Friday, October 14, 2016

Taking the Fork in the Road

In my entire three years of writing this blog, this has got to be the most painful one to write. Because after starting this blog with my decision to uproot my life in Canada and move to Spain, and after having felt that I'd become immersed in Jaén and would be continuing to live there, I've actually decided to stay in Canada after all. The decision wasn't easy. It was something I'd thought about and agonized over for many months, and after a series of unfortunate events in Spain, it made sense to return to the comfort of home.

My last few months abroad were a bittersweet ending to a story. Most people who leave the auxiliaries (NALCA) program throw grandiose going-away parties, have a thousand tearful goodbyes with friends, and visit as many European cities as possible before returning home and saying goodbye to cheap airfares. That wasn't how I ended things. Many months ago I wrote that I'd been involved in a serious car accident. In the aftermath, I became a bit reclusive and did not develop as many friendships in Jaén, because I wasn't in that mindset. Of the few friendships that did blossom, almost all ended because they were auxiliaries who left once their contract ended. I stayed on and therefore spent the last several weeks in Jaén sadder and lonelier than I'd ever been in a long time.
My last night in bar Guzzi.
Of course, I visited friends in Madrid and Villacarrillo, to express how grateful I was for their support and kindness. For me, not knowing when I'll ever see them in person again is such a horrible feeling. It's hard on either side of the fence: when I left Canada, my friends here were sad to see me go. Now, it's my Spanish friends who are sad, as am I. Because of the auxiliary program, I ended up living in a pueblecito and a city "in the middle of nowhere", and met so many people with whom I had an amazing connection, despite me coming from a large, cold, Canadian city 8,000 km away.

If I'm to be honest, my re-entry into Canada has been a mixture of relief and horribleness. Relief to be with my "family", a.k.a. my closest friends, again. I missed them terribly when I was going through my difficulties overseas, and they have lovingly welcomed me (and my cat) back with open arms. The freedom to eat alone at a restaurant table if I want, not feeling like an alien walking on the streets, the career and lifestyle opportunities available to's fantastic being back home. Actually, one of the coolest things that happened was back when this journey started, I was afraid of leaving my old t.v. career and not being able to return to it. When I came back this summer, I managed to land the exact same job, but with a competing t.v. station. I'm receiving a higher salary and have a better work schedule to boot!
Work work work work work....
On the other hand, many times I still cry, missing my friends in Spain, the sun, the plazas, the quaint streets to walk in, the beautiful scenery of olive trees, speaking Spanish every day, laughing with my dear has been very hard for me, but I knew that my friends would help me out, which is why a return home made sense. I needed comfort, and it's here.

But coming home hasn't meant I've stopped traveling. I see Canada with new eyes. Now, I feel differently about my hometown, because I am different. Things have changed since I left, and it's been a riot seeking out new places to enjoy. In my city, I've been able to find a boatload of opportunities to practice Spanish as well. In fact, I'm studying in the Spanish translation program at the provincial university. My career goal? To work as a translator and interpreter to help those in need. Currently, I'm training to be a volunteer Spanish interpreter for the Red Cross.

Long term, I hope to take my new career skills on the road. When I moved to Spain, I got bit by a restless travel bug, and there's no vaccine for that! It's very possible I'll be moving again in a year or two. I can't help it, this world is too big not to explore. It's been an intense three years, and there's more years to go. May as well pursue all that is possible, so that when the end of the road comes, I can look back and say, "Yeah, I did that."

May the roads you take be just as satisfying.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Meet the People

Oh man, seriously has it been two whole weeks since I last posted? Well, I've been incredibly busy, thanks to my personality adjustment. Before Spain, I kept to myself in public, and didn't make too much effort to say hi to strangers. Since returning, starting conversations with strangers has led to fantastic opportunities.

First off, I was able to get multiple job offers within two weeks of arriving thanks to not just blindly sending my CV, but actually making a huge effort to meet hiring managers in person. Whereas in the past I would just email it in and hope for the best, now I ask for even a scant five minutes, just so they can put a face to a name.

I'm also connecting with locals, striking up conversations in coffee shops, elevators, on public transit... I laughed out loud when I came across an old diary entry shortly before moving to Spain three years ago, in which I was angry that people in my hometown seemed so cold and dour. It may have been me - my extroverted side blossomed while living abroad and has helped me connect multiple times.
I'm also very nicely settled in the ground-level suite of my friends' house, co-habitating nicely with their family, thanks to word of mouth. Just as I was resigned to living with strangers found on Craigslist, only a few days before leaving Spain I sent a message to a friend I hadn't talked to in years, and now I'm living comfortably in his house. Not only am I seeing locals in a different light, I'm also viewing friendships for the special quality that they have.

