Twitter, Dreamboats, and the Sport I Used to Love

Oh, another yawn-inducing year-end reflective post from a self-righteous blogger foolishly believing that the internet world actually cares about their resolution to drink more water in 2013?

Not quite.

As everyone on WordPress, Blogger, and those poor souls still hanging on to their outdated Angelfire account review their year in writing (and due to their consistent scheduling of posts, can rightfully brag about their increase in readership), I regale my plateauing stats and shameful admittance that I could barely (just barely) conjure up a single post approximately every other month.

Relishing in the fact that my mother and perhaps even a second cousin or two still read this site, it becomes all too tempting to ruminate over the last 365 days. And as a matter of consequence, I then search through my catalogue of long-term memories and pinpoint exactly what I was doing for a good 315 of them.

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The answer to which I am certain, includes absolutely nothing about the sport of hockey.

Way back in September 2012, the National Hockey League declared its fourth lockout in 20 years. This was due to financial buzz-words like revenue, salary caps, and peculation. (Yes, I realize this is a generous oversimplification to a rather complex blur of sports and business. But I’m pretty sure both my mom and cousin aren’t much of hockey fans. And it’s all about keeping the audience engaged, right?)

Now even if you don’t really care about the likes of Gary Bettman and Bill Daly (and the reasons to which I believe they’re both selfish jerks), I’m still willing to waste the word count.

Why?

Well, through a stretching analogy which really just involved the discovery of hockey players’ Twitter accounts, the NHL lockout sort of paralleled my last year as an expat.

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Here are a few highlights from the 2012 season:

For starters, way back in the summer, hockey players sort of expected to play hockey. And I, through complete fault of my own, sort of expected to be productive. Writing for Vagabundo Magazine, contributing to a couple of Seoul publications, volunteering with an organization based on the human rights of North Korean defectors. One would assume my output efforts would soar into the realm of implausible.

Instead, a concrete wall inevitably constructed itself. A proverbial partition of repetitive lesson plans, similar bars, and the constant disappointment in myself for failing (yet again) to properly communicate “I don’t eat meat” in Korean. Sure, at times I was industrious (or maybe I mean industrial?), but it hardly felt prolific.

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Disjointedly, this leads into the next topic of management, and the difficulties both myself and the big guns within the NHL experience in this field. A gleaming example of both follows.

At the end of 2011, almost fearless did something pretty ridiculous and spoke nonsense about this site being one of the best new travel blogs on the web. (Reiterating the idea that undeserved recognition is awesome because it acknowledges something you didn’t even think existed in the first place.) The point is, on top of search terms like ‘decisions not to make while hungover’, that mention drove a lot of traffic to this site.

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I could have taken that increase in readership seriously and wrote the most obvious of points about say, that beach in El Nido, Philippines being an all-out stunner. Instead, I talked about what makes a shitty travel partner. (Evidently, I’m extremely qualified for this position.) I didn’t manage this opportunity properly. It became a toothbrush miss.

It’s not so lonely in this realm of mismanagement, though. Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, has all kinds of difficulties managing his own personal interests and that of the league, often believing that they are one in the same. His financial irrationality means a continuous stream of missed opportunities for both the league and the players.

When it comes to blunders over mismanagement, Bettman and I have a lot in common. The only difference being a faint Filipino flip-flop tan.

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As the lockout closed in on month three, players started to realize that what they expected to be doing this year, was in fact far different from their actual daily activities. So the boys left town. They went back to their roots in the juniors, declared semi-permanent residency in places like Russia and Switzerland, or participated in small-town charity matches (inert games basically comparable to that of a scrimmage with your Dad’s Sunday afternoon beer league).

Without declaring permanency anywhere, I too left Seoul when results were less than straightforward. I visited six countries in 2012; one of which was new to me. Although still in its newness, I now have a gut-wrenching crush on Burma. I’m only assuming Rick Nash can say the same about Switzerland.

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And just recently, future plans changed for both myself and the NHL. In less than a week, the hockey season will start. In less than two months, the Peace Boat will start.

The Peace Boat is exactly what it sounds like…but better. Travelling to over 20 countries, a massive boat full of participants, volunteers, interpreters, and English teachers (me!) will promote positive social and political change on a worldwide scale. (I’m not exaggerating with the worldwide scale thing. The route literally circles the Earth.)

From Japan to Venezuela, I’ll have the opportunity to learn, teach, change, develop, and take part in a boatload (ha!) of other positive verbs.

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As is often the case in hockey, the NHL could not have written a better story, even if they tried.

And I, could not have dreamed of a better opportunity for curious (and contributing) travel, even if I wrote on a more consistent bi-monthly schedule in 2012.

And the players, now returning to hockey rinks across North America within the limitations of 140 characters, could not have tweeted a better ending.

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This is the Story of 195 Kilometers

It’s 9:30 AM on a Wednesday Morning.

I’m sweating and absolutely starving. And depending on my coworkers’ aptitude to “just have one more,” I’m probably a little hung over.

I’ve almost gotten hit by both a commuter bus and an angry cab driver. Both of whom possess little forethought to glance in the review mirror before carelessly changing lanes.

I arrive at some generic coffee shop which features an overpriced Iced Americano with an atrociously off ice:americano ratio.

This is the best part of my day.

It’s here where I meet her. A smaller than small woman with a rounder than round face. She doesn’t enjoy sports. She prefers Canadian boys to all other ethnicities. She hates the fact that coffee causes her to break out. She drinks it anyways. She hasn’t seen her parents or other family members for over five years. She speaks to them for less than 10 minutes only once a year or at least until “they cut the phone away.”

She is a North Korean defector living in Seoul, South Korea.

