Thursday, 24 January 2013

The great blizzard of 2013

My final day in Canada started out innocently enough with an early flight to Vancouver, where I would relax, make a connection in a couple of hours to Hong Kong, hang out in the HK airport, only for a few hours and then take my final leg to Singapore. This was a completely different route than I had taken almost one year ago, to the day. Last year was the milk run; Vancouver, Seattle, Seoul to Singapore with little time in between to relax or make a connection if the plane was delayed. The thought of running the 2 km boot camp sprint through the Seoul airport with no boarding pass, still strikes terror in my heart.

My flight wasn't too early, which is a change of pace for me. Often I find myself at the airport by 4:00 a.m., bleary-eyed and grumpy from lack of sleep. This flight was lovely; 9:20 a.m. granting me enough time to catch a ride and enjoy a leisurely breakfast with my parents. So much for my smug, best laid plans. According to the weather, an abundant amount of snow had fallen during the night and the Highway Hotline was reporting blowing snow, ice and whiteout conditions. This seemed impossible to me because it was clear and there was no extra snow on the ground at my parents' home.

Never pass these beasts!
After loading my ten ton suitcase into the car, my parents and I started our 60 km journey to the airport in the darkness. It is a 40 minute drive in good weather but when there is an impending blizzard, our timeframe was anyone's guess. It was lucky I allowed myself extra time to check in. While the drive wasn't bad yet, we still drove cautiously making sure not to pass anyone. The plows were out in full force, trying to clear the snow from the previous night. If you have ever come upon a snow plow on a darkened road, it is scary business.

I was explaining my drive to a friend when I reached Singapore. She is from South Africa and just can't imagine the intensity of an old-fashioned Canadian blizzard. There really are no words to describe the biting cold, the blinding vertigo, or the perceived terror of driving into a ditch with a semi truck bearing down on you while you pray catches a glimpse of your tail lights.

My first-class pods
My flights to Vancouver and Hong Kong were exceptional because thanks to "Mr. Frequent Flyer" Velez, I had a first-class ticket again. I took full advantage of the Executive lounges, the premier boarding and snapped my fingers to alert the attendants I was onboard so bring the Veuve Clicquot champagne and keep it flowing.

I arrived in Hong Kong quite fresh, considering the copious amount of bubbly, the 14 hour flight and the 14 hour time difference. Playing with the electronic buttons on the pods, and watching a plethora of movies will do that to you. It wasn't until I found wifi in the airport, opened my mail, that I saw the horrible storm that was raging in, not only Saskatchewan but making its way to Alberta. Even British Columbia was getting more snow than they had shoveled in years.

The Hong Kong airport
This is when panic kicked in. I quickly sent a message to my sister, asking her to make sure my parents were home safely. Luckily I have a night owl Sis and she was online to tell me that they arrived without a scratch. I wish I could say the same hundreds of others. According to reports, there were three fatalities, jackknifed semi drivers, hundreds of cars in the ditches and thousands of motorists stranded when a major portion of the highway was closed. There were abundant heroes who tried to dig out a man that was buried under a truck, but their attempts were sadly, in vain. This driver didn't make it, but that is Canadians for you. So many risked their lives in a blinding blizzard to try to rescue someone in need of help.

The blizzard didn't stop there. It came back with a vengeance in a couple of days, dropping about 15 cm of snow, to the already momentous amount that had accumulated. This amount might not seem like much, but you combine it with wicked winds and you are looking at snow drifts that can grow to be more than six feet tall on roads, sidewalks, highways and against people's doors.

A familiar site in Saskatchewan
It would seem I dodged an extraordinary bullet with my timing to leave Canada. The travel gods were for once, on my side, when most of the time, they take great pleasure in messing with my flights and mind. 

I have now been back in Singapore for a week, and it feels like I never left. I am back to sweating at every meal, having shiny-face syndrome, my hair has shrunk back to poodle dimensions and I can never wear enough deodorant. 

