Its the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Well, hello again friends. The travel bug has bit again and one of my best friends and I are off to Iceland at the end of may. But that’s not the point of this post.

You’re probably thinking – “But, Aaron those are Christmas lyrics. And, last time I checked its April”. Well, you’re n0t wrong. But, in just over one month, the Eurovision Song Contest will be happening in Stockholm, Sweden and you should most definitely watch it.

While it gets little coverage on this side of the Atlantic – Eurovision is one of the highlights of the year and you should watch it not only for the tackiness of some of the performers, but if you’re lucky enough to stream the BBC’s version – Graham Norton’s comments (here’s a sample).

Ok, now I’ve got you thinking -“Aaron, what the f**k is Eurovision”. Here’s a short explainer – Back in 1955 the Europeans were rebuilding from the ravages of World War II. Worried that another war would decimate the continent – they decided to put down the guns and fight their battles through song. Which is cute right? It started out small, with a handful of countries but now has morphed into one of the biggest live TV events of the year featuring 20+ countries (including Australia, because why not).

Each member of the European Broadcasting Union is able to send one representative to the contest, but they don’t have to (which is why Portugal isn’t participating this year). Every country, minus “the Big 5” – France, UK, Germany, Italy, Spain, has to go though the semi-final process.The reason why “The Big 5” are exempt is because they contribute the most $$ to the contest. Each country is then judged by Televoting and a score from a professional Jury and the top move on to the Grand Final.

Now, this is when the best 4 hours of your life happen. In the Grand Final, all the countries that made it though the semis and the Big Five perform and they are then scored again. Each country then has a representative to deliver their points from 12-0 on stage. If you’ve ever hear the expression “nil points” – this is where it comes from. Seeing who voted for who is one of the highlights of the evening as sometimes countries that traditionally vote for each other don’t and it messes everything up. The Wire did a great run down of traditional voting “blocs” and you can check that out here.

“But, A-a-ron, why should I care?” Well my friend. There are many many reasons why you should care. Firstly, Eurovision gives all the countries of Europe a chance to come together and put aside their political differences for one night of music (note I didn’t use the word great… as one YouTube search would prove that wrong). Plus, Eurovision is an amazing stage for the acceptance of everyone. Not only was Iceland’s 2014 entry called “No Prejudice”  but that same year an Austrian Drag Queen named Conchita Würst (google the translation) won the entire thing. How cool is that? You can check out her winning song, “Rise Like A Phoenix” here.

But, this isn’t the first time a Drag Queen has participated. In 2007, Vera Serduchka from the Ukraine graced the world with her wonderful ditty – Dancing Lasha Mumbai which was featured in the Mellissa McCarthy movie “Spy” (also, click the link I dare you). Also, Dana International from Israel has participated 2x, along with many other additional LGBT performers. But, this is not the only reason why you should watch Eurovision. Basically, Russia’s 2012 entry by a group of 80 year old grandmas called “party for everybody” sums it up nicely . Because it is. I’m gonna skip over the part about how it promotes the performing of songs in national languages for the fun part.

Eurovision is basically a four hour hot mess.

Each year, the show has one over arching theme. It’s usually some vaguely non-sensical idea – but it is there. For example, 2014’s theme was “#JoinUs” and 2011’s was “Feel Your Heart Beat”. But, each country is responsible for their own staging and this does not have to fit in with this theme. Which has lead to – this, this and this.

And, while most countries send “normal” songs – with questionably translated lyrics. “Tick Tock, can you hear me go tick tock, my heart is like a clock and steady like a rock… my heart is like a clock you won it with your love” is an actual lyric from a real song that was performed during the contest – that song (Tick Tock from the Ukraine) placed 6th with 113 points. Yikes. Some countries have serious lapses in judgement and the result is wonderful pieces of music that will forever live in infamy. Here are 3 wonderful examples of times that people should have thought twice about what they were sending to an international song competition – one, two and three. Also over the years, there have been songs about Social Media, a singing turkey, and some INSANELY high notes (see: Miracle – Paula Seling and Ovi, 2014 – Romania).

