jessica lee blog

Missing pieces by Jessica Lee

In the next couple of weeks, I will be posting missed entries throughout my travels in Australia and Indonesia. I don't usually like to post things that are from months ago because you can't achieve anything by dwelling on the past (unless you are learning from your mistakes), but I figure reliving the memories and sharing stories will psych me up for my next big trip slated a couple of months from now when I finish school.

Destination? I'm not exactly sure... I'll let you know when I get there!

Until then, enjoy a continuation of Australia. Stunning photos of Clovelly Beach in Sydney will be appearing in the next couple of days.

Wanderlust by Jessica Lee

Sometimes I still can't believe I'm back in Toronto. I can still see scenes in Australia so clearly in my mind, it's like I'm there and not here.

I can still feel the sand between my toes at Whitsundays, or the cold breeze which blew my hair around my face when I was sailing the Sydney Harbour. I see orange-gold sunsets over the South Pacific all the time and can still hear the steady crash of the rolling waves along the Australian shores.

Sometimes in my daydreams, I am walking at night with a friend down the cobblestone path along the Harbour bridge. The street lamps are lit and they provide an eerie glow to the dark night, setting a mysterious mood. The cityscape is so clear from where I'm standing. As I gaze across the water, I realize standing in that exact spot is where I want to be right here and right now.

I open my eyes and I realize I've fallen asleep in a TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) subway car. The  familiar, automated voice calls out "Arriving at Davisville Station". I'm in commute on my way home. Usually from work, or sailing or the climbing gym.

My life in Toronto has picked up again really quickly. Though things have changed enough to keep me mentally and physically stimulated, the routine is still frustratingly similar to where I left off.

I've discovered I need to constantly experience new things to keep me happy and out of my comfort zone- which is why I've taken up swing dancing. It's no Australia or Indonesia or even Montreal, but it will do for now.

Since being here for the last two weeks, I've fallen back to the rhythm of my hometown. The first day back, I wasn't quite sure what to do on the TTC. I had just walked from an event at Harbourfront and was standing at Union station, waiting for a train to take me back home. As the train rolled into the station, I stood at the side of the door, waiting to get in. There was a crowd of about 10 people near each subway door, and there weren't that many people occupying seats.

Usually when a the subway door opens, it's a race between everyone to get to a seat. (It's even more spectacular to observe when the subway door opens and everyone rushes to get to the escalator.)

As I was standing there, not knowing what to do, eventually indecision of which seat to take led me to having no seat at all.

This didn't happen to me in Sydney because I rarely took the train, and when I did, there were always available seats; which is why the first few days I was back in Toronto, I just ended up seatless from being out of practice in the art of seat-grabbing.

Toronto as a city is generally more aggressive than the laid-back pattern of Sydney. I find that people in Sydney seemed friendlier and a little more considerate of other people. I'm not saying it's better to be from Sydney or it's better to live in Sydney because people are nicer. Aggressiveness and going for what you want is a useful life skill too. The two cities are just different in personality.

And maybe that is the point of living in different cities- being offered the chance to take in the best of what each city offers and choosing to learn and enjoy its distinctive characteristics.

One of my favourite writers, Paulo Coelho is from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a place I once briefly visited many moons ago. I only remember the scorchingly hot weather (33 C!), the dark, leathery skin of the locals who frequented the Copacabana, and of course the gorgeous waterline of the beach itself.

I wonder though- would the population think similarly to Coelho's sometimes unconventional philosophies? Do all people there follow their passions more so than people in North America where we are trained to go to university, get good grades, then get "good jobs" and eventually retire?

I would like to know all these things and more.

It doesn't look like I'll be staying in Toronto for long...

A bike tour of Montreal by Jessica Lee

Marc and I took an expedition on our bicyclettes yesterday to explore the rest of downtown Montreal.

Biking along the St. Lawrence river had an old romantic feel to it, and it felt incredibly French. All we were missing was the picnic basket filled with gourmet cheeses and a baguette.

