Consumption versus Creation

I recently resurrected this blog after leaving it mostly dormant over several years. This recent post by Rohan reminded me of why I decided to start posting here again. 

I still use an RSS reader, although they seem to less popular since Google killed Google Reader. I also listen to many podcasts. With all the content available, it’s easy to read more, listen to more. My hope is that writing regularly here will give me a chance to draw relationships between the different content that I consume, and to derive lessons from them. My intention is to share what I learn, and use the new information and perspectives to improve my thoughts and habits.

I subscribe to much more content than I’ve listed here. I have gotten better at marking (unread) articles as read, and deleting podcasts without listening to them. I have come to (most/usually) accept that I don’t have to listen to everything or read everything that is delivered to me.

The blogs on my must read lists include:

The podcasts that I subscribe to and listen to (almost) every episode of are:

The next step is to unsubscribe to blogs and podcasts that have content that I find myself skipping over more often than I stop to read them.

The Privilege of Luck

I’m not lucky! Have you ever found yourself uttering that sentence? I’ve certainly been guilty of uttering that statement. In fact, I’ve felt a bit insulted when people tell me how lucky I am. I worked for what I am and what I have after all!

Today, my thinking about luck was challenged, and I now see things differently. First, I read Don’t Tell Your Friends They’re Lucky which states that 99% of our accomplishments are due to hard work, and 1% to luck. I found the numbers to be arbitrary but the argument to be compelling. The article happens to intersect with themes in my with recent conversations about privilege, clubs, networks, and nepotism. I recently listened to a Freakonomics episode about how it’s more difficult to attain the American dream nowadays because of the widening gap between poor and rich people. Today, I listened to Krista Tippett talking to Eula Biss about Whiteness and how privilege can be renamed opportunity hoarding. All this content has convince me that luck and privilege intersect.

What Does it Mean to be Lucky 

I’ve often heard the phrase “luck is preparation meeting opportunity”, which is credited to Oprah. This definition nicely coincides with the argument in the Nautilus article. A definition in Merriam-Webster is “producing or resulting in good by chance”. I’ve always thought that luck accounted for the magical/unexplainable reason why one person is afforded an opportunity out of all the other equally qualified people. Sometimes that magic happens because of alumni networks, where you went to school, your parents and other family ties, your location, and other “chances” that affect your opportunity if not your preparation.

Perhaps we revolt against the idea of luck because we see it as implying we don’t deserve what we got, or that we didn’t work hard for what we achieved. I’m now inclined to think that luck can coexist with a growth mindset, but means you got a chance that many other people were qualified to get. Perhaps that still may sting for those of you who like to think that our achievements are due to the fact that we are the best! It may well be true that not everyone given the same opportunity as you would have been successful, but there may be others who would have been.

The challenge is to recognize that being lucky doesn’t diminish you in any way.

Acknowledging my luck 

I was lucky to move to Canada from St. Lucia at 12 years of age. This gave me access to opportunities that would have been more difficult if not impossible to attain otherwise. I was lucky to get a job teaching overseas even when I had no teaching experience besides my practice. I’m lucky that I have always had a job. I’ve been lucky to leave in very diverse countries. For each of those situations, except the first, I prepared for it and found opportunities to make it feasible. But I don’t think that it diminishes my capabilities in any way to consider that there were other qualified candidates, maybe even better qualified ones, in each case. I expect to continue being lucky because I’m going to keep learning and growing, and putting myself in situations where I will have interesting opportunities.

The Challenge of Luck

So what about those people who truly are not lucky? What about the people who have many roadblocks in their way to achieving preparation, far less opportunity? Those people tend to be people who are poor and of minority’s groups. Extending Biss’ argument, I offer that it’s the responsibility of each of us to share our wealth of privilege, of luck with others. This does not need to be a grand gesture. Can you identify one “unlucky” person in your community? I’ll define that as someone with a growth mindset, who is having trouble achieving success. I’m leaving this deliberately vague because I’d like you to own it. Can you provide a little bit of magic for that person, and sprinkle a bit of luck or chance? I’m inspired to look out for opportunities to spread luck every day.

#OneWord365 – Perspective

Since I graduated university, and got my first job, I’ve never been without a job. Being a teacher, I get a number of scheduled holidays throughout the school year, but I’ve never been jobless.  I had the good fortune to find an international teaching job even when there were no full time teaching jobs in Ottawa, and have always found a new job before giving my notice about leaving a job. Perhaps my driving words have been safety, independence, security. Whatever else I may have told myself for the decisions that I made about why I was making them, I now realize that independence and security have been my driving forces.

