Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Tribute to my Grandmothers

Dear Mary Cook & Shirley Jordan, 

I remember telling you that I wanted to become a scuba diving instructor. This was not going to be just a small change of career and lifestyle. I wanted to leave one of the most prestigious International Schools in Asia in order to bum around on a beach and potentially spend all of my savings on my passion. I wanted to learn about restoring reefs and marine conservation as well as just generally work on being a better human being. I wanted to challenge myself and exist outside of my comfort zone for a while. I remember that you smiled .. the most sincere smile, and you told me that I had courageous spirit. You told me that you knew I could do anything I set my mind to and that I would accomplish amazing things if I followed my heart. You didn't just support me, you believed in me.

I remember telling you that I had been nominated and won the 'top server in Nova Scotia' award when I was 21 years old. I remember the look on your face and the admiration in your congratulatory words. If I close my eyes I can hear the pride in your voice. I love your expressions of joy.  

I remember reading you jokes and stories on the balconies of hotels in Jamaica when I was 8 years old. I remember you filming Christine and me singing Bon Jovi and Michael Jackson into broom handles on the porch of the white house. I remember tractor rides on the farm and you teaching us to play gin rummy. I remember giving you pedicures on the carpet in the greenroom in Burlington, camping, long road trips and folk festivals. I remember all the times you've celebrated my birthday with me and spoiled me rotten.

I don’t really remember telling you that I was moving to Hong Kong. Or the Cayman Islands or Colombia. Or Singapore or Bangkok. I think I don't remember these conversations because you never really made a big deal of it. You never said, “don’t go” You never tried to change my mind or provide reasons for me to stay in Canada. 

This Mother's Day, I want to thank you both. Thank you for for all the times you've spent anxiously pacing the Pearson International Airport arrivals hall, for all the Canada Post that you've sorted for me over the years, for all the comments filled with love and encouragement on my Facebook timeline (and many of my friends'), for all the big hugs and the kisses on the lips. For being true and compassionate and honest and incredible women. Thank you for modelling risk-taking, courage and resilience. Thank you both for being a testament to independence, ability and strength.

But a simple 'thank you' doesn't seem to suffice. We often only say thank you for the things that we are aware of. For all the things we've done together. The memories. Thank you is often for the things we see and feel and know. 

But then I think about all the things I don't know. What about all the times you've driven away from Pearson International departures with a heavy heart and a lump in your throat? What about the days, and often weeks,  which pass without Skype calls and updates from me in my adventures? What about all the times that I've filled your basement or basement locker with camping gear and folk festival junk at the end of an amazing Canadian summer, excited to head back to my country of residence so far away? What about the moments when you needed me? When you were sad or lonely or tired or sick? The truth is that I don’t know what those times are like for you.

But I can imagine. I imagine it feels like your heart is shattering into a million pieces every time one of us leaves.  I can imagine it sometimes feels cold and dark and scary to not hear from us for days and not know if we are safe or happy or healthy. I imagine there are times when you long for our closeness and company so badly that your whole body hurts. 

When I think about this, I want to apologize to you for creating such sadness and pain. Sometimes I want to apologize for not sending more postcards, for being far away on your birthday and Mother's Day, for not Skyping every week or replying to every wonderful email you send. And then I reconsider apologizing, because the reality is that I don’t have regrets. Ultimately, if I could live two lives, I'd love to be near you both and simultaneously off on this wild global adventure. But since I can’t, I won’t apologize for not being able to accomplish the impossible. Instead, on this Mother's Day I want to simply say, I love you.

I love you because you've never said “don’t go” (even if deep down you really wanted to). I love you for raising your children and grandchildren in a way that fuelled us with the strength and courage to explore the world and explore outside of our comfort zone. I love you for teaching us to work hard, to trust ourselves, to dream big, to invest in opportunity and to love deeply. I love you because you've helped us pass these qualities on to your great-grandchildren.

I love you for being adventurous - for using squat toilets in China and South Korea, ranchero troughs in Colombia, outhouses in National Parks and even just the side of the road, when necessary. I love you for being open and non-judgemental - for eating weird and strange foods, trying magic mushrooms on the beach and pot cookies at the finca. I love you for being brave - for holding your breath on windy bus rides or rocky boat trips, for patiently biting your tongue when you didn't know the local language, for camping in the wilderness and spending money on experiences instead of material things. I love you for being spontaneous - for the Mary Spielberg moments, the backyard parties, that time you both said "sure, we'll fly to Bali for your birthday, all the silly games we make you play, the tacky christmas tradition and for all the last minute changes of plans. 

I love you for visiting us in remote and foreign places. For learning about regions and cultures of the world you previously hadn’t paid attention to. For taking the time and spending the money to come and see our lives in these places. To see the lives we lead that are full of culture, art, travel, adventure, nature and joy. I love you for possessing the courage and humility it takes to acknowledge and appreciate all of what we do and not insist that the only good place for us to live is near you. Sometimes people say to me, “Oh, your grandmothers must be so sad having their children and grandchildren so far away.” And sometimes I want to respond that, “It's a product of their own encouragement. They raised us to be life long learners, to fight for what we believe in, and to care about the world more than just ourselves.” 

