Posts Tagged ‘travel’

A Farewell to Poland

March 31, 2011

Stalinist Building in Warsaw, the Palace of Culture and Science.

Poland.

I came to this country with one particular image in mind: a sinister Rob Zombie paying homage to A Clockwork Orange and it’s Milk Bar sequence in his music video, Never Gonna Stop (The Red Red Kroovy). Moreover, I’d recently read a book by George Friedman (the head honcho of the STRATFOR intelligence company), titled The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century, in which he suggests Poland will be one of the world’s super powers by 2050. I was intrigued as to what gave him that idea.

And so for 2 months I called this place my pissing ground. For 2 months I met, spoke, and drank with the people of this land. For 2 months I told people I’d find a job here. For 2 months I didn’t.

On March 6th, 2011, I finally boarded a train and left Poland.

Sad?

Yes.

Do I want to come again?

Absolutely.

Poland was a great country to me and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. When I landed I immediately felt a sense of being “home.” That’s a scary word because whenever I talk to ex-pats they always mention how their new country immediately felt like “home.” And, as I was to find out later, I do indeed have some Polish roots, so maybe they’re starting to spring up? (Well, technically, they’re Austro-Hungarian roots, but I’d like to avoid that whole argument.)

Perhaps that’s why I spent so long in the Land of the Po. After reading over my first, second and third impressions of Poland, I take a look at a map and see that I’ve covered a good part of the country. In the next few posts I’ll give a brief overview of my adventures through Poland, including almost everything ranging from the sights of Warsaw and the goats of Poznan to the dwarves of Wroclaw and a search for a cemetery in southeast Poland.

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Poland: Third Impressions

February 24, 2011

 

Warszawa Centralna at night.

I’ve made my way through a good portion of Northern Poland, doing some sight-seeing, a home-stay, and meeting plenty of folks. After all this wandering I’ve come up with my third set of impressions of Poland. You can read my first impressions here, the second here.

-Who is the Polish guy who overdubs English movies? It seems it’s always the same guy. I couldn’t help but think that his voice is more appropriate to museum audio guides than language overdubs.

-Some Polish folks like to think that L’viv, Ukraine is still theirs. Same with Lithuania. Hmmm.

-In smaller towns such as Poznan or even Wroclaw, I’ve found that fewer people speak English. In Warsaw, everybody spoke English better than I did… and they knew what the past continuous was.

-The internet doesn’t seem to like my MacBook. Most of the websites I try to visit don’t work in the hostels and some cafes. This has gotten to be very irritating. They work fine on my iPod, go figure.

-The urinals are really high. I’ve had to learn how to pee upwards.

-Upon further inspection, it’s not so much the distance up the wall, it’s how big the pee-catch lip is: it goes way up. It’s not necessary, it can be 2 inches shorter and we can stand closer. The chances of splash-back are about the same.

-Night life. Wow, Poland has a lot of clubs. I think this is another way Polish women stay thin. Smoking and dancing.

-I’ve noticed that Europeans call going to the night clubs a “party” or “to make a party,” whereas Brits and North Americans call it “clubbing.” In North America at least (not too sure about them Brits), a “party” usually refers to a private affair, in someone’s house or a closed venue. In Europe, it seems, “party” refers to going out anywhere.

And a few more in depth impressions…

-Still Water. Theoretically you can drink the tap water, but most folks don’t recommend it. In a pinch, such as after a night out clubbing, it’s almost like eating McDonald’s: it won’t kill you right away but steady use may do some damage.

-Sparkling/fizzy/gaz water. I seem to drink “sparkling” or “fizzy” water only while travelling. In Poland, you can order water with or without “gaz.” Now, in my mind, I don’t want “gaz” anywhere near my water, that’s something you put into your car. However, Europeans, being the beautiful and unique people they are, have abbreviated the word “gazowany” to “gaz.” Wonderful. Plus, they put diesel into their cars. So, unless the waiter asks if you want “woda w diesel,” you should be okay drinking “woda w gaz.” With that, gaz water with some ice cubes and a lemon = bardzo dobze (very good).

-Trains. Although some Poles don’t like train travel, so far my experience has been positive. For me, train travel is one of the simplest ways to travel. Maybe it’s the idea of being able to hop on a train, buy a ticket and land in another city without anyone checking my documents. I mean, the stations are so simple: ticket booth, tracks, platform. Done! The downfall to this simplicity, however, is that they usually only have one decreped sign with the name of the city… at the beginning of the platform. If you miss the sign, you have noooo idea where you are. The central stations are pretty easy to identify.

Apparently you’re not allowed to drink on the train. But the signs on the train aren’t very clear: there is a bottle within a red circle. With no red line through the bottle (like all “No Smoking” signs) it almost looks as if it’s imperative to drink and lean out the window. Being the observant traveller I am and surveying my surroundings to see what The Natives are doing, I think it’s best not to pull out my bottle of vodka. Score one for stopping and thinking.

