Saturday, January 31, 2009

The same 'ol undergrad schtick

For the second day in Kingston, I allowed myself to settle back into my undergrad groove - catching up with all the familiar little comforts. The day began with Saturday morning brunch at Leonard cafeteria. On my way in, I bumped into someone who lived on my floor last year.

Y: Andy! What are you doing here?!
A: Oh, you know, just visiting.
Y: Why the f*ck would you come to the caf?!

In my defense, I can't eat out for every meal. The round trip train ticket alone was not cheap.

I also took the opportunity to log onto DC++. DC is a file-sharing program which requires you to connect via centralized "hubs". Queen's Residence has its own student run hub, allowing students to share files over the residence network at blinding speeds. While the quality of sharing on the Queen's network has been in steady decline for the past four years, I did manage to snag almost 10 Gb or the 1990's cartoon series, X-Men. /drool

I also managed to stock up on the second season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which I haven't had the time to keep up with this year. Oh the hours of sweet procrastination that lie ahead...

Aside from this weekend, I haven't really downloaded any American television since school started. Because I've been trying to bring my actions in line with my moral reservations about piracy, I've been working to watch TV either as it airs or legally on network websites. However, since CTV doesn't offer Terminator in online format, it's been impossible for me to catch up with this show after falling behind. Having access to DC again reminded me of how enticing it is to download with abandon when you can access a wide array of files at speeds upwards of 1 Mbps. Oh temptation...

Evey and I went to watch The Curious Case of Benjamin Button today (which was really quite excellent). On the way, we walked by yesterday's snowman. It appeared as though he'd had a bad day - the smile wiped off his face in a brutal case of murder.

We finished off the day with a final undergrad tradition: having food delivered right to our door. Unfortunately, what we got was perhaps the worst Pizza Hut pizza we'd ever tasted.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Death by train and ceruloplasmin

This weekend, I rode into Kingston on train number 64. I sat in car 4 in seat number 4. I couldn't help but ponder what an unlucky arrangement this was for a Chinese person. The only way it could possibly have been worse is if my train number had been 44. It was made all the more irksome by a friendly VIA Rail attendant who came by and drew a giant 4 on my ticket, as if I hadn't gotten the idea already. Still, I arrived in Kingston alive (if a bit late), so I guess those Chinese superstitions of my untimely demise were all for naught.

Evey met me at the train station, and after a kindly cab driver discussed with me the ins and outs of parking at Queen's, Evey and I headed for dinner. We decided to eat at the Copper Penny, a restaurant along Princess Street (the major artery of "downtown" Kingston). It's funny, but in my four years at Queen's, I'd never eaten at the Copper Penny before. In fact, now that I no longer go to school in Kingston, I feel more compelled to explore the locales than I did when I did study here - probably because once Evey graduates I won't have much reason to come back here and I will have missed my opportunity.

An additional reason that I tended to steer clear of the Copper Penny was that last year, when I lived in residence, we each had name tags on our door. Every name tag featured a different Kingston location with a one-line description. Mine was the Copper Penny, and it read something like this: "A great place to catch a bite to eat, but costs more than a penny." I had considered this code for "It's expensive."

This time around, I was eager to try something new and felt like I should give this relatively well known dining establishment a try. It was not nearly as upscale as I thought it would be, with the food falling into about the Kelsey's range of price and quality (though without the cookie-cutter big chain feel). The portions were very generous and our waitress was extremely helpful and friendly. McDonald's used to always gush about their "free smiles", but in practice, it's so rare to receive genuinely cheerful service staff that it's a real boon when you have them.

I ordered cheese ravioli, which came with a Caesar salad. It was a bit on the bland side, but the ravioli were really neat. First of all, they were gigantic - probably twice the size of your average ravioli. Second of all, they were circular as opposed to the typical square shape, which really gave the impression that this was a genuinely "Copper Penny" creation. They came on a little dish off to one side of my plate, so it didn't look like much; but they were stacked up pretty good, so there were at least six or seven... pretty filling stuff.

Evey's dish was an even greater challenge to finish. It came with three pieces of breaded fish of different varieties, fried shrimp, French fries, and coleslaw. To my eyes, it looked like a heart attack on a plate, so I offered up some of my Caesar salad, which by that point had been slowly making its way to the other side of the table regardless. We didn't end up finishing all of Evey's food (all that breading...!) so we packed it to go.

One last item of interest that we passed on our way back was this life-size snowman. He's a pretty cheerful looking guy, which may have something to do with the fact that someone donated their jacket to him. You know, usually snowmen have to settle for being naked.

God Save the Queen

This weekend I will be heading back to my alma mater of Queen's University to visit Evey. I have it in my mind to bring my laptop this time, though, so I may squeeze in some blog time.

Perhaps I will even unknowingly pass "sandlot", one of my most regular commentators, on the street.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

How to long distance

Ever experienced frustration at your parents' technological ineptitude? Raise your hand.

If you're under the age of thirty, you probably have your hand up right now (at least in spirit). I mean, how hard is it to navigate multiple windows, set the date on a digital camera, or operate a DVD player, right? While it's true that Generations X, Y, and Z grew up technologically inundated, whereas the Baby Boomers did not, the conundrum (from this humble blogger's perspective) is more complicated than just that.

As we grow older, we start to resist change. Teens and tweens everywhere are raging at the cutting edge of technology. But my late-twenties brother barely uses Facebook, refuses to use Windows Live Messenger (his Internet chatting died with ICQ), and makes sure that his Windows XP looks comfortably like Windows 98. Windows 98!??

I myself am not immune to this process. I have been a late adopter of many technological trends and innovations. It is, as they say, hard to teach an old dog new tricks, and one day my future children may also be shaking their heads in shame. That's why three years after the launch of Skype and ten years after the debut of the wireless technology known as Bluetooth, I have just recently come to recognize their magnificence.

Skype utilizes a form of technology known as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) to give splendidly crisp, ideally telephone-quality, audio over the Internet - for free. Wireless Bluetooth headsets, used heavily with mobile phones, allow for convenient conversation sans wires or bulky handset. What advantages do these technologies have over something like, say, voice chat on Windows Live?

Well, for starters, while Skype offers free PC-to-PC calling, it can also be used to ring up standard telephones. I recently purchased a 3-month unlimited calling plan to the US and Canada for the quite reasonable price of $9.28 CDN. Skype also reads all the contacts off of my Microsoft Outlook address book, making it easy to call anyone from Skype with the click of a button.

The challenge, however, is that using Skype essentially tied me to my computer. Whether using a headset or webcam microphone, it was difficult for me to step more than two feet away from the computer (either because I would run out of cord or I was too far to be heard). This is where Bluetooth came in. My relatively new ASUS M51Sn laptop came with Bluetooth compatibility, which allowed me to pair my Bluetooth headset for use with the PC! This freed me up to walk, sit, or lie anywhere in the room or into the hall while maintaining my conversation over Skype.

The icing on the cake however, were Skype's versatile settings with regard to speakers. Where Windows Live (which is primarily a text messenger and secondarily a voice messenger) only accepts one speaker input (voice and sound come out of the same device), Skype (which is primarily a voice messenger and secondarily a text messenger) allows you to configure your voice and sound speakers separately. This means I can have sound coming from my conversation coming out of my Bluetooth headset but have music I'm playing on my PC come out of my desktop speakers. Outstanding!

