Thoughts of a Lost World Before 9/11

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15 yrs today since 9/11. 15 yrs since the world I remember swung right and there’s an entire generation of kids in Canada and America that can’t think of a time when we weren’t at war with someone in the Middle East. (And 25 yrs since the Desert Storm…)

I was filling out patient forms that morning, back in my early hospital days. Nothing got done that day. All the TV’s suddenly switched to the view of one of the Twin Towers burning. No one knew what was going on… And then saw the 2nd plane hit the 2nd. And then reports of the plane crashing into a field. And then… And then….

I miss those days of gentle innocence. I miss a time when a 10 yr old little boy like me got to visit the Captain and flight crew in the cockpit and talk to him about how awesome it was to fly. I miss being an 11 yr old boy bring able to visit a national monument and not be subjected to metal detectors. I miss a time when I could look at the faces of the people around me and not assume every person with the name Muhammed is possibly a terrorist. How I miss those times of given trust and simple joys.

I want to inspire hope. I want to inspire tolerance. I want to be a person who inspires compassion. I want our kids and the next generation to come to feel that simple innocence we all lost and surrendered in the name of fear, of security, of suspicion and racial / religious lines.

I don’t know if I am that person. I know I’m trying to be. In a world where terror seems to come from every corner, I don’t even know if it’s even possible.

But I’m trying. I’m trying so very very hard. And it’s my promise to keep it up to rebuild that lost innocence we all lost 15 yrs ago when the towers came crumbling down.

It’s a promise from a Dreamer… to all of you.

 

The Days Before Tomorrow. 30 Years Later and a Call to Action

It’s now 11 years and a week or so since she passed, and now 30 years since that fateful summer when we first met. That special relationship put myself and her children on a path that I never could have foreseen.

Though lovers be lost

Though lovers be lost. I never forgot this poem as it always reminded me of her.

I haven’t written much about the kids this year, especially as I’ve only seen them twice. As I’ve explained, they’re not mine through blood or law, but they are of my heart nevertheless. In every way that truly matters to me and to them, we are family, and they’ve taught me so much about how it is to be a proud father.

Terry completed his stage in Las Vegas, and then extended it, and then extended it once again. He’s on leave of absence from culinary school now, simply because he was encouraged to travel and learn under some of the best in the culinary world. He’s in England, doing a stage on a culinary level that simply stuns me. There are no words I can express to describe the heights he will achieve.

Georgia is in year 2 studying law, the very degree her own mother couldn’t complete due to the events long ago. In a moment of face palm humor and frustration, she continues to show the stubbornness, passion and brilliance that her mom possessed. You see, she introduced to me her new boyfriend, another Chinese kid who I swear resembles me a little. But this time, he seems to genuinely love her, and they met through the same law program. Of course, I warned him as a father to take good care of her or else, but he already knew better than to upset her. She’s going to be brilliant, but I admittedly look forward to see her walk the aisle in a white dress.

Every Dad's Dream

Every Dad’s Dream

But that’s not the purpose of this blog, and why I returned to the Days. The real story is why that chance meeting 30 years ago continues to guide my life even now.

As you’ve probably read, I’m running for office now. I wasn’t planning to, but I discovered that I had to. There’s the classic saying, “All it takes for Evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.” But while I subscribe to such dramatic thoughts, I believe that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it far better:

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I’ve always tried to be a defender for others. I see that the highest aspiration of a person is to serve his or her fellow citizen and found that the problems we see in life is very often rooted in silence. I simply want to serve my city, my home and make it just a little better each day, and to speak out to hopefully inspire others to act and do the same.

Now, I have a chance to serve and make a real difference on a great scale. There are so many causes that matter to me. Education. Equality rights. The future of Calgary. Small business. My friends and family. So many and more… and to make a difference, I choose to stop being someone who spoke from the audience into someone who wants to speak truth to power. This truly unique opportunity has come up, an invitation to run for office and have a voice where it matters.

Why am I standing up for what I believe in, when others could have been content from the sidelines? It was Terry who inspired me. He took the chance and had the bravery to come out to me, telling me a truth where so many other children found themselves ostracized, beaten, abused or even banished as my friend, photographer Kelly Hofer. With this decision, he showed me what true bravery was, and why I fight now.

One summer long ago, my first love and I kissed. It was a cheeky french kiss at a time where I was helpless while pretending to demonstrate mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing. It was a kiss full of mischief, joy and bold acts of young love and sweet moments. It put me on a path, through her legacy, that guided me to this moment of perfect clarity and the bravery to act.

The First Kiss

The First Kiss

To my wife, my friends, my city, the people of Calgary-Glenmore, and the bravery of a young man who I love as my own son, I dedicate myself to serve, to inspire others, and most importantly, I choose to lead. I am Terry Lo, a dreamer fighting to make a great Calgary into reality, and I want to be your MLA.  And this is a call to action to all, and I beg of you to stop being neutral or silent. Help me, be brave and stand up and act.

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The Story of the Days Before Tomorrow and the Children

The Days Before Tomorrow, Pt 1 – An Introduction

The Days Before Tomorrow, Pt 2 – Shattered

The Days Before Tomorrow, Interlude

The Days Before Tomorrow, Pt 3 – Betrayal and Hurts

The Days Before Tomorrow, Pt 4 – Those Left Behind

The Days Before Tomorrow, Epilogue and Answers

The Days Before Tomorrow, Afterword

The Days Before Tomorrow, The 10th Anniversary of Her Passing

A Statement Over Ric McIver, the Future of Alberta, and Gay Rights

As all readers know, I’m a new found father of sorts. The son of my heart, Terry, is a culinary student, presently doing a stage in a restaurant in the US. He is also gay. And it is for him as his father and as a supporter of gay rights, that I write this.

