Friday, December 11, 2015

Istanbul: Land of mosques, cats and the best legs workout of your life.

Better late than never - having been almost two weeks since my trip to Turkey and Jordan, I thought I better get my ass in gear and start writing about the amazing experiences I've had during my fourteen day trip in the Middle East.

I've seen friends' photos of their trips to Turkey and Jordan and both countries have always been on my wishlist to go. If life circumstances hadn't worked out the way they did (i.e. a cancelled trip to Australia / New Zealand, leaving my job mid-November), neither of those countries would have been on my radar this year. Convincing someone to go was the next task - so I recruited a seasoned travel buddy of mine, Lindsay. It wasn't that hard to twist her arm in going - within a matter of a weekend Skype call, a week's worth of itinerary planning and bookings, we were all set to go.

A quick side note before recapping my city adventures, I want to say a few words about how the media has completely exaggerated what is happening in the Middle East and the impact it is having on tourism. While it wasn't as obvious in Istanbul, the other places I visited (Petra, Cappadocia, Bodrum - which will be covered in future blogs), the effects of a hyped up media frenzy were pretty obvious. Tourism is suffering, all because of the perceived threat of ISIS. Folks, if terrorists are going to strike, you can't really stop them or stop living your lives. I'm not saying go book a plane and go into a war zone, but all of these places are not in harms way. I had a friend of mine who said that their annual conference in Istanbul was going to be rescheduled - and that's a shame. It's really disruptions like that play right into the terrorist's hands. <End rant.>

As an executive summary (sorry, the business world hasn't escaped me yet), Istanbul can be summed up into the four Cs (again, old business school habits):

Calling all cat ladies and gentlemen (eyeing particular friends on Facebook), if there was a city that's more cat friendly, I'd find it hard to believe. Cats here rule the streets - they are without fear and the nice ones just jump into your lap, as my friend Lindsay quickly found out on her first night as she was hanging out outside our Airbnb.

I'm sorry, but this seat's taken.

I think the funniest story with cats in this city has to be from our second day. After many kilometres of walking and sight seeing, we decided that life was hard enough for us that we needed to chug a few litres of Turkish wine (which by the way is fantastic and is discussed further on in this blog.) Having found a small café, whose waiters clearly recognised our alcoholic needs, we enjoyed a nice meal of Turkish cuisine and watched the world go by. A Spanish couple seated two tables from us, clearly exhausted from a full day of shopping, were completely oblivious to the fact that for some reason, the bags on one of their chairs seemed to be moving at a rhythmic pace and the sounds of cat moans were drowning out the daily calls to prayer. Both the copious amount of wine and the comical situation led to Lindsay and I practically doubling over and peeing ourselves, along with most of the staff. It culminated with a "wine spewing from your nose" funny moment at the end where the Spanish lady finally caught onto what was happening (about 10 minutes too late) and turned to the wait staff and said in broken English, "oh no, I don't like." Hey lady, cats have their needs too.

I think my friend definitely had the time of her life in Istanbul and the cats just added the cherry on top of the travel sundae. Lindsay was the definition of the Peter Piper of cats - during a walk home, I swear to God, there was a marching band of cats behind her. It was as if she was their Goddess heading the parade of followers.

The cats were playing musical chairs with the window sills. The black one hissed at any that got too close. #Territorial.

But seriously - I can see why pet population control was such an initiative in North America. It breaks your heart to see a cat on the streets uncared for and worse, unloved. Spey and neuter your pets.

I know mosques are a place of worship, but what I found out during this trip was that they are in fact places of art and design. I knew that coming to Istanbul, I had two sites I definitely had to see - the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. Good news to all you lazy travellers out there, they are literally right across from each other - so bonus for not having to go all that far to check off two of the world's most beautiful monuments off your list of to dos.

 Hearing the call to prayers and standing in the courtyard of the Blue Mosque was pretty magical. 

