Life at Home

•July 18, 2010 • 3 Comments

So we’ve been busy over the past couple of months. We bought a house and have spent the past three months fixing it up. Every weekend, every free day, every evening after work, we’ve headed over to the new place to chip away at the l-o-n-g list of things to do.

In the past three months we’ve:

  • replaced the furnace and added an air conditioner
  • replaced all the plumbing in the house
  • re-done all the electrical in the house
  • torn up and then replaced all the floors
  • ripped out and replaced the kitchen
  • ripped out and re-built the bathroom
  • painted the whole house
  • ripped out and replaced the baseboards
  • taken linoleum off the stair risers  and painted the stairs (they’re almost done!)
  • done various miscellaneous things that you would never imagine taking as much time as they did….

So, we’re almost moved in. We’re in the home stretch now…. and I’m hoping that once things settle down a bit more that I’ll have more time to blog – that is if we have any readers left!!! I’d like to finish blogging our trip across South East Asia, and begin to provide a few before, during, and after pictures of our house. While moving back to Canada may not be as exotic as living abroad, we’ve certainly found ourselves busy and have started a different kind of adventure back home.



•March 5, 2010 • 1 Comment

As some one who works in the field of education I can’t help but think about how lucky our kids are here in Canada. While there will always be things to complain about, our students are truly blessed by our education system.

There’s a new boy in one of my classes. He’s come from Africa, having lived in a refugee settlement after fleeing his home country. He comes with little English language and virtually no educational experience. He’s been thrown into a new school in a new country. I know what that feels like, at least as a teacher. Trying to navigate through the Korean public school system was trying. I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t know the cultural expectations, and I didn’t know anyone. I can’t imagine what that must feel like for a young child arriving in Canada.

The school just outside of my refugee settlement.

I think back to the school system in rural Uganda.

  • Free education is not really free – you have to have enough money to buy a uniform and books – no uniform, no school
  • Classrooms are packed to the gills. I remember walking into classrooms where there were kids sitting on the floors because there were not enough desks in the classroom.
  • Classrooms were lucky to have desks at all. The one classroom I encountered had mats on the floor. The teacher had to bring a broken chalkboard to school everyday. If it was left in the classroom it would have been stolen, as there were no doors!
  • P.E. class consisted of cutting the grass with a tool that looked like a golf club, but had a blade on both sides.
  • Teachers rarely were paid on time… let alone paid at all.
  • Resources were limited to chalk and a chalkboard, if you’re lucky.

Ugandan kids peeking in the school window

Really, we should be thankful for everything we have. All the resources, all the support. I’m definitely thankful that I was educated in Canada.

Out and about in Ontario

•January 25, 2010 • 6 Comments

I often find that by the time I get to the end of my week that I am utterly exhausted (our friend Pat says you can only use the word exhausted if you’ve been in a war… but regardless, I’m wiped). While Jeff is usually looking to get out and fill up our weekends, I’m quite content to waste away the weekend days surfing the net, watching TV and dreaming of knitting (I’m just not as motivated to actually pick up my needles as I was when I was freezing in Mongolia last winter…)

The one activity that we have both been dying to do is to get out cross country skiing. The past two years we spent abroad with no snow while Ontario was dumped with the white stuff. Now that we’re home, we’ve only been able to get out skiing once because there has been no snow!!

I leave you with some pics from our only outting so far this year… here’s hoping for more snow in February! (I think we’re the only ones in Ontario hoping for snow…)

Jeff hitting the trails close to our house.

My sister and her hubby enjoying the
sunshine on the trails.

Cross country skiing is hard work!

Happy to be back in Ontario.

How to Build GLOBAL Community

•January 19, 2010 • 3 Comments

Thought nuggets (I didn’t write it, but I do support it).


