City Girl Takes the Jungle Pt.2: A Changed Woman

Lifestyle

It has now been a week since I left Nicaragua and returned to Canada to begin my last year of university. I’ve been trying to conceal how sad I am about being back, and maybe it’s because the weather today is 10 degrees celsius, or maybe it’s because I’ve averaged 4 hours of sleep a night for the last 9 days (thanks for keeping me informed, FitBit!), but now seems like a good day for me to unload a few of the many things my backpacking trip taught me. If you want to read about why I decided to backpack Nicaragua, check out Part 1!

I forgot how much I like nature.

 

 

Growing up, my parents took me camping every summer (sometimes twice a summer), and would bring my sisters and I back to Vietnam every few years. I think naturally, I have always been really fascinated with nature, animals, flora, and fauna, and somewhere along the line I let the unpleasant things about nature drive me away from it. Working on a permaculture property where life in all senses is incredibly abundant made me realize that things like bug bites and creepy crawling insects make things like seeing butterflies of all colours from the rainbow and watching the natural defense mechanisms of a tree once its fruit is picked SO worth it.

Rachel, Trevor, and the other volunteer at El Jardin de la Vida Kenji, are total geeks about agriculture and all things growing and I loved learning about the intricacies of the different plants, animals, and insects around the property. They had so much knowledge on what grows well, what plants look like, the differences between North American strains of plants and tropical strains, I was learning so much that has helped me appreciate the sparse nature on the campus of UWaterloo.

What the f*** do we put in our food?!

One of the highlights and transformative moments of my trip was killing one of the 11 free range chickens that roam around the property. My host Trevor helped out with the catching, killing, and preparing the chicken, but mainly walked me through it so that I could do it myself. I know some of you are reading this and cringing, but I really think that if you are a meat eater, at one point in your life, you should kill and eat a creature. I have a video of me killing the chicken which I’ll share if you ask me to because it shows how shaken up I was and I really don’t want to make myself seem like I was this crazy woman of the jungle and took it on like a champ. Before killing the chicken, I asked my hosts if I should expect blood to squirt everywhere when I killed it– they both shrugged and Trevor literally said “I don’t ever remember having to change my clothes after killing a chicken… although I can’t say I’d be particularly bothered if there was chicken blood on my clothes”. My knife skills weren’t at their greatest so I kind of messed up the killing part and blood squirted in my eye and I proceed to freak out about it in the video. Yummy!

 

 

I then had to de-feather and de-gut the bird which was actually the most shocking part of the process because MAN THAT CHICKEN DID NOT HAVE MUCH MEAT ON IT and the organs were HUGE and still warm and I accidently sliced the esophagus of the chicken while cleaning it up which revealed the green grass that the chicken was eating minutes before I killed it. All I could think was, “there is no way factory farmed chickens look like this”, because, and I’m not exaggerating when I say, that one chicken breast from the 20 pack at costco was the equivalent to the amount of meat on this wild, free range chicken. They’re actually very lean, very athletic creatures and they’re beautiful. I’m betting that the chickens we eat on a day-to-day basis in North America are so far genetically removed from what a chicken is really supposed to look like- with breasts, and thighs largely enhanced with steroids and a diet that isn’t green at all.

On a less morbid note, the fruit on Ometepe is all organic and fresh since refrigeration isn’t really a thing and the fruit tastes different than what I’m used to, probably because, again, these are naturally occuring and not factory farmed for mass consumption. Upon my return to Canada, everyone remarked on how I lost weight, and I was like “of course I lost weight, I stopped ingesting processed foods and sweat 24/7 for the last two weeks”.

I don’t want to participate in consumerism and capitalist ideals.

I feel like for every point I have on this post, I think, “that was the most impactful thing”, but this is a huge one for me. I was living out of a 50L+5L backpack for two weeks with a few pairs of shorts, tops, and dresses, and the only thing that bothered me about that was that I was beginning to run out of clean underwear. Otherwise, I had my flip-flops, Birkenstocks, and hiking boots, one purse, and one pair of $20 sunglasses that I ended up sitting on and breaking. This was no issue at all which SHOCKED me because I returned to my apartment in Waterloo and was horrified at all of the stuff I have. 3 weeks ago I would have raved and been so proud of my purse collection, my shoe collection, and my make-up shelf. I don’t have any shame in the fact that I really like expensive things and I like nice things, but they are soooooo unnecessary and I feel like its excessive.

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There is actually no reason why I need a black leather Gucci crossbody, a Kate Spade black leather crossbody, and a black Coach crossbody purse. The truth is that I could pick up a crossbody from a local artisan’s market and it would serve the same purpose. On my trip, someone stole my UWaterloo Camelback water bottle, and when I told Rachel about it, she said the same thing happened to her once while she was travelling, and then she said, “That’s okay though. You just learn to not become attached to things”. I was mind blown!!!! Is it kind of sad and a little annoying that I lost a $30 water bottle? Yes. Did the plastic water bottle I used for the remainder of my trip serve the same purpose? Also yes.

Here’s are photos of the room I stayed in- you can check out a video here which I can’t upload because despite paying WordPress I can’t upload videos 🙂

 

 

I’ve been putting my blood, sweat, and tears into organizing Hack the North, Canada’s biggest hackathon, for the last year and a half of my life, and as much as I love the organization and people, I’ve been seriously questioning how much I even want to be a part of the tech industry, especially on the marketing side of it. It’s all fine and dandy I supposed and no disrespect at all to my fellow techies, but SO much is lost on us because we’re too caught in the SAUCE. Blockchain technology and user-friendly data analytics used to get me aroused and being around people who don’t really care to even know or think about those things for a little while made me realize that I don’t think I really care to even know about these things either.

