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I almost didn’t survive my first day on my own in a foreign country

16 Apr

I didn’t think I would survive my first day on my own in a foreign country.

I woke up nauseous, dehydrated, and overwhelmed. My first thought was to get water, so I took a cold shower to try to shake my nerves off, and went downstairs to ask where I could buy some. The young girl at the front desk didn’t speak much English and pointed me in the direction I should head. I swallowed hard realizing that this was the first time I was in a country that I didn’t speak the language, and that I was alone. I mentally prepared myself to wander in the quest of water. The sun threatened to reign down past the overcast at any moment so I didn’t have much time. What if I fainted? Would I be robbed? Licked endlessly by the adorable but filthy stray puppies that littered the streets? Is this how people got rabies?

I headed down the unpaved road and found a small shop immediately adjacent to the hotel. I sighed in relief. I wasn’t going to die. Not like this.

The shop owner nodded and greeted me with a “Sawa dee”.

“Water?” I asked, wondering if I should have practised my miming skills.

He reached into a fridge and pulled out a water bottle. I inspected the label and the lid remembering that in Slumdog Millionaire foreigners were scammed by the locals who would refill old water bottles with tap water and reseal the lids. Sure, I found water with ease, but I didn’t want to end up with salmonella or e coli.

The bottle looked legitimate enough.

“How much?” I asked

“5 baht.”

I reached for my wallet, watching everyone from the corner of my eye. Not that I would know what to do if they actually pulled something. But I just wanted them to know I had my eye on them.

“I only have one thousand baht”. I pulled out the note. The storeowner starting laughing and peered into my wallet but all I had in there was American and Canadian currency and a coin from South Korea that I wasn’t sure he would take. He continued to laugh and spoke in Thai which made me uneasy. I wanted to tell him that when I got to the airport the exchange counter was closed and that I had to use an ATM. I didn’t know the machine would spit out a single 1000 baht bill. I didn’t even know those existed. But I didn’t know how to say that or how to mime that so he would understand.

A young boy came to me and took my note and disappeared into the back. I stood, unsure of what would happen next. Is that how easy it is to get robbed here? Someone comes to you, you give them your money, and they walk away with your money? He returned shortly after with change for me. I counted the change but had trouble because the bills were so new to me. I stuffed the foreign bills and coins into my wallet and ran back to my room with my water.

***

After I was hydrated enough I felt ready to search for food. Food under 995 baht, of course. I was still anxious about being in a new place and I didn’t entirely trust my sense of direction (how do you say “help I’m lost and sweaty and hungry” in Thai?) but I told myself I had to be brave and couldn’t live in the constrains of my room forever.

So I headed towards the main road and wandered yet again. I passed by some non-Thais (i.e. white people) and wanted to jump onto them and beg them to be my friend and save me but I restrained myself. I also stopped myself from running into the first Starbucks I saw and I think I deserve a lot of credit for that. I found a 24 hours café called Tom n Toms and headed inside. (I now realize that this café is the Thai equivalent of Starbucks because it was pretty pricey compared to other places).

I ordered a ham sandwich. I don’t like ham but it was the only thing I recognized on the menu and figured I was falling below my needs for protein after 22 hours of travelling. I took my first bite and wanted to vomit. I was still nauseous and uneasy. Is it too late to get on the next flight back home? I asked myself. I put the sandwich down and took a sip of my overly sweet iced tea which literally shook me.

Tom N Toms

Diabetes iced tea and untampered water

And then something remarkable happened.

Beyoncé’s Single Ladies came on the café radio and I felt a sudden sense of relief and calm. I knew that song! (and most of the dance moves from the music video, shhh) Beyoncé reminded me to be courageous and fierce -just like her alter ego Sasha Fierce– and that the world isn’t that scary of a place. She reminded me why came to Thailand in the first place.

Thank you, Beyoncé, for saving me. Is there anything you can’t do?

beyonce pad thai

Beyonce pad THAI! Get it, get it?!

 

 

Part 2: Running away from your problems isn’t always a bad thing

14 Apr

In my last post on having a mental breakdown I ended with the idea that in order to survive a mental breakdown you must face your problems. Now I’m going to tell you that I coped with my mental breakdown by running away.

