I started from home, not sure if I was ready to begin a new life. I sat in the car, and couldn’t still believe people were coming to drop me in two cars because one was not enough. On the way, everything that I saw suddenly seemed close to my heart. The noodles shop near the gate of my building, whose noodles I praised a lot every time I ate it. The road, the people, exactly how a guy who is leaving his country feels. To make matters worse, I met so many friends in the last three days that I had almost forgotten what each of them talked about to me. Many people said many things, and it was all so sweet I was not sure to what extent they were saying the truth.
I reached the airport, and every cell in my body was aching to get back in the car and go back home. But I looked at the runway, and I got over myself. I knew just how important it was for me to go there and to succeed. Everyone was wishing me luck, all of them saying they were going to miss me, asking me to have a safe journey and to keep in touch. But something was missing. Someone was missing. And I did not like the fact that the one person I hoped the most would at least call me and say goodbye didn’t and it felt like a big missing piece in a perfect picture.
Then I put my bags on the trolley, and feeling a bit more resolute, I started moving towards the airport. As soon I stepped inside the building, away from the noise of all the cars and the rush, suddenly I had this feeling as if I was consciously stepping from one phase from my life into another. It finally felt like it was a good thing I did not go back at that time. And I was looking at a whole new bunch of experiences. I went to the check-in counter, and since my dad is a member of that club they have in Emirates, we got upgraded to business class. I then passed the security check and finally went to immigration. The person at the counter was friendly, and he checked my documents and asked me to move on. Then my dad took me to a premium lounge Emirates had a tie-up with, and he told me everything was free. Food, WI-Fi, etc. I was actually shocked to hear that, unaware of the kind of things I would encounter later on.
I then opened up my laptop to see if my mom had come online on Skype, and not surprisingly she hadn’t. Then I logged into Facebook to see if I had a message from that someone, but nothing. Although, a close friend who had come to meet me last night had posted a pic we took, and attached a very emotionally charged description. I never thought that people actually had such feelings towards me. I guess when I read about myself as having low self-esteem, it was actually true. So I replied to it and closed it, wondering how much of that was true. Me and my trust issues.
We sipped on a bit of coffee after the failed attempt to reach mom. The coffee was kind of strange, and did not become sweet even after I added almost four pouches of sugar. It was also the first time in my life my dad got me a coke himself, when he generally prohibits it. Surprisingly, I never drank regular coke since I landed it Canada, despite being a coke lover who used to drink it every other day in India.
Finally, the flight was announced and we got up to go. It was going to be a long flight. Longer than I would have expected.
I sat in the flight for Dubai, and looked around me. People were very sophisticated since it was business class, and everyone was getting well attended from the air hostesses. We waited for some time before the flight took off, and I didn’t have anything interesting to do, so I just slept. Or so I think. I don’t clearly remember what I did on that flight, except that I ate my last good meal there.
We then landed in Dubai. The world’s longest terminal. And indeed, it was. About 10 walkways were crossed before we reached the visa counter, where we got our passport stamped. After that we moved on to baggage collection, and it took a lot of time for us to get out of the airport. Then we sat in a bus which took us to a hotel. We didn’t have to pay since we got the hotel stay complementary for the time between the flight to Dubai and the one to Toronto.
We rested a bit, after which we headed to a meeting my dad had fixed up with some people. A driver came to pick us up and drop us back. And when I saw his driving I was stunned at how he followed each and every traffic rule. After we reached there, I went with my dad to attend the meeting since I had nothing better to do. And to this day, I’m not able to understand what the meeting was actually about.
So then we headed back. And we decided to go to the Mall of the Emirates. Now since it was far away, we decided to take the metro, which was at walking distance from our hotel. So we came back, had lunch and left for the mall. It was a fun ride considering we crossed two stations sitting in the first class when we had passes for the general. It is punishable by law to do so, therefore we quietly changed to the general at the third station, and thanked god no one noticed. We crossed Burj Khalifa on the way, and it was so tall that I couldn’t see the top even after I stuck my head against the window. Of course one reason could be that it was night time, but even the lights on the outside seemed to go so high. Then we finally reached the mall. By this time, I was familiar with the distances, and had to walk about 300 meters before I reached my destination.
