Cavalcade of Lights

When deciding how to spend the Saturday night last week, my friends and I decided to go and see the Cavalcade of Lights. Some of us were reluctant to do that, as we thought that watching lighting of the Christmas tree is for kids, as are fireworks. The Nathan Phillips square was so crowded, you could hardly move through the crowd. And there was no way to go up to the Christmas tree, so we watched it from quite a distance. It was so noisy there, that we couldn’t hear the concert that was being played there. You could tell someone was singing a song but no way to tell who it was or what song it was.

And then they started the fireworks. Oh, my God! What a marvelous show! I have seen a lot of fireworks before but nothing like this one. The City Hall was beautifully lit and the fireworks were accompanied with special lighting effects and music. The colors, the shapes of the fireworks, the choreography… everything was just awesome!

I know that up close the Christmas tree is very beautiful, as I saw it last year days after they lit it. And now I know that I’m going to see the Cavalcade of Lights every year, as there is no way I will miss such a spectacular show.

For more information on the Cavalcade of Lights, see http://www.toronto.ca/special_events/cavalcade_lights/2012/index.htm

Cavalcade of Lights


SCTK4AGTG7JX The Phenomenon


– How do you tell the difference between a tourist from your home country and an immigrant

– The tourist will notice you from a far distance and will treat you as if you are related, then share a drink with you. The immigrant will pretend he/she does not speak your language well.

This is an anecdote I read online. The funny thing, or should I say the painful thing, is that it reflects the reality and I, more than anyone else, related to it instantly. You know why? Because I had the same experience.

During my first year in Toronto, I met my fellow countrymen time after time, mainly at events like workshops and seminars for newcomers. As this was the time I missed home most, I was extremely happy to meet people who represented a part of the world I had left behind. To my bewilderment, my fellow-countrymen were not as excited to meet me as I was.  And one day, after meeting a girl from my home country at a workshop, I was going down in an elevator with her after the workshop was over. The elevator stopped on one of the top floors, as other people were going out and while I was talking, this girl said abruptly, “Well, I have things to do, good-bye”, and she went out. The elevator doors closed before I managed to say something. Besides I was so baffled, I couldn’t have found anything to say to that. Overall, I felt as if someone had just told me to get lost.

I was puzzled as to why people were so reluctant to even talk to me properly. Was it just me? Do I look suspicious? Do I look like a bum and they think I might ask for money? I guess that deep inside I know they are actually afraid I might ask for money or for any other favour, so they try to get rid of anyone who represents that danger.

Anyway, that incident made me so angry, that I promised myself to never approach anyone from my home country. I’d welcome anyone’s friendship but it has to be their initiative.

Later I found out that it’s not only my countrymen, I have friends from all over the world and it turns out that phenomenon exists in different cultures. Of course I met some very good people from my home country later. But when people from back home ask me if there is a community here and if I stay close to them, assuming that it would be easier to go through the first years of immigration, I always say, “I keep away from them: the farther the better”.

Well, at least there is an advantage in it: integration will be faster, maybe lonelier, but faster.

Integration and the CityPass

One of the things that help a new immigrant in the integration process is visiting cultural sites and attending events. That is why, as soon as my sister and I arrived in Toronto, we decided to get acquainted with the local culture before starting to look for jobs and dive into other issues of starting a new life. This is when I found out about the CityPass. It’s strange, but I found out that a lot of Torontonians are not aware of such a great thing as the CityPass. Meanwhile CityPass is a perfect way to see five famous attractions of Toronto with up to 45% discount. It’s a booklet with tickets to CN Tower, Casa Loma, Royal Ontario Museum, Ontario Science Center and the Toronto Zoo. And these are must-see attractions of Toronto. Believe it or not, but after seeing them, I already felt a little Torontonian myself.

Until 2010 the CN Tower was the tallest building in the world, and then people around the world got jealous and built their own skyscrapers. Go see the spectacular view it offers and feel dizzy on its glass floor.

Casa Loma is a gorgeous castle with beautiful rooms, galleries and a dazzling patio. Its heart-wrenching history will make you feel weepy. And while you walk along its grand premises, you feel as if you are a little part of that history yourself.