I know, I totally contradicted myself there. But hear me out.

I am running away from my problems because I can only draw one type of tree.

Wait, wait! Stay with me! Let me explain.

I recently read Creativity Inc. which was written by the founder of Pixar Animation Studios, Edwin Catmull. In the book, Catmull discusses the importance of being able to see outside of a particular paradigm or way of thinking. This is something that can be facilitated by a creative and positive environment (the specifics of which I won’t get into, just read the book, it’s worth it).

For example, if I ask you to draw a tree you will visualize a particular type of tree such as a maple or an olive tree. That is your model for what a tree is. Some people are able to shift their default understanding of a tree, to allow it to encompass other types of trees. Additionally, they can see and draw the tree based on the area around the tree rather than the tree itself (i.e. the negative space).

I found myself living in a reality where only one type of tree existed and that tree was all there was to life. There was no negative space, no alternative. And when any other type of tree came in the mix, I couldn’t accept it because it challenged my entire worldview.

So what did I do to overcome this? I changed my world. By moving myself into a new environment, I allowed myself to see more trees. I detached myself from my problems so I could gain greater perspective and learn to accept.

(Okay, so my analogy is lame. Whatever, you understand what I’m trying to say. I’m going through something, gimme a break.)

What it feels like to have a mental breakdown

14 Apr

I pride myself on being smart. Intelligence has always been the benchmark of success for me, something for which I have been consistently praised. Those who know me well know that my modus operandi is one where logic trumps emotion. Being smart and being a good problem solver is such a strong part of my identity and my self-worth that when I am faced with a situation that I cannot think my way out of, it bothers me to my core. And because I don’t place much value to emotions, I push my way feelings down, away from my coveted brain, so I can focus my energy on fixing.

When the unresolved problem visits me again and again, it lingers on the sphere of my consciousness. It taunts me and sends me on a downward spiral. The more I fight it, the more it pulls me down. I can’t help it. I have a neurotic compulsion to obsess and fix. It’s how I’m wired, it’s how I was socialized, and it’s what I consider to be normal. If I can’t solve the problem, then I have failed and I am an idiot.

Working within this all-or-nothing and everything-rests-on-my-shoulders paradigm of thinking, I recently I had to face the reality that my mental capacities were being threatened and that I was becoming stupider. I was expending too much brainpower trying to fix an unfixable problem and suppressing my emotional problems. And that’s never a good thing.

I finally reached a breaking point and because I have neglected things for so long, I’d like to finally share what it feels like to have a mental breakdown so you won’t make the same mistakes I did.

Here’s what you can expect:

You can’t concentrate

You can’t really focus on any one thing because so much is going through your mind. You check out and stare into space frequently become tired easily. You also get lost driving home on a route you are very familiar with.

Your emotions become unregulated

Because I was never good at addressing emotions as they came up, when I hit my breaking point, my emotions spilled out of me like projectile vomit. The majority of what I felt was anger or sadness, and that’s mainly because I don’t really understand how other emotions feel because I never gave myself the freedom to feel in-between emotions like disappointment, sadness, vulnerability, abandonment, joy.

I would become livid at a coworker for not responding to my email within an hour and cry while watching Keeping up with the Kardashian’s reruns because “before it was just Kourtney alone dealing with Scott but now it’s Kourtney AND Mason”.

Yes. This is what it got to: crying during the Kardashians. DON’T LET YOURSELF GET TO THIS POINT!

You are consumed by negative thoughts

I spent a lot of time imagining intricate and disastrous scenarios.

I would imagine a scenario where family members die and I’m unable to cope, or I would imagine losing control of my car and crashing it into a pole (this is while I am actually driving). Similarly, I would imagine myself falling and breaking my ankle as I’m going down a set of stairs, or imagine being told I have an incurable cancer and only have a few weeks to live.

I couldn’t stop these thoughts. I think it was my subconscious trying to tell me that what I was going through was as important as life and death and I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

You have fucked up dreams

Not only are you haunted by negative thoughts during your waking hours; you can’t even be at peace while asleep. I have had a few sweat-inducing nightmares in my lifetime, but nothing compares to what I experienced in the past while.

One particular dream shook me.

