London: The Seat of the British Empire

For the last couple of years I’ve been trying to do some sort of trip in February. It’s not really high season for a lot of places and it just kinda seems like a good time to go travel. This year, I decided to take a trip out to Europe.

It was a bit of a spontaneous trip so I figured that going to somewhere in the UK would be easy since it’s an English speaking country. And then considering how London is the largest city in the UK, a major transit hub, and how I have a friend living there, it just made sense to go visit.

The London Eye at night.

As a dude from Canada with roots in Hong Kong, London has played an interesting role in shaping my life. Obviously, Canada and Hong Kong would be the two places that have affected me the most and both of them were at one point part of the British Empire.

And considering how London was the capital of the British Empire, in a way it makes it the progenitor of the two countries that have affected me the most. It’s a weird relationship.

The Canadian embassy in London.

Anyways, one of the things I’ve always heard about London was that it’s always rainy and grey. When I first got there it definitely seemed like the case since it was very overcast and immediately started to rain and hail the moment I got on the bus.

But that only lasted for like thirty minutes and after that the skies cleared up and I never saw a single bit of precipitation again for the rest of my trip. It was actually pretty awesome since it meant that it was perfect sightseeing weather.

And there was a lot to sightsee! As a major global city with a lengthy history, I spent a couple days just checking out the classic sights.

My first stop was to Buckingham Palace where I fought my way through the horde of tourists to see the changing of the guards. The amount of tourists in London is kind of insane and it felt like literally everyone was at the palace watching the ceremony.

A bunch of tourists taking photos of the changing of the guards ceremony.

It was alright. It kinda felt like one of those things that isn’t super interesting but since it’s so famous it’s one of those things that you just kinda have to check out if you’re there. The coolest part was when the band started to play songs and people started to sing along. They even played the Game of Thrones theme song which was pretty cool.

Another popular attraction I checked out was the Tower Bridge, which is not the London Bridge. For some reason I always thought London Bridge was Tower Bridge but apparently they’re different bridges. They also look nothing alike either. Tower Bridge is a pretty unique looking bridge with some cool architectural elements and London Bridge is.. just a bridge.

Tower Bridge, which is not London Bridge.

Actually, this whole thing of me mistaking things was a pretty common theme throughout the trip. To be honest, it felt a bit weird to be in London.

You know that feeling when you walk into a room you’re super familiar with and it just feels different? Maybe someone repainted the walls to a slightly different colour or maybe they changed some of the lights so things are lit a bit differently. It’s an odd feeling where something feels so familiar but at the same time there are obvious foreign elements injected into it.

That’s how I felt about London. A major example of this is the language. Obviously everyone spoke English but it’s a different English to what I’m used to.

Shakespeare probably couldn’t write fire like this dude.

When I go to foreign countries that don’t speak English, I typically try my best to at least learn the basic pronunciation of things and places so that I don’t seem like one of those ignorant tourists. In London, I think I just assumed I’d be fine but man, I mispronounced so many things haha.

Like it blows my mind how many words there are there that are read so much differently than what I would expect. For example, I always thought the River Thames was pronounced with a proper “th” sound but apparently that’s not even close. Or how I keep adding an “i” to Westminster because my brain keeps reading it as Westminister.

Or even just stuff like talking to people and saying something like “it’s a couple blocks away” and they wouldn’t know what a block is. I honestly have never been more aware of my Canadian accent and mannerisms more than when I was in London.

St. Pancras is also spelled too similarly to St. Pancreas.

This whole “familiar unfamiliarity” business also extends to random other things in the city too. When I’m walking down the streets, so many things are similar to stuff in Canada or Hong Kong so it feels relatively comfortable but off at the same time. You can really see the influence they’ve had on everything from street names to public transit systems.

And I think to me, this was the most interesting thing about London. Of course, London is a great city regardless. It’s a large, modern city with a lot of multicultural elements. But, so is Toronto and so I kept making a lot of comparisons in my head. Yes, London has a lot more local culture and history than Toronto, but they both have a similar feel in some regard.

Like probably my favourite day of my time in London was the very last day when I hung out with some friends and had a day out in the city. We walked around a bit to check out some random stuff but for the most part we did less sightseeing and just went to areas where the locals hung out.

A random house on a bridge.

That was fun and really cemented the idea that London is a truly big city and has a lot to offer if you just kinda explored the side streets and districts. I think it’s a bit more authentic and interesting when you do that as well.

