A Travellerspoint blog

May 2008

Separation Anti-Anxiety

How to Hate a Place Enough to Leave (Not that I really hate Toronto, per say, but I am starting to dislike it a little bit)...

sunny 20 °C

It’s been a crappy week. If I look back on the past 7 days, I find myself seeing nothing but memories of packing, sweating, moving, sweating, driving, sweating, talking to bureaucrats, sweating, stressing out and sweating.

Despite my desire to be a tourist in my own town for my last month in Toronto, mostly the past couple of weeks have been spent using up my time taking care of moving stuff. While it is all fine and dandy to say to oneself, “self, I am going to take care of as much of this moving stuff as I can as early as possible to free up my time in the last few days I have in Toronto,” the reality is that one cannot do enough up front. After all, I still have my apartment for a couple of days, and I still need places to sit, places to sleep, shampoo to wash my hair, towels to dry me after showering and forks to use when eating take-out Thai food.

When you are moving away, you can’t get rid of everything early, as you need so much of it to live out your last days in your old home.

That really tees me off. And that reminds me of another time when I was teed off and moving.

Back when I was a young 18 year old, living at home and getting ready to move out of my parents place and go away to university, I was, apparently, a bit of a jackass, or at least so said my mother. Quite often, actually.

Back in 1989 when I was 18, I was a bit of a sarcastic ass. I still am a sarcastic ass, and in fact was a sarcastic ass prior to 1989. In fact, that is a trait I am sure I inherited from my mother, which I hope will some mitigate any damage to my reputation that the comments I am about to repeat here that she made about me.

Back in 1989, when I would make a comment that an 18 year old sarcastic ass would be expected to make, my mother would look at me and say the following. “I know that you are just saying that to create some distance between us, so that the pain of separation won’t be as great when you leave for University.”

Her argument was that I was not, in fact, a sarcastic pain in the neck because I was a teenager with a sharp wit (honed for years by my mother), but rather I was a sarcastic pain in the neck because it was a defense mechanism to make separation more bearable.

At the time I didn’t put much stock in her theory. I didn’t feel like I was being especially sarcastic or cruel. I liked my home and my mother and I knew that I would be back there to live at some point (as I was in the summer of 1990, 1991 and then for a whole bunch of time during 1995 through to 1997), so I couldn’t see any reason why I would want to make it a less nice place to live.

However this past week has started to make me think that perhaps my mother was on to something. For with less than one week to go before leaving Toronto for London, I must admit that Toronto is really getting my goat.

It could be that Toronto is just especially annoying this week. Or it could just be that I am tired from a week of packing, moving and sweating. It could even be that I am starting to actually realize that I am 1 week away from moving to another country without a job, a permanent place to live or anything resembling friends.

But it could also be that I am just trying to make the city I am leaving less desirable so that the impending move seems more so.

Lest any of my Toronto friends think I don't like them, let me assure them all that I have had lots of fun going out with all my friends these past few weeks, so I hope you don't take this blog as an insult. Trust me, it's not being out with old friends that is needling me. It's everything else.

I find myself tired, even in the mornings after a full nights sleep. I find myself looking at boxes or furniture and sighing, just on the verge of breaking down thinking about what the crap I am going to do with the item. I find myself talking to stupid people about stupid things like what size storage locker I want, what the address on my bank statements should be (even though the bank knows that all my statements are electronic) or how long I want my mobile phone active for in Canada.

Last night, though, took the cake. I went out to dinner at a local pub, a place I have enjoyed for the 10 years I have lived in my neighbourhood in Toronto. Despite trying to look like I was intently reading a book, I still got engaged by a crazy old lady with an allergy problem (which she detailed in some depth) and a dude on crutches who apparently got some sort of brain injury in Mexico running from the police. I quickly said my goodbyes and moved on.

Next I went to another restaurant, a sports bar a few blocks away. I was hoping to sit at the bar, have a pint and enjoy the playoff hockey game. Instead I found a bar jam packed with old, creepy men staring at the bartender, a well-endowed blonder who (knowing her audience) was wearing a very low cut blouse. I left upset, not sure if it was because I felt icky because of the old pervs, or because I was upset that I couldn’t get a decent seat and be an old perv myself.

