In 2015, as part of my "year of adventure", I travelled to South Korea. During my time there, I had to trek to the infamous border shared with the North; the most heavily fortified in the world. I took two tours – the public DMZ tour as well as a private tour of South Korean military bases led by a former General. It was one of the most fascinating, memorable experiences of my life. A moment spent witnessing modern history and a good lesson on the effects of war that hopefully don't escalate in the present day.
Because of recent escalations, I thought I would post a throwback that hopefully provides a bit of insight into what it's like to travel there. Links to my past writings and a gallery of images are below.
To view pictures of Korea, click here.
When I was twelve I said "goodbye" to Parc La Salle elementary school, where I had much developmental growth from kindergarten to grade six, and entered St. Norbert Collegiate. This institution incorporated the spectrum of learning from junior high all the way up to senior year of graduation. Twelve year olds to those legally permitted to drink. It was, of course, not an entirely academic education. As I've always been a very observant, intuitive person, I learned a lot about life early on.
The school bus stop was across the street from my house and in this transitionary year, I recall being early every morning and watching as my fellow older classmates would arrive disinterested, dishevelled and often late. It seemed school went from being a fun social hub to the bane of our kindred existence (it took me to the age of fourteen to get to this mindset). There was a former best friend, K, who went out of her way to ignore me. She was a few years older than I and we were playmates in our younger years, my Barbie collection being the envy of the neighbourhood after all. Right now though, I was a junior and she had her own tribe. Being friends with me would be akin to babysitting. Just one look at our sharply contrasted appearance – me with clean pressed tucked-in shirts and her modelling various Metallica tees cooly draped over torn jeans – was all the reason needed why it would never work.
There was another older girl, M, that befriended me though. She was new to the area and probably sensed that we could be losers together. I recall attending my first after-hours dance with her. I was so excited to have graduated from mimicking Janet Jackson's moves in my parent's basement to now getting to show them off to others. I ensured my outfit was perfect; a white body suit with red Guess jeans that I saved up multiple allowances to purchase. At this age – let me remind you that I was twelve – I was not interested in sexualizing myself. I didn't know how. I was simply desperate to be seen as "cool" to a group of peers and I knew that somehow involved designer jeans and the ability to sip Orange Crush like a mimosa. After dancing to the "Humpty Dance" (the lyrics of which I didn't understand), I was flattered and admittedly surprised when my new friend told me that a number of guys from her grade wanted to meet me. I very (very) shyly obliged foolishly thinking that they had heard about my high grade point average and were not simply mesmerized by the fact that my white bodysuit top had become see-through in the lighting of the dance hall and that my braless non-existent breasts were on full display. No, I learned that later. For that evening though, I was simply happy to be popular. Even K noticed the shift in high school hierarchy.
At the bus stop, I also remember observing young love. There was a boy, D, who lived the next Bay over. Outside of our morning commute, I only knew him as one of the dudes who would play street hockey in our shared backlane. He represented middle-class Canadiana right down to the hoser haircut. While his girlfriend didn't live anywhere near this particular bus stop, she would put forth the effort each morning to meet him there so that they could ride together. Her background was very different. She had come from a broken home and was weaving her way through the foster system. I knew of a number of these students. They seemed to emerge and then dissipate with little notice. I always imagined how difficult it would be to live such a transient existence during a period of life where stability is so precious. Despite this couple's differences though, they had found something. I remember how he looked at her, that deep gaze of appreciation and wonder that I always longed to feel myself because in adolescence, getting a boy to like you is profound. The pair formed a template (and expectation) for what I would desire as my teenage years evolved.
And so it was a bit shocking, at the time, when they broke up. I was never certain of the reasons. They were probably silly and it was probably dramatic but as they went their separate ways, I observed that D seemed depressed. His demeanour a bit more sullen. His eyes a little less full of radiance. I learned the end of love and its subsequent heartache would not be pleasant.
I never did see her in person again.
A few years later, her picture would be on every newspaper cover and featured on every newscast. She was murdered by an acquaintance she had met; her body discovered in a forested region of eastern Manitoba. I recognized her visage immediately. Her teenage features now frozen in time, an early lesson on the darkness and unjust nature of life.
My best friend likes to wake me up by sitting on my face. I gasp, choking for air, and this reaction causes him to move over and stare at me intently. Where words are not possible, he uses his big brown eyes to beg and plead. Shame on me that I love him so much, I let him get away with it even though it's 6:00am and I am on vacation desperately wanting to sleep in long enough to just wake up when Price is Right is on. Sigh.
I always thought any slumber-related demise for me would be an accidental overdose of sleeping pills but this has made me realize it may end up a result of involuntary manslaughter on his part.
He cute though.
There are so many great areas to unwind in or around Winnipeg that I don't totally mind the early morning wake-up call by a 20lb pooch desperate to explore all the new sights and smells outside. It gives me some much needed exercise (as well as an excuse to later indulge in an afternoon nap).
My absolute favourite place near Winnipeg is La Barriere, a 323 acre park a very short distance from my mother's house. Its forest trails hug the snaking La Salle River and I've always marvelled at how tranquil it is. I don't think I've ever seen more than three other vehicles parked when I've visited, although the assumption of solitude may be misleading at times. I, uhm, do have a story about ... er, stumbling upon two individuals ... erm ...
It's also a great place for birdwatching.
Another great spot to reconvene with nature is Assiniboine Forest/Assiniboine Park, which at 700 acres makes up one of the largest urban forest areas in North America. This was the first place I took the dogs while visiting my hometown. We explored for hours. And after Reggie dived into the pond (nearly dragging me with him), I ended up cleaning my new car for hours. His personality is vastly different than Monty's. Where Monty is a happy-go-lucky lapdog constantly trailing my shadow, Reggie is the most stubborn, indifferent canine I've ever known.
