Should I Go to Indonesia?

In the past month, Indonesia has been hit with several devastating earthquakes. Many of the people I met in Lombok and on the Gili Islands were surely affected by these deadly events. I’ve found myself thinking about our time there a lot.

Below is a post I began writing in Spring, but never got around to finishing until now. Through this post, I hope to inspire people to visit this beautiful island country and to better understand it as well. Whether you are an avid traveler, or simply dream of one day being able to travel, this post is full of all the reasons why I would recommend Indonesia as a travel destination for pretty much anyone.

In the last 4 years, I’ve done a lot of travelling. I’ve had a lot of experiences, eaten a lot of different food and met a lot of different people. From the Hongs of Thailand, to the Thar Desert in India, I’ve never visited anywhere that didn’t offer some sort of spectacular adventure.

Sometimes though, you find a country that offers more than just destinations and good food. Those countries captivate you and take a piece of your heart. They change the way you see the world. Cambodia did that for me, and it became the country I compared all other countries too. Now, Indonesia has also been added to that list, and today I’d like to tell you why.

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Cambodia had it all: Beautiful architecture, rich history and kind people

Diversity & Tolerance

Before going to Indonesia, I’d read a lot of things. I knew, of course, that Indonesia is the country with the most Muslims in the world. I also knew that for the most part, Indonesia’s a pretty peaceful place. We’d heard of some problems in Jakarta, so we avoided the city, but even there, you’re never in any real danger.

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We read ahead of time that some of the guides in the Bukit Lawang area could be pushy. We experienced nothing but awesome interactions with both of our guides, as well as every guide we ran into. When people asked us if we wanted to book a tour, we politely told them we already had. In many other countries, guides will keep hounding you and chasing you. In Indonesia, people politely wished us a good trip.

Similarly, Aceh province has a bit of a bad reputation, as its provincial government tries to enforce shariah law. There is a large group of fundamentalist Muslims in the area, and as a result, Indonesia makes news headlines with some of the things that happen there. The important thing to remember, however, is that Aceh does not represent all of Indonesia. Everyone we went in the rest of the country, we saw tolerance and friendliness.

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I was honestly very surprised by the diversity in Indonesia. Right from the moment we arrived in Sumatra, we saw it. On Samosir Island, you find Christianity and Batik culture. When you move to Bukit Lawang, you see more Islam. Jogjakarta is also primarily Muslim, but the world’s biggest Buddhist temple is nearby along with a very famous Hindu temple. Flores was Christian while Lombok and the Gili Islands had several mosques. There are all sorts of people in Indonesia, and contrary to some of the things I’ve read in the news, everyone seems to get along pretty well. They were polite and friendly not only with tourists…but also with each other.

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Many women in Indonesia wear Hihabs. I loved the way these ladies contrasted with the beautiful stone behind them

Ecotourism & Positive Tourism Experiences

Of course, ecotourism was a huge pull for me in Indonesia. All over the country, responsible tour operators are running businesses that encourage care for the environment and all the living things within those environments. With Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking, we were able to experience Orangutans in their natural environment. In addition to learning about these beautiful primates, we also learned about the other flora and fauna in the area, and about what it’s like to grow up in Bukit Lawang. Getting to know Sardi and Jimmy was one of the absolute best parts of my time in Indonesia, and I feel good about having chosen Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking for my tour, because I can see the difference they are trying to make their community better through a variety of initiatives.

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Bukit Lawang Jungle Trekking employs excellent guides who help protect the animals and the environment in Gunung Leuser National Park. This helps to protect beautiful orangutans, like this one.

Similarly, when we decided to go Komodo National Park, we looked at many tour operators before choosing Flores XP Adventure. While we did have some problems with the boat they rented, overall, Komodo XP was an excellent Eco Tour operator. Archer was very knowledgeable about the marine life, as were the rest of the XP crew.

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Manta Rays are just one of many marine species that live in these waters. Komodo National Park actually boasts some of the most incredible marine diversity in the world, so it’s very important that companies like Flores XP Adventures

Most importantly, Flores XP takes ecological conservation seriously. No garbage was left on Padar Island when we left. Archer stopped the boating crew from fishing more than once (they were not part of the XP team, but had been hired out because the XP boats were in for maintenance.). I like that Archer and his team followed the laws that were set to help protect this incredibly bio diverse area.

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The last thing I want to do is to mess with this kind of beauty!

Even Jogjakarta was a good destination for good tourism practices. Our hotel was run by two of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. Similarly, the staff at ViaVia, a fair trade store Dave and I discovered, went above and beyond to make our experience a good one. The money spent for our time at the two temples on Java was also put to very good use. The restoration and protection of both Borobudur and Prambanan was evident and we felt good about spending a bit more to be a part of preserving the culture on Java island.

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We were so happy to discover Viavia! Not only did they sell fairtrade goods, but the staff were incredible too!

The People

Which leads me to the #1 reason why I loved Indonesia so much.

If you ask most people who travel extensively, they’ll tell you that it always takes a day or two to get a handle on what things are suppose to cost. Currencies are different from country to country, after all, something that costs $2 in Canada, might cost 5000vnd in Vietnam.

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When I go to the ATM in Canada, they give me $20 and $50 bills. In Vietnam, you get 500,000 bills. Inflation is crazy!

