TORONTO
June 1 - Turning 365

I've always wanted to live in another country. When I hear about someone spending time living in a foreign country and learning the customs and language, and making friends with the locals, and even mundane stuff like grocery shopping, I get excited and totally inspired. I really want to do that too!

When I was laid off from work about 6 years ago, I had planned to take my severance and live in Europe for half a year. But I ended getting a job right away, and quickly fell back into the daily routines. I had asked my new employer for time off first, but they needed someone right away and that was that.

So 6 years later, I'm back where I was--I really want to live somewhere else. With my Dad passing away last year, one of the things I decided to do was to learn Cantonese. Being born in Canada, it's hard to speak a foreign language--even if your parents speak it. Everything eventually just defaults to English. But when my Dad's words became incomprehensible to me as he spoke more and more Cantonese in his final days, I realized that I really lost a part of my heritage and my family ties by growing up in Canada and that I wanted to reclaim that.

So I went to my bosses and told them the story, and they were very supportive. I was ready to resign, but they insisted that we treat the time off as a leave-of-absence.

So here it is. The start of something different. Something that scares the shit out of me but makes me excited at the same time. The itinerary will unfold as time goes by, but the initial plan is to spend 3 to 4 months working for my company in Hong Kong, and to spend 3 to 6 months learning Spanish somewhere. The rest of the time is still up in the air and will probably consist of some traveling.

My webpage is going to be an outlet and a journal for me. I'm calling this blog Turning 365. I'm a numbers guy, so having a number in the title is always nice. My plan is to be away for a year so 365 seemed like a good number to start with.

I think it also alludes to turning around in a circle. A circle has 360 degrees, and I'll be going around the world so this is fitting. But turning 365 degrees means you're not really ending at the same place you started--you're actually 5 degrees off. That's where I expect to be after this. Not a completely changed person, but where I will be going will be different from where I was going.

Finally, I'm turning 36 during the time off. So that kind of fits too.

________________________________________________


TORONTO
June 2 - Letting Go

I've brought my life down to 1 bedroom of stuff. This means taking clothes I never wear and giving it to charity. It means leaving behind the bachelor-pad furniture that I've been accumulating over the years. It means throwing away my university textbooks and notes that I've somehow marked in my head as something more meaningful. Shredding umpteen years of financial statements, bankbooks, and paystubs--I wish they were made to spontaneously combust when they were no longer needed. Throwing away 3.5" floppies--WTF, am I waiting until they become antiques?

I gave away my Dr. Ho massage kit, my Ronco food dedydrator, my precious P90X dvds, and anything else those late night informercials have sold me. Ok, I'm lying...I stored a bunch of my clothes in those awesome vacuum-sealed Space Bags!

I get a bit verklempt every time I get rid of something I've been holding on to for a long time, but after it's done I actually feel pretty free and liberated. It seems that it's the perception that we need to have these things that makes them so hard to let go.

I left my job and my quickly increasing responsibilities. Overall, I figure that this trip will cost me about 100K including all costs. It's pretty staggering to think about it. I can hear my mom now: AY YA!!!!! (translation: are you crazy?!).

You know? I could just keep working and saving until I'm 65 and then spend it all on a nice relaxing retirement......YEAH RIGHT!!! See you in Spain beeyatch! Muah!

Aug 2 - UPDATE: Throwing more stuff away

This morning I was throwing more stuff away. And I'm super sad right now. It's amazing when I throw away the things that don't matter, how little I really have left. A stack of photos. A diary. Some papers. That's it. I'm 35 and my life could fit in a plastic box that rolls under the bed.

________________________________________________


TORONTO
July 27 - Preparing for A Year Off Work

I'm updating this entry as I go to hold anything I think of.

1. Apply for Extended Absence with provincial health care.
If you are out of Canada for more than 212 days in any one year period, you need to apply for extended absence, or else you can lose continuous coverage (you need to reapply for full coverage once you get back to Canada). It was a quick trip to the Service Canada office where they gave me a temporary card for the time away, and then when I get back, I have to re-apply for my permanent card.

