Moving from Central to Island Time in Toronto

            Toronto is unmistakably a big city through and through, with lots of both hustle and bustle to go around. This being said, in a couple of weeks, I was able to see more bands perform in concert than in all of the Folk on the Rocks music festival and find a restaurant with enough types of hot sauces to make my Southeast Asian-adapted mouth water.

I somehow managed to take a pic between squealing (can't say as much for Jack Johnson though..!)

I somehow managed to take a pic between squealing (can’t say as much for Jack Johnson though..!)

Getting hungry again just looking at the Butternut squash hummus from Joy Bistro

Getting hungry again just looking at the Butternut squash hummus from Joy Bistro

After living in a town in Canada where you needed to drive for over three hours to get to the nearest Tim Horton’s (something I didn’t even think was possible for this country), it was a bit surreal being able to experience so much at such a close range. Ironically, one of my favourite Toronto experiences is the stay-cation destination of Toronto Island.

A lot like the relationship between Pulau Ubin and the main island in Singapore (a trip back in time to remote feeling natural landscapes, cute cottages and kayaking separated from a major city centre by only a narrow channel of water), Toronto Island is a must-see spot.

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Cottage-y blue house on Toronto Island and equally cottage-y and blue house on Pulau Ubin

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Similar trees overlooking another beach on Pulau Ubin

Similar trees overlooking comparable beaches in both locations

IMG_1892           A 20-minute 7CAD return ferry will get you far away from city life (while still offering great views of the cityscape) and plop you on the beach for the afternoon. Even in the nippy fall air, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to play with Tonka trucks on the beach, or swing from trees overhanging the boardwalk.

Perfectly inspirational backdrop for playing with construction toys!

Perfectly inspirational backdrop for playing with construction toys!

Aw yeah!

Aw yeah!

Getting to the central pier on the far side of the island, I found myself face to face with one of the bigger questions in life: to jump, or not to jump. Normally, I don’t even answer this question because I’m so busy with another one: why aren’t I in the water already!? But the fact that I was feeling a chill in my jacket (let alone a bathing suit) and that I’d have a (relatively) lengthy swim around a rock barrier before getting back to shore had me questioning myself.

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After a couple agonizing moments of deliberation (how much fun the jump would be versus how close I would come to freezing to death), I realized I would never let myself live it down if I didn’t take the plunge. Soon enough (and to the amazement of two other couples), I was off the pier and facing a (literally) breath-taking swim back to shore.

Unable to catch enough breath to front crawl, I flipped to back and swam at dolphin-worthy speed until I reached the shore and jumped back into my dry clothes. Once I realized I wasn’t going to freeze (and was actually quite warm), post-jump adrenaline kicked in and I spent the next half-hour replaying how awesome the leap was in my head.

Out and About in Hog’s Back Park, Ottawa

While the Ottawa Folk Festival was definitely the main thing that drew me to Hog’s Back Park, I was also lucky enough to discover the park was full of more amazing waterfalls, rainbows and alpacas – what more does anyone need really?

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Hog’s Back actually got its name from the waterfalls that run through it. Apparently, they used to look like the back of a pig, but now have gotten too eroded to have any of the original resemblance. Personally, I can’t even imagine how a waterfall could possibly look like a pig and think the discoverers of the lake were tired after a long day of discovery and were just really craving bacon.

Definitely not a hog

Definitely not a hog

Bird Fight!

Bird Fight!

And also a pirate ship, no big deal!

And also a pirate ship, no big deal!

I was also on a bit of a museum-withdrawal after leaving my museum job up north, so after some quick searching around, I found out The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum was just up the road and even had a mini alpaca farm. Needless to say, I sprinted my way over and squealed at all the animals for a good hour (the museum was free to go to from 4-5pm – closing time). A lot of it was geared towards kids, but I act like a 5 year around cute things anyways, I didn’t really care.

Alpacas look so ridiculous without their fleece :P

Alpacas look so ridiculous without their fleece :P

Baby calfs on the other hand are just absolutely adorable!

Baby calfs on the other hand are just absolutely adorable!

 

Not gunna lie, I'm pretty jealous of this guy's curls!

Not gunna lie, I’m pretty jealous of this guy’s curls!

Turkeys are MUCH too intense!

Turkeys are MUCH too intense!

I think this hog is just happy not being a waterfall!

I think this hog is just happy not being a waterfall!

Would a trip for me be complete without flowers?

Would a trip for me be complete without flowers?

(The answer is "no" by the way)

(The answer is “no” by the way)

The Folking Weekend: Ottawa Folk Fest (Part 3)

While weeknights at the Ottawa Folk Festival rocked (oh, ha, I’m so puuny), the weekend lent itself an even greater opportunity for folking awesomeness. Being a photographer and working in collaboration with my friend and fellow writer, I was able to catch all of the best action over the two days.

