- by Alyson Shane
We've been back for just over a month and everything still feels surreal
like my reality is still back there
on the top of a canyon in Thailand
in the back of remorque on the back roads of Cambodia
drinking a latte on a balcony looking out over the noisy streets of Hanoi
wandering through the tiny, people-filled streets of Kyoto
so I walk through the big, airy rooms of my house
filled with familiar shapes and smells and
so, so much more space than I got used to while we were gone.
It's funny how quickly you accustom yourself to small spaces
crammed into tiny one-room hotels and one-bedroom apartments
bunk beds on a train, chairs on a shuttle bus
somehow I learned to sleep sitting up
(and that was a godsend).
In Vietnam we booked an overnight cruise to Ha Long Bay, and after shutting down the smallest karaoke party on the boat with Marvin and the Gang
(aka, a bunch nice old old men on a "guy's trip" who were the only other ones on the boat who wanted to sing karaoke)
I pulled back the curtains the next morning to see nothing but water and sweeping, massive limestone cliffs.
Before breakfast we wandered to the top of the boat and stood in the middle, watching the mountains loll by as the cruise headed back ashore.
I looked around and thought "I can't believe I'm here".
There were so many moments like that on the trip:
A look around
a slow, deliberate breath
a commitment to catching every dance of light
knowing you won't
knowing you can't possibly
but trying to anyway.
We were gone for almost three months, the longest I've been away without moving
(which, in itself, feels like a dream now)
and I settled into the routine of change; thrived in it, really
being away opened up something in me that I'd forgotten was there
and a lot of things changed.
But I still caught myself, catching my breath.
And while we were gone for so long that I almost forgot what it's like to be here
I'm still in awe of this place we're building together
to wander around the rooms of my house
large but filled with love
and catch myself catching my breath.
- by Alyson Shane
We ventured out for a late dinner after a long day
and found ourselves in a teeny sushi restaurant
They used these cute little flash cards
(since us dumdums could barely string a few words of Japanese together)
but we muddled through and managed to order the best sushi, sashimi, and appetizers I’ve ever eaten.
I mean it.
I’ve gushed on the Gram about the food we’ve had a lot on this trip
but this was something else entirely.
A totally different experience from
the thrown-together dishes of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Every slice, grate of lime rind, and crack of salt was just so.
and perfectly balanced.
Exactly how you’d expect sushi to be here.
I know the Japanese are a polite culture, but I hope that the sushi chef got some enjoyment in how our faces changed and our eyes lit up when we popped yet another perfectly-constructed piece of sushi into our mouths.
He smiled at us a lot over his mask and we grinned back like the silly tourists we are.
(It’s weird how a culture that can make you feel like a bumbling, uncultured idiot can also make you feel so welcome at the same time. That’s just good manners I guess.)
We ate the delicious salad made with tiny fish I’ve never seen before
dipped one piece of sashimi in soya sauce
and the other in salt as the chef showed us to do
and slurped miso soup
(loudly, to show we liked it)
and wished the meal could have gone on forever.
I only took one picture of the food
since I wanted to be fully present for my first sushi dinner in Japan
(something I’ve looked forward to since I was 12)
but I caved when the unagi nigiri came but was too hot to eat right away
so I kept my hands busy trying to discreetly snap a photo.
Now I’m curled up in the pyjamas and house slippers our hotel laid out for us
Settling into the kind of exhaustion that comes after a 4:30 AM start and a busy
very long, day of travel from one country to another
and when I go to bed tonight
I’m gonna dream about all the sushi I’m gonna eat while we're here.
- by Alyson Shane
(A nighttime scene from Hoi An, where we were a few days ago/where I wrote this post)
I’m sitting on the side of the road
on a small plastic chair
next to a small plastic table
small enough that adults wouldn’t sit in them in North America
I’m drinking a Larue beer
which is a local lager that has a tiger face on it
it’s the third beer I’ve had today.
We had two during our lunch after our tour of the My Son sanctuary
where we braved the rain to explore ruins of temples from the 7th to the 10th century
climbing the stones in our ponchos
posing for cheesy photos
peering down into craters
left over from the bombs
the Americans dropped when they were trying to wipe out the Viet Cong.
