Phnom Penh – Wandering Around Cambodia’s Main City

City of 2 million people, Phnom Penh is the largest in Cambodia.  I enjoyed wondering streets and exploring, though I was constantly aware of the potential for mugging and bag snatching.  Not only had I read about this and heard the stories, I witnessed a first-hand account on my first day I was getting a Sim card installed in my mobile phone.  As I was in the mobile phone store another foreigner ran in to the store declaring that her bag had just been stolen with her phone inside.  “This happens all the time,” she told me, “my strap was cut.”

The Independence Monument.

Tuktuks were my preferred way to get around city.  Motorcycle taxes were common and half the price but there was no way to tell whether it really was a motorcycle taxi or just some guy with a motorbike.  Anyone with a motorbike could take me anywhere if I agreed to join him.  Of course this is also true of tuktuks but at least it seems purpose-built that it would be his job to transport people.

The daily temperature rose to between 35 and 39°C.  This is not usually my thing but I ended up enjoying the hotel pool every day.  Fortunately it was a salt water pool and had far less chemicals to damage my skin.  

Click below for a video talking about my insecurity of swimming in public.  I am getting better with this each time.

It is not recommended for one person to be walking alone after dark in this city.  I agreed and spent most evenings dining in my hotel.   I do take certain types of chances but in this case better safe than sorry.  Statistics were definitely against me.

 I left all cards and ID in my hotel and only carried cash.  

I also broke that habit of bringing my iPad everywhere.  I walked around with my bag gaping open so that possible thieves could see there was no reason to steal my bag.  I had to carry water, maps, and eyeglasses.   I was told my phone was most safe in my hand or pocket.  But I met another foreign girl from England who had her pants torn apart after she put her cell phone in her pocket.  In quickly retrieving her cell phone from her pants the thief ripped her pocket off her pants in the not-so-gentle process.

Middle class homes in the city center looked very secure.  

Click on the image below to see video of the same.

I was wandering around looking for lunch quite hungry in the 38°C sunshine.  Soup like this, even if the venue is not overly hygienic, tends to be a safe choice if you can see it boiling.  But I was feeling overwhelmed by the heat and I moved along.

Little Road stop places like this are everywhere.

This is the view from where I was sitting at the place I did choose.  My stopping caused quite a stir of excitement as the woman called for a family member who could speak English.  A tiny bit.  Not used to foreigners, it took them a few minutes to seem comfortable again.  This was clearly a home based business with baby and grandma watching television on a bed in the same room.  There were clothes here and there and personal effects around.  

Click on the image below to see a video 360° from where I was sitting.  It’s a bit fast but I was trying to be inconspicuous.  Grandma and baby were out at that moment.

I would say there are a variety of lifestyles in the city of Phnom Penh.  

I often walk by people doing dishes by the side of the road , but rarely do I feel comfortable taking a photo .  

Click on the image below to see video of this from afar.

 

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This is some sort of delectable animal products being dried out for a streetside restaurant.

This photo shows the location of where they are being dried in the sun.  During rush hour I felt the need to wear my mask walking down this street, so there might be some chance of pollution absorption.  

In this scenario I was walking down a street of shops and suddenly encountered a bit of rubbish .  it’s not as bad as it looks.  Okay, maybe it is.  But later I was walking down the same street and there were multiple people sorting the trash.  So I think maybe that stretch of street is simply used as a trash sorting depot even though it’s just a normal street.

I took this photo after having a funny experience at this shirt shop.  Many businesses are home based businesses and in this case the family lived in the shirt shop.  The shop was clearly run by the wife and the husband had to come home for lunch when I was there.  Unknown to me, because he is an official he had changed his clothes to have his lunch break.  When I saw that particular shirt I thought it would make an interesting costume, I assumed it must be from nearby Thailand or Vietnam so I tried it on.  I was mistaken.

When he saw me wearing his uniform I thought he was going to wet his pants.  He was screaming-laughing in disbelief.  He called everyone over and took my picture.  It seemed like I was a celebrity until it hit me what was happening.  When I went to take a photo as well he covered his name tag quickly.   I was probably very fortunate he was so good humored.

Usually when I have iced coffee I go to the air-conditioned places I recognize to escape the heat for a few minutes.  On this occasion I stopped at a typical local coffee shop.

Click on the image below to see this coffee shop better.

Back at the hotel wearing my new shirt from the soldiers wife’s shirt shop.

Click on the video below to see the helpful pedestrian walk lights! When working better, they don’t just walk but they run as they’re running out of time. This one was a bit defunct. Some work a bit more effectively.

Okay, that’s enough for today. Thanks for visiting and I hope you’ll join my adventures by clicking “Follow” and entering your email address. Cheers! Darren

My Autumn Journey, Part One

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Feeling the Love in Montreal!

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Where’s the Kitty? Oh, there he is!

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Kitty likes to remind me that he’s here.

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In case you missed it in an earlier posting, I was cat-sitting for two weeks in Montreal during month two.

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“Oh Good, you’re awake. I’ve been waiting for you. On your chest.”

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“I brought some of my food into your bed to share. You’re welcome.”