Saturday: Day 4

Since I already wrote an entire article on Chris Hadfield, I’ll skip over to the next portion of the weekend. The Carolina Chocolate Drops belted their blues-y songs to an eager audience, my favourite being their introduction to a musical instrument called “bones”. In practice, the instrument seemed similar to spoons, but even just the name bones made them a million times more awesome!

With an instrument called "The Bones", what's not to love? (Seriously, think of 1 thing, I dare you!)

With an instrument called “The Bones”, what’s not to love? (Seriously, think of 1 thing, I dare you!)

The main draw of the night was definitely The Sheepdogs. After Vampire Weekend’s disappointing performance, I was a bit sceptical of big-name performances, but the Sheepdogs did NOT disappoint. If anything, they were a perfect copy of their album, but with the addition of fun hats and colourful plaid shirts. For me, it was more than enough.

Whoo Hoo! The Sheepdogs ^_^

Whoo Hoo – Hail The Sheepdogs ^_^

Day 4 Summary: learn to play the bones. They’re an awesome instrument.

Sunday: Day 5

After a great Saturday, I was pretty pumped for Sunday and kicking off the day with Go Long (!) only added to this. While they were a stereotypical folk group in the fact that their female singer spoke with an over flowy, sing-song voice even when she was speaking, the guitarist subbed out for a mandolin on occasion and the group featured a double bass, all three members were undeniably talented. With all 3 performing as solo acts in the past, they did a great job of giving each other the opportunity to solo it up and showcase their talents during their set. The only negative comment I have is the fact that the group announced their separation following the completion of their upcoming scheduled events. :(

I feel like like such a hipster for saying I liked them BEFORE they broke up now...!

I feel like like such a hipster for saying I liked them BEFORE they broke up now…!

Next on the Sunday setlist was World Party. After watching about 2.5 seconds of their “Ship of Fools” video, I wasn’t impressed by their old-school mimickry-vibe and wasn’t really looking forward to their performance. However, my writing partner insisted they were worth a shot and I begrudgingly followed. As things would have it, I was impressively surprised by their performance – the group was full of energy and I was fully won over not only by their live sound, but also their bright red pants ;)

The pants alone were enough to win me over - the music was just an added bonus ;)

The pants alone were enough to win me over – the music was just an added bonus ;)

The festival’s final act followed a performance by Gordan Lightfoot, for which all can say is that after photographing him from up-close, I’m surprised he made it through the act alive, he’s so old now. Although I was sad to admit the Folk Fest was coming to a close, there was no better way to end things off than with The Wailer (yes, The Wailers from Bob Marley and the Wailers). Although the mention of the famous Jamaican group guaranteed police presence, the group was 100% on top of their game, giving a stellar performance. Ottawa might not always be the liveliest crowd, but their 5-day folk fest certainly proves their love for the art.

He may be the only original Wailer left, but he's assembled a pretty sweet team!

He may be the only original Wailer left, but he’s assembled a pretty sweet team!

In Summary: I want to say indie folk bands are awesome, but am failing at finding a way to phrase this without sounding stupidly hipster.

Space Folk: Ottawa Folk Fest (Part 2)

While the first couple weeknights of the Ottawa Folk Fest were packed with shows, regular 9-5 work schedules prevented any daytime events until Saturday. Even still, day stuff was reserved mostly for things like ukulele tuning workshops and interviews with astronauts.

Yes, I also thought a folk music festival was a weird place to bring an astronaut for an interview session, but that was because I was completely out of the loop on what Chris Hadfield had actually done while he was in space (other than all the regular crazy astronaut-ness, which apparently wasn’t stimulating enough for him). As it turns out, this Chris Hadfield guy actually recorded an album in space – with the Barenaked Ladies nonetheless (check it out here)! During his interview, he and his brother performed a couple of the tunes with out of this world lyrics (sorry, I can’t NOT make space puns) about the trials of watching the sun rise 16x a day and other space-problems. He also touched on how similar cities in Canada and Africa (and the rest of the world) began to look and how much we’re all really one in the same. From what he said, it seems like the best way to learn about the world is to take some time away from it.

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Basically, his performance was AWESOME – he brought more than a few crowd members to tears with his sentimental songs. Singing about space gave him such a unique perspective, but all of the themes he sang about – love, togetherness, travelling through life – remained fully relatable.

He also performed with his brother

He also performed with his brother

After the session, I was hit by an amazing idea: have NASA re-design its astronaut recruitment criteria to include instrument and song writing abilities. Its win-win for everyone, hear me out:

Judy Jetson approves of my idea!

Judy Jetson approves of my idea!

