Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Power of ‘Yes’

I’m officially one third of the way through my time in Wales already. It’s amazing that I’ve been able to see and do as much I as I have in just a month.

Edinburgh was incredible and has become one of my favourite cities in the world. I’ve heard it called the Medieval Manhattan and the Scottish San Francisco, and both descriptions have a ring of truth to them: like Manhattan, the city developed upwards instead of outwards, and like San Francisco, there is not a flat piece of land in sight. There’s also a lot of natural beauty around the city. I took a day trip through the Kingdom of Fife and up to St Andrews during my time in Scotland too, which was well worth it. Driving through farm country reminded me of back home.

This weekend, I’ll be heading to Liverpool and Manchester. I’m excited to see the birthplace of The Beatles.

A couple observations from the past week or so:

1. On the power of ‘yes’…

I was given one piece of advice from one of my best friends before leaving: be the guy who says ‘yes.’ He had been to Tanzania the year before and had his own share of adventures, so I was all ears. After all, I would be going across the ocean to a new country where I knew absolutely no-one and would need to make new friends. The advice has stuck with me throughout my time here, whether it’s an invitation to go out with friends, a chance to sit down for a cup of tea, or a recommendation of things to see and do.

It’s a simple piece of advice. It’s also a fair judgment of my social tendencies: I like to be invited places, but I’ve never been the first to say ‘yes.’ I probably pass on just as many invitations as I get. Coming to a new place with a limited amount of time to make lasting memories, it was exactly the advice I needed to hear.

2. On time, the present, and the merits of awe therapy…

While I was waiting for the ferry from Wales to Ireland in the middle of the night, I had a lot of time to kill — five hours, to be precise. In my sleep-deprived haze, I found a pamphlet laying on one of the waiting room couches with articles on things to see and do on the Emerald Isle. The brochure was mostly filled with advertisements from hotels and travel planners, but one of the articles introduced to me the idea of awe therapy. This article from The Independent does a good job of explaining:

A jaw-dropping moment really can make time appear to stand still […] research found that by fixing the mind to the present moment, awe seems to slow down perceived time. Studies on groups of volunteers showed that experiencing awe made people feel they had more time to spare. This in turn led them to be more patient, less materialistic, and more willing to give up time to help others. (via)

Sounds pretty good, right? I think it’s something we can all agree we could use more of. Being a broadcast journalist by trade, the practice of slowing down doesn’t exactly come easily to me, but the effort of doing so has made a world of difference. Naturally, one of the best ways of experiencing awe is through travelling and seeing new places — as good a reason for booking your next trip as any. But let’s face it: that’s the easy way. The challenge is in experiencing awe in the mundane rituals we go through every day. I had a great interview with Eternia where we touched on this, and she articulates the idea much better than I possibly could:

We kind of steal from ourselves these amazing, magical experiences, when we’re not present in the moment. And then the reverse is true: if we are present in the moment, the most normal and mundane experience – for example, walking to work, or taking the train, or making breakfast – can become something of awe and something of wonder. It’s basically what kids are like. Kids are so present in the moment, [whereas] we’re worried about stuff; we’re running late, and we’re like, “come on, let’s go,” and kids are like, “mom, look at that bird!” Everything to them is like, “wow,” you know? I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. It can be that way for us if we really learn to be present.

It’s really hard as adults; we have so many pressures, and so many things on our mind, and so many worries and unknowns. I think we like to control everything, so all of that bears down on us. A lot of [being present] involves unplugging. I’m really big on digital detoxing right now. I’m not as good as some people; I haven’t shut off my phone or Internet completely, but I find that our devices are not only time stealers, but they’re [also often] joy stealers when it comes to being present. (via)

Food for thought. I’ll leave you with one final thought on time, shared awhile ago by my friend and mentor at The Come Up Show, Chedo.

My three favourite photographs of the past week or so (and the stories behind them):

1. Arthur’s Seat.

I climbed this bad boy around sunset on day one of my trip to Edinburgh: 251 metres above ground. It’s the highest point in Holyrood Park and also the site of a dormant volcano. One thing the picture doesn’t capture is just how windy it was at the top. It made me want to kiss the ground when I finally got all the way back down.

Edinburgh from the top of a volcano. Arthur's Seat.

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2. Old Course.

What’s most remarkable about the Old Course at St Andrews, to me, is the fact that not only is it a public course, but visitors are free to walk the entire grounds, because it sits on common land. What other Major Championship course in the world would allow this to happen — let alone the most historic one of them all? I walked every single hole, the same as golf’s greats have done for years. The Open Championship returns to the Old Course this year, which should make it extra interesting to watch.

Old Course, St Andrews.

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3. Duddingston Loch.

