Reconstructing AND Deconstructing the Verb “to do”

If you listen to many travellers discussing their visited destinations, there’s this very ordinary verb that seems to be reconstructed in a way that, I argue, harms traveling as an experience more than we realize.  That verb?  to do.

For example:  Rather than telling me that you have VISITED, TRAVELED, or BEEN to Barcelona, you say “I DID Spain.”

Rather than describing Mount Kilimanjaro as a place you CLIMBED or TREKKED, you DID Mount Kili.

Listen to a traveller describe their stories and I can almost guarantee you that the verb TO DO is used in this manner.  You might even realize that you’ve used it yourself.

Have you ever thought about how peculiar that is?

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Let’s not limit our travels to the same words we use when completing a grocery list.

The oddity of the use of this verb after traveling astounded me last week as I was listening to a couple describe their travel goals:  “Well, we DID France last year and Germany we did the year before that, so I think we’re going to DO Italy in the fall.”

The problem with using the verb TO DO in travelling contexts is that it eliminates any notion of experiencing or visiting a place and, perhaps more dangerously, it creates this sense of places being mere boxes to be checked off and filed away — a “been there, DONE that” mentality.

If you analyze the word ‘to do’ in the dictionary, you’ll realize that we English speakers have lots of uses for the verb:  It’s an auxiliary verb that helps us form questions (i.e. Where DO you work?” or form the past simple negative “I DID not go to the mall yesterday”.  It’s also a word used to describe something that we have created or performed or achieved “I did my math homework; I am doing research; I have done that puzzle before.”

You might be thinking “okay, so achieving or performing all sound like ideas that can be experienced.

True.  Except that the verb ‘to do’ when used in travel is conjugated into the SIMPLE form of the verb in the past or a continuous (albeit ending) form in the present:  I did Mali last year.  We are going to do Italy in September.

The simple form of a verb means something has the ability to be completed.  For example, if you say “I did my homework”, you imply that your homework is finished.  If you say “I am doing Italy in the summer,” the past continuous form tells your listener that you will continue to be in Italy for a while, but not for an indefinite period of time.  At some point it will finish.

Can we ever really finish a country?  Did my 2 week holiday in Australia mean that I just did Australia – that I completed it, can check it off some list, am willing to admit that it’s over.

I understand that people do establish travel goals and by visiting a city or country that goal may have been achieved.  But by saying you “did” that place, not only are you grammatically implying that you completely finished a place (which is quite non-sensical) but, additionally, it shifts destinations from places we experience to places we simply ‘do’.

In communication courses, be it writing or verbal, students are always encouraged to expand their vocabulary use to ensure that their diction clarifies meaning.  In my opinion, ‘to do’ is a far cry from the best possible verb we can use to convey the meaning of visiting a place.

As travellers, let’s not cheapen our experiences by implying that they were quickly finished and checked off a list.  And let’s not cheapen the great depth, beauty, and intricacies of places by implying that they can ever be fully “done.”

 

Along the Great Ocean Road: Finding Your Silver Lining Amidst A Million Rain Clouds

The Great Ocean Road (GOR) is the world’s longest war memorial. The road was a dream since 19th century Australia to link towns and ports along the coast. Finally, after WWI, the dream was materialized. It was used as a reintegration scheme, giving returning soldiers a profession. During the Great Depression these jobs served even more important. 
Today, the GOR, is one of Australia’s most visited sites. The road takes approximately 5 hours to drive, with breathtaking views, beautiful nature walks, and assorted outdoor entertainment (think tree top walks or wildlife reserves) along the way. 
If you’re thinking this road sounds perfect for a beautiful summer day, you’d be right. Unfortunately, Ken and I have been struck with what seems to be the most unusual temperatures and weather for an Aussie summer : drizzle, wetness, and cold. And I don’t mean little spirts of rain. I mean rain so thick within fog that you really can’t see views. 
Our first stop along the way was at Anglesea Golf Course where we were to do a lovely walk to see kangaroos.  

