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Shaun and Trina are Sweating

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

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Malaysian Sweat

Dancing through fire: A Catalonian summer festival

In all of our travels, the best trips have always been alongside local friends. Secret spots, the best food and deep conversations are all perks of visiting a country with someone on the inside.

It’s become so valuable to us that we find it hard to travel anywhere now and not know someone there – luckily we know a lot of people around the world (and we’re not afraid to freeload).


Our recent trip to Catalonia was no different with our friend Ramon and his girlfriend Marta at our side.

We actually met Ramon during our trip to Myanmar a year and a half ago. As we rode bikes through the countryside, he innocently offered us a place to stay if we ever visited Barcelona. Little did he know how long our memories could be. 

After a quick email exchange in May, we were booked into Ramon’s spare bedroom and he was planning a special program for our visit.

Opening up his home (and booking off 4 days from work), Ramon took us on a hike and a run with his running group, a secret tour through Barcelona and his town of St. Boi, and made sure we ate all the best foods from the area. Oh yeah, there were also dancing eggs.


The highlight of our ‘special program’ was a traditional Catalonian festival called Patum. Celebrating the changing of seasons and honouring ancient Catalonian customs, the party is hard to explain.

Basically it’s this…

  • Put 2,000 people in a small town square.
  • Bring in 20,000 or so firecrackers.
  • Attach some of those firecrackers (lit) to giant puppets, and have them dance around the crowd to music played by a live band.
  • Make sure to have a puppet that’s supposed to be an eagle, but looks like a chicken walk into the silent crowd and awkwardly bow and jump slowly bringing everyone into a frenzy.
  • Finish it off by attaching even more firecrackers to over 100 tree puppets and have them explode at the same time as the crowd dances around and tries not to catch on fire. (Sadly, my sweater didn’t evade the plant people’s flame).

Crazy fun. 

Sweaty, exhausted and a little singed, we survived our first Patum. While it’s tough to explain, I do get why it’s gone on for generations and why the Catalonians love this unique celebration so much.

Now to introduce this back in Saskatchewan…should be fun.

Shaun


A substitute life

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Here are the kids I chaperoned during Malaysia Week – a 5-day middle school endurance challenge that included camping, hiking, biking, rafting and pooping in the jungle. I’m proud to report that no one died or even got bit by a snake. Some of these kids were carrying packs that weighed more than them and didn’t complain once – impressive 12-year-olds.
In a previous life, before journalism school and PR and travelling and my salt and pepper temples, I thought about becoming a teacher. Not really a serious thought, just an idea of what I might be able to do if nothing else panned out.

But once I got accepted into j-school in 1999, the teaching idea vanished and I never really thought about it again – until I moved to Malaysia and nothing was panning out on the job front.

And so I thought, hey, how about that teaching thing? Trina makes it look easy and I could use 4 months off a year. It also helps that teaching at an international school is much easier than a public school in Canada. Generally speaking, the families are solid, the kids are motivated (and don’t threaten to stab you) and the school actually has resources like paper and pencils (and doesn’t threaten to cut your salary whenever the government runs low on funds).

Even knowing all that, I started out slow last year by only coaching a few teams and leaving the teaching to the professionals. When this school year rolled around and I still didn’t have a permanent gig, boredom and loneliness were taking over my mind, so I decided to throw myself into all things school.

This year I’ve been a coach, an advisor, a team leader, a supervisor, a contract writer, a consultant and most recently a substitute teacher. That was the biggest leap for me. It’s one thing to yell at a kid to run faster, it’s much different to teach them about quadratic equations, or even better, how to speak Spanish, when the only phrase you know is “cerveza, por favor.”

Thankfully, I’ve come to realize the bar is set very low when it comes to subs. So if I manage to stay awake and simply follow the teacher’s plan, I get labelled as a star sub and can get classes everyday. A great racket except they pay me in gas money and $3 lunches. Ah well, can’t have it all.

