Tag Archives: Toronto

Young Man Went West #31: Evolution of an Escape Plan

And now what?

The road trip is over and I’ve been on this island for nearly two-and-a-half years, which is a year-and-a-half longer than I had schemed. My original game plan for life after college was hopping from one city to the next, a year here, a year there. Repeat ’til fully jaded or satiated. I wanted to know several regions–inside and out–before settling down in one of them. While I’m still on the first stop of that master plan, I can assure you the travel bug has not vanished.

Had I no upcoming plans around the time of my first kama’ainiversary, i.e. my first full year on this island, I’d have made some to move elsewhere. However, several months before that one-year marker on September 16th, Ian proposed his idea for the cross-country road trip. Obviously, I wasn’t going to go through the hassle of moving back to the Bay Area and finding a new job, so I stayed put way past September. The road trip became, for me, not only a chance to see the country with my own eyes, but also an opportunity to scout out that next stop.

Change #1: Move out of Hawaii after one year –> Move out of Hawaii after 21 months, before the road trip

Regardless, I had a candidate picked out: the Emerald City. I left my heart in Seattle when visiting my cousin Avery for her graduation from SPU. It looked and felt and smelled like San Francisco, but it was, at the same time, completely new. That fascinated me, and I was dead-set on relocating there. I planned on moving off the island, driving around the country for a summer, then starting anew in Seattle.

Then I realized I was going to be crazy broke by the end of the trip and decided I should return to Honolulu for three months and save up a bit of cash before heading somewhere else. Seattle was still my target destination, unless something on the road changed my mind.

Change #2: Move to Seattle right after the road trip –> Return to Honolulu for three months, go home for Christmas, then move to Seattle

Of course, something did change my mind, I just didn’t expect it to be Seattle itself. Upon my arrival in that familiar, rainy wonderland, it hit me: I knew I could live in that kind of city. I knew I could fit in with those types of people. Growing up near another progressive, West Coast city, I knew I’d be immediately comfortable in Seattle, and that goes against the whole point of moving to different places. I wanted to learn, I wanted to adapt. Seattle was out of the picture.

As we journeyed on eastward, I kept my eyes open for new opportunities. I’d have considered Minnesota for its mix of big city feel and small town friendliness, but the weather blows on both ends. Chicago is undoubtedly a great American city, but after the food opportunities, there’s little charm left. Madison and Ann Arbor seemed like delightful college towns, but I’m not in college anymore.

Then, we stumbled across the border.

Toronto offered the same laid-back, big city vibe as do San Francisco and Seattle, but because it’s in Canada, it’s inherently different. Despite its proximity to the border, there are still enough cultural difference to learn about between the US and Canada to keep me intrigued for at least a year.

I was researching dual citizenship all the way through Boston. . . until we hit New York.

Change #3: Move to Seattle after three more months in Honolulu –> Move to New York City after nine more months in Honolulu

As soon I stepped foot in New York, I knew where my next stop would be. The promise of burgeoning opportunity oozed out of every crevice. The City moved in a million different directions, none of which would be a dead end. It activated my curiosity, my imagination, and all five senses. It was certainly a place one needs to live in once, but can only move to before a certain age. I was set on making that move before the opportunity passed. Of course, I’d need to save up a lot more money to make such a big move, so I figured I’d stay put in Honolulu until the following summer.

All the way down the East Coast and through the South, I told every new friend that I was moving to New York.

Then I met up with my oldest friend in New Orleans: my sister. She’s been a fountain of helpful advice my whole life–from preparing me for my first school dance to guiding me in picking a college–so when she has something to say, I listen. She liked my decision to move to New York, but wondered aloud if I should utilize my youthful freedom, i.e. lack of responsibility, to pursue an opportunity and discover where that led me, instead of the other way around. It made sense. She sister’s advice always does.

As we roamed Canal Street, I pondered on my wide, open future a bit more, then was struck by inspiration. My first and last nights in the Crescent City were spent with my old college buddy, Josh, who relocated there after graduating to work for Teach For America. I come from a whole family of teachers, and everybody says I’d be a good one, so why shouldn’t I teach, too? And it doesn’t have to be for America; countries around the world are constantly seeking English teachers. If I have nothing leading me to New York, maybe I should let this idea lead me to another country.

Change #4: Move to New York City after nine more months in Honolulu –> Apply to teach English in Korea and stay in Honolulu until I’m accepted

After a bit of research, I discovered that because Japan is the number one destination for foreign teachers, Korea offers plenty of benefits to lure potential teachers away, including cheap living and a good salary. On top of that, Korean food and movies are amazing.

