Summer Connect 2020

This was a really significant event (or series of events) that happened in the middle of the pandemic year, 2020, so I wanted to catalogue and chronicle all this down before too much time passes and my memories and records become lost to time. The Summer Connect program, hosted by the International Student Services (ISS) team of the University of Alberta International (UAI), aimed to match international students (that were still stuck in Edmonton) with Canadian volunteers in order for both sides to make cultural connections and new friends. This is the same UAI that sponsored my study abroad exchange with Sophia University, except that was a different team, Education Abroad Program (EAP), under the larger UAI umbrella. ISS is one of the teams that handles incoming international students instead of outgoing ones.

This article was started on June 20-21 2021, left in hiatus for a bit, and then finished up between July 25-28 2021. This rather long chronicle will be divided into several sections, so here’s a rough Table of Contents with links:

Introduction

The program was publicly advertised in two places as far as I was aware. The first was the weekly Student Newsletter that goes out to all students on campus (but that most of them summarily ignore) on July 08 and 15 2020:

Are you tired of the same routine? The Summer Connect program unites international students staying in Edmonton over the summer with Summer Connection Volunteers. Each week your Summer Connection Volunteer match will offer an online or in-person activity — a welcoming addition to your weekly routine!

Learn more: https://www.ualberta.ca/international-student-services/events/summerconnect-program

And the second, in my Certificate in International Learning newsletter, on Jul 29 2020:

Travel the globe without leaving the city with UAlberta’s Summer Connect program! 

Why volunteer?
As a volunteer you will meet weekly with a student from another country, who is living in Edmonton and far from their traditional support network. Having a Canadian buddy could make all the difference to them!

Also, what an opportunity for you! Think how much they could teach you about another place and another culture. 

Who would I be matched with?
One or more international students (you can choose how many “buddies” you are up for). Matches are made based on faculty and other areas of interest.

What are the expectations of volunteers?
To meet weekly with your match until the end of August (the program may extend into the Fall, but your obligations are until the end of August). How much time you spend with your match per week is up to the two of you. Match meet-ups can be virtual or in person with physical distancing.

What kinds of things would we do together?
Go for a socially-distanced walk. Virtually teach each other how to make your favourite dishes. Watch the same hockey game or movie — chat while you watch or debrief afterward. It’s totally up to you. The Summer Connect program can help you with ideas if you’re stuck.

How does this fit in to the Certificate in International Learning?
CIL students can claim Summer Connect meet-ups for co-curricular points up to a maximum of 5 points. A “meet-up” is defined as a 1.5 to 2 hour interaction with your match. If you have questions about Summer Connect and co-curricular points, email .

That sounded fun! Not only that, i figured that this might help me make a Japanese friend before I actually went over (at the time, i thought I would be going over in Fall 2021). Also, the 5 co-curricular points wouldn’t hurt, since I hadn’t completed that segment of the certificate yet. And lastly, it would sort of help replace the Senior Peer program that I had applied for and been accepted to in March 2020, but that had gotten scuttled by COVID-19. I was really interested in helping out international students so that I would get an idea of the types of challenges that they faced, in advance of me actually going abroad to study and becoming an international student myself.

So I put in a request to be matched up with a student, preferably from Japan since that would match my area of studies as well as future plans.

Matchmaking

On Aug 06 2020, I received this email from Brendan, the coordinator:

Hello Ran!

Thank you for registering for the Summer Connect program. By way of this email I am connecting you with each other and your volunteer facilitator, Jessica. Please proceed with reaching out by email to arrange a time and day for your first session! 

Some suggestions for activities you may wish to engage in together include:
Read a short story and then discuss.
Play Minecraft, trivia, or another game online together that allows you to simultaneously chat with your summer connection.
If some of you are musically inclined, try working through a piece of music together over video chat.
While practicing social distancing, if some of you are comfortable meeting in-person then you may like to meet up on campus to go for a walk — or maybe go visit one Edmonton’s farmer’s markets.
Of course, these are only a few suggestions to get you started — if you have other ideas please feel free to do something different!

If you have any questions please let me know.

This was sent to the two of us, of course. My Summer partner match was Ran Nishiguchi, and she hailed from Osaka in Japan, specifically from Kansai University. There were a group of about 12 of them who had arrived from Osaka in January 2020 to study English and assorted other classes, and they were staying until the end of December 2020. Unfortunately, the lockdown in March had put a major crimp on their ability to do much while here, especially since many of the actual fun events in Edmonton had been cancelled this year. But thankfully, Alberta, being a conservative province, had up and down restrictions through the year and tended to shy on the side of opening for business rather than closing for safety and health. Pretty much everyone still obeyed the mask mandate and such, but various things were open in limited capacity through the summer and fall, and this would eventually allow us to visit more than a few things.

One thing that impeded us at first was that, since this was a rather impromptu program, we had no idea what to do to start off. As well, the coordinator had sent me this email on Aug 06:

By the way, we do have a lot of international students who signed up to participate in this, so if you would like to be matched with more then just let me know how many to connect you to.

This would also allow for group activities, which might be more fun, too.

As I considered Ran my primary partner, I told him that I would run it by Ran first to see what she thought. Ran said she was interested in it, and in particular was interested in meeting someone else not from Canada or Japan, in order to broaden those proverbial cultural horizons. I submitted that request to Brendan on Aug 07th, and we waited for a secondary international student match… and waited.. and waited. There never was another reply. So much for “a lot of international students”.

In the meantime, I had started chatting with Ran. She was kind of shy at first, and it wasn’t until much later on (October to December) that she really opened up and we chatted a great deal. If I recall right, she lived with her parents and a younger sibling (brother?), though I don’t seem to have any logs to confirm this. She was working on Foreign Language Studies (English) for her degree, and she took a combination of English, Linguistics, Psychology, and culture classes while here. (She found the linguistics class too simplistic though.) Along with two roommates, Ran lived at Pinecrest House, which was a dorm on campus, and thus a nice and central location, allowing us to meet up anywhere on the LRT line with ease.

We tossed around ideas about playing a game at first, as she had played Minecraft Pocket Edition before and apparently somewhat enjoyed building things on it. Peaceful mode though. I suggested Terraria as well, and she was interested (although she had no idea what Steam was), but we never got around to playing either game.

Instead, she seemed to actually want to visit places in the city, and she suggested visiting one of the local farmers’ markets, as well as the Royal Alberta Museum. I agreed to that, as I also preferred in-person meetings and wanted to get out of the house and around the city. But because at this time we still thought we would have a third student along, I suggested first that we wait a little while longer to see if we got a match, and then after that I suggested that it was more likely that the third person would want to go to RAM as well, so we should just make some time and go to the farmers’ market instead. The farmers’ markets were only open on weekends though, so that pushed back the date even further.

So when all was said and done, even though this was supposed to be an August-only arrangement, it was the middle of August before we even went to the farmers’ market and that was all we would have time to do that month before we realized that we weren’t actually getting a third person. In return, I told Ran that we could continue doing stuff all the way through the rest of her stay here, till she returned home in December. From my end, I was somewhat miffed at the organizer for delaying us so long as I did want to get to know Ran better, and I would be getting those co-curricular points on top of it for taking Ran to various places anyway, so what better way was there to spend a pandemic (sure, I had full-time work AND part-time online classes in fall, but who’s counting)? And in return, I hoped that I could help her salvage some of her trip here and give her some pleasant memories of Canada.