I am on vacation with my sister and we are on a beach. In the horizon there is a tsunami coming. We have to climb up a hill to get away but we aren’t going to make it in time. My sister is scared and begins crying because she can’t swim. I tell her to climb a nearby tree with me and to hold her breath when the water hits and to hold on tightly. I tie her to the tree and then tie myself and try to calm her down. 

Then I look down and there’s a baby in my hands. I think, ok, I need to protect the baby. I hold onto the baby and tie the two of us to the tree.

When I look down again, my mom is on the beach. She can’t swim either, so I have to untie myself and bring her up and tie her to the tree as well. 

The water is roaring towards us and then I wake up.

The more things slip out of control, the more you fight back and try to tighten the reigns

When I woke up from my dream, the first thing I did was look up what it meant to have a dream about tsunamis. According to Google, the water represents your emotions and feelings, and by watching the water approach you, you are essentially seeing the effects of your buried emotions. Tsunamis are caused in the real world by changes under the surface (i.e. earthquakes) and symbolically this represents fundamental changes in you and your life that you must accept. Moral of the story: you need to let the water hit you.

I didn’t like that answer and my first response was to shake my head like nah man, fuck that, and Google “how to survive a tsunami” as if I could change anything. Bad news folks, if you don’t know the water is coming there isn’t much you can do but get hit by the waves.

If you want to survive, you’re eventually going to have to face your problems. Bring them the surface and address them. Let the tsunami hit you and trust you can swim.

So how am I going to face my problems? By running away.

Read more in part 2.

Things I don’t Understand

8 Apr

How come when you get a compliment on a nice shirt you have to say thanks? Why is it inappropriate to say “I know, that’s why I bought it”?

Why do we celebrate being born? We should be celebrating the woman that endured months of discomfort and hours of tremendous pain during pregnancy and childbirth during the day of your birth. Give her some cake, man.

Why thongs? Why are underwear lines so faux pas? I think we should discuss this.

Why do people yell at someone who doesn’t speak the same language like they’re gonna suddenly understand them?

Is it just me. or is he saying “mouf”

One time I heard a French guy get asked a question and respond with a shoulder shrug and make sound like “iuunoo” like he was saying “I dunno”. Why did he do that? Why didn’t he go “uhnesaypah” like “je ne sais pas”?

Why do people use cell phones while peeing in a public bathroom? And why is it not rude to have someone hear you pee and flush, but it’s rude to talk to someone while chewing?
Why is “how are you” still a greeting when everyone knows we don’t really wanna know how you are?

Why do we let cats poop indoors but not dogs?

Speaking of cats, why is my body all like oh a cat, let’s shut down your lungs because I’d rather you asphyxiate than play with that treacherous feline.

Why shake hands and not bump elbows? Less germs.

Why do we have to ask to use the bathroom up until high school and why doesn’t this translate to an adult custom where we announce to everyone whenever we need to be excused to have a bowel movement?

Who invented the contact lens? And who volunteered to be the first participant of a new technology that fit directly onto your eyeball and had to be peeled off after use?

Ditto for tampons.

Why do dogs love car rides with the window down but freak out when you blow in their face?

Why do seagulls holler at their entire gang when they find food but then refuse to share when everyone shows up? What jerks.

If height is such a coveted male attribute, why don’t guys wear heels?

Why is height such a coveted male attribute?

Why do humans connect with music? Where is it ingrained in our biology and evolution to connect with and be moved by a tune? Maybe I’m just a rational person astonished by a spiritual experience.

Why do we have armpit hair and why do I have to get it waxed?

Who first thought it would be fun to stand on top of a wave and why?

Why does everyone love Taylor swift?

