This is the first in a series of short reflections I’ll be posting in the coming weeks. I’ve always enjoyed writing vignettes – small snippets that capture a very specific moment in time, a person, or a place. My writing often takes this form, and I thought I’d tug these words out of my notebook and Google Docs folder, and start posting again. This is actually a monologue I wrote for a radio club I’m a member of. We were partnered up and told to create a soundscape/experimental sound piece around the other person’s words. My partner and I have yet to do this, but the written piece alone means a lot to me. Here’s vignette number 1 – I hope you enjoy.
When I was growing up, I always thought it was a castle. It was the biggest house I had ever seen, which wasn’t much, coming from small town northern Ontario. The house held equal part memory and personality. That clinically-mint kitchen-bedroom combination on the second floor, those floral sheets spread clean over single beds. The back stairway that led from my parents’ room down into the kitchen. The couches wrapped in plastic that squeaked as I flipped through a decade of dusty yearbooks.
It was my gramps’ house and it our summer retreat, until it wasn’t anymore.
We got older and that house got older and my gramps got older, too. Today only the first two remain, and no one looks the same.
A few summers ago I returned to that town and stood on the sidewalk across the street from that old house, the castle of my childhood. It had been years, and I expected it to look different – reclaimed by another family and by other children with active imaginations and toys to scatter the front yard. But it was the same. The red paint on the porch was peeled back, worn clean along a track where I learned to ride my tricycle. The doorbell was the same white turn knob, a rusty ring that percussed along with the sound of screen door slams.
Inside the front window, there was a ladder, and a room half painted. Memories were in the midst of being covered and refreshed, but they would never be forgotten. They run deeper than any paint, than any furniture. Still the transformation was underway, from a place that was mine, to a place that was theirs.
I spent my summers growing up in that old house, but never as much as in that moment.
Last year at this time I was on a plane across the world.
November 5, 2013 was when the great adventure that was Nepal began. It was my new chapter, my new start, exactly what I didn’t know I needed.
I have been click clacking away at this post for a couple of days now, and have struggled with the focus. But I think I’ve worked it out: I want it to be about concepts of time, youthfulness, and finding your passion. There we go. The first step is stating your thesis, right?
(Strangely enough, when I wrote this post last year, I had a similarly hard time grounding my focus. Life confessionals – with a toss of the dice they spill like red wine, like molasses)
Since November 5 of last year was such a defining date, the last week has been met with a case of the “what I was doing at this time last year” syndrome. Despite those days being filled with so much confusion, I find myself re-experiencing it with such clarity. It was a sense of clarity and grounded-ness that went on to fill the next three months.
From my experience, the concept of time gets wonky when you travel. That’s why I’m not surprised Nepal changed my life, despite me only being there for three months. Those three months were experienced at a hyper-active speed – everything jam-packed into hardly no time at all. I met so many people, had countless experiences, and learned lessons that would normally take much longer at home. Travelling is life on steroids.
That’s why since coming home, I feel like the time-experience continuum is, to put it technically, outta whack. For three months I was chugging full speed ahead, and then the brakes were liberally applied.
God I am such a baby. I know I am. I am 24-years-old, but at the same time, hooooooly crap, in March I will be 25. That is halfway to 50 which is halfway to a century. Whatever, roll your eyes, but we all have our own baseline insecurities.
I have a common young person problem. They call it “fear of missing out,” or FOMO, for short. It involves the fear that any one decision you make will dramatically shift your life in such a way that nothing else that came before it will ever be possible again. Like, to use a personal example, the perpetual fear I have over my decision to move back to Ottawa and take a full-time job (but I’ll get to this in a couple of paragraphs).
The best way to describe my FOMO is a sense of anxiousness and urgency that manifests itself several times a week. It’s triggered by many things: stuff in the news, insecurities caused by all the fun friends look like they’re having on Facebook, daily encounters with different people. Lots of stuff.
Right now, the result of my FOMO is that there are some very specific travel-related things that I’m scared I will never get to do. They mostly relate to reporting in different parts of the world, and one very specific project I want to undertake back in Nepal. Sometimes I want the latter of these things so badly that I feel as though I’m going to be sick.
The pragmatic part of my brain knows life is not just an abacus that suddenly has all the pegs on one side. There is time, says that sane voice. Is there, though? Why can’t it all start now? My inner, irrational (but endearingly adventurous) self pouts like a five-year-old.
This is what I try to tell myself in situations like this: the goals desired through FOMO can be better attained with time. Right now my ideas are these beautiful, tempting pieces of fruit. Seriously, they look awesome. But they’re not ripe yet. That’s the analogy* I tell myself in between wanting to book myself the next plane ticket to Kathmandu.
