Monday, August 9, 2010

Let the dog days of summer begin!

On July 3rd-ish Joo, Kiwi, Gyu, and I set out on a one-month road trip. We were blessed to have places to stay- from family, friends, and couchsurfers all along the way, which definitely put a more social twist on the trip. We hadn't driven the boys out of the state in the entire 5 months they had been with us so we figured it would be fun to show them that there is some of the US (albeit just a little bit) that exists outside of Ohio!

We started off... oops this next picture actually predates the trip by a couple weeks; this was a nostalgic dinner at the Spaghetti Warehouse, followed by a trip to a Clippers game where Dad and I teamed up to catch our first foulball ever in all the games we've gone to...

Okay, from now on is the road trip. Our first stop was West Liberty to visit my parents and then feast on a 4th of July barbecue at Longeneckers. I had some research to work on, so Kiwi drove giving me the rare pleasure of riding in my own backseat.

But I felt a bit guilty just enjoying that luxury so I pulled out the computer and worked on some research. I was fortunate enough to be offered a 30-hr/wk position this summer by a couple professors doing research on rural place-based math education (if you think that's a mouthful to say, you should see what it does to the inside of your brain to try to understand it!) It was an ideal position because, aside from striking a nice harmony between my interests for rural, math, and education, it also allowed us the mobility to travel for a month.

Our first stop was at my parents' home. When we arrived, they had a hobo dinner planned. Mom and Dad have done a great job at giving Kiwi and Gyu a lot of American traditions even though it can be difficult to sit down and think about what "American culture" is.

The next picture here isn't so much about the beauty of the flowers (although they are) as the fact that Kiwi took the picture because Dad got him excited about the rare lizard that was sitting on the log (shown in the center of the picture). I think I ruined the prank when I came up to the firepit and asked why everyone was looking at a rubber lizard...

Setting aside all lady-like inhibitions, Mom organized a watermelon seed spitting contest on the back lawn. I don't really know who won, but I do know that Kiwi didn't understand the concept of "ceasefire" when the judge (me) went out to inspect distances.

The following day, we went to a fourth of July celebration hosted by Randy and Marla (with their dazzling granddaughter Ella taking center stage). We engaged in some more typical American stuff- pizza, disc golf, cornhole (a recent Mid-western game where you throw weighted sacks into a hole), and sparklers. There seemed to be some discrepancies in the distance between little children and sparklers that people feel comfortable with.

The next day, we packed our bags, said goodbye to the rolling fields of West Liberty and cruised on to a new state for the boys... Indiana.

The four hour drive was plenty of time to build up an appetite. The blessed combination of "cheap" and "pizza" together in Cici's all-you-can-eat pizza buffet was too much for us to resist and so we made sure to get our money's worth at the Cici's in Kokomo, Indiana. Gyu was so hungry, he even tried the macaroni and cheese pizza.

Wes and Jenny were over in India during our visit, so we enjoyed our time with Wes' parents Craig and Tammy. Within minutes of arrival, Craig (aka Santa Claus) had doled out a bag of everyone's most tempting junk food: Doritos for Joo, Double-stuffed chocolate oreos for the boys, and (of course) White Cheddar Cheez-its for me.

But these snacks were just preludes, warming our stomachs up for Craig's specialty... old-fashioned popcorn oozing with butter. If you look closely at the picture below, you can actually see the grease spots soaking through the paper bag filled with popcorn. This provided our arteries with lots of lush cholesterol as we enjoyed the animated movie Coraline. I think we watched another movie too, but I can't remember it; I guess that's what I get for waiting six weeks to write a blog entry.

We spent about four days in Kokomo, with our days filled with disc golf (Kiwi and me) and shopping (Joo and Gyu) and our evenings filled with meditation sessions and discussions on ways to find and/or create a sense of community. (That's on Joo and my mind, both for our own social engagement, as well as if and when we have children).

From Indiana, we drove through Michigan and then arrived in Canada! Kiwi was excited to hold his first maple leaf (although we have plenty of them in Athens, it just seemed more exciting for him to hold one in Canada).

We pulled into Toronto around 9 pm in an area which I felt was a typical urban neighborhood, but which the other three felt was a bit shady (beyond that which the trees were providing). A dinner at an Indian restaurant with bright pink valentine's day decorations seemed to soothe the mood though before we strolled back to our couchsurfing abode for the night. Our host for the next two nights was a university girl named Nadia (and her roommate Natasha). She was of Chinese descent but essentially a Torontonian from birth. She and her revolutionary group of friends had been heavily involved in protesting the recent G20 summit in Toronto- a protest which started peaceful but went brutally awry. She shared with us lots of disturbing photos and video footage taken from the incidents... Nadia's role was to go around to the police and hand out fresh flowers as a sign of peace.

Nadia was a gracious host and her apartment was rather... hmmm... feline-imbued. She had three cats, each with distinct personalities, that paraded around the apartment. One was a curious introvert who would dart around to hidden observatories (like jumping between the window and the shade and popping up a single blind to stare at Joo). Another was a nocturnal extrovert who gave Kiwi (and particularly Kiwi's face) plenty of company on the floor where he was sleeping.