Staring up at the crumbling
state of centuries-old places of worship
witnessing the carnage war leaves behind.
After our tour guide took us to his "friend’s house"
(which might have been a bit of a racket but who cares
people gotta hustle)
and she cooked local food for us
banana flower salad
fried spring rolls
stir- fried chicken
glass noodles with veggies
morning glory stir- fried with garlic
and bananas for dessert.
We showed our guide pictures of
cars covered in snow
our frozen rivers with skaters and skiers
and the pop-up restaurant we build on the ice
and watched as his eyes widened
because he couldn’t imagine anywhere
being so cold.
But now we’re on the pier next to wooden boats decorated with
and Christmas wreaths
hiding under umbrellas to avoid the drizzle
talking over the sound of street vendors
and inboard motors
and endless motorbikes
soaking up the soggy sounds of the old city.
- by Alyson Shane
I'm writing this on our balcony in our AirBnB in Pai, Thailand.
Most of what I can see are big palm leaves but in-between them I can see the tin roofs of houses
a satellite dish, trees
and, way off in the background
some of the most jaw-dropping mountains I've ever seen.
Pai is a tiny city of about 2,300 people high up in the Northern part of Thailand and is a popular spot for hippies
which you can tell right away by the abundance of
yoga studios, meditation workshops
kale and chard growing in every shop, and
more ads for avocado toast since I was in Toronto last fall.
We're here for none of those things because in addition to being a hotspot for hippies, Pai is also close to waterfalls and natural hot springs and a land split we're planning to check out while we're here.
Tomorrow we'll have been in Thailand for a week. We started to leave Canada last Friday and our flights were originally supposed to be
Winnipeg > Vancouver > Tokyo > Bangkok
but because air travel is a shitshow right now our first flight got delayed which threw off the rest of the connecting flights since we only had a 1-hour layover in each place
(which already felt like playing with fire)
but the superheroes at Air Canada booked us on a new route that was
Winnipeg > Vancouver > Bangkok
which came with a 9-hour layover in Vancouver and a 16-hour flight right to Bangkok.
Protip: if you have a long-ass layover, and especially if you have a long-ass flight ahead of you, shell out for one of those fancy lounges with free food, drinks, and omg a shower. Life changing stuff, let me tell ya.
We landed in Bangkok around 5 AM and split a taxi with Cort and Abe and Josh who we met on the plane to get to our respective stays. I was getting crabby in the wet, humid Bangkok heat but as soon as we got into our AirBnB and I showered 16 hours of plane stank off myself
(what is it about planes that makes you so gross?)
I found a new lease on life so we set out to to reacquaint ourselves with that big, bustling, sweltering city.
We haven't been back to Thailand since 2019 and it's soooooo good to be back.
Even though we pulled it together to met up with the boys and had dinner with Josh we were wiped from two days of travel
(we left Friday AM and arrived in Bangkok Sunday morning)
and crashed at like 9 PM like old people.
Over the next few days we got Thai massages, pedicures, ate super cheap (like $2 each) food from roadside stalls, met up with some folks from Winnipeg (!!) and clocked about 30,000 steps every day wandering around.
Wednesday we caught the night train up to Chiang Mai, and waking up to the sunrise over the Thai countryside was every bit as beautiful as I remembered.
Chiang Mai has been my favourite place we've been in Thailand to date. We spent a week there last time and it didn't feel like enough and this time we were only there for two nights because it's the stop-over on the way to Pai and it definitely wasn't enough.
But in two nights and one whole day we managed to squeeze in:
dinner at the Cowboy Hat Lady's stall (of Parts Unknown/Anthony Bourdain fame)
shopping and drinks and wandering around the night market
ringside seats at a Muay Thai tournament
sitting VIP at a drag cabaret show
(where John got pulled up onstage and made his debut as a drag queen)
visiting at least a dozen wats (temples)
and clocking lots of steps
so, so many steps.
This morning we got up early and took a bus to Pai which can only be accessed by infamously windy roads where apparently people regularly barf on the bus from motion sickness.
When I first heard about it I was like "nah"
but after almost 3.5 hours of
twisty, windy, sharp turns
and a body full of malaria meds
(which we started taking yesterday in prep for our time in Pai, and which gave us both some tummy times)
yr girl wasn't feeling so hot.