Needless to say, Skype and Bluetooth working in tandem have made quite the impression on me as the latest technological marvel in my life. They've made keeping in touch with Evey much more manageable and have actually provided greater comfort and flexibility than holding a bulky handset between my head and shoulder all the time. If you've been burning through calling cards phoning up loved ones in Kingston, Calgary, or Vancouver, I'd recommend making the switch.

The incredible thing about medical school... that in undergrad, it would have taken me an entire year to forget this much stuff.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Top reason to own a bunny

I just though I'd throw another of my favourite videos out there while I frantically try to get enough studying done to survive my upcoming exam...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Best of Pump It Up

I don't have much for you guys today, so I thought I'd share one of my favourite YouTube videos. It's a freestyle by Smidget on the rhythm video game Pump it Up. Pump it Up is a Korean game similar to DDR. However, the game features 5 buttons (4 diagonal and 1 in the middle) versus DDR's 4 buttons (2 horizontal and 2 vertical). It's also been marketed as a "dancing game" versus DDR as a "stepping game." Watch the video and see why.

This guy virtually glides across the dance pads...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Nightmare samurai

Recounting my dream from last night, featuring Hiro and Kaito Nakamura from the television series Heroes:

Hiro and Kaito began in the basement of a typical suburban home. The lighting was dim and the environment had that concrete, unfinished look that so many basements do. As they climbed the flight of stairs to the second floor and closed the door behind them, my field of view turned back downwards into the dark. There, in the shadowy corners, something was stirring.

The sound of heavy footsteps and clanging metal became audible as an imposing set of samurai armour stepped out into view. The armour belonged to Kaito - a relic, heirloom, or some other kind of antiquity. But within the armour stood... nothing, nobody. It was moving, as if by some dark magic, without the benefit of matter to hold it up nor muscles to move the joints. Alive... and sinister.

An evil force was mustering itself once again. Something long forgotten, as evil forces often are. And it was reaching the tendrils of its influence into our world once again.

Kaito and Hiro parted ways, with Hiro travelling to visit a friend at his home. Meanwhile, these animated bodies of steel were making their move. I tracked the exploits of both Kaito and Hiro. Kaito, a practiced swordsman, had little to fear. He stalked cautiously about his house, katana in hand, ready to engage his otherworldy foe.

Hiro, on the other hand, was hiding out with his friend. Eventually, Hiro's friend grew anxious and tired of waiting. He fled their hiding spot, sword in hand. Using his eyes and ears, the friend tracked the movements of the lumbersome suit of armour haunting his home. It was clear he was ill-prepared. An ordinary man in our ordinary world, wielding his blade with woeful inexperience. The armoured warrior descended from upstairs to the main floor, leaving the friend cornered and with no choice but to launch his attack. He managed to get off a number of parries and stabbing motions before the battle turned around and he was mercilessly cut down.

As my omnipresent eyes circled the friend's lifeless and bleeding body, I heard him narrate: "So it was at 5 PM that I became the samurai's first victim. Hiro would be the second. The third..."

I remember my shock at hearing of Hiro's demise. After all, didn't he have superpowers? But more importantly, who was the third?

My attention returned to the friend's body. Standing beside it, was a woman, fraught with distress. It was his wife. Tearful, she lay herself down next to him, holding him in her embrace before the last vestiges of warmth were gone from his body. But I knew, at this unguarded moment, that the samurai was coming for her...

I awoke in a cold fear. Visions of deadly, invincible suits of armour still dancing through my mind. I checked the clock - 6:30 AM. Outside, it was still pitch black. I considered using the washroom before going back to sleep, but the prospect of of being ambushed by a lifeless samurai in the hallway still seemed very real. I dared not move. I'd like to remember this, I thought to myself. I reached to my nightstand and fumbled for a notebook. My hand trembled as I sloppily penned the words upon a sheet that I couldn't really see, as if by writing them down, I could bring the dream to life.

All the hours, I thought to myself, slaying Raydrics carelessly in Ragnarok Online, or watching suits of armour come to life in film... but never had these soulless creatures ever seemed quite so intimidating - quite so evil - as when they seemed real.


As an aside, I thought I'd take this moment to note that I really hate samurai. I realize this is highly unusual. After all, samurai are slick, honourable warriors romanticized in both video games and movies. But they are were many ways, simply glorified mercenaries - swords for hire. Furthermore, it is their uncompromising honour code that fuelled the Japanese disdain for surrender. This attitude carried over into the Second World War, where the Japanese reviled the Chinese who surrendered to them. They treated their opponents as less than human: to be raped, tortured, worked, eviscerated, and experimented on. Yet faced with the overwhelming deterrent of atomic weaponry, Japan itself surrendered. They did not hang their heads in shame nor perform seppuku (ritual sacrifice) en masse. They did not fight to the last man, woman, and child. And while I certainly don't think they should have done so (for it would have been a catastrophic waste of life), it does make me bitter at the hypocrisy with which they scorned and tortured their opponents.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Caution: Warped minds at work (2/2)

Oh dear... studying is not going as well as I had anticipated. I'm trudging along just trying to be ready for my (minor) histology examination on Monday. Meanwhile, studying for my (major) biochemistry examination on Thursday has been shelved; which may lead to a massive panic attack on Tuesday and Wednesday when I will have some dedicated biochemistry time.

Here is the second sketch that Maximus and I put together during our lectures on schizophrenia and tuberculosis (TB). This one encompasses the TB side of things. Tuberculosis is an old and deadly disease that has been known by many names over the ages (phthisis, consumption, etc.). The treatment of the disease has varied over the years - moving from institutionalization, to hospitalization, to the community. At one point, our professor describes, TB ships were commonly sent out to test coastal villages for the disease. Upon finding an afflicted person, they would hustle them aboard and take them away. It's for this reason that my illustrated lady is wearing a naval uniform.

Clinging to her back is a TB-afflicted person with Pott's Disease, a TB-associated spinal arthritis that often leads to anorexia, weight loss, and muscle weakness. I was inspired by a particular costume in Rock Band, with a creepy gargoyle clinging to the back of your character. Maximus' contribution was the afflicted person's ghastly face.

The Captain is wearing a watch that reads 119 hours. This alludes to a comment the speaker made that an estimated 120 hours of exposure are necessary to contract the disease (so living with someone who has TB puts you at the highest risk). Above her head flies a Red Snapper (it's obviously not accurate, since I had no idea what a red snapper looks like, just that it's a fish), because under a microscope, TB is supposed to resemble this kind of fish.

Now cram... cram like there's no tomorrow...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Caution: Warped minds at work (1/2)

I'm sorry that the last week or so has been flooded with entries about Korean drama and movies. It just happens that between exams, school, and my vapid procrastination, not much has been going on.

Last week, I had a lecture on schizophrenia and tuberculosis. As I often do, I began doodling a miscellaneous anime lady. Maximus, who was sitting beside me, leaned over and grabbed my sheet. Now I have to tell you - this is generally not a great sign. When you pour your time and effort into a sketch, friends often feel to need to lean over and apply googly eyes or frak up the arms that you haven't had time to draw in yet... Maximus, to his credit, merely drew a sliver of blood dripping down the character's mouth. I was relieved that at least the lady did not look demented after the addition.

