Midyear review – Canada

I spotted many work holiday bloggers on Google, and I remember contacting them before my departure. The most useful blog was not the writer’s adventure but the tips regarding a bank account, SIN number, phone contract and health care. It wasn’t until later that I started paying attention to their experiences and wondering how the same experience would shape me during my own travels.

One thing different about me is that I don’t put that much emphasis on the things to do. I’m more in search of a mental or emotional stir-up – some form of an epiphanic moment that proves that what I believe in is just a hoax or an illusion, that all I’ve been doing is run away.

With each step that I take, I eventually figured that Sartre’s theory was a lie, which is why I’ve been feeling lost. Lost is good; it gives you a reason to do something, namely retrace the cause of events. Whatever, I want to keep busy. The phrase “condemned to be free” is a lie. We are driven by our own personal principles and goodwill to which we adhere as otherwise we’d be hunted down by guilt.

All we need is things to do – a distraction from the absurd. If (one’s) existence is meaningless, you still have the right to believe otherwise, right? You find a reason to get out of bed. And there is always a reason, no matter how exhausted.

The more I’m aware of this condition, the more I lose interest in playing along. Only a kid or a dog enjoys playing the same game again and again.

What do you tell a claustrophobe when she can’t breathe? – To go out and see the world, if she hasn’t already done so. Once a wanderer, always a wanderer. Even my mother’s voice won’t be able to convince you to settle down. If one day you end up with nowhere to go, except for chapter One, then I might think about her words again. Does this make me a bad daughter? I want to leave some footprints in a certain part of the world. The footprints, however, can only be found in someone else’s memory. No one cares where you have been, and neither do you.

In the blink of an eye, seven months have passed, and I’m already halfway through the first year’s journey. There are times like the other night when time goes slowly, and I’m listening to ballads. It’s not the first time that I experienced this, and I don’t know its meaning. It had felt like sobering up after a long night out.

OK. As you may have noticed, I’m dreading this blog by beating around the bush simply because I don’t know how to write it, especially without using names.

I flew to Canada on September 13. My mum, dad, uncle and aunt escorted me to Hamburg Airport. My mum didn’t cry at that time; she usually does. Either she has grown accustomed to me coming and leaving, or it’s because her older sister and brother-in-law were there. Mum and I spoke on the phone by the time I landed in Frankfurt. I couldn’t find my gate at first, so I was taking the shuttle back and forth.

The flight itself was very uncomfortable. Two blankets didn’t keep me warm on the plane, as there was a draft coming from the window. I should have been worried, but I wasn’t. A Slovakian guy was sitting next to me. He migrated to Canada over fifteen years ago. We had a nice chat. He showed me family pictures taken in Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper because I mentioned places I wanted to visit.

Arriving in Calgary at 5 p.m., I realised that it hadn’t been nighttime at all, while back home in Germany, it was already past 1 a.m. I didn’t realise that the airport had offered free WIFI, so I didn’t message my sister that I’d arrived safely. Lost at the airport as I was, an elderly cowgirl came to my rescue and walked me to the airport shuttle bus station, where she and the bus driver gave me directions to the hostel.

On the bus, I was chatting to two Calgarians, originally from the Middle East. They told me they’d heard good stuff about the hostel. As a newbie, they thought I wanted to make friends, so they offered to stay in touch and gave me their card. It’s still somewhere in my backpack, I think. Despite knowing that I’d never call, I just appreciated the kindness on my very first day in Canada.

I remember it being a nice sunny day, though I had no expectations.

Arriving at the hostel, I met a group of lads sitting outside, smoking. A Welsh guy, who bore a resemblance to River Phoenix, held the door open for me and instructed me to press the locator button. Danni checked me in. The check-in process happened very fast; I don’t even remember the details except for an image of a packed common room. I remember that my social anxiety level rose within an instant.

After entering the female dorm, I was more at ease and regained my confidence to talk in a quieter environment. The first traveller I met in my room was a Swiss girl who had spent over a month in Banff. That day in Calgary was her last day in Canada. So there was no use in asking her to become a temporary travel buddy. The next girl entering the room was Australian and probably the most wonderful Australian girl that I’ve met so far, Liz.