My line that works the best with the kids – “Guys, the teacher left us this work to do. If you don’t get it done, I’ll get fired and sent back to Canada.” Works every time.

And the experience is greatly adding to my resume. I think they call it flexible and adaptable in the HR world.

Am I considering a complete career change? Not yet.

While I enjoy being around the kids, I’m under no allusion that I’m operating in a normal school setting. This is a bubble-wrapped environment that’s perfect for a raw rookie and might just ruin me for teaching anywhere else.

For now, I’m enjoying the change to my substitute life.

See you in detention (they call it Study Hall at ISKL).

Shaun

 

 

 

 

 

Keep your eyes on the Thais!

Seven(s) highlights from a rugby rookie

7. Traveling with friends from New Zealand, Australia, America, and Canada meant there was always a team to cheer for.

6. Sharing accommodations with this same group of 9 friends made a two night stay in Singapore affordable and entertaining.

5. Seven-minute halves meant that even I could pay attention for the entire game.

4. Random costumes made for entertaining people watching (in between games of course). We were dressed as Muay Thai fighters but probably the best costume was a group of South African fans dressed as the “Mexican Wall”.

3. On day two, I had an excuse to wear my Rider shirt (the Canadian Football League and the 7s Rugby is pretty much the same thing right?).

2. After 10 hours of consecutive rugby watching, I finally quit cheering for “touchdowns” and “field goals”.

1. Canada beating the US 26-19 in the final moments was almost as exciting as the 2010 Olympic Hockey final! It was their first international win, a huge upset and I think this is a sign of things to come.

Trina

PSAs that will change your life

 

“Take at least 4 vacations per month for a happy life.” That’s my PSA to the world.

Back in the 2000s, I used to write public service announcements (PSAs) for money. Encouraging people to drive safely, buckle their seatbelts and learn how to zipper merge were all part of my job. A fairly rewarding endeavour that made me feel good and also had me listening intently to local radio stations to hear the fruits of my labour.

Even though my PSA creation days are over, I still enjoy listening to what people need to be reminded about over the airwaves.

In Malaysia, they love their PSAs. In fact, there are more PSAs than paid commercials on the radio. And while a few of the announcements are about driving, most are about other, more random, aspects of life.

Here are a few that have caught my ear and how they translate to a Westerner.

  1. Staying positive on social media will make your life awesome. (Translation: Don’t criticize the government on Facebook or else!)
  2. Remove the location from your photos before you post them online. (Translation: There are a lot of creeps out there. Be careful.)
  3. Manage your time wisely and don’t procastinate. (Translation: Malaysians are never on time, but they want to be…someday)
  4. Be careful on escalators. They can be dangerous. (Translation: There are more malls than people in Malaysia. That means lots of escalators and lots of injuries.)
  5. RSVP to parties and make sure to attend. (Translation: Lots of parties and not enough time. See: Time management PSA.)
  6. Practice common courtesy (Translation: Malaysians think they are rude. But in reality, they haven’t been to Taylor Field after a Rider loss on a hot Saturday night – which makes them all look like Mary Poppins.)
  7. Be less annoying and more people will like you. (Translation: Don’t be a prick. Wise words for us all to live by.)

There are hundreds more, but those are seven of my favourites. While none of them tackle the actual problems in Malaysia (taking down every tree in sight, corruption at the highest levels, a growing religious fundamentalist movement), they do all push people towards a higher purpose – which I respect greatly.

And who really listens to practical PSAs anyway? We don’t want to change our bad ways. We just want to think about being a better person and then move on to the next party or escalator.

Shaun

Asian Tigers settle for silver

by Trina Cobbledick (KL’s senior ice hockey correspondent)

Hopes were dashed as the underdog Asian Tigers suffered a defeat this Saturday night against Jazura in the MIHL (Malaysian Ice Hockey League) gold medal game. Despite clearly having the better team name, the Tigers were at a disadvantage from the beginning. Their goalie had hurt himself playing golf, their best player got transferred to Edmonton and just moments before the game, they received a WhatsApp message that yet another player wouldn’t be able to come. “I was on my way but something big came up,” read his text.

