Friday, 31 December 2010

2010 Wrap-up

A friend recently asked me to describe the year 2010 in one sentence. I thought it would take a long time to come up with one simple sentence to sum up an entire year -- I mean, so much has happened. But when I brought it down to a personal testament, I was shocked to find out it didn't take long at all.

'Rather bipolar, and pushing the limits on opposite ends of a very tested spectrum.'

That's the sentence that came to mind with regards to 2010. I was surprised because this seemed rather deep coming from me. But I think those words perfectly sum up the year that's been. I've had moments of such joy and happiness that I wished they'd lasted forever. And on the other end, I've experienced tests of absolute loneliness and sadness that I'd go to bed in hopes I'd wake up with a smile. I know this sounds dramatic. But I also know that I'm not alone in experiencing these feelings.

2010 has been a roller coaster of a year for a lot of us. We've all entered new chapters in our lives -- new jobs, new loves, new schools, new additions to the family and in some instances, new lives in new countries. Chapters filled with so much excitement and adrenaline, they make your heart want to leap out of your chest with joy.

Then by the same token, 2010 has also been a year of losses -- we've mourned the loss of family members, friends and pets, jobs and businesses, homes, and so much more. There's been so much heartache and sadness stemming from events that have certainly been tests of faith.

I'll admit that by the looks of it, this may seem no different from any other year. But it is, and I'll tell you why. 2010 marked the 10-year anniversary of the new millennium. People came into the 21st century with high hopes and great expectations. A lot of us started off the year 2000 with a 10-year plan. And 2010 came as a reality check to many people.

Over the course of the past year, many of us found ourselves faced with that pivotal moment where we had to ask one simple question:

'Am I where I thought I'd be 10 years ago?'

And the truth of the matter is that some of us are, and most of us aren't.

I mean, life changes on a dime. In most cases we go to bed believing one thing, and wake up the next morning to an entirely different set of truths. Imagine all that can change over the course of a decade. Imagine the different paths and roadblocks we've encountered. Imagine all the moments where we we're faced with forks in our journey.

'Do I go down the beaten path or create my own tracks in the snow?'

2010 was a year for reality checks, I think. My little cousin claimed this was a great year for her -- not only did she graduate from high school, but she also left home and went away to university. She's filled with such excitement, and I adored the hope and stars in her eyes.

A friend is is looking forward to 2011 because she's finally finished 'educating' herself. 'I'm done studying,' she proclaimed. 'These past 10 years were spent in libraries, labs and classrooms. I'm glad this decade is done!'

Needless to say she has high hopes for the decade ahead, and I wish her the best in her endeavours.

As for me, well, I capped off the decade with a year abroad. I tested my limits and pushed the boundaries I'd created for myself. I felt I was able to meet parts of my soul that I'd keep suppressed for a long time. I was blessed with the gift of travel and met some amazing people along those journeys -- each who has left their own unique imprint on my grateful heart.

Moving back to Toronto was a test in and of itself. I've encountered more difficulties over the past few months than I ever imagined possible. I've been tried, tested, torn apart, and pieced back together. If I learned anything by coming back it's that no matter how far you run away from your problems, they'll sit patiently and anticipate your return. But I'm hanging in there. If I've got anything on my side, it's my stubbornness and resolve to make things work.

(Notice how this has been a bipolar kind of year yet?)

Someone once said, 'You can never really go back home.' And I guess they were right because going away and coming back has been a shock to the system.

But here's the thing -- Toronto never really was my home. I've spent years in this city just existing. And my year away made me realize just how much I enjoy living. And I'd like to make an attempt at living in this city.

Of course I don't think I'm anywhere close to satiating my love for travel. That's the one absolute joy I won't let anyone take away from me -- but everyone needs a place to call their own. Perhaps Toronto is it for me? I suppose it's worth finding out, right?

So here I am entering a new year. A new decade. A new chapter. (Because as much as we may debate it, a new year is like a fresh page. And when you're given a fresh page, you better find a unique way to leave your mark.)

Here's hoping my romance with Toronto soars in 2011.