Well. There it was, in front of me. The world’s largest indoor fridge. Well, its formal name is Ski Dubai, but it was, after all a fridge. A fridge with penguins and a whole lot of people chilling. Literally chilling. To those living in and familiar with Hyderabad, it is a bigger, much bigger (and cleaner) version of Snow World. With a slope on which people ski. That big. It has its own ropeway, and the height of the whole thing is equal to the height of the mall. That’s pretty high.
Frozen, we came back out. And I decided that now it was time to head back. While on the ropeway, a lady suddenly came out of nowhere in front of us, took a photo, and handed us a slip which would help us retrieve it from the counter. We gave a lot of money for that one photo. Anyways, we got it. To this day, it lies in my suitcase.
Then we headed back out. I saw an S4, but the look on my dad’s face clearly dictated that I was only seeing it. From a distance. Then we checked out some cameras. My dad didn’t get one saying they were cheaper in the US. Let’s see when I actually get one. That much of walking was enough for one day, so we decided to head back, since metro doesn’t run after 11, and it would be a shame to waste out tickets.
The journey back to the hotel was very uneventful, except I saw showrooms of almost all exotic cars. Lamborghini, Porsche, Aston Martin, etc. To top it up, an MP4-12C. I thought about how I used to drool at cars much more ordinary than these back in India. And now this. That car, in orange, just chilling in a closed shop. My dad told me that since there was monarchy in UAE, and a lot of oil, everything but the land was very cheap. Not shocking, since I had seen various memes underline this fact on Facebook much before I had even booked my tickets. I like the monarchial system, since there is accountability and its better than monarchy disguised as democracy. Anyways, we reached our hotel at 11:30 in the night. I was concerned about waking up for the flight tomorrow, though that turned out to be no problem.
Jet lag can have various advantages. One of them are that if you travel from east to west, you sleep early and wake up early. So the next morning when I woke up and saw the time, it was 5:30. It reminded me of my mom who always used to complain about me getting up at 9 or 10 every day and she would make me go to bed saying she would wake me up at 5:30, which used to panic me. I never thought I would actually wake up at that time even if she tried, much less myself. But since I was up, I thought of what I could do at this time in the morning. And I got the answers. Either I could go back to sleep, or I could wake my dad up. I chose the former. Then I woke up again at a reasonable 7 o’ clock. We had breakfast and went on to wait for the bus to the airport. Then in the airport, we got to know that the flight we were going to go in was an Airbus A380. The world’s largest passenger aircraft. We didn’t get upgraded, though. I sat in the lobby of the Emirates lounge, and tried to connect to the Wi-Fi, but it was bad. So I just kept my laptop back inside. After sometime, my dad was finally able to connect to the internet and made a call to my mom. I talked to her for some time. Actually, a bit too long. By the time we realized that, the final call for boarding was being made. We were one of the last people to get on the plane.
On the plane, I sat beside some guy who had an upset stomach, and made me get up around 10 times in a 12 hour journey. Other than that distraction, I almost finished watching the entire box set of the TV show ‘Arrow’. I was, for a moment, disappointed when the pilot announced that we were going to land, since I was going to miss out on the last few episodes of the show. What I did not know was that it was going to be the final time I would get to watch TV for that much time.
When the flight landed in Toronto, I thought it would be freezing cold. I was disappointed. A heat wave was affecting the entire area, so the temperature was a scorching… 24°C. Wow, I thought. Yea it is so hot its melting my bones. Meh. So I went out in a climate which was the same as the climate around me when I was at the airport in Hyderabad.
We went to the car rental area next, where my dad had booked a car. The guy at the counter looked at my dad’s license, and said they didn’t accept it because it was hand-written. I asked my dad if he would like to book the car in my name since I had a printed license. He downright refused, so I quietly retreated to the chairs. He finally got the car with a license he had from another country. By the time we left the airport, it was 5 in the afternoon.
