Monday, December 18, 2017


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It is unclear to me how to start this post. On the one hand, I want to write about what I think has improved my life but on the other, I don’t want to sound like a pretentious dope and say things that aren’t true. I will do my best to tell you things that I’ve experienced while attempting to meditate in 2017.

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Meditate, meditate, meditate; we here it all the time. Lost your dog? Meditate. Can’t lose weight? Meditate. Been abducted and probed by aliens? Skip meditation and go right down the hall to the kind gentleman in the white coats. One reason I started using Headspace was because successful people do it. In Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris, one of the few underlying daily habits of extremely successful people is a daily meditation practice. If it’s good enough for them, good enough for Bert. Another reason I gave it a shot was I was tired of my thoughts running my life. They still do to a certain extent but I feel mildly more in control. Another reason? I recall buying 6 months then getting 6 free which was the real catalyst in my jump into meditation if we are being honest.

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I feel like people have tons of different ways to interpret what “meditation” even means so I will throw my interpretation in: being aware of your thoughts, noticing them then continuing on with your day; limited chatter and slightly more calmed mind.

Wherever you stand on the subject and I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t meditate, science has come to the general conclusion that mediation can improve your health, happiness, decrease anxiety and depression, decrease stress, increase compassion, help regulate your emotions, makes you more perceptive, can increase the mass of your brain (gray matter) improves focus, productivity and improves memory

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People will say “But I don’t have time to mediate! I have 4 kids, a husband who looks at his secretary a few seconds longer than I feel is appropriate, I haven’t gone to a spin class all month and the raccoon keeps getting into the backyard!” I’ve been there…trust me. There’s a quote somewhere to the effect that if you can’t find 10 minutes to meditate, you need 3 hours. I started at 10 minutes but have moved up to 15 but have no real desire to make the jump to 20. You can do mini meditations during the day, a few concentrated breathes during your lunch break or if you really want to go Dali Lama, meditation retreats where I’m sure you will encounter a cast of characters not soon to be forgotten. I’ve never done one but could easily be convinced to do a 10 day silent meditation retreat. Why not? I feel like I have the time.

Where to begin? I started with Headspace because it gives you the first 10 days free. Here is a popular guided meditation by my main man Sam Harris:

Here are a few videos that elaborate more on the positive side of meditation.

Loving kindness. To the extent that I understand it, loving kindness is a type of mediation where you imagine one or two people you love, and just imagine them being happy. Picture them smiling and having something wonderful happen to them today. That’s it. I wish for this person to be happy. Feel it. And you’re done. Other variations but if you are feeling down, picture someone you love being at 100% bliss.

The key to seeing results is making it a daily habit. The minimum “dose” is around 9 minutes to see benefits. The key is daily.

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To sum up, meditation has been around for thousands of years and there just might be a reason monks are finding remote caves to get their meditation on. I use the Headspace app almost every day and I think my life is better because of it. Sam Harris has an app and there are tons more. Try it if you think it would help. Don’t try it if you don’t think it would help. I wish you a pleasant morning/evening.

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"Many a false step was made by standing still."

Tedtalk meditation:

Friday, November 24, 2017

Partying in Shanghai

Do you like to party? I’m certainly on the back 9 in terms of partying but Shanghai has 23 million people and people want partying so that’s what Shanghai gives them. Now due to the fact I put essentially all my money in envelopes now, my partying only lasts me until my FUN envelope runs out. How do I maximize partying while minimizing costs? Let’s find out

Let’s start at the beginning. When I first got to Shanghai, I had zero friends, no clue what’s up, never scored a lacrosse goal in my life and was generally not insanely enthusiastic about moving to Shanghai alone. Some things have improved at quicker pace than others. Do I have more than zero friends now? Yes. Have I scored in lacrosse? Of course (twice!) Am I more optimistic about life in Shanghai? Yes, slightly and depends when you ask me. The first weekend in Shanghai I had no clue where to go, wandered around and had zero fun. The next weekend I had a better game plan. I looked up where to go, got in a taxi from my hostel, was wearing my CANADA CANADA CANADA shirt and was ready to make friends. Did I go out by myself? Yes. Is that the best way to party? No but the effort was there. So I find the spot called The Apartment, go upstairs, get a drink with cover that is $10-15 and find a spot to post up at. Going out alone isn’t an entire new concept to Bert so I know to keep my expectations low. I essentially won’t talk to anyone unless they stare at me for half the night so making small talk is not usually an issue because I haven’t approached anyone. On occasion someone will talk to me first but it’s rare. Well not rare in Shanghai apparently because this guy starts talking to me, turns out we are both new to the city and looking for friends. I’ll make this long and boring story short when I say I thought we were going to be friends and it just didn’t work out. I felt like a girl wondering why isn’t he responding to my text. Was it something I said?

 So second weekend in a row, no new friends and things are looking up. In the midst of this, I join lacrosse and get shown the light. The Alina light. Every afternoon, I receive a message stating the parties that are going on in Shanghai that night. It is usually the same 3-7 clubs depending on the night, holidays taking place or DJ’s in town. If you want to get wild on a Monday, we can make that happen. The complete upside to all of this is it is completely free. No cover. Free drinks. No catch. Well…..there’s always a catch. Is it free? Yes. Are the drinks free? Yes. Is it real alcohol in those drinks? Certainly not. Now I’m not a chemist or a bartender but whatever is in those bottles is pure poison. When you think about it, real alcohol is essentially poison anyway so what’s the difference? I have no clue other than the fact that I can get to a place at 11, stay till 3 and not spend a dollar. This is what keeps the FUN envelope afloat.

Now you probably have a few questions and let me try and answer some of them. 1) Why do they give you free booze? They are Chinese clubs that want foreign people to come to their fine establishments. They know what foreigners like: free poison.   
2) What does it taste like? OJ and poison.

3) Is it fun? Hmmmm it’s not not fun. You need to manage your expectations. Lots of people, loud music and a steady flow of cigarette smoke for your breathing pleasure. It is certainly not for everyone but there are enough of these places that once you get bored of one, there are more in the queue.

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4) What’s partying like in a non-free Chinese club? More expensive than zero and usually with less Chinese people depending on where you are going. There are gay bars, EDM spots, jazz, cocktail bars, rooftop patios and street drinking all for you to indulge in.

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5) What if you wanted to start drinking earlier? Free flow brunch. Pay $30 or so dollars and get a brunch meal and all you can drink mimosas, Heineken, Bloody Mary’s, wine and a few others things depending on where you end up from about 11:30 to 3:30 on the weekends. Free flow is a cultural bedrock of Shanghai. Going for Indian food? Free flow beer. Going to a going away party with friends? Free flow wine. After free flow is usually when the espresso martinis get brought out and then it is game over friend.

You can drink on the street here which is an element some people enjoy more than others. Taking taxis are fairly cheap but there are Chinese rickshaw people late at night who are less cheap. Shanghai also has tons of craft beers and their own breweries. Shanghai is a party but you need to have a few spots to start, go to and end your night. Partying isn’t all bad in Shanghai but next time you are out, take a sip of that real alcohol for me.

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“When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Then find someone who's life is
givin' them vodka and have a party!” 

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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