There’s No Place Like Home

This Sunday, I’ll have been home for three weeks. How did the time go so fast? Again, it feels like I just got home, but then again, it feels like I never actually left home. Maybe that’s because I was sick for much of the time I’ve been home… 

Three weeks ago today, I started to get some weird pains in my gut. I remember laying in bed, thinking that my stomach felt really funny. The next day, my last full day in Asia, I felt yucky. I had some stabbing pains in my belly, but otherwise I wasn’t too bad. I just figured something I ate didn’t agree with me. It definitely wasn’t the first time on the trip that one of us had some stomach issues… (There were two of the five that lucked out and had zero stomach issues at all! Overall, I think we actually did really well as a group for avoiding stomach issues.)

Sunday morning came early with a 5 a.m. pick up to cross over to Singapore for the long day of travel back. My stomach was still paining, but I figured it was anxiety over the long flights home. Many times on the six hour flight from Singapore to Beijing, I was sitting as close as possible to a fetal position to try to alleviate some of the stabbing pains. I wasn’t feeling too bad, other than the pain that came and went. But, since I could eat and drink with no real issue, I just chose to ignore the pain, telling myself that I just had to make it to Toronto… I did not want to be left behind in Asia to deal with any medical problems, even if I did have travel insurance. I just wanted to be in Canada. So, as long as I was able to move forward and not cause any commotion, I was fine! 

I made it through that flight. I ate my ice-cream bar served with whatever meal they gave us, and the veggies. I tried to drink any liquid they were offering each time the flight attendants came through. (As an aside, I love Changi airport in Singapore, but I don’t like the way they have security right before your gate. This means you can’t bring water onto the plane, and you can’t use the washrooms after security. Really not great for long flights.) 

Everything went smoothly in Beijing. We had a short layover. They have body temperature sensors that you walk through in the customs area, and I didn’t set it off, so no fever. Score! If I had, I assume I’d have to be screened and they’d tell me if I could fly or not. Once I got through that area, I was relieved as I had just one 12 hour flight left to Canada!

I wanted to buy a bottle of water to take on the flight to Toronto, but we were tight on time, and I had only Singapore, Thai, Malaysian, and Canadian money. And I had no clue what the exchange was, so I passed on the 28 yuan bottle of water. (I now know it was about $5 in Canadian…)

The flight from Beijing to Toronto was pretty uneventful. I watched some movies, ate some food, drank whenever it was offered (including one glass of wine), and continued to have painful stomach cramps every so often. But, other than the cramps, I still felt ok. After 12 hours, we approached Toronto to land. I was in the aisle seat, but I could see the CN Tower  and I breathed a sign of relief. Now, whatever happened, at least I was in Canada! I wouldn’t be stuck alone, sick, in Asia. 

My body knew I was back in Canada as well. In the interest of not over sharing, I’ll just say that the stomach cramps continued once I hit Canadian soil, and other symptoms started as well. But, after a short flight to Halifax, I was back in my own house Sunday night, and I knew all would be ok. 

I wish that was the end of my stomach issues, but instead, it has been a long three weeks of trying to figure out what’s going on in my guts. The stabbing pains continued, and the Tuesday night after I got home, I went to a walk in clinic. The doctor assumed I had picked up a bacterial infection and prescribed antibiotics. The stabbing pains have NOT been back since I took that first dose of antibiotics. When I finished the round of pills, I thought I was better, just tired from jet lag. I had a glass of wine on the Friday night, and went out for coffee, brunch, etc. that Saturday. Saturday night, I started feeling bad again, with a whole new set of symptoms. 

At this point, I was really thankful for Canadian health care. On a Sunday morning, I could call 811 from the privacy of my own kitchen and speak with a nurse. I did that, and she advised me not to worry, but to get to my doctor within 24 hours, just in case. That night, I felt the worst I had in years. I woke up at 2 a.m. and pondered going to the ER. But, I went back to sleep instead, and feeling better in the morning, made an appointment to see my family doctor that afternoon. 

My doctor sent me for tests, and advised that he’d let me know when he got the results in a few days. It’s now been 10 days since my tests were dropped off at the lab. I still don’t have results. I’ve called his office three times. Last Friday, he’d left early and they could tell me nothing. Wednesday, his staff said they didn’t have my results and that they were (1) lost, (2) not back from the lab yet, or (3) sitting in his office, not read yet. She said she’d check with him and (I assumed) get back to me. I called again this morning, and was told that my doctor had his staff pull my file and he was going to call me today. It’s now five hours later, and I’m still waiting to hear. 