Onto the next place, a joint that is best known for showing European soccer but that does show National League Hockey during the evenings (as Euro sports tend to be on during the morning and afternoons over here in North America). I took a seat at the empty bar and watched as the puck dropped on game 3 of the NHL finals.

My peace was not to last though. A guy walked in, probably in his early 60s with a white goatee. He took a seat and ordered a beer, and started to look around the bar. I caught him looking around out the corner of my eye, and I could tell immediately that he was looking for someone to talk to.

“Damnit,” I thought, “I’ve already talked to the crazy old lady and the crutch dude tonight. Can’t I just enjoy the hockey game in peace?” So I stared straight ahead, never moving my gaze from the TV set in front of me. If he can’t make eye contact, I reasoned, he can’t engage me.

My plan worked, though the guy found others to engage. He complained to the bartender that hockey was on, and demanded one of the TVs be turned to something else. She flipped around the channels, and once the TV landed on horse racing, he seemed content.

He wasn’t content, though. He spent 15 minutes speaking to the man on his right, bemoaning the fact that we all in Canada watch hockey, even though no Canadian teams were playing, and that in 10 years we Canadians would probably all be walking around with TVs attached to our heads so we wouldn’t miss a minute of hockey.

I just kept my mouth shut and my face forward towards the screen, no doubt proving his theory that we Canadians are all hockey obsessed. While I was interested in the game, I was more interested in not speaking to him.

The guy on the old man’s right started to ignore him, so the old man engaged the bartender. She spoke to him for about a minute before the following words came out of the old dude’s mouth.

“You know, you are a beautiful girl, but your voice is like nails on a blackboard.”

Take a moment to think about saying that to a woman you don’t even know. Reread that if you like. It’s not very flattering.

“That’s not a very nice thing to say,” the bartender replied. Her voice, which had moments before had a certain joyous tone to it became cold and monotone. The kind of tone that a North Korean interrogator might use right before pulling your still beating heart out of your chest.

“No, it’s not an insult. I’m trying to help you,” said the old man. “I know an opera singer who can train you to change the tone you speak with. Don’t feel bad. So many Canadian women can’t speak well.”

I could see the bartender out of the corner of my eye, and her eyes had daggers shooting out of them at the old man. I prepared for a fight, in that I put my hand around my beer, so that if the bartender came over the bar at the old man, I could quickly get out of the way without spilling a drop.

She didn’t come over the bar at the old idiot, though. Instead she did what I thought was a very composed thing. She looked at the old man and said, “well, if you don’t like my voice, then I just won’t talk to you anymore.” Then she walked away.

I was impressed, because I think I probably would have popped the old guy in the eye, or at the very least spit in his half pint of Creemore.

The old guy left quite soon after the above incident, and I was able to finish watching the hockey game in peace. A few weeks ago I might have continued on, perhaps grabbing another pint and going over and saying hello to the Ultimate Frisbee team that was celebrating a victory at the bar.

Instead, I decided to go home. I was tired from a day of moving stuff into storage and worn out from meeting three different crazy people in one day at three of what were my favourite Toronto hang-outs. I used to quite like meeting and talking to the crazy people, it is part of what makes living in an urban setting unique. But last night I just couldn’t take it anymore. Instead it just wore me out, and I couldn’t help but find a bunch of faults with the places that I used to frequent.

Perhaps my mother’s theory holds some water then. Prior to leaving a place for another pasture, you need to make your current pasture seem a little browner. That way, even if it isn’t, the new pasture will feel greener by comparison.

Posted by GregW 21:20 Archived in Canada Tagged living_abroad migration_experiences migration_philosophy Comments (0)

Whodya cheer for? Picking a footie team...

