It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Well,  it was, anyway. A while ago. I’m late, I know. I told Edmond I’d have this post done by January and, well, it’s February 12th now. Sorry, Edmond.

That line is pretty much the only one I know from whatever song those lyrics are from.

It’s past the end of the holiday season, which is very sad because now it’s time to go back to real life, but it was nice while it lasted. Lots of time off, seeing friends and family…

Aaand free food, presents, and parties!

So many events, so little time. I’ll post the last episode of the World Cup series at some point, I promise.

Here is the first post of 2017 (which was supposed to be the last post of 2016, but we all know by now how slow I am at posting).

On the 5th floor of my building (which is really the staff lounge, but I sneak in there a lot), the administrative staff put out Christmas cookies every day during the last full week of work. Not only did they have chocolates and cookies and jam tarts, they also had hot apple cider, hot chocolate, and eggnog! Oh, happy day. Eggnog was a new experience for me. It’s okay, but not really my thing. Hot apple cider, though, that hit the spot. I stole two jam tarts, a couple of shortbread cookies, and a bunch of chocolates and felt absolutely no shame about it and you can’t make me.

One nice thing about the season is that most departments have special holiday-themed parties. ECE for some reason, doesn’t go along with this trend and doesn’t have a departmental holiday party, which makes me very sad, but I guess at least my tuition is saved? To counteract that lack, however, I attend a bunch of other departmental parties and, again, feel no shame, because this is the season of giving and sharing and these people should feel joy at sharing their holiday experience with me. The first such event was the MIE luncheon, which Chris was going to. I tagged along because due to some large oversight, non-MIE students could register for the event. The luncheon was held at the Chelsea Hotel and was fancy, man. A proper Christmas lunch, with salad, wine, turkey with stuffing mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce (which I really don’t think matches at all), and a chocolate mousse pyramid. Delicious.

An unfortunate side-effect of going to so many holiday events is the possibility of overlapping events. Indeed, on the last Friday before the university closed, there were three events, all of which I attended. I would have preferred they be on separate days so I could stuff myself silly, but there you are. I had to restrain myself and only eat a bit at each event so  I could save space for the next event. The first of the three was the pharmacy potluck, which was held in our regular work building. People brought in different dishes, which offered excellent variety and varying excellence. Immediately afterwards was the IBBME holiday party, where unlimited smoked salmon, cheese platters, samosas, and butter cookies offered a very attractive afternoon snack (I’m not going to lie, I packed a couple of samosas to go). Do note that I’m not in pharmacy or IBBME, but having my lab being associated with these two departments felt good enough to me. Finally, the third event of the day was our (ECE) lab’s Christmas party, which was held at a karaoke bar. Let me tell you, you have not lived until you’ve seen your supervising professor rap Eminem.

Our pharmacy lab also had our own little Christmas celebration, complete with a gift exchange and hot pot afterwards. The most popular gifts were the games (Adam, Wenhan, Bill, and I had all brought board games) and I was very sad not to have gotten one. One of the more notable gifts was Libing’s, which was a bottle of red vinegar given by Surath, (Libing thought it would be a bottle of wine). It turned out that Surath had actually just pulled a prank and after the gift exchange was over, gifted Libing with a nice bottle of sake, complete with a pair of chopsticks for sake bombs. Clever! After the gift exchange we gorged on hot pot in Chinatown, where the Asians proceeded to enjoy themselves with good food and the others proceeded to enjoy themselves by getting drunk and not knowing how to cook their food while probably getting salmonella at the same time.

You know how there are all those Christmas specials where the characters find out the “true” meaning of Christmas?

It’s the season of gift stealing and getting fat!

That is what Christmas means to me.

In addition to all the academic activities, there were also a few dragon boat team holiday parties. Iron Dragons had their Christmas party near the beginning of December, probably so it wouldn’t interfere with exams. Mike was visiting in Toronto, so we invited him to come as a special guest coach, where he interacted with new recruits and persuaded them that he was a new French recruit from Montreal. He actually got pretty far with it and quite a few people believed he was “Yves” from True Grit who was now joining Iron Dragons. Colin in particular was completely taken in and we only enlightened him after the party was over. We also had a gift exchange to which Chris and I contributed Sushi Go. Chris and I originally were the unenthusiastic recipients of a fishing rod. Luckily, someone (for some reason?!) wanted it and stole it from us, allowing us to steal a Buddha Board, which  made Chris happy.