Excursion 1 – Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market (Sat Aug 15 2020, 11:00am to 1:00pm)

The Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market is an indoors farmer’s market in Edmonton located just north of Whyte Avenue (82nd Avenue), which is one of the major streets (and possibly the most well-renowned one) in Edmonton outside of the downtown core, with lots of shops and restaurants and other attractions. The OSFM is “open year-round every Saturday from 8am-3pm”, since it’s basically indoors in a warehouse and safe from the elements. At the time that we visited, it was open despite the COVID-19 restrictions, but there was a limit on the number of patrons in it at any one time, as well as instructions for patrons to try to just buy what they came here to buy, and leave without loitering and browsing too long. We were here to do the latter, but we definitely moved through at a somewhat hurried pace due to that, and due to the fact that some of the stalls were shut due to the pandemic anyway.

I met her at the University LRT station right at 11:00 am, and we caught a bus that was headed along Whyte Avenue. When we arrived at 11:20-11:30 am or so, there was a somewhat long queue that stretched outside the warehouse, about 2/3 of the length of one wall of the building. Despite that, the queue moved fairly quickly, and we were in probably within 10 minutes or so. Ran’s stated goal here at the farmer’s market was to buy one carrot. Not one bunch of carrots, just one single carrot. I did not ask her why, nor did I wonder aloud why she didn’t just buy one at the supermarket, as I think it was just a stated goal for the trip that she had for herself based on what she happened to have and lack back at her dormitory at that specific moment in time.

We did comb the market to see if there was any stall selling individual carrots anyway, but there was not. There were lots of vegetables and meats on sale, as well as things like jewelry, ornaments, wood carvings, and other hand-crafted goods. At one point we considered buying (and sharing) some macarons but they were really expensive, so we passed on it. At another point, we did the same with a bag of apples, but passed on that as well. In the end, she settled for a $5 bag of carrots and slipped that into the tote bag that she had brought along. By 12:15 or so tops, we had finished touring the market and had left the warehouse.

I then invited her to lunch, and we walked around for a little bit more before settling on a restaurant called O’Byrne’s Irish Pub. She had Traditional Fish & Chips and I had Irish Stew. This was the first time that both of us had our facemasks off in each other’s presence, which was nice because neither of us were loud talkers and I was deaf in one ear to boot (which meant that I always tried to stay on her left whenever possible while we were walking around, so that my good ear was facing her). We were very much still feeling each other out at this point though, so we didn’t talk about that much, I just inquired about her a little to get her talking, and she did the same to me in return.

I had told her that I would treat her to lunch, so I paid for our meals together. Ran was unable to finish her meal, so she asked for and received a box to take the rest home and we left after that, using our same transit transfer ticket that we had used on the way here on the return bus (they were supposed to be valid for 1.5 hours from the time you paid for it, but bus drivers tend to give longer duration transfer tickets, usually lasting around 2 hours). I dropped off at the South Campus LRT station to catch the southbound LRT train, while she remained on the bus for two more stops before getting off at the University Transit Centre.

I apparently took exactly 0 pictures of this trip, nor did I actually buy anything in OSFA, so all I really have to show here is the lunch receipt! The receipt was actually this faint, it isn’t a problem with the scanner.

Excursion 2 – Banff, Lake Louise, Moraine Lake (Fri Aug 28, 12:30 pm – Sun Aug 30 2020, 2:30 pm)

This section is absurdly long, with so many photos and various other artifacts that it’s probably longer than the other three sections combined. Be aware.

2.1 – Preparation

As a consequence of the trip to OSFM, we exchanged contact info on Line, the phone chat messaging program, in order to communicate with each other more easily. I didn’t think I had made a very good first impression, but this segment of the event started with Ran dropping this line on me two days later, on the 17th:

“I really want to go to Banff. Can I go to Banff with you? My holiday is August 25 to August 31.”

(Mind you, it sounds rougher than it is because English isn’t her first language, and especially at this point in the year, her English was still in the process of improving. So I understood that nuances like politeness weren’t there yet, and things that might sound demanding coming from a native speaker, was actually just her trying to express her wishes.)

So I guess I maybe did leave a good first impression after all? The holiday she was talking about here was the break between the Summer 2020 semester that she was taking English classes in, and the Fall 2020 semester, that was one of the two main semesters at the University of Alberta. I had asked her earlier what kind of places she wanted to visit, and she named a few things like the museum and the farmer’s market. But Banff was another beast altogether! For starters, it was over 4 hours away by direct car and, well, I didn’t have a car. And then there were issues like how COVID-19 would impact the trip there, especially when she said she wanted to visit Moraine Lake, which was another hour and a half from Banff and was tricky to reach, as the road there was only open for several months in the year due to risk of landslide, and basically required a chartered bus to reach even if open. In the middle of a pandemic!

There were also liability issues at play, because the Summer Connect program was only supposed to be in online or in and around Edmonton at best. Banff was far, far out of the way. I could have (and actually did consider) said no to this, but I had never been to Banff myself either, the closest equivalent I had ever done would have been a Jasper trip I had taken in 2019. I really enjoyed that though, and so I wanted to see if Banff was more of the same, especially since I might never have had another chance with me going to Japan soon. Lastly, I was acutely aware that in her shoes, I would have been very disappointed that the pandemic had scuttled my year abroad this badly, as her family wasn’t very well off and she would probably never be able to come back here again. So what the hell, I decided I would make this dream a reality if I could.

The first step was to check for liability and permission. I emailed the coordinator to ask about it. and to ask if anyone’s partner was requesting a similar thing and maybe we could go together with another pair, or whether UAI was organizing trips for them. The answer I got back was:

There is no university-led/related programming that I am aware of for this year. Normally there would be a number of trips planned by our Visiting Programs and International Student Services units, but this year I am pretty sure those have been cancelled. I will look into it to confirm.

Perhaps she could arrange a trip with a group of students? Red Arrow is taking people to Calgary and On-It is operating between Calgary and Banff. Just to be clear, though, you definitely are not expected to go to Banff with her.

If I hear of any other such opportunities I will definitely let you know!

Well, that seemed fine. That was also pretty much the last email I ever received from the coordinator, despite a couple lingering questions I had, the promise from him to “look into it to confirm”, the outstanding issue of the other potential international student (it was only Aug 21 at this point), etc. So I was pretty much left on my own. That was fine though, and I even eventually emailed him our rough itinerary so I could say that the University had the records as well and didn’t bother stopping me from carrying out this wish.

The more difficult issue at hand was how to plan out a trip like that. I realized that I would basically be the chaperone, responsible for her safety in a foreign land, but I had never done anything like this before. I looked into a ballpark figure for the trip down south, which, including hotels, easily ballooned over $500-$600 for a pre-planned trip due to the pandemic. Ack. I asked Ran if she knew any friends who wanted to come along, as I could have saved on some costs if we could get 4 people in all, but she came back with a no.

A large part of the difficulty was the last leg of the trip as well. The trip basically consisted of four legs — Edmonton to Calgary, Calgary to Banff, Banff to Lake Louise, and then Lake Louise to Moraine Lake. And then the reverse trip home. I basically had to decide how many days/nights the trip would be, and factor in the cost and length of travel for each leg of the trip, where we would stay, and how much time we would spend in each place. I realized it was an Operations Management puzzle, and while it took a long time to figure out, I actually really, really like these sorts of exercises.

After poking around a bit, I found that the major limiting factor was the last leg, Lake Louise to Moraine Lake. On regular years, there’s a shuttle from Lake Louise to Moraine Lake that costs $8. $8! Unfortunately, in the pandemic summer of 2020, that was cancelled, which immensely complicated things. A couple companies were doing round trip private tours, but these were like upwards of $150-200, way outside budget. I did find one single company doing trips from Lake Louise to Moraine Lake on Friday to Sunday though, at a nice price of $25 per person. So this was the anchor of our trip in the end and everything else flowed backwards from it.

