Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Osman

Saturday, March 19th, 2011


“It was the eyes that gave him away.” As we drove to Dulles International Airport, Osman told me about how he once had a gun jammed into the back of his neck and how violated he felt as he handed over all his money. They eventually caught the guy, he says, and he had to go in to identify him. It was the eyes that gave him away.

As I sat in the back of Osman’s taxi, it was only his eyes I could see as he glanced occasionally up into the rear view mirror to punctuate his sentences. He showed me a copy of the proposed Professional Taxicab Standards Act of 2011 and outlined the parts he didn’t agree with. Why should people who have been driving cabs for 30 years suddenly need to pay thousands of dollars to register their cars? It had taken him 45 minutes to find the proposed bill- ironically, he couldn’t find it through the official www.dc.gov website– he had to find this by Googling.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting to meet a taxi driver who carefully reviewed proposed legislature. Then again, I wasn’t expecting to have such a hard time finding a taxi to takes me to Dulles from the 11NTC at the Washington Hilton. Osman explained that because the rates had been lowered, fewer taxi drivers were willing to go to the airport on the meter. I was grateful that he opened his door to me.

Osman is from Somalia. 30 years ago, he finished high school and came to Washington, DC on a student visa. After his student visa expired, he applied for asylum for fear of persecution back home. After a long process, he became an American citizen 10 years later.

Osman’s parents arranged a marriage for him. He first met his wife at the Dulles International Airport and seven days later, they were married. A month later, she disappeared. He described how he felt used and was saddened by her sudden departure, but he changed the locks and held on to her passport. She returned after 6 weeks.

I asked him if he knew the reason why she left.

He smiled. “She didn’t tell me. And I didn’t ask. There’s never a guarantee you can stick together, but we’ve been together for 20 years now.”

They have 5 children together. His voice is bursting with pride as he tells me how his eldest daughter has memorized the entire Qu’ran and can recite any sura on demand. I asked him if he had ever gone on the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, and his voice softens–”it was very moving… 2 million people…” and we sit in silence for a little while.

I tell him of how I work with youth to provide them with more educational opportunities and he tells me about some of the problems that are facing young Somalian youth. There is no government in Somalia, he says. There is no government and little education available for youth. With little education, young men are easily recruited as pirates, hijacking ships, and they have little awareness of the laws and repercussions.

As we near the airport, he eyes flick up to the rear view mirror and he wishes me a safe flight. I ask if I can write about his story and he agrees, “yes, please tell my story.” It is only when I take his picture that I finally see the rest of his face. But it will be the eyes I remember the most.

As Thomas King says, “Don’t say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story. You’ve heard it now.”

The “Too Asian” article from Maclean’s

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

The text in full of the controversial Maclean’s article on the high percentage of Asians attending Canadian and American universities. This was copied and pasted before it was pulled off the website.

‘Too Asian’?
By Stephanie Findlay and Nicholas Kohler | November 10th, 2010 | 9:55 am (http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/11/10/too-asian/)

A term used in the U.S. to talk about racial imbalance at Ivy league schools is now being whispered on Canadian campuses.

When Alexandra and her friend Rachel, both graduates of Toronto’s Havergal College, an all-girls private school, were deciding which university to go to, they didn’t even bother considering the University of Toronto. “The only people from our school who went to U of T were Asian,” explains Alexandra, a second-year student who looks like a girl from an Aritzia billboard. “All the white kids,” she says, “go to Queen’s, Western and McGill.”

Alexandra eventually chose the University of Western Ontario. Her younger brother, now a high school senior deciding where he’d like to go, will head “either east, west or to McGill”—unusual academic options, but in keeping with what he wants from his university experience. “East would suit him because it’s chill, out west he could be a ski bum,” says Alexandra, who explains her little brother wants to study hard, but is also looking for a good time—which rules out U of T, a school with an academic reputation that can be a bit of a killjoy.

Or, as Alexandra puts it—she asked that her real name not be used in this article, and broached the topic of race at universities hesitantly—a “reputation of being Asian.”

