Jan 17, 2013

A Chinese-Texan From NYC Goes to Canada

January 2013 is half way over and I am still missing my 10 days in Canada during New Year's Eve. I vowed to myself not to perform during NYE last year (need to carve out some my time), but my New Year's Eve day was still filled with drama & heart attack. One of the venues (which I will never work for or do any favors for anymore) cancelled the three performers they had begged me to book for them. They cancelled at 3 PM the day of! The worst thing was that they didn't even bother to tell the performers, and the girls only heard because one of them (god bless her) took the initiative to call ahead. I was very angry with the way this particular venue and "event director" handled the situation. He and I got on the phone (I racked up $200 in international calls), and despite his sad explanations (the venue decided to be closed completely, someone is "out to get him", etc) and his promise to get the performers some compensation, none of the girls got a follow up from him. I wasn't getting paid to refer the girls because I did it as a favor for him. I am not working with them in the future again. Luckily the other bookings I coordinated went without a hitch. I can't help but feel burned by this shoddy, shady transaction! But it is what it is, so wig on, chin up, and forward we go (paraphrasing a famous World Famous Bob saying).

For this Canadian trip, we went by car! I didn't drive, that's what boys are for. Ha! We drove through Buffalo, Syracuse, and even my Alma Mater Cornell University in Ithaca. I haven't been back upstate since I graduated years and years ago, and I was truly surprised at how nostalgic I became as our car slushed through the snowy landscape...now familiar again. I was reminded of many snowy dark nights spent in the deepest and most hidden corner of a library, reading and writing essays. And well lets just keep it real, also many a nights smoking a big ass Tompkins County spliff! I was tempted to take that Ithaca exit off the highway but we were trying to make good time to Toronto plus I wanted to go to Duty Free by the border so until next time, high above Cayuga Lake!

Finally I got to wear these Sorel boots I bought two years ago! Boy was I glad I had these with me this trip. They are the UGGs of Canada! Almost every girl had a pair on in downtown Toronto.
Passing through Syracuse, NY

The drive up...
The drive up took us 9 hours because of the snow storm. We got stuck behind some snow plows too and the road was really icy. Several cars were in the ditches, but luckily, Michael being from Canada, is well-versed in the art of driving in icy, snowy conditions. We almost got in an accident because the car in front of us braked suddenly causing us to swerve to the other lane which then caused Chewie to blop down onto the floor. I put her in her travel case, seat belted of course, after that. She wasn't injured since we were going so slow.  Crossing the US/Canada border was a breeze much to my relief. Many because I am an immigrant, I just have this fear of immigration of all kinds. I was mostly nervous about bringing a dog in so I had all her paper work for rabies and health certificate ready. But the border guy didn't even ask at all. We were in and out under 5 minutes.

Chewie sunbathing in the sun room. Every house in Canada seems to have a sun room! That's definitely not something I've ever seen growing up in Texas. Sun room? It's so damn hot in Texas who would be crazy enough to have a SUN room?? More like a winter room!
We arrived safely in Kitchener early evening after picking up a couple giant bottles of vodka at duty free, score! I also scored an unusual Swarovski black crystal pendant with a dragon wrapped around it.

Kitchener, Ontario is about an hour outside of Toronto, and it is famous for being the #2 biggest Oktoberfest Festival outside of Munich. As one of my Orthodox Jewish friend said jokingly, it is when "Canadians become Nazis". Okay you gotta take that with a grain of salt. I do love German food, and Kitchener had plenty of traditional grub to offer. The first night we went to an old institution called LuLu's. There was an older musician playing covers of popular songs while we dined. I had the veal schnitzel with mushroom sauce - so good! LuLu's may be old, not much to look at ducked away in a sad shopping center, but they sure ain't cheap!!

LuLu's in Kitchener, Ontario
Me on New Year's Eve. Cozy home party exactly what I wanted.

I wore a short black dress with a peplum waist and these "tattoo" tights by BeBaroque

I also performed in Red Herring's monthly show "Reveal Me Burlesque" at the Rivoli in Toronto on January 2. The stage is great and so is the backroom. I bet all New York performers lust after the venues outside of New York. Rivoli was no exception. Cute cabaret style round tables and seats. Nice stage lighting and a proper green room connected to the stage. Private bathrooms just for performers. Only odd thing was the drink tickets were only good for beer! Strange as I don't know ANY performers who drink beer. Well, I was in Canada, after all! Haha.

The girls of January's Reveal Me Burlesque show

After the show which was PACKED for January, I went to eat at Queen Mother a thai-indonesian fusion restaurant with Michael and his friends. Queen Mother is where Sandra Oh used to waitress before she became famous! The food was amazing!!!!! And it was snowing in soft fluffy puffs outside. I love snow!

Snowy Queen Street late night view
Outside the Super8 Motel. It is FINE! for $120 a night smack in the middle of everything, I would stay there again. Plus, it is inside the Chinatown Mall where you can buy a box of 24 pairs of eyelashes for $20. Don't listen to the reviews on Google.

I spent the night at the nearby Super8 Hotel which just happened to be in Toronto's Chinatown! This made me so happy. This Chinatown is smaller than New York's and more manageable. It is cleaner and not as crazy with so many people doing the "Chinatown shuffle". What is that, you ask? It is the popular form of walking by shuffling slowly and being completely unaware of people around you. It drives me crazy! Come on, Chinese people. Stop spitting and shuffling! UGH!!!