I saw how the locals lived and what the family unit in Nicaragua is like. The many expats on Ometepe have adopted these minimalist type ideals and values and it was a really great thing to witness. I wish I could convey how beautiful a simple lifestyle is without sounding cheesy and hypocritical (peep me on campus still wearing my purses and RayBans), but it’s something that has really made me think twice about the decisions and values I hold.

Look for love.

In an attempt to experience Ometepe from a different perspective, I downloaded Tinder and started swiping away. I realize that can sound kind of scary to some of you– I’m a solo single female traveller meeting strangers on the internet in a foreign country, but the island is so small that anyone I swiped on, my hosts probably knew, and could do a quick sanity check for me. I found locals and fellow backpackers on the app and it was a great way to see who else was around! All of the boys I met had really interesting and insightful things to say and show me, so in honor of the novel turned Netflix movie “To all the boys I loved”, I will be writing about them in my next post.

City girl in the Jungle Pt. 1: Why Did I go to Nicaragua?

Lifestyle

I just returned from a 2-week backpacking trip in Nicaragua, and it was absolutely incredible and I have so much to share that I’ll do it in multiple parts (not sure how many?). This post will be about the process leading up to my trip, and some highlights from it! I’ll be doing a separate post for food in the next few weeks or so.

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I’d first like to apologize for the radio static for the last few months. I’ve had been working as the Arts/Life Editor for Imprint, my school’s student newspaper, and usually felt guilty about not creating content to be published there in pursuit of my personal blog. It was still an incredible experience nonetheless and I had the opportunity to take things a bit easier with a part-time course load and part-time job in Waterloo after I finished my internship in the big city of Toronto.

With that being said, my internship was a transformative few months and a time that I refer to as “the worst time of my (short) life”, but that’s another blogpost for another day. During this time, I decided that I need to shake things up in my life and challenge myself in a way that I never have before. I started looking at different volunteer opportunities on workaway.info which is a community that brings together people offering work in exchange for accommodations and board. I put off the idea of travelling and working on a farm until I finished my final assessment in August, and came across a hostel/restaurant with a permaculture garden in Ometepe, Nicaragua. Even though I had reached out to a ton of other hosts ranging from teaching English in Bogota, spiritual retreats, yoga teaching, and many more, El Jardin de la Vida and my hosts Trevor and Rachel stood out to me because they’re American ex-pats, which, for a non-Spanish speaker and first-time backpacker, was appealing to me. They also had glowing reviews from other travellers like me raving about the serenity and nature on the property, the people, and the work being very rewarding and flexible.

 

 

So, over the course of 2 or so days, I arranged a flight and travel insurance and started preparing myself for 13 days of living off-the-grid on a permaculture farm in a foreign country. I had been camping before and don’t consider myself to be a very fussy or picky person, although I am a bit of a princess (the notorious “I don’t f*** with public transit” line often comes back to haunt me), and I did hours and hours of research on what to expect.

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My journey began in Detroit at 5 AM, where my sister sent me off with the one caveat that I come back alive and with Nicaraguan coffee. Then I flew to where Miami where I listened to Will Smith’s “Welcome to Miami” after hearing my pilot’s rendition when we landed, and then from Miami to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. The flying and layover travel time was ~7 hours, and getting from the capital to El Jardin de la Vida where I was to be volunteering, is another 4-5 hours, so I’m sure you can imagine how gassed I was.

Nicaragua has recently undergone some political turmoil as a result of protests, and as a result the tourism there has taken a huge hit. Many businesses have closed and many people moved to Costa Rica where they can find work. Things have really calmed down but unfortunately there’s a huge stigma around travelling to Nicaragua so the economy still hasn’t quite recovered. Before the protests began, Nicaragua has been notorious amongst travellers as the cheapest and safest Central American country. I figured that I trusted my hosts to gauge how safe travel to the country is right now, but was still a bit nervous about spending time in Managua and wanted to power through my trip to get to Ometepe in one day. The result was a $100 taxi from the airport to the ferry port driven by a female taxi-driver who knew English and wouldn’t pick up other people on the way– sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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Upon arriving at El Jardin, I met the other volunteer who was staying there. His name is Kenji and he was a stock broker from Seattle until he sold all of his belongings and embarked on a cross-continental bike ride that would eventually end in Belize. Both Trevor and Rachel, my hosts, had similar stories of being over-committed to work in corporate America and decided to start their lives elsewhere. After having their adorable little girl in the U.S, they drove a schoolbus which they converted into a house, along with their 6-month old daughter, from Rhode Island back to Ometepe, Nicaragua. Now, they run their hostel, restaurant, and kayak tours on the beautiful island and are building a home from sustainable materials. Their property is littered with beautiful fruit trees, lush gardens, and flowers that attract the prettiest butterflies. I was in love!!!!!! My typical day would include waking up around 6:30 AM, getting cleaned up using the outdoor shower and composting toilet, reading in a hammock for an hour or so, eating breakfast, doing a few hours of work in the garden or helping out in the kitchen, and then spending the rest of the day lazing around.

