Tuesday, December 30, 2014


I had forgotten what a fantastic feeling it is to finish up work and not be rushing off to an airport right away.  It felt like luxury!

To not be preoccupied with packing and re-packing days before, making modifications dependent upon last minute weather changes.  To not need to carry toilet paper around all the time.  To not concern myself with covering up from the neck down.  To not need basic functioning in a different language, having maps and streets in order on paper, in my head and wondering where I'll be finding food.  It's a lot of work, especially for one person.  I didn't make 2014 easy on myself. 

I would be lying if I didn't admit to feeling withdrawal symptoms, after the first couple of days through the first week (because most of the time, I love figuring all that above stuff out).  Not even a mild cold deterred it.  Had to fight hard, the temptation to not go somewhere when I had a good amount of time, advance research done and a flight credit to use up.  It didn't help that I was actually able to find enticing options so last minute.  And any time I can get away without loss of income is a good thing.

I cannot remember the last time I had 2 weeks off and actually spent it at home (vs cottage etc) by choice.  And it isn't because D and I didn't have fun plans or that there isn't a long list of things we've been wanting to do around the house either.  We've just gotten fairly decent at tackling that list during our regular weekends.

In my mind, I spend fulfilling time at home most of the year.  I'm out of the house maybe 22 hr a week during a typical week so I don't have the same pull as D might of wanting to be at home more or missing it.

Maybe there will come a day I won't feel the internal tug of war, but right now, the drive to explore is still super strong.  In the end I was glad I didn't jet off right away because D came down with a bad flu (very unlike him).   He is understandably tired and frustrated with health issues these past couple of months. 

My new set of conservative travel clothing got a real work out this year.  I had become so acclimatized to conservative cultures, when we got to the Dead Sea, I was ready to wade in covered up.  Felt naked initially while wearing my most conservative bikini (didn't feel like buying a 1 piece just for this and there were a number of other tourists wearing the same) as I had not even worn a T shirt, shorts or knee length skirt in any of the countries I went to this year despite temperatures well over 35 C.

It's not easy nor always enjoyable to voluntarily push myself often outside comfort zones.  And believe me I get scared.  But how do we grow if we don't?  There is at times a huge gulf between what I've signed up to do and where I'd prefer to be instead.  But in every single instance, I learned a lot and was pleased/thrilled to have gone.  It's just that comfort creates such inertia. 

At this stage, I don't have the stamina to maintain this year's travel pace indefinitely.  I really admire people who seemingly can, whose rigorous commitment is so strong.  Maybe someday, if I keep working on it, if it is what I want.

After the adventures of this year, I'm hyper aware of my ability to chose and how easily things can change and be lost -- Many examples all around me.  Am not taking anything I do for granted, work or play.  Cherishing my freedom and still aiming to maximize potential. 

There is something very satisfying about glancing over the year's spreadsheet, which has more than just numbers, to look at the distribution of my time.  Have I spent it wisely?  Any changes needed for next year?  Potential of 2015?  It may sound geeky, but it's fun for me.  I've even spent time putting together my tax return.  Aren't I just a bunch of excitement...

I've made some work related changes for next year, dropping a couple of things which will have a small effect on my income.  It's OK.  I've been ready for those modifications for a while now.  It makes me feel more congruent.

Love not being part of the stress and commercial hype surrounding the end of December.  Feel rested and have been able to increase my workout intensity.  Even start a detox to undo the sweets I indulged in.  Might as well aim to start the new year as healthy as possible.

My senses have taken in a lot this year.  Feel honoured for all the good in my life.  Thanks for reading and All the Best to you all for 2015.