Think of no one as “them”   Don’t confuse your comfort with your safety   Talk to strangers   Imagine other cultures through their poetry and novels   Listen to music you don’t understand   Dance to it Act locally Notice the workings of power and privilege in your culture   Question consumption   Know how your lettuce and coffee are grown: wake up and smell the exploitation   Look for fair trade and union labels   help build economies from the bottom up   Acquire few needs   Learn a second (or third) language   Visit people, places and cultures — not tourist attractions   Learn people’s history   Re-define progress   Know physical and political geography   Play games from other cultures   Watch films with subtitles   Know your heritage   Honor everyone’s holidays   Look at the moon and imagine someone else, somewhere else, looking at it too   Read the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights   Understand the global economy in terms of people, land and water   Know where your bank banks   Never believe you have a right to anyone else’s resources   Refuse to wear corporate logos: defy corporate domination   Question military/corporate connections   Don’t confuse money with wealth, or time with money   Have a pen/email pal   Honor indigenous cultures   Judge governance by how well it meets all people’s needs   Be skeptical about what you read   Eat adventurously   Enjoy vegetables, beans and grains in your diet   Choose curiosity over certainty   know where your water comes from and where your wastes go   Pledge allegiance to the earth: question nationalism   Think South, Central and North — there are many Americans   Assume that many others share your dreams   Know that no one is silent though many are not heard   Work to change this.

The Mekong Delta – Taking a step off the beaten path…

•January 12, 2010 • 3 Comments

After travelling along the well beaten path in Vietnam from Hanoi to Ho Chi Min City (HCMC), we decided to veer off and see if there were parts of Vietnam that had been left untouched (or at least, less touched!) Before heading deeper into the Delta we took a day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels which are located in a northern district of HCMC. The tunnels were built by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. The Viet Cong hid in the network of tunnels which also served as communication and supply routes. Jeff is not a big guy, he was able to easily slip down the hole into the tunnels.

I didn’t even try. I realised when we were in Korea that I am a bit claustrophobic when it comes to tunnels…. the Cu Chi tunnels were way tinier than the tunnels we explored along the North/South Korean border so there was no way I was going down there!

I did however pose with some new Viet Cong friends that I made when at the tunnels. The trip was quite educational though, it was also bias – the “center” totally supported the Viet Cong and taught us about how evil the Americans were. I must admit though that if the tunnels were in America I’m not so sure that they would present information that wasn’t supporting the US.

Day trip options abound from HCMC. Instead of doing a day trip from HCMC to My Tho (a small town about two hours south west of HCMC) and back, we decided to just stay in My Tho and make our way west from there. We joined a tour and spent the day exploring the canals and the mini islands of the Mekong Delta.

Canal house on stilts. The poverty of Vietnam
became even more apparent as we moved
deeper into the Delta.

We took a “speed” boat to a small island and wandered around. After exploring the island we hopped into a small canoe and were ferried around by a lovely lady who spoke no English. I must say that the scenery as we wove through the canals was amazing!

Our day trip came to an end and we were pointed in the direction of a hotel. As the bus drove away we hoped that we had made the right decision. We found the hotel (it was a dump… but it was a place to sleep) and were able to express our desire for a room. We tried to find out when and where we could catch a bus to Can Tho, a larger city in the Delta, and our next destination. We were told that we could catch a 5:30am bus – that was the only way out of there. The town of My Tho is very small, and staying another day was not an option. The town was definitely off the beaten track – the English that had been so common everywhere else we visited in Vietnam was not so common anymore. We couldn’t find a place to eat, we ended up buying Happy Cow cheese and Ritz crackers for dinner. The big decision was whether or not to wake up early, or risk not catching the bus and hope that there was something a bit later. We decided to take our chances and woke up around 6:45.

The next day we wandered around the town, looking for a travel agency, or a bus station or something. We found a guy on a motorcycle who spoke English and told us he and a friend could take us to a gas station where we could catch a bus. We decided to go for it, so we jumped on the back of the motorcycles and hoped for the best. It was halfway into the trip that I realised I had absolutely no id on me and no money. I had long ago given up wearing the money belt which made Jeff responsible for keeping tabs on everything. As we sped along the road I kept looking back, hoping to see my husband to make sure that I wasn’t being kidnapped. I couldn’t turn my head because I was wearing my huge 60 liter pack on my back. Luckily we were okay. We arrived at the gas station safely and were shuffled into the back of a small, cramped van full of locals. Vietnamese techno blaring, we made our way towards Can Tho with hopes of finding a place to stay and things to do upon arrival.

