Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Last day in NYC

on saturday, we met up with G and K and headed into Manhattan's Chinatown for a dim sum lunch. But this is New York City, of course, so it was no ordinary dim sum. It was kosher vegetarian dim sum at Buddha Bodai, bringing you all the guilt-free imitation barbecue ribs, pork and fake shrimp congee you could ask for, all made of tofu. interestingly, my favourite dishes were the straight up fried tofu, and the eggplant, which only confirms my theory that i don't really like things that are made to look and taste like other things.

afterwards we took a walk through what seemed like the whole world: the bustling streets of Chinatown seamlessly turned into Little Italy where barkers stood outside their restaurants shouting out their special pastas deals for the day, until we hit SoHo and its rows and rows of trendy shops and bakeries proudly wearing their gentrification like a lovely badge. that's where we finally arrived at THE MARKET, which is basically my idea of heaven, minus the price tags. Here, every weekend, dozens of artists and designers from all over the city set up booths in this great hall displaying their unique products. there were so many things i had never seen before. there were so many things i would have bought, if they weren't so expensive ($400 for a sweater? that's the price for innovation?). Although, who am i kidding. I still dropped a lot of dough anyway, telling myself that I was supporting the art scene.

in the evening, O and I made our way to the historical Stonewall in Greenwich Village where the celebrities from the Real L Word were putting on a lesbian comedy show. Stonewall Inn, of course, was the site of the famous Stonewall riots in 1969, which many have called "the single most important event that led to the modern movement for gay and lesbian issues" (at least that's what Wikipedia says). E was working the doors that night and had gotten us on the guestlist, so we got to check out the show a bit while large beautiful women in bright red dresses accused us of trying to steal their girlfriends (well, to be fair, maybe we were). Stonewall seems like a pretty happening place to hang out. It was packed full of people of all ages and all walks, and there were spontaneous dance parties popping up all over the bar.

afterwards we took E for some delicious soondubu chigae in Korea Town at at BCD Tofu House, a restaurant that O had been relentlessly talking about during my entire stay. miraculously they were able to whip up a vegan dish for the girls (while i enjoyed my real pork) and we got a chance to catch up with E, seeing how all sorts of things have happened since we last saw her (like the fact that she's getting married, for example, but only for immigration purposes).

We had made plans to do Korean karaoke that night (and bust out our Seo-Taiji skills) but by the time we finished our meal, the food coma had set in, so we called it a night early and went home to watch SNL, which is, i think, an important American tradition.

the next day was a long, long, long bus ride with a random stop in Albany (did you know that there is nothing to do there on a Sunday morning?) and now my back is firmly letting me know that it does not enjoy spending 24 hours on a bus. next time i go back to New York, it's gonna be by some other mode of transportation. like on a dolphin. (i'm not an animal rights activist)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Avenue A

Friday night we had dinner at Tiffin Wallah ( with L and J, who had been tricked into joining us because he did not know this was a vegetarian Indian restaurant. He was relatively good natured about it, noting that it wouldn't harm him to have an occasional meatless meal "once a year or so". Despite the meatlessness of the meal, I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn't understand a single thing on the menu, despite the helpful but short glossary on the back of the menu for non-Indian speakers, but I think that just made experience all the more authentic. I just pointed at random dishes and ordered, knowing that if it was vegetarian at least there was no chance of accidentally ordering stomach lining or baby cow thyroid gland. And it worked out well. I cried. Partly because it was so beautiful, mostly because it was spicy

Following dinner, we set off to sample the nightlife of the East Village, deciding on a bit of bar-hopping. Stops included:

•McSorleys, one of the oldest Irish taverns in New York, having opened in the 1860s. Being known for being this old means that you don't have to follow certain rules. Like health standards, because they claim that they have the same cobwebs and wishbones that hung there as the boys left for World War I. And also fire safety requirements, because I'm sure they packed way more people than their maximum occupancy limit allowed. However the law deemed that they must follow human rights regulations and so the bar finally allowed women to enter in the 1970s, being one of the last men-only bars in the city. It seemed like the kind of place you go for the atmosphere and the company (as opposed to the beer, as you only had the choice of light or dark beer), sitting down at tables with random strangers and striking up conversation. J told me he suspects the hat store next store stays open late so that patrons stumble in to use the ATM and be enticed to drunkenly buy hats.