Friday, December 19, 2014


  • I cannot believe I've been seriously entertaining the idea of squeezing in one last trip before Dec 31st.  Yes, there is no limit to the insanity.  More disturbingly, with regards to the apparent disconnect between the brain hemispheres.
  • Interesting idea:  If you pursued only the things that rank 90% or higher to you, what would you be dropping?
  • I cannot remember the last time I had potentially 2 weeks off to spent at home.  I'm relishing the thought.
  • I've been dramatically less social this year and it still feels right.  The new people I've crossed paths with along the way have been stellar. 
  • It has been 4 months with my Mentee.  He has a vastly different life agenda than the others I've worked with.  I do question his prioritizational ability with respect to managing some parts of his life and business.  His default responses don't often make sense to me.  He is a strong people pleaser with at times blurry personal boundaries and a need to provide a play by play account of what's been going on.  I've given up encouraging him to email me questions.  He prefers to talk and is surprisingly optimistic.
  • D has been diligent with doing the "right" things for his back and it has paid off.  Our last trip was a great test for it.  We will be heading out west to ski late winter so that will give him plenty of time to get stronger.  Works well this year as the snow has been slow to arrive.  One thing good about this change fee.  The same cannot be said of his leg however.  A few days after our return from our recent trip, D developed swelling and hardness in his ankle area, so off to the ER he went.
  • Creating my first ever Christmas letter.  Thought it would be a fun way to touch base with those I haven't seen for a while.  Not sure if it'll get sent as first draft is reading a tad serious for I've seen and done some heavy things this year. 
  • From Facebook, I found my old high school counselor.  He played a pivotal role during my time there, really took me under his wing.  If I hadn't been recently asked to speak to some students at a career event, I wouldn't have thought of trying to locate him again, as the last time I did one of those talks was for him.  We chatted on the phone for a couple of hours and I was stricken by news of his disability along with the tone of his voice as to how that has impacted what his retirement was supposed to be like.   For an avid musician and traveler to not be able to see anymore is tragic.  I was saddened for quite a while after our call.  He says I sound exactly the same to him, same level of enthusiasm.  
  • My brain feels less "squeezed" since deciding not to plan further than 3 months out.  
  • Am loving the new vehicle.  Feels like I've driven it forever, so easy.  Maybe I'm more of a Japanese car girl after all.  Decided on rims and snow tires which have been installed.
  • I have to admit that all the extra traveling this year has been hard on my body.  All that sitting is not so healthy.  And it was just starting to feel like a chore, which kind of scared me.  I'm not spending all that prep time (and money) for something to feel somewhat dreaded.  No anticipated issues of that next year as there will no longer be any points based incentive.
  • I leave you with views from our recent getaway.  Wishing You and Yours a wonderful Christmas and New Years!

