Author: tttoska

Bubble Tea

A variety of different bubble tea colours! (Image courtesy of weheartit.com)

Different sizes of tapioca pearls and their colours (Image courtesy of coffeeandvanilla.com)

Spending some time in China allowed me to extensively try out bubble tea, a type of dessert drink that originated in Taiwan apparently in the 1900’s (according to Wiki). For those of you who don’t know the tea, there are several shops around the Toronto area that sell it – most famously Bubble Tea (go figure!).

Bubble tea comes in different flavours, and the consistencies can range from liquid to a thicker smoothie or milkshake consistency, this is partly due to where you get your bubble tea made and what’s inside it.

Bubble tea in China is typically made with a really strong brew, which comprises about 1/4-1/2 of the cup…. the rest if your choice of flavoured syrup, fruit or other mixes that give it a lovely taste. Flavoured syrup is also a great way to add artificial flavours like cinnamon, chocolate and sweetness to your cup!

The treat can be served cold or hot, depending on what you’re looking for and most sport the infamous tapioca pearls that make the image of Bubble Tea so distinct. Surprisingly, bubble tea pearls are typically very small, and now they come in a variety of different sizes (my favourite is the big pearls), flavours and even colours!

 Typical tapioca pearls, black in colour (Image courtesy of veequeue.com)
 

Other popular choices instead of tapioca pearls are pudding, jelly, chocolate shavings, beans and even rice or barley, which seems to be more common in Asian countries than over here. After hesitating to taste random bits of pudding in my drink, I decided to take a leap and order some. While not really my thing, I appreciate all the options available in these shops for the consumer… plus I guess some people get a kick out of mixing different textures with their drinks!

Soooo what should you order for your first time? 

1. Pick a flavour you like, which will more than likely be some sort of fruit if you go to a Western shop and are looking for a chilled drink. I normally stick with Mango or Papaya flavours at Bubble Tea.

2. Decide if you want a hot or cold drink

3. Pick what texture you like and add it! Tapioca pearls are chewy and flavourless so be aware of them when you ask for this addition.

One unique thing about bubble tea is it’s sealing method. Typically a piece of plastic covers the top part of the drink, covered by a machine that almost presses the thin film onto the top of the cup. Oh and giant plastic straws in a variety of colours to slurp up those lovely delights!
 

Image courtesy of only1ivy.blogspot.com


Enjoy!

Pros and Cons of Hostels

You’re planning that big trip and wondering whether or not that 10 dollar hostel will beat that 40 dollar hotel room. Although budget friendly, images of bed bugs, bunk beds and gungy showers spring to your mind. The thought of leaving behind that comfortable double bed in a secluded room scare you. But really, have no fear…. read on below for a few pros and cons of hostel life…..

Hostels:
+1 You meet some awesome people – You will meet that crazy Australian who always seems drunk, that insightful hippie from America who insists they only need one shirt their entire journey, and that guy from EUrope who has intrigued you since you first arrived, and all that comes from the hostel bar/your shared bunk-bed room.

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Hostel bar across the street from our own hostel in Beijing, China

+1 You can find buddies to do stuff with – If you’re travelling alone or you’re unsure of what you want to do at this crazy new destination, people at hostels are often a great way to find out what there is to do in the area. This includes cool restaurants, cheap shops and even some great bars.

+1 You save money! – Yes, hostels are especially budget friendly to travellers, and some even allow you to have

-1 You could have your stuff stolen if lockers are not provided or you sadly look the other way in some locations. This is why reading reviews of your hostels before staying in big dorms is the best way to ensure your stuff stays protected! Don’t be scared to ask hostel staff for another room as well if yours doesn’t have a safe!

-1 No kitchen! Which means you will always have to buy your food and have no where to cook your goods!

-1 So.much.luggage.….picture everyone with their giant suitcases, piles of clothes, towels, books etc etc. scattered around your room. Mix in a few leftover bits of inevitable food, roommates who don’t wash/clean and you have most dorms!