The good news was we got a Dodge Avenger 2013 model. Nice. We loaded the stuff in it. The bad news was that when my dad started the GPS to find the way to the hotel which was – by the way – in another city, the GPS failed to load maps. I think it was because the US & Canada maps had gotten corrupted when I was installing India maps on it. We were in big time trouble.
Somehow, we drove to a town called Mississauga, which is in the direction of London (where we had to go) from Toronto. We bought a few roadmaps there from a fuel station, after which we got a sense of direction. So soon, we were at the hotel. Internet there sucked as well, and maps finally finished updating at 11 the next morning. In the meanwhile, since the internet was slow in the room, I was sitting in the corridor of the hotel below the Wi-Fi router waiting for it to finish. That was the first day I had a chat with my brother on Skype.
Then we left for breakfast. After walking a little bit, we found Starbucks, and we went there to have breakfast. Everything but the coffee was good, but I think that is because I was not used to drinking black coffee without sugar. So I added about 8 pouches before it showed signs of sweetness. Then I added some milk and cream, and drank it. I did enjoy a cheese sandwich I had bought though.
Then at 11 we left for Windsor. It was a nice experience. On the way, we bought a phone for me, with a number which I chose (for the first time in my life). So on the way, I took advantage of the fast 3G speeds to connect my phone to Google and enable Play store. I started taking pictures of the beautiful landscape, which I was witnessing for the first time. Beautiful homes, countryside roads, etc. We stopped at a point in Lake Erie, where I and my dad clicked a few pictures. I was loving Canada. The open spaces, fresh air, all-disciplined traffic. It was just so nice. And I just saw random Porches, Ford GTs going around that by the time I had reached Windsor I had actually become accustomed to all that.
On the way, we called up a few places for accommodation and fixed up with one. We reached here. There was parking for hotel guests. Inside, we paid and went to our room. Then we just took a round of the university, since it was 5 by the time we had reached everything was closed. So we called it a day and went to the hotel and slept. Next morning, I woke up at 4. And I was feeling so fresh I couldn’t believe it. So I talked to my grandparents, and for them the time was completely comfortable since it was afternoon in India. And then we proceeded to breakfast. There was a waffle machine in the breakfast room, and I had never eaten a waffle, so my dad made me a whole and gave it. I was not able to finish it. But soon I got used to it.
That day we went to the university to meet the people at the international student center. They were warm and welcoming. So I was given a magazine, and a checklist. And I was made to fill in a form. After completing all the formalities, we met the student advisor. We talked to her for some time and she discussed in detail why she had assigned me a few specific courses. Then we went to meet another professor who taught second year students about a few concerns I had. He cleared it up and filled me with a little bit of confidence. A very encouraging gentleman.
After that we went for lunch to a burger outlet. We had the burgers and they were really nice! I hoped that this was included in my student card discount stores. After that we got to know that the International Children’s Games were underway at Windsor, and so I could not look at my hostel room. So we came back to the hotel. The next few days I familiarized myself with the roads, shops, etc. We went to Walmart to collect supplies and to staples to buy some stationery. We also discovered an Indian store near the university, where all the Indian ready-to-cook stuff was sold. I also noticed Haldiram’s snacks, samosas, and other assorted sweets. But I lost my appetite as soon as I saw the price tag. As days progressed, I learned that both the standard and cost of living in Canada was high, and things were more expensive than back in India. Except electronics, of course, considering I had bought my $425 smartphone for $30. Nice. And since it’s a nexus and they don’t sell carrier-locked, I can just take this phone to India with me and use my SIM card there on the same handset. Epic.
That weekend, we went to Point Pelee National Park, where we swam in the Lake Erie, sunbathed on the beach, saw a turtle trying his best to escape a tiny fishbowl, and visited the southern-most point in Canada, called The Tip. It was a nice experience overall.
It was a sudden decision. We were just sitting and talking in the room when suddenly my dad said “Let’s go to the national park you saw yesterday on google maps”. So we took the car and drove to the national park.
