Category Archives: culture

Thinking My Way Out of Depression

“I don’t understand why you are like this. He’s dead, life goes on. Why are you wasting your time?”

It’s great that the rest of the family can move on with life while I sit around and lament about the death of my father, the lost future with him as a grandpa and how life just sucks. I always thought I was adaptive to change, but obviously it’s not true when it comes to life changing events. The docs tell me I have PTSD due to my looping of the last day before his death over and over again, along with major depression which makes it hard to do anything. Even calling up a friend feels like the energy will drain out of me and I’ll collapse.

Many pushed anti-depressants on me, but given I get stoned on allergy meds, I decided I’m not sure if I want something that could rewire my brain. Instead, I am trying something called “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” (CBT). Basically I’m trying to think my way out of depression by going to counselling and doing lots of thinking homework every week. The idea is that CBT will help you stop the thoughts which are spiraling you into depression.

In my case, one thought that comes back over and over again is that “I could have saved my father.” This consists of all the would/could/should have scenarios which contains millions of possibilities and endings. Then guilt and sadness enters into the equation and I end up lying in bed, being very depressed and not being to do much as I fall into this deep well of horrible thoughts.

This is a classic case of complicated grief in which the brain is rewarded with feeling closer to the deceased while suffering and in pain. A Neuroimaging study done by the University of California shows how complicated grief rewards the brain which makes adapting to the reality of the loss more difficult.

This week, by filling in worksheets with my situation (similar to ones found here) I find evidence for/against if the thought is true and what is the cost of the thought. For the “I could have saved father” thought, the scenarios could have or not have worked out and by doing this looping, it has a high cost of neglecting my family/work but at the same time I am rewarded by feeling like my father is still alive (glimpse of hope). Taking a step back, the situation is the same – father is dead, so no matter what I think I could do, it is useless since he is gone.

Ideally,every time the looping about saving him starts, I need to be mindful and respond to myself by thinking “Yes, I could have done more, but it’s too late. Father would want me to take care of the rest of the family now and carry on his legacy.”

George Micheal’s “Praying For Time” lyrics come to mind:

Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
Well maybe we should all be praying for time

A lot of this mindfulness stuff is based on Buddhism, but with the religious component stripped out and scientific methods applied. Asians are such practical people, sometimes I wonder what is wrong with me. I am such a failed Asian…

In a way I’m starting to do what the rest of the family has done by forging ahead into the present/future. Instead of forgetting the past though, I think it`s valuable to learn from it. I’ve written an article on how to handle healthcare crisis in the family (sent off to magazine publisher but no response yet) and thinking about writing a book which may help others.

These quotes struck a chord with me and I find them comforting:

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?”
~ Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931)

I know I can’t wallow too long in depression or else I’ll drown in the puddle. CBT has helped me quite a bit, but I know the road for recovery still has a while to go for me…

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Seoul Part 2 – Food!

I can not eat spicy things, which made eating in Seoul rather difficult for me. We did eat many Korean meals of course and they all came with red spicy sauce,  kim chee as well as pickled vegetables. However, there was no shortage of French bakeries in Gangnam, along with European, American, Japanese, Chinese and Malaysian restaurants. There was a huge coffee culture, so my Viking husband was happy that he could obtain his expensive but available coffee anywhere. Admittedly I have not had so much fatty pork on a daily basis for dinner in my life along with cabbage, but when in Korea, do as the Koreans do…for a while anyways and then pizza started looking really good!

Breakfast

For breakfast we usually had tea or coffee with French pastries. We went out a few times and had a pretty god omelette at a French bakery restaurant. Prices were about $5-9 per coffee, lattes or tea, pastries about $2-5 and big breakfast (omelette, eggs benedict) about $15.

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Lunch

We had many lunches of noodles and sometimes had sandwiches, generally it was whatever we could find as we were travelling all over the place.

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Dinner

Lots and lots of Korean BBQ for dinner along with kim chee, pickled vegetables, tofu and spicy soups. We had pizza and chicken wings delivered one night as well, came in 20 min! Pizza in a fancy New York Pizza place was surprisingly pricey at $40-50 for a medium but it was full of people on dates.