Statement of Dedication: I will do anything and everything in my personal name and reach to fight the PC leadership candidacy of Ric McIver (within legal means of course).

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On Father’s Day, the “March for Jesus” went through the streets of Calgary,  proudly heralded by PC Alberta leader hopeful Ric McIver. As an avowed Atheist, admittedly I find such events to be mildly annoying, but the beauty of Canada is that all opinions can be accepted, or at least tolerated in a live and let live situation. So long as the religious sensibilities of a group doesn’t impose or be used in an act of tyranny against a helpless populace, then why not celebrate their beliefs in a man who celebrated the cause of love for your fellow man.

But while I would normally prefer to stay quiet, the more I learn about this, the more I’m absolutely disgusted and furious. This so-called event, originally created by multi-denominational groups in the 80s as a celebration of Christianity, has continued on through the hard work of zealots who oppose all LGBT rights as it offends their religious sensibilities.

For anyone who represents himself as worthy of leadership of this province, or at one time, Mayor hopeful of Calgary, who not only advocates and supports all of these groups who through their misguided homophobic beliefs or even outright hatred and intolerance, has proven himself unworthy of any public office. To represent this province, a leader has to represent all members, not just the rancid dogma of right-wing religious extremists.

Most shocking of all are the claims by the right-wing Progressive Group for Independent Business (in their own site), which states that McIver had worked with them for years, had successfully managed to elect him as an alderman, and honoured him with an award for his work in city council. This is a group that all of the conservative parties, both PC and Wild Rose, had rejected for being too extremist.

If you are PC, regardless of the bread and butter issues, do you really want a possible bigot to represent you? And then when you do think of bread and butter issues, he claims he was responsible for killing the Redford penthouse, but then can’t show even the slightest bit of proof that he did. More importantly, while fiscal hawks may love him for being “Dr. No” (by opposing each and every project ever proposed by city hall), neither has he ever displayed any sort of vision on the future of our city, let alone the province. A leader inspires, gives direction and hopefully can see the potential of what can be. Has that ever been displayed?

And as for something more to think about, this statement comes directly from one of the groups that organized the March for Jesus:

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From the Web Site of March for Jesus 2014

“Last year alone, Calgary’s streets were flooded with people of wrong sexual preferences during a homosexual parade of over 30,000 attendees and none of them were embarrassed the slightest to publicly even present their nakedness in front of families and in front of future generations to openly proclaim and manifest that they are not ashamed to declare the name of their master (Satan) and in the same way not concerned with provoking greatly the wrath of the Living God.”

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If you believe that the next PC leader, and as such, the future premier of Alberta should be someone who’s guided by such thoughts, then by all means support Ric McIver. But it is my dearest hope that Alberta, land of hope, dreams and opportunity, composed of a people who believe in honor above all, can prove to Canada and the world that such men should be relegated to go rant on the lonely soapbox in the corner of the park, unwanted, unheeded and unheard.

Some more interesting light reading for thought:

Alberta PC Candidate Ric Mciver Needs to Explain his Connections

Ric McIver and the Lake of Fire Redux

PC Hopefuls Spar Over Parents Right to Pull Children over Classes

An Anatomy of YYC Burger Week

YYC Burger Week, the little event that could. Founded by Sabahat Naureen (First Founder), myself as @calgarydreamer (co-founder) and Chris Karaplis, the mysterious promo shy man in the shadows, we were all former Montrealers who had found our home, and our hearts here in Calgary. But as much as we did, it didn’t seem to be enough to simply just be here. We had to help, but just didn’t know how.

The YYC Burger Week Logo

The YYC Burger Week Logo

In 2012, while on a routine visit to Montreal, Sabahat had visited Montreal, and partaken in their own Burger event. It was an in-house event, dedicated to simply self-promotion of the restaurants with a competition aspect. However, as I understand it, there was no charity aspect. With that, a light bulb went off in her head, and she came back wondering about how to make this event come into fruition in Calgary. Finding that no one else was even thinking of a similar idea, she started to put out little feelers here and there to assemble a team to organize the event. Seeing a kindred spirit, and a burger lover myself, I was the first volunteer right away.

I’ve known Sabahat and Chris for almost a year by then. Sabahat and I were members of the Yelp Elite, assembled by our friend and current world traveler Wendy Peters, and Chris had attended as Sab’s date often.  I had no idea who the heck was the people I would meet at the first meeting, and was shocked to find out that it was them. That January 2013, the work began. We managed to assemble 16 restaurants and parlay what strengths we had into a city wide festival. Sabahat was always stronger in terms of openness and self-promotion, but I was the one who had the restaurant connections, and usually preferred to be the overall support as well. More importantly, I had a good working relationship with the chefs which we all ran with. Chris, ever hiding in the background and preferring anonymity, designed the back end with the initial website and voting system.

