My Favourite Things of the Year

The times, they are a changing. I’ve been delaying this post because I didn’t feel I had much to contribute, having spent most of the year trying to relive moments from a simpler time and immersing myself into visual work rather than the written word. There’s always the need to record for posterity, though. And thus, this is what defined my year.


Song: I’ve gone through my Apple Music playlists for 2018 and realize that most of my aural pleasures for the past year have been pure nostalgia. Contemporary music just hasn’t managed to seize my attention the way icons of the past have. And so, I list the music of Prince as being my favourite of the year. I’ve been rediscovering his catalogue and missing the era when rock stars were truly rock stars.

My current favourite is “Little Red Corvette”, which still sounds fresh today.


Book: “Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” by Anne Lamont left the greatest impression on me. I normally leave books I’ve read in my neighbourhood Little Free Library but this is one I needed to keep for reference in the future. The advice and wisdom it imparts feels like an old friend.


Podcast: I feel ashamed it has only been over the past decade that I’ve made the effort to learn about Indigenous cultures and the true impact of colonialism in my homeland of Canada. The education I am receiving now is changing my understanding and viewpoint on a lot of issues that still resonate today and I feel certain studies—such as the one presented in my favourite podcast of the year, Canadaland’s Thunder Bay—should be mandatory for everyone living within our borders. It is a gripping, sobering mirror on a microcosm of society built upon systemic racism.


Inspiration: I am in awe of the amazing work digital artists are creating including Waneella who creates quiet, desolate 8-bit scenes of modern life in Japan.

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Food: A roadtrip to the American south-west ignited a love affair with Mexican cuisine that I’ve been experimenting with over the past few months, learning the degree of chilli my palette can take and how nearly everything tastes better with lime. #TacoTuesday has become a regular thing at my place.

Soft and hard shell steak tacos marinated overnight in raspberry chipotle sauce with grilled onion, red pepper, chillis, lettuce, lime-infused sour cream and shredded habanero cracked pepper cheese made by moi.

Soft and hard shell steak tacos marinated overnight in raspberry chipotle sauce with grilled onion, red pepper, chillis, lettuce, lime-infused sour cream and shredded habanero cracked pepper cheese made by moi.


Internet “thing”: my favourite reaction gif is also steeped in nostalgia (and I really should have heeded its warning to not check why “Mario Kart” was trending in early Fall).


Most used emoji: 😂


Most sound advice I received: “Don't be reckless with other people's hearts, and don't put up with people that are reckless with yours.”


Most memorable moment: Relaxing in my harbour-facing room at Hotel Icon in Hong Kong and being completely mesmerized by the evening architectural light show.

The Simple Life

Winter is coming.

Which means I am getting all up in my feelings, nostalgic about the passage of time and currents of change, and trying to capture it all for posterity through the words in this journal. There’s something about the first snowfall, as the flakes fall softly to the ground and blanket the landscape in silence, that leaves one ripe for introspection. It’s almost as though nature is encouraging a pause.

I’ve been in deep thought about my future of late. Especially about how what motivates me now is to re-live moments of my past.

Visiting my mother is the one tether to a familiar reality that I covet to embrace again.

Every time I visit my mother, I am not only catching up on the happenings of my hometown but also seeking solace in the relatively unchanged world of my childhood.

One of the highlights of my most recent visit—beyond being showered with puppy kisses from my much-missed Monty—was simply sitting with my mom every morning, sipping orange pekoe, and playing along to the Price is Right. Pretty much everyone in my generation gets hit with waves of nostalgia as soon as “Come On Down!” is uttered; watching it was a ritual as a kid, especially when at home sick from school. After all these years, most of the games have remained the same. Plinko is the perennial crowd pleaser, but I was always partial to Cliffhangers which I’m happy to report is still in rotation because the theme song is such an ear worm. Throughout our bonding exercise, my mother and I got worked up, cheering for contestants who walked away with cars and trips around the world, and feigning disappointment with those that didn’t know the correct price of a basic toaster.

