Just one thing I thought I should mention in case anyone has been wondering (anyone? anyone? Bueller?) where all my photos from this trip are: a select few are on my Facebook, and the whole collection is on my computer (trust me, you don’t even wanna go there). If you want to have a look and you don’t have a Facebook account (what, you’re living under a rock?), let me know :)
Is it just me, or is customer service these days completely ridiculous?
It seems it’s either one extreme or the other: half the time you call your bank or your phone company or whatever, spend half an hour on hold, only to be put through to someone who sounds as if they’d rather be digging their eyes out of their skull with a rusty spoon instead of actually helping you. On the other hand, there’s the uber helpful let’s be friends style, which seems to be growing in popularity.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind people being friendly. I quite like Virgin’s customer service, for instance, because they tend to be genuinely pleasant and actually helpful.
But sometimes it’s just beyond a joke. Here’s an email I received from the National Australia Bank regarding a loan enquiry I made:
Hi, My name is […].
I’ve received your enquiry about applying for a Student loan. Thank you so
much for taking the time to write to me here at NAB.
I really want you to know that to apply for a Student loan you need to be
in Australia. The reason is that Student loans can only be completed at
the branch of your choice and my colleagues at the branch need to fill in
all appropriate forms for you and for your guarantor (if guarantor
If you would like to speak with one of my colleagues directly, please feel
free to ring our local number 13 22 65 or internationally on +61 3 8641
9083 between 8.00am and 8.00pm (AEST) Monday to Friday.
I hope you are happy with my personalised service. I’ve really enjoyed
helping you today.
As you can see, of the four paragraphs of writing here, only one of them has any actual utility. The rest is just a waste of space, and a waste of time. He “really enjoyed helping”? I bet.
I didn’t take this photo, but I really like it.
This is Dundas Square – at the corner of Dundas and Yonge – basically the midpoint, I think, of what you’d call the Toronto CBD; it’s Bourke and Swanston, or thereabouts. (They’ve got a cool crosswalk these days too, like in Shibuya, Tokyo — you saw Lost in Translation, right? — but it’s kind of wasted in the winter.)
In this photo I think we’re facing north-east, which means Bloor Street (equivalent, perhaps, to Elizabeth or Swanston – but think top side, not lower) is about three blocks north, and my house is another three blocks further (north), and another three west.
Merry Christmas everyone.
A while back, my housemate Petra and I went to the see the rather awesome band Yeasayer at a little place called the Horseshoe Tavern. (The Horseshoe, incidentally, was built in 1861, originally housed a blacksmith, and has in previous lives been a saloon, a 1960s blues and folk hangout, and a watering hole for mods, punks, and new wave fans. And if we can trust Wikipedia, Dan Akroyd was once a co-owner. So there you go.) Anyway, because Yeasayer are a rather awesome band, and because Petra and I are fools, none of this ended up making a bit of difference to us – tickets were, of course, sold out.
Instead we went for a beer in the bar next door (the friendly doorman at the Horseshoe had also told us that he’d come and wave to us if they decided to let any more people in), and enjoyed a strangely endearing but not particularly talented performance by a bunch of musicians playing something best described as folk jazz, or perhaps best not described at all. One of them played a cardboard box and I can assure you this trend will not be taking off.
The bar was one of those long, thin, cramped kinds, probably an extension of the esteemed Horseshoe, many years ago, so seating was sparse. Sitting across from Petra and I were a group of young friends – a blonde girl and a couple of male counterparts. And then there was Pavel.
Pavel was, for want of a better term, “enthusiastically single”. The girl at our table, being not particularly offensive to the eye, was naturally his target. He proceeded to hit on her with nary an ounce of subtlety or dignity. It was like watching one of those dodgy ’80s movie scenes where the sleazy guy struts up to the clearly-out-of-his-league stunner in the corner, all quiffed hair (and I’m not just talking on his head) and bad cologne, and ends up with a Cosmopolitan all over him. Instead, Pavel handed the girl a business card and made a swift exit.
Rather amused by this course of events, I snapped a picture of the girl (and card – with her permission of course), and I’ve included it below.