2. Install Skype
If you ever travel with backpackers, you will see them with their little headsets using Skype. I didn't bother with it because I never really call home when I'm away. But I looked into it this trip--it's pretty cool. So first of all, it's a VOIP connection--so there's a bit of a delay sometimes but it's not too bad. And you become a slave to the quality of your internet connection. But skype-to-skype calls are free--which means I could call all my iphone friends. You can call land lines around the world for an extra fee of $13 / month. You can also get a real phone number that people can call for another $30 a year--unfortunately, it's not yet available in Canada so I'll have to get a US number. I also switched my cell phone in Toronto to a pay-as-you-go plan so I could keep my cell number until I get back. Sweet!

3. Go Virtual
Figure out how to do everything that you normally do, but virtually. Pay bills, transfer money, transfer and store files, log in to work, contact friends and family. Try to have some of these tools in hand before you leave so you don't have to scramble when you need them. I used website called Dropbox.com to store photos in a secure place away from my vulnerable luggage and camera.

4. Go to the Travel Clinic
I got a lot of my shots last year when I went to Indochina. This time around, it was relatively quick and painless. I got poked by a live Yellow Fever shot--which apparently has a chance of giving you a heart attack in the following week. I also got some anti-malarials--this time Apo-Mefloquine which I only have to take once a week rather than once a day. Nice!

5. Buy Travel Insurance
If you read through my travel blog you'll notice that I actually had a significant accident during my year off. I wiped out on some stairs and tore my meniscus. The subsequent operation was wildly expensive and the Canadian health plan basically covers nothing while you're traveling out of country. At the time of writing this, I'm still not sure if it's going to be covered by the insurance I purchased (those bitches!). But regardless, I'm happy to have bought insurance to cover those unforseen problems. So my advice is to buy emergency travel insurance--this will cover the unlikely chance that you have something extreme happen. Alternatively, for more extensive coverage which would for sure cover an accident like the one I had, I wish I had looked into expat insurance. The hard part is shopping around--it's almost like you don't know how good the insurance policy is until you have to make a claim.

6. Review Your Bank Account
Before I left, I switched to TD Bank's Select Service. This account has a minimum $5000 that you have to hold in the account. But if you have this, then you don't need to pay any international withdrawal fees. It's nice to know I can withdraw 4 times over a week and not be dinged 20 bucks. I also made sure I had a 4 digit code--this is probably just an urban myth but some say that 4 digits is more universally accepted. I've also noticed that the Plus network cards are more accepted throughout Asia now than before.

7. Forward Your Mail
I found out that you actually need to have an address to do a few things, like apply for visas, extend your OHIP health care, file an OHIP health claim. Luckily I kept my old address using Canada Post. I just went to www.smartmoves.ca to do the Permanent Change of Address to forward mail to another address for a year, and I was able to extend for another year after that. It cost $70 a year and they pull your credit history to ask you some identification questions.

8. Buy an Unlocked Phone
It's harder to get this in Canada, but easy to buy in most places. You can buy a local phone number at the village grocery stores for less than $10 and load up with cheap minutes for a bit more. This is great help for turning yourself into a traveling bubble.

Indespensible Things I Packed

1. Electronics
- Laptop (Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Excel, Chrome)
- power adapters (everything I have is dual-voltage so I left the converter at home)
- digital camera (Panasonic Lumix LX3)
- SDHC card reader
- extra SDHC cards
- ipod Gen4 mini (stored my P90X workouts)
- 4GB memory key (portable memory is always useful)
- (for business travel) portable scanner (NeatReceipts)

2. Others
- earplugs

Interesting Websites

1. City Mayors City Rankings
Who doesn't like rankings? This website is fun to go through!

2. DropBox
This site will store data and keep it in sync wherever you are. Great way to stay mobile.

________________________________________________


TORONTO
Aug 25 - Oh....My....Gawd.....

I can't believe I leave Toronto in 4 days. This is crazy. The last week has been crazy. I've been packing all my stuff away, figuring out where the last of my belongings will go.

Yesterday, my office had a gathering for me where they gave me a Bon Voyage cake which was covered in the passport photos I had printed out the week before. They even had a cute Powerpoint presentation about me. My buddy Brad, who is technically also my boss, gave a small speech. I was a bit verklempt. I said a few things...a few disjointed words...it was weird.

