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.
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.
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.
Hiking in the tropics is super wet. Your either wet from rain or wet from sweat. Take your pick.
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.
Sleeping in a hammock is much preferable to being in a tent in the sweaty / rainy jungle.
You can still cook chicken and rice over a camp fire.
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.
River baths are good but nothing tops that first shower when you arrive back home.
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.
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.
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.
Thankfully 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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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!
The kiwi isn’t just a fruit. It’s the national bird and New Zealanders love it so much that they
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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!
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.
*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!
When you can’t be home for the holidays to celebrate with your own family, the next best thing is to be adopted by someone else’s – thanks to our friend Hannah’s mom and dad for hosting us (and three other strangers to them) for an entire week.
By staying with these lovely Kiwis, we got to know a whole lot more about New Zealand culture, hospitality, and even started to better understand their language 😉.
Spending the holidays here we even picked up a few new traditions.
Christmas breakfast with champagne (we had no trouble embracing this one) and then continuing to eat and drink our way into a Christmas lunch with all the trimmings was simply fantastic.
And, we were in for a feast beyond your wildest imagination – just look at the menu!
There was also a White Elephant gift exchange in which I acquired a regulation sized American football and Shaun got a handy sleeve for keeping a bottle of wine cool. Not to mention we were all gifted with chocolate-coated pineapple gummy candies, which are apparently a New Zealand specialty.
But of course, the best thing about the holidays isn’t about the things you acquire. It’s about the special moments with people. Moments like being gifted a kiwi bird Christmas ornament from one of Hannah’s aunts, hearing her uncle’s old stories about his days as a high school sprinter and talking cattle shows with her grandpa, all make you realize just how universal family is.
Then, when you return home from vacation to discover your mailbox full of Christmas letters and cards, respond to Happy Holiday texts and throw in a couple special Skype calls, you know you’re never very far from your own family.
A huge thanks to our Thai friends – Luck, Tong, Ja, Dang and Bum (I love their nicknames) – for showing us another great time this past weekend. It was only 4 days, but we saw more than we would have over 3 weeks if we would have been by ourselves.
Thais are beautiful and generous people that love having fun more than any other people I’ve met. They also love pork, 7-Eleven and taking pictures in front of everything they see.
I can’t say a roadtrip through Thailand is relaxing, but it sure is filling.
We’ll be back soon – once my gout subsides. Up next, a Christmas in New Zealand.
It started in May with a small pool of water on the kitchen counter. Our coffee pot had a small crack that had been slowly growing over many weeks and the dam had finally burst. Damn.
Normally, I’d toss out the whole machine and start over. But, this was no ordinary machine. This was a designer Kenwood coffee maker that cost us over 100 bucks just a few short months before.
So, I found the local service centre email address and sent off a request for a replacement pot. A few days later I received the very helpful and cryptic response – ‘yes.’
Okay….”May I order one please”?
A few days later – “Yes. It will take 32 months to arrive.”
Me, immediately – “That’s almost 3 years? Where is it coming from, Mars?”
A few days later – “I mean 2 months. It costs 100 ringgit.”
Me, immediately – “Oh, that’s better. Please order me one and let me know when it arrives.”
A few days later – “Yes.”
And with that, I let the universe decide if we’d ever drink coffee at home again. Amazingly, exactly 2 months later, I had the shiny new coffee pot in my hands. And then two days after that, I had an even bigger pool of water on the counter. Wtf?
The new pot was fine, but the coffee maker itself was leaking like a sieve from the bottom. This was not right, so I fished out the receipt and the warranty and realized it was still covered for another few weeks. There was still hope!
The next day I drove the 36 minutes across the city to the service centre and proudly presented my warranty, bill and leaky machine. They gladly accepted and were in awe of my warranty luck.
A week after that visit, I made the journey back to pickup my newly repaired machine, and then sadly, a week after that, I found myself making the journey back again with another leak.
It was during this 3rd or 4th visit that I realized the staff knew by my name.
“Hi, Mr. Shaun. Back again? Aiyo…this machine is cursed.”
I felt like I should have been bringing in coffees for Mimi, Fairuz and the rest of the gang. But, I really couldn’t do that because, well, you know…(At this point, do I have to remind everyone that I’m unemployed?)
After the second leak dropoff, it was two months (just a few days ago) before I heard back that it was fixed and ready to pickup. By now, our French press was in full effect at home and I had almost completely forgotten that we ever had a coffee maker in the first place. I think it was a coping mechanism from the PTSD.
I reluctantly went to pick it up and at least say hi to my buds. Amazingly, the leak was fixed. Airtight. But, sadly, there was no heat. Not good for making coffee.
I admit I was ready to wave the white flag and throw everything off our 13th floor balcony. I was broken, belittled and befuddled. But, after some soul searching and swearing, I decided to give it one last push. I could taste the freshly brewed coffee beans.
