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“To Reach a port, we must sail; Sail, not tie at anchor; Sail, not drift.” ~Franklin Roosevelt
So I sat in my car today and I watched as a huge SUV tried to back into the tiniest of parking spaces. I contemplated reversing and trying my luck in another row of vehicles further down, but decided there was no where I really had to be. I was in no rush at all. So I just watched and waited and gave myself kudos on my *choice* to drive a small *economy* car (It’s an ’87 Jetta).
I patted my own back while wearing a smug look on my face, all the while subtly cringing at the nine-point turn the gas-guzzler was struggling through. Who doesn’t know that it’s easier back into a lane or road than it is to back into a tiny stall? Really.
As I had so much time on my hands to judge others and self-affirm my positive life choices, I also had a moment to realize an overwhelming sense of Déjà vu. I swear I’ve done this before. Actually, I know I’ve waited for this exact vehicle in this same parking lot…..I did this here…. I did this last year! It was pre-Christmas. I wrote about it! Ah ha! HA.
And so it is that I re-visit my little blog.
I had to have a look at what I wrote last year at this same time. Where was I in my own head? What was my mood? I had just settled back down on Vancouver Island and I was surrounded by family and new friends and the excitement of living and breathing the snowboarding lifestyle and getting paid for it with a job at the mountain! It was time for me to put down roots and explore a new community – how exciting!
The handful of entries I’ve managed to post since that time a year ago, don’t really give light to all that’s been going on in my life. It’s hard to write about your thoughts and feelings and outlooks when you’re in one place and the people you see every day are directly contributing to your thoughts and feelings and outlooks.
It really ups the level of accountability when you don’t get to just pick up and leave every few days!
Although, in saying that, I did manage to move to Nanaimo briefly. I got the opportunity to move in with fabulous friends and go back to school. Well, actually, school fell through…. and after a few weeks (it was days) slugging through a less-than-stellar job, and the realization that we were all so busy I wasn’t even really spending time with my room mates, I decided to pack a backpack (it’s my default I guess) and go up north. I had been asked by my uncle to help out as shore crew for the Van Isle 360 - a circumnavigation of Vancouver Island that happens every two years. It’s an elite sailing race and I was happy to have the chance to be a part of it.
I arrived in Port Hardy ready to do the team’s laundry and cook them warm, hearty meals upon request. Luck was with me – the boat was short-crewed and I must have struck them as the perfect Weight-Distribution-Specialist, as I was invited aboard. This was amazing for so many reasons. One being that I had entered (and lost) a contest just a few weeks before (see previous posting) where I was trying to win a trip aboard a sail boat. Kismit or what? This was waaaaaay better than any two-bit prize…. I got to do real sailing, in a real race, with my (yes, real) uncle.
Among an amazing array of other scenery, I saw the beautiful northern tip of the Island and spent a fun-filled night in Winter Harbour. I’d like to say I picked up a lot in the way of sailing knowledge, but everything moved so fast, it was hard to keep up…on the water, and off. Sailors really know how to party. We had a night to recover in Ucluelet after being battered for hours and hours (one of the other boats broke their mast in the storm) on the longest leg of the race – 140 nautical miles – over the rugged west coast waters. The wind was so bad and the rocking so incessant that two of the life-long sailors aboard our boat couldn’t move – couldn’t even sit up for over 12 hours.
We had the wind at our back as the danced into Victoria’s inner harbour. And we got caught in the narrows for hours on our arrival into Nanaimo, but this was a great opportunity for the Coast Guard to deliver Tim Bits (donuts – to all you non-Canadians) out of pity, as we anchored and tried not to move backwards. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it was so perfectly timed (the whole trip – not just the donuts). I got a much-needed reminder that I love the adventure – I’m always up for the adventure – and although I’m trying this settling down in one place thing, it doesn’t mean I have to settle.
I realized I didn’t want to live in Nanaimo. I moved away when I was eighteen for a reason. And although I’ve changed, and the city has changed, I wanted something different. I missed the little life I had started to set up in the Comox Valley. And so I returned to Courtenay, once again with a backpack on. My family put me up, yet again, while I started looking for employment. And employment I got. All of a sudden I was ironing trousers and blow drying my hair. Within a few weeks I had my own place… and my cat and I found ourselves living together for the first time in 3 years. Sometimes these things happen that fast. Well fast may be a relative term….
Anyway, we all move at our own pace and there’s no point in pushing it. Things are feeling like they’re falling into place for the most part, and that’s pretty awesome. This life has proved to be quite the incredible journey so far, and my guess is: it will only get more incredible as we continue sailing forward.