Discussing the role that race plays in the self-selecting communities that more and more characterize university campuses makes many people uncomfortable. Still, an “Asian” school has come to mean one that is so academically focused that some students feel they can no longer compete or have fun. Indeed, Rachel, Alexandra and her brother belong to a growing cohort of student that’s eschewing some big-name schools over perceptions that they’re “too Asian.” It’s a term being used in some U.S. academic circles to describe a phenomenon that’s become such a cause for concern to university admissions officers and high school guidance counsellors that several elite universities to the south have faced scandals in recent years over limiting Asian applicants and keeping the numbers of white students artificially high.

Although university administrators here are loath to discuss the issue, students talk about it all the time. “Too Asian” is not about racism, say students like Alexandra: many white students simply believe that competing with Asians—both Asian Canadians and international students—requires a sacrifice of time and freedom they’re not willing to make. They complain that they can’t compete for spots in the best schools and can’t party as much as they’d like (too bad for them, most will say). Asian kids, meanwhile, say they are resented for taking the spots of white kids. “At graduation a Canadian—i.e. ‘white’—mother told me that I’m the reason her son didn’t get a space in university and that all the immigrants in the country are taking up university spots,” says Frankie Mao, a 22-year-old arts student at the University of British Columbia. “I knew it was wrong, being generalized in this category,” says Mao, “but f–k, I worked hard for it.”

That Asian students work harder is a fact born out by hard data. They tend to be strivers, high achievers and single-minded in their approach to university. Stephen Hsu, a physics prof at the University of Oregon who has written about the often subtle forms of discrimination faced by Asian-American university applicants, describes them as doing “disproportionately well—they tend to have high SAT scores, good grades in high school, and a lot of them really want to go to top universities.” In Canada, say Canadian high school guidance counsellors, that means the top-tier post-secondary institutions with international profiles specializing in math, science and business: U of T, UBC and the University of Waterloo. White students, by contrast, are more likely to choose universities and build their school lives around social interaction, athletics and self-actualization—and, yes, alcohol. When the two styles collide, the result is separation rather than integration.

The dilemma is this: Canadian institutions operate as pure meritocracies when it comes to admissions, and admirably so. Privately, however, many in the education community worry that universities risk becoming too skewed one way, changing campus life—a debate that’s been more or less out in the open in the U.S. for years but remains muted here. And that puts Canadian universities in a quandary. If they openly address the issue of race they expose themselves to criticisms that they are profiling and committing an injustice. If they don’t, Canada’s universities, far from the cultural mosaics they’re supposed to be—oases of dialogue, mutual understanding and diversity—risk becoming places of many solitudes, deserts of non-communication. It’s a tough question to have to think about.

Asian-Canadian students are far more likely to talk about and assert their ethnic identities than white students. “I’m Asian,” going back to Confucius, of social mobility based on merit.” Demographics contribute to the high degree of academic success among Asian- Canadian students. “Our highly selective immigration process means that we get many highly educated parents, so they have similar aspirations for their children,” says Robert Sweet, a retired Lakehead University education prof who has studied the parenting styles of immigrants as they relate to education. Sweet’s latest study, “Post-high school pathways of immigrant youth,” released last month, found that more than 70 per cent of students in the Toronto District School Board who immigrated from East Asia went on to university, compared to 52 per cent of Europeans, the next highest group, and 12 per cent of Caribbean, the lowest. This is in contrast to English-speaking Toronto students born in Canada—of which just 42 per cent confirmed admission to university.

Diane Bondy, a recently retired Ottawa area guidance counsellor, notes that by the end of her 20-year career, competition among some Asian parents had reached a fever pitch. “Asian parents do their homework and the students are going to U of T or they’re going to Queen’s,” says Bondy, who points out that “Asians get more support from their parents financially and academically.” She also observed that the focus on academics was often to the exclusion of social interaction. “The kids were getting 98 per cent but they didn’t have other skills,” she says. “Their parents would come in and write in the resumé letters that they were in clubs. But the kids weren’t able to do anything in those clubs because they were academically focused.” says 21-year-old Susie Su, a third-year student at UBC’s Sauder School of Business. “I do have traditional Asian parents. I feel the pressure of finding a good job and raising a good family.” That pressure helps shape more than just the way Su handles study and school assignments; it shapes the way she interacts with her colleagues. “If I feel like it’s going to be an event where it’s all white people, I probably wouldn’t want to go,” she says. “There’s a lot of just drinking. It’s not that I don’t like white people. But you tend to hang out with people of the same race.”

