It’s late. Through the ornate window grate I am given visual few clues to the time. The sun sets by early evening and the dim lights keep the stuccoed wall its permanent colour – salmon pink. All I have is the intermittent sounds of Marrakesh.
On the first night here I made a futile attempt to drown out the noise with ear buds and music. It was clear this would be a losing battle. I resigned myself to reframe the situation and listen to the music of the city. The instruments include mopeds, voices and language of many, cats, garbage men, calls to prayer, the opening of doors and the occasional unknown. The undistinguishable murmur of the Jemaa el-Fnna square and nearby streets full of shops provide background into the night. But these aren’t late night activities and soon are removed from the orchestra.
Tonight we start the song with a handful of mopeds and an animated discussion among friends. Perhaps sorting out plans for the night or next day at work? That’s the fun part – I get to fill in the blanks. The sounds only tease my brain, push it down the creative path. Arabic sounds extreme to my ears, either animated or aggressive,with little context to place it correctly in a category. Mopeds zoom away and the chatter quiets. The screeching of fighting cats and clipping of heals on the roadway take turns breaking the silence of the night.
Another verse comes – the garbage man. Each night the road is spotted with small bags of garbage, and each day we awake to a spotless street. This amazes me as the noise made sounds like creating a mess, not cleaning one. Glass smashes, plastic bottles are crinkled and the garbage is sorted into a wagon that ungracefully moves down the street. The essential sweeping is too soft to hear.
It’s too late for a call to prayer, which are a clear reminder we’re not in Kansas anymore. The call is rarely the same and here in Marrakesh sounds overly animated like a boisterous play-by-play sports announcer.
Tonight my friends add to the music of the night as they cheer watching Game 7 baseball (spoiler alert: Cubs win the World Series). They sit on the roof top patio and their trips down the metal stairs to use the loo mix with the common street noise of someone fumbling with a key to open a squeaky and loud metal door. Although I can’t spatially place the metal noise I recgonize not everyone is coming in to join us.
Ultimately, the sounds of the city do as intended and send me to sleep.
The novel is narrated by the Don Tillman, an “oddly charming and socially challenged genetics professor on an unusual quest: to find out if he is capable of true love.” Professor Tillman is an eccentric fellow whose life is guided by extreme logic and structure. His world is thrown into upheaval by Rosie – a feisty women on her own quest to find her biological father.
Rosie Project is ranked as a re-read because:
- it’s a feel good read – light-hearted and entertaining. It will have you smiling at the oddities of human nature.
- the story has that everyday vibe to it. You belive that Don and Rosie could be real people meeting and getting to know each other.
- in an approachable and entertaining way it highlights where logic and emotions conflict. We can all appreciate why people, and love, are complicated.
What is love? The crux of the story, human relations and that funny thing we call love, are at the forefront of my mind these days. Thus, the story hit a chord with me and reminded me that:
- We don’t know what we want – As part of Don’s quest (aka the Wife Project) he develops a survey to find a compatible partner. As he spends and enjoys his time with Rosie, he comes to realize the flaw in this approach: “it dawned on me that I had not designed the questionnaire to find a woman I could accept, but to find someone who might accept me … Claudia had told me I was being too picky but Rosie has demonstrated in New York that my assessment of what would make me happy was totally incorrect” (pg 202)
- If you really love someone, you have to be prepared to accept them as they are – We’ve all heard this before, however it’s far easier to apply.
” ‘Don. I’m impressed, but …. changing to meet someone else’s expectations may not be a good idea. You may end up resenting it.’
I didn’t think this was likely. I was learning some new protocols [social interaction], that was all.
‘If you really love someone,’ Claudia continued, ‘you have to be prepared to accept them as they are. Maybe you hope that one day they get the wake-up call and make the changes for their own reasons’ ” (pg 206)
- Love is not logical – “3. An inability (or reduced ability) to empathise is not the same as an inability to love. Love is a powerful feeling for another person, often defying logic.
