Toronto City Council, 2010-2014

It’s finally over, council is finished and the election can really get going. And at last, we can see how effective the mayor has been at controlling the agenda this term.

Okay, so if this is not your first time here (2011, 2012, 2013), then you’ll know that it’s pretty clear the mayor hasn’t been in control of much of anything since the beginning of 2012. So the following pictures will come as no surprise.

Voting correspondence, 2010-2014.

Voting correspondence, 2010-2014.

Vote correspondence, November 2013 to August 2014.

Vote correspondence, November 2013 to August 2014.

Other than a reminder that a black edge is drawn between two members vote the same way on over 90% of the votes, blue with more than 92.5%, and green with over 95%, there’s really not much left to say about this term. All of the analysis about Rob Ford’s term as mayor was done in 2012 and 2013 before the train derailed off the tracks in November last year, bursting through the tunnel lining and sailing off to the moon. After that, well, there really isn’t much more you could add.

Bonus content: Council tier list

This scientifically accurate council ranking is carefully cultivated from my observations over the last few years of watching Toronto City Council meetings.

Seriously The Best tier

Gord Perks (Ward 14 Parkdale—High Park), Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27 Toronto Centre—Rosedale)

Really cool tier

Sarah Doucette (Ward 13 Parkdale—High Park), Mike Layton (Ward 19 Trinity—Spadina), Adam Vaughan (Ward 20 Trinity—Spadina), Janet Davis (Ward 31 Beaches—East York), Shelley Carroll (Ward 33 Don Valley East)

Pretty good tier

Maria Augimeri (Ward 9 York Centre), Ceta Ramkhalawansingh (Ward 20 Trinity—Spadina), Joe Mihevc (Ward 21 St. Paul’s), Pam McConnell (Ward 28 Toronto Centre—Rosedale), Paula Fletcher (Ward 30 Toronto—Danforth), Mary Margaret McMahon (Ward 32 Beaches—East York)

Mostly alright tier

Josh Matlow (Ward 22 St. Paul’s), John Filion (Ward 23 Willowdale), Mary Fragedakis (Ward 29 Toronto—Danforth), Paul Ainslie (Ward 43 Scarborough East)

They’re okay most of the time but I would not vote for them tier

Peter Leon (Ward 3 Etobicoke North), Gloria Lindsay-Luby (Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre), Peter Milczyn (Ward 5 Etobicoke—Lakeshore), Anthony Perruzza (Ward 8 York West), Josh Colle (Ward 15 Eglinton—Lawrence), Ana Bailão (Ward 18 Davenport), Jaye Robinson (Ward 25 Don Valley West), John Parker (Ward 26 Don Valley West) Michael Thompson (Ward 37 Scarborough Centre), Chin Lee (Ward 41 Scarborough—Rouge River), Raymond Cho (Ward 42 Scarborough—Rouge River)

They sound reasonable sometimes but they are actually bad tier

James Maloney (Ward 5 Etobicoke—Lakeshore), Karen Stintz (Ward 16 Eglinton—Lawrence), Michelle Berardinetti (Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest), Gary Crawford (Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest), Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38 Scarborough Centre)

Bad, confused old men tier

Vincent Crisanti (Ward 1 Etobicoke North), Mark Grimes (Ward 6 Etobicoke—Lakeshore), James Pasternak (Ward 10 York Centre), Frank Di Giorgio (Ward 12 York South—Weston), Cesar Palacio (Ward 17 Davenport), Norm Kelly (Ward 40 Scarborough—Agincourt), Ron Moeser (Ward 44 Scarborough East)

Actively harmful tier

Doug Holyday (Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre), Frances Nunziata (Ward 11 York South—Weston), David Shiner (Ward 24 Willowdale), Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34 Don Valley East), Mike Del Grande (Ward 39 Scarborough—Agincourt)

Our city is being punished for its hubris tier

Rob Ford (Mayor), Doug Ford (Ward 2 Etobicoke North), Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7 York West)

Impromptu shortest paths

Last night, a story showed up on Twitter about some OMB settlement for Northdale in Waterloo. Northdale is the name (which I was completely unaware of while I was there) of the neighbourhood bounded by Columbia, King, University, and Phillip and is basically the area in between the University of Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier University. It was a standard suburban neighbourhood filled with single-family houses, with Phillip Street containing a housing co-op and bordering UW and RIM. I knew that the area was getting redeveloped, since a bunch of midrises started showing up on Lester in my final year in 2011. I wasn’t aware just how ambitious that plan was until I read about it in the aforementioned story.

But that’s not what caught my eye at first. The story was about the last OMB settlement which gave the city a bunch of land at 275 Lester to create a pedestrian walkway between Phillip and Lester.

