Tuesday, April 30, 2013

That Day We Were on a Bus ALL DAY!

Now, that is the title I had in my journal and although it sounds horrendously boring I have four and a half pages dedicated to it in my journal so let's see...

4:30am was slowly becoming our regular rising time and we were once again leaving our loyal base at Midlands Lodge. We were also getting used to spending more time sleeping in our converted jeep than any hotel room. Today we were heading all the way to Zanzibar driving from Moshi to Dar es Salaam and then catching a ferry to Stone Town and then another drive to our hotel. We'd probably be on the move for about 14 hours...

For the first three hours Dan and I were respective pillows before we stopped for breakfast, but nobody explained how to order or where. We ended up playing the Tourist Card and getting away with merely pointing at things if we wanted them. Back on the bus there was - not surprisingly- more sleeping. We were all pretty shattered even after a few near misses on the road before arriving in Dar es Salaam. Dar es Salaam is very built up and modernised but it was so noticeable considering where else we have been and it was strange to see a skyscraper again.

When we arrived at the port we all had to hand our passports to Muskim so he could get our tickets, probably as dodgy as it sounds. Getting lunch was a challenge with a team heading out in the middle of a city with a large Islamic population during ramadan to try and get food. Even once they got it we had to eat it secretly which is quite a task at such a busy port. Eventually Muskim arrived back with our passports just in time for us to leap onto the boat to try and find some floor space. The boat was actually much fancier than I had expected with lots of seats and an air conditioned economy lounge as well as a first class lounge. Seating didn't really matter as even most of the floor was taken up as well. I didn't mind standing up on the upper deck as eleven hours on a bus was enough sitting for one day.

The two hours on the ferry sailed by (I couldn't help myself!) and we were greeted by the picturesque skyline of Stone Town. The calm was quickly interrupted by the havoc of the ferry landing where we had to fill out immigration forms and get a stamp in our passports - they obviously like to still classify them selves as a separate country but I won't complain, I'll take the extra stamp! Also you could skip the yellow fever certificate if you pass the officer some money under the table. Stone town has a pick and mix of buildings from colonial palaces alongside traditional Arabic architecture. Dhows were clustered around the coast as the sun was beginning to set casting a rose sheen over everything. Sunset also meant another thing - the Fondoni gardens food market came alive. Mainly a seafood market but filled with other culinary delights and the perfect dinner stop. Being a seasoned seafood lover I found the tandoori lobster surprisinly questionable and the scallops were like hardened rubber but the shark was amazing as well as the fresh sugar cane juice. The market is a feast for the nose but it can be a bit of a hit or miss for the other senses. Also like us you may think 13000tsh (~£5) is a good deal for two seafood kebabs but realistically 5000tsh (£1.99) is the local price. Alas, your eyes will always be impressed!

On the Tanzanian mainland there were hundreds of stray dogs but on Zanzibar there were hundreds of stray cats and kittens - apparently descended from those that were on cargo ships to control the rats. After dinner Muskim was taking us to "a really cheap liquor store" as promised but only after attempting three ATMs and experiencing several card swallowing scares - apparently it is common for ATMs in Zanzibar to just break on the weekend. We all went a bit crazy having been away from the toddy considering we were actually only drinking for two nights. For the first time a drive wasn't accompanied by sleeping and instead by nostalgic 90's music where we realised how young Craig and Stuart are.

Our hotel was called Kendwa Rocks and was made up of a group of bungalows that seemed pretty secluded on the beach but realistically there were a bunch of resorts all along the coast. Apparently we didn't get the rooms we paid for but this holiday had put me off luxury as I would just feel guilty now - so I was perfectly happy with what we had! There was a bar on the beach showing the Olympic's Opening ceremony which was in London and as soon as everyone else clicked on to the fact we were from the UK they aimed their looks of confusion at us - only to have them sent right back. I was wanting to stay up and see my dear Federer carry the flag for Switzerland but by the time it got to Laos it was already 3am so I headed off to bed - but not until a quick dip in the sea!


