On Starting Again and Reading “After You” by Jojo Moyes

“Only one person can give you a purpose” ~ (After You, Jojo Moyes, p.300)


Witpoortjie waterfall , Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens (Joburg, Sept 2015)

Witpoortjie Waterfall, Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens (Joburg, Sept 2015)

On a long distance flight a few years ago, I started and finished “Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes, a story about Louisa Clark, age 26, who takes a job as a carer for Will Traynor, age 35, who is a quadriplegic. Louisa has lived in the same town her whole life, has few friends, and she has done and experienced very little. Before his accident, Will lived a full life with work and friends and adventure and passion, and when Louisa meets him, he is an angry and difficult patient. They come from different worlds, but they help each other discover life. In particular, Will helps expand Louisa’s horizons. He introduces her to new experiences, widens her ambitions, and helps her to heal after traumatic events in her past. He teaches her to expect more of herself and of her life.

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On Learning Through Stories and Reading “Us” by David Nicholls

V & A Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa

Thinking about the distance to Canada, V & A Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa

Seriously Planning has always been a reflection of my life and experiences. Over the past few years the blog has helped me think through questions of identity, faith, urbanism and personal growth as I’ve lived in both Toronto and Vancouver for graduate school, work opportunities, and to be closer to my family. Recently I’ve been thinking about/have been curious about how the blog will change over the next year, because in late April 2015 I got married (and moved) to Joburg, the city of my best friend. We’re both Canadian, but my husband is South African as well, and our beautiful, multi-day wedding with family, friends, prayer, laughter, food and gratitude are days and moments of memories that I will hold in my heart for a long time to come.

As we’ve joined our lives together in the weeks and days since the wedding, I’ve been reading a book that I picked up in London on my way to Joburg called “Us” by David Nicholls. It’s a wonderful, touching, tender, moving book, with complex characters, humour, suspense and just so much heart, and it’s been the perfect backdrop to the beginning of our shared path. We’ve both been thinking a lot about what it means to partner, to move across the world to another country, city, culture and community, to transition and to blend our individual histories, backgrounds and experiences together to God willing, make a culture of our own, and reading this book has been a wonderful way for me to process my own thoughts. Continue reading

We Dismantle Stereotypes through Stories

The beauty of (local) cultural production. (The Met, NYC, Oct 2014)

The beauty of (local) cultural production. (The Met, NYC, Oct 2014)

I love discovering cities and places through stories, and I’d like to learn more about places outside North America through my film and reading choices this year. A dear friend gifted me Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck last week, yesterday I watched Riaad Moosa’s film Material (the subject of today’s audio story) set in Joburg, South Africa, and in the months to come, I’m hoping to tackle some of the books on this list by The Guardian of the Ten Best City Books of 2014.

What are your favourite books and films that have helped you discover new (or old) places? I’d love to hear your suggestions.

On Reading North and South & travelling to 1850s England

I read Elizabeth Gaskell’s book North and South this week, and between the richly detailed, sensitive characters, the dry wit, and the beauty of the novel, it was a read that was well worth the investment in time. But the book is also a testament to the social and economic structure of the world in the 1850s. Above, my audio reflections on the read.

Would love to have a broader conversation about the book, and so for those who have read it, please do share your thoughts!

The Love Between Cities and People

What a joy it is to come across beautiful writing.  Everything about Instructions for a Heatwave is exquisite. The sentence structure, the lack of superfluous words, the  stunning detailed descriptions, it is all part of a beauty that leaves your heart hurting and your eyes a bit teary without quite knowing why. Below, a description from the book about the love that can exist between a person and a city.

She misses London. She misses it the way she missed Joe. A strange, cramped pain that leaves her almost unable to speak. She has never lived anywhere else until now. She hadn’t really known that people lived anywhere else, or would want to. There are days when she can hardly bear it, when she walks across the landing of the house, again and again, her arms crossed over her middle, her mind overfilled with images of descending an escalator into the Piccadily Line on a wet, darkened evening, everyone’s umbrellas slicked with rain, of the ten-minute walk between her old flat and her mother’s house, of Highbury Fields on a misty day, of the view over the city from Primrose Hill. Homesick: she’s found that it really does make you feel sick, ill, maddened by longing.

