Chemin du Roy/Quebec City Part 1 by Jessica Lee

I took a little road trip from Montreal to Quebec City with Mike and Anik, two friends I met last summer in Saskatoon. Together, our stories are weaved throughout Canada. Mike is originally from Winnipeg, but now both of them live in Toronto. They drove down for a weekend to come visit me in Montreal and to tour the province. All of us would not have met if not for the fates that brought us all to Saskatoon. Mike was finishing his Masters degree at University of Saskatoon, and Anik and I were part of a Canadian Heritage program (aka government-funded French exchange), which happened to give both of us our last choice in destination. Luckily, we both still decided to do the program.

Lately, I've been thinking about how small the world seems when you know a bunch of people from different places. I found out recently that a friend from Europe whom I met in Toronto met this girl in Asia whom I was about to meet in another city in Canada. It's not like I know a large portion of the world's population- it's just likely coincidences (we're all travellers, we're all social and we're all in the same age demographic; we were bound to bump into each other on the road at some point). Anyway, I digress, back to the trip.

We drove to Quebec City from Montreal on Chemin du Roy, which is a beautiful winding country road that leads to beaches like this:

And views like this:

We arrived in Quebec City after a few hours, just before the sun set.

It gave the boys time to wander around the old Quebec City before dinner, while I enjoyed a gypsy jazz busker band we stumbled upon.

I've always loved jazz music. Every summer in Toronto, I would go to the jazz festivals, some summers, I attended every night. When I first moved to Montreal, the jazz festival was taking place and I went as often as I could. But of course, the jazz festival stopped after two weeks, so I love random treats like this!

Here is a snapshot of what the touristy part of Quebec City looks like:

The architecture and small streets are gorgeous aren't they?

It definitely takes me back to Paris or even Bruges. One day I would like to live in a city like this with a balcony overlooking one of the busy streets, but instead of clothing stores, it would be a residential neighbourhood. On the street I would live on, there would be a cheese shop, a small grocery store, cafe and also a bakery. Further along the road, there would be a cinema and some restaurants. I would own a bike with a basket, and not much else. I'm going to stop here. I'm starting to realize this city I'm describing sounds a lot like Lund, Sweden.

We had dinner at Le Lapin Sauté because rabbit is a French delicacy and you just can't eat hamburgers and salad everywhere you go. To really experience a place, you have to experience their food too, even if it sometimes makes you queasy. I ordered the rabbit with rosemary and honey sauce, which actually tasted like chicken, but at least now I know. The only other time I've had rabbit was in Indonesia two years ago, where it was grilled with satay sauce.

After dinner, it started to rain heavily, which sounds terrible, but actually, it's perfect for photography because when people leave and duck to find shelter, you end up with empty streets without anyone jumping into your shots. I stuck around and grabbed a few photos, then we turned in for the night.

Coffee, trust and thieves: Saturday photo editing by Jessica Lee

I was in a coffeeshop in Barcelona, Spain, editing photos like I am now.

I always like to go to coffee shops to edit photos because I like sitting around other people who are working, it's a motivating atmosphere and I like tasty drinks that I can't always make by myself at home.

I'm quite relaxed in coffee shops. I pick a big space, spread my stuff around and get to work. Inevitably, after the second coffee or so, I need to use the facilities. I usually have no problem leaving my things (even my computer) lying around for the two minutes I'll be gone because I rationalize that usually, other people who go to coffee shops are well off enough to spend $3-5 on a coffee, they probably aren't the type of people who would be interested in a computer. Besides, there are usually other people around who will notice if someone is stealing your things.

Anyway, during this particular session in Barcelona, when I came back, the barista approached me.

"Where are you from?", he asked.


"That's great, but around here, you can't leave your computer by itself! You're lucky it isn't stolen."

I thanked the guy and continued working.

I've haven't had anything stolen from me yet while travelling, but I am more aware these days. I still go off on my intuition, but I realize now maybe I am more lucky than intuitive.

I once left for a five minute bathroom break on a bus from Essaouria, Morocco to Casablanca, Morocco, and came back to find a local woman had boarded the bus and was staring at my things. I think the only reasons why she didn't make off with my stuff was because 1. I had two bags, so it would have been difficult for her to carry both 2. It wouldn't have looked like her things, and thus obvious that she was stealing (I had a new backpack that you can't buy in Morocco. It definitely looked foreign) 3. There were other passengers who were watching her. She asked me for money when I got back, possibly because she felt I owed her something since she didn't take anything. I said no. I don't like to be guilted into anything.

It's a difficult dilemma for solo travellers. When you leave for a bathroom break, do you carry all 10 kilos of your things? It seems silly, doesn't it?

I still leave my things lying around in Canada at coffee shops. Perhaps I am too open and trusting for someone who has experienced so many close calls with theft, but I genuinely believe people here are good. I'm not naive either. I choose to live as an open person rather than a person full of fear and distrust. I think there's more opportunities to experience by living this way and more people to meet. There's also less stress in your life.

