In 1997 when Princess Diana was tragically killed - nations were silenced, nations mourned.  I still distinctly remember the moment the twin towers fell in September 2001. Even more vivid is the emotional outpour that came afterwards. There are events, images and individuals in every country that build national sentiment, build national resilience and revive a nation as a community. We all have heroes and heroines. When we lose one we mourn as a country, as a collective community sharing a similar experience. 
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Last week, Vietnam lost one of their must prestigious national heroes and it is the first time I have experienced such a collective level of pride, nationalism and grief among the population. General Vo Nguyen Giap was a national hero as a result of his role in Vietnam's fight for freedom.  General Giap lead troops to eventually defeat both the French and the Americans.  In Vietnam he is commonly described for his achievement of being the only general to successfully defeat the Americans.  

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After his death the national outpour was unprecedented. Before the national news outlets had released the news of his death social media outlets has been flooded with messages of condolence. By Saturday morning a steady crowd of people had built up in front of General Giap's family home.  My co-workers were quieter than normal. When asked about General Giap most everyone spoke very highly of him. Several individuals took the time to sit and reflect on his importance in Vietnamese history and several left work to visit his home. 

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Two days of national mourning saw the city fall to its most quiet. Entertainment was shutdown for the weekend - meaning even the bars that stay open past eleven (the regular curfew) closed their doors early. Regular television programming was cancelled on almost every station (including Western ones) and instead showed documentaries of Giap's life and his funeral procession on repeat. General Giap's home was opened to the public after the crowds swelled to a size that could not be ignored. Vietnamese, foreign dignitaries and travellers alike waited in line for as much as six hours to give their thanks and condolences to his family.  Although the daily hustle and bustle of the city carried on during the day things truly felt different. 

His memory remains a steadfast reminder among the Vietnamese population about how much they have struggled for the freedom that they now cherish. While celebrating a surprisingly traditional (and delicious!!) Thanksgiving with new friends I was pointed to a simple fact of Vietnam.  People here are grateful for their peace - because they have known war and the corresponding struggles for so long.   At Thanksgiving in particular it seems appropriate to remind myself how lucky I am to live in Canada. We take peace for granted because we have never had to fight for something that seems so fundamental. 

 
Last weekend I had to the opportunity to explore Vietnam’s well known Ha Long Bay. Home to some 1,600 islands Ha Long is undoubtedly deserving of its status as a UNESCO Heritage site for its physical beauty. The limestone pillars reach up to the sky in various shapes and sizes and form a stunning landscape against the backdrop of aqua sea water. Almost eerily, the landmasses can seem to go on forever as they fade into a misty background. 
Myself and my eight other peers from the University of Waterloo decided to do Ha Long as a group. The trip served as a much need break from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi and allowed us to push aside our development hats in favour of a tourist hat for a weekend. Or, I should say, I thought it would.

Before embarking on our three day, two night adventure I had heard many stories about bad tours, overcrowding and pollution - but I knew it was something I had to experience for myself.   I was not disappointed, we got lucky with our tour - we had an incredible room on the boat, nice people, perfect weather, a beautiful island, and an “interesting” tour guide.  The island we spent our second night on was off the beaten path so we didn't see the same level of pollution and crowdedness as other tours might.  
But even lounging on the sun-deck of our boat I couldn't take off my development hat.  I was undoubtedly in awe of my stunning, natural surroundings but throughout the trip I faced many nagging questions in the back of my head.  

What is the environmental impact of Ha Long catering to an average of 8,000 tourists a day?  Does the industry help or hinder the people of Ha Long's various floating villages? How many people were displaced by turning islands and caves into tourist destinations? Where are the women crew members?  What is the justification for my beachside bungalow (left) when people live in floating homes (right)?
To say I didn't enjoy my tour would be a complete misrepresentation, I enjoyed it immensely. And herein lies the problem I'm facing as a development student. At what point are you being counter-productive in development work? You travel across the world adding to your carbon footprint, you work for environmental and social change during the week, but then spend your weekends, potentially, contributing to social inequality and environmental degradation. 

