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).

Tet (or New Years take 2)

Tet is the New Year in Vietnam (which you can read about here, here, or here); its a lunar new year and is the only solid week off that we get as interns here!

Myself and 5 friends decided to go to Bangkok and Bali for the week (meaning we slept in the Bangkok airport and experienced major taxi-induced anger, then relaxed and enjoyed the wonderfulness that is Bali). Read about how exciting it was to prepare from Daniel’s perspective here. If you want the details of the trip you can check out my friend, classmate, and travel partner’s blog where Christian explains the trip much more eloquently than I ever could. If you want more information on one of the trip highlights – climbing Mt. Batur (active volcano) you can check out my friend, classmate, and travel partner’s blog out (I’m actually going with her to Cambodia next week), where Madiha explains why it was such an incredible experience.

As they have covered the details so well, I thought I’d just share some photos.

Bangkok

Bangkok

Bangkok (gold everywhere)

Bangkok (gold everywhere)

Bangkok

Bangkok

Bankok (Reclining Buddha)

Bangkok (Reclining Buddha)

Bangkok (Democracy Monument)

Bangkok (Democracy Monument)

Bali (Sunrise on the beach)

Bali (Sunrise on the beach)

Bali (Sunset on the beach - see a theme here?)

Bali (Sunset on the beach – see a theme here?)

Bali (Sunrise from the peak of Mt. Batur)

Bali (Sunrise from the peak of Mt. Batur)

Bali (WE DID IT)

Bali (WE DID IT)

Bali (The descent - Can you spot my friends?)

Bali (The descent – Can you spot my friends?)

Bali (Still descending. . )

Bali (Still descending. . )

Bali (Mt. Batur - Yes, we actually climbed that in the middle of the night with a flashlight)

Bali (Mt. Batur – Yes, we actually climbed that in the middle of the night with a flashlight)

Bali (Ubud - explored after climbing a volcano)

Bali (Ubud – explored after climbing a volcano)

“We must be our own before we can be another’s.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”

-Gustave Flaubert

“I came to a point where I needed solitude and just stop the machine of ‘thinking’ and ‘enjoying’ what they call ‘living’, I just wanted to lie in the grass and look at the clouds.”

-Jack Kerouac

Singapore: Outtakes

Following my trip to Singapore and the posts I put up last week, I was going through some additional photos and came across some that I loved and felt deserved to be shared. I will do this again with more images from the Botanical Gardens as well, but in the meantime here are some photos from the city, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, and anywhere else I wandered in Singapore. I hope you enjoy them and come back soon to check out more photos from the Botanical Gardens.

Little India

Little India

Near Chinatown

Near Chinatown

Food Street in Chinatown

Food Street in Chinatown

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Panoramic view from the Singapore Flyer (click for full image)

Panoramic view from the Singapore Flyer (click for full image)

Panoramic view from the Helix Bridge, not perfect but one of my favourite shots (click for full image)

Panoramic view from the Helix Bridge, not perfect but one of my favourite shots (click for full image)

Singapore: Orchard Road

A trip to Singapore would not be complete without visiting Orchard Road. This road is like the high-end shopping zone of the city, but because it’s almost Christmas it was covered in lights and decorations.

Among the unexpected sightings was this owl…

Why?

Why?

Now enjoy some of the photos that made a little more sense.

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These were my favourite

These were my favourite

 

Singapore: Botanical Gardens

While in Singapore a few weeks ago, I took some time to wander through the Botanical Gardens which are massive. It would probably take days to do justice to the entire area; so bound by time I went to the Orchid Garden – the national flower of Singapore. Luckily there was a promotion happening so admission was free!

Here are some select photos of the Orchid Garden and of the Orchids, including some close-ups because the patterns were just so stunning. I hope to go back one day and see more and I hope you find the photos as beautiful as I found the gardens.

Canopied walkway

Canopied walkway

Waterfall! I can never get enough of these.

Waterfall! I can never get enough of these.

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Just for good measure - they seemed so happy.

Just for good measure – they seemed so happy.

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!

