Big face, small beauty?

Recently I was going through a box of things I had shipped home from Korea.  Metal chopsticks, cute notebooks, sparkly hair do-dads for my nieces, and this:


I can’t remember what it’s called in Korean but I do remember where it came from.  A Korean co-worker was very concerned that I would never get married (a fate worse than death) because my face was too big.  This thing would help me attract men by reducing the size of my face.

A small face is considered extremely beautiful in Korea.  There is a Korean actress who is famous for having a 17cm face, and apparently she can hide her face behind a CD.  As my marital status was a cause of much concern amongst my Korean co-workers, I frequently heard about this actress.  Two things always sprang to mind when people told me about her: (1) she can’t be much of an actress if she’s famous for the size of her face; and (2) unless she’s a tiny person, she must look like she’s got a weirdly shrunken head.

But perhaps I’m judging her by my Western standards of beauty…

Now thanks to my co-worker’s kind concern, I can endeavour to have a small face!


I need only rub the little wheels along my face and over time (my co-worker had assured me in all seriousness) my enormous face would become an acceptable, husband-attracting size.


I think I shipped it home because it does feel quite lovely, like a little relaxing face massage.  I haven’t observed any changes in the size of my face nor have I noticed any suitable gentlemen hurling themselves in my path but perhaps it takes time.  I’ll keep you posted.

20150510_183617 20150510_182524

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Where can you park a dog-sled?

I’d never really thought about it before but it must be tough to find a good place to park your dog-sled.  I spotted this ingenious solution in the Ikea parking lot.  Do you think the owner had gone to buy matching duvets for all his dogs?


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Does a deer carcass count towards my checked baggage allowance?

New Brunswick.  The province everyone drives through on their way to Halifax.  The province everyone forgets on elementary school geography tests.  The province with the capital city nobody can spell (why spell it Fred-eric-ton when you say it Fred-ric-ton?).  The province where I spent my wonderful university years.  The province I love above all others.  And finally, the province I went back to a few weekends ago.

I had forgotten just how lovely Fredericton is.  Gorgeous architecture,

delicious food,

beautiful university campus,

and the amazing ex-train bridge walking path.

I had also forgotten just how friendly everyone is.  I stopped at a coffee shop on my first day, and I think by the time my latte was made, I was anticipating the barista’s upcoming nuptials almost as much as she was.

The amazingly chipper 77-year old owner of my quaint B&B and I started off every morning watching home improvement shows, and discussing her upcoming operations for her blockage (what sort she didn’t say and I didn’t ask!), and whether her son would marry the scandalous young woman he’d brought with him the last time he visited (I was unsure if the woman herself was scandalous or it was her age that was causing the upset).

After four days of basking in the wonders of old friends and Maritime hospitality, I began to feel as I’d come home.

And then I went to the airport to catch my flight back to Ottawa, and realized that perhaps I’d spent too much time in much, much larger places.  While I knew I didn’t need to arrive as far in advance as I would have in say, Seoul, I was unprepared for the Fredericton airport.  (I’d flown in at night.)

The parking lot was empty, and so was the departures area.  Had I mistaken the time?

“I’m going to…” I began, as I placed my bag on the scale.

“Halifax,” the check-in man announced, smiling.  “You must be Carrie.”

“I … um…. yes,” I said, handing him my passport as ID.

“Oh, no need, dear,” he replied, pushing it back across the counter. “You’re the only one on the flight I didn’t know.”

He attached the luggage tag, and directed me to carry my bag down the hall, and around the corner.

Right.  Normally this is where the conveyor belt whisks my bag off to go who knows where, until we meet up again at our destination.  This carrying thing was a little perturbing.

I followed his directions, and went down the hall and around the corner.  There I found a large X-ray machine that looked like it was out of 1950’s spy movie.    The gentleman in front of me was loading his oddly-shaped baggage onto the conveyor belt, and I gathered from his conversation with the security guy that his checked baggage consisted of several rifles and a dead deer.

“You can check things like that??” I asked in amazement.

“Oh sure,” they both replied, smiling at me as if I was the weird one. “As long as the carcass doesn’t leak, it’s fine.”

I had meant the guns but I suppose leakage would be a bit of a problem as well.

