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!

xo

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European Christmas Scenes….

Some photos of our recent travels.  One of the draws of coming to Europe at this time of year is the wonderful christmas “vibe” everywhere.  So different from our last Christmas in Kuala Lumpur which, while affected, was special and beautiful in its own way.  Still, there is something very lovely about the snow and the markets and all the HUGE “tannenbaums”.  

The year is drawing to an end, the world did not end yet and we are going to have to make our onward plans very soon! We only have thirteen more nights in our little Berlin flat, with no onward plans.  This last minute type of travel that we’ve been doing the past couple of years has taught me a lot and still gives me a sense of uneasiness at times.  I am learning that everything does usually work out in the end and whatever happens is a part of the great adventure. 

Although I don’t know how I feel about New Years’ Resolutions, I do feel that January 1st is a good as time as any for a fresh start and a new beginning.  I have my own such “resolutions” and I have been thinking a lot about the New Year given that it’s going to mean so many new experiences for us.

We have more or less resolved to not head back home and instead settle abroad for a while.  This prospect is exciting and nerve wracking.  As much as we’d love to settle in the EU, it doesn’t look like now is our time.  The job market is saturated, the economy is not at its best and it’s quite competitive.  We are likely Asia-bound and probably back to Japan.  I will elaborate more about our thoughts on this in a future post. 

For now, I hope all of you are well, safe and happy.  Enjoy the holidays!

Germany so far…

Loving Germany so far, although I have to say, I don’t think I was fully prepared for the cold weather.  I mean, I packed as many warm clothes as I could, and I figured it would be cold, but I was a bit surprised to already be getting into -8c! I don’t know if I’m feeling it particularly because of my bad circulation, or because I am not acclimatised to cold (having missed out on fall and winter last year) but whoa, momma, it’s a lot to get used to.  It may just turn me into an alcoholic since I spend my time outdoors drinking mini bottles of booze to warm up! Still, I can’t complain because Germany is beautiful! Here are some photos of some of our recent happenings:
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From Amsterdam we travelled to Cologne where we spent just two nights.  On the first night we arrived, we quickly went out to get our first taste of the German Xmas markets we’ve been so excited to see.  Cologne had at least four of them and they can usually be found next to the historic buildings of the city.  Groups of friends huddle together and drink Gluhwein under the magical lights and imposing cathedrals.

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The next day we headed to the famous Cologne Cathedral to climb the 500 and something steps to the top.  Exhausting but worth the climb. 

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From Cologne we travelled to Nuremberg where we spent three nights.  Nuremberg is so beautiful (at least within the old walled city) and we spent a lot of time just walking around and taking photos.  We also spent my 35th birthday here, walking around, going out for a good Thai curry and a traditional Bavarian beer hall.  It was very nice!

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On our final day in Nuremberg we travelled 4km outside the city to visit a Museum dedicated to the Nazi Party Rallies that used to happen there.  It was a very creepy feeling to be standing in the place where Hitler gave his Rally speech to thousands of followers.

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We then travelled to Berlin where we have rented an apartment for one month.  And that’s where we are now! We are loving Berlin so far and having both been here before, we are looking forward to exploring the city and spending Xmas and New Years here.  Despite the cold, we are getting out and visiting flea markets and Xmas markets and with all the snow here lately, it is looking very Christmassy indeed!

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More photos of Berlin soon!

