Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Hiccups and water balloons

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Hiccups was a recent spelling word in Mr. Brandon’s English class last week. The reason? Two weeks ago was Golden Week in China so we had a week off. I am semi in charge of the dorm at my school so I sleep at school Sunday-Tuesday so I only had a 5 day break and decided to spend it in Shanghai to discover more of this city and to save money (massive future blog post in the pipeline about saving money). So I met up with some lacrosse guys on Thursday to eat some food, check out some Shanghai spots and casually enjoy beverages. Fast forward end of the night, on a rooftop drinking half priced margaritas and it starts. Hiccups.

 Now hiccups aren’t completely foreign to me but still not a recipe for the best night of your life. Make my way home, getting ready for bed and still have them. Odd but not much I can do. Fall asleep and no hiccups. As soon as I realized I didn’t have hiccups, they came back. Day 2. On and off for Friday. Repeat for Saturday. Saturday night they have left me for a good few hours. I discovered buying Oreos and drinking milk fast while eating Oreos nonstop cures my condition. I’m getting ready to meet up with some work people and go out and the second I take a sip from my Heineken can, they come back. Now I’m starting to get frustrated. Is this a joke? I once had hiccups for just over a day in Poland and it was terrible and now it is making a roaring comeback. So I did what any normal human would do. I Googled “longest case of hiccups ever”. What I found shocked and scared me. Any guesses on longest case of hiccups?

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 Take a second to ballpark a guess. ..…..68 years. YEAH RIGHT!? Wild. So now I’m a little more worried. The internets says to contact a doctor after 2 days. I figure I just need to not focus on the hiccups, go out and live my life with hiccups. I thought about starting a blog called “Life with Hiccups”. At some point in the night, they go away and I’m feeling confident I have won this battle. Wake up Sunday morning and day 4 with hiccups has begun. Now I’m contemplating going to the doctor and the upside of missing Monday at school. Eventually someone upstairs was looking out for me and made them stop (probably Jesus).  I’m not sure what I have learned or how imminent my death is but breathing is a little sweeter now that I’m a free man.

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Last week our school had another sports day. I won’t bore you with the details of ordering tons of sports equipment, making even teams that kids won’t complain about, making sure I’m not forgetting anything when my whole life has revolved around forgetting things but I want to focus on water balloons.

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So we did a water toss because sports day is actually low key highlight of the year. We had extra water balloons at the end of the day in the office. I didn’t know what to do with them. All the other foreign teachers were gone and it was just me and a Chinese teacher. It was suggested I just throw the water balloons out. I thought of 8 year old Bert and how disappointed he would be in me if I just threw away perfectly good water balloons. So I did what 8 year old Bert probably would have suggested. I grabbed the bucket and went to the dorm where the kids stay. I waited patiently outside for students to come out. Two Chinese students come out who are in my ESL class. I make small talk then attack. They run away with me hot in pursuit. Was it fair they had nothing to throw back at me? Maybe not. Was it fair that I threw water balloons at other students watching on their balconies? Yes. Will the parent who was waiting to pick up her kid and watched me attack helpless high school students report me to the government and have me sent back to Canada? Certainly.

Shanghai is a cool spot. I live by myself in an apartment near Jiaotong University when I’m not living at school and it’s a fun neighbourhood with tons of places to eat, get massaged and close to a few metro lines to explore Shanghai. It’s close to lacrosse and makes my commute to work slightly more bearable but full disclosure, my commute takes about 2 hours at night which I do about 3 times a week which has given me lots of time to catch up on my podcasts and dream about the day I have a phone that doesn’t ruin my life. Here are some pictures of my area and some other fun spots in Shanghai:

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The more time I spend in Shanghai, the more I dig it. The weather isn’t the best and I don’t love Chinese food but the city is growing on me. Lots of foreigners doing a bunch of different things, funky bars and music spots, transportation easy with cabs, metros and bikes you rent with your phone for disgustingly cheap prices.

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 I feel like I hear and see a lot of Chinese people arguing and yelling on the street at each other. About once a week I see a Chinese man relieving himself in the bushes. I saw a couple holding their toddler as the toddler peed in a garbage bag inside the metro station. China is alright but for some reason when people tell me they love China, I like them a little bit less (except for my main man Joe). Not sure why and I’m certain I shouldn’t tell other people that but those are the facts. I wish you great weather to sip your pumpkin spiced lattes whilst wearing your scarfs and walking through the park admiring the changing colours of the leaves while one of you says “fall is my favourite season.”