Happy New Year!

•January 11, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Wow, has this pas year gone quickly. When I think back to where we were last year at this time I can’t really believe it.

Mongolian prayer flags in the countryside.

The past year has held lots of adventures, ups and downs, new friends, old friends, travelling, and adjusting to new surroundings.

Jen trying to stay warm at the Eagle Festival
in February, 2009

At this point last year Jeff and I were freezing our buns off in Mongolia. The temperatures there stayed around -35 Celsius for most of the winter (read: the beginning of November to the beginning of April). Add the wind-chill on to that and you never want to leave the house. Lets just say that I was able to get a lot of knitting done last winter. Winter back in Ontario is quite refreshing and not so bad compared to winter last year.

Mum & Dad Dawson riding camels in the
Mongolian countryside.

Some of our family came to visit us in April. We were lucky enough to have my parents and Jeff’s sister travel halfway around the world to see what our lives were like in Mongolia. The trip into the Mongolian countryside was definitely a highlight.

Jackie climbing rocks with a Mongolian child.

After our contracts with our school in Mongolia were completed we spent eight weeks travelling around South East Asia. I’ve never been one for travelling, odd, I know. I love living in different countries and taking short side trips, but the idea of living out of a backpack, sleeping in different beds, and not being able to cook for eight weeks didn’t really appeal to me. See more of Asia and learning more about the continent did appeal to me though, so we made the trek. There were rough times, but it was really fun and totally worth it in the end. The experiences we had and the things we saw were amazing. Not to mention the neat people that we met along the way!

House on the water in Halong Bay, Vietnam.

Arriving back in Ontario at the end of August meant looking for work and trying to get into the swing of things in terms of being back in Canada. Jeff began work as a tutor and snuck in some much needed ultimate. I was able to find work at a school teaching Core French. After that contract was finished I found another. I’m still trying to adjust to the school system back in Ontario. While there are many things that are the same (in terms of the actual teaching), there are also lots of differences that I have been trying to sort through. It’s nice to be employed, but I must admit that I madly miss my class from last year. They were so precious and enjoyable.

December was certainly a busy month for us. Our first Christmas home in two years meant that we had a lot of catching up to do! Christmas parties, hanging out with friends, shopping, and working filled up December. It was certainly lovely to have our families around this year for Christmas. The past two years we decorated our plants (Norman in Korea, Oliver in Mongolia) with Christmas lights and the two decorations my parents sent us and put presents under them. This year it was nice to have a proper tree!

I’m sure that the next year will hold lots for us. I’m excited to see where we will end up.

Adjusting to Life at Home

•December 15, 2009 • 1 Comment

Well, we’ve been back for about four months now. Things are starting to settle down a bit and life is getting a bit easier. The most frequent question that people ask me is “So, how are you adjusting to life back home?” I’d say I’m adjusting well. I think that the biggest amount of culture shock I’ve had in all my travels was when I came home from England. I wasn’t expecting any major culture shock, but it was certainly there. I think that the biggest adjustment that I have had (and continue to have) is going into stores. The stores all seem HUGE and packed full of stuff. I often feel overwhelmed by the decisions that I have to make about everything in the stores here. My brain goes into sensory overload as I realise that I can read all the labels and I don’t have to guess at what I’m buying. The variety of food that is available here is crazy. Asparagus, spinach, zucchini, eggplants, avocados, bananas, apples, strawberries… the list goes on. I’m trying to slowly eat my way through all the foods that I’ve missed over the past two years!

I must admit that I miss Asia. I miss Korean food (mmm… kimbap, duengjong jiggae, bi bim bap…), the Seoul subway and the ease of getting around. I miss the relaxed lifestyle, less choice, and  the adventures that come with living in a culture where you don’t speak the language. I don’t miss the pushing (though I’m trying to stop doing it myself!), the inability to communicate basic ideas/needs with others, and the last minute things that were thrown at me.

There are certainly things that I miss about living abroad, but I am happy to be home. It’s been great spending time with friends and family. I’m looking forward to feeling a bit more settled as we find permanent employment and finally have a home of our own.