I'm so proud. I've taught him well.
I'm very partial to the south-end of the city, as that is where I was raised. St. Norbert is a historic, bilingual neighbourhood that lands just on the periphery of the city proper. Within walking distance of my mother's home is Trappiste Monastery Provincial Park wherein lies the burned architectural ruins of Trappiste Monastery founded in 1892. I remember skipping school as a teen and spending the afternoons here with my friends, watching the clouds pass by and dreaming about what our future selves would become. As an adult, I now walk the dogs there to ponder that exact same thing.
Manitoba's Interlake region is a geographic corridor between Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba in which a number of historic and scenic sights are located for tourist exploration. While on a recent visit to my home province, a good friend and I took advantage of the beautiful weather and embarked on a day trip to visit some of those hotspots. It started with a legendary hot dog and ended with an eerie, allegedly haunted church.
The Reason You Walk
Written by Wab Kinew
Being Canadian, I feel shame in how little knowledge I have about Indigenous culture. Yes, I received the mandated (edited) version of history in school but beyond that have not really delved deeper into the hardship that this community has faced as a result of colonialism. That changed a few years ago when I accepted a position at a post-secondary institute that has a strong commitment to Indigenous success. Through this role, I have had the privilege to hear many powerful stories on the subject which has given me the desire to listen more. This book adds another voice to those stories. It is an incredibly poignant memoir that shares the horrors of the residential school system and its after-effects; the transformative power of reconciliation; and what it's like to fight for Indigenous rights in the Idle No More age. I was incredibly moved by the final section ("Giiwekwaadizid"), as well as the inclusion of traditional language. Wab has the power to connect with an audience, which may bring him successfully to the political stage in the future.
Favourite line: "Reconciliation is realized when two people come together and understand that what they share unites them and that what is different about them needs to be respected."
The Canadaland Guide to Canada
Written by Jesse Brown
This book juxtaposes fact with irreverence becoming a completely hilarious "exposé" on what the great white north is really about. Author Jesse Brown is a journalist that runs the Canadaland website and podcast, and was formerly most well-known for his investigative work on breaking the Jian Ghomeshi case. In "The Canadaland Guide to Canada", he explores our history, culture, politics and everything in between prodding the reader to contemplate and question our reputation of being a polite, tolerant nation (for example, Canada's Indian Act was the inspiration for South Africa's apartheid policy). My current residence was suspiciously (perhaps thankfully) omitted from mention but my hometown of Winnipeg had several shout-outs. Highly recommended.
Favourite line: "...there is not one person in Manitoba you want to see naked."
Written by Emily Kydd
Rice has become one of the main staples of my diet. I love its nutritional value, ease of cooking and remarkable versatility. This book showcases over 70 easy-to-follow, illustrated recipes to switch the simple grain up from side dishes to mains to desserts and treats. I've already explored a number of them – all tasty – including this one pot jambalaya I made (pictured below). Excellent reference for someone just starting out (like moi) or for those looking to diversify usage of ingredients already found in the kitchen.
I like to visit my hometown, Winnipeg, during the summer. It is so lively and lush, the skies a never-ending palette of cotton candy hues while the warmth of the sun envelopes my skin in an embrace that seems apologetic for the always harsh winter. It is a time to visit and reminisce with family and friends but I also take time to be alone and get lost in my thoughts. I have secret places I go to hide, unwind and reflect. Secret places in which, for a few hours at least, I am the only person in the universe.
Despite the magic present in the air, this time of year is always one of the hardest for me. July 3 to July 13 are two bookends for an expanse of space which will permanently be incised on my ether. It was three years ago that I lost my father and best friend. It hasn't gotten easier. Not a day goes by in which I don't think of him and feel the ebb-and-flow of anger, sadness and resentment wash over me. But, of late, I've worried about forgetting. Or rather about missing some of the pieces, especially relating to his voice. Our voice can carry so much weight and is such a comforting, familiar sound when bridging distance. Whether booming or quivering (which was a rarity for him), I've been thinking of the heavy silence left in his absence and at times have caught myself trying to recall the specific tone or how he structured sentences or how he expressed emotions verbally, which was hard for him to do coming from a generation of men that were taught restraint. It's not something one thinks about until time robs us of those memories. I don't want to reminisce about just a face but that is often all we are left with.
The last time he spoke to me was actually ten months after he passed. I had been going through a rough time and gotten involved with an individual that took advantage of my kindness and state of vulnerability. I was getting accustomed (and accepting) of being disrespected and dehumanized on a regular basis. My father knew I deserved better and visited me one night in a dream telling me, in that voice, this time stern: "Deb, you're better than that."
I woke up immediately, eyes fixated on the dark ceiling in my bedroom unable to return to slumber. The next day I had chills about how accurate and timely the advice was. It took me awhile after that to enact the change (such is being caught up in an unhealthy relationship) but this dream was the catalyst that made me realize my worth. I was worth the truth, not constant deceit. I was worthy of love, not abuse and manipulation disguised as such. Regardless of differences in gender, faith or cultural background, it is important to possess moral integrity. Some might argue that the dream was psychological, my mind telling me what I already knew, but I will always feel that his spirit travelled the space/time continuum to relate warning. I wish I could conjure his wisdom and voice again without putting myself at risk. I do take comfort, however, in knowing that he is watching over me still. We have a shared secret place, of the night in dreams.
I left my hometown a few days ago after bidding "adieu" to family and friends. I felt refreshed and hopeful again just from being in the city. This place gave me life. This place gives me sustenance. As I drove away, staring at the lush greenery and cobalt sky, tears welled in my eyes. I remembered what was, what is and thought of the potential of what can be.
Throwback to when I was three-years-old and looked like Justin Bieber.