I lived at 265 Lester from 2009 to 2011.

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 21.47.26

From the map, you can see that it’s a pretty short walk to campus. In fact, it’s pretty much a straight line from my house to my hangout of choice, the Davis Centre. Or it would be if there was a path to get there. But there wasn’t, so the journey would involve going down Lester and trudging over across University.

Or, at least, there wasn’t a path on the map.

People are lazy and are really good at making their own paths where there are none. Think about the diagonal strip of dirt going through an otherwise empty field, worn down by countless people who saw that vast expanse and went ‘lmao i’m not walking around that‘.

The backyard of 265 Lester was right up against a townhouse complex and the adjacent housing co-op and it was fenced. Sometime before we occupied the house, someone had knocked out a few boards of the fence, creating a makeshift pedestrian path in between Lester and Phillip. This was very convenient, even when the hill on the other side of the fence had iced over and we needed to drag ourselves up along the fence.

As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one who found it convenient. There were a lot of students living on Lester who would rather not make a huge detour. So our backyard saw a lot of traffic going through it. It was always slightly amusing to be walking from campus with a bunch of other random students and then zipping inside the house or seeing people feeling unsure of whether they should be going through some guy’s backyard.

We could’ve used the high visibility of our house to put up some funny signs or something but we never did. I think the most that we ever did was one of our housemates put a jar on a chair by the hole in the fence labeled ‘stray cat fund’ and used the few dollars we ended up getting to feed our cat. We did have a traffic light in our possession but putting up outside seemed like a bad idea.

We ended up being the last tenants in the house in 2011, since it was getting torn down to be replaced by some form of higher density residence. This probably meant that the path through hole in the fence would’ve been unusable what with all the construction going on. Very unfortunate.

But it’s nice that the city might actually solve this problem in the future.

Transit dump prompted by ask.fm

Another question from my secret ask.fm which necessitates a blog post!

While I guess I have a ok grasp of your thoughts on GTA transit, just want a more concrete answer on the following: 1) Transit in Scarborough 2) Metrolinx taking over TTC 3) Future expansion of TTC 4) Gardiner Expressway 5) solving Yonge line being at capacity 6) improving commuting and intercity?

Now, time for some speed writing and let’s see if I can do this from memory.

  1. The Scarborough RT should be replaced by an LRT. Literally the only reason to justify an extension of the Bloor-Danforth line is to save the transfer, which is a problem that can be solved easily with cross-platform transfers. There is no other reason. There’s no reason for it to go underground, since it already runs in its own rail corridor, separated from traffic. The projected ridership doesn’t justify the capital cost and all of the cost projections that have been done so far ignore the operating costs.

    A lot of people are under the impression that an LRT system would fall to the same shortcomings of the SRT. This is wrong. Most of the failures of the current system are because of the legacy ICTS vehicles (which we can’t replace) and trouble with the third rail in winter (which wouldn’t be a problem since LRT power is delivered via overhead wire).

    A lot of people also seem to be under the impression that the subway is a done deal. It is not. There’s still years of environmental assessments and design work and financing and procurement and tendering that needs to be worked out. It still has to go through three council votes (EA approval, financing, LRT master agreement amendment) before a single shovel is thrust into the ground. All of this extra work and these votes become unnecessary the moment council decides to build an LRT after all.

  2. Metrolinx taking over the TTC is a monumentally stupid idea because of what exactly is being proposed. No one is actually proposing that Metrolinx takes control of the TTC, they only want Metrolinx to take control of the rapid transit lines. This is a problem since the rapid transit lines are the most profitable operations in the system. Removing that money from the TTC makes it much harder to run the heavily unprofitable suburban surface routes.
  3. The Transit City plan: LRT to replace the most heavily used bus routes and corridors in the former municipalities, the Whatever Relief Line from Pape to King to Dundas West, increase bus service along identified routes to ten minute headways, implement transit signal priority to improve surface routes, etc.
  4. I don’t actually know that much about the Gardiner, so I’d go with the staff recommendation. Apparently, they don’t see it as apocalyptic to remove the eastern portion of the Gardiner as long as the necessary transit infrastructure is build and based on my admittedly low commuting on that route (taking Lake Shore from the east and down to Queen’s Quay), I’d agree with their recommendations.
  5. There are a bunch of ways to do this but the DRL is the simplest. Obviously, there are ways to try and slow down the problem like automatic train control and the TRs were supposed to help in that respect. In the end, I don’t think there’s anything that’ll make any significant inroads short of creating another north-south route to divert commuters.
  6. High speed rail is obviously the dream, but I don’t think it’s attainable or even necessary. At this point, I’d be really pleased with rail travel being made more affordable and frequent. Does that mean electrification? I don’t really know, but the federal government’s cuts to Via definitely haven’t been helping. It’s unfortunate, because Via could be a decent way to travel if it wasn’t as expensive and inconvenient.

