Wednesday, 16 November 2011


Alors, my time here in Edmonton is limited. I am leaving in about 3 days. It was unexpected but it is for the best. I have a strong feeling that I will be coming back to the west soon enough. Thanks to everyone who made it feel like home :)

Friday, 4 November 2011

I Heart EPL

I go to the library every day. It's a cheaper thing to do after work than go to the mall or to a coffeeshop, it's warm, and the main branch is located centrally. The branch is spacey and roomy, not stuffy like other libraries which I hate.

Thanks to an aggressive marketing campaign which led the marketing manager to become Avenue magazine's top 40 under 40 years of age, the library is a modern thing.

The library card costs a small fee - but I think that's more of an incentive to get one than to get a free card just because you're a resident and never use it.

Out of all the libraries I've been borrowing from, including the Oakville, Mississauga, Richmond Hill, Markham and Reykjavik libraries, Edmonton's library is the best. Their magazine section is enormous. There are enough copies of not-too-popular books that if one is checked out you can easily get the other one. They've got a good selection of books and DVDs. They even have merchandise with mugs, t-shirts, buttons having catchy library-nerd sayings.

In addition to free writing and book club sessions, which I've seen at other libraries, they have free screenings in a theatre-style theatre (complete with seats in a declining auditorium and not just in a gym with lawnchairs and a projector). These films are popular enough for me to have heard of them and yet rare enough to be a special event to go to. Then there's the free Cree language classes. I have yet to go to one but the fact that they offer it is amazing. The next events I'm going to are the library's book sale and a TEDtalks discussion. The library keeps me busy and keeps me on top of things. I seriously go to the library every day for one reason or another.

Monday, 31 October 2011


Our Canada World Youth team is required to volunteer at Fort Edmonton's annual Halloween event which is called Spooktacular. It is so awesome! Some people are volunteering at the kids' section which has an Alice-in-Wonderland theme but I get to volunteer at the 14+ area. It's held at a historical place that is around 1885 so it's great for these kind of Victorian (Greogorian? I don't know) scary Gothic-type themes. This year's theme is a carnival gone demented. So there are clowns, there's a freak show, there are creepy dolls and marionettes. The actors who put on these multiple haunted houses are really good. There are creepy clowns walking down the street.

I'm in charge of Jasper House. Last year it was one of the creepiest houses. This year it housed a freak show. Some parents forced their kids in which I frowned upon but had no way to stop them. I said to the parents, "Umm this might not be suitable for younger children." and that's all I had to say. I got to wear a cloak and hold a lantern (from IKEA, someone in the line recognized it as such). Anyway it was really fun scaring people. At times I got to press a red button that led to a doll some 100 metres off that popped out at you. The doll was sort of hiding behind a fence so curious folks would walk closer to it and then I'd press the button and the doll would jump in their face!! Did I say I like scaring people?

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Eastern Body, Western Soul

I was going to try to trick you readers into thinking I'm talking about Orientalism or my "whitewashing" or something, but I'm talking about Eastern versus Western Canada here.

I love the continental weather. I will wake up and step outside the house and for days in a row there will be nary a cloud in the sky. Just pure, pure sunrise. It's a bonus since I'm 53 degrees north because the sun stretches and yawns its way out of the horizon instead of abruptly showing up on time like the Toronto sun does. I only wish I was in the country so that I could see empty sky and flat land meet and maybe then I will feel at peace. It's hard to do this in the city where the endless sky is obstructed by jutting buildings and suburban rowhouses.

The thing I do not like is the dry skin. Already in Toronto I get heat rashes and dry skin but here it is exacerbated.

I always thought I had an east coast soul because of my childhood vacances to Eastern Canada and New England and my being drawn to the Atlantic Ocean. I thought nah, the west isn't for me just because it isn't my home. Well, I'm liking this west-of-Toronto feeling!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Nice and Gory

The main difference I've noticed between Ontario and Alberta since I've gotten here is that the grounds surrounding government buildings are much more upkept and nicer in Alberta. There are beautiful bright flowers everywhere, a lot of which I've never seen in Toronto. They look healthy to the point of almost being fake. In Ontario, some grounds are plain grass, dying bushes, or ugly flowers.