I'm not sure where I should draw the line, I do believe Ha Long is stunning and needs to be preserved. But I also believe that its natural beauty deserves to be shared.  To do so in a manner that is both environmentally and culturally sustainable, economically feasible and social beneficial is paramount, but how? Clearly I have many unanswered questions, but I also have faith in a generation of my peers who both question their surroundings and the status quo and actively seek answers and positive change. After all, our innate tendency to question the status quo is what has lead us this far. 

I leave you with some pictures of the beauty of Ha Long. Until next time, chào! Hęn gặp lại. 
 
I have a fascination with maps. This fascination boils down to perspective. Every map provides a different perspective of a location, and it influences the perspective of the reader. My fascination extends to the maps that our minds create - the way we picture our surroundings, our understanding of the space between places, and the emotions and experiences that we map onto different areas.
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Moving to a new city, no matter where, is a foreign experience. When you first step out into a new city you have an extremely fuzzy perspective of your location. In your first few steps you gain exponential insight and your mental map of your new surroundings begins. 

I have now been in Hanoi for one month (or two days shy). When I first stepped out onto the streets of Hanoi and began walking, exploring and discovering I was not only building a mental map of the city to practically guide me through the next eight months, I was also building comfort. Being mapless can be terrifying. But over time you develop a beautiful mental drawing of your new home filled with more than roads and landmarks, but your favourite spots, your safety zone, places that make you smile, places that make you frown and places yet to be discovered. 

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Overcoming the terrifying feeling of being in a place that I couldn’t navigate, let alone picture, took me a few weeks, and the process still continues. My techniques ranged from jumping on a bus just to see where it would take me, tracking my movement on a physical map, googling absolutely everything and walking just to try and retrace a previous path. I have a mental map of this city - it is beautiful, and unique and so very incomplete. It has however served its purpose, I feel comfortable showing people around and I feel comfortable getting myself (and others) lost. 

A week ago I took a guided biking tour that took me to many places I’d never been. It was an incredible experience and I look forward to many more. I'd like to share with you the places that that trip added to my mental map of Hanoi, but to do so I'll have to steal some pictures from some friends (Thanks Danielle & Michelle). 

At the burial site we learned how the process of burial occurs in Vietnam. For three years the body is buried in the above ground coffins/tombs (in the foreground above) with grass growing over top of them.  Family members visit and leave offerings and gifts for their loved ones (pictured the the right). After three years, the eldest son must reopen the grave site and wash the bones of his relative. The bones are then placed in their final burial site, which is one of the small, colourful, temples or house like structures pictured in the background of the photo above.  

As we biked into busier areas of the city we were soon upon the Long Biên Market (right) and the Long Biên Bridge (below).  The Long Biên Bridge is one of the many landmarks in Hanoi that truly show how the history of this country is written among the streets of Hanoi.  
We mounted our bikes in the West Lake (Tây Hồ) area, an area largely populated by foreigners who are working longterm in Hanoi and some well-off Vietnamese. It is known for its higher prices, expensive cars, beautiful waterfront apartments and cozy waterfront bars. 

From there I was surprised how quickly we found unkept dirt roads and small homes. It seemed so strange to leave the beautiful and luxurious Tây Hồ area and suddenly be pedalling in muddy dirt roads leading around a burial site. 

From there we biked among the equivalent to a Christmas tree farm. These trees are put in the house during Tết Holiday.  We also had a pitstop where we got to drink home made soy milk and taste a traditional Vietnamese dessert, banh troi (left).  
The bridge symbolizes love, power and war. It first opened in 1903 as a strategic structure during French colonization of Vietnam. During the American War (or Vietnam War depending on what history books you read) it was bombed heavily. Today it is only used by trains, pedestrians, bicycles and, more recently, motorbikes. Cars and buses use a newer bridge, which is probably for the best as I experienced the movement of the 1000 year old bridge first hand.  Although the bridge was heavily bombed there remains some original parts of the bridge, and only necessary structural repairs have been completed. 
From Long Biên Bridge we were guided through tiny alleyways in the district to Bồ Đề Pagoda which is both a religious site and an orphanage.  
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Our trip ended with a trek aroun the Old Quarter, the area of Hanoi most explored by tourists. We entered the hustle and bustle of the old quarter, stopped and tasted wedding cakes (right), before we shared a great lunch and headed back to West Lake to return our bikes. All in all it was an amazing four hours of biking and exploring the city and it allowed me build upon my mental map of Hanoi. My adventure here is a work in progress, but it is beginning to feel like a home. Xin Chào! Hęn gặp lại. 