I love you for living this way and for passing it on to everyone in our family. Thank you for making it abundantly clear that no matter where we live, we are loved. I could never have asked for better grandmothers than you. I love you and I miss you. Every day.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tip Of The Hat

So after almost 9 blissfully adventurous months of scuba diving and traveling - without a job, without a home, and mostly without a care in the world - I have pulled the emergency brake and done an incredibly fast manoeuvre in a new direction.

I accepted a job. I agreed to relocate. I made a massive commitment. All in the span of about 2 weeks. In the realm of my career experiences, I'm used to preparing for a new job over the span of about 8 months (recruitment to actual start date) and then having an relaxing and rejuvenating Canadian summer to mentally prepare. Packing, shipping, moving and setting up shop all take a tremendous amount of energy. What has unfolded over the past 2 weeks and led me to this new role, is a very different process than I'm used to. It is all new territory for me - unlike anything I've ever done in the past - and yet so clearly something I have always wanted to do.

My new job is with an organization called the JUMP! Foundation. My first JUMP! experience was at UWCSEA teacher orientation week back in August 2012, where we participated in a community building day for a staff of 60+ people. It was like adult camp - icebreakers, get-to-know-each-other challenges, team bonding and visioning for the year ahead. Some people liked this more than others, but overall I found it quite engaging and was particularly interested in JUMP!'s social entrepreneurship angle. JUMP! is a non-profit organization that has established JUMP! Development, using a percentage of its income from running programs in International Schools to provide similar experiences for youth in areas that have been affected by economic, environmental or social turmoil in countries where partner schools and organizations have extensive experience. Pretty cool. The facilitators who ran the JUMP! program for us on that day were all very inspiring and interesting people. Little did I know that later that year, I would work with JUMP! again on 2 occasions. Once for the GIN-SING Conference outdoor education middle school welcome event hosted at the Dairy Farm in Singapore and then again for a Grade 6 Community Day. My path continued to cross with different members of the JUMP! team well into my second year at UWCSEA. From a second staff orientation day, Junior JUMP! Facilitator training for some of my students, another Grade 6 Community Day and then to the EARCOS Teacher's Conference in March 2014, which connected me with JUMP!'s executive director, Justin Bedard. I told him I was taking the following year off from teaching and that I had a background in Outdoor and Experiential Education and the rest is history!

No. Just kidding. A lot of stuff happened between then and now. Mostly, I got to know some pretty amazing and courageous people in the Gili Islands of Indonesia. Oh, and in October and November I did a couple one-off leadership development programs as a JUMP! facilitator in schools in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. 

Back to this story. So a few weeks ago Justin asked me to consider applying for a very interesting role at JUMP! Recently, a new partnership has developed between JUMP! and an International School in Singapore with an aim of constructing a holistic Experiential Education Program, including curricular mapping, year-long lesson planning and off campus expeditions for Grades 6 through 12. This type of program building appeals to International Schools that do not have their own Outdoor Education department but would like to provide more than just "camp" experiences for their middle and senior grade levels. It also appeals to schools that strive to place value and emphasis on personal and community development, service learning, ecological literacy, sustainability education and global citizenship.

So off I went to Singapore to meet with the members of the school there and observe and help facilitate visioning stages of the project. The energy and enthusiasm for this project was high. Next, I followed the team up to Bangkok to continue my interview process, meet the Bangkok Hub members and see their working environment. A job offer was made after a community interview that included JUMP! team members in other countries via Skype. It was the first time I've ever been interviewed by an entire team of people. After a some emotional and careful deliberation, the week culminated with a signed contract on Friday. There promises to be a lot of learning and growth in the next few weeks and months, as the responsibilities of the role itself are not areas that I am particularly experienced or practiced in. As a Partnership Manager I will be based in Bangkok with some time spent on-site in Singapore. As well, there will be expedition planning throughout the South East Asia, conducting site inspections and building partnerships for the week-long expeditions that will run in the next academic year. Collaboratively, I will help hire a team of people to run each grade level program and manage and facilitate the relationships with teachers, administrators, service providers and organizations in numerous locations. I will travel to countries I have never been to, as well as revisit places that I know and love. I will meet amazing people and learn incredibly valuable skills. I will work with students and educators and global change-makers to explore a field of Education that I am passionate about, without a desk or a four-walled classroom (and without the luxury of an International School calendar).

After a tough week of decision-making and the start of accepting the major lifestyle changes to come, I am feeling pretty stoked about this new learning journey. A good friend and fellow OEE graduate responded yesterday with the following sentiment, "You really came into Outdoor Education from a different angle than everyone else I know, which is awesome!" 