I visited the Royal Alberta Museum yesterday and while it was no Royal Ontario Museum, the thing I liked best about it was that it didn't shy away from reality, nevermind that there are so many kids visiting the museum. While other museums have stale re-creations, if I were a kid there I would've gotten nightmares from this one. Recorded voices and animal sounds emitted from hidden speakers and the display cases and dioramas were quite graphic. There was an enlargement of a decomposing dead rat, bacterium, blood coming out of a buffalo's nose with a spear in its side and giant cockroaches.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

I Ate A Puto

Sun-scorched Alberta. When I flew into Newfoundland I remember the first thing I saw was trees. In Alberta the first thing I see are endless fields, the landscape rumoured to be flat. It is. For this reason I feel like I'm falling sideways as I travel from the airport to downtown Edmonton. The airport's carpeting and walls reflected the golden pieces of landscape that I see everywhere, the fields of cut wheat and grass. The sun here seems stronger than in Eastern Canada.

I am living with a Filipino family and it's interesting to learn the differences between two former Spanish colonies: Nicaragua and the Philippines. The first thing people asked was about Spanish food, but Nicaraguan food is not like Spanish food at all. And also there's a rice cake called Puto in Filipino that I ate but the same word in Nicaragua is an offensive term meaning male prostitute. Culture wars!

Hugs All Around

On my way to Edmonton I stopped in Toronto and met my parents at the hotel we were staying at. They brought along my grandmother. When I saw them I immediately hugged all three of them. When I said goodbye I hugged them again and it was weird and surprising because Chinese culture doesn't do hugging at all. But since I've been in Nicaragua for 3 months for me it was automatic. It was really awkward after I realized what I did...

Some more change-of-culture firsts:\
First breath of fresh air I've had in months: in Miami International Airport
First North American food I ate: muffins

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Flights of Fantasy

It's 1:30 in the morning but I'm still going to post because I am just that excited.
I've been up since 4:30 yesterday morning but I'm still wide awake because IT IS CANADA! And I am quite confused.

We started off in Managua and waited for about 9 hours at the airport for hour flight to Miami. Then we had to check out and check in our luggage at Miami again. By that time it was around dinner and I was really tired and confused and I felt like I was walking through a fantasyland. I was craving Wendy's baked potatoes but it happened to be on the other side of the airport from where our gate is.

And now I magically happen to be in Toronto (Mississauga, to be exact). Tomorrow we will fly to Edmonton.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

How It Goes Down

Warning: Please be aware that this post is about natural bodily functions that some people my find unpleasant reading in a blog.

At my orientation before coming to Nicaragua I was warned that I may have trouble adjusting to the rice-and-beans diet here. The staple foods are mainly rice, beans, cheese and tortillas. For the first couple of weeks I had diarrhea every day and it was pretty hard to get through. Then it got better and now my stomach is happy again with droppings that are normal. I've eaten yogurt and dense bread a couple of times and I certainly noticed a change in my stool the day after. I wonder what will happen when I get back to Canada and my diet changes again...constipation? Upset and heavy stomach? I'll just have to wait and pee.

No camera? No problem

It is the 32nd anniversary of Esteli's liberation in the war and there's a festival today. I didn't know about it and in the morning my counterpart asked in Spanish if I wanted to go to the Ejercito for lunch. I thought it was the name of a restaurant so I said yes and of course didn't bring my camera. When I arrived it was this huge carnival thing at the military base with real war machinery and lots and lots of traditional food. If only I had understood Spanish better I thought what a great photo-op this would be, especially since I'm coming to my last days in this country and I want to soak in as much as I can (then tell me why I'm spending these moments in a cyber?)

Well after this I'm going back to the house to get my camera and back to the festival to take pictures. But what if the festival was really far away? Not everything has to be recorded. That's what I tell myself.

Mr. Clooney in Up in the Air said that pictures are for people who can't remember!!!!!!!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

La Goleadora (Comando Tiburón)

I am really getting in the the Reggae music that they broadcast here but unfortunately none of it is native to Nicaragua :(

This DJ is from Panama. The song samples the Day-Oh song that my dad loves!

Things I Won't Miss & Poutine of Nicaragua

I have only one more week here. These three months have been difficult but now I realize it's gone by so quickly. Now I recognize how hard it is to get into Canada and how lucky and how much accessibility I have as a Canadian citizen. The Nicaraguans in the program will not be able to come with us to Edmonton right away because their process of obtaining a visa was messed up so now they'll have to wait and come after us.

Part of travelling means observing differences and nostalgia for your home country. These are the things I will be looking forward to when I get back to Canada:
1. People driving on the highway at a constant speed. Here you have to cross the Panamerican highway and it's annoying (and dangerous) when some cars are going so slowly and others too quickly.
2. Fresh, cleaner air
3. The lack of bugs
4. Internet!
5. Noodles. Chinese noodles

In another note, today there was a huge parade because it's a national celebration day. All the high schools participated with drumlines and it was really cool. I got fries there topped with ketchup (salsa) and mayo and cheese and a girl from Quebec was there and noted that it was like poutine.

