Inclusion and Exclusion
Today I shared a picture of this on Facebook:


I suggested that it would be a brilliant idea to just start using this as our flag - and to petition the government to adopt this flag as the official one.

And I got some responses like this:

''Yes it's a very pretty adaptation, however MY Canada already had a flag. One that represents my country as a whole and doesn't suggest preference to any one ethnicity...even First Nations. My Canada is so much more than that. The image would look very nice on a T-shirt though. I'd wear it. But it's not my country's flag.''

Now this raises two problematic areas for me.

See, I remember when the current Canadia flag wasn't the flag of Canada. The current flag was a snap decision (after a long search for a good design) by Lester Pearson - it wasn't even the one that most people assumed was going to replace the original one.

We replaced the old flag because we no longer wished to be represented as solely as a branch plant of Britain. We replaced it because it did not speak to us as a people any longer.

A lot of people - I mean A LOT of people - hated the new flag. They refused to accept it and continued to use the old one. Most of those people are dead now.

My point here is that the current flag is not necessarily something that has any sort of sacredness, and that change could happen, if we wanted it to.

But my second point is that the responses I heard from some (a small group, but there) indicates that by adding a cultural component that is not ''theirs'' that some people will feel excluded.

This makes about as much sense to me as ''If two men get married, my marriage to a member of the opposite sex will suffer.''

This country's heritage is not merely the white/anglo and the white/franco experience. The graphic nature of the second flag that became our national symbol reflected that growing awareness that we weren't just named Jones or LeClair anymore.

Adding the symbols of the First Peoples would acknowledge that we have built this nation over the bones and tears of those who were here already, and define us as more than pretenders and conquistadors of the new Millenium. It would include a sense that this is a culturally diverse group that remembers its own collective past and accepts it as a reality that we are part of the flow of human history.

The old red-and-white flag - in this new version - is still there. It is still the recognizable symbol the entire world sees as uniquely Canadian. And yet, something truly remarkable has been added to the mix.

This flag, quite literally, is open to what the future brings.

Happy Birthday, Mommaquilter!
Usually I suck at remembering birthdays (I don't even notice my own. But for you, Dear friend, I make an exception.

Hope your day is awesome!


SE Asia and health...or why I may have to give up wheat for awhile.
I have never considered that I have a wheat allergy or sensitivity, or any kind of gluten problem. I don't think I do.

Now, I do know that wheat has, over the last decade or three, been changed by various hi-tech processes, and that something is going kinda wrong - mainly, I thought, the problem would be if some kind of disease hit wheat crops, because the fewer varieties we have, the more likely it is that none of them will have a coping strategy or any resistance.

But when I got back from SE Asia, I felt good. Really good. I had lost weight, my body was feeling way, way more energized and I felt more alert than I usually do at this time of year.

I put it down to the freshness of the food, and resolved to continue to stick to fresh fruits and veggies as much as possible.

It's hard to do here, and only lasted about ten days before I began to drift a bit. Mainly, I started eating more things like sandwiches for lunch.

And little by little, my energy levels drained, I got less chipper and my weight loss stopped and started to go into reverse.

I was still eating mainly fresh stuff, though.

I've spent the last two days trying to find the real difference and the only thing I can come up with is wheat. There just wasn't much in Asia, and what there was was very likely not the over-engineered stuff used here (and may also explain why the croissants I ate in Nha Trang were so divine).

So I'm trying an experiment and trying to cut out as much wheat and wheat-based stuff as I can. If it makes me feel like I did a month ago, I'm sticking with it. If not, well, maybe I really was meant to live in perpetual +30 degree heat.
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Wherein Our Heroine spends an entire day moving approximately 60 metres...
The guidebooks did mention, en passant, that the border crossing from Cambodia to Vietnam can be slow-ish.

They did not mention that this meant that it would lag behind any self-respecting glacier by a long country mile.

First off, we spent a lot of the day on a public bus, because you need to arrive at the border.

Then, inevitably, we stood in line. We were prepared for this. We understood that part of the reason there are border crossings is so that many otherwise unemployable people can be given jobs, and to make sure that these jobs continue to exist, they must do them in as inefficient a way as possible, so as to look as busy and vital-to-civilisation-as-we-know-it as possible.