I don't do stupid things like leave all of my possessions to someone I just met for an hour (that is creating more stress), but I take reasonable risks like leaving a library book I don't want to carry to a job interview with a retail worker, whom I know will probably still be in the same spot after an hour. It feels good when you trust someone and they turn out to be a trustworthy person. You can usually reverse situations early on when you don't feel comfortable anyway. I was in Indonesia once, and a local I had just met said he would carry my wallet for me (because I took really long fumbling for change), but I didn't feel good about that, so I asked for it back (after much awkwardness of course, but very rarely do you get an ideal situation in real life, you just have to do the best you can).

Readers: How much do you trust the strangers around you? Share some stories!

Yogyakarta, Indonesia (and a cockfight) in photos and words by Jessica Lee

I wrote this last summer but never got around to publishing it. I'm currently gearing up for another adventure, so stay tuned!
I’m currently in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. As I wandered the streets today, I worried that I may become infatuated with the town.

It’s a very cultural city. There are stalls of vendors peddling clothes with amazing patterns. I am inspired by the different fabrics and am scared I might end up buying way too much to carry around. Or worse, overspending my budget.

Yogyakarta’s main draw is it’s batik, which are colourful silk paintings done with wax. I was impressed at first, but then the pushy batik sales people kept expecting me to buy the art so it just turned me off to the whole idea of going to different galleries and looking at the batik.

Instead, I spent my time looking at the stalls and picking up little souvenirs. A pair of pants here can be bargained down to $2.50! I picked up three colourful print skirts and a pair of parachute pants. Maybe when I get back to North America, I can start a trend… or not.

I also went to the Kraton, which is the Sultan’s palace. I wasn’t amazed by it, so I’m not going to go to any more kratons in Indonesia. In my opinion, the palaces in China and Japan are much more exquisite. Visit those if you can.

What was really exciting for me however was the cockfight I witnessed when I went to the bird market! The birds really went at each other, pecking and scraping with their feet. At times, wings flapped. There was a small crowd gathered around watching. It's actually illegal, but it still happens anyway.

It is done for entertainment purposes and there was bloodshed.

It’s quite interesting what different cultures do for entertainment. What is allowed and what is not allowed. Put a cockfight in North America and I bet you animal activists would be all over it in a second. However, you should know that roosters sometimes fight on their own, naturally.

The rest of the bird market was quite lovely, though I felt a bit sad for the caged birds. I wanted to take home a bird, but obviously I would go through a lot of trouble getting the bird through customs and taking it with me to the other places I am going. I think I will just get a cat when I get home.

Ships at Sunda Kelapa, Old Port Jakarta by Jessica Lee

She was born on a brightened pier to a gypsy mother and a bucket of tears

I've always been drawn to ships and sail boats, even at a young age before I learned how to sail.

These photos were taken at Sunda Kelapa, which is the Old Port in Jakarta. Though these photos are from almost a year ago during my trip to Indonesia, looking at these pictures brings back memories of a sticky hot summer, dust between my toes and the taste of Nasi Goreng.

I hired a local paddler for $3 CAD, which is probably a rip off for me since you can get someone to pedal you on a bike a fair distance for $1. But I think I was feeling less talkative that day and more contemplative, so I just said yes to his offer of $3.

He paddled in between the bigger ships and showed me around the port.

It was interesting to see how others live. I'm trying to imagine myself living a life at sea. I think I would enjoy it, but I also think it would change my life forever, as all good adventures should.

As always, here's an obligatory feet photo:

You know how there is graffiti on the streets of just about every city?

This is Jakarta's version of it.

I can only imagine how difficult it must be to balance on a boat while spraying a can of paint.

Here are some majestic big ships.

A rickety boat.

And workers balancing on the sides of the boat.

It was strange to tour the port and see the workers living their lives. I saw someone shave and get out of a shower (he was wide out in the open okay?) and realized the contrasts between first world life and East Asia are huge.

In developed countries, we have expensive gyms which a large population use (and pay for) to keep physically fit and to shape their physiques, while in Indonesia, the workers are naturally fit from exertion and manual labour. It makes me wonder about the actual need for modern gym equipment. Gym equipment seems a little like excess given that you don't actually need machines to keep you physically in good health.

Isn't there a little irony in that manual labour in North America is frowned upon, "get a white-collar job", says everyone, yet the white-collar folk regularly pay money to do manual labour aka "work out"?

I am not saying that we should not get white-collar jobs. Maybe we need to rethink the whole "I need to sign up for a gym" mindset and just regularly volunteer time to help with manual labour instead.

Anyway. There's my thought for the day- all inspired by a half-naked, ripped Indonesian man. Enjoy the rest of the photos. And leave comments!