Overall, London was fun. Now that I’ve done most of the major sights, I’d totally go back just to explore the non-touristy stuff a bit more. It helps that London is one of the most accessible places in Europe for someone from Toronto too, so it makes it easy to go to other places in Europe from there.

Which is exactly what I did since I went to Norway afterwards! Blog entry to follow.

Year in Review: 2018

Well, another year, another Year in Review. This is my.. third time writing these? And it seems like the common theme is that every time I write one I’m surprised a year has passed already haha.

Maybe it’s just another aspect of getting older, but it really seems like every year passes by quicker and quicker. At the same time though, when you look back and think about things and events earlier in the year it’s like “wow that was this year?”.

Anyways, as I wrote in the 2017 Year in Review, that year was a rollercoaster year with “change” as the common theme. This year, on the other hand, had practically zero change. In a way, it kinda felt like the epilogue or post-credits scene of my time in Korea. It was just a year of me settling back into my life in Canada and adapting to a life of regularity and routine.

The Toronto skyline from the Exhibition Go station.

In a way, it’s a bit nice in the sense that the year wasn’t super crazy, but at the same time I’m feeling a bit antsy since it feels like my life just isn’t as interesting as it used to be. Granted, it probably still is quite interesting to some people, but it’s just not really on the same level as many of the other years of my adult life.

I think that’s reflected with the number of pictures I’ve taken this year as well. Looking at them now, since 2013, 2018 was the year where I took the least amount of pictures. Which is a bit odd too considering how I’ve officially had a full year with the Pixel 2, which to this day I’m still amazed at how amazing the camera is.

For the most part, I just spent the year working while travelling whenever I could. Between personal trips and business trips, I actually flew out of Toronto seven times in 2018, which I think might be a record for the number of trips I’ve ever done in a year.

My first flight of 2018.

The first trip I did was one to South Korea and Hong Kong. That was a legit vacation and I wanted to go back to South Korea to see my friends and check out the Olympics. That trip was fun. I’ve talked about it in my post about the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics already, but essentially it was nice to be back in Korea and to see the country so festive.

However, the main point of the trip was to see my friends again. Back in February, it was only like six months since I last saw them but honestly I really missed them (and still do!) so it was really nice to see them all again and just hang out over food and drinks.

I visited Seoul a lot when I lived in Daejeon but they were generally just weekend trips. Even though I was there this time for like a week and a half, it really just felt like one of those trips. I didn’t really do much sightseeing and really just spent the time like I would if I still lived in South Korea. It really did feel like temporarily jumping back into an old life.

The hangout district in Sinchon.

In the middle of my trip to Korea, I took a few days and went to Hong Kong as well. It was a natural addition to the trip since I was already in Asia and I really wanted to see my grandma, relatives, and other friends over there. Plus, I’ve been to Hong Kong every even numbered year in the 201Xs so I just had to go back in 2018 as well.

Despite living in South Korea for so long, I still think that Hong Kong is my second home. Considering how my family is from there and I speak the local language, it’s always nice to visit Hong Kong. Every time I go it’s always cool to see the new subway stops, check out the new things that have popped up, and to hang out with people.

The entrance to Lan Kwai Fong.

My entire trip to Asia was two weeks. I burnt through all of my vacation time in one go so I had pretty much nothing left for the rest of the year. But it went by so quickly and next thing I know I was on a flight back to Toronto and had to go back to work the next day.

But despite that being my major trip of the year, that was just the first trip of many. In May, I flew to Philadelphia for a long weekend to attend my cousin’s wedding. That was my first real visit to the States in a long time so it was a neat trip but little did I know that that was just the start of my 2018 American tour.

An Indian guy marrying a Chinese girl in America, multiculturalism at its finest.

From June to December I ended up going on five business trips, with four of those being to the States, so I ended up going to the States five times in 2018.

Honestly, looking back at that it’s been a crazy time. My first business trip was to Chicago and even though it was only six months ago, it already feels like forever ago since I’ve been so busy at work. Now, I consider myself a relatively experienced traveler but it was still my first time going for work, so there were a few things I was unsure about in terms of etiquette and stuff.

However after that first trip, I also went to Vancouver in July, San Antonio and Chicago again in October, and San Diego in December. After all these trips I can safely say I’m pretty comfortable travelling for work haha.

The INVIVO team at ASH 2018.

