‘Rubbish’ is the word of the day.

8 03 2010

There is something peculiar about them. One lousy word out of somebody’s mouth and you should be able to tell where a person comes from. From a simple word of hello comes a million ways of saying it.
Hel-low, hullo, allo or even hey is an acceptable greeting.
Usually accents differ from one country to another, or even one province to another. In Canada alone, accents differ almost in ‘time zones’ and not by provinces.

Not in the case of England.

Ahh the British accent. It is undoubtedly hard to pin down what a British accent sound like when almost the next town will have a different accent from the next, and sometimes can be as brutal as understanding another language that isn’t English. And no, don’t even try to mock their accent by copying what Hollywood made us believe all Brits sound like, they’re not all posh and proper like the Queen.

In the small town of Baldock in the heart of England I caught up with a group of young British drinkers in a watering hole called The Engine Pub. ‘Twas a chilly night but a small group have gathered outside to smoke where I joined them. Correction: ‘Twas a chilly night but the entire patron of the bar have gathered outside to smoke where I joined them. As the tourist in town my friend have introduced me to every single one of them where they offered if I’d like a smoke ‘Sorry, I don’t smoke. I’m fine with the beer’ and I took one gulp of the fine brew.

At this point another man stepped out of the bar and joined the small crowd.
“Oh right mate, this is Ashley. He’s visiting from Canada,” introduced my friend.
“Is that right? Welcome to Baldock,” he said then turned his attention to his friends.
“Right, do you want to hear a funny story?”
“Yeah!” cheered the crowd. I like funny stories and I eagerly pressed my ears to listen to a fine British comedy.
And this was his story:

“Neyhmart whone gown to brafthmension nees. Haha, garth brooks woke moyne apple struddle cowabonga gwonwon nasa roysell maine. Hahahaha, anddeyn gowsbow too olsentwins morgrowber then I gown maccarenawoe wayworth mowbobby lorne marone carmentime nofthlemone. Then two nightingale mowed lowallow browndye gobbledygook shamwow quotahorne seyne showarone rubbish.”

I beg your pardon?
The crowd roared into laughter while my eyes wandered in amazement. Was that in English or did I just hear Swahili? While the patio was filled with laughter, my thoughts were filled with…[crickets chirping].

“Did you understand what he said?” asked my friend.
I shook my head and he begged him to tell the story once again.

“Okay. Neyhmart whone gown to brafthmension nees. Haha, garth brooks woke moyne apple struddle cowabonga gwonwon nasa roysell maine. Hahahaha, anddeyn gowsbow too olsentwins morgrowber then I gown maccarenawoe wayworth mowbobby lorne marone carmentime nofthlemone. Then two nightingale mowed lowallow browndye gobbledygook shamwow quotahorne seyne showarone rubbish.”

To this day, I still don’t know what the story was about. Perhaps it was about a tourist lost in translation.


Last Train Home

6 03 2010

There are over 130 million migrant workers in China.
They go home only once a year, on Chinese New Year
This is the world’s largest human migration.

Only a handful of movies have the real power of moving a crowd in a theater. It is when emotions are felt, words hit the heart, scenes are full of awe and the characters become the source of compassion to the crowd.

However, this movie is not about Avatar.

In the day and age of 3D and Hollywood mega effects, moviegoers are subjected to unrealistic and manufactured characters that are so detached to real emotions. We follow fictional characters in hopes that we could relate to them, but director Lixin Fan had a different idea for his next film. Following the success of his first documentary film Up the Yangtze , Fan is a genius on this creative film about a migrant family trying to make ends meet while sacrificing the most essential necessity in a home – family ties.

Fifteen years ago, Changhua and Suqin Zhan left their sleepy town to work in the big city to support their family; their children, Qin and Yang were left with their grandmother. Over the years the couple lost their ties with their daughter (Qin) and as she grew up have become curious about independence. The couple, who both worked in factories, feared that their rebellious daughter will follow their footsteps.

Following the documentary the audience is exposed to the lives of the Zhans. The viewer is caught in a world stricken with intense oppression. Battling out financial difficulties and future dilemmas, sacrifices are an everyday challenge to the Zhans and it isn’t long until tears run down your cheek.

As the film succumbs in a story revolving around the Zhans, the documentary also focuses on poverty, chaos, and hardships of other migrant workers in China. Every year millions of people are dealt with a journey home that unlike ‘coming home stories’ are very difficult. Train stations packed, tickets being sold out, cancellations or delays, and people quarrel within jumble. Some do give up in the process, but others will try to get home.

“If the family can’t even spend the New Year together, life would be pointless”

Winner of numerous Film Festival Awards (Best Film from Quebec/Canada) and an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival, Last Train Home is a riveting masterpiece that is not to be missed, and when you do, don’t forget to bring a box of tissue.

