South Korea…

Yesterday I arrived in South Korea and it has been nonstop ever since!  The bus from the airport is about two hours so I jumped on that and made it to the neighborhood I am staying in right in the dark of night.  I was graciously offered a couch surfers apartment to myself for the next few days while she is busy between her girlfriends place and work, so excitedly I took Kate (my host) up on the offer.  For some reason, between exhaustion, a new country and not having a bloody clue where I was, I found myself lost wondering the back roads of Seoul.  Sometimes, there is no better feeling than being lost in a country you don’t know and trying to ask for directions from someone who does not understand a word you are saying but sometimes that feeling is a traveler’s worst enemy.  Last night, I was not a fan.  Thankfully though, I found my way thanks to the help of an older gentleman who let me use his phone in exchange for me to listen to the five English words he knows again and again and again.

Today was a perfect combination of a ton of fun and a complete bust.  I only had one full day in Seoul to sightsee since tomorrow I take a day trip to the North Korean boarder (hooray) so I had everything all planned out with what I wanted to do.  I found a hop-on hop-off bus that takes you to all the major sites in the city for only ten dollars which you really cant beat since it includes an English audio guide of all the buildings we drove past and the ability to avoid learning yet another public transportation system!  I was really excited to see the Traditional Korean Village and Gyeongbokgung Palace but just my luck they are both closed on Tuesday’s.  My next mission was to see the Deoksugung Palace changing of the guards, but nooo, we got caught in traffic and I missed it by minutes.  Then, I ran out of money, headed to the ATM and accidently used my visa instead of my bank card which means I will get charged way more than a penny pincher is comfortable with.  Ah well, tis life.  At least I was able to shop around both Dongdaemun Market and Namdaemun Market.  Plus, while waiting for a bus after one of these frustrating moments, a man came up to me and asked for my name, I told him what it was, he wrote it down and said he picks new people to pray for every day and today he was going to pray for me – what an encouragement.

It was really nice to drive around the city today and see so much.  It is Fall here right now and the leaves are a perfect combination of colors.  I was having a bit of a moment on the bus, thankful I got not one but two Fall seasons back to back this year and sad that all these beautiful leaves make me think of my Dad’s passing.  Gratitude and sadness seem to coexist so much in my heart since losing my Dad.  Anyway, as I sat there staring out the window contemplating which feeling outweighed the other, loving the Fall, or having it remind me of one of my greatest loses, I saw a man delicately gathering the leaves and turning them into shapes of hearts all over the sidewalk.  It really was an amazing moment, as if my inner contemplations were acknowledged and answered within seconds of thinking them.  Peace, love, beauty, this season still resembles all these things.  I am not alone, not in these thoughts, not in these moments, regardless of where I am in this world or with whom, I am not alone.

Tomorrow I technically go to North Korea.  How amazing is that?!?  I must try to get some sleep now but the only problem is I am like a kid ready to go to Disney and I just may not be able to fall asleep with this much anticipation.  I’ll write again tomorrow, XO!

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Tokyo madness…

Well, it’s official, I am having a blast in Tokyo!  I have been able to see quite a few things since getting here and I am quite sure by the time I get home my feet may just very well fall off from walking so much!  It is wonderful!

I am missing my hubby like crazy yet enjoying this time as a couple where we both get to do our own thing.  One part that was difficult with me leaving was Halloween.  I love holidays and I love “first’s” and this Halloween would have been mine and Quinn’s first Halloween in our new house to hand out candy.  I was sad I had to miss that with him but glad I was able to do some Halloween celebrations over here.  Candice’s girls had a Halloween party/concert at their school so I went shopping around town, found myself a big fluffy giraffe costume and headed to the party.  It was great fun with my cousin to hit up the train and do a little goofing around.  As a foreigner you get enough looks as is when you are walking down the street, but a foreigner dressed as a giraffe, it’s a whole new ball game!  Candice and I laughed and laughed that afternoon…most definitely some of my favorite Japan moments!

Before my Aunt Cheryl went back to Canada we spent an afternoon and headed to the East Gardens of the Emperors Palace.  It is amazing to me how green Tokyo is compared to what I envisioned.  They have what is called a sun law here which means buildings can only be X amount of stories high depending on the area and also, depending on what direction your building faces a certain angle is required on the roof to allow as much sun as possible.  This means Tokyo is actually quite sunny and not filled with sky scrapers, a lovely surprise from what I envisioned.  The gardens were beautiful and a nice way to escape the busy streets.