I know that up until this point this all sounds fun and dandy, and while it was all great, it was hands-down the most challenging two weeks of my life. I had major culture shock and tried to legitimately rebook my departure flight for sooner because I really didn’t think I could survive there. First of all, I don’t know a lick of Spanish (but I learned “Yo no hablo Espenol”), which was very daunting. It was easier to pick up once I got there thanks to my prior French education growing up, but nowhere near a functional conversational level. Nicaragua is kind of already “out there” in terms of location and being off the beaten path, but I went to Ometepe, an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua only accessible by 1.5 hours on the ferry, and El Jardin was 2.5 km outside of the closest town, so I was remote as HELL. I was straight up living in the jungle and I was getting destroyed by bug bites and creeped out by all of the tropical wild life (lizards and scorpions are a regular sight). In addition to that, being out and about began to feel really daunting to me. The romantic culture in Nicaragua is a lot different than North American culture in terms of what is considered acceptable for men to do. While I’ve been cat-called plenty of times in Canada, it’s actually 500% worse in Central America. It was very normal for me to walk down the street and hear men whistling at me, yelling profanities at me (I eventually had to learn what they were saying to me in Spanish meant, and then I immediately wished that I hadn’t), men groping me, making kissy noises, following me, etc. Travelling as a girl by yourself is hard on its own but in a culture that these things is normal it becomes a little bit more scary. These are all things that I was perfectly aware of going into it, but I wasn’t expecting to not be mentally prepared for them.

When I wanted to leave and called my sister to rebook my departure flight for an earlier date, I told my hosts, who sat me down and gave me the best pep-talk of my life. They said that when I first got there, I told them I came to Ometepe to find myself (cliché, but accurate), and they want to really help me do that– that two weeks was no time, that I came to challenge myself so this is all a part of the challenge- and I was like, “You’re not wrong”, so I buckled down and knew I had to stick it out. I’m so so glad that I did. I stopped drowning myself in bug spray (so much that it was staining my skin) because the bug bites were inevitable anyways, took more ownership of the work I did every day on the farm, and did things that excited me. One day, I got to make ravioli from scratch with Rachel, which was super cool and a first for me!

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Next up, I’ll be talking about the many people I met and many things I did on Ometepe, and why I think every traveler should have Tinder! Until the next time I want to procrastinate by blogging, xoxo.

 

Part 1: Party Girl No More

Lifestyle

I’m giving up my former party persona, but having an identity crisis in the process.

I’ve always loved to do things and be around people. While I still do consider myself an incredibly social extrovert, I’ve (miraculously) found a way to be content with being by myself and a little bit lonely. Side tracking a little bit, when I was younger my dad would work midnights and my mom would work during the day while my sisters were at school, and since kindergarten was only half a day, I’d spend the other half all by myself. I would literally cry so much- for a long time, I was more scared of being lonely than of death. Anyway, my naturally social nature eventually lead to me loving parties and going out.

I genuinely take no shame in the fact that I partied all throughout high school. It was a lot of fun and young people are allowed to do foolish and dumb things in the name of fun. It’s not like I was throwing my life away for the bottle- I was a varsity track athlete all throughout high school, competing with a club as well. I was on honour roll, and I was enrolled in enriched classes. I also really liked a good Smirnoff Apple shot on the weekends. Or 20.

Things slowed down a bit towards the end of my senior year and into my first year of university. My boyfriend at the time was a bit of a homebody and introvert, so I allowed myself to think that being a homebody and introvert was the right thing for me to do. A chain of events that bares enough relevance that I need to include it but also want to trim down goes like this- my boyfriend and I broke up, my friends went away for co-op while I stayed in Waterloo, I made older friends who liked partying, my friends from co-op came back after binge drinking to concussions while in the Bay Area, me and my roommates moved out of residence and into our own apartment, played integral roles in extracurriculars that also included throwing and attending parties, I found myself back in the social butterfly pace that I once loved, and voila- I was back in party girl mode.

In my second year alone, my roommates and I threw at least 3 parties a semester (including the summer semester) and we LOVED it. At the University of Waterloo, there’s a club/pub called The Bombshelter which is on campus and has $3.50 bar rails and $3 cover. Their big night is “Bomber Wednesdays”. There were 10 Bomber Wednesday’s that summer and I had attended 7 of them– surely with breaks to Phil’s Grandson’s (another infamous Waterloo club) and house parties in between. R.I.P my liver.

Then we get into my whole “got into a relationship and wanted to party less and also was battling crippling depression and then moved to Toronto where I continued to battle crippling depression and never went clubbing or out” stint which I’m just recently coming out of. Even when I was in Toronto, I managed to come back to Waterloo for parties and clubbing. But, now I’m back in Waterloo for the summer, working 2 jobs and taking part-time classes while maintaining extracurriculars, and I just can’t find the party-tick anymore.

Last night was the first Wednesday of the semester which is one of many integral party nights in Waterloo. Instead of making an appearance at either of my favourite clubs, I stayed home and made a roasted chicken and read a book. It’s not that I dislike going out, I was just indifferent to a point that there was frankly, more benefit in deciding not to go out just so I could stop thinking about it.

I’m in identity crisis. I used to live and breath parties and now I’m okay with making some popcorn and cracking a cold one without the boys by myself. I also feel a bit guilty almost. When my friends hit me up to ask if I’m going out, the look of shock on their face is a mix of surprise and betrayal. “You’re not going…?” One of them asked. “Is it even going to be lit then? Can you still get me on the guest list?”. How am I supposed to switch up on my friends out of nowhere?

This is labelled “Part 1” because I have a feeling I’ll have many more thoughts on this, and I really want to know what my readers have to think! Like what is a party girl? Why does it feel integral to my personality and character? Will I relapse and go to Phils this weekend?

