Monday, August 30, 2010

International FAILS!

The day started great and took a turn for the worst! I still can't believe what happened to me just now. When people talk about racial profiling and discrimination I never thought I'd really experience it first hand myself!

I left the Best Northern this morning around 10am and stopped by the Canadian national chain, Tim Horton's, for a cup of coffee and a breakfast sandwich. Catfish Lake, just outside of Wawa, was the first of many beautiful lakes I passed by on today's drive. Larger lakes are adorned with islands and the smaller one are perfect reflecting pools in the morning sunlight. This area is covered with coniferous forest for as far as the eyes can see.

Not too far west off TransCanada highway 17 is the town of White River: population 841. As I drove through I caught a glimpse of Winnie the Pooh off the corner of my eyes and decided to turn around for a photo opt. A bicyclist was already there trying to take a picture of himself so I ofter to take one for him. Of course he then took one for me in return. Afterwards I saw a Brazilian flag on the back of his bike and asked if he was from there. It turns out that he is from Rio and is riding from west to east on the TransCanada highway to Montreal. Yikes, I wonder how long that's going to take! We had a very nice conversation about my experience in Brazil. Sometimes little surprises like this on a trip really makes everything worthwhile.

According to Wiki, "the township is perhaps best known for being the home of Winnie the Pooh. In August 1914, a trapped Black Bear cub named Winnie was sold to Captain Harry Colebourn in White River, who named it after his hometown, Winnipeg. Over the years, the animal became the basis for the popular literary character."

As I continued on highway 17 I couldn't help but to feel a great appreciation for my good travel karma. Often times it is the unplanned part of the trip that is the most memorable even when everything goes wrong and plans fall apart. And apart it came. Just past the White Lake park I noticed that I was followed by a police car. He followed me for quite sometime and finally pulled me over for a speeding ticket. I couldn't believe it. This ticket really annoyed me because I've been driving so conservatively since I got the Beetle and have been padding myself on the back for not have gotten a ticket for so long. This was the one and ONLY one cop I saw the whole entire drive and he pulled me over for probably the one and the ONLY one mile of a down hill drive where I went over 70mph! The speed limit on the whole TransCanada highway is 55mph or 90km/h. I didn't say anything to the police except that I have been driving very carefully. God knows that I can't get out of a speeding ticket for the life of me. The $95 is not that big of a deal but research from couple years ago reminded me that Ontario is the only state where traffic points will transfer onto a NYS license! Oh well, what's a road trip without speeding tickets. For the rest of the drive I was passed by every single car and ever saw anyone else getting pulled over. "Life is unfair," as Bill Gate said, "so get use to it."

I tried by best to enjoy the scenery. Lake Superior was once again visible off the highway as I got closer to Thunder Bay. I had planned to stop by an Amethyst Mine, supposedly the largest in North America. After a long gravel road I finally arrived at the gift shop. To see a tiny part of the mine just outside of the gift shop is $6 and visitors are welcome to "dig" for their own amethyst for $3/lb. The whole place looked like a small kids play ground. In the interest of time I decided to just look for a souvenir at the gift shop. Everything looked very over priced to me and nothing really stood out. Still, I had to get a small pendent for $25 that you can probably by at TJ Maxx for $12.99.

Originally I planned to make an overnight around Thunder Bay area but the city was a huge disappointment. I did pass by a nice vantage point by chance and got a picture of the Sleeping Giant.

After gassing up the car and a quick bathroom stop I got back onto the road and soon turned onto Highway 11 to International Falls, MN. The scenery started to flat out a bit but with the sun still high in the sky I was not at all tired. By then I was about 5 hours from the border so I figure there's no point to linger any longer in Canada and suffer through the expensive phone bill. I made no stops until I got to Fort Frances, on the edge of Rainy Lake, which turned out to be very similar to the Thousand Islands but without all the tourists and houses. Most of the islands I saw were uninhabited.

As I followed my GPS to the border I was surprised to not see any sign for a border crossing. There was a huge paper plant (or at least that's what I think it is) with smoke coming out of the chimney and whole town smelled like dense wood dust with particles in the air. Talking about air pollution! And the border cross was actually through the gigantic plant! I probably wouldn't never be able to figure out how to get back into the US without the GPS. This is by far the ugliest and scariest border cross I have ever seen and little did I know the worst was about to happen!

Yes, I got detained at the border! Oh my god. I couldn't believe it. I was questioned like a criminal! There was no traffic at the border and about ten agents were working in the office. In matter of minutes all of them were working on me like they've just found one of America's most wanted! I was asked to follow one of the officers and pull over in the station. Questioning started in the car and continued in the office. They quite literately had like a hundred questions for me. Questions like when did you become a citizen? How did you become a citizen? How did your parents immigrate here? What type of visas did they have? Where do they work? What do they do? Are they citizens now? Where am I from? What do I do? Which state is Eastman? Did I go to school there? What are you doing in Minnesota? Why did you go to Canada?
None of the questions if asked by themselves were all that alarming, other than the detailed questions about my parents, but adding everything together and the tone of the officer I was completely offended. The officer looked through everything in my purse and I showed him my offer letter, which he read ever word in detail and asked "how come there's no starting date?" Are you serious?! Who cares!

