An Evolution of Northern Flowers

Fort Smith is self-proclaimed garden capital of the north, despite the fact that Yellowknife created an entire garden (the Loraine Miniah-Cooper) to commemorate Prince William and Kate Middleton coming to visit the city in 2011.

Yellowknife has steam-punk-y benches and gardens dedicated to Prince Will and Kate! How can you compete with that!?

Yellowknife has steam-punk-y benches and gardens dedicated to Prince Will and Kate! How can you compete with that!?

However, in the north, summer draws to a close quickly and in the final days of my life north of the 60th parallel, I could feel the crisp fall air blowing and decided to do like our famous pelicans and prepare to migrate “south” (to Toronto) for the fall (I don’t really consider Toronto to have a winter season, the closest the city has ever gotten to snow while I’ve been there is a gray-ish slush).

While living in the north, but somehow avoiding the cold, I was able to experience the entire northern flower period during my short 3 months. Since I love flowers (and taking photos of them), here’s a small sample of the 57,000,000 flowers that bloomed around the garden capital over the summer (in chronological order, cause I’m organized like that!):

Budding horsetail plant. After pulling about 100,000 of these from the museum's gardens, I'm a little embarrassed to say I think they're kind of cute!

Budding horsetail plant. After pulling about 100,000 of these from the museum’s gardens, I’m a little embarrassed to say I think they’re kind of cute!

Now we get to some REAL flowers, whoo hoo!

Now we get to some REAL flowers, whoo hoo!

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Altogether, the summer was an amazing experience! While I was in Singapore, people would ask me about Canada all the time and while I had spent summers in New Brunswick (the east) and Alberta (the west), I knew absolutely nothing about the north. Working at the museum gave me an amazing opportunity to learn about local cultures and histories and although I didn’t get to see any narwhals (which is now #1 on my northern-adventure list), I loved every part of it and will deeply miss my friends and experiences I had while I was up here.

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In summary: I posted a bunch of photos of pretty flowers and wrote a sappy paragraph about my northern adventure.

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From Southeast Asia to Northwest Canada

While my adventure in Singapore may have come to a close (for now), my lifelong journey is far from over. Since I’m returning not returning to Ryerson University until the fall (I have two more courses before I finish my Hospitality and Tourism Management degree – a really heavy workload, I know), my next challenge was figuring out what to do with my life for an entire summer.

At first, I considered moving back to Toronto – it was a place that I knew had jobs waiting to hire me, friends waiting to be reunited and cool events happening on a regular basis. I’d lived off and on in the city for 2 years, so it would have been an easy transition (or as easy as one could be, coming from halfway across the globe). At first, the familiarity seemed like a good idea, with all the moving around I’ve done lately, going back to something familiar kind of seemed like a new experience in itself (in a strange, backwards kind of way).

Mostly, I was more concerned with making the most of the time I had left in Asia than with what I was planning on doing when I returned. However, I eventually realized that while school was going to require me to live in the city in the fall, I still had the freedom to go wherever I wanted over the summer. For some reason, it took a while for me to make this connection, but when it happened, it opened up a world of exciting possibilities (well, not an entire world, I was a bit late for applying for work visas in other countries, but I still had all of Canada – which, as far as one country is concerned, covers a good portion of the world)!

After researching jobs and destinations, I eventually decided that Fort Smith, Northwest Territories would be my final destination and I would spend the summer working in a museum. When I first started telling people in Singapore about my decision, everyone seemed to be taking the news rather calmly… too calmly! It wasn’t until someone said, “oh, that’s nice, have fun in Australia” that I realized they thought I was referring to Darwin and Australia’s northern territory, a not-so-exotic destination from Singapore.

Where (A) is Singapore, (B) is not-Canadian Northern Territory and (C) is yes-Canada Northwest Territories

Where (A) is Singapore, (B) is not-Canada Northern Territory and (C) is yes-Canada Northwest Territories

Eventually, after setting everyone straight, I was met with the same blank and confused stares I would continue to face when I moved in: “Why middle-of-nowhere-Northern-Canada!?” Fortunately, I have a whole series of responses for this question, which I fire through until I turn my questioner’s blank face into an “aaaaah, that makes sense, I guess” expression:

1)    I’ve done the whole hotels-and-restaurants thing in hospitality and really want to try out the museum thing. Now, these types of jobs (that actually pay money) are actually possible to attain in the Northwest Territories, unlike in Toronto.