-Polish. I’m a language dork, I know it, but I’m having difficulty keeping up with the nuances of the Polish language. I have yet to master the ability to correctly say or write in Polish “in Warsaw,” “in Bydgoszcz,” or “in wherever.” People seem to understand me, but it seems every city is unique and uses a different ending (called the locative case for you language ignorati out there.) We Warszawa, wie Poznanie, w Bydgoszczy, w Krakowie, we Wrocławiu, w-kurwa! What’s the rule here? Language exchange anyone? (FYI, “w” in Polish is pronounced “v.”)

Declensions aside, a few useful phrases include piękna dziewczyna (pee-auk-na dzeev-che-na), kocham się (ko-xham see-ow), and jestem głodny (yest-em gwod-ne). In order: “beautiful girlfriend,” “I love you,” and “I’m hungry.”

-General travelling. You know what else I’ve noticed, especially in contrast to travelling southeast Asia? No hawking! Maybe it’s because I’m travelling in the low season, but I’m starting to feel a little lonely walking the streets and not getting harassed by hundreds of people trying to sell me all sorts of shit. I mean, in southeast Asia, there was rarely a dull moment. Here in Poland, however, some days many stores look closed until you walk in!

And those are my latest impressions of the Land of the Po. You can compare them to my first set and second set of impressions.

They don’t stop there. I will be writing up a few others posts about my travel and vodka experiences in Poland.

Coffee and Milk Featured in Teach Away, Inc. Telegram

February 4, 2011
Students' Reaction Shot

My Grade 6 Advanced English class participating in the Coffee and Milk shoot.

I’m proud and honoured to report that Coffee and Milk has been featured in Teach Away, Inc.’s January 2011 telegram. Teach Away is the company that brought me over to teach English in Korea.

Find the article here.

View the short film here or pictures from the shoot on Flickr.

I also have other posts about the film here.

Winnipeg: A Little Guide for Foreigners

February 1, 2011

Legislative building in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Can you see the Golden Boy on top?

As I make my way through the hostels and bars all over Poland, people ask me where I’m from and they don’t recognize the name. In regard to Canada, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal get all the attention, Winnipeg gets skipped. I have no doubt it’s because we’re so far away from everybody else.

But I’m gonna try to shed some light on my home city for all of you foreigners fortunate enough to meet me and are curious about where I came from. I understand that my other recent post, Winnipeg: A Love Story, may not be very clear for foreigners so this post is meant to be a little guide to Winnipeg. Fully printable! 😀

So it’s for you, darling foreigners, that I write this next bit.

(I am working on a video about Winnipeg and I do have a lot more photos. However, I couldn’t find my camera before I left Winnipeg, and that’s where most of my pictures are. I ask your patience in waiting for the video.)

Getting to Winnipeg

Just a few tips on getting to Winnipeg. Most international flights land in Vancouver, Toronto to Montreal. Flying is the fastest way to get to Winnipeg, but also the most expensive. Check tripadvisor.com, expedia.com, or orbitz.com for cheap flights.

Once in the larger cities, check the VIA Rail website for last minute express train deals to Winnipeg. In the off-season, you can get from Toronto to Winnipeg for $100 and get a chance to see the wondrous Canadian Shield.

You can also take the Greyhound bus. Both journeys will take 36+ hours to get to Winnipeg, and you may meet some interesting folks along the way. But, if you’re a brave backpacker, or unemployed, or are in no rush, it’s not so bad. You can read about my experience on the bus here and watch the video here. You’ve been warned.

The Power Months

If you were to ask me what months to visit Winnipeg, I’d say it depends on what you’re looking for.

If you don’t mind the cold, and I mean “I DON’T BELIEVE IT!” COLD, go in February. That’s when you can go skating on the Red River, attend the New Music Festival, the Festival du Voyageur, take pretty scenic photos, and smell the wood-burning fire places along Wellington Crescent. You can even go North to Churchill to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis, but if you want to see polar bears, you’ll have to come in October.) In the end, you can brag to your European or Asian friends that you’ve actually been in -40 degree C weather… and survived.

If you hate the cold, as most people do, go in mid-July and stay until mid-August. July plays host to many festivals, warm weather, women in nice clothes on Corydon and Osborne, not too many mosquitoes, better weather, etc. August is used for finishing those festivals that started the month before.

Festivals

For music, hippie-fest (also known as the Winnipeg Folk Festival) takes place in July. Be careful of the cookies you eat. The most jazz you can see and hear at one time in Winnipeg occurs in June during the Winnipeg Jazz Festival. One festival I have regrettably NOT attended is the WSO’s New Music Festival. Taking place usually in February, I never seemed to be caught up enough in my university studies to make it out to this festival. Dauphin, Manitoba also hosts a wildly popular Country Fest at the end of June.

