Haarlem So Far…

Haarlem is so beautiful.  It has a lot of the architecture and canals of Amsterdam, without all the tourists and crowds.  Plus it’s only fifteen minutes by train from Amsterdam, so for the price of about $20 return, the two of us can go there and back as a day trip.  We have really been enjoying our time here.  It is peaceful and quiet and we spend our days like local residents.  We shop at the local market on Fridays which is just down the street and cook all our meals at the little dutch home we are staying in via AirBnb.  Fortuitously, the owners of the home where we are staying, went away on holiday a week after our arrival, trusting us with their whole house, with access to the kitchen, washing machine et al.  Their niece also came to stay after about a week of us being here and she is funny, warm and a nice roommate to share the kitchen with.  

We usually go outside during the day and go for long walks exploring the area, unless the weather is too bad (like today).  We’ve had a few blizzards and the snow has been on the ground for most of the time we have been here.  Being Prairie, the wind here can be really harsh and I’ve had my fair share of wind burn.

On the “what next” front, from here we head to Tokyo.  It’s something I have not shared with a lot of people, although it’s not exactly a secret.  I just prefer to tell my closer friends and family (and blog readers, of course!) and keep the news from my friends/associates in Japan so that I may ease into our arrival and not get too overwhelmed by people wanting to visit.  This trip comes with a lot of anxiety for me.  While I know it’s the right decision for us for now, like our first move to Japan, we are starting out on a very tight budget and it will be so until we get some income coming back in.  For M, he will be writing and probably picking up some adult evening classes for teaching during some of the weekdays and for me, I hope to teach in the public school system this time, as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher).  But until then, it’s going to be tough. And yet, I wonder to myself-what’s the worst that can happen?

On a positive note though, I am looking forward to some things about there as well.  Far from perfect, I have a lot of sentimental feelings towards Japan and have missed it a lot over the years.  When I think about it, sometimes I can’t even believe I will be there in a few weeks time.  Will I be culture shocked? Will it be like an old home and feel quite familiar? Will I ever get used to earthquakes? (I didn’t the last time we lived there).  Will I get a good job? How will our guesthouse be? Vacillating between these thoughts, and my work on focusing on the present and my current surroundings have been filling my brain.  I have been sitting on my cushion every day to help to clear my thoughts and alleviate my stress.  It’s helping a lot.  Thanks for sticking with me during this next transition!

New Year…New Beginnings…

                                                                                                                                             Source: flickr.com via Blair on Pinterest

Well, we are into January now and it’s treating me pretty well so far.  I had a spectacular New Years Eve.  I don’t think I can do it full justice by trying to explain it too fully on here but I’ll just give you a brief summary.  We left the house fairly late after a few weeks and walked to Brandenburg Gate to celebrate the countdown with what was predicted to be about a million people.  I have spent New Years in quite a few different countries now, but I have never seen fireworks like I’ve seen in Berlin on New Years Eve.  *EVERYONE* has fireworks.  The streets walking to Brandenburg Gate are lined with people, every few steps, with their families, friends and children, with champagne and other libations, lighting off insane amounts of fireworks and fire crackers.  Some do make colours and something to look at.  Others are purely to make a crazy loud BANG!!! that I never got used to.  Bottles, paper, small fires in the street.  Everywhere.  Craziness.

Tonnes of people walking towards Brandenburg Gate.  In truth, we didn’t get more than two or three blocks away from it.  We could see the gate and the main fireworks display but there were too many people to get to the other side of the gate, where allegedly there was 2 miles of stages and food stalls and included performances by the Pet Shop Boys?  Anyway, we didn’t get anywhere near that.  But it was all good because we were in such a nice group of people who were all happy, fireworks were exploding all around us on all sides of the street and it was all very beautiful. 

After midnight we headed to Tresor, a nightclub that I’ve been wanting to go to for at least 12 years.  It’s famous to me for the music they play, and their record label.  Tresor used to be in an old bank vault but it’s now in a huge old power station.  I’ve never seen a club of this size before.  It took us at least 45 minutes to figure out where all the four bars were in the building.  Stairwells that lead to other bars, underground, pitch dark tunnels and DJ’s in industrial underground cages.  It was so, SO fun and we stayed all night, without narcotic assistance! Staff were so friendly, it wasn’t as smoky with cigarettes as the other club we went to here and the air circulation was generally better, mostly due to the size of the place.  Walking home in the Berlin sunrise was another highlight and the streets were filled with garbage that is still not all the way cleaned up. 