Gunung Lawu: the mountain that pushed me over the edge by Jessica Lee

In life, everyone has metaphorical “mountains” they have to overcome- some sort of man vs. self, man vs. man or man vs. world archetype like they talk about in English lit classes. In Hamlet for example, the protagonist has to face his uncle who is trying to kill him. In Catcher in the Rye, Holden faces the world of "phonies".

I found my mountain yesterday. It is a literal mountain in Indonesia called Gunung Lawu. It is 3265 m above sea level and much much much too steep.

I did not know to expect such a hard climb. Here I was thinking it would be a two hour leisurely hike, at most three hours. I imagined this mountain to be something like one of those hikes in Algonquin Park, Ontario, you know the ones families with young children do together.

I did not expect to be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

The hardest climb I’ve ever done would have to be climbing to the top of the mountain at Lake Louise in Alberta. It was 2744 m and it just seemed to never end. Mount Lawu was much worse. There are six posts in total and I was ready to give up before reaching post number two. Indonesian people are incredibly fit.

We started the climb at 3 pm after lunch. Waiyu, my new Indonesian friend, ordered satay rabbit with rice and I followed his lead. I had never had rabbit before so it was an interesting experience. It's chewy.

Here are some other weird things I was introduced to:

These were some sort of chips.

And some other snack I was introduced to...

Waiyu didn't know the English translation for these foods so I never found out what they were.

The plan was to climb up the mountain, sleep overnight at one of the huts and watch the sunset in the morning.

This is what I pictured: a leisurely two hour stroll up a mountain and then plenty of free time to play cards and read books. He said the climb normally took him three hours and it usually takes beginners six hours.

Here I am at the beginning of the climb:

I didn’t think of myself as a “beginner”. I have a solid hiking history and have been keeping active throughout high school and university. Okay maybe not my entire university career, but I am pretty active during summers.

This is one of the huts people sleep in to camp over night:

We reached post one in a little over an hour. Post two took a little longer as I started taking rest stops to catch my breath. The sun started to set.

We were pretty much climbing boulders which remotely resembled stairs. It was a purely vertical climb. I thought back to when I climbed the C.N. Tower (Toronto’s iconic tower) in high school for charity. It was one of the most painful 30 minutes of my life. I had an aversion to stairs for about a week afterwards. But at least on a C.N. Tower climb, you know there are others struggling as well.

Here on the mountain, I was alone; thinking what a foolish decision it was to want to climb this mountain in the first place. Clearly I did not do enough research. The guidebook said it took roughly six hours to climb this mountain but at the time I read about this mountain, 3265 metres did not mean a thing to me. Being on this mountain, nowhere near the top and about to give up was incredibly humbling. I realized how weak I truly was.

Here is where the doubts and fears began tumbling in. What was I doing struggling on a mountain in Indonesia when I could be at home in Toronto sipping a mocha at a café with soft natural light shining through its windows or at home lying in bed listening to music? I had it pretty good back home.

On this mountain, all my past achievements meant nothing now. How is being able to put together a magazine or playing all the major scales on the piano going to help me climb a mountain?

We eventually made it to the top just before the six-hour mark. It wasn’t really joy that I felt when I reached the top, more like disbelief. I couldn’t believe that I had made it to the top. With the amount of thoughts, doubts and positive self-reassurances going through my head, it felt like I had gone through a lifetime by the time I reached the top.

My favourite part was walking along the mountainside with just the moonlight guiding our way. No flashlights or city lights. It was beautiful, like how I’d imagine people of the past walked at night.

At the top of the mountain, there was a hut that housed an old woman and a younger man. It also had lots of camping space, which is where we slept for the night. We had an early night as we would be waking up early the next day to watch the sunrise.

For food, we ate instant noodles and had a hot malt drink- both were made over a hot fire using a cauldron. It was extremely cold and I was glad I had Waiyu to tell me that I needed to pack a warm quilt. I didn’t expect freezing temperatures being that the day before, it was over 30 degrees in the city.

We woke up at the crack of dawn to the sounds of a rooster the next and I surveyed one of the most spectacular sunrises I’ve ever seen.

The climb down wasn’t much easier. I wished there were ziplines or waterslides built from the top of the mountain. Waiyu echoed my thoughts, saying when he was younger he wished he could fly from the top of the mountain down to the city.

Would I climb Gunung Lawu again, if given the chance?

Probably not. The point of accomplishing something is so that you can enjoy the achievement and move on to other bigger things. Maybe now that I’ve done this, I will add Kilimanjaro to my list. Here’s to a bigger and brighter 2013!

What I really learned from seven months abroad part 1 by Jessica Lee

"What have you learned from your travels abroad?"

I've been pondering this question for the last two months since I got back from Australia and Indonesia and I have a clearer idea now.

When I first got back from my trip, "what did you learn" or "how have you changed" were the most common questions. I think everyone just wanted some sort of life-inspiring tidbit that could be summed up in a few short sentences; something that could help them in their own lives without them having to live through it all.