There's something quite hypnotic about the calls to prayer - especially when the mosques in the surrounding area are echoing the same prayers. When you step inside the Blue Mosque, you're bound to have neck problems when you leave as you're just staring up at the beautiful and intricate designs on the ceilings. I know Michaelangelo scored high praise for his mural on the Sistine Chapel, but emoji hands up to the team that did the ceilings of the Blue Mosque - that's dedication, artistic skill, religious devotion and patience right there. I guess people were so much more productive back in the days when social media wasn't around. And it wasn't just the Blue Mosque, any mosque you stepped into (there were three on the Asian side of Istanbul) are equally impressive, with their own distinct designs / personalities.

[The main dome of the Blue Mosque]
Excuse me sir, do you have a paint by numbers outline for this?

The Hagia Sophia is a short stroll away. Albeit a ticketed venue, the entry fee is worth every lira. As Istanbul has been a city that has changed hands several times from one religion to another, the Hagia Sophia is a standing monument to that, a trophy if you will to who's religion currently dominates the city. If you look close enough, there are old frescos dating back to when the Holy Roman Empire controlled the city that have been somewhat restored after someone from the Ottoman Empire was too keen to erase all signs that Christianity once ruled the city on the Bosphorus.
The best trophy this side of Europe/Asia.

The stunning interiors are starting to fade, so a refurbishment is underway so this wonder can have the facelift it deserves.

Set aside about two hours to do both venues properly. They are doing a massive renovation on the Hagia Sophia right now, which made my inner photographer / instagrammer a bit peeved, but you can still capture the beauty of the interiors nonetheless.

Much is made about the Grand Bazaar in the old city. I'll be honest, I wasn't a fan of this sprawling complex of tiny shops and boutiques. The famous SE Asian saying of "Same Same but Different" applies so well to this landmark. Unless you're desperate to find trinkets to buy for your friends and family at home to show off your Turkey trip, this place is a good 30 minute stroll for a few photos. The Spice Market was much more impressive. You see daily life happening - locals bartering for freshly caught fish from the Bosphorus and conical pyramids of spices arranged in a dazzling spectrum of gold, orange and red hues.

All of the lights. 

Take a whiff...just don't sneeze.

As mentioned above, Turkey is the perfect destination for wine lovers. I had no idea of the amazing quality of Turkish wines until several bottles later, the taste testing turned more into drunken professions of love for the regional vineyards. Out of all of the ones Lindsay and I tried, this one (Kavaklidere Angora White Wine) was my favourite. A bit gutted they didn't have it at duty free, but my sadness turned into pure delight knowing I can order it from Tesco here at home.

Finally, one cannot leave Istanbul without capturing its amazing street art. In contrast with Amman, where graffiti was just writing on the wall, Istanbul has embraced its local talented street artists and allowed its walls to be decorated into murals of humourous commentary. No wonder Istanbul has made it on several top lists for places to appreciate street art.

Because...this is fucking Istanbul man...

When reading up about Turkish baths, I was a bit weary and skeptical. Not that I have any issues with my body (thankfully, once you hit your thirties, you can't give two craps about who sees you naked), but the idea of someone bathing and scrubbing you down seems all a bit...medieval. Bathing is such a personal thing, so when it was suggested that I try a hamami, I got the juvenile giggles. My friend Sandy, recommended an amazing bath called the Kiliç Ali Pasa and told me that we needed to enjoy this place to its fullest. My friend Sandy is rarely wrong with her travel recommendations, so we booked as a #TreatYoself moment at the end of our two week trip.

One thing to note - if you're traveling as a guy/girl, this hamami does single sex sessions only during the day. Women are first from 10 to 4, men start in the evenings from 430 onwards. As conservative as that sounds, it really does make the experience better that you're not worrying about the opposite sex seeing you in your birthday suit.

Go for the earlier sessions where you can take some nice photos. Once the place gets bumpin', you'll get some angry stares from the half naked patrons who do not want to be in your photos.

Your hour session starts with the staff providing you with a cold juice made from dates (mmm...fibre) and showing you to the change rooms in which you're asked to strip down with only a wrap to hid your goodies. Women, from what I was told, go topless and can wear underwear or bathing bottoms to hid the downstairs, where as men are asked to go naked - there was a blush of embarrassment as I had to clarify the point having come prepared with my bathing shorts on.

