Our Trip 2012 (2) Museum lecture

Thursday 2nd Feb. and we are up bright and early to travel to the National Museum, in the old part of town near the Grand Palace, for a lecture series. I used to be a member of the museum volunteers and a friend told me about the series which was postponed because of the flooding last year.

 The first lecture was about the funeral rites of Royal family members as conducted here in Thailand. It was fascinating as it detailed where the belief systems came from; first Brahmanism, then Hinduism and finally Buddhism all play a role in these rites of passage.

Second lecture was a run through in words and pictures of the Ramakien (a Thai adaptation of the Indian epic The Ramayana). A story told in fantastic wall murals painted on the cloister walls surrounding the temple of  Wat Phra Kaew (Emerald Buddha temple). It is a  tale of war and love, loss and redemption with strange demons and monkeys as well as gods and humans all mixed up in a sea of Thai imagination. Fantastic.

On our return to our hotel we were caught in a huge downpour (this is not the rainy season what is happening to the weather) and had to wade through the water to the boat pier. Of course our journeys on the Chao Phryer river were as interesting as always affording an opportunity to both people watch and stare at the huge rice barges being pulled upstream high in the water like a 4 story house, followed by skinny long tailed noisy boats zipping in and out of the other traffic like dragon flies with megaphones. Over seeing all this bustle the prang of  Wat Arun, stands in its Angkor glory representing the mountian of Meru; the centre of  the spiritual world to Hindus and Buddhists alike, as well as the home of Lord Brahma. Further along the river bank are other tall buildings representing great success in the human world, if you can afford the rent to dwell in any of their oppulent rooms.

In the evening, after a nap, we decide to check out a local bar we once knew. Walking along Sukhumvit we suddenly bump into Moore, a Taiwanese guy Dave used to work with in Taipei who later moved to Bangkok where he got a job with Bombardier and eventually moved to Sweden where he now lives and works. We thought it extraordinary to meet like this so we repaired to the nearest bar to catch up. Later that night we fell into bed still jet lagged

Our Trip 2012 (1) travel and arrival in Bangkok

Our friends, John and Joelle, drove us to Ottawa airport bright and early Monday morning the 30th January where we checked our 3 bags (more on this later) to be picked up later in Bangkok. We first flew with Air Canada to Toronto and then boarded another Air Canada flight to Beijing. The fourteen hours it took to get there flew (!!!!) by in a haze of wine, bad movies, good food and sleep. We had a couple of hours wait in Beijing Airport, this is new since we where last here in 2007 and must have been opened for the Olympics in 2008. It is very modern but at 4:30pm on the 31st January it was almost completely deserted. We flew to Suvarnabhumi Airport with Air China and slept for most of the 5 hr journey. Passing through immigration at midnight on 31st January all was well until we came to collect our 3 bags. Only one of them turned up (fortunately it was mine), after reporting the missing items we arrived at our hotel at 2am on 1st Feb. We fell into bed and slept!

The next day was spent in a blur of jet lag reacquainting ourselves with an area of Bangkok we were very familiar with, but which has changed a lot since we were last here in 2010,  as well as trying to get Dave some clothes. Our wayward bags finally arrived at 11pm on Wed 1st February. We imagine the bags were left on a trolley somewhere in Beijing airport!!

 

Typhoon Sinlaku and Koh Lanta

I am sitting at my computer while the wind and rain lash at the bedroom window, we are in the midst of a slow moving typhoon, the eye of which is forecast to arrive over Taipei this evening. It is a category 3 (Katrina was a 3) which may change to a 4. It is our first experience of a really BIG typhoon and being on the 17th floor it is interesting to watch what happens to the rain with the wind gusts; sometimes it is flying sideways sometimes even upwards but eventually it lands on the ground and the games park opposite is rapidly becoming a lake.
The wind has been blowing all night, it makes whistling, howling sounds which make one want to curl up in a ball somewhere, I suspect an innate trait probably handed down through evolution in order to stay safe during big storms. The government declared a shut down of all city run agencies as of last night and the weather bureau issued a typhoon warning, all this means we should stay home unless it is an emergency. Everyone was preparing yesterday, shopping and making sure they had candles, water and food that doesn’t’ need cooking, in case the electricity goes out. Taipei is usually very good and all buildings are typhoon and earthquake safe but we shall wait and see.