Being in Nepal was a gift in so many ways, and I learned a lot (these few lessons selected from my beloved green Moleskine travel companion):
If lost when trekking, the right path is almost always up, and complaining about it and standing there staring upwards at a trail is not going to get you to the top any faster
Talent is distributed equally, opportunity is not
The best way to overcome a childhood fear of non-conventional toilets is to spend three months in a country where you will frequently be squatting, often with the aid of a headlamp
Take calculated risks
Sometimes the right tool for the job isn’t available. Make do, and be creative.
After a while you will stop caring about whether there is a wifi network around. Everytime a phone vibrates, you will not instinctively reach for your own
Nepal also provided me with an epiphany moment.
Let’s talk about the epiphany phenomena for a second. Earlier this week I was talking on Facetime with one of my best university friends, and we were talking about these moments. Moments that give a direction to ambition – the discovery of something you didn’t know you had a passion for, yet after that moment you know your entire life will be seen through a different lens because of it.
Up to this point, my life has had four epiphany moments. The first was sometime in elementary school when I discovered I love photography. The next was the grade 11 discovery that I wanted to be a journalist. The third was the university discovery that I loved (and was good at) cooking. Looking back, all seem like such, “well of course!” moments, but they really weren’t clear until that aforementioned Epiphany put on the cloak of fate.
The fourth epiphany was the one that happened in Nepal, and it was the discovery that I wanted to work in either the international development field, or in an international context.
Something so deep shifted in me in Nepal. I’ve always had a sense of social justice, but it wasn’t truly articulated until I met people who had little chance of accessing the things I so casually took for granted. It would have been easy to diagnose Nepal as slow-moving and backward. Seeing ways of life as a problem, rather than accepting that the “Western way” or the “Western speed of doing things” was not the only way to go about making progress. Privilege can be a funny set of blinders sometime. The people I met in Nepal, a couple of them I’m now happy to call my friends, had the most incredible stories. Sad ones, happy ones, banal ones – stories few people outside their community or family would get to hear because the capacity wasn’t there to tell them.
To make a long life plan short, I basically want to have the skills and knowledge to go back and help them share those stories.
This is a big reason I made the move back to Ottawa. I’m working for an international non-profit that gives youth in countries around the world the training and access to technology in order for them to become entrepreneurs and leaders, whether it’s in their own families or in their communities. It’s so they can hopefully move past subsistence-based work to a point where they can improve their lives and the lives of future generations. I’m learning a heck of a lot, and I know it’s going to make me more broadminded when I do eventually end up working overseas. Because it will happen.
But oh hi! Hi! Irrational Hilary still here! And she wants to leave pronto.
So that’s the state I’m in…this internal struggle, wherein I tell myself to breathe and give it time, cognizant of the fact that my reassurances sound like a Lululemon bag.
Okay, let’s try to wrap this up in some kind of “the moral of the story is” sort of way. I guess what I need to take away from this (yes, I did just life coach myself), is that I have many more years (knock on wood) to experience all the things I frantically want to pack into the dwindling months of “24.”
So on the day of this one year anniversary, I will go about my Wednesday routine of 2014. I will go to work, and I will go to my pottery lesson, where I will spend a wonderful three hours cathartically syncing mental and physical focus as I occasionally spin muddy clay into my eyes. I am learning and I am focused and I am working towards something.
And hey, who knows what November 5, 2015 will bring?
One year can be a short time, and it can be a long time. I just need to have the patience to wait it out.
In my last post, I mentioned I would be talking about culture and cultural identity sometime in the next to near future. Well now’s the time – the wee hours of a Wednesday night, sleepless tossing-and-turning resulting from evening run endorphins, a screaming baby in the basement apartment, and a sale on Lindt coconut chocolate eaten before bed. This is a very personal post. After all, what is the Internet if not a place to toss ideas out into the empty ether, and have them come back ripe with similar thoughts, the occasional sympathy, and ever-reassuring cat gif?
I’ve struggled with the concept of cultural identity my entire life. I don’t mean this in a “well we’re Canadian and isn’t this whoooole country really, like, just trying to figure out what it means to be truly Canadian? Doesn’t our national identity have something to do with Kraft Dinner?!” I mean it to be that I don’t always feel fully Canadian, if that makes sense. But I don’t know what culture is supposed to fill those gaps, either.
Some background information on my background. I’m half Chinese, half Irish, a mix spawned after my parents met playing squash in Timmins, Ontario. As a kid, I would holler about the schoolyard that I was “Chirishadian” – a unique moniker combining my three nationalities, a way to surmise the confusion I didn’t realize I felt until later.