“More precious, though, are the unpublished maps we make ourselves, of our city, our place, our daily world, our life; those maps of our private world we use every day; here I was happy, in that place I left my coat behind after a party, that is where I met my love; I cried there once, I was heartsore; but felt better round the corner once I saw the hills of Fife across the Forth, things of that sort, our personal memories, that make the private tapestry of our lives.” - Alexander McCall Smith 
 
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Before traveling to Vietnam I read, researched and wrote about various aspects of Vietnamese culture. I was determined to be knowledgable and prepared for my experience in Vietnam. As a result of this research I knew some key differences between Canadian culture and Vietnamese culture. Most importantly, I understood the importance of relationship building in order to get things done. These differences are well depicted in the picture to the right. The blue represents relationships in Western cultures, where as the red represents relationships in Asian cultures. Of course these are generalizations - however, from my experience here they hold true. 

My researched helped my awareness of the requirement to network and build relationships, but upon arrival at work, I realized that it fell short in providing me any insight into how to build meaningful and productive relationships. Now it may seem trivial and you may think that we should all have an innate ability to build relationships - some people may, but I do not, and when you factor in a foreign country, culture, and language this become all the more difficult. However, in the first week of work I jumped right in and gave it my all - and I saw the results. I was able to gain enough access and information to write my own brief about where I can best contribute to this organization and I landed myself an invite to travel outside of Hanoi to nearby Hòa Bình Province. 

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Hòa Bình Province is located about 70km outside of Hanoi. By Canadian standards it is a short jaunt, after all North Bay to Sunridge or Hamilton to Waterloo is a 70km trek and we do it all the time without thought or planning. When I was told  how far it was I was immediately confused by the fact that most of the Vietnamese people we were going with had never been before. We departed my house around 7am and I rode the 70km trek (mostly) on the back of a motorbike. We arrived a staggering four hours later. After trekking through washed out roads, relaying group members up hills on motorbikes we finally arrived at a small house in a valley in Hòa Bình Province - the views were spectacular. 

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Upon arrival we were greeted enthusiastically by a couple and a grandmother, and the two women then quickly disappeared to the kitchen.  After some time we were brought into an open room, carpets or mats were laid on the floor and we sat in circles around serving trays of freshly prepared food.  Chats and songs were shared and glasses of an unidentified alcohol with bees in it were clinked and sipped as we began to eat as if we were one happy family. 

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After lunch, it was nap time - something that should not of come to a surprise to me but was. I snuck off with a couple other people and snapped some photos of the nearby scenery instead.

Once nap time was over we were given a demonstration on how to make handmade paper by the husband and wife team. The process is infinitely delicate but was performed so gracefully that it became a mesmerizing performance.  The hand-made paper is prepared from the bark of the Do tree and needs to be washed, rinsed, mixed with water and natural glue (a kind of sap), shifted into sheets, pressed and dried all before it can be cut and turned into various products. [I have a video of part of the process but I need better internet to upload it - so check back later for the link].

Ms. Tran Hong Nhung works with local producers to maintain this traditional and sustainable craft and provide a reliable source of income to families in Hoa Binh Province and Bac Ninh Province.  The products they produce are beautiful, and the paper is beautiful in its own right. You can find out more on the Zò Project’s facebook page. 

