Thursday, 27 September 2012

Nostalgia Trippin'

Apparently you can put a price on childhood memories. Last weekend, an important part of my youth was sold for $80. Yes, this was probably more than four hardly-working guitars and half a beaten up drum set are worth, but it won’t stop some part of me from feeling a little.....Discounted.

Each item, a precious gem from my rock band phase that served as an outlet for my sometimes overabundance of teenage angst, disappeared at a family garage sale last weekend. I was overdue to part with them, but it didn’t mean some emotional pain wasn’t involved. In the meantime, we’re trying to sell the family house I grew up in, which has my parents in a constant purging mode. Coupled with the fact that half my family are closet hoarders, an abundance of crap has just accumulated like some sort of nostalgic monster pooped a pile of useless material in the basement. Strewn throughout this mess are things that I probably haven’t looked at in over a decade: crudely taken photographs of trips to camp during my childhood, a collection of ‘hot wheels’ toy cars with the names of family members still scrawled over the bottoms and old letters to lovers past.

At some point, every young adult is faced with memorabilia from their past and has choose what the hell to do with it. It can feel overwhelming and unfair, but that stuff isn’t just stuff – it’s a part of who you are and where you came from. It has a history captured within it and creeps to the depths of the chasm of your brain where old, dusty memories have been waiting reoccupy your consciousness. As I revisit my youth in flashes of remembering who gave me what and why my mom held onto stacks of my journals from grade school I can’t help but pause and think about childhood, innocence and where the hell I lost it. 

It’s hardly enough to say that I’ve experienced a ‘blast from the past’ because something else happens when you go that far back; everything in between also finds its way into your thoughts, and you inevitably begin to measure yourself against your challenges, failures and successes. This lesson in self-reflection isn’t just about looking back on the path you’ve made. It’s also about starting off in a completely different direction, perhaps even bushwhacking through some completely unexplored place that’s ridden with new bugs and crawlies.

One thing is for sure: if 24 year old Aaron can sell 16 year old Aaron’s most prized possessions, something has changed in those eight years, and I have a feeling it’s not just the drums. 

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Victoria: Not Just for Old People

BC’s capitol is a city with multiple personalities. The duality of Victoria is almost plainly obvious: young and hip university students occupy the tapa bars and trendy pubs inside Bastion Square at night; the same crowd flocks to the beaches of Cadboro Bay in the summer days while cooping in the UVic campus during chillier weather. The inner harbor is a hotbed of high-waisted camera toting tourists while Victoria West boasts one of the largest retirement communities in Canada. We can only gather one simple conclusion amidst this chaotic collusion of demographics: Victoria is a clusterfuck that thrives on its own clusterfuck-ness, which also makes it a great city to see (if you do it right).

I’ll admit my first impressions of this city with a severe identity crisis weren’t all that wonderful. I could see the same old formula of over-priced everything (Victoria is currently ranked the 4th mostexpensive city in Canada) and a mishmash of sub-par attractions designed to make visitors feel as if what they just saw was accurate and representative of the island at large. But there’s another side of this city that actually stakes some uniqueness amongst the repetition, and it can be found in the most unusual of places. Here are just a few examples I found worthy of this category during the two occasions I’ve had to explore Victoria (exploria?):

1) Chow Down at ‘Red-Fish-Blue-Fish’

Not-so-tucked-away fish eatery Red-Fish-Blue-Fish is a prized part of Victoria’s Inner Harbor, and it’s not too hard to find: just follow the sometimes endless line-up of locals and visitors alike who are looking to stuff themselves stupid on BC’s finest. What was once a shipping container that held a Lamborghini in a previous life is now a retrofitted fish fry kitchen serving up some of the most creative fish dishes around, including Fish Tacones and something called a ‘cod dog’: a tempura battered and deep fried slice of cod wrapped in a bakery bun topped with dill dijon mayo, tartar sauce and pickled onions.

What makes this popular spot so special are the efforts managers take to ensure that every fish they prepare has been locally sourced and is not at risk of extinction. This means your stomach and your conscience can feel awesome after devouring that halibut and chips sold to you by the good people at Red-Fish-Blue-Fish. They’ve even been featured on the popular Food Network Channel T.V show Eat Street as ‘oneof the best places to eat in Victoria’.