How to Start Doing Self-Directed Yoga from Home

Lifestyle, Uncategorized

I am no yoga expert, by any means. However, I have been dabbling in it since I was 15, unfortunately, not consistently, until the past few months when I moved to Toronto.

The truth is that it is really easy to make excuses to not do things that you ought to do, but don’t really want to. Why would you buy whole grain rye bread when you can get white bread for a dollar less? There can’t be that big of a health benefit, right? Why would I take a street car in -20 degree weather and pay $40 a class to do yoga?

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Eventually, I decided that I need to make it impossible for me to make excuses. I know that I’ve never, ever felt worse after going to a yoga class, so I do enjoy doing it, it’s just… getting myself to do it. That’s when I started mimicking routines I did in class to the best of my ability, and started to develop my own routine, targeting the areas that I felt had more tension on my own accord. If me, a semi-rookie to yoga and meditation, can start my own routine, you can, too!

Benefits of Yoga and Meditation

You can read about the many benefits of yoga and meditation, but I’ll talk a bit about why it makes sense to me. If you were to take 10, 20, or 30 minutes of your day to completely de-stress and give your psyche a rest, whether that be reading, watching a Youtube video, etc, then  you’d probably be more effective in your productivity (unless you continue to watch random Youtube videos for far too long). When you combine that with breathing and stretching exercises, engaging muscles of your body that you might not engage all the time, you literally can’t help but feel better.

Also, I know that a good bulk of my readers are like me and are hunched over their computers or books for long periods of time, and/or have to deal with awful spring mattresses because they’re going to move in 4 months anyways, or fractured their foot because they thought it was a good idea to wear heeled-boots when walking from Trinity Bellwoods to Chinatown every day …  or is that just me?? Bad posture catches up to you, fam.

Getting Started

The basics: get a mat (one that’s a pretty color that makes you happy to look at), have a water bottle handy, and some comfy clothes. Since yoga is kind of static, I’d recommend wearing something a little on the warmer side so you don’t get chilly.

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Plan.

If you’ve never done yoga before, start by watching videos of instructors on Youtube, or read up on different poses and warm-ups. Since I’ve been doing yoga for a while, I have a good idea of what a typical warm-up for me should feel like, and was able to just write out the different poses I wanted to go through in a notebook. It’s okay to look at your notes and remind yourself of what your routine is the first few times- you’ll get into the hang of it eventually!

If you know anything about me, it’s that I make a playlist for literally every occasion and mood. By making a playlist that I thought had a good planned warm-up phase, “work-out” phase, and cool-down songs was really helpful in teaching myself cues. If the songs started to slow down, I knew it was time for me to slow down. I’m honoured to share my yoga playlist with you guys, titled, “Yoga from the Trap”. It’s an hour long because that’s how long I like to take, but you can always skip a few to shorten your routine!

Pick a time and honor it.

It’s easier to get into the routine of things if you do them at the same time every day and build them around existing habits. For example, I always do yoga after I finish eating breakfast, and I never miss breakfast. Over time, it’ll feel like clock work!

I say to honor it because it’s so easy to tell yourself that you don’t need to do it today. Or that you’ll do it later. It’s not a chore, this is a treat for yourself! Or it’s an essential for some.

Always end with Savasana.

This is the corpse pose, where you lie on your back with palms facing up. Take a few minutes at the end of your routine to recentre your breath, and reap the rewards of your “work-out” by identifying how each part of your body feels. I notoriously fall asleep during Savasana (it’s incredibly embarrassing especially if you snore…)  because it’s so relaxing!

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Have some fun, don’t take it too seriously!

At the end of the day, you should be doing this for you, so allow yourself some wiggle room in your routine for new moves and poses, methods, music, or allow yourself to indulge in one that you’re particularly fond of. One of my favorite yoga instructors ever once told my class that we could lay in corpse pose the whole class if we wanted- the time was for us to do what our body’s “calling” was!

 

Forward-folds are hard I’m really not flexible 😦 

3 Must-have Transition Coats for this Spring

Lifestyle

When new seasons arrive, I kind of freak out and suddenly forget how to dress. This past winter, Waterloo got hit with -20 degree weather in November and I actually thought it was appropriate for me to wear Uggs. Now, spring is around the corner (although it’s taking an awfully long time to get here… I still had to wear my parka last week), and this time, the shock of suddenly slightly warmer weather won’t get in the way of dripping in finesse.

Transition coats are key- yes, you can wear your Canada Goose, you could also probably wear just a sweater, too. If being a university student has taught me anything, it’s that just because you can get away with something, doesn’t mean that you should (technically, I can get away without going to any lectures except for the ones before midterms, but my marks say otherwise). This is why a higher power and designers in moderate climates created transition coats. They’re enough to keep you warm, but not boiling. These are some of my favorites for battling the chilly, dewy mornings, and sunny, calm afternoons.

1. Statement Coloured Wool Coat

 

 

I could choose between my two favorite wool coats, so I went with both to demonstrate how great statement colours are. One the one hand, a bright, solid colour like pink turns a bland outfit into one that’s playful yet professional. If bright colours aren’t your thing, I’d suggest eggshell or a marbled colour (but not black, it’s spring!!).