Thursday, 8 September 2011


In Iceland, after about 3 months living there I recall writing a post about beginning to like licorice. The same is happening here with a fruit called nancita. It's a small yellow fruit with a pit. When I first smelled it on the street it was disgusting and when I was given nancite juice it tasted like feet yet I faked it and said to my host that it was very good.
Now the taste has grown on me and I go out and purposely buy nancites to eat. Yum! I love how every culture has its own foods that seem disgusting to others.

Since Nicaragua imports a lot of its music and television, I will end this post with a song from a Columbian soap opera:

Tuesday, 30 August 2011


No creeo que hay solo tres semanas mas en Nicaragua!!!
I can't believe that I have only 3 weeks left in Nicaragua. Then it's off to Edmonton. I've missed my computer for sure...and libraries and movie theatres and malls and all the other haunts I frequent in other cities.

Well I haven't talked about the society here so I will do it now.

This is only my conclusions from the very little I have observed about the country.
There's shocking teenage pregnancies in the USA, and then there are normal teenage pregnancies here. Abortion is illegal here and people have kids at 16, 17, 18...this can go both ways: the event can make people more mature or less.

Many families have one or more parents (usually the dad) working in the USA. The Spanish-speaking cities of Miami and Los Angeles are popular for Nicaraguan immigrants.

Some call it a developing country but from what I experienced life is adapted to the needs of each citizen, although I can say for the whole world that things can always be better. The main difference between here and Canada is that schools, backpacks, daycares, museums and natural parks are sponsored by non-governmental organizations or whole countries such as Luxembourg and Canada...

Monday, 29 August 2011

The Smell of Cities

I've only visited 4 cities long enough to get a definite smell of them. I think it's only after 2 months here that I've become used to Estelí's smell that when I go away I can notice it.

Toronto: has no smell. Or maybe I just grew up with it so I don't notice it.
Hong Kong smells like sewers.
Reykjavík smells like sulfur.
Estelí smells like tobacco.

Mmmm...yummy permeating nose odours...

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Es un secreto

Ok. Yo voy a tratar de escribir alguno de le post en español...

Cuando yo voy a comprar timbres, yo fuie a el correo pero ellos dije que no hay. Yo fuie a un hotel pues pero no m'entiende. Pues I gave up. But then yo vi una libreria con a sign 'se vende timbres' so I went in. But then the people said that there are no stamps anywhere in Esteli because they've run out and none have shipped in from Managua (the capital city) yet. So I've been trying to send mail to people but since there are no stamps I can't really do anything.

Más cosas unicos en Nicaragua: I'm used to taking off shoes than wearing special house shoes, or slippers, in the house, but here they wear their outdoor shoes indoors...and if you take off your shoes they believe you will get sick. So there is constant sweeping and mopping of the floors indoors.

Cuando yo pregunte a los niños a la escuela que ellos comen para desayuno, ellos contestaste pan y café. Coffee?! Kids drink cups of coffee for breakfast?! But then someone explained to me that the coffee I get in Canada and other parts of the world is spiked with caffeine and here it's natural and you won't get a high and then a crash and it's 'safe' for kids. Right after I heard that I started drinking copious amounts of coffee without caring.
One more things: instead of flushing toilet paper down the toilet along with the water (and the waste), people put the papel hygenica in baskets. It's kind of gross but I guess it doesn't clog up the sewers?

I'm waiting to see what the Nicaraguans will think of it when they get to Canada and they have to take their shoes off in the house and they wipe up in the bathroom then look around and see no wastebasket for them to put the toilet paper in.

Dos cosas que yo comenzaste haciendo en Nicaragua son: ver CSI y Criminal Minds, y jugar cartes. I never used to play cards willingly before and now I can. And I knew about those detective shows but I never bothered watching them and now I do. Cool.

I will leave you with a song I like that is popular right now by Puerto Rican Plan B

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Mira, Mentira, Callate

So the words I hear most often on the street are:
Mira - look!
Mentira! - It's a lie!
and Callate - Shut up!

Life is good.