Catherine Costigan, a psychology assistant prof at the University of Victoria, says it’s unsurprising that Asian students are segregated from “mainstream” campus life. She cites studies that show Chinese youth are bullied more than their non-Asian peers. As a so-called “model minority,” they are more frequently targeted because of being “too smart” and “teachers’ pets.” To counter peer ostracism and resentment, Costigan says Chinese students reaffirm their ethnicity.

The value of education has been drilled into Asian students by their parents, likely for cultural and socio-economic reasons. “It’s often described that Asians are the new Jews,” says Jon Reider, director of college counselling at San Francisco University High School and a former Stanford University admissions officer. “That in the face of discrimination, what you do is you study. And there’s a long tradition in Chinese culture, for example, going back to Confucius, of social mobility based on merit.”

Students can carry that narrow scope into university, where they risk alienating their more fun-loving peers. The division is perhaps most extreme at Waterloo, where students have dubbed the MC and DC buildings—the Mathematics & Computer Building and the William G. Davis Computer Research Centre, respectively—“mainland China” and “downtown China,” and where some students told Maclean’s they can go for days without speaking English. Writes one Waterloo mathematics graduate on an online forum: “I once had a tutorial session for the whole class where the TA got frustrated with speaking English and started giving the answer in Mandarin. A lot of the class understood his answer.”

“My dad said if you don’t go into engineering, I won’t pay your tuition,” says Jason Yin, a Taiwanese software engineering student at Waterloo. “They are very traditional. They believe school is about work, studying, go home and studying some more.” Hard-studying Waterloo lends itself particularly to those goals. “We had a problem getting students out of their bedrooms,” says Nikki Best, a former residence don who sits on Waterloo’s student government, who explains they “didn’t want to get behind in their grades because of coming out to social events.” [Nikki Best said her quote was taken out of context, she was referring to students in general not just Asian students]

That’s not to say Asian students form any sort of monolithic presence on Canadian campuses. “The mainland China group tends to stick together,” says Anthony Wong, 19, a Waterloo software engineering student. “We can talk to them,” says Jonathan Ing, also 19 and in Waterloo’s software engineering program, “but we don’t mingle.” Complains Waterloo student Simon Wang, a Chinese national who is frustrated by the segregation at Waterloo: “Why bother to come to Canada and pay five times as much to speak Chinese?” Meanwhile, Calgarian Joyce Chau identifies as “completely whitewashed,” a “banana”: “I look Asian but I’m white in all other respects.” Chau, a 19-year-old UBC business student, lived in residence her first year, where she met the majority of her (white) friends. “It’s harder to integrate into a group with Asians—you may or may not get introduced,” says Chau, who accepts the segregation as just “part of the university experience.”

Such balkanization is reflected in official student organizations: there is little Asian representation on student government, campus newspapers or college radio stations. At UBC, where the student body is roughly 40 per cent Asian, not one Asian sits on the student executive. Same goes for Waterloo. Asian students do, however, participate in organizations beyond the university mainstream, and long-standing cultural clubs function as a sort of ad hoc government. “After you graduate you won’t care about student government, but you’ll care about your club,” says Stan He, president of the Dragon Seed Connection, an on-campus Chinese club with over 300 members. (His business cards feature both dragon and robot motifs.) The Dragon Seed offers its members social functions, tutoring help, volunteer opportunities, poker and mah-jong tournaments, and special holiday parties—including at Halloween and Christmas. It even has an exclusive partnership with Solid Entertainment, a promotions and events-planning company that sponsors massive fundraising events and gives Dragon Seed exclusive selling rights on campus. He says that the dozen or so Asian clubs at UBC serve well over 4,000 students and cater to the whole spectrum of cultural identification— from “whitewashed” to “Honger,” a once pejorative term now adopted by students with Hong Kong backgrounds. The Dragon Seed lies somewhere in between—“We’re the middle ground,” He says. “We have international students, but we all speak English.”