And as for you, dear readers, I'd like to share some of Charlie Brown's pearls of wisdom for a happy new year. Take them as you will:

Peppermint Patty: It's been a great year, Chuck. You'll have to admit that. What you do think, Chuck, would be good rules for living in the new year?

Charlie Brown: Keep the ball low, don't leave your crayons in the sun, use dental floss every day, don't spill the shoe polish, always knock before entering, don't let the ants get in the sugar, never volunteer to be a program chairman, always get your first serve in, and feed your dog whenever he's hungry.

Peppermint Patty: Will those rules give me a better life, Chuck?

Charlie Brown: The better life, and a fat dog.


I wish we never run out of hope. I wish we always have reasons to laugh until we cry. I wish all of us peace, security, good health, and the kind of love that starts in our toes, sizzles up through our bodies, and pours out of our hearts.

I leave you with one of my favourite quotes and a simple pinch of inspiration to start the New Year right.

See you in 2011. Cheers!


Image courtesy of Google Images

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Top 5 posts of 2010

One of my greatest joys with Straight From The Curls is that it acts as a virtual diary to my life. Coming here and jotting down thoughts not only allows me to share my experiences with you, but it also gives me a chance to revisit these thoughts at a later date and time. For someone who tends to be rather introspective, this is quite helpful, and on many occasions it's been rather healing as well.

Since moving back to Toronto I've had a lot of time to sit back and read posts from the past year. I've had a chance to relive my exciting rendez-vous with Asia. More often than not, the posts always put a smile on my face, and I have moments where I think, "Yea, that really did happen!"

So in the spirit of celebration and reminiscing about the year that's been, here are my top 5 posts of 2010.

5. Gumption - I wrote this post in January 2010. Obviously lulling in a low moment and in search of inspiration. And I was just getting into Mad Men at this point, so I was quite fascinated with the women at the Sterling Cooper Draper Price ad agency, and with the way they carried themselves. I still am. We could all use a healthy dose of some good, old-fashioned gumption! I'm glad I was reminded of this.

4. The world in my shoebox - My best friends in Seoul came from all over the world. This post is a reflection of my relationship with all of them, and about how we came to be friends. I will always be grateful to Korea because my experiences there gave me a wonderful group of international friends who I know I'll always be able to count on.

3. Finding my smile in the Land of Smiles - Written after a two-week romance with Thailand. I fell in love with the country, and long to go back there someday. This post is a reflection of my experiences in the Land of Smiles, as we backpacked through a handful of cities. The trip was therapeutic and came at a very pivotal time in my life.

2. Beauty, V and Me - This was an eye-opening moment for me in Korea. I wrote this post out of frustration and shock, and with hopes that people would stumble across it and learn from my experiences. My middle school students taught me a lesson in beauty, and about which traits they considered beautiful in women. Needless to say, very few of them believed the old adage that 'beauty comes from within.' This post outlines my experiences with this shock -- how I learned about it, how I dealt with it, and how I hope it will change in the future.

1. Love always wins - This is my first choice for the top 5 posts of 2010. Those of you who've become familiar with Straight From The Curls will probably agree with me when I say I've got a strange relationship with the word 'love'. There's posts on here about good love, bad love, healthy love, and downright painful love. But this post was a bit of an epiphany for me. It documents a couple of conversations I had in Seoul about the topic -- one with my teenage student, and one with a bar owner in Seoul's western neighbourhood of Itaewon.

So there you have it -- my top 5 posts of 2010. I chose all of them from my experiences in Korea, because I was there until September of this year. Do you have a favourite post from the past year? If you do, please don't hesitate to share it with me. I'd love to hear about it.

Till next time, Cheers!


Monday, 27 December 2010

10 countries worth exploring

I was recently given a couple of books from Lonely Planet. The first one, 'The Traveller's Guide to Planet Earth,' is an amazing photographic journey through all the nooks, mountains and crannies that make up our awesome planet. It's based on a BBC series with the same title, and it's definitely a lesson in that our wonderful world consists of so many mysteries and places to marvel at, once we learn to look beyond the surface.

Overall, it's an awesome read, and if there's any travel fanatics out there, I highly recommend you add it to your collection.

