Back to Montreal
A trip to California I took in May changed my mindset. When I found bargain fares online, I quickly decided to go to Montreal for the first time in seven years by using my emergency savings. I felt it was ridiculous to keep money in a bank although we are mortal and we don’t know when our time is up.
I once lived in Montreal for about a year in total. I wanted to stay there, but I had to leave and come back to Japan as my money ran out. Since then, I have always hoped to live there again or at least to visit there as a tourist. What I like about Montreal are its beauty, a relaxing atmosphere and people there who seem to live to enjoy life rather than achieve success. I’m not sure if it’s because of their ways of life or the French-spoken region of Canada, but they are fashionable with excellent taste. For that combination of the city and the people, just walking down the street is fascinating enough.
I took on a 12-hour flight to Toronto during which I happened to find ‘Tomorrowland’ among the in-flight movies, saw it twice and cried yet again. I went through immigration where an immigration officer gave me lengthy, irrelevant, even harassing questions including about my pin I was wearing on my jacket. It was a pin from ‘Tomorrowland’ and she almost made me begin to explain the whole movie story.
The airport system in Toronto was somewhat odd. I was just in transit en route to Montreal, but I needed to pick up my luggage, carry to the distant counter and check it in all over again. Although I had already been through the security checkpoint before I got on board in Japan and had never left the airport, I had to do it again. I ended up gobbling a whole bottle of water in front of the security gate, which was exactly what I did on the last trip to California.
After the security checkpoint, I saw an information screen for departure to make sure the gate number for my flight to Montreal. The flight was missing. There was no information about my flight, no cancelled, no delayed, no nothing. Among the long list of departing flights, my flight itself didn’t exist. I was close to panic. And I realized we don’t have anybody around for something like this nowadays. There is no information counter, airport workers don’t know about flights, and airline personnel at the gates don’t know other flights’ status. I had no one to ask.
The only place I came up with as where the airline personnel with flight information were working was an executive lounge. I went up there and asked about my flight. She glanced at her computer display and said, ‘It’s on time.’ My flight did exist, but for some weird reason, the airport screen showed information only for selected flights. I had scurried around the terminal for this absurd system.
I finally arrived at Montreal after a one-and-a-half-hour flight. A cab ran on the freeway at 75 miles per hour through the night and downtown Montreal appeared in 20 minutes. It was the same freeway on which a cab carried me in the dark before dawn seven years ago when I was leaving for Japan. I remember I wished upon the moon that I could return here someday, as I had no way to find the money to come back. The moon satisfied my wish, I supposed.
I checked in a hotel and looked out of the window. Beneath the window was Sherbrooke Street where many people were still passing by. Above the town lights of the city, I saw the cross on the Mont-Royal that was lighted up and floated in the dark sky. It was a view that I felt like I was strayed into a dreamland. I thought my bold decision to spend money for this trip was right. It would be a big loss not to come to such a beautiful place like this when it exists. I literally fell down to bed to sleep since I was completely exhausted from the 24-hour trip from home to here and the turmoil at Toronto Airport.
Next morning, I woke up early because of jet lag. The first thing I decided to do in Montreal wasn’t to get a rest in the hotel room or to take a walk in the city. It was going to casino to win back all the money I had spent there in the past…
The Beginning of A Winter Trip
The mountainous region where I live is in the depth of winter and it snows day after day. Now that the snow covering the ground has accumulated over my own height, I was having a sense of claustrophobia. That’s a cue for my annual three-day trip to the Tokyo metropolitan area that doesn’t have much snow.
I set about arranging this year’s trip online. I successfully booked the room in a hotel of the Japanese luxury chain at a greatly economical rate by making the best use of coupons and their off-season promotion. The stay would come with preferential treatment at no extra cost as part of the promotion. To get to the Tokyo metropolitan area, I need to ride the bullet train that is expensive. But I got a 35% discount for the ticket by reserving early in advance. I was all set to get out of snow.
