We hopped on the cheap Chinatown bus to Niagara Falls, said hello to my sister, bro-in-law, and my mom's ashes, and then Pa went apeshit in the casino. Though he’ll never admit it, I think he had a good day.
Just poring through my travel archive and finding some special moments I forgot to share back when these actually happened!
Thailand: I met a fisherman at a corner shop, who started flagging me down when I passed in the afternoon, suggesting I stop walking and take a break from the searing sun, sit down with him and his buddies. I’m not sure what the other men thought of this, as no one spoke English, nor uttered much at all, but I was always happy to escape from the piercing sun, hang out in silence, nap the day away.
I end up in quite random situations when I travel, no doubt due to wandering around by myself, staring about cluelessly, looking probably sadder than the assured self I think I am.
Here, I merely turned to face a group of ladies celebrating on a patio, who then beckoned me over, prepared an extra plate, and demanded I join in and share their food. When they saw my camera, I was dragged upstairs to this room... to meet the bride.
I AM THE MOST UNINTENTIONAL WEDDING CRASHER EVER.
21 bus to Lewisham, Boxing Day.
I've never been a fan of London, but thought staying here over the Christmas holidays would be a much more calm affair and possibly win me over. The interesting thing is on actual Christmas Day, the city has absolutely no public transit and is eerily dead, which astonishes me for a place of its size. Nice of them to honour the holidays and force a day off on everyone, but maybe it was too much of what I wanted: I felt so stuck.
Today is another day, though, and I can finally head back out there and explore!
I went from two weeks of meditative wanderings to getting off the plane and charging right back into rushed city life/shooting daily for TIFF. And though that's fun, I look back at this photo from Solsbury Hill, England, a couple weeks ago, and all I can think about now is getting far away from people and jammed streetcars and laptop-infested cafes and back to the slower pace again.
My teenage self would be aghast that I'm saying this, but... I'm actually missing small-town life!
I'm in Manchester, finally, and doing as the locals do -- hitting a cozy pub.
Coming to this particular drinking hole, solo, is particularly significant: if the rumours are true, this is the pub Deborah Curtis (wife of Joy Division's Ian) visited on her own in the '70s, but was denied service as it was unbecoming of a woman to be drinking alone.
We've come so far. This is for you, Deborah! ✊️🍻
PS. This shot involved my Fujifilm x100s, the timer, and me running frantically to the other side of the camera -- luckily, I nailed it the first time!
Visiting Koh Tachai was, hands down, the most obnoxious travel experience I've ever had. My disdain for beach culture and tourists was not only at an all-time high, but the larger environmental impact had me fuming.
Set a little further from Phuket than the other day-trip islands, Koh Tachai is touted to have one of the more pristine beaches. Clear water, yes, but the numbers of entitled tourists and motorboats they allow in to stomp all over its beauty is heartbreaking. The sell of this remote island, horrible snorkelling, and playing on our need to escape is largely an attempt to convince largely Russians, Chinese, and Euros they'll reach that faux zen moment of their Instagram dreams.
In October, this particular island will be closing indefinitely, as tourism has wreaked enough havoc on this part of the world; authorities are finally realizing it's gone past its breaking point. And it pains me, in my long separated visits to Thailand, how I see the country deteriorating as a result of the industry that keeps them alive, not having stricter environmental regulations in place to maintain that, and the "douchebag tourism" that seems to plague a lot of these tropical destinations worldwide. Ugh.
I've not been the hugest fan of Hong Kong, probably due to my first trip being 24 at the time, getting scammed, and staying in creepy guest houses, but also, spending another visit with family... which was great for food, but you know, an obligation-filled trip.
This time, I explored Kowloon for a five-hour walk, and I LOVED IT. The place is like Manhattan on speed, with confident folks who let it be known that they're entertained or completely pissed off with you: Straight-up city. Also, the food offerings are superb -- I ventured down a block and ate at five different stalls (including three desserts) in one hour.
Hong Kong, you've got vibe, and I'm sorry I've been so harsh on you. I'll make sure my next stop is longer than 18 hours.