Friday, July 1, 2016

O Canada

Today is Canada's 149th birthday, but instead of celebrating, I'm actually going through reverse culture shock. It's similar to what I went through when I arrived in Villacarrillo. Whereas here I feel very comfortable being Asian, because I'm no different from the majority, I've become so used to Spanish customs that Canada is weirding me out right now.
Fought sadness on plane to Canada by drinking Spanish wine, and watching Zoolander Spanish.

Reverse culture shock makes me feel like this.
 Take the weather, for instance. 16 - 20 degrees Celsius. I AM COLD, because in Jaén right now it's between 35 - 45. At last week's Greek festival, my friends ran towards the shade while I kept walking amongst the stands, soaking up the sun. When we ducked into air conditioned bars, I was shivering. While at the festival, I noticed something amongst my friends when we accidentally got separated - it's almost as if people don't care where their friends are. I know we care about each other, but when we got split up, no one tried to search for the others nor call their phones. Everyone said, "Whatevs, we'll just see each other at the pub at 6 p.m.", and we did. In Jaén, my friends and I would've circled and circled until we all found each other. No soldier left behind.

This seemingly "I don't care" image extends to people in general in my gigantic city. I know people actually do care, it just ends at a certain point. While the intense staring I experienced in Jaén sometimes drove me crazy, I adopted this lookie-lou habit, in that when there is a situation I look and look, making sure everything ends okay. During one metro ride, at the opposite end of my car a man collapsed on the floor. While the paramedics were treating him, about half kept looking but the other half went back to their cell phones. I guess they assumed the paramedics had it covered, but while I may have acted this way before adopting habits from small-town Jaén, now it seems...cold. Now when I enter an elevator or board a bus, I want to say hi but sometimes people don't even look at me.

I have two massive pet peeves in terms of public transportation. 1) There are soooooo many mentally insane or drug-addicted people in my city. 2) I absolutely hate being able to understand people's idle chitchat. At least when it was in Spanish, it was an opportunity to practice. But here, everyday conversations seem so inane. 

You know what does bring me great joy? The diverse food choices here. Jaén has maybe one or two mediocre Chinese restaurants, and I know of only one incredibly expensive sushi joint. My hometown restaurants are extremely diverse, but eating or drinking outside of the house is SO EXPENSIVE here. No free tapas, and alcohol is taxed heavily. I begged the waiter for a little bowl of nuts to go with my beer and he didn't know what to make of my request.

The HUGE breakfast menus are so different from Jaén's 'Tostada y café'

I had an interesting experience while in my hotel near the Barajas airport in Madrid. When I arrived in September 2013, I never left my hotel to eat. I was too nervous to go out and speak in Spanish. This time, I searched for a bar crowded with people (a sure sign that you'll eat well). I was confidently able to order my 'pincho' and tinto con casera, ask questions about the food, and chat with the bartender. Two days in a row. It amazes me how much I've grown in the past three years.

Spicy Hot Pot. I gladly burped all the way home.
Now I'm home, where the selection is unbelievable....I have eaten Asian food EVERY DAY and I'm happy to report that I'm getting fat. :)  When I went to the local market to buy cereal, it took me like FIVE hours, there were so many brands to choose from. Expensive, too.
This mansion is NORMAL where I live. My god.
Since my arrival, I've been going through periods of sadness and fear, because I really miss the good times in Jaén. I'll be taking advantage as much as I can in seeing my friends, catching up, and celebrating what is good about Canada.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


My blog posting will be erratic for the next few weeks. It's that time of year again where auxiliaries are saying goodbye to friends, tears are shed, and people move on with their lives. Some will stay because they've fallen in love with small-town Jaén. Some have received new placements in bigger cities. Some will go home.
  The common denominator is that we came together and shared our tears, fears, and laughs. We created memories that we will look back upon fondly. Every experience we've had, good or bad, can't actually be classified as good or bad - they're just life experiences.
  I'll be heading to Canada soon, to say hello to friends and family, as it's been a long time. I've got a month to catch up with everyone. Once I've had a good rest, I'll post on here again and let readers know what's up.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Another Move

Number of times I've moved, starting with moving from Canada to Spain in 2013:  Four