We had another trip to Bangkok the last week of August. Dave had to work on the Monday and Tuesday, then we went off to an island in the Andaman sea, Koh Lanta, off the coast of Krabi.
It is the rainy season down there which means the ocean is quite rough so we didn’t get to go in the sea too much and we were the only ones in our hotel one of the nights (it is the low season for tourists) but this is how we like it, very relaxing.

view of our hotel from outside our room

the Bike
We hired a motor bike for a couple of days and travelled around most of the island except for the very end, the road was a dirt track and very hilly and Dave didn’t feel safe navigating it with me on the back so we didn’t go.
We met some interesting people, a couple of Dr. from France who go there every year for 2 weeks just to unwind. They had travelled by road along Route One in Viet Nam in the mid 1980’s and had also gone into Cambodia in the early ’80’s to be doctors there. They know the Dali Lama and usually go to Tibet every year but didn’t go this year as it was difficult for them to get visas with all the trouble going on there. They had some good stories to tell.
We also met a foursome who go to Lanta every year, they were Liverpudlians, a brother and sister, with their respective partners. They wondered about the political trouble in Bangkok but I told them not to worry. The upheaval had started while we were in Bangkok (it is still ongoing at the moment) and the airport at Krabi was closed on Fri. and Sat., we were due to fly out at 10:am Sunday morning. Luckily for us they reopened it in time for our flight to be the first one out and we had no trouble after that. I know everyone is being warned not to go to Thailand but I am sure it is OK and they really need tourists as a lot of stuff has been cancelled. Most of what is going on is happening in a small area of downtown Bangkok and need not interfere with tourist activities, the rest of Thailand is fine.
A little girl in a shop in Lanta old town
A street in Lanta old town

 

Dave about to watch sunset

The sunset as seen from our hotel room veranda

niagara on the lake wine tour

I recently went on a wine tour, courtesy of my place of work. Niagara on the Lake was our destination, and we stayed at the Pillar & Post, an absolutely gorgeous hotel. We enjoyed a day of wines produced by three separate wineries, of the total of sixty that exist, in the region. They ranged from small to large, and included the medium-sized, old-fashioned Strewn Winery, the more modern and industrial Jackson-Triggs and a final stop at a more home-grown type of winery, the name of which escapes me.

We were taught the proper way to evaluate a wine, which I’d never really been through before and found quite helpful. I didn’t know you could actually “release” the flavours so much with so little effort, and that the first sip must be the one that cleanses your pallette, rather than the one by which you evaluate the flavour of the wine.

My favourite that I tasted all day and stays with me even now was a Shiraz at Jackson-Triggs. This surprised me, as I don’t usually like Shiraz. But this particular one was delicious – smooth, fruity and the after taste was delightful – like almond paste, also known as marzipan. I was in love; I bought a bottle and hope I can find it in The Wine Store at some point (they indicated how a lot of their wines aren’t available in the LCBO or The Wine Store).

I left with a greater understanding of wines and how to identify the varying flavours that can be found in them. I particularly liked the emphasis that, in the end, it really doesn’t matter what kind of wine you like – cheap or expensive. Whether you enjoy a wine or not depends entirely on you.

I’d love to go on another winery tour, particularly because many of the wines available through one aren’t available in the stores in Toronto. It’s the perfect opportunity to discover new wines I otherwise would never find.

the great algonquin canoe trip of 2006

I’ve been remiss in my postings so far in August. Most people are away on holidays now anyway, so perhaps it will be barely noticed.

In any case, I have many reviews of various events and locations I’ve attended lately, so expect a few posts to come.

I’ll start with my recent trip to Algonquin park over the August long weekend.

Nine of us went on this journey that lasted four days. We took only our canoes and our packs, and enough bare, dried out food to survive, and set out Friday evening.

The following is a summary of all the portaging and canoeing we did (ah, the numbers game) put together by our good friend Ilia (thank you!).

