Friday, October 30, 2009

(2004) A whirlwind week

October 2004

Dear Aunt Agatha,

Have we really only been here in Canada less than a week? So much has happened, and time is playing tricks on the mind, not counting slowly adjusting to the eight hour difference from the UK.

Even with the luggage mountain we'd brought with us, we had lots of shopping to do. A computer, cell phones, toys for the kids, clothes, car seats, school supplies, all the things we'd need for the cats, oh ... and groceries.

There were other things to do too. After a first day of strenuous shopping, I had to head back over to Vancouver to collect our cats. It was good to see all five of them none the worse for their week of confinement and travel. Good job there's no quarantine requirement coming from the UK to Canada.

After all that - and less than four days in the country - we were ready for a break. We took in some of the touristy and child-friendly attractions of downtown Victoria - The Undersea Gardens, Miniature World, and the amazing Bug Zoo. And, as it was nearly Halloween, we took a night-time stroll around the spectacular carved pumpkin display at Government House.

Once the shock of travel and the immigration process wore off, we started hitting some of the cultural and technological differences in this new world we've become part of.

Having safely arrived we wanted to phone our families. Naturally. And our temporary apartment has a phone. Nil problemo amigo. Except that the phone is restricted to local calls only.

Hmm. We asked around and found out about phone cards, which give you a local number and a prepaid amount to spend on phone calls. Sounds simple, but even here there were unexplained pitfalls. The first card I picked up was one from Telus, which I tried but couldn't make any sense of the instructions. So I called their support line, and ended up going round in circles in their infuriating automated voice-recognition "help" system. I guess it couldn't cope with the English accent. It seemed to recognise my Angry accent though, and eventually condescended to hand me over to a human being. Turned out that this kind of card was intended to give Telus customers access to an account with them. No use to us. Luckily the friendly lady at the grocery store where I'd bought the card took pity and gave me a Nuvo card instead. $20, and a rate of about 2 cents a minute for an international call. Sorted.

Learning point: When starting out in a new country, be careful to explain what you are trying to achieve before buying something. And don't be afraid to plead ignorance - the locals are friendly and very understanding.

Note: The phone card idea is common in the UK now, but was new to us five years ago. And it is still something we use for anything but local calls. We have found the rate to be better than the plans offered by any of the major telecoms providers.

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