The pink wool trench coat has been a great addition to my wardrobe, especially since I started working in an office setting. I think that everyone needs a good, “business” coat, and while wool jackets have been all the rage, a lot of them have a more casual look with slouched shoulders. My favorite features on this jacket make it very flattering on anyone- the single lapel and structured shoulders create straight hard lines that draw the eye downwards and has a slimming effect, as does the cute little tie-waist.

The black and white knit wool has been a part of my closet since first year (literally 2015!!!!). I got it on sale at H&M for $20 on Black Friday and I wore it once that year, and didn’t touch it again until this year. Everytime I’d go to clean out my closet, I’d consider throwing it out, but figured there might be some use for it at one point. This is a good jacket for those who shy away from form-fitting ones, and is really great for layering. The marbled design makes a statement without being too loud, and it clasps up with two buttons in the front. Shorter wool coats like this are cute because you can wear them undone without feeling like you’re walking around in a cape.

2. Denim Jacket

 

I unfortunately don’t have more photos of me styling this denim jacket differently (they were mysteriously deleted or maybe they just never existed and I’m crazy??) but there was a time when, on any given day, I could be seen wearing this jacket with a turtle neck of varying colors.

Denim is a beautiful, beautiful thing, and I’m so glad that it’s made a comeback. For those who prefer to dress more on the casual side- nothing layers better than an oversized, distressed jean jacket. I really like the pop of color that denim brings to outfits (did someone say colour blocking?) and they’re super comfortable. A “classic” casual look of mine is a cropped-hoodie paired with high waisted leggings and my denim jacket. It’s also a good way for me to save my pride when my mom tells me I’d be too cold to just survive in a hoodie. Also, can you tell that I like white shoes?

3. The Coatigan

 

A hybrid between a cardigan and, you guessed it, a coat due to it’s heavier duty knit and long length, the coatigan is every short girls dream come true. How does this make me look so long?! Am I really only 5’3 because I LOOK LIKE IM 6’1??

Rocking a coatigan is easy and very spring weather friendly. You can wear it open, or have a more form-fitted look by pairing it with a waist belt. The coatigan I’m wearing comes with a pleather waist belt (which I’m playing around with because belts are hard). For an every day, more formal look, muted colours and neutrals work really well. Patterned coatigans and bright colours are also very cute if that’s what you’re about.

I hope that I’ve inspired you guys to finally put away the goose-down parkas and invest in a few pieces that’ll make your life a bit warmer (or cooler!!).

Food of San Francisco

Good Eats

I recently went to San Francisco for a small vacation (which was my first solo trip ever!) and of course, before I flew out, I made a shortlist of restaurants I want to eat at. I didn’t get a chance to go to ALL of them, which is really just because of the limited physical capacity of eating, but I got to go to most of them and want to share some of the highlights of my foodie adventures.

First order of business after landing was of course, Mexican food, which is allegedly one of the highlights of San Francisco. I’m not a picky eater by any means, but I can’t say that Mexican food is one of my favorite cuisines. I think that the mixture of heavy carbs like beans, corn, tortilla, rice, and chips, mixed with the heavy dairy content (sooo much cheese, soo much sour cream) is a little to harsh on my stomach. No disrespect at all, because I think that if I could handle it, I’d have it all the time. I was just raised on Vietnamese cuisine which is very fresh and not, for a lack of a better term, so heavy? I’ve never had Mexican food and felt better after finishing my meal.

With that being said, El Farolito was very often recommended to me by my friends who have lived or currently live in San Francisco for internships, and after spending my entire 5 hour flight from North Carolina starving because none of the airplane food seemed appealing, I was ready for about anything. And boy, it did not disappoint. For $23, I had the “Quesadilla para dos” with steak which are these MASSIVE quesadillas stuffed with steak (which was perfectly seasoned and surprisingly not overcooked), fresh avocado, sour cream, and queso. In addition to that, I wanted to try their supreme nachos where were topped with chicken and every enjoyable taco topping you can imagine. The side of nachos and unlimited helpings of 3 different salsas was 65 cents.

This will be the one time that I have Mexican and feel like a new and better person afterwards.

My next meal was at Espetus Brazilian Steakhouse. This was my first time having food like this and going to an all you can eat steakhouse. I definitely overdid it because I napped for legitimately 4 hours after the meal, but it was so so worth it. The salad bar consists of fresh salads, dips, along with sides like rice, mashed potatoes, souffle, and a dangerous amount of cured meats. I definitely considered grabbing the whole tray of prosciutto for myself, but had to restrain myself to save room for the 7 different cuts of meat that Espetus offers for lunch.

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When I was growing up, my family and I would watch “Paris by Night”, which was essentially a Vietnamese talent show that was filmed in Long Beach, California. These were seriously some of the best moments in my family’s history, with my older sister Linda choosing her English name based on one of the celebrities who would often performed on this show. In addition to this, we were constantly bombarded with commercials for restaurants and services all over California dedicated to Vietnamese people and fantasize about the how good the food seemed.

So imagine my disappointment when I go to the very hyped-up Golden Star Vietnamese in San Francisco for a hot bowl of pho and in turn, get definitely re-heated via microwave broth and noodles, SO UNENJOYABLE THAT I DIDN’T EVEN TAKE A PHOTO OF MY BOWL. I did however, love the beef carpaccio appetizer. This is traditionally a South Vietnamese dish, so I never had it much growing up, and therefore can’t trust my standards for this. I came back from my trip and told my mom about my subpar Vietnamese food experience in California and she refused to believe me. I guess you win some and lose some.