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“No hurry, no pause”

Sunday, September 24, 2017

That server life

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Serving last fall and this summer had been a nice break from teaching and also gave me another perspective being on the other side of the menu. It is also a sneaky way to make friends and I’ve heard rumours of servers not claiming all tips on their tax returns but I wouldn’t have experience with that personally.

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But Bert, you say you don’t like talking to new people or making new friends? Part of that is true yes but I also don’t love sleeping in a sleeping bag next to a statue in the park. We do what we have to do in order to do what we want to do.
But Bert, what have you learned? That’s a great question friend and thanks for asking. I like you.

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1-Kids are going to destroy your section with food everywhere, crayons scattered on the ground, extra attentive moms who care about the overall wellbeing of their children for some reason and one less human to laugh at your jokes that may or not be hilarious. (They probably are though)

2-While it’s easy to complain about people being the worst and not liking certain people who walk in based solely on a gut feeling of how cheap they are, people are generally good and will tip you well if you deserve it or in my case, feel sorry for you.

3-One time, I had a table who ordered a bunch of things and another server was running their fry order and dropped them on the ground just before giving it to them. Second server brings over fries but immediately drops them on the floor so I need to explain to the table why it has been over 10 minutes and they still don’t have their fries. Third try I waited at the pass and decided I was the only one ready for this gigantic task. I get the order and immediately drop two orders of fries all over the ground. THREE TIMES! I don’t think the table believed me once I went over for the third time. Their fries were free.

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4-During Christmas market, a guest asked my main man and manager Ryan if he could turn off the air conditioning. Ryan informed the gentleman that he was sitting outside during the winter and suggested he move inside if he was cold.

5-I am not what you would call a great server. I don’t love having tables, having a busy section, working doubles or having large tables. I couldn’t work a double if my life depended on it. Some people solely work doubles. Those are crazy people. Some people making serving their career and enjoy describing + selling food to guests and get a real sense of joy from it. I am not one of those people however it is nice recommending a certain beer or an app to split and people love it.

6-I won’t tell you what kind of tables I would secretly and not so secretly wish hostesses would sit in my section. 

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7-Here are some tips to know if your table won’t tip you in a very well meaning, non-discriminatory way.
-if your guests are wearing backpacks used for travelling, you aren’t getting tipped.
-if your table is filled with kids under 19, no chance.
-if they have just run, biked or competed some type of race, no dice
-if your table can’t speak English, it’s a real roll of the dice.
-Many cultures don’t embrace tipping so if you have guests from Europe or India, better luck next time for the most part
-If you drop someone’s fry order three times, get a manager.
-If you forget to put in their order and then casually just blame the kitchen for it, they are probably on to you.

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8-Here are some tips to know if your table will tip you:
-usually guys on dates trying to impress their lady friend.
 Side note: Word is apparently out that women notice how you treat other people, specifically staff at a restaurant so people have gone way overboard on how nice they are when you bring them salt or more water. A lot of thank you’s and over the top politeness.
-if you like your table and give them a free brownie and say it was their birthday so they don’t need to pay for it. Classic Bert move.
-if you actually care and put a lot of effort into your beer and food knowledge and care about their experience, you will do great.
-if you are a woman and attractive. Start counting that tip out early.
-when giving the cheque to a family, give it to the youngest kid and ask how they are paying. Parents love it and laugh each and every time.
-showing extra care to older or younger people goes a long way as well.
-being fun, normal and just doing your job correctly.
-masking how hungover you are.

9-Getting 50% off staff meals really makes paying full price hurt. Long live 50% off!

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10-That serving makes you sympathize with other servers when you are a guest at another restaurant. I won’t ask servers what the wifi password is or ask for hot sauce or coffee because I know how annoying it is. Or being more patient when you see their section is slammed with people and aren’t getting helped. As long as a server is up front and explains the situation, everything is normally fine.

11-Working at a restaurant that has either great food or beer people love a thousand times easier. Work in a crappy place, you will get a crappy experience. Work in a great spot with fun clientele, it will make your life more enjoyable.

12-Serving can be a party. Servers are usually younger and like to get after it after work. A lot of servers date other servers and it usually ends poorly. When I go to restaurants, I like to guess who is kissing who after the shift ends; odds are they have, are or are going to kiss one night. It’s kinda romantic.

