Archive | Living in Canada

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BIXI Toronto: My Experience & Review

Posted on 24 June 2011 by Sammy

BIXI Toronto

I had been waiting for it for a long time: bike sharing in Toronto. Bixi was originally launched in Montreal in the May of 2009, and has been a huge success. Since then, bike sharing has become the trend around the world with other programs in Ottawa, London, Melbourne, Washington, Minneapolis and Washington. Now, that’s really huge!

Toronto’s bike sharing program was launched in May 2011 and currently has 1,000 bikes and 80 stations (according to information from their telephone answering service). In other words, it is not nearly as large as Montreal’s with 5,050 bikes and 405 stations. Nevertheless, the demand for bike sharing in Toronto has been strong and I hope to see Bixi expand their network by adding more bikes and more importantly, more stations.

At this stage, Toronto’s stations are based around the Downtown core with stations as far south as the waterfront on Queens Quay, as west as Spadina, as north as Bloor and as east as Jarvis. For me, the concentration of stations around the downtown core is not an issue for me as I never have a need to go outside this square, however the lack of empty docks at each station around the Financial District has been a daily frustration of mine.

Each morning, I need to bike to the Yonge/King area and luckily enough there is a station at Yonge/Melinda (one street south of King), but I can never dock here. So then I bike to Yonge/Temperance, which is full. Then I bike to Bay/King, full as well! Then I end up having to bike all the way to King/University to which always happens to be my saviour but is still a 10 minute walk from my intended docking location. Let’s not forget the time it has taken me to bike to all the other stations. This is not at all convenient. For a daily commute of about a 25 minute walk, has now become a 30 minute bike ride + 10 minute walk. Does this make sense? Not at all.

Not only that, my key no longer works at my preferred pick up station (Queens Quay and Spadina) to which I have tried three separate mornings to pick up a Bixi bike. Because of the waste in time and the fear of being late to work once again, I end up having to take the TTC which leaves me more annoyed.

Other Bixi cons is that the stations aren’t in the most convenient locations, are sometimes hard to find, sometimes don’t work (the dock or the machine is broken), the bell doesn’t work half the time nor is very loud, it is limited to just 3 speeds, and I have to change my seat height each and everytime I want to pick up a new bike. The front rack also isn’t the greatest as you can’t fit a lot of things there not due to it’s size, but due to the way it is designed. I can pretty much just fit my handbag but if I ever want to pick up groceries from the market – I can forget it. One time, I was biking along Queen West – my handbag actually slipped off the bike and onto the road at which point I screamed because I thought I would lose all my things! It was scary!

Other than the above, the Bixi bike is quite a decent bike. It’s a heavy one, but very comfortable. The height of the seat it a tad too high for me, so this is the only uncomfortable thing – which I suppose is probably the most important. It doesn’t feel safe for me not to be able to reach the ground.

But even though it only has 3 speeds – it probably is all you need for a downtown bike. But if you were ever find yourself going south (past King) there is enough incline for the bike to go at a speed where the speeds aren’t fast enough for the chain and there is no control in the peddles. This makes me feel uncomfortable because the speed isn’t that fast, and it’s silly to break the whole way down just so I can have control in the peddles. It’s just a very strange feeling for not even going that fast.

But nevertheless – Bixi has been fun. The ride home is lovely and I like that I can pick up a bike anywhere, anytime I want to. I can walk to work and then bike home. Or I can bike to work and then go out for drinks and not have to worry about leaving my bike parked at work. Also, I can bike to work work or at Chinatown and not have to worry about it getting stolen! This is probably the best benefit!

One of the biggest cons is that the price you pay ($5 for 24 hours, $12 for 27 hours, $40 for 30 days and $95 for one year) only includes 30 minutes a trip. That means if you wish to bike for one hour, you will have to pay extra. I once went for 90 minutes and I had to pay an extra $6.22 for the extra 60 minutes. Do this often enough, and it can turn into a pricy ride! What a rip!

Overall, there are a lot of downsides to the Bixi bike. But there are sure a lot of upsides. If you’re on the fence about it – for $5 it’s worth the try. I have the $95/year subscription and so far my experience has been half good and half bad – but for the benefit of the environment, it is definitely a whole better value if you keep that in mind.