I took the change as an opportunity to fix the character's hand, which was a mess due to my shameful inability to draw proper appendages, by covering it with a skull. At this point, Maximus went all out - leading to a rather twisted looking collaboration. In her opposite hand appeared a spear, on which hung a dreadful-looking head, dripping a pool of blood. In the background, the remainder of the body materialized, with a series of bloody footsteps bridging the divide. Applying the cherry-on-top, Maximus drew in a text bubble reading, "Look how cute I am". I can tell you that the image garnered quite a bit of attention.

In a final spin, we decided to tie our morbid artistic creation to the lecture we were listening to. Schizophrenia can be characterized by four different types of symptoms: Positive (addition of abnormal thoughts), negative (loss of normal responsiveness), cognitive (disorders of mental function), and mood. Labels were applied, and our character became the poster-girl for schizophrenia. Along the very bottom is a finish line, labelled Clozapine, an anti-psychotic drug. As evidenced by the large pool of blood though, our lady has stopped just short of effective therapy.

And now it's time to bunker down and study...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Curses and tarnation!

...a pox on Korean drama.

Killed much of my night watching Spotlight, featuring the girl from Alone in Love (I swore not to do this before exams /sigh). But I think Son Yeh Jin may have won a place as my second favourite Korean lady.

I realized that some of you actually tried watching A Man Who Was Superman yesterday, and I apologize for not warning you in advance that it is actually quite boring. It didn't really pick up until the ending, which most people probably did not make it to.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Altruism and avarice

Yesterday's post about video games and violence stimulated such impassioned discussion, that I almost felt bashful for my original views. I must confess that I have always defended gaming from a gamer's perspective, and holding games such as Half-Life 2 in such high esteem has (to my knowledge) not desensitized me to real-world pain and violence. Still, some compelling arguments were brought up to the contrary, and I will admit that it is likely that games do affect our psyche in ways distinct from other media and that we certainly need to regulate the exposure of developing minds to levels of content. However, I do believe that the promotion of positive stimuli is as important, if not more so, than the removal of negative stimuli. The content of video games is not only an influence on our society, but a reflection of it.

On my way home today, the subway was closed between St. George and Union. Apparently, a couple of riders had gotten into a fight, which concluded with a shooting at Osgoode station. Through my limited life of twenty-two years, I have become increasingly cynical of humankind (perhaps unreasonably so...?). Why do people continually hurt and denigrate one another? If I were of the mind that religion was a human invention, I would deem answering this question as reasonable motivation for its creation. Agreeing with this statement however, overlies the assumption of a standard of decent behaviour incongruent with people's actions, which leads into the question: Who defined the ideal? (an argument posed by C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity). Regardless of the origin of the ideal, however, society does laud kindness and altruism; though we often find such virtues frustratingly out of reach.

Seeking a reprieve from my studies on Wednesday, I sunk two hours into watching Korean movie on Crunchyroll called A Man Who Was Superman. It was a melancholic yet gentle tale touching on themes of benevolence versus indifference in a jaded world.

The film follows Song Soo-Jung (Jun Ji Hyun of My Sassy Girl fame), a disillusioned documentary filmmaker. With her company struggling financially and her boyfriend working far off in Mongolia, she appears at the beginning of the movie to be cynical and fed-up.

Her interests are reignited, however, by her run-in with a helpful yet strange character (Hwang Jung-min) under the impression that he is Superman. Claiming that his superpowers have been inhibited by the implantation of Kryptonite (radioactive shards from his home planet, Superman's one and only weakness) within his brain by the "bald villain", Superman continues to help people all over the city. He cites three reasons for his unusual altruism. Firstly, if he stops helping, he will forget how to, and then he will forget his identity. Secondly, if he continues to help, the Kryptonite will eventually find its way out of his head. Thirdly, he enjoys it. Soo-Jung is intrigued and begins filming Superman for a new television documentary.

The movie snaps back and forth between fantasy and reality, and it soon becomes clear that Superman is in fact, delusional. Mixed in with his genuine acts of kindness are erratic behaviours, such as poking sticks down a sewer grate in order to fight "the beast" living underground. When he injures some construction workers after confusing an excavator for a monster and is almost arrested, Soo-Jung is forced to seek out Superman's true identity.

Warming: Plot spoilers ahead! If you're interested in watching this movie, then do so [here] before continuing. (Although I wouldn't be surprised if Crunchyroll removes the film, since almost everything worth watching is gone)

Strength doesn't open big iron doors, but a small key.

Superman, as it turns out, is a young man whose wife and child died in a tragic car crash. Years earlier, as a boy, his father disappeared after going out to help during a night of street fighting. Running into the streets to see what was going on, Superman was shot in the head. His young brain healed around the bullet, which remained lodged in his head (his Kryptonite), but gave him seizures throughout his life. He is haunted by the memory of the dozens of bystanders who stood by while his wife and child died and the inopportune seizure that prevented him from helping them himself. His memories of his father centre around the movie Superman and his father's lessons of helping others, which provide the basis of his fantasy.

In order to protect Superman from harming himself and others, Soo-Jung has him re-institutionalized at the facility where he was treated for seizures as a child. The doctors prescribe medications for him, which suppress his emotions, drawing him back to reality at the expense of his extraordinary character. They then release him back into society to lead a normal but unremarkable life. Soo-Jung laments the extraordinary personality that has been lost to him.

Some time later, there is a car crash near the area where Superman lives. At the scene of the accident, surrounded by bystanders, one of the people involved flicks a cigarette on the ground. This ignites a gas leak coming from underground (at the very manhole where Superman used to challenge "the beast"). There is a huge explosion leading to a police officer being pinned under a car and an apartment building being set on fire.

Superman stands idly by in the crowd for a long time, but his inherent desire to help kicks in and he prepares to brave the fire to save a little girl trapped inside. Soo-Jung tries to stop him, declaring that being reckless will not bring back his family or his father. Superman counters that while the past cannot be changed, the future can be, as long as we remember who we are.

"Who am I?" Superman demands.

A teary Soo-Jung cannot help but reply, "My friend. And... My Superman."

Superman then runs into the building and locates the little girl, but finds his exit blocked. "Superman," the barely conscious little girl pleads.

Placed in a hopeless situation, Superman asks, "Can Superman fly?" Using his body as a cushion, he jumps out of the window and lands on his back, saving the little girl at the expense of his own life.

The movie ended in this manner - a story about a tormented character, stigmatized by mental illness. Yet the story is one of courage, warmth, and heroism from a most unusual man.

The melancholy rolls onward...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Don't hate the game

It was about a week ago that I stumbled onto an article describing how a 17-year-old boy from Ohio had slain his mother (and almost his father) over the popular video game, Halo 3. The boy's father, a minister at a local church, had forbidden the boy from playing the game.

Daniel Petric crept into his parents room at night and asked them, "Would you guys close your eyes? I have a surprise for you." Closing their eyes, and expecting something nice, his parents each received gunshot wounds to the head. Daniel then ran away from home, taking with him nothing but his Halo 3 game disc.

It's easy to point the finger at games for this incident. Certainly games have their role to play in creating immersive and interactive fictional settings. But at worst, they could serve as a trigger point for those with underlying mental or moral instabilities. Halo 3 is a colourful science fiction story about a super-soldier out to save the world. It carries little of the controversial content of some other popular games.