Down to only seven skaters, the first period started off rocky with Jazura jumping to a 4-0 lead. It wasn’t looking good.But in the second period, the Tigers rose to the challenge. Their stand-in goalie made some unbelievable saves to shut out Jazura and theTigers pounced for two quick snipes. The scoring gap was narrowing. Would it be the next miracle on (Malaysian rapidly melting) ice?

Fans stopped mid-shopping frenzy to peer over the railings at the ensuing action. Riveted by the displays of athletic prowess, families ordered MacDonalds and children asked their parents “What’s this game, lah?”

“The energy was something else,” said center Shaun Humphries, “there must have been 10s of people in the stands.”

Humphries, who had a modified Gordie Howe hat trick of a goal, an assist and a penalty resulting in a black eye, noted he truly thought this would be the TSN turning point of the game.

Unfortunately, the third period did not bode well for the Tigers. Jazura clearly outplayed them making the final score 7-2.

When approached after the game in the mall lobby turned dressing room, disappointed team members conceded that they weren’t ready to think about next season yet.

“All we can do at this point is regroup, have a couple of beers and get home quickly where we can actually shower.”

Leeches and Sweat bees 

On any hike you have difficulties you encounter and obstacles you must overcome. That’s part of the enjoyment. Last weekend I embarked on a challenge with a Malaysian hiking group trekking and camping in the jungle. This group literally went off the beaten path. In fact, they hired local Orang Asli guides to take us right through the bush. Here are some of the things I learned along the way.

  1. Go on any hike through the jungle in the rain and you WILL encounter leeches. I’m not just talking about one or two around your ankle. This particular hike I must have pulled 20+ of those suckers off of me.
  2. Being equipped with a walkie talkie and machete comes in handy. Or if you are too cheap to get your own – at least hang out with others that have them.
  3. Hiking in the tropics is super wet. Your either wet from rain or wet from sweat. Take your pick. 
  4. Sometimes you are faced with sweat bees. That’s right these are a real thing! Unlike honey bees who are attracted to sweet things, these demented creatures prefer the smell of sweat which is not good news for one very sweaty, hiking Canadian.
  5. Sleeping in a hammock is much preferable to being in a tent in the sweaty / rainy jungle.
  6. You can still cook chicken and rice over a camp fire.
  7. No matter what culture you are from, tall tales abound at night. Superstitions, ghostly legends and feats of strength when encountering wild animals were told just before we tucked in for the night. 
  8. River baths are good but nothing tops that first shower when you arrive back home. 

Thanks for a great weekend to my new friends. 

Trina 

Really Japan? – Anecdotes behind the generalisations

Japan is efficient.

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Everyone talks about Japan’s incredibly efficient transportation system. So when we planned to travel from Haneda to Narita airport, fly to Hokkaido and be back to Yokohama for a conference all within a few days, I didn’t think it would be a big deal. There were regularly scheduled shuttles, trains, and buses. All run like clockwork. What I failed to take into account was that Japan also has many rules.

Japan has a lot of rules.

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I just figured that being as efficient as “Japan is” the Haneda -Narita shuttle would be running until at least midnight. It didn’t even dawn on me that you could view the entire schedule online (online schedules in Southeast Asia aren’t exactly reliable). Had it I would have seen that the shuttle finished at 10pm. But all was not lost, we could take the train and then catch a public bus.  The rule we weren’t anticipating was that items over 1 meter in length aren’t allowed on the city busses, and our friend had a snow board with her that was well over the length allowance. It didn’t matter that it was now 1:30am and we had waited 90 minutes for that bus. It didn’t matter that the bus was practically empty. Rules are rules, and unlike travel in Malaysia, you can’t pay someone a few dollars to come to your rescue. We tried to politely argue our case, but couldn’t help feeling bad for the poor bus conductor who was growing increasingly uncomfortable, avoiding eye contact and hoping we would just go away. So that is what we did.