Being a firecracker as I am, I asked out loud to the entire office if there was any way they could tell I'm not a US citizen or born in the US by just looking at me. They said "no, but we don't see many people of Chinese descent here often". EXACTLY! I wonder why!

I had to be escorted to use the bathroom while two people worked on the computer for a background check and four officers surrounded my car to check for drugs and bombs inside and under my car. Ironically I also had to pass a background and drug test for my new employer. But at least I'm pretty sure that was a company-wide policy. I am clearly being racial profiled here and treated like an illegal immigrant! I couldn't believe it. I asked the officer who escorted me if this was normal, he just said we don't ever see any cars with NYS plates coming through here. By now I was outraged! As they started to pull things out of my car I asked if I could be there because I have a very expensive guitar in my car. They told me no. Luckily, they stopped at my tango shoes. The whole thing although a bit intense only took about an hour. After fully insulted I was free to go. That was THE worst experience I've ever had in my whole life. For the first time I really felt discrimination. The only experience before this was being asked if I have a US work permit at a job fair. We all know if I was white and immigrated here from Europe I would not have gotten any of these questions or treatments. I am disappointed and saddened by this experience. For the rest of the night was in complete shock!

Even though I'm only 5 hours away from my final destination, Rob suggested that I get a hotel nearby for the night. It's good that I was able to get a room at the AmericInn because I saw a sever weather warning as soon as I turned on the TV. Then I was demobilized by the crazy shows on TLC with all the babies!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Wawa, Ontario

The first leg of my transCanada drive has been a big success. When I decided to take the scenic route through Canada I really had no idea what I was in for. Now I'm happy to say that the scenery is worth every extra mile. I started the drive from Rochester just after 10pm last night and arrived at the Best Northern Motel in Wawa, Ontario around 4 this afternoon. Everything went well except I just noticed the transformer on my laptop power cord is not working and now I have monopolize the motel internet kiosk to write up a short blog.

The first 350 miles were pretty tough. There was a big backup at the Peace Bridge and the 20 miles after that on the QEW. Even though it was past midnight the traffic looked as though I was in rush hour. I got tired very quickly and by 1AM I was ready to get off the highway for a quick nap. My car is so packed there is no room to put the seat back. Surprisingly I was able to snooze for a couple of hours crawled up in my driver's seat. The traffic died down on the road when and once I turned onto highway 400/69 I was the only car on the road. Despite all my hesitation for purchasing the GPS, it really saved my life in the dark. As the morning light slowly came up the horizon I could finally see my surroundings. There were thick layers of fog purring through the shallow valleys covering the vegetation like a puffy down comforter and at times spells out onto the highway. The scenery improved as I got farther away from Toronto. Large boulders, pine forests, reflective lakes and rivers. Just as I started to take notice of things I got distracted by the fact that there are no rest stops, gas stations or bathroom on the highway! When push comes to shove I had to get off the highway and do it tour de France style next to my car on a small side road! Still, that doesn't help with the gas! Stations are far and few in between. I got a bit worried when my lights came on. When I finally found one it wasn't open until an hour later. As I waited in the parking lot someone drove by and told me there's another station 8 miles down the road. Thankfully I had enough gas to make it there. The people at the gas station were very nice. Across the way from the station was a very picturesque river with boats and small houses.

The second stop I made was to see the world's biggest nickel at Sudbury. Not sure if it's all that impressive but since it's on the way I figure it's worth a picture.

Sault Ste Marie looked like a sizable city on the map but I didn't stray from highway 17. The occasional passing of rivers and lakes kept me entertained. The best part of the drive by far was between Sault Ste Marie and Wawa along Lake Superior. This is part of Canada is like a combination of Colorado and the Pacific Coast Highway. The view is simply breathtaking. Lots of up and down in the mountains and every time when I think the view couldn't get any better another one appears around the corner or over a hill top. Looking onto the perfectly flat horizon I can see why this is often being referred to as an inland sea. There are long stretches of sandy beaches alternated by commanding tall cliffs and dramatic rock formations. This is a total contrast from the Lake Superior I saw at Duluth: cold, gray and industrial. It's easy to see who's got the short end of the stick here! I made couple quick stops to snap a few pictures and get my toes wet in the water. Katherine Cove just off TransCanada highway 17 was particularly enjoyable. There were few people laying down in the sand to soak up the perfect summer day and kids playing in the water. One could easily confuse this with some island far away in the Caribbeans!