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+1 Locations for hostels tend to be pretty good for the most part, especially considering you can pay 10 dollars to stay a night in a hostel in a major city.

-1/+1 Helpful Staff – Some hostels are geared towards certain crowds of people, so make sure the atmosphere is what you want. Not all hostels have a crazy hippie free for all vibe going for them as well, and you can find places with more uptight rules and structure (like a hotel) anywhere. Read reviews about the atmosphere and also about the staff. Hostels in particular deal with a lot of people and rude staff can be an indicator of the atmosphere, but the same goes for hotels!

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The street outside our hostel in Beijing

-1/+1 Privacy – This goes for everything from private bedrooms to private bathrooms, hostels do offer secluded rooms, but for a higher price. If you’re going budget be prepared to share some pretty dirty looking showers and toilets!

Who wins?
Well in my books, hostels for sure, but of course it’s up to you guys as to what you want out of your holiday. If you’re looking to save money and don’t mind dishing out the dough for a comfy sleep, go for a hotel and pamper yourself a bit. Just remember that hostels DO offer hotel style rooms as well (single, double, standard etc.), and some even have hotel prices, so check out reviews and Hostelbookers for more details.

Cultural Exchanges: Some TV Shows

From drama to comedy, there are some seriously great shows and films from abroad that we can all take some time to admire…Moving abroad allowed me to become so much more aware of these fantastic shows and films, and I thought it would be awesome to make a short list of a few from Europe specifically that caught my attention over the years!

Britain:
1. Peep Show – Sarcastic, dark and witty, the show chronicles Mark and Jez, two oddballs in London looking to fit into the normal world. Fearful of being impolite and making a fuss, this show is such a good representation of sass and sarcasm:


2. The Inbetweeners – Following the lives of four teenage boys breaking through the awkward boundaries of adulthood, the Inbetweeners is a fantastic show never to be forgotten. Sadly, the show ended several years ago and the group made a [kind of] funny movie based on the show:


3. Shameless – Dramatic and funny, this comedy/drama follows the life of an alcoholic’s family set in the Northwest. The show has been remade into an American version, but the original will forever be better:


4. Shaun of the Dead – Anything with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost means a good movie, but in particular this 2004 horror-comedy about two regular guys from London battling zombies while just trying to have a pint MUST be seen:


5. This is England – Following a group of young skinheads from England, this movie is set in the 80’s and focuses on a little boy’s first interactions with racism and violence.If you’re interested in American History X or Trainspotting, this is another film to check out:

 

6. Attack the Block – Wow wow wow wow! I was so blown away by this low budget film following a group of London youth who fight against aliens. Featuring Nick Frost and a bunch of new amateur actors, this film is a comedic and intriguing watch.


7. Dog Soldiers – Following a group of British military men while they fight against a family of werewolves.


Scandinavia:
1. F*cking Amal – The story of a bullied teenage girl who craves popularity and sexual discovery. The film is shot in an amateur style and has a great and surprising ending. Plus it’s an easy film to use to pick up some Swedish!:


2. En kärlekshistoria – Translated to “A Swedish Love Story” in English, the story follows two young individuals who find themselves oddly in love with one another at a very young age:


3. Hip Hip Hurra! – Another Swedish film about the coming of age period. This one is pretty popular for featuring a racy sex scene. It basically follows the life of a popular teen girl who realizes the pressure to grow up isn’t worth it:


4. Dead snow – Set in Norway, this zombie film is both comedic and full of amusing moments. Based on the typical zombie vs. survivors storyline, this film has a touch of Scandinavian and WWII to it, making it even more amusing to watch:


Europe:
1. Amelie – A truly beautiful film set in Paris, France, following young Amelie, a girl destined to do good deeds for others while trying to find the mysterious man in a train photo booth. The movie features beautiful piano music, amazing scenes and a feel good plot line:


2. La Horde – A French zombie flick with a surprisingly low budget showing what happens when a group of gangsters go up against flesh eating zombies. The US trailer has been attached below since it is pretty popular and voice over videos can be found easily:


3. The Guard – Set in Ireland, an American and Irish guard investigate a drug smuggling ring in the local town. It is super funny, super recent, and tackles some of that dark witty humour that stems from the North.


