Thursday, December 27, 2007

Maybe Possible, For a Fee

In many of the countries we've just recently travelled, there have been varying entry and exit requirements.

When we travelled Europe, we didn't have any issues because we were on European passports.

But obviously throughout Asia, we needed special permissions etc to enter certain countries.

Some visas are simple to acquire. Our Australian visa was done online, without us having to send out passports anywhere or get a photo of us looking very deer-in-headlights. It was a multi-entry as well, which made it very simple for us to come back after two weeks in New Zealand.

Vietnam wasn't that bad. We were able to leave our passports with a travel agency and they came back with the visas the next day. No hassel really. And we didn't have to waste anytime heading to an embassy and filling out forms.

China wasn't as stringent as we thought it would be. We were able to get the visa when we were in Australia and it only took 4 days. The more time consuming part of the Chinese process is probably the entry-exit forms. There is so much paperwork to fill out, you begin to understand how they keep 1.5 billion people employed.

For the most part, this visa stuff just seems to be a way to make more money. Sure, it can be cloaked with the desire to register travellers coming in and out, keeping a close eye on who wants to visit the country before they even arrive, getting up-to-date statistics for random government agencies across various countries. Happy to be just another number.

I can certainly say, the country that has been the most difficult, confusing and of course money making has been Russia.

Even before we arrived, we were beginning to realise that the 'transition' from communism to capaitalism is paved with a road of visa money.

You need an invitation to get into the country. If you decide it's worth planning your trip, spending money on a reservation and having a hotel invite you BEFORE you have even been given entry into the country, by all means, go ahead. The hotel will probably keep your deposit if you are denyed AND also the fee that you are charged for the invitation in the first place.

You can go online to an organisation that can get you an invitation which, essentially, you will probably never use. For a fee. But, nonetheless, at least it's only a fee and you don't have to decide right away where you want to travel.

So, now you have this invitation. Great. You're on your way to getting your visa.

Out you go, to get your photos (for a fee), download the forms (for free!) and off to find the best embassy to apply to.

This can be an interesting experience because besides all of the embassies have completely different guidelines and forms, they also have, you guessed it DIFFERENT FEES. So, the amount you spend on your visa can vary depending on where you live.

Once those costs are sent, you're on your way to a Russian visa! You can pick it up for free or, for a fee, (self-addressed envelope) have it delivered to a home address.

I suppose I shouldn't be unfair. Apart from the invitation, Vietnam and China were the same costs, same fees. And if it just ended there, well, then I probably wouldn't have even blinked an eye.

But there is something far more confusing, complex and budget-busting once you enter the country.

It is known as REGISTRATION.

As immigration lets you in to the country, you're given an entry card, which you must surrender when you leave the country. On this card it states that any foreigner must register themselves at an immigration office within 72 hours.

This registration is usually done by your hotel or hostel...wait for it....FOR. A. FEE. So, not only have you paid to be invited, paid to have your picture taken and paid to have documents to let you in, you are now being asked to pay BECAUSE YOU ARE HERE.

And that's not all folks. Somewhere amongst the murky law, there is something clear, that states what needs to happen next.

The immigration office told a nice Russian lady that was helping us that if you are in a city for more than 3 business days, you must register. In order to register, you must, (okay, not even going to type it again as you all know where this is going).

If you are just doing a whistle top tour through Russia - St. Petersburg, Moscow, train for 4 days, Irkutsk - you may only need to do the first registration. If not, you may have to do it in every city. And trust me, they add up.

But what will also burn a hole in your budget is the fact that if you DO NOT get these registrations, you can probably face a fine (another fancy word for fee) at the border or even better, a dodgy cop who's looking to make a few extra bucks of his own after he sees that you card carries no stamps.

So far, we have been as diligent as we can, if only to protect our travel karma for the length of time we have left. It seems to be the law. We're in another country. Let's obey.

But it certainly bears the question, why make it so complex and difficult for people to see your country?

I'm sure if I could take some time to speak to a Russian about the situation, they might be able to shed some light. I'd just be afraid I'd be charged a fee for their time.

Monday, December 24, 2007

And to all a Good Night

I suppose there is a lot I have yet to write about our current adventure. Right now, I'm just enjoying the televison in Moscow.

As it is Christmas tomorrow, it's only fitting that I wish all of you a very merry and happy holiday, wherever you may be, whatever time it may be.

The snow and the lights and the flu have made me feel like I'm right at home. Christmas in Canada is only really different by language. And well, family.

Which of course I am missing. But I know I will see you all soon. That includes the little one that my baby sister H is still waiting to arrive (PEOPLE! HAVE YOU BEEN CROSSING YOUR FINGERS???)

In a weeks time, it will be a new year and I suppose I'll be able to reflect more over what the last year has brung.

Right now, popcorn calls.

What better way to spend Christmas Eve if you can't be with family and friends? Food and tv are a good enough 2nd best.

Happy Holidays.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Siberia - in Decemeber

People, I am here. I am in the last new country on our list of places to be during this epic journey.

And we're looking at 10 days to Christmas, 9 days to Moscow.

Do you know how LONG we've been talking about Moscow? And now, it's only 9 DAYS AWAY!

I'm loving Russia. The people are so friendly, the weather is mildly cold and the food is so hearty. I'm definitley digging the cold lifestyle. Never realised just how Canadian I was.

Russia has added a bit of a twist to the internet, though. You not only pay for minutes you use but you also pay for MEGS you use. And there really is not way to tell HOW many megs you've used until you're finished. D and I were on the same computer for 8 minutes yesterday and used 5mgs. Who knows how.

So, a couple of things. If you know me, I will not be checking my canada.com email address as it seems to be adding megs. You can reach me at the yahoo.ca address which has the beginning part the same as canada.com except take out a 'b'. This microfiche will self-destruct in 10 minutes.

I probably won't be updating my blog very much. And definitely no more pics on facebook.

I suppose this will leave me more time to enjoy Russia and all it's excellence instead of spending it in front of a computer screen.

Will be back before Christmas. Until then, I have three trains and two cities before Moscow. You can think of us on the rails. Avoiding too many shots of vodka. And practicing our Russian.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Train-ing It

There is something quite romantic when you think of riding the rails. You do conjur up all these visions of being on the train, glancing out at stunning landscape, laughing and joking with your travel companions.

It's bascially like this. Except maybe companions bit. Because if you can't really communicate, laughing just makes you check to see that you don't have anything on your face and the jokes, well, lost in translation.

I was pleasantly surprised by our journey from Beijing to Ulaanbataar. So many times when you set your expectations for things you are let down, either because you have been imagining it too long in your head or because other people's imaginations and descriptions have not been exactly justified.

But this was exactly what was written on the box. They could have guaranteed it. There we were, in this berth all to ourselves, snacking away on sunflower seeds and potato chips, watching the Chinese landscape go by. And it is breathtaking.

We saw parts of the Great Wall that were not yet touched. After stepping foot on a part of the wall, I was taken aback by the appearance of it outside my train berth window.

And then there was the mountains. And small villages inserted into the mountains.

The evening and darkness came so quickly, as our relaxing journey turned out to be just that. What else is there to do on a train but sit and watch the world go by? How often do you really ever give yourself permission to do that?

And when you travelling, siteseeing, checking things off your list, you give yourself even less time to do that.

The sleeping was hypnotic. Kind of like an adult baby rocker, lulling you to sleep. And since our train didn't arrive in Ulaanbataar until 1:30pm, you might as well sleep in!

Even the annoyance of the closing of the dining cart before I had eaten dinner or the nighttime border check didn't really take away from my enjoyment. I fell asleep by 2am - I didn't wake until 10am.

And when I did, it was magical.

Outside my window, was the Gobi desert. Miles and miles of barren land. Flat. Dry. Frozen. Deserted, except for a few goats here and there.

And then there were these villages, out in the middle of no where. People in houses that reminded me of row houses in northern England, just plunked down.

What did they do? How did they survive? What was THAT like?

It was almost too soon when we got to our final destination. I wanted it to keep going, to continue taking it in, never letting go of this adventurous feeling that I thought perhaps I had travelled-out of myself.

We have 5 more journeys. And another one tomorrow. And this one is into Russia. What many people associate with the true TransSiberian Railway.

I just hope the rest of them live up to our first journey. If not, I know it's something I will never forget.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Home Sweet Home...Sort of

We arrived in chilly Mongolia yesterday and I have to say, the best part about it is the fact that we are in an apartment.

Do you know I watched tv last night in my LIVING ROOM and then retired to my BEDROOM. A WHOLE NOTHER ROOM.

That's not even including the fact the fact that I also made dinner in my KITCHEN. Count that people. It's THREE ROOMS.

