Travels and Musings

January 2019

Is it 2019 already? The kids are growing up, Paulus and I are getting older and the weather is getting colder!  Have any of you made any resolutions for 2019?  Resolutions don’t work for me and I’ve learned from the past that resolutions act as boundaries and containers that prevent and deny what I really want to achieve for this year.  Resolutions, much like assessment and grades in a classroom only reward prescriptive behaviours to reach a non-personal goal and this is why I don’t have resolutions.  I do have a list of “whys”.  My list of whys are people, place and space that I want to connect further with or re-connect with new perspectives to gain new understandings and to grow inside and out.  I recently took my older son, Khafri, on a trip to L.A. to spend some time together.  I know.. you may ask, why L.A., it’s the most busiest and craziest cities to “relax” in?  Well, it wasn’t the physical place that mattered, it was the Mummy and Khafri place that we wanted to be in.  On this trip we did what most kids wanted to do, stayed up late, watched T.V. went on amusement park rides, ate lots of sugar  and chocolate and a freedom from chores.  Within and between all of these activities, we enjoyed great conversations about friendships, relationships and disappointments. We experienced time as a whole and as a fluid medium to understand each other’s emotions and feelings.  My son and I connected through a place of the mind, the body and most importantly, the heart.

December 2018

It’s the end of 2018 and as I close another year in my life, this year has been a huge phase of learning, loving and appreciating.  My family and I closed 2018 with a visit to Hawai’i, one of our favourite places to visit, relax, reflect and spend lots of fun times with our kids.  We took this time to slow down and appreciate each other and to notice the subtle moments that life presents us every moment of each day on this journey we call life.  It takes patience and pauses to notice these precious subtleties and sometimes all it takes is a child asking you to pause and wait as he bends down to select a perfect broken shell on the beach.  Children see the world as a whole entity, as fluid process where a broken shell has a place on the beach, in the ocean and in their hands.  When was the last time you noticed little wonders as you walked on the beach or even the sidewalk?  Do you notice how trillions of asymmetrical grains of sand make up the beach, which you walk on?  Do you notice how each square section of a sidewalk is unique just like a fingerprint because no two spots on Earth is identical?    This year, I learned that it’s the subtle precious moments that can teach us so much about what and who to love and appreciate.

October 2018

Amanita muscaria. Oct 15, 2016. SFU, TASC2. Photo by: Poh Tan

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve come back from my trip from Brazil.  It was a whirlwind trip filled with adventurous experiences where I learned about a new culture, language and another meaning about friendship, collegiality and kindness.  In all of my experience, professional and personal, kindness stood out the most regardless of the triviality or substantiality of events around me. The picture on the left was taken during a cold, but crisp walk on the East side of campus, just past TASC2.  This is the Amanita muscaria or more commonly known as the toadstool (the ones gnomes and fairies sit upon in multiple Grimm’s Fairy tale books).  I noticed this beautiful capped mushroom hidden among the leaves that just fell upon it and I had to stop to look.  In so many ways, the mushroom symbolically represented how I felt that day, how I needed to take in the fresh, crisp air and to feel the wet cold as it seeped through the stitches of my clothing and at the same time, wanting to remain hidden among the leaves for just a brief moment to enjoy all that was around me.  Who knew that almost two years after I took this image, it would also further represent my strength, tenacity and resilience towards staying true to my values about life, mainly towards cultivating more peace, kindness and care within ourselves, between others and amongst the events that occur around us.  Much like the Amanita muscaria, it seeks to live, survive and thrive among others.  They are as significant as the giant trees they grow next to or onto and yet, we often don’t notice them.  Imagine if we slowed down more everyday, as we go about our busy lives, would we then notice the quiet Amanita muscaria and other types of bacidiomycota. Perhaps when we slow down we also “see” more of ourselves.