Let's face it: I'm a single gal in Toronto with single gal friends. I see cats all the freaking time. So as the cat-cafe concept jumped shores from Japan to as far as Montreal and Melbourne, the idea of spending valuable time in Tokyo petting them seemed increasingly... banal.
Then I was told about a rabbit cafe on the border of Harajuku-Shibuya, which sounded pretty cute. I could totally do rabbits, even though I've seen many of them in my time, albeit at a distance, darting around small-town Ontario, often too hyper and too quick to be caught with the camera I've unfurled a second too late.
The awkwardly named Ra.a.g.f (Rabbit and Grow Fat) cafe works on the same principle as its feline counterpart -- pay a cover charge to sip a beverage, hang out with adorable animals. The particular cafe is not your standard storefront deal -- it's tucked up on the third floor of a narrow building, in a quiet alley, steps away from a major intersection in bustling Harajuku. Upon entering, you're immediately greeted by a line of rabbit cages, and I guarantee you'll probably shriek at the sight before greeted by one of the bunny caretakers, who, by the way, speaks only enough English to say, "Please remove your shoes and enter." The cafe is small -- a cozy, gated area, which looks almost like a nursery play space with a bright spring-like colour scheme, tiny kid tables, and at the time of my visit, a toddler, gleefully running after a bunny and squealing.
My friend Jacinta and I step into the tiny gated area and sit down, while a girl zips over to us and goes over the English version of the menu, stating the rates and available drinks, all of which are complimentary at an all-you-can chug service. She quickly goes over the rules: We are to select a rabbit to play with, and it must stay out for a minimum of 15 minutes. Only one is allowed out at a time, as they're prone to fighting. She asks us how long we'd like to stay, and being travellers on a budget, we both figure 30 minutes at ¥700 ($6USD) will suffice. The clock is set. We opt for juice, order a bowl of veggie ribbons to bribe the rabbits, and rush over to the cages to give a new bunny some human-love-play time.
The pressure is immediate to make The Right Choice. From a pool of 20 or so rabbits, and with time ticking, we had to figure things out fast. In a panic, we point to a tiny, seemingly timid rabbit in the top left cage, and clasp our mouths over our hands. Too adorable.
Well, not really. Turns out this little bunny is a feisty little hell-raiser, which is what I've known of rabbits to begin with, so it shouldn't be a surprise. It leaps out of the caretaker's hands and rips across the perimeter of the space like she's just taken a hit of cocaine. Dangling the carrot ribbons in the air does nothing.
After seeing us on our hands and knees beckoning Miss ADHD with radishes, the staff pieced together a brief, "She doesn't like to eat." No shit. So after a few minutes of running around and capturing only one still photo of the thing mowing down on its own feces, I just sit in one place and swing my head back and forth as if watching a hyper speed tennis match, suffering a slight bit of whiplash as a result. The thing won't stop bouncing around, made slightly worse by the trails of poop nuggets deposited at our feet (these ones, she does not consume). Nearing the 15-minute mark, we are visibly worn, like babysitters passed out on a couch after caring for a friend's kid who we secretly despise. We are ready for a switch.
We learn from our coked-up bunny experience. We ain't fools. So when the staff scoop her up and ask for our next choice, we glance at our full rabbit snack bowl and request a "slow, tired bunny that likes to eat... a lot." Almost immediately, she nods, bends down to a lower cage, and -- if she doesn't grunt, she should -- drags out a rabbit with a body close to the size of a mammoth and a face so chubby, its eyes are reduced to slits. We are in love. Our voluptuous new friend is exactly as requested -- a lazy, lumbering sloth who goes to lengths to devour our entire rabbit snack bowl, and he does. THIS IS WHAT WE CAME FOR. AND WE LOVE IT.
At this point, our 30 minutes are up, and despite my itchy eyes and swollen throat indicating a newly discovered bout of rabbit allergies, we both aren't ready to go, sign up for an additional half hour, and spend extended time with the glorious, unreal Godzilla-sized rabbit. As new customers file into the cafe, we play fair, give them private bonding time, happily waste our remaining minutes opening cages and petting our new rabbit buddies, and leave the cafe even more giddy than we entered it.