BIXI Toronto

Sammy at Queen W (Toronto, Canada)

Sammy at Queen W (Toronto, Canada)

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Moving to Canada

Posted on 28 December 2010 by Sammy

I get a lot of questions via Vogue Forums, Formspring, this blog, Twitter and email about my experience in moving to Canada. I know you all have a lot of questions and I would like to help you all because I really had an awesome experience in moving here. I would recommend it to everybody!

I’m going to try to address the common questions you have here. Please post in the comments any questions you have and I will have you a reply to the best of my ability! :)

What visa do you have when you moved to Canada and was it easy to obtain?
I obtained a Working Holiday Permit (WHP) from the Government of Canada at this website: http://www.whpcanada.org.au/ and filled out the application online. It didn’t take me long to get (approx 2 weeks!) after I submitted my application. It was quite the breeze :)

The WHP is really good as it is a 2 year open work permit which allows you to work anywhere except for in the Health industry and in Child Care and you don’t need to have a job before you are eligible. As long as you’re Australian with a valid passport (that expires more than 3 years away), no criminal record, $5,000 in your bank, and are aged between 18-30 years old.

As long as you are under 30 and still meet the previous mention requirements, you can continue to re-apply. I moved to Canada in February 2009, so my work permit is about to expire shortly. I just re-applied for my visa and got it very quickly. I just need to exit and re-enter the country for my new work permit to take effect.

How did you go about getting a job in Toronto?
Before you start applying for jobs, first and foremost you need to get a SIN card. SIN stands for Social Insurance Number and it is a bit like your TFN (Tax File Number) in Australia. Basically you have to provide this to your employer or any financial insitutions such as your bank when you sign up. It also counts as piece of Canadian identity so make sure you keep it safe! Getting a SIN card is as easy as walking into any Service Canada with your passport and approved work permit. I didn’t go to a very busy office, so it didn’t have to wait long nor did it take long at all. They will provide you with a temporary number and send you the official card in the mail in a few weeks.

Once I had that all sorted, I applied online at various websites until I was able to find a good recruiter that would really help me. Some good websites are Career Builder (http://www.careerbuilder.ca/), Monster (http://www.monster.ca/) and Workopolis (http://www.workopolis.com/). I also applied direct to companies online but I found networking was the key. So if you have any contacts, make the most of them!

I came here in the midst of the Financial Crisis, so it was difficult! The economy is a lot better than it was, but be mindful that it has not fully recovered. Please make sure you allow yourself enough time to find work and don’t let it get to you. There are still a lot of people without work and many will tell you that it will be difficult to get a job without “Canadian” experience or a credit history. They may also tell you that you won’t be able to find full-time permanent work if you’re only on a temporary work permit, but I managed to find something and so I hope you will too!

Is it easy to get Permanent Residency?
I’m not sure about this one because I don’t have it yet. From what I hear is that as long as you have worked for 2 years, as an Australian you will have enough points to qualify for PR status. I had a look at the requirements and it was enough to make my head spin so I didn’t look much further. I heard from a friend who is Japanese, it took her over a year to get after she applied and all the paperwork was so much of a hassle she hired a lawyer to file all her paperwork. I have a feeling it wouldn’t be that difficult as an Australian but then I cannot say for sure! I’m sorry!

For additional information, please go to Citizenship and Immigration Canada website.

How did you find a place to live? Where do you recommend?
Without a Canadian credit history, it was difficult to secure a lease agreement. I initially found a short term place via Craigslist. It was sure risky but I discussed with the landlord over several months to ensure they were legit. It was just a small basement apartment located in North York which is a nice safe area and very close to TTC (Toronto Transit Commission – the Toronto subway, streetcar and bus system). I was lucky enough to go on a month-to-month basis and so I could leave at any time.

It is important to secure some sort of credit card and bank account when you first arrive. HSBC made this process easy for new immigrants as they have a “New to Canada” program that you can set up with just your passport and some ID as many other Canadian banks will not accept your Australian ID. Also make sure you have a good Australian credit history. While most landlords or apartment rentals wouldn’t accept this in lieu of a Canadian history) but if you have a decent job I think you can sway them to accept this. I had a very good Australian credit history and a good job (permanent, full-time, with good future prospects) and found a more permanent place to live once I had a job. You can get a free copy of your Australian credit history at D&B. I also got my employer to write a reference and you also need two other personal Canadian references. Because I kept a good rapport with my old landlord, they provided a good reference and then I had two other friends who were my references. This really helps.

