Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Aloha Spirit

Without a doubt, Hawaii is my favourite vacation spot. While I do not have the funds to go there very much (or at all, right now), I used to travel there almost every winter with my parents. They are currently there for six weeks so I thought that I might treat you some posts about my Vicarious Hawaiian Vacation. I don’t know how many posts I will be doing on this topic, and there will probably be other different posts as well, but this is something I would like to try. Possible topics might include Hawaiian history and culture, food and recipes, sights to see and maybe even some restaurants, though probably not full reviews. I may also use, in addition to my own pictures from previous travels, some pictures taken by my mom. If I do, I will attribute their source.

Perhaps the most unique feature of Hawaii is the multicultural harmony and understanding found there. This is the result of Hawaii’s ethnic makeup and history. Hawaii was uninhabited until about 1000 C.E., when the Polynesians found their way to the islands from further south, most likely the Marquesas Islands. Successive waves of Polynesian migration populated the islands until 1778, when the islands were “discovered” by Captain Cook, where he died the following year. For the next 40 years the islands became a stopping off point for Pacific merchant ships travelling between the west coast of North America and Canton, China. During these stopovers, various crewmen jumped ship and took up residence in the islands. They were joined by escapees from Botany Bay, the Australian prison colony. These settlers came from various European nations, particularly Spain and England, as well as the United States. In 1820, a company of Calvinist missionaries from New England arrived in the islands and received permission to land and teach Christianity. One of the reasons they were even permitted to teach a new religion is that less than a year prior, and after the voyage set sail, the king Kamehameha II, together with his mother Kaahumanu, overthrew the major tenets of the indigenous religion, leaving somewhat of a spiritual vacuum. The middle of the 19th century saw some significant shifts in demographics. First, the Hawaiians were decreasing in great numbers. Foreign-introduced diseases killed vast numbers of natives and in the 1850's many Hawaiians left for California, especially during the height of the gold rush. Starting in the 1860's, British, German and American businessmen started growing sugar cane in large quantities and they needed additional labour. Their first major source of labour came from contract labourers from China. This caused conflict as the white upper class was quite racist and became very upset when the workers settled in the cities when their contracts expired. Meanwhile, since the native population was still dying out at an alarming rate, the government wanted immigrants to be citizens and insisted on recruiting those that would be “suitable”. They brought in workers from the Azores and a few Germans, but the plantation owners preferred Chinese because they worked for less money. In the 1880's they began importing Japanese in ever increasing numbers. In the 1890's, the monarchy was overthrown by a group composed mostly of captains of industry, with the goal being annexation to the United States. When annexation finally came in 1900, Hawaii became subject to Oriental exclusion laws America had in place at the time. In response to this, the planters experimented with Puerto Ricans and, eventually brought in larger numbers of Filipinos, as the Philippines were at that time owned by the USA. Finally, beginning in the 1930's and expanding greatly during World War II, American military personnel came to Hawaii in great numbers to staff the many bases set up in Hawaii, such as Schofield Barracks and Pearl Harbor.

The result of all this immigration is a varied cultural mix. Furthermore, many of the cultural groups have intermarried. Hawaiians and Chinese married rather frequently and, especially in the early days, Hawaiian women got together with the Europeans as well. So, although pure blood native Hawaiians make up less than 2% of the population, some 30% or so claim to have some Hawaiian blood. However, not all groups practised this much intermarriage. For instance, until recently the Japanese would only marry other Japanese, sending home for “picture brides”. But it was not only through sex that the cultures mixed.

The most interesting way (for me anyway) is through food. Hawaiian food is, and always has been, true fusion food. The local tradition, still popular today, of the plate lunch shows how local food got started, as well as what it has become. Note that much of the immigration to Hawaii was for plantation labour. By the 20th century you would find many different ethnic groups working on the same plantations. There would be Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos and some Portuguese, along with a smattering of others (though the Portuguese were mainly supervisors). By the 1930's the plantations had “lunch wagons” which offered filling meals that catered to as many of the workers as possible. There are also some stories told by old-time locals of the workers of different cultures sharing their food in the field. From these sources came local food. The major basis is Chinese and Japanese food, with emphasis on rice and soy, but with far more meat than you would see in Asian cuisine. The plate lunch, now a local institution, is a cross between those lunch wagons and the Japanese bento box. It is a 3 - component meal served on a divided plate. A plate lunch consists of “two-scoop rice”, mac salad, and a meat dish. The rice is two portions of white rice, always served from an ice cream scoop, hence “two-scoop”. I have no clue why macaroni salad is so ubiquitous on the plate lunch, but it is, and makes the meal a starch overload. Finally, the meat is piled high, often with Asian flavouring. Teriyaki anything is very popular.