Royal Ontario Museum or simply ROM is so huge, you might consider going there as early as possible so that you have enough time to see as much as you can. The must-see exhibit there is the dinosaurs or whatever remains of them.

Ontario Science Center at first sounded too nerdy to visit but it’s great fun for kids. And I didn’t mind behaving like a kid for a couple of hours.  Then, there’s the OMNIMAX theater that makes every visit worthwhile. The thrilling experience it takes you through is greater than any 3D or IMAX theaters can give you.

Toronto Zoo is like a little town and there is no way you can see all of it in one day. You will see animals from all over the world. The conditions that they live in are very much like their natural habitat, so every corner of the zoo looks like a different part of the world. And it’s so cool to feel as if you’ve visited all these various places in just one day.

So go buy a CityPass and get acquainted with your city’s cultural history: it will bring you closer to being a real Torontonian. Just for your information, you can buy a CityPass online as well at http://www.citypass.com/toronto.

Casa Loma

One For The Book

“Imagine that you have to break someone’s arm.

Right or left, doesn’t matter. The point is that you have to break it, because if you don’t…well, that doesn’t matter either. Let’s just say bad things will happen if you don’t.

Now, my question goes like this: do you break the arm quickly – snap, whoops, sorry, here let me help you with that improvised splint – or do you drag the whole business out for a good eight minutes, every now and then increasing the pressure in the tiniest of increments, until the pain becomes pink and green and hot and cold and altogether howlingly unbearable?”*

Interesting, isn’t it? It’s an excerpt from a wonderful book called “The Gun Seller” by H. Laurie, which I borrowed from the Public Library. Do you know what else you can borrow from the Public Library? Pretty much everything!

When I was first told about the Library, I was quite skeptic about it. Libraries from where I come from do not have a unified system, that is, if you’re looking for a book, you have to search for it at each library separately. Besides, they don’t have websites, so you have to travel around for a long time to find something. And a book has to be really old to get into a library, so chances of finding a book like “The Gun Seller” are… well, zero.

If there was a list of Seven Wonders of Toronto, I’d nominate the Library for being one. If you’ve ever been to the Reference Library, you would agree with me. Every time someone from abroad comes to visit me, I take them to Niagara Falls and … to the Reference Library. I know this might seem weird, but when I first went there, I was simply astonished. You can read books there, browse internet, listen to music, watch movies; “you can also stage operas, hold cycling races, and have an absolutely cracking game of frisbee, all at the same time, without having to move any of the furniture.”* It’s huge! And all these classes (free classes!) they have there, oh my God! I think I could live there! Seriously!

There are many more programs, books and services available at the Library. Just browse the Toronto Public Library website and you’ll be amazed at how much is offered to Torontonians free of charge. And it’s all there just around the corner, at your local branch.


* H. Laurie – The Gun Seller; London: Mandarin, 1997, c1996.

An Immigration Criterion

One of the reasons I chose Toronto over other Canadian cities was TIFF or Toronto International Film Festival. TIFF is one of the biggest film festivals in the world. And top celebrities of the world attend it every year. The most exciting thing about TIFF is that everyone has an opportunity to volunteer for it. So not only you get a chance to be a part of the movie world but you also get free tickets to festival screenings. My sister got so excited about it, that she signed up for numerous hours of volunteering and even though she got 10 tickets to festival films, we couldn’t see any of them, as she was busy there all day long. But we used the tickets during the rest of the year at TIFF Bell Lightbox, which offers quite a diverse variety of films unlike other theaters. We saw films from all over the world and some old classical films too.

And I saw a lot of celebrities. I went to take pictures of some of them and even though in some cases it turned out to be quite a dangerous enterprise, it was still a great fun. When I went to take pictures of Brangelina, I thought I was going to get killed by the frenzy crowd. Well, I didn’t, but my pictures were all shaky and blurry, because there was no way I could hold the camera still. For me, seeing someone like Brad Pitt is like science fiction. A few years ago, back home I could never have imagined seeing Brad Pitt or any other celebrity. They seemed to be so far away, almost in another universe. And then suddenly here I am and everything seems possible now.