Turns out that Dimitri is (relatively) well known around Toronto (although he seems to have, er, fairly “select” interests), but Pavel’s a new addition to the “Sexual Guru Program”. There’s a blog post here about the whole saga:
Dimitri, of course, is James Sears, the man whose unsavoury history is well-documented and whose distressing voicemail messages to a woman recently made him the deserved subject of worldwide ridicule. In spite of ego hit after ego hit, Dimitri is still making the rounds and still scheduling meetings
Suffice it to say, these guys sound incredibly creepy and more than a little predatory, and my first-hand experience doesn’t give me much reason to doubt that conclusion.
Of course, in this new age of “electronics” and “technology” and so forth, we all know that photos are easily manipulated. So, and here’s the tenuous link to actual relevance to my life, I asked my Kenyan housemate Robert about this nifty characteristic.
Do all Kenyans – all Africans – possess this amazing trait?
Robert appeared shifty, unwilling to commit to a response. Perhaps he is simply modest, but I smell a conspiracy.
Please report back here with all Kenyan or laser related sightings and perhaps one day, if we work together, we can uncover the truth to this mystery.
By the way, the original picture’s from here.
I’ll get back to talking about Toronto soon enough, but for now:
I got this via Tim’s blog. For anyone outside of Australia, the first guy in the video (who’s speaking) is our prime minister, Kevin Rudd, and the other guy is his conservative predecessor, John Howard.
I hope this is the only bad news I have to read about Melbourne while I’m gone:
HE IS a small, faceless man and was supposedly well protected with a piece of perspex plastic, but famous laneway graffiti artwork ‘Banksy’s little diver’ has been destroyed by vandals.
It is believed the less-than-one-metre-tall grey figure, wearing a duffle coat and diving mask, was stencilled in 2003 when the famous British graffiti artist known just as Banksy visited Melbourne.
The little diver lives on a wall, surrounded by rats and rubbish, on the back of the Nicholas Building on the corner of Swanston Street and Flinders Lane.
A piece of screwed-in plastic, paid for by the building’s owners, has protected him from the elements and damage since April this year.
But someone has ruined the iconic little diver, by tipping silver paint behind the plastic protector and tagging ‘Banksy woz ere’ on the plastic, potentially ruining the artwork forever.
Maybe it’s no big deal – Doyle probably would’ve wanted it scrubbed from the wall anyway.
I’ll go into this a little later, because the differences between students in Australia and students in Toronto (and, I suspect, North America on the whole) are significant and fairly interesting, but for now I’ll just mention that OH MY GOD THERE IS SO MUCH HOMEWORK TO DO.
For that reason – and the fact that I probably dedicate as much time to procrastination as I do to actual work, alas – there’s a whole bunch of stuff that I haven’t yet done that, as a first time traveller out of Australia, I should really get onto. So here it is on public record; I hope this will mean I actually get it done. My last essay’s due on the 7th of January, and I head off to London on the 31st, so that should give me plenty of time.
- Snow stuff. I’ve never been skiing, I’ve never been snowboarding, and I’ve never been ice skating. Let me tell you, there’s a lot of snow in Canada, so I should really sort myself out. Let’s just hope I don’t break anything.
- Niagara Falls. Apparently it freezes over (!) in the winter, so I really need to check this out. I missed the International Students Centre trip, arranged through the University, last night, so I guess I’ll have to do this one on my lonesome.
- Hiking. I’m not sure if this is still realistic. Since the snow has started, and doesn’t look like leaving us any time soon, I don’t know if it’s still possible to go wandering through the wilderness. But if it is, I should.
- Cultural bits and pieces. There’s the ROM – the Royal Ontario Museum (take a look at the architecture – here and here. It reminds me a little of our own Federation Square, and the ROM seems to polarise the locals here as much as Fed Square too); the newly-renovated Art Gallery of Ontario (done by Toronto-born Frank Gehry, no less); and there’s a shoe museum near my house. I’ve never been to a shoe museum, and frankly it sounds underwhelming, but a few have people have told me it’s just brill, so we’ll see. Beyond these, more bars. There’s a great jazz place in particular, The Rex, that I keep meaning to head back to (but it’s so far and so cold!).