Maggie O’Farrell, Instructions for a Heatwave, p.116-117.

A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers (Review/Reflection)

Singapore, 2012.

I saw an outstanding film called English Vinglish this weekend. Though the entire film is memorable, one of my favourite moments was a scene where the protagonist arrives in America visibly nervous about how she’ll manage with her limited English skills, and her seatmate on the flight wishes her well on her stay, and says, “Don’t worry about anything. It’s now time for them to be scared/worried about us“.

He is smiling and confident because of India’s rising economic strength, and in the film’s treatment of a woman altered understanding of herself and her changing relationship with her family, a larger tale of changing economic and cultural rules on a global scale is told.

Through a different story and different characters, the theme of the rise of “non-Western world” and the decline of America is also addressed in Dave Eggers’ new book A Hologram for the King. If you haven’t read it already, I recommend the read for the following five reasons:

1) The World is Changing

The book centers around the story of Alan, an American who comes to Saudi Arabia to bid for an IT contract for KAEC (the King Abdullah Economic City) on behalf of the company he works for called Reliant. KAEC is meant to be a massive project, and Alan desperately needs the commission from the contract to resolve his personal economic failures and limited career prospects. In telling his story, Eggers tells a larger story of America’s shifting financial power and the decline of its manufacturing sector. Against the “real-life” backdrop of an election that has focused so much on domestic jobs and restoring America’s economic strength, it is a timely read.

2) Urban Planning is Changing

The book argues that the most exciting and innovative planning work is not happening in North America anymore. In my own graduate work, I attended lectures where planners such as Larry Beasley praised the vision and resources of cities like Abu Dhabi while exhorting domestic planners to embrace the challenges of Canadian cities with creativity, not blind “rule-following”. In this book, the main character’s experience with municipal planning is facing obstacles/penalties when attempting to build a simple three foot wall; in KSA he is desperate that the King should follow through on his dream of an entire city. This book also suggests that  city building can act as a battlefield where war and hostile relations between nations can be addressed.

3) This book is beautifully constructed

Eggers describes KSA and Alan’s struggle with Saudi Arabia well.  He desperately needs the IT contract, but he is also fearful and incredulous of the place, and the combination leaves him weak. In one scene in particular, he passes by a playground and sees women in “charcoal black burqas” with their children. The sight of “their hands stretched forth” to play with their kids strikes fear in his heart. In another scene, he sees “young women in abayas, glittering abayas on their forearms, groups of young men hungrily inspecting them (p.220), and he judges what he sees.

As a result of this cognitive dissonance, he is incapable of performing anything successfully. He imagines tumours, he is unable to catch the hotel shuttle, and he cannot write successfully to his daughter, meet the KIng, or be with a woman. And his own powerlessness and tense waiting is carried throughout the book by sentences that are lean and efficient. Each sentence is carefully crafted. Each word has to fight for its survival.

4) Timely

The topic of the decline of America’s manufacturing sector is timely against the backdrop of the current US election, but throughout the book there are references to recent events that we should continue to think about. The events in Gaza. The BP spill. In these references, and Alan’s discomfort when thinking about them, there is an opening to think about our own understanding and responses to these events.

6) Thoughtful.

This book has some wonderful passages. Below are two of my favourites.

a) “Kit you know the key to relating to your parents now? It’s mercy. Children, when they become teenagers and then young adults grow unforgiving. Anything but perfection is pathos. Children are judgemental on an Old Testament level. All errors are unforgivable, as if a contract of perfection has been broken. But what if one’s parents are granted the same mercy, the same empathy as other humans? Children need more Jesus in them” (p.104)

b) “The Earth is an animal that shakes off its fleas when they dig too deep, bite too hard. It shifts and our cities fall; it sighs and the coasts are overtaken. We really shouldn’t be here at all.” (p.102)

The Privilege of Travelling

When I was away in Bandung I kept thinking of the essay “The Ugly Tourist” by Jamaica Kincaid. I just found my copy while unpacking books, and though the entire essay is well worth a read (it’s about 2 and a half pages), the last paragraph (below) is an important reminder about travelling and visiting places, and a critical check on intentions. (That essay and Alain de Botton’s book “The Art of Travel) should be mandatory reading).