On my way to the departure lounge, I stopped again at the check-in counter to ask about my seat.  I am not so keen on heights and prefer aisle seats.  My boarding pass was unclear so I thought I’d ask.

“It’s all the same, Carrie! Have a great flight!”

Right. What did that mean?  I decided to buy a muffin.

“My cousin made these this morning,” the cafe lady informed proudly. “Eggs from her own hens.”

Good lord.

My boarding pass said Gate 3 but when I consulted the sign, I was startled to see that the gate options at the Fredericton International Airport consisted of Gate 3, 4, and 5.  What happened to Gates 1 and 2?  And why have 3 gates when all flights went out to the tarmac through the same door?

I had been sitting in the departure lounge for a few minutes when the friendly check-in guy came in.

“Everybody is here for the flight.  Why don’t you all just get on the plane and leave a bit early?”

Everybody was here?  I counted quickly. 14 people.  Who were all getting to their feet.  What did he mean, leave early?  Weren’t there flight plans to be followed or something?

Bemused, I followed everyone out on to the tarmac to our plane.  Or rather our paper towel tube with wings. There was one seat on each side of the aisle, no overhead bins, no reading lights, and the air vent was by my elbow.  Oh dear.

Perhaps I would feel better if I had quick pee.  No bathroom.  My bladder immediately started clamouring for attention.  I opened the air vent as far as it would go; perhaps I just needed some more air on my elbow.  I hoped the air wasn’t recycled throughout the plane, especially if the deer corpse was in the luggage hold.

“Calm down, calm down, calm down,” I was muttering to myself when a man in uniform boarded the plane.

“Hey Bill!” the gentleman across the aisle called out.

“Bob!  Nice to see you!” he replied, stuffing something under an empty seat.  “Gary! Brenda!!  Long time, no see!”

“So I’m the captain,” he announced looking directly at me.

Was I the only person on the plane who didn’t know anyone else??!

“If you have any questions, or need anything, just let me know.’

Pardon???  Dude, if I have a question, and you answer it, who will be FLYING THE PLANE???  That’s when I noticed that there was no door to the cockpit.

The flight was thankfully relatively short (40 min) and calm, until we got to Halifax (where they apparently didn’t care that we were almost 30 min early).  The weather in Halifax was unexpectedly windy.  I know this because as we were landing (which is super awesome when you can see out the front of the plane), a large gust knocked us rather violently off course.

“Woah-ho! That was unexpected!!” the pilot called back cheerfully.  “I’ll just line us back up with the runway.”

And that is why cockpits have doors.

As I boarded my flight from Halifax to Ottawa (which seemed astonishingly spacious- 2 seats on either side of the aisle, and two bathrooms!) I thought about what a lovely weekend I’d had.  And I decided that the next time I go to Fredericton, I will take the train.

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Korea – the gift that keeps on giving

IMG_6645Yesterday I was going through a box in my storage locker, when I stumbled across this pretty little gift box.  During my last few hot, humid, hectic, harried days in Korea, I vaguely remember the lovely gym teacher at my school giving me a farewell gift but I seem to recall being more “Good grief! Not something else to pack!” than “How lovely, I’ll treasure it forever!”  I hope I said ‘thank you’.

It’s not often I am rendered speechless.  99% of the time, I have something to say.  Usually more than is probably necessary.  But not yesterday.  Inside the pretty little box was:

IMG_6646a set of lacquer-ware inlaid with mother-of-pearl nail clippers.  And a dangling lady in traditional Korean dress.

But that’s not all they were! Hidden inside the pretty, delicate nail clippers was:


a bottle opener. For those times I feel the need to drink and trim?  If only there was a magnet on the back so I could hang it on my fridge.  I’d be ready for anything!

As I stared in bemusement at my new … thing, I noticed that not only was it a handy-dandy nail clipper- bottle opener- nail file- dangling lady, but it was approved by the UN.


Both the Asian Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communication Technology for Development (the name doesn’t seem to match the acronym for some reason) AND the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific approved of my new nail clipper- bottle opener.  Wow.  Does Ban Ki Moon have one?

And when I read the little pamphlet enclosed in the gift box, I decided I couldn’t re-gift this gift. Ever.

IMG_6656Because nothing says international cultural exchange and instantaneous everlasting love like a mother-of-pearl nail clipper-bottle opener.