Monday, April 29, 2013

Safari Day 2 - Ngorongoro Crater

Sunrise above Lake Manyara
There was no need to set any alarms as the mosque next door had Fajr morning prayers and a loudspeaker to do the job for us. Despite the fact I only headed to bed just over an hour and a half ago, I was surprisingly perky as the prayers rang out at 4:45am. Breakfast was served at 5:30am and the hotel continued to pull out all the stops in the food department serving us the luxury that was warm toast, pancakes, omlettes and the most impressive part was the appearance from a familiar jar of Nutella (Holiday Fig Resort if anyone is in the area). Muskim had also bought some local filter coffee, alas there was no caffetiere but that didn’t stop most people at this time in the morning, or at least it was to early to notice the difference.



Ngorongoro Crater



An African Traffic Jam
We were bundled into our respective jeeps and other than to watch a sunrise above Lake Manyara, most of us slept straight until the entrance to the gate of Ngorongoro Crater. It was a lot colder there and we had to dig out the down jackets that we had packed deep into the depths of our rucksacks. There were also some more aggressive baboons in the area so time out of the jeep was limited. The first part of the safari was foggy and not the kind of weather the Lion King advertises. Initially I was worried we wouldn't see anything at all but as we descented into the crater a lion appeared out the window. The crater was fairly sparse at first with safari jeeps out numbering most animals but there was more diversity than Lake Manyara. One problem because of the early rise (and late night in some cases) was that we kept falling asleep during the drive but the excitement of a cheetah chase was enough to wake us up! We stopped for a toilet break near the hippo pool and all the trucks and toilet facilities reminded us that a national park isn't really the wild at all. Almost simultaneously everybody seemed to fall asleep but woke up at the view point where we could see across the whole crater which was much bigger than the drive seemed. Then again that could all come down to one piece of Safari advice I can now give you - get an early bed the night before.


After Ngorongoro we had the long drive all the way back to Moshi and our beloved Midlands Lodge. We stopped at Chrisburger which is a heavily westernised restaurant near the centre of Moshi but turns into a club at night. TripAdvisor calls it a "seedy dive" which is demonstrated by condoms being on their menu. When we got back to the hotel where our rooms had all been switched around and we had to be in pairs so I had to bid farewell to Team Disaster but hello to a night in a fancy little room with Sara. It was a shame we were only spending about four hours in the hotel room - something we were shortly going to be coming accustomed too!






Africa isn't all shacks and huts!

Fleetwood Mac Gig -Air Canada Centre 16/04/2013

Back home in Scotland I heard that Fleetwood Mac were scheduling a North American tour and luckily it corresponded with my time in Guelph, Canada. I didn't know that I was going to be so lucky in that they were playing Toronto on the night I finished my third year exams.

The Air Canada Centre is massive, I don't see how anyone without ringside seats could see a hockey puck in there. Before the gig even began the arena started to smell distinctly like Marijuana making the 70's experience more authentic. To get a feeling for the audience at this concert - I had to get to my seat from a different door because the guy at the end of my row had "a dodgy knee." Saying that, by the end of the night I think I had developed repetitive strain from tapping my feet so much. Not everyone at the gig was old though, the hipster kid in front of me kept whipping out his Ipad and looking up Stevie and Lindsay's history. Bit late mate (also who takes an Ipad to a gig?). Another thing I think is a faux pas is taking pictures of the TV screens at big concerts, it's entirely pointless. It's just as bad as the people who spend the whole time watching a gig through their camera screen.

Now onto the music (at last), as a band you'd barely be able to notice they were in their mid-sixties. The range of some of Stevie's solos had to be brought down a range or two but the classic haunting tone was still there. Stevie would spend half of her time seducing the crowd and the other half holding a gaze with Lindsey. The classic Fleetwood Mac sexual tension that brings in the crowds. Lindsey Buckingham sounded just as he would have in 1975 and he had the guitar stamina to match. The ever charismatic Mick Fleetwood took every opportunity to use his chimes as well as some impressively long drum fills. He reminds me of a kind of drunken Santa Claus where he shows an adorable side bringing his two young daughters on stage and yet we all know he is a bit mental. John McVie was relatively shy as ever compared to his band mates but received just as roaring a cheer from the crowd. They were brought on for two encores and in classic Fleetwood Mac style they didn't seem at all prepared at all (sarcasm), with  costumes, light shows and special arrangements prepared - alas no marching band.