Day 1 (Aug 04) – Magnetawan Lake to Daisy Lake

Route Paddled: Magnetawan Lake (Access #3), Hambone Lake, Daisy Lake,
Departure Time: 7pm
Arrival at Campsite: 9pm
Distance Portaged: 135m + 55m + 420m = 610m
Distance total (aerial): 5.5km (that double portage makes it 6.5km)

Day 2 (Aug 05) – Daisy Lake to Misty Lake

Route Paddled: Daisy Lake, Petawawa River (West of Misty), Little Misty Lake, Misty Lake
Departure Time: 10:45am
Arrival at Campsite: 3pm
Distance Portaged: 135m + 450m + 935m = 1520m
Distance total (aerial): 17km

Day 3 (Aug 06) – Misty Lake to McIntosh Lake

Route Paddled: Misty Lake, Petawawa River (East of Misty), Mcintosh Creek, McIntosh Lake
Departure Time: 10:30am
Arrival at Campsite: 4pm
Distance Portaged: 850m + 155m + 195m + 160m + 80m + 200m + 745m + 510m = 2895m
Distance total (aerial): 19km

Day 4 (Aug 07) – McIntosh Lake to Magnetawan Lake

Route Paddled: McIntosh Lake, Timberwolf Lake, Misty Lake, Little Misty Lake, Petawawa River (West of Misty), Daisy Lake, Hambone Lake, Magnetawan Lake
Departure Time: 10am
Arrival at Exit: 6pm
Distance Portaged: 405m + 765m + 935m + 450m + 135m + 420m + 55m + 135m = 3300m
Distance total (aerial): 23km

Weights

Canoes: in the range of 45-55lbs each
Backpacks: ranging from 15-40 lb
Food Barrel: unknown; shrank daily

The trip was incredibly refreshing. Though it was often tough to keep rowing, I tried to focus on putting the paddle in the water just one more time, just one more time, and that’s what kept me going. You don’t focus on how you have to row for another three hours; you focus only on that next dip into the water.

It was beautiful, and serene, and loads of fun. We saw only one large animal; a moose right at the end of the trip. It must be quite used to people, as we came close and stayed a while as it drank from the lake and ate the talls weeds surrounding it.

All in all, a great trip, with lots of hard work and a great feeling of accomplishment at the end of it.

I will post some pictures later.

nyc blast

So, I’m back from New York. I didn’t post right away, because I needed a few days to let it all sink in first. Well, I also went camping promptly upon my return!

In any case, I’ve now formulated a few thoughts about the whole experience of that city, brief though it was.

New York City is huge. It’s heavy – massive – the skyline bears down on you as you move about the crowded streets. I could not believe the sheer amounts of people constantly moving throughout Times Square (although other areas of the city were much less crowded). Up on the 14th floor of the Random House building (I was there for a work meeting), I could look out across some of the city – what wasn’t blocked by even taller buildings surrounding the one I was in – and see miles and miles of high rises, many built with the same dark, stained stones/bricks.

I can’t quite describe how it all felt, seeing so many similar buildings. In Toronto, I suppose there is quite the variety of architectural stylings, but then I also suppose it didn’t build up as quickly as New York must have done, all in one go like that. It makes sense that there would be so much repetition, viewed in that light.

Ah, I think it comes out best like this: looking outward from wherever you stand in New York City, it feels like you are looking into mirrors reflecting mirrors. It’s that endless, that repetitive, and you feel that disoriented.

After a while looking up – trying to see a stretch of sky that could actually reveal a full cloud – became tiring, and I gave up attempting to assimilate the immensity of the place. Instead, I focused on the storefronts and the people – whatever was around me.

This was far more engaging and brought me more fully into the presence of the city and the people within. Although I found the people to very removed, probably overloaded with stimulus (the tourists like myself) or exhausted with the life there (the residents). Barely anyone made eye contact as they bustled through the crowds.

A walk through Central Park was a brief but welcome respite from the intensity of the cement world in which it is encased. Pretty, reminiscent of my experience of St. James park in London, I fully understood its significance within the NYC urban landscape – which is probably proportionate with the percentage of space it takes up on the island of Manhatten.