Nadia took us around through Koreatown before heading off on some errands and leaving us to explore Toronto. For me, walking around cities and looking at famous old buildings like the one below is only as entertaining as the conversations I'm having with the people I'm with (or my reflections if I'm alone).
However, it was a bit more interesting making up stories about why the buildings were famous. I made it my goal to get Kiwi and Gyu to take as many pictures as possible, especially as their legs got weary and they would only take pictures of extremely famous sites (I had to work really hard on concocting some of those "histories").

These pictures were not only personal accomplishments for me, but also gave Joo a chance to rest her weary legs and do a bit of yoga.

The highlight of our Toronto self-tour was stumbling across a big city park where there was an Afro-festival going on. Lots of music, dancing, excitement, and even freebies being passed out.

It's amazing the people who show up at these festivals...

And then, as evening rolled in, we made it to the more progressive area, Kensington Park, which was full of market stalls, thrift stores, coffee shops and people living a nature-y urban life. Funny how "progressive" can really mean "regressive" to a more nature-dominated world.

Speaking of nature dominating, we spotted our first two Canadian moose even a bit earlier than expected. I guess that when I had considered their possible habitats, I had overlooked the allure of warm tar and asphalt in the middle of blazing hot Toronto.

Kiwi and I purchased a chess set at an urban garage sale (what do you call them when there is no garage and no yard?) for a quarter (a quarter CANADIAN that is, so at the current exchange rates, that is only 24.984 cents US!) He challenged me to an all road-trip dual that would last until one of us won 10 games.

There was some debate as to whether or not to go to Niagara Falls... initially we had decided not to go (mainly thanks to me and my lackluster attitude towards touristy places) and we would have had to backtrack a bit by the time we were in Toronto. However, I think I felt a bit guilty when I saw that the boys really wanted to go and so we whipped a U-turn and hit up the Falls.

While the three of them went on the Maid of the Mist, I was off wrestling inside my mind whether the "All-day parking" spot we had chosen was really the safest location for our car and our month's worth of travel possessions. We had first tried a city meter, but it was jammed and so, in our hurry to see the Falls and get back on the road, we succumbed to a man who waved us over to "his" parking lot. I finally decided that the man had NOT been trustworthy, so I walked back to check on the car and, sure enough, found him going around and looking in people's cars... it was at that point I noticed the "parking" sign was really a "No parking" sign with the "No" scribbled out in permanent marker. Not in the mood for an India-style conflict (I can get pretty heated when someone tries to cheat me, and even moreso if I'm fueled by my own embarrassment of not using my years of traveler-savviness to outwit a basic scammer), I just jumped in our car and relinquished our $5 all-day spot for a $3 meter for 2 hours.

Out of an extra $3, but with my mind at peace now, I found the others (who were soaked from their Maid of the Mist ride) and enjoyed the peculiarities of the little town at Niagara.

After leaving Niagara, we dropped Gyu off in Toronto (this was not a result of me being frustrated from the parking guy; he went to meet his cousin and catch a bus to New York), and then headed East for a small rural town called Yarker. Or Yorker? Yonkers? Can't quite remember. Whatever the case, the falls there were much more my style.

In the town that begins with the letter Y, we stayed with a couchsurfing couple that had emigrated from Poland. Andre is a brilliant photographer and does a lot of his work the old-fashioned way. One of his most interesting recent projects (to me as a math-guy) was to take a series of photos of Toronto which were taken 100 years ago, and then to mathematically deduce exactly where the photographer was standing and take a re-shoot 100 years later.

In fact, this blue school bus is a traveling photo lab that he drives around to schools to teach kids photography. The trailer in back is, itself, a giant camera that pulls in light and makes impressions.Anna is more focused on building community, a challenging task when one is an outsider coming into a tiny countryside town where everyone is related. Nevertheless, she has persevered with her and Andre's weekly culture-sharing events, her starting of an elaborate village website, and even her success in getting community people to express themselves through art as shown below:

Their creativity is even more evident in their house- a fixer-upper that was built in the mid 1800's. As one example, take their upstairs bathroom... Anna really wanted this stand-up tub, but unfortunately it didn't fit and so they sealed off the closet on the other side of the wall, busted through and then finished it to make an extension big enough to fit the tub.

Our time with Anna and Andre was short, but delightful. The next morning, Joo indulged in her daily addiction and we hit the road again.

After our rural refreshment, we geared up for the next big metropolis... Montreal. Where everything was in french. Je ne parle francais. I was going to save Montreal for the next entry, but I already uploaded two pictures from our first night in Montreal where we escaped a downpour to play chess (Kiwi said my victory didn't count towards the ten because it wasn't on our official magnetic board) and further clog our arteries with some poutain (the Quebecan treat of french fries smothered in gravy and chunks of cheese). Anyway, now that I've already uploaded the pictures, I won't delete them because:
1) that would take time
2) more importantly, it's a symbolic representation of what TRULY defined our trip. As always, at least to me, the people we met on this trip were far more important than the places we went and so, rather than this entry bringing us up to the Montreal stage of the trip, it will end more accurately before the Alex and Nuha stage of the trip (the people we stayed with in Montreal, but more on them in the next blog).

No comments:

Post a Comment