Monday, February 24, 2003

Evelyn left today.. more updates later. Look for my Paris update sometime soon. :)

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Paris Day 3

Upon our final day in Paris, we woke up even earlier for breakfast. (Evelyn complained that they ran out of her favourite Pain au Chocolat the day before) After stuffing ourselves silly so we don�t have to eat lunch, checking out of the hotel, we lugged our backpacks with us to the Eiffel Tower again. Oh wait, no, I lugged my backpack with all of our stuff. On Day 1 of our trip, Evelyn�s bag broke (�It wasn�t my fault!�, says Evelyn) and now I have to carry all her clothing.

On the metro, some blokes were playing the violin and entertaining the entire carriage. We were both very amused, at the same time enjoying the life of a Parisian. This is truly what living in Europe is like - laid back, carefree.

The Eiffel Tower in the daytime is nothing but a metal tower. It has lost its aesthetic appeal, and the only reason it stands out is because it�s taller than everything else around it. Evelyn and I decided to head to the top, and luckily there are lifts to take us there. (Imagine climbing the whole tower) I took some video as we ascended on the lift, and Evelyn clinched onto my shirt as I forced her to look outside. �You�ll never see this again�, I claimed. It�s true - live the life now or you will regret it later. The top of the tower allowed us to see Paris in its full glory, even more so than being on top of the Notre-Dame Cathedral. There was signage all around the observation deck, showing the distance to different cities. Behold, the Eiffel Tower is officially 6,014 km away from Toronto! They also listed Ottawa and Montr�al as destinations. (I wonder why Waterloo is not there)

After millions of pictures taken at the top of the tower, we went to Muse� D�Orsay to look at more artwork. It houses paintings from Monet and Van Gogh. Evelyn seemed to have acquired this special taste for Monet�s painting, as we battled in the gift shop trying to find a replica of the painting she liked.

How could a trip to Paris end without an official French cuisine? (the French Onion Soup didn�t count) Feeling the desire to splurge, we ate at the restaurant at Muse� D�Orsay. It used to be a hotel, and they preserved the dining hall of the hotel for the restaurant. I felt like a king eating a banquet in a huge hall. The service was immaculate, and we had duck. DUCK! French food is awesome. It would have been even more special if we had French wine, but Evelyn refused to have any wine. (�I don�t feel like drinking�)

We went back to Avenue des Champs-L��lyse�s for some more pictures in daylight, and then decided to conclude our trip in Paris. Stayed at the Gare du Nord for a little, waiting for our Eurostar train. What really frustrated us was the fact that it was delayed for almost two hours - apparently somebody jumped onto the track and refused to leave. Ugh. If you want to commit suicide, go somewhere else dammit. Luckily Eurostar footed our bill for taxi back to my flat, so I�ll call it even.

Saturday, February 22, 2003

Paris Day 2

For some reason we woke up early enough to take advantage of the free buffet breakfast at the hotel. Mmm.. pain au chocolat, how did I ever survive breakfast without knowing you? Breakfast was quickly followed by an *attempt* to visit the Opera House. Due to my resistance to admitting that I have no idea where I am going, we ended up walking past the Opera House and reached our eventual destination of the day, the Louvre. My excuse is that we were going there later on in the day anyway. :P Since we were there, we decided to switch our schedule a little. The Louvre, my fellow readers, is huge. They are right when they say that you�d be insane to do the Louvre in a single day. Give me three full days and I might briefly cover all the artwork in the museum. Our main goals at the Louvre were to find Mona Lisa, and take a picture with the glass pyramids. It was not hard to find Mona Lisa - just follow the crowd and it will eventually lead you there. For such a famous painting, the security seemed a bit on the loose side. No security guards, and there were no visible security measures other than the glass case. We also looked at various pieces of artwork, and Evelyn couldn�t get enough of the crown jewels. I think girls simply have an affinity to shiny objects. ;) The gothic ceilings were also very astounding.

