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Yellowknife, NWT, Canada

map of yellowknife

Yellowknife, NWT

“Everyone is looking to Canada’s north except Canadians.”

This is the title of the article I read from the window seat of the Air North flight from Whitehorse to Yellowknife – 400 km south of the arctic circle. I feel Yellowknife, though pointed out on a map to me in grade school geography, isn’t a city that has come up too much in conversation, and to give the headline some truth I know only one Canadian here.

Jess picks me up from the airport, and drives me through the maze of subdivisions on our way to her house. It is – 7 today and the sun is out, the wind has died, and extremely white people are walking around without coats on squinting into the sun like they have never seen it before. The streets are full and Jess is laughing because everyone looks like a dazed zombie – surprised to find themselves alive after the dead of winter.

Jess and I are friend’s from childhood and she has been living just outside of town, in a double wide trailer for two years. Most people here live in trailers if they don’t live in “Old Town.” – the permafrost makes building foundations almost impossible and the transport cost of supplies this far north is exorbitant. Actually, everything seems priced exorbitant to me. Her utilities are more expensive than my rent in Vancouver, and a beer is $10.25. The trailers seem out of place with expensive cars and obviously heated seats parked out front, but that is the way it is here.

We drive past the Snowking’s ice castle, which we end up returning to the next night for the Dead North’s horror movie festival. Local filmmakers of all ages make short films to contribute, and they gave a little glimpse into the darkness that eats away at most people when it is dark all day. Hunting and guns, repeatedly made appearances in the films all evening, and though I shouldn’t be so shocked to see teenagers nonchalantly going out with rifle into the winter, I am. That night I learned that watching movies in an ice cave at -16degrees for two hours is finger numbing. It was amazing to see the community here come out and support all the films, but I am not cut out for the cold.

At home Jess and I binge drink tea to warm up, and for a week I feel like a local. I can see the northern lights from my bedroom window at night, and during the day I watch the frozen cattails dance on the ice. We snowmobiled and helicoptered over the landscape and fought off the cold with an outdoor fire. I heard about the Arctic Games and ice roads, and places like Hay River and Nahanni National Park which have never been on my radar before.

Canadians who aren’t looking north are missing out. Yellowknife is quirky and dark, and has a dress code of Canada Goose jackets and muck luck boots. It is remote and isolated and in that embodies the idea of “northernness” as a part of our Canadian identity in the most honest way that I have experienced.

 

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Berlin, Germany

Berlin City Map

 

I had a to-go cup of coffee in my hand outside the Schlesisches Tor subway station in Berlin. It was almost four o’clock and I wondered to myself how much of our everyday behaviour is influenced by the society we live in because as people came and went through the doors not one of them had a warm drink to go. I was self conscious of what has become a caffeinated accessory to our daily wardrobes in North America and had never came into style in Europe.

A friend of a wonderful friend was on the way to show me her Berlin. I was waiting, sipping, and with the luxury of a broken cell phone, in a place where I had no service anyways I was attentive, and people watching. There were one hundred bikes locked up out front the station and one homeless man wander aimlessly enough through them to know his aim was to spot the one bike with a faulty lock. The wind blew the spill over garbage from the bin onto the street and people of all backgrounds and futures hurried in and out. I tried to memorize the scene for later.

Jessy showed up from behind the station with the look of a stranger scanning the crowd for a foreign face, and awkwardly we introduced ourselves to each other. She apologized for her English in advance like most the Germans I’ve met, and I reassured her it was fine. Based on the few emails we had sent one another her I knew her vocabulary was better than many native speakers and the comment itself it was not so much about her English speaking ability, but the confidence it takes to meet a stranger and speak to them in their language.

It wasn’t long into our walk Jessy had turned into a regular tour guide and translated facts and historical antidotes while we wandered the east gallery of Berlin Wall. We checked out the Gestalten store, a German book publisher I worked with last year and saw my photos in person print, and then sat outside, with our coats done up tight in the fall air for a little Korean Kimchi.