PS. As you can see from the photo above, rabbits are available for purchase and, yes, even rent, which seems pretty entertaining in my head, but who am I to judge? We all get a little lonely once in a while, and I'm sure if I lived in Tokyo, I'd surely find a reason to borrow one for a few hours, too.
RATES (drinks included)
30 minutes - ¥700
60 minutes - ¥1,100
Additional 30 minutes - ¥550
Rabbit snacks - ¥150
MON-FRI - 12:00-19:30 (19:00 last entry)
SAT-SUN + HOLIDAYS - 11:00-20:00 (19:30 last entry)
Jingumae 6-14-15, Maison Harajuku 3F
When I was told Lake Tazawa was onsen/hot spring country, I didn't realize to what extent or how inexpensive. And at $5 for a day pass, it's not only popular with Japanese tourists but the locals as well.
I've been to so many that being naked in front of strangers is starting to feel relatively normal; for someone who hates undressing in front of others, this is huge. This particular shot was from today's excursion, one of the most relaxing of the ones I've seen thus far in Oyasu onsen village.
I could really get used to this lifestyle.
Though I was raised in a small town, I much prefer the fast-paced anonymity and autonomy I have in large cities. Being here in Yuzawa, Japan, is a serious change of pace, a tiny sliver of Tokyo, a sleepy town of 50,000. Because of this, I no longer have minor urban luxuries at my disposal and am at the mercy of my hosts in terms of pretty much everything… But after a really active visit in Tokyo, it’s kind of nice not worrying about train schedules, meal choices, navigation, and time management. Honestly, though my Instagram leads people to believe I’m still in a hub of activity, I’m not doing much of anything this week except swinishly eating my friends’ food, playing with their children, and following them on excursions to hot springs and noodle joints… I am just riding someone else’s river, and for once, that’s okay.
Look at me, giving up control. Maybe I still have that small-town kid in me, after all.
HELP: I will be in NYC late next week, and my main photo subject has flaked out on me! [BOO, HISS]
As most people know, I have a hard time travelling without a project in mind, so I'm on the hunt for a unique New Yorker who deserves attention. I'm most fascinated by religion (the more polarizing, the better), the elderly, lifetime hobbyists, quirky obsessions, and unique skill. Whatever the subject, he/she must be excessively passionate about something. It doesn't matter if we hold the same views, either -- in fact, could be more interesting if we don't. Previous subjects have run the gamut from a hardcore Christian who built a treehouse for God, a senior square-dancing group, a shoemaker, an Elvis impersonator, a gothic jewellery artist, a church bell ringer, a dog rescuer, to a shopping cross-dresser.
The person or group must be open to me hanging out with them for a few hours and having a good ol' fashioned chat. I am NOT looking for models who just want a pretty portrait shoot. (Yawn.) I just want to hang out with someone awesome. (Yay!)
Can anyone point me in the right direction?
On an evening in March 2011, I'm in New Orleans. I'm on my bike, lost, and I stupidly stop on an unlit residential street to get my bearings. A pick-up truck rolls by and the driver, a burly elderly man, stares as he passes. Shit, I think. Go on, dude. Nothing to see here. I wave him forward. This doesn't work; the brake lights engage. Damn.
"Are you lost?" he asks.
I lie. "No. I'm just taking a break. I've been biking all night."
"You know, you shouldn't be wandering here on your own. This is New Orleans." I'd heard that time and time again. "This is New Orleans." I admit I'd grown tourist-complacent and I suppose I needed to hear this again, but I didn't want to hear it, especially from some stranger on the street.
"I know," I said, smugly, ready to roll forward. "I have to go."
"Okay, just remember this isn't a safe place. I've seen a lot of things happen here."
Not something you should say to a single girl on an unlit street, dude.
"Hey, you should really come to my bar. It's right at the corner there. You see the light? It's a safe place, and we'll get you headed in the right direction."
