From West to East

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Text and photos by ISABELLE DOCTO 

Vancouver was like a childhood friend to me. As kids we frolicked amongst its bountiful coniferous trees in both rain and shine (but mostly rain). We sauntered like kings and queens in the gold-leaf bas decorated halls of the Fairmont Hotel.

We daydreamed in the cobblestoned streets of Gastown as its iconic steam clock whistled its hourly ring. We wore our summer smiles at English Bay making sure to take photos with the 14 equally happy, giant, bronze statues of laughing men. The ice rink-turned-summer dance studio at Robson Square was our sanctuary from the sun’s heat.

I never thought I would leave all these for the hustle and bustle of Toronto. Besides, I was raised in a Filipino household, where the cultural norm practically dictated staying near family and familiarity.  But to the surprise of my parents, I decided to fly from west to east.

I’d never passed the borders of British Columbia to explore other provinces, so I felt that moving to Toronto to study at Ryerson University would be a great start. From what I’d heard, Toronto was a thriving metropolis and Ryerson was right in the middle of all the action; I was ready to experience all the excitement.

My parents were understandably apprehensive in the beginning. Growing up in the Philippines, they were used to remaining under the safe guidance of their parents well into their twenties. But they moved to Canada with hopes of giving me opportunities that I could take by the reins.

Their support catapulted me to a place that is on caffeine 24-7. My dreams of becoming a journalist in a city packed with throngs of different people and stories were realized.

The different cultures that colour Toronto are evident in the array of languages I hear walking down Yonge Street: Portuguese, Korean and Urdu to name a few. I smell it in the aroma of Mexican, Indian and French cuisine that somehow coexist and create the most enticing scents. I see it in the bold patterns, sky-high platform boots and crisp, classic suits that strut the giant catwalk that is the city. I feel the city’s vibe in the man who plays his banjo smoothly outside the Eaton Centre, in the gentleman juggling the sound of a didgeridoo on one hand and the rhythm of a drum on the other, and through the dance off between badass female break dancers at Yonge-Dundas Square.

Toronto is truly alive and it lets me experience something new everyday. It has shown me the glitz and glamour of the Toronto International Film Festival where I got to see Dakota Fanning, Jake Gyllenhaal and Jesse Eisenberg in the flesh. It has given me an excuse to wander through its streets at night, when the city is transformed into a gigantic art gallery for Nuit Blanche. I remember feeling like Alice in Wonderland gazing up at the whimsical art installations that towered above me. And of course, I have experienced bundling up in a winter jacket that made me look like the Michelin Man in order to trudge through its minus 20-degree weather. As someone who comes from the mild, mild west, the east’s snot-freezing winter was definitely a first.

I have found myself wanting to try every restaurant, much to the dismay of my wallet. Eating authentic churros at Kensington Market baked by cute, little old Colombian ladies, being weak and going for a  one chili chicken curry dish at Salad King and trying Arabic style butter chicken pizza at Paramount FineFoods for the first time.

Don’t get me wrong, Vancouver is also a diverse city, but Toronto has a different vibe.  Everywhere I walk people are buzzing—I can feel the city living and breathing around me. Its energy is infectious and pushes me to be as busy and productive as its streets are everyday. Vancouver, on the other hand, has a more laid-back energy, the kind where I can sit at a park and just read or stay inside and sleep without feeling like I’ve wasted a day.

Nonetheless, both places have given me an appreciation for different Asian cultures. In Vancouver, I grew up with friends who were Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese and I learned about their fascinating cultures every time I had a play date at someone’s house. Toronto has helped me maintain my pride for my Filipino culture through joining Ryerson’s Filipino-Canadian Association. I’ve also made friends who are from Pakistan and India, which has let me learn more about South Asian cultures through their dishes, dances and religion.

From marching with the Pinoy [Filipino] Pride float during the Vancouver Pride Parade to participating in Turban Day at Yonge-Dundas Square to learn more about Sikh culture, I continue to experience and grow no matter where I am.

Toronto has become my partner in crime—and I’m always ready to take on any adventure that presents itself.

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