NDRC had their own holiday party, which was held in our condo’s party room. I wasn’t super thrilled about hosting after last year’s incident (looking at you, Ivy) but Derrick’s room was booked, Ben’s security guard apparently is either incompetent or just hates him, and Monica was on call, so our place was the only other fair downtown option. Ben made a huge mess of our poor nonstick pan while cooking his jerk chicken, of which to this day we are still unsure if it was totally cooked or not (Ben likes his meat raw). Gift exchanges involving stealing are very popular so of course we had one as well. At least half the gifts involved tea or Starbucks gift cards, which, while fine, are more what I would consider safe than interesting. Chris and I ended up with a lovely Starbucks gift card and a box of tea (“from Damika”) regifted from whom other than Adrian. I had actually had Derrick in mind when getting our contribution to the gift exchange (a pair of small ramekin-like pots and a trio of flavoured salts) and while he initially stole the gift from Tim (who could have used it to season and cook his very sad chicken dinners), it was later stolen from him by Benson (does he even go here?).

After all the Toronto parties, it was time for the Montreal festivities!

Going home to Montreal is usually a nice, relaxing experience and this holiday was no exception. We also had a few dinner parties, which is always nice because that means plenty of food! Emmy and Simon hosted a potluck dinner where Simon served the creamiest, dreamiest mashed potatoes I have ever eaten. I suffered from extreme guilt after eating three helpings, but that’s okay. Donia was in charge of bringing the bûche and delivered with an unrolled slab of soggy red bean and matcha frosted cake. I use the term “frosted” liberally as it was more liquid than solid. While nevertheless still tasty, her self-proposed theme seemed appropriate: streets of Montreal, which was quite apt in its description of the dessert. A similar though different gift exchange was held here (though Chris and I didn’t participate as we hadn’t had time to get gifts beforehand). Notable gifts include Donia’s offer of $30 worth of Hong Kong/Taiwan treats (as she and Sulik were going to said places over the holiday), Simon’s anti-ageing cream box (which turned out to have a gift card to his restaurant hidden inside), and Sheng’s body lotion/nail polisher combo, which would have been acceptable for anybody (for any of the girls or any of the guys for their girlfriends) except Mike, who, of course, was the one to get it. But hey, it did make his nails nice and shiny and came with a lifetime warranty.

A yearly tradition I have with Andy, Gowdemy, Heming, PA, Jeremy, and Yifan (our old undergrad crew), starting precisely one year ago, is that we eat ramen at Misoya ramen and see a Star Wars movie. This year Yifan couldn’t make it as she had to work. Gowdemy came from Ottawa, Heming from Seattle, Andy from Boston, PA from good ol’ Brossard. Jeannie and Ann also tagged along. It’s a little sad that Jeremy and I don’t see each other more often since we both actually still go to the same school. Our schedule of seeing each other basically coincides with the day we plan to meet up in Montreal while he’s en route from Toronto to Quebec City. Rogue One was a decent movie, but the ending was very sad. Not having seen all the original Star Wars movies yet, I didn’t know what would happen, though apparently everybody else did. I did, however, appreciate the huge effort at diversity (a main character with an accent, what!) and K-2SO is my new favourite robot.

The next day, Andy and I went over to PA’s for board games where we played Arkham Horror, which we neatly lost at. PA always wins at board games, however, so since this game was a co-op type, Andy and I decided the two outcomes would be either we all win or PA loses. in this case, PA lost. Fun game, though complicated and very hard.

My family hosted Christmas Eve, which the “kids” (not really kids anymore) spent by watching movies using HH’s friend’s Netflix account. I don’t think our TV had been turned on for a year, so it took a while to figure out how to use it. We watched Captain Phillips, which was decent, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which was atrociously bad (are all reporters that stupid, or is it just April O’Neil?), as well as a documentary on sea creatures, during which Q found out that albatrosses are, in fact, not mythical creatures but “seagull little shit birds.” What a night of learning and discovery.

Christmas morning involved a brunch with Q, M, and J while Q’s family hosted Christmas dinner. NN insisted on playing Settlers of Catan in an attempt to beat me (he did actually manage it, bringing his tally against me a total of two wins ever). Q’s mum made Peking duck in addition to a virtual feast of goodies and these very excellent salted caramel chocolate mousse layered cup things from Costco, which basically make life worth living.

On Boxing day, I coerced Andy into giving me a ride to Canal Fitness (actually, Martin drove). The road was quite icy and on our way to pick up Katie, we swerved while turning at an intersection and almost crashed into a pole but were stopped just in time by crashing into an ice bank instead. No damage to the car, fortunately, but we were kind of stuck. Andy got out to push the car but it didn’t budget. So I got out as well and helped push. Huzzah! Success! Andy claims he couldn’t move the car because I was so heavy that I weighed down the car but I like to think it was my extraordinary strength (you heard me) that enabled us to get out of the predicament. We eventually made it to CF where we met Chris and Mike to gym. Chris and I did weights while the Shih brothers had an erg Shihdown (Martin won). It wasn’t the most efficient gym session since we did a lot of talking and watching, but Christmas is the season of socializing and seeing friends so I figured it was okay.