And that’s about it. I’ve gotten as much United States stuff done as was feasible, I’ve seen a few NBA games, and the hockey’s an impossibility – Torontonians are crazy about it so I think the games are sold out for approximately ever. Suggestions, though, are welcome.
I’m not sure how many people have ever watched somebody do push-ups while they’re on acid, but if you haven’t, and you’d like to, you can check it out here. And just by the way, the video is not of me, and I do not, of course, encourage the use of illegal drugs. Only watching people who are on them.
Also, did you know the street vendors in Toronto sell vegetarian hot dogs? (Most of the vendors stick around twenty-four hours a day too; sweet.) And the Burger King veggie burgers here are vegan? I mean, this is crazy. The pizza is good too. And therein is a rundown of my diet of the last three months.
The photographs here are from the first two weeks of my trip, of Central Park in New York City (right in the centre of Manhattan, for those who are wondering). I wholeheartedly reject everything I wrote in that earlier post, by the way. Photographic cliches? I love ‘em. Tourist hot spots? They are all I think about.
Truly though, the beauty and enormity of Central Park is something that shouldn’t be missed by anyone. (One thing I did realise, wandering around the park, was how little attention I pay to the natural beauty of Melbourne. I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve been to our perfectly spectacular Royal Botanic Gardens. I will remedy this when I get home.) Inside the park the city literally disappears; occasionaly the stern grey summit of a skyscraper pokes its head out of the clouds and looms over the trees, but for the most part the greenery is literally everywhere. You could, I suspect, spend hours walking its paths without once doubling your tracks or even seeing a glimpse of the surrounding city.
It even has its own zoo. It is modest, admittedly, housing only a small selection of creatures, from the positively hideous puffins – who surely are developing inferiority complexes, tucked as they are next to the vivacious and much-loved penguins; families of chattering tourists frown and stow their cameras away as they pass these spectacularly ugly birds – to the enormous and magnificent, but solitary, polar bear.
The turtles, ever relaxed, are a favourite of mine. (Perhaps it’s just that I still get a kick out of imagining them doing Bogart impressions and eating pizza in sewers – hey, the Ninja Turtles are from New York.) But surely any species comfortable enough to conduct a five-member orgy in front of a crowd of friends and eager photographers has to get some kind of credit.
If you’re looking for the rest of the photos, they’re on my Facebook.
So I just realised something that I should have realised a while ago: If I keep thinking about this blog like I am, I’m never going to get it updated. The problem is, I always have this idealised version of myself, writing long and eloquent posts about life and everything that falls between the cracks, updating regularly, and forming, over the course of my trip, a nice narrative. Of course, the real me does nothing of the sort. Instead I’ve half-written about six entries (and put them in the I’ll-fix-them-up-later category), and actually posted even fewer.
No more. From now on I promise a minimum of two updates a week, even if those updates end up being as banal as just saying, “It’s snowing”. (It is, by the way. Looks nice.)
The point is, the next time I have something to say I’m just going to say it, instead of second-guessing myself, or trying to find a place for my words in some grand narrative that’s never really going to be formed in the first place. And if that means all the stuff I promised from earlier (photos of New York and Los Angeles, descriptions of the house, etc.) ends up going up late, or out of order, or whatever, so be it; if nothing else it should give a nice symbolic parallel to what my life is actually like: a bit of a shambles.
Anyway, I suppose I should make an effort to work with this premise. This update will be of the shorter variety rather than the longer, because we’re at the pointy end of the semester, and as I’ve unfortunately discovered, the homework rarely writes itself.
Right now, in between various readings on feminist interpretations of international law and some thoroughly confusing essays on transcendental politics (don’t ask), I’m trying to figure what the hell I’m going to do while the temperatures plummet to some minus twenty degrees around me (right now it’s minus twelve; it’s cold).
We’ve just had cable connected, so that takes care of my nights at least. (There are generally three or more NBA games on each evening, so I can’t imagine there’s ever a reason to leave the house during the night time again.) And I’ve downloaded my Christmas cartoons. Those of you who know me might be a little surprised to know that I’m quite the sentimentalist when it comes to Christmas, and I will happily sit myself in front of the tube and shovel hour upon hour of saccharine, wholesome, joyous Christmas cartoons down my throat. So if any of you are worried about my being lonely over Christmas, don’t – I’ve got the Smurfs, and Frosty, and Charlie Brown to keep me company.
