After The Accidental Nomad

This blog used to be called The Accidental Nomad and it was the second iteration of travel blogs that I kept during my wandering years. I stopped writing entries when I decided to compile my disjointed little stories into one long story, which eventually was just long enough to call a book. I spent about a million hours editing and rewriting and thinking to myself, “good grief, this is just rubbish, isn’t it?”

And then, this summer, my pet project was taken on by Garreteer Press and it’s going to be published next year. It’s going to be a real book! I still can’t believe it.

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Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

So what have I been doing in the meantime? When my visa ran out in the United Kingdom, I left Oxford and went to New Zealand, stayed a few months, and then returned home to Canada in the cold, dark winter. Stellar timing on my part. I rented an apartment in Vancouver where I don’t have to share a kitchen and I can horde books and watch the seasons cycle from my balcony.

I didn’t stop travelling, though. In the spring of last year, I joined my sister in Panama and we travelled through Central America together for three weeks. And I’ve got a trip to Ethiopia coming up over the holidays. But things are different now. My trips are shorter. I’m spending more time with my family, whether they like it or not. Instead of abandoning my home like a hermit crab and scuttling in and out of a series of questionable hostels, I’m settled in Vancouver. More or less.

So I’m jumping back into blogging! I’ll be writing about travel, of course, and about what’s going on in the world: politics, news and the international development landscape.

Things I’ll Miss About Home

With my flight to London fast approaching, I’m busy preparing for my trip, i.e. making to-do lists, double checking that none of my flights are passing over Ukraine, and carrying around unopened guide books (I’ve had a guidebook for India sitting on my bedside table for months, but I read Shantaram instead — which is, at least, set in India). Buying and not reading the guidebook has become my travel prep ritual.

The time period right before a trip is a magical one — full of daydreams and countdowns and soaring potential. Even going to work in the morning takes on a delicious quality (“only two more Mondays left; today I’ll spend lunch booking my flight to Turkey”, etc). I remember packing for my first big trip to South America five years ago, and having absolutely no idea what to bring. Being generally lackadaisical about packing, I just winged it and hoped for the best. Now I know for sure that it doesn’t really matter. It’s a law of travel that you won’t need half of what you pack and you will forget something, but as long as you’ve got your passport and a bank card, it’s all good. Half the fun is not knowing what shenanigans you’ll get into.

The significantly less magical part is saying goodbye to everyone — a process that is more difficult each time. In addition to my family and friends, I’ve been thinking about the other things that I will miss from home, things I didn’t fully appreciate until I didn’t have them anymore…

1. Electrical outlets. At home, there is no fussing about with converters or jockeying for the two overworked sockets with ten other backpackers who each have at least seven things to plug in. Waking up, expecting to find your phone all charged up and discovering that someone pulled out your charger and replaced it with theirs is the worst. Even though you did the exact same thing the day before.

2. Laundry Baskets. Soon, the days of leaving my soiled laundry in a nice pile within the confines of its own basket will be over. No longer will I be able to make the short jaunt up the stairs to do my laundry whenever the mood strikes. Instead, I will be shoving socks that are nearly capable of standing up on their own into a plastic bag at the bottom of my backpack until I can find a suitable day to leave my sad sack of increasingly ratty clothes with the cleaners. On the upside, I can pay someone to do my laundry for me. Or multi-task and wash my underwear in the shower.

3. Drawers. I had no idea how wonderful a chest of drawers could be until I went traveling. Things are so much easier to find when stacked neatly in a drawer; I’ve even gotten a little odd about arranging my shirts by color and style. Although, to be fair, on the road it doesn’t make much of a difference when you’re only choosing between three shirts.

4. Showers. Specifically, predictable and reliable showers. Now, when I skip a shower, it’s because I’m being lazy, not because I got electrocuted trying to figure out how to switch the shower head, which was located conveniently right above the toilet, from freezing to lukewarm. It’s also quite nice not to have to share my shower with scorpions, cockroaches or giant spiders. Frogs, on the other hand, make great shower buddies, especially if they sing to you.

