Sunday, 30 March 2008

How To Make A "Bucket List"

In early 2008 Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman starred in a film about two terminally ill people who meet in hospital and create a "Bucket List" - a list of things to do before you die. The two then jet off around the world, trying to do everything that they had always dreamed of, before they die.

For me a "Bucket List" (the name derived from the phrase "kick the bucket") is less about doing things with the impending fear of death looming over me and more about setting goals and having aims in my life. I'm likely to complete this list, or the majority of it, by the time I am 30 but I will then have the next 50 or so years to remember those experiences and build on them.

If you don't agree 100% with my list, that's great! Life would be boring if we all shared goals and this is my list. Create a list for yourself and see how we compare. No need to go to 100 either - that was just my number obsession!

Failure to complete the list will not be devastating (technically I'll be dead so I won't care!) but the more I can complete, the better! My list contains 100 (so that I can easily calculate percentage of completion!) things to do and see, and it very much about travel and learning.

Travel is a large part of the list because I would rather see things in person than through a lens or screen. To say that I had climbed a mountain is infinitely more impressive than saying I had seen it. I also enjoy telling stories but you have to experience new things to tell interesting stories.

My favourite item on the list is #100 "Make a film of my "Bucket List" footage" because I want to have a video (with most of my life's achievements) shown at my funeral, created and edited by me. I already have a few songs that I want to be on the video!

For those of you who are interested, my Bucket List is to:
  • Backpack on every continent
  • Graduate University with pride
  • Be in love with a beautiful woman
  • Write a book about travelling
  • Write and direct a short film
  • Canoe along part of the Amazon river
  • Learn to speak fluent French
  • Attend a FIFA World Cup game
  • Bungee jump into the Grand Canyon
  • Ride a camel through the desert
  • Learn to play the acoustic guitar
  • See the pyramids in Egypt
  • Learn basic sign language
  • Ride on an elephant in Asia
  • Work as a volunteer at the Olympics
  • Swim with dolphins in the sea
  • Fly with the sunset for hours
  • Sleep under the stars on a beach
  • Learn to speak basic Spanish
  • Go to Vegas with a set budget
  • See the Great Wall of China
  • Hike to Base Camp, Mt. Everest
  • Take a short writing course
  • Jump out of a plane and parachute
  • Teach English in a foreign country
  • Dance from dusk until dawn
  • Cover a rucksack with visited countries' flags
  • Work as a fruit picker in Australia
  • See the Aztec and Mayan ruins
  • Go on an Arctic dogsled expedition
  • Have many stories for my Grandchildren
  • See orang utans in Borneo
  • Visit the Taj Mahal in India
  • Climb Machu Picchu in Peru
  • Travel from the UK to Japan, without flying
  • See an African tribal dance
  • Run in a marathon
  • Stay awake for three days straight
  • Send a message in a bottle
  • Watch the New Zealand rugby team do the "Haka"
  • Kiss a girl on top of the Eiffel Tower
  • Hike across an Alpine glacier
  • See the Ancient Greek ruins
  • Go on a safari in Kenya
  • Work and board in a Parisian library
  • Be at a "Full Moon Party" in Thailand
  • See Niagara Falls from the "Maid of the Mist"
  • Attend a large music festival
  • Spend a day fishing and eat the catch
  • Be an extra in a short film or movie
  • Get an International Driving License
  • Volunteer in a developing country
  • Work on an American summer camp
  • Take a road trip in a VW camper van
  • Visit New York, NY in both summer and winter
  • Climb to the top of an active volcano
  • Scuba dive around a coral reef
  • Cycle across Canada, East to West
  • Learn to juggle with three objects
  • Kayak to a remote island and wild camp
  • Visit 15 North American National Parks
  • Sunbathe on a nudist beach
  • Jump into water from more than 20ft
  • Be able to snowboard and ski well
  • See a Brazilian Carnival in Rio de Janeiro
  • See both a lunar and a solar eclipse
  • Roll in the snow after a sauna in Sweden
  • Attend a séance with a ouija board
  • Swim across the English Channel (21 miles)
  • Learn basic Mandarin Chinese
  • Memorise a piece of poetry to recite
  • Take a month-long Caribbean cruise
  • Celebrate St Patrick's Day in Ireland
  • Learn 4 skateboarding tricks
  • Spend a night in a haunted house
  • Attend an NFL, NBA, MLS and MLB game
  • Visit the Sistine Chapel in Rome
  • Hold my breath for three minutes
  • Skinny dip in a lake in the moonlight
  • Make a banana skin iPod case
  • Political tour in UK, USA and Canada
  • Drink beer in Munich during Oktoberfest
  • Write a meaningful poem or song
  • Play "Hide and Seek" on a rooftop
  • Learn to surf on the West Coast
  • Fly in helicopter, hot air balloon & seaplane
  • Motorcycle road trip with no set destination
  • Watch a tribe hunt with basic weapons
  • Parkour through a city at rush hour
  • See the Burning Man in Nevada
  • Visit Jerusalem and Istanbul on one trip
  • Write my autobiography online anonymously
  • Own 2 valid passports at the same time
  • See Sigur Ros in concert
  • Play Monopoly with real money
  • Make a film of my "Bucket List" footage
  • Tuesday, 25 March 2008