Is part of why we love our pets so much because we feel their love and acceptance no matter what? We don’t feel judged by our pets. We don’t feel shame with our pets. They love us as we are and we love them. All we have to do is share a bit of affection and all is perfect. Our pets don’t care about what flaws we have. If we feed them and love them that’s all they need. Our shortcomings don’t matter to them.

Why can’t we do this with other humans? I think we can. I don’t care how much money you make or what you have achieved, I only care about how you interact with me. I don’t judge you if you suffer depression or anxiety, I’ve had those human experiences myself. I hope you won’t judge me for having more than you or less than you, but I can’t worry about that if you do.

Most of us carry shame that is not serving us. We let it needlessly separate us from others. Sometimes we may be too proud to reveal a weakness. Or we fear judgement if we are too open.

Montreal became a place where I have practiced being more open. I have often over-shared. Sometimes it has been a bit messy. But in the end, it has felt good.

My Autumn Journey, Part One

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I’m healing my life one building-block at a time. Thank you for joining my journey.

I came to Montreal for four weeks on August 13 and I eventually pulled away on October 8th, making a total of eight weeks to the day. I didn’t want to leave, but it’s not where I live and it’s not where I want to live. Maybe someday, after studying French somewhere else, but not now. I developed some really great friendships and was having meaningful experiences so I just didn’t want to drive away. Home is where the heart is and I am leaving a lot of my heart in Montreal.

I always knew that I suffered a lot of shame growing-up and carrying into adulthood, but in Montreal I really looked at that and faced it head-on. I have carried a lot of shame for a lot of things, none of which was deserved or warranted or served much purpose.

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I was very fortunate that these issues surfaced for me while visiting new friends in Outremont and that I was able to dedicate as much time as I wanted reading and researching about it. I had heard shame researcher Brene Brown through a Ted Talk and I knew that her work was where I needed to go. “The Gifts of Imperfection – Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life” would be my guide for this segment of my life journey.

The following ideas are not my own, but are things that I gleaned through presentations of Brown. I highly recommend this Ted Talk and I will recommend another later. Click on this link to open in your browser: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame#t-1313554

To be happy, Brown concludes, people need to LOVE and BELONG.

She also discovered that the greatest single predictor of whether one feels they are loved and belong is whether or not THEY FEEL WORTHY OF BEING LOVED AND BELONGING.

That is the magic trick! To find love, feel worthy of love! To belong, feel worthy of belonging. Simple! Now we should all be happy! Yay!

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This raised a major question for Brown. If people need to feel worthy of love and belonging to achieve love and belonging, what are the blocks causing so many of us to feel unworthy? She found the main answer and ended-up dedicating the next eight years of her research, with thousands of case studies and interviews, to SHAME.

SHAME is basically the FEAR OF BEING UNLOVABLE. The fear that others will reject us. The fear of not being good enough as we are. It’s cousin is perfectionism- attaching being good enough with our actions being good enough and taking it to the extreme that only perfect is good enough. We can be ashamed of being fat, of not accomplishing expectations, of not being perfect, of not having a nice enough or clean enough house, ashamed of where we come from. We can even be ashamed of how successful we have become, of having more than others, and we can even feel shame of our greatest talent. It knows no bounds.

Shame is a nearly universal emotion, the only people who don’t experience shame are our sociopaths and psychopaths – those who also do not have the ability to experience empathy. Imagine Dexter except in his case he was taught to focus on “those who deserve it”, his own code of right-and-wrong. For most people, the shame of having killed someone (by their own volition, I’m not talking about war) would be pretty strong.

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Shame differs from guilt. Guilt is the feeling that I DID SOMETHING BAD. Shame is the feeling that I AM BAD. So guilt is about our behaviour, and it serves us well to not repeat poor behaviour, not to repeat a mistake, not to intentionally cause harm. Shame is about who we are and it does not serves us well. I AM A BAD PERSON BECAUSE I CHEATED ON MY TEST, is not a healthy response to cheating. IT WAS BAD THAT I CHEATED ON MY TEST, I SHOULD NOT DO THAT AGAIN, is much more appropriate.

When parents use shame to teach children what’s right and wrong they are teaching their children that they are inherently not good enough and not worthy to be loved. This was more common in the past than it is today, many parents today are much more aware that they should address specific behaviours in isolation. “I am very disappointed that you hit your sister,” is not a great way to teach but is much better than the crippling, “I am very disappointed in you,” said in a very stern and serious tone. Or, “You should be ashamed of yourself!” (WRONG – you should be ashamed of something you did, not of who you are, of yourself.) Add to that, “now go to your room and think about that all evening, I don’t want to see you again today,” and you have a kid focusing on the fact that they are a disappointment to their greatest source of love. Nurturing the fear of being unlovable. Shame.

(Side note to parents, when correcting behaviour it is often a great opportunity to teach empathy or consequence, “Think of how your sister must feel”, or “What would it look like if everyone made a mess and didn’t clean-up?” and actually have them describe the mess. Guilt has a role but don’t teach the child they should feel shame. Separate the behaviour from the person. Because when a person identifies as being a bad person, guess what happens on top of being set on a miserable path of low self-esteem – behaviour does not improve.)

