Oh Canada… how I miss thee so!

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Things I miss in Canada:

  1. My boyfriend, dog, family and friends
  2. The comforts of my apartment
  3. Customer service
  4. Side walks
  5. Sewage system
  6. Toilets WITH toilet paper and soap available everywhere
  7. Minimal crazy drivers on the road
  8. Power, internet and water rarely ever turning off
  9. Fast food (tim’s, mcdonalds, starbucks, subway, A&W, etc.)
  10. Delivery pizza
  11. Canadian laws and enforcement (against pologomy, child abuse, domestic abuse, etc.)
  12. Healthy, fed and well looked after house dogs
  13. Safe tap water
  14. 24/7 buses and the subway
  15. Reasonably priced grocery stores, or grocery stores period
  16. 3G internet
  17. Being able to roam freely without having men constantly hit on me and begging my friendship

Things I will miss in Ghana – Rita

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  1. My coworker who I have adopted as my auntie
  2. Not ever having to wear a sweater or jacket
  3. Children being fascinated with me, wanting to hug me and have their picture taken
  4. Work starting at 8am, but nobody arrives until 9am. I call this ‘Ghana time’
  5.  Being surrounded by serious Christians all the time
  6.  Being able to buy cheap and tasty food on the street ‪
  7. Walking down my dirt road
  8. Playing with children on the tro tro
  9. Having someone clean my room and bathroom
  10. Tro tro’s – they are cheap, they can get you anywhere and they come often
  11. Being referred to as “the white one”
  12. Having children chant “Obruni obruni obruni” in a sing-song manner
  13. People greeting each other just because
  14. Buying water and just about anything you can think through the window of a tro tro
  15. Listening to roosters crowing daily

 

An African Proverb that I found in the newpaper recently:

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster then than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better start running.”

Rita at Accra Market

First Visit to the Market
Last week I took a day off work to do some much needed shopping that I never get the chance to do.  I headed ‘to town’ as locals call it (aka Accra market) with a local friend that I met at church.  Thank God, she came with me!  I did not realize that there were such HUGE outdoor markets… and we only went to 3 sections of it!  We went to the fabric, electrical and food sections.  I have not shopped like that since I have been in Ghana.  It was actually a blast!  I picked up a whole bag of beautiful fabric for around $17.  I filled my backpack with vegetables that were also very inexpensive.  I also took some of my fabric to a tailor and am having a dress made out of it, costing me around $6.

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Fabric History

While I was doing some research at work this week, I read an interesting article about African prints in Ghana. I learned that the original fabric was brought over from the Dutch and that Africans have now made it there own, with all of the elaborate and beautiful prints. At the time in Africa, people wore animal skins instead of cottons.  The article also stated that a man’s wealth can be measured by the type and quality of fabrics/prints his wife wears. I thought that was very interesting!

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Second Visit to the Market

I headed to the market in town again on Saturday to pick up my dress and buy some African prints.  Unfortunately, the tailor did a terrible job on my dress and she glued random hearts on it.  Apparently, what people consider fashion here is very different from what we do.  Therefore, I am having her fix it, let us cross our fingers that she does a good job, otherwise I was advised by my coworker to make her pay for the material.  On a happy note, I am trying out another tailor by my house, hoping she does a good job!

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A skirt that I hand made

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Learning to eat like a Panamanian

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a lover of all foods. By no means a picky eater, I will try anything once, and there are no foods that I can say that I refuse to eat. So, true to form, I’m exploring and embracing the Panamanian cuisine and ‘food culture’.

For the most part, I’m making most of my own food at home. Panama has a wealth of restaurants that could serve you anything you want, but I’m finding that it’s more fun to explore and create yummy treats for myself; it brings a sense of accomplishment. And it’s good for the budget.

As an alternative to restaurants and eating out, you can frequent the supermarkets as well as the public farmers’ markets. The fish market in Panama in Panama City is considered a landmark in itself, and I did make sure to visit it in my first few days here; though I’m not particularly a ‘fishy’ person, it was still an experience in itself.

Fish Market!

The official farmers’ market is located on the edge of the city, and a bit of a drive. There are alleyways upon alleyways that form a maze of dirt roads lined with men and women selling the fruits and vegetables (and some beans as well) that are in season. Less of a drive, you’ll also see individuals selling fruits and vegetables along the side of the road all over the city; obviously there’s less variety, but the food is fresh and cheap.

