Getting started

Don't expect words of wisdom or earth shattering revelations, just my thoughts and observations about living in Ottawa, being a public servant and trying to live life every day to its fullest

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Scuba obsession: In just over 48 hours I will be diving, under water with the fish, coral and an uncountable number of other wild and wonderful organisms. Floating, drifting, observing, being. Not needing to be part of the scene that will play out on the reef or around a wreck around me.

I have been scuba diving over half my life and since I found stable employment it has become the focus of many of my adventures. Malta for ten days, Honduras for seven, Jordan and the Red Sea (tag on to a Petra trip), a week in a hut of a beach in Malaysia - and now Bermuda. For the 50 to 90 minutes I am under water, the world stops mattering and I exist. That is all, I exist. Listening to my breathing and taking pleasure in how my body moves under water.

Diving has always been in my blood, since I was old enough to hold my head up I have been in the water, my parents met scuba diving before computers were invited and when people were still using "reserves" (I actually know how to tell someone I am on my reserve - old school!) My sister and I have an understanding underwater and click as the perfect dive buddies, we have whole conversations underwater about how we would cook the fish, or how it would be nice to see a lobster, and then eat it (it is our Asian up-bringing). We know each others pace and how to laugh underwater at people rushing around trying to see everything.

Often I wonder what it would be like to take diving to the next level, to pursue more certification, become an under-water photographer, or teach. But I realise that, for me, that would take the joy out of. I can be an honest tourist under water. I am responsible for my safety and that of my buddy, and the buck ends there. I can be in the moment and not try and capture that really neat fish in a photo. If I taught, I would have to dive in Canada and that would really crush me (cold and brown with currents around ships that require ropes).

Instead I will just love the moment and be happy worrying about no body or anything. 30-60ft under, looking up and watching the sun play off the water surface, blowing bubbles and just being. For the minutes I am under water, I will be my most at peace.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Igor and other holiday related stories: Next week was vacation week - seven days in Bermuda, exploring and scuba-diving, hanging out with an old school friend and generally decompressing. My trip has been delayed a week because of my new best-friend Igor (currently a category 3 hurricane due to directly hit Bermuda on Sunday evening / Monday morning - shortly before I was due to land).

It got me to thinking about vacations, trips and adventures in general. My luck is great and I often take things for granted, but there is often that one moment where you wonder if it is going to work out ... Russia and the Beslan tragedy, missing my flight to Hong Kong by 12 hours, the car breaking down in Jordan. I sometimes joke that "something always goes wrong" on my attempts to disconnect and that it is better to get it out of the way while I am safe and sound at home, instead of waiting for it. But these set-backs also reminds me how lucky I am.

A short history of my travel shenanigans:
My sister and I were to meet in Moscow, we had planned the trip for months to see the Hermitage, Red Square. A few short weeks before we were to meet at a random spot somewhere in the suburbs, a school in Beslan was stormed and held. I don't need to go into what followed in Beslan, the tragedy is well documented, but between my sister (who was in Italy) and I, there was an emotional conversation where we tried to figure out what to do. We went ... Russia was in mourning and the Kremlin was in lock down, but we saw the city and had many fine adventures. Apart from an incident that involved the either drinking water or a buffet the first night, the trip was fantastic. 

My solo two week trip to Hong Kong and Malaysia in 2008 was about 12 hours shorter than planned due to a ticket mishap that resulted in me missing a plane (I got the last ticket on the next flight for a mere $100 "surcharge"). It is probably a good thing that this was the only mishap since this trip was very badly planned - and certain legs were very much ad-hoc; like being on an island off Malaysia with very little plans on how to leave, or not being sure where I was staying for my 18hours in Singapore.

In Jordan, my sister and I were stranded on the side of the of a road for three hours while buses and people, and even a police officer, stopped to see what was going on - two women just sitting by the side of an exit ramp. It was hot, we were in the middle of no where and it took the car-rental agency several hours to get there and then try and pin the ceased engine on us (we had picked up the car earlier that morning). We ended up with this very dirty car which was what the car-company had driven up to meet us in. We left the car-people on the side of the road waiting with the clean but non-functioning car. The new car was spacious and had far more power than the original vehicle - but disinfectant needed to be used every time you touched any part of the car. In fact, we has enough space to pick-up "hitch-hikers" in Petra and take them to Wadi-Rum! Sure, Jordan had a few other sketchy moments (walking into the desert in the middle of the night with a bedouin casanova ... ???) but all in all, it was really a trip of a lifetime.

There were also moments as a child, traveling with my parents; all our passports and money being stolen in Amsterdam the day before we were to fly to Canada, dad slipping on a canal boat outside Coventry and needing stitches ... and  many of my trips have had no hick-cups; a week in Honduras scuba-diving (unless you call "picking up" Bill and Brian as not a hick-up), three days in Cuba for my 31st birthday, six weeks in Hong Kong and New Zeland driving around and camping.

I suppose the point is that I get to travel, I am seeing the world, I get to see incredible places, meeting interesting people, scuba-dive, snowboard, spend time with my sister. I am very lucky. I have some time and resources which I can put towards my adventures. I have a sibling and friends with whom I can travel with, and the occasional set-back is only going to strengthen my resolve to make the most of what I have as long as I can. It also reminds me that I am alive and getting out of my house and my "normal" life involves pushing my comfort zone, and living. I am living.