So this is my tip of the hat to new adventures, taking risks and always learning. Wish me luck!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Baloni's Adventures in Bali

With an estimated 20,000 puras (temples) and shrines, Bali is known as the "Island of a Thousand Puras", or "Island of the Gods"

Saturday morning Melissa snuck out at 7am for a quick breakfast before heading to the airport. I got up to give her a hug, but then groggily fell back into the king-sized bed in our deluxe room at the Kusnadi in Legian. Melissa, Jen P and I had been in Bali for exactly a week, relaxing at The Westin in Nusa Dua for 3 nights (compliments of Melissa’s winning entry in an online getaway vacation contest) and then in our more familiar stompin’ grounds of Legian. Here we enjoyed full days on the beach, surfing lessons, good books, Bintang sunsets, spa treatments, seaside dinners, a whole lot of dancing, a bit of singing and continuous laughter. The week had been extremely memorable and exactly what I needed to shake the stress that tends to build-up as the school year ends. Summer was finally here, and it was off to a great start.

Later that morning, over my own Nescafe with milk, I decided to stay in Legian for one more night. I was on my own for the first time in a long time, and while it was bitter to say goodbye to Melissa, it was simultaneously sweet to indulge in the anticipation of a solo adventure about to unfold for me. I was off to explore some more hidden places in Bali with one main goal - diving. There was a room available at the Kusnadi that night and I was hoping to hear from Keith who would be returning from a Komodo Island live-aboard diving trip. I was hoping to hear his recounts of his trip and it would be nice to connect. I had already begun to compose my own plan for the next 10 days, deciding to stick to exploring the immediate Bali area in more depth. Having already been to the Gilis and considering its expensive boat journey plus a lot more time spent traveling, I decided to skip it. Trekking Rinjani had also been a goal, but I let that slip away in favor of doing things at a slower pace and focusing more on diving. Belongas Bay in southern Lombok would also have to wait, cast slightly further down the Bali area must-do list, but definitely held in waiting for another time.

I did some research on diving possibilities around Bali and decided on Amed for the first few days and Nusa Lembongan for the second stretch. Remembering Jason and Nora’s enthusiastic stories and photos from their Spring Break trip to this area bolstered the appeal. I read that, “The greatest features of Bali diving are the incredibly rich and varied dive sites. Deep drop-offs and steep banks, coral ridges and bommies, one of the most famous wrecks in the world, volcanic outcrops and seagrass beds are all part of the underwater tapestry. With its colourful and diverse marine life, there's enough here to keep you coming back for more. To the east of the island lies the Lombok Strait, the first deep water trench directly to the east of the Asian continental shelf. Through this channel flows the greatest volume of tidal water on earth. This Pacific Ocean can create some powerful currents and rollercoaster rides that characterize some of the dive sites. It also means regular visits from large and unusual pelagic fish like the incredible mola mola, or sunfish. The strong currents can also clean the water and create fantastic visibility.”

The next night, I met up with Keith and his friend Mic (who used to work on The Junk) in Kuta for a few Bintangs and fun conversation about diving as well as million other things. The following morning was drizzly and I set off around noon with Katut, my hired driver. He was the same young guy who had taken me to Ubud and The Green School back in October. We made funny conversation and listened to my iPod all along the 4-hour drive to Amed. Travelling through shimmering coastal scenery, emerald landscapes of rippling rice paddies and rugged volcano slopes to eventually end up along the black-sand beaches, turquoise waters and narrow village streets of the eastern-most tip of Bali. I had arrived in my own perfect paradise. I had decided to stay at the pricy, but interesting, Eco Hotel Uyah. From their description of the hotel’s early beginnings and current practices, I figured it was worth the splurge. The story is summarized on their website like this, “Café Garam, which means Salt Café, is part of Hotel Uyah Amed, which we have translated as Salt Lodge Amed. Garam is the Indonesian - and Uyah the Balinese word for salt. In mid 2000 we were sitting in Amed and discussing the tremendous changes in the area due to the growing tourism. More and more salt production fields were left unused or sold by their owners to be used for tourist bungalows etc. Since we did not like the idea that the traditional salt production would disappear in the near future we worked out our plan to preserve this tradition for the people of Amed as well as for interested foreigners. In order to combine the development of tourism with the traditional lifestyle we decided to build this hotel and café around the salt production fields and use the salt production as our motto. We strive to preserve the traditional salt production by promoting it as point of interest for foreign tourists and explain the production process. We produce the salt during dry season (when production is possible) and store it in our traditional bamboo hut "Gudang Garam". In order to contribute to a sustainable development in this beautiful part of Bali we are strongly committed to an environmentally friendly implementation of our services and strive for prevention of pollution. Our hotel is equipped with solar powered water heating systems, which use the mostly available sun and require no electrical energy. We have implemented and maintain an environmental management system to reduce the consumption of natural resources and to prevent pollution by waste separation, composting, energy and water - saving installations and programs. We grow fruit and vegetables in our bio garden. We try to communicate our environmental goals to the local community and our guests in order to be in harmony with this beautiful environment.”