We had no idea that this had been raised to fine-art status here.

First, you must leave Cambodia. This was a mere two hour wait in the blamming heat of midday.

In my naivete, I figured I was halfway through the process at this point. However, the Vietnamese have used entry into their country as an exquisite payback for all they suffered under two centuries of colonial adventurism by the West: we had to then be ''prescreened'' to make sure we had all our documents in order before proceeding to the actual border crossing. This, of course, took another two hours.

Finally, we reached the border crossing point: an abysmally small and airless shack with a few chairs scattered about the fringes. Please, if you do this trip, ignore the lines that Westerners immediately begin forming inside the shack. Just grab a seat and wait. Keep in mind that while there is a veritable army of border officials, only three of them will be working at any given moment. It will be, at minimum, three hours before you need to pay attention, because the first people to be allowed across are any Vietnamese returning home. After that, it will be any Cambodians with work visas, followed by every other Asian person, whether they arrived at the same time you did or an hour or so later.

When the border officials have made damned sure there is not a single non-Westerner left, and having completely randomised the stack of remaining passports/visas (did I mention that at the prescreening they disappear with your documents? They do. Do not be alarmed. I am reliably informed that they hardly ever lose them.) they will begin calling various names that do not even slightly approximate any European sounds (Mine was Eblin Hasmit Moga?) and waving your passport in the air. Fortunately for me, I was practically the only Canadian crossing at that time, and was able to glimpse the front and recognise they were asking for me.

Since we had been prescreened in a group, one might have thought that we would cross fairly closely together, but we did not. Poor Jean and Marie waited an additional twenty minutes before being called, while the rest of us stood around on a street corner drinking bottled water and speculating on their possible fate.

In the end, we were all reunited, we got on yet another bus, went to another perfectly lovely guesthouse, and had the inevitable meeting with yet another new guide (Thin, who cheerfully proceeded to cheat us on taxi fares and entrance fees but was also rather sweet and quite funny at times) who wanted to discuss what we could do the next day in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, while we snarked about needing showers and food before we could plan his demise.

SE Asia: another segment in the ongoing (belated) saga
In the interests of brevity, I'm going to sum up some stuff about Cambodia generally and what there is to do there.

One of the best ways to see Cambodia is by boat, since it is a water culture and the rivers and lakes act as highways. I have a lot of cool video of passing by innumerable floating villages. Be warned, however, that the concept of ''Health and Safety'' is limited here to 'be careful', 'don't lean out of the boat' and a helping hand getting in and out of the boat. There is open petrol everywhere (big jugs of it connected by aging plastic/rubber hoses) and people casually light cigarettes inches away from those's slightly unsettling.

Among the many things tourists can do is go to Battambong by taking a boat down Tonle Sap, which is a big huge lake. When in Battambong, you can visit a rice wrap factory, a rice noodle factory and a ''sticky rice in bamboo containers'' factory - these are all little cottage industries and really fascinating. I'm sure any guide book will tell you about these.

But what guide books miss - perhaps, this lack is why people don't flock in droves to Battambong - is the Bamboo Train. This is the most fun thing to do EVER.

The French, when being all colonial in SE Asia, built some train tracks between Battambong and Phnom Penh. At some point, it became more economical or efficient or something to move goods up and down the line by human, rather than steam, power: they created steel-wheeled/axled bases with bamboo rafts on them and the rafts were then poled along the tracks.

Nowadays, these rafts still operate, partly as a cheap mass transit system for people in villages outside Battambong, but also as a tourist ride/experience. They are not poled by burly men -- they are now fitted with outboard motors and they zip you along a a terrific speed.

Keep in mind that no one has done proper maintenance on the tracks for probably sixty years or more. The tracks are no longer mathematically parallel to each other, so one feels each change in dimension as the wheel/axle apparatus strains to maintain contact with the track. In places a gap of an inch or four occurs between the sections, and again, you feel it...all while hurtling along at about 40 klicks an hour, which doesn't sound that bad until you consider that you are on a flimsy, open platform that is merely balanced upon and in no way connected to the running gear beneath you.

Also, there is only one set of tracks, so traffic is moving both ways. When trains meet, there is an argument first in furious and vociferous Khmer, deciding which riders must disembark while their train is dismantled and then reassembled on the other side of the train it has met.

