Friday, July 19, 2019

Thoughts from Caen

Dear people of the blogosphere and travel enthusiasts,

I've been taking a bit of a different approach with my travels this summer and have planned my few overnight trips less than 48 hours before departures--and sometimes only the bare minimum: transport and accommodation. The sights I sort of decided on the fly.

Last week, my visit to Caen was no exception. I didn't really know where I wanted to go, but thought it'd be cool to see Juno beach since I'd already seen Dieppe and both were major incidents for Canadians during the Second World War. A quick google search spoke of William the Conqueror's castle and I was sold. (My patron, upon learning I was going to Caen, couldn't really understand the attraction aside from the nearby D-Day beaches. He argued that people go near Caen, but not to Caen. So maybe it was also part stubbornness that firmed my decision).

Most of the city was destroyed during the summer after the D-Day landings and in the late 1940s/50s, the main goal was to rebuild quickly so that people had places to live. This means that unlike some other cities in France, there are not as many stereotypic picturesque streets, although there are a few gems and hot spots. During my first night in the city, I learned about the Caen Memorial and decided to make it my first stop.
Photo of the Caen Memorial. Source: François Monier, Calvados Tourisme.
I didn't realize how big the memorial was until I stood at the entrance. I wasn't sure what to expect, initially, but it wasn't the structure that stood before me.

In the memorial, they had recreated a wall
covered in propaganda and news.
The giant slab of stone, rising from a well maintained field of green, had the words, "La douleur m’a brisée, la fraternité m’a relevée, de ma blessure a jailli un fleuve de liberté" written across its surface (Pain broke me, fraternity brought me up, from my injury flowed a river of liberty). An imposing reminder.

I arrived early just as the memorial opened at 9am and opted to get the audio guide for an extra couple of euros (ticket just under 20 euros, audio guide just under 5). In hindsight, there was a lot of information even without the guide and I wouldn't say that it was necessary to enjoy the museum and the experience. At times, I struggled with the guide because I was trying to read and listen at the same time--which I know uses the same part of your brain and doesn't work, but still... There was just so much to look at!

For those interested, you could also arrange a tour to the beaches, but as I already planned to head out to the Canadian Juno Beach Centre the next day, I decided not this time.

The memorial had a really cool set up and was divided into different zones. At the start of the tour, I entered a door marked pre-1945 and was taken on a directed journey through twisted corridors and a labyrinth of rooms (or at least, that's what it seemed like).
Anti-Hitler teapot. Would you keep
it after the war?

The walls were lined with various sources from photos, maps, journal/news excerpts, video interviews, and explanations. Along the way, they would show updated versions of maps, depending on the year/month of the war, for both the war in the pacific and Europe to show the stages of military and country control. Certain sections were set aside for daily life during the war, the holocaust, and key points of conflict, but on the whole it was structured around the timeline. I really liked learning about some of the ways the governments raised money for the war effort: anti-Hitler themed teapot, card games and board games being some examples.
Part of the display on the
Jewish Discrimination

In the post-1945 section, they not only discussed the immediate conclusions, but the dynamics of the cold war, the changing relations of power and between countries. There were even pieces from the Berlin Wall, which was definitely cool.

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience and thought it was presented and organized well (with a decent gift shop for war related materials). Unfortunately, I also quickly got information overload. From the text, visuals and audio stimuli my brain had trouble digesting and processing all of the information.

I spent about 7 hours at the museum and mainly left because (1) I felt like I couldn't absorb anymore information, and (2) I still wanted to see a couple other things in the city and I needed to be mindful of closing times.

So, while my patron questioned why Caen, I found a gem well worth visiting in a city that has been through a lot. If you are in Caen or visiting the beaches, I highly recommend you check it out!

Love and Hugs

Monday, July 01, 2019

Dear Canada,

Happy Birthday! Today you are "officially" 152 years old.

There has been a lot of hype around your official birthday in the last couple of years. Especially during Canada 150. Like many countries around the world, you have a shadowed history with skeletons buried only as deep as last season's fashion line. I wish you didn't, true, but I can't just ignore and pretend they're not there.
An appropriate shirt for the day.