    How To Party Like A Cowboy

    A few months ago I was invited, by a landscaping co-worker, to a sushi restaurant with the promise of meeting a lot of random people in an event called "Big Sushi Night". BSN (as it is known to its fans) is a monthly sushi event hosted in a Richmond restaurant called Kisha Poppo. It was created by Jon Fenn (the co-worker) for both his youth group and his different groups of friends to meet up and hang out.

    I decided to go along, making the (apparently accurate) assumption that it'd be fine because my accent would attract people's attention without a problem and I’d have a great time. Once there, after much talking and joking, I became friends with a few of the people; one of whom was Taryn. As well as knowing her through BSN, I’d have soon met her through football because her boyfriend is on the team. Also, it turned out that she knew my cousins from cheerleading and College Pro painting!

    Recently Taryn turned 20 and decided to celebrate by hiring a party bus to take a group of her friends to an out of town (Pitt Meadows) country and western bar called Roosters. As well as hosting a large dance floor and some pool tables, Roosters is also well-known for their ridiculously cheap wings and occasional bucking bronco machine evenings.

    Even prior to confirming my attendance I’d decided that I’d have to look (and sound) the part if I went! I decided that I would dress stereotypically cowboy and talk like a hick; throwing in “Yee-haw’s” every so often like every good redneck should! During the day at work before the party (excited for my first proper night out in months!) I decided to go one step further and brainstorm some cowboy puns to use as chat-up lines.

    If my brain was the wild west, the brainstorming would be most likened to a desert drought with no movement save for the occasional tumbleweed bouncing across on the horizon. Fortunately, the storm came all at once as soon as I had recruited help from Danny (and his girlfriend, Alanna via phone) for clichés and puns.

    First I came up with (what I, at the time, considered “brilliant”) “save a horse; ride a cowboy” before Alanna called back with “can I check you for ticks?”! Deciding that there was indeed a limit to which I would stoop to pull this off (and failing to believe that hers wasn’t insulting!), I chose the first one and prepared myself for a wicked evening as a cowboy. It must be noted however that the second is a legitimate chat-up line and apparently goes down a storm. Essentially it is asking to see the girl naked but I was unaware of this at the time and instead perceived it to be both offensive and primitive; with every possibility of being slapped and looking foolish!

    Once home I scoured the Bowen house (with permission) for some “country attire”. After some manic dashing, I managed to throw together some worn jeans, a bolo tie (a.k.a. a bootlace tie), some brown shoes (that looked a little like cowboy boots) and my own oversized "Levis" belt buckle purchased 2 years ago in Malaysia! Having failed to procure either a hat or a shirt, I decided to buy them from a cheap clothes shop on the way to the bus.

    Not wanting to look too serious I had to ditch the waistcoat and choose the
    red shirt but for a second in Value Village, I looked like a real cowboy!

    Jon suggested “Value Village” and we headed over with very little time available to complete my outfit. Again I had to make the decision to draw a line, after picking up a denim waistcoat and straw cowboy hat, which though completing the look, definitely made me look like I was being far too serious about the whole affair; with every chance of being ridiculed! A red Quiksilver country shirt later and I looked perfect; not too serious but definitely country enough to fit in.

    The party bus was pretty much what “Pimp My Ride” – and “X to the Z” – would have created from a school bus, had they ever gotten one – though without the absurd number of TV’s that they’d have undoubtedly added! It had the comfort and style of a limousine but was larger and allowed for dancing and other crazy antics. Drinking in a moving vehicle is actually illegal in BC so we had to be sneaky until we got out of town (where there were probably no cops within a 10 mile radius!)

    My cross section of country music - provided by my Dad (Dixie Chicks, Dwight Yoakam, etc.), Cory (Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, etc) and GTA: San Andreas (Willie Nelson, Ed Bruce, etc.) – though ranged was not particularly deep and I had never really developed the passion for country music that born and bred Canadians appeared to.

