Monthly Archives: February 2015

Happiness

As we turn the corner from February to March, I’m two-thirds of the way through my semester, and just four short weeks away from the open road. Since my last update, I’ve been to London (details to come in my next post) and to a Cardiff Devils hockey game, and tomorrow, I’ll celebrate Saint David’s Day (a Welsh national holiday) by visiting St Fagans National History Museum. In the past week, I’ve also been a television and radio reporter, a radio presenter, and a television studio floor manager for my program’s Exposure News. Next week, I’ll try my hand as a television producer and news anchor.

A couple observations over the past week or two:

1. On travel, happiness, and shared experiences…

I watched 127 Hours and Into The Wild not too long ago — both films about young men who set out alone in search of adventure and freedom. I found it easy to draw parallels between their experiences and my own, especially in the case of Into The Wild‘s Chris McCandless (**spoiler alert: if you plan to see the movie, avoid the rest of this section**). Chris had just graduated university and was drawn to the open road. He was also determined to do it by himself.

I can identify with a great deal of that. Part of what excited me about this journey was the sense of total independence and freedom it promised. I wanted to rely on nobody but myself. More than that, I wanted to prove that I was capable of doing it all myself. I imagine most younger siblings feel this way.

In Chris’s final moments, he comes to a conclusion: “Happiness is only real when shared.” It’s a sentiment that has been repeated to me in subtler ways before, in conversations with others about my plans for travelling alone, only this time, the message was spelled out clearly. I can’t say that I’m fully convinced (after all, to believe that would in turn invalidate many of the experiences I’ve had on the road thus far), but nonetheless, it’s stuck with me since.

My plans haven’t changed much. I’ll be travelling regardless of whether others join along for the trip or I meet up with friends along the way. If nothing else, though, it has made me more mindful of enjoying the company of others.

2. On gratitude…

I’ve found in my travels that happiness has been very closely linked with gratitude.

Every day, I wake up and go to sleep thankful. I’m so grateful to not only have the opportunity to travel and study abroad, but the means to do so as well. Not everyone is as fortunate — indeed, most aren’t, and I can’t lose sight of that. I’m grateful for new friends from all corners of the world — I’m the only native English speaker amongst many of my new friends, and that’s pretty cool. I’m grateful for exciting opportunities to learn in the field, and to have the freedom to pursue the things I find interesting — I’ve been eager for more television experience ever since last summer, and now I have the chance to shoot a ten-minute sports documentary.

Perhaps more than anything, I’m grateful for the chance to step back from my everyday routine and get another perspective on life. Each day brings a new lesson and chance for growth.

“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” – Eckhart Tolle

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

1. Westerkerk, Amsterdam.

If Amsterdam could be summed up in one picture, this would be it. First off, the canals: the one pictured is Prinsengracht, probably the most famous of the city’s canals. Next, the bikes: you can’t cross any street in Amsterdam without looking around at all times, because cyclists are everywhere. Westerkerk’s spire is rising in the background. The picture doesn’t show this, but it’s right by the Anne Frank House.

Westerkerk, Amsterdam.

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2. Vondelpark, Amsterdam.

I love how reflective the water is. The other memorable bit about the park is this treehouse/playground than spans over one of the park’s walking paths. It’s clearly meant for kids, because the rope bridges were built no taller than four feet, but hey, there’s no age limit on treehouses.

Vondelpark, Amsterdam.

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3. Kenaupark, Haarlem.

As a Canadian, it’s nice to experience a part of the world where flowers can grow in February. The weather was beautiful: sunshine, 9-10°C, and a world away from the -35°C with wind chill back home. I could get used to that.

Kenaupark, Haarlem.

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Until next time!

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Fear, Comfort, and Travel

There are quite a few milestones to process right now. As of today, I’m officially halfway through the semester. In six weeks from now, I’ll be in Paris (and — final marks pending — a university graduate). I just got back from Amsterdam (photographs and updates to come in my next writeup), and in a few days, I’m off to London. Crazy.

When I think about it all, I can’t help but be thankful.

A couple observation from the past week or two:

1. On travel and getting out of one’s comfort zone…

Facebook is by and large a massive time-waster, but occasionally, something inspiring and thought-provoking emerges from the clutter. I came across a post on my News Feed from friend of a Facebook friend, and here’s what she wrote:

“The biggest lesson I’ve learnt this year is there is something so potent, and so necessary for ourself that is on the other side of fear. I don’t quite understand why, but I feel it. Throughout this past year of intentionally and repeatedly getting out of my comfort zone I’ve realized that it really is the the upmost nourishing fertilizer for the soul.”