•while we waited for a table to open up at The Bourgeois Pig, we stopped for a drink at Niagara which had a rock ad roll look to it with some not very rock and roll drink prices - but I suppose that's just New York. It was also a very happening places, packed full of girls with tattoos and men in blazers. J's friends arrived and we left him there to move on to the next stop, me and O and L (the three Korean musketeers)

•Although the prices at the Bourgeois Pig ( were no better, I really enjoyed the decor of this place. With its grand chandeliers and candelabras, plush red chairs and antique glasses, I really felt like I was in turn-of-the-century Paris, waiting for the burlesque dancers to come out. In fact, I really was waiting for the burlesque dancers to come out, because it was really the only thing missing. We ordered a champagne cocktail called the Marie Antoinette and drank from our cups with pinky fingers lifted, mentally appraising the antique decor. You don't mind paying such jacked up price so much when you're in a fancy schmancy looking place like this. It was a big tightly packed though.  By the end of the night there, O and I realized that we had both been accidentally playing footsies with man at the next table, thinking it was each other's foot.

•the final (commercial) stop of the night was a bar with the odd name Drop Off Service, a former laundromat converted into a bar. It had an excellent selection of beer (including Belgian Deliriums and Québécois Fin Du Monde - really !) and equally excellent crowd. Several drinks in, we three Korean girls felt no qualms about plopping ourselves down at a table where a punk couple had been enjoying their date and asking them endless questions about the best place to get a tattoo in the city, and theoretically, if we were going to commit a series of thefts (hypothetically), whether they approved of our plan of execution.

In the end, we did not get matching tattoos at midnight and instead we went back to O's house where the only theft we ended up committing (officially) was O's roommate's ichiban ramen noodles. That, washed down with a bottle of Prosecco, allowed us to fall into a deep slumber that was surprisingly comfortable, despite having to fit three (small) Korean girls in one bed. We slept until noon.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Brooklyn vs the rest of the city

Even when I woke up this morning I was already hungry. I washed down the rest of my momofuku strawberry milk that i'd forgotten to finish the night more, but by the time K had arrived at O's apartment along with her partner I., i was starving and excited to start the day. We took the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge, where I realized that it's usually on the subway that you find the most interesting people. There was a lady with flaming orange fake hair and unsettling makeup that was livid at K for no reason the rest of us could understand. There was a pimp-looking fellow with an old suit and a thick fur coat and a cane, but for some reason what I found most striking about him was the Discman he was listening to. I also saw a Hasidic Jew who wore the traditional black hat and black suit and gentle smile and very, very, very bright green socks.

We got off at the last stop and made our trek across the Brooklyn Bridge which, although nothing like the way I expected it to be, was a wonderful walk. I don't know why I expected it to be like crossing the Burrard Street bridge in Vancouver, although certain aspects of it really did evoke the same memories - the warm comforting sun, the tall buildings on either side of the shore - but it was certainly a unique bridge of its own. Unlike the other bridges I've walked across, the pedestrian walk was in the middle of the median, so roaring traffic framed your view of the waters from every angle. And it was busy, hectic and crowded, i suppose because other people had seen that it was a beautiful day and a beautiful way to get some morning exercise. It gave me an amazing view of both Brooklyn and Manhattan, and helped me see just how huge it was, all these tall buildings everywhere.

Once we arrived in Brooklyn we headed straight for Grimaldi's Pizzeria in DUMBO, the coal brick oven pizza place which S. had assured us was the "2nd best place to get pizza in New York" - and certainly the line up wrapping around the block proved its popularity. Grimaldi's tasted like American democracy to me, or at least what it should be. No reservations for special people, the same line for everyone, whether for take-out or eating in, because, as the old Italian man at the door asserted as a matter of fact, "The oven, it is what it is." He made seating customers into an effortless art, and despite the daunting line up into the restaurant, we found the line moved quickly and soon enough we were seated in the crowded room.

I love this kind of restaurant. No nonsense waiters who aren't going to chat you up to try to pressure you into ordering more food or tipping more, no nonsense prices, and not a lot of fancy trickery decorations like square plates or dim lighting - just a memorial tribute poster for 9/11, and an equally large poster of The Godfather, which did not really quell my suspicions about an Italian business that only accepts cash. Nothing crazy, nothing fancy, just the honest promise of good food. Watching the pizzas go by us and watching other patrons savour their meals was somewhat torturous to us, as we were ravenous by the point - almost like "painfully prolonged foreplay", someone remarked. When our simple thin crust pizzas of Italian sausages, pepperoni and sweet roasted red peppers finally arrived, we pounced on them like wolves. I. found himself dancing a happy dance in his chair and all coherent thought was blocked from my mind when the pizza hit my tongue. And suddenly we found that the three of us had eaten two entire pizza pies.

to deal with the satisfaction of our gluttony, we took a stroll down the harbour and through the Brooklyn Bridge Park, which, despite still being under construction, was a lovely urban parks, and the reason that "there are parts of Brooklyn that I don't absolutely despise," admitted I., who is a former Orthodox Jew born and bred in New York. Still I found the ominous Watchtower owned by the Jehovah's Witnesses to be unsettling, these giant silent buildings that loomed over the park and the Brooklyn Bridge, with many strange windows that you could not see into or ever see souls looking out of. Instead the only form of communication emitted at all was a giant billboard that read READ THE WATCHTOWER, as though it was a subway advertisement for a new bestseller book rather than a religious text. I kept feeling like someone was watching us.