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Porto Alegre, Brazil

Follow me through my reflections and musings on my travels.  My latest travel musings is my trip to Porto Alegre, Brazil.  I established a connection with Unisinos University through a synchronous friendship developed with Laura Baumvol, who’s become a good friend and colleague.  My trip to Brazil is my first steps towards feeling an ease to experience adventure and excitement to contribute to the welcoming group at Unisinos.

Follow me……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

(Most recent post at the top, scroll down to read previous ones)

August 13th, 2018

Conversation on Educational theories and exchanging ideas with the Department of Education at Unisinos

After an awesome chill night with great friends who loved the food and conversation, I felt good.  There was so much food and wine last night that we may do a repeat!  I have to admit that it was really hard to wake up in the morning.  It will be my first time meeting the Education department at Unisinos and I am a little nervous because they are a new group.  What if what I bring to them will sound so obvious and I am just repeating what they already know?…….no…. I know what this feeling is, impostor syndrome.  I often feel this way whenever I am among other scholars, but this time I am aware of this feeling and get out of bed, shower and “tried” to dress like a scholar :).  I’ll be participating in an international dialogue group about different topics in education.  I met Professor Danilo, who’s the editor for the international journal of action research.  We sat in a circle with other professors and graduate students to discuss the definition of scientific literacy.  It was a great discussion as the group was curious about why I switched disciplines.  The discussion lasted over 2 hours and it would have continued on but everyone was hungry. We talked about my research and possibilities for collaboration through the applied linguistics department.

Later that day, I was asked to give talk about my career trajectory to an undergraduate business class.  It was a really good experience.  I shared my struggles with life from career perspective and why I decided to switched career.  The students were great, they had big ideas and wanted to make a change in the world. It felt really great to inspire and challenge them to re-define success.  It was a stimulating an thought-provoking session.

August 12th, 2018

Malaysian cook out with Brazilian ingredients and Brazilian company.

It is my second weekend in my trip and time is passing by so quickly.  I’ve many professors and teachers who have so much knowledge to share and their names and faces have become a blur.  They are all excited to discuss on how to make education better for their students. Some teachers that I’ve met has become good friends and we shared our scholarly work and personal struggles in a profession that is both rewarding and frustrating all at the same time.  How do we give the best to our students when we are constrained by resources, pressured by external expectations and the desire to make our students better than they know they can become?  This struggle is real and it’s present with all of the professors and teachers I met.  Much like our teachers back in Vancouver, teachers here are collaborative and support each other during these challenging times.  They talk about the struggles to break traditional ideologies of teaching and the struggles with the feeling that they are “giving too much” to the profession, to the point where their personal lives are unstable.  How do we find this balance? Is there such thing as balance?  For me, balance does not mean giving equal attention to work and family, balance to me is what matters most and what matters least.  Balance is my decision to saying “no” so that I can give 100% of me to either my family or my work in a given time.  The 100% means that doing things without a shadow of guilt following me.  Today, I did just that.  I spent time with the friends I made and cooked them a Malaysian meal (well, almost because ingredients were hard to find).  The process of shopping for the ingredients, cooking in a tiny kitchen and allowing myself to “chill”, felt good.

August 11th, 2018

Red, orange and yellow to brighten the day.

After a great night with friends at a Sambo Sushi and slept in because I had about 1 ounce of sake (I know, you’re probably thinking that is lame), I woke up, brushed my teeth and had a nice chat with the professor I was staying with.  We talked about her wedding plans over tea, toast and eggs.  It was a nice morning, different from Saturday mornings at home where the hustle and bustle with the kids over breakfast and deciding on the day’s activities.  I miss the hustle and bustle………..

