Setting an Example: West Meets East



Yes, it is true that Talia and I are getting a little worn and tired. We are almost seven months living out of bags and the strain is starting to become a little too much. We spent ten days in one city, eight of those we barely left the hotel room. I got a cold and then after two days’ sightseeing we both got food poisoning (for the first time since we started really, which is very lucky) which left us in bed for two whole days.

We are continuing along and we still have six and a half weeks in Vietnam before we beach bum for a month in Cambodia again (because we loved it so much the first time!!) and then off to China for another year.

Continuing is certainly not easy either, though. Considering how tired we are. We have been eating from local food stalls and restaurants for so long that our well being is starting to slow us down. We sleep more and find ourselves pretty lethargic even on the best of days.

And driving a motorbike can be difficult too. We don’t have the option of saying “let’s take the bus this time,” because how does the bike get there?

Right now we are in a national park called Cuc Phoung, and I arrived here a little shaken up. While driving a motorbike has way more liberties and is a lot more enjoyable for us than public transport, it has its negative moments too, one of which Talia told you guys about before when we were in Sapa, another when we were in Laos and Talia came close to having a serious accident, and today was another.

We only had to drive a short distance today, around 50km or so from Ninh Binh to Cuc Phoung and all I wanted was an uneventful spin to our destination. As we drove along the road northbound, I was looking for our left turn to take us to the national park. While all of this looking for non-existent signs, Vietnam traffic and making sure Talia is behind me stresses me out, it doesn’t help when you look ahead and see a crowd of people standing around what is obviously an accident.

While in a western country a crowd of people would signify a fender bender, in Vietnam there are no fender benders. Almost everyone rides a motorbike, so when you see bikes whizzing around trucks on a main road of about the same quality as a road a westerner would be more accustomed to seeing at the bottom of a quarry, you can be sure there has been a serious accident.

I looked across and could clearly see two policemen in their beige uniforms standing over the body of a man, wrapped around what was left of his motorbike. The man was face down with his helmet still on, lying in an awkward position with one leg under the twisted ruin that was his Honda Dream. The seat of the motorbike was jutting off to the side and just as I passed two men moved the corpse’s leg off the bike and had to roll the bike over it’s front wheel just to get it free from the earth and body.

I saw it as we rolled past slowly and thought it best not to point this out to Talia, I kinda regretted seeing it myself considering I, too, was riding a two wheeler through the same traffic the empty vessel on the ground just was.

As I drove onward I was having a little freakout of my own about having an accident. It’s not uncommon for my emotions to surface and for me to speak my mind but, today, I had a little freakout.

As I drove along with two bikes in front of me in single file, the bike in the middle began to overtake. “Great!” I thought, so I followed behind the overtaking bike. Suddenly the overtaker hits the brakes, with me behind, and slows down to have a chat with the overtakee, leaving me slamming on my brakes and boxed in with traffic coming towards me from the other side of the road.

I held out my fist and got ready to teach a lesson to the rider of the bike as I was passing, and shouted “YOU STUPID F*CK*NG C*NT” as I passed and just grabbed onto my handle bars with a dead man’s grip out of pure anger. Anger at how, not five minutes after I see a lifeless body on the road, I am almost in a road accident myself. A road accident that would have probably left the foreigner taking the blame, could have got someone badly hurt or killed, but worst of all, an accident that could have been easily avoided.

I thought to myself “If I am coming off this motorbike it will be on my terms and not because of someone else who shouldn’t be in control of a hula hoop, never mind a motorbike.”

We made it to our destination with a couple more shouting matches in our trail and I thought it was time to calm down. One of the weird things about the whole experience, the mangled body, the twisted wreck, my anger, reminded me of something.

It reminded me of a time when I was in Jinzhou and I was cycling to work with my flatmate Matt. We both cycled along, me in front, crossing the bridge over the river when I spotted a small dog, in the middle of the four lane bridge. The dog was stuck and the drivers couldn’t see it through all of the traffic which meant it didn’t have much longer to live.