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The Perks of Living in Ottawa


I have been back in Canada for a little over a year now, and while I am still unconvinced that Ottawa is actually a city (it’s more like a big, friendly town), there are definitely some perks to living here.

For example, the Rideau Canal.  The paths alongside are often full of scantily-clad people engaging in healthy, athletic activities but I like to walk there anyway.   And in the winter it turns into the world’s longest skating rink! So if I knew how to skate, I could skate to school.University of Ottawa in the distance.

University of Ottawa in the distance.

I can indulge in super awesome gin & tonics with both gin AND tonic.  I could usually find gin in Asia but tonic was extraordinarily difficult to find.  And I certainly didn’t have fancy gin like this!

Yellow in the bottle but not in the glass.  Weird...

Yellow in the bottle but not in the glass. Weird…

One of the best parts of living in Ottawa is the wildlife.  A few weeks ago, someone found a fox on the bus, and there are Canada geese grazing on the lawn where I work.  Amazing!

IMG_6613I admit that Canada geese are mean, vicious, and often confrontational (they attacked a jogger a few weeks ago), and they leave slimy, green poop everywhere but they’re so pretty! And the honking noise they make as they fly over my house is gorgeous.  I just don’t get too close!IMG_6615

The building you can see in the background of the first picture is where I work.  The architecture is charmingly Stalingrad at the height of Communism. I work in the basement as a peon, chronicling minutiae for the federal government.  I work so far in the basement in fact, that I don’t have cell phone reception.  I feel like a troll.

Still, the job is mostly interesting, and I am learning a lot.  It’s very different from teaching in Korea – no singing, no dancing, and no spicy baby octopus in the cafeteria.  I think that last point may be the hardest for me.  Why would you want an egg salad sandwich when you could have sea squirt stew?

Perhaps I’m still not quite used to living in Canada…😀



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International Rock Balancing Festival

IMG_6523With a name like that, how could I not go?  Organized by BAWI, or Balanced Art World International (, the festival was held on the shores of the Ottawa River.  The weather was gorgeous, and the festival was both fabulous and completely bizarre.

The event was free, and the organizers were nowhere to be seen.  In the shallows, Stone Balance Land Artists (that’s what they’re called!) were busily constructing their stone art.  Spectators wandered in and out of the water with their dogs and children, admiring the sculptures, and offering (probably unwanted) advice.


IMG_6525I gathered that the Stone Balance Land Artists (which seems like an awfully long name for people who pile up rocks) must use only natural components found in the immediate area.  No glue, cement, or other form of structural aid is permitted.  There’s a manifesto on the website that the artists agree to follow.

Some of the art was weird, and some of it was strangely beautiful.

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These rocks looked like they were lining up to jump in the water.

IMG_6540The Canada geese were extraordinarily interested.   Or perhaps they were just hoping to be fed.

IMG_6530 IMG_6542It was all just so bizarre.  There didn’t appear to be any competition of any sort, or a prize for the tallest/ largest/ sturdiest etc.  There was nothing to indicate why the artists had travelled from all over the world to Ottawa to stack stones in the river.

And what makes a person decide to become a Stone Balance Land Artist?  Did they just wake up one day and decide to balance rocks?  Seems like an awfully frustrating hobby.

Spectators were obviously inspired since people (especially small boys) were busily rummaging around the shallows and along the beach trying to find the perfect rocks.


I decided I would stick to people watching, and gelato eating.

Mango-passion fruit gelato!

Mango-passion fruit gelato!

After all, I wouldn’t want to take a good thing for granite.😀  (I tried to hold off on the rock puns but I just couldn’t resist!)



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Smells like what??

I lived in Asia for almost ten years.  Eventually I learned to read both Japanese and Korean but sometimes, especially when in the grocery store, it was easier to look at pictures or shapes than to try to sound out the word.  “Sh…….. puh…..ooooooooo.  Sham…..puh….oooooo.  Oh!  Shampoo!” I felt like one of the monsters on Sesame Street.

Even when products had English names, they were often inexplicable and unrelated to the contents.  Why was the fabric softener called Pigeon?  And was the person in the picture flying, or overcome by the unbelievable softness of her clothes?

Eventually I just stopped reading and chose things by picture, colour, shape, or location in the store.

