Monday, 18 July 2016

What Did You Say?

   I wear hearing aids due to working for years in very noisy electric power stations. Upon receiving the aids, I was instructed to wear them during the entire day except when on the water such as kayaking. That's all well and good but when one cycles in remote areas of Vietnam and Laos with very little traffic and noise, I couldn't see the sense of using them. And one doesn't talk that much when cycling on narrow roads as you and your cycling buddies are in a straight line so that you don't get hit by a stray vehicle.
   And then the odd time arises when one realises that the instructions of one's hearing aid's specialist should be followed. While cycling in Vietnam, we came across 2 lady cyclists from the Netherlands who were coming from the opposite direction. We chatted for awhile and then after saying "dag", we carried on with our travels with my group heading up a very steep mountain on a very hot day.
   After the very strenuous climb, we stopped and rested to catch our breath and drink the warm water from our water bottles. One of my fellow cyclists said to me: "That sure was a long hill since the Dutch girls." I replied "Dead squirrels? I didn't see any dead squirrels." She said while laughing her head off "Dutch girls - I said Dutch girls!"
   Yea well, maybe I should be wearing my hearing aids more often.
   I'm sorry - did you say something?

Monday, 13 June 2016

Travelling Solo

   There are countless blogs, books and videos out there that lists seasoned travellers' thoughts on travelling solo.
   I will not compile the long list from their experiences here but rather note a few items I experienced on a number of overseas trips that opened my eyes for any my future travels.
   There are three possible types of trips:
      1. You plan a solo trip and you travel on your own
      2. You plan a solo trip and then a friend(s) mentions that they would like to accompany you
      3. Your friend(s) plans a trip and invites you to come along
   In all three types, I would start by discussing with myself and any prospective companion(s) to find out what our expectations of the trip would involve including what we like to do and what we have and have not experienced on previous trips.
   I would then compare all of their likes and dislikes to what I prefer on a trip:
  • Accommodation: where do they like and not like to stay - inexpensive hostels, expensive 5 star resorts, camping?
  • Trekking: have they had any physical adventures; are they physically fit for strenuous activities?
  • Water activities: do they like water sports such as kayaking and sailing? sitting by the pool?
  • Long distance tour cycling: can they handle camping every night, bad roads, bad weather, steep mountain roads?
  • Tourist hot spots: loves popular, crowded tourist exhibits and an ABC (Another Bloody Church) or out of the way places where the locals hang out?
  • Get lost in a  new environment or do they have to text their friends every few hours?
  • Financial:
  1. Penny wise - do they haggle with a poor merchant selling bananas in an underdeveloped country?
  2. Pound foolish - will they run out of money and have to borrow from you?
  3. Will they insist on using a common money purse to pay for meals, accommodation and events if you don't have the same taste in food, places to sleep and country highlights? 
  • Do they have a passive-aggressive personality - how will they wake up each day?
  • Three or more in the group - will there be a chance of cliquey personalities; what is the ratio of men to women?
  • Will they be flexible throughout the trip due to a change of plans?
   You may have all of the above covered and agreed upon by yourself and your travelling partner(s), however, one must remember that the ability to adapt is more important than the ability to plan. Your plans are always going to change no matter what your itinerary is written on paper.
   I would not feel bad about not joining them or have them join me. A trip involves time and money and I wouldn't want to take a trip with them just to not cause any disappointment. If you don't want them to come along or join them on their trip - have your diplomatic excuse ready!

   And then there are times when it's all good at the start and then things happen. I was on a round the world cycle trip with a very compatible friend when after 3 months, a family member of hers passed away. We went back home to attend the funeral and support the rest of the family. After 2 weeks, we went back to Europe to carry on with our trip. Big mistake - there was no proper closure that my cycling partner had with the deceased and her family members and our trip lasted only 3 more months. My partner was out of sorts and could not deal with her loss; our friendship as cycling companions and as close friends deteriorated.
   I have told my 4 children that they should take a lengthy trip with their betrothed before their marriage. Being in a different country and adapting to a new environment, climate, people, transportation, meals, tours, accommodation and expenses is a true test of compatibility.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Cycle With A Mirror

