Thursday, November 8, 2007
I went to Vietnam last May, with the group of Nipissing students who I went to China with. From the second we arrived in Hanoi, I knew that I was in a place that was very, very different than anywhere else I had been before. It felt like a strange mixture of the hustle of Beijing, the charming grime of Paris, and the small-town feel of Eastern Toronto, and I liked it.
On of the city's most dubious of features was very obvious as the bus pulled in. Hanoi has horrible traffic. Our speeding bus slowed to a crawl as we entered the city limits. While in the sedentary position, we looked out to see a variety of speeding motorcycles and scooters weave between the standing traffic, a sight we would become all too familiar with.
After settling into our hotel, a few of us decided to head out and explore. We soon realized that crosswalks were either not present or merely a suggestion. I weaved between speeding cars, dodged motorcycles, stepped past scooters, and watched jaw-dropped as Vietnamese pedestrians navigating it all with ease. After calming myself and checking my pulse, I contemplated sleeping in a nearby park to avoid having to cross the street again to return to my hotel.
The next day, our group went to see some pretty phenomenal sites. We started out the day by going to see the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (pictured). If going to see the embalmed corpse of a communist leader is not enough of a cultural experience, there was a strict protocol to follow. First off, we had to leave all of our cameras, mp3 players, and cell phones with our guides since they were not allowed, and our bags were strictly searched. Secondly, there were guidelines for women’s dress, as they were not allowed to be showing their knees. A few of the girls traveling with us had to go and get their coats and wrap it around their waist to make it appear that they were wearing longer skirts. Lastly, and most shocking of all, the guards had guns. Not just guns, but big ones, with foot-long bayonets on them. All of the tourists had to line up in a staggered double file to fit as many of through the mausoleum as possible. As we entered, there we were told to be quiet and get our hands out of our pockets by threatening-looking signs, and even more threatening-looking guards.
The body itself was a pretty surreal sight. As a history-geek, I took a special interest in the Vietnam War, so seeing the body of one of the key players was a simply fascinating experience. He was flanked by several guards, with several more standing along the walkway. At one point, I slowed down to soak the sheer bizarreness of the moment, but I felt a very firm grip come on my arm, as I was moved to my rightful spot in the line. Judging by the size of the man attached to that arm, and the size of his gun, and the size of the gun’s bayonet, I realized that arguing with him was a bad, bad idea.
After leaving the Mausoleum I walked around surrounding grounds, which features the old Presidential Palace (pictured), Ho Chi Minh’s House and the On Pillar Pagoda. All very cool, but I felt that I didn’t appreciate it quite so much, since I was still absorbing my earlier experiences.
As amazing as the Mausoleum was, it really had nothing on my next stop, the Vietnam Military History Museum. The museum chronicles Vietnamese military history, with special focus on their War of Independence with the French and their war with the Americans.
The courtyard outside of the museum completely set the tone. There was an old tank and fighter jet silently guarding the entrance. There were plaques beside each of the military vehicles outlining each of their terms of duty and stating precisely how many French or American soldiers they killed and when. Growing up in a military town, I have seen all sorts of things like this, any old WWII plane has a swastika for every German they have shot down, but it somehow never occurred to me that a Vietnamese plane would have a star for each American plane they shot down (pictured).
As I entered the museum, things got even more surreal. I was absolutely amazed at the quality and quantity of relics and information presented. There were old battle plans, letters from the French Generals, and a variety of military equipment. What blew my mind even more was the incredible detail that they placed on everything. An old spear had a plaque said “Used to kill one black French soldier, and one white French solider”, while a helmet riddled with bullet holes (pictured) said “A sign of the inefficiency of the French”.
You would think that would be enough to digest right? Well then you would oddly be mistaken as the most startling part came soon afterwards. After you go through the museum you enter the back yard, which houses even more military artifacts, including artillery, tanks, and most obviously, a giant amount of wreckage from an American fighter that was shot down (pictured). There was a plaque outlining exactly when this plane was shot down and who was piloting it. It was interesting to see the wreckage juxtaposed with the anti-aircraft guns.
After wandering around the yard for a while, I came across the most somber section of the exhibition, a collection of bombs dropped by the Americans. There were easily a hundred bombs all supported on poles to walk around with. In the middle there was a large plaque with some frightening statistics. It mentioned how many bombs were dropped on Vietnam, and breaks it down even further to saying how he amount dropped per square kilometer, and the amount dropped per North Vietnamese man, woman and child. Later on it states how many people were killed and how many children were left orphaned. Then it goes onto explain how many people were left with permanent defects as a result of the defoliants used during this time as well.
Now I had read similar statistics before, but to read them surrounded by the bombs dropped in the place they were used made the statistics more than just numbers. History came alive. I commemorated it like someone commemorates any new life. I cried.
I realize that a downer like that is a strange way to encourage a new place to someone, but if you want to see history come alive and be able to put a place to some of the darkest moments of the twentieth century, then I could not recommend Vietnam enough to you. Even if you are not the history geek that I am, there is still a ton to do around there, and the weather is gorgeous, the people are great, and the food is terrific. What more could you want really?