Film buffs will have to travel North for a couple of hours to see the Gimli Film Festival in July or you can try the “Uh, what did I just see?” WDNX Festival in October. You can also get the same effect from some of my films on Vimeo.

Theatre lovers will find fulfillment with the Winnipeg Fringe Festival in July.

For culture, try the Festival du Voyageur in February, Folkorama in August (this one festival will introduce you to just about every cultural group living in Winnipeg and the surrounding area), there is an Icelandic Festival I’ve never been to and, of course, Dauphin hosts its own Ukrainian Festival in August.

Sight seeing

Starting off, go see our legislative building with the Golden Boy on top. Yes, he’s made of gold. Fact: he took forever to get there, not because he’s not alive, but because he was placed on a ship which was being used for transporting troops in WWI. So he did a little travelling before settling down in Winnipeg, I completely understand. Now he stands, looking north, holding some wheat and a torch. He was recently given a good shining so he’s all nice and sparkly now. I believe they still run tours inside of the legislative building, but I haven’t been on one in years.

Visit The Forks, our most attractive tourist attraction and future home of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. I’d also suggest spending a day in St. Boniface exploring the French side of Winnipeg. If you feel so inclined, you can check out the University of Manitoba, which is out of the way but kinda scenic and maybe you can meet up with some wandering students.

For shopping, try St. Vital or Polo Park malls. Osborne Village and Corydon also have some shopping offerings, but they have more pubs and coffee shops than shopping.

Visit the Exchange District to view the historical place at which we had a good ol’ fashioned uprising back in 1919, something about workers’ rights. Though I’ve never been on a walking tour in the area, I’ve read about them and think that they might be a good investment for your Winnipeg blog post or Facebook status update.

We make money in Winnipeg. Visit the Royal Canadian Mint, it’s one of three in Canada.

There’s also a really nice old basilica in St. Boniface. Many a newly-wedded couple go there for photos.

Lastly, if you dare, ask to be booked into the haunted room at the Fort Garry Hotel. It’ll be a tad expensive (ca. $100/night), but then you’ll have a cool story to tell your friends. I have not been brave enough to go there yet. Oh, and don’t piss her off.

Assiniboine Park

Take a bus up Corydon Avenue to get here, or hop on a bike and cycle up Wellington Crescent to see this Assiniboine Park, a large park hosting a first-class restaurants, zoo, Leo Mol’s Sculpture Garden, and open fields a plenty to frolic with your Winnipeg friends. For the learning experience, find the sculpture of the pilot and bear that commemorates A.A. Milne’s finding of a small bear cub and who later named the cub “Winnie”. That’s right folks, Winnie the Pooh is named after my hometown of Winnipeg. Check the Authorita Wikipediae if you don’t believe me. 😛 (Or this History of Pooh website.) The park is nicest in the summer, but a winter drive looks pretty cool too.

Reading

Check out our recently renovated Millenium Library not far from the MTS Centre, our hockey arena. The library also has a great cafe where sandwiches and coffee are served, the place is called the Human Bean. If you want to buy books, head on over to the Grant Park Mall and find the McNally Robinson’s bookstore. Playing host to a children’s bookstore upstairs, a music section, discounted books, lectures, jazz and great food in the cafe (called the Prairie Ink Cafe. Try the chicken fingers with the honey dill sauce. Mashesayo!)

If McNally doesn’t have what you’re looking for, you can also check out Chapters near St. Vital or Polo Park malls.

Eating

Koreans often asked me what we ate in Canada. To be honest, I’d never thought about it. WTF do we eat in Canada? Well, I’ll list the places that I normally go and you can tell me what we eat. Aside from McNally Robinson’s, Osborne Village is where you can hang out with the locals. Wasabi caters to your sushi cravings, the Toad in the Hole is a meeting place while Papa George’s will nurse your hangover with some thick and greasy pizza until 4 am.

If you want to hang with other tourists, or go skating in the winter, head on over to The Forks, especially the Johnson Terminal, where you’ll find all sorts of shops and food stores, sights and sounds.

Corydon Avenue also hosts several Asian restaurants, though European holdouts Niko’s and Kristina’s On Corydon serve up Greek food.

For Ukrainian food, try Alycia’s or, if you’re curious enough, you can try finding a church that will sell you perogies for about $3/dozen.

To keep up to date, you can read our news rags, the Winnipeg Free Press or the Winnipeg Sun. Uptown is all local material. The Manitoban and Stylus mags belong to the universities.

Drinking

Toad in the Hole in Osborne Village. King’s Head Pub in the Exchange District.

Coffee

My addiction is no secret. First place goes to the Human Bean cafe at the Millenium Library. Second goes to the Second Cup, same same but different to Starbucks. Third place goes to the Greek coffee served by Kristina’s On Corydon. Fourth place goes to Tim Hortons, because it’s cheap.