You're led into the first chamber where you sit beside a marble basin. An attendant asks you to dip your hand into the bowl to see if you're good with the temperature, and the minute you say yes, you are baptised with several douses of water from head to toe. As refreshing as it was, you're caught off guard with the intensity of the splashing. You're then led to a heated marble slab as you recover from breathing in a bit of water during that first cleanse.

After lying down for about 20 minutes on the marble slab, you kind of get a bit stir crazy. As someone who can't keep still for more than 2 minutes, my constant rotation from back to front must have annoyed my neighbours. You're also constantly getting drips of warm water on you from the condensation off the ceilings of the hamami - it kind of reminded me of Hong Kong where you are constantly ducking from air conditioning drippings.

You're tapped on the leg by an attendant. He is also in a wrap and sporting the most fashionable, but functional non-slip Crocs you'll ever see. Mine was Onur (apologies if I've butchered your name Onur...) and he was a lean, mean scrubbing machine. Face, back, arms, felt super weird at first to have someone that close to you and cleaning you. At one point, he showed me the exfoliator and I dry heaved at all the dead skin he removed just from my back. Other than that, the entire process proved to be relaxing, if not, healing in a way. After two weeks of dirt and sweat from all of our adventures, this was proving to be such a great idea after all.

The best part of the cleanse is the soaping. They take what is like a pillow case, dip it in olive soap water, let some air in, twist it up into a big sack of suds and squeeze it all over you multiple times. It was as if you were in some giant bubble bath.

The effects of the bath were instant. I felt more relaxed than I've ever felt - no drug inducements with this level of tranquility. You're led to a cool down area and wrapped up as if you were planning to be discovered as a mummy in three millenia's time. There's no rushing, you take things at your own pace, and the staff is very courteous and attentive. Hands down the best 150 Turkish Lira spent.

I think one of the best parts of traveling is the fact that you can stuff your face and drink jugs of wine and know that the amount of walking will help counteract any weight gain. Istanbul steps it up a notch by adding in the incline. This city loves its hills, stairs and man, my ass thanks Istanbul for the workout.

One place you have to check out is the rainbow staircase, and there's quite an inspiring story behind it as well covered by the Huffington Post. It wasn't a statement for activism, it was just a man who simply wanted to make people smile. I don't remember the exact location, but if you take a wander or the tram up the Meclis-i Mebusan Cd., you'll see them standing out quite clearly.

Oh, hai gurl hai.

Having spent a total of 6 days and 5 nights in this beautiful city, I've added it to my short list of cities that I will visit time and time again. Hell, if Turkish wasn't such a difficult language to learn, I'd move to the city if I could.

To say I haven't captured everything is an understatement. I could write chapters about Istanbul if I could and I might, as there are a few short story ideas brewing. As I have a few weeks of funemployment ahead, I'll be capturing my trip to Jordan and the ancient city of Petra, the hot air balloons of Cappadocia and the coastal beauty of Bodrum in later blogs.

Ciao for now. #TJTravels

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Halloween in London

Last year, I didn't really celebrate Halloween here. In all honestly, I escaped back to Toronto for a quick pit stop visit to settle my house and missed out on Halloween altogether, in both cities.

I was determined to do some fun Halloween-ish activities this year that didn't involve dressing up in a skimpy outfit or spend a ridiculous amount of money on a costume (ahem, fancy dress here in the UK) or going out on the town and dealing with other drunken yahoos in terrible outfits.

So I picked something obscure and something super touristy. On the southeast coast of England, is the sleepy seaside town of Margate. It used to be a vacation destination during the Victorian era, and now, there are parts of it stuck in the past including the boardwalk full of arcades and fish and chip shops. Margate is also home to a weird little secret - a shell grotto discovered in 1835 and opened to the public to see since 1838. No one knows who built it, no one knows when it was made and no one knows why it was made. Containing over 4.6 million shells from oysters to cockles, historians theorise that this was the work of pagans or druids who used the symbolism of flowers and other simple shapes like stars and hearts to pay tribute to nature and their gods. Me thinks it might have been a hoarder who had too much time on their hands. The tour lasts all of 20 mins, two very small chambers and while it might seem like traveling an hour and a half outside of London wasn't worth it, it was surprisingly breathtaking and one does appreciate the level of OCD detail that went into each of the 20+ panels of mural work.