The Siq

The iconic Treasury

Wadi Rum

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Oct / Nov

  • Our hot water heater at the house pretty much kicked the bucket while I was in Dubai.  D, who was hoping to have a relaxing week, came home to the surprise pool of water on the basement floor.  It actually tripped the breaker too, alongside setting off the pressure release valve. 
  • Turns out replacement of an electric hot water heater is easier than installing a washer.  The next day, D finished the job after work, at a fraction of what he was quoted by area contractors.  We have the fittings for a gas heater as well but decided to stay with the type we had.  Total cost:  $322 for a 40L tank, downgraded from our 60L.  Obviously had we decided to go back to gas, we'd need the services of a professional.
  • I was surprised that it needed replacement.  The tag showed it was 12 years old.  The cottage had an ancient one (rental) that was only replaced a couple of years ago.  But contractors told D that 10 years is the average life expectancy.  The new tank is also much lighter and does not need an insulating blanket.
  • I had been holding my breath since D started his new job, wondering if his judgement of this new area was true.  That the work could be just work, not fighting and anger and stress, without anything really productive coming out of it.  Well, I'm happy to report that he is significantly different in this role.  His work hours are longer but he is pleased with his new team and is relieved that antagonism isn't commonplace in this environment. I cannot be happier for him. 
  • I'm ending the year with good work focus and physically stronger than last year at this time (outside of the inability to mix concrete...).  Area for improvement include being more disciplined with my food choices as I've found myself cheating more this year because I don't seem to get the stuffed up cranky allergy symptoms with certain foods anymore.  If I push it, I still will, so it isn't over over.  Am thinking of you, Mr Peanut Butter Cup x 3 over Halloween...
  • Rain and wind made the leaves of our trees at home fall quickly this year.  Usually we rake 3 times before winter.  This year it started off like usual, so an easy 6 leaf bags the first time.  Then the 2nd time needed 10 bags and it looked like a couple of trees were still holding about 1/5 of their leaves.  I'd already declared leaf raking season to be over.  Thankful that our city comes around and picks up all those bags.  D's since used the snow blower twice already.
  • I've been spending more time than I ought to helping people on various travel forums.  It has mostly been enjoyable mixed with a bit of exasperation plus it eats up so much time!  Thus the abbreviated blog format as of late.  I've learned a lot too.  Been surprised with how many really busy savvy travelers take time to help out.  It's great to see.
  • I've been systematically clearing my schedule for next year as I've been starting to feel like my perpetual over scheduling and scheduling too much in advance may actually be dampening my creativity.  By the time things come up, I've either already moved on and am no longer interested or something else has come up in the meantime I'd rather do or I've figured out how to do something better and now need to make a change.  I've paid $675 in change fees for this privilege.  Some of my lessons cost more than others (sigh).  Next year I'm trying out the plan of no booking further than 3 months ahead and see how it goes.  Am trying not to be too hard on myself and automatically labeling my previous actions as "mistakes" because it is a learning process.  I'd like next year to be a reflective one and am keeping life open for that purpose. 
  • 2014 was the last year for Delta's Skymiles program as we know it and the New Year will usher in a dramatically different result.  For example:  My flight to Bangkok in 2014 earned me 40000 miles; 25000 can buy a ticket anywhere in the continental North America; 60000 gets me a flight to Europe; if you are lucky and book early enough 80000 can get you to Asia.  Not bad, right?  Well, 2015 will mean the same flight to Bangkok will earn me 7000 miles, a Huge difference.  Thus my moving some of next year's trips to this year.  So if you are looking for some nifty "travel hacking" advice, you won't find it here.  The best I got is "fly more now"...I know, earth shattering...
  • We've cooked more than any other year.  Am using the collective "we" but in reality D does most of it and I enjoy that very much.  He seems to like it whereas I would eat something simpler if I had to cook it.  I follow a few blogs where the writer is a master in the kitchen, growing stuff, cooking everything by scratch and most of all loving the process.  I used to but since finding out about all this food allergy stuff 3 years ago, the fun has been taken out of it for me though my taste and appreciation of food hasn't.  I'd make a terrible homemaker.  Thank goodness D has stepped up.  He makes a mean bolognese sauce that takes hours with multiple boil downs.
  • Even with all the travel I did this year (expected and late add ons), in the end, I managed to only work 2 days less than last but have earned more money.  What we usually do with that financial fact is: The remaining extra - the extra tax implications = bonus money / 2.  
  • A fraudulent charge showed up on my credit card.  It's amazing what credit card companies can find out.  They knew that the card was swiped which meant there was a physical copy (somewhere in NJ) and that they tried to put something through 3 times, twice in the $500 range and once in the $350 range which ended up making it through.  I had to shred the card and the replacement didn't make it to me in time before I left for the build.  Good reminder that back up cards can play an important role.
  • I got the email while away and knew we'd be making a decision about D's vehicle when I returned home.  Turns out the yearly check up revealed a serious issue with the engine (head gasket leak) and ball joint and bearing.  He drives a 2004 Subaru Outback (187000 km) and we were hoping to still have it around for another 4 years.  Not to be, without some fairly serious work done.  As the timing belt and new summer tires are due as well, the total cost of what is to come will be around $4200, more than we'd get on a trade ($1000).  
  • As we happened to have spent some time looking around this summer, we had an idea of direction.  D has gotten his head around not necessarily having a wagon as my SUV can haul stuff and I have from my last car, an indestructible Thule rack system that can be fitted onto any vehicle, but we would still like AWD.  So we narrowed it down to Subaru, Volvo, BMW, Audi, Infiniti.  In the end we signed for an Infiniti G37x with 58000 km, costing us 20K, taxes and fees in.  Insurance will be $15 more a month and we are on the hunt for winter tires and rims.  Considering my first car cost 20K 17 years ago for a 1 year old Honda CRV with 19700 km, it's neat to be spending the same amount for vastly superior technology.  
  • I feel like the luckiest person right now because just the act of being able to make a largish financial decision is something most if not all of people in the countries I've traveled to this year would not be able to do in their lifetime, not even by finance.       

Thursday, November 27, 2014


I hadn't expected that the build experience would cause my heart to swell with such amounts of joy and hope.  It felt akin to seeing Norway for the first time.  I was so full mentally and emotionally from the build portion alone, I would have been completely satisfied with going home without needing the extra days of bonus touring.