We all know that Christmas is a special time of year. Family, friends, wining, dining, and gifts. Yeah, it’s special, no doubt. There’s the flip side to consider, as well. Stress and all that mumbo jumbo….so-busy-bad-weather-unexpected-expenses-hard-to-buy-for-too-much-to-drink-to-eat-to-wrap….yadda. Yadda. Blah blah.
My advice? Start watching the chaos and find humour. Just give yourself a little extra time and sit back and watch the insanity ensue. You can’t change the crazies that come out of the wood work and emerge in droves at your local shopping venues. Instead of getting annoyed at the person who takes eight minutes and a nine-point turn in order to back into a parking spot, give these people a break. Everyone shops this time of year (with exception of those overly down-to-earth types who have found the true meaning and all that..or the really crafty types that are so prevalent here on the west coast). So it falls to reason that unskilled shoppers come out at this time of year. This makes it that much more adventurous for the rest of us!
Actually, I think I’ve over simplified these characters. They aren’t unskilled at shopping – they are more-or-less unskilled at basic social interactions and sometimes even logic in general.
Watch the person in front of you try to explain a specific book to the lady at the cash register – while not knowing the title, the author, or even the genre of book they’re in such dire need of. Take note as she get more animated and frustrated, starting to lash out …. “nobody in this bloody store knows anything about literature!” She storms off feeling vindicated knowing she is better-read than anyone else in the shop and also that it’s run by illiterate morons. Now instead of letting their negativity rub off on you and your retail experience, just take a moment – realize you’re just very lucky not to be that person. Smile at the cashier. A knowing glance can do wonders. Now you can feel vindicated in your own right – and the camaraderie of like-minded, socially-adjusted people is exactly what this season is about.
Love thy neighbour… and your local customer service associate.
In all seriousness, I’ve really had to embrace being back in the real world for this time of year. My battle is not with the general public, but with my memories. I thought I had it all figured out – I got a job at the ski resort in order to fully wrap myself up in winter. Being up on the heavily snow-covered hill, surrounded by people who love being outside – it’s the perfect way to get through the long dark winter. Yes…all figured out – I knew this sort of job would ensure I worked through Christmas and I could slog through this very emotional holiday by working hard and feeling exhausted enough to sleep through the night. I could avoid Christmas… again! What luck.
Luck comes in oh, so many forms. I truly believe that each one of us is lucky, it’s just a matter of perspective.
So I guess I was one of the lucky ones – my schedule gave me both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off. As I was about to volunteer to take my coworkers’ shifts, I held my tongue and thought about the opportunity at hand. This could be exactly what I need. I’ve stated before: some of the best outcomes have been from situations that are difficult and way, way, way easier to avoid. It dawned on me that I need to face the holidays; the traditions, the ups and downs that come hand in hand with this time of year.
It’s been pretty sweet so far, and even with a few tears there is some sense of accomplishment.
I can’t even begin to count the ways in which I’ve been lucky. Life happens, sh*t happens, some of it’s heavy and bad and life-altering, but we do our best to pick ourselves up, and when we do – whether it’s luck, or determination or sheer grit, we, hopefully, can look around and begin to see the love surrounding us.
My love and thanks to everyone who has been part of my life these last few years. I have met so many special people. I have travelled with each and everyone of you whether it’s through airports and foreign countries, written word, or shared memories.
We’ve arrived here …right now. It’s pretty good, isn’t it?
Keep each other laughing. Share music. Hug to stay warm.
As we make our way over another border, our fellow passengers bob their heads in tandem to the swaying, bumping bus. I pretend my head-wobbling is just the same, but really I am quietly and almost, but not quite, dancing in my too-short seat. My knees dig into the back of the poor person ahead of me.
We roll forward past the onslaught of vehicles, the buildings, numerous electrical wires bundled, en masse, above the houses, the shacks, the people. I nurse a headache resulting from a late night out – hours of dancing in the rain.
So much is going on outside my window. As we travel forward, I travel backwards in time through my music. My on-again-off-again, mostly malfunctioning iPod is a saving grace on a six hour bus ride with delays at the border. Actually, the ride is pretty smooth and easily contrasts the horror stories we’ve been heard about local land-travel. We may have lucked out with our particular bus. Consistency of service ain’t much a priority ‘round here…
Shuffle: my favourite way to go. I’m on a little musical journey. Maybe it’s the exhaustion but I’m feeling each song – each one wraps itself up in my soul. Every song holds my hand and walks with me through a multitude of memories. Does everyone remember people when they listen to music?… I think they do. Maybe places, events, eras? Anyway, this is how it is for me. A personal soundtrack, always there in the background…blaring from the sidelines of my life.
He caught me dancing. It’s a story for another time. A memory wrapped up in a song and an instant. It’s whittled itself into my heart and been coaxed out by sleepiness, shuffled songs, too much time to think.