It’s hard to sum up the essence of what Eurovision is in words. And thus, friends – I present, without further adieu,  my top 10 Eurovision contest entries. These are sure to stick in your head for the next few days, and when May 12 rolls around, will cause you to watch the wonderfulness that is Eurovision.

10. Zaleilah – Mandinga (From Romania, but with Bagpipes and in Spanish… because #Eurovision. 

9. Da Da Dum – Paradise Oskar (2011, Finland)

8. Popular – Eric Saade (2011, Sweden)

7. Euphoria – Loreen (2012, Sweden)

6. Only Teardrops – Emelie de Forrest (2013, Denmark)

5. I Am Yours – The Make Makes (2015, Austria)

4. Calm After The Storm – The Common Linnets (2014, The Netherlands)

3. Undo – Sanna Nielsen (2014, Sweden)

2. A New Tomorrow – A Friend in London (2011, Denmark)

1. Heroes- Måns Zelmerlöw (2015, Sweden) 

Over the years, there have been some careers launched at Eurovision (Céline Dion and Abba both got their starts there) and some that have failed to take off as well. If you can’t wait for May – there are videos of the Grand Finals up on YouTube and I highly encourage you to check them out because Eurovision is truly the best time of the year.

Also, as a thank you for making it this far, here are some of my favourite Eurovision GIFs.

When Mom asks you to do your chores but bae is coming over 

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When Mom and Dad take you to dinner

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And finally… The struggle between Wallet and Brain

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Looking back on Southeast Asia – 6(?) Months Later

Well, as Drake says late is better than never  – (I highly think I’ve made this joke before, but I’m about 400% over that fact)… so its high time I reflect on the madness that was last summer. Also its significantly 2:25 a.m., but that’s beside the point.

It’s been a long 6 months – thank you school (and Gazette.. *cough* hire me please *cough*). I consistently find myself talking about my trip – although, this could be because I like to talk a lot. Probably that. So, its high time I look back on this trip and realize the many things it has taught me. Thus, dear reader (all 7 of you), here are my top 5 things that I’ve learned from my trip. I could do 10 but I feel like bed is more important.

1. I’m comfortable being out of my comfort zone

Wow, Aaron, so original. Gold star for you. As cliché as this sounds, I’ve actually learned to thrive outside of my comfort zone. Granted, my comfort zone is pretty large – I still constantly find myself in situations outside of it. By forcing myself to take cooking classes (Superman has kryptonite – I have cooking), I’ve learned that its ok to step outside of your comfort zone and fail; there are people around you to help you (ew, I used a semi colon -does that make me a real writer now?).

2. Do things for you – not for the souvenirs

This seems like common sense but it’s so easily overlooked. While souvenirs look cool on your shelf – thats all they are. When you take the $10 you were gonna put on that keychain and put it into an experience you can only get there (Hello, Marina Bay Sands) you’re gonna have memories that last a lifetime (or, at least until you start forgetting things). I’m not saying don’t buy any souvenirs – by all means, get them, but think about it first – is that “I Heart La Paz” shirt really something you’re gonna wear after your trip? I guarantee you it won’t be – it’ll sit there along with that sweater you got from camp that one time and then told yourself you would never wear again.

3. Being tired is ok, in fact, its encouraged

Being tired is FINE. Its not the end of the world. In all honesty, lazy days are the best days for exploring your surroundings. When you’re too tired to hit the tourist trail, you get to explore the intimate surroundings you find yourself in. Maybe there’s a cool café you’ve been meaning to get to or a neat shop that you haven’t gone to because you’ve been too busy doing all the things on that Top 10 list you saw. So ditch it; there’s no rule that you have to see the Louvre every time you to go Paris – or even that you have to see it at all.