As I've been spending time away travelling through other countries and meeting all sorts of people, I've been thinking a lot about what being Canadian means to me and to our identity. Why do I celebrate Canada Day? Here is a very *very* abridged timeline:

We are a country of blended (and chaotic) beginnings. With the race for colonization and imperialism, both the French and the English fought for ownership over the land and the native populations. It was an era of nationalism and the clash of prides. That history is littered with the fragments of broken treaties and unkept promises--from multiple parties.

In the mid-late 1700s, after many battles between the French and English (with First Nation allies on both sides), France lost the war and ceded ownership of what is now Quebec to England. The lingering sentiment between the two languages and people wasn't so "easily" settled by the shake of hands and French communities were not treated as well nor always respected by the English settlers.
But who were we then? Not a country yet... Just a gathering of settlements amidst clans of aboriginal tribes in a country the English claimed as their own.

To the south, the US claimed their independence from England with the bravado and volume they have become known for world wide. We were like a young toddler waddling along next to the 19 year old moving out and off on a motorcycle while mum and dad weren't looking. There was a fear that we would be invaded and absorbed, ripped from mummy's hand. This fear, along with a number of other factors that are too numerous for this abridged account, eventually led to acquiring our own independence on July 1st, 1867. Most people in Canada often say that the US had an exciting beginning whereas we just talked and talked and talked and then became a country. If they only looked deeper, they'd see the intrigue and plotting... and the planning of genocide.

In addition to the conflicts between the English and the French (with a predominantly English government enacting discriminatory policies that limited the growth of French like in Manitoba and Saskatchewan), the government oppressed AND continues to oppress native communities through policies (ie. residential schools) and the distribution of services (communities that are without water, stable education, or goods). A quick internet search today can yield a slew of articles on injustice issues and so really, it's no wonder that your birthday gets people riled up. What are we celebrating when so many of our own people--and some of the people who've been here the longest--are being mistreated and misrepresented? That needs to change. No birthday in the world can change that.

Canada, I know you can be better. I want us to be better.

 I think of all the people who live off your land today who are from countries all over the world. Whether they've moved because they want to or maybe because they've had to, you have become a safe place and a home for many. You unites us, and in the same way, you allow many to promote and share their own cultures.

So, Canada, you are far from perfect, but today on your birthday, I want to celebrate what we have come to stand for at our core, and our potential for the future.

Love & Hugs

Friday, June 28, 2019

Les First Few Jours en France

I have been speaking French since I was 6 years old and I even learned to read and write in French before I learned in English. I still remember a reading test in grade 12 where I read a passage at random to my teacher. The main feedback I received? You mispronounced some words as if they were French.

And yet, after 4 years living in Korea, I landed in France to find I speak a weird mixture of Korean and French. Would that be Korench? or Corançais..?

When people asked me questions, I'd answer yes or no... in Korean. My inclination when saying thank you was '감사합니다' instead of 'Merci.' And apparently 그 (pronounced like the French 'que') has become my place holder. (Let's not forget that I pass objects with two hands and bow slightly when saying hello/goodbye).

After a couple of days, the language has gotten better, but I still find my brain jumping to the Korean translations of some words before going underneath to the French. From a psychological point of view, I find it fascinating. From a functional point of view, more annoying. How do multilinguals ever manage to keep their languages straight?

Although, on a plus, based on my accent, no one has questioned where I'm from so far!

Love & Hugs

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Travel Log: Indonesia Day 4

This week back at work, people are sharing their travel stories. I love hearing about amazing places and potential "nexts" and have also received a couple compliments on my photos from Indonesia. "It looks like you had a great time," I hear, and yeah I enjoyed my trip, but there were also days that sucked. This reminded me how social media is often used for the good. We post to bolster ourselves up, nurturing the FOMO culture. So here's a bit of a downer from my travel log to help keep things more honest.

Dec 20th, 2018

Rainy season is not a misnomer. I was lucky with 3 days of no rain for my first week in Malang on Java and I was beginning to think the rest of my trip would follow suit. Unfortunately nope. Today it poured all day. If I could go back in time, I think I would have hidden the day away inside with a book, but nope. I was trying to make the most of it...

