic hurricane of activity since I finished my exam last Friday. Where does the time go?

Friday Dec 19 - I had a morning exam followed by lunch with my friends to celebrate. Afterwards, I went home and spent the next few hours making Christmas cards (and writing a well-received holiday poem). I finished the night up at the pub celebrating our brief reprieve from school as well as Maximus' birthday. I retired exhausted.

Saturday Dec 20 - I woke up for lunch with Evey and parents after which we dropped by Pacific Mall. The plan was actually for Evey and I to go downtown to pick up a present for the gift exchange at a party I was attending the next day, but we didn't have the time. Evey had to return home for approximately 5 PM. After that, I spent the next hour or more working on Christmas cards for Sydney and my high school friends, then headed to dinner at Vaughan Mills. Vaughan Mills may possibly be the most poorly conceived mall ever... There are dozens of stores lining the periphery of the mall that are virtually indistinguishable. It's terribly hard to pinpoint one when you're driving around. After returning home from dinner, I stayed up late working on Christmas cards for Mei and Pomme, who I was going to see early Sunday. I retired at about 3 AM, again exhausted.

Sunday Dec 21 - After church, I went shopping with Pomme for the last part of Evey's gift and snow pants for Monday. Then it was time to work on more Christmas cards for my undergrad friends. After the cards were good to go, I ran off to potluck at my friend's house in the middle of nowhere. It was a good time filled with food, friends, and Rock Band. I retired exhausted.

Monday Dec 22 - In the morning, Evey and I ran around trying to find her some boots for the afternoon's tobogganing excursion. We failed at that. In the afternoon, we headed off for tobogganing all the way at Christie station with Mello, Lucky, Kushima, Yubin, and Yuffie. We ate dinner in Koreatown at a restaurant with impeccably poor service, then headed over to Kushima's girlfriend's place to play Guitar Hero: World Tour and couples Monopoly (Evey and I lost, but just barely). I retired exhausted.

Tuesday Dec 23 - The morning was again spent shopping for boots with Evey. Apparently Friday's snowstorm had really put a crimp in her shopping time. We then bolted downtown to catch the Sound of Music at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. It was pretty exciting stuff, and the set pieces were absolutely amazing. At one point, a large roll of cloth was drawn across the ceiling and red banners were unfurled across all the balconies. The theatre was lit red with swastikas prominently on display upon each banner. The audience became part of the play - and even though it was all just for show, it sent a shiver down my spine. We continued shopping for our final Christmas presents down the PATH - a set of underground tunnels connecting many parts of downtown Toronto that serve as part walkway, part underground mall. They're a brilliant idea not to mention a display of Toronto's commercial opulence (many parts of the PATH are lined with marble!). We headed home in time for dinner and spent the rest of the night wrapping Christmas presents. After returning Evey safely to her house, I retired exhausted.

Wednesday Dec 24 - In the morning, Evey came over and we exchanged Christmas presents. I went out with my sister and Mom and we picked up a copy of Rock Band 2 for the Nintendo Wii. Unfortunately, I didn't have any time to play it because I had to sit through the rest of my sister's shopping and then whisk over to my aunt's house for a family dinner. After dinner, my family and I played Risk - the most amazing board game ever. As a matter of fact, I even won (for the first time in a long time) - sliding in smoothly to completely my mission of dominating Asia and South America. We returned home late, and spent another hour or so trying out Rock Band. We named our band Blitzenkrieg, which sounds both very festive (Blitzen) and heavy metal. I retired thrilled... and exhausted.

Thursday Dec 25 - Christmas Day was filled with all the things one might expect Christmas to involve - church service, gift opening, family pictures, and an enormous turkey dinner. We also logged more than our fair share of hours on Rock Band, which we're pretty addicted to now.

Friday Dec 26 - My family and I woke up to catch a couple of items in Boxing Day shopping before shuffling off to the Royal Ontario Museum to catch a number of exhibits including the world's third largest cut diamond, a brief history of Shanghai, and... dinosaurs. It was all pretty drab until we got to dinosaurs, I have to admit. After that there was dinner with a family friend, whose place we dropped by for the rest of the evening. We came home for a couple rounds of Rock Band and then retired... you got it, exhausted.

This week has rolled by so fast and furious, I barely know where it went. I'm sleep deprived, my throat is hurting, and I'm loving it. I wish the break was longer and that I had some time to relax in addition to all the fun I'm having... but sadly, two weeks is a short time, and only getting shorter. Merry Christmas everyone!!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas in the Badlands

Today I attended a Christmas party with undergraduate friends. The host's house was in a brand new suburban division - one of those that has a giant maze of unnavigable side streets. It was extremely challenging to find my way amongst tiny signs on darkened streets laden with many inches of snow (I think maybe the snowplows don't know how to find my friend's house).

I brought out some Google Map directions, but I was hoping to receive live directions via our Garmin GPS. Unfortunately, the subdivision was so new that my GPS had absolutely no idea that streets even existed in that area of the world. I gave up on the GPS and had it simply display my location (and not direct). However, by the time I got to the area that my friend lived, the screen was black - no streets visible. The GPS thought I was in the middle of nowhere. In fact, a satellite image of my friend's neighbourhood from Google Maps displays nothing but barren dirt.

While at the party, I had my first opportunity to try out the addictive video game Rock Band on Wii. The game essentially lets you be a rock star - setting you up with guitar, drum, and microphone peripherals. I was disappointed to find out that it only comes with one guitar - making you choose between guitar and bass... but since I made a beeline for the drums, it didn't really matter. While I completely sucked at the drums (and had to stick to the Easy setting - I got torn to shreds on Medium), it was hopelessly addictive. I have to admit that suddenly, getting Rock Band for my Wii is shamefully attractive, but for most of the year I won't have anyone to play with, and it's not really fun being a one-man-band. The real reason I don't already own Rock Band, however, is the fact that the Wii version got the shaft by not having an online song store.

But wait! On December 22nd - that's today, Rock Band 2 will be released for the Nintendo Wii. It is matched feature for feature to the previously meatier XBox360 and PlaySation 3 versions, including World Tour Mode, character customization, and online store! Tempting... very tempting...

