Monday, July 23, 2007

On Canada (Or At Least, Toronto)

I’m writing this post while keeping one eye on the cricket between India and England (preferred scenario at the start of the fifth day: no forecast for rain, India on 100-2 with Dravid and Tendulkar at the crease) so forgive me if there are typos or grammatical errors.

Anyways, I was in and around Toronto for a couple of weeks in June. Though I usually don’t blog about personal stuff, I’m doing so here in case people want to know about the area in general. Think of this post as a very amateur travel review, free of cost.

The start
The trip got off to a great start at The Crappiest Place on the Planet, or as it is better known, Terminal 3 of Chicago’s O’Hare airport. I was in line waiting to go through the metal detector thingy. I had taken off my belt and my shoes and put my cell phone, ipod and wallet in the little plastic container that they give you. My carry-on bag had absolutely no metal in it, unless you consider flip-flops and t-shirts metallic. I’m usually very careful about this stuff. Because I’m brown, I’m over cautious in trying not to arouse any suspicion, if only to avoid delays and checks. Anyways, so I pass through the stupid machine, don’t set it off (as usual), and prepare to walk to my departure lounge. There’s a security dude standing a couple of feet back of the machine, checking ID and making sure it matches the name on the boarding pass. So he says to me, “Boarding pass and ID please.” I hand him my passport and boarding pass. He took one look at the words “Islamic Republic of Pakistan” on the front of my passport, circled something on my boarding pass, and said, “Sir, you have been randomly selected by American Airlines for a security check. Please step to the side.”


I had not set off the beep at the stupid machine. My bag had absolutely nothing in it. I am a normal looking person, and was wearing normal looking clothes. I was functioning on a severe lack of sleep and had been carrying two heavy bags all across Chicago over the previous 24 hours. I was, in short, not in the mood to be racially profiled. But I was anyway. That’s the thing with people in uniforms (police officers, airport security, even the idiot in Saddar who gives you your passport). They have unbridled power over you. They can do anything they want, because they’re wearing a goddamn uniform. Because that dumbass was wearing a uniform, he could decide that I had to be patted down and my backpack had to be searched for weapons, explosives and porn. So I was, and it was. It took less than two minutes, and in those 120 seconds, I was deemed a non-threat to the security of The Homeland.

But, honestly, having to go through a superfluous security check is not even what pissed me off the most. No, what pissed me off the most was the fact that the jackass in uniform used the words “randomly selected.” Randomly selected? Randomly selected? Are you fucking kidding me? I was not fucking randomly selected, ok? I was selected because of my Pakistani passport. Please do not cause me unnecessary delays and insult my intelligence. If you want to pat me down, pat me down. But when doing so, just use the words, “Sir…actually, wait scratch that. I’m not calling you ‘Sir’. I’m calling you BP, for Brown Person. BP, we’re going to pat you down, even though you didn’t set off the stupid beep. We’re going to go through your bag, even though it has three t-shirts and a pair of flip-flops and the guy behind the computer knows that. BP, we want you to know that we’re going to do this because you’re brown, and all brown people are security threats. Please step to the side. And wipe that exasperated expression off your face, unless you want your country to be bombed to the stone age. Thank you. Actually, wait, scratch that. There’s no reason to say ‘Thank you’. Just step to the side and wipe that exasperated expression off your face.”

YYZ airport
This is something I just didn’t understand. The airport code for the Pearson airport in Toronto is YYZ. There is no other airport that I am aware of whose airport code has nothing to do with either the city’s name or the airport’s name (KHI is Karachi, JFK is John F. Kennedy airport in New York etc). I sought an explanation for this but no one I knew provided a satisfactory one. I could google it, but I’m too lazy. Maybe later.

Yonge street
This is apparently the longest street in the world. Guinness Book of World Records and everything. It’s also pronounced “Young” though its spelling suggests it should rhyme with “sponge”. Anyways, I was given a tour of this street in the downtown Toronto area a couple of times by my fiancée (I got engaged on this trip, by the way) who’s been to Toronto practically ever summer since 1997. The downtown area seemed pretty normal except for two things: there were an abnormal number of guys walking around with their shirts off and there were an abnormal number of pregnant women. These two facts could be related, I don’t know. All I know is I’ve never seen that many guys with their shirts off and that many pregnant women in one general area.

I actually preferred this street called Queen Street (please save the gay jokes). It gets quite bohemian and funky at one stage, though I forget where. I think it was around this street called Ryerson. Yeah, I think it was Ryerson. So if you’re ever in Toronto and don’t want to be in the clean cut areas of the city, head to the intersection of Queen and Ryerson. It’s about as rugged as Toronto gets.

I got my token “Canadians Being Really Nice To You” experience in this area. My fiancée and I sat down at this coffee shop for a break from all the walking. About 45 minutes after leaving, I realized I had left my backpack on one of the chairs at the coffee place. As am I quite wont to do, I got quite panicky, especially considering the backpack had my ipod, keys and camera. I ran back and it was right where I had left it, more than an hour after I had done so. When I found it, I heaved a sigh of relief, and then asked myself why I was so worried. These people have the nicest friggin’ reputation in the world. I don’t even think tourists are surprised anymore when Canadians are really nice to them. I mean, if someone had taken that bag, they could have made $600 on ebay, plus have access to the abject destitution that is my room in Chicago. But they didn’t, because they’re Canadians. This was perfectly predictable, and much appreciated. Thanks, Canadians!

United States of Canada
In many ways, Canada was just a higher-priced America. Seriously, almost everything else is the same. I mean, there’s a Canadian Idol, a Canada’s Top Model and a Good Morning, Canada. They have all the same stores and listen to the same music. Same cars, same traffic laws. Same everything. Well, their accents are different. Their politics too. Which brings me to…

Aren’t They Supposed to be a Environmentally Conscious Country?
I was completely and utterly shocked to discover the cost of public transport in Toronto. You need a token for each subway ride, and each token is $2.75 (Canadian currency, of course). Given the exchange rate is almost 1-to-1, I was stunned. In Chicago, I can take a bus ride for $1.75 and a subway ride for $2. In New York, both cost $2 (from what I understand, public transport costs may be changing in both those cities pretty soon). I don’t remember the price in Paris, but it was much cheaper than Toronto. So, how do you explain the fact that big cities in the U.S., the biggest and most unapologetic polluter in the world, have cheaper public transport systems than the biggest city in Canada, ostensibly one of the greenest countries in the world? Suburban travel is also very expensive. I just don’t get it. It’s almost like they want people to drive their cars to work every day. For people who have guaranteed parking, and for some who don’t, commuting by road is simply the smarter option. Anyways, if you’re ever considering visiting Toronto, I suggest getting a place right downtown. You’ll save in convenience and travel costs what you lose in hotel price.

Niagara Falls
One word of advice: Go. Just go. Ok, that was three words, but whatever. This was honestly one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. The sight of the falls itself is unbelievable, what with the rainbows and everything, but they have a thing for tourists where they put you on a boat and take you right under the falls. You’re just a few meters away from billions of liters of water crashing down. It’s one of those things in life that you simply have to do, provided of course you have the opportunity to do so. Trust me on this.

Oh, and go from the Canadian side. Apparently the American side is much crappier. That’s what everyone says.

Next post, maybe tomorrow: applying for my U.S. student visa this summer. Though this will be yet another personal post (my last for a while, I promise), it will contain information that is important for anyone applying for a U.S. student visa from Pakistan. I think of providing this information as a public service.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I paid 2GBP (about 4USD) per each bus ride in London, UK.

But since petrol in London is around 4.50GBP (9USD) per gallon, the buses are quite crowded.