We’ve been taking it easy since that night.  I have been getting over a cold that I woke up with on the 30th but I feel much better now.  Met up with some friends for dinner and today it has been pouring with rain and windy all day so we’ve been working in our next travel plans and bus routes/schedules etc.

I haven’t been really updating my blog too much on what’s been going on behind the scenes with regards to our future plans and where we are “settling down” as much as we ever do, after this stint of travel.  We had shallow hopes of staying in Europe for work, but as I mentioned before, Europe’s not really in a good way as far as jobs go and we frankly just can’t compete with multilingual people holding EU passports.  We always sort of knew in the back of our heads that we’d end up back in Japan, but we were keeping open to any possibilities in the meantime.  Now that we are getting closer, and our allotted visa time in Europe is 2/3 done, we have to get more realistic and we’ve come to the conclusion that we want to give it a go in Tokyo again. 

We lived in Tokyo for a little over 2 years from 2005-2007 and we haven’t been back since.  I’ve missed it terribly during my absence.  I love so many things about it.  There are difficulties and challenges to going there, of course.  One major one being a vegetarian that no longer even eats seafood as we did last time we lived there.  It wasn’t too difficult to get by eating seafood there.  Not eating seafood is going to prove a HUGE challenge, especially with the language barrier.  I speak SOME Japanese and I can read and write SOME but I have a long way to go. Getting work, interviews, commuting and the massive strain on our finances getting set up are all going to be hard things to deal with at first, just as they were the first time we moved there.  But we know we aren’t ready to live in Canada again.  At least for now.  Apart from our family and friends there, who we can still visit, there is nothing really there connecting us to a feeling of “home”.  I worry about disappointing my family and friends by going there, but we have to do what is best for us.  I know they’ll be worrying about us and the earthquakes.  If it wasn’t for the tsunami of last year, I’m sure they wouldn’t be AS worried for us, but now that that has happened, it adds an extra strain on people, I know.  And it’s worrying for us, too.  But I am always resisting the pull to live in fear or to take the easy way out of things.  It’s easier to live in Canada, in many ways.  But I feel it’s also a compromise.  It’s hard to explain and it’s hard for other people to understand.  Basically I’d rather DIE doing what I love (travelling/living abroad) than die inside from not living my life how I want to.  Okay, this is getting cheesy.

So, we are due to check out here on the 11th.  We ended up extending our stay here by another week.  And now we are planning a return to the Netherlands.  We really want to travel to more countries on this trip.  I really wanted to go to Paris. But since we have this big plans now of heading to Japan and we need to buy some pretty big plane tickets, we need to lay low to save funds! Holland is the cheapest way for us to do this.  We found a beautiful room to rent in Haarlem which is outside of Amsterdam by about 15 minutes by train.  We rent a room in a B&B but then the owners are going to be away so they are leaving us with their place to ourselves! The rent, being out of Amsterdam is a HUUGE savings for us.  It’s pretty much the cheapest place we could stay and also happens to be in a country we are so in love with.  It works out cheaper than renting a flat for a month in my own country, by quite a lot! I’m very excited to get to know a new part of Holland and explore a new small city.   It’s close enough to Amsterdam that we’ll probably buy a monthly pass for the train to get back and forth.  Groceries and whatnot are also slightly cheaper there than Germany. 

We have a lot of adventure coming our way in 2013 but for now we’re going to take it day by day to enjoy our last week in Berlin.  Staying focused on the present while being mindful of our bigger goals.  Thanks for sticking with me!


