Derek Zeng

Loneliness is the gift of life

The years in Canada - Torontonian

(Kitchener, April 2018) When I drove down to Tim Hortons this morning, the CBC radio was reporting the bad weather now in GTA. It mentioned something like 400 flights were cancelled in Pearson airport and the buses in St Clair interchange were affected.

I rarely listen to Canadian radios. This one caught me because not everyone in the world knows the hell of where St Clair is. Unless he is a Torontonian! Like I were once before.

No kidding man.

I arrived in Canada in January in 2014 from Singapore. Then I found a job in Liberty Village, Toronto where occasional drug lab explosion happens and rented a small room near to Dundas & Ossignton. I took TCC bus to work everyday.

People are nice in Canada

In this job I've got a good taste of the racial diversity in this city. My boss is a Hongkong immigrant who is about same age as me (younger maybe). My other colleagues include Iranian, Korean, Malaysian as well as local whites. I had pretty good relationships with many people here. My boss once drove me home with car2go. When I was given a raise, I treated him and his wife in the Keg. This is pretty nice.

Birthday in the office

Here I learnt a lot of different foods i have not seen in Asia before: burrito, falafel, tacos, phos, lasagna, etc. I respect people who like them, but I'm not really a fan for most of them.

The place I live is a typical wooden house in Canada. You can hear the floor squeaking when walking on it. The house belongs to a Chinese immigrant apparently. The owner couple probably work in China because I never met them. Only the grandparents lives with grandson in the ground floor. Almost every room in the house is rented out to different people. I only see some once in a while. I don't know how many people really live in the house. It is a pretty common thing to rent out house like this among our Chinese fellows. I don't like this though, for safety concerns, but who really cares for a short-term stay.

My room is too small for me to do anything other than sleeping. The amenities in the house is pretty limited too. When I need to do laundry, I have to take all my dirty clothes in a laundry bag to a coin laundry store not far away. $2 per wash/dry. It's open quite late, but not sure if it's 24/7.

My bike

I bought a bike from Canadian Tire later and lock it in the yard. I ride to work sometimes when it's sunny. It doesn't feel safe riding a bike in Toronto. But many europeans still do. Trinity woods is a pretty good place to hang out when I left work early.

Because my wife was still in Kitchener to complete her master degree, I took grey hound back and forth to Kitchener to stay with her over the weekend. Sometimes she also came over to my place. But it's really a bad experience for both of us to squeeze in a single person bed.

Traffic is terrible

To take grey hound, I need to take a bus before transferring to a street car to the downtown area. It's quite a trip. The street car is the icon of the city. They have a long history operating in the heart land of the city. Many of the cars are really old and slow. Whenever the cars stop for boarding and alighting, all the traffic behind it has to yield. Sometimes, due to dewiring of its trolley pole, the cars often stalled in the middle of an intersection. Now Toronto is replacing them with shiny Canadian made Bombardier street cars. The only issue now is that Bombardier is having serious troubles meeting the production deadlines.

Street Car

We figured that we need to have a car. I finished my G1 test in Kitchener in the winter 2015. I was so excited when I got my G1 license card even though G1 doesn't grant me to ability to drive alone. I registered a driving school in Toronto and have to take bus there during weekends. The instructor was a Portuguese. He is fun guy. The class was full of teenagers. It's very common in Canada to start driving before 20 year old. So I was pretty late there.

My in-car instructor was from Yemen. He told me he had many wives and children to feed. Only now I know what it meant. His family was actually the refugees from Yemen. It was 2015 then. In the year 2010, Arab spring stormed Arabic countries in the northern Africa and middle east. Many people killed. Those are muslim countries. So there were a lot of muslim refugees fled to Canada. They are really lucky to be in Canada because their home country is so turbulent and uninhabitable. I saw quite a lot of similar looking Yemen people since then in Toronto.

Really, you can find people of all kinds of background here. This place is far more diversified than Singapore. Personally I think it's not a good thing, because the racial harmony becomes a bigger challenge.

Before I took the G2 road tests, I switched job. Moved from Toronto west to downtown Toronto. Since my wife is almost done with her master thesis and expected to spend 6 months to find a job in Toronto, we decided to rent a bigger apartment. We settled in the midtown near to Lawrence and Bathurst. We were very regretful of this choice.

This place is dominated by Jews. This gave us quite a bit of inconvenience because the shops nearby serve mostly Jewish goods. I once bought a packet of Jewish biscuit (Kosher). I never wanted to taste it again.

Anyway, the lessons learnt is that always look at the demographic distribution in the area when looking for a place in Toronto. The Jewish here were not so bad. They are rich, united, and faithful. They have iconic outfit for rituals, high hat, black suits, and long beards. But there are certain regions in the west-north Toronto that are black dominated with pretty high crime rates.

Give me the damn driver licence!

We bought a car before moving. My wife got her G2 licence in Kitchener, so she can drive. G2 road test doesn't include driving on Highway. My wife barely had any experience on that. But we had to do it. The day we drove on 401 highway from Kitchener to Toronto was intense, and funny when I recall it now. I was so nervous and kept looking out for my wife. I screamed a lot which made her even more nervous. Luckily, we arrived in our Toronto apartment safe and sound.