To be clear: I did not barf on the bus to Pai.
But I definitely had to spend some time focusing on the mountains out the window, taking deep breaths and humming a lil bit to distract myself from the mounting feeling in my throat.
Anyway I was pretty happy to be off the bus.
Since getting here we've walked around
(are you sensing a theme here?)
ate papaya salad and pork, rice, and Thai basil for lunch
dropped our laundry at a laundromat
had a beer and people-watched
talked about new tattoo ideas
and now here I am, drinking a Chiang beer (my fav local bevvy) and writing this to you.
It's wild and exciting to think we have several more weeks of this
to soak up this country and a few others we're planning to hit
(Cambodia, Vietnam, and Japan, specifically).
I've missed travelling and exploring new places, seeing new things
eating all the foodz
and being moved
and humbled by the kindness of the people we meet everywhere we go
especially the lady at the front desk who helped me open this beer, since I was a dummy and forgot to buy a bottle opener.
I took the beer down to the lobby, motioned to her so she knew what I needed, and she laughed
took the bottle from me
and slammed it against the railing, knocking off the cap
(something I would never, ever do somewhere where we were staying)
and said in broken English "you knock off! Is easy! You do upstairs too!"
(something I would have never imagined she'd suggest)
so I bowed and said "krap khun kha" (thank you in Thai), feeling silly, and went back upstairs.
As I walked back to our room I heard her laughing with her friend
and the way she talked I knew they were laughing about me
and my dumb question
and I loved it.
I missed being a dumb tourist.
- by Alyson Shane
It's been almost a month since I've blogged because October has been busier than expected.
Between going to Leigh's cabin at the end of September
leaving for Falcon Lake the following weekend
then going to Toronto last weekend
I've barely had time to breathe or focus on anything else other than
prepping to leave
and prepping to leave again.
The weeks blurred together in a way that makes it hard to remember when one thing ended and another began, but last weekend was one for the record books because John, Adam and I were in Toronto to see Loop Daddy aka Marc Rebillet.
I scored us a super cute AirBnB in the heart of Trinity-Bellwoods
(my favourite part of Toronto besides Kensington Market)
and we spent our days walking around the city, soaking up everything there was to see
(RIP Adam's feet)
We landed late on Thursday night but managed to skip over to Bellwoods Brew Co. for a nightcap and I fell back in love with the city and how late everything in Toronto stays open.
We cheers'd and tried sours and stouts and IPAs laughed until our faces hurt and it felt like coming home.
The next morning I woke up early so I could go visit my Grandma
usually I only get to see her once a year, maybe
but over the past two months I've seen her three times
and I'll always be thankful for it
since she's 100, now, and I'm more aware than I've ever been that every visit might be our last.
(Hug your loved ones close.)
It was a hot, sunny day so I grabbed a coffee and walked the 2.5 hour walk from Trinity-Bellwoods to Yonge & Eglinton where she lives.
Sure I could have taken the subway but I wanted to soak in the city.
I listened to the new Taylor Swift and CRJ albums
walked through parks where old Asians were doing tai chi
past a skate park where a bunch of dudes were practicing on the half-pipe
next to a dog park filled with doggos of every shape and size
skipping over streetcar tracks
peering into all the little shops and stores
and getting a booty workout because (holy heck) I forgot how hilly my favourite city can be.
I had lunch with my Grandma and Aunt and held my Grandma's hand
and hugged her
and told her I love her
over and over and over
because I do, and I miss her.
After we'd said our goodbyes I met up with John and Adam at Bar Volo that was doing a cask tasting event and drank too many tasty beer samples
(or just enough depending on how you look at it)
before we walked to Kensington Market and I hagged for $50 off a stunning leather jacket with faux fur that gives me big 90's vibes.
We stopped in for a couple more beers in the Market then gorged on Thai food at a place in Chinatown before catching an Uber to Meridian Hall to see Jim Gaffigan
(whose intensely white sneakers almost blinded me.)
Even though John fell asleep in the Uber back to our AirBnB we somehow managed to find a second wind and stayed out wandering around and soaking up the city until after 2 AM.