Football Again

So there's an Estelí football team but they aren't big enough in the football world to have the town go crazy for them. Instead, there's a rivalary in the town between Real Madrid and Barcelona. People go around sporting Messi shirts. I work with to Nicaraguans at the school, one who is a Real Madrid fan and another who is a Barcelona fan. During the breaks it's funny to see them go back and forth, one taunting the other today since Barcelona won the last game of the season yesterday.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Es un secreto

soooo Toronto won the Toronto-Esteli match. I've changed counterparts and I have moved houses. I lost all my photos until the ones for August 1.

Something I have learned: how to squish chinche bugs with my shower shoes!
I have to have good timing when it comes to taking showers. The morning is too cold and I'm too tired for showers. At night there may or may not be water available in the city. In the afternoon when I come back is perfect, but by that time there may or may not be water.

One evening I was coming out of the office. It faces some fields of grass. I heard this weird 80's videogame-like sounds coming from the grass. It freaked me out. Much later, I learn from my counterpart that their female toads (mujeres de sapos) that make those noises.

Another thing. Nicaraguans are very hospitable when it comes to making sure you have a seat. Whenever I go anywhere (except for on the bus), they pull out a plastic chair and tell me to sit if they see me standing. And a lot of the homes have the same chairs. It's made of a cherry-wooden frame with plastic wickerwork and I imagine sometime in the 80's a store had a huge sale and the whole town bought them all.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Stirred but not Shaken

So there's a lot that's been happening since the last time I posted and now.
Last Saturday I went to Ganacha on that special workshop I was talking to you about. Ganacha is a sort of artist town and is a cooperative that makes artisanal ceramics and gardens and provides retreats. FUNARTE hosts kids' workshops every Saturday but this Saturday they wanted the kids to get out of the city, explore some nature and show off some of their art. It was also a way for some parents to come along and have some parent-children time together. It was a really nice time out and now I've come to realize the stark differences between being in a city, even if it's small, and outside of it.

I've forgotten to mention the FOOD! La Comida! Well, it's good. Their cheese grilled in a tortilla is my favourite, along with plantain chips and fried and boiled plantain. My host mother makes a delicious vegetable and chicken soup on Sundays. But the best thing is the little bags of snacks that are everywhere on the streets - a small bag that has like 15 cheesesticks, for example, for 2 Cordobas (about 10 cents). For those of you who know how I eat, this is perfect for a snacker like me. There's also some buns I eat every morning that have the perfect combination of salty and sweet. Most buns in Canada and even Hong Kong-type buns are too sweet. These have a hint of cinnamon and the slightest bit of crystallized honey or sugar near the bottom and the rest is a light, fluffy, not-too-buttery bun. So good.

The public buses here are the same models as school buses. The buses come pretty frequently. You can get on in the front or back but sometimes you have to stand during the ride. A ride costs 3 Cordobas. Like a train in the olden days, there are fare collectors who come along during the ride and collect the fare. I love these fare collectors and I would love to make a documentary about them. They are also the ones who hang onto the back door of the bus and see if there is anyone at a particular stop. They whistle to the bus driver at the front if someone wants to get on or off. They are very good at remembering who has paid a fare and who hasn't. They have a really busy and energetic job and they go through these lively streets every day for I don't know how many times a day. But it must not be good for their lungs because the exhaust pipe is right next to them all day.
Taxis are flagged down and shared with others who are going the same way.

Finally, Toronto FC is playing against Estelí. The moment I heard this, I bought a ticket. Up until now, Estelí's football club has not had any money to host or go to any foreign matches. But according to my source, FIFA took a look at Estelí's stadium and said yup, it's big enough, and out of all the football teams in the world, Toronto will be the first foreign team playing here! I am so excited.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

This is How it Goes

We have crazy next door neighbours and I was always wondering who lived there. Well last Saturday I found out. On the Liberation holiday of Esteli, I went next door for a baby shower. The moment I entered I was put into a contest against a stranger. I had to drink-chug Coke from a baby bottle. I do not like pop but eventually I won!

On the Independence Day of the country, another holiday, I went to my counterpart's friend's (and by extension my friend) farm. There were many dogs, a chicken, papaya (?) trees and more. It was at least a day out of the fumes and smoke and dust and sand of the city.

Esteli is really modern in all its conveniences. The only thing that really reminds me that I'm in a country in the South is its frequent blackouts. For about a week there was a blackout every night and for one day the electricity and water wasn't working for the whole city for the morning and afternoon. Another Canadian in my group who is interested in urban development told me that India is really good at building cities, but not good at implementing basic infrastructure.

