Friday, August 29, 2014

The only Koreans in Eastern Quebec

Tales from my family's cross-country road trip


"People live here?" my mother said in shock. "In the middle of the mountains?"

And that was all we had to say.


As one of the larger cities in Quebec, Rimouski has dozens of restaurants, but we still managed to end up stopping at a Korean restaurant for lunch.

It seemed like a surprising anomaly to find this little Korean spot in the sea of French Canada where it's rarer to see even people of colour, let alone Koreans.

The interior is authentic looking enough, and the menu offers the kind of dishes that Koreans would want to eat, not just what Koreans would expect Canadians to try.  And although the food is served by French Canadian waitresses, eventually the owner introduces herself, a Korean woman who moved here twelve years ago.   She was shocked and delighted to see actual Koreans in her restaurant - she admitted that at first she thought we were Chinese - and she wanted to know all about us.

According to the owner, her family is the only Korean family in the Gaspesie peninsula; it's hard for Koreans to go eat of Quebec City because of the French. A lot of Koreans struggle just to learn English, let alone French. But the owner here lived in France with her husband while he did his PhD there, and now he teaches engineering at the local university. She herself speaks three languages and translates for anglophone customers when her francophone waitresses need help.

She compliments my Korean and is surprised to hear that I am married. "I thought you were in high school," she tells me. "I was going to give you a cookie."

Well, I am nearing thirty but I'm always up for a cookie.

BONUS: From my travel diary, "French words I have learned"

Thursday, August 28, 2014

at the world's end in Gaspé

Tales from my family's cross-country road trip

a Supermoon over Gaspé

Our hotel

We arrived in Gaspé in time for the Festival Musique du bout du monde - the music festival at the end of the world. Gaspeg in Micmac means the land's end, or the end of the world, probably because it's at the end of the Gaspesie peninsula, and there is absolutely nothing beyond that point (except Newfoundland, but who cares).  The festival streets were decorated with al these pretty fish, which I called "fin" du monde fishies...Get it? Fin? Fish? End of the world?

For a town of some 15,000, Gaspé had come alive, and the main street was closed off, filled with crowds enjoying the live music, the delicious Quebec beer, the artisan vendors...

washboard man! talk about washboard abs!

We took in the sights, scarfing down chili nachos garnished with cilantros and hot dogs, which thankfully they advertised as "hot dogs" and not "chien chaud" like they do in Gatineau.

I enjoyed the evening excitement, drinking a Quebec microbrewery beer at the bistro bar Brise-Bise, and then headed to bed...

And tried to sleep.  The festival featured a "party de famille" which I had mistakenly translated as a party for the family but it turned out to clearly not be a family event, as it went on well past midnight. But what really kept us up was what sounded like the world' largest djembe jam session outside my hotel window. You know, what irritated me the most about the 3AM drum jam was that it was hippies keeping me awake. HIPPIES.

Gaspé surprsied me with its night life.

Djembe drum jam. HIPPIES.


In the morning, we visited Forillon National Park, and climbed up Mont St. Albans to its summit, with its magnificant view, where I remembered I was afraid of heights.

the beach at the start of the trail...maybe I should have stayed there?

Hiking up

And up....

view of the ocean between the trees

picnic break, eating sandwiches and vegetables from Mom's garden

gorgeous view from the mountain

View from the summit. Uncomfortably high.

After our long hike, we cooled off at Haldimand beach, where I swam in the Atlantic Ocean. I was slightly warmer than the Arctic ocean.

Mom and Dad

In the late afternoon, I went for a run through the town. I discovered the waterfront boardwalk, which was almost hidden from the road, tucked below the cliffs. I saw a young man perche don a cliff, writing poetry in his notebook. Some girls giggled while they waded into the water in their underwear. It was such a peaceful place.

We ate dinner at the whimsical Cafe des Artistes, decorated with a lot of topless mermaids. I ordered a croque monsieur, because you know, French food, followed by an espresso served with vanilla ice cream, which I find to be the perfect representation of a person pretending to be a grown up, but not really.

The djembe drum circle continued for the second night.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Rocher Percé, the Pierced Rock

Tales from my family's cross-country road trip

On the road, my dad kept going on about how we had to see this pierced rock.  I hadn't heard of the Rocher Percé, which indicates that I clearly do not have enough French Canadian friends, so I was wondering what my dad was talking about and why everyone was so excited about a rock.

It actually turned out to be a pretty big rock.

