Why Toronto deserves a medal for the most unexciting city in the world – literally

“If you think Toronto is boring, then you are boring.” This comment can only come out from a mouth of someone who has hardly ever stepped outside of Canada. I’ve lived in a few cities in the world and Toronto leads (from the bottom)…

Let’s examine what else Torontonians say about Toronto.

Toronto is beautiful 

Ehmm. This statement amazes me the most as I can’t figure out whether there is sarcasm here or whether they genuinely find the city beautiful. Toronto in no way is beautiful. A couple of examples would be the highway on the lake front or the mix of old Soviet like looking buildings and new glass skyscraper boxes. On a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is the best, I would score Toronto 2.5; 1 point for just existing and 1.5 for the effort.

To those who believe Toronto is beautiful, I would recommend getting your eyes checked or visiting places like Edinburgh, Rome, Florence or Prague. I recently visited Kiev (the capital of Ukraine) and was absolutely amazed about how interesting and pretty the city was. Toronto is … dull looking. Full stop.

Toronto has great parks

Yes, they are nice. But why would I be excited about them if in Central Europe you have mountains and natural reserves on your doorstep? There are even cycling paths that take you to other countries. A four hour drive from Toronto will take you to a skiing “slope” that in the summer you can hike in under 10 minutes.

Toronto has museums and galleries

Well, the fact is that there are museums and galleries in Toronto. The second fact is that I have actually never been. In London and New York the galleries and museum are magnificent, beautiful and exciting. In other countries the museums are interesting because of the history of the country. What possibly could I find in the museums or galleries here that I haven’t found anywhere else?

Toronto has theatre

So it does. And every other bigger city in the world does too. After London West End, Vienna Opera or Paris Moulin Rouge, what would Toronto theatre scene offer to me that I haven’t seen? Also, why would I pay the extortionate price for a play in Toronto if I can see a West End show for 1/5 of the Toronto price? No brainer…

Toronto is great for sports

Raptors, Maple Leafs, Blue Jays… Barcelona has FC Barcelona while New York has Yankees and Giants. Hint? No-one has ever heard of the Toronto sports clubs while everyone knows those in Barcelona or New York.  Ps: Sorry, I don’t follow sports anyway. I prefer to do sports.

Toronto is multi-cultural

Yes, there are people from all over the world here, yet they don’t really bring much of their culture to Toronto. Toronto, despite so many cultures, lacks personality or diversity (unless you live in a ghetto that is).

Toronto is politically correct

It’s not. Toronto lacks freedom of speech. They refer to such lack of freedom of speech as “political correctness” here. I’ve written about this in my previous blog. People in Toronto are sensitive. If you don’t want to risk offending someone, I’ll give you a tip – don’t talk to them (you won’t miss much anyway). If you do, you may say something they’ll find offensive or they may complain about you being too loud perhaps. It’s happened at my workplace before. People of Toronto – seriously, get a life!!

Toronto has a great night life

Where? I’ve had more fun in Asia in one night than in Toronto in 10 months. Night life here is poor. I don’t even think I want to elaborate on this. It’s bad, boring, too many rules …meh.

Toronto is fun for dating

By dating, Torontonians are referring to online dating (Tinder, Bumble, etc.). That’s where fun dating starts and also ends.

Traditional dating in Toronto is almost non-existent. Guys don’t approach girls and have no clue how to flirt. If they do have a conversation with you, they try to impress you with their jobs (and/or MBAs from universities no one’s heard of). You see, having a job is an achievement in Toronto. As a comparison, in London a guy would try to get into your knickers by talking about their travels, world experiences and the books they’ve read. In New York, on the other hand, it would be a statement about what they do for living in order to imply how much money they are making. In Toronto, men are not well-travelled, world-experienced or well-read, and those that have a job, are not making much money either.

Ok. What about the people in Toronto?

The people in Toronto? The people are just like the city itself – cold, unattractive and uninteresting.

Toronto is great for people from third world countries that come here for a better life and Canadian passport.

Advertisements

Canada from a different perspective

Whenever I would read articles about Canada, they would always be positive and colourful. So I created an amazing perception on this country. And then I moved to Canada (with the aim to call this country my home – yes) and my perception changed. Canada is not bad but there is somehow a lot of hypocrisy and contrast in this country. Here are a few examples:

Political correctness aka impaired freedom of speech
The Canadians say they are politically correct. Due to the sensitivity of most Canadians, there is a 99.9% chance that if you have an opinion on something, someone will find it offensive, racist or undesirable. The Canadians call it political correctness. For other westerners, it would be no freedom of speech.