We were lucky enough to be given a chance to try and make the paper ourselves (much harder than it looks). After the demonstration and our chance to try it out the real business began. Ms. Nhung and her colleagues picked out the paper they were prepared to purchase and formally discussed an initiative to incorporate recycled paper and other recycled materials into the product. The day showcased the interrelationship between building respect and trust and getting business done. It took us from 7 to 3pm before we completed one hour of actual business communications but we left feeling accomplished and with a much better understanding of the importance of handmade paper to the livelihoods of individuals in Hoa Binh.
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Some of the products on display at the Green Street showroom in Hanoi. These notebooks are beautiful and the samples of paper really show the diversity and quality of the product.
It was humbling to be involved in a local craft and invited into someone’s house to share a meal. The entire experience showcased why it is important to build relationships, not only in Vietnamese culture but in development work in general. The names, faces and stories like these are the reason I am in this line of work - to help others preserve themselves, their culture and the trades that they love. 
 
I started, edited and tossed away this post at least a dozen times. My frustration comes from my innate need to adequately represent what life is like in Hanoi, and my complete inability to translate the sights, sounds and emotions into words.  However, it is naïve of me to think that anyone could adequately depict what this experience is like - but that doesn't mean it isn't worth trying. 
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You thought that 400 series highways were nuts, right? Hanoi can give Toronto commutes a real run for their money.  At home you only have to deal with cars, transport trucks, the occasional motorcycle and if you're headed up to cottage country: people pulling boats, snow machines and four-wheelers. In Hanoi, the traffic on a city street is comparable to the volume of traffic you see on the 401 at rush hour - except that you have to involve motorbikes, bicycles, cars, pedestrians, buses, oh and the strange (and oversized) things that people carry/tow on their motorbikes and bicycles. Oh and did I mention there are no true traffic rules? If a street is marked as one way, you should still frequently look both ways while crossing it. 

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This street is empty, an anomaly, but almost every street has trees this size or larger.
This first post gives you some insight into some of the initial sights of Hanoi that can be overwhelming. However, after a few weeks I am not afraid of crossing the street - it is actually just a well choreographed dance between various modes of transportation.  I have even begun to travel to work via bicycle and found it relaxing. At first glance Hanoi offers little escape from the hustle and bustle on the street - the smells, sights and sounds begin early in the morning with roosters, continue with horns blaring throughout the day and into the night, and commence with 2am cat fights on the rooftops of near-by houses. 

But Hanoi is filled with stunning dichotomies - one of which is the peaceful serenity of old growth trees swaying amidst the honking and swerving of vehicles.  If there is anything that Canadians cities should learn from Hanoi it is the preservation of old growth trees along city streets - take note UW Planners. 
Imbedded within these busy city streets lies many, many green spaces with various historical monuments, temples and pagodas. There is a rich and complex history written on the surfaces of this city.  I have much to discover still and I doubt eight months will allow me to discover it all.  Until next time, I leave you with the green spaces throughout Hanoi that are my refugee from the hectic views on the streets. 
 
So has it begun – my adventure, my journey, and my self-discovery? 

From seat 51A, 35,998 feet above northern Russia in a Korean Air plane bound to our connection in Seoul, Republic of Korea it still seems surreal.  The difficult goodbyes are behind me, as are the first eight hours of my flights. I have been filled with dread, excitement, nervousness, sadness, anticipation and everything in-between. I have a book of pictures and letters from family and friends, that I have not dared to open yet, sitting in my carrying on.  I am truly on my way.

The anticipation of this, my biggest life journey thus far, has sat with me since I was accepted to Waterloo’s International Development program back in December of 2009.  I’ve always had my next steps in life laid out well in advance, so it should come as no surprise that my heart was set on Vietnam as a placement destination by the very first day of first year. However, from this point forward my life goes (relatively) uncharted. I do not have an accurate description of the work I’ll be doing in Hanoi. I have a house address, but have no idea if it will be permanent. I have talked about travel planes to visit Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, Bali, and Singapore but none are set in stone.  I have eight months that is all I know for certain.

When I started this program I had a set of distinctive ideas of what I would get out of placement. In my true planner mindset, I had a list of things I would achieve from it. However, sitting on an airplane I’ve realized that I am no longer that strict planner. So today I realize that this trip is just as much about self-discovery as it is about putting academics and theory into practice.  I have no idea who I will be when I’m sitting on a plane coming back to Canada eight-months from now. So it really has begun – my adventure, my journey, and my self-discovery – and it will continue with peaks and falls no doubt. But at the end perhaps I will have learned something for the real world while learning something about myself. 

