Monthly Archives: October 2016

The Five Villages: Our Impact and the $50,000 Goal

An Twelve Minute Read

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“No one has ever become poor by giving.” ~ Anne Frank, Writer

This past week I was privileged enough to attend WE Day in Toronto. It was one of those experiences that really puts the pieces of our work into perspective. As I watched other change makers and hopefuls share their story, it truly was inspiring. To see the roar of the crowd and the countless people who believe in a better future take the stage was something I will never forget. To see the messages received by the youth of tomorrow and feel that connection was fantastic. Whether it was Gord Downie or Fire Chief Darby Allen sharing their stories, it seemed like we are all working together for something greater. A better future for all. Equality, change and perspective are things I think the world needs to continue to strive towards.

I often think back to those moments on the road. The times of extreme high and low. The poverty and riches that I saw along the way. Both extremes have left a lasting impact on the way that I now see the world. From cobbled roads of Italy, to the hectic Indian byways. From the affluence that is the western world and the imaginary lines that separate similar lands. I have flashbacks to faces and places that now only seem like images of a dream I once knew. The good, the horribly difficult and the monotone moments of challenging bliss in-between.

During those days I smiled a million smiles and felt the weight of my dream on my shoulders. Sometimes, the immensity of my goal weighed a little heavy. When the mountains snaked up on tiny roads beyond my sight or roads stretched out to nameless expanses, I felt that pull forward and pull back to reality. Was I going to make it home? Would people care enough to donate to my cause? Was it all worth it? The answer to all those questions was and always will be a resounding, yes.

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“It always seems impossible, until it’s done.”  – Nelson Mandela, Freedom Fighter

(Below you can read the five-page full update from WE Charity on all of our schools fundraising projects throughout the world. Very exciting!)

Along this journey I had the unique opportunity to help give back. With well over three-hundred sponsors we were able to raise $50,000 for Free the Children (WE Charity). I am blown away by both sides of this accomplishment. The whole experience taught me a good deal about the people I call family and friends, as well as those throughout our world who wished to make it a better place. It showed me that one idea really can make a difference. That we can change someone’s world for the better.

Throughout those two years, people from all over the globe reached out to help me achieve my goal. However, in the process, it became a collective mission. It was no longer just one crazy guy’s idea on a bike. It was a goal that is now shared by hundreds of people. There were even schools throughout Eastern Ontario that rose to the occasion and helped push the metre ever higher. Without the endless donations and goodwill, our collective goal of giving children in struggling nations access to safe and reliable education would have never been possible. Five schools in five different countries.

I will admit, when I first set out, though my hopes were high, I did not know how far or how well the charitable portion of my journey would be received. I had this dream inside my heart of five schools in five countries around the world. However, I set out with one to start. I did not want to look over ambitious or fail miserably for the whole world to see. However, by the time I reached the edge of the Chinese frontier in Xinjiang Province, the goal for the schoolhouse in GuangMing, China was achieved. As I crossed into Kyrgyzstan on a cool afternoon, I knew we could achieve great things if we worked together. It truly was a feeling like no other.

To be able to give back to a country which meant so much to me, was a sign of good things to come. The school in China’s Sichuan province has been complete for some time now and I assure you the effects of which are felt on a daily basis. For the people that live in Guang Ming it represents a chance at a better future. A future that has more than hope at the end of it. Though I was unable to visit the community due to horrible flooding of the road, I plan to make a journey there at some point soon. To see the faces of the change and hear their stories. Sichuan was one of  my favourite sections of China and it is a place that will always call me to return.

As I continued to bike, the support rolled with my tires. Countless people continued to donate and some even began to donate for a second time. On the road, I would connect with my sponsors through personalized emails. I wanted to know what made these people feel the pull towards my cause and thank them for their generosity. No matter if it was $1000 or $10, I sent a message all the same. Every donor meant the world to me while I was on the road. I knew that people were giving what they could and sometimes even when they couldn’t. It gave me the energy boost I needed. Sometimes, when I was feeling down or lonely, a donation from a friendly stranger would ignite the flame inside to keep moving.