Banal moments like this may seem like the filler that connects the more pivotal, recorded events of our life, but I’m learning to take more pleasure, more presence, in them. It’s not just watching a game show with my mom; it’s the perfume of love, history and comfort that permeates the room without wont of spoken word. The essence of life is coded in these moments of simplicity.


Now all those simple things are simply too complicated for my life
How'd I get so faithful to my freedom?
A selfish kind of life
When all I ever wanted was the simple things
A simple kind of life

Interstate 15, Part II

I like Montana. I like the mountains and crisp air and postcard panoramas. The first night of our road trip we stayed in its capital, Helena, which has less than 32,000 citizens. This statistic nicely details just how sparse the population is within the state. It's very ... breathable. Outside the natural scenery, the capital is somewhat nondescript in appearance; being two hours delayed from the unexpected detour, we made our way to a wood-fired pizza place and then just retired to our hotel room for the night not feeling like we missed anything. For future trips, I feel Butte would have been a better overnight destination. With snow-capped peaks framing it in the distance and historic architecture steeped in legend, the word "majestic" seems well-suited to describe its beauty. 

One can take Interstate 15 all the way from the Canadian border to the Mexican one. It's a nice drive with lots of rest stops, fuel stations and, within Utah at least, numerous billboards reminding people that God is watching and you should atone for your sins. 

Outside of having an ultra-conservative religious base that practices polygamy, I didn't really know anything about Utah. Ignoring the influence of creed and instead seeking enlightenment from mother nature, I was completely in awe of the rock formations in the southern portion of the state which includes a number of protected areas, national and state parks such as the breathtaking Grand Staircase National Monument. Eventually turning east off of Interstate 15, we were in the thick of it while enroute to our next stop: the biggest tourist destination of them all – the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  

Highway 89A in particular, a scenic route that runs through a Navaho reservation in Arizona, was the highlight of my entire trip. Driving through it was a showcase of some of America's most iconic landscape; landscape which has featured in many a Hollywood western to represent our storied, brutal history. I half-expected the ghost of John Wayne to manifest on the horizon as we drove this isolated stretch of roadway. Or perhaps hear the distant call of the roadrunner. Meep Meep.

Our adventure-filled day ended on a magical note as we slept in a teepee under a galaxy of visible stars. Living in a city with constant light pollution, this reminder of the scale of the universe (and my place within it) was a cathartic ending to a long, tiring, immensely memorable day. 

Start of Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Start of Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Hiking off Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Hiking off Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Highway 89A, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Our accommodation for the night, a teepee in Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Our accommodation for the night, a teepee in Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Interior of teepee, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Interior of teepee, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Teepee selfie, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Teepee selfie, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Also the first BBQ of the season, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Also the first BBQ of the season, Williams, Arizona (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

❤️

Birthday memories of an amazing man whom I will always hold dearly in my heart. My dad will be forever loved and missed.

My dad in New York City, one of his favourite places (2012 ©Deborah Clague). 

My dad in New York City, one of his favourite places (2012 ©Deborah Clague). 

Hong Kong X

Every morning after waking up, I would open the curtain from the window and flood my room with light from the rising sun. I wanted the view of the city—my impeccable view of Victoria Harbour—to be the first thing I saw. It was a sight that would fill me with motivation and gratitude. And as my trip was nearing its end, I wanted to soak up every minute of it in hopes that the feeling would carry forward long after I left Hong Kong. 

Beyond the view, there was something else at the window that elicited wonder from me daily. A bird would often circle around my window, perhaps able to see movement behind the glass and as curious about me as I was about him and his urban adventures.


A bird wouldn't be the only creature that I held silent conversation with. 