So - I will be at work next week but in ten days, unless they close the airport in Bermuda again, I will be scuba diving and exploring a new place. Look out Igor, you might have won this round, but in the end I prevail, because I am still going to Bermuda, and the weather will be perfect. And this time next week, you will just be an inconvenient memory.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The gym - Today I mulled going to the gym. At one point I was half way to my bedroom to change ... but it never happened. So now I can't say "I went to the gym on Sunday". Ah; the gym ... how I hate social expectations around the gym, even more than I hate the unimaginative spaces we use to "work out".

In university I worked out about four times a week and was on two varsity teams. I loved my spin classes and step aerobics, the high of pushing myself and learning what I could and couldn't do. I was in the best physical shape of my life and have the photo's to prove it. But I have been to the gym about three times since moving to Ottawa. I did try and join an all woman's gym soon after I arrived, but everything about it just nauseated me. I felt that working out lost it purity and turned into a commercial machine, I became another cog. As soon as I step into a gym all individuality is sucked out of me and that I doing what society expects me to do - not necessarily what is right for me, and I am try to conform to what we currently believe we should look like.

Despite the fact I have avoided these institutions and was incapacitated for several months due to an injury that might have included a broken bone, I believe that I am in better shape than the average Canadian. I bike to work or walk home, I do lots of yoga, I hike, snowshoe, skate and of course snowboard. Sure; I don't have "Shakira-Arms" like my little sister, but she is a size 4 and lets face it - short medical procedures, I am never going to a size 4.

My sister once joked that she could make a bundle harnessing the energy people produced while people run on a treadmill, Elliptical-machines, erg-machines, and stationary bikes. Beyond generating electricity, everything about the gym culture seems to be designed to re-enforce a consumer culture: special gym bags, shoes, socks and shorts, quick-dry tops, headbands, heart-rate monitors, personal music devices, a whole suite of tiny toiletries, plastic water bottles - metal water bottles, water supplements, quick-wick towels. What ever happened to running around the block, hopping on the bike or an ab-workout in your sitting room? Instead, on beautiful days we feel guilty about not going to the gym where we are just another hamster on a treadmill. And unlike the paths outside, our "path" is in a windowless room, with bad TV blaring and someone who "forgot" to wipe-down the machine on their way out.

My loathing of the gym has to be kept to myself, because like excessive work-hours, "going to the gym" is some kind of social badge people wear. Meet new people and work-out habits come into the conversation surprisingly fast, we love to talk about our trainer, the women who try and pick-up at the gym, and our opinion of GoodLife (spoiler alert: everyone hates GoodLife). Worth is now measured in how often you go to the gym - because looking great has to be a lot of work and you can only do it with the right gear. Sure, parts of the gym are really fun - but it has become overly scripted, controlled and sanitized, instead of the unexpected events on a sports field, one can almost set a clock on the rhythms of a gym.

Here is where I admit to being a hypocrite; as much as I am adamant that I hate gyms, I do belong to a gym again (I joined when it was 35C outside because they have an unused, out-door swimming pool!) So this winter I plan on going ... mainly to curb my baking habit (which some have said is out of control). I hope to  kick some boy-ass on the ski-hill this winter, strengthen my shoulder which is almost fully healed and because occasionally the right work-out can create quite the endorphin-high.

But if you ever hear me say "I went to the gym last night ..." you can kick me.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Working hard - not hardly working: It is a long weekend in Canada. This is the "last" long weekend of summer and the first long weekend this year I have stayed in Ottawa, so I am reading and just catching some chill-time. One of my favorite Saturday morning activities is to read the paper, today I found this article by Margaret Wente. It got me thinking about work ... and before we start full disclosure; I have not actually taken any time-off since April (I save it for the fall and winter). Being vacation-less has made me a little more grumpy then usual - it really is time I disconnected for a while. But first -

OBSERVATION: Some people work too hard ... and I resent them (does that make me a terrible person?) I resent people who work too much because they become martyrs to the cause and I feel guilty for no longer being willing to use crazy work-hours as some type of masochistic status-symbol which it seems to have become around my peer-group. In some twisted alternative reality, number of hours worked or the crazy report assigned at 5pm and due last night, is how we are measuring our worth (and import). I can be easily manipulated by peer-pressure, and when everyone you know (and respect) is working crazy hours, I start to feel that because I am not working the same hours, that I don't measure up!

I work hard and give it my all from 8am - 6pm. I used to work crazy hours, and still work the occasional weekend, but I realised that nothing I do is that important. There is very little that can't wait till Monday morning and it has taken me a few years and an addiction to my CrackLeash (aka: the BlackBerry) to realise this. What we do as public servants is important, and we do really have the power to help make the lives of Canadians better, safer and more sustainable - but most of us are not actually dealing with critical situations of life-and-death.  I also believe that 99% of our work can be done during core-business hours and if it isn't it is because we are under-staffed or people are not effective with our prioritization and time-management skills.

REALIZATION: I am exhausted and not only do I need a vacation for my general sanity and the health of those around me, I deserve a vacation. I have been saying for months I would take a "stay-cation" and explore Ottawa if I had more vacation time to "waste" just staying here. I wanted to play tourist in my own city this summer, including taking the double-decker bus tour and watching the Changing of the Guard ... but I will not spend my meager three-weeks of leave "stuck" in Ottawa. My precious vacations are carefully saved for scuba-diving trips and winter adventures. But I have this long weekend, so I am going to spend the rest of it out there doing what I keep saying I would do, if I had more vacation. After all, a long-weekend is like free vacation. So, lets see if I can decompress, explore and go in on Tuesday proud that I was able to do nothing work related all weekend. I should be proud that I am playing a role and that the work I do is important, but that my status symbol is that I have the time to just sit back and enjoy Ottawa.