By the time we were ready to leave, we found there was still enough time to sightsee a bit more, so we took the subway back to Manhattan, where I wanted to see Ground Zero. The last time I had been in this spot, the World Trade Center towers had still been standing, and my family had gone in and looked through the telescopes at the Statue of Liberty, wondering why the statue was carrying an ice cream. Now it was a giant hole in the ground surrounded by busy construction workers working hard to turn it into something that wasn't a hole in the ground. I've always wanted to ask my friends who live in New York what it was like to be there the day the world changed, but I've never done it because I feel like it's rude, the way you would never ask someone what it was like to lose their child to disease or some other private sorrow. Except this was a sorrow shared by an entire city, country. I stopped by the Memorial Site Preview center because I wanted to see what the grounds were going to look like, but instead found myself being drawn into the stories of that fateful day, matching where I was that day (in homeroom class at high school, with Sherman bursting in with the incredible news, his parents working in the city). I had to be pulled away.

We walked through the cemetery at St. Paul's Chapel, which was right across the street from Ground Zero. I'm not usually big on churches but I thought this one was particularly beautiful and dignified, and old for a North American church. We also walked down Broadway till we hit Wall Street, the financial heartbeat of the world. Wall Street was the ontological antithesis of hipster-happy Brooklyn. K told me that at night it's completely deserted because there's nothing to do here. Not unlike, I guess, Bay Street in Toronto, Sparks Street in Ottawa, or the financial districts of other cities. All these impressively stern buildings with those giant white columns that I now associate more with America than the Romans. People in suits walking right by panhandlers. I thought Wall Street would smell like money but strangely enough I found it smelled like street hot dogs. Which if you think about it, is just as American.

Manhattan in the evening

yesterday O and i met up for dinner with K and S at momofuku ssam bar (, one of those "top 50 restaurants in the world" that foodie S had recommended. Run by Korean-American chef David Chang, it serves what i'd call experimental Korean fusion cuisine - with North American prices. we tasted the veal sweetbread (yes i know what sweetbread is and i don't care, it was delicious), honeyroasted apple kimchi served with pig jowl bacon (!!), the famous steamed buns stuffed with tender-tender-tender pork, and a $25 plate of spicey ddukboki that left me feeling conflicted. on one hand, it was absolutely delicious. on the other hand, it was $25 and i felt my entire Korean ancestry laughing at me. oh well. this is nothing new. one time in the Netherlands, O and i were so desperate for Korean food that we biked for an entire hour, got lost, had her bike break down, had her piggy-back on mine, just to finally reach an out-of-town Korean restaurant that served chajangmyun for EIGHTEEN EUROS. sometimes you have to do it. this time around O was unlucky once again, thanks to David Chang's bad boy attitude of "No Vegetarian Options", faced with meat for the third time that day, a day full of baby cow thymus glands, leather purses, pork chajangmyun that she gingerly picked apart with her fingers to separate from her noodles.

Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the meal, washed down with a Korean O.B. beer (what i call the tampon beer). Over dinner we caught up with each other, as it had been almost a full year since we had last seen each other and so much had happened since - we'd gone back to our respective schools, went crazy, graduated, traveled, wrote the bar exams, had our hearts broken and fallen in love again, moved back in with our parents and moved back out, started our careers. At the arrival of the steamed buns, S announced that he was ready to get married - he just had not yet quite made his mind up on who. after our dinner we headed to the momofuku milk bar attached to the restaurant, where i rediscovered the sweet innocent joys of strawberry milk. S got us to try the birthday cake truffles which launched us all into brilliant new religious experiences.

We stopped for a late evening drink at a bar down the street called the Ninth Ward, which had a great selection of beers (including Belgium's Delirium in its original bottle) and cocktails, including tall glasses of Hurricanes and Pimm's Cup, although they came at the hefty price of 12 dollars. Just as we finished up our drinks and had settled our tabs and gotten ready to head in for the night, G breezed in through the door, an hour late in his usual casual style. So we sat back down, took off our coats, and ordered another round of drinks while G shared with us the latest updates of his life. He had come with a girl who he assured us was "just his friend", which was also his usual style, and he had just moved from New Jersey into the city to hang around until his job started in January. It was a fun night of swapping stories and remembering our past adventures, missing our former lives on the other side of the world, and remembering how every single one of us in that particular group of friends were, although nice, absolutely crazy. mostly in a good way. always in an interesting way. fitting in well with the city.


