NOSTALGIC

Over the weekend, I began to think about the beforetimes, when you didn’t have to worry about your health while travelling. I thought about all the hotels I’ve stayed in and the places I’ve visited. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, so my memories are the only things I’ve got for now in terms of travel.

You’d think I’d start reminiscing about the fancier hotels I’ve stayed in but for some reason, my mind wandered to the time that I stayed one night at a Ramada Plaza by Newark Airport in New Jersey. I didn’t realize it when I booked it but this hotel is located right next to one of New Jersey’s state prisons.

You might be wondering why I stayed at such a place for one night. It was because I was going to NYC for a wedding and my hotel in Manhattan wasn’t ready the evening I got to the tri-state area. I made the economical decision to stay at a hotel near the airport for one short night before heading to Manhattan for the rest of my stay.

The Ramada wasn’t a great hotel but it wasn’t terrible either. It was merely satisfactory for a single night. The rooms were dated and the decor looked old. It hadn’t been through a remodel in probably decades and the furniture was cheap looking. Even if the rooms were sparkling clean, the age of the rooms would make you feel like it was still dirty in places.

The lobby was loud for some reason, lots of people loitering around and making noise. It felt more like a community centre than a hotel. There was a constant stream of delivery drivers coming through the lobby, delivering food to guests. I was tempted to order a pizza myself. There were also some unsavoury looking people wandering through the hallways. Now, I don’t want to associate the closeness of state prison to the presence of these unsavoury folks but I did wonder if some of the people staying at the hotel were here to visit the inmates. Logically, if you had to travel to New Jersey to visit someone incarcerated in that prison, this hotel was literally next door, so it made sense.

I only stayed one night there, probably only around 12 hours in total but I’ve never forgotten it. The place was a bit weird and I would have absolutely hated it had I even needed to stay one more night. It was also the closest I’ve been to a state prison as well. All these things made for a memorable one night stay.

I spent more time than I’d like to admit looking at pictures of the hotel online to trigger some of my memories. The hotel seems to have gone under a remodel sometime in the eight years since I was there last. It looks a bit better now. Even with the remodel though, I would not want to go back there again.

I am looking forward to the next time I can check into a hotel again.

EYE FOLLOW-UP

In a previous post, I wrote about how my left eye looked like it had exploded with blood. I had my follow-up appointment with the optometrist today. My eye has been slowly looking and getting better. It still looks a bit bloodshot but it’s certainly not the dark, red splotches of blood that were in my eye just a week ago.

When I was at the eye clinic today, I told the doctor the day after I saw him, I woke up to a bunch of dried and crusted blood in the corner my eye. The blood “blister” on the surface of my eye had burst, which made it feel better actually. I get the feeling that while my condition isn’t serious as he said, he hasn’t seen anything like this in a long time, just based on his reaction to blister breaking.

He checked my eyes again today and he gave me the all clear. He also printed out a prescription for eye glasses. As I mentioned before, my left eye isn’t great at reading things at a distance compared to my right. Based on his testing, he thinks it’s not critical that I get glasses at this point, as my right eye is good enough to compensate. It’s good to know that I have the prescription with me though, as I can now decide to get glasses whenever I want.

FEELS LIKE FALL

There is currently a rainfall warning for the greater Vancouver area. After last week’s fires, both continental and locally, the rain doesn’t seem so bad. The temperatures have also dropped a few degrees. For the first time in months, all of the highs this week will be below 20 degrees Celsius. Thankfully, the lows will still be in the teens.

It’s officially fall now, so the shorts will be going away, to be replaced by jackets, pants, hats, maybe even scarves? This is the first fall season I’ve experienced while enduring a global pandemic. I’ve read that there is some concern about going into the traditional cold and flu season with the pandemic. I can see how that would complicate things. I’m not really looking to have a very exciting fall season. Instead of things getting better, they seem to be getting worse now. The smart thing to do is to continue to limit your risks. I’m alright with that. My employer has stated there is going to be some sort of evaluation of the work from home situation in October. They’ve been prudent, smart, and logical about the situation since the beginning but my fear is that they do something stupid and declare a mass return to our studio locations. It doesn’t seem likely they would do that and I am sure if they did, there would be a considerable amount of people who would object and more than a few would quit their jobs in protest.