Music

If you’re a night owl, The Royal Albert Arms in the Exchange district will help you catch up on the music played by Winnipeg’s rebel youth. The Zoo in Osborne Village will educate you on the metal scene, while The Cavern can show you just about anything. For more rock, Irish or modern Ukrainian music, check out the King’s Head Pub, not far from the Royal Albert. For jazz, Paragon restaurant hosts jazz every Friday night at 5:30, McNally Robinson’s hosts jazz usually every Friday and Saturday nights. There’re also some jazz venues in St. Boniface. Touring bands usually hit up the Burton Cumming’s Theatre or the West End Cultural Centre. Larger acts hit the MTS Centre.

Aside from our larger radio stations like Power 97, 92 CITI FM, Groove FM 99.1, and CBC Radio, try the university stations of UMFM and CKUW. If you like AM radio, I recommend try CJOB 680 for talk radio, CKJS 810 for ethnic offerings, and CFRY 920 for country.

Movies

For local or independent fare, check out the Cinematheque, which plays lesser known or classic material. For you international filmmakers out there, you can go upstairs and meet the folks at the Winnipeg Film Group or the Video Pool, the first group catering to peeps who like playing with actual film, the second group a bunch of experimental video artists. Careful, brain expansion may occur. The Globe Cinema in Portage Place also plays a few alternatives to the Hollywood movies screened at the larger cineplexes.

Museums

I’ll confess, if there’s one thing I didn’t go see myself lately, it’s museums. I think the last time I was in the Manitoba Museum (previously called the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature) was when I was a playing with Popples. Go to the Winnipeg Art Gallery for paintings and photographs; Oseredok for Ukrainian history; and soon, the  Canadian Museum of Human Rights, which will remember those killed by genocide all over the world.

And That’s Winnipeg

Check out my other post, Winnipeg: A Love Story, an emotional and poetic history of my life growing up in the city.

Winnipeggers, use the little buttons below and share this post.

Foreigners, welcome to Winnipeg, and share this post. 😀

Coffee and Milk Korean Interview

November 29, 2010

Murat is interviewed at the first screening of Coffee and Milk

I’ve heard good things about the 12th Independent Film Festival MADE IN BUSAN this past weekend. Compliments on the shooting and editing.

Murat attended and was interviewed. It’s in Korean, so I can’t help you. I hope they’re saying good things. Due to exams, Seung Jae, the student lead, couldn’t attend the screening, and since I’m in Winnipeg, neither could I (though with the current amount of snowfall, maybe I should’ve gone??)

You can find the interview here.

And if you know Korean and want to help me out, I’d love to have a translation of the interview.

You read more about the movie here, or watch it here.

Coffee and Milk Screening in Korea

November 17, 2010
Second Shot of the Day

Seung Jae, Steventeacher, and Murat on set for the filming of Coffee and Milk.

Practically one year to the day since it was shot, my first international short film Coffee and Milk, about a teacher and a student who get into a fight over spilled milk and coffee, will be screened at the 12th Independent Film Festival MADE IN BUSAN!

For those of you who don’t know Korean, here’s the direct link:

http://www.ifmib.org/bbs/view.php?id=gong1&no=193&category=

From my meager knowledge of Korean, the info under that link gives the general information about the movie, which can also be found here, in English.

If you’re not in Korea, you can always watch the movie on my Vimeo page or check it out being featured on the Art of Backpacking website.

A Day and Night in Dauphin, Manitoba

November 12, 2010

…followed by a Halloween in Grandview.

Home to the Country Music Festival the Canadian National Ukrainian Festival, I’ve been visiting Dauphin ever since I was born, mainly to visit my grandmother and cousins. It was only recently, however, that was able to experience the city for an extended period of time on my own.

Dauphin Beaver

Dauphin Beaver

I’ve gone to the Ukie fest a few times, but never the country fest. Country fest has played host to some of the big acts: Toby Keith, Trace Adkins, Big & Rich and others. The Ukie fest primarily highlights music and dance from Canada and Ukraine: Shumka and Rusalka dance ensembles, Haydamaky and Ruslana music groups from Ukraine (and how did I miss Ruslana in SEOUL, SOUTH F’N KOREA?!?!… you can even see her name printed in Korean at the end of the video!!), and even my former groups, Taran and Zrada.

But it was one bright and sunny Saturday morning that my aunt requested that I pick up some things from the store. The task was simple: buckwheat from Nutter’s, refill two water jugs at Health Basics, get some cereal from Extra Foods, and my own goal was to find a new coffee shop named Coffee Creations, which apparently has a phenomenal reuben sandwich. Having heard most of her instructions, I headed out for an adventure thinking, “If I can navigate southeast Asia, how hard can it be to find a few places in a small town like Dauphin?”

First, I wanted to find the water store, Health Basics. I recall my aunt saying something about the store being somewhere around Extra Foods, I just couldn’t remember exactly where. I think she said it was on the way to the Co-op (where one of my cousin’s works.) But guess how many Co-ops I found in Dauphin by the end of that day?

Three.

