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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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While we’re not sweating

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

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Fun tidbits about New Zealand

Spending the past three weeks in New Zealand was wonderful. We knew we were travelling to a place not that different from Canada but still found ourselves surprised by the number of similarities. However, those things are boring. What’s interesting are the quirky differences that make New Zealand stand apart. Here are our favourites in no particular order.

  1. There are way more sheep than people. According to Wikipedia, New Zealand’s population is approximately 4.5 million and as of 2007 they had 39 million sheep (which is way down from the 70 million in 1982). In fact, dairy farming overtook sheep farming as the #1 agricultural industry in 1987. How many cows are there? 5 million – still more than there are people!
  2. The kiwi isn’t just a fruit. It’s the national bird and New Zealanders love it so much that they
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    I can see why people might identify with this cut little guy with powerful thighs! (Image from New Zealand Birds Online. Great spotted Kiwi. Adult. Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre, September 1975.)

    have taken its title as their national nickname. We learned that kiwis don’t

    fly, are nocturnal and had no predators until ferrets and other despicable creatures were introduced to the region. Ironically the stoat, ferret and opossum were introduced to deal  uncontrolled rabbit population (also another failed species introduction). Now the kiwi is endangered. But luckily the human Kiwi’s are on the case. Their love of their cute feathery friend is strong and an extensive campaign is in action that makes a Hollywood ending seem very possible.

  3. The duty free limit when you arrive is 3 litres of spirits and 6 bottles of wine per person – the most of any country we’ve ever visited.
  4. Thanks to The Simpsons everyone knows when you flush a toilet south of the equator the water flows the opposite direction as it would in the Northern Hemisphere, but did you know the light switches and locks are also opposite?  Or at least they are in New Zealand.
  5. The start of summer in New Zealand is not very hot. New Zealand is south of the equator and is located southeast or Australia, so while we heard of the record breaking temperature of 40 degrees in Adelaide on Christmas Day, Auckland reached a very comfortable high of 23. At night it could get downright chilly (10 degrees). Luckily when tenting, I could still feel like I was sleeping in Malaysia because my Canadian sleeping bag is rated to -20.
  6. Weather forecasts are nondescript. A typical summer day will be described on the radio as “rainy”, “fine” or “quite fine” with no mention of temperature at all.
  7. New Zealanders sure love their adventure sports and the outdoors. It makes sense since both the founder of bungee jumping (A.J. Hackett) and Sir Edmund Hillary  having called this country home.
  8. “Wh” in the indigenous Maori language is pronounced like “f” in English. So place names such as Whakatane, Whakahoro and Whakapapa become so much fun to say!
  9. The country is made up of both a North and South Island. In this trip we stuck just to the North, but the stunning vistas, friendly people, good food and active adventures have us dreaming and scheming about a return trip to the South soon.

Trina

*Note: Photo credits for the featured image go to our friend and traveling bud Jeff Ormrod who snapped this shot while we were in Cornwall Park, Auckland. That’s right a park in the middle of the city has sheep!

 

 

 

 

MC Hammer in Malaysia?

Even wonder what happened to the stars of the early 90s? Well it seems once their North American fame has long past, they hit up Asia. They can tour for 20 plus years past their fame here, and Asians love them! This might explain the frequent air time artists like KC and JoJo, Rick Astley, Billy Ocean and others get.

Now imagine our excitement when we found out MC Hammer was coming to RetroFest Asia. And then imagine our disappointment when we found out days before he cancelled. Supposedly, he wanted more money for more dancers. So Shaun took to social media to protest. He did get the promoter to change their poster, but he didn’t get a refund and he couldn’t return his Hammer pants.

We decided to make the best of it.  One hit wonders – All 4 One (“I Swear”), Diana King (“Shy Guy”) and Tommy Page (no idea who he is but apparently he did a cameo on Full House as DJ’s crush) were still taking the stage.