4. Ditch the Top 10 List

This one fits in with that last point. While Top 10 lists of things to see will help you get an idea of what to see in an area – they are not gospel. I’ll say it again – TripAdvisor’s Top 10 List of things to see in Timbuktu is NOT THE BIBLE. You don’t need to do everything it says. The biggest way to make your trip more satisfying is doing things that interest you. Don’t want to see an art museum? Don’t. It’s just that easy. You are Jesus in this situation – you are the master of your own destiny. Ok, Jesus may not have been the right vehicle for this literary device but you get my drift. (Hopefully. Otherwise I’m going to hell.)

5. Take Care of Yourself

This one is the biggest thing that gets thrown out the window when you travel. Its so easy to fall into the tunnel vision of trying to see all that you can in one day that we forget about what makes us happy. I mean, this could totally be your thing, and like you do you friend – but just be aware of burnout. Plan scheduled rest days – or redundancy days (for when things don’t work out or are closed because, surprised that happens!) to help you recharge your batteries. Trust me, it’s necessary.

SECRET #6 – Things won’t work out. Deal with it. 

Yes, in an ideal world everywhere has perfect weather and things never close. I hate to be the bubble burster (just kidding, I love it) but OMG! things will close or you will have crappy weather. Its just the way of the world. Yes, it sucks. Yes, it can be devastating when you don’t get to do something you’ve been wanting to do forever – but hey, thats why we travel. We can come back to these places and do these things again. So don’t let that one thing ruin your trip, it’ll suck in the moment – but I assure you cheap booze is probably within walking distance.

Wow – this is too much introspection for me. I don’t like it. Also fun fact, I found out what that mystery illness was. It’s a little thing called Chikungunya – it’s real, and apparently coming for us with the rage of Bernie Sanders at the political establishment.

Thanks for reading this – I don’t think you know how much it means to have people step into my inner monologue and connect with it. Especially when that monologue is full of crass jokes and stupid anecdotes.

Cheers to this great trip – and here’s to many (many!) more!

Thank You, Myanmar.

I’m not one for sappy posts, but indulge me a little please.

For those of you that don’t know, Myanmar (Burma) has just held it’s first internationally accepted election. While it wasn’t to the standards that we see here in Canada, this is a historic move for the country. What makes this election even more important is that the military-backed party lost to Aung San Suu Kyi’s popular NLD party. While she won’t be able to become president as Burmese law prevents people with children born to foreigners from becoming president (oddly specific) her party has promised to provide her with a position higher than the president. Right now – it’s looking like this is going to become a reality.

Here’s a little but of context to put this in perspective. Until 2011, the country was ruled by a military junta and for most of this time Suu Kyi was jailed. Then in 2011, after international pressure, the country held its first elections. These elections which were won by the military-backed USDP weren’t exactly free and fair and in fact, most Burmese didn’t vote. While visiting the country in the summer, I learned that Suu Kyi is revered by many people in the country – many even refer to her as  “Mother Suu”.

Here comes the amazing part. These elections were so popular with many among the country that lines formed hours before polling began, and people continued to line up for days (check out the BBC’s coverage of the election for some incredible images).

The Burmese people are some of the kindest and warmest people I have ever met – and seeing these results makes me so hopeful for the future of their country. They WANT change and it looks like they’ll get it.

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The images of people lining up around the block really struck a chord with me. Why don’t we see this in Canada? Why do we celebrate a 60% voter turn out? It still means that one out of every three people in this country didn’t vote. Not exactly something that we should be celebrating. Myanmar is one of the poorest nations on earth and yet 80% of the population still showed up out to vote.  So my fellow Canadians, get off your lazy asses and vote. Plain and simple.

These results have also caused me to do a little bit of reflection and soul searching. Currently, I’m sitting on top of a washing machine doing 6 weeks worth of laundry AT UNIVERSITY. Man, does that sentence sound privileged. Looking back on my time in the country, most people don’t have the chance to go to university let alone own enough clothes to not have to do laundry (by machine) for 6 weeks. It also puts my disdain towards my grades into perspective. Yes, they’re not the greatest. But, hey, I’m at university. Something that I know many burmese would love to have the chance to do. It’s also inspired me to work even harder, I have the chance to attend one of the best universities in the country – I may as well make the most of it.