After settling in that room for a while, I decided to re-enter the common room and join the crowd. A Weezer song blasted through the speakers, which made me feel at ease. I remember telling some random guy on the couch how much I loved Weezer.

That was when Lucas, who was chatting to people on the couch, spotted me and introduced himself. I was surprised he knew who I was before we even met. Anyway, I took a seat at the table and noticed how gradually my shyness began looming over me again. I didn’t talk until other people approached me. That Friday night got busier and noisier. Later I realised they were celebrating a former long-termer’s birthday. It was the crazy, big-chested girl with the black bra hanging out of her shirt. She was dancing on the couches and tables.

Twice Lucas sat down in front of me to ask about me – the usual questions you would ask a traveller, and twice he wandered off. I think they were all getting ready to go out. Liz asked me if I wanted to join them, but I was way too tired.

The next morning I had a walk around town on my own. The river was nothing like the Thames or the Elbe, but I liked it anyway; it finally felt like something that I could grasp, though I was undecided about what I wanted to do. I started handing out resumes at retail stores only to turn down all the interview invites.

It wasn’t a smart move, putting yourself under pressure after the second day of arrival in Canada. Well, I couldn’t do much in terms of SIN application, bank account, etc., until Monday anyway, so I thought I might as well go out with the hostel people and have a good time. Saturday was my first night out with the guys, and it was Liz who talked me round to coming out. We went to Craft that night. There, I tried my first Radler, probably the nicest beer I’ve tasted after Desperado.

I first talked to Jeff that night, the hostel owner. He’d replied to my first email sent to Wicked Hostel back in May 2013. I was asking about a work exchange. For future correspondences, Lucas took over. I was still living in London back then. I had spontaneously booked my flight to Calgary in May. A few weeks after my visa approval, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Rockies. Even posters and slogans at underground stations were directing me towards Canada. I became more and more excited.

I did want to escape from London.

So, Craft: I was impressed with how sociable I was, and it was nice of Liz to get me involved that evening. Jeff bought me my first Tequila shot in Canada. What I least expected was talking to Lucas for several hours. This time he didn’t randomly wander off, but he was listening. By the time we were talking about Soundgarden, I had all his attention.

During my first two weeks in Alberta, I’d met many like-minded Germans with whom I went hiking in Banff and Lake Louise. I was a little stumped when Lucas offered me a position at the hostel in November. He told me that Danni was leaving and they were looking for a potential replacement. At that time, I forgot that I’d applied for a work exchange before leaving Germany. I didn’t know what to say then.

However, before deciding on the job front, I left for Vancouver via stopovers in Kamloops and Kelowna. Lucas and the boys offered me a ride to Kelowna. They participated in the Spartan race in Sun Peaks, which was interesting to watch. After a night in Kelowna at the Samesun Hostel, I took the Greyhound bus to Vancouver. It’s interesting and lucky how things work out like that.

I stayed with my relatives in Vancouver for over three weeks in October, which gave me time to focus on my writing and reading. Still, I was lying to people when I said I wasn’t lucky in my job hunt. The truth was that I didn’t even bother looking because I didn’t see myself staying there, if not for the library or the music scene. And the Grouse Mountain and Stanley Park. Being on the coast was a nice change from the Rockies. I got a boost of creativity in Vancouver, but I also had to make sure that I was okay financially during the wintertime.

Eventually, I prepared for the Skype interview with Jeff, which was short and sweet, leaving all my notes on paper useless. He’d said that I was hired and asked if I had any questions. So much for my first interview with a Canadian employer.

I returned to Calgary shortly before Halloween, and the pressure rose.

Having been away for over three weeks, the routine and crowd had certainly changed. The pressure mainly came from me. I wasn’t starting work until two weeks later, but I was already living there for free, which of course made me feel guilty, and I tried to help wherever I could if it was making beds, doing laundry or cleaning up the kitchen, it didn’t matter. I also had to make an effort to bond with people regardless of how anxious I was feeling.