As a native Scot, it was strange to experience a Canadian crowd - in comparison they were SO tame! The crowd were barely singing back and only a few people where standing up cheering - mainly middle aged men rocking out. It was not nearly as insane as it could have been but I am sure their date with Glasgow will show them what a real crowd is like! You'll be in for a great time!


Easter Weekend




At Guelph we merely got a long weekend to suffice as Easter Holidays, which works out well as it means your term isn’t dragged out until May. One of the Canadians we met in Guelph, Caleb, offered to host a group of us over the Easter weekend and it turned out to be one of the most authentic Canadian experiences so far.


The sun was out for the first time after a long Winter (but we were fooled, Winter wasn't finished with us yet). Caleb lived near the town of Delhi (pronounced del-high, not like New Delhi) which is deep in the middle of agricultural Ontario - aka the middle of nowhere. His house is a lovely wooden house surrounded by a forest and miles of land with only a scattering of houses. The Opersko family were lovely being very hospitable from the second we entered the door. There were also two lovely dogs - a Siberian husky and a MASSIVE chocolate labrador, well ginger lab - which were hard for me to stay away from.


Our first stop was to a nearby native reserve where the first nations people live and are protected by the government and pay lower taxes. Visually it looked similar to anywhere else in the area but maybe slightly less wealthy. Although natives get free education they still have the lowest literacy rates compared to other groups in the country. The lower taxes don’t just apply to the natives, other locals travel to the petrol stations and shops in the area to buy high tax items such as cigarettes where you can get around 150 for $8.  Lacrosse is Canada’s national sport and it was created by the natives and they remain the best at it. There are massive stadiums in the middle of nowhere that come to life during tournament season.

We had a relaxed afternoon back at the house where Caleb taught us how to use a lacrosse stick and some of us got the hang of it - others not so much. That evening we built a bonfire and parked the trucks up next to it and had a few beers. There was a scary moment when we noticed trespassers in the forest next to the house - apparently hunters go in there frequently, if not very subtly. Overall though, it seemed like an authentic Canadian way to end the evening and we didn't get to bed until 2am.

The next day we were up early and it was another gorgeous day- which was good as this was the day of our intended polar swim. In the morning we were treated to an amazing breakfast and the sight of deer sprinting across the garden.

Before the polar swim we went to see a lacrosse game which was a lot more violent than I thought. It’s pretty much free-game with the stick and so you can hit people anywhere and as hard as you like. The funny thing with Canadian sports is that they are so rough while Canadians seem so calm the rest of the time.

We drove to Port Dover which is along to coast of Lake Erie which is one of the Great Lakes separating Canada and the US. A proper seaside town that was looking a bit half-hearted this early in the season and to our displeasure it was much colder here than it was at the reserve... We had a quick snack, well a foot-long hot dog, to try and warm our souls but decided to just go for it. We quickly stripped to our swimsuits and ran in with the Australians lasting the shortest amount of time - not surprisingly. Canada and Europe held the fort and stayed in for a few minutes. It was brain-freeze levels of cold though - probably on a par with the North Sea.

After a stop at Tim Hortons to warm us up we got back to Caleb's for dinner - I haven’t been so well fed in a long time! After dinner we got a shot of driving Caleb’s truck on a loop around the house which was great fun but Automatic pick-ups are far too much of a shock
to the system! It was a good job none of us had to drive back to Guelph...




Sunday, April 28, 2013

Vancouver


 Setting an alarm for 3am is never fun - even if you are about to start an adventure across a country. Alas there I was at 4:30am when only birds think it’s morning time, piling my belongings into a taxi where the driver had set the ambient temperature to something similar to New Delhi.