Speaking of busy streets, I also went to the Shibuya crossing which was insane!  At that intersection, every time the light turns green an average of 5000 people cross the street!  It is the busiest intersection in the world and was really amazing to see.  Close to Shibuya is an area called Shinjuku and that was a lot of fun to walk around as well.  The shopping is amazing although the prices don’t quite work on a back packers budget but it was still fun to walk around and see.  That train station is also the busiest station in the world and it was insane to find my way around.  I think I walked for almost an hour just looking for the gate I needed to get back home.  In 2007 that station had 3.67 million people go through it every day, I cant even imagine what those numbers would be today.  In this area this is also a lot of Cat Cafes.  They are literally cafés where you can get coffee, tea and cake and sit in a room with dozens of cats that you pet, talk too, and play with.  I did not go into one because it is quite expensive, but I did go check one out to take a few pictures.  It was amazing to me to see so many couples just having their afternoon getaway together with a bunch of cats.  Crazy concept to me but that is what I am loving about this city…a million crazy concepts all rolled into one place!

Two nights ago the Potters all loaded up and brought me over to city hall which takes you up 55 stories for a panoramic view of the city.  It was incredible to see a view like that!  I immediately felt like a speck of sand in the city.  It was an amazing view of literally endless lights.  I have not been able to see the view during the day, but on a clear day you are able to see Mt. Fuji from there.  Last night was Candice’s monthly book club and since I had already read the book I tagged along to meet a few new ladies and enjoy an Arabic meal.  It was so great to have an evening of conversation and a bonus of belly dancers and so many smiles my cheeks hurt at the end of the night.  I am just having a blast here!

Tonight I ate a Japanese traditional meal, raw horse.  One of the things I make sure to do in each country is try to eat a food common to the country but much different from anything I can find at home, as far as I know, raw horse is most definitely in that category.   One of the first things I asked Doug to do (Candice’s husband) when I got here was take me to eat a strange traditional meal from Japan and raw horse is what he came up with.  It was a really great restaurant too where we were in our own private room which had a children’s play area inside of and a divider to separate the kids from the adults…it was brilliant.  Loading up four kids to take me anywhere, especially in a restaurant is a pretty big feat so I very much appreciate all the things the Potters have done with me because I know it must not be easy.  It has been so, so wonderful staying with them!  Anyway, back to the horse, the meat itself didn’t taste like it would be so bad, but the texture of eating it raw made me gag.  It was such a disgusting feeling having raw horse in my tummy too.  I only had once piece and it was definitely enough!  Here, horse races are very common and when certain horses are no good and lose too many times in a row the owners cannot afford to keep them but still need to make a profit off of them so they sell the meat to restaurants which is how this delicacy came to be.  I also ate raw pickled squid and octopus, which weren’t too bad.  I do however think my taste buds are ready for a little break…possibly a grilled cheese sandwich!

Tomorrow I fly to Korea and I am getting so very excited for this part of my trip.  I will make sure to update along the way.  Missing everyone from home and hoping you are all doing well!  XO

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Japan 2012

Well my first couple days in Tokyo have been quite a blast!  I arrived into the city on November 25th at three in the afternoon.  I took a two hour bus ride to my cousin Candice’s area of the city and she came to pick me up from there.  It was quite interesting watching Candice drive back to her place in a city of millions of drivers….it’s pretty intense driving around here.  My Aunt Cheryl is visiting here right now as well so when we returned Candice, Doug, their three kids and my Aunt had a super, walked around the neighborhood a bit and spent the evening talking.  I even managed to stay up late enough to hopefully switch myself to the time change on the first night (always an impressive feet).

The next day, my first full day in the city, we all went to Disney Sea (similar to Orlando where there is Disneyland or Disney California).  It was such a fun time!  In a sea of Japanese people we definitely stood out like a sore thumb and I had a few people ask to take my picture (thankfully it was nothing like Candice’s girls though because they ended up getting their photo taken dozens of times).  All of the rides were in Japanese which was quite an experience.  It was neat getting on the Tower of Terror or Indiana Jones and having all the story line spoken in another language, I felt so out of the loop with rides I was so familiar with.  There were quite a few rides in this park that I had never been on and the ones that I had been on the story lines were different.  Needless to say it was such a good time and something I am so glad I had the opportunity to do.

