Sunday, September 21, 2014

10 Signs You Are A Bangladeshi in Canada

1. You mom always watched Indian or Pakistani TV serials, because NTV and ATN Bangla came so late to the scene. You always made fun of those because Pakistani serials were all about loving your cousin and Indian serials was about designer dresses.


2. Whenever your mama or chacha called from Bangladesh (or rather, your dad called them because, face it, people back home are cheap), you ran away to hide. And your parents would somehow track you down because, let's face it, kotha boltey hobey.


3. You dad always paid $17/month (initially) for ATN Bangla (and then NTV) just to watch the news. Which was always the same crap. Some protest, lathi charge, 4 people dead, 3 people ahoto, and the Prime Minister on CNN saying her party is not corrupt.


4. Whenever your best friend tells you he or she is going to get married, there goes every long weekend of your summer.


5. Sometimes you reminisced nostalgically about your childhood in Bangladesh, and shared videos on Facebook like this one. But that's usually when the weather outside looked like this.


6. You have an abusive relationship with the Bangladesh cricket team. Where they abuse you by contriving to lose humiliatingly, sometimes from utterly winnable positions, and you promise to yourself you will never support them again. Come the next series again, you are back on Cricinfo, promising this time the "boys will do it".


7. But (on the rare occasion) when they do win, you party like only a Bengali can.



8. You never got tired of the opportunity to remind Indians how Anu Malik copied a song in the movie Murder from a Miles song ("Firiye Dao"). If you ever got tired of reminding them who kicked them out of the 2007 World Cup (and conveniently forgetting the 2011 World Cup).


9. Speaking of Bangladeshi bands, they don't make 'em like they used to any more (LRB, Miles, Prometheus). Those were the glorious 2000s.


10. You still need your dad when you go to buy a car, because he knows how to bargain the way you never will.


BONUS 11. Raymond's mom had nothing on the guilt trips your mom can engineer.


BONUS 12. Your sister has enough bangles to open ten churi stalls.


 

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

A New Streetcar Everyone Desired

The Toronto Transit Corporation (TTC) had been teasing us about the new streetcars for a year now. They were supposed to be accessible, air conditioned, quieter, smoother and so on. I knew that they would be rolling out the new streetcars on the Spadina route on Aug 31, 2014. Two days before that, I was thrilled to get a glimpse of the new streetcar while they were testing it.



It really looked slick. It was futuristic and looked completely different than the streetcars currently used in service. I couldn't wait for Aug 31 to come.

On September 1, Labour Day, my brother and I decided to head downtown for some work. We would be using the Spadina route. As we waited for our streetcar to come, I was disappointed to see they were still using the old streetcars on the route. I asked someone with a TTC badge, and they replied initially there was only 2 new models on the route; the rest would be rolled out gradually. Something about a workers' strike at the Bombardier plant. Ah, strikes - the price of freedom and labour equality and all that stuff. Grunting a sigh, I boarded the old streetcar.

Today, September 3, I stepped off the subway platform at Spadina and saw a huuuuuuge lineup for the streetcars. What was going on?



It turned out that it was just a regular rush hour crunch. We were all waiting for streetcars. I was wondering - would I get to ride the new streetcar?

YES! Suddenly the new streetcar rolled into the station. Almost immediately everyone headed for the doors. There was no time to take a picture - I had to board. I was in! Once seated, I noticed just how big (and spacious) this new streetcar was. This one streetcar had almost four times the capacity (or even more - I am estimating) of the old streetcar. It was crowded, but not suffocating.


And then, it was my stop. My ride lasted a mere 4 quick stops, and it was over before it had begun.



Hmm. I thought. That was great (it was a very smooth ride) but how do I get to ride one again? I had the lunch hour coming up, and I have a transit pass that allows me unlimited rides, but I knew there was only 2 new streetcars on the route. I didn't want to spend 30 minutes waiting streetcar after streetcar until the one I wanted came by.

Enter the Internet. So there is this website that lets you know where the next streetcar is, and if it's the new one or not. I love living in the First World where this sort of thing is possible. I picked a time a little after lunch hour, when I thought the car would be less crowded, monitored the map, and then headed out for the stop.

And old streetcar came ambling by.


I let it go. I noticed that they had installed new fare machines on each stop, and there was a TTC person on hand to explain the machine to riders. And then I saw the new streetcar come into view.



I got in! My plan was to ride it to the Spadina station and then back again to my stop. Boy was it spacious inside. It almost felt like I was in a train or an LRT instead of in a streetcar. There was a streetcar route map on board. By 2019, every one of those routes would have these modern streetcars.

 
Surprisingly the streetcar was fairly packed. Not quite full, but not empty either. Talking to some people I found that like me, they had especially waited to board this new streetcar.


There were displays for the street name, and even an announcement of every stop. Besides, if someone requested a stop, you would see the signal light up. Very good UI.


 There was that familiar yellow strip bar to press in case of emergencies. Just like the train.




Big windows and doors let in maximum sunlight, thus creating a roomy feeling. The floor was quite low, and yet the ride was very smooth. You would not even hear the wheels against the rails. I guess the true test would come in the years ahead - the older streetcars had been plying the roads for over 30 years.