The party also had a "stealing Santa" gift exchange. We played it like this - each person receives a number. Number one opens a gift. Number two opens a gift, and if they liked number one's gift better, they can swap. If a person's gift gets stolen, they too get an opportunity to steal someone else's gift. Each item can only be swapped once per round. When all the gifts have been swapped or the last person who had their gift stolen is happy, the round ends and the next number opens a gift. I was gunning pretty hard for this giant stuffed Toad (from Mario) and a Milk light (a night light shaped like a glass of milk), but sadly they got stolen from me during the last round. Looking for something else to steal to keep the game going, I thieved the popular novel Twilight and a Starbucks gift card. I have yet to determine whether this was a good idea, because even though Twilight has become the new "it" book, it sounds like it might be the literature equivalent of a "chick flick" - or "chick lit" (until this year, I thought people were saying "chiclet," like the gum - what an epiphany!).

The party was pretty fun, and it was good to see some of my undergrad peers again (and to get to know some of those who I didn't really hang out with in undergrad). You know what they say, "The friends that game together, stay together." No wait, they don't say that. But they should!

The next big challenge of the night was finding my way home again...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Finding Mango

So Evey and I went yum cha with my parents. We each got our own little fishy made of mango pudding. Evey ate the tail end of her fish first. I looked over at it...

Andy: Hey, you just left the head!
Evey: I know... It's like... staring at me...
[Andy chuckles]
[Evey pops fish head into her mouth]
[Andy leans in...]
Andy: Aaaah! Aaaah! Stop! Don't eat me!
[Evey stops and looks like she's going to hurl]
Mom: What's wrong? Did you bite yourself?

If it were me, I probably just would have been like: "Too bad, you're tasty!" *CHOMP* I guess that shows that Evey is a nicer person than I am - either that or just more squeamish... too much Finding Nemo.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

This is how Christmas begins...

Holidays begin when exams end. Today marked my one-and-only December exam, and hence, Christmas has now begun in earnest. However, before we bounce cheerfully onto the topic of holiday festivities, let's pause for a moment and bid a ponderous adieu to school:

I've had some people scoff at the fact that I only have one December exam. All I can say to that is that this week marked some of the most frenetic studying in my academic career. The exam covered literally hundreds of pages of notes spread over four broad subjects - Cardiology, Respirology, Pharmacology, and Biochemistry - all of which we had to digest over the course of a single month. It might sound easier having our courses lined up consecutively instead of concurrently (hence we essentially only have one exam at a time)... but it's not -- think summer school.

I do take issue with people trying to trivialize my "one exam" from an undergrad perspective (i.e. five exams). It is a different system; and I mean, it's not like I didn't do undergrad as well, so what is there to look down on really? This past exam trumped some of my most dismal undergraduate studying nightmares (Pharmacology 450 and Microbiology 461), and deserved it's own MSN icon-of-doom.

That said, the exam is over now. The answers were available immediately upon completion (they had an answer key, and we were allowed to keep the question sheets), and I'm happy to report that I did fine. Onward to Christmas.

After a celebratory meal at Baldwin Street, I headed back home to prepare Christmas cards. I had been planning something different this year for quite some time, and had assembled all the materials I needed in advance. Because of exam preparation, I hadn't actually had time to make good on that planning though - and tonight, at Maximus' post-exam bash/birthday party, I was going to get my last chance to catch some of my classmates before they boarded planes back to the West Coast to share the holidays with their families.

The cards were printed on thick paper, and utilized some of the chibi characters I had drawn of my classmates. I had designed the cards to run on 8.5x11 paper with two folds so that I could employ standard letter envelopes, so I wouldn't have to cut the paper, and so that I could print on both the inside and back of the card without having to flip the page over.

At first, I was going to print "Happy Holidays" on the inside flap, but realized that if I did that, I wouldn't have any text to go with the cover. I opted instead to write a poem relevant to our medical school experiences for the inside flap:

‘Twas the night before Christmas
And through MSB,
Not a student was stirring,
Not even [name removed] Li.

The cadavers were packed
For next year with great care…
“Now anatomy’s passed!”
1T2’s dare declare.

Embryology’s conclusion,
We salute with a toast.
But Cardiology’s finish
We lauded the most.

Respirology, Pharm,
And Biochem too.
We survived through them all,
And bid fall term “adieu.”

Now retreating to warm,
Cozy homes and fireplaces…
Eating sumptuous meals;
Opening gifts with glad faces…

But two weeks of devouring,
Omegas three, nine, and six,
Will have us measuring pressure
And resp rate for kicks.

Yes that stuffing may lead,
To an early M.I. –
All that holiday drinking,
May cause your liver to die.

So remember as you go out,
To eat and to play,
To have a fun-filled but safe
Christ-mas holiday!

After designing the card layouts, writing the poem, printing, adding a personal message, and stuffing and sealing envelopes, I was about 2 hours late for the party. Still, it was pretty much an all-night affair, so nobody really seemed to mind. The cards went over well too, so I was quite happy. I think maybe I missed my true calling by going into medicine... just kidding.

The next two weeks are a heavily planned balancing act between various parties and events with different groups of people from high school and university, as well as family dinners and excursions. It's going to be really exciting but very densely packed - leaving a less than copious amount of time for genuine relaxation. Two weeks is just not very long.


The holiday tree - an epic fail

While we're on the topic of Christmas, I'd like to touch on one more thing that's been on my mind - the "holiday tree." Back in 2003, I wrote an article about the "holiday tree" for my school newspaper. Essentially, Toronto city hall had opted to rename their enormous Christmas tree a "holiday tree" in order to be politically correct.

At the time, I had argued that this was taking political correctness too far. There are various holidays going on at this time of year - Christmas, the Christian holiday of the birth of Christ; the secular offshoot involving Santa and trees and gifts; the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, etc. In being an diverse and open society, we should encourage each other to express and embrace our own beliefs, not water them down in order to ensure uniformity and inoffensiveness.