I'm guessing I'm not going to get to see too much hockey over there

sunny 16 °C

The NHL finals are set, and games start up tomorrow. The Pittsburgh Penguins are taking on the Detroit Red Wings. It should be an exciting final, as both teams have pretty potent offenses. I, however, am worried that I won't get to see the champion crowned. The finals are a best of seven series, with the final two games scheduled for June 4th and June 7th. With both games at 8:00 PM Toronto time, that would put them at 1:00 AM London time. Even if I can find a place to watch the games, they'll probably shut down before the game is over.

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Me with the Stanley Cup, taken in Denver in 2001 when they hosted the All Star Game

Anyway, I need to concentrate on starting to watch European sports. No more American football, baseball and hockey. I have to start watching Rugby, Cricket and (most importantly) Soccer, or as they call it over there, football.

The UEFA Champions League final was played on Wednesday, with Chelsea from London facing off against Manchester United. As Chelsea is from London, I was thinking of cheering for Chelsea. The game ended in a 1-1 tie, and went to penalty kicks, where Man U ended up winning a nail-biter.

So now I can't cheer for Chelsea. I mean, not only did they lose the UEFA Champions League Cup to Man U, but they also came in second in the Premiership to Man U and they lost the 2008 Carling League cup to Tottenham. Obviously they are not closers. I'll have to pick another team to cheer for...

Luckily, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), the owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League, Toronto Raptors of the National Basketball Association and the Toronto FC of Major League Soccer are looking to purchase a team. They are eyeing a Premiership team (source). As the article says, "A sports banking executive who specializes in European soccer said three English Premier teams would probably merit interest from the like of MLSE: Everton, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur."

Personally, I hope they buy Tottenham, as that's a cool name for a team. Hotspur. Plus they play in London.

As such, I'll just wait for them to decide who they will buy and then I'll just start cheering for them. And I can wear my Toronto FC jersey to the games and not look out of place, right?

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Me at the FIFA Under 20 World Cup last summer (July 22, 2007)

Just kidding, of course, both about Chelsea not being closers (obviously coming in 2nd a lot means they are good team, so please don't write me) and also about having to pick a team right away. In all honest, I can't even figure out how the soccer leagues work over there. There's promotions and demotions and apparently 5 different cups that a teams can win. Some of the games don't count towards some of the cups, and some games are just friendlies that apparently don't count for anything.

It's going to require a hell of a lot of study before I understand it all, I'm sure. By study, of course, I mean sitting in a pub having someone explain it to me over a pint of beer.

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So, if anyone understands it all and wants to explain it to me, I'll buy a pint at the local.

Cheers,
Greg

Posted by GregW 12:17 Archived in Canada Tagged sports living_abroad migration_experiences Comments (0)

Torontonian Tourist in Toronto (Part I)

Treating my home as if I was away

sunny 15 °C

I flipped the page on my calendar on May 1st, and realized that I really only had one month left in Toronto before departing for the United Kingdom. Despite living here all my life, or actually more likely because of it, I realized that there were a number of things that visitors to Toronto seek out that I hadn't seen in a long time, and in some cases ever.

So, along with getting ready for my trip, all that packing I talked about in my last entry, and going to for drinks with all my friends, whom I suspect are just seeing me off so they have a free place to crash in London, I have been treating my hometown like I was a tourist visiting it for the first time.

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Flags of Canada and Toronto

I've still got a couple weeks to go of being a tourist in my hometown, but thought I would share some of my experiences up to this point.

First up was a trip to Niagara Falls (which actually took place in April, but we'll pretend it took place in May, otherwise the whole "Flipping the page on the calendar and realizing my time was short" literary device falls apart). I briefly saw the falls, but most of my time was spent walking around the tourist zone of Clifton Hill and in the Casino.

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It is very tacky and overpriced, and in a lot of ways detracts from what is an otherwise beautiful and majestic natural wonder in the falls, but it can be a hell of a lot of fun. After all, they have a MIDWAY!

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Luckily, the weather in Toronto this May has been quite nice, so it's been good weather to go and hang out on the patios of my favourite bars.

The Sports Centre Cafe, at 49 St Clair Avenue West is my favourite year round location. A good selection of beers, excellent views of multiple TV sets to watch your favourite teams and some very pretty waitresses and bartenders make it a cool place to go.