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Snacks

Lots of vending machines in the subway, convenient stores on every street corner and my favorite are the French bakeries!

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Toilets

Yes, I am obsessed with toilets. The Korean toilets were similar to sit-up ones in North America, but they had a few heated ones like in Japan with bum washes. There was also squatting ones as well.

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Seoul Part 1 – Surviving!

The reason for our visit to Korea was for my brother-in-law’s wedding. The latest addition to the Garrard clan at this point was a new sister-in-law who is Korean. Prior to leaving, I asked my Korean friends what to expect at this wedding and they didn’t really know how to answer my questions. “Oh, we are just like any other culture!” they told me. I had been to Seoul once for a few days with a Hong Kong tour group and the tour guide told us to not be offended if people slam into us in the street as this is what happens if it is crowded.

I find Korean people very tall and they generally remind me of Northern Chinese people. So I was surprised when everyone started speaking Korean to me. Even the Garrard clan I was with half expected me to suddenly speak Korean on their behalf. Having never taken an Korean lessons, I started to learn a few words…which made the situation worse because people thought I was joking that I didn’t know any Korean.

We did similar things on this trip compared to our Tokyo trip, such as renting a wi-fi hotspot to guide us. With my brother-in-law’s help, we also rented cell phones as this trip consisted of a large group that would split up occasionally.

Instead of staying in a hotel, we rented a house from the AirBNB website in Gangnam (yes, like the song). Gangnam is the richest neighborhood in Seoul and there are tons of young people, a thriving night market along with lots of foreign restaurants (Starbucks, TGI Friday, Baskin Robbins, McDonalds, French bakeries, etc). The house had four bedrooms, kitchen, living room and washer/dryer combo machine. The floors were heated which felt strange and the entire bathroom was a shower! Pictures at end of blog post (scroll down).

1) Wi Fi hotspot, Google Maps & Cell phones

We made arrangements as soon as we landed to rent a wi-fi hot spot. You can rent and return at any airport, which made this very handy. As well, the stand next to the wi-fi hot spot had cell phone rentals & returns. We weren’t smart enough to rent the cell phone in the beginning so we visited a store instead and then returned it at the airport prior to leaving. Again, Google Maps helped us navigate the areas as we walked through them.

Cost of Wif Fi hotspot – about $7/day
Cost of cell phone rental – about $5/day

2) Cash

We used a lot more cash in Korea than Tokyo. There are certain banks that have ATMs with “Global” on them – these are the only ones that allow international bank cards to be used. When we travelled there, it was about $1 US to 1000 Won. Although it sounds like a lot to have 10,000 Won, it’s actually just $100

3) Plugs

You will need adaptors when you travel, their plugs are different from North American ones.

4) Buy a subway card

The subway cards in Korea are similar to Japan, you “beep” as you enter and then “beep” as you leave. So you pay by distance. Putting money onto card was amazing as they have some wireless no touch technology going on. You put the card in the large slot in the machine and money “beams” into the card. The subway line will announce stops in English and the maps have English/Korean.

5) Prepare for price shock

I found that the prices of things in Seoul were the same price as visiting a large North American city (NY) or Europe (London) which surprised me. Things were cheaper in Tokyo! Also, street market vendors don’t like to bargain, especially with foreigners. I usually hate bargaining too, but if I’m buying 10 souvenirs, getting a bit of a break would be nice!

6) Basic Manners – These are some of the things I picked up:

  • Walk around people – Unlike Japan, even if there are arrows in the subways, people don’t follow them. So you just walk around people.
  • Subway exits & gas masks – Perhaps due to continuous threats from the North, every subway has maps in English and Korean detailing exits. As well, there are cabinets of gas masks and other emergency supplies.
  • No eating in subways – the subways are quite clean due to lack of food. People do talk or they are watching tv on their tablets.
  • Being pushed – In crowded places, there is less “private space”. So don’t be surprised if you are pushed/shoved around as people just need to get past you. Or alternatively, if they don’t like you and the subway is empty, they will push you anyways as it seems to be a form of communication (they saw me as a Korean girl with a foreigner spouse).
  • No tipping – restaurants do not require tipping.
  • Daiso – Daiso is a 100 yen store in Japan (dollar store) and they are also in Korea. If you need to pick up a few things, this is a great place to go.