Destination: China
Director: Lixin Fan
Deat of Release: November 20, 2009

A Blast in San Blas

2 02 2010

“Sometimes, you do believe in things happen for a reason and whatever reason the inhabitants of this minuscule island had to just pack up their belongings and desert the island gave us the opportunity to have it all to ourselves”

‘Solo yo?’ I asked.
I turned around to the other backpackers waiting for their canoe. I had the impression that several people would be on the canoe with me, but as soon as I walked away to chat for a bit with the other (backpackers) I was called by my driver. I hopped on aboard on the canoe that said Cabaña Iron painted on it whilst he turned on the motor and the canoe shifted away from the soil and slowly moved along with the swamp. Sitting alone I was accompanied by a driver and a helper; they spoke for a bit and I spoke back in my rusty Spanish until we reached the mouth of the river to the open Carribean sea then did the conversation cease.

It might as well, I needed the time to absorb what the sea behold. It didn’t take long and far until the rough sea gave its wrath. Splashes of salty water were thrown at my direction and even with my sunglasses on the water stung. No pain no gain I guess. About 2 hours east of Panama city is the autonomous province of Kuna Yala. Here, the Kuna Indians ran the province and have maintained their customs, language and culture that dates back to hundreds of years even before Columbus discovered the Americas. If the history of Panama city pleased you, anticipate more in the Kuna Yala province where at this moment, they are still paving roads for easy access to visitors which means the influence of the Western world is still a rare find and that being said, tourism is just picking up. The province is well known to travelers for absolutely one thing The San Blas archipelago. From a distance islands dotted the Caribbean water and my excitement grew as every time the boat made a curve directly to the island, my hopes that I had found my destination escalate only to be disappointed that they were just used as shields from the rough currents. However, it gave me a preview of what to come. On most of the islands tiny cabanas lined the anterior to the beach and heads looked up to see us go by. On some islands they were deserted and only inhabited by birds.

Suddenly, the driver pointed out to one of the islands and curved his hand which from my understanding he was telling me we were using the islands as another shield. I looked firmly at the distance, at the tip of the island was a tiny peninsula blessed with a white sandy beach and I thought, whoever resides there is so lucky. A big splash of salt water aimed at my face when I choked and rubbed my eye from the sting until the motor stopped running, all of a sudden the water was not as rough anymore and the boat drifted closer to the shore. With my eyes wide open I started to process what was going on. The scenery was almost too dramatic and surreal – calm waters and blue sky, white sandy beach lined with coconut trees that had hammocks hung in between, a few cabanas laid out by the shore, and only a few people to be seen walking around. My jaw dropped and thought, this can’t be where I’m going?

Cabaña Iron. A simple hostel gobsmacked on a beautiful island off the coast of Panamá. The island itself I reckon was no bigger than two neighbourhood blocks. It was small, quaint, barely inhabited by the Kuna people and almost isolated from tourists. Ah, this could be heaven. I was greeted by Ali, a young and beautiful girl from New York City whom I met at the hostel back in Panama (city), while swinging in a hammock with a book in her hand. A bit cliché? I think not! The only thing missing was a freshly cracked coconut. Six other cabana hostels took over the island. About thirty Kuna people, and the influx of travelers seeking paradise changes everyday. That day, it might have been forty. In Cabaña Iron there were 4 other visitors along with me and Ali – a couple from Paris named Boris and Martine, and another couple from Toronto named Littal and Jon – with a family of Kuna including Iron (pronounced E-Ron) himself.

Iron greeted me with great hospitality wrapping his warm welcome with the typical ‘Mi casa es su casa‘ speech that you hear ever so often whenever you step into somebody else’s home. Lunch was served three times a day: breakfast is served when I’m up, lunch is at noon and dinner by sundown. I arrived just in time for lunch but Iron had encouraged me to unpack, relax and scout the beach and I will be called when lunch is served. I opted to go sunbathing at the sandy peninsula I’ve seen earlier.

After lunch I was introduced to Julio, a friend of Iron’s from Costa Rica who comes a few times a year to help out Iron and his family, essentially he was the translator since he spoke English well. “Would you like to come snorkeling?” he asked. Now, I usually would pass on such occasion because I didn’t know how to swim but I was convinced by Martine, “I don’t know how to swim either but I’m going,” she said. I thought why not? Even if I didn’t swim I’d settle for a walk on the beach. Julio promised to take us to another island and the idea of island hopping intrigued me. I ran back to my cabana to grab a few things: some money, sunglasses, suntan lotion, my camera and a towel all wrapped in a plastic bag. I was told that we would see a lot of starfish on this island we were about to visit. It took around half an hour until we docked on a deserted island. I sized it up to about the size of two neighbourhood blocks. After scouting the beach for a while Julio had to tell us that the water was too rough and that we should go and see another island where the water would be calmer. It seemed it was for the best when I noticed a dark cloud hovering above us; I wanted the sun! In soon time we came across a smaller island the size of one neighbourhood block. It looked pretty abandoned and empty as we realized that the cabanas were left unmaintained.

