Aspiring for natural holes in my pants by Jessica Lee

I wrote the following back in July, after my road trip through the East Coast of Australia:
Living with two guys out of a campervan for the last few weeks has been eye opening. It’s in the smaller details where you will find out more about a person, his values, and the way he lives.

After the trip, I was hanging laundry for one of the boys when I noticed some small holes in his jeans in a part that was obviously worn in, but not noticeable while the jeans were worn. This is one of the pairs of maybe two to three pairs of pants this guy owns.

I think it’s great he can be so simple. As I like to constantly improve myself, I make it a habit observe the way other people are, then try to pick up their good traits and incorporate them into my own life.

I realize now how ridiculous the amount of clothing/luggage I’m carrying around with me is. One of my resolutions for 2012 was to be more minimalistic, but obviously it didn’t work out.

I still buy loads of things and acquire items. I am also sentimental about the items I own, which is terrible for traveling, as it’s much easier to travel light.

I once read a book about a person who only owned 80 items, which I find amazing. Even if he was given something, he didn’t keep it unless he parted with one of his previous items. Items included clothing, electronics and toiletries. It was fictional, but I’m sure there are people in the world who do this as well. I liked the message of the book as it commented on the materialism of the world.

I don’t think it’s possible for me to buck down to just 80 items (come on, I have way too many interests), but one day, I would like to be so committed to a pair of pants that they develop natural holes in them.

For me, natural holes in clothing mean 1. Adventure 2. Being able to have a favourite item of clothing to fall back on 3. Focus, as opposed to being lured in by fancy store windows 4. Contentment in what you have 5. Environment conservation and being earth-friendly.

What are some strange details you love related to traveling that other people might think would be weird?

Between a rock and Waterloo, Ontario by Jessica Lee

I spent my weekend in Waterloo, Ontario, which is known for:
a) A university town which houses Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Waterloo
b) the headquarters of phone company, Research in Motion
c) and for an abundant population of Canadian geese apparently.

I arrived by Greyhound just before midnight as the student night life was revving up. Young freshmen walked in swarms on the streets to house parties. It's strange thinking that I used to be one of them- the idea of going to a university house party would have excited me four years ago, but now as I'm on the verge of graduation, I realize I'm all past it.

Things that excite me now include:
1. Exploring the big, wild world
2. Trying new things
3. Graduating university and never having to pick up a textbook in my entire life again ever! (Unless I want to)

I stayed over at my friend, Kat's place. She lives in a party neighbourhood. When I woke up, and left the house at 10 am, there were already celebrations starting up again because it was homecoming weekend.

Waterloo isn't a bad town to live in.

The main street has lots of cute cafes and is pleasing-enough to the eye, but I know for sure I would want to kill myself if I were stuck here for four years of my life, finishing university. There is just nothing going on here!

It could be a nice place to settle down for a while, or a good place to "refocus" because there wouldn't be many distractions. If I were to write a book, I would choose a place like Waterloo to live in.

This was one of the cafes I walked by: I snapped a photo because the drinks "Vanilla Almond Steam" and "Cotton Candy Creme" intrigued me.

I never did get to try the drinks however as I had to make my way to Grand River Rocks climbing gym for The University Bouldering Series competition.

This is what it looked like as I got there:

It was an exhilarating atmosphere as I had never been in the presence of so many skilled climbers at once. At times, I felt like I was being judged for picking easier routes to climb.

How the bouldering competition worked was like this:

There were 50 routes you could climb and the six hardest climbs you picked and completed would be tallied-up to your final score.

This is a photo of a climber scaling climb #50 aka the most difficult climb in the competition. He had to leap for the hold and it wasn't even a good hold.

A crowd had gathered around to watch, and cheered when someone finally made the jump and stuck on to the hold.

It's moments like this that make me really like climbing.

I also like when I get to the top of a really hard climb.

Here is a photo of everyone crowding around the score results.

I placed 10th place out of 19 competitors in the girls beginners division, which is okay for my first competition, given that I had just gotten back into climbing several months ago. My goal was to not come in last place, which I achieved. My goal for the next competition happening in a month from now is to place in the top 5- which could have been totally achievable this round had I strategized for this competition. I had trained for a month prior, but on the day of, I missed breakfast because I was running late and I used up all my energy on the easy climbs. There were a few harder climbs which I was one step away from completing, but just couldn't push through at the end because I had lost my strength.

My goal is to eventually place in the intermediate category- sometime before I graduate- which is coming soon.

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...

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.

Life in a car by Jessica Lee

You would think that driving along the coast with friends would be romantic and fun and all.

Here is how I imagined it:

Driving while the sun sets in the distant horizon over cornfields; finding a beach to camp in, falling asleep watching the stars and waking up to sunrises; cooking breakfast to birds chirping, roasting marshmallows at night…

In reality, living on the road is not like that at all.

