Tag Archives: Travel

Anti-social media

Island puppies!

My dad says that when he used to put me to bed at night I’d say “don’t forget me!” A phrase that basically sums up my current social media strategy. Short, glib, sometimes moody Tweets and status updates strung together like daisies to crown the heads of friends, family and followers. Whether they want a damn daisy crown or not. But in September I’ll be paddling through the Peel River Watershed from Whitehorse to the Arctic Circle, a long way from Wi-Fi. Awesome things will be happening every day, and I won’t be able to tell anyone about it. Not in real-time. Thoughts, images and emotions will have to be recorded and banked for later use. This process isn’t new to me, but I usually have the readily available social media steam valve when I need to shoot off little personal comedies and/or tragedies into the ether. Whenever I want to remind people I exist.

Two winters ago, I travelled to Thailand for four months. I was leaving Vancouver on a high note, having finished my year at the Writer’s Studio at SFU. I also won subTerrain Magazine’s Lush Triumphant award for a story I’d honed at the studio that year. My writing mentor, Timothy Taylor, had asked me to come back to the Writer’s Studio as his teaching assistant when I returned from my travels. This position, and my cheque from subTerrain would be waiting for me. Pretty sweet deal. But then I started to wonder if I really should leave the country. Surely not when things were taking off on the home front! What if, after four months away, people forgot how awesome I was?

I went to Thailand, because I’m not that insecure. Also, the tickets were non-refundable. But while I was there, I spent a lot of time on the internet. A lot of time. The Lonely Planet my friend Ben had lent me was a few years old, and claimed that Wi-Fi wouldn’t be readily available everywhere. It was readily available, for free, from Koh Lipe on the southernmost tip of the country, to Chiang Mai in the north. Sometimes the signal was crappy on Koh Lipe, but it was always there. And every day, before the sun came up and I went on my run around the island, past the plentiful island puppies and the young monks with their begging bowls who walked in single file and awkwardly avoided my gaze, past the kilometres of early risers with their eyes glued to their cameras, and their cameras trained on the sunrise, I updated my Facebook status. Blogged. Scheduled some Tweets. Posted about events going on in Vancouver that I would miss, because I was in paradise. People sent me emails, and I responded promptly. Bitched about the heat. Bragged about the heat. Updates: I’ll be home in three months, two months, two weeks. Here’s a photo of my omelette, my sunburn, my handsome, tanned boyfriend reading a book. We’re on the bus. In the airport. Bangkok, Shanghai, Vancouver. We’re home now. Going to sleep. Here’s the bottle of wine we drank to counteract the jetlag. Sorry about that 17 hour blackout. We were sleeping.

It’s not all bad. I did tons of great writing while I was there, and that’s what I was there for. But the internet was such a big part of my trip, I really can’t sit in smug judgement of the people who go on vacay and take ten million photos, who never stop looking through their camera lens. At least a camera lens is an extension of your eye. A windshield between you and your vacay, but you’re still driving the tuk-tuk. To look at the world through the social media lens is to gouge your eyes out, hand them to your online followers, and let them drive. You never stop thinking about how you should regurgitate your experiences for their amusement.  If I had a dollar for every time I thought “Ooo, that would make a great Facebook status!” I wouldn’t still be in debt for that damn trip.

There will be no internet on the Peel River trip. Not for twenty-three days. No first gorgeous hour of the day spent elsewhere. No instant communication gratification, or rather, that gratification will come from good old fashioned verbal communication with my fellow intrepid travellers. Talk about real-time. But then there’s no control, no editing or deleting, no time to carefully consider what I want to say before I say it. I write because I’m not fond of the way I express myself verbally. It’s chaotic, unstructured, full of tangents. I tell people more than I intend to, or leave out important context. I forget names, places, dates. I’m my own worst critic, often pulling out of my body mid-sentence to watch myself from a distance and mentally roll my eyes. So it’s not as simple as a social media addiction, or whatever modern term we’re giving it. It’s also a stubborn unwillingness to just be myself. Be with my self.

“This will be good for you!” You say. Yes, I know that. That’s why I’m doing it. I kind of suspect that I’m actually pretty awesome, even without editing. And I’m way hotter in person. There’s that.

 

Fools Love: 40 Week Journal off to the Wairoa Maori Film Festival in NZ.