4. Lilya 4-Ever – A movie looking at human sex trafficking shot in Estonia and Sweden:


5. Bo – Sex, drugs, and human trafficking, this film focuses on a 15 year old girl who becomes caught up in a violent abusive situation while living in Belgium. Another sad but insightful movie:

People You Meet While Travelling

I read an article a while back found here on the 12 types of people you meet in hostels.

While most seemed to be pretty funny (especially the person who has travelled for a little too long), some are actually true in terms of who I’ve met as well! So I thought I’d write up a little something on the people I’ve met while travelling, just to compare to the article of course 🙂

Image Courtesy of jazzhostels.com

1. The “expert traveller” – They’ve been travelling before to many places they assure you…. They love to give you tips about what to see and where to go, but you’ve already caught site of them reading their Frommer’s guide before bed. You question their credibility and their optimism towards trying new things, especially when they tell you it’s part of the culture to do this or that. You see them trying to fit into the country right away, packing away the tourist clothes and saying hello to you in ______ whenever you see them.

2. The Racist – Unfortunately, not everyone on this planet understands that racism is dumb, unjustified and backwards, and when you meet that racist person, you shake your head at how misinformed people are. You question them about their beliefs and in some cases have the courage to say something to them, making them feel ashamed. All the same, you are interested in how so many views of the same issue could be alive in the world.

3. Life of the Party – Making social rounds and introducing themselves to you is only part of the game. This person lives to meet the most people, have the most conversations and have the most fun. Considerably the hostel social butterfly, you always feel like this person is approachable and friendly-even when you turned on all the lights in your 12 bed dorm at 3 am!

4. The Lost Wanderer – Adventurous, occasionally backpacking traveller who has been journeying around the world for years (perhaps too long?). You ask them what type of work they do and they seem to shrug it off, taking on whatever comes their way. They give you tips on where to go and what to see, and seem to be comfortable testing the foreign food (like goat brains) that freak you out. Curiously nice, these travellers seem to be looking for something – A home? A new start? An answer to some sort of question from the past? You’re interested to know, but never know how to pose the question…

5.The Unusual Character – The guy sits by himself in the bar, speaks fluent ____ and barely talks to anyone. He seems to be there just for the food or the drinks and is mostly on his laptop. He holds open doors for you but you’re never sure of what he does or who he talks to in his free time. He makes you uncomfortable with awkward silences when you have a conversation, and you leave him alone for his strange behaviour.

6. The Drunk – Always drunk and perhaps always Australian, this individual is always one shy away from passing out, but they’re a lot of fun when you’re drinking with them. They want to play dare games, card games, acting games and any other game that results in more people joining in on the drinking fun. They’re harmless and travelling for a good time; you admire their dedication to the drink.

7. The Hostel/Hotel Shut in – You never see this person leave and you question if they have always been there. You find them tucked in their bunk beds reading, eating nuts or in the hostel bar either by themselves or in a small group. They seem friendly enough, but you question why they never want to leave. They tell you they’ve seen all the sights…but you doubt that. One day they are gone and you believe they were a figment of your imagination.

8. The Hippie – You’ve only seen them change their clothes once since they’ve arrived, and they only carry a backpack. These people barely spend time at the hostel and when they do they seem to be distant, and mysterious, and sometimes judgemental. They try to tell you about capitalism and the politics of the area. Sometimes nice, these (occasionally) dread wearing, nose pierced hippies are really relaxed and project a calm, nature like vibe (sometimes).

9. And….. those people who touch your lives in unexpected and pleasant ways – 

When you look back you remember the card games, the drinking, the movies, the food outings and the conversations that shaped your amazing downtime in the hostel. You were a bunch of people from around the world who came together to experience the art of travelling. These are the gems of your journeys.

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Playing cards in Beijing with the people from my hostel!