 We couldn’t do the walk and, when we asked what we could do along the GOR on a rainy day, were met with friendly laughter. 
Insert praying now. 
Our next stop, after an hour and a half of more very rainy views of a grey sky, we stopped at an information site. Again, chuckles and the opinion that, no, there was nothing to do when it was raining. 
Not ready for defeat, Ken and I kept going. Any moment the weather let up, we ran out to get a picture, always saying to each other “I bet this is beautiful when it’s sunny.” 
After lunch, we stopped at a lovely rainforest walk. That’s right, rainforest. We were in the perfect temperature for this feat. And it was beautiful. 
After this walk, things started to get drier and drier. Still too cloudy for any real views, but when we arrived at an Eco-conservation wildlife centre around 4 pm, the rain had stopped. 

as the rain started to clear, amazing sights began to emerge!
 Here’s the brilliant thing – the rain kept all the tourists away!!! 

Which meant that instead of lining up behind dozens of tourists hoping that the kangaroo at the conservation’s feeding area would still be hungry when we finally got a turn, we had as long as we wanted!!! 
With only 2 other people.  

me and my kanga friend! this was honestly amazing: i kept coming back to pet him and he never seemed to mind:-)
 Visiting this conservation centre, we had the opportunity to pet, feed, and admire as many kangaroos, wallabeys, deer, dingos, sheep, horses, and alpacas as imaginable (well, except for the alpacas who were SO not into us!) 
Our day continued in the same spirit. The 12 Apostles, probably the most popular attraction along the road, was fairly empty. We had the privilege of walking down steps to admire from the beach one of these lime stone cliff-like structures emerging from the water. We climbed up to enjoy the breathtaking views from sunset. 
The next day, the weather had cleared. Since our original route was the way of most tourist traffic, we were able to admire all the missed views, without the swarms of crowds or annoyances of traffic jams.  

our phenomenal sunset at the 12 apostles
 And we had so much time we got to stop at the Apollo Seafood and Local Produce Festival – a typical laid back small town festival with – YES! – apple cider on tap … And bizarrely not too much seafood or produce.    Top: me loving the on tap cider; Below: Ken having some fresh calamari (among the limited seafood options at the seafood festival)

 
In sum, the rain was a major blessing! Not only did we still get to see all the sites, but with way less traffic, tourists swarms…and a much deeper appreciation that YES we were finally able to see the coast.
Moral of the story: don’t let weather stop you! There’s may still be a silver lining to that cloud! 

Exploring Small Towns & Landscapes

We have been loving our Australian minutes. Turns out Melbourne is almos eerily similar to Toronto. In so many ways, I feel right at home in this culture and yet, of course, the country is still completely different. 

A highlight so far has been exploring little towns and local establishments along the way. It’s awesome for me that gluten free everything, including delicious bread, seems pretty ubiquitous so far. The wine varieties are delicious, cider locally brewed and on tap is a plus, and there’s a real feel for sustainability. 

Today’s experiential lesson: get out of the city and explore the surroundings! Life is too short and weather often too beautiful. Plus seeing both rural and urban life is a necessity for enriching your understanding of a place. 

I end this quick blog with some pictures – tomorrow is an early morning setting out for the Great Ocean Road!  Happy travelling, inside and outside cityscapes!! 

enjoying beautiful scenery by the vineyards in the Yarra Valley
 
   
with my love in such beautiful surroundings- i feel blessed!
    
wine tasting with our friends and amazing hosts!!
  
we made it to a great variety of vineyards today. such great wine and such beautiful landscape!
 

First day in Australia (aka LISTEN to Park Rangers!!!)

Wow did we ever pack in a first day in Aussieland. We arrived at 9 am which was great for having an amazing first day in Australia.
the morning was pretty much spent trying to stay awake, coupled by a trip to Phillip Islan:d –> a 2 hour ride from Melbourne.