A brolly - rain or shine in Singy
I am still addicted to the weather, a fascination all that is inherently Canadian, but the closest I can find in Singapore is the impending rain, which on some days, it is announced as a Monsoon Day. I am not certain how you can qualify it as a Monsoon Day, because every day is a monsoon day. It just means you get wet, really, really wet.  Thankfully, it isn't freezing rain that makes your car skid into the ditch, it isn't blinding whiteout conditions, that cause your eyes to play tricks on what you are really seeing, and it isn't small mountains of snow to navigate through. It is just hot, sticky rain that lasts an hour and then the sun comes out with a vengeance, turning the city into a steaming, hot bowl of Sauna soup. 

Somewhere, someday, we will strike a balance between this sweltering heat and the bone-chilling cold. We are searching for the perfect climate and according to National Geographic, there are two places in the world that qualify; Kenya and Lake Chapala, Mexico. 

I am not up on my Swahili, but I can manage some Spanish on a good day.  Hmmm, Mexico! Why didn't I think of that?

Thursday, 17 January 2013

I wish I was homeward bound

It looks pretty, but brrrr....
You can't go home again, especially when it is -28C and you left +28C, but somehow I managed to live to tell.

The trek to Canada was easy once I got out of the Denver airport; just hop on a plane the size of a Tonka truck, slouch as you squeeze through the aisle because you are too tall and two hours later, land in snow-covered Regina.

The only snafu was the 45 minute wait on the runway in Saskatchewan because they have one ground crew, who seemed to be busy with another plane that landed earlier. Dear god, where have I landed? Oh yes, and of course, the snafu in Denver where five agents had difficulty finding my reservation and my spinning head and frothing mouth, telling them I had a confirmation, I was getting on the plane, even if that meant sitting on the pilot's lap and helping him land the aircraft.

I surprised them all
Only one person knew I was coming to Canada and that was my daughter. She was my partner in crime, telling white lies to everyone we spoke to for eight months. Both of us nearly spilled the beans so often but somehow we managed to keep mum on the plans to give my son, family and friends a huge surprise.  We made up so many stories that by the end, we couldn't keep straight what we told people. I managed to block FaceBook so my immediate family had no clue I had arrived; the beauty of technology.

When I finally got off the plane, I raced down the gangplank, knocking over moms with strollers and one man taking his sweet time with a white cane. I raced up to Immigration barely able to answer the questions about where I lived, where I had been and when I was I last in Canada. I couldn't concentrate on what she was saying, but when I tried to answer where I had been, I said, "Lady, you don't have enough time to hear my story. My kids are out there and I haven't laid eyes on them for over a year, just let me go.  No fags, no booze, just a bunch of cheap souvenir crap from Southeast Asia." Miraculously, she said, "Welcome home."

I was shaking when I found my funky pink luggage and wheeled it from the protected area.  I heard a scream that would shatter glass and was hit with a blond bombshell, yelling, "MOMMY." Luckily my daughter is petite or she would have sent me flying. She was hugging me, crying and getting mascara all over R2's huge coat that I wore; I barely saw my son who was shocked and grinning from ear to ear with his beautiful smile. Everyone at the luggage area was laughing and pointing at the tearful reunion of these three crazy people.

Our Road Warrior - Ed
We were fortunate to have the help of a wonderful friend and man I worked with. He had no clue what was going on, but had volunteered to help make this reunion happen even though we had told him fibs and fabrications to get him to the airport. He drove us 60 km to my parents’ home through blustery conditions to give my parents the shock of their lives. My children went in to greet their grandparents and I hid in the Jeep. Finally I emerged from the vehicle with my hood up.  When my dad turned around, I took off the hood and said, "Merry Christmas, dad." My father talks more than I do but for once in his life he was speechless. My mother saw me from inside the house and screamed my name. Yup, the plan worked as orchestrated.