The rest of the day was spent roaming the city, visiting different museums and galleries. The Picasso Gallery stood out from my memory as being the more �interesting� one. I do not pretend to be an art critic, nor do I have any deep understanding of the art, but it was intriguing to see the transition on his style of expression from one period to another. Even without any formal art history background, I try to appreciate the artistic talent of these great artists. (I can only draw stick people, and sometimes I screw them up)

Before heading to dinner, we decided to visit the Eiffel Tower at night for a glimpse. Evelyn suddenly screamed and discovered �La Maison du Chocolat�. She didn�t end up buying anything. (�It was too expensive and not worth it�) The night view of the Eiffel Tower was breathtaking. The tower is a truly magnificent flagpole. (that�s pretty much what it is now) You know the feeling when you are looking at something that you have heard about, seen it in pictures and movies, and now standing right before you? It is difficult to explain the feeling of excitement and awe. Since the lineup to the top did not agree with our appetite for food, we left after snapping several photos and harassed by fifteen different people to buy miniature tower replicas.

For dinner we ate at a local restaurant not far from the tower itself. I should have known better that it was a tourist trap, but we were both tired and hungry. I had my first French Onion Soup (and now firmly believe I can never have another one elsewhere that would taste as good), and we both had steak. The steak had much to speak for itself, as it was dry and not exactly �French�. It was a very nice dinner environment, and we both enjoyed the time spent together.

Friday, February 21, 2003

Paris Day 1

We woke up extremely early to catch our train aboard the Eurostar to Paris today. For the first time, Evelyn did not complain about waking up early. It must be that she is just as excited as I am to visit Paris. The train ride was rather uneventful other than the fact our train did not actually leave. �Ladies and gentlemen, this train cannot continue. Please go to the train on the other platform.� Hello? Continue? The train never started! Once onboard the other train, the announcer bloke did not stop talking (in his French-accent laden English). Every fifteen minutes or so, you would hear him say �Ladies and gentlemen�� and tell us something trivial, like the food carriage is in carriage 6, or the toilet is out of toilet paper, or something like that.

Arriving at the Gare du Nord, the first task was to find the toilet for Evelyn. We found this, McClean - a pay-per-use washroom facility. It costs �1 to use! Luckily, for blokes alike, urinals are only �0.70. Quickly grabbed an overpriced and hard-as-brick baguette for lunch, and we headed to our first sight-seeing destination, the Notre-Dame Cathedral. Both of us climbed up the stairs to the very top of the Cathedral which gives a nice view of the Ile de France, as well as further down into the heart of Paris. Looking down reminded me of Montreal, especially the way houses are stacked on the hillside. Climbing even more stairs we reached the top of the clock tower, where the story Hunchback of Notre-Dame was based on. I saw the actual bell inside the tower, and promptly climbed back down because they have a limit on the number of people at the top.

Dropping our luggage off at the hotel (it�s just two backpacks) and eating a Croque Monsieur at a nearby caf�, we eagerly ventured off to the Arc de Triomphe. Climbing those stairs proved to be a challenge, as we were both recovering from climbing the Notre-Dame earlier in the day. Nevertheless, we reached the top and the view was spectacular! We could see all the streets stretching out towards all directions from the Arc de Triomphe, and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. We took quite a few pictures up at the top, but since digital cameras don�t work very well in the dark, the pictures did not turn out too focused.

Dinner was an interesting affair. We walked up and down Avenue des Champs-L��lyse�s, trying to find something that is not too expensive to eat. Let this be a warning to you - nothing is cheap in Paris. At last we stopped at Leons, and behold, it is a seafood restaurant! Funny enough neither of us ordered seafood (to which Evelyn regretted afterwards). Next to us was a couple that spoke Cantonese, clearly on their honeymoon from Hong Kong or something. It was quite funny watching them trying to speak French. Not spoiling the fun we went back to the hotel to rest right after - because we know we�ll need it!

