Saturday, January 24, 2015

How many days in India?



If you asked me how long I've been traveling in India, I'd say a few weeks. Three at least. With days so full of new faces and foods, new smells and places, new friends and new reflections, it's hard to believe it's only been ten days. Ten days. Ten days into India. 

From the street snacks in Masjid to riding the ladies train into South Bombay to rickshaw troubles in Andheri to the set of a Bollywood film in film city to the warmest waters of Pallolem in Goa, it's been ten days in India.  

Near Churchgate station, there are many Art Deco buildings with round corners, Mumbai

The thieves market, Mumbai 

Trying some new sweet snacks, Masjid Mumbai

The ladies train car totally empty on a Sunday night

Entering the Dharavi slums, Mumbai

CST station lit up at night, Mumbai

I'm now in Pallolem beach in Goa province, swimming away my afternoons in the sun. 


I've uploaded several videos to my YouTube channel from India so far, with more awaiting to be uploaded. Please be patient as strong wifi is hard to come by in beach town...

Twitter @expatkerri http://www.facebook.com/expatkerri

Monday, August 25, 2014

Seeking alone time and getting much more in Indonesia



A month ago, I awoke on my last day on the largest of the Gili Islands, tucked between Bali and Lombok islands in Indonesia. I awoke to birds chirping, leaves lightly blowing, plates clinking, oceans waving; I awoke to the sounds of paradise. I also awoke to a deep sadness to be leaving not only a tiny beautiful place, but the unexpected group of friends I had made there as well.

Going to Gili Trawangan was my getaway. To rinse myself from the noise and pollution of Beijing, to take advantage of being in Asia again, to see a new place, and strap on my backpack again. It was mainly a scuba diving trip, as diving is a huge hobby of mine, and I don't have a chance to do it when I am in Toronto. I had heard from Brenna that there were lots of turtles in the water, and that the island was a good place to chill out and enjoy beautiful beaches.

I was going to be by myself.

Early to sleep, I'd wake with the sun for my dives. I'd stretch and meditate, and try my best to breathe slowly underwater to conserve my air. I'd look carefully under rocks and in coral for creatures of the sea, and move myself with subtle movements of my flippers. I'd be cautious and calm, and take every moment of the dive in. Once finished the dive, I'd go through the fish identification book with the other divers to determine what we saw. I'd learn the names of everything we saw and research them.

After my dives, I'd write in my journal on the beach with a cocktail or seashell in hand, and sand on my skin. I'd reflect on my time in Beijing and try to determine what it was that made living there so hard for me. I'd write about my life of late, and reflect on what it means to be almost thirty. I'd make a list of all the people I love, and write postcards to them. I'd spend these ten days quietly nurturing myself. I wouldn't meet many people, and I'd keep to myself.

It didn't quite turn out that way.

When boarding the boat for the 2 hour journey from Bali to Lombok, I met a traveller named Martin who enthralled me with stories of med school and hiking Mount Bromo. We rode the boat next to each other and exchanged ideas about travelling and realized we both share a need to travel that many of our friends at home do not understand about us. When we arrived on the island, we decided to share a room because it was cheaper than bunk beds at the popular backpackers. With that, I was inducted into the established travel-friend group of Martin. He had stayed at In Da Lodge hostel in Ubud a few weeks earlier, and had met a group of solo travellers there who were all travelling to Gili in the coming weeks. As soon as Martin and I arrived to the island, he kept an eye out for his posse.

Within a day, serendipitous reuniting hugs abound, the In Da Lodge crew was together again. There is something very sweet about meeting a friend at one time on your trip, and then seeing them again in another place. It feels extra special to see them again, and upon reuniting, those new friends feel instantly like old friends from the road. They shared inside jokes from Ubud and teased each other in a way that good friends do. Instead of being an outsider who wasn't among the original group, I was adopted in like I'd been there the whole time. I was greeted with hugs and smiles and curiosity and  warmth. I was on the receiving end of the openness of the travelling spirit.

We ate dinner together at the night market on the island, and more friends showed up. We gorged ourselves on pretty cakes and desserts and stories from our various adventures. Afterward, someone mentioned a silent disco, and we danced together in silence with earphones on until 3 am.

