My summer vacation
As long as my mother is alive I will take my vacations to Canada. This year my three-week July 16-August 7 summer vacation was unusually long. But it was for a reason. My last vacation was in March 2014. Mostly for money reasons, I think, I decided then not to visit ‘home’ again until the summer of 2015. Almost 1 ½ years is a long time. It’s like a prison sentence. My friends and I say, “Six months until my next vacation, “43 day until I leave,” like that, like we’re counting. Well, it’s not “like” we’re counting. We are counting. So knowing that 1 ½ years is a long time, plus knowing that there was a family wedding I could attend in Canada on Saturday, July 18 reinforced my intention of a longer visit. In addition, I wanted to escape the notorious humidity of a Japanese summer plus get out of my wife’s hair a little bit. Summer is a low-income season for me, without much work, and my wife gets annoyed seeing me hang around the apartment.
She hates to see me in the apartment day after day while she goes to work. So I thought it a good idea to disappear for a while.
This year I attended the family wedding, did shopping - suit, footwear, computer antivirus stuff, extra large undergarments and socks for my son - went to Tobermory, Ontario for three days with a teacher’s college friend, saw the famous Flowerpot Island there and bought postcards and souvenirs, had three doctor’s appointments, three separate nurses’ appointments, four medical lab appointments two of which involved ultrasound procedures. Then I went shopping again, poked around four large thrift stores in town - St. Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army, Bibles for Missions, and Goodwill - looking for Bibles, visited friends in Mount Forest, Ontario, had lunch with a former university professor, went book shopping with him at a huge used bookstore (inventory about 150,000 on site with a half a million more in storage), did more shopping, sent postcards to Japan and sent some unsigned postcards to a few people in Ontario, and prepped my condominium apartment for sale (it goes on the market late August or early September, will probably sell in less than three weeks). I had to remove some furniture left by a previous tenant, arrange for a professional cleaner to clean it, then meet with a professional house painter to get an estimate for his contribution. I visited a local cemetery, wrote and glued lots of stuff into my travel diary, bought a new digital camera (mine is ten years old), drove over to the city of Waterloo twice, went to a neighbourhood garage sale, went canoeing on the local river, visited a local tattoo studio/parlor, took lots of pictures and posted them on my blog, wrote my Piper Paper, visited a friend in Elora, Ontario, watched a lot of TV, fed the ducks and geese at the local river park every morning. I had dinner with my older brother and his wife. Next I had lunch with one of my nieces who is kind of estranged from the family, a girl I haven’t seen in about fifteen years. Wrote two letters to the editor of my hometown newspaper (the first of which was printed on Monday, July 27th, the second on Tuesday, August 11th). I visited the local university plus a number of local churches and other notable buildings taking pictures. (I prefer taking pictures of things - of buildings and scenery - than of people.)
On Sunday, August 2nd I went to a play in Stratford, Ontario with my mother. I deliberately stopped at the hamlet of Shakespeare just outside of Stratford to buy and send more unsigned postcards. Stratford is singer Justin Bieber’s hometown. My mother and I attended the Avon Theatre, on whose front steps Bieber used to play guitar and sing as a street busker when he was thirteen years old. There’s a star in the sidewalk now to commemorate it. There are three world class theatres in Stratford: The Festival Stage; Second Stage; and the Avon Theatre. It’s a small town of 32,000 people. Some parts of it are very beautiful and touristy. But other parts are really grotty. I mean old abandoned factories that used to be the economic backbone of the town. Typical of everywhere in Canada signage is inadequate. Downtown is small but confusing with too much traffic, inadequate streets, and inadequate signs.
When we went in to the theatre at 1:30 p.m. on August 2nd the sky was sunny and hot the way it has been most of my trip. But when we exited the sky was noticeably darker with storm clouds. Home was one hour away to the east, so we found the highway and started for home right away. During that one hour drive the ambient temperature dropped six degrees. I know because the car has an internal thermometer and an external ambient temperature thermometer. In the city of Kitchener 19 km west of Guelph we were driving on high ground and we could see black clouds over Guelph and we knew rain was falling there. (The laundry I hung up outside was soaked when we arrived and I had to re-launder it.) Some motorists pulled off the road and were standing there with their digital cameras hoping to see a funnel cloud, maybe. Or maybe just trying to be the first to upload video to the local TV station. As we approached Guelph very heavy rain began to fall. Cars on the highway all slowed down. Not to a crawling speed, but significantly slower. At times visibility was iffy. I heard on the news that a tornado funnel cloud did touch down in the small town of Shelburne, about 71 km north of Guelph.