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Evelyn in London

I really enjoyed the week when Evelyn was here. On Monday, she visited her friend up in Nottingham and didn�t return to London until around 11:00pm (which, coincidentally, was the time I left work so I went to pick her up). She claimed she studied during the day on Tuesday, and after work I took her to an Italian restaurant nearby. I think it was called Carluccio�s. Yes it was that insanely expensive lunch restaurant that my boss insists on having for lunch. It was a lovely evening with amazing food. Ask Evelyn - she couldn�t get enough of the Tiramisu. Now Wednesday night was one of the more expensive nights, since we went to see Phantom of the Opera. She kept saying how amazing it was and how she loves the show and wants to see it again. Well, for your information, I have seen the show for the� third time now. It must be due to the fact I was sitting so close to the stage (hence the ��� of the tickets), but this time around I actually understood the story. After the show we went to Pizza Express for some non-American style pizza. Can you believe I paid �10 for a pizza? Ugh. Well, it was definitely better than Gino�s in the University Plaza, that�s for sure.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Alright, so I have successfully completed the "London in two days" feat. It wasn't easy (waking Evelyn up at 8am was the hardest part), and it cost quite a bit (although I have been trying to cut down the cost by not visiting all the useless places, like the Dungeon of London where 'scary' ghosts tell you how foolish you are for falling for that crap). Yesterday we went on the London Eye. I made it all worthwhile by taking at least 30-40 pictures on top of the wheel. London certainly looks different on the 'eye'. Oh and Evelyn finally explained to me why it's called the London Eye. Apparently (I think I'm the only person who did not realize this), the 'eye' allows you to see 'London', hence 'London Eye'. I always thought that it looked like an eye, and so they named it after that. Ugh. I hate being wrong.

After a warm and soothing cup of caf� latte, we went to Westminster Abbey to admire the lovely cathedral. After spending a good hour looking at deceased kings and queens, and famous poets (such as Shakespeare, T.S. Elliot, Geoffrey Chaucer), we walked to the Buckingham Palace. On our way there, took pictures with the clock tower (otherwise known as the "Big Ben") and the parliament. We did not realize that the entrance to Buckingham Palace was hidden in St. James Park, and it took us a little while to locate the gate. Also took some pictures in front of the Queen Victoria Memorial, and of course the famous palace gates. Since it was a rather cold day, it did not take much effort to convince Evelyn and I that staying outside is a bad idea.

After a bumpy tube ride, we arrived at Leicester Square. From there we visited Chinatown and Soho � where London�s red-light district lies. Streets are literally lined with �licensed� sex shops selling all sorts of merchandises that make your mother cringe. Then I made the biggest mistake of my life (well, okay, not THE biggest) � taking Evelyn to Oxford Street & Regent Street. Should have seen her jaws drop as she walks past H&M, Topshop, Shelley�s, and all these other department stores. She especially liked Hanley�s, a six-storey toy store that has everything a kid would want. At the end of all the ooh�s and ahh�s from looking at the clothing, we reached the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street. Nearing dinner and both of us were starving; we headed to a restaurant on the south side of Leicester Square called Bella. Dinner was excellent, followed by long walks all around the London West End. Decided to call it quits at around 11:00pm, and promptly went home to sleep.

On Sunday morning before we enjoyed another full day of tourist activities, we ate breakfast at Caf� Italia. Our first stop was the Tower of London. After reaching the tube station, we have decided not to enter due to the massive queue outside. Instead we headed to the Tower Bridge and took some pictures instead. Tower Bridge is what the rest of the world identifies as the London Bridge, and the actual London Bridge is.. well, a small dinky bridge next to it. If you see the pictures you will understand what I mean. From there we left for Trafalgar Square, where millions (another exaggeration) of pigeons spend their days. Evelyn was running around, trying to dodge the pigeons either flying towards here on a collision course, or them dropping bombs on her. In either case, she quickly posed for several pictures before nagging me to leave.

The rest of the day was rather uneventful, as we were both exhausted from the two day London tour. Oh right, we�re here at the internet caf� blogging. Going home soon though, since I have work tomorrow. On the other hand, Evelyn is excited about the fact that she will get to sleep in� ugh.

Somethings just don�t change.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Evelyn arrived safely! I was so scared after hearing all about the soldiers at the airport, and how several guys were arrested. It did take her a while to arrive at my work, but blame that on the London Underground. Blah. We just spent a quiet evening together with some microwave dinner and TV. Happy Valentine's Day eh? :)

Friday, February 14, 2003

The second part of "Surprise Wedding" is showing tonight, and no surprise, they are all getting married. Now who would reject their girlfriends on national TV? That would hurt so much that I don't think you'll be dating much longer (if even that!). The most touching line I heard today was, "Let me be the best wife I could be, for you, forever." Awww..