Ive been pretty spoiled in the last few days, ive been able to get out and explore a ton of the city.  I visited the Harajuku area which has so many unique shops and tons of people dressed in cosplay.  This area has so far definitely been my favorite.  In a great little consequence, a friend from Barcelona was in Tokyo at the same time so we were able to meet up, do some walking around, go for an amazing Korean supper and head to Kabukicho for some discovering.  Kabukicho is the main sex area in Toyko, and as someone who reads up on sex trades in different countries frequently, volunteers a lot in the area and has worked for men and women in the sex trade for years, discovering areas like this is very fascinating to me.  It was interesting to see that although the neighborhood was packed with tons of “activities” it was so anonymous and I never saw one working girl or guy.  I was able to go into one of the famous Tokyo love hotels which was also quite interesting.  Many of the homes here are no larger than 300 sq ft, for an entire family and often times extended family is living in the home as well.  Because of this, sex in the home is a little difficult so they have love hotels set up all around the city where parents, grandparents, newlyweds, and of course others, can visit for hourly rates, get a themed hotel room of their choosing and have a little privacy for a couple hours.  I have always found the concept quite interesting so it was neat to be able to visit inside these hotels.  Needless to say the night was very interesting.

Unfortunately I am getting sick and fighting against a pretty ugly throat cold which has made my ability and desire to go out quite low.  I spent a whole day in bed and im hoping that will be the last because there is so much that I want to see!  Today is the girls Halloween party at school so I am excited to go and celebrate with them and then hopefully take off for a bit of shopping time.

A few fun facts that I am loving about Japan….almost every toilet seat is heated.  For someone who is always cold, I am in love with this idea!  And if anyone is looking for a Christmas gift idea, a heated toilet seat is officially on the top of my list.  Also, the fridges here are absolutely brilliant!  The door can open from either side….what more could you ask for?!?  There are a ton of rules here and nobody breaks them, for example, if you want to walk up the escalator you walk to the right, to stand still, you stand on the left.  You would NEVER see someone stand a little in the middle or god forbid on the right, even if the escalator is packed, with a line up a mile long (literally) of people to wait to go up, no one would squish in and cross that invisible line of walkers and stand-stillers.  Also, everyone is quiet on the train, once, before knowing this rule, I laughed out loud and the whole train gave me the hairy eye, even a five year old for goodness sakes.  In change rooms at the mall, your shoes have to be taken off at the door.  When you pay for an item you never hand your money to the tiller, instead you put it on a tray and she takes it from there.  Before you eat your meal in a restaurant you clean your face and hands with a cold cloth they give you as you sit down.  If you are crossing a street and there isn’t a car in sight for miles, you cannot cross until the light is green.  It is rule upon rule that everyone follows and it is definitely for good reason.  In a city with this many people it truly does run so much smoother because everyone follows these rules.

I am so madly in love with this city!  The lights, the people, the shopping, the sites…it is all amazing and I cannot wait to see what else I discover while I am here!

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Anyway…

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A penny for your thoughts…

Life in the past year and half has been measured by BC and AD, BC meaning “before crash” and AD as in “after Dad”, it used to be “after death” but that sounds much too true…I mean harsh.

The penny has been around my whole life.  From the time I was a little girl I was “collecting” pennies to fill my piggy bank.  The very first stock I ever “bought” was when I was about twelve and it was a “penny” stock.  Now as an adult, I curse the penny eating up space in my wallet and along with most Canadians I happily bid it farewell, or at least I thought it did.

The news has been talking about ending the pennies life for a while now, last week the government announced they are no longer producing pennies and in the very near future the penny will be phased out of businesses.  I read the news quite happy to be getting rid of the littlest pain-in-the-neck brother to the change in my wallet and two hours later I found myself a puddle of tears in bed.

I remember going on a family road trip to somewhere in America as a small Child.  My Dad was on a mission to find a fifty cent coin to show us girls.  We went into small gas stations to ask if they had any, little corner stores, and even asked at restaurants.  Sometimes, if you were really lucky, you would be able to still get your hands on these fifty cent coins.  We never did find any of those coins that trip, but I did find something…I found out how OLD my Dad was!  I mean he was ANCIENT.  Here we were bombing around the US searching for coins for our senior Dad (or so it felt) that surely went out of production a hundred years ago.  In reality it took until 1999 before the fifty cent coin went out of circulation but STILL, my Dad was old enough to know what the coin even was and that made him OLD.