You can continue to search for a place on Craigslist but I also use MLS to find a condo downtown at Harbourfront. I love this area because it’s full of young professionals and I always feel safe. That’s the main thing. Also even though it’s close to the city, it’s residential and quiet enough. It reminds me of a much more planned out and developed Docklands in Melbourne. There is a festival every weekend at Harboufront Centre in the summer. An average 1 bedroom goes for $1,350-$1,650 a month depending on the size of the unit, location and the building facilities. An average 2 bedroom goes for about $1,850-$2,250. I love that I can walk to the lake and watch the boats or go ice skating, King West (for eating, drinking and late night dancing), Queen West (for shopping), Chinatown, Financial District, Eaton Centre, Rogers Centre (where the Blue Jays play baseball and the Toronto Bills play football), the ACC (Air Canada Centre, where the Toronto Maple Leafs play), Haha! Even the Toronto City Centre Airport is about a 15 minute walk.

Do you need a car in Toronto?
When you live downtown, you hardly need a car. In fact, having a car is super pricey in Toronto because parking is so damn expensive! There’s no such thing as in Melbourne where after 7pm is free and parking on the street is not recommend.. unless you want to risk yourself getting a ticket (which is highly likely that you will get one). To have a parking spot in a condo downtown costs about $130-150 in rent per month in addition to your rent. Streetcars are pretty good for getting around and cabs can be found pretty quickly if you’re in need.

There are certain times where I feel it would be easier if I had a car, such as when I want to go visit Ikea all the way in the ‘burbs! Or if I wanna go visit Niagara Falls or something.. It sure would make me go and explore more. Haha. But having said that, my condo is pretty good because we have Zipcar in my underground parking lot. Rent it online and off you go! Really easy. :)

If you decide to live in the suburbs, I found that there was much more of a need for a car which is why I wanted to move downtown.

How is the cost of living in Toronto compared to Melbourne?
I find that it is pretty comparable. Where Toronto is more expensive (food, transit, taxes, etc) it makes up in shopping (clothes, electronics, etc). I think rent is pretty comparable, but to buy a condo in the city of Toronto is cheaper than buying one in the city of Melbourne. What really aggravates me is that Canada likes to charge for everything. I just learnt the other day that I have to pay $20 to transfer money from my account to another person’s account whereas in Australia it’s free.

While that might seem like a small things, there are things like this ALL THE TIME. Such as for a cell phone – in Australia you pay a monthly fee and you’re allowed a certain amount of call credit. Services are usually all included except if you want data. In Canada, you pay a monthly fee, then you pay plus taxes, plus some government charge, plus a charge for voice mail, caller ID, etc and if people call/text you – you have to pay for that too. Then if you want data you have to sign up for a 3 year contract, and if you cancel your plan before the end of contract – not only do you have to pay for a cancellation fee on your voice plan but on your data plan too! Double the cancellation costs – that’s absolutely ridiculous.

The other day I bought a TV, and in addition to the 13% HST (Harmonized Sales Tax), they wacked on an “Environmental Fee” of $29.95. I bought some speakers to go with it and the Environmental Fee was $9.95. Also when you go to the restaurant, get a massage, get your haircut, etc – you have to pay a 15% tip in addition to the 13% tax. That comes to an additional 28% on top of the price you initially saw. So take your $20 dinner comes to approx $30 and take your haircut of $50 comes to $65. This little additions add up and frustrate me over time!

Are you eligible for the free Public Healthcare in Canada?
I moved to Toronto, Ontario so I can only speak for the way it works in Ontario. There was a new law passed in April 2009, whereby foreign work permit holders can be eligible for OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan).

OHIP is a bit like Medicare in Australia and your card should be carried with you at all times. To be eligible, your work permit needs to be valid for at least 6 months and allows you to work in Canada. You need to a formal agreement to work full-time with an employer situated in Ontario for longer than 6 consecutive months. The last thing to be eligible is that your primary place of residence needs to be in Ontario.