The first thing that I did when I got to New York was fall asleep on O's wonderful paisley print sheet bed, so when I woke up at 10AM to the sounds of sirens and traffic, I felt like I was still in a dream. When O informed me that she is now dating a vegan anarchist from Brooklyn who has sleeves full of tattoos, and so now she no longer eats meat, I wasn't sure if it was still part of the dream. I met O, who is also Korean, while we were both studying at the University of Amsterdam last year, but she is originally from Orange County and is a Cornell Law School grad. She now works at a law office in the Empire State building, which she assures me sounds way cooler than it actually is, because historical buildings are, well, old.

O recently found out that she passed the very difficult New York Bar exam so she wanted to spend the day buying herself a bar gift. But first - what did I want to do? It's been over ten years since I last came to the Big Apple, so it was like exploring a new city for me. When we used to live in upstate New York, we used to come into the city on weekends to visit the World Trade Center and eat chajangmyun. obviously we couldn't do the former activity anymore but we certainly could do the latter.

So O and I made our way to 32nd Street, also known as Korea Way, to have some chajangmyun for breakfast (or lunch, as it was now 11AM). On our way, we came across the Veterans Day parade and had a chance to see the Korean War veterans march by, accompanied by throngs of Korean dancers and musicians banging their drums and blaring their Korean horns. It made for a pretty cool soundtrack to my first New York chajangmyun in over a decade.

After our chajangmyun breakfast/brunch/lunch, we headed for Madison Avenue for O's bar gift purchase, taking what I think was my first New York subway, I think possibly ever. There once we arrived, we perused through all these stores with expensive sounding European names like Bergdorf Goodman and Goyard and Louis Vuitton. There was a lot of fur and leather and references of baby goats that would probably give PETA indigestions. I began a game of "how many awesome guitars could I have if i stole and sold this purse" (Example: "This flesh-toned Givenchy purse looks like a vulva....and costs $2000.") After much advise from friendly gay salesmen, O finally chose for herself a cute black Yves Saint Laurent handbag, which despite my total lack of fashion knowledge, does charmingly reflect the new New York lawyer she is becoming.

After our Fifth Avenue shopping experience, we wandered through Central Park which was just lovely because of the sunny warm New York autumn weather that almost made me forget that i had been snowed in on Halloween back in Ottawa. There was a jazz band playing in one part of the park, which was charming. There was also a metal band playing in another part of the park, which was not as charming. All this greenspace right in the middle of the city with families strolling by and enjoying themselves reminded me and O of Vondelpark, back in the Netherlands. There really is something special about urban parks.

Afterwards we went to momofuku ssam bar with S and K. but I'll tell you about it later. Today K is taking me to Brooklyn, so I've been spending all morning listening to Brooklyn bands like the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and the Vivian Girls. I have, however, decided against wearing jeggings out in public. But the awesome vintage boots are coming out.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

a 12 hour bus ride is a long, long ride.

i arrived in New York this morning at 7AM after sitting all night on the bus next to a large woman with no sense of personal space. guess i better get used to it. found my way to Olivia's place in Manhattan and immediately passed out for another three hours. now i'm awake and ready to hang out in the city. i swear.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

New York, New York

in two hours, i'm taking a break from my life and am taking off to New York City for a few days. there i'll have the chance to do my favourite thing when i travel, which is not museums galleries shopping but FOOD. and also reuniting with some friends that i have not seen in a very long time. friends are also important.

stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

revisiting my childhood stomping grounds: upstate new york

Saturday we went shopping at the giant famous outlet place in Waterloo, New York (not to be confused with my Canadian birthplace of the same name). I don't know how my family knows about these things; I guess Asians know how to sniff out a bargain. It was huge, and at 11AM the gigantic parking lots were full, absolutely full. Everyone came out. Even the Amish came out. I saw a couple of Amish ladies pop into the lingerie store. Bras have snaps, not zippers. Lots of shopping to be had.

In the evening we headed out to the New York State Fair which was a crazy experience - one of the biggest fairs my parents had ever been to. When we lived in New York, we used to go to the Ulster County Fair every year and I guess that's what my parents expected but the place turned out to be huge - basically everyone had driven there from everywhere in the state. there was a lot of awesomeness. sheep. sheep wearing bathing suits. llamas. cows. butter sculptures made from the milk of the cows. rainbows.

my parents wanted to go to the International Tent (or rather, Barn), and i suspected it wasn't out of multicultural curiosity, but rather because they hadn't eaten any Asian food for nearly forty-eight hours and were probably dying inside. can't say we were totally impressed by the international choices though; we had German, Italian, Mexican, and Tim Horton's (Canadian!). we did try some American beer (it was not that good).