Foreigners are also charged extra in many places, to the point where the practice has been dubbed ‘the foreigner tax’. When you combine that tax with a new currency, it’s a recipe for scams and rip offs. So, when we arrived in Sumatra, and everyone kept charging us 3500rp for water, we just assumed the real price was 2000.

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India had the highest foreigner taxes we’ve seen. Foreigner entry prices were usually 4-5 times higher than local prices, with even more additional fees added on for the use of a camera at those sights.

It took us a few days, but soon we realized that the prices we were being given, were legitimate. People in Indonesia simply charged us the cost of the water, without additional fees. It wasn’t long before we realized that even when vendors did bring up their prices a little bit for us in the market, it was never outrageous. We simply weren’t ripped off in Indonesia.

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I don’t know what these things cost, because signs rarely include prices there, but I can tell you that I’d probably pay the same amount for magic mushrooms as a local…if I ever felt like doing them, that is!

But the honesty we saw in Indonesia wasn’t even the thing that made our interactions with locals so good. What I loved most about the people in Indonesia was how incredibly welcoming and warm they were. Everywhere we went we were greeted and welcomed by locals. Every now and then someone would want a picture of us, but usually, they were happy just to say hello.

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This is one of my favourite pictures I took during our entire month in Indonesia.

The Negatives

Of course, no country is perfect. There were some things about Indonesia that I wasn’t crazy about. Their coffee, for example, was a bit disappointing. Although some of my favourite beans come from Sumatra, coffee culture within the country is not what I expected.

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Although coffee grows all over Indonesia (each bean on the map represents a coffee growing zone), they mostly sell their beans to other countries for roasting and production.

More importantly, while Sumatra, Jogjakarta and Lombok were full of honest and friendly people, The Gili Islands and Labuan Bajo were actually a bit disappointing. In Labuan Bajo (the capital of Flores island), the service industry is very lacking. We honestly felt that we weren’t wanted at our hotel. The employees were often absent, or sitting around, talking with friends, and any time we tried to order food or drinks, we were told they were out. Worst of all, the Wifi at the hotel wasn’t working (and Dave had a deadline to meet), although it was working everywhere else on the island. When I asked about it, I was told that I ‘should have gone to Bali’.

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The hotel looked fantastic. The pool was clean and the rooms were nice. Unfortunately, the staff really didn’t seem to care for their jobs or the tourism industry at all. We talked about this with our tour guide in Komodo and he said that although things are slowly changing for the better…this is just the way Labuan Bajo is. It’s strange because it’s SO different from everything else we experienced!

Gili T is well set up for tourists, but there, you encounter the ‘foreign tax’ that didn’t exist elsewhere in the country. The people were nice, but we were paying 3-4x more to do basically anything on Gili Trawangon.

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Boat prices were the same for everyone, at least, but with no cars on the island, the horse and buggy prices sky rocketed if there was even a bit of rain, if it was after dark, or if they could think of any other reason why they could double the price.

A perfect example of this was when I sent my post cards in Lombok. I had people dropping what they were doing to help me put stamps on all the post cards. We chatted and laughed together and raced to see who could finish first. When I tried to buy stamps on Gili T, the guy at the post office tried to tell me that the stamps were 4x the price I knew they should cost.

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I’ve been particularly worried about these people since the Quakes hit. They all worked at the post office and helped me send my postcards. Unbelievably friendly and warm people. Although we clearly had different beliefs and cultures…everyone was nice to everyone else. There was no element of discomfort or of judgement or racism.

To Summarize

One last thing that is worth mentioning, is that this was MY perfect trip. I love wildlife. I love ecotourism. I love culture and I love adventure. I also don’t mind getting dirty or being cut off of the internet now and then. Bukit Lawang was what some people might consider ‘rugged’ and a lot of work. That was very much part of the appeal for me. If you like staying in a 5 star resort with a saltwater pool and a swim up bar, Sumatra might not be the best place for you, and perhaps Bali is a better option.

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But if you do have an adventurous spirit….definitely consider booking with these guys! They made our trip such an incredible experience!

The way you travel will also affect your experiences in the country. I’ve heard from many people that taking long distance buses in Indonesia is a nightmare. Dave and I opted to pay a bit more and fly for time’s sake. We also rent motorbikes whenever possible so paying taxis and taking public transit was never really necessary. These are all things that can impact your holiday.

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Our flights in Indonesia were pretty spectacular as well!

So, should you go to Indonesia?

Yes….Because from Bali to Bajo, there’s something for everyone!

Skipping Over to Seoul

After my last post, I’m sure many of you are wondering why Dave and I choose to stay in such a polluted country (we both ended up with chest colds after that sandstorm, by the way…). Well, there are plenty of reasons.

  1. The cost of living is low and salaries are high
  2. Suzhou is a gorgeous city where there is lots to see and do
  3. Living in China provides challenges that make life a lot more interesting
  4. Working in China as a teacher, I’m able to make a huge impact. It’s a great feeling
  5. The holidays……3.5 months per year, to be exact….
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China loves its parties!!

In addition to summer holidays, I also get 5 weeks for Spring Festival, a week for National Day and several small holidays throughout the year as well. Tomb Sweeping is a yearly cultural holiday that takes place in March/April. I had 3 days off, so Dave and I decided to hop on over to Seoul.

