William Ashley Warehouse Sale

With all the hoopla surrounding the William Ashley annual warehouse sale, I decided to take the plunge and see what the fuss was all about this year. Since about two years ago, my coworkers have been raving about it at this time of the year. All I’ve ever heard was that the line-ups were always so long. That, and nobody comes out empty-handed.

This past Sunday was an invitation only event for American Express holders. And seeing as it was so close to my home, all signs were leading to it already. Checking the website, it said it would open at 10am. My current coworker whom had gone previous years informed me that people would be lining up from as early as 7am and that if you go during the day, you will for sure have to wait a good 2-3 hours just to get in.

So, inviting my brother and his fiancee along, we made it a point to get there for 8:30am; an hour and a half early should do the trick. As I got there, cars were already parked on the streets just outside the warehouse. Peeking in, I noticed a line of about 20 people or so under the white tent. We decided to head to Tim Horton’s beforehand to grab some breakfast and coffee for the wait.

Upon entering the tent with our coffee and bagel in hand, we were told to line up at either the cart or box line. We thought to ourselves, carrying a box would be easier to navigate through the warehouse. And besides, how much would be buy anyway? So off we went to the box line.

At that moment, someone stood up at the podeum at the front. She said a few words to welcome the crowd that was now about 30 or so people. She said the first person to line up here today was at 7am, and on Thursday – which was their first invitation only day – was at 6:30am! She said a few words and then told us to get ready as no food or drinks were permitted inside. We looked at each other with perplexed looks since it was only 8:30am and by the sounds of it, she was letting us in already.

I quickly downed my medium double single and threw the cup in the garbage. Then another lady manning the line said that she would let the cart people in first just to get them out of the way. Strange, but fine. So the cart people merrily went in. Little did the clueless lady at the front know, that more and more people started coming in and lining up at the cart line. Everyone at the box line was just sitting there like ducks.

The lady momentarily stopped the cart line from going in. The people in front of me noticed the stupidity of all of this, and moved over to the cart line. We figured she would now let the box line go through so we just stayed. However, shortly after, she again started letting the box line go in. This was ridiculous! There’s no chance that I’m letting all these people who came after I did, go in front of me just because they chose the cart line. A little ticked off, I told her, “this is ridiculous, let us in!” and found myself just walking in regardless of what she said. Of course, she couldn’t have cared less and didn’t even stop us.

So now that the getting in was over with, I was confronted with what was to become the largest shopping spree of this year (thus far) for me! I looked around the first department, which housed some home furnishings, furniture, and some kitchen gadgets. Then it occurred to me that this was a perfect place to look for my much wanted cake stand. I looked around and even asked a staff, but she couldn’t really tell me where to go since different styled cake stands were literally scattered all around the warehouse.

It took me a while to get into the buying mode, but soon enough, I found myself putting one item from here and one item from there into my cart. From picture frames to rolling pins to glass containers to towels, my cart was filled with things that I didn’t know I needed until I saw them!

Out of everything that I bought, the most exciting thing for me must have been the cake plate, chef’s knife, and cutting board – as plain as it was.

  • I was eyeing that cutting board at another store for the longest time but didn’t buy it because of the price. But since my current one was slowly getting used, and this one was in fact at the cheapest price I’ve ever seen it, I was happy with the purchase.
  • Ever since my chef’s knife broke about a month ago, I’ve been on the lookout for another knife to use. My brother highly recommended I invest in an expensive knife since it will make cooking a lot easier. My gf, however, thought an inexpensive one will do just fine. So when I was perusing the selection of fine knives, a staff member came up to me and asked if I needed any assistance. I told him I was looking for a general purpose cooking knife and he immediately brought me to the Wüsthof Classic Cook’s Knife. I looked at it in the package as he explained to me that this is the one knife that can do everything I need it to do, and more. I was a little reluctant at it first noticing the price of $109.00. But then everything changed when he told me, here, let me open the package so you can feel it for yourself. I took a grip at it and instantly noticed that it was by far the most comfortable knife that I have ever held in my hand – not that I have held too many, mind you ;). The balance between the blade and the handle was so perfectly aligned that I could hold the knife with ease with just one finger. Complete with a finger guard, this knife had the markings of a sold sign in my head. I noticed the Santoku designed knife sitting beside it, and enquired about it. He opened the package and let me hold that one. Hmm… not the same comfort; a little off balanced; and no finger guard… but still the same quality of knife with the Santoku design that asians are most accustomed to. It wasn’t long before I decided for the traditional knife complete with the kullens to prevent food from sticking to the knife. With an investment like this, I would naturally need to take good care of it… so I picked up a knife sharpener hoping to hone my skills in sharpening knives and getting that 20 degree angle right on. I swear, just holding that knife makes me happy I bought it!
  • And finally last but not the least, my long overdue cake stand! To my dismay, there were not decent cake stands that caught my attention. Of course, I could have gone with a hand-made Waterford Crystal cake stand at an insane price, but no. I managed to find a half-decent cake plate that I wasn’t too crazy about at first but thought that it would do the job well. As I made my final round within the warehouse, I noticed something shiny on the wall near the entrance. I had completely skipped this wall on my way in – the horror! It was a good thing I went there because sitting on that wall, was this even more beautiful plate that caught my attention immediately. I picked it up and admired the heaviness and thickness of this piece of glass. The sticker on it said Nachtmann – A Division of Riedel Glassworks. Oooh, I thought to myself, “it’s Riedel, the wine glass maker!” I admired the cut and finishing on this plate, compared it side-by-side with the other plate that I had first chosen. After a thorough and painstaking comparison, I had come to the conclusion that at $29.99 – which was a few dollars more than the other one – it was worth the cost just because of the looks alone. With 24% lead crystal, this beauty was going to display my cakes in pure shininess heaven. I loved it even more after I got home and paired it up with my commercial grade cake dome that I had bought years ago in a Syracuse restaurant supply store for US$13, and it was a match made in baking heaven. Now, I just have to bake something worthy to go in there.

