My Travel ABC

Franz Josef Glacier, NZ (film scan)

Franz Josef Glacier, NZ (film scan)

I was tagged by Zhu!

A: Age you went on your first international trip: 2 years old, when my family moved to Canada. On my own, 19, overland to L.A. via ridesharing, then Australia and onwards. I returned for a few weeks two years later, then was abroad for another two in a row.

B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where: I used to drink really dark English ale, the darker the better. Newcastle Brown sort of dark. But then I discovered the local versions of the wheat/white beers like Hoegaarden from The Netherlands and Germany’s Hefeweisen. Belgium has witbier. I like the fruity, summer beers — more refreshing.

draught sampler, Beer Bistro (Toronto)

draught sampler, Beer Bistro (Toronto)

C: Cuisine (favorite): It’s probably a tie between Thai and Indian, but I love sushi, too.

D: Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why: Favourite — I am pretty fond of Switzerland, visually and gastronomically. Say what you will, the whole country is one big postcard. You could say the same for New Zealand, too, although they have more variety of climate. Least favourite — ?

Gandria on Lake Lugano, Switzerland

Gandria on Lake Lugano, Switzerland

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”: Everyone knows about Oktoberfest, but “Silvester” (New Year) in Germany is pretty crazy! Especially along the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, the city’s red light district. But if you’re at all spooked by large-scale fireworks, I highly recommend you do not go.

F: Favorite mode of transportation: I love to mix my modes of transportation — too long on anything makes me restless. I never get motion sickness, which helps, so bus, train, boat, motorcycle, taxi, camel, anything goes. I’ve gone horseback riding a bunch of times, but I’m a little scared of horses.

G: Greatest feeling while traveling: when people make an assumption about where I’m from and by how I look, and I completely shock them when I open my mouth and speak. Canada is an immigrant country, and many people either forget that or simply aren’t aware. I believe I’m a good ambassador for Canada, however, and am always looking for opportunities to up-end stereotypes and racial biases.

H: Hottest place you’ve traveled to: for both dry heat and humid heat, Australia. I prefer dry heat, though, six months in the tropical north of Queensland sapped my energy.

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where: I don’t actually like service, I am a self-serve sort of person. I’ve had good service everywhere, maybe it’s because people who look like me are usually the ones serving.

South Simcoe Railway (Ontario)

middle of… (South Simcoe Railway, Ontario)

J: Journey that took the longest: it probably was not the longest single trip, but fourth-class rail in Thailand from the Malaysian border to Bangkok was overnight and took FOREVER. There is no guaranteed seating, and the toilet is literally a hole in the train floor. There was lots of mekong whiskey-fuelled drunken singing, chickens, and taking turns sleeping and standing because there were more people than seats most of the time. I don’t think fourth-class rail even exists anymore on Thai trains?

K: Keepsake from your travels: I steal airline blankets, ssshhhhh… (I use them for picnics and outdoor shoots!) Pictures are my only keepsake, and even then I have big gaping holes of time with no photos at all because I didn’t own a camera. I try and find local music to bring home, too, CDs with covers I can’t read. Music is universal.

L: Let-down sight, why and where: I remember seeing the Sydney Opera House for the first time. It was smaller than I’d expected (see how postcards can be so distorted?), and the sails didn’t look white to me. It’s the most photographed thing in the harbour, but I lost interest right away.

M: Moment where you fell in love with travel: I can’t remember a time when I chose to stay at home when I had the means (and even times when I didn’t), so I would say always.

Swiss Guard at the Vatican

Swiss Guard at the Vatican

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in: hard to say, but the best hotel BED I’ve ever experienced was a weekend at the Grand Hyatt New York, at Grand Central Station. It was like sleeping on a cloud. I wanted to take that bed home with me!

O: Obsession—what are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling?: Food, street scenes (when I’m feeling brave), children and the elderly.

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where?: I’m nearly at the end of my fourth passport (since 18), and I don’t know if I can count them all. Some countries I’ve been to five times (Germany), four times (Netherlands), lots of transit-type trips, and one trip in 2003 involved 8 different airports around Europe.

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where: I was travelling with this English bloke north through Australia, and he managed to convince me to detour with him to find The Pub With No Beer. It was literally in the middle of nowhere (like many things in Australia are), and it took ages to get there. I probably shouldn’t tell you this but The Pub With No Beer is a lie: they have beer.

S: Splurge; something you have no problem forking over money for while traveling: the most amount of money I’ve spent at any one time on goods was in 2007 when I had two leather jackets custom made in Fez, Morocco.

T: Touristy thing you’ve done: dress up in traditional clothing and pose for a cheesy photo, in Volendam:

a German, a Canadian, a Dutchie, and an Englishwoman walk into a bar... (Volendam, NL)

with friends in Volendam, NL (click on the pic for notes in Flickr)

U: Unforgettable travel memory: some near-death experiences involving the ocean (before I taught myself how to tread water), river surfing on the Kawarau River in Queenstown, NZ, on a ferry boat racing to Mersing (Malaysia) because there was a man on board bleeding to death who needed to get to the hospital, the shared taxi racing to Malaka for Chinese New Year (we all thought we would perish), and other adrenaline-fuelled events like bungy jumping over the rainforest in Australia. I have a pretty good memory for moments where I felt like I was in danger!