Oh! And I also had a nice hot shower in my BATHROOM. That's four.

Are you following me here? I guess I'm enjoying the comforts of home away from home. It's cold enough to feel like home. And so for now, it will be home.

Tomorrow we're doing a day trip out into the Mongolian wilderness, which we've been told is beautiful and magical and scenic and breathtaking and...you get the picture.

If it was anything compared to the train ride from Beijing, I imagine it will be all it's cracked up to be.

On a more personal note, if you could all cross your fingers for my sister H that her wee one will hurry up and just arrive! as I think she's quite ready to be done being pregnant.

And I selfishly want her to go in the next 6 days because then I can chat to her ON MY PHONE that is in my apartment in my LIVING ROOM.

Didn't I mention that?

More on the train trip another time. Wine, tapas and TV calls.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Where is the Love?

I feel as though I may have not been sharing enough of the love om my blog recently.

Okay, let's face it, I haven't really been sharing much of anything on this thing recently.

But I think it's important to just say, at this moment, I am really really happy. I am so content and peaceful and blissful. I'm just perfect.

I suppose this surprises even me a little bit becaseu I have to say, a couple of weeks ago, I was not this. I was very not happy. Very un blissful. Very "I'm going home" uncontented.

There are times of helplessness, times of shear out-of-controlness, that you want to grab hold and do something drastic, if only to assert the power that you are in control.

D pointed out to me that I made it for quite some time before I declared that I was done, threw my toys out of my pram and decided that the next flight back to Toronto would have me on it.

It's slightly scary to think that is your only option. Slightly libertating as well. And, on the other side, even better to realise that no, you're not perfect and yes, anything in life will try you but you don't give up. You don't quit. And after a good night's sleep, things really are clearer in the morning.

We have been so lucky in many ways in China. Our rooms have been so clean. Our hostel staff so lovely. Our locations, for the most part, perfect. And so, it's due to planning or luck that these things have happened.

Which is why, I cannot stress more to plan and unplan this type of trip. D and I have had numerous conversations and discussions (the sheer amount leaving me to believe that if given the opportunity, we COULD create world peace with our skills) about what we're going to do next and what to cut out of the original plan.

I can proudly say, thanks to the best CFO on the planet, that we have been good at sticking to our budget. We have given up things but been firm about what we really want, to make sure that this is not simply a quest, but an experience rich with treats and worldly sights combined.

We have rarely scimped on accomodation. And have slept better for skimping on nights on the piss. Because people, unless your on a beach when the next day doesn't matter, you don't want to spend your time recovering from too much sauce.

Most importantly, we have said it numerous times to each other, WE CAN always go home. If both of us, could just simply no longer go on, we would leave.

But even as those words leave your lips, if for one second you hesitate and think about what you're missing, you don't want to go home.

And neither do I. Not yet. I have spent the last 2 days wandering amongst some of the most historic places of recent and past times. I have felt my breath catch, my heart lurch, my eyes glisten (and yes, I CAN hear all your throats retching but believe me, it's NOTHING compared to the horking that goes on here..hello?? pollution?? anyway...)

If I had gone home, I would not have had those moments, however brief and fleeting.

And those are the ones that make it.

On Monday, we head to the Great Wall. THE GREAT WALL. You can see the thing from space, people!

I'm so happy to be excited again.

I'm coming home. Just not yet...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Writing Blind

We've been in China for 3 weeks and surprisingly, this is the first time I have attempted to log into Blogger.

The connections here are slow, and I assumed since I could never LOAD my blog, I would never be able to UPDATE my blog.

I suppose even after I post this I will STILL have no idea whether or not I have actually posted, because I won't be able to check.

So I'm literally writing into cyberspace. Weird.

China has been...well...China.

I can say that Korea prepared me for China. There is such a sense of isolation, of being lost amongst the millions, that it can, at times, be quite a lonely place.

It has been filled with happiness and hope, awe and amazement, folly and frustration.

And anger. I have been very angry many times, due to lack of patience, in China. As it was not perhaps Thailand's fault, I don't think it is necessarily China's fault. You need a lot of patience anyway with this place. Four months in, you don't tend to have very much.

But we've turned a corner because we are in Beijing. Even typing that, I am stunned at what to write next. It just feels like this place, this far away massive power that you can never really get to. Only imagine what it must be like.

They will have the Olympics here in less than a year. And I'm here. Right. Now.

And so this feels like yet another milestone, another significant check on our list of to-dos. We have achieved this so far. And that makes it all the more easier to continue.

I feel as though my writing now sounds as if I'm on a trecherous quest. In some ways this is true. This is not the holiday that you may think it is, but that actually makes it all the more rewarding.

I suppose it will be hard to explain to people exactly what this feels like. And even harder to make them believe that I haven't been in Club Med for 5 months.

I suppose it also doesn't really matter what people want to think. It's important they know if they do accept this challenge themselves that it's not about cute pool boys bringing you gin and tonics and administering foot massages.

It's about testing your limits, your mind and more importantly, your stomach, to see just how far they will go.

So far, so good.

Mongolia - bring it on. One week today by train. Wow.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Houston, We May Have a Problem

There have actually been a lot of things that I wanted to write about but since I have been obsessed with Facebook and email, I just haven't been able to get onto this thing. Plus, for some reason, it has been pretty slow the past couple of days.

Vietnam has been an experience. I will say there were some downs, ones that we have not actually experienced anywhere else, but we've regrouped in a lovely hotel in Hanoi and are leaving here happy and positive about the country and the people here.

China is our next stop. We fly today as we decided we'd had enough of trains and will be taking many once we get to Russia.

One thing I've heard is that I can't actually access my blogger in China. I haven't really done any investigation so it may be wrong and you may hear from me again soon.

But, if this is the last post before Russia, enjoy the next month and I'll be in touch once we're trekking through Siberia....in December....dear God what have I done?

Family: Facebook and email are all good so you'll still be able to contact me, just not through my blog!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

They Did It!

At 1:40pm on November 8th, Little Mr. Marshall Gary Cassidy arrived.

3 weeks early and ready to take on the world, just like his parents.

My heart is bursting with excitement. I can't wait to talk to my sister, who, according to my mom I just spoke to, is doing well but very tired.

C - well done sister - you are now a mom. Does that mean I get to beg you for things too?
K - excellent job coach! Now the fun begins :)

Little Mr. Marshall - you're gonna be SO SPOILED you have no idea :)

Monday, November 05, 2007

Motor Madness

We had read a lot about the streets of Ho Chi Min, otherwise know as Saigon.

That they were busy with motorbikes, flying and flitting all over the place, swerving and sliding down windy and unkept roads.

I'd prepared myself but fell back on what I continue to fall back on when people tell me about the traffic in South East Asia - have you been to Korea?

I have written before about the traffice in Korea - how all you need to do is simply pretend you are only person on the road. And use your brake excessively.

For years, D has always poked fun at the way I'm terrified to cross the street. In addition to being a mermaid in my past life, I"m certain as well that I must have been hit by a car, perhaps when I was someone's golden retriever.

I was bad enough in Toronto and not much better in Korea.

I began to just get used to the cars come careening towards me. I would curse and srunch my face up, thinking that showing my frustration would somehow will the Koreans to be better drivers. Or at least feel bad that they almost killed me.

So, I was looking forward to Saigon, but I was also NOT looking forward to Saigon.

We had been told that the easiest way to get across the street was walk slowly, or in other words, very carefully. Don't run. Don't stop. Just walk.

The brilliance of it all? The bikes will SWERVE AROUND YOU.

It was time to see just how much my nerves could take.

We had just come from Bangkok, an amazing city that got so much hype for being ridiculously crazy and was just a breath of fresh air. We didn't stay in the covetted backpacker area but had such a SE Asian urban experience anyway, one that was not filled with people hasseling you or trying to rip you off.

I had my city shoes on, but I just wasn't sure if the motorbikes weren't going to beat me in my first Vietnam city.

Leaving the airport, we got a taxi into town.

From the moment he started driving, all you heard was horns, honking more out of a sense of 'i'm coming through' than an angry Chicago or NY type honking.

From the instant I checked to find a seatbelt discovering it was gone, I saw motorbikes.

Motorbikes out the windshield.

Motorbikes out the passenger window.

Motorbikes coming towards us.

Motorbikes coming from behind us.

Motorbikes narrowly missing us.

It was a 30 minute drive and it did....not....stop.

Getting out of the cab, it was time to cross the street.

I panicked and froze and D was suddenly gone, away across the street and into an alley...somewhere.

And there I was, on the other side of the street, near our hotel with no idea as to where I was going.

Then she appeared, out of no where, asking me if I needed help.