I flew with West Jet, which is a bit like if Easy Jet did long distance - you can take on baggage but they aren’t going to feed or entertain you for free. So with that in mind I spent most of the five hour flight (the same time it takes to get to the UK - Canada is massive!) asleep. The flight took us through the Northern states of America - alongside the Canadian Border. I was surprised by all the snow that was still covering most of the states this far into April when the majority of it had already melted in Ontario. Then we reached Montana where, after hours of pretty mundane scenery, BAM! The Rockies appeared. Being the ignorant islander that I am I thought that there would merely be one or two in the chain - oh boy was I wrong! This is exactly why I wanted to fly to Vancouver the views were stunning - imagine having this at your doorstep! I definitely know now that 2 weeks in the Rockies is not going to be enough and I soon realise 2 weeks wouldn’t even be enough time in Vancouver alone.


Due to the time difference I arrived in Vancouver around 10am greeted by it’s newly renovated airport reuniting me with my beloved rucksack before heading downtown. Vancouver uses a DLR-like trains for their fairly simple subway system. My Hostel was the St Clair Hotel which was right in the centre of Vancouver and I was expecting a hostel dorm situation but I ended up with a twin room all to myself! Although it doesn’t help with being social it helps with my 6am wake up call the next day.

I didn’t waste much time in the hostel as I only had a few hours in Vancouver. After spending my time in Toronto, Vancouver's centre was very compact and seemed small - that might have something to do with the massive mountains behind it. My first stop was Stanely Park via the water front. The waterfront is loaded with fancy pavillions and cafes with queues out the door that wouldn’t look twice at a low-life student like myself. The weather wasn’t quite postcard perfect but it was warm and it was a relief to walk around in a t-shirt for the first time in about 6 months. Vancouver smells like seaweed, trees and pollen - it was the first time I had seen so many flowers in so long and it was such a relief to be back near the sea. I also realised the joy of seagulls even though they are a pest they remind me of home.

It was a lovely walk around the waterfront where one side was glass-covered skyscrapers and the other - mountains and forest. There are also countless boats everywhere from ferries, yachts, houseboats and even several seaplanes. You know boats mean business when there is a floating petrol station in the harbour. I arrived at Stanely Park which is Vancouver’s main park and one of the many reasons you’d be proud to live in Vancouver. Initially I stuck around the edge along the water (you can tell I’ve been away from the stuff for a while!) and initially I wanted to investigate the whole park but it could take a lifetime to discover all the nooks and crannies!

After discovering I’d been walking for two hours and barely made a dent on the map of the park I gave up for the day and headed back to town. The other main site I was told to visit was Granville Island Market which was pretty much the otherside of downtown. My feet were pretty much killing me already but I always think public transport around the city is a cheaters way of seeing it! The walk took me through the West End and Vancouver’s Gay Village - where all the bins, bus stops and lamposts are painted pink- and over the Granville Bridge which offered a lovely view of the city. Granville Island is full of arty shops as well as specialist outdoor shops - it kind of looks like what Brighton Pier would look like it is was ran by hippies. There is a little food market crammed to the edges with fruits, cheeses, chocolate, baked goods and specialist shops making it the perfect place to find dinner. I ended up having a Canadian feast with a slice of  Tourtiere, a Nanaimo Bar and a butter tart!

Along from Granville Island is the Vanier Park and some hidden patches of forest. Unlike most cities - if there is some spare space Vancouver has filled it with greenery rather than buildings. I took the Burrard Bridge back to downtown but spotted a beach  with logs to sit on  in line with the sunset - aptly named Sunset Beach. I sat for an hour or so mainly to give my feet a rest and couldn’t help but think why doesn’t everyone want to live here? I am glad they don’t though as that’s the magic of the place. People here are effortlessly cool, even middle aged men on skateboards get away with it.


After a solid nine hours of walking around Vancouver I crashed back in my (still empty) room and the city has rushed to near the the top of my “To Live In” list. Vancouver is a beautiful city and I wish I had more time here but this is such a big country with so much to see! If I hadn’t booked my onwards travel I’d probably never leave! Alas, Tofino awaits!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Academic Culture Shock - Canada

Firstly I don't feel I am nearly qualified to be writing an article on culture shock in Canada as I come from Scotland and I almost every Canadian I've met had told me they are Scottish too. Most people have even asked if I was actually Canadian but I just watched far too much Sesame Street when I was younger.