I built the rest of the trip from there, and planned out a 3 day 2 night trip, although due to shuttle weirdness, we had to spend the first night in Banff and the second night in Calgary. There was no reasonable way to spend two nights in either Banff or Calgary with the reduced COVID-19 bus schedules. This meant that we had to take our luggage with us when we went to visit the lakes during the day, and I told her not to bring too many things. I made this schedule and ran it by her in an email, and she okayed it: This is copied verbatim from my email to her, minus the (local) mirror of the pdf file:

Total cost:
Transportation: $164 each
Hotel: $148 each
+ some money for food (3-5 meals) and souvenirs
= somewhere between $350 and $400.
 
Fri Aug 28
Bus (Edmonton to Calgary)
2:00 pm to 5:05 pm
Company
Tickets: $40 each

Route

 
Bus (Calgary to Banff)
6:30 pm to 8:35 pm

Tickets: $10 each
Route

Check in to hotel + dinner
Bow View Lodge
Price: $148
Route

Sat Aug 29
Bus (Banff to Lake Louise)
7:15 am to 8:13 am, or
8:00 am to 8:58 am

Tickets: $25 each (bus pass for the whole day)
Route

Shuttle (Lake Louise to Moraine Lake)
10:00 am to 10:30 am, or
11:20 am to 11:50 am, or
12:45 pm to 1:15 pm

Tickets: $25 each
Route

Shuttle (Moraine Lake to Lake Louise)
11:50 am to 12:25 pm, or
11:50 am to 12:45 pm, or
1:15 pm to 1:50 pm, or
2:40 pm to 3:15 pm

Tickets: Free (I think)
 
Bus (Lake Louise to Banff)
A lot of buses

Tickets: Free (bus pass)

Bus (Banff to Calgary)
5:30 pm to 7:10 pm, or
7:00 pm to 9:00 pm

Tickets: $10 each
Check in to hotel + dinner
Calgary Marriott Downtown Hotel
Price: $149
 
Sun Aug 30
Bus (Calgary to Edmonton)
8:45 am to 1:00 pm
Tickets: $54 each

Route

 
I honestly wasn’t sure she could understand it all, especially not if she dived deep into the links as well, but I needed the information for myself anyway and I used that list to both book the ticket as well as guide us once we were actually there. She seemed to trust me, and that was the greatest mistake she ever made.. no just kidding. It largely went fine, I swear.

2.2 – Travel to Banff and Night 1 (Banff, Aug 28 2020, 12:30 pm – bedtime)

This trip had us leaving from a shuttle bus stop not too far from my house — this actually turned out to be the reverse trip of the one I did at the tail end of my Calgary trip in July 2021. I mentioned in that diary entry that I was familiar with that bus trip home from Calgary because I had taken that exact reverse trip before — that was referring to this trip on this fair Friday afternoon, Aug 28 2020. I arrived early to Southgate LRT Station at around 12:20 pm that day, and waited for her on one of the benches on the second level so I had a clear view of the overhead bridge that led from the LRT station to the bus terminal. We had arranged to meet between 12:30 pm and 12:45 pm there, since we had to take a bus (local) over to the shuttle bus station (it was bus route 304 at the time, that bus route has since been discontinued/replaced.) We were early on purpose, and after alighting from the bus, we started walking east.

A Value Village is visible on the map there — Ran asked me what that was, as she had never been to a second-hand store like this in Canada before (thrift stores are different all around the world!). So we went in for a walk and she gaped at the aisles a bit, before we headed over to wait for the bus. The bus was scheduled to pick us up around a Tim Horton’s at that address in the screenshot above, but we weren’t sure exactly where, and the bus was late, and there were two different entrances into that carpark, so I fretted a bit (although others were obviously waiting for the bus too) until it came.

There was enough space on the bus (which was more like a coach) for each group of travellers to sit with a buffer zone between other groups, but for this journey I sat together with her as I wasn’t sure if we were allowed to take different seats. We had to wear our masks the entire trip, which was awful as I was wearing a heavier cloth mask instead of the lighter disposable mask, but it was better than contracting something bad. I offered her my earphones to listen to some music with, but she declined as she had her own things to do or listen on the phone, and obviously wanted some quiet time, so I left her be and jammed to some music all the way to Calgary, where we had a layover of an hour and a half.

She had bought some food and a drink at that Tim’s before we boarded the bus, and so she needed to use the washroom once we arrived in Calgary. We walked around a bit but even though it was only 5pm at that time, *everything* was closed due to the pandemic. Colleges, shopping malls, downtown buildings.. everything was shuttered and we spent over half an hour walking around to no avail. We had to spend this time walking anyway because there was a distance to go to get from our drop point to the pickup point for the next bus shuttle to Banff, but still, I knew we absolutely had to find a bathroom, even if it meant we had to pay to buy something at a fast food place. (We didn’t even really see any of those though, on the route that we took.) I inquired at the Calgary Tower, which was still open, but they said that we had to pay for admittance to the entire place to get access to the public washroom up at the top of the tower, and I refused, so we left.

In the end, what saved us was that the hotel we were going to stay in the *next* night, on the 29th, as part of our return trip, was also right by our pickup point for the bus that would take us to Banff this evening. I barged in to that hotel, the Calgary Marriott Downtown Hotel, and said that we were guests the next night, but could we please use the washroom right now. The front desk staff had no problem with that and said that we were still considered guests, so kudos to them for that! We then wandered around a bit more before our bus to Banff came.

The trip from Calgary to Banff, which cost $10 per person, took two hours partially because the bus stopped off at several other stops along the way. The view was pretty great though, as we saw the mountains looming in the distance and then getting closer and closer as the bus moved on. It was in the late evening by the time the bus arrived in Banff, and we headed to our hotel to check-in and dump our bags down, before heading back out to the town in search for food. A large portion of the central street going through the little mountain town was actually closed to traffic for renovations, probably taking advantage of the fact that the pandemic meant some of the shops were closed anyway.

So while there were walkways that pedestrians could still use to get around that, it was a little annoying to wind our way around the shops there looking for a place to eat at. We tried several places, but the queues were really long or the food was really expensive. We also stopped into a gift shop or two to do some advance shopping, since we were unsure about our schedule the next day, so that set us back even further. By the time we actually found a place for dinner, it was past 10pm and the sun had set. It was beginning to get cold, and our seats were outside on a porch of a restaurant, but it wasn’t too bad in the end and we had an enjoyable meal under the twinkling starlight (or was that the restaurant’s lights?) and chatted a bit about the next day before we headed back to the “hotel” and to bed.

The hotel (motel?), Bow View Lodge, was pretty awful, it was small and cramped and fresh water was gotten through a coffee and tea machine, which meant the water was nasty and smelled of coffee. The front desk staff was really nice, but that was about the only saving grace of the room. Still, it was the cheapest in the area and we were only here for one night, so what did we really need?

2.3 – Day 1, Lake Louise (Aug 29 2020, 7:00 am – 10:00 am)

We got up nice and early this day. As I knew that Moraine Lake was the limiting factor on the trip, I told Ran that our goal should be to get to Lake Louise, and then Moraine Lake, as early as possible, and then we could come back and visit whatever we missed later on more casually. At that time, I didn’t realize how correct I was in this assessment. If there is one thing that you should take away from all my travelling and blogging, it’s that if you want to visit a popular tourist destination, you need to get there as early in the day as you can manage, or the crowds are going to show up and make the tourist trap more of a cramped tourist cage. Lake Louise, on our way to Moraine Lake, was a prime example of this, as we were fortunate enough to visit this place twice, on the way to Moraine and then on the way back, and boy was there a stark difference in enjoyment between the two.

