January 30, 2011

London: Sitty Life, Fash-on and Supahmachkets

So London! Home of dear Queen Elizabeth. I actually caught a glimpse of the Queen when she was in Winnipeg, and now it was my turn to visit her homeland. From Barbados we flew on a double-tiered plane and had a very pleasant flying experience with Virgin Atlantic. I actually enjoyed listening to the flight attendants on the intercom because everything they said was with a British accent. Flying east basically meant we were fast-forwarding through time (AKA losing 7 hours), so we missed our regular sleeptime. This was when I was first introduced to jet-lag. We got to Gatwick airport early in the morning (approx. 6am) and customs grilled us like an English breakfast. They asked really personal questions (things my friends don’t even know) and didn’t make us feel welcome at all. But apart from that cold welcome, London was all-around awesome. I have never been to a city so clean. Not a scrap of garbage was seen on the streets- their citizens evidently take pride in their city and without tourists, their pigeons would probably have gone the way of the Dodo due to lack of food. (It’s also possible that the city’s maintenance crew is well staffed.) And although there were a lot of people everywhere, the city ran in organized chaos. For instance, it was understood that slower traffic kept right on escalators. There also seemed to be an abundance of police officers who effectively handled crowd-control, but would also graciously pose for photos with tourists (see said tourists below).

I had always heard about European fashion out-styling anything I would see in Winnipeg, and I had prepared myself to see life-sized, magazine-paper doll versions of models strolling the English streets, tossing their hair in the wind, winking charismatic-ally while flashing perfect smiles. I’m kidding – I didn’t expect everyone to be smiling. In all seriousness, the majority of people I saw were very stylish. Not only were they stylish, but they all seemed to dress in a similar fashion. I guess that’s what happens when a city actually follows the same trends, at the same time. Flying in from Barbados my wardrobe was bright and tropical. I felt like a neon-sign walking through the streets of London. Everyone (and I’m not just exaggerating) wore neutrals. If they wore a bright color, it was a small statement piece like a shoe (yes, just one shoe) or a purse. Bustling corporate fashion had definitely replaced laid-back beach fashion: Hello “Neutral and stylish,” goodbye “tropical and tacky.” 

What were some widespread trends? – The 50s flapper look, flowers and floral prints, lace, ribbons, ruffles and pastels. Unlike the service workers in Barbados, London employees were mostly friendly and extremely nice. We also didn’t have to pay additional taxes on anything. If a purse was 10£, it was 10£ straight up. Mental math was so much easier when we didn’t have to calculate taxes. Many times I referred to money as “dollars” and they never hesitated to correct me.

I also have never seen so many briskly walking men in crisp, dark suits. Maybe it was assumed that such a large global city would have a high level of its population working in the information sector (hence: suits), but wow was it prevalent.
And man, were some guys preppy. Don’t get me wrong, I like preppy, and these London boys were executing it to a tee… a polo tee. Their looks were pulled together with perfectly quaffed hair; preppy sweaters all preppy-like, sprinkled with prepper; wide-rimmed, name-brand glasses; and man-purses. They probably called them “messenger bags,” but it didn’t matter what they were called because most men toted them around anyways so who would make fun of them? (Remember the Episode of Friends with Joey and his purse?). In Europe, these bags serve both a functional and fashionable purpose.

Shopping was fun- There was so much to see. The prices were reasonable, and Oxford street was just quite neat to explore – store after store with restaurants and more strategically situated stores. One store, Primark, was simply amazing. I had met this Russian boy at our hostel (his name was Leo) and he knew the city fairly well so I was asking him for recommendations on sights to see. I had asked him if he knew of any supermarkets and he instantly suggested Primark because it was a huge, popular store with cheap but nice merchandise. We ended up going there and it turned out to be a clothing store (supermarket/department store, tomatoe/tomato... or the lackthereof). But it turned out great because it was everything he had described it would be, just minus the foods and household goods I was expecting.

But that’s enough for now, so what’s the lesson from this post? Life works better when there’s an orderly system and we follow it, littering is connected to the level of consideration you have for things outside a stone's throw from yourself, and some people think supermarkets are super markets.