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Beautiful street downtown Melbourne
We first drove passed Phillip Island to go to Churchill Island where they have a Heritage Farm.  I’m not exactly sure what this place was, but we did get to see some good ol’ sheep sheering and enjoy some views, like this one:

 
The big highlight was  Phillip Island where we met koalas at the Koala Conservation area, saw a million wallabeys on the way, and saw spectacular coastal views while viewing the penguin parade: basically thousands of the world’s smallest penguins wait until they’re free of predator danger at dusk and emerge from the water as a group, waddling back to these little burrows for party in’ up the night then sleeping. See photo evidence below. The photo on the top left is a burrow  look closely and you can make out a little penguin .

   
  But waiting and watching the penguin parade made me realize just how frustrating and selfish smart phones have made many people. 

  
I have no pictures to show you of the penguin parade. I’d have loved a picture to show you, and for my own memories, but we as a crowd were told countless times, in multiple language translations, that photography was not allowed. 
Why? Apparently it creates challenges to the well-being of the Penguins. Not only did the park rangers make this announcement continuously and extremely clearly, but they also clearly welcomed any questions about this regulation. It was evident to all, even if you didn’t speak a word of English (remember they had many translations!) that taking penguin pictures harmed the Penguins. 

 

can you see the little penguin in his burrow?
 
And yet there we were, Ken and I, huddled together, enjoying the Penguins emerging in their little waddles, trying to watch the experience through our own eyes rather than the blurry distraction of people’s screens. I reminded people to put their phones away. The Rangers and security tried their best. But sadly many continued. 

 

Ken and I snuggling up keeping warm while awaiting the first penguins
 
It was an awesome, magical, surreal night. But it was also one that perturbed me and made me glad I have a travelling blog so that I had an avenue to express:

When you’re travelling and you are told to put your camera away, put it away. Period. 

There are reasons for such rules and, even if you don’t personally understand them, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t apply to you. 

  
Ken and I had a fabulous day yesterday. And I have lovely memories of little Penguins waddling up from the water, checking that the coast was clear (literally!), and finding their way home. And you know what? I guarantee that my memory is stronger and more solidified than my neighbours filming. 

Because all they have is the camera shots they spent so long taking. 
But all I have are my incredible memories and the miraculous colours and stories depicted in my mind’s eye. 

Travelling through the seasons

Many travellers have a place that is “their destination.”  They always wanted to travel there.  They’ve studied it, discussed it, longingly stared at pictures of it…and when they finally get to travel there, they build more and more memories, aspiring to return.

Paris is that place for me.  As a Canadian, French culture was part of my schooling since grade one.  I loved the culture and language so much, that I studied it throughout my undergraduate degree.  The place, the culture, the language, the history…everything about Paris intrigued me, fascinated me, and screamed at me to come visit.

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Our very first day in Paris.  Little did I know a few days later we’d be returning for our engagement photos!

And then I finally was able to go!  2006 I was at a conference in Dubai and Air Transat had this awesome option for a 72-hour layover in Paris.  I cried when I saw the Eiffel Tower for the first time.  I giddily walked along the Seine.  I explored Versailles and loved exploring the bakeries and markets.  I bought a dress off the side of the road.

In 2013 I returned again with my then boyfriend; we left Paris engaged.  Ken surprised me with the most beautifully romantic, scrutinizingly planned, perfectly executed engagement.  Ken turned Paris from a place I only ever dreamt about to a place where my life was made into a dream!  If Paris was once part of my soul, now it was part of my heart.

We’ve returned twice since – once in June 2015 on the way home to Canada and just recently in January.  Every time we explore new areas, but likewise still return to familiar places we know and love.  Paris plays a huge role in “our” story.

Below are 2 of our engagement photos, courtesy of Julian at http://www.picmytrip.com (a fab photographer, by the way, if you’re ever in need of a Parisian photoshoot!)