I had planned my future. Again. From New Orleans to the West Coast, I told every new friend that after I returned to Honolulu, I’d apply to teach English in Korea. By the time I got to LA, I started thinking about what to do with all that money I’d save. The website said teaching abroad is a good way to save up for grad school. I had never considered grad school because I didn’t think I had a passion. Well, after I moved to Honolulu, I discovered I liked to write. And during the road trip, I discovered I had an eye for photography. Put two and two together, and you get another plan: grad school for photojournalism!

Addendum to Change #4: Apply to teach English in Korea, stay in Honolulu until I’m accepted, buy and learn to use a good camera in the meantime, use the teaching money to pay for grad school for photojournalism after I return

So, my near future plans set. They were peer- and parent-approved. They involved travel, teaching, money, and school. That’s all that matters, right? I returned to Honolulu and told everybody I had everything figured out.

And then I met Jenn. . .

No more need for Roxy Models at the end of the posts


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Young Man On The Road #13: Let’s Go to the Mall. . . Today!

Toronto, Niagara Falls, Mississauga, and Brampton, ONTARIO (CANADA)

July 7-12

Ian and I were both very much excited about Toronto.  For him, it was a chance to hang out with family he rarely sees.  For me, it was the opportunity to experience a new country.  For both of us, it was a chance to eat some homemade Filipino food.

We stayed in his cousin Jason’s apartment in Mississauga, a suburb only twenty minutes from Toronto.  Because we had a week in a comfortable situation, we felt no pressure to “do something” every day.  We walked around aimlessly and revisited many of the same spots.  As a result, the week just blurred together in one experience—as opposed to a series of events—leading me to organize this post as. . .

Lessons from Canada!

The CN Tower

Lesson #1: Phones are extremely helpful, but not completely necessary.

My first significant memory in Canada was searching for my phone around and beneath the driver’s seat in the parking lot of a Tim Horton’s—Canada’s version of Starbucks with a pinch of fast food.  I have a vague memory from an hour before of setting my phone on the roof of the car while at a gas station.  I don’t, however, have a vague memory of returning that phone to my pocket.  Oh well, the out-of-country fees were going to be outlandish, anyway.

I thought that traveling without my phone for a week was going to be either really liberating or really frustrating.  It was neither.  My lack of phone was nothing more than a slight annoyance whenever I wanted to check the time, or keep myself occupied on the subway.  Sure, it would have been helpful to have the Maps app when we got off the subway five stops too early, or to have the camera feature when the batteries in my point-and-shoot died at Niagara Falls, but I got around all those problems, proving my phone unnecessary.  I came to realize that I rarely used it to send important calls or texts and mostly used it to update my Facebook status.  Since Canada charges 18 cents a minute and $16 a MB—a hefty sum in either currancy—it was nice to have that temptation removed.

There was one day, however, that a phone would have made a difference.  My college friend and former floormate Rebecca was living in Toronto and when she saw one of my Facebook statuses, she immediately contacted me.  We planned to meet up the next day.  However, I couldn’t find her number before we left, so Ian and I spent the day in Toronto looking for Wi-Fi so we could use his phone to log onto my Facebook to see if she messaged me.  No word from her by the end of the day, so we ended up heading back to Mississauga.  We eventually met up with her the next day to tour the Steamwhistle Brewery, but if I had had my phone from the start, we would have spent a lot less time hunting down a signal.

We finally met up with Rebecca at the Steamwhistle Brewery, a small, progressive, green company that makes an tasty pilsner.

Lesson #2: Fill up on free food.

When you’re on a long trip, hoard and devour any food that comes for free.  I mean, be grateful and polite, but don’t turn it down.  One of the first things we did on our first full day was stop by the office of Ian’s aunt/Jason’s mom.  She couldn’t believe the trip we were taking and—when Ian passively mentioned missing Filipino food—wanted nothing more than to cook us a Filipino feast.  At her house in Brampton the following evening, we ate kare-kare, chicken adobo, and plenty of steamed rice.  She then packed up all the leftovers and a huge bowl of marinated pork chops to take back to Mississauga.  We ate well that week.  No, scratch that, we ate a lot.  “Well” conveys healthy and what we ate in addition to his aunt’s dishes was anything but.

Lesson #3: Though some food is free, you can’t pass up local fare.