It’s like art. (At the Farmer’s Market)

I’m going to the supermarket once a week. There’s a great selection of foods, but the first thing I noticed was the price difference between local foods and imported foods. Right beside one another, a bag of carrots from California and locally grown carrots; California carrots cost $4 a pound, while the local carrots are $0.39 a pound. What’s the difference!? Who knows; I’m not paying $4 for 6 carrots.. and my Spanish isn’t good enough yet to ask. But getting the young man who bags my groceries to walk three block with the cart full of my groceries for only a few dollars is pretty awesome…and even more awesome when he’s willing to tie the bags and walk with me, umbrella-less, in the rain. A couple bucks for that kind of delivery service is more than worth it, and makes me feel pretty special too 🙂

Half Spanish, half English. At my local supermarket.

When it comes to prepared food, typically, Panamanians eat simply; not a whole lot of spices, but everything is fried. Empanadas, fried chicken, and yuca (aka cassava) chips are common and plentiful. Every meal has fried plantains, be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Seafood is also very common, since Panama is bordered by two oceans. Even so, “ropa vieja” is a beef stew that’s a common lunchtime food, eaten with rice and beans, which are also typical lunch side dishes.

Ropa Vieja

Traditional Panamanian food could include ceviche, chunks of raw seafood (typically corvina, a white fish), that is ‘cooked’ in lime juice and onion chunks, and served cold. A more traditional drink, had by Panamanians living in the countryside, is chicheme (pronounced “chee-CHEM-eh”). Chicheme is made with milk and corn, and either some fruit or vanilla; the best way I can describe the drink is liquefied rice pudding. It was tasty and filling, but the mashed corn added a texture to it that I know would make the drink an acquired taste to many individuals.

If the fried plantain, raw fish, and liquefied rice pudding, and rice and beans don’t do it for you, I’ve yet to go a few kilometers without seeing those glorified globalized golden arches that mean you can get a big mac meal. There are also KFC’s and Domino’s Pizzas in abundance; and they deliver in Panama too! No Tim Horton’s or Starbuck’s however. Starbucks is rumoured to be coming to Panama in a few months’ time…a good excuse to visit again after my internship is finished.

My favourite place for food (if you can call ice cream food)  is a small ice cream parlor around the corner to my apartment, called Antica. Homemade ice cream… best tasting stuff ever. At a dollar per scoop it’s a steal, and for this stuff I’d definitely be willing to pay more. In a steamy tropical climate, Antica ice cream makes it a real paradise. I’m sampling a different flavour each week.

So many to choose from!
Strawberry 🙂

Canton Tower!

I never expected myself to say that I want to go up the Canton Tower! Having worked 4 years at the CN Tower, to me going up these towers were not a big deal. However, something about the Canton Tower fascinated me making me actually wanting and looking forward to go up! I have finally decided to go up last week on a random day last Wednesday. To my surprise, I spent quite a few hours up at the tower enjoying the beautiful view. However, I subconsciously started to compare the both towers: CN Tower & Canton Tower.

  1. The moment I stepped into the elevator, I noticed that there were operators! Everyone got in the elevator and the employee stood outside and told someone to press a button to go up to the 83rd floor
  2. There was hardly any staff around the observation levels to guide you or to even answer any of our questions, so if you have a question… you better hope that its nothing related to the tower! Otherwise, it will be pretty hard to find someone to answer that question!
  3. The tower lacks customer service! It surprises me because I know a lot of places in China have very poor customer service, but to see that even Canton Tower lack customer service was a little bit of a disappointment for me. I entered the tower expecting the service to be like CN Tower, but I was shocked that it was nothing compare to it.

Nonetheless, I still enjoyed the tower very much. They have many different options for tickets and of course, I choose to buy the best ticket that includes all the observation decks as well as 2 attractions: Bubble Train and a mini drop zone! When I arrived to go on the bubble train, the manager pulled me out of the line since he saw my wristband that includes the mini drop zone, he told me to do that first. So I took his advice and went on the drop zone. I was speechless. We went up high (not as high as drop zone) but as we were going up, I can see the whole city right beneath my eyes and it was just an incredible sight! Just when you are too focused on the beauty of the city, the drop you back down in a heartbeat!