 

Singapore: the city

Arriving in Singapore entailed a bit of culture shock – everything was so clean, efficient and organized.

The first thing I did was drink from a water fountain (which will probably be the first thing I do in Canada too – or a tap, whatever’s available) and then walked through the airport and customs in minutes. It was just that organized.

The city streets were calm, empty, traffic lights functioned, there was visible greenery, there were no motorbikes, and it was not chaotic in the least. Best of all, I think I only heard two horns the entire weekend.

We spent the first night up on the Singapore Flyer seeing a beautiful skyline of the city, then walked through the Helix Bridge to the Marina Bay Promenade along the Singapore River near some stunning gardens.

The next day was spent exploring the rest of the city, using the MRT system which was the cleanest, safest, most efficient transit system I have ever seen. I seriously would have eaten off the floor in there (had food and drink been allowed). . .

Some highlights included Little India, Arab Street, and Chinatown but I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

View from the Singapore Flyer.

View from the Singapore Flyer

Helix Bridge and Marina Bay Sands.

Helix Bridge and Marina Bay Sands

View from the Helix Bridge.

View from the Helix Bridge

The Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Promenade.

The Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Promenade

 

Little India

Little India

Little India

Little India

Little India

Little India

Little India

Little India

Arab Street

Arab Street

Arab Street

Arab Street

Arab Street

Arab Street

China Town

Chinatown

China Town

Chinatown

China Town

Chinatown

China Town

Chinatown

 

What Vietnam has taught me. . .

I remember looking forward to placement and wondering about all the things I would see, do, explore, and experience. So far, it has been absolutely incredible; but then I was thinking about how I’m working so hard to make the most of the  time I have available to experience everything this city, country, and region has to offer and I can’t help but wonder why I didn’t do this in Canada.

Canada has a ton to offer and I still haven’t seen even a fraction of the things I hope to see there, there are many things to do and see in the areas I have lived in with little or no cost, but why wasn’t I focused on making the most of my time or experience? I guess because it feels normal. When you stay in the same country or area, you fall into a pattern or routine, you do normal things, you have habits. You feel as though there is no rush because you have a lifetime to experience what you want and do all those things you never got around to yet.

This realization is giving me something to work towards. I will not wait for experiences like this placement to live my life to the fullest, I will live my life to the fullest every single day in every single town, city, country that I am fortunate enough to live in. I will experience things to the fullest and make the most of the time I have. If I’m willing to spend hours walking around Ha Noi because its beautiful, why didn’t I do that in Canada? I guess I got stuck in the routine of ‘home’ and found what boundaries I was comfortable with.

No more! Vietnam has taught me to experience things, explore, try something new and avoid routine and that is something I hope to never forget.

Originally posted here.

A Tale of Two Villages

Follow-up on a previous post

Chieng Khoang and Chieng Chung are located less than a kilometer apart within a 20 minute walk of Tuan Giao Town in Tuan Giao District, Dien Bien Province yet these two villages each have a unique story. But before I get into that, I’ll begin with a little bit of history from the area.

 Read more

What would you do?

I have some exciting news to share!

After going to an absolutely delicious Canadian Thanksgiving Supper at Don’s I found out that I won the raffle!

This means that I will soon be in possession of enough Air Asia Miles for a round trip to Hong Kong (or to contribute to other trip(s) ).

Comment and tell me what you would do with it. 

  1. Go to Hong Kong!
  2. Add it to a trip to Malaysia/Indonesia/Thailand/Southern Vietnam/Laos/Cambodia
  3. Or something else?

Meet my sister

As most of my followers know, I LOVE to travel, but as many of you might not know, so does my sister. She is about to leave on an absolutely incredible trip to the middle of nowhere in Russia where she will be working for four months at a gold mine.

Her and I are both students at the University of Waterloo and are both in the Faculty of Environment, but where I am studying International Development, she is studying Environment and Resource Management and she will have the opportunity to put that education to use and will be blogging about it.

So, if you’re interested in environmental issues, adventure, travel, or Russia – meet my sister.

