Friday, October 24, 2014

UAE




Had no idea how many varieties of dates there were.
Am personally not a fan (reminds me too much of giant Brazilian cockroaches).


First of many construction sites.


Couldn't keep my eyes off those workers.  The sun was searing.
Thought I'd be prepared with all the hot weather travel I've done this year,
but was burnt in the first hour.  Could not walk even a hour outside.  Had to take metro.
Contrast that with Bangkok where we walked for hours in temperatures that 
were in the high 40s C.  When here, temps were in the high 30s.

Burj Khalifa
Tallest building in the world.

Neat art installation, Dubai Mall -- Largest mall in the world.
Am not much for shopper any more but wanted to get a sense of its scale.


Beautiful metro stations.

Most city bus stops are enclosed and air conditioned.


First sights of the abras.



On my way to Abu Dhabi.



Chicken is most popular meat.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Got off at the wrong bus stop and ended up having to walk all 
the way around to the main entrance.




Trying to show scale between the abra and the dhows behind.

These dhows carry goods to Iran, Somalia, Pakistan, India.  
Everything is moved by hand.



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

People I Meet


  • The gentleman whose extra bus ticket I purchased in Geiranger to head up to Mt Dalsnibba.  It was a bit of a race to get seats and he sternly sat in the middle of the first row to hold one for me.  Told me later he was prepared to tell people I was his wife should he be challenged.  I think he was in his 70s.  From Mexico and was encouraging me to practice my Spanish with him.  Very successful business man who had been retired for over 30 years.  Has 3 children and from the way he spoke about them, can very easily feel the depth of love he has for them.  One lives in Paris, one in Canada and one in the States.  All of them educated abroad.  He has had some operations to remove cancerous growths from his lungs and the remaining few have been somewhat controlled.  His wife decided not to embark on the bus ride as she is afraid of heights.  Why meeting him has stayed with me is because he continues to not let life stop him.  He is more curious than ever.  Wanted to know if I've seen a polar bear in person yet.  He has driven across the States 4 times in an RV (which he loves) and once with his son who accompanied him on his motorbike.  While we were waiting for the bus to leave, there was a scene just outside where an RV and a motorcyclist were side by side and he quickly snapped a photo so he could send it to his son because it reminded him of their trip together.  The way he spoke about the families his children stayed with on their various school exchanges.  How when those families visit, they call him Dad, just like his kids.  It was very touching to hear these stories and feel the depth and warmth of his emotion.  It was like receiving a hug.  His family is so very fortunate to have him.
  • The couple I met in the last hour of the 2nd day of the Halong Bay cruise.  Because I joined this 1 day group as the new person, I didn't know anyone.  To get away from everyone else for a bit, I braved it on the upper deck where it was really sunny and hot.  They were thinking the same thing.  When I said hello to them, I immediately caught their accent.  Turns out they were from Norway and Sweden respectively but own an apartment a couple hours outside of Bangkok.  After being forced to endure my loving Norway speech, we chatted about their travels and experiences and shortly parted ways.  A couple of days later in Hanoi, myself and a couple from the UK were walking around with our guide on a 4 hour street food tour.  All of a sudden I heard my name.  Remember the video I posted a while back about crossing the street in Hanoi?  Well, the city is that loud all day.  So we all stopped and looked around and couldn't see who it was.  Then we heard it again, and again.  The wife of the couple in my group started pointing and it was the Norwegian - Swedish couple calling down from the balcony of their hotel!  Earlier, just when the tour was about to start, the Austrian girl I met before I left for Halong Bay came running out of the same hotel.  Turns out she did find where I was staying after all and booked herself in as she had told me the place she had was horrible.  So the tour guide (who has now become a friend) thought I knew "everyone" in Hanoi.  When you think of the population density of that city, what are the chances?
  • CEO of a biotech company.  Very soft spoken guy.  We met while trying to use one of those check in machines at Dubai airport to do our obligatory passport scans.  He was hoping I knew some kind of special trick to make it work, but I didn't.  We laughed about how not modern the airport procedures were compared to how the city would like to portray itself.  It had been a while since we both had to line up for a counter at an airport.  He is actually quite well known in his field and knows some seriously adventurous people.  Spent our 3 hour pre-flight wait in a lounge chatting and eating.  Asked for my email and send a newspaper article of how he and his future wife met.  Fascinating story.  Both of them very highly skilled.  Emotional guy as well.  He was quite moved by my stories of Cambodia as his company is getting involved with technology that has played a pivotal role in helping reduce human trafficking. 
  • My local shawarma spot in Deira, Pakistani owner.  A couple of the young men that worked there remembered me after only one visit.  Unbelievable considering how busy they are and how many guys work there.  There is free delivery with orders so there is always a flurry of in and out, motorbikes back and forth.  I was "the girl from Canada" to the one cook and "sister" to another fellow.  The one would hold his right hand over his heart when greeting me.  Because I had recently read a couple of books set in Muslim culture, those gestures surprised me and didn't surprise me, if you know what I mean.  
  • The Swiss backpacker (late 20s/early 30s) I sat beside on the flight from Ilulissat to Reykjavik.  Talked a lot due to being pumped up on Red Bull and cigarettes and was flirty.  He did have a serious side (was Swiss after all...) and we had a good conversation about the career he left behind when his engagement got cancelled by his fiancee.  That was 1 1/2 years ago and having traveled all that time since, was ready to go back home and re-integrate into society.  We were analyzing my approach to life and coming up with ways of optimizing it even more.  I appreciated his input.  I think he thought I was playing "hard to get" and didn't believe D was going to be really waiting for me at the airport as he knew I had an apartment rented in Reykjavik and he didn't have reservations at the hostel yet...I hadn't filled D in on all this prior to him noticing a stern look from a stranger and wondering what that was about. 
  • A guy from Toronto (early 30s) who let me go ahead of him at the hotel washroom/change area the arrival morning in Sapa.  Really Friendly and was disappointed we weren't in the same trekking group.  Couldn't get over that half way around the world, he managed to find someone from a similar place.  I later realized he thought I was there on the same package trip organized by the youth hostel he has staying at in Hanoi.  I thought he was staying at the same hotel whose facilities we were using.  In Vietnam, all sorts of organizational confusion exist.  When in reality he was doing a home stay and I was coming back to the hotel and we weren't hiking the same routes either day but did end up at the same lunch spot once.  While he was trying to sort all that out and communicating it to me, all I was trying to do is get changed and ready as I knew what I was supposed to be doing.  At lunch, I deliberately sat far away when I noticed his buddy elbow him and gesture at me which made me immediately think "Are we in high school?".  He did come over and asked me how my morning went and if I was staying overnight and that he'll see me later.  There was nothing inappropriate there and he did eventually figure it out the following day.  When I told D after the first night, his reaction was "Are you Not wearing your ring???!!!", "What is it with those Toronto guys?!" and "I am going to get a T-shirt made for you that says 'Ask me about my Husband'...".  
  • All this solo traveling and observing has made me aware of how easy it is to get swept up in all of it.  I never had the experience of backpacking through SE Asia, Europe or South America and getting involved in the culture that comes with hosteling.  I can see just how intense it can be emotionally and how the set up of limited time in places and nothing to really worry about outside of finding places to go, eat and party at, can be conducive to frequent hookups.  I'm part of a Sorority so I'm no stranger to partying etc.  But to be thousands of miles away from home for a longish period of time...That's much different.  Couldn't help but think of how I would feel as a parent knowing my teenage or 20s daughter was embarking on such an adventure.  Would hope that she would have grown to be strong enough in her Self to make sound judgements.  Even though I am quite independent and would want them to be as well, I think it would be tough to let go having a tiny idea of what they would be walking into. 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

