Monday, February 23, 2015

The Travel Oscars Part 1

I don’t watch a lot of movies because I just don’t have the attention span for them.  Therefore, I don’t have a whole lot to contribute to the Oscar ramblings that are currently dominating my Facebook newsfeed.  Instead, I’ve decided to host my own little awards ceremony that will feature my travels and all the “most” and “best of” moments I’ve had. 

*As it turns out, this is going to be blog entry 1 of 2 or 3.  I came up with a lot of categories and this would be way too long (both to read and to write) if I did it all at once.

And the award goes to...

Best Food
I’m a foodie.  How can I even begin to narrow it down?!  I’m going to need to break this down into different sub-categories.

Well, the best burger (in the universe) is definitely at Fergburger in Queenstown, New Zealand.  Of course, I opted for the veggie burger, but the meat one looked mighty fine too.  To order this magnificent meal, you have to stand in line for up to an hour, place your order at the counter, and get your ticket number to pick it up in another hour or so.  This is certainly not fast food.

Ugh, I have a picture of this delicious masterpiece of a burger, but I can't find it.  Read on though... there will be enough pictures of other things.

Fine Dining
Finnegan’s Wine Cellar in Tralee, Ireland.  This beautiful stone-walled wine cellar-turned-restaurant is perfect for a romantic, candlelit dinner with the husband.  Until the wife accidentally sets her napkin on fire, drops the flaming cloth on the table and then stops just short of extinguishing the whole disaster with champagne.  Oooops!  They graciously told me that this kind of thing happens all the time.  Mmmm, and the food was divine.

Pub Food
Hong Kong’s Oktoberfest has THE BEST mushroom ragout.   I don’t know if this officially counts as pub food, but I think it does since there was lots of beer around when I ate it.  I also have to mention The Lombard House in Dublin.  We were staying in a room above this quaint pub and my husband says they served the best Irish stew ever.

At the Phantom Forest in Knysna, South Africa, they somehow managed to poach an egg inside a hashbrown.  Not only did it look impressive, but it was fabulous.  And then the monkeys came down from the trees and tried to help themselves.

Taiwan.  Did I get a bit of gastro upset from it? Yes.  Would I eat it all again without changing a thing?  Absolutely.

At Kerria Hotel in Ranthamobore, India, they gave us albino bunnies to play with while we waited for our food.  They then proceeded to serve us the absolute best local dishes I've ever had.

Best Beer
I love beer and try to drink local when I travel.  It would be impossible to choose my favourite kind of beer (besides the great Canadian Alexander Keith’s Pale Ale, of course) because there are too many contenders, so I will just choose my favourite particular instance of drinking a beer.  
K and I had been riding camels into the desert for a long time and we were quite thirsty by the time we disembarked to climb a dune.  Out of nowhere, there appeared a man selling mysteriouly cold beer.  Yes, he was an opportunistic man selling beer at a premium, but that seldom matters when one sees an oasis in the desert.

Most Insane Moment
New Zealand Nevis Swing in Queenstown.  This was the exact moment I thought I was going to die but it ended up being such a revitalizing, life-affirming experience.  I’m so glad I went through with it and was hurled towards the earth at breakneck speed with my husband.  No regrets.  #YOLO (That’s right… I just used a possibly outdated pop culture hashtag.)

Best Animal Encounter
I base a lot of trips around animals, but if I have to choose, South Africa is where it's at.  

Great white shark cage diving in Gansbaii, South Africa.  You can actually feel the shark’s enormous presence in the water before you even see him.  For a shark lover, this is the ultimate bucket list item.  This is clearly my very excited face.

Safaris in South Africa.  Watching animals you typically only see in National Geographic prowl right past as you sit in an open 4x4 is surreal.  I felt like I was experiencing a live version of “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King.

Most Romantic Location
This is so cliché, but we celebrated our 2 year anniversary with an evening champagne picnic under the Eiffel Tower.

Scariest Moment
1. The lightning began during a night jungle boat ride on the Kinabatangan River in Borneo.  We were far from where we were staying and the little boat could only go so fast.  Also, it wasn’t raining so no one else felt particularly worried.  But there I was, curled into the fetal position on the floor of the boat.  Here are the river and the boats by nice, sunny daylight.

2. K and I had been on a caving adventure in Yangshou, China and had been given rough directions about how to hike back to our lodge.  (Down a dirt road, turn left, walk forever, cut through three villages, go around that mountain and then over a bridge.)  It turns out, it wasn’t so simple.  We ended up hopelessly lost, walked in circles through fields and villages, ended up at the head of a ceremonial village celebration march and finally made it back to our lodge well after dark. 

Best Pool
1. Infinity pool at the Shangri-la in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

2. Shiv Vilas Palace in Jaipur, India

Best Sunset
1. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful sunsets, but nothing tops this one in Borneo.  Photo credit to the husband.  :)

2. A close second is the sun setting over Stonehenge in England.

Best Sunrise
1. I spent the night in the Thar Desert, on the border of India and Pakistan.  I woke up at 4 am and climbed a sand dune to watch India slowly awaken in the distance.