Afterward, Chris and I headed downtown for some Boxing Day shopping where we bought nothing at all but a new SD card for my phone that wasn’t even on sale because mine had broken. Bit of a failure of a shopping excursion, but whatever. I had to rush home in the afternoon to make it in time for another dinner party, this time at S’s parents’ house. Here, I must admit that I don’t actually know S very well. He’s engaged, but I’ve never met his fiancée and didn’t know what she looked like. Therefore, I must be excused for the fact that, upon arriving at their house and seeing an unknown girl about his age standing next to him, I had assumed she was his fiancée. Over the course of the evening, I noticed that their relationship was decidedly odd as he didn’t spend much time with her, didn’t really speak to her that much, and kept his distance. At one point, however, I was speaking to her and she mentioned her boyfriend (should’ve been a red flag) and I asked her how they met, while gesturing to S. Thank goodness she didn’t seem to have noticed because it soon became clear that she was indeed NOT engaged to S and that she was, in fact, dating someone else and was merely this random girl whose dad happened to be friends with S’s dad. Oh. Fortunately nobody noticed my confusion or my sudden clarity moment so I was saved from embarrassment. NN came a bit later and apparently knew this random girl from school so that made it a bit less awkward. He apparently had recently watched a Gordon Ramsay video on how to cook and crack open a lobster and wanted to try, because, coincidentally, S’s family had prepared lobster. I can tell you that he was okay but in no way professional about it. It was actually kind of a struggle. Random tidbit that I didn’t know: there’s meat in those spindly little lobster legs that you can get out by rolling them, kind of like squishing out toothpaste.

The rest of the week was fairly uneventful until the day before New Year’s Eve, which was when my family in addition to Q’s, HH’s, T’s, O’s, and YY’s families all headed to Quebec City for a skiing getaway at Mont St-Anne. We could’ve met Gordon and Rebecca there as they were also on a skiing trip, but they decided to be anti-social and leave early. It must be confessed that I am quite mediocre at skiing, don’t even like it all that much, and am actually quite terrified of it at times. The others were pretty good and went off to do their own thing while T took pity on me and stayed with me on the greens, partly also due to the fact that she was extremely unhappy because she hates being cold and therefore hates skiing. Her dad forced her to go by renting her skis, thereby making her go so as to not have that money be wasted. My first ride up the lift I failed at getting off properly, sort of fell, and then was basically stuck in a sort of squat position, unable to fall and unable to get up and had to be pulled up by T using her ski pole. Very embarrassing. There’s also this particularly steep section that very much terrified me that I swear should not be part of a green run and that I had to go off to the side and muster up the courage for a couple of minutes before I was able to get the nerve to attempt to go down (I fell a lot at first). My skiing strategy involves making very large S’s, essentially traversing the entire width of the path nearly horizontally so as not to go too fast, and even going up a little bit at the end of each curve. As Q says, it’s a wonder I ever get to the bottom of the hill. I improved over time, though, and was eventually able to complete a run while only falling twice (I admit I did have to pizza the steep part).

On the first night we were in Quebec City, HH and YY’s dads wanted to go to this very specific restaurant called Le Pied Bleu, which a friend had recommended to them due to their specialties such as offal and other delicacies. The evening commenced poorly as we showed up an hour before our reservation time (the parents had been worried about traffic and finding the place). Luckily the restaurant was empty at the time. Unluckily, the restaurant couldn’t find record of our reservation. Turns out HH’s mum had actually made the reservation at another restaurant, Le Renaud et la Chouette, which I think is a sister restaurant of the one we were at or part of the same restaurant club (if there is such a thing) or something of the sort (I’m not entirely sure). Fortunately, it turned out that the other restaurant was just a few buildings down and the host at Le Pied Bleu very graciously volunteered to lead us there.

Upon arriving, we were able to sit down regardless of being unreasonably early and settled down. It was here that more complications arose. HH and YY’s dads asked about dishes such as beef stomach and the host of Le Renaud regretfully informed us that those dishes were actually the specialties of Le Pied Bleu and that his specialty was in fact vegetables (something special about them? I don’t know). The parents were so disappointed, I think he took pity on them and said he would figure something out. Apparently he talked to the owner of Le Pied Bleu and they worked something out so that together they would make a special group menu for us and the owner of LPB would bring over sweetbreads and other such lovely things from his restaurant. They even accommodated my parents, who mostly don’t eat meat, by offering a few extra vegetarian or seafood dishes. Main dishes consisted of a charcuterie platter, beef brains and stomach, duck heart, kidneys, and testicles, lamb and potatoes, and sauerkraut. All interesting, with some better than others, though I’m not sure I’d want to necessarily try some of these dishes again. We also got a complimentary crème brûlée. I must say that overall I experienced probably the best service and accommodations in my life, notable especially for a restaurant without waitstaff.

Finally, it was time for real life to kick in again. Back to Toronto. And then a month passed, Chinese New year passed, and basically all of January passed until I ended up actually finishing this post.

Happy (belated) Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, New Year, and general holidays to everybody! And since I’m so late in posting…happy (belated) Chinese New Year too!

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