We’re less than three weeks away from Thanksgiving!

NEW PHONE

My new phone finally arrived last week. I wrote in an earlier post that I had purchased the phone case weeks in advance of actually getting the phone. The Pixel 4a is an excellent phone for its price and intended audience. In a world where flagship phones now cost well above $1,000, the Pixel 4a is less than $500. It’s not the cheapest phone out there but it does a lot of things really well. It runs the purest form of Android, unfettered by additional bloatware or a new UI built by the phone manufacturer. It will receive the latest Android updates from Google first, before most phones will.

One could argue the camera on the Pixel 4a is the best thing about it. The camera on my old phone, the Nokia 8 had been broken for almost a year. It wouldn’t focus properly, so all my shots were essentially blurry to the point they were unusable. On the off chance, the camera could focus for a split-second, the photos it took were incredibly washed out. It looked like the world was a dull and lifeless place in those photos. The camera on the Pixel 4a is several orders of magnitude better than my old phone, even when it was working fine. The shot you see above is from the “night sight” mode which uses a fair amount of image processing to create low-light photos. I had to take a rare selfie today to verify my identity for an online bank. I loathe taking selfies but I turned on the feature that smoothed out my features and the photo my phone took made me look amazing. I wish I looked like that in real life. It removed all my rough looking features without destroying all the details in the photo. I need to set it up using a tripod but when I do, I can try the astrophotography mode, which as you might have guessed, allows you to photograph the night sky.

One other thing I have to mention about this phone is the screen. Most people gloss over this part of the phone but it’s something that blew me away. The display is an OLED with HDR support. I have never owned an OLED screen nor have I owned any display with proper HDR support. Some of you with flagship phones might take such displays for granted now but I do not. Watching videos on this phone is simply amazing. When a scene goes to black or portions of it go black, it’s like looking into an inky black endless void. It’s an amazing amount of contrast. The screen also is capable of getting bright enough that the HDR highlights really pop in videos, like when direct sunlight is filtering through trees. I didn’t know that an image could look so realistic.

I had planned on getting an OLED TV sometime in 2021 but I wasn’t sure if it would be worth it. Now that I’ve seen what this tiny OLED screen can do, I know getting an OLED TV won’t be a waste.

Anyways, I’m super happy with the Pixel 4a and I hope to use it for at least three years. I’m crossing my fingers the world will still be here at that time.

POWER OUTAGE

There is a scheduled power outage for my apartment building tonight. I feel like my apartment building loses power for maintenance way more often than other buildings.

In this latest case, the power went off at 10pm, which I think is hella early. It is scheduled to come back on at 6am. Previously, they often bring the power back on ahead of schedule, so I’m hoping this is the case again.

I’m currently writing this post on my phone because I was too lazy to get all of this done earlier. I may just go to bed now since there’s not much I can do without power.

I am thinking about all my defrosting food in my freezer right now.

CLEAN AIR AND SKIES

This time exactly one week ago was a bad time for almost everyone in my neighbourhood. The air, already choked from the smoke from the wildfires down south, was made 100x worse by a local fire at the waterfront pier. Creosote soaked wood burned out of control, producing toxic smoke. It was a challenging week of keep windows closed and air purifiers on maximum.

By this weekend however, a few days of rain and favourable winds had pushed the wildfire smoke out of the way. The local fire was also put under control. The result was a weekend of sunny and clear, blue skies. More importantly, the air was once again fresh, clean, and breathable. Last Sunday, when I dared to open even a tiny fraction of my windows during the local fire, the air quality sensor in my apartment read 70 micrograms per cubic meter of harmful particulates. Ideally, that value should be around 10 or less. Today, that value now reads at 7 or below. I can open the windows as far as I want. For most of this week, the temperature in my apartment ranged between 25 and 26 degrees Celsius. It was too hot for me. It’s now around 22 degrees, which is much more comfortable.