Visiting Buddhist temples and pausing in the presence of their serenity was a most welcome respite from the constant traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian. Outside, people just stared at the screen of their phone (like most everywhere else, just amplified here amongst 7+ million citizens). While inside, one couldn't help but take stock of their surroundings as the feeling of peace carried over the air with the wisps of incense. Man Mo Temple was a highlight but I also wanted to return to Wong Tai Sin, the "good luck" temple. I wanted my trip to start, and end, there in the hopes that its myth might rub off on me. 

On my second visit, I had a strange encounter. One that I should preface with a brief story because I know it's going to sound strange and unbelievable but is not, perhaps, entirely unprecedented. A few years ago, my best friend was on her own spiritual journey and found herself delving into the world of crystals, even attending a conference to learn about their supposed healing power and other mystical properties. One strange experience she shared with me was participating in a breathing exercise circle. As she paced her exhalation, eyes closed and deep in thought, she felt the sensation of someone poking her stomach. Immediately exiting her zen-like state, she darted her eyes to see who it was. And there was no one present. Admittedly, I thought she may have, ahem, also been researching other "natural" ways to seek enlightenment during this period but it turned out to not be the case and she swore by the story.

And now, back to mine. 

On my second visit to Wong Tai Sin, I again paid respects at the alters, each representing one of the five geomantic elements—metal, wood, water, fire and earth—and ended by pausing in the Good Wish Garden. It was here that I took a few moments to reflect on my newfound love for the city of Hong Kong, the hardships I've experienced over the past few years and my hope that the future would continue on a path of light ... when I felt a poke. It DISTINCTLY felt like someone's finger poking me near my ribcage. I, like my friend, immediately exited my trance and looked around to see who it was. 

But there was no one there. 

I looked down at the pond, at the koi swimming around, and for the first time I saw a turtle perched on a rock staring at me.  


At Wong Tai Sin, I returned to the same fortune teller I visited ten days prior. On this occasion, he had a line of two women awaiting his seer services. I joined them by sitting patiently on a stool outside his tiny storefront and recollecting back on the futurities he previously shared with me. After involving myself with some dubious characters over the years, that initial inquiry specifically related to my love life. People these days act like love is an archaic concept and feelings don't exist but I am not wired that way. I value honesty, integrity and respect and lament how rare they increasingly seem to be as people treat the emotions of others like commodity to be traded for ego. This toxicity can, unfairly, also taint future relationships as well and while I have met someone who possesses the strong character traits I desire in a partner, I don't want my past to hold any influence on my view of who they actually are. 

"They will travel to meet you. You will meet at an event relating to dance."

And so it was written.

My partner is originally from Kerala, India, but has lived in Australia, South Africa and South Korea performing scientific research. I met him three years ago at a salsa dancing class neither he, nor I, was planning to be at. The chemistry was immediate. All night, I noticed him staring at me (and I'm sure he did likewise). When my friend wanted to leave, I implored her to stay just a little bit longer as I felt I wasn't leaving without his number. Too shy to approach him though, I felt I could will it into fruition. Sure enough, a few minutes later he asked me to dance and the rest was history. While we've had our ups-and-downs, our ons-and-offs, we always return to each other as we are best friends. 

I waited in line for around thirty minutes and then made the decision to leave. The original fortune I received could have been somewhat vague to anyone, but there was an eerie specificity to my life that gave me hope I already found the answer I was looking for. 


The last image of my trip that will forever stay with me is flying over the red lights of a ferris wheel illuminated against the stark countryside of Taiwan down below. Sometimes the perspective you need can only be found at 20,000 feet. 

Hong Kong sunrise (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Hong Kong sunrise (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Central district, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Central district, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Hong Kong's famous trams, Central district (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Hong Kong's famous trams, Central district (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Central district, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Central district, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Rainy afternoon in the Central district (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Rainy afternoon in the Central district (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Back alleys of Central district (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Back alleys of Central district (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Man Mo Temple (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Walking along the promenade at night, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Walking along the promenade at night, Hong Kong (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Various amulets available for purchase at Wong Tai Sin Temple (you best believe I now own a "get rid of scumbag" amulet) (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

Various amulets available for purchase at Wong Tai Sin Temple (you best believe I now own a "get rid of scumbag" amulet) (©Deborah Clague, 2018). 