2. Angkor Wat in Cambodia on Christmas morning.  (I also think this is the best picture I’ve ever taken.)

3. Kinabatangan, Borneo on our way to our morning hike that was full of leeches.  (The morning before the storm, mentioned above.)

Honourable Mention for Sunrise/Sunset
During the summer in Norway, the sun doesn’t set.  One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen was when I looked north towards Norway around 1 am when we were around halfway back to England, by ship.  It was pitch black above us, but with nothing obstructing the view, we could see a dome of light in the far north and know that the sun was shining on in Norway.  

To be continued...

*All photography is my own personal property and is not to be used without permission. (Exceptions being the picture taken by my husband -and that is his property-, as well as the pictures I appear in because I obviously didn't take them.)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Air Canada Grievance: Results Still Up in the Air

I think a lot of people are aware of my Air Canada gripes as of late.  It's a long story that I haven't really felt like talking about, so I decided to just post it on my blog.  Here is my original message I sent on September 3rd, which shall now become an open letter to Air Canada:

On August 16th, my husband and I had such a string of horrible experiences with our return Air Canada flight that I’m not even sure where to begin.  We flew from Windsor to Toronto (7748) and then Toronto to Hong Kong (015).  This was my first time flying with Air Canada and to say I’m not impressed would be putting it lightly. 

First, you will note that we already have a 20% discount credit on our file because shortly after our flight was booked, the price dropped significantly (over $1000 CDN per person) and we were refused compensation, as per standard practice.  That discount was offered as a gesture of goodwill and we appreciate it. 

Shortly before our July 10th flight, we decided to use the online booking management tool to book ourselves into the Maple Leaf Lounge during our long layover in Vancouver.  Somehow, that booking ended up on our return flight in Toronto, where we only had a 2.5 hour layover and would have no use for the lounge.  No one in Hong Kong could help me so I contacted the booking office in Canada.  I spent nearly an hour total on the phone (long distance from Hong Kong) before being told I’d have to ask in Vancouver but it shouldn’t be a problem to make the switch.  Upon arrival in Vancouver, we were ushered from person to person before finally being brought to a courtesy phone to call the same number I’d already called from Hong Kong.  Nearly 4 hours after landing, we finally found ourselves in the Maple Leaf Lounge. 

Weeks later, we checked in at the Windsor airport for our return flight and were told we could not be provided with seat numbers for our pre-paid preferred exit row seats for the long haul and we would have to ask when we got to Toronto.  We always book exit row seats when we travel because my husband is 6’3’’ so he does not have enough room for his legs in a standard seat.  15+ hours is a long time to fly without adequate legroom.  Also, I suffer from claustrophobia and very strongly prefer to be near a window. 

When we approached the customer service booth in Toronto, we dealt with a very curt woman named Donna.  She informed us that we had cancelled our booking that morning in Windsor.  We insisted that we didn’t so she called someone to check.  While on the phone, she then told us that we’d cancelled our return flight on July 11th.  After another minute on the phone, she informed us that our seats had been cancelled on Air Canada’s end and it wasn’t our fault, but she still offered no apologies or viable solutions.  She said our seats had already been sold again and there was nothing she could do.  Donna then told us that our options were to take two standby seats (in the middle rows, where my husband simply won’t fit and I would have felt anxious) or stay overnight in Toronto (making me miss my first day back at work).  We asked about the flight leaving later that day and transferring through Vancouver but she refused to even look at that one for us.  We debated going the next day but she wouldn’t even put us up for the night in a Toronto hotel since technically, at this point, we were just flying on standby and Air Canada had no obligation to us.

I was feeling very frustrated and started crying (it is of note that the lady at the customer service counter beside us was also crying).  Donna simply looked at me and told me I was “clearly mentally unfit to fly” and that I should just stay in Toronto.  That was a highly inappropriate thing to say.  She then ushered us away from her desk by handing us the standby tickets and saying, “This is it.  These are your options. Deal with it.”

We proceeded to the gate with our seats in the standard middle rows, hoping someone there could figure out our problem.  When we arrived at the gate (less than 5 minutes later), we went to the desk and found there were new tickets issued for us with our original seats on them.  Our flight was then delayed nearly an hour as someone had already taken our “standby” baggage off the flight, as per Donna’s request, and it had to be put on again.  (And when we received our bags in Hong Kong, they all had standby tags on them.)  At this point, we chalked it all up to Donna’s incompetency.
As it turned out, our booking truly had been cancelled or severely tampered with.  I am a strict vegetarian and therefore booked the vegetarian meal on the flight.  All the other vegetarian passengers received their vegetarian meals prior to the regular food service.  When I asked about mine, they didn’t have me on record, I assume because of the “cancellation”.  Yet, all the way from Hong Kong to Windsor, I had been served my vegetarian meals with no problem and it is printed clearly on my itinerary.  The cabin crew was very kind and did their best to accommodate me, but this basically meant I spent 15+ hours subsisting on a carrot stick, a piece of broccoli, a few pieces of pepper and a bun for the first meal, nothing for the second meal, and a croissant and fruit cup for the last meal. 