If we’re talking about physical appearances alone, I stump many.
There’s going to be the acknowledgement of stereotypes here, so bear with me for these sweeping statements: I’m not completely slight as all of my Chinese relatives are. I have almond-shaped eyes, ones my brother say shrink to slits when I smile in photos. But they’re green. The colour my dad’s were when he was my age. I’m tall, strong, and have been called ethnicities ranging from Mongolian to Nepalese to Portuguese (who knows how that last one happened). I’ve been interviewing First Nations leaders when they’ve asked me what reserve I’m from. In grade 12, my high school guidance counsellor asked if I wanted to be nominated for a scholarship for outstanding First Nations students. Cab drivers assume I’m Inuit as they glance my way in the rearview mirror. Perhaps these last few assumptions are really the boldest expression of “Canada” I can claim. People have been placing me in specific “ethnic boxes” my entire life. It doesn’t really bother me (just like the “Hilary Duff” name thing, I’m kind of used to it, frankly). But in all honesty, it’s gotten me a little messed up.
So how does this link to recent travels, you might ask? Good question.
My cultural identity thoughts really came to light when I was in Hong Kong last winter.
An aside: Though I understand the multi-racial make-up of Canada today (and even as a kid growing up in the 90’s), you have to understand where I was raised. At my elementary and high schools in Timmins and Sudbury, I was one of a few Asian students. In grade 11, a girl came up to my locker and asked why I spoke English so well, assuming I was a recent immigrant to Canada. Multiculturalism in big cities is all fine and dandy, but it wasn’t even close to being a given where and when I grew up.
So keep that context in mind. Suddenly I’m in Hong Kong – a place where I’m not the minority. Everyone looks generally like the ethnicity from whence I come. My mom’s family was from the southern part of China, from a region next door to what is now Hong Kong. For the first time in my life, I fit in – appearance-wise, anyways. But it ended there. It was an interesting phenomena being in Hong Kong. I walked into restaurants and up to street vendors and they spoke to me in Cantonese. Because I looked like I would know the language because I looked like them. I spent a day in Macau with my friend who does speak Cantonese, and he had to explain to several exasperated salespeople that no, I wasn’t ignoring what they were saying to me, I simply couldn’t understand.
I was struck with this huge sense of unbelonging. I didn’t look like people at home, and in the place where I do “fit in,” I was ‘othered’ because of my lack of cultural knowledge and language. Boom. The unique, racial ambiguity of the future – where the assumption of ethnicity – even if correct – can’t and shouldn’t be affiliated to an inherent knowledge of that ethnicity’s culture.
My Chinese heritage was neither taught nor hidden from me. Rather, it appeared in wisps – a toonie in a red envelope on Chinese New Year, a trip to my Gramps’ house where, on a plastic-wrapped couch, I would look at the odd relic of our shared heritage. Meanwhile, every other summer we would visit my dad’s family in Ireland, where my cousins, brother, and I would march around town pretending to be the von Trapp children, boggling the minds of strangers as we told them we were blood relatives.
I’m not bitter about my parents’ choice to not instil a deeper sense of cultural values in me. As kids (or at least as a university student..my dad immigrated to Canada in his early 20’s), my parents looked to Canada as a place to create a new life. It’s not my place to talk about my mom’s life growing up as a Chinese girl in Loyalist southern Ontario, but it’s safe to say that neither of us were exactly raised in places that embraced the value of being different. So they, we, I…were folded into the mix of Canada, an attempt to create a homogenous mixture out of many diverse ingredients.
I mention that I’m not bitter…but I’m sad. I’m sad my grandparents passed away before I had the chance to ask them their stories, their histories. I’m also scared my surviving family has forgotten theirs, or has filed them so deep in their mind archives that they’ll never again see the light of day.
My struggle for cultural identity continues, for now. But I’m trying.
Part of me wishes (and will always wish) I was still in one of the two places mentioned in the title of this blog post. International travel is an intoxicating mix of new encounters and humbling experiences. I feel fortunate for the adventures I had and the lessons I learned last fall and winter, and can’t help but yearn for when I will be lucky enough to have them again. At this time when I feel myself struggling with a couple of complex feelings around place and direction, I’ve been thinking a lot about the journey I took earlier this year. Because of computer logistics and less notebook scribbles, I never posted anything about my final trip days. I’m hoping to do a bit of that over the coming weeks, as I reflect back and start a new chapter in my life. More on that later.
Leaving Nepal on January 28 was bittersweet. It was dusk in Kathmandu as I took the taxi from Boudhanath, where I’d had dinner with a new friend, to the airport. One last ride on the pockmarked streets, horns blaring around corners and into the night sky.