13-People able to handle a busy section, angry guests and anything else a shift can throw at you, is a good show of your character. If you can still laugh and be positive when you are getting destroyed, you are going to be successful at life.

14-Kids love popsicles.

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15-Straight cash homey.

16-Christmas market in the distillery district is no joke.

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17-I got hit on way less than I had imagined. My imagination had run wild.

18-Have a few go-to lines/jokes and make it sound like you are saying it for the first time.

19-If you bring a princess sippy cup to work, people will notice and make fun of you.

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20-Flexible schedule, ability to work another job or go to school, serving will make you friends, teach you lessons and usually make time pass quickly. That server life.

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“Love is a serious mental disease." Plato

Did you know it’s called Platonic love because of Plato? I did not.


Monday, August 14, 2017

Out to eat

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This is the third summer I’ve spent working at a restaurant and in total worked at 3 different establishments. It’s a nice break from teaching but also keeps that cash flow trickling in. I’ve learned a few things working at these restaurants but the main takeaway that keeps entering my mind is this: eating out typically is not worth it in terms of value, practicality and deliciousness. Let’s dive in.

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Let’s start where everyone would suspect I would start: “When I lived in Thailand, I would eat out 3 times a day, could pay for dinner with friends and it wouldn’t hurt my wallet and they would make meals I could essentially never compete with.” Basically none of those hold true in Canada. When was the last time you picked up a bill for dinner and drinks for you and a few friends? What would you say that cost you? Over $200 if it wasn’t breakfast? I had a table the other week come in for lunch and gave me just under $700 cash for a family of about 10 or so. I understand that everyone needs to eat and eating out can be convenient but spending $700 on lunch doesn’t seem like the best way to allocate our financial resources. On the other hand, some people are extremely wealthy and can take the hit but I have a feeling most people eating out can’t afford it but make it happen anyway.

“I was at this restaurant. The sign said 'Breakfast Anytime.' So I ordered French Toast in the Renaissance.” - Steven Wright

Putting the astronomical price aside, most food I eat in and around Toronto isn’t so spectacular that I think I couldn’t put in a similar output given the time and effort. I paid $7 the other day for a smoothie at vegetarian spot and it tasted awful (not surprisingly) but while I’m sure it was good for my health, I can’t help but think they are making a fortune off of people trying to look and feel good. How often do you go somewhere and the food absolutely blows you away and was reasonably priced? I feel like it is rare. Even getting half off at the restaurants I’ve worked at, I still don’t feel like I’m getting value. 

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You know a place where this bad food for a lot of money has gotten completely out of control? Wonderland. $9 for a hot. $10 for a hamburger. Are people millionaires? Millionaires are avoiding Wonderland because staying away from those places is one reason they have millions of dollars. I somehow managed to only buy a small treat for my nephew and ate a late lunch right after leaving the park the other day but a family of 4 could easily spend $150 on food for the day. The life hack for Wonderland is bringing a cooler, getting stamped on your way out, eating fruit and whatever it is other humans eat for lunch then going back into the melee for round two after everyone has eaten.

“Some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays.” - Henry Youngman

I’m sure you can think of exceptions of a delightful little Indian restaurant down the road with terrific service or your favourite Polish pirogi joint that gives you extra dipping sauce for free but as a general rule, going out for dinner solo, date wise or a large group of friends is a terrible idea; there I said it. What’s your suggestion then Mr. I Hate Restaurants? I have a few:

1-Picnics are underrated. Grab a picnic basket, blanket, a few beers or a bottle of wine, cheese, crackers and other snacks and you are off to the races. Sit near the water or in a park and rattle off the best questions you can think of to whoever it is lucky enough to experience this picnic experience with you.

2-BBQ at home, homemade pizzas, breakfast for dinner nights or whatever fun theme you can think of. Buy what’s on sale, plan your meals ahead, take part of the meal prep Sunday rage and join the thrifty is 2017.

3-Eat a bunch of samples at Costco and call it a night.

4-Move to Thailand where the food is cheap, legit and won’t disappoint you like that taco food truck people in the office think is good.

5-Potlucks. Everyone needs a go to potluck dish. Mine is 7 layered taco dip. 