We have received a refund for the Maple Leaf Lounge on July 11th, which is good because we were robbed of nearly half our time in there.  We also got a refund for our preferred seating on August 16th, as standby passengers don’t have to pay the extra fees.

We do, however, feel we deserve more, for the emotional turmoil this experience put us through, the delay because of the way in which our bags were handled, the lack of food on the plane, and the rude, unprofessional attitude of Donna.

We would appreciate at least an additional 20% added on to our current discount code, totaling 40%, and the deadline extended until January 2016, so we can visit our families again within a realistic timeframe.  Otherwise, we really can’t use the discount at all, as it currently expires in June 2015 and we won’t be able to take a trip home before this point.  We are young newlyweds working in Hong Kong, away from our families, and we are usually able to fly home once every 2 years to see our parents in Windsor because it is too expensive to go more often than that. This would allow us to go next summer or next Christmas and give Air Canada a second try.
After recieving nothing but an automated email message and 40 long distance minutes worth of an on hold recording stating something to the effect of, "Your call is important to us.  We are the number one airline in North America" (um, that's not saying much), I wrote this on their Facebook page:
I lodged a complaint (and it was a big one) on September 3rd and was told it would take 15 business days for a response. That turnaround in and of itself is not an appropriate response time when dealing with distressed customers, but based on my Air Canada experiences, I understand you likely have MANY complaints to deal with. I tried to be patient, but now those 15 business days have come and gone and I've heard no word from Air Canada. I just want to know when my email will be answered because the compensation I'm expecting from this has become a bit of a time-sensitive issue. I tried to call the only number listed on your website. After being on hold for over 40 minutes, long distance, I was informed that it was the wrong number to call for such matters. However, the man on the phone couldn't seem to give me any other number to call and said I'd have to email.
So, if I have this right, the only way to find out when my email will be answered is to email again with a new 15 day queue? First, this is just a blatently inefficient way to communicate and second, do you see the ridiculous paradox in communication this would create if people have to email a new message to see when their first one will be answered?
I'm hoping that whoever moderates the Facebook group can just kindly inbox me so I can give you my booking reference to enable a check of exactly when I should expect my response email. That's realy all I want. Well, that, and I'd like to somehow get back the 15 horrible hours I spent aboard my last Air Canada flight.

I got a very quick response from a social media liaison and my email was finally answered within a few hours.  The social media Air Canada people rock!  However, the email I recieved was an unhelpful cut-and-paste:

We value our customers and work to meet or exceed their expectations every day.  Our employees are expected to perform their duties in a courteous, friendly and efficient manner with a full appreciation of our customers’ needs.  Air Canada recognizes the value of customer satisfaction and we continually monitor and address the performance levels you should expect to receive from us.Your email is a clear indication of your disappointment and we apologize for the poor impression we have created.  Please be assured that although we have not addressed your concerns in detail, I am pleased to bring your valuable comments to the attention of our senior management team.

And then I recieved an additional 20% discount coupon for only one person (there are two of us involved in this mess) with an expiry date that makes it impossible for me to use it.  Last correspondence from me to them:

I appreciate you responding to my complaint, but, as I stated in my original message, I already have a 20% promo code from a previous incident.  Truthfully, based on my own horrible experiences and things I have read by other mistreated customers, I'm hesitant to travel with Air Canada once more in the next year, let alone twice.  Also, it is very expensive, even with the discount, and making two trips to Canada from Hong Kong (where I currently live) is not really possible within the next year.  Since I now have two 20% promotion codes that I can't use, would it be possible to combine them into one 40% promotion code instead?  This would afford my husband and I the opportunity to go home for Christmas for the first time in 6 years and that is a promotion code we could truly use.

I am now impatiently awaiting results.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Travelling with Baggage

“Life’s too short, babe.  Time’s a flying.  I’m looking for baggage that goes with mine.”  -Mimi, Rent   

I travel a lot so I’m an expert at stuffing more than you can imagine into my suitcase for long trips.  I also know that, in all reality, I can pack very lightly; I only need a bikini, a few sundresses, and my SPF 100 for any trip less than a week.  My carry-on always contains my MP3 player, Kobo, camera and Ultrabook because, well, we are living in a technological world and I’m a technological girl.  I also know that despite what all the regulations state, no one is ever going to weigh or measure my carry-on.  If my luggage gets damaged on flights, I know how to contact the airline for repairs.  If (God forbid) it should ever get lost, I keep a photocopy of my passport with my address and phone number written on it so I will be easy to track down. I am like a well-oiled machine.  I’ve got this baggage thing down!

I know people view me as a globetrotting free spirit… and yes, that’s true.  People wistfully say things to me all the time like, “I could never do what you do.” And then they put up roadblocks and hurdles to fulfill their own prophecy.  I’m hoping this blog entry can inspire people to tear down their roadblocks and jump those hurdles.  Don’t let anything hold you back from your dreams, whatever those dreams may be. 

Confession: Oh man, do I ever have baggage that cannot be checked or stored in the overhead compartment.  This suitcase has a luggage tag labelled “Pandora”, but let’s go ahead and open it anyway:  I have generalized anxiety disorder (with debilitating panic attacks) and obsessive compulsive disorder.  Whew!  That sure is some heavy baggage I lug around the world with me!