With over $400 in damages, and 5 hours later, we walked out of the William Ashley warehouse sale definitely not empty-handed. I noticed the lineup was out of the tent and well onto the streets, which would have been a good 2-3 hours’ wait. To boot, I checked my receipt after I got home and noticed that the cashier missed some items! An even sweeter deal indeed.

So for all you folks wanting to get something out of the sale this year, I recommend you go as early as you can to avoid any lineups. The sale is on until December 7, and is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Go nuts!

Art of Jazz vs. Luminato

Today marked my first day of volunteering for the Luminato festival. It was both educational and entertaining.

Backtracking a week to last weekend, I volunteered at the Art of Jazz festival held at the Distillery District. It was my fourth year volunteering for this festival and as always, it proved to be a fun time. Despite not being able to see many shows this year, it was still a good time as I manned the Media Centre for the festival. Handing out media passes and tickets to media reps and contest winners, I was able to converse with fellow photographers who do what I do as a hobby, as a living. I got to talking with the house photographer, who happened to be an ex-Toronto Star photographer. He was very kind and even agreed to having me shadow him throughout the event if the publicist okayed the idea. Although I knew she would have said yes, I decided to stay put and work an extra shift on the weekend. I was able to meet some interesting people along the way, which made the shifts go by quickly. That is always part of the fun in volunteering for these kind of things.

Now, one week later, I find myself at my first shift in Luminato, Toronto’s premier festival for Art and Creativity. I helped usher the crowd in and out at the Varsity Arena for the Black Watch performance (which by the way, was a fabulous performance with some great choreography). It was a sold out event with double bookings and even the front of house manager told us that the volunteers this time may not get a chance to sit in. Fortunately seconds before the show began, seats miraculously opened up and we were able to sit in, in a rather prime area.

Third row from the front, right in the middle of the stage, the four of us sat together, the performance that had many people talking afterwards.

After volunteering for just one event in Luminato though, it was evident at the amount of money that went into this event. Nowhere in comparison to the Art of Jazz festival, Luminato has an army of volunteers, an in-your-face marketing strategy, and plenty of money to go around to fund the creation and support of various events throughout the festival.

After talking to one of the other volunteers about this, she mentioned that Luminato, because of political reasons, and the many connections that the founder has, is able to get an enormous amount of funding, even from the provincial government.

In its first year last year, the festival was announced in January and the event held in June, a mere 6 months later. It was able to get as much as $17 million in funding to cover the costs. And it showed. I was told they wanted to make Ontario’s Luminato equivalent to Quebec’s Montreal Jazz Festival, which apparently only received a mere $3 million in funding.

Admittedly, the sheer volume of organization and costs needed to put off an event of such magnitude can cost a bundle. And while the Art of Jazz festival is nowhere near this size, the amount of funding and organization was quite interesting to compare against.

I have two more shifts to complete and I’ll be done with Luminato for this year. It should prove to be exciting as I am set to usher Homelands, another widely talked about performance by none other than Laurie Anderson.

Yeah for volunteering!