After breakfast, I stayed home to do a little bit of work on my other workshops and catch up on emails.  The time has passed so quickly and I will be only be here for another 1.5 weeks.  In this short time I’ve learned so much and shared so much with different scholars, teachers and students.  I am very aware to not impose my North American views on the relations that I’ve made.  Throughout my trip, I’ve always felt that some groups regarded my work as superior simply because I am from a Canadian university.  I am very aware of this and I took the time to learn about their scholarly approaches to teaching and learning and quickly realized that their scholarly discussions are impressive and that maybe because of the language barrier that some may see their work as less credible.  This is true in the science disciplines as well.  I have had many experiences with colleagues during my first  doctoral study who felt that published work from a non-Western and European were questionable.  It is more clear now that the consequence for not communicating one’s work in English significantly impacts the credibility of the work even though the research is sound.  I am experiencing this right now, at this very moment how my Brazilian colleagues constantly struggle with this when they try to communicate their research abroad. As a scholar, I feel that there could be many missed opportunities, especially in the basic science field,  if a pre-judgement on credibility is based on work that is not published in English.

In other words, if Paulo Freire was never translated in English, his work would likely not be well known in the field of education today.

 

August 10th, 2018

Having Brazilian zero-carb sushi and trying Brazilian brewed sake. The sushi was awesome and the sake was strong!

After exploring the city a little bit and tasting an Amazonian fish, I knew I would thoroughly enjoy my stay and the people that I’ve met here.  Everyone on and off campus works hard and are so passionate about their field.  They work many, many hours and still have smiles on their faces at the end of the day.  I love the Brazilian culture of hugging and kissing when you greet someone, even though they’ve only met you for the first time.  I felt that it was so easy to feel a sense of belonging even with groups of people that I’ve met for the first time.  The North American culture is different where personal space and distance from the other is preferred and any gesture with hugging and kisses on the cheek may be interpreted wrong.  For me, I welcome and prefer the Brazilian way of greeting each other, because I did not feel like a stranger trying her hardest to fit into a group by having to conform to the group.  I felt comfortable right away and it made it easier for me to feel like I have to guard the things I say.  Don’t get me wrong,  I am not talking about being rude, we are respectful to each other but there is no need to pretend among them because we are already comfortable with each other.  I don’t know how many of you reading this have ever felt when  you’ve just been introduced to a new group of friends and you only know one person in the group and may be you’ve felt like you had to “agree” or “conform” to the group’s conversation instead of voicing your own?  I have, many times.  This time, I didn’t feel I needed to and I felt comfortable to 100% be myself.

This reflected my feelings in the workshop I conducted. It was the first of three workshops that I’ll be conducting while I am here.  I was nervous and questioning whether they will be excited about my research as much as I do.  It was my first time presenting with consecutive translators and it was an experience from all other presentations that I’ve done.  After the workshop, I felt such a sense of appreciation and gratefulness from the audience when they came up to compliment my workshop and the desire from many teachers to hopefully work together.  Many teachers are from the public school system where resources are scarce and the students’ families struggle with economic challenges, and yet these teachers were dedicated to their students.  They took the time from their personal schedule to attend my workshops with dedication to improve the learning conditions in their classrooms.  When I met the teachers after the workshop, I felt included and welcomed right away.

 

August 9th, 2018

Fish local to South Brazil. Top: Tamboqui, a fresh water from the Amazonian waters and bottom: Tainha, a species of mullet that spends its time in both salt and freshwater.

The last couple of days flew by and I’ve met so many professors, students and teachers.  I got a tour of the campus and had many meetings about how our collaborative project can come to fruition.  Today is a little different and I chose to stay in the city instead of going into campus.  I wanted to explore Porto Alegre on my own, not because I wanted to see if I can navigate a city where language is a challenge but I wanted to see what everyday life is like.  I slept in this morning again and it’s getting easier to allow myself to sleep in and not feel guilty about it.  It was another sunny day with a slight chill from Porto Alegre winter’s touch.  I woke up, had breakfast, took a warm shower, change and headed out to explore.  There were many people on the streets, sidewalks and alley ways.  Buses were full, and traffic was moving slowly.  It was just like any other metropolitan city, except every you looked there were influences from the Germans, Portuguese and Spaniards. I have yet to meet or see another Asian person and I felt that I was oddly sticking out in the crowd.