Anyway, one of the factors complicating the trip was that there were actually showers forecasted in the early afternoon. This had the potential of ruining the trip and picture opportunities, so we absolutely had to get to Moraine Lake as quickly as possible. The one shuttle van that would take us there, however, ran 6 times a day (local), with its first trip only arriving at Moraine Lake at 10:30 am. We were out of the hotel before it was 7 am! The Deer Lodge mentioned in that route planner was a hotel in Lake Louise that was fairly easy for us to reach, so I planned to use that as our pick-up spot at 10:00 am. This meant that we had 3 hours to kill, and that was time best spent in scenic Lake Louise itself!

From our hotel, we walked over to the one central bus stop in the middle of Banff, where we had gotten off the shuttle bus the previous day, and we bought a day pass for the Banff to Lake Louise bus. This was the 8X shuttle route, and a day pass cost $20 each. This was worth it, however, since a single ride cost $10 and we’d have to do at least two trips. It allowed us some flexibility, which became important later on when we got caught in the rain and had to take an additional bus ride.

We took the bus over to Lake Louise, arriving at about 8:15 am, and went right to the lakeside area where most of the famous pictures of the region are snapped from. There were people there, but not a whole ton, and we got some uninterrupted real estate along the shoreline to take pictures at. They’re posted in this next gallery. But for later comparison’s sake, do take note of this picture as representative of the density of people at the site in the morning.

Headed for the coast at 8:20 am. Also, a lot of maskless people.

There is also this very important picture of Tigey, Emperor of the World, surveying a new part of his kingdom. I got Ran to hold Tigey briefly at some point around here, adding her to the list of people that he has (literally) touched. Anyway I could only bring him out because there was a lot of space compared to the number of people there at the time.

Tigey at 8:46 am on Aug 29 2020

There’s also this picture, which was the only picture we took together.

About that last picture in the gallery — Lake Louise was divided into two halves, a hamlet on the east side and the lakefront area on the west side, about 7 minutes bus ride away from each other, with the west side being all hotels. And they were aggressive about not letting anyone except hotel guests in to any of their amenities. This effectively meant no food and no gift shop (there were public washrooms) for tourists unless you were a paying guest of one of the hotels. And naturally they all charged a premium for the location. What explotative businesses.

Anyway, our pickup point for the shuttle ride to Moraine Lake was behind one of the smaller cozy-looking hotels in the area, the Deer Lodge. We walked over and arrived about half an hour early, and I called them once we arrived to book spots on the shuttle, because they didn’t accept booking far in advance. The “prebooking” mentioned on the website was actually just day-of booking. They said to wait in the carpark behind the hotel, and we did so, lounging around and chatting to each other a little while surrounded by enormous mountains.

The mountains here were gorgeous. They were very pretty in Banff, but in Lake Louise they felt a lot more up-close and personal, and there was an overpowering feeling of majesty and awe. I could really get used to living in a place like this and just spend my days lying on the front porch of my house, staring up at the mountains.

Around 10am, right on schedule, the shuttle van came and picked us up to take us on our next leg of the trip to Moraine Lake. That will be covered in the next section!

2.4 – Day 1, Moraine Lake (Aug 29 2020, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm)

It turned out we were the only two on the shuttle between Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, for both legs of the trip, there and back. It was $25 per person, but that covered both the journey there as well as back. We had to give a return time that we wanted to be picked up as well, and based on the earlier list, I just opted for the next time that the shuttle van would be at Moraine Lake, namely 11:50 am. That would give us about an hour and 20 minutes to wander around the lake.

The journey from Lake Louise to Moraine Lake took us down a winding mountain road. This road (Moraine Lake Road (local)) is actually closed for 7 and a half months per year, and only open basically during the summer months. It took about 15-20 minutes to travel there, and the weather was bright and sunny (but chilly — I think it was around 10 degrees Celsius) despite the threat of rain later in the afternoon. Ran wanted to find a specific location to take a photograph from, and I got the gist that this location was one that a friend of hers had visited in the past, and she wanted to replicate the location and picture. We walked around the lakeshore for a bit but couldn’t find the exact location, though I noticed that the location seemed to be a little bit above the lake. Looking around, we saw a hill that looked like a huge pile of rock and debris, and people looking down at the lake from above, so I realized that it was probably up the little lakeside hilly trail that led up that rockpile. We ended up climbing up that hill, basically around 1900 metres above sea level, and found Ran’s desired location up there.

There weren’t actually a whole ton of places to take pictures from from the mountain trail — or rather, there were two or three main locations that tourists were obviously expected to take pictures from, with flat areas and stone walls that provided a nice look over the lake or the forest in the other direction (though who looks in the other direction when there’s a sparkling lake in front of them?) Ran was far more adventurous than I was though, she even clambered onto the wall at one point and got me to take some pictures on her phone while she stood up there, whereas about all I dared to do was stand at the bottom of one with my back against it. Ah, seishun.

I really enjoyed the views though. A couple captions I had on the Facebook version of this gallery read: “I’d almost say that I enjoyed the forest-side view more, because it had this sort of fantasy feel to it that was stronger than even the lake, for me.” and “The mountains were really beckoning me. I wonder if any human had ever set foot on that peak before? Or that one? Or that one?”

Again though, I believe that the reason we were able to get decent pictures of its famous views without being crowded out and having other people in our pictures, was because we came early, and pretty much beat the crowds here. This definitely would have been really crowded later on in a regular day, especially since the roads up here are limited.

It’s really interesting that both Lake Louise and Moraine Lake (and basically everywhere in Banff National Park outside of Banff itself) are so remote that the area they’re in is called Improvement District No. 9 instead of even having a proper name. It’s very frontier-sounding. The nice thing about Moraine Lake though is that despite being in such a difficult to get to area, it actually had public washrooms as well as a public gift shop, and we visited that once we descended from the trail. There was a cafe there too, I believe,

We actually were thinking about staying longer, and Ran wondered if we could call the shuttle van and tell them that we’d catch the next shuttle back instead. However, unlike Lake Louise, most of Moraine Lake actually did not have cell reception, so we couldn’t actually make a call from the mountain trail even if I wanted to. There was a public payphone down around the gift shop and carpark, if I recall right, but by the time we had made our way down there it would have been too late to call the shuttle and tell them not to come anyway, so we did not attempt anything of that sort.

I was secretly glad for this, because there were lots of other things on the itinerary that day too and so I felt we couldn’t afford to spend another hour and a half here, although it was ultimately her trip and thus her call. The end part of this Moraine Lake expedition did feel a bit rushed, because we could have used a bit more time to walk around the lakeshore more or visit the cafe, but things worked out, and I’m very glad we didn’t spend that time here. Not only because the prices here in the cafe and gift shop were exorbitant, but also because it started to rain on the way back! We’d have been stuck either in the rain or taking refuge in the overpriced cafe for an hour and a half if we had cancelled. In addition, this entire leg of the trip had been very precarious, and due to the booking thing, I was unsure up until about half an hour before the trip on whether we would even be able to make it this far.

But we did! And the rain held back the entire time we were here! Gosh we were so lucky. Next, we found ourselves in the safety of the van as it brought us back to Lake Louise. That story will be in the next section!