I hadn't expected to learn that a successful team build for Habitat meant a funded and eventually completed project.  Without it, a build does not move ahead.  In other words, you are not just going there to participate on a build that is happening anyways.  It will not happen without a team showing up.  Each build means a new house/renovation gets to exist.  That fact struck me so strongly, I recommended that they ought to consider publishing it because it has potential to be a game changer.

I hadn't expected to do so well with communal living and group travel.  My earlier experiences in Morocco definitely prepared me for the group aspect.  We were 17 people with segregated sleeping areas, sleeping on thin mattresses in a house that wasn't heated (we could see our breath), with moderately severe water restrictions, one western toilet, 2 showers and a hot water tank the size of a duffel bag.  Water is stored in a container on the roof.  Should you run out, it can take weeks before more can be delivered.  To say we were all cautious and paranoid of that happening would be an understatement.

I hadn't expected to be so thoroughly immersed in the local culture and community to the point where we were invited into peoples' homes everyday for tea, for dinner.  We were literally embraced from day 1.  Feedback from other team members much more experienced than I told me that this level of interaction was unusual.  Felt very blessed I decided to chose this location at this time.  For better or worse, this serves as my high water mark.

I hadn't expected to feel so weak physically.  If I had to support my family by mixing concrete, they would starve.  It was embarrassing just how ineffective I felt as I hadn't considered myself to be a really weak person physically.  Sure, the equipment was not great but I never felt like I got adequate leverage to do that job properly.  Had no issues with all the other aspects of the build i.e. moving block, bending re-bar,  carrying buckets of mortar, laying block etc. but mixing concrete?  Forget it.  Even the new home owner, who was 4 months pregnant showed me up.  Time for a new workout routine.

I hadn't expected to discover that the Women in the build community to be so very strong and powerful.  Apparently that is the case as well in places like Nepal and Kenya.  The newer generations are educated and taking leadership roles in their villages.  They were the ones organizing all the details of our experiences.  We had volunteer drivers take us everywhere, though most of the available vehicles would not be considered road worthy here.  It was a cool experience to be in a van decked out in shag and fringe, driven by a chain smoking Grandfather (windows closed) with hip hop blasting from the speakers.  That's just how things work there.  Don't even think about inquiring about seat belts.  Just go with it.

I hadn't expected to fall in love with masonry.  It appealed to me visually, spatially and physically.  Sure, after a while I could only build up so high before I could not lift the blocks over anymore but I wasn't intimidated by the height nor the antiquated scaffolding.  I followed the head mason around like a puppy dog.  Watching him work was like viewing art in the making.  And was he ever strong.  He could lift a block (3/4 solid concrete) with 2 fingers.  Would apprentice with him in a heartbeat.

I hadn't expected to end the year on such a high note.  To be honest, I hadn't been looking forward to this experience.  After Cambodia, I felt I could be of more use there.  Looking back now, I can see how each new step I took this year has prepared me for what's next, even though I still cannot say what that will be or if there necessarily will be a "final' destination, or rather a continued series of openings.  The only thing I know for sure is that I will continue to move towards what resonates and revel in the discovery of what comes out of it.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


I have a way higher sense of urgency than D does for most things.  This difference between us can create friction when our views clash when certain decisions need to be made.  My thinking tends to navigate me a few steps ahead while he is content most days handling one move at a time.  We've learned to delegate the right things to each other. 

Enter a back injury.

D decided during one of his training runs (cyclocross) to jump a stream.  Well, his back got "tweaked" (to use his terminology) and didn't think anything about it as he is used to pushing his limits and straining stuff occasionally.  He is a focused and driven athlete.

Until I noticed him not being able to pick up his foot properly while walking.

We are awaiting results from a CT scan.

When the call came with his appointment time (took 3 weeks) and I found out later that night that he actually declined it and chose a time a few days later, I kind of lost it.  It did come out that he did it because he didn't want our long weekend up at the cottage to be cancelled.

I understand that but the way I saw it was:  Hospitals takes hundreds of films a day.  They need to be read by a radiologist.  Then printed and sent to his MD, who then needs to read it.  Only then does a call back happen and a follow up appointment to discuss results get made, which could normally take weeks anyways.

All I saw was increased delay compared to ONE long weekend at a place we've owned for 11 years??!!

What he's still not seeing very clearly is the consequences of potentially living with chronic pain and loss of function-- Slight or large, predictable or unpredictable.  And how that can impact future plans.  And the effects on your spouse if he / she has to become any type of chronic care giver.

