“Center of the Universe” not a horrible place
As I descended the dank and narrow stairwell, two things ran through my mind, “If this is the end, I guess I had a good run.” And, “Am I ever glad I’m thin, or I would have been stuck five steps ago.” After reaching the bottom, I was glad to find it was indeed the underground clothing store I was lead to believe and not the drug den of my nightmares.
What I just described was one of many journeys into downtown Toronto. I spent just over two months living and working in and around “The Big Smoke.” As I am sure you are aware, the city is just massive. Coming from Calgary, I had an idea as to what to expect, but like most experiences my expectations were nowhere near reality.
This past February, I was lucky enough to receive an internship working for the TV show Daily Planet on Discovery Channel. Naturally, I was shaking with joy upon reading the email I received. I would not only be able to knock off the internship requirement of my degree program at university, but I would also be doing it in Toronto working for a recognized program.
When I would excitedly tell people about my internship and that I was moving to Toronto for two months, I got some positive reactions, “Hey that’s amazing! Congrats!” Some mediocre, “Hey that’s cool.” But I received a surprisingly large amount of negative ones: “Oh man, that sucks that you have to move to Toronto,” “Hey don’t die on the 401,” “It’s too bad you couldn’t get a internship here.”
Having lived in the west my entire life, I have grown accustomed to people knocking Toronto and its citizens. Calling them arrogant, rude assholes or just describing the city itself as filthy, over-populated and filled with nothing but backstabbers trying to climb the corporate ladder.
There were a couple of incidents in Toronto’s Chinatown where I am pretty sure I was cursed out in Chinese for no good reason. All along the street are vendors with knockoff products laid out on rickety tables for people to view. I saw some fake Coach purses that I thought would make good gifts for my sister and mom.
As I inspected the craftsmanship of the purses, a short grey-haired man wobbled up beside me and started speaking with a heavy Chinese accent. I gathered that he owned the products and I managed to catch him saying the one I was holding was 10 dollars.
After discussing the purse with my sister on my phone, she said she would like it. I went back up to the man who seemed to be staring into oblivion for no good reason, and I attempted to confirm the price of the purse. “It is 10 dollars right?”
Then quick as lightening, an elderly Asian woman came out of nowhere. I put together that her and the grey-haired man were a couple, but she obviously wore the pants in the relationship. She began to harshly tell me that I had the price wrong.
“Bag is 30 dollars. 30 dollars.”
To which I replied, “Your husband said 10.”
“No, he crazy. Bag is 30 dollars.”
“I’ll give you 10 because that’s what he said it was first.”
I then found out that I shouldn’t have tried to bargain because I got a rapid-fire earful of what I can only assume were Asian words not suitable for children’s ears.
I admittedly lost composure and swore back at her in my common tongue. It wasn’t my proudest moment, but she was unnecessarily rude.
But shortly after on that same day a kind, I came across feeble homeless woman who asked me nicely if I could open her bottle of water. She was sitting in her wheelchair on the street corner covered in ratty blankets even though it was over 20 degrees out.
Photo by: Melissa Molloy I agreed to help her and she then began her attempt to slowly pass the bottle to me. I immediately could see in her pruned, sunburnt face and struggling eyes that handing me the bottle would be an impossible task.
So I reached down and grabbed the bottle before her arm snapped from the weight of it. After opening it and handing it back, she gave me one of the most sincere “Thank you’s” I have ever received.
As I walked away, I wondered where she must have gotten that fresh bottle from in the first place. My answer then appeared down the street in the form of a caring citizen that was passing out water to all the homeless people on the street. I believe it was one of the “Real Life Superheros” that patrol major cities because the individual had their hood up like they were trying to hide their identity.
I am sure relatable acts occur, but I have never seen selfless acts like the mystery person giving out water here in Calgary.
Before leaving Calgary, I had always heard that Toronto as a whole thinks of itself as New York; huge, important, influential and fast-paced. Based on my experience, this appeared to be true.
Everyday I would see people yelling in their cars out of frustration, or bike messengers narrowly missing my car because they had to deliver something right away. I have witnessed those occurrences in Calgary, but I noticed them much more frequently out east.
Every city has a particular vibe about it that stems from the combination of its people, landscape, and economy. The feeling that Toronto gives off is one of relentless work, and it has a go-go-go attitude. Whether I was driving to work or walking around the city, I kept thinking, “Why doesn’t everyone just calm down a bit?”
Compared to Calgary, Toronto has a high-paced feeling to it. It appeared as though the people there only lived for work. One of the contributing factors to that was the fact that many people commute over two hours a day, which leaves very little time to have a social life.
Even though there can be long commutes in Calgary, the feeling here is much more relaxed. We may live hectic lives here, but the city exudes a much more Zen feel where we actually live for something other than work.
An interesting aspect to this is that only the people in Toronto that have lived somewhere else actually notice the high-paced attitude in the city. It is almost as though everyone else there is so engulfed by it, it is impossible for them to recognize it. I would try to explain these differences to people at my internship, and the majority of people would look at me like I was speaking gibberish.
Every city in the world is going to have a different feel to it. Through my experiences in Toronto I learned that some stereotypes of the city may be true. But more importantly I discovered that I prefer to live in a place that fosters a much more relaxed atmosphere.
At the end of the day I do really like Toronto as a city to visit, not one to live in. It was a great relief to come back to Calgary. I felt like I could finally exhale after holding my breath for two whole months.