My time in Amed very relaxing and laid back. I spent time cruising along the coastal village road to small restaurants and cafes, exploring the beach and hanging out with the local children who sold salt and crafts when they weren’t at school. The backdrop of Gunung Agung, the largest volcano in Bali, onto which the sun would set each night, was breathtaking. With very little going on in the evenings and no streetlights, the night sky was always dense with stars. I hadn’t experienced this wonderfully familiar feeling of remoteness - a truly slow pace of life, a shift in priorities and the daily spirit of doing things disconnected to the bigger, busier outside world - since moving to Asia 3 years ago. I had missed this. I began to imagine weekend motorbike trips to this area and others like it, if I were to live and work in Bali, a dream that I would spend a fair amount of time exploring over the next 8 days.

At the hotel I spent time with other guests from all over the world, a British/German couple who (coincidentally) live in HK, an Italian/French-Canadian couple who are in the process of moving to Singapore and a wonderfully energetic and fun French backpacker, named Vicky, who had rented her own motorcycle to travel about Bali for the next month. Vicky shared many stories of her travels and adventures, meeting people and experiencing local life. Her liveliness and spontaneity were attractive and exciting. I also spent a lot of time with the hotel staff, sitting around the pool and chatting in the afternoons, eating my pre-diving sunrise breakfasts at the restaurant bar and having evening beers while watching the sunset. It wasn’t too crowded and I felt like I could get to know everyone around me easily, which was fun. One night and I went out with Vicky and a few of the hotel staff to the local reggae bar. We arrived a little late and only caught the last 2 songs of the live band, but nonetheless promptly created our own entertainment. We were sharing 2 large Bintang bottles of Arak stage 2 (local alcohol made from palm; the stage 1 is 80% proof while stage 2 much milder and smooth). A few ‘saludes’ and ‘ching chings’ into the bottles and we were approached by a tanned Israeli dread who wanted to check out what all the fuss was about at our table. We had been playing puzzle/riddle games with matchsticks and the dread told us he had the perfect game for us to try. The bar was emptying out. I’d never heard of it, but it turned out quite unusual and entertaining. Basically you wet the rim of a bar glass half filled with water and carefully paste a piece of paper towel over the rim, tearing off the edges so that the glass is capped with the paper towel stretched taught. Placing a small coin in the center and then, taking turns with a cigarette heater, each player burns a hole or burns a bridge between two holes. With practice and a steady hand you can either make big or small craters. The person responsible for the coin falling into the cup loses the game. For us, this challenge lasted for almost 45 minutes. Around 1am, the 5 focused players were surrounded by the last staggering drunks, a few intrigued locals and a some fascinated bar staff, all cheering enthusiastically for our friendly competition. Good times were had by all.

The diving in Amed was fantastic. My first dive was in Tulamben at the USAT Liberty wreck, which has a fascinating story behind it. The Liberty was an armed cargo ship built in 1918 and served as a supply ship during WWII. A Japanese submarine torpedoed it in 1942 approximately 10 nautical miles southwest of Lombok. The ship was rescued and towed towards Bali by a Dutch destroyer, the HNLMS Van Ghent. The damage done to the ship was so great that the attempt to reach Singaraja failed, the crew was evacuated and the ship was beached in Tulamben. The intact ship sat beached on this beautiful coast until Bali' s volcano, Gunung Agung, erupted in 1963 pushing the Liberty just a few meters into the sea. It now sits on a black-sand shelf that slopes from about 6-30m. There were a lot of divers on this site, even though we went at 8am to avoid the crowds. It is estimated that an average of 100 divers descend on the wreck each day. With a couple swim  The next 2 days of diving we did was along the Amed shoreline, with just the dive master and myself. I’ve never had the luxury experience of being one:one with a dive guide, being only one of 2 people on dive sites, seeing amazing things like reef sharks and massive pelagic fish, and I’d never really dived in currents. This was exciting! The tranquility that was created from the remoteness, out there on our own, was spectacularly calming. I loved these dives because it felt like I was somewhere completely removed from the rest of the world, somewhere undiscovered. The serenity was soothing and reassuring. The waters and the marine life around Bali is very undisturbed and the reefs are some of the most vibrant and productive that I have ever seen. There are 2 reasons for this. Firstly, Bali is surrounded by deep waters with unfavorable coastlines creating a lack of safe harbours. Sea culture never evolved around the island of Bali, like it did elsewhere in Indonesia and this can even been evidenced in the small amount of fishing that occurs in this area, even today. Secondly, the Balinese are mainly of the Hindu faith and consider things sacred if they are high or elevated from sea-level. Temples are built in the heights of Bali’s volcanoes and the ocean, being low, is considered dangerous. Historically, most Balinese didn’t like to swim and preferred to stay away from the coast.

I thought a lot about diving more often, getting my instructor certification and making diving a more substantial part of my life.

