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Shaun and Trina are Sweating

Join us as we eat curry, go on adventures and fight the evil travellers' diarrhea.

My friend Lee

This is Lee and I performing our ushering duties at our good friend Celeste’s wedding a few years back. I was obviously wearing a wig. Lee was not.

One of the scariest moments about living in a far off time zone is checking my phone when I wake up. I’m not sure why as I’ve received very little bad news during my time overseas. (I just knocked on a huge piece of wood.) It’s not an overwhelming fear just a tiny twinge of doubt that I might have slept through something crappy happening back home.

I’m guessing it’s a natural feeling; and the majority of time I’m relieved and happy to wake up to a photo of my nieces or nephews, or at worst my monthly update on my meagre pension savings.

Last week, my irrational fear was unfortunately explained.

We happened to be in Bali enjoying a Chinese New Year getaway with my visiting parents. We were about to head off for a day of hiking, eating and shopping, when I glanced at my message notifications to see the words – ‘terrible news’, ‘Lee’ and ‘passed away.’

I’m not proud to admit this, but I immediately shut off my phone before reading any of the messages. I wanted nothing to do with any of those words and I blocked it out of my mind for the entire day.

When we got back to our place at the end of the day and I turned my phone back on, I was hoping the messages would be gone. A figment of my imagination. They weren’t. It was time to face the truth.

My friend and former colleague Lee had taken his own life the day before. As I struggled through glassy eyes to read the multiple messages from former colleagues, I pieced together that he’d been on leave from work and people hadn’t talked to him in awhile. He was obviously struggling and I had no idea.

The last time I saw Lee was in July as we caught up over beers (pop for him) and nachos. Like always, we laughed and chatted about our upcoming travel plans (he was excited for his a visit to New Zealand in November) and I was selling him on a visit to Malaysia.

When we parted ways that night (and he offered me a ride home like he always did), I remember thinking how content and full of life he seemed to be. It made me happy to see him so happy.

Fast forward six months and he was gone. It makes no sense. Was he putting on a good front in July? Did something terrible happen later that summer? Or did the depression and anxiety that he dealt with for much of his life just put a grip on him that he couldn’t release? The answer is probably ‘yes’ to all three questions.

It’s tough to make sense of any of it, and what hurts the most is that he may have died not knowing how many people loved and respected him. That thought is going to haunt me for a long time.

Lee was such a special person – kind, generous, stoic, modest, gentle, witty, patient – and best of all he put up with (and I think even enjoyed) working with idiots like me.

From the moment we were presented matching denim, jewel encrusted thongs from our female colleagues (I know that sounds creepy, but it was all in good fun) or when we dressed up as Golden Girls together for Halloween (he was a spitting image of Dorothy when he wore a wig), I knew we’d be buds for a long time.

And while I wish we could have shared more laughs together, I’m so grateful for the ones we did have.

You were a beauty, Lee Cowie. Thank you for all the rides home. Thank you for teaching me about comma splices. Thank you for enduring my karaoke singing, And most of all, thank you for being my friend. I’m going to miss you.

http://leaderpost.remembering.ca/obituary/lee-cowie-1072610714

A couple more pics of me and Lee, or is it Lee and me, or Lee and I. Lee would know this answer!

 

 

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Why remembering my Hyundai Pony makes me so thankful

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This isn’t my Pony. Picture more rust. Photo source: https://driving.ca/hyundai/pony/auto-news/news/an-unbridled-passion-for-the-beautifully-humble-pony


The world isn’t always a kind place. I know that. Today was a particularly heavy news day for me. Sometimes the stories you hear just hit you harder and the case of Hassan Al Kontar is one I feel helplessly connected to.

Which is why hearing Friday’s episode of CBC’s As It Happens was so timely. The podcast was all about a mint condition 1986 Hyundai Pony for sale in Quebec for $15,000 and chronicled the rise and fall of this economic Korean vehicle in the Canadian market.

For those of you not familiar with the Pony, this commercial will give you an idea.

