Drove to Nova Scotia

I spent this past weekend helping move my mom from St. Thomas, Ontario back to HalifaxNova Scotia. The major task was to drive her car down; she had hired a moving company to move the rest of her belongings.

We agreed that the easiest way to do this was for her to drive to Ottawa, then we would continue together to finish the trip. She made it through the traffic on Highway 401 in Toronto to arrive in Ottawa Friday afternoon. We left early Saturday morning. I did most of the driving to Nova Scotia, but she took over for a few hours through New Brunswick.

It gave us an second opportunity to talk. Although we have always tried to be close, we did not always understand each other. So these opportunities for uninterrupted discussions have really helped. Now, I better understand how to show her that I appreciate who she is as a person and as my mother.

Once we arrived in Dartmouth, we checked into the Ramada. My sister Michelle had made reservations of us and her family for the night.

Burke, Kayli and Portia
Burke, Kayli and Portia

On Sunday, we had the day to spend together with nearly all of the family. Only my sister Sue and my nephew Liam were absent (my parents are divorced – sort of). It was the first time in years I met Michelle, Portia, Burke, and Ali, and the first time in a decade to see Kayli. I was so happy to see them all again. I especially enjoyed the long talk I had with Ali and her fiancé Sean.

Very early Monday morning, my mom dropped me off at the airport for my flight back to Ottawa. The visit was short, especially after such a long driving day on Saturday, but I was so glad to spend time with everyone in Nova Scotia.

St. Thomas

I visited St. Thomas this weekend. It was to be a visit with my mom, my youngest sister and one of my nieces. However my sister was called away to Nova Scotia at the last moment and my niece went with her. So I had an extended weekend to spend time with my mom and see part of southern Ontario.

My mom had not traveled extensively around Southern Ontario, so this was a good opportunity for us to drive around sightseeing.

Our first stop on Saturday was Stratford. This small town of 31,000 has been the site of the annual Stratford Shakespeare Festival since 1953. We stopped at the Festival Theatre, which echoes the circular shape of the original Globe Theatre. It seats 1,826 attendees and opened in 1957. As the theatre was not open, we could not see the inside, but photos online look very interesting. I should like to attend a performance in the future. The monumental red-brick City Hall was completed in 1899; it is now designated a national historic site of Canada.

After lunch at Bentley’s Bar Inn (pulled-pork poutine), we continued to London. London is a good sized metro of just under 500,000 people. We saw the hospital where my sister sometimes works, the train station, stadium, and so forth. The highlight building for me was the wonderful Art Deco Dominion Public building, finished in 1936.

That evening we went to see the new movie “Lincoln”. We both enjoyed the movie.

The next day mom suggested we visit Port Stanley, which is a beach that she often goes to with my sister and niece. Although it was winter we still went to see frozen Lake Erie. I’m sure it’s a great place in the summer; in the winter the wind pushes the lake ice onto the shore.

_MG_1616We drove along the shore of Lake Erie, where there were many wind farms. We ended up in Port Burwell. Port Burwell has a very unique attraction. The Oberon-class submarine HMCS Ojibwa (S72) was brought ashore to become part of the planned Museum of Naval History. Seeing a Cold War submarine sitting on solid ground was mind bending.

Although the trip was short, just three days, it gave us time to talk about life, the family, and the future. It is sometimes difficult to have really good discussions over the phone, which has been our main method of communicating.

15 Years

The more I reflect on 15 years of working at Nortel/Ericsson, the more it seems incredible.

I moved to Ottawa during the last week of January 1997. I drove up in my dad’s Chevy Tahoe filled with all my stuff. There was a snow storm in Quebec, so it took two days to reach Ottawa.

For the first few days, I slept on my friends couch until DJ left to move in with his girlfriend. I took over his portion of the apartment and rent. It was good times. We ran our internet connection on an AMD486DX40 in the basement, played Duke Nukem 3D until 4am, watched Jackie Chan-o-thons at the Mayfair Theatre and listened to The Cardigans and KMFDM.

Has it really been 15 years? A decade-and-a-half?