She took my elbow, which was strained from the 20K I had on my back, and lead me across the street, just like they said. We did not stop. We did not go quickly. We went slowly.

And we made it.

I was proud of myself then and over the course of the next 2 days when out of necessity, I had to get across the street BY MYSELF.

Can I say I added a new twist?

It's kinda like walking over a bridge. Sometimes it's better not to look down. Cause if you turn to see the sea of motor chaos stampeding towards you, you'll become that deer in headlights and most certainly will meet the fate of Bambi's mother.

So I just focussed on the spot across on the other side of the road, the little oasis that I kept telling the sky that I would never leave again if I could just get back to it safely, and then, it didn't seem all that bad.

That fear conquered, I decided it was time to attempt to decend into the Cu Chi tunnels to abolish my claustrophobia.

Can I just say it didn't go all that well? Next time...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Cold Trek Home

Every step we now takes brings us two things:

Closer to home - for obvious reasons, I'm looking forwar to this. And it helps to make the daily constant decision making (ie where to sleep where to eat where IS THE BATHROOM) a little bit easier to bear.
Closer to cold - this I'm actually looking forward to, if only so that I can again appreciate the gloriousness of the beach.
In light of that, I thought it might be good to show a few shots of the heat we will be missing.




No, i don't know any of these people but it's all very beachy.



Life just always seems better at sunset.

We are more than halfway finished our trip, over the hump and heading down the other side of the hill.

We have our placed booked for Christmas and most of Russian accomodation is taken care off, thanks to my dreamy D. If it was left in my hands people, we'd be stuck in the middle of Siberia in December.

I'm getting very excited to see China, although like the large countries of australia and canada, we have had to choose carefully because of distance and time constraints. China will be more about the cities, the classic tourist places you associate with China, mostly because it's on the route.

Pricey Hong Kong, colonial shanghai, awestriking Beijing are all part of the plan.

And after four weeks of enjoying what SE Asia has to offer - exoticness, jungles, beaches - I'm looking forward to seeing another side of Asia, one that includes lots of busyness, lots of museums, lots of chinese food and lots of people.

Then, I'll be quite ready to sit in solitude on the train across the largest country in the world, Russia.

It's so close now. We're almost there. And when we step foot in Eastern Europe, I'm not sure myself if I will believe what we did.

Thank God for pictures.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

There are many suggestions in guide books about 'what to bring' when going on a trip.

You'll always need something from home whether it's 2 weeks, 2 months or 2 years.

Although I have read certain parts of the guidebook that lists these sorts of things and I did go through the list METICULOUSlY when we left Korea, there are few items that they don't tend to mention in the book that I've learned are pretty useful, you guessed it, the hard way.

Zip Lock bags - these things are indispensible, albeit not industructable but hey, they're cheap enough that you can carry about 50 of them with you!

They're great for toiletry items and allow you to catagorize so you not always confused every time you have to unpack your bag. I have all my shower stuff in one, my face stuff in another, my 'feminine products' in another, my hair products in another.

(And yes, for those of you who are rolling your eyes at the amount of products I'm carry, I'll kindly ask you to refrain as I travel with someone who rolls them at me on a daily basis)

Number one reason they're great? They keep things dry. And if you've ever moved your whole life around every couple of days in a humid climate where things tend NOT to dry, you'll understand the lifesaver that a dry-keeper-item is.

Granola bars or, as my nephew calls them, 'noalies' - hunger is not a good thing. It's even worse when it kick starts the stomach juices and then leaves you with terrible pains the next time you actually have a proper meal.

Finding food that doesn't upset your stomach here is difficult enough without having to worry that you've screwed it up yourself by going too long between meals.

Granola bars are filling, easy on the stomach and easy to carry. Our digestive lives have changed dramatically since we started carrying these around.

I'm sure nuts or some type of whole wheat crackers would do wonders as well but anything processed, sugary or sweet will not give you sustainable energy, not help your digestion and not assist you in fitting into the only clothes you have on your back.

(There are some more delicate items that perhaps guidebooks don't want to mention as then they would have to EXPLAIN why they would be needed. For the sake of future travellers, I'm throwing this WAY TO MUCH INFO out there)

Toilet paper - I read a quote from writer PJ O'Rourke said something along the lines of travelling in SE Asia requires a lot of trips to the bathroom.

That pretty much sums it up. You get to the point where numerous bowel movements in one day does not phase you, unless they are occuring at a food posioning rate of once every 10 minutes for 8 hours (been there, done that, thank you).

In these countries, you will find some place have the paper but even in Korea I karted it around as well because you just..never..know.

If you're at a loss, you will find a small hose, similar to a garden hose, attached the wall. Water will come out and you can 'clean' yourself that way but frankly, even when in the bathroom, I'm STILL not sure how they do it without getting their pants all wet.

Carry the paper. Just do it.

Rash ointment - I'm not talking about the hayfever, allergic kind. I'm talking about the diaper kind. Yes, I know, perhaps revealing a bit more information then you'd need but let me spell it out a little bit more.

In most cities, you walk around A LOT. You want to see everything so of course this makes sense. In hot climates, the cities are usually the hotest. Doing the math of:

Walking many distances + hot hot weather = SWEAT.

If you multiply the SWEAT by the distance between your thighs this will = very uncomfortable.

Hence, the ointment. Walk around Bangkok in 35 degrees celcius and you'll know what I mean.

There's more to be learnt I'm sure. And perhaps these were lessons best learnt on your own.

But hey, anything I can do to help prevent other people's sort guts, wet pants or chaffed legs, I'm happy to do it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

5 Years

5 years ago today I land at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, with a pack on my back, a money belt around my neck and killer jet lag.

4 months of planning and 20 days away from D, I was ready to take on the world. Well, at least the Western European part.

It was the beginning of this life I now have come to inhabit as a nomad, a traveller, a bum, a itchy feet person.

I remember being that person, working in a job i didn't love, spending way to much money in an overpriced city, angry and argumentative, jaded, a bit bitter and overall, lost.

Not really that far off from most people in their early 20s, disolutioned with life after school, not quite sure what is meant to happen next and if this, this 'life' is really, all there is.

I want to go back to my struggling early 20s self and just tell her that it will all be okay, it will change, it will get better.

And it has, because, for the most part, I made a promise that I would never let myself be trapped again. I would never continue doing something because 'everyone else was' or 'it was what you're supposed to do' if it wasn't something that I wanted to do.

I'm happy that I've lived by this simple principle. But it's important to relfect on the anniversaries on such things so that you don't lose sight on why you started in the first place.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

13 Weeks

As you may have read, we are no longer in Australia and have arrived in the magical Thailand.

We had heard nothing but great thing about this place, something that always then makes me apprehensive about going somewhere because it then has to live up to it's hype.

For the most part, it has. And I'm continuing to learn so much not about places of this world but how to BE a traveller.

There are so many things that influence your experience in a destination. I think I've rambled on about this before but I feel it so much more now as I'm living it, day by day, in the moment of the journey.

I can't help but compare Thailand to Malaysia simply because it was the first SE Asia county I went to.

There are pros and cons to both.

It's easier to feel isolated on an island in Malaysia. You could actually see Malaysians on holiday, in the same resorts as you. In Thailand, the islands (the 3 we have been on anyway) are so developed, you're not sure whether or not your in Bangkok or London. And the only Thai I've seen have been working in the tourism industry.

It's easier to eat in Thailand. I have had beautiful breakfasts in Thailand, with eggs and bacon and HASH BROWNS and tea. I have had gorgeous soups and beef dishes, and curries and salads and the list could go on and on.

In Malaysia, we spent the entire time on one island as if prisoners in a war camp, planning when to go and eat dinner so that we wouldn't have to wait 2 HOURS for the meal to be ready. I'm serious 2 HOURS and no one was in the restaurant. (KAPAS ISLAND IS WAY TO CRAZY FOR FOOD! DAY TRIP ONLY!!!!) Don't get me wrong, the variety was a nice change from Korea but upon reflection, we did struggle for food at times.

In Thailand, there always seems something to barter for, someone's always yelling 'taxi taxi' or 'cheap massage, good for you, good for your skin'. It's all about 'closing a deal' because, from what I've seen, I'm not sure there is any other industry to be in.

In Malaysia, we were left alone, never really hearing from people unless we sought them out. Asked for a taxi, enquired about the snorkelling trip.

In Thailand, they have GREAT BEACH BARS. In Malaysia, they make you feel a little like a criminal if you order a beer, although it was available on every island we stayed.

In Thailand, everything seems easy, orchestrated. You want to go from an island to the mainland, you book the ticket and are ferried, literally, from where you're staying, right to the dock of the destination. Car, bus, ferry. All with enough down time to be sure you have enough time to spend money on food at the designated stops along the way. They even have a color coded sticker system to help you know when you get off the ferry!