We know of this scenario in others and it isn't easy.  This situation is many times worse psychologically for someone who is accustomed to being very active.  I get it, I admire his athletic ability but I don't believe he is taking this seriously enough. 

I know he doesn't want to think about it.  And for sure he is in some denial space.  This is where living with someone like me can be rough.  Because I need him to come to terms with the known facts as we have the results of the x-rays already and start taking positive action.  Because I also know that no action leads down a not so desirable road.

P.S.  The next morning, D did manage to change his appointment time back to the earlier one.  Until those answers come, it's time to continue on and make the final preparations towards a long awaited event.

"Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. When the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say "We have done this ourselves".”   

Lao Tzu

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Observations: UAE

Background reading: Here, Here and Here.

Upon exiting the metro station closest to my hotel at around 11 pm, I found it immediately disorienting being surrounded by people mostly from the Philippines and Thailand. Where was I again?

Had known about the significant expat population but experiencing it was entirely different.  All of a sudden those population numbers (1.2 million Pakistanis, 700K Filipinos, 600K Thai etc.) really meant something.

Even by the end of my stay, I found it difficult to get a real feel for Arabic culture.  You have to really make an effort to search it out.

This locale was added to my schedule not as part of my original year's plan but as a fairly last minute add on.  In the end, it's timing couldn't have been more appropriate.  

Having just been to Bangkok for the first time and now to observe the significant numbers of young Thai women working in the Dubai was an eye opener.  Had I not visited Thailand prior, my views would have been much different.

The only woman I met that seemed happy sat beside me on the bus, having just arrived herself.  Everyone else I encountered who were working, had an edge.  This contrasted widely from how things felt in Bangkok, even amongst the poorest people we saw.  It saddened me to feel that. 

The Filipino workers seemed much more buoyant.  And their cultural styles came through in the way they interacted with customers.  In an effort to provide "service" by placing numerous numbers of workers in restaurants, cafes, high end stores, you cannot help but encounter the startling result.

An example:  I had had enough of the giant mall experience after not even an hour and was on my way back to the metro when my eyes fell upon a slice of cake at a cafe.  Thinking a treat was in order, I greeted the young man and asked for what was the last slice of black forest cake "to go".

He had no idea what I was talking about, even though there was signage and pointing.  He, who spoke great English, only knew the coffee end of things.  No matter, he found someone else to help me, a friendly Filipino girl.

This was at a cafe that charges the equivalent of 12 USD for a slice of cake (it was delicious, best I've had outside of France).  When she punched in my order on the computer and told me the amount, I couldn't help but notice the look on that fellow's face.  It was a lot of money to him whereas the young lady who helped me didn't bat an eye.  You can tell she has worked there longer and are used to foreigners and locals going there to shop, eat and drink up a storm.

It was a surreal experience to be served at restaurants, shops by foreign workers who weren't really able to be truly helpful outside of general service.  I noticed a lot of:  Almost embarrassment when having to say the "script" to try and "up sell" a food order, almost apologetic when mentioning the prices.  And with a few I encountered, almost contempt when being asked what may have been the same question over and over again.

Even the oldest parts of Dubai were mostly populated by people from India, Pakistan etc. working really hard.  It was a good education, something I hadn't expected.  A very different view on "expat" life as my views have been of the highly skilled and educated, rather than a basic definition of someone living in a country they are not from.   

I found Dubai tough to assimilate to as I do not find pleasure in having a whole host of people at my beck and call. Who are unable to really tell me about a product or give me personal experience with it or in some cases, read.  The disconnect was glaring.

You can buy all the luxury brands you could want there.  But I couldn't help feeling like you'd be missing out on the real experience by not buying it from their respective countries, being helped and educated by local people.  It isn't an ego boost for me to be helped by someone whose monthly income is less than the item I'm considering.  I got the feeling it was for many.

And I surprised myself in wanting to return.  Even though I didn't attain much learning of Arabic culture on this visit, it gave me good insight into a unique set of circumstances, in a city that has a reputation of being "artificial", "over the top".  It has its own cultural mosaic and provides opportunity for expat life both freeing for some and oppressive for others under the guise of "progress".  

Friday, October 24, 2014


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


  • 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


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.