Kanchanaburi still and just riffin…

KanchanaburiView outside our room…

(journal excerpt): January 14th or 15th? Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Our last few days in BKK were good.  We met a woman from France working with an organization assisting Burmese refugees and we talked about the situation there and ethical travel.  She invited us to some kind of BUddhist ceremony to honour the teachers of her organization, including her, which will be tomorrow but we already left to come to Kanchanaburi yesterday.  The ride here was better than the last time we were here which was completely miserable and despite the fact I was totally going out on a limb and guessing the name of the place we stayed last time, we drove into the familiar parking lot in the early afternoon.  The place has changed a lot in the past four years and for the first time on our trip, it’s been a change for the better.  Our little room by the river still exists but now has air con and the place is also now outfitted with a swimming pool and wifi.  All for 70B more than we were paying in BKK for, well…a bed.  We were initially disturbed by the presence of mattresses in the sun as we drove in (good indication of bed bugs) and the unfortunate wooden bed frame in our room (also more susceptible to bed bugs) but we passed that initial first nervous night bite free.  Our sitting area outside our room is just as perfect as I remember it, although a lot more overgrown.  Our guesthouse sits on a narrow, shallow canal off the main river (that’s the River Kwai by the way) and we are fortunately separated from the main river by a wide jungle covered sandbar.  I say fortunately because there are only two annoyances to the tranquility here: one, the vacationing Thais and their hideous karaoke barges that float up and down the river and two the rampant and obvious prostitution everywhere.  However, apparently there has been a big crackdown in the karaoke boats recently (can’t say the same about the prostitution, which limits the hours they can cruise up and down the river and to be honest, we rarely hear them.  The prostitution, thankfully,  is mainly unobtrusive.   European men with women at least remotely in the same age bracket and no children or anything like that.  They shack up with them here and play house presumably until they’ve had enough of one another and then go on their respective separate ways or in the case of the couple in the room by the pool today, have a massive blow out fight and scream at each other until one checks out.  However, luckily our room is not by the pool, it’s by the canal and so apart from the occasional boat, it’s perfectly serene.

KanchanaburiView of canal and jungle-y sandbar

We have a coconut and papaya tree on the banks, shallow water with koi and other fish and a million chattering frogs at night.  It is a bird lovers paradise with an innumerable amount of strange jungle birds, some that sound like cats and another which sounds like a metronome…

…if we don’t want to sit by our room we can go upstairs by the pool where it is so beautiful.  The whole area is basically a garden with orchids of nearly every colour, frangipani, coconut and jasmine trees.  In the jasmine above the lounge chair at the pool, a little dove has a nest and every once in a while she adjusts herself and jasmine fall down from the tree.  Yes, it’s that sickeningly perfect…

KanchanaburiMore view of canal outside our room…

January 16, 2012-Slightly hazy morning here in Kanchanaburi and it poured rain yesterday for about an hour.  The mornings right now seem to start off cloudy and burn of throughout the day.  I don’t know if it was the weather or all the junk food I’ve been eating but I felt pretty shitty yesterday evening, mentally speaking.  I think it is also because I have another Skype interview with a Japanese company today and it’s made me feel weird.  Not at all nervous or anything like that, but just weird because it feels strange to try to prepare for a future that I don’t even know if it exists.  I guess that’s what we are always doing though, isn’t it? I am trying to get comfortable with uncertainty as Pema says.  This should be a good lesson for me…

KanchanaburiOrchids!

January 17, 2012-Sitting in the restaurant after breakfast-tummy not the greatest yesterday and today.  Too much spicy food I think.  I’ve had red curry three days in a row and then I topped it off with the spiciest glass noodle salad I’ve ever had.  Had a western breakfast of omelette and toast and really turned off eggs and fish lately in general.  Maybe I’m reading too many books on Veganism.  Had the Skype interview yesterday and got positive response back within an hour.  Basically what I got was provisional acceptance for a position in Japan.  What that means now is that after I email them back a form agreeing to some points (kind of a preliminary contract), they send my profile out to some suitable schools and then come back to me with an offer from a school board somewhere which I will either then accept or decline.  I should be elated about this.  An ALT job is exactly the kind of teaching job I was applying for and hoping to get but we aren’t 100% sure if we are going back to JP or not so I am happy but reserved.  Not to mention, because it’s a provisional acceptance, I’m not yet sure what the actual offer will end up being and if I’ll like it.  SO what I’ve decided to do is send back the paperwork tonight and wait for the job proposal.  As even my interviewer said and of course I know, I’m under no obligation to take it if it is not what I am looking for.  But as far as a job goes, it looks pretty good on paper at the moment …(removal of boring details)….a bit different than what I was doing there last time, that’s for sure…something to think about…

 KanchanaburiThis pool (at our guesthouse) is shaped like a wiener and b’s…seriously.