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Some sights around Montreal. I cycled past this old warehouse often.

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“If we paint cute things on the bridges, maybe no one will notice when they collapse!” Good idea! Spend your money there!

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I thought it was cute, a pig encouraging you to buy more pork at the butcher. It would be like McDonalds having a cute animated cow character as their mascot. Hmm.

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“I found you!”

I hope you’ll stay tuned for Part Two of my Autumn Journey. This will be a four to six part topic I feel is important for everyone to think about and talk about.

Follow me and don’t miss a thing! Click on “Follow” and enter your email. I only email my blog posts, and you can unfollow with one click on any email you get from me. Cheers!

The Real Reason I Came to Montreal

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I’ve shared on my blog a number of times that in May, 2012, I crawled away from the rubble that had become my life in Winnipeg. I had a good life there for some years, just by the end it had all come crashing down around me. I literally couldn’t breathe. I had completely isolated. I was going down a very dark path and I had to get off of it before it was too late. I would have drowned when at the last minute, flailing uselessly as my lungs started to fill, I was thrown a life saver. What was my life saver? Sudden knowledge that I could lead a different life- that I didn’t have to cling-on anymore to the one that no longer felt like mine.

Back in Toronto I decided not to resume life as usual. I decided to take the broken pieces and rather than rebuild right away, I decided to fix each piece. I decided that the next time I build myself a life, it’s going to be with some really great building blocks.

Thus began my current life adventure. I am a work in progress. As are we all.

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I have long been a lover of travel and the personal growth that can spring from going outside one’s usual comfort zones. Many of my most memorable and life-changing experiences have happened during travels, from age 21 when I left New Brunswick for London, England, it was exhilarating to create a life starting with a suitcase and a CV, discovering who I was and who I could be along the way while having few ties to who I had been. I guess travel has become my comfort zone for periods of self-development, I feel so free to grow without the constraints of the familiar around me. It is true that not living somewhere in particular can also become my new comfort zone and eventually I may need to break that too in order to settle down. But, for now, travel presents me with situations and opportunities and meeting people that feels right.

Wherever I go my issues come with me, you can’t run away from yourself. But I want my issues to come with me, so I can work on them. In my travels, I happen upon people who become part of my journey. Notice that I don’t happen upon THINGS that become part of my journey. Life is not about things. I’m not about the sights and museums. I do like to look around me and smell the flowers and yes, even to notice the rotting rubbish and experience passing through all manners of lives. But in the end, I have no interest in writing a travel guide. My interest is in sharing personal experiences.

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I am working on my writing, I hope to more and more be able to share authentic experiences with a fun and entertaining tone. Some photos thrown in for context, looking around where the experiences are happening. But history and place are not the theme of my travels.

I didn’t know what to expect when I decided to spend some time in Montreal. I figured I’d find some stories to practice my writing and that I’d study and practice some French. But that hasn’t been my direction. I started with listening and repeating language lessons in my headphones everyday but then I got pulled away. Again and again. No, language is not why I’m here. In Montreal the life building blocks I am mostly working on are friendships. This is an area of my life in which I have always felt inept. No doubt that is surprising to many who know me (I am good at fitting-in), and unsurprising to others who also know me (fitting-in is not the same as belonging.)

In my severe and painful personal disconnection on leaving Winnipeg, connectedness soon after became a life focus that I realise needs to be life-long. First I had to deal with blockages. These were mostly anxieties and fears that had gotten out-of-control and were a large part of my isolation. These days I look for all sorts of meaningful activities I never would have before. In Montreal, meeting groups of strangers for dinner has been especially interesting. One thing leads to another. Suddenly I find myself drawn to Cape Breton after meeting a Cape Breton enthusiast. Bali reignites interest from hearing stories of adventure. Someone spends their winters in Panama. There’s no telling where an evening might lead. I didn’t use to be open to such evenings. Hardly ever with friends let-alone with strangers.

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After leaving Winnipeg I focused on regaining my health, which I had let deteriorate over some years. I started feeding my body the nutrition it needs, and giving it the exercise it needs. Today I’m 43 pounds lighter than I was in May, 2012. It’s not as easy as I make it sound, I often want poutine but more often choose salad as I’m walking the streets of Montreal. But I sometimes let myself have poutine. I try to nourish myself first, and then I crave the junk less. But if I want to indulge in ice cream, I probably will too. But I try to find balance. I’ve talked about food before and I will certainly talk about food again because we all eat everyday and our food system is a disaster. If it were a machine, it’s like it’s been set to “harm” rather than “nourish”. The world’s abundance is at our disposal and yet it takes a lot of self-direction to eat healthfully.

Food is our biggest drug. (My Mom said that so it must be true.) It is all processed by our body. Our body breaks it down and tries to use the nutrients to supply all of our functions, including our brain functions which affect how we experience the world. Your body needs various elements in real food to operate properly, if you’re not supplying it with some real food (especially fruits & vegetables that look like fruits and vegetables) you are punishing yourself. Think about your body trying to break down dozens of different chemicals that are foreign to it when you eat processed food from a box. Your body looks at Butylated hydroxytolueine and thinks, okay, what should I do with this? Hmmm. Maybe I’ll just try . . . Food affects our mood and energy and life in ways we often don’t recognise or accept.