Now for all your Dauphiners reading this, you’re probably thinking, “Steve, you saw Health Basics outside of Extra Foods, right? I mean, you walk out of Extra Foods, turn right into the parking lot to get your car, and it’s right there, you can see it behind the shopping cart holder-thingy. It’s right there!” Well, you’re right.

But I never found Health Basics that day. I did get the water, but it cost me my lunch money, a full $8.

How, Steven? How did you miss it?

Well, you see, the reason is because I’ve always driven my dad’s old cars. Y’know, a Datsun 210B, a Pontiac T1000, a Chevrolet Chevette; cars that don’t have power windows, heat, power locks or… an alarm system.

The Blue Beast

A 1978 Chevrolet Chevette

Well guess what my aunt’s SUV has? All of those features.

So, the reason I didn’t see Health Basics that day is because on my way back to the SUV, while attempting to look like I always drive this vehicle (it’s not like a fresh face in town driving a familiar vehicle would ever draw any suspicion in a small town… never) I couldn’t figure out which button was the “unlock” button so the alarm wouldn’t go off. Studying the key chain for a minute or so, I unlocked the car without incident. If there was one success I had that day, it was not setting of the car alarm. 😀

To make my heart jump even more, right as I started the car a lady approached the window. Thinking, “I’m found out and going to be reported,” I roll down the window only to have her ask for four quarters. Okay, I can do that. And guess what, she didn’t know where Health basics was either.

I did find Nutters (only after I asked inside of Extra Foods) and the infamous Co-op beside it. So far, I had the cereals and buckwheat but I was missing the water and my reuben sandwich (and coffee). The cute lady working at Nutters couldn’t tell me where Health Basics was, but she did guide me to another water store.

By this point all I really wanted to do is grab my morning coffee. Fed up with the water conundrum, I went to the other water store, refilled the jugs and then finally drove to Coffee Creations (which I had no problem finding… it’s right on Main Street.)

Coffee Creations is a very simple place, it’s drive-thru only. On the suggestion of my fellow hired farm help, Rob, I ordered a Reuben sandwich and a Coffee Creations Sludge Cup. What is a Sludge Cup? Brewed coffee with an espresso shot (yes, same same Starbucks’ Redeye). The Reuben was phenomenal (though I really thought they would’ve used cheese from around the area and not processed cheese) and the coffee had me absolutely fucking wired.

Having successfully completed my task list, I drive back to the farm to drive a tractor for eight hours.

Tractor, Beast, Cultivator, Anhydrous Ammonia Tank

The anhydrous rig I drove on the farm.

And then the night out…

Just before ending my farming duties, I got a tour of the Dauphin night life. We went to a wine tasting one Friday night and I even got a phone number! This pretty lady offered to give me a lift back to Winnipeg… but she never answered. 😦

When the wine tasting was over, we went off to prowl the streets of Dauphin: Thunders saloon, “Club Boule” (the Boulevard), and Towers. The first venue a woman got groped (not by me), the second had someone arrested for selling drugs, and the third had strippers and, as I found out the next day, a fight just after we left. Wow.

It is also this night that I met a singer/songwriter whom I neglected to write about in my country music post. Full of witticisms and nice things to say after the wine tasting, I mentioned that she doesn’t look like a singer/songwriter, especially not one who has recorded three albums on her own, travelled Canada, and is a nice, unpretentious person. With an appropriate blank stare, she smiles and says “thank you.” So, if you have the time, want to feel the pain of country music and hear an incredible voice that belies her age, check out Kayla Luky’s website or MySpace. My favourite is “Merry Go Round”, found under the first link.

Saturday had me going out to Grandview, about 30 minutes away from D-town. A Halloween party was going on at the local legion so I accompanied my cousin and her friends. I will give it to this group of folks, they went all out with their costumes. I’m not one for dressing up, but I was informed that bringing a costume would warrant a $5 entrance fee instead of $15. So, my aunt dressed me up as a pimp. How appropriate since I’d arrive in a car full of women (one of them my cousin): one a Greek goddess, another a hippie, and another as a piece of candy corn. I didn’t have a problem with this at all.

Once in Grandview we rendezvoused with some other friends, Kayla Luky and her posse as the characters from the Super Mario Cart game. Though they bought their costumes, I give them complete acknowledgment for colouring paper plates to use as turtle shells and cutting up banana peels to throw at each other. Despite the obvious health hazard their items presented to the party, I thought it was a well thought-out scheme. Not only that, to complement MY costume of being a pimp, one of the other guys I met was dressed up as a woman. Whenever he dropped something I’d scream, “Bitch, why you be dropping shit?!” And thus went the night.

So, in one day and two nights I was able to catch a glimpse of small town night life. The last time I recall such eventful weekends, I was in Korea.

Life on another planet? That’s a movie you’re working on, right?