The second book is what inspired this blog post. Lonely Planet's 'The Travel Book - A Journey Through Every Country In The World' covers 229 countries, with over 800 images. The book itself is something to marvel at -- it weighs about six lbs and is what I'd call an XXL size. But try not to let the overwhelming look scare you. The book is a feast for the eyes with amazing photographs and factoids from every country, and it's sure to sate any wanderlust's dreams of visiting and exploring faraway places. And even if traveling is not in your current budget, this book will allow you to discover our lovely planet from the luxury of your own living room.

After spending the weekend getting lost in the pages of this wonderful treat, I decided to choose 10 places that I'd personally like to explore. They're not necessarily countries you'd think of when considering a vacation, but I'd like to think of them as hidden gems worthy of a visit.


1. First on the list is Andorra. A beautiful little principality nestled between the borders of Spain and France, in the eastern Pyrenees mountains, Andorra is one of the few countries in the world that still treasures its old world feel. With cobblestone paths and sleepy villages, it's the perfect playground for explorers looking to stumble across hidden squares and quaint gardens.

Andorra, Europe

2. Next on the list is Guatemala. Natives to this lovely South American country speak almost 20 separate languages (that itself is quite fascinating). But if it isn't reason enough to visit Guatemala, then consider the beautiful blend of Mayan ruins and colonial houses that remain, to this day, immaculate and worthy of a visit.

Guatemala, South America

3. Montenegro emerged as an independent nation in 2006. Home to ancient Orthodox monasteries and Albanian mosques that co-exist in good company, Montenegro also has a scenery to be rivaled. Coasts stretching along the Adriatic Sea and Mountains covered in lavender make the perfect playgrounds for wanderers from all over the planet.

Montenegro, Europe

4. Nestled in the Atlantic and along the western coast of Africa lie the islands of Cape Verde. Easily one of the the most complex and fascinating archipelagos on this planet, Cape Verde is home to active volcanoes, beaches and deserts, which all exist together in a fascinating mix -- a perfect treat for any wanderer looking for adventure and relaxation. Did you know Cape Verde has the highest adult literacy rate of any West African country? Fascinating -- and beautiful!

Cape Verde, Africa

5. Rounding up number five on the list of 10 countries worth exploring is San Marino. Known to have the oldest constitution to date, San Marino is an independent republic nestled on all sides by Italy. A lot of tourists are drawn to this fascinating place to check out traces of the old San Marino Grand Prix, but there's so much more to discover in its historic landscape. I'd go just for the amazing views from the Castello della Guaita (pictured).

San Marino, Europe

6. Macau can easily be compared to Las Vegas, except that it's nestled comfortably in Asia. A hub of activity and not short of blaring neon lights, Macau is Asia's answer to a complex blend of luxury and post-colonial ambiance. And as one of the world's last Portuguese colonies, Macau only became part of China in 1999, and is one of the most densely populated places on the planet. A desire to bungee jump from the top of the Macau Tower already has me itching to book a ticket.

Macau, Asia

7. Who wouldn't want to visit a kingdom? And Polynesia's Kingdom of Tonga seems fascinating and inviting enough to drop everything and spend endless days exploring this southern Pacific gem. It is the only island nation within this region to have never been colonized, and it has a culture that sways to the relaxed pulse of an island beat, while still remaining quite progressive. Wanderlusts take note -- This kingdom consists of 176 islands, so Tonga may just be the answer to a picturesque escape from city life.

The Kingdom of Tonga, South Pacific

8. I would head over to Ghana for the simple fact that they produce one-fifth of the world's cocoa beans. And for self-proclaimed chocoholic, this would be paradise! But another great reason to explore Ghana (besides the awesome fact that you can do it all in English), is that it's a complex blend of old and new -- you can get lost in ancient castles one day, and go on an adventurous African safari the next. Not to mention the music from Ghana also carries a catchy beat and can become quite addictive.