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But come summer, I must admit I find myself spending more time at The Fox and The Fiddle at 1535 Yonge Street, if for no other reason then they have three patios, and that every patios provides the following view...

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It always reminds me of sitting in a medieval square in Eastern Europe drinking, even though I have never been to Eastern Europe, but I imagine that you would have a similar view of an old church while sitting on a sunny, Prague patio.

The nice weather has given me the opportunity to spend some time just walking around checking out the city, and I took a few snaps of nice places and views.

2008_05_10..__Clair.jpg
The following statue is on St. Clair Ave. W, between Yonge and Avenue Road. It is a man's torso, lounging in front of a building that sells insurance. I am not sure if it is meant to represent the relaxing attitude one can take when one is fully insured, or the fact that your insurance will probably cost you a couple arms, a couple legs and a head just to afford it.

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The Canada Life Building in the foreground, with the CN Tower in the background. The Canada Life Building is interesting for its weather predicting abilities. Atop the building is a weather beacon which shines red for rain, white for snow, and lights running up or down it indicate a change in temperature. It provides "weather at a glance," and if you want to be able to decode its sometimes cryptic signals, check out the handy decoder at Wikipedia.

One of my favourite buildings in all of Toronto is Brookfield Place, formerly known at BCE Place, because of this amazing atrium:
2008_05_10.._Atrium.jpg

Official known at The Allen Lambert Galleria, it was the result of an international competition and was incorporated into the development in order to satisfy the City of Toronto's public art requirements. The atrium was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, and is one of my favourite places to hang out in downtown Toronto. It also is a favourite place for film directors to film, especially for crappy sci-fi films, as it looks very futuristic.

2008_05_10..D_Place.jpg
These tulips are in bloom outside of the Toronto Dominion Centre, where I had my first job in Toronto back in 1992. I was a computer programmer at a large bank in the Centre, and I put on 30 pounds that summer from just sitting behind a desk and not doing any sort of physical work. Damn you, Computer Science Degree, for making me fat!

Back to the more tourist sites, I went to the Royal Ontario Museum recently, the first time I had been there since the expansion of the museum with the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal. The crystal was designed by architect Daniel Libeskind and Bregman + Hamann Architects, and provides an ultra-modern contrast to the older Neo-Romanesque building.

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The ROM has lots of exhibits, including dinosaurs and Greek statues.

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That's the shadow of a dinosaur skeleton on the wall. It's scary, like Jurassic Park meets the scene in Sinbad where the skeletons attack his crew!

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(Make up your own Greek behind joke here)

Very impressive in the museum is also the architecture, especially the ceiling in the main atrium.

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It's worth taking a short lie down just to admire it.

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The ROM is in the area called Yorkville, which is a very "posh" area of town with tons of fancy restaurants and bars. It also has a pretty nice little open area, with a nice water feature that people like to have lunch or coffee nearby.

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Finally, yesterday I went and saw the Toronto FC of the MLS (North American Soccer) play the Columbus Crew.

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I happened to wind up, without any fore planning on my part, in section 118, which is the home of the Tribal Rhythm Nation.

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The Tribal Rhythm Nation is a support group of the Toronto FC that, according to their website, "This movement was created to bring a true multi-cultural presence to Toronto FC soccer games. We represent the African, Caribbean and Latin communities in the GTA. The goal of the Tribal Rhythm Nation is to create an atmosphere at Toronto FC games that energizes the whole stadium. The beat of our drums will be heard by all."

It is a very different atmosphere than my last trip to BMO Field to see the Toronto FC, with whistles, drums, chanting, singing and lots of flag waving. It was a lot closer to the experience I had last year seeing the 2007 Under 20 FIFA World Cup finals in Toronto, and probably good preparation for what I will experience at soccer... er, I mean football matches in the United Kingdom.

Another two weeks of packing, having drinks with friends and a few more tourist experiences to go until I can see if I'm right about the atmosphere at European football matches.

The Europa countdown continues...