There will be always a few places than we can exhale and say ‘This place is breathtaking’ and no doubt it was. A postcard perfect view, nobody would ever believe that this place existed but only in somebody’s computer screensaver. In every corner unfolded a beautiful snapshot from the heavens to the sea

“This island used to be a hostel too,” said Julio. My memory of why the island was left abandoned is a bit mushed and I blamed it partially on my attention span and partially that Julio couldn’t put the story straight as to whether a tourist went swimming and died? But no, nobody died though two boys went missing. Hold on, nobody went missing but somebody did drown one way or another. We reckoned the tourists got drunk. Wait a second, it wasn’t a tourist but a local kid who drowned. Oh goodness, whatever happened here people left and this island is now occupied by the six of us.

That’s correct, just the six of us. Me, Ali, Julio, Martine and Boris, and Reagan the driver.

Though the island was remote it was not withdrawn at all with aviary inhabitants. Standing between the trees, the birds chirped amidst the crashing of the waves and the gusts of the wind. Blessed with warm weather and temperate sun it was so hard to believe that people used to live here and abandoned the place when it was the epitome of paradise. The archipelago consisted of about hundreds of islets but only a few were inhabited. The islets range in sizes and I’ve seen an dwarf island populated only with seven coconut trees.

Sometimes, you do believe in things happen for a reason and whatever reason the inhabitants of this minuscule island had to just pack up their belongings and desert the island gave us the opportunity to had it all to ourselves; and then you wonder why? This island was stunning! The circumference of the island was blessed with aqua green water and a light breeze. If I were ever to be stuck in a small island this would be it.
“What’s the name of this island?” I asked Julio.
“This island’s name is Isla Pelicano”

Reagan and Julio

The routine was done all over again the next day though this time it was John and Littal who joined me. As promised the previous day, Reagan was taking us to Isla de las Estrellas where it’s best to snorkel for starfish. From what I experienced the previous day I have come to conclusion that tropical storms are a norm in San Blas. Clouds may hover a while but expect it to be gone soon leaving only traces of rain. It was exactly what had happened to us upon reaching Isla de las Estrellas; hard rain poured on us and the water instantaneously got rougher. The ride was rocky and almost frightening that I just wanted to get to any land as soon as possible. In no time we had reach the isla welcomed by a few yachts that were already docked on the shore. When the rain ceased and the heaven opened up and the water glistened like gold in a mine when lo and behold like Robinson Crusoe paradise was found. We wasted no time flashing the camera in every angle and corner possible.

Snorkeling in the water I failed to find at least one starfish. It frustrated me for a while until John called out my name and yelled out “Ash, they’re here! They’re everywhere”. I quickly swam to his direction only to be told by him that I should be careful not to disturb the sand. I looked in the water and saw one starfish, swam up and gleed with joy. I returned my face in the water to find another starfish nearby. And then another. Oh look two of them! And then another nearby. Wait, there’s another one. Six. Eight. Nine. Ten. I quickly realized I was surrounded by stars; it finally made sense why they called it Isla de las Estrellas. Like Isla Pelican, this too was abandoned but haven for yacht owners. The feeling of isolation was almost surreal and I was waiting to find myself waking up in the hammock…back in Panama city. The inner children within us surfaced as Littal and I ran around between trees and on to the next shore. There will be always a few places than we can exhale and say ‘This place is breathtaking’ and no doubt it was. A postcard perfect view, nobody would ever believe that this place existed but only in somebody’s computer screensaver. In every corner unfolded a beautiful snapshot from the heavens to the sea.

San Blas was overall pretty impressive and will definitely take the breath away. I definitely feel having sinned sharing the experience for San Blas was heaven itself. Swinging in the hammock, there were times when I found myself overcome with boredom. I should have brought a book, I thought. However, the more I think about it the more I appreciated that doing absolutely nothing was a blessing. Once I get back on the plane home it will be rare for me to find to get absolutely bored and be okay with doing nothing. City people never get breaks like this and a rarity experience is considered lucky. Tossing the unruly guilt feeling, I swung the hammock once again and watched the distance and in a few minutes I dozed off. Being unproductive had its worth of being in a relaxing state – soon enough I will be back in the hustle and bustle of the city and this was definitely an opportunity be relaxed. I swung the hammock one more time and with the roar of the sea as my lullaby I closed my eyes and dozed off to a not so far away paradise.

The lone island

All photos taken by me.