Ghana, Africa

9 . The Falkland Islands, located off the coast of Argentina, may seem pretty isolated by the looks of it on the world map. However, I think visitors might be pleasantly surprised by all that's available to explore this stretch of islands. Many explorers have described the area as 'otherworldly' because of its fascinating wildlife and natural beauty. From amazing sights of shipwrecks, to Rockhopper penguins and black-browed albatross, the Faulkland Islands are a gift to nature-lovers everywhere.

Falkland Islands, South Atlantic

10. Rounding up this list of 10 countries worth exploring is Uzbekistan. Considered an essential stop on the Silk Road and a hub of activity for markets filled with silks, carpets and embroidery, Uzbekistan is also a gem for lovers of architecture. With towering structures (like Samarkand's Registan Square) and ancient mosques with intricate designs, it's no wonder this country is on every 'off the beaten path' explorer's radar.

Uzbekistan, Asia

So there you have it, folks -- 10 countries worth exploring. Thanks to 'The Travel Book -- A Journey Through Every Country In The World', my list of places to explore just grew tenfold... and now, so must my bank account.


Images courtesy of Google Images

Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, dear readers!

I made you a little Christmas card. Hope you like it.
Simply click the image to make it bigger, or to download it.


Image courtesy of Google Images

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Old and New Resolutions

Last year my friends and I decided not to make New Year's resolutions. Instead, we each wrote something we wanted to let go of on a small piece of paper, and at midnight (after a round of kisses and celebration), we went out into the streets of Seoul, Korea and burnt the papers.

I'd never done that before, nor had I thought of coming up with a resolution in such a way.

The dictionary defines a resolution as 'the act of resolving or determining upon an action or course of action, method, procedure, etc.' Resolving to do (or not do something).

In the past, my resolutions always involved something that was going to happen. I would resolve 'to lose weight'. I would resolve 'to drink less caffeine'. I would resolve 'to not stress about the small stuff'. I would resolve 'to be more happy.'

As you can imagine, a very small percentage of these resolutions actually lasted... or even made it past the first month. So this idea of switching gears and actually doing something that was almost passé in a way, seemed very appealing. Who doesn't like the idea of resolving to do something that's already been done?

Now that the year is almost over, I can tell you what I wrote on that little piece of paper that went up in smoke at the stroke of midnight, on January 1, 2010. It said,

'I am letting go of baggage that's become too heavy to carry around. I'm letting go of those that bring negativity in my life, and those that make me feel negative about myself. Enjoy 2009, because this is as far as you go on your journey with me.'

I can't express how therapeutic it felt when I lit that little paper and saw it go up in flames. If you're a visual person like me, you'll understand how powerful it felt knowing that moving forward, I'd have the freedom to walk past the negative stressors in my life -- ones that I'd initially welcomed with open arms.

The year started with a clean sweep. I had to go through a mental checklist of the people in my life who were taking more than they were giving, and using more than they were offered. I knew a lot of them had to go.

And they did, in one way or another. I started seeing less of certain people, edited my e-mail contact list, minimized my phone list and deleted a bunch of people from Facebook -- and the timing was great, because I used to get irritated at the thought of people who I didn't really have great relationships with in the past, having access to my world (parts of it, anyway), without having direct communication with me. (Why do people do that? Add you to Facebook, but never say a word? -- Automatic delete within a week at best.)

I won't say it's been easy. I've had numerous moments where I've failed at keeping my resolution. I've had moments of weakness where I've let the worst stressors get the best of me. (What can I say, I'm a victim to words -- use them with the right formula and in the right context and I'm a lost cause.)

But, as the year progressed, I had my necessary epiphanies and they too were gone. And it feels like I did the right thing. When someone (or many someones) bring out the worst in your character and make you feel more miserable than they bring you joy... then it's time to reevaluate their place in your life. I learned that valuable lesson this year.

In that respect, 2010 has been good. It's not been short of difficulties, but it's been good. I feel like I'm in a better place in my life than I've been in the past, and I'm grateful for the people who are still with me to share in this journey.

It's time to think of something I'll be leaving behind in 2010. This might take some thought, so I'll keep you posted on what comes up.

The goal is to lighten my baggage as I move forward through life. And, dear readers, I invite you to do the same. What do you need to let go of? And what steps should you take to ensure this happens?