Gotta shake, shake, shake it off

 

A listicle of things I am and am not good at

10 Mar

Things I’m good at:

  1. writing and editing and ending my titles with a preposition
  2. dancing
  3. sarcasm
  4. doing laundry
  5. listening
  6. washing dishes
  7. organizing things and knowing where everything is
  8. biology
  9. working out regularly
  10. arguing
  11. communicating
  12. remembering things
  13. having a sense of humour
  14. holding my alcohol

 

Things I’m not good at:

  1. math
  2. baking
  3. getting things back into a package when I need to return them to the store. Because I’m not an engineer okay, so you can leave the attitude at home, Best Buy Lady.
  4. putting something back together that I took apart
  5. ironing clothes
  6. taking a compliment
  7. painting a room
  8. not getting lost
  9. getting my eyebrows groomed regularly (eyebrows on fluke)
  10. video games
  11. sports
  12. being affectionate
  13. taking pictures or having pictures taken of me
  14. getting my facial gestures and vocal intonation to match what I really feel. (No honestly, I AM really happy for you)

Bordeaux, France

2 Feb
Cafe au lait

Café au lait avec du croissant

 

The Space

Unlike Paris, Bordeaux is more spread out and open. Both cities, however, share beautiful architecture and open displays of art.

open space

Open square at the intersection of four streets

 

rue st catherine

Shoppers returning from Rue Catherine, the largest shopping street in Bordeaux

 

fountain

And then a cool fountain with a non-cool poser

 

 

The Street Art

face art

dancers

Street dancers performing at brunch

street performers

This nonsensical display

The People

Cyclists, skateboarders, and lots of dogs and babies. Bordeaux had a very suburban let’s-settle-here-and-raise-a-family-but-still-be-cool vibe.

bikers

I don’t actually know these people, but they seem nice

bikers again boarders

sometimes riding a bike is scary

NB: European bikes are NOT like North American bikes, or at least any I have rode before. The handles are lower and extremely sensitive, and this requires a quick, but terrifying learning curve. Hence, the panic.

 

The Wine

Bordeaux has been making wine since the 8th century and is home to thousands of wine producing châteaux, and some of the most expensive wine in the world. Naturally, I needed to take a tour.

more grapes

chateau

Un château

wine boots

Vineyard

Vineyard

This is Kevin, our tour guide, explaining the different kinds of grapes. I forgot what he said about them. But after the tour he did invite us to his office to have even more wine and recommend restuarants in the area. His bookshelf was decorated with empty wine bottles, but I didn't take a picture.

This is Kevin, our tour guide, explaining the different kinds of grapes. I forgot what he said about them because I didn’t write it down. After the tour he did invite us to his office to have even more wine and recommend restaurants in the area. His bookshelf was decorated with empty wine bottles, but I didn’t take a picture. Regrets.

steel barrels

Stainless steel wine barrels

Wood barrels painted with spilled wine. It smelled absolutely amazing in there, a blend of oak and red wine.

Wood barrels painted with spilled wine. It smelled absolutely amazing in there, a blend of oak and red wine.

We played "name that scent" with our tour guide to help us better distinguish the flavours and aromas of all the wine we tasted.

We played “name that scent” with our tour guide to help us better distinguish the flavours and aromas of all the wine we tasted.

le nez

I did pretty good.

wine

Some good ish

wine bar

There’s cheese, cured meat, almonds, and dried apricots on the platter which are excellent palette cleaners between tastings.

chateau margeux

This is Château Margaux, the second most prestigious château in Bordeaux. It wasn’t exactly on the itinerary and Kevin parked on the side of the road and let us walk until the gate (he told us to stop so we wouldn’t be arrested or tackled by security). The gate happened to be open so we got a good shot.

 

 

That’s Racist

25 Jan

I was inspired to write this post after reading an article about the poor treatment of Canada’s Aboriginal people. You can also help provide relief for people affected by the Northern Food Crisis by clicking here.

I was born and raised in Canada and I love being Canadian. I take great pride in it despite our not-so-great sports teams and high taxes. We’re not perfect, but I love us nonetheless.

Although Canadians have a reputation for being friendly and tolerant, our great nation is not free of some seriously racist and self-entitled a-holes.

Ever notice how frequently a coloured person gets asked where they are from? Asking such a simple and seemingly harmless question reiterates the discourse of belonging and national identity that equates Canadian with Whiteness.

When I get asked the question, my response is almost always “Canada”. That’s how I feel I need to answer. To say “India” would feel like a lie because I have been there twice in my life. I have been to the Cuba more than I have been to the birthplace of my parents. But when I answer like this, the follow-up question to my response is almost always “No, but where are you really from?”

I can understand an interest in one’s culture, and I am in no way ashamed of my ancestral roots. What bothers me that “Canada” is perceived to be a more acceptable answer when the response comes from a white person when the fact of the matter is that if you’re not Aboriginal, you came to Canada from somewhere else, even if it was several generations ago.

go back.jpg_large

Racist.

