I had a wonderful trip to Mexico, and I saw and learned more than I expected. While most of my trip was full of creepy, strange and downright bizarre locations, the trip's actual purpose was for a much more normal, although still very magical, reason: the wedding of my two friends, Mari and Luis.
I met the bride, Mari, in Japan several years ago. Since I've met many people in my travels I've never seen again, I assumed the Facebook wedding invitation I received must have been by accident. A quick email later and I realised it was in fact deliberate. Since it's not every day one gets invited to a wedding in a different country, especially a tropical country in the dead of winter, I said yes.
I also learned that another friend I had met in Japan, Katarina, would be coming to the wedding too. Katarina is from Australia, so she did a trip through the United States before the wedding. It was great to catch up over the years and swap stories about our travels since Japan.
I've been to enough Canadian weddings to know how they play out. Everybody meets up at a church, there is a service, the couple kiss, everybody cheers, and then there is a few hours to mingle before supper and a dance. This, in my experiences, is a traditional Canadian wedding typically goes. Since I knew just about nothing about Mexican culture leading up to my trip, I decided it would be a good time to research just how different these weddings are.
I learned that since Mexicans are religious, the wedding would be in a church. The weddings are also very colourful, so women would wear bright dresses. Men could dress a little more casually and wear shorts and a loose shirt. There is also usually a beach involved, a roaring ocean, some tequila, a mariachi band and some torches.
"Okay," I figured. "I got this. No awkward cultural surprises this time!"
The only problem is, somewhere along the way, somebody forgot to tell me Puebla was in the mountains, and thus there were no beaches, no oceans and no torches. There was tequila and a mariachi band though, so I wasn't completely wrong!
But, the first thing I misunderstood was the clothing choice as I read online to wear shorts and a dressy but loose shirt. The morning of the wedding I went for a walk around the neighbourhood and saw several members of the wedding party – not in shorts and shirts, but suits and ties. I was floored! This wasn't at all what I had expected! Thankfully, I had packed away a suit and some dress pants for an emergency and I wore those instead.
After brushing off my suit jacket, and getting the groom's father to help me with my tie (and a lot of gracias, gracias before and after it), I was set to go. Within about ten minutes of getting my tie in proper order, we loaded the bus and headed out. I took a quick selfie on the way and noticed for the first time just how sunburnt Xochimilco and Teotihuacan had left me.
The bus ride took about 30 minutes before we arrived at the base of a very steep hill. We navigated up its winding gravel path and found ourselves outside a beautiful stone structure, called Hacienda San Juan Bautista Amalucan. This is where the wedding service would be held.
(A "hacienda", I learned, is a Spanish word for an estate, like a plantation or any kind of structure that takes up a lot of space.)
Construction of the hacienda started in 1584 by several Jesuit priests and was completed in 1726. It has since passed through the hands of over 30 different owners. Today the hacienda sits on private property, and the building bears the marks of a multi-century year old structure, with some water damage and peeling paint. Nevertheless, the church was beautiful, as was the rest of the grounds, and it made the perfect backdrop to the wedding.
A lot of family and friends came to the wedding, so the small church was very full. Coincidentally enough, Katarina and I got sitting beside a couple that not only knew where Saskatchewan was, but had even been here! What are the chances!?
The wedding started with traditional Mexican music, flower girls and ring bearers. The bridesmaids and groomsmen came next, and then the groom, escorted by the bride's parents. Within a few minutes Mari arrived, dressed in a beautiful white flowing dress. Although it's not a tradition in Mexico for the bride to conceal the dress prior to the wedding, Mari insisted Luis not see it, leaving him as anxious as the rest of us.
The whole wedding was in Spanish, so I followed along the best I could. At one point the bride and groom both kneeled on a cushioned bench and had a silver or gold chain laid across their shoulders. I wasn't sure if this was a Catholic tradition, a tradition based around the Lady of Guadalupe, a Mexican tradition or what, but the symbolism of being chained in love together made sense, even with the language barrier.
After the wedding ended, we were taken around the church to a courtyard to drink and chat among ourselves. There, Katarina and I met a man was trying to give his girlfriend English lessons. For the next 30 minutes, we helped with the lessons, drank tequila and picked up a little Spanish too.