In truth, I could probably write a book on what I've seen, the people I've met and the life lessons I've learned.

I've come back different of course. Humbled. What I've picked up clarified the truth of "the more you learn, the less you know".

I've come to see how limited staying in Toronto really is. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of opportunities here and there is definitely a lot happening within the city, but I've learned that showing up to a completely different country ie. Australia with a bunch of Canadian credentials really does nothing for you.

If I were to stay in Canada however, I've branded myself pretty well career-wise. I've worked for only big, well-known, mostly national companies which have a great reputation. It all meant nothing in Australia, however, as I soon found out. All the companies are different. And everything you have to know to function as a productive employee is different. There really are somewhat big culture differences between places, which is why travel is so fun but can be emotionally and mentally, not to mention physically demanding.

For example, if I were to try to pick up a job in photography in a new city, already I would have a disadvantage because I don't know the city well and may have the inclination to get lost. This might not seem like a huge deal, but really it is. News happens so fast that in a profession like mine (journalism), if you miss the timeline, then you miss out on the news.

But this is only one of the many things I've picked up abroad- I mean of the fact of how limited my experience in the professional world is. These are the big things.

A smaller skill, that could potentially be an extremely important skill later on is something I learned in the smaller Indonesian markets.

I like to think that I've become a better negotiator.

On the streets of Jakarta, I've talked down prices from $5 a becak ride down to $2.50 CAD. I paid for a 50 cent motorcycle ride around the block, which originally was offered to me at a much higher price. Sure I also paid for a pricey $25 CAD one hour taxi ride (that's a lot of money in Indonesian currency), but I had no other choice as I had way too much luggage at the time (another lesson I've undoubtedly learned).

University teaches you a lot of good theories, but the practical stuff you have to learn for yourself. This is why real life is so important. Where else can you learn good bargaining skills, if not for small informal markets such as these? They don't really exist in Canada (not that I know of anyway) besides on Craigslist where people sell their used goods.

I know I am going to get a lot of flack for writing the next bit because I pretty much just said that I own too much stuff while I travel, yet I am also going to advocate "going shopping" and learning to bargain. Why? Because with low risk items that cost so little, you don't really lose a lot in the process of negotiating, but rather, you gain real world knowledge of how to make a good deal. Now I'm sure they teach this stuff in more formal terms at Harvard Business School, but you can't really be sure of your  deal-making skills unless you put them into practice. Again, I am advocating the "learning to negotiate" part and not the actual "collecting items" part of the shopping experience, please be clear on that (though there is nothing wrong with collecting things either, it just makes it hard to travel around). Also, you can always talk a price down, then not buy it in the end too, but it wouldn't be fair to waste the merchant's time like that.

Another practical or not-so-practical (you be the judge) "skill" I've developed while in Indonesia is the art of J-walking aka walking across several lanes of traffic with no stop lights to help you out.

In Indonesia, pedestrian lights just don't exist. There is a stop sign pictured, but cars don't really stop. Check it out in the photo below:

The first time I tried to cross the road on my own, I had to stop and watch another woman cross first, then it took another ten minutes for me to work up the courage to cross. It doesn't look so terrible in the above photo because there aren't many cars on that street, however Jakarta is fairly busy with traffic all the time. So how do people cross the street? They just step out into the traffic and soon cars will stop for them. It's the "unwritten rule" of how to cross streets in Indonesia. There is no rude honking when pedestrians step out in front of cars. It's well established that that is how people cross streets there.

What this did for me:
1. I learned how to trust other drivers (strangers basically) to preserve my life. Of course people don't want to hit you, they've got places to go too.
2. I conquered something extremely frightening for me. Every time you challenge yourself, you become one step closer to becoming "fearless". This is not to be confused with "reckless" of course, you still have to be careful when stepping out into oncoming traffic.
3. Efficiency. Back in Toronto now, I can cross huge intersections confidently even when it's not my light. I only do this when I'm on foot and when I have a good opportunity so I don't endanger someone else's life. I reckon I save 5-20 seconds each time I don't wait for the light. This does not seem like a lot of time, but let's say I have to cross the street ten times a day, I would save roughly three minutes a day, which adds up to just over 20 minutes a week, an hour and twenty minutes a month, which is almost a whole day each year. I'm not saying you should follow my footsteps and J-walk (please, if you don't know how to do it properly, don't risk your life!), but it is nice to have almost an extra day just because of not waiting for a light to turn white.

There are some other smaller things and bigger issues (and mind-blowing stories) I've learned of during these past few months. I mean, how is it possible to not learn after being thrust into a new culture? I've learned about pickpockets, I conquered my fear of giant cockroaches and relaxed enough to sleep in the same room as a lizard. I've walked through an actual slum by myself, tested the waters of what was "safe" or not (seriously, I thought I was going to get kidnapped, murdered or raped), and learned to trust in the kindness of strangers. I have so many other stories to share, but for now, I feel like this blog post is getting really big. So until next time!