In India, I visited the community of Verdara. I was greeted by long time change maker Lloyd and his team with WE charity. Thanks to my supporters, a new schoolhouse has been added to the High School where there previously was none. Children have access to a higher education than has ever been possible in their community. They no longer have to walk far distances or move to continue their education. I saw the smiling faces of their youth and experienced a celebration like no other in their village. You can read about and see photos of my experiences in Verdara HERE.

When I reached Kenya, I was met by the warm handshake and laughter of the Masaai people. I explored the daily life of the community, along with their struggles and victories. Here I learned the value of community. I saw their thirst for education, carried water buckets and practiced how to throw a rungu. By the time I reached the bottom of Africa, the fundraising for the schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya was complete. I knew we would make the final goal with continued hard work and support. You can read about my days in the Masaai Mara with Me to We HERE.

In the Andean mountains of Ecuador, I pedalled on up to the community of Shuid. Here I saw the struggles of mountain life mix with natural beauty. I was met by Ryan and his generous team. The views were spectacular and the need the same. The dichotomy of all these places truly amazed me. Later that week as I pedalled into Quito, I wondered about the little community on the side of the mountain. I walked about a glimmering shopping mall in search of some peanut butter for the road, wondering about the hard divisions that separate our world. Seeing all that their city counterparts had, I knew that achieving the goal here was more important than ever. Now the two-storey building is nearing completion thanks to my countless sponsors. To read about my experiences in Shuid CLICK HERE.

On the dog days stretch of Central America, I burned into Nicaragua after a 8 day ride from Panama City. I was feeling the push for home. The end was in sight, but I knew I had unfinished business. The two years on the road had taken a toll on my mind and body. I was stronger than ever physically, but my mind was wavering. Once I met my friend Camillo from WE Charity and biked down to the community of El Trapiche with a group of boys, my resolve was stronger than ever. The $50,000 mark would be no problem at all. I returned to Canada with a mission and after a few short weeks the final goal came on a day just like any other. A feeling I can now proudly share with all of my sponsors. You can read about my time in El Trapiche HERE.

You can get involved with WE Charity or experience your own ME to WE journey by CLICKING HERE.

“He who allows his day to pass by without practicing generosity & enjoying life’s pleasures…breathes but does not live.” ~ Sanskrit Proverb

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I have now returned to a life of a little more comfort. There is food in my fridge and a warm bed waiting for me each day. I have my wife, family and friends close by. All the little things that many of us take for granted, have been returned to me once again. But we always want what we can’t have. I still look at maps from time to time and have burst of nostalgia that almost hurts. When I ride my old beat-up bike to and fro I feel the pedals looking for the next hill. In some moments I wished I went a little bit slower or spent a day longer here or a week there. Sometimes, I wish I was still out there with the morning sun, evening stars, my tent and four bags. But, that was one adventure. Everything happened the exact way it should have. Had I stayed one place longer, I would have missed one person or another that directly changed the course of my journey and in turn the future of my life. I am on the next adventure and I can’t wait. No regrets. It was the ride of a lifetime.

I will never forget a feeling I had one night two weeks into my trip. While laying awake in my tent, I was looking at a map of China and the world. I had skirted a small slice of the monster that was China and put a pinprick on the world. I was going nowhere fast. I was terrified, alone and feeling down. I had left everything behind to pursue some crazy dream that looked better on paper than it was looking at this moment in real life. I took a deep breath and felt the world crashing down on me. I suddenly found that the idea of the whole world was too big. They journey was going to be too much to handle if I kept looking at it in this way. It was in this moment that I decided to live each day as it came. Forget about the long off finish line. This moment forever changed the rest of my ride and the happiness I felt in my interactions on a daily basis. Sometimes, I still need to remind myself of these moments as I pick away at my book and my goals for the future. One day at a time.

We too can all achieve great things with time, patience and a little help. I believe that with hard work and dedication, anything can be achieved in time. Without the help of all my donors, I would never have been able to get through some of the wild and difficult places that were thrown at me along the way. Without those days and the people who came at the right time, I would not be who I am today. For everyone that helped make a difference and construct the five schools in China, India, Kenya, Ecuador and Nicaragua, thank you. On behalf of all the people we have helped, a boisterous thank you. For believing in me, I humbly thank you all.

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*Please see the inspiring full update from the good people at WE Charity (Free the Children) below as well as my YouTube video from around the world.

