Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Caroline vs. Tokyo

New country, new snacks.

I've been in Tokyo for about seven weeks now, and am starting to really get into the swing of things.  I definitely had some growing pains and a teensy bit of culture shock; here are some of my first impressions of Tokyo:

A visit to the Meiji Shrine a couple days before Christmas.

People scuff their feet as they walk.  This drives me nuts (I have the randomest pet peeves) - probably because it was drilled into my head at a young age not to scuff my feet because it would ruin my shoes.  Sometimes I look at women in their fancy shoes scuffing their feet, and scream "WHY?!?!" in my head.

Traffic flows on the left, which keeps tripping me up.  I haven't had as much trouble looking the correct way on the street (I always have major problems with this in England...I almost got hit by a double decker bus once), but I keep forgetting that I should stay to the left on sidewalks and stairs.

I was brought up not to slurp my food or hold my bowl/plate to my face, but that's just how one eats Japanese food.  Ramen should be slurped up ASAP, and there needs to be as short a distance as possible between the bowl and one's mouth to avoid having rice fall off chopsticks en route.

My preferred Matsuya order: shredded beef with vegetables and a poached egg over rice.

There are a lot of old people.  Japan's population is shrinking (an overly simple explanation of this is that people work too much and don't devote enough time to raising a family, or even taking the time to have sex), so a lot of older people (mostly men) work "odd jobs," like security guards, janitors, etc.  Tokyoites are known for their serious style, and the city's elderly are no exception.

I went to a cat cafe on my first day (also my birthday), and the people running it were weirdly anal about EVERYTHING.  Is it because they know they hold all the power?  (Thinking about this after made me realize that cats carry a lot of diseases, so some of the rules regarding hygiene made sense).

Young people are also always looking at their phones.  Yes, I love my smartphone too (though I don't have data here, so I can only browse where I can find free wifi), but I'm careful about not texting and walking.  I have seen so many people staring only at their phones as they exit the metro trains and navigate the train platforms and crowded sidewalks, it's a wonder people don't collide with each other or trip up steps more often.

A cat at Hapineko (literally "happy cat") doing what cats do best: making humans beg for attention.

People don't smoke and walk - this is a big reason that Tokyo sidewalks are relatively litter-free.  I welcome this cultural norm since I have been nearly singed by another pedestrian's cigarette countless times at home and in Europe.  There are smoking areas (I like to call them "smoking jails") in certain areas of the city, like around major train stations and on university campuses.  I was here for five weeks before I saw someone walking and smoking, and it was in the middle of the night in a residential neighbourhood.

There are virtually no visible homeless people.  I have seen exactly one person begging in a subway station, one person rooting through garbage on a street near my apartment, and two people sleeping under a bridge by one of the rivers in my neighbourhood.  This is largely because of the shame and stigma that comes with begging for money in the street.  There doesn't seem to be much of a structure of shelters, but it seems likely that a homeless person can get a cheap place to stay at internet cafes and love hotels.

A lot of people (especially women) are pigeon-toed and/or bow-legged.  This causes a lot of women to have trouble walking in heels, but I've been told it's "cutesy" for women to clomp around like this.  Clem also thinks I'm noticing more pigeon-toed people because I'm just seeing more people (metro Tokyo has a population of 13 million).

Christmas and New Year's wishes from visitors to Meiji Jingu.

There are few bike lanes, and the ones I've seen are always part of the sidewalk, so cyclists are competing with pedestrians.  I've almost been hit a couple times (refer back to the point about moving on the left), and this type of thing really bothers me at home, but I'm not going to get into a fight about it here.

Even though most people read their phones on public transit, a fair amount of people also read books.  They all have decorative book covers for protection, because books are rarely published in hardcopy.

Uggs are really in style, for some reason I cannot fathom.

Daikanransha, a ferris wheel at Pallette Town in Odaiba, on Tokyo Bay

People don't talk on public transit.  Even during rush hour when trains and busses are packed (and yes - people packers are a thing), few people will carry on a conversation.  Part of the reason is that this is a time people use to sleep, since work hours and commutes are long.  It's very gauche to talk on the phone on the subway.

There are no small rodents like squirrels, but there are loads of birds.  Some metro stations have recorded bird sounds playing - I recently learned this is so people with impaired vision can know where they are going.

Many restaurants have plastic models of all the foods on offer, even drinks!  This is helpful for tourists who can't read a Japanese menu, and it is also a sign that the restaurant is doing well for itself, since the models are very expensive.

Walking home from school.

I love Tokyo already.  I can't wait to see what I'll be able to get up to over the next few months.



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Saturday, 31 January 2015

Caroline vs. #NoTaxOnTampons

I've been having some trouble connecting my camera to my laptop and downloading my photos, so the post about Tokyo that was supposed to go up today will have to wait.

