One hundred and eighty-four

“Attend an event in a language you don’t know”

I’ve been wanting to do this since a friend of mine suggested it to me at the beginning of the month.  It turns out it is pretty difficult to find an event in a language you don’t know in Toronto, when you don’t know the language or the community or where to find out about events.  Films in cinemas have English subtitles, cultural events celebrating different countries are in both English and the other language (unless it’s specific to that community, but then they don’t often advertise outside of their community).  I can wander around Chinatown or Little Portugal and listen to the language, but if I speak English, they will speak English back to me.  I should have just invited myself over to a friend’s family’s house where they speak a different language at home and make them speak only in that language to me.

Lithuanian Romeo and Juliet by OKT/Vilnius City Theatre at the Melbourne International Arts Festival

Traveling the world in my twenties I came across quite a few instances when I didn’t speak the language and had to communicate through body language or figure things out on my own.  You adapt quickly to certain words or ways of saying things so you can get by.  I remember sitting in a theatre in Prague for my 25th birthday, watching a play in Czech which I didn’t understand one word of, but understanding some of it through the movement (although, I’m still not quite sure why the whole audience stood up and sang at the end).  One of my favourite plays ever was Romeo and Juliet by OKT/Vilnius City Theatre at the Melbourne International Arts Festival – all in Lithuanian.  It was set in the kitchens of rival pizzerias with such amazing visual imagery, it didn’t matter what the words were (although I do know the story of Romeo and Juliet already, so that helped).

Entering into a world where you can’t communicate orally definitely puts you off balance.  Opposite from my experiment yesterday, I am relying almost completely on my sight to understand.

As I couldn’t find a cultural event in a different language, and had already written about Chinatown a couple of times this month, I decided to watch Cinema Paradiso – in Italian, no subtitles.  It was a beautiful film and I think I figured out quite a bit of the plot without language, but there were subtleties of the story I didn’t completely get.  I wanted to know what advice the older film operator was telling his younger protégé.  I needed to understand why his mother was so mad at him.  Was it the film like I thought?  Or the burning photo like my companion thought?  Sometimes I forgot it was in a different language and was caught up in the visual story.  But sometimes I felt like I was trying hard, but didn’t quite grasp it all.

Everyone should at one point watch a film in a foreign language without subtitles, spend a day around people speaking another language, or try to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak what you speak.  It’ll give a bit more perspective to what it’s like for immigrants moving to a foreign land and trying to get by surrounded by something that sounds like gibberish.  It can be really frustrating and lonely.

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One hundred and eighty-three

It is a day of celebration today – I am half-way through my year!!!!  I can’t even believe it.  I remember being at three months and thinking how long a year really is.  And now I’m half way!  Thank you to everyone who has supported me and my crazy adventures so far.

Blind 

Do my clothes match?  I almost dropped a knife on my toe.  Is my bum clean?  How can I tell without seeing the toilet paper?  Why did I turn on the bathroom light? I hope I took my multivitamin and not the drowsy extra-strength allergy medication I had left-over from my bug bite fiasco.  I have a bruise developping on my thigh from walking into the table.   I might have just shampooed with conditioner.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon blindfolded and tried to live my life as I would normally – but without the use of my sight.  According to a 2006 survey by Statistics Canada, over 800,000 people in Canada identify with having a seeing disability (from visionhealth.ca).

Life without being able to see was very difficult for me.  I take for granted how much I use my sight.  I rely on my visual sense to get through my day – from big things like not walking into walls, to little things like where I placed my water glass on the table so I don’t knock it over.  My other senses became heightened – touch was very important, as well as smell and sound. I used my visual memory to try and find things that I needed.  It became more and more important that I put things back in the same place so I could find them again.

I was a little disoriented at times when I was walking around my apartment and out on to the balcony.  I had to pay attention to remember where I was.  Everything took longer (although it was surprising how quickly I began to adapt).  I noticed more – the taste of bread as it entered my mouth, the sound of the traffic outside the window, the smell of different rooms.  The number of things in a row became important – two cupboards over is where I find the plates, the fourth button down on the remote control turns on the television (discovered by trial and error).

Making a cheese sandwich in the toaster oven was an ordeal.  I wore an oven mitt so I wouldn’t burn myself, but I know I was getting cheese all over it.  Cutting the slices of cheese became a dangerous task – is the cheese mouldy, how do I cut thin slices when I can’t see them and don’t want my fingers getting in the way of the knife, so can’t feel it?  Then I missed trying to put the sandwich on a plate and ended up with melted cheese on the countertop.  Although it did taste great!

