Tag Archive: Quebec


Bonjour, Quebec!

This post is about three months overdue, but I have it on good authority that time is relative. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So much has happened… The move from Toronto to Quebec City was an exercise in organized chaos: I managed to pack all my stuff (including all the small detritus of life that takes up an alarming amount of cubic space) into plastic crates, moved them into the small Uhaul truck I rented, and drove it all the way to QC with an overnight stop at a rest area. (My original estimate of completing the 8-hour move-and-drive by 6pm was wildly optimistic.) Then it was all about unpacking and moving my stuff to that shiny, beautiful second-floor apartment that is my home. Returning the Uhaul. Walking back to the apartment, ogling all the French signs and sights. I hope those first memories will never fade away.

At some point, I’ll probably forget and normalize the memory of my first month here, before I got my furniture (mostly Ikea, and a couple of used furniture stores), but it was pure chaos: sleeping on my mattress on the floor before I finally got one of the last beds available at the local Ikea. (With another Uhaul rental – those things are like cheat codes for everyday life!), then navigating through all the furniture boxes in my living room, then slooowly assembling it all over the course of three days or so. Did you know that there actual online support groups for people who try to assemble Ikea’s Malm dressers? Ask me how I know…

There were casualties: I wasn’t careful with my gaming PC (just yeeted it in the back of the truck instead of securing it on the passenger seat like the precious baby that it is), and something inside got misaligned. The nearest computer repair store fixed it, got it working again, and then held it hostage for four days because the technician didn’t write down how much to charge me. Fun times… Didn’t help that they closed early on Saturday despite telling me earlier that day to stop by at 4. I fought that particular spike of rage by finding a great deal on a used 20-gallon aquarium and acquiring three little guppies to go with it. (And a fancy thermometer. And a big wooden decoration. And a couple of little plants. And an air pump shaped like a volcano. It’s pretty fun, eh.) I’m still figuring out the exact water chemistry, and will probably have to splurge on a tap water filter to make sure they get dechlorinated water when I change it. It’s an ongoing but fun project – and when it comes to the expense/cuteness/stinkiness ratio, fish are far better pets than birds or mammals. (There are also reptiles, of course, but they’re not as cute in my utterly subjective opinion.)

Quebec City itself is beautiful… Just google its pictures and see for yourself: that’s not just one small touristy block, that’s a good chunk of the city, and there’s more beauty in other parts of it, too. All the parks have lots of trails and pathways for pedestrians, bicycles, skateboards, etc. It turns out Duolingo had lied to me, and the Quebec-French is quite different from French-French. The few times I tried saying “enchante” (pleased to meet you) to new acquaintances, the response was mostly “WTF does that mean?” Heh. It’s getting better, though: while I still can’t follow other people’s conversations at parties (just smile and nod!), I can mostly figure out what I’m reading by recognizing the key words.

It turns out the local government pays a $200/week stipend to encourage newcomers (other Canadians, or immigrants like myself, or refugees) to learn Quebec-French and Quebecois culture. It’s an intensive program – five days a week, up to six hours a day, for twelve weeks – but it sounds like an amazing deal. There’s a distinct lack of good apps that teach Quebecois French, and I will have to become fluent anyway… Might as well. Just need to send off some documents on Monday, and then they’ll slot me into the next available class, whenever that might be. Quebec’s government isn’t perfect, but this “bribe to learn” program they’ve set up to preserve and promote their culture and their language is downright brilliant. Kudos, at least on that front.

My PR (permanent resident) card is finally here, after spending seven weeks bouncing between Toronto and Quebec. (My neighbour in Toronto means well, but for some reason he didn’t write his return address on the envelope when he sent it to me.) It’s incredibly shiny and going to make my everyday life a whole lot easier. I celebrated with a meal at my favourite local diner, La Cuisine. Check it out if you ever visit Quebec City: friendly staff, great decor, delicious food, low prices. What more can one ask?

…you know how some movies have that cliché where the main character travels to a strange foreign land and just happens to bump into a local guide that speaks fluent English, has a ton of badass qualities, and is an overall improbably awesome and helpful human being? Turns out that actually happens! My new Quebecois girlfriend is a certified badass that does krav maga, knows how to ride any non-motor thingy that has wheels (roller skates, longboard, etc), loves simple and healthy living, etc. What’s even better is that she’s also open to the idea of becoming a professional nomad, doing her graphic design work on her laptop while vegging out in some cheap tropical country. My life is highly improbable, I know, and for that I am incredibly grateful.