I remember shouting “SH*T NO” and pointed the scene out to Matt, who didn’t know what was happening. I stood there in my stupefied state not knowing what to do after hopping off my bike to see if the dog would make it or not, when Matt, in all his dog-loving glory, jumped off his bike –while it was still moving full speed- ran without hesitation to the middle of the road, through the traffic and somehow scared the dog to the other side of the road, almost causing a very bad accident for himself.

I remember seeing Matt do this but today I realized why I remember it so well. It’s not the act of saving the dog that matters, It’s the act of a foreigner saving the dog. The fact that the white man in the sea of yellow risked serious injury to help, not just a stranger, but a dog. Something which is a lesser commodity than an inanimate object in most Asian countries.

The whole thing reminded me of how we are all ambassadors to our own countries when we travel. We are all people who represent who we are, where we come from and what we stand for. It’s our reactions to what we see and what others say that makes us who we are.

I may not be the epitome of international ambassadors--in fact I have a long way to go--but on a good day, when I don’t have a freakout, I try to do my best.

The fact is I don’t want to westernize the east, but I also don’t like to see death and heartache for no good reason when it can be avoided. For one person, when I shout at bad drivers it’s out of my own arrogance, which I can understand. But regardless of the expression, the sentiment of trying to prevent an accident is the focal point and can’t be lost behind an idiotic veil of pleasantries.

Honestly, I do regret shouting at that man today, but maybe if enough people shout at him he won’t end up wrapped around HIS Honda Dream in the next week, or cause a bad accident for someone else.

I’m not saying everyone should visit foreign countries and shout every time something happens that is different from the way it happens back home. For me, personally, I try to set a good example by not littering, by smiling, learning the local language and culture etc. For Matt, his idea of setting a good example (whether consciously or sub-consciously) was doing what no Chinese person would do to save the life of a mere stray.

I may have lost control today in a small fit of anger, but as an ambassador for my country I may have made someone pay more attention to the road in future.

Or just made someone racist, who knows….







On Wanderlust




There’s this thing called Restless Leg Syndrome. My mom, her sisters, and my grandmother all have it, as far as a self-diagnosis can let you have it. I’ve got it too. If you don’t know what it is, then you’re very lucky. But let me explain it to you.

It usually happens at night, or when you’re tired. For me, it starts in my thighs—a weird tingling sensation. Well, less a tingling than a sort of wiggling feeling, like a bunch of mice are running around in there. I have to stand up, walk around, do some stretches, punch myself in the thigh—anything to make the restless feeling stop. Usually, there’s nothing to do but go to bed, stretch out, and hope I’m tired enough to fall asleep before the mice chew their way out of my calves. 

As you can imagine, it’s a very uncomfortable feeling.

But what happens when you get Restless Leg syndrome in your soul?  What do you do when your very being needs to get up and move, to stretch out before you go insane?

Welcome to wanderlust, my friends.

I’ve been stricken with wanderlust, and bad. It started when I was getting ready to graduate high school and knew I had to get away from my quick-sand small town. So I went to Hawaii for college.  After that, I found myself in Argentina for a year and a half. Then Utah to finish college (which I admit isn’t the most wanderlust-y place I could have gone, but it was still a place that I’d never lived in long-term before).  After the (let’s just call it what it was) blandness of 2 years in Utah (which, granted, was interrupted by a study abroad in the UK, a tour in Ireland, and a couple random trips to California and Vegas), my legs were restless. I needed to be on the move again.

So I ended up in China. For a year. And now, traveling in Asia for the last 6 months. I’m stretching my soul, giving myself a few hops to ease the restlessness.

But why does it happen? Why does it happen to some people and not others? I know several people, friends and family, who have barely left their hometown, who may have never left their country, or heaven forbid, their state. It astounds me. Why don’t some people have the desire to just go?

Well, let’s take a look at the word. Wanderlust. Wander. To wander. It’s a word that implies aimlessness, perhaps confusion, or being lost. People wander around when they aren’t really sure where they’re going or what they’re looking for.

But just in case you thought this timeless cliché of a quote was going to escape this post: Not all who wander are lost.