We have driven to sunsets in the background and we have encountered a couple of beaches, however life on the road is quite rough. Here is what I've discovered so far:

1. You never know if you will get to shower, and on the off chance that there is a shower on the beach, the shower is usually cold water.
2. If it's cold and you just want to drink tea, it's not so easily accessible. I've come to realize how much I take hot water for granted, especially since some restaurants have a nasty habit of charging money for hot water.
3. Depending on where you are, you may or may not have to pee in some questionable places. I'm not going to go into further detail on this...
4. Sometimes the car smells because someone wears the same pair of socks over and over again. I am not naming any names except for the fact that this person's name starts with the letter D. And he is reading this as I am typing this... I hope you get the hint. *Ahem.*
5. Driving for long distances and waking up early because of the sunlight wears you out pretty fast. Despite being on the road only for a little more than a week, I am quite tired.

It's not all bad though. Some of the landscapes are really quite pretty. I wish I could have taken more photos from the road.

These were taken early in the morning on our way to Noosa.

Another benefit (or disadvantage- you decide!) of road trips is that you get to know your friends really really well. Like who snores for instance (you know who you are).

You can also understand someone just by the way he drives. This would be 1. without a seat belt on highways, 2. while looking at the GPS on his phone 3. sometimes not holding the wheel at all, and 4. hitting as many curbs as possible in a single block while remaining completely relaxed.

I have never been in a car where so many people have honked their horn at us!

I have also never encountered the police so many times in such a short period of time.

It is okay though. We are still alive!

Don't get mad, Dan. These are just the facts. And it's not so bad because throughout the years, you've become quite proficient at handling cops (no tickets so far! woohoo!).

Another benefit (for real) of driving on your own as opposed to taking a bus from one town to another or going with a tour bus (these are generally a bad idea) is that we get to stop wherever and whenever we want for lunch.

In previous years, I have sat through more than enough crappy all-you-can-eat lunch buffets provided by tour buses or being dropped off at a random fast food chain somewhere along the road.

This is why I am glad everyone on our trip is onboard with being hedonistic in the sense that we pick beautiful, scenic places to stop for lunch at and we really pamper ourselves in terms of diet.

Look, we are on a beach!

I made grilled fish and steamed vegetables for lunch the other day.

Then for dinner, Dan made Kangaroo steak, which we had with mashed potatoes and more veggies.

We even celebrated a birthday on the side of the road!

Though nothing is perfect, and though I miss the luxuries of readily available electricity and hot showers; I would still heartily recommend taking a long road trip with a couple of buddies. It's a unique experience in that no two road trips are exactly the same and that the people you're with make up most of what you take in. It's cliched, but it's true: "It's not what you're doing, it's who you're with."

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?

Looks like I'm coming back to Sydney by Jessica Lee

Sydney, I am not done with you!

I am leaving Sydney in two weeks to start my road trip around Queensland and Southern Australia. You would think that me living in Sydney for four months would be enough time for me to fully immerse myself in this city. It has definitely not been sufficient.

We made a list of things we wanted to do at the beginning of the four months. Not even half of it has been crossed off. Some of these things will never be crossed off either because they were festivals that we simply missed. They are lost moments, but there were many other moments that weren’t anticipated that made up for it- like housemate-bonding moments watching Australian primetime television shows Masterchef and Please Marry My Boy. (Don’t judge)

I made a new list of things I want to do before leaving (see lead photo). It only consists of about 14 things, so that roughly equals to me doing one thing per day. I still don’t have a lot of hope that this list will be accomplished given that exams for me start in six days.

Still, I will never experience this moment of my life again. I will never be this young ever again. Even if I were to visit Sydney again at a future date and do the things on the list, it would feel different. I will never feel as free as I am right now. I have no commitments to jobs, significant others or children. So I say it’s okay to spend a small percentage of each day experiencing life instead of just studying for exams.

Looking back, I’ve been trying to pinpoint where all of my time went. Though four months is not a lot of time (in the grand total of my life), it still is a significant amount. I try not to have regrets, but I have to say I made some bad calls here and there. BUT that is okay. Sometimes, you need to make mistakes to learn. Like that one time I spent the whole weekend studying for a quiz that I ended up doing terrible on anyway. Might as well have not studied. As I recall, the weather that weekend was great.

Another thing I would change in how I spent my time would be to vary my activities- less time at the shops (it’s always the groceries), less time at the gym and more time exploring Sydney.

Also, instead of skipping class to sleep in (which I did towards the end of the semester on Mondays and Wednesdays), I should have skipped class to go out. LIFE IS SHORT, LIVE A LITTLE.

Still, it has been a good run, and not getting to do everything I wanted only means I will have to eventually make a trip back here. Of course, everything will change. Friends who live here now may move away, buildings might get torn down, restaurants may close, public buildings may lose their funding, etc. etc. You never know, life’s always a gamble.

Here’s to today. Go out and explore!

Picking up the slack in my climbing life by Jessica Lee

Greek philosopher Epictetus once said "tell me the company you keep and I'll tell you who you are".

Never before now have I believed in this statement more.

Since coming to University of Sydney, the group of people I hang out with the most besides my housemates are rock climbers. As a result, I've been going rock climbing quite frequently and I've been learning a lot about the sport. Also, my forearm muscles are now huge and my finger nails are never painted. I'm coming back to Toronto real buff.

We went bouldering in a park the other week.