And then the streetcar got to Spadina station. This was the terminus stop. I would probably have at most a minute as the passengers unloaded, and moved away, before the next set of passengers would load. Time to take some pictures of the now empty streetcar.


It was long. The new streetcar has 5 modules, and is almost 30 metres in length. This is more than 4 times the length of the older streetcar.


The driver no longer collects the fare. You pay your fare on these new machines that takes tokens or cash. You can board through any of the doors now (which prevent the jamming up at the front problem that occurs on regular streetcars as people don't move to the empty space at the rear). I wondered what would happen on a really crowded car - how would you get to the fare machine? The answer - every stop on route has a fare machine, as well as the stations.
 

See the blue seats? That's part of the new designated Priority Area for customers with wheelchairs and other mobility devices. Besides, the new streetcar has a low floor, and is accessible to all by a ramp that is deployed by operators when requested (you push the illuminated blue accessibility button on the second set of doors). As folks were now starting to board, I got to see the new ramp in action.


It soon got busy again as the streetcar started to head back down Spadina.


Everyone was taking pictures of the new ride and enjoying the roomy seating and the bright, big windows.


I moved to the end of the streetcar and saw a button on the door. I asked one of the TTC folks (helpfully seated there to orient riders with the features of the new car) on why this button was there. He replied that this will open the door of the car at the stop. On busy routes at rush hour, all the doors automatically open, so I wouldn't need to press the button. However, at night or if the streetcar isn't on a busy route, doors may remain shut unless there are passengers waiting to exit. I like it.


Soon it was my turn to exit. All in all, it was a great ride, and makes for a much better transit experience. And to think this is what some people who hated streetcars fought against! I can't wait until they replace the whole fleet on every route with these new vehicles.


Note: All pictures taken with my Google Nexus 4 phone camera.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Canadian National Exhibition

I was telling an American colleague, "I went to the Ex on the weekend, and had a really fun time." There was a minute's pause, and then he said, "And your wife ... er ... let you?!!"

I have to remember it's us Canadians who know what the Ex is! The Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), also known as The Ex, is an annual event that takes place at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Ontario, Canada during the 18 days leading up to and including Canadian Labour Day Monday. With approximately 1.3 million visitors each year, the CNE is Canada’s largest annual fair and the seventh largest in North America.

And it's an oddity that despite living for almost two decades in Toronto, I have never been to the Ex. It's almost an annual tradition for Torontonians to visit the CNE, marking the end of summer and getting ready for the upcoming back-to-school and Fall season. So this summer, I decided to try out the Ex.


There's a huge fair like component (we desis call it mela) at the Ex. You have the regular games, guess your age, and other impress-your-date-and-win-a-stuffed-toy variety. And not to mention, FOOD.


In addition to the regular fare variety such as corn dogs, frieds, waffles and other calorie-unconscious dietary assaults, there's a whole separate building devoted to food. And of the many exotic foods present, some are totally outrageous. Behold!


Because, you know, a regular Mars bar was too healthy. *smile* No, I didn't try it - and this time there was also the chocolate covered fried chicken if you wanted some meat.

For the religious Muslim, CNE also had halal options. I had the Original 8 inch Philly Steak sandwich and it was delicious! It was great not to be limited to just fish or veggies at yet another North American festival.

In fact, there was yet another bonus for the Muslim visitor - prayer rooms!


While there was plenty of grass and other semi-private areas you *could* say your prayers in if you really wanted to, the fact that there were two (yes, two!) official prayer areas meant we didn't have to. I even prayed Jummah prayers at the CNE!

The CNE has free shows throughout the day on a variety of stuff (sometimes at the same time so you have to choose). We chose to see the Mirage Acrobats show, and boy was it mesmerizing!






I really liked the hologram / laser part - it was absolutely amazing how the performer seemed to control the light beams as if they were sticks in his hand. I am still trying to figure out how technically this was made possible. There was also a dog show where ordinary pooches entertained the audience with fun and innovative tricks.


A big component of the CNE is the Farm. They had a multitude of animals in that building, and even a whole barn of cows and sheep. There was a milking demonstration, as well as a sheep rearing demonstration.
 
There was also a bee hive on display, with the sides transparent so we could peer in and see the worker bees and the queen bee. It was something I never had seen before in my life, and was something really educational. Not to mention, they were selling fresh honey right there!




The Farm also had something that is a staple of big fairs across North America - butter sculptures. These were huge structures built entirely out of butter.




The crowds are legendary, but only on the weekends and evenings.


We had gone early on Friday, so it wasn't too crowded to begin with, but it got busier after 5 pm. Even then, the CNE is so huge that it's manageable, and you don't feel claustrophobic.


Another notable part of the CNE is the Garden Show and the sand sculptures. Plus, the epic Rock Balancer was on show again this year.









We actually got to see the last sand sculpture being built in front of us (the iconic scene from Star Wars) and it was something novel (and looked like fun!).

Of course, if you ask anyone to describe what's the most fun thing to do at the CNE, you would get one word - rides. And thus the rides.








Some of the rides were really crazy - like the Mach 3. If you do it, props to you.

Over all, it was a really fun experience at the CNE, and I look forward to making the Ex an annual tradition. If you want some tips: arrive as early in the day as you can, and be prepared for a lot of walking. Dress for the weather and drink plenty of fluids. Plan the shows you want to see, and over all, have fun!