While I was waiting for my test results in the last 10 days, I have done lots of internet searches to see what else I could do in the meantime. I have followed great advice from a dietitian friend of adding in probiotics, which I think is why I am actually feeling better.

I’ve been feeling pretty good now since Sunday. I’m still tired, and my body is still acting differently than before I went to Asia. But, internet research and speaking to others who have traveled has shown me that sometimes people have new food sensitivities after traveling. So for now, that’s what I am working on figuring out. My next step (providing my doctor confirms that my test results are negative) will be to see a naturopath to try to figure out how to best go forward. Until then, I will be cutting out (or limiting) all the good stuff – dairy, alcohol, caffeine. Luckily, there are lots of things to eat and drink, even if I can’t have my favorites of coffee, cheese, and wine. 


Almost Done, Both Mentally and Physically

We have only four days left in Asia. That makes me both excited and sad. It has been an amazing experience, full of both highs and lows, and so many new and great things!

But we are all getting tired. Very tired. And when people are tired, things are much more likely to makes us cranky. We are starting to lose patience with each other and the schedule. However, in the same moment, we are trying to fit in as much as we can before we leave!

I think that three weeks is the amount of time I can handle, as this last week is when my head is more focused on what I’m looking forward to at home again, not as much about what I’m doing here.

FYI-the thing I’m most looking forward to is the bathrooms! Here, in public bathrooms, the floors are often soaked. There is rarely toilet paper, and even more rarely hand soap. Kleenex packets and hand sanitizers are essential purse contents! However, I am getting used to the ways here, and even chose a squatter toilet today over a western one!

Four more days until this trip is done. How did it go so fast? Here are a few of my favorite moments from the past few days.


An orangutan in the wild


A rainbow after a huge downpour


Some of the cats of Kuching


Cycling in a dress

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The Lone Introvert

The longer we are away, the more introverted i am becoming. I’m tired, and after a long day of site seeing and functions, I just don’t have much left in me for the evenings. Lately, the evenings have been dinners and fellowship – i.e. a party.

As an introvert, I get energy from being alone. I find crowds draining, and struggle to make conversation. At home, it isn’t so bad as I usually know people, and can find a nice, quiet corner to chat with someone. I’m good with small groups, just not large ones.

The last week or so, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed at the dinners. We switch towns every few days, so it is always a struggle for me to keep making new acquaintances.

My teammates are all extroverts, and get their energy from being around people. So they are all doing well, entertaining our new hosts, dancing, singing, being the centre of attention. I’m struggling in the corner, trying not to look like a wallflower, but essentially, that’s what I am. I would love to have a place to hide for a while every evening, but the fellowship is as much a part of this exchange as anything else.

I wish I could just turn on the gift of gab, or the ability to be more outgoing, but it just isn’t there. I’d been hoping to develop this more on the trip, but it isn’t working. I’m starting to feel like the only introvert in Asia! I’ve discovered some tricks that help me out at home, but I haven’t been able to use them here.

In order for me to feel more comfortable in a group, I like to have someone I’m comfortable with as my buddy. If I have one person I know with me, I don’t find the crowd overwhelming, I also like to sit in the middle of the table so I can be in the middle of the conversation. If I’m off to the side, as a quieter person, I’m not involved in it. If I had my choice, I’d always be able to sit with at least one of my teammates so I would be more comfortable.

While we have been on the trip, people keep insist on splitting us up for the benefit of ‘more fellowship’. While I get the intention, it makes it much more difficult and overwhelming. I can’t choose who I sit with. The loud, bubbly people tend to want to sit with each other. I cant blame them as that’s who I want to sit with as well! But, that usually means I am at a table with people who end up talking to each other, often in their native language.

This has been one of the most difficult parts of the trip for me. I love the daytime stuff and chatting with people one on one with no pressure. But the loud evenings are this introvert’s least favorite part of the trip.

Any other introverts out there? Any advice for how to make these events easier?

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Driving Differences

I’ve been in Malaysia for over a week now, and am on my third town with two more towns to go. I’ve been noticing quite a few differences between here and home.