The next morning, I rushed to the scuba shop and was kindly teased for showing up 15 minutes late. I had to throw together my gear and barely had time to squeeze in a cup of tea before heading to the boat.

Once under water, though, the quietness came. The sound of my own breath and the entire ocean surrounding me, entirely wrapped up in the underwater world around me. Slow motion bubbles and an anemonefish with two tiny babies, barely visible in the swaying coral. An octopus curled under a shelf, camouflaged black, with only a large white winking eye to give itself away. A strong current pulling us along, leaving us expending almost no effort to move across the dive site. That precious dreamy sense of weightlessness that I can only know when I dive. The only sound is a distant tap of metal on tank as our instructor points out a family of sharks cozy between large boulders. I see three, and find out when we surface that there were six. The dream comes to an end as our tanks run light and we slowly surface. During our three minute safety stop, a massive hawksbill turtle comes up for air nearby, and I realize we are both going up for air in this moment, the turtle and I.

On the boat as we ride back toward the beach, I realize that diving was what I really needed. The dive was my meditation, it was all the contemplation I sought for this adventure. I didn't need the afternoon alone to write about it in my journal over a coffee. The notes in my logbook would remind me of the life we saw underwater. What I really wanted after those dives was the company of my new friends.

After a long chat with the friendly scuba staff, I felt so lucky to return to the room for a shower and then meet up with Martin, to ride bikes along the beach and find the rest of the gang for sunset watching over Bintangs on the beach, for storytelling and photo-taking and those momentary blips in time when you really feel like this is it, this is the sum of all of my life. This is where the choices I have made have taken me, and this is where I am now. These people are my friends now, and all of us have been brought here by different forces in our lives. Though we might not meet again, right now, we are watching this sunset together.

It gets me every time. Heading off for solo adventures, seeking time alone to contemplate the depths of my soul, but instead finding new friends and new places to bring you into the moment and realizing that "it wasn't being alone that I needed, but travel".

Flying home is always emotional, but this time I felt so full of life I could hardly contain it. Those mad feelings came out in tears and laughs and deep sighs during the days that followed my return. I glued the log book pages into my dive log just yesterday, and a seashell from Gili T sits on my bathroom shelf to remind me that the sea is never really that far out of reach.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

From a Woman's Perspective: A Message about Consent



In 2008, I was walking to my apartment at night and a man approached me to ask for directions. I pointed where to go and he grabbed my butt. I said "sorry" and walked away. "Sorry". I did nothing wrong and I apologized to a guy who grabbed my butt, because it is ingrained in me, and in others, to be polite. "Sorry".

Does it matter that I was wearing a short skirt that night? Does it matter that I didn't wear a skirt for a month after that?

Last week on a crowded subway in Beijing at rush hour, someone grabbed my butt. I swatted the hand away. I share these two stories as a person who has encountered unwanted advances. It happens.

With #notallmen all over Twitter, and in light of this recent expose, I wanted to share a bit of my life experience, as well as some musings on the word "no".

For some of us, saying "no" is hard. Even when someone is doing something unwanted, the word "no" might come to mind, but the politeness and preservation of the happy mood might lead us to say everything but "no".

For this reason, it's clear that "no" isn't always a word. In fact, in my life, I've only ever used the word "no" in a physical situation once, despite having been in multiple scenarios where the word "no" would have been useful.

"No" doesn't have to be said. It can be a look of the eye, a turn of the shoulder, a nudge of the hand, a turn of the head; no comes in many colours.

It could be "I don't know" or "I have a boy/girlfriend" or "I'll be late" or "I'm tired" or anything else that isn't a bright smiling yes. All of these are the actions of a person who doesn't want the advance. It could be "sorry". If someone doesn't want to kiss you, they probably don't want to do anything else.

There's a big difference between touching someone who wants it, and touching someone who doesn't.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Strange English Signs in Korea

One of the most consistently entertaining things about living in a country that doesn't speak English is the English. The signs are sometimes so funny that you can't believe someone didn't catch it before it made it to the printing room. Bad English is everywhere in Korea: on t-shirts, on posters, on TV, in songs, in movies, in national parks, on official monuments, in government pamphlets, you get the picture. Once a friend of mine sat across from a couple on the KTX wearing couple t-shirts that had arrows pointing to the partner with the words "loves the cock". When he asked to take a photo of them, they smiled and gave the classic "victory" sign. There's gotta be some victory in there somewhere.