Image courtesy of Google Images

Monday, 20 December 2010

In quotes and images

Straight From The Curls is now on Tumblr.

Consider it an extension of this blog. The goal is to enhance the posts you find on here simply via images and quotes.

So whether you're bored, or need to be reminded that life has a brighter side, or you're looking for inspiration... whatever your reasons, be sure to check out Straight From The Curls' Tumblr feed.


Image courtesy of Google Images

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Sunday Song

I've spent the past few Sundays being a homebody. I've baked, decorated, slept, ready books and spent some quality time with my family and friends. In the hustle and bustle of everything that's happened since moving back to Toronto, I never imagined that this would be the exact prescription needed to get through my severe case of reverse culture shock.

I've reconnected with friends... or rather, established a new degree of comfort with friends who know me the best. It's a great feeling, and in the spirit of the season, I am counting each of my blessings.

2010 has been quite the melange of a year, filled with travels, love, heartbreak, life lessons and about a gajillion reasons to smile. I'm grateful for the experiences that forced me to grow up, and thankful for the moments that were so precious, I wished they'd last forever.

Despite the pitiful state of the economy, I take comfort in knowing I've chosen the career track that's right for me, and I know (and hope) that someday, I too will get my turn in to bathe in sunlight.

I was going through the photos on my computer this afternoon and stumbled across a few that I'd forgotten about. The discoveries really made me smile and I wanted to share them with you.

This series of photos takes me from January 2010, right to my first month back in Toronto.

I took this photo before heading down to purchase my ticket to Thailand. I left on my two week trip a month later. This was the most snow Seoul had seen in over 70 years. I wasn't prepared for it, and as you can see, neither were the people who'd lived there their whole lives.

This is a photo of the floor in my favourite café in Seoul - Café Da Vinci. It's Robert Frost's poem 'The Road Not Taken'. I love this poem and it seeing it was a constant reminder of my journey through Korea, and about the changes that took place in my life.

This photo was taken during the second leg of my trip through Thailand. We took a boat trip around Ayutthaya, and I saw this boat... with a room for rent. I wish I'd seen what it looked like inside.

This pirate... erm, I mean waiter worked at Bora Bora restaurant on Kho Phi Phi. He was quite an interesting character. A waiter by day and a fire twirler by night. I imagine he's thinking 'arrrrgh' in this photo!

This photo exemplifies life on Kho Phi Phi - relaxation at its best. Cats slept like this all around the island. I later found out it's because of heat exhaustion. Who knew?!

About a month after I got back from Thailand, the weather changed dramatically, and the cherry blossoms came out. This is a view of the street I lived on. It was such a pretty sight, and I loved my walks. The blossoms only lasted for a couple of weeks.

This photo was taken in Hampyong, Korea, during the city's annual butterfly festival. I love how happy she is. The sun was out, and everyone at this festival just seemed to be having such a fabulous time. Quite the stretch from the atmosphere back in Seoul.

I can't remember if this photo was taken in Insadong, Seoul, or in Busan. Regardless, I loved the message and the fact that it was so prominently placed the shopping centre. Words to live by.

This is another photo taken in Hampyong. I guess the timing was perfect. I love the older kid's reaction. The little boy had a blown up baton, but the look the older kid's face would let you believe it was steel.

Finally, in Busan, during one of the last trips I took while in Korea. I love that the guy being buried is STILL on his cellphone, and isn't fazed that his friend is making his body into that of a woman's.... A well endowed woman, it seems.

September in Toronto... the seasons had changed. Summer flowers gave way to colourful autumn leaves, and I was back to experience it all. I believe I was a lot more optimistic about my life back then.

This was one of my favourite photos taken in the fall. This tree was in the woods by my house, and I had a lovely view of it from my balcony. It was great watching the leaves change, and then eventually fall, as the season gave way to winter.

And there you have it. 12 random photos that have brought me to where I am right now. 2010 has been quite the year. But to be honest, I'm ready to pack it up and put it on the shelf. Bring on 2011.


Sunday, 12 December 2010

Toronto is the unhappiest city in Canada

Yes, it's true.