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To be honest I don’t remember what this restaurant is named LOL. That’s because literally every restaurant in San Francisco does a happy hour special with $1 oysters, and the restaurant I originally wanted to go to ran out, so we just went to the closest one that still had oysters. If it was up to me I’d eat variations of oysters and shellfish for my entire life and nothing else. But, it’s not up to me, and variety is the spice of life, which is where the paté and muscles come in. I tried to order a margarita but was greeted with a glass of straight tequila instead. It was a terrible misfire on my part.

My day trip to Sausalito and Muir Woods was absolutely perfect. Sausalito is the cutest little town and had the most picturesque streets and tourist trap restaurants. I’m glad that I found one unintentionally that was so charming. Under the unassuming name of “Sausalito Fish and Chips”, this diner has a great view of the marina and surrounding islands, crazy ice cream flavors, and some of the best fried shrimp I’ve ever had! Also, peep the huge serving of tartar sauce… oh jeeze. I’m in heaven. I could eat tartar sauce straight.

On top of that, I was greeted with way more Snapple flavors than I’m used to (because ‘Murica), and I was more excited than I should have been that pink lemonade Snapple is a thing.

All in all, the food in San Francisco was pretty awesome, but to be honest, I think that even the very ethnic restaurants feel… gentrified. The prices and the food quality kind of reflects that. I’ve been in restaurants in Toronto where the host/hostess doesn’t even bother to greet me in English until I look beyond confused, and their food displays that authenticity. Here are more quick shots of my food adventures!

Fake it ‘Till You Make it

Lifestyle

re: Feeling Fearless at 21

… not actually faking it. But pretty close! Since vowing to be riskier and fearless on my birthday/as my new years resolution, I’ve done just that.

I got hired as a marketing intern at Locks and Mane, a start-up in Toronto that is revolutionizing and changing up the WHOLE hair-extension game. At first, I was incredibly reluctant. I’ve been to Toronto plenty of times, but only for weekends at a time and for leisure purposes. I have a few friends in the city right now, but would for the most part, be living by myself. I’ve never worked in a workplace that was directly related to something I wanted to pursue, and have miniscule experience in marketing. Everything was unfamiliar– this wasn’t one of those Communitech start-up’s in the Kitchener-Waterloo Region (no offence to them!!) that’s doing something data analysis something machine learning client-side user friendly buzzword buzzword buzzword, that I was used to. Locks and Mane is truly an entrepreneurship with real people, real beliefs, and a very real history that started from the bottom. I was so scared of letting them down.

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On top of that, I was a little late to the game this semester. I had to find a sublet for my room in Waterloo, and find reasonably-priced, reasonably-placed housing in Toronto. If you’ve read any news in the last few years, you know that the housing crisis in big cities is off the charts. My chances felt really slim, but in the course of about 3 days, I got a few other interviews for other marketing positions (because Locks and Mane is only a few days a week, I wanted other work), found someone to sublet my apartment in Waterloo, and found a lovely place in Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods neighborhood. All of the stars were aligning– I just had trouble convincing myself that this is what’s best for me.

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Zuko, the office cat at [s]advocacy. Cats >> Dogs don’t @ me

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This was a cuter boomerang that WordPress doesn’t let me upload.

Every night leading up until the day I moved, I would have a mild anxiety attack and get cold feet about moving. I didn’t want to be without my friends, my free bus pass, and the crappy Chinese restaurants a 5 minute walk from my apartment. My mom was upset that I was deciding to take off a few terms of school in order to gain valuable work experience, and that made my decision all the more difficult. Thankfully, my close friends and older sister were there to talk me down everytime I wanted to give up on the whole ordeal. They told me that I’m strong, smart, and capable– and they truly believed that I would be successful in whatever I decided to take on.

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My BFF’s/roommates/high school friends and I had a DIY paint night for my last night in Waterloo. These girls are my rock!!

So, on February 1st, I started my first day at Locks and Mane. On February 2nd, I went in for an interview at a legal start-up, [s]advocacy by Caryma Sa’d. On February 3rd, I had my first day at [s]advocacy. I fell in love with the people, leaders, and clients of both of my workplaces and the neighborhoods that they’re in. Turns out, the offices of [s]advocacy are in the heart of Toronto’s Chinatown, so the crappy Chinese food that I was missing out on in Waterloo, was replaced with amazing and unbelievably cheap (also a little sketchy) Chinese/Vietnamese food of Chinatown.

Although it may sound like it, my time here so far has not been all rainbows and butterflies. It’s cold. I hate public transit and I don’t understand how streetcars work. I’m so exhausted every day that I close my eyes when I get home from work intending to nap, and wake up 5-6 hours later with a full face of makeup, lights on, and still fully dressed in work clothes. With that being said, I’m slowly adjusting, and am really thankful that I threw myself into the learning process.

Work ethic is something that I’ve always had a lot of, but was unsure of how I can take it to the next level. While it’s easy to want to break old routines in place for trying new ones, it’s easier said than done. I’ve had to learn to measure my success against my own definition, not my parents, friends, or the institutions of society. I’ve had to make decisions that literally pained me to make. But, by putting myself through this, I know that I’m learning so much (even if I fail), and the potential for learning more about myself as a person, my interests, and my career, are limitless.

My Experience with Persistent Depressive Disorder

Lifestyle

In honor of #BellLetsTalk and my last blog post, I thought I’d share some of my experiences with being diagnosed with PSD (or dysthymia), and how I’ve been trying to cope with it. It’s a work in progress, but it has certainly taught me that there’s virtue to rejecting complacency. A tl;dr of the post would be that mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes, as does the treatment and ability to cope with it.