Stolen from ask.fm: who will you vote for in the coming toronto mayor election and why

These are my initial impressions of the campaign so far since it is still rather early, although, if I’m honest, it’s probably going to be Olivia Chow, but I’ll be watching how the campaign unfolds quite closely. I’m hoping to write a (more) substantive blog post about all the candidates for council I like later on. For now, there are a few things to note even this early on.

First of all, I’m pretty sure I’m considered a raging socialist by most typical standards although I can’t say I subscribe to socialism because I am not really familiar with the philosophy behind but anyway, this means that I can be considered your standard urban progressive equipped with some awareness of municipal politics.

There are two basic things which I’m using as a litmus test: taxes and transit.

This is not to say that other issues aren’t important, but because I understand these issues the most so they’re the lens through which I see most of the politics of this city. They also provide a fairly accurate classification of the kinds of positions a candidate will take on a wide range of other issues like housing, social services, and general ideas about city-building.

So, why taxes and transit?

Every candidate is going to claim fiscal responsibility because everyone wants politicians to be spending taxes as little as possible. So what candidates are saying about taxes and how much they’re going to raise or lower them by is something to pay attention to. This is the same in every election, but in this election, there’s something looming ahead which hasn’t been discussed and isn’t really something that people are paying attention to unless they’re boring nerds who watch council meetings for fun.

At the special council meeting for the 2014 budget, the city’s CFO made a presentation. During that presentation, he outlined the operating budget for 2014 and pointed to some challenges over the next two years. There are two things that he noted. The first is that the city is losing a major provincial grant which will place a pressure on the budget outlook. The other thing he mentioned was that even without that loss of funding, property tax increases above the rate of inflation are going to be necessary to maintain the current level of services.

Of course, what level of services is necessary is something that’s up for debate. The problem is that candidates who promise not to raise taxes always promise that service levels won’t be impacted. That’s the exact pledge that Rob Ford made in 2010. The problem with this is that the KPMG Core Service review that he launched in order to find efficiencies basically came back with nothing. Toronto was already as efficient as it could be at current service levels. Significant savings won’t be found unless there are some drastic cuts in services.

So what I’m looking for here is a candidate who will address this problem. Either we need to see significant increases in property taxes or candidates have to say what services they consider unnecessary and will place on the chopping block.

The second thing that I’m looking at is what the candidates plan to do with transit. When Miller left office in 2010, he had significantly increased surface transit service levels and had an ambitious rapid transit plan to connect large parts of the city outside of the downtown core. Rob Ford quickly put a stop to both of those things during his first year in office.

The big ticket items that candidates are going to be talking about are the Downtown Relief Line and the Scarborough RT replacement. As a resident of Scarborough (Ward 42), this has been a serious point of frustration for me, because most Scarborough councillors either don’t understand the challenges of using transit in our part of the city or don’t care about transit riders.

Other than the big ticket items, there’s the issue of how to pay for all of it as well as improving regular old bus service. There’s no substitute for better bus service in places like my literal corner of the city. The focus of huge capital projects is to connect the city together but we’ve forgotten that just getting around the same part of the city is still a huge challenge in a lot of places. A subway isn’t going to fix that.

So, these two things immediately rule out three of the five major candidates for me. I’ll assume you are all familiar with Rob Ford. That leaves Councillor Karen Stintz (Ward 16 Eglinton—Lawrence) and John Tory.

During this term, Stintz served as the Chair of the TTC and had significantly more of impact on transit service than the mayor. Her legacy includes following in Ford’s footsteps in reducing surface transit service levels, restoring Miller’s light rail transit plan, and then subsequently placing it in jeopardy again by pushing for a hastily planned and costly subway extension. This single act disqualified her from consideration.

John Tory is a former mayoral candidate and former leader of the provincial conservatives. It’s unlikely that I’ll share his views on taxation and other policy. But it’s his position on the Scarborough RT replacement that is in direct conflict with his stated concern for fiscal responsibility that makes me raise my eyebrows to the ceiling.

That leaves two major candidates: Olivia Chow and David Soknacki.

First, David Soknacki is known as a former councillor who is relatively conservative but served as the first budget chief for High Archcommunist Mayor David Miller. He wants the Scarborough RT to be replaced by a light rail line, which is good. He also seems to be thoughtful about policy and seems like someone who can be reasoned with, which is also good. He comes off as a sincere conservative, which is in contrast to the sort of moneyed political machine atmosphere that John Tory sort of exudes.