    Therefore, when the bus began pumping out tunes, I was surprised that the tracks were actually quite danceable and I was surprised to see that country music could be crossed with dance anthems! I had honestly been gearing up for a cross between line dancing and “Cotton Eyed Joe”! I was also saved from the embarrassment of using my chat-up line on a girl who knew my line as a tired country cliché when it came up as a song!

    Evidence for my confidence post showed during the evening’s events. For the first time in my life I danced like I wasn’t super self-conscious about it, since bad dancing would just be seen as joking around, and I had an awesome time. Not only did I party like a rock star cowboy but I also made some new friends and danced with probably every girl in our group!

    In all the “Hoe-Down” (more applicable to me than most of the other people in the club it turns out, since I actually had put my hoe – and rake – down before I'd headed over!) was sensational and I am even considering the location for my own 20th, in a few months. For those of you hoping to learn something useful from this lecture (this sentence is becoming a recurring theme I feel), walking like a cowboy (as though you’ve been sat on a saddle for 10 years) is essential to the dance. Invisible lasso around hot girls also goes down a storm. Otherwise, just try not to do the Cotton Eyed Joe routine and have a blast!

    Saturday, 15 March 2008

    How To Get A "Cellphone"

    Since my last post was particularly Me-based, I have decided to write a lighter, more useful post for anyone who travels to North America and wants to phone home. To start you off, I have some basic snippets of information that you may find useful. Firstly, “mobile phones” are known as “cell phones” here. Secondly, both Canadians and Americans pronounce Nokia as “No-Kia”. Thirdly, calls cost you whether outgoing or incoming, unless otherwise stated in the contract.

    With these basic concepts in mind (remember them, they may be important!) it comes to the point where you have been in the country for, say, 2 months and despite having met lots of new friends and having family over here, you are only able to contact them by borrowing a phone, or using the internet (which is only reliable for students - who are constantly online!). You decide that you want a contract but want to keep your phone because it has a sweet camera and is less than a year old (plus you are trying to save money).

    Ok, so that was my situation but it could apply (vaguely) to you one day! Anyway, I started by looking online at companies and in Canada the leaders are Rogers, Bell and Telus. Of the three, Rogers seemed the best and cheapest so I headed to one of their stores (in one of Richmond’s many malls) and asked if I could change from Vodafone to Rogers. The answer was no. Well, no with a free phone on a three year contract thrown in.

    I refused it (Employees work on commission so they have to force phones at people apparently) and asked if there was a way to make my phone Rogers compatible (instead of having it remain a British-based phone). Jesse then told me about a guy in one of Richmond’s many Asian malls who could unlock my phone for a reasonable fee, making it region-free so we headed off to a second mall.

    The guy decided that it’d cost me $35 and told me to take with me my SIM and memory cards so that he didn’t overwrite them too. 10 minutes later I was holding a Rogers, Vodafone, AT+T, etc. compatible phone in my hand and was ready to discuss contracts. Unfortunately I only get Saturdays off (and only the morning and afternoon at that!) and it was time for work. I decided to continue my quest on the following weekend and headed off to the Flying Beaver.

    At work I discovered a slight flaw in the Japanese man’s tweaking. He had managed to register the two main phone buttons (green “call” and red “hang-up”) obsolete! I went through the settings but it seemed impossible to reconfigure the two (since Sony probably hadn’t expected anyone to want to change the button configurations in the first place!) so I tried to get used to not using them as I navigated my new interface and played the three new (Japanese) 3D games that had been installed onto my phone with the upgrade.

    The following weekend I was back at Rogers and with my Social Insurance Number, a credit card and my passport I was able to setup a price plan. It gave me unlimited off-peak minutes (which is great because I am at work during peak hours anyway!). 2500 texts a month and a package that included Voicemail and Caller ID (optional extras in Canada!) for the equivalent of £25 a month.

    Around the same sort of time I discovered Skype. I decided to use my “cell phone” for local calls and began setting up a Skype account for international calls (charged at 1p/2c per minute to phones, and free to other Skype accounts). I am now registered but need to buy myself a headset, with microphone, so that I don’t have to keep borrowing one from the Bowen family. (Skype is an online MSN style voice chat program that charges the same rate to anyone, anywhere because it goes through the internet and not through phone companies)

    Unfortunately, I have yet to iron our all the kinks in my setup: Japanese man’s tweak is getting to be quite annoying, a new phone would be nice, my current phone doesn’t work as an internet browser over here, I haven’t yet purchased a Skype headset, I have no credit cards or spare time (my bank being an alternative method to credit card) to setup a pay account on Skype so am currently only available to contact from other Skype users and I am not sure that I need 2500 texts a month if I can have free calls.