5. Not having to share. I’ve been spoiled: I’ve got my own bed, my own room entirely to myself and I can watch whatever I want on TV. Soon, I will be sleeping on tiny bunk beds again, listening to people snore and rustle around with their plastic bags inexplicably at four in the morning, hoping there are no bed bugs and that no one steals too much of my milk out of the communal fridge.

Actually, that’s about it. As sad as the goodbyes are, and pleasant as the conveniences of laundry baskets and non-hazardous showers are, I’m just excited. Excited to feel the thrum beneath my rib cage as the plane takes off; to hang out and swap stories with other travelers in hostel common rooms; to eat food I’ve never eaten before; to be surrounded in languages I don’t know; to look at a place on the map and say, there, I will go there today.

 

 

 

http://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/jamiemphillips/karakolhike/nonprofit

 

The Liebster Award

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Thank you Chelsea from Adventures of an Expat for the nomination!!! I really enjoyed reading your blog, and I’m glad you enjoyed mine! I’m going to Turkey soon, so it was great to get some inspiration from your writing. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your adventures in Turkey!

This is a cute way to get to know other blogs and nurture online relationships with like-minded writers — sort of like a chain letter, but without the “if you don’t send this to five people in the next five minutes, all your hair will fall out” nonsense. Less superstition and more paying it forward/community building. Let’s do this.

Here’s the Liebster Award “rules”, should you choose to accept:

1. Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.

2. Display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget”.

3. Answer 11 questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.

4. Provide 11 random facts about yourself.

5. Nominate 5 blogs that you feel deserve the award, which have a less than 1000 followers.

6. Create a new list of questions for the blogger to answer.

7. List these rules in your post. (You can copy and paste from here.) Once you have written and published it, you then have to:

8. Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it (they might not have ever heard of it!)

***

11 Random Facts About Me

1. I get the hiccups almost every day.

2. I’ve been to 18 countries so far.

3. I ate kangaroo tail once and it was just as horrible as it sounds.

4. I went through a Ouija board phase in High School. One time, whatever my friend and I were “talking to” gave us a phone number and the name, May. So we called the number and asked for May, and the lady on the other end of the phone said, “Hang on a sec, I’ll go get her.” Never played with a Ouija board again.

5. I’d like to try bee keeping.

6. My favorite TV shows are Orange is the New Black and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

7. My cure for homesickness is watching The Gilmore Girls, because my mom and I used to watch the show together when it first came out.

8. One of my favorite parts of travel is long bus or train rides, especially if I’m alone. I love having all that time to myself. I do my best thinking looking out of the window of a moving vehicle.

9. I’m a minimalist — the only material things I really care about are books & plane tickets.

10. I have more anxiety over parking lots than I do about snakes or spiders. Snakes and spiders are predictable, but you never know what sort of driver you might accidentally bump into, or whose spot you might steal, in the parking lot — they could be sweet as pie, or they could be crazier than a shit-house rat. I’ll take my chances with snakes any day.

11. Vietnamese coffee is my one true love.

***

11 Questions from my Nominator:

1. What is your favorite place to be in the world?

On my way to somewhere I’ve never been before.

2. Who do you look up to and why?

Martha Gellhorn. She was a war journalist, novelist, traveler, and endured a brief marriage to Hemingway. I love her writing and her attitude. She was hilarious and intrepid, and had the courage to live her life exactly how she wanted to. One of my favorite quotes from her memoir, Travels with Myself and Another:“… we react alike to our tribulations; frayed and bitter at the time, proud afterward. Nothing is better for the self esteem than survival.”

3. Where is the next place you hope to travel to?

I’m hitting the road again in August! I’m going to Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, India and England.

4. What is your favorite food?

Malaysian Laksa & Vietnamese Pho.

5. What is your dream job?

I love the idea of having a small farm, with chickens and sheep and a great big garden.

6. Where do you feel at peace in the world?

In the outback in Australia, and in the mountains, especially the Rockies, but any mountains will do.