I went to a Service Ontario OHIP office along with my passport, work permit, SIN card, a letter from my employer stating their name, my employment status (full-time, longer than 6 months), employer address in Ontario and my address in Ontario. Then I also had to provide them with a secondary proof that I live in Ontario, and this I provided my credit card bill. They then snapped a photo of me and sent me my official card in the mail.

Although, you may think you can use this photo ID in Canada – you actually can’t. A healthcare card is not a proper form of identification in Canada and people who are not healthcare workers are not allowed to ask for this nor can they accept it as a form of ID. So don’t think you can put away your passport and show your healthcare card at the club when you want to enter. They won’t allow it! I still use my Australian Drivers Licence and sometimes when they won’t accept that.. I still need my passport. Bah! Passports DO NOT fit in pretty clutches! Haha.

Sounds annoying, hey? Well, it was but well worth it because it provides you with free healthcare, which I can imagine to be quite costly without!. I got sick pretty often in Canada because I wasn’t used to the drastic change in weather so it made seeing a doctor painless. I mean how is anyone supposed to get used to -15C and windchill that brings it down to -25C?

For more details of what OHIP covers, please see the OHIP Health Services.

Please post below in the comments to have your questions about moving to Canada answered.

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Toronto Concord Cityplace

Posted on 19 August 2010 by Sammy

Toronto Concord Cityplace

This is where I live.

Isn’t it pretty?

I took this photo one late summer night while walking back home from the Toronto City Centre Airport as I returned from my trip in Montreal.

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Howyagoin?

Posted on 15 April 2010 by Sammy

Canadians sometimes have trouble understanding us Australians, even though we both speak English.

Me (in an Aussie accent): Howyagoin’?
Canadian: Sorry?
Me (trying to speak louder & clearer): Howyagoin’?
Canadian: How’s IT going????
Me: Uhh, yeah.
Canadian: Good!!!!!!

It reminds me of this YouTube video I found awhile ago, which shows the staff of a restaurant say the typical Aussie greeting. Pretty funny. Makes me realise how nasal we sound.

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2009: A Year in Review

Posted on 23 January 2010 by Sammy

  1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year?
    I moved to Canada. It was scary, exciting and a extremely different lifestyle that I needed to get accustomed to quickly.

  2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened?
    Trying to find a job in Canada! A lot of recruiters kept telling me that it would be difficult to find a job as I had no Canadian experience or Canadian credit history. It really dampened my spirits for a long time but I was able to find a job in the end!

  3. What was an unexpected joy this past year?
    Haha isn’t “unexpected joy” usually in reference to a baby??? That is NOT GOING TO HAPPEN IN LIKE A BILLION YEARS. Anyway, I suppose it was when I was able to find a job in Canada.

  4. What was an unexpected obstacle?
    I’m not really sure? I knew establishing a new life in Canada would be hard (finding a job, finding a place to live, finding new friends, familiarising myself with the city).

  5. Pick three words to describe 2009.
    Different, cold, exciting.

  6. Pick a theme song that describes 2009.
    Not sure about a particular song.. But for sure the Ministry of Sound Annual 2009 CD1!

  7. What were the best books you read this year?
    RED DRESS WALKING – This book really made me think about the way relationships work. They definitely take two people, and miscommunication is so easy to let it get in the way of things.

    Marley & Me – such a cute book!

    The Pact is another book that stood out for me but I didn’t quite like the ending but I liked the issues that the author raised.

  8. With whom were your most valuable relationships?
    My SGI family who really helped me in Toronto. My bf and his family for being there for me and also being my other family.

  9. In what way did you grow emotionally?
    I have definitely matured a lot since I’ve left Australia and am now living on my own. I believe I am more independent and appreciative of what I already had. I grew to appreciate my parents, that money doesn’t come by so easily, and is very easy to spend. I finally realised how hard it must’ve been for my parents to move from Malaysia to Australia to start a brand new life. I also learned to be more considerate of others going through the same hardships. So many people had lost their jobs in the financial crisis and trying to live life without an income is extremely difficult.

  10. In what way did you grow in your relationships with others?
    Having matured a lot, I learned to be a better daughter, sister, girlfriend, friend to everybody, while realising I still have a long way to go. I am appreciative of everybody’s support for me. It has helped me so much to grow as a person and I am who I am because of all the people around me.