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Seoul was just of of many options we had for this short little holiday. We also considered Japan and Taiwan, but it came down to flight costs. Even during the holiday, tickets were very reasonable!

It only takes about an hour and a half to fly to Seoul, but when you add in train-rides to Shanghai, plus the drive from Seoul’s airport to downtown, we really didn’t have a whole lot of time to see the sights. Still, we made the most of the 36 hours we had!!!

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Much to Dave’s chagrin, we weren’t able to visit the neutral zone between North and South Korea. Personally, I’d be happy to go my whole life without seeing North Korea…

As always, we found a hotel close to the metro line, and found our way around the city that way. Metros are great because you can get from one end of the city to another in so much less time than it takes to drive. Unfortunately, Metros are also terrible in Asia, because their maps sometimes look like this:

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If I’d been alone, I would have spent about 20 of my 36 hours in Seoul just trying to find my stop. Luckily, Dave is weirdly good at this stuff!

Many people go to Seoul for the shopping or the vibrant night life, but Dave and I aren’t big into either of those things. Instead, we head for Namsan Park and Mountain, where we were able to see Seoul Tower and a beautiful panorama of the city.

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Our view from the cable car

A ‘bonus’ sight Dave and I saw while on Namsan mountain were Seoul’s Love Locks. The idea is simple: if you love someone, get a padlock, engrave your names onto it, lock it to a bridge and throw away the key. This action is suppose to signify that you are bound to a person forever. Of course, 1 or 2 of these locks wouldn’t really be noteworthy, but all around the world, couples are creating mass displays with their ‘love locks’.

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Sweet, right?

Sure, it’s a romantic idea…but it’s also become a bit of a problem in some parts of the world! Paris once had the world’s most famous collection of love locks, but officials had to remove the locks off of Pont de Arts bridge because the weight of them was going to cause the bridge to collapse! The problem was so extreme that the additional weight on the bridge was the equivalent of 20 elephants!

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If you ever see a sign like this, you’ll now understand why

Love Locks have been around for ages, all over the world. They were made most famous in Paris, but their origins trace back to China and Siberia as well. Seoul has quite an impressive display, and officials there were prepared there. They created places for the locks to be placed that were actually designed to hold the weight. The displays were lovely.

I spent quite a bit of time looking at those locks….they were really quite impressive. They seem colourful from afar, but up close, you can see that there are actually quite a few old and rusted locks among the shiny new ones. I guess displays like this don’t happen over night!

When we were done at Namsan, we decided to visit one of Seoul’s many parks. We chose 1 park specifically because of its many Geo Caches. Dave and I each found a couple, and we enjoyed a lovely walk among the budding trees.

There were some interesting sculptures in the park as well.

We spent both our evenings in Seoul enjoying fantastic Korean food! I wouldn’t say South Korea is the best place to visit for vegetarians, but if you like meat, this is the place for you! Meat is grilled fresh right in front of you, and when it’s done, you wrap it in a piece of leaf lettuce, along with Kim Chi and whatever other little dishes they give you. It’s some of the freshest, healthiest tasting food I’ve ever had!

I’m a little sad we didn’t have more time to see some of the rest of South Korea, but I can say without a doubt that Dave and I will be heading back that way again some time soon. Korea is absolutely lovely. The people are friendly and helpful, the service industry is WAY more customer service based than China’s and the city, in general, is very organized!

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Unfortunately, I didn’t take this picture, but I wanted you to see Seoul at its most beautiful and my camera just can’t capture a photo like this!

In fact, I saw something on our last night there that even puts Canada to shame! I noticed a stack of free post cards at our hostel and picked one up. It turns out that the South Korean government provides postage-paid postcards so that visitors can alert officials of any problems they had in the city! A program like that would be INVALUABLE in cities like Shanghai or Beijing, where your first experience is often being ripped off by a taxi driver!

Stay tuned! I’ve got plenty more planned for my next few posts!

Pondering Perspectives

I have always loved being a student. As stressful as it was finishing my degree a few years back, I felt so incredibly motivated while I was at the University of Winnipeg. My major was in English Writing & Literature, but I took classes in Anthropology, Classical History, Drama, Psychology, Astronomy and so much more. These classes taught me about the world, taught me to think and dig for information and most importantly, they taught me that there is always more to learn!

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Classical History, for example, taught me that pottery is actually fascinating (if it was made by the Greeks, anyway!)

There are 2 classes that I feel really changed the way I see the world. The first one was Physiological Psychology. In this class, I learned about the different structures of the brain and what they are responsible for. I also learned what happens when you damage those areas of the brain and I learned a lot about mental illness as a result. Now, 4 years later, a month doesn’t go by when I don’t either think about or discuss things I learned in that class. I finished Physio Psych with the worst grade of my degree, but it was one of the most eye-opening courses I ever took.

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The other class that changed my perspectives was a random elective course I chose to fill out my semester. I literally chose it because it was available in a convenient time slot, but by the time the first lesson was finished, I was hooked and knew I wouldn’t be skipping my Tuesday night 6pm lessons. “Needs of Refugees” was all about refugee crises around the world.

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It looks like I have a 1 hour block free Tuesday afternoons…that can’t be right…oh no wait, I have 3 hours of work to cram in that space!!!

