My first few days in Panama City

Where do I even begin!

It hasn’t dropped below 27 degrees Celsius, and I have to say, I am loving it. No rain, too, even though this is considered the rainy season! If I ever do get too hot however, every single building (my work and apartment included), has  air conditioning. My apartment has two air conditioners, in fact; one in the bedroom and one in the living room. As someone who lives without air conditioning in Canada, I have to say that it’s pretty awesome.

Edeficio el Marquis, My Apartment Building
The rest of my building. I’m on the 19th floor!

The city is beyond beautiful. It’s an amazing mixture of  older (colonial?) architecture and brand new state of the art buildings and new construction randomly inserted into parts of the city. My apartment is located downtown very close (if not a part of) what would equivocate in Toronto to ‘the financial district’. Solid buildings.

The View from my Living Room Balcony. Stunning, and even BETTER at night!

Solid traffic, too. Panama City is undertaking a huge construction initiative to build a brand new underground transit system. Currently for public transit there are only buses. This construction has limited the traffic to an even narrower amount of usable roadway (think downtown Toronto, again), and that’s about what traffic is like in Panama Mon-Sat. Craziness! Drivers are not very polite, either. It’s almost like New York! Except in Spanish. (Picture coming soon.) People will signal only when convenient, and cutting people off in traffic is apparently a normal (though still unappreciated) thing to do. Jay walkers are also a big problem. People don’t use the walking bridges provided over busy roadways (nor do they obey the road signs), and as such there are a lot of accidents. I was witness to this first hand, when a girl was hit by a car right in front of where we were driving. Needless to say, I won’t be doing any jaywalking!

On a lighter note, for my first weekend here in Panama City, I went bike riding on the Amador Causeway, a man-made road in the middle of the Ocean that leads to a group of man-made islands, constructed from dirt dug up during the construction of the Panama Canal! It was beautiful (there are so many palm trees everywhere!), you could see the skyline of the entire city. I was eaten alive by mosquitoes though. I’m still on the hunt for some bite – relief cream.

Amador Causeway at dusk, and Panama City Skyline in the background.

The supermarket right by my apartment was an adventure (called ‘El Rey’). I live only a few blocks away and am able to walk to it, watching carefully for traffic. However I discovered very quickly that the mass population of Panama does not speak English. Between my broken Spanish and sign language, I was able to get some fruits (Bananas are 37cents/lb here! My new favourite food too!), and a prepaid cell phone card to load minutes onto my newly purchased cell phone.

Needless to say the next thing I did was go home, eat some bananas, and start reviewing and practicing my Spanish!

What they say about the insect life being bigger in the South is true. I woke up my second day to the biggest cockroach I’d ever seen! The size of my thumb, I swear. I had no idea where it had come from, and, as I am terrified of bugs, managed to throw from a distance, a Spanish-English Dictionary on top of it. The book was four inches thick, I thought it would do the job. Two moments later, the cockroach walked right out from underneath the book like nothing had happened. What could I kill it with?! I frantically looked around for some sort of weapon that I could use or makeshift, and discovered that the maid (yes, I have a maid) had left a broom in the corner of the kitchen. After a few attempts at squashing the creepy thing, it finally met its end.

I was told by my coworkers that cockroaches are a common sight in Panama, and they are normally about 1-3 inches long. They don’t bite, but they do fly, and they will be more afraid of you that you are of them. Nevertheless, I don’t relish my next cockroach encounter (though I expect them to be rare, since that’s the only one I’ve seen in 5 days)…but I will be ready, broom (or something of that nature) in hand.

After a weekend of exploring and getting settled in to a new country, I’m excited for what work will bring!

Y estoy practicando mi Espanol!

Landed in Panama, both feet on the Ground!

Okay, so no one likes 4:30am. No one. But in this case I didn’t mind all too much…I’m going to Panama!!! And even though I’d forgotten to set my alarm clock (I finished packing at 2am and was leaving for the airport at 4:45am), my mom and sister, who’d come down from Belleville to see me off, substituted for my alarm quite nicely, making sure I was up and semi-conscious at the inappropriate hour of 4:30am.

Unfortunately, I learned that those who are prone to car sickness are indeed prone to plane sickness. But several attempts at naps and some well-timed provisions of gingerale kept any…unfortunate incidents…from occurring.

We left Toronto in a chilly rainstorm, we landed in sunshine and 37 degree (Celsius) weather. Humidity was so thick when the airport doors opened to the car pickup area that I felt I had jumped into a swimming pool! Even though this is supposed to be Panama’s rainy season…no rain in sight! It’s pretty awesome.

I was picked up from the airport by my coworkers from Centennial College’s Recruitment office here in Panama City, and we went straight from the airport to the office! They were holding an information seminar for students who were going to be coming to Centennial to learn English. They had me stand in front of them all and introduce myself. I spoke English and my coworkers translated for me. I’m quickly realizing that I’ve REALLY got to brush up on my Spanish!

Me, beside a Mural of the office tower that Centennial’s Recruitment Office is located in, Las Torres de las Americas.

Thoughts before I left for Panama…

How can I pack my whole life for three months into one suitcase? And keep it under 50lbs no less? I’m not a light packer. This won’t be easy. And I’ve heard that they don’t weight the carry on too often…maybe I can overload that to its breaking point. ..just have to make it look like I’m only carrying 23lbs. Easy Peasy!

And of course I would leave packing for only hours before I leave…I work better under pressure! Everyone knows that. But I’ve made a decision (Rogers made it for me, actually, by charging such crazy rates for roaming and international usage) that my ‘Crackberry’ will stay home. The detox period will be long and painful, but I’m sure I’ll survive.