Sometimes, people just wander. Sometimes, we don’t need to have a goal or an endpoint in mind. Sometimes we just want to walk around and see what we find, despite not really looking for anything.

I’m a wanderer. I can spend hours wandering a supermarket or a shopping mall or a busy street, not looking for anything, not trying to get anywhere, but just seeing. The way people walk, how things are organized, where things come from—these are the things I like to see. I’m a browser, and not just for products.

But what about the people who don’t wander? What about those that don’t feel the need to walk the aisles or people watch or just take a walk?  Often, they’re goal oriented—get a degree, get a job, score that promotion, buy a new hairbrush. Whatever it is, they go for it, point A to point B, no room for browsing. Or they don’t. Sometimes it’s the people with no goal that don’t wander. They’re comfortable where they are, with what they have. They don’t deviate from the tried-and-true, the solid foundation of proven success (or failure).  Maybe never leaving home means security. Maybe staying in your hometown means comfort and a sense of belonging.

And maybe wandering means just a bit more complications.

But what about the second part? Lust. What a loaded word. Fire, passion, sex—these are the words of lust. Danger. Risk.  This is what lust has to offer.

So why not?

Why not indulge in the lust of wandering? Why not delve into the risks, the challenges, the potential dangers of wanderlust? 

I can think of no reason not to. If you have the passion for it, you can make it happen, regardless of the risks.  Sure, there is no security in wandering, true wandering. There is no fail-safe plan, no insurance. But that does not mean that it is impossible, implausible, improbable.

The passion for wandering is a passion that is strong and difficult to quench. To lust after the wandering experience is to lust after a phantom that is always just out of your grasp. The more you chase her, the more you want her, and the further she is away from you.

Until the chase has satisfied you. Because it’s not the ghost you want, but the hunt.

And what do you do then, when your world-wandering has been sated, when your restless legs have been stretched and kneaded into tranquility?

You wait. You wait because wanderlust is an addiction. The cravings will come again, stronger than before, and won’t be satisfied until you get up and go.  They will be there whether you are ready for them or not, so be prepared.

I’ve been traveling for a long time. I feel like I’ve been on the move for years. I settle down for a year or two at a time, but it’s never permanent. And I like it that way. 

Now, as Ricky and I are a third of the way through our Vietnam motorbike tour, so far over 6 months of traveling, we feel that our wanderlust is being sated for the time being.  Following our trip here, we will be looking for work in China, and a little stability.  Our lady wanderlust has left us dirty, bearded (Ricky, at least), hairy legged (the both of us), and generally unkempt. We’re slightly ill, unhygienic, and sore. But mostly we’re happy.

Wanderlust is a fickle mistress.

So in March, we’ll let her go for a while.

But she’ll come back. She always does.

Ch-ch-ch Changes?



Talia and I sit here in a cafĂ© in North central Vietnam. I have a small cold and we haven’t been able to see any sights or do anything interesting because of it.

I haven’t blogged in a while and while there are many reasons why, I decided to write a little today and share my thoughts.

A lot of the people we speak to don’t really know what we are doing here, in Asia. We heard from Talia’s brother at Christmas that some people seem to think that we are on an Indiana Jones style adventure which, while untrue, would be quite pleasant. No, we aren’t running through caves with huge boulders rolling behind us. We have been to a few tribal villages but they haven’t chased us or tried to eat or sacrifice us…

So what have we been doing? Well… I have no idea. I have no clue. One of the reasons I haven’t written in a while is because I have been doing a little soul searching, trying to find what it is that I am doing.

I am in a very small community of people (just me and my girlfriend, about as small as a community can get) and though we share everything, I spend a lot of time in my solitary shell. Just thinking to myself about … well….. myself.

What am I doing? Am I doing more than the other average traveler? Is that what I want to do? But most importantly, how does it affect ME? So while most people we meet are doing something similar to us, though usually on shorter schedules and quite often more touristic, is that me too?

Am I just an ecologically negative force on my surroundings, taking the same photographs of the same stuff as everyone else? Sometimes I wonder if the money I saved for this trip could have been spent on a nice new Audi, or a deposit for a nice two bedroom apartment overlooking suburbia.