My first G2 test didn't go well. I sped during test. I tried another two times, both failed too. Can't remember exact reasons. But it is well known that the driving tests in Toronto is tougher than other areas. There are people dying in 401 every day. They have to make sure the drivers have rock solid skills.

Hiring a driving coach is expensive. $120/hr. Plus, there is really nothing new to be taught. I decided to do my training in my own car without license on road ... It was a crazy and ... illegal. But it is the only viable option for us immigrants. I started with less crowded places. Later when I was more confident, I started driving on the Bathurst street. I always drove very carefully, because I know it would be a big trouble if I was caught by police.

It is sometimes worth taking risks in life. I passed my G2 test in the fourth try. Now my driving skills was rock solid! It is indeed so. In the coming days in Toronto, I drove my small Kia hatchback in all different road/weather conditions. I once drove on the highway in ice storm at night. I had to max all the car utilities, also keep spraying window shield liquid. Window shield liquid is a must-have for winter driving. I later passed G test easily in my first try. I am considered a mature driver now :)

T&T supermarket

There are not many places in the mid town we can go during weekend. Yorkdale is one. But it doesn't have fresh goods. It's now we know how much we missed the Pasar in Singapore. The closest thing we can get in Toronto is T&T supermarket, half an hour drive to the north, in the region of Thornhill. It is the biggest asian supermarket chain in Canada. A huge store with very good selection of imported Chinese foods, delis, bakery and fresh seafood that is not seen in any western supermarket. Still though the weirdest thing here is that there is no live shrimp sold any where! T&T is always decorated when it's Chinese festivals. That is usually the time we missed our home.

There was a very good registered massage service next the T&T Thornhill both my wife and I liked. Comfortable environment and skilled massagers we never find anywhere else.

There was a pretty restaurant called congee queen 20 minutes drive from our place too. We always go there to have dinner.

Downtown, downtown

My new office is located in the downtown core. Like 2nd street in Manhattan. It is actually quite far from where I live now. I need to take bus, then subway, then street car... Alternatively I can take just bus then street car, but that will take 1 hour to reach office, 10 minutes more than taking a subway in the middle.

Transfer between different public transport is a little tricky in Toronto. If you take a street car or bus first, you will be given a paper ticket and you are supposed to keep it and show it upon request during the entire trip. If you take the subway first, you will have to remember to take the transfer ticket when coming out of the subway station. And you can't transfer to a route of reverse direction.

The buses in Canada put a great deal on passenger safety and well-being. It has reserved space for bikes. When loading or unloading a passenger on wheelchairs, the driver will walk out to offer a hand. When crossing a railway, the bus will always stop before it to make sure no train is coming.

After I've got my G2 license, I started driving to work. It took only 20 minutes now. I like to park the car in the China town and have my breakfast there then walk for 20 minutes to the office. Now I can eat Chinese style breakfast for both breakfast and dinner. If I want, I can do lunch as well. But I rather eat with my colleagues. The places we went most are shawama and pizza pizza. The Pamier Kabob is really good.

Chinatown across the world shared the same traits. They are close to the downtown. They are less developed than the surroundings. The building styles are like China in 80's and poor and dirty (relative to other regions in the downtown). The Chinatown in Toronto comprise quite a portion of Vietnamese. They were refugees. In fact many Chinese here are refugees too. Like the people from WW2 or Falungong cult. People here are doing small businesses, like restaurant, souvenir shop, barber, supermarket, massage shop. And all the businesses are in China's style. I guess locals love Chinese food quite a lot except they usually concern about the hygiene of the foods. But really, there are only so few authentic Chinese restaurants in Chinatown.

The most vibrant street in Toronto is the Queen street. It is the shopping street stretching from liberty village to church street. The center of Queen street is Eaton center. You can find a big intersection there just like a smaller time square. Billiard boards and stuffs. I went there sometimes just to buy clothing.

The most tourist spots are in the downtown area. CN tower, Aquarium, Lake Ontario, Old downtown, Queen Street, University of Toronto, Royal Museum of Ontario, Casa Roma. My wife and I have been to most of the places.


The one year between 2015 ~ 2016 was a pretty happy year for us living in Toronto. We have an apartment with our own furnitures. A car driving around, hunting for good food. More importantly, we have many friends here. They are friends from Singapore who we know each other for more than a decade. Liu Yin and Ma Yiqun were first two people I met when I arrived in Toronto. They both had cars before we met the first time. I still vividly remember the moment we met. Yiqun drove a red car that he leased to the little house room I rented. And Yin were directing me in the phone at the Dundas and Spadina. I was like, "what? which direction? where is north??" lol

Later we met Chen haotian and his girlfriend Miao Qing, Liu Yin's girlfriend and now wife, Zhao Xiaoxiao. Of course, my old roommate and schoolmate, Tao Xuan. We always organize activities together. Like fishing, badminton, bowling, room escape, etc. We once rented a Dodge caravan and drove for 2 hours to Scandinave Spa near Blue Mountain for one day trip. That was a really memorable time we had in Toronto.

Finally my wife graduated. She found a job in Kitchener. So now we decided to move back to Kitchener. That ended our life in Toronto. The life in Canada continued in Kitchener.

(End of article)