2) Explore Fort Rodd Hill

If there’s one thing that sums up Canada’s Pacific Southwest best it’s the lighthouse. Luckily for those visiting Victoria, the National Historic Site of Fort Rodd Hill includes one of the most iconic lighthouses in Canada and offers an excellent window into the history of the area pre-dating early 1900’s. At Fort Rodd Hill, visitors can learn about the artillery (which still stands) that was built to protect Victoria while exploring the many underground passageways and batteries that were constructed over a century ago.

Those less intrigued by military posts can walk to the Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse, which rests over the picturesque Strait of Juan de Fuca with the Olympic Mountains providing a breathtaking backdrop. Full battle uniforms, fake gun noises and the occasional shouting ‘ALL HAIL THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND!’ are optional.  

3) Get Inked

Fresh fish and lighthouses too ‘recreational’ for your tastes? Why not etch something permanently into your skin instead? The good people at Tattoo Zoo are more than happy to make this happen. Something about traveling and the ocean makes many, many people want to do this. Yeah, that list includes me, too. Apparently. 


4) Check out the World Class Vegetarian Food

Despite its copious amounts of tourist-centered diners, Victoria is surprisingly over-friendly when it comes to options for herbivores. I’ve already profiled a fish and chips place that was so good it convinced this vegetarian to go temporarily carnivorous, but there’s also the mouth-watering meat-free fare that made me forget how good the sea creatures tasted. Firstly, I had one incredible pizza at a place called The Joint on Wharf Street. I mean, this was an uncontrollably rabid-inducing experience that I had with the ‘vegetarian taco’ pizza I think I might have blacked out over. Then there are places like ReBar in Bastion Square with its homemade enchiladas or Lady Marmalade, which served us some unforgettable BBQ Tofu sandwiches. Whatever your preferences, Victoria offers great green cuisine that is second to none (if you look in the right places).

5) Take a Romantic Stroll in Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill Park is located conveniently due South of downtown (only a 10-15 min walk away) and attracts many different kinds of people year round. Compared to the innate trashiness of most urban parks in Canada, Beacon Hill is a stunningly tranquil homage to the perfect integration of nature and city. Close to the hustle and bustle of central Victoria, you’ll forget that you are surrounded by an entire city and instead become incased by wild blackberry bushes and fields of low growth plants beside lush deposits of Coastal Western Red Cedar Forests.

It’s also a great place to take a lady-friend. You might just get lucky and steal a kiss (or more….*wink wink) beneath a setting sun from the vantage point of the rocky cliffs which line the ocean shore. Ladies love that shit.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Lost and Found's Tips and Tricks for Re-Integration

Last week, I posted an article on the pangs of a little thing called reverse culture shock. It was a powerfully relevant topic for me (and still is) as I attempt to find my place in the big city of Toronto (my hometown) after spending four months in east Jesus nowhere. Of course, it isn’t my first time transporting myself back and forth across the country like some transient vagabond, and although reverse culture shock is a thing that happens no matter how many times you do this, I’ve built a nice toolbox of what are referred to as coping mechanisms to make it plenty easier.

This is me on a bus ride through hell.
This week, I’d like to share what I’ve learned from said experiences and talk about what exactly I do when faced with such daunting transitions. Consider this the solutions part of the subject, and hopefully I can generalize it enough to keep it accessible to the masses. Here are my six best Tips and Tricks for Re-integration:

1) Be prepared

It’s the goddamn Scout’s motto, for Christ’s sake. Any adult who was forced to wear a handkerchief tied to the collar of a starched grey uniform complete with the world’s most fashion-forward sash can recite these two imminently powerful words without giving a moment’s thought, because if there’s one awesome thing we learned from Scouts (and there were many), it’d be that if you can’t prepare yourself for the challenges of tomorrow, you’ll end up losing harder than those three South-Asian badminton teams who each wanted to suck on purpose so badly they ended up being kicked out of the Olympics. Also, that sentence was so incredibly run-on I am doing nothing to fix it. 

Scouts: The new Vogue?