  11. What was the most enjoyable area of managing your home?
    Getting new furniture for my own bedroom was fun! I was Ikea shopping a lot.. Hahahaa.. But the kitchen too! I never knew how to cook before I moved to Canada so I am proud that I can now live quite comfortably with feeding myself. The first time I cooked for myself literally was in the first week I was alone in Canada… Thank you to my mummy for all her tips over Skype. Haha!

  12. What was your most challenging area of home management?
    I am a spoilt child because my mother had always cleaned up after us at home. Moving away meant I had to do everything myself. So going from cleaning NOTHING to cleaning EVERYTHING was huge for me but it’s definitely becoming a good habit of mine. While I’m incredibly lazy, I don’t like to be dirty, cleaning hasn’t been too hard….. Except for getting myself to clean the toilet…. So gross!!! Everytime I think it’s time to clean it I definitely ponder whether I want to hire someone to do it for me. Hahahaha. So bad!

  13. What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year?
    Annoying people! For sure! People who only think of themselves. I’ve tried my best to not let them get to me. But they’re the biggest waste of my energy! I have a tendency to get easily frustrated with them. Haha.. Must change!

    I also realised how much time cooking takes! OMG! Sometimes I come home and I just want to eat RIGHT AWAY. I now know that that can’t happen. Hahaha… I also realised how much effort cleaning takes! OMG! Hahaha…. All my time just passes so quickly. Oh dear.

  14. What was the best way you used your time this past year?
    I’ve caught up on a lot of tv shows! While you might think that’s a waste of time, I’ve been watching 30 Rock which makes me happy because it’s so hilarious and shows like FNL teach me a lot about people. So I don’t think they’re a waste of time at all! Haha!

    I also got to do a lot of reading. Books are fantastic.

  15. Create a phrase or statement that describes 2009 for you.
    How about I pick two quotes that meant a lot to me for 2009? I’m not really creative enough to create a statement myself! Haha.

    “Everything depends on what is in our hearts. If we decide to ourselves that something is impossible, then, consistent with our minds in thinking so, even something that is possible for us will become impossible. On the other hand, if we have the confidence that we can definitely do something, then we are already one step closer to achieving it in reality.” – Daisaku Ikeda

    “The place where you are now is vital. Never avoid what you must face. Challenge your circumstances and steadily persevere. The path toward victory opens from where you stand.” – Daisaku Ikeda

    I read theses quotes a lot whenever I felt defeated. I visited http://www.ikedaquotes.org/ a lot for his wisdom which provided me a lot of inspiration and hope. In turn that motivated me to live my life to the fullest. Thank you so much to SGI. <3

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A Rainy Summer in TDot

Posted on 26 July 2009 by Sammy

For all my friends back at home in Melbourne who are complaining about the winter, I want to show you that you are not alone. It’s supposedly summer here in Toronto, but it’s been raining like this a lot for the past few weeks. It’s horrible and extremely depressing, to the least.

This video was taken from my bedroom window at my new condo at the Harbourfront. Can you see how I get a great view of the CN tower, but it’s hidden by all the clouds? Everytime it rains, the CN Tower disappears into the clouds!

The view is great at night, when the sky is clear and I can see the pretty lights. :)

Down below, you’ll see my condo courtyard. It’s lovely when it’s a nice day!

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Oh Ikea, how I love thee

Posted on 08 April 2009 by Sammy

Ikea

Where I’m living in Toronto, I’m about a ten minute walk to Ikea. Back in Melbourne, Ikea was in Richmond so approximately an hour away by car. So Ikea being a ten minute walk away, is huge!

In the 6 weeks I’ve been here – I’ve been there about 5 times. Haha! Nearly everything I’ve own (household/kitchen-wise) is Ikea. Oh I love Ikea. So cheap and practical. 

Shirley’s husband, Ed, recommended me these plates which were 75 cent each! Haha! 

I’m really glad Ikea is so cheap and closeby. It’s the little things you need which you don’t really account for in your budget when you’re living on your own, especially cooking stuff (measuring cups, colander, grater, etc). Soon I’ll have everything of Ikea. Ha ha ha. 

Also, the restaurant at Ikea is awesome! $1 breakfast! $2 pasta! 50 cent hotdogs! 

Love it.

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