I spent the better part of an afternoon trying to find this place, and it was well worth the effort. As the sun set over the water, and the birds took to the sky, it made for a perfect spectacle. Fun fact: Duddingston Loch is the site of one of Scotland’s most famous paintings, Sir Henry Raeburn’s The Skating Minister. (Regrettably, there were no skating ministers to be seen on my visit.)

Duddingston Loch, Edinburgh.

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BONUS: Burns Night.

Further proof of my theory that things have a way of working themselves out. When I booked my trip to Edinburgh, I had one food goal in mind: eat haggis. I was tempted to try it my very first day there, but my inner George Costanza reasoned that it was wiser (read: cheaper) to wait until Sunday night, when I could no longer cook for myself at the hostel. Unbeknownst to me, Sunday happened to be Robbie Burns Day — the one day above all others when eating haggis is Scottish tradition. What are the odds that I picked the one weekend to travel to Scotland and eat haggis when it’s part of a national tradition?

Burns Night. Haggis, neeps, and tatties.

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That’s it for now. More to come in the weeks ahead.

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Moments

Today marks three weeks since I left Canada. It’s crazy how time flies. I had the chance to visit Ireland last week and crash on a friend’s couch for two nights. Tomorrow, I’ll leave for Scotland (specifically, Edinburgh) for the weekend. Haggis, here I come! In the interest of continuity…

A few observations over the past week or two:

1. Your mentality creates your reality.

I’m stealing this mantra from Sean Stephenson. It’s one I’ve grown attached to over the past couple years, and it continues to prove itself to me in different scenarios. You can look at it two ways: either as a means of visualizing and pursuing life goals, or on a more basic level, how your attitude affects your everyday experiences. A similar perspective is offered in Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. Tolle gives the example of philosopher J. Krishnamurti, who once delivered a speech on the key to living a happy life. He told the audience, “Do you want to know what my secret is? I don’t mind what happens.” I was reminded of this lesson on my trip to Dublin.

I planned the journey so that I would leave at night, and through a combination of buses and a ferry trip, arrive in the city by late morning. I only had two nights in Dublin, so I wanted to maximize the amount of time I’d have to sightsee before leaving. As it often happens in life, things didn’t go as planned. My initial bus was late, and the ferry was even later. Ultimately, it meant that I didn’t arrive in Dublin until six or seven hours after I had hoped to touch down — a significant chunk, given I only had so many hours of daylight to work with.

I could have allowed that disappointment to set the tone for my entire trip. I saw enough of my fellow passengers do exactly that. Instead, I shrugged it off and made the best of the time I had to work with. Guess who probably had a better time in Ireland?

2. There’s more to travelling than just seeing cities.

For the better part of my life, I’ve been a staunch advocate of vacationing in cities. I’ve never been the super-outdoorsy type, and I like the excitement of being surrounded by skyscrapers and a million other people. After seeing Dublin — and then seeing Howth — I have to concede that my priorities could use adjusting. Somewhere in the middle of my second day in Dublin, it struck me that although it was interesting to see the city’s different landmarks, in the end, the city felt much like any other major city. I was missing the spark of experiencing something totally new.

On my last day, my friend suggested that I visit Howth, which was just a cheap half-hour train ride away. Eager to do something different, I took the advice, and it was the best thing I did the entire trip. Howth is a picturesque maritime town on Ireland’s East Coast, and it encapsulates perfectly what I’d imagine when thinking of Ireland: lush greenery, fishing boats lining the harbour, and stunning cliffs. Its ace in the hole as a destination, though, is the extensive network of trails it offers that follow around the peninsula.

Before I left for Europe, my Mom had one word of advice: “let the moments seize you.” (She can’t take all the credit; in truth, the line comes from the movie Boyhood.) Although I knew what she meant, I couldn’t fully appreciate what it felt like until I got over my fear of heights and took the coastal trail. After an hour and a half of walking along the cliff’s edge, the trail came to a small clearing that looked out onto one of the most beautiful views I had ever seen. In that instant, all I could do was let the moment seize me. I was an ocean away from home, alone on the edge of a cliff, but I felt more connected to the world than ever before.

3. Things have a way of working themselves out.

One thing about my student house in Cardiff: it’s perpetually cold — so much so that my fleece hoodie has become like a second skin since I’ve arrived here. In the interest of saving money when I got here, I bought bed sheets but no quilt or duvet. My fortunes looked to change when I took the ferry from Wales to Ireland. Because of how late the ferry was, the crew offered us complimentary rooms for the trip — no name needed, just ask and you were given a room key. Suddenly I had a chance: the room had not one, but two duvets. A voice in the back of my head whispered, “take them.” After all, the chances that I’d get caught were slim to none. I was tempted, but ultimately my moral compass won that battle.