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After its premiere screening at the Dawson City International Short Film Festival in March, Fools Love: 40 Week Journal by Kerry Barber (with poetry by me) will feature at the Wairoa Maori Film Festival in New Zealand. Congrats, Kerry! She and her baby girl Daphne and in town today, and catching a plane to Auckland tonight. Never did I imagine when I sat writing that piece in the rainy Comox valley last winter that it might find its way to the Southern hemisphere! Nice work, Barber. Wish I was going with you.

See also: Update on Fools Love: 40 Week Journal at Dawson City International Film Fest and What Collaboration Looks Like

Home Again Home Again, Jiggidy Jig.

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I’d expected plenty of culture shock on my first trip to Asia, and I got it. In the four months I was there, my foreigner discomfort probably lasted three-and-a-half. A lot of my unease centered around spending money. I had no problem handing it out, but I wanted to do so on MY terms. When sales people followed me around relentlessly in stores, delivering what many would consider to be attentive customer service, I assumed they thought I was going to steal something. When servers loomed over us as we ate, I’d glare until they left us alone. I bemoaned the lack of shiny, efficient grocery chains, where everything we needed and more was all available in one place, and none of it was rotting. In short, I was a bit of a jerk, lashing out at a different culture because it didn’t  function in the custom of my glorious home country, sweet Canadialand, where every buyer experience is a gilded one. Because of this, I was not expecting any reverse-culture shock when I got home. I was just expecting to be comfortable again. I was so happy to be back.

Then I went grocery shopping.

To be fair, I was grumpy. It had been a day of disappointments and waiting in long lineups for minimal gain. But I was not prepared for the genuinely surreal experience that awaited me at Safeway, my first trip to a large grocery chain since my return.

After selecting five or six items, pretty much only the things we needed for our next meal, we went to the check out. Four months of travel and the general Thai approach to consumption we’d been exposed to (buy what you need right now, and don’t waste it) had its effect on us, and I consider it a positive one.

We both prefer self-checkout, but for some reason the self-checkout line went around the corner and half way down the frozen food aisle. The feeling of aggression emanating from the lineup was even more intimidating than the manic self-checkout persona that lets you know-in no uncertain terms- that if you don’t place your items in the bagging area after scanning them, there’s going to be hell to pay. Oh yes.

Next stop, the express lines, which were also long, and inexplicably made up of people with shopping carts full of food. Again, these folks had a dangerous air about them that suggested anyone who might question them on their right to be in the express line might regret it. The fact that only four out of sixteen checkout lines was staffed may have had something to do with their feeling of entitlement. I would have been more angry if I hadn’t been utterly stunned but the sheer volume of food that was being purchased: five different varieties of VH marinade like maybe they were going to cook five different roasts that night. 60 rolls of toilet paper. 60! Expecting guests, maybe. Very regular guests. Flour, sugar, baking powder, eggs, milk, butter and… pancake mix. Newsflash. Combine all those other ingredients and guess what? Pancakes.

If this had been a Costco, or an Extra Foods or Superstore or any one of those chains where the deals are usually pretty good and can leave even the most discerning shopper travelling homeward with thirty bags of 2 for 1 chocolate-dipped szechuan potato chips and a 3 litre tub of sour cream that will expire in 6 hours, I wouldn’t have been surprised. But this was Safeway, notorious for its high prices. The kind of place you go only out of necessity. Or so I thought.

We finally settled on a line, behind a man with a full cart but only one person ahead of him. I began my calming self-talk, reminding myself that anger only leeches precious energy, and we really weren’t in that much of a hurry anyway. But then things got weirder.

At the till, progress was stalled. An exhausted-looking (but congenial) woman was calling for a price check, just as a young guy (not a Safeway employee) brushed past us with two boxes of salt. He showed them to the woman, and then she, the young guy and his mother all compared the boxes of salt to the one sitting at the till, as if a detailed study of its packaging might yield its price. The woman called for a price check again, her amplified drawl echoing out into an abyss of boil-in-a-bag meals and aspartame-sweetened fruit juice. No one answered.

Another woman appeared-I’m not sure what her connection was to the trio. She was looking up something on her cell phone and delivering the information to the woman on the till, who punched it in. Success! Success? Not so fast. The salt mystery had been solved, but then each successive item appeared to require the go ahead from the Holder Of The iPhone, who incidentally, was not a Safeway employee. This techno-wizard could have been browsing Hentai while just making prices up at random, since no one was questioning her or even asking to look at the phone. So is the power of the SmartPhone. All hail.

