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Songkran Begins

The thunder rolled, the rain came down, and Songkran started two days early this year.  We were walking down a street coming back from our Thai massage lessons and a woman sprinkled water on us saying “Shakti” – translating to good luck as we came to the moat.  After a bit of wandering where I felt like a soldier in a war zone without a weapon, I was soaked.  The water festival has turned into a big waterfight that goes ‘til the 15th here in Chiang Mai – it’s particularily crazy around the moat, but you can’t walk any block without getting a bucket of ice water dumped on your head.  We picked up some buckets and joined in the fun – seeking vengeance of course.

It’s pretty cool seeing the Thais and foreigners “play” with each other – oddly a lot get by pretty disjointly on other days.

There was this one dad who was driving his boy around on his motorcycle.  The boy had his little water gun and mischief in his eyes.  His dad stopped right in front of the bar our growing group was camped out at and he opened fire.  His smile only got bigger as he got soaked with return fire.  What a great dad.

That’s all I have time to write at the moment – seems I already have some catching up to do.  I’m able to grab some stills off my little point and shoot now, but still haven’t had time to convert the RAW files from my dSLR so…few to none pictures for now but it’s better than nothing.  Until next time…

April 12, 2011 - 9:40 pm

HayleC - man that sounds like a perfect way to spend a hot day in Thailand! I hope I can experience that fesival one day 🙂

April 13, 2011 - 9:39 pm

Karenia - The water festival sounds both fun and annoying lol
They have a water day in Poland too where the same kind of thing happens… but it is just one day.

The first leg.

Greetings everyone!

First off thanks to everyone who filled my inbox with birthday wishes,  it really means a lot to me.  It also reminded me that I promised I  wouldn’t just drop off the face of the earth during my travels, so i’m  being productive on this 7 hr jaunt back to Bangkok and am writing this.

Hmm where to start…the beginning seems as good a place as any I  suppose.

So just a little bit before leaving Winnipeg that huge natural  disaster hit Japan, which was going to be the first stop of the trip  (and had been the only part that was actually planned out…).  A curveball before even leaving.  The week before leaving Anny, my travel partner, and I were throwing around ideas ranging from volunteering over there to cancelling our tickets altogether. As March 22nd quickly approached the nuclear issues Japan was going through just kept being uncertain, so we decided to go with the latter.  We cancelled our original tickets and bought new ones that went through Hong Kong instead.

New problem: we were going to get our 60 day Thailand visas while in Japan.  Well…Vancouver’s nice this time of year, heck we might even see some cherry blossoms there which would be a little reminiscent of Japan! And so a week layover on the west coast it was.

The west coast was pretty great – saw some old friends and did some amazing things.

When Peter, Anny’s uncle, offered us his truck to get around in I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to revisit the sea-to-sky highway and drive up to Squamish. We invited a fellow named Ezra for the ride, and it ended up he was the one touring us around. The snow was just coming off the mountains so we thought we’d try an ascent and climbed to the first peak of The Chief.  What a view, and boy did it ever make me rerealize my love fir nature and being outdoors.

We decided to catch a ferry over to Victoria.  Now there are two ways to look at things that morning.  One: We were late (2 min!) for our ferry.  I had no idea they would stop selling tickets 10 minutes prior to departure.  Two: We were REALLY early for our ferry.  Either way, we got there when we got there, just with a little extra time to kill at the ferry terminal beforehand.

I led a hauntings tour around Victoria for Anny, Jess, and whoever else might have been listening. And do I know that city..at all??  Nope, but I found this really cool walking tour pamphlet in city hall and just ran with it.  I also made bread for the first time at Jess’s, and I do mean by myself. Once the girls knew I’d been wanting to do it for ages they relinquished all the work to me. So tasty – I make good bread.