In the meantime, I want to bring your attention to an important issue for women and other menstruating people in Canada: the fact that we pay GST (government sales tax) on menstruation products.  Pads, reusable pads, menstrual cups, tampons, everything.  In fact, according to the Government of Canada, all menstrual hygiene products are considered a non-essential item or luxury!  The GST has been lowered from 7% to 5%, but it still adds up: it is estimated that approximately 17,876,392 Canadian women between the ages of 12 and 49 spent about $519,976,963.00 on menstrual hygiene products in 2014 alone.

This week a woman from Toronto named Jill Piebiak started a petition to support Bill C-282, An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act (feminine hygiene products), a private member's bill that Member of Parliament Irene Mathyssen introduced in October 2013.  As these bills are voted on only by MPs the number of signatures on this petition won't necessarily have a direct impact on the outcome of this bill, but they will show the government that this bill has a lot of public support.  The number of signatures is creeping up, but is still appallingly low for something that is so basic.  If you don't think those of us who menstruate should be taxed for a naturally-occurring biological and reproductive function, I urge you to show your support for Bill C-282 by signing the petition, or maybe even go a step further by writing to your Member of Parliament and to the other ministers listed on the petition page.  As Jill wrote, "Let's work together to remove this stain from our legislation."

More information on this can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and through the hashtag #NoTaxOnTampons



Monday, 19 January 2015

Caroline vs. 2015

Happy New Year!

This update has been a long time coming.  I really enjoyed blogging once I started and was full of ideas, but eventually I lost the motivation to update regularly, and then I just...stopped.  A big part of this was my move back to my hometown of Ottawa after five years in my beloved Toronto.

I couldn't find a job in Toronto (ah, the plight of a 20-something with a Bachelor of Arts) so I packed up and headed home to live with my parents.  This caused a lot of stress since I went to boarding school before moving to Toronto for university, so I hadn't lived with my parents in seven years.  Needless to say, it took a lot of adjusting.  I also didn't know too many people in Ottawa; everyone I knew in high school I had either fallen out of touch with, or they had moved out of town after staying home for undergrad.  I did have one of my good Toronto friends with me (hi Sarah!), but I was pretty lonely for the most part.

I struggled with my mental health in high school and in university, but I think the stress of moving back in with my parents, of starting a new job that was largely independent, of being in a long distance relationship with my boyfriend Clem in Berlin, and of not really knowing anyone in the city snowballed my anxiety.  Last winter was terrible all across Canada, and I just felt awful all the time.  I could barely convince myself to get out of bed in the mornings to go to work, let alone string together enough words to make an interesting blog post.

Early in the Spring, after being back in Ottawa for almost a year, I decided to get some professional help.  I had shunned the idea for years because of the stigma surrounding mental health, especially at such a high-achieving school like U of T, but this year I decided enough was enough.  And, honestly, I wish I could go back to my first year in Toronto and actually make that appointment at the U of T counselling services.

With a trip to visit Clem in Europe in April, the great summer weather, and a very adventurous friend, I slowly started to feel better as the summer wore on.  I published an article that ended up on the front page of the Heritage Ottawa Newsletter, I got back into reading, and I even joined a Running Room clinic and ran my first half marathon in September!  With a clearer mind I started thinking about blogging again, but didn't get around to actually putting together a post until...

I moved to Japan.

My boyfriend is completing the second year of his Master's degree at the University of Tokyo, and I decided to "carpe diem," quit my job, and move halfway around the world to join him.  I don't have a job here yet, so until that happens I'll be spending my time adventuring around the city.  This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and the experience deserves to be recorded and shared.

The famous Shibuya Crossing, on one of my first days in Tokyo.

So, all this to say that I'm back.  Any tips and tricks for Tokyo and Japan would be greatly appreciated!  And if any of you reading this are having trouble with your mental health and want someone to talk to, my ears and e-mail inbox are always open.



Monday, 15 July 2013

Caroline vs. Cities & Typography

I was bitten by the travel bug at a very young age, and since the past few years have been relatively light on the travel front the internet has been great for feeding my wanderlust.  As such, my Tumblr and Pinterest are constantly inundated with photos of faraway places, filling me with nostalgia for places I've been lucky to visit, and giving me a kick in the pants to get my act together so I can discover new places.  A few of my recent favourite travel-oriented photos come from Turkish web designer Gökhun Güneyhan, who has done a really interesting job of marrying photos of European cities and countries with a typographical interpretation of the names of those places.  My hands-down favourite is "Valencia," although I admit to being slightly biased, as the building pictured (the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia) was right across the road from my family's apartment when we lived there.
The Palau is part of the hyper modern City of Arts and Sciences, largely designed by the famed Santiago Calatrava
Some of my other favourites are below, but click through to see the rest!

Prague's distinctive architecture

Saint Mary's Basilica, located in Krakow's Rynek Główny, which is the largest medieval town square in Europe!