Here we go. "Yeah, I don't know about that. I gotta get back to my friends."
"Well, okay, but I've owned this bar for a long time, and I know everyone here. Just saying there's some good people down there, good music, and good drinks. We'll get you home safely."
I pause, in half-pedal.
"It's right down there."
Long story short: my curiosity wins that evening. I spend the night with Melvin and his friends, sitting at the bar, downing free American beers, discussing the music industry with a hard-of-hearing elderly blues man named Guitar Lightnin', listening to tales from the bartender and the Honduran/Bulgarian barflies, and observing Melvin work the room, showering compliments on the elderly ladies, twirling them on the dance floor, and kissing them on the hand as he parted. They squeal.
It's been a while, but I learned Melvin actually passed away only a month after we met in April 2011. I'm crushed and spent my time wondering if all this was real. Luckily, I have the pictures to remind me of those moments, fill in the blanks.
Melvin was true to his word: good people, good music, good (well, at least free) drinks. Above it all, I felt absolutely safe and I left feeling ten times better about the world, and really, isn't that the main thing you want in a friend?
Here's my little public thank you, Melvin. I'm late to the game, but I salute you, forever. RIP.
I met Audrey here in Peggys Cove. When she turned 16, she bought an accordion with $50 of her own money and has been in love with the instrument "and the sparkly buttons" ever since -- a good 50 years now. Early in the conversation, I mentioned my dad wanted me to play the instrument, too, and as I parted, her last comment was, "You should really think about picking up the accordion. It'd be really nice." And then she continued playing.
Also: I still have a hard time writing "Peggys Cove" without an apostrophe.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to all my special people who came out in support last night at the Photographers Without Borders exhibit and magazine launch (and a high five to those I unfortunately missed). I love you guys. Seriously. Immensely. For those who couldn't make it out, I love you too -- the photos and magazine will be up and available at Hermann & Audrey until the 19th, so do stop by or just purchase a copy online!
Hermann & Audrey
1506 Dundas Street W.
This mirror selfie is acceptable, only because it will not appear within arm's reach of any dating site.
Taken at a pitstop in Erie, Pennsylvania, at the town's famed Lawrence Park Dinor.
I gave the man a whack of U.S. dollar bills. As in most countries that accept American currency, I was expecting a quick exchange, a flip through the stack of 20, a swift writing of a receipt, and bam, I’d be free to explore. But instead came an examination that seemed more thorough than my last dental appointment, and with the particular anxiety that comes with that.
There were two other Peruvians hovering over him, silently supervising, as the man held each bill up in the air, flipped it around, eyed every corner, and gently placed it back down on the counter as if it was the Queen’s specially designed Burmese ruby tiara.
This took a while. And as I was about ready to nod off, the man suddenly broke his silence. “Hay un otro?” he asked, pointing to my wallet. Now, I don’t know much about counterfeit money, but this particular twenty looked legit to me and so I tried to question his decision as best I could in my flaw-filled Spanish. However, I quickly learned that my North American opinion had no sway here, as the minuscule tear, right below the second “T” at the bottom of the bill, had the final say. (You can see for yourself, if you squint ever so slightly.)
What I didn’t know is that I am in U.S. Counterfeit Dollar Ground Zero. The Secret Service, in fact, has named Peru the top producer of counterfeit American currency, a business touted as more profitable than cocaine in some reports. And apparently, they’re really good at it, at first glance. So far, the counterfeit bills are made with a paper that seems legit, but deteriorates easily when exposed to water, which may explain why my precious bill, with its ever-so-tiny flaw, was equivalent to a box of nail clippings. There was no reason for me to question further. This was in the hands of a country that knows how much power (or lack of) the currency holds.
$20 poorer than before (at least here), my budget for the week is slightly mangled. Guess I’ll have an ice cream cone for dinner.
I left my home a good 24 hours and four flights ago, and I’ve finally landed in Iquitos, the largest city in the world not accessible by road. This, combined with the fact that it’s warm year-round means that there are more motorcycles and barely any cars. And though hip, urban kids may approve, the constant rumbling of the engines catapults it to the level of The Noisiest City not accessible by road.