Although it had snowed every day, it rained on that particular day when I set off on a trip in the morning. Rain is more troublesome than snow. I would take a local bus to the bullet train station. The bus stop is near my apartment but it has neither a cubicle nor a roof. When it snows, I can pat off the snow that comes onto my clothes while I’m walking to the bus stop and waiting there. But in the rain, my one hand is occupied with an umbrella as I carry all the bags, which would cause awkward walking that inevitably wets me.
I would freeze while I’m waiting for the bus. I bore an unexpected expense and called a cab. The dispatcher told me it would take long to come to pick me up due to high demand. Since I had the bullet train to catch, I gave in to my umbrella and walked toward the bus stop in the rain. I felt miserable while I was waiting for the bus with many bags around me drenching.
Out of the bus window, I saw snow plains beneath which were parks, rice paddies and sidewalks. The road was plowed, but the snow was pushed off to a long, tall snow wall alongside. The lengthy massive white wall was taller than the bus and it looked almost like a snow-made tunnel. I started to feel claustrophobia again. I cheered myself up by thinking I was soon in the snow-free city. I made a wish for a nice trip upon the closest mountain that had turned completely white.
On the platform for the bullet train at the station, I found many Chinese families and tourists. That suddenly reminded me about the Lunar New Year during which Chinese people took vacation and traveled. The hotel I was staying at might be crowded with Chinese tourists as well. I couldn’t believe why I was so careless that I’d forgotten about Chinese New Year. Among the gleeful Chinese tourists, I stood waiting for the train with a long face. Rain and the Lunar New Year seems more like a bad omen, and now I became unsure as to whether or not this trip was the right move…
After I saw the outside of the buildings, I met a real estate agent who showed me the available room in each apartment.
For a room in the apartment which was under refurbishment, she offered a 20 percent discount because the carpet and the wallpaper in the room was damaged. As the room had been my first choice anyway before I came here and I have a weakness for a discount, my mind was almost set on that place. The thing was, as I wrote here once, the available rooms of that building were concentrated on the fourth floor in the east side and this room was among them. Even after I saw the building and the room with my own eyes, I couldn’t find out what was wrong with the fourth floor.
I checked in a hotel and went to have dinner at a restaurant in the hotel as the stay included dinner. Since it was a budget travel package, I didn’t expect the food at all. But the dinner was probably the most gorgeous feast I had ever had. It included all-you-can-eat crabs, tempura, steak and shrimps. Ironically, fatigue and tension for decision making spoiled my appetite and I was able to eat only little.
At night, I couldn’t sleep either from a sense of claustrophobia because the mountains and the woods closed down the area. I asked myself if I could really move in this area, let alone on the enigmatic fourth floor…
Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods
I transferred the bullet train to the local train to the area where all three apartments of my choice were located. There were no passengers but me on the train although it was a weekday morning. The station was an unmanned small shack. I walked along shabby houses, used-to-be shops and rice fields and found one of the apartments among them.
My first impression was that a photograph showed things much better than they actually were. The building had looked a lot more gorgeous in the photos on a website. I walked on and soon found the other two apartments. One was under refurbishment and I couldn’t see it from the outside. The other stood nearby and I saw a half-naked old man sitting idly on a balcony, who was a kind of person I didn’t like to have as one of my neighbors.
I took a rest on a bench, wondering if this trip had already become a fool’s errand…
Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods
Since I decided to move out, I’ve realized the power of the Internet again. Without going anywhere physically, I’ve been able to look for a place to live at home, gathering a lot of information on prices, floor plans and the neighborhood. People’s blogs are useful, too.
For the past eight months, I’ve been looking around the Internet, collecting and comparing the details, and have narrowed down the choice to three apartments. They are all located in the same area, which is surrounded by mountains, cold and snowy in winter. The area has a small population with a constant decline. That has led to a remarkably low price for an apartment there. I chose the area because the prices were low enough to fit my tight budget. But its small population was the main appeal to me, who feel uncomfortable to be with people.