2.5 – Day 1, Return to Lake Louise (Aug 29 2020, 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm)

As mentioned in the last segment, it started to rain as we headed back to Lake Louise in the van. We also needed to source lunch at some point, so that was our first goal. The van dropped us off near the Lake Louise Visitor Center, This is the approximate route (original) we took in the rain. The red line is the line we actually took, and the blue line is the path I had originally meant for us to take, but the open space on the map there was I believe either actually blocked off by buildings and fences or trees, or else not actually easily crossable in the rain, so we couldn’t really reach the station from where we were. Especially not as the rain was starting to pour at this point. We deviated to an adjoining building and thankfully that was actually a full restaurant with decent offerings and prices, so we just had lunch there instead!

This place was called Bill Peyto’s Cafe, and I really liked the ambience of the place. It looked exactly as it does in this specific picture (local) from the website, I remember the shoes strung up on the wall. I had the Elk burger, my first time tasting elk, while Ran had the Battered cod, basically fish and chips. While we ate, I planned out our next stage of the journey as the rain slowly petered out and came to a halt.

My Elk burger, Ran’s Battered cod

By the by, this cafe has a great backstory as per their website link above:

Bill Peyto’s Café is named after one of Banff National Park’s most famous and respected guides. Back at the turn of the 20th century, Bill caught a lynx, strapped it to his back and headed into the town of Banff, where he stopped by the nearest watering hole. Not one for company, Bill is said to have released his captive mountain cat into the bar. Not surprisingly, the place emptied, leaving Bill alone in peace. He enjoyed his drink, packed the lynx back up and continued on to present it to Norman Sanson, curator of the Banff Park Museum, who paid the hefty sum of $25 for the animal!

Today, Bill Peyto’s Café offers up grub to fuel adventures big and small, with full hot breakfasts, tasty appies and hearty entrées, plus a full range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. We welcome both hostel guests and the general public. We just ask that you kindly leave your wild lynx at home.

I like their sense of humour. Fortunately, Tigey isn’t wild, so I brought him in anyway. The entire place was great and the food was well-priced, relatively speaking when compared to the rest of Banff. Here’s a picture of a humorous COVID-19 sign in the restaurant (and a couple misc pictures of the outside once we finished and left the cafe).

As you can see from the timestamps above, we were ready to leave by about 1:00 pm or so. I noticed in the Route 8X schedule (linked earlier) that there was actually a bit of a quirk in the schedule — we needed to take the bus back to Banff, but that bus wouldn’t come for us where we were, at the Lake Louise Village South, until 2:05 pm. There was no 1:05 pm bus for some reason. On top of that, that same 2:05 pm bus was likely the same one that was headed in the opposite direction to Lake Louise Lakeshore at 1:21 pm, and then there would be a 30 minute wait or so there before it turned around and come back.

Having realized this while we were ordering our food at around 12:15 pm, I told Ran that we would aim to take that 1:21 pm bus back to Lake Louise instead, since we had a day pass and the rain was beginning to subside. And so we planned our meal accordingly, eating slow enough so we would finish just on time to walk over for the bus. Lucky for us, the rain did indeed abate in time before we left, and so we headed over to catch that bus back to Lake Louise Lakeshore at 1:21 pm. This was where the day pass came into handy — we found out that it was indeed the same bus, but we couldn’t actually stay on the bus between it arriving at Lake Louise Lakeside and it departing back toward Banff, because they wanted to disinfect it. So we would have had to use a third ticket to get on if not for the day pass.

Anyway, we had about a half an hour to kill at this point, so we walked around the lakeside again and took more pictures. The view was definitely worse than in the morning, with clouds obscuring how far you could see, and somewhat ruining the iconic view. What actually ruined it more though was the sheer number of people at the location. Just compare this to the number of people in the picture further up the page.

1:45 pm. Just look at the number of people here! And unmasked!

And this density of people basically stretched all the way along the lakeshore as far as we could see. There would have been absolutely no space to take any photographs of a person or delusional stuffed animal standing or sitting against the backdrop of the lake without anyone else barging in the photo space, especially if you wanted to take your time setting up a few shots. It was insane. We could, and did, still get some scenery photos though, just to compare to the earlier ones with clearer skies. And then, it was time to head back to Banff!

2.6 – Day 1, Return to Banff (Aug 29 2020, 3:00 pm – 8:15 pm)

The trip back took basically an hour, and we alighted at the Banff High School Transit Hub at about 2:57 pm. I had said that we had two options for the bus back to Calgary, either 5:30 pm to 7:10 pm or 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm, and as the planner, I had opted for the latter one because we were here to see Banff, not Calgary, and so wanted to spend more time there. The hotel was right next to our drop-off point in Calgary anyway. So we did some shopping and walking in Banff between 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm.

Since we were already in the heart of Banff, we started off by walking around to a few local shops. Ran was really interested in a Roots clothing shop and went into that shop buy a few things, while I browsed around and then fiddled around with my phone to confirm our itinerary while waiting for her. At this point, I made an interesting sidenote, and then chanced upon a really important discovery. The sidenote was me noting that the e-tickets for our Calgary-Banff and Banff-Calgary trips had a date printed on them, but not the time, which kind of implied that perhaps they could be used at any time during the day, not just the one you had booked, even though that made no real sense to me.

The really important discovery shook me to the core, though. As I mentioned, the e-tickets had the date printed on them, and I noticed that ours were printed for Sunday, Aug 30, instead of Saturday, Aug 29. Being a royal screwup, I had booked the tickets for the wrong evening! And we might have had to be stuck in Banff for an additional night and have had to find a hotel for the night on really short notice!

As luck would have it though, this was the one (two counting the reverse?) trip ticket that could actually be exchanged for no service fee whatsoever, and could still be exchanged pretty much right up until the time that the bus departed. To allow for last-minute changes for people who worked in town but didn’t actually stay there, or vice versa, I suppose. So, while Ran was shopping for her clothes and blissfully unaware of the error, I quietly logged onto the website on my phone and deftly swapped the two tickets for correct ones, Saturday evening at 7pm. Safe! This was an incredible relief. The only casualty was that I had to change our bus trip to the 8:15 pm to 10:05 pm instead of the two earlier dates. The reason for this is not that the earlier ones were sold out, but simply because that was the Sunday evening bus schedule that this moron had been reading all this time. The Saturday one ran at a different time.

Anyway, I informed her that we had a bit more time than we thought, so we could even have dinner in Banff before leaving. We spent more time wandering around the streets and poking our head into the occasional gift shop. It rained a bit again, and even hailed little stones on us a bit as we ducked in and out of the shops, before finally stopping for good. Imagine if we had been caught out in the open!

I bought two plushies, neither one of which has been featured in Plushie of the Week yet, as of the time of me writing this (Jul 27 2021). However, pictures of them are included in the following gallery, along with some other Banff pictures from around this time.

After shopping, Ran wanted to see some of the sights around Banff, and I agreed with her. Despite the hotel we had stayed in being really poor, the front desk clerk was really nice, and she had pointed out some nice areas nearby that we could visit. We had wanted to go to a place called Surprise Corner Viewpoint, but on our way south, we literally got distracted by a bridge that we had to take pictures beside, and then were compelled to cross, once we noticed that it led to some waterfalls.

Therefore, our first stop ended up being was Bow Falls, which was on the outskirts of Banff. We followed a hiking trail south and east across a bridge (original) to reach Bow Falls Viewpoint. This took about half an hour, a good chunk of it along a shaded path that was occasionally peppered with horse and dog poo.