And then there was Vancouver, a city I should have explored deeper a long time ago. A couple quick notes:
-sushi in this city is cheap and delicious
-the beer in this city is also delicious (try The Alibi Room in Gas Town or St. Augustine’s on Commercial for huge beer selections on tap – most local but some around the world, i even saw Half Pints at one)
-the arts scene seems pretty good here. We caught an arts night at Cafe Deux Soleil on Commercial, really solid music/spoken word/comedy. This night was put in by East Side Yoga Studio but I looked and the schedule and it looked consistently awesome.
-East Side Yoga invited me over for a free class at the cafe and I checked out a yin class. It felt so good. I also dropped in at Unity Yoga for their open practice. Great people here – I hung out with the girl up front for an hour after my practice chatting, playing guitar, drinking tea, eating trail mix. A nice afternoon.
-Lynn Valley > Capilano Sispension bridge
-always check to see if the brakes are effective on a borrowed bike before coasting down a big hill.  Enough said.
-sunsets at English Bay and along Stanley Park are the place to be at sundown
-Sikh temples really are a place of refuge for travellers

One long day of travel later brings me to Bangkok.  Oh Bangkok: crowded, polluted, loud, hectic…not exactly my natural habitat.  I did my best at giving this city a chance but I still just craved the moment when I could move on and take a deep breath of fresh air again.

Khao San Road is pretty ridiculous – especially at night but even in the day.  I just don’t understand why people would come all the way to Thailand for such debauchery when they could just do it back home.  There must be some crazy stuff they’re into here that I just don’t know about.  Also: Sangsom buckets are gross, I don’t know why people said I’d be addicted to these things.  They DO do what they’re meant to do, but they’re anything but tasty…  You can get lots of handy travel accessories there though (like International Student Identity Cards…) so it still was worth the trip.

The Chatchuk market is the big weekend market in the city, and it is HUGE.  20-some football fields huge and believe me when I say it’s easy to get lost in that makeshift city of tents and stands.  I circled around a few times.

A few English teachers over here took me out to the Holland Brewery one night.  Being a refined drinker that’s been on a few brewery tours in my day, I expected the standard brewery tour and sampling.  Nope: It’s a huge entertainment hall with risque Thai performances (while drinking beer of course – and ordering it by the 5L…).  Even more odd was that it seemed to be a family joint.  There was a little girl a couple tables over who was celebrating her 5th birthday.  Oh well, she seemed to enjoy the lady-boy who sang to her.

A couple unfortunates happened in Bangkok.  A Thai security guard slipped into our apartment after Lewis went to sleep and before Anny and I got home from Khao San Road and stole some money out of her money belt.  (Anny wrote about it here: http://annynews.tumblr.com/post/4256281572 ).  And I also had my first bout with food poisoning.

Some taxi drivers were great…some less so.  I mean, Bangkok is a big city so you can’t expect them to know it perfectly right?  And so you ask that they know how to get where you want to go before you get in.  Now here’s something I’ve learned: Part of the culture over here is saving face – in other words not admitting when you don’t know something because you’d be embarassed.  Instead you pretend you do.  Not cool when your taxi driver doesn’t know where you’re going and you can hardly speak a word of Thai.  Also not cool when you’re a foreigner asking for directions and they point you in the wrong direction.

We also had one cabbie pull over to the side of the expressway 10 min into the ride, going really slow on the speedway trying to barter more money out of us.  80 baht later we sped up from 40kpg to 160kph again.  Oh that the seatbelts worked here.

Needless to say I was pretty happy to take off this past Sunday for the island life for a few days!  A bus ride, skytrain ride, big bus ride, shuttle ride, ferry ride, and taxi ride later (we left the apt in Bangkok at 7:30am and didn’t arrive ‘til after dark…) we found paradise.  A nice little place on the cliffs, a short hike from the fishing village of Bang Bao on Koh Chang.  Following the directions in the dark was pretty hilarious.  They were very minimal, pretty much: “Walk down towards the pier and hang a right just past the dive shop.  Walk 8 minutes.”  …Ok…  The narrow path snaked in and out of locals yards, and they just waved us on with big smiles so we shrugged and did.  I was pretty happy when I walked up to the bar where the ocean met the ocean and they said they had a little hut waiting.  Lying in that hammock that first time was pretty damn wonderful.