In Malaysia, you figure a lot of things out on your own.

But even as I write about all these things, I know in my heart that they are just descriptions about places, just details about destinations.

What would my reactions be if I had come to Thailand first? Arrived here after 14 months of hard work and (sometimes) heartache, looking to relax for a month?

Malaysia got a month outta me. Because of time constraints, Thailand will just barely get two weeks.

And what about my state of mind? 13 weeks ago when we began, I was ready to be on HOLIDAY!!! The little things didn't matter because I WAS NOT WORKING!!

Now after 91 days of finding somewhere to sleep, finding somewhere to eat, lugging my bag, unpacking my bag, repacking my bag, finding the bus, finding the train, finding the strength to feel comfortable in a new place, my patience has waned.

Is this fair to Thailand? Probably not.

If I had arrived after 13 weeks in Malaysia, would I have been as mystified and easy going as I am now? Probably not.

But that is the life a traveller. The decisions you make about the places you stay and during which part of your trip will always affect the memories you have of the destination, regardless of how amazing that place is, or more importantly, how amazing a guide book says it is.

Don't get me wrong, we are having an amazing time. And YES we are aware that we are not working an ergo should not be complaining about the differences between the beaches in Thailand and Malaysia. Even I I type that, I'D want to punch myself in the face.

But any life has challenges, even the ones in which you are not working. And I'm merely writing a bit about one of the challenges about doing a trip of this length. So please don't send me hate mail. Or try to poke my eyes out with a fork because I'm nit picking paradise.

It's just all these comparisons and experiences brings me to the burning questions that has been circling in my mind for weeks now - how can anyone possibly give solid travel advice?

I suppose it's a bit like writing a hard new story. You can list just the facts but the order that you choose to display them and the questions you ask your sources are already showing your bias.

Guess you really can't believe everything you read.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Goodbye Oz and NZ

Thank you for all your western food.

Thank you for your clean toilets.

Thank you for your interesting cities, inspiring landscapes, breathtaking views and vans down by many rivers.

I'm heading back to the beach, the place I most feel at home, reinforcing the fact that the reason I loved Splash as a child was not ONLY because I had a crush on Tom Hanks but because I was a mermaid in a past life.

Thank you for feeling so much like home.

We'll see you again soon. G'day mate.

Next stop on the crazy train: Thailand. Bring on the lemongrass and the massages. And of course the sand and the sun.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Born Free

There was a new concept D and I were introduced to when we arrived in New Zealand - freedom camping.

I'm not sure why they're so technical about it because essentially it's just free camping but perhaps people are trying to be very clever about being cheap - 'It's not about the money. It's about the freedom. You know, being free from the constraints of an expensive campervan park."

Another buzz word was our 'self contained' vehicle. Self contained meaning everything you need is contained, inside, your van. Fridge. Shower. Toilet. Bed. Shelves. Microwave. And that means, you can just park anywhere.

Anywhere? I asked the hostel guy. 'Ya dude (as many hostel guys talk) you can totally just pull up anywhere in New Zealand and just park and just like..be..ya know.'

This was great! The cost of the daily rental of the van was cheaper than a nights accomodation and we'd be saving money on food because we could cook every night. It seemed like the perfect solution.

There is of course the cost of the diesel to run the car. And the gas to run the stove. And the heater. Which I can tell you, in September in New Zealand, you WILL need.

And there is of course yet another term we discovered, plugging in.

Plugging in is something you can only do in campervan parks, which you play the privilege to sleep amongst other campervans, making it feel less like the wild and more like a parking lot.

Nevertheless, plugging in had it benefits. It meant you could use their toilets, which you will soon learn that HAVING the toilet in the van is a great convenience. DUMPING it is another thing altogether.

You also have access to their showers, meaning you can always have a hot shower. This lesson I learned the hard way - the water is heated from the engine so you have hot water after you've been running the engine. Showering in the morning only produces cold water. Would have been useful to know BEFORE I lathered my hair with shampoo.

More importantly, you are able to use things that are PLUGGED IN. Such as the microwave. The kettle. The heater.

That's not to say there wasn't heat when we were 'freedom camping'. There was a gas heater, that you could run, at your expense due to the gas usage, for about 2 hours at a time maximum.

Some nights, I may have as well have been in a tent. On an air mattress. Without the condensation.

But none of this, of course, put us off the whole adventure. It was more just a learning experience, one which involved a new 'discovery' about the campervan every day.

Like you really should fill up the water every day. Cause even if you're not showering, you'll use it all up in one day. Thank god we stayed by a lake the first night.

And you really need to use the water hose provided at the dump stations. As appealing as it is to simping dump your waste throw the case back in the van, you really need to ensure it's EMPTIED. ENTIRELY EMPTIED. If not, you're van will begin to smell like a fart convention...or a teenage boys room.

And there are actually some places you can't park a van, like on soft ground. Cause all those glorious things inside the van that make it feel so homey weigh a gazillion pounds, which is enough to get you stuck. Thank god for friendly Kiwis and Aussies otherwise, I'm sure I'd still be stuck by the sea.

Although they were the coldest and sometimes scariest sleeps, the best ones were in the 'freedom camping' sites. Where you couldn't hear a sound. Except your breathing. Maybe the water crashing. And occasionally the psycho killer that was coming along the gravel to kill you. Or at least, that's what it sounded like at 3am.

But I missed the desolateness. The absolute quiet. And I began to loathe the sound of the campervan parks, with their plugging in perks and hot showers. It became a place I slept solidly but without the adventure. And with a lot more screaming children at 7 in the morning.

I'm happy to be back in a city, back with the buzz and hustle of people, back to the place I feel most comfortable, amongst people but still alone.

But I'm so glad I had the freedom experience. Although not at free as we had expected, it was way more economical than staying hostels and touring around on buses with adventure seeking 20 year olds who would have only made me feel like an old woman.

And when I'm grumbling about the state of a toilets in China or wondering where I'm going to eat, I will remember that at least I don't have to dump my own waste and that there's no need to jump up from my plate to get the dishes done before all the hot water is gone.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

In a Van Down By the River

I'm sure the late Chris Farley will not mind if I steal a line from his motivational speaker on SNL to say that currently, I am living in van down by the river.

I suppose it's a bit more than that as it's a van down by MANY rivers...and mountains....and wee towns....and forests...

I'm currently seeing New Zealand, a country that I can only say has touched my heart even with the portable toilet and the cold shower I endure every day.

And I really can't imagine doing it any other way. Every morning, a new walk or seal watching adventure or horsebackriding through Lord of the Rings territory.

Every afternoon a 3 hour car ride along rodes with the most beautiful scenery that you will ever see in your lifetime.

Every evening, cooking dinner in the middle of nowhere, emerging from our van to turn the gas on and off as we look out up from the valley towards the mountains and see nothing but moonlight, hear nothing but birds.

Getting back to nature is one of the most spectacular places in the world.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

It's a Little Known Fact

Since we've been travelling, I have come across some interesting cultural differences among the countries we've been to.

I thought, in Cliff Claven style, I would share with you some of the more bizarre and weird laws and customs from where we've been.

MALAYSIA

*As the country is predominantly Asian, you do see many women with headscarfs and dressed in the full Muslim attire. Be sure to look closely, though, as you're more than likely to see some Prada shoes, a top-of-the-line Nokia phone and a matching designer handbag to finish the package.

*You're less likely to have trouble finding a shop open on Sunday then you will on Friday. And if you're around on Friday, be sure to listen for the bells.

*Buses don't have toilets. Most Malaysian food is made up of curries. Now, YOU trying finding something to eat on the days you have to travel 5 hours on a bus. Travel day is starve day.

SINGAPORE

*You cannot own governement housing in Singapore unless you are a citizen. If you are a citizen, you can purchase these homes starting at $100,000. Pretty good, there's just one more catch. You must show your marriage certifcate to purchase. Hmm. And, if you can't find somebody to love, the government will take pity on you and allow you buy one at the age of 35. Brings a whole new meaning to 'I still live at home with my parents'.

*It makes financial sense to move next to your mother-in-law. The government will give you $40,000 to purchase property near your parents. This is to promote YOU taking care of them in their old age, taking pressure off the government to do so. Baby boomers rejoice!

*You can rent umbrellas for a day! If you're out and about and suddenly it starts pouring and your not really inclined to purchase yet another umbrella to add to the 50 you have at home, just rent one. GENUIS. PURE GENIUS.

*There is a height restiction on buildings in Singapore because of the 6 airports that surround the city. You'll see more trees than you will concrete jungle.