From the Bow Falls “waterfall”, we could actually see Surprise Corner Viewpoint, which the Bow Lodge front desk staff member had recommended to us. I believe she also did mention this waterfall though, as well as “some beaches” around the area, which we took to mean sandy little areas like that mess by the foot of the pedestrian bridge. Anyway, we found ourselves in a rather ironic position because across from us was a spot that would supposedly give us a fairly majestic view of the hotel behind us that we could also see from where we were. The spot we two went to was basically right between those two points, as illustrated on this map (original), where the purple arrow is the view from Surprise Corner Viewpoint to the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel.

We still had plenty of time before the 8:15 pm bus, even factoring in time for dinner, so Ran wondered if we could go back up there too anyway. It would be a long walk doubling back to the Banff Pedestrian Bridge that we had crossed to get to this side of the river to begin with, and then back around to the north, but we decided to do it, following the red route on the map. And oh boy was it worth it!

We saw deer on the way up! Four of them, three adults and a little one, moving together and crossing the road, causing traffic to grind to a halt. This was on the Buffalo Street part of the route marked out above, so there wasn’t actually much traffic, just a couple occasional cars, and we were apparently the only people crazy enough to walk out this way on foot. This was the sort of valuable, defining moment you can’t buy that really puts a cap on the trip, and we would totally have missed this if we had come a few minutes earlier or later, if we had stayed longer at Moraine, or maybe even if we not been chased into a shop by hailstones, or decided to deviate from our trip earlier to cross the bridge, and so on and so forth.

As you can see, we spent a couple minutes taking pictures of them from about 25-30 feet away. Three of them then broke off and headed toward the town where we had come from, while the fourth, an adult, continued walking along the road in the direction that we were headed. It also crossed over to our side of the road, enabling us to get a little closer, probably within 15-20 feet or so. We followed it for another minute until it eventually ducked away into the woods.

Besides this, it was a rather uneventful walk all the way up to Surprise Corner Viewpoint. There was a carpark right up by it but the viewpoint was surprisingly empty, and we climbed up to that wooden area that we saw earlier before taking a number of pictures.

After this, we traipsed our way back along the same road back to town, where we looked for a place for dinner. We had nowhere particular in mind, but the main streets had become rather packed, and there were waiting lines for every restaurant that we saw. Eventually, we found and had dinner at a Chinese restaurant tucked into the second floor of a building. I loved this place because it had a classic Chinese Restaurant sort of mixed food smell that I adore, and it also had a lounge with windows that opened out over the street below. Unfortunately I think that area was closed and we didn’t exactly get to choose a table anyway. She ordered beef fried rice, I ordered some sort of noodle stew, and we had a leisurely dinner before heading on over to the bus terminal for our ride back to Calgary.

2.7 – Night 2, Travel to Calgary (Aug 29 2020, 8:15 pm – bedtime)

We were pooped, so we were happy to get to bed once we arrived in Calgary. Our hotel was the Calgary Marriott Downtown Hotel, which we had already stopped by the day before to use the washrooms in, and which was literally a 2 minute walk from the bus stop. We still snapped a couple pictures before we went in, though, but that was the extent of our travelling for the trip.

The trip had one last surprise for us, and that was that we had apparently either inadvertantly been given, or I had inadvertantly booked, a room with just one bed instead of two. I have no issue sleeping pretty much anywhere in any reasonable condition, however, so I just used the couch that night instead, and it was comfortable enough for me, especially once I turned down the air-con. I also snapped some pictures of the night city view from the hotel room window. After our showers, we turned on the TV and chatted a bit, but not a whole lot, as she was busy doing things on her phone and I was busy moving pictures to my laptop as well. Besides, we were both tired out.

2.8 – Return Trip to Edmonton (Aug 30 2020, 7:30 am – 2:30 pm)

After a night of restful sleep, we were both up bright and early again and ready to head home. I had actually brought along some Chinese buns on the trip that I had bought in the morning of the 28th, but they were a bit stale by now, the morning of the 30th. Still, I consumed what remained of it while she had some leftover fried rice from the Chinese restaurant the previous day, and that was that for breakfast. We caught the final bus back to Edmonton right on schedule. This time, the bus was larger, but there was plenty of room, so we both took separate seats in the bus and did our own thing all the way back to Edmonton.

I could actually have bought my ticket with a destination stop on the south side of the city that would have allowed me to reach home a lot faster, but Ran lived in a dorm in the University of Alberta area, and the bus’s other destination in the city, by the company’s downtown office, was closer for her, so I figured it would be safer if I rode the bus to that stop as well to ensure that she didn’t run into any trouble on the way, since she probably still wasn’t too familiar with the city nor language. Once we arrived, she wanted to grab some food while we walked to the LRT station, so we detoured to a nearby fast food place visible on Google Maps, where she bought something, before we both hopped onto the train home. She thanked me and said that she had a great time just before the train arrived at her University LRT Station stop, and we parted ways there, with me continuing on the train toward Southgate LRT Station.

2.8 – Return Trip to Edmonton (Aug 30 2020, 7:30 am – 2:30 pm)

After a night of restful sleep, we were both up bright and early again and ready to head home. I had actually brought along some Chinese buns on the trip that I had bought in the morning of the 28th, but they were a bit stale by now, the morning of the 30th. Still, I consumed what remained of it while she had some leftover fried rice from the Chinese restaurant the previous day, and that was that for breakfast. We caught the final bus back to Edmonton right on schedule. This time, the bus was larger, but there was plenty of room, so we both took separate seats in the bus and did our own thing all the way back to Edmonton.

I could actually have bought my ticket with a destination stop on the south side of the city that would have allowed me to reach home a lot faster, but Ran lived in a dorm in the University of Alberta area, and the bus’s other destination in the city, by the company’s downtown office, was closer for her, so I figured it would be safer if I rode the bus to that stop as well to ensure that she didn’t run into any trouble on the way, since she probably still wasn’t too familiar with the city nor language. Besides, I felt like the moment we parted ways, the trip would officially be over.

Once we arrived in Edmonton, she wanted to grab some food while we walked to the LRT station, so we detoured to a nearby fast food place visible on Google Maps, where she bought something, before we both hopped onto the train home. We finally parted ways when the train arrived at her University LRT Station stop, with me continuing on the train toward Southgate LRT Station. Once we got home, she sent me a sweet thank you message over Line.

Thank you for all your help in the trip! I had a memorable experience.

All the planning was definitely worth it!

2.9 – Aftermath

Despite a few hiccups along the way, and a lot of worrying, this was a great trip for me (and assumedly for her too). This was my first time chaperoning a trip, so it was quite an adventure, and it was my first time to Calgary in over 15 years, and first time ever to Banff. Sure, we lucked out a couple times and had to make do with slightly imperfect schedules or weather dodging, and one panicked ticket re-booking, but that’s probably part and parcel of a trip anyway. I still think I planned the trip quite meticulously, and that paid off in spades because I could then use our rough schedule to guide us along and hit up all the desired locations, and yet we had buffer time built in for flexibility at most points in the trip. I think this would have been even better if not for the pandemic shutdown and reduction of services, though.

This was by far and away the highlight of the Summer Connect trip too. And after all was said and done I did manage to get the costs down reasonably low, compared to what it could easily have ballooned to. This was only our second face-to-face meeting, so Ran initially seemed a bit shy or aloof, mostly sticking to her phone instead of talking to me or looking at the world around her, but she loosened up a bit and I think we were able to connect and get through much better by the end of the trip. This had a huge impact on our future trips too, as we were a lot closer for those other two trips that we made after this one, and we were able to readily and easily chat like friends there, in part due to the bonding here.

