Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas Missive

Hard to believe that Christmas is almost upon us and as I look out of the window the first major snowstorm of the year has just dumped almost 20cm of snow on my back yard!  Needless to say both of these events have forced me to put finger to keypad and reflect on the last few months as I realized it's been quite a while since my last blog update.

I seem to have clocked up a fair few air miles since my last missive in August having hardly been in Toronto until the past month.

My first stop was Brazil, where I once again was promoting the University on a three-city tour organized by the Canadian embassy.  This time, however, due to the fact the University of Toronto is now the world's biggest receiver of Science without Borders scholars, I was no longer doing this alone and was accompanied by three other colleagues.  It was great to have company for a change although, to be honest, I know many of the other reps from the other institutions so am rarely short of company on these trips these days!  Somewhat dramatically, however, one of my fellow U of T colleagues had to be admitted to hospital and undergo an appendectomy due a burst appendix.  Fortunately, he was OK and received top notch care at one of Brazil's English-speaking hospitals, where the president gets treated no less.  Thankfully, he's now almost fully recovered having been flown home.

I came back without hospitalization but with a rather nasty respiratory illness and it was a bit touch and go as to whether my boss would allow me to go on the next business trip a few days later but I eventually did having got the all clear from the doctors back here in Toronto.  I flew on to Istanbul for a few days and stayed close to Taksim Square and Gezi Park, scene of the recent protests in Turkey.  All was peaceful during my stay but there was a heavy police presence and noticeable removal of Ataturk's image having been replaced by the Turkish flag.  I was literally only there a couple of days so hardly got chance to go beyond the hotel, where our meetings were being held, before we flew on to Almaty in Kazakhstan.

I've been to Almaty a couple of times before and although this was a very short trip of only a couple of days, I managed to spend one evening exploring the city a bit.  A small group of us ventured up the mountain to check out the view and try on a few crazy hats!

After a few weeks of non-stop work, it was great to be able to spend a few days with my family and friends in Leeds on my way back through to Toronto.  I always feel the time is too short but it was lovely to see former colleagues, some of my friends, the Yorkshire Dales and also squeeze in a trip to the Scottish borders to visit my Granny and aunts.

No sooner had I returned to Toronto than I was off again but in the opposite direction.  This time heading West to Asia and a new country on my checklist; Mongolia.  I arrived at night at Genghis Khan International Airport and so didn't see much on my way in to Ulaan Bataar other than the odd pile of snow and one yurt tent by the side of the road.  The city itself looked like many of the Chinese or Russian cities I've been to.  That's to say, quite plain and currently undergoing construction.  It was also very cold so my few short wanderings around town only scratched the surface.  The people I came across, however, were delightful.  Very warm, friendly and stunningly beautiful.  Sadly, though, my stay in Mongolia was somewhat marred by a very bad case of food poisoning that I contracted from something I ate in the hotel.  I experienced "the night from hell" that left me rather wiped out and totally off my food for the next few days prior to leaving the country.  I will just have to go back and see Mongolia another time!

I moved on to Thailand and a city I've visited many times; Bangkok.  It was a case of going from one extreme to the other in terms of the weather and here it was sweltering hot with high humidity.  I spent my first few days working but then took a few days off to enjoy the city and its sights.  I moved from my business hotel to a boutique hotel.  It was lovely to hang out, enjoy a Thai massage, sample some great cuisine, catch up with a friend (Kim), and check out some old haunts.  All too soon, work beckoned again and I jumped back on my flight home, narrowly avoiding Typhoon Haiyan as it passed through the region.

Since being back in Toronto, I've been trying to catch up with friends here that I haven't seen for a while and also get my feet back on the ground as I feel they've hardly been here for much of the past few months.  I had a fun night out the other week seeing Eddie Izzard, the British comedian planning to be Mayor of London.  Many of us here feel he could also apply for the job here in Toronto...he'd certainly do a better job than the current incumbent!

Anyway, I shall sign off here and wish you all the very best for Christmas and the New Year!  I'm looking forward to having my parents here over Christmas and then, hopefully, a bit of sunshine and relaxation in Mexico for New Year!