Japan is expensive.

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We ended up taking a taxi, the remaining 50 km. That cab ride cost us an astronomical $200USD!! But we’d learned our lesson and Shaun became a master of reading all transportation schedules online from that moment onward. And for the record, the trains really do run like clockwork. We never made another transportation blunder.

Beer is cheaper than in Malaysia.

original_url: 8EB1443D-2A47-4FF8-B3E9-1523453E453BThankfully our first stop was a city named after a beer (or is it the other way around?). Sapporo, the fifth largest city in Japan, is located on the northern most island of Hokkaido and is home of the Snow Festival. There we rediscovered winter running, introduced our American friend to the word “toque”, ate copious amounts of curry and ramen soup and drank Sapporo beer. We did all this as we took in the unbelievable snow and ice sculptures (all for free!) We even got a day of skiing up further north in Niseko (not for free).

Japan is clean and orderly.

img_1017The entire time I don’t think we saw a single piece of litter. It blew our minds that they had on the corner “sand stations” where people could help themselves to little bags of sand to spread on the nearby sidewalk if it was too slippery from ice. If we did that in Canada people would go crazy taking truck loads of this free sand for their own driveways. It would be complete mayhem.

On the trains, everyone is eerily quiet. There are no kids screaming, no music planning, no randomness that you’d expect on a subway. Instead everyone is reading. You could hear a pin drop it’s so quiet. I actually felt like we were being rude because we were talking.

Japan is beautiful and the food is delicious. 

These final two things mean we will be back some day to enjoy the beauty of the seasons and get our fill of ramen and sushi.

Sayonara,

Trina

Mistaken for an American living in a Muslim country

My heart is heavy as I sit down and write this entry. As an educator, I normally try to keep my political ideologies to myself, but this is different. This isn’t about speaking against any political party. This is about speaking up against hatred.

As I hear the news of the American travel ban against seven of the poorest Muslim nations of the world, I feel just sick. These bans affect immigrants some of whom are refugees who have feared for their lives and spent years and years in camps subsisting on very little as they were vetted and waited approval to finally have the chance to restart their lives. Now their hopes are crushed.

I think of our good friends Calvin and José who literally fled by foot from Congo hiding in the jungle until they reached safety in Uganda. It took seven years of returning religiously to the temporary Canadian immigration office at the refugee camp before their papers were finally stamped with approval. They and their two infant boys could rebuild their lives. Can you imagine the devastation they would have felt if that would have been revoked?

You fear extremism. Well this is exactly how extremism gains power. It gains power and support through desperation. And by turning away the very people who need our help the most, we are reaffirming the propaganda of terrorists.

I say “we” because when you live in a Muslim country and you look and sound like an American you are lumped in with these ideas. In Malaysia, Shaun and I have have been treated with the utmost kindness and respect by people. And we, as guests in their country, continue to be greeted with warmth and smiles. However, I can’t help but wonder if there is underlying suspicion now too. Strangers I encounter in the day to day must have moments in which they wonder if we could share these racist sentiments. For this I feel shame.

I also say “we” because it’s not enough to expect saying “I’m Canadian” will absolve us of this guilt. We cannot be satisfied in simply knowing we don’t appear as racist as our neighbours to the south and then sit back feeling proud. I recently read a Maclean’s magazine article that really got to the heart of Canada’s racism problem. Just because it’s not being tweeted doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

So I choose to speak out in my small way. I choose to teach the children of 70 different nations at our school that hatred and bigotry are not okay. And I challenge myself to be present with kindness in my daily interactions.

I know it’s not much, but it’s necessary.

And in the meantime, I just might start adopting a New Zealand accent.

Trina

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