*It REALLY IS the cleanest place on earth

AUSTRALIA

*If you don't like going through immigration lines, you'll have to prepare yourself for a double whammy when entering Australia. Not only do you queue up to get into the country, you are then sent into a quarantine section where you must line up again and have your bags go through special xray machines. Forget about smuggling in those tangarines to your old Aunt Mae.

*You WILL see kangaroos hopping around the golf course. So, take up golfing and get real surreal.

*There are some parts of this country that have not had rain for 5 years. 3 minute showers are not just a grandma joke, they are law. And forget running the sprinkler so your kids can run through it in the summer. That's against the law too.

*Plants, clearly adapting to their climate, close themselves in to stay away from the sun, as opposite from western plants, that open up to get some rays.

*Water in toliets DO spin the opposite way, and thankfully, there are toliets available EVERYWHERE including buses, so bring on the curries.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

5 Weeks and Counting

It's hard to believe we've been on the road for over a month and yet it feels like a century ago I was going to bed at 10:30, getting up STILL EXHAUSTED at 9:00 to go and teach a full day until 6:30.

My Korean has definitely waned, although, I have to admit the odd time I do turn around when I can hear it in the street. I have to shake my head and look around just to remind myself that I'm no longer in Korea.

Malaysia was everything we had hoped for. Sandy beaches, delicious food, friendly people. So much of what you're looking for when you're on holiday.

It had beautiful beaches, some corally, some sandy, all relaxing. Sometimes we'd see crabs scurrying along at nighttime. Other times we'd find hundreds of dead little jellyfish that had been swept to shore by the tides.

The water was always breathtaking. All those blues and greens you seen in pictures. So remarkable in fact that I did pinch myself one or two times.

Australia has been the "home away from home" we needed. After only just over a week in the country, I feel like I may have never even lived in a far away place like Korea.

The food is so diverse - Thai, Indian, Greek, Italian, Turkish, Afgani, Chinese, Japanese, even Korean - I'm sure you can guess which type we've given a miss, not out of lack of deliciousness, as there is some Korean food I'd be happy to try again, but more out of boredom.

The cities are big and bright, filled with skyscrapers and wide sidewalks and cafes and galleries and shopping malls and toliets with toilet paper, sit down seats AND hot water to wash your hands.

The beaches are outstanding. Since it is winter here, we have not had the privelage of braving the shark-waters with the surfers. But there is just something about looking out at an Australian beach that seems very distinct. Unlike Malaysia. Unlike Korea. Unlike Barbados. Just distinctly Australian.

I'm finding it hard to take pictures here, because minus the beaches, the cities feel so much like home. I never took pictures of me among the streets in Toronto so it seems weird that I would choose to do so here.

Melbourne is especially reminding me of the Big Smoke. Only the streets are wider. And D is convinced it's cleaner. But I'd say it's been that long since we've actually had a good look at the streets at home that we wouldn't be able to tell anymore.

I'm also finding myself back in the 'backpack groove'. There is a certain method to this madness.

Settle into your hostel or hotel - most always a private room for the two of us as we've done this enough times to know what we feel comfortable with. Some people would forgoe the room costs to save the money to go on the piss all night. We prefer the privacy and comfort. Personal choice is all really.

Unpack the important pieces - for me, it's the large make up bag that has everything from Nyquill to my mascara. As long as there is about a metre of space (it folds out very long!) somewhere in the room to unwrap these wares, the places begins to feel like home.

For D, he has a little digital clock that gets set up on his bedside table. If we only have one table by the bedside, it's his. If there's not table, a chair will do.

Suss the place out - usually we can manage an ensuite as the middle-of-the-night-widdle is much easier done in the room than a hike down the hall. We just spent a night in a Melbourne place which was lovely and clean and a 47 second walk to the bathroom. And I had to go TWICE in the middle of the night. Boot strapping, as we'd call it in Korea.

What to do - plan our day around sights, eating and bathroom breaks. This is so much easier in Australia, especially the bathroom bits, and of course, being able to speak English certainly makes things run smoothly.

The Siesta - always at about 5ish until we get ready for dinner. Sometimes we sleep. Sometimes we read. Sometimes we make decisions about adding new places to our list, cutting things out of our list, checking on the pennies to make sure we're staying somewhat on the financial track.

Dinner - we have always loved our evening meals. These are our times to reflect on our day, decided what we liked, what we didn't like and just enjoy some of the culture of the city or town or island we're staying in or on. Sometimes this can be an expense others would forgoe. You can really always find a hostel with a good kitchen to cook in for yourself. Again, personal choice.

And I'm also realising, once again, how different everyone's experience can be. And how, even if you asked me for advice or places to go or things to see, I could never really give you something solid. Something foolproof. Something that would define the 'best holiday ever'.

Because priorites are different. What you want to see, do, eat. Where you want to shower, pee, sleep. Who you want to meet, not meet, push out of the bus. How you want to drive, bus, train to the place.

Most importantly, your mind is always changing. My mind has changed about what I wanted over the next 4 months so drastically in only 5 weeks. How could I possibly get inside anyone else's head when I can't even figure out my own.?

We read a lot and are told a lot about 'must see' places, how 'there's no where else on earth' and 'you can't miss this'.

What I've learned? You can. There are actually places that you can miss. Because you're adding places that no one has talked about and sometimes? They become YOUR must see. YOUR place on earth. YOUR can't miss.

And I think that's the part of my journey that I'm enjoying the most. Those sneaky places that smack you in the face with surprise and quickly become a cherished travel moment.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

So Much to Do, So Much to See

So much has changed since I started ignoring this blog at the beginning of our travels.

It certainly hasn't been because of the lack of things to say. More the opposite.

But the internet connections in Malaysia were not stellar, especially on the islands and now that we're in Australia, we've simply been spending time eating and drinking and enjoy the company of English-speakers that I haven't really had a good chunk of time to sit down and have some verbal diahorrea on this thing.

I think I'm also now in a better place to properly reflect on my time in Korea, one which I do not regret and have come to look back on as a wonderfully wacky and weird experience. Part of me feels like I've gone to the moon and back, that this entire year I've been so disconnected with so many things that everything is new to me.

Take for example, pop culture. I had NO IDEA Christine Aguleria had a new CD out OR that she was pregnant and just hiding it. Ditto that on Nicole Richie! Last I heard she was puking her guts out trying to convince the world that she was NOT anorexic.

There is also food. Do you know how much food you forget exists? Beets. One of my favourite side dishes. And I TOTALLY forgot about them. GREEN BEANS. What goes better with a steak than GREEN BEANS? Those too. Dropped out of the data box in my brain.

And who can forget the VARIETIES of wine? Or sitting down for dinner and knowing that everything on the menu, is ACTUALLY available?

And in remembering and experiencing all these things over the last 5 weeks has actually shown me how far I've come. How well I did (yes, I'll just pat my own back) living somewhere else on the planet that does so many things just do differently than what I'm used to.

And then all the problems that I THOUGHT were a big deal back in Western-land aren't really that big. Because I can turn on the TV and have hundreds of channels to unwind to instead of 2.

And I can walk into a grocery store and find granola bars and green beans and asparagus and 5 different kinds of apples.

I can find a bookstore about 10 minutes from where I am that has more books then I could possibly peruse in a 3 hour session.

I can even find clothes that fit me. MANY MANY shops with clothes that fit me. Thank god my backpack is too small for them or we'd be out of money by now.

And I'm also very aware, that one day I will be cursing the fact that I can't eat a meal for 5 bucks, can't relax in a sauna for hours on end for 4 bucks, can't hire my OWN PRIVATE KARAOKE ROOM for a mere $15 per hour, can't hike up a mountain behind my house and use the free gym facilities available.

Just not today.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Happy Birthday HB

I've often written about my many ups and downs, highs and lows, crazy and sane moments here on this website.

What most of you may not know is that the reason there are ups and highs and sane moments is because of the funniest, smartest, most caring, most rational, most patient person in the world.

These days, much of his time is spent finding the perfect place to eat, sleep and beach for one very particular and mind-changing Gemini. And he has succeeded as only a Virgo can.

As today is his birthday, I hope that all he'll have to worry about is what time he has to get out of the bed to go to dinner.

We have now spent 11 of his birthdays together, although he will remind me that on his 20th birthday I was too busy flitting around for frosh week to actually KNOW it was his but still, I was there in spirit.

The next 10 have been filled with succulent dinners and exciting escapes and presents that went well (massages) and presents that were more on the peculiar side (a mixed tape?????).

There have been local birthdays - big blowouts in Toronto - and not so local - his 30th in Gimhae. There have been parties - that night at Rileys - and quite moments - that one in Belfast - and general surprises - that one in Gimhae.