This Saturday I was selected to be part of a group who will be going out of Esteli (I haven't been out of the city for 3 weeks) to help conduct an adult art workshop. We'll see how it goes!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Waiting and Hopping

Hello dear friends. We meet again. Did you know that the words ‘to wait’ (esperar) and ‘hope’ (esperanza) have the same root in Spanish?

The most curious thing about Nica is that all the buildings are open to the air, al fresco. It doesn’t matter if it pours buckets of rain every day. They let the rainwater indoors then just mop it up later. Very close to nature.

The mosquitoes are still biting everyday, but the good news is that my stomach is more and more agreeing to gallo pinto and the diet of beans and rice than before. My 2 weeks here has confirmed my love for thunderstorms, disproved my love for cities (car fumes are bad).

I am staying in Esteli, a place of about 100,000 people that has 180 murals around the city. 300 if people hadn’t erased them from before. The oldest mural is one by the founders of FUNARTE, the organization I’m working for. It is along the wall of the miitary and it is very grand. There’s a lot of motion and emotion in the mural. And our team will be painting one son enough!

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Nicaraguense mashup

I am not partisan to any Nicaraguan politics (yet!), but here is a campaign spot for the FSLN pary that I saw on tv for the election this November:

It may seem to you that this blog is becoming an ad for wikipedia and youtube links!

Estelí, Estelíta

I am writing to you from Esteli. I don't go on the Internet as much as I thought I would so I'll make this succint: Another week of Spanish classes and art classes and after that I will be placed in a public school to sort of guide children through selfesteem inducing art.

I am eating foods that before I only ate with my family like dragon fruit and taro and chaote. It's pretty cool to see these foods being used elsewhere too.

I am picking up Spanish surprisingly quickly, gallo pinto is good but there are many beans and you know what beans make you do (not what you'd think), the weather is cooler than I thought, and I learned one thing so far: in movies, roosters crow only in the morning but in reality they can keep you up all night with their crowing, especially if they on the other side of the wall where you sleep. I'm thinking there are two roosters because there's a crow with a particular fundamental frequency (F0) and then a higher pitched crow following that. There are no streetlights but somehow all the traffic manages to be controlled at intersections. There are dogs all over the streets but I don't touch them because they might have rabies! Both dogs and cats, even as pets, are very skinny. Normal sized Canadian pets are obese compared to these!

Finally there is so much street life. Here people live closer to, what can I say, a more natural way of life. At my homestay I have to relearn everything from the beginning. Instead of throwing clothes into a laundry machine, instead of having differences in air pressure powered by electricity suck up the dust, instead of electric stoves, they use more of their hands, less water and less electricity. I feel so incompetent and my counterpart laughs at me because I don't know how to do much.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

I No Longer Read Travel Books

"I want firsthand knowledge of everything, not fiction, intimate experience only. Whatever takes place, even a crime I read about, I can't take an interest in, because I already knew the criminal. I may have talked with him all night at a bar. He had confessed what he intended to do. When Henry wants me to go and see an actress in a play, she was a friend of mine at school. I lived at the home of the painter who suddenly becomes a celebrity. I am always inside where it first happens. I loved a revolutionist. I nursed his discarded mistress who later committed suicide. I don't care for films, newspapers, 'reportages,' the radio. I only want to be involved while it is being lived." --June Miller

This is a memo to myself and actually, anyone who reads blogs:

I no longer read travel books.
To live vicariously through something or someone else, whether that be a friend, a travel book, a news report, a postcard or a film, is to not live at all. You may say that it is the second best thing to the actual thing, but what is the actual thing anyway? When I was living the most, I watched the least films. I love films but they are just images of fantasies of other people. Throw away your armchair and travel in the place you live. Walk. Talk to people on the streets. Eat up life, consume life. They may free you and you may escape life for a while, but life always catches up. Instead of trying to outrun life by consuming fictions, wouldn't it be better to catch up with your dreams?

Culture Camp

Surprise! I'm not in Nicaragua yet. I'm in a hotel near the Toronto airport waiting to get into the airport at 3:30 in the morning.

I'm with 17 other youth who are travelling to Nicaragua with Canada World Youth. 9 of them will be going to Somoto, a place with 40,000 people, and the rest of us will be going to Estelí, a much larger town (population 120,000). It seems like a really fun, dynamic group from all over Canada. We'll be working with Funarte (click on link for a 5-minute youtube video of the amazing organization).

So for these past few days I've been at Edgewood camp in Eden Mills immersing myself in an intercultural/orientation camp. I've also been learning some Spanish so soon I will be writing some Spanish on here!