Gods and spirits have been an important part of Bali's daily life for hundreds of years. Gunung Agung – Bali's holy mountain – is internationally regarded as one of the eight "Chakra" points of the world. This may be more than a coincident. Watch out, the moment you feel the magic of this island, you're addicted for the rest of your life.”

After my magical time in Amed, I set off on a new adventure, driving back along the coast towards Sanur, where I caught a local boat to the island of Nusa Lembongan. Nusa Lembongan sits slightly north of Nusa Ceningan, which is slightly north of, the much larger island, Nusa Penida. These three islands are nestled in the deep-water channel between Bali and Lombok, and from everything I had read, I was starting to realize that there is some world-class diving to be done amongst and around these three islands. I had learned that there is some diving available here for beginners, but most of the dives require a decent level of experience, as currents are strong and unpredictable. From dive the world’s website, “Lying across the Badung Strait from Sanur is Bali's premiere scuba diving destination - the clear waters of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida islands. With its adjacent deep water trenches, the main attraction at Lembongan Island is the common encounters with the curious and otherwise very rare oceanic sunfish, or mola mola.”
So off I was to see a sunfish and hopefully dive in some strong currents (specifically skill-building diving that I wanted to have more experience with).

Staying in Nusa Lembongan for 5 days was magical. The diving was superb. The company was perfect. And the small village feel of the island captured my heart. I stayed at Secret Garden Bungalows where the BigFish Diving outfit is located, just up from the beach. My bungalow was cheap and cute, the people around were friendly and the chilled-out island vibe put me at ease instantly. This is a small place. And it’s beautiful. After a few days of diving with a very small group – 2 people doing their advanced open water (AOW), a dive master trainee (DMT) and an instructor – I was seriously considering that this might be the place to do me DMT. Big Fish only takes on one DMT at a time and the instruction is top notch. Challenging diving in current makes this an ideal learning environment. It’s a short boat ride away from Dempasar and I could afford to stay in one of the Secret Garden bungalows for a few months, no problem. Paradise.

Diving around Nusa Lembongan, we saw Mantas, a Bamboo Shark, Marble Rays and more. The currents were sometimes so strong at certain sites that we’d arrive, assess and then the instructors would decide we should try a different site. This meant that the instructors needed to really know their stuff and be prepared for the unexpected at all sites. We went hunting for Mola Molas, but were a bit too early in the season to have any luck. Chris, our instructor had some other instructor friends visiting and on my birthday, we all went out for a few celebration dives with no other fun divers. It would be my last day of diving, because I had to fly back to HK the next day. After no luck seeing Molas at Crystal Bay, we went into the channel between Nusa Ceninigan and Nusa Lembongan to a dive site that pretty much looked like a washing machine on the surface. Crazy! We had a quick vote, showing that we were all up for the adventure, and then geared up and prepared for a negative entry. In a negative entry you basically deflate your BCD entirely, do a backwards roll off the boat holding your BCD’s bottom dump toggle and upon hitting the water you descend, head first, as fast as you possible can. This is to avoid being thrashed around and/or separated from your dive buddies by the strong surge currents on the surface. Once we reached 20 meters, we basically entered a jet stream ‘highway’ of current. No point trying to look at much (except the patterns of the schools of fish in order to predict the current ahead of you). It was like flying underwater. I couldn’t help but laugh with excitement into my regulator. This was wild. There were a few tense moments when our group became slightly separated and we weren’t sure what lay ahead in terms of current patterns. A couple strong upsurges and down currents took us by surprise and once we actually had to try and hold on to something. This didn’t always work, but we all were safe and having the ride of our lives. I was so overwhelmed with adrenaline and the pure rush of accomplishing something challenging. I loved the learning and I loved the experience. This last dive sealed the deal for me. I now know that I will be a dive instructor someday. Not sure exactly when, but it will happen.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Shooting Pictures on Lamma

I made a friend recently who is a photographer travelling the world, working on his project We had some fun taking photos with a couple aps on my iPhone and also just explored a little of the island together during a wicked week of spring weather. Later, he returned with another photographer and they produced this small video.

F8 Photography & in Hong Kong from F8 Photography Ltd on Vimeo.

Here are some fun shots that we took and edited. Spring is in the air, the sun is almost always shining and my creativity had been rejuvenated! For a little while there I had forgotten how much I love taking pictures.

Monday, January 10, 2011

2010 Was a Really Great Year

Last year was quite possibly the most exciting and adventurous year of my entire life. So in the spirit of reflection, I thought I'd recount a few of the highlights month-by-month.

My wonderful friend Alex came to visit me in Hong Kong after spending time in Thailand and India. We had a lovely time catching up after 18 months apart.

I took a Chinese New Year Trip to Malaysia with Jen and Natalie. We all stayed in Penang for two nights and then I continued on to Langkawi. Here I went sea kayaking, caving, hiking and played on the beach. I also went on a couple of scuba dives and met some fun people. A highlight was seeing all the monkeys and nocturnal animals that inhabit Langkawi, a very cool place. Later that month, back in Hong Kong, Ulrich returned from TED 2010 with a amazing stories to share with me.