January 15, 2011

Creepy: Calcite deposits, people who stare and cockroaches

I think I’ve got the Blug- The Blog Bug. I just spent a lot of my free time tweaking the template design and settings. Don’t fret, I’m not actually ill. My immune system is like Fort Knox – impenetrable. I haven’t been sick all winter and I don’t have a logical answer for my immunity. Maybe my white blood cells have the work ethic of Justin Bieber’s PR team, or maybe it's just a blessing. Anyways, you didn’t come here to read about leukocytes or J-Biebe.

Let’s continue with Barbados. As the flakes steadily fall and crystallize on Winnipeg’s roads and the city continues to spend millions on snow removal, I like to think about the warmth of Barbados. Do I wish I was there right now? No. I’d rather be cozy under a blanket than sweating 24/7. You’re probably thinking, “Chui, you’re crazy- A hot beach would beat a cold sidewalk anyday. Which one would you rather be laying on?” But make note of this: We didn’t really have air conditioning unless we were at the Bank or a shopping centre. So besides nighttime, there was this permanent, icky film on our skin. Some might call it sweat, but the jury’s still out on that one. It just wasn’t pleasant.

However, when we were in the Ocean,  everything was copacetic baby. It cooled us off like nothing else. The unfortunate thing is, people weren’t created to live in the Ocean. So out of the water it was fairly icky. Oh and did I mention the bug bites? These weren’t our normal West Nile Mosquitos out there. These were stealthy bed-bug-esque ones. We never saw them, but woke up with big, itchy bites all over. The number and level of discomfort these bites caused me was far worse than the bites I suffered at Gospel Light Bible Camp, Clear Lake.

We also had the chance to visit Harrison’s Cave. 10 bucks you can’t guess what kind of geological feature that is. A CAVE! I majored in Geography, so I found it really interesting. But I’m not going to bore you with all the details- just some. (Skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to read about it). As we were briefed on the cave’s geological history and the role of plate tectonics, I was reminded of the many classes I took in the Faculty of Environment, Earth and Resources. It was no longer just theory and concept, it was physical and tangible. We rode on this trolley through the tunnels, which was cool (literally and figuratively), and calcite water was dripping, which was also cool (more so literally). We saw flowstone, stalagmites and stalactites. I saw the beginnings of a column, when the calcite builds up between a stalagmite and stalactite to form a pillar-like structure. These take millions of years to form because it’s a very slow, successive process. Outside of this experience was this rainforest-like vegetation area. Here we saw monkeys and lizards. This is also where a millipede crawled over Faith's foot. (Sorry Faith, I think you might've repressed this memory).

Ok, if you’re still with me, here are a few more experiences:
- A lot of the locals liked to unabashedly stare at us. You know that social situation when you look at someone and they’re looking at you, and you quickly avert your gaze even though you both know you were both looking? Anyways, most people look away when they get “caught,” but these locals didn’t. One time I decided to stare back in hopes of hindering this one guy’s stare. It didn’t work, and it just got really awkward. It was like I had challenged him to a staring contest and he knew I would lose.
- We went 10-pin bowling at the only bowling alley on the island. The bowling alley also had bumper cars. We didn’t participate. Ever since I caused a huge traffic jam at Wonderland, I’ve had anxiety towards this mock fender-bender experience. About 5 seconds into driving, I had front-ended the wall and didn’t know how to unjam myself because the cars didn’t have a reverse gear. Shortly after, a guy hit me and consequently couldn’t move his car, and then about 6 other cars followed suit, creating a long line of stalled vehicles all because of me. I can still hear the guy on the PA system, “Would the girl in the blue car please turn her wheel all the way to the left.” I didn’t realize he was speaking to me until the guy who had hit me screamed, “Turn your wheel all the way to the left!” I couldn’t hear him, and yelled, “What?” And then the ride was over. So that was embarrassing and not fun. But back to Barbados…
- Birds crapped on Steph, multiple times. Steph was definitely a visible minority. Two guys walked by and asked to take a picture with her once haha. As for me, we saw a total of 4 Asians on the island, and 3 of them were part of a family.
- I had the chance to taste Sour Sap, Guava and Sugar Cane.
- And we saw our first Cockroach…

The three of us all happen to be irrationally scared of bugs. It was during the evening and we were in the process of doing laundry when I saw it. In the corner of my eye, I saw this orangey-brown critter,  about the size of a baby mouse. As I freaked out, it skittered underneath the computer and to my horror, disappeared. Naturally when I informed Steph and Faith that the cockroach was MIA, we took the precautionary measures to protect ourselves and our possessions from coming in contact with it. Steph and Faith hastily zipped up all of our backpacks (which were a hallway and a room away) and I jumped up onto a chair and stayed there clutching my laundry sheets until I knew for sure the roach was dead. The roach was shortly found (by Faith’s parents), confirmed dead, disposed of, and all was well. Irrational = Absurd, ridiculous and unjustifiable.