Our body is constantly rebuilding and it needs the right materials. Just like I’m trying to create healthy building blocks before using them to rebuild my life. No, in creating them I am rebuilding my life. My life doesn’t look like a house and a job. My life looks like a collection of healthy and loving relationships and meaningful life work. That’s what I’m building. Because too soon the pretty house became meaningless and eventually the work became without purpose except to earn money.

When I can eventually pull my journey into one story, that will be my book. First I plan to collate a book of short stories. Learning how to write – practicing writing and studying writing – is also a part of my journey. I am a work in progress and my work is also a work in progress.

If you’ve followed my blog you know that I’ve pushed myself outside my comfort zone a lot over the past two years. There have been successes and failures but an overall movement forward. I’m always carrying about some self-help books and listening to audio books and as much as possible having authentic conversations with the people the universe puts in front of me. Which brings me to Montreal.

If you had told me that in Montreal I would make progress and healing to my friendship blocks, I would have told you that when your Mother dropped you on your head, she forgot to pick you up. She left you in a little pool of your own blood, the family dog licking where it was still coming out your ears. And then your Dad stumbled in reading a newspaper while he was walking and tripped over you, knocking you down a flight of concrete stairs, your delicate body tumbling end-to-end completely smashing your cute little face and skull and any chance you ever had for even a semblance of a normal life. In other words, I would have suggested you were possibly somewhat mistaken. But that your parents were probably to blame. As all parents are. Yours particularly though. That was pretty bad.

Before coming to Montreal, I had one friendly acquaintance here, and one casual friend who I knew with my former partner. So I did not imagine this to be a location where I would end-up focusing on healing when it comes to friendships. It felt right in coming; it had long been on my radar to see what it would be like to live in this major Canadian city and to do so while it was still in full swing with summer festivals and street life. I had expected to find a few stories and work on my French. Nope. My purpose of being here has surprised me.

Author, scholar, researcher Brene Brown agrees that we humans have an essential need for connection. She ties it in to spirituality and she breaks it down further. As people, we have a fundamental need for love and to belong. I spent most of my week studying her ideas. This will be my topic next time.

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Some views wandering around North of Mount Royal.

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This interesting roof is below the height of the overpass, so I look at it at length as I am walking to the gym inside the large building you can see in the background.

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I like urban graffiti. And it is proliferate in Montreal.

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Along Van Horne perhaps still in Outremont approaching Rosemont station. Outremont is actually an upscale Montreal neighbourhood but none of the fancy bits seem to have caught my eye.

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Yeah, this isn’t one of the fancy bits either. It’s just that the “fancy bits” look a bit normal and not so photogenic.

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This is my first view every morning while cat sitting, very cute! I moved to a friend’s place in Outremont for a couple weeks after my month in Le Village which was on Rue Ste Catherine near Metro Beaudry. KittyKins likes to make sure he’s the first thing I see when I wake-up. He does this sometime before morning by sleeping-on and clinging-to my chest as you can see in this photo – I was very careful to hold my phone out and to the side to capture this rare wilderness moment. This evening I cut his cute little toe nails to reduce the marks he leaves when I surprise him by waking up, as I tend to do every morning. Like most humans who didn’t die in their sleep that night.

Although his name is KittyKins he seems to prefer me to call him Mather Theresa. Which is bit of a girls name and quite similar to someone else’s name too, but it’s hard to explain that to a cat. You can’t expect a kitty to know who Mother Theresa was can you. And try explaining that although she did want the ill to die in peace, which is lovely, when there was a simple known cure she withheld treatment because she didn’t actually want her patients to live or to get better. So that’s not quite as lovely. You can see my blog postings from Calcutta (Kolkata) by looking through my blog index to the right, although I don’t remember what I said in them.

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A Local Foreigner

Moving Forward

A gentleman in his mid fifties holds a table while a beautiful young woman orders their drinks inside. He seems nervous. But also excited. Like a kid on his first day at school. All those unknowns just around the corner. I can see that he is a foreigner. Not to Montreal, but to this world he is finally introducing himself to.

Neither are coffee drinkers but they sit outside this coffee shop and watch the parade of mostly gentlemen wandering past along Montreal’s gay promenade. Strings of cotton-candy pink balls drape across this pedestrianised section of Rue Ste – Catherine for many blocks, a canopy shield blocking the real world.

There is a competition of music. A public piano tempts passers by at an adjacent parkette. It doesn’t often seem to tempt actual pianists; those most intrigued seem to be the ones who gave-up their piano lessons before reaching middle school. We are not often serenaded by classical pieces memorised for their conservatoire exams. Someone is just playing with music, playing with notes and cords. It is nice to hear.

Opposite, music spills into the street unabashed from the local barber shop. Bears and drag queens mingle to the sassy dance music.

“You got new sunglasses,” the young woman chirps, putting down two blended drinks and reaching out to take them from his face, to see them closer. “Ray Ban. They look nice on you, Dad!” He’s moving to a new world. Her encouragement is nice to see.