I will one day write a post offering my own suggestions for a Paris vacation.  But for now…travelling through seasons.  I have been to Paris now three times in the summer and once in the winter.  Both are magical in different ways.

But I grew up loving the Cole Porter song I love Paris in the Springtime.  Here is  a link to Ella Fitzgerald’s beautiful rendition:

And so it’s my goal to visit Paris in every season.  Short, snowy, blistery, frigid winter days look magical yet oh so different than the sunny, warm, long, blue-skied, blossoming days of summer.  Which means the culture will be slightly different.  Routines will be slightly different.  Etiquette will be slightly different.  I want to know and see it all!

I come from a country with 4 seasons and I presently live in a country with 2.  I’ve lived in Tanzania throughout all its seasons.  Every season brought with it slightly different approaches to everything in life.  Me, I want to experience that in Paris.

Most of the time when we visit a place we know that it will be our one chance to visit.  Financial constraints and time limitations means that most people want to see somewhere new rather than travelling to a similar destination.  Or, if you do return to the same destination, chances are it’s during the same time of year (example: snow birds heading from Canada to Florida each winter).

But when you have a place you love, that place that breathes through your soul and heart, that place you’ve longed to visit since a child…I highly suggest you make it your mission to visit in all of its seasons.

I love Paris in the summer.  I love Paris in the winter.  I’m sure spring and fall are lovely…but I just don’t know yet!

Travel through the seasons.  A great way to get to know a place in more depth!

How to Learn a Language

Last night I joined a group of ladies in Abu Dhabi to start learning Arabic from a wonderfully gracious Emirati lady.  She is volunteering her time to help us better understand her culture and language – how amazing is that?!  We went over basic greetings which to me was so exciting – it’s been a goal of mine (and Ken’s!) to learn some Arabic while we are here.  It IS the language of the country, so it’s important to us that we make an effort to at least be able to have a basic conversation and know simple greetings.  I was delighted when this opportunity came up!

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beautiful, beautiful Quebec City in Canada.  I LOVE the French heritage and language that is such a wonderful part of the Canadian fabric. (picture courtesy http://www.wikipedia.com)

Culture and language are so intertwined (as past posts on here describe) that understanding the simplest of greetings can help you better understand and appreciate a society.  Not to mention how important it can be as a solo traveller for a) ordering food, b) watching out for danger, and c) being able to respect and communicate with people.

But how do you go about learning a language?  What are the best steps for quickly understanding and integrating?

These guidelines I take from my own experience, language training (i.e. I studied French through university and have ESL teaching certification), and growing up my whole life with a mom who taught FSL (French as a Second Language) and who instilled in me the intricacies of language learning.

TOP TEN TIPS FOR LEARNING A LANGUAGE:

  1. The best way is immersion.  Period.  So if you want to learn a language and have all the time in the world and no attachments, go live in a community.  Study after study, experience after experience, shows us that this is the BEST way to learn.  But most of us can’t do that so…

2. Try to create an environment of immersion.  Watch TV shows, listen to radio stations, listen to music, etc…surround yourself WITH the language!  For example, as you listen to music, even if the language is completely new, you’ll subconsciously start familiarizing yourself with the musicality of the language.  No, I don’t mean music itself.  All languages have a certain rhythmic way of speaking.  When you hear accents, much of what you’re hearing is rhythm – the variations of sound and movement.  Listening to music, watching TV, listening to the radio will help you learn EVEN IF YOU UNDERSTAND NOTHING.  If you’re confused, you’ll just have to trust me on this!

louise
Tu penses quoi-toi?  Tu dis rien!  (from the song “DIS RIEN” of Louise Attaque’s 2000 album Comme On a Dit.  This album always takes me back to the summer of 2000 when I lived in Quebec to learn French as part of the Government of Canada’s awesome Explore programme (visit http://www.explore.ca if you’re Canadian for further details).