Until next time,
Lonely Planet Info on Hanoi
Hostel World - Always Helpful
VietnamPix - A PHENOMENAL site dedicated to the Vietnam War
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Over the Christmas Break I will be heading down to St. Maarten to visit my good friend/arch-hockey-nemesis Troy, who is working as a pilot down there. We could potentially do an edition of "The Puck Stop" live from a beach...something wrong about that one...
And in other exciting news. I just found out that I was selected to take a group of students on an international service project to Laos over the March Break. How cool is that? We are going to be going to Luang Prabang to help teach Buddhist Monks English. Best of all, the school is paying for everything!!! How freakin' cool is that?
As luck would have it, my super-friend/Shanghai-Hostess-with-the-Mostest Carrie went to Luang Prabang earlier in the year. So I took the liberty to take a few of the pictures she posted on Crackbook and felt the need to share it with you all...really just to make you a bit more jealous...
Pretty awesome, eh?
Until next time,
Thursday, September 20, 2007
1. Joel Plaskett -- "Nowhere with You". Astute readers may notice right off the bat that I included this in my last soundtrack, but I think that this song may be even more perfect here than anywhere else. This song is energetic and totally encapsulates a travellers mindset of going "nowhere with you", plus the "na na na" part is perfect to listen to while walking down some foreign street
2. The Strokes -- "Juicebox". While many people may not have liked First Impressions of Earth, I think that this song is a great rockfest. The line "Why don't you come over here? We've got a city to love" is a great indication of your early excitement and energy that every traveller starts out with.
3. Led Zeppelin -- "Communication Breakdown". Maybe this is just me relying on my own personal experiences, but I certainly remember being in places where nobody spoke any English and I certainly didn't speak any of the local language. It leads to some pretty hilarious moments where communication sure breaks down.
4. David Bowie & Trent Reznor -- "I'm Affraid of Americans". Nothing against people from the good ol' U.S. of A, but this is a wicked song. I put this song in here not only because it is amazing, but because it refers to the stereotypical "Ugly American" tourist. You know the type, the person who wants everything to be just like things are back home...I hate people like that. And for the record, some of the worst tourists I have ever met were Australian and Canadian....
5. Kaiser Cheifs -- "Oh My God". This song is perfect for that moment you realize just how far away from your friends and family you are. Listen to the line "Oh my God, I can't believe it, I've never been this far away from home..." and you'll know that you are not the only one to feel that way. By the way, check out Lily Allen's cover of this song if you get a chance, maybe I'm biased, but it's great!!
6. LCD Soundsystem --"North American Scum". This is for the time when you realize that you, yourself have become a bit of an "Ugly American" tourist, trust me, it'll happen at least once. By the way, I posted this video here once before and if you missed it, be sure to check it out.
7. The Dandy Warhols -- "Everyday Should be a Holiday". Great song, great band. This is one of those songs for the moment when you realize that you will, one day, have to return home to your dreaded "real life".
8. The Shins -- "Sea Legs". Here's were the playlist starts to slow down a bit. It might be a bit too sad for you, but I think the line "And we got sea legs and we're off tonight", is a good one for nomads everywhere.
9. The John Butler Trio --"Nowhere Man". It's a song about being nowhere in particular, it ties into the opening song on this list and is a great way to sum up those long bus/train trips when you feel like you aren't anywhere.
10. Broken Social Scene --"Looks Just Like the Sun". I could have easily put all of You Forgot it in People on this list, the album just blends itself to staring out a window of a train, but I think that this song might be the best one for this list. Mainly because of those long overnight hauls when you first see the sun and you're not sure if it is really there because you are so freakin' exhausted.
11. The Arcade Fire -- "No Cars Go". You all know how much I love Neon Bible, so of course I was looking to include a song on this list! But this one is perfect, I swear! It's about finding places where "No Cars Go", which is something you will certainly want once you get sick of all of those crowds and souvenir stands.
12. Sigur Ros -- "Untitled" (aka "Njósnavélin" aka "The Spy Machine" aka "The Nothing Song"). Really any song off of ( ) is a great choice, I just took my personal favourite here. For those not familiar with this album, it is sang entirely in Vonlenska, a language which the band made up. This album needs to be represented on any travel playlist because it so wonderfully demonstrates the ability to communicate without common language. You listen to the words and you have no idea what they mean, but you can clearly understand the point that they are trying to make. There are so many moments that this happened to me in China that have left a pretty drastic mark on my psyche, and this album will always make me think about them.
13. Michael Franti & Spearhead -- "I Know I'm Not Alone". The chorus says "Even though I'm far from home, I know I'm not alone", sums up everything from the bond between travellers to any connections you have with someone back home.
14. Feist --"It's Cool To Love Your Family"...and Feist makes yet another of my playlists, thus making it even more likely that her and I will be wed some day. Anyway, this is a great song to justify feeling homesick but not wanting to loose any face by admitting that you miss your mommy, chances are every other traveller has at one point or another.
15. Simon and Garfunkel -- "Homeward Bound". It's finally that time, time to head on back home. It's always a bitter sweet time, but Simon and Garfunkel will help you ease that transition with this classic.
16. Kanye West featuring Chris Martin -- "Homecomming". If you haven't heard this song go and buy Graduation right now!!! Not only will you get a great album but you will put 50 Cent that much closer to retirement. Anyway this unlikely duo come together to put out a really great song that mixes West's rapping and Martin's incredible vocal talents. They talk a lot about coming home and in the chorus the Coldplay front man asks "Do you think about me now and then?", which will tap into any traveller's concern that maybe they've been forgotten while they've been gone.