I imagine that this week has revealed to some people that they have taken the clean air of this city for granted. Not to sound smug or anything but I have not. When I was kid, my family went to Hong Kong a few times. After being out in the city for the day, I remember coming back to the hotel and my boogers would be black. Blowing my nose into a tissue would leave it like I rubbed charcoal on it. My parents explained to my sister and I that the air here was not like at home. It was dirty and probably not that great for us. I learned that trip that not everyone has the opportunity to breathe in clean air on a daily basis. Millions of people are stuck in cities where they are choked by dirty air and unfortunately, it’s just something they have to deal with.

There have been many times where I’ve travelled somewhere and when I come back home, I know I’m back not only because my eyes tell me so, but also my lungs. That unmistakable clean air I’m very thankful for.

So, what this week did make me realize is that we and I’m not sure who is encompassed by that “we”, we need to make progress in preventing the large scale wildfires that burned up and down the coast of this continent that lead to the majority of the smoke that blanketed large swaths of North America. I’m not expert in this but as a first guess, I’m thinking it probably involves a lot of money and also education.

Well, at least we can just go back to worrying about the global pandemic now.

END OF WEEK

I am so glad it is the end of the week. This whole week of dealing with the smoke, some of it toxic, the poor air quality in general, and having to basically close all my windows was a bit stressful. All of this happening under the existing global pandemic.

What I didn’t mention last week is that last Thursday, a blood vessel popped in my left eye. It started out as a small amount of blood in the white of my eye but by Friday morning, there was a lot more blood and what looked like a blood blister forming on the surface of my eye ball. I freaked out a bit but I was able to see an optometrist on the same day. Luckily, none of this involved any pain (just a bit of irritation), nor was my vision affected. It just looked really gross. I can’t remember the last time I went to the optometrist and really, why would I since I don’t wear glasses. This may have been my first time visiting one.

The optometrist was a super nice guy, with an excellent bedside manner. He examined my eyes, including the bloodied one. He re-assured me that while it was pretty nasty looking, this was common condition that would go away on its own. He did warn me that it would not be an overnight recovery. It could take several weeks for the blood to clear. We also did an eye test, which confirmed what I’ve known for a long time, that my left eye is worse than my right eye. With just my right eye alone, I passed all the reading tests but I wouldn’t have been able to do that with my left eye by itself. I guess glasses are an option for me but not entirely necessary. They booked a follow-up appointment for me, two weeks later.

When I woke up on Saturday morning, I noticed that there was some crusty dried blood in the corner of my left eye and a tiny blood stain on my pillow. The blood blister on the surface of my eye had burst slightly and some of the blood spilled out dried while I was sleeping. While this gross to see, whatever slight irritation was there before was now gone. My left eye continued to look horrific and I wore sunglasses whenever I went outside so people wouldn’t be freaked out.

The next morning, I noticed a bit more dried blood in the corner of my eye but that was the last of it. All this week, the blood has been very slowly clearing from my eye. It’s still pretty disgusting to look at but I can now see parts of the whites of my eye where there used to be just blood. Bleh.

The doctor was indeed correct, at this rate, it will take several weeks for it look to all healed again. Don’t take your eyes for granted and it’s not a bad idea to get your eyes to get checked out about once a year, even if you don’t wear glasses or contacts.

RELIEF

I wouldn’t classify today as great by any measure. Though it was cloudy and I couldn’t see any sun at all, it was oddly hot and gross inside my apartment. I checked and the temperature didn’t dip below 25 degrees Celsius all day. Because of the bad air quality outside, I still have to keep my windows relatively closed. As such, the air inside was hot, muggy, and stale. I sweated throughout the day and I was a stinking mess by the end of afternoon.

By 5pm though, I could see the smoke had lessened a bit. Instead of not being able to see even a block away, I could see several blocks away. Don’t get me wrong, the area is still blanketed with a layer of haze and smoke, but at least that haze and smoke isn’t as dense as it was before.

