Summer Part 1: Toronto

One of the reasons that my life has felt constantly in flux is that my family recently moved to Toronto. At first, going “home” during breaks didn’t feel like going home. But Toronto has grown on me: I remember one time my flight landed in Pearson, and it was as if I was exhaling for the first time after holding my breath for too long. Regardless of what changes in the years to come, for now it’s home more than anywhere else.

As I’ve come to discover, I really enjoy the vibe of the city. As in Seoul or any of the other places I’ve lived, I’ve found some “pockets” of the city that I enjoy being in, including the Harbourfront and Trinity-Bellwoods. Toronto also feels more spaced out and, as a result, less cramped than any other city I’ve been in, although that might be psychological. (Actually, it probably isn’t.)

At the beginning of my summer break, I spent two weeks in Toronto relaxing after a crazy semester. Highlights include:

  • Sleep
  • Catching up with friends & old family friends
  • Going to the Stratford Festival to watch Taming of the Shrew
  • Shopping, including used book hunts – and reading said books
  • Victoria Day, tea time at Montgomery’s Inn
  • Taking a lot of walks near home, on Yonge Street and surrounding areas
  • More city-exploring

One of the books that I picked up in a used book store is The Edible Woman, an early Margaret Atwood novel published in 1969. It is a delicious book that touches on femininity, consumerism, and being a college-educated woman in the world of the 60s (Ainsley, the protagonist’s roommate and friend, works as a tester of defective electric toothbrushes after graduating from university).

“They had been pathetically eager to have the wedding in the family church. Their reaction though, as far as she could estimate the reactions of people who were now so remote from her, was less elated glee than a quiet, rather smug satisfaction, as though their fears about the effects of her university education, never stated but aways apparent, had been calmed at last. They had probably been worried she would turn into a high-school teacher or a maiden aunt or a dope addict or a female executive, or that she would undergo some shocking physical transformation, like developing muscles and a deep voice or growing moss.” – Margaret Atwood, The Edible Woman

The writing is definitely the highlight, wonderful food metaphors and piercing wit above all. But another reason I loved the book: I could distinctly identify the city described in the book as Toronto. As a critic mentioned in the foreword to the book, the city has only two seasons – extremely hot and extremely cold – which serves as a major identifier. In the ~40 years since the book has been published, the city has changed (the weather patterns, not so much). Notable among those changes is differing attitudes towards minorities. Blatant discrimination is taken for granted throughout the book, whether ironically or otherwise. Now, Toronto is said to be “one of the most diverse cities in the world”, especially in terms of ethnic groups. An observation that I’ve made (and that I’ve heard echoed by many people) is that people of diverse backgrounds coexist in Toronto, but don’t necessarily interact with each other.

In the neighbourhood my family lives in now, I can get by for a week without speaking any English. It is heavily populated by Koreans, and also has a large Chinese population; there are strong support networks of ethnic groups throughout the city. My mother works at a Korean immigration consulting firm during the week, and goes to a Korean church on Sunday then buys groceries at a Korean supermarket (there is an HMart on every block in North York). There’s also an interesting generational element. My sister, who attends high school in the neighbourhood, has a different experience – she goes to school with kids that don’t look like her and communicates exclusively in English. Many other kids her age don’t speak the language of their parents.

As this place becomes more and more of a “home” for me, these things just become a fact of life. Maybe it’s not specific to Toronto, but nonetheless it’s something that I think about a lot when at home. And despite my thoughts on diversity in Toronto, my relative unfamiliarity with the city and few bonds I have to the people there, and living on the 23rd floor (the view is beautiful but it’s a pain), I miss Toronto – or should I say home – so much on a daily basis.

Cambridge is not bad either, but I can’t tell what I miss – the city itself, or the idea of a semi-permanent home, or family.

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