If I were to identify one singular component of video games that I think has been deleterious on the development of youth, I would point the finger squarely at online competitive play. Not only does multiplayer facilitate endless hours of addictive gameplay (there is no finite story to complete), but it also brings together legions of arrogant and abusive morons who cuss and insult one another from the safety of their own homes. However, this is not a function of games, but rather the nature of the Internet itself. The Internet's freedom from tangible retrubution for one's actions makes it a breeding ground for idiocy.

The prevention of troubling scenarios such as that of Daniel Petric require more fundamental changes than restrictions on video game content (though some degree of content moderation may be prudent). They require us as a society to examine our character and attitudes towards conflict, morality, family, firearms, and education. While this particular case was sparked by Halo, the underlying issues lay with Daniel... and with us.

I was shocked while studying for my course on Community Health to stumble upon the following fact regarding Canada:

In the past 20 years, one third of homocide victims were related to their killers.

Admittedly, homocide is not a frequent occurence in our society, but it does raise some rather dramatic questions: Who slaughters their own kin?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama slides safely into office

Barrack Obama's presidential inauguration went off today without any problems, except some minor glitches when taking the oath of office. While much of the world was captivated, I had to admit that I was fairly unexcited for the event. I am, of course, excited for the man, and the change and spirit that he represents. But it will be (at best) months or maybe even years before substantial solutions to America's great problems are in place.

My greatest worry was perhaps a silly one (though not one to be ruled out, I think): that Obama would be assassinated during his inauguration. Chortle if you must, but the 44th president of the United States of America seems like a fairly high risk target for assassination.

Certainly, he is popular (not just in America, but globally)... but JFK was popular too, and that didn't stop him from being assassinated. Obama represents change, and whenever someone with power truly means to shake things up, there is bound to be resistance. There are also the less rational prejudices floating around - that Obama is too liberal, too Black, too... Muslim? As preposterous as these claims may be, they demonstrate reasons to be concerned about Obama's safety. Though we like to think of Western society as being civilized and upright, many high profile individuals have been assassinated over the years - we can be a lot shadier than we like to admit.

There were also Hillary Clinton's controversial remarks during the race for the Democratic presidential nomination back in May, which some interpreted as anticipating Obama's assassination and her succession therafter:

"My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don't understand it," she said, dismissing calls to drop out.

So what does it take to keep a president safe? Apparently, 42,500 police, soldiers, sailors, national guardsmen, and undercover agents; surface-to-air missiles; fighter jets; gunboats... and one sexy, new Cadillac limousine.

Obama's ride is a tank in car's clothing. What kind of defenses are this Batmobile wannabe "Cadillac One" packing?
  • 20 cm armour-plated doors, as heavy as cabin doors on a Boeing 757
  • Five-inch reinforced undercarriage able to withstand roadside bombing
  • Kevlar-reinforced shred-and-puncture resistant tires with steel rims, enabling the car to escape at speed even if the tires are blasted away
  • Armour-plated gas tank filled with specially designed foam, preventing explosion even after a direct hit
  • Night-vision cameras
  • Stowed-away shotguns, tear gas cannons, and vials of Obama's blood for emergency transfusions!
  • 30 L/100 km fuel efficiency (to compare, the 2009 Toyota Matrix rates about 8.1 L/100 km)
  • $545,000 price tag
Of course, that'll only keep him safe as long as he stays in the car...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Procrastinata eternum

...I like to invent fancy words for my perpetual state of dawdling. I'm absurdly tired today. Allow me to interject a few entertaining anecdotes to your own procrastination.

Life in the Great Wall

I sit in the Great Wall - a term coined early in the year to describe a row of seats occupied almost entirely by East Asians. It has always baffled me that the Great Wall occupies the fourth row, a number considered highly unlucky for its resemblance to the Chinese word for "death." I guess the eighth row was just too far back to satisfy our keen little brains (or myopic eyesight).

Today, our professor was describing collagen synthesis, and in particular the effect of Vitamin C deficiency on this process. You might know that Vitamin C deficiency leads to a condition called scurvy, which was common among seafaring folk back in the day. In the mid-1700's, British sailors sent off to fight the French logged around 130,000 casualties to scurvy and 1500 to combat. When the cause was discovered, the Royal Navy began rationing lime juice to sailors as a source of Vitamin C. He then noted that the Chinese had been using fermented bean sprouts to the same effect since the 14th or 15th Century.

There was a predictable stir in the Chinese population of the class. Behind us, a couple of brown girls commented with a chuckle, "The Great Wall is patting itself on the back."

Breaking it down

This weekend I installed Google Analytics on my blog. This statistical service allows me to track how many visitors I have, how long they stay, and where they come from. It only updates once a day, so it keeps me from obsessively trolling my stats page. I was particularly curious about how many random strangers blow through my site without my knowing.

As it turned out, 27 distinct individuals stopped by my page over the weekend. 33% of them arrived via a search engine. Most stumbled upon my blog through searches for "Medgames," one through a search for "long ago in a galaxy far away star wars quote," and one inexplicably through a search for "Asian boy popular" (I will admit that I immediately tried punching that into Google and couldn't find my website anywhere).

Almost all of the visits were from Ontario, but two hits landed via the United States, and one from Thailand. I wouldn't take that too seriously though - I have a 63% bounce rate, meaning most visitors immediately decide that my page is not relevant to them and leave.

On average, people spend 2 minutes and 15 seconds on the top page. "2 minutes!" exclaimed Mello, "That's a lot!"

...It is?

Follow me!

If you've been enjoying the content on my blog, and have a Google, Blogger, or GMail account, please feel free to make me feel popular by clicking on the "Follow this blog" link on the sidebar.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dramatis Korea

I lie awake on the carpeted floor. Eyes closed. Bathed in the dim, cloudy light streaming through a half-opened window. Breathing emotion in and out as the cool temperatures send chills down my arms. Thinking. Reflecting.

Who can think of their childhood without a tinge of sorrow? The dreams, curiosities, and hopes that have been forgotten.

I drink in a world tinged with sadness and nostalgia. I'm a sap. I know that. There's something about television drama that I love. I love the condensation of life into a dense emotional pill. The mood-invoking environment of a soundtrack. The angles. The lighting. Everything is staged. It makes me feel cold and lonely. It's heart-rending. But I soak it up, like a drug.

16 hours. That's the amount of time I spent on my latest dramatic adventure. It's an index of how fervently I have been avoiding my studies. Alone in Love was the fifth Asian drama that I had ever watched [watch it | learn more]. It was my first Korean drama.

Evey detests Korean drama. For the longest time, I thought this was strange. Evey grew up in Korea, and lived there for the first 14 years of her life. Why would she dislike the television series coming out of her homeland? Everybody seems to like Korean drama; I have Chinese friends who are addicted to it. Of course, I had never watched one before.

Alone in Love is a beautiful show, with beautiful filming, beautiful people, and beautiful acting. But I quickly began to see what the problem was. I'm easily addicted to television, so when I begin a show, I barrel through and never want to stop until it's over (that's why I try to keep up with shows as they are running, so I can't binge out at the end). Viewing marathons like this help to accentuate the emotional impact because for a day or two, that world is your world. So you can imagine my surprise to find that, by the 8th episode of Alone in Love, I was getting sick of the show.