We went inside after taking the ticket, and went straight to a beach. It was pretty much deserted, except for an old man and a woman and her daughter. The old man was happy to see us and we talked for a bit. He was doing some strange exercise, so I asked him. And he said he was doing Tai-Chi to relax a few of his muscles or something. Then I stepped into the cold water. And I ran back out around five times faster than I had gone inside. Then again, slowly gathering courage, I stepped into the water step by step. And by the time I grew used to it, my dad scared me about baby sharks and stuff, and I just walked back out. Then I took a sunbath, and spent nearly half an hour trying to take pictures of a bird, which was in vain.
After that we went back out to eat something since the whole swimming thing had made us a bit hungry. The closest shop was a pizza store 10km away, and so it was chosen as the destination. We went there and placed our order. They said it would take 20 minutes to make it, so we asked them to keep it ready and that we would come and collect it 20 minutes later. We then set out to explore the rest of the town. In 5 minutes, we were regretting out decision. In a hurry to get something to eat, we had ordered (and paid) in a cheap pizza store missing out on Subway, Pizza Pizza, and a few other great food chain outlets. Anyways, we had ordered two slices of the pizza, which were big enough to be two thirds of a pizza I used to eat in India. We had a slice each, and fed a little leftover from my dad’s one to a tiny black bird. We were good to go again.
So there was this bridge which was supposed to give us a good look at the marshes present in the park. We took a walk around it, and then we sat in the car and proceeded. When we went to the next beach, the temperature difference between the sand and the water had grown so much that I didn’t dare go back inside. So I came back near the car. My dad had to go to the washroom, so I was just there. I saw a man with two dogs. I went to talk to him and ask him if I could touch the dogs. He was more than happy to let me. I even managed to take a photo with both the dogs in it. One was a labra doodle, and the other a golden retriever doodle. I enjoyed playing with them. Then when that guy’s wife came, the labra started jumping. And I mean literally. It was jumping higher than my height. I was taken aback by that. And as soon as the lady touched his head, he went back to his calm state. Then after my dad came back we talked a bit more. I got to know they had come down from Detroit for the weekend.
Then we moved on, saying bye to the couple. I insisted we go to the tip, so we went to a certain place from where the Tip was about 6km. We had to park the car there, so leaving it we went into a building which was supposed to be like the headquarters of the park.
There we saw a tiny turtle in a jar which at once was trying to eat something and break free of the jar. It was actually hilarious to see that. It would go to one corner, and with that piece of food in its mouth, it would swim across and with full force would bash the glass. The funny part is that there was rubber below the glass and it didn’t move an inch.
Then we climbed on to a bus which took us where we had to go. It was unlike anything I had seen before. It was actually a tip – land going lesser and lesser from both sides until it finally converged to form a tip. Entering the water was prohibited due to strong currents. And I could totally see why. No one would say it was a lake if they looked at the height and strength of currents. They were strong enough to carry people away, much like Poseidon. And it is even worse at the tip, because of funneling of currents.
We did a little bit of photography there and sat and enjoyed the cool air. After that we started for the bus bay again. On the way I saw a huge solar cell, and behind it I read a shocking thing. There is no external power source for the whole national park. Energy produced from this solar cell is the only way they actually gather power.
Then we went back to the car, and started back towards the hotel. I don’t remember what we did the rest of the evening. The next day we stayed home. We had also bought some books from the bookstore in the university so I started solving maths problems. I still do them each evening. I have slowly began to adopt.
The rest of the week went a bit uneventful. We discovered a bunch of places we could eat out at, I got to remember a few street names, but that was pretty much it.
The interesting part was we attended the international children’s games. There was another festival called the Baloonaplaza going on and we got confused. In the end we came back home, tired of walking around the place and failing to discover where it was going on. Sad. And the only event we finally got to attend was a basketball match between Israel and Iceland.
Well, that was pretty much it. We also went to the theaters twice, and once we saw The Wolverine, and more lately, Jobs. There are many things that I might have missed, but it was an enjoyable experience in the malls.