The Competitors

The Competitors

We hemmed and hawed, Sabahat ever being the most ambitious one (I believed we needed months to prepare… we actually managed to get 95% of the work done in WEEKS). We all agreed, there was no way on earth we were going to promote a chain like McDonald’s and the like, and wanted to highlight the local talent and the best that Alberta agriculture had to offer. We designed a system of 16 restaurants being voted in by the public and hoped that by making the voting a little annoying (needing a unique email per vote) that it would reduce the cheating. We contacted 8 local charities (it would have been 9 as we almost signed up 18 restaurants, but we just couldn’t wait any longer for their legals).

The 2013 Nainalicious Winning Burger

The 2013 Nainalicious Winning Burger

Despite that, we were still pretty new at this sort of game. Understandably, some restaurants had considered us to be questionable as it was the inaugural year. Some were just too busy, although even now we would LOVE to see them enter and we would gladly invite them again and again. But then there were the one or two who were actually pretty insulting. I’ve heard some rumors that a few thought they weren’t invited because I disliked them personally. Nope, if anything, there were simply too many restaurants that we sent invites in 2 waves, with a 3rd had it been necessary. Once the initial 16 spots were full, it was done. But then again, that’s the name of the game really.

The competition started, and it wasn’t without a few hiccups, but with such fantastic people as Anju’s Roy Oh (missing you this year), downtownfood’s Darren Maclean, Notable’s Michael Noble and more, it came across as a triumph. Still there were a few more problems, but it was a great week.

In the end? We raised over $6300 in a week of burger frenzy. We were a bit too ambitious in terms of charitable givings as we had tried to promote EIGHT charities at once. To try to spread the funds evenly, we partnered them with 2 restaurants each, one that we considered a heavyweight to every newbie, but it didn’t work entirely the way we wanted. Still, everyone got a lot of promo, and we had cemented ourselves as part of Calgary history, even if just for a brief blip in time. More importantly, a great story came about as little Naina’s Kitchen, the smallest and the least known of all 16 places, came out the 2013 Champion. Looking at owner Erin’s face was worth it all, and we couldn’t have been more pleased.

This year, it was much easier, but far more ambitious. We asked over 50 restaurants to join, but put in a caveat that it was a first come first serve basis. Originally we were shooting for 20, with only 2 categories in the $10 and $15, but as the names came in, we soon found that would be impossible. We ended up selecting 30 competitors, and learned from the previous year to ensure a great selection for our participants by adding the $20 category. Again, we also dared the chefs to come up with something unique, something special. It had bothered us a little that in Year One, many of the restaurants simply put up an existing burger on their menu up for the challenge. But this year? They REALLY stepped up, with so many imaginative takes on burgers made of elk, bannock, cranberries, sprouts, hemp, lobster, pork, beef of all sorts and cuts, foie gras, ramen, bao, mac n’ cheese, pepper steak, ahi tuna and more. It always surprises me by the creative energy of our chefs, and how wonderful it is to be a part of that scene in our small way. And to help promote such creativity, we created the Burger Ambassadors, comprised of some of the best food writer, personalities and bloggers in Calgary. They’ve done a great job, and their comments have help the diners choose their preferences.

Blowfish Sushi Lounge's Ramen Burger

Blowfish Sushi Lounge’s Ramen Burger

We also started looking for funding again, since we thought that it might not be as hard as last year, but was surprised that it was actually even harder as our contacts for many organizations had changed, and had to re-justify ourselves. More so, while YYC Burger Week came about, so did literally dozens of other new food festivals, and we ended up having to compete ourselves in a much bigger forum.

But as a wise man once said… the universe will listen. Things will work out somehow.

It did. We still worked on everything, and refused to compromise on our principals to promote Alberta restaurants, talent and produce. I wager that if we were willing to do so, funding would probably would have been a lot easier, but then, what would have been the point? We are CALGARY STRONG. It’s our home, and we wanted dearly to be at the heart of it all. More importantly, we found ourselves ever more in love with our city, and found inspiration in the people that united for those shining moments after the Floods. There would be NO compromise.

The team also expanded this year, with great new members joining in. Wanda Baker, noted food blogger of Baker’s Beans, came in with her knowledge and experience, and insight on how to approach matters while ensuring that the t’s were crossed and the i’s were dotted. Trevor Gibbons, our surprise Unofficial Judge in the Bacon Suit in 2013, also leaped in, and brought in a new energy and great ideas to promote our festival. More members with unique strengths still joined in, and now we number 11 strong. It’s a great team, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

With those skills, connections and energy, and the excited inclusion of ATB Agriculture, we found our little festival now stood toe to toe with some of the best festivals in the city. To date as I write this, there has been literally THOUSANDS of tweets, and who knows how many people out there roaming the city, discovering new and old restaurants for the first time, and personally challenging themselves to try all THIRTY burgers (for those who are doing so, I recommend our next festival YYC Soup and Salad Week…). We’ve been in tv, radio, print, and online all over the city. The restaurants are being lauded, tried out and challenged creatively in a fun and unusual way. And at the heart of it all, the 3 charities chosen this year will greatly benefit from the exposure and the funds.

So that’s really that for now. YYC Burger Week is almost at it’s 1/2 way point, and we’re seeing such an incredible energy through the city as people run into the restaurants with their passports. We love it. I love it.

To Calgary, from the 3 founders and the 8 new committee members, this is our labour of love, and our gift to the city. And we can’t wait until 2015.

Bon Appetit. And don’t forget to stamp your passport and VOTE by RATING your favorite burgers!