View of the Eiffel Tower from Place de la Varsovie

xx, C.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Caroline vs. The Drake Hotel

A few months back I decided I wanted to surprise my boyfriend Clement with a Valentine’s Day staycation, and what better place to do so than the Drake Hotel.  I’d only been to the Drake a couple times, and even then only for drinks, so I was eager to find out what it would be like to actually stay there.
The Drake Hotel, 1150 Queen Street West, Toronto
Thirty minutes after I left my Annex apartment, the Queen streetcar dropped me off right in front of the Drake.  Check-in was quick and easy, and the front desk staff were glad to answer any questions I had.  Because the hotel is in an older building there is no elevator, which was no problem for me and my small overnight bag, but getting up the two flights of stair with a full suitcase would have been difficult had I followed my notorious overpacker instincts.
Our little Crash Pad!  The perfect size for two.
As soon as I opened the door and walked into our assigned Crash Pad (the second smallest offering of rooms at the Drake) I was met with the slightest peppermint scent, which put me at ease right away.  I really enjoyed the fact that the room was scattered with trinkets available for purchase through the Drake General Store, located next door to the hotel entrance, and to which guests receive a voucher for 10% off (I ended up buying a Luckies of London scratch-off map of the world).  The room was by no means palatial, but it was very well organized and not once did we feel cramped.  There was no mini-fridge, but snacks and drinks were displayed neatly on shelves – the constant visibility and the aesthetically-pleasing packaging made the pricy goodies that much harder to resist!  There was a small bag of caramel popcorn beside the bed with a welcome card on it, which sufficed as our snack for the night.
Spoils from Malin+Goetz: cilantro hair conditioner, bergamot body wash, and peppermint shampoo.
I arrived alone, about an hour before Clem did, so I had some time to get myself all made up.  The bathroom lights were bright enough for me to see precisely what I was doing, but they didn’t cast the harsh glow I have come to expect in hotel bathrooms.  The array of wonderfully scented Malin+Goetz toiletries made me feel extra luxurious, and I really wish they had sample sizes so I could take them home without being charged.  In theory, one could pick up some travel-sized bottles from the Shoppers Drugmart down the street and fill them with the products, but unfortunately for me this thought didn’t strike until after we’d left (and shelled out $36 for a bottle of the peppermint shampoo).

The Striploin Maki.  Perfect for sharing.
After primping I glided down the stairs and met the boyfriend for drinks at the bar.  I’d only ever been up to the rooftop Sky Yard, but this time we decided to escape the cold and cozy up in the Lounge.  It was big, but still felt warm and homey; the back wall was filled with books and vinyl and retro record players, which almost made us feel like we were in our own living room.  The Drake has a wide array ofcocktails, so I asked our server which ones he recommended, and I was very pleased with both the Paper Plane and the Paloma (both $13).  Cocktails generally run between $10 and $14, so a bill adds up pretty quickly, but if you’re in the mood for only one or two expertly mixed drinks, the Drake is the place for you.  Clem and I had agreed beforehand that a night at the Drake would stand in lieu of a nice dinner, but we couldn’t pass up ordering an appetizer to go with our drinks.  We ended up with the Striploin Maki ($15.95), which was unbelievable.  I’m not a big fan of seafood and tend to stick with vegetarian sushi, so the beef was a nice change of pace.
Really great touch!
After we had spent some time at the bar, Clem and I left the hotel in search of something more substantial for dinner that would also be easy on the wallet.  We ended up at Poutini’s, just a block away, and immediately chowed down on some poutine.  I HATE gravy (weird, I know.  My family never ate it when I was growing up, so I never got the taste for it), so I opted for the pulled pork, which was saucy enough that my fries and cheese curds weren’t too naked, meanwhile Clem heartily dug into his classic poutine.  The two poutines together came to less than $15, so we left with bellies and wallets totally satisfied.  We then went back to our room, and were greeted with a small plate with two cookies, and a card wishing us goodnight!  One thing I love about boutique hotels is the little touches they have to make guests feel totally at home.  After scarfing down the cookies we changed into the comfy Drake Hotel bathrobes, and settled in for the night with a movie and the clichéd-but-necessary bottle of bubbly – Clem had picked up my favourite, Freixenet Cordon Negro.

I need to eat breakfast in bed more often.
Before we went to bed we decided we would splurge on breakfast in bed.  I mean, why not, right?  We chose the continental breakfast ($26 per person), which was delivered bright and early the next morning.  We had coffee, orange juice, fruit salad, yougurt and pastries.  The coffee was delicious and the juice was freshly pressed, but the rest of the breakfast wasn’t too spectacular.  The fruit salad was very standard, full of melon with very few berries, which was disheartening for me as I don’t care for melon (but LOVE fresh berries).  I mixed the fruit with the yougurt, which I gathered was natural-flavour Greek yougurt; it was good with the fruit, but not so much on its own.  A little honey and I would have been a happy camper.  The pastries were small and almost crunchy, but this was remedied with the cream and jam that accompanied them.  All that aside, however, we got to eat breakfast in bed without cooking it first, which was a special treat.
This little guy from the Drake General Store was so cute!

Check-out was at 11am, and with that the real world beckoned, and our little staycation was over.  We both had a really good time, and even though it's unlikely I'll be able to stay at the hotel again in the near future, it will remain one of my favourite spots in Toronto for eating and drinking.

xx, C.

Credits: First photo from The Drake's Facebook page, all others my own.