This year, I’ve deliberately chosen perspective as my word for the year. I could have chosen the words space, or curiosity, or change as my words, because they were the words that drove my decision to not renew my contact for the next school year, and to not actively search for another job in my field right now. However, I choose perspective because I believe that it is an important word to guide me throughout the year. I’m sold on the idea that perspective affects every experience of our life. When I feel the pressure to settle for a job just because it’s available while I am, I will rely on my perspective to help me turn it down. For me, this is a year of risk-taking, growth, exploration, choice, and space. Perspective has a heavy job to help me remember that, while choosing to maintain joy in my life.

 

I was inspired to write this post by the #OneWord365 movement. Want to join the movement? Choose a word to guide your year and register it on their site.

36 hours in Stockhom

I flew direct from Prague to Stockholm on SAS on a Sunday morning, arriving in the early afternoon. By the time I checked into my hotel and got oriented, it was late afternoon. I didn’t actually count the hours, but 36 seems like a good number.

Several people had recommended that I visit the Vasa Museum, so that was my first stop. It was easy to get there by ferry from Mariantorget, where I was staying. I’ve taken ferries a few times while travelling, but their haven’t lost their novelty and excitement for me. They are also very convenient for travelling around Stockholm, and the same travel card can be used for the metro, trams, buses, ferries.

The Vasa is a few minutes walk from the Djurgårdsvägen ferry stop. It’s interesting how much of the ship was salvaged, and that it was so well preserved, but I’m amazed that it was not better tested. Maybe I misunderstood, and there are lots of (possible) explanations in the museum, but I find it incredible.

From Vasa, I took a ferry to the Modern Art Museum. I only had 45 minutes until the museum closed, so I focused on visiting the permanent collection. I tend to be a bit disconcerted by cubist paintings but still find it interesting to watch them and consider their meaning/message. I’m not very knowledgeable about art, but I had downloaded the app of the museum at the WIFI point and was able to listen to information about the artists and paintings, which provided a bit more context in which to consider the paintings. I enjoyed the visit to the museum, which has lots of what I call Math art.

By the time I left Vasa, it was 6 p.m. I took a while before I managed to catch a ferry back to Slussen. I walked around a bit and decided to have dinner at Tehran Grill which was in the vicinity of the hotel, with good reviews. There were lots of spaces and my impatience was about to get the better of me since it was taking the hostess a while to sit me after she had stopped and said hello. Just as I was about to leave, she sat me. I ordered a shrimp dish with saffron rice, and passion fruit juice. I seldom drink juice and had planned to have tea but I love passion fruit and could not refuse. It was worth it. The food was good, with the jumbo shrimp being perfectly cooked. The saffron rice was nothing special. There was no special flavor that I could discern, just a slight yellow tinge. The restaurant was busy but not full, and the two servers were working non stop. It took a while to get my food, but it was hot when it arrived.

Since the next day was Monday, many museums were closed. Had I planned more carefully, I would have gone to the Vikings museum (not its actual name) on Sunday and left Vasa for Monday. Not having done that, however, I went on a revised version of Frommers’ walking tour of Gamla Stan in reverse (because I got lost and decided to go with it). I stopped and bought some Happy Socks as gifts (which I hope are making whoever found them very happy). The German church was closed so I couldn’t visit. The Storkyrkan cathedral is impressive, and I took the opportunity to light a candle for my grandmother, and seat in a pew to say some prayers for the departed. I visited the church three times. The second time, I went back to see the statue of St. George slaying the dragon that I’d missed the first time. The third time, I went to see if I could find the happy socks, since that was the only place that I’d sat on my tour. The Royal Palace was closed but I was in time to see the changing of the guards. (The one in Prague is more impressive I think.) From the Royal Palace, I quickly walked over to Riddarholmskyrkan. It’ grand to look at from the outside, but was closed so I couldn’t see the inside. From there, it was time to hurry over to the City Hall, so I caught Bus 3.