But, my support is likely going to Olivia Chow who is the only progressive in the race. There were rumours for a long time about her supporting a subway extension, but she didn’t go there, which, other than something I personally agree with, is a pretty significant risk for someone who is perceived as being a downtowner. Of course, I am concerned about her being adamant about property tax hikes in line with inflation and I don’t really have a good answer for that yet. So yes, I’ll probably have some concerns with some of her positions as the race goes on.

But I also realize that it’s impossible to have someone who presents a plan that I’ll agree with 100%. Rather, I’m trusting her to make decisions based on the lens through which she sees the city and I’m confident that we have similar ideas about that. She’s been representing Toronto as an elected official in various capacities for over twenty years now so she understands the city and the issues it faces. She’s a legit progressive who’s popular and able to connect with a lot of people across the city because of her background.

On a personal level, I’m really excited to have a Chinese woman running to be mayor of my city. Something that Toronto claims to pride itself in is its diversity and the large number of immigrants we have from all over the world. I think it’d be wonderful to have a mayor who embodies that.

Toronto City Council web of shifting alliances, 2013 edition

So in a kind of now yearly tradition, near the end of October I spent a day downloading 45 voting records by hand because I can’t figure out how to do a batch download on the City of Toronto’s meeting monitor. Yeah, I guess I’m about a month late, but luckily, nothing interesting has happened in Toronto municipal politics in the month of November, nope, nothing at all.

So here’s what came out of it:

The above graph represents the voting correspondence for the entire 2010-2014 term to date (which, at the time of writing includes up to the October 11, 2013 meeting). Reminder: black means they voted together more than 90% of the time, blue 92.5% and green 95%. No line means they voted together less than 90% of the time. The following is a snapshot of the past year, from the October 30, 2012 meeting to the October 11, 2013 meeting.

This picture may look familiar to those of you who are familiar with Rob Ford when he was just the councillor for Ward 2.

It’s kind of hard to say what’s up with the rest of council. If you recognize any of the names, it’s really hard to draw a nice circle around any group. I guess you can say this is some evidence of wildly shifting alliances among council, which wouldn’t be too far off the mark.

The one thing the mayor is consistently great at is burning bridges. This is a skill he possessed long before his global debut as crack mayor and is a skill that many predicted would give him some trouble back during the campaign of 2010. Of course, there are others scheming on council and the whole situation is fairly volatile. Before, you could say that council was polarized, but there’s much more of a fine gradient going on here.

Anyway, God only knows what this’ll look like once election season is in full swing. You only need to dig up last year’s edition of this where I started off with “2012 has been a hell of a year” to have a good laugh. Anyway, the last regularly scheduled council meeting is in August 2014. And I mean, really, no one saw this coming. The drinking and coke-doing was a huge rumour among the City Hall folk and all, but no one saw any of this getting decisively revealed ever.

So what can Toronto City Council do about the mayor?

By now, you’ve probably heard about His Worship, Rob Ford, Mayor of Toronto and you probably have questions about whether he can be kicked out of office. The short answer is no.

The long answer is still no. The reason for this is that in most Canadian jurisdictions, whether we’re talking federal, provincial, or municipal legislatures, there is no provision for recall. The sole exception as far as I’m aware is British Columbia.

There are provisions for municipal officials to lose their seats. The first is one that you might remember from around this time last year: contravention of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. Funnily enough, this almost happened to the mayor before he won his appeal. The second is incarceration, which obviously hasn’t happened, but with the way the story is developing, who knows what’ll happen in a week.

However, municipalities are created and governed by the whims of the province. Theoretically, the province can do whatever it wants with a municipal government through legislation. And so if push came to shove, yes, the province can decide to remove a mayor from office. I mean, the province could technically dissolve the entire City of Toronto if it wanted to. But it probably won’t.

Unlike the province, municipal councils do not have such powers within their grasp. This was made clear on Wednesday, when Toronto City Council debated Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong’s motion MM41.25. Essentially, the motion did the following:

  1. request that the mayor apologize for lying about the video
  2. urge the mayor to cooperate with the police investigation
  3. request that the mayor apologize for writing the letter of reference for Sandro Lisi
  4. request that the mayor answer council’s questions about this debacle
  5. urge the mayor to take a leave of absense
  6. request the Integrity Commissioner to investigate

You’ll notice that the mayor doesn’t actually need to do any of that stuff. A lot of the debate on the motion was over the fact that it didn’t really do anything.

But as it turns out, council can do something, as long as it’s not forcing the mayor to go away.

