Finding routine

I’ve been back in Timmins, Ontario for exactly six weeks now. I’ve visited family, enjoyed the great outdoors (including an unexpected snowstorm), spent many more hours than I’d hope on buses, and got back in the swing of a new job. I’ve graduated, said hello and goodbye to a great number of friends, begun an apartment hunt, and started to reflect on what the next year (or more) will bring.

The one thing about travelling that I think I had forgotten is how much it makes you appreciate home, makes you appreciate the familiar. And my familiar is different from that of many people. My familiar is hours on a highway surrounded by nothing but trees and the occasional lake or moose. There’s something beautiful and calming about forests, something I had forgotten or pushed from memory while living in the bustling craziness of Hanoi. I love the North, it’s beautiful, its refreshing – its home.

Despite all this, I’m still excited for another change – to experience Toronto, to begin writing and researching and to get back into the swing of academic life. I’m excited to be physically closer to a lot of my friends (as not many live in or return to the North anymore), and I’m excited to be challenged again.

My work has definitely kept me busy and as it’s a new position, it has also enabled me to learn a lot more about finances, credit, and access to funds. This summer has been like a waiting period – a time in between. I’m done a degree but not yet done being a student, I’m home, but not really home. I feel like I’m on the precipice of change when most of the people around me are finding some degree of permanence and I’m still surrounded by uncertainty. I guess that it would be uncomfortable to many people to have so much uncertainty in their lives, but I almost find it soothing. It’s soothing to know that my life is still changing, its soothing to know that things will continue to change as long as I like, and its soothing to know that challenge and adventure are still (and will continue to be) a major part of my life.

Over the next few weeks, I’m hoping to share some preliminary research and readings that I want to incorporate into my studies for next year as well as any preparatory work I do for the University of Toronto. I’m  looking to access as much information as possible about Belgium as a colonial power and Rwanda, Burundi, and DRC pre and during colonial time.  I’d also like to access any legitimate information regarding current laws and attitudes on domestic abuse.

I’m finding my routine and seeing where I fit in for the next few months – then the cycle will start all over again.

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Back in Canada

I know this post may seem a bit late, but I wanted to take some time to reflect myself before I shared my thoughts and reflections with the worldwide web. From past experiences, coming back to Canada is always the hardest part about leaving because you struggle with who you are versus who you were, you struggle with your next steps, how to integrate what you’ve learned and how you’ve changed into your life, you struggle with falling back into how you used to be or how you want to be. It’s a major learning experience and it takes some time and reflection each time to decide how you want to decipher it.

This time, I felt as though there was more preparation and the university set up some debriefing sessions to help us determine how to answer those questions. In addition, we aren’t coming back into a former life, we’re coming back to the completion of our degrees and the beginning of something completely new – whether its work, more school, travel, or no plans – so there aren’t old patterns to fall back into.

Personally, there were some elements of placement that I really struggled with, however despite these struggles, I would never trade the experience for anything. I learned a lot about myself while in Hanoi, I developed a completely different sense of independence than I could have in Canada, I challenged myself, and I realized that there are no limitations to what I can do or accomplish.

My time in Hanoi gave me the self-confidence to stand out from the crowd, to be myself regardless of what is happening around me, to stick to my goals, and to shoot for the stars. Prior to living overseas, I never would have imagined that I would be good enough for grad school, that I could get a scholarship, or that I deserved to be noticed in that way. But it really pushed me to work outside of my comfort zone and to recognize my own strengths.

Placement also brought me a lot closer to some of my classmates; there are people that I spent time with in Hanoi that I will be close with for the rest of my life. I’ve made friends that understand me more than anyone I’ve known previously and who are unconditionally supportive. The heart and strength that I’ve seen in my classmates astounds me and I know that they will accomplish anything they set out to do. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to experience placement with such a wonderful and supportive group of people, and I feel even more fortunate to have such incredible people in my life.