7. What is a book everyone should read at least once in their life?

Self, by Yann Martel (the author of Life of Pi), is my favorite book. I’ve read it a handful of times, and I always get something different out of it. It’s a fictional autobiography with a Kafka-style twist; on the narrator’s 18th birthday, he wakes up to find he’s changed genders and all of a sudden, she’s a woman. Really interesting look into identity and gender. And there’s lots of travel in it, too.

8.  How many siblings do you have and where do you fall within them (youngest, oldest, only…)?

I have one younger bio brother, and two step-sisters. I’m the second oldest.

9. Explain a time you were put out of your comfort zone and what you learned after.

I’m out of my comfort zone all the time when I travel; just the act of getting on a plane is eschewing my comfort zone. Because Chuck Thompson was right: Comfort is the enemy of creativity. Leaving my comfort zone behind — whether it’s spelunking a dodgy cave in Laos or swimming with alligators in Bolivia or herding uncooperative cattle in Australia — is where my best stories come from. And now, I get bored when I’m too comfortable for too long.

10. Are you religious and/or spiritual?

I’ve always been an interested party. I went to Christian bible camp one summer in junior high, I’ve spent time in Buddhist monasteries (one in Canada and one in Taiwan), and I took a handful of religion courses in University and studied everything from the Greek pantheon, to the Koran, to the 333 million Hindu gods. Religion is endlessly fascinating.

11. If you could go back to school, what would you study or if you are in school, what are you studying?

I got my undergrad degree in psychology and it was awesome. 10/10 would do it again. If I went back, I’d take English Literature and Anthropology. If I were better at science and math, I think I would have liked to be a doctor.

***

11 Questions for my Nominees:

1. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?

2. What’s one of your best/favorite memories?

3. What’s one book everyone should read?

4. What’s your favorite country?

5. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?

6. What’s one thing you’re glad you did, but would never do again?

7. What’s the first thing you do when you arrive in a new place?

8. What’s the nicest thing a stranger has ever done for you?

9. If money wasn’t an object, and you could do anything at all, what would you do?

10. Who do you look up to and why?

11. What inspires you?

***

And the Nominees are…..

Bamboo Igloo

Rebe With a Clause

I’m not lost, I’m just exploring

Internationally in Debt

A Ducks Life

#7: All of the Yoga

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I’ve been taking yoga classes sporadically for around ten years, but this year, I’ve decided to take it a little more seriously and practice regularly. I’ve done many things that I love only sporadically – writing, for one. Now I’d like to cultivate some discipline. I started with one week, going every day.

Day One: Forgot how tough hot yoga can be when out of practice/out of shape. Ouch.

Day Two: Did not magically improve overnight. Muscles are sore from yesterday and I had to sit out more than I ever had in class before. Only this time, didn’t feel like I was missing out on any postures, like I usually do – because I’m taking classes every day, if I miss one tree pose, I’ll make up for it next time. Recognized the vast room for improvement; very glad I am doing this.

Day Three: Took a “break” with a nice, relaxing Yin class (the instructor kept using the words ‘juicy’ and ‘delicious’; occurred to me that talking about yoga is a lot like talking about wine: i.e., gratuitous use of superfluous and downright absurd adjectives. See: Foxy – A pronounced flavor found in wines made from native American grapes; the same smell as in grape jelly. E.g., damn what a foxy wine this is.)

Day Four: Thought I was going to die/pass out/vomit everywhere. My heartbeat could have been a drum and bass set.

Day Five: Absolutely amazing. Understand what runners mean when they talk about a runner’s high.

Day Six: Realized something about myself. I used to say that I wasn’t competitive, because I don’t like sports or anything traditionally competitive. But that’s not true at all. In fact, I don’t participate in sports because I am competitive; I don’t like doing things I’m not good at.