I made it to the City Hall just after 13:00 and was able to join the tour that had just started (which was my goal). The tour starts in the Blue Room which is a reception room used after the Nobel Prize is awarded. The room is not actually blue, but is elegant. The ceiling is flat and can be used for projections during banquets. The guide mentioned that the stairs were carefully designed to allow women to be able to walk down them elegantly. The architect has his wife test prototypes of the stairs wearing a ball gown and heels, so he could get it right. We swept up the stairs from the blue room and continued our tour through hallways and other rooms. The ceilings vary greatly from room to room. In the council room (I may have made up this name), the ceiling has a feeling of openness, almost like a staircase, and the guide mentioned that’s because everything said in the room should be able to rise and float out to the general public. In fact, there is seating for the general public to be able to attend sessions. At the time of my visit, the room was set up for a session happening later that day. It seats 101 council members, who are seated from left to right, by affiliation. There were originally 100 members, but one was added to avoid ties during voting. I don’t remember the uses for all the rooms that we walked through, but the most visually vibrant room is the Golden Room. Ten kilograms of gold was used to create the mosaic effect on the walls. The central image is a caricature of a queen, emphasizing her abilities and strength rather than physical beauty. The golden room opens out to the balcony above the blue room, and the guide mentioned that the two rooms are used together for the reception of the Nobel Prize award.

After all the walking, I was famished. I’d saved Hermans n my offline map and noticed that I could walk there in about 20 minutes. Hermans is a vegetarian restaurant. A buffet lunch costs 125 SEK and includes tea, water and/or coffee. There were a large variety of both cold and hot food, and I definitely ate too much. The protein sources were tofu, TVP, and beans as far as I could tell. I highly recommend Hermans!

I saw Fotografiska while walking to Hermans so I knew it was nearby. I hadn’t realized that Stockholm was so hilly, and my fear of heights had reared its ugly head again. I think it happens whenever I’m afraid of falling on a bridge in the winter, and it didn’t help that I’d slipped and fallen on the ice the night before while walking over a (thankfully pedestrians only) bridge. I looked at the long path to the museum by road and watched the steep stairs down the street. I really wanted to walk down the stairs (my Withings Pop had already recorded 15000 steps) but was afraid that the stairs would be slippery. I stood at the top of the stairs trying to psych myself up. Thankfully, at that moment, a woman started walking down the stairs and I figured that if she could do it, I could too and followed her, albeit at a slower speed.

It was a quick visit to Fotographiska sine only one floor was open, with a new exhibition being prepared on the second floor.

I walked around a bit after this, and did some shopping. I was looking for snow boots but didn’t find any where I was. I asked a salesperson who directed me to a mall, but I was tired and decided to call it done and head back to the hotel.

 

Revisiting Rothenburg

It was about a year ago that I visited Rothenburg. And this weekend, I’m back  with a few friends. We drove down on Friday (well one friend drove) and will head back to Prague on Sunday.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a beautiful old city with a wall and many buildings from the 15th and 16th century.

   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
   
We stayed in a lovely guesthouse. The breakfast was varied with a spread of cereal, cold cuts, eggs, sausage, hash browns, fruit and vegetables. A veritable feast!

Food was challenging on this trip. I’ve been avoiding milk and minimizing wheat. The first night, I tried to order baked potatoes without sour cream or potato pizza without cheese and was told neither were possible. This response was delivered with a look of disdain. I settled for French fries and ketchup. My shrimp salad for lunch on the second day was delicious. However, the waitress delivered 3 forks and 4 knives so I had to ask for one more to eat my meal. She looked around the table quizzically and insisted that she had brought 4 forks. Is it really so much more believable that I did away with the fork instead of thinking that she possibly made a mistake? Oh German hospitality!

4 Days in Venice

Colorful Burano

Colorful Burano

I head back to work tomorrow. My trip to Venice just over a week ago was the final trip of my summer, a send-off for Jane and Emily who are moving on from Prague :(.

Venice is beautiful, with its scenic canals, iconic gondoliers, glass, masks and vibrancy (in the summer). It was amazing watching the traffic on the canals, the garbage boats, ambulances, taxis, vaporetto, delivery trucks and private crafts.

We didn’t visit many buildings but we went to St. Mark’s basilica for a free tour. We paid 2€ to book our entry online and avoid the long ticket line. (Well worth it!) Our entry time was 10:45-10:55, which as perfect for joining the free English tour that started at 11:00. The tour was done by an enthusiastic student intern from England who shared many interesting facts about the cathedral, particularly about the design and the Renaissance and Byzantine mosaics. In one period, a sketch is made before the mosaic is created, but not in the other. (I can’t recall which is which; maybe I’ll look it up.) We paid the extra 1€ to see the Pala d’Oro with its gold and polished, unfaceted gems. We were lucky that the lights were on during our visit; apparently the lights are only turned on for one hour a day!

From the basilica, we went to Galleria dell’Accademia to see some art by Titan, Bellini and other Venetian, Byzantine and Gothic art.

