Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tuesday February 22nd,2010

Many people have often said that when you are about to die your life flashes before your eyes, this my friends is not the case. Whether or not my life was actually thrown towards the thresholds of existence that afternoon, it remains that such a moment did not occur to me. The faces of my family and friends did not leap towards me in sequence just as the immense moments of short life were not replayed over in my mind for a brief period of time. I felt utterly alone, frightened, unnerved and completely exposed to the idea that this is how I was going out-not with guns a blazin’ but crouched next to a door frame in a darkened corridor thousands of miles away from home.

12 seconds...
                The day had begun and was progressing like any other. The air was in no way palpable or humid. Things felt neither still or ominous, in fact the weather was quite dull, drape and seemed to shadow how I was feeling with the long day ahead.   With a slight overcast sky I set off for school; a 10am start that would continue until at least 5pm.  I spent two hours in the gym, playing basketball and reviewing some of the country’s curriculum with fellow class mates. We held discussions and, as always, enjoyed  a good laugh which made our upcoming night out something we had no pleasure in waiting for; I feel that our class’ intention to go for dinner and drinks this Friday may be pushed back barring the chance that ‘Joyful’ Chinese Restaurant still stands. I have the strangest feeling that somewhere, someone is watching all us fools enjoying the smallest moments in our lives and spiting us. Or maybe we should rid ourselves of those mundane joys, look for something bigger. Maybe we need to shake things up a bit.
                I left class with nothing more than a thought of what I had to do next, where my day was heading, where my written schedule led me next.
                For the next fifty minutes I found myself in a meeting alongside three other women who had also been selected to escort and facilitate a group of young Kiwis onto the secluded Blumine Island off the coast of New Zealand’s much larger South Island. It will be a weeklong orienteering adventure to raise awareness of the dying population of the nation’s beloved Kiwi bird. If all goes to plan we, the college students, will lead the expedition for the first couple of days and the youngsters will take control of the remainder of the trip building trails, permanent nests and developing leadership skills. It seems like a phenomenal opportunity for not only myself, and I am glad to have been selected, but also the kids who will report back to environment ministers and company heads. In order for the trip to move smoothly the four of us needed to prepare well in advance so after a brief discussion in the college’s courtyard we made our way over the equipment shed which had been filled with spare non-perishable food, kayaks, petrol tanks and their accompanying stove-top cookers. Having borrowed the key from our  own university advisor, Chris, the 4 of us made our way back to his office where he had mentioned to us that sliding the under the door would be no problem; it was 12:45pm.
                Spending a good part of that hour organizing for our travels we began heading our separate ways, whether it be to our next lecture or home for a late lunch, feeling a growing excitement for the impact that such a program could potentially make. Although I shared those same feelings I had another four hours of class awaiting me, the first couple being held on the third floor of the campus’ largest building, Taurew. I remember checking my watch constantly so that I would not be late for Professional Studies as I remained with two of the other girls who were dropping off Chris’ keys; I can only imagine what drove me with them as I passed right by the stairwell door which would have led to my class. There was no need for me to go with them, Chris was not in his office and although I knew I had a bit of time before my class would begin it was not uncommon for us to gather ten minutes before hand for a cup of tea. Some of our actions just don’t make sense to us during times of reflection, this was one of those moments. I can only assume how terrible it would have been to head upstairs instead, upstairs to an empty classroom with empty chairs and  empty desks wondering what on Earth was going on when suddenly all Hell would have broken loose. Standing outside the building amongst an enormous group of students, alarms blaring, I realized I had misread my schedule.  I was to attend a class I never had but decided to stick it out with Sara and Alex for a few more minutes.
                Walking down a secluded and dead-end hallway towards our professor’s door the three of us continued to chat amongst ourselves. We placed the key on Chris’ desk, closed the door behind us and walk a few steps towards the main section of that floor’s reception area.
                I remember briefly saying, “alright, well I better head off to class, I’ll see you girls –“ . A huge crack erupts as if a pack of de-railed trains had made their way through the deserted hallway. The foundation of the building violently struggles with the intensify nature of the very ground it sits on. The corridor, already unlit, begins to unnaturally contort in all directions as I am flung into a state of confusion. Stabilizing myself with knees bend I attempt to grasp out for something but with no avail, I am teetering back and forth in the middle of the hall, with legs of jelly. The sound is deafening; cracks, snaps and screams ablaze amongst falling shards of drywall. A door swings open, the exposed office  becomes littered with fallen books. I see the face of a frightened women beneath her desk gripping the legs of her shaking workspace. My attention moves back left to Sara and Alex, crouching within a door way, arms wrapped around its fragile frame. I fall in line, immediately hitting the floor, ruthlessly attaching myself to one of the girls. For one brief moment, although it always feels dreadfully longer, I thought that this was my end and it was nearly calming. I had a chance to look around and slowly awaited something to come crashing upon me but all that came was the end of the ordeal, it had ended with the start of a sea of alarms and hustling of feet running passed towards the exit.
                 Outside in the courtyard of the college the environment became all too surreal. Pods of students scattered the area as a stir of concerned voices filled the air. For those who found themselves outside during the quake, it may have been much less unnerving but no less foreign, especially to the international community who had never felt something like that before. We began gathering ourselves. We found flatmates, classmates and friends and awaited instruction. I remember over-hearing some of the locals discussing how this quake had dwarfed the 7.1 episode that plagued the region last September. This one had manifested itself just beneath our feet, five kilometres down. It is as if we all live on the top story of a high-rise and when an earthquake occurs it’s like someone below us is playing a stereo very loud; the closer it is to our floor the louder it sounds and the more the walls trembles. This bugger was right below us.
The immediate aftershock, metaphorically and literally,  was, dare I say, a bit more fun.  It may have been because I felt like I had found myself on rough waters with a broken surf board or maybe because the 500 some-odd Asian exchange students had found each other within minutes of the disaster.  I hope that somehow paints a bit of a picture, it was very amusing.  I watched the building I had just ran from wobble before my eyes as the car park began to look like one large bouncy castle; their suspension was getting a solid work out.
Within twenty minutes we had made our way back to our flat. The electricity had been cut because of the quake so we all sat in our living room sharing the “where were you?” stories. We had a long journey ahead of us.
 The hellish reality of downtown Christchurch seems to loom in the distance of my flat, her people torn from a place of joy and now a place of utter silence as more are pulled from her shattered bones.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Brief Intermission