Number of items for Move #1:  1 large suitcase, 1 backpack, 1 cat 
Number of items for Move #2:  1 cat, 6 boxes
Number of items for Move #3:  1 cat, 8 boxes
Number of items for Move #4:  1 cat, 12 boxes, 3 angry friends 

Yes, I've moved house again. The fiasco with my former roommate and his candles, amongst other things, didn't help my living situation. Luckily the move was only a short walk away. To compensate for my friends' hard work, I treated them all to Chinese takeout and fabulous sweet wine from Jerez de la Frontera.
  Now for the hard part: unpacking umpteen boxes. I would love to say that living in Andalucía and making less money than I did in Canada has taught me to make do with less and still enjoy life. The last part is true, but the former definitely is not, as evidenced by the guest room filled with stuff. I really don't understand where everything came from. Meanwhile, my new roommate has graciously moved aside his six items in the bathroom (can you tell he's male?), leaving me to figure out where to store an entire box of beauty products when there's only two small square shelves.
  The worst has been finding things that I haven't touched since I bought them years ago: a camera tripod, which I said I'd use to work on my photography hobby; an expensive acoustic guitar, a gift that is used more by visitors than by me; unfinished books; discarded makeup. The list is never-ending. Time to reach for that garbage bin and make space.

Friday, April 29, 2016

My Roomate Almost Killed My Cat

  You all remember how much I love my cat, right? So much that I paid a fortune to fly him over here with me. So it goes without saying that when I received a panicked call last week from my roommate, saying that my cat had escaped while the front door was open, I wasn't exactly pleased. But when he explained why he left the door open, I was pissed.
   Background info: my roommate likes to meditate. He had a small altar in his bedroom, a cardboard box covered with fabric. That morning, he lit a candle and read a book during his session. He then left the apartment without putting out the candle. Which was burning beside the book. And both were on top of the fabric-covered, cardboard altar.
  He came home hours later to find the apartment filled with smoke. He suddenly remembered the candle and ran into his bedroom, only to find smoking remains.
  Not only had the altar burnt down, he'd also charred a wooden desk, which luckily didn't burn. A piece of fabric that hung on the wall caught fire and burned, melting the plug of the air conditioner that sits near the ceiling. Luckily we're not in Canada, where there's carpet, whereas Spain has non-flammable, marble tile floors.
  When my roommate called, saying the cat had escaped because he'd left the door open to clear the smoke out, what had actually happened was that my cat became scared of the fire and smoke, and hid behind the television. My roommate found him several panic-filled minutes after calling me.
  I came home, furious, and checked on my anxious cat. Normally I'd forgive a mistake such as leaving a candle burning, but he obviously hadn't learned his lesson. Right before I arrived home, we had run into each other in the street, as he was throwing out the burned book. I went upstairs alone, only to find stick incense burning, which in itself is safe but not on top of paper and not near the sofa (!). I also saw that he'd left the gas on while boiling a pot on the stove. When he returned to the flat, I asked if he wouldn't mind putting the damn incense out. Needless to say, my cat got extra cuddling from me this whole week.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Why I Always Use a Seatbelt on The Bus

Taking the bus is extremely common in Spain. It's one of the cheapest forms of transportation for vacations, or when working in a pueblo while living in a bigger city. Sure, there's Blablacar, which I used to use when travelling but now I try to avoid it. I'll explain why, but first, a question: when you take the bus, do you buckle up?
  I ask because several days per week, I take the bus from Jaén to a pueblo 20 minutes down the highway. And I seem to be the only one who buckles up. For as long as I can remember, I've always done it. I recall two years ago that a woman boarded my bus and placed her toddler in the seat next to me and sat in the seat across the aisle. In Spanish, I asked the child, "Do you want your seatbelt?" to which she nodded no. Minutes into the trip, the bus braked suddenly, and the mom threw her arm across to try to hold her daughter in her seat, but several seconds too late. The braking was too sudden for anyone to react quickly enough. Only after that incident did she buckle up her child. The bus filled with the sounds of clicks, as other travellers did the same.
  Last Christmas, a seatbelt saved my life. I was in an extremely serious highway accident, in which the car I was in flipped several times across the road. During the flipping, the extremely large suitcases that were beside me in the backseat, with almost all of the items in the car, went flying out the windows. All of the glass was smashed, of course. When the car came to a stop, it was sitting on its roof and we were suspended upside-down by our seatbelts. Myself and the driver were extremely lucky; we crawled out with hardly any physical injuries. But our friend, who was sitting in front of me, died. Everytime I think about that night, I realize how lucky I was. 'What ifs' play across my mind, such as "What if I'd unclicked my belt, for just a second? For example, to remove my coat?" I recall times when I was young, removing my belt so I could crawl into the backseat and grab a snack or CDs, while speeding along the highway. So foolish.
  Having had healing and enough time, I'm now able to sit in the work carpool without feeling anxious during the 20-minute highway journey. I'm still cautious though, and haven't used Blablacar since the accident. A friend told me that years ago, the car he was in broke down, and when the Blablacar passengers asked the driver to call a tow truck, he said, "I don't have insurance." Although I pay more and spend more time taking the trains and buses, I prefer that to the risk of unskilled / uninsured drivers.
  I hope my story reminds people to use seatbelts, even when it's not the norm, such as on buses. It's a stupidly simple action, but it can change your life.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Reluctance of Going Back to School

