Monday, March 29, 2010

On Turning 25

I am writing this on a plane between Saigon and Hanoi. This weekend marked my 25th birthday. I am now a quarter of a century old. Despite the weeks leading up to my birthday being some of the busiest of my life, I've been able to think and realise a bit about what it means to be 25.

First off, it means birthdays are really not that important anymore. More exciting and more urgent things come first. Like your job. Hence having to work this weekend. I can no longer have my mom write me a sick note .

It also means I am an adult now. I can stop pretending to be mature, composed and proffesional in everyday situations, especially at work. I've realised the majority of other people are also pretending. Although other people around my age and older seem to know what they are doing, this is a lie. They are just as lost and confused as me. I bet even my dad doesn't know what he's doin sometimes. 

I have no more excuses for not doing things in my life. I can especially no longer say I'll save it for when I'm older. For instance, playing sports. I have never been into playing sports, and it is very unlikely I'll ever start. My parents must have put me in every kind of sport as a kid:  tennis, soccer, swimming, even figure skating. I need to except that I'll never be that into sports. Same thing for playing an instrument. I'll probably never play an instrument in my life.

People can no longer say I am too young to know what love is. I think by this time in my life I can say I have experienced what love is.... And what it isn't. I just am not sure If it's turned out to be as easy as I thought.

I am not going to grow out of anything anymore. Like my big italian nose. I don't think my face is suddenly going to grow proportionately to my nose between the age of 25 and 30. I also will always have that soft layer of flesh under my skin. Yes, the one that has elicited comments such as " you look so skinny but your skin is very fatty" ( got to love the honesty of the Vietnamese people). I need to accept that my looks are only going to go down from here.

However I am not accepting that it's downhill from here. Just because i havent done something ive wanted to do by now, doesnt mean i still cant try. Its just trying is a lot more difficult. 

I have been the happiest I have ever been lately. I am experiencing things about the world, and in turn about myself, that are invaluable. Life is becoming less about freedom and ignoring the consequences, but developping friendships that will outlast any particular stage in my life. It's become about learning how to live to make sure I am still happy when I'm 30, because my needs and values will have changed by then...

Let's just not talk about my 30s for another 5 years, ok?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Gratuitous Video Scene #8: Bus in Java, Indonesia

During our trip in Java, Smorg and I took a diverse array of transportation: motorbike, train, bus, bemo, minibus, ferry.

In what seems typical of public transportation, at every stop along the way a parade of people selling things come onboard. They then proceed to constantly try and sell you something while you are both trapped on this moving vehicle. They will actually throw the product in your lap, where you can examine it for a while. They will then come back and either take the item back or you give them the money. Snake fruit, pens, Muslim prayer sheets, doughnuts, fried tofu, magazines, you name it, they sell it. Every now and then I would wake up in a drowsy state as 10 people would storm through the bus throwing things into my lap, while my head spun between reality and sleep.

Most interesting are the musicians that also hop on between stops. Guitar, percussion and singing fill the bus. For bus-singers, their voices were quite good, and it was a welcome change from the hard selling.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Java, Indonesia!

If you were wondering why I hadn't updated my blog, it's because I went to Singapore and Indonesia for the Lunar New Year. The original plan was to head to Philippines, but prices quickly skyrocketed heading that way, and the cheaper option was Indonesia via Singapore. I had been to Bali before, but regretted not heading to Java during the 10+ days I was there. This was my second chance.

After booking the tickets, Smorg and I figured out it was actually the rainy season in Indonesia. Realising the original Philippine plan may have been worth it, we just made sure to pack extra socks and our heavy duty rain ponchos.

The "rainy" turned out to be alright. We only got caught once in a torrential rainfall, but it soured our shoes for the rest of the trip. Literally, we transported our rank-smelling shoes with us all across Java never having the opportunity to stay in one place long enough to let them dry.

Some photos from Indonesia.

We did a jungle trek in Pangandaran, West Java. Monkeys and barking deer.

The Green Canyon in Pangandaran. In the rainy season, its brown. We then jumped into the fast water. I have only a few bruises from hitting rocks. 

Random bamboo bridge. Near Pangandaran.

Borobudur, in Central Java. This Buddhist temple was discovered under a dense jungle a couple hundred years ago. A relict of Indonesia's Buddhist past.