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Controversy hit the internet over this Labour Day weekend as a "feminist parody" of Robin Thicke's song Blurred Lines went viral across feminist circles. The parody's reach moved cross wider society when YouTube took down the video because of "inappropriate content."  Now the parody created by Auckland University students is meant to be comic, and a tongue-in-cheek response to Thicke's music video. Gender role reversal parody's are not uncommon if you do a quick youtube search, and Blurred Lines has already received considerable attention because of Mod Carousel's parody. There is so much the perturbs me about the original video and lyrics but I'll let the side-by-side comparison below speak for itself.  
"Blurred Lines"
(feat. T.I. & Pharrell Williams)

Everybody get up
Everybody get up
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey

If you can't hear what I'm trying to say
If you can't read from the same page
Maybe I'm going deaf,
Maybe I'm going blind
Maybe I'm out of my mind
(Everybody get up)

OK now he was close, tried to domesticate you
But you're an animal, baby, it's in your nature
Just let me liberate you
Hey, hey, hey
You don't need no papers
Hey, hey, hey
That man is not your maker

And that's why I'm gon' take a good girl
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
You're a good girl
Can't let it get past me
You're far from plastic
Talk about getting blasted
I hate these blurred lines
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
But you're a good girl
The way you grab me
Must wanna get nasty
Go ahead, get at me
Everybody get up

What do they make dreams for
When you got them jeans on
What do we need steam for
You the hottest bitch in this place
I feel so lucky
Hey, hey, hey
You wanna hug me
Hey, hey, hey
What rhymes with hug me?
Hey, hey, hey

OK now he was close, tried to domesticate you
But you're an animal, baby it's in your nature
Just let me liberate you
Hey, hey, hey
You don't need no papers
Hey, hey, hey
That man is not your maker
Hey, hey, hey

And that's why I'm gon' take a good girl
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
You're a good girl
Can't let it get past me
You're far from plastic
Talk about getting blasted
Everybody get up
I hate these blurred lines
I know you want it
I hate them lines
I know you want it
I hate them lines
I know you want it
But you're a good girl
The way you grab me
Must wanna get nasty
Go ahead, get at me

One thing I ask of you
Let me be the one you back that ass to
Go, from Malibu, to Paris, boo
Yeah, I had a bitch, but she ain't bad as you
So hit me up when you passing through
I'll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two
Swag on, even when you dress casual
I mean it's almost unbearable
In a hundred years not dare, would I
Pull a Pharside let you pass me by
Nothing like your last guy, he too square for you
He don't smack that ass and pull your hair like that
So I just watch and wait for you to salute
But you didn't pick
Not many women can refuse this pimpin'
I'm a nice guy, but don't get it if you get with me

Shake the vibe, get down, get up
Do it like it hurt, like it hurt
What you don't like work?

Baby can you breathe? I got this from Jamaica
It always works for me, Dakota to Decatur, uh huh
No more pretending
Hey, hey, hey
Cause now you winning
Hey, hey, hey
Here's our beginning
"Defined Lines" 
(Zoe Ellwood, Olivia Lubbock, Adelaide Dunn)

Every bigot shut up
Every bigot shut up
Hey hey hey
Hey hey hey
Hey hey hey

Boy you’d better quit all your sexist ways, 
So hear our manifesto of the modern age.
It’s time to undermine
The masculine confines 
‘Cause we don’t wanna grind 
Gri-ii-iind.

You think that you’re so slick, 
Let me emasculate ya!
Because your precious dick
Can’t beat my vibrator. 
We’re feelin’ the frustration
From all the exploitation 
Prepare for your castration.

So we can fuck this man’s world
With all its bullshit. 
Girls don’t deserve it
And that’s why we quit. 
We ain’t good girls.
We are scholastic,
Smart and sarcastic, 
Not fucking plastic. 
Listen mankind!
If you wanna get nasty,
Just don’t harass me.
You can’t just grab me,
That’s a sex crime!
Yeah we don’t want it.
It’s chauvinistic.
You’re such a bigot!