Participating in an international experience is about more than school, it teaches you things that you can’t learn about in class or in books. There’s a value to travelling and living overseas that you can’t get from anything else. No other experience encourages you to test your boundaries, nothing else will ever ensure that you learn about yourself and the world in such a genuine manner, and there is nothing equal to it. Regardless of whether you are studying international development or anything else, go outside and learn about the world, go experience it. It will challenge you and it will expand your horizons more than anything else ever could.

The good stuff

I know I usually only share the bad stuff that happens in my daily adventures (because it’s usually funnier), but there are many incredible, wonderful, great things and people that I come across every day as well.

Firstly is the man who sits at the end of my alley. I would guess him to be in his late 50s and he is always hanging out at the end of the alley way, sitting at a table with his friends either eating or playing cards. When I walk by in the mornings he goes out of his way to say hello and share what English words he knows (usually ‘Thank you’ or ‘I love you’). When he thinks the weather will be either cold or rainy that day and doesn’t think I’m appropriately dressed he rushes me back down the alley to make sure I have a jacket or a sweater. In the evenings when it’s dark, he watches and waits for me to make sure I get into my house safely. When I have friends or family over, he always asks who they are if he doesn’t recognize them. He just truly goes out of his way each and every day and it ensures that I start each day with a smile thinking of how kind he is.

Second is the woman on bus #32. I met her last month and I think that she thinks that I just moved to Hanoi and don’t know my way around but every day she has waited to make sure I get on the bus and, as she gets off at the same stop, she also chit chats with me and is just really friendly. She’s been openly curious about me and has shared information about her life. It’s great to have a friend on a long, crowded bus ride and since I’ve met her I haven’t been groped by any strange men – coincidence? I think not.

Third are the xe om drivers (motorcycle taxi) near my street. As I cross the perilous, crowded, traffic disaster that is Kim Ma Street, they watch me, waiting to see if I need help. When I get across the street they usually smile and applaud – it makes something like crossing the street feel remarkably accomplished. The drivers on the other side of the street always wish me a good day and a good bus ride.

There are many more people and things that just make this placement absolutely incredible, but these three people/groups of people are the ones that I encounter every single day who bring a bit of happiness into the day (especially when its pouring rain like today).

On Entitlement and Respect

I’ve experienced a fair share of battles here regarding how men treat women, and today was no different.

While on the bus, the bus attendant announced to someone that he thought I was beautiful; someone disagreed and said I was ugly. This was followed by a fair amount of debate while pointed at various parts of my body and garnering a small attentive crowd. I turned around and announced that I understand Vietnamese and was met with silence.

People felt as though they had the right, ability, and freedom to openly discuss what they did and did not like about my body, while pointing to the body parts in question and when it became obvious that I knew and understood what was going on there wasn’t even an apology. Then on the rest of my trek home I had several men try to get me to sit and eat with them; what is it a joke or game to try to get the girl to sit down and eat or drink with you? Do people really expect that someone they have never met or spoken with is really going to want to sit down right at that moment to enjoy a meal with a stranger? I sure wouldn’t. But when I say no I’m met with someone who is shocked and offended that I don’t want to sit down with a strange man and eat whatever he offers just because he asked.

Just because I’m female does not mean I’m your property. Just because I’m different than you does not mean you have the right to discuss or debate my body. Just because you ask me to do something does not mean I have to say yes. I am human, I am not your property, I do not exist as a source of entertainment for you, and I deserve the same level of respect you want to receive.

Female Police Officers

Some officials of traffic police teams said that traffic policewoman regulating traffic during peak hours in the morning and afternoon at the major intersection would “create beauty and make the people more comfortable.” 

After the peak hours, these female police officers will return to the office.

A representative of the Road and Railway Traffic Police Agency said that the traffic policewomen standing on the podium to regulate traffic in rain or shine are beautiful images and some cities have used traffic policewomen to regulate traffic for years.

Why not have the female police officers act in full capacity like all police officers? Reward them for their ability and work, not physical appearance..