A Christmas tree, by any name, is still a Christmas tree - by symbolism and origin. Some argue that the Christmas tree is in fact an early Christian adoption of the pagan Yule tree. Certainly, if a person celebrates Yule, than they may have a Yule tree. In that case, a Yule tree is a Yule tree. Calling it a "holiday tree" does not make it any more representative of those who do not celebrate Yule, but merely causes the symbol to lose its meaning.

This year, the controversial "holiday tree" has reared its ugly head again, this time outside the Quebec legislature. David Borzykowski, a master's student in political science at the University of Manitoba, recently wrote a concise and sensible diatribe on this issue, echoing my original sentiments of many years ago. It's all well and good to be sensitive to the beliefs of others (I often write "Happy Holidays" in cards to those who don't celebrate Christmas), but this doesn't mean trying to scribble out our own awesome diversity as a society. As Borzykowski argues - a Menorah is not a "holiday candelabra" and a Christmas tree should not be a "holiday tree."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Canada plays PSP

It's always exciting for me when someone pays attention to Canada. In this case, it's Sony with their holiday push for the PlayStation Portable (PSP) entertainment system. The advert shows off the PSP to a backdrop of computer generated renditions of some of Canada's major landmarks.

I hope the advertisement does well, because to be honest, I love the PSP. I know everybody has a Nintendo DS these days - playing Brain Age and training their brains on "minutes a day", but the PlayStation Portable is a dramatically undervalued system. With terrific graphics, great media capabilities, and an ever-improving online store I think it has the potential to blow the socks off the DS if people gave it a chance.

That said, the "Canada" version of the PSP ad is actually part of a big advertising blitz by Sony to try and generate widespread appeal for their handheld system. Other ads include things like "New York City plays PSP" or "LA plays PSP," which really leaves you to wonder - Does Sony put our country on the same level as an American city? Oy...


If you're wondering what the irritating but oddly catchy song playing in the background of the advertisement is, it's Sleepyhead by Passion Pit. Check out the full song and trippy music video here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Trust me, I'm a doctor...?

Usually, when I fall asleep on the subway, I wake up in time for my stop. It's kind of like clockwork - you do it everyday, so you just get used to it. But when I wake up at unusual intervals during the trip, the clock can be thrown off, which results in me missing my destination.

Today I fell asleep on the way home. A lady woke me up at York Mills because the train was delayed and everyone was getting off. As it turned out, our subway was just waiting and not out of service so we didn't need to leave. I fell back to sleep and when I woke up, the train was almost empty and was on its way back south from Finch to North York Centre. I had to get off at North York Centre and take the opposite train back up to Finch. I felt pretty stupid.


Stupid, it turns out, is the word of the week. The first few months of medical school have brought the tangy taste of inadequacy into my life. I feel swept away - bewildered by the never ending stream of new physical exam techniques we learn each week and baffled by the torrential downpour of lecture material (which is overwhelming in its sheer speed, though questionable in its thoroughness). It's hard to imagine, at this point in my education (four months in), ever transforming into one of those knowledgeable and adept creatures we call doctors.

Yet as I encounter residents and fellows, a mere smattering of years my senior, they exude confidence and competence. I'm sure with perseverance, the system will take us there, I just wish I could skip the crummy know-nothing first-year portion and skip to the knowledgeable resident stage.

For some, this is reality. Last week, we had a series of cardiology lectures by a young Korean professor. He is a third year medical student - from the perspective of medical education, only two years my senior. However, he has both a PhD and a Post-doctorate already in the bag (hence is qualified to teach). While I don't envy the many many years of school that represents, I can't help but be jealous of this fellow medical student, so learned and knowledgeable that he can teach the class.


Speaking of the rigours of medical education reminds me of another issue that has been on my mind. Diploma mills - pumping out hundreds of thousands of fake university degrees a year. They allow unqualified, dishonest people to get ahead in life: A police officer applying for a raise based on educational qualifications he does not possess. An instructor teaching RCMP combat courses based on fake credentials. A university student accepted to a prestigious law program based on an undergraduate degree they never earned. A practicing doctor who never studied medicine. These people exist... and they're everywhere.

When I went online to track down an article on diploma mills, I stopped to read some of the user comments. Many people seemed to applaud those who could advance in life using fake credentials - after all, it only demonstrates how useless real credentials are, right? These people, however, are clearly missing the point. The fact that a fake doctor practices medicine and doesn't get caught doesn't mean he's qualified to do the job - it simply means that he hasn't gotten caught. While he collects his paycheck for practicing fraudulent medicine, he may be putting hundreds of trusting citizens in danger.

Surely we don't need a reminder of how far a person can rise on fraudulent credentials? It's been only months since Dr. Charles Smith, the head pediatric forensic pathologist at Toronto's prestigious Hospital for Sick Children, was revealed as a charlatan who had inadequate expertise in pathology, and whose testimony in court of law had led to 13 criminal convictions based on his erroneous evidence. If anything, it is sad how blind we are. The fact that the undeserving con men among us can rise so far does not demonstrate their aptitude, but merely our own collective blindness - at the expense of the public good.

There is a system. A system of education and ethical standards which millions of citizens abide by. They struggle their way through years of debt, learning, and hardship. I have no sympathy for those who would usurp those hardworking men and women, reaching for a prize they neither earned nor merit. And I'll be damned if I shed a single tear when they get caught.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ow, my gastrocnemius!

I know what you're thinking - gastrocnemius is so last month...

Today, in light of my father's incessant badgering that I do some exercise and my long day spent studying respirology, I decided to log some time on everyone's favourite freeware DDR clone, StepMania. I mean... maybe it would improve my vital capacity, and I hadn't really done any real exercise since I stopped playing Wii Fit back in October. Plus my chronic sleepiness in spite of many hours of bedrest had left me pondering my unfulfilled need to generate some endorphins (or maybe it's obstructive sleep apnea?).

Of course, I was also interested in recouping my DDR performance before the commencement of MedGames in January. The last time I played DDR was after watching James Bond in November. Stewie and I had decided to try our luck at the theatre arcade, and we failed pretty miserably. I can picture an aging Jedi Master Yoda warning me of my unreadiness - "The cave... remember your failure at the cave..."