–       Stimulation for the music industry: who DOESN’T want to listen to space tunes, PLUS they could make a KILLING holding outer space concerts – which totally aren’t unreasonable, fyi – space hotels are already being planned!

–       Motivated astronauts: I’m not saying they should stop the whole astronaut thing, just get people who can also strum a few chords to go out to space. Apparently staring at the planet all day gets boring, so sending people with hobbies they can pursue while they’re up there will keep them stimulated and motivated

–       Beating the Russians: I’m pretty sure this is the whole reason NASA exists anyways and the Russians show no intention of sending someone like Ruslana into space (yet)

 

Weeknight Folking Around: Ottawa Folk Fest (Part 1)

After my trip to Yellowkinfe for Folk on the Rocks, I had caught a little bit of the folk fest bug (which was crazy since I already suffer from a chronic travel bug infection). This lead to excessive amounts of time spent Googling other Canadian Folk festivals and sadly realizing I was going to be over 1000km away from pretty much every single one for the rest of the festival season. Note that “pretty much” were key words here though. I eventually found the Ottawa Folk Festival – a massive 5-day event of folking awesomeness.

They had a super-cute hippie van all over their website - what's not to love!?

They had adventures and a super-cute hippie van all over their website – what’s not to love!?

It was also taking place during a time I’d actually be living in Ontario and was located in the home city of my lovely friend Shauna, who, in addition to putting me up for the week, was able to hook me up with a job with The Scene Magazine in Ottawa as a photographer for the festival – hello line cutting, press pit access, ego over-inflation and a major intimidation factor from the size and importance of the assignment (I had about 20 bands and artists to take photos of and would be sharing the space with photographers from big publications like the Ottawa Sun and Ottawa Citizen)!

Wednesday: Day 1

Under a haze of emotions, I arrived in Ottawa Greyhound Bus style (read: an hour and a half late) JUST in time to catch City and Colour’s first-day performance. When Neil Young cancelled his tour last-minute (because a touring guitar-playing member of Crazy Horse was having hand-issues), Dallas Green took a call from his tour in England asking if he wanted to fill in, to which he responded “yes, thank you very much”!

Not bad, not-Neil Young!

Not bad, not-Neil Young!

Despite the fact that the crowd was noticeably smaller for his performance due to the last minute switch up (some people even showed up wearing Neil Young sweaters), City and Colour played a solid gig, even paying tribute to Neil Young with “Heart of Gold”.

Day 1 Summary: I was pretty disappointed in Neil Young for cancelling his tour, especially since it was rumoured to be his last. However, I like City and Colour better than him anyways, so I wasn’t really complaining.

Thursday: Day 2

Not gunna lie, this was the day I was most looking forward to coming into the festival. Vampire Weekend was going to be playing and I was a huge fan (note the keyword “was”). I had also fallen in love with Amos The Transparent’s video and was pretty pumped.

The day kicked off with Little Stella who weren’t terrible, but sounded a little pre-pubescent. I would definitely listen to them, but wouldn’t go out of my way to see them perform live kind of thing.

They WERE pretty cute though!

They WERE pretty cute though!

After seeing Amos the Transparent, I had to admit I’d fallen into an unfortunate Video Saved the Radio Non-Star-itis (it’s a thing everyone)! The same thing had happened to me with Matt Costa, its where a band makes a fun video of them doing awesome things that don’t involve a huge focus on singing. As a result, I don’t really listen to the music in the actual video and end up (falsely) thinking I like the band. Then, I download their songs, listen to them without the video and realize I’d been listening to lies. This is the reason I don’t usually watch music videos folks – THEY’RE LIES AND PROPAGANDA!

I wasn’t too concerned about all this conspiracy however, because I was pretty certain Vampire Weekend would make up for things. Unfortunately, the disappointment continued even before they came onstage: they were only letting photographers from daily Ottawa newspapers into the press pit. Undeterred, I shoved my way as close to the front as possible and got poised to (attempt) some photos. My enthusiasm proved to be a bit over-rated however, as once the band finally came on, their sound was a bit more Justin Beiber-y than I would have liked and was backed by recordings of people cheering them on in the background.

Day 2 Summary: Video Saved The Radio Non-Star-itis is terrible; almost as bad as seeing Vampire Weekend perform live.

Friday: Day 3

Maybe it was all the disappointment from the previous day, but I didn’t go into day 3 of the festival with high hopes. Luckily though, my music-seeing luck was about to change and I was pleasantly surprised with the Born Ruffians – both my their music and by the fact that the bassist and his constant hair flipping was a ton of fun to photograph.

I also have about 5,000,000 photos of him with no visible face at all

I also have about 5,000,000 photos of him with no visible face at all

Up next was Shad, another awesome discovery. While hip-hop isn’t always my scene, Shad is a great performer, busting out freestyle rap and playing into being in Ottawa, which the crowd loved.