This was a laid back trip, with a focus on lots of (delicious) seafood. We started every meal with by sharing seafood and vegetable antipasti. The seafood was invariably varied, fresh, and delicious. My entree (premi or secondi) often included more seafood. I was trying to avoid wheat, and there is an amazing amount of gluten free available. However, the one gluten-free pizza and bread that I tried was a relative of cardboard. After that, I was reluctant to try the gluten free pasta.

Our last breakfast was at a wonderful bakery, Pasticceria di Chiusso Pierino. I made an exception and tried an almond croissant. Delicious with both sliced almonds and marzipan.

The slideshow won’t below won’t work without flash. See the photos at https://goo.gl/photos/Xv6QQ7eHGDoV6Hb68.

Long Weekend in Vienna

As part of the continuing adventure of summer holidays, we went to Vienna from July 17 – 20.  What a beautiful city, and not so far from Prague. The whole train ride was just over four hours, which makes it an easy trip from Prague.

Entertainment during the train ride

view from train entering Vienna

We got to Vienna early in the afternoon, but given that we had a small child on this trip (3.5 years), we relaxed during the afternoon and just walked around a little to get our orientation. This included walking along the Ringstrasse and finding out about the Vienna pass with hop on/hop off bus access.

Goethe on the Ringstrasse

Mozart in the Burggarten

Since we’d use Priceline to find the hotel, and it was a Marriott with a price of 30 euros for the buffet breakfast (!), we took off to find a local restaurant to fuel ourselves for the day. We’d noticed Chilai near our hotel and decided to go there. They have a variety of breakfast options, and I ended up ordering the breakfast with hummus and falafel. I found the falafel uninspired but my friend enjoyed it enough to have the same meal twice . (The meal was good value so when we had trouble finding our choice the next morning, we ended up there again.) Once we had breakfast, it was time to head off on the yellow hop on/off line for Schonbrunn Palace.

The Vienna pass includes free entry for the grand tour. The entry is timed so it’s good to get the ticket first. We had about an hour to wait so we first went to the carriage museum (Kaiserliche Wagenburg). After the carriage museum, there was enough time to walk around the gardens a bit, but it was a hot sunny day so my friend and her daughter went to the Kindermuseum Schonbrunn and I went off on my Grand Tour. On my tour, I could look out the window and see my friend and her daughter. I think it’s really cool that the museum has a specially designed children’s tour/experience!

After we were done with our tours, we had a nice lunch at Cafe Residenz before going to the Apfelstrudelshow (free with the Vienna pass). The pastry chef was impressive at opening the dough by flipping it in the air and using her knuckles! I was suprised that she rolled the dough in a circle rather than a rectangle, but she said that you can reshape the pastry after it’s filled to make sure that each slide is roughly the same size. She also used a strudel cloth over the rotating board, which she spread the dough on, and used that cloth for rolling the dough and moving it to the baking dish. I found the whole process impressive, but I am not such a big fan of apple strudel (I prefer apple pie). By the end of the show, it was already 17:00, and the sights were starting to close down.

We decided to take the train/bus (free with the pass) to get an overview of the other sites. The vehicle stopped at the (already closed for the day) Gloriette for 10 minutes, which was a great opportunity to enjoy the view. The child had fallen asleep during the ride, so we carried her to the hop on/off bus and headed back to the Royal Opera stop, from where we could walk back to the hotel. I can’t remember what we had for dinner so I suspect we had fruit and nuts, and leftover bread from breakfast (for the child).

I love blackout curtains, because sleeping in was easy the next morning. We left the hotel around 9:30 and went back to Chilai for breakfast. We had another plan, but the cafe was empty and looked uninviting. From breakfast, we walked to the Spanish Riding School for the Piber Meets Vienna show. The free entry with the Vienna pass is for standing. The show was a boring, with only a few horses galloping around, or prancing about. Even the child had little interest in it. We stayed for most of the show (45 minutes) but then went off to other adventures. My friends went to the zoo and I took off for the free 2 hours walking tour.

The walking tour was great for learning the history of the city, but didn’t involve much walking. I could have done it quicker with a Frommers self-guided tour or something like that. Then I went to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Sigmund Feud Museum, Donauturm, and to see the Imperial Silver Collection. My main reason for going to the Kunsthistorisches Museum was because it is world renowned, with many famous artists there. I went through a few of the rooms to see the highlights but there was too much to see in one visit. I tend to have an attention span of 1 hour – 1.5 hours for museums. The Imperial Silver Collection is impressive. It’s also interesting how the history of Prague is linked to that of Vienna. The Sigmund Feud Museum is quite small. It’s the place where he lived and had his office for many years. I loved visiting the Donauturm. It was wonderful to get a panoramic view of the city. Definitely worth a visit.