Or take the Chinese Varsity Club. With upwards of 500 members, it’s the largest student social club at UBC. The executives say they’ve captured a niche market: Chinese commuter students from the outlying Richmond, Burnaby and North Vancouver communities who hope to find a social network at the big school. “Students from high school already hear about us from older brothers and sisters,” says Peter Yang, the 21-year-old accounting student who is the club’s VP external. “You want to break out of the cycle of studying and being lonely,” says Brian Cheung, its president.

The impact of high admissions rates for Asian students has been an issue for years in the U.S., where high school guidance counsellors have come to accept that it’s just more difficult to sell their Asian applicants to elite colleges. In 2006, at its annual meeting, the National Association for College Admission Counseling explored the issue in an expert panel discussion called “Too Asian?” One panellist, Rachel Cederberg—an Asian-American then working as an admissions official at Colorado College—described fellow admissions officers complaining of “yet another Asian student who wants to major in math and science and who plays the violin.” A Boston Globe article early this year asked, “Do colleges redline Asian-Americans?” and concluded there’s likely an “Asian ceiling” at elite U.S. universities. After California passed Proposition 209 in 1996 forbidding affirmative action in the state’s public dealings, Asians soared to 40 per cent of the population at public universities, even though they make up just 13 per cent of state residents. And U.S. studies suggest Ivy League schools have taken the issue of Asian academic prowess so seriously that they’ve operated with secret quotas for decades to maintain their WASP credentials.

In his 2009 book No Longer Separate, Not Yet Equal, Princeton University sociologist Thomas Espenshade surveyed 10 elite U.S. universities and found that Asian applicants needed an extra 140 points on their SAT scores to be on equal footing with white applicants. Scandals over such unfair admissions practices have surfaced in recent years at Stanford, Harvard University, the University of California at Berkeley and elsewhere. Hsu, the Oregon physicist, draws a comparison between Asian-Americans and Jewish students who began arriving at the Ivy League in the first half of the last century. “You can find well-documented internal discussions at places like Harvard and Yale and Princeton about why we shouldn’t admit these people, they’re working so hard and they’re so obviously ambitious, but we want to keep our WASP [white anglo-saxon protestant] pedigree here.”

To quell the influx of Jewish students, Ivy League schools abandoned their meritocratic admissions processes in favour of one that focused on the details of an applicant’s private life—questions about race, religion, even about the maiden name of an applicant’s mother. Schools also began looking at such intangibles as character, personality and leadership potential. Canadian universities, apart from highly competitive professional programs and faculties, don’t quiz applicants the same way, and rely entirely on transcripts. Likely that is a good thing. And yet, that meritocratic process results, especially in Canada’s elite university programs, in a concentration of Asian students.

The upshot is that race is defining Canadian university campuses in a way it did not 25 years ago. Diversity has enriched these schools, but it has also put them at risk of being increasingly fractured along ethnic lines. It’s a superficial form of multiculturalism that is expressed in the main through segregated, self-selecting, discrete communities. It would behoove the leadership of our universities to recognize these issues and take them seriously. And yet, that’s exactly what’s not happening. Indeed, discussions with Canada’s top university presidents reveal for the most part that they are in a state of denial.

“This is a non-issue,” wrote U of T president David Naylor in an email. “We’ve never had a student complain about this. In fact, this is a false stereotype, as we know that Asian students are fully engaged in extracurricular activities. So the whole concept is false.”

