Me Against the Cold: Banff Edition

I never gravitated toward winter travelling. It is ironic that I lived in a country, Canada, known for winter and cold for many years.  The thought of thick jackets and wind chills just do not make me think about an enjoyable trip. The constant cold air would kill off any desires I have to go outside. Perhaps that’s why I “ran away” to Australia and Egypt for 2 years.

This past Christmas, I joined my family for a road trip to Banff. We arrived on the evening of Christmas day. The next day we head out to Lake Louise for some snowshoeing. It turned out snowshoes were not a necessity since there wasn’t a lot of snow and we can clearly see some ice cracking over Lake Louise. Walking across Lake Louise was refreshing in the sense that you’d never be able to do this in the summer without any kinds of boats. Mother nature made it possible for me to merely walk across.

It was a very very cold day (-20 deg Celsius), despite the sun. With my hand warmer in my gloves and many layers of jackets, I can still feel and taste the cold. The lack of elevation gain made sure that my body never generated enough heat to feel warm. That is something to note next time I pick a trail in the winter.

Although my fear of the cold was not irrational for the day before, it is a different scenario the next day. We went on 2 hiking trails around Banff – Johnson Canyon and Johnson Lake. It was a much warmer and a more photogenic day. I enjoyed the hike, just like any other hike I would go in the summer, with the bonus of the snow.

 The last time I went to Banff was more than 10 years ago. I must confessed that I do not remember much other than vague memories of the hotel at Lake Louise and the hot spring. This time is definitely more memorable. I started to appreciate nature much more once I started travelling on my own in recent years. Winter travelling can (sometimes) be enjoyable. There we go, another fear conquered (sort of).


My Reason Why: Voyage to Explore (Myself)


Every expat has their own reason for going abroad. Some do it for the money, other have intrinsic reasons. For me, I was searching for myself.

The story has been told many times. Graduating from university, one do not know what to do with his/her life. One travels and then one found himself/herself through those experiences.

I am very envy of people who knew exactly what they want to be when they grow up. I never knew what I wanted to do for the longest time. I didn’t think I was good at anything in particular. I like running and being active, but am I good enough to be an athlete? I made websites and HTML coding, should I be a web designer or be a computer engineer? I read many books — novels in my early teenage years, maybe I can be an author? Unfortunately, I never found traces of evidence that I was competent on the professional level to make any of these into a career.

At 23, my expat/travel life began, thanks to AIESEC. In retrospect, there were many reasons that I wanted to go abroad, but soul searching was not on the top of the list. I mainly wanted to enrich my professional experiences while living independently and travel in a new country.

Some people ask me to compare my experiences in Australia vs. Egypt. It is incomparable. I wouldn’t trade one for the other because they are so different. I had a good time in Australia. The friends I met are some of the most inspiring and positive people that I still keep in touch with to this day. Sydney treated me well with nice beaches and weather. I worked for a good company which had a open culture. I gained some professional experience. Whereas most of my personal development happened in Egypt or afterwards. You learn so much more about yourself when stepping into a country so different from your own.

There are even some things just pop out of nowhere. I never thought I was an artist. Now, I do see that I have an artistic side. No, I still cannot draw. I start to appreciate beauty – whether it is human, nature, or wildlife. I want to capture the moment. I appreciate different religions views and want to learn more about them, although I am raised as an atheist.

Everyone changes over time. I cannot say all of the changes I found within myself is because of the travelling. Maybe I matured through time. Nevertheless, a big chunk of it does derive from the lands away from home. Slowly and surely, through travelling, I was on a voyage to explore myself.

Veiled Ladies

After coming back home to Vancouver, Canada from my year long stay in Egypt, I was asked by friends from time to time about Muslim (veiled) women. One thing I discovered after living abroad is that Vancouverites are racially segregated. I don’t see as many inter-racial couples compared to other cities I have been. Walking down the street in downtown, you see groups of Chinese, groups of Korean etc. Prior to going to Egypt, I did not have any close friends who were Muslims.

First of all, not all veiled women are muslims. Egypt, being 90% islamic and 10% coptic, is a great example. Although uncommon, a very conservative coptic woman can also wear a veil. Since I was mostly exposed to Muslims, I will be talking about Muslim veiled women in Egypt.



Why veil? 

A lot of people who have never been to the Middle East have a common misconception that women are forced to cover their hair with headscarves. While I have to agree to some degree that Egypt is a men’s country, the women are not veiled against their will. In fact, some muslim women who do not veil at all.

Those who veil do it by choice. It relates to the word “modesty”, as suggested by the Qu’ran. How they interpret modesty is different for every one and it would be reflected on the way they dress. Basically, they want to be protected from potential dangers, such as sexual harassment from men if they show their beauty or sexiness by not covering their hair (and face).

Most women that I see in Egypt cover their hair (the hijab). However, there are also women who cover their face (and eyes) as well, if they believe that’s how they want to be protected. In fact it is not just about the veil. It is also the way they dress. Anything tight like jeans or leggings shouldn’t be worn because it shows a woman’s body shape.


Black and White Dessert




Recently, a friend of mine has asked me if all muslim women are quiet and reserved (her own experience in North America suggest so)? This question is hard to answer. Quiet and reserved people exist in every country and every culture. So are they generally less outgoing? Without going too much into the “nature vs. nurture” argument, the answer lies in the culture and traditions. Egypt is a conservative country. Even the Coptics are conservative.

A lot of the girls I met in Egypt, even in their early 20s, still have to go by curfews. This may sound very absurd in western culture. It feels like they aren’t being treated like “adults” by our definition, despite the fact they are working professionals. Some would never travel with me (even if its a girls only trip). They are sheltered by their families. Does that explain the shy question my friend asked? I don’t know. Perhaps it contributes, more or less. But surely, not all muslim girls are like that.

Random Interesting Points

  • The hijabs I see in Egypt are mostly dark/mundane colour without any patterns. When I travelled to Turkey, the hijabs I saw were very trendy. Some are Silk. The colours are bright and there were very pretty patterns
  • I always wondered how Egyptians can withstand such strong air conditioning. It felt like winter to me, but everyone’s just fine. Is it because they are wearing more clothes and hijabs?

My Take

I like to use clothes and makeup to express myself. It is fun and I feel the inner artistic side of me rising to the surface. Though I do not agree with this view that women needs to protect themselves from “hungry” men, I respect their choices and their religious beliefs. But…One thing I can never understand is that, once in a while, I will see a veiled lady wearing heavy makeup, tight clothing, painted nails, and (even) high heels.  Do you want to look sexy, beautiful, etc. in public (aka shown to men not in your family) or not? If this is your choice, shouldn’t you fully commit to modesty? The inconsistency is driving me nuts.



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