The series follows Lee Dong Jin (Kam Woo Sung) and Yoo Eun Ho (Son Yeh Jin), a married couple who divorced following the stillbirth of their son, Dong. Despite their separation, the two still bump into each other frequently and share their best friends, Eun Ho's sister Yoo Ji Ho (Lee Ha Na) and Dong Jin's childhood friend Gong Joon Pyo (Gong Hyeong Jin). They still love each other, two years after the divorce, but they can't bring themselves to start over.

Instead they insult and frustrate one another, acting on the outside the opposite of what they feel inside. Dong Jin in particular spends the first half of the show deeply caring for Eun Ho in private reflection, but treating her like a real jerk in practice. Despite the fact that they clearly cannot live without each other, they refuse to admit it or move forward.

There is some kind of twisted sense of nobility here. They refuse to be together because they are afraid that being together will remind them of their son and make the other sad. Yet being apart puts them in a state of agony. It seems a common Asian conception of goodness to sacrifice (and be miserable) for someone else, even if that sacrifice doesn't actually make the other happy.

Days pass by like still water. But we miss the monotony whenever something happens... and struggle to survive.

But the major frustrations are the rivals. As Dong Jin and Eun Ho struggle with their feelings for each other, they begin relationships with other men and women. These relationships feel empty and drive the other into unadmitted fits of jealousy. When these filler obstacles are cleared and it seems that it's time for Dong Jin and Eun Ho to make up, another pair of love rivals comes along. All the while, it seems like no progress is being made. It's frustrating.

Apparently, this is such a popular plot device that there is a term in Korean to describe it: "shovelling." It's a metaphor that describes digging a hole in the ground instead of doing something useful (like telling your ex-wife that you love her and would like to start over). Much effort. Little result. That's how Alone in Love felt by the end of the eighth episode.

Evey described to me a famous manga artist, Miyuki Kitagawa, whose stories frustratingly continued on in this manner. Boy + girl. Rival boy attempts to break up boy + girl. Resolution. Rival girl attempts to break up boy + girl. Resolution. New rival girl tries to... and so on and so forth until it felt like a suitable time to end the series.

Luckily, Alone in Love managed to pick back up in the second half. The new rivals were more compelling. The characters fought less and thus were less exasperating. The softer side became more prominent. Still, I couldn't help but remain a bit frustrated by the end.

You irresponsible people, I thought to myself. Why did you waste three years of your life fighting. So, it might be hard together; but you're miserable apart. How many others did you have to drag down, hurt, and throw away in your quest to get back together.

Certainly the casualty count could have been lower if not for all the shovelling ("Now imagine," says Evey, "years and years of that").

The present will become tomorrow's memories. To live is to make memories.

Overall, I will admit, I still liked the series quite a lot. However it sometimes feels like that Korea may be stuck somewhat in the creativity department. While I've watched many Korean movies that I thought were phenomenal (Il Mare, My Sassy Girl, 2009 Lost Memories), 16 hours seemed like it was too much to keep up, and hence Alone in Love started dragging its feet.

I look to the MMORPG market, which is huge in Korea. While there is a vast number of these games coming out of Korea (and they're gorgeous), they are relatively congruent with one another. None are original enough to make a big splash on the international stage. Similarly, you'd be hard pressed to find an animation team today that didn't have Koreans on it (Japanese, American - everyone employs them). They possess an extremely high level of technical proficiency, yet have not reached the creative point where their original content can displace the dominance of Japan or the United States in this market.

However, don't let this be taken the wrong way. I think that Korea is abundantly gifted in the arts. Their MMORPG's are beautiful. Their movies are fascinating. Their acting is well done.

I'm looking forward to my next Korean drama, and if you can suggest one with perhaps a bit less "shovelling", I'm sure I'll be quickly addicted.

Let the melancholy begin again...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Holy frolicsome freshmen, Batman!

Recently, a kindly stranger dropped by my blog and left a comment about my reflections on Medgames. Apparently, they had stumbled upon my writings while searching Medgames on Google. Curious as to just how far down the list one would have to go to do so, I decided to enter "Medgames 2009" into Google myself. I could hardly have anticipated the result...

With all the Facebook albums being posted under the "Medgames 2009" banner, I had perhaps not realized just how little genuine web-publishing students do these days. I landed myself at #2 on Google.


As an aside, I swung by an old high school friend's blog today, and was happy to see a few things going on there. His blog was actually my first exposure to Blogger, and therefore paved the way for the construction of this page you are reading right now. I had designed the original layout last year and illustrated the watermark turtle that appears on many of the images.

The blog name, Brutal Turtle, actually comes from an AI setting for computer opponents in Electronic Arts' Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars (opponents who horde up their units, attacking late in the game, but with overwhelming force). It carries my friend's musings, whose interests include cars (particularly BMW), the Queen, and a democratic Hong Kong.

Friday, January 16, 2009

w3-09 : Week in review

Medgames 2009 has been the topic of the week, allowing my blog to fall behind on the daily happenings of my life. But today, I got out of class at noon. Class times have been cut for the upcoming weeks in order to allow us to study for our impending exams, but I have decided to defer this noble activity until tomorrow. It feels so nice to get home while the sun is still up and have virtually the entire day to spend. Hard to believe that Ottawa students live like this everyday. In light of this new found wealth of time, I thought I would play catchup - highlighting all the entertaining happenings of this week in one fell swoop.

Monday, January 12, 2009

My time in Montreal for Medgames came with a slew of exceedingly late nights and early mornings. This was compounded with inability to nap on the bus and with the fact that my sleep hours were already a bit off from the recent Christmas holidays. I woke up Monday morning unbelievably tired and feeling like I had just come out of another time zone and was suffering from jet lag... minus the jet.

Over our longer-than-usual lunch period, Stewie, Kon, and I decided to crash at Kushima's place for two hours and nap a bit. Mello also seemed keen to come with us, which was a bit weird. I think she failed to realize that when we said we were going to sleep, we actually meant close our eyes and lose consciousness. We were tired. I don't live downtown. I needed a safe place to pass out. Sleep was not a codeword for "go to Kushima's place and chill." We left without her, but we had only the best intentions in doing so.

We picked up some lunch from a Chinese food truck, then walked back to Kushima's suite-style apartment complex. There wasn't a whole lot of room, so there was a bit of improvisation utilized in finding enough space. I myself ended up sitting on the floor at the head of the bed, asleep in an upright position, with my head leaning on a pillow. Adding to the difficulty, there was some kind of maintenance work going on just outside the window that was quite loud. Luckily, I still had my airline mask and earplugs from Medgames, and therefore managed to catch some Z's. I have since resolved to carry them always.

After class there was a "career night" featuring physicians from various specialities talking about what they do. When Kon asked Stewie if he was planning on attending, Stewie replied, "There's a Korean night?" In that moment of misunderstanding, a half-dozen thoughts shot through his brain: How does Kon know about this? Is there going to be a Chinese and Japanese night too? Korean girls ftw!

When we told Yubin about this miscommunication she chuckled, "You guys want a Korean night? We can all go have Korean food and I'll bring Korean girls."

