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The World is My Home.

By | 2011, Europe | No Comments

I am back in Canada, back “home.”  But what is home?

I used to talk and dream about going to Europe, going to the Colosseum, the Louvre, the Alps; I wanted to see the fashion and eat the food, I wanted to experience Europe. But it was always this idea; Europe was this far away place that, despite how amazing it seemed, was far away and not very relevant to the world that I live in here in North America.

Then it was no longer a “one day I’ll do go there and do this,” because I went to Europe and I did all of the things that I dreamed about, and so much more. This in itself was amazing; so few people have done what I have done, and even fewer in the context that i have done it –traveling with my classmates and professors and learning about history in the very place where that history took place. This was a once in a lifetime experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life. But the one thing that this trip has done for me –and my previous trip to Asia did the same thing– is make these places real to me. Europe is no longer this far off place that I may or may not ever go to, it is very real, with real people and real thoughts and traditions and cultures. I can put images and faces and names to what before had only been vague concepts. I can now not only see myself going back, I can see myself living there. The world is so much bigger, yet at the same time so much smaller than it was before.

So I thank you, Europe and everyone who I met there and everyone who went there with me. It is because of you that my horizons are expanded while my world has been shrunk. People may say that the world is their oyster, but something much more important becomes truer for me the more I travel: for me, the world is my home.



Venice: At a Crossroads

By | 2011, Europe | No Comments

Oh Venice, where are you going?

You were once known for your wealth and status, tall in stature and wide in girth for all the world to see. Now people talk as if you are already in the ground, a dead man walking.

Will you submit to this prophesy of doom, fulfilling these ill-spoken words? Or will you try to fight back, even if it means leaning on the crutch of tourism for support?

Those who were once most loyal to you are leaving, disillusioned by the thought of facing the flocks of people drawn to masks and boat rides. What will hold you together now?

Dear Venice, so full of mystery, brimming with history, what is your wish? Do you want to fight against the rising tides, even at the risk of losing everything you once held dear?

Or do you desire to write your last will and testament, wishing only to be at rest beneath the ever-breaking waves and shifting sand?

If you could speak, what would you say?


The Creative Soul

By | 2011, Europe | No Comments

I believe that creativity spurs creativity. One of the reasons I love art is because it stirs something within you; not only an emotional response to the piece but something that goes beyond that, to the place where you are inspired to create your own. I feel that the best art is this kind, when you are in awe yet inspired. This response takes on different forms; whether you want to take a bit of Park Guell’s mosaics and incorporate that into your own home, or are so inspired by Michelangelo’s David that you write a piece of poetry in response, it would seem that art begets art. We are designed to create, and when we are inspired by a piece of art, the result is more creativity.
I think that this is part of why cities such as Florence draw so many people. This place was the heart of the Renaissance -a “rebirth” of creativity – and today when you visit there is evidence of this everywhere. Not only are there historical art pieces -architecture, paintings, sculptures- but everywhere you go there are street artists and musicians creating art. Art draws the artist within people, awakening creativity and bringing it to the the surface. In whatever form it may take, we all have creative souls.



By | 2010, Asia | No Comments

Here I am, at five in the morning, awake.

Just one of the many little bonuses to a twelve hour time difference is that you get to be awake at unreasonable hours of the morning, and because there is nothing else to do, decide to write your final blog. So here I am writing my final blog in the dark, because the sun does not rise in Canada until 7:30 –a completely unreasonable hour for the sun to come up if you ask me.

Anyway, yes. Final blog. Asia. Because I am back from the other side of the world of course everyone I meet is going to be like “Hey! How was Asia?”and of course I will reply that it was awesome, unforgetable, a wonderful experience, because there is nothing else I can say in a short two second blurb that will sum up everything that I have experienced on this trip. So I have to write this blog about my time in Asia…  The one thing I have learned that I have to do is to choose treasures, little jewels of the trip that I pick out and highlight, and hold up to the light so I can show whomever wants to know what a small part of my time in Asia was like. They do not necessarily have to be perfectly cut and polished pieces, but can be rougher, more uncomfortable ones that are not always seen for the value they have.

One of those pieces is the realization that I am now awake, aware and uncomfortable. I know that this is a good thing, but that recognition does not make it easier to live with.  I am aware of and have met people who believe just as –if not more– sincerely in their God than I do in mine, and it makes me uncomfortable. I am conscious of the fact that items I consider to be really cheap and inexpensive will feed the seller’s family for a month, and it makes me uncomfortable. I know that there are native people groups that are taken advantage of and marginalized by their governments, and I am uncomfortable.

As long as I talk about these things I will not forget, I will not become complacent, content in my own world and forgetful of theirs.

I am awake, aware, and uncomfortable; I hope I stay this way.


Why Wai?

By | 2010, Asia | No Comments

“Wai: The Thai greeting referred to as the wai consists of a slight bow, with the palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion.”