 

Another thing that annoys me is when people are surprised that I not only speak English well, but that I also write well. When I changed elementary schools, my new teacher spoke to me very slowly and considered placing me in the English as a Second Language program. I was so traumatized by this that I actually believed I wasn’t speaking English properly and barely spoke in class. It wasn’t until I had to submit a writing assignment that she realized that she has misjudged me and that I was in fact, pretty fucking awesome at third grade poetry.

Racist.

 

As a teenager, I moved from Toronto to Brampton, a suburb also known as “Little India” because of the high South Asian population. One time I was waiting to cross the road when the driver of the car I was waiting to pass stopped in the middle of the road and proclaimed “You know, in Canada, we don’t just walk onto the road, we cross at crosswalks,” and sped off.

I can only assume that this gentleman had guessed that because of the way I looked and the area I was in, that I didn’t understand the way of life in Canada, and that it was his duty to clarify it to me, albeit in a condescending manner.

The problem was that I was in a residential area, right by my house. There were no crosswalks, and the nearest streetlights were about 15 minutes away. Also, I don’t think in Canada it’s encouraged to pull up to a 15 year girl and reprimand her while stopping traffic behind you.

Racist.

 

A similar experience happened when I was walking to the bus stop after school. I remember it was a very frigid day and I couldn’t wait to get home to defrost. I was bundled up in my jacket, hands shoved in my pocket, with my scarf wrapped around my ears because I had forgotten my hat. As I trekked up the slippery, frozen terrain, a car headed down the street towards me from the opposite direction. The car slowed down, the passenger side window rolled down and the teenaged passenger yelled out “Go back to India!”. I was about sixteen when that happened. I hadn’t been to India since I was 6 and I didn’t really feel like taking another trip. I should have told that kid [sarcasm] to go back across the Atlantic to England, since that’s where all white people are from [/sarcasm].

Racist.

 

Once, I was at a Wal-Mart speaking to my mom in Punjabi when a woman made a comment about how in Canada we speak English. She then started to sing the national anthem. I’m sorry, but my mother and I speak English and Punjabi; and I can also speak Spanish, and French. I know you don’t speak French because you skipped that part of the anthem, and I’m willing to bet you don’t speak any other languages. You could argue that makes us smarter than you, and dare I say more valuable to the Canadian economy.

Racist.

 

When I went to a writer’s conference in LA (okay so this one isn’t based in Canada), this happened…

Speaker: Who here is from out of town?

I raise my hand

Guy next to me: Hey where’d you come from?

Me: Toronto

Guy next to me: I see, very nice. And when did you arrive in Canada?

Me: In 1986. When I was born there.

 

Racist.

 

I took a writing class last year where my classmates and I shared pieces of our works-in-progress and critiqued each other. I shared a chapter in a story I wrote that referenced Hindi music and it was the biggest mistake I could have made.

Anytime someone starts off a comment with “I’m not an expert or anything, but…”, prepare yourself.

Basically someone said something to the effect of “I’m not an expert or anything, especially with Hindi people* but I’m not sure how realistic it is for the character’s parents to be divorced. I mean with arranged marriages, and the obligation to stay together, and what not. I mean there’s a huge cultural context there you need to keep in mind. You’re job as a writer is to keep it authentic.”

*Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Just stop.

This caused a domino effect and the discussion quickly moved away from my writing style and the story to a discussion of the character’s religion. Which, by the way, I never mentioned. I made a quick reference to a Hindi song that would be played again during another part of the story. I was robbed of valuable critiquing time because people just couldn’t move past the fact that my character listened to Hindi music.

I was instantly self-aware of my skin colour, and the fact that I was a brown person in a room full of white people. This never mattered to me before this moment, but now it was all I could think about because I knew it was all they could see. I was furious that I had to feel that way. I wanted to shout “Okay! I get it! I’m not white! My character is not white! Let’s fucking move past this already and analyze the fucking story!”

But I didn’t say those things because the meetings took place in a Church. And I have enough sensibility and cultural awareness to recognize that cursing in a holy place is not very respectful.

Fucking Racist