January 23, 2012-Monday again and still no reply to my JP email.  I’ve actually decided to stop caring or at least to start telling myself I don’t care.  If it is meant to be it will happen but at the moment I’m sceptical.  Still in K.Chan and although little happens from day-to-day, a lot is happening in terms of our travel planning or at least a lot has to happen very shortly as we only have 13 days left on our Thai visa.  We have, not entirely, but mostly, abandoned our plans to go to Laos for now.  Perhaps abandoned entirely for this trip.  I know it sounds awful but we are just not in the mood for the getting there at the moment.  Our options for getting to Luang Prabang from Chiang Mai have not been very attractive to us but we are still looking into it.  One option is to fly into LP on Lao Airlines (dubious reputation at best, although apparently not horrible and only 1 hour!) but it’s over $300 on the dates we have been checking.  For a one hour flight, this is ridiculous and they pretty much have the monopoly as far as I can tell.  Option 2 involves lengthy land based travel and a two-day horrible sounding slow boat with an overnight stop over in a nameless riverside village (okay, it has a name but …) Option 3 is the fast boat-allegedly terrifyingly dangerous (they make you wear a helmet!?) and notoriously overcrowded.  So Laos isn’t really selling us so far.  We aren’t the type to do the package tour thing, I won’t be getting up at the crack of dawn in LP to line up with the hordes of other tourists to take photos of the monks collecting alms and I have no desire to go tubing in Vang Vieng with all the pissed up gap year twats (sorry, that’s harsh but the truth).  Laos has a tonne more to see other than that, but perhaps our time is better spent elsewhere for now.  We’ve started calling all our alternative plans and ideas “just riffin'” to amuse ourselves and stop ourselves from going crazy.  Don’t ask me why.

“Just riffin’ but we could go to Chiang Mai by overnight train and then come back to BKK and travel overland into Cambodia…”

“Just riffin’ but we could go to Chiang Mai, come back to BKK and get a visa for Vietnam and go back to HCM and Mui Ne for surfing…”

So far we have no less than 5 “just riffin’s…some of them more likely (go to Vietnam) and some of them just totally out there: “Just riffin’ but uhh..we could fly to Paris for a month, rent a flat and then go to JP from there!” This one is particularly tempting except there goes ALL our money in one month and umm…it’s January and I have tank tops and fisherman pants…just riffin’...sorry, I know this is funny only to us…

KanchanaburiFrangipani, wilting in the heat…mmm my favourite smell…

I’m trying to approach this all with graditude.  More: “the world is our oyster-we are so lucky!” than: “Oh my god, what the hell are we doing?!?!”  We like staying here and could stay here for months probably, but our visa situation means we have to plan somewhat.  This one is expiring February 6th and if we go to Vietnam we’ll need a few days to apply, plan and wait and it is also Chinese New Year today which makes the flights go up, things get busier etc.  One thing I have learned though is when we try to plan too much, things tend to backfire or change so it’s a good lesson on being flexible and open to possibilities.  But wow, lots of internet research to do tonight on flights and whatnot.  Stay tuned…

Kanchanaburi…

Just a quick little post to let you all know I am still alive.  I will probably post more within the next few days.  Been re-relaxing myself after that last debacle and Kanchanaburi is a good place to do it! This is our second time here and we are staying at the same place as last time.  Since we did most of the “touristy” stuff last time we have just been hanging out poolside and M has been finally catching up on his writing assignments.  Anyway, for now, here are some very belated photos!

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New Years Eve in Kuala Lumpur!  It is so hard for my beginner self to take photos of fireworks.  This is one of the better ones and even this one didn’t turn out very well!

 IMG_1862Beautiful Singapore! These were hard to get to turn out too 😦

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Raffles

The dreamy Raffles hotel of W. Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling fame, to name a few.  I will stay here one day and redo my Singapore hotel experience!

For more photos, check out my flickr here!

Last few days in KL…

We are finally making some kind of plan to get out of here.  New Years last night was subdued but enjoyable.  We bought a couple of bottles of wine and walked to KLCC to see the fireworks.  There must have been 100,000 people there.  There was a sea of pushing people and with the weather over 30c even at night, I can’t even fathom how hot it was as we tried to make our way out of there when the fireworks were finished.  All in all, a lot of work for 9 minutes of fireworks.  Photos of that to follow!