Most of the time, I’m fine.  These are things I’m very used to and I’ve been dealing with for most of my life.  Lately, I haven’t been okay though.  I got stuck in an elevator a few months ago on the 38th floor and that triggered everything negative inside of me to come rushing to the surface.  Since then, I’ve been unable to shake this feeling that transits between moderate uneasiness and complete dread.  I have a silent freak-out every time I set foot in an elevator now (I live on the 39th floor and my school is 8 stories high, so daily).  And there are these constant catastrophic “what if” scenarios running through my head about pretty much everything.  I’m living in fear of life and that is unacceptable.  I’ll be okay.  Yes, I feel like I’ve reverted back to my 18 year old tragic mess of a self, but I know this will pass. 

Panic attacks come at the most inopportune times.  Scuba diving, for example, is a very bad time to have a panic attack.  I liken diving to what it must be like to go to space.  The ocean floor is a giant expanse of unexplored vastness where you are removed from the world, feel particularly small and even experience gravity differently.  One of my favourite views is that of looking up at the surface from the bottom of the sea.  It’s incredible.  But not this time.  Last month in Malaysia, I was 25 metres down at the bottom of the ocean when a cold sweat poured over my body and a mini existential crisis swam through my mind.  When did the ocean become so darn big?  And blue?  I had no choice but to silently work through it as I swam along a coral reef.  (When diving, you have to follow a dive plan and can’t just pop up to the top whenever you feel like it.  The changes in pressure and air can make you very sick if you don’t follow protocol.)

These past few weeks, I’ve been consumed with the news of Malaysian Airlines flight 370.  The first few days, I just sat there and robotically refreshed the news on the internet.  It was very unhealthy.  Then I took two days off work because it felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest, ripping my heart out and I didn’t want to leave the apartment.  I don’t know if it has hit me so hard because I was already in a vulnerable state or because it is so literally close to home.  Or maybe it’s because I just returned from Malaysia a week before this incident.  I keep thinking about the families involved and what they must be going through and hoping it never has to be like that for my family.  I also keep thinking about what the passengers must have been going through.  I know that next time I get on a plane (in 3 weeks today), that regular fear that grips me is going to feel much more suffocating than usual. 

Aside from the situational and explainable anxiety, it has pretty much been the steady state of my mind for the past few months.  Even when I'm happy and the anxiety is not bubbling over, it is still in a gentle boil on the backburner, right below the surface.

But I’ll be okay.    

Here’s what I’ve learned from my decades of battling mental illness:

-Be patient with yourself

-Take a break.  That’s okay now and then.  But don’t let your whole life become a break.  You don’t want to end up like the Ediths of Grey Gardens.    

-It’s okay to allow yourself to feel anxious or to give in to the compulsions sometimes.  If you try to block those feelings, they just become even more persistent (like when someone says “don’t think about a pink elephant”… you know you’re going to).  But know when to tell yourself no.   

-Keep a sense of humour.  Humour solves everything.  Seriously.

-Find soothing distractions: mine are swimming, writing and chocolate. (Note to self: substitute chocolate with swimming more often or this will not end well.)

-Find support.  You don’t have to do this alone (unless you want to).  I like to be alone, but it helps to talk to friends about it now and then.

-There are going to be enough people and circumstances in life that try to keep you down or hold you back.   You shouldn’t be one of them.  I want to travel, explore and do everything, so that’s what I’m going to do. 

-Gratitude: appreciate the good things and focus on those, even if they are small in comparison. 

-Face your fears.  If you have actual, concrete things you're afraid of, just face it or you're giving the fear the power.  (Unless it's something actually dangerous, then use your common sense and don't do it.)  
-Live your life anyway.  Sometimes I just ignore how I'm feeling and do things anyway.  I have to, otherwise, how would I live my awesome life?

-It will pass.  It always does.   

I guess my point in all this is that travelling the world is not always as easy as I make it look.  I’m a mess right now.  But if I can do this, anyone can!

Embrace the world anyway!

Sunday, January 19, 2014


I did my grade 6 speech on hair and I still remember my ultra-cheesey opening line.  I would like to start this blog entry the same way:

*Enter 11 year old child with enough hair to provide an entire nation with weaves*

"Classmates, parents, and teachers, I would like to talk with you today about something that has been weighing heavily on my mind: my hair!"

Return to present day:

I have never run into this in Canada, but in Hong Kong, stylists always rudely tell me that my hair is damaged.  It’s not (well, it wasn’t before they got their hands on it).  I have naturally curly hair.  Like, REALLY curly.  That means its texture is very coarse.  Coarse hair tends to be dry.  I’m just never going to have shiny, silky, Chinese hair… and I’m ok with that.  I usually like my hair (just not lately).  The great thing about my hair is that I can douse it in Moroccan oil, straighten it and then leave it for a few weeks.  Or I can let it dry naturally out of the shower and end up with fancy curls that people would pay good money for.  My hair is very low maintenance and rarely needs washing.     
I’m not a natural blonde.  (Shocker, right?)  The whole blonde thing happened as the result of a series of major changes in my life.  I guess I was just ready for a new start.  However, I did have more fun as a blonde and was not ready to give it up yet.  And it was certainly not my intention to chop over a foot of hair off my head, leaving me with an unflattering bob.  (Some people, my sister for example, look great with short hair.  I am NOT one of those people.  I hate having short hair.  It makes me cry!)  So, why did I do it?  Read on and find out.