Sunday morning we went to downtown Syracuse, solely for the purpose of getting my dad a Starbucks. we actually saw more Tim Hortons in upstate New York than Starbucks. it was weird. Downtown was really nice. much larger and happening than i expected for a city only a bit larger than St John's, Newfoundland. I put it on my list of "Places I should try visiting for a weekend to go drinking".

Dad says seriously what's with the lack of Starbucks

You can't visit Syracuse with a shopaholic family without hitting up the Carousel Center. I have fond memories of this mall, even if no one else in my family remembers shopping here. I was sixteeen. There was an Old Navy. There were 50 cent bikinis. It was instant love. These were the times before Ottawa got its first Old Navy, you see. And Ottawa still doesn't have a Forever 21, or H&M or Victoria's Secret.

i vaguely remember the carousel. but i definitely remembered the fifty cent bikinis.

My parents made attempt #2 to have asian food at the food court. They decided to go for Chinese. We went for Japanese. Turns out the food came out the same.

some days, you take what you can get

afterwards we drove up to Alexandria Bay, which is so close to Canada that you get reception from Rogers. AND THEN WE WENT ON A BOAT.

That not doing so well.

it was a pretty good way to spend a Sunday afternoon, cruising through the many islands on the St. Lawrence. it would have been even better if there had been a working toilet on the boat (too much watery American beer)

we went to the castle on Boldt Island. I usually have a lot of cynicism for North American castles (ooh, Casa Loma is ALMOST A HUNDRED YEARS OLD) because historically they are nothing compared to some of the European castles i've seen. but this one was pretty cool, mainly because it was unfinished. Go find out the story sometime. it's kind of neat. People find it romantic. Me, it definitely made me feel like I should try to go and make friends with some rich people so they could invite me to their castles in the summer.


and unfinished

after a sweet dinner at a diner-pubby kind of place that America is great for, that we drove back up to Ottawa, where I realized that I had eaten nothing but junk food all weekend. Good old American fried junk food. McDonalds' burgers, pizza, beef stroganoff, ships, fish and chips. my body is still struggling to recover.

eating a sausage breakfast wrap from Dunkin Donuts

Saturday, September 4, 2010

in small town USA, feeling like a Bruce Springsteen song

We've been staying at a roadside inn off the highway on the outskirts of the tiny town Galeville, New York. I'm not sure why we chose this particular spot on the map, but it suits my taste for adventure and love of small towns. Plus when you work your 12 hour days, you're just glad to get out of the office to travel anywhere.

What I've always appreciated about the United States is that there are little towns like this all over the country, like the ones I grew up in, in Upstate New York. When you drive through enough of them, the names of places start to melt together...Watertown...Waterloo...or they start sounding familiar in a way they shouldn't be...Mexico...Liverpool...

It's the minor cultural differences that amuse me whenever I visit the states. The pharmacies open 24 hours, selling beer. All the toll charges. Really bad infomercials. No French. Things sponsored by Senators (like Canadian Senators would ever sponsor anything).

I've always marveled at the way you could only be a couple of hours from home and be in another country where things look like they should be familiar (there's actually a Tim Hortons here) but just aren't. I love subs, for example, but I've never heard of Blimpie's. Or to add to the confusion, realizing all the things are not big in Canada, like Twinkies, Yoplait, or Friendly's Restaurant, but because I grew up with them in New York, I didn't quite realize I was missing out with them in Canada.

More driving today. Today's destination is going to have some sweet outlets

Friday, September 3, 2010

labour day weekend

you haven't heard from me in a while because i've been working. a lot. but it's illegal to work on Labour Day (i work at the courts, i can say so) so i'm looking forward to some time off doing some traveling. This weekend we're getting into the car and driving to some American cities I've never heard of. I've been told what cities they were; I just don't remember. It doesn't matter to me. long weekend adventures!

stay posted.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

arriving at the end of the road...for now

I've started developing this strange love for roadside motels and greasy spoon diners that play bad francophone country music. which is pretty good if you're on a road trip, because you'll probably see a lot of it. it's a whole culture of its own, and is pretty universal across North America, wherever you go. the only thing that changes is the accent of the waitress that serves you, and the brands of beer that they've got on tap.

totally awesome quebecois diner food: poutine and smoked meat sandwiches.

i grew up in a household where we ate Korean food every meal, so diner food is actually pretty exotic to me. and there's something comforting about its consistency across the country. No matter what province or state you're in, if you're craving homemade spaghetti, chances are you'll find it on the menu at the diner. And without pretentious prices of a downtown King Street restaurant in Toronto.

