Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My Parents' Garden

Our home in Thornhill (Ontario) is not very big, but for three people, it's sufficient. I've got less than three days here, so I thought I'd share with everyone what I'll be missing. My parents have a great garden, and I definitely don't spend enough time there as it is...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Toronto in Writing

Back in May 2006, I started working at a social science lab on College & Spadina. Located on the south-west corner of the University of Toronto campus and north-east corner of Chinatown, the lab not only let me study the city, but experience it first-hand. It was great.

Just two months later, I was at a conference in Brazil and ran into a fellow Torontonian named Cory Doctorow. "Cool guy," I thought, and promptly bought his book, "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town", which actually takes place very close to the lab I worked at. Soon I could connect the restaurants and coffee shops he talks about with my own lunchtime wanderings. A great feeling, to say the least.

In my mission to learn more about the city and experience it in new ways, I bought Toronto Noir, a short story anthology with all stories taking place in various parts of Toronto... And on a side note, the publisher's description of Toronto is absolutely hilarious:
Toronto is located on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario and has a population of 2,503,281 (or about 3,113,149 U.S.). Comprised of wetlands, concrete parts, and futon stores, the city is home to some of Canada's most notorious criminals. Broken Social Scene and Anne Murray live here.
Anyway, there's something wonderful when you read about the place you live in a fictional book. People from bigger cities (hear that, citizens of New York, London, and Tokyo) might take this from granted, but Toronto is still small enough to be overlooked by most authors.

And if you're in Toronto and have yet to read a book that takes place in the city, read Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town. It's free and CC-licensed, for crying out loud!

Note: click photo for credits.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Manpuku and Ramen

One of the things I miss dearly about Japan and New York are the ramen bars. While these are native to Japan and have been imported to New York City, it's definitely hard to tell them apart. You get inside the restaurant. It's extremely packed, with a few cooks standing at the bar and serving people who are sitting down.

And of course, all you really want to get is a big bowl of ramen and maybe dumplings on the side. What's so great about this? Ah, the atmosphere! You're close to the cooks and can easily chat them up (if they speak English!)... You're close with your friends, sitting together and sharing the dumplings. The smell of ingredients cooking is strong, and it feels like you've stepped into another world.

I've been on the lookout for a seedy, crowded, aromatic ramen joint in Toronto, but have yet to find one... I guess I'll have to save this mission for another trip.

On the bright side, though, the search made me run into Manpuku on 105 McCaul Street, right by the Art Gallery of Ontario. Tucked away in a food court, this Japanese restaurant provides the cheapest and best-tasting Japanese fast food I've had in Canada. So I guess I can't complain!

Note: click photos for credits.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Cyberpunk Culture

As I continue to open my mind to new forms of art, music, and writing, I've decided to delve into the "cyberpunk". If you've watched The Matrix, you probably have a bit of an idea about what I'm talking about. Cyberpunk is a technology-focused subculture interested in a future, and believing (accepting?) that the future is going to be a dystopian mix of technocracy, anarchy, and scientific advancement.

By using "dystopian" I might be too harsh, but a "dark" future is definitely expected. Bladerunner is a great example of this, where Los Angeles is a grim and polluted place.

There are numerous cyberpunk books, with Neuromancer seen as the novel that started this sci-fi genre. A world where hackers are glorified and artificial intelligence exists, with the main character starting off in a dark and dangerous city in Japan. The book reminds me of Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, also written in the mid-1980s. In this case, the "hacker" is a government agent whose subconscious is used as a key in an encryption algorithm for data. Cyberpunk anime also exists, and includes Akira, The Animatrix, and Cowboy Bebop.

As with "regular" punk, much of the subculture focuses on music as well... The Opera House (in Toronto) recently hosted a rave, Tokyo Cybermonster (some photos), that featured costumes, bands, and dancing. Some of the music played is available on MySpace.

Of course, defining anything as "cyberpunk" is difficult... But those interested can visit The Cyberpunk Project, a Russian site devoted to cataloging cyberpunk culture, and what it means.

What is most fascinating about cyberpunk is its focus on the future of society. Like the broader punk movement, which has roots in politics and social discontent, cyberpunk tries to make a statement about the future of social norms, ethics, politics, and even economics. What I find striking is that while punk music often rebels against the status quo and present political conditions, cyberpunk works sometimes glorify the seemingly unavoidable technological dystopia. Think about Bladerunner -- while the plot and scenery are both dark, the viewer is still drawn to a future of humanoid robots, flying cars, space colonies, and advertisements.

Finally, this whole "cyberpunk dystopia" is not as far-off and incredible as one may initially think. While true artificial intelligence may never be achieved, the Internet connects the entire world, cyberwars and infowars take place, and our actions are being logged continuously. Maybe the cyberpunks are just one step ahead?

Note: click photos for credits.