No.

I’m doing this for me.

I am travelling and seeing and doing for the sake of myself and how it will affect me as a person.

All of the time I spend reflecting and thinking about my past, all of the mistakes I made and the trouble I caused. All of the apologies I owe and mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. While I’m sure that because I spend so much time here in my solitary shell thinking about my past while living my present, everything I think is expanded and grows to a gargantuan psychological force that I must over-power and come out the other side a better person.

I saw a movie recently,  a Dreamworks cartoon, but the parallels suffice. The movie was “Bee Movie” and in one of the first scenes there are two bees conversing over their summer experiences. One bee says he was glad he spent the summer travelling around the bee hive, the other bee says “yeah, you really came back different.”

Different?! Will anyone ever comment on my difference when I return to the world? Will others complement my “differences” when I return, the differences in my expectations, personality, wants, intelligence, etc. Will I be different to the one who made all of those mistakes? Or has all of this just been a dream where when I wake up I still don’t talk to certain people because of a mistake I made in my past that in their eyes I am still to be held accountable for?

Will I be able to sit at the adult table at the next family wedding or will I once again be pushed to play kids games at the kids table because I didn’t grow up and get a real job yet, because I haven’t paid into my pension fund like some other people in my life who chose successful work over world travel?

I guess the closest analogy I can make is if I see myself as a shining light, and as I pass through a pane of glass, how do I come out the other side? Will I come out the same as before, just with a fistful of photographs and a boastful ego? Perhaps I come out the other side a completely different colour, as if the glass is stained. But has it stained me for the better or the worse?

I look around and picture Vietnam, in fact all of South East Asia, or even East Asia, with it’s rice paddies and conical straw hats, the stilted houses, and everything that all of this could ever entail. I see all of this as two things, one being amazing experiences, experiences unique to me which I get to enjoy the way I want. And secondly as my pane of glass.  All of this is my shot at redemption. My chance to mentally right my own wrongs on my own terms and come to realize my own faults so I can better myself for the good of primarily myself and secondarily the people around me, especially those close to me.

Who am I? I’m a work in progress.

To Tour or Not to Tour: Get a Guide or Do it Solo?





When we travel, we generally prefer our freedom. We like to go our own way and do our own thing. That’s one reason we love having the motorbikes so much—we don’t even have to rely on public transportation. We are on our schedule, and with a map, a compass, and some basic language skills, we can get to where we need to go.

Once in a while though, we take an organized tour. Sometimes we’re a little disappointed with the result, but sometimes it works out just fine. So here’s a little of our opinions on touring.

One of the reasons we usually don’t take tours is that they are often pretty expensive.  They definitely cost more than doing it on your own. But sometimes, you just can’t do it on your own. For example, in
Cambodia, we took a tour to see a floating village. It was $12 per person, which was a bit pricy, but included seeing a crocodile farm and sunset over the lake. We didn’t know if we could get there and just organize our own boat, and since we didn’t have our bikes, we’d have to take a tuk-tuk anyway.

Just recently, we took a 24 hour boat tour through Halong Bay. It was also fairly pricy at $70 a head, but included 4 meals and entrance to caves and a floating village.  We didn’t know if there was a better way to see the bay, so we decided to do it.

First things first: Do some shopping. For both of these tours we pretty much just took the first offer we saw.  It can be time-consuming and somewhat of a hassle to visit all the tour companies and offices, but it might be worth it. For example, a few others on the same Halong Bay tour as us paid only $45 each. I think we could have gotten a better deal if we had taken our time and shopped around for better prices.

And another thing, consider what is included, and subtract about 20%. There are always mishaps, mistakes, and problems. For the Cambodia tour, a bus was supposed to pick us up at our guesthouse at a set time. Well it didn’t come, and it didn’t come, and it didn’t come.  We ended up walking to the tour office only to find a ton of other people waiting.  The time was getting late, and we were worried we wouldn’t get to see the sunset. It turns out they overbooked the tour, the bus had gone with a load of people, and they were waiting on a couple of tuk-tuks to take the rest of us.