The dome leading up to a small opening to the sky.  

Shelled heart. 

The winding tunnels of the grotto.

Following a Sunday on the coast, I decided to do a tour with friends on the sickening and scandalous case of Jack the Ripper, the notorious serial killer who terrorised East London in the late 1880s. As we decided to do the tour two days before Halloween, the Ripper Vision tour was very much in demand. Well over 200 people showed up and we were lucky enough to score Jamie as our tour guide - his East London accent along with his acerbic wit and biting humour added a nice touch of authenticity to the terrible stories of the murders and the sad fate of Jack the Ripper's victims.

To add to the authenticity, the evening was rainy, dark and damp, and this tour, touted as the only tour with projectors, showed the then/now sites of the murders, the gorey autopsy photos and finally sketches of who the real killer could be. It was a nice laugh at times, incredibly educational of a dark part of London's history and a nice loop of Whitechapel. If you ever go on the tour, make sure to grab a well deserved pint at the Ten Bells as a reward for all the walking on the hour and a half tour.

The poorly lit alleyways of East London provide the perfect playground for Jack the Ripper to strike without being found.

 Our great guide Jamie who kept our attention at every stop.

The famous pub, The Ten Bells, where a few of the victims of Jack the Ripper had a pint of gin before they died. Yes, I said a pint of gin.

And after all of that, I did decide to be a joiner and head out for Halloween, even after promising myself a quiet night in. But what does one do for a last minute costume? Well, thankfully, I have an uncanny resemblance to a beloved cartoon character and just so happened to have a red striped shirt and toque lying around.

Where's Terence? Instead of Waldo, here in the UK, he's known as Wally.

Happy end of October everyone!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The ad I'm the most proud of my career.

When I started my job at Gravity Thinking in December 2014, the first project I was briefed in on made me go "Wow." It has been a long time since my days on Gillette that a feeling about a project like that has happened.

I was shown a video about the science of cymatics, in which sound waves affect the shape and patterns of thin layers of solid and liquid matter. A petri dish with dark liquid danced and performed intricate shapes while resting on an active sound speaker. I've never seen anything quite like that before and the creative team working on this turned to me and said, "So, what do you think?"

To be honest, it was both exciting and frightening as it was a project scope I have never encountered in my life. The concept was simple - show how the Glenfiddich 21 Year Old whisky, which is matured in oak barrels for 21 years and finished in Caribbean rum casks to give it its sweet flavour. Cymatics and musicians performing a song would help show that idea of the whisky being raised in Scotland and roused by the Caribbean in a metaphorical sense. It was the "how are we going to do this" that was the mountain to climb ahead.

There was a song to consider, talent to recruit, a location to find and a cymatics instillation to build and at first, four months before production to do it all. Surprisingly, the latter wasn't the issue - having found a creative technologist team through our production company, Ten Hertz, took on the task of conceptual design to final build like they've done this before. When I first saw the devices being tested, I felt like a kid at the science museum with my nose pressed up against the glass.

Our original sneak peek of the cymatics at work. 

What ended up being the most difficult was landing a song. I do not envy producers who have to scroll through lists of music and listen to clips just to find the "perfect" fit. Then, it's trying to sell in a cover and new arrangement that both the Clients and the artist licensing the song rights would both enjoy. Seriously, I don't think I want to go through another discography list again having done about four rounds of music selection.

Thankfully, we pushed back the film production so there was more time for us to do it right - two days and 30 hours on set, it was all coming together. Sitting off set with the patch into what was happening on screen was just like that moment I had when testing the cymatics. Unlike other shoots, I wasn't bored or just hanging out around the craft services table.

So after 11 months of hard work and difficult conversations, I'm proud to share with you what I helped to create. I'm even more proud of this work as it'll likely be one of the last I'll work on in the advertising world and it's not a bad one to leave the industry with.

To have a behind the scenes view of how the film came together, take a look here: for that dram. Sláinte!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

A whirlwind weekend.