Yoga is not supposed to be about competition. Certainly not compared to others, and not really against yourself, either. Yoga was originally created as a way to prepare for meditation – quieting the body down so that the mind may quiet, too. My first yoga teacher told us that yoga is about appreciating your body exactly as is, not pushing it or expecting/wanting it to be something else. Joyful self acceptance is the name of the game. Sure, improvement over time happens and while that’s great, it’s not the point. And yet, sometimes, I cannot help feeling the swell of pride, and little tinge of smugness when I get into a tough pose.

Day Seven: Still look like an electrocuted noodle when attempting the side plank pose.

Teaching English: Hybrid Moments

Today’s article is written for the Reach To Teach Teach Abroad Blog Carnival, a monthly series that focuses on providing helpful tips and advice to ESL teachers around the globe. I’ll be posting a new ESL related article on my blog on the 5th of every month. Check back for more articles, and if you’d like to contribute to next month’s Blog Carnival, please contact Dean at dean@reachtoteachrecruiting.com, and he will let you know how you can start participating! 

Read the whole thing here. 

 

My relationship with teaching English has been a long-standing on again-off again relationship; if it were a person, my friends would’ve thrown up their hands in contemptible resignation long ago. Whether tutoring high school English (and alternating between feeling overwhelmingly proud of my students and equally as frustrated by what I like to call the ‘pancake’ students – those kids who want you to do all their work for them and trying to teach them is like trying to teach a pancake how to write an essay), or my stint in classroom teaching in Taiwan, I’ve been ambivalent about both my abilities as a teacher and my desire to do it all. And yet I keep getting – err, allowing myself to be – drawn back into the fold.

I came out of my Taiwan experiences thinking that teaching English just wasn’t for me. And in that specific situation, it wasn’t. I came home again, after two years away, and began the hunt for gainful employment. It was so much easier being a local and not having to worry about paperwork or contending with the reputation of the notoriously flighty backpacker. And employers seemed to like my diverse resume experience; all of my moving about was more boon than hindrance. The adaptability and openness to experience that travel requires is becoming a more desirable in the working world, it seems.

Expecting an interview for a receptionist position at a small firm, I was surprised when the CEO pointed to my teaching experience on my resume and asked me if I would put together an ESL course for the office. I thought about it, over thought it, and then accepted.

I’m not really one for ascribing meaning to the organized chaos of the universe, but opportunities for me to teach English keep presenting themselves. For better or worse, it is valuable on the world stage at present, to speak English. Everywhere I go, I’m asked to practice conversational English, come up with synonyms and definitions, explain idioms and the maddening rules of grammar (if I can be at the beach or on the beach, why can’t I be on the park?). Even if teaching English is a form of neocolonialism, it’s useful to people. And I like helping people. I also like playing with grammar and exploring the evolution of language, because fascination.

So, here I am, nestled in a downtown office while the outside world has descended into a roiling, traffic snarling, bone chilling blizzard (oh, Canada), teaching English to a small handful of engineers and accountants from China. The atmosphere is casual and reciprocal: I teach them grammar and they teach me about China. It is interesting to operate within two separate and opposite power dynamics: boss-employee and teacher-student. The CEO calls me Teacher, asks me questions like I’m Wikipedia and offers to teach me anything he can in return. My ambivalence about teaching remains – just because you do something naturally and/or well does not translate into being able to teach it effectively – but if travel has taught me anything, it’s to grab opportunities when they present themselves. You never know where you’ll end up. 

On Being a Nomad at Home

People keep asking me how I’m finding it being back home. I’ve yet to come up with a succinct or even coherent answer. I’m all over the map on the subject. It’s great and weird, cold (weather) and warm (people), familiar and foreign. A lot of time I feel both ‘at home’ and like an alien. I’m gliding over past ruts, revisiting old haunts, and carving out new routines in well-known places. Every so often a memory of some past adventure explodes into my thoughts. And then I realize I’ve been smiling to myself on the train like a crazy person.

Sometimes it’s kind of unreal: last week, Alberta was the coldest place on the planet, and a little less than a year ago, I was in the hottest (January in the outback)*.

[*allegedly: weather networks are prone to hyperbole.] 

