Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sydney, Australia

I love that one can hop on a plane, have a glass of champagne (or two..), read, watch a movie, or sleep and after a few hours get off and be in a new destination with such excitement looming and so much to do. Ones only limiting fact is oneself!

I've recently returned to my home town, Sydney, Australia with a sad heart because I've had to leave the most wonderful friends behind, but with an excitement in my belly because a new challenge and adventure lie ahead of me.

I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world that I am able to travel so much, experience different cultures and awake to new experiences almost daily. I love how different each country is and how each culture sets us all apart and makes us each the individuals that we are.

Sydney is a huge multicultural city with a unique vibrance on the streets. The hustle and bustle on the sidewalks is one of excitement and awe, our magical city doesn't need bright lights to wake it up, it doesn't need expensive advertising to attract international or national visitors, it's natural beauty and amazing architecture set the scene.

After a flight of more that 15 hours from Vancouver, we were greeted by sunshine and 19 degrees celsius weather. A friendly Scottsman collected us from the airport and transported us to our front door.

We deposited our luggage, freshened up and took a walk to the shopping center close to home, but not before stopping off at the best coffee shop Sydney has to offer. Pattison's Patisserie not only has the best coffee in town, but the best pastries and the best service! 

I had a large cafe latte, while my driver ordered a large black coffee. We also treated ourselves to an Aussie meat pie each. The coffees each cost $4.60 and the meat pies were $5.50 each - a rather expensive delight, however one has to realise that the cost of living in Sydney is rather high, so these prices are to be expected.

We returned home after buying the essentials at the shopping center and then did a spot of unpacking. We won't be staying in our house for long because we will be leaving at the end of next week for our drive up to Brisbane, which is where we will settle for the next while.

Formal Lounge Room and Dining

My gardener cleaned up the back yard, while I dusted the inside of the house and turned on the heaters.

Today I will take my sports car out for a drive to the beaches, stop off for a meal at a seafood restaurant and bask in the sunshine. It's great to be back home!

~ Vanessa

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

When Change Happens

I feel incredibly privileged that I have been able to spend the past four years in Canada on assignment and in particular, being based in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories has been one of the best “seasons” of my life.

I have found Canadians to be one of the friendliest people in the world – and I have traveled the world extensively.  Canada has presented some unique opportunities for me personally, and I have to add that Yellowknife has presented the best people in the world.

I recall my first day in Yellowknife, having arrived after 30 hours of travel.  The weather was bitterly cold (being October) yet the welcome from everyone - and in particular our neighbors from across the street - who presented us with delicious homemade Aussie meat pies and a bottle of wine was warm and open.

Having lived my whole life in the Southern Hemisphere, the first snow was amazing for me.  I recall standing outside on my back deck with my mouth wide open facing the sky trying to catch a snowflake on my tongue – and succeeding!

I recall my first Halloween.  Thankfully we had been invited to a friend’s house to share in the celebrations.  I say thankfully because I had no idea how BIG Halloween is in the Northern Hemisphere – my doorbell would have been a constant chime and of course I would have had no idea what to do with all the little kids who would arrive at the door with pillow slips expecting a little delight to be dropped inside for them. 

I quickly learnt that if one doesn’t want the kids to come knocking on the door then one should hide in the basement, turn off all the lights and keep very quiet, the kids eventually realize that no one is home.  (Sorry kids, don’t egg my house until after Tuesday!)  I spent 3 Halloweens in the dark, dead quiet basement hardly breathing for fear that the house would give my attendance away…

I remember my first Christmas testing out the emergency room at the hospital after suffering sever chest pain all of Christmas eve – I might add that instead of causing alarm for my husband, I politely deposited myself in the basement bedroom for the night so that my cries of pain would not wake him!  Christmas Day was spent on heart machines and various monitors and I’m pleased to say that I passed all tests with flying colors.