The focus of the class was mostly on the process these people go through to get placement in other countries. I had 2 professors for that class. One of my profs was a woman who had spent months abroad working in refugee camps in Palestine, Kenya and a few others I can no longer remember. The other professor was a Somali man who had fled Mogadishu with his family when he was a child.

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This is DaDaab refugee camp in Kenya. When my prof fled Mogadishu as a child, he was actually separated from his family and captured by rebel soldiers. He was forced to work as a child soldier for 2 years before he was finally able to escape. He fled to DaDaab, where he found the rest of his family. Many years later, he was given a place in Canada, where he has become a productive member of society. His story is not one I will ever be able to forget.

Through this class, I met several refugees, all from different conflicts and different areas of the world. I met a woman who had to flee Iraq because her husband had been arrested and the government was coming after her next so she had to flee with her two teenage sons. I met a woman from Myranmar who had fled years ago, who began her own small weaving business in Winnipeg.

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Burmese weaving is quite the art form!

I also interviewed a man from the Congo. He was angry. He’d been in Canada for more than 10 years when I met him. He’d been struggling for a decade to find a suitable job, but because he’d been living in a refugee camp for the better part of his life, he had little education and few skills. It frustrated him that he had so little opportunities in Canada. Still, at the end of the interview, he took a moment to clarify that although he was angry, he was also grateful. He told me he’d rather have no opportunities in Canada than to wake up to the sound of bombs back in The Congo. He taught me a lesson about gratitude.

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Yeah, Canadian winters don’t seem so bad…

If you have me as a friend on Facebook, you know how I feel about helping Refugees. You also know how I feel about mental illness and trying to fight past the taboos that prevent people from getting help. I didn’t always care about these things. I’m sure that I’ve made thoughtless comments about mental health through the years. I know that there was a point in my life where I never really even thought about what a refugee even was.

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Now I do my best to stop bad information from spreading, and correct that information whenever I can.

But school isn’t the only place where my perspectives have shifted. Travelling has taught me so much about the world. Since moving to Guiyang in 2014, I’ve learned about what it means to be an ethical tourist, I’ve seen real poverty and I’ve spent a great deal of time educating myself about the history of South East Asia and India (something never covered in my high school history courses…).

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Learning about the Khmer Rouge was the first of many eye-opening experiences I’ve had in the past few years.

Of course, being in Vietnam has also given me some new perspectives. I knew about the Vietnam war. I knew about the draft, the protests and I knew about the fight against communism. I had never really considered what all this meant for people on the other side of the ocean though…

Now, I’m not here to say that the Vietnamese didn’t do awful things to American soldiers, but when you see things that that happened to the people here, you can’t help but wonder how Vietnam could have possibly deserved the war crimes they endured during that horrible war. Napalm, agent orange and mass bombing campaigns nearly destroyed the country and even today you can see victims of Agent Orange. The chemical created genetic defects that are still being passed onto the current generation. It’s pretty awful stuff.

It’s easy for people in North America to shrug off the Vietnam war because it was so long ago now, but in Vietnam, the war still affects people. There are still bombs all over the country that never detonated properly during the war. Every year, people lose limbs and lives because of these UXOs.

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We visited the War Remnents museum when we were in Saigon, and learned about the war through pictures as well as through a few displays. Horrible stuff was done here.

We also made a short visit to the Phu Quoc prison, where thousands of enemy soldiers were kept during the war. The first thing both Dave and I noticed was how much the prison looked like a concentration camp.

But Vietnam was not the only country affected by the Vietnam War…

Laos is often forgotten during discussions about that 20 year war. I’ve mentioned in other posts that Laos is the most bombed country in the world. We learned more about what that actually means at the UXO museum in Luang Prabang.

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A map showing the most heavily bombed areas of Laos

America dropped 260 million cluster bombs on Laos over the course of 580,000 bombing missions. This is equivalent to a planeload of bombs being unloaded every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years. There are still 78 million bombs in Laos, that need to be detonated, and as you can imagine, this caused a lot of problems from this developing nation.

The UXO museum was quite an experience…In addition to having a wide variety of bombs on display, there were a few videos to watch and lots of information of how the UXOs still affect Laos today.

I guess what I’m getting at with all of this is that there’s always more to know. There’s so much happening all over the world right now…I feel like the best thing any of us can do is to educate ourselves. After all, how can you really have an opinion about things when you only ever hear 1/2 of the story.

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The number of people injured and killed by bombs just in Luang Prabang’s province every year

I know that when I have kids, I will encourage them to travel. You can learn about so much more than food and temples when you’re in another country.

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You can also learn a real sense of gratitude when you see these things. Parents have so much less to worry about in North America…

So there you have it…those are my two cents.

Next, I’ll be writing about our week on the island of Phu Quoc! Stay tuned!!!

Initial Impressions

Day one of our 33 day holiday is coming to an end, and it’s time to recap and reflect.
Hanoi City – Organized Chaos

We have begun our trip in Hanoi: a bustling and historic Vietnamese city. We’re staying in the Old Quarter of Vietnam’s capital, where coffee shops are on every street corner and motorbikes are the primary means of transportation. There’s an organized chaos here, in every sense of the word.