The day I returned from Dublin, I logged online and — lo and behold — a generous supporter of exchange students had posted that he had four free double duvets available to whoever replied first. I replied, and sure enough, I got the last one left. You can decide for yourself whether there was a connection between the two events, but in conversations with John River and Junia-T, I’ve come to believe less and less in coincidence.

My three favourite photographs of the past week or so (and the stories behind them):

1. River Liffey, Dublin.

Dublin is full of bridges. In the rear of the shot, you can see the city’s most famous one of all, Ha’penny Bridge. It dates all the way back to 1816. It gets its name from the toll that its builder, William Walsh, was allowed to charge to anyone crossing the bridge. The toll lasted for over a century — and was even increased to a penny and a half — before being dropped in 1919.

River Liffey, Dublin.

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2. Cliffs of Howth Head.

The aforementioned cliffs were unquestionably the highlight of my time in Ireland. The lighthouse in the distance is Baily Lighthouse. Fun fact: there has been a lighthouse on this site ever since the late 1660s.

Cliffs of Howth Head.

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3. Temple Bar, Dublin.

The lights on this building are mesmerizing. This happened on my first night in Dublin, and it was raining pretty hard at the time. Interestingly, the whole surrounding area is known as Temple Bar — not just the bar itself.

Temple Bar, Dublin.

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Until next time.

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A New Adventure

At the start of the New Year, I set out across the Atlantic for my first (and hopefully not last) journey to Europe. For the next three months, I’ll be studying journalism at the University of South Wales in Cardiff. During that time (and after my studies have finished), I’ll also have the opportunity to travel around to different countries, seek new experiences, meet new people, and hopefully broaden my perspective. From time to time, I’ll share my thoughts here. I can’t promise they’ll always be insightful, but I’ll do my best.

A few observations over the past couple days:

1. We live in a small world.

I was reminded of this when I bumped into two fellow USW exchange students — of which there are only seven, including me, and these being the only other two from Canada — in the middle of Bristol. What are the odds?

UPDATE: Even better, three out of the four Cardiff Devils hockey players I’m profiling for a video documentary have ties to Waterloo Region. One player grew up in Elmira, another played for the Kitchener Rangers, and another’s dad grew up in Kitchener. Small world.

2. Despite our cultural differences, we have much more in common than we have separating one another.

My roommates are from Romania and Bulgaria — two Eastern European countries a world apart from Canada. In conversations with them about our backgrounds, and in talking about our differences, it has been equally eye-opening to see just how similar we are in many ways. We watch the same TV shows, listen to the same music, and miss the same home-cooked meals. In light of all the xenophobia stirred by recent events in Paris and ongoing events in New York and Missouri, it’s a thought worth remembering.

3. There’s a lot to learn outside of the North American way of life.

It was brought to my attention this past week how many native-English speakers take it as their right to expect others to be able to speak the same language as them, without making any effort to learn languages other than their own. I’m grateful to have grown up in a French Immersion school system, as well as to have been able to learn the basics of German last year, but I know I could do much better.

Coming to the United Kingdom and living in the Welsh capital city has also made me realize just how much of a wealth of space I’ve enjoyed in Canada. Single-detached homes with front- and backyards don’t seem to exist much around here. It’s something I won’t take for granted when I return.

My three favourite photographs of the past week (and the stories behind them):

1. Cardiff Bay.

I’ll admit to taking advantage of the many filters Instagram has to offer, but this particular photograph needed none. This was the panorama that enticed me to come to Cardiff in the first place, and seeing it in person for the first time was a special moment: I had finally arrived. It was all real. That red building is the Pierhead Building, and its clock tower is unofficially called the “Big Ben of Wales.” An interesting fact about Cardiff Bay is that, despite being situated at the mouth of the Bristol Channel and Atlantic Ocean, it is entirely freshwater. The city built a complex barrage system to separate the bay from the saltwater and choppy waves on the other side.

Cardiff Bay. First full day in the city.

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2. The coloured houses of Cliftonwood, Bristol.

The place where I stayed in Bristol was directly behind these famous coloured houses (although out of the frame). Also of note: the ones pictured are only a fraction of the coloured houses in the neighbourhood. Picture an entire neighbourhood where every house is a different colour and you’ll get the idea.

Coloured houses of Cliftonwood, Bristol.

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3. Banksy’s “The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum.”

The main reason I wanted to see Bristol was to visit the birthplace of Banksy and see his famous work. Before going, I had jotted down the locations of a number of his pieces in order to find them, but I happened upon this one by pure coincidence, and before I had found any of his other works in the city. The chance encounter made it my most memorable Banksy find.

Banksy's "Girl With the Pierced Eardrum." Spotted in Bristol.

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That’s all for now. More to come in the weeks ahead.

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