It’s been six months and twelve days since I left Amazon for good. (Unless, of course, they decide to pay me back the 47 shares that they owe me; then I might – might – consider entertaining the preliminary notion of possibly going back.) The time flew by, and I feel so much more relaxed and healthier… This whole “early retirement” thing is great, really. Five stars, would try again, highly recommended. I could stay in the rat race another five or 10 years, become a multimillionaire, get more shiny toys, but I’d never get those years back. You can double your net worth – you can’t double your life expectancy.

To give you some idea of how sweet this life is, the only things on my calendar are:

  1. the final expanse book coming out in 3 days;
  2. liquidating all my stocks in late December because I’m quite convinced there’ll be a major correction by April. (Student loan payments will start up again. People will owe taxes on their huge 2021 gains. None of that is good news. Keep in mind that the dot-com bubble burst in March, when the 1999 taxes were due…)
  3. a cool date at the opera with gf in January;
  4. an equally cool long weekend getaway with gf and her friends at a rented cottage somewhere in rural Quebec in February;
  5. possibly a family reunion in March-April-ish?

In September 2022, I will have lived in Quebec for 12 months, which will make me eligible to join the local Freemason chamber. They’re an odd group, but I like what I’ve learned about them so far. When the world begins to fall apart (sort of like in Vancouver, which is currently inaccessible by road thanks to the flooding and mudslides), it’ll be vital to have a gigantic support network on your side. Prepping and stashing food and guns and medicine is only the first step. The second step is getting to know your neighbours (are they medics? cooks? people with no particular skills but with great vibes?). The third step is acquiring an army: a giant social network you can rely on, no matter where in the world you are. I considered other options, like Scientologists, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, etc, and decided against them – and Freemasons actually seems like a fun and non-judgmental bunch, and a great way to learn new stuff, and make new local friends, and liven up ye olde social calendar. Too bad they have a strict anti-nomad policy in Quebec, thus the 12-month waiting period first.

At some point, most likely May 2023, I’ll be eligible to apply for my Canadian citizenship, and once I get that, I’ll finally start my life as a snowbird, thus completing my weird, weird metamorphosis. Until then, though, I’ll spend a couple of winters here in Quebec. It’s pretty ironic that the goal of my early-retirement journey was to live someplace cheap and tropical, yet I’ll have to live through the coldest winters of my life (since leaving Siberia in 2003, anyhow) as the last rite of passage. Heh.

And now, after a walk through the snow and a bit of exercise, I’m off to do some more gaming (gf is in Montreal this weekend) – Sunless Skies is both amazing and cheap – while listening to the excellent Ologies podcast (amazing pop science in 90-minute-long increments!), followed by a homecooked meal with a glass of red wine, and maybe another Werner Herzog movie. (It is my new quest to watch everything he’s ever written and/or directed. Two movies down, dozens to go!)

Life is good.

Plague diaries, Day 22

Saturday evening. Today, gf and I went for an hour-long walk – for once, in the middle of the day and not in the evening. The resort near which we’re staying has been shut down. Normally, there’d be hundreds of people out and around on a sunny day. Instead, we saw only 25-30, walking mostly in couples, keeping their distance from us and others. We looked at a nearby lake and a tiny waterfall before heading back. There’s so little traffic that a family of five deer crossed the road about 100 meters away from us.

I tried to go out and get some more snacks and wine/cider/soda. (We hadn’t stocked up on those because there was limited space in my Kia.) The end result was pretty funny: the resort is one giant tourist trap, with fake-looking storefronts that are open only for pedestrians. The only legal parking spot in the vicinity was a “VIP” parking lot that charged $20 for the privilege. (The only other car there probably belonged to a security guard.) When I made my way into the gaudy tourist trap, it was disturbingly empty: I saw about five people during my 20-minute walk. The sole grocery store was closed – indefinitely, according to the sign taped to their door. The liquor store (SAQ, Quebec’s version of LCBO) simply had a “closed” sign without any promise to reopen. The nearby gas station was also shut down.