Speed limits and no passing zones seem to be a suggestion. Passing in a double line (even on a turn) and doing up to 150 kph is the norm. Motorcycles here can whip around traffic however they like. When I tried to find my seatbelt, I was told I didn’t need it. This is so different from Canada! I’m not sure what the actual laws are here. Maybe this is all allowed, or maybe people just don’t follow the rules of the road. It would be interesting to look into the different stats on accidents here and at home. So far, we haven’t seen any accidents (though were nearly in one in Singapore due to a host getting too into his story and not watching the road).

As the towns get smaller and our activities revolve more around dinners, it seems that drinking and driving is common. The locals drink more than people would in Canada when driving, and not think twice about getting behind the wheel. When we brought it up, they told us that they all drink and drive and that it is OK. This made us all very uneasy as these were our hosts, and our only way home. I do not condone drinking and driving, and coming from a country where it is not acceptable, it was really difficult.

This is still making us uneasy as we still have a few towns left, and we don’t know what their mindset will be on drinking and driving. But it has all made me think – what should you do in a foreign country when you are staying with host families? Do you go along with their norms, even though they are outside of your comfort level and could possibly endanger your life? If not, how would you address this? I’ve been thinking about this a lot in the last few days, and I don’t know what the answer is. I’m hoping that the speeding and drinking and driving will not be an issue in any more of the towns. I guess time will tell.

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Remembering Gratitude

I haven’t had an internet connection this week, so some of these posts may come all at once whenever I do manage to get a connection.

We are now almost three weeks into our trip, and it seems a few of us, me included, have reached our breaking point. We have been moving from town to town every few days, with only our only constant being our teammates. The English is becoming less and less, and the drain of being away from home, friends, family, and familiarity is growing.

I hit my breaking point this week. Tired of being at dinners and in cars with people who are speaking to each other in a language I don’t understand, laughing and carrying on while I sit there, pretending to be content to just be there… There is only so long I can put in a fake smile before I just don’t want to play along. It is hot here, we are tired and we just want some time to ourselves where we can be cranky, we can vent, and can just be.

We got that break this week. In the last town, our hosts put us up at a private house, and we had time to be cranky at night, not needing to put on a show for anyone. Well, it seems that didn’t help anything! Once I gave in to the crankiness, I couldn’t get rid of it! Until this week, I was able to just appreciate the opportunity I was given, and ignore the stresses.

Our hosts arranged an overnight stay for us at a fishing village in the middle of the sea. The five of us were taken by boat and left there for 24 hours. We weren’t sure what to do with our time, so we vented to each other. None of our hosts were there to risk overhearing us being whiny brats.


This was our home for 24 hours

One of my teammates who had had a harder time the first few weeks adapting to the tight schedule was the one who fared the best at our little getaway on the sea. He was able to find peace, and was able to help me to get back to bring appreciative. The day before we went to the fishing village, we had gone to Tioman Island and he had told us to just take in the moment. That’s what I kept reminding myself of when I hit my breaking point. That’s what I keep reminding myself of now.

I had a moment of realization yesterday, in a car with no air conditioning, in 30 something heat, after waiting in the heat for an hour for a ride back to town. I was tired, needed a shower, bored, and was annoyed that the car didn’t have AC. Then I looked in the rearview mirror, saw the driver’s eyes, and could see the kindness in them. Then I remembered that this man, a stranger, had taken us to a one of a kind experience, and was now taking an hour out of his day to drive us back to our home stay. And I was annoyed that I was still warm. All of a sudden, I really did feel like a spoiled brat, unappreciative of all that was being done for me by very nice people in a beautiful country. When the stresses of travel start to get to me again, that is the moment I am going to remember. That will help me to get back to reality and appreciate the amazing opportunity I’ve been given with this trip.

In case any of you are wondering what types of things I am reminding myself to be thankful for, here are just a few pictures of the last few days.


The sun rising on our way to Tioman


The view from our overnight at Kelong Fishing Village in the sea


The setting sun on the ferry back to Mersing


The beach at Tioman

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If you follow me on twitter, Facebook, or my other group blog, you’ll know that my time in Malaysia started out on the wrong foot. We landed safely in Kuala Lumpur, but my suitcase didn’t make the flight. Luckily, I had a backpack with one change of clothes for our presentation that night, but that was about it.

