2018 brought big changes for my little life. As per the many years gone by and the reviews that live in this dusty corner of the interwebs, I could list all the joys and challenges of the past 12 months. There have been many. I could also reflect on the specific goals I set 12 months ago and reveal how I kinda met some of them and others not at all. But in short, I’ve down my own reflection and goal setting in private – 15+ hours of driving allows you that space. If you’ve been running alongside me in life for a while you’ll know I find it a super helpful process to set vision for the year with realistic goals and tactics to set me off in the right direction. And so I’ve set some for 2019. Feel free to ask me about them. But for now I bring you this brief reflection, something I’ve been pondering after spending a significant portion of money, time and energy ‘travelling’ this year: Each month brought challenges that pushed me to reach for something more dependable than my own perceived strength. I’ve been reminded by the intricacy of the creator God and his vast love for the world and its people, including me. We can easily fill a life with global travels, slaving away at the 9-5, looking and planning for the next adventure. Looking to 2019, I want to find more balance between exploring new places and actively participating in the place i call ‘home’. What gain is it to travel the world in pursuit of experiencing and understanding it, if we never stop to part of shaping it, losing sight of who we are in it? Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:24-28) Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
Today is 6 months since I arrived in Canada. It feels like it’s gone so quickly, but also not at all. The olde ‘days a long, years are short’ situation. But with lil bit of maths, it also makes it 1/4 of the way through my VISA duration and a 1/3 through what I thought and communicated my original length of stay would be prior to departure. And 6 months in and despite the current homesickness and pretty much hating how hard everything feels right now (right on schedule for any move / transition), the thought of having only 18mths left has me lamenting. Oh I play straight into the Gen Y FOMO narrative. But ever the pragmatist and way too rational, I can remove myself from the pit of a lack of familiarity + friends who know me and see the light. With some goals + realistic tactics, this stage will pass and then I’ll be scrambling to secure Permanent Residency to stay longer…wait, what? To overcome the lamentation, and instead celebrate, I’ve compiled a list of the fun facts, life lessons and observations I’ve made over the last 6 months. (I previously did one reflecting on my initial travels, but there have been so many more). I hope you enjoy this completely random, unordered, unfiltered and useless list as much as I did when I figured it out. 420 friendly folks: That’s Canada in a nutshell. Cannabis is so normal it just isn’t a topic of discussion. There are shops on most streets, the quality / style varying from dive bar to trendy hipster to swanky lounge bar. Recycling: Imagine the situation when you’re clearing up your tray at a café and there is no ‘landfill’ option. Three options: 1. Compostable 2. Paper/cardboard recycling 3. Glass / plastics. In Canada Vancouver, we separate. Given, there usually is a ‘trash’ option, but it’s labelled ‘landfill’ to guilt trip us. Patriotism: And not in a Southern Cross on my heart/shoulder/car window kinda way. Canadians are proud to be Canadian. And be sure not to confuse them with American. They can draw you a maple leaf and tell you how many points it should have. And much like the union jack or perhaps the Commonwealth Star, it’s not as easy as it looks! Rain: My housemate in Brisbane once said the Dutch have 12 different words for rain and I can understand now. There is the misty kind I’ll walk in without a hood / jacket, there’s the it’s rainy I’m happy to walk in with just a coat + hood and there’s the heavy rain where you need umbrella + jacket + hood + boots. We haven’t had much of the Brisbane torrential rain and it’s gone in 30mins kind though. But I’ve learnt not make the mistake of wearing a chunky scarf with the coat + hood option. Having a wet scarf around your neck is not enjoyable. Coat: You need one. Everyone has one. You grab it when you leave, you take it off when you arrive. You zip it up when it’s raining. There’s a coat hook / cupboard at most restaurants, houses and even a rack at the UBC lecture theatre that doubles as my church. Which makes it weird that there’s not more theft of the $300-600 jackets… Footwear: I bought a pair of Blundstones boots in November and I wear them 80% of the time. Waterproof, warm, heavy duty. I call them “the boots of my people.” Also, where I once wore thongs to work and put proper shoes on at work, now I wear boots and change into shoes at work. But imagine the realisation when you’re halfway to the bus stop in ballet flats in the rain and wondering why your feet are cold. You also remove all shoes when you enter the house – because they’re, you know, all wet. Tyres: Canadians have multiple sets of car tyres and rims. Normal and winter. Although there are a few different winter options. You pay for the tyre place to store your alternate set. Birthdays: As I shared on Instagram yesterday, Canadians