    Over the course of the next few months I plan to rectify most of the above issues with the purchase of a new model (into which the Rogers SIM should work without problems) of phone, a new headset and some credit on Skype via my bank. After the free months expire on my phone I will tweak the plan online for a base fee of $15.

    Until then I am happy enough with my setup and the fact that I can stay in touch with most people if I want to. It’ll certainly work out cheaper than borrowing phones and then picking up the international-rate bills. It is also nice to have a number in case anyone wants to contact me so I am doing ok in all.

    My only advice really would be to be a little quicker than I was in setting up the above communication systems because it was annoying to tell people that I don’t have a phone number whilst holding my phone in my hand; having just used it as a camera!

    Monday, 10 March 2008

    How To Gain/Feign Confidence

    If you’d told me 5 years ago that one day I’d be a confident person, I’d have doubted you and laughed at you as you walked away, wondering why you were predicting the future for my personality! Actually I wouldn’t have laughed - being both self-conscious and scared to offend you – but I'd still have doubted you.

    That reaction is surprisingly similar to the reactions of people from the last few months who I’ve told of my past introversion; most people think that I am joking when I tell them that I used to be very shy and quiet. No-one believes that I used to be so shy that I'd watch the other kids play during break-time at school, instead of joining in.

    Even as late as 2003, I was quite unlikely to initiate conversation with unfamiliar people, was quiet and reserved in class and was awkward outside of my small friendship circles who I spent most of my time with.

    As an ex-psychology student, I enjoy psycho-analysing people. In developmental psychology, the main debate regarding personality is "Nature vs. Nurture" (or genetics vs. upbringing). Theories are tested on twins and adoption studies but conclude that both are important. My lack of confidence, however, would have been more from my childhood than from my parents’ genes.

    I was well brought up but can see why, with a single mother and three younger siblings, I became quite withdrawn. Being the eldest I would have been left to my own devices more and always told that I “should have known better” if we (as a group) got into trouble. This probably conditioned me away from groups, for at least the next 5 years!

    My reclusion, coupled with not knowing anyone in school (having only recently moved from Canada), made starting primary school tough. This was because I had missed out on playschool, through which most of my classmates had known each other for years (Severn Beach being small enough for that to be the case). My main memories of school, though vague, include watching other kids play, reading a lot and the horrible gypsy bully who "freed" my pet ladybird from the house that I made it!

    In terms of relationships, I am unsurprisingly inexperienced! As well as the shyness, which in itself would have put me off girls until I was maybe 12 or 13, I had to contend with a promise that I made myself during/after my parents’ divorce, never to break a girl’s heart. At the time it seemed perfectly logical to avoid relationships for the rest of my life as a sacrifice to evade heartbreak!

    Additionally, I wasn’t even very interested in relationships until I was about 17, and even then was far too shy (and worried that I’d waited too long) to do anything constructive like ask a girl out! Fortunately, I discovered that abstinence was not the only way to avoid heartbreak and have since settled on finding love as a more proactive approach to divorce-evasion. This, however, comes with certain risks and flaws, as pointed out by every critic of my relationship-outlook, so I am still taking my time.

    Confidence also falters me in terms of vertigo – an apparently unbeatable “survival” instinct. I overcame (the last conquerable fragment of) my vertigo last summer, working at camp. Since I was to be spending 2 months on high elements, helping kids beat their own vertigo, I decided to beat my own. By August, I could zipline upside-down-no-handed, climb with no safety gear and would be the first to volunteer to rescue a tangled camper or piece of climbing equipment; once even whilst surrounded by hornets, as I removed an element from their nest’s proximity.

    Since coming to Canada, I overcame (the last conquerable fragment of) my social-ineptitude by meeting new people, joining clubs and going on trips. Having England, Canada, family and travel in my conversational arsenal has helped me “out of my cage” no end. The Whistler trip, with the youth group, was my first experience of “instant celebrity” and I received attention constantly. Breaking out of your shell is much easier if people are subconsciously helping you!

    In the second week of March, I dressed up as Winnie the Pooh and ran around a mall for youth club. A lot of youth said “I can’t believe you’d do that” and “I could never do that”!

    Was I embarrassed? Ok, yes a little but mainly I took it in my stride and had fun.

    Coming out of my shell - into a Pooh suit!

    Social settings and solo-travelling, over time, have helped me with my diffidence and I have made great progress, becoming more outgoing. If I lose friends from this blog post, or am ridiculed (fears that would’ve stopped me posting this 5 years ago) then I’ll take it in my stride and find better friends. It is better to be yourself and find the friends that like you like that anyway!