Naturally, I'm a regular ol' Shirley Temple.
Salon Shaming

All you have to do is search “blonde in Hong Kong” on Google to find that salons here have no idea what they’re doing.  Even people who have worked in western countries for years manage to mess it up.  My very talented husband usually did my blonde roots at home, using salon quality products, NOT Blondissima.  Unfortunately, after my husband had to return to Canada for a while, I had no choice but to explore the lesser of the evils myself. 

I looked long and hard for a salon that didn’t have blonde horror stories posted all over the internet.  I settled on Tala’s Hair &Beauty Centre (now closed in Central, only in Sai Kung).  The idiot there managed to strip my hair of absolutely all colour.  My hair was white as the fresh fallen snow, but in patches.  He told me it looked fine and completely matched the rest of my hair.  The salon was closing for the night so they attempted to send me on my way saying that I could make an appointment to have it fixed the next day.  I refused to leave and the store owner stayed an extra three hours that night to fix that disaster.  She did a good job, but the result was severely over-processed hair because she had to dye over my entire head several times.  I also had chemical burn all over my scalp.  She gave me free products for the burn and I never went back.    

This is a problem, right?

Gee, Steph... I didn't know you were on Firefly!

Again, through a lot of research, I found another salon:  Paul Gerrard.  Now, I don’t usually like getting a blowdry finish in a salon because unless you use a roundbrush and know what you’re doing, you’re probably going to make me look like a clown.  So, after the first time at this hair salon, I left with my hair in a wet ponytail.  By the time I got home, I couldn’t help but notice that my roots were sunshine yellow.  How had I not noticed this in the salon?  So I called them and had to go back in the next day for a fix, which involved not just toner but more bleach.  Hmmm, double bleaching the same hair… that sounds healthy. 

Ruin my hair once, shame on you… Ruin my hair twice… shame on … Dame Edna?  Thinking they’d now know that they need to leave the bleach in longer, I returned to Paul Gerrard because I was just too afraid of what might happen in yet another new place.  I returned only to find the place abuzz with news of Dame Edna coming to town and hiring a hairdresser, MY hairdresser, before her show that evening.  That’s right.  I had been double-booked with Dame Edna.  Now Dame Edna is a funny lass, and I can see myself getting a hair-do much like hers when I’m an old lady.  However, on that day, her makeup and purple locks (wig?) took precedence over my sad blonde roots so my giggling, fanboy stylist disappeared without actually communicating anything about me to the other stylists.  Someone promptly confused me for Dame Edna and turned my hair into an orange and yellow disaster by rinsing my bleach too early, despite what I insisted.  Consequence: another round of bleach over the same weakening roots.

In case you have lost track, there were now three severely weakend, double-bleached sets of roots growing out in my hair.

Dame Edna thinks I look ridiculous

Luckily, at this point, my husband came home and we went back to doing my roots in our living room.

Long hair, don't care!

Enter the Brunette

Though those sections of my roots had long grown out, the most recent of which was near the tops of my ears and the first ones near my chin, those strips of hair were feeling weak and weird.  When I’d wash them, they’d get an almost elastic-like texture and when my hair was dry, they felt brittle.  I decided that Tala’s Hair & Beauty Centre and Paul Gerrard had done so much damage that it was time to give my poor hair a break.  I contacted a stylist friend from home who did an excellent job coaching me on exactly what store-bought shades I could use, with the limited selection here, to go from blonde to brown without going green.  She did an excellent job.  (Thanks, Cerah!)

After the job was done, I was pretty pleased with it.  But within hours of being a brunette, my hair began to fall out in large chunks in the EXACT spots where the weakened roots had grown out.  When all was said and done, I looked like a ragdoll who had been ravaged by rats after being forgotten about in the attic for years.  I knew I’d have to get a cut.  I went to a salon that I had come to trust with scissors (though I’ll never trust anyone in Asia with bleach again).  They salvaged what they could and confirmed that those former roots were horribly damaged, courtesy of the Tala’s Hair & Beauty Centre and Paul Gerrard handiwork.

Immediately after the salon.  This is the only time my hair ever looked both short and respectable. 
Note the ironic beer that I clearly needed after such an ordeal.

Never before have I felt so much like a Disney princess.

The Aftermath

I hate, hate, hate, HATE my hair short.  I try to put on a smile, but somehow that only makes my hair look more stupid.  Short hair is just not me.  Luckily, I’ve been using organic horse shampoo (yes, you read that right… horse shampoo) and it’s making my hair grow out shiny and quickly.  (I’ll be “best in show” in no time!)

