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



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 


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.

Friday, July 11, 2014

No Sleep!

4am earthquake stickers say it all

I, along with the whole population of Tohoku and Kanto, was woken up at 4:22am by the earthquake alarm, which shouts "earthquake, earthquake!!" in Japanese over and over and buzzes loudly enough to give you a heart attack. It's actually the first time my earthquake alarm was accurate, meaning it announced it a few seconds before it actually took place. Thankfully it wasn't strong in Tokyo, and although there was a tsunami warning and evacuating on the coast of Tohoku, seems like there are no damages, but who knows about Fukushima- never know which kind of cover-up they'll come up with next.

Whenever an earthquake strikes I always reach for my phone and go to Twitter, which is a strange habit I picked up in Japan. Of course if the quake was strong I'd evacuate, but when it's just a small shake I just like to go on Twitter for 'confirmation'. Guess it makes me feel less lonely in the middle of the night, knowing everyone else is awake and slightly freaked out by the alarm. I stayed up until 5am contemplating breakfast, but I was able to go back to sleep for a few hours.

Now I have to run around Tokyo for errands, but the temperature is like 37 with 99 percent humidity (I'm barely exaggerating) and I don't want to go in the outside world.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Waiting for an off-season typhoon, tonight. I stocked up on food and magazines, and I'm secretly hoping I get to sleep in an extra hour tomorrow. I have lots of packing to do, and so far my suitcase is filled to the brim with snacks to give as gifts. How will I find room for clothes? And why is Montreal hotter than Tokyo at the moment?

Thank you for the book recommendations, I want to read them all! I just wonder how I can survive a 16 or 17-hour trip, not to mention all the waiting time in between. It's pretty much a full day of just being on planes and transferring.

Just today I was emailing my mom about what I want to eat when I get home; she asked me to list all the meals I want, but all I can think about are fruits and vegetables. I've been so deprived of (especially) fruits in Japan, because they're so expensive- I must have scurvy by now. All I want to eat are fruits and vegetables and salads. And my mom's soups and desserts! Other than that, I'm not sure how I feel about the rest, I've been on a mostly Japanese diet for a few years now, but home is home and I'll be happy to be reunited with a large selection of affordable cheese, real bread (none of that sweet bakery junk we have in Japan) and cultural variety.

Another thing I look forward to is to not have to worry about cockroaches. As soon as June rolls around in Japan, I'm on constant roach radar mode, which means I anticipate them all the time and my heart stops every time I see a black spot.  I haven't gotten them since I set up traps last year, but I just know I'll encounter a few more in my Japan life. I live in constant fear and anticipation, every time I turn on the lights or open the door to my apartment. I became a clean freak, even though it doesn't necessarily help. In Canada, I'll be able to relax and not think of the winged beasts.

I hope I get to relax at home, not just physically, but mentally as well. I feel like I need a real break to just recharge and reflect on what has happened in the last four years.

Four more sleeps!


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tanabata, More Rain

Looks like rainy season isn't over yet, and it's been raining so much. I don't mind it, as long as we can postpone the suffocating heat, but it's been so stuffy and humid nonetheless. A strong typhoon is now hitting Okinawa, and I hope everyone is safe there, and hope it doesn't reach Tokyo. I really despise typhoons, I find them so scary, even more so than earthquakes.

Natural disasters aside, I'm slowly getting ready for Canada, although it seems so far away since I have so much work to finish before I get on that plane. I had to borrow a suitcase since I chucked the ones I came to Japan with nearly five years ago, they were falling apart after moving from Shikoku to Osaka to Tokyo. What a journey it has been! How can I catch up with friends back home on four and a half years gone by, where do I even start?

I started the week by watching Lost in Translation, and somehow it never manages to look dated, not even after ten years. I went to my fitness class and feel really good and motivated. I'm eating a lot of tofu lately, I found those black sesame and edamame varieties, and I'm hooked! The edamame tofu even has chunks of the bean inside, it's so tasty. Tofu, ajipon (I know most people prefer soy sauce) and shiso leaves are what I want to eat every day.

It was also tanabata on Monday, the star festival. I'm a bit sad I didn't get to tie my wish around a tree, but it was raining anyways, which means the lovers did not meet across the milky way. The whole city is now colourful, and those summer evening lights are gorgeous. I did not wear a yukata either, but I hope to do so later this summer for fireworks when I get back from my trip.

I want to stock up on a few books for the long plane ride awaiting me- any recommendations? Music recommendations are always welcome, too!

How cute is this Tokyo community bus?!

Friday night was wild, milk and doughnuts

Edamame tofu, black sesame tofu, shiso

Tanabata evening lights

Heart-shaped handle in the train! Keio, I like you a bit more.

The clinic tried hard with my name...

Homemade quinoa salad and Vogue-
perfect night in