Stupas of Borobudur. Smorg and I had about 3 hours of sleep before coming here.

Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, at sunrise. To the right is an active volcano.

Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, at sunrise.

Steaming Mount Bromo. In the background is Mount Batok. Mount Bromo last erupted in 2007.

Smorg and I walked all around the rim of the volcano. It wasn't so difficult, but we had to turn around and backtrack about an hour, because we reached a spot that my grip-less fake Louis Vuitton shoes wouldn't handle. My real shoes were tied up in a bag smelling awfully like mouldy sea water and cat pee.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


My wrist has been hurting me for quite few months now, and in the last week it has gotten pretty bad. So bad, that I could not type or even drive my electric scooter.

My co-worker suggested to me I try her acupuncture doctor. Cheaper than "Western Medecine," I thought, why not? I had never been acupuntured (hehe) before, but definitely would try it.

The acupuncture doctor practises from the bottom floor of his home. It's about 4 metres by 5 metres, and is divided with a small wooden screen. He was really excited to have a foreigner come to him, and he was even more excited to know that I could speak a little Vietnamese!

The treatment lasted about 5 minutes, where he poked my wrist with the same needle a couple times, and massaged my nerves. You could imagine how great that felt. I told him I was dizzy, so he made me lay down. He then proceeded to feed me longans, not allowing me to feed myself. I was lying there on the hard bamboo table while an old bearded Vietnamese man fed me fruit. Next time, he told me I should eat before I come over.

It cost me about 3 dollars for the treatment, but I was kind of hoping for something a little more therapeutic. In the end, I decided to go over to Yakushi Centre on Xuan Dieu to try out their treatment. It was definitely worth it. I paid twice as much, but it lasted a whole hour. They even attached an electrical source and soft shocks pulsed through my arm and hand.

In the end my wrist is doing a lot better... But still having difficulty typing and riding my bike. As for the cause, apparently it is tendinitis.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Back to Vietnam by way of China... Part II

Here is my bit about my food experience in Beijing.

My first day started off with a rice congee, similar in name to the one here in Vietnam (called chao). It turns out the similarity stops there. The rice soup here, was yellow in colour, and was doused in a sesame sauce. It was a lot thicker and was a bit salty. I scarfed it down with a vegetable spring roll and some fried bread. I didn't eat for about 8 hours after this, so I guess it did the trick. I don't think I'd eat it again though.

One of the most interesting meals was at a Szechuan restaurant. I have had Szechuan in Canada, obviously, but nothing prepared me for this. On the first bite, the flavour was great, if not a little strange. Then, this odd feeling took over my mouth. A numbing sensation paired with an uncontrollable stream of saliva pouring out of my glands had me in a bit of a panic. It wasn't necessarily spicy (though my mom would definitely think so), as the numbing took care of that issue. It turns out there were about a million little Szechuan peppercorns decorating this dish, a peppercorn that contains a natural numbing chemical. I continued eating while proclaiming in disbelief how anyone could actually want to have this feeling. It took over almost my entire face, reminding me of how when you go to the dentist it often takes hours before you can feel your lower jaw.

No trip to anywhere in Asia would be complete without trying the staple street food. Sticks with fruits dipped in a hardened sugar syrup are everywhere in winter. The traditional fruit to have in this style is the Chinese Hawberry. It's a bit sour like a crabapple.  You can also get strawberries, and any other kind of common fruit.

I visited a small street that had a hundred different street food vendors. I skipped quickly past the seahorse-on-a-stick vendors and tried some Beijing yogourt. Not unlike any other type of yogourt, except you drink it in a ceramic pot with a straw. 

Right before catching my plane back to Hanoi I went for Chinese dumplings. Apparently Beijing-style dumplings are boiled rather than streamed or pan-fried. My companions and I got egg and veggie as well as mushroom-filled dumplings. Hao chu (or however you would spell delicious in Mandarin)!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Back to Vietnam by way of China... Part I

For my way back to Vietnam from Montreal, I found a cheap flight to Beijing. I decided to take a couple days in China, before using Aeroplan points to get to Hanoi. I got a 6-month multiple-entry visa, thinking that maybe I would want to take another trip to Guangzhou for another shopping spree someday.