According to a 2010 study conducted by the Canadian Centre for the Study of Living Standards (CSLS), Toronto is the unhappiest city in Canada. The happiest city is Sherbrooke, Quebec -- but not by much. According to the study, on a scale of 1 to 5, Toronto scored 4.15 and Sherbrooke scored 4.37. So in hindsight, it's not by a large margin, but it's still an interesting fact to explore.

An article in the Toronto star said there could be a number of factors influencing the figures that showed up in the study; but one of the main reasons is because Torontonians generally suffer from “less of a feeling of community because of the large concentration of population and trend towards skyscraper living.”

I kind of believe this. From my experience it seems that unless people live in the core of the city, it's quite difficult to feel part of a community.

A commenter over at Reddit responded to this study by saying it's harder to be happy in the suburbs, because priorities are different. If you're someone who likes going out and meeting new people and you live in the suburbs without constant access to a car, it can be quite easy to fall into a desperate case of the 'blahs'.

That said, it would be interesting to see the survey results sorted by suburb dwellers and urban dwellers.

Toronto is a city that's quite spread out, so it's difficult to just 'go out and do something' without planning well in advance. Especially because transportation options are so bad. I live on the subway line, but quite far east. And if I want to go out and enjoy myself, I feel more inclined to head downtown. But when I do decide to go downtown, I have to plan in advance and figure out what time I need to leave in order to catch the last subway home. It does make me quite upset, and I know a large number of Torontonians share this sentiment.

Another key point brought up in the Toronto Star article focused on Toronto's immigrant population and the state of employment (or the lack of it) in the city.

When people immigrate to Canada they tend to head to bigger cities like Vancouver and Toronto. The idea is that there will be greater opportunities to assimilate within 'multicultural' communities, and find employment. Sadly, this isn't always the case, and the culture-shock leads to greater unhappiness and stress within immigrant communities.

All that aside, I do enjoy living in Toronto. But the results from the study speak for themselves.

I'm not shocked to find out Toronto is the unhappiest city in Canada. It may be a mosaic of many different cultures and it does have a lot going for it, but in my opinion, Toronto definitely doesn't have a sense of community. There's a lot of comfort in smaller communities within the city, but as a whole, there's something missing.

Well, except every time the Leafs lose. Everyone commiserates together then.


Image courtesy of

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Fragments of December

Today has been quite the day. Seems as though the doom and gloom of this recession is finally setting in. I feel like it's seeping into my being, taking over thoughts and moods that were otherwise quite optimistic and upbeat. Who would have thunk it, right? But please bear with me.

Note: I'm also openly accepting thoughts of optimism and positivity. So if you've got anything Deepak Chopra-worthy in you, please send it my way!

First off, I received a lot of feedback from the previous post about my experiences with the TTC. This led to Brad Ross (Director of Communications at the TTC) contacting me via Twitter about the entire incident. I'm glad he messaged me, and his understanding with the whole mess was absolutely appreciated.

A recent conversation with my friend B revealed that she's hoping to move back to South Korea sometime in early 2011. The reason being that she's finding it difficult to secure a job in her hometown of York in the U.K. I absolutely understand how she's feeling (because it's pretty much the same situation in Canada), and I truly hope it works out for her. B is a wonderful person and she has a lovely wandering spirit, so I think traveling some more will be good for her soul. Cheers, dear friend!

I also woke up to some devastating news today that a childhood friend of mine passed away in a sudden car accident last night. It was such an awful feeling once the news sunk in. What's worse is that thanks to social media, he's still somehow present and active online. As in, his profiles are still active -- although on Facebook, it's now turned in to an online memorial of sorts. It's all rather bizarre... though, I suppose it's also a testament to our time. These are definitely strange and new feelings to process.

It really got me thinking about 'last moments'. We don't know what our last moments on this planet will entail, really. Freak accidents happen all the time, and all it takes are mere seconds for our entire universe -- every bit of foundation that we've built our entire lives upon -- to shift and crumble into the abyss.

May your soul rest in peace, dear friend.

Finally, I'm hoping something will give in 2011.