On the same day that Councillor Minnan-Wong announced that he’d be putting the motion forward at the meeting (which, if we reach into our memory, was the morning of the mayor’s impromptu admission at noon that it turns out he did, in fact, smoke crack cocaine), Councillor John Filion had another motion drawn up that’d do the following:

  1. City Council suspend the power of the Mayor to appoint and dismiss the Deputy Mayor and Standing Committee Chairs under Section 27.40 of the Council Procedures.

The rest of the motion deals with keeping the current chairs and composition of the committees. This is the first motion that, unlike Minnan-Wong’s motion, has consequences for the mayor and removes one of his fairly significant powers. You may recall that when the crack video story first hit, Councillors Jaye Robinson and Paul Ainslie were both fairly critical of the mayor. This resulted in him removing Robinson from the Executive Committee and demoting Ainslie to a less important committee chair (and even later, he’d remove him for his subway vote).

This motion required notice to be given at the next council meeting. That was done and a special meeting was called for Friday to deal with the motion. So, that’s all council can do.

Or so we thought. After the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting, it was announced that a second special meeting would be held after the first one on Friday. During the meeting on Wednesday, Councillor Josh Matlow had asked a question about the mayor’s powers during an emergency during the debate on the response to the July floods. Presumably, this motion was a result of that. At this meeting, this motion will be debated, which will do the following:

  1. Amend Chapter 59, Emergency Management to provide that the Deputy Mayor assume those powers and duties that have been delegated by City Council to the Mayor under its own authority, to be in effect until November 30, 2014.
  2. Amend the selection process provisions of Chapter 3, Accountability Officers, to provide that the selection panels are appointed by the Deputy Mayor and chaired by the Deputy Mayor or the Deputy Mayor’s designate, to be in effect until November 30, 2014.

What this essentially does is remove emergency powers from the mayor and give them to the deputy mayor. This is probably a good idea if the city fell into an emergency like another freak snowstorm or flood or something like we’ve been seeing last year.

And again, we thought we were done until today. Today, councillors decided to hold a third special meeting to be held on Monday. This one deals with this motion, which is a doozy:

  1. City Council delegate to the Deputy Mayor all powers and duties which are not by statute assigned to the Mayor.
  2. City Council reallocate the operating budget of the Office of the Mayor as follows:
    1. The staff salary and office budget under the control of the Mayor be the same as that of a member of Council.
    2. The balance of the operating budget be reallocated to the City Clerk’s Office to be administered under the oversight of the Deputy Mayor.
  3. City Council authorize that all existing members of the Mayor’s staff be offered the opportunity to continue their employment either with the Mayor or as part of a transfer of staff to be overseen by the deputy Mayor who shall assume responsibility for staffing, including hiring and firing.
  4. City Council suspend the necessary rules and substitute new rules that give effect to the following:
    1. The Deputy Mayor is the chair of the Executive Committee.
    2. The Executive Committee elects a vice chair from among its own members.
    3. the Mayor is no longer a member of all Council committees by virtue of office, and does not enjoy the rights and privileges of other committee members when present at a committee meeting.

So what does all of this mean? Part 1 is simple, it gives all the powers of the mayor to the deputy mayor except those that are legislated by provincial law. So this includes all those powers which are granted to the mayor through council bylaws.

Parts 2 and 3 are more interesting. These reallocate the budget and staff salary of the mayor’s office so that it’s the same as a regular councillor’s. It gives whatever’s left over to the deputy mayor. To prevent staff currently employed by the mayor from losing their jobs, there’s a provision that allows them to either stay with the mayor’s office or to move over to work for the deputy mayor. This is likely partially caused by the revelations in the latest unredacted version of the Sandro Lisi ITO which alleges that the mayor had improperly used his staff for personal errands.

Part 4 removes the last of the mayor’s powers. It removes the mayor from the chair of the Executive Committee and assigns the deputy mayor to be the chair. The vice-chair is then chosen from members of the Executive Committee because the deputy mayor was automatically the vice-chair.

Part 4c deals with a little-known power of the mayor. Technically, the mayor is a member of every council committee and has the right to move motions, speak, and vote. It’s not used very often; Ford himself used it only twice that I’m aware of. Part 4c makes it so that the mayor is no longer a member of any council committee.

If all of these motions pass (and there’s little reason to believe they won’t, otherwise the meetings probably wouldn’t have been called), the end result is that Rob Ford would just be a very loud councillor with a fancy title.