**In my following posts I will begin by highlighting some of the truly awesome people that I met on my way around the world. It is my duty now to share their stories and their world.

***To see my charity page from the journey and a rolling list of all the wonderful donors, schools and businesses, please CLICK HERE.

****You can also check out my alternate website at www.tinysbest.com.

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My Cycling Journey Around the World

Gord Downie at WE Day

 

 

A Chinese Wedding Story: Mark & Eliza

A Ten Minute Read

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When you meet that special person in your life there is nothing which can separate your worlds. Many years ago when I was working in Sanya, China I met the love of my life. Not long ago I returned from China with a small group of family and friends for our wedding. I am now married to my best friend and the girl who will help share the rest of my days. It is an incredible feeling as we embark on the new adventure in life together.

Only a few people I know were able to attend the wedding China, so I will share with you a little bit of what exactly it is like to get married in China. We wanted our wedding to be traditional Chinese, so many of the aspects may seem strange or foreign. The whole experience was a learning curve for me as well. Enjoy the beauty in the difference.

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I woke early on the day of my Chinese wedding. The last week had been a blur of meeting people, preparing for a wedding and getting to learn a little bit more about my new family. It was raining lightly outside. There I spent a quiet moment in my wedding room. Soon the wonderful chaos of the day would begin. It was a day I had been looking forward to for a long time. I knew it would not disappoint.

Not long after people started to arrive at my room. Family and friends from both sides. We shared a bit of a quick breakfast and tidied the room for the day. It had been decorated with nearly a hundred balloons, Chinese decorations and streamers. A new set of red silk sheets was put on my wedding bed, as is the tradition and I put on my special outfit for the day. Friends were given noise makers and we prepared to take the walk down to get Eliza.

As is the Chinese tradition, the groom must go pick up the bride at a separate location before the wedding day begins. Most weddings take place in hotels these days, so instead of picking her up at her parent’s house, I picked her up at room down the hall from me. However, it is not as easy as just knocking on the door and bringing her back. There was a laundry list of tasks laid before me.

With my cohort, I made my way down the hall at 9:30a.m. I arrive to a decorated door and a lot of noise on the other side. I brought with me a large amount of envelopes called ‘Hongbao’. These would serve essentially as bribes for the girls guarding the door to let me inside. I slipped a few under the door and then a few more and eventually had to push my way inside after being told to sing a Chinese song. When I came through the door I continued to be attacked for ‘Hongbao’ until I made my way to the centre of the room.

I stood at the foot of the bed before my beautiful fiancée. She looked gorgeous in her outfit wearing a variety of bright jewellery. In order to be allowed to take her from the room, I had to go through a few more challenges, that if I lost would cost me more Hongbao. First, I had to find two of her shoes hidden somewhere in the room. One was found by my brother in a pillow case and second was actually jammed inside the Majhong table. The next challenge was to eat a banana with the help of my friends. This was easily my most hated event, as the banana got closer and closer to the end. Then I was told to do twenty push-ups with one hand, which was surprisingly easier than I thought it would be in my insanely hot robe. Then I had three chances to find the correct end to a tangle of ribbons tied to her arm. The final challenge was to kneel on a bunch of Majhong playing pieces and put on her two shoes.

At the end of it all I picked her up and we bowed before her parents. I gave them my Hongbao, as is tradition, and Eliza got on my back in order for me to carry her back to my room. In Chinese tradition the bride is not allowed to touch the floor during this time as I took her from her bed to the bed in my room. As we left the room the hallway was filled with the loud sound of exploding noise makers bearing rose pedals and the bustle of getting back to my room. In my heavy robe, I was sweating like crazy as I carried her like a mule back to my room.

When we arrived it was time for pictures of multiple combinations. At one point I was launched into the air for a photo and nearly hit the ceiling. At this time Eliza was to change into another outfit, while myself along with family and friends were to head down to the wedding hall. It was my duty to greet the people attending the wedding.

As is typical of a Chinese wedding when people arrive at a wedding they give their hongbao to a central table. At our wedding they were returned a nice gift and each man received a cigar which I brought from Canada. Usually, all men receive a cigarette, but seeing is how I do not smoke, I thought this was a little better.