This latest weekend, we went to Niagara Falls, and there, for the first time I felt like I was in North America. The casinos, the low-rides, the high-rise hotels, and of course, the fall itself. For the first time in my life, I was looking at a rainbow from above it, not below.
There were still a few attractions I didn’t go to, which I will go to with my family. I thought of visiting Toronto, but sadly that hasn’t been possible till now.
Well at least my original plan was to go to the other attractions with my family, but I ended up going with just my sister. And we went to pretty much every attraction, except probably 2 or 3. She had come to Toronto for a business meeting, and after she got to know I was living nearby she took a day off and told us she wanted to go to Niagara Falls.
So we started from Windsor at 7:30 in the morning, and reached Toronto by 11:30. It was pretty much an uneventful drive, except we were driving in the middle of a cloud for approximately 75km. I was all “mother of god, we’re driving in a cloud”, but apparently my dad wasn’t so excited about that. So there was light music and good scenery, both of which contributed to me not being able to read my novel. But the music was good and I got to drive, so I didn’t mind much.
I thought that finally as we picked up my sister, I would also get to see the city a bit, but my dad didn’t even let me turn my head while I was driving so I was hardly able to see something. The drive to Niagara was pretty quick. Probably not more than an hour and a half.
Then we went near the observation deck again, but since I was there just 3 or 4 days ago, it didn’t interest me much. Then my sister said she wanted to go in the Maid of the Mist. It’s a boat which goes close to the falls, so all the mist falls on people and they enjoy it. And while going from the American falls to the Horseshoe Falls, where there is no mist, they take photos.
The experience of that boat is a very unique one. Not every 15-minute cruise can give you that. It’s open, so if you go in ahead of the crowd, you can stand on the bow of the ship. And since my sister was what I call an ‘over-excited tourist’, she was the first person to go into the ship (followed by me) and we actually ran to get to the front part of the deck to get the best view. The ship started moving after 10 minutes or so, after the previous ship returned from near the falls.
It was a very good feeling when the ship started moving. First it started to go back and for a second I thought if I had by mistake come to the rear of the ship instead of the front. But then it was moving forward again, and then I realized they had just undocked the ship and since the engines hadn’t come on, the current of the water was so strong that the boat was getting pushed back, even though the falls were nearly 400 meters away.
Then the boat went first to the American falls, which were looking beautiful with a rainbow in front of them. And I, like every other tourist with a good camera phone, took photos. Then we approached the Horseshoe Falls. And it was magnificent. The first thing I noticed was that as we were going ahead, a rainbow formed in the mist was at par with us. It was so close I thought I could touch it. The water falling, the mist being created and going up in the air like clouds. Even before entry people took photos, but everyone knew the conditions in the mist, so hardly anyone took photos once the boat got in 10 meters of the mist.
And what an experience it was. The mist was like a stagnant rain, as if all the drops had stopped mid-air. I mean there was a lot of wind, but it felt like rain only while we were coming in and going back. Over there, in the sound of the waterfall, I felt very peaceful, because it drowned out all noise. The only thing I could hear other than the sound of 100,000 cubic feet of water crashing down on rocks every second, was my own self. And all I wanted to do at that time was just stand there forever. I heard didi ask if we were going any forward. My dad said no, but I could hear the engines roaring. And only then did I understand that we could not go any farther. The engines were roaring just to keep the boat in that position. The currents were that strong. After a few minutes, the boat turned back, and started for the dock. On the way back, the American falls looked very nice with the rainbow right in front of us. I couldn’t stop myself from taking a few photos.
Then we got off the boat and headed for the welcome center. And on the way, we took a few more photos. Then once there, we had lunch. Then my sister wanted to drink coffee, so we went to another shop to drink coffee. On the way we asked the lady at the ticket counter about when the last ‘Journey behind the falls’ adventure was conducted. She said it was 9. And I also got to know that they light Niagara Falls up with light in the night and they were going to switch it on at 8:30. So we decided to visit Ripley’s believe it or not, unaware of the distance. So we walked a little bit and it was already 7:30, so I checked google maps only to get to know that we were still a kilometer away. So we ditched that plan and went to Starbucks instead, which was right across the street from where we were standing.