8) What else to expect:

  • Beer, lots of it! – Seoul has a more robust drinking culture than any other Asian city I’ve visited. We even visited a self-serve bar in which you grab your bottles from the fridge and then the cashier counts the empties. There was beer ranging from Korea to New Zealand to Estonia!
  • Steep hills – We stayed in a house on a hill at a 45 degree incline. I think I lost a few inches from gravity pressing down on me!
  • Cold/Snow in Dec – yes, it was -10 degrees Celsius and snowing.
  • Coffee everywhere – if you need a daily jolt of caffeine, no fear – there were tons of cafes all over the place with delicious French pastries. However, European (Nescafe), Korean/European (Paris Croissant) and American cafes (Starbucks) have higher priced drinks at about $5/6 and pastries $3-5. The local coffee is about $2. My Viking husband observed that the $2 coffee places tend to be street stands and the foreign coffee places have tables, so the drinks are more expensive as you are almost “renting space.”
  • Amazingly cute things – Like everywhere in Asia, cute sells. So pastries will have little animal icing decorations, anything and everything will have teddy bears or other cute looking creatures on them. If you are not immune to cute things, it may be sensory overload! The best cute thing I saw was a baby seal ice cream cake at the Korean Baskin Robbins!
  • Limited English – we didn’t stay at a hotel this time, but in a AirBNB house rental. The owner left us some guidebooks which was nice. You will see that the street signs, subway maps and stores will have English…but not many people speak English. I was told that people learn English in high school, like how we learn French in Canada…then people just forget it as they don’t use it!
  • Vending machines – less than in Tokyo, but they are common in subways
  • Interactive subway displays – for people waiting for the train, they can play games or look up places where to eat next. Great if you know Korean…
  • Selfie pics – in Gangnam there is a large interactive display for you to take pictures of yourself. I’m not sure if you can email it out or not, but there was some voting contest of which selfie was the best. Lots of drunk pics of people have a good time!

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Tokyo Part 2 – Food & Lodging

Eating in any Asian city is superb since there are so many people and it is super competitive for businesses. Many restaurants have signs or “plastic food” on display to attract patrons and sometimes a mall will have giant displays to let you know of the many restaurants on each floor.  All the food I had in Tokyo was excellent, in particular, the Family Mart sushi was better than in the restaurants we visited!

If you have dietary restrictions, I would recommend using Google Translator to list out all the items you can’t eat ahead of time and show the service people to avoid getting killed by allergic reactions, etc.

The hotel we stayed in (Prince Park Tokyo Tower) had a lot of Western guests, so the staff spoke English.  My favorite thing about the room was the toilet, it was amazing and I am sad that I could not bring it back!

Pictures below are separated into general food, breakfast, lunch, dinner and lodging.  Each pic has some notes to let you know what the heck is going on…

General food – pics of menus, advertisements and plastic food

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Breakfast food

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Lunch food

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Dinner & Dessert food

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Lodging – hotel and my beloved hotel room toilet!

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Tokyo Part 1

In December 2013 I spent about a week in Tokyo, Japan before heading for a wedding in Seoul, South Korea.  We took thousands of pictures, so sorting through them will take a while.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll be dividing my trip into the following blog posts for both countries:

Part 1 – Surviving or aka how to survive with language barriers

Part 2 – Food & Lodging on my trip

Part 3 – Sights, cultural stuff we saw on the trip

Part 4 – Shopping, retail and what to expect

 

Post release dates:

Japan posts
Jan 6, 2014 – Tokyo Part 1
Jan 13, 2014 – Tokyo Part 2
Jan 20, 2014 – Tokyo Part 3
Jan 27, 2014 – Tokyo Part 4

Korea posts
Feb 3, 2014 – Seoul Part 1
Feb 10, 2014 – Seoul Part 2
Feb 17, 2014 – Seoul Part 3
Feb 24, 2014 – Seoul Part 4

Now let’s start with a post about Tokyo, an amazing city!