Somehow I got a reputation at work now, where everyone thinks I love China. I don`t love China. But it's true that not many travellers in Southeast Asia (or Hanoi) choose to visit China, opting instead for the cheaper countries in the region. Despite the fact that China is about 3 hours from Hanoi.

Still a bit jet lagged from the 11-hour time difference and the 23 hour voyage, I spent the first day exploring the Forbidden City. Judging by the amount of people in this Forbidden City (photo above), it's obviously no longer forbidden! I walked around the site with one of those recording devices you can rent, where some lady with a weird British/Chinese account talks about the history in an unadjustably high volume. I still can't believe there is a city of 13 million people with a winter climate similar to Montréal. I always gave the smallish population of Montréal the climate-excuse. But this seems to defy that, so back to the drawing board (is the French language the next best excuse?).

The next day I explored the Great Wall of China with my Couchsurfing companion. It was much more impressive than I had originally thought. Also, much more dangerous. Some parts of the wall had a steep incline and no steps. I had to hold on to a railing and slowly slide my body down. I don't understand how the Chinese would have been able to run up these inclines to attack the invading Mongolians. At that point I couldn't even figure out how I would be able to survive another kilometre... with steeper inclines in the horizon, and being to far in to turn around (this, paired with my fear of heights). I persevered. 

Friday, January 15, 2010

Back to Montreal - Aux Deux Maries

After skating I brought the group of seven people all the way to Aux Deux Maries, a cafe on the corner of Marie-Anne and Saint-Denis. I have always loved going there, if only to watch my non-vegan dairy-drinking friends indulge in amazing-sounding coffee concoctions. I just had black coffee, as they didn't offer soya milk.

Now that I'm no longer vegan (and ironically, they now offer soymilk), I am finally able to indulge.

I had a double espresso that was pulled through with an orange rind. Orange zest was sprinkled on top of the whipped cream and was dusted with cinnamon. Somehow cream or creme fraiche was incorporated into this.

They also roast their own coffee, offering a huge list of coffees from around the world.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Back to Montreal - Skating

For 3 years I lived within a 10 minute walk to Parc Lafontaine, one of Montreal's largest urban parks. I was with someone for quite a while who lived on the other side of the park, and wouldn't miss the opportunity to pass through it on the way to his house. There are trees wide enough to make me believe they were in that very spot in 1642 when Montreal was founded.

Despite walking through the park about 300 times in my lifetime and having about 3 picnics (one particular second date comes to mind), I have never been skating on the pond-cum-skating rink in winter. Something about -20 degree days and "I'll do it next week" mentality.

And so I finally did it.

Me, holding Robbie up. He hadn't skated since 1993.

Didn't notice how cold it was until someone said 'can you believe it's -27 today?' Then I started to feel cold.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Back to Montreal - Harvey's

Veggie burgers in Hanoi lack a lot. I have yet to come across a veggie burger there that isn't some sort of sloppy mishmash of vegetables, batter and usually cheese (yuck!). Oh. And fried.

Even outside Vietnam, no veggie burger comes close to what you can get at Harvey's. Canada's answer to fast-food giants Burger King and McDonald's, Harvey's grills your burger on an open flame right in front of your eyes. And they have stations set up where you can dictate to a worker exactly what you want going into your burger.

My veggie burger was constructed with tomatoes, onions, pickles, hot peppers, lettuce, mustard, and barbecue sauce all stacked between a whole wheat bun. I skipped the fries so I could stuff down two of these. Here's some photos to help you salivate.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Back to Montreal - Quartier des Spectacles

If you heard me talk about Montreal while I was in Hanoi (and believe me, I know you did), I would have told you how there were a couple things I hated missing.

The first would be the launch of the Bixi system, the first large-scale bicycle sharing system in North America, and also the most successful bike-sharing system to date. Unfortunately, the bikes aren't there during the winter, so any evidence of this has been hidden by 1 metre of snow.

The second would be the new Place des festivals. A new public space in downtown Montreal. Also partly hidden by snow, I didn't let the cold weather distract me from experiencing this new public space.

Here I am walking through a new installation in the square, called champs de pixels. As one walks through the snowy paths, little pixel-lights light up, following your steps. I came across it late at night, and thought it looked amazing with the areas new lighting scheme.