1987 Hyundai Pony Commercial

In high school and my first years of university (1996-2002), I drove a silver 1984 Hyundai Pony. Its features included a manual choke (think of starting a lawn mower), a sweet cassette deck, a cup holder, carpeting throughout and rear defrost. All of which were directly marketed in their advertising campaign (CBC’s As It Happens). Nevermind frivolous accessories like power steering, digital clocks or heat that worked, this Korean marvel of the 80s had exactly what my family and a lot of Canadians wanted – it started (most of the time) in the winter and it was cheap!

Now, my parents must have bought our used Pony in around 1987.  I can remember riding shotgun with my tight perm, backcombed bangs, and Fisher-Price Sun Jammers thinking I was “like, totally rad” in this ride. Flash forward to 1996 and I became the lucky heir to this family treasure.

My friends and I dubbed this vehicle, “the 80s-mobile” and we kept all the original cassettes my father got for 99cents from joining Columbia House. Taylor Dayne, Billy Ocean, REO Speedwagon, Tears for Fears and Sade were amongst the stellar artists whose tunes were blasted on our daily commute to school.

By this point, the Pony was a little worse for wear. You had to open the door with a coat hanger because the handle fell off, the passenger side seat was falling through the floorboards and it seemed to drip antifreeze or some sort of greenish blue liquid onto my foot while driving.

The car didn’t do well on ice; I may or may not have slid up on a curb a time or two. The car didn’t do well in snow; we got stuck nearly every new snowfall and my friends and I would have to dig the Pony out. Every January my parents got me a CAA membership and one year I remember using up all the free tows by the end of the month.

But what that car lacked in practicality, it made up for in character and in stamina. The Pony was near its end many times but it kept running long enough to be passed on to my sister and sold to a lucky stranger after that for $200.

Nostalgia is funny.

It distorts the way things really were. I’m sure when I was stuck in a snow bank for the 10th time in a single month I wasn’t thinking of how great my crappy car was.

Nostalgia is a privilege.

You can look back fondly even in the difficult situations you had only because you have a hopeful future. And not all people have this privilege.

That’s why on this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend I feel thankful to laugh with Shaun over stories about my 1984 Hyundai Pony.

Trina

Source:

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-wednesday-edition-1.4848746/a-hyundai-pony-once-canada-s-favourite-hatchback-on-sale-for-15k-1.4848757

Racing through the Malaysian jungle

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Trail running is something I’ve only recently gotten into. Maybe it was the mosquito fogging, constant construction or high traffic and sketchy sidewalks I was navigating in the city. Or maybe it was a particularly athletic (and a bit crazy) friend who convinced me. Regardless of the impetus, this summer I found every trail and hill (so two) in Saskatchewan to train for a recent 35 km race through the oldest jungle in Malaysia and possibly the world.

This adventure race had me scrambling through caves, mincing over waterfalls, sloshing up kilometers of river (sometimes as deep as my chest) and traversing among banana and palm trees, which gave me plenty of time to think about what makes these Malaysian runs charmingly frustrating. Here is a list in no particular order.Race finish

      • You never really know when or where they are going to start. – No one told me when I picked up my race kit that we needed to meet an hour earlier and be transported in the back of lorries to the new start line.
      • Tons of Malaysians enter in groups and they walk and talk and have picnics along the way. I think it’s some sort of team building. There’s no training for these groups but they love the photos and the finisher’s t-shirts.
      • Ceremonies are mandatory.  These races are events that can last the entire weekend. There are opening ceremonies, race briefings, dinners, breakfasts, prize givings and closing ceremonies.
      • There is a lot of swag. No expense is spared in that even the smallest race will have t-shirts (usually a race one and a finisher’s one that looks the same but says finisher), medals, door prizes, trophies and cash money (if you are lucky).
      • There are no strict regulations. The terrain of this race was dicey at times to say the least, but that’s what makes it even more of an adventure. And I grew up in the 80s , a time of wooden playgrounds with exposed nails, dares to stick your tongue on a frozen poll and riding a slip and slide headfirst into a fence, so I know that the most fun comes from a dusting of danger.