What you see on tv
Doesn’t speak equality,
It’s straight up misogyny.
Don’t want you to come on my face!
You think you’re hunky
Hey hey hey
You wanna hug me?
Hey hey hey 
Don’t you mean fuck me?


One thing I ask of you,
Don’t assume that we all just wanna screw.
Gotta respect me for me to be your boo.
We don’t want no scrubs, no we don’t approve. 
Need a universal role reversal,
In real life not a dress rehearsal. 
Gotta resist all the gender roles,
Time to put misogyny on parole.

Put exploitation on probation,
Time for you to witness our liberation.
There’s more to life than penetration
And sexual discrimination.
So tonight
We ignite
Our civil rights. 
Resist chauvinism,
Win the fight,
‘Cause you’re livin large just like a montage
Of you and your friends actin’ out Entourage. 
But we ain’t whores to do your household chores, 
To make you a sandwich when we’re on all fours. 
From history to herstory, 
Know you got some opinions that we don’t agree.
Need to call my sister Joan of A-R-C,
Bake a feminist cake, Antoinette Marie.
Yeah, guys, we got spies, 
Know all you wanna do is fertilise.
But avert your eyes from my thighs.
Never tell a bitch she gotta drop a size.
You wanna box gap?
Show me your six-pack.
You wanna landing strip? 
You’d better get ripped.
I apologise if you think my lines are crass
Tell me how it feels, to get verbally harassed?

So we can fuck this man’s world
With all its bullshit. 
Girls don’t deserve it
And that’s why we quit. 
We ain’t good girls.
We are scholastic,
Smart and sarcastic, 
Not fucking plastic. 
Listen mankind!
If you wanna get nasty,
Just don’t harass me.
You can’t just grab me,
That’s a sex crime!
Yeah we don’t want it.
It’s chauvinistic.
You’re such a bigot!

A round of applause goes out to the students at Auckland (both female and male) who made produced this incredible video that spreads light on an important issues of popular culture. Robin Thicke is not the only artist who lyrics and videos portray women as sex objects, chances are we have all bobbed are heads to countless other songs that promote misogyny, gender based violence and rape culture. Thicke's lyrics showcase men who seen women as sex objectives, things to be controlled. With the lines "I know you want it" they are suggesting that because a women dresses a certain way or acts a certain way a man can pursue she wants him . . . these are precisely the assumptions to create rape culture. Of these two songs I know which one will make it on my iPod and which one will forever be turned off on the radio.
 
Combine: The application process, the waiting, the acceptances, the decisions, move in, first lecture, first exam, first "failing" grade, first university paper, last lecture, last exam, last paper, the celebration of the last day of the first year, move out. Rinse and repeat. 

I've completed this process for three years, or seven terms, of university. The roller-coaster of emotions throughout has taken me through some extreme highs and some deep lows. For me and my peers, the average emotions and experiences are compounded by the fact that over the course of three years and seven terms we've been preparing to spread our wings and fly some 13,000 kilometers away. 

To complicate, stir in helpings of: placement applications, political protests, international flights, travel vaccinations, last minute visa applications, insurance packages and healthy doses of frustration, excitement and nervousness.  

If I have learned anything through my three years in International Development it is that there is no single recipe for development, nor is there a recipe for a career in it. The field is volatile and complex. What works in one arena won't work in another. The skills you need are ever changing. However, I think I have determined the secret ingredient for a successful career in development . . .

Add in a mixture of: the supportive parents, the network of peers, that one academic advisor who just lets you rant, the little cousins who sends you travel books, a necklace that reminds you of home, those Professors who understand the emotional journey of working in the field and that one best friend. 


Our support network. That has to be one of the sharpest tools in our development survival tool box. Everyone's combination is different, but we all have someone. Someone who has told us - you go, you follow that dream and you change the world. Development can be downright depressing as we travel a road filled with sad stories and failures. However, beyond the surface this field is also the most beautiful I have seen. The individuals succeeding in the face of adversity, the optimism that is displayed on my peers' faces and the passion we all wear on our sleeves makes pursing development worth it. I've had my share of laughter and tears as this amazing process has unfolded and I'm happy that my personal recipe for development has held-up. 