On Saturday we engaged "maximum tourist mode" and went to see the fishies at the Ripley's Aquarium before heading back to our AirBnB to get dressed for Marc Rebillet
(Us, being chuffed)
The show was at a big bar called REBEL which was in a part of Toronto I'd never been to before
(it's apparently where Drake hangs out? Weird flex but ok)
so we snapped some photos of the skyline before filing into one of the biggest bars I've ever been in. It had
a crazy lighting system that moved up and down
stripper poles everywhere
huge bird cages to dance in
a crazy AV setup behind the stage
these jets that sprayed cold air onto the crowd as we danced
which is a revolutionary idea that all bars should start doing.
After the show we swapped our housecoats for jackets we prowled around the city again, splitting some beers in Trinity-Bellwoods Park
(one of my traditions since forever)
walking to The Horseshoe and catching a terrific cover band and going for late-night dim sum at one of my favourite spots
(which I can find while under the influence in the dead of night but never during the day, it seems)
and we made Adam try cuttlefish and a bunch of other stuff I'm sure he didn't like as much as we did.
(Sorry/not sorry, Adam)
On Sunday, our last day, we slept in (understandably).
Adam went for a burger and we went for sushi before meeting up to check out some breweries and some incredible live blues at The Rex
where we split some nachos that would put Carlos & Murphy's to shame
(sorry/not sorry Winnipeg)
before grabbing some teppanyaki, more craft beer, and finally crashing early to wake up at 3:30 AM (uuuugh) to catch our early-morning flight back to Winnipeg.
As our Uber rolled through the streets of the big city I tried to stay awake and watch the buildings go by.
Remember the shapes, colours, and weird facades on all the mixed-use space
the brick exteriors and front porches
the looming towers made of steel and glass.
I'm always to happy come to Toronto. It's been my favourite city since I was a kid
but holy heck am I glad to be home.
- by Alyson Shane
I’m writing this on a plane from Winnipeg to Toronto. We’re going to celebrate my Grandma’s 100th birthday and I’m thinking about death.
I’ve been reading Slaughterhouse Five despite my own efforts to distract myself from writing.
I start wanting to write as soon as I get on a plane. As soon as it starts to taxi, as soon as I see the tarmac beginning to move, that little voice in my head starts talking.
The voice has been with me for as long as I can remember. I think it’s how I knew I was supposed to be a writer: words flow through me and out of me whether I want them to or not.
I read somewhere once that a certain percentage of people don’t have inner monologues.
That sounds like a lonely existence if you ask me.
So here I am, sitting in a tube in the sky listening to the hum of the engines, reading a book about the war and thinking about death.
I’m thinking about the characters in Slaughterhouse Five, dying
about how, almost every time I talk to my Grandma who turns 100 tomorrow she says
“I wish I was dead”
and maybe that should upset me but it doesn’t. I get it. I understand her perspective.
She lived most of her life as an independent, able-bodied person who took care of herself and lived her life on her own terms, and as she’s gotten older and older she’s lost more and more of what made her feel like herself.
I feel for that. I fear it.
So now I’m looking out the window at nothing and thinking about death and what I’ll say at her funeral.
I think it will go something like this:
“My Grandma was the only person I know who thought about death more than I do.
One of my first memories of her is standing on the back step of her house in the North End. I’m in kindergarten or one of these early grades, in elementary school for sure.
I’m looking at my Grandma’s feet, slacks, shoes, and she’s saying
“I’ll be dead before you graduate high school.”
As I got older she kept moving the goal posts on me:
“… by the time you graduate from university”
“… by the time you get married”
“… by the time you start a family”
I guess she figured that if she kept moving the deadline out into the future, some day she would be right.
When I went to visit my Grandma for her 100th birthday I read Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut on the plane.
It’s an anti-war book and darkly funny in the way you’re not supposed to laugh at, but makes you want to anyway.
In the book the main character suffers a head injury and comes to believe that he was abducted by aliens who can see in four dimensions.
As a result, these aliens don’t perceive time the same way we do. They see a dead body as just a way that person is existing at that moment in time, but that person continues to exist in throughout all the other moments in time before, too.
So when someone dies they aren’t sad about it because that person isn’t really gone. They’re just not existing in that moment of time anymore.