        I realize that nearly an entire year had passed between my true international episodes but like with many things in life you must always be able to fund your passions. That, and I needed to complete my degree by pushing my way through a horrendous final semester; four fourth year honours level English courses and a nice and light physical education course, thankfully. Just as soon as I had began diving into Virginia Woolf, who can not only be mentally exhausting after a few pages but who wasn’t havin’ any of it, I was conned, rather, slightly coerced into another adventure. Next stop, Caribbean!
                The week long adventure was exactly what had been expected, an open trough with equally open gullets. The six of us, drowned  in liquor, were victimized by not only but the scorching sun but by our very poisons. We were either backed up or found ourselves telling others to back out. Our fair Canadian skin was no match for such a climate; I can only imagine it must have looked like watching beached fish being baked under the relentless sun. But no less, we made our way to the Disco every night with, would you imagine, other Canadians! We finally realized we could have paid much less for an equally enjoyable experience, minus the weather of course. This is no way deterred us from going. I, in no way regret falling into Seebs’ debt as it became one of the most memorable weeks of my life. Money well spent if you ask me.

My travel philosophy is as such; justify whatever it is you desire to do. Whether it be for school or sheer pleasure, have a reason for jumping aboard a plan, train or automobile. My thoughts on our trip to The Dominican Republic was this; who knows when I will endure this type of experience with this grand group of lads? It was our final year of a collection of semesters spanning over four years. Jason, these are the guys you will share a beer with for the rest of your life so why not get a nice sun burn while you are at it?
The rest of my year was dull in comparison to these adventures but off in the horizon I could barely make out another ship, slowly making her way into the harbour.  My ticket had been booked long before, while I was still in the United Kingdom actually. This planning finally led me to Mike Johnson and thank the Lord for him as he made my next OE, overseas experience as Kiwis say, very easy. Oh if you haven’t caught on yet or if you have been living under a rock, I would be departing for New Zealand, a tranquil land..oh wait, I think the house just shook.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


This is a collaboration of present day thoughts and something I had written after arriving in England...

        I would like to begin this documentation by graciously thanking my friends and family, those categories which often skew into one another. Where would I be without them? Well most likely at Brock living comfortably, spending too may Thursdays at Isaac's and regretting a missed opportunity for many years to come.I am aware that this all seems quite self-reflective but the reception I have received from others would suggest otherwise:

“Tell me all about it Jason! You know I live vicariously through you!”

I'll do my best. 

        Starting back in November of 2008, this journey of nearly 12 months holds with it highs and lows, stops and starts but especially frustration and joy. I am glad I am here, this already seems very important. The closer I came to the date of my departure the more I felt I needed to do this. I needed to be thrown on that plane…

        After my ordeal with checked luggage I thought of how one can only expect a decent amount of the 'unexpected' when it comes to travel; it is definitely a learning process. Sitting in the terminal I watched a bit of the Leaf game, had a coffee and listened to my iPod as I waited for my plane to board. Seated in A23 I took a rest beside an elderly couple who had been married for nearly 64 years! A truly charming pair from Manchester. Most of their children and grandchildren were scattered all over the world but all that travel seems to have made them even more youthful and adventurous. So as we sat beside one another, and when they were not peacefully asleep, the old gent told me stories of how he flew for the British during the Second World War, delivering supplies to the French resistance. I was so interested to here him speak of how his squad never used maps but rather the light of the moon off of the rivers and streams of the French country side. They asked me what I was doing in England and where I would be staying. After a long chat about my education he gave me a bit of advice if I was to ever find myself in a pub near Stoke (the main city around Keele University). Apparently I was supposed to mention a very famous football player from the area, if I brought this name up (as you can tell I don’t remember the name) I would make a few friends.Unfortunately I never made it to this specific pub but was never at a loss of friends after the first few weeks.