The first Monday of August, is a national Civic Holiday in Canada. Every community calls it by a different name, after something relevant to its community. In my hometown of Guelph, Ontario it is called John Galt Day after the Scotsman who headed the Upper Canada Company that was responsible for surveying much of south western Ontario, establishing mill towns (some of which, like Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, and nearby Cambridge have grown into significant cities while others, like Stratford, Shelburne, etc. have not) and settling them with European immigrant farmers. In Toronto the holiday is called Simcoe Day after Sir John Graves Simcoe, the first British Lieutenant Governor of the Upper Canada colony. (Upper Canada evolved into today’s Ontario Province, while Lower Canada evolved into today’s Quebec.)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper dissolved Parliament on August 2nd setting off a federal general election campaign. By law (a 2006 amendment to the Canada Elections Act, prescribing a four-year term of office) our elections are held on the third Monday of October, so we have known for quite a while that an election was coming on October 19, 2015. But dissolving Parliament on August 2nd - early - makes for one of the longest election campaigns in Canadian history. Habitually Canadian election campaigns have been less than forty days long.
I got my mother’s computer hooked up for Skype and taught her how to use it.
I saw a variety of wildlife.
On Monday, August 1st I was shopping in a Dollarama dollar store and saw Halloween chocolates for sale. They weren’t there the week before. I wasn’t surprised but when I mentioned it to my mother she sounded surprised.
After dinner on Thursday, August 6th I went to the local convenience store for some Diet Coke. On my way home walking through the park adjacent to the river at the bottom of my mother’s street I saw a young man walking his pig. At first I thought it was a small, pink, oddly-shaped dog. But as I got closer I could see its head better and I realized that it was a small pig on a leash. I wish I had stopped to ask the man about his pig, but I didn’t. I just went home. Many years ago I saw a man walking a pet raccoon on a leash in that same park, but this was the first time I’ve seen a pet pig.
I quickly blew through my spending money for this trip and started drawing from my own Canadian savings account.
One thing I noticed about myself in Canada was my habit of walking on the left side of the sidewalk, as I do in Tokyo. In Japan traffic keeps to the left, but in North America it keeps to the right. I did not have this problem while I was driving, but while walking I frequently had to correct myself as I found myself in opposition to other pedestrians.
On the return trip to Tokyo I was booked in the same seat I occupied coming to Canada - an aisle seat almost at the very rear of the plane’s right side, a Boeing 777-300ER. But when I reached my seat there was an old Japanese man sitting in it. I checked the number again. Generally this is something I hate. I think passengers are obliged to occupy their assigned seats and not play musical chairs on the plane. The situation here is that the man was assigned to the aisle seat immediately in front of mine. But he was travelling with his wife and granddaughter who were assigned to the two seats beside mine, and they all wanted to sit together. I understood the situation immediately, but the man got a Japanese interpreter - the leader of the group they were traveling with - to plead with me in English to change my seat so the family could sit together. I didn’t need her. The man could have spoken to me himself in Japanese, but he didn’t know that. I wasn’t happy. Maybe they could see it on my face. But the reason I felt unhappy was not because they wanted me to change my seat to accommodate them. It’s because I don’t like surprises in the first place, plus the fact that I think people should accept their assigned seat regardless in the second place. After all, I chose my original seat deliberately, for a purpose.
In any event it worked out well for me because the two seats beside me remained unoccupied. The flight was not full. So for the first time ever I could stretch my legs as much as I wanted. I could look out the window. I could lie down and sleep on the empty seats. It was good luck, really.
The final thing was my taxi ride home from the Airport Limousine drop off point outside the Keio Department Store in Shinjuku, central Tokyo. It’s always a tense thing for me, because I am lugging heavy luggage around the busy sidewalks and streets. That does not mean that flagging down a taxi cab is difficult. Not at all. It’s easy because the cabs are everywhere. GPS systems in cars today make it easy for drivers to find destinations. In the old days, without GPS, drivers usually relied on their passengers to direct them, which predictably is more difficult for a non-native speaker. On Saturday, August 8th, however, I hopped in a cab and quickly recited my prepared description of my destination. Surprise! The driver actually lives in my neighbourhood and when I told him my apartment name and location he knew exactly where it was. Along the way we chatted about the neighbourhood - the supermarket, the ¥100 shop, the local park and bus route, the recently closed general hospital.
WILD ANIMALS I saw
ducks garter snakes