17. Johnny Cash --"I've Been Everywhere". I know there are about a zillion versions of this song, but I've always been partial to Johnny's. It's a great song to reminisce about your adventures to, which is clearly one of the most important parts of travelling.
Alrightie I think that's about all, let me know if I missed any big ones. Also, does anyone have any suggestions out there for future soundtracks? If so, let me know, I'd love to hear them!
Until next time,
Music to Break-up to
Music to Wallow to
Music to Swoon to
Monday, September 10, 2007
If you're out and about in Paris I'd also highly recommend the Sacre Coeur, a gorgeous white church which will blow your mind. The modern art Gallery Centre Georges Pompidou is a really odd place, even if you don't want to go in, walk by and see the fountains and the unique collection of people outside. Also, the Catacombs are a really chilling place, walking deep underground through short, narrow walk ways lined with bones is certainly something that I don't do every day.
Paris is also a wonderful place to people watch. I spent a solid 45 minutes sitting outside Notre Dame Cathedral just watching everyone walk by. I was amazed at all of the different types of people that I saw, from busy executives, to swooning honeymooners, to students on trips, to backpackers, to anything in between. Paris is absolutely full of a wonderful assortment of individuals.
So for any of you interested in seeing the best and worst of Europe, I can think of no better place to start or end your journey than the glorious city of Paris. I know I enjoyed it and I'm sure any of you would too.
Until next time,
Appendix: Some Links
Friday, June 1, 2007
In a tribute to my time in China, I decided that I would put forward another "Why I Love..." dedicated to every one's favourite Communist/Capitalist/Modified Socialist country!!!
1. Cheap, Cheap, Cheap!!!! -- China is an incredibly cheap country, it absolutely blows the mind!!! Bus rides cost about $0.20, nights in a hostel cost $5, a bowl of rice costs $0.08, and best of all 600mL of beer costs about $0.80.
2. Glorious Past -- China is one of the oldest civilizations on the planet, and evidence of their glorious past are absolutely everywhere. I mean where else in the world could you possibly see this?
4. The People -- A while back, I shared a story about the act of complete strangers genuinely touched me. And while that was the best example, there were many other cases where complete strangers went out of their way to try and help us out. I had people go out of their way to walk me to a bus stop, buy me drinks, offer me meals, or even just sit and talk to me on the train, really going above and beyond any expectations we North Americans would have for strangers.
5. Hilariously Translated English -- I know, I know, their English is much better than my Chinese, but how can you not laugh at this?
Until next time,
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Has everything always been so expensive?
Has the air always been so clean?
Have people always spoken English so freaking fast?
Have Canadians always apologized so bloody much?
Has tap water always been drinkable?
Has outside always smelled so good? (as opposed to pollution and urine)
Has it always been so easy to walk around without a pack on your bag?
Have I always been so glad to be home?
Anyway, I don't know the answers to all of these questions but I look forward to finding them out in the coming months...
Until next time,
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
I'm currently writing from Beijing, after spending the last week or so on the road. Since I left Shanghai I have...
- been to Shaolin Monastery, unfortunately Kungfu Mastery can not be learned by osmosis.
- stayed in Zhengzhou...which we dubbed "The Oshawa of China", any Canadians will know that is not a compliment
- saw thousands of Buddhas carved out of stone
- had many people try to sell me "authentic" pieces of said Buddhas
- biked the city walls of Xi'an
- saw the Terracotta Warriors and almost cried
- went to Pingyao, a super old and small Chinese city
- met more travellers that I can remember
- was jealous of all of their stories
- hoped that I was making some of them jealous with mine
- took a tour of the back alleys of Pingyao where I met this fascinating guy who told us about life in the cultural revolution
- saw some awesome old stone houses
- was exposed to open sewer lines
- somehow kept my breakfast in after that
- spent four hours in Taiyuan waiting for a bus, a runner up for "The Oshawa of China"
- arrived in Beijing to pouring rain, but went to the Forbidden City anyway
- plan on finding a secret part of the Great Wall tomorrow
- bought myself an awesome pair of brown Converse High Tops to match my red ones
- continued to have an amazing time
In all actuality, I've been a little bummed out about leaving these last few days. I love being in transit, I love meeting travellers, I love having new experiences, being home seems so boring. Actually, I considered changing my flight ticket to August sometime, but there were a few things holding me back. First off, I can't really afford this trip as is, so extending it may not be the best of ideas. Secondly, I already have committed to Kodiak and could never let them down. Thirdly, I want to go to my grad ceremony, if only for my parents to be proud of me. And lastly, I don't think that I could go another two weeks away from my girlfriend, that would just be torture.
Anyway, I'm sure that this funk will pass in a bit after I get to Vancouver for a few days and have a fantastic time out there, I can't wait for that!!!!
I'll update more later and tell some more stories/provide some deeper insight into China after I get home, so keep checking back here.
Until next time,
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Anyway we decided that we are going to go to Shaolin Si, home of the most famous monks in the world for a couple of days. It will be nice to get out of the city and into a more chilled out atmosphere. Plus we're hoping to get enrolled in some of the 1 day martial arts classes that they do. I may end up a brutal killing machine by the time that I'm done, so don't cross me.