Round Ireland with a Fridge

3 01 2010

“I hereby bet Tony Hawks the sum of One Hundred Pounds that he cannot hitchhike round the circumference of Ireland, with a fridge, within one calendar month”

£100 is a lot of money. More so, a lot of money to put a bet on. Though on one drunken night, Tony Hawks agreed to conquer the stretch of the Emerald Isle in one month – by sticking his thumb out – and in an even more bizarre fashion, accompanied with a common household, a fridge!

Go on, raise an eyebrow, but Hawks have managed to do so and even became a travel icon and stole the hearts of the Irish people. Whether his decision to go forth with the bet was an excuse to go on an adventure or to save himself from embarrassment of not fulfilling a so-called-drunken bet, you will flip through the pages laughing out loud as he describes his misfortunes, mishaps, encounters and road less traveled stories of Ireland.

A bestseller, this book will definitely take you straight to the hearts of the Irish people. Their generosity, kindness and openness to strangers (especially hitchhikers) is definitely a reason alone to love the Emerald Isle.

“Have you ever made a drunken bet? Worse still, have you ever tried to win one? In attempting to hitchhike round Ireland with a fridge, Tony Hawks did both, and his foolhardiness led him to one of th ebest experiences of his life. Joined by his trusty traveling companion-cum-domestic appliance, he made his way from Dublin to Donegal, from Sligo through Mayo, Galway, Clare, Kerry, Cork, Wexford, Wicklow-and back again to Dublin. In their month of madness, Tony and his fridge met a real prince, a bogus king, and the fridge got christened. They surfed together, entered a bachelor festival, and one of them had sex without the other knowing. And unexpectedly, the fridge itself became a momentary focos for the people of Ireland.”

Joy to the World!

24 12 2009

Merry Christmas!
The Joy of Microsoft Paint is that I was able to crop a poinsettia to the flag replacing the usual maple leaf on the centre, giving this Canadian icon an extra Christmas touch.
Have a great holiday everyone!

Capture: Yellow Cabbies

18 09 2009

After spending almost an eternity trying to get out of Central Park I finally found an exit and landed myself on Central Park West Drive. The day was pretty gloomy but the weather wasn’t aweful that made walking around the Big Apple bearable.

At the crossing of 87th, the stop light turned red and got my attention as the row of vehicles waiting for traffic were mostly the famous yellow New York cabbies but one black vehicle. There are apporximately 10,000 of these infamous taxicabs roaming around Manhattan and I thought this photo speaks for the amount of taxicabs in the city.

Yellow Cabbies” photo taken by me. Manhattan, New York

Heaven on Earth is an awfuly big secret

2 09 2009
“I just feel like everyone tries to do something different, but you always wind up doing the same damn thing”


When Richard lands in Bangkok, all he wanted is to have an adventure – an ultimate adventure. Not the typical tourist destination, not the the typical prepackaged resort, nor the typical backpacker’s route – but a once in a lifetime experience that travelguides just won’t cut it. The problem is, everybody seems to be going to the same place and doing the same thing- until he meets Daffy (Robert Carlyle).
Daffy speaks about a paradise that is a myth in the tourist world, a paradise that only a few deserve to know and only a handful could find. Then Daffy hands Richard a map to a supposedly secret island where you will find a beach.

But it isn’t just any beach, it is the ultimate perfect beach.

Now that fate has handed him an adventure he couldn’t surpass, Richard (played by Titanic star Leonardo DiCaprio) recruits a French couple; beautiful Françoise (Virginie Ledoyen) and sweet caring boyfriend Étienne (Guillaume Canet star in Joyeux Noël) to come with him to the island and search for this paradise.

“My name is Richard. So what else do you need to know? Stuff about my family, or where I’m from? None of that matters. Not once you cross the ocean and cut yourself loose, looking for something more beautiful, something more exciting and yes, I admit, something more dangerous. So after eighteen hours in the back of an airplane, three dumb movies, two plastic meals, six beers and absolutely no sleep, I finally touch down; in Bangkok. “

But like any paradise it has its price, as beautiful as it may seem it is far from perfect. Shark infested waters, untrustworthy tribe, a dangerous secret – a perfect cocktail for a ride you’ll never forget. Based on the book of the same name by Alex Garland, The Beach is a story of an American backpacker (in the novel he is British) trying to escape reality looking for a thrill and ends up in an adventure he will never forget. Like most backpackers in Thailand he is captivated by its beauty and charm. Every traveler wants to find his own paradise and Richard is determined to find his own in the exotic land of coconut trees and buddhas, and will all of these comes a deception that in escaping reality perilous forces is at hand and only a few brave will conquer the courage to face them.

The Lord of the Flies inspired story depicts a dog-eat-dog world even in paradise. It isn’t easy finding a peace of heaven you can call your own and that essentially, every one of us is looking for an escape. Enjoy the coconut trees, pristine waters, white sand beaches and the beauty of Thailand in this film, in a blink of an eye it may soon be gone from your movie screen.