The Days Before Tomorrow: The 10th Anniversary of Her Passing

“Lost love is still love. It takes a different form, that’s all. You can’t see their smile or bring them food or tousle their hair or move them around a dance floor. But when those senses weaken another heightens. Memory. Memory becomes your partner. You nurture it. You hold it. You dance with it.” – Mitch Albom

“Though lovers be lost love shall not.” – Dylan Thomas

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Almost 30 years ago I met her. A bit over 20 years ago I broke both our hearts. 10 years and a few days, she broke mine, and those of “our” children one more time forever, when she was killed by a drunk driver.

The daughter of my heart, if not by genetics and marriage, my dear sweet Georgia will be coming to Calgary in a few days for a friend’s bachelorette party. I’ll see her for an evening, and then she’s back to Vancouver, all 3-4 months pregnant as well. But I know that while our reunion is in her mind, today of all days 10 years past is there as well, as in my son Terry’s too, as it was her death that profoundly changed things in all of our lives those days long ago.

As I think upon her, and of the path not taken, I still wonder what it would have been like to have had her in my life and to have raised the kids as my own. Would we have finally fit in the cosmic scheme of things? Would all doubts I had towards reconciliation broke us apart again? I really just don’t know.

But I do know this, and it’s something I’m simply so amazed by my wife, WK, is so understanding about. There will always be a part of me that was with her, despite the madness, the insanity of the situation and secret unspoken longings that we both shared yet never uttered to one another.

She was my muse of beauty and light, a mystery within, an enigma wrapped in a smile that could dazzle and warm the coldest of hearts. She was a lover of fine music and arts, curious of the glorious stars and galaxies above and a shield maiden to those who threatened her family. She hated high heels and the illusion of fashion, yet stood for all that was right in the world without, even if not satisfied personally within. She was that rare spirit that yearned to be free, yet was determined to be tied to the chains of love and memory. She was a warrior against fate, and saw that fate was in large part what we made of it, and fought for the chance for the both of us to reunite.

In the end…. she was as rare as lightning in a bottle and just as electric to the touch. The memory of her kiss, her skin, the deepness in her eyes, and the simple way … the way she embraced joy in the dance of thunder above still aches in me deep inside. She was my 1st love, and no matter how strange things came to be, I am thankful that she was a part of my life.

Good night my sweet these 10 years now past. While I may not believe in a heaven, if there is one, I hope you have found it and that you have found peace now and forever now that your… no… OUR children and I have been reunited after all this time.

Good night. I miss you. Terry, Georgia and I. We miss you.

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The Days Before Tomorrow, Pt 1 – An Introduction

The Days Before Tomorrow, Pt 2 – Shattered

The Days Before Tomorrow, Interlude

The Days Before Tomorrow, Pt 3 – Betrayal and Hurts

The Days Before Tomorrow, Pt 4 – Those Left Behind

The Days Before Tomorrow, Epilogue and Answers

The Days Before Tomorrow, Afterword

The Tyranny of the Yelp Reviewer – Thoughts on Responsibility

“Chef Michael Noble has had one of the most distinguished culinary careers ever for a chef. He is a multiple gold and bronze medal winner for Team Canada in several of the world culinary Olympics, former head chef of Catch (leading to the resto being awarded the Best New Restaurant award a…” – Dec 2010

Terry, not quite a renaissance man yet...

Terry, not quite a renaissance man yet…

Those were the words that began my journey into food reviews and blogging in the #YYC community. Since that time, I’ve co-founded a city-wide food event, became a bit of a fixture on Twitter and in person at certain restaurants, and have built a bit of a reputation as the go-to guy for restaurant choices. I’ve written well over 150+ restaurant and related market reviews, some serious and some especially whimsical (my TWO reviews of downtownfood are more than self-explanatory) and made friends at every stop ranging from the chefs (Darren Maclean of downtownfood, Duncan Ly of Yellow Door/Raw Bar, Dustin Schafer of Sky 360 etc), those who I call the established writers (Dan Clapson, Vincci Tsui, Linda Garson, etc) who make a living writing and working in the food industry, to the “next tier”, who are established in their own right but make their bread and butter in other industries. I’ve built a name that’s growing, and I’m honoured to know these people as they’re all fascinating, brilliant in their chosen arts, and passionate about their dedication to food and what I like to call #RealFood.

But while those words above started the journey, it was being awarded “Yelp Elite” status that gave me a voice on what I wrote about, and in some ways how to write even if I didn’t necessarily agree with the full structure. It’s a controversial review website, international in scope, with a structure and a power that in some places can make or break a business. As it’s the one I’ve been associated the longest, I’m going to start this week to give my friends and followers some understanding on the structure, and some thoughts on responsibilities that we all have to consider.

Yelp is basically a review website, with content written by the normal consumer (ideally). Literally 10s of thousands of reviews are written every day throughout the world, for the most part written by the average every day person, on virtually every known type of business from auto body shops to gourmet restaurants. Each reviewer is requested to give a star rating out of 5 (sorry, no 1/2 stars though Yelp really should allow that). The reviews are then analyzed by some special algorithm that tries to determine if it’s a valid review, a fake or even a deliberate attack. As a backup, there’s a small army of readers in San Francisco that reads the reviews themselves, and reviews can also be flagged by other Yelp reviewers. But there are 2 types of reviewers, the regular Yelp member and a smaller group designated as the Elite of which I am one.