Packing up and Leaving Again: Zen and the Art of the Unconvential Lifestyle…

                   Source: onextrapixel.com via Jose Ernesto on Pinterest

Well, it’s packing up time again here.  Sorry about the extra small font by the way.  It always does this after I post a Pinterest photo because it’s copying the font of that “source” link above, and I’m not WordPress-savvy-enough to figure out how to fix it.  Just thought I would give a quick update on what’s going on here.  We have less than a week left before we leave the country and it’s snowing like crazy.  10cm due today and more coming tomorrow.  I can’t help but worry a bit that my flight going out could be delayed.  But I guess there is no point in worrying about what I can’t control.  Anyway, as I’ve mentioned in a few forums before, I’m slightly stressing about the size of my backpack.  I’m dealing with a much smaller bag than I used to travel with and it is the same backpack I took to SE Asia.  Difference being, when I left for SE Asia, I needed SMALL things: tank tops, bathing suits, t-shirts etc.  Now I’m heading into countries experiencing winter and I need all my heavy, winter clothes.  Someone suggested to me just fitting what I can, and buying sweaters second-hand as I need them.  That might be the right idea.  I’m getting very excited to leave, but also very nervous.  I remember being this way before the last trip, so I know it’s normal.  The fear of the unknown.  The indeterminate travel time.  The not really knowing where we will end up.  This is the fun stuff we sign up for and we do it because we love the freedom, but I always need practice embracing the uncertainty.  I’m working on this.  This requires a lot of BREATHING.  A lot of LETTING GO. I’ve spent a lot of time during the past week,  trying to justify to other people my lifestyle choices, which is always annoying because no one can understand why we do the things we do.  We’re mid-thirties, no mortgage, no kids, no assets and everything is in boxes, pretty much.  We’ve spent the better 1/3 of the last ten years abroad and we prefer it that way.  We are happy with the way we live our lives but it makes other people uneasy and makes other people question their choices and makes them get defensive.  I met a perfect stranger on Saturday who gave me the typical, “Must be nice…” when I told her we’ve only been back in the country since May and we’re leaving again.  I immediately reacted, in my mind, defensively, and then I tried to tell myself that she didn’t mean to sound ignorant, but she’s jealous.  To these people, I try to respond in a manner than makes them see my life from a different perspective.  Yes, it is nice.  It is very nice to live my life of relative freedom and to not be tied down to a house or children.  But this came about by a series of choices and sacrifices.  These choices and sacrifices are the same choices and sacrifices and RISK that are out there and available to any person.  I did not come from a wealthy background.  I do not have a lot of money.  I am not “lucky” as some people like to tell me.  I DO NOT have some of the things that you have.  These are some of the things you CHOSE to have.  I CHOSE to have other things.  One day I will CHOOSE to have other or different things.  If you have been reading my blog for a while, or if you know me personally, you will know my life is not stress free, or without worries or challenges as some people seem to think.  Backpacking is not the same as resort travel.  Sometimes it’s hard.  Sometimes it’s tiring and there are bedbugs and missed buses and delays and waits.  But I love my choices overall.  I love my husband that I get to share these beautiful and amazing experiences with.  And I am not going to apologize for them.  I am trying to learn to meet criticism with kindness.  To realize that when people criticize my life, it is coming from a place of fear and misunderstanding and a longing they have inside them.  I am working on my compassion.  So I hope I don’t sound too cold.  I understand that some people’s choices may come across to them as accidents, or being pushed in a corner, or that some people feel they may have limited choices in their life.  That’s a conversation for another time I think.  I know what these feelings are.
I have learned, in my limited experience that we are capable of more than we might think and that choices are there that we may not see and that no one is going to make them for you, or rescue you, or help you.  I believe less in luck (although I do believe in chance and opportunity!) and more of making the best of the situations that you have.  This might not mean traveling, but escaping and embracing change in the small ways you can, in your house, with your children.  Starting a home business.  Doing something creative.  Making something, taking a class.  Reading.  Growing something.  We have this latent need to stretch and grow within us.  It’s up to us how we feed that. See y’all in a different time zone.  xo

Rainy Days and Mindfulness…

                Source: tassels.tumblr.com via Trisha on Pinterest

Sadly, this is not my current view.  A matter of perspective, I suppose, but for whatever reason, I can find rainy days a lot more tolerable if they are beautifully framed by romantic old buildings and cobblestones.  The summer here, in the Canadian Prairies, has been a bit of a wash-out so far-forcing us to reevaluate plans and making it more difficult for me to find the motivation to get the stuff done that seemed so easy while I was away from here.  I have had a lot of discouragement these days.  Not to sound overly negative, this summer has been a bit of a struggle for me.  But in those struggles, I am trying to find lessons.  I believe a lot of my disappointment in the weather, and as a consequence, in the slower business/money situation, is a result of expectations, of looking a bit too far ahead and assuming that everything would be the same as last summer when the weather was near perfect and the money came easy.  Don’t get me wrong, we are doing just fine and are very fortunate in the money we have made so far, but we have had many days where we have been rained out.