There are thousands of shops piled atop one another, and everywhere you look, there are people eating bowls of Pho on the sides of the street, and sipping coffee at tiny tables, sitting on tiny plastic stools. What’s interesting, though, is that all those tiny little shops are organized and neatly merchandised. My (extremely neat) sister would be impressed by the level of organization these shop owners manage to have in their little side-of-the-road shops.

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A small and popular restaurant in the Old Quarter

A good friend of ours lived in Vietnam for 4 years and she gave us valuable advice before we left for Hanoi. She told us that the roads here are like a river; vehicles weave in and around one another and never really stop moving. She told us to walk boldly but slowly and that vehicles would mostly just part around us. It was terrifying at first, but she was right. There are no crosswalks in the North American sense, but somehow, we got around just fine. In a lot of ways it was less scary than India. Ok…in every way.

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French colonialism is easily identifiable all over the city. The streets, buildings and even French language are visible everywhere you go. Cambodia was also colonized by the French, but the impact there wasn’t as obvious as it is in Hanoi.

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So different from China’s Skyscrapers

Hoàn Kiếm Lake – Passive and Pleasant

After a long day of travel yesterday and a long semester of 60-hour weeks, I wasn’t up for much today, so we mostly spent our time down by Hoàn Kiếm Lake, which was a lovely experience. The lake is a beautiful spot for wedding photos, so we saw several happy couples being chased by photographers.

There was a small temple by the lake as well. We paid 30,000 dong each to enter (less than $2 Canadian) and enjoyed the quietness of the place.

There’s plenty to see walking along the lake. The Old Quarter is a lovely place to spend the afternoon!


Different from Delhi / A Change from China

One of my favourite parts of travel is walking around at night, when the shops are lit up and the weather has cooled. Vietnam is so different from India. While there are shops everywhere, just as there is in New Delhi, nobody grabs you by the arms and nobody is too terribly pushy. South East Asia, though hectic and tourist oriented, seems to have more of a dignity about it. People bargain, but don’t try and rip you off. People try and sell their goods, but if you say no, they move on with their days, un-offended and un-worried.

Tonight we walked around for a little while and found a restaurant where we enjoyed the best Vietnamese food I’ve ever had. Although I love Chinese food, the oil has started to gross me out a bit. Vietnamese food is fresher and crispier…with more raw vegetables and coconut sauces. Dinner was delicious…and the coffee I just finished was an excellent way to end the night!

Tomorrow we set off for HaLong Bay…another UNESCO World Heritage Site to add to our list. We’ll be spending 2 nights and 3 days enjoying one of Vietnam’s greatest treasures.

Vancouver: My Favourite Canadian Destination – Part 1

About a year ago, I purchased a map off of this neat website that had all sorts of unique and beautiful products. Although I loved the look of the map, it wasn’t just the design that encouraged me select it among the many choices the website offered. This map is special, because you can scratch off areas of the world that you’ve visited.

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About a month ago, Dave got around to making a proper mount for this beautiful map. He spent a few hours finding supplies on TaoBao, and a few hours making it, and I decided to take care of the fun stuff: scratching the places we’ve been! Being the travelers that we are, I figured that I’d spend hours scratching away. I was disappointed, however, to discover that so much of the world remains unseen by my eyes! So, tomorrow, we set out on our Golden Week Holiday to Xi’an, with our friend Kevin.

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Of course, now that I’m about to head out on another adventure, I realized that I should probably write about our last adventure: Vancouver. So here it is, the post all of my Canadian readers have been waiting for! Part 1 of our stay Kitsilano, Vancouver!
Kits Beach and Area

When first pricing out hotels in Vancouver, we were a little overwhelmed with the cost of accommodations. Vacationing in Canada is EXPENSIVE when you compare it to the places we’ve been in Asia, so I was a little worried we’d need to forgo some of the things we wanted to do because hotel prices were so high. I’m pretty sure we are the luckiest people in the world though, because as it turned out, a good friend of ours was going to in Manitoba while we were in Vancouver, leaving her apartment in Kitsilano free for us to rent for the week! We couldn’t have planned the timing better if we’d tried!!

We fell in love with Kits pretty quickly. The beach was gorgeous, Sophie’s Cosmic Cafe was an adorable place to stop for a good breakfast, and we were a short walk or bus ride away from pretty much every thing we wanted to see. We were originally thinking of staying downtown, but I am SO glad we spent our time in this little suburb of Vancouver.
Downtown, Gas Town and Canada Place

Two days of our trip to Vancouver were spent exploring downtown and Canada Place. When I first visited Vancouver 8 years ago, I was blown away by its gorgeous skyline. Of course, now that I’ve traveled to cities like Shanghai, Bangkok and Mumbai, Vancouver seemed a little less spectacular, but the little areas in the city’s center still impressed me.

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Gas Town is probably my favourite area of down town. There are tonnes of little shops where you can find maple-flavoured everything and tonnes of little restaurants to try. Best of all, the architecture in Gas Town is pretty cool. I regret that I didn’t get many pictures of that particular area, because every time we visited it was after dark, and the area can be a bit shady. My camera is one of my most prized possessions, so it stayed tucked away in my bag.