On my way home…

It was a gorgeous night with little humidity, brisk wind, and no precipitation at all. So I tested my luck today and tried walking home from downtown Toronto. Starting off from Varsity Arena at St. George and Bloor, I made the trek slowly but surely along Bloor street heading towards the Danforth area. It was interesting as it had been a while since my last walk along Bloor street. Stores had changed, lots of construction disrupted traffic, and the sidewalks were bustling with pedestrians even at 9:30pm.

As I walked along the bridge towards the Danforth, I noticed some shops that caught my attention. Before I knew it, I was sidetracked from going home, and ended up walking along the Danforth admiring the many natural and healthy product related stores that lined the street.

There were an abundance of stores selling “holistic” products, organic foods, health shops, and a trickle gourmet food shops to top the list. I began to enjoy the area for what it was all about. It was really my first time absorbing the shops along the Danforth since moving into the area. At that time, I thought about what a great choice I made. 😉

Eventually making my way home, I admired the homely homes lining the streets, the quiet neighbourhood, and the safe haven that this place seems to be.

All in all, it must have taken me about an hour and a half to walk back. So be it. As long as I enjoyed the walk and found some choice places to dine and shop in, it was worth the time.

Hiro at Toni & Guy

Toni & Guy Hairdressing
180 Bloor Street West

Art Director II: Hiro Hayashi

Out of pure curiosity – and maybe a little bit of peer pressure – I decided to splurge on myself and got a $50 haircut today. For those that have seen me recently, they have often commented on how I look so different but couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was. It was indeed my hair and its not-so-short length that many people were not used to.

It’s been close to two or maybe even three months before I got my last haircut. For reasons that I cannot even explain right now, I just never bothered to get a haircut for a long period of time. Maybe it was just the curiosity in me that wondered what I would look like with longer hair, or maybe it was done out of pure laziness. I keep thinking to myself it was the latter.

Regardless, it was long enough to the point where I thought I should get it cut. Finally.

Recently, my brother had his hair cut at Toni & Guy on Bloor Street. However rather than going to just anybody, he made it a point to go to a Japanese hair stylist, thinking a Japanese would know how to handle Japanese hair. He saw the ad in the local Japanese newspaper (Bits) and cut out the 15% coupon. He went, and was fully satisfied with the results.

While I’ve always known of the place, I never actually thought I would go to such a place just to treat my hair. But today was different. There was something in the air as I phoned to make a reservation for the one that is known by “Hiro.” What should I expect from a guy who’s titled Art Director II on his business card?

I walk into 180 Bloor Street West with impeccable timing as I placed my wet umbrella in their Umbra waste basket sitting right by the entrance. I look around and see that the place is almost empty safe the cleaner and the receptionist. As I walk towards the receptionist, she greets me with a smile and asks, “you’re here for Hiro, right?” As I acknowledge, I see over to my right a customer giving his thanks to a Japanese looking guy who much to my surprise looked more like a Lonestar from the West.

I’ll explain this in a moment. After I checked in, the receptionist politely asks if I wanted some water, tea, or coffee. Seriously? I thought to myself. She may have caught my slight panting from running in the rain a moment ago, or maybe it was customary to do so. In any case, I accepted her offer in getting a glass of water. It was cold. It was refreshing. It was a nice gesture.

She offered to take my jacket, and at the same time handed me a cover for my shirt and smoothly told me how to wear it and tie it with the strings on the side. As I drank my water, I waited for a mere 2 minutes or so until I see that Lonestar from the West approach me, only now he seemed more like a regular Japanese guy with some nicely styled hair on his shoulders. He motioned me to sit in a chair. As I did, he asks me in Japanese, how I would like my hair cut this evening. I responded, in Japanese, that it’s been a while since I had this much long hair and that I wanted to do something different than the typical cut, but nothing too wild.

He understood me exactly and quickly started to explain to me what he would do with my hair: trim about a half inch throughout, giving some texture all around, thinning it here and there, and leaving the back a natural look so that when my hair grows, it still looks even throughout. He’ll leave the bangs with a slight trim, and leave the sideburns safe for some rough styling to it.

I agreed with his plan thinking this would work for me. He then motioned me to get up from the chair and pointed to the back where the line of seats rested in the washing section. I sat down and another person came and started to shampoo my hair. Asking me if the water was an OK temperature and if my head rest was fine, he was very attentive to my needs.

After a thorough shampoo, a little scalp massage – or conditioning I would imagined that stage to have been – he dried my hair and I was then scooted off to yet a different set of chairs where he readied me with more coverings over my shirt. As a final touch, they put over your shoulders a heavy rubber mat like weight so that the coverings are firm to your body. A nice thing to have, and a first that I’ve seen in any hair salon.