October 1, 2010

Yes, kinda. But, before I write, direct and produce that movie, I’d like to write about a subject that has fascinated me since my childhood. Space. Not only space, but alien life. Growing up with the mystery that is Area 51, UFO, abductions, movies like ET: The Extra-Terrestrial and and the one that frightened me most as a kid, Fire in the Sky.

An astronomer recently stated that finding life on a nearby planet is 100%. You can read the article here. The article excited me again about the subject and I got thinking about our future on this little green and blue planet. Stephen hawking is known to have accepted that alien life could exist, but that we should avoid it because it could well be hostile. Well, like some other things in life such as travel, economy, and relationships, finding and exploring life on another planet may become inevitable. Conspiracies aside (though fascinating to entertain, they do little to advance the argument), space is literally the final frontier. It’s the only place we haven’t really explored to any depth.

Governments currently provide most of the money for the research, development, and exploration of space. NASA (USA), ESA (Europe), CSA (Canada), CNSA (China), and those Russians with their FKA use their tax income to pay for the space programs. Some money goes to companies that do the detail-work, such as building equipment and training the folks who need to go up there, but for the most part the space programs are run by the government agencies. I think it may be coming time to privatize space R&D.

Simply put, the government is too burdened with other obligations to bother with space R&D. Privatize it! If space programs were privatized, we’d be opening up more industries which would mean more job creation. And with the latest economic bubble burst in 2008, new industries might be a good idea.

Some folks are skeptical of going into space. Their arguments range from “we have enough problems already and we should address those” to “there’s nothing out there.” You can find those same criticisms in the writings of ancient historians Herodotus and Livy, where they talk about “the people over there” as being completely barbaric. Herodotus refers to the Africans and Livy refers to the lands of what is now England. I wonder what the criticisms of Columbus’s journey were like? And consider those explorations now: they all amounted to something more than people at their time could possibly imagine.

My argument for space development relies on a few simple ideas. It would be something new and exciting to discover, it’d help our people/space problem, and we’d probably learn more about ourselves in the process.

First, it’s something new and exciting. Just like many folks like to take off backpacking for a few months or years, let’s head to space! Those of you who argue that it’s not safe, well, neither was most of Asia 30 years ago but guess when the Lonely Planet started publishing? Now places like Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, and many parts of Africa are being explored by people who, no doubt, their parents were against the idea since it was “unsafe”. And let’s face it, if there are two groups of people who will deter you from doing most things in life they are your parents and your friends. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. God knows I’ve relied on my friends and family to point out the stupidity of my ways. Safety is a concern, but stupid things should just not be done. Space exploration is not stupid.

Second, we’ve got lots of people here. Why not give us the option of moving? Similar to the argument of moving cities because it’s more “us”, more economical for business, or more abundant than other options, space presents a place where we can expand almost indefinitely. I understand the argument that we’ve got lots of room here for now, but despite the room, people still like to move to different places to fit in better or to experience new things.

Third, it’s about the experience and learning about ourselves. Travel is often seen to expand people’s horizons and not only teach them about themselves, but about the greater world. Much like most backpackers, including myself, who’ve learned a lot about themselves by making that jump across a pond or two, or those English teachers who’ve left their home lands to pursue wealth, opportunity, excitement and adventure abroad, travelling into space would present the same learning process.

Think of the opportunities! I completely understand how crazy they sound now, and they will remain so for quite some time. Teaching English on the next planet. Think of reading another civilization’s history books! The comparisons and contrasts you could make. Where would English and Chinese stand against the language of another planet? Does prostitution exist on other planets? What is their music like? Have they heard of rock or jazz music? What sort of entertainment venues do they have? Have we truly found the simple elements of the universe such as musical notes, numbers, and chemistry? And what about the other fantastically difficult to prove subjects such as God, wormholes, time travel, and perpetual motion machines discussed by writers such as Carl Sagan (though I can’t find the spot right now) and Michiu Kaku? (I especially love Dr. Kaku’s works.)

Such questions are suggested in TV shows and movies such as Star Wars, Stargate, Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica. The suggestions are implications of the life we could find in the universe at large. Fascinating.

But I’m not advocating writing stories about space any more. No. I want to explore it myself and others.

As a last note, I’d personally like to live to 130 years old (minimum) simply to see what my kids (or at the very least, my brothers’ and sister’s kids) will be able to do and where they will be able to go. If there’s one thing that urges me to become financially successful, it’s so I can build a space ship 😛 So support my work 🙂 In return, I’ll support those who want to go travelling abroad and into space for gaining experience and learning through some sort of grant.

Coffee and Coffee Shops in Asia

August 27, 2010

While writing my feature film, I turn to my coffee cup and am reminded how far I’ve actually travelled. The coffee I made today comes Vietnam, some of the best damn coffee I’ve tasted on my travels. I spent a lot of time in coffee shops, usually alone. After reading through my notes of my trip, I realized that I make a lot of comments about coffee or coffee shops so I thought I’d write them up. I’ve even included pictures for my fans out there who requested them.