4. Rosie had failed numerous criteria on the Wife Project, including the critical smoking question. My feelings for her could not be explained by logic. I did not care about Meryl Streep. But I was in love with Rosie” (pg 236)
Just because the blog has been quiet doesn’t mean that life has! Before heading off on another adventure it seemed appropriate to take stock of what’s happened since the last post in 2012. Easier said than done! Here’s the sample platter. Retroactively posting confirms to you the lense you saw places in and what imprinted on your memory.
- Prince Edward Island – Amazing summer bike ride from tip-to-tip on the former railway corridor, now recreational trail – Confederation Trail. Beautiful way to see the province while keeping healthy. Experiences the province’s wonderful bed & breakfasts’ and small town restaurants.
- San Francisco – Lovely place to visit in the spring as the snow melts at home. I got a wicked sunburn to prove it. Yes, it is hilly. Golden Gate Park (not near the bridge) offered a great day with a diverse schedule: 420 celebration, Easter celebrations with Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (complete with a Jesus look alike contest), and outdoor roller skating.
- Iceland – Odd choice for a Canadian winter getaway. But, totally worth it! Wonderful place for a novice traveller as they make it easy to explore. Reykjavik and area kept me busy and entertained. Take full advantage of all the wonderful geothermal heated pools!
- Las Vegas – A place of gluttony and excess, Vegas isn’t my top pick. However, Rollercon only happens in Vegas.The size of this roller derby convention makes the trip worthwhile! Well organized Rollercon offers amazing learning from top notch players and coaches that you simply could not get otherwise! Highlight was getting to play on a banked track.
- Seattle – How on earth has this place not fallen into the ocean? It’s amazing how humans are so stubborn. Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum is totally underrated and worth a full afternoon’s visit. The full fields of tulips north of the city were gorgeous.
- Chicago & Area – Hiking in Starved Rock State Park in jeans in an exceptionally warm spring weekend. Wonderful place known for its waterfalls, although disappointed at the random garbage people chose to leave lying around. Nobody likes picking up used waterlogged diapers along the path.
- Vancouver Island – Canada’s west coast earns is reputation for beauty and won’t disappoint! Especially when blessed with sunny days. A paddle boarding adventure off of Gabriola Island was stellar as I was witness to seals and a bald eagle.
Thanks to all those friends who were a part of these adventures!
The past few years have seen a number of books being read too! I’m picking “one” to recommend: Maddaddam Trilogy (Orxy & Crake, Year of the Flood and Maddaddam) by Margaret Atwood. Atwood is a well known and very accomplished Canadian author that I’d never had the chance to read. At the recommendation of a friend I took on this trilogy. Not shockingly the post-apocalyptic world is less than ideal and thus the books aren’t a lighthearted read. Rather they’re thought provoking and offer us a reflection on the path we may be leading ourselves down. I’d encourage the trilogy as a worthy investment of time on a well crafted story
After a year of exploring five continents (a world smorgasbord) I’m aboard a plane heading to Canada. With my year of globetrotting coming to a close I find myself reflecting on the year gone by. I know how fortunate I am to have had (and taken) the opportunity to travel for an extended period of time – I consciously acknowledged this fact every day I was gone. No doubt I’ve been to more places in a year than many people will go in their lives – crazy! In thinking back of all the places I’ve been, the things I’ve seen and done, and the people I’ve met, it is easy for me to be overwhelmed. In an attempt to keep it simple (and thus blog length) I’ve boiled enough thoughts and reflections to fill a novel (anyone interested?) down to the top five lessons learned (or reconfirmed).
- People matter – This is simply intrinsic to my being, however travelling has made me appreciate how much everyone matters and the value in treating all people with respect. It is an on-going effort to live everyday with this in mind, but it’s well worth it! The people I’ve met and the friendships I’ve gained are the jewel in the crown of my trip.
- Appreciate what you have – It’s easy for me to see that as a middle class Canadian I have a good life. My basic needs are easily meet in a stable country where equality exists (in a reasonable form) and I am capable and free to live a life of my choosing. The trouble is that sometimes I forget this – travel is a helpful reminder. I meet someone who would use the phrase ‘it’s a first world problem’ to refer to those everyday details we get caught up in but do not really matter in the grand scheme of things. I most definitely want to spend less time and energy creating or dealing with ‘first world problems’ – in other words ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’.