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I decided to not show the actual tarasse in case there was someone visiting the village who would not want it to be known.

Removal of the balls.

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View from my balcony showing the canopy of balls.


Click on the above video to see removal of the balls.

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And the view later.


Nighttime view sitting outside in the village on a temporary patio under the canopy of balls.

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View looking down to a patio.

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The patios bring removed to open the street to cars for the winter. So glad I was here to enjoy this transformed street!


Watching the end of a season.

Thank you for visiting! I hope you’ll join my life adventures by clicking on “follow” and entering your email address to receive my posts by email. There is zero risk, you can unfollow with one click on any post received by email any time. Cheers! D

My Richmond, Virginia life. Experiment. The Beginning.

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I have paused in the friendly and active city of Richmond, Virginia to catch-up on my writing. While I am here you can expect postings from my time in New York City, Rhode Island, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Fredericksburg, and of course, right here. I hope you’ll join me on my adventures! Just click on “follow” and don’t miss a thing! Cheers!

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Writing this in my temporary home in Richmond, Virginia.

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I’m sitting in my apartment on a rainy Tuesday morning in Richmond, Virginia. And I think to myself, this is crazy! In a good way, crazy. Because I live in Toronto. That’s where my bedroom is, that’s where my things are, that’s where some of my family live. My parents live in New Brunswick, but my siblings are in Toronto and there’s no one closer in my life than my siblings. Toronto is where I consider home.

I am in a growth phase of my life. I’m reinventing myself. Again.

When I was twenty-two I left New Brunswick for London, England when I first graduated university and I realised then that my life could completely change in nearly every aspect from one day to the next day. Within the time frame of one week I went from being a student in Fredericton with a population of 45,000 to having a job and a flat-share in one of the worlds greatest cities. (Fredericton is pretty great too though!) I vowed to remember, if ever I hated my life I would know that I could change everything about it. The streets I walk down, the people I interact with, the culture that surrounds me. The whole thing. But then somehow I forgot. I let myself feel trapped longer than I needed to. But perhaps I needed to have the negative experiences I had to make it a clean-break. Maybe my timing was right afterall.

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We can get trapped by our lives as they progress. We get stuck in our mortgage payments, the security of work that we know, we become attached to our nice things. If we are mostly happy in our lives then the attachment is a good thing, it’s healthy. But if we are mostly miserable in our lives then keeping those things are not worth it.

Unfortunately, a certain miserable present is easier to accept than an uncertain future of possibility. It is a human condition to fear change. To fear the unknown. We evolved staying safe. The misery we know can seem more safe than the possibilities we don’t know.

Many of us have children and that brings life-long responsibility. But having a family also gives meaning and purpose to our lives. I see my grand freedom as a consolation. If you are tied to your family then don’t envy my life, you have something that I don’t have. If you have children, there will be ups and downs for sure, but you will always have that special bond that I will never know. I’m not saying that I envy that either though, I know that that experience is not for me.

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My life had to fall apart for me to dump it and to pursue freedom. Even then, it was hard giving-up my home and my work. That choice was not easy and I fought it, the universe kept pushing me away from the life I no longer fit until it just crumbled around me and there was almost nothing left to leave behind. My beautiful home (which you can see on this blog) became my prison, my relationships faltered, anxieties eroded me in my work; I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I was killing myself with food and drink and smoking. My liver was being overworked by the medications I needed to get through the days. Anti-depressants, ADHD meds, and cholesterol meds, none of which I require anymore. I’m not saying people shouldn’t need these medications, everyone is different, I’m just saying that I used to need them myself and now I don’t. Maybe I will in the future, who knows.

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I’ve shown this pic on my blog before, this was the photo taken for my driver’s license in May, 2012. This was right after I dumped my life in Winnipeg when I surrendered my Manitoba license for my Ontario license. I get a lot of attention at borders as unfortunately my passport photo is from a similar time. With self-destructive behaviour I had gained 20 pounds in my last year in Winnipeg. Since this photo I have lost 30 lbs, another 10 and I will be at my ideal weight. Not by dieting but by eating healthfully, making better choices and getting regular exercise. It’s not actually easy, I do ignore cravings and disallow most processed snack foods most of the time even when I want them. When I eat a “bad meal” I make sure to balance it out with some very good meals, like the French do in France. They will enjoy a banquet, but the next day it’s not business as usual, it’s salads and lean protein to balance the difference. It works! I also quit smoking and weaned off the long-term medications I had previously needed. (I do not suggest anyone to go off their medications, I’m just telling you that I no longer needed them.) I feel like my life changed just in time and I am very fortunate. That article is coming-up in the near future, watch for “At Home in Winnipeg”.

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And a photo taken today, 19 months older in Jan, 2014. A lot healthier and happier. It’s not just the weight difference, my whole body and brain is healthier.
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On my current road trip after spending time in Manhattan, Rhode Island, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Fredericksburg I was looking for a place where to linger so as to work on my writing and catch-up on my personal goals before moving on.