The wai is a huge thing in Thailand.  You do it to elders, people who are richer than you, who have better (higher status) jobs than you, to people you want to honour.  You do it when you are introduced, say goodbye, or meet randomly in an elevator. You do it when you receive a gift, to the teacher at the start of a class, to the shopkeeper you are about to barter with. You always do it to monks.  As I said, the wai is a big thing in Thailand.

I am for the most part a fan of the wai. I notice a difference when I go into a store and honor the old shopkeeper by waiing her; all of a sudden I move from an ignorant tourist to someone who is making some sort of effort to meet the people in their culture and traditions, I make a connection.  There is now an air of familiarity between us despite the language barrier and everything else that comes in between, all because of this simple gesture.  It is because of this that I love the wai.

But the wai is also one of the things that keeps Thailand as a hierarchical focused country, it is a source of division.  The minute you meet someone you are instantly judging them, trying to figure out who should wai first, you or them.  I have learned that besides age, the main factor that comes into this decision is wealth; how rich you are in comparison to the other person determines your social status.  And the thing is, if you make a mistake and do not wai someone who is “above” you, you lose face.  So while there is this wonderful tradition here of honouring and respecting your elders, there  is also the belief that those who are richer than  you command greater respect, which I feel causes a greater division between the rich and poor social classes.

How can this be reconciled? How can the tension I feel about this defining action of Thailand be resolved? Can it? So much to think about.


Traveler or Tourist, Pilgrim or Passing by?

By | 2010, Asia | No Comments

While staying  here in Malaysia, I have been wrestling with this whole idea of being a pilgrim, a traveler, of being on a journey, instead of just being a tourist.  Just after we left school my lovely friend Nicola sent me a note, which included a challenge to seek to be a pilgrim rather than a tourist.  It talked about how western notions of tourism are destructive by assuming that all places are interchangeable, and  where the tourist hollows over a place, a pilgrim hallows it, making it holy. But what does this mean, really?

To begin, I did not really pay attention to what the difference was between a tourist and a traveler was until a few days ago, when we went on a bus tour to a Putra Mosque and then on to the Batu Caves.  These historic caves are beautiful but highly commercialized, a big tourist attraction.  While climbing the 272 steps up to the caves and exploring them was wonderful, realizing that the majority of the people we saw that day were western and that the the Batu Caves “museum” and ethnic show were huge tourist traps was not.  Most of the time on this trip we have been travelers, exploring where we want while trying to discover the “real Philippines” and “real Malaysia;” but that day we were tourists, and I did not like the feeling.  The problem I am now having is identifying why.  You see, tourism is Malaysia’s second largest source of income, and the Batu Caves is a big attraction.  Not only would we take away earnings, it would also suck to go all the way to Malaysia and not experience the Caves just because it had become a “tourist trap.” But I think the difference is in the mindset that you go with.

I want to try to experience touristy places with a view that looks beyond the expensive souvenirs and gaudiness, to try and see what made that space so special to begin with.  The Batu Caves are a sacred place for the Hindus, and have been for years. There is a history and a legacy there, and that has not changed because you can now buy mini golden statues or pay money to hold snakes and other reptiles.  While these kinds of places may seem pretty hollow, on my journey I will do my best to make them hallow, sacred and holy; I will try to be a pilgrim.



By | 2010, Asia | One Comment

Well, my first blog entry:  my first country on this trip, my first week,  my experiences, and only 200 words.

There is so much to take in here, culturally, academically, personally, and spiritually.  All of my preconcieved notions of how I have defined the Philippines have either been enforced, reconstructed, or completely turned on its head-mostly the latter two.  It is one thing to hear and learn about a country that is totally removed from your own (on the other side of the world, no less!!) and another to submerge yourself in that country’s culture, learning through experience and interaction with it.  Trying to describe Filipino culture is like trying to untangle this knot of many different strings, so knotted and tangled, yet each a different colour, completely unique.  It can be very overwhelming at times, trying to grasp and internalize what is going on around you, but wondering if you ever really can. You can only grab at a few strings, hoping to hold on.  There are some aspects of life that appear to be straight on and simple, and others that you just try to keep up and not get lost in the dust.

Take the street traffic, for example.   There is a whole different mindset that you have to take on when driving down Filipino roads; you have to find the calm in the chaos, the pattern in the abstract art. Is it there? There is a kind of rhythm to the way that people drive and interact with other drivers.  Honking and beeping takes on a whole different meaning, the rules of the road have changed.  There are jeepneys, trikes, bikes, buses and cars. If you are walking, only a few vehicles will slow down for you, let alone stop.  It seems to be a gutsy yet very laid back way of driving, I cannot understand it, yet alone be able to describe it adequately. It just is.

This is one small piece of thread that I have grasped, I only hope that I have a good grip.