Thursday, December 25, 2014

Do you want to pray?

I was just about to start my prayer as I laid out the prayer mat. My toddler son Yusuf was watching me.

So I turned to him and asked, "Yusuf! Do you want to pray?"

Yusuf carefully considered my question, and then replied, "No Abbu! You pray! I play."

Saturday, December 20, 2014

House of Bengal

Opening a restaurant in Toronto that caters to Bangladeshi cuisine in a sophisticated setting is a tricky business. There's not enough Bangladeshis (there's a lot, but not enough) that can comprise a good market, and the general people of Toronto are more familiar with Indian and Pakistani cuisine than Bangladeshi food. Yet, I believe, with the right amount of marketing, location, and most importantly food, it can be done.

On Saturday night my brother and I had the pleasure of dining at the House of Bengal, which bills itself as "the only South Asian restaurant in the GTA specializing in Bangladeshi cuisine", on the Danforth. Now strictly speaking, this isn't true, of course. There's a bunch of restaurants on "Little Bangladesh" (the stretch of Danforth between Victoria Park and Woodbine) that serve Bangladeshi food. However, they are mostly cheap mom-and-pop establishments, usually for takeout, and hardly have an ambience that you can take a date too. House of Bengal has developed a "buzz" on social media, and billed itself as a more upscale take on Bangladeshi food; hence we were eager to try it out.

The only parking available is street parking. I was told there is parking at the back of the building as well, but I couldn't find it. We went at 7 pm on a Saturday evening, and we managed to get a parking spot very easily on the street directly opposite the restaurant (and pay parking is enforced till 6 pm there, so parking was free). The restaurant is more easily accessible via public transit, with Woodbine Station being the closest subway stop.

Décor and Ambience
The House of Bengal hasn't officially opened yet, but it's having what is known as a soft opening. They are still testing out operations, procedures and facilities, with many of their clientele coming via word of mouth or through targeted Facebook promotions.

My brother and I had the pleasure of dining with Yawar Amin, whose brother is one of the owners of the restaurant. Throughout our stay, the owner popped in quite a few times to talk to us, and ask about our meal, and we also met one of his co-owners, an Arab man (who was cooking Bengali food!), and who also decorated the interior of the restaurant. The customer service was excellent throughout. I value customer service very highly - you can often eat at home what you are eating out, what makes the difference is the customer service and ambience.

The restaurant is decorated very nicely, with a contemporary ambience to it, and yes - that's a Surface computer on a table if you have to wait during busy times. At 7 pm on a Saturday night, I would estimate the restaurant to be about 40% full, which wasn't bad for a place that just opened up literally a few days ago.

The restaurant was split into the general dining section, like any other restaurant, with tables and chairs, but also had a "lounge" section. A projector displayed Bollywood and Bengali song videos on a wall at the end of the lounge. I was told that this area is also planned for use for live performances in the future, if needed.

We dined in the regular section.

What drew us to House of Bengal was the promise of Bangladeshi food in a more upscale setting. We were curious to see what it would be. When we were seated, the owner told us the food was more of a fusion of Bangladeshi food and Arabic style of cooking, since some of the owners were also Arab.

I should add that shisha is also available at this time at the House of Bengal, but I didn't try it, and I didn't see anyone try it while we were there either. This might be an issue if you want to bring kids to the restaurant.

Any desi establishment has special drinks and House of Bengal was no different. Their beverages, such as the Lemon Mint Tea, or the Mango Lassi, come supersized (something that I approve - you often pay a lot for say a lassi at a regular desi establishment only to get a small glass of it).

We were given a menu, but we were also told since the restaurant was trying out various combinations in the soft opening, the menu wasn't exactly in sync with what was on offer, and also didn't match up to the website. I was looking to see if they had some Bangladeshi seafood dish on offer, but on the owner's recommendation we ordered a kebab platter, which comes with a beef skewer and pieces of chicken breast kebab, some chutney and raita, as well as a small plate of white rice.