Some of my other struggles are a bit more psychological.  I am tackling these by focusing on a mindfulness practice, focusing on the now and finding appreciation in small things: a cup of tea, the beauty of the rain and the birds in the backyard, my little garden that thrives despite the weather.

As my man has told me, whatever money we do end up making, and whatever we do end up doing, it will be wonderful, as it always is.  We have never taken a leap that hasn’t worked out in the end.  There are lessons even in the small mistakes.  Whatever we are doing now, is going to lead up to whatever it is that we will be doing.  A little over a week ago, I attended a book reading/signing by Lama Marut.  He is a new author to me, and I came  across him just by seeing a poster on a telephone pole: a western man, in buddhist robes.  His book sounded intriguing and I’m always interested in a western perspective on how to incorporate Buddhism into our daily lives.  One thing he said really caught my attention.  He told the audience to look at our lives 5 years ago.  Did we ever imagine that we would be where we are today, or imagine that all the things that occurred, would occur? Most people shook their heads no.  We have no way of knowing what will come ahead of us.  Then he explained a philosophy I have heard before, but that I often forget: if there is something about your life that you don’t like and you can change it, change it.  If you have something about your life that you can’t change, don’t worry about it, because you can’t change it. We don’t know what our future will bring no matter how much planning, trying, managing, purchasing, organizing we do.  Often easier said than done, but wise words.

                                                                                                                                                             Source: facebook.com via Wendy on Pinterest

Back in Kuala Lumpur? Seriously?

                                                                Source: trekearth.com via anna on Pinterest

Hey guys! Been a while since I’ve had a chance to post and I apologize for that.  It’s been a wild and stressful past week but it’s mellowing out now I think/hope.  I’m not sure where we left off so I’ll just give you all a little update on what we’ve been up to the past while:

  • Went back to Bangkok from Chiang Mai and picked up M’s new passport, no problemos.
  • The next day we headed out to Thai immigration to attempt to extend our Thai visa.  By this point it was probably March 27th or so and our visa expired on the 1st of April.  
  • Getting to immigration was an all day affair, pretty much.  We had been there before, but the directions we looked up didn’t look to familiar.  It was, however, around the same area as the Canadian embassy so we’d a vague idea, but it turned out it was about a thirty minute walk from the nearest Skytrain station in about 37c heat.
  • When we finally found immigration, after having to ask a few people for directions, we found out that they moved their offices, despite the information on their website.  The office we had previously visited on a past trip now only services Burmese, Cambodian and Laotian applicants.  We felt defeated and it was too late to go find the new office. The map we were given was all in Thai.
  • The next day, probably the 28th by now we set off to look for the new Immigration office.  For whatever reason, they decided to very inconveniently locate the building in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE in an industrial complex out by Don Mueng airport.  Inaccessible by public transit, we had the option to take the skytrain to the end of the line and then taxi it, or take a local mini van service that Thai’s use.  We opted for the mini van service.
  • Rode the mini van till the end of the line, having no idea where to get off, no one to ask and no communication with the driver.  Realized we were lost when everyone else got out and we were at the end of the road.  Tried to get our point across the driver.  He took us to his depot and walked us to the road where we got another mini van going the other direction (back the way we came).  We finally got to the industrial complex and from there it was about another 1.1km walk (according to a sign we passed).  We were seriously in the middle of nowhere.
  • Found the building, and by the time we got there, the office was closed for lunch.  Yahoo.
  • We used the lunch break to fill out forms, glue photos and get everything ready.
  • Office finally opened and we went through a series of desks while they checked our documents until we finally got a queue number to meet with an immigration officer.
  • Number got called.  We were quickly shut down and told that we had no visa to extend, that what we have is an entry stamp and not a visa and that we could either pay to have a 7 day extension, or leave the country and re-enter to get another 30 days.
  • I’ll point out now, again, that it was either the 28th or 29th and we had about 2 days to figure out what the heck we were going to do next.  Rookie mistake thinking we had a visa.  So stupid, considering we’ve actually had a formal Thai visa before, but regardless of what we thought we had, we still thought that you could get an extension.  Anyhoo.  No.  Defeated we took a cab back to the Skytrain station and headed back.
  • During all of this drama, we also formally decided to go back to Saskatchewan for another summer of working with M’s parents.  This meant that we had to cancel our return ticket which we did before we actually found out we couldn’t stay in Thailand.  While we could postpone our BKK-SEOUL portion of our ticket till May 5th no problem, there were currently no available seats in May to get us from SEOUL-YVR.  We had a few options.  Well, I should say, we currently have few options.  We are on two different waiting lists for different dates, or we can reroute our ticket to put us in LAX for a layover before going to YVR.  (Nightmare of an option-have you been to LAX? They’re scary…I can’t imagine what they’d do to us after being away in SEA for 6 months).  Anyway.  Changing our ticket date costs nothing as we had an open ticket.  But upgrading, rerouting and whatnot so that we can have a layover in SEOUL again costs quite a bit.  Not as much as buying a whole separate ticket from SEOUL to YVR which is also another option we are looking at.  So anyway, point being, we planned all of this out as best we could before we found out that we would have to leave Thailand in two days and fly elsewhere.  Cha-ching!  And we still don’t have a ticket home.
  • Surprisingly, despite the level of stress we were going through at this point, we kept fairly level-headed.  We just said aloud that this is the way it was, and there was nothing we could do about it, so we best just find a ticket somewhere.  And that’s where KL came in.
  • We thought about flying to Laos since it was one place we had planned on going on this trip and changed our mind. But we decided against it for reasons that are a whole other long-winded post.
  • KL was one of the cheapest return flights (for some reason flying return with Egypt Air was cheaper than flying with Air Asia-totally bizarre).  We booked the flight and now here we are back in familiar KL in our familiar guesthouse.  
I never thought we’d go back to KL on this trip.  We spent WAAAAAY too much time and money here earlier on in our trip, including Xmas and New Years.  But we’ve decided to quit our whingeing.  There are far worse things than having to spend a few days in KL.  It’s a nice break of modernity after travelling in rougher places.  Our guesthouse is nice and clean and has air conditioning and its cooler here than Bangkok right now and it’s been raining every day since we’ve been here.  I can’t believe I’ve missed the humidity and rain! Thailand feels quite dry and hot now and it’s at least 4 or 5c cooler here now.  Malaysian food is great.  I’ve had laksa twice so far, Indian food for dinner yesterday and super cheap.  Our room is definitely more expensive than Thailand or Vietnam but the food is cheap so maybe it balances out somewhere…at any rate, here is where we are now.  
As for going back “home” I have mixed feelings.  I am not a die-hard living in Canada fan as you probably all know by now if you read my blog at all.  I am very fortunate to have been born in the first world and I am very lucky to come from Canada in many ways.  But I do have my problems with it.  Right now our relationship is classified “complicated”.  Me and Canada. 
A part of us really wanted to go to Japan.  I feel sad that I’m missing my favourite time of year in Japan right now and that the cherry blossoms are starting to bloom.  (I’ve also been told that cherry blossoms are blooming in Vancouver right now and they are soo beautiful there as well, but there is something to be sad for public drinking parties under the arches of the blossoms while you sit in your T-shirt, while Vancouver is raining all the time and VERY strict against public…well public anything, pretty much).  But we have come to the conclusion that in order to accomplish our 1 year goals we have going on, going back to Canada is pretty much the best idea for us right now.  M has writing deadlines he wants to have time for and I have an online business to launch.  And Japan will still be there next year. 
My long-term goal has always been to have a cafe and a shop/art space.  Since we have no plans to “settle down” anywhere long enough to set up something like that I have been working on ideas that allow me to travel and do what I love, which is to make “things”.  I plan to set up a proper website in the coming year with e-shop (and continue my blog of course!), branching into local retail when and where I can.  This gives me the space to build up my long-term goal slowly, while also being able to purchase and source things on my travels.  Huuuuge learning curve for me.  I know nothing about web design.  At all.  I have to hire someone for this.  I have a lot of ideas for what I want it to look like, but conveying those to someone who can bring my ideas to fruition while not financially ruining me is going to be tricky! But definitely doable.  It’s exciting! So I’ll probably continue with my Etsy shop and add things as I go along, while working on this side project of the website, while also working with M’s parents, helping them out with their Kettle Korn business.  Then we have some loose plans to travel again in the fall (to Europe), return for Xmas and then maybe go to Japan or?? We’ve decided it’s too hard to plan too far ahead.  So right now we set smaller, manageable goals.  
Sorry for the long-winded, no photo post! Not sure how many of you kept up till the end there, but I appreciate all of my readers who have been following my journey.  I have gained so many Twitter followers lately too and I love all of you! (except the spammers!! Grr!!)
Oh! One last thing regarding the Sharon Salzberg/Tranquility du Jour book club and my 28 day meditation challenge.  I suppose being that it’s April, I’m “done”.  But the journey for this is just beginning.  I admittedly fell off the meditation wagon a little bit during that last week.  The time that I needed to calm down the most (see above chaos) and I barely had the time to sit still at all! But I’m back on the horse this week, sitting on my pillow, on the floor of my guesthouse room.  It feels good.  My brain is no more calm really.  But I know it’s doing me good, I can feel it during the day.  Unfortunately it didn’t really seem like the book club group took off for this book for some reason and I haven’t been able to post anything else on the comments for the club either, and no one else has either.  So I never knew if that was just because of the shitty Thai internet cafes or if there was some kind of problem with the site.  Really? No readers or commenters? It’s kind of weird! As well, there is no book club selection up for April, so I don’t know if the book club kinda petered out or what.  I hope not! 
Anyway, no idea what we are going to do in KL for the next few days but I plan on catching up on some writing and relaxing a bit after the last week.  Then, if they let us back into Thailand, we’re hoping to head to a beach ASAP.  If we’re going back home, we really ought to get as much beach time in as possible.  We actually spent most of this trip in big cities and hardly any of it on a beach so we’re really looking forward to it.  As well, Songkran is coming, which is Thailand’s New Year’s festival and it’s sure to be mental.  It involves water fights, everywhere, which means I probably won’t get too many photos of it as the camera will be secure in a plastic bag wherever we end up! 
Thanks for reading and thanks again for following me here and on Twitter! It really means a lot to me that I have this community of regular readers all over the world that I haven’t even met! I hope we get to meet someday! 