I have a really good feeling about this trip. Even now, hours before my flight (I hate flying btw), I’m not nervous or scared, maybe a little apprehensive about the unknown, but I feel ready. I had an opportunity in university to go abroad for an entire academic year. But for more than one reason…I bailed. Centennial College’s Global Experience Office is now giving me that second chance everyone always hopes for. Because it isn’t the things that you do in your life that you regret most…it’s the things that you wished you did but didn’t. This time, I’m doing it and I’m doing it right. Let’s just hope that I don’t get ‘plane sick’ as often as I get ‘car sick’!

My First Week In Seoul

Seoul! The city that never sleeps. Neon lights up the streets along with the hustle and bustle of people and scooters. However, I live at Kookmin University where the campus is very spacious and the surrounding area is quiet at night (most places close at 9pm). The scenery is my favorite part of Seoul. My university is located right beside a mountain so it is quite the view.

Mountains overlooking Kookmin University

 

South Korea follows tradition even in this modern age. People always greet each other and say thank you without fail. Yes, Koreans are as kind as Canadians. Also, Koreans dress very well. I’ve played soccer games with students wearing jeans and khakis! Furthermore, food is a big part of the culture in Korea. Kimchi is had with almost every meal and manners are very important. I am just glad that Korean culture allows you to use spoons to eat rice!

Kookmin students playing soccer… in jeans!

 

Korea is a developed country which is booming economically. South Korea has connections with the U.S and other developed countries. They have excellent housing facilities, affordable yet delicious restaurants, and one of the best transportation systems in the world. This makes living in South Korea like living back in Toronto minus the cultural differences. This first week has been hectic! But now that I am settled in I’m sure there will be more great experiences.

Finally Cooking in Guangzhou…

 

Have you ever seen anyone cook like this? I am scared of cooking with the stove so I am left with this, the only way for me to cook… with a kettle. The stove is not like Canada where it is an electric stove, this is a gas stove so once you turn on the stove, the flames will burst out. I am scared to get burned so I refuse to use the stove! This is how I will be cooking from now on if I ever need to. This way really works!

Things I Learned in Ghana… Day 6

Things I learned in Ghana in my first 6 days of being here…

 

Sometimes people will give you the wrong directions. I have found that the people that give you the right directions will usually tell you landmarks to look out for to know that you are going the right way.

You should not use irons that look older then you are, they will ruin your clothes (SEE PHOTO BELOW).

 

Even though you don’t see any mosquitoes, you should still wear bug repellent. They are there and ready to make a meal out of you (I have a leg full of bites to prove it).

Men pee in the streets regardless if women are walking by… no shame whatsoever!

There are almost no sidewalks here (SEE PHOTO BELOW), therefore you need to be alert anytime you are walking in the street, cars and bikes will come close to hitting you.

 

If you buy locally grown food you will save a ton of money (bananas are my new favourite food). Breakfast, lunch and dinner, yes please!

When trying to get a taxi, it is normal for taxi drivers to quote you at least double the price for a ride just because you are a foreigner. Be sure to ask locals the prices of rides to where you want to go first and negotiate with the drivers.

Ghanaians can be extremely friendly and helpful.

Don’t be alarmed when you see small animals living in the streets, I equate them to the Canadian squirl (SEE PHOTO BELOW).

 

 

First Week in Accra, Ghana (West Africa)

So far I have been in Accra for 4 days.  I have been taken back by the beautiful architecture, greenery and the culture.  Accra is a busy city, it’s bustling with cars, street vendors and ladies standing in the road selling goods from atop their heads.

Things that stand out to me: In Accra most places do not have hot water, you have to bargain for the price of just about everything, people are selling items everywhere all of the time, side walks are almost non-existent and goats, dogs and hens live in the streets.

Culture: I learned on my second day that in Ghana it is not acceptable to use your left hand to shake hands, wave, or things of the like.  Which poses difficulty for me as I’m left handed!  Locals told me that other locals will yell and curse at me if I do this.  What’s the big deal with using your left hand you ask?  They believe that the left hand is used to wipe your bottom, so it is not proper to greet others with it.  So far I have caught myself using my left hand a few times, so far no one has yelled and cursed at me though *phew*

Funny things that have happened to me: I have been shopping at the Accra Mall twice since I have been here.  The first time the lady at the register giggled at me when she realized I did not weigh my produce and have it tagged.  In Accra, there is no fancy scale at the registers.  You have to take your produce to a person who weighs it in the produce section and tags it for you.  Also, today I put my items down at the register and the clerk looked at me oddly.  He then asked my to place the items closer to him.  After looking at the register for a moment, it dawned on me that there is no belt that pushes the items forward.  Silly North American I am! Haha!

First Week in Guangzhou: Chinese and North American culture

After spending the first week here in Guangzhou, I realized that there is a very gap between Chinese and North American culture. In Canada, people take their time doing everything, enjoying the nature etc. but here everyone is always in such a hurry.

One of the thing that is very different is when eating in food courts. Usually when we are done eating we empty the trays and stack them nicely on top of each other. However, in Guangzhou, we are suppose to just leave it in the table and someone will come and clean up the table once you leave. If you do try and clean it they will actually get mad at you!

First Day in Guangzhou!

First day in Guangzhou! First Impression:  it is actually very much like Toronto! A lot of apartments and shops. Everything is walking distance!

Here are some travel tips when coming to Guangzhou or actually traveling anywhere international:

1) Always get an aisle seat on the plane: you can get up and walk whenever you want that way you don’t need to bother the person next to you in order to get up

2) You should buy a neck pillow for when your on the plane. It really does help a lot!

3) When coming to china, always bring Canadian cash. DO NOT bring travelers checks. These people look at them as if they never seen one before! Took me about 1h to get everything done at the bank!