The same theory used by Scouts applies here; start by realistically envisioning what coming home will be like. What challenges will you face? Who can you rely on for support? What resources will you have directly at hand?  Start doing this well before departure. The earlier, the better; you’ll find that mentally preparing yourself for coming home will lead to even more constructive solutions (see below).

2) Find the Familiar

It’s easy to get lost in places that are confusing and different. This may be the case after returning to your home-city/town/place after travelling for a bit. What may be the difference between ‘keeping it together’ and ‘total insanity’ is your ability to latch onto things that remind you of your incredible experience while you were away. Finding these connections may be difficult, but they will provide you with happy thoughts if you do it correctly. Some suggestions: get involved in a community-based organization that is affiliated with where you went or host your own seminar/presentation on the most important aspects of your experience. If people around you can better understand what you are missing, they can in turn better support you while you try to get back into the swing of things at home.

3) Surround Yourself with Good People

Pictured: Someone NOT to be friends with
Further to what I just stated above, none of this will work unless you are friends with the right people. Douchebags aren’t included in this list. This might mean that some people who were your friends before you left have to be ‘cut from the team’, but in the long term you are actually just making it easier on yourself by staying connected to those who really know you, or who are at least interested in getting to know the you that has just spent hella-long times in a very faraway place.

Your support system is only as strong as you make it, and it’s time to enact some important executive decisions. Hold your ground, Little Foot, and you’ll grow into a strong dinosaur. 

Kids who were born after '98 totally won't get that reference.

4) Use Your Humor

They say ‘a smile means the same in every language’, except Braille. Maybe I made that last part up, but if fully blind people can’t read this anyway, does that make it offensive?

If a tree falls in the woods.......?

Also, don't be friends with those that do the 'duck face'.
My humor could be described as often borderline distasteful, but without it I’d be in trouble. Humor is an amazing tool when it comes to staying mentally stable, especially in times of intense change. Learn how to make yourself laugh and you’ll know a great way to instantly flip your mood; find a way to laugh at yourself and it works even better. Self-deprecation helps you to understand that the things you may be getting upset over are actually quite arbitrary. From this you will realize that much of what is bothering you as you attempt to re-integrate is actually not worth ruminating over in the first place. See how it works? The collateral effects of using your humor (especially on yourself) are wonderful, so turn that frown upside down, or at least semi-circle duck-faced sausage-like, then go look in the mirror and complete the process.

5) Keep Busy!

In the wise words of my Grandma: “busy hands are happy hands”. It’s as if she’s Yoda.....As in ‘YO DA BEST, GRANDMA!’

Part of your ‘being prepared’ phase should include organizing activities for yourself to partake in when you get back. This will allow you to stay occupied and (hopefully) become actively connected to your community. Much of what causes reverse culture shock manifests itself when you are idle for a long period of time. Keeping a regular schedule and consistency in your plans can and will mitigate the more serious side effects.

6) Tell Your Story

Ahhhhh sheeeit, it's story time bitches!
Remember story time, that magical hour in grade school when your teacher would wisp you away to mystical lands and epic journeys complete with plot lines probably written by authors who were on a serious lifelong acid trip? Sure you do, because it was the most awesome part of school. We happen to be highly-evolved creatures with an immense capacity for imagination and narrative creativity. But telling a story is an art, which means you can suck at it pretty badly at it if you don’t know how to incorporate a bit of creativity.

Chances are that reciting your travel log verbatim to your friends and family won’t quite capture an audience of interested followers (trust me on this), and you’re going to have to find a way to tell your story without making the recipients want to dunk their heads into a bath of poison. The best part is that once you find that perfect balance of storytelling meets entertainment, you’ve got a reasonable outlet to share those experiences to people who actually want to hear them. Congratulations! You’ve achieved rockstar re-integrated status!

Monday, 3 September 2012

Reverse Culture Shock in Four Not-So-Easy Steps

You’ve probably heard of ‘culture shock’; the phenomena that happens when you are inundated with new things, usually accompanied by travelling to a new place, resulting in a complete shutdown of your senses. Change is good, but when your body is being relentlessly bombarded by smells, sights, sounds and physical feelings that are completely foreign to it, your brain will consequently be all like ‘fuck this shit, I’m out’. 