The Great Mitten Swap Tradition
Christmas held the same traditions; the cabbage rolls, the games cheating, the great knitting swap of mittens made by my mom, and of course, the annual photo of overstuffed grandchildren who are now too big to make the pyramid pose. We Skyped R2 but he was knackered from a ten hour delay in Beijing so we only saw him for a moment. It was a great Christmas even though I only had a few gifts to give from the various countries due to weight restrictions on the planes. My daughter said "We don't need any presents mom, your being here was enough." We can all thank my thoughtful husband. He is generous to give me up almost every year since we have been married so I can see my family, while he spends Christmas in a cold, lonely airport, drinking stale coffee and eating greasy food at the nearest food kiosk. I pinkie swore to him that next year, it is all about him.

Seeing my dear friend CLW
I can't say I loved the frigid weather, I got a cold almost immediately, but I was pleased to spend quality time with friends, old and new. I saw people I hadn't seen in yonks, I met some new people that I hope remain friends for a lifetime, I chatted with people that follow my blog and asked when the travel book was coming. My Singapore people ask me that all of the time but they are friends and have to ask that question.  When it is a perfect stranger, it gives me the courage to contemplate the thought. I know there is a book somewhere, even if it is only for me, I believe I have it in me.

While Saskatchewan is my home, I know I don't belong here anymore. Every time I ventured to Regina to visit, I was smacked with a white-knuckled drive back. I drove through fog, mist, rain and white outs. I can't bare the cold and I now dress like a hippie, European in a multitude of layers. That look is wonderful for the girls in Spain but on me, it just adds to the "Singapore Fat Western Woman" look.

Goodbye GPA - tearful goodbye
Our time in Asia is on the countdown now because we are in Year Two. We are homeless people with no possessions with the exception of my bike, my ten foot palm tree and a bunch of hangers I will never give up. We are nomads up for the offering. The older I get, the more Mexico is beckoning us to return and live a simple life. For a fraction of what we pay in Singapore, we could live like Kings in Mexico and this thought truly appeals to me; no work and be the Princess I have always envisioned myself.  

GMAs are the best
Thank you to the friendly people of Moose Jaw who follow me, thank you to the lovely Japanese waitress I met in DK Sushi House who reminded me of home, thank you to McNally’s for a $28 round of drinks, instead of $200 in Singapore, thank you to my co-workers from Saskatchewan Highways and Infrastructure that made me emotional when so many of you showed to greet me, thank you to Rikki and Lucas who made Christmas extra special, being the amazing adults you have grown into and mostly, thank you to Herman and Gerry Segall who put up with my slovenly ways, my late nights, and giving me their brand new car to bomb around, when I can barely remember what side of the road you should drive.

Happy New Year Canada.

Friday, 11 January 2013

In the Land of the Tortillas

Breathtaking sunset over the Pacific
It took me a couple of days to unclench my fists, and loosen my jaw once we arrived in Ixtapa, Mexico for Christmas. I didn't realize how much I missed our "second home" until we arrived and were settled in for a couple of days. The first few days were spent trying to forget the constant noise, pushing and sweltering heat of Asia. I guarded my table in the restaurants like a hawk, thinking someone was going to come along and put a packet of tissues on the table to take it away from us, like they do at the Hawker stations in Singapore. Once I got past the screaming nightmares and had a few tequilas, everything on our return visit home, was under control.

Our tiny Mexican family
It has been 18 months since we were in Mexico, and we have been in, on, and around dozens of beaches since we left North America but there is nothing that spells rest and relaxation like the sand in Mexico; that is unless you go during Spring Break. Then that spells, bikinis, booze and ambulances hauling away pickled university students. We got lucky; our week was filled with family Christmas festivities, courteous staff and people that greeted you with Buenos Dias every time you met. In Singy, I could faint dead away in the MRT train and no one would lift a finger or bat an eye at my plight, except to push me off the seat so they could sit down.