I started out today on Standard, and after fumbling through a couple of songs, I felt like a complete rookie again. My calves were crying bloody murder by the third song - by the twentieth they felt like rubber bands ready to snap. I recalled many an undergrad evening trying to keep up with Ruru, my QDDR co-president, and many times my better, as she barelled through Tsugaru on Heavy. Clearly, I've got my work cut out for me.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Ignatieff Factor

Going into the 2006 Liberal leadership race, I bought into the party and journalistic hype and cheered on Michael Ignatieff as the front-runner - an academic, an adequate speaker, and most importantly a person whose name was not Paul Martin. That was, until I discussed the matter with my politically inclined brother and sister, who threw their weight behind the "dark horse" of the race, Stephane Dion. Dion went on to win his 2006 leadership bid, coming from behind to overtake both Michael Ignatieff and former Ontario premier Bob Rae.

Dion, who seemed a capable and honest intellectual, proved inadequate on the political front lines - allowing his public image to be tarnished by his poor Anglo-articulation and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's relentless attack advertisements. Two years, one massive election defeat, and one damning televised address later, Dion's leadership has kicked the bucket for good. With Michael Ignatieff having slipping into the position of Liberal interim (likely soon to be permanent) leader, the question that once again rears its head is - who exactly is he?

In 2006, when I first asked this question, I didn't know. In 2008, with Ignatieff heading up one of Canada's preeminent political parties, it seems important to find out. Ignatieff is a celebrated intellectual. Toronto-born, he was educated at the University of Toronto (where he was roommates with Bob Rae), Oxford, and Harvard University. He is fluently bilingual, has written 16 books (one of which won the non-fiction Governor General's award), and taught at Harvard, Cambridge, and Oxford before becoming Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Sounds pretty sweet, right?

There are reasons aplenty, however, to view Ignatieff with some suspicion. For starters, he's spent most of his adult life outside of Canada - in the UK and United States. He has been criticized for having adopted an American identity, referring to "we Americans" in various addresses and writings - once declaring "Being an American is not easy." He originally supported George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq as well as so-called "soft-torture" methods of interrogation such as sleep deprivation. Through what may be considered a conspiracy of elite Toronto MP's, he was rapidly recalled to Canada and parachuted into government, being handed the easy Liberal riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore, which he won in a by-election following then-Liberal leader Paul Martin's departure. He was maneuvered to quickly become the front-runner in the 2006 Liberal leadership race, despite having just recently returned to the motherland after decades abroad. This left many with the question: Is Michael Ignatieff Canadian enough to run Canada?

This is not the only reason to doubt, however. While Ignatieff has spent the last two year amassing political experience, and has proved a quick study, he has failed - in this modest writer's opinion - to demonstrate the integrity of either former leadership rival Bob Rae or former Liberal leader Stephane Dion (though he's far more traditional than Harper's style of compulsive lying and ultra-aggressive tendencies).

When he lost his leadership bid in 2006, his role - and the role of all Liberals - should have been to support their new leader and begin the process of rebuilding the party. However, Ignatieff kept his leadership team together, and refrained from making overt gestures of support for Dion. My sister-in-law recalled an interview with Ignatieff in Quebec during the 2008 election campaign where he said, "I support Canada and I support the Liberal party." But when pressed as to whether he supported Dion, Ignatieff replied hesitantly to the effect of, "I respect Mr. Dion." With party wounds from the leadership race left wide open instead of mended, the Liberals entered their most pitiful and lethargic election campaign ever. It was almost as if they were playing to lose and Ignatieff was waiting for Dion to fall so that he could swoop in for his crown. Though he still smiled and commended Dion in public, Ignatieff's ambitions seemed to be brewing just below the surface.

Following Parliament's prorogation just recently, heavy pressure was applied for Dion to step down as leader of the Liberal party immediately, paving the way for a new leader to be installed. Bob Rae, Ignatieff's major leadership rival, insisted that the party as a whole should select the new leader. Michael Ignatieff preferred to poll only elected MP's and the party elite. Ignatieff won out. Bob Rae, well aware that Ignatieff had the support of the majority of Liberal MP's and senate members, gracefully bowed out of the race in the name of party unity rather than pressing the issue and creating a whirlwind of intra-party conflict at the grassroots level. The expidited selection of Ignatieff as party leader by the party's old garde was widely criticized as a "coronation" and objectionably undemocratic.

Despite the questions that continue to swirl with regards to Iggy's character, however, he may be just what the Liberals need - and they know it. He is fluently bilingual, and he is popular in Quebec and BC where Dion was remarkably weak. He is a quick learner. He is intelligent, articulate, and tough as nails. In fact, when asked if he was worried about being the victim of vicious character assassination by the Conservatives, as Dion was, he replied: "It would seem to me to be a very, very serious mistake to engage in partisan attacks against a party leader at this moment." Then added, "I hope I make myself clear." It was a bold ultimatum.

Most importantly, Canadians seem ready to accept Ignatieff. Just two days after Ignatieff assumed the Liberal leadership, polls showed that Liberal support had jumped to a virtual tie with the Conservatives. 28% of Canadians felt that Ignatieff would make the best head of state, whereas only 27% of Canadians felt the same about Harper. That said, another poll indicated that if an election was held today, Harper would win a sweeping majority (the very scary prospect which first prompted me to blog about politics) - proof that Canadians are not keen to see the government fall so soon after the last election.

While I approved of Stephane Dion as a person, and have my reservations about Michael Ignatieff, it seems that Iggy may inject the much needed strength that the Liberals need. Canadians and the Liberal party are ready to embrace Ignatieff in a way they could not Dion. For his part, Ignatieff will be more than willing to oblige them. He's been planning his ascent to Prime Minister for 15 years - and he is a man who knows what it takes to achieve his goals.

As a child, when his younger brother joined him at Toronto's Upper Canada College (UCC), an esteemed boys school, he warned, "When we're at Aunt Helen's house or Aunt Charity's house, you can say whatever you want to me. But if you ever see me on the school grounds, you're not to talk to me. You're not to recognize that I'm your brother. You don't exist as far as I'm concerned. Do I make myself clear?"

