Sunday, July 27, 2014

I heart Montreal

After a fun yet slightly awkward first week in Montreal, I've finally grown comfortable in my home again. It's been such a fun past few days, complete with a day trip at Mont Tremblant (a popular ski resort in Quebec), roadside Tim Hortons and hot dogs, an afternoon on the lake and homemade cake and jam. I also met up with some dear friends, and tasted some nice fare in some good Old Montreal spots: a lunch at Holder, pastries and sandwiches at Olive + Gourmando (word has it Justin Timberlake was there too), Sunday brunch at Suite 701 and bubbly sangria at Boris Bistro.

We also had bagels at the Montreal landmark Fairmount bagels, along with smoked salmon and cream cheese, and coffee at Olimpico in my old neighbourhood, the Mile End. Thank goodness we climbed Mont Royal for a view of the city and burned some of those calories. I feel like we've just been eating, eating, eating, but walking so much (and hey, I'm not considered fat in Montreal, which has been a nice mental break). We went to Tam-Tams at Mont-Royal, the Sunday gathering of dancing hippies and whiffs of weed.

Montreal is now filled with hipsters, and the Mile End is 'trendier' than ever. I almost felt out of place without tattoos, a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and a huge beard. I also love how naturally beautiful girls are in Montreal, as opposed to Japan, where every girl is impeccably manicured and doll-like. In Montreal, girls have bed head hair, fresh faced makeup (or none at all) and a hint of red lipstick, and they're gorgeous as is. It's been so refreshing to see other kinds of beauty.

I've been reminiscing with friends, and it feels so good. It seems like 5 years apart never happened, even though I missed weddings, babies and job promotions. My friends are all so successful in their careers, and I feel so proud of them; they're doctors, pilots, actors, stylists, business owners, nurses, engineers and bankers.

Last night we we had (one of many) outdoor BBQ dinners, complete with bubbly and rooftop fireworks. For the first time in my trip I felt incredibly sad I don't live here, and incredibly sad I have to leave next week. I miss my friends and family back home, and somehow it felt so normal to just be drinking and having fun with them, and suddenly I wanted that to just be a regular thing.

I also walked by my old apartment on rue Hutchison, steps away from Mont-Royal Park, where I used to go running regularly. It made me feel sad about my life in Tokyo, my shoebox apartment and lack of green space to run near my house. It's silly as I was itching to leave so much when I was living there, but looking back I envy and miss that lifestyle, it was so much healthier than my current lifestyle. I think that's what I feel about my life in Tokyo now, even though I love my job, friends and exciting city life, it feels so stressful and unhealthy.

I feel like I'm faced with tough decisions for the few years to come, but in the meantime, I'll enjoy the rest of my visit.


This view.

Enjoying the park

I used to live there

Recovering from 5 years in Japan

Camera shopping

Boris Bistro terrace

Wild flowers

Oh, Canada

Puppy love

Strangely endearing Olympic Stadium

This life.

My Quebec drivers' license

Brownies at Olive + Gourmando

Japan meets MTL

Dirty chai and lemonade at O + G

More cats!!

I love this shop on Mont Royal ave.

Maple syrup + snow = tire sur neige

Being Canadian

Quebec's traditional belt

Suite 701 at Hotel Place d'Armes

Mont Royal

Squirrel!!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

First Week in Montreal

It's already been a week since I arrived in Montreal, and it's been really relaxing. I mostly spent time with my family at home, and visited the city a little bit. We had long BBQ dinners in the garden, and spent afternoons in the sun sipping drinks. Life is so relaxed here, and the weather is so nice! Summer in Canada is not hot- even now is supposedly a heat wave, but to me, it feels like a warm April day in Tokyo. It gets chilly very quickly at night, as soon as the sun starts to set it's quite cool. However, the sun doesn't set until 9pm, which is nice. I've been sleeping so well, however, I've had horrible allergies to the pollen.

I've been having fun just watching home shows on TV and going to the supermarket to see how big everything is. Everything comes in a big size!! It's a bit overwhelming, and everything is quite expensive with the tax, and tipping in restaurants. I think in the end, living in Tokyo is cheaper, despite the city taxes and apartment fees. I still love the fresh and affordable fruits and vegetables, and I've been subsisting on salads and huge quantities of fruit. I love eating greek yoghurt every morning, I'm hoping to find something similar in Tokyo. I also like how you can eat breakfast at a cafe from 7am! Tokyo, please take notes…. breakfast starts well before 11am.

I've been shopping a bit, and I was so disappointed. I guess nowhere compares to Tokyo. Montreal is really lagging on international brands, even though local Quebec designers are fantastic. I'm glad I spent my shopping budget beforehand in Tokyo, there is nothing I want here, as far as clothes go. I was also shocked at the way most stores display their items; unlike Japan where everything is carefully packaged, folded and clean looking, things are in disarray and sometimes even dirty. It doesn't make you want to spend money, unlike in Japan where shopping and customer service is such an experience. As much as I complain about the waste in packaging and the overwhelming customer service in Japan, I do love the attention to detail, and how special it feels to just buy a lipstick or nail polish. In other words, it's more fun and rewarding to spend money in Japan.

