Tag Archives: environment

Adjusting to Life in America

Before leaving for a new life in America, I believed that moving here would be easy. Over the last two months I’ve found the adjustment to be anything but.

Numerous people back home told me how envious they were about my moving to America. To them, the idea of living in the USA reminds them of past holidays. Great food, good weather, good beer, cheap shopping. No worries. Continue reading Adjusting to Life in America

Sickness in Korea

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The lack of private toilet time isn’t the only problem I have with working in a Korean kindergarten. Every few weeks I seem to get some new illness. Either due to the lack of hygiene from the kids (Hey, I’ll just sneeze in your face, ok?!) Or more annoyingly the kids who do understand hygiene and decide to use it against you (Hahaha! I’m going to cough right in your face…so funny!)

Inevitably you get sick, but you can’t do much about it. The annoying thing about hagwons is they open before the hospitals and shut after them. The working hours are so long that there’s no time to go to see a doctor. Unless you want to be the stupid white idiot who goes to the emergency room after work with a sore throat.

Worse than this, there’s an immense amount of social pressure to not take a day off. The unspoken rule seems to be that unless you’re dying, you should be in work.

Continue reading Sickness in Korea

Canoeing

The leaves started to change colour, the trees looking sad and tired after the long warm Summer. The air was growing cooler and the last rays of sunshine were touching the ground. Autumn was teasing its way into the air and we made a decision. One last adventure to celebrate the Summer and regret the oncoming Winter.

We awoke early, packed our bags, strapped our canoe to the van and by lunch time we were on the water, paddling slowly towards a campsite too far away to think about. Other things were on our minds.

After months of tough, uphill jaunts in dark woods, this was the outing I needed. I had become bored with the beauty around me. No longer amazed by the jagged mountain peaks towering above or the islands hazy in the afternoon sun below. Once you see those mountains every day, you just stop looking, you take them for granted. When beauty surrounds you it ceases to surprise you, you get bored – you even start to get a little sick.

I stopped taking photos and started complaining. My argument: every photo I take looks the same. People back home probably think I go on the same damn hike every week. Maybe I do but I just don’t know it? A photo of a mountain. A photo of water. A photo of trees. Mountains, water, trees. Endless trees. As far as the eye can see. Trees. All I ever look at is water, mountains and trees. What I wouldn’t give for a flat desert. No water, mountains or trees. Just nothing but the sand blowing in the wind. Something different, please.

Plunging my paddle into the water lazily, I looked around. Water, mountains, trees. I took a deep breath, feeling the cool fresh air flowing into me. Then I smiled and broke the silence “Man, this is pretty beautiful, isn’t it?” Murmurs of agreement. The water smooth as silk, the mountains sharp as broken glass, the trees tall as giants. All disappearing endlessly into the distance, seemingly infinite. How could this not be beautiful? Sure, I see it every day, but this was different. Moving along the water, actually being in the water was something new, something more natural.

Often while hiking I’m forced to consider my own impact on the environment and the downward spiral hikers often bring to the great outdoors. When we find a place of natural beauty the wheels seem to go into motion immediately. Suddenly we start milking the beauty for all its worth. We find these magical places and we’re so proud to have found them that we shout as loud as possible for others to join us. More people arrive, too many people and to preserve the beauty we build a trail, a line of dirt scraped into the trees. The trail encourages more to arrive, they bring their children, their dogs, their cars and their rubbish. Rich men see the beauty and build houses, poor men want to become rich men so build shops instead. The trail turns into a road, the road into a highway. The trail in the trees is ever expanding, the beauty always shrinking. Eventually development overtakes preservation and little of the old beauty remains. People only come now because other people are there.

It’s hard to see myself as anything other than one of those people sometimes. Part of the problem. But only the smallest part. Yet still a part. And really what can be done about it? Maybe the best solution for preserving natural beauty is to simply ignore it. The most beautiful of trees is a tree that nobody has seen. Once somebody sets eyes on it, realises the beauty in front of them, then the wheels are in motion. The tree is no longer a tree, it is a place. As soon as something becomes a place, it becomes something you can visit and then something that can be spoilt. Maybe it’s better to stay at home, ignore the beauty out there and take solace in the fact that at least it exists, unspoiled by human hands, somewhere, although you’ll never see it. Seeking it spoils it.

With canoeing such feelings are muted. Gliding silently through the water. Not moving along a path created for you, but along channels carved out over thousands of years by wind and water. The feeling is a natural one, built upon history and tradition. You’re not spoiling the world, but working with it together. With each breath the current takes you along, and you feel connected to that water, those mountains, the trees.