My time here was pretty awesome.  Somehow all the twists and turns of life led me to this place where I could simply awake to the birds’ song on a quiet island in the South Pacific.  Nothing but a mosquito net and some loose boards separating me from nature’s beauty.

And there were monkeys there!

I was laying in my hammock the morning of my birthday and just so happened to notice monkeys dash up the cliffs on the other side of our bay.  “Monkeys!” my inner monologue exclaimed, and off I went looking to see if I could convince Anny to go for a walk.  Well I didn’t find the monkeys (this time), but since I was hot I decided to dive off the rocks and cool off.  A couple of things…One: the water here is not cool and refreshing, very disappointing.  Two: Before jumping into the ocean, make sure there is a way out.  The tide was out and the only way I could climb up was to wedge myself into a crevice and shimmy my way out, but the rocks were covered in sharp mollusks.  Combine this with the waves pushing me in and trying to pull me out here, and I cut up my hands and feet pretty good.  I think I managed to ward off infection with my hand sanitizer, but lesson learned.

The next monkey encounter was on the road (there’s only one road going around the island).  We stopped ‘cause we saw one monkey cross the road, but on closer look it was more like a family of ten.  And they kept running across the road to steal from a shops garden and then run back up the cliff with their plunder.  What funny animals.

Hmm, what else to say about this place…  It was remote and beautiful.  The seafood was as fresh as it could get.  An epic thunderstorm rolled through one night.  Nice beaches dot the shoreline here and there.  Yeah it was good!

Oh yeah!  I spent an afternoon with this amazing Tibet man one afternoon.  We met on the pier, him asking me about my necklace (pretty basic w/ beads and a jade buddha) and then showing me his (made of human bone!  Each bead individually painted and hand crafted.  It was quite beautiful).  Well we got to talking about happiness and religeon…  Then we got hungry so we went for lunch and talked about life and love.  Then wHe found a nice spot to sit and he pulled out a few singing bowls (his wife had just arrived in from Tibet that day.  She was sleeping and recouping while we were hanging out, but he had a few things from back home that she had brought with her – like these singing bowls).  He let me try each of them, and one really resonated with me.  And so he gave it to me for next to nothing.  I love it and it is a nice memory of my new friend.  Nepal/Tibet has always been pretty high on my “to travel” list, and now I daresay even moreso.

Something I didn’t anticipate was having amazing people come into my life, and then having them leave just as suddenly as they came.  This could take some getting used to.

Whew well that’s a quick overview with random stories that catches up with the present.  Hopefully I’ll be on top of things a little more after this and there’ll be less catch up to cover next time.

So…so far so good!  Thanks for all the e-mails and sorry if I haven’t had time to respond individually yet, its been busy.  I care about you all back home and miss you very much.

d.

April 7, 2011 - 9:54 pm

Shaw Man - What a First post…very informative, thanks for Sharing. Have a great time. talk to you when you get back.

April 8, 2011 - 9:46 pm

Stefan Payment - Good to read that you’re good and fine. Hope to see some snaps from around the world.

April 8, 2011 - 9:48 pm

Karenia - I loved reading all of this… it is so great to be able to get a sense of your travels and the connections you’ve been able to make… Happy belated birthday btw!

Take care 🙂

April 8, 2011 - 9:49 pm

hayleychestley - I’m so glad you decided to blog..the smile did not leave my face the entire time I was reading this! Loved all the stories and can’t wait to hear more! You have a great way of describing what you’ve seen! It’s also great to hear that you’re meeting such wonderful people on your journey 🙂

April 8, 2011 - 9:53 pm

Nadia Pawlosky - That sounds pretty damn amazing! Glad you’re having a good time. If you ever come to Ottawa, there’s a Moksha a block away from my soon-to-be apartment and a pub on every corner!

The Dark Side of the Lens

This is a beautiful short film.