Five minutes. Ten. Fifteen. We changed lines once, twice, to no avail. It really did feel like time had actually slowed down, like we had entered a dimension where understaffed stores of over-worked employees attempted to serve a colossal glut of aggressive zombies buying an unreal amount of stuff.

Wait a second.

Come to think of it… this did feel a little bit familiar.

When we finally, finally did get to a checkout (in the end, self-checkout was the fastest way to go) I was livid. I had indeed exhausted all my precious stores of energy, and just wanted my goddamn eggs and soda water, thank you very much. I was glad that the only representative of the Safeway chain that I had to face was that manic and vaguely threatening computer voice, because I wanted to tell someone to go to hell. And I did. Nevertheless, the voice told me to have a nice day. I smirked at the guy who had been in front of the first line-still waiting- as we passed.

I keep telling people that the trip was more of a crash course than a fabulous getaway, and I’m okay with that. Among the things I can now say I’ve learned is to expect grass-is-always-greener-itis when visiting a foreign land. I’ll be ready for it next time.

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Copyright: Lead Paint Comics. leadpaintcomics.com

Thai Travelogue. Songkran: A Report From the Frontlines.

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It was just a trickle at first. A few drops from a Super Soaker, an understated splish against my leg by a man who looked more apprehensive than festive when I turned to face him. His expression relaxed a little when he took in my grin. A young girl actually ASKED Zander if he’d like to be splashed. He declined. “Well if they’re going to ask…” he huffed. He prefers his soakings to be more… spontaneous. A group of guys that reminded me of when the media was trying to make Asian Youth Gangs a Thing, watched us pass in silence. One of them tossed a few drips my way and his friends smacked him. Bowed a little when I turned around. Awkward.

Only slightly moistened in a cafe filled with chattering, soaking wet Thais, we discussed possible reasons for this. Do white tourists have a bad reputation? (about this in particular i mean. I know we’re dicks about most things.) Is it an age thing? Am I too old? Thais are way respectful to elders, please god, tell me I’m not in THAT category yet. Are we unapproachable? Yep that’s right, only a couple of Canadian tourists would worry about whether they’re likable enough for the locals to toss dirty water at. We resolved to look more soakable on the walk home. After some fried rice and a cappuccino, we set out again, affable smiles firmly in place.

The number of Songkranners had increased significantly in the two hours we’d been at the cafe. Hello Kitty motorcycles scooted out from alleys and roamed the streets in tight packs, with passengers working rear squirtgunner, black hair plastered against knockoff Ray-Bans. Tinted window pickup trucks cruised at parade speed, lean shirtless dudes with beach pails taunting the poor saps with nothing more than a garden hose. The real high-rollers of Songkran. Kings of the alley.

We’d only gone a few steps when a girl put down her Super Soaker and approached us with a small bucket. A mug, really. “Excuuu meee!” she called out, polite to the end. And…splash! Delicately Songkranned.

We laughed. She laughed. That was all the neighbourhood needed to see.

The high-rollers, the rear gunners, dudes sitting in the street bars, 7-11 employees, little kids, big kids-we got soaked. Knowing smiles at the hotel front desk as we squished past. Sweet, wet acceptance. Thanks, Thailand.

Ten minutes after we got back to the hotel, showered and clothes hung to dry, the sky opened up to give us a Songkran display of its own. Wind shrieked, rattled the windows and monsoon-size raindrops flew sideways. “What do you think?” Zander said.

“I guess we’re going back out there.”

It was on. It was SO on, now the water sloshed up to our ankles- a back alley flash flood-and motorcycle gunners had no choice but to become foot soldiers. They concentrated their efforts on the guys in the back of the trucks, also forced off the road, but still in a tactically superior position above the fray. Instantly soaked in warm rain, I got big laughs for mugging about how cold the hose attacks were. Another guy with a Super Soaker pretended he wasn’t going to shoot us as we walked by, and then pow! Right in the ass. He was probably about nineteen or twenty years old, but not in that moment.  Pure nine-year-old warfare.

We lasted as long as the rain did, and then trudged home. Again. “Hey you, stop!” A chubby guy holding a tiny squirt gun in one hand and an umbrella in the other barked at me.  I had to move closer so that the gun could reach me.

A German woman was smoking cigs on the hotel front steps. “You’re brave to go out there” she said in a thick accent.

“Thank you, ma’am. All in a day’s work” I said, tipping my helmet at her.

Okay that last part didn’t happen.