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Looking forward to going to Singapore for a few days and then hopefully flying to Bali. We meet this next bit of our trip with trepidation. Singapore is expensive and then we have to shell out some mega bucks for the flight to and from Bali. It sucks to see our travel funds dwindling but it’s what we saved for and our plan was always to go to these places. You can’t do this stuff without spending money unfortunately! That being said, M just sold a script so we have some money coming in as well. Very proud of him and his partners and their move towards a successful film career. It’s a very long and difficult road but M is probably the most driven determined person I’ve met when it comes to getting what he wants.

Durian Truck!

Anyway, after making our way out of the Petronas Towers area we went back to Bukit Bintang to check out what was going on there. Tonnes of people on the street just wandering around.  No alcohol, no big destination.  It started thinning out after a while and it was pretty tame! We did see one guy getting arrested though. Hundreds of police were all around the Bukit Bintang area waiting for? I have no idea! It’s no wonder I had a hard time finding online what was going on in KL for NYE. The main event *IS* the street party. People just standing around, shooting cans of silly string and fake snow at everyone. It was quite funny when someone tried to sell us a can of the spray snow. “Ummm, no, we get that for free where we come from and it’s why we left!”

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Spent most of the day before yesterday wandering around the Lake Gardens area. It’s a beautiful, quiet, lush respite in the city and really the only outdoor space I’ve found here where people actually have the space to jog or um..segway.

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I’m looking forward to what is sure to be an eventful 2012 while trying not to look too far ahead.  It gets a bit overwhelming and the worst thing I can do right now is worry too much about the future, and miss what is happening right in front of my face, today. 

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Happy New Year everyone!!

Back in Kuala Lumpur…

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Back in Kuala Lumpur now after being in Cherating for probably around ten days.  We decided to make the trip back to the city so we could have a Xmas dinner that didn’t consist of rice and noodles (I know, we are so spoiled).  Doubly spoiled actually because we were welcomed by a surprise email from M’s aunt telling us to go out for a Xmas meal on her and she would pay us back! Very excited, we arrived back in KL at about 6pm on the 25th, checked back into our regular guesthouse and went to the Marriott as I had previously heard they were having a buffet Xmas dinner.  Buffets are always better for us since we don’t eat turkey.  There are usually a lot of options compared to a meat based set meal that is wasted in us.  Not surprisingly, the Marriott was all booked up, so we went across the street to the very grand looking Grand Millennium.  We had a huge buffet meal for about $30/person including dessert buffet that had more than enough options for the fish-eating semi vegetarians we are.  Although I have decided to give up most seafood once we are done travelling, I have to say, the oysters on the half shell and the sashimi were exceptional.

Bungalow in CheratingBungalow in Cherating

We are now working out our next move, but we will most likely stay in KL for NYE and then either go back to Cherating (we’ve made a good friend and M is hooked on surfing) and then head to Singapore for a few days before flying out to Bali, or go directly from KL to Singapore. 

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I’ve finally figured out how to compress photos on Iphoto so I have uploaded some more onto flickr.  Since I was having such a problem uploading them before (20 photos would take about an hour and a half on the public or paid computers here), I have become a bit discouraged with both taking photos and uploading them.  Now that I’ve figured this out, you should be seeing some more, and I will try to make my posts not so text heavy as I know that can be super boring!

Hoping all of you had a warm and happy Xmas and a fantastic new year.  I am thinking a bit about “resolutions” if you want to call them that.  I know a lot of people are anti New Years resolution, using the argument that you do not need a certain date to start something new etc.  While I totally agree with this, I do like Chris Guillebeau’s perspective.  He uses the end of year and the one coming up to reflect on past goals, set new ones for the future and examine what went right in the past year and what went wrong.  I think everyone could use an annual review and I will be working on my own.  Pretty difficult given my current transient state and not having any idea where I will be next week, let alone the next year, but no matter where I am, I believe personal goals can be set that will involve a more internal management.  What do you think? Happy New Year to my few but growing readership!

xo