TIFF is the best time to see many films from around the globe as well. A lot of them do not find North American distribution, which means they’ll never make it to our movie theaters. And there are some truly brilliant movies, but as they are not in the popular Hollywood genres, they don’t seem a profitable investment to our distributors. So TIFF is the only chance to see these works of art.

See more about TIFF programs and exhibitions at www.tiff.net

Colin Firth @ TIFF 2010

Colin Firth @ TIFF 2010


How do I pay the bus fare?

“How do I pay the bus fare?”

Yes, you heard me right! Not how much, but how?

That was a question to my friend and my biggest concern when I first had to take a bus. Back home you paid for the bus when you were getting off. And you could give larger bills to the driver and he was supposed to give you your change.

“Do I give it to the driver?” “A box, what box?” “With a hole?” Eventually my friend had to come with me and “show” me everything. It took me a while before I could figure out how the TTC system worked: where I needed transfers, how the bus stops were named, how I could get to places I wanted to go to. I was first googling destinations but now I know the TTC system so well, I can find shorter ways than the Google maps.

Another thing that was new to me was that the buses had air-conditioning and it was nice and cool in them in summer. Yes, sometimes it gets really cold, so I have my sweater with me all the time, just in case. And in winter it’s nice and warm. I remember how I was freezing in buses back home and when I had to travel for a long time I couldn’t feel my feet by the time I got to my destination. And yes, sometimes it’s really hot in them, especially during the rush hours, when the bus is so crowded, that I don’t have enough space around me to take off my coat. But God, isn’t it nice to get on a warm bus after walking in a freezing cold?

The schedule might not always be very convenient.  Like sometimes you have to wait longer, especially on weekends. Or if you take an earlier bus, you get to your destination too early. But if you take the next one, you are late. But at least there is an existing schedule and you know the bus will eventually come. I wasn’t used to bus schedules, there were none back home.

One thing I know for sure is that there is someone in charge and that there is a mechanism by which the TTC works and it takes one issue off my shoulders and I have less to worry about during my first difficult years of immigration.

See more information on TTC at www.ttc.ca

The first thing you are told not to do when you come to a new country is make jokes or pull pranks. “Be extremely cautious when making jokes”, they tell you. My first reaction was, hey, you are people and we are people, why can’t we laugh at the same thing? But then this issue is stressed so many times at all the different types of classes for newcomers that I literally had to hold my tongue every time I was about to make a joke. Just in case.

On the other hand I could understand that some jokes could be specific to certain cultures only. I like making jokes and I love pulling pranks. But when I went to work with a lot of serious people, I stopped both. Just in case. Until I thought I’d get to know everyone so well that I could understand when and where and especially with whom I could make jokes. As this undertaking took me over a year, I somehow lost that ability to be funny at all.

Now that I know my colleagues very well and I know all the “rules and standards” of making jokes, I understand that it is really true that you cannot tell certain jokes to representatives of certain cultures. But then it’s also true that you cannot tell certain jokes to certain people of your own culture. As with comedians, you have to know your audience. And a story my friend told me demonstrates this quite explicitly.

Reena, one of her newcomers course classmates, had a very good relationship with her case worker from the Social Services (she was unemployed at that time). Reena was a great cook and when she found out that her case worker loved samosas, she said she’d bring a few for the case worker, as she made the best samosas in the world. So one day Reena made her favorite samosas and took some for her case worker. Unfortunately, the case worker was off that day. Reena decided to leave the samosas with a colleague and asked her to give them to her case worker when she comes back to work the next day. Apparently Reena was really worried that the colleague might forget about the samosas and as she was leaving she said jokingly, “Please don’t forget to give her my samosas. If you forget, I will kill you”. Now, to some people this might seem like an ordinary joke. But to Reena’s case worker’s colleague it wasn’t. Little she knew, when making that joke, that they would make such a big deal out of it, that Reena eventually got deported. But then I think that if Reena joked like that with her case worker, the latter would have laughed at it and Reena wouldn’t have been deported. So it’s really about the person you are telling the joke to.

And I don’t want to suggest to all the newcomers to stop making jokes, because this is the time when you need them most. But instead, just know your audience!