Merry Christmas to All

Venturing Vietnam

Merry Christmas to everyone around the world, no matter what day it is right now, what you are eating, who you are with, or how you are celebrating. Though many of us had a very different Christmas than usual this year, it was filled with touches of Canadian familiarity, lots of friendly faces, and three awesome helpings of Mr. Bean.

Just to provide a bit of a visual, here is what “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” meant for us in Vietnam:

On Christmas Eve, it was so cold in the office that I could only type for five minutes at a time. I took breaks to sit on my hands.

There was a very skinny man dressed as Santa standing outside a store on my street (that sells who knows what) giving out free stuff to kids (and who knows what the free stuff was.) He was…

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Singapore: Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

One of the highlights of Singapore for me was the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve where I was able to spend time outside in a rainforest free from traffic, pollution, smog, people, and all the fun things I experience on a daily basis in Ha Noi. The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve was established in 1883 and is a primary forest, an ASEAN Heritage Park, and the forests in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve are original to Singapore and have remained untouched throughout the nation’s history and development (during British colonization and intense logging).

It is also home to Singapore’s highest natural point, Bukit Timah Hill, at 163.63 metres; which of course had to be climbed. As the summit wasn’t too high, we chose to add a few kilometres to the route; adding on the Jungle Path (slightly harder than the Summit Path) and part of the Seraya Loop (to be able to see the Singapore Quarry.

There were absolutely beautiful trees, plants, and remarkably massive ants throughout the entire hike. It was really peaceful and the Jungle Path was rewarding because there were freshwater springs and pools of calm water. Getting to the Seraya Hut was also beautiful as you could see over the Singapore Quarry and there were much less people so it was very calm.

In other news, it has made me want to climb Fansipan (Fan Xi Pan) here in Vietnam even more. Which will be sometime in late February so if you have any pointers please send them my way.

Here are some photos! Including one of a tree for my sister.

The route (badly drawn by me in teal).

The route (badly drawn by me in teal).

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See those stairs? They are around 1/4-1/3 of my height.

See those stairs? They are around 1/4-1/3 of my height.

Still alive!

Still alive!

Made it!

Made it!

 

International Human Rights Day 2012

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a seminar in Hanoi for International Human Rights Day and I must say it was interesting. I will not be posting very much about it for now, but in the meantime here are some select quotes and upcoming events that I thought were interesting as they apply to citizens of Vietnam, Canada, and the world. This was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate human rights achievements in Canada, Vietnam and the world from 1948 to the present.

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Sustainable Forest Governance

As you know (or should by now) I’m currently working in Vietnam at the Centre for Sustainable Rural Development, or SRD and am placed in Ha Noi.

What I didn’t know coming into this placement was that I’d be working primarily with forestry related things: forest governance, forest management, land-use law, land allocation problems, forest trade, forest licensing, forest monitoring, civil society’s participation in forest policy drafting, etc. However now that I’m here I’m finding that my role is involving lots of policy drafting, capacity building, and networking about forests.

In my first week at SRD, I attended a workshop on Capacity Building for Civil Society Organizations on FLEGT/VPA and REDD+. Its quite a mouthful. FLEGT is Forest, Law, Governance, and Trade and is legislation drafted by the EU for countries that they trade in timber with. VPA is the Voluntary Partnership Agreement which is a bilateral trade agreement between a country and the EU (in this case, Vietnam). REDD+ is one of the products of the Cancun Climate Change talks and stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation. All of this can be coordinated to work together, but as the Vietnamese government is in the midst of developing all the policies, the local and international NGOs are working on trying to get input from civil society and figuring out the best way to do this.

If you are curious and want to know more, you can check out the condensed version of the report that I wrote here.

Entitlement and one bad xe om experience

Today I experienced something a little bit startling; it caught me off guard; it made me angry.

On my usual bus ride/walk to work I experience anywhere from 5-10 offers to use a ‘xe om’ or ‘motorcyle taxi’ and have perfected the response: smile, shake my head, say ‘khong’ or ‘no’, and wave my hands in the ‘enough’ motion. Today, in the last portion of my walk – and usually the portion with the least xe om offers – a man said xe om and gestured in the general direction of a motorbike. I responded in my usual manner and continued to walk by.