Ignatieff will likely be a driven and ambitious Liberal leader, which may prove anathema to Stephen Harper. But whether his presence on the stage will be a boon or bane to Canada - history will judge.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Are you afraid of the dark?

As a child, I was deathly afraid of the dark. In fact, I had a little desk lamp with a figurine of an apple that was kept on throughout the night. When you think about it, regarding the dark with a healthy sense of suspicion is perfectly adaptive. We are creatures that depend on sight (even though our ability to see is notably inferior to some other species). Our other primary senses - hearing, taste, smell, and touch - lack the necessary acuity to provide us with adequate forewarning of hazards in the absence of sight (though the congenitally blind do make some adaptation to enhance their other senses in order to get by). Once the lights are out, danger could be lurking around any corner.

As I grew older, my irrational fear of the dark diminished. For instance, I'm pretty comfortable in my own house come nighttime (although the unfamiliar bowels of the furnace room with its many exotic sounds still give me pause). But recently, my childhood phobia has begun creeping back into my life in a most unexpected manner. As of late, I've been driving myself down to the subway in the morning. School starts at 8 AM, which usually involves waking up around 6, and shuffling out of the house at 7. At this point, it's still dark.

Maybe I've just logged a few too many hours being eviscerated by zombies in Half-Life 2... but there's something unspeakably creepy about stepping alone into the garage at the crack of dawn. Perhaps it's the pitch black and silent atmosphere. Perhaps it's the frigid cold and the fact that your brain is still waking up. Perhaps it's the knowledge that the rest of the world is still asleep ("In space, no one can hear you scream"). I've taken to creeping carefully toward my car, the hairs rising on my back as I open the door, waiting for that hidden assailant to pop out from around the corner. Even more so as the garage door rolls up - waiting for that lurking killer to rush in from the outdoors and catch me unawares. And as I back the car onto the eerily lifeless street, I watch my rear view mirror with fervour for that concealed assassin waiting in the trunk. It's silly, I know. But solitude breeds vulnerability, and the early morning hours fog my rationality. Or maybe... I never really grew up at all.


While we're (vaguely) on the topic of my morning commute, I'd just like to note that winter - and in particular, snow - has made the whole process rather more of a hassle. You see, when the ground is covered with snow, people don't really know where the parking lines are. When they don't know where the parking lines are, they try to approximate them by memory. The result is a whole bunch of people parked in some kind of loosely ordered chaos. Without a solid guide for where to park, some cars end up sticking out more than others, some cars end up double parked, and some cars... well some cars wind up completely off. This has made the lot slightly more hazardous both for parking and pulling out. And when the snow melts, you get a pretty solid idea of just how poorly some people did.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The b*tch is back

The weatherman told me today would be nice and sunny. He lied.


You know those people who sat right behind you during lecture in undergrad and never shut up? The ones who snorted at everything the professor said and giggled loudly as they debated the intricacies of America's Next Top Model? The ones you imagined would flunk out of school, end up on the street, overdose on crack cocaine, and get run over by a truck as they crossed the street in a drunken stupor? ("And could you please not use your outside voice all the time?")

Well they didn't. Actually they did quite well for themselves, and they are at this very moment preening themselves to be your future physicians. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

As I pondered this fact, distracted from my fervent attempts to pay attention to the front of the class and take intelligible notes by the incessant chatter emanating just to my rear - listening involuntarily to stories of person A's anger management classes (and how person B finds person A's anger oh-so-soothing) - I started to genuinely question the validity of the admissions process. It's funny, because these persons were pondering that same question. Just this morning, they were discussing a friend's disbelief at how certain others could have possibly been admitted to law school. At overhearing this (again, unavoidable because of their unremitting use of the "outside voice"), Yubin and I turned to exchange glances. The same thought had shot simultaneously through both of our minds: "Really? Well we can't believe that you got into med school."

The other day, I turned around during the break and actually asked one of these people, meekly, whether they could please keep it down because it was ever-so-distracting (I had considered being a little bit more quarrelsome, but I had opted for a softer tone - after all, I had made no indication that I had been sitting quietly in my seat for the last month stewing about the volume of my neighbours to the back. They probably had no idea that their chatter was the cause of my mounting exasperation, or that I was exasperated at all). My entreaty was greeted with a blank and piercing stare coupled with some empty nods of acknowledgement. It was an entirely one-sided verbal exchange. In retrospect, I wondered, maybe they did know... and maybe the cold response I received was borne out of deep apathy developed over many undergraduate years of being told to shut-it.


A characteristic of the normal child is he doesn't act that way very often.


Yesterday, I completed my final visit to inner city schools for my Community Health course. It really struck me just how out of control the children were. They were fairly incapable of heeding instruction and had little or no respect for authority. Entire periods could be completed with zero progress to be shown for it. On top of that, many of them were vulgar, disruptive, and openly unkind to their peers. There were a number that were still very keen, pleasant, and earnest... but I felt like it must be difficult for a child to remain that way in such a charged environment.

For instance, we were observing a music class in which the students needed to compose their own lyrics. It was difficult to even get the boys to sit down together (they were virtually bouncing off the walls). When I did manage to get a pair settled, they asked me if I wanted to hear a rap song on terrorism. They then proceeded to recite a verse about breaking into a man's house, shooting a man dead, and then slitting his wife's throat. I was a little bit disturbed, particularly by the hilarity with which they treated the situation.

I suppose, in a way, that's our culture. Gangster culture is hip, disrespect is cool, and kids will be kids (i.e. rowdy). I'm sure I knew more than enough people in elementary and high school who would have found the same song equally awesome. But I recall, even then, a semblance of respect offered to authority - at least to its face.

It made me think about the future, and suddenly I had these overprotective urges with regards to my future Bao Bao. I could picture myself wanting to never let my child go to school - to shield him or her from the broken world beyond home's door. Or being the kind of parent who diligently picks up their kid from school the minute the bell rings to keep them out of trouble. Or maybe just not having kids at all... After all, bad company corrupts good character. And there's a lot of bad company out there these days. But in the end, as I walked the corridors of Finch station, catching glimpses of plump little children in their snowsuits holding parents' loving hands, I realized that probably, one day, I too would want that experience. And when that time comes, all we can do is our very best.