it's the same thing with roadside motels. sometimes you're just tired from driving all day and you just want to find a place where you can curl up in a warm bed and watch a hell of a lot of TV. roadside motels provide that comfort. located in the middle of nowhere, there's no pressure to make the most of your visit and go outside and productively sightsee. you can go ahead and drink a beer in bed and watch medical dramas and have a wonderful sleep that will leave you looking forward to the next ten hours of driving tomorrow morning.

last night, we pulled into Kamouraska, which we had heard was a lovely place. it's been named one of the top 20 most beautiful villages in Quebec. i know there are more than 20 villages in Quebec, so I guess it's saying something. certainly other folks seemed to think so, because every quaint motel and inn along the St Lawrence River was completely full, leaving us to feel a bit like Mary and Joseph (minus the immaculate pregnancy part). so we kept on driving down the highway till we came across our next roadside motel attached to a greasy spoon diner. On this side of Quebec City, nobody speaks English. luckily, rob and i speak just enough French to conduct our business (rent rooms, order dinner), and not enough French for the locals to want to carry on a long conversation with us, so we were allowed to eat our diner food in peace and without saying anything. which was just what we were looking for, after a long day of driving.

it had been a challenging day. New Brunswick seems to get bigger every time I cross it, and it just seems to take forever to get through it. we had a scary moment when we almost ran out of gas - we were stuck driving with the gas light on, for what seemed like forever, during what seemed to be the longest stretch of highway without any rest stops. when that happens (and that has happened to me before), all these thoughts start popping up in my head: i have no cell phone reception here. has my CAA expired? i wonder how far i can run in this heat. are people here going to be friendly because they're rural, or unfriendly, because we're from the city? where are we exactly? maybe i should call my parents. are my parents going to think i'm a total idiot for having this happen again? i wonder where i can get some free wifi, because i haven't checked facebook in like two hours.

but we made it to a gas station, where a man asked us in a slow drawl where we were from. Ontario, we said. Ah, the man replied, he'd lived in Toronto for forty years, but was awful glad to eventually move back out here in Perth-Andover, because "ain't nobody trying to shoot at me here." I'd say it was the gospel truth.

and then once you leave New Brunswick, you've got Quebec, which actually is the largest Canadian province. miles and miles of farmland and purple loosestrife, seeming to extend way past the horizon. the occasional gigantic church in a tiny town. All these road signs posted in French, a weird French, because we've all learned French in public school, and yet these signs don't make clear sense, because instead of saying something simple like, "Maximum speed limit: 100 km/hr", they say something more complex and poetic like "You should consider how there are limits to your hurry; The roads are not a race track. 100 km/hr." Or instead of saying "Right turns on right lights are now permitted", they say "I think about pedestrians" with a picture of a red light. Oh well, it's all part of the adventures of French Canada.

today we took the rest of the trek home, and have finally arrived safely back in Ottawa. i'm a little sad about my road trip ending...but then again, i leave for Toronto in a few days, so i'll have plenty of chances to get tired of being on the road, if that could ever happen.

good-bye to the East Coast, the land where McDonald's serves McLobster burgers.

Monday, July 5, 2010

off on the road again

yesterday was a hot and sunny day, so we headed off for Prince Edward Island National Park to soak up some sun at the beautiful Brackley Beach. at least I did, anyway. my poor boyfriend with scandinavian genes spent his time hiding from the sun trying not to get burned.

it was a beautiful beach, very different from the west coast ones that i have grown used to. it was a white sands beach, instead of the usual red dirt, but there where these magnificent grassy dunes everywhere, and boardwalks set up to lead you through them. it reminded me a bit of Zandvoort on the North Sea in Holland, but this time the beach wasn't empty, but instead full of families and teens and children. and jellyfish, unfortunately, lots of jellyfish. the water was so full of them, i couldn't swim very long. the only people staying in the water were children who made a game of trying to poke the jellyfish with a stick while avoiding getting stung. they were much braver than i.

we drove through the rest of the national park which is full of shoreline beaches and quiet lakes, but not a lot of trees, in contrast to Ontario parks. for lunch, rob and i stopped off at the Dunes Gallery, which featured arts and crafts from various PEI artists as well as exotic stuff from all over the world, especially Buddhas. someday, someone can explain to me why non-Buddhists have such a fascination with keeping statues of Buddhas in their house. i mean, i rarely see atheists carrying around crosses or prayer beads. anyway, it was full of neat and interesting stuff, and it made me want to own a house so i could fill it with this stuff.