I felt sad to see St-Laurent boulevard- what I remembered as a trendy, happening street now looks so dirty and run down, with lots of closed shops. What happened there? I much, much prefer Old Montreal and its narrow cobblestone streets and wonderful cafes and boutiques. I'm so glad I'm living in Old Montreal for the next few weeks!

I still feel like a stranger in my own home, I go between being completely in awe to frustrated with small things, like how complicated it can be to buy a train ticket and this whole tipping thing. I love the space, I love the friendliness, I love how people hold doors open, I love how complete strangers smile at me, I love doing laundry. However, I do realize I couldn't live in Montreal anymore, especially not after Tokyo. Maybe it's too quick to say that, but I feel like I'd be suffocating here. Yet, I think the quality of life is higher here, especially compare to the cramped, polluted and crowded quarters I live in back in Tokyo. I wish I could get the best of both worlds.

It's been wonderful to spend quality time with family, try new restaurants and go to summer festivals downtown. Nothing has changed with my friends, it's just as if I never left. We still talk and joke about the same things, and it's so comforting. I think that's what true friendship should be like.


Sidewalk cafes

Best breakfast ever at Le Cartet

Vieux-Montreal

Puppy

Mega sized coffee

My friend has a parrot

Brushing the cat

Cat selfie


Square Victoria, metro gate gifted from Paris

More coffee!!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Bonjour Montreal

I ventured out of the house for a stroll around Montreal, mainly the Old Montreal, Old Port and downtown area around McGill University, where I spent my days as a student. Montreal feels so small, especially after living in Seoul and Tokyo. You can pretty much walk or cycle everywhere, which is great. The sole metro system (a grand total of 4 lines) doesn't ever get crowded, even during rush hour- or at least, the crowded Montreal metro is like a national holiday on a Tokyo weekday.

I love how much space there is, and how places are never crowded. It's still insanely cold, which I think is unusually cold for Montreal at this time of the year. Yesterday morning was only 15 degrees, which is a huge drop coming from hot and muggy Tokyo. I really hope it warms up as I don't have anything to wear, but it's a nice break from the heat. My skin and hair finally look normal and not acting up like in the Japanese humidity. I always feel so dirty in Japan, no kidding.

I feel like a stranger in my own home; even though I speak the language and understand everything (which feels so amazing), I keep forgetting the social 'rules' and I've been feeling quite anxious about it. I keep forgetting we have to tip here after a meal at the restaurant. Even cafes have tip jars by the register. The thing that surprised me the most is that prices are rounded up, which wasn't the case when I was living here. For example, I bought something that came up to 16.02$, and I handed the cashier 16.10$ in cash (so I would get minimal change back), but he said it was unnecessary, as they round it down to 16.00$. If it would be 16.03$, they would round it up to 16.05$. So I guess they eliminated pennies?! I'm late on those news. I feel especially stressed out about this rounding up thing, but thankfully, Canadians are forgiving if you don't know the rules, and I had a laugh about it with the cashier. He must have thought I was an idiot, perfectly speaking the language but not knowing the basics.

I'm used to being in Japan where there are so many social rules to follow, and after 5 years I finally learned most of them and can coexist without standing out too much. Canada doesn't have much social 'rules', everyone does as they please and I have to get used to that. I got stuck behind the exit turnstile at the metro, because I didn't remember how to get out. You just have to go and push, but I kept looking for a place to enter the ticket. I couldn't find it and I was too embarrassed to just try pushing (how Japanese of me), so I stayed there for a few minutes, lost and confused. I'm frustrated by how ridiculous the payment system is for the metro, it's so complicated with that Opus card that you can't just simply charge. You have to pick which kind of access you want, like evenings only or weekdays, etc. It made me feel thankful for Suica and Pasmo!

Montreal is so beautiful, especially the streets of Old Montreal, and the apartments lining Parc Lafontaine, Le Plateau Mont-Royal and even the McGill Ghetto (which isn't an actual ghetto!). There are trees everywhere, and the homes look great on the outside, and I bet they're decorated just as nicely on the inside. So many people ride bikes, and there are many bike lanes. Strolling through Parc Lafontaine, I noticed so many people running, doing yoga, or just playing guitar and having picnics, on a weekday. Life is so slow here, and so relaxing compared to what I'm used to in Tokyo. Many Montreal people are very active, but I noticed many overweight people too. However, the majority seem so confident with their bodies, judging by the clothes they wear.

I also like doing laundry, it's so quick with the washer and dryer, and everything smells so good. I love the kitchen space, and just the home space in general. I kept telling my mom that her kitchen is twice the size of my Tokyo apartment, but she doesn't believe me. Although I'm not sure if I'd ever be happy in Montreal, I can't help but appreciate the high quality of life, something that is missing in Japan, at least in my case.

