The Real World: Stories of Transition

My ever so eminent English teacher from high school would deride the term “real world”, as previous editor of The Queen’s Business Review would strike out the word “real” for its redundancy in most applications. Perhaps this is one time when my English teacher got it wrong. I have been in the “real world” for precisely two and a half months. It has been a thoroughly difficult transition. I wrote recently that in school, there was always an obvious goal and finale. When such goals are met, there are no opportunity costs of enjoying oneself. There is an obvious delineation between work and play (the so called, “work-hard, play-hard” mentality). 

This weekend, I relived the undergraduate experience through my informal participation in QFAC. I was inspired by the many youthful souls still living in the unreal world, struggling with the issues that I seem to have conquered. But they all had the brightest faces and most optimistic outlook for the future. Of the four nights I have participated in the nightlife in Toronto, three was this weekend. Needless to say, after reliving university life on the first night, I was hooked to return. Not to say that university culture was the only real experience of the weekend. The other was learning the metaphor of a certain serpent in a Nicki Minaj music video. 

I have not written in this blog for a while. Now I must use the therapeutic nature of writing once again to navigate through these difficult waters. I first wrote here on my bike ride to Kingston, when I felt as though I had lost all trust I had in the world. Change is both a blessing and a curse, though it is usually a curse at the start. So we shall begin with the greatest change of all.

I deeply love my job and my work. It, and perhaps wine, have been the only refuge from the difficult transition into the “real” world. I find that I am talking to, eating with, and confiding in, on the most part, people from my work. They are an impressive group that I am proud to be identified with. But, last Tuesday, the “honeymoon” ended. I was happily finished my work Monday and took a nap before writing up some notes for a presentation. I set my alarm for 6:45, a good 45 minutes prior to the start of the meeting. I went to bed with a couple of hours to sleep. When I woke up on my own accord to find the sun shining brightly, I panicked. I reached for my phone – it said 8:00. I quickly rode to work, thinking of all the excuses I would use in my defense. Of course I would use none of them. When asked (and no one did), I would tell the truth. I had gotten a wisdom tooth removed recently and I was to take an anti-biotic every eight hours. One of these, I decided, I would take at 10am every day. But my fear was that I would have a meeting at work at 10am and have an alarm go off in the middle of it. So out of concern for work, I set the 10am alarm to silent (and left the 6pm and 2am alarm to sound). Well somehow, the way iPhones work is a new alarm will take all the settings of the previous one. I often always used old alarms, but yesterday I created one for 6:45. It was a silent alarm. It was my fault, but I certainly did not mean for it to happen. And I probably could not have prevented it from happening, except by setting a few alarms (I plan to set ~3 from now on). This is one of those poisson-like events that happen rarely but it will happen with a certain probability. I have this difficult feeling that I have lost any reputation I might have earned. I feel like I just turned back the clock. I have always been afraid of disappointing people and the one fear I have is to disappoint the people I work with. And that has been the single largest goal I have had in my new life. 

The other main change that I have struggled with is my business. I cannot go into details about it but it has been difficult dealing with it. And finally, there is one large part of my life that I have not mentioned. The elephant in the room, so it is called. But that requires a fuller treatment than there is room in this article. But there will be many more posts on that topic.  

Videos from my old life

Now that a new life is beginning, here are some videos that mark my childhood. If you were a part of any of these, thank you for making a fool out of yourself for the greater good.

Blind Tasting

I began blind wine tasting a week ago. It has become the main source of excitement in my last week of freedom. The process involves going to a restaurant and asking the waiter to pick a set of wines from these red and white lists. The process is exactly like that of the film “Somm”. Based on visual characteristics, the smell and taste, you try to deduce the identity of the wine. This is the only way to truly appreciate wines without being pre-conditioned to believe something because of the price, the brand, and other clues. To truly have associations between label and wine, it is necessary to work backwards and determine the label by tasting only the wine.

As a blind taster, I am horrific. I struggle between the Bordeaux varieties and mix up Syrah and Malbec (on a daily basis, it seems). On a percentage basis, it seems like I can get close to the answer a little less than half the time. By close to the answer, I mean a similar varietal or a similar region. The likelihood of identifying the exact wine, appellation, vintage and all, is reserved for Master Sommeliers. I would be content with flirting with the truth. Here is an example that made me quite happy, despite being wrong.