they also had a cafe in the gallery with an awesome menu of locally-grown meat, gigantic servings of salad, edible flowers, fruity cocktails, and sinful dessert. it was obviously really popular with women. i have this thing against eating flowers, but i really enjoyed my meal anyway, which consisted of PEI turkey burgers and half of Rob's steak and cheese sandwich.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

date night in Charlottetown

although we spent most of the day shooting the newest Scary Bear film on the beach, in the evening rob and i decided to have a romantic night in Charlottetown, doing our favourite activity, dinner and a show. we had dinner at Sims Corner Steakhouse and Oysterbar, where rob and i managed to drop almost the same amount of money as we did in Quebec City. the place was expensive but delicious. Rob likes to play food critic when we travel. he was pretty impressed with what we were served, although my chicken cordon bleu was technically not a chicken cordon bleu, since they replaced my ham with bacon....but who complains about accidental bacon?

i ordered ONE oyster, just to have a taste. i don't normally eat oysters, but this one was doused in cream and bacon, so how could i say no to that?

that's a lot of meat. rob ordered the steak, which was beef raised locally on the Island.

afterwards we went to Baba's Lounge to see a couple of bands playing, including Toronto's Andy Swan, and local bands Racoon Bandit and the Drea McDonald Band. It was a cute venue, a small attic nestled on top of a restaurant right on University. i enjoyed the music, although i wish everything started up a bit earlier - the music didn't begin until 11PM and the main act didn't come on until after midnight. but it was a Friday night - maybe Islanders party later. it's not like i don't get ten hours of sleep a night plus a daily siesta.

the dead seal is still lying on the beach...

Friday, July 2, 2010

Canada Day 2010

yesterday we spent Canada Day in the birthplace of Confederation (as folks round here call it).

Charlottetown's Province House, location of one of the first Conferences for the founding of our country.

John A. was totally up for celebrating with me.

During the day, Rob and I wandered in and out of several Charlottetown bars, watching the entire population of the Island slowly make their way into town. we passed the time drinking local beers, counting visible minorities, and eating overwhelming portions of PEI specialty foods.

Seafood chowder! Potato skins!

I like Charlottetown. The downtown core is really small, and you can easily cover it on foot in a short period of time, but there still were a lot of interesting unique shops (like the vintage & vinyl store - what a genius idea), and the harbour is as pretty as, well, a picture.

the whole area just has this cosy and friendly feel to it. i sneezed, and a man standing a block away from me said "bless you". i wondered out loud about how to pay for parking, and a woman who happened to hear us told us we didn't have to. the local newspaper sends off their local indie bands leaving to go on tour with the same well wishes that a mother would give her kids. that's just nice.

the support for the small but surpisingly talented music scene was especially evident when we saw Paper Lions performing as part of Summerfest in Confederation Landing Park near the wharf. I've heard Paper Lions a few times on CBC Radio 3 before, but as a PEI band, there was something particularly special about seeing a band play in its hometown with the support of their friends and families, on a gigantic stage during a primetime spot that no Toronto band of equal fame would be given in its hometown.

I was impressed by their performance overall. they definitely knew how to put on a show. they had an extended drum solo featuring the drummer playing with his bare hands then slowly adding drumsticks until he was playing with four sticks. he later on played a conga solo that almost, almost rivaled my own percussionist Brian's performance during our Mock Trial show. in the middle of their song Sheriff, they broke into an impressive four-part rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, which is not an easy song to cover.

then they announced that Anne of Green Gables would sing the national anthem. i thought they were joking.

they were not.

it was a surreal but moving moment. a fat guy with very hairy arms wrapped his arms around me, singing "don't be a stranger in my place" (he was still singing a Paper Lions song), the Japanese tourists apparently knew all the words to our anthem, and folks switched to the French version at the appropriate moment with no hesitation. but most importantly, freakin' Anne Shirley was singing the national anthem.

fireworks followed, synched up with music, all of which were, for some reason, songs by British bands. we didn't have the best view for the fireworks, since trees partly blocked our sight (this wouldn't have been a problem in Toronto, since they cut down the trees downtown in security preparation for the G20). Even so, it was still impressive - supposedly the second biggest fireworks display in Canada (you can guess where Number 1 was).

afterwards, there was the biggest crowd that i'm sure Charlottetown ever sees, all year round.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

gloria of green gables

some men from the government came about the dead seal yesterday. they pulled up in a car full of stuffed owls and bald eagles and blue jays and ducks, props they had been using for a talk they had just given at a summer camp. they came and looked at the dead bloated body on the beach and realized that the 300-pound thing was not going to fit into their little car full of endangered species, even if the seal was headless and tail-less.

yesterday rob and i went for a long drive around the island, taking what our map labeled as the Blue Heron Coastal Trail. this route took us all around the central part of the island, through Brackley, Rustico, Cavendish, Malpeque, Kensington, Summerside, Cape Traverse, and back to Cumberland again.

Port-La-Joye/Fort Amherst, where you can learn about all the things that aren't there anymore, namely Mikmac Aboriginals, Acadians, and the fort.

Lobster boats.


obviously along our route, we had to stop at Green Gables. because, as my friends from other parts of the east coast point out, what else is there to do in Prince Edward Island?