My biggest stress right now is that I've been shuttling Mccoy back and forth from the vet because since I moved him to Farley's place, he's been pissing all over the place. Argh!! All I need when I'm halfway across the world is my cat pissing all over my friend's place! So after a blood and urine test, the doctor basically said it's a behaviour problem. So Farley, thanks for taking care of my baby--even if he is a bit of a dirty pussy. I cross my fingers that he'll improve.

Everyone is asking me if I'm excited. I think I'll get excited once I get on the plane. I haven't had enough time to think about it all. It's all a bit of a surreal blur right now.

________________________________________________


TORONTO
Aug 28 - Stuff

It's now 4am and I just finished vacuum packing all my clothes and bedding to put into storage. I really cannot believe how much stuff I have even though I got rid of a bunch of stuff. It's like "stuff" is inevitable. You can throw it away, give it away, shred it, vacuum pack it, back it up, destroy it, lend it, but it doesn't go away. It's a constant in our lives. Can we ever be "stuff"-free?!?

...I always feel like Carrie Bradshaw when I end my blog entries with a question. Do blog entries really need to end with questions?

________________________________________________


 

TURNING 365 PART 1: HONG KONG

________________________________________________

 

TORONTO
Mar 1 - Getting Ready for Part Two: South America

First thing I noticed coming back to Toronto is that there is so much space. The world here is empty and peaceful. And I can see the clear sky, the street, the horizon. And the snow...it's about -5 here now and I'm freezing my ass off because I stored away all my winter clothes.

This week has gone by quickly and I spent it visiting friends, repacking, and getting my taxes done. Eating poutine, shwarma, and burritos. Rebonding with my cat Mccoy. The Winter Olympics in Vancouver also just finished with a spectacular gold medal win in hockey for Canada. Yonge Street was packed with fans until late, chanting, cheering, and singing.

Tomorrow I head to Santiago...well, assuming that the airport there opens up again. A massive 8.8 earthquake hit Chile on the weekend and shut down the airport in Santiago. David, who I'm meeting up with there, actually arrived into Santiago a couple of hours before the earthquake hit. Thankfully, although he seems a bit rattled, he's okay and Santiago is pretty much intact.

It's scary to think that we can always be just a moment away from catastrophe.

Now it's onto part two of my trip. First a jaunt from Santiago to Buenos Aires. Then settling down, taking Spanish classes, and enjoying the local life for a few months. We'll see what happens from there. Hasta la vista!

________________________________________________


 

TURNING 365 PART 2: ARGENTINA

________________________________________________

 

TORONTO
June 30 - Comparing Costs of Living

  Toronto Hong Kong Buenos Aires
RENT (1) 1100 2900 900
UTILITIES 250 0 14

FOOD (2)

590 439 444
-- groceries 230 218 150
-- restaurants 200 140 140
-- fast food 130 81 100
-- tips 30

0

14

TRANSPORT (3)

95 55

62

-- subway 80 (2.25 / ride) 15 (1.00 / ride)

2 (0.30 per ride)

-- cab 15 (1x; 1.40 / km) 40 (11x; 1 / km) 60 (9x; 0.7 / km)
GYM (4) 50 96 36
EDUCATION (5)      

-- group

$15 / hour $15 / hour $5 / hour
-- private $30 / hour $20 / hour $10 / hour
TOTAL $1850 $3500 $1450

(1) RENT: These are the prices for a 1 bedroom place in downtown. The Hong Kong apartment is really small but was furnished and included daily maid service. The Buenos Aires apartment was large with vaulted ceilings and furnished. The Toronto apartment was a long term lease for an unfurnished apartment of about 700 square feet. The Toronto apartment also had extra costs for utilities, where the other two were basically all inclusive.

(2) FOOD: Interesting to note that I eat a lot more fast food in Toronto, because we're really a fast food society--it's so cheap, tasty and readily available. In Hong Kong, I ended up eating more at casual sit-down places and ate a lot less meat and a bigger diet of fruits and vegetables. In Buenos Aires, I was eating really well, including a lot of steaks--but very little variety. Alcohol is really cheap in BA too, $1 for a litre of Quilmes beer at the market.

(3) TRANSPORT: The subway was super cheap in Buenos Aires, but Hong Kong is the most developed and you can get anywhere you want easily. Toronto gets thumbs up because there aren't a bazillion people on it all the time, there were many times when I just waited a couple of cars in BA and HK just because I didn't want to be herded like cattle and packed like sardines. Buenos Aires has the cheapest cabs, but the trips are generally longer--so overall I think Hong Kong was the best for using cabs.