I think of how much time that is by comparing to my childhood up until I was a teenager. That’s a long time. I think back to Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, where I lived until I was 7. My best friend was Steven, who lived next door, and then just down the road when both of our families moved.

Then in November 1977, my family moved to New Minas, where my parents opened a McDonald’s restaurant. Three more schools – New Minas Elementary, Port Williams Elementary, and finally the move to Horton District High School.

All those friends I met and with whom I have fallen out of touch. All the adventures. All the class mates and teachers. From my birth until I could get my beginners drivers license – 15 years.

And that’s how long I’ve been here in Ottawa.

So much has changed here too: 4 apartments, 2 houses, a marriage, and a racing career. When I moved to Ottawa, it was just sparking with excitement. Corel, Rebel NetWinder, Linux Chix, and Microserfs. It was the tech bubble. I knew more people in Ottawa than I did in Wolfville, where I had graduated and worked at Acadia University. It seemed like everyone from the Acadia Computer Science program went to Ottawa after graduation.

Now, I hardly know anyone from that era. The bubble burst at the turn of the millennium. Everyone I knew closely has moved away. Nadine (moved to Nova Scotia), Dana (moved to San Diego), Christine and Kevin (Nova Scotia), Nick and Bev (Nova Scotia and changed career), Rob and Deb (New Brunswich), Peter (New York); Julie is still still in Ottawa married with kids.

Of the 15 years in Ottawa, I’ve been with Rosa for seven. For all that has changed, for all that might have been lost to time, I have gained so much that is valuable to me: my relationship with Rosa, my most precious treasure.

Hey Jude

Yesterday my mother-in-law Lemin handed me a small hand-written note saying “Beatles Hey Jude“. I was so surprised, as I didn’t think she even knew about The Beatles. I was also curious why she was asking about that song in particular.

I asked (through Rosa) what format she wanted and where she wanted to listen to the song. I wasn’t sure if she just wanted the CD to play or an MP3 for her computer. She wanted something to play on her computer. So I pulled out Past Masters Volume 2 and ripped a copy of that one song for her. I put it on a USB stick and moved it onto her computer and showed her how to play it in Windows Media Player.

At first, it was nice to hear The Beatles playing from her computer. I sang along as I worked around the house. She is loosing her hearing so she was playing it loud enough that I could make it out even in the basement.

She played it all throughout the day. Over and over.

This morning she started playing it again. Over and over. And again when I got home. Over and over. “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad“. Over and over.

It just got stranger and stranger. Why, I wondered, did she want to hear it over and over?

This evening, after her shower, Rosa came down to start working on her computer too. We were both doing work on our computers and not paying attention.

Then Rosa stopped and said that she had had a very strange exchange with Lemin that had left her in a weird state. She told me why Lemin wanted to listen to “Hey Jude”, over and over.

Yesterday, Lemin went to a Chinese New Years celebration at the Chinese (Catholic) Church. Lemin is a very devout Roman Catholic. We were both glad she went, as she has not been very social since her husband passed away 14 months ago.

The reason, Rosa explained, was that someone at the church told her that it was a song about one of the Apostles of Jesus.

I fell out of my chair.

I could not imagine the confusion of ideas that would have led anyone to that conclusion. Lemin was treating it as a hymn about Jude the Apostle, without knowing the real story. “Hey Jude” was written by Paul McCartney not about one of the Disciples but about bandmate John Lennon, who was (in)famously quoted in 1966 as saying:

Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.

I was so surprised at what Lemin had been told. She stopped listening to the song once she learned that it was not about Jude the Apostle.


Rosa and Mama with Papa's remains
Rosa and Mama with Papa's remains

Since Papa passed away in November, Mama, Rosa and I have been discussing what we should do with his cremated remains and by extension what will happen when Mama passes away. Mama said that Papa and she had already bought a space at a mausoleum in Beijing.

After so long discussions, Rosa was able to convince Mama to buy a spot here in Ottawa, so that it will be closer to us. Rosa argued that if the remains were in Beijing, there would be no one who would visit. By having the remains nearby, Mama could visit whenever she wants.