don’t celebrate with a “Hip hip hooray” after singing Happy Birthday. Weird. My Canadian friend will need to learn this before the end of February. Containers: I set a goal to stop buying / using plastic and particularly to stop heating food up in plastic containers late last year. But it seems many Canadians have got on the same bandwagon. (And by Canadians, I largely refer to Vancouver because Vancouverites are a different kind of Canadian.) The work fridge is full of glass containers. However, on the flip side, it’s also quite common to reuse the plastic container from your yoghurt / ice cream / butter to bring your snacks in to work. I love it. Measurement: Canadians have a confused identity. But also, great mathematical skills. Most people know both metric and imperial measurement systems, frustratingly often interchanging units mid-sentence. Height: feet/inches. Weight: pounds. Beverages: liquid ounces. Milk: litres. Temperature: Celsius. Speed: kilometres per hour. Petrol: litres. Snow fall: centimetres. Skis: centimetres. Cycling: I haven’t ridden my bike in a couple of months…pretty much since the rain started. But that doesn’t stop the Canadians. Rain pants are a thing here. French: Even on the west coast, the bi-national language is noticeable. All food packages are bilingual. Not that I could tell you what milk is in French. But the dual language does make it amusing to call someone in Quebec and needing to assume the voicemail prompt is what you expect. Split bills: Much like my experience in the United States, it’s no trouble to split that sushi platter 8 ways and I pay for 0.125. More simply, multiple checks are set up from the beginning which makes it easy peasy when you got leave. Often waitstaff remember your order without any notes. Tipping: which makes it easy to add 18-20% to each bill. Tax: but on top of the 15% tax, it all adds up and that $15 burger isn’t so cheap. Christmas cookie exchange: imagine if each of your friends made 1 batch of cookies and then you all gathered on 1 night and switched. I know, awesome, right? Carols: ‘Carols in the [insert location]’are not a thing here. I guess the notion of sitting outside in the rain / single figure temps in the dark (from 4pm) isn’t super conducive. But also Vancouver is pretty anti-Christmas and pro-holiday. Politically correct holiday greetings: A few weeks ago my physio asked me “Do you celebrate Christmas?” and in my head I responded “Of course I bloody well do” but taking a second moment, the perceivably overly PC approach is actually other person centred. So ‘happy holidays’ it often becomes. Pubs: As frustrating as it is, there is no walking up to the bar to order a drink at a pub. It’s just not done. You wait for the server even if it takes foreverrr. Hamburgers: Imagine my confusion when I couldn’t find basic meat patties for a burger night at my church community group weekly dinner. I bought mince instead. Apparently they live in the freezer section. Don’t even get me started on trying to find aioli. Sorry: My goodness, Canadians are apologetic bunch. I bump into you on the bus. You apologise. Sorry, but what? Doors: Again much like my experience in North Carolina, you hold doors here. But there is a point when you hold it a little too long and it just gets weird. Also push / pull signs don’t exist. There is a moment of anxiety when you approach a door. But after much research, I can confirm vertical handles mean pull. And horizontal bars mean push. But where there is two equal sized vertical handles, you’re screwed. It’s not any easier in the “washroom”. No occupied dials. Rules: Canadians are rule followers not rule breakers. I’m often the only jaywalker while Canadians patiently wait for the (white) man to signal it’s safe. Rent: You pay it monthly. All quoted figures are monthly, although most people are paid fortnightly bi-weekly twice per month, that is, every two weeks. Leases also all start on the first of the month. Punctual: alongside being uber polite, Canadians are generally on time. The +/- 15 mins buffer does not exist and in fact, being 5 mins late is considered late. On time is probably closer to 5 minutes early, of which I am never. Lighting: don’t expect lights to be in the centre of the ceiling, or in fact in your living / lounge room at all. But you can expect those light switches to control the now essential lamp in the corner. Heating: You leave it on. It’s not an on / off situation. Or fine Mel for leaving the gas heater on overnight. (Yep, my Dad used to do that. $1/hour). You do usually just dial the temperature gauge (found in everyroom) down a few degrees when you leave for the day. Idioms: Imagine how awkward it gets when you use an unfamiliar idiom in that work meeting and met with blank faces. “So I guess, you don’t say that here?” “Build the ship while it sails” was a popular one though. Emergency responder: A colleague was recently recounting an unfortunate incident she observed. She used “emergency responder” to presumably refer to an Ambulance officer. Completely realising the laid back lazy Australian culture has penetrated my being down to my bones, I chucked at our use of “ambo”, “cop”, “fire-y”. Brevity is not a concern. Dates: Is today the 19/12/18 or 12/19/18, or 2018/19/12? I have no idea. But upon researching, Canada has no official date notation. It’s not an issue once