“Chinese” Food Vs. China-food

Coming back to North America, I was thankful for the piles of pizza, fries and most importantly our familiar Chinese food. Before travelling abroad, I thought that Lo Mein, chicken balls and Kung Pow Chicken were all traditional Chinese foods (call me inexperienced!). This is why my first night in China had me slightly in tears at the unfamiliar array of “strange” Asian cuisine….

….but here’s a little breakdown of some of the tasty (and perhaps strange) items stumbled upon that you should definitely try!

Breakfast:

Breakfast tended to consist of sweet cakes elaborately decorated and shaped into little wedges. Warning, the some of the flavours available seemed to be like the ones in North America, but the “vanilla” cake below turned out to be milk flavour! The Chinese seem to not use too many Western flavours in their sweets, frequently using green tea flavour or fruit flavours with poppy seeds. No wonder the cakes were all bite sized!

Bread seemed to also be popular for a breakfast choice. We tried everything from deep fried bread twists covered in sugar (delicious!), bread buns with honey, croissants with drizzled chocolate and hot dog/sausage buns depicted below. All were very delicious and we often saw many Chinese stalking up on these lovely delights at the local bakery! (Tip: Check out Holiland bakery if you’re in Beijing!!)

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Dumplings:

There seemed to be 3 dumplings (or dumpling like) foods circulating around China…

1. These doughy dumplings generally came out at breakfast time (5 am-)! They offered a few choices, mostly “meat” or “vegetable” (pork? and beans?) and they all seemed to be super delicious. They appeared to be lightly fried and were delicious and savoury, almost like a thick chicken ball from back home! Ah memories!

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2. Gyoza (Japanese) like dumplings.These babies seemed to be similar to the Japanese gyoza dumplings which can be sampled at any Japanese restaurant in Toronto. They are decidedly thinner, but offer a larger portion of meat/veg than the above since three quarters of the dumpling were made up of filling rather than outside!

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3. “Funnel/volcano” shaped dumplings: These were our least favourite since they seemed to be put together in a hurry or something 😛 The restaurant could have been to blame but they seemed to be in the middle of too much filling/too much shell. There seemed to be a lot of extra room in there! Although not the best, give them a try just in case.

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Dinner:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANormally, evening meals consisted of some sort of fried dish (chicken, fish, pork) and a bowl of rice. Apparently it is custom to use the bowl of rice as a plate quencher since the food in Asia can be very spicy, and when they say spicy they mean it. Arriving in China meant spending a few days with “Dehli belly” sadly! ;( And apparently the further south you went the HOTTER things got, so be wary if locals tell you to stay away from the spicy dish.

Asians also seemed to be fond of these mixed bean/veg dishes which featured tossed vegetables in a [tangy] sauce and long red (hot) peppers diced into too big sections.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Shanghai, unlike other areas of China have a larger selection of Western and other foreign foods, including this Japanese dish with a bowl of rice sprinkled with seaweed and a fried chicken cutlet. These types of meals were irregular for China (to us) but we enjoyed the variety present in Shanghai all the same. Budget friendly foods are also more available in a larger variety in Shanghai.

 

 

 

Travel Sacrifices

So you probably know someone who has said “I just want to travel” or “I wish I could live _____”.

However, despite how amazing it is to see the world, if you’re deciding to take that big trip, you need to understand what exactly you will be sacrificing by moving or going miles away.

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China train toilets…. yes they are a hole in the ground!

1. Comfort: For a budget traveller, giving up that warm quilt covered bed might be the best option in order to travel on the cheap. But it can be taxing, especially when you find yourself living in 12 bed dorms with little air conditioning, a hole in the floor as your toilet and signs posted above the sinks telling you to not drink the tap water!

  • Just remember that you travelled to experience new things. Some of these things WILL be uncomfortable-but that’s okay because you get to learn more about yourself and what you value.
  • Take it as an experience, appreciate it, hate it and later I promise you will spend hours laughing about that one time you had to crap into a hole on the floor of a train in India 😛

2. Family/Friends

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder”. You never notice how your annoying brother kept you so much company, or how you mom cooking you meals with love enriched your heart. When you travel, you are not only going to be away from your friends and family but also away from people who understand you and who you [may] have chosen to be in your life.