2)    I felt like an unofficial Canadian ambassador in Singapore and in this role, I realized I still have so much more of my country and my national culture to experience – including everything north of Jasper National Park, which is most of the country.

3)    My mom lived in one of the nearby cities, Hay River, while she was in university and absolutely loved it, so I figured it was worth a shot.

4)    The Slave River, which runs right along Fort Smith, is the site of the best white-water kayaking in North America.

5)    I just wanted to be able to say I moved from Southeast Asia to Northwest Canada because it sounded more dramatic than moving from big-city Singapore to big-city Toronto.

To be fair, I have to admit that I did take a week and a half off in between the two places. However, all of the non-jetlagged and therefore passed out asleep time I had was spent getting ready for move with things like reassuring my friends and family that I was still alive and not insane for moving to the Northwest Territories and opening a bank account at the only bank in town (the Bank of Montreal, ironically enough). I made the stubborn mistake of not thinking this was something I needed to do a couple of summers ago and suffered through months of ridiculous transfer fees, but this time, I had learned my lesson!

Before I knew it, I was flying out of the (unsurprisingly) grey Hamilton airport and on my way to Edmonton, where I was catching a connecting flight right into Fort Smith.

Hamilton is grey, the Earth is round, what else is new?

Hamilton is grey, the Earth is round, what else is new (besides the fact I just got Instagram, which I considered quite exciting)?

Now, I knew Northwestern Air was a small airline, but nothing had prepared me for the complete and utter anarchy of receiving a plane ticket that let me claim any seat I wanted. After spending months being disallowed from changing my seat from one in the middle of a full squishy row to the one by the window in the adjacent empty row and having to wait until the seatbelt sign is turned off after take off to sneak over, I was glad to not have to hide the fact that I wanted full reign over seat selection.

 

An airline that understands my desire for free-reign over its seating, I APPROVE!

An airline that understands my desire for free-reign over its seating, I APPROVE!

After getting a prized window seat (all of the seats were window seats, but still) and a complimentary lunchable (aw yeah), I was officially on my way to (the northern part of) the Great White North!

 

Packing tips from a Nomadic Hipster

So after a flurry of exams and trying to experience every bit of Singapore I could, followed by days of denial and procrastination, it was finally time to admit that I was going to have to pack up my bags and say goodbye to Singapore – cue obscene amounts of sadness, followed by more denial. Now, it really took up until about 2 days before I was leaving for everything to actually sink in. I had been able to distract myself up until that point with the fact that I had a 9-hour layover in Japan and was planning on taking full advantage and exploring the city of Narita (more about that soon) – I wasn’t leaving Asia, I still had another full trip before I left!

However, this didn’t change the fact that, once again, I was faced with the challenge of packing up all of my worldly possessions into one backpack and one suitcase while not exceeding the ominous 50lb/23kg checked baggage limit. Those lucky enough not to have exams had already begun their packing quests and rumours of abandoned souvenirs at airport check in gates were circulating like wildfire. Not wanting to become another sad story used to warn future exchange students about the hardships of international flights, I vowed to make it to the airport without exceeding this limit, an ambitious task, as I was about 1 pound under the limit on my way over, and I knew I had accumulated a mass of “treasures” during my time in Southeast Asia. However, I also had plenty of experience packing my life away and had come a long way from my first attempt where I (foolishly) devoted an entire suitcase to 1 blanket and 1 pillow and attempted to shove a 17” laptop and 2 textbooks into another. When I got to the airport, I was stopped by luggage security (or whatever the official title is for the people who weigh your bags is) and forced to re-arrange my entire life within the span of about a minute.

My entire life consist of 1 suitcase, a backback and a longboard!

My entire life consist of 1 suitcase, a backback and a longboard!