On the final day in Vienna, I went to visit the Belvedere. I first encountered Klimt while attending University of Ottawa. I was walking through the student center when I noticed an display of art prints. I hadn’t realized until going to the Belvedere that Klimt had so many different styles. There are also some lovely paintings by Delacroix and many other artists.

Tokyo Stop

I’ve been to Tokyo before and seen most of the sites. This time, I spent one night and explored a few places with a friend. Mount Fuji still didn’t reveal itself to me. I give up; I clearly chose the wrong time of year to attempt a view.

Enjoy these pictures of my trip:

 

Teleporting would be nice

Years ago, I was recounting a traveling incident to a friend when he said he would never travel with me. Another friend wrote that maybe I should stop traveling. I think that the more you travel, the more extraordinary experiences you have, and I travel a lot.

In the absence of the power to teleport, I often fly between destinations. On a recent Turkish Airlines flight, I was less than thrilled with the experience.

My flight from Tel Aviv to Istanbul was uneventful, except for the fact that we took off late. I enjoyed taking to the lady sitting beside me (a journalist from Beijing) and the time passed quickly.

As we were waking from the plane to the connecting flight area, we noted that there had been no information about connecting flights given neither on the airplane nor on disembarkment. We looked at the time and  noticed that we had little time to make our connections; she had 10 minutes and I had 30. We pushed our way through the long line at security and I rushed to my departure gate. The flight was scheduled to leave in 15 minutes but the gate was deserted except for cleaners going about their work.

I trudged back to Turkish Airlines customer service desk. After passing one unmanned desk, and a second with an unhelpful person texting on his cell phone (I don’t know if be worked for TK or was just hanging out in that chair), I found the correct desk.

The desk was well staffed, with two agents per client. There were many people there seeking assistance. I was on that long line for a while before I finally got through to be rescheduled on a flight about 11 hours later (it was already ~ 01:00 on July 2). Once I was issued a boarding pass, I was told to exit security and go to the hotel desk to be given accommodation. At that point, I remembered that a visa for Turkey costs $60 for Canadians.

I asked the agent whether or not there would be assistance for paying the visa. He told me no. I argued his response and he told me to find a reimbursement form online. To be more precise, he replied “website” and I deduced the rest. I asked what options I would have if I had no money or my card didn’t work (the system was automated and required a payment card, and my debit card did not work although my credit card thankfully did) and he said I could sleep in the airport in that case. I took the name of the two men down because I didn’t like their responses, but as they explained, they are only employees and bad policies and procedures are not their fault.

I paid the $60 grudgingly after complaining about it to the agents and headed to the hotel line. There was one person at the desk assisting a long line of customers. After 35 minutes, a second person came to assist, and then a third. By the time I got assistance, I had been waiting in lines for 2 hours, and was told to have a seat and wait for my name to be called. It took a further 48 minutes before my name was called to be taken to the airport. Everyone was kept waiting until the line of customers for hotel transfer was empty.

I didn’t count how many people were waiting but we occupied three buses to the hotel. Thankfully, the hotel was close and only took 18 minutes by shuttle. I was also lucky in that I was amongst the first 5 people to be issued a room.

I dragged myself upstairs and entered the room. I was surprised to see there was already a keycard in the slot to activate the lights. Further, there was a dress in the closet. I’m a little slow after hours of travel, but it was impossible to miss the 4 legs sticking out from the blanket on the bed (note to self: always use the security chain). I rushed out of the room, and downstairs for a new room assignment.

By the time I got to my room and got ready for bed, it was 4:21 and I was told to be ready for the shuttle at 10:00.  

I think it is time to replace these!


 In the morning, I had a quick breakfast and was ready to leave at 10:00. It was no surprise to me that the shuttle was 30 minutes late. My mind started wandering thinking whether or not I could miss my flight again. Thankfully, I did not and I hope no one on my shuttle did either!

I’ve flown TK before with no issues, and my friend recently flew them and was pleased. In fact, the rest of my trip went well with friendly agents and no mishaps. I sure hope that this experience was an aberration!

Visit to Utsunomiya

I travelled to Utsunomiya for a few days to visit a friend. There aren’t many tourist sights there but it’s bigger than I expected. Nikko isn’t nearby, but it was too rainy for a visit. Instead, it was a great opportunity to relax and visit the Ota Museum.

I will embed the pictures later, but for now you can see them here.