Before Stewie could get too excited, I interjected, "Umm... I'm not really sure if you should be pawning off your friends like that."

"Well we can just have Korean food. Not everything is about girls, you know."

"I don't think Korean food is sufficiently exciting..."

"What?! You don't like Korean food? Well you'll be eating it everyday if you live with Evey!" she retorted in mock anger.

For the record, I don't actually dislike Korean food... I just find many aspects of it a little too flavourful (read: spicy) for my palate. That said, I do enjoy Korean food now and again, and I'm rather enamoured to kimchi. But who knows, maybe we'll just eat dim sum.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

On Tuesday I caught Stewie and Kon messaging each other on MSN from only one seat away. There was literally only Yubin between them. Clearly, their laptops have improved their efficiency in lecture. /sarcasm

It reminded me, however, of something incredibly amusing I saw in the 2005 Tricolour (the Queen's University yearbook):

Above: Two roommates discuss which Kingston night venue to party at via MSN. Stewie and Kon's side-by-side messaging reminded me of it.

On the same page of the yearbook was an even more amusing anecdote:

I have this foreboding feeling that I will be having a similar conversation with Kon in a few days. Drama 1, Us 0. Speaking of which, I started watching my first ever Korean drama called Alone in Love. It follows the antics of a young, divorced couple who obviously still love one another. They're both retarded, but at the same time adorable. Maybe I'll pick up some Korean long the way too.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

You may recall the little buggers that used to sit behind me in class. Yes, the angry ones who think they're exceedingly clever, make obtuse comments about professors and fellow students, act condescending, and never shut up. They always wound up behind me because I like to sit in the middle of my row, and so do they. I thought many times about moving off to the side, but by principle, I thought that I shouldn't allow these people to force me to move - after all, they are the ones who are being disruptive.

Now I'm not in the habit of making New Year's resolutions, but I decided in January that I should just move. It's a much better alternative than going mad with anger and impairing my learning experience because of my silly pride. On Wednesday, however, the rows filled up in such a way that I was back in the middle. I was quickly distracted by the following discussion from the girls behind:

A: You know, the common people always say things like "I'm sure science will find a cure for cancer." There's no cure for cancer, you morons! You need like 300 cures.

B: You know I think cancer research is just a huge waste of money.

A: No no, cancer research isn't a huge waste of money. HIV research is.


A: You know all those drug resistant illnesses? People f*cking deserve it. That's what you get for using antibiotics carelessly.

I'd like to note that while there is no one cure for cancer (because cancer is not one disease), many treatments have an effect on a wide range of cancers. Furthermore, whether we make advances in curing one type of cancer or a hundred types, we are continually moving toward better and more effective treatments.

But regardless of the validity of this conversation, you really have to question how such pompous, vindictive windbags got into medical school, why there are other people who are willing to embrace their trash talk, and what kind of doctors they're going to graduate to be.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

On Wednesday, Zo asked me to save a seat for her in class. Even though I did so, she walked in late and sat down beside another of our friends (in the same row). I felt a little bit bad, because I had already turned Kushima away. I received my deserved punishment though...

You may recall that at Medgames, we played a game of Truth or Truth (Truth or Dare minus the dare). One of the questions asked was, "Who do you think should not be in med school?" While I was tempted to say the ladies from the row behind, my mind flitted to yet another.

Above: An entry from a series of comics about medical school stereotypes. This one, the "Questionable Admission." How did they get here?

My pick for "questionable admission" was a lad who I'll refer to as "Sandoval." I've had a couple of run ins with him here and there. From what I can tell, he is loud, vulgar, and doesn't take anything seriously. He rolls into class late, exudes an aura of flexible morality, and acts vaguely gangster.

Because of Zo's conspicuous absence beside me, Sandoval slid into the adjacent seat a few minutes into our second class (he had skipped the first). What made it worse was that Kon, who had been sitting by himself early on Wednesday, had subsequently added a chair to our row so that everything was super squished. Sandoval immediately dropped a cache of belongings onto the desk. Then he began to eat a stack of granola bar type snacks.

Now I ought not to complain about eating in class. I do it too, and I also have noisy wrappers. But Sandoval chews loudly, as if his mouth is slightly ajar. It's accompanied with an unbearable smacking sound. He also frequently made strange groaning noises, and constantly tapped his leg and the floor. He was permanently in my personal space, either shoving his elbow my way on the table surface or leaning his elbow on the back of my chair. Whenever I was leaned forward and then shifted backwards, I found his elbow on my chair against my back. Usually when two people make physical contact and one is invading the space of the other, they move. He did not.

Near the end of class, he began drawing a large alphabet letter in pen on the table, adding devil ears and a tail to give it some extra character. I leaned over, "Hey dude, stop vandalizing the table." With a grin he replied, "It's art." Why don't you put your art on paper, like other polite people do, I thought to myself. Now I know many people think that Sandoval is a pretty chill guy - he's talkative, and funny... And maybe he is. But for now, my impression of him is that he's crass, disrespectful, and in your face (or at least, in your space).

(Please take my ranting with a grain of salt, I know I really ought not to be so judgemental. I'm Andy... and I have a problem.)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Today was my return to Clinical Skills class after Christmas break. I must have missed my bus, because I had to wait at the station for almost 15 minutes and was therefore ten minutes late. Most people commute to the hospital from downtown and take the shuttle rather than transit. The shuttle stop is only a short walk away from most of them and it only comes every half hour. Therefore, they know which one to catch and nobody is late. I have only had to take transit to the hospital three times (usually I can get dropped off there, since it is not that far from my uptown home). The previous two times I had left the house at a similar hour but had arrived on time. My lateness was unexpected and inauspicious. Because of the aforementioned shuttle rigidity, I was, of course, the only one late.

I had not done any history taking or physical exam procedures for weeks and was a little bit rusty, and very much nervous. Luckily, while I expected my peers to have been more diligent than me, it seemed we were all in the same boat. Student doctors are like student drivers - uncertain, clumsy, and in need of practice. It didn't help that our patient had an undiagnosed occluded radial artery, which in layman's terms means we were looking for a pulse but could find none - because there was none.

After class, I got a ride to Lawrence subway station from a kind colleague. His car, however, was a bit hazardous. In the back seats where I was sitting, one side had brown gunk all over it. There was also cereal strewn everywhere and a finished yogurt container kicking around. I tried to find a way to sit so that I wouldn't get up again with bits of food or goo attached to my rear end.

From Lawrence I took the subway back up to Finch and drove home. On the way, I arrived at a nonfunctional traffic light. I saw cars several hundred metres ahead of me go through the intersection. The car that was only a few metres ahead of me, however, stopped when he got to the light. I stopped also. I could see the police officer who was directing traffic was busy signalling the opposing lane to go forward. In my mind I was thinking, Maybe we should be going forward also. It doesn't make sense for one side of the street to go forward but not the other. It's not like the traffic going perpendicular can go forward while the opposing lane is going forward, so really we are sitting still for nothing. Sure enough, the police officer turned around and took a step back as if he was thinking, "What the heck, didn't I just get this lane going?" and signalled for us to continue.

I got home at a lovely hour. I was compelled to draw a bath for myself for the first time in many years. I dozed off in the water for a bit, then got out, ate lunch, watched Korean drama, and blogged. Tonight I plan to get a good night's sleep and tomorrow... hopefully study.