I didn’t end up with any regrets on the trip at all, so I’m not sure what I would have changed if I had the opportunity to do it all over again. Perhaps triple-checking the booking this time to ensure that I didn’t make such a clueless mistake as booking a bus trip on the wrong date. But that didn’t end up being a factor that impacted our enjoyment at the end of the day. We could probably have found more things to do if we had one extra day in Banff, or at least done things at a more leisurely pace, but Banff isn’t that big nor that interesting in terms of tourist attractions in the summer, I think, unless one likes sporting attractions like kayaking or mountain hiking. I would probably have suggested we hike up a nearby mountain. If I were alone, I might have found somewhere to sit and just stare at the mountains meditatively for a few hours. Washrooms and food were an issue at several points on the trip, too, even though I brought some food (the buns) for us.

Oh, there was one annoyance through this trip, and that was that I was still using an old work iPhone at this point, and the battery was pretty much dead in five minutes or less without an external battery. I did have an external portable battery though, and that apparently worked to power my phone (which was the source of about 2/3 of my photos above) through the day, with the help of some charging in the hotels, but that meant that I had to carry my phone with a cord connecting it to the battery in my bag all day. I planned to get a new Pixel 5 once it released though, and that phone arrived in early November for me.

Excursion 3 – Edmonton Valley Zoo (Sep 26 2020)

Our previous trip to Banff took place on Aug 28-30 2020, or basically the week before the Fall 2020 semester started. Once the semester started, even though the semester was entirely online due to the pandemic, we didn’t really have much chance to meet up or do things just due to homework and tests and such. I was in the throes of Chinese 301 and Japan 301, as well as juggling full-time work, and she was taking Cultural Perspectives, Linguistics, and Psychology.

She still had two items on her to-visit list that I had promised her we would do though, the zoo and the museum, and we talked about doing one on this weekend of the 26th. As fall had arrived and winter was around the corner at this point, I reasoned that we should hit up the Edmonton Zoo first, if only because that was an outdoors location and some of the exhibits would thus surely be impacted by the snow once that set in. And even if the exhibits were open, would we want to walk around in Edmonton winter weather for hours? She agreed, and so we set up for a trip to the Edmonton Vallery Zoo on the 26th of September.

The main problem with the Edmonton Valley Zoo is that it’s actually pretty inconvenient to get there using public transportation. We met up at South Campus LRT station at about 11:45 am, and took the bus over to the zoo. But due to the pandemic, this (local) was the only route available to us at the time, and it was basically a 3-5 minute bus journey and then a 35-40 minute leisurely walk! But walk we did, and we chatted a good amount along the way, as she told me all about things like her part-time jobs at restaurants and such back home, and about her family and school.

Our zoo tickets had a timed entry of 12:30 pm to 1:00 pm, and I wasn’t sure what this meant in terms of how long we were allowed to stay, but apparently there were no time limits, and the ticket time was just for when we could enter, as part of pandemic precautions and an attempt to enforce a visitor limit. Due to this, we took our time once we were inside the zoo, and visited everything. We walked pretty much the entire length of the zoo, and then doubled back again to check out a couple things we had missed, all the while chatting away like good friends. We then took a pass through the gift shop (but didn’t buy anything, I believe), and ended up at the cafe right by the entrance, where we had a late lunch before we headed on home.

All in all, it was about 4:15 pm before I reached home, so the time we spent in the zoo was roughly from about 12:25 pm to about 3:15 pm, I think. I also have no idea what we had for lunch, except that our combined receipt was $25.20. I think it was a burger with a side of cookies or something for each of us though. I didn’t take as many pictures as I did in the Calgary Zoo, but here are some of the better ones anyway, without much narration, since it has been some time since the event and I really don’t want to mis-species the animals!

Interlude – Telus World of Science (Oct 17 2020)

Ran was one of about a dozen or so students visiting Edmonton from Kansai University in Osaka. During the course of the fall semester, I got to know another of the students from Kansai, Maki Kouda, because she was our Japan 301 teaching assistant (TA) volunteer! (Ran was also TAing a Japan 101 class.) I don’t remember for sure what she was majoring in, but I’m fairly sure it was some form of

I told both of them about each other, and they both definitely knew of the other person, although I’m not sure how close they were. I never hung out with both of them at once, however Maki was also really nice, and so while I was writing to her in Japanese to practice my language skills, I asked her if there was anywhere she wanted to visit as well and that I would be happy to visit a place with her some weekend. Part of this was because I had heard from Ran that she had expected to be able to network more with the people in the Japan 101 class that she was TAing, but that didn’t really go anywhere because people were shy and didn’t speak outside of class. That was an interesting perspective to me, so I wanted to try to make sure this didn’t happen in our 301 class too.

Maki accepted the offer as, like everyone else, she indeed had found it a bit difficult to mingle and make friends during the pandemic. She picked the Telus World of Science, Edmonton’s local science centre, as a destination. This was perfect, since this was one of the places Ran had already gone to herself and thus had no interest in visiting (and I had the impression that she didn’t really want to go out with other Japanese people due to the pressure of speaking English vs Japanese in front of them).

Therefore, I set a date with Maki to visit the Telus World of Science, which I had not visited since at least graduating high school back in 2001 (I’m not even sure if I visited it during a high school field trip either, actually). I offered her a list of shows that we could visit while there, and we eventually settled on the following schedule:

11:00-11:15 – Kingsway LRT Station, meet and have lunch at Kingsway Mall.
12:00 – Take the bus over to TWoS
12:30 – Ripley’s Believe It or Not! exhibition
1:30 – Incredible Predators (IMAX Theatre)
2:30 – We are Stars (Zeidler Dome)
3:30 – Return home

Despite our LRT station line being pathetically short, I had only actually gone over to the north end of the LRT once before, and being an absolute klutz, I actually managed to take the wrong train and was almost late to the meeting due to that. Thankfully I had left early to begin with, so that buffer of time made up for me having to backtrack and transfer trains two additional times to get to Kingsway. I met her for lunch, which we had in the food court in the mall, and we chatted about our lives and goals as we ate and walked. She was a lot more socially open on the initial meeting than Ran was, but on the other hand we had already had many online meetings before in the Zoom classroom and breakout rooms for Japan 301.

Her English was also not quite up to where Ran’s had progressed to, but it was not bad, and she was trying, so I was glad to give her practice! Unlike Ran, who I believe was an oldest sibling, Maki was a youngest sibling, and I learnt that she lived with her older brother, her mom and dad, and her grandma, as well as a dog named Olive back home. We had plenty of time to chat, because we actually managed to miss the 12:00 bus over to Telus World of Science, and had to stand around in the bus terminal for another half an hour to wait for the next bus, because Edmonton Transit Service is terrible, especially when it’s cold and wintery outside.

While we still got into the TWoS fine, this meant that the touring of the Ripley’s exhibit was pushed back a bit and essentially split into two, because we couldn’t really miss either the IMAX Theatre or the Zeidler Dome shows, since those were at fixed times. We thus did about half of it before the IMAX shows started at 1:30 pm, and did the other half after the Zeidler Dome show, and then visited the gift shop after that, so it wasn’t until about 4:20 pm that we left the TWoS and around 5:45 pm that I arrived home.

The Ripley’s exhibit turned out to be really, really boring, as it looked like it was basically catering to kids. So it had no real coherent theme, and it was like flipping through a random book of trivia where 75-80% of it were about topics that didn’t interest me and weren’t interesting enough to catch my interest even if I didn’t care about the underlying topic. The exhibits were probably good English practice for Maki though, and I had fun just walking around with her anyway, no thanks to the exhibits. Though I guess to be fair, the TWoS is probably more geared towards school kids than adults.