What important real life lessons have you learned while traveling?

Finally home: Toronto and changes by Jessica Lee

Toronto is quite different from the state I left it in.

After my seven month jaunt around Australia and Asia- and briefly Montreal, I am finally back home.

I feel like I cheated the system. I left Toronto when it was at its coldest, enjoyed the warm weather in Sydney, and came back when summer was swinging.

It's been an incredible journey.

People always say when you come back to your own city after seeing the world, the way you see your city changes. And it's true. Four years ago I thought Toronto was the greatest city in the world. I was set on saving up a down payment to buy a condo on the Harbourfront where by the time I was in my mid-twenties, I'd have moved in, gotten a professional job and be enjoying the many cafes and breakfast/brunch places on my weekends and dining on patios for afterwork cocktails with friends. I thought Toronto was a great city because of its importance in the world- meaning that if a popular band was touring North America, they would definitely stop in Toronto. There are also many opportunities in this city. Businesses come to the city to make deals all the time, international film festivals are held here, the city is booming with arts and culture, and there is always something exciting going on.

But now that I've lived in Sydney and enjoyed the flexibility of the weather which allows for sailing all year long and soaked up some sun on a few of their many marvellous beaches, I'm having second thoughts about settling in Toronto. Surfing the waves at Bali, Indonesia, made me realize Toronto doesn't have a good surfing scene, and I miss the elegance of Montreal streets.

It's been strange coming back to Toronto. The city is the same, but different in many ways. I visited the movie rental place I used to work at and it is no longer a movie rental place. They only sell cell phones now. Lots of huge holes downtown have now been built into several story condos, and I live in a new condo myself now.

While I was in Australia, my mom sold our home and bought a new place uptown. It's a slick, new fancy apartment that looks like an upscale hotel. It is a sharp contrast from the sometimes dirty huts I was living in while in Indonesia. It's also quite a relief to be able to leave your stuff around and not worry about having to pack it up the next day.

While some things are the same in a comforting way; like the lazy pace I move during my weekends, or the familiar Canadian accents I hear in coffee shops, other things are completely different.

I picked up a new job as a waitress at a lounge/restaurant. It's something I've always wanted to do just to see what it's like. I've never worked in the food and hospitality industry so it's been a lot of learning. There is a restaurant lingo that I'm starting to pick up and its quite fascinating. I now know what chaffing dishes and heat lamps are. I also know how to properly set-up a table with salad forks and dessert forks and coffee cups at 90 degrees from the plate, etc etc.

The other night, I was working an event for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The DJ put on a song which was on the mixtape we found in the rental car of our Australian road trip and I was reminded of my wonderful adventures which happened a mere two months ago. While listening to the song, I was suddenly feeling quite smug because here I was serving ridiculous people who were blowing their money on $250 bottles of vodka and paying even more than that for "private booths" which really were just couches with a "reserved" sign on them.

With a budget of $250 a week, I got to see Indonesia! Yes. That amount covered hotels and food as well as surfboard rentals and some modest shopping. That amount has also given me incredible experiences, street smarts and a confidence where I can say I navigated a foreign country all by myself at 21.

Different people have different priorities, but personally, I think it's much more enriching to spend your money on experiences which will make you grow rather than one vague drunken memory.

FYI: Cocktails in Indonesia average about $2.50/drink, a fraction of the price of alcohol in Toronto.

But though I am back in my hometown, this isn't the end of my journey here.

I will be updating constantly with missed blog entries and photos I haven't published. I wrote a couple of entries on the road but sometimes didn't put them up because I felt they were missing something.

I will keep posting moments from my trip and saving up for my next big trek around the world. Europe? Africa? South America? Asia again? Who knows...

Lessons from the road by Jessica Lee

From what I’ve learned these past seven months away from home, I’ve found that the road teaches you far more practical life lessons than anything learned at University.

I am writing this sitting on the Greyhound bus from Montreal back to Toronto.

The obvious lesson for me would be to pack lighter.

No one really needs 40+ t-shirts on any trip. What happened was I packed 20 t-shirts originally, then little by little added more and more, rationalizing that t-shirts take up really little space. Things add up, and soon without realizing it, I was carrying 40 t-shirts to Australia.

I have spent way too much money posting things back home. I wince about the money amount, but I don’t regret it because it’s a lesson learnt.

I also spent way too much upgrading baggage or renting lockers or not walking places and taking cabs to hostels because I couldn’t carry all my stuff.

In the process, I have become stronger because I soldiered up and carried everything during the short walks from the bus stops to the hostels, but I wouldn’t backpack anywhere again with all the things I’ve been carrying around for the past month or so.

In reality, once one item in your backpack starts smelling like smoke or sweat, everything else starts to develop the same smell. Despite growing up and living in a very clean household all my life and being raised to be concerned about hygiene, during the past couple of weeks while backpacking throughout Australia and Indonesia; I’ve gotten used to not minding stale clothing. Doing laundry while traveling is always an option too.