Our first New Years Eve was absolutely incredible.  We were invited to celebrate it with perfect strangers.  The hospitality and friendship we received that night was astounding.   The men played a game of ice hockey out on the lake, whilst the women sat inside an igloo sipping champagne at minus 40 C.  At midnight everyone congregated around a few miserable fireworks – I say miserable because after we let them off we were rewarded by one of the most magnificent sights I have even seen in my life – the Aurora Borealis!  Everyone stood quietly in awe as the northern lights danced across the sky and intensified as the night progressed.  Those strangers we spend New Year with went on to become good friends of ours.

Our first dog sledding experience was phenomenal.  It started at around 3 pm and ended at around 11 pm, bearing in mind that up here in the arctic it gets dark at around 2 pm and light at around 11 am.  For a couple of months we only get to experience dusk and dawn.  Dogsledding is such a special time for being at one with nature.  Once the dogs set off, it is quiet and tranquil and one has a different perspective of the environment.  Dogsledding became quite a regular winter activity for us.

Fishing in the Northwest Territories has been something that only dreams could be made of.  If you love fishing and enjoy catching a fish with EVERY cast, then this is the place to be.

Parties happened regularly and lasted all night.  In summer it is uncommon for anyone to go to bed before 11 pm at night and in winter it is uncommon to spend an evening on the weekend on ones own without being invited to a dinner party, or the like.  It’s a great time to get together with special people, relax, unwind and have fun.  I recall one such party beginning at 6 pm at my house and after eating a few times during the night feeling rather ravenous and deciding to have a third BBQ – then realizing that it was actually 8:30 am.  The party had gone on all night and because it was mid summer no one realized that the time had passed so quickly.  We won’t talk about hangovers at all…

Our first hot tub party – albeit in our wonderful neighbors hot tub was amazing.  We’ve subsequently had many hot tub events with friends in our own hot tub and our coldest evening spent in the hot tub was in minus 37 degrees C.  After 20 minutes I had a layer of ice on my skin with frozen hair and eye lashes!

Back to the people…  We have encountered many different people in our lifetime but none as amazing at the local Canadians in Yellowknife.  We have met some really awesome Aboriginals, who have been so wonderful to us and who will always have a very special place in our hearts.

Whilst we will no longer live in Yellowknife, it will always hold some very special memories for us.  We’ve traveled around extensively and have lived in many communities, yet I have to say that this is one of the hardest communities to say goodbye to.

We’ve loved our time in Canada and the Northwest Territories and in particular Yellowknife.  We will always remember this place fondly and will miss all the quirkiness and especially the people, terribly.

Au revoir, although this is NOT goodbye, I intend coming back some day for a visit!

~  Vanessa

Monday, June 13, 2011

Daily Word Counts

Dr. Louann Brizendine, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco states in her book “The Female Brain" that  “A woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000." 

Alan Pease, international speaker and author wrote in his book “Why Men Lie and Woman Can’t Read Maps”, that women have a daily vocabulary of between 6 000 and 8 000 words to speak a day versus a man who will use a mere 2 000 to 4 000 words per day.  In 2004, in an interview with CNN, Pease rose the male word count of men to between 7 000 to 10 000 and the female word count to between 20 000 to 24 000 words per day.

Dr. Louann Brizendine claims that one of the most striking facts supporting her argument is that the female brain is “a lean, mean communicating machine."  I simple cannot argue with that, and the fact that I am a woman is inconsequential.

Whilst recently suffering my brief “bout” of muteness, I found that not being able to speak due to losing my voice to a viral infection was a real mood breaker.  Suddenly I could think of so much to contribute to the conversations that my friends were having around me but sadly I couldn’t speak my words.  Initially I would try to croak the words out but this put such a strain on my body that after a while I simply gave up and kept my mouth shut. 