     It was a very hot day with a clear, blue sky and like all of my cycle rides, I slapped on the sunscreen before heading out. By mid-afternoon, I could feel my skin starting to feel a bit prickly and so I found some shade beside a building and slapped on more sunscreen. I always do my arms, ears, my nose and surrounding area including my cheeks and neck - back and front. Mom would be pleased with me!
     And off I rode again. I found myself at a Starbucks, ordered a cool drink and sat outside to people-watch at a table adjacent to the entrance. Were they looking at me kind of strange? Nah, just my imagination. I asked a young lady if she would mind watching my bike as I had to use the washroom and she agreed. Did she look at me kind of funny or was she impressed with my red and white cycling race jersey?
     I then rode to a record store to purchase some Christmas CDs for family members in Scotland. I was kicking myself for not following through on introducing myself to a woman walking along the street. I stopped at a red light and just as the light turned green, a nice looking lady came up beside me to cross the street perpendicular to my direction. I glanced up briefly, our eyes met but I was already in motion and I just kept pedalling.
     I recognized the gentleman behind the counter in the record store from many years ago and after reminding each other of our names, we shook hands and started talking about our common work years and who was where and what everybody was doing.
     While talking, he reached back and pulled out some Kleenex and said, "Here, it looks like you could use this." I thanked him and in my mind thought that, yes I was perspiring but I wasn't sweating that bad and so I just wiped my forehead and we carried on talking. I made my purchases, bade farewell and continued on my cycle ride.
     I stopped in at a cycle shop to pick up some brake pads. I felt the clerk took a second look at me and I figured it was probably my red and white cycling race jersey. She told me that I could pick the pads up at the back of the store where I milled around with some other customers until the technician was available. We discussed the brake pad models and then upon returning to the receptionist to pay, I found that she didn't really look at me - just took the money and made it a quick transaction. I didn't give it much thought as it was the end of a hot day.
     I arrived home and couldn't wait to take a shower to wash the sunscreen and sweat from my overheated body. I looked in the mirror and what the hell was that!? I had a humongous, white booger coming out from my left nostril! I wiped it away and realized that it was a blob of sunscreen but it looked just like a booger.
     I was immediately relieved as it was just sunscreen but wait a minute! Now I know why the guy in the record store gave me a Kleenex. It wasn't for my forehead but for my nose!
     And what about all the other people that saw and talked with me before and after I left the store!? They must have thought the same thing.What gets me is why nobody gave me a heads up on my appearance. I then justified my embarrassment by saying to myself that I would never see all those people again. Well, maybe the guy in the record store but I won't go there for a good year. Same goes for that Starbucks and cycle shop.
     And then I thought of the lady at the crosswalk. Thank goodness that I did keep on riding because that would be one hell of way to meet a woman with imitation snot dripping from one's nose. And there's a good chance that she will never see me again.
     So what did I learn on that day? Well from now on, I shall apply sunscreen in a washroom with good lighting and a big mirror and better yet, ensure I have a mirror in my cycle gear.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Umbrellas Part 1 - Vancouverites Search For Their Umbrellas

  Robinson Crusoe made a parasol on his deserted island. Gene Kelly in Singin’ in the Rain, danced with a brolly. And France’s former President, Nicolas Sarkozy had an armor-plated bumbershoot to protect himself from attackers.
  The world over, umbrellas are useful in so many ways besides the rain, and they've come a long way since their creation back in ancient Egypt, the Middle East and China.  
  There is a lot of misconception about who buys parasol umbrellas," says Scott King, manager of Vancouver's The Umbrella Shop.
  "Typically people believe that women of Asian descent use them more than others. We have actually noticed a larger number of Caucasian customers requesting sun protection as their skin tends to burn easier." 
  In Vancouver, umbrellas and people means protection. But there's more to umbrellas than just evading the rain.
  King's family business has been around for over 75 years. In their store on West Broadway, you have many styles, colours, patterns and price ranges to choose from. And it seems that the variety is met with just as many superstitions.
  “There's not one day that goes by that someone doesn't ask if it’s bad luck to open umbrellas in doors, " says King. "We usually tell them that it’s okay in an umbrella store and that we have personally done it thousands of times... on the rare occasion calm a customer, the umbrella will be taken outside to be opened."
  Although the origins of this long withstanding superstition are up for debate, North America has some little known watermark superstitions of its own surrounding the umbrella.
  Some examples are that it is bad luck to give an umbrella as a gift. If you drop an umbrella, do not pick it up, but instead, have someone else do it for you. If a single woman drops an umbrella, she will never marry. If an umbrella is opened outside when it is not needed, rain and other bad weather will follow.
  Whether the weather and tools to protect yourself from it dictate such bad luck, is up to you.
  Michelle Payne, from England and says her hometown's weather is similar to Vancouver's. She says British summers consist of two fine days and a thunderstorm.
  She says she will buy a $10 umbrella when it rains because her umbrellas often break.” When asked if a more expensive model would be better, Payne replies, “It’s an umbrella, not a coffee machine!”
  On the type and colours of umbrellas carried in Vancouver, Payne says, "I notice the colours and styles are different depending on the area. In Yaletown, the umbrellas closely match the clothes people are wearing." As for superstitions, Payne says, "I don't believe in them at all."
  Mohammad Saadvandi, from Iran, fits King’s observations that men mostly carry a golf umbrella in their car and a portable one at home - both black, so as not to stand out perhaps.
  It appears that Saadvandi has good luck with hanging on to them as they have been at his side for as long as 6 years. And speaking of luck, he also doesn’t believe in the superstitions - as they don’t exist in his native country.
  “If I'm in a building and as a courtesy, I don’t open it if there are people around. If no one is close by, I will open the umbrella.” Brave man.