One of the things I miss the most is the ease of making friends on the road: the quick kindred-ships, the accelerated closeness (spending a week with someone on the road can be like spending a lifetime with them in ‘real life’); how you sometimes spend a whole day with a person and neither of you thinks to exchange names until the very end and you feel closer to them than to any acquaintance back home.

There are many upsides to being at home, too: long-standing friendships, family, the ease and comfort of familiar surroundings (even though I still manage to get myself lost more than I reasonably should). I miss being surrounded by unfamiliar landscapes and languages, but I feel the foreigner here, too, in a way. My experiences have created a gulf between the person the road has shaped me into and the roles I’m re-entering at home.

Sometimes, people seem to regard me differently than they did before, as though travel necessarily makes me certain kind of person. Events that occurred organically and felt natural in context sound outlandish here. I become an armchair entertainer recounting my adventures; there is the subtle but palpable distance between audience and performer. With my closest friends, we’ve picked up where we left off, but there is a section of separateness — a gap in the friendship resume, as it were — hanging between us. Or maybe it’s all in my head. It’s with a particular sadness and projected nostalgia that I note this sense of novelty will wear off and I’ll more fully re-integrate and acclimatize. So much of my identity is tied up in the feeling of ‘foreign-ness’.

There is also a mounting pressure, now that my twenties are coming to an end, to give up my nomadic lifestyle, and get on with the business of ‘settling down’. I have nary an intention to do so — not in the traditional sense, anyway. I worry that my personal eschewing of convention will come across as a broad denigration of it (it is not; different strokes for different folks and all that). Sometimes it feels like I’m telling people I’ve joined a cult. And I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. Reading all of those criticisms of the ‘millennial generation‘ doesn’t help either. But if we’re all shiftless lay-abouts I may as well be one on the road, I reckon.

For the time being, it will appear as though I am settling down — I’ve a job and a place to receive mail and everything. But, internally, I am scheming, dreaming, planning; still a nomad.

#21: The Dinner Party

Perhaps this is evidence of the twilight of my twenties, but I can’t think of too many things I’d rather do on a Friday night than share a kitchen with a handful of good friends. This weekend we had an Italian themed dinner party: green minestrone soup from Genoa, fresh basil pesto, pasta with a ginger and butternut squash sauce, gelato and Italian wine. We listened to Italian punk rock and ska. With dessert we watched To Rome with Love, and fell asleep to The Bicycle Thief.

There is something beautifully elemental about orchestrating a casual dinner party. An empty, clean kitchen is thoroughly dishevelled and then put back again to its nascent state. Vegetables and meats transform; wine bottles empty. Impermanence deliciously personified.

Coming in from the chilled, already dark evening, we invaded the kitchen with bags of groceries: leafy greens and globular browns and cardboard boxes tumbled onto counter tops. Music burbled brightly in the background. Corks popped from wine bottles, droplets splashed onto the table and dribbled down the sides of rotund glasses. Onions were chopped, mascara ran. Sauces bubbled and boiled and spilled over onto on the white ceramic stove top. Bodies bumped together, laughter and conversation billowed and commingled with the swirls of onion, garlic, basil and Chianti tang. The apartment felt especially cozy that night: a snowstorm loomed in the forecast. Decisions were reached by trial and consensus – Is this pasta al dente enough? Does the sauce need more chilli?

Courses were served in turn; we ate and ate.

We left piles of dirty dishes in haphazard stacks on the counters and collapsed, saturated, on the couch and put on the first movie. We punctuated the film with languorous conversation. Eyelids were drooping but we hadn’t run out of laughter. The next day, the cluttered kitchen simmered unobtrusively in the slanted, lucent morning light. Coffee percolated and seduced. We began to clean up.

There’s a meditative quality to the scouring of dishes. The mental detritus of the previous week is taken out on the sticking leftovers and washed down the drain along with the dirty, soapy water. The kitchen transforms – clean to messy to clean again – and so we do, too. Rinse and repeat; our lives roll on.