The speed limit is low here, so it took a while to drive to the gas station 5 miles away. They were open and had some food and (fortunately) plenty of wine and beer, though no cider. Just for the sake of gallows humour, I picked up a couple of six-packs of Corona. The gas station’s clerks were hidden behind a shield of plexiglass. They wouldn’t accept cash, according to the signs posted at the counter. The barcode scanner was pointed toward customers: you were expected to scan your own purchases and then bag them up into the plastic bags they’d slide your way through the small opening. (They also yelled at me not to touch anything unless I intended to buy it. Admirable vigilance.) It’s the small changes around me that fascinate me: there were no discounts on candy and snacks, and it really looked like the gas station’s owners decided to capitalize on the disaster. ($4.79 for a small bar of milk chocolate, etc.)

The Tim Hortons next door was open for walk-ins (unlike the ones in Ontario, where they’d only take drive-through orders), and they were happy to see me buy a dozen doughnuts. (Hey, it’s the pandemic and my first vacation in three years – you don’t get to judge me.) Once I finally made it home after a two-hour trip, gf and I sprayed everything with Lysol like the virus-avoidant team that we are.

The world is… Well, it’s not getting better. Not really following the news too much anymore. I have a rough idea where this will end up: years of working as an analyst can get you to see big trends long before they happen. In the US, you now need papers to cross state lines. So far, it’s just Texas and Louisiana: there are no real penalties and the enforcement is more like a guideline, but visitors from Louisiana are nonetheless expected to explain why they’re traveling and where they’ll be staying. Meanwhile, in Miami Beach, the police set up four three-person squads to respond to anonymous tips about out-of-towners (New York, New Jersey, etc) who don’t stay put. (No real sanctions either, at least not yet.) It’s too little too late for Florida, since their governor had kept the whole state running so as to avoid losing the spring break profits… 8,383 dead in the US as of right now. At some point in the not-too-distant future, we’ll all look back at this and think of early April as the good ol’ days. Here is hoping states and cities won’t turn on one another.

Gf and I are about to go on Amazon to shop for random things – art supplies, hair scrunchies, hard-to-obtain snacks… Her roommates in Toronto are disregarding all the social distancing rules. One of them brought over three guests; others are saying they should each be allowed to bring “one person you love.” The one roommate who is asking them to reconsider is being made fun of. I know they’re all party-loving extroverts but jeez… This is only their second week (I think) of isolation, and I don’t think they’ll make it. On the upside, gf’s friend’s cough has gotten better, so maybe it was just a cold. So it goes.

Plague diaries, Day 21

Friday evening. I refresh my tracker for the first time in hours, and the US death toll jumps from 6,066 to 7,084. Only 179 in Canada. 10% of the US population, 2.5% of the US fatalities.

The news keeps getting stranger yet. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, vomited a string of MBA jargon at a press conference yesterday, and said that his math shows New York won’t need additional ventilators. That’s something you’d normally see in a banana republic… Elon Musk had bragged that he’d get Tesla to manufacture ventilators for any hospital that needs them; he ended up buying 1,000 CPAP machines elsewhere instead. (Not what anyone would call a useful alternative.) Justin Trudeau said that Canada will use Amazon to deliver medical supplies. That’s huge: a G8 nation has explicitly admitted that Amazon is more efficient than its own postal system. Ironically, the almighty efficient market didn’t quite get the implications, and Amazon’s stock price closed 0.64% down for the day, like the rest of the market. Heh.

Trudeau also said that after Quebec requested federal assistance (the first province to do so), the Canadian armed forces will be dispatched to the northern part of the province to help isolated communities. (Not anywhere near our AirBnB refuge.) That too is huge news. On top of all that, 3M said that the White House tried to pressure them and keep them from sending masks to Canada. They went public with that instead. A banana republic at its finest… In other news, a train engineer in California took his train off the rails and tried to ram the hospital ship. He came mighty close to succeeding, too: the train came to a full stop just 250 yards away. I expect to see more news about conspiracy nuts losing what’s left of their sanity.

I closed my work laptop an hour ago. My 3-week, 23-day vacation is officially on. (Barring a few days with short consultations of a newbie colleague who is behind on our joint project…) The first vacation over a week long since February 2017. I’d looked forward to it for so long, but never imagined it would be like this. And yes, I’m quite aware just how spoiled I am, to reminisce about an imperfect vacation while millions are sick. (1 million officially, likely many more unofficially.) Well, in any case, I’ll finally catch up on sleep and reading. Not a lot of sunshine in rural Quebec, but there’s plenty of fresh air. No fellow travelers and hostel guests to chat with, but I’m with my favourite person in the world – and I’ve never been much for crowds, in any case. How strange to think that 23 days from now, the world will be in far worse shape while my internal battery will have recharged. Rest and recreation as the pandemic rages.