This racial, ethnic and cultural mix has led to a very particular attitude quite different from the rest of the United States. There seems to be a greater level of acceptance and tolerance there. I believe it is no coincidence that the first non-white President was born in Hawaii, of mixed-race parents. The classification of people by ethnic groups is much less common in Hawaii, primarily because there are so many people of mixed race, calling people, black, white, asian, or anything else is meaningless because so many people have a little bit of everything - how can you classify that?

There seems to be a certain quality inherent in the Hawaiian people that outsiders have attempted to identify for some time. The best anyone has come up with is the “Aloha Spirit” Aloha is a Hawaiian word of general greeting and affection. Most books will translate it as having the three meanings of “hello”, “goodbye” and “I love you”, but it really has one meaning that is far more significant and harder to translate. The concept of love and affection comes the closest analogue in our language and, because of this meaning, it is also used as a greeting, hence the meanings of hello and goodbye. Aloha is not just romantic love or friendship. It is a love of other people, society, the land and even a general state of mind that emphasizes caring and being loving. The locals usually make an effort to treat everyone “with Aloha”, meaning to have a friendly, caring attitude towards everyone around them. This is the “Spirit of Aloha” and what makes Hawaii so different from the rest of the United States. This spirit is expressed towards locals of all ethnic groups, and even to tourists, generally treated with contempt by most locals living in tourist destinations. To be sure, some places feature a small amount of resentment towards casual tourists, but this is uncommon and anyone who at least makes an effort to respect the culture is accepted graciously.

This aloha spirit makes Hawaii a very different place in the political sense as well. While the right-left split certainly exists there and can be just as deeply divisive, politics is normally conducted with a greater degree of civility than elsewhere, a quality sorely needed on the mainland now. Unlike in other states, attack ads during election campaigns are typically avoided, as they don’t work here. In fact they are more likely to generate a backlash and are typically used as a desperation tactic to revive a dead campaign, and it never works. On a related note, Hawaii will likely be one of the next states to legalize same-sex civil unions. I mentioned last summer that a bill had passed the legislature but was vetoed last-minute by the governor. It will be re-introduced, is even more likely to pass now and the new governor supports civil unions. In fact, the bill has already passed the state senate with a wide majority, less than a week after being introduced. It is also going to be a strong civil union, providing all the benefits of marriage, just not the title, because calling it marriage would require repealing a constitutional amendment. An interesting story: the author and sponsor of last year’s original bill is state house majority leader Blake Oshiro who is in fact gay, but the media and most other politicians have the good grace not to make a major issue of it. One group tried during his reelection campaign and it backfired badly. He never announced his orientation but when asked at one point last year, he affirmed he was gay but that it is of little importance in how he does his job. It seems Hawaii is on its way to where the rest of America should be. And I do believe this is related to the Aloha Spirit. In response to passing the civil union bill, state senator Malama Solomon said “Let's get beyond this. Let's realize what the spirit of aloha is all about, which means including people no matter their color, no matter their gender, no matter their lifestyle” (source Maui News). I think that says it all.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Can We Eat That?

In modern society we have knowledge of so many cultures, and our cuisines and palates have become more sophisticated. We will try many foods that have previously not been part of our native culture. This can be true either of cuisine styles or particular ingredients. From this form of globalization, there arises questions of cultural equivalency and whether it is morally correct to eat certain foods.