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Gas Town’s Famous Clock

Canada Place was quite impressive too. The last time I was in Vancouver, it was all under construction because of the upcoming Olympic games, so it was nice to see it all finished. Dave especially enjoyed this part of our time downtown as he was able to watch planes take off while I hunted Pokemon!!

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Granville Island

Of all the places we visited in Vancouver, Granville island is where we spent the most time. We wound up on that sweet little island 4 or 5 times throughout our stay and this was mostly because we enjoyed walking down there so much! It took about 40 minutes to walk from Kits Beach to Granville island, but it was such a lovely walk through parks along the beach, that we tended to gravitate in that direction any time we went out.

Granville is the place to go if you want fresh sea food, craft beer, shopping or if you want to book a whale watching tour. There is also a lovely park on the island, where we walked around a few times…just to breath in the fresh air and admire the ducks and geese that hang out there.


Meeting New Friends

During our week in Vancouver, we met up with a couple of people that I’d never met before. Dave’s cousin, Michael, lives in the area so we met up with him and his girlfriend, Gabriella, during our stay in Kits. We hit it off, and I think we were all a little amazed at how much Dave and Michael are alike! This new friendship lead us to take a trip up to Mount Seymore for the Persius Meteor Shower, which was spectacular and unlike anything I had really experienced.

We also spent an evening down in New West Minister with an old friend of Dave’s. Sitting by the harbour, eating wings and poutine, was a fantastic way to spend a night in that lovely city. While enjoying our evening in New West, Kaitlin gave us lots of tips and ideas of places to go while in Vancouver. This led us to one of the most exciting parts of our stay in BC; the Vancouver observatory! While we were there, we were able to see a gorgeous view of Saturn (rings and everything!), a close up of the moon, and the Herculese star cluster, which happens to contain 300,000 stars and is 200 thousand light years away.

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The Vancouver Museum of Anthropology

Although we very much wanted to climb Grouse Mountain, I realized that after 6 days of being on my injured leg, walking 10km+ per day, I needed to take it easy(er). I did a quick look online to find a more low-impact activity for our last day in Kits, and came across the Vancouver Museum of Anthropology. It was a lovely visit and we saw everything from traditional and modern Aboriginal art, to 4000 year old pots.

It was difficult to even understand the number of artifacts this museum contains and I know that we could have easily spent an entire day (and then some…) exploring every little thing the museum had to offer. The museum has little areas for countless cultures and in each area, there are pull-out drawers that contained hundreds of small artifacts to admire. Although it wasn’t the most glamorous thing we saw in Vancouver, I’m really glad we made the stop.

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That’s it for part 1 of my post. In part 2, I’ll be writing about my 2 favourite parts of our stay in Vancouver: Stanley Park and seeing Resident Killer Whales off the coast of British Columbia!

Stay tuned!!!

Update Time!

It’s hard to believe how quickly 6 weeks can fly by! After 5 weeks in Manitoba and then 1 week in Vancouver, it’s an understatement to say that I was happy to sleep in my own bed again! Our cats were well cared for over the holiday and are happy as clams to have us home, back in our little routine. Poe continues to act as my alarm clock and Hugo seems to be even more cuddly than ever! Life is good here back in Suzhou!

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As you can see…she’s been VERY stressed…

Manitoba was a grand time. We were able to catch up with friends, spend time with family and I even got to meet my nephew, Zachary, for the first time. It’s funny because adults change so little from year to year, but the kids….WOW do they grow! I’m convinced that at least 1 of my nephews is going to be taller than me next year! My niece, Ellie, learned how to read over the past year and her little sister began talking…things change so much in their little lives while we’re away!

Our 5 weeks in Winnipeg were spent well. We were able to see a Fringe Show, visit the Forks and even visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights! Last year had been too rushed to stop by this architectural marvel, but I really enjoyed our afternoon there, learning new things and being reminded of things that shouldn’t be forgotten.

I organized a Paint Night with some of my favourite gals and that turned out to be a tonne of fun! I’d recommend it as a fun night out to anyone who wishes they can paint or actually can paint! I have artistic skills in that way and mine still turned out pretty well! See!!!

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A good portion of my summer was spent outside. I was able to play at the pool with my nieces and nephew, sit around bonfires and spend LOTS of time outside! The air is so fresh and clean in Canada and the temperature is perfect for being outside. Currently, it’s sitting at about 40 degrees Celsius in Suzhou, so I definitely miss the Prairie temperatures already!

Oddly enough, it was a game that took up most of our time in Manitoba! Pokemon Go was all the rage back home and Dave and I spent countless hours walking around Steinbach and The Winnipeg Forks trying to catch a Pikachu or hatch a Snorlax. I was never lucky on either of those counts, but my sister managed to catch 3 of the little yellow Pokemon! I will forever be jealous, because Pokeman Go is banned in China. It runs through Google Maps, which is blocked by the Great Fire Wall, so there is no Pokeman here for us to play.

We also had our yearly BBQ at St. Malo Provincial Park! It was such a blast last year that we planned it out again this year. We had loads of people come down and spent the day out in the sun with ys, playing in the water and enjoying WAYY Y too much food!

It’s hard to point to a ‘favourite’ memory of our 2016 trip home, but the most inspiring event was definitely Steinbach’s 1st Pride Parade. Dave and I attended, expecting there to be a small crowd of maybe 100 or 200 people…little did we know that over 3500 people came in from all over the province for the event! There were actually people who flew in all the way from Orlando for Steinbach’s first pride. It was a pretty huge deal!