The kebabs were flavourful without being spicy. I also liked the fact that they didn't seem too oily, and actually preferred the beef skewer over the chicken.

We also ordered mutton biryani, which was served in a clay pot. It reminded me of a restaurant I had eaten at in Old Dhaka, near Laal Baagh. The biryani carried that Bangladeshi food / Arabic twist fusion concept; it wasn't spicy, but it was definitely flavorful and tasty, and definitely something different compared to the usual Indian/Pakistani biryani. It's not kacchi biryani though.

As for the food, if you go to the House of Bengal, you have to try their biryani. It's what I would call their signature dish, and it is pretty good. The biryani is a bit pricey, but if you order it, I would recommend ordering it with the garnishing (raisins and nuts) as well. It's just about big enough for two people to share (or one really hungry person!).

We also ordered a side of vegetables to go along with it (again, I missed it on the menu, but went on the owner's suggestion). And finally, it was time for dessert, and we ordered some rasmalai.

This was pretty much the best sweet / dessert dish I have eaten in a while - and as you can see their presentation was pretty awesome as well.

Our whole meal cost us about $15 per person. This isn't bad at all for a weekend dining. If you are bringing a date to the House of Bengal, I would recommend the biryani, and kebab rolls in paratha (not the platter), and mango lassi for the same cost, all to share.

The House of Bengal made a positive impression. It was clean, upscale, and the food was decent. I could definitely see it as becoming a "hip" or "trendy" place for young desi folks, especially Bangladeshi youth, to gather. The availability of shisha make its "cooler", and a more happening place.

If I have to suggest room for improvement before their "official" grand opening next year, it would be to have more Bangladeshi dishes, especially some type of seafood. There's a whole bunch of restaurants all over Toronto that have biryani and kebab, and often much cheaper too. If the House of Bengal has something unique going for it - it's the Bengaliness of it. So I would concentrate on kacchi biryani, ilish (Hilsha, boneless), bhuna chingri and other Bengali treats.

Would I go again? Yes, definitely, but I am older, and have a kid - so House of Bengal would be reserved for when it's just my wife and I, and we are in the mood for Bangladeshi fare. So do definitely go and try it out, and if you do, let me know what you think of it via the comments section.

House of Bengal
2183 Danforth Ave.,
Toronto, ON M4C 1K4
Tel: 416-546-6647

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Junaid Jamshed, Blasphemy and Misogyny

So Junaid Jamshed, the famous former-singer-turned-preacher from Pakistan is now in trouble. One short clip from one of his many lectures has now gone viral. Here, Jamshed recounts a story that happened to Aisha and her husband the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Aisha was the favourite of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and would always try to seek his attention. One day she decided to fake illness by wrapping a towel around her head.

“What happened, what happened?” inquired Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

“Ah, my head is bursting with pain!” she complained.

To which, he said, “Oh Aisha, if you were to pass away, the Prophet of God would personally offer your funeral prayers. How fortunate would you be!”

She stood up at once and raged, “This is what you ardently desire - that I die, so you could spend more time with your other wives!”

Jamshed goes on to say that the nature of women cannot be changed even by Prophet.
Now apparently this is a blasphemy as per Pakistani laws. A blasphemy against the character of Aisha, the Mother of the Faithful, may Allah be pleased with her.

First of all, I don't think the story is correct. I remember reading about this particular incident, and it happened during the last few days of the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He was sick, he was on his deathbed, and he entered the room of his beloved wife Aisha. She too had fallen sick, and she was complaining "My head! My head!". So then he told her, "Nay! It is I who has to cry my head! My head!"

And then Aisha complained, "Ah, my head is bursting with pain!”

To which, he replied with tenderness, “Oh Aisha, if you were to pass away, the Prophet of God would personally offer your funeral prayers. How fortunate would you be!”

And then she playfully gave the reply, "And that is what you want! After you bury me, you will return to the house and spend your time with another wife!"

The story completely changes here - rather than someone seeking attention and pretending to be sick, this is a story of a loving back-and-forth between a couple who are comfortable and romantic with each other. It's a beautiful story of love.