 

Trina

One summer, two islands

Click here for our summer photos!

A perfect sunset over Crean Lake at Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan. Me and my buds actually stayed on our own island here for a few days. Only cost me $9 a day.

One place is an actual island. The other is a landlocked Prairie city smack dab in the middle of a continent. Both feel like home to me. And both couldn’t be more different from afar, yet have so many similarities when viewed up close.

Colombo, Sri Lanka and Regina, Canada would never be mistaken for one another when looking at the cities from the outside. Colombo is hot, crowded and noisy. Regina is cool, sparse and quiet. In Colombo, exotic curries and spices are found in all the food. In Regina, adding Tabasco sauce to chicken wings is as hot as it gets.

What the two places have in common is more related to their remoteness and isolation than anything seen with the naked eye.

First off, both places are only a stone’s throw from gigantic monoliths, India and the U.S., and very few people in those monster countries could find their tiny neighbour cities on a map.

Both Colombo and Regina are also filled with people who have rarely left their country, province, or even city. This isn’t because people living there don’t like to travel, it’s just so far and expensive to get anywhere (Regina’s only international flights are to Mexico all-inclusive resorts in the winter and sparse weekly flights to Vegas and Phoenix for those that gamble and golf). Getting out of Sri Lanka with a Sri Lankan passport is just as difficult – you pretty much have to give up your first born and a kidney to get a tourist visa anywhere.

Add that to the fact that the closest major city to Regina is over 700 kms away and Colombo is the major city in Sri Lanka, and you’ve got some serious isolation.

Weather is also a factor. It’s super cold in Regina in the winter with plenty of snowstorms and it’s super hot in Colombo all year with plenty of flooding.

All of these realities have resulted in an eclectic and creative mix of people, traditions and landscapes. People are weird, welcoming and fun – and I fit in perfectly.

Having been lucky enough to live in (and be a tourist in) both cities as well as having great family and friends in both places, I couldn’t think of two better places to have spent my past 8 weeks – 2 in Sri Lanka and 6 in Regina.

Trina and I couldn’t have laughed, ate, relaxed and felt more at home this summer. It was fantastic and we thank everybody who opened up their homes and fridges for us. As my 4-year-old niece Annie put it best one day while munching on mushroom pizza at lunch – “You’re all my family and everyone of you lives in my heart.”

And now, it’s back to Malaysia for Year 4 and a new job in a completely different line of work. I’ve been given the title of Academic Success Coordinator – God help all the students. Not sure how it’s going to go, but it’s comforting to know that I always have my crazy little islands to come home to.

See you soon!

Shaun

A shared experience

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Our crew on Railay Beach in Krabi, Thailand.

Over the past month, we’ve had more visitors than any other time in our five years living abroad. To me, the best part about traveling and living someplace strange is when I get the chance to share this experience with my family and friends – so it’s been a good month.

My longest-serving friend of 35 years, Trevor “Schneidz” Schneider was the first to visit with his wife Kim and their two kids Leighton (7) and Adam (3). Growing up together in Regina, Sask, I can guarantee we never talked about one day meeting up in Kuala Lumpur – probably couldn’t even find it on a map. We actually didn’t make it past Moose Jaw very often or south of Dewdney Avenue.

But, fast forward a few decades and things have changed for both of us.

While I was scared about the 20-hour flight for the kids, I knew that once they landed in Malaysia it would be a sweaty, good time. And, after fighting off jet lag like champs, they were all ready for some Asian fun.

In no particular order, we laughed, drank, ate, swam, beached, got diarrhea, laughed some more, saw a monitor lizard eat a fish while fighting off crows, picked up some garbage, heckled some monkeys, got in a fender bender, rode in the back of a truck, searched for feminine hygiene products in a Muslim neighbourhood, and generally experienced some of Asia’s finest sights, smells and sounds over 14 days.