That the native does not like the tourist is not hard to explain. For every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere. Every native everywhere lives a life of overwhelming and crushing banality and boredom and desperation and depression, and every deed, good and bad, is an attempt to forget this. Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour. But some natives–most natives in the world–cannot go anywhere. They are too poor. They are too poor to go anywhere. They are too poor to escape the reality of their lives; and they are too poor to live properly in the place where they live, which is the very place you, the tourist, want to go–so when the natives see you, the tourist, they envy you, they envy your ability to leave your own banality and boredom, they envy your ability to turn their own banality and boredom into a source of pleasure for yourself.

~Jamaica Kincaid, The Ugly Tourist, The Norton Reader, Tenth Edition.

Terima Kasih For the Memories

It’s the last day of my trip, and I leave for the Changi airport (I’ve been in Singapore again for the past six days) in about an hour to start the trek back to Canada. It’s been an amazing month, and I feel so blessed and grateful for the chance to have made this trip. From the University of Toronto David Chu Travel Scholarship in Asia Pacific Studies and the Peter Walker Travel Scholarship that made it possible financially, to our wonderful professor Ibu Rachel that set up an amazing field course for us, the beautiful and friendly people we met in Indonesia, my extraordinary host family in Singapore, the amazing staff at our hotel in Bandung, family and friends who prayed for a successful trip and encouraged me to go, fellow students, and new friends in Singapore who showed me around, there are so many people that came together to make this trip possible. I hope there will be other trips after this one, but even so, this time will always hold a treasured place in my heart.

I hold a debt of gratitude, and before I leave, I want to make the intention that over the next days, weeks, months to come, I take these experiences and translate them into action. I want this trip to be a means of becoming a better, kinder person, who is engaged in service, who is a better social planner, who is improved for having made the journey. The blogging dropped off over the past couple of weeks as we became more involved in our research and it became increasingly difficult to verbalize internal reflections, but one of the things that I’ve been thinking about a lot during the past few weeks is that fun is a luxury that few can afford to have. Bandung is an amazing, trendy city, but it is also a city with tremendous poverty. $100 Canadian goes a long way, but the equivalent amount, 900,000 rupiah is difficult to earn.

In the past couple of weeks I hiked through the tropical rainforest, visited volcanoes, dined in the mountains/hills of Bandung, visited museums, and shared experiences with new friends. It’s been great, and now that the trip is coming to an end, it is tempting to think of the next stamp on the passport, the next neat sight to see, the next cool picture to take. Except the majority of people in Bandung are simply making a living. The roadside vendors, the men who carry a portable stove on their backs so can they can sell their wares, the men who play the guitar for you when your angkut (minibus) stops at a traffic light, the people carving wood into familiar shapes in the forest to sell to tourists, so many people are simply trying to feed their kids, and seeing this helps you realize that the abundance that we have, from plentiful water, to clear air, to trees, to education, are gifts that demand to be used in the appropriate way.

Terima Kasih (Thank you) for reading the few entries about the trip, and hopefully there will be more reflections/stories/pics in the weeks to come. The actual work begins now!

Love is a Steaming Cup of Chai

It’s been nearly three months since my last blog post. I took a bit of a break to work on my research project, and then the gap grew larger as I started to think about the process of blogging itself and ask myself: Does it make sense to share one’s thoughts and reflections with a wider audience?  I was pondering the question while taking a class about improving the quality and state of one’s heart, and in that context, it felt like chattering about one’s feelings and reflections was indulging in a thinking process that could have just as well gone in a journal. Today though, I opened an almost empty notebook and found an unfinished blog post about falling in love with Toronto that was dated from this past summer. The short entry led me back to the blog, and reading the small number of posts here was a beautiful reminder of moments in Toronto that touched my heart, and people I’ve met here that have left an indelible imprint on my heart and mind. It made me wish I had blogged more often, as it is a qualitatively different type of reflection than the (also important) experience that occurs when I pick up a Moleskine to jot down thoughts.