So Jamshed, in an attempt to portray the allegedly "frivolous and fragile nature of women that even the Prophet couldn't change", twisted this story around to make Aisha an attention seeking woman.

Second, even if we give Jamshed his version of the story (which is wrong), is it blasphemy? The people around the Prophet, such as members of his own family, were human after all. They all had human failings. Sauda, his second wife, once made a comment after the Battle of Badr that the Prophet corrected, as it was a comment of Jahiliyyah. There was an anti-Semitic comment directed once at his wife Safiyya bint Huyayy, who was of Jewish origin, by another wife - which he also corrected. It is not blasphemy to say the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) sometimes made minor human mistakes for which they were forgiven by Allah, and which serve as examples for us.

And finally, are we so caught up on what Junaid Jamshed said about Aisha, that we completely ignore his sustained record of misogyny and disrespect towards women?

Now I first saw Junaid Jamshed when he came to Muslimfest in 2011.

He gave some speeches and talked about a few incidents from the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), sang some nasheeds and closed of with Dil Dil Pakistan, which the crowd loved. He repeated the act every time he was invited to Muslimfest subsequently. One could be forgiven for thinking he is a scholar of the seerah or someone who has studied extensively on religion.

Here is an interview where he is telling men not to teach their wives driving. He is praising himself for not teaching his wife (coincidentally also named Aisha) driving, and he tells men that one good thing they will do is not let their wives drive. The interviewer then asks what if a woman has no one to drive her (her husband has died and she has no relatives to help her out or they are busy), is she to remain helpless and not drive. To which Jamshed of course has no answer but then says this is just a hypothetical situation and he doesn't answer hypotheticals.

Jamshed of course has done a lot of good and called a lot of people to Islam. We can take the good from him and ignore the bad. But let's call out the bad - the misogyny and the shaming of women. In the offending video, for which he is now charged with blasphemy, he goes on about the nature of women.

He is of course a product of his culture and Pakistani culture isn't one where a woman is empowered. But that is of course not Islamic culture, and today we have forgotten that. The average Muslim has outsourced the religion to these pseudo-scholars and ignored learning of their own religion and history. it used to be that Islamic scholars were experts in both science and religion, and were the smartest of the class. Today, it's usually the low achievers and failures of the class that are hustled into the madrassahs and religious schools. So when these scholars say something bogus (such as woman cannot drive), then the average (and now) ignorant Muslim doesn't have the knowledge to fact check this. And when these scholars are given to positions of power (a sign of the Last Days), they make laws to that effect. So religion, rather than becoming a solution, is now the problem.

Our religion and culture is one that produced Umm Salamah, who set out on a camel to travel alone from Makkah to Madinah. It has Nusaibah, a woman who took the oath of Aqabah and fought in the Battle of Uhud with a sword, and fought in subsequent battles after. Our history includes Khawla bint Thalabah, whose complaint against her husband was heard by Allah and is mentioned in Surah Mujadilah, and whom the Caliph Umar used to listen to respectfully as she lectured him on Islam.

Let us not use the hullaballoo over a stupid blasphemy law in Pakistan (which is used mostly to settle scores with minorities and make their lives miserable - a sad fact of history in Pakistan) to excuse the bigger problem at play - the misogyny in the culture that holds back half the population and forces on them a false understanding of male privilege in the guise of religion.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Erdoğan and Women

I am reading up on what exactly the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that is so offensive to women, and have to admit much of it isn't (some, yes).

  • He bemoaned the fact that women in rural Anatolia do much of the manual labour while their husbands "play cards in the local coffee house".
  • He said Islam requires the men to provide for the family, not the women.
  • He said women are not the same as men (note: this is translated as "equal", but doesn't mean the same thing).
  • He advised women to have at least three children.
  • He said a true believer of Islam will never commit a violence against women.
  • He said Paradise lies under a mother's feet.