Last week I took mama to see the Hope Cemetery Ottawa-Carleton. It was specifically chosen as a Roman Catholic facility. Mama is very picky about that, especially as she was able to convince Papa to be baptized last summer. She liked the cemetery and agreed that we would intern Papa there.

Today, she, Rosa and I went back to move papa’s urn in to the space.

A spot was chosen that has enough room to include mama’s urn when she passes away. It was inside the mausoleum – there were also locations on the outside of the building and burial sites.

We left some photos and Mama left a small bottle of holy water.

As the cemetery is on the other side of the Rideau River, it takes about 35 minutes to drive there. Once the new Strandherd-Armstrong Bridge opens, the trip will take only half that.

Feeling Centered

Tonight, I’m feeling really centered. Everything in my life is so good.

I’m finally debt free. I have been contributing as much as I could into my RRSP to catch up, but I didn’t put aside enough to keep my line of credit zeroed out.

My BMW is ready for the summer – new Hawk HPS brake pads, oil change, and my summer tires (Bridgestone Potenza RE-11) are filled with nitrogen and mounted. I also replaced the ridiculous BMW lug-studs with proper studs and lug nuts, so I can change my winter and summer tires myself without worrying about breaking the lug-studs again.

I finally upgraded to Blu-Ray and bought a few IMAX movies.

I finally bought a Jawbone ERA Bluetooth for my iPhone so that I can (legally) receive phone calls when I am driving.

I finally bought some new glasses. I bought a pair of sturdy regular glasses I can wear in my helmet when racing, and a pair of stylish sunglasses. My old sunglasses will still be my primary glasses for when I race.

I received my Race Licence and my Race Instructors licences from CASC-OR. I will go to Mosport this weekend to take my Clerk of the Course training so I can have my licence when I work in the control tower at the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada next weekend at Calabogie.

I have all that I could want. Including the most important thing to me. I married the most wonderful woman in the world. I am so in love with her.

All I need to do is cherish my wife, live long, and race hard.

Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine media still
Blue Valentine media still

Rosa and I saw the movie ‘Blue Valentine‘ at the Bytowne Theatre this afternoon.

It was an interesting film set tightly around a young married couple. It used flashbacks to show how their relationship built up and how it was slowly tearing apart. The flashbacks captured those wonderful moments when the two begin to fall in love. The falling apart, mostly due to communication issues, was also well played. It was well written and accurately acted. It really seemed more like a hidden camera capturing a real couple – a high complement for the actors Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.

It felt me thinking a lot about the evolution of relationships. In some cases, the break is understood. People do fall out of love. People cheat. I understand that. But the couple in ‘Blue Valentine’ genuinely seemed to still be in love. I’m sure it’s common but it is such a shame that people in love can have so many problems when they genuinely want to be together.

I was also reminded of an incident when Rosa and travelled to Rome.
We were in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican. The weather was great, and we were a week before our wedding day. A man and woman walked by yelling at each other.

“You’re so stupid,” she yelled at him.

“That’s right I am stupid. I married you!” he retorted.

Their teenaged son followed ten feet behind them, staring at the ground.
And I remember thinking, ‘how could anyone end up like that?’ How can two people who must have once loved each other enough to get married and have a family then deteriorate into that kind of caustic, hateful relationship?

I am so grateful for my relationship with Rosa. Everyday we find new ways to renew our relationship. Not a day goes by were we do not express our love for each other.

Is this all that a man is?

All that a man is
All that a man is

Today, Rosa, Mama and I picked up my father-in-laws cremated remains. We had ordered a customized urn, and it took many weeks to get the urn back. The urn had a picture of Papa embossed on a raised circle on the top. When we finally saw the urn, we all agreed that it was very well made. I was surprised how well the embossing looked, considering that we only gave them a photograph.

The remains were transferred from the temporary storage box to the urn right in front of us. We are not squeamish, and Rosa and I were curious. Mama insisted on seeing the process too, as she was paranoid that somehow the remains would be mixed up.

The remains were in a small clear plastic bag, and were stored in a temporary black plastic box. The remains, which are basically pulverized bone fragments, were light grey colour.