So a group of us braved the rain and made the drive to the Sunway Mall / Theme Park (the same place Shaun plays hockey) for the concert. The venue was the Sunway Lagoon. Picture it. Sand surrounds an extensive pool which has been drained just for the concert. A canopy walk overhead is deemed in flashing lights “ASIA’S BIGGEST ATTRACTION”. Families ride a holiday train round and round the venue. Yep- definitely the place for a concert!

The artists played and I have to say it was very entertaining for many reasons. They sounded pretty much the same, their dance moves were well choreographed and they looked – well . . . older. Moments of nostalgia took me back to high school dances and driving in my 1984 Hyundai Pony with friends. That in itself was worth the price of admission!

Trina

 

Not again. . .

 

While I waited in the airport for my next flight out Shaun and our friends in Myanmar sent a barrage of photos of the fun they were having.
 When travelling internationally most people check and double check their flight intinerary. Most people if they had the misfortune of missing one flight would make sure that never happened again. I am not most people! I’ve managed to misread my flight intinerary and miss a flight not once, not twice but thrice. Here’s how it all shook down.

The first time involved an understandable mix up of forgetting that 1minute after midnight was actually the next day. This meant no weekend getaway to Dubai. The next time was misreading the day entirely and winding up at the Bangkok airport one day too late. The consequence was a flight change fee, extra time hanging out with the Thais and being very tired at work the next day.

This time was probably the most ridiculous and I can’t even blame it on any form of impairment (which would be a better story). No, I was all packed and in bed by 11 the night before. I checked my itinerary twice, flight leaving at 8:35am, and promptly set my alarm for 5. It wasn’t until I was at the airport and looked up at the board of flights to see no flight to Yangon scheduled for 8:35. “(Insert profanity), not again!” I immediately thought. 

Turns out I was looking at my return flight not my departure. I was able to pay a flight change fee and after 12 hours in the airport alternating between various coffee shops and finishing a 550 page novel, I was off. 

Hopefully, the third time is a charm and I’ll learn my lesson but I’m not guaranteeing anything.

Trina 

Top Reasons to Vacation in Tropical Montana

Can you believe this is Montana in February? We had packed our snowshoes, but going for a hike seemed to make more sense.
Can you believe this is Montana in February? We had packed our snowshoes, but going for a hike seemed to make more sense.

You’ve got to love that teachers’ now get a week of vacation in February. With last week’s temperatures in Saskatchewan being around the -30 mark no excuse was needed to get the hell out of dodge. The fact that friends had found a sweet deal to ski in Bridger Bowl, Montana sealed the deal. Here are the top reasons to escape to Montana in February:

1. It was 16 degrees Celsius in Bozeman last Saturday when we arrived. That’s nearly 50 degrees warmer than it was in Regina today. Unbelievable!

2. They still had snow in the mountains and you could enjoy a mid-afternoon beer out on the patio.

3. Beer is cheaper than water. The only thing cheaper than the beer might be gas. A full tank of gas was $20. I don’t remember it being this cheap since high school when  I was driving around a 1984 Hyundai Pony and blasting Billy Ocean, Taylor Dane, WHAM! and other cassette hits my dad had ordered from Columbia House. (For the record, I went to high school in the 90s but drove the “80s mobile”.)

4. We had great company going with us. Scott and Shay had a luxury suite at the C’MON Inn with a full kitchen and offered us an all you can eat and drink package at a sweet deal thanks to Scott’s Costco run. Trevor and Kim kept us all on schedule and Cheryl and Miguel regaled us with tales of Miguel’s days as “DJ Mambo Fly”.

