Sunday, May 22, 2016

Underrated Ukraine

A few weeks ago was Constitution Day in Poland so that meant a four day weekend so obviously when in Poland and faced with how to spend a free four days, you can’t resist the call of Ukraine. Are they currently at war with Russia? Sure but the term war gets thrown around a lot these days and it didn’t deter our group of 12. Getting to Ukraine is not as easy peasy as you might think so we needed a first stop in Zamosc before leaving for Lviv, Ukraine the next morning. What is Zamosc Poland like at the end of April? Superb!

Zamosc is a small Polish city that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is built as an ideal town based on Italian theories that involve a fortress, a residence and an urban ensemble. 

We had some friends who let us stay at their place and we set off first thing in the morning for Ukraine. It was coincidentally Easter in Ukraine so tons of Ukrainians who are living in Poland, make the trip back for the long weekend which meant insane backup at the border. I mean insane. We were parked for about half an hour and hadn’t moved an inch. As we were waiting at a standstill and me pondering why I make certain life choices, a string of cars was driving on the wrong side of the road and essentially trying to cut the line. Sidebar: A classic move my dad would have certainly employed.

It didn’t take long for our group to decide that we could follow suit. We drove for a few minutes, passed the honking horns of increasingly angry Ukrainians. I’m under the impression that Ukrainians are almost always angry and multiply that when people in a 1988 Uno go flying passed them filled with obviously non-Ukrainian bearing passport holders. After driving past hundreds of cars and still no sight of this illusive border, some sense of order was restored when someone in a uniform and in the possession of a gun, told us to turn around.  Yes sir. Does this mean back to Zamosc for vodka and pierogis? Of course not! Let’s take a google maps direction through backroad forest Polish/Ukraine!

When people speak about the road less travelled, they were talking about this road. How it was on a map, I’m not completely certain. We were a convoy of two cars, one sort of made for off-roading, one meant to be put down in the early 2000’s. I was in the latter. We needed to take a small break to let the engine cool off and write any last words down for anyone to find and pass along to love ones if we didn’t make it out of this forest that is certainly used a passage way for human and drug smuggling. We eventually hit paved roads again, saw a glimpse of a border but nobody wanted to let us into the line because they thought we skipped the queue. We earned the right into that line but the anger had only increased with this second Ukrainian border we have tried to come into contact with. When trying to skips queues, always use your trump card: being Canadian. Our Polish friend casually strolled to the border agents, informed them that a small group of Canadians only had two days in their endearing country and we were allowed a not so speedy entry into Ukraine which certainly saved us hours upon hours in that line. Rumour has it that the first line we were in, it would have taken us 20 hours to get through. It takes about 15 minutes for them to process each car because obviously, Ukraine offers a better life than other European and North American countries.

Moments that stand out:

Disaster roads. Entering a time machine to see people plowing their fields with their bodies and tools from 60 years ago and without the aid of horses. Cheap. Ukrainian money I would later find out cannot be exchanged in Poland due to war which was a fun little timbit of information to acquire. Going to a country during a holiday lets you see traditions in public you would not normally see but it also means massive store/restaurant/everything being closed which puts an interesting twist on a weekend. Overall thoughts on Ukraine is that there was more of a difference between Poland and Ukraine than I had anticipated but was pleasantly surprised with its beauty and user friendliness. Would certainly explore and want to learn more about Ukraine if given the opportunity. When Ukraine calls, you always pick up.  


“Think continually about what you want, not about the things you fear.” Brian Tracy

Sunday, May 15, 2016

3 days till 30

That doesn’t sound right. He’s in his 30’s. Should I care? I don’t 100% care. I care about 20%. I don’t consider myself a classic adult in the traditional sense but I think I’m up for the challenge. I’ve been pondering what I want my 30’s to look like, what my 20’s have looked like and what the next 50-60 years may hold. Someone recently asked me what I’m proud of accomplishing the last thirty years. They asked for two things. My first answer was making a life outside of Canada and exploring frontiers previously unseen by this long eyelashed writer. My second? I couldn’t think of one. Going to school wasn’t a major struggle and tons of people do it so I don’t go to bed at night proud of it. Millions of people have saved lives, created jobs, raised kids, and invented products that help people with their everyday lives and countless other things to be proud of. How do you create a life that you are proud of?

A few years ago, I had a good friend, let’s call him Kenora, who jokingly but not so jokingly called me selfish. I was somewhat offended but possibly didn’t realize why I was offended because he was certainly right. I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that Bert is looking out for Bert. I recently read a blog post about someone that was giving advice and sharing experiences about moving abroad and how it effects relationships with your friends and family. The post noted that while exploring and experiencing new things is a wonderful opportunity, it undoubtedly is a selfish choice. You do it for you. I didn’t move away to make someone else’s life better or enhance anyone else’s reality but my own. I haven’t gone to a developing country to help them with clean drinking water or improve their housing situation. I was just listening to a podcast with Tony Robbins and he said he wasn’t sure why he was struggling with his business and he realized that he was focusing on “me” instead of “we”.  He now serves over a hundred million meals a year. My 30’s need to be more “we” instead of “me” centred.

Another major thinking point in my brain has been wanting to find someone to travel and share these memories with. While it’s fun to think that I haven’t met this person yet and what that will be like, if I could take a pill to never contemplate this subject again, I would take it. I believe not only myself but most people need to live their lives like nobody is going to enter their life and save them. A stranger right now can’t make me happy. While having a wife and family might alleviate some of my issues/problems, I can only imagine new worries would consume my day-to-day thinking. My dream would be to come back to Canada, meet someone then see what happens and work out something that involves travel, semi normal living with an eye on eventually having cute kids who know things. However, I think these thoughts need to take a backseat to being a better Bert, being healthy, making cash money and helping other people in any way I can. I tell my students to be specific all the time so what does it mean to be a better Bert? A few words come to mind but if I had to pick a word to allow me to improve the next 10 years, it would be organization. I can’t live the next 30 years the way I’ve prepared, thought and executed my previous 30.  I’m almost 30 and just a few days ago, I went to the train station to buy my train ticked to Gdansk and I have zero idea where it is and had to buy a new one. One of my students mentioned that I’m not as organized as their teacher last year and I have sticky notes on my computer that would make someone with OCD completely lose hope in humanity. It’s shocking to me that I moved to Thailand and had relatively few hiccups.

One piece of advice that has stuck with me recently when people are asked to give advice on what they would tell their 30 year old self was Jamie Foxx saying that 40 comes quicker than you think. I can see how 40 could sneak up on someone then you are ten years from 50 and I can’t be losing my Math Makes Sense book or water bottle at 50. I just can’t. My game plan is to make a list each day, spend at least 5 minutes organizing my room, not be in a rush and think things through, think of ways things can go wrong then avoid those things, put important papers in a certain spot, grading work when the kids finish it and having a more positive attitude towards being a little more type A.  

The next week is Green School which is a 5 day field trip in a Polish forest where the students are learning mostly in Polish and I’m there more as a chaperone than an educator. Am I thrilled about turning 30 in a forest with no internet with 100+ kids? Not necessarily but life tends to go that way at times and I haven’t been lacking in the pre-birthday Bert presents and might have one or two in mind for my first weekend as a 30 year old so clear skies ahead. My brother and his wife celebrated their 5th wedding anniversary this past Saturday so that means it has been five years since I boarded my flight to Bangkok. Here’s to the next 5 years that are hopefully filled with travel, silly stories, love and helpfulness. 

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t want for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”

Brack Obama