Personally, i've never really understood the point of visiting Green Gables, despite everyone's enthusiasm for it (including my grandfather's). First of all, Anne of Green Gables is a fictional character, so it's not like you can say "This is the spot where she used to sit and dream about what it would be like not to be red-headed." Second of all, Avonlea is a fictional town, so it's not like you can go to the spot and say "This is where Anne would have dreamed about puffy sleeves, if she really existed." Third of all, while Green Gables did really exist, L.M. Montgomery has herself said that when writing about it in her books, she did not stick to facts at all. So. my educational background in cultural studies questions the authenticity in paying eight dollars to visit Green Gables. However. Anne of Green Gables is one of the biggest hits to happen to PEI, so who am i to deny them their tourism?

For example, this would have been Anne's room, if she existed, if Avonlea existed, and if Green Gables was like this.

sometimes i wonder if the tour guides here wonder the same questions as me.

It was still pretty cool to visualize how the setting would have looked like in the book, and the whole area was a lovely place. i was a little disappointed that there weren't any hordes of Japanese tourists that usually hang around Green Gables. Green Gables seemed incomplete

later on, Rob and i stopped at a Cavendish boardwalk and had fish & chips with clam chowder for lunch. seeing how PEI is an ocean island whose main export is potatoes, the fish and chips seemed like the way to go.

by evening time, i could no longer resist my craving for ice cream, so we stopped at Cows Creamery, native to PEI (although my first Cows experience was actually in Nova Scotia). There was a lot of giggling at the t-shirts. rob and i realized that we had forgotten our six year anniversary last week, so we congratulated each other with celebratory ice cream cones.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

day 1 in prince edward island

i woke up yesterday morning to the sounds of cockatiels musically imitating my cough, the ocean gently lapping against a carcass on the red dirt shores, and the grunts of alpacas grazing on the front lawn. the cottage here seems like it comes out of another world. so much ocean. so much red dirt. and rob's parents' herd of alpacas who just hang out chewing the grass in the field all day. PEI life seems pretty relaxing in general, but i think the alpacas have it best.

we took the alpacas for a hike so i could explore the area, stepping carefully to avoid the slugs lying on the grass after the rain.

this alpaca was not a big fan of Rob.

I, on the other hand, had a special moment with this one.

i found myself interested in the daily concerns of cottage life, which were not too different from back home. Rob's dad showed us the skunk holes that had been filled up but the new holes where a weasel had moved in. The neighbour mentioned how something had killed the fox that the alpacas like to play with, probably a coyote. one problem in particular caught our interest: the big dead seal that had washed up on shore.

that's a pretty big problem....

it's going to be interesting, figuring out how to get rid of it...

in the late afternoon, it was low tide so rob and i went walking along the red sandbars, trying to avoid stepping on the washed up jellyfish (which i have been culturally trained to view as delicious) and the snails (also culturally delicious to a Korean) while trying to throw the dried-up crabs back into the ocean to save them. we were fascinated by the shallow pools formed around the beached seaweed, where hermit crabs and little nymphs like to hide and play and fight, like a natural mini-aquarium. rob and i spent some time throwing the red clay rocks down the cliffs and watching them explode into tiny pieces. when i was little, growing up in rural upstate New York, my sister and i used to play on the dirt hills around our house, smashing rocks against other rocks, where we developed the idea that if you threw a rock and it broke, then it wasn't a real rock. following my childhood rule, none of the rocks here in PEI are real rocks.

low tide.

near Charlottetown we saw a car with a very simple license plate number: 2. i kind of like the pace of the island here. Rob's dad told us how when he was younger here, they erected a streetlamp in Charlottetown which was the first streetlamp in Prince Edward Island, and folks drive in from all over the Island to "try out" the new streetlamp. There's similar excitement going on around here with the new roundabouts that they're installing in Charlottetown. to ensure that people learn how to navigate the roundabout properly, they've set up a fake roundabout in a mall parking lot nearby so people can practice driving through a roundabout, and folks drove in from all over to try it out.

despite being smaller than St. John's, Charlottetown is not as small as you'd think, though. i found a Korean grocery store here, and expect to hit it up sometime in case i get a kimchi ramen noodle craving in the middle of the night.

in the evening, rob and i went to a drive-in movie theatre near Brackley Beach, which we haven't done since we went to that one in Perth a few years ago. the movies we saw (Knight and Day, the A Team) were kind of awful, but awful in a fun way, probably because we were watching them in a car, spilling popcorn on the seats while wrapped up in sleeping bags, kind of like the way our grandparents used to. well, maybe not my grandparents because they were living in pre-industrialized Korea, but someone's grandparents.

today, today we try to get rid of the seal.