They shrug and say: “So it goes.”
Which seems like a flippant thing to say but when I think about it, it’s true: the universe and time works in ways we don’t understand and even though Slaughterhouse Five is a story, I figure maybe those aliens who see in four dimensions may be onto something.
In some ways my Grandma isn’t really gone.
She won’t be in my present moving forward, but she’s in my memories and in moments of time in the past.
She’s still sitting in her sunroom on Mountain Ave with me on her lap as I eat an ice cream out of a crinkly plastic container with a wooden spoon.
She’s still buzzing around in her kitchen making me perogies for lunch when I’m a university student working on my bachelor’s degree.
She’s still walking around the basement of The Bay in her determined, thorough way, chatting with all the clerks who know her and talking about how much she likes having “the groceteria” so close to her apartment.
She’s still sitting across from me at The Paddlewheel Restaurant, picking away at a cheeseburger and saying “I’ve never been much of an eater”
(A sentiment I’ve never truly understood if I’m being honest.)
My Grandma is gone and I’m devastated. I have lost one of the only people who made space for me, listened to me, and made me feel seen and heard and loved when I didn’t feel like most people did.
Losing her feels like there’s a part of my that’s missing and that I won’t ever find again.
But my Grandma will always exist because she existed once, and she still continues to exist in those moments in time.
She continues to exist in our memories of her, which are also snippets of time.
She exists in my dad, my aunt, my brothers, and in all the lives of the people she touched.
She’s gone right now, but she isn’t really.
Time isn’t linear just because we perceive it that way. That’s just us, being humans, making sense of a universe that folds and expands and works in ways our mammal brains can’t comprehend.
That doesn’t make losing her any easier, but it does give me solace to think that she’s still around in the annals of time, watching baseball and Wheel of Fortune and wearing slacks with perfect creases in them.
But my Grandma won’t be around moving forward and I’ll miss her for the rest of my life.
So it goes.”
The pilot just announced that we’re starting our descent and now I’m back here up in the sky, thinking about death.
My Grandma is probably asleep right now, but in a few hours it’ll be her 100th birthday. I wonder what she’ll thinking about but I think I know.
I’m sure that tomorrow when we all get together she’ll find some way to slip it into the conversation. Remind us that life as a centennial may not always be what it’s cracked up to be.
She’ll say she’s ready. That she wants to go.
It will upset everyone but me and I’ll feel bad and guilty the same way as I do now, looking out the window for signs of the city and still seeing nothing but a red light blinking in the darkness, thinking about death and time.
So it goes.
- by Alyson Shane
We're home and I'm so jet-lagged that I feel sick. My sleeping pattern is all out of whack and I've been awake since 3:30AM this morning and am going to try and stay awake all day to reset my circadian rhythm.
But Thailand was worth every lost hour and every weird grumble in my insides.
We were there for nearly a month, and stayed in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Koh Tao, Phuket, and Bangkok again before flying home.
Bangkok was insane. It's big, bigger than I realized or can describe. The city, which houses 8.5 million people, stretches for miles and miles.
There was a smog warning when we were there and you could taste it in the air. Lots of people wore masks.
We saw Buddhist monks everywhere in their bright orange robes with their shaved heads. We saw a group of teenage monks filing into a 7-11 to buy popsicles to beat the heat which made me laugh.
The heat. My god.
+35C most days, humid, sticky and perfect.
The best weather, food, and vibe were found in the northern city of Chiang Mai.
We found the Cowboy Hat Lady, made famous in that episode of Parts Unknown and it probably comes as no surprise that the food completely lived up to the hype.
Almost everything we ate was made at a stall, cart, or cobbled-together shack on the side of the road (except some yakiniku and shabu-shabu that we ate while in Phuket).
I will deeply miss the food there.
Thai food (and Asian food in general) is so much more interesting and complex than North American food, I think. It's layered and spicy and every bite is different.
I discovered Prik Nam Pla, which is a condiment sauce made by pickling chilies in vinegar and fish sauce, sometimes with sugar to cut the tang.
It can be kinda dull or spicy af, depending on where you are; everyone makes it, and everyone makes it a little differently.
