Tales of a Northern Musical Hippie

I’ve already gotten in touch with my musical side as a hipster in Singapore and Vietnam, so to switch things up in the Northwest Territories, I decided to loose the “-ster” and replace it with a “-pie”, some circular drums and friends standing in more circles. Yup, I went to a drum circle – it was awesome.

Although I’d played the drums in middle school band class (yeah, I was a cool kid), I was kind of nervous because I had no idea what to expect with the addition of this whole “circle” thing to drumming. All my friend had told me was that there’d be singing in addition to the drumming and that I fail out of songs on easy when I attempt vocals on guitar hero.

Lucky for me, this “circle” thing was centred on inclusivity and making everyone feels welcome (the session was taking place at a friendship centre after all, so I should have expected as much).  In the local native Dene culture, drums have always been an important aspect of healing and finding internal balance (when they’re not being used to distract opposing teams during the über-competitive Dene Hand Games).

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With that, they’re a big part of the local culture and to respect tradition, we started the session by burning some sage and letting the smell absorb into our bodies and drums.

An old boss used to call me a

An old boss always used to call me a hippie, which I would feverishly deny, but after this moment, I don’t think I’d be able to do that anymore..!

Then, the rhythm for the first song, the Eagle was explained: beat, rest, beat, rest – something I knew I could do! The lyrics had also been provided on a print out, but although they were supposed to tell the story of an eagle journeying through a storm, they weren’t actually written in any type of language and looking at them proved to be a mess of  “ah”s, “ha”s, “hi”s, “ho”s, “ye”s and “lo”s. Basically, they just seemed like a dyslexic jumble on the page, about as far as you could get from rhythmic lyrics. Before I had even finished struggling to read the first verse, the first drumbeat had sounded and we were into the song.

I drummed in silence the first couple of bars, desperately trying to find my place on the page while continuing to drum in rhythm. Try as I might, I could not make sense of all the crazy non-words and eventually conceded and just focused on the drumming.

Then at a magical moment partway through the song, the “lyrics” developed a natural order! I stopped overthinking and just … sang along. To my surprise, I “happen” to be singing the same thing as everyone else – it was a hippie miracle!

I think sage gives drums magical powers, just saying

I think sage gives drums magical powers, just saying

At the song’s end, we all sat down and talked about what we felt from the song. I explained my experience with stopping myself from over-complicating the task and how letting go made it so much easier. The circle leader beamed at my response and I felt as though I passed some type of subtle hippie-test.

I applied this “chill out and just sing” thing to the rest of the songs and made it through no problem – I wasn’t even (atrociously) off-key most of the time! By the end of the session, I was charged with hippie-life-lesson-learning energy and re-sparked with a drumming love.

PS. I feel like it sounds as if I’m using “sage” as a euphemism for some type of hard-core drug, but it was actually just sage, okay!?

 

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Because Every Park and Museum in Singapore Has “National” Status

Just as virtually every Buddha statue/temple/site seems to hold some sort of “the _____-est / most _____ Buddha ever” title (I visited one which was proudly dubbed “the most gigantic standing Buddha statue with alms-bowl in hands, facing east”, so while its almost 100m shorter than the actual tallest Buddha statue, that’s no reason for it not to get a “most gigantic” title), virtually every park and museum in Singapore gets a national title. Unlike Buddhist statues (of which there are about a million), these Singaporean sites basically earn their titles by default if they’re of considerable size. As such, this means hitting up a national park and museum really only requires you to pass through a doorway.

Not even close to the "real" biggest

Not even close to the “real” biggest

…If you’re not too directionally challenged to meet up with your friends beforehand, of course. One of my buddies from Thailand was stopping over in Singapore, so we decided to meet up and check out Fort Canning National Park and the National Museum. Although Fort Canning was located right beside a convenient MRT subway station to meet up at, my previous experiences in failing to be able to find people at these locations in Toronto made me wary of meting up here, so I decided the park entrance would be better. Little did I know, Fort Canning had about 500,000 entrances. So, I ended up wandering about aimlessly for half an hour, taking photos of dragon statues.

I'm not complaining, they were pretty sweet looking!

I’m not complaining, they were pretty sweet looking!

Eventually, we eventually met up and I was able to take more pictures of things other than dragon statues.

Finally made it to the official entrance point!

Finally made it to the official entrance point!

Wouldn't be a real national site without something named after Raffles!

Wouldn’t be a real national site without something named after Raffles!

After we had our fill of National Park-goodness, we moved on to the National Museum, which actually backs into the National Park. In addition to being super conveniently located, the majority of its exhibits are free everyday after 6pm! Score, free education! (This type of thing seems like a big deal when you compare it to university tuition, okay!?)