“I see life in angles, in lines of perspective – the slow turn of a head, the blink of an eye, subtle glimpses of magic – other folk might pass by. Cameras help me translate, interpret and understand what I see. It’s a simple act that keeps me grinnin’. I never set out to become anything in particular, only to live creatively and push the scope of my experience for adventure and for passion. They still all mean something to me, same as most anyone with dreams.…Most folk don’t even know who we are, and what we do or how we do it, let alone what they pay us for it. I never want to take this for granted so I try to keep motivation simple, real, and positive. If I only scrape a living, at least it’s a living worth scraping…if there’s no future in it, is this a present worth remembering?  And though I may never be a rich man, if I live long enough I’ll certainly have a tale or two for the nephews, and I dig the thought of that.”

Nice Camera…

On one of the photo forums I frequent, this exact common situation came up in conversation.  You wouldn’t believe how common it is for people to see you with an SLR and when they see your results say “Wow – your camera takes really nice pictures!”  A heads up: this annoys most photographers.  It’s kind of like saying to an artist after they’ve made a painting: “Wow – that paint set made a really nice painting!”

We’re a bit polarized on how to handle the situation.  Some of my friends reactions:
-“Just as long as i don’t point it at you”
-“I hope so….I paid extra for that feature”
-Lend them your camera for some humbling
-“That’s right it does”

…And now you know. 😛

ps: What the Duck rules.

February 18, 2011 - 10:05 pm

annynews - I usually just say, *I* take really nice photos. ’cause I’m modest like that. (laughs)

February 18, 2011 - 10:06 pm

David - @annynews You would. 😛

February 18, 2011 - 10:06 pm

annynews - (grins) I never say what I think.

TEDx Manitoba

February 15, 2011

The first annual TEDxManitoba event was held yesterday at The Park Theatre here in Winnipeg, and I was privileged enough to be invited to attend!  I am so happy to have things like this start popping up locally – until about a year ago (when Pecha Kucha started happening quarterly here) there was not a great local place for intellectual networking to occur.  The first iteration of TEDxManitoba was, I’ll say, an undoubted success and I can only imagine what it will grow to become in the years to come.

I had high hopes for this event.  One quick look at the schedule got the intellectual inside of me aching for knowledge.  And was I ever satisfied.  The speakers of course were brilliant, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the brilliant minds of the peers that sat around me as well.  There was plenty of time for networking and small talk…but really the small talk was anything but small.  What a mentally exhausting (and satisfying) day – it was just nonstop.

I’ll  share a few thoughts from my notepad on things that caught my eye.  It really is only the tip of the iceberg, so do be sure to check out the talks on TED.com yourself!  Oh, and as you can see – there’s a few photos I snapped from my seat at the top of the page too!

Being a computer scientist, one of my favourite talks was given by event opener Robert Sawyer (a science fiction writer) on the non-biological acquiring consciousness.  I’ve studied artificial intelligence and ethics with regards to it thoroughly, and Robert Sawyer picked up on “the singularity” where Ray Kurzweil left off.  One interesting point that came up that I had not considered before was how our Darwinian instincts could be causing us to wrongly worry about artificial intelligence becoming dangerous.  As biological beings, the “survival of the fittest/nastiest” motto aptly applies.  A non-biological being however would not have this instinct.  An interesting thought…

I was skeptical going into Kerry Stephenson’s talk on 3d printing, thinking it to be something of science fiction, years and years away.  Boy was I wrong.  It already exists at the industrial level and likely is only ~3 years away!  Sure…it’s still the “dot matrix” era of 3d printing, but one day not so far off I’m sure it will be commonplace to print off your hardware at home rather than heading over to the hardware store.  Heck, one day I bet we’ll even be able to “print” buildings.