Everyone in Thailand has "their recipe" for everything, which means there's a huge variety in how the same dish can turn out, and it's always good. I didn't eat a bad meal the entire time we were there.
The thing I will miss most about Thailand isn't the food, though. It's the people.
Everyone we met was so gracious, kind, and helpful. They seemed to appreciate that we tried to learn the language, which I'm sure we still butchered because Thai is a tonal language and is much more subtle than you realize while listening to it as a non-native speaker.
I'm going to miss saying (and lightly butchering) "sawasdee ka!" when greeting people, and giving a wai (a slight bow with hands pressed together) and saying "khob khun kha!" as thanks.
I'm going to miss being immersed in the Buddhist culture. All the little spirit houses, monks, wats, and flowers everywhere.
I felt peaceful in the wats we visited. I liked taking my shoes off and covering my shoulders and my knees out of respect for their places of worship. It was such a simple, nice form of reverence.
I've never been a religious person, but Buddhism is something I can think I could get behind.
We met the most amazing people, as usual. John and I have good luck that way.
Every time we go on vacation we wind up having nights that make us wake up the next day and say "can you believe we did that?!"
It's also way easier to power through a hangover when you know a spicy bowl of Tom Yum at the stall around the corner.
(Did I mention I'm going to miss the food?)
Obviously though, the best part about the trip was spending it with John.
I really lucked out in finding a guy I travel well with. He's so patient and outgoing and records every day of our trip in a book every time we go on vacation, which is the cutest thing.
He even glued Thai coins and kept all the transfer stickers they gave us to get on different planes and boats in the book too, omg.
At the end of our trip we got matching tattoos. Which sounds lame and dumb but hear me out:
We're getting married next year and neither of us want to wear wedding bands day-to-day, so we decided to get matching tattoos of the constellation "Ursa Majora", which is a nod to a deep and weird inside joke and our love of science and space.
They're both in the same spot, below our hearts. Pointing us home.
I know it's cheesy but whatever. I love them.
I wish I could describe everything we saw and did in that amazing country.
How green and lush and humid it is. How every back lane looked. How the sky looks from the beach on Koh Tao at night. What it feels like to be lulled to sleep on the Night Train to Chiang Mai.
But there aren't enough words to explain it all. All I can do is hold onto the memories of the things I experienced as tightly as I can, and plan to make more of them as soon as I can.
I'll miss Thailand.
But I'm really gonna miss their food, though.
- by Alyson Shane
I'm on a flight right now.
Sitting in a middle seat between a quiet dude and a lady with a baby with big brown eyes. The baby keeps grabbing my hair a bit and pulling, which hurts but not too much, so I'm not too bothered.
We've been in the air for a few hours and I've finished reading The Handmaid's Tale, which is the book I brought for the trip. I've read it before, but it's been nice to revisit it given the current political climate and recent tv series starring Elizabeth Moss.
Margaret Atwood manages to be so quietly sinister in her writing. I forgot how upsetting this book was.
But now that I'm done I have nothing to do, so I'm writing this and looking over the dude's shoulder out the window.
(I covet window seats, but I didn't book these so it wasn't up to me.)
We're descending into Pearson Airport right now and I can see Toronto in the distance. The sun is setting and it's misty. I can see the dim outline of the CN Tower against the misty lake.
There's a big, wide highway that leads from a suburb
(Mississauga? Brampton? Oakville?)
into the heart of the city. Like a big, thick vein.
An artery for cars.
I used to know the names of these streets, once. I pored over Google Maps, memorizing the streets and picturing myself walking down their sidewalks.
Once upon a time I daydreamed about disappearing into this big, noisy metropolis. Forgetting my name, history, family.
All the things I knew or believed about myself.
Every city has that appeal for someone, I suppose. People looking to start over. For an opportunity. A big break. A culture shock.
Or just to get out of their own damn hometown.
Toronto used to be that to me, once. I was obnoxious with how much I wanted to live there. How I compared it - unfairly, of course - to Winnipeg.
(How annoying I must have been.)
It's weird to see it now and feel that same familiar pull. Like a fish hook in my navel, pulling me towards those towers of glass. The possibilities.
But we're about to land and if I'm being honest I can't wait to get back to Winnipeg.
I miss home.