After that, since the bubble train line did not subside, I decided to go up to the highest observation deck, which is at the 488m mark. It was an outdoor observation area. When I went up, there was no one else up there except for me. I felt like VIP being up there by myself. I found the peace and joy being up at that point by myself. The view was spectacular and the wind was blowing into my face and I really have no words to describe that feeling. It was actually quite windy up there but it was a nice breeze. It was such a peaceful moment. Not much later, other became came up and it was about time for me to head back down to the bubble train.

Wind blowing at my hair at the highest observation deck!

I couldn’t wait to get on the bubble train since it was solely the reason that has drawn my attention to go up the tower. It took us around the tower, 360 degrees giving us a panoramic view of the city. I must say, the thing that I was looking forward to do the most, was a little bit disappointing for me. The view was beautiful; don’t get me wrong, just the fact that there was no air condition inside the bubble was very unappealing to me. There was a fan however; it was still hot and humid inside.

Mailing at the TOP OF THE WORLD! =D

Overall, it was a great experience and I did not feel that my money was wasted! I bought lots of souvenirs and gifts from the tower because I felt that it is something unique to give as a gift. I mean… there’s nothing in china that we cannot get in Canada. So I decided to buy all the gifts for my friends and family from the tower. It represents china, and most of all, it represented the city that I was working in! So it will be a great piece of memory! Also, what I really liked is the fact that the ticket itself is a post card! If you live in china, you are able to mail the postcard anywhere in china for free. But in order to send the postcard overseas, you will need to pay about $6 RMB which is $1 CAD to send the postcards overseas.

P.S.

If you’re interested in viewing more pictures from the tower, you can visit the link below!

www.photobucket.com/mchen27-cantontower

Free picture that was included in my ticket package 🙂

Road Trip!…Strictly for work purposes, of course

On June 27th, 2012, I had an extra-early wake up time of 5 am in order to meet my colleagues and car pool to Aguadulce, where we would be giving presentations to high school students about Centennial College.

It was a three hour drive, one-way, to get to Aguadulce (which translated literally, means “Sweet Water”). The trip took us through a mountain range and right by the ocean. I would have enjoyed much more of the trip there had I not gotten car sick about an hour in, taken a Gravol, and fallen fast asleep. Lisandro (my coworker who was driving) did get a picture of me sleeping however, so I guess I offered amusement and entertainment for my coworkers, just as Panama has provided me.

Upon arrival to this quaint little town, we promptly got lost. However we met with two local high school students, one who’d already gone to Centennial for English Language Training, and one who will be flying in two weeks to attend Centennial’s English Language Training Program, and they directed us through the maze of small streets to find the high school. Beautiful scenery the whole way!

The Streets of Aguadulce

We gave two presentations to two separate senior-year classes. Each presentation was about 45minutes to an hour, and included our formal introduction, some general information about Centennial, a promotional video, and answering a million questions that it felt like the students had. They were very interested in coming to Canada to study, after our presentation. It’s the norm in Panama for international schools to promote in Panama, but most of the schools are from the United States, and this is where most students automatically think of studying; we try to change that perspective, and show them what Canada has to offer.

Attentive Students 🙂

This group of students spoke a fairly good level of English, also (which is unusual!), and upon the prompting of my coworkers, which, up until this point I have ignored or avoided out of fear to present in Spanish, I took charge of the presentation and spoke about student life on and off campus, and about being a Canadian student.

Talking about Student Life outside the Classroom

After the presentation, I was delighted to hear feedback that my clear and slow speech was understood by the students, and they were excited that they could understand a Canadian speaking English. I share similar feelings; I’m excited that I can understand the majority of what they say in Spanish! It’s a mutual learning experience, one might say. 🙂

Group Shot!

After the presentations, knowing that we’d be hitting rush hour on our way back, we stopped for lunch. I had a traditional Panamanian meal called “Ropa Vieja”, literally translated, “Old Clothes”. It was much more appetizing than its namesake; a shredded beef stew with rice and some coleslaw on the side, it was yummy and very satisfying.

Yumminess

On the way back, true to Panama’s form it got dark at around 6:30pm, but I got to watch the sunset as we drove through the mountain range; even better, I didn’t get car sick.

Layers and layers of mountains and clouds

Cheonggyecheon Stream

This stream is 8.4 km long and runs through the heart of Seoul. The stream is artificially made and was a project to make Seoul more environmentally friendly. It is a popular spot for local and tourist couples. At night there are a lot of couples out on dates. There is also a lights and music show that happens regularly throughout the night. You can even put your feet in the stream! It is a place to read, eat lunch, and hang out.