Going everywhere by bike was also very efficient as well. We saw three times as much as we would have had we walked on foot.

Here is Marc next to some pretty cool buildings.

There are actually lots of architecturally interesting buildings in downtown Montreal.

I loved how old architecture is mixed with modern styles.

We stopped by the Old Port, which reminded me of Toronto's Distillery District in the way that the floors were cobblestone and the buildings were older.

I had some maple taffy, which is really just maple syrup in thickened form thrown over ice and then rolled onto a stick. Like poutine, it is a very tasty tourist trap/one of the things you should try should you head to Quebec.

It starts out looking like this:

Then you roll it up...

And you put it in your mouth.

A magician's show was just setting up as I started my taffy so we stayed for a while and watched.

Then we headed into the artists corridor to look at some art.

The place was definitely touristy, but I loved the elegant buildings and the feeling one got when walking beside stone walls and on top of cobblestone- like you're in a classy European city.

If you popped into any of the stores you would see something like this: lovely small boutiques.

Or touristy t-shirts.

I loved the cafe scene as well. I was really tempted to stop for a cuppa or a creme de glace but we had a schedule and a lot of things to do.

Before that though, can I show you a few kitschy things that I adored?

Here ya go!

This sign:

And this fabulous t-shirt that was ridiculously priced.

Even though Old Port was incredibly consumerist and tourist-geared, I soaked up every minute of being there.

Soon it was time to head back on the bike trail.

There is this amazing trail that follows the river from Old Port to Atwater Market, which has lovely views of the city. In my mind, I was in a French movie and Le Denicheur was playing while I was biking down these gorgeous trails.

Please open that above link and listen by the way. It really sets the mood for the rest of this blog post and the photos.

We stopped over a bridge and saw these sets of buildings. I have no clue what they are but they look like apartments or dorm rooms. I wonder what the insides look like.

Here is a further away view so you can see the boats.

We took a few photos and then we were off again.

We made it to the Atwater Market, which is a farmer's market filled with yummy goods.

I bought a tin can of maple syrup for $6.50! What a deal considering fake maple syrup in grocery stores costs something like $4.50.

We wandered into a chocolate shop where I wanted to eat everything.

They had ice cream.

Lots of chocolate of course.

And truffles!

Here is a close-up of one of the truffles.

And this was the dessert I really wanted to try but it was really hot and I was thirsty and fleur de sel, which is salted caramel, would have been much too sweet.

We took the metro back downtown and walked into a student protest.

They had pots and pans and were banging away. It was quite loud.

Then a bit further down, we walked into the film festival where they were playing a silent film.

One of the things I love about Montreal is that like Toronto, there is always something happening in the city. Back when I lived in Sydney, we went to the library for entertainment.

I'm kidding obviously.

But most of the nightlife in Sydney revolved around clubs and if you didn't like clubbing, then have a nice life.

I'm not sure where this place is, but we discovered the area by biking near it then seeing it.

It was perfect. There was just the right amount of people in it so that the scene was lively but not too many so that we couldn't bike through.

Montreal is a pretty decent city to bike through.

If you have a free day, I definitely recommend exploring by bike.

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.

Montreal, briefly by Jessica Lee

When we stepped into Montreal, the sun was just setting and the night life was revving up. Montreal is known for its night life and food apparently, so I thought it would only be fitting to check it out.

We stumbled into an indy car festival, right on the street which I thought was awesome. They closed down a street so people could look at cars. Street festivals are one of my favourite things to attend so Montreal was already growing on me.

My absolute favourite thing about Montreal however was all the French people!

I loved how they would speak in French with me because they assumed I was francophone. I had read articles in the paper before about how it was difficult for an anglophone person to fit in with the culture and how they feel alienated and such. Controversial former Globe and Mail columnist Jan Wong even suggested the Polytechnique Montreal, Concordia University and Dawson College massacres were because the three shooters didn't fit in.

I also enjoyed their French accents when they would switch to English to talk to me once they realized my French level was subpar. Montreal feels more like a European city than a Canadian one.