A wine with a decidedly odd smell presented itself. It was so odd it is kind of hard to describe. The best description might have been what you could smell as you walked through a change room. Curtly, I wouldn’t drink it. On the palette it was a big wine, but without the Bordeaux characteristics. I immediately think of a Shiraz from Australia. I try to smell some green-ness and some pepper – both can potentially be there, just slightly covered up by the unbecoming smell. I almost say Shiraz from Australia because I can’t really think of anything better. But I realize I might have jumped to conclusions. The wine is a little earthy and isn’t as ripe as something from Australia. I end up thinking old world Shiraz, which would be naturally from the Rhone valley. It turns out that the wine is actually a Malbec from Cahors. In my defense, Cahors is not on these red and white lists, and therefore inadmissible. The Australian Shiraz / Argentinian Malbec mix-up is easy to make ( – amazing series btw). The wine was actually the original Malbec from France; my guess was the original Syrah from France. The two regions are a few hundred kilometers from each other, both from south-ish France.

This is the same deductive reasoning used everywhere. It’s notably similar to classical name-that-tune, where you try to guess a song from what is being played. You have never heard the song before, but you can place it based on similarities with what you know. For the recreational wine drinker, it isn’t necessarily about placing the wine correctly in any particular region, but simply producing a good enough set of options the wine can be. Being able to know which wines the particular glass is not is also a worthy skill.

To do blind tasting is simple. Any time you want to order a wine, ask a friend or a waiter to pick it for you. It is usually optimal to order half-sized glasses (3oz). Going to a place with a good international wine list is important. Any high end restaurant is usually sufficient. The by-the-glass wine list at dbar, a random place I stumbled upon, was almost entirely on my testable list. A personal favourite is Crush Wine Bar, which does 3oz pours and has an excellent selection. It also comes in at the cheapest - $7.50 / glass after tax and tip. One has 3oz pours for about $8-10 (plus tax and tip). Luma, and probably the other O&B restaurants also have 3oz pours. Good luck.

Totoro Travels

Hayao Miyazaki had a fruitful filmmaking career, but for no film is he better known for than Totoro, a story about a pudgy rodent who could make trees grow out of nowhere. Totoro has since been used as the mascot for Miyazaki’s studio, and more broadly has become a symbol for childhood and innocence. This wide-eyed, frankly dumb looking invention is certainly adorable. It even comes in three incarnations: Big Totoro (grey), Medium Totoro (blue) and Little Totoro (white). It has admirers across the world. In Japan it was an immediate talking point with waiters. But more recently, a barista in Denmark picked up on it and expressed her love for it. It is a cross-cultural bridge, a universalized symbol.

Our love of pudgy animal-like creatures is not isolated to Totoro. The modern day equivalent is Pusheen, the round-bodied cat that wags its tail on Facebook. It reminds me vividly of my late cat which, once described a cow, died of obesity. In Tel Aviv, a skinnier cat that would have envied my cat’s luxurious lifestyle was jumping around furiously to get its paws on a Totoro coin purse. This immediately spurred a conversation about my own former cat, a picture of which solicited a visceral “it’s fat” reaction from the waitress. Trust me, it was much cuter in person. My dad later admitted to wanting to fatten it up a little to give it a cuter figure.

Pokemon is not short of pudgy characters: most notably the karaoke-loving Jigglypuff. But probably the heaviest is the adorable Snorlax who is also an Olympic swimmer. Japan, in particular, has seem to have iconized obesity, perhaps because of its rich culture of sumo wrestling and Buddha. Not all Buddhas are fat; Gautama Buddha, the original one, is quite slim whereas the Chinese “Budai” is heavy. In an unlikely conversation with an Algerian couple in Turkey, they said they preferred the fat Buddha, the wife adding that she loves her fat husband.

What can explain our obsession with pudginess in everything except living people? The fat Venus of Willendorf, exhibited at Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna, was once the symbol of beauty. Now, she would be considered unhealthy. There is probably still a basic instinct that links pudginess with well-fed and therefore happiness. Perhaps seeing a fat character draws the same reaction as the uncontrollable joys of eating.

The Totoro coin purse has followed me around in my travels. At times, intended or not, it has participated in my photo album. When it has coins, it is pudgy. When it is poor, it looks like a pancake. Again, another reason why we like pudgy things.