I'm not usually one to celebrate birthdays, but there are one or two memorable years where everything aligns and my friends go all out to throw me an amazing bash. When I was 20, my roommates at University threw me a surprise party, when I was 25, my friends had 25 drinks waiting for me to ring in the day (surprisingly, I didn't die of alcohol poisoning.)

And this birthday certainly joined those epic celebrations as one of the most memorable. First, on Thursday, a dream came true as I was able to attend a taping of the Graham Norton Show here in London. I've been trying to get tickets for a year now from the production company and attending other show tapings to try to get access to a priority ticket and a few weeks ago, I was told I had them. But I had no idea that we would have such amazing luck as the usher pulled my friends and I aside from the lineup and told us if we were really well behaved and didn't take any photos, she'd sit us in the VIP section right by the stage. We were 8 feet away from Graham and his guests Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Dawn French, Chris O'Dowd and Rod Stewart. My friends and I felt like we were in some weird dream - an hour and a half taping went by so quickly as the guests were hilarious and chatty - I didn't want it to end. London Bucket List item checked off my list - and in such an incredible way!

We were right in front of the stage - where that silver cylinder is which is the lever for the Red Chair. (Inner girl scream.)

The celebrations then continued Friday. Having never been to the Royal Academy of Art in London, I thought why not #TreatYoSelf and my friends to a guided tour around the stunning gallery. Having not read up on anything about the tour, I thought it would have been your standard walk around, but we lucked out with one of the museum's most experienced guides, Nigel (having done tours for over 11 years) and he gave us special access to rooms you would never see as a regular visitor to the gallery. One of the most impressive rooms was a lecture hall in which Charles Darwin read his Theory of the Origin of Species for the first time in public in the 1800s. We also saw an original incomplete Michaelangelo, which was acquired by the museum for £1.50 in the 1800s, which is perhaps the cheapest anyone has ever paid for that master's artwork. For an hour tour that stretched into an hour and a half and free entrance into a paid exhibit, it has become one of my favourite galleries in the city, mostly thanks to the talented and knowledgable Nigel Crenshaw. I tip my hat to you Nige.

Friday was a nice reunion of sorts for me as I hung out with people I worked with back in Canada. I wrote in my last post that I'm hopefully transitioning out of the advertising industry, but if anything would keep me in it, it would be the great people that I've made friends with and continue to be friends with even though it has been ages since we've worked together. I think I've met up with at least 5 - 6 former colleagues here in London and have always been excited to show them around. And hey, a five minute wait at Patty & Bun here in London was just the cherry on top of that cake! (A five minute wait NEVER happens).

And finally, Saturday completed the three days of boozing one should have for any birthday. My best friends here in London decided they were going to plan a day and surprise me with a bottomless champagne brunch at the Villandry Grand Café and a tour of the Meantime Brewery in Greenwich. Surprisingly, with that much alcohol, my liver and my stomach strangely was able to keep up with the level of consumption and we were able to have a great tasting and educational stroll around the roaring machines in the brewery.

I'll take one of everything.

For someone who is looking to get into possibly doing something in travel and tourism, I was impressed by the professionalism of our tour guide Dan and the team at Meantime. Sadly, there were some rowdy lads that were really ruining the experience for all those who paid for a tour. They dealt with the situation really well and I thanked them during the tour for doing the best they can. And with that, we were able to get some nice product at the end of the tour. Yes - "samples."

I'll be keeping my birthday weekend memories close for a while, perhaps for the next few years when I have low key birthdays. I'm grateful for friends and colleagues who spoilt me rotten this weekend and spent time planning these past couple of days for me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Hey, it's been a while.

As the title states, I've been a pretty lazy trying to update this blog. Life moves quickly and being exhausted after work most days and trying to make the most out of my life left very little time to sit down and collect my thoughts. Yes, I hear the excuses too, and here's to hoping I turn over a new leaf as I hope to turn writing into a living rather than just some hobby to be cast aside when it becomes inconvenient.

Quite a lot has happened since my last update in 2013 (tugs at collar and thinks 'God, two years since my last entry?") Tomorrow is a milestone day for me. One year, count that, twelve months to the day that I boarded a plane from Toronto and set off for two year stint in London. Nope, not the little one in Ontario, the one across the pond. 