After Shaolin, we may make a couple of stops along the way to Xi'an (Louyang looks pretty rocking) and from there...well we haven't figure that part out either, but such is the joy of travelling!!!!
I'll post some updates later on and maybe some pictures, if you're good...
Until next time,
Thursday, May 10, 2007
I just wanted to post two of my travelling stories here which will hopefully serve as a warning for some of you planning a trip to the PRC.
First off, on Sunday I was returning to mainland China after a few spectacular nights in Hong Kong and Macau. While those two cities were handed back to China in 1997 and 1999 respectively, they still retain a high amount of autonomy from the central government. So much so that you need to cross official borders and exchange currency when you go from one to the other or to the main land. Yeah, I don't get it either.
Anyway, as I rode the ferry from Macau to Shenzhen on the mainland, Steve and I got talking to this great guy from Germany, Joerg. Anyway, we shared some travelling stories and talked about some of the places that we planned on checking out while we were here. As we arrived in the mainland and began to walk through customs Joerg was stopped and had his bag searched.
For half a second, I wondered what this guy was trying to bring into the mainland, but it turns out they weren't looking for drugs or weapons, oh no, they were looking for books. After looking through his bag they pulled out his copy of Lonely Planet: China, an essential guide for any traveller. They told him that it was forbidden material and took it away from him. How weird is that?
So a word of warning for anyone coming into China, don't bring in the latest edition of Lonely Planet (the one with the Terracotta Warrior on it) it may get taken away. Funny because I was very tempted to through out my Let's Go guide and buy a Lonely Planet because they really are infinitely better.
Next up, was a scam that two girls tried to pull on us in Shanghai that we are really lucky that we didn't fall to. As we got off the metro in down town Shanghai two girls approached us and struck up a conversation. Now this is not a strange thing what so ever in this country, many, many Chinese approach foreigners to practice their English so this was not unusual. These girls told us that they were students travelling from out of town and were in Shanghai on their holidays. They asked us where we had gone and told us some of their favourite sites. They then told us that they were in Shanghai since it was the Tea Festival and asked if we wanted to go with them to a traditional Chinese Tea House. Again, not that out of the ordinary around here.
Thankfully though, our hostess with the mostest Carrie warned us about this in advance. She said that two of her friends had a similar situation happen to them before and the bill at the Tea House ended up being several hundred Yuan (100 Yuan is about $16 Cdn), because they are in with the Tea House.
So if you ever find yourself approached by two girls who claim to be students in Shanghai, think before they take you out for some tea. It really is a shame because since then I have started to second guess all of the kind Chinese strangers. I really shouldn't though, two tricky girls in a country of 1.3 Billion People ain't so bad now is it?
Until next time,
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Anyway, since I last posted I went to Vietnam (Hanoi and Halong) and then back to Nanning where Steve and I said goodbye to our friends and started on our own way. We went to Hong Kong and then Macau before flying to Shanghai where we are staying with an old pal from Acadia, Carrie. I have way too much to type in here to say the least, so I'll try to summarize as much as I can.
In the last week and a half I have...
- refered to many Vietnamese people as "Charlie"
- swam in the Pacific Ocean for the first time ever
- went to the Vietnamese Military History Museum, surely an educational site
- took an 11 hour bus
- waited for the Hong Kong border to open at 6:30am
- bought a new camera
- threw out my old wallet that I have had since Grade 8, leaving me with one less leather product from my former life
- saw Spider Man 3, the Chinese subtitles really helped me understand the complexities of The Sandman's character
- lost $100HK (about $17Cdn) at a Casino without knowing how
- watched Steve win about $100HK at the same game, also without knowing how
- discovered a new meaning of crowded on the Shanghai Subway
- been asked to purchase sexual favours so many times I have became numb to it
- been offered a job (more on that to follow)
- watched no hoceky or wrestling, yet somehow kept my sanity
- realized that I'm more of a country boy than I like to admit
- had a fantastic time!!!!
Until next time,
Thursday, April 26, 2007
As I mentioned in my first post of the day, I am now done teaching in China. This means that I must say goodbye to my wonderful home away from home away from home away from home away from home away from home (those homes represent: Trenton, Middle Stewiacke, Wolfville, Dumfries and North Bay respectively). Since I spent 5 years in Wolfville, which has been dubbed Wolf Vegas, and a considerable amount of time near Belleville, which has copied the copier to say Belle Vegas, have decided to call Nanning, Nan Vegas (I know that I called North Bay, North Vegas a couple of times, although I never used the term Dum Vegas...).
So I must say goodbye like a Sherryl Crow song. I'm a wee bit sad about that since Nanning is such an amazing city with so many wonderful people here. I wish that I could have spent more time with my students and seen more of the town, but alas I must move on.
Tomorrow we are going to be leaving very early in the morning for Vietnam, where we will spend time in Halong Bay and Hanoi. To say that I'm pumped will be an understatement. I hope that you are all ready for me to talk about Charlie and say "Back in 'Nam..." for the rest of my natural life.