I volunteer with an organization called PSCORE. This is an NGO which strives for the successful reunification of North and South Korea.  In the process, PSCORE assists and supports North Koreans who have recently defected to Seoul and the surrounding area. They provide transitory support and things like 1:1 tutoring once they have “settled.” (A term which I’m using quite loosely because admittedly, I have no idea if this is possible.)

For the sake of confidentiality, and my own misunderstanding about the popularity of this blog, I’ll skip the identifying factors.

Regardless, twice a week I meet with her. I look forward to rearranging my sleeping patterns, skipping my morning yoga routine, and paying triple for an exceptionally shitty cup of coffee. It’s absolutely amazing.

Having defected well over five years ago, she’s no stranger to living in South Korea.

But attempting to learn a convoluted language based on countless exceptions and strange placements of the letter “h” when it is really not all that necessary?

Well, she’ll get there.

I’m “supposed to” be her English tutor. That’s technically my job. But technically, I’m not actually working or getting paid. So I’m taking the whole “supposed to” thing quite liberally. Besides, volunteers aren’t obligated to follow rules all of the time. It’s not in our contract. (Guys, that’s a total lie. But I really had you going for a second there…)

She brought a book of Tolstoy to our first English lesson. At the end of the session, its spine remained unopened.

Instead of talking about an anarcho-pacificist (which believe me, usually tops the list of things I like to discuss), we talked about ourselves. We talked about ourselves in that curious way you do when you assume that if you open up a little about yourself, then the other will too.

I complained that the antiperspirant in Korea needs to redefine their idea of “anti.” She complained that the humidity in Seoul makes her hair “sticky.” (Note: Add “frizzy” or better yet “an absolute rat’s nest” to the list of new vocabulary words to teach.)

She asked about my experiences dating in Korea. I asked her if she thinks she will ever get married.

Soon our sessions were more about her fights with her long-term boyfriend over a future with/ without children. Soon I started to rant about people always throwing their garbage in my bike basket.

We share an intense fascination with the other’s upbringing.

We translate funny things on her phone. Things like “athlete’s foot” and “precarious.”

Sometimes I see Tolstoy or another Let’s Learn English in the Most Impractical Way Possible textbook popping out of her oversized purse. But neither of us seems too worried about conjugating the word “go.”

Instead, it’s here where the distance of more than 190 kilometers, becomes the shortest route to friendship.

Traveling as a Veg and the Solution to Charades

There’s no denying that when you travel, you are very likely to acquire a new and extremely valuable skill set.

No, it’s not the ability to fall asleep just about anywhere. And no, it’s not an increased aptitude for knowing where the best drink specials are, or even the closest (but really, cleanest) toilet.

 And it’s definitely not a knack for always remembering to stuff every available pocket full of napkins and toilet paper at restaurants which just happen to provide these luxuries for uh, free of charge.

It’s a new set of skills which will only increase your confidence as a traveler, make conversations with the locals more enjoyable, and confirm without a shadow of a doubt that you are in fact, a foreigner in a land very unlike your own.

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The Time with the Moral Dilemmas in Chiang Mai

Sometimes it’s hard to do the right thing.

I mean, you know what the right thing is, you know how to go about doing the right thing, but sometimes, just the act of going through with the right thing just seems so, well….hard.

Like remember the time that I, the soapbox-when-provoked-vegetarian, went to a cockfight in the Phillipines?

Or how about that time when I successfully convinced a class full of pre-teen girls that Justin Beiber was obviously a friend from home? (Okay, so maybe that wasn’t just an isolated incident but more of a daily behaviour management technique. Oh and by the way, this is a totally successful resource that really should be used in every ESL classroom).

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The Time I got a Rub-down by an Inmate in Chiang Mai

Confession Time: When I was 5 years old I stole a Land Before Time sticker set from a local convenience store.

I felt a rush of excitement leaving the store (But that’s pretty obvious, right? I mean, I now had Petri and Littlefoot…in sticker form). But minutes later, I felt like a dirty rotten no-good criminal (which by the way, are some pretty extreme feelings to deal with when you’re only 5 years old…..).

To try to remedy the situation, I confided in my older brother.

Wide-eyed and full of older brother lies, he promptly told me that the course of punishment for stealing dinosaur stickers is always a life sentence in prison. No begging. No pleading. Not even an award-winning tantrum could change this. 

To make matters worse, my brother also convinced me that this prison place does not take pity on a sticky fingers kindergartener. Allegedly, you don’t get any toys in prison. AND as further punishment, they serve you meatloaf everyday. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. No exceptions.

Completely terrified of my upcoming meat-based diet, I knew I had only once choice left: I would become a run-away kindergarten convict.

I packed a bag full of Barbies and their accompanying Ninja Turtles van and announced to my family that I was leaving the comforts of Southwestern Ontario and “running away to North America.”

(Even at a young age, I clearly had massively ambitious travel plans…not to mention a clear misunderstanding of world geography).

After some tantrum-sobbing and a heart-wrenching confessional, my parents convinced me to forgo my future as a juvenile offender (or a milk carton missing child) and just return the stickers. And I can proudly say that minus that little incident, my criminal record has been pretty much spotless ever since. And consequently, my contact with any correctional institution has been pretty much non-existent.

But that was before I visited Chiang Mai, of course.

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The Time with the Condoms in Bangkok

Did you know that when I left on this trip, I wanted to learn something?

No really, did you?

Even though my standards were quite low (as they always tend to be) in terms of what exactly I wanted to learn, I was adamant that learning something (anything!) should be an ultimate priority during the next however many months (well that AND taste-tasting as many local beers as possible in any given city).

And without standards, lists, or even ideas in place, I knew I was setting myself up for complete success. However even with next to no expectations, I was pleasantly surprised when I ended up learning A LOT on my first day in Bangkok.

 

 

 

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