Despite this, I love the colours, I love the action, and maybe after I catch up on some sleep, I look forward to exploring what seems like a magical (yet cacophonous) place.
COUNTDOWN: 5 hours until I jump on a plane southbound and begin my Photographers Without Borders adventure in Peru!
First off, thank you to everyone who supported me, financially and spiritually, for this project to document domestic workers in Lima and the agency representing them. I'm truly shocked, immensely appreciative, and pleased to announce the additional funds beyond getting me down there will all go to Casa de Panchita and their programs. My assignment officially starts next week, and I'll provide more information and updates once I'm there and the project is under way. Really looking forward to it, and can't wait to meet the women involved in this!
In the meantime, I'll be acclimatizing myself a week before, in attempts to shed work stress from the previous month (and also to familiarize myself with the Peruvian accent + not look like a complete dork when I arrive for work). On recommendation by a friend who once lived in Peru, I will be off to Iquitos, a northern city that functions as a superb launching point for all adventures related to the Amazon. So as I open my door here this crisp Toronto morning and get walloped by a breeze that is surely around the -20 mark, I can't fathom that I will be gallivanting in cheerful tank tops in less than one day. All I can say is: GOOD RIDDANCE, MISERY-MAKING TORONTO WINTER OF 2014!
Also... I have an airport pick-up! I never used to care about airport pick-ups, but after many years of walking through the arrivals area, usually minus fanfare, I'm glad someone will be there waving a sign with my name on it this time around. It's like the movies!
The strange thing is, despite this, despite my accommodation being sorted out, and despite having, I'd say, above-average experience travelling as a single female for the last 15 years, I've noticed a generous uptick in barf-y nerves this time around -- something I thought I'd never feel; my 20-something self would be floored. Is this the same cosmic body that's stopped me from going to concerts 3-4 times a week and being interested in every new release on the cinema marquee? Is this a result of... gasp: EXPERIENCE AND AGING?
Or maybe it's just that I'm thinking of everyone who got me here, how you all supported me so well, and that I feel the pressure to deliver and prove that your hard-earned money and emotional energy will not go to waste? (It won't. I swear, it won't!)
So as I pack my final tank top into my suitcase, I bid you adieu, Toronto. Watch for updates here. And thank you SO MUCH.
When I mentioned my upcoming visit to Mexico City's La Merced, a friend responded disapprovingly. "You'll get lost if you go by yourself."
I crossed my arms against my chest. Oh, really? Challenge accepted.
I love local markets. They offer everything I need in a tourist stop: the ability to explore, check out the goods for sale, and be surrounded by locals doing their everyday, local market thing. La Merced provides all that... and the adrenalin that comes with the unknown: as the largest market in the D.F., it's a micro-city within one of the world's largest cities, full of claustrophia-inducing turns, barking vendors, and at the time of my visit, eager shoppers hunting for deals on dia de los muertos food and decorative offerings.
I spent nearly 6 hours over two days at La Merced, which seems like an excessive time to ogle produce and piñatas, but given its size and labyrinthine paths, I barely scraped the surface. I'm sure I passed the same shoe vendor a few times in the 15 minutes it took to locate the subway. I was rendered nearly blind and directionless by its endless rows of sparkling aluminum kitchen supplies. I spent time recovering in a church I found en route to the bee-infested rows of calabaza en tacha (candied pumpkin). I was blockaded in the butcher section, where almost every man felt compelled to stop, point out that I was Chinese, and attempt to get my life story. But this was the beauty of it all: along the way, I was constantly meeting new people who just wanted to chat and actually asked for their photo to be taken without needing to pose the question myself, which, as a photographer, is a pretty sweet dream.
So yes, I got lost in La Merced. But I'm happy about that; considering I'm one of those people who yawns after 30 minutes in a gallery, getting lost in the market's visual and aural chaos certainly shakes things up. Travel complacency? Completely obliterated.
Look forward to getting lost again.