So there I stood, greeting the 150 guests in attendance while the final preparations were made for the ceremony. The people filed to their seats with rain drops on their shoulders from outside. In the corner of my eye I saw Eliza come down and remain hidden by the doorway as the ceremony was set to begin. The MC began the call for quiet and people to return to their seats.

The wedding started with two dancers along the catwalk of the stage. Eliza’s cousins, performing a beautiful dance as we approached the steps to the stage. It was my job to guide her for the first part of the wedding ceremony, as her head was covered in a traditional veil, which she could not see through. We climbed the stage and began to walk holding the red silk ribbon, a symbol of our bond. Over a wooden saddle I guided her, which would keep us safe year after year. Then finally we stepped over a fire pan as we walked to the centre stage of the catwalk.

Our parents came to the stage. We bowed three times and then once to our parents. At this time, I was able to remove the veil with a stick, in a three part fashion. The crowd applauded for the beautiful bride. Our parents were seated and we poured them tea in the traditional fashion. They accepted the tea and returned our Hongbao and went back to their seats.

I put a strand of Eliza’s hair in a box, to ensure we loved each other until our hair turns grey and exchanged a small gift. One of the final acts was to drink a traditional fermented beverage in a lover’s fashion with arms linked. After all was complete we bowed for our friends on the left, in the middle and our friends from Canada. The wedding ceremony was complete and we headed for our seats.

There was then a speech from my father, Eliza’s father, myself and Eliza. The speeches were translated into Chinese and English so everyone would understand how important this day was to all. Eliza’s speech moved the crowd and brought most to tears. It was a very emotional time as I could feel the words she spoke and a sense of pride at all of the planning coming together in the end of the day. We had done it and now we were together.

After the wonderful and moving speeches my brother on guitar, my mother on vocals, a talented neighbour also named Mark on piano and myself on the djembe played Ed Sheeran’s – Thinking Out Loud. The cameras went up and we played through to the crowd. The second song was done by my brother and our neighbour Mark. The amazing difference was that the song was in Chinese. A famous song entitled, ‘The Brightest Star in the Sky’ by Escape Plan. I was so proud of how hard they worked on this song and their dedication to learn a song in a completely new language.

They were followed by a very cool breakdance by the MC, where he did a backflip. The final performance was Eliza’s mother who sang a beautiful Chinese song in a captivating tone. By this time all of the food was on the table and the MC gave the cue to have all the chopsticks brought out. Dinner and drinks were served to all 150 guests. It was my duty to go with Eliza and cheers all of the tables at the wedding.

Not long after people started to pay their respects and say goodbye. By the time the wedding lunch was all over it was around 3pm. We returned to our rooms to rest and prepare for the small dinner with around 50 guests that night and the karaoke afterwards. A Chinese wedding is a full day event. I cannot thank everyone for all of the work that went into making our celebration a beautiful memory. It is one of those days that will live in my memory forever. Thank you to all of the friends near and far that made our day so special. Though a wedding may only be single day, it represents a beautiful union that my wife and I will share forever.

A Glimpse Into Our Wedding Day by Video (Photos Below)

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*Please stay tuned as I prepare to release a new series in the coming days. As I made my way around the world I got to meet a good number of amazing people along the way. Some I only spent a few minutes with, others a few days and weeks. It is here I would like to share their stories. For me, meeting the people along the way was the most inspiring part of the journey. The people that welcomed me into their homes or just stopped to have a chat will forever be etched in my mind. For that past few years, you have heard of my love for travel and the spinning world. Now, please welcome their love for life and peer into what makes them so special. I look forward to reading as much as you.

**I apologize that posts have been sparse recently. It has been quite busy since I returned from China. I started a new job, I moved and my father was ill. However, I have never settled into a different pace of life and a new exciting adventure. I still plan to continue on with my book and will be launching a new website in the coming weeks. Back on track towards new and exciting goals.

***To check out one of my current side projects, look up www.tinysbest.com for more information on how you can place on order or check out products for delicious and healthy Chicken Jerky.

****Look for an update from Free the Children (WE Charity) in the very near future on all five of our school projects. Thank you to everyone that has donated over the past few years. Together we have achieved a beautiful change. 🙂

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Escape Plan ~ The Brightest Star in the Sky (Wedding Song)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzuy63eCUKc

Ed Sheeran ~ Thinking Out Loud (Wedding Song)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lp-EO5I60KA

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