We stayed up on Friday night (it was Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day so the people of Quebec were itching for a beer) and had a sort of sober nightclub going on. In the outdoor chapel we danced with an iPod and computer speakers as the DJ, we used flashlights for strobe lights and all people could blame their behaviour on were the marshmallows they'd eaten a few minutes before.

Although the median age of the group is 21, as we got on the bus to come from the camp to the hotel, people were eating candy (Mentos and Lick-n-Dips), drinking from juice boxes and making signs for passing trucks to honk their horns. It's weird how I forgot all about those things until I experienced them again. Once you leave childhood behind it takes other people to remember it for you.

Saturday, 11 June 2011


More than a few people gawked when I told them I'm going to Nicaragua without knowledge of Spanish. It may be I'm highly ignorant, which is the worst way to travel, and maybe I shouldn't even 'deserve' to go to a country without having learned some of their language, and it's even worse since I studied linguistics. Maybe, maybe not.

I tell people, "I'm going to Nicaragua."
They say, "Do you know any Spanish?"
"Are you going to learn any?"
"Not much before I go. I've got phrasebooks and a dictionary and that's it."
"How long are you going for?"
"Three months."
"Estás muerto."

The problem with learning foreign languages for me is the lack of contact with the living language. All throughout elementary and high school we talked our way through fake conversations with other foreign language learners and a teacher who may or may not be a native speaker of French. I've given up on learning languages unless I'm in the country. I have to disconnect my mind from, "I'm memorizing these words because..." and connect the words and phrases and grammar I'm learning towards something that is communicable and understandable and will get me something, either allow me to convey some information or give me some useful information.

I sort of wish I'd learned more Icelandic while in Iceland, but only sort of. Does that make me sound ignorant? Unless I have a real motivation to do it, and that comes out of need to communicate. Proof of this comes from people who went on Rotary exchanges during high school. Usually they were immersed into situations where no one else knew or would speak English to them and they adamantly must speak the host language. I wish I had that experience. All I've had experience with as a foreign language is my mangled French and my broken Cantonese. I know that I can get by in my world with only English, but if I want to get out of my world I recognize that English alone is not, is never sufficient. But not travelling because you're afraid of language barriers or you're afraid of looking ignorant is worse than not knowing the language.

Anyway, it's true that the more prepared one is, the more smooth of an integration I'll have into another culture. I'm defensive about my choice to purposely lack preparation, but that's for me to worry about and for you to not call me ignorant.

Traveling without knowing the language doesn't have to be a disadvantage: In Defense of Ignorance

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Countdown Begins

I'm posting here just for the sake of posting here. There is exactly one month before I leave Toronto for my Canada World Youth adventure. I've gotten my shots, I've learned a couple of phrases of Spanish - I'm planning to dive head-first into language immersion. It's the most natural way, for me anyway. I've told some people from Latin America that I'm going there without any knowledge of Spanish. They responded with horror on their faces, I've read up on some of the history/culture of Nicaragua (okay fine I read the first part of a Lonely Planet book. And a kids' book, part of series of Introduction to the Countries of the World type of thing).

I feel as if I'm missing something else to prepare me for this, but how does one go about preparing to travel, exactly? There's the packing. There's the documentation. There's the language and history learning. Sometimes there's the shift in mindset. In any case, I travel to adapt, change, go with the flow. I am of the opinion that underpreparation is better than overpreparation.

Edit: I've included a countdown widget:

Friday, 8 April 2011

Nicaragua! and Alberta (!)

Yesterday I was walking around downtown Toronto, half sick with the flu, tired, congested, headache-prone. I thought, "I'll go home early, eat something small, go to bed."
Before I went to bed I had to e-mail something to my employer. I switch on the computer, log onto my e-mail (yeah, I'm so behind in the times in this sense. no simply checking my Blackberry for me) and scan my messages. Delete, delete, delete. Then I read an e-mail with the subject line 'Congratulations!' Woah, how did this get through my spam filter?
Then I read more: 'Congratulations! You've been selected for a position on the following exchange...June: Nicaragua. September: Alberta.'

I'd signed up for the Canada World Youth program and thought that I wasn't going to get placed, but I did and now I am excited. I didn't end up getting much sleep last night and now I'm more sick than ever before but I hope the magic of exciting travel times will heal me soon enough!

