I was not a very good student in high school. When my teachers spoke, my eyes glazed over and my mind drifted to somewhere far more interesting. School, for the most part, was boring as hell, and I skipped a lot of classes. Except for two. History and art history.
I loved learning about the details of humanity, whether they be political, geographical, social, or artistic. I could sit at my desk, close my eyes, and imagine myself in long forgotten eras. And when I wasn’t in school learning about world history, or the fine details of art history, I was at home researching my family history and tracing my ancestors to the point where I was translating latin records. Humanity, in all its forms, is one of my quiet passions. And my fascination with humanity is one of the reasons why I travel.
Travel, for me, is more than seeing the popular attractions, staying with trendy or funky hotels/hostels, or experiencing the hottest restaurants. Travel is about discovering more about humanity. It’s about observing the way locals live and finding ways to interact with, and understand more about them, their life, culture, food, and traditions. I want to see what makes them tick. Why they do what they do.
Asia Became A Humanity Addiction
In 2008 Beijing, China was my first Asian destination. I was on a two week holiday, on a budget, and completely unaware of all things Chinese. At the time I was managing a grocery store with no assistant (he conveniently went on ‘sick leave’ a month after I was promoted over him and became manager), a misogynist boss, and stress levels so high that my doctor was threatening to hospitalize me in an effort to get me to take time for myself and sleep.
On the verge of a breakdown (both physically and mentally) I had booked a flight, and blindly booked a bed at a hostel online solely because it was a hostelling international hostel, and I figured I could trust it to be okay. I had no idea where the hostel was located, other than the fact that it was suppose to be a 15 minute walk from Tiananamen Square (which I had done a school report on after the student riots in the late 80’s) and it didn’t matter.
China was a what I like to call a shock-choice. I chose it because the flight was cheap, it was far away from work, and vastly different from the life I was currently living. So, off I went to China.
As I sat in a taxi I slowly watched the tall glass buildings of modern Beijing disappear as the driver turned into a hutong. Everything within the hutong was different. The houses were low and squished together. The streets were so narrow that it was almost impossible for two cars to fit side by side. Adults were riding bikes, and kids were playing in the dusty streets. We drove past small fruit and vegetable stands and tiny tea shops. It was a completely different world in there, the hutongs, and I quickly fell in love.
Within a day the hutongs of Beijing were my new ‘hood. I had no desire to see modern China. I wandered down random roads and alleys, watching locals, taking photos, buying tea, and eating inside tiny noodle shops. These hutongs held a hundred lessons on the state of humanity in Beijing, and I was completely enthralled, so much so that every time I return to Beijing I stay in a hostel or guesthouse in the same hutong. I have zero interest in the cosmopolitan side of Beijing.
This is where my addiction for Asia and my desire to travel and learn more about humanity began. Is was the birth of a different way of travelling and experiencing the world around me, and because of this one trip I have had profound travel experiences in Asia, Europe, Africa, and North America.
A Growing Obsession with Québec City
I don’t usually speak or write about my love for history or humanity when I travel. In many ways it’s a secret passion. A quiet undercurrent that drives me to choose destinations and experiences that are not always mainstream. I make choices based on curiosity and a desire to explore and discover. Sometimes those choices take place because I’ve read an article or book, and sometimes it’s because of a conversation I’ve had with a local.
I heard rumours about Québec City for years, a mixture of language based urban myths and the whisperings of historical forts and cobbled streets. It was all so juicy and intriguing, and when it came time to travel across Canada this summer a stop in Québec City was an absolute must.
At the time it was all about exploring one of Canada’s more historic cities, and my time in Québec City started with a four and a half hour tour (after I had just come off an overnight train with little to no sleep). I was tired and a hot mess, and normally my brain would have shut off within 30 minutes and I would have pretended to be interested in whatever my guide was saying, all while praying for it to be over so I could shower, put on fresh clothing, and possibly nap! But that is not what happened. My guide was interesting. Like really interesting.
I sat in the car during our crazy overview of Québec City completely taken in by the man sitting beside me. He wasn’t just smart and full of facts, he was passionate about what he was saying, and that hooked me. That dragged my sleep deprived consciousness away from my soft cozy mental bedroom and perked me up to the point where I was engaged, happy, and laughing. On that day I started to see Québec City with different eyes. It wasn’t a city where francophones hated anglophones- like so many people had told me in the past. It was a city overflowing with history, culture, and dare I say, sex appeal?
In those few hours an addiction formed, and when it came time for him to drop me off and say goodbye, I was sad. I seriously didn’t want the tour to end, I wanted to listen to him tell me stories, to get lost in the passion he has for the city, it’s history, and people.
I swear, it had nothing to do with the fact that men with dark eyes, long lashes, and accents are panty-melters!!
For me it was all about being drawn into the historical and sociological side of Québec City, by someone who wasn’t only knowledgeable, but passionate as well. It was about learning of the impact this one Canadian city has had in not just Canada, but in North America.
Early this week I was able to sit down with my guide from August and talk more about Québec City and why he loves to be a tour guide. The whole purpose of our conversation was so that I could interview him, but within a few minutes I started to forget the questions I had wanted to ask. I had slipped back into an exciting and mesmerizing state as I listened to him talk about Québec, sociology, and history. During that conversation I was like Rob Ford trying to score crack (too soon?). I honestly did not want our conversation to end. I wanted to keep talking about the history, psychology, and sociology of Québec. And I’m pretty sure that when I messaged him later to say just that, he probably thought I was a weird and possibly insane.
What he doesn’t know is this, our conversations about the history, psychology, and sociology of Québec have me looking at the city (and province) and a completely different light. Hell, I’ve even started downloading history and sociology books about the city in an effort to gain a better understanding of where I’ll be living for the next 7 months (and possibly more)!
As an anglophone moving to Québec City there will be challenges; language, social, psychological, physical. Québec may be a part of Canada, but in many ways a visit to Québec is like visiting a foreign country. While I don’t fully understand why that is, it’s something that I plan to learn about in more detail over the next few months.
It’s time for me to explore and discover the various aspects of humanity in Québec.