While I've enjoyed all these parts of his birthday, my favourite part is how I get to tell him how much he means to me, how much I need him and how I'm not quite sure where I would be in the world today if it was not for his constant companionship always beside me.

Happy Birthday, HB

love always
SB

Monday, August 13, 2007

Back to the Beach

Every Monday we would ask our students "What did you do on the weekend?"

Depending on the level of the class we would get answers ranging from 'my, mommy, daddy, home' to 'teacher, I went to the mountain and climbed with my mother and father and brother and it was a fantastic day. I was very surprised'.

I would envitabley, fill my students in on what I had done. During the last few months, it ended up being the same thing. "I went to the beach".

One day, in D's class, when he went to tell his students what he did, one of his students interupted and said, "Teacher, I know where you went. You went to the beach."

D laughed. He told her she was right.

She smiled and spoke again.

"Teacher, I think you love the beach. Always, on the weekend, you go to the beach".

She was right.

And so off we go again. Back to the beach. For another 5 days of relaxation, snorkelling, sleeping, eating, card playing, book reading and general doing nothingness.

Our students would be proud.

Write you in another week or two.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Brand New Woman

It's amazing what a trek in the jungle, some days on the beach and lots of different yummy foods can do to change your perspective.

I feel like a totally different person than the one that left Korea almost 2 weeks ago.

Was that only 2 WEEKS AGO???

I have some pictures I want to post but will have to wait until tomorrow.

We're on a land stopoever from the island hopping in Kuala Teregganu on the East Coast. We'll spend a couple of days in the city to start appreciating the sunny beach again once we get back there on Tuesday.

It's mostly the not-working thing that has obviously relaxed me.

But there is a little of the non-trapped-ness that is helping as well. I don't feel stuck anymore. I don't feel tied down. And I know that I'm on an amazing adventure, one that is destined to end with a big party with family and friends.

And that's a journey worth taking.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Oh What a Feeling

We're away! We're gone! Asta la vista baby! Bring on holiday!

With only one day of permanent holiday officially under my belt, I feel free as a bird.

Free as the birds I saw in the bird sanctuary today. The LARGEST ONE IN THE WORLD. The one I went to, you know, when I WAS IN MALAYSIA.

I can't believe I'm here and I can't even remember what I was doing before I was doing this.

Did I mention it's only been a day?

I expect to not have much internet time for the next little while. I'm trekking in the jungle and laying on the beach.

Enjoy your August. I'll get to ya when I get to ya.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Last Case of the Mundays For Awhile

I find this part of the journey so difficult to articulate.

Perhaps this is why I've been so silent here.

Mostly, I just feel it's a very personal time, something that while I'm in the midst of it, I'm just not quite ready to share all the feelings and emotions I'm going through.

Almost like my emotions seem to be changing so constantly, that if I write anything down, it will suddenly become a REAL emotion, one that's not associated with any stress hormones or general anxiety.

And I'm not sure that's really the right way to go. Because I don't think venting in this sort of way will actually solve any of it or even make it go away momentarily. I think it will just paint the wrong picture.

One that you can't easily erase. One that is a distroted view of the actual situation. And perhaps my journalistic side wants me to 'stick to the facts m'aam'. And those facts DON'T actually include my roller coaster emotions.

Because then maybe someone will make a judgement about a certain place or person based on what I've written. Based on my emotionally charged statements.

Which is why I think it's best to simply experience what I'm experiencing without actually verbalising it until I've had the reflection time.

And there's also the fact that with all the loose ends to tie up, the creative part of my brain is mostly just filled with lists.

To do lists.

To buy lists.

To get vaccinated for lists.

To ship lists.

To stop worrying about lists.

But today was my last Monday at work for awhile. After this week, I will be a professional traveller. Or nomad. Or moocher. Or beach bum. Depending on which way you look at it.

So I'll put this day to bed and feel better about at least communicating about my non communication.

And I'll get back to y'all on that real soon.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Few and Far Between

There has been a lot going on here in G-town - my mind is mostly elsewhere.

I'm feeling a bit excited, apprehensive, sad, happy, angry, tired and content all at the same time.
With not much else to say, I'll leave you with some more of my cents.

For What It's Worth #2 - LEARN KOREAN RIGHT AWAY
It was very easy for us to simply put this in the back of our minds and decide that we would 'just to it later'. Trust me, after your first week at school, the LAST thing you'll want to do is try and sit down and study.

I know because we tried.
And then we managed to come up with 101 excuses why we just didn't have time to learn the language. Yes, JUST DIDN'T HAVE TIME.

People - there is ALWAYS time. And I think I would have had a much different - albeit less frustrating - experience if I tried to pick it up right away.

It makes it easier to simply socialise in a way you do back home.
Ask the convience store clerk if she's having good day.
Comment about the freshness of the vegetable to the teller at the grocery store.
Modify your food at a restaurant.
Ask the sauna lady 'Do I REALLY have to get naked to go in there?".
We could have enjoyed more Korean things if we knew how to read, ask, have a conversation in Korean.
So as much as studying is what you want to do after teaching all day, just force yourself. And then after your year is up, let me know if it made as much a difference as I think it will.

Can't Believe I'll Neva.......
be offered green tea in every place I go. When you walk into any Korean store or office, there is a water cooler, equiped with both cold AND hot water for you to sample. And there is always green tea. What better way to zap all those free radicals you're inhaling and drinking while you're here?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Beginning of the End

D and I recently celebrated our full year in Korea. On Friday night, we were out with the same teachers who introduced us to Korea when we arrived.

After our meal, we ventured off home to spend some quality time in a cool area (can I talk about HOW FRICKIN HOT IT IS RIGHT NOW??) our living room. Not to mention the bartender there makes THE BEST gin and tonics.

We started a highs and lows conversation, a little stroll down memory lane.

It's more than surreal. It's so strange and bizarre and amazing and weird and hardly possible and many other adjectives not worth mentioning that it's possible that we have been here a year.

We have come a really long way. Longer than I could have ever imagined.

If you had told me I would survive not only a foot break (yes I KNOW it's not that big of a deal but your are talking about a little bit o a drama head) but foot break IN ANOTHER COUNTRY, I wouldn't have believed you.

If you had told me that I after a year I could put 'Can really kiss away boo-boos" on my resume, I would have laughed in your face.

If you had told me, that the sound of a foreign language would just suddenly click and make sense and that even though I wouldn't be able to tell you the words, I would be able to get the gist of what people were saying, I'd tell you to take a flying leap.

I'm such a different person who is absolutely the same. And I realise that anyone obviously goes through changes in their life and they don't need to come halfway around the world to experience them.

But I do. And I'm glad I did. And there were many times, over this past year, that I didn't really think I could ever say that; that there was never going to be a time when I could look back on certain situations and laugh; that I thought my mother might never stop saying 'Well why don't you just come home then?'

We are expecting to leave Korea at the end of this month. Our plan is to go travelling, for as long as the money will take us or until next February, when V Day rolls around again.

I thought I make take this opportunity, to use this month and the postings I have left to share not only what I have learned but what I will miss.

Let me post this disclaimer that, as a blog always is, my OWN experience and opinions about what it is like to live here and what you can expect.

Everyone is different. And everyone is here for different reasons. And this is kinda for my own knowledge as well. To help this last month be about reflection and learning, productive, not negative.

And so, without further adieu..

If you're planning on coming out here, here's A's 1st For What It's Worth and Can't Believe I'll Neva:

For What It's Worth #1 - DON'T COME HERE FOR THE MONEY
When I was researching coming to Korea, I found a guy's posting from like 5 years ago. He went into many details about what you should and should not do but I have to say, the one that stuck in my head, was this.
Don't come here for the money..ONLY the money. It's not worth it. You can make a lot of money planting trees or working on oil rigs and you don't have to go through all of the things you will go through here just to make a buck.
You have to want to be here for more than the paycheck. Otherwise, you will be that unhappy sap that the rest of the foreign crowd avoids. And you can forget about Koreans socialising with you cause I'm guessing if you're here for the money, you're not trying to learn the language.

Can't Believe I'll Neva....
...walk into another job where my clients are SO excited to see me, they jump up and down, crawl all over me like monkeys and scream my name for the first 5 minutes.
And this, after I just saw them before lunch. Imagine what Monday mornings are like.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Happy Canada Day

Although I've already celebrated - quite extensively I may add - I thought I'd better wish everyone near and far a happy one.

It was quite surreal this year as it's been the first one abroad that I've actually had other Canadians - and even Americans! - to celebrate with. Over the last 5 years, minus the one year when we were home, we were always pumping the day up for people who really, were just happy to have any excuse for a party.