Me in full Yelp Elite Mode in Yelp Sunglasses

Me in full Yelp Elite Mode in Yelp Sunglasses

What’s the difference between the two? Well, I’d like to say quality of writing and general integrity. A lot of the average Yelp writers tend to make a review about a few of their favorite places, or places that made an especial impression on them. Far more are what I call one-timers, that is they would write one or two reviews in all, all to help out their friend’s business, a popular local hangout, or in a lot of cases, to purposely attack to try to ruin a business with horrific stories, very often imaginary. A Yelp Elite will almost always write about their actual experience, especially engaged with their local community  and were selected for what appears in their writing and general personality to be honest overall (though occasionally incorrect). As such, especially as the Yelp Elite tend to be like a small percentage of the greater group, and highly sought for their opinions and reviews.

Now I will write a post on how the reviews are analyzed, how to write one and so on, but for now, I’m going to deal with one thing… what I like to call the Tyranny of the Yelper. Yelp, for better or worse, can seriously help or hurt certain businesses. In really depends on the nature of the business I find, but there have been actual published studies that back this up. As such, there have been offers by businesses to solicit a positive Yelp review from an Elite. Now this isn’t as prevalent in Canada as it is in the US, but there it is for all to see. The Yelpers, through social media, have an unprecedented amount of clout that otherwise didn’t exist 10 years ago. Bad word of mouth can always hurt a business, but through Yelp, it’s magnified a thousand fold in many instances.

Former food bloggers, the Calgary Foodies, were at one time the leading food blog in Calgary. But parenthood has superseded that passion understandably, and their site has since been shuttered. But I had contributed occasionally to their blog, including the review above about NoTAble’s Sunday Brunch, right up to a somewhat negative review I wrote about the last days of Mother Tucker’s in Calgary. It was never published, either on the Calgary Foodies’ site, or on my own.

When it was rejected, I looked at it myself, and then had a few friends’ read it as well. It wasn’t really a horrific review, just one where the age of the place was showing, and that for the very last Sunday Brunch sitting, it was pretty much without hoopla and protocol which was a bit saddening to see after such a long successful run. I never did ask Nolan, one of the foodies why it was never posted, but not too long after, he wrote a post himself about something he had learned himself, that just because you have a voice that people follow, it doesn’t mean it’s a voice that can be used as a hammer. A light flickered on in my head when I read that, and while my review wasn’t one that was slamming a hammer onto a business, it was one that was still negative in tone.

The Yelp Elite, and reviewers in general, have a voice that can do genuine harm to genuine people. A review about a bad experience in a restaurant could be the difference between a mom and pop shop being able to make the rent or shutter the doors. As my fellow blogger and friend, Wanda or @momwhoneedswine likes to state, Everyone could have an off day, or a bad experience. I’ve had some so-so dishes at my favorite places, poor service at my mechanic and so on, but this is something that should be expressed there and then WHILE you’re having that experience to give that business a chance to correct a perceived wrong. Your steak was underdone? Ask them to re-fire it. You don’t think your barber did a good job with your cut. Ask them to touch it up. But do it WHILE you’re having that experience.

Here’s where responsibility comes into play. Too many of us Yelpers and reviewers stay silent about a bad experience, and then take it out brutally on the business in a review afterwards. Again, if honest, a bad experience is a bad experience and if honest, should be reported, but should be done with the knowledge of the potential impact. I’ve admittedly written some pretty bad reviews as well myself, but no one can state that I didn’t at least try to give the business a chance to correct the issue. If the business still went out of their way to be complete jerks, well, so be it. But I’d like to remind everyone that we Yelp reviewers have a power to actually hurt people in real terms. This is our city, and I do my best to support it as best I can. I’d like to challenge the reviewers who are writing something negative that:

1) is the city really better with the loss of this business? Did I try to give them a chance to make amends?

2) depending on the nature and size of the business, am I crushing someone’s dreams? Do I really want to be the cause of the destruction of this venture?

In the 80s, an obituary of a legendary Montreal food writer had stated that she, over the years, deliberately shelved many a review of restaurants because while the experience may have been poor in execution, she knew that to publish a poor review would bankrupt that mom and pop business. I never understood why until I became reasonably well-known in the YYC Food community. There are so many that are literally struggling day-to-day, but have proceeded anyways because it was their dream.  I ask, unless it was truly a horrific experience, hold off. Give them a little time. Try them again.

To my fellow Yelp reviewers, especially the Elite, and to reviewers of YYC in general, I know many of you already keep this in mind. But there are so so many of us that don’t.

Next week, I’ll explain the Yelp review model, my thoughts on how it works and the pluses and minuses.

Chinese Eat Everything, or Do They? – A Tale of Allergies, Misguided Thoughts and Racial Beliefs

“Chinese people eat anything on two wings, except a plane, and on four legs, except a table.” – Ancient Chinese Quote, probably said by a white guy who was having lunch with a Chinese guy sometime in the last few decades.

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Scorpion Skewers (Photo by NationalStereotype.com)

Yesterday, a good friend of mine, Laurel Livingston wrote a blog about her rather extensive allergies, and how it makes some of the simple things that we take for granted health wise a rather scary place to be in. It was a frank well written piece. It’s also one that pretty much shows what’s facing ALL of us in the future as new super antibiotic resistant bugs are coming out.  Take a look at this episode of CBC’s Marketplace (I’m not sure if those outside of Canada can see it) to get an idea about how scary it will be.

