Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Middle of Middle East

Do you hold onto many email or post drafts for years? I do. Below is one from June 2009. I probably wanted to add some meaningful photos, but screw that. Here they are, my raw thoughts from our trip to Damascus, Syria - while it was still peaceful.

p.s. It doesn't mean the postings on life in Sweden will come in, uhm, 5 years. It will be sooner. I promise to reflect faster this time around. Okay, I try, okay?

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As Yamen, a fellow CouchSurfer, claims excitedly that Syria is in fact in the "Middle of the Middle East", I can't help but agreeing with him. In the middle of Syria is Damascus, and that's where we spent a three-day weekend trip. Here are some more random notes from the trip:
  • I am here at the Damascus airport bathroom. I am squatting without toilet paper in sight. I am smiling. The strange comfort of inconvenience reminded me how much I love travelling.

  • Lying naked on the grey-white checker marble floor, I'm getting scrubbed down by a rather rough-looking motherly-looking woman. I was too afraid to open my eyes. The whole Hammam experience is already bizzarre enough - can I handle more? As I opened my eyes slowly, the sight is intimidating - a 12th century house is making me very self-conscious: am I worthy of showing my body to it?

  • From the many screaming kids on the plane, to the house cat spraying in Esfan's room, to the variety of local fruits, "furtile" is the word to describe Damascus.

  • The city feels so old. In fact, it is hard to find something that looks new!

  • Unlike Cesky Komolove, a fellow UNESCO old town, which is well-restored and essentially frozen with a 17th century look, the old city of Damascus is still very much living and aging. Families gathering in court yard, groups of seniors playing board games, kids never seem to get tired of playing tag-chase with neighbour friends. All among houses that are so old that you wonder if they would last another car scratching past it. I wonder if the lack of plastic surgery is of choice or lack of funding? Either way she is a beauty one would always be intrigued by.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

We are Moving, Again!

This is the news update part of the blog posting: We are moving from Canada to Sweden! Q found a job as an air traffic control training specialist in Malmo, Sweden, and has been working there since this April, and he's loving it! Thank you, Sweden! :)

March 26, 2014 - When Q left Toronto for Sweden with his bicycle!

I really want to blog about Q's job searching journey - with his consent of course, but that will be for a different day. Today I want to talking about how I feel about leaving Toronto.

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Moving from Toronto is harder this time than I experienced last time - that was seven years ago.

I realized that when I tell people about our move this time. I find myself holding back... Holding back on what I call Toronto. Toronto is so wonderful. I was simply intimidated to call her home. I carry a Canadian passport, I live in Toronto, but to call her home? Someone commented, "Ahh, you were 18 when you immigrated to Toronto? So you didn't grow up here? That's not too bad then." Does that mean I don't qualify? So I doubt, so I hesitate and so I question...

But then in recent weeks this separation anxiety and sadness just keeps on building up, and I realized I just have to honour my feelings towards Toronto by calling her what she is to me - home.

The city. The supportive friends. The traffic jam. The road rage. The polite apologies. The sweet air. The colorful leaves. The extreme political correctness. The occasional loud American tourists. The family gatherings. Yes, our infamous mayor. The authentic cuisine aroma. Wow, Toronto, you are such a mad house and such a comfortable home. 
Korean Town on Bloor
Home is special. It is inside of me. It is inside of us. As much as I don't have the absolute confidence on my Canadianism, I must find courage to recognize my roots, ground and heart. I may be physically away soon, but a part of my heart will be always attached by a long loooong invisible yet strong string to Toronto because home is where my heart is.

Sometimes It takes a move away from home to realize how precious home is. I would like to think that we all have a place, sometimes many places, that we call home. Where are your homes? Where is your heart? Don't be afraid to say it out loud. Don't be afraid to show it proudly. Don't be afraid to love it passionately.

I love you, Toronto. You are my home. Always.

Hart House Library at University of Toronto downtown campus - one of my safe havens in Toronto.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Eeeeeaaaasyyyyywooowwww

Going up north from Toronto into ‘cottage country’ is a favourite past time for many Torontonians, summer or winter. We rented one such cottages close to Algonquin Park in February of 2006 and did a myriad of winter activities, including barbecuing at –23° C, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and ice skating. We considered going dog sledding, but, for whatever reason, we didn’t do it then.
This video was shot using a GoPro action camera strapped to my chest. You can see me dismounting and running at one point, and Shu had to get off as well when we were going uphill because the dogs can't burden the weight of people on the slope.

This winter, being one of the harshest in the past few decades, was an excellent opportunity to finally do it. And we couldn’t have picked a better day; the sun was shining, the temperatures were positively mild at just above freezing. Check out the photos below:


The day started with a 45-minute introduction on what we were about to set out to, including instructions on how to pick up the dogs, harness them, prepare the sled and all the commands to make the dogs go, stop, turn right or left. Then we went out to fetch the dogs and do everything that the guides had taught us.
A loud and excited ‘Readyyyyyyyy, let’s GOOOOOOOOOO!!!’ will make the dogs start. They actually go like crazy! There’s nothing more these dogs want to do but run! Most will even do their business while running, doing a very funny running squat position.
‘Eeeeeeeeaaaasyyyyyyyywooooow’, said in a subdued way is the way to stop the dogs. That and using the brakes… One tries, but the dogs are so excited to go that you have to fully step on the brakes to get them to stop!
Here's another video, shot with our compact weatherproof Panasonic. You can see the dogs from the sled following us up close.


