Sunday, November 16, 2014

Meetings with Monks

For me, traveling in Southeast Asia was a time of many firsts: It was the first time I accepted an invitation from complete strangers to eat a meal at their house, the first time I rode a motorbike, the first (and last) time I took a 24 hour bus journey... the list goes on and on.

It was also the first time I saw a monk which, I quickly realized, is a very common sight in this part of the world. During the time I spent in Southeast Asia (particularly in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar) I met and befriended many monks who, in addition to being some of the kindest and most genuine people I've ever come across, were absolutely fascinating to talk to. I often asked them questions and ended up learning quite a bit about how they live.

Making my offering of Goldfish crackers to a monk in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Here are a few of the things I learned during my various meetings with monks:*

• They live very simply and do not receive any kind of income; they survive solely off donations and offerings from people who use their 'services', which can include performing blessings, teaching and spiritual counselling

• They take vows of celibacy, and females should never touch male monks (though I'm not sure the same applies to males touching female monks)

• They live communally in temples or pagodas

• They are required to shave their heads and wear robes, usually in orange or red for males and pink for females

• If there is ever a situation where non-monks are eating with monks, the latter eats first

• It's not only for adults, children can also be 'monks in training'

• For some, being a monk is something they may try for a year or so, while others remain monks for their whole lives (I met an elderly man who had been a monk for over 70 years!)

• They are not allowed to drive vehicles, however they can use mobile phones and computers

Learning about and befriending monks was without a doubt one of my favourite parts of traveling in Southeast Asia, and is one of the things that I miss most.

* Just as there are different types of Buddhism, there are different types of monks, so the rules I mentioned may not apply to every single monk. I don't claim to be an expert on the subject, this is just some of what I learned while speaking with monks during my travels!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Follow the Trendy Brick Lane

While in London last week, I went for a wander around Brick Lane. Situated in the city's East End, this dodgy-turned-trendy area is home to countless Bangladeshi restaurants, vintage shops, a massive outdoor market and, one of my favourite things to photograph, lots of colourful street art. 

And that's just one street, in one neighbourhood, in the crazy but incredible city that is London.

Monday, October 27, 2014

International K-9

Most of my friends and family know that I'm a massive dog person. If the idea of walking around with a person who stops to pet practically every dog they see embarrasses you, spending any amount of time around me would probably be very difficult for you. Honestly, when it comes to cute (heck, even not so cute) canines, I have virtually no self-control; I HAVE to go say hello and give them a pet. Just yesterday as I was going into the supermarket, there was this 12 week old black lab named Bonnie... Ben practically had to drag me away so we could get on with our grocery shopping. 

That's something I've absolutely loved about traveling: playing with dogs anywhere and everywhere I go (rabies be damned!). Just like the vast majority of people I met along the way, nearly every dog I've come across has been friendly (except for this one dog in Germany who tried to bite me at a flea market. Ah well, can't win 'em all). These are just some of the many canine friends I've made during my travels:

Agadir, Morocco

Mandalay, Myanmar

Dong Hoi, Vietnam

New York, USA

Siem Reap, Cambodia 

Nha Trang, Vietnam

Tavewa Island, Fiji

Santorini, Greece

Shrewsbury, England

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Venice, Italy (can't find the dog? Look in the pram. Yeah, that's a thing)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The World's Cheapest Toll Bridge

If you've spent any amount of time driving a car, particularly in North America or Europe, then chances are you've paid to cross a bridge. Toll bridges have existed for hundreds of years and can be found all over the world. 

Although the data doesn't exist for me to be able to officially prove this, I think I may have found the world's most inexpensive toll bridge: Kingsland Bridge in the town of Shrewsbury, England.

The bridge is thatta way!

The Kingsland Bridge

Spanning the River Severn, this bridge's toll was a whopping 10 pence (roughly 18 Canadian cents) until 2011, when it doubled. Yes, that's right; after remaining unchanged for 25 years, the toll rose overnight to 20p (much to the outrage of a certain 'mark rickards' who felt this was a 'rip off' - if you feel inclined, you can find his comments here. Oh, the trials and tribulations of small town life). To cross the bridge by foot, you face a (non-obligatory of course, as there is no one there to enforce it) charge of 1p.

No, they don't accept credit cards.

The bridge's 'honesty box' for pedestrians


I just can't help but find this bridge endearing. I wouldn't say it's overly pretty to look at, nor does it represent any great feat in civil engineering; I guess I just find it kind of comforting that there's still something left in the western world that costs less than a dollar (or, in this case, a pound). Plus, the views from the bridge are gorgeous!

What do you think? Is this the world's cheapest toll bridge, or do you know of an even cheaper one?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Thanksgiving Lists

I've been pretty lucky this far in my life in that the Thanksgiving dinners I've eaten the second Monday of every October have always been prepared by other people. Sure I've helped out, stirring the cranberries here and basting the turkey a bit there, but on the whole I haven't contributed much. It's always looked like a lot of work, but I never realized just how much until this past weekend. 

As the whole giving-of-thanks thing doesn't really exist on this side of the Atlantic, I thought I would take things into my own hands by preparing Thanksgiving dinner for the first time ever. Minus the turkey, that is, because a) British shops don't sell turkeys this time of year due to the aforementioned nonexistence of the holiday in question and b) As I don't eat meat, the idea of touching/stuffing a huge dead bird really grosses me out. Ben roasted a chicken though!

Now this was a lot of pressure for several reasons: 
- Ben's family had never eaten Thanksgiving dinner (and I had been going on about how amazing pumpkin pie is, despite an article I read claiming that this vegetable-based dessert freaked many Brits out and was therefore terrified everyone wouldn't like it)
- It was proving rather difficult to find pumpkin pie filling; the only shop that seemed to sell pumpkin pie filling was out (which means there must be other Canadians somewhere in this town...) but luckily more got delivered at the last minute
- We were going to be seven altogether and I had never cooked anything for seven people at once, let alone a Thanksgiving dinner

But I was determined for this British Thanksgiving to be a success.

I started cooking around noon and apart from the chicken (which Ben made), the gravy (Ben) and the pie crust (Ben's sister Sophie) I made it all: 
- The pumpkin pie filling
- Spanakopitas (more Greek than Thanksgiving I know, but they're a good vegetarian substitute!)
- Vegetarian stuffing
- Beans and carrots
- Mashed potatoes
- Cauliflower cheese 
- Bread rolls

The preparation looked something like this:

Tracked down some canned pumpkin in the American section at Tesco!

This freaked me out a bit - had no idea the pie filling would be this runny!

Peeling potatoes

Ben's chicken!

Classic Ben, sneaking a bite of something


It was a lot (and I mean a lot) of work - I now have considerably more appreciation for all the amazing Thanksgiving meals I've eaten over the years - but the end result was soooo worth it. To my relief, the food and even the pie were well received by the Brits (although they all saw how much work I put into it so I doubt they would have told me otherwise) and Ben's family even said they want to make Thanksgiving an annual event!

A very proud moment for me

Their first Thanksgiving dinner (from left to right): Sophie, Ellie, James (Ellie's boyfriend), Julie, Dave, Ben

PP, how I'd missed you


I'll end with just one more list, of what I'm most thankful for this Thanksgiving:
- My wonderful boyfriend, who was absolutely worth moving across the world for
- My family, for supporting my nomadic lifestyle these last couple of years
- Ben's family, for letting Ben and I live with them while we look for jobs and making me feel like part of the family
- The friends who have made an effort to keep in touch since I've been traveling
- My health
- That I've had the incredible opportunity to spend a lot of the last two years exploring this wonderful world

Happy Thanksgiving from the UK!