The cultural differences between the Scotland and Canada has been minimal so far with only the issue of sales tax being a 'major' hindrance  However then I started classes here and the system is entirely different to  what I was used to back in the UK. In Dundee I was enrolled in four courses for the entire year, here I am enrolled in five for this semester alone. I am known as a "crammer" where I do all my revision in the weeks before exams. Canada is not very hospitable to crammers like me, there is no exam leave with only a weekend or so before your finals and they also throw in midterms halfway the term. This is not counting all the assessments of term papers and research papers.

The workload seems like a lot but these often just skim the surface and you have to take a combination to cover the same amount as you'd take at home. So don't panic too much. The course choice is also a lot more diverse, Canadians can take pretty much any combination of subjects no matter what their degree title. You are likely to get some flexibility when you are over here and you will probably get to take a nice easy first year elective along with your serious subjects.

The last things you want while on exchange is to be over-loaded with deadlines and stress but the silver-lining of these stress filled semesters is that they don't last long. Canadians don't have Easter holidays and so you will finish your exams mid-April usually giving you plenty time to explore the country. With countries like Canada, it is much more worthwhile to explore after the mini-ice age they call winter has ended. 

You will find yourself studying and revising as early as the first one or two weeks which I found completely alien to my routine back in Scotland, but this is probably bad habit but I know I am not the only one! However you will realise that you actually do learn things better. This is a combination of actually studying properly and the fact the teaching techniques are slightly different. My experience in lectures is that the teacher will sit and talk to you about something as if they are talking into a video camera - very little interaction with the class. Here the lecturers engage discussions and questions are encouraged this is because most of the exam material is actually lecture based - mainly because the prices of textbooks here is ridiculously high: it's cheaper to order them in from the UK and pay the delivery charges!

The silver lining of the inital shock of the workload is that in general the work is easier than you'll be used to. There will be things you might not have covered before but for the majority of things you might already know. This isn't to say don't work you can either work at a constant rate throughout the exchange or start off full throttle and calm near the end or the opposite. Another saving grace of the north American system is that the lecturers (they call them Professors over here) are much more approachable than most of those in the UK. They see themselves more like equals and will tend to talk to you for longer than necessary and not often about what you came in to ask.

Final exams back home tend to be the be-all-end-all of your grade with around 70% weighing on it. Here only 10% of your grade can be down to the final exam and don't be surprised if you've already passed the course before you sit it! The exam layout is different as well, rarely straying from multiple choice or short answer questions. So although you worked yourself to the bone at the beginning of term, the transition into the summer holidays is a lot easier!

This wasn't meant to scare anyone away from applying for exchanges, I think they should be compulsory! You will learn much more than what they teach in the classrooms and you will meet people from all over the world. They can be expensive but there is funding available for those who choose transatlantic rather than Erasmus you just have to look for it. There is no doubt you will come home with lifelong friends and life lessons where you will learn more from any class you attend!

Bye Guelph!

I used to think the best thing about travelling was the places you visit, but really it's the people you meet that decide whether you want to stay or go. I got to know so many great people and I know that I've made some life long friends her in Guelph. There are also so many of you I didn't get to know as much as I wanted too but I can't wait for the day we serendipitously run into each other again. If any of you find yourselves in Scotland in the next few years then please let me know!

Since photos were my thing and a picture can say a thousand words and save me a lot of soppy rambling:



You guy's have been fucking great!

And this is only the start of my Canadian adventure...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Jordan Raycroft - Self Titled Debut Album Review



I first heard Jordan Raycroft perform within my first fortnight in Canada as a fresh-faced frost-bitten exchange student in the University town of Guelph. A small and somewhat non-descript town in Ontario can appear pretty bleak in the middle of Winter, so while escaping the cold I came across an open mic night on campus and Jordan was one of the hosts. His sound check alone blew the majority of other acts out of the water.  After conquering much of Eastern Canada in recent years, he is about to set out on a tour of everywhere in between Guelph and the Pacific Ocean alongside the release of his self titled debut album.