After a weekend trip to Guangzhou in mainland China, another quick weekend trip to Donsol and Legaspi in the Philippines got Ulrich and me into the water, swimming with whale sharks! This was one of the most exhilarating experiences I've ever had. Exploring Donsol with our waiter and tour-guide, Ryan, was pretty fun too. We visited the Mayon Volcano in Legaspi, but didn't have time for any hiking. The following weekend I was coaching the U16 and U20 boys and girls teams for SEASAC Badminton finals, which were hosted at CDNIS. Schools came from around the region for 4 days of intense competition. The last weekend in March, I attended an inspiring, challenging and extremely social, professional development opportunity at the EARCOS Teacher's Conference in Manila.

This month began with an incredible trip to Jordan. Ulrich and I met up in Aaman, explored the dead sea, Petra,Wadi Rum, Little Petra, Al Karak and more, all from the comforts of our own rental car. Highlights included sleeping in a cave, camel-riding, the stars in a desert sky, rock-climbing, driving, the scrumptious food and long, meaningful conversations. What an amazing and beautiful trip.

The Gr. 5 classes explored Cheng Chau Island for 3 days and 2 nights on a super high-energy "Amazing Race" camp out. Hosted by a team of outdoor educators and facilitated by the best teaching team (that ever there was), we had a fantastic time. I spent a couple weekend in Guangzhou. At the end of the month, after lots of planning and preparations, I took 30 Grade 5s into the heart of Guizhou province in mainland China. Guizhou is the province with the highest percentage of different local minority groups who live quite traditionally in rural areas. The trip was 5 days and consisted of a fully inter-cultural student exchange where the CDNIS students became partnered up with a local child. Our guides took us on adventures like tea leaf picking, shared meal preparations and shared traditional activities with us. We sang songs, danced and spend gorgeous time in the natural beauty of the region. The food was, as always, amazing. It ended up being a very meaningful and special trip for all involved.

The month started off with a trip to Chengdu and a hike down Mt. Emieshan. A little bit rushed by a deadline to catch a flight, poor physical and mental stamina, and unfavorable weather conditions resulted in a pretty horrendous physical plight for me. It took me almost a week to recover. Then I had the pleasure of moving house, right as school ended and everything got really hectic. I put all my belongings in my classroom and headed to South Korea to see my mom, sister, brother-in-law and niece. We had an exciting 10 days of different adventures in Seoul, the mountains around Gyeongju, the beach near SanJu and many, mnay parks. Summer had begun!

I started July on a plane between Hong Kong and Vancouver. I spent a week visiting Aaron and we explored the Juan de Fuca trail on Vancouver Island and the city of Vancouver a little bit. I was lucky enough to share my birthday with my dad. Then I headed to Ontario to see my extended family for a week. We went on a couple fun excursions to the CN Tower and Ontario Place. Mid-month I headed to Bogota for one night en-route to Panama City to meet Ulrich. From there we went to Bocas del Toro and spend a gorgeous 10 days in pristine paradise. After Bocas, Ulrich and I continued on to Villa de Leyva, Colombia to see my mom and William on the farm for a little while.

Still in Colombia, Ulrich and headed to the north coast and trekked a 4-day hike to Ciudad Perdida, dipped ourselves in a mud volcano and I even squeezed in a day of scuba diving! We ended that trip in Cartagena, after which Ulrich heading back to Panama and me back to Canada. Later, in Hong Kong mid-August, it was already time to start school again. A new year and nowhere to live! I began the house hunt and eventually found a place on Lamma Island.

I moved into my new flat, and new life, on Lamma. What a change of pace! School kicked off in full swing and September just seemed to get eaten up.

This month began with an adventurous girl's weekend in Guilin and Yangshou to celebrate China's National Day. River rafting, silly games, hiking and biking made this a very memorable long weekend away from Hong Kong with good friends. At the end of October I took off to Bali with Melissa and Jen for week of exploring a new place. I went to Ubud, the Green School and then on to Gili Trawangan for the most beautiful diving I've ever done. I saw lots of really big sharks too! In Legian, I did a full-day surf lesson and had loads of fun meeting people and soaking up the beauty of Bali.

November started with a professional development IB conference in Bangalore India! Not only was it fun to get to go to India with some really great colleagues, but I also got to catch up with old colleagues who are now in Saudia Arabia and India. The conference was fabulous and the catch-up with old friends and new friends was the icing on the cake. For American Thanks Giving Ulrich came to Hong Kong with stories from his first quarter at Stanford.

I started December in the Philippines writing the GRE. Later, after 2 weeks of teaching it was time to head out on holiday and I travelled to Melbourne, Australia to see my sister and her family. My mom met me there with some family friends from Colombia and we had a very lovely family holiday. We rented a car and explored around the Great Ocean Road and the Yarra Valley region. It was really nice to be with the ones I love as the best year of my life came to an end. I am such a lucky and fortunate person!