Asia Day 22-30: Tokyo

  • Surprisingly, NRT was the least impressive Asian airport I encountered on this trip. If I had to rank them, I’d say HKG > SIN > KUL > NRT, although that’s a bit unfair to SIN, since I didn’t spend that much time in it and it was midnight. And let’s not talk about North American airports.
  • I thought travelling around Asia made me pretty good at navigating train stations. Unfortunately, I was not prepared for the massive labyrinths that are JR stations. Compounding the horror that is Shinjuku station was the fact that this was essentially my entry point to Tokyo. After the harrowing experience of trying to escape it for the first time, it still took me a good 10-20 minutes navigating my way through the station every trip for the first few days.
  • For example, on the first night, I had to get to Shibuya from Shinjuku. Instead of doing what a person who knows what they’re doing and taking one of the JR trains, I decided to take the metro there from Shinjuku 3-chome. For some reason, I’d assumed that Shibuya was on the Marunouchi line, which it isn’t. Whoops, and once I’d passed through the gates, there was no way for me to go back out and get on the proper line. So I travelled one station, got out, and went back. Actually, I had to do this twice, because the first time, I forgot to actually exit the gates. And after getting back from Shibuya that night, I discovered that if I had walked a bit further down the platform, I’d actually walk right onto the platform for the line I’d originally needed to get on.
  • My smartphone was insanely helpful, since the Japanese addressing system is entirely unhelpful to foreigners. Streets aren’t named. Instead, things are divided into districts and blocks and numbered as such. This kind of makes sense for finding a place, but it doesn’t seem very good for finding out where you yourself are.
  • I think it was here where the concept of train electrification clicked for me. When I think back, I did very little travelling on the metro here. Most of it was on JR trains, which you can kind of think of as analogous to the GO trains. So it’s essentially what we have as regional commuter rail, but they can run it with subway frequencies. Also, their trains are very punctual.
  • I stayed at a capsule hotel because there was a deal going on when I booked and it ended up being mad cheap (about as much as it cost per night as my stay in KL and KL is mad cheap). It was a neat experience and the location was very convenient. I’m not sure if I’d do it again, just because it’s a hassle having to stash your luggage in a public area and especially the lack of access during the day (capsule hotels are usually closed for cleaning).
  • I decided to get a travel lock for my luggage, since it was being stored in a relatively publicly accessible area. I went to the nearby Muji to see if they had any since I noticed they had them on the website. The store only had the combination-style locks but not the key locks so I asked a lady who worked there if they had any and showed her what I wanted on my phone. She tried finding it on the shelves and came back and apologized and went on the computer to look and couldn’t find it and apologized and got another person to help and went to the back to look and this took a number of minutes before she came back and apologized because they didn’t seem to carry it. I felt bad because she seemed really disappointed.
  • One night, I got back to Shinjuku on the last train after nomihoudai. It was really weird because the area that I walk through to get to my hotel is usually bustling with izakayas and restaurants but it was completely dead. My hotel was in Kabukicho, which apparently is a pretty sketchy place at night and especially after most reputable establishments close. When I was about a minute away from my hotel, I started to get followed by a really sketchy looking dude trying to push something. I held up my hand and sped up, but he kept following uncomfortably until I just went ‘LOOK SORRY I don’t speak Japanese’.
  • I think my biggest regret was going to fast food places. I thought Lotteria or Mos Burger would be decent. They’re not. The electricity they provide in the seating areas is much more delicious.
  • Cicadas there are hella loud and never shut up. When I was in Ikebukuro, after a bit of exploring, I sat down at a park. All I could hear was these bugs.
  • Japan is really hot and humid during that time of year. I can’t begin to count how many yen I threw at 7-11 and FamilyMart for bottles of tea because of the heat. After wandering around Ginza and checking out the flagship Uniqlo there, I thought I’d check out the Imperial Palace. I walked to a corner and felt dread because it was way bigger than I expected and really hot. I walked across the moat and sat down under a tree. Then I walked back across the moat and down to a metro station because I did not have the energy or willpower to walk the entire way around the gardens in that heat.
  • Going around Shibuya was really cool because The World Ends With You did a great job adapting the physical layout and capturing the feel of the area. When I was there, I remembered there was the big Tower Records there and I went to check it out and to listen to the new Soutaiseiriron album for the first time, which had come out while I was in Hong Kong. Listening to CDs in a record store, how quaint.
  • Another train confusion story! I decided to go to the Tsukiji Fish Market one day and it has a stop on the Oedo line. Taking the Oedo line from Shinjuku is super confusing because the Oedo line is a giant backwards lowercase sigma ($\sigma$). Inside Shinjuku station, there are two Shinjuku stops: Shinjuku and Shinjuku-Nishiguchi, but they’re separated by the intersection of the loop and tail part of the $\sigma$. Since Shinjuku-Nishiguchi was closer to where I was standing, I took the train from there. To get to Tsukijishijo from there, you had to take the train to Tochomae and then get off to transfer to another train going towards Shinjuku.
  • They use every digit in the prices over there, so you’ll have things that cost, say 103 JPY. Why? Who knows, but this means that they will hand over piles of change if you pay with an unoptimal set of currency and have no choice but to weep silently as you accept 97 JPY in coins.
  • Nintendo 3DS StreetPass is one of those features that makes a million times more sense once you use it in Japan. Every time I stopped walking was a good time to clear StreetPasses. I don’t think I would’ve been a tenth of the way as far as I am in some StreetPass games as I am now.
  • So I mentioned the Ginza Uniqlo. I was prepared to be blown away and drop a ton of cash on excellent Uniqlo stuff, but I wasn’t and didn’t. Part of the reason was that I’d gotten most of what I wanted in HK and part of it was that in some ways, the selection was actually worse than normal stores. I’d read that this might be because that Uniqlo is a huge tourist draw, which means stuff runs out faster. I found the Uniqlos in Shinjuku had more stuff I was looking for so that theory seems to hold up.