This trip was amazing! We loved every minute of it. I would recommend doing an overnight trip as opposed to the one-day trip we did. It involves camping in a remote area and should be nothing but spectacular.
We did our trip with Chocpaw Expeditions, the people were nothing but kind and  professional and I cannot recommend them highly enough.
How was your winter? What are your plans for the spring? Let us know!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Moment of Reflection

  • Always have at least one crazy goal in life.
  • Surround self with positive energy and that could be friends, hobbies, places, activities...
  • Generously share positive energy, even with strangers. 
  • Use love as a theme to string up life, not anger nor regret. Apply laughter generously.
  • Appreciate food and the source of food.
  • Health (physical, mental and spiritual) is the most fundamental enabler to a good life. Not money.
  • Seek help if overwhelmed. 
  • You deserve a good bed.
  • Listen to Pet Shop Boys.
Enjoy the last few days of 2012 and many happy days ahead, everyone!

Shu, Sara and Q in Barcelona in Nov 2012. We love you, Sara!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

In between Los Antiguos and Bajo Cararacoles

*Video Flashback*

Before we hit the southern most tip of the American continent we were on the (in)famous Ruta 40 in Argentina. Some people drive the road all 5000 km (making it one of the longest roads in the world, together with U.S. Route 66), we chose not to do that.  We had crossed the border with Chile the previous day and had stayed the night in Los Antiguos. We'd driven on another part of Ruta 40 before, but that was asphalt and all smooth sailing. We knew this part would not be as easy.


View Larger Map
 
After turning off at Perito Moreno we were on Ruta 40 again, the beginning was beautiful new asphalt, and not that many cars. But then... the road ceased to exist, they were in progress of upgrading the road, and during that time all traffic was diverted to an improvised road next to the old/new road. This was one of the worst pavements possible, not only was it unpaved, it consisted of larger rocks as well. Too be honest, I was quite surprised I made it through without falling.

The video was shot on that road, and as you can tell, my mood was not the best. I was even talking in Dutch to Shu at one point! (and for those who don't know her, she doesn't speak Dutch...)

We ended up in a small village called Bajo Caracoles. The local 'hotel' owner knew we had little choice so tried to charge the 'hoofdprijs' as we say in Dutch (=fortune), but we managed to find a little other place with quite the reputable hygiene, but it was cheap. And the owner made delicious empanadas :)

(if you read this post through the mailing list or Facebook, you’ll have to go to our blog and view the video there)

Somewhere on Ruta 40, Argentina from Q on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The clouds over Torres del Paine N.P.

*Flashback*

We’re talking late 2010, we had rounded the southern most tip of the American continent and were on our way up north to take a much deserved break from traveling and spend two weeks with friends.

But, before that all we still had to visit the Chilean National Park of Torres del Paine. And what an awe-inspiring place it was. Absolutely one of the highlights of the trip! And one extra special thing, the CLOUDS! Have a look at this video (around the 22-second mark) and see those cloud formations! Stunning and gorgeous :)

(if you read this post through the mailing list or Facebook, you’ll have to go to our blog and view the video there)

Chile - Torres del Paine from Q on Vimeo.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Dance performance

My niece Olivia was in a dance performance, here are some photos.

The full gallery is here.
(gosh, it’s nice to be taking photos again with an SLR…)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Music by the River

Worst Couchsurfing experience. That is one of our most popular conversation topics with friends and family. Just to clarify we don’t “surf” nearly as much as it appears - maybe occasionally at most, i.e. about 5% for those of you engineers. But it’s true that I like to talk about surfing because they often make more memorable experiences than boutique hotels. This is one of the stories I told many times. I think it is time to share it on the blog with everyone.

It was along the Trans-America highway called Carretera Austral in Chile. Gorgeous scenery and weather that we couldn’t get enough of. We pulled into the city of Coyhaique in an early evening and found the house according to the address given by our Couchsurfing host, Javier.

2010-11-24 14h10m57s DMC-TS2 P1040851

To call it a house is an over-statement - it was actually still under construction with fences and pit holes everywhere. We were confused - maybe we were at wrong place? So we circled about the town, asked around, circled about some more and asked around some more. Fifteen minutes later we found ourselves back at the same spot. Luckily Javier answered our prayers and showed up a few minutes later: he indeed lived at the location, but in a little cabin by the riverside further into the property, the front of which would be developed into some hotel. 

After tip-toeing around the construction site, we found the cabin hidden among trees. Really it was just a small bachelor pad. Besides the kitchen and bathroom, Javier’s drum set took up about 1/3 of the living space and his sleeping mattress another 1/3. It felt a little tight for all three of us, but “we will manage somehow”, I tried to comfort myself in my head.