As it turns out, polygamy used to be the norm in Singapore before the 1950s, when the government suddenly decided to make the practice illegal. Since it couldn’t void any of the previously existing marriages, only outlaw new ones, this created an awkward phase where a once-normal family quickly became strange and even ostracized living arrangement. Although society began to look down on these families, females who had to share their husband often clung to their vows, stating they would rather share than be on their own. While I appreciate that these set-ups were formed out of love, they’re also a clear demonstration that women valued themselves significantly less than men in society, believing they were worth ½ (or less) than their partner.

After my feminist reflections, I moved on to the food exhibit, which featured (surprise, surprise) hawker centres. Back in the day, these stalls had pretty sweet delivery systems, with vendors inventing some of the first bike trolleys.

I've decided that these are going to by my next set of wheels!

I’ve decided that these are going to by my next set of wheels!

Some even convinced their regular customers in high rise buildings to install pulley systems so that they could send yong tou fu (a clear soup with veggies, noodles and seafood) or nasi lemak (coconut rice) up stairs without having to climb them. Now if only I could find a way to install this type of pulley system across campus..!

The Arts and Science Museum, Art of the Brick Quest

Returning to the beginning of the semester, when I first ventured to Marina Bay (and finally ceased being agasp at the ostentatious nature of the legendary Marina Bay Sands), I noticed sculptural advertisements for The Art of the Brick Lego exhibit at the Arts and Science Museum and vowed that one day, before the end of the exhibit, I would return to Marina Bay and experience the Lego-themed museum epic for myself.

The call of the Lego-polar bear is not one to be ignored!

The call of the Lego-polar bear is not one to be ignored!

In the moons to come, I was able to gain significant knowledge into the sustainability efforts of the Arts and Science Museum, discovering that the distinct lotus shape of the building was specially selected in order to act as a rain-catching basin, so that rainwater may be collected, filtered and re-circulated throughout the building’s facilities. However, this was only by a fortunate coincidence whereby another educational quest required me to research the Marina Bay Sands Hotel (which is the proprietor of the Arts and Science Museum).

As design is not exclusively for vanity

As design is not exclusively for vanity

As such, the status of the actual museum-frequenting vow grew increasingly meek; my excursion-ing interests shifted away from Singapore and towards “more exotic” destinations and thoughts of my mission were often void in my mind.

Fortunately, my noble code of “sure, why not?” kept me on the path of justice during a period when a fellow compatriot revealed they had taken a similar vow and planned to fulfil it that eve. I found myself agreeing to act as their accompaniment, and was soon partaking on a voyage to The Arts and Science Museum.

My quest had not finished challenging me, as I was swiftly distracted me the blooming flora growing outside the museum. After squandering precious potential exhibit-touring moments, I re-focused on my mission, and pressed onward.

Yes,

While water lilies are indubitably beauteous… 

...They are presently nothing but a shameless distraction!

…They are presently nothing but a shameless distraction!

Upon completing my entry-quest, I was soon encountered with a follow-up mission: constructing a water-droplet of comparable quality to those of the artist-on-display, Nathan Sawaya. Although his works were of considerable quality, my comrade and I persevered through several logistical challenges (alas, there was no instruction manual to be provided!) and were able to produce a notable replica.

The trials of our noble mission!

The trials of our noble mission!

Upon completing not one, but two noble missions, piece and balance had been restored to the natural universe.

(As exhibited in the following print)

Mission completed and piece restored to the world!

As such, I was able to enjoy utilizing my photographic capabilities to (attempt to) capture the excursion, and share it with thou on this occasion.

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Reflecting on my recent triumphs with my Lego counterpart

Reflecting on my recent triumphs with my Lego counterpart

Taking an obligatory butt-photo

Obligatory butt-photo

Re-experiencing past quests at the Royal Tyrell Museum

Re-experiencing past quests at the Royal Tyrell Museum from the dinosaur capital of Canada

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Feeding off the energy of my two mission, I attempted a third and final quest: to venture through the “reflexology” Lego demonstration. This consisted of walking across an uneven Lego surface. Those familiar with the unforgiving blocks will understand the consequences of attempting such a mission and failing. For those who remain blissfully unaware, the following caption explains the scenario:

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Thankfully, I was able to leverage my years of Lego-building knowledge to safely (and painlessly) complete the path.

Facing off for my challenge

Facing off for my final challenge

 

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!

 

My Brief Life in Sumatra

Although my time in Sumatra was short, I had the pleasure of spending it at the fantastic Nachelle Homestay. Named after the manager, Abdi’s, year old daughter, the house was as warm and inviting as our hosts and offered stunning views of the city from the rooftop.