One example is that cui is a delicacy in Peruvian cuisine, but illegal to sell for food in Canada. Cui refers to guinea pig. In Peru, it is a very popular feast dish, served on special occasions. In North America, the guinea pig is primarily a child’s pet and it is illegal to sell them as food. Now this would not have been an issue were Peruvian cuisine not the latest popular food trend, with authentic Peruvian restaurants cropping up in many places in Canada. For instance, Montreal has an excellent high end Peruvian restaurant called Mochica (I have not reviewed them as my last visit was 2 years ago). They try to use authentic ingredients: the chef imports his spices from Peru and they feature llama (Quebec raised) on the menu. I would imagine, if cui were legal, they might consider offering it on occasion, perhaps as a special. Now most of you are probably disgusted at the idea of eating guinea pig, but rabbits are frequently eaten, and they are similar in the sense of also being a popular cute and cuddly pet for children.

This paradox raises the question of which foods are morally acceptable to eat and which, if any, are not. I am not referring here to religious proscriptions against certain classes of food. Since I do not follow the dietary laws of my own religion, it does not really concern me in a general societal sense whether or not others do. What I am trying to ascertain is whether some foods are morally unacceptable for all of society to consume. For instance, many animal rights groups are exerting pressure in various places in North America to ban the production and sale of Foie Gras, the fattened liver of ducks and geese. The reasoning behind the opposition is that, to produce foie gras, the ducks need to be force fed grain for a period of time, which some regard as cruelty. In 2006, Foie Gras was actually banned in the city of Chicago but only two years later the ban was overturned. My personal opinion is that there is no reason for foie gras to be banned. The first reason is that it is one of the world’s true gastronomic pleasures. The second, and more pertinent reason, is that, as far as cruelty in animal rearing is concerned, foie gras production is not overly cruel, and some other accepted practices are far worse. While you certainly would not want a tube shoved down your throat and force fed, people do not realize that geese and ducks do not have the same physiology as humans. The entrance to the human airway is in the back of the throat, but in birds is in the top of the bill. This means that ducks and geese do not have a gag reflex, so the insertion of the feeding tube is not painful. The actual force feeding process is for only 30 seconds at a time. Finally, this force feeding only occurs in the final weeks before slaughter; before that ducks are generally raised with a great deal of open space, and a great deal better than animals raised only for meat (foie gras is more commonly produced from ducks in North America, while geese are the more common source in Europe). I find it interesting that North American foie gras producers are usually willing to allow film crews and tv programs to bring cameras into their farms and barns, yet you almost never see the same access at high-density chicken farms. And on those rare occasions when we do get to see these conditions, it becomes obvious why the chicken producers want to hide their barns. The “living” conditions are atrocious - they are pumped full of antibiotics, primarily because most of them would catch diseases and die if this wasn’t done. That is why, when I post chicken recipes I stress the importance of avoiding the least expensive chickens, as they are the ones raised in these horrible conditions.

Getting back to my point, while some believe people should not eat foie gras, I have good reasons to refute their claims and have no moral problem with foie gras. Getting a little more controversial, in North America eating dog is generally considered abhorrent. I have personally never eaten dog and am not certain if I ever would. However, ancient Hawaiians and other Polynesians used to eat dog as a ceremonial food, as it was one of the few meats they had available. Even in modern times, dog is eaten by some in Korea and, I think, China. I only have two animals that I have determined I will never knowingly eat under any circumstances: cat and horse, because I have some deep personal connections with these animals. Now I know of no society that eats cats, but horse meat is frequently consumed in France and some other places in Europe. It is even offered for sale here in Montreal, even in some large supermarkets. I know some people have mistakenly purchased ground horse meat thinking it was ground beef. I have had wonderful equine friends over the years and could never let myself eat their meat. But the point is, some do.

As I mentioned earlier, immigration and globalization are bringing the culinary traditions of one society into another, possibly generating moral conflicts. I think the best way to deal with this is simply to go with the flow - at least as far as you are personally able. Apart from the two animals I have mentioned, I am open to trying pretty much anything. My mother cooked cuisines from around the world and I continue in that tradtion - I have even shared some of those recipes here with you. Since moving to Montreal I have eaten a wide variety of new foods and tried many different cuisines. In the past few years I have tried alligator, llama, kangaroo, octopus, oysters, goat, organ meats and offal of all kinds, and probably a bunch of other stuff I’ve forgotten about. On my trip to Washington D.C. I had Ethiopian food for the first time, leaving very few world cuisines I have not yet sampled. I believe that being open minded regarding food can also facilitate being open minded about other cultures and, by extension, other people. Back in University, I conducted a study that sought to find a relation between exposure to ethnic foods and a measure of Intercultural Sensitivity. This complicated-sounding measure simply is a test that seeks to determine one’s attitudes regarding openness and willingness to accommodate people from other cultures. I found that people who were culturally sensitive were more likely to have tried more of the examples of ethnic foods that I listed. I also recorded peoples’ willingness to try these foods, but found that actually trying these foods was more strongly related than willingness. To me, this implies that sensitivity and understanding of other cultures can likely be improved as much by practice as by having good intentions. So, as I am discussing ethnic foods, the lesson to take from my study is: just try it!