 

Tokyo Part 1 – Surviving!

As with any Asian trip, there is always some culture shock upon arrival because…well, everyone looks Asian!  Also, for some reason, people think I am Japanese or Korean although I’m Chinese.  My Viking husband was amused that people always seem shock when I open my mouth and then I start getting the “she must have a mental issue” looks.

I knew some basic Japanese since I studied the language 10 years ago, but it really wasn’t enough to get by with any conversations.  I could ask a question, but would pick up only 10% of what people responded with.

Anyhow, there were a few things that made our trip a pretty good one even though we didn’t have much language sills and below are a few tips I compiled that would help anyone with no understanding of the Japanese language.  We relied on the Lonely Planet guide book which was pretty good and they have a website with lots of basic info: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/japan/tokyo/

Pictures at end of blog post (scroll down).

1)      Wi Fi hotspot & Google Maps

Prior to leaving Canada, my Viking had made arrangements for a Wi Fi hotspot device to be delivered to the hotel upon our arrival.  It’s basically a portable internet wi-fi spot which we used for our phones.  This was a life saver as all the street signs are in Japanese, so we relied heavily on Google Maps to tell us where we were going.

Sometimes we didn’t know how much a fare was on the subway system, but Google Maps would tell us the amount and list all the stops before we were suppose to get off as well.  Also, just on the street, with Google telling us, turn left, right, etc., it was enough for us to avoid getting totally lost.  Amazing technology!

Cost of Wif Fi hotspot – about $5/day

2)      Cash

While many places use credit cards, the basic denomination taken by all vendors is still cash.  So carry some around and look for international bank ATMs to get more cash if required.  We found such ATMs in post offices around Tokyo.

3)      Plugs

I travelled with my laptop which has 3 prongs.  In Tokyo, things only have 2 prongs, but the hotel was nice enough to lend me an adaptor.

4)      Google Translator

On our 14 hour flight, my husband offered to buy me diamonds as he realized he had forgotten our Studio Ghibli tickets at home.  Like any good anime fan, I said I didn’t want diamonds but wanted to see Totoro and the Cat Bus.  Since the Japanese travel agency took our names down, I decided to write a short message with google translator to see if we could talk our way into the museum.  It turns out we had to buy another set of tickets, but having a translated message made things a lot less confusing.

It cost money to print out the message as we didn’t have a printer, so I just emailed it to myself and used the wifi hotspot we were carrying to let people see the email that was already translated into Japanese.

5)      Buy a subway card

There are 5 lines in the subway system owned by different companies.  The first day we were schooled when we kept buying wrong tickets as it was confusing which machine we were supposed to buy for.  The “THIS MACHINE IS IN ENGLISH” announcement was super loud every time we used a machine in English and it was a bit embarrassing because people would look at us oddly.

Anyhow, to save a lot of grief, please buy a subway card as you just load it up with money and all the lines will take the card.  There are a few kinds such as PASMO or JF IO card which are interchangeable on the lines.  We bought the PASMO and beeped our way through instead of trying to figure out how much we needed to pay for a ticket per every trip as the price depends on distance.

The subway maps are all in Japanese although when you get on the train, the stops are sometimes announced in English.  There is also a little tv above the doors which has the stop names in English and katakana as well.

6)      Hotels are big enough for big people

Prior to visiting Japan, I had lamented on Facebook about the size of my husband and how I worried if he would fit into the tiny hotel rooms in Japan.  Someone recommended The Prince Park Tokyo Tower hotel to me and I booked it.  The rooms are huge!  Bigger than some NYC rooms we had stayed in.  OK, fine, my husband’s feet sticks out a bit on the double bed, but 98% of the length of him fits on the bed, so it’s good enough!