Liberally add: laughter, smiles and tears and hold the entire concoction close to your heart. 
 
As many of you know I've become a extremely interested in the power of discourse in various aspects of our social, economic, cultural and political lives. This morning I woke up to a Photo Story from the National Post. Now, as an environment student I know what an algae bloom is and how one occurs. Algae population is largely controlled by the availability of nutrients and sunlight. When there is an excess of nutrients in the water you can have Algae blooms or an exponential increase of the algae population. The increased coverage of the water surface with algae can cause serious harm to marine life because it changes the balance of the ecosystem, as it chokes the environment of both oxygen and sunlight. They occur naturally when there is overpopulation of various species. However, anthropogenic sources of nutrients from fertilizer runoff, industrial dumping and waste water pollution can also cause algae blooms. But the National Post won't tell you any of that. 
The National Post's Photo Story was simply the pictures above and the following description: "Green algae rules the beach — The seas off China have been hit by their largest ever growth of algae, ocean officials said, with vast waves of green growth washing onto the shores of the Yellow Sea. Large quantities of non-poisonous green seaweed, enteromorpha prolifera, hit the Qingdao, northeast China’s Shandong province. More than 20,000 tons of such seaweed has been removed from the city’s beaches."

What is bothersome about this coverage is that the severity of the impact to marine life is completely obscured.  The issue seems to only be publicized because of the spectacular photo-op the phenomena has produce. Now the National Post is by no means an ideal news source, and of course I looked for other sources of news.  But striking, no news article made the main issue of the piece the potential harm and imbalances that could be (and likely are) causing an Algae Bloom the size of West Virginia. 

What seems to occur again and again with environmental issues is the use of visual discourse, or pretty pictures, to attract and shock an audience and then no information about what could really be going on. So my question here becomes do these pictures and the visual discourse surrounding environmental issues truly educate individuals? What should the real conversation in China be about? Shouldn't photos this strong be able to bring much need light to the impact of runoff and industrial pollution? Or are we simply a culture that just wants to get our news in photos and 140 character messages?
 
I'm 78 days away from placement. 

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I have to let that sink-in because, somehow, it seems both incredibly close and incredibly far. This week, myself and fellow INDEVOURS participated in two days of pre-departure training. Though as a group we were preoccupied with school work, annoyed at the length, and altogether wishing we were somewhere else I think the fact that we've reached another milestone in this process is starting to sink in. 78 Days.


This entire week I've been preoccupied with slowly trying to chip away at my to-do list. Even the times in which I was surrounded by friends my mind has been elsewhere. Tonight, I've taken a night to myself (and some school work) and had a few realizations about what the next 12 months of my life will really entail. 78 Days. 

On a Friday night, at 10pm I'm sitting outside the library, under a tree studying Vietnamese and writing this blog post. The temperature has dropped from 26 degrees to 21 degrees and the moon has decided to make a beautiful appearance just below a thin cloud. It is sitting here that I've realized that there are a lot of things I'm going to miss about Canada. Certainly, the people - there is not doubt there. Family, friends, colleagues,  professors, staff and peers have made a mark on my life, and I can carry that with me anywhere.  However, what about the cool, fresh summer air and clear sky with a view of the moon? The air pollution in Vietnam likely means I should get my fill of these summer nights while I still can. 78 Days.

The little things. A caterpillar falling out of a tree onto my open book. The emptiness of campus at night. Empty green-space within walking distance. Alberta's fine mountains. Three red Muskoka chairs sitting against a backdrop of still water. The view of the skyway from Burlington's lakeshore.   78 Days.

So here's to 78 days of enjoying the things I love about Canada. Here's to 78 days of anticipating all the little things that are going to make me fall in love with Vietnam too. Here's to the apprehension and exhilaration about the prospect of exploring a culture, country and community in which I have no roots.
So . . . here's to 78 days and the 243 after that. 


    Disclaimer

    This blog is in no way reflective of the University of WaterlooSt. Paul's University College, or the INDEVOURS. However, if you find this blog interesting you might want to learn more about these other great organizations! 

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