As Cheryl Misak, the U of T’s VP and provost, puts it: “We have a properly diverse mix, with no particular group extra prominent—we’re the rainbow nation and we’ve got every sort of student and everyone is on merit.” Waterloo president Feridun Hamdullahpur echoes a similar sentiment. “There is a great tendency in our society to learn more about other nations and other cultures,” he says. “Universities are the hotbed of these kind of activities. If you want to see more economic and political diversity, I think they star.”

These positions arguably represent a missed opportunity. Universities have the potential of establishing real cultural change. It makes sense that the head of the Canadian university with perhaps the highest number of Asian students is the most candid and the most concerned. Indeed, Stephen Toope has, since his arrival in 2006 as UBC president, made the issue central to his agenda—including outreach and newspaper op-ed pieces touting the importance of making the university campus a meeting place not only of diversity but also of dialogue.

Among Canadian universities, UBC is one of the few institutions that publishes the ethnic makeup of its student body. Toope says that the university’s Asian student population is not “widely out of whack with the community,” although the stats tell a slightly different story. According to a 2009 UBC report on direct undergraduate entrants, 43 per cent of its students self-identify as ethnically Chinese, Korean or Japanese, as compared to 38 per cent who self-identify as white. Although Vancouver is a richly diverse city, according to data from the 2006 census, just 21.5 per cent of its residents identify as a Chinese, Korean or Japanese visible minority.

Toope says drawing the various communities present on Canadian campuses into a common medium can be challenging. “Across Canada it isn’t always the case that you’re seeing as much engagement from the new communities as perhaps we should,” he says. Toope uses the experience of Turkish immigrants in Germany as a cautionary tale—“there are groups that never find a way to participate in the broader community.” Such circumstances persist precisely because the issue of race is not attacked head on. “I don’t want to pretend that just because you have people from different backgrounds they’re going to interact—they’re not,” Toope says. “We have to actually create mechanisms, programs and opportunities for people to interact. A university is one of the places that has the greatest capacity to work through demographic change.”

Toope points us in the right direction. It’s unfair to change the meritocratic entry system, so all universities can do—all they should do—is encourage groups to mingle. Though it’s true that universities—U of T and Waterloo included—do have diversity programs and policies for students, newer, fresher ways are needed to help pry the ethnic ghettos open so everyone hangs out together. Or at least they have the chance to. The white kids may not find it’s too Asian after all. Alexandra, who chose to go to Western for the party scene, found she “hated being away from home” and moved back to Toronto. In retrospect, she didn’t like the vibe. “Some people just want to drink 23 hours a day.” Alexandra says she still has friends at Western who live in an “all-blond house” and are “stick thin.” Rachel, Alexandra’s friend, says Western suits them—“they work hard, get good grades, then slap on their clubbing clothes.” But it didn’t suit Alexandra. She now studies at U of T.

To His Lost Lover by Simon Armitage

Monday, October 4th, 2010

Shannon shared this beautiful poem with me last year. I keep it close and return to it often.

Now they are no longer
any trouble to each other

he can turn things over, get down to that list
of things that never happened, all of the lost

unfinishable business.
For instance… for instance,

how he never clipped and kept her hair, or drew a hairbrush
through that style of hers, and never knew how not to blush

at the fall of her name in close company.
How they never slept like buried cutlery –

two spoons or forks cupped perfectly together,
or made the most of some heavy weather –

walked out into hard rain under sheet lightning,
or did the gears while the other was driving.

How he never raised his fingertips
to stop the segments of her lips

from breaking the news,
or tasted the fruit

or picked for himself the pear of her heart,
or lifted her hand to where his own heart

was a small, dark, terrified bird
in her grip. Where it hurt.

Or said the right thing,
or put it in writing.

And never fled the black mile back to his house
before midnight, or coaxed another button of her blouse,

then another,
or knew her

favourite colour,
her taste, her flavour,

and never ran a bath or held a towel for her,
or soft-soaped her, or whipped her hair

into an ice-cream cornet or a beehive
of lather, or acted out of turn, or misbehaved

when he might have, or worked a comb
where no comb had been, or walked back home

through a black mile hugging a punctured heart,
where it hurt, where it hurt, or helped her hand

to his butterfly heart
in its two blue halves.