you get past 13th day of each month… but i’ve just stuck with dd/mm/yy. I’m sure there are plenty more that I’ve forgotten to write down. It’s been fun to pick out the differences in our seemingly similar cultures. While most of these are very surface level observations, there are much deeper differences that I’m still pondering and hope to write about sometime. From the treatment of rough sleepers to indigenous people, the environment, race, liberty and opportunity. I came here for an adventure and to experience another seemingly similar but also different country, environment and culture. And I’m having that. But I’m also starting to release much of this city is transient, in a very similar life stage to me, chasing fulfilment in the form of adventure and passport stamps. My privilege is something that is becoming very apparent and something i’m starting to wrestle with. And if that’s the one thing that comes from this Canadian adventure, it’s not a waste. Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
Someone at some point in time gave me some travelling advice to ease the transition back to reality. If it was you, thank you. Never go back to work for a full week after a holiday Within your budget, treat yourself on the final night. And so I write this from a cute Italian restaurant on Halifax’s waterfront. I’ve got a glass of French Rose, a bottle of sparkling water (because I ain’t fancy, but gosh I prefer it over tap) and I’ve got spaghetti ai frutti di mare on its way.   Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
This has been the worst kept secret, largely on my part because you can’t get me there fast enough (and it wasn’t really a secret)…but I’m moving to Canada. Yay! It’s been a long time coming. I almost mic-dropped about 9 months ago after some job contract dramas and an unhappy+stressful living situation. But relationships have always mattered to me and jumping ship and moving another 12,000km from ‘home’ didn’t give me time to leave well. That is, not running away from problems, having others get used to the idea + time to say goodbye and making good decisions about boring stuff like insurance, housing, banking rather than just winging it. (Although there will still be a lot of that!) I’ve officially given notice to work and I have a schedule so it’s time to press ‘go’. Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
Honesty is always the best policy, so “Hablo poco Español” quickly became “No hablo Español” while travelling. But only after some awkward situations whereby my perfecto accent had clearly fooled and I’d panic in the wake of a string of Spanish dialogue. It seems a vocab of hello, good bye, please, thank you, sorry, toilet, apple, dog, cat, milk and water doesn’t count as ‘a little Spanish’. For the months leading up to my trip, I researched Spanish courses. They were pretty $$-y so I gave Duolingo a crack. I even printed a list of phrases and stuck them beside my computer at work. I had great intentions. While my morning walks had me blending in to the West End ‘furniture’, I eventually for bored of matching pairs and learning a gato (cat) from a pedro (dog). And although declaring “Salud” became much more fun than “Bless you!” at colleagues’ sneezes, the list became a casualty of 3 weeks of hot desk-ing before my trip. In a last ditch effort, I grabbed Lonely Planet’s Fast Talk Latin American Spanish: Guaranteed to get you talking phrasebook the night before I left and turned up on Danica and Yosef’s doorstep with little to say for myself. Spoilt is the best description of my first four days in Mexico. Personal translators, menu selectors and tutors. If there are two people who have mastered the art of broken bi-lingual conversation, it’s Danica and Yosef. They put Google Translate to shame. But Mexico City or Ciudad de Mexico, the largest Spanish speaking city in the world, was my first foray into Spanish self sufficiency. I’ll give you a heads up: what the Parisians are to non/little French speakers, is what Chilangos are to English speakers. Snobs. My 48 hours in CDMX can be best summarised by my Español skills, or lack thereof. The frustration One of the best things about travelling by yourself, or perhaps without a certain younger sister rolling her eyes, is exploring galleries and museums at your own pace. Behind this sharp witted fashionista (jks!) is really just a big nerd. And I could spend all day gathering new facts for the random collection of rarely useful (except for the old specific trivia question) info stored in my head. Enter stage right: Museo Nacional de Antropología. Possibly one of the coolest museums I’ve been to, I journeyed through ancient artefacts and life size ruin replicas from various Mexican eras. The frustration? Only about 10% of the museum was translated into English. Aztec Sunstone found in the centre of MXCD This guy could be super important, but unable to read about him, I just laughed. The surprise “Was it safe?” asks everyone of Mexico City. “Well considering I was staying in the Surry Hills or New Farm of Mexico City, yes.” And the bonus of good Airbnb research is finding a good host, and that I did. Staying in Condesa Roma, the rising gentrified ‘colonia’, great bars, cafes and restaurants were plentiful. My host, a food blogger #win, made a few suggestions and the closest one (within budget) was Merotoro – No 25 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurant: Latin America. I was greeted at the door. “Uno, por favor.” To which the maitre de responded with likely a standard follow on statement…in Spanish. Cue freak out by yours truly. “No hablo Español. Habla, Ingles?” “No. Uno momento.”  