I should be clear, too. The school I visited was an inner city school. I don't blame the children for their behaviour. I know many of them come from impoverished families or broken homes. I know socioeconomic circumstances, inadequate resources, and insufficient attention have contributed to their character. But knowing that does not make the environment any less intimidating.

The teacher for the class I was accompanying shared this insight: She grew up in the inner city area where the school was located. She walked around the area alone all the time - to and from concerts, outings, etc. Today, she has children of her own. Come night time, she said, she would think twice about letting her kids walk by themselves. "Maybe that's just the nature of our society today, though," she remarked. "I think maybe we've just gotten to a point where it doesn't feel safe to let our children go around by themselves anywhere."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Getting into the Holiday Spirit

So festive it's sick

Yesterday, the hospital threw a holiday party, which included a Secret Santa gift exchange. My Secret Santa had polled Mello to see what I might want. Mello sneakily suggested that Santa buy me one of the Chlamydia stuffed animals from the university bookstore. Santa, not being particularly keen to send to wrong message by giving me a venereal disease, opted instead to get me a colony of MRSA. MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) is a hospital "superbug" (hence the cape) that has evolved resistance to a wide range of antibiotics and hence can be quite dangerous, especially among the immunocompromised.

I have to admit... the real buggers really look kind of like the toy.

Anyways, when it came my turn to be Santa, I was not nearly so bashful. I, in fact, did buy a Chlamydia stuffed animal for my unsuspecting recipient. I wrote card too. It went something like this:

Dear [insert name here],

Happy Holidays! In light of your budding career as a physician, I thought it would be appropriate to get you something medically related for Christmas. I gave you Chlamydia. Please don't get the wrong idea - I'm not in the habit of passing on venereal diseases to other dudes.

I couldn't really read the recipient's face after he opened it. Interesting story though - my Secret Santa recipient actually arrived late to the party. He arrived about halfway through, and upon entering room, Mello ran up to him and asked, "So how did you like Chlamydia?" Of course, he had not yet received my gift, so he was utterly befuddled (and Mello was utterly embarrassed). He later recounted, in jest, that he had been struck at that moment by a torrent of bewildered thoughts such as, "Did something happen between Mello and I that I don't remember?"


Ave Maria

You may recall my posting a Korean pop song called Ave Maria a little while ago. This was from the soundtrack of a Korean movie, 200 Pounds Beauty. As it turns out, Ave Maria is actually the name of a great many musical compositions, the most famous of which is a popular piece by none other than Franz Shubert.

Get your own playlist at!

The song appeared on my Now! Christmas album, sung by Sarah Brightman, who Evey informs me was the prima donna of Broadway musicals. It's quite a lovely piece. I particularly picture it appealing to Maximus' startlingly classical tastes in music.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Diversions from your Monday slog

Intellectual conversationalists
Stewie: How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
Kushima: Oh yeah, I was meaning to ask you--
Stewie: See? The questions I ask are very relevant.

"They've got more stuff..."

Do you remember how Pillsbury Pizza Pops used to run television commercials with the tag-line, "They've got more stuff"? This usually involved the aforementioned snack exploding in a flurry of gooey, cheesy goodness. Well, let's face it. Pizza Pops don't actually have that much packed into them. They don't explode, but rather, sometimes they ooze out a little bit of stuffing from one side after you microwave them. They're tasty and unhealthy, but explosive they are not.

On Saturday, I went to a new Shanghainese restaurant at Commerce Gate and ordered siu long bao. For the uninitiated, these are dumplings filled with pork and a scrumptious quantity of soup. However, on this particular occasion, the dumplings were so stuffed with soup that the minute I sunk my teeth into one... SPLASH! It was mayhem - soup flying across the table and onto my clothes. I took it as a messy but delicious lesson to be more careful when I went for a second bao. See now those guys, "they've got more stuff." And that's no lie.

Incidentally, Siu Long Bao is the anticipated Chinese name for my second-born son. Given my relatively shoddy command of the Cantonese language, I spent many a night lamenting about how I would name my children one day using dialect in which I command such a limited vocabulary. In the end, I decided that I should stick to what I know. Don't worry though, I'm sure it won't take long before he adopts the charmingly cute nickname, "Bao Bao"... And the first-born son? Cha Siu Bao of course!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The sky is falling

Everywhere you turn, the rhythm of the world is beating against itself. Beating against reason. Beating against sustainability. Beating against honesty and charity. What's got me down today?

Holes in the system and the people who exploit them

A couple of months back, I was reading about this old woman who had her licence revoked since the beginning of time. Yet somehow, she continues to drive - drive whatever she can. She'll borrow cars from people. Rent cars under alternate names. She almost invariably crashes them up, and one time she even killed a person by running down a pedestrian. When the newspaper tracked her down, she told them to go away and leave her alone because she was just trying to live her life. The story is not uncommon. We assume that people who have their licences revoked will respect our rule of law. But many of them don't. They're back on the roads instantaneously, and there's nobody to catch them until they crash again. How can we let people endanger lives once, twice, thrice... a dozen times and walk away? Run down a pedestrian and walk away? The fact of the matter is, people who do not respect the rule of law are breaking the rules for their own benefit - and doing it at the expense of those of us who do follow them, whether for moral or punitive reasons.

This man, Peng Sun, forges degrees - Bachelor's, MBA, PhD. Need a transcript too? Just a little extra. Student card? Letters from Chinese Embassy? Money can buy everything. You won't even be able to tell the difference between a real university grad and a fake one. Peng is a real graduate from York University, arriving in Canada as a visa student. Today he helps those who are too lazy to study get jobs that they are unqualified for. He spits in the face of the system and cheapens the value of our education. This man has been doing this for years, but he's still walking free and about.

People who continually fly in the face of honesty - who seek to elevate themselves undeservedly at the expense of all else - ought to face punishment of equal stoutness. Sometimes, laws and procedures are powerless to enforce what is plain to see.