(Maybe we're loving it a bit TOO much..!)

(Maybe we’re loving it a bit TOO much..!)

As I’ve mentioned before, Berastagi is cooler than Singapore (which really isn’t saying a whole lot, but… STILL!) and I had forgotten how homey it feels even just to curl up under a toasty blanket on a chilly evening (one of those soul warming feelings).

The genuine warmth and welcoming of our hosts went above and beyond our expectations, as they organized our itineraries and transportation and were incredibly open and friendly.

Me and Abdi, hanging out, volcano-summit style!

Me and Abdi, hanging out, volcano-summit style!

Our interactions with the rest of the community, however, often didn’t get past the clicking of a camera. While my friends and I shutter-bugged away at attractions like mountain ranges and cityscapes (and in my case, every piece of fruit in the city), the locals turned us into attractions ourselves. From the moment we got off our bus, groups of giggling school kids would approach us, asking for photos and practice with their English. At first, we assumed this meant a quick pic and brief Q&A, but by now, I’m pretty sure the people of Indonesia have more pictures of me on my trip than I do (which actually says a lot, since I filled up my whole memory card) and all know that I’m from Canada and have enjoyed my time in Indonesia.

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Being a bale (bah-lay), or white-skinned foreigner, basically gives you celebrity status in Indonesia and while the first paparazzi encounter was fun (the kids were really enjoying themselves, bringing out their school notebooks to practice various English phrases), things start to get a little weird when groups of people start walking up to you, declaring “photo” and proceed to start snapping away.

As a tourist, I occasionally seek out photos of shopkeepers in front of their stalls and other “normal” things, but being on the other side of a wayward person’s camera still puts me off. I know the pictures aren’t of me, personally, they’re just of my skin. Especially after having lived in a multi-cultural city like Toronto, it’s strange to think that something like skin tone is reason enough for a photo-op.

However, Indonesia – and most of South East Asia is a whole other world in that respect. While I came to Singapore hoping to work on darkening my skin tone with a tan, the skin-whitening industry here is valued at over $13 billion, with ads like this one, here: 

The World of Singapore

It would be silly to go to Singapore to experience Singaporean culture, right? That’s naturally why day 2 leads me to experience Little India and Chinatown.

Little India offered brightly coloured streets selling brightly coloured flowers and more gold and silk than I knew existed. Honestly, rainbows could learn a thing a thing or two from this place!!

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(Okay, everyone just take a breath, I’m going to be slightly more serious for a second)

We then made our way to the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. Fortunate enough to arrive at this Tamil temple dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali during a time of worship, we were able to tour the interior. Hindu worshipers engaged in intense prayer in the face of some of the most elaborate and intricately carved statues I have ever seen. Although I did my best not to take any photographs while inside the temple, my sheer ignorance towards the Hindu religion seemed slightly disrespectful in face of those who took their visit to such a sacred place to heart.

A tower of carvings works its way up the exterior of the temple

A tower of carvings works its way up the exterior of the temple

Learning about new cultures and ideas from the ground up is usually something I really enjoy being able to do in my travels. However, when it comes to religion, this visit to the temple made me realise that this was not something I could dive head first into without any previous knowledge. Although Singaporeans are generally quite friendly and willing to help if they see you struggling to understand something (most often directions in my case), it was easy to tell that ignorance and social faux pas that otherwise could be perceived as a cute mistake, would not go over as well here.

(Back to normal now!)

The next stop on trip lead us to Chinatown. Even though Chinese New Year isn’t until February, the whole district had already begun preparing for the festivities. Trails of lanterns hung through the streets, “New Years Sale” signs hung in pretty much every store and the food cooking at all of the 10,000 restaurants and food stands seemed to smell amazing (too bad I had just eaten in Little India).

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Being a group of tourists, we got easily distracted on our way back by several shops and museums: a really funky analogue camera shop, the Lomography Gallery Store, (where I took a ton of – ironically – digital photos) the Red Dot Design Museum, where we stole smiley-face pins from a private event we accidentally crashed and the Singapore City Gallery, where I played Zedzilla over a model of the city.

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That night lead me to the local international hangout spot – the bridge. Located right downtown in Clarke Quay and overlooking the harbour, it was easy to see why all the exchangees gather there. It had a nice, open, interantional vibe (Most of the NTU exchange students are from Canada somehow, so it was kind of nice to meet people who weren’t from my home country for once-no offence Canada). In my opinion, the bridge was a lot more fun than spending 30$ to get into a club to pay 15$ for drinks anyways (alcohol in Singapore is ridiculous).

Still not comprehending how I continue to function on so little sleep, but realizing that it’s another one of those things that I just shouldn’t question and should just accept!