How to Grieve?

I believe that the extent of grieving is proportional to the depth of the relationship.  Know of people who will go to every funeral, no matter how remotely they knew the person.  I only feel comfortable attending ones that celebrate the lives of people I am truly close to.

Because I come from a fractured family, I can honestly say that the deepest relationships I have are not with my blood relatives, but with others who have come into my life by choice.  I am still grieving (7 years) the loss of the woman who in many ways has been more of a mother figure to me than the one who gave birth to me.

I cannot think of her without tears welling up because I miss her so much.  Whereas I can't say that about anyone I've lost from my genetic family.  The night the voice mail message arrived, my stomach and heart plummeted. When the news was verified, I completely broke down for hours, over days, weeks, months.  D had never seen me lost in grief like that before.  I had never seen me like that before.

We had just moved into our current house.  I had tradespeople all around working on stuff.  We were supposed to head up to the cottage that night and to Nice the week later.  But all I wanted to do was go crawl in a hole.  My biggest supporter had been torn from me and I didn't know what to do.  I had such great plans for us, now that we had moved closer.  Even now, I will find myself thinking how much she'd love seeing these places I've been...

So how do you grieve someone who has pushed you away and deserted you?  Who wouldn't let you in unless you concede to being "wrong"?   How that type of control and manipulation creates a barrier and robs both of you of something inherently human. Some things may not be reconcilable, even at time of imminent death.

In my case, I realized that I grieved the loss of that person a long time ago at the pivotal event when I was pushed away.  And though some tears broke through at the news of their death and was shaken from the reality of it, the depth of sorrow wasn't there even though it "should have been" or was "supposed to" or "ought to have been" as they had technically been "in my life" since I was born. 