All I did was try to forget about my social anxiety. I couldn’t stop comparing myself to the rest of the staff (especially Danni) because I was no party animal and not the most outgoing person though it was a challenge. And for my own records, I’m glad I passed the first couple of stages successfully. And I’m probably the only one viewing this in stages, such as the first impression stage and getting to know people and co-workers. Well, in the end, I was no longer worried; I knew I was different. More importantly, I knew I was a hard-working person. I no longer cared about what they whispered anymore.

It’s kind of interesting how I’d made plans before I arrived in Canada, but none of them are valid anymore, and to be honest, I don’t really remember them. I can’t remember whether I wanted to finish the work holiday year in B.C. or Quebec. I believe it was Quebec or somewhere in Ontario because it would be autumn time.

Before I left London, Francis told me that I should take Montreal’s night train to New York. We’ll see about that. I wonder whether he has ever received my postcard.

Working at the hostel was intimidating at the beginning. Most people began to pay more attention to me, whereas before, they had no idea who I was. I must say I liked the attention, although most of it was work-related. About two months in, I gradually started to lose interest in most people that I met because the next day, they would leave, yet I remember almost 90% of their names.

Some of the most meaningful people I met were when I was still a hostel guest. Once you start working, you get used to the routine, and things become repetitive. “Germany?” They say, “Yeah.” “Work holiday?” “Yeah!!!”

This usually stretches into five-to-ten-minute chitchat in German. It doesn’t take long until you start picking cultural differences. It got so repetitive, but I was trying to view it from a different perspective: everyone is different. Besides, given this little time frame of talking to each other, it isn’t easy to draw anything more from this person if you don’t find common ground immediately. And if you do, you don’t seem to have enough time to bond, especially when you’re working.

I don’t have in-depth conversations during beers at the bar. So the only time I did get close to people was when I was a traveller myself. I’m still close to people I met five months ago, people with whom I’d only spent one week. I don’t even know if I’ll ever see them again. Generally, it’s tough for me to bond with anyone inside the hostel because I relate everything and everyone with work.

I’ve been neglecting my writing a lot; I didn’t write one short story last year, which I’m ashamed of. Never in my life have so many people surrounded me, and never have I been so busy with them.

It was good for a while – until I realised what I’d been neglecting, namely myself. My writing got worse because I hadn’t been reading, writing, making notes and such. I wasn’t releasing my head and chest, so it all got clogged. I had no idea where to start my work. I’m so used to being alone, and I like being alone; most of all, I need solitary pastimes, even if it’s just for a day. It’s a crucial space for release and to be me without having to fake a smile or having to explain myself to anyone. None of my head’s content is explicable unless fiction and music are involved. They are through which I speak.

Again, time has gone so fast, I’ve hardly blinked twice, and I have less than five months left in Canada already. My application for the young professional program got rejected, leaving me to wonder what to do next. The usual I don’t ask for help, because I hate owing people. It’s all up to me anyway. I do like to stay. I weighed the pros and cons a long time ago; however, various other options have been occupying my head as well, but they don’t come with much security. I’m just scared of growing too old and scared to travel, and what if I get sick and can’t go?

If I don’t go now, will I ever see the Himalayas or the Iguazu? What will eliminate and wash away my immoralities? Will I ever become a better person? I admit that I’m not a genuine traveller; I’m more of an escape artist too occupied and selfish inside her own head. I’m not travelling because I’m keen on seeing things; it’s more because I need new space to deal with my claustrophobia and accommodate certain insights that don’t feel right at a certain place.

Most of all, I’m scared of stagnation. The idea of settling down kills me, but I’m not planning to settle down here; I’m just teaching myself patience. I need more time than I’d thought to work things out. And I can’t confide in anyone, as I don’t want to inflict any pain on anyone. Therefore, being alone is what I’ve grown accustomed to. I’ve never really learned to share, but this journey, so far, has taught me otherwise. I figured that I would learn step-by-step. The older I get, the more time it takes. Whatever is going to happen in the next few months, I shall be prepared. I have no great expectations at all, except for my writing. I know I always will be writing.

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