So, as an English teacher, should I be concerned about all of this bad English infiltrating the minds and culture that I am there to nurture, right?

Nope.

I just take photos of it.









Where is the best of the worst English you've encountered?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Natural Risk-Takers

Sitting in the Porter lounge at Billy Bishop airport in Toronto, my flight to Boston cancelled and rescheduled 5 hours later, I pull up some readings for my online masters program. This week we are discussing how to teach listening:

"Those who are cautious need to be encouraged to take risks and to make inferences based upon the words they have managed to identify. Natural risk-takers need to be encouraged to check their guesses against new evidence as it comes in from the speaker. And all learners need to be shown that making guesses is not a sign of failure: it is a normal part of listening to a foreign language"
('The Changing Face of Listening', by John Field, English Teaching Professional 6 1998)

"Natural risk-takers". The idea that some of us are naturally predisposed to a life of risk. 

As a traveller, I often reflect on situations where I ought to have made different choices than I did. Should I have hopped in that car with the man who worked in the Underground in London? Should I have drank that mysterious cloudy alcohol in Turkey, given to me by a person whose name I didn't know? Should I have slept alone in all those airports? Should I have had that Chai tea with that stranger in Kuala Lumpur? Should I have pulled out my camera and taken that photo of the 'no photo' sign at the border? Should I have gotten on that bus without checking that it was the right one, not knowing it would drop me off in the dark next to a garbage dump at midnight? Should I have made those choices? Should I have taken those risks?

Should you really have trusted me with all your worldly belongings?

Maybe not. 

Maybe I shouldn't have gotten drunk with my roommate and spontaneously booked that one-way ticket to London back in 2006. Maybe I shouldn't have gone to Korea without knowing anything more than the voice of my boss. Maybe I shouldn't have held my camera in one hand while trying not to fall on that slippery border crossing above a rushing river. Maybe I shouldn't have had that lemon shake that tasted a bit funny. Maybe I shouldn't have sat on the stairs of that train carriage. 

Maybe I shouldn't have talked to that guy at that party. 

But, what if?

If I hadn't booked that ticket to London, I wouldn't have travelled those 22 countries in 4 months, and I wouldn't have learned that I could travel alone. If I hadn't gone to Korea, I wouldn't have spent 4 of the happiest years of my twenties making friendships and memories that will last my lifetime. If I hadn't filmed that border crossing, I wouldn't remember how unsafe that bridge actually was. If I hadn't had that lemon shake I wouldn't have gotten traveller's diarrhea... okay so that was one risk I shouldn't have taken, but it was so thirst-quenching! If I hadn't sat on the stairs of the train carriage I wouldn't have dropped my purse and leaped off the moving train (James Bond style) to get it, but I also wouldn't have learned that a train in Burma will stop for that one idiot traveller who jumped off.

If I hadn't talked to that guy at that party, I wouldn't be sitting in this airport lounge now, with him at my side, waiting to board this plane to Boston. 

In language learning, in travel, in life, we take risks every day. We have heard that getting in a car presents more risk than boarding a plane.

I'm not encouraging wannabe travellers to adopt a risk-taking attitude, or that natural risk-takers make better travellers. No, not at all. What I am saying is that our lives are made up of the sum of our experiences. And the experiences that we have are, sometimes, the direct result of the choices we make. Risk-taker or cautious, we are all making choices every day that shape the direction of our lives.

While we're getting deep, I'll also share that I suffer from overconfidence, a trait that can make or break a person, almost literally. Over the years, and throughout my travels, I have tried to keep my confidence in check, and to recognize when a particular situation merits more logical reflection than an impulsive choice. As I inch closer and closer to my thirtieth birthday, (pause for reaction), I am learning to balance my personal, educational, and professional life with my natural tendency to throw all my eggs in one basket, or (more literally) throw all my savings into a 6-month trip through South America. Trying to see the whole damn world while keeping my head on straight.

It is gonna take more than a few risks to get me there, or perhaps it will just take a few more cancelled flights.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Reunions and plane tickets








I'm now writing from the airport in Manila as I wait to get my flight to Boracay. The wifi connection I'm using is called "morefuninthephilippines". I hope that's a prediction about the time I'm going to have here!