That about sums up our 2 week Barbados experience, and next up was London, England. The 3 of us would be on our own now. With a hostel booked and an itinerary planned, the United Kingdom beckoned us as we flew 7 hours over the Atlantic Ocean to Prince William’s soon-to-be marriage location.

January 11, 2011

Barbados: Roundabouts, Sand Dollars and Pablo


Flying over the Atlantic Ocean and seeing turquoise water lapping the island’s shoreline was probably the highlight of our descent. I’ve always had an unexplained attraction to most things nautical (seashells, beaches, oceans, marine life, etc.) and I love the colour turquoise. Two of my favorite things were getting together and I was invited to the party! When we stepped off the plane, there wasn’t a big metal tunnel to walk through- we were instantly outside. The heat hit me hot and humid. I’ve never been in a moderate tropical climate before, but you know that fresh-out-of-the-shower feeling when the air is moist and warm? It felt like that, but all of the time.  Palm trees make up a lot of the vegetation, along with all sorts of tropical flora I can’t name.

I could spend pages describing the differences between Barbados and Winnipeg, Manitoba, so I’m just going to list a few observations in point form:
- The houses are curvy, unique and painted in a variety of pastel colors.
- The colors in general are very bright. E.g. The sky, flowers, houses. The grass really was greener.
- There are a lot of roundabouts and the roads are narrow. Even if we were driving 50km/h, it felt like we were going 80 clicks through a construction zone.
- Sunsets over the Atlantic Ocean are gorgeous. Like I’ve said, sunsets the likes of those I’ve only seen in screensavers.
- The night critters are really loud and obnoxious.
- Wait until I tell you about the prices on goods. I assume high prices are due in part to the island’s accessibility to export. But a bag of Dorjitos was $16.50 and a small tub of ice cream was $29.50.
- The pace of life is significantly and noticeably slower. E.g. The locals walk a lot slower and the lifestyle is much more easygoing.  Speed walking doesn’t exist here.  Neither do bus schedules- we waited for a bus that never came once.

August 11/10

This was a special day because it was Steph’s birthday.  She was expecting a surprise PG-13 video present from Ben. Here’s a quote I found that I found funny: “Ben had technical difficulties with [Steph’s] surprise birthday gift on facebook, so she couldn’t view it. But we soon got up and forgot about it (well I did at least) as we headed to the beach (as in OCEAN) at 7:30 am.” This sounds a little harsh, but meeting the Ocean for the first time in my life was not unlike a hardcore fan finally meeting the singer he/she has been obsessing over for years! The Ocean might’ve eclipsed Ben’s surprise, but we still eventually got to see a full moon. Ha ha… anyways. In hindsight, it was a very well done and funny video. Ok I’m going to put an end to these puns… now.

So, the ocean. It was the best water to swim in- super clear, warm and very easy to float in. There were actual currents, and a tide, and I got to taste salt water (not on purpose). We spent the morning floating on our backs, soaking up the sun and searching for sand dollars.  The morning was blissful and it was everything I had hoped for and more. *sigh*

For supper we decided to have KFC. The Bajan dollar is exchanged at about $1.98, so we saw the highest fast food prices ever on those menu boards! Our 9pc. birthday meal cost over $40! Although we ordered globalized fast food, this isn’t to say that local food isn’t good. I loved Bajan food- flying fish, steamed veggies,  and other locally grown foods prepared in tongue-tantalizing flavours. 

Oh, I just read some amusing entries. I was the only single one on this trip, and so many times I would sit there with my eyes glazing over while Steph and Faith went on random tangents about their boyfriends (I love you Ben and Ty). One time when we were at Chilly Moo’s (a fantastic ice cream shop with concoctions such as ‘I dream of creamy’), one of them breathed, “Oh if he was here he’d probably order me this…” I deadpanned that my non-existent boyfriend would probably order me a swirl cone. Faith named him Fabio. What a pair- Chui and Fabio. (That doesn’t sound like a circus act at all…).