I chose Richmond as this place to linger due to a variety of factors:
-It’s a medium-sized city (200,000 city population, 1.2 million Metropolitan population) and therefore has a good variety of things to do and people to meet.
-It is enroute to my next reunion destination near Atlanta.
-It has mild winter weather (comparatively).
-I was able to sublet an apartment in what looked like an interesting urban area with walkable restaurants and coffee shops and near a gym and a library. (I must admit, where I am is rougher than I could have imagined, but it’s fine. I will not take my safety for granted.)
-Richmond has a proliferation of meetup groups through which I can meet locals. If you don’t already know meetup.com, it’s a great website for connecting people to share all manners of interests.

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So here I am on day three of twenty-eight days. My goal here is to create a temporary life. Or to continue my life, but temporarily here. For me this means having meaningful days and hopefully making some meaningful friendships. It is very different than sight-seeing, which by it’s very syntax is looking at the surface. Sure, I want to see some of the more important sights while I am here, but visiting locations and looking at things is rarely my purpose of travel. This is confusing to most people who take week-long vacations either soaking in the sun or filling their minds and photo albums with views of museum contents and historic landmarks. The contents of museums were never my main interest anyway, and that activity for me is unsustainable. I have been mostly travelling since summer, 2012 and I do not have the type of mind that can focus on displays day-after-day because it is not my interest. I don’t try to visit museums all the time in Toronto, but I do try to have meaningful connections with others. The same is true when I travel. I’m not trying to see everything – I am trying to experience everything. I want to know what it feels like to live in Richmond, Virginia. What is it like to be a local here. How does a Virginian see the world and himself in it. Okay, I might not get to understand that last bit, but I do hope to have lots of meaningful conversations with local friends that will at least widen my understanding.

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The view of rain from my window as I write. Can’t complain, it’s probably freezing-cold at home!
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It’s day three. I arrived on Saturday afternoon, half-unpacked, and spent two and a half hours at a local supermarket stocking the kitchen. It took so long because being unfamiliar with the store I had to read a lot of labels and really search to find healthy choices. The “Organics” section seemed to be set-up to push premium health-labelled foods rather than to actually segregate organic choices because when reading the labels more closely, easily 2/3 of the items in that section were not organic. “Natural” is not organic. Don’t be fooled. There is no substitute word for organic. And you will see labels like, “made with organic oats” and then find a whole list of non-organic and possibly even GMO ingredients also in the item, oats might even be a lesser ingredient. The food system is not set-up to keep us well. It’s very tricky. Trying to avoid harmful pesticides and antibiotics and hormones and genetically-modified human experiment foods is difficult and expensive. Not everyone can afford healthy food or has the time to find them and that is wrong. The food system is not set-up to nourish, it is set-up to maximise profits. I know I will be eating-out at least once daily, so I want my at home choices to be the best they can.

Sunday I attended the local Unitarian Universalist Church. I met an interesting friendly woman with whom I should have given my details, I don’t know why I didn’t. I guess I didn’t feel like “coming-out” at that moment. I feel like if I give a woman around my age my number and invite her to call me, I should clarify that I’m a gay guy. Hopefully I will see her next week because she seemed like a friend. I was hoping there might be a regular brunch group after church too that I could join, but I didn’t find such a group. I met her and one man who introduced himself. With him, though, I found myself in an awkward conversation defending Canadians. I did not come here to compare Canada to America, such comparisons are unfair and can be “won” in different ways in both directions. If I didn’t have a love for America and Americans, I would not be here. Of course Canada is my homeland and will always have my first allegiance. I would expect the same of any nationality. Everywhere must have it’s pros and cons. Anyway, it’s the people who mostly make a place what it is.

Later Sunday, after joining the YMCA and adding that routine which is high on my list of goals, I joined a group to see a film, for which I had to drive well into the suburbs. This is a very suburban city and I am finding my car to be essential. They were a wonderfully friendly group and afterwards most of us continued with dinner. I emailed one of the group afterwards, basically a gesture of friendship, now I think he probably found it strange but that is just me interpreting his non-response. He’s probably just busy and I should not second-guess. The thing is, if I don’t reach out and try to make friends, I won’t make friends. It takes effort, putting oneself on the line and getting out to meet people. If I am successful in making some friendships I won’t write about them specifically, except to mention activities and that I did make a friend(s).

Monday was engaged with parking issues, writing, working-out, and wandering the neighbourhood enjoying 16C sunshine. Later I attended a “dinner with singles” event, again a thirty minute drive into the burbs. It was a nice group, but the restaurant choice was terrible for meeting people. One of those chains trying to mimic urban after-work chic but in my opinion failing. The sushi was suburban with lots of cream cheese and avocado options and muted flavours. “What kind of wine is the house red?” “It’s red. We have white and red.” “Yes, but what type is it?” The waiter looks at me confused and says again, “red”. He knows there are more than two kinds of wine in the world, they serve other kinds by the bottle. That the house red should be a particular variety or bouquet of varieties should not confound him. Surely it must be something. I didn’t actually care about the food or the drink. I was sitting with friendly locals, we all chose to meet for dinner together for the purpose of meeting more than for the actual food, but the venue was far too noisy for regular conversation. I strained to hear across the small tables, and I strained my voice trying to be heard. I was able to chat a bit with the friendly woman beside me and she gave me her card. She could become a friend. I emailed her so we’ll see.