The whirlwind tour ended with dinner in 10×44, an interesting nook of a restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. Being in a new place made me bold and I ordered food I would never normally think of ordering: watermelon salad (two chunks of yellow and red watermelon with feta cheese and some tomatoes), and a lobster taco (salsa mixed with lobster and avocado with a soft shell). Both were delicious and I was all the more satisfied at having tried something new and actually liking it!

I had only one goal on my trip to New York this time. Fully aware of the lack of time I had on this particular trip to explore deserving landmarks as much as I would have liked, I focused on obtaining my first pairs of Fluevog shoes.

Check them out. I love them.

John Fluevog Choice Hi Meghans John Fluevog Teapot Chamomiles

So, overall, a very interesting experience. I’ll definitely go back to explore it fully.

new york, here i come!

I’m off to New York City today! I’ve never been… or at least, if I have, I was too young to remember it.

From one big city, to another: I wonder what it will be like? Two friends have been recently and they both said they felt much safer and more comfortable in Toronto than in New York: apparently the people there are really rude. Funny how that conflicts with the study done recently on most polite cities…

In any case, I will be staying in Hotel Casablanca, which sounds exciting. I’m also making it a mission of mine to visit the NYC John Fluevog store, and (less important) the Breakbeat Science store.

an anniversary of sorts

For me December 31st/January 1st isn’t the only start of a New Year. As time passes, I seem to have collected more and more such “new years”: school beginning in September; my birthday on October 5th; the typical New Year’s; school ending in April (or, previous to post-secondary, in June); the spring season; and, finally, the usual end-of-school trip I have been taking for the past four years.

My, that’s a lot of “New Years” to celebrate! Looking back, it doesn’t make sense to look at each event as such – it seems more accurate to label them simply as the normal, to-be-expected, initiators of change they really are.

In any case, two of the more major ones for me have now ended: the beginning and ending of school years. As a side-effect, so has the end of school year trip. And, finally, my first year of not being in school since I was oh, about three years old, has just come to a close.

Now that I reflect on all this, I realise just how significant my trip to Thailand was last year at the end of school. What better way to end such an era of my life (the first quarter of it, if I should live to the ripeness of 100, as is the plan), spent studying, than to be swept off to some remote land? It was probably the biggest learning experience of my life compacted into a six-week period that I’d ever experienced up until then: I learned the ways of the pan-Asian pacific, picked up on morsels of a new language I never dreamed of learning, observed the extreme contrasts caused by a sharp divide between rich and poor, learned a lot about how I operate when yanked from my comfort zone, and came to a conclusion about how and what I wanted to do for the next little while, at least. All the while adjusting to the intense heat and food I’m not used to, seeing incredible beaches and getting to drive a motorcycle, to boot!

The entirety of the trip cannot be conveyed in words. Even now, a year of much digestion and deliberation later, I am still unable to properly convey all the thoughts and meaning the trip had for me. It was the most intense experience of my life, and thus the things that happened are so deeply ingrained in me that even now, at times I feel like I just arrived back in the country yesterday. Except that now my tan has faded and I’m back to my usual pale white British complexion.

When I came back with my parents last June, it was time for the Graduation ceremony. Standing amongst my fellow students, staring around at all the familiar faces I had come to recognize over the past four years, I was fascinated by the deep lines now marking their faces; the bags clearly underlining their eyes. This was a much more subdued, grown-up, and dare I say abused group than had entered the program in 2001.

I wonder what I looked like to them… if the six weeks spent on the beaches, in the intense heat, developing the sort of glow I’ve never had, of not worrying too much about what I was going to do next, of enjoying the life of riches in a poor country, had smoothed out my features so that i didn’t look quite so haggard. Or if none of that really mattered because the stresses of years of school can never really be erased from a person’s face. It’s just a part of you that tags along into the next stages of your life.

A lot of reflection here at the closing of the first year of my life (at least the part that counts – the part I remember) spent outside of school. That doesn’t mean, however, that my education has stopped. Indeed, I’ve learned so much about life in the past twelve months, I couldn’t possibly say that being out of school has halted my education.