So what exactly is offensive? He didn't try to outlaw abortion again (he tried it once and failed), he never tried to outlaw women's employment, he never tried to outlaw women's education (in fact his party repealed the law that banned headscarves in universities which empowered more women to seek education, and similarly they repealed the ban on headscarves in Parliament so now more conservative women are now MPs).

Yes, some words of what he said ("women are more suited for home because of their delicate bodies") smacks of patriarchy and is offensive. But actions speak louder and Turkey has grown in leaps and bounds (men and women) under his leadership. When the "secular" army banned observant Muslim women from campuses, Parliament and other government institutions I did not hear of any feminist being offended, so stop being hypocritical now.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Visit to Ripley's Aquarium of Toronto

Ripley's Aquarium of Canada is a large exhibit located in downtown Toronto, just south of the CN Tower.

I had taken a day's vacation, and we decided to pay the aquarium a visit. We had heard a lot about the aquarium, mostly from friends who had been, and seen their fun pictures on Facebook. Everyone had always commented on how busy it was - so when I had an off day during the middle of the week, we decided to go.

It was a Tuesday, and we were lucky it wasn't busy at all. We could afford to go through the exhibits at our own pace, and take pictures. With a toddler in tow, this was vital.

The aquarium has over 5.7 million litres of marine and freshwater habitats from across the world, and holds over 13,000 animals, from more than 450 species.

This large tank reminded me of an aquarium in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, but the Toronto tank was much, much bigger. What was interesting was that there was some sort of waves inside the tank, and even the tall plants swayed to and fro.

There were lots of exotic creatures on display, many of them not even fishes. We saw lobsters, crabs, sea horses and so on. Even these sea anemones had their own exhibit.

One of my favourite exhibits was the Rainbow Reef, featuring animals from the Indo-Pacific region. This was the most colourful gallery in the exhibit, and pictures don't do the vibrancy of the colours justice.

I seriously could spend hours photographing each species in this tank - this was so colourful! Here's a photography tip: if you want to photograph aquariums, dress in black. There's no reflection and you can photograph with the lens pressed against the glass. I learned this from one of my photography classes.
The largest tank in the aquarium is the Dangerous Lagoon, which featured an underwater tunnel with a moving side walk.

A favourite of every visitor, this exhibit featured sharks, and lots of them. There were even stingrays to whet your appetite.

Of course nowadays no aquarium is complete without featuring fish from Finding Nemo.

Truly it is amazing, and humbling, to think of the vast variety of life that is found in just the waters of Earth. And it is a shame that we have folks who don't even care about pollution, or the effects of their lifestyle on the ocean. I was reminded of this verse in the Quran:

Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea  [as an outcome of] what the hands of people have  wrought;  so He may let them taste part of [the evil of] what they have done that perhaps they will return [to righteousness]. - 30:41

Indeed nowadays the results of our actions and our pollutions have started to affect the sea and fisheries - it is indeed alarming.

One of the cool things about Ripley's that I haven't seen elsewhere are numerous tunnels that allow you "into" the tank, so as to speak, and come face to face with a creature.

While not the biggest, the Planet Jellies exhibit has colour changing displays with five different species of jellyfish. It was just fun to sit around and try to capture these animals on the camera with a different light shining on them.

Overall, while I enjoyed my visit to the aquarium (and definitely my 2 year old son had more fun than me, walking and running all over and saying 'hi' to the 'fisheeees'), I have also visited aquariums all over the world. Particularly the Shedd aquarium in Chicago comes to mind. While the Toronto aquarium has more species and more tanks, the Chicago aquarium felt more .. grand. For $30+ with taxes, the Ripley's aquarium feels small in comparison. It took us about 2.5 hours to go through the aquarium at a leisurely pace.

I would put the Ripley's Aquarium as a must visit for any tourist to Toronto, but only if you haven't been to aquariums in Chicago or Atlanta. If you have been to one aquarium, they are all the same. It's a nice 3 hours to spend with your children though.