A sustainable future and those who fight against it

We know the environment is not in great shape. We worry about how much oil we have left, and we also worry about the impact burning that oil is having. In the face of it all, the Big 3 (General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford) are still pushing the biggest of gas guzzlers, then crying wolf when their sales tumble. Why should we bail them out with billions of taxpayer dollars?

Picture this advertisement: A giant boat of a car glides across the road. Inside, a young man, alone in the driver's seat. "Why are hybrids always these tiny cars?" he laments. They don't have the space for him, he complains in overindulgent opulence. The Cadillac Escalade? Now that's the hybrid for him. It doesn't matter that this massive hybrid is still a gas guzzler. It doesn't matter that putting such a huge vehicle on the road is merely a compensatory mechanism for poor driving. It doesn't matter that in a collision, SUV's endanger the lives of fellow drivers.

This has been the strategy that the Big 3 have developed to save themselves - more big cars. Hybrid big cars. "Crossovers" - the new name for SUV's (although, technically a crossover should resemble more of a station wagon, clearly some of these brands have misappropriated this term). They deserve their just desserts.

The trouble is, of course, as they go down, so do a large segment of Canadian jobs. The factory workers didn't do anything wrong. They are skilled, trained professionals. But the question is, should we be saving these irresponsible companies for this reason? Will this lead them to be more responsible in the future? Maybe instead of spending billions to save these lame ducks, we ought to invest these billions to make our own jobs. Maybe it's time to create a genuinely Canadian solution to the automobile.

My pet peeves and the people who tickle them

I love Canada. I am as proud of my Western heritage as I am of being Chinese. But it hurts me how one-sided this love can be - not on a personal level, but on a cultural one. Hollywood continues to spit on East Asians, treating them merely as side-shows and objects of amusement. First, they bundle us all together - Chinese/Korean/Japanese. They're more than happy to cast our women as hot love interests or our men as comedic Kung Fu masters, but heaven forbid they cast an Asian lead in a film with any depth (lest they alienate their audience).

I'm not being overdramatic here. One talent agent in the industry declared in 2003, "There's still the 'whitewashing' of American and Canadian television. There isn't a noteworthy TV series or sitcom today with Asians as central characters. This isn't from a lack of trying. Broadcasters think the public isn't ready for it."

Sung Kang, one of the most successful Asian-American actors, was asked after filming Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, what effect the film had on his career. He replied something to the effect of, "You know people think that because I was in a mainstream Hollywood movie that suddenly I can pick and choose my work. That's not true. Sure, people see you in that movie and they say, 'Oh hey, that guy can act.' Then they file you in their brain under the category of male Asian lead actor, so that when they need an actor from that category they can call you... except that's a category that doesn't exist."

Think of all the movies where high powered Asian stars with successful overseas careers were recruited to play second fiddle to a Caucasian lead. These movies were essentially Asian movies, save for the main character, who was a requisite white. I cite The Forbidden Kingdom and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift just to name a couple. It leads one to wonder if the audience is getting some kind of chauvinistic pleasure out of watching a bunch of Asians be defeated.

Almost as troubling is Hollywood's obsession with ruining good Asian cinema. We can think of Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves' disastrous remake, The Lake House, of Korea's Il Mare. Or Martin Scorsese's, The Departed, which ripped off the blockbuster Infernal Affairs. In both of these movies, the ending was contorted to provide a much less compelling but ultimately happier close. As if to rub salt on the wound, the Departed was hailed as an "American crime classic" that only one such as Martin Scorsese could have concocted. It was introduced during the Academy Awards as having been based on a Japanese film, demonstrating the West's lack of distinction between the Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese (Infernal Affairs was a Hong Kong film).

Now Hollywood is poised to ruin another popular Asian franchise - Dragonball Z. Casting Justin Chatwin as Goku among a supporting cast of Asians, this movie is sure to delight. Because... Goku is such a Western sounding name. We all know a Goku... Smith...? And I won't even touch on the cars having wheels, Bulma actually looking like she's going to fight, and the introduction of this strange character named Mai.

Phew... felt good to get that all out of my system. Sorry for unloading that enormous rant. I'm just a bitter, bitter man.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Living in a world of muted shades

Colour blindness. In most cases, it's an inelegant and inaccurate term - certainly not very PC (that is, politically correct, not Progressive Conservative or President's Choice). In general, the term colour blindness is used to describe some form of colour deficiency. Affected persons usually have difficulty distinguishing between certain colours, but still retain some level of colour vision. The degree of impairment varies from person to person, but colour deficiency affects between 7 and 10 of every 100 males. It is rare in women.

Red-green colour deficiency (the most common kind) is a genetic abnormality. The eye detects colour through the use of cone-like receptors on the retina (the back of the eye). Cones exist for each primary colour of light - red, green, and blue (not to be confused with the primary colours in art, which are red, yellow, and blue). Colour deficiency results from a defect or deficit (but not absence) in the red and green colour receptors. Thus, affected persons can detect red and green, but not to the degree that normal people can.

Men and women share an identical genetic makeup save for two sex chromosomes. Women carry two X chromosomes (XX) whereas men carry one X and one Y (XY). The genes that code for red-green colour deficiency are carried on the X chromosome. They are referred to as X-linked recessive, because a person with an affected X and a normal X will have normal colour vision (the normal X being dominant to the affected X).

This explains why colour deficiency is so much more prevalent in males. If males inherit one affected X chromosome, then they have the disorder - since they have only one X chromosome to express. If women inherit one affected X chromosome, then they are carriers, and do not express the disorder. In order for a woman to express the disorder, they would need to inherit two affected X chromosomes - one from their mother, and one from their father - which is particularly rare (though this is a possible scenario were Evey and I to one day have children, her being a carrier).

Colour deficiency has dogged me throughout my life. On occasion, I have been particularly dejected because of it, thought it is by no means the worst genetic anomaly to inherit. As a result, while I have relatively intact colour vision and can see the world in colour, I have ceased noting colour the way a normal person notes colour. When a normal person observes someone on the street, they intuitively have noted the colours on that person. When they recall that person, they can recall the colours. They recall that stranger's hair was brown, their hat was red, and their jacket was green... I tend not to do this, because while I will usually be able to distinguish colours upon careful inspection, and while I can identify bright colours as easily as the next bloke, colour identification is often not so simple. Because I cannot instantly discern many colours, and because when I try I will sometimes be wrong, in many situations the colour of objects simply does not register in my brain - not that I am unable to see them.