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I need practice making friendships. I’m never sure how much to share, how much is too much, when first meeting people especially. I can’t always tell if someone will be a good friend or a detrimental person to know when we meet. Might I enjoy spending some time with this person, or will I find them draining after a very short time and regret having given them my private number. The British yoga instructor I made instant-friends with in Manhattan only a few weeks ago proved a very suitable friend who I will hope to know for a long time. As did my former NYC landlord. Sometimes people click, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I’m am too forward in offering friendship and people shy away before we can know if we’d make good friends or not. Or they misinterpret my offer of friendship and it’s just awkward. As I said, I need practice. I know the reason for this, it has to do with my developmental phases as a child and into my teens. For a number of years I had very few and often no friends at all outside of groups. I am an introvert and need alone time, but I am also outgoing so this is not apparent. Growing-up, in my head I was always an outsider. Even when perhaps no one else saw me that way. Even before things went wrong. I was because I thought I was.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” he mentions how most comedians tend to be outsiders. How they gain a unique perspective looking at the groups around them because of their removed position. They are able to step-back and see things that others don’t. Or they don’t even need to step-back, that is already their viewpoint. Funny, I had assumed that Gladwell was a Jewish native New Yorker, and only when I was at a reading he gave in Brooklyn this December did I find out that he is actually a Protestant Canadian from Ontario. Part Jamaican background and born in England until moving to Canada at age six, he would have been somewhat an outsider in small-town Ontario and also in NYC himself. He was being interviewed by the editor of the New York Times, who he actually grew-up with. Another Canadian from Ontario. Being an outsider has some very specific advantages. (As well as disadvantages.) This lends itself to writing too, not just comedy, seeing and experiencing things differently than most provides a unique perspective. In some ways I will probably always be an outsider, I was never destined to lead a “normal” life. Square peg not trying to fit a round hole. I think that is why I feel so at-home abroad where it is more congruent to be an outsider. I am happy being an outsider, but not socially. Not anymore.

No longer being an outsider socially was a goal I decided to conquer this Autumn when I joined a men’s discussion group in Toronto. It is a fantastic group where I am able to share openly, set goals for myself, and hold myself accountable in a very supportive environment. My focus also moved to having more meaningful personal connections in my life. I had been isolating myself. I have been feeling the fear and doing it anyway on a variety of personal issues that I have allowed to stop me from living my life more fully. It was my new habit of pushing through fear that saw me trying stand-up in front of a New York audience in December. Three times. It was a natural extension of pushing-through that barrier of fear that had been stopping me from more regular activities that don’t cause most people any stress at all, like answering the phone. (Anxiety issues became an offshoot of my ADHD meds in connection to things that happened in my life, and the habit of having anxiety lingered after I weaned-off them. I then had a lot to conquer.)

If I don’t make a friend or a few friends in Richmond then I may see my time here as a failure. But I shouldn’t. All I can do is try, and I know that if I tried then I was successful. I can’t regret trying, I can only regret not trying. But it’s hard to accept that really. I know myself to be a kind and honest person, an interesting and unique guy and the other person should be fortunate to have me as a friend. But when you come to somewhere alone with a goal of connecting with locals, it is hard not to see the accomplishment of that goal as success or failure. I try to choose appropriate possible friends and they can accept or reject my offer of friendship. How they see me and how they behave towards me actually has little to do with me and is entirely about them, but it is still personal. They are still reacting to me, even though it is based on their own ideas how they interpret me. I know that if I leave Richmond on Feb 8th without having made a lasting personal connection, I will wonder where I went wrong. But it won’t go wrong. One of these times I’ll offer friendship to the right person and they will invite me into their personal life and maybe even introduce me to their friends and I will make some meaningful personal connections. It’s fun meeting socially with groups, but it is more meaningful meeting with people who have become friends. Not just friends in the group, but friends outside of the group. Already I have met lots of really friendly people here in Richmond, so it’s just a matter of time.

I guess this is a bit of a personal social experiment although I didn’t see it that way until just now. For the moment, I’m having a great time organising to be social every evening and spending quiet days reading, writing, wandering, and exercising. At the library, the gym, at home, and at coffee shops. Balanced days. Getting things done that are important to me while honouring my nature of needing quiet time.

I just found a list of goals in one of my notebooks that was from about 6 months ago. Until very recently, I was not Mr.Social. At all. One of my goals was to push myself to meet with a friend every week. As I mentioned I had been suffering anxiety and as a result of this I rarely called friends anymore, I rarely reached out. To meet with one friend a week was one more than I was usually meeting. Incredible. I am moving forward.

Here is a crazy goal, and I will not let myself feel defeated if I don’t accomplish it. Make enough local friends to actually host a small gathering before I leave. Wouldn’t that be something.

Stay tuned!

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Some local artwork, right out back.

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I am going to enjoy taking photos of the graffiti art in Richmond. They’ve done a great job brightening-up areas.

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Stay tuned for pics highlighting Richmond’s more picturesque areas. These are just a few directly around me. Cheers!