Taking pity on me, the service centre staff set up a special, personal appointment with just me and the technician. They could tell I was getting desperate and I needed some extra attention – and possibly a therapist.
Sporting some sweet gold chains and a slightly popped collar, I immediately knew the technician was my ticket out of this coffee maker hell. I don’t know why because normally I hate dudes that look like him, but this guy was different. Yes, he was a shit hot, but he also oozed confidence in all things caffeine related. It seemed like he could roast a coffee bean in his armpit. He was my saviour.
In just 10 short minutes huddled in his little workshop at the back of the service centre, I watched him masterfully change a small fuse inside the machine and fire up my leakproof, Kenwood coffee maker for the first time in almost 6 months. It was glorious.
I’m happy to report that the machine is still humming along nicely a couple days later. I have no doubt that in a few months time something else will go wrong, and with the warranty now expired, it will end up in the trash.
But that’s okay. It was all worth it for the friends I made at the Kenwood service centre on the 3rd floor of Citta Mall on the west side of Kuala Lumpur. You may all be slightly incompetent at your jobs, but you brightened my day on every one of the 8 trips I made out to see you (and sigh at you). God bless.
It’s been awhile. In the months since I last wrote, a lot has happened. I mean a member of the WWF Hall of Fame is now the President of the United States (not to mention a racist, misogynist, narcissist and generally revolting human being). But hey, Hillary had a private email server set up in her house, so the election result makes complete sense.
Once that wall goes up, and all the Mexicans and Muslims are kicked out, and the KKK opens up an office in the White House and protecting the environment becomes a distant memory, we’ll all be able to rest easier. USA! USA!
Fear and ignorance still carry the day in 2016. We shouldn’t be surprised.
Here in Malaysia, most locals just shrug at Trump. They’re used to being governed by dictators and crooks and overall boobs. All they want to talk about is the ‘hot’ Canadian prime minister with the nice hair who can dance the bhangra. That, and the Just for Laughs Gags TV show, which runs on local stations here and is a big hit. Malaysians love pranks. Makes sense. We all have our priorities.
Anyway, I guess when I say ‘a lot’ has happened, it’s relative. In my life, not a lot has actually happened.
I’m still underemployed (I actually got turned down for two jobs in one day – beat that fellow losers!)
I’m still playing hockey (we beat the Malaysian national team a couple weeks back and I scored the winning goal. Likely the biggest moment of my illustrious hockey career next to playing in the Junior C All Star Game in 1998). I should really retire now.
I’m still coaching at the school and the cross country team actually finished in second last place in the final race. Goal achieved – and I’m now coaching the junior boys basketball team and the middle school track team. Maybe one day I’ll get paid for something I’m actually qualified to do?
The highest point (and really my saving grace) is all the travelling we’re still doing – Borneo, Thailand, Indonesia and Taiwan in the last couple months with Thailand (again), New Zealand, Vietnam, Japan and Hawaii coming up over the next couple months. No time for a real job.
On my way through the Taipei airport, I came across this real-life escape chute.
I can’t help but think we could all use one of these from time to time – especially with the Million Dollar Man now in charge of the free world. Take care, peeps.
You’ve been a relatively easy place to live and I appreciate all your modern conveniences. I love the amazing selection of food you offer and although your weather can be sweltering hot at times, I’ll take that over -50 any day.
Therefore, when I find myself getting annoyed by petty matters , I have to remind myself that no one is perfect and relationships are all about compromise. So I’m not about to break up with you. I just need to get a few things off my chest so we can move on to a greater understanding of each other.
Sometimes your idiosyncrasies make me laugh like your need to post signs to tell me all the things I cannot do. Don’t fish in the local park lake (even though there is a monthly fishing derby). Don’t stand on a toilet seat. Don’t pass gas in a cab (see above picture).
Your radio public service announcements can be confusing. For example, I now know I have to sort my trash into 11 different categories or I could be fined, but I have no idea what the categories are or where I can take them to be recycled. And why go from no recycling program at all to 11 categories? I’m also not entirely convinced that escalators are as dangerous as you claim they are. But I’m glad to learn the solution for all your problems is to “stay positive”. If only it were that easy.
These are all little annoyances I can overlook. But what I really NEED to know is why is it ok to clean a bathroom by just splashing water all over the place and leave everything wet? How can so many of your citizens not signal and when they do, they signal one direction but go the other? Why do certain individuals think it’s ok to drop garbage from their balconies? How can you be upset with Indonesia about causing haze conditions one minute and the next have residents burning tires in their back yard?
That is all.
Thanks for listening. I’ll work on not projecting my entitled views as a guest in your country if from time to time you could just dry off the toilet seat for me.