Once we were done mingling, we moved from the courtyard, through the brightly coloured stone structure to a beautiful staircase and a cascading white tent. Here we sat, talked and swapped stories throughout the rest of the evening. During post-wedding speeches, the bride's father got up and thanked myself and Katarina for coming so far for this special day. There was only a scatter of clapping hands when he made the speech, so he repeated it in Spanish and the tent exploded in applause. It was at this point I realized just how little English was spoken in Mexico. This differed greatly from Japan or Hong Kong where everybody I met spoke English.
When I arrived at the table a menu for the evening was waiting for me. It was all in Spanish, so I had to ask what they would be serving. We had about five dishes, and they ranged from blue tortilla soup to stuffed chicken with mushrooms to a chocolate tamale and rice pudding ice cream. Everything I ate was fantastic, and although it was all very foreign, it was a great meal and I wouldn't mind trying it again. Later in the night we had tacos, but I had been all taco'd out at that point since Mexicans have them with just about every meal.
The wedding was beautiful, and it was great to see old friends again. Although the dress code caught me a little off guard, I would have felt much more comfortable in a suit and tie than shorts and a shirt, anyway. The food was good, the company was great and I had some fantastic tequila. After a long and difficult week in Mexico, it was great to kick back, relax and make some new friends.
I want to take a moment and thank Mari and Luis for inviting me to their wedding. I had a wonderful time. I know my shenanigans sometimes got everybody stressed out, but it means the world to me that you wanted me to be a part of your special day. I really appreciate it, and if I ever get married, we'll reserve a spot for you. Congratulations again, to the both of you!
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And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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Imagine the bustling streets of New York, then times it by ten. Add a dash of Chinese culture, a wallop of nature and half dozen fish balls that don’t actually contain any fish, and you have the beautiful city that is Hong Kong.
At 7.2 million people, Hong Kong is a dynamic city with an incredible history, towering skyscrapers and a unique mix of English and Chinese that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. While Hong Kong has existed for a millennium, it was officially founded in 1842 to solidify a truce between Great Britain and the Qing dynasty of China during the First Opium War. A decade after the British took control of Hong Kong, the Black Death swept into China, killing hundreds of thousands of people. It would remain part of Hong Kong’s life for a century.
During World War II, Hong Kong was captured by the Japanese. For three years and eight months the British-Chinese culture of the city was destroyed, replaced with Japanese text, language and art. The booming city of 1.6 million people was slashed to only 600,000. Japanese occupation was incredibly harsh for the Hongkongese, being the darkest part of their history. Japan ceased occupation on August 6th, 1945, in response to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For forty-two more years, Hong Kong was controlled by the British, with the reunification between Hong Kong and mainland China finally occurring in 1997.
A few months ago I entered a contest for a trip for two to visit Philadelphia on Two Bad Tourists. Normally contests like this are limited to United States residents so when I saw this one was open to Canadians I jumped at the chance. I've never won something like this before, so I actually forgot about it until I got the emailing saying I had won. Two Bad Tourists then worked alongside Visit Philly to organise the trip for me and my mother to explore Philadelphia for three days. Visit Philly paid for our flights, hotels and gave us a VIP Pass to experience the city to our heart's content. It is thanks to them that this trip is possible.
Several movies and television shows have tried to capture the essence of Philadelphia over the years – from the boxing Blockbuster Rocky, to the paranormal thriller The Sixth Sense, to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and even Boy Meets World – but each described the city differently. There is no easy way to approach a city as dynamic as The City of Brotherly Love. With countless layers of art, history, religion and the paranormal, Philadelphia is a city unlike any other throughout the United States.
One thing that surprised me the most about Philadelphia was the history. The city was founded and designed by William Penn, who is also the state of Pennsylvania's namesake. Born in London, England in 1644 he lived through The Great Fire of 1666 and The Great Plague of London from 1665-1666. Both events shaped Penn's life so he designed the city to be strictly stone buildings (to stop fires from spreading) and to have plenty of space between the buildings (as to prevent illness from spreading). This led to the older areas of the city to have winding corridors between old stone walls.
Ever since visiting the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg last summer, I've wanted to include more about First Nations culture on my blog. Being of European descent, I often feel I am culturally blind to First Nations culture, and I noticed a severe lack of it in my writing. In fact, I feel in past articles a lot of my focus has been on European history in the New World, with only a side note regarding First Nations history. Now, I am trying for there to be more equal representation in my blog.
To finish off my #BucketlistAB series, I thought this article would be the perfect place to flip the tables, and instead focus on First Nations culture, with a European side note. Sometimes it is impossible to talk about one without the other, but I tried to focus more on the First Nations people and their story in this article. Please let me know what you think in the comments below.