This year, it was a bit of sharing of past Canada Day stories, eating of the pizza, the missing of the fireworks and of course, the token drinking of many drinks.

It was great.

So although I'm not at a cottage somewhere, NOT working today, I certainly celebrated in good fashion.

And will be hitting the sack early tonight. Because I'm an old lady people. I went to be 5 HOURS PAST MY BEDTIME last night.

Oh dear.

Have a great one.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Next Generation - Double Whammy

During the first half of April, I had this terrible dream that my little sister C died.




I sometimes have these dreams, as I'm sure everyone does about a loved one, that feels so real and intense in the moment, the first thing you want to do when you wake up is actually just give that person a great big hug.



When I woke up, I remembered another dream I had had one time about my brother R, dying. It was C that had said to me:



"Well, when someone dies in your dream it means that their going to start a new chapter, have some exciting, some new, happen to them. Essentially, they life will change so much it will become a 'new life'."



So it's no surprise that I thought of this after the dream I had about her.



Later that week, I heard that she had recieved very sad news about her best friend's father passing away. I knew this would affect her very much, as she has been close with the whole family for many years.



Strangely, I came back to my dream, thinking that perhaps this was the dramatic change that it had foretold.



I called her up that weekend to send my condolences and see how was she was doing.



I relayed the story to her and the converstation went a little something like this:



A - I had this terrible dream about you dying..


C - (possible eye roll) uh-huh


A - and then I remembered what you said about those types of dreams..


C - (possible slight smile) oh yeah


A - one time when R....blah blah blah....


C - (possible tuning out of A's LONG story)


A - (after 5 minute ramble) ....and I thought maybe you were pregnant but then I guess this sad news must be the dramatic change.


C - *BLINK BLINK*


A - *listening to dead air*


C - *silence*


A - *ummmm...OH GOD CHANGE THE SUBJECT*


C - *silence*


A - ...so anyway, the weather is just getting SO WARM these days..



It was a week later, Easter Weekend, from my parents home, whom she had surprised by driving 10 hours from Toronto to give them the new, that she called with the happy news:





And I couldn't help, in between the excited 'OHMYGODOHMYGOD's, point out that I KNEW IT. Or well, at least I THOUGHT I knew it. because the phone conversation had TOO MUCH of a pregnant pause.



My little sister C is pregnant! I am set to become the CRAZY OLD AUNT ABBEY I promised all my friends in high school I would be. Except, I might change the CRAZY to TOTALLY-AWESOME-WITH-THE-SPOILING-AND-AWESOMENESS.



If that didn't create enough of happy tingling to last me for the rest of the year, I recieved news from sister H just one week later.




SHE WAS GOING TO BE A MOMMY TOO! The girl who asked my parents when she was little if she could live with them forever, was now spreading her wings and starting her own little brood to live with HER forever.



And she was due only weeks after C!! It would be a double whammy Christmas!!



And then my head exploded. WITH UTTER GLEE AND EXCITEMENT!!


Congratulations to my sisters C and H and my patient, loving bro-in-laws K and P (respectively).



May your journeys be filled with adventure, excitement and wonder.



And may you be sure to take many pictures. I promise, I won't post them ALL on my blog.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Sometimes, It DOES Sink In

A couple of months ago, I decided one very important lesson I wanted to teach all my chicldren was how to actually GREET people properly.

I would frequently arrive in class, ask individual students 'how are you' only to hear responses such as 'I'm fine', 'I'm happy' or my favorite Korean invention 'I'm so so', which I have learned should REALLY translate into 'I'm okay'.
What stuck out the most, was the impoliteness of their responses.

And so, I wrote 1, 2, 3 on the board and explained to them that when they are asked this question, there are THREE parts in the answer:

1 - your state of being (okay, well I didn't write THAT on the board as it would have really flew over their heads)

2 - a recognition that something nice was asked of you (ie THANK YOU. Or THANKS. or THANKS VERY MUCH. Or even the Korean THANKS VERY MUCHY)

3 - do unto others..(in other words, ASK THE QUESTION BACK. The variations included HOW ABOUT YOU? or repetitively HOW ARE YOU? or simply AND YOU?)

As as teacher, I think most days you feel like you might as well be talking to drying paint. That the only way something might sink in is if you actually carved it into the paint before it dried.

But today, I've been proven wrong. TWICE.

I saw two students today whom I no longer teach but are still at my school.

And in my most courteous Canadian way, I simply asked them how they were.

Do you know what happened without missing a beat?

They both finished their greeting with number 2 AND 3.

Success. Changing conversations two students at a time.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

And So It Goes

"...and so it goes, and so will you soon I suppose..." - Billy Joel

I've heard that once you finally begin to 'get' Korea, you leave.

I've heard that many people choose to stay another year because after the first 12 months are up, they suddenly begin to realise what it's all about here.

On Sunday, I decided to head back to the sauna, filled with naked women and young girls, who scrub and sauna themselves to pure cleanliness.

I haven't been for a couple of months because the weather has been so nice but it used to be my regular Sunday routine.

And when I walked it, it just felt, well, dare I say a bit like home? Like home in the way it smells and the sounds and that feeling you get after being away too long and realising it's exactly like you never left?

I suddenly just felt part of it. Part of something that I really enjoy about Korea. A relaxing couple of hours pampering myself. For only 5 bucks.

There are so many things to get frustrated about here that it always catches me by surprise when something feels just absolutely perfect.

Next week, we will have been here a year. ONE YEAR. I remember writing here when we first arrived, wondering how I was going to survive an entire 12 months. And now, here we are.

And although we've extended our contract by a month, to take advantage of making a bit more cash and avoid travelling in the rainy season, we're still leaving very soon.

I'm finally realising how much I WILL really miss this place.

You begin to slowly realise that all you need is comfort and familiarity and anywhere becomes home. Anywhere becomes a place that you feel comfortable in.

And perhaps this is all stating the obvious. And perhaps I've stated it before. I know there was an isolation period both in Leeds and Belfast.

I guess, for future reference, the acclimitization time for Korea is one year.

And so it goes.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Here Comes the Sun






In an effort to will the sun back to Busan so we can all head to the beach this weekend, I decided to post some pictures of the Baseball/Soccer/Football/Beach Festival weekend we had a few weekends ago.


On Saturday - we hit the benches




Lotte Giants on the field.




Crazy Mascot dressed in a traditional Korean hanbok - female dress.


D and B enjoy the game.


I was there...see??




Kiwi D sneaks a peek at the camera.


K and E REALLY enjoyed themselves.

On Sunday - we hit the beach:



Korea E prepares herself for the long day and Sun Hat K give some encouragement to N.







Magazines always help footballers wives pass the time.






Action of their final game.






Way to go waegooks!




Sand, sun, soccer, some magazines, some footballer wives, such great craic.








What a blast.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Get in Shape Girl

Does anyone else remember this bizarre children's gift that appeared in the 80s?

I've recently been trying to get back on the fitness wagon and for some reason, the commerical theme song will not get out of my head.

"Get in Shape Girl, it's so appealing, Get in Shape Girl, you know the feeling!"

Looking back as an adult, how strange is it that this was a young girl's gift.

"Here's some equipment!"

"Look at all the skinny girls in the posters!"

"With matching headbands!"

"And leggings!"

"AND LEG WARMERS!"

"Surely, you want to look like them!"

"You need to get in shape!"

"You're not good enough the way you are!"

I can just imagine my feminist's mother's face when I told her all I wanted for Christmas was a set of the Get in Shape barbells.

Perhaps that's why I got so many books that year.

To work out my brain instead.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Breathe Again

Okay, incommunicado slightly solved.

And now, after sweating it out all day, I think I should really join FA.

Otherwise known as Facebook Annonymous.

I wonder if they have an online group....

InCommunicado

My email for some reason is letting me read, delete, and even draft messages but it will not let me send.

My latest addiction Facebook seems to be undergoing 'technical upgrades' which if I remember correctly from my web days basically means WE'RE F**KED AND CAN'T FIGURE OUT THE PROBLEM considering it would be 'prime facebooking time' in North America and I can't imagine a 'scheduled update' would actually go on during peak hours.

Hmmm.

The girl with the gift of the gab has been silenced.

Okay, which one of you jokers out there has had your wish come true?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Just Looking Thanks

For Teacher's Day, I was given a disgusting amount of money in gift certificates at various department stores here in Korea.

One of the certifcates was for Lotte, quite a well known and prestigious place that has beautiful clothes, all far to small for me to squeeze into.

D and I wandered up to the top floor to check out some of the electronics. It was kinda a fun home mission, for when, well, we actually HAVE home, looking at various TVs, dreaming of ridiculously huge entertainment systems and deciding which couches we could agree on.