Now that I’ve been back in Canada for almost a year, I find I still shop in much the same way, even though I now have a choice of official languages to read.



Or English?

Or English?

A few weeks ago, I bought dish soap.  The bottle was the right shape, the stuff inside was blue, there was a picture of a sparkling dish, it was on sale… done.  This morning, after weeks of washing dishes and wondering about the hows and the whys, I was utterly relived (and slightly embarrassed) to realize that my dish soap did not in fact, smell like baby ducks.


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Not as boring as I thought…


I love Ottawa.  I love living in Ottawa.  It’s a great place but I hesitate to call it a city.  The word ‘city’ brings to mind places like New York, London, and Tokyo.  Big, bustling, gritty, and busy 24 hours a day – everything Ottawa is not.  Ottawa is an awesome place to live but it’s just pretending to be a city, and not a whole lot happens.  Or so I thought.

Last Sunday morning, Something Happened.

The picture above is the ex-Sir John Carling building.  Opened in 1967, it housed Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada until it was recently decided that the building was too old, and too expensive to renovate.  Demolition experts were called in, and for a mere $4.8 million the 11-storey building was imploded.  (How do you become a demolition expert? How very, very cool.)

It was amazing.  Hundreds of people turned out to watch, in spite of it being the crack of dawn.  Not even the threat of a downpour deterred people.


Slightly awkward selfie showing our extreme early morning implosion excitement!

IMG_6487 IMG_6490I suppose when the largest employer in the city is the government,  it’s pretty exciting when a government building gets blown up.  Or blown down in this case…

A few minutes before the actual event, there was a warning siren.  Everyone got their cameras ready.  I think the whir of photographic equipment starting up was louder than the actual siren!


Even the security people and the construction workers had their cameras out!

Suddenly there were a few pops, the earth below our feet grumbled, and in seconds an 11-storey building was reduced to rubble.  Amazing.

Nothing was left but a cloud of dust.


Some firemen were hosing down nearby train tracks but I don’t know why.  Dust on the tracks?  Anyone know?



Ottawa still isn’t Seoul or Paris but controlled explosions always help improve my opinion of a city.😀

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Canada’s most boring city?

I have twin godsons.  I adore them, they are delightful in almost every way.  But they are 15 years old, and many, many things have recently become SO. NOT. COOL.  I had assumed that I was a part of the increasing collection of people, places, and things that were cringe-worthy so imagine my utter amazement when I discovered that I was not.

I will not fool myself by believing this state of semi-coolness will last much longer and so when they invited me to join them downtown on Canada Day, I was happy to accept.  They were slightly less eager for our outing when I mentioned that I would only be paying for half of it …

Last  year, Ottawa was voted Canada’s Most Boring City.  The mayor apparently attempted to refute the title of Most Boring by listing several “exciting” things to be found in Ottawa.  The Tulip Festival was at the top of his list, and I’d never heard of the others.  I’d been to the Tulip Festival this year, and while there were some truly amazing tulips, it really was just a lot of flowers, and a lot of people taking pictures of them. IMG_6463   I wasn’t holding my breath for Canada Day.  I had vague fond memories of Canada Days in my youth but I was a little hazy on whether the fondness was due to the actual event or the alcohol I had consumed.

I have been spoiled by Asian festivals.  Canadian festivals all seem to be missing… something.  Where were the men on motorbikes who would deliver chicken, beer, and ice cream anywhere in the park? Where were the rice cakes, the silkworms, and the squid on a stick?  Why were there no overly-dressed festival helpers giving me ugly paper hats so I didn’t get (gasp!) more freckles? IMG_1926 We made it downtown in time for the Prime Minister’s speech.  Afterwards, we stood on Parliament Hill with thousands of other Canadians of all size, shape, colour, culture, and gender, all of us dressed in red and white, and sang the national anthem.  I will admit to a small tear of pride welling up in my eyes.  It was lovely. IMG_0044 IMG_0011 And as the Snowbirds flew overhead, the mayhem began.

There were people everywhere.  People with strollers.  People with wagons.  People with wheelchairs.  People with dogs, and children.  People with other people.  People with carts full of tacky Canada-themed junk to sell.  Buskers, street performers, and bums.  Everyone moving, and not moving at the same time.  Did I mention that it was 32C?