And since I leave Toronto in about a month for the post graduation chapter of my life, I’ve included it below as a reminder to keep the same joy and peace in my heart as I soak up this last bit of time I have in this beloved city, to have trust that the next chapter will hopefully bring forth goodness and adventures in equal measure, and to remember to blog along the way.

My love for Toronto is a steaming cup of chai with the Roommate, sweet mangoes for breakfast, a late night guitar jam session on the beach, finding the way home using the CN tower, a smile from a stranger on the elevator, new challenges at work, walking the tree-shaded streets of U of T, hearing birds outside my office window, sitting and watching the lake sparkle at the Harbourfront and seeing the Ford Centre full of people excited about the ballet during a evening stroll. It’s  watching trains go by from my apartment window with my nephew and stretching our imaginations to create stories about where people are going.  Even after so many months, my love and happiness with this city still feels like an unexpected gift.

Sometimes the thought of whether something is right or whether you’re doing what you’re meant to be doing is so strong that the attention can be intensely uncomfortable. It is difficult to be completely relaxed and open when you’re analyzing your experiences and emotions constantly. But from first term when I frequently thought about what Toronto meant, without realizing it was even happening, a natural, easy contentment with Toronto has slipped into my life. ~ May 28th 2011.

The Argument Against Modernity’s Dominant Formulation

Sometimes you read articles that make your heart sing with their intelligence and insight and overall wonderfulness, and as you read, you find yourself whispering intentions and prayers to yourself to go at your work with a bit more determination and focus. Today that happened as I read a lovely article by Massey, and wanted to share bits of it here as inspiration when my enthusiasm stores run a bit low. =) The article as a whole is about different ways of disrupting and problematizing popular academic and general conceptions of globalization,why such disruptions need to occur, and why we need to construct ‘space-time’ understandings of the  process of globalization.  The chapter was assigned as one of this week’s readings in a class I’m taking this term titled Global Urbanism and Cities of the Global South. In the 2 years of my program, I think this is the first course offered about ‘other’ parts of the world, so I’m excited to soak up as much as I can. (Because as interesting as Canada is, my heart and brain is craving to learn about urbanism in other contexts).

The quote below talks about how we need to recognise the particularities of the modernity story. It predicates an extensive discussion about why popular conceptions of globalization (one for example being that globalization is about free unbounded movement) need to be deconstructed, and outlines four reasons that the author is uncomfortable with unquestioned usages of the term. One particularly interesting part of the piece is the way she demonstrates how different powerful geographic imaginations are utilized to construct a particular understanding of economic globalization and the implications of this knowledge production. The international movement of capital is valorized and celebrated, whereas the international movement of labour is discussed in the context of protecting local people and controlling immigration.  It is a fascinating piece that warrants a read in its entirety.

“The standard version of the story of modernity – as a narrative of progress emanating from Europe – represents a discursive victory of time over space.  That is to say that differences which are truly spatial are interpreted in being differences in temporal development – differences in the stage of progress reached. Thus Western Europe is understood as being ‘advanced’, other parts of the world as ‘some way behind’ and yet others as ‘backward’. Euphemistically to re-label ‘backward’ as ‘developing’ does nothing to alter this process of thinking of spatial variation in terms of a temporal series. (..) It is this act which deprives these spatial differences of their ‘real import’, deprives them of  ‘the full measure of the real differences which are at issue.’
Ironically then, not only is this temporal structuring of the geography of modernity a repression of the spatial, it is also the repression of the possibility of the temporalities (other, that is than the stately progress towards modernity/modernization/development on the Euro-Western model. Indeed it is in these terms – that is, about the existence of other temporalities and stories – that the argument against modernity’s dominant formulation is usually posed. In other words, for different temporalities to co-exist there must be space.

Massey D (1999). Imagining globalization: Power geometries of time-space. In A. Brah and M. Hickman, M. Mac An Ghaill (eds). Global Futures – Migration, Environment and Globalization (pp.27-44). New York: St Martin’s Press.