The program
For those who don't know, Canada World Youth gives youth (comme moi) a chance to live in another community in Canada for 3 months and in a developing country for another 3 months. I'll be in with a group of 17 other youth, 9 in total from the other country and 9 Canadians. For the whole 6 months I will be living with host families with a person from Nicaragua. For the 6 months we will be volunteering for and serving the needs of the host community. I will be working with the FUNARTE organization based in Esteli. It's meant to foster tolerance and diversity and leadership skills...It sounds really structured but I'm hoping to learn a lot from it.

Rest of San Francisco

I just realized that I never finished my travelogue concerning San Francisco. Oops! Well, I had such a fun and busy time the last few weeks I was there that I simply forgot.

Well, I bought and read American Gods by Neil Gaiman because having travelled for 40 hours over four days in a bus over the American land I had a real craving for a story about America. I would recommend it to anyone who has a craving for the United States of America.

For the last few days I was in San Francisco my kind relatives took me on a tour of the Bay Area - we went to the University of California at Berkeley campus. They have a really pretty campus - it helps that they have sun and no snow year round - and a gorgeous library. We went to a North Face outlet store where I bought really cute boots. We went to have a buffet lunch. We went to the Jelly Belly jelly bean factory and I came out smelling like cinnamon. In all seriousness I hadn't tasted Jelly Belly beans in about a decade and would've forgotten that they existed were it not for this trip. Thanks for bringing memories of my childhood back! The next day, we went to Muir Woods, site of the redwoods. It was very pretty and I wished I lived nearby. The thing about San Francisco is that there is such close access to the outdoors - it took my relatives 30 minutes to drive to Muir Woods. If I drove for 30 minutes I would still be either in Pickering (suburbs), Barrie (suburbs), downtown Toronto (city), or Mississauga (suburbs). There is no good natural areas in the GTA - you have to really take a weekend or two off to go somewhere nice.

That ends my San Francisco travelogue.

Saturday, 12 March 2011


Landmannalaugar-I mean, the Badlands.

Which one is the real Arc de Triomphe? hmmm.

Venice or "Venice"

Every Now and then I Wake Up From This Dream

So. Out of San Francisco. 8 am, on the bus, I see rolling hills, overgrazed by cattle, give way to almond and orange trees, farmland, small sage bushes, scrub and then sand.

The bus stops every few hours for washroom breaks. My ears have popped countless number of times as the bus goes through mountains and my eyes have been half-open, half-closed in attempts to sleep. I am half blind and half deaf as I stumble groggily from the bus into the gas station stores. I notice the prevalence of cowboy hats around here. Black, beige, white, lots of different colours, worn both indoors and out.

We pull in to Las Vegas at 10 pm. I am so sick of sitting on the bus - coach buses may be comfortable, but less so when your feet can reach neither the floor nor the footstand. The first word I think of for Las Vegas is - excess!

The next day, we go to Death Valley. As we near the hottest and driest place in North America, everything that I learned during my time as a "earth scientist" in 2008 came back to me. All that "training"* I did wasn't futile after all! I recognized the rhyolites, outwash, could identify morains, drumlins, ridges, and noted the direction of the clasts and observed shear strength of past glacial activity. I couldn't believe that geology was making me esctatic. When the bus reached the badlands, it reminded me very much of Landmannalaugar. There was a geology class there and I edged closer to the group the better to listen to the professor. He was talking about how bedrock determines everything, further bringing back dear memories of my "training". The professor continued, "How is it that we can economically exploit this knowledge? Water is most likely to collect on the foothills so we can put springs there." what?! Only in America would a geology class switch from the topic of describing alluvial fans to exploiting the resource in one breath!
The geology team with their cowboy hats.

That evening there's a tour of The Strip in Las Vegas. It was pretty cool to be able to see the sights of New York City then turn around and see Paris. But there was something inextricably inauthentic about the whole place. Maybe that's the point, and I kept on telling myself to embrace inauthenticity - whole fake venice included - but it was difficult. The attitude that people seem to wear in Las Vegas didn't help, either.

Oh, and I went to the Grand Canyon. It was nice.