Stuffing our faces again
Like me, R2 was homesick for his sister in Mexico. It had been too long since he saw her and his tiny family. His parents passed away so he is an orphan with only his sister's family to call his own. He has adopted my mom as his surrogate madre but with no VISA to Canada, and scared to death of the snow, he wanted to eat, drink and breathe Mexico for a week. What a week it was.  If R2 could gain weight, he would be a Sumo wrestler by now with all of the tortillas, sopes, quesadillas, chilaquiles and beans he shoved down his gullet. I told him he needed to slow his pace and that no one was going to take the corn tortillas away from him.  He was so excited to have authentic Mexican food that he forgot breathing was essential to eating. After every meal he would complain, "I can't believe I stuffed my face like that again. I need to stop," and yet each meal he would be ravenous, indulging in the familiar food from his childhood. I would just shake my head and make a bee-line for the papaya and mango.

One of the twenty crocodiles at Playa Linda
I have been to Mexico so many times, I have lost track but even so, I never grow bored or restless with the country. There is so much to see and do and this time was no exception. We wandered down to the crocodile swamp where there are vibrant flamingos and egrets among the prehistoric reptiles. It was Sunday so many locals hang out at the swamp because it is free to view. Even though we have been there dozens of times, we never tire of watching these slow moving beasts sneak up on the egrets for a morning snack. 

My goddaughter with baby and teeth
This time, we were shocked to see an elderly, dark skin man with daisy duke shorts, bleached blond hair and a wonky eye walking among the crocodiles. He was cleaning the banks from garbage and telling everyone that he is able to walk among the reptiles. At least that is what I think he said.  He might have said he was selling crocodile boots from the back of his car because my Spanish is still in the learning phase. I fear that one day, someone will happen upon this sanctuary and only find his hat and mess of blond hair. I have seen the crocodiles sneak up on an egret and make a quick meal out of it, and I don't think this 80-something year old man man is as agile as the bird.

He hauled out some tiny crocodiles for the locals to pet and take photos with, but we stayed far back. Even the babies had a mouth full of teeth that would do serious damage if they thought we looked sweet and juicy. Really people, it is not a puppy or a kitten. They are not adorable and fun to cuddle; it is a crocodile, no matter how small.

The rest of the week was filled with gyms, swimming, jelly fish stings, snorkelling and generally being a lazy sloth which is a good thing because once again, landing in the USA is pure hell and you need to be on top of your game to deal with Customs and Immigration.

We got off the plane in some nameless US city, to be ushered like steer to the Visitors line. It was similar to being in Disneyland, winding through the enormous queue. You were forced to listen to the propaganda welcoming us all to the United States of America, over and over. In fact, we listened to it for the 1.5 hours we stood in that line.  We watched as the Americans raced through their lines but us Mexicans stood, silently waiting for our opportunity to be abused when we finally got our turn with the official.

I can't believe I ate so much, again
Our Agent was named Lopez, but I guess he forgot his roots and manners when he spoke to us. As usual, R2 was treated badly, his passport scrutinized from all the stamps that decorate his pages and the usual question, "What are you doing with this Canadian woman?'  "She is my wife." And the sceptical eyebrow from the agent.  "How long you lived in Thailand and what is your business?" "We live in Singapore, huge difference, and he is a Computer Engineer." Can we go now!  I had to correct Sr. Lopez three times that we lived in Singapore and contained myself from punching him in the throat for his racist attitude toward R2. As a Canadian, I am treated decently, but if you are Latino, watch out and be prepared for the glove if you look the wrong way.

We barely made the gate to my next plane, where R2 and I parted company with only a few leaky tears from me. He flew to Chicago, where his Singapore reservation mysteriously disappeared, was rerouted through Beijing almost freezing to death with the ten hour layover. I went to Denver for an overnighter before I boarded a miniscule plane to Canada to surprise my family for Christmas.  

The things we do, just to get a decent Tortilla.