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The number of attendees was inspiring in of itself, but Steinbach’s reaction to the event was also good. The Automobile City has caught a lot of flack over the last few years for their stance on LGBT rights and a variety of other subjects. There have been issues within the school division over these matters and protests regarding bullying bills aimed at protecting LGBT students. But instead of holding a protest or causing a fuss over the parade, Steinbach let it happen.

There were plenty of spectators there who were watching the parade and there was a tonne of support. Many people in Steinbach have softened their views on homosexuality as they’ve grown to know people in the LGBT community or have learned that people in their own families are gay. I saw many signs that said things like ‘proud parent’ or ‘supportive parent’. It was really beautiful to see such acceptance in a city that has previously been branded intolerant. It was a huge step for Steinbach and although I know not everyone in the city agreed with the event…that’s not the point! It’s ok not to agree with it…I’m just happy no one showed up with eggs or protest signs. That’s what tolerance is, after all…accepting that people might thing differently than you. You don’t have to agree with them, but you should give them the freedom to have their own beliefs.

So that is a very brief summary of our stay in Manitoba! Our final week in Canada was spent in Vancouver, which I will be writing about soon! I have 1 or 2 posts planned before I can get to our time on the West Coast, but I’m still off work until September 1st, so I should be able to get a fair amount of blogging in between now and then!

So, stay tuned for entertaining posts such as:

  • Beginning a new Semester in China…things teachers should know
  • Tips for new Expats living in Suzhou
  • Vivacious Vancouver: From Kits Beach to Stanley Park
  • Whale Watching off the West Coast of Canada

So, You’re Moving to China…(Part 2)

As promised, I am back with part 2 of my post!
5. Kiss Comfort Goodbye

Whether you’re in your apartment or at a restaurant, the standards of comfort in China are very different from out west. Beds are often rock hard, couches are frequently nothing more than a wooden bench, and restaurants (in certain areas of the country) forgo purchasing conventional tables and chairs, and have everyone sitting at child-sized tables, with plastic stools.

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Our couch in Guiyang. My butt would go numb within about 10 minutes.
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One of our favourite hot pot places….not exactly the most comfortable restaurant…

And it’s not only your butt that will miss the comfort. People here have a different idea of what ‘public space’ means. I frequently see people watching movies on their tablets in public spaces (in the metro…at Starbucks…in restaurants…), without using ear buds. When you have several people doing this in the same space, the room becomes so cluttered with noise that it’s difficult to think.

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After taking this picture, and posting it online, I saw someone post an article about how it’s wrong to take photos of strangers. I agree…except for in cases when those individuals have forsaken their rights to privacy by taking away my right to focusing on my blog…

Smoking is also common place here, and you will see it everywhere you go. Restaurants, shopping malls and even some schools all allow smoking and although Beijing and several other cities are beginning to make smoking illegal in public spaces, China still has a long way to go before you can enjoy a meal without choking on someone else’s cigarettes.

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Without reinforcement, signs like this don’t actually do very much. There are ‘no smoking ‘ signs in most elevators, after all…it doesn’t stop people from lighting up in them…

And even in private spaces, China finds it’s way in. People in our apartment building frequently leave their front doors open to air out their personal spaces….this often results in my own apartment smelling like cigarettes. Our neighbours across the hall have apparently run out of room in their apartment, so they’ve begun storing personal items outside of their door, in the hallway…They are currently keeping their baby stroller and several other objects (including open umbrellas…) right outside of our door.

And Fireworks….The Chinese use them to ward of evil spirits and the following events all merit their use:

  • Weddings
  • Funerals
  • Birthdays
  • New Businesses Opening
  • Festivals
  • Holidays
  • Just because they like to make noise…
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Fireworks are a constant here. When you live on one of the higher floors of a building, you’ll wake up to the sound of these things going off right outside your windows. One day, when we were living in Guiyang, our apartment got smoked out when a new business had opened up downstairs. We’d had our windows open…

Even babies don’t get any break from the discomfort of living in China. I can’t help but wonder what this sort of thing means for this poor kid’s neck muscles…

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6. Traffic Laws are Non-Existent…and Mayhem most Definitely Ensues…

It’s rare that you will see a police officer pulling people over for bad driving. It’s so rare, in fact, that the only time I can remember it happening was in Guiyang, when police officers caught on that they could get bribe money from e-bike drivers who aren’t wearing helmets.

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Take Note: There are no drivers in many of these cars. In Suzhou, people frequently park in the areas meant for uturns….because… why not? Sidewalks are another very popular place to park and double parking is common. There’s no end in sight for this behaviour, because nobody gets ticketed for these types of things. It’s beyond me…

The results of this lack of enforcement are terrifying. In Suzhou, the driving isn’t TOO bad. There are e-bike lanes and for the most part, people pay attention to stop lights and stay in 1 lane at a time…Well, ok, that might be a little generous…

I don’t have many pictures of this stuff, because, I’m usually trying to jump out of the way of drivers who are busy taking selfies instead of watching the road, but this video that I took in Guiyang should give you a pretty good idea of what it’s like driving, or ever walking, in China…

7. You’ll Begin to Appreciate the Most Surprising things…

The most mundane things in Canada become the most appreciated in China. Something as simple as Shake n’ Bake chicken is the cure to culture shock and bad days. Although I was never really big on Deviled Eggs back home, I’ve grown to love them in China, because they remind me of Christmas and Thanksgiving.