Country of friendliness but not inclusiveness
Canadians are friendly and smiley. However, they are not particularly inclusive or actually interested in other people’s stories. Given such a great diversity in this country, there is a lack of cultural awareness and authentic foreign food (at least in Toronto).

IMG_1523

Advanced country with not so advanced life
If you are from another western country and you move to Canada, it feels like you’ve moved 20 years back in the past. Lack of infrastructure, backward banking system and dated technology are things you’ll be dealing with on a day to day basis.

Country of new life with no job
Canada constantly welcomes new skilled immigrants yet the country somehow doesn’t provide any jobs for them. There is already a shortage of jobs for Canadians. It’s pretty common for an university educated Canadian to work in a coffee shop or restaurant.
I’ve met a lot of immigrants since my move to Canada who were engineers, doctors or lawyers in their home countries. They came to Canada and became admin clerks and taxi drivers. Canadian immigration says “we need skilled workers”, Canadian employers say “we need workers with experience and skills gained in Canada”.

Working culture that preaches innovation and practises red tape and rigidness
Canadian companies say they want innovation and efficient processes, yet they are risk averse and usually just watch what the US or the UK do and 10 years later they copy what these countries have done. The working culture in Canada is a a culture where employee loyalty (but not necessarily contribution) gets celebrated and promoted over employee capabilities. It’s a working culture with rigid rules and red tape, a culture in which good and young junior people have no career growth or prospects and so they silently stay and complain about their jobs as they have nowhere else to go while the not so good and old senior people stick around and wait for retirement.

IMG_1522

Low paid jobs and high mortgages
The salaries in Canada are shockingly low when compared to the cost of living. A good salary in Toronto is considered to be anything in excess of C$100k. On a salary of C$100k (which is apparently a top 10% salary in Canada), you spend C$33k+ on taxes (not including RRSP pension contributions), C$24k on accommodation unless you are willing to share or spend 3 hours commuting to/from work, C$2,000 on utilities and bills and C$6,000 on bad food. If you want good food because you refuse to feed your body with bread with 25 ingredients or coconut water with added “natural” flavours, GMO or other north-American specialty food, then be prepared to spend three times more on your grocery shopping trips. A shoe-box condo in Downtown Toronto goes for C$450k. In order to buy such a condo, you need a deposit of at least 20%. The motto of Torontonians is “work for nothing, pay for everything”.

Work, work…and…work
I appreciate that my last comment relates mostly to Torontonians. But here goes. Whenever you meet someone new in Toronto, be prepared to have a very fruitful conversation about their work, your work and work in general. You see, work defines Torontonians, work is what makes Torontonians more interesting. Work normally tends to be the main (and usually the only topic) of your discussion with Torontonians. I’ve warned ya!

Why I left Asia only to realise I want to go back (aka your home is where your heart is)

I guess I left Asia for the same reasons I now miss that part of the world. While living in Vietnam and then Taiwan, at times I felt like I was living in a bubble – all the popularity and privileges of a blonde petite girl and the fun that came with it. I understand now what all the fuss is about, why a lot of Westerners come to Asia and never leave. The life in Asia seems a lot easier, colourful even than that in the West. However, in order to realise this, one has to leave first.  

I am now based in Toronto, Canada. They say Asians are materialistic. I say Torontonians are slaves to the rat race. It seems that Torontonians just work and when they don’t work, then they talk about work and when they don’t talk about work, they talk about their MBAs or schools they went to (and which no one else in the world has ever heard of). It’s almost like they think that work (or their degree) defines them; makes them complete, more interesting, more entertaining. I guess that if I had three cups of coffee, I’d stay awake.

I always say there isn’t much to do in Ho Chi Minh. However, Ho Chi Minh seems like such a colourful, vibrant and eventful city compared to the non-happening sleeping city of Toronto. While living in Ho Chi Minh, I’d go for an amazing cup of Vietnamese coffee or hang out at a pool party, out of boredom. Here, I spend money on clothes, shoes and nice furniture that I really don’t need, out of boredom.

IMG_1088

Towards the end of last year, I was given the option to freelance, which would essentially give me the opportunity to continue my nomad lifestyle and travel more while having Asia as my base. In the end I decided to choose stability and routine in the city of Toronto… I thought that maybe the stability and routine would help me settle down and eventually call Toronto my home. However, when making the decision, which I thought was probably one of the hardest decisions in my life, I completely ignored what my heart was saying to me – that it has chosen Asia as its home.