I'm getting ready for a weekend of BBQ'ing and seeing one of my oldest friends, who now has a toddler and a baby on the way, and perhaps trying my hand at driving a car. Surprisingly my Canadian drivers' license is still valid, I just had to update my photo, and I'm good to go (although I don't think I should be trusted to drive further than my street). Next week I'll be staying in an Old Montreal apartment, to be closer to the fun stuff.

Now if you allow me, I'll go flip through the huge pile of affordable English magazines I found at the bookstore- I gasped when I saw 5$ for Vogue, and not 30$!

How I missed those breakfasts!

How pretty is that?!

Notre-Dame Cathedral in Old MTL

SO MUCH street art around the city

Gorgeous Parc Lafontaine- Adrien, this one's for you!

Metro view from the top

Gate of Chinatown

McGill University

Poutine at La Banquise!

Le Cartet, some amazing Illy coffee

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hi, Canada

After one of the longest journeys of my whole life (nearly 20 hours squeezed in economy class in two different yet identical aircrafts, hourly face mists and less than an hour of sleep), I made it home. Coming home after almost 5 years was quite moving, and all I can think about is, why didn't I visit before. It felt like I never left, an I've just had some lazy days hanging out in my family home, eating, drinking and lounging around.

My first observation was about how COLD Canada is at the moment. Montreal summer isn't summer! I'm freezing! All the summer clothes I brought are not keeping me warm, and I've been wearing jeans and long sleeved tops daily. It gets especially cold after 4-5 pm, the temperatures suddenly drop. I love how it stays light until 9pm. I love how everything is spacious and green. I've solely been subsisting on fruit and cheese. Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, mango, plums, oranges, watermelon… I can't stop eating fruit. And all those different varieties of cheese that would be extravagantly priced in Japan.

I feel a strong reverse culture shock. Everyone is so friendly here, people make small talk all the time, even at the airport, supermarket and drivers' license bureau. People make eye contact, and they randomly smile at me on the street. I feel so uptight and cold, but little by little I'm relaxing. I can't believe how warm people are here, it's like interacting with humans again, even though they are strangers.

I don't feel fat here. In Japan, I spend most days thinking I'm overweight and I'm obsessed with my weight and how I compare to others. In Canada, I'm average and probably below average- not only weight but height. I'm kind of small here, and I feel ridiculous and frustrated I've been so unhappy with my body for the last 5 years. It's nice to see people in all shapes and sizes, and also all different ethnicities. It's nice to hear French again, although I have to watch my mouth as I got used to saying things no one can understand.

It's nice to be home. I still don't know how I feel this place, in the sense that I'm not sure I would want to live in Montreal again. I need more time and more exploring. I'm also quite jet lagged and up before 7am every morning. I feel like Japan is a lot better for many things, but the quality of life is lower.

In the meantime I just enjoy resting, eating and doing things like going to the supermarket and having long talks with my mom at the kitchen table. I met our house cat, Adda, whom I had never met. It's a really pretty cat, but she seems scared of me. I just love being home and not doing much… I really needed that.

So hard to snap a photo 

ALL THE CHEESE!

An entire aisle dedicated to cereal 
Blueberries, raspberries and cream

lying in the garden

That's life



Saturday, July 12, 2014

Going, going, home.

It seems like just yesterday I left Montreal and moved my life to Japan. I left Montreal with a bit of a sour taste and I think that's a big part of the reason I didn't go back for so long, along with financial/job reasons as well. After living in Korea for a year and missing Montreal like crazy, I returned to a place that left me so disappointed, bored and that made me feel like a stranger. The life I had missed and imagined for a full year turned out to be a bit of an illusion, and the reality was harsh and I couldn't wait to get out again.

For the past four years, I grew to appreciate Montreal and the quality of life I had there, something I don't have as much in Japan. I'm now eager to go back, and even though I'm not sure where I stand with my feelings about that place, what I know for sure is that I have a family and longtime friends waiting for me there. It's home.

I remember my last day in Montreal, roaming around my neighbourhood in pajamas, having brunch at La Croissanterie with my mom and some close friends, then a late-night club sandwich in the Mile End, and a short nap before the taxi took me across the city at 3am, to the airport. I somehow knew I wouldn't come back so soon, but now looking back, I feel sad and regretful I haven't visited before now.

A small part of me is nervous to see the place I left so hastily and the memories. I have no idea how I'll feel at all. If I think about it too much I get really anxious and need to watch Friends or something to forget about it. But mostly I feel so amazing about taking this trip, as I think I'll finally be able to relax and feel comfortable at home and somehow just melt back into it. I'm curious to see, will I start missing Japan a lot, or will I be dreading my return? I guess I'll have a few more answers soon.

In other news, I went to the Mario Bros.-themed bar tonight with the girls, and it was great. The place is filled with paraphernalia from the game, including plush toys, themed cocktails, an actual game console and a pretty sweet rooftop patio defying safety laws. I highly recommend visiting it, as it's one of those 'only in Japan' places. They even played the Friends theme song, and that made my life complete.