  • It can be lonely sometimes, but remembering that they will always be there for you when you return might help keep the family blues at bay.
  • Also, try talking to people at hostels and reach outside your comfort zone if you really feel homesick. You’re more than likely to find someone who lives in a country near yours or at least from the same continent! Don’t be scared to reach out too. Those people are missing their loved ones just as much as you! 
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Trying out spicy food in Beijing

You might think that travelling to another country is going to be great, and those 50 photos of China looked super awesome in that tourist book you picked up from the library….

  • In reality the world is a big big place. The countries you are going to are VERY different, and sometimes that means a traveller can feel unfamiliarity.
  • Tourist books highlight the great things to see, but too often they forget to mention what it’s like going to a country where everyone stares at you because they have never seen a white person and no one understands what you are saying.

When I was in Xi’an China for example, I made the mistake of getting into a taxi cab (that was marked!) that took me to the other side of Xi’an. I was basically in tears because my phone did not work, I had no internet access, had no idea where I was/how to pronounce where I was staying and NO ONE spoke english! Fortunately, a nice “box” car driver asked me what was wrong and managed to help me out in broken english, eventually bringing me to the train station and giving me his number in case I needed help.

  • If you are in the above situation, try to talk to anyone in your language and (english)
  • Have one of those translating apps on your phone/tablet
  • Have your hotel address written down in the language
  • Have the hotel number/friends who speak the language numbers written down

If you feel like you’re in an unfamiliar situation in a new country remember that the feeling is temporary.

You are feeling culture shock. I know the tentacles being slurped up by locals, the no hand washing policy and the “disgusting” food is strange and foreign, but you chose to go to this new country and you get to experience these things TEMPORARILY for the experience.

So make the best of it. Try the “disgusting” food, which will probably turn out to be delicious, and immerse yourself in the culture shock.

4. You will have to go home:

For most of us, this is the case, and it definitely sucks. With elephants in Thailand, white beaches and amazing parties with the people in your hostel, it seems hard to give it up. To the lucky few, the journey of travelling will continue, but it isn’t all that bad.

You get to return home to appreciate those small creature comforts that shaped you into you, and perhaps one day you’ll get to go back to your travel destination, or explore more of this wonderful world.

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5. Money: 

You will have to spend money, and as hard as it is to give up the 5000 dollars you spent the past seven years saving up for, it will be worth it. Don’t fear that small bank account, there are ways to budget and there will always be more money.

  • You are choosing to travel to see new things and meet new people, so don’t worry if your bank is taking a hit
  • Splurge on things if you think they are worth it. That igloo hotel in Norway that lets you see the Northern Lights from your bed? Yeah that 200 Euro price tag is steep-but it is worth it! So weigh up what you want to see and indulge every so often.

——–

All in all, just have fun. Take risks, acknowledge things that make you uncomfortable and appreciate them for being a temporary and DIFFERENT experience.

After all, that’s why you’re travelling right? 🙂

Part Two of Five: Beyond the Red Lights

“I know tons of girls who are pimped you know, but me, no. I came here to work to get money. I make about 50,000 euros during the two months I spend here….” She played with my hair, touching my arm

“Wow that is so much money….”

“Yes and then I fly back to Brazil and live with my children and husband.”

“Wait… you have kids and a husband? How old are you!?” I asked shocked… she appeared to be 26!

“35! And I’ve had four kids.” She replied calmly

I stared at her in disbelief, continuing to repeat the words “honestly!?” as she laughed.

I stared at this woman who had the most incredible body I have ever seen and wondered how she managed to stay in such amazing shape, and more importantly how she felt so comfortable with herself and her relationship, enough to leave her husband and kids behind for two months a year to make money in Europe, a location 5,702 miles away from home.