- Optimism, don’t leave home without it! – At some point things will go wrong, but how you deal with it makes a big difference towards how it will be resolved. While it’s not always easy to be positive, it’s certainly more likely to help than being negative. I’m amazed by how much of an impact is made by simply changing one’s perspective.
- Learn – Everyday is a lesson and it’s up to you to decide if you’re willing to learn and ready to accept change.
- Your choices are your life – Everyone has challenges in life and how you deal with these challenges forms the person you are and the life you lead. The only consistent in your life is you – but that does not mean you are the only one that matters. You are the one to be accountable for your choices (it is not other people’s fault) and to live your life. At the end of it all, I want to be someone who can look back and be proud of the life I lead and work every day to be the best me I can be.
It is an odd feeling to finally be heading back. A year is simultaneous a long time and a short time. Somethings will be exactly as I left them, whereas others will have changed – a little, maybe even a lot. I’m going in with eyes and heart open, knowing that I’m different, the life I left no longer exists and returning will be an adjustment. While the past is a valuable tool, and makes me who I am today, it’s not where living happens. Each day I will work to remember the lessons of my travels. I’m truly excited for the next chapter of life for if my time away has taught me anything it is that accepting the unknown and embracing change are what living is really all about. We are all a work in progress.
Note: This entry was predominately written on Day 341 while flying from LAX to YYZ. It is very much a reflection of my state of mind/heart at that time. While that day bookends my time abroad it is not the end of my adventure. I am blessed to be spending this summer exploring Canada ….thus the adventure and the blog will continue.
My trip to Cambodia was short, somewhat unplanned but well worth the effort. The visit let me have one last fruitful adventure before leaving SE Asia, an adventure that included:
- A transit challenge in crossing into Cambodia by land;
- A snapshot of life in Cambodia through a day spent exploring Siem Reap;
- A visit to the famed Ankor War by bike; and
- A fish massage!
I’d definitely look to return to Cambodia for a more thorough exploration in the future, likely with its neighbour Laos. The food was tasty and the people kind.
As this is my final SE Asia blog entry I feel compelled to put some words to a major part of the Asian experience – the constant offering of services and goods for sale. I’m motivated by a t-shirt someone was wearing in the airport that read “No I Don’t Want A F*?K’N Tuk-Tuk, Suit or Massage Thank You Very Much’. I know this is meant to be a humorous shirt, but I just see the ignorance in it. I can appreciate that the constant “Hello Madam, you buy something”, “Just look”, “Tuk-tuk sir” can be annoying, grading and overwhelming. As Westerners we’re not used to or comfortable with the constant retail attention – yet we want to “have our cake and eat it too”. At some level we choose to travel SE Asia because it is inexpensive in every aspect of travel (food, accommodations, transportation, drinking, and clothing) – our money goes further here. If we’re going to reap the benefits of low costs it shouldn’t be at the cost of respecting people. Like each of us, people here need earn a living and their motives aren’t to annoy. Every time I’m approached to buy I try to simply see it as a constant reminder of how fortunate I am that I can buy, that I have the privilege to be able to travel and that a smile and polite response is the least I can do. Believe me, on long hot days in busy places it takes a lot to keep up this approach – I certainly have failed on occasion. While a smile is the least I can do the most I can do is pay full asking price, but then I’d miss out on the ‘bargaining’ side of the experience.
With three-ish weeks in Thailand it’s time to say farewell. Bright and early this morning I took a taxi to the Bangkok airport. I leave with a full heart and good spirits as I had a fabulous last evening in the city trying to use my lacklustre bargaining skills to grab some new duds for Austraila and enjoying pad thai and a foot massage – two things forever associated in my mind with my Thailand trip. It would have been prefect had I managed to find a coconut shake, rather than settle for tasty sweet rice and mango. I certainly enjoyed my time in Thailand, will look to come back and will have fond memories of my time here, much of that due to sharing it with TJ. While we will hit some tourist areas, I am glad we did try to branch out from strictly a ‘Lonely Planet’ holiday. Thailand and its people provided the type of exploration I was looking for at this stage of my journey – relaxed, easy, inexpensive and entertaining. TJ has been back in cold Canada for a few days and I’ll let her have the more long winded last word (only minor edits to make up for her jet lag). Here’s TJ’s thought on Thailand:
“I must couch my Thailand thoughts with the caveat that I am not an experienced traveller not having left North America in the last decade. However, upon arrival in Thailand I felt instantly comfortable and welcome. There is an energy in the country that comes from having so many people spending time outside that I found exciting. Bangkok is a modern city with easy transit and lots to explore. Chang Mai gives one an opportunity to explore a thai city in a more relaxed atmosphere. Koh Tao is an amazing island. I will definitely return for more diving and would recommend it to anyone wanting to do the same. Cha-am is great for a relaxing beach portion of any trip.