I'm currently taking this course titled, "Patience 101" at the School of Life, and it seems like there's a pop-quiz every day. Some days I do better, and some days result in epic failures.

I'd like to experience a win of some sorts in early 2011.

Yes, that would actually be quite lovely.


Tuesday, 7 December 2010

An open letter to the Toronto Transit Commission

Dear TTC,

After years of defending you to to my friends and family, I think I've finally reached my limit. I don't normally use this blog to promote rants and thoughts that I know will lead no where. But I really need to get these feelings off my chest.

For the longest time I figured it was pointless for me to vent and complain about you because a.) There isn't an alternative form of public transportation in Toronto (and I depend on you far too much to go cold turkey), and b.) I thought it was wrong to let my feelings toward the misgivings of a few employees dominate the entire system.

But here I am... annoyed as hell. In the past two weeks I've experienced two incidents that I could have easily done without. Two bad experiences with the TTC in two weeks is two too much!

Let me enlighten you.

Every morning I catch the same bus to work. And for the most part, it has the same driver every time. Instead of walking to the subway station, I wait at the bus shelter by my house -- this is the first stop once the bus leaves the station. Last week, while caught in a downpour, I ran to the bus shelter and waited for my ride. I saw the bus coming down the street and walked out into the rain, only to have the bus drive past me, and stop beyond the intersection. I ran up to the bus and knocked on the door, which the driver opened -- much to his annoyance.

"When the weather gets like this, you cannot be in the bus shelter," he said, with an annoyed look. "You should walk to the station and wait there."

Really? I didn't see a sign up that said I needed to do that. And besides, another bus that went down a different route stopped at that same stop and picked up four people who were waiting with me. I conveyed this information to the driver, who just glared at me and repeated himself, warning me that if he saw me do this the next time, he wouldn't stop.

Wow. I didn't think they were allowed to make up their own rules. If he had simply let me in with a nod, I would have been fine. If he had let me in and apologized for overshooting the stop, I would have been better than fine. But he didn't do either of those things. Instead, he made it seem like it was somehow my fault. What? Waiting at a designated bus stop in the pouring rain became a crime while I was out of the country for the past year? News to me.

I was steaming from this incident, but I let it pass, chalking it up to a possible bad day for the driver. We all have those from time to time, and I figured he'd be nicer the next time I saw him.

Today I had the misfortune of having the same bus driver again. This time I wasn't the victim of his verbal aggression, but rather, a friendly older lady. The incident took place about 20 minutes into the bus ride. He pulled up to one of the bus stops and let a young man on. In fact, it might have been one of those 'rolling stops' where the bus is still moving while people get on and off.

The young man asked the bus driver to wait for a few seconds, because an elderly lady (with a cane) was scrambling to get to the front of the bus. (Keep in mind, this was during the first snowfall in December).

Once she boarded the bus, she casually joked with the driver and said, "Oh, you almost got away from me." It was cute, and I could tell she was trying to make light of the whole situation. His response to her was rude and absolutely uncalled for, and it's one of the reasons I'm writing this blog post tonight.

The driver turned to the lady who was trying to take out her bus fare and curtly said, "Pay your fare and take a seat." That's it. He could see her struggling to find her money (or tickets), and continued being mean to her. It seemed as if those few seconds he had to wait for her were so inconveniencing, he couldn't hold back his wrath.

The lady reacted kindly and said, "If you don't mind, I'm rather unsteady right now, please give me a few seconds..." Again, his reaction? "I said take a seat!"

The lady eventually paid her fare and wobbled over to one of the poles and stood for her journey -- which, as it turned out, was two stops down the road, so she didn't want to sit.

I wish I was the kind of person who could have gone up to that driver and given him a piece of my mind. I wish I had the nerve and courage to tell him what I really thought of him. Instead, all I did was sit there and fume over everything that had led up to these feelings. And I cursed him out in my mind.

When I came back to Toronto in September, I had to adjust to paying three dollars to simply enter TTC property. In Seoul, three dollars would get me from point A to point B and back. Actually, less than three dollars.

I understand that while I was away, the TTC decided they needed to revamp their whole attitude towards their riders, and began this campaign to focus on 'customer service'. Really? If this is what you call customer service, then I can't help but laugh in your face.