*I put "earth scientist" and "training" in quotations because I did not care one pinch for earth science while I was studying it and as for the training, all the concepts covered were much too advanced for me and I was in way over my head during my studies

Monday, 7 March 2011

First batch of photos

A cute mural in the Charlie Brown museum.
The infamous In-N-Out fast food chain.
50 states make for interesting plates.
It was such a nice clear day when I went on this hill. It's usually foggy!
Self explanatory.
The cute family dog. Aww, Muffin!
Some random buskers outside Fisherman's Wharf.
You'd never see houses like this in Toronto! Every house is unique here unlike the cookie cutter houses so common in suburban sprawl.
Ocean Beach. Very creative name.
A few years ago I wrote about how Quebec reminded me of San Francisco because of its steep hills. Well, here you go.
The view of downtown San Francisco from the Modern Art Museum.
Open wide! A lot of people take the very accessible public transit system, which includes streetcars, buses, cable cars and the subway.
The sun is deceiving. It's quite cold.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

I Still Owe

San Francisco is like a resort town. The first day I came here I took a walk with my uncle's family dog (see photo post) and I saw a 'typical male San Franciscan' - a Moby look-alike . Load on the stereotypes! I'm sorry to say this but this is what I see. For the past few days I've been walking around downtown, and walking on the beaches and trails they have. Fisherman's Wharf is one heck of a tourist trap. It's so touristed up that I think they've scared all the fish away.

Also, I went to two favourite Californian places - Trader Joe's grocery store and In-N-Out fast food place. Californians seem to be fiercely proud and crazy about their In-N-Out. The place and drive-thru was packed at 2 in the afternoon. The hamburgers are made fresh-to-order and there are no microwaves, heating ovens or freezers, so everything arrives fresh every day. The onions on the burger can be grilled and they lay on thick slices of tomatoes, cheese and lettuce.

Then I went to the Charles Schulz, Peanuts cartoonist museum, the Charlie Brown museum in santa Rosa. It was great fun. I used to love this cartoon as a kid but I seriously forgot about it until now and I didn't realize how profound a lot of the strips were. Bring on the philosophy theory!

In a few days' time I'll be going to Nevada and Arizona and seeing my first desert ever! See you when I get back.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Mission: Find Sun and life. Status: Completed.

After waking up from a nightmare at 4 in the morning, I proceeded to pack my bags and head downstairs in the middle of the night in Toronto. It was pouring rain again, traffic lights were out, glad that I was leaving this grey dreary snowy mess behind for a while.

On the plane I took the window seat as usual. My normal breakfast time came and went. I didn't realize how hungry I was until I downed my cereal and granola bar in two gulps. By then the plane was passing through Ohio and Nebraska. Beneath me, flat, brown tracts of land. Wholly human imprints but a ghostland humans had abandoned to go live in cities. The roads snaked and twisted alongside the rivers but there was nary a car to be seen. The square fields soon turned into rounded fields. I closed my eyes for a nap.

Soon, just as the sun was breaking through this region of the world, I could see the mountains of Colorado in the distance. We sailed over the snow-capped bumps for about two hours, then...

The Bay Area. The snow had given way to the green mountains of the bay area. After a while I saw the bay and San Francisco's downtown. The ships in the bay were like sentinels of the sea welcoming us home as we travelled southwest towards the airport. It's sunny. It's as if I've been sent on a mission by hibernating/stranded Torontonians to find life again, and I've found it here in sunny California.

In the city, the weather (for now) is dazzling sunlight with a cool breeze. Perfect springtime-like weather. Green, large lush billowy canopy trees. Stucco houses with Spanish-tile roofs. Spanish Chinese English trilingualism. Wide boulevards. Colourful houses in many shapes and sizes. Hills all around.


I've learned that getting through the airport process quickly requires patience. And patience includes not speaking unless told to. I got through US customs and immigration in a record time, in less than 20 minutes and now I'm here waiting for the next few hours. It's weird to be able to log into my own laptop and acess the Internet at an airport when I don't have a smartphone and had no Internet for about a year at one point. I feel like I'm living in the stone age in terms of technology. I guess having no Internet access also perfects patience.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Is it any coincidence that 'wired' rhymes with 'tired'?

Procrastination comes with such ease. I've just finished packing and I still have articles to write, edit and hand in. I have the Oscars to watch. Most of all, I can't concentrate on something for more than 5 minutes at a time because of the adrenaline and caffeine. I'm boarding the plane tomorrow...excited! Toronto is snowy, San Francisco is rainy and Los Angeles (from what I see on the TV right now) is sunny!

Thursday, 3 February 2011


It's been a while. Well, I'm going to California (and I'm going to live the life!) Unfortunately without a car I won't be travelling around the state much. I'm going to be based in San Francisco and I'm planning to attend Amnesty International's AGM/50th Anniversary near the end of my stay. My plans, surely to change, will be: daytrips to Napa/Sonoma, Santa Cruz, maybe L.A. and San Diego, going to see some redwoods.

After having done some guidebook research, I can tell you that California ain't cheap! But I'm excited.