The goal is a bridge where you can watch a very lovely sunset over the rice paddies. It's about 20 minutes each way, and more than worth the $3 or so that we paid.

(However: a warning. This experience may be being phased out. A big renovation to rebuild the actual train line, with an eye to resuming regular service between Battambong and Phnom Penh, has begun, and it may well end the Bamboo Train. This would be a pity, so, if you want to experience it, go now.)

In Phnom Penh, we went to the FCC -- the Foriegn Correspondents Club (see the film ''The Killing Fields'' for a more in-depth reference) which is now a bar/restaurant, but has been studiously renovated to look as it did in the 60's/70's. The food is excellent, the G&Ts are excellent, and the ambience is maintained by virtue of the fact that it's filled with Westerners. I kept feeling as though I ought to file a story with The Times or something.

Phnom Penh is also where the Genocide Museum and the actual killing fields are.

It is not as disturbing as one might think, although it is extremely moving. Perhaps because it is a Buddhist country, these exhibits and memorials were put together with less rawness, and less vengeful spirit. The emphasis really is on remembering those who suffered, about guarding one's society from the kind of spirit that allowed such horrors, rather than on the actuality of those horrors. You aren't unaware of it, of the evil that Lon Nol, the West and, most particularly, Pol Pot brought to the country, but it isn't ABOUT them - it is about the victims. It's hard to explain, but it is why one comes away from Nazi Holocaust sites weeping and overwrought, but one leaves the Killing Fields with deep and profound sadness but also in earnest contemplation of what human greed and inherent pathology one needs to guard against.

After that, we went to the Russian Market and had a wee bit of retail therapy. Cambodians possess a collective sense of humor: there were piles of ''antique'' Ronson lighters of the sixties era, done up to look as if they had been sitting around since the GIs left the city forty years ago. (They are fakes. Good, funny fakes. I'm sorry, but even if every single GI was a smoker and each of them left two - or even three - suitably-inscribed lighters behind, there couldn't possibly be that many functioning lighters still around to be sold to the thousands of tourists who have been flocking to the city since the 80's.) Yes, I bought one. But it was a gift.

Next up: crossing the border into Vietnam. Live the adventure!

SE Asia (more handy travellers' tips in the form of a small rant)
I think it should be fairly obvious that if you don't like a particular type of food, like, say, rice, you should avoid visiting countries where that food forms the main staple of the diet.

It seem pretty axiomatic to me...but having spent three weeks with a couple of people who do not like two of the most prevalent foods in a SE Asian meal (to wit: seafood/fish and RICE) and becoming increasingly bored with their requests for things like ''bread'' (which you can get, but it hardly ever comes in the Wonderbread configuration, much less small loaves of British Hovis) and ''bacon sandwiches'' (which if you DID get, would be very suspect, because they tend not to overcook the bacon, and we aren't talking hygenically factory-farmed pigs on a governmentally regulated diet here) I realized two things.

One is the above: if you don't like rice, don't go to SE Asia (or go with big bucks and stay/eat only at the string of Sheraton Hotels that litter the larger centres, and touch nothing that is not obviously imported from the EU).

The second is that I have a castiron stomach and still have not acquired many food prejudices.

Still, I have to admit that 20 years of eating 'Vietnamese food' in Calgary restaurants did not prepare me for actual Cambodian and Vietnamese food. Some of it was so intoxicating that I dream of it still. Some of it was pretty ... ummmmm .... interesting.
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Angkor Freakin' Wat !!!!!!!!!!!
I'm just going to type in what I wrote the evening after I went to Angkor Wat:

There are no words.

You could say 'Amazing'. You could say 'Magnificent', 'Awe-inspiring', 'Incredible', 'Breathtaking' ... I've said them all, and none of them come close.

Angkor Wat .... just ... is.

There are three temples, actually.

The first, Angkor Thom, is the one that most people visualise: trees growing out and over the ruins of the stonework. That's the one where 'Lara Croft: Tombraider' was filmed, and believe you me, Siem Reap milks that connection for all they've got.

There is also Bayon, which is the one with the over-accessed used-in-computer-game-backgrounds, erroneously referred to as the ''Smiling Buddha'' temple. The images are, apparently, actually Vishnu, but Buddhism has superceded that. It's still gorgeous.