Now that I've lived in Spain for many years, and have passed the C1 DELE, I see several options in my goal to obtain more translation work. I have applied to several companies, but many ask for proof of formal education or training. Besides the classes I took at the local university, and my DELE from Instituto Cervantes, I don't have much else at the moment. I wonder if I need to take formal training, in case my experience and exam marks aren't enough.

Some people go for a Masters. That's two years and thousands of euros out of my life. Besides not wanting to sacrifice so much of my life and money, there's also the fact that I never enjoyed going to school when I was younger. I'd look at the essay assignments that required a 200-word answer, and think to myself, "The answer's easy; it's either 'yes' or 'no'. Wtf." I really wish I had the drive and life stability to sacrifice that much time, but alas that's not the case.

I suppose I could try enchufe (using a personal connection to get a job). I'm sure if I really tried to meet people, eventually someone would think of me the next time a conference came up and they needed a translator. Or perhaps one of the hundreds of students that are obligated to write a summary of their thesis in English may remember the Canadian they met at the last party, and give me a ring.

Then there's online courses. This certainly could be an option, as it's much cheaper and a good way to spend my summer. But I wonder if they're considered valid in the eyes of future employers? Once I make a decision on what to do, I'll let you know. In the meantime, I'm keeping my eyes peeled.

Friday, April 1, 2016


I'm writing to say this will be one of the last posts I write in Spain. In a couple of months, my contract will be over, and I have decided to go back home.

I haven't enjoyed my time here lately. It's too hot, there's so much noise I can't stand it - whether at home or in the library, of all places. I hate the way people stare at me. After almost three years living here you'd think I'd get used to it, but nope - I still feel like an alien.

I've tried very hard to integrate myself, but no matter what I do, there's one thing that will never change - the way I look different from everyone else. And in Jaén, that's not a good thing.

But I would like to thank all of my friends that tried hard to make me feel welcome. You'll always have a friend in Canada, should you ever decide to visit. Thanks to you, I went to lots of great parties, and celebrated some important moments with you all. Muchísimas gracias, desde el fondo de mi corazon, y hasta luego.

P.S. In case you're not familiar with the North American calendar, today is April Fool's Day. The above post is completely untrue. I'm still loving my life here and I'm intending to stay!

Friday, February 26, 2016

I Passed!

Remember how down I felt after taking the DELE Spanish exam for C1 last year? Turns out it was all for naught. While studying Spanish (heh heh heh) in the library yesterday morning, I received an email with my results:
I was expecting to fail, so when I read the email I immediately wondered, "What the hell does 'APTO' mean?" (insert headsmack here) It means I passed. What did I do once I realized the good news? I grabbed the Spanish grammar and writing books on my table, threw them to the side, told my friends, and treated my roomate to lunch. My Spanish teacher was quite pleased to read my email.

What will I do with the time liberated from my study schedule? Look for translation work, plus get back into projects I had pushed aside for studying for the exam. I'd always dreamt of being fluent in another language. I knew I was, but now I have a piece of paper to prove it!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Chinese Restaurants of Jaén

Good lord, I miss good Asian restaurants. The ones from my Canadian hometown are pretty spectacular, and low-cost, too. We've got a lot of Asian immigrants so it's not hard to find a restaurant in pretty much every community.
I love you, Mongolian grill.

Jaén has a handful of Chinese restaurants, none of which match the quality of home but they'll do in a fix. I remember visiting the equivalent of "Uncle Willy's" in Úbeda, much to the horror of my Asian friends back home. Here in Jaén, I haven't visited any of the buffet-style mega-restaurants, which people here love due to the low cost (hence, bad quality, I presume) and unlimited amounts of food. I have, however, ordered at a few other restaurants:

1) Xin Xin Restaurante (Pl. Jaén por la Paz, 7):  Worst. Name. Ever. However, best Chinese restaurant in Jaén, in my opinion. You pay about E1 more for every menu item compared to the other places, but the quality and taste is the best here. Plenty of room in the restaurant, but delivery and pick-up is available, too.  Free WiFi. On the menu itself, there's Chinese and Thai food.