Yet in the face of government oppression (the Rohingya people aren’t recognized as citizens and homosexuality is illegal, among other Human Rights Abuses), the Burmese are some of the happiest and kindest people I have ever met. They greet everyone they meet with a “mingalaba” (hello) and a giant smile. In fact, they pretty much have a smile on their faces all the time. We can honestly learn so much from these people and they’ve inspired me to make some changes to my daily life. From now on, I’m going to smile more (maybe this will cure my Resting Bitch Face), be kind to everyone I interact with and realize how truly blessed I am to live where I do.

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Jezuba, Myambar.

(I’ll go get off my soapbox now)

Did you know, not planning a vacation can be just as stressful as planning one?

I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m INCREDIBLY Type A. I need to know where I need to be, what time I need to be there and 7 different ways to get there. But, If you know me well enough, this shouldn’t be news to you. So, having a trip partner that wants to fly by the seat of our pants and plan once we get there is giving me ulcers.

BUT (and this is a Kim K sized one)… its also incredibly exciting for me. Every trip I have ever taken has been planned from A-Ö (who knew there were letters that came after z!) and while I love my parents for this, it takes the spontaneity out of the trip. Yes, we have incredible adventures.  And yes, I love each and every minute of them (not just because I don’t have to pay…) but we never get to say “hey, you know what? I’m not liking where we are, lets go!”  or “Hey, theres a cool local xyz going on lets check it out” which can be a drag. This trip (apart from a week at the beginning) is a complete blank slate (or space if you will) and its exciting and horrifying at the same time.

Don’t get me wrong… my neurotic tendencies have arisen. Case in point: my trip binder (Katelyn if you’re reading this you don’t need paper copies of anything, I got you).  This binder is my pride and joy and I’d cry if I lost it… but that may be due to the fact that it has photocopies of my entire life in it. If you want to see the most organized thing in my life right now, I’ll gladly show you this masterpiece of travel planning. It has all our confirmations (hotels, flights, etc.) organized by country and in the order we’ll need them. BUT THATS ALL I’M GOING TO DO. While I’m with Katelyn it’s going to be fly by the seat of our pants, go where the wind (or tuk tuk driver) takes us – which is an opportunity I’ll be forever grateful for.

So, thanks Katelyn, for giving me the opportunity to shed myself of my neurotic ways (if only for a but. And also giving me a heart attack, anxiety and ulcers at the same time. But mainly the first part (I think…).

People have always told me to go to hell… So I decided to make it happen.

Well. Sort of. Hel…sinki that is.

In a random twist of events that no one expected… for some reason that has been yet to be explained to myself or my travel agent , the cheapest flights to Bangkok were through Helsinki. Which is the opposite way that I’m supposed to be going. But hey, I’ll gladly keep that extra $500 in my pocket.

Which brings me to the reasoning behind this post. I’m headed to Asia this summer, with of my great friends Katelyn. The best adventures are those that start spontaneously, and this will be one of them! It all started because Katelyn is taking a course in Hong Kong and wanted human companionship for some SE Asian exploration (please note the jury is still out on the me being human part) and has morphed into a 10 week all out epic journey.

As it stands now, we’ll be meeting in Bangkok and staying there before we head to the beaches of Thailand. We’ll be using Rai Le beach as a home base to explore the region around Krabi. And that’s where the plans become as solid as Jello (which is a welcome change from travelling with my parents!). As it stands now, we’ll be headed back to Bangkok then to Myanmar, through Laos, to Vietnam, Cambodia and back to Bangkok. Now, I’ve got a few extra days in Bangkok so I may try to squeeze in a side trip to Singapore too. PHEW!

The Myanmar leg is the leg that both Katelyn and I are most looking forward to. As it has only recently opened up to tourists and promises to provide us with unrivaled natural beauty.

So, in the words of Ryan Seacrest, keep it here for more.

No seriously, my goal is to try and post at least once a day while we’re gone. SO, if I haven’t annoyed you yet AND barring any serious medical injuries (aka I’m an idiot and forget to post), stay tuned for what promises to be the trip of a life time.