One last selfie from the top of Hotel Icon (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

One last selfie from the top of Hotel Icon (©Deborah Clague, 2018).

Hong Kong Part I

Ten years ago, my father and I backpacked around mainland China. It was an experience I had idealized in my head but in actuality wasn't fully prepared for; I was exposed to so many different sights, sounds, flavours, experiences and ideologies that mid-way through, I became overwhelmed and quit. I wanted to go home. To appease me, my father instead booked an extended stay at a nice hotel in Chengdu and we remained stationary as "locals" for awhile. It worked but in the end this cost myself the opportunity for total immersion and understanding of difference. I've taken a new approach with subsequent excursions and now embrace being uncomfortable to a certain extent. The growth I've had in the last ten years is proof of that. For instance, I don't think my partner and I would have made it otherwise—he's a doctorate scientist from Kerala and I'm an artist from the Canadian prairies. It's not just a blending of cultures, but of mindsets. We make it work. 

In the decade since that trip, there has been much change in my life. I moved to a new city and transitioned from entrepreneurship to a fulfilling career in education. Added to my family and cut ties to other branches of it. Made lifelong friends and kissed unforgettable loves goodbye. I learned to truly live for the moment but also take time to reflect on (and respect) the past lest it haunt me. And then there was the single most important thing to happen in my life: I lost my father, best friend and perennial travel partner.

In a way, this trip marks a bookend for the period. It is a return to a place that kicked my ass ten years ago. It is an acquiesce for it to kick my ass again, if needed. My father would appreciate this. May he be with me in spirit. 

And may the next ten years provide as much adventure and evolution to my life. Let's go. 

Me and a friend at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (©Deborah Clague, 2007). 

Me and a friend at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (©Deborah Clague, 2007). 

I Want to Win

"Everyone was saying I should be happy with how I played and stuff. But, like, I don’t care about that. I want to win." 

The quote above is from an article written by Patrik Laine, right-winger for the Winnipeg Jets. The article generated buzz on social media for a number of reasons, including Patrik's self-professed love for my hometown (fuck the haters, Winnipeg is good). But it was the insight into the inner monologue of a professional athlete that has stuck with me. Even though I'm partially allergic to exercise, I relate to it. I also want to win. 

My partner learned this recently when we played badminton together for the first time. I hadn't played in eons and forgot most of the rules but that didn't matter. I went in hard. After volleying for a bit, he commented on how I was better than he anticipated. I gave my best "awwww, shucks" face and continued with my strategy of playing to his strengths while blinding him with mine. After all, I'm not there to just look cute while feeding into someone else's ego. I bring my A-game. 

I didn't always feel this way though. 

I am naturally gifted in sport; probably inheriting the trait from my father who was a formidable athlete in several areas including hockey and baseball. In my youth, I participated in the Canada Fitness Awards which were administered nationally through physical education programs in school. I regularly came out on top for my gender but I recall one relay event in particular in which I received the fastest time for my school overall. I was so proud, as were my female classmates who ecstatically attempted to carry me on their shoulders in a makeshift parade. The boys glowered. These awards meant nothing, really, in the grand scheme of things but the hostility and taunting I received afterwards subconsciously informed me to dial it down. To play in my own sandbox and focus on making friends during this critical developmental time rather than attempt to stand out with exception.

Reading my words back now, I have but one thought: this is some bullshit. 

With maturity, I have learned to not let anyone diminish one of my greatest assets: confidence. 

I recently had a psychometric assessment of my personality done at work. To no one's surprise, I came out as an extreme type-A, being very purposeful and structured with tremendous attention to