I wonder what 2011 will have in store for me..... here's hoping it can top 2010.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Canadian Thanksgiving

After almost a month a anticipation and excitement, Thanksgiving weekend finally arrived. I had sent out an open invitation to all staff at my school as well as a few non CDNIS people that I know in HK. Potentially, I knew there could be a huge turn out, but I was happily satisfied with my prediction that I could easily accommodate up to 50 people with the rooftop area and the balcony doors wide open. I also proposed the party as an all-day event, running between 3pm and 9pm with the hopes that people and families would straggle in, socialize and visit, and then head out at scattered times, thus creating different mixtures of people at different points of the day. It was specifically a pot luck and not a sit-down dinner.

On Friday I bought a 22-lb turkey in Causeway Bay from a local frozen meats store that my friend Tanja took me to. I waddled home with it, first by taxi, then ferry, then walking. I affectionately named him Trypto, and when we got home I laid him in the bathtub to thaw.

Saturday morning Melissa came over and she baked a scrumptious-looking pumpkin pie followed by an even handsomer apple pie. I watched carefully to pick up some baking skills.

Sunday arrived. At 7am, I cleaned and seasoned Trypto, setting him in the oven for a 6 hour sleep. Then I cleaned the house. It was a gloomy and surprisingly windy day, but the promise of blue sky seemed to be taunting me every so often when I was up on the roof. Things could brighten up, I assured myself. Melissa arrived early to help me make a scavenger hunt of cute Gobble Gobble signs leading from the ferry to my flat.

At exactly 3 o'clock a flurry of people came to Lamma (as happens here with an influx of people on each arriving ferry). A few families with little kids, a couple friends from outside school, and then more teachers, more teachers and even more teachers. As the crowd grew larger, so did the heaviness of the clouds. Within an hour the rain was inevitable. Everyone was forced inside, off the roof and off the balcony. The crowd continued to grow steadily. More kids, more adults, more food and more wine. People were having an awesome time, nonetheless, squished into a small space where the air was sticky and very loud. Everyone indulged in all the  fabulous food, wine and beer and shared the true spirit of Thanksgiving.

I had encouraged people to bring food items, of whatever variety, to share with the crowd. I expected that people would nibble here and there and that the food would be not so much served as a meal, as simply laid out as it came. This, of course, didn't work out very well! Not only was everyone in the same place at the same time, but it turned out that eating together made the most sense, given the time and abundance of munchkins. All of this with limited serving surfaces/tables, not enough disposable plasticware and the absence of real sit-down areas available. Ahhhhhh! At this point Melissa swooped in tot save the day playing an amazing role of hostess because a) she's really good at it  and b) she enjoys it. I was incapable of orchestrating the food delivery.

It was, for everyone, a fabulous party. I was left, unfortunately, with a small weight of disappointment. I wanted people to experience the splendor of the roof top. I wanted everyone to be able to relax comfortably. I wanted more space and less stress. Oh well... there will be other times for different parties and many good lessons were learned. The biggest one being that my place isn't set up to be exactly child-friendly, or maybe it's a bit too child-friendly.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My 1st Backyard Hike - Mt. Stenhouse

On one of my first sunny Sundays living on Lamma Island 南丫島, I decided to go out exploring. Heading out around noon, it was a delicately clear day to the eye, a calm and realizing day to the ear, but a rather fuzzy and oppressive one to the other 3 senses.

Without any plan or agenda, I set out towards the beach and within 20 short minutes was not where I wanted to be. I curiously poked around some neighborhoods beside and behind the beach in search of the 'family trail', climbing up and down numerous stairs and encroaching a little too much on some more private patios and back alleys between village homes. How could I be lost? I considered heading up to the Lamma Winds windmill and taking the snake trail down towards Sok Kwu Wan 索罟灣, but having already done that in the past, it seemed less exciting. And while asking one of the many people I passed on the trail would have been easy enough, I was happy to scout out the area on my own. Discover what was around and find something I didn't even know I was looking for. Eventually I realized that the path was along the coast, exiting on the far side of the beach near the BBQ pits, not up behind it. I made my way along the broad, paved path filled with tourists in sundresses and high heels touting umbrellas, oversized sun hats and super shades. The path eventually lead into some shaded ares and before I knew it I was approaching Sok Kwu Wan, the small fishing village in the middle of the island.

I checked out the small and secluded Lo Shing Beach, taking a break to read for a while and then I grabbed some quick food in Sok Kwu Wan.