P.S. Thanks to Arianna Huffington for the kick in the backside.
P.P.S. House photo should be fixed. I’m not sure why the photograph of my house, in the post below, is not working. (I assume everyone else is seeing the “currently unavailable” error?) I’ll try to sort it out.
My neighbours are rich. It’s not unusual for students to be situated in relatively affluent areas – the inner city is inevitably where the university campuses are, and where there are universities, there are students. Of course.
But my neighbours are, like, stinking rich. Huge and beautiful Victorian-era houses line the leafy streets and it seems that every other day there are new televisions and pieces of furniture being casually thrown out onto the nature-strip. Actually, this has been handy, and so far I’ve managed to furnish my room from this generosity; I’ve got a television, a VCR, and a very pretty armchair with a lovely floral pattern (it’s comfortable, at least), all off the street. Rich people seem to enjoy throwing things out as much as they like buying new stuff. I’m not complaining.
Margaret Atwood – esteemed author and famous Canadian and Torontonian – is even a neighbour of mine. Apparently she lives in “The Annex” – that’s my neighbourhood. (This excites me, but I’m not sure why. If I ever do find her exact address, what am I actually going to do? Set up camp on her lawn so that I can tell her I love her? Send her tokens of my love like my favourite pages of my books, or perhaps a severed finger? Steal her mail? None of these seem like particularly good ideas.)
Anyway, I’ve lucked out. Since I’m living in a “co-operative housing community” I have fourteen housemates and we get to live in our own huge and beautiful Victorian house. It’s a bit of all right, I must say.
A preface: I have broken my laptop, and for now I am without (older) photographs. They shouldn’t be lost for all eternity, but while my computer’s out of action, so are they. Instead of letting the blog thus waste away, though, I’ll write a couple of updates up over the next week or so, and add some of the photographs later. Here’s the first one.
So the swaying palm trees with that pretty sunset in the last post – it’s a gigantic cliche, I know. I know! Taking the photo it was hard to shake the feeling that someone had stuck a large I’M A TOURIST sign to my back, but such are the sacrifices we make for bad photography.
But I swear that’s it. Sure I’m a tourist, but I don’t have to act like it all the time. For that reason my New York City photographs are few and far between. Really, does the world need another picture of a giant flashing M&M perched atop a Times Square billboard? Will your reading experience truly be made joyous by the addition of one more tourist-eye shot of the Empire State Building? Hardly.
I’m a tourist but I don’t have to act like it all the time; if there’s a phrase that sums travelling up for me, so far, it’s that. I don’t want to act all pretentious like and pretend that I wasn’t struck by all the things that other travellers are stuck by. Times Square really was a sight to behold (and it’s huge, by the way – not exactly a “square” but more a collection of intersections and lights and gaudy billboards and and people, so many, many people); Central Park as spectacular as it was enormous; and I won’t pretend that, sitting in a cafe in Greenwich Village amongst hip NYU students and tweed-jacketed (really!) professors, I didn’t for just a second wonder if Allen Ginsberg had once sat in the same spot.
But it’s not about any of that, really. Travel is about the small stuff. If I want to know what the Empire State looks like from the ground or the top I’m sure Wikipedia or the latest Lonely Planet book have plenty of nice photographs. But New York isn’t the Empire State Building or the Brooklyn Bridge or baseball or Central Park, amazing as those things are. It’s bagels for breakfast, it’s summer in Harlem – kids avoiding cops and appropriating fire hydrants as the water sprays everywhere but not one person is frowning (I wish I’d had my camera that day). And it’s listening to that tweed-jacket wearing professor watching the half-his-age student because both of them have the sparkling eyes of youth (or is it just the caffeine?) because to them it’s just a cafe and a brilliant conversation and the world’s not always wise to that.
I never made it out of Manhattan in my four days of New York City and I’m not ashamed to say that I hardly saw a proper “sight”. I saw the people of New York, and that was plenty.