Since I’m a nice person (or at least feel like being one for the next few moments) I’ll contribute some of my accumulated packing wisdom with you (mostly so that if I end up in line at an airport behind you, I won’t be stuck waiting for an hour as you attempt to convince the attendant to allow you to be 0.5lbs over the limit without being charged for overweight baggage – which won’t happen by the way, just letting you know, those people are FIERCE)! Anyways, without further ado, here’s my airport packing survival guide list:

1)    Be real with yourself: as cute as your blue snake-skin wedges may be, they’re not more important than your malaria pills if you’re going rainforest trekking. Before you go, ask yourself if you realistically think you’re going to need everything you’re bringing with you. For clothing especially, I try to imagine the type of scenario I’d actually use the particular item in.

2)    Pack smart, not hard: thin articles of clothing can be rolled to take up less space, but don’t do something like that to thicker cottons because they’ll wrinkle to no end (and who has the time for ironing!?) Make sure to wash all of your clothes before confining them to an enclosed space together this won’t only space you smelly pains when you arrive at your final destination, if you’re packing footwear, you can usually fit clothing inside the soles to save space. If you want to take things to super-hardcore-master-of-the-universe level, check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FPp9yQvhwY

3)    Avoid checked baggage if at all possible: like with life in general, you want to avoid have excessive baggage. During all of my trips within Southeast Asia, I never checked a single piece of baggage and cannot even begin to count the amount of hours this has saved me going through customs and baggage claims. Whenever I show up somewhere and get to brush past everyone desperately waiting for his or her black suitcase to come out of the rotating carousel, I definitely get a little freedom-thrill. In addition to saving you time, you also don’t have to worry about any of your bags getting lost if they’re always in your possession!

4)    Bend, don’t break the rules: Although I don’t have an excessive wardrobe or insane collection of knick knacks, I love my gadgets and would be completely incapable of travelling without all of my laptop, tablet, DSLR camera, tripod, iPhone and iPod (I need them ALL for different scenarios, okay!?) As a result, this combination would take up about half my total checked-baggage weight limit, which is completely unacceptable, considering how little space these things actually take up. As a result, I’ve learned that while security is (excessively) vigilant in making sure you don’t surpass the weight limit with your checked baggage, as long as your carry on isn’t the size of a full-grown elephant and you’re not bringing anything dangerous like a safety-pin, you’re good to go! For me, this means bringing all of my electronics on carry on with me and although I always feel a little bit like the bitch at the airport unloading multiple laptops and portable devices as I go through customs, if it means the difference between bringing my mac or leaving my baby at home, you better believe I’m bringing her with me, no matter how many times I need to let security scan her to make sure she’s not a bomb. In conclusion, pack all of your small, heavy things carry-on, as long as you’re strong enough to pretend you’re not struggling to lift your bag!

  1. Do your research: as a self-admitted hipster, I love alternative modes of transportation – cars are much too mainstream and pollute way too much! As such, (almost ;) ) nothing gives me more pleasure than biking or longboarding. When you’re boarding an airplane, bikes and longboards (my personal favourites) are usually classified as a regular piece of checked baggage. So if you plan on bringing one with you, invest in a BIG suitcase that can hold 50lbs/23kgs of stuff, and you’re good to go!
  2. Duty Free: if you have a connecting flight and you’re checked baggage is going to be automatically transferred for you, it means that you unfortunately won’t be able to buy anything duty-free from the airport you’re beginning your journey from. HOWEVER, if you have a layover, and have to re-check your baggage (like in destinations like Bejing) and want to pick something up from the destination you’re leaving, like Singapore (which researches literally every airport in Southeast Asia to guarantee they have the lowest duty-free prices on alcohol across the sub-continent), if you’re under the weight limit, after you pick up your baggage and before you check it again, you have the opportunity to stash all of your booze and perfume into your checked baggage, where you can carry enough liquid to drown an army. However, if you have to undergo a transfer where your baggage will be moved for you, you’ll have to wait until your transfer destination to buy your duty-free goods, unless you’re planning on getting really drunk and smelling a LOT like Chanel during your connecting flight.

5)    Buy good headphones and guard them with your life: even if you’re flying economy class on a super-budget airline, if you’re on a long haul flight, there will be some type of movie showing, and regardless of what it is, you’re going to want to watch it! With this, you’re not going to want to use the airline headphones because they’ll cost you 2$ to buy and will be the worst headphones you’ll ever use in your life. Instead, I always bring both my massively chunky over-the-ear phones and my portable earbuds, the first for actually using to listen to whichever movie I may be watching, whether it be Cloud Atlas before it gets released to DVD or a repeat of some Spanish soap opera one of the attendants downloaded illegally, and the second just for blocking out the noise of the person beside me snoring as I attempt to position my head in a comfortable enough position to fall asleep in.