Even though I was seeing some places for the second time, it was all made fresh through their eyes, which easily made it the most memorable, meaningful experience in my time overseas. So much fun, so many stories and so happy to have had the opportunity to share this experience. I wish they could have stayed longer.

A day after the Schneidz crew departed, we welcomed a friend and former colleague of mine for a short stay. Obviously a very different type of traveler than the Schneidz’s, Kim attacked the KL attractions like no one I’ve ever seen. She hit them all and left us a list of hits and misses for future visitors. It was a treat to have her and also see Malaysia through her eyes – and somewhat delicate tastebuds and stomach. She’s a trooper with a huge heart and someone I have a ton of time for.

I hope all my old co-workers follow her lead! I’m talking to you Artie from Nor-town Bowling Alley.

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Amazed by the KL skyline and likely on the lookout for bees, which never appeared.
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Our Thai friends and us getting an early morning blessing from a monk at our riverside hotel just outside Bangkok.
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Adam lets loose at the Jalan Alor food stalls in downtown KL. Shirts are always optional when you’re partying in Malaysia.

Next up was meeting my parents for two weeks in Japan. Why Japan, you ask? Well, no, they don’t like sushi. No, they don’t speak Japanese. And no, they’re not secret ninjas. But what they do like is somewhat shorter plane rides to see their firstborn son and his first wife.

So, when my Mom told me her goal was met after finding me in the busy Tokyo train station, she really meant it. While her vacation expectation bar was set low (and Rob’s was even lower – I think all he wanted was to watch CNN in a different time zone?), we still managed to have a swell old time visiting Nagano, Tokyo and Kyoto.

Outstanding weather, sparkling clean spaces, polite people and gorgeous parks and temples were on order every day. Japan is a really special place and even though it has a lot of people going a lot of places at the same time – even Rob approved.

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Rob, Jude, Trina and I in a bamboo forest just outside of Kyoto, Japan. Trina was only allowed to join for a long weekend (someone has to make actual money at an actual job).

 

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Trina is skinny in this picture, so I didn’t have to delete it. This is taken at a famous temple in Kyoto.
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Shinjuku district in Tokyo at night – lots of shopping, strange bars, and bright lights. My mom bought a nice Japanese Seiko watch here. It was more than $10, so my Dad was not impressed. He only buys things under 10 bucks.
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These colourful carp windsocks were strung up everywhere marking Children’s Day on May 5. In Japan, carp are revered for their courageous ability to swim upstream. I guess their kids must be good swimmers too?

Up next is Sri Lanka in June to meet up with friends from our first years spent sweating. There will be stories. In the meantime, take care.

Shaun

And the winner is. . . a new / old Malaysia 🇲🇾

The polls closed yesterday at 5pm. Shaun and I were up late refreshing news sites with the poll updates and following the events on Twitter. News reports were conflicting. It seemed the two parties were still neck and neck when I went to bed at midnight. (Remember I still didn’t know when the holidays would be declared and was prepared for work this morning.)

I couldn’t really sleep and I did check the local media sites at 3am when it appeared that the tides had turned and it was official that PH and their 92 year old leader had upset the current government. The final count was 113 seats for the opposition and 79 for the ruling party.

I still didn’t know if it was true. It was only when I received the 5:15am text message from the school verifying that today and Friday would be holidays that I knew this was really happening.

But it wasn’t without some controversy. The swearing in of the New Prime Minister by the King was delayed. It was supposed to happen at 8am and then 5pm. However, King apparently wanted a different member of the opposition party sworn in as Prime Minister and Najib (the now former Prime Minister) was exploring some sort of loop hole in the constitution saying that Prime Ministers couldn’t be leaders of a coalition party.

Then at 9:30pm, while we were playing beer pong at a local pub, the swearing in did happen. The music was faded and all attention was on the big screen television for the ceremony. And at the moment the documents were signed to transfer the power, the crowd in the pub erupted (and it wasn’t because Shaun had made a good shot).