Now the last couple.. here's something. The bloke came out, and started saying,"I know you're doing this for me because of love.. but.. but.. " The girl started to cry.. the music stopped.. and he continued, "But I can't do it like this. I know you always want to have the last word. You can't do this. It should be me that's asking you. Will *YOU* marry me?"

Only if reality was like this TV show - always so sweet, so perfect, so touching. Of course, there are the lucky ones who have found that happiness in their lives, but they are far and few in between.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

I have just watched this TV show on ITV, called "Surprise Wedding". It's quite cruel, really. The girl lures their boyfriend (yes, not the other way around) onto the show, claiming they will meet some female actress. In fact, the girls are all wearing wedding dresses, ready to ask their boyfriend to marry her! This one girl said to her boyfriend, "I'm sorry that Rachael from S Club 7 couldn't make it tonight, but do you mind marrying me instead?" Now that's touching - not only does she accept the fact that the boyfriend looks at other girls, but she would do this on national (well, all of UK at least!) TV.

It's very fitting seeing that Valentine's Day is just around the corner! All the boyfriends seem really shocked. Not that the host is helping - when the boyfriend comes out, he says, "Welcome to your wedding." Great! Just shock the bloke a little more.

THAT'S NOT IT! The blokes are then sent to a location in Central London. They will then be isolated for two days - no contact from their girlfriends to them. During the time they will decide whether to accept the proposal or not. Now we have to wait until Thursday to find out..
My blogging frequency has gone down again, thanks to the never-ending pile of work that is assigned to me and the non-existent support I have. Sailing in uncharted water, ladies and gentlemen. Certainly I should pick up the pace or face endless critical remarks such as "Are you ever going to finish?" or "How come it's taking so long?". Hello, people, it takes time to complete work here. It's not as if I'm sitting on my buttocks, wandering around in space or anything. Sometimes things just cannot be forced.

[/rant off]

So excited to see Evelyn in a couple of days. Maybe that's why I have been so grumpy these days.. it has been about two and a half months since I last saw her, and yes, I do miss her a lot. :( Can't wait until Friday!

Sunday, February 09, 2003

[this blog is written in the timespan of a day.. ]

I am standing in a queue (yes, not a line) waiting to get into Body Worlds, an exitbition on the human body. I have been meaning to come here for a month, and today is their second last day in London. The queue is about two hours or so - worse than some rides at Wonderland! I am sure it will be worth it though. I just took some pictures of the queue and I don't think it captures the number of people here.
The exitbition shows real human body parts after an autopsy. Some people might find it gross, but I think it will help me understand the body a little better. Perhaps I will even wake up and start taking better care of my own body! The British government has been trying to ban this exitbit due to its graphic nature. I dare to ask, what is so wrong with display a human body in its most natural form? Everybody has a body, and there is nothing to be ashamed of. What is there to hide from? I hardly exbect that from a country that is so open about sex but a little exitbition scares them.

About an hour past and I am still standing here. These three girls in front of me are listening to music on one girl's mobile. The couple behind me is debating about whether the Brits invented the queue or the French did. I say University of Waterloo did! With the amount of queues it takes to take care of ahministrative crap at the beginning of the term, it's a wonder how they don't give us the "Queuing Award".

Another half hour has gone by, the queue doesn't seem to have moved. What is going on?

Finally! I see the door! I'm moving inside - good thing, cuz it's getting cold out here. It's already 6:00pm.

I spent about two hours in the exitbit and I am astounished by all the body parts displayed. Everything was *real*! They divided the sections up into different systems of the body. I saw a healthy lung versus a smoker's lung - big difference. Gives me more of a reason not to smoke anymore. Also saw the brain in real life, and grey matter/white matter and all the goodies. They also have human bones and muscles dissected into different ways so it emphasizes on different parts. It's hard to describe in words - you had to be there! :P

Saturday, February 08, 2003

The past couple of days have been devoted to work - once again. It seems like I have nothing else interesting to talk about other than work. It's true though - when I spend 12-14 hours at work each day, I barely have enough time to eat and sleep. I have stopped visiting the city during the week because by the time I arrive, all the shops would have been closed already. The working culture is very different - Evelyn says, you work hard to keep your job and not to get acknowledged. So if you work the bare minimum, you might not even get to keep your job. Several other 'new graudates' working on the desk shares the same feeling. One of them has worked everyday in January, including weekends. He arrives at 7:00am, leaves at 10:30pm, each and every single day. The trader sitting behind me tells me that he lost all his friends over the past year because of trading - his only 'friends' now are brokers.