Asia Day 7-21: Hong Kong

  • Hong Kong is really, really dense. This is a fact that my dad likes to constantly point out whether we’re on a bus going through Kowloon or in a car driving across Sheppard back home. I thought Singapore was dense, but Kowloon and the shore of Hong Kong Island blow it out of the water. Everything is packed, even all the older areas. I’m not sure how to characterize it except that there are towers and tons of people pretty much everywhere you turn.
  • I spent my time in Hong Kong with my family, which meant that I didn’t really do anything in the way of planning, I just let them handle it. This turned out to be a really good idea because my extended family basically gave us a pile of delicious places to check out and brought us to more non-touristy places and a lot of these places would have been troublesome to navigate without literacy in the Chinese language.
  • Speaking of literacy, this really stretched the limits of my Cantonese skills. Unlike SG and KL, HK is pretty ethnically homogenous, so everything’s in Chinese and Cantonese by default. Of course, being a British colony for about a century means that basically everyone knows English fairly well. On the other hand, social interactions felt a lot more natural here, as long as conversations didn’t get too complex. A common occurrence was starting a conversation in Cantonese and have it fall apart about a minute or two in, revealing my true identity as a stealth Westerner.
  • This was a very helpful video. I’m still not entirely sure which aunt/uncle is supposed to be which, there were a lot of them.
  • Beer is really cheap. Obviously, fancier stuff costs about the same, but your typical dinner drinking fare is something like 15-20 HKD (2-3 CAD) for a litre. Also, I was really fascinated by the beer bowls at some of the more Chinesey places.
  • UNIQLO. Oh my God, Uniqlo. I think I went to about ten different Uniqlo stores and bought something from almost each one and they didn’t even have any Gundam t-shirts. I am profoundly saddened that there isn’t a Uniqlo in Canada. List of Uniqlos I went to: apm, Telford Plaza, Festival Walk, Cityplaza, Miramar, Olympian City, Harbour City, PopCorn, New Town Plaza, and the Lee Theatre flagship store.
  • I hadn’t appreciated using cards for arcades like at Bugis until the arcades here forced me to stuff six 1 HKD coins into the machines within thirty seconds. Similarly, trading in a 20 HKD bill and carrying 20 coins around is also annoying.
  • Most of the transfers on the MTR are very well designed. On most lines, they make sure there are two transfer stations right after the other and which station you transfer at depends on which direction you want to go in on the new line. This lets the station be designed such that every transfer is done by walking across the platform and you never have two streams of people moving against each other. Compare this to the Bloor-Yonge or St. George transfers, where people are forced to move between levels and everyone is moving against each other.
  • Speaking of the MTR, somehow my parents arranged for us to stay at one of the few areas that doesn’t have walking access to the MTR, To Kwa Wan. The closest MTR station was Mong Kok, which is about a half hour walk. The result of this is that I got really well acquainted with the geography of the city through buses, all of which are double-deckers. But I was told not to worry, To Kwa Wan would be getting an MTR station there once the Central-Shatin link was done in 2020.