I stood awkwardly at the door as the maitre de shuffled around the restaurant. A few moments later, another charming staff member came over. “Hello. Would you like a table?” Alleluia! Seating me at the bar (top tip solo travellers!) he passed me the drinks and the food menu. And left. Politely I perused the menu. I had absolutely no idea what it said beyond a few translatable words: Queso. Pollo. Pescado. The barman with his zero English and my limited (?) Spanish surprised me with an amazing Mezcal y Jamaica before the ever lovely English speaker returned and upon request of his recommendation, translated the entire menu for me. I started with ceviche con cangrejo de aguacate de concha blanda (plus a main of rabbit ragu – sorry Cuddle Pie!).  It was the best dish I ate on my whole trip. The practical There are few things that make tourists stand out anywhere – even Brisbane. Hats. Backpacks. Cameras. In MXCD, shorts. And everywhere, paper maps. The less conspicuous Google Maps has saved me many a time travelling in new cities. However, getting between said places on public transport and taxis are an added challenge when you don’t speak or read the native language. Friends, that’s where Uber is only the most amazing startup ever. I typed “Frida Khalo Museum” and the app translated that to “Museo Frida Khalo” and sent me a driver with an epic moustache my way. It saved me thrusting phones + paper directions at my driver and comprehending how much it will all cost. Hello 28 degrees credit card. Even better, it came with a bottle (or 2) of water saving me a few pesos! If only 45 minute/10km Uber rides were only $7.80 in Australia! The hilarity A day and a half in, I had settled in to MXCD. I came to enjoy the chaotic roads with policemen coordinating traffic despite traffic lights, the amazing street food and cute dogs everywhere. But with an impending flight to Cuba I needed to get myself together. There would be no Uber, no corner 7/11’s with naranja juice and no Airbnb hosts. And like the start of all good holidays, I had burnt myself to a crisp on day 1 in Mexico. The non-greasy, face sunscreen didn’t cut in humid Mexico.  I was in need of some heavy duty, sweat-proof sunscreen. Another easy translation: farmacias were fairly common around town. I walked into a few smaller shopfronts and browsed the shelves without luck. Eventually I found a sizeable farmacia and I was feeling confident. “Hola, bienvenido, señorita.”  The middle aged Mexican woman kept talking but I kept walking. My Spanish comprehension had max-ed out. I wandered the aisles and she approached and said something else. I smiled. I again had absolutely no clue and declared “no hablo Español” in a panic. I decided it was time for a round of charades. Too bad if you’re wanting to turn left… I motioned applying a cream to my arms and face. “Ah hidratante, sie!” the woman guessed. Again, a word that is close enough to English to work out. “No. Ahhh,” and indicated a sun coming down from above before repeating application of cream. I even slapped on a hat like a good Aussie. It wasn’t helping. I remembered I’d seen a 50+ on a bottle of something and pointed at the SPF rating. “Ahh sí.” She grabbed my arm and led me to a floor to roof wall of what may aswell have been Dr LeWinn’s. My halve and then halve again currency conversion (AU$1 = MXD$14) priced her recommendation at around $60. “No,” and I motioned a head cut and rubbed my thumb and forefingers. Too expensive. By this stage I now had 5-6 Mexican women suggesting products. It was amusing but overwhelming.  Cue knight in shining armour. Out of nowhere came a sweet, attractive, 20/30-odd guy and in American English asked “What are you after?” I laughed. “Sunscreen. But these look expensive.” He turned back to the women “Protector solar, por favor.”    Somewhat disappointed they pointed to a shelf some mere metres away. And there, in all it’s bright blue, orange and yellow glory was my precious white girl skin saving magic. “Thank you!” He smiled. Upon reflection, I really should have known sun in Spanish. There is sol beer and sols are days in Mars (thanks Martian!) and even a cafe down the road with a sun logo called ‘Sol breads.’ Alas. The joy And after all the above, there are just some words that you don’t need to translate. Churrería El Moro. And after the sunscreen episode, I devoured my cinch (5) churros with Canjeta o leche condensed (i did have to Google that…) at a bargain price of $1.40. Where street food meets gentrification. Mercado Roma. Loading ’em up at Pasteleria Ideal Tacos al pastor. A Mexican twist on the filthy kebab.     Mexico City was the shortest leg of my trip – a total of 49.5 hours. It wasn’t even on the original list.  I had to pass through on my way to Cuba, so I figured I’d stop. But after 26 days away, ask me my favourite part of my trip, and I’ll say the most surprising was Mexico City. Would I go back? Tomorrow… for a month! Pero capaz de hablar mucho más Español! (But able to speak much more Spanish!)  Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)