IMG_4788.JPG

I just finished a few week romance with a boy I really liked but just wasn’t into. He sensed it and I didn’t fight it. He thought I had issues and I let him believe it. I didn’t tell him that I didn’t bring my heart to Canada, I didn’t tell him that my heart stayed in Asia. He wouldn’t understand. 

 

Women of Vietnam

A lot of my friends I have spoken to have asked me to write about the kind of people I meet. My first write-up on this topic is on Vietnamese women. The below has been collated based on my observations as well as observations of my male expat friends.

The Vietnamese purpose of motorbikes mirrors

I always thought that mirrors on vehicles are there so we are able to see what’s going on behind us and to avoid any rear-enders. Not for Vietnamese women. The Vietnamese ladies have found a different use of the mirrors – they are used solely for the application of lipstick or mascara.

Warriors in the past, superwomen in the present

A large number of Vietnamese women served in the Vietnam War. They all were volunteers and true warriors, and to date the women in Vietnam are proud of this fact. I’ve been to the Vietnamese women’s museum in Hanoi that has a section dedicated to female veterans – it’s pretty impressive. The Vietnamese women nowadays resemble a modern prototype of female warriors; they are full time workers, full time mothers and full time housemaids. They are super women. Sometimes I wonder why they bother with men. The Vietnamese ladies seem to be pretty capable of looking after themselves.

IMG_1532

Heavy weightlifters

You see tiny Vietnamese women carry enormous boxes of groceries and pull heavy carts with other clutter that they aim to sell at markets. Gotta work those muscles. I also see Vietnamese men on motorbikes on the streets taking naps all day long in the sunshine. Gotta work on the tan!

The celebration of Vietnamese women

The Vietnamese ladies have the entire three days in a year dedicated to celebrating them: the Valentine’s Day, the Women’s Day and the Mother’s Day. Lucky ladies! During these three days, women take priority over other activities of the Vietnamese men (work gets unfinished, the deadlines are not met, drinking with friends and female companions gets rescheduled, etc.). The rest of the year the ladies of Vietnam are taken for granted and are often uncared for.

unnamed

The outside over the inside

The Vietnamese ladies take pride of their appearance and look after their external image accordingly. They keep slim, they moisturise, they get their nails and hair done, they wear fake eyelashes and lot of them have fake boobs (I always wondered how such tiny creatures could have such big boobs – until my male friends told me).  In fact, they spend so much time taking care of their outside that I sometimes feel they do not have any time left for taking care of their inside. The Vietnamese women somehow seem to (due to poor education) or pretend to (due to social expectations) lack personality, opinions, global awareness and general knowledge. From the conversations I’ve had with a lot of male expats, the lack of such traits seems to be desired amongst the male population of Vietnam. If a woman shows a bit of personality or has opinions, she is not attractive for Vietnamese men. I guess birds of a feather flock together.

Umbrellas are for sunny days

Just like the Japanese (or rather because of the Japanese), the Vietnamese women are obsessed with white skin. The whiter, the better. Unlike in the western world, where umbrellas are used exclusively during rainy days, umbrellas in Vietnam are used exclusively during sunny days. In my opinion, the whiter the Vietnamese ladies are, the more ghostly and unhealthy they look. The lack of sun, vitamin D deficiency and weakened immune system mean they are always sick.

Yes to marrying a foreign man

A certain category of ladies of Vietnam are crazy about marrying a foreigner as they associate “foreign” with money and the freedom to travel the world. Now, these Vietnamese females know that it is important to choose their foreign guy wisely. The more desperate, uninteresting and intellectually slow the foreign guy looks, the more chances the Vietnamese girl has to get married to them. A lot of expat men I’ve met are only interested in flings and tend to “date” a number of Vietnamese ladies simultaneously while actually looking for someone who can intellectually stimulate them. Intellectual stimulation with a Vietnamese girl will happen once in a blue moon.

 

Backpackers and their stereotypes

Whenever I categorise people based on their personalities, behaviours or traits, rooted from my experience in dealing with them, I get a response “omg, you are stereotyping again”. Well, the word stereotype was invented for a reason. There is also a valid reason for certain stereotypes. I agree, stereotyping makes us ignore unique differences but it also creates certain expectations and as such helps us act / prepare accordingly.