Mama and Papa
Mama and Papa

The staff removed the bag from the temporary container and put the bag in the urn. Mama put two chains (one was the chain papa was wearing when he was in the hospital) in a small green velvet bag and placed the bag in the urn.

The urn was closed (it screws shut from the bottom) and given to us. Mama took it very hard and cried a lot. We drove home and Mama put the urn on the nightstand next to the bed.

Papa's funeral

This morning was Papa’s funeral. Everything has happened so fast – it’s been less than 72 hours since he passed away.

Friends and Family
Friends and Family

We started the day by picking up a few people who wanted to attend. I was happy that more people were able to attend. There were our Chinese neighbours and a couple who worked with Mama and Papa back in China at the same Institute. One of his very kind caregivers came as well. Rosa and I picked them up and drove to the funeral home to have a few minutes viewing. It was Mama’s last opportunity to see her husband.


At 10:20, the casket was closed. I had asked to be one of the pallbearers. The other four pallbearers were hired from the funeral home. Rosa and I followed the hearse to the Funeral Mass at Notre Dame de Lourdes de Cyrville. There were more people at the church, including Papa’s sponsor from his baptism, other members of the Chinese Catholic community and Rosa’s private ballet instructor and his wife.

The Father Bosco Wong gave the service; he had baptized Papa in June. We had asked if we could tape the mass to share with other family members, but the Father did not approve of filming in the church. The Mass was performed entirely in Mandarin (which was one of the allowances from Vatican 2).

Rosa and Mama
Rosa and Mama

It was a hard time for Mama. Rosa and I and her friends supported her. At the end of the Mass, once we had placed the casket in the hearse, Rosa, Mama and I just held each other closely and wept.

The procession then moved to Beachwood Cemetery for the commitment prayers by Deacon Peter Feng at the Mausoleum. Finally, the casket was lowered through the floor of the Mausoleum, feeling very much like a traditional burial. From there, it will later be moved to the crematorium. This was the hardest time for Mama. Rosa, Mama and I held each other again just before the casket was lowered.

Once the ceremony was complete, we thanked everyone for coming, thanked the pallbearers for helping, and thanked Suzanne from Tubman Funeral Homes for arraigning the funeral details.

Mama signed the necessary cremation papers in both English and Mandarin. We left and drove everyone home. Rosa, Mama and I went for a small lunch with Papa’s caregiver – she had taken the day off work to attend which was very touching.

This evening, everyone is exhausted. Mama slept for hours. The home is now very quiet. The normal sounds of Papa (the cough, the TV) or the sounds of Mama caring for him (preparing food, bathing, cleaning) are all missing.

Visiting the funeral home

Today, we visited the funeral home to pay our respects to Papa. We did not visit yesterday because we had not brought in his suit and chosen a casket until then.

Many Many Pills
Many Many Pills

Before we went, life goes on, and we had to run the usual errands. We have to buy fewer groceries now. And I took in all the medication bottles to the pharmacy to be disposed. I don’t want all those strange chemicals in the water table.

We arrived at the funeral home around 1:30. It was just Rosa, Mama and myself. Papa had a nice grey suit. Because of the degeneration in his joints, his jaw had shifted in the past year, which is why his mouth was open all the time, such as when he was in the hospital. An effort had been made to close his mouth to be more dignified, but it also didn’t look like him. We were so used to seeing him one way. There was nothing that could be done though – it was the best everyone could do in the circumstances.

In Memoriam
In Memoriam

It was hard, especially for Mama. Rosa and I held each other and tried to comfort Mama. Mama sprayed some holy water on him – I’m not sure were she got it from.

We stayed about an hour.

Once we arrived home, I chose to clean up the room where he spent much of his time. Because of his condition, I had been referring to it as the orthopedic room. It contained all of the devices that he had used – a walker from when he could walk, some pedals for his physiotherapy and his wheelchair. Carrying down his wheelchair to store in the garage, I burst into tears. I had carried the wheelchair around in my car so many times. Mama and I bought it together.

Now it is empty. There is a papa-sized hole in the home.

Empty wheelchair
Empty wheelchair