And never almost cried,
and never once described

an attack of the heart,
or under a silk shirt

nursed in his hand her breast,
her left, like a tear of flesh

wept by the heart,
where it hurts,

or brushed with his thumb the nut of her nipple,
or drank intoxicating liquors from her navel.

Or christened the Pole Star in her name,
or shielded the mask of her face like a flame,

a pilot light,
or stayed the night,

or steered her back to that house of his,
or said “Don’t ask me how it is

I like you.
I just might do.”

How he never figured out a fireproof plan,
or unravelled her hand, as if her hand

were a solid ball
of silver foil

and discovered a lifeline hiding inside it,
and measured the trace of his own alongside it.

But said some things and never meant them –
sweet nothings anybody could have mentioned.

And left unsaid some things he should have spoken,
about the heart, where it hurt exactly, and how often.

Canada, it’s our time to lead

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

I just saw this on TV and thought I’d share. It’s a great commercial for The Globe and Mail.


It’s not hockey, the telephone or how we taught the world to type with our thumbs.

So what is Canada?

It’s not peacekeeping, insulin, or universal health care

If you ask Canadians what defines us, some might offer up a list of others’ past accomplishments. But what if, instead, 34 million of us step up, pledging new ones of our own? Things not yet done or dreamed, ventured not because they’re within our grasp, but exactly because they are beyond it – to be a nation neither afraid of success, nor skeptical of those who seek it.

So stop, look back at everything we’ve been given and then turn when you’re ready to begin.

Canada, it’s our time to lead.

Coffee on the grass

Monday, May 10th, 2010

I’ve been keeping myself really busy lately. It helps keep me distracted from the inevitable sadness that accompanies this time of year. You were present in my thoughts this weekend as we celebrated dad’s birthday and K’s election to president of her high school student council. These life events are becoming increasingly more important to me as I realize that there are, in fact, a limited number of them.

As we visited you today, dad poured some of his coffee onto the grass for you. We all shared a chuckle. On a day like today, you would’ve liked a coffee.

Happy Mother’s Day.

S-21 and the Killing Fields

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

After visiting S-21 and the Killing Fields, I felt a bit sick for the rest of the day. A monument with 9,000 skulls. Tatters of clothing sticking out of the dirt. The tree where infants would be hurled against to kill them.

When I visited Auschwitz earlier this year, it had a different kind of feeling. Overwhelming. But I think S-21 hit me in a different way as some of the photos of the people displayed in the Genocide Museum reminded me of family members.

Today, when we were visiting the RDIC, it was pointed out that culturally, forgiveness is not something that comes easily in Cambodia.

How could you forgive something like this?

The road to Phnom Penh

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

The route from Kampong Chanang to Phnom Penh was beautiful. We blazed along the main road early in the morning as the sun rose – it felt really good to be pushing my physical limit. At Oudong we detoured and took a scenic ride for the last 50 km through back roads that ran through rice fields. As the heat increased, in addition to pushing the physical endurance there was also the mental, just trying to stay focused in the heat.

The stops for sugar cane juice are absolutely wonderful. And the cascades of “helloooo” from the children that run out to the side of the road as we cycle always evokes a smile.

As we road into Phnom Penh, we stayed in a straight line and weaved through the busy traffic between trucks, tuk-tuks and motos. It was like being in a video game, except you get one life as you make a split second decision as to whether or not you can squeeze in the small space that’s quickly closing up as a truck is backing up. It was exhilerating.

We’ve had the opportunity to rest for a couple days and tomorrow we do 135 km.

Happy New Year!

Friday, January 1st, 2010

We spent new year’s eve riding from Battambong to Pursat, which is approximately 110 km. Children would yell hellloooooooo from the side of the road and others would repeat it hellohellohellohello! Wewere awake at 4 am and we pulled in at about 2-3 pm. I felt completely and utterly exhausted and grabbed a quick nap before heading to dinner with the group and Sustainable Cambodia. We rang in the new year at midnight which is ahead of GMT by 8 hours and a full 12 hours ahead from back home in Kitchener-Waterloo. Today we have a rest day and then there are two back-to-back 90 km days as we make our way towards Phnom Penh.

