Wednesday, July 9, 2014

a survey of Canadian cities in seven days: Toronto

Continuing my stories of each Canadian city I visited during my seven day sprint across the country:

Toronto is an assault to the senses for every Canadian that is not from Toronto. It's the biggest Canadian city. As an outsider, you are pretty much guaranteed to be overwhelmed every time. There is ten of everything. Two Korea towns. Millions of people. Cars everywhere, even in the suburban plaza parking lots. Traffic jams at midnight.

I have fallen in love with the pace of small town life, but I confess that even as I continue to live in Cambridge Bay, I often dream at night of going back to Toronto. In these dreams, I always have a limited amount of time and a burning desire to see everything while I'm there. Shopping on Queen West! Lounging at the Beaches! Soondubu chigae at Bloor & Christie! Ramen at Momofuku! Soju bars at Yonge & Finch! Plus dozens of friends I'd like to catch up with.  In my dreams, there is always a continuous theme of not having enough time to see all the things I want to do in Toronto. It doesn't help that I hadn't been back there in years.  Having moved to Nunavut, all of our trips down south are to Ottawa, and we usually just don't have enough time to make a side trip to Toronto.
This time, however, we made it happen. I had twenty-four hours in Toronto. There was no way - no matter how much sleep I was willing to give up - that I was going to have time to do everything, or really, anything, that I had been dreaming of doing. I certainly wasn't going to have time to see any of my friends, so I kept my presence in the T-dot a bit of a secret, slipping in under the radar.

The official reason we were in Toronto was to celebrate my grandmother's birthday.  The entire family came out, and I think she was pleased that we had all gathered for the occasion.  We met up at a Japanese-style Korean restaurant, one of those joints where the food that is served is inspired by Japanese cuisine but in reality is run entirely by Korean staff serving a Korean clientele, because Toronto is big enough to have those things.

A sushi boat

the "kids"

birthday girl

Shortly after this photo was taken, the birthday cake caught on fire.  My grandmother is no spring chicken, you know, and there were a lot of candles on the cake, which was made out of mugwort.  As the flames started and everyone started panicking, my grandmother reached her hand out in the most nonchalant manner possible and put the fire out with her own fingers.  She's so tough.

family photo

After dinner, we went to a Korean karaoke bar at Yonge & Finch. With my grandmother.  Let me tell you something about my family: we love to sing.  Impressions of western-style karaoke seem to involve drinking several beers to gain the liquid courage to go up on stage and sing an old classic in front of a crowded bar full of strangers.  My family, we love to sing. We'll sing completely sober. In a private room. Korean karaoke style.  With lots of snacks, of course.

Well, if I wasn't going to have time to do everything while I was in Toronto, the one thing I wanted to do was hang out with my peeps (Koreans) in my place (Korea town).


Afterwards, some of us younger folks went downtown to a club. Clubbing in Toronto is always a radically different experience than Ottawa and other smaller cities.  It involves walking through the clubbing district while barkers try to get you to go into their club. If one of them happens to be working for the club that you actually want to go to, you stop, pretending to be bored and disinterested and express to them in a bored and disinterested manner that you just don't want to pay $20 cover to get in; can he not give us a deal?  Also, we don't want to wait in line.  It's useful to bring young good-looking people around when you engage in such negotiations. I doubt I would have gotten very far on my own with my rural sensibilities and my grey hairs.

This, however, is pretty much our second home in Toronto:

The Galleria is one of many Korean grocery stores which are the size of T&Ts and Loblaws but devoted entirely to only Korean groceries.  Considering the fact that I come from a town where I am the only Korean and the only grocery store in town is about the size of the Galleria's produce section, it's pretty easy to be dazzled.

It was a whirlwind 24 hours where I managed to squeeze in sushi, karaoke, clubbing, and grocery shopping.  My list will be much longer the next time I come back to Toronto (whenever that will be), but hopefully I'll be in town for more than a day.