We managed to find the Chicken Corner where there was a small patch of grass free to have a picnic.  Pizza, since there was sadly no squid to be found.  And don’t ask me why there was pizza in the Chicken Corner; I have no idea, there was no chicken on it.


I am clearly tremendously excited about Chicken Corner.

IMG_0095 IMG_0099  Next to Chicken Corner was an area for fun and games organized by the Grain Board, and a little further along the Dairy Board had a large plastic cow with a “simulation udder” in case anyone wanted to learn to milk a cow.  Oh boy.

The whole thing was amazing.  It was like a national event and a county fair, all rolled into one. The only thing missing was the Ferris wheel.

All in all, it was a fabulous, truly Canadian day.  I had a good time, my godsons had an awesome time, and I won’t be upset to be added to the Not Cool List next year.😀

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Not quite the answer I was looking for

I have recently begun teaching English to adults here in Ottawa.  It’s been a bit of a steep learning curve- no singing, no dancing, and no stickers.  The upside is that my students don’t punch each other or cry if they lose interest, or don’t understand.

At the moment, my class is made up entirely of Libyans.  The Libyan Embassy is across the street, and so my class is made up of the daughters, wives, and sons of Libyan diplomats.  It’s fascinating; I’m learning LOTS about Libya.

Over the past few weeks, various locations in Canada have come up in conversation but my students have not known where they were in relation to Ottawa; they have a very, very limited sense of Canadian geography. Not that I judge them; I have a very, very limited sense of Libyan geography.

This week, I decided to spend the last few minutes of class labelling a map of Canada.  Nothing major, just the provinces, territories, and the oceans on either side.

“Is no Libya,” one of my students muttered, pushing the map back at me across the desk.

“Well done!” I exclaimed brightly. “It’s not Libya! Gold star for you!”

“No Libya, no interesting,” he returned, impervious to my sarcasm.

“How wrong you are!” I replied in an overly cheerful voice, determined to teach them something, anything about the country they would be living in for the next 4 years. “Canada is very interesting!”

My students may not have understood my exact words but they got the tone.  We were going to label the map or die trying.  Sighing and muttering in Arabic, they picked up their pencils and looked at with barely concealed resignation.  I couldn’t really blame them.  Does anyone really want to learn how to spell Saskatchewan?

I gulped, suddenly nervous.  I had made a rather large claim: Canada is interesting!  And it is but how do you explain extraordinary natural resources and multiculturalism to people who had trouble with the days of the week in English?

Slowly but surely, we made our way across Canada.  One student had a cousin in Vancouver so British Columbia was covered.  Another had lived in Fredericton for a few months so we could cross off New Brunswick.  Gradually we named all the provinces except Manitoba. And there I drew a blank.  What was interesting about Manitoba?  It had the world’s coldest intersection but I wasn’t sure my charade skills were up to that.  What else was there?

Mosquitoes.  I had a vague memory of hearing about great clouds of mosquitoes in Manitoba.  I wrote mosquitoes on the board but no one knew the word.  I buzzed and flapped my arms.

“Honey?” suggested one of my students.

Finally I drew this Picasso-esque mosquito.


“Is no mosquito. Is RPG,” came a small voice from the back.  It was an elderly student who I could have sworn was deaf and mute.  I’d never heard her make any sort of sound in English or Arabic, and she’d never reacted to anything I’d ever said or done.

“Is what?” I replied weakly, hoping RPG meant something else in Arabic.

“Is RPG! Teacher, you know!  RPG!” she explaimed as if I had rocks for brains. “RPG!  Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…. [insert explosion noise here]!!!!!”

The entire class perked up, and began making what I assumed to be RPG noises.  Never having seen or heard one, I can’t be quite sure.  They appeared to be part of daily life in Libya though if my students’ reactions were anything to go by.

A young man at the front of the class put up his hand, and using the sentence pattern I had been trying to teach them all week said, “Teacher! In Manitoba, there are RPG mosquitoes!”

And where could I go from there? Absolutely nowhere. How do you top rocket-propelled grenade mosquitoes?

“Goodbye everybody, see you tomorrow.”


Posted in Canada, Education, Life, Teaching English, Uncategorized, Work | Tagged , | 14 Comments