Kind of like this.
Anyone who has up and left home to experience a new place – perhaps a different country or town – will tell you that these big transitions take time, and exactly how hard it can be is directly related to the strength of your ability to adapt. Now think about doing the opposite: you’ve spent a considerable amount of time being submersed in a culture that is no longer new to you. After completely adopting the customs of this place you are eventually accepted into the community and have reached the point where what was once scary and new is now completely normal to you. Congratulations – you have officially integrated yourself, after all of that hard work and in a place that once terrified you to your core.

Now for something equally as shitty and twice as unexpected: going back home. Of course, you know this place like the back of your hand. Maybe you’ve grown up here; spent most of your life being a part of this place....It will be a breeze to get back into life back home, right?

Reverse culture shock begins here. Suddenly, things that were familiar to you after you left just aren’t the same. The people you were closest to now seem like strangers and everything you’ve learned while travelling doesn’t apply here. You’re stuck, and the fact that you actually have no idea what is going on again hits you smack in the face. Alas, the four not so easy stages of reverse culture shock have begun:


Your plane lands in your home city as you excitedly step off the platform after a long absence into a world once recognizable. Although you don’t feel panicked or isolated yet, you wear an invisible veil of happy-go-lucky peachy keen-ness. You are ready to accept your pedestal of awesomeness as you have become a world traveller and everyone will think that makes you instantly cool.

This is arguably the most annoying time for your friends. You will take any opportunity to tell a story about how the donkeys woke you up every morning, or how you visited a Buddhist Monk who helped you find inner peace, or whatever vacantly dull anecdote you absently think is relevant to the situation. Life is awesome for someone who has seen the world.


Just kidding, life sucks. Your honeymooning phase is over before it began, and you are quickly coming to the realization that what you considered to be your home has now turned into one of those borderline creepy clown houses at the fair where everyone is wearing badly-drawn face paint and the smell of Listerine and shame lingers in the air. You now understand that nobody wants to hear your travel stories, and instead of waiting around for your glorious return, everyone and everything has continued on without you. 

What’s worse is that while you were away, you became so wrapped up in the culture of your host community that you completely forgot how to live back home. You desperately try to find a way to apply what you’ve learned over the past months, but the attempts prove futile and you long for the familiarity of that other seemingly faraway place. Many people in this stage tend to cocoon themselves in a fortress of anger or resentment; others struggle with issues of anxiety or depression. Storming is the hardest stage in reverse culture shock.


Although it may have been hard to grasp during the process, the storming phase does not last forever, although its longevity is different for everyone and relates to how well you can use (or not use) your resources. You begin norming when the intense feelings associated with storming begin to fade and you find ways to cope with the transition of being home. 

Above: reasons NOT to come home
 A big part of norming is discovering a space where you feel comfortable and accepted. Just like you needed to be part of a community while away, you now need to relocate yourself into somewhere that makes sense and offers you the right kind of support. Oftentimes, our social circles will completely change over the course of leaving home for a prolonged period of time and returning again, and this is probably because you have also changed significantly. What’s cool about this stage is that you can actually begin to somewhat measure the impact of travelling, often with very positive results.


Performing is the ultimate result of reverse culture shock, and thank god it’s awesome because the rest of it sucked ass. You may not reach this part until over a year after your return, so don’t expect to blow through the first three immediately upon arrivial. The good news: no matter what happened, you are better and stronger for it. Experiencing reverse culture shock is an intense learning curve, and one that you won’t ever forget. It will help you the next time you travel and mitigate its effects.

....And some things will never change.
While the prevalence of reverse culture shock never quite fades (no matter how many times you travel), the more you experience it, the more you develop coping strategies that will ease you through it. When you perform, you can look back and find the positives of each challenge, for you are now comfortable and content because you have made the necessity changes that keep you stable. You have found a reasonable outlet to discuss your experiences, having a conversation about it rather than a lecture. Things sure look different from how it was before you left, but in a way that tells you you’re always changing.

Reverse culture shock effects everyone differently and has different timelines because of it. Some people may experience the same step twice, skip a step or relapse back into a bad habit. The trick is finding the right tools to help you though, something I’ll exemplify in my next post.

Thanks for reading and, as always,

Safe Travels,

Aaron Turpin