On Tuesday, we return to Nanning for one night, and then my adventure really begins. My friend Steve and I are going to be aimlessly traveling the country. Our plan is to make our way to Hong Kong where we will be hopefully meeting Carrie (sidenote: Carrie, E-mail me back, ahhhhh!!!!) and rocking out accordingly before flying back with her to Shanghai to spend a couple of days there. After that, we're really not sure. I want to go to Xi'an, and I was told that a Yangzi River Cruise is the trip of a lifetime (and with the Three Gorges Dam due to be completed in 2 years I may never get a chance to see it the way it is now) so that may happen for sure.
After that, our flight leaves Beijing on May 25, and then a three day lay over in Vancouver to see a variety of old friends and then I shall be home on May 28th.
I won't really have a ton of time unfortunately to post on here but I will do my best. If you want a status report then check me out on Facebook where I will be posting pictures as frequently I can. Judge that I am having a good time by how obnoxious my smile is and how many peace signs I'm busting out in each album.
But until then, I must be off on yet another adventure. I look forward to getting the opportunity to tell many of you about it in person.
Until next time, (whenever the heck that may be!!!)
Monday, April 23, 2007
Saturday night in Yangzhou we went out to this spectacular show. I don't really know how to describe it other than by saying that it was on a water stage and it included some of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen. There was a call and answer love song between people waving massive torches, a row of 15 or so plastic tarps that people did an elaborate boat dance, a stage built on the water for people to walk on while wearing glowing suits (it seriously looked like a deranged techno video), a woman dancing on what looked like the moon, and a stripping scene. Ohhh and it was directed by the same guy who will direct the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics.
After the show I was still trying to process all of the stimulus and I ended up losing out on my group. I did the logical thing and went back the way that we came to look for the bus and the rest of my group. Silly me, thinking that logic will apply in this country.
I get to the front gates and see nobody. I wonder around for a bit and still see nobody that I know. I realize that they probably went out the side gate so I attempt to run back through the park but somebody tells me that all of the buses have left. I shrug and go back to the front gate and plan on walking back to the hotel, remembering that it wasn't that far of a trip.
After a day of walking I realize that maybe I should seek alternative transportation. Lucky for me I notice a motorized rickshaw and decide that maybe that would be a better bet. I ask the driver how much and he tells me 10 Yuan. I look and say that I would sooner walk (a wonderful bargaining technique in this country is to appear completely disinterested) and then he yells out six. I decide to take him up on the offer and get in the back. He says something in Chinese to his friends and they all have a good laugh.
After driving off for a bit he pulls over, looks back at me and says "Massag-ie, Massag-ie" and my heart drops a bit. I look at him confused and just say "West Street", which is close enough to the hotel I was staying at. He takes his left hand and puts his index finger to his thumb making a circle, and then takes his two fingers on his right hand and begins ramming them through the circle and makes some grunting noise and then says "10 Yuan". I realize two important things at this point. First off, some expressions are universal, and secondly he didn't say six, oh no, he said sex. No wonder he was laughing with his friends.
Lucky for me, I happen to know how to say no in Chinese which I say repeatedly and keep saying West Street. He starts to drive again but slows down as we pass a few run down buildings, which I assume to be brothels, where he makes the gesture again and says "Massag-ie, Massag-ie" some more.
After what seemed like forever we get to our hotel, I tell him to stop right here. I give him a 10 Yuan note and run hearing him yell "Massag-ie, Massag-ie" in the background.
I thankfully arrive back at my hotel to find our group leader and my profs who had just gone back to look for me. They say that they were not too worried about me, and said that if there was anyone who it would be ok to loose it would be me. I'm not sure if that was a compliment or not.
Olive, the professor with us, looks at me and says "Fall behind, left behind".
Until next time,
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Pretty unreal eh?
I spent so much time asking myself if what I was seeing was real. The limestone karsts (those weird looking hills) looked so fantastic that I felt that there should be faeries and dragons running around.
The highlight came on Saturday when we took a very relaxing bamboo raft ride down the river. On the way down the river there were people set up with booths or rafts of their own trying to sell tourists a variety of food and drinks. So I got to spent 5 Yuan (about 85 cents in Canada) for a 600mL bottle of beer. I fucking love China.
Don't get me wrong, there were some ugly sides as well. Yangzhou in particular is an absolute tourist trap. It always bums me out to see beautiful places get ruined by mass tourism. It reminded me so much of Niagara Falls, so much beauty amid so much cheese.
Worst of all though was the bike ride to the bamboo raft. While it was absolutely amazing to get out into the country and ride by some rice fields, it made me really sad. I saw an incredible amount of poverty along the way. It made me so very sad to see people covered in dirt with no shoes on begging for money. The houses were so run down I wondered what purpose they even served. It always makes me sad when people are so poor around such beautiful areas, like Cape Breton or the Scottish Highlands but magnified immensely.
What made me even sadder was to think about how much worse other people have things. As far as developing countries, China is probably the richest one there is. I could only imagine how much my heart would be breaking in a less fortunate country.
Anyway, I don't want to end on a downer so here are a couple more pictures of the unreal Li River Scenery. If any of you are planning on going to Asia, you need to make this a priority, you will not be disappointed!!!
Until next time,
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
The locals were all running for cover, but as usual, I got a perverse enjoyment out of this nice warm rain. Funny thing though, we had to walk some 20 minutes across campus to get to a ceremony at this time. So I put my rain coat on, refuse to hover under an umbrella and walk over to the building.