The notes I took while blindfolded

Communication was difficult – with no way to use my phone, e-mail, the internet, texting.  Unless someone called me, I couldn’t get ahold of my friends or family.  And I had no sense of time.  At one point I just sat down on my bed, frustrated with the effort, not knowing what I could do (tv wasn’t great as I wanted to see what they were talking about, and everything I normally do involves sight – internet, writing, reading).  Sometimes I couldn’t remember where I put things.  Did I move that table behind the sofa or is it still there? Did I put the salt on the right or the left side of the cabinet?

I was happy when I got to take off my blindfold and use my sight again.  Everything just seemed easier.  I can only imagine the skills people who are seeing impaired have to maneuver our world.  I didn’t even leave the house and I found it challenging.

One hundred and eighty-two

Fan Expo

I almost walk straight into Chewbacca getting his photo taken with a teenager in jeans and a Star Wars t-shirt.  I turn the corner and a Storm Trouper, some sort of alien (I should probably know who this is, but my knowledge of sci fi is limited) and a guy in black with a gun (again, no idea who he is supposed to be) are chatting together.  A group of giggling teenage girls run by me looking like dolls, with big pastel-coloured dresses, curly wigs with bows on top (a Japanese fashion trend I now know is called Lolita and is somehow connected to anime).  And this is all in the hallway outside of the Expo!

Man taking an up-close photo of one of the Lolita girls

Yesterday I entered a world of comic books, anime, sci fi, video gaming, and horror at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.  Fan Expo, celebrating its 17th year, is a weekend-long celebration of these five genres through: meeting celebrities and getting photos and autographs (you have to pay extra for those); shopping through the sixteen aisles of retailers; checking out and purchasing art from Artist Alley; trying new video games; listening to celebrities speak; wearing costumes (although using a Austin Powers costume as an excuse to perve on all the girls is a little unacceptable); taking workshops on Special FX, among other things; meeting fellow ‘geeks’ (and I say that word in the nicest way possible); and taking lots and lots of photos (everyone had a camera).

I spoke to two high school girls who were in bright pink costumes with funny ear-things (again, no idea) sitting on the floor in the hall and kept being interrupted with people asking to take their photo.  They have been there all weekend.  Do they get bored of being the subject of flashing cameras?  “We spent a long time on these costumes, so it’s nice to see our hard work has paid off.  You don’t go to this much trouble and expect not to be hounded.  Although there have been times when I’m eating that people will want to take photos.  I’ll tell them they can, but I’m not stopping eating!”  They seemed pretty tired after a long weekend of being underground (the Expo is a few escalators down, with no natural light), eating fast food from the food court, and chatting with strangers.

My favourite part of my day can be said in two words: William Shatner.  Yes, I was in the presence of the legend that is William Shatner.  Although I wouldn’t even dream of spending $80 for a photo with him or an autograph of his, I did see him from afar as he was signing away and making a fortune off of the hundred people or so waiting in line to have a moment (and yes, he literally signed and moved on to the next one – no chatting) with Captain Kirk.

Autograph session with William Shatner

There was a wide variety of people at Fan Expo.  Everyone from parents and their young kids, to classic comic book geeks, to people in their street clothes curious of what was going on.  I definitely felt a little out of place not knowing much about the five genres (although I am a horror movie fan, I used to read Archie comics as a kid, and I did grow up watching Star Trek).  But people were fairly friendly and helped me out when I asked questions about who people were – although not without a little condescending look of how could I not know who Tom Felton is (Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter, for those of you as uninformed as I am).

I’m not sure the world of comic books, anime and gaming is one I want to get too heavily involved in.  But I admire the commitment of the hard-core fans there.  It’s not every day you see people so passionate about their hobby or career.  And it was definitely a lot of fun to see how much work went in to the costumes people were wearing.  I was mesmerized.

A TV crew filming a segment from the Fan Expo hallway

I dedicate this post to my friends Anthony and Chris, who are comic book geeks and proud of it! 

One hundred and eighty-one

Radical Honesty

Before I get into my not-so-pleasant day yesterday, in honour of radical honesty (and the fact that I’m cranky because it’s almost ‘that time’ of the month), I am sick of putting myself in uncomfortable situations.  I wish I could just take a day off.  Although it is getting harder to find things that are out of my comfort zone and I’ve done some very cool things I wouldn’t have done had I not been doing this experiment, I want to have a break from being my own guinea pig!