When I travel to any new country or city, I am fascinated by their cultures, especially through their foods.  I decided to venture into a large, Brazilian owned supermarket.  I walked each aisle in that supermarket, carefully exploring what’s different from home.  It was a funny experience having to use my phone to translate the ingredients and labels on different types of foods.  I think the most exotic thing that I’ve tried since I arrived is the nuts from the Araucaria

Pan fried Tamboqui with Brazillian fish spices. Tasty!

s tree.  These are the trees growing near the canyons and are native trees to this region.  The nuts that come from this tree is used in different types of Brazilian dishes. I was told that these dishes are more common to the South.  I’ve tried them and

they remind of steamed chestnuts back home.

I continued to explore the supermarket and I made my way to the seafood section. It was amazing!  When I came down here, I was determined to taste some fish from this region.  I found two types; Tainha and Tambaqui.  Tambaqui is a typical in Southern Brazil and are found in Amazonian rivers.  I decided to buy both types to try.  They were huge but tasty.

August 8th, 2018

Broadcasting the importance of Scientific Literacy at Radio ABC at Groupsinos headquarters.

Today I will be meeting with the Professor’s research group who leads the LER project. This is a national scientific literacy project through support and coordination between the University, regional newspapers and literacy programs in Brazil to bring science to the those who may not have easy access to resources. I am so proud to be apart of such a great initiative and have been given the opportunity to work with the group closely.  I will be contributing to a field that I am passionate about  -education for young children!

We met in the headquarters of a regional newspaper. It was a surreal feeling to be surrounded by a large room full of reporters typing away, and a section of the room dedicated to live newscast.  I met the head of the newspaper who welcomed me with great enthusiasm. I met many teachers from the public school system who discussed about their struggles in the classroom due to the lack of resources.  This is reminiscent of back home where our teachers have such as important role in our children’s education and yet, they don’t receive sufficient support to teach our children.  Project LER is one project that brings together academics and teachers in practice through teacher resources.

As the meeting went on in the headquarters, I felt like I was contributing in a positive way. It is a very different feeling from when I did my first doctorate where I always felt like a graduate student even though I knew my field really well.  At this meeting I felt different, I felt the acceptance, respect and appreciation from them.  I felt the same feelings about them.

The meeting went great with many great ideas exchanged along with visits to public, private and marginalized schools in the city.  I was also featured in their local radio station Radio ABC, equivalent to CBC radio back home.  The radio broadcast was a pleasant surprise and I was happy that I was able to speak to my research and share it with the people in Rio Grande do Sul.

 

August 7th, 2018

Having a typical Brazillian lunch on campus

It’s a sunny Tuesday morning and I am slowly getting used to the sound of quietness at 9am in the morning. Yes, you read that correctly, I slept in until 9am this morning.  I have not done that in a very long time, however, I still prefer waking up to Khian lying beside me.  It’s finally sinking in that I am in Porto Alegre, doing research I am passionate about FOR REAL.  I am excited to share my knowledge and to see how we can collaborate together.  Today is one of those days that confirms that I belong in the field of science education.  Later today, I met with the applied linguistics research group and learned about different text and language discourse in the popularized science. They were a great group with many enthusiastic young graduates who were so eager to learn.  I am thankful to be here to learn from them as well.

On the same day, I also met up with other friends that I kept in touch with when I was here last year. It has become a reality that I am here for real.  I am among other scholars who have the same interest and passion about science education and searching for ways to make changes to their country.

 

August 6th, 2018

My work space at Unisinos University. Nostalgic feeling back to when I was doing my first PhD at the University of British Columbia.

Today is my first official weekday working at the Unisinos Campus in Sao Leopoldo and for the first few moments I feel a sense of accomplishment in my work.  I never would have imagined a year ago that I’d be sitting at a desk in a different country, on a different continent working on a presentation for pre-service and in-service teachers.  I am truly humbled by this experience.