This post originally appeared in The Source, October 18, 2011 ©  Copyright (c) The Source 

Umbrellas Part 2 - Longevity

  I was preparing my move a number of years ago to Vancouver, British Columbia from Edmonton, Alberta in the middle of a cold winter. Reading through my check list, I thought I had better take my umbrella because of the quantity of rain that falls in Vancouver - approximately 50 inches per year. I dug around in the basement for my umbrella which I had not used for I don’t know how long as one usually wears a toque in Alberta due to the quantity of snow - approximately the same 50 inches per year.
 I finally found it at the back of a closet but it wasn't in good shape - torn with the spokes exposed and the handle broken. I thought I would get ridiculed by the people in B.C. if they saw this old, beat up umbrella.
  I decided to purchase an umbrella that would keep me dry and allow me to fit in with the rest of the population. There wasn't a great deal to choose from as Albertans do not use bumper shoots often. Summer rains come and go fast. The rains do not usually fall soft and misty but rather they come down in torrents and one’s umbrella has a good chance of not being used often - especially if the winds accompany the rain. Umbrellas don’t last too long in Alberta.
  I had a choice of the cheap five dollar compact model or a fifty-dollar unit with a nicely polished wood handle with a basic black colour. I bought the latter.
  Upon arrival in Vancouver, the skies were blue; not a cloud in the sky and it stayed this way for the month of January. When it did finally rain, I started singing “Singing In the Rain” while preparing myself for work. I had a meeting in down town Vancouver and I managed to find a parking space in front of the building where the meeting was being held but I drove a few blocks further on - I wanted to test out my umbrella! I got out of my car, opened the umbrella and started walking with a definite swagger to show my fellow Vancouverites that I too have an umbrella that was worthy of being in their league.
  I noticed the first person who was walking towards me. Man, this guy’s umbrella was a mess. It was black all right but nearly inside out with two wire supports sticking out and reaching for the sky. I shrugged it off and thought that he was probably from Alberta.
  The next umbrella I saw had “Pepsi” printed all over it with blue and red panels. Then more umbrellas – pink, green, some with tassels and even golf umbrellas! I then noticed a lot of people didn’t even have umbrellas. They were either scurrying for cover, wearing a cap, holding a newspaper above their heads or just walking with no regard for the blustery, wet weather.
  I was totally disappointed. And – nobody commented on my umbrella!
  A few weeks later, my umbrella came apart in some windy, rainy weather, which resulted in two wire supports sticking out and reaching for the sky. Umbrellas don’t last too long in Vancouver.

Monday, 4 January 2016

You're a Canadian, eh?