I can't help but feel bad or embarrassed for not having an "expected" relationship with certain family members and thus not be able to even act "normally" in times that routinely bring people together.  It's a terribly ungrounded feeling and very difficult to go about your daily routine with that script running in the background.

I've shed many tears of frustration for all I could have done and are capable of giving but am prevented from. Impossible for me not to feel guilty for not "being there" even though you know you are not welcomed. 

Knowing how others will label you as a "deserter" or "unfeeling" when they have no idea how much you've suffered from not having a decent relationship to begin with. And how that lack of support throughout the years has meant growing up without the type of reliability and security you'd expect from the people closest, charged with your care. 

Taking a broad view of life, I believe those challenges existed to shape me, my thinking and my resolve. To force me to learn to stand up strong and fight for things I believe in.  Necessary to overcome in order to create a life I can proudly call my own.  To not assume that everything that was taught or had to do with "family" is automatically "right", "kind" or honorable.

I cannot begin to express how grateful I am that my childhood did not permanently damage or rob me of being able to feel love, empathy and compassion.  My upbringing felt unbearably harsh.  It was extremely difficult living with consistent unreasonably frank disapproval of who I was as a person.  I've always felt very deeply and am easily hurt.  On the other hand, very easily moved by beauty.

How differently would I have turned out had I been born into a family unit that is stable, full of love, compassion, kindness and honest guidance?  I cannot know.  But it is certainly within my power to create that environment now.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September

  • It's official.  The water pump at the cottage was destroyed by the crawlspace flood.  After speaking with the plumber, D's plan is to replace it next spring.  It doesn't make sense to do it now, just to close it up in a few weeks, when it is perfectly usable (stream water for toilet tank, access to municipal water for rest).
  • Relationship with Mentee is moving along slowly.  He is trying to do and be Everything and is having trouble balancing it all.  I did have to mention that overbooking himself isn't an excuse for not providing timely communication.  Other than that,  we are getting to know each other's style.  He's a bit "old school" and likes to use words like "delightful" and "most excellent". And much to my surprise, prefers to talk rather than email, which I suppose is consistent.  I think we could get more done if he uses email more often for certain things.  We actually do have a number of things in common (music, volunteering).  Got the impression he would have preferred to be matched up with a full time working male.  However, that impression may have existed initially because he hadn't done any homework on me yet and made some assumptions about my work schedule.  Whereas I went in knowing the times of the last 3 races he did.. Seems logical to look up the person you'll be working with (Or maybe he did look me up and saw the results of the last 2 races I did sucked...)  My working part time by choice and being able to financially manage it is vastly different than being part time by force.  His tone has changed significantly. I am beginning to think he may be starting to see and appreciate the work world through my eyes a bit.  
  • Moved to my temporary office.  Renovations to existing building ought to be done by spring.
  • D started a new position within his current company.  He had 3 interviews (2 external) and received 2 offers.  Was most interested in the one other external company but they kept delaying.  It wasn't until a week after D accepted an offer, that he found out they were finally ready to make an offer.  When asked if he regretted not waiting, D said that he has a really great feeling about this new (to him) part of his company and it was worth staying for.  Fingers crossed!
  • We have talked seriously about putting the cottage up for sale in the coming few years.  Nothing to do with the water pump incident.  More so to do with where we see our lives eventually shifting to -- Away from here.  Let's see if we will finally be able to pull the trigger.
  • I'd like to do the same with the ski condo (for different reasons) but the idea was met with D's firm "No".  So I will need to come at it from another angle...Next to be re-assessed will be my vehicle.
  • Cannot believe there are still mosquitoes around when we've been using our cottage fireplace at night.  Let my guard down and got bitten 3 times over the weekend.  
  • Feeling somewhat ungrounded as of late.  Mind has gone into overdrive considering thoughts and feelings like:  Not doing enough, inadequacy, worry about having too much time and not enough structure and the wild ideas that can come out of that.  Boredom, missing out.  Even when my rational side disagrees.  So what is missing or off?  Hoping to have time to sort through all that soon.
  • Been fighting a low grade "something".  Think it may have to do with eating stuff I don't normally eat anymore (sugar, dairy), even if it is gluten free.  Time to tighten things up again.  May be a cause of the above errant thoughts?  My body feels strong and there are no other "sick" symptoms, just a bit tired, which adds to the frustration.
  • The location of the Habitat build I'm involved with has changed due to the political situation nearby.  Add to it a record 5 flight time changes and I am beginning to wonder how this will all turn out. 
  • My long time travel currency exchange agent will be losing her position shortly (unexpected).  I'm sad for her as she is within 8 years to full retirement but still is far enough away.  I'm losing a valuable person on my "travel team".  She has gotten me currency, yes, but specifically the denominations I really wanted.  I've dealt with a number of money exchange places before and know it is not easy to find for custom orders.  Our final transaction was a week ago where she finally asked me, after all these years, what is it I do that allows me to travel so much?  I told her that my travels have nothing to do with work.  That I wish my work would send me all over the place. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Equivalent

It looks like we've found it.  Our equivalent of an "all inclusive" vacation -- Bangkok. 