His voice and style shadows fellow Canadian Dallas Green of City and Colour as well as sharing a similar musical background: proving that providing screamo songwriters with acoustic guitars is an almost logical combination. Jordan was bitten by the performing bug when he serendipitously ended up in his high school's production of "Anything Goes" after volunteering at football practice. Like a true all-rounder Jordan is nearing the end of his studies in Criminal Law but the jury's out on whether he'll  really need that back-up career.

On the debut album the raw soulful tone of his voice compliments tracks such as "Letters" and Dingoes" which express the pain of love when it is lost. Although I am a sucker for a sad guy in the corner with a guitar, the album has another side to it with several crowd-pleasers that will give you repetitive strain from tapping your feet; "We the People" and "Cold Hands" being the most infectious earworms. At only 21 years old he shows sophistication and versatility in his musical ability and pin-point accuracy in his lyrics to bare his soul to the listener - a true talent, demonstrating skills beyond what his age and experience should suggest.

The album was by no means a solo project with the help from donations from his already stable fan base and the growing number of emerging young musicians in Guelph. Rose Brokenshire provides harmonies which melt effortlessly together with Jordan's - most notably on "Amazon Woman" - and Graham Mclaughlin provides accompaniment on any instrument thrown at him to add another dimension to each song on the album. A somewhat accidental flirt with music and performance has thrived to produce an impressive debut record showcasing a true authentic talent which should not go unnoticed.

Jordan Raycroft's debut album is available worldwide on itunes here or if you catch him on tour you can get a shiny hardcopy!

Friday, April 05, 2013

Things They Do Different - Canada

Within my first days of arriving in Canada I noticed several things that made me realise I was away from home. At first you get pissed off with them but then you start to appreciate it as part of the transition of living in a new place. The wonderful people and scenery make it easy to get over such trivial irritations.

Water
Let's start with the basics. I know that London water is not far from sieved urine but water here in Ontario has been far from "clean", but I have been spoilt growing up in this Highlands... Regardless nobody wants black flecks of god-knows-what in their glass so everyone here has a water filter of some form - for a reason.

Food
Canadian supermarkets are strange places to shop: their milk is in a bag, their sugar in cartons and their juice comes in tins - even the A4 paper is a few cm smaller than ours. In fact the supermarkets here are different to home, places  like Tesco or Asda that sell everything you need are hard to come by. You'll realise Canada is much more of a fan of the independent shops.

Chocolate
Don't be fooled by the packaging, dairy milk over here is a disgrace to advent calender chocolate. Canada has a lot more rules regarding what you can put in food so don't be surprised if everything from home tastes a bit strange. Fear not though, there are specialised British Shops littered throughout the country to cure any gastronomic homesickness.

Alcohol
While being confused by milk and disgusted by chocolate you may also notice the supermarkets don't always sell alcohol.  This varies between province to province but in the majority of provinces alcohol is sold by outlets owned by the government. After your time in Scotland you'll be used to the opening hours of 10am-10pm but you might find it a nuiscence to go out of your way to get alcohol.

Money
No you are not a loonie, that's what they call their $1 coin and a $2 coin is a toonie. Also their 5 cent coin is bigger than their 10 cent coin - I fail to see the logic. To make it more confusing their 10 cent coin is the same size as a 5p. It's been 3 months and I am not used to it!

Tax

After buying all this food an alcohol you will have sure experienced sales tax. Back in the UK we are used to the system where the price you see is the price you pay, this doesn't happen in Canada. This is because our sales tax is already included in our price but Canadians add this on at the checkout. No matter how long you spend in Canada the sales tax issue will never fail to annoy you - unless you are a whizz kid at percentages. The main piece of advice I will give you is to keep the majority of your receipts and claim the tax back at the airport at home, which I of course haven't done.

Manners
Canadians are renown to be very polite people and this is true; they will hold a door open for you even when you are walking 10m behind them however putting kisses on texts to your friends is bizarre. You will also rarely see a Canadian eating outdoors on the move and only if it is part of the restaurant.