While backpacking through South East Asia last year, I had a chance to meet a lot of backpackers from different backgrounds and nationalities. Slowly, I started placing them into my small boxes:

  • I stereotyped the backpackers I met based on the type of their backpacking / travelling style and created three categories.
  • I also paid attention to similarities based on the nationality of the backpapers. I would only stereotype someone based on their nationality if I got a fit for purpose sample (i.e. if I met more than three backpackers of the same nationality non-simultaneously or a group of backpackers of the same nationality at more than one occasion).

Stereotypes based on a backpacking / travelling style

  1. Tourists
  • The backpackers I categorised as “tourists” tend to:
    • book organised tours,
    • hardly ever choose activities based on their passions or interests,
    • tend to follow guide books and do what all tourists and holidaymakers do.
  1. Travellers (including the nomads):
  • The backpackers I categorised as “travellers” tend to:
    • do most activities on their own,
    • use public transportation and hang out in local places (not just touristy areas),
    • choose activities based on their passions or interests.
  1. Drunkards
  • The backpackers I categorised as “drunkards” tend to:
    • drink all night, sleep all day,
    • not to do much apart from the above two activities.

Stereotypes based on nationality

  1. English guys
  • The better looking English gender,
  • Great sense of humour and banter.
  • Can’t handle alcohol well. 
  1. English girls
  • The worse looking English gender,
  • Can’t handle alcohol well,
  • Tendency to call you rude at 4 am when they get back to the hostel from a night out and you ask them politely to keep their voices down. Tendency to call you rude again at 10 am the following morning when you accidently drop a bottle of shampoo on the floor and wake them up. 
  1. Germans
  • Gotta love the rules!
  • There is nothing that will make the Germans change the rules – have you ever played card games with them? 
  1. Swiss
  • A stronger version of the Germans. The rules are RULES. 
  1. Asian nationalities (born, brought up and living in an Asian country)
  • Seem to have their hearing and / or speech impaired. Don’t say hi to you; don’t say hi back when you say hi first. 
  1. Americans
  • In your face all the time,
  • Very literal,
  • I also met (male) Americans who claimed they were “sarcastic”. If you are English or European, you must be thinking Americans and sarcastic? What? Well, I’ve conducted a research on this topic and there is such thing as American sarcasm. It’s just not really funny or clever the way the English or European sarcasm is. It’s more forced and “in your face”. Unless you are American, avoid at all times! 
  1. Canadians
  • Know how to get a party started,
  • Friendly and inclusive,
  • Hate when other people think they are American when they meet them for the first time. 
  1. Australians
  • Easy to impress,
  • Love making new friends. 
  1. Egyptians
  • Drink like a fish,
  • Can be a bit too serious at times. 
  1. Dutch
  • Fun,
  • Proud of the fact they get on well with the English. 
  1. French
  • Loyal backpackers; once they’ve found a travel companion, they tend to stick with them. 

 

Ten tips on what to do in Ho Chi Minh, a city that has nothing to offer

A lot of tourists that come to Vietnam either don’t bother visiting Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon – the westernised version of the original Vietnamese name Sài Gòn that’s still used in daily speech nowadays) or they do and the verdict seems to be the same – “there isn’t much to do”. While I am of the opinion that this city indeed doesn’t have much going on, I have composed a list of ten “must see” and “must do” things and activities while visiting the business hub of the Nam.