(4) GYM: I compared the middle of the road gyms (Xtreme Fitness in Toronto, Fitness First in Hong Kong, and Sportsclub in Buenos Aires). Hong Kong is extra expensive because of the real estate issue. I had an awesome deal in Buenos Aires to use a large group of huge, well-equipped gyms (including concierge, pools, yoga rooms, spinning rooms, etc.) for the cheapest price.

(5) EDUCATION: Buenos Aires is the king for getting a cheap education. I spent my first couple of months going to classes all day long. It was fun! And compared to Toronto, I saved about $2500 on Spanish classes and $400 on guitar lessons. Suweeeet!

________________________________________________


TORONTO
July 7 - Getting Ready for Part Three: Asia

I always feel happy when I get back to Toronto after a long trip. Even though I have no house to call home here, Toronto still feels "just right". My friends are here, it's nice to have friends again. My cat is here. I can eat all the foods I've been missing. And everyone speaks English.

A lot of my friends asked me how was my trip. And I wasn't sure what to say. I told them how I improved my Spanish, how I learned to play guitar, how I relaxed a bit. I guess the word that most describes my time in Argentina was "satisfying". I know, totally unemotional, but that's really it. I don't get warm fuzzies when I think of my time there, but I feel like I accomplished some of the things I wanted to do.

Back in Toronto, I got back just in time for Pride. A few late night parties. Some hangovers. The parade. And catching up with friends. It was a perfect stopover before the next leg of my trip.

I also went to the annual Pride party at the Integral House--a 30 million dollar mansion built on the side of a ravine. The owner writes calculus textbooks for a living--I even remember using his textbook when I was in high school. Pretty amazing how much money he made on that business. The house itself feels more like a museum and its wavy walls are pretty spectacular.

Tomorrow I fly back to Asia to start working again for the summer. I'm doing a quick pit stop in Hong Kong and then I continue to Manila for my first training sessions. I get to eat fried pig snouts and partially developed duck fetuses again....yummy....

________________________________________________


TORONTO
July 10 - Guitar Survival 101

I'm doing an experiment to see how long it takes before my guitar gets trashed by the airlines. I have a crappy guitar in a dinky plastic wrap case, so this should be pretty fast.

TORONTO
Nov 8 - UPDATE

IT SURVIVED! Over 20 flights from Buenos Aires, to the poorest and richest countries of Asia, to Australia, and back to Canada. I was allowed to bring it on board just a few times, but for the most part needed to check it. I loosened the strings and stuffed up the case with wadded clothes and that seemed to be enough to do the trick. Kudos to the airlines! United DOESN'T break guitars after all!

But I want to say that I love learning the guitar and bringing it with me on my world trip. It was a bit of a hassle to lug around, but I met some grade-A people because of my guitar. It's an icebreaker in itself and I was learning something new from each of the guitar players I met. Each song I learn is creating a little time capsule of memory for me--it's the best souvenir. If I get nothing else out of this whole adventure, I'll still be happy practicing the guitar and enjoying the music.

________________________________________________


 

TURNING 365 PART 3: ASIA

________________________________________________

 

ACL / MENISCUS TEAR REPORT
Aug 12 - Akawesley Vs Insurers And the Winner...

....winner: Akawesley!! If you remember I tore my knee up last October while I was in Hong Kong. Over the last year I've been tussling back and forth with the insurers to try to get some coverage. And it finally all came through! I wrote a blog for the recovery, so I'm pulling some excerpts from there--here's how it all went down:

Oct 15, 2009 - Akawesley vs. Insurers, Round 1: The past few days have been crazy. I have been spending my evenings talking to my insurers to see what they will cover for this operation. I thought that I would automatically be covered for this because if it happened in Canada, the doctor visits and operation would be covered by the government. Well, I've come to realize that unless you are basically about to die, the "emergency" insurance policy may not pay for anything. So if you ever get hurt, make sure you're not traveling!

I want to give big kudos to my underwriter and insurer Empire Life / Mondial Assistance. They have been extremely responsive and fair with their travel emergency coverage. They offered to fly me back first class to Canada to get the operation there. As a second option, a generous offer, they offered to pay for the operation in Hong Kong. Fucking AWESOME! Thank God someone at Mondial was feeling generous--I was on the verge of paying everything out-of-pocket when these guys came through for me.