2) Gran Muralla (Plaza de la Estación, 31): Almost exactly the same as Dragón Rojo, the only difference being less oil.

3) Dragón Rojo (Dr. Eduardo Arroyo, 1): This one gets a shout-out because I live close, hence the delivery is fast. The food tends to contain a lot of oil.

4) Restaurante Chino Peking (C/ Cruz Roja Española, near the Plaza las Batallas): This was my go-to restaurant whenever I had to come to Jaén capital from the village, to process my TIE, as it's almost directly across from the extranjería office. During lunch hour the huge restaurant was always empty. The portions are large and the quality is pretty good. I always asked for their spicy-as-hell oil, to top my food.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Things I Never Tell My Students

During my career as a teacher, I've taught everyone from adults (up to retirement age) to children as young as four years old. Here are some things I always think but never say:

1) I love the hugs I get. Coming from a country where hugging a kid who's not family can practically get you jailed, it warms my heart when the little ones come and hug me when I enter the class. Warms it more than the Cadiz sun.

2) Flattery gets you nowhere. Whether it's a kid drawing me too many pictures, or an adolescent saying I'm guapa, saying nice things doesn't put you at the top of my list. When I'm teaching, I don't give a f*** how I look. I only care if you're behaving in class and doing the homework.

3) Don't tell me you don't have time to study. I've had C1 adult students with families, full-time jobs, dogs, and a house to clean. They passed. I may nod my head in fake sympathy as you wax poetic about how there's no English in Jaén, but if those C1 students can sacrifice and pass an English test, so can you.

4) Don't call me expecting a miracle. I don't understand why students wait all year until two weeks before their exam to call me, begging me for private lessons. Two weeks is not enough time to get your sh*t together and pass if you haven't been studying the entire year. (That said, I have given these lessons, and 99% of my students pass. Just sayin'.)

5) I have cried in the teachers' washroom. There's, like, no privacy at school. Once or twice I've had to lock myself in a stall and have a cry, just to de-stress.

6) Sometimes that smile of mine is fake. A good teacher must walk in cheery, in order to animate the students. There have been mornings where I've actually paused outside of a classroom, pasted on a smile even though I wasn't in the mood, and marched in.

Of course, those adorable little hugs turn my fake smile into a real one.
It doesn't get more Spanish than cute kids, Cervantes, & fútbol.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Away With the Shoulds

Something I've learned over time is that, for me, making lots of goals is counter-productive. When I was in Canada, I went along with the mentality of “Do lots; be productive”. That word productive, ironically, was counter-productive for me. I'd feel guilty if I didn't have plans for any given day, and I'd push myself to fill that space with something: go out with friends! If friends aren't available, go to a social club and meet people! Go to the gym! Find a class to join! Make money online! Instead of trusting my instincts to do whatever I felt like, I'd stress out and try to overcome my guilt over wanting to just be. If I wanted to stay home and do nothing, I'd feel guilty. If I wanted to spend hours reading a book, I'd feel guilty. If I wanted to bake a shitload of sweets, my jeans would feel guilty. Instead of listening to my short-term need to chill, I'd stress myself out with the guilt and push myself to do SOMETHING.

And in the end, what for? Out of the umpteen people I met at those social clubs, only one is still a friend. My closest friends are those whom I'd already forged relationships with, and they blossomed tranquilamente, with time. Plus, this former gym bunny is currently not going to a gym right now. Neither do I have extra money to join a class (actually, I do, but I prefer to spend it on travel and vermouth). And I still haven't finished reading that damn book.

The lesson I learned, which probably applies only for me, is that listening to my guilt and not my personal instinctual needs didn't help me enjoy the present. I was more concerned about how I appeared to others rather than how I felt at that moment. Right now I have a lot of time on my hands while I work through a personal situation. I've caught myself worrying about how to be productive, but then realized that right now I need to take care of myself: read, sleep, spend time with those closest to me, snuggle under warm blankets at home. There's a Canadian guilt inside of me wanting to get out there and start running on the track (metaphorically speaking), but I've had an injury and need to rest. I don't think a temporary absence of a month or so will hurt me. So fuck the Shoulds; I'm going to go with the Needs.