He Caught me dancing. This was one of those pinnacle moments – never forgotten – that changed everything. I smile and as I remember. The moment was encased; dressed up as a laugh and a look, and it’s never been forgotten. And although we make a thousand choices a day, this was one of those big moments disguised as a small one. It’s a good memory.
Theme Song of the Day:
Dust Storm – Seagull
Theme song of the Day:
Noctuary - Bonobo
In a country so stricken by poverty, its hard to fathom how a shop that sells only large stuffed caterpillars can make a go of it. This is the complexity and contradictory simplicity that is Vietnam.
As we made our way through the maze-like waterways of the Mekong Delta we were struck by so many thoughts and feelings that seemed at odds with each other.
The Mekong Delta supports millions of people and it shows. We tried to hide our unintentional looks of disgust as the spray from the boat hit our faces.
There were people bathing, fishing, and trolling boats of various shapes and sizes along the river. The floating markets are hubs of activity – each boat hangs a sample of their wares from poles at the stern – a form of advertising. Women are a huge part of this important venture. It’s so hot and humid, they row their small boats, heavy with produce, up the waterway for hours, yet they look so put together. Many don silk suits and they all don looks of determination and pride. I would be proud.
We spent a few days in a small city called Can Tho before making our way to the coast. Rach Gia is home to the port that is home to the ferry system that takes people to the island of Phu Quoc.
It’s also the first place that I really felt my visible minority status. As we walked from the bus station to search out guesthouses children ran out to great us “hello, hello, English”….people stared; turning around to watch us pass. This doesn’t happen in cities as big as Saigon. In Vietnamese culture one is best to blend in. Standing out is undesirable. … but then, there is a novelty to us ‘big girls’…5’9”, both of us. My blond hair and freckles get a lot of looks.
I was stared down by the driver of one of our taxis, after I said hello. He looked at me as though I had just uttered a string of profanities regarding his family. I felt I had offended him in some way and I was feeling quite self-conscious. I sat quietly for the 20 minute drive. As we got out of the van to grab our bags, he mumbled shyly in very broken, quiet English…head down: “You are very beaut-i-ful”… I smiled inside and out – it’s so easy to misinterpret.
I am amazed by the way we are welcomed. We have made friends at every turn. Our waiters and motorbike drivers insist on giving us their phone numbers, writing out English words, helping us with our limited Vietnamese phrases, offering themselves as husbands (just joking…sort of). The people that can speak English are eager to practice.
I couldn’t help but expect a sort of underlying national animosity towards Westerners…North Americans in particular, after arriving in Vietnam. It would be so understandable; the recent history of this nation can’t be easily forgotten…can it? I wouldn’t think so. It shouldn’t be. But from what I’ve witnessed so far, it seems that for many, the horrific history is just that. History.
Theme Song of the Day:
Don’t Fight It – the Panics
It’s been a matter of days, but it really feels as though we’ve seen and done enough to warrant a few weeks in this little nook in a small, but vibrant, corner of SE Asia. It’s time to slow down a bit, and we’ve found the perfect place to do just that.
Kim and I awoke in a small coastal town called Mui Ne this morning. We’re in agreement: this will be our temporary home as long as our itinerary will allow. There is something in the air that differs incredibly from Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC or Saigon), where we’ve spent the last few days…it might be the whiff of the brackish, fishy ocean? You get used to it. Actually it’s just a quietness; it floats on the air. Only waves break through the heavy, humid blanket that wraps itself around you and doesn’t let go.
Mui Ne is the wind- and kite-surfing capital of Vietnam and many guesthouses line the six kilometer beach…fishing boats span the horizon. We’re on the edge of the South China Sea. So far, the entire scope of our activity has been walking, reading, spa-ing, eating and sleeping…oh, and swimming! Beautiful.
Saigon was about how I’d imagined it. Maybe bigger, busier, noisier, …more motorbikes. SO many motor bikes – supposedly the ratio is 2:1 people to motorbikes. That works out to about 5 million bikes in the Saigon area alone. I had read that crossing the street can be perilous in HCMC. It was suggested that one is to walk slowly and steadily through the throng, eyes focused on the other side of the street. I guess the idea is that everyone will adapt and move around you if they can see the direction you’re intending? Yeah, that doesn’t work (not in the streets of HCMC… nor in everyday life).
The funny thing about crossing traffic-laden streets is that you can’t really practice. It’s something that should be done properly, right off the bat. No room for getting it a “little bit wrong”… luckily survival instinct should kick in. My best advice: face the fear, take a deep breath, look for a small gap and make eye –contact. Cross slowly and steadily but look at the drivers, they need to know what you’re doing. Eye contact is the key. Áfter the first couple of times it becomes second nature. I feel I have the skills to jay-walk ANYWHERE around the world. Travel teaches you so much, hey?