After drinking coffee, we headed back to the falls thanks to the long talk-over-coffee my dad and sister were having. By the time we reached the falls, it was almost 8:45. I took a few photos, after which we headed for the Journey behind the falls. So we bought the tickets, and an elevator took us down, from where there was a tunnel system to go to various spots. Specifically, 3 spots. Two of them were behind the falls and there is where we chose to go first.
The first spot we went to was pretty close to the Canadian end of the falls. There was one light there as well. Water wasn’t exactly flowing in, but the winds made the mist come through. After standing there for a few minutes, we moved to the next one. On the next one, we read that we had come through a third of the way of the Horseshoe Falls. Then we went to the one in front of the falls. This place was closer than how much the Maid of the Mist had taken us, but since it was on the side, there was not as much intensity. But over here too, we could get wet if the wind blew in our direction. There are two levels of the platform, one higher which came from the elevator, and one lower, which had stairs from the higher one. The lower platform extended closer to the fall, and very frequently when faster winds came our way, it would rain water from the fall. I enjoyed myself, but again a part of me thought that it would have been more fun with my friends back in India, all of who enjoyed rain a lot.
For some reason, we got hungry again and headed for an Indian bistro in Niagara. We changed our clothes there, and ordered. I relished the food he gave us, especially the Paneer Makhani, which was awesome. That was far better than any paneer dish I had had since arriving in Canada. By the time we were done, it was 11:30.
After that we headed back for the hotel, and it was a peaceful ride. Partly because the windows were up, and partly because I was sleeping. By the time we reached the hotel, thanks to the construction on the highway at night time. We dropped my sister there, collected two cups of coffee for my dad, and left for Windsor. On the way back, I tried my best not to sleep, thanks to my firm belief that the person on the passenger seat should always be awake. Not that I could sleep if I wanted though. I had drank coke, and so the caffeine was still in my system. We stopped in one of the OnRoute rest areas, and my dad told me this was like a safe haven for sleepy drivers. It had a fuel station, a coffee shop, and free parking. So you could get refueled, you could sleep for as long as you like in your car after parking it, instead of sleeping while driving, or you could just grab some coffee and move on. And it was present almost every 80km. That’s a pretty large number of them, considering Canada is the second biggest country in the world in terms of land area.
I also drove for the last 50km, while my dad was sleeping beside me, getting up every 5 minutes to ask me if I was sleepy. Anyways, we reached back to the hotel at 5:30 in the morning, and fell asleep. I will never forget this experience of night driving for the first time in my life, and that too out of my own country.
I thought that was it. Now the fun was over, and it was time to go back to work. I was so wrong. As soon as I landed on campus, I was it abuzz with activity. Random people helping each other out, Resident Advisers taking forms, everyone settling down.
It was a fun thing to look at so many different kinds of people speaking different languages, shifting in around me. Going in the elevator with a few Africans, a Chinese and a guy from London (if I’m not wrong) was a first for me. I finished shifting into my half-a-room in 3 rounds to the hotel to pick up stuff. Then, after everything was done, I left with dad to have lunch. When we returned, our roommate was eating sitting on his bed, with his aunt and uncle arranging his stuff. They lived in Detroit. He had just arrived in Windsor.
That day me and my roommate did not talk much. In fact, it was the same for about 3 days, because my dad and his aunt were here, we had to devote time to them. It was like this for about 10 days, after which my dad flew to Nevada, and his aunt’s frequency of meeting us reduced. Classes had begun, but it was still the first month, so many different activities were going on.
We have finally settled in, and are now focusing on our studies after I did badly in my first university diagnostic test. I got used to the weather, but it is changing pretty fast. A week ago, it was 24 degrees, and today it is 16. I do miss a few things, like the noodles shop, my friends and family, but most importantly, an unfinished business. You don’t have to know.