My travel emergency policy under Travel Cuts Bon Voyage / ETFS Inc. was quite disappointing. Although they were responsive, they barely even recognized my injury as being an "emergency". Bitches. Don't pay attention to their definition of "emergency" on their website--they basically have an exclusion on any problem where you could, at some point in the future, return to your home country to get medical attention. So that's pretty much everything unless you're about to die.

Dec 5, 2009 - Akawesley vs. Insurers, Round 2: This week I got a "thick package" from Mondial Insurance. I told my friend back home to open it, hoping that it was full of 15,000 $1 bills. Unfortunately it was my original receipts back and a letter asking for a decline letter from my primary insurer, Global Excel. Fawk! Talk about frustrating! I'm dealing with both insurers, submitting exactly the same thing. And now everything will probably take another couple of months because I have to resubmit all my receipts to my primary insurer--they told me I need to do that just to get the decline letter. I guess I wouldn't complain so much if I wasn't....on the other side of the world. Bitches! Argh!

Jan 30, 2010 - Akawesley vs. Insurers, Round 3: Called those bitches from Global Excel / Travelcuts to see why they're sitting on my claim for so long. I already know they're going to decline. They already know they're going to decline. We knew this 3 months ago and clarified it 2 months ago. Why does it take 6 weeks to send me the decline letter?! They said they just sent the decline letter "today". So I just magically called exactly the day they sent out the letter? Yeah right.

Aug 12, 2010 - Akawesley vs. Insurers, Round 4, 5 and 6: So what happened since February? I finally got the rejection letter from Global Excel, sent that to Mondial, got everything returned from Mondial saying that I had to submit the receipts myself to the Ontario Health Plan (OHIP), sent everything to OHIP, waited a month, got everything returned from OHIP saying that I filled the form incorrectly, sent everything back to OHIP, waited a month, got 5% paid by OHIP, they kept original receipts so I sent copies back to Mondial with the results of the OHIP review. That was two weeks ago.

Then today...tadahhhh! Two cheques from Mondial. Cha-ching! I feel like I've won the lottery. Although I don't plan to play this lottery any more in the future!

$CAD
% of Total
TOTAL COST               14,980               100%
     
Ontario Health                    733               5%
Mondial               11,699               78%
Company HS Plan                 2,548               17%
TOTAL REIMB'D               14,980              100%

My knee is pretty functional. It just creaky like an old rocking chair. I don't think I've been working it out as much as I should be. And every day I tell myself that I will do more. So that's happening slowly. Sometimes I can feel my leg muscles working hard to get up stairs, so it's still relatively weak.

________________________________________________


 

TURNING 365 PART 4: AUSTRALIA

________________________________________________

 

SAN FRANCISCO
Nov 7 - Quick Stop

I had a quick stopover in San Francisco on my way back to Toronto. Every time I come to this city, I really love it. This time, on my way from the airport to my place I was blocked off by a massive parade starting up. It didn't take me long before I found out that the Giants had won the baseball World Series.

I'm not a huge baseball fan but I watched the parade go by anyways. Well, it was more that I couldn't get past the mass of people. But it's pretty cool to watch a city celebrate like that.

Just finished the weekend with a bunch of walking around the city and some fun touristy areas, Pier 39 to Ghirardhelli Square. Always lots to see.

 

 

 

 

 

________________________________________________


TORONTO
Nov 13 - Getting Ready for Part Five: Mexico

I am embarassed about admitting this but I am sick as hell of traveling!!! After the past 4 months constantly moving from city to city, moving from hotel to hostel, I am wrecked. I feel like a spoiled kid complaining about eating steak every night, but I've really had enough. So it was very tempting just to call it quits and restart real life in Toronto. I even started to do some online apartment hunting.

But then I thought about how I would feel about this all a year or two years from now. I think the only regret I would have is if I called it quits and squandered this opportunity for an extended leave. If I looked back on this, I would never regret spending a few months in Mexico, would I?

So I took a deep breath and bought my flight ticket to Mexico City.