When people discover my condition, they often spend the next period of time quizzing me. "What colour is this?" and "What colour is that?" This is because for them, it's fascinating. They cannot fathom what the world looks like from my perspective any more than I can fathom what it can be like to look at a colour and instantaneously intuit its composition. Today, I'm going to do my best to give you a taste of the world as I see it.

I learned my colours as a child, just like every other child. I learned them fine. But I learned them on very bright templates. The following two swatches demonstrate blue and purple as I learned them:

To you, it's probably quite plain that one of these is blue, and one of these is violet. To me, the major difference between these two colours is that one is light and one is dark. This is because my deficiency in red-green detection makes it difficult for me to identify that there is a little bit of red in the purple. It looks blue enough to me. The following two swatches, both of blue, look only marginally different from the blue and purple above:

Imagine my surprise as a child to put on my navy blue socks, proclaiming proudly, "These socks are purple" only to have my Mom correct, "Actually they're navy blue." I was dumbfounded. Baffled. What was navy blue? Was this some kind of alternate name for purple?

My parents had already discovered my colour deficiency when we were on vacation in the United States. I had looked up at a cloudy sky and declared, "They sky is pink." My Mom, who had taught me colours early because her brother is also colour deficient (it is in fact the same gene, which I inherited from my Mom, a carrier), said that upon hearing me make that statement, her heart sunk. Indeed, I had no concept of grey and pink. The swatches I had learned pink on looked indiscernibly similar to the cloudy sky in my childlike mind.

The two colours above look virtually identical to me, even laid side by side (which usually improves my colour discrimination). To me, they might as well look like this:

The above grey vs. grey gives you a taste of what I see in the pink vs. grey block. Just imagine yourself staring at those two grey blocks of colour knowing that they are different but at a loss to detect it. It's infuriating.

Blue-purple, grey-pink, red-brown, and light green-yellow are my most common errors in colour identification. But so far we have only talked about identifying discrete colours. Colour deficiency affects your life in ways much more profound than this.

Let us consider the colour above. It's identified as blue-violet. It's not quite blue, it's not quite violet. It's somewhere in between. What are the implications of making such an identification? First of all, it means you have a firm idea of what is blue and what is violet, and that they are very different things. The second is that you have identified that this is blue, but it has a little bit more violet in it than the usual blue. Or a little bit more blue in it than the usual violet. For me, such an analysis is not only not instantaneous, but entirely out of reach.

This put a dampener on my artistic aspirations. A lot of art involves shading. An artist who draws a red shirt will use a darker red to make the shadows and a lighter red to make the parts on which light is shining. In this way they generate contour. They might use ten different shades of red, and they can intuitively mix them - knowing exactly what matches with what. If I were to eyeball this, then I would likely shade parts of that red shirt brown by accident without noticing (and I have). Or I might colour Pikachu green instead of yellow (which I also have).

Let me provide an even more poignant example. Skin. What colour is skin? It's hard to quantify. Skin is a mixture of all sorts of colours. In grade 7 or 8, we learned how to paint and I attempted to mix a skin tone for myself. When I thought I was done, my friend kindly informed me that I had actually generated a particularly nauseating shade of green. At that point, I realized that I would never truly be able to take my art anywhere.

The left is a normal skin tone and on the right is a pastel green. While they do look different to me, the one of the right could just as easily pass off as a skin colour in my mind as the one on the left. Similarly:

The left is a normal skin tone and the right is a pastel pea green. Again, they both look like they would be normal skin tones to me. You can see that pastel colours are a particular problem for me. The brighter the colour, the easier it is for me to detect. Although skin is still an enigma.

You can begin to imagine what a damning effect this condition has on everyday life. Not only do I have trouble identifying colours but also difficulty intuiting their composition. Traffic lights look red, orange, and white. Green and yellow radars in video games make friend indistinguishable from foe. Gray stripes on a shirt are mistaken for red ones.

Let me conclude with a more recent example. Before I went to visit Evey in Kingston, I bought the game Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords of the Playstation store for my PSP. It had got some pretty rave reviews despite being a cheesy little puzzle game like Bejeweled. The goal is to line up crystals of the same colour in order to damage your opponent to death. The colours are blue, red, green, and yellow. Imagine my shock when I turned on the game and realized... I couldn't tell the green and the yellow crystals apart! After a few minutes of staring at the screen intently and giving myself an aneurysm, I realized that the crystals actually had little runic symbols on them - and that the symbols for the green crystal and the yellow crystal are different. It was a clever inclusion, though what would have been even more clever would be to have made the yellow and green colours more different. Or using yellow and white.

How do I get by in art then? Well there are two tricks I use, and neither of them are as good as colour vision. For skin, I usually look up a picture of a person online, and then I use the "magic wand" to steal their skin colour and use it in my pictures. I can adjust the brightness up and down to create lighter and darker shades. This works, but it is not the same as being able to intuit colours because usually when you shade lighter and darker, you are adjusting more than just the brightness, you have actually tweaked the amount of red-green-blue by a little (or a lot). For other colours, I depend on prelabelled and very useful swatches. This greatly limits the number of colours I can and do use in my artwork, but it is the best I can do. I'm also, as a result, more or less tied to PhotoShop, because Adobe seems to have been the only ones clever enough to label all their colours. It's essentially the digital equivalent to having labelled pencil crayons.

Still perplexed? Let's try one more exercise. The colour on the left is green. The colour on the right is purple. It's very minute though. Just keep looking at them, and you will realize that there is a little bit of green in the block to the left and a little bit of red in the block to the right.

So the swatches above are actually yellow and blue. But if you did the exercise properly and actually strained yourself trying to see what you were told was there, you've experienced a little bit of what it is to live my life, and that of almost 1 in 10 North American men.