Nevertheless, Laurel lives in a scary world when it comes to medical procedures. Imagine trying to go to a dentist, and you can’t use certain types of antibiotics around her to keep the area safe. Or try having an operation of any sort for that matter. Regardless of it all, she remains a positive, beautiful soul always.

Inspired by her, I decided to take a break from my usual updates on the ongoing saga that is my kids, or more tales from the Spy world, to tell of my own problems with allergies, albeit in a unique Chinese cultural way. You see, the quote above is actually held by Chinese people practically as a mantra. During Chinese New Year, I had my guests fighting over who can eat the fish eyes in a whole steamed fish! But in my case I was diagnosed with a lethal allergy against raw fruit of the Rose and Plum family of plants.

“Waitaminute” you’re probably crying out. If you know me, I’m probably one of the top 100 foodies in Calgary. Thankfully, this allergy only kills me when the fruits and related nuts are RAW. I still have to cook the living crap out of it to ensure that I can eat it safely without worrying about that pesky DEATH side effect though. Imagine not having Apple Pie until it’s been nuked into Applesauce. That’s been my existence since childhood.

As I said, it’s a badge of honor for Chinese to eat virtually anything. I was the same way until I turned 10 when I noticed that eating certain fruits actually started to hurt a LOT. I couldn’t bite into an apple without having my throat tighten, my tongue swell, and my lungs literally feel like it’s being constricted by an MMA fighter on a ‘roid rage. Needless to say, I stopped eating fruit in general then and there.

As I grew up, I got a reputation as being a really picky eater as a result. My parents couldn’t understand it and my extended family definitely didn’t. Heck, my Uncle William gave me this lecture that “sometimes the body reacts if the mind rejects it” speech. If there was ANY time I wanted to deck that son-of-a-…. , well, it was that time (and another time when he had the balls to tell me to my face that he was ashamed that I was his nephew for not being Chinese enough). It was frustrating, but hey, what was I to say really. I had heard of peanut allergies, but APPLES?

When I was 18, my mom took out a Japanese pear. She was needling me to try it out, saying that “because it’s Japanese, it’s safe for me”. Well, I suppose I just got fed up and decided to test it out. My logic was, “So what, I’ll be uncomfortable or in pain for a few hours, but mom stops bugging me.” So I took one bite. No reaction. Curious. A second. Curious indeed. My mom then said, “See, it’s safe, why don’t you finish it.” I didn’t even make it to a third as I started to black out and the old reactions kicked in with a vengeance.

After that near death event, I saw my doctor asap who arranged me to be tested. There it was, “allergic to the Rose and Plum family”, and worse, I had found out that I crossed into the lethal range at some point over the years. That was enough for me to steer clear of raw fruit for good, but there were always little accidents as I didn’t know that this extended to certain types of nuts as well. For example, I could eat peanuts and walnuts, but I can’t eat almonds or macadamia nuts. I could enjoy raspberries and blueberries, but not blackberries and strawberries. And then there was the problem with my mom again. She hated that I was deprived of certain tastes and flavors, and kept trying to introduce these foods to me in the hope I could develop an immunity. THANKFULLY, my dad would fight to keep me alive. Considering the insurance policy on me, I always playfully joked that mom would be the first suspect if anything happened to me.

A bit later, I discovered that my dad and my sister had the SAME allergy, but not at the same intensity. They just shrugged it off, and avoided the foods themselves. As they were a bit more discreet, no one really noticed (yeah, I admit I was a bit of a jerk by openly refusing the foods).

Since then, there’s been a number of accidents involving epipens, ambulances and a notable episode of crabcakes with unmarked slices of apple on my honeymoon while trapped on a cruise ship. All of them are pretty funny, but it’s a tale for another day.

But one last closing point, my allergies are probably the secret to success with my marriage. I have a LOT of female friends, and I’m a bit of a flirt, but I don’t DARE do anything that crosses the line. As my wife cooks the dinners, it’s a scary thought knowing she can take me out for good if I ever do cheat!

ADVENTURES IN THE SPY BIZ : A PARANOID WORLD

It’s sad you know. The world where I lived in makes so many people paranoid for the stupidest reasons. And when they’re that paranoid, you really have no idea what to expect.

So to make a change of things, I’ve decided to talk about some of the past cases I’ve been in, that a psychologist was better warranted.

First, I’d like you to understand that many of these people genuinely need to have treatment. Of all of the cases I’ve been personally involved in with people I call paranoid, in only 1 case out of 6 YEARS actually panned out as a genuine situation… and even then that went sideways.

Next, if you’re wondering why I even took the cases in the first place, there’s 2 reasons. One, there’s the old saying, when there’s smoke there’s fire. For my “normal” clients, I’ve found that to be accurate. But in the realm of madness, it’s so much harder to tell. I had to give them the benefit of the doubt. Second, sometimes just having my presence and involvement was enough to give a little peace of mind. Either way, here are a few memorable clients or would be clients.

1- Killer lasers from above.