During nighttime take offs, one of my favourite things is to look out the window at the lights of the city below, snaking their way around waterways and geometrically into grids. Not so in Kathmandu. Our plane soared off the runway and up into the sky. I turned my head to the window, and found we left behind almost complete darkness. I shouldn’t have been surprised. January and February are two of the worst months for power load shedding in KTM, and at this point in the evening, the sprawl of the city was blanketed in black. Still, I said my final farewells to that temporary home, and imagined leaving behind all those now-invisible behind-a-curtain restaurants, street vendors, and mountains.
This in mind, Hong Kong hit like a bag of bricks. Kathmandu is a sensory experience because of the honking and monkeys and traffic and dust. In Hong Kong, it’s the never-ending light. Electricity everywhere, screaming at you with the equivalent of a thousand caps-locked novels. I felt as though there were more lights in one square block of HK than in all of Kathmandu. It was jaw-dropping. I felt like I had just been caught escaping jail, every floodlight of the institution suddenly shining down on me.
The culture shock hit the moment I got to the airport. I realized I had “forgotten” how to use an automatic soap dispenser and was surprised when the toilet flushed itself. I got nauseous and motion sick on all forms of public transportation because my body was no longer used to travelling faster than 40 kilometres an hour, not to mention on smooth roads. There were street lights, street signs, garbage cans, and skyscrapers. I stared at my sweaty, backpacked reflection in the window of Dolce and Gabanna and Gucci stores. Starbucks and McDonalds waved with Western World hello’s. Everything was efficient and clean and everyone was in a rush.
It was easy to feel overwhelmed by the change. I think Hong Kong would have been intense coming from Canada, but it was even more so coming straight from three months in Nepal. Still, I was grateful for the order of travel, and the perspective Nepal gave me for this new city at hand.
Suddenly, “Western” ideas of consumerism and capitalism in Hong Kong seemed absurd when compared to the poverty I had witnessed in Nepal. In Gatlang, one of the only opportunities for women to “shop” was when two young men walked the five hours from a local village, peddling Hello Kitty polar fleeces and fake leather jackets. In Hong Kong, material items seemed much more important. Shopping malls marked every corner like a neighbourhood coffee shop.
It’s here that we should note that Hong Kong is not China (no, really, it’s considered a “Special Administrative Region” and is so much more British/Western because of that controversial little thing they call colonialism). When I talked to some people at home about going to China, or even going to Hong Kong, the reaction was: do you know that China is a communist state? A: sure, in theory.
But despite the cultural revolution, Maoist hate-on for capitalism and the bourgeois, China, to me, is really the ultimate expression of Capitalism (in what I thought as a sweet bit of irony, I was even able to buy my very own little red copy of “Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung” and a lovely wristwatch where Mao’s raised arm is used to indicate the changing minute). And, since we’ve already established that not only is HK not really China, but was also very much Western-inspired, the city’s culture reflects this. HK has one of the highest per-capita incomes, but also one of the highest rates in income inequality among developed countries.
I felt the sudden urge to get rid of most of what I own.
All this in mind, HK was exciting, too. It felt like being in a non-stop amusement park. I ate oily, deep-fried fish balls and squid sold at corner street vendors, chunks of eggplant oozing with cheese. I wandered market after market, taking great thrill in haggling for fun; I ate noodles and drank beer in outdoor night markets. The Hong Kong subway and mini buses hurtled me around the city, to take in the sights and scents at Taoist temples, and awe over manicured city gardens contrasted with the highest of skyscrapers.
To be fair, I was also in the city during Chinese New Year celebrations (as I had eagerly intended), so things were perhaps even more frantic than usual. Stay with me over the next little bit as I explore the fun follies of cultural identity, colonial remnants, celebrating three New Years in one year, and the impressive hilarity of choreographed water fountains!
It was arguably the most perfect day to visit a brewery.
The sun was beating hot and heavy, my car windows were rolled all the way down, and I was hollering along to some catchy new Arkells song on my car stereo. I was excited. And thirsty.
It was the August long weekend, which meant I had driven back to Ottawa to visit some old friends and my younger brother. One of my favourite things about visiting the Capital after a long time away (since September!!) is scoping out all the interesting new businesses that have thrown open their doors. In fact, I almost fell off my bike looking at all of them.
But the one I was most anxious to visit was Dominion City Brewing Co., the brain and beer-child of friends Josh McJannett, Alex Monk, and Andrew Kent.