At least from my perspective, I think we can conclude that we can’t really apply any standard criteria to what foods are acceptable or not. We will always have personal standards and restrictions to what we choose to eat. Some, like me, may only have one or two potential foods they will not eat, while vegans and vegetarians have entire classes of foods they will never eat. So it comes down to personal choice, although I do believe that the more we are open to trying, the better. I invite your thoughts on this issue, or if you just want to share what your experiences have been.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pork Belly

Pork belly is a specialty ingredient - it cannot be found everywhere. Usually your best bet would be in a large Asian grocery or a Chinese butcher shop. If you are able to find suckling pig belly, it is an even more special treat. It has less fat, finer texture and a very delicate flavour. You are only likely to find this at a specialty butcher. I get it at a specialty butcher at Jean-Talon market specializing in pork and even they do not have it all the time. While the same basic ingredients and cooking methods work for both, the flavours and cooking times need to be modified so I will be showing two recipes: one for suckling pig and one for mature pork belly.

Recipe 1
2 kg suckling pig belly
olive oil
3 onions
5 cloves garlic
3 large carrots
1- inch piece ginger
1 cup dried white beans, soaked overnight
1 tblsp smoked paprika
½ cup chopped bacon
2 cups hard sparkling cider
2 cups ginger ale
2 bay leaves
1 tsp thyme
1 bunch collard greens
1 cup fresh plums, pitted and quatered

Recipe 2
2 kg pork belly
olive oil
3 onions
5 cloves garlic
3 ribs celery
3 large carrots
1 - inch piece ginger
½ cup chopped bacon
1 tblsp smoked paprika
1 cup red wine
3 cups cola
2 bay leaves
1 bunch collard greens
1 cup white or black beans, soaked overnight

Cut pork belly in manageable pieces and sear each piece and reserve.

Add bacon to the pan and fry until crispy. Add carrots and onions (and celery if using) and saute until onions are translucent, then add garlic and ginger and cook for 1 minute. Then add paprika and cook for 2 minutes. Add the liquids, followed by the beans and the herbs. Add the pork belly back to the pot (unless using suckling pig belly. In that case the beans need to cook for at least an hour first). Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for 3 hours. After 3 hours, cut the stems off the collard greens and roughly chop the leaves. Add collards to the pot and cook for 1 more hour, or until the pork belly is tender. Suckling pig belly takes about 2 hours to cook, while mature pork belly takes at least four hours, maybe longer. When the suckling pig version is almost cooked, add the plums and cook for another 10-15 minutes. You can try this with the mature pork belly as well - I'm just not sure about the balance.

Note that both recipes call for carbonated soda drinks. I know that many chefs like using cola with pork belly, as well as other carbonated drinks. I’m not really sure if carbonation does anything, especially considering the long cooking time. The flavours in cola are a good match for pork belly, but I changed things around for the suckling pig because the delicate flavour of this belly would be overwhelmed by the strong flavour of the cola. Cola would actually be an ingredient worth using more often if it were not for the heavy sweetness of the product. It works here because pork and pork fat combine well with sweet ingredients. Furthermore the sweetness is balanced not only by the bitterness in the cola, but also in the collard greens. The acidity of the wine is also helpful - just be sure to use a dry wine. The same goes for the apple cider in the suckling pig recipe, though ginger ale is a little less sweet than cola.

Friday, January 14, 2011

My Montreal - Pointe-a-Calliere

In my last post I described Old Montreal and I highly recommend it as a tourist attraction. One of the sights I highlighted was the Pointe-a-Calliere Archeological Museum. This is a fascinating place, and not just because of its unique architectural design. I will also describe an affiliate museum at Place Royale, across from Pointe-a-Calliere.