He also rapped while playing the guitar - AMAZING!

He also rapped while playing the guitar – AMAZING!

Keeping with my mixed findings though, I wasn’t as impressed with Kendrick Lamar. While most of the people in the audience would probably have disagreed with me, I found an entire song that consisted basically JUST of the lyrics “pussy and patron make you feel alright” a little tiring. I wouldn’t doubt that this (one) verse came straight from the heart, but I literally can’t even think of anything else I could possibly say about the song.

Day 3 Summary: The Folk Festival has been full of surprises so far, which I’m kind of loving (a lot).

** Just to avoid any issues, all of the photos I’ve posted here weren’t taken from inside the press pit (because I’m not allowed to use them anywhere other than with The Scene Magazine, so you’ll have to check them out for yourself)!

5k A New Way: Color Me Rad

With my northwestern adventures coming to a close, it was time to head back to Toronto for another dose of city life. First on my list of things to do was hunt down an apartment. Never actually living in the city I’m looking for an apartment in has made me a bit of a whiz at finding places to live online (there are tons of sites like: AirBnB, Roomorama, HomeSuiteHome and *gasp, yes even kijiji if you’re looking for a place to stay for a few months in Toronto).

As a result, I only visited 1 property before agreeing to a rental contract and was on a bit of an apartment-shopping high taking the TTC subway back from the visit, putting me in a vulnerable position of wanting to make more impulsive decisions. As a result, upon seeing a sign for something called the Color Me Rad run in my subway car, I decided I NEEDED to do it.

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Basically, Color Me Rad is like any other 5k run, but with the small difference that you get pelted with paint several times throughout the course so instead of finishing the run tired and sweaty, you finish tired, sweating and looking like a rainbow (aka awesome).

After explaining the concept to my bro, he was on board right away and the next thing you know, we’re standing at the starting gate, waiting for the race to start. Plotting our strategy for how we planned to win the heat. My bro was talking a lot of race jargon like “hard on the downhills” and “full on at the finish”, but all I got out of it was “run fast”. My personal strategy involved wiggling to the front of the pack before the race started so we wouldn’t loose precious start time getting corralled by leisurely joggers. With that, when a gaping pathway magically appeared leading to the front of the line up, I bolted towards it. I had made it about ¾ of the way when I realized WHY the gap had appeared: a race announcer had decided to shoot paint out of a fire extinguisher into the crowd while running through the gap. Being right front and centre, I ended up taking a mouthful of fire extinguisher-blasted paint (its made of corn-starch, so I didn’t die, don’t worry) just as the start of the race was signalled.

And in a puff of smoke, we're off!

And in a puff of smoke, we’re off!

Wheezing and wiping a thick layer of paint off my sunglasses (which were given out to everyone at the start of the race – obviously for good reason – a still managed to take off with a bolting start. Once my vision was clear, I looked beside me to see my bro puffing along beside me. Then, I looked ahead to see… nothing. There was no one ahead of us, just an empty pathway. This seemed a little strange because I figured there would be at least a few idiots who would sprint out of the starting gate and inevitably run out of steam after about 5mins. Maybe I was the idiot in this case!

Soon enough, however, another couple put the pressure on, running up beside us on multiple occasions, but falling back time and time again. With our awesome pace, we soon made it to the first paint station where volunteers chucked huge bags of paint at runners. Since we were the firsts to make it to this point, I was fully bombarded with (more) pink paint. After the fire extinguisher incident, I was fully ready for the splattering this time around.

Whoo Hoo! Running through paint!

Whoo Hoo! Running through paint!

After making it through the clouds of paint, I could start to see stragglers from the heat ahead of us. This complicated things a bit, as I was now getting hosed with paint while weaving through groups of people. Luckily, being travel-sized has its advantages here and I was able to make it through without much difficulty.

The rest of the race saw more paint guns, puffs of colour and a LOT more people. My bro was also definitely a better runner than I was and had set a challenging pace. As we neared the finish line, he urged me to “finish strong” again, but by that point, I could only increase my speed by about 0.00002km/h. We hadn’t seen the other couple (or anyone else from out heat) for the rest of the race, but I was worried someone would pull ahead at the last minute so I urged my legs to summon some type of hidden strength.

Fortunately, they pulled through and we were the first from our heat to cross the finish line!

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To celebrate, we joined an excited wave of people partying around a DJ who was throwing prizes into the crowd. To add to our winning streak, I caught 2 more pairs of sunglasses and my bro snagged a T-shirt.

Post-race celebration ^_^

Post-race celebration ^_^

In summary: running while getting blasted with paint is AWESOME!

BeforeAfter Collage