Heading almost due south, I reentered the forest for a little while as I climbed towards the small rest spot, 陰山, just up form the crossroad. Here I enjoyed the view and the sunshine as I remembered that the last time I was at that very spot, it was a cool and windy December evening as dusk was settling over the island. After I while I decided to return home. I'd been out for nearly 3 hours and it has been a beautiful stroll in my new backyard. Upon reaching the map at the crossroads and realizing I had few options for my return trek home, my eyes began to wander. I studied the paths which spoked out from the peak of Mt. Stenhouse, the highest peak on Lamma. It was just a few crests and valleys beyond where I was standing. I contemplated whether or not I could make it up there and back before dark? I wondered if there was a different path, coming down from the peak, that would lead towards Yung Shue Wan  榕樹灣 so that I wouldn't have to retrace my steps? I took a mental picture of the map (why don't I have an iPhone yet?) and decided to go for it!

The climb up became increasingly harder as I disappeared into a realm of HK hiking trails that no one frequents in the excessively hot summer months. Overgrowth was an understatement. There were times on the ups where the thick vegetation came in quite handy as would have ladder rungs or ropes, but on the slippery downs the bush basically masked the rocky trails catching my ankles and lacerating my shins. Only once did I stop to assess whether or not it would make more sense to turn back. Nah, what fun would that be? I was at the top by about 4:15, enjoying a great sense of accomplishment and feeling the payoff of perseverance.

From the peak of Stenhouse, I scoped out the view of paths leading downwards, affectionately satisfied with my ability to apply what I was now looking down upon to the mental map I'd created earlier.
I couldn't help but also smile at the recognition of a deep rooted aversion to going back the way I'd come up. Who has rubbed off on me, this slightly stubborn strictly-straight-ahead style, sideswiping my stay on the safer side sensibilities? Hmmm... I was astonished by my own drive to explore the unknown and my motivation for discovery, even while facing 2 short hours of remaining daylight and the absence of map, food, headlamp and knife.

Onwards and downwards. This time the downs were especially hard as the trails became almost non-existent under the brush. Amazingly, every time I began to get discouraged or anxious at the thought that I had made a bad decision, I would find a clear stretch of trail, with a breathtaking view and I'd be encouraged forward by my own relentless efforts and cycling enthusiasm. Eventually, I could tell exactly where I was, reflecting on the map in my head, and I felt confident that I could get myself to Lo Shing beach by simply crossing a small but swampy gully. Looking down on it, it seemed doable. At this point, however, I crested a slight hill and while starting down the other side, I had the eerie feeling that someone was watching me. I looked up towards the next rocky crest to see a pack of wild dogs. Uh oh... Immediately upon making eye contact, they started to bark ferociously, telling me that they were not keen on me passing through their territory. Hmmm, time to re-route. I headed slightly backwards and down another side of the hill. Within 20 minutes I was in an overgrown forest, a good sign of reproaching sea level and civilization.

I was thrilled to be back on track, to have made it down smiling. My legs stung with scratches and nicks and my clothes were drenched with sweat, but I was feeling great. I found my way through some abandoned village houses in the woods to reconnect with the 'family trail'. I still had the 1hour walk back to Yung Shue Wan. There was a neat cloud effect happening as the sun began to sink behind the Power Station on my way. Perfect timing. I headed back into town for a big dinner and a cold shower, snuggled myself under the covers and was asleep by 8:30!

I later read on wikipedia: Mount Stenhouse is the tallest mountain in Lamma (353 metres above sea-level), situated between Sok Kwu Wan and Sham Wan. Unusually shaped rocks can be found all over this mountain, but a gruelling hike is necessary to access these.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Happily Settling into Life on Lamma

Year # 3 begins in Hong Kong.

I arrived home from my magical summer holiday with a little less than 24 hours before work began. Luckily, in my line of work, I can bank on the first full week being one without students when the school year revs up. This is normally a week of meetings, intensive planning/cleaning/decorating and getting everything in order for the first day that the kids arrive. It is a social week and it's fun to see colleagues and exchange summer adventure stories. It also resembles a cold bucket of water in the face, as full-on and fast-paced as any given week in Hong Kong, and living in a hotel room made it even more difficult for me to keep up. Another drain on my emotional stability was trying to adjust to a much more solitary routine after the tandem one that I had indulged in over the summer.... Ah, a sweet and delicious solitude, which I love and missed, laced with a tinge of bitter lonliness. Trying to focus on my multitude of work-related enthusiasms, while being heavily distracted with a keen excitement about hunting for a new home, was a bit like having dinner with Johnny Depp and Eddie Vedder simultaneously. Exhausting, and yet intensely engrossing as well.

I had decided on big change when I left my cute little Lilian Court abode in Central last June, imagining myself with more wide-open space in a village house on Lamma or Lantau Island for the fall. A week after returning to Hong Kong I found a wonderful nest on Lamma Island and made the decision that, yes, the village of Yung Shue Wan would provide a happy home-base community for me. The downfall was that I needed to wait almost 3 more weeks to move in. Patience, flexibility, creative thinking and practical problem-solving all came in very handy in this time. I lived in a small, dark, and sometimes dank, room just down Main street from the ferry pier in Yung Shue Wan.

It was a challenging start, and I had some desperately discouraging days, but as I was hoping (and have since confirmed), it was well worth the wait.