As a warning, I am a professional coffee taster. Fully certified by several countries since my graduate years. Every word in this article can be taken to be The Word On Coffee and backed by my caffeine-stained, yellow-toothed smile. Further, I drink my coffee “pure,” i.e. black, no milk, no sugar.

Laos:

The bag of coffee I bought here wasn’t fresh as the beans had already dried. But I think the greatest thing about having coffee in Laos is the utter tranquillity of the place. No rush here to get your move on, only freshly ground, brewed coffee and WIFI for all of us hardcore interneters. Not only that, Laos is still pretty cheap. It was in this country that I and my Polish travelling companion debated about my Ukrainian-ness and what heritage means. The beans for sale on the main streets were priced pretty high (30,000 Kip (~$3.75) for 250 g) while the markets offered larger bags for cheaper prices (maybe the robusta variety instead of arabica?). I bought my kilo for 50,000 Kip (~$6.25). Overall, either sitting on a balcony and watching the Mekong flow by or simply out on the street corner watching people (or debating Ukrainian-ness), Laos is one of the most peaceful places to sip a good cup of coffee.

My coffee beans from Laos.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Hard to find a decent cup of coffee in PP but, if you must, go to the Foreign Correspondent Club (FCC) along the Mekong river. Found in a renovated villa from the French colonial era, the place is both a boutique hotel and a cafe. Get the double since a single is something like $2 whereas a double is $2.50 and is a generous serving of caffeine. Again, atmosphere is pretty cool and the service is great. The cafe is located on the second floor, overlooking the Mekong River, and out of reach of the hawkers working the street below. Lots of foreigners inside, lots of hawkers selling weed outside.

Busan, South Korea:

Okay, not much to write about here since most coffee here is made by companies similar to Starbucks and Second Cup in Canada. That is, they’re chain stores. Notable mentions include Angel-in-Us for having the Jamaican Blue Mountain blend priced at a “holy shit” figure of 7,000 Won for a mug. It’s okay, but, given it’s hype are being one of the best coffees in the world, I didn’t write to my mother about it. There used to be a Turkish restaurant in the Kyungsung University area that served great Turkish coffee, but it has since closed down.

The gold star, however, goes to Cherami, the cafe and bakery outside of Goejeong subway station (exit #6). They gave me a free piece of cake with every espresso or coffee order. The espresso itself was very good, and served in a very generous double portion. This is the coffee shop that I practiced “copy chuseyo” the most. And every time, the girl who worked the counter giggled. Worth the admission folks. I can tell you that the most expensive coffee I tried was here during the Pusan International Film Festival, topping out at $12 for a single espresso at one of the fancy hotels near Haeundae Beach. Maybe I said something wrong to the waitress (or didn’t say), but I don’t think the espresso should’ve cost that much. Ouch.

Taipei, Taiwan:

Monument Coffee. I’ve written about it before so I’ll leave this description brief. Using the Chinese Siphon coffee making method, the coffee took a full five minutes to make and was worth the wait. Highly recommended.

Vietnam:

Despite my differences with the hawkers of this coastal country, I will hands down give Vietnam the title of having the best coffee I tried. I am saddened by the fact that I did not bring more of it home with me. I did bring home a small coffee maker, but it’s been banged up since I left Vietnam (pictured below). The brewed coffee tastes and smells a whole lot sweeter than any other coffee I’ve tried. Served either in ice or hot (they look at you funny when you order hot coffee on a hot day), the coffee is pretty much the same all over the country. Saigon, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue, and Hanoi all offer small Mom-and-Pop coffee shops that serve the same, if not better, coffee than the chain store, Highland Coffee. If you’re on the hunt for great coffee, go to Vietnam. Just watch out for those ladies around the lake who pretend to be English students.

My coffee maker from Vietnam. Best damn coffee I had.

Chiang Mai, Thailand:

Fresh Arabica beans for you here! The coffee shop I most frequented while my travelling companion was out with the Dengue Fever was Momo’s. It was in this city that I was able to pen most of the script for my feature film, The Musician, energized by the caffeine I sucked down in Momo’s. Not only that, I managed to find a kilo of freshly roasted arabica beans to take back with me, costing only 400 Baht (~$12). If there is one place I’d like to go back to just to drink the coffee it would be Chiang Mai. As a side note, you can also order coffee from Doi Chang Coffee including the renowned “Doi Chaang Wild Civet (Kopi Luwak) Coffee” which has passed through the “digestive track of a wild civet”. Fascinating. I have never actually tried this coffee, but I will probably order a bag just to see what it tastes like. Hmmm, two civets, one cup?

And that about does it for my coffee experience in Asia. I’m thinking I may just order my coffee beans right from Thailand from now on. Why bother with Starbucks any longer?