365 days goes by in a blink. During that time, I've seen the beauty of the UK countryside, traveled to new European destinations, worked in a boutique agency and on brands that pique my interest and have met many new wonderful friends. It's not all sunshine and roses though, London does smack you with a dose of reality that a place like Toronto will never expose you to. Through all of that, I've come to appreciate three important truths:

1) Never take friendship for granted as it can be incredibly lonely in a big city.

I was skeptical of what my social life would be like over here. Having talked to a few people who have lived here, they voiced the challenge of meeting new and interesting people. Connections through friends and dating apps are very hit and miss. You're forced into the former at times because your well meaning friends think you'll have a lot in common but more often than not, those people have their own lives to lead and were also just meeting you out of common courtesy to their friend. The latter is even worse as there are so many frogs to kiss before you find someone who isn't a narcissist or completely lacking in personality. 

I was lucky to have had my two best friends already living here when I landed. Their kindness extended a roof over my head and food in my belly as I pounded the pavement for work. They, along with one of their siblings, were my therapists while I questioned if London was the right choice in a series of weeks of self-doubt while on the job hunt. Even after I found a job and a place to live in the city, they are still a source of support and thankfully good home-cooked meals everytime we meet up. 

And my luck seemed to have continued in the months following my entry into the UK. Through the apps, I soon met three people I can count as my other BFFs here. They have changed my life here, made me appreciate this city by hearing their experiences, and changed my perceptions of what it means to have good gay role models in your life. Amazing friends are hard to both find and keep around you. Invest in those that make the effort to always be on your team.

2) Be a #TouristEveryday.

One thing I promised myself to do when I moved to London was to act as if I was a tourist with a limited amount of time. Everyday after an interview in the city, I would check out a new museum or a new neighbourhood. I took on the challenge of capturing all 58 Paddington bears on The Paddington Trail while it was on for four weeks around the city of London which made me learn all of the fun landmarks and navigate this notoriously confusing city. 

My coworker once remarked that she has lived in London all of her life and hasn't done half the things that I have. In this city, that is such a shame considering most museums are free entry and that around every borough, there's art, music, food, and culture that's waiting to be explored. 

I share this advice with those friends of mine who have moved to the city and even random people I've met off by chance this approach hoping it'll inspire them to look at this amazing city in a different light. Otherwise, you'll end up as disenchanted as one of the millions of worker drones that buzzes to and from home to work on the (shudder) trains everyday. 

3) Sometimes saying goodbye is the best thing to do.

From the beginning of my career in advertising, I always knew I wanted to move to one of the hubs of advertising and really sink my teeth into the industry there. A Managing Director of mine back at Proximity gave me the best piece of advice - wait until you're established enough to move to a New York or London, otherwise, you're never going to adjust to the standard of living. 

The move to London was in planning stages since that piece of advice back in 2011. It took three more years of planning, saving and hard work to get here. However, the excitement for advertising that I used to feel was cleverly disguising itself as just excitement in moving to London. As I started to work here in London and working on some of the most exciting projects I've ever had a chance to in my career, the excitement started to die. I thought to myself, 'there are people out there who would kill to have the job and the projects you're working on, why are you not more excited?' and I just couldn't muster the energy like I used to.

So I made the tough decision to part with advertising in September. Thankfully, the conversation with my agency's management has been a mature and open discussion. I clearly haven't charted out fully what I'm planning to do next, but I can't continue in a career in which I'm not getting any satisfaction out of. It'll take some time for me to transition into my dream career as a travel writer, and during the time being, I'll have to fill the bank account with some freelance work in advertising (which is thankfully abundant here), but saying goodbye to the industry is the best thing to do, for both my sanity and my stress level.

This isn't my most well thought out post, however, it's just good to sit down and hash out your thoughts unfiltered. I'm glad and grateful I've made this journey and figured out some more self-truths this year. Here's to another year of excitement ahead, particularly because I have no idea what the hell I'm doing.

London in the evening is majestic. A great time to stroll and reflect by the beautiful Thames embankments.