Anyway, it’s been a few days now, but I am still thinking about our trip to The War Remnants Museum in HCMC. The pictures and stories on display give a no-holds-barred look at the Vietnam War (referred to as the American War over here) and the atrocities that took place. It’s the worst of the horrific things you’ve heard about, but in its visualized form the horrors are really driven home. The effects of Agent Orange and other dioxins that were used are discussed and displayed vividly. Kim and I had a chance to meet people disfigured by these chemicals the very next day, and let me tell you – these people have strength – it certainly gives one a different perspective on the many faces of the spirit of humanity.
Needless to say, the history here is vast and has affected me deeply. It has given rise to thoughts and feelings with regards to politics, patriotism, mob-mentality, and the power of the human spirit and the lengths we will go to simply survive. This may not be the medium to discuss all this, but I think it’s important to touch on something that has shaped the culture of this country so profoundly. Humans are capable of so much – good and bad. It’s amazing how we are able to rationalize even the most abhorrent behavior.
Although these are heavythoughts, we have also managed to enjoy all that Saigon has to offer. We have met some great people. Only hours after we arrived on our first night we were invited to an engagement party! We were treated as old friends as we sat and ate and drank and shared stories with the locals. We danced too, but didn’t take our new friends up on their all-night dancing party. What a welcome.
The people here have so much to offer and smiles welcome you at every turn. Poverty has settled in between the cracks and it’s so easy to become desensitized to it. But happiness is prevalent and there is a determined and relaxed quality that surrounds us; it’s admirable and beautiful.
Theme Song of the Day:
Night Windows – The Weakerthans
British Columbia is a place that sings loudly to me. I have grown up with the mountains and the ocean and the forests in my backyard – three decades of walking through postcard-quality scenery on a day-to-day basis – and yet it still takes my breath away.
We’ve all heard that one of the great things about going away is how much you appreciate what you’ve got when arriving home again. This has to be true for so many people around the globe. The comfort, familiarity, and routine of home…it’s got its appeal. We derive focus and a sense of direction with this blanket of habit and recognition.
A pattern to smudge over the chaos.
In this part of the world, on the west coast in particular, we are blessed to not only have wild, natural beauty at our doorstep, but the laid-back friendliness of the people that surround us should not be taken for granted. A simple stop in the middle of a busy street (with a slack-jawed look of confusion) warrants a stranger stopping to not only offer assistance… but you know what?…uh, I was headed in that direction already so why don’t I just lead the way and make sure you get to where you’re going?…Want half my muffin?
It’s like living in a Disney movie.
This is not to imply naivety. Not at all. We just have friendliness and it perpetuates itself…one person smiles and then the next. It’s science! As a whole we are educated and alert and maybe we have an underlying confidence that allows us to put ourselves out there. It’s really something.
Where am I going with all of this provincial pride? Well I didn’t actually intend to go on and on about how great we are up here in the Pacific Northwest. I just couldn’t help myself…!
But truth be told, I guess it all comes down to the fact that I’m seeing home in a very different light than ever before. My main component isn’t here anymore. A huge part of the ‘home’ equation has been taken away. My comfort and belonging is emotionally tied up in the life I have been building with one person for ten years. I can still appreciate the qualities of home. I still have that life…it’s just very different now…it’s individual – my observations may be more objective in some regards because of this… or, I don’t know – maybe they’re teetering towards a more subjective nature?
Anyway, I didn’t have too many expectations of coming back. I knew I had to face the paperwork I have been putting off. I have beautiful new babies in my life (all of them boys!) that I have had so much fun visiting. I am honoured to take part in a couple of weddings, some BBQs, and more than a few parties! I get to visit with friends and family and its been fantastic so far.
A few hiccups along the way have threatened the digestive peace that is home. Some of the hiccups are bigger than others, but I know I am strong; I can handle these…I will drink my water upside down and get through the worst of it (by the way – in Oz they stand on their heads and drink water right-side-up to cure hiccups).
I am very aware that as issues arise, the temptation to pull away from all of it gets stronger. I have to be careful not to become too numb or distant when dealing with stressful situations. Sometimes the little things seem unmanageably big and then at others the big things seem so small in comparison to all that I have been through.
Uh…yup….’subjective’ is the clear winner here.
Give me the stress of a lost bus ticket or a language barrier any day – it seems easier than trudging through even the smallest confrontation or mishap at home.
All of this: the good and the bad, it’s all part of life. Things should get easier as time moves forward. For now I am happy to visit ‘home’ and I am looking forward to heading back on the road in only a few short weeks.
Let the adventure continue.