Visa Hiccup

There has been a hold-up in getting my visa for Vietnam. I’m one of three people who will hopefully receive their visa authorization five business days prior to our flight date. This means that while I’m leaving Timmins around the 26th, I will have to find a way to still apply for and get my visa from elsewhere in Ontario.

The problem with this is that the standard way to get a visa to Vietnam is to send in your application by mail, then once it arrives at the embassy (in Ottawa) it stays there for five business days, then is mailed back. So it’s looking like a road trip is in order, as well as the additional costs to expedite the process.

What is probably most frustrating with this experience is that I was not really included in the process at all. So I don’t know the work that went into it to get the visa authorization, I don’t know the process, I don’t know how hard (or not hard) people have worked to try to get this to happen. I just know that it hasn’t happened, may not happen, and its now the last minute. This isn’t for lack of trying, I have asked many times to have the process explained, or to be included, or for an update at the very least. I feel as though had I been included I wouldn’t be frustrated with this because I would actually be aware of what work had been done in order for things to happen on time.

If something happens and the authorization does not come in time, I will have to apply for a tourist visa (also in Ottawa, also at the last minute), then renew the visa every ninety days in Vietnam. Technically, the renewal can be denied.

Hopefully the authorization comes sooner and things are easier, and hopefully this is the only hiccup that will occur from now on. If the biggest problem I have is that I have to rush to get my visa in time, then the next eight months will be remarkably smooth.

New Year’s Revisited

This past weekend marked Canada Day, which for many Canadians is the only nationalist display that they will participate in throughout the year. However the weekend also marked the halfway point for any New Year’s Resolutions, so I thought I’d check in with myself and see how the year has been so far.

While I never set any formal resolutions, I have one phrase that I’ve sort of reminded myself of each year when New Year’s comes around and that is ‘Qui Sera, Sera’. Being a bit of a control freak, I tend to find it difficult to take and accept things as they come and learn to adapt and its been useful to remember to take a step back and let things happen. While my control freak tendencies are not gone, I feel as though the past six months have forced me to learn to accept things that I have no control over (including course changes, life changes, family changes, school in general, and everything related to my placement). As a lot of those changes are culminating and wrapping up and as there are MANY more to come, I feel its important to remind myself of this again and to remember what it means to me and to ensure that I step back when I need to.

A second effort that I’ve been making has been to get healthier, and this is one that I think has been going fairly well. I’ve become hooking on exercise (especially if it doesn’t involve cardio!), but in the next half of the year I’d like to challenge myself by trying to love running.

In essence, I think this is one of the first personal(ish) posts on this blog but I think its important to help hold myself accountable to myself and remember that I can put myself first and that I will continue to learn and grow as the year goes on. Do you like having personal posts to read, or would you like me to keep things development related?

How do the real local champions tolerate us?

“How do the real local champions tolerate us, international ‘experts’ who rotate in and out of their countries and keep showing up – different faces, same stupid questions – like a bad penny? What do we mean when we talk about supporting local actors? And are we really ready to relinquish control, face our shortcomings and humbly listen?”

Marianne Elliott

Welcome to INDEVOURS

Welcome to INDEVOURS.

Hello everyone, this is from INDEVOURS a group that I am a part of and that is fundraising to help make the last year of our degree a reality. So, go check out the site, post your comments, check us out on facebook, and don’t be afraid to interact. :)

If your interests vary from mine, this is also the opportunity to check out the other 31 students heading to placements and learn about what they’ve been blogging about and the work they will be doing in the upcoming year.

“For once you have tast…

“For once you have tasted flight,
You will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward;
For there you have been,
And there you long to return.”
— Leonardo da Vinci

I feel like this is a beautiful way to think and live. To believe and know that all things are wonderful, that there are no limits to existence, and that we can do more than we ever thought possible.
I hope that I never lose this feeling of being limitless, that I always believe and work towards extending my capabilities and moving beyond my comfort zone, that I never stop trying regardless of how well I do.

Observations from Toronto

I spent this past weekend in Toronto and I had a few observations that I thought might be interesting to share..