What do you get when you drench greasy fries in gravy and top it off with cheese curds?  You get poutine, a Canadian national dish and artery-clogger.  This concoction of delicious fat on fat is a Canadian staple and, therefore, a must have for us.  Food, after all, is the gateway to immersing yourself in a different culture, no matter how calorie-ridden that gateway be.  The first poutine we tried was at Smoke’s Poutinerie in Queen Street West.  Ian and I got the limited time “O! Canada” special, which added peameal bacon (known to the rest of the world as Canadian bacon), smoked bacon, and sautéed mushrooms.  Jason got one with pulled pork on top.  Both Ian and I liked the “O! Canada “poutine well enough, but regretted not getting the version with ground beef, grilled onions, and mushrooms.  Because, ya know, ours clearly didn’t have enough fat.

The "O! Canada" Special

I vowed that that was the last poutine I would eat during our week-long stay.  Several days later, at a Mississauga diner at 2 o’clock in the morning, we each got another.  And it was just as regrettably delicious.

This stuff is like Canadian crack. Everybody's eating it in the streets late at night around the bars.

Lesson #4: Knock out the big touristy things first.

Toronto is a major city with endless things to explore.  And just like the other major cities we’ve visited, there were a couple iconic places we had to see, whether we wanted to or not.  In Seattle, it was the Space Needle.  In Chicago, it was Willis (Sears) Tower.  In Toronto, it was the CN Tower.

The CN Tower has the distinction of being the tallest freestanding structure in North America.  But what about the Sears Tower in the good ol’ US of A, you say?  No worries, that still holds the record of being the tallest building in North America.  So while the CN Tower reaches above the Chicago icon’s apex, it doesn’t qualify as a building.  Plus, I’m pretty sure the observation deck in Willis (Sears) Tower is higher than the one in the CN Tower.

We shelled out more for this elevator ride than we did in Seattle or Chicago, and I’m not sure if it was worth it.  The CN tower did have glass floors, but the Willis (Sears) Tower had SkyLedge!  The CN tower had a rotating restaurant on top, but so did the Space Needle.  But I guess it was all worth it to find this guy in the lobby:

The other giant touristy place we wanted and had to visit was Niagara Falls, which was only an hour outside of Toronto.  Two things about the trip shocked me: 1) the admission price for the Maid of the Mist boat tour “into” the falls was cheaper than any of the elevator rides we took; and 2) the surrounding neighborhood (sorry, “neighbourhood”) of Clifton Hill was a tacky, spectacle-ridden tourist trap a la Reno, Nevada.  There were giant monster structures, kitschy restaurants, and several wax museums.  Needless to say, we didn’t stick around much in Clifton Hill.  We just beelined through all the brightly lit signs on the way to and from a very worthy Maid of the Mist tour (the falls weren’t as tall as I’d imagined, but the sheer amount of water that came crashing down was incredible!).

See the Tim Horton's in the distance? They're everywhere!

Lesson #5: Family’s first, even if it ain’t yours.

This experience would not have been possible without Ian’s family, and I don’t just mean on an accommodation scale.  More than just cooking us food and shelter, his family hung out with us, brought some friends along, and played tour guide to the city.

Our first night in, Jason took Ian and I out to some local spots with his friends.  He then spent the whole next day walking with us around Toronto.  He showed us all the different neighborhoods, introduced us to poutine, and ascended the CN Tower with us.  A city is always more interesting when you have a local drive you around and point things out.

Ian and his cousin Jason at the CN Tower. Not the best observation deck. . .

The next day, Jason’s sister Jennifer drove us out to Niagara Falls.  She had never done the Maid of the Mist boat ride and was glad to join us on our touristy adventure.   Afterwards, Jennifer drove us out to Brampton for that Filipino dinner at her mom’s house.

Ian and his cousin Jen on the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls.

For our last dinner in Ontario, Ian’s whole Canadian family—his aunt and uncle, Jennifer, Jason, and Jason’s girlfriend—treated us to an all-you-can-eat buffet.  Nothing says love like unlimited food.  I am so glad to have met Ian’s family and thank them for making me feel like part of it.


Toronto seemed as big as Chicago, as friendly as Minneapolis, and as progressive as Portland.  Plus, it has the added distinction of being the most diverse city in the world.  After having rejected the idea of moving to Seattle, I started to give serious thought about moving to Toronto.  No final decisions, of course—I still had places like Boston and New York to explore—but how awesome would it be to have dual citizenship?

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