Sometimes I wonder if that kind of lifestyle is worth it. I mean, surely you make a lot of money and 'perks' that comes with being a trader is amazing. Apparently they get gifts and lunches (even dinners) from brokers. Of course, the traders in the bank generate millions of volume a day. If one trader favours a certain broker, imagine the amount of commission he will receive. It's so good to be working on the desk sometimes - free food, sometimes even invites us out for drinks. Traders often pick the most expensive restaurants to eat at just because they could.

So if you were in the position to choose between making lots of money and a career, or having a decent life (not to mention half decent sleeping hours), which would you choose?

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

I started writing down all the places that I want to visit by the end of the term. Wow, I'm really behind in all my travelling. The past month was basically getting used to living here, with a bit of travelling here and there. Stepping into February, I will be taking longer trips and visitng more places. For one, I'm planning a trip to Paris with Evelyn. Never really noticed how planning a trip can be so tiring, especially around Valentine's Day when EVERYBODY goes to Paris.
[blog from yesterday that I forgot to post]

Took some pictures yesterday in Chinatown from all the lion-dancing, and crowds looking on and eating food from the stalls. It was actually quite fun, considering I didn't expect such a big Chinese presence here. Today was quite a contrast - work all day, and barely got anything done at work. What else is new?

I just watched "Living with Michael Jackson", an exclusive interview with the King of Pop. The interviewer spent eight months with Michael and learned all about his past, his attitude on life, and his views of the future. It's quite interesting to see the other side of him, the side outside of the scandals. Also talked about the time when he hung his baby outside the window. He openly admitted that he sleeps with boys, and he says everybody should do it. I think this show is due in the US and Canada sometime next week - I highly recommend it.

Monday, February 03, 2003

Spending the day in London, drowning myself out in the crowds on Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road. It's unusually comforting to walk around aimlessly with my backpack, seemingly searching for something that had been lost. My sanity, perhaps? Been spending tons of money at the internet cafe, searching for familiar faces to talk to over the wires, sensing a bit of home and security. It may be the weather that is making me so melodramatic. There are two million people here, but yet I cannot find a soul to confide in. I am feeling strangely attached to this place - I have only been here for a month and yet I cannot imagine leaving in three.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

Happy Chinese New Year! I wish you all good fortune and good health for the year ahead! As expected, the celebration for new years here is almost minimal to none. Although I did travel to China Town today and get a feel for some festive spirit, and went to a house party hosted by one of the girls at work. It was quiet but satisfying - a nice dinner cooked by the co-worker (it's been a month since I had rice and soup.. mmm), followed by dim-sum mahjong and watching football. At least it was a bit of chinese culture in this sea of unfamiliarity. Also it feels good to speak chinese again - something I took for granted while I was home.

A sad day for those on the Columbia and their familes & friends. Hope the victims rest in peace and that NASA will figure out what went wrong so history doesn't repeat itself. (although it's sad to say, they really should have learned after the Challenger.. )

Saturday, February 01, 2003

Sometimes I feel that I am wasting time here at work. I just spent the whole day running analysis on some past three year financial data. Granted, it took me until 10:00pm last night to get the performance I wanted. Down from 15 hours of number crunching down to about 15 minutes. Churning away at 900,000+ trades per quarter, the machine worked all night to get me all the data I needed. Now my boss wants more. So the whole day has been: waiting, analysis results, run analytics, repeat. Surely not my way to spend my day.

At least I am learning how to use Matlab really well. Suppose that might come in useful one of these days - but I should spend my time doing something more productive while these analytics run. I have been following Jeff, asking him questions about the bond market in general. He is also giving me and the other co-op "BOND 101" lessons every morning, picking some concepts that is not usually covered in a traditional investment class, and explaining them to us. At least I could say that much good coming from work!