Resolutions – I’m still working those out. Generally speaking, the resolution for 2009 still holds, be a better person, but I will be putting some other goals up here as they are refined.

As far as end of year reflections, a more detailed post will follow in time,
but for now, I think I can honestly say that 2009 has been the best year
yet, filled with adventure and fun. For those who helped make it
amazing and for those who shared in those special moments, thank you.
For those who I may have hurt or offended, please accept my apologies. For everyone, I wish peace, health, and happiness in 2010.

From Siem Reap to Battambong

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

Today we visited the PEPY ride school and I learned a lot about the practical elements of development work versus the theory and the challenges in striking a balance between the two. We took a dusty truckride to Battambong to meet with the main PEPY group today and then we went on a 20 km ride around Battambong.

We loaded up onto the Bamboo Train which are essentially two axles with a platform on top and an engine which powers the “vehicle” down unused train tracks. As the sun set, we rode back to Battambong and enjoyed a hearty dinner.

110 km tomorrow!

Siem Reap and Ankor Wat

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

Highlight of my day, learning how to count to 10 from a group of grade 4 students at Ankor Wat. Today we went to Angkor Wat, better known as the temples where Tomb Raider was filmed. We also had a group of 30 grade 4 students with us which made it about a billion times more fun. They have a natural curiosity and happiness about them that was contagious. We spent part of the afternoon playing games with them outside one of the temples and then when it was time to part ways at Ta Promh (sp?) I was sad to see them go. Off to Battambong tomorrow! My updates will be short, sporadic and limited in detail, but there will be pictures, video and music when I’m back.

Monday, December 28th, 2009

Michelle suggested that if I had time, I would probably like the Science Museum in Singapore. I felt conflicted, because I really wanted to go, but I would be cutting it really close in getting to the airport in time for my flight.

The nerd in me won out.

The Singapore Science Museum is pretty fantastic. It has all the fun stuff that I remember growing up with in the Ontario Science Center, like a Tesla coil and models explaining ocean currents, but the highlight for me was the Body Worlds exhibit that is on until March 2010.

The human body.
A marvel of contradictions.
Simple yet complex,
vulnerable yet resilient.
The limit of our experience
yet the starting point of boundless potential.

The exhibit was amazing, starting with embryos at one week of development all the way through the gestation period. It was haunting and thought-provoking exhibit. What particularly kept my attention was that every single speciman is a real human body (not to mention the horse and giraffe that has also been “plastinated”)

I wanted to see more of the Science Center, especially snow city, which seemed to be a giant enclosed space with a snowmaker, but I was already late in getting to the airport. The standard “be there two hours before your flight takes off” that has been drilled into me from North American travel doesn’t seem to apply here though. So far from my two intra-Asia flights, I’m pretty sure I could’ve arrived a half hour before my flight took off and still have made it on time.

Maybe I’ll get to test that theory in Phnom Penh in a couple of weeks.

Singapore!

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

The last 24 hours have been a total whirlwind of activity. After a 4 hour layover in the Hong Kong International Airport, I went on to Singapore. I scheduled the stopover in Singapore enroute to Cambodia to visit a friend I met while traveling in Eastern Europe earlier this year. Michelle took me all over Singapore City which included Orchard Street, the Esplanade, Merlion Park (yes, a combination of a lion and mermaid) and my personal favourite, Little India.

For lunch, Michelle ordered us the signature Singaporean dish, chicken and rice, which is absolutely delicious. Though my time in Singapore is brief, it has been great fun. The metro has provided an endless source of comedy. The metro system uses wireless RFID cards which let people in through the gates – I figured Michelle was swiping for us both, so I just hopped in after her before the gates closed. When I realized this wasn’t the case and was trying to figure out how to get back out, that proved to be a bit difficult. On the metro on the way back after an exhausting day exploring the city, I fell asleep while hanging onto the overhead strap and snapped awake just as I was losing my grip, much to the amusement of people around me.