Our time spent in Thailand was done at a relaxed pace with most adventures occurring in the daytime and early evening. The food in Thailand is the best I have experienced in any of my travels. Don’t let the Papaya salad fool you it is one of the spiciest dishes in the region. Thai beer is mainly light lagers (Singh and Chang) with one light brown ale in beer Lao. Accommodation varies offering something for every price range. I was impressed with the cleanliness and access to western toilets (make sure you pack toilet paper). (Note: I actually prefer squat toilets but really as long as it’s clean I am happy! Squats use less water and it’s just your shoes that have potential for filth not your delicate bottom.)
Temples (aka Wats) abound and ranch from strikingly beautiful to take your breathe away amazing. Thai massage is readily available on nearly every corner and should be enjoyed as much as possible.
While Thailand is a major commerce hub in Asia and has several modern cities there are still areas that hardly look touched by development. If you plan to come you need to make a conscious choice about how you want to experience the country visiting traditional tourist focused areas or exploring the areas frequented by locals. We chose the later and it made for a very relaxing not overly commercialized holiday.
The country is wrought contradictions. The locals are happy and smiling and yet it is easy to get cheated out of a few hundred baht for transportation. Beer is sold at all stores everywhere. But in the formal super markets and the omnipresent 7-11 you can’t buy any from 2-5 pm. They are obsessed with hotdogs of all shapes and sizes. Animals are omnipresent with feral dogs and loosely owned cats lounging everywhere. I even had the joy of eating lunch in a restaurant with over a dozen cats and kittens running around with a rooster hanging out at the next table.
If you are open to a relaxed holiday with good food, cheap beer, and amazing adventures then Thailand is for you.”
It’s midnight (well, technically it’s now 1:04am) here in Thailand and I’m exactly where I need to be to start another year. I’m not “partying like it is 1999” but embracing life in its simple moments and appreciating that I get to share the moments with someone. From the balcony of the hotel we’re surrounded by New Year’s festivity – the night is alive with celebration. It is amazing the beauty of such uncoordinated celebration – we eagerly await the sounds and colors of fireworks, location unknown. Like slow-moving stars paper lanterns are sent adrift, up into the sky to flow with the wind away into the night. It’s far more magical than any fancy fireworks display I’ve seen at home. This is one of the moments of my journey that are catalogued as a ‘snapshot’ in my mind, those special moments that digital pictures can’t capture. Those moments that I’ll call upon in the future when I needed to be grounded, to be reminded what life is all about.
As the year rounds out I am with the masses as I reflect back on 2011 and look onwards to 2012. I’m nothing but amazed at life’s path in 2011 – it makes 2010 truly seem like the other life that it was. In 2011 I’ve become much more aware and appreciative of how fortunate I am for all the people in my life (new and old) and all the opportunities and experiences I’m afforded. Being able to travel the world truly is just one gift of many (health, family, citizenship, etc) that I cherish and will take with me as life moves forward. I eagerly await 2012 to see what’s next – to embrace the change that’s ever present.
Unlike the masses though I won’t be making any special New Year’s resolutions rather I will continue with my daily resolution – to wake up with the mindset that every day is a new and special day, one that I can appreciate for what it is irrelevant of what that day may hold.
As the clock turns midnight around the world I send out my appreciation to everyone in my life, frankly everyone in the world – thank you for letting me be a part of it. Enjoy the celebration and know that the best is yet to come!