PS. Why was there no seafood restaurant inside the aquarium? I thought that would have been .. fitting.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Love Astaghfirullah

I just read this piece on Love Inshallah.

The Single Girl's Survival Guide for Desi Weddings

Remember, these are the same folks that raised a huge ruckus when I said women (and men) in Islam should marry early, and there's nothing wrong if you set criteria (such as looks, age etc.) as long as you put piety first.

Now, remember that was my view, and I would like to think it's also the Islamic view (marry early). Some of these women replied on how un-Islamic that was, what was wrong with desi marriage itself, what was wrong with me etc. They kept bringing up the example of Khadija (may Allah be pleased with her) - how I wish they would really read up on her! There was even a disrespectful twitter hashtag going around ‪#‎whatwouldkhadijado‬ if you can believe it.

Now go ahead and read this lady's post.

The world she is describing is an alien world to me.

A world where desi uncles and aunties are the chief enemy. A world where a woman is content with random dates and marriage is far down the priority list. A world where women are so insecure they clutch their husbands possessively (her words, not mine). A world where you can take a fake date to a wedding. A world where you share a magical "first" kiss a dozen times over with dudes who may not figure in your life after that one day.

It's fine if you want to live in that world. It may even fit your social values fine. Just don't call it "Islamic". And don't bring up the name of Khadija (may Allah be pleased with her) when you want to justify your lifestyle.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

A Factual Argument on Eid ul Adha

Many people (especially those with a socialist / progressive mindset) start posting articles during the time of Eid ul Adha on how cruel this Eid is, the bloodbath that is animal sacrifice and why we should "reconsider animal sacrifice" or give "blankets to Syria", and so on. Here is my humble take on it.
1. Millions of animals are slaughtered just for Eid ul Adha. This is a barbaric practice.
Simple facts should be presented here. According to US Dept. of Agriculture, 45 million turkeys are killed in US alone on Thanksgiving every year. In the US in 2010, 10.2 billion animals were raised to be slaughtered as food (202 million of these were cows or pigs - mammals). So Eid is hardly the leader in numbers of animals slaughtered that many are making it out to be.
There's 1 billion Muslims. If you say 50% of these can afford to sacrifice an animal (an unusually high estimate, really!), and there's 4 people to a family, that's still only 125 million animals killed for  Eid (less than number of mammals slaughtered just in US /year) . And also take into account that it's 7 shares per cow, and the number of animals slaughtered just for Eid pales in comparison to just the regular slaughter of turkeys in US alone for Thanksgiving. So we can safely say:
More turkeys are slaughtered in US for Thanksgiving than animals in the whole of the Muslim world for Eid.
2. The slaughter of Eid animals happen in a cruel manner. They are transported in highly constrained spaces and killed in an inhumane manner.
All developed countries have slaughter houses where slaughter of animals happen in a humane fashion, following the law, and the process is monitored by the government and all meat is inspected by the appropriate authority. The same is true of all of the Gulf Arab countries, Malaysia, Turkey etc. Muslims living in the West, as well as these countries, therefore slaughter animals in a humane and proper method.
This leaves us poorer countries such as Bangladesh, Egypt etc. The fact that inhumane slaughter happens here is not being denied, but it is not an Eid or Muslim specific problem, it is a social economic problem. And numbers wise, it is (far) less than the number of animals slaughtered properly in the developed world.
It should also be remembered, many of the sheep and lamb to be slaughtered (even in poor Muslim countries) comes from New Zealand where they have been raised following the law.
3. It is better to give charity to Syria or feed the poor than to sacrifice an animal meaninglessly.
You can do whatever acts of charity you wish. Charity is good for you and it is good for your wealth and health. However, no charity can take the place of a religiously mandated act of ritual that is part of this Eid. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) always performed an animal sacrifice on Eid, and it is accepted by most Islamic scholars as sunnah muakkadah (a strongly recommended sunnah). Hanifis consider it wajib (almost obligatory).
Also, consider this. The animal sacrifice is not a mere “tradition” or "ritual", but it is a commandment from Allah.
“Whoever can afford to offer a sacrifice but does not do so, let him not approach our place or prayer.” [hadith in Musnad Ahmad and Ibn Majah.]
“Turn in prayer to your Lord and sacrifice to Him alone.” [Surah al-Kausar; 108:2]
No one is denying the need for charity, but this is one day many poor folks look forward to as they know they can eat meat on this day.
4. I disagree with Big Farming practices and think animal husbandry and livestock is not an ecologically sustainable practice.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did not eat meat often, but he was not a vegetarian. His favourite meat was the shank of a lamb. Eating meat is part of the sunnah, just as eating in moderation, not eating to your fill, and eating meat sparingly, etc.
A vegetarian can be a Muslim, as it is not fard (obligatory) to eat meat. But it cannot be denied that the Prophet (peace be upon him) ate meat. What is needed is for people to work together to reform Big Farm practices and find a sustainable, economically viable and morally ethical alternative farming practices - and this again is a social problem that has nothing to do with Islam or Eid.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