But alas, I cannot.  And on with the show…

Hungover from my few too many ‘liquid courages’ the night before, I was cranky and tired and couldn’t think of anything better to do than be brutally honest with everyone.  Who doesn’t want to spend their hangover day telling everyone exactly how they feel and what they think?  Especially when you’re going to work and serving a bunch of soccer hooligans and then a private party of cheap, rude idiots (the overly-drunk man snapping his fingers at me didn’t quite understand I wasn’t serving him until I told him it was time for him to go home).  And I might get in trouble for this rant from my place of employment.  If I do, I don’t really care.  People should have more respect for the people who help them – whether it be at the grocery store, the mechanics, the doctor’s office or a restaurant.  Everyone is just trying to do their jobs and although being tolerant and nice is part of working in customer service, we should not have to deal with ignorant a-holes.  Learn some manners and respect!

One man did come up to me near the end of the evening and asked me whether I was annoyed with all these drunk idiots that are his friends.  Normally I would say “no, it’s part of the job” with a smile and a laugh.  This time I said “yes, I’m tired and they are annoying”.  The guy laughed – I think that was the reaction he was looking for anyways.  And it felt pretty good to get it off my chest.  It was 2:30am and I was ready for home and bed.

Radical Honesty is a term based on the work and writings of Dr. Brad Blanton, a psychologist who found that the best way to reduce stress, make life work, and heal the past is to tell the truth.  A couple of quotes from his website:

  • “I recommend you hurt people’s feelings and stay with them past the hurt. I also recommend that you offend people. We can all get over having our feelings hurt and we can get over being offended. These are not permanent conditions; they are feelings that come and go. On the other side of that reaction is a conversation in which your mutual honesty creates an intimacy not possible if you are hiding something for the sake of someone’s feelings.”
  • “If the person’s outstandingly ugly, then that’s an issue I’m certainly going to bring up to talk about right off. I would say, “I think you look kind of ugly and this is what I think is ugly. I think that big wart on the left side of your face is probably something that puts people off and that you don’t have much of a love life, is that true?” Then we’ll have a conversation about it. That ugly person has probably always felt the negative unexpressed reaction from people. The idea is that they end up not avoiding the damn thing instead of living a life that’s dancing on egg shells. They live life out loud and it’s a whole lot better life.”
I first heard about Radical Honesty from A.J. Jacobs, and he does a much better job at explaining the ups and the pitfalls of the movement  (and interviews Dr. Blanton), so read his very entertaining article here if you are interested – I Think You’re Fat, Esquire, July 24, 2007.

Generally I am pretty honest, except when it comes to white lies that either help my job, make people feel good or get me something that I need.  Nothing major, just little fibs to help me get by and make everyone happy.  I can be blunt at times, but not radically honest, especially if it is going to hurt someone.  I would never tell someone I found them ugly.  But, I can see the freeing feeling that must come along with telling the truth all the time.

Unfortunately along with freedom comes stress.   When I told my boss the reason I was grumpy was because I drank too much at the swingers club the night before, it might have been too much information.  When I told a co-worker I thought he was attractive, he might have taken it the wrong way.  But I suppose if he would have been radically honest back about what he was feeling, there would be no miscommunication.  In a world where everyone tells the truth, you would never have to second-guess what they were saying and if it meant something else.

Nothing too hilarious happened during my day of radical honesty.  If I continued to live that way, though, I’m sure I would get into quite a few awkward situations.  And I think I would have to build up to being completely honest all the time.  Dr. Blanton doesn’t think you should have a filter between your mind and your mouth.  He thinks you should just say everything you are thinking.  I don’t think I want anyone to know everything I’m thinking.  And I don’t want to live my life in conflict, which is what would happen every time you told your friend she looked fat or told your boss you wake up every day wanting to quit.  You’d probably end up with less friends and unemployed!

One hundred and eighty

Wicked – a trip to a hedonistic club

I’ve always been intrigued by what goes on behind the closed doors of Wicked on Queen Street West.  Wicked is a hedonistic club, similar to a swingers club, allowing in couples, single girls and a very select few single men.  The blurb from their website: “The club provides a safe, erotic environment where you can live out your sexual fantasies no matter how wild or how mild! Cutting edge music, provocative performances and weekly special events will ensure an erotic experience to remember. Members are attractive, friendly, young and uninhibited.”