When we arrive for the ceremony (where we Canadians are going to give them some money that we raised before we left) we find out that due to the sudden storm, it is going to be postponed. All of the Chinese students, and some of the Canadian ones were huddling in the shelter and waiting for cabs to take a cab back to the residence.
I thought that this was a terrible idea, I was already wearing my flip-flops, and decided, along with my friends Karen and Sarah to walk back to residence in the rain. Best part, no hoods or umbrellas allowed. Just us and the rain.
Let me tell you, this was an amazing experience. I jumped in just about every puddle that I could see, and routinely kicked water at my friends. The locals were completely amazed at this, as I'm sure many Canadians would have been to.
None the less we continued, with every puddle I jumped into, I felt a year of maturity splash away from me. I absolutely loved it.
There is something amazing and wonderful about acting so immature sometimes. I figure that I have my whole life to be a grown up, why should I start now? Sure I'm not getting any younger, but why should I be forced to get older?
My father always says that he will die of Terminal Peter Pan Syndrome, he says "I may get old, but I will never grow up". Sometimes, the apple falls directly below the tree.
I felt so refreshed yesterday. It was so wonderful to feel the rain on my skin and innocence in my heart. I have spent most of this year thinking and worrying about growing up, it was wonderful to put all of those thoughts away for one childish walk.
So this is a special shout out to my NipFriends who are no doubt as worried about applying for jobs, interviews, OCT, and pensions as I am. Take a moment and let yourself be a kid, it will give you some much needed clarity.
Until next time,
P.S. Just in case some of you may be worried that I have caught a cold or something, afterwards the three of us (plus plenty more) gathered to have a tea party to warm us all up. We even had biscuits, and I made sure to drink with my pinky finger extended. Unfortunetly our stuffies were unable to attend the event.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
While I have planned and delivered many lessons before, this one was different. Not only was it going to be my first time in front of an entire group of Chinese ESL students, but I had a difficult topic, Parliamentary Democracy. To make it even more challenging, my AT suggested that I include some sort of activity in my lesson. I knew of only one way to do this. Stage a mock parliament.
That's right, the foreigner planned on staging an election in an oppressive communist country on my first teaching day.
I spent the first 40 minutes of the lesson discussing the different groups of Parliament and how they interact (i.e. the Monarchy and House of Lords/Senate do pretty much nothing). And
I described how a bill becomes a law. Then the fun started.
I had them all take a small political survey that I made up to figure out which party they would be in and then I had them divide into three groups to stage the debate. Interestingly enough, both classes had a fairly even split between the Centrist and the Leftist (Liberals and NDP for those of you who don't know that that means) with very few Right Wing members of the class. I even had the parties select a leader to represent them, and giving our class a Prime Minister.
The first Bill we discussed (I came up with it) was that we should ban Cell Phones for anyone under the Age of 21, which was met with genuine disgust. However some students proposed amendments to the Bill with the first group lowering the age to 18 and the second lowering it to 16. Also the first group suggested that we make it illegal to talk on the phone and drive at the same time (a motion which failed).
The second Bill I proposed was switching all of the food at the cafeteria to Western Style Food, saying that it was more cost effective. This was turned down as well but some students suggested that they change some of the cafeterias to Western Food, and many saying that it was less healthy. One bright students said that we weren't asking the students what they wanted so if the students did not like the food than nobody would eat at the cafeterias and they would loose money. It was absolutely brilliant.
All in all it was a really good day of teaching for me thus far. I have the mixed pro and con of teaching the same thing nine times throughout the week, so I'm looking forward to refining this activity and finding some more stories.
I was impressed at how well they responded to Democracy, they got the concept fairly quickly. Hopefully I won't get a stern talking to for this one. If you don't hear from me in the next little while then please just call the Embassy.
Until next time,
Myself and two friends, Steve and Jarrod, went to a near by park called Blue Mountain Scenic Area and did we ever have ourselves an adventure. First off it took us a really long time to get there, since the bus we were taking just sort of stopped and we had no idea where we were going, so we kept asking for directions (lucky for us my guide book has things written in Chinese or we would still be wandering!!!!). Once we got there though we were rewarded with some amazing views of Nanning and the surrounding area.
There were these amazing pagodas in the middle of the forest, the worlds longest bamboo corridor (it was 512m!!!!), a beautiful Buddhist temple that you could smell the incense from a mile away and this unreal lookout tower on the top of a mountain. Of course there were mini-buses going everywhere which we refused on many occasions. We were trying to get to a separate tower that we could see off in the distance and were wandering over towards it.
At this point I should point out to people that I haven't mentioned it to already. Foreigners are treated like rock stars around here. We get constantly gazed at and many, many people randomly say hello to us and giggle whenever we talk back. Life is good.
Anyway, back to reality. We were wandering around to find this tower and started walking through this field and this family (a mother, father and son that was maybe 4 years old) stopped to say hi to us. They then wanted to take our picture with their son, which we gladly obliged.
After we got to the end of the field we stopped to have a seat, as the sun started to quickly set. I was wondering just how nice our view would be in the dark and how long these mini-buses were running until, when the family came by again. Through a series of elaborate hand gestures the mother ended up offering us a drive. We were amazed and of course accepted.