And the there is Angkor Wat.

All this and jungle too.

Never mind the crowds of tourists and the guides spouting potted history. Just find a quiet corner and let 800 years of mystery and power wash over you and bleed your cares away.

It's quite possibly one of the most powerful experiences you can ever have.

And that's all I can say.

SE Asia - instalment the second (ish)
I have some advice for travellers to SE Asia - don't bring anything with you if you are starting in Thailand. I could have limited my 'brought with me' stuff to the clothes I stood up in, some extra knickers, a bottle of conditioner, my phone and my tablet, - everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING) else could have been bought in a heartbeat in the night market and the ever-present Boots chemists along the main drag or in the ultramodern malls that constitute 'downtown Bangkok', and it would all have been cheaper in the long run.

But on to Cambodia.

Crossing the border into Cambodia was a long and frustrating process, with a lot of lineups. The paler and more Irish among us became faint with heat prostration, because it was HOT. 32 degrees Celsius and sunny and humid. Bring bottles of water and a fan. Disregard the notion of has no meaning.

From Poi Pet border crossing, we got on a public bus to Siem Reap. Considering we had started our day at about 6:30am, spent 4 hours on a very ancient train with hard wooden seats, followed by a two-hour lunch break, then the long wait in the sun and another 2-hour bus ride, we were hot, exhausted and fractious.

But for some reason, our new guide decided that (rather than let us go to our rooms and have showers before finding a place to eat) this was the perfect time to discuss the plan for the next day. It was a wonder he survived.

But things always look different in the morning. After I sorted out having some laundry done (about $1US per kilo) and having coffee and something approximating breakfast, I went off with Gail and Gerard to explore Siem Reap. It's a small city, whose expansion and dynamic are changing rapidly. Since 1998, when Pol Pot died, it has become a really lively place - a main stop on the backpacker circuit, since it is cheek-by-jowl to Angkor Wat. More bicycles, some pedi-cabs, and 'troop-transport' style truck/taxis that are very reminiscent of the war years.

It was claimed by the Thais we met that Cambodia was more expensive, but this was a hoax designed, I think, to get us to spend more money in Bangkok. In fact, Cambodia is absurdly cheap, by anyone's standards. On average, I paid about 1/3 the price on food in Cambodia than I did anywhere in Bangkok (except maybe for the bestest-ever meat skewers on the street outside my hotel in Bangkok, which cost me 50 cents apiece and were divine. But stick to the chicken ones. Pork and beef taste good, but they are much too chewy.)

Gerard's long-suffering and patient nature showed itself as Gail and I ransacked the market. We didn't buy a lot, but we examined practically everything. It's a girl thing.

To reward this patience, we went to two temples with him.

We reported back to the others at lunch, but by then Veronica had found the only place in all of Siem Reap (possibly in all of SE Asia) that did ''proper English tea'' along with things like bacon sandwiches and fairy cakes. (This became a theme. When she wasn't yearning vocally about that proper cup of tea, she was on the hunt for ''cakes''. It was a source of great amusement to Gerard, and annoyed the hell out of Gail.)

I had found out from a hotel clerk about an Artisan's Collective that took in street kids and taught them traditional crafts along with English and a basic set of business skills so that they could then fan out across Cambodia and create craft workshops and tourist shops, and you can go there and see how things are made, and buy stuff to help fund the work. It took considerable persuasion, but a couple of people agreed to come with me...I couldn't quite understand how one would NOT be interested in this, but people's reasons for travel vary more than I thought, I guess. Anyway, if you are in Siem Reap, you should go see this because it is incredibly cool, and you should spend some money in the shop because everyone should support the effort. Also, the quality is insanely high, and if you are going to plunk down some serious money on silk, this is far and away the best place to do so.

In Thailand, where I expected to be overawed by the silk, I was underwhelmed: the traditional patterns and methods have been superceded by semi-mechanized processes and modern designs to appeal to 'international' taste. Also - very pricey. But in Cambodia, although the really complex traditional work costs a bomb, even the simpler pieces that the collective sells are demonstrably handwoven, and, while pricey, considerably more beautiful. Also, if you are lucky, you can talk to actual weavers.

Later on, Gail and I abandoned Gerard and went for a shower, some lunch and a massage*. It was amazing.