The city isn't what I would consider to be "beautiful".  There aren't any architectural stand outs.  I know a lot of people visit the temples (Wat) there but we didn't feel like it this time around.  Chinatown turned us off as did all the shopping malls.  Even the ride up and down the Chao Phraya river (all the way to the end) surprisingly didn't inspire and being on the water usually does.

What captured us was the calm of the culture and not surprising, the street food.  There wasn't the feeling of suffering or overwhelming poverty.  I didn't walk around feeling bad or guilty for what I had.  People work long hours outside but seem to do so with dignity and control.  Minimum wage has risen to around 9.55 USD Per Day...

As usual, a smile and attempts at speaking were appreciated.  The 2 times we led with English, we got overcharged.  There was no detectable tension or visible military presence in the places we went.  Although I was surprised at the number of older people begging. 

Thanks to advice from an expat I connected with online, we ended up staying in an older neighborhood, away from the main shopping and partying areas and it made all the difference.  We wouldn't have had near the immersive experience otherwise.  I knew I had found the right person to ask when he commented, "(those) areas are fine if you are wanting to spend your holiday drinking, shopping and more drinking.  But, why go on a holiday for that!?!"

We stayed in a studio apartment and never ended up needing the kitchen.  There is just too much great homemade food all around, all day -- And way better than what we could have prepared, that's for sure.  It was incredible and there were new things to try everyday.  The cost was ridiculously cheap.  We barely spent half our spending money.

Our biggest issue was trying to coax our stomachs to digest faster so we could make room to try something else.  We weren't successful on that front as the food we were eating was real food (very filling), which meant most days, despite hours of walking in high heat, we were only able to eat 2 meals.

For those of you who are into trying new foods, you'll be able to relate to us plotting our days and routes so that we would end up at the right spots at the right times to be able to indulge.  It was a miracle I only gained a pound on this trip.  It felt like I had eaten a cumulative whale.

The heat was challenging.  It wasn't as humid as Hanoi felt to me as my papers didn't curl irreversibly.  But it was humid enough -- Felt like 48 C by 8:30 am.  Good thing that coconut water and ice coffee were readily available.  Plus when you buy pre-cut fruit, there is salt and chili spices included which helps with electrolyte balance.  Hard getting used to eating steaming hot and spicy soup outside but it didn't stop us.

As for being there during rainy season?  It was probably my biggest concern (flight delays, water contamination etc.) alongside political tension.  This trip was a last minute decision (3 weeks out), which is rare for us, when considering the distance.  A combination of the water pump at the cottage being flooded and seeing a drop in price of flights made this happen.  We both had holiday time booked already.

Our stay wasn't impacted by weather.  In fact, we longed for rain as it was welcomed relief to the heat and humidity.  Prior to our arrival for several weeks, there was a monsoon trough stationary over the area ushering significant rainfall, everyday.  So we came with full rain gear and intentions of buying rain boots if necessary as flash flooding can be common place then.

For many years, I had avoided going to Bangkok, despite reading over and over again, how it was a perfect introduction to SE Asia.  It is considered to provide a relatively "soft landing" with respect to culture shock, tourist infrastructure and getting around.  Would completely agree with that. 

I also have personal issues with the well known sex trade there -- Just look up "Bangkok ping pong shows".  We did walk around the Patpong area many times but like our experience in Amsterdam, there aren't prostitutes all around the city at all hours.  In fact, there was much less of that there than I found in Phnom Penh.  D did receive a good amount of visual attention but nothing phased me nor tripped either of our caution meters. 

It was so very easy to navigate the city.  The transit system is first rate and orderly.  Occasionally we saw people (other tourists) who didn't realize you need to line up but that was an exception.  Having said that, we only took transit for one trip.  We braved the heat and walked, because it is more interesting for us as well as something needed to burn off all the food we had eaten. 

Having attempted Khmer earlier in the year made trying to learn Thai much easier.  My accent must have been acceptable enough because people would continue talking to me in Thai after they heard my greetings when I really couldn't say much more which was embarrassing.  Will endeavor to keep improving for next time.  And there will be a next time.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Scenes From Recent Outing




A favorite thing to do:  Watch river traffic after breakfast while sipping an ice coffee.








A family is still living there.













 Location of last great meal.  Complete with fighting cats underneath our table.