Setting off for the village, hoping we make it there before the sun sinks.
By the time we got to the village, it was nearly sunset, which meant we didn’t get to see the crocodile farm or much of the village in daylight.  

Except for this floating church.


When we left, we didn’t really feel like the tour was worth it, and many of our companions weren’t pleased either.


So the tour wasn't responsible for the cloud...but still.

 \
But we did get to see these kids with snakes.

 As for the Halong Bay cruise, it mostly went ok. Lunch and dinner were tasty, if a little meager (good thing we brought Pringles and Oreos to fill in the gap!), and the sights were nice. We even had a nice room and bathroom with hot water. Breakfast was a disappointment with 4 slices of white bread, a quarter of a 1-egg omelet and a slice of pear. 

The most important meal of the day.


Once again, thanks to Pringles we survived. More unfortunately, however, was the absence of lunch. Ricky and I were promised it as part of the tour, but apparently it only went for those traveling back to Hanoi by bus, so we were out a meal.

So, in all, it often seems that the tours are more expensive than what they are physically worth—meaning food, transportation, all that stuff is usually on the cheap side, and you could do much better on your own. But then you have to consider the fact that some of the experiences had make up for that, even if it is only a good story, or a warning to other travelers (take heed!)

Our beautiful cruise ship.


The Halong Bay cruise was fun and I am very glad we did it, despite the price. We met other amazing travelers, learned a new card game, had great laughs, and got to see some beautiful scenery, and get more information about what we were seeing from our English-speaking guide. Ricky got to kayak under a national emblem and I was serenaded by an elderly man as he rowed our bamboo boat through the floating village. 
That rock there in front, that's the national emblem. It's on the 200,000 dong note.


 We finished the tour by basking on top of the boat under a sun we hadn’t seen in weeks, enjoying the warmth on our faces. 

In short, for all you travelers out there, consider your options for experiencing a new place. If, like us, you have more time than money, try to spend a lot of that time on your own, seeing things your own way. It’s cheaper, and often more fun. On the other hand, if you have limited time and want to see everything, tours are a good way to go. They take you to all the big things to see, and you rarely have to worry about the details.

And we're so happy! 
We’re probably done with organized tours for now, though we are planning on getting a guide for our romp through a national park later this week.  With the bikes, it’s a lot easier to do things on our own, and we like it that way.

What do you travelers think? Is it better to tour or do it on your own?

Sometimes I’m From Canada: Being American in Countries America Screwed


Everyone loves Canadians. They’re harmless and adorable with their “eh”s and their arctic tundra. No one’s got any beef with Canada.

America, on the other hand…well that’s a different story. Everyone hates America, and they often have reason to.

Let me begin by talking about myself and my “Americanism.” I’ve never been too much of a patriot. Sure, I’d stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in school and put my hand over my heart during the National Anthem at high school football games. But I never understood the extreme patriotism I saw in others: the flags hanging on the porch, the stars-n-stripes painted mailbox, the red-white-and-blue themed kitchen.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m grateful for having been born in a place where I’ve been free to practice a religion, where I’ve been able to state my opinions, etc.  But I don’t think I’ll ever understand the “greatest country on the face of the planet” mentality.

I’ve known a lot of super-patriots, and some of you reading this right now may be that.  One thing I’ve noticed is that they feel like America is the best country ever, therefore the American people are the best people in the world. Arrogance ensues.

“We’re better than you because we’re ‘free.’ We’re always right. You’ll never bring us down. Mess with us and we will make you suffer. I’m right because I’m American, never mind my status as a high school dropout.”

Ironically, many of these super-patriots are those who have never left the country for more than a cruise to Mexico or perhaps a vacation to Paris.  Many have not experienced the lives of other cultures, especially eastern cultures. They treat the world as a tourist attraction to be enjoyed for a weekend in which they can visit the beaches, taste local cuisine, and carefully ignore the local way of life, because it is sometimes ugly and almost always “wrong.”