The museum is located in the heart of Old Montreal, on rue de la Commune, just across from the old port. The land it is built on is the oldest built-up part of Montreal - the first area of French settlement. The museum’s permanent exhibit, in the basement, delves into that story to a great extent, and I will save it for later in the post. Admission is $15CAD for adults. The first floor has a theatre that shows films relating to current exhibits. Featured temporary exhibits are located on the second floor. Last year, the display centred on Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island. I have a great deal of interest in native Polynesian culture and history, especially since I have become very knowledgeable regarding Hawaiian traditions. It was very interesting comparing the stories and artifacts from Rapa Nui with what I know about Hawaii. I remember there were some interesting figures that had sexual overtones (I do recall the museum offered some sanitized explanation). I don’t remember exactly - I should have taken some notes.

The third floor has a restaurant and the fourth floor is an observation tower, but the heart of the museum is the permanent archeological exhibit located in the basement. The exhibit displays original foundation walls and all the relics what was actually built on that spot throughout the history of Montreal. At the far end is the first cemetery of Montreal. Many of those interred there were killed by disease and war - there were both natives and settlers buried there. The bodies have long ago been exhumed and buried in other cemeteries when buildings were built on the site but burial cavities are still visible.

Underneath the museum building are the foundations of several different structures that have been there over time, most recently an insurance company building. The building’s supports were somewhat unstable and had to be repeatedly reinforced. Part of the cornerstone of the old building, together with its supports are preserved for view near the elevator. Continuing downstairs, you will find an old sewage collector. This was originally the St. Pierre river, a small stream, which was later converted into an acqueduct. Above the sewer line is currently Place d’Youville. A modern water main runs along the same course and is identified. There are future plans to open up the old collector sewer and allow visitors to explore this as well. The entire exhibit follows the theme of the different uses of a specific physical location throughout Montreal’s history. There are interactive maps that show what was in the immediate area during different eras.

You can now continue underground where there are the remains of several house plots, old fortifications and a public square. These are underneath Place Royale. Place Royale was the site of the first public market in Montreal and the residence of the seigneur, the aristocrat in charge of the city’s governance. Inside Place Royale, is a museum exhibit that celebrates the many cultures of Montreal’s residents. There are videos from several interfaith couples, a multimedia display recounting food traditions of various cultural groups, as well as cultural artifacts and personal items that in some way celebrates the diversity of our residents. You can enter either from the street or from Pointe-a-Calliere through the underground exhibits.

There is continuing archeological work going on underneath this section of the city, so this museum may be expanded and even more interesting in the future. Even as it is now, it is one of the best parts of Old Montreal.

Friday, January 7, 2011

My Montreal - Old Montreal

Perhaps one of the best known tourist attractions in Montreal is the old city and port of Montreal, generally referred to as Old Montreal. It is a trip back in time with narrow, cobblestone streets, ornate churches, historic buildings and museums. There are also boutique hotels and some of the city’s best restaurants. It is on the water and right next to the modern downtown core. The area is best seen on foot, but there is one other option. Coleche, or horse-drawn carriage rides are available in what I call the liveable months (ie. not winter), though I noticed that they were also conducting some of these carriage rides right before Christmas. If you like the idea of carriage rides this may be something to do.

I will describe the sights of Old Montreal from East to West, though the order can certainly be reversed. I will also be listing more things that you would probably consider seeing in one walking tour, but then not all these places would interest every reader. Choose what sounds most interesting to you. The images of Old Montreal are what make the place special, so this post will be more reliant on photos than is usual for me.

View Larger Map

To get to Old Montreal, there are three metro stations on the orange line that pass by the northern edge of Old Montreal - Square Victoria, Place d’Armes and Champs-de-Mars. Several downtown hotels are not far away either, so you might consider walking the whole way if you are up for it. Heading to Old Montreal from Champs-de-Mars station, the first building you see will be City Hall on the right as you go up the hill. After you cross Notre Dame street, there are two big attractions across from city hall. The first is Chateau Ramezay, a historic home that has stood for 300 years.