   While travelling within Vietnam and Laos in locations where there are few Caucasians mixed in with the locals, I felt like I was on display. While walking or cycling, I could feel their eyes following and staring at me as if I had come from another planet.
   At first I thought of it as a novelty and enjoyed the attention. But after a few weeks, I noticed that I became a bit impatient and I would mutter under my breath that perhaps they should just knock it off. Sure - I looked at them but I didn't stare!
   Whenever I started to get bothered by it, I would stare right back at the person but their expression did not change. I then realized that here are 2 people from different countries on this small world of ours looking at each other with no verbal or facial recognition for each other. I then started a different approach - I started to smile and a majority of the time, the person would smile back and then we became friendly, non-verbal world neighbours.
   When cycling throughout the country side, a majority of the children and adults in the fields and villages could not speak English but they would yell "Hello!"and wave to me. I would yell "Hello!" back and they would all giggle and smile.
   If they didn't say "Hello" but rather just stared at me, I would yell "Hello", wave and smile. They would respond with a "Hello" along with a big smile and laughter.
   And then one day, it hit me - I do the same thing the locals do when I see a Caucasian person walk or ride by me. I stare at them! Why? Because they are different looking from the greater population around me.
   I would then start to analyze them and ask myself: "Where are they going? Where are they from? Are they from Europe? Are they from my own country of Canada?"
  On two occasions during this trip, I was the one being analyzed by a traveller. The first man asked me if I was from Canada. I replied yes and asked him why he asked. He replied that he saw the "MEC" logo (Mountain Equipment Co-op) on my t-shirt as he was from Victoria, British Columbia. We had a nice chat and exchanged our travel experiences.
   The second traveller asked me the same thing as he also noticed the MEC logo. I found out that he was from Toronto, Ontario and we talked as if we had been long-time neighbours.
   I am tempted to write to the Canadian Government to have them consider changing our national icon - the Maple Leaf and instead, use the MEC logo.
   Have I learned a lesson from this trip about interacting with people in their native country? Yes - and that is to relax, allow them to look at me if they wish, have me say "Hello" and keep on smiling. And ... look for that MEC logo.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Vancouver and Christchurch – Possible Sister Cities

  A one month visit to New Zealand gave me the feeling that I was still in British Columbia and thought perhaps we should add another city to Vancouver’s list of sister cities - Christchurch.
  Christchurch on the South Island has many similarities to Vancouver. Although its population is approximately half of Vancouver’s, the city emphasizes its tourist attractions including cycling, trekking and skiing on mountains such as Mt. Cook - the highest mountain in New Zealand. Its rugged coastline with beautiful beaches has whale watching tours, sailing and kayaking; the surrounding farmlands with sheep and dairy herds are intermingled with wineries producing world class wine.
  Another similarity - earthquakes. New Zealand has major fault lines running the full length of the two islands. New Zealanders have always thought their capital city of Wellington located at the bottom of the North Island was the prime location to have a major earthquake. Christchurch was never considered to be in danger.
  On September 10, 2010, an earthquake with magnitude 7.1 occurred near Christchurch at a depth of 10 kilometres and despite widespread damage there were no fatalities. A large aftershock of magnitude 6.3 occurred on February 22, 2011. Although lower on the magnitude scale than the earthquake, the intensity and violence of the ground shaking was measured to be the strongest ever recorded globally in an urban area. The quake struck on a busy weekday afternoon and resulted in the deaths of 184 people. Many buildings and landmarks were severely damaged, including the iconic Christchurch Cathedral. Two years later, there were over 10,000 aftershocks that occurred since the first earthquake.
  I stayed in Christchurch for two days at the home of a relative and at 4:30 in the morning, I was woken by one of those aftershocks - I thought someone was bouncing on my bed.
  Peering through the fences and barriers within the city centre, now categorized as the “Red Zone”, one could not help but feel sadness when looking at the demolished buildings and empty lots where businesses once employed and served the citizens. Even if buildings were classified as safe, a number of businesses moved or were put out of business as people stayed away from the city centre.
  The New Zealand Herald newspaper reported on the memorial that was held one year after the earthquake: “A number of residents … wouldn’t attend the official memorial. It was still too raw, they said. They were worried about being in big crowds in case the worst happened. They wanted to remember friends and loved ones in their own way. The roll call of the dead was chilling – it took 13 minutes to read every name.”
  My relative's home is typical of many homes within Christchurch as it is still livable but has been classified to be demolished. The Government will pay home owners the assessed value of the home with some owners moving to the outlying suburbs but a greater number of people will be moving from Christchurch. A number of my relative's friends have moved back to their home country including Australia, the Philippines and North America - they feel safer with their families.
 The radar on Vancouver’s location for a major earthquake is similar to the distance that Christchurch is located from New Zealand’s fault lines. BC's Strait of Juan de Fuca has two tectonic plates that rub against each other. They are located south of Vancouver Island and is considered to be one of the most vulnerable in the country.
  Upon arriving home from my trip, I immediately set about to replenish my earthquake kit in my home and car and I’ll enquire at City Hall if they will give some thought to invite Christchurch to be a sister city.

This post originally appeared in The Source, March 20, 2012 & July 10, 2012 ©  Copyright (c) The Source