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Reports

Thursday, 5 June 2003
--> Toronto, Ontario, Canada (3)

From Erin Armstrong's place I moved back to the downtown district of Toronto where I stayed in the brand new apartment of Genny Jon. I had my first most-disappointing live concert experience today, but then again also a good Vietnamese food event too.

When I woke up this morning, Erin had already left to work. She left a note on the table that it was "fun having you over". Erin allowed me to stay in her apartment as I had loads of 'work' to catch up. I had to do some writing and prepare for the coming week when I'll leave Toronto again.

With some cereal behind the cheeks I wrote rampant!

It was Sarah who came over again after noon to check on me. She came up with the idea to have something to eat at a nearby lunch room. The ended up in the Green Room. Located in an alley south of Bloor Street and west of Brunswick Avenue, the Green Room will always be a bit of a secret for many people. This cafe looks like a funky, grungy library. Everything is old and all the furniture (even the lounge couches in the back) is mismatched, which immediately gave me the feeling of being in the living room of my own crappy student apartment at home.

Sarah advised me to go for a plate of stir fry noodles, named Pad Thai. After a few bites I understood why the kitchen added toast to that… it was nice but spicy!

It wasn't much later this afternoon that I packed my bags at Erin's place, wrote her a goodbye-and-thank-you note. Sarah dropped me off at the subway station across the street and whished me luck on my journeys.

My next destination was back in the downtown area of Toronto. I took the subway eastbound and knew I had to get on a southbound train at Younge-Bloor station.

I can tell you it is absolutely no fun to travel with a backpack on wheels through the subway of Toronto! I kept thinking about what a hell it is for wheelchair people, they won't even be able to get on a metro!

To get from one metro to another I had to walk down platforms, through tunnels, up the stairs, through a mall, down the stairs, go through tunnels, more stairs, up again, and etcetera.

Now you would think that Canada's biggest city has those escalators. Yes they do. But they either don't work, they are under construction or there is only one and that one of course goes the wrong directions.

You bet I made some noise banging my backpack up and down these stairs!

I finally made it to the corner of King Street East and Church Street, where my new hostess picked me up in front of her apartment complex. I am staying with Genny Jon, who works at IBM Business Consulting Services Research Centre in the northern suburbs. When I asked her again what she exactly did, she said it is "mostly doing research. I don't have Internet at home, because I surf most of the day at work anyway."

Genny moved into her own little one-room apartment last week, most of her stuff was still piled up against one wall. "First I have to finish all the paint work." She shows me the dark red bed room. "This will be the biggest job, to get this horrible colour out of here and make it more alive with another colour."

She told me that she decided to buy her own apartment in town because the prices for renting are rocketing in this part of the city. "Now I own this apartment and I can do with it what I want."

Gail, a friend of Genny, had also come over and would join us for dinner tonight. Gail was very fascinated to meet me, she has been following my travels on the web too. "It's okay, Ramon, I won't bore you with the questions you get everyday! I just love to meet you in real life!"

But there was no time to hang around that place too long, we had to go to the new Yonge-Dundas Square because the North by Northeast (NXNE) was launching its festival and conferences with live music there.

NXNE is Canada's biggest and most important music festival. Now in its 9th year, NXNE has a worldwide reputation for discovering and exposing new and emerging talent to music fans and industry professionals.

The last person performing on stage here was Gord Downie (also known as the lead singer of The Tragically Hip). As many people have told me so many times that I really look like him, I of course had to pay a visit to my musical equal.

But when we got to the square I was perplexed. The first thing that came to my mind was the word 'pathetic'.

Was this Canada's biggest and most important music festival launch gig? I mean, this is the biggest city in Canada and the stage was too small for the band that was playing there (the stage looked like crap anyway), the music blasted out of the speakers without any consideration that the people in the middle of the 300 people crowd should not became deaf… Oh my God, what a disappointment this was! I immediately did not enjoy it there.

Oh, and then there was Gord Downie, who softly hammered on his guitar while chit-chatting about squares in Europe that at least had grass and trees (that was one positive thing, he was political about this embarrassing square) or praising festival sponsor Jim Bean Whiskey "for absolutely nothing for us!", but the rest of his performance sounded either boring or I could not understand anything of it!

Happily Genny wasn't "much into music", so she kinda acknowledged my simple complaints.

And what kind of amateur did the lighting on stage? Never, never use blue and white light on a stage; you make everybody look like dead people! Aaah!

Fortunately Genny, Gail and I only hung around for half an hour, the concert finished at 8.30pm. I was happy that we could now go somewhere else.

Gail asked me what I have eaten already. Well, since my arrival in Ontario I already had Thai and Korean foods. "Ever had Vietnamese?" Genny asked me. "I can't remember when I ever had Vietnamese for the last time," and we walked up the street to a Vietnamese place named Ginger, one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in town.

And there I got a problem. I don't know anything that is on the menu and I did not know how much it was. I had to be honest and tell them I already had a full plate of Thai food in me from this afternoon. "I'll have a chicken roll," I said when we were standing in front of the counter where we had to order. "Only one?" I was asked. "Uh, yes… uh… but what is it? "Take a few of them," Gail said. "Oh. Okay."

At the restaurant we chatted about my travels and about all the different sorts of people I have met so far. It was around 10 pm when we left the place and headed home on Younge Street. Gail said goodbye and took off on her bike.

Genny told me how disappointed she is with the current look of Younge Street. "It just looks so negative, doesn't it?" she said. "Every three or four stores there is something like an adult book store, and adult video store, a strip club or adult video cabins." But I told her that it still has its charms. First of all you see that in practically every big city nowadays and next to these exploits at least the shops in between are so normal: shoemakers, bagel houses, clothing stores filled up the rest of the street. And all the buildings were still the original old brick houses, so it wasn't reconstructed in grey concrete. I liked this outlook pretty much!

Back at Genny's apartment she got an airbed out of one carton box and I helped her installing the easy-pump system. With a sleeping bag as my cover I got ready for a night on that soft bed.

Genny told me that she would let me sleep in tomorrow morning. "I will wake you up to let you lock the door when I leave for work," she said.
"Lock the door? The apartment door?" I asked.
"Yes."
What did I miss? "Uh, why?"

I honestly had to ask. Because I definitely wondered why I should lock the door of an apartment on the fifth floor of this huge apartment complex while I am inside. Would this be a big-city thing?

"It's just safer," Genny said. But it remembered me of the Bowling for Columbine documentary where is stated (however exaggerated of course) that Canadians don't lock their doors that often.

I guess people in high-rise apartment complexes with pin-codes, key passes and security guards downstairs do lock their door. For safety of course.

Good night Toronto!

Ramon