It’s been really nice though. For places that I’ve been before, like Vancouver, it was nice to re-visit, especially since I have family there. Other places, like San Antonio and San Diego, are places that I probably wouldn’t plan a trip to if I were thinking of vacation places. But I’ve always wanted to go to Texas and California and and so it was a great opportunity to go.

All of the places I visited for work also ended up being amazing places in general as well, so pluses all around really.

I even managed to extend my time in California a bit and travel to Santa Cruz to see a concert, and to quickly visit San Francisco as well. I wrote a blog post for Santa Cruz and considered writing one for San Francisco as well, but considering how I was only there for 24 hours and still have a lot more to see, I think I’m refraining from doing so until I get a proper trip in.

Pre-concert selfie in my new Slaughter to Prevail shirt.

Considering all the traveling I’ve been doing for work, it’s understandable that I’ve been pretty busy at work. It has been busy, especially the last couple of months, but for the most part I’ve been enjoying it. I’m no longer the new guy and I know what I’m doing now. The company has even recognized my hard work and efforts with a quick promotion this year.

So really, no major complaints. Especially since the work culture and environment is so great.

Overall, I think this year I’ve definitely settled into a regular routine. When I first came back to Canada there was an adjustment period where I wasn’t really sure what to do, who to see, where to go, etc. But over the span of this year I think I have a better understanding of that now and definitely feel like I have a life here again.

I have a solid group of friends that I see on a regular basis and I’m able to hang out with my family and watch my nephews grow up. It’s nice.

CN Tower with Christmas colours.

I still think about my life in Korea every once and a while, but with each passing day those memories get further and further away. It’s weird to think about it like that since I wouldn’t trade those memories and experiences away for anything. But at the same time, the life I’m living now is so different and disconnected from that now.

For one, it’s nice having an actual source of income haha. I still can’t believe I lived off of $1000 a month for three years.

But yea, 2018 is over. I think 2018 injected some stability and normality into my life, which I really appreciate since it helped me transition back into uh, a “normal life”. But like I mentioned earlier, life is alright but I think it could be more interesting.

I’ll have to find some ways to spice up my life a bit more in 2019.

2018 Achievements and Statistics

  • 4 countries (South Korea, Hong Kong, United States of America, Canada)
  • 10 platinum trophies (Life is Strange, Batman, Uncharted 4, Uncharted: Lost Legacy, Guardians of the Galaxy, Kamen Rider: Climax Fighters, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, God of War, Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls)
  • 1 concert (Ten Years of Exile with Whitechapel, Chelsea Grin, Oceano, and Slaughter to Prevail)
  • A promotion to Senior Interactive Media Developer

Santa Cruz: The Surf City

So when I knew I was going to San Diego for a conference, I figured it would be a good idea to take a couple days off afterwards so I can explore California a bit more. There were a lot of potential options of where to go, but one of the main driving factors was that I wanted to check out this concert.

Long story short, one of the bands I really like was touring with a bunch of other bands all throughout America and they had a bunch of stops in California when I was there, and after some planning and consideration, I decided to Santa Cruz would be where I would go check out this concert.

Now, I know that Santa Cruz is commonly referred to as just “Surf City”, without the “the” article in front. But I realized that all of my other travel posts use an article in front and so I have to keep it there for this one too.

A lone surfer heading out to the ocean.

Just doesn’t feel right if it doesn’t have it, but it also doesn’t really feel right to include it, so it’s a lose/lose either way.

Anyways, Santa Cruz apparently doesn’t have their own airport and so I had to fly to San Jose and then take a series of buses from there to get to Santa Cruz.

Coming from San Diego, my first impression of Santa Cruz was that it was a lot more grey and drab than San Diego. It didn’t really help that the weather was overcast for the entire time I was there, but between that and the copious amounts of uh, strange people on the streets, it definitely wasn’t the most welcoming experience.

Just from walking around on my first night I immediately noticed a few things. Firstly, Santa Cruz is definitely a city that revolves around their beaches and ocean views. Their coastline is beautiful and honestly a bit unbelievable.

A view of the ocean along West Cliff Drive.

However, another thing I noticed was that the city was incredibly dead. Like, you’d imagine the beaches and wharf to have a lot of activity and bustle, but it was super quiet. There just weren’t that many people walking around, and a substantial chunk of those that were were obviously homeless.

