My Toronto: Vincent Lam

Barry Hertz, National Post
December 29, 2009

long with Dr. Mehmet Oz, Vincent Lam is perhaps one of the few working physicians who can also genuinely claim to be a media darling. After his first collection of short stories, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, won the prestigious Giller Prize in 2006 — the first debut work to ever win the award — Lam was propelled to national stardom. As HBO Canada prepares to premiere the new eight-part miniseries based on Lam's book, the author spoke with the Post's Barry Hertz about life in and out of the hospital.  

Home sense  We spent a long time living in the Queen West area around Trinity Bellwoods, but a couple of years ago we moved to [Riverdale]. We were living at the time with two small children in a condo. It was exciting, but if only they built bigger condos in Toronto, I wouldn't mind living in a condo forever ... but the size seems to max out at two bedrooms plus a den.... We looked for houses in the Queen West area, and if we came across the right one, we would've bought right there, but we just happened to find the right house in Riverdale.

The perfect mix  We're people who really like to feel a sense of belonging to the neighbourhood, and we feel that in Riverdale — it's close to everything by bike or public transit, and that was a huge priority. I also joke that it's geographically perfect in terms of our family's ethnic mix: my wife is of Greek-Cypriot descent, and I'm Chinese, so Riverdale is halfway between the classic Greektown and the Gerrard and Broadview Chinatown.... It's also close to both our work: my wife is at St. Michael's and I ride my bike to East General.

Oily goodness  My most repeated haunt is a place called Hanoi 3 Seasons [588 Gerrard St. E.], a fantastic Vietnamese restaurant near Broadview. When I was on Queen West, my equivalent haunt was a place called Rua Vang, though its English name is Golden Turtle [125 Ossington Ave.]. At Golden Turtle, they have this dish called banh xeo, it's like a Vietnamese omelet that's deep-fried. It's amazing and has lots of oily, crispy goodness. At Hanoi, usually what we do is we invite a bunch of people there and just tell the staff to bring whatever they think we'd like. The menu is so universally good, it always works out.

Park life  Because I grew up in suburban Ottawa, it's helped me notice the contrasts between here and there. In Ottawa, there's less population density, so you don't end up bumping into people as much. In contrast, when we go to Withrow Park, there's a high probability we'll run into some family with kids that we know. [Withrow] is also a fantastic, really green public space area. I'm very pro-parks ... I think the park helped us make our decision in terms of housing. We're basically not even a hop skip and a jump away from Withrow — we're basically just a hop away. It's a big plus to spend time outdoors with the kids.

Paging Dr. Lam  After I finished up my residency, I was looking for a place to work that was basically the best of both worlds, and by that I mean I wanted to find a place that was a teaching hospital but also a community hospital.... Often the people who work at a community hospital know they're taking care of their neighbours, and it encourages everyone to be a little more warm and human ... but the attributes of an academic hospital are attractive, too, because people are very keen with keeping up with scientific developments and are constantly challenging their own trainees.... East General [825 Coxwell Ave.] struck me as a great place to have that mix.

It's not TV...  The miniseries should be a lot of fun, both for people who are familiar with the book and for people who haven't read it before. It's a different take in some ways, but it remains very true to the core of the book.... A lot of writers can be very anxious about adaptations, but I feel that's totally unnecessary. One of two things can happen with an adaptation: People will see it and say either it's wonderful, or people think it's OK but say the book is better, and you look good by comparison. As an author, there's no way you can lose.

Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures premieres on Jan. 10 at 8 p.m. on HBO Canada.

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