We also checked out the sports floor, which included shoes and mountain climbing gear. The matching outfits were certainly the hottest item there - you should have SEEN the Korean queuing to get the lastes polyester suits.

Most of this browsing was quite normal, almost like a regular day in a department store anywhere. And it felt kinda nice to just be in a place that felt really like home.

It didn't really last that long, however, before I was reminded I AM in Korea. A place where they pride themselves on hands on customer service...literally.

Picture if you will, the cosmetic and beauty floor in any major department store you've ever been in. You know, it's usually on the first floor, with the beautifully make-uped ladies, smiley their pearly whites and trying to catch you with the latest perfume spray as you go buy.

I decided to check out the Aveda counter, which actually had a 10 foot wide wall with tons of lovely products to browse.

I walked straight up to the end of the wall and proceeded to slide my way slowly to the right, looking at all the products they had to offer.

This is still sounding normal isn't it?

Okay, well imagine a cosmetic lady approaching me, standing to my left, facing me instead of the wall.

She doesn't say anything, although she smiles.

And I give her the nod that, thank you, just looking.

She smiles back. And does not move.

I am staring at make up and to my left about 6 inches away, is a Korean woman, just staring at me.

I discreetly shift to the right, looking at other products to perhaps give her another hint that, I'm not really in need of any help.

It was like she was on a string, attached to my waist, because, without saying anything, she simply just moved over. Towards me. And managed to STILL keep exactly 6 inches between us.

I decide to not look at her. Perhaps this is the problem. I'm being TOO nice. And so, I shift further, to the right, pretending like she's not even there.

But the string still is. And so is she. SIX INCHES AWAY FROM ME.

Do you remember that feeling? When you're like 14, 15, going into a shop with your girlfriends and the cashiers can't help but follow you because they're just WAITING for you to shoplift?

It felt a little like that.

When I finally reached the end of the wall, and had finished looking, albeit uncomfortably, at all the products, I turned around to see D, almost pissing himself laughing.

And now I wished I'd got it on video.

Because can you just imagine what it looked like from behind?

Something out of Monty Python, I'm certain.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Back to Basics

When I was younger, I fell in love with a quote, that I'm not sure where it came from, so I've always posted it as anonymous:

"Life is a tragedy for those who feel and a comedy for those who think"

I'm finding myself getting a little caught up in too many emotions right now.

And so, in an effort to change my mind, I'm throwing this out there in hopes that the universe will come smack me up side the head and get me to snap out of it.

Because really, feeling things is great.

But isn't laughing better?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Visually Minded


Although I've always got a lot of words bouncing around in my head, I can't always say that they make that much sense.

So, in an effort to compile some information that might be a bit less scrambled, here is a snapshot (ha ha, i'm TOO funny) I've what we've been up to over the past couple of weeks.

First, there was my birthday




which included tacos


some wishes
a pinyata


and many many MANY songs sung by me



and others, when I finaly gave the mic away.







And then there was my ACTUAL birthday, which I shared with Buddha, and also meant, I got the day off.




Happy Birthday to us, big guy.

Then, there was a trip to Pohang to see some cute kids at an orphanage my friend K used to work at which included some playing



some measuring - of the length of noses that is..


and some hugs



and then an ice hockey game..








in which two foreigner friends were playing!




It included a bit of drama, when a player stormed off the ice, because he lost his glove. More likely, it was because the G-town team was KICKING THEIR ASS with the foriegn contribution and they were embarrassed to be losing.


Boo hoo, toys outta the crib, give me a lollipop.

There was some more frivolity - as there always is.







And a good time was had by all.
Been busy - yes.
Been enjoying it? Absolutely.
Next post: more tacos, a patio bar and a football tourney on the beach.


Thursday, May 31, 2007

Old Lady

Is it possible that you can't function as an ESL kindergarten teacher WITHOUT 10 hours sleep?

I chose last night to go out - NOT TO A BAR - but to a movie.

It was a long one - perhpas too long - and a late one but Jack Sparrow is always worth the time.

And I was in bed by 1am, which means since I get up at 9am, I still got a good 8 hours (everyone cheer for me because I mastered some math)

But now, after 4 kindergartan classes, I feel like I've gone 10 rounds with Tyson. Except no body parts have been bitten off. But my clothes are pretty drenched from the EXCEEDING AMOUNT OF TEARS today.

I've never done a job where I needed this much sleep. I like my sleep, I'm a bit of a hibernating bear, but I never used to actually NEED this much sleep to function.

I'm so tired that I actually figured you all might be interested in how tired I am today.

If that doesn't show mental incapacity, then I'm not sure what else would.

Maybe another whole entry about the weather?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Countdown

Scene opens: 10:30am with the kindergartens second class of the day, after a 5 minute break.

Teacher: Okay everyone, please sit down in your desk

Students: meeda meeda meeda meeda (Korean for 'continue-babbling-with-my-friends)

Teacher: Okay, sit down. Please everyone sit down.

Students: *clearly paying no attention to teacher* meeda meeda MEEEDA MEEEDA

Teacher: T-student, close the door please.

T-student: NO

Teacher: *blink blink blink*

T-Student: *cheeky smile*

Teacher: T-Student I said close the door.

T-Student: NO

Teacher: *smoke out of ears blood boiling over* 5...4.....3...

T-Students and others: *T-student-slams door**scramble-knock-each-other-over-to-get-to-seats*

The countdown. For when a simple 'please sit down' just won't do.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Happy Birthday To Me

Every year, I get a LITTLE BIT EXCITED about my birthday.

I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it's because I don't yet have kids of my own's birthdays to get excited about.

Maybe it's because I'm like Peter Pan, will never grow up and am eternally a 5-year-old.

As today is a national holiday in Korea, I was lucky enough to not have to go into work.

This means I continue my 8 year "no going to work on my birthday" streak that started after I graduated from university.

As they say in Korea, "Assah!" (Otherwise known as YEEEESSSSSSS!)

Although I am celebrating today by doing whatever I want, last night was the big mexican food party at my house. Followed by some singing in the singing room. FOR 6 HOURS.

I went to bed as the sun came up, begged the drink fairy to let me awake without a killer headache and a sore tummy and had a fantastic time.

The best part about birthdays is that it's a great excuse to get everyone out. Because, you can always make an excuse any other occasion, but when it's someone's birthday, people rarely bow out.

And then it makes for a good night.

And what a good night was had.

A nice big crowd of waegooks, eating their taco-loving hearts out, singing their norebang-loving lungs out, laughing their jokes-loving guts out.

Thanks everyone. You made a Korean birthday well worth the experience.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Stranger in a Strange Land

On Sunday night, I felt this weird sensation when we got into bed.

Kinda like, I was living in a new house. Or living someone else's life.

It was so bizarre. Everything felt strange and unfamiliar.

Throughout my life, I have been known to have the occasional anxious moment where all you want is a big hug from you mom. And, I always took advantage of the hugging when possible to make the willies go away.

But this was different. It wasn't a scary feeling. Just more surreal.

We have recently started planning our next travel jaunt and this one is looking to be a big kahuna.

We're talking about places like Singapore or Sydney as though they were Toronto or Montreal.

We're deciding on whether to go to Vietnam or Laos first like it's a decision about chicken or steak.

We're discussing day long trips on trains across Mongolia and Russia like it's a decision about whether to walk or ride our bikes to the store.

All the names, all these places, that for so many years were far away and distant on a map are now becoming places I need to decide whether or not to pack a bikini or a sweater for.

I'm trying to remember the excitement when we decided to take the plunge around Europe.

Trying to remember how I felt then. Was it this strange? Did it feel this exotic?

Once we lived in the UK, it's amazing how someone's weekend to Madrid or Berlin or Amsterdam just became, well, so common. Like someone from Canada going to Daytona Beach for spring break or Muskoka for a summer cottage stint.

I got to the point, living in Belfast, that I figured I would simply just have to adjust to the fact that I would only have a few months to travel around Asia. Take it all in before heading back to Canada.

And now I'm here, living in Korea, feeling occasionally isolated but mostly quite Asian, talking about taking a quick jaunt over to Fukoka, Japan before we head down to a Malaysian beach.

All these places that I used to dream about in my grade 11 World Issues class. Little letters strung together as words on a big map with green for land and blue for sea.

And when I look at these places now with my students, it's my home that's far away.

Perhaps I felt strange on Sunday night as a reminder of how lucky I feel. How happy I am that I AM living this life.

That most days, I am pinching myself, wondering how I ever got here from a small town in the middle of the 401?

And I suppose, that's a great way to start the week that will end with my 31st birthday.

(what??? you thought you'd get out of it in this post? nice try people. nice try...)