High-functioning depression is a double-edged sword.

On one hand, I felt like it was impressive for me to be able to continue to go to class as an honours student, actively participate in multiple clubs/organizations, work part-time, and attempt to maintain an active and social lifestyle. On the other, I often felt like I was letting a lot of people down, especially myself, when I couldn’t drag myself out of bed to go to a meeting, or left a paper until the very last minute because I had no motivation. Sometimes it feels like a never ending cycle of my mental illness getting in the way of something I knew I wanted/needed to do, me getting angry at myself for not having more strength, and the bottomless pit of self-loathing begins. While I was trying to enjoy the pleasures of life by immersing myself in it, I was only half-engaging myself in things. As a result, I was half-enjoying things too.

No one needs to attempt to “validate” their mental illness.

This is especially prevalent when I first came to terms with my diagnosis and decided to tell my close friends and family about it. It seemed unfathomable to my friends, many of whom I’ve known since I was in grade school. Finding out that someone close to you has been struggling to be happy for so long is hard to swallow. I’m sure that many of my friends wondered what they could have done to help, how they couldn’t see how I was depressed, and how they should start treating me now. My parents, still with a very traditional East-Asian culture outlook on mental health, couldn’t even begin to comprehend the concept. They told me to exercise, to not think about things that make me sad, and that I didn’t need to medicate myself in order to be happy. At first, I was impatient and frustrated with having to explain my symptoms to everyone, but then I realized that they’d either understand more as time went on, or continue to remain ignorant about it. These are difficult narratives to tell and basically uncharted waters in terms of research and public awareness. I barely even understand my own illness, how could I be frustrated explaining it to people who would understand it even less than me?

There’s no “one size fits all” treatment, and that’s alright.

Some people respond well to antidepressants, some don’t. Some people find certain kinds of therapy to be useful while others find it counter-productive. I honestly found solace in knowing that this was going to be a way for me to figure out what will help me cope. It kind of seemed like a new challenge for me to take on– what foods make me groggy on my meds? How much sleep is too much sleep? How often should I talk to a counsellor without feeling like I was investing too much time? Comparing myself to other people who I knew were going through a tough time or also struggled with mental illness usually made me feel worse about my lack of progress, especially if I was having a bad day. After I accepted that I need to do things at my own pace, I realized the truly psychologically daunting task of coping with depression is measured on my own timeline, and not someone else’s.

It’s okay to be a little selfish sometimes.

When I was at my worst mental state in December, one of my best friends drove from Toronto as soon as she finished work on Friday to Waterloo, and then spent the whole weekend with me until another of my friends picked me up to take me back to Windsor. I knew that it was a busy time for everyone, and while I felt terrible about it, they all assured me that they wanted me to bother them and for them to be there for me. I wasn’t a hassle at all, even though it felt like it. This also applies to being kind of a, for lack of a better word, flakey person sometimes. There will be days when I finish my day and I’m completely drained, and I have to cancel on my friends because I just can’t find the gas in myself to be around them. I do feel bad, but I know that having people be a little cheesed at me is better than me forcing myself to be somewhere and be grumpy the whole time, possibly resulting in me being irritable and mean to my friends.

With that being said, I want to give every one of you who are reading this permission to be selfish with regards to me. Please, please reach out to me if you need someone to talk to. If we’ve made plans, please don’t feel obligated to show up if you’re having a bad day. I want to talk to you guys if you need it, and give you space when you need it too.

 

#BellLetsTalk Is Not Enough

Lifestyle

Every year in January, Canadian telecommunications company Bell holds a campaign called #BellLetsTalk, encouraging people to Tweet and post about the stigma surrounding mental health. For every Tweet, Bell donates 5 cents to a multitude of mental health initiatives all over Canada, ranging from community funds to major gifts.

While the impacts of the campaign are transparent by a quick Google search, I’m willing to say that it’s simply not enough, and in fact, might even be harmful. This is not a woe-is-me story, but I’d like to use my personal experiences to illustrate why we need to work harder and do more to support those who are suffering with mental illness, or may not even know that they’re suffering.

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Taken from the Bell Let’s Talk Website.

#BellLetsTalk Allows Institutions to Scapegoat Serious Systemic Issues

The University of Waterloo is one of the most prestigious schools in Canada. We have around 30 000 undergraduate students and 6000 graduate students. Last year in the course of 3 months, 2 students at the same dorm that I lived in when I was in first year killed themselves. These are just the suicides that the university has to acknowledge because they happen on campus. UW has a large population of students who leave campus every term to go on co-op, and an even larger population who live off campus, so there is no accurate way to gather statistics on mental illness within the school community. During the same time that the two students killed themselves, I tried to seek support from on campus resources, beginning with counselling services. After seeing an intake counsellor and a social worker, I was put on a waitlist and not offered an appointment until 3 months later, weeks before exam season was about to start.

I tried again with mental health services on campus (I don’t know what the difference is and honestly I’m not even sure if the people working here know what the difference between mental health services and counselling services). After a few sessions with a psychologist, I was diagnosed with Persistent Depressive Disorder and Anxiety Disorder. The psychologist started running down a list of my possible options for treatment on and off campus, most being followed by her saying “but.. there is a waitlist to get on these”, or, “This program doesn’t start until September”, or, “it might be out of your price range for treatment options”.