The two shows were a lot more interesting. The first one, Incredible Predators (it’s gone from live page and not archived properly on Wayback Machine) featured a nature documentary about a whole host of different predators in different natural environments on a big screen, while the second one, We are Stars (local), was a two-parter broadcast onto the ceiling of the dome above the seats, firstly with a Victorian-circus-style show that ultimately talked about how everything in the universe came from the Big Bang and primordial soup, and then secondly a presenter using the dome to point out the planets and constellations that we could possibly see in the sky in real life Edmonton, and where to look for them at night. Both of these were quite pretty, especially the dome. I do remember attending another dome movie event in the very distant past, but I don’t even remember if it was in Canada or Singapore.

After we were all done, I picked up a bear from the Science Centre shop, and then we headed home in the snow! This was my one and only trip with Maki in Edmonton, but it was enjoyable and I wish we had more time to do other things during the year too. I barely took any pictures in this segment, but here are a couple I did take.

Excursion 4 – Royal Alberta Museum (Dec 09 2020)

Dec 09 was the final day of classes for Fall 2020, but I didn’t have classes on that day, nor did Ran, but she had final exams on the 17th and would be heading back to Japan on the 24th. So we decided to make one last trip to round out the Summer Connect session and knock out the last place on her initial to-visit list.

This location was the Royal Alberta Museum, and I purchased tickets for us for 10:15 am on the day. The government imposed stricter COVID-19 restrictions on December the 8th, which almost scuttled the trip, but the museum did not close, so we thankfully avoided that pitfall. We actually arrived there early, at about 10, but they wouldn’t even let us into the lobby area due to pandemic restrictions (we had tried to GET tickets for 10 am, but it was sold out when we tried on Dec 03). So we sat outside the museum for about 15 minutes, trying to take shelter from the winter wind, before they finally let us in. For some reason, we were asked at the front desk if we were with the University group, and I said that we were University students but not from whatever group they were expecting.

I apparently didn’t have photographs of this event either, but I do remember a large section on the indigenous people of Alberta (with things like important tribal grounds in Alberta, their way of life, their languages, showcases of things like ancient pottery and cookware, the role of pemmican, and more), and a large section on fur trading and life in the early settler times along with a whole bunch of early settler artifacts. The timeline of the museum stretched way back to the days when dinosaurs roamed Alberta (and they even had a couple fossils present), all the way up to the Oilers and their dynasty during the 80s.

Either way, we had a very pleasant walk around the place and chatted about a number of things. I noted to her how her English had noticeably improved even from when I first met her, she credited a lot of that to the two roommates that she lived with as well. We visited the gift shop but I didn’t get anything, and then we went to the Edmonton City Center for lunch. She talked about her University a bit here, and in particular a conversation stuck with me where I remember her saying how her University wasn’t very good, and I replied that ours wasn’t either in its own way. We chatted for a while at the food court, then headed home, where I arrived at about 2:45 pm.

Finally, on the train home, just prior to when we’d part for the last time, she gave me a gift of appreciation! It was a bag of candies and snacks from Japan that her mom had sent her in a package from Japan, and I thanked her profusely for it. In particular, I really loved the Umaibo snacks! She said that she liked them too, but couldn’t find that snack here in Canada, even in the Asian supermarkets, although I happened to chance upon it in T&T Supermarket a couple months after she left Canada, on my birthday.

2:04 pm. Spot the Ran

Departure (Dec 24 2020)

The entire group of Kansai University students flew off on Dec 24 2020, landing in Tokyo, where they had to quarantine for two weeks before they could return to Osaka to be with their families again. This was a little ludicrous, as Edmonton had package flights to Osaka (with stopovers in Vancouver and Tokyo), and they could have just taken those trips back. It was cheaper than the flights they had to book too. But they had to book them through their school or whatever, and so they were forced to quarantine at their port of call instead of back home. I chatted to both Ran and Maki on that day though, wishing them the best, and then checking in with them once they arrived as well.

Ran said that their hotel room was spacious and western, but the hotel they were in had other floors that were Japanese, and she had never seen a mix of cultures like that in a hotel before. In addition, even though they were quarantining, they were allowed to more or less travel to a nearby or adjoining shopping mall, which kind of defeated the point (even though they obviously needed to for groceries and food).

I asked them both what the things they missed about Canada were, and got back a bunch of replies that included Vietnamese pho, the Bath and Body Works (or equivalent) shop, hot water from the tap (apparently they had to run cold water for a rather long time before it became hot water), and warm indoor temperatures in the winter (apparently house insulation is really bad over there). The last point was something both of them complained about. I also learnt that, similar to how my planne trip to Japan this year (2021-2022) is working out, they found themselves with a 4 month gap in December before the University semester started in April, so Ran at least was going to look for part-time work.

And finally, on February 24 2021, Ran called me over Line (after having arranged it in advance) because she wanted to practice her English. It was 11pm here when she called, and we spent a pleasant hour or so chatting over the phone before she hung up. We haven’t chatted since (as of writing anyway, July 2021!), but she was doing well last i checked, and if I ever make it over to Japan I will almost certainly visit Osaka at some point to say hello as well.

Aftermath

This was a very life-enriching experience! I mean, the length of this blog post speaks for itself. This was a really important experience for me and made me a couple temporary friends that I hope to reconnect with someday, and hopefully I was able to enrich their experience here as well, because the pandemic really sucked. Ran said she was thankful as the trip to Banff was her only trip and major event while here, but she said that she would probably never be able to come back to Canada, for example, due to family money issues with her brother going through school, and her needing to work etc after graduation, so this was a very important trip out of the country for her. (She is studying English though, so I think there will at least eventually be some opportunity doors for her to work overseas, if she desires.)

She did feel aloof at first, but from about halfway through the Banff trip onwards, we started to really click together, and everything felt completely natural through the zoo and museum trip. So I chalked that initial bit up to nerves about meeting someone new, being self-conscious about her English, and being wary and full of trepidation about a long trip into the middle of nowhere with said new person. It got me thinking about how self-conscious I would be at first in Japan too, trying to get used to the language there. Especially since both their English skills were definitely leaps and bounds ahead of where my Japanese was and still is. In fact, they were pretty good at reading, decent at listening (but I needed to go slower sometimes), and where they seemed to truly need practice was speaking. I was also really glad of my Singapore experiences, because that gave me a topic that both Ran and Maki were interested in talking about as well, since it was another country in Asia that neither of them had been to.

Anyway this experience also really made me appreciate some of the trials and tribulations that an international student can go through, and hopefully I can apply some of that to myself when I go over to Japan. For example, I will definitely have to do a bunch of outreaching on my own if I hope to make any native Japanese friends while there, and I think it was absolutely the right call from Ran to try to reach out and do things with people outside her “familiarity group” in order to really immerse herself in the culture. I would definitely apply again if given the chance — in fact, I asked if there was going to be anything similar this year, but got back nothing but crickets from the department.

And finally, as a last point of order relating to the blog, I do have some brochures and such from Banff that I hope to scan and upload sometime. They won’t be part of this entry, they’re more like “artifacts” of my trip, but just like the receipts, I think they’re worth preserving for the future. This is especially true once I get around to blogging about, uploading pictures for, and scanning “artifacts” like these for my earlier trips to Korea and Portland as well. At that point, the things I scan might be the last surviving copies of whatever old brochures they are!

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