So here I am lying in bed, crying over the end of the penny and I realize, not only will my kids eventually think I am ANCIENT since I lived through the days of pennies and two dollar bills, but it has been FOREVER since my Dad was alive.  My Dad has been gone so long we don’t even use pennies anymore.  Pennies BC, penniless country AD.  It is funny the small things that happen in life that smack you right in the forehead and remind you of your lose.  The penny ending feels like a bully on the playground saying “na-na-na-boo-boo your Dad isn’t a part of this”.  Who knew something so insignificant would bring up so many feelings?

Tomorrow, I am going to search my Dads coin bag for a penny, it will be my memory penny, my last “lucky” penny, my reminder among many of how long it really has been.  A year and a half…slow motion.

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The Sun Will Freeze Before I Do

I promised a lot.
But never that I wouldn’t get back up after you knocked me down.
Never that my broken remains wouldn’t catch fire.
Never that I wouldn’t burn through the ice and snow one more time.
And you can slam your glaciers into to me, so slowly, and even though they hurt, I will not go numb from the cold, I will not pass out from the pain, I will look up at you and the world and whisper through bloody teeth
“More…”

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The Map

I remember.  I forget.  It changes, every day it changes.

I remember so much from those last twenty-four hours with my Dad, yet so little.  I remember the night before his passing, him sitting at his desk downstairs with Sadie on his lap.  He was preparing for his meeting with the buyers of the plane in the morning.  I was helping him clean.  I was off in my own world vacuuming away and Dad starting talking to Sadie “look how good my Jenny is at cleaning those carpets.  She puts the perfect lines in just like her Mom”.  I was proud.  My Dad always made me feel proud of myself, even if it was just for putting vacuum lines in the carpet.  I remember him coming into the room in the basement and complaining about the lighting, the house was new and he was unimpressed with the sparse lighting in the bedrooms downstairs.  I remember him heading out for dinner that night, jealous I couldn’t come along.  One of my favourite things to do with my Dad was to go out and eat, I always enjoyed his company over a big piece of steak.

The next morning, the morning of his death, I remember the conversations we had.  I remember standing around upstairs and chatting with the guys about dating a Saskatchewan boy.  I can still hear the compliments my Dad was giving about me to the other men.  Again, proud.  I remember him looking for a sheet, talking to my Mom on the phone from the office upstairs.  I remember wearing my “gangster-ish” t-shirt and my black cropped sweats.  I cannot remember what he was wearing but I do know it was not the same thing that he died in.  It bothers me I don’t remember this.  I remember his jacket left hanging on the kitchen table.  The same jacket I smelled immediately when I walked through the door of our home after learning he was killed.  Through all the shock, my brain still allowed me the consciousness to smell him in order for the pain to ease.  I wanted to know exactly what he smelt like that morning, I wanted I want, to remember what he was wearing.

I left that morning to head to Saskatchewan.  I had driven that drive many times in my life, but each time, about three hours in, I always felt like I was lost.  I would phone my Dad every time “Dad, I think Im lost”, his response was always the same “Jenelle, you are not”.  I said my goodbyes to the men that morning, I told my Dad I loved him and I would see him in a few days.  I walked out to my car, got inside and thought I should grab a map cause I knew my Dad would be busy that afternoon and I didn’t want to bother him by calling.  I headed back in the house and opened the door “hey Dad, do you mind if I take your map”?  He laughed, “sure you can take my map, you’re going to need it” with another chuckle.  Those were the last words my Dad said to me.

Looking back, seventeen long months later, he was right, I needed his map.  I needed HIS map.  There are times I am lost and I talk to my Dad (who clearly isn’t there) and I say “Dad, I think I am lost” and although he cant respond I know if he could he would say “Jen, you are not”.  When those pretend conversations arise in my mind, I remember my Dad left me a map.  He left me a map of Jesus, a map of navigating through pain, a map of being a good person, a map of loving deeply and not selling myself short with anger, useless questions, and bitterness.  He left me a map of succeeding regardless of the circumstances, a map of being the best me I can be, a map of deep family connection, a map of good choices, a map of pride in who I am.