5.  The radio ads are hilarious. Among other useful PSAs, we learned  how to properly carry a concealed weapon.

6. We’ve got photos to prove fun was had by all!

Trina

Carpeting the road to development

"Sri Lanka’s first super highway – the Southern Expressway which connects Colombo to Galle marked its first anniversary recently. Construction work on the Airport Expressway which connects Colombo with the Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake is progressing at a rapid pace and will be completed by the end of next year. . . .  A giant leap in the country’s ambitious march to become the Wonder of Asia." (Colombo Times Online http://www.cmbtimes.com/2012/12/sri-lankas-first-super-highway.html)
“Sri Lanka’s first super highway – the Southern Expressway which connects Colombo to Galle marked its first anniversary recently. . . . . A giant leap in the country’s ambitious march to become the Wonder of Asia.” (http://www.cmbtimes.com/2012/12/sri-lankas-first-super-highway.html )

After nearly thirty years of civil war, Sri Lanka has been on the fast track to development. Everywhere you look there is building and growth. But what is development really? Is it all about infrastructure? Should it be the same in every country?

In Sri Lanka, the current government is credited with winning the war and after doing so they were quick to forge ahead. More than anything they want Sri Lanka to be considered a “developed country.” The growth is unbelievable really. When I first arrived in Colombo there were no street signs, sidewalks or fancy new buildings. Now there is all the the aforementioned and more. Everywhere you look in this country construction is taking place, roads are being carpeted (a Sringlish term for paved), new airports built, etc. All these are things of which have made my life in Colombo easier and more enjoyable.

However, I can’t help but wonder two things – Where is the money coming from? and How does this benefit the average Sri Lankan?

I also wonder how there can be a “one size fits all” model to development when every country is so unique. For instance, my latest frustration is the traffic lights that have been added. I honestly think the traffic flowed better before because everyone understood the unwritten rules. Now, the lights can back up traffic for miles. Another example is the addition of pedestrian crossing lights which no one actually stops at anyway!

When I look at Canada which bears the prestigious title of a “developed country”, it’s not the infrastructure that I value most (although that certainly is part of it). It is the social fabric of our society that makes me proud to be a Canadian. I feel extremely grateful for universal healthcare, free education, social programming and policies that advocate for human rights. Sure our systems aren’t perfect, far from it in fact,  but every citizen has the right to voice their opinions and advocate for change which means we still have a chance.

I wish Sri Lanka all the best on their road to development. I just hope they take into consideration the big picture before forging too far ahead.

Trina

What’s the point of religion?

The Hindu, Muslim and Christian faiths were all represented.
The Hindu, Muslim and Christian faiths were all represented.
Buddhists make up about 70% of the population of Sri Lanka. To understand the culture, you do need to understand the religion.
Buddhists make up about 70% of the population of Sri Lanka. To understand the culture, you do need to understand the religion.

* NOTE: This blog was written two weeks ago and only posted now.*

In this busy and chaotic world can seem godless. What’s worse is so much of the death and destruction in this world seems to be fueled by religion.  How anyone can insight hate in the name of god I will never understand. But religion can also be extremely beautiful and peaceful. It gives people a sense of security and comfort. Even if it cannot provide the answers to the big questions of life, it can at least have us asking deeper questions. Religion can bring people together just as easily as it can tear people apart.

Now I don’t know where I fit into this whole religious scheme of things, and I don’t know if I ever will. However, I do believe that there is a void in this increasingly secular world and people are filling it. They are filling it with alcohol, drugs, food, money, work; whatever can distract them from the uncertainties of life. There is an undeniable need for spirituality and community. I recently read about the first church for atheists. It seems even the non-believers need something.

My workplace has recently been shook up by a number of tragedies, the most recent of which was when a member of the maintenance staff was struck by lightning and killed. At his Hindu funeral, the pain of his family members was undeniable in their wails and prayers. So random – so unnerving. A reminder of how precious life is.

Today we gathered together in the auditorium. People of many races and faiths. Some believing that the building needed to be purged of bad spirits. Religious leaders from five different faiths led us through blessings and prayers. Regardless of what you believe, there was a comfort in the room – a presence. Call it love, call it peace, call it the presence of God, it doesn’t matter what you call it because you could feel It, and It was there.

Namaste.