All three places I’ve picked for my new home are more than 20 years old and one of them is on the fourth floor. So far, that one is my first choice. There seem no particular flaws in the room, but the building’s available rooms are mostly on the fourth floor. Is it just a coincidence, or is there anything wrong? Even the mighty Internet doesn’t tell about it. I wonder what’s the secret of the fourth floor…
Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods
I am a germphobic. I never go out without packs of wet wipes and always carry a small spray bottle of sanitizer. Whenever I touch anything that shares contact with others, I wipe my hand right away. It’s especially cumbersome when I go on a trip. My routine after check-in is to spray sanitizer to tissues with which I wipe the door knobs, switches, handles of the wardrobe and the refrigerator, hangers, remote controls, faucets, toilet seat, toilet cover, flush handle. If the hotel doesn’t have a duvet style bed for its rooms, I bring clothespins and wrap the cover with the sheet by fastening them together so that any part of my body doesn’t touch the cover that isn’t washed each time. Then I place two pairs of slippers that I bring from home, one for pre-shower and one for post-shower. As you can imagine, it’s so much fuss for me to stay at a hotel. I just can’t help it.
I took a short trip the other day to a neighboring prefecture. For this trip, I was extra nervous because of that Corona virus turmoil. The local train I got on was near empty and most of the sparse passengers were wearing a medical mask. A 2-hour somewhat tense train ride later, I arrived at the hotel. A big spray bottle of sanitizer was put at the entrance and all the hotel staff at the front desk were wearing a mask. I went out for lunch at a family restaurant and it was also empty despite lunchtime. The shopping mall I visited afterwards had only few shoppers around. Since I hate crowds and a jam, all places turned in my favor. It seemed I bought comfort with nervousness. Back in the hotel room, I worked through my room-cleaning routine and had dinner with my partner in the room with deli foods I had gotten at the supermarket, not because I was worried about Corona virus at a restaurant but because I am cheap.
Next morning, I used the elevator to have a free breakfast at a small eat-in space inside the hotel. I was off guard and didn’t wear a mask although the small elevator was unexpectedly packed with guests. Nobody was talking and I unconsciously held my breath. After an awkward silence, I was released to the designated floor. The breakfast was a buffet style. I took food with tongs that many guests used, out of plates that they slowly walked by and looked into. Everyone pushed buttons on the dispenser of coffee and juice. Wet wipes didn’t give me usual assurance for this particular trip. I went back to my room and washed my hands frantically.
I have once read an article that says excessive hygiene is counterproductive. It means that being exposed usually to germs builds resistance and thus makes people hard to get sick. If so, my germphobia is not only self-complacent unction but also simply a bad habit. That may be true, but I can’t, just can’t stop for the life of me.
On my way to do the holiday shopping, I dropped by McDonald’s for breakfast. Although the place was huge, it was crammed with people and I gave up eating there. I usually eat in a thrifty way at home with food at the sale price or half price. But since it was the holiday season, I decided to eat out luxuriously for once. There was a hotel near McDonald’s and I had all-you-can-eat breakfast at a restaurant there. I hadn’t been there for a couple of years and noticed things had changed. Most of the customers having breakfast there are the ones who stay at the hotel. Last time I had breakfast there, all the customers were Japanese. But now, most of them were Chinese and South Korean. They traveled by package tours and left almost all at once. After their big buses departed the hotel, only a few tables were occupied by Japanese. And I found out that Chinese and South Korean travelers’ manners have become better than Japanese ones. Japanese customers’ kids were shouting and running around the restaurant. Young couples were eating with the room slippers of the hotel on. Japan has been in a long economic downturn for years. In these years, Japanese people have lost money and also manners. Thinking about the transition of times, I spent two hours for the breakfast while having as mush as I could to the verge of a burst of my stomach, in order to make the most of money I paid…