My work space at Unisinos University is located within the Applied Linguistics department and my desk is opposite of the professor who I first contacted about a year ago.  I feel so lucky to have my family’s support to come to Brazil to develop my research with a great group of scholars.  I am thankful for my husband, my two kids, my parents and my in-laws for helping with our children as I pursue my passion in science education.  As I reflect to the past, back to the time when I first left the corporate industry to pursue a second PhD in Education, I had many people, some who I considered to be close friends told me that I was crazy to leave the biotechnology industry. They would tell me “You’re crazy for leaving such a lucrative career!” and “What a waste of a PhD in science” and the most common criticism I received when I chose to make a career change was, “If you leave, when you want to come back, it will be hard and you’ll have to start from the bottom again”.  I admit that at that time, I feared my choice, I feared that wouldn’t find success when I left, I even felt like it was MAYBE a big mistake to leave. Thankfully, my husband was a great support, he asked what I wanted in life and not what I thought other people wanted for me.  He also said “Don’t allow other’s insecurities and fear detract you from what you really want to do and contribute to this world that our children will grow up into.” At that moment, I felt a boost of confidence and most of all, a love so big that embraced my decision to pursue a new journey.

I has been 4 years since I left the corporate lifestyle and I’ve met so many new friends, new professors, explored new ideas, and have become open to new understandings that go beyond my scientific training.  I always thought I would continue a scientific path and here I am today, fully immersed in the field of social sciences, appreciating philosophical inquiry through new lenses and discovering new understandings everyday.

August 5th, 2018

Working away on a Sunday

It is a quiet Sunday.  I am still a little jet lagged and have been sleeping later at night.  I feel a sense of guilt sleeping in and my mind is telling me that I should get out of bed to work but my body is telling me to stay in bed.  I chose to sleep in a little and it felt great!

I am alone in the apartment today because the professor I am staying with is visiting family.  That made me think about how much I miss mine.  I miss the noisy morning with my kids, the routine shopping I do with my Paulus and our usual Sunday date days.  I miss those.

But, I use this time to read and to work on my travel blog and I feel a sense of satisfaction that I was able to enjoy solitude in this moment.

August 4th, 2018

Araucaria tree growing in Canyon Itaimbezinho

We arrived in Sao Franciso late on August 3rd. We had dinner at an American pub and I had chicken fingers. It was quite amusing because I was in a very small town in Brazil and I was eating pub-style food with The Temptations playing in the background.  The next morning we made our way to Cambra do Sul, the land of the canyon and honey to hike around Canyon Itaimbezinho.  The canyon is lush with vegetation and had many waterfalls and the walk around the canyon was so nice. The air smelled fresh, the sound of falling water was calming and the company was warm.  Around the canyon I saw many Araucarias trees.  Araucarias trees are native to Southern Brazil and is endangered because of deforestation to make space for numerous pine tree plantations.  The Galia Azul is a bird that is native to the southern part of Brazil and it depends on the araurias tree for food.  The destruction of the araucaria tree meas the Galia Azul bird is also endangered.

 

Along the canyon there are clusters of araucarias trees and they are protected.  They are majestic trees and are very similar to evergreens and can survive very cold temperatures.  The landscape was breathtaking.

The hike around the canyon was easy because the trail was marked.  There were many people on the trail that day to see the sights with us.

I learned so much and have a sense of greater appreciation for nature back home.

 

August 3rd, 2018 continued…..

Looking out from Khadro Ling, a Buddhist monastery in Tres Coroas

We stopped by the town of Tres Coroas, where Khadro Ling, a Buddhist Monastery was tucked into a lush mountain.  It’s been awhile since I’ve been to a Buddhist temple.  It felt a little strange as first.  As we walked through the gardens, and entered the temple with beautiful paintings on the wall that told the story of Buddha’s journey to enlightenment, I was aware of how much I have forgotten about the stories.  I grew up a Buddhist and my grandmother told me stories about the deities and how each one represented different human qualities. I was drawn to the deity of compassion.  It was very peaceful walking the grounds of the monastery.  The vast landscape stretched for many kilometers into the horizon.  In the distance there was rainbow that appeared just as the clouds moved.  It was such as amazing feeling.