The morning started off okay as I switched from Nuu's place to Wandi's via GoJek motorbike. Once I arrived at Wandi's and put my things away, his friend came to take me around the area on his motorbike while Wandi went to work. It was cloudy, but I wasn't really concerned, yet. We made it to the first temple all right, but a few minutes on the road afterward, it started spitting.

Walking around a temple area
before the rain.
Then the watefall unleashed. There I was on the back of a motorcycle, unprotected from these watery pellets, mentally kicking myself because my rain protection was attached to the outside of my backpack. My guide, while he couldn't speak English, didn't like the rain much either and pulled over to a random and slightly run-down porch (the only other occupants a chicken and her chicks). I hopped off, eager to put on my rain gear while he used a translator to tell me he was going to get a jacket from a friend.

It struck me a moment after he sped away that I probably should have been mildly concerned that he left me in the middle of nowhere in the rain. What if he doesn't come back, I thought for a moment, and then again as the minutes dragged on. I think it was nearly 20 minutes before he returned and we continued on our way. Sadly, there was no change in the weather.

Waiting for my guide
to come back.
We zipped up higher into the mountains and clouds and I wondered what gems were hidden by the rain and gloom. When we arrived at our next destination, we passed through manicured fields of green. Living on Jeju island, I quickly recognized the bushes for a variety of green tea, but had never seen so many rows weaving off in all directions. As we turned to head up higher, the road went from smooth asphalt to mini-bolders. Looking back now, I don't know how I managed to stay on the motorbike. It was like I was the ping-pong ball and the bike was the paddle. As the wheel moved forward, I was constantly jolted from my seat and I struggled to remain on the bike. When we finally made it to the flat trail and I dismounted, I was pretty sure I had done some permanent damage to my knees and dreaded the idea of returning back the way we came.

In case you forgot, it was still pouring and at this point, the clouds were so low that you could hardly see 100m in the distance. We took shelter with a group of teenagers and some older men beneath a bamboo hut. A small fire was going and I was grateful for a place by the warmth. If any photos of dripping, navy blue-clad nuns on the side of a foggy mountain appear on the interwebs, that's me. The boys weren't very discreet in snapping photos, but oh well. We didn't really have much else to do. One of the men spoke a little English and he eagerly tried to small talk while the others just listened or talked amongst themselves. For an hour. I'm not very good at small talk. Especially when I'm cold, wet, and trying to cross language barriers. But I want the record to know that he was nice and trying. When the rain finally let up enough for us to try the path, the man asked for a picture and even told me I was beautiful, although I really have to question his eyesight at that point...
Looking my finest in the weather.

Working in the rain.
I slipped down the trail (literally. I misjudged a step and ended up covered in mud and water), but at this point, it didn't really make a difference to my wetness level or mood. In the fields, I could see all of these women bundled in vibrant tarp-blue harvesting tea leaves. With the weather as it was, I was surprised they were still working away. Respect.

At last I arrived at an elevated lookout. Just look at my spectacular view (after everything that morning, of course I took a picture to document the experience):

Green tea fields in the rain.
I'm sure it's great on a sunny day, but it was just eerie in the rain and fog. I feel like this is where a horror film would start or end. After snapping that picture, I returned back toward the bike, my guide on my heels.

As we rode back down the mountain, the rain returned in force. At one point, it looked like we were trying to take the bike through a river. Considering the wetness, I assumed we were going back to Wandi's house, but nope. Instead he was taking me to another temple (because that's what Wandi had originally planned). All I wanted was to get somewhere dry and change my clothes. I was wearing a rain jacket, but it wasn't designed for this much water (more water resistant than repellant), and I could feel wet fingers running down my back and stomach. I couldn't see anything out of my glasses because they were fogged up and covered in raindrops, my shoes felt like mini pools that squelched with each step, and since water was underneath my shirt, I was certain it had managed to ooze through my bag as well. I was most definitely not in the mood to walk around another temple area.

If my guide had been there before, he probably thought it was the shortest visit of his life. I walked around in 5 minutes and then rushed back to the motorbike, visions of warm, dry clothes dancing behind my eyelids.

My guide contacted Wandi who came back to the house since his job was around the corner. It was not even lunchtime yet and I felt like the day was done. Wandi asked if I wanted some hot water to wash myself and I realized that there was no water heater aside from the plug-in element. My vision of warmth and dry clothes faded as I didn't want to keep Wandi from his work. I assured him I was fine, waved him off and then washed quickly clean in cool water instead. Definitely not the day I had envisioned.