In my earlier post I mentioned that the coffee is brewed the Chinese way, complete with a propane torch, glass bulb, and two-foot filtration system, making the coffee to have 1/3 more caffeine than if brewed the more modern filter method. That is what the lady told me and showed me in her menu. I neglected to take a picture of the machine, but managed to snag the image below from Google. In any event, the coffee was expensive but worth every dollar. I tried the Blue Mountain blend (yes, the same as the one from Busan) and here it was much better.

Korea: A Reminiscence

August 15, 2010

안녕하세요!

I’ve been back in Winnipeg for just over a month now and many people have asked me “How was Korea?” So I’ve decided to put down some of my thoughts about the country and my time there.

My job in Korea was to teach English to Grade 3s to 6s. I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. Using resources from EPIK and Dave’s ESL, as well as some friends who begun teaching there before me, I quickly learned about lesson plans, lesson flow, and classroom management. The first few weeks were intimidating but, once I got into the hang of things, it became a whole lot easier. I will never forget the first time driving up to the school and three kids stopped, mouths gaping, pointing at me as I drove by. They were excited, which helped ease my own nerves.

In regard to Korean life, Koreans always seems to be in a hurry to do something. I don’t get it. I’m sure North Americans are guilty of the same thing, but, as an outsider, I noticed that everything done by Koreans needed to be done right away. If you were a foreigner, you were allowed some lenience. I really felt bad for my co-teacher because every time she received a phone call, she stopped everything to attend to the call, and then (sometimes) sprinted out of the classroom to take care of whatever business needed to be taken care of.

If there’s one thing you’ll soon notice when you go to Korea it’s that everything is Korean. LG and Samsung, Daewoo, KIA and Hyundai, and Angel-in-Us. It’s kinda creepy. Jim Rogers, a renowned New York investor, wrote in his book Adventure Capitalist, that Korea came across as “artificial”. He’s got a point. Korean companies dominate the landscape; not many foreign companies (especially not Japanese, i.e. Sony and Panasonic!) can be found here!

And how about those cab drivers? You really learn to appreciate life after you’ve made it home alive in a cab. If there was one reason to learn the Korean language, it was so you could tell the cab driver where to you lived, and to go slower!

The Korean language. I loved learning Hangul, if only because I could make an attempt to talk to every cute girl that walked by. Aside from that, Hangul looks like such a happy language. Look at a paragraph of Hangul and tell me that you do not see little faces, some happy, some unamused, some winking, some confused!

Cyclops:

Unamused:

Drunk winking:

Wearing cool glasses and smiling:

Surprised pirate:

Sly and cool:

Those are just some of the things I saw when I first looked the Korean writing system. Here’s a sample:

언제나 어디서나 날 따라다니는 이 스포트 라이트
어딜가나 쫓아오지 식당 길거리 까페 나이트
도대체 얼마나 나이 들어야 이놈의 인기는 식으러 들지 원
섹시한 내 눈은 고소영
아름다운 내 다린 좀 하지원
어쩌면 좋아 모두 나를 좋아하는 것 같애 oh no

-from “So Hot” by Wondergirls

Don’t you see the faces? Tell me you see the faces! (Okay, it’s a stretch, but the first time I saw it, I swear I saw faces!)

Some of my friends thought Korea was a third-world country. Couldn’t be further from the truth. Korea is probably more developed than most parts of North America! If you want your luxury shopping (Gucci, Prada, etc.) you’ve got it. Movies? All the English movies are shown in addition to some Korean movies subtitled in English. Music? Great rock and jazz music to be found in Seoul, while Busan seems to be overrun with foreigners and their music groups. Food? Take your pick, all western fast food joints and many European foods (such as pizza or kebabs) are available. Coffee? Yes, Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Angel-in-Us, and my personal favourite (because they gave me cake every time), Cherami (exit 6, Goejeong Station, Saha-gu, Busan). And don’t forget the largest sea-food market in Asia, Jagalchi in Busan. You’ve never tasted fresher raw fish. You walk down any number of isles offering a variety of fish and sea creatures, pick which ones you want, take a seat, slug some soju, then eat. My most expensive bill there was $50, and that was apparently for some “expensive” fish. I can only imagine what the same bill would be in Canada.

And how about that Kpop? Well, words will fail any attempt to describe Korean pop music. Let’s just say, they’ve got America beat at cranking out popstars. America only uses one pop star and makes him/her a star. Korea? They take 18 young men or women, put them on a stage, and make them sing and dance. Be sure to check out Super Junior’s “Sorry, Sorry, Sorry”, Wonder Girls’ “So Hot” (see the lyrics above), and my favourite, “Fire” by 2NE1.

I enjoyed my time in Korea. I’d like to return to Korea one day, possibly to teach, or maybe just to visit. Or maybe to shoot another movie? (See Coffee and Milk below.) The world is a large place and I would really like to see more of it.

PS – In regard to North-South relations, the only “bomb” I experienced was mixing soju with beer, which my kids called “pok tan ju”, translated to mean “the bomb”.


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