C-130 Hercules armed with the Advanced Tactical Laser

C-130 Hercules armed with the Advanced Tactical Laser

Around 2008 or so, a gentleman came in saying that the US army was after him, even trying to kill him. I admittedly went instantly into “look serious but try not to sigh” mode for obvious reasons. He barely looked like he had $100 total to his name, but I calmly stood by and listened. As for that plane you’re seeing, that’s a C-130 Hercules. It costs thousands to keep in the air. It costs hundreds of thousands to maintain. Inside of its belly is a 100-kilowatt laser capable of knocking hole through a 3’x3′ piece of metal from 20 km an hour, and costs tens of thousands of dollars to fire. But according to the would-be client, it wasn’t flying around New Mexico test grounds or somewhere in Afghanistan. Somehow, it was circling Calgary around and around, for the sole purpose of striking him.

2- Radiation girl

Radiation Warning

Radiation Warning

In 2009, this poor girl came into my store and gave me a pretty harrowing take of how an international conglomerate has been purposely trying to kill her. No matter where she would move to, this secret Illuminati was going to send a would be assassin to move into a nearby apartment or house or wherever she was and would dose her with radioactive isotopes. That’s when she requested I find out who was this international group, and to see if I could obtain a lead-lined suit of some sort.

For months, she would come in asking for one bizarre thing after another, but for the most part it was harmless. It was around the time that she started to ask for enough copper to make a Faraday cage and enough lead to line her home against plutonium is when I started to stall. Basically put, she was asking me to procure her tens of thousands of dollars of metal, to combat a supposed beam of radiation or a stick of plutonium that just happens to be lying around that was sent by secret illuminati killers. I couldn’t in all conscience take advantage of this. In the end (well so far at least), she still has her money, doesn’t appear to have been radiation poisoned the last 6 years, and I can sleep at night.

3- From the Tabloid Pages

Ninjas in Trees

Ninjas in Trees

Now this is something that’s unique. This client, I had honestly thought she was a paranoid schizophrenic. She walked into my office, and told me a story about how things were missing all the time.

Buuut, I hooked her up with a hidden camera, and then had it watch her living room. And wouldn’t you know, she really DID have someone coming into her place. The super of her building was later convicted for breaking and entering and theft, as she was one of many victims in that building while the super padded his income. Mission solved, and that was that… or so I thought.

The following week, she came back, with a video that she stated was conclusive proof that a team of ninjas with camcorders were filming her 24/7 for some secret website. Needless to say, I hate it when my initial thoughts of a person is later confirmed in such a surprising manner. As I couldn’t convince her otherwise, I ended up watching a 30 min video of trees swaying in the wind where apparently there are invisible ninjas. I have to admit, those ninjas were good. Never saw a thing.

4- The Purse Whisperer

Cameras catching thieves in women's wear

Cameras catching thieves in women’s wear

This lady came in all perturbed and upset in a manner that was almost worrying. As she tried to describe her problem through her tears and her fear, she described how someone was trying to gaslight her by moving her purse every day a few inches here and there. Please note… I said MOVE, not steal, damage, break or hide… just move.

Well, I tried to reason with her, but there are just some cases that you can’t talk any sense to, so I just gave up and my boss designed a hidden wireless cameras system that did nothing but watch her purse all day long. Being a custom job, it wasn’t cheap, so I hope she found what she was looking for.

That’s enough for now, as there’s plenty of memories of my 6 1/2 years as a Spy/Investigator. In the meantime, I close off this entry with my farewell interview as I walked off into the sunset last month.

Adventures in the Spy Biz: Reflection on the Final Days

Seven years. I’ve been involved in the Spy business for 7 years, and it comes to a relative end in 2 weeks.

Image

Always watching through the windows when you least expect it

In 7 years, I’ve been involved in at least 4-5 police investigations involving murder, assault or kidnappings. I’ve assisted in a number of child abuse cases, or at least made it possible for the parent to do the work themselves. I’ve helped prevent at least 2 child abductions, and helped family members find out if their son or daughter was into drugs, planning secret parties or being cyber-bullied. As for infidelity or other stuff, I can’t even begin to count the number of cases I’ve either directly or indirectly been involved in.

In the end, as my time here comes to an end (not 100% immediately, I’ll still do the odd case or two or assist with my successor to complete existing contracts that started in my time), I wonder what did I learn?

Well, the first thing is… unless you work for a corporation or contracted to one, it’s not exactly the most glamorous job in the world. For every interesting case involving police work, there are 10 jobs involving husbands or wives cheating. It’s not so much James Bond as it’s the cheekier side of Magnum PI. In my last entry under “Adventures”, there tended to be a lot of times that would involve long hours watching a hotel or sneaking around a place in the middle of the night to plant tracking devices, cameras and the like.

Next, you find out that Hollywood has completely misconstrued everything to be a world where there are tracking devices the size of sugar cubes that work around the world and need absolutely zero power. For example, those wireless portable cameras that Lisbeth uses in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”. How the hell did those cameras operate? Battery power on wireless cameras work for a matter of HOURS, not days, not weeks as suggested. If they applied the real rules, then the cameras would have run out of power long ago and her journalist friend would have been murdered. There’s Hollywood, and the laws of physics. I would bet on those laws every day. One special note though, the tools and the gear has improved a lot though, even from when I first started my work.

Finally, there’s always an anterior motive. It doesn’t matter who and what case, there always is one. I won’t comment on the Police ones out of respect to the inspectors who have a hard enough time as it is, but there have been too many cases from other Private Investigators and the public at large to not have seen this. I’ve found that without knowing that motive, a client’s case would linger for weeks, even months. I’ve had cases go for over 5 years because I was directed to look in one direction without knowing the other. Sure they pay well, but you just want to have the closure eventually.