Over a beer we talked about our lives across an ocean from each other, and I asked her about the refugee crisis that Europe, and the world dealing with. Germany in the last month had taken in thousands and the numbers weren’t slowly. Syrians were in the train stations and on the streets and Germany was truly leading the world in relief and resettlement efforts.

The Berlin bell jar skies as Jessy aptly described them turned from grey to pink that evening as we spoke, and when we finished our meal the conversation moved naturally from world affairs to tipping. It is a recurrent topic of conversation for travellers because how much money to leave, and when is appropriate varies so much from place to place. Jessy worked in cafe as a server as well, and as we paid the bill that night she told me that herself and all of her co-workers were donating all of their tips indefinitely to refugees new to Germany.

I was silent, not because it was shocking, but because it was an immediately tangible connection to a problem that even though I was in Germany still felt a world away. It was the selfless level of generosity that made me proud to have crossed passed with her, and simultaneously guilty for not helping in my own way.

Travel as a luxury, and travel out of necessity will always involve depending on the kindness of strangers; it connects one place to another. It turns unfamiliar faces into friends and leaves everyone involved with a better understanding of each other. Leaving that restaurant in Berlin I was inspired to help, and thought to myself how lucky I was to be there, that for me travel is a luxury.  And in the process of making a new friend I truly witnessed a small yet by no means insignificant contribution the kind of world I want to live in.



Hong Kong Google Map – Causeway Bay

hong kong map

 

 

I walked down a wet side street in Hong Kong, led by Mrs. Au. The street lights were on and I was pushing a baby’s stroller. Tammy held the baby, and my travellers backpack ripping at the seams with the weight of a few cameras sat inside the padded seat. Space was tight in Hong Kong, so we decided to take the carriage off Tammy’s hands for the night and meet up again with it tomorrow. Tonight I was sleeping in Mrs. Au’s flat, she had a bed at a friend’s place and it was settled. I could have stayed at a backpackers and I had been planning on it but Tammy, Junie, and Mrs. Au shuffled around. I couldn’t have been more grateful.

Hong Kong.

I never imagined I would end up here.

Ms. Au, the baby stroller and I turned at the metro, and together we made the short trek due to the modern subway system across the city and home.

Home in Hong Kong.

What is it about the city? Mrs. Au had lived across the world, Canada, England, and still every few years ended back up in Hong Kong. She smiled as she talked about it, the old and the new, the ferries, and the nature just outside the city centre. She talked about the crossing of cultures, british colonization, the intense mentality of business there. I asked questions, a lot of them, and that night on the street, I remember so clearly Mrs. Au unlocking the front steel gate to her flat and saying,

“You know on a good day Taylor, Hong Kong is where the east meets the west and on other days, its neither here or nor there.”

I wrote it in my journal that night, and have since thought about it, about Hong Kong, about the mountains, the skyline, the men on the street with newspapers flying loosely around their feet, and clenched in their hands a ticket for the horse races. I think about the foreign nannies, their day off spent together in a park on our side of town. I think about that cupcake Tammy and I missioned for, walking across the narrow sidewalks with Junie sleeping away reminiscing about what had been three years before on another continent foreign to both of us. We had met in Uganda in September 2008, and now visiting in the most densely populated metropolis in the world Africa feels like a lifetime away. We are joking about the crazy Matatu drivers and the Thanksgiving meal we made with chickens we’d killed the morning before the feast, it feels so long ago and I’ve been pretty much a vegetarian since.

Hong Kong is a night city, a skyline worthy of thousands of photos every night, it had fashion and highways taken on a motorcycle at monster speeds, a city block devoted to flowers. It is a city of public politeness, and cemetery squatters, where the best transit system in the world pumps millions through the city like the artery of a fit man in his prime.

It was a city of gracious hosts that showed me an incredibly romantic, surreal place of duplicities.

Where the east meets the west but neither here nor there.

capture-time-070 travel photographer hong kong flower market photo travel photography hong kong bird market mountains in hong kong sky scapers hong kong travel photography flags of hong kong at night