In the meantime, I’m running into problems.  The biggest problem is that my hair is defying gravity.  I talked to my mom and she said that my hair did the same thing when I was a baby and just growing it in for the first time.  I’m sure this look is adorable on a toddler, but it’s soooo not good for a woman in her 30s!

The other problem is that Hong Kong is a VERY humid place.  This transforms my ordinarily springy curls into complete frizz that makes me look like I’ve just touched one of those electricity orbs in the science centre.

Gravity, Schmavity.
I'm trying to rock this afro-esque do.
Hairmageddon 2013 for the win!

And then there's the comments...

Drunk stranger on the street to my friend who looks great with short hair:  Wow, your hair looks awesome!
Drunk stranger on the street then turns to me:  Ewww, yours… not so much.

In my head: I know!  I've been looking at my beautiful friend all night.  I don't need you to tell me that!!!!!  Besides, it's raining!

Someone upon looking at my passport:  That girl was hot… what happened?

In my head: Is 'hot' a visa requirement for Scotland now?

Co-worker, after I spent hours straightening my hair and spent the night with a toque on my head: 
It looks much better that way.  Less is more.

In my head: Really????!!!!  You think I have actually been TRYING to look like a cat in heat on a stormy night?!


Well-meaning friends: You’re still so beautiful!

In my head: Well, thanks... that's really sweet, but no thanks… your pity makes me uncomfortable.  Tell me that again when my horse mane grows past my shoulders.  But until my hair concerns itself more with Newton’s Law and less with Murphy’s Law, I just don’t want to hear it. 

2016 Update:  I got pregnant in late 2014 and it turns out that hormones were the magical elixir my hair needed!  It grew so fast and is back to normal now, but I'm still in Asia so, therefore, still brunette.  However, I've found an amazing British lady, Becky Flynn, who does keratin treatments in her home.  My hair is now relaxed and silky all the time, straight out of the shower.... absolutely no effort at all.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013


You may have noticed it is no longer November and that means National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWrimo) is over.  The goal this month was to write 50,000 words towards a novel.  A lot of people want to know about my experience, so I will answer some frequently asked questions on here. 

So, how did you do? 
Well, it depends on who you ask.  If you ask the people who make the NaNoWriMo rules, they’d say I failed miserably.  I wrote a mere 21,000+ words.  However, I feel like November was still a success.  My novel may not be (anywhere near) finished, but I’m really happy with how it’s going so far.  I’m still full of excitment and momentum and I will definitely keep going with this.  I have new, more realistic goals of seeing my novel completed and through a first edit by the time I return to Canada, mid-July.  (For anyone who is eagerly counting the days until my return, that would be 218 days.)

Day 1: A blank computer screen, citron and framboise macarons (a new love I acquired in Paris this summer), "Beethoven's Last Night" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra and a Batman clothespin ordering me not to procrastinate (sorry, Batman, I think I let you down!)

That's still a lot of words... any tips?

I’m very grateful for the extra push that NaNoWriMo gave me because I have never made it this far into a project before.  

Sitting through intensive writing sessions with others helped me to focus.  I'm not typically one who "works well with others" but this seemed to work for me.  I guess it is because everyone was side by side, but in their own little world.  It helps to be able to get encouragement from friends, especially inspirational friends like Shannon Young who have done this before and become REAL authors.

Disconnecting my WiFi helped me to focus even further.  The internet is a distracting place… there are too many cute cats out there.  Luckily, I was directed towards "Written? Kitten!", where my writing was rewarded with a cute cat for every 100 words I wrote.  Even though I didn’t meet my goal, I wrote more than I ever could have imagined and still saw a lot of cats. 

I found that I definitely work better away from home.  A Starbucks will be opening about 5 minutes walking distance from my house later this month.  My husband bought me a thin, lightweight Asus Ultrabook for my birthday in October.  My Ultrabook and I have plans to frequently haunt Starbucks in 2014.
A group of eager Hong Kong writers at a write-in (photo credit goes to someone else at the write-in, but I can't remember who... sorry!)
What is your inspiration?  

When I first decided to do NaNoWriMo, I wasn't sure what to write about at all.  I have a few projects that are (half-heartedly) on the go already so my initial thought was to finish one of those, but I wanted a fresh start.  I've had multiple requests for an autobiography, but that just didn't seem right for NaNo. 

I was getting ready to give up before I even started when this idea popped into my head out of nowhere.  Within about ten minutes of frantic typing, my mind had spun an entire story!  (Of course, the story developed much more after those ten minutes.)  

My novel is inspired by my summer trip to Scotland and Ireland.  (Posts on these countries coming soon to a blog near you!)  I arrived in Europe having only the vaguest notion of leprechauns, faeries, selkies and giants.  I returned to Hong Kong half-believing in magic and otherworldly creatures after being enchanted by folktales.  I swear, I caught fleeting glimpses of these mystical realms as I was hiking in hidden fields or sitting atop jagged bluffs.

Pictured below is the exact spot that is the main inspiration for my story. 

The Faerie Pools in Scotland, August 2013

What is your novel about?