Then we put on our swimsuits under our street clothes and pool-crashed a very swanky and expensive hotel down the street by the simple expedient of walking in, ordering 2 gin-and-tonics, asking the staff to move two loungers into the sun, then for some towels, and tipped quite extravagantly. It worked a charm - they treated us like two princesses on progress, and we had a great time. We rather suspected that at least half of the other guests assembled were doing the same thing, and it is entirely possible that we fooled no one.

After supper, all six of us cruised the night market, and Veronica (predictably) bought the iconic reed hat seen in every photograph you've ever seen of SE Asian farmers riding bicycles along the dykes above every rice paddy at sunset.

*I may have to start a website: ''Massages around the World'' -- a comparison of Turkish Hammamms and Thai wholistic S&M and the delicious foot-massages of Cambodia head-to-head against the overpriced delicate little proddings of Western ''spa treatments'' contest, really...

More reminiscing/advice about Bangkok
And now...a word about tuk-tuks.

Tuk-tuks are a kind of taxi made out of a cart and a scooter, and they operate somewhere between a cab and an extortion racket. The important thing is to establish the price of your journey before you get in, be prepared to get out if - once ensconced - the driver quotes a new price, and expect another argument when you arrive. Stick to your guns - a deal's a deal.

Tuk-tuks start in India and go on from the long long ago of my youth, they were sedate affairs powered by pushbikes, and the only excitement came on downward inclines when the occasional lack of braking power gave one a certain frisson of potential slow-motion bike smash-ups.

Fast forward to tuk-tuks in Bangkok - one must add a million more cars, a bajillion more scooters, a significant increase in the speed at which all vehicles now travel, and assume a complete and utter disregard for what we naive Westerners fondly call '' the rules of the road''.

A tuk-tuk ride in downtown Bangkok is more like a no-holds-barred, cutthroat race into DOOM than anything else. They go at breakneck speed, weave through traffic, pass without even a millemetre to spare, appropriate lanes going the opposite direction, ignore red lights, and honk incessantly.

It's thrilling and terrifying, and everyone should try it.

But only once.

After this, I took cabs, which are metered, take fewer risks and are cheaper and less wearing on one's nerves, although they do have a habit of dropping you about a block away from where you actually needed to go.

SE Asia...instalment the first
Well, this will likely be the first of several long posts...I meant to do this as I went, but connectivity was intermittent and besides, I was busy being in SE Asia, so...

I navigated the various flights and airports pretty well, including Hong Kong, and the flights were not dreadful, except for the fact that Air Canada's vegan meals are not very much better than their regular ones (OTOH, Thai Air gave me a superlative veggie Green Curry with Jasmine rice, fresh fruit, an inexplicable 'Italian salad' and hot mint tea...) and although I had memorised the instructions on how to get a taxi to my hotel, a very nice Thai lady gave me an even better solution and showed me a cheaper and faster way to get a taxi. Take that, guidebooks!

I could wax eloquent on the view of what I think was northern China, or how pretty Hong Kong looks from the air by night (like sparkly necklaces. Really.) or even the weirdness of passing within literal spitting distance of a man on the upper deck of an oil tanker as we came over the harbour onto the runway, but that is probably not much to the point. The piont is that I made it, and that I spent a couple of days roaming Bangkok. I went to the Jim Thompson Museum (he apparently resurrected the Thai silk industry in the late 50's) and to the National Museum. I took pictures. At some point, I'll get them online.

Bangkok has some amazing stuff, but the high point for me may have been my therapeutic massage at a wellness centre located (again, a note of inexplicable-ness) in a very modern shopping mall. It was...strenuous. It was painful. It went on for over an hour. Then I walked out with an actual understanding of the words 'Blissed out'.

Seriously: if you go to Bangkok, take yourself to the fourth floor of the Siam Discovery Centre and plunk down the 400 baht (about $22) plus tip (I gave $10 - it was so-o-o worth it) -- but be warned. You need a high pain threshold.

I went on a boat trip as well. Among other things, we fed some Buddhist fish. It was fun, especially as I was meeting my fellow 'Explorers' at the same time. They are a fun bunch, although three weeks may have been longer than any random group of people should be asked to spend in such close proximity.


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