[video link]

V: Visas, how many and for where?: with a Canadian passport there aren’t many places that require visas, but my old passports have visas from Thailand, Australia, and other places. The most colourful one is from Thailand.

W: Wine, best glass of wine while traveling and where?: I don’t drink wine anymore, but I still love sangria, especially homemade with Santa Rita merlot (from Chile).

X: eXcellent view and from where?: the views from my former office on the Sunshine Coast are pretty spectacular. Actually, much of British Columbia is pretty amazing.

Lower Joffre Lake

Lower Joffre Lake, BC (film scan)

Y: Years spent traveling?: After moving to Canada, I travelled with my parents to the Philippines once but mostly regular trips to the USA. I’ve been travelling solo since I was 18. I’ve only travelled with a companion internationally on three occasions in 21+ years (Stuart, Cetin, and Tyrone).

Z: Zealous sports fans and where?: If you’re at all familiar with the sectarianism in Glasgow (Celtics vs. Rangers football clubs), it’s only a little less intense in Edinburgh, where I sat in the Protestant section wearing the “wrong” colour, i.e., something that had a bit of green on it. (Protestant colours are mostly blue and also orange.) They asked me to take off my shirt but I turned it inside-out instead.

Photography Poll: Which Eye Do You View With?

Flight Deck's loo

I didn’t notice this until Tuulikki brought it up more than two years ago (click on the pic for Flickr comments), but I use my left eye exclusively at the viewfinder. And, come to think of it, it is the first eye that opens in the morning. The first thing I do to wake up is to read info on my iPod Touch (after the cats walk over me and poke me to feed them), and I still only use my left eye! My right eye is shut tight, and this is involuntarily. I thought about it this morning when I noticed that I unconsciously kept my right eye closed until I went to exit my bed.

I wonder if it’s because my brain knows that my right eye has poorer vision than left, so it sends a motor signal to leave it at rest for as long as possible? Is one part of my brain so dominant over the other that it can’t manage both eyes until the whole noggin wakes up? I have no idea.

Anyway, I’m curious to know whether my particular eye/hand coordination is common. I use my left eye, but I’m mostly right-handed with some ambidexterity. From observing other people, this is a rarer combination than I thought, but maybe it’s a perception.

When using a camera's viewfinder, which combination of eye/hand coordination describes you best?

Poll: Who Should Pay On The First Date?


Last night I got into a rather heated debate with a friend about who pays for dinner on the first date. I will hold off on stating our opinions so as not to influence this poll in any way (until later!), but I think my close(r) friends would easily be able to guess what I said…

Anyway, my friend are I were completely divided over who should pay for the first date, so I put forth the question to people at work today… the selection zone was anyone who walked near the printer closest to me, haha! The dating question started another debate but I don’t think I’ll be polling THAT one… besides, most of the people I work with have been married or in a relationship so long they’ve totally forgotten who paid what and when.

Since this is a hypothetical situation, let’s assume a few things so it’s easier to answer (or not, we’ll see):

  1. It’s a date between a man and a woman (it was a gender debate, sorry to exclude anyone) who are romantic interests
  2. The date was arranged mutually, there was no official “date asker” or discussion about the tab/bill
  3. This is a FIRST date, with no discussion of a second date
  4. This is a blind date, i.e., first meeting for both people
  5. Both people are currently employed
  6. It’s a dinner date, but not fancier than business casual

I’ve answered similar polls, and there are a bunch I could link to, but I want to hear your answers first. I’ve randomized the possible choices to avoid bias, and I’m leaving this poll open for 30 days. I’m really curious about this one! Feel free to write a comment — the poll is anonymous, anyway. Most people just vote.

who should pay on the first date?

(By the way, the photo wasn’t from a date, it was just a random sushi meal with a friend. Mobile phone pic from 2006.)

Video for today: ABBA’s “Money Money Money”

Were You Read To As A Child?

Michael reading a couple of books to me

I was listening to a CBC Radio program today where people called in to discuss how they were introduced to books as children and which books got them hooked on reading. In the course of the discussion it struck me that parents reading to children seemed very much a Western, Developed World activity. The first time I’d ever seen this was in a Disney movie or on North American television, because it certainly didn’t happen at home.

All I can remember about reading was that we learned it in school, not from our parents. This isn’t a criticism of my parents, though, I’m old enough now to comprehend the economic realities of immigration and generational differences in raising children. My parents were constantly working — they had multiple jobs when I was growing up and we were mostly latchkey kids. If there was a parent at home we had to tiptoe around the house because that parent was busy sleeping between shifts. It was expected that we would learn how to read and enjoy books regardless of whether we were read to or not, but it became an individual rather than a shared activity.

The three of us read books voraciously (we even competed with each other in speed-reading), but it was mostly because it was a) free (hooray for public libraries!), and b) something we could do on our own. None of us attended camp or were enrolled in any extracurricular learning or sports activities; we just didn’t have the money. I’ve mentioned before that libraries saved our childhoods — they really did! In the summertime we practically lived in the Winnipeg Public Libraries.