One thing I do miss about home is not being able to jump on the Blue Jays bandwagon now that they are good again. WTF BJs, the one year I decide to leave...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day to all you lovely, strong, full of love and life mothers out there. I especially want to wish those new moms a very happy 1st Mother's Day - you deserve it for what you just went through. Haha.

Ever since 2000, Mother's Day has been a bit of a sore spot for me. Having lost my mom at 16, I really didn't feel like being very happy on a weekend that most other people were going out for brunches. Thirteen years later, the negative feelings has not completely disappeared, but I do have another person to celebrate on this special day. Having had the time this year to get to know my stepmother, May,  better, I realize I'm incredibly lucky to have another strong female role model in my life.

Thanks to Disney, stepmothers get a very bad rap - generations of kids were raised on the fact that stepmothers marry your dad and go on to destroy your life. I'll be honest, I didn't warm up to my stepmother all that quickly. I only learned of her around my 18th birthday when I started talking to my dad again after a two year self-initiated silent treatment.

My dad, never the one to be great at emotional parenting, thought it would be good to break the ice by telling me he had remarried and that I should say hello to my new mom. Let me give you a piece of advice if in case you ever encounter a situation like this in the future - if you just started talking to your son again after two years of not talking, and he just lost his mom two years before that, you might want to ease into the topic of your remarriage rather than "SAY HI TO YOUR NEW MOM."

I'll admit, I didn't recover from that for a while. And on my first trip back to Taiwan when I was 21, my discomfort with the whole remarriage situation certainly showed. I was terribly immature about the entire situation, and for a person in their early twenties, I had the emotional quotient of a seven year old who didn't get the toy he wanted on his birthday. Needless to say, my stepmom and I didn't really bond at all except for exchanging a few superficial pleasantries.

During my twenties, I had three other opportunities to go back to Taipei, and each time, we did bond more and more. But I was still hesitant, if not hostile, not really knowing whether to direct my anger of the situation at her or my dad, she still received some attitude and cut eye (and for those of you that know me, I throw some incredibly nasty shade when I want to). But just like my dad, my stepmother was incredibly patient, even when she didn't need to be, and still made the effort to bond and get to know me.

I found out a lot about my stepmother this year that surprised and impressed me. She was a Chief Auditor at one of the biggest banks in Taiwan, she oversaw dozens of branches and hundreds of employees. She had worked there for 25 years, gradually climbing the corporate ladder, because she was smart and she had incredible interpersonal skills (which my dad could learn a thing or two from). She and her family grew up with modest surroundings having lost her dad at a young age, she and her four other siblings took care of each other as they either immigrated abroad for education and work - she having taken her MBA in the US.

What impresses me most about my stepmom is her devotion to family. To her own family, she has been incredibly supportive in taking care of her mother. Her mother, my step-grandmother, is a very bubbly and energetic octogenarian, but often loses her memory from time to time. May shows the same patience she had with me and my brother's terrible attitudes, as she often accompanies her during the weekdays and entertains her frequently, and repeatedly asked questions. She is also quite devoted to my dad, even though there are times, I'm not even sure why she's with him. My dad, like so many other men, is quite devoid of reading his wife's anger towards him, which causes some very silly fights between the two.

Since living in Taipei, May and I have bonded over our love of drinking (there are times, she can outdrink me), gossip (she has been my informant on quite a few hilarious Jou family secrets) and being able to talk about life in general. Conversations with her are easier now as we've found more and more to talk about, and to an extent, I'm sure there is some jealousy on my dad's part that I confide more in May then I do him. To be fair, having a heart to heart with my dad can be more painful than extensive dental surgery. I swear, Kristen Stewart has more emotional expression in her face than he does sometimes when I try to have a discussion with him.

Okay, enough dad bashing. I am lucky that I now have another person to celebrate on Mother's Day. Someone who I am happy to introduce to my friends whenever they visit to Taipei, someone who I now email and communicate with voluntarily and someone who I can share stories and laughs over several bottles of wine.

Happy Mother's Day May. Thank you for everything.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Hey G Adventures - let's take a stroll through my gallery.

Hello G Adventures Team!

So you've read my cover letter and reviewed my CV, it's time to get to the good stuff - the photos.