Not too long afterwards, I see Hiro approaching me yet again. Only this time, he was the Lonestar from the West, complete with his belt and carrying pack of scissors and accessories. He walked towards me with gusto and confidence as if he was ready to conquer one last set of hair before calling it a day.

He comes and he quickly starts doing his magic.

Do you ever sense an awkward silence when you’re at a hair salon, not knowing what to talk about or if you should even think of striking a conversation? Well, before I knew it, he asked me whether I was born here in Canada. I’ve been asked this many times, and to everybody’s surprise, I like to tell that that I was in fact born in Tokyo, Japan. I moved when I was a mere 3 months, however, and therefore I grew up here in Canada.

We talked about myself, him (he’s from Nagoya), the Toni & Guy chain of stores, and how this particular store was not listed on the website and that I got confused with this location and the one in Yorkville. I told him I watch Japanese dramas to try and maintain my level of Japanese and he told me I should be watching more variety shows than anything else. The speed at which the conversation flows is much faster in the latter, providing for a better learning experience, says Hiro. He told me he started watching Friends to learn English when he first came to Toronto four years ago.

I paid close attention as he cut, trimmed, thinned, and styled my hair. He was very attentive to my needs. Before I knew it, he was showing me the back of my head with the mirror, asking me if that was OK. Sure enough, it was OK.

It actually didn’t look like he cut much off, but in reality he cut a lot of it away by thinning my hair down in strategic locations. While it looks like I may have a volumous set of hair, I actually feel the difference, and its quite drastic. After I approved of the back, he took the covering off of me and then told me to head back to the showering units where I would get a quick rinse to wash the stray hairs away.

Wow, I thought. Another wash! What service! And then it occurred to me at that point. This place was made so that I could walk in, and walk back out with a completely new hair style and still enjoy the rest of the day without having to go back home and take a shower!

With my hair being so rough and straight, every time – and I mean EVERY time – I get a hair cut, I always have to go back home and shower before heading back out since my hair goes everywhere, in my shirt, on my shirt, in my ears, and all over my neck and elsewhere. It’s not a pretty site afterwards, but Toni & Guy makes sure you are more than ready to hit the town right after stepping out of their store.

After a quick rinse, I was again ushered back to the hair cutting seat where he did his final trimmings and made sure everything was cut to the right length. He then explained to me the style he chose to do on my hair, how to go about styling it with some light creme, and that I should always start from the top of my head, move outwards, and then to the back, and finally with the left over creme in my hands, gently style my bangs ever-so-lightly so that the bangs don’t get too greased up.

I nodded and then it was done. Heading back to the cashier, Hiro shows me the set of cremes he used on my hair as I had inquired about it beforehand. He asked me if I wanted it, and at that point while I should have just said “no,” I reacted instinctively and said, “sure” instead. Thinking it was going to be another $20 or so, I should have simply touched my hair to see what the creme would do to my hair. But not thinking at all, I merely agreed and she punched it in for me.

Hiro explained to me that since I was referred from my brother, I was entitled to 15% off and my brother was entitled to 15% on his next visit as well. And should I refer someone else to him, I would be entitled to 15% off my next visit as well. So for anybody wanting to go get a cut at Toni & Guy’s hair stylists on 180 Bloor Street West, make sure you tell them that Taku referred you, and you’ll get your 15% off.

So was I satisfied with the results? I would say so. The cut is different, still lengthier than my typical cuts but just as light as it was back in the summer. It’s a good change for me I suppose – assuming I style it correctly every morning. Was the cut itself worth $53 plus taxes? Well, considering the treatment I got from everybody there, I would say it wasn’t all that bad. Granted I could have done without the added midas touches, but that’s what they are known for, and that’s what you are paying for. And surely after 31 years, I deserve to give my hair some royal treatment, don’t I?

Hiro was quite professional, friendly, attentive to my needs, and was overall a very cool guy to talk to. Not bad, not bad at all. Will I go back to him? Well, let’s see how long this hair style lasts first!

Reel Asian Film Festival is calling me…

So I’ve been asked to volunteer as a photographer for the Real Asian Film Festival once again. I did it last year for its big 10th anniversary year and I have to say, it was a fun time. Running around with camera in hand, taking pictures of guests, directors, producers, industry experts and the like. I found it not only exciting, but at the same renewed my interest in photography as a hobby as I enjoyed my time doing so. Having an all access pass adds to the perks I suppose.

Now in its 11th year, I don’t know what to expect but the lineup of films seem pretty interesting, so I gather it won’t be a bad year. I haven’t gone shooting for a long time now. I’ve been missing in action I suppose you can say. So this opportunity may be a good chance to get into that paparazzi feeling as I snap away.

Let the fun begin!

Well, in two weeks’ time at least!