There has been much speculation from UW students on whether or not the school owes us proper mental health services. There has also been controversy regarding sexual harassment, pay, and working conditions for the mental health support workers here on campus. Of course, there is no public addressing of these issues, but the president of the school sends out an e-mail every #BellLetsTalk day highlighting the options and departments that students can reach out to, with no real action on addressing why mental health/counselling services are different departments with little cohesion.

It doesn’t address the stigma people have towards themselves

.. and it certainly does not address the stigma that doctors, nurses, and many of the front line mental crisis workers have towards those with mental illness. Before the holidays, I hit a rough patch and went to the Grand River Hospital because I felt incredibly desperate and at risk– I was at my wits end and felt my life was at risk if I stayed home. Can you just stop and think about how awful someone has to feel to go to the hospital to save themselves. I met with 5 different people- a triage nurse, intake nurse, crisis nurse, psychiatrist, and a physician. Each person I spoke with got increasingly less sympathetic and were asking me all the wrong and incredibly insensitive questions. When told that I have PDS, I was interrogated and berated for not seeking help earlier. It was my fault that I was there, seeking help. The psychiatrist didn’t even know my name. This further instilled the toxic and self-deprecating attitude that I had towards myself at that time.

It just blew my mind because people with mental illness should be able to say “it was my depression talking, not me”, and not feel bad about it. I can’t even convince myself that it’s something acceptable to say, how can I expect those who are close to me to believe it? The Bell campaign addresses how we should treat people with mental illness, but not how people with mental illness should treat themselves, or how medical professionals who don’t necessarily specialize in mental crises.

What can we do come January 31?

Think beyond what a person who doesn’t suffer with mental issues should do to stop the stigma, and more about how the stigma affects institutions, leaders of these institutions, and the people that suffer with mental illness. Post wisely, and consider how a toxic stigma really impacts how we shape the lives of so many people.

 

Feeling Fearless at 21

Lifestyle

I’ve always hated my birthday. In fact, I still do, despite all of the amazing people and moving parts in my life trying to make it a special day for me. I think that the expectations that come with one sole day that is supposed to be a celebration of my life is overwhelming and to a certain extent, unreasonable. Graduation parties, celebrating a professional milestone, anniversaries of relationships, all make sense to me and all warrant the gathering of friends and family for good food. My birthday is just another day of the year. It’s usually way too cold to do anything enjoyable outside. I never know what to do with my face or eyes or hands when people are singing “Happy Birthday” to me. My parents usually forget to call me and wish me a good day.

Last year, I turned 20. It was the most dreadful and scary and awful thing that I just wanted to be over with. I felt like I was getting old, like I was damaged goods. 20 years old with no solid work experience, no meaningful relationship, and about 30 pounds heavier than I would have liked. I cried for hours on my birthday.

I tried really, really hard to make this year different. So I guess lumping New Years resolutions and goals for my 21st year of life is where I get some relief from the birthday anxiety. The last month has been the most insane emotional rollercoaster I’ve ever been on, and it still feels like I’m trying to recover from it. Setting goals and having something to look forward to has been helpful, but nothing is more helpful than sharing those goals with those who are closest to me, and having them hold me accountable when I start to stray.

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Celebrating my 21st birthday at Miku Toronto!

This year, I’m vowing to take more risks and put myself out of my comfort zone. Since I started my undergraduate career at the University of Waterloo 2 years ago, I have not taken a break. While most students spent their 4 months of summer working or playing, I was in school. I just really hate living at home, especially after living by myself for so long. Like, why do I have to explain to my mom why I’m going to McDonald’s at midnight? Can’t a girl get her late night Junior Chicken fixed without being questioned? It also was in part because I’m not a co-op student, so internships aren’t mandatory for my degree. While I did try to look for work during the summer, nothing was fruitful, and staying in school seemed like the most productive and least-risky course of action. This has lead to many meltdowns, feeling burnt out, uninspired, and scared. While I was heavily involved in extra-curriculars, I found myself in the same kinds of leadership roles that were primarily coordination and logistics. I’m so thankful that I’ve had the opportunities to contribute to so many great things like Waterloo Orientation and UW Economics Society, but it was definitely my time with Hack the North that has been so so eye-opening.

Hack the North, Canada’s biggest hackathon, began with a group of inspired, ambitious, and keen students, and has developed a strong culture of pushing boundaries and innovation (in true Waterloo fashion, of course), and through its ~4 years of existence, the organization has never lost sight of this culture. This extends to everything we do, but most specifically, the people that we hire. Although my time as an organizer taught me a lot about working in a team, organization, and logistics, the most valuable thing I got was meeting people who inspired me. These were some of the brightest, fearless people that I’ve ever met, who were always more than eager to share their wisdom and advice with everyone.

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Smiling through the stress at Hack the North 2017. Courtesy of Toby Thomas.

One thing I learned is that you’ll never experience anything different if you keep doing the same things. This is literally why so many students graduate from university with no idea of what they’re doing and have no job prospects. Of course you’re not going to know what to do after a 4-year undergrad in biology, if all you’ve been doing is studying and working retail during the summer. So, I’m finally going to take 4 months off and try things that make me feel uneasy. And I’m going to do everything I can to rid of the uneasy feeling so that when an exciting opportunity presents itself, I’m equipped to take it. And I’m truly ready to take on my twenties. I’m a young adult now!!!! I can do things. I can be self sufficient. I have many years of learning and experiencing ahead of me. And I want to thank and welcome all of you into the adventure of my attempt at feeling fearless!

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Can’t forget to have some fun and get my daily dose of caffeine in the process!