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Posted by GregW 09:48 Archived in Canada Tagged tourist_sites Comments (4)

Preparation Means Perspiration and a Touch of Frustration

Getting ready to give it all up and move to London

sunny 22 °C

"Only a few weeks until you move to London. Are you getting excited yet?" a friend asked me a few days ago.

"In all honesty, I don't even really think that it's hit me yet. I know that I am moving, but my emotions haven't had time to catch up. I have way too much stuff left to do," I replied. When I took off the month of May to prep for my move to the UK, I was expecting a little more leisure and a little less of what I have been faced with, which is a lot like work without the paycheque.

I look around my apartment that is filled with 10 years accumulation of stuff. Last week I took 5 bags worth of clothes and shoes and 3 huge boxes of books to the Goodwill to donate, but I still have a tonne of stuff left in the apartment. I was going to try and sell it on Craigslist, but I soon discovered that 10 year old Ikea furniture is of little to no value, and the best you can hope for is that someone will cart it away from your place for free.

This week I have to start packing up the stuff that I am not taking to London (at least not right away). A subset of my remaining clothes, my CDs, some favourite books, a collection of photo albums and other odds and ends will all need to be boxed up and somehow delivered to a storage unit.

Whatever furniture I can't give away for free in the next few weeks will need to go to either one of two places. The first is a charity, which charges $250 to pick up the furniture (it's a donation to cover the expensive of the guys and the truck). Many people (myself among them) were surprised to learn that you can't donate stuff for free, at least not if you want them to come and get it from you. Any furniture that the donation folks won't take (which I assume will be my one crappy couch and my sagging bed) I will need to pay someone a further couple hundred to come and cart away to be recycled or trashed. I knew that collecting all this stuff was pricey, but who knew that getting RID of stuff would be so expensive!

I've also tried to get my future life in order. Now that I have my visa, I have been applying for positions. There are a few nibbles so far, but nothing concrete yet. I was hoping to have this all squared away prior to my getting to the United Kingdom, but always, I have underestimated the amount of time it takes to do interviews and get a job. *sigh* Well, at least I'll probably have some time to explore London in a little more detail when I first get there, as I won't have a job to go to during the days.

The other thing I wanted to do was get myself set up for banking in the UK. Strangely, it is proving harder to get a bank account open in the United Kingdom than it was to get permission to work there. Her Majesty the Queen and her government decided within 3 days of receiving my application that yes, I would be a welcome addition to the workforce. Banks, on the other hand, seem very suspicious of whole concept of someone coming into the country. Luckily I have a relationship here in Canada with HSBC, but trying to get an account open over in the United Kingdom still required me to fill out 6 pages of application forms that I had to sign in 5 different places. $200 and 2 weeks later, I will find out if they have accepted me into their "club" of customers. Keep your fingers crossed for me! I'd hate to be over in the UK will the ability to receive a paycheque but no way to cash it.

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HSBC ad from my last trip to London. Who knew it would be so prophetic. Romance and Madness - it's the only explanation!

Not all is gloomy, though. A plan is starting to come together, though. Thanks to the internet, I have both transportation over to London and a place to stay when I get there.

I have booked a flight to London, leaving Toronto on June 3rd and arrive in London the next morning. I will collect my bags and take the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station. I wonder if I will run into the eponymous bear there? I will then wander over to the Paddington tube stop, and hop on the Bakerloo line to the Elephant and Castle Station, where I will change for the Jubilee line. I will take the Jubilee line to Willesden Green station, place a call to my new (temporary) landlord, who will take me to my studio apartment, which I have rented for a month until I can find a more permanent place to live.

Once I am in that studio apartment, though, I am not sure what happens next. I have stuff I need to do - find a job, find a place to live, get a national insurance number, find a doctor and find the nearest HSBC branch.

That first day though, I'm going to take it easy. All I'm planning on doing my first day in town is to find the nearest pub, have a small meal and a beer and let it sink in. On June 4th, 2008, I will be a Londoner.

Posted by GregW 07:11 Archived in Canada Tagged preparation Comments (2)

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