Toilets
As with every country the toilet layout is different to your own. There is no doubt that after the first time you use a Canadian lavatory you will think you have broken it as it will roar or merely gargle back at you. In general though, Canada is no Japan when it comes to the waste closet.

Words
As well as everything being in French you'll notice slight differences in English. Canadians really do say "Eh" a lot but they don't say aboot, in reality it just sounds the same as a Scottish accent. University is called "school" and lecturers are "profs" and they'll have no idea what you are doing when you are revising.

Heritage
As soon as you tell someone you are Scottish/Irish they will no doubt tell you they are too, or at least that their Mum is. There is a massive obsession with your heritage here and some people have worked it out to the most obscure fractions - I'm sorry but 1/16 Ukrainian? I find this strange as Canadians have such a good reputation around the world I don't know why they hide it so much!

University
The academic side to life in Canada is very difficult for someone conditioned to the UK. I am taking 5 subjects instead of 2 as I would at home and they are from a much broader range. The courses don't go into as much depth as I was used to but the workload is constant with midterms and assessments throughout the semester. The strangest thing is that people actually ask questions in class and they even get up and go to the toilet while the lecturer is talking, if they are feeling extra rebellious. I'll be doing a special piece on this once I've finished the semester...


Monday, April 01, 2013

Canada and it's Hockey Obsession



Ice hockey is everywhere in Canada, it's on their $5 bill and everyone from newborns to their grandparents enjoy going to matches. In fact they find it bizarre that I have to specify 'hockey' as ice hockey or field hockey.

I think I know the Canadian anthem
better than the UK's now...
 The National Hockey League is like the Champions League of North American ice hockey with professional teams from the US and Canada. However to get a ticket to these games is expensive - unless you want to be so far away that you can't actually see what the players are chasing. So instead I went to the next level down which is the provincial league, so for us the Ontario Hockey League (the SPL perhaps). Guelph's local team is Guelph Storm and their mascot is Spike - which if you can tell what Spike actually is then you are doing better than me. Guelph Storm were actually meant to be pretty terrible this season but they've shocked everyone by actually reaching the play-offs. On a side note - we started to wonder why hockey players all have long hair and beards as it isn't the most logical haircut for such a sweaty sport. Well hockey players are very superstitious with their hair and beards and they grow them out until they are knocked out of the league/cup.

Typically Guelph
Canadians are renown to be incredibly nice and polite people and this is because all their sports involve a large component of beating each other up, so they can take out any anger or stress out on the field rather than the streets. There are some rules in hockey regarding contact, for example you can't hit another player with your stick but when it comes to ramming them up against the wall at a high speed using all your 200lbs body weight then that's fair game. Anything that the referees deem as foul play though requires time in the penalty box to calm down. Now I know what you think, penalty box; that's a good thing though? Well no, in ice hockey and lacrosse the penalty box is the sin-bin zone.The sticks are massive and 'L' shaped so when I tried one I found it so difficult to do anything - and that was off the ice! Each team has six players on at a time and they are all meant to have positions but other than the goalie it's quite hard to keep track due to the speed they fly at!

Kids come on at half time, all in Tim Hortons shirts
 Hockey players generally start playing when they are about 5 years old and before long being on the ice will be as normal as walking. Once these young kids get older they have to decide whether to make their hobby a lifestyle and join junior teams which are the rungs of the ladder to the NHL. This is bittersweet for the parents as hockey kits cost a lot of money but they could easily make this back if their kid gets the $2millon average NHL salary. Tim Horton's coffee chain actually helps children from poorer backgrounds get into hockey by opening several multi-million dollar sports camps across the country.

Hockey is very fast paced and thrilling and I can understand why the country is obsessed with it. There isn't the stigma that football has back home of violence and 'lad culture', it is a full-family activity and the supporters of the different teams don't even have to be separated. I am hooked and have attended several matches here and I am already getting excited for the Winter Olympics next year. In the meantime Dundee Stars have a new fan!