  1. Go to the Saigon pool party that’s held every Saturday at the New World Hotel. I bet you won’t have seen so many tattoos, six packs and inter-racial inter-generational couples in your life. If you are a fairly well-rounded intelligent individual, the median IQ of people at this place will be increased dramatically when you visit.
  2. Pay a visit to one of the many speakeasy coffee shops and order a cà phê sữa nóng (Vietnamese hot coffee with condensed milk) and expect the staff to serve you a cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk). The Vietnamese are obsessed with ice and iced drinks and drinking hot coffee is almost unheard of amongst the Vietnamese – “but the hot coffee is hot, lady” is usually the response I get when I return the iced coffee back and ask for a hot one again.
  3. Visit one of the many rooftop bars, but I would advise you do this only after sunset. During the day, the view is spoilt by the unattractiveness of this city. This unattractiveness is cleverly camouflaged by the lights at night.
  4. Spend a day at Thao Dien, the expat bubble. It really is a completely different world out there. You may hang out at a bar pool, get your hair and nails done at western beauty salons, do your grocery shopping at a western supermarket or get a good quality massage (not the crap massage you get in District 1).  I’d say that the majority of expats who have been living in Saigon for a while eventually move to this area for its convenience. One thing to mention – parts of Thao Dien get flooded really badly during the rainy season. So if you are visiting Saigon between May and October, bring your raincoat and wellies.
  5. Spend a day sightseeing. The sights you should visit include the Independence Palace, the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica, the War museum, the Ho Chi Minh City Hall and the Municipal Theatre. I guess the sights will take less than a day. Now, if you do not visit the aforementioned sights, you haven’t missed much.
  6. Explore the famous Cu Chi tunnels, the immense network of connecting underground tunnels built during the war around Ho Chi Minh. If you are tall (i.e. over 180 cm) or fat, you may wish to reconsider as you may not be able to fit into the narrow spaces, designed for the tiny Vietnamese. If you suffer from claustrophobia, you may wish to give the Cu Chi tunnels a miss altogether.
  7. Go on a Mekong Delta tour. I haven’t been and I still live. Do the maths!
  8. Grab a bike or uber a moto and see the city from a different perspective. Sit back and enjoy the ride, relish the adrenaline and watch the chaos, craziness, dirtiness, ugliness of this city. If you think that grab / uber bikers have mastered the traffic or driving in Ho Chi Minh, think again. I’ve already been in an accident while taking a grab bike.
  9. Visit one of the many markets and buy all the clutter that you don’t really need while celebrating the victory of having haggled the price down slightly (hint: you still get ripped off anyway).
  10. Hang out in the backpacker area. Get drunk and be ridiculous – show the Vietnamese how absurd the Western people can be.

Vietnam survival guide or how to assimilate to the life in Vietnam

No one has ever said “I love living in Vietnam”. No one has ever said “I hate living in Vietnam” either. The majority of the expats who have assimilated into this country “accept” living here and those who haven’t, leave.

The cognitive process of assimilation in Vietnam could be broken down into three stages, as follows:

  • “Beauty to beast stage” (0 – 6 months): From a person with a lovely soul you turn into a nasty savage. This period brings the worst in you, in fact it brings up the personality traits you never thought were part of your character.
  • “Digestion stage” (6 – 12 months): You are digesting. While digesting, you are becoming more accepting and tolerating. Your expectations and standards have decreased dramatically. You have stopped caring; you have started assimilating.
  • “Acceptance stage” (over 12 months): You have accepted the life in Vietnam and now believe that it is normal too. You have assimilated. Congratulations!

I have collated the following fourteen tips that should serve as a guide on how to survive the first two stages and achieve the ultimate state of acceptance of life in Vietnam. The list is not exhaustive and more tips are welcome!

  1. Don’t have expectations. If you don’t expect anything, no matter what you get, it will be a bonus.
  2. Lower your standards on everything and everyone. That way nothing and no-one will ever disappoint.
  3. Change your wardrobe – “the cheaper, the better”. Recommended colour – grey. Only grey can absorb the dirt and dust and yet retain its original colour.
  4. Keep your belongings with you at all times, or give them to the charity instead as the pickpockets will take over their ownership.
  5. Beat the traffic by becoming a fume hoover on a motorbike or “fail” the traffic by using taxis.
  6. If you are not used to smiling, learn to smile. Most of the communication with the locals is done through smiling. So keep smiling. If you are English, get yourself a good dentist first.
  7. Learn how not to take No for an answer or accept No as the answer you’ll get.
  8. Learn to be patient. An estimated time for something that takes five minutes to resolve in the western world is approximately two hours in Vietnam.
  9. Get an appartment with a washing machine and do your washing yourself or risk losing half of your clothes and the other half being damaged.
  10. Learn to haggle effectively or you’ll end up paying almost western prices for non-western quality services and goods.
  11. Find yourself Vietnamese friends – you will need their Vietnamese language skills at some point. On this note, if your aim is to sort out a certain problem in an efficient manner, don’t involve your Vietnamese friend in helping you do so. They have a talent to turn a small problem into a big one…sigh.
  12. Learn to ignore the locals on the street or practise “no, thank you” as you’ll have to say it over a hundred times a day.
  13. Learn to use the correct words for describing certain services. For example, the response you give when someone asks how good the massage place was, is “clean”. In Vietnam, clean means good. Learn the meanings of these words and use them accordingly.
  14. Teach yourself to make the “small talk” or learn to drink heavily – with most expats you either small talk or booze. If you are not a fan of either, stay at home and read books or write blogs.

Happy Vietnam living, folks!