August 3rd, 2018

Taquara plants growing on electrical wires on the way to Sao Francisco

This morning I woke up to beautiful sunshine coming through my bedroom window.  It feels a bit strange to wake up without the voices of my children whispering in the background and especially strange without finding my little one lying beside me.  It’s a routine on some mornings where he would crawl into our bed to lie beside me for a few minutes before the rush in the morning.  I miss that……..

I learned to be okay with the quietness and to some extend, it’s the first time that I’ve allowed my mind to rest.  It feels peaceful, in a different way.  Today will be a little different, I am not heading to the campus but will instead spend two days with Professor Eduarda and her daughter to explore different cities in Rio Grande do Sul.  We are going to visit Sao Francisco.  Yes, you’re right, it’s the same name as San Francisco.  The drive to Sao Francisco was filled with chatter and laughter as we tried to interpret each other’s gestures because of a language barrier.  I noticed that I have needed to be more aware of what words I choose to use when describing something and I also noticed that I was listening more.  In the end we understood each other.

The little town was very different from the busy city and on the way in, I noticed a set of electrical lines stretched across the street that we were driving on.  This is the first time that I see plants thriving on electrical lines.  These plants are called “Taquara” and they only grow on certain sets of electrical plants.  It was so interesting because I didn’t think that anything was capable of growing on electrical lines.  Nature is remarkable and the strive to survive is evident in these plants.

August 2nd, 2018

Among beautiful fruits and vegetables at the public market

I couldn’t wait to see the city again. The last time I was here, it was brief and I was only able to visit some places for brief moments.  One of the landmarks I remembered is the public market situated in downtown.  The streets that led to the public markets were filled with street vendors selling toys, cell phone covers, bags and Porto Alegre’s famous cheese bread.  Among the noise and the crowd, I am reminded of Brazil’s history of colonization by the Portuguese. Brazil became an independent country in 1822 and perhaps that’s when their own identity started to flourish.  The people that I’ve met at the University and in passing on the streets are friendly, warm and welcoming. They greet each other with a hug and kiss on cheek and this gesture extended to me as well.  I felt a different type of happiness and appreciation of friendship from them.  I can see the warmth emanating from groups of friends and family who gather at the public market to shop for their groceries and in the long line ups for dark, strong coffee. Yes, coffee is very popular here, perhaps even more popular than…… dare I say, soccer?

 

August 1st, 2018

Porto Alegre, 9:00am Sunshine

After two days in Porto Alegre, Brazil, I started to remember the sounds, smells and sights of a very busy city.  The buildings, cars, and people that crowd the streets are reminiscent of being Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the city where I called home for the first 11 years of my life. This is my second time back to Porto Alegre, however, this time the feel is different in a good way.  I met up with a very kind professor at the university that I will be collaborating with for the next three weeks and will be staying with her for the duration of my trip.  Her apartment overlooks the entire city that is bustling and noisy in the daytime and serene and calm by night. I feel of sense of belonging to this academic group, not only because we are all scholars, but that we all have the same belief – education brings change.

 

July 31th, 2018

Sunset over South America from 3000 feet
Sunset over South America from 3000 ft.

I leave for Porto Alegre today.  I’ve packed everything that I need including some articles to read but most importantly, getting ready mentally to leave my family for 3.5 week collaborative research. This is the first time that I will be away from my children for this long. It is a little hard thinking about it sometimes, about all of the little moments that I’ll miss, the lunches that I usually prepare in the morning and candid smiles and silliness they bring to me everyday.  This trip will be a different one for me, not because this is the first collaborative project for my second PhD, but it will be a first trip where I will experience everything from a new perspective.