Trina

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2018/05/10/official-dr-mahathir-is-back-as-7th-pm/

A Wednesday off to vote – what I’ve learned about today’s Malaysian election

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Political posters, flags and banners of the three major parties line the streets for what is anticipated to be one of the most important and most groundbreaking elections in Malaysian history.  I can’t help but wonder who will be assigned to clean up all the flags and posters when this is all over. (Picture from : https://csiprop.com/the-general-election-2018-and-malaysias-property-market/)

I have the day off work. So do millions of Malaysians. While I am spending this last minute “surprise” holiday catching up on school work and lounging around the house, approximately 14.5 million Malaysians are traveling back to the kampung (their home village) to exercise their right to vote.

GE14 (the 14th general Malaysian election) has been highly anticipated and today the country is buzzing. Here are some of the facts I’ve learned about the election:

  • Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy and a representative democracy with a parliamentary system. That’s a fancy way of saying they have the same political system as Canada and most other former colonies.
  • The current party who is in power has been in power since 1957.
  • The leader of the main opposition party used to be the leader of the current ruling party back in the 1990s (making him the Prime Minister). Now he is running as the leader of the opposition at the spry young age of 92!
  • Both parties are really coalitions of multiple other parties and have changed names several times. It gets very confusing.
  • There is a third party that used to be part of the opposition but broke off over different views on implementing the Islamic penal system. Some believe this party will split the opposition vote securing another victory for the ruling party.
  • Voter turnout is expected to be even higher than the 80% that voted in General Election 13.
  • With the exception of Sarawak, all state elections are happening today along with the federal one.
  • Everyone seems to be skeptical of the whole election process. The general public and the candidates themselves all seem to be worried about votes being lost, blackouts in previous elections, spam calls blocking politician’s phone lines and potential racial tensions.
  • Key issues for the people this election seem to be rising cost of living, low wages and continued stories of government corruption.
  • Many promises have been made during this election campaign including some made in the past few hours: no income tax for people under 26 and no road tolls for the first five days of Hari Raya (a Malaysian holiday).
  • And there is one more promise. The ruling party has promised Monday and Tuesday off work if they win. The opposition has promised Thursday and Friday off if they win. Either way, it sounds like I won’t be working much this May.

Stay tuned for the results.

Trina

Works cited for further reading if interested:

Looi, Florence. “Malaysia Election: All You Need to Know.” Al Jazeera News, Al Jazeera, 9 May 2018, www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/05/malaysia-election-180508052746428.html.

L.J., M.S. “Why the Malaysian Election Will Be so Tight.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 7 May 2018, www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2018/05/economist-explains-3.

Promchertchoo, Pichayada. “Malaysian PM Najib Promises Special Holidays, Tax Exemptions If BN Wins Election.” Channel NewsAsia, 9 May 2018, www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/malaysia-election-najib-promises-holidays-tax-exemptions-ge14-10214840.

My tiny Thai story

“Hello TINAAAAA”

nasal greeting; music to my ears

the gaps in language

the many years passed

the cultural differences

all

disappear

over

Shared meat on a stick, cold beers and laughter

as monks

and BBQ

float by in boats

Writing with a full heart and belly,

Tinaaaa

One bath tub of water

When your building puts up a sign that tells you there will be water disruptions March 6-8, you don’t think too much of it. You know the building has back up tanks. You know there is plenty water in the supply. It’s just routine maintenance. But you still fill up your bathtub with water the night of the 5th, just in case.

The routine maintenance was completed ahead of schedule. However, when they went to turn on the taps again, 5 more pipes burst – aiyo! That was on Tuesday night. Our building tanks lasted us until Friday morning.

Turns out that “just in case” has come. You really don’t realize just how much you use water until you have to go without it. In case you are wondering, here is what one bathtub full of water will get you:

  • 3 bucket showers (not including washing your hair)
  • 8 essential toilet flushes
  • 3 sinks full for dishes
  • 4 bowls full for hand washing
  • watering 9 tropical plants (which are clinging to life. Our cacti are loving it though.)

Here’s hoping that the water is restored soon since the bathtub is nearly empty. I’m definitely not taking water for granted again!

Trina

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