Asia Day 4-7: Kuala Lumpur

  • A new mistake to start off the new leg of the journey: not getting RM when I was in Singapore. I didn’t know that we’d stop along the way to KL and when we did, there was all of this stuff I could’ve bought (coffee, prepaid card) but couldn’t because I thought I’d just get my money changed when I was in KL so I wouldn’t have to do the CAD to SGD to RM dance. Very unfortunate.
  • My very first impression of the city was that it was way more chaotic than the orderliness I’d gotten used to in Singapore. Car traffic isn’t really bad so much as there’s a ton of it and traffic signal coordination is not very good. You can get long stretches without the signal changing, which leads to the problem of a ton of people jaywalking. And of course, if people are jaywalking across six lanes of traffic, there’s really no need to change signal timings, right? And then in addition to all of this, you have motorbikes weaving in between lanes and up sidewalks and it was all very stressful to someone who likes obeying traffic signals.
  • My earlier mistake came back to ruin me. See, I was staying near Masjid Jamek and it turned out none of the money changers nearby were open that Sunday. And when I tried to take some from the ATM at the nearby HSBC, my card got blocked. So I ended up walking all the way to KLCC to get money and food. Other than being super tiring and causing some minor panic, in the end, this just forced KLCC to the front of my plans and I spent the evening wandering around the mall and the surrounding plaza, stretching my neck to get a decent shot of the Petronas towers.
  • It’s here where I started to realize one great thing about Singapore’s hawker centres: all you need to do is find one and then you can wander around to discover what’s good. It’s a lot harder to check out goodies when they’re all over the place like in the rest of the world (such as in KL).
  • A very bad time to look for traditional Malay food in a traditional Malay area like Kampung Baru is during Ramadan. I took a day and stopped by there twice to discover that things weren’t open before realizing that it was Ramadan and it’d make sense no one was selling food during daylight hours. Whoops.
  • Somehow, I think my favourite coffee shop in the world might be located here. So the hostel that I stayed at also runs this neat Western-style (by which I mean they do espressos and that sort of thing as opposed to kopi) coffee shop called LOKL. I mean, it’d fit right in at Kensington Market. They make really good breakfast and a damn good espresso. Things that I would love to bring over: fried bread instead of toast and espresso shots with a shot of condensed milk.
  • I had my suspicions that the RapidKL LRT was not actually light rail. I noticed a Bombardier logo on one of the trains which prompted me to take a look at Wikipedia and that proved my suspicions correct. The Kelana Jaya LRT is actually a second generation ICTS system like Vancouver’s SkyTrain, which means it’s actually a descendant of the same technology that’s used by the Scarborough RT in Toronto. The more you know.
  • The KLIA Ekspres is a really nice train ride. Rail links to airports are just a great idea in general.

Asia Day 1-4: Singapore

  • The unfortunate thing about arriving after midnight is that a lot of things you need are closed. My only regret was getting a SingTel prepaid card at the airport, since they only came in 50 SGD denominations. Now I know better. And unfortunately. The MRT was closed too, which meant paying many monies for taxi service, which also threw a wrench in things when it turned out that the taxi company had stopped accepting Visa literally 24 hours before. And so I started off minus a significant chunk of change.
  • Luckily, food in Singapore is good and cheap, even in mall food courts, where it’s slightly more expensive (but still a ridiculously good deal compared to home). A list of things I ate in Singapore: kaya toast with soft boiled eggs, lor mee, chicken rice, laksa, duck rice, murtabak, mee pok, claypot chicken rice, bah kut teh, carrot cake, chicken rice.
  • Because it is important to set priorities, one of the first things I did was locate the Jubeat machines and acquire an eAMUSEMENT pass. I played a game before realising that I had to go and buy the pass too. Once got it, the girl who had been there for a while noticed I was a noob and offered to play a local match with me to give me some songs. Arcade Jubeat is a lot more tiring than tablet Jubeat because you need to actually move your hands and press down with a bit more force. Some patterns took a bit of work to translate from the small screen. The hardest thing to do was figuring out how to hit patterns that occur on the top and bottom row, because that distance couldn’t be covered by stretching my hands anymore.
  • After tiring myself out, I went to get an EZ-Link card for the MRT. Doing the thing where you place your entire wallet on the card reader is fun. Not having to deal with tokens is fun. The stations themselves aren’t design wonders or art installations and I don’t think they need to be. I’m okay with stations that look the same, as long as they’re nice. An interesting thing about suicide barriers is that they serve a few more purposes than preventing suicides. They close off the station to the tunnels, so the stations can be climate controlled more effectively. They also prevent stuff from flying onto the tracks and getting set on fire. They provide more space for signage. And they also make the station nice and quiet when trains come rushing in and shield the station from the accompanying gust of wind.
  • Inside the trains themselves, the one thing that’d really help in Toronto is the indicator for which side the doors are opening on. Yes, the TR1s already have the LED sign point it out when the trains arrive, but the MRT trains have a little section next to the LED route map which either lights up the THIS SIDE panel or the OTHER SIDE panel while the train is headed to the next station.
  • After having wandered around the malls at Orchard and being very tired, I noticed that a deficiency of Singaporean malls is the lack of seating. I think I could only ever find one bench per floor, at most. I would later discover that this is a deficiency in most Asian malls.