 Most people I’ve met outside the US want what we want: to be happy, to raise and care for their family, to enjoy life. Yes, even in communist countries.

America is not always right. It is not the objectively best country in the world. It has faults and makes mistakes.

I’ve been out of the country for a year and a half now, for the second time. This time around I’m happy that I’m away. I’m glad I was gone for the elections. I’m glad to not have been embroiled in the war between my liberal and conservative friends about same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana.  I’m glad to have not been present for the news stories of school and other mass shootings, and the ensuing debate on gun control.  

Instead, I’ve been in Southeast Asia, learning about the peoples and cultures here, learning that there are far more important things than talking about who can marry whom. In Thailand, for instance, “lady-boys” blend into the public and no one questions or cares about their sexuality, relationships, or genital circumstances.  Instead, they focus on religious traditions, cultural festivals, and the growing education sector.

 Furthermore, I’ve learned of some of the atrocities committed by the United States that makes me ashamed to claim it as my motherland.

Currently, we are in Vietnam. Everyone knows what happened here, I assume. The reasoning as to why  it happened is unclear and weakly disguised in a big-brother attitude of protecting freedom.  You can imagine my feelings of shame and awkwardness when locals ask me where I am from.

Perhaps worse still is what happened in Laos. We have talked about this tragedy here and here. If you don’t want to look at the links, I’ll recap.  America was so set on destroying the “commies” of Vietnam, that they attacked Laos with cluster bombs to get rid of any of the Vietnamese that may have spilled over across the border. A large percentage of these bombs did not detonate, and now, 50 years after the bombs were dropped, they kill or injure hundreds of people a year. I’ve met people who are missing hands or legs or are blind because of these bombs.

And I apologize for being American.


When I can’t admit to being from the country that maimed them, an unintended target half a century later, I claim Canada.  I’m too ashamed to admit being from the Great United States, an invader country, an enforcer of “freedom” and “democracy,” whether wanted or not.  Canada serves me just fine.

And yet the amazing thing about it is that when I do let out where I’m from, I am forgiven. I can see in their eyes that the moment of awareness, that moment of connection. I am from the place that killed their family, destroyed their homes, disrupted their lives. And they can see the apology in my eyes, and they forgive.

A man we gave a ride to didn’t turn us out of his home. Instead, he invited us in for dinner. His mother welcomed us with open arms, despite my heritage. As she gave me a hug, I wanted to apologize for every ill my country committed against her, for any pain she has ever felt because America “knows better.”

I know of fellow Americans who decry “the communists,” that disembodied word that stands for every evil worthy of condemnation, who would turn away a Vietnamese man who fought in the war for being a threat to freedom. That same man would likely invite you to a glass of homemade rice wine and chuckle as you grimace from the strength of it and challenge you to another glass.


Now in saying all this, please understand I’m not “anti-American.” I don’t wish the destruction of my country, and I’m not in cahoots with so-called terrorists.  I admire the hard-working attitude of many Americans, and the national drive for ingenuity, creativity, and inventiveness. I recognize that our drive to “help” other countries may be misguided, but derives from a genuine desire to share with others the freedoms we enjoy.   I don’t believe other countries are perfect either. Each country has its unique challenges along with its strengths.

But it is my wish that every American take a step back and have a good long look at your homeland. It is not a god-country; it is not infallible. It is not perfect. It makes mistakes. Contrary to popular belief, communists are not the devil. Obama is not a socialist. And unless you’re going to ship your leftovers across the earth, you have no right to talk about “starving children in China.”

I encourage you all to take a look at what works in other countries. The only way our country can improve is to glean knowledge and practices from other places where such things are proven to work for the good of the country.

I have no intention or desire to return to the States for a while. Instead, I’d like to take some more time for my worldview to mature. I’d like to understand the workings of societies and communities outside my own. I want to widen my zeitgeist to include the good from other places. When I do return, I want to have something to offer.

Until then, I’m Canadian, eh?

Why We Won't Fly

When Ricky and I started planning this trip, we thought we knew what we were going to do. First, we were going to buy motorcycles and rid...