The next day we went back to Kitchener and on the way back I wanted to experience this chain restaurant called "Moose Winoski". I was hoping to see some gamey meats there but I stayed on my diet and ordered a grill salmon. Gotta be good one meal and bad another meal, is how I do it!

I'm milking the moose!
I really enjoyed all the things I saw and places I went to in Kitchener. In many ways, it is similar to some of the older cities in Texas near where I grew up. I even went to a Swiss Chalet for some rotisserie chicken. It reminded me of Luby's Cafeteria. It had the same vibe. I also noticed that Kitchener had a lot of elderly people. That might just be because we don't see elderly folks in NYC.
I particularly loved going to Value Village and Talize, second hand thrift stores.

Amazing vintage coat I found at Value Village in Kitchener. I can understand why ancient men wore fur now. This shit keeps the cold OUT! I don't think I've ever experienced this kind of cold before.
I toured Castle Kilbride in Baden, Ontario (near Kitchener). It is a Victorian house from the Livingston Family. The owner was known as the "Flax and Oil King" of Canada. Had amazing original Victorian furniture such as this dresser along with impressive trompe l'oeil murals on the ceilings and walls.
Castle Kilbride is famous for the trompe l'oeil murals

More white people artifacts. Haha!
The last two days of our trip we went back to Toronto and stayed at The Gladstone Hotel. I booked Room 402 called "Echame Flores". I wanted to get some photos in this beautiful Victorian-style room of rich red tones. I am committed to growing my "Hotel Series" in 2013 no matter where I stay at, high and low end! Chewie got to stay with me too but I had to organize that in advance with the hotel which has a "No Pet Policy". But because Chewie is now my "Emotional Support Animal", she was allowed.
We all know who this is
 We spent the first day being flâneurs, experiencing the downtown Toronto neighborhoods with no plans or schedule doing whatever struck our fancy.  

Around 5pm I was ready to start happy hour. We found ourselves in a good looking French bistro called La Palette. French bistros are my favorite type of restaurants. I love the decor, the ambiance, and a plate of steak frites (or tuna tartare) accompanied by a glass of Cote du Rhone provides instant happiness. I took a look at the menu and I gasped! 


Holy crap, I was shocked! I've always thought of myself as an adventurous eater and I'm usually the one of the "other side" of culinary discussions defending various cultural meat choices with an anthropological slant. But I found myself... outside my comfort zone. Maybe cause I loved horses growing up and went riding often in Texas. Cows are sacred in India. Dogs are pets in Western cultures but a delicacy in some Asian cultures. Horses are consumable in some parts of France but in Britain, a horse is a horse.  I just heard on NPR this week about the supermarket Tesco finding horse meat in some of their burger meats. (Read NPR's report) British people are horrified! But according to this report, "hippophagy" (eating horses) is a common practice in parts of France, Belgium, and Italy. Nomadic Asiatic groups practice hippophagy as well. Nevertheless, I said neigh. It'd be like eating an unicorn's cousin! So I had mussels.

The next stop was a Czech bar. I had sweet potato perogies and my go-to drink Vodka Soda while waiting for a friend to meet up. I was told to go to Sweaty Bettie's as well which is a local favorite. I thought of it as Nurse Bettie's Canadian cousin. It was dark in there but I could see framed photos of tattooed sailors on the wall. Maybe it wasn't that dark in there but I was getting purdy drunky poo.

Michael at Sweaty Bettie's
George and Chewie at our 5th stop (or was it 6th...?). I don't remember the name of the bar.
Another stop - Delux on Ossington for steak frites. So good! Ossington was filled with cool new restaurants.

Next stop - Salt for boar tacos and other tapas. This "Michael Collins" was a strange brew concocted with CHICKEN STOCK! I did not try it.

More stops - I don't remember where this was
Needless to say, I burnt myself out the first weekend night in Toronto like an amateur! The next morning I was SO hung over but managed to crawl downstairs to eat at the Gladstone brunch. But really all I wanted is noodle soup, my hangover cure. But there were no noodle soup shops in sight at 11am. The only two Vietnamese pho restaurants were not even open. Sad morning. And we still had to do the photo shoot in the room before our afternoon plans. Miraculously enough, photo shoot was accomplished successfully (see the Hotel Series), afternoon appointments completely on time, and I even managed to get a bowl of Chicken Curry with Rice in before an afternoon nap!

Chewie on the mantle. I've thought about taxidermying her when the time comes... but everyone discouraged me.

This is my current iPhone wallpaper

Finally on our drive back to NYC which was on perfect Monday morning with no snow or traffic, we stopped by Niagara Falls on the Canada side which I've never seen before! It must be off-season but nothing was open. Not even the Starbucks at 11am! The town felt a bit like the old Vegas strip dotted with tawdry motels with Jacuzzis and honeymoon suites. We stopped by to get gas at an empty convenience store, and an old man was telling the teenage cashier that his wife of 30 years had passed away three months ago. She said, I'm sorry. And he said he was lonely without her.

Niagara Falls, beautiful and powerful but a little sad too

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