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Add in reservations, tipping, potentially terrible service, parking, lunar eclipses and the odds are increasingly stacked against you. Am I wrong? Completely off base? Unlikely but tell me how I could be mistaken and your suggestions for eating in this country. SUMMER!

Exceptions: Being extremely hungover, occasional birthday/special occasion, convenience of meeting on a patio for a few drinks, needing to feed children quickly, all you can eat buffets. There's also a fancy grilled cheese spot in Shanghai called Cheese Co that owns my heart. Porchetta & Co in Toronto is also can't miss. Exceptions exist but as a general rule, value found elsewhere. 

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“I eat at this German-Chinese restaurant and the food is delicious. The only problem is that an hour later you’re hungry for power.”   
Dick Cavett

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Let me name your baby!

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For a variety of reasons lately I have been researching baby names. I’m not married so obviously I’m not having a kid so let’s just get that out there now. However I have been tasked with researching and finding hip and eccentric names for future children. What a journey it has been! I don’t know where to start so I will go with the most intriguing part of my research first.

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I have heard of this phenomenon before but never actually processed it as truth. From looking into baby names and asking other human beings on planet Earth their opinion, it has come to my attention that a majority of ladies have been pondering this question for some time now and have a short list of names they love. These ladies also guard these names as a mother bear does her cubs. The fact that I am Bertram Leonard Brandon the third and have been requested to name my kid the 4th, I haven’t agonized over what to name my kid. The only part I’ve debated is when to tell my future wife our kid needs to be named Bert. I’m thinking after we get married is when I give her the news.

Now when searching for creative names, you can go in a variety of different styles. You can research constellations, Greek mythology, minerals, pick a century and research popular names by era, fruit, number, celebrity choices, cities and countless others. I may or may not have looked at every French inspired name for my ambitious research. I have compiled a short list of names for your reading pleasure. Don’t judge too quickly. Let the name marinate a little while in your brain before coming to any hard conclusions.

Boy names:

It means bald but don’t let that get you down. It’s a solid name and we both know it.

Love this name however not sure it works for my already Sesame Street centric name.

Oliver sounds like a studious young chap who would be more than happy to tutor your son or daughter free of charge.

Benedict Cumberbatch. Benedict Cumberbatch.

I like it ok?


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Great name. Classic. I know you don’t like it but keep your comments to yourself.

If you don’t like this name, I kindly ask you to leave immediately.

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Girl names:

It’s a city but also works for a future writer, entrepreneur or architect.

A little edgy but with the right family could work.

This one is a crowd pleasure let me tell you. I also had a student named Maia and she was just terrific.

I’ve received some hate on this one but not backing down.

Enough with the criticisms alright? Just think it over.

Means “little ruler” and also name of one of the daughter’s in King Lear

Love cities as names and love Austin

My niece is named Madeleine and I’ve got no beef with her.

Another fan favourite and old student of mine.

This one is rising in my books.

Which one is my top pick? YOU THINK I’D SHARE THAT SECRET?!  It’s not on this list but it’s a good one though but need to keep it under wraps. I’ve never met someone with this name and it works for a boy or a girl but I’m leaning girl. If you have any interesting baby names you would like to share, let me know.

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"Deep summer is when laziness finds respectability." 

Sam Keen

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Most Improved

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I understand that the most improved award is something you give to kids who can’t read good but have somehow managed to read bat, cat and rat however I’m just going to go ahead and embrace my most improved lacrosse player award. There are upsides to being absolutely terrible at things. People notice even minimal gains and heap praise upon you whilst forgetting that you are still the chink in the armour. I don’t remember ever winning this prestigious award before in my life but I did win a rock solid/consistency award from everyone’s favourite country, New Zealand. I might be off base with this but I doubt that I am when I say that part of winning awards is deserving it but another part is having people like you. I’m not saying everyone loves teacher Bert but I think a skill that has been cultivated is how to make friends and have people not plot against my demise.

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I was going to call this post a lone wolf’s guide to making friends but after my come from behind victory, I couldn’t have any other title than Most Improved. Now the advice I’m about to offer is not universal nor recommended at all to anyone but has worked for me from time to time.

Lone Wolf’s Guide Rule #1
Be patient.  

You will rarely fall backwards into great friendships. The tricky thing about making friends is that it must be a mutual thing and friendships are formed through experiences. Don’t focus on hitting a home run this weekend just focus on doing a few practice swings, getting a feel for the pitcher and living to bat another day.