I like that a lot. Getting out of my comfort zone has been a priority of mine for the past couple years. Travel has been a catalyst in this regard. To drop yourself into a foreign country with all that entails (foreign currency, foreign customs, a foreign language — hooray for Welsh! — and foreign school system) and succeed, you can’t help but abandon your comfort zone, and to do so in a manner similar to tearing off a bandaid. There’s no dipping your toes in the water first.

What has been the most amazing, though, is experiencing what’s on “the other side of fear.” While checking up on a friend’s blog, I came across this quote by Mark Twain:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness […] Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I think a lot of this has to do with finding out what’s on the other side of fear, whether it’s fear (or a lack of understanding) of foreign cultures, fear of (or a distaste for) foreign cuisine, or fear of (or a lack of tolerance for) new ideas.

One way I’ve gotten out of my comfort zone is by putting the French and German I’ve learned into practice. The French and German students may speak better English than I do either of their languages, but by speaking to them in their own tongue, I’ve been able to find out what’s on the other side of fear: a greater connection with others. A simple gesture of speaking to someone in their own language — even if only by sprinkling in words here and there — can go a long way. In doing so, you recognize their own humanity and culture.

Another way I got out of my comfort zone in the first few days here was by deliberately avoiding using the roads I already knew. I wanted to get to know the city better, and now I feel as though I can find my way just about anywhere I need to go in Cardiff (or Bristol/Dublin/Edinburgh/Liverpool/Manchester/Amsterdam, for that matter). It’s an empowering feeling.

Every hill and cliff trail I walk has been an act of getting out of my comfort zone as well, and finding out what’s on the other side of fear has resulted in some of the most spectacular views of my entire trip. With that in mind, here’s to intentionally and repeatedly getting out of my comfort zone at every given opportunity.

2. On the topic of prejudice and narrow-mindedness…

During my time in Liverpool, I went to the World Museum, where there was a large exhibit dedicated to different cultures around the world. The section of the exhibit on North America looked into Canada’s First Nations people — mostly those in the Pacific Northwest and Arctic Canada. Interestingly, rather than label the exhibit’s works by their Canadian locations, the Museum used the regional First Nation names as a means of identification.

The exhibit was well-done, but it struck me as odd — and troubling — that there was a greater sense of appreciation for Canada’s First Nations people halfway across the world than there is in many places back home. Reading articles like the ones in Maclean’s and Ottawa Citizen, and watching far too many news stories on Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, has shed further light on the fragile state of Canada’s relations with its Aboriginal people. Interviewing the Sisters Of All Nations (below) and listening to songs like Shad’s “Fam Jam” (above) has painted an exciting picture of what a better relationship and understanding could bring about.

Author John Ralston Saul calls it “the great unresolved Canadian question upon which history will judge us all.” I think he’s right. It’s time that we put a better effort into appreciating and honouring our First Nations people.

UPDATE: I woke up this morning to read — you guessed it — Shad talking about more or less the same thing. Here’s his take on the situation.

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

1. Liverpool Cathedral.

This cathedral is massive — it’s the fifth-largest in the world (the largest in Britain) and took nearly 75 years to finish. Another interesting fact is that Paul McCartney auditioned to be part of the cathedral choir when he was a boy, but he wasn’t deemed a strong enough singer.

Liverpool Cathedral.

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2. Tongwynlais walking trail.

Last weekend was the first weekend I’ve actually spent in Cardiff since my arrival, so I decided to take the opportunity to walk around the outskirts of the city. To the northwest of Cardiff, there’s a town called Tongwynlais which serves as the home to Castell Coch. It’s a neat Victorian castle, but the town’s real gem is the network of walking trails through the nearby forest. It’s a shame there weren’t more leaves on the trees, but when you’re surrounded by scenes like the one below, you really can’t complain.

The road less travelled.

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3. Castlefield canals in Manchester.

This shot was taken pretty much right outside my hostel — not a bad view. It used to be a very industrial part of town, but now the canals are mostly populated by houseboats. I didn’t learn this until now, but there have also been rumours of a serial killer in the area. I guess it’s a good thing I did most of my exploring by day.

Castlefield canals, Manchester.

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BONUS: Space Invader.

One of the main reasons I wanted to pay Manchester a visit was to find these street art installations. There are a good number spread throughout the city, all done with ceramic tiles and inspired by the old Space Invaders video game. In fact, you can find similar works in many major cities throughout Europe. This happened to be the first Space Invader I came across in Manchester, and it was also the most impressive. (If you happen to go to Manchester, it’s tucked in right behind the Palace Theatre.)

Space Invader. Spotted in Manchester.

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Until next time.

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