10 Signs You Are A Bangladeshi in Canada

1. You mom always watched Indian or Pakistani TV serials, because NTV and ATN Bangla came so late to the scene. You always made fun of those because Pakistani serials were all about loving your cousin and Indian serials was about designer dresses.

2. Whenever your mama or chacha called from Bangladesh (or rather, your dad called them because, face it, people back home are cheap), you ran away to hide. And your parents would somehow track you down because, let's face it, kotha boltey hobey.

3. You dad always paid $17/month (initially) for ATN Bangla (and then NTV) just to watch the news. Which was always the same crap. Some protest, lathi charge, 4 people dead, 3 people ahoto, and the Prime Minister on CNN saying her party is not corrupt.

4. Whenever your best friend tells you he or she is going to get married, there goes every long weekend of your summer.

5. Sometimes you reminisced nostalgically about your childhood in Bangladesh, and shared videos on Facebook like this one. But that's usually when the weather outside looked like this.

6. You have an abusive relationship with the Bangladesh cricket team. Where they abuse you by contriving to lose humiliatingly, sometimes from utterly winnable positions, and you promise to yourself you will never support them again. Come the next series again, you are back on Cricinfo, promising this time the "boys will do it".

7. But (on the rare occasion) when they do win, you party like only a Bengali can.

8. You never got tired of the opportunity to remind Indians how Anu Malik copied a song in the movie Murder from a Miles song ("Firiye Dao"). If you ever got tired of reminding them who kicked them out of the 2007 World Cup (and conveniently forgetting the 2011 World Cup).

9. Speaking of Bangladeshi bands, they don't make 'em like they used to any more (LRB, Miles, Prometheus). Those were the glorious 2000s.

10. You still need your dad when you go to buy a car, because he knows how to bargain the way you never will.

BONUS 11. Raymond's mom had nothing on the guilt trips your mom can engineer.

BONUS 12. Your sister has enough bangles to open ten churi stalls.


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

A New Streetcar Everyone Desired

The Toronto Transit Corporation (TTC) had been teasing us about the new streetcars for a year now. They were supposed to be accessible, air conditioned, quieter, smoother and so on. I knew that they would be rolling out the new streetcars on the Spadina route on Aug 31, 2014. Two days before that, I was thrilled to get a glimpse of the new streetcar while they were testing it.

It really looked slick. It was futuristic and looked completely different than the streetcars currently used in service. I couldn't wait for Aug 31 to come.

On September 1, Labour Day, my brother and I decided to head downtown for some work. We would be using the Spadina route. As we waited for our streetcar to come, I was disappointed to see they were still using the old streetcars on the route. I asked someone with a TTC badge, and they replied initially there was only 2 new models on the route; the rest would be rolled out gradually. Something about a workers' strike at the Bombardier plant. Ah, strikes - the price of freedom and labour equality and all that stuff. Grunting a sigh, I boarded the old streetcar.

Today, September 3, I stepped off the subway platform at Spadina and saw a huuuuuuge lineup for the streetcars. What was going on?