I'll admit, because I like being upfront and honest, I have not had any sort of professional photography training or done any professional photography work. All of my work displayed below is amateur. But I believe I have a great eye for photography, I also try to learn by experience and teach myself how to improve on my technical and composition skills each time I go and explore with my camera (quite the "autodidact" you can say).

Anyway, you've read enough chatter, let's take a scroll through my photos and you can see for yourself if I'm what you're looking for.

Taken at Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
A great tour guide I once had said something I will never forget, "Always remind yourself to take a look at what is behind you." Turning around after walking through the narrow west gate of Angkor Thom, I turned back and snapped this fella not two feet behind me.

Taken near Le Hotel du Ville, Paris, France.
There's something about the way that this bubble was captured in black and white that reminds me of a sci-fi movie shapeshifter.

Taken from the top of the Marina Bay Sands, Singapore.

The sky's reflection sandwiches the Singapore cityscape.

Taken at Wat Po, Bangkok, Thailand.
Tradition has it that if you pick up a bowl of coins, drop a coin in each bowl along the temple and you have the exact number of coins to match the bowls, the Giant Laying Buddha will bring you good luck. This woman clearly wanted to ensure she got it right, creating quite the backlog of irate luck seekers.

Taken at the Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK.
The overcast clouds of Scotland provide perfect lighting for this shot of my friend wandering out into the middle of a lake. The stillness of the water and lack of wind that day helped provide a near perfect reflection.

Taken at the docks on Koh Samui, Thailand.
Thailand's three islands in the southwest are the perfect getaway for those trying to escape Bangkok. Here, relaxed passengers get ready for the return to the big city.

Taken in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan.
Tokyo is often represented in tour guides by this one area - Asakusa and its bustling markets. On the weekends, we see a rare glimpse in this photo of actual pavement as it is packed with locals and tourists alike.

Taken at a carnival in Paris, France.
Memories of the CNE flooded my mind as I bought a few entry tickets to a carnival my friend and I stumbled across while wandering aimlessly through the 19th arrondissement.

Taken on a boat headed to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Sepia really brought out the general haze of sailing up the river towards Siem Reap. Passengers gathered on the top deck to get some sun and escape from the stale cabin air below.

Taken at Gold Beach, Normandy.
A day going from beach to beach in Normandy and we were rewarded with this spectacular view over the cliffs at Gold Beach.

Taken at the Central Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
I affectionately call this one "Mary Poppins Monks." It was fascinating the respect they got - traffic came to a halt as they walked through traffic.

Taken near Lhasa, Tibet.
In one of the most awesome feats of human engineering, the First Palace near Lhasa stands on top of a steep hill with a path that leads to a shrine at the peak. From the peak, you look back and see the stunning backdrop behind the palace where the old Dalai's use to be able to walk out and meditate to everyday.

Taken in the streets of Bangkok, Thailand.
When the sun sets on Bangkok, the food carts come out to play.

Taken by the Seine River in Paris, France.
1,000 drummers took to the streets to celebrate music. This is just a third of the group.

Taken in Halong Bay, Vietnam.
Passengers take the opportunity to embrace and hide from the powerful Vietnamese sun.

Taken at Ulan Temple in Bali, Indonesia.
Balinese women on their way to a wedding with gifts upon their heads.

Taken in Johkar Square in Lhasa, Tibet.
The wares of the Tibetan traders in the market square. What's your best offer?

Taken at Mljet National Park in Mljet, Croatia.
Leaving a piece of Canada behind with the Inukshuk.

Taken near Inverness, Scotland.
Could it get any more Scottish in this photo? All we're missing is haggis.

Taken in Hvar, Croatia.
They boats were hypnotizing as they swayed back and forth while tethered to the sea floor.

Taken near Central, Hong Kong.
Someone decided that this neighbourhood could use some colour - and it sure worked.

Taken in Tibet.
Hairy buffalo line the river's edge so that tourists can jump on for a souvenir photo.

Taken at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
This young monk ponders why he's of so much interest to tourists.

I hope you enjoyed my portfolio / digital gallery and that you had a chance to see my composition and point of view in taking photos.

If you have any questions, or want to chat in person, I'd be happy to meet.

Thanks again for reviewing my work. I appreciate your time.