Being on the road has also taught me about people’s motivations. In Toronto, people help you out of kindness because it’s a nice thing to do and it’s common courtesy. If I saw someone with their hands full, I would offer to help carry things for them. The same principle applies in Australia. Two strangers kindly helped me carry my 7 piece luggage from the bus stop to the bus station in Melbourne.

In Indonesia however, I once had a lot of luggage and had just boarded a train. I had avoided using the porters who would have helped me carry the luggage on the train. I made it onto the train without their help, carrying all of my things. Once on the train, I needed to store my luggage in the racks above the seats. A man dressed in a train uniform motioned for me to hand him my luggage and he put the luggage on the rack for me. I figured he was working for the train company and he would help me out because I had booked an executive business class ticket, so I expected this sort of service somewhat.

I found out later he wasn't employed by the train company, and he was a porter working for himself. He asked me for $1 for helping me lift 4 bags!

I have spent $1 in better ways. Like when I paid $1 for 18 bananas at Paddy's Market in Sydney. Or when I paid 50 cents for a motorcycle ride in Jakarta (still have to blog about that one). Spending a dollar to have someone lift four things for me is not an economical use of money.

It's okay though. It's only a dollar.

And it's a learning experience. That's what matters. I pay attention more to people's motivations more now.

Better to learn a lesson and lose a dollar than not learn a lesson and lose $50 later.

Bali: a spendaholic's paradise by Jessica Lee

Bali is a dangerous place for a shopaholic/spendaholic like me.

There are stands and stands of clothing and souvenirs- and when you're tired of that, there is a nice mall.

Then there are miles of restaurants and places to get drinks. Everything is cheap $3-5 meals, but it adds up. Pretty soon, you thought you had a couple hundred of dollars, but that was merely some vague assumption.

I spent the last day with only $15 in my pocket. And about $4 of that went into a taxi.

Being a tourist here is like playing a game. The locals will try to squeeze every last dollar out of you, and you fight to hold on to your cash. It is not like the pickpocketing I experienced near Solo.

Here for instance if I am trying to buy a sarong, I will ask the price of it, which they will name as $12. Then I will bargain and they will bargain. Eventually we will settle for something like $4. It's easy to be taken for a fool if you don't shop around. The locals are very aggressive but I've learned to drive a hard bargain as well. I've come a far way from paying $30 taxis to and from airports. Or $25 for 42 km.

They don't teach practical things like how to negotiate or how to be street smart in school. I learn something new every day.

This is why I travel.

Pluit District, Indonesia: A photo essay by Jessica Lee

What's exciting about new places is that unique experiences are found where the road is less travelled. 

I had stumbled into Pluit by accident.

I just pointed to the map roughly where I thought the port would be and for $3 CAD, the becak driver took me to this small slum on the outskirts of Jakarta.

There is a large two building apartment complex in the area, but for the most part, people live in huts.

These are actual houses.

This was a far cry from the frequently tourist-visited city. I don't think the locals were used to seeing tourists, which is why I attracted a little more attention than usual. Many people said hi, some even asked for me to take a photo of them.

Coming from Toronto where it is cold half of the time, I know I tend to dream of "what ifs" when I visit beach towns. I wonder if I would have been a world champion surfer had a started young and lived near the ocean.

Just the same, I suppose I could have been born in Indonesian slums.

Isn't it strange where life places us and what we're given when we're born?

In the end though, where an individual ends up depends mostly on him or herself. I just suppose you would have to fight harder from a slum.

It is hard for me to fathom that people can live like this.

Coming from a first world country, places like Pluit are just "out of sight, out of mind".

I mean, imagine garbage burning in your backyard.

Or having to walk through rubble on your way to school.

The cat apparently seems unfazed.

I did not walk into the houses but I can't imagine them having flushing toilets. In Indonesia, it's very common to have toilets where you have to pour water down to manually flush it.

It's also not common to have toilet paper. Rather, there is a basin with a bucket, which I am assuming you are supposed to use to clean yourself. I'm not too sure about the specifics because I always carried a packet of Kleenex around with me and I've always felt too shy to ask the Indonesians.

You always see advertisements for World Vision on television, calling for donations while showing footage of children in huts and dirt grounds.

But that always didn't seem real to me. I would be watching from the comfort of my home, sitting in an air conditioned room on a comfy leather couch. I could always look away or be distracted by the beep of a microwave, a conversation with a friend, my laptop...

Here, I was in the middle of it. I was stepping over rubble and garbage with my flip flops, feeling the hot humidity and seeing no air conditioning in their rooms. I was breathing the smoke and the fumes.

I also felt like I was going to get robbed or get myself into trouble for accidentally trespassing into people's backyards, but luckily none of that happened.

In my first year of journalism school at university, I was in a room full of other similarly bright-eyed journalism students. We watched video clips of seasoned reporters in war zones and areas of conflict. It was all very exciting, but at the same time, it was all from a screen. We were in a classroom in Toronto.