They began to drive us out of the park and we really had no idea what to say (not that they would have understood anyway). They pulled over and the mother got out and started bargaining with this old lady on the side of the road. After a few minutes the father got out too, leaving the three of us foreigners alone in their new car, with their child and the keys in the ignition. Now where would you see that level of trust in North America?
They get back in with a back of star fruit and the mother turns around and gives us each one. I was spell bound I mustered out the best xiexie that I could and felt myself tearing up a bit. We communicate to the family to drop us off at the bus station (a couple of minutes from where we are) and I end up taking their picture as a memento of something that I don't think that I could ever forget.
Sorry the picture is low quality, my camera is a wee bit old.
I was so touched by this random act of kindness. Here we were as far away from home as we could ever be, in bot the literal and figurative sense, and we were treated to an act of true generosity. It made no difference in their lives I imagine to offer us a ride but it made all the difference in ours. It really goes to show me more that this world we live in is not so bad after all. One of my old high school teachers once said that "there are millions of good people out there just dying for you to ask them a favour" and I would like to add if I may "but there are few great ones who don't need to be asked". Well thousands of miles from home I met some pretty darn great ones.
I guess I need to find someway to make another deposit or two before I go into overdraft.
Until next time,
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
After being in Beijing for just a day, we flew to Nanning. After a four hour flight we were greeted with a hero's welcome by a group of students who were very keen to talk to us. I made many new friends with the Chinese students who were so very curious about my life and eager to practice their English.
One student, William (I can't remember or pronounce, let alone type is Chinese name) was extra friendly to me. He asked me and a few other guys what we thought of the Chinese girls and kept telling us tips on how to impress them. He also told me that he thought most American women were too fat for his liking. Also, we all went to a Supermarket to buy some things and I was looking for toilet paper (I'll talk about my toilet related experiences later I'm sure...) and he sent me down the tampoon aisle, laughing the entire time. I've cleraly made great friends already...
They call Nanning "The Green City", and let me tell you, it lives up to its name! The streets are lined with trees and there are parks everywhere. I honestly think that the town planners for every city in the world should come and take notes here. It is absoutely unreal just how much plantlife there is here. I will have some pictures to follow I'm sure.
I have had numerous interesting cultural experiences here already. Ordering food is quite the challenge, thankfully at one of the 10 cafeterias here there is an English menu which is great for pointing at. And mom, don't worry, there is plenty of vegan food here so your little boy is not going hungry. Also, there is a collection of about 20 basketball courts that all had games going on at once and full crowds, quite the site to see. When I was walking around I also saw a man get thrown to the ground by the cops and someone else (a civilian) kicked him a few times before strolling off. I'm not sure that would happen in Canada. Also, I have a new favourite extreme sport: Crossing the street.
Anywho, I meet my AT tomorrow and start this whole teaching thing soon after that. I'll let you all know how that goes, plus post some pictures and more stories in the days to come.
Until next time,
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
My flight leaves Saturday morning from Toronto and arrives Sunday afternoon in Beijing (by the way trying to figure out times when crossing the International Dateline is beyond confusing!!!) and I start teaching at Guangxi University in Nanning sometime next week. I will be teaching Western Civilizations to 2nd Year University Students until April 27th. After that, Team China (20 odd of us) are going to be going on a 4 day Bus Trip to Vietnam (prepare for me to begin every sentence with "Back in Nam..." for the next year or so after that) and then the real adventure starts. Me and my friend Steve (and possibly Lindsay if I can convince her over the next couple of weeks...) are going to be wandering rather aimlessly around the country. We have no real plans per say until May 25th when our flight leaves Beijing. I want to get to Macau/Hong Kong rather badly, and an old pal from Acadia, Carrie, has offered a couch in Shanghai which I would be rude not to accept. Also the Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an are on my Top 5 Things to See Before I Die list, so I would be a fool not to make it there someway.
I will do my best to post some pictures/stories/confirmation that I have not been placed in a forced labour camp as often as possible, but I doubt I can make many promises.
Just to give people some perspective before I go, here is a map of China with Nanning highlighted.
So anyway, I hope that you all have an awesome couple of months and don't be shy about dropping me a line/comment, I would love to hear from you!!!!
Until next time, (whenever the heck that will be...)
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Now everyone knows enough about the Holocaust, millions of Jews, Poles, homosexuals, disabled, Roma, communists, blacks, and many more all systematically eliminated with cold, hard, twentieth century efficiency. It is an event that just about everyone has some sort of knowledge about and it really has been ingrained into our collective conscience.
Last February, I had the opportunity to go to Amsterdam. Needless to say it was an amazing trip (yeah make whatever comment you may about that sentence). But one of the highlights of it all was going to see Anne Frank's House. As I'm sure you all know, the Frank family and several of their friends, hid in an upstairs apartment for an extended period of time before they were finally found by the Nazis and sent off to various concentration camps. Anne was sent to Bergen-Belsen where she died of typhoid.
Now the apartment is very small and it is of course, a major tourist destination. As a result you have to filter through in a long, plodding line. I can't help but feel that much of the mystique was lost as a result. However, I still found it very emotional. Me being so crowded and confined for even a short period made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. I can not imagine how it must have felt to have been crowded and confined in that small place for such an extended period of time.