        I didn’t sleep very much on the plane, just rested my head for some brief moments while I awaited our touch down in the United Kingdom.  Looking out through my cabin window I saw my first encounter with this truly beautiful country. It reminded me of a patterned quilt, each block a different shade of green or yellow or brown.  Each piece of land was bordered off with a hedge or wall and it was imperfect, unlike back home. The roads here are at the mercy of the land which may explain their less than manageable width and character.

        After a brief stay in Manchester I just barely caught my bus one morning and heading west towards the Irish Sea I barely had time to hold a conversation as I could not turn my eyes from the green pastures of the English countryside. The view from the plane had done the land a fair justice but to actually absorb the scenery, interact with it, is a treat unto itself. It's truly a wonder how such a place has managed to capture and maintain such a pastoral image for each time you blink it seems you pass another small town or village; each with its' own Pub and just maybe a postal office if your town was big enough. Now, the Pub is a very unique concept which had planted it roots deep within British culture away from the monarchy, bureaucracy and well-to-do high society prudes which had only furthered the separation between the classes. Being found in every hamlet, village, town and city the original purpose of the, as North American's have dubbed it, 'Pub ' was to be a Public House of rest. I suppose we all feel quite at ease in our local pubs most nights but they were never truly meant to become our beloved watering holes, rather, it would be as though you were popping by a friend's cottage for engaging conversation and a small meal - could have fooled me! 

        On most nights you were more likely to find me mingling with the locals, bantering with fellow students and football mates, or joking with the occasional drunk. Whether it be down at our very own residence, hole-in-the-ground, bar or well onto campus at the Union Station - a place you could truly get lost in be it from a hazy disposition of merely the bar's enormity - we would begin our drinking early in the evening and well into the early hours of the morning. The service was always friendly at such places but never rushed as they are in most Canadian institutions so it would be ergonomically wrong not to get multiple drinks at once, and triples at that! Stumbling home became an art but merely unlocking your door require god-given coordination at 4 or 5 in the morning. I remember being awoken after one hellish evening by Jane, a fellow international student from Germany, as I lay spread eagle, grass stains covered my attire, outside my room with key in hand and a,as I can only assume, frustrated look upon my face Jane guided me to bed. God love 'er, she was one hell of a girl. We would bickered and fight until the sun came up but for those 5 months I would never meet anyone else like her.She got quite the attitude on her when she drank, she was loud, demanded attention and was loved by all. It was only once I had left Britain that I finally figured out why I could never stand her and why I was drawn to her, she was just like me!

        When I was of a better frame of mind I would attend classes, read my books and take in whatever parts of the country I could. Rob Artinian, Jay Rankin and I, all Canadian music lovers, had made a point of heading north for Scotland one week to see the Tragically Hip. Beers in hand we were nearly 5 feet from Gord and the boys as they pumped out all the classics 'til they were finally forced to call it an evening. That morning in Glasgow we were walking about town taking in the sites when Rob thought he caught a glimpse of Rob Baker, the lead guitarist of The Hip. Wearing bright purple pants and shockingly silver boots this beast of a man, hair down near his ass, walked along the sidewalk. 'There's no way it's him' I said, 'Rob is not that big!'. Sure enough, that night those purple pants had made one hell of an appearance, Rob had gained a bit of weight too. 

        Touring around Edinburgh and the Scottish country side was also a treat. Jay had left so he could join a touring heading toward Lincoln and some Christmas market as Rob and I climbed up to Arthur's seat to enjoy a full view of the city. Rob was not nearly as impressed with me as he was with himself; more often than not  I would hear from 20 feet behind me 'I hate you Pooley'. But the view was worth it just as the entire trip was. I would have an equally lovely time in Spain with a good friend from Australia named Elise. In Barcelona we would hit up the local bars on the beach for sangria and tapas then make our way through the Gothic centre of town hitting nearly all the artisan markets we could. Our accommodation was no more than a block from the Gaudi Museum so at night we would sit up on the rooftop, drink in hand, and watch the tourists walk about the exhibits which had be delicately lit up at night, giving them all an entirely new perspective.

        Europe, as it can sometimes do to a traveler, treated me very well as I was no more worst for wear when I had arrived home. Britannia had left with me a true image of her beauty; it had truly scared me, truly! That's another story, one better told face-to-face. But aren't all stories like that, told 'round a camp fire with a few good friends? I try, with much effort and patience with myself, to paint a bit of a picture with my vocabulary but one thing you must always realize is that a photo, a journal entry and dare I say even a video, will never truly give justice to an experience abroad. I have been to New York City a few times in my life so far and maybe it was because I was an even poorer student at the time but I never once brought my camera. Places you go will always affect and infect you in some way or another and you will never truly grasp such experiences from sitting by a computer or rummaging through old shoe boxes filled with photos. Of course, you must one day sort such photos but be weary, you must always detach yourself from the material versions of your perspectives and experiences. The views will always be better kept in your memory and the stories will always be better played out on your little stage back home, drink in hand, as per usual.