I did not travel outside of my home province, Ontario Canada where I was born, until when I was 25 years old. It was a train trip to Quebec City with a sister. I can’t even remember if we stopped in Montreal on our way into la belle province, Quebec. So, no de rigeur European backpacking trip during or immediately after university. It was inconceivable to ask my struggling, low-income parents for any vacation pleasure money, when there were several other younger siblings.
Niagara Falls, Canada 1976. Am in back row, beside mother.
National Assembly Quebec – Quebec’s provincial legislative building. Quebec City, 2002. Photo by J.Chong
Plunging into Foreign Travel @27 Years
My first overseas foreign trip. I joined 2 Greek-Canadian friends for a 4-wk. vacation trip to Greece. It included Athens, Delphi as well as the islands of Crete and Santorini. Since they could speak and read some Greek, my vacation far exceeded in uniqueness and local authenticity, beyond what you could ever experience in a cruise or group tour.
Casa Batllo, a house with curves designed by Antoni Gaudi. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
We stayed at some cheap pensions for $13.00Can / night (over 30 yrs. ago) where the bathroom didn’t have a shower curtain or protective wall. So the wet bathroom would dry quickly next day. Or once, we slept outside under stars on top of another pension’s roof. I slept like baby. Or hiking for several kms. on Santorini where friends spotted olives and figs along the way. Or the dingy boat ride that took us across the turquoise Agean sea to a hidden island white stone beach around the corner.. that was topless.
Cloistered in 21st Century: Possible
But before I go there, would I be considered unusual these days, a late-foreign travel bloomer? My family was poor and culturally, Chinese immigrant parents who had no clue nor interest camping, or even hotel overnight travel, especially for a large family of 6 children. It would have been a tall financial order.
Strausborg, France 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Church in Malmo, Sweden 2010. Photo by J.Chong. Just a half hr. train ride away from Copenhagen, Denmark.
In the 21st century, I’m certain there still many others unable to travel far. It’s a reality if money is scarce or parents are a bit protective. They may have limited physical mobility and other barriers.
Rare Day Summer Trips- 100 km. Away
While other kids were trundled across Canada in 2-4 weeks during summer for camping and some hotels, we only took day trips several times per summer to Toronto (which included the CNE) and Niagara Falls. Of course, my parents loaded up the car with $50.00 worth of Asian greens, tofu, BBQ duck and Chinese pastries. That was in the early-mid 1970’s. Often we also had dim sum or shared some plates of Chinese restaurant food before leaving Toronto for 100 km. west for home.
Permanent tipi art on regional Blackfoot First Nations cultural history. Medicine Hat, Alberta 2016. Constructed as part of artwork for Winter Olympics 1988 in Calgary, Alberta –approx. over 200 km. west of this site.
Village in winery region of Burgundy, France. 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Cuisine Palate Expands Much More –After University
If I didn’t grow up knowing a bit of Chinese, have a different family cultural background that contrasted against the dominant Eurocentric society, then yes, my world would have been even more narrow. It was cloistered enough growing up in small southwestern Ontario city: I didn’t even know other Asian cuisines – Malayasian, Singaporean, Korean, Japanese or Thai –until I left home for university. It began with a Malayasian room mate. I knew more about German Bavarian staples –sauerkraut, kielbassa sausage and apple strudel.
Fresh tuna and other sashimi to buy on the go. Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Cantonese Chinese restaurant meal with always bountiful plates to share. Toronto ON 2019.
I didn’t even know nor taste other regional Chinese cuisines – Sichuanese, Shanghaiese, Hunan until after university and moved to Toronto. I was already 23 yrs. old. Until then, my exposure was my mother’s cooking, Cantonese, which is best known for its restaurant flash stir-frying of veggies and seafood with more delicate seasoning plus Westernized Cantonese versions in Chinese restaurants in small Canadian cities.
Bowl of cool matcha tea, tofu square with toasted dried tofu crumbs, a mochi dessert apple and more tea at teahouse since 1700’s in Gion district. Kyoto, Japan 2018. Photo by J.Chong. A hot, humid day where some patrons were having cold, ice noodles.
However, despite delayed palate expansion, I didn’t feel bereft of not knowing “foreign” things since I grew up with 2 languages, a minority racial identity and a home culture that clearly was different than my European friends.