  1. Make special requests: with Air Canada, it doesn’t cost anything extra to request a window seat or a vegetarian meal, so go ahead and ask for what you want! Flights are expensive enough as it is, you don’ need to suffer through sitting between the two biggest people on the flight! If you do end up in this scenario and there are empty seats around you, I’ve moved positions on an airplane without even asking – as long as the seat is empty, it’s basically yours for the taking!

6)    Sleep: Jet lag sucks; this is an internationally renowned fact. If you’re literally flying across the globe, it’s impossible to avoid, but you can at least cut it down a bit by doing what you can to get some shuteye while you fly. Good on you if you naturally conk out when you’re in the sky, but if you need some sleeping pills to get the job done, it’s worth the investment!

The Female Surfer Paradox

So I got kind of inspired after learning how to surf way back in Nicaragua and wrote an article for the lovely McClung’s Magazine.

There are lots of female surfers out in the waves, but a lot of them face prejudice just for being girls and get automatically marked as not being able to compete on the same scale as the boys. While I’m still a beginner myself, this become an issue for all the girls with serious game!

 

A Hypothetical Response

In telling people about my plans to travel anywhere, be if Peru, Banff, Nicaragua or Singapore, most people have the same response: “wow, that sounds awesome, tell me all about it so I can live vicariously through you! You’re so lucky, I have excuse X so I can’t do fun things like that”. This really just gives me one thing I want to say: this makes me sad. Everyone has their excuses for NOT traveling: they don’t have time, they don’t have money, they have other responsibilities, they don’t know how to start planning… They look at me in envy and seem to assume that none of these things apply to me. So just to clear things up, they DO. I face the same challenges as everyone else. In order to travel, I spend hours looking over my schedule, trying to read foreign curriculums and changing courses so I can fit in everything I need in order to graduate early and still go on exchange. I assess and reassess international budgets and diabetic medical coverage. I realize I know NOTHING about visa applications in Singapore and end up submitting my application 29days late, getting on the plane there without the proper documentation and praying that my frantic emails are enough to get an approval letter while mid-flight. Then (2 Singapore slings later, compliments of Singapore Airlines), I practically burst into tears in the Changi airport when I see the approval sitting in my inbox.

From what I’ve learned, EVERYONE has their excuses and an easy way to say why they can’t do something. For me, the only difference is that I’ve learned to look past my own bs-y reasons because I know being able to do things like tobogganing down a volcano, learning to surf and moving to Asia are WORTH IT!

So let’s say I hypothetically read a post about how my crazy adventures lead to jealous inspiration (http://shaunanagins.com/2013/01/11/jealousy-has-a-stage-name-its-called-inspiration/). Let’s say this person has also inspired ME and kept me motivated. She’s studying history and she basically already has the coolest job on the face of the planet, she finds time to work more jobs than I can count (to be fair, I was never that good at math, so I don’t really know how much that says, but STILL!), volunteers AND still seems to occasionally have a life. She looks like she has her shit together, and even if that’s only a skin-deep appearance, that’s a lot more than most 20year olds can say! Basically, she’s probably even more crazy than me.

Putting everything together, I don’t want my life to make anyone jealous, I just happen to enjoy it, and if you do as well, that’s cool, but plan yourself a trip and start realizing your life is cool too!!

OMG I HAVE A BLOG!

Hey blogosphere, its me, Judi!

So after an excessive amount of ado, rewriting and good old fashioned stalling, an umpteen hour flight to shanghai has finally pushed me to actually begin this whole blogging thing.

Basically, I love talking about my travels, but if it’s been months since i was actually there, I’m not going to remember everything, and have probably told the story so many times, I’ve got it condensed into about one sentence: “how was your summer in banff?” “I jumped out of a plane, it was pretty cool”. So now all my adoring fans can get up-to-the-minute info about my extraordinarily exciting life at the click of a button. A dream come true for everyone, I know, I know – I try ;)