I can remember our parents reading out loud from devotionals and the Bible, but casting my mind way back to childhood digs up nothing read for “fun” (read: secular). When I babysat other people’s kids in high school it was assumed that I would read them bedtime stories, and we’ve read books to the five Ms since they were small and they love it, but it’s definitely not something we grew up with.

Was this a typical immigrant-kid-from-Developing-World experience? Maybe the kids getting read to were less of a majority than I perceived. That’s what I’d like to find out, but since most of the readers here are the silent kind I’m going to do it non-scientifically by just asking yes or no and leaving any additional information up to you to comment on.

Screen shot 2015-03-31 at 11.08.36 PM

Do you remember your favourite childhood books? Have you held onto them? (I loved the Heidi stories, they probably influenced my two trips to Switzerland. Asterix and Obelix. Nancy Drew. Sam Campbell’s A Tippy Canoe and Canada Too series. But I don’t have any of them now…)

25 Things You Never Knew About Me


Beano was tagged by Krisanne in Facebook, but he couldn’t come up with 25 things that humans would find interesting. So here is my first meme of 2009. I think some people would know some of these things, but I don’t think any one person would know all of these things.

  1. I once had a job in Australia pretending to buy product from an Irish guy selling knock-off perfume on the street. There was a few of us switching various accessories like hats and sunglasses and playing along with the script. It was a real eye-opener watching consumers behave like sheep.
  2. Over the years I’ve spent New Year’s Eve in Scotland, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Cuba, Canada, and USA. Notable ones: Christchurch, New Zealand (I was hitch hiking with three Kiwi guys), and New Orleans, USA (it was hit by arsonists).
  3. My father’s real family name, the name on my birth certificate, the name I graduated with in high school, and the name on my current passport are all different from each other. I also have an official UK document in one of my expired passports with another name.
  4. I have a scar on my left leg from a near drowning in an oceanside cave in Australia. The tide was crashing in gigantic waves and washed out my exit from the cave; I was trapped inside until a couple from Brisbane came and rescued me.
  5. I’ve been spat on (and not by accident).
  6. I wouldn’t eat bananas growing up, but I’ve learned to like them as an adult, as long as they’re not fully ripe. They make a quick, nourishing meal when I’m on the run. But overripe bananas still make me gag.
  7. I was bitten by a small dog once, and have been a little apprehensive of dogs ever since.
  8. I would like to donate blood, but I’m disqualified due to previous residency in the UK.
  9. I never tried seafood until I was 18 years old for religious reasons, but didn’t actually enjoy it until I was 20 when a random stranger, who picked me up on his bicycle when I was walking home late one night in northern Australia, took me into his home and made me a seafood marinara. I was so hungry it tasted like the best meal of my life. I never saw him again.
  10. I’ve had food poisoning three times: street vendor hot sauce in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, a green curry gone bad at office lunch on the Sunshine Coast (BC), and one other time… I can’t quite remember what I ate, I only recall that it was while I was an SFU student.
  11. I was first proposed to by an Englishman. He ended up marrying the first person he dated after we broke up, and later divorced her. Then he married a Filipina! (Another one, not me.)
  12. I wasn’t born in a hospital. My mother was without assistance at the time — not even a midwife was around when I decided I was ready to enter the world. You could say I was born impatient and stubborn.
  13. I was born in a Muslim region, but there are no Muslims in my family.
  14. The last smoking-enabled flight I was on was Balkan Airlines, 1993: Bangkok, Thailand to Sofia, Bulgaria, then London. I sat next to a German who offered me Camel cigarettes without filters, which he bought in Bangkok because they were cheap and unavailable in Germany (for good reason!). The Bangkok-Sofia flight was at least eight (rather turbulent) hours that I recall, and pretty gross since we were both smoking filterless Camels!
  15. I went camping by myself once, about 11 years ago. I borrowed a tent and a bear whistle (it was in BC bear country!).
  16. I have yet to take a photography class. (I’m not opposed to it, I just haven’t done it.)
  17. Since I hosted Ramon Stoppelenburg of in Vancouver back in 2003, two Canadians and an American who met me in the East years later said they recognised me from his website.
  18. I’ve never bought a car, but I’ve owned three cars in my life, between the ages of 17 to the present.
  19. I still have my tonsils, wisdom teeth, appendix, and the other internal parts that I was born with.
  20. As a kid, I was so superstitious I was absolutely terrified at the prospect of turning 13.
  21. I was born with a head of stick-straight hair, which strangely began to turn naturally curly after I graduated from high school.
  22. My longest-surviving relationship was two years, and it wasn’t with anyone who I married.
  23. (Because I get asked this question, and related questions, often:) I am undecided about trying to have children.
  24. Three popular film titles I’ve never watched: Titanic, Fight Club, There’s Something About Mary.
  25. I was hired for a temp job once because of my handwriting.

I have a LOT of “I had to pee so badly once I…” stories, but they are far too embarrassing to have on the web. I don’t mind telling you in person if you ask.

I’m not going to tag anyone, but if you do this, please put a link to it in the comment or email it to me if you prefer not to share it with the internets.