Lone Wolf’s Guide Rule #2

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I lean towards listening more than talking and not being the centre of attention….to start with. I’ve heard this on multiple occasions that people were initially unsure about me, I was very quiet, kept to myself and wasn’t a part of the group. Slowly but surely the Bert laugh comes out, we all go out for drinks one night and the Bert spell has already begun to take hold. Some people act more quickly than myself but for my style, this has proven beneficial.

Lone Wolf’s Guide Rule #3
Be curious.

The long of the short of it is that people want to hear themselves talk. People want to tell stories and feel important. Let them. That’s not being insincere; it’s being a good conversationalist. Ask people (a reasonable amount of) questions that you want answered. What do you love to do? Tell me 2 things most people don’t know about you. What’s a story your friends or family like to tell about you? I take it to the extreme and people pretend like they don’t like the question game but eventually (almost) everyone becomes a fan.

Lone Wolf’s Guide Rule #4
Be helpful.

Ask other people: How can I help? Don’t just take like a savage. What can I bring over? Do you need help? Let me get that for you. Be a good friend and you will attract good friends. Do the opposite and you will get the opposite.

Lone Wolf’s Guide Rule #5
Do fun things

People don’t want boring friends. People want friends who they can go on adventures with, learn new things from, have fascinating conversations, eat new foods with and generally enjoy life with. If you’re bored that means you’re being boring. Don’t be boring and your friends won’t be either.

In other news, home is less than two weeks away. I organized a Sports Day at school and if you can imagine it was a tremendous success. Water balloons tosses, tug o war and watermelon are the keys to any fun sports day. New Wonder Woman flick is fantastic. Interesting premise and her being quite cute doesn’t hurt my rating. New podcast favourite: Hamish and Andy.

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Talent show this week and I’m going to do a quick 10 minute performance. Will keep it a surprise but I’m confident the students will pretend not to enjoy it but will improve their current and future selves. I wish you all a delightful rest of June and hope your days are filled with all the raspberries and mango you can eat.

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"Live a little, love a lot." Kenny Chesney

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Shanghai update

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6 years! Oh brother. That’s a lot of lunches. To anyone who has read each post I’ve written I would say you certainly could have found a more productive use of your time but I thank you for your loyalty. What’s the next 6 years look like? What does this year look like? Let’s dive in.

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Shanghai and my suburb of Fengxian is growing on me. The city has lots of funky neighbourhoods with fun places to eat and drink water. The weather has improved, I’m not the worst player on the lacrosse team, a few people know my name and don’t call me names to my face so I’d say things are looking up. I’m in more of a groove at school and am not spending so much time there late at night which has helped my mental health. I’ve also been getting a bit more into meditating using Headspace. Headspace is essentially guided mediation which helps with relaxation and focus. I just keep hearing how successful people meditate and I felt like it couldn't hurt. The first 10 days are free so if you could use some Headspace, give it a shot.

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I also started biking to school which was of my main loves from living in Warsaw so it’s nice to feel the freedom having a bike offers. Days keep ticking away till my summer return to Toronto that I am eagerly anticipating. I’ve made a list of things I want to get done that obviously includes Toronto Island, Jays games and Wonderland. Canada is 100% the best and whoever tells you differently isn’t someone you should be associating yourself with.

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I’ve decided to come back to my school next year because high school is kinda fun and I think it’s making me smarter. I’m re-learning a few things and reading novels with my kids. Getting paid to learn isn’t a terrible way to live your life.I just crushed Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne and loved it. If you like fiction and adventure, it's a can't miss.

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In terms of what the next 6 years hold, Japan like always is still at the top of the list and would like to find a way to make that a reality in the upcoming few years. I would like the next 6 years to be filled with stories, travel and spending time with people I love. This post is mainly due to my lack of writing this last month, to let you know my heart is still beating and I will be in my motherland soon. I wrote a bucklist post a few years ago and I feel like it’s time to review it, see what I’ve done and what I can get accomplished in the following months. I also turned 31 last week. 31! I went to Hong Kong the weekend before and it’s a top notch city. Got to see some old Nakhon crew and was good for my heart. Life is good everyone and everything is going to be just fine. Will crank out another 1-2 posts before summer really gets going.

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"Salary is the bribe they give you to forget your dreams."