Granted, I did go to Santa Cruz in December, and for a city that probably survives entirely on their coastal tourism, December probably isn’t one of their busiest months. That said, it was a bit eerie. Neat though, since normally you’d imagine a place like this to be populated with a ton of people just having fun and enjoying life, so the juxtaposition was interesting.

Something about the combination of beach and Christmas doesn’t feel right.

Anyways, after walking around alone in the dark on my first night, I decided to rent out a bike for my second day and bike along the coast. That was an absolute wonderful idea. Like I mentioned, the city’s coastline is unbelievable.

There’s this bike trail right next to the coast and it’s just kilometers of cliffs and water. I wished it was a tiny bit warmer, but the weather definitely didn’t detract from the awesome views.

There were a ton of big waves and so all along the coast all you heard were the waves crashing against the shore. Some people were even taking advantage of the water conditions and were surfing as well. I’ve always wanted to try to surf but unfortunately I didn’t think that it would’ve been a good idea to try with such a short trip.

A surfers memorial.

During my bike ride I took frequent stops at random places to just look at the ocean or to check out other sights or parks that I would pass by. It was an interesting bike ride and would recommend it to anyone that could bike and was checking out Santa Cruz.

One of the places I checked out during this bike ride was the Seymour Marine Discovery Center. Honestly, it’s a place for kids to learn about the ocean and marine life, but as a guy that loves this stuff too, it was a nice little stop.

They have this overlook next to the center that also has a fantastic view. It was incredibly calming and peaceful to just stand there and soak up the sights and sounds of the ocean. Right by the overlook was a few whale skeletons put on display as well. A bit sad, but nevertheless still interesting to check out.

A blue whale skeleton outside the Seymour Marine Discovery Center.

Speaking of things that are interesting to check out, Santa Cruz also has an incredibly famous wharf that extends almost a kilometer out into the ocean. To be honest, many of the shops and restaurants there don’t seem particularly exciting, but you can get a pretty awesome view of the beach from there.

But by far the most interesting thing on the wharf are the sea lions. Between my trip to the wharf and the marine center I learned a lot about the differences between seals and sea lions and I’m fairly happy to confirm that yes, they have a bunch of sea lions at the wharf.

A bunch of sea lions just chilling.

On my first night I could hear them but I couldn’t see them so when I went back in the morning I was actually really surprised to see so many of them. They were just kinda chilling by the wharf. It was my first time seeing sea lions in the wild and it was kinda incredible. They were really loud and honestly bigger than I thought they would be.

Other things I checked out in Santa Cruz were some of the parks and beaches. Both of these were fairly straightforward. The parks were forested with some rivers and walking paths and the beaches were big and sandy. I think that my trip was probably at the worst time to go check out these places though since they were relatively empty and there wasn’t too much to check out. As a result nothing really stood out from these brief stops on my trip.¬†

I will say though, the Neary Lagoon Park is an interesting park since it’s literally next to a sewage treatment plant. And at night there’s literally no lighting in the park so it’s just pitch black. After going to Balboa Park in San Diego at night, you’d think I learn about going to dark parks but apparently not.

This is a pretty dark park.

I swear some of those ducks splashing around in the water were planning to kill me. Glad to report that I didn’t die.

Finally, I can’t end this post without at the very least talking about the main reason why I went to Santa Cruz, the concert. For those that know me, I listen to some less than mainstream music. This concert was a deathcore concert featuring Slaughter to Prevail, Oceano, Chelsea Grin, and Whitechapel.

For people that listen to this genre, it’s pretty easy to know why I wanted to check it out. It was an incredibly solid lineup and so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go. It was at the Catalyst, which is a club in downtown Santa Cruz. The venue itself was pretty alright and the show was absolutely amazing.

Slaughter to Prevail performing with the classic combo of mask and no shirt.

It was a bit annoying because apparently people could smoke in the venue and so in between sets people were just smoking.. all the things. By the end of the night I’m pretty sure the smoke machine was only responsible for like half of the smoke in the room. It smelled pretty bad.

But, that said, it was a fantastic show and I would totally do it again.

So my original goal was to check out this concert and being able to sightsee Santa Cruz was a bit of a bonus. Turned out it was an awesome bonus because Santa Cruz has some pretty beautiful spots. So overall, a really great trip since not only did I go to a sick concert, but I also had a chance to check out a wonderful city I probably wouldn’t have visited otherwise.

Deathcore, improving people’s travel experiences one concert at a time.