For each time my mind tricks me into feeling lost, my Dad reminds me I am not…he even gave me a map to prove it.

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You do the crime, you pay the time…

I find vintage mug shots to be absolutely intriguing.  Today, the televisions are flooded with police shows; as viewers we get to hear about a persons crime, we get intimate details about what happened, we watch the arrests, hear stories from the families, and even see  how the criminal spends their time in jail.
There is an such a form of mystery to a persons mug shot from years and years past; it’s a crime untold with so many possibilities.  Whatever could they have done??

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

If you havent seen this movie yet, you must…

“If the sun were to explode, you wouldn’t even know about it for eight minutes, because that’s how long it takes for light to travel to us. For eight minutes, the world would still be bright, and it would still feel warm. It was a year since my dad died and I could feel my eight minutes with him running out…”

 

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Memories…

Missing my Dad comes in waves right now.  Sometimes I miss him till it hurts, other times I force myself not to think of him to avoid the pain.  Today, it was as if my every thought was focused on him.  Quinn and I headed off this morning for a busy day of diving.  The water was quite choppy so I closed my eyes and tried to rest.  Within minutes I felt as if I was sitting in the back of my Dads plane.  The rumble of the engines, the wind gusts pushing you from side to side, the way the water lifted you up and then dropped you down leaving your stomach behind.  As long as I kept my eyes closed I felt like I was flying with my Dad again.  I remember the morning he passed away we were sitting around chatting and Dad was talking about how much I liked the plane.  “Jenny Wren just cuddles up in the back and lets the plane rock her to sleep.  She never gets worried, never gets sick, she loves being up in that plane with me”.  I miss flying with my Dad so much, I’m glad today I was able to simulate that feeling again. 

After a big boat ride we headed into the water for our first dive.  We weren’t under the water for more than five minutes before we saw a huge shark swimming alongside of us.  Somehow, I felt like if I turned around my Dad would be right there sharing that moment with me.  We would be swimming through the water together, holding hands and pointing at all the magic we could see.  A few months after my Dad passed Quinn and I decided to get scuba certified.  I called to one company to inquire about their prices and when I told the lady my name she said, “Oh, is the second diver going to be your Dad Chuck”?  I had no clue what she was talking about?  How did she know me or my Dad?  When I asked her what she meant she said almost a year ago my Dad called inquiring about getting scuba certified with his daughter.  He mentioned we would be going to Hawaii that year and it was something we wanted to do together.  Tears filled my mask as I thought of that conversation today.  My Dad and I did talk about getting certified before Hawaii a couple times but I had no clue he had called around to look into it.  I wish so badly we could have shared that together. 

Today I could picture Dad swimming with me.  In my mind I turned around and there he was, wearing his red swim shorts and for some reason his scars seemed very predominate.  My Dad had quite a few scars all over his stomach from the robotics surgery they did to remove his cancer.  Those scars always made me a touch uncomfortable.  When I looked at his scars they seemed like a visible reminder of a separation between him and I.  I never understood what cancer meant to my Dad.  Typically he was an open book; with cancer he was more closed than I had ever known him to be.  He never once divulged with me the depth of fear his cancer brought, he never spoke about the pain of his surgery, and although we discussed many of the consequences after the fact, there was a missing piece that was unspoken until he was treated.  My Dad protected us from the details of his cancer, sometimes it was something I appreciated, sometimes it was something I resented.  I wanted to understand what cancer meant to him but I did not, his scars reminded me of this.  Those scars also were a symbol that my Dad was not untouchable like I had always believed.  Each mark represented the deifying of cancer but they also represented the possibility of harm.  I had always looked at my Dad as big and strong, as someone who was beyond the reach of harm but the scars reminded me that wasn’t the case; I hated them and loved them all at once.  Today, when I pictured my Dad swimming beside me, I pictured his scars.  As I got out of the water I began crying.  The boat swayed me back and forth as memories filled my mind and tears filled my face.  Suddenly a pod of dolphins began dancing around us and I was filled with gratitude as a huge smile of wonder filled my face.  I silently whispered a prayer:  “Thank-you God for allowing me the room to feel through my pain, thank-you for inviting me to grieve without timelines or judgment, thank-you for continually showing me beauty every time my heart aches, thank-you for reminding me this life is still full of so much good.  Thank-you.”

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