Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Day 1: Oh God

It has officially begun! A Year In The North has now commenced.

And what a start it was. After goodbyes before security at LAX, I went up to my gate...to wait for my flight for 2 hours, because the flight went from being delayed 10 minutes, to a half an hour, to an hour, to two hours. Additionally, in this waiting period - which I was expecting to spend on the phone talking to people I hadn't (or had) seen recently - my phone went insane and told me I was using a headset, which I wasn't. So I couldn't make or receive calls, because the normal earpiece and voice-receiver thingy wouldn't work - and I didn't have my actual headset with me. Luckily I was still able to at least send text messages, but the whole episode was very frustrating.

So flight's delayed 2 hours, and I finally get on the plane at 11:30pm. The flight was very turbulent-y, so I didn't sleep much. We get into Newark, NJ five minutes before my connecting flight is supposed to take off. Having missed that flight, I spend an hour in line at the Continental service center - luckily they were able to put me on the next flight to Quebec which only left 2.5 hours later.

I get to Quebec without a hitch, quite a nice flight. HOWEVER, when I try to go through customs, I'm told I need to go talk to immigration, for no apparent reason. I am then detained by the Canadian immigration forces for an hour, as I am questioned about my purpose in Canada, what I will be doing, what I'm carrying...and once I answer all of these things carefully and honestly, "why do you want to do these things? What is your incentive?" Um...because I can? Do you want me to write you an essay?

They eventually asked to see all of my paperwork, including proof of the Watson and my connections to the icebreaker. They call the ship coordinator and the Watson office - as I am put in a waiting room - and eventually determine that I am allowed to be there, but must be issued a "visiter's permit" that says I am not allowed to enroll in a Canadian university. Thanks?

When I asked if there was a problem - really having no idea what set them off, they didn't stop anyone else that was on my plane - they said "we need to decide what kind of permit to give you." Now, maybe I missed something, but I've never heard of needing any kind of permit to visit Canada, unless you're planning on moving there or something. They didn't even look through my luggage, so I don't think I looked like a major security threat. My "interviewer" didn't speak English perfectly, so I don't think she really understood what I was telling her (that's one thing about this Watson business, and my project in particular - it's almost impossible to explain across language barriers).

Once I get over that episode, and it becomes clear that I won't be deported, I make it outside with my 120 lbs of luggage and find that the currency exchange is closed and I'm on the opposite side of the airport than the taxi stand. Finally I find a taxi, driven by an old lady who doesn't speak English - luckily I had the address written down. For such a rough introduction to Canada, I will say this - Quebec is BEAUTIFUL. The weather here is totally perfect right now - maybe a smidge too warm, especially considering I only have pants and sweaters with me, but it is very pretty.

After about a 30 minute drive we get to the heart of downtown Quebec - full of cute old shops, narrow streets, old buildings and a few blocks away from a ton of historic landmarks. A tiny little door at the side of a shop is where I ring for Anna, the woman who I am supposed to be staying with. She and her roomate come down, and after a bit of an awkward introduction (we've never met) we haul my massive luggage up a steep flight of stairs to her apartment, which she shares with 2 other girls. Anna is super wonderful, very friendly and welcoming. She makes me pancakes as I take a shower, which we eat on her balcony - her building is amazing, all wood with old furniture - the place is about 100 years old. After a nap, we walk around old Quebec - I get to see the St. Lawrence river by night, and the parliament, and a ton of other things. The city is very easy to walk around - she usually uses the bus system to travel further, but I will probably walk most places.

I am staying in the room of one of Anna's roomates who just left for vacation. The room is small but just right for me, plus they have beautiful fast internet, a lovely view into the street from the front and a green backlot, and once I get settled I will pretty much be free to do as I please. I have a spot in the kitchen to keep groceries, and will try to get a calling card today.

One other problem - there is much more French here than I expected, and a bit hard to communicate. I wonder if I look like a big stupid American (I certainly look big - I seem to be taller than absolutely everyone I've seen in Quebec so far) and I feel a bit foolish trying to stumble around the French. It is interesting - while I can often understand a decent amount, I absolutely cannot speak it, unless I try to sound out something that's written down, say, on a menu, or mimic something someone's just said. As most of you know, I have problems pronoucing English words, so that doesn't really go very well.

Tasks for today: figure out Canadian money! Buy food! Find calling card! Take photos!


liylak said...

Parlez-vous francais? Pas de tout? Oh la la mon amie, qu'est-ce que tu ferais? Je crois que tu serais bien.

Or something. My french is rusty these days. But much love, and I am so excited to learn that you are off! I am so sorry that I missed you before you left. Never fear, when you get back, you'll just have to come to Indiana to warm up.

Anonymous said...

That is too much Lucky Luke... they definitely don't have snow all year long in Quebec City!
Later, Joe