You Make Your Own Home

Us in front of Bang Rak District Office, Bangkok, Thailand. Photo by Piam. 

On Wednesday, we fly back to the UK after almost one full year of travel. The whole trip has gone by so quickly that the closest thing I can compare it to is how I felt about Christmas when I was a kid. After Halloween the trees and lights go up and there's so much build up that when the holiday comes it feels like it's going to last forever. But it doesn't. It's gone in a blink. It's gone so quickly that if you don't take regular time out to remind yourself that this is the thing you've been dreaming about and planning for, you might just miss it altogether.

In the last eleven+ months we've been to: Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Puerto Vallarta, Tepic, San Blas, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Ucluelet, Whistler, Calgary, Regina, Sydney, Melbourne, multiple stops along the Great Ocean Road, Tokyo, Osaka, Nara, Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, Palo Alto, Cha-am, Hua Hin, Chiang Mai and Bangkok. There are also probably dozens of other small stops we made - small old temple towns in Japan, mountain villages on the drive between Vancouver and Regina ... All these places, all of that distance and space and so much of it feels very much like gold dust slipping through my fingers.

The questions I get asked the most are: which places did you like the most and which places did you dislike the most. The politics of "oh, every place had its charm" aside, I definitely have answers to these questions - firm, emotional answers. Travel books like to make us think that we should fall in love with the adventure of every place, and I'm sure some people are able to do that, but I am opinionated. I know what I like and what I don't like and while I can definitely say I learned something from every where we visited, there are places that resonated with me so deeply they felt like home and other places that I felt like we were just trying to endure.

My favorite places were Laos and Japan. Laos because it was such a surprise. We landed in Vientiane expecting very little and ended up falling in love with our long, listless days of wandering the dusty streets, sharing the sidwalk with roosters (who loved to wake us up at 3 AM) and orange robed monks (who also liked to wake us up early with their chanting). It was beautiful and simple and so golden in my mind that I'm almost afraid that going back would ruin the memory.

I loved Japan for not letting me down. I had very high expectation of Japan, had been dreaming about it for years, and although it wasn't exactly as I'd imagined, it was better: the people were nicer, the cities more gleaming and surreal and the landscape more perfect.

My least favorite places were Vietnam and Mexico. Unlike with Laos, where I had no expectations, I landed in Hanoi with a whole set of ideas about what it would be like, mostly founded on my love of the Vietnamese food served up in a few restaurants in my hometown and an infatuation with a novel set there. Instead I found myself overwhelmed by cold temperatures, a heavy concrete grey and motorcycles - so many motorcycles that I felt like my head was perpetually buzzing. Culturally it was also a shock and the endless throngs of vendors selling all manner of tat were quite aggressive, often following us down the street, imploring us to "Buy something!". I'm quite certain that there's a lot more to Vietnam than I experienced, but I was quite pleased to fly out to sunny Palo Alto, with its clean air and pedestrian crossings.

I actually quite like Mexico but for the six weeks we were there, I stupidly booked us into a bungalow without air conditioning (in June and July!) or proper bug proofing. As a result, the time we spent there was without a doubt the most physically uncomfortable I have ever been in my life. Bug bites and jelly fish stings coupled with the most intense heat that I've ever experienced. More than anything, I feel like we survived our time in Mexico. It feels like an accomplishment in the way it is for people to go off into the woods for a weekend with nothing other than a rope and a knife. I will never be featured on Survivorman.

As we head back West to this place we both considered home at one time, it's a strange feeling. It doesn't feel so much like a homecoming but rather an opportunity to see people and get our affairs in order for the next big adventure. This year has taught me that I don't need a whole lot of material comforts to make me happy, I don't need a huge apartment or a big screen television and I don't need to own a stable of clothes. I think Dan and I are both ready to settle in somewhere for awhile, soak our feet and get comfortable watching the sun set from the same porch for more than a few weeks. The most surprising thing about that for me is that I don't mind too much where that porch is located.

I used to think that I had to move somewhere else to be happy. I guess this trip has made me realize that happiness is not a place, it's something that we are all responsible for bringing with us. And home is not a single location, but something that you create on the journey.

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Love Letter to Japan

Fuji-San

This past Autumn Dan and I were fortunate enough to spend almost two months in Japan. Dan's been there about five times before and although I'd never visited before, I've carried out a long lasting love affair with it in my head. Going into anything with high expectations is always risky but Japan was even better than I'd imagined.

The people were, almost without exception, incredibly polite and the kindness and welcome we experienced from many of the people we met there was a humbling and wonderful lesson on how to make strangers feel at ease. The landscape was stunning, the cities vibrant and all consuming and the contrast between the fast-paced modernity of urban life with the incense infused temples and shrines were a living demonstration of beautiful contradiction.

Since arriving in Bangkok last night, we've been following the news of the horrific earthquake and tsunami and have been consumed with thoughts for the people we met there and the ones we didn't. There are really no words.

Update: People from the UK, Canada and USA can find some good links directing them to where they can donate to disaster relief in Japan here

Osaka

Kyoto

Kyoto

Geishas
Stunning Autumn Leaves
Bridge - Kyoto
Class Photo
Kyoto
Palace Grounds - Osaka
Feeding Wild Deer - Nara









All photos by me (except the one with the deer - that was taken by Dan).

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Wintertime



I grew up in a place where winter was a long hibernation that stretched from the end of October until early May, where for months everyone prefaced most conversations with "wow! it's cold out there!" and where Jack Nicholson's decent into madness in The Shining is completely relatable because we've all experienced stretches of the sense of isolation that -40 C brings, where we've felt the crazy rushing in.