It turned out that it was just a regular rush hour crunch. We were all waiting for streetcars. I was wondering - would I get to ride the new streetcar?

YES! Suddenly the new streetcar rolled into the station. Almost immediately everyone headed for the doors. There was no time to take a picture - I had to board. I was in! Once seated, I noticed just how big (and spacious) this new streetcar was. This one streetcar had almost four times the capacity (or even more - I am estimating) of the old streetcar. It was crowded, but not suffocating.

And then, it was my stop. My ride lasted a mere 4 quick stops, and it was over before it had begun.

Hmm. I thought. That was great (it was a very smooth ride) but how do I get to ride one again? I had the lunch hour coming up, and I have a transit pass that allows me unlimited rides, but I knew there was only 2 new streetcars on the route. I didn't want to spend 30 minutes waiting streetcar after streetcar until the one I wanted came by.

Enter the Internet. So there is this website that lets you know where the next streetcar is, and if it's the new one or not. I love living in the First World where this sort of thing is possible. I picked a time a little after lunch hour, when I thought the car would be less crowded, monitored the map, and then headed out for the stop.

And old streetcar came ambling by.

I let it go. I noticed that they had installed new fare machines on each stop, and there was a TTC person on hand to explain the machine to riders. And then I saw the new streetcar come into view.

I got in! My plan was to ride it to the Spadina station and then back again to my stop. Boy was it spacious inside. It almost felt like I was in a train or an LRT instead of in a streetcar. There was a streetcar route map on board. By 2019, every one of those routes would have these modern streetcars.

Surprisingly the streetcar was fairly packed. Not quite full, but not empty either. Talking to some people I found that like me, they had especially waited to board this new streetcar.

There were displays for the street name, and even an announcement of every stop. Besides, if someone requested a stop, you would see the signal light up. Very good UI.

 There was that familiar yellow strip bar to press in case of emergencies. Just like the train.

Big windows and doors let in maximum sunlight, thus creating a roomy feeling. The floor was quite low, and yet the ride was very smooth. You would not even hear the wheels against the rails. I guess the true test would come in the years ahead - the older streetcars had been plying the roads for over 30 years.

And then the streetcar got to Spadina station. This was the terminus stop. I would probably have at most a minute as the passengers unloaded, and moved away, before the next set of passengers would load. Time to take some pictures of the now empty streetcar.

It was long. The new streetcar has 5 modules, and is almost 30 metres in length. This is more than 4 times the length of the older streetcar.

The driver no longer collects the fare. You pay your fare on these new machines that takes tokens or cash. You can board through any of the doors now (which prevent the jamming up at the front problem that occurs on regular streetcars as people don't move to the empty space at the rear). I wondered what would happen on a really crowded car - how would you get to the fare machine? The answer - every stop on route has a fare machine, as well as the stations.

See the blue seats? That's part of the new designated Priority Area for customers with wheelchairs and other mobility devices. Besides, the new streetcar has a low floor, and is accessible to all by a ramp that is deployed by operators when requested (you push the illuminated blue accessibility button on the second set of doors). As folks were now starting to board, I got to see the new ramp in action.

It soon got busy again as the streetcar started to head back down Spadina.

Everyone was taking pictures of the new ride and enjoying the roomy seating and the bright, big windows.

I moved to the end of the streetcar and saw a button on the door. I asked one of the TTC folks (helpfully seated there to orient riders with the features of the new car) on why this button was there. He replied that this will open the door of the car at the stop. On busy routes at rush hour, all the doors automatically open, so I wouldn't need to press the button. However, at night or if the streetcar isn't on a busy route, doors may remain shut unless there are passengers waiting to exit. I like it.

Soon it was my turn to exit. All in all, it was a great ride, and makes for a much better transit experience. And to think this is what some people who hated streetcars fought against! I can't wait until they replace the whole fleet on every route with these new vehicles.

Note: All pictures taken with my Google Nexus 4 phone camera.