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Sharings from my Edinburgh Journal of 1997

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I have been trying to write some stories from my latest visit to Edinburgh. I did write thousands of words while I was visiting this past June, nearly all reminiscing about the life I had when I lived there at age 23/24. But there is too much, it is too long. It is not the type of writing that I currently espouse either; it is more rambling than should be a collection of stories about my life in Edinburgh. It’s reads like a memoir, but I don’t want to write a memoir. Not yet. The topic a bit too large for me to yet breech, yesterday I dug out my Journal from the time and started reading. I have no stories yet finished to share with you but I think that sharing some pages from my 1997 Journal might be interesting. (Even though it is like a memoir.)

Pages from my 1997 Journal.

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Before this entry I had Graduated University with a degree in Business Administration. I had organised a 2-year working holiday visa for the UK and spent some months working in London. Then I backpacked a bit through Europe and went home for xmas. While home I decided to upgrade my computer software skills before returning to Europe to try it all again in Edinburgh.

Meeting that man in the tube as I passed through London who gave me that advice (highlighted) proved instrumental in creating my new life in Edinburgh.

I arrived to Edinburgh that Wednesday night, and Friday I accepted a 2-month office contract at a recruitment agency on George Street starting Monday.

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Later that Friday, I found my first flat share in Edinburgh. (Was not March 1st, was Feb 28th.)

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1997 Photo showing windows to the flat, three of which were in my room. (Middle Right)

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Photo taken in 2013 from the corner of the Royal Mile and South Bridge better showing the location of the building, behind the Bank Bar.

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My landlord in London had let me store all my possessions accumulated from my life in London into a locked closet in his building. After I had my flat in Edinburgh I went down to London to retrieve my things to discover that they had been looted. I would later discover that it was looted by my landlord, who tried to give me back my things after the police were involved, but he had very little remaining and nothing left of any worth. TV, VCR, clothes washer, some chairs, framed pictures, lamps, CDs, various decor items, dishes, cutlery, cooking utensils – all the basics were probably easily pawned. My landlord also owned the local taxi company and was known to the driver who I was telling my story to as he drove me back to Victoria Station to return to Edinburgh. I don’t know if my landlord was from Pakistan, I thought he was from India actually.

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I had accepted that I was choosing a noisy flat when I rented in such a lively, central area. But when a friend visited from London, she caused quite a stir and nearly got me kicked out, as remembered in the next two images from my journal.

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One of the things I loved most about living in Europe was the proliferation of the classical arts. In Edinburgh I enjoyed strolling by theatres on a free evening to see if they had rush tickets. As a young person, I could see most performances for only £10 in 1997/1998. My memory poor, I didn’t remember ever seeing Faust until I read this entry. I’m good with some details, but names of plays, music, movies, artists, even things I listen to often – I’m terrible.

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In addition to working in an office, I took a part time evening job at a cafe. It filled my time before I had the pleasure of making friends and also allowed me to save more money for future travels. I enjoyed spending time with my co-workers. In the next entry I mention Karen inviting me and Katie (from South Africa) to visit her family home at Lock Lomond. “Where people shake hands firmly and wonder who you are.”

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Looking down to Katie at Cafe Florentine in the Lyceum Theatre.

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There’s me at 23. Wow was I a bad waiter! Well-intentioned though. That will be a story. But I had a great attitude, which was enough I guess.

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Here it is in 2013, I had lunch there on the patio and enjoyed seeing the office where I worked too, which was just across Lothian Road.

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Kitted with Scottish gear from Karen’s parents to go explore nature and collect some drift wood. Left to Right, Katie, Me, Karen. Sadly, I lost touch with both Karen and Katie. That happened much more in the days before Social Media.

I stopped working at the cafe when it no longer served me (at the office I’d miss our new opportunity of overtime to go work at the cafe, and that meant earning 3 times less). When I left it was just before the Edinburgh Fringe too, and I also didn’t want to entirely miss the Fringe festival to earn less money working more hours. I could add two hours to my regular office day of 7 (35 hrs was full time in Scotland, probably still is), and earn more than working an additional 6 hours at the cafe, which would take my entire evening. It was a no-brainer, although not everyone was pleased.

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Another reason I quit the cafe. I no longer had free evening time I wanted to fill!

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“I sit in a room of familiar strangers.” I quite like this phrase. I guess because we were a new team all starting our first day, we were very familiar with each other anxious to make new friends and start-off on the right foot. This was day one of my second contract with Standard Life. When my first 2-month contract lapsed, I didn’t renew and returned to the personnel agency where I started a new 6-month contract in a different department with a completely different job and in a different building. The change was great and with overtime often available the pay was much-improved too.

I did not remember that I was starting to have arm trouble already by the day I was starting my second position. I also mention having trouble handling the dishes and cleaning (at the cafe) too, which became much worse very quickly. My new physical limitations would have had me leave the cafe very soon had I not already left. Eventually, I even had to buy plastic dishes to handle at home. My arm disability became instrumental in my decision making with the limitations they caused. I would not find out until 1999 that the cause was spinal damage. The condition became completely manageable after learning that.

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Some views from my 1997 photo album.

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