Although it's probably not the best idea to drive all night I really do enjoy arriving at destination during daylight to checkout the surroundings without disrupting my driving schedule. Starting the drive in the evening was the only way I could figure out to maximize driving time, hotel time and sightseeing time all at once. I can be a bit obsessive at times and driving certainly brings the worst out of me. As soon as I get behind the wheel I seem to be glued to it. Today for example, I didn't stop to eat anything the whole way except to get a bottle of diet coke at the first gas station. In the past I've always had a hard time justifying a hotel stay when I don't even check in until after midnight. I'm just a value shopper! Whatever it is I want to get my money worth! So today I checked in promptly at 4pm and had lots of daylight left to see two waterfalls, the giant goose, Wawa lake and have dinner in the hotel lodge. Wawa is a tiny town of 3000 people with one street and one Chinese restaurant. It seems like every town has a Chinese restaurant nowadays regardless of its size. The surroundings are very beautiful. This can be a great place to get away if you can get here. I definitely recommend staying at the Rock Island Lodge. It is situated on a hidden beach down a long gravel path and surrounded by water. Unfortunately they were fully booked for tonight. The Naturally Superior Adventure company, situated in the same location, offers kayak rentals and day tours on the Lake. I had intended to do some kayaking here but in the interest of time I'll have to save that for another time. Maybe when I retire I'll have time to better enjoy these things.

The Best Northern Motel is where I'll be staying for the night. The rooms are completely renovated, spotless with a nice flat screen TV I never turned on and large windows looking into the woods. I saw lots of moose crossing signs on the highway but didn't see any moose myself. There are two water falls nearby, the Silver Fall and Magpie High Falls.

Dinner was enjoyable. Lake Superior white fish in white cheese sauce baked with mushroom and more cheese on top. I had to get a side of the galobski just to try since I make it myself and have never had it in a restaurant. The cabbage leaf was extremely over cooked to me and I wasn't a huge fan of the mushroom sauce. It's one of those things once I get use to making it a certain way it's hard to find a better alternative. Similarly that chili contest I won totally ruined me for eat chili at restaurants. Now I am content and ready for a much needed sleep. Still more driving ahead tomorrow to Thunder Bay.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tipping Point

One more ride in the row boat on the Erie Canal in Pittsford. Lunch at my favorite spot, Aladins. The day was perfect and so will my memories of the city I love.

I've moved and traveled ever since I was a baby. Cities, things and people, saying goodbye never gets any easier. Although traveling in and out of the town in the recent years I've had the good fortune of calling Rochester my home for the past 13 years. Although I've always loved Rochester, I feel like I've reached a delicate tipping point where the unlucky times is quickly catching up with the good ones. During a time of economic uncertainties I am lucky to have landed on my feet and found a good position with a company equivalent to the Kodak of Rochester's yesteryears.

People always say leave while the going is good. As I look back there were great times filled with hope and excitement as well as times of frustration and despair. As I look forward I see new opportunities, open roads and a blank canvas. I am forever grateful for all that I've experienced and all that's awaiting for me. I will leave quietly as the night falls and when you wake up I will be far along the northern banks of the Great Lakes. First stop: WaWa, Ontario.

And miles to go before I sleep.

Photo by Dan Olek


When my parents and I moved to Rochester in 1997 the George Eastman House was one of the first places we visited. Now as I wrap up my final preparation for the big move to Minnesota it's only natural to make one more visit to the House. I've been meaning to see the Colorama exhibit for quite sometime but never seem to have made time for it. The exhibit includes a dozen prints from the large 18X60 ft Kodak advertisement displays that were once hung inside the Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Majority of the photographs in the exhibit pictured iconic images of the American dream: family vacations, babies, pets holidays, etc. Everything was exquisitely done with happy people and cheery colors. Looking at it now the images evoke a real sense of nostalgia for the good old days. The short documentary on the production of the Coloramas was also very well done and gave an insight into the people behind the films. A share sense of vision, commitment and pride was apparent throughout the interviews. I think it's something George Eastman would be very proud of.

As I walk through the beautiful house and gardens I couldn't help but to feel a great sense admiration, respect and appreciation. Documentaries on George Eastman often emphasizes his commitment to philanthropy and community development both in Rochester and cities around the world. It was his vision to create the best city to live and raise a family. And that he did. George Eastman made the city for living. Rochester is the way it is now because of George Eastman's great generosity and I am a direct beneficiary of all the wonderful things he had created: Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester, RIT the birthplace of my last employment, numerous parks and theaters. More importantly on a global scale, George Eastman and the Kodak Company has forever changed the way our lives are seen and remembered. In creating photography that is accessible to the masses and enforcing values through all the years of expansive advertisement the impulse to point and shot is deeply ingrained in all of us. Thank you Mr. Eastman for all that you've created and all that you've inspired.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Moving Day

Although no prince ever showed up on a white horse, three nice men did come this morning in a big white truck. Since everything was already packed up yesterday moving was a breeze. The whole thing took 4 hours and I didn't have to left a finger other than to sign for the bill of lading and trust that everything will be ok.


Having done this a few times myself, moving is not all that difficult. Even though the movers were going to do all the packing for me I couldn't help but to do some of it myself to save a few bucks. Very quickly I was confronted with the emotional aspect of packing/moving that I've never fully experienced before. Packing for me was at times interrupted with overwhelming sense of nostalgia and sadness evoked by all these years of accumulation, articles associated with specific events. It was better to let the professionals to do their work. No hesitation, no mental breaks, just wrap and pack. They were good and I was relieved.