However it did not stop there. As I passed him – and stopped paying attention to what he was doing – he grabbed my arm, swinging me back and proceeded to try to drag me to his motorbike. Apparently saying ‘no’ politely did not suffice. After a few shouts that caught the attention of people around me (and there were many as it was rush hour) he let go and said a few things in Vietnamese to his friends that garnered a laugh.

Some people feel as though they are entitled to take or do what they want even if it requires the use of force, some people feel entitled to coerce others into following their will, often without guilt.

All I could think of was how frequently these things happen in pretty much every country around the world. Saying no is not enough, people are left with no choice but to fight for autonomy, independence, and rights – all of which should be guaranteed and in many cases are already granted through the law. Do not take your rights for granted, do not allow legislative changes or self-entitlement to take away your rights, do not become self-entitled and do anything to compromise the rights of others. Be respectful.

Ha Noi Ha Noi Ha Noi

I have arrived in the beautiful city that is Ha Noi.

We got here late Monday night and took a really long cab ride into the city to our hotel. Which at night seems very different from the day. Ha Noi isn’t so much a network of streets but a network of alleys, and our hotel was on one of these. The alleys almost make up communities, each grouping has everything anyone could ever need and everyone is welcome to join.

Our first morning we walked to the WUSC office, which we originally thought was 10 minutes. 35 minutes later we arrived, disgustingly hot and sweaty and more than a little bit jet lagged. We were told to memorize the route because we would have to walk home alone and alone to the office after that point. Our orientation went fairly smoothly with no real hiccups. And no one got lost walking :)

I bought a SIM card and got my phone working with a Vietnamese number which may have been one of the most confusing experiences of my life.

We visited a family clinic in Ha Noi where we can get medical treatment, flu shots, etc. and got one of the most terrifying talks ever as well as what I think was the third or fourth talk telling us about sexual health and STDS (what do people think we’re doing here?) 

I had the opportunity to meet with two host families and choose the one I thought was best for me. When I went to visit the first one, I was ushered through a very fancy clothing store, then through a kitchen, then through a stunning garden until we were in a beautiful home. The bedroom is bigger than anything I have ever had both at home or at school. Needless to say, I fell in love with it and will be moving in today at 12. My host family will be about 3.5km to work and about 6km away from everyone else in the program. I’m hoping to get comfortable biking on the streets.. But we’ll see how that goes.

I start work on Monday and will be working on Climate Change. More information will follow when I learn more.

One week to go

With only one week left before I leave for Vietnam it seems only fitting that my plans would change. I am no longer going to Hue, instead I will be in Ha Noi. I’ll still be working for the same organization, but my job description has changed and I’m in a completely different city than I’ve spent the past 6 months researching and looking forward to. Did I mention I’m already packed for Hue?

Here is my job description be sure to comment and give me any tips or pointers as I have no experience in this field.

  • Assist with the development of project concept notes and proposals that support SRD Climate Change section’s short and long‑term strategy.
  • Assist with writing and editing website and newsletter articles which related to Climate Change forest management and environment fields.
  • Assist with writing and editing reports on Climate Change program/ projects.
  • Support ongoing Climate Change mainstreaming activities within SRD’s program.
  • Support the development, management and implementation of SRD’s Climate Change projects, including undertaking needs/vulnerability assessments, conducting baseline surveys etc as required.
  • Participate in other related activities of the organization and engage/liaise with partners on SRD’s behalf through climate change and FLEGT networks (as assigned).
  • Assist with organizing logistic and reporting of Climate Change department led workshops.

Location, location, location

I now know that I will be working with Sustainable Rural Development (SRD from now on), however they have yet to confirm where I will be in Vietnam. I was told that Hanoi or Hue would be most likely, however I had assumed this entire time that Hue was the only options as it was listed on the application.

Now I play the waiting game yet again. But here is an exciting map with all of the potential locations that I could be next year!