Writing everything down on a piece of paper certainly didn’t appeal to me – perhaps this could be attributed to the fact that my “lean, mean communicating machine”, which is so well “oiled” would find it rather insulting to have to slow down to such an extent that each individual word would have to be communicated one letter at a time.

When my voice eventually did return, I went out to lunch with friends to celebrate.  I made one request, which was: “Can you all just shut up for two hours.  Do not interrupt me and do not contribute for I have stored up so many words that are just bursting to get out and now it’s my turn.”  As I recall it was the boys who struggled with this request not the girls. 

Now, two weeks on, my voice box has become lubricated again and I still have quite a stash of words stored up.  Get ready for verbal diarrhea!  I stored up 140 000 words while my muteness was in affect and plan to add approximately 6 000 words to my daily count until I’ve caught up.

Thank you to those who listen – we all know when it comes to listening, “some” men fall short – they seem to have an invisible membrane that slots over the ear as soon as they sense that a woman is about to talk.  (Who says that men can’t read body language?)

So to my dear lady friends:  Let’s have a Cosmo and a chin-wag.  I salute you all!

~ Vanessa

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The "Mute" Writer

Mute: A mute is a person who does not speak, either from an inability to speak or an unwillingness to speak. The term "mute" is specifically applied to a person who, due to profound congenital (or early) deafness, is unable to use articulate language and so is deaf-mute. The word "mute" comes from the Latin "mutus" meaning unable to speak. - Source: MedTerms Medical Dictionary.

For the past four days, due to illness, I have been mute.

It started off with me picking up what I thought was flu or a common cold that has clung to me like a scab on a wound and gone from strength to strength until it has now affected my larynx and consequently my voice. For the past four days I have thought what it must really be like to be mute - or deaf-mute.

Firstly, whilst I am fortunate in that I am still able to hear, I am reminded of how isolating it is not to be able to talk. I can whisper, obviously but it's a huge strain and when I begin to whisper I stop midway and wonder why I even bother. Being mute has made me realize how difficult it is to communicate with people who have a voice. I have felt that while I have so much to contribute to the conversation I am imprisoned in my own body and mind and now understand how frustrating this is.

Secondly, I remember attending a class when I was studying - on disabilities - about how we as humans tend to discriminate against people who are not like us. One such fieldwork project was to go out and interview people who are generally discriminated against, due to their disability. My interview was with the president of the deaf-mute society where I lived at the time.

I found it difficult to make conversation, not because of the person I was interviewing, but because of my own inability to communicate in his language (sign), yet he was able to communicate in mine by reading my lips, interpreting what I had said and replying to me in broken nasal sentences.

Needless to say, I was ill prepared for the interview and embarrassed at my own misgivings. He, however was more than prepared and willing to work with my short-comings and even lead the interview for a while.

I was amazed at his interlect - ironically I guess my own preconceived idea that a deaf-mute person would be unable to study the way I had or get ahead in life the way I had, had restricted me from the realization that physical disabilities have nothing to do with interlect. Indeed, this man was unable to study the way I did or get ahead in life the way I did - he had to work so much harder than I did. He had so many more stumbling blocks to overcome than I did - in particular having to prove to people that he CAN do exactly what everyone else can, if given a chance.

After interviewing this man, he asked me this question... "I notice that you speak with an accent, where are you originally from?". I was blown away because this man was totally deaf and had never heard a person speaking and certainly should never have picked up that I had an accent.

Not only was he reading my body language and my lips, but he was also reading the inflictions in my voice and the accent that my words were producing. How amazing is that?

As I sit here contemplating my own frustration about not being able to talk, I am reminded about how lucky I am to have a voice and how lucky I am to be able to hear and communicate without effort. I am humbled by the deaf man who puts up with people like me every day, yet grateful that he never once discriminated against me.

Have you thought about who you tend to discriminate against and how your behavior impacts their on lives? Would a behavior change in yourself make a difference, and if so are you prepared to change your outlook?

Feel free to leave a comment.

~ Vanessa