As it turns out, if you want to live in Toronto, you’re going to have to work in Toronto. And not at one of these 16 hours a week, give shifts away so you can go to the beach, minimum wage, ‘I sort of work here but really I’m an artist/writer/street performer’ kind of jobs. If you want to live and pay rent and eat and enjoy yourself in Toronto, you better werk. It took three months of me completely decimating my savings for me to realise that this was the case but now that I have there ain’t nothing going on but the rent.
It seemed apt that we should watch High Rise on our second day in Toronto because were already apartment hunting. Scrolling through the endless adverts on kijiji and craiglist over a Tim Horton’s coffee and a bagel, Toronto’s apartments seemed to fit into three categories.
1) Dingy and desolate basements with a ceiling height of less than five feet and no windows.
2) Beehive shared houses inhabited by bong-ripping students and poorly groomed cats offering a ‘mattress on the floor’ of one of their dusty dens.
3) Molecularly-identical bare rooms promising the best of ‘young professional urban living’ on the 88th floor of a high rise.
In Holguin you must do as the Holguin’s do.
The people of Holguin go about their business at an easy pace. Sauntering around the city they stop for a rest in the city’s many parks, where the benches sit invitingly in the dappled shade of tall trees. Or they take a seat in one of the tiny corner stores that sell coffee and counterfeit CDs. Or they kick back in a rocker on a porch, not necessarily their rocker and not necessarily their porch.
No matter how much you prepare yourself before a trip, no matter how many guidebooks you read or photos you look at or route maps you plan, you will be just as disorientated as everybody else when the place you’ve only imagined suddenly become real. No amount of preparation can pre-empt culture shock, that bewildered, giddy high that hits the moment you arrive in a new place, especially a place as strange and wonderful as Cuba. That said there are a number of interesting things I learned about Cuba on the very day I arrived, things I feel it my duty to share with you here.
A trip to Taroko National Park is the reason most people visit Hualien on the East coast of Taiwan. Famous for the marble gorge at its heart, Taroko National Park is over 92 hectares in size and is sliced open at the centre by the surprisingly diminutive LeeWoo Ho River. It’s a place that begs to be photographed.
If you visit Hualien and want to see the Chingshui cliffs, a gorgeous waterfall and Chihsingtan Beach, you’re going to have drive along Taiwan’s Suhua Highway, one of the world’s most dangerous roads.
I had to give more information to the woman at the Clinique counter this morning in order to buy face cream than I had to give a car rental company in Taiwan to rent a car. I had to give the Clinique assistant my email, my home address, phone number, bank details, skin type, purchase history, all information she assured me would never be used to spam me within an inch of my life and convince me that I MUST buy the new £30 eye cream immediately unless I want to make people physically ill at the sight of my crow’s feet wrinkles and under-eye bags.
By comparison renting a car in Taiwan was an anonymous transaction. Nick, the enterprising teenager looking after the apartment were renting for a few days in Hualien, assured us that it was cool to rent a car in Taiwan without an international license and even gave us directions to get to a rental place he recommended.
I’m sitting here with my laptop balanced uncomfortably on a pillow across my thighs and two visa application forms by my side. They’re both blank. I’ve had them for over two weeks and now, three weeks before we fly to Cuba, I’ve decided it’s time to get the ball rolling.
I can remember feeling quite pleased with myself when I got the forms printed out. Like I could give myself a nice big tick on the to-do list. One thing down. But I haven’t actually done anything yet. All I’ve got are two blank forms.
I do very little planning before I travel which is why my imminent month-long trip to Cuba, followed directly by a two-year stint in Canada still feels quite unreal.
What is a plan but a daydream about the future, anyway?
The only reason we’re spending a night in Yilan City is so that we can visit the nearby Su’ao Cold Springs. I read that there are only two cold springs like Su’ao Cold Spring in the world. The water contains carbon ion concentrations of 68ppm, the highest of all the natural springs in Taiwan, and the only other cold spring of this type is in Italy, a fact that instantly gives Su’ao an air of glamour by association.