Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pecha Kucha Presentation

Back in December, I gave a talk at Pecha Kucha night at the Park Theatre in Winnipeg. If you are unfamiliar with Pecha Kucha, it's a format where ten or twelve people are invited to speak, usually around a given theme. An individual can have twenty slides to go along with their talk, and their talk can only be six minutes and forty seconds long, so twenty seconds per slide. The talk can focus on the content of the images, or not; follow the imagery, or not. But once you start, don't stop. You've only got 400 seconds.

It was a little nerve-wracking, with the spotlights shining down, standing up on stage above the audience, but it was a great experience.
Here's the talk I gave.

A number of years ago when our kids Jonas and Matthew were very little, my wife Laura and I had an inkling that things wouldn't always be this way, that these little boys wouldn't always want to hold our hands when we crossed the street, wouldn't always ask for another story, and correct me whenever I fell asleep and muttered something incomprehensible.

A few years later when our kids were older we decided to do something a little bit different. We knew full well that pushing into our 40s, our good health was not something we could or should take for granted, and that if we waited until retirement to do the kind of travelling we really wanted to do, well, who knows? Both of our fathers developed conditions that eventually made it impossible for them to travel more than a few blocks from home.

So what we decided to do was take a year off and just go. Away, far from here. The only real stipulation was that we wanted to see something that was decidedly not North American. And we wanted to do it as a family.
A bit of Europe, then the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia.

Now this was a bit of a stretch for me as I was a stay at home dad and freelance artist, two things that in combination can quickly turn you into a bit of a recluse. I stuck to home, fed the boys, played lots of ball hockey, and drew pictures like these. The kind of drawings that you fuss over for hours and hours
But I eventually came to realize that this trip was something that couldn't be passed up. To travel as a family, sure, lots of cool places, yup, and as an artist, boy, what an opportunity to build the reference library of all reference libraries. 

Seeing as we'd be staying in budget hotels (at best) the entire trip, I checked out what the Lonely Planet guidebook considered a budget hotel in Winnipeg. Well, the first one listed in the Lonely Planet was the Royal Albert….
Now the benefit of staying at the Royal Albert is one, that you're right in the middle of the action, so you're going to see the city at work. And two you are unlikely to get lost in the comforts of the Royal Albert and are much more likely to get out and see the city.

From our usually crappy but comfortable and friendly hotel we ventured out and saw some pretty awesome things, and my sons managed to pick up a tiny souvenir from just about every one of them.

Sometimes we splurged, like spending 12 dollars a night for our hotel in Agra that from the rooftop had a rather captivating view of the Taj Mahal.  Sometimes we had to spend a little more and venture a little further to see a place like Termessos, north of Antalya Turkey

People often ask what was my favourite place, and for simple eye popping splendour, I'd have to say Angkor in Cambodia. Our kids had the time of their lives exploring all the nooks and crannies of the temples, and it was a place that reminded me of our place in the Earth's natural environment. 

Also getting out of your hotel and exploring the city you will meet a lot of friendly and inviting people. They will want to share stories and ideas, ask if you are married, how much your camera cost, how much money you make.

One of the great joys of travelling throughout India was that everyone wanted a picture with us, in part because we were clearly tourists, and I think also because one of these tourists had blond hair. My favourite of those experiences came courtesy of some Indian hipsters in the city of Aurangabad, the picture in the middle. These four friends each had their photo taken with Laura and the boys, so when I walked up and asked one of them if he could take a family photo for us, he said, "Oh, no problem sir," handed my camera to his buddy, and wrapped his arms around Jonas and Matthew, smiling for the photo.

We took short holidays within our trip, as long term travel can be fatiguing if you actually want to get out and you know, do stuff. For whatever reason our holidays were usually beach holidays interspersed throughout that year- a couple weeks on a quiet Greek Island, Christmas and New Years in Gokarna on the Arabian Sea, spring break on the South China Sea coast. It was a wonderful way to recharge before heading back into a regular pattern of movement.

Given that we spent 2 weeks in Syria, I feel compelled to say that
Syria is, without a doubt, home to some of the friendliest people on the planet. We were greeted constantly by teens and seniors alike, Welcome to Syria! Hand shakes from men, quiet greetings to my wife from shy young women, a kiss from a young man who found Jonas's blond hair to be a marvel, conversations with Iranians in the Damascus souk, I could go on and on.

Syria is also home to some very impressive Roman era cities. Apamea, two kilometres of pillars along an impressive colonnade, and Palmyra where a temple is said to have existed for two thousand years before the Romans arrived.

As the trip progressed, I began to look at my photos in a new way. I recognized that some of them were just beautiful and interesting in their own right, whereas others I knew the moment I looked through the viewfinder that a certain image would make a great drawing. 

And then there were times when I was beginning to see something completely different, and I think it was opening myself up, to travel and seeing the world, that allowed me to start to see things in a new way. I also understood that if I were to try and draw everything, I'd need 50 lifetimes.

What helped move this sort of thinking forward were a number of little lessons learned along the way, like seeing people on the road to Luang Prabang in Laos, incredible scenery as we raced along the edges of small mountains, and here were these folks relaxing on the edge of the cliff outside their thatched roof homes, enjoying the beautiful view, seeing it for what it is now, not dismissing it because it's been there every day.

This trip was no doubt full of spectacular moments and wondrous images. I was amassing a vast catalogue of door photos, a representation of all that this trip was giving us. The unique nature of each door reminding me of a moment in time, a place on our travels that is still distinctly ours, but is undeniably there for everyone.

Looking with this sort of vision was not a natural thing for me, as I could quite accurately be called a glass half empty sort of guy about some things. But this trip helped me to reconnect with my more immediate surroundings and see them in a way that might not otherwise have been possible.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of long term travel is how the stress of life just kind of melts away. All the difficulties, the busyness, the obligations of home, they're all gone, and they are replaced by something entirely different. So now you're this person with no agenda, and you can simply re-envision yourself as the person you most want to be. That's sort of the ideal but there is some truth to it, if you open your heart to the world around you.

A few years before we went away, I would have thought that what we did was impossible. Two kids at home, a mortgage, jobs, we were about as entrenched as it gets. A few years after, I see it almost as a necessity. 
If you want to see the world, do it now. Don't say, "As soon as I get this or that thing done, then I will go…" There's always a million things that could get done. Do what you want first, and you'll probably find that most of those other things get done along the way.

Don't wait for that promotion, until you get married, until you have kids, the kids are older, or you're retired and think you'll have all the time in the world. All the time in the world is right now and there's a beautiful world out there waiting for you to come and find it.

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