Tasleem.

Namo Amida Buddha.

Amen.

Everybody come and dance baila

Baila is a form of folk dance that is popular in Sri Lanka. Supposedly the Portuguese brought this tradition over. Since I haven’t had any time to blog lately – and I am staying until June so you will have plenty more from me. I thought I’d post this interesting Sinhalese music video that gives a modern twist to baila dancing and music. There is also a link of the traditional music and dance for you to compare and contrast. Enjoy!

Trina

Vacationing in Regina

This might not look like the most exciting place to spend a holiday, but let me tell you, after over a year in a city like Colombo, it was delicious.

Not since I was a kid have I spent a vacation longer than a long weekend in my hometown of Regina, Saskatchewan.

Whenever Trina and I have had time off work, we’ve flown to far off places to see new things, eat new things and meet new people.

Nothing against Regina (it does have a great name), it just never crossed our minds to spend any longer than we had to in the city.

Needless to say going back for a three-week visit this July seemed like it was going to be a bit much. After all, what do you do in Regina for 20 straight days?

Well, we actually never had time to ask that question.

We had more supper, breakfast, lunch, golf, running, coffee and beer-dates than we’ve had in our entire lives. Every morning, noon and night was jam packed hanging out with friends, family and people (I think even some family members) that we have never even met before.

Everyone in the city seemed to want to say hi. And I wanted to say hi to them.

Being away for a prolonged period of time from the place I’ve lived for 30-plus years made me see it in a much different way. I wasn’t noticing the potholes, strong winds and ridiculous traffic light signals. I was noticing the great parks to run in, the quiet streets and all the familiar faces. Life had become comfortable again, easy – and I liked it.

With the huge footnote that my experience would have been much different if we would have visited in January (it was sunny and close to 30 above everyday we were home), here’s a list of a few things that are awesome about vacationing in Regina when you live in Sri Lanka:

1) Running outside – 18 out of the 20 days we went running outside. The air was clean, no stray dogs nipped at us and we didn’t pass out due to heat exhaustion. And, we were able to pick up a brand new running partner with some pretty fresh legs in my dad, Rob. We/he had him/us up to 12k by the time we left. He’ll be lapping me by the time I’m back in March. Good times.

2) BBQ – Nothing beats grilled meat in the summer and I think I had every variety possible. Did I mention I gained over 8 pounds in three weeks? Yikes.

3) Energy – I’ve never had more energy in my life. Even though we didn’t have a second to rest, I never felt tired. I’m guessing it’s due to the cooler temps and fresher air, but I’m not sure. I hope that holds up when we come back again.

4) Golf – Even though there’s a few courses in Sri Lanka, the fact you need to rent a caddy and a ball-spotter have really turned me off. Hitting up the Par 3 with my buds was something special.

5) Quiet – My ears rang for the first few days I was home because there was no banging, honking or gagging to fill the space between.

6) Regina Red Sox – Went to a baseball game in Regina for the first time ever I think. Cheap beer, good company and plenty of ‘hookers’. Not real hookers, just what Rob calls girls that our dressed up nice? Not sure if that will catch on.

7) The Riders – Nothing like Taylor Field after a Rider win – even if it was one of the most boring games ever played.

7) Long days – The sun rises at 4ish and sets at 9ish. A great boost to your spirit.

I also have to say that some things weren’t so hot – like, when you only make $7/day, a $9 pint seems a bit out of reach. Or the need to wear a watch. Time actually mattered again and didn’t exist in some sort of vacuum or void like it does in the tropics. Weird.

All in all it was a great trip home. For everyone I connected with, thank you for the good times. For those I didn’t, don’t worry, I’ll see you soon.

Back in Sri Lanka, things are good. There’s still plenty of work to do, not to mention a lot more new places to go, new food to eat, and best of all, new people to meet.

Take it easy.

Shaun

P.S. Pictures will follow soon. I need to crack the whip on my junior reporter, Trina.

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