This evening, I opened up my windows a bit more than I had before. I just wanted to get some more “fresh” air into my apartment and hopefully cool it down. I’m keeping an eye on my air quality sensor. It shows that opening the windows more definitely does make the particulate count go higher, but it’s not dramatically higher. In return, the air feels less suffocating and my skin doesn’t feel like it has this slime on it. Strangely, while it feels cooler now in the evening, the thermometers I have in my apartment show the temperature hasn’t budged at all. When I woke up this morning it was 25 degrees Celsius in my bedroom and it’s now about 2am and it’s still 25 degrees Celsius.

It shouldn’t be this hot in the middle of September on a day where I didn’t see any sun. I know for many years I’ve wished for warm September days but that was supposed to be accompanied with clear and blue skies and fresh, clean air.

It will be probably a few weeks before everything will be normal again and by normal, I mean only having to deal with a global pandemic. It is a sign that this year is so terrible that I am actually wishing we go back to the good old days of only having to worry about washing your hands and social distancing.

I am going to bed now.

RAIN

It rained a bit today which helped a bit with the massive amount of smoke in the area. It now looks like there’s just a “normal” amount of smoke out there instead of the crap-ton there was because of the distant wildfires plus the plumes of toxic smoke from the pier being on fire.

The hallway of my apartment doesn’t overwhelmingly smell of creosote anymore. They must have changed the ventilation a bit since air no longer is being forced into my apartment via the gaps in my front door. This caused me to tape close my door to prevent toxic air from seeping into my apartment.

It feels safe enough for me to open my windows just a bit more to get fresher air in. I’ve been using my air quality sensor to figure out if I’ve opened my windows too much. A spike in the amount of particulate matter means I’ve gone too far. It’s difficult to be precise however, since just a random shift of wind might cause air quality to drop.

The air is fresher in my apartment now but I definitely wouldn’t call it as fresh as walking in a grassy meadow in the countryside. There’s still a lingering staleness to everything. I can still feel it on my skin, like it coats it in a grimy mess.

I’ve been talking about it for days but I think I might actually go to my parent’s place tomorrow.

A CHALLENGE

The fire I mentioned in my last post has made the neighbourhood I live in a difficult place to be. The fire was controlled late last night but continued to burn through until the morning. I’m still not sure the last of it has been extinguished.

By the time I went to bed, the toxic smoke had joined the already thick wildfire smoke that had been blanketing the city. It took me a while to fall asleep but I eventually did. I woke to find that fire was going to and had already affected a fair number of things around the city. A public warning was issued by my municipality to stay away from my neighourhood as the toxic smoke made it dangerous for anyone to be outside. Anyone who has the current misfortune of living in this area, was warned to stay inside and close all windows and doors to the outside.

Businesses in a several block radius around the fire decided to close for the day due to the danger from the smoke. Schools in this district were closed mid-day due to the smoke as well. Some of these schools were kilometres away, yet the fire was able to affect them from afar. City services were closed and some pubic facilities did not open for the day.

I found out that many people who work at my studio, also live in my neighbourhood. Photos of the fire were shared on Slack, all taken from their respective homes. One of my co-workers on my immediate team lives very close to where the fire is and informed the team the smoke was making him and his wife ill, so they decided to pack up and leave for the day. I don’t blame him and if needs to stay away for a few more days, then he absolutely should.

I am thinking of either going to my parents’ place for at least a night or maybe taking advantage of some hotel deals downtown. By keeping my windows barely open by just a crack, I have been able to keep the air quality reasonably acceptable but it leaves the air feeling stale. While my air quality sensor measures the number of particulates in the air, it does not measure the amount of oxygen in it. This air, while relatively “clean”, feels like it’s old and suffocating. I have this odd sensation that the stale air is clinging to my skin. It’s a gross feeling.

I have a strong desire to throw open my windows as wide as they can go to bring in fresh and cool air but I know it will also invite the toxic air into my home. So, the alternative is to sit in this old, hot, gross, stale but “clean” air and try to survive.

I’ll see what if the situation improves tomorrow but it just doesn’t seem too smart to just sit in this toxic cloud for days at a time.