So, as my time comes soon to an end, I wonder, was it worth it? I know that a huge chunk of my soul has been bruised in ways that I can never describe. The look of horror of that woman when she found out how her child was being drugged. The knowledge that no matter what I do, often the client refuses to help themselves and endure unspeakable abuse. The regular disappointments by occasional clients that despite retrieving what they needed, they lack the courage to take it that last step. But in the end, I think yes. Despite what my family and friends who disapproved of the job, in the end, I can honestly say that I was in a position to help far more than most. That’ll be the thought that will follow me.

But if I’m so melancholy of the time I spent as a spy of sorts, how did I manage for so long? People in Calgary know me as a social media person, a regarded foodie and Calgary booster. That description probably fits me well, but little do people know that all of this wasn’t just me being a particularly involved with things, it was my life line. While the infidelity stuff can be funny, more often than not, it was simply tragic. It’s a world where there are legions of broken hearts, misplaced anger and residual damage in the lives any children involved. I needed the social media world, a dynamic arena of minds and spirits the world over to keep me engaged with the brighter parts of life. I needed to be a foodie, not simply because I truly enjoy good food and the passions involved with cooking, but to give me a means to brighten the horizons of others through the simple communion of a shared meal. As for being a Calgary booster, that was easy. For every one case I dealt with, there were 100 Calgarians making the lives of one another a better place. If anything, the people of Calgary bring me hope that there are happy families out there, lovers enjoying the simple joys and artists creating art and music. To this incredible city, thank you, and I promise to continue to serve.

Adventures in the Spy Biz : What NOT to do when you’re Cheating Pt 1

A few years back, I was requested by a client to see if I could give her a hand. I had been working at Spy City as the store manager for a while, and we had long since established ourselves in Calgary as a place of last resort.  We dealt with the people who couldn’t get help from the police, needed to get evidence and find a means to protect themselves.

In the almost 7 years I’ve been there, I can honestly say that I’ve prevented some child abductions and saved I don’t know how many women from serious physical and emotional abuse. There are stores and restaurants that I’ve stopped internal theft and outright assaults. Information I’ve gathered have stopped a murder and made life easier for helpless seniors. Needless to say, I really have to write a book about all this one day, but the most prevalent type of case I’m involved in usually has something to do with infidelity and the like.

Well, with my work, I’ve gotten much more involved in some cases than simply selling product or advising companies. Why take the risk? I’d like to say it’s because I love being a spy for hire, or try to emulate my favorite childhood tv show Magnum PI. I might even say that with my strong belief in Chivalry, that maybe it has something to do with being a White Knight and helping the damsel in distress. But really, in the end, if I ever do get involved in a case, it’s more because the person in trouble simply trusts me and her situation is dire, and I just can’t look away.

Now there are plenty of pretty serious cases, but there are a few that were also pretty hilarious. So let’s get to a few tips to the Cheater on what NOT to do, and I’ll give a bit of a summary.

1) When you’re having a nooner, do NOT use the Company Van

A few years back, a wife had intercepted her husband’s cell phone message from his secret lover. He was supposed to go to a motel at the outskirts of town, and be available for an hour of bedroom acrobatics. Since the wife was a housewife who didn’t drive, she turned to me to see if I can get some evidence ASAP.  My problem, he was going to his nooner the next day, and the exact motel wasn’t mentioned.  Still, I knew that there were only so many possible places, so I drove up and down this strip of 16 Ave NW and tried to figure it out.

I had barely gone 2 blocks when I noticed the work van. Now, normally, trying to find a single work vehicle in a large neighbourhood would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. But this particular vehicle was with a company that’s quite popular in Calgary, with especially visible cartoon like characters all over the sides. Needless to say, it took me less than 2 min to find the place, and being a motel, I just waited around with a camera and got the evidence when the client’s husband and lover left the motel. Easiest tracking of a client EVER.

2) Don’t post your topless pics to try to impress your lover on FACEBOOK and TWITTER.

You would think that this would be a no-brainer, eh? I mean, Anthony Weiner is by far a great example of what can be found out. Apparently, NO!

My client was admittedly had a bit of a tech-phobia. She had barely any idea how to use her computer, and had not touched social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and the like. Her husband, being a little tech saavy, had no such restrictions, and was using his own Facebook page as a means to impress a friend with topless beach pics and the like. Worse, he was encouraging the target of his affections to make comments and so on. It really didn’t take me very long to get evidence obviously.

3) Do NOT get a mother angry. Not unless you really want to become a eunuch.

There’s an old saying, the female is the deadlier of the species. I prefer the ol’ saying, “Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned.”

When a family is about to be broken up or endangered and young kids are involved, I find that women are always going to find unusual levels of strength and anger to protect her cubs. I’ve also found that they tend to be ESPECIALLY vengeful for the family being damaged in the first place.

To my experience, when a guy is cheated on, 9 out of 10 times he’ll just do what’s needed to confirm and then leave or break things off. When a gal is though, and kids are involved….. well, 6 out of 10 times she’ll do what’s necessary… and THEN do even more to continue to make his life a living HELL long after the breakup!  I’ve got cases that has lasted over 5-6 years where I found the evidence a long long time ago and they’re still after the guy’s head. Needless to say, I should give presentations at wedding encounter workshops.

That’s enough for a start for now… but I guarantee that you’ll be more than a little amused.  Same bat-title, same bat-channel!