Sharon Salzberg and my 28 day meditation-a-thon…

As for my daily sitting practice, I’m still plodding along although not yet daily.  My brain is just as scattered but I do get the odd moment of stillness.  What the biggest change has been so far, that I can only attribute to meditation are the moments of mindfulness that I’m having during my day, not during meditation. 

One big change is I’m finding myelf being more conscious of small moments and noticing them more and I’m trying to a more mindful eater as well.  I sually read when I eat which totally takes away from the conscious act of eating.  If I’m reading something, I’m not really even aware of what I’m eating which is strange for someone like me who likes food as much as I do!  So I’m going to try to focus on the act of eating more and have more moments of JUST eating.  I’m also finding (and this is so early stages so don’t get too excited!) that I’m having a slight amount of more consciousness in my reactions to things, which in particular is affecting my sometimes tendancy towards reactionary speech.  Again, early stages, but sometimes when I feel myself getting riled up about something or getting agitated with M which may lead to an bickering or an argument, I’ve been able to pull back, not say anything and notice how I’m feeling.  I’ve been able to say to myself: “Okay, this is obviously pissing you off-why is that, etc.” Usually it’s not about what we are talking about at all.  Sometimes I am grumpy for some totally other reason! Don’t get me wrong, sometimes it is because of something he has said (hah hah!) but I can sometimes choose my reaction if I remain conscious of the feelings I”m having.  Okay, that’s a lot of “sometimes” but I want to make clear that this is the very beginnings of a seed of something and I’m not claiming to have the answer to all or anything like that!

But anyway, it’s fantastic! It’s like free therapy! I find myself highlighting many passages in her book which I’m sure I’ll come back to later.  I don’t always have the time for a 20 minute sit but sometimes I’ll just take advantage of some moments during the day.