“Don’t you miss your kids!? And your husband knows what you are doing??” I ask

“Of course, our relationship is trusting. And my kids mean everything, but in Brazil it is very poor and why should I work 40 years in a field to earn a quarter of what I earn here in two months! I go back home, live in a villa and send my kids to proper school!” She chuckled as I nodded my head along.

Were things in Brazil really that bad? I hadn’t even thought that these women could have been intentionally coming from other countries to make a better life for themselves back home.

“So do you go and work for someone here?” I ask

“No, not a pimp or anything. Most of the windows are owned by pimps though. But I get charged 200 euros a night for rent.”

“You rent the room for the night?”

“Yes, it isn’t much and I am in charge of my business.”

“And what about all the men you sleep with? Do you have a say?”

“Of course. Since I work independently I decide who I sleep with. I don’t sleep with certain men who I [deem creepy]”
Note: I edited out this part because she said a few racial slurs that were a bit much to post, but she basically gave me a long list of nationalities she didn’t allow into her room to provide with services

I appreciated her bluntness. She seemed happy enough to continue answering questions as I pressed on…

“And it’s cool to just turn anyone down?”

“I don’t let them come in or simply say no. Most are fine with that.”

“And out of the customers that you’ve had have any had weird requests?”

She threw back her head in laughter and I giggled nervously along with her, unsure of what she was going to continue with.

“Oh my YES. Some customers are so weird. Like I have this one guy who comes in every week and collects all the used condoms from my trash bin.”

“He just comes in and grabs all the used ones?” I question

“Yeah he just wants that, nothing sexual. He comes and collects at the end of the night and pays me for each condom.”

“Whattt??? Anyone else come in and ask for heavy bondage stuff or anything?”

“Most men are a bit nervous when they meet me, like the whole first experience. This one guy paid me 5000 euros to take a shit on the floor though. So I did it you know, money’s money.”
Zach and I laughed along with her, cringing at the thought of how this guy must have looked when requesting that, and at our new friend’s honesty.

“I think okay, this is weird, but you know he wanted me to do nothing for money. So it happened.”

“How about foot fetishes and that?”

“Not too many, most men are so nervous. It’s very funny” She seemed to find it humorous and we joked along as if we had gone through a similar experience.

“Can I ask something that might be a little touchy?” I asked earnestly, trying not to pressure her into answering too many questions

“Yeah yeah of course” she replied

“Have you experienced any physical violence from customers? Like has anyone attacked you or been too rough”

“No no of course not. I know of some women who do but I feel safe here.” She insisted, clicking her tongue ring against her teeth, “A lot of girls here like are owned by pimps, and they can get hurt from them. Some get taken care of more than others.”

“And have you ever worried about it?”

“No, I turn down the ones I get weird feelings from.”

“Ah so like a screening process.”

“Yes, and we check genitals as well… anything that smells or looks off is a no. I mean I have sex yes, but I have a family. And the person who rents out this place is very good to me too. I get tested a lot.”

“I had noticed that other girls we had talked to refused to kiss their customers” I comment

“Yes, some girls think it is too personal. I’m fine with it, especially girls you know.”

“Are you bisexual then?”

“No, I mean I am open, but everyone makes out with their friends when they are young right? I just kiss girls but men sometimes want the girlfriend experience.”

We concluded the interview talking more about her lesbian experiences and eventually me commenting on her little room setup, sink included. We parted ways with a hug, and I asked if we would see her again later on during the week,

“No no, I fly home tomorrow to Brazil! Time to relax!”

——————–

Although our interview only lasted 20 minutes, the greatest look into the world of the Red Light District came to me not through simple observation, but rather a very intimate interview conducted with a woman who seemed to be prostituting her body for a [good] cause. She saw the potential for earning money in an economy that allowed her to go home practically a millionaire (considering the exchange rate), while being able to send her kids to a private school and keep her family happy.

She never commented on whether or not her kids knew much about what she did every year when she went abroad, but seemed happy enough to mention how her husband was well and truly aware of her work.

Note: First image courtesy of en.wikipedia.org. Second image courtesy of adventuresineurope@youtube.com