Exams are coming. I need to study...

...But the final season of Battlestar Galactica starts tonight!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bilingualism and the divide

While Montreal is the most Anglophone-friendly city in Quebec, my experience there with my peers for Medgames [read about days: 0 | 1 | 2 | 3] gave me a firsthand taste of the bittersweet love-hate relationship between English and French Canada.

Most Montrealers (note that I did not say Quebecers) speak both English and French. Most other Canadians do not. In Ontario, French education is required to a Grade 9 level (nowhere near fluency). In British Columbia, one can actually choose between Spanish and French education. This confuses me a little bit, because the last time I checked, Spanish was not a national language.

After the opening ceremonies for Medgames, much of the instruction and most of the speeches took place only in French. This was boggling, since Medgames was a national event, and the primary language for most of Canada is English. Now it's perfectly fair for things to be said first in French and second in English (I mean, it is their province, therefore their priority), but it didn't make total sense to invite the rest of Canada and then not speak to them. One might say that the Quebecois were merely taking a jab at their fellow Canadians for not knowing both national languages, but that hardly seems effective bridge-building, because regrettable or not, it remains the truth that many if not most Canadians are not functionally bilingual.

This attitude implied indifference to English Canada. English Canada was more than happy to reciprocate. Over the course of the weekend, French dominance evoked sour criticisms by Anglophones around me of Montreal, Quebec, and French. "Why would they invite us here just to ignore us?" Kushima retorted to me once, "They should just separate." This set me immediately on the defensive.

When I ran the stark criticisms of Quebec by my brother, who lives and works in Montreal and who speaks fluent French, he chided that this was just a taste of what Quebecois must feel when they attend so-called "national" events hosted only in English. This is true, but it was not enough to appease anyone that I spoke to over the weekend. There is a sort of feeling in the Anglophone community that English is more important than French - they they ought to bend and we ought not to. Let me correct this conception.

Canada is a great nation, built on a history of multiculturalism and bilingualism. The Quebecois did not immigrate to Canada after the fact, but rather are a founding part of our very Confederation. Their language and their culture have been instrumental in the shaping of our country. Their minds, indispensable to our leadership (think Trudeau and Chretien if you need some recent examples). While Canada may feud amongst itself, there is no Canada without Quebec. To look down on this fact is to scorn this great nation. As citizens, we must be proud of Canada's history and culture. As immigrants, we must embrace the country that accepted us and that we chose to call home.

Certainly, national pride is something sorrowfully lacking in many Canadians, only vaguely aware of their country's achievements. In many ways, Ontario is the pin that holds Canada together. Ontario sees Canada as a nation united. To the West, the Prairies are bathed in oil-rich opulence, clinging to Conservative values, speaking of building "firewalls" to separate them from the rest of the country, and toting a "who needs a country run by the French" attitude. To the East, Quebec attempts to set up its own institutions as though it were a country, resenting English encroachment on their province and blaming Canada for their problems. It is Ontario's job to remind Canada that no province is an island and that we are better off together than apart.

Indeed, Maximus (who is from Vancouver) expressed that Ontario feels different from British Columbia. In Ontario, Canadians are Canadian by virtue of being Canadian. In BC, Canadians are Canadian by virtue of not being the United States.

Canada is, as my brother puts it, a bit of an experiment. Still a relatively young nation, it attempts to forge a Confederation based on compromise and cooperativity, rather than forcing a strong national identity on all members (like the United States). History will be the judge, but certainly we seem to enjoy and appreciate our cultural mosaic - a distinctly Canadian value. If so, then we must respect one another. Respect Canada, respect the East, respect the West, and respect the heritage of this country - bilingualism and all.

It was once posed to me that if Quebec separated from Canada, Canada would be annexed by the United States. The reason? Canada and the US are so close together, and share so many things. Yet what they differ on are some fundamental attitudes - the greatest being our emphasis on multiculturalism as outlined above. We are the "tossed sald," and they are the "melting pot." Yet were Quebec to separate, the originator of this multiculturalism would be lost. We would not laud our bilingual, multicultural nation. We would be the US: English-speaking, with a high immigrant load. While this apocalyptic scenario might never come to fruition, the implication is clear - Quebec is a key part of our national identity. Hate them or love them, we know and we identify that Canada is ten provinces, three territories, and two languages.

It is a richly diverse nation with a proud history. It is also a huge country. As a result, there may be squabbles and there may be mud-flinging. But let us not weild the banner of "separatism" lightly. Canada is our nation, and nations are not formed carelessly; nor should they be extinguished casually.

Now to apply this conciliatory tone to Medgames, I'd like to note that the Université de Montréal was still a very gracious host. While official speaking may have been done unfavourably in French, all our guides and event overseers were more than happy to instruct us in English and with a smile. They were warmly appreciative of the considerate gestures such as, "bonjour" and "merci." In short, they were kind, courteous, and understanding in all of my one-on-one interactions. We ought not to bear them ill. After all, we are all Canadian together.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

d3 : Medgames 2009

[Continued from d0, d1, d2]
Sunday, January 11, 2009

Our final day of Medgames (a national sporting competition between Canadian medical schools, hosted in Montreal, Quebec) began with another early morning. Things were a little bit inconvenient because our checkout time was noon, but the closing ceremonies were not expected to end until ~1 PM. We cleaned and packed up in the morning, dropped our stuff off in the "luggage room" downstairs, and checked out before boarding the shuttle one last time for CEPSUM. We were greeted by a familiar brown bag breakfast: chocolate croissant, Clementine, inedible bagel, and a single juice box.

The closing ceremonies were held around a large indoor track. The seating capacity (found on the second floor above the track) was incredibly limited and quickly filled up, so most people ended up sitting on the floor at track level itself. Much to the chagrin of my Anglo friends, the entire ceremony was conducted in French. Luckily, the "closing ceremonies" were little more than an opportunity to hold the cheerleading competition and showcase the winners of the various dance competitions from Saturday.

Still, finding myself at the end of the games, I realized that my conception of Medgames had been completely flawed. I pictured it as a giant party and an opportunity to take in the sweetness of Montreal with my friends. I also was under the impression that it would be a genuinely national event. Much to the contrary, we tasted so little of Montreal it was hard to believe that the games had taken place in such a richly cultured city at all. Indeed, many people were left with the impression that Montreal is a shoddy younger brother to Toronto. Having been to Montreal a number of times before, I know this not to be true - but certainly Medgames did not present the city in a flattering light. As for the games being a national event - they were so only in title. It quickly became clear that these were Quebec games to which out-of-province medical schools were allowed to participate in as a kind gesture. It was still very much their event (I will be commenting on Anglophone-Francophone tensions tomorrow - stay tuned). To make this clear, they were allowed far more participants (UdeM had 400+ competitors across all four years of medical school, almost twice as many as UofT) and had the capacity to compete in contests that out-of-province schools avoided entirely. UofT was the only non-Quebec school to compete in the cheerleading competition, and were completely outclassed.