Observation 1

One of the first places I went to was the World’s Biggest Bookstore; I love it there, I would go there everyday if it was feasible and wouldn’t destroy my bank account. I’ve been going there at least once a year for a pretty long time, at least 5 years now and my favourite section has undergone a few changes. If you go upstairs and head to the side wall there used to be a tiny section on international politics and international relations. You used to be able to hunt through a few books to try to find one that you hopefully hadn’t already read. Everything in that section used to be fairly similar, my bookcase at home can attest to that.. There would mainly be some books on HIV/AIDS, a few on democracy, maybe one or two on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Now when you walk up those stairs and head to the side of the room there is an entire wall dedicated to international politics, the books fall into a wide range of topics, and new books are brought in weekly. I find it incredible how much interest and expertise has expanded on these topics, but I also find it disheartening how so many of the books are written too quickly to include the necessary background research to get a full grasp and thorough perspective on the topic of choice. What is also interesting is how the topics have expanded, the books have moved beyond looking at the western world as the ‘ideal model of development’ and have started to look for a wide variety of definitions of development and methods of achieving it. It’s moved past what we used to view development as and has almost made it undefinable. It’s looking at food politics, international governance, equality, access, education, health, and assessing each topic as an equal aspect. It’s brought ‘development’ into a multi-disciplinary, interwoven topic, which is where I think it should have been from the beginning..

Observation 2

In the past few years I’ve started to frequent the cultural studies section on the upper floor of the World’s Biggest Bookstore as well. This section includes anthropology, gender issues, aboriginal authors, and numerous other interesting topics, just last year each of these topics had their own mini section in the larger cultural studies section. This year gender studies had somehow disappeared from its home in cultural studies and has moved into a new section on ‘controversial knowledge’. What does that even mean? I view it as a smaller statement that gender issues isn’t considered common knowledge or always appropriate for ‘polite conversation’ as people have told me.. This scares me. It scares me that ideas that over half our population are influenced by, or experience can be considered controversial. Is it controversial that women have different experiences than men? No. Is it controversial that female authors share those experiences? Maybe, but it depends on who you ask.

Observation 3

For supper on Saturday night we decided to go to O’Noir, a restaurant where you eat in the dark. This experience is meant to demonstrate a very small part of how life is different for the blind. I simultaneously loved and was terrified by the experience. As most of you know, I’m a bit of a control freak. I like to control every aspect of my own life and know everything I’m doing well in advance. So this was difficult for me. It was hard to be in a room where I don’t know where I am, who else is in the room, where I’m sitting relative to others, or to guess that I’ve successfully put food on my fork. And to be honest, I probably had at least 20 forkfuls of air.

But, this really made me think about how much I take being able to see for granted. Everything that I experience is based on a combination of my sense and without access to one, everything changes. Many people in the room were talking much louder than normal to overcompensate for not being able to see (which scared me too). But I could smell my food more, smaller portions felt larger, it was delicious.

It was also a great experience to put myself out of my comfort zone again, like a test run for next year, and it was interesting to see how I adapted. As a people watcher, I couldn’t observe those around me, but instead I could listen and focus on the meaning of their words, I could imagine what people were doing. As someone who loves to cook, I couldn’t focus on the presentation or look at what I was eating, but I could really taste it and experience it in a different way.

Learning Vietnamese

Christian found a way to describe the actual challenges and difficulties our Vietnamese class has been facing and I think it’s a worthwhile read for everyone!

Venturing Vietnam

In the English language, tone of voice can play a surprisingly crucial role in determining the meaning of someone’s words.

As an English-speaker you are probably quite familiar with this, and you have definitely used the tone of your voice to inflict meaning beyond your English words. Tone is an exceptionally useful tool in verbal communication, as it can often subconsciously communicate a mood, opinion, or intention that words may be trying to conceal. Astoundingly, experts on non-verbal communication have discovered that as little as seven percent of communication is verbal: the rest lies within vocal sounds (thirty eight percent, including pitch, rhythm, and volume) and body movements (fifty five percent and mostly consisting of facial expressions.) I would personally consider tone to fall into the category of vocal sounds, as it shares similarities with pitch and can be influenced by volume, speed, and many other vocal characteristics. If you…

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