Item number 20 on my ‘Top 30 things to try before I’m 30’ list is to “Share one last weekend with the Canada girls in your twenties”, as submitted by all-time World Champion Roomie, Sarah.
It will surprise few to know that I met Sarah in… Canada! On a semester’s exchange to Carleton University in Ottawa. For those who are more familiar with the Great Southern Land of Australia than the Land of Maple Trees and Maple Syrup, Ottawa is the “Canberra” of the Northern Hemisphere. In other words, it is a desolate wasteland of political correctness, where the most exciting tourist attraction is Parliament Hill.
As they say, first impressions count, and my first impressions of Sarah had a lot to do with her bed.
You see, when I arrived, I arrived to an empty room in the condemned section of Ottawa’s ‘Travelodge’ (later to become known as the ‘Traveldodge‘ for reasons which will soon become apparent). The room consisted of 2 double beds, one shoved into a corner and one trapped in a Bermuda Triangle of pneumonia-inducing temperature shifts between the window and the radiator. There were a couple of chests of drawers and, alongside one wall, two desks. A Barbie Dreamhouse-sized bar fridge separated the beds, and behind a second door there was a bathroom that could only be described in real estate advertisements as a “renovator’s delight”. If I recall correctly, the bathroom bench top was adorned with a brilliant shade of ‘Sun Yellow’ laminate, and the bathroom sink would later play host to a multitude of tasks, from teeth brushing, to doing the dishes, dyeing hair and even washing undies! Sure it was disgusting, but our options were limited (and our care factor: zero).
Of the 60 exchange students housed in the hotel, 25% were Aussies. They say us Aussies are known for our drunken antics but it was, in fact, the Canadian students housed there the year before who’d ruined our chances of breathing a single breath of fresh air in the 5 months we lived there. It was because of these young “Froshmen” leaping from balcony to balcony like Spiderman on a bender that forced the hotel to “condemn” the balconies. By “condemn” I mean “claim to condemn when in actuality all they wanted to do was lock us inside so we couldn’t leap from balcony to balcony like deranged chimpanzees” (something that hadn’t even crossed our minds at that point and was unlikely to happen in the dead of the -20 degree temperatures that were coming our way). If it hadn’t been for our borderline delinquent English neighbour, James, who deftly picked the lock of his balcony door, we would have been breathing the same stale air all 5 months long. There was not a single kitchen between us and the nearest laundromat was an excruciating suitcase-drag away literally through the snow and ice (although I don’t expect my future grandchildren to buy that story, it’s true). We made do with a bagel toaster and kettle and eventually, after enough complaining, the uni supplied us with a second-hand microwave that even on arrival was too disgusting for words (and that’s before the 60 exchange students got their hands on it!) We were the hotel’s “dirty little secret”, forced to enter and exit through the side door and never permitted to use the hotel’s pool (which I’m told involved water slides and other exciting features). It was indeed the dodgiest of Traveldodges. But it was our home.
On arrival at around dinner time I was distraught to learn that bed linen would not be supplied. I managed to “borrow” a pillow and single torn sheet from the hotel’s linen supply and that, along with a thin polyester quilt I bought soon after, were to be my only protection from the whims of my little “Bermuda Triangle” for the ensuing 5 months. Fortunately, I arrived when temperatures were still in their 30s, so it was bearable for the first night at least.
On Sarah’s bed (a girl I was to spend the next 5 months with but was yet to meet) there was a beautiful fluffy array of linen purchased from a local bedding store. It was a lovely, homely cornflower blue and white, and it was puffed up with a warm cocoon of cotton down. Somehow, it seemed, Sarah already had “connections” in the local area, and boy were they coming up with the goods! As jealous as I was at this simple luxury, when I finally met the girl I could not hold a grudge. As I soon found out, I’d lucked out with an excitable, thoughtful, hilarious, boy-crazy, drama-loving, law student. In other words, I was rooming with myself. (Well, myself had I not been hit with the “complete dag” stick in the fashion department).
Sarah and her antics blessed me with the 5 of the best months of my life. When you’re young, everything is intense, so I think we managed to cram a lifetime’s worth of experiences into those brief moments: success, failure, love, loss, delirious highs and still-in-bed-at-4pm-watching-Aladdin-and-crying-over-an-empty-peanut-butter-jar lows. Sarah loaned me clothes, gave me fashion advice, boy advice, and life advice. I gave Sarah drama-eliminating advice (“I dunno, just get over it?”), security from her peanut butter addiction and, more often than not, the location of her keys. In the end we gave up on keys altogether and just left our room permanently unlocked and remained blissfully unaware of any desire to snoop in our absence until I noticed a piece of my koala notepaper on my French neighbour’s desk (while I was snooping in his absence). The nerve!
If finding a lifelong friend in Sarah wasn’t lucky enough, we also chanced upon two young science students, Jo and India, who were sharing a room down the hall. Unlike Sarah and I and our many similarities, Jo and India were polar opposites. All four of us became friends instantly, and happily remain so until this day. India, who lives in Cairns, was the first friend I told that I was engaged, and despite our distance (with Sarah in Melbourne and Jo and I in Sydney) we still manage the occasional visit and birthday party appearance.
The four of us were practically inseparable and certainly certifiable. Together we developed an obsession with the local dive, Minglewoods – a three-story All-Canadian bar complete with moose head logo that we practically ran (or thought we did) every Tuesday night. Long-time friends and family members may remember that this is where I developed my love of polluting their inboxes with my inane babblings. Every now and then I still troll through my old emails for a reminder of those hilarious good old days and the various unimportant things to which I attached “life-or-death-scenario” status at the time.
Sarah, Me, India and Jo taking over DJ Mike’s DJ booth as per usual!
The four of us were tight to the point of being somewhat exclusive, so it is by some small miracle that we managed to make a number of other friends during our time in Canada, some of whom I’ve been lucky enough to visit in their home countries. Our Scottish friend, Ross, was one of the first few people I met. I distinctly remember him knocking on my door and cheerfully inviting me up the road to ‘Monkey Joes’ with the other newcomers. Just last year, Andy and I caught up with Ross in London and I’m happy to report that he’s continued his love of Canada by very recently marrying a Canadian!
I’m looking forward to more of our international friends making the long, torturous trip out to Australia so I can show them my own hometown. Reunion in Sydney 2013 anyone?
Speaking of which, and just to frighten my Canada friends, next year will be the TEN YEAR ANNIVERSARY of this notable time in our lives. If that doesn’t make you feel old enough, then how about the fact that our time in Canada PRE-DATED FACEBOOK?
Apart from my decision to marry the love of my life, there are few other decisions like the decision to spend a semester in Canada that have brought me so much joy, excitement and happy and ridiculous memories. I’m, a huge proponent of student exchange these days and try to brainwash as many students as possible to throw themselves into similar experiences. Another dear friend from Canada (or should I say, from the Netherlands), Peter, gave me the extremely challenging list item number 18 “Live and work abroad”, so perhaps, given some small miracle, I can relive it myself before turning into a pumpkin at age 30?
At the very least, I am excited by the prospect of reuniting with all 3 of my beautiful Canada Girls. Since I’ll have far more important things to do on Canada Day in 2013 (it will be my 30th birthday after all!) we thought what better time to celebrate our Canadian reunion than… Australia Day! Girls, I hope you are keeping your eyes peeled for cheap flight deals. To all our other Canada friends – won’t you join us? I’ll bring the Grey Goose!
The year 2013 marks the 10 year anniversary of the year 2003. What were you doing in 2003?