Sherbrooke and UdeM had by far the most convincing cheerleading routines, involving dozens of experienced people (or in the case of UdeM... over a hundred). What was completely shocking was the sheer number of beautiful, female medical students at these universities. J-Rock seemed to be seriously considering transferring to one of these two schools, despite their entirely Francophone leanings. Sherbrooke won the award for spirit, with their extremely catchy cheer: "Es! Ash! Ehr! Beh! Ehr! Oh! Oh! Ka! Euh!" which was essentially the spelling of their school name in French. Still, Even Kushima had to admit that there was something quite compelling about it, in spite of his accumulated bitterness towards the French language. Sherbrooke took to the cheerleading floor in staggeringly short skirts (shorter on some than others - one size fits all it seems) and low cut tank tops. For my part, I was highly amused by their Pokémon themed shirts, sporting a Pokéball with the slogan: "Pokémed: Gotta kick 'em all." Sure it didn't really make all that much sense, but it was cute.

Toronto put on a spirited performance, compensating for their lack of numbers and experience with a little creativity. Theirs was an interesting routine, using lab coats for a bit of flair. However, while it was entertaining to watch, they simply didn't have the skills to match the other schools. Nor did they have a sufficient number of burly male cheerleaders (only one), or total number of cheerleaders, to pull of some of the more daring manoeuvres.

Interspersed between cheerleading routines were the winning dance routines (solo, duo, 3-5, 6+). My friends had won the 6+ category with their spirited Indian dance, and so had the chance to wow an even wider audience at the closing ceremonies. They admitted however, that it was somewhat more challenging the second time round since the dance floor was so spread out and the loudness of the environment made the tapping of their hand-held wooden sticks inaudible (an integral part of their routine).

There were some pretty gutsy moves at the competition, as schools attempted to jump and drop their cheerleaders from higher and higher. It was impressive to watch, but I had to wonder if anyone ever breaks their neck this way. As a side-note, university cheerleaders always seem to be small and short in stature (key because they're lifted and thrown and such), but professional cheerleaders (like for the NFL) always seem big and buxom... which begs the question, where do they come from?

UdeM won the cheerleading competition that day, and indeed they were impressive by sheer force of numbers - incorporating over 100 people by my estimate. It was also kind of astounding how attractive they all were. Sherbrooke couldn't hold a candle to UdeM on the "hot or not" scale, even after factoring in their little black skirts.

Sitting at the track level, the sound was really quite deafening - so loud that it often completely saturated the speakers, causing a kind of screeching sound rather than actual music. I sort of wonder whether it was the same way from the proper seating on the second floor. After the first few routines, I felt my hearing permanently slipping away and knew that I had to take action.

It was my understanding that Stewie had brought a few pairs of earplugs to Medgames. He had one left, which he had tentatively promised to Kushima after our frustratingly disruptive bus ride to Montreal. Nonetheless, I turned toward him (sitting several persons away) and gestured in an ear plugging motion with my index fingers. After a few tries, he managed to read my lips and tossed me the earplugs. Ah bliss.

You know, as my sister got older, she told me that she started carrying earplugs to rock concerts. The strange thing, she said, was that she found that after she started doing this, she could actually hear the music better (including what the vocalists were actually saying!). Since, I've never been to a rock concert (yes, you heard that correctly), I only really understood what she was saying based on what I could imagine. But at Medgames, I found this to be absolutely 100% true. I really could hear everything better once the earplugs were on.

The earplugs were made of foam and you squish them up before stuffing them into your ears. Then, they expand, dulling the sound transmission. In pathologically loud situations like the Medgames closing ceremonies, it is the most joyful sensation possible to feel the sounds become more and more bearable as those little devices inflate inside your auditory canals.

After the closing ceremonies were done, we mosied our way back to the buses, and loaded our luggage. They'd actually wanted us to stick to our original buses, but nobody really wanted to do that. We rearranged to share a bus with all our friends and it worked out fine. One shocking thing did occur though - while we were waiting for our bus to leave, another bus rammed us from behind. We all felt the jolt. It didn't do much damage (just a bit of a dent), but it made our bus driver extremely anxious to get the trip over with during the whole ride back to Toronto.

Once again, the riders were determined to watch movies on the way home. This time, they had a DVD with a whole bunch of pirated films. I was vaguely interested in watching Brad Pitt's the Curious Case of Benjamin Button. While I don't approve of the piracy itself, there's not much I could've done had they chosen to play it. As it turned out though, they ended up playing Slumdog Millionaire, a film set in India about a lowly IT guy who wins "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." He is taken in, beaten, and interrogated to decipher his means of cheating, because nobody believed that such a "slumdog" could know all the answers. The movie, from my understanding, spends much of its time explaining how the events of his life led to him knowing all the answers to the questions. I was quite interested in watching, but the movie was subtitled with itty bitty words that were very difficult to read off the bus television screen. Furthermore, the sun was at just the right angle to blind me (despite the tinted windows). After a little while, I gave up. Inserting my newly acquired ear plugs and putting on one of those eye masks they give you for airline flights, I went to sleep. Apparently, I was quite a sight - eye mask on, ear plugs inserted, head tilted flaccidly, and jaw dropped wide open. Thankfully, no photos of this experience have surfaced on Facebook... yet.

Our bus made a 30 minute stopover at a service station. It was about 4 PM - an awkward time smack dab between normal lunch and dinner. Still, since most of us had only eaten breakfast, we were more than happy to disrupt our normal meal times in order to satisfy our bellies. The service station only had a Wendy's and a Tim Hortons. Needless to say 200+ medical students disembarking at one time flooded the lines and the washrooms. While we were waiting in a horrendously long line for Wendy's, a friend and I were distracted by a nearby "crane game."

In particular, we were interested in a sign that said "every play is a winner." Crane games are notoriously hard, so we wondered if this meant they would let you continue playing until you won something. We observed carefully as another group of our peers tried their hand at the game and indeed did win. We then decided to give it a shot ourselves, so inserting a toonie we began navigating the crane. Our target was a fantastic little stuffed monkey nestled in the bottom left corner. Unfortunately, the crane controls seemed somewhat defective and our crane would not come down along the saggital axis properly. Meanwhile, a timer was steadily counting down. When it hit zero, the crane came down by itself. Because of our dysfunctional crane, we were nowhere near the location that we wanted to be, and instead ended up with... a purple turtle with a flagrantly rainbow shell.

Apparently, what they mean by "every play is a winner" is that the crane grabs with powerful enough force that no matter where you are, you are likely to pick something up. We decided to call our turtle, Barney, an evolutionary step up from his purple dinosaur ancestor.

We got back on the bus and made our home stretch for Toronto. The sun had gone down, so I ended up actually watching the second movie that they played. I felt much better after actually acquiring some rest during the first couple hours. The second movie was Office Space, a vaguely comedic story about a disgruntled employee at a late 90's tech company whose attitude it turned upside down by a botched hypnotherapy session. It was actually pretty amusing, and featured one of Evey's favourite actresses, Jennifer Anniston.

The bus arrived in Toronto around 7:30 PM. I hung around at Kushima's until around 9 PM, when I was able to get a ride home. During that time, I watched while Kushima unpacked (an act that I have yet to complete myself). I got home around 10 PM, ate, blogged, and went to sleep.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is pretty much my entire Medgames experience. It took many hours and four days to summarize, with schoolwork whizzing around me, and sleep deprivation accumulating. These days, I feel like I spend half my life living it, and the other half writing about it. That's probably true.