Gf and I are having more deep, heart-felt discussions in between cooking experiments and binge-watching Le Chalet on Netflix. She’s feeling better after breaking the keto diet, though her heart acts up at random intervals. Just a matter of finding the right electrolyte balance, most likely. With every passing day, we grow a bit closer. If and when this all ends, we’ll move in together – and continue this beautiful, strange adventure.

Plague diaries, Day 20

Thursday evening. Penultimate day of work before my 3-week staycation. I look forward to it: playing hide-and-seek with gendarmes in rural Quebec isn’t quite what I’d been planning to do, but it’ll still let me catch up on sleep and relaxation. It’s been 3 years since my last real vacation… What a strange world.

Have I mentioned a field hospital going up in the Central Park? Because there’s now a field hospital in the Central Park. There are reports from around the world about cash-waving Americans hijacking shipments with PPE supplies bound for other countries. Earlier today, Trudeau very politely said that Canada is looking into one such shipment hijacked from Canada. Brett Crozier, the captain of USS Theodore Roosevelt, has been relieved of command for the horrible crime of writing a letter stating his ship needs to be docked and quarantined. The ship had roughly 4,800 crew members. He did the right thing, and got punished for it.

Spain has crossed 10,000 deaths. The US has 5,833 as of right now. Ontario is finding more cases even as the death toll stays low at 131. Georgia’s governor claims nobody knew until just now that the virus could spread asymptomatically. That means he’s either playing dumb to cover up his incompetence, or he really is that dumb. (The CDC is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.)

Gf and I venture out for small 15-minute walks around the building to get some fresh air and keep from getting stir-crazy. We started watching a French Netflix show about a group of people stuck in a French village. It describes our current situation fairly well. Gf is feeling better after quitting keto, though there are still random health scares. (Drinking salt water seems to help.) On the upside, her diet is now far more inclusive – we can dine like royalty on our supply of frozen pizzas. 🙂

Plague diaries, Day 19

Wednesday night. Just a couple more days till my 3-week staycation. In some other world, I’d be boarding a plane to Tunisia without a care… In this world, Tunisia is on full lockdown, and flying through Paris and Rome is a remarkably bad idea. On the other hand, we’re in an isolated Quebec town with no one to bother us.

Quebec is quaint. This is my first visit here: I’d originally planned to vacation in Montreal in July, so this is a bit ahead of schedule. Odd province. Some highways don’t have lane markings. The traffic lights look distinctively European. Even the architecture outside major cities is different. I was particularly amused by the fact that none of the French signs have English translations, even though they insist on having French versions of every English text and sign outside Quebec. Heh.

Our timing was fortuitous once again. We got here yesterday, and today Quebec’s government announced that this particular county will be locked down, with road blocks, travel restrictions, etc. This might be mildly paranoid of me, (hey, paranoia is just another word for survival) but I won’t be posting which tiny town we’re staying in. The Ontario plates are a dead giveaway, but we’d rather not get tracked down and kicked out of our beautiful AirBnB while we mind our self-isolation business for the next four weeks. It’s so bizarre to think of ourselves as virus refugees, living undercover in a locked-down town. As long as we don’t drive too far outside the town and keep to ourselves, we should be okay.

The condo is large and sunny and beautiful – like an Instagram post from the early 80s. The technology is delightfully retro. We’ve discovered an electric tea kettle that doesn’t turn itself off… I’ll just be boiling the water for my morning coffee on the stove, like an old-timey settler. (Then again, I’m fairly certain old-timey settlers didn’t have jacuzzi bathtubs. Ye gods, we’re spoiled.)

The world keeps getting weirder. South Africa’s police fired rubber bullets at those who insist on going outside. Turkmenistan banned the word coronavirus and will potentially arrest people wearing masks outside. The US is still a mess, with 5,130 cumulative deaths as of right now. (And only 112 in Canada.)

My gf’s close friend who stayed in Toronto said he’s developed a cough… He has a preexisting lung condition. Here is hoping it’s just a cold.