Due to the high volume of people I didn't take many pictures while in there. It also somehow felt wrong to do so, I wanted to just look at the pictures she posted on the wall of her bedroom and touch the walls to feel their sadness. I was looking for some pictures of the rooms to post here, but I found this video tour on YouTube...
After you go through the entire house there is a small, but interesting exhibit. They show a series of video clips on contemporary political issues. After the short clip they ask a simple yes or no question and then they display the results of both the room and of all the data they have collected. They present some interesting questions such as, "Should the government be allowed to monitor what people read?", "Should Neo-Nazis be allowed to protest in from of Synagogues on the Sabbath?", "Should the government be allowed to shut down newspapers? (especially in the given example the Spanish government shut down the only Basque language newspaper for terrorist links)", and of course "Should Holocaust deniers be allowed to publish their work on the internet?". Very tough questions that were all aimed at keeping people aware of any potential for a government to remove rights from its citizens, the starting point of any tyranny.
Needless to say, I highly recommend the experience. It is further proof that there is more to Amsterdam than just the hash and the hookers. However there are a few interesting questions that I don't feel were explored enough in here or in the Amsterdam Historisch Museum (a museum dedicated to the history of Amsterdam). They never really explored the notion of Dutch collaboration in the holocaust. A stunning 73% of Dutch Jews were executed during the occupied years. This is the highest out of all Western European nations. It really did not take a large amount of SS officers to force this. The Dutch were very willing participants.
They had no choice you say? Well, over in Denmark, the Danes outright rejected the Final Solution. The government by and large refused to cooperate with the Nazis and were able to save the lives of thousands of Jews. Similar actions were taken by the governments of Bulgaria and Finland. I really don't have any explanations as to why some countries refused and why some so eagerly participated. I just found it most definitely interesting (and not surprising) that such an issue was never really discussed.
I realize that I could go on about this topic forever, so I had best stop here. You really can cut and paste most of my comments from a few weeks ago for Martin Luther King Day, and paste them for this subject. They really are the same issue at hand, social justice. We have come a long, long way in the past 6 or so decades on this issue but still have a long way to go. We are not that far out of the jungle, hate crimes still happen right here in our own back yard. Not to mention the covert forms of discrimination taking place all around us.
But until we get that perfect world, I'm going to have to keep dreaming, and keep remembering. Because if we forget the millions who died along the way then their lives become meaningless, and then we are back where we started.
Until next time,
Thursday, January 25, 2007
- O my love is like a red, red rose
- That's newly sprung in June;
- That's newly sprung in June;
- My love like the melody
- That's sweetly played in tune.
- That's sweetly played in tune.
- As fair art thou, my bonny lass,
- So deep in love am I;
- So deep in love am I;
- And I will love thee still, my dear,
- Till a' the seas gang dry.
- Till a' the seas gang dry.
- Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
- And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
- And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
- I will love thee still, my dear,
- While the sands o' life shall run.
- While the sands o' life shall run.
- And fare thee weel, my only love!
- And fare thee weel, awhile!
- And fare thee weel, awhile!
- And I will come again, my love
- Though it were ten thousand mile.
That little bit of culture was because today is a very special day. That's right, it's Burns Day!!!! The day to celebrate the Scottish National Poet, Robert Burns (as a quick aside: note the use of the word National, that is what Burns is officially know as. Further putting pros into this whole Quebec as a Nation thing, which you can find my opinions of here).
Like most days in Scotland, today is typically filled with excessive drinking and haggis. When I was living there last year, I gathered with many of my Canadian friends (and an Australian for good measure) and we read some of his poems and ate some haggis. Yeah they sell vegan haggis at grocery stores over there. I couldn't make this up. It was hilarious trying to read all of the poems which are of course written in Scots, and presented quite the challenge for those of us who are accently-impaired.
I have taken this opportunity to look at a collection of a number of his poems, and I am amazed at how amazing they are. Sure this man was unfaithful and incredibly lecherous, but I'll be damned if he wasn't smooth. The above listed "Oh, My Love is a Red, Red Rose" is one of his most famous works, but there are so many others!!! For the romantics out there may I also recommend you check out "Ae Fond Kiss, and Then We Sever". And of course if you have some time to kill then check out the epic "Tam O'Shanter. Wikipdeia has an awesome collection of several of his poems, which are well worth checking out.
Last year I went on a bit of a Burns tour, going to a lot of the man's hotspots and places of inspiration. Here I have a couple to share. I hope that you enjoy them!!!
These first two are the Alloway Kirk that gets mentioned in Tam O'Shanter. In the poem it is haunted and full of witches. It still looks kind of creepy to me now.
Here we have the Brig O' Doon, also mentioned in the above poem.
Here we have one of many Burns Monuments , this is right where the Brig is.
This is in Dumfries, the town I was living in. This is Burns's mausoleum. Apparently he was buried in a regular grave but they later dug him up and put him in this big mausoleum instead. It really is a cool graveyard with giant head stones that are taller than I am. It was only a short walk down from my old apartment too.
Anyway, I hope that you all have a Happy Burns Day, eat some (hopefully vegan) haggis and have a wee dram. Or at least go read some really great poetry!!!
Until next time,