This was a free concert by Karl Wolf, a Canadian singer most known for his hit "Africa". It was just down the road from where we ate.

In the morning we got out of bed relatively early (9 am), but Montreal turns out to be somewhat laid back. Rarely anything was open for breakfast even though it was a Friday.

I thought the below bank was somewhat fishy. Bank of Toronto in Montreal? What is going on!

We walked up Rue Catherine, which is one of the main streets (kind of like Queen St. in Toronto) and sat down at Cacao, a chocolate cafe.

They had about 30 different varieties of chocolate from different regions in the world. I was in love.

We ordered breakfast, but it also came with a dipping plate with fruit and melted chocolate. It was really delicious.

I also ordered a Belgian hot chocolate which was extremely rich and lovely.

Here is the "lazy breakfast":

I didn't do much in Montreal before having to leave and go back to Toronto, but I'm heading up there next week again. More to follow...

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.

Hard goodbyes: one thing I gave up to go travel by Jessica Lee

I said goodbye to one of my babies today.

It is sad, but it had to be done.

I sold one of my beloved camera lenses in Melbourne today to finance my travels in Asia and beyond.

I figure I can make back the money one day to buy the same lens again, but I won’t ever be this young and free again to travel. Even if I were to come back a year later to travel to Asia, it wouldn’t be the same. Right now, I am single, job-less, with no attachments or obligations. I don’t have to worry about anything or anyone except for myself. The world is my oyster right now.

It’s still sad to part with one of my photography lenses however. This is the lens that I purchased after winning a series of photography competitions and going on my first paid photography gig. I bought this lens as an investment into my photography career. Apart from my plane ticket to Australia, this lens is the most expensive thing I’ve ever purchased. At first, my mom thought buying such an expensive lens was silly because she thought photography would only be a “hobby” or a “phase” for me, but I knew it would be so much more when I proved it to her by winning more photography competitions and getting my shots published.

I am in mourning right now and trying to convince myself it was the right decision to make. The lens I sold is a professional-grade lens; a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8, which is great for photographing people. However, since being on my travels, I find I have been using my kit lens more because of its wider angle. I’ve been taking photos mostly of landscapes and less of people. Even if I didn’t sell my 24-70mm lens, it would mostly be a dead weight during my trip, and I would constantly fret and worry about damaging it anyway. Selling it was the logical decision because I don’t lose much money from selling it (at most $200 CAD) and because I need quick cash now. I’m not too enthusiastic about begging for money on the street, prostitution, or busking; so selling my things comes next. Okay maybe busking would be fun, but honestly I don’t have the time to learn several songs on my ukulele by memory.

I am quite attached emotionally to this lens. It was the lens I was using when I shot Canadian Music Week in Toronto, when I met my friend and fellow photographer Laurachel, from Sydney, who was pivotal in my planning to move there. I remember many of the photos I took using this lens, even the first photo I took with it outside the camera store.

Since this is a professional-grade lens, I found that when I used it at events, I got a little more respect from fellow photographers. Now, I will look like a newbie again. Regardless, you can have all the right equipment but if you don’t know how to use it, your photos come out crappy anyway.

The lens is gone, but at least now I can eat that $3.80 cupcake without worrying if I’ve gone over my daily budget, go on day trips to islands around Indonesia, pay for kite-surfing lessons, go diving, possibly stay in a luxury hotel for one night, continue to fuel my shopping habits, eat lots of delicious breakfasts, send postcards to loved ones without worrying how much I am spending on stamps (it adds up!), take planes instead of buses…

Parting with the lens feels like a break-up. I sold it to a girl who is just starting out in photography. She doesn't even know about f stops! She just knows it is a good lens and a good deal she is getting. She saw how sad I was to say goodbye at the end and gave me a hug to console me. This is like giving up a child to adoption. I told her to take care of the lens and wished her luck.

I am sad the lens had to go, but one day, I know I can buy another one. Right now is not the time to own a nice professional lens for me. It is time to travel.