Pluit is probably the most "dangerous" place I've ever visited in person by myself.

I'm getting a taste of reporting from undeveloped places and it's been eye-opening.

Jakarta Living by Jessica Lee

 In my final year of high school when I was young and sheltered, my Advanced Writing teacher gave us an in-class assignment where we were to draw destinations of foreign places out of a hat, imagine the scene and write about it.

We were not allowed to research the place; instead we were just instructed to write.

I drew “Jakarta at 6 am”, which I knew nothing about- in fact, I mistakenly thought this was a place in India. Still, I started writing. I imagined Jakarta at 6 am to be calm, with a pink sun rising on white buildings and locals starting to set up shop in the morning. I based my writing on films I had seen of foreign places. It wasn’t that I hadn’t travelled outside of Toronto before- I had- it’s just that as a teenager obsessed with North America and Europe, Indonesia was not a country that was on my radar.

When my teacher read my writing, she said what I imagined was vastly different from what actually took place during early mornings in Jakarta- she said the streets were bustling with people and cars; most people were up at this time already.

I did a quick Wikipedia search, which confirmed Jakarta to be more developed than I originally imagined.

During my time in Sydney when I was planning my trip back home, stopover flights to Jakarta and Thailand came up as around the same price as it would be for a single trip home. I decided to curb my curiosity and stop by to see if the Jakarta was really the way it had been described to me.

I got up at 6:30 am and was out the door by 7. The streets are not really as bustling as I imagined it to be, though there is a substantial amount of traffic by 8. I had thought the streets would be filled with people, like how afternoons in Hong Kong are- to the point where you can’t walk because there is a person right in front of you. There are many stands of people selling street food or water, and many more locals who just sit and stare at the traffic.

 The traffic here is incredible. I stood at an intersection, hoping for the lights to change so I could cross the street. No such pedestrian light exists in Jakarta. Basically, you have to cross whenever the street is clear, or you just step out into the road while there are cars speeding towards you and hope that they slow down. I learned this by watching a woman cross in a really busy main road. Sometimes there are traffic police who help you cross, but most times it’s playing chicken.

I went on my first bajaj (pronounced ‘bai-jai’) yesterday, which is basically a three-wheeled motorcycle with a cover on it. For about the cost of a single TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) fare (our subway and bus network), I was zipped along the busy streets of Jakarta for about twenty minutes. I bargained this price from a little over $5 CAD to just under $3.

The ride was quite stable, though there were no seat belts. Bajajs are amazing because like a motorcycle, you can squeeze between cars on the roads, which is what we did. It is also very affordable to someone who comes from a Western country. The first night in Jakarta, I spent a good hour or two trying to find the place I was staying at, when it would have cost me at most $3 CAD to just get someone who knows his way around to cart me there in a bajaj.

Here is a photo:

This is what it looks like in the middle of traffic:

And how people generally look at me because I am a tourist:

Life in Jakarta is different from Toronto. There are many grown men and women whose life profession is being a street vendor- no worries of resumes, corporate culture, career development, or deciding what to wear to the next holiday party. I am not saying life is better in Jakarta or that it is better in Toronto. I am just saying it’s different.

During the daytime when you walk around, you will find locals asleep behind their stalls or in a corridor- something that wouldn’t really happen in a big metropolitan city.

 Here in Jakarta, there are huge extremes. You can walk a few kilometres from an expensive-looking mall in the city centre to the slums, where people live in shacks and don’t have flushing toilets.

Here is a photo of a nice mall:

And one of the slummy areas:

I am staying in Jalan Jaksa, which is known as the backpacker’s area. I love it because it means seeing other visitors around and not feeling so out of place. There is street food and little huts/diners here where locals and travelers can meet.

At night, we watch the Olympics over drinks and Nasi Goreng, which is a signature Indonesian dish of fried rice with vegetables. I usually have this with a fresh fruit juice, which is quite inexpensive here. It is lovely and I know I will be complaining about prices once I get back to Toronto… which is why I must enjoy the moment while I’m here.

 Here are more street pictures so you get a better feel of the area: It is usually humid, unbearably hot (39 C yesterday) and when you walk around all day, you end up with dusty feet.

Pickpockets! by Jessica Lee

I almost got pick-pocketed today.

(Above photo is of me with all my stuff in happier times while on a becak.)

I was in a local bus on my way from Yogyakarta to Solo, when this guy sitting in front of me starts doing this weird fiddling around thing near the window. He was playing with the zipper of the front pocket of one of my bags, trying to reach inside! What a crook!

This was a harsh and emotional experience. Growing up in an affluent country, I’m not quite used to this. Sure I’ve been stolen from before, but that was due to my own stupidness when I was quite young. I left my things around without being there. This pickpocket however, he was attempting to steal from me even though I was sitting right behind him! I mean, he could see clearly who was it was going to effect had he taken anything (or maybe he did take something, but so far I don’t see anything missing- there were only loose bills and pens in there, and I still see the bills). Silly thief, I’m obviously not going keep the jewels and valuables in the most easily accessible pocket.