3. Reflect on your learner type.  There are 4 types of learners: kinesthetic (you learn best by doing); linguistic (you learn best by reading and writing); auditory (you learn best by hearing and listening); and visual (you learn best by observing).

For example, I am a highly linguistic learner.  If I want to start learning a language, I need to READ the grammar, READ the words on the page, READ the structure, then write it over and over.  If you are an auditory learner, you will learn best by HEARING the language and beginning to respond.  How I best learn a language may well be different from you.  Understanding your learner type is the quintessential way to start learning in a way that is best tailored to your own brain’s approach to learning and understanding new material.

4. But don’t just appease your own learner type.  I read this awesome book in the Fall (well, listened through audiobooks on my commute), “Make It Stick” by Peter C. Brown, Henry Rodruiges III, and Mark McDavid.  The book was all about learning and how best to make new information “stick”.  One of the authors’ main points was that we as humans learn best when it is DIFFICULT to learn.  Hard word equates memorization.  So when I start learning a language, I start with reading and writing, but I must not forget the other learner categories.  Because simply listening to a language is a struggle for me, in the end this will make me memorize what I’ve learned even faster.  What to do?  Practice with ALL the learner types.

make it stick
“Make It Stick” by Brown, Rodriguer, and McDaniel (Belknap Press, 2014).  An awesome book to read if you’re interested in the human learning process.

5. Practice. Practice. Practice.  All the time.  Daily.  If you want to learn a language, you need to be DAILY reading, reciting, writing… And don’t forget to remind yourself of what you’ve already learned.  Language is BUILT upon.  If you don’t use it, you will lose it.  So as you progress through weeks, make sure you are still going back to the basic greetings you learned in the very beginning.  And importantly, EVERY DAY do something. Even if it’s just 2 minutes of remembering greetings, you gotta do something every day!

6. Practice with others. Of course, the best case scenario is practicing with speakers of the language (and by the way, drop your courage at the door.  You sound like a 2 year old, yes, but most people appreciate the effort you’re making to learn they’re language).  But if you don’t in that moment have a native speaker either: i) look up youtube videos that get you to practice, or ii) have a conversation with yourself.  I’m not kidding.  To practice my French, sometimes I’ll just pretend I’m telling someone a story.  I’ll just ramble on out loud to myself, just for the sake of practice.

7. Use the internet!  There’s a fortune to be made in language learning and you can absolutely pay for courses, library fees, instructor fees.  But if you want it free and are willing to put in the effort, there are LOTS of resources, applications, tools, youtube videos, etc. online to help you!  DuoLinguo is a great app if you’re wondering where to start (www.duolinguo.com); it has a fairly good range of languages too!

8. Don’t forget language is multi-functional.  It’s not enough to simply read the word and know what it means…you need to know how to pronounce it and how to listen for it.  Make sure you’re practicing ALL forms of the language: reading and writing, listening and speaking.  In language education we put these into two categories: Reading + Writing, Listening + Speaking.  Most people are much better at one category than the other.  Usually the one we are best at is the one we gravitate towards.  But we HAVE to practice both!  So try to incorporate both into your language learning schedule.

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Love this greeting design from http://www.goabroad.com  What language do you want to learn?

9. Be patient with yourself.  Especially when you’re first learning a new language, it is extremely difficult.  If you’ve ever learned a language you probably know what I mean by “the language headache.”  Your head LITERALLY hurts after focusing on so many new words, sounds, letters.  It’s HARD!  But be patient.  It WILL come.  It just takes daily practice.  A little bit at a time goes a long way.

10. Finally…think about your goals!  Write down your goals so that you have a constant reminder of WHY you want to learn this language.  Otherwise, when it gets difficult, you may throw in the towel!  Secondly, thinking through your goals will help you learn what is most important.  Why learn science vocabulary when all you want to do is order dinner?  Listing your goals will help you focus your learning.

Alright.  There are my top ten.  Now GO!  DO! LEARN! And let me know how your learning is going 🙂  Happy language learning!