It was the residence of the first governor of Montreal and played a crucial role in Montreal’s history. When the Americans invaded Canada during the war of 1812, the home was occupied by the US leadership, including Ben Franklin. At other times it has been a school, and for a long time now a museum. The collection shows artifacts from the various time periods in Montreal’s history, and chronicles the various occupants of the building. In back there is a garden patterned after 19th century gardens. The garden can be entered free of charge, while admission to the museum proper is $10 CAD. There is a small patio overlooking the garden that is used during the summer for lunches by a restaurant a few steps away. The restaurant is Club Chasse et Peche and I may give a review of this restaurant if I can remember enough about my visit there (it was at least a year ago).

Next to the chateau is a must visit location: Place Jacques Cartier. This is a public square that slopes down to the port and the centre of many activities. It is lined with restaurants (most seem like tourist traps to me, though). Often you will find buskers or art displays or other goings on. A block back to the east is Marche Bonsecours, a historic building now a shopping destination, with a fair amont of high end merchandise.

From the market heading west, Rue St. Paul is closed to vehicle traffic during the summer through the busiest part of Old Montreal, making things very pedestrian friendly. St. Paul has shops, galleries and restaurants that can keep a shopper busy for hours. Many of them are souvenir stores, but there are some nice art galleries and some stores actually have good stuff. Some restaurants seem to not be worth it, but I know there are many good restaurants on this street.

At St. Laurent, you will find one of the entry points to the Old Port. Montreal’s Science Centre is located there, which includes an IMAX theatre. There are many temporary events or exhibits that locate at the port. Last summer there was a Cirque de Soleil show and a wildlife art exhibit, among other things. The fireworks for Canada Day and New Year’s usually take place here as well. There are places to rent paddleboats and other activities as well. There are also tree-lined paths for walking.

Continuing on, consider heading back uphill at St. Sulpice. At the top of the hill, between St. Jacques and Notre Dame, is Place d’Armes, a nice public square. I won’t say much about what you will find there, as major construction took place last year, so it will probably be different. There is also the Notre Dame basilica, a beautifully constructed church. They hold Christmas concerts every year. In this area there are several boutique hotels, most of them with restaurants. In this section of Old Montreal, it is hard to go wrong, as most of the restaurants are quite good. I can not be more specific because I have an employment relationship with one or more of these establishments. Also, if you wish to step out of Old Montreal, our Chinatown is just two blocks away - look for the Holiday Inn that looks like a Chinese pavillion. It doesn’t really compare to, say, New York, San Francisco or even Toronto, but there are some good restaurants and grocery stores.

Back at the waterfront, and a little further east, is one of my favourite locations in Old Montreal. It is Place Royale and Pointe-a-Calliere Archeological Museum. While they are two separate buildings, they are connected underground and one admission fee covers both. They explore the history and people of Montreal and deserves its own post, which will follow shortly.

The remaining eastern portion of Old Montreal is not as interesting and in a bit of disrepair, but there are a couple things worth seeing. One option is to continue along near the water, where you will find the Maritime and Shipping Museum. I have not been there, but is probably worth a look, especially if you like boats. There is a historic tugboat on display near the museum.

Otherwise, follow place d’Youville, which is much more picturesque. There is a monument worth seeing and a historic fire station, another part of the museum. There are two worthwhile restaurants here, Gibby’s - a rather famous steakhouse- and a small, old school french, bistro that I like very much - La Gargote. In the summer, they have a patio with an atmosphere I really enjoy. Old Montreal ends at University, where there are more restaurants. We are getting into the financial district so most of the restaurants are a little pricier, but are supposed to be quite good.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Two Sides of Me

Before I begin my first post of 2011, I must first wish a Happy Birthday to my mom. Yes, she was born on New Year’s and, as a result, it’s almost impossible to forget her birthday. Happy Birthday and I love you!!


In the About Me section on the sidebar, I mention that Evan is not my real name, and I believe I very briefly mentioned why I chose this name in an early post. In the past month, more people who know me in real life have begun to read my blog and I have plans to expand my readership. That is why at this point I have decided to tell everyone my real name. My name is Asa Goldman, but apart from my name, everything I have told you about myself thus far is accurate. I won’t really be divulging many more details about my personal life than I already do, as some things must always remain private. I also now have several family members who are aware of this blog and I need to respect their privacy as well. So why am I doing this? I have told my new readers beforehand that I use a pseudonym, so why would I take this extra step? The reasons for that decision are the topics of this post. But before I get on to that, I would like you all to know that, for the purposes of blogging, I plan at this time to continue using the name of Evan here and on other blogs where I comment, for the sake of clarity and continuity. Feel free to continue addressing me as Evan, but if some of you feel more comfortable using my real name, that is fine as well.