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Dano Folk Festival In Seoul

So a couple of weeks ago I decided to visit the Dano Folk Festival. The festival only happens once a year and there are many events that are going on. There’s wrestling, art, martial art performances, and much more!

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My favorite performance was the traditional comedy show. I loved the masks and outfits they had on. I also enjoyed painting on fans. You could make any design you wanted and then you got to keep it. I drew Korean letters and copied a poem onto one. Overall, I really enjoyed my experience here and want to visit more festivals in Seoul.

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It’s just like that “real job” your parents talked to you about…

After one full month working, I’ve got to say that I’m getting a really good taste of what it’s like to depart the academic world and embark on my bright and shiny work-filled future. It’s not a whole lot like I expected it to be, but so far…so good. *Knocks on wood.*

Here in Panama, I wear many ‘hats’: I observe and make notes on the office’s functions and processes, and write reports to my boss making suggestions on how to improve office function. I’m also writing out formal written business processes for the office in order to streamline and universalize things that they do so that new hires have an easy reference, and my coworkers don’t have to keep everything in their memory. I’m seeing some of my suggestions implemented, and it feels good!

In addition to these functions, I’m assisting in the actual office work. Currently, the office is in the process of finalizing everything in order to send a group of 42 Panamanian students to Centennial College for a six month English program. They are scheduled to fly out on July 12, so needless to say that there have been a lot of meetings and late nights at the office, on top of the regular traveling and promoting Centennial College and meeting with prospective students to advise them about their future academic career at Centennial.

In the month that I’ve been here, I’ve rarely had a work day that’s been less than ten hours, and the days themselves have very little structure. My coworkers here are dedicated individuals, and do what they need to do in order to get the work done. I’m enjoying my first taste of office work beyond simply an administrative position in a large office; working in a smaller office I’m really getting a much more rounded and personalized experience, which I am taking full advantage of by taking in and giving as much as I possibly can. I am an integral part of this office, and by no means just a ‘coffee fetcher’…although if I AM on my way to get myself something, I’ll always ask if anyone else would like anything 🙂

One thing that I am not enjoying in Panama is the traffic. In promoting Centennial College, the office here does a lot of travelling to different high schools in the region in order to do presentations. A trip as far as Aguadulce (Three hours away, and the feature of my next blog) is uncommon, however when we get invited to make a presentation, we never say no. In general though, most of the high schools are right within Panama City; but even then, the driving can take twice or three times as long as it should because of the traffic and ..let’s say ‘aggressive driving culture’ and insane amount of construction going on. The construction is due to a multi-year project to built a subway; it’s scheduled to be completed in two years, but until then half of Panamas roads are either closed off, temporarily one-way detours, or reduced lanes. You’d think it’d be no big deal after building the Panama Canal.

Taxis will rarely even go to some regions of the city (including the area I work in) because traffic is always that bad and they stand to lose money. (Taxis charge a standard rate here no matter the time or distance.) Every time I get into a car, I say a small prayer, try NOT to press my braking foot through the floor underneath my passenger seat, and discreetly look up the safety rating of the car that I’m getting into.

But that’s all just a part of the experience!

My ‘Vacation’ Weekend in Ghana

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I spent the long weekend (Monday was republican day in Ghana) in a beautiful lodge near Takoradi. I have never been on a vacation, been in the ocean or seen a sand crab for that matter. Upon reaching the beach I was startled by all the holes in the sand and the little critters crawling out of them (sand crabs).

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Sand Crab

While swimming in the ocean I realized exactly why it is called salt water, because the water is extremely salty, yuck!  I spent 2 nights in a charming Eco-hut, which means there is no hot water, an outdoor shower, no electricity (except for at night when they turn on the generator), and no flushing toilet. I ate like a queen, went canoeing with some fellow Canadians and played with some children in a local village. I also went to see the football (soccer) match between Italy and Spain in a local village.  This game was shown in what looked like a barn on a 20 something inch tv with 50-75 locals all crowded and yelling in the hot room. It was quite the ‘global experience.’ It was definitely nice to get away from busy Accra to relax and unwind for a weekend.  Falling asleep and waking up to the sound of the ocean for the first time was amazing.  More and more I am realizing how privileged we are as Canadians, but how privileged Ghanaians are with all their beautiful landscapes and simple stress free way of life.

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Eco-hut
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Eco-toilet
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Fresh lobster
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Canoeing
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Myself and some children in their village
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Village children playing jump rope