A not old person went to the observatory with me!

By sitting in the lounge/kitchen area most nights I have come to be at least recognized by my hostelmates. Many of them are here looking for an apartment or just working and so have either already spent a few months here and/or will spend several more. So, while many of the travelers come in, sleep for the night, and leave unnoticed, there continues to be a core group of people that come together, learn each other’s languages, swap dialects and tennis lessons, and of course tell stories. On Friday night most people were off from work for the week and looking for something to do. A core group of people were going to a dubfx concert, but the ticket was a little too expensive for someone I had never heard of. Walking from my car back to the hostel I ran into another smaller group on the street, one proudly displayed a coconut he had just bought and sipped serenely from it with a straw. Another girl had just bought a tiny liter of chocolate milk. I asked them if anyone wanted to go to the observatory with me and though I got a few laughs, my roommate of all people was thrilled to come along. We had exchanged conversation briefly before, the simple details of why are you here, where are you from, etc (she is a dancer teaching summer camp and from Montreal) but we hadn’t really hung out. We walked the hour to the observatory discussing the various tourist things we had gone to and what jobs we were applying for in the coming months.

When we got to the observatory, a large telescope sitting neatly beside the science museum, everything was dark. I apologized profusely, knowing I had thoroughly researched the dates and time, but when we tried the door, it magically swung open and we stepped cautiously into an incredibly dark entryway. To the right awfully eerie space music was playing (I don’t know how else to describe it – it wasn’t like electronic and dancey, it felt like it should be the soundtrack for some Deep Space Nine mission). So of course we walked toward the creepy sounds, passed beneath one more doorway, and entered into a room lit by glowing red computer screens and filled with whirring noises of the telescope slewing, the dome above maneuvering, and the human operators grunting at the sight of clouds. Within minutes we were shown an incredibly close view of the moon and the rings of Saturn.  We hung out for a while longer, discussing the international space station, the last American shuttle that had launched earlier that morning, and the fact that this was a terrible location for a telescope (lots of rain from the mountains and light pollution). At midnight, the observatory closed up shop and my roommate (why am I so terrible at names?) and I walked back along the water to the hostel.

A day or so later, one of the guys mockingly asked how the planetarium was. My eyes lit up as I responded that it was really awesome and he should have gone. Which of course ushered in the question: “how old are you?” Always ready to defend both my age and interests, I retorted, “Have you ever seen Saturn’s rings?”.

O, Canada

I have to be honest, I thought Canada was essentially a slightly less interesting, colder, United States. On the ferry ride over I kept trying to come up with differences but all I could think of was that they were good at hockey, that they were afraid of the dark (thanks How I Met Your Mother), that the drinking age was lower, and that Mounties had cool uniforms. Oh and they end their sentences with “eh” (thanks Southpark). It’s mostly all white people? Other than that, just a tiny US.

Driving off the ferry though I was suddenly worried. I hadn’t done any research on Canada at all, I mean it’s right next to the US, it can’t be that different, right? But then again I just had to use my passport, this is technically an entirely new country. I drove up and immediately breathed a sigh of relief that everyone drove on the normal side of the road – I mean this place did use to be British. With this minor achievement, I drove through the streets certain it was smooth cruising from here. Except all the LED temperature readings on the side of buildings were in Celsius, the highway signs used metres and kilometres, the price of gas was per litre, everything was in Canadian dollars, and color was spelled colour. My car’s temperature gage was still in Fahrenheit, so I got over that one pretty quickly, though I am still taken aback whenever fellow hostelmates rejoice over 20 degree weather. The metres took a little longer. I would approach underpasses and – even though my bug is perhaps the smallest car out there – worry that it was somehow taller than 5 metres. We may use the metric system in physics and math calculations all the time – but that’s completely different from actually thinking about it. Like your native language, you grow accustomed to thinking in the scale of feet and inches and suddenly metres make no sense. My one source of actually living in the metric system is track. I ran the ½ mile, mile, and two mile so much there is no way I could forget that a mile was equal to 1600 metres. Phew – at least I have a conversion standard for this one. But then the road signs had speed limits in km/hr. There was no way I was going to do quick math like that for every road. Wait. My car is German, there’s gotta be something metric on here somewhere. Aha! Tiny numbers below the normal miles/hr, that’s got to be it. I do have to say I drive slower in Canada. The speed limits on the highway are about 60, but you feel like you’re cruising along the ocean going at the zooming 100km/hr. The gas was perhaps the scariest. I still had no idea what the conversion from American to Canadian dollars was and even more so all of the gas prices were missing a decimal. I suppose if youre around it all the time 153 is clearly 1.53, but to me this could easily have been 153 dollars per some volume larger than a litre. I had had half a tank leaving the U.S. and though I knew most countries had more expensive gas than the U.S., I also knew Canada had huge oil reserves, which I figured would clearly bring down the price. So at around midnight with none of these whirling questions answered but my tank approaching empty, I handed the gas attendant my card and told him to put 20$ on there. I knew that wouldn’t fill my tank, but it should get me somewhere, especially if the conversion rate was in my favor. I turned on my car all hopeful that the little dial would zoom up to a respectable level, only to see it creep up to just over a quarter of a tank. Poop. Gas is more expensive here.

When my ipod finally died, I turned on the radio and found the CBC station. Again, as an idiotic American, I found it adorable that the Canadians had their own version of BBC – I literally burst out laughing when I first heard the acronym. The show playing that night was a travel across Canada, playing famous Canadian artists from each region. I was excited for some indigenous music, but soon found that most of the songs were from people I had just assumed were American. My favorites were Sarah McLaughlin and that band that made the “Safety Dance” song. To heighten my apparent cruelty, I once again burst out laughing when the host declared that Canada had produced some of the best music in the world the past thirty or forty years. Mmm yes because when I think music, I think Canada (commence jazz hands).

I am usually much more open to new cultures, sights, and sounds and I definitely still had the most amazing time in Canada, but unfortunately these are my incredibly chauvinistic, crappy first thoughts. I mean I really do like the Safety Dance.