This has a lot to do with the way in which I chose to come out and my discovery of this online community. I first stumbled across Amar’s World in April at a time when I was finally beginning to accept that I was gay. I was still not out to anyone at this time. I was hooked on the blog instantly and read it for a month before I had the courage to post a comment for the first time. Now as you now know, my name is rather distinctive so I was afraid that, if I used my real name when commenting, someone might stumble across these comments and recognize me, because there really aren’t that many people named Asa. So I decided to use the name Evan, after a family friend, the only person around my age I knew who was openly gay at the time. I’m sure that I’ve mentioned this before but reading Amar’s blog gave me more reassurance and the courage to start coming out. In June I began by telling my parents and, shortly thereafter, I decided to start my own blog. As I continued to develop the blog and do more online, including continuing to comment on Amar’s World and other blogs, I began to notice something. The first thing is that I found a community where I can truly be myself, where being gay is just part of existence - neither a negative nor an obsession. This community feeling, combined with the development of my writing showed my that, while I try very hard to remain true to myself in my writing, there were two distinct identities forming within myself. First there is Asa, the person I am in real life. I have always been very shy and quiet, and ill at ease in social situations. I say very little, especially if I am in a group or I don’t know the person I’m conversing with well. I have noticed that “Evan” is different. While Evan is still not especially outgoing and does tend to be very deliberative when it comes to social interaction, there is a lot more assertiveness present and he is far more likely to say what is on his mind. Now obviously both Asa and Evan are me. But Evan is a lot more like the me I want to be. I know that being too meek has held me back in many areas, including my work and getting an active social life. It seems to me Evan would do far better, with the same knowledge, the same personality, but more confidence and assertiveness. I realize that it is in part the anonymous nature of the Internet that allows me to be more forthcoming. Another reason Evan comes across as more well spoken is that, when writing online, I can take time to choose my words and be sure that I am saying exactly what I want. While it is probably only going to take you a few minutes to read this, I have taken almost a week to write it. If I were to do this in real life I would be taken for an idiot, as I would spend most of my time saying nothing at all. Unfortunately, this often results in my staying quiet during social occasions, as I’m not sure exactly what I want to say. Despite these complications, my goal is to try to transfer this openness to my offline life.

So why am I mentioning this now? With the New Year upon us, I see this realization that I have two sides of myself as an avenue for improvement. I never really had any concept of how I could become more assertive in my everyday life, but what I have been able to do as Evan gives me some possibilities. I was able to tell Amar and his readers through my comments that I was gay even before I went to tell my parents, and they were the first people to whom I was able to openly admit this. Since then I have told several more people and have now reached a level of comfort where I am fully comfortable with this information being generally known. It’s not like I’m going to walk up to people and say “Hi, I’m gay!” but I want to be free to make certain statements and publicize them through media like my Facebook if I so desire. And if the topic comes up in conversation, it doesn’t matter if friends or family happen to mention this information to others. I am not deluded to the point that I don’t realize there are haters out there but I honestly don’t have the time for it. If someone can’t handle my being gay, that’s their problem, not mine.

Well, it is now the year 2011. I have been writing this over the course of the past week, and I am now writing this section early on January 1. The year did not end the way I wanted it to, but I can see a new beginning for the next year. I will probably be looking to change my field of work because, while cooking is probably my greatest passion, I am starting to realize the restaurant industry is not right for me. The frantic pace, the lack of security and low pay are just getting to be too much to stomach, especially as I will be 30 in less than a year. I have a university degree and some experience in other fields, so there are easier ways to make money in ways that I can actually use my intellectual abilities. In addition to getting a better job, my other goal for the new year is to find a boyfriend. I spent this New Year’s alone, and I would rather not do that next year. One never knows if these future goals will actually be met within a specific time frame, but at least I have specific goals on which to focus. I am also trying to enter the new year with a positive attitude, and I’m sure that will help.