One of the best things is getting care packages from home. Getting Coffee Crisps, clothes that fit and western spices is such a great event! It’s like the best Christmas gift you can imagine!! I especially love getting letters from my nieces and nephews, though it’s common that China Post loses those. I’ve had countless letters mailed to me over the past 2 years, but I’ve only every actually received 2. Most of our family and friends have given up sending things, and I can’t say I blame them. Canada Post charges an exorbitant fee to send packages overseas, and when they likely won’t even make it to us…what’s the point?

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China Post workers going through their mail deliveries…this could be why so many packages go missing….

On the subject of ‘stuff from home’, I realized something amazing about myself while I was finding pictures to use for these posts. I apparently have a need to photograph any western-brand sign I see. It must be the excitement of seeing something from Canada or America IN China…


8. Signs: The Good, The Bad and The Incomprehensible

This category doesn’t need much explaining….Let’s start with the good…

The Bad…

And, of course, the ones we can barely understand…


9. Things are Just Done Differently Here… (Part 2)

Of course, there are a few things I forgot to write in this section of my last post, so here they are…

  • Public space is used differently here…Below is a photo of a man shaving. In the metro. On his way to work…

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  • Advertisements are weird. These women are serving pie…in a glass cage..to promote a new restaurant. They’re white…and it was weird…so people stopped.

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  • Products are also weird. The grossest one I’ve seen are the facial creams that are supposedly made of human placenta. They have a rejuvenating quality to them….yeah….no thanks….IMG_20160319_224523
  • Crowds….crowds like you have never experienced…

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  • Chinese medicine can be questionable. I have tried acupuncture here and it did not go well. I wound up passing out and I think the guy did more damage than good. I’m a pretty firm believer in scientifically backed treatments, but if you want to try eastern remedies, I do urge you to seek out professionals. Cupping is one of the most popular thing for westerners to try out. It’s pretty harmless, and it leaves some pretty wicked (temporary) scars that you can show off. Every Chinese person I’ve asked swears that it does wonders…
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A friend of mine, after a Cupping session. The welts go away after about a month…

Some Final Tips for your Time in China

  • Buy clothing and shoes before coming to the country. Even petite girls can have a difficult time finding clothing here, because generally there is NO ROOM for curves in Chinese clothing. If you’re busty…shop at home accordingly, because you will not find anything above a B cup here. Similarly, it’s difficult to find shoes bigger than a lady’s size 6 or 7 (36 or 37 in European sizes).
  • While the Chinese are perfectly ok wearing mini skirts where you can actually see their bums when they bend over, cleavage is a nay nay…Be prepared to have pretty high cropped shirts here, ladies. It’s inappropriate to show off your goods (on the upper part of your body anyway…)
  • Learn how to use Tao Bao! It is truly a life saver. You can use Bing Translate or google translate if you have a VPN. ***Tip: Translate whatever it is you want to buy into Chinese (Google Translate works very well). The prices are much lower if you search in Mandarin.
  • Buy bedding foam. There’s very little worse than having a bad sleep. The first time I lived in China, I was able to get used to the hard beds, but now…I find it unbearable. There are all sorts of foam mattresses you can buy (Tao Bao is your best bet!) to soften up your bed. They are invaluable and I HIGHLY recommend buying one!
  • Find a local store that carries western goods. Metro, Carrefour, Walmart, Decathelon and Euromart are some of the best. Tao Bao also carries a wide range of western brands, so that’s always an option as well. It’s amazing how comforting it can be to find taco seasoning or salty popcorn when you have had a bad week.
  • Get a VPN (preferably before you enter the country)! I couldn’t blog or keep in touch with anyone on Facebook if it weren’t for my VPN. For $100 a year you can get set up with Astrill or Express, and both are reliable and fast. The government does sometimes crack down on that stuff, so expect the occasional glitch in service, but for the most part, I feel that they do pretty well.

My last piece of advice before ending this post: surround yourself with positive people. There’s nothing worse than spending time with people who do nothing but complain about the culture and the country. Of course, it’s inevitable that you will need to rant now and then, and that’s totally okay. But I’ve met so many foreigners who spend their time abroad angry that the people here won’t conform to what THEY think it normal. Those types of Lao Wai kinda suck…so don’t be like them. Remember that there are good things and bad things in EVERY culture, and you don’t come from a perfect country any more than the Chinese do. Be tolerant, and when it gets REALLY bad…grab some western bevies (because Chinese beer is pretty terrible) and chill out with people who are going through the same things you are.

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Having a positive group of friends is key to surviving overseas. I can’t claim that we’re all positive all the time, but we all count ourselves lucky to be having this incredible experience, and when all else fails, beers at Euromart, or a night out at KTV can go a long, long way for the spirit!!

That’s it for today! My next post will be an update on life in Suzhou! I’ll have pictures from my first gigs (I’m singing in a band :)), the Drama Festival at my school and all the stuff that’s been keeping me busy and away from my blog!