Bouldering is climbing, not up, but sideways. Or just shorter, more intense routes.

This type of training is good for you because typically it is more difficult (harder to hold holds) than climbing up. It trains your muscles so you can climb better.

I don't usually like bouldering because it doesn't seem like I'm achieving a lot since you don't really cover a lot of distance compared to regular rock climbing. I originally got into rock climbing because my mom wanted me to stop climbing trees since it was dangerous (this was when I was very young). And I first got into climbing trees because the playground just started to get boring.

I was scaling 5.9s as a kid and was doing pretty well. I didn't stick with it though. And the inconvenience of going to the gym and too many other interests got in the way climbing frequently. I did meet someone else who rock climbed eventually in my teens but both of us did it more socially rather than trying to improve ourselves.

I have since lost my agility but it's nice to finally dive back into rock climbing and learn so many new things from seasoned climbers. Rock climbing is great because not only do you get to go places many people wouldn't be able to see, but the people are usually friendly.

I really like the rock climbing community. Everyone is just so supportive of each other.

At the bouldering event, people kept saying encouraging things like "you got this" while other people were climbing. Little things like that just makes things seem so much more do-able hearing that while gripping onto a terrible hold. People also were spotting each other in case someone would fall.

I was learning lead belaying at the gym from my friend Dan last week at the gym and I shared a laugh with a complete stranger over something specific to rock climbing. These kinds of connections are usually rare among strangers but I love them. 

Dan was climbing and practicing some falls while a rope was attached from him to me. If you are familiar with how a see-saw works, you can imagine what would happen if a heavy person fell while climbing when attached to a light person on the ground. Answer: the lighter person flies upwards.

This is not really supposed to happen because usually you're supposed to belay someone closer to your weight. The first time he "fell", it caught me by surprise because I was jerked upwards really quickly. This caused the belayer next to me to burst into laughter and we had a moment. I like this so much more than going to a regular gym to work-out. In a regular gym, everyone is just so focused on improving themselves they don't have time to share. It's hard to start a conversation in a regular gym!

In rock climbing however, everyone works together to solve a bouldering problem by making suggestions. It really is a nice community. Everyone is more intelligent than the usual people you would meet in a weight room too. This is because you have to use your problem solving skills to get to the top of the climb.

Here is a photo I took of the group at bouldering last week. I like this one since it's pretty candid.

First impression: yacht racing by Jessica Lee

Today was cold, rainy and practically windless: a perfect day for sailing.

Just kidding.

Ha ha. What a dry joke for such a wet day.

It was terrible conditions for sailing, but I ended up heading down to the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) anyway to participate in the Winter Race Series.

It was my first time sailing on a yacht and I definitely was not ready for it in terms of being dressed for the weather. By the way, I am definitely buying a dry suit at some point after this.

I came to Australia on the false assumption that it would be warm and sunny year round and did not expect to need warm clothes. Since being here for four months, I have already purchased two hoodies and am considering getting another jacket.

The above photo is the only photo I have from today as it was raining the entire morning and afternoon when we were yacht racing. It was pretty cold. I snapped a photo from the dock and then hurried to get ready for the race. I didn't bring my camera aboard the yacht since it was raining. Thus for this post, I am going to try to describe the full experience of yacht racing through words.

I met the crew through mutual friends. What many people don't know is that you can sail for free if you show up to a race day and be accepted onto a boat if a boat is looking for crew. Sometimes you don't even need experience, just a good attitude and a solid work ethic. 

For our yacht, we were a group of six. This is a good size so that there isn't too much work for one person pulling ropes and throwing on sails. Also, there needs to be enough weight on the boat to keep the boat flat. There were really large boats out there with maybe twenty people in them. Ours was a medium-sized yacht. I don't even know how to describe what kind of yacht it was, but it was beautiful.

Just being on the harbour surrounded by all the other yachts in their different coloured sails was lovely despite the grey weather. There were maybe a hundred boats out on the water? Possibly more. It was like being in a movie, you know that one cinematic clip where you see the main character flying in the air in a hot air balloon or a dragon and you see all the other hot air balloons or dragons- it was exactly like that but on water. Since it was grey and rainy, there was even a nice fog around the harbour bridge and the opera house.

Sailing on a yacht is pretty much just like sailing on a dingy (small boat) except less intense. Everything moves slower. Moving on a small boat from one side to the other requires speed but things are less affected if you take longer to run from one side of the boat to the other on a yacht. Also, in a yacht, the whole team works together to make turns or put up a spinnaker. It was pretty cool to watch everything happen and contribute as well.

The crew was pretty experienced and I got a kick out of them using sailing lingo such as "pressure", "bullet" and "zero". There's still so much I don't understand in sailing and it's great to be able to hang out with pros. Sailors are pretty laid back and easy going. The first beers were cracked open before noon on the boat and after the race, there's a nice camaraderie at the club where all the sailors talk about the race and meet people over food and more alcohol. Sailors take the "drunken" stereotype pretty seriously it seems.

Today wasn't all sunshine and rainbows (far from it) but honestly, I'd take this cold and rainy sailing experience any day over an overpriced touristy rehearsed sailing "adventure". It's just more genuine.