You see, back in March I got an inconspicuous email. It was from my friend Jessey, and it was about a new brewery her friends were involved with opening. Skip forward a few months, and you have me, driving probably a little too fast in search of an afternoon chat about craft beer.
I pull up to Dominion City Brewing soon after. It’s less than a week to opening date, and half a dozen-or-so friends are helping clean growlers, bottle beer, and keep spirits high. Josh steps out of the walk-in freezer in shorts down to his knees and black rubber boots that go just as high. Casual Sunday wear when you’re hanging out in the brewery.
Beer has been an important part of the three men’s lives. Josh smiles as he tells the story of how he and Andrew found their passion for pints. Around 2003, they, like many other university students, were spending a fair amount of time drinking beer. But for the two friends it was different – they spent their time and money at Vineyards Wine Bar Bistro in the ByWard Market. Sure they were drinking a lot of different types of beer, but they noticed one thing: the local options were limited. It was import-city. The brainstorming and daydreaming began, and two years ago, the friends (with Alex on board) started aggressively planning to open a brewery. After home brewing for years, they’re finally at a point where they have a commercial space to call their own.
Of course the beer scene has changed a bit since 2003.
For those who don’t know Ottawa, or for those who live under a rock in Ottawa, it’s no secret that the craft beer market is exploding in the city. Beau’s, Kichesippi, Beyond the Pale…all are relatively new ventures in the sipping scene. And they’re all awesome. I can say that because I drank at least one of each of their brews during my short time in Ottawa.
So I wanted to ask Josh what he thought was different about Dominion City. Perhaps that’s a null question, because maybe it’s enough that you’re making delicious beer. But still, I thought I’d toss out the question.
Turns out it’s the link between country and city, urban and rural that Dominion City is hoping to evoke. That idea of place. And check it out – the brewery is in the middle of an industrial park in east Ottawa, about as “city” as it gets. But step inside, and your perspective shifts. You see a bar made of 100-year-old pine logs dredged and dragged from the bottom of the Ottawa River. There’s a wall constructed of dark, up-cycled wood planks salvaged from a barn in Almonte. A black-and-white street-scape of old Gatineau graces the edge of the bottle room.
Appearance alone does not a brewery make. The beer itself carries the same city-country dichotomy. The local mentality is strong, with spent grains going to hungry piggies at nearby Castor River Farms, and most of their organic Red Fife wheat grown and milled in the Ottawa Valley. It’s local, from design to draft to drink.
And while I’m ogling over the prettiness of the bottle house area, Josh is the first to emphasize that this is a working brewery, the real deal. People can see back to the 15-gallon system, the tall metal vats where beer chemistry magic happens. It’s a warehouse. There’s no pretending here, but it’s honest and open and clean.
And, oh right, you probably want to know about the beers themselves, huh? Dominion City is launching with three main brews (descriptions condensed from the brewery’s website):
Two Flags IPA: An assertively hoppy by well-balanced and highly drinkable India Pale Ale. Flavours include burnt sugar, grapefruit, and a lingering hop bitterness. 7%
Town & Country Blonde Ale: An easy-drinking beer with a kick. Soft, malty sweetness and biscuit notes are combined with a mildly spicy and citrusy hop crispness. 5.5%
Earl Grey Marmalade Saison: Brewed with freshly-zested oranges and Bridgehead organic Earl Grey tea, this brew has contrasting fruity, spicy, and tart notes, with a dry and moderately bitter finish.
Josh says the brewery hopes to bring in seasonal brews, but is keeping its focus on these three for the time being. The beer can be bought in 1.89L growlers or 750ml grumblers.
Community-built beer You might have first heard of Dominion City Brewing Co. through Kickstarter.
The crowd-funding website was alight with support for the new brewery, with money being raised to fund the aforementioned bottling room and tasting bar. They surpassed their goal of $15,000, and, in the end, 273 backers contributed just over $19,600. Josh and I agreed – humbling was the word to describe the whole process.
Still, the support has gone far beyond the crowd-funding campaign. Dozens of friends have stepped up to help Josh & Co. do everything from washing to bottling to social media work. It’s been a team effort from start until doors open.
Speaking of that, it’s happening awfully soon. Tomorrow, in fact. The inaugural public drafts were poured at a party this past Tuesday, with the bottle shop opening its doors this Saturday, August 9. There’s going to be a food truck on hand, and lots of beer to sample. I won’t be in town, but it sounds like a hell of a way to spend a weekend afternoon, right? In the meantime, I’ll enjoy sipping my Town & Country here at home in Sudbury. Cheers to you, Ottawa!
For more before and after photos of the brewery space, and shots of the awesome people involved, visit the Dominion City Brewing Co. Facebook page.