Again, there's this huge part of me that's screaming -- I shouldn't judge the entire Commission based on the actions of a few disgruntled employees. But really, when I see this same disgruntled employee day after day, driving the same route day after day, meeting the same patrons day after day, treating the same riders like scum... day after day, I can't help but feel that same spite towards the entire organization.

I don't think saying 'get your act together' will solve anything. All I know is this -- when Torontonians say they hate the TTC, there's a reason for it. Fares keep increasing, while employees sit with their unionized jobs, treating riders with such disdain and spite. And for what? Because we get upset when you treat us like we're not worthy of a hello (in return) or a legitimate pick up from a designated bus stop?

Perhaps if you start following your own rules, then your riders will follow suit. Perhaps if you stop threatening to go on strike and taking the city hostage every time you don't get your own way, then your riders will respect you and your work more. We know we can't live without you, and you know we can't live without you. The only difference is, you make sure to remind us of this every time you want something done your way (the better way?!).

That's all I have to say on that. For now.


P.s. To further justify my irritation, I just moved back to Toronto from Seoul, Korea. With all the problems they're having on that peninsula, they sure have one thing right -- their transportation.

-You can take a train from Seoul to Busan (respectively, from the north of SK to the south) in under four hours.
-With the Korean won and Canadian dollar almost at par, it still only costs approximately 90 cents to get on a train or a bus.
-You can get wi-fi AND use your cell phone while riding the subway (which, mind you, is much further underground than in Toronto).
-Seoul has nine (NINE) subway lines. And they're building more, as I write this.

So... perhaps increasing fares and not having anything valid to show for it is a good enough reason for people to be steaming mad at you.

Image courtesy of Google Images

Friday, 3 December 2010

You will smile in the future

I was on the subway coming home earlier this week, and had a moment I'd like to share with you.

I'd had a really long and awful day, and was looking forward to coming home and crashing on the couch for the rest of the evening. The rush-hour crowd wasn't helping my nagging headache, as people pushed and crammed their way into the already over-packed subway cars. Everyone experiencing their own sense of urgency.

As usual I turned on my iPod for the long ride home. Listening to music allows me to escape from my surroundings, but it's also a pleasant (and sometimes not so pleasant) trigger for lovely memories that tend to take a backseat when I'm focused on present negatives.

Within minutes of turning the shuffle on my iPod I heard the familiar intro to Shakira's 2010 World Cup song, 'Waka Waka'... and within seconds, I was transported to a small sports pub in the heart of Seoul, Korea this past June.

One of my good friends from my year in Korea - C - was from South Africa. So when we realized the games would take place in her home country, we were determined to indulge in the opening ceremony festivities with the South African expat community in Seoul. Listening to the song on the subway ride in Toronto reminded me of this spectacular experience in Seoul.

I don't remember another time when I'd been in a room full of people who were just genuinely happy. It was such a colourful atmosphere -- the little sports pub in Seoul was filled with South African expats and their friends, and they were all in a mood to celebrate.

If love had a pulse... then it definitely existed in that small bar on opening night.

I remember dancing so much, without inhibitions and with so much gusto, it might as well have been a rain-dance of sorts. But that was the beauty of it, I suppose. I was surrounded by people who weren't judging my moves or the fact that I wasn't South African... they just wanted me to have as good a time as they were. And I did -- vuvuzelas and all.

I mean, there I was, moving to the beats of South Africa, with my friends from England, USA, and South Africa... in South Korea. I remember taking a moment during that experience and thinking about how badly I wanted to bottle up the feelings that surged through me that night. I was genuinely and blissfully happy.

And back in Toronto, as I rode the subway home while listening to the song over and over, the memories of that summer night came flooding back to me. And I couldn't help but smile. And it made me so happy to know that I'll always have such memories to get me through times that are difficult.

Do you have your own go-to experiences that are guaranteed to make you smile? What are they? I'd love to hear about them.

Check out FIFA, Football and Family for a backgrounder on my 2010 World Cup experience in Korea.


Image courtesy of Google Images
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