I will be braving the bus and metro system myself tomorrow as I navigate my way to the airport. I take some comfort in that most people know English here and as a backup, my Cantonese is decent enough to get around.  There are many pictures which have yet to be uploaded, but I’ll likely not find the bandwidth for the high resolution pictures until I get back home.

Live from the Hong Kong International Airport – Starbucks

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

Despite Starbucks being an international brand, short, tall, and venti didn’t seem to make the leap. On the board, the Chinese characters for small, medium and large are used.

Waiting…

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

Packing light

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

Two red panniers and a helmet. (The other pannier is checked luggage) Probably the lightest I’ve ever packed for a trip, but when you have to cycle with all your stuff, it’s a lot easier to cut out the extras.

Toronto to Hong Kong

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

I’m now in the Hong Kong International Airport, tapping away on my Blackberry – connected via the wifi. I opted to bring the Blackberry instead of my laptop, or even the netbook because I have to cycle with everything that I bring and I needed to keep things light. I feel a bit disoriented, still adjusting to losing a day in transit. The plane ride was filled with dozing and watching movies on the back of the seat – I managed to take in 500 Days of Summer, Julie and Julia, The Time Traveler’s Wife and Transformers 2. I had to watch Transformers in fast forward though, because it simply wasn’t making any sense after the first half hour.

I am waiting for my flight to Singapore where I will be meeting up with a friend before continuing on to Siem Reap, Cambodia. There’s lots more I’d like to write, but it will have to wait till I get to a real keyboard.

Erika and Jared on the Camino de Santiago

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Photo Credit: Victor Nuno

For the last month, my friends Erika and Jared have been walking the 800 km Camino de Santiago in Northern Spain. In English, it is known as the Way of St. James and it is a centuries old pilgrimage route. Erika and Jared are both individuals with big hearts and they are using this opportunity to raise money for War Child Canada, a charity dedicated to providing urgently needed humanitarian assistance to war-affected children around the world. Jared is certainly no stranger to long distance treks as he cycled coast-to-coast across Canada a couple of years ago to raise funds for the World Wildlife Foundation.

They have been sending out detailed updates via their Facebook Group during their journey and they are currently about 70 km from Santiago.

You can make a donation here and join their Facebook group here.

Music on a Sunday afternoon

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

Over the Christmas holidays, I picked up a guitar and decided to try my hand at learning how to play it. My skills are still pretty basic, but my sister has been an enthusiastic supporter, nudging me to learn more music so she can sing along. This past weekend, Cliff brought over his ukulele and we decided to try a cover of Ingrid Michaelson’s The Way I Am. I’m not really playing any chords, just plucking one string at any given time, but I’m working on it. The sound is pretty low, so you’ll have to turn up the volume.

Welcome home!

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Sometimes it’s fun waiting for people at the airport. For my sister, it’s even more fun if you’re holding a sign that says Jackie Chan.

Sunset over Nijmegen

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

The last stop on my adventure was Nijmegen, The Netherlands, which is about an hour and a half by train southeast of Amsterdam. There, I stayed with a former roommate of mine who had been on exchange two years prior in Waterloo. When we had lived together, I always remembered that she spoke quite affectionately about her home in Ubbergen, a suburb near Nijmegen. Back in Canada, I typically only hear the same kind of attachment to a place when people are talking about waterfront cottages.

“We could meet in Amsterdam, but you could also come to Ubbergen, I think you’d really like it.”

There was something about her gentle nudge to go to Ubbergen, a desire to share a place and experience that she loved so much. I booked my train ticket and I was off. It was amazing seeing her again, because when many of my international roommates went back home, I always thought to myself that I would likely never see them again in my lifetime. As I walked up the road to her home, I immediately saw why she loved it so much. I also fell in love with the area as well and that made it very difficult to leave. (Pictures coming soon!) It was a good way to wind down after 3 months on the road, but as I rode the train to the airport, I was already dreaming about when I would return.