To our annoyance, the cabin was also a bit dirty and messy, so five minutes later, I rolled my sleeves and started cleaning out the dishes in the sink. Since it was still early, Q and I decided to wander around the town before dinner. Javier told us he was off to meet up with two other Couchsurfing travellers. He mumbled something about they would set up a tent for camping, but I subconsciously ignored the trouble sign.

We came back at around 9 at night to a cabin full of travellers and backpacks and a smiling Javier. By the way, we met a total of four Javiers in South America: one in Paraguay, one in Chile, one in Uruguay and one in Colombia, and all of them have this perpetually-cheerful look – a bit like the Sri Lankans.

Anyways, I digress, back to the cabin, the five of us chatted away. We found out the other two travellers were German university girls who had been trekking in Patagonia for several months. We were thoroughly impressed with their perseverance, and secretly wish we were younger and could do something similar.

Anyway, I digress again. Then it was getting late and way too dark to set up any tent so I felt it was necessary to address “the elephant in the room”. “What is the sleeping arrangement for tonight, guys?” I asked.

A complete silence of uneasiness momentarily froze everyone. Then the smiley Javier started scratching his head as if the thought hasn’t occurred to him.

“Well, my bed is a stack of three mattresses. So we can pull the bottom two out,” Javier finally broke the silence.

“But where? There is no space.” I continued my practical questioning.

“We will move the drums to the storage hut next door.”

So at eleven at night, the five of us carried the drums away like pack of diligent ants. Actually not all fit in the hut, so some were left blocking the entrance to the cabin. Fire hazard I know, but it was the best we could do under the circumstances and we were all getting sleepy, so I saved my safety speech.

It was a miracle that the three mattresses fit in the floor space. In fact they filled the entire space with no gap in between. So there we were, like a row of piglets, lined up nicely across the cabin.

2010-11-24 23h38m44s DMC-TS2 P1040940 Five of us lining up like piglets.

After everyone settled and lay down, Javier turned off the ceiling light. Suddenly all my senses were so heightened. I felt I was holding my breath and I received the same vibe coming from the whole room of tired travellers. With the darkness blanketing us, it finally dawned on us that we were going to spend ONE WHOLE NIGHT IN A ROOM FULL OF STRANGERS. Just like that we all held our breaths, too afraid to fall asleep.

Then something truly magical happened.

Javier turned on his record player, and next thing we knew, mellow and soothing jazz music flew out of it. Our ears were the first to start breathing again. I got up to capture this moment. My eyes just melted when they made out the sight outside the window – a river dancing under the moonlight! And next my nose found the faint scent of the wooden cabin. Just like that, everything became rustic and everyone was peaceful. I will never forget that feeling of excitement and relief that night. Then I passed out before the first song was over.

2010-11-24 23h59m50s DMC-TS2 P1040942

The second day morning before leaving Javier’s house, we ensured the German girls in private that it was not a typical Couchsurfing experience, and they should not be deterred from trying it again.

Whether they did again or not, we don’t know. But we do know we tried Couchsurfing again and again since then, and treasure it every single time.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Soap Box Derby

Last Saturday was the First Annual Nevada City Adult Soapbox Derby. The weather was great, the turnout was great, the race was exciting, and the soap boxes were spectacular! Here’s a short impression of the vehicles participating (or view the whole gallery here):

It was great fun! View the whole gallery here.

A Lousy-to-Sweet Moment in Peru

One of my friends Tanya suggested that I should post a photo of me in my motorcycle riding outfit since she cannot imagine me looking like an astronaut. While looking for such a photo, I recalled a moment we had in Peru.

Spring season was in full swing while we were in Peru, which meant more days than not, it rained on-and-off and constantly all day, and this particular day was no exception. Needless to say we were in a foul mood, with our motorcycle gears getting heavier and heavier soaked in rain water. For a good portion of the day I sat in butt-freezing clothes since my gore-tex motorcycle pants fails in heavy rain.

Sometime in the mid-afternoon streaks of lightening started hitting on the road ahead. All fed up with the lousy weather, Q stopped Casa in the middle of nowhere without warning. He gestured me to get off the motorcycle, and proceeded to throw himself down by the roadside.

I could tell he was really pissed off because he wouldn’t even look at me. And I was just glad that it’s not because of us this time! Knowing better I left him alone for a short while and scouted around as one does when stranded in the middle of nowhere. Now come to think about it, I must have looked quite funny since I didn't remove any of my motorcycle gears because I was too wet to. I quickly spotted a shepherd sitting across the road not far from us. I walked up to him and noticed his sitting trick – unlike Q who was on a patch of wet grass, the shepherd sat comfortably on a dry shrub above the puddles.

I decided to try it out – it worked like a charm!! Walking back to a slightly-deflated Q, I showed him the new trick, and we both had a ball trying it out!

me in my full motorcycle gears including helmet, jacket with rain cover, gloves, pants and boots.
About half an hour of resting (if above qualifies) in the drizzle later, the dark clouds finally cleared somewhat, so we decided to continue. The weather remained just as wet and lousy for the rest of the day, but we somehow felt lighter.
So what do you think now, Tanya? Is our travelling still the ideal vacation you had in mind? :)