Do people have sex everywhere?  Will I be approached?  What kind of people go there?  Who works there?  What happens when you go from the main floor (a club) to the top two floors (Shlomo’s Penthouse for kinkier experiences)?  I had so many questions that I was genuinely interested in knowing.  I’ve always been curious as to what goes on in that lifestyle.

I asked a single girlfriend to accompany me.  We started with champagne, Cosmos and pizza at her house, trying to get some liquid courage to enter this completely different world that is right in the middle of our neighbourhood and up until last night were completely oblivious to.  We were both a little nervous and not sure what to expect.

The experience itself was completely different than I imagined.  We enter past the bouncer and buy a $5 membership which lasts one year (everyone needs to be a member to enter the club).  The doorman points us to one of the ladies dancing in lingerie on the poles in the middle of the room.  “Talk to one of our hostesses and they can arrange a tour of upstairs for you.”  The women working there are beautiful and so friendly.  They let us know there are quite a few new people there that evening, so to have a drink at the bar and they will come get us when it’s our turn for the tour.

We both order Cosmopolitans (drinks are not cheap) and look around.  It’s about 10:30pm and there are approximately eight couples in the whole club.  The room is beautiful, lots of red curtains, with a stage at the far side, a bunch of white leather sofas scattered around, a group of poles in a circle in the middle of the room and a bar along the one side.  There are headless mannequins on the walls – one in a leather one-piece, one naked with her hand between her thighs.  The music is great.  Good club music – good beat, but not cheesy.  The couples are all older than us and not very attractive to me.  One woman in her 40s is dancing with her partner, her leopard-print dress hiked up to her waist so her red lace panties are showing.  Everyone else is just hanging out having a drink.  We make friends with the bartender, a university student who this is her third shift.  She is wearing a bikini.  She says that Saturdays are their big night – they are theme nights and a younger crowd attends.  All the staff are really friendly and all the couples are sort of keeping to themselves.

We don’t get a tour until close to midnight (they don’t open the upstairs until all the tours are done, so I guess they open it really late?).  Our tour guide is a lovely girl who is also a university student, has a shy boyfriend and has worked there for three and a half years.  She tells us the difference between a hedonistic club and a swingers club is that here you don’t have to participate if you don’t want to.  When going upstairs, you sign in and they give you a full-length towel.  You are only allowed to wear lingerie or be naked – to even the playing field for everyone.

There are different sections to the second floor, starting with a bed in the middle and two private rooms with one-way mirrors on either side to watch the people in the middle bed.  There’s a room of mirrors everywhere, a jacuzzi, a giant bed for group play, sauna and shower.  On the third floor there is a sex swing and bondage cross, other beds, a private room to rent out, a patio, and a bed with bars around it you can hang off of. (note: I could have gotten what is on each floor slightly wrong, as by the time we got the tour I’d had plenty of liquid courage in me…)  There was just us when we had the tour.

We went back down to the main floor and they kept doing tours for other couples.  It was a little busier, but still not that many people.  A woman in her 50s in a gold one-piece halter jumpsuit with no bra is dancing in the middle of the room.  A man in his 60s dances behind her for a minute, then returns to his wife – a conservatively-dressed woman with white hair.  This is the only “swinging” I noticed.  A group of couples seemed to be regulars and were chatting.  One couple was dancing together and were oblivious to everyone around them.

At 12:45am they still hadn’t opened Shlomo’s Penthouse to the public, and frankly I didn’t really want to see any of these couples having sex anyways, so we left to go to another bar.  So I didn’t even see anyone using any of the rooms we got the tour of.  I’m partially glad.  I was surprised by how unattractive the couples were and how unsexy I felt.  My friend and I agreed we felt sexier in a regular club.  I think it would be better if we had come with a couple and on a Saturday night.

Sometimes the fantasy is better than the reality.  It was fascinating, and maybe for fun I’d go back to the club bit on a Saturday and see the difference (I did have to buy a year-long membership), but for me it wasn’t that erotic or sexy.  Besides, of course, the staff, who were hot.  The couples there looked like they were enjoying themselves, though, so it is erotic for some people.  It’s somewhere to try out once in your life if you are curious, but bring a partner with you and expect to make your own fun.