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic 2010. Photo by J.Chong
I simply didn’t have money until landing jobs after university, to even eat out at restaurants and explore other cuisines.
Cycling in Princeville, Kauai Island. Hawai’i 2002. Photo by J.Chong
Vastness and Majesty of Canada: Late Bloomer Citizen- Visitor
Jack and I took the train from Toronto to Turo, Nova Scotia where we disembarked with our bikes and took off for the next 4 weeks through the province, Prince Edward Island and 1 day in New Brunswick. We did cycle and ferry through 3 provinces on July 1, Canada Day. A patriotic, fabulous way to be akin to one’s own country in greater awareness.
Then later, I was 38 yrs. in 1997, when I first visited western Canada, meaning British Columbia, for first time for a Canadian. First time to be overwhelmed in awe and humbleness by our soaring mountains, wild Pacific Ocean sweeping or crashing against the rugged coast.
Indian Arm, Deep Cove. North Vancouver 2004. Photo by J.Chong. A local mini fjiord.
Cycling to B.C. Ferry port. North Saanich, Vancouver Island 2009.
I was in Campbell River, along the coast by Vancouver Island in Japanese restaurant. What was striking how much everyone, many who appeared to be locals, were stuffing themselves with happy gusto, sashimi and sushi. I didn’t expect this in a tiny town vs. in a big city Toronto. Only a few decades later, I discovered I dropped by Koto, this long-time local favourite restaurant that only recently shut down and were clearly part of the community. They were featured in a CBC video.
Indigenous mountain dwelling long ago. National Bandelier Park, New Mexico. South of Santa Fe. 2004. Photo by J. Chong
Cycling up to U.S.-Canada border from a multi-day bike ride in Washington state. 2010. In distance, is the white Peace Bridge with 2 national flags.
Late at the Table for Asia
I still haven’t been to China yet. The first attempt was aborted by the Tianamen Square Massacre in Beijing in 1989. Instead, a sister and I went to Europe for 4 weeks, which included a whirlwind group tour for 10 days through 6 countries. Too bad elegiac Venice seem to zoom through 2 days. Some places deserve lingering double time, at least, especially now with more frequent flooding.
Centuries old kimono –with firecrackers in its design! Tokyo National Museum. 2018. Photo by J. Chong. See museum database list for its kimonos.
Then in 2018, I was more driven to uncover the mysteries of Japan and Seoul, South Korea. I still nurse that my illusions about China as now hyper modern and on ruthless drive to mow down its heritage sites along with environmental damage along the way.
Space Needle, monorail by Museum of Rock ‘n Roll. Seattle, WA 2019. Photo by J.Chong
Ghost Ranch site with natural rock face, home of painter, Georgia O’Keefe. South of Santa Fe, New Mexico 2004.
Shelter Bay for B.C. Ferries. Southern interior British Columbia. West of Revelstoke 2015.
Arts and crafts pop-up market. Seoul, South Korea 2018. Photo by J.Chong. First time, I’ve seen fast portraits done in watercolour. Usually charcoal, pastel, soft graphite pencil or markers is used for on-the-fly quick drawings.
Lake Louise, Banff National Park 2019. Photo by J.Chong
Post-Covid Clamp Down
With covid and its travel restrictions worldwide in the past 2 years, and now trying to resurface to understand the new “normal”, my foreign travel is somewhat dampened for the short-term. No doubt, there’s still a lot to discover in vast Canada. Depending where Canadians live, sometimes it is cheaper to drop into the Hawai’i or to Asia, if one lives in Vancouver, instead of flying to Newfoundland or Europe.
Green Lake. Whistler, British Columbia 2018. Photo by J.Chong
Discovery travel is not about unknown distant sights –it’s more seeing the world with curiosity and new insight, whether they are places very far or close, but just quietly waiting to be revealed.
Cycling in Bellingham, Washington towards the Canada-U.S. border only less than 5 kms. away. 2010.
Door knocker. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Ukrainian-Greek Orthodox church. Ukrainian Heritage Village. north of Edmonton, Alberta 2015. Ukrainians were dominant farmer settlers in Alberta from late 1800’s -early 1900’s.
Buddhist temple funded by Japanese immigrants. Maui, Hawai’i 2009. Photo by J.Chong
Northwest Pacific coast. Washington state. Dec. 2020. Photo by J.Chong
Banner photo: Waterfalls near Shelter Bay, interior British Columbia.