I yelled out “What are you doing!” really loud and he quickly moved away to the front of the bus, presumably because it would be awkward now that I knew he was trying to steal from me and also because the other people sitting around was getting a sense of what was happening.

I’ve been quite fortunate during this trip in that I haven’t really been pick-pocketed except for this one time. Other misfortunate events have occurred (such as bed bugs and an empty backpack and my headphones being stolen) but I am surviving through them.

I think one of the reasons I was aware of this pickpocket was because of the stories my African friends (back in Toronto) would tell me of the pickpockets back in their country. Hearing their stories and seeing them acted out during a lunch break in my third year of university opened up my eyes to how sneaky thieves can actually be.

I really hope this is the last pick-pocketing experience I will have to deal with during this trip!

Do you have any pick-pocketing/thievery stories to share? 

Jakarta: day one by Jessica Lee

This morning I was in Adelaide. Now I’m in this crazy city of Jakarta with no luggage; the airport people lost it.

It is 28 C here, I am living in what can be best described as a shack, and the place smells like incense.

This is what it looks like:

I had no clue what to expect coming here, but now I’m incredibly happy because I’m settled this little room with it’s own shower + non-flushing toilet (all to myself!) and I only paid about $10 CAD/night for it!

Being in this room is pretty much like how Alex Garland describes living in a shack in his book The Beach, which some of you may have seen the movie, starring Leonardo Dicaprio. I was going to quote you a few lines, but I realized I don’t even have that book with me as it was in the luggage the airport people lost. Anyway, he describes it as hot, bad lock, fan in the room and being able to hear the people in the next room.

It’s not so bad not having my luggage on me. I’m in jeans, but I figure I can suck it up and survive until they deliver my luggage tomorrow night. If not, I can just do what I do very well: go shopping.

The plane touched down at around 7:30 pm and I took a taxi into the city just as the nightlife was beginning. In Victoria (where I just came from), there is a law where you have to wear a bike helmet when you go biking. Here, people zip around on mopeds without a helmet! It’s pandemonium!

Here is a photo of a young girl carting her younger sister around in a little milk box.

There are little stalls on the side of the road that sell street food. I haven’t tried any of it yet because I’m a little intimidated and I don’t want to get sick on my first night.

Being at the airport was a little nerve-wracking. I definitely look like a tourist and as soon as I came out of the terminal, all the taxi people pounced on me! They all tried to get me to use their taxi service. Imagine walking around the outside of the terminal and having five taxi men follow you around asking you where you are going. In the guidebook, Lonely Planet recommends using only a company called Bluebird taxi and all of them pulled out badges that said they were from Bluebird, but how easy is it to print out fake ID?

In the end, I just went with a taxi service that looked the most legit. There were some taxis that were unmarked vehicles, which seemed a little sketchy, so I went with my instinct with choosing and I’m glad I’m still alive.

More about Jakarta tomorrow!

On the road (again) by Jessica Lee

Goodbye Sydney, hello road!

I used to think of myself as someone who could travel light. And now I know that is not the case.

I am struggling with packing for what I like to call my “world tour”. It is not really a world tour. Though I am hitting four out of seven continents so I think that qualifies for something.

The first leg of my travels will be a road trip in the eastern part of Australia. The plan is to start at Cairns and drive down along the coastline stopping at major towns and snorkeling along the way. We’ll head back down to Sydney then go on our way to Melbourne and eventually I’ll make it to Adelaide to meet one of my friends. We plan to take a ferry to Kangaroo Island and spend a few days there.

Then I’m getting on a plane to Jakarta, Indonesia. I don’t know where I’m going from there. I could end up in Singapore, Bali, or any of the thousands of islands that make up Indonesia. It’s this aspect of not knowing what is going to happen, but feeling like the possibilities are endless that make travel so exciting.

A few other cities I plan to stop by on my way home include Bangkok, Thailand, London, England and Montreal, Canada. I’m pretty excited.

I think one of the best things about travel is that your limits are pushed, your knowledge about the world grows and also your knowledge about yourself gets expanded.

As I was saying earlier, I used to be able to pack lightly during travels. I have learned that I am definitely not a light packer. The problem is that I just have too many interests. About a quarter of my luggage consists of clothes. An eighth is books (love to read), another eighth is sailing gear, and then another eighth is photography gear (consisting of multiple lenses, a film camera and a DSLR. Thank goodness I didn’t bring my tripod); on the side, I have my sketch books, my ukelele and of course my laptop and toiletries. And now I have souvenirs to bring home to friends and family too!

I really hope I don’t become one of those people who are in those T.V. shows about hoarding.

What are some things you have learned about yourself while on the road?