Pretend this is the back cover of a book:

"He shall suffer such things as destiny wove with the strand of his birth that day he was born to his mother"- Homer, The Iliad
This is the tale of a real-world tragedy, on sacred faerie grounds, that has unprecedented consequences in both worlds.  To restore their home, the faeries pledge to take the first-born daughter of Natalie, the only human remaining on the accident scene when they arrive.  But when Natalie gives birth to twins nine months later, she begins to hatch a plan. Despite twisted minds and twists of fate, her family runs. But can they ever truly escape what is lurking right below the surface? This is a dark story of fate, free will, love, lies and an intermingling of worlds that will leave you questioning reality. 

I'm keeping the synopsis a bit vague for now because I'm not sure exactly how much I want to give away.  There are multiple layers, worlds and surprises in store!  I'm not sure what genre to place my novel in.  Despite all the faeries, it is definitely not fantasy.  I also don't have a title.  These are the little details I'll work out later.

And to finish things up, I'll leave you with this super creepy (and beautiful) faerie song I found on Youtube and listened to on repeat through much of the month.  There was a particularly scary moment when my computer restarted at 3am and restored all my tabs in Chrome... the Youtube page refreshed and the song started playing automatically.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Ridiculous Ode to Cheese

Confession #1: This is not an entry that can be classified under “Travel Blog”.  Sorry!

Confession #2: I love cheese.  A lot.  Too much.  Now, yes, cheese has an amazing taste, no one deny that.  But I’ve realized tonight, after reflecting upon cheese via a thread on my friend Hollie’s Facebook status, that cheese is oh so much more than a sharp bite of extra calories on my thighs.  I think I have an emotional relationship with the dairy food group.

So, my love affair with cheese… it all began as a childhood crush when I was 7.  I remember that lunchtime walk home from school, in the bitter Canadian cold, (you know, in those days before global warming made us all subtropical) looking forward to my dad’s world famous grilled cheese sandwich.  He would cut thick slabs of cheddar or marble cheese from a brick and grill it between the bread, with heaps of butter.  I remember kicking the snow off my boots on the threshold of the front door and running into the kitchen to my dad’s ready-waiting frying pan.  His sandwiches were always grilled to perfection, never burnt, never cold in the middle.  Every morsel of melting deliciousness warmed me from the inside out on those cold winter days. I don’t know why I didn’t just bring a packed-lunch to school like everyone else.  It would have been much easier on my parents.  But I’m glad I didn’t.  So artery-clogging.  So perfect.  Great times spent with my dad.   

When I got a bit older and was at that baby-sitting age, I had the privilege of “baby-sitting” one of my best friends, Amanda.  It wasn’t so much work as it was play (but I kept a good eye on her!  I was responsible!) and we opened our own celebrity restaurant.  Imaginary Michael Jacksons and Elizabeth Taylors dined in our establishment and the menu specialty was fried cheese (as that was all I could cook).  I discovered fried cheese by accident because I sucked at making grilled cheese.  Fried cheese is when the cheese slips off the side of the bread and just bubbles up in the pan, then turns hard when removed from the burner.  Amanda and I eliminated the middle man and just threw a bunch of cheese in the frying pan.  For a more ‘adult style’ version of fried cheese, use haloumi and squeeze a lemon over it.  I had this for supper last night. 

And now we get serious. When I was 19, I became a very strict vegetarian (except for that time a certain roomie vengefully drained beef grease into my ‘textured soy protein’.  I’m glad we can all laugh at that now).  At that point, I stopped eating cheese with rennet in it.  For years, I read labels and became more and more disappointed in my cheese choices.  Microbial enzymes just weren’t what they are now so I ate less cheese for a good half decade or so.  (If you don’t know what rennet is, I’m not going to tell you.  I don’t want to be directly responsible for ruining your dinner.  I’ll let Google take care of that.)  During this same time, I was living in Quebec.  Something went awry with the French-English translation during a Dial-a-Cheese by phone type of thing and I ended up with $90 of fromage on our doorstep the next day!  Mon Dieu!  Au revior, weekly budget!

When I started to eat cheese again, I noticed a change.  A horrible, gut-wrenching, gaseous change.  It seemed that in my non-dairy phase, I’d become lactose intolerant.  I still am to this very day.  My body had stopped producing the enzyme that digests lactose.  To be officially declared as such, I had to have some testing done.  This involved days of fasting (literally days of eating NOTHING) and sitting around in the lab at the hospital.  It turns out, I was never able to officially take the test because my body was never able to purge itself of all the lactose.  They declared me lactose intolerant based on that fact alone and suggested I never touch cheese again.  The good part about all this was that my waiting around at the hospital gave me ample time to spend with my grandma in her last days. She was one floor down, in the cancer ward, and I cherish that time we spent in the hospital together.  I love my grandma dearly and if it weren’t for my horrible stomach cramps, I wouldn’t have had that extra time off work to spend with her.  Those days were worth all the lactose-induced pains I will ever have in my life. 