Karen Letourneau’s talk was…eye opening.  Karen was soft spoken on stage but passionate about her message, and was it ever received.  I have no doubt that her talk will change the world.  A lead sonographer at the St. Boniface General Hospital, she is passionate about detecting heart disease in newborns.  With basic methodologies there are always missed diagnoses and death, resulting in ~4 deaths per year just here in Manitoba a few years ago.  Karen did lots of personal research and developed a set of procedures to do to get a better picture in an ultrasound to better detect these sorts of cases.  She taught people all around Manitoba these procedures and, as a result, a LOT more of these cases have been getting caught.  In fact, last year there were NO deaths.  Pretty amazing for simply changing procedures – no money or new equipment is required, just training.  I am so happy that she spoke because I believe her procedures will start to be followed around the country, even around the world.

Len Brownlie spoke on aerodynamics with professional athletes, and how technology combined with drive can help us take things to a level previously unreachable.  What I took away from this?  Wear more tights – they aren’t just for looking good.

Phil Doucette brought his charisma to the stage.  He drew the crowd into a very personal story of his growing up and realizing that liberation cannot be without forgiveness and love – a powerful message.

Rick Van Eck’s talk was title “how video games may transform education”, but what he really was talking about was how the educational system has to change the way it evaluates children before we’re able to radically change our teaching styles.  At one point he said “…And then in the industrial revolution someone decided it would be a good idea to koop up all the kids in a room and teach to the slowest one in the class.  What a great idea that was. (heavy sarcasm here!)”.  It really is kind of ridiculous.  We need to teach to the zone of proximal development.  This means that some people will pass third grade in two months and it might take another person three years which might sound strange at first, but take a second to really think about it and I think you’ll see just how much sense it makes.  Moving in video games as a teaching tool would be a destructive technology, destroying the old system.  But who’s to say that destroying the old system isn’t a good thing?

Leslie Silverman & Columpa Bobb came over from Manitoba Theatre for Young People (MTYP) where they get to work with kids every day and get to see the creativity they are capable of.  A key point that stuck with me is that kids are consuming stories all the time (with technologies like Twitter and Facebook) and it has become even more important to encourage them to find their authentic voice/story, rather than simply regurgitating that which they read in our common ADD internet habits.

Scott Stirton spoke on where architecture was going (and believe me, it makes much more sense than where it’s been!).  The concept is intelligent buildings: buildings that interact with the environment they are a part of (much like the new Manitoba Hydro Building) to promote sustainable environment AND a more natural environment for workers.  I really like that he included the latter because I’m stuck in a cubicle with no windows most days and I crave natural light and the feeling of a breeze constantly.  I’m excited to see the emerging architecture of the coming years.

Hannah Taylor is a thirteen year old that has made more of a difference already than a lot of people I know.  At age 8 she already had started her own charity – her passion being to help the homeless of Winnipeg.  This charity has raised over 2 million dollars already, and has spurred her to write a book and speak to inspire people all over the place.  Kids like this give me so much hope when i sometimes worry about the next generation.

I sat next to Terry MacLeod (CBC radio journalist) for the majority of the conference not realizing who he was – boy did I feel foolish when he got up on stage and had an open panel discussion with three ex-gang members: Miles, Chris, and JJ.  This was an intense conversation that gave us a glimpse into the blatant problems sometimes overlooked in Winnipeg – and, more importantly, the chance for hope for individuals who have been trapped in this life.  I wish I had 1/10th of the courage of any one of these men.

Very. Rev. Fr. Bernard McCoy, O.Cist is the Superior of the Cistercian Abben in Sparta, Wisconsin and CEO of lasermonks.com – a company he built that now raises over 2.8 million dollars a year, and takes all the profits to help charitable works around the world.  He shared his experience and encouragement for social entrepreneurism.  I certainly revere this monk for his selflessness and “passing the torch of kindness.”  I particularly enjoyed that a major focus of his was that in a world where kindness is often viewed as a weak business decision, it can actually be a really good business decision because consumers aren’t dumb and have choice on where they spend their money.

I’ll leave it at that for now, I’ve still got so many thoughts percolating in my mind.  It was a great day.  TED is really all about the movement of possibility, and making the possible the ordinary.  I feel so privileged to have been part of it.  We are but the only limit to what we are capable.