Since moving to the UK, I haven't really had a proper winter. The closest thing was a one week trip to Val D'Isere, France on a snowboarding trip in January 2010. This year has been particularly void of winter as I've mostly shuttled between different countries in Asia since October (I'm currently in Thailand, where it's well into the 30 degree C mark daily). Most of the time I don't miss winter, and my friends and family who are still caught in the deep freeze would probably laugh that I, one of the biggest complainers about winter, am now complaining about missing it.

I don't miss the -40 degree stretches but I do miss snow, particularly the dry, crunchy, glittery snow so common in Saskatchewan. I miss how quiet snow makes everything feel if you go out late at night when the streets are empty. I miss the blinding light of a snowy day in Saskatchewan: the bright blue sky, the sparkling snow, the sun bouncing off the snow making the world seem hyper-lit.

I love the video above and I want to know where this massive frozen lake is. Lovely.

And yes, I realize that is a study on the concept that the grass is always greener somewhere else. It's not lost on me.

Video found via Samimi-Extremie is Boss

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Not That Kind of Girl



I recently read the article Why I Left My Children by writer Rahna Reiko Rizzuto in Salon and it struck such a chord with me. Particularly these bits:
I never wanted to be a mother. 
I was afraid of being swallowed up, of being exhausted, of opening my eyes one day, 20 (or 30!) years after they were born, and realizing I had lost myself and my life was over ... My problem was not with my children, but with how we think about motherhood. About how a male full-time caretaker is a "saint," and how a female full-time caretaker is a "mother." It is an equation we do not question; in fact we insist on it. And we punish the very idea that there are other ways to be a mother.
From the time I was old enough to understand where babies came from and astute enough to appreciate the dynamics of caring for a child, I knew it wasn't for me: the lack of sleep, the inability think of yourself first (or sometimes even think) and the observation that having a child is more than something people do, it's who they are (and I don't mean this in a nasty way - it seems like an inevitable part of the job description). I generally like kids and have a fondness for a few in particular - my friend Jackie's little boy Hartley is definitely on my list of very special little humans, my nephew Seth is the perfect balance of adorable, clever and mischievous, and the kids of other friends like Jaime and Kulsoom's gentle little ginger haired boy Joe. But for all this, I have never had a moment where I've thought that motherhood is something I want to do.

It's funny how people react to this news. When I was a kid and a teenager, generally people told me that I would change my mind when I grew up. The responses I tend to get now are a little bit more subtle: some people are surprised, some people are ambivalent, a very few totally get it, but there are still a surprising number of people who just don't believe me. Like this lack of desire to procreate is just a problem and we need to diagnose it properly to find a cure: is it my relationship or my job? Maybe I just don't feel financially secure enough to have kids? Or my favorite: when the time is right, I'll know and it will magically happen.

I don't know if men who don't want kids get this same kind of reaction from people, but I suspect not. Actually, I suspect men rarely even get asked the question because it is assumed that with or without children, they are living a complete life. But so many people still equate motherhood with the ultimate fulfillment a woman could possibly experience - our bodies were designed to have babies and how could we possibly go through life without wanting to be a part of this glorious miracle? If you are a woman who doesn't want kids, there must be something wrong with you. Don't believe me? Just scan some of the comments on the Salon article - a shocking number of them express thorough disgust with Rizzuto, despite that she is still actively involved in her kids lives, despite that if you believe the article, her kids are happy and well cared for, despite that she gave custody to her husband - a man who always wanted kids.

Here's a sample:




From the vitriol in some of these comments you would think that she beat them or starved them before handing them off to child abusing strangers. Nope: she went to Japan for six months before moving into a house down the block from where they live with their father, she sees them whenever they want and, it sounds like they have found a non-traditional family model that works for everyone. Would a man writing the same article get this kind of reaction about the audacity of his ego?

I am happy for my friends and family who choose to have kids, despite the fact that I may not relate entirely to the decision. And yes, there are things I'll probably miss in my life because of this choice, but there are also things I will gain: travel, freedom, the ability to put my relationship with my partner first, a greater likelihood of financial security, the ability to sleep in or stay up late, time to read and write, the ability to work when I want to work without feeling guilty ... And I refuse to accept that these things are of lesser value than the sacred calling to motherhood. I'm tired of it being implied.

So that's it world. This is my declaration to you: I do not intend to have babies and it is not because I am damaged or selfish or deluded or deranged. It is highly unlikely that I'm going to change my mind on this and believe me, I take every precaution I can to ensure it doesn't happen. And I am not sad, or lonely and I am not worried about how I'm going to feel about it when I'm 70 years old and this decision is not the result of some horrible trauma I suffered during my childhood. Please save the disproportionate pity, incredulity and sometimes outrage for someone who truly deserves it.

I think Rizzuto made a difficult decision, one that was probably more painful because of the inevitability of running up against the underlying assumption that all women should feel a calling towards motherhood - she expresses more guilt in the article about her lack of calling than her decision to give up custody of her kids. I feel sad that despite the apparent health and happiness of her children, she still feels like "a cold bitch" and that sentiment is reinforced by hundreds of hateful anonymous trolls who only underline that ladies, we actually haven't come as far in our quest for equality as we like to think we have. And to some degree, our freedom to choose is only acceptable if we are making choices within the boundaries of the socially ascribed limitations of our gender.

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Friday Dance Party Featuring The Robot



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