Before going, do take a look at travel review websites to see pictures of the room and to make sure they are big enough for your use.  My husband is 6’4” and he was fine with the size of the hotel room.

7)      Basic Manners

My Viking husband likes order in general, so he was pleased that people followed the rules in the city:

  • Walk on the left – If you want to avoid being run over by bicycles on the sidewalk, pedestrians should walk on the left.  My husband watched in amusement as I was like a deer in the headlights, uncertain which way to dive to dodge the bikers.
  • No garbage cans – After attacks from over a decade ago by terrorists, there are no garbage cans on the streets or in the subway.  People are expected to carry their garbage until they reach a bathroom.
  • No eating or talking in subways – the subways are super quiet and clean.  People don’t talk and are usually on their cell phones texting.
  • Follow arrows on subway stairs and platforms – yes, there are lots of arrows for up/down in the stairwells and arrows to let you know where the doors will open to board the train.
  • No tipping – restaurants & taxis do not require tipping.  They will run after you if you tip and give back your money!
  • Bow a lot – it’s a sign of politeness to nod your head and bow when you greet someone or thank someone.  They will be bowing back at you too.

8)      What else to expect:

  • Super service – we had never experienced such fantastic customer service before!  People will go out of their way to help you and thank you, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Use Google Translator to ask for more complicated things and they will do their best to solve your problem.  Although had to re-buy my Studio Ghibli tickets, the guide at the museum called the Lawson (convenience store) ahead of time to make sure there were tickets available and gave me dates to chose from before directing me across the street to make the purchase.
  • Amazing retail – Just Skytree (tallest tower in Tokyo) alone has 33 floors with most of them retail.  There are convenient stores everywhere open 24/7 and you can buy anything you want with a hundred styles to choose from.  Even my Viking husband who hates shopping, was tempted to buy stuff.  The several food floors alone in Skytree amazed him as he had never seen so much food in his life and they all looked so good!
  • English brochures – at our hotel there were stacks of brochures in English. If you are not staying at a hotel, you can visit one as local brochures often includes coupons and other tips to help save money.

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I am a "generic Asian"

Happy New Year!

Throughout December 2013 I had been travelling throughout Tokyo, Japan and Seoul, S. Korea since there was a major family wedding in Korea.

To my surprise, people thought that I was whatever they were and would speak to me at length before realizing I didn’t understand. Then I would get the “this girl is a deaf mute” look. This has happened before in China (I speak Cantonese, not Mandarin), but I didn’t expect people to think that I was Japanese or Korean.

A computer in 2009 simulated average faces for Asians, can you tell which faces are Chinese, Korean and Japanese? (click for answer as well as South Asian faces)

My Viking husband labelled me the “generic Asian” as he was quite amused by all this. With his red hair and beard, people didn’t even try to speak to him. I learned how to say “I don’t understand/don’t know” in Mandarin, Japanese and Korean. However, people sometimes interpreted this as I didn’t know the answer to a question. My brother in law suggested that I learn how to say “I have a mental disability” which may work better.

I was so amused by my new nickname that I decided to rename my blog to “Musings of a Generic Asian” from “Musings of JF Garrard”.

Unfortunately, there was some negative stuff as well which was obvious from angry speech and body language – that I am a terrible Asian as I am hanging out with non-Asian people. Usually it would be an older Asian man that would come up to me directly and say a long speech with nasty glares.

I was being made to feel ashamed that I was a bad Japanese/Korean when I was Chinese. I’ve never traveled to China with my husband, so I’m not sure if we would experience the same thing there. Generally, I think this happened so often because the older generation wants to enforce their rules on the younger generation.

Regardless, it was a wonderful trip and I have been inspired to create art again after a visit to the Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA) and National Musuem of Modern and Contemporary Art in Deoksugung. It was amazing to see the fusion of Eastern and Western art techniques and the powerful messages behind each piece.

I don’t think I’ll see my husband much this year as I want to finish up a few books, travel to a few conventions, start a podcast and create some cultural identity art!

Over the course of the next few weeks I’ll put together my pics and comments, so stay tuned!