We pulled into the little town of Percé to see this famous pierced rock, a giant rock formation that rises out of the sea as though the sea gods wanted to mess with sailors and freak them out with a giant rock that looks like a sailing ship.

Although the whole village has developed a tourist industry around this rock - with a tourist wharf, dozens of restaurants, auberges and camping spots, and really, one of the loveliest towns we've visited - but the area around the legendary pierced rock itself seemed somewhat unprepared for tourists.  A flight of stairs leads you down the cliff towards the beach but stops abruptly, leaving you to scramble down the rest of the cliff's boulders on your own.

Then you make your way across the rocky beach, careful not to sprain an ankle on the rocks (with your flip flops, if you are me), because God knows they won't be able to carry a stretcher up those stairs. 

I mean, I assume these stairs went somewhere at some point, right?

these stairs: out of order. Please take the elevator instead. 

It's actually a fun adventure, but the seaweed and the dead crabs on the floor remind you that the tide is out, and will come back in and pin you up against the bluffs. Sometimes people don't realize that and walk across the sand bars at low tide to walk right up to the Rock...only to be stranded when the tide comes back in. If I lived in the village, I would start up a water taxi business, ferrying back tourists too stupid to read the tides. Or I'd build a boardwalk and charge a toll.

Obligatory pierced rock selfie

We had a lovely sandwich picnic on the other side of the cliffs overlooking the rocks, and then continued driving along the coat past many beaches and other picturesque towns. I love Quebec.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Quebec, la belle provence and the city

Tales from my family's cross-country road trip

The night before my family was supposed to leave on our epic road trip, I had food poisoning.

It was already bad enough that I was dealing with the unholy trifecta of allergies, asthma, and a cold (possibly pneumonia), but now I was spending the night in the bathroom in the throes of an upset stomach, miserably trying to decide whether I wanted to wake up my mother or my husband. The truth is, nobody wants to be alone while they were sick, but deep down you know, as an adult, there isn’t really much that can be accomplished by complaining to your husband or your mother. Still, I irrationally wanted someone to be miserable with me.  I figured it should be my husband – I suppose that’s what the whole wedding ceremony is about, my parents handing me over to my husband and warning him, “She’s your problem now," – but even when you approach the age of thirty, you never really lose the urge to whine to your mother when you were sick.  But I suppressed that urge. So I spent night alone, unhappy, and altogether way too awake.

By morning I was cranky and still little nauseous, but my whole family piled into the car anyway and hit the road.

We soon arrived in Quebec, where despite all the vast empty spaces the cars still cut us off closely in the most casual way, where the store clerks patiently wait for us to awkwardly mangle their beautiful language while they take pity and respond in English.

My parents, who had never been east of Quebec City in their entire lives, soon discovered that they loved the Quebec countryside.

Quebec City:

My dad has a knack for finding the most random spots in the middle of nowhere. I don’t know what method he uses to find the motels and restaurants we end up at. Despite these out-of-the-way locations, the quality tends to be pretty good.

We checked into a Comfort Inn at Ste-Foie, a place I only know the significance of through the Jean Leloup song:

pour un fille d’Ottawa, grandit a Ste-Foie
avec un pere militair
et un belle-fille que fut sa mere.”

For dinner, my dad found a little restaurant called La Cuisine du Marche in a converted house next to a plaza with a law office in a strip mall across the street. Sometimes these little unremarkable places surprise you. This place's menu offered wagyu beef cheeks, beef tartare, and a pleasant selection of Quebec microbrewery beers. I ordered a duck confit and foie gras poutine – the ultimate Quebec themed meal. I was pleasantly surprised by my dinner, which we ate at 5:30PM, which is what happens sometimes when you travel with your parents.


    After dinner, we wandered into Quebec City proper, wandering around the Plains of Abraham and the Citadel to try to find a bathroom.

The Citadel

the Plains of Abraham

            We walked around the cobblestone lanes and the little shops – the Quebecois think nothing of placing a kids’ toy shop next to an adult sex shop – aware that it’s all so touristy around these parts but it’s still all so lovely.


   I’ve been to Quebec City a couple of times before and each time, I am reminded of the previous visits’ pleasant memories. This time, I was struck by the way the moonlight sparkled in the water of the Saint Lawrence at night. We rarely see it in the Arctic. The sun is always up or the ocean is always frozen.

We ended the evening with some beer from the gas station, one of my favourite things about Quebec, good old gas beer.

 Quebec City's breathtaking evening skyline