I'm sure I could talk more about what I learned from this experience and how it was still valuable--and I'm sure it was--but it also sucked. Despite the warmer climate, I spent the next couple hours huddled under a blanket, chilled from the inside, my only company my book and the roaring sound of the wedding music blasting from the speaker on the street.

Love and Hugs

Friday, January 04, 2019

Travel Log: Indonesia Day 3

Dec 19th, 2018

Today I was reminded the importance of The Moment. In specific, being in the moment and enjoying where you are when you are there. Especially as nowadays I feel constantly on the go at my job, jumping from one thing to the next. Sometimes I feel like I have to go through a checklist of places. You go, you see, you go on to the next one. Almost like a competition to see how many places you can add to your belt. With this trip, I'm trying really hard to linger. While it has been challenging for me, I have been rewarded so far with great people and experiences.

This morning, my new friend Ekky told me that one of Nuu's friends was available to show me a waterfall. After a slow morning of breakfast and chatting, we made our way to the meeting point where Nazar met us with his motorcycle. By now I am feeling more comfortable on the back of a bike, which was good as it took at least 45 mins to get there. My tall legs proved a problem as I had to keep them in a cramped position as we rode. I felt like a crab with her claws forced up against my shell.

The last leg of the journey was along the side of a steep, forested hill. The trail was only a foot wide in some spots and the drop was far. I definitely pictured falling to my death... When we finally arrived at the mini parking lot, I was so happy to stand on my own and dreaded the thought of returning to the bike for both reasons.
Along the base of the valley. Two of our
young guide-friends.

But before that the waterfall. We made our way down the winding trail to the bottom of the valley. We could hear the roar of the water (and some very vocal insects) before we saw the river open before us. We were at the base of the valley and the foliage was thick on either side. As we followed the river around a bend, we saw a thin bamboo bridge maybe 4 beams wide.

As we started to cross the bridge, I noticed a group of 8 young boys jumping into the water near the base of the falls some 50 meters up stream. A couple were definitely naked. They saw us from a distance and I pretended I hadn't noticed yet by turning more to the right while they ran for some clothes. I was surprised to see a couple smoking as we approached through the remaining trail. The youngest looked like he was 5 or 6 and the oldest no older than 11, maybe 12. By now I've been told that smoking is a large part of Indonesian culture. In many rural parts especially, families pass down blends from father to son. Despite government efforts to discourage smoking, it's not going anywhere. Ekky even told me that when faced with the choice, many of her friends would buy a pack of cigarettes over food when money is tight. But it's one thing to hear this and another to see a group of kids younger than my own students lighting up.
The falls, Coban Jidor.
Large rocks encroached the river near the base of the waterfall, making a mini-pool and a small rapid-slide. A great spot for jumping around on a warm morning. The water was cold and smelled like clay, but refreshing after the hot journey on the back of the motor bike. At first, I was only going to dip my feet in, but the boys kept staring at me and I could tell some were shy. I wanted to make them comfortable, or at least make them see me as a regular human and not just a foreigner with light eyes and skin. A couple were casually tossing stones at stacks near the base of the waterfall so I joined in. With a lucky shot, I knocked over a tower and the competition began with us scrambling for more stones to throw. When the towers were all collapsed, the only thing left was to jump into the pool. In shorts and a t-shirt, I wasn't prepared to swim, but with most of the boys in their underwear, I guess I blended in.

As the sun moved overhead and the valley became eclipsed in shade, we made our way out. A day well spent with moments to remember. I enjoyed the ride back along rural roads (and luckily the way out was not along the same narrow hill face as the road in!). The cities get so congested that it was nice to see what life is like on the outskirts. Plus the landscapes are beautiful.
Our gang of new friends.
I'm glad we lingered. I'm glad that it was more than just a photo-opt and that we made a connection, if small, with those boys.

Love and Hugs

P.S.
My friend put together a mini video with some of the moments. Feel free to check it out:


Thoughts from Caen

Dear people of the blogosphere and travel enthusiasts, I've been taking a bit of a different approach with my travels this summer and ...