We all piled into the van for the 2 hour ride after keeping our driver waiting while I spoke the the lost luggage people. Its not easy to fill out paperwork in a country you’ve just landed in, when you are then heading to a stranger’s home in a town 2 hours away, without a phone number of your own to give out. But that’s what we did. We then arrived at our meeting place to meet up with our hosts and have lunch, but my host wasn’t there. I later found out he was in a meeting, and others knew this, but it hadn’t been communicated to me. I was starting to feel a little self pity. Anyway, my host came, drove me to his house, room me upstairs to my room and shut the door and said he’d be back to get me in 2 hours. He had another meeting to go to. This is when the pity party set in. I had no clothes, and was all by myself in a country I didn’t know, and felt stressed.

A few minutes later, things changed. My host called his eldest daughter who was at the house, and told her to take care of me. She knocked on my bedroom door and gave me all the stuff I needed to shower and clean up, showed me around my bathroom and set me up on the internet. (The bathrooms vary over here, some are like home and some are different – with showers that have separate heaters, etc…) She was so nice. I then felt silly for having such a pity party earlier.

I had a few more pity party moments that day when my host was at a meeting and someone else had to drive me home when is hadn’t met anyone else at the house and was stressed to go in alone, and when I tried to buy water and soap at the 7/11 but had no cash and they only take cash… But, in both instances, nice people, saved the day. The person driving me home bought my stuff for me at the store, and my host’s son was there to let me in that night. He was also very nice.

Malacca was my first real struggle with not being able to control my surroundings. And in every challenging instance, I was lucky to have nice people step in to help me out. After the first day, all was good, and I was comfortable in my surroundings. I had my suitcase back and was getting to understand the dynamics of the house I was straying in. The first night, I was thankful for being put in a tougher situation because it reminded me of how nice people are in general. While the family was much more distant than what I am used to in Canada, they were just as willing to help, once I learned to ask for help. I enjoyed getting to know them, and was a little sad to leave. 

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Comfort Zone, What’s That?

I’ve been neglecting this blog I’m favor of the other one I started as my group’s official blog for the trip. But since that one is the official blog, I am somewhat censoring my posts, not wanting to post on any of the personal stuff, or anything that might seem negative about the experience. Of course, we all know that there will be negative experiences along with all of the positive, but I don’t think the official blog is thenbpalce to put those thoughts as I don’t want the arrangers to read and think I’m not appreciative of every experience this trip brings, good and not as good. (I won’t say bad as nothing bad has happened, and I don’t expect it to.)

That being said, I feel that some of the other things I haven’t posted about are worth talking about… So, I’m glad I have two blog options!

We landed in Singapore last week after travelling for almost 30 hours, door to door. We were all pretty tired, but in good spirits. Our hosts picked us up at the airport and fed us some toast and cold drinks. Toast is so big over here! They have all sorts of toast restaurants at all the malls and food courts. And, just for the record, their kaya toast is pretty good. Its a coconut spread. Yum!

We had a pretty great week in Singapore, other than some minor issues with communication and being on time. Seemed someone was always late, but there isn’t much you can do when relying on hosts to get you places! My hosts were great, though. My host had done a similar exchange in 2009 and she understood way more about the process than I did. She was fantastic and took me door to door every time I had somewhere to be. And, since another’s host had some kind of conflict the first night, another teammate came and stayed at my host with me, so that took a lot of the stress off the first home stay for me!

We then went to Phuket, Thailand for the weekend for a conference. We lucked in to having a lot of downtime, which we all needed. The biggest “out of the comfort zone” for me in Phuket was when we had to present to the conference. There were about 300 delegates there (though we were the last spot of the day and it seemed quite a few left before we went on), and our videos don’t seem to work here, so we had to wing it and expand the presentation for about a half hour versus 10 minutes that we were prepared for. It was a little nerve wracking, but not nearly as bad as I expected! Now the smaller presentations seem so simple.

In Thailand, we were staying on Patong Beach, which is an area that was hit by the tsunami in 2004. I didn’t want to do much research until after I went since their were so many deaths, and that type of thing tends to bother me when I know the details… However, I would like to look into it further now that I’ve left.

I’m about 2 towns behind in my updates, but I will aim to spend a bit more time updating this blog instead of just the other.

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