A few years later, after my first year of working in the real world (right before finding out I was laid off from the real world), I booked a trip to California.  Well, “booked a trip” is a loose term, as it involved me taking the train across the country to meet my girlfriends and then staying in hostels from San Francisco to L.A.  (and, oh, what a time it was!)  California was obviously where all of my dreams were going to come true.  So, one rainy night in Kansas, our train’s navigation system got struck by lightning (come on, are you really surprised…. this is me we’re talking about) and we got stuck in a cornfield or something for a day.  The train quickly ran out of vegetarian friendly meals and left me only with a large amount of Babybel cheese.  It was my first time having it (these were the expensive, wax-coated slices of heaven I could never afford at home) and man, was it delicious.  I spent the next 24 hours or so stranded in a train car with people who had been strangers to me the day before.  I drank beer and ate those colourful wheels of glory while bonding for life with Jersey, Cuba, and Pok as we all made our way westward, listening to Simon and Garfunkle’s America. What happens in Kansas stays in Kansas.

And now, for some refined times.  *Cue the classical music*  My childhood besties and I can’t resist a good dinner party.  And a good dinner party must include fondue.  About once a month, throughout university and beyond (until careers and life scattered us across the globe) the very same girls that I’d played hide-and-seek with as children, showed up at my door bearing dessert squares, fruit platters, and a multitude of dips from around the world.  But the centerpiece of it all: a cheese fondue, homemade, by yours truly.  That’s right.  I painstakingly mixed wine, flour, cheese, and whatever else went into that concoction.  I stirred it patiently while it turned from a gloopy paste into the perfection where we dipped our vegetables.  After fondue, we would always have a karaoke session in my basement.  That was the significantly less classy part of the evening, but no less cheesy.

And that brings me to this summer.  My husband and I had a remarkable time travelling through Europe (and I have been very negligent in blogging about it… only 2 countries out of 6 so far, I believe).  Living in Asia, I just don’t each as much cheese as I used to.  It’s not a staple in their diet here (and it shouldn’t be a staple in mine).  But in Europe, oh, it is the very lifeblood of civilization.  Cheese flows through their veins!  I guess my lactose intolerance had kind of slipped my mind.  On our cruise in Norway (my first cruise), I was surprised with the richness of the food.  We had to stop at the next port to buy Lactaid.  Back home, it’s around $12 CDN for 100 pills…. in Norway, the same amount cost nearly $100 CDN.  The cost of living in that beautiful country…. Ugh, I don’t want to talk about it.  In Ireland, the go-to appetizer on every menu was deep fried Brie.  I easily lost a year of my life to poor eating in Ireland.  In Scotland, I ordered a blue cheese and onion sandwich, thinking those would be the subtle accents atop the lettuce and tomato on whole wheat.  Oh no, I ate a year’s worth of blue cheese between two slices of bread.  And thankfully, I had my toothbrush.  In Holland, we ate cheese, dipped in spicy mustards, while catching up with dear old friends.  In France, it was fancy Champagne and cheese beneath the Eiffel Tower for our two year anniversary.  I really overdid it this summer.  I swear, by the time we came home from Europe, I had such an aversion to my beloved cheese that I thought I might even be pregnant.  What else could cause such a hatred of an otherwise adored food?  Not so, but I guess you really can have too much of a good thing.

And thus ends my ode to cheese.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

England: A Journey to my Past

I’ve never cared much for history lessons (unless there’s a juicy conspiracy theory involved).  I have vague recollections of charting Ferdinand Magellan’s course on a map with a partner in grade 6, but other than that I’m not even positive I took a history class in school.  I figured this wasn’t my great loss; history is often a biased account of events with too many convoluted names and dates.  And we don’t really seem to learn from it anyway. 

Oh, England, sweet motherland, you changed my mind!  Nothing could have prepared me for the sentiment I felt when I first set foot on the ground of the country in which my heritage is based.  I felt like I’d come home to a place I’d never been.  These feelings stayed with me throughout our time in England, surprising me with misty eyes at the site of thatched-roof cottages and rolling landscapes alike.  I found myself completely enthralled in all the stories and drama surrounding the castles and royal families of yesteryear.  Every single guide we had in England was just incredible and brought it all to life for me.  However, my appreciation for England goes much deeper than that.    

My grandma was from England.  She died 8 years ago but there is still not a day that goes by where she doesn’t cross my mind.  My grandma and I were very close and she was my hero and inspiration.  If I can someday grow to be half the woman she was, I would know I’ve lived a worthwhile life.  She had such a vivacious spirit: as a retired nurse, she continued to volunteer at the hospital until she herself became the patient, she raised 7 kids on her own, travelled the world even in her 80’s, overcame odds time and again, and she was selfless… utterly and completely selfless.

I’m sure most people have lost someone close to them, so this is probably a very relatable sentiment: I hate that I can’t share stories with her and tell her everything I’ve done in these past 8 years.  I hope she’d be proud.  In England, I was able to feel connected to my grandma again.  Knowing I was walking the same streets she used to walk brought me a sense of both comfort and awe.  I felt like my present and her past were colliding, outside of the constraints of time.  

My grandma and dad on their last trip to England (left).
Me standing in the exact same place this summer (right).

The White Cliffs of Dover
Stonehenge at sunset
The medieval village of Canterbury.

Me at the Roman Baths.

My husband and I posing with Tower Bridge (my favourite bridge).