This other time we were at a friend’s rental beach house picking ripe fruit off her trees (the three of us were just watching the action unfold). She happened to have these wild turtles roaming the yard and two of them were mating. Upon seeing this, she passively said, “Oh, they’re always mating.” Faith retorts, “Nice…” That's what she said. But maybe you had to be there...

A few days later we woke up to a tropical downpour. I discovered Faith and Steph chatting and playing with a small snail on the balcony. Steph dubbed him Pablo and was nearly as excited about him as she was about flying for the first time. Then amongst the pitter patter of steady rain we heard the faint melodic sounds of music that universally beckoned the young and old, near and far. It was an ice cream van. As the music grew louder we gazed down the road and Faith furiously waved at the van as the man drove past, a block away. We figured it was a long-shot because it was rainy and well, we were on a balcony and the van was a block away, but surprisingly he waved back, and proceeded to rev his van and reverse all the way down the narrow street that led to the house we were staying at.  We got our ice cream and to the dismay of Faith and Steph the snail was killed. Turns out it was an African snail,  a pest to the country and possibly poisonous.

But this has gone on long enough! More adventures to follow, but until next time… I’ll leave you with something symbolic our snail friend Pablo showed me: The things that bring you temporary happiness may actually be slowly poisoning you and although deception might move slowly, it always leaves  a trail… a slimy trail. Too dark/deep? Sorry, I just watched 2 episodes of One Tree Hill.

January 8, 2011

Let's Go Blogging... Backwards

Well hello. It’s taken me quite awhile to get going on this blog thing. Maybe I just hadn't felt anything I had done was significant enough to start off my blog with, as we all know how important first impressions are. Maybe blogging is like exercising- once you stop, it’s easy to take a long hiatus. I just never started, so the tough part was taking that first step and jumping on the blog wagon. But what has brought me back from the brink of never taking that jump? What prompted me to end that lengthy hiatus? Well, long story short, I was leafing through the daily journal I had kept overseas and I thought, hey, why don’t I blog about my trip this past summer? I could use the journal as my point of reference and expand on and fabricate the rest! It would also provide me with a more detailed account of our adventures while they're semi-fresh, and subjectively remind my travelers (Stephanie and Faith) of all the interesting and crazy experiences we had. I am extremely glad that I maintained my journaling regime, as it allows me to find spots of clarity in what was such a whirlwind and blur of a trip.

Ok, here we go! Enough with this dry reflection stuff.

August 9th. This was the date Steph, Faith and I were to fly to Toronto. This was the date we had been anticipating since we booked our tickets in spring. Ben kindly picked us up that morning and drove us to the airport. With eager faces and a 2-month wardrobe meticulously rolled up in our ginormous backpacks, we set off to leave for Toronto. This happened to be Steph’s first time on a plane. Faith and I were semi-experienced travelers (we had flown a handful of times), but this would be Steph’s first ever experience with her feet literally 22,000 feet off the ground. This novelty-factor was very evident after we found our seats and prepared for take off. I was basically blinded by the light reflecting off Steph’s wide-eyes and broad smile. I think the list of things Steph DIDN’T comment on would be plane lengths shorter than the things she DID comment on: “I see clouds! I see the ground! Oh my gosh we’re moving!” So that was entertaining.

We arrived at Pearson airport knowing we would have to camp out overnight. For those of you who have never spent a night in an airport, I’ll be the first to say it’s probably worse than camping. I’m not much of a camper; the ground is lumpy and hard, and when you wake up everything is covered in dew or bugs. Anyways, here’s a quote from my journal, “I got very little sleep on the floor, using my day pack as my pillow and listening to Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift on the PA. It was peaceful, just not comfy.” The waiting area seats have these handrails that prevent you from laying stretched-out across them (the nerve of them, I know), and although the floor is carpeted, it’s about 1mm thick- very different from my pillow-top mattress. The airport seemed engineered to deter loitering or something... But please, be aware that I didn’t expect this trip to be comfortable. The life of a backpacker is known to be adventurous and very random. This also wasn’t my first night with barely any sleep so that wasn't a huge anomaly from my lifestyle. We ended up roaming around alot, with the airport as our playground…minus playground equipment except for a giant, abstract aquarium with plastic cubes (see below). But boredom-laced insomnia aside, we were looking forward to tomorrow and the warm, out-stretched arms of Barbados...