________________________________________________


 

TURNING 365 PART 5: MEXICO

________________________________________________

 

CALGARY
Feb 7 - Baby It's Cold Outside

I hadn't seen snow for about 2 years and as my plane landed I shivered as I saw the white blanket covering the buildings. At -25C the city is a freezer but luckily I kept a stash of winter clothes here. I can't believe I have been complaining during my trip about 10C weather in Hong Kong and Mexico!

 

 

 

 

________________________________________________


CALGARY
Feb 21 - Visiting Calgary

I'm just ending my time here in Calgary. It was good seeing the family although the kids have grown to an age where they're not automatically excited to see me. But it's cool to see them get older and pick up their own interests and stuff. I went to watch their hockey and ringette games.

I also taught a class at the university while I was here and walking through the campus and seeing all the kids studying in the common hall just made me want to go back to school. While we're in school we have a strong purpose--I feel a bit directionless now. Even after taking this time off to find direction.

I spent the rest of my time catching up with friends. Bonding with my family. And playing video games for money. Yeah, I just discovered that I could have been making money on all those video games I've been playing to kill time. Already accumulated $400 in the kitty at king.com. It's helping me pay for the unlocked Iphone that I bought to replace the phone stolen by the hugging family.

 

 

 

 

 

________________________________________________


TORONTO
Feb 22 - Re-Entry

Yay! Back in Toronto for a while now! I'm happy to be home!

Going back to work is going to be a shock. I was considering asking my employer for a modified work schedule of three months on and three months off for the next little while, but I will wait to see how I feel after working a bit.

So now to find an apartment and get settled down...

________________________________________________


TORONTO
Dec 31 - Back in the Real World

I've been meaning to write this entry for a while now. And New Year's Eve seemed to be a good time to do it. I've been back in the real world for 10 months. I can't really believe I was off for a year--it really does seem like a dream.

So would I take the time off again? I've been thinking about it. Maybe in a few years when I get my wanderlust back. And it would be 10 times better to share it with someone.

A few things since being back in Toronto:

1. I have avoided travel since returning: I am tired of being a traveler. It's amazing how this trip totally flipped my ideas about traveling. Traveling just seems to be so much work now, and everything related to it so temporary. It's been nice to be home and be able to have permanence around me again. I have my friends around. I can meet new people and they don't skip town after a few days. I can own things again. There's stability and predictability in my life--maybe they're not so over-rated.

Now, I've had moments where I miss Hong Kong or Buenos Aires (Mexico City not so much), but being in Toronto is awesome. This is home. And this is where I want to be right now.

2. I feel work is a drag: My job was waiting for me when I got back, and getting back into it was a breeze. It was like I never left. And I really like my job--it's interesting all the time and really suited to how I think and work. And I've been happy to get back to work and do something "productive". But since I've been back, the necessity to work 5 days a week has been lost on me. After about Wednesday, I'm ready to call it quits and take an extra long weekend. Why do I need to work so much? This is a big aggravation for me, and I am thinking about asking my boss to cut me down to a 3 or 4 day work week. Life is too short to spend your life at the office.

3. I dislike talking about my trip: Of course it's the first question people asked me for a while: "How was your trip?". Which is a question similar to how was the last 18 months of your life?. And my answer is "It was good.". Seems a bit anti-climactic I guess. But the question seems more of a nicety in the first place--do they really want to see a 5 hour slideshow and commentary of the trip? If you ever want to ask someone about a year off, don't ask such a general question, ask something more specific like "What did you think of Buenos Aires?" or "What's the grossest thing you ate?". That'll get me talking.

4. I play sports again: Since the knee surgery I had in Hong Kong, I had been looking forward to playing sports again. Once I got back to Toronto, I joined a badminton league and a swim club. Maybe volleyball will be down the road. It's so amazing doing this again after a 10 year hiatus.

5. I'm happy I did the year off: I think the time off made me appreciate what I enjoy about my "real" life. I think one reason I took the time off was to look for larger meaning in life, something to give me direction. I think I've come to the conclusion that there's really no meaning in life--we're here for a short time and then gone. So we just need to enjoy our own lives, try not to hurt anyone else, and try to leave it a bit better than you found it.

I've also been continuing my guitar and Spanish lessons. It's great to have picked up new hobbies at an age when I believed you're supposed to already have your hobbies.

________________________________________________


GO BACK TO TOP

 

see itinerary