Yesterday in Seoul I had a relaxing morning after a twelve hour sleep. I bought some sleeping pills for a pharmacy to help me get the rest I needed, and luckily they helped a lot. I got 8 pills for $2.00 (can't beat that price)!

For lunch, I met my good friend Hyunwoo Sun, CEO of Talk To Me In Korean. He and I became friends several years ago, and it's always a great and interesting time with him. I visited the TTMIK office and we all went out for lunch together. I really enjoy their company, and it felt kind of like a reunion! Actually, this whole visit is like a reunion of friendships. 

After parting with that group, I went to Insadong to meet another old friend who I met in Jinju. She is also visiting Korea now, and we just happened to overlap our visits here. Seeing her was great, and we made some travel plans together! I'll probably go to visit her in Washington DC sometime this year, and we might go visit a mutual friend in France who we met in Jinju. 

Then, it was the airport railroad. A familiar sight for me... but always a welcome one. 

Travelling makes me happier than pretty much anything else in my life. 



Monday, January 13, 2014

Thoughts from Korea











Diary entry:

I've been in Korea for 4 days now, and I've hardly slept a wink. Jetlag seems to be hitting me pretty hard this time around, so I am trying my best to adjust to the time here. At first I was insomniac for 2 nights, barely sleeping more than an hour. But, it's getting better slowly, as I woke up at 4am yesterday and 5am today.

I arrived in Seoul and spent my first night with my friend Yoomi, sharing her one-room apartment near Seongsin Women's University in central Seoul. Yoomi and I originally met in Toronto in 2008, when she was a student in my Beginner level class. We have become really close over the years, so it was really nice to spend those first few hours back in Korea with her. She even had made vegetarian pizza from scratch for me when I arrive at her place. 

The following day we walked around Myeongdong together and did a little shopping. My luggage didn't arrive with me on my flight from Detroit, so I bought a few necessary items to survive until my bag would be delivered (which happened on Sunday night at 1:30am, but that's another story).

On the way to meet my friend for dinner, something amazing happened. I was transferring trains in the subway, and someone behind me said "Kerri?" It was surreal, to hear my name in such a crowded place. My first day in Seoul, and I ran into my good friend Hyojin! We couldn't believe the chance, in a city of 10 million...

That night I met up with my old friend and fellow Youtuber Stephen for Mexican food in Hongdae. He took me to his favourite bar, Thursday Party, and it was full of foreigners. I think there might be more foreigners in Seoul now than there were in 2012... but I don't know any numbers. It was fun to hang out there, but I tend to prefer the quieter more local feeling bar scene in Hongdae. 

The next day, after an insomniac night, my friend and former student EunJu called me and we met up for coffee and breakfast near Ewha University in Seoul. It was so great having a coffee bun from Paris Baguette (some things never change). EunJu is an ambitious traveller, visiting India 3 times by herself, so we had a really satisfying conversation about travel, happiness, and our memories.

That afternoon I took a bus to Changwon to visit an old friend and to pick up a guitar and a suitcase that I had left behind when I left Korea in 2012. Actually, when I left Korea then, I was certain I would return within a few months, so I left a lot of important things here in Korea. I left them with my Korean boyfriend at the time, who is now my ex, and who at the time of breaking up told me he would throw my belongings into the trash. Needless to say, it was very relieving to see my luggage and guitar as I had left them, in the hands of a good friend. A big part of the reason for my trip here now is to bring those things back with me, and in a way to close some chapters of my life here in Korea. 

After Changwon, I took a bus to my old stomping ground, Jinju! I met my former boss and my friend Seongmin for lunch. It was great to see my boss, as she is an amazing woman who helped make my time at Jinju Kyodae very rewarding. I also had a fun time catching up with Seongmin. Seeing both of them, I realized it's wonderful to see people that you love doing well in their lives. 

Now I am preparing to return to Seoul to visit with a few more friends before I fly to the Philippines for a week. I can't wait to sit on the beach and get back into scuba diving. Luckily, I'll have one more week in Korea before I return to Toronto at the end of the month. I know the beach will be great, but part of me will be counting down the days to Seoul again. 

From Jinju,
Kerri





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