As the sun quickly fell in the late afternoon, and the air grew from cool to cold, we moored our boat and set up camp. The land around us silent aside from the rustle of some small animal in the trees. Sipping a warm tea, I wondered how I could ever have taken the beauty around me for granted. I did not make a pledge, or a promise. I merely decided I would try my best to prevent it happening again.

A Mossy Adventure

There’s bad news and there’s good news.

First, the good news.

After a long short, hard easy struggle, I have found myself a job. It pays well, I get to work in a skyscraper and officially my title is Underwriting Assistant. Unofficially I’m an admin again, and will be doing exciting things like typing a lot and sipping tea a lot.

Next, the bad news.

I have found myself a job. I start on Monday. Oh shit…MONDAY IS TOMORROW! BOOOOO!

Today, I feel very much like a child on the last day of the Summer holidays, looking back at the previous 6 weeks and thinking “Dammit, I wish I’d spent less time sitting on my arse, and more time doing exciting things! I’ve wasted 6 weeks!” Knowing you have to go back to the grind after weeks of laziness is a horrible feeling. My response to the word “work” is “UGH!” But it’s got to be done. Something has to pay for my horribly expensive addictions to food and warmth.

Knowing my days of rest are almost at a close, I’ve been spending my time exploring as much as possible, trying to make the most of my freedom while I still have it. One late afternoon, I decided to go and see the sunset. My plan was simple: I’d just keep walking towards the sun and this would eventually mean I’d end up at the coast where I could watch the sun going down.

This seemed like a perfect plan, but was completely imperfect for two reasons:

1. The coast was around 2 inches away on the map. This made me think “Hey, two inches? That’s nothing! It’s probably only a ten minute walk! 2 hours later, with aching legs, I was starting to think I was possibly, maybe wrong.

2. Pacific Spirit Park.

Ah, Pacific Spirit Park. According to some random stranger online, it’s “The closest thing you can get to the wilderness in Vancouver.” Brilliant, I thought, I can go for a lovely hike through the woods on my way to the sunset. All I have to do is remember: follow the sun, follow the sun, follow the sun.

After 20 minutes of walking along random trails, I very quickly realised, I was lost. Following the sun is the most moronic idea ever! Once you go into a dense forest it’s impossible to see the bloody thing! Now I know why the compass was invented.

After 20 more minutes, I realised, I was not lost, I was really lost. I started to panic slightly. The sun was going down rather quickly. The forest was getting dark. I’d heard there were coyotes in Vancouver. What if a coyote ate me?! I tried to think back to all of the survival shows I’d watched on TV. “I’ve got it!” I screamed, “I’ll just check the moss”. Apparently moss only grows on the North side of a tree. So I checked a tree. It was covered in the damn stuff, ON BOTH SIDES. Actually, the whole fucking forest was covered in moss! This was clearly some kind of crazy moss forest of doom!

Another 20 minutes, I felt the need to pee. I wondered if I should drink it to keep my hydration up. I started to hear voices in the forest around me. Possibly somebody walking their dog. POSSIBLY A SATANIC CULT THAT’S GOING TO KILL ME!

An additional 20 minutes and after a lot of deep thought, I decided NOT to drink my pee. Instead I released it all over the moss to punish it. TAKE THAT MOSS! MWAHAHA!

With the sun almost down and the forest ever darkening, I decided it was probably time to write a farewell note to my family, but just as I was reaching in my bag to get some paper, I heard footsteps on the trail behind me. Coming towards me were three dark figures with shining heads. I screeched in terror. Only aliens have shining heads, I’m about to be abducted!

Then a soft voice said, “You ok, man?” It’s then that I noticed they weren’t aliens at all. But three Chinese ecology students with lamps on their heads. I broke down in tears, dropping to my knees “I thought, I was going to die in this horrible mossy death forest!” One of the students rolled their eyes “Pffff, this forest has some of the rarest moss in the world! Don’t diss the moss, man!” “I’m sorry, I’m just so thankful, I was lost…and…and…” “Dude, the road is just there…” The Chinese student pointed to my right, and there the road was, directly beside the trail, metres away.

Standing up and brushing the dirt off my jeans, I thanked the students and walked to the road, finding a viewpoint to watch the sunset from. As I was walking away, I heard one of the students sniffling “fucking tourists, always blaming the moss.”

Dealing With Culture Shock

Train arriving at Cairo's Sadat station

To visit a country is only to skim the surface.

You can never truly grasp a place in a few days. Sometimes understanding can take months, even years. When visiting a new country, the differences are something you appreciate, the differences are why you’re there, they’re part of the experience, you may even say they are the experience. Staring at the queer fruits and vegetables in a market you say, “Wow, we don’t get these back home!” It excites you. Everything excites you. The voices, the people, the food, the streets, the sky, the mountains. Everything.

Later, you leave, go back to the comfort of your own fruits and vegetables. Back to your own voices, your own people. Back home, to what you know and love. Back to comfort.

Culture shock happens when you try to change that home, even temporarily. When you try to make a transition between the new life you’ve started and the old life you’ve left behind. You can visit a country for a week and believe it’s the greatest place on earth. You can stay another week and the cracks might start to form. You can stay for a month and you’ll go crazy.

Those fruits and vegetables that were once so exciting fill you with resentment. Your mind struggles with the way things work in this new place. You don’t know the new systems. The magic has worn off. Nothing excites you. Everything around you is just a reminder of your old home, everything you are used to. You miss the way things were back. You miss your familiar life. You miss your fruits and vegetables. You’re homesick.

In the past I worked with the notion that culture shock didn’t exist when going to a country much like your own. I’ve been to America a few times. People spoke the same language, ate the same vegetables and acted in much the same way. Their culture is the same, I thought. But, I was naive.

A culture is more than what’s on the surface, a culture runs deep. Even when the language is the same, the systems are different.

Chances are you’ve never noticed there are systems at all. Everything around you has always been there, you’ve lived in a place so long that you subconsciously know how things work. You instinctively know what to do in any situation. You understand your world.

Culture shock is understanding nothing. It’s being blind in a world where everybody around you can see. Life becomes a challenge. Riding the bus becomes a scary experience. How do you pay the driver? How do you queue? How do you get off the bus? How do you stop the bus (do you put your hand out, or does it just stop?) Everyday situations, in a new country, become obstacles, something you must overcome.

When you are faced with hundreds of new challenges each day, when buying a pint of milk becomes a task which you must consciously think about, that’s when you get frustrated, and culture shock sets in. But you can learn.

Here’s a skill you probably take for granted. If you have coins in your pocket, you can look at them in your hand and within a moment you will know roughly how much money you have. It’s something you’ve learnt at one point or another, but you never think about it. It’s almost always been there. But you must learn it again. You have to learn it all again.

The easiest way to get from A to B, where to go if you need toothpaste, who to ring if your car breaks down, what brand of tea is best to drink, where to go if you break your tooth, how to haggle at the local market.

Guides can tell you where to go, maps can show you how to get there. But there is no map to use for living. The smallest details are the most important and those are the details people never mention, because they never seem noticeable. But you will learn.

Some things come quickly – learning how to cross the street, mastering the bus, finding out how much those coins are worth. Other things come slowly – learning to talk like the natives, mastering your routine, finding out how to cook with those crazy fruits and vegetables.

Eventually though, there’s nothing more to learn. Life is no longer a challenge. Every little skill you’ve mastered is pushed back into your subconscious. You can look at the money in your hand and know what you have. You can feel comfortable knowing where you are.

Home.

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Photo is “Train arriving at Cairo’s Sadat station” by modenadude. Published under the Creative Commons license.

The Angry Lobster of Guilt

“Enjoy your meal” the waitress says placing a plate of lobster in front of me. Beside it on my plate is a strange knife and a nutcracker. I turn to the waitress. “So…um. How do you actually eat a lobster?” I fear ridicule. I fear pointing. I fear laughing. She looks down at my plate, not with pity, but with embarrassment. “Um. You. Er. You just…I think you…hmmm. Welllll…” She doesn’t know how to eat a lobster either. For a moment I wonder why she doesn’t know. She’s the waitress, surely she should know! But soon it makes sense to me. She’s the waitress, why would she know? To buy a lobster she would have to work for 4 hours straight. Nobody would trade 4 hours of their life for a lobster.

Continue reading The Angry Lobster of Guilt

Is An Orange Beautiful?

Is an orange beautiful?

At first the question threw me off. I’d never previously thought about an orange in terms of beauty. In fact I’ve always just thought of oranges as food. Something to eat and momentarily enjoy.

Over the summer I learnt the pleasures of eating a fresh, in season, organic orange. Whenever I went to a supermarket with another person I’d buy one, peel it and offer a slice. “Mmmm, taste this orange! It’s so good.” A lot of my summer was spent getting people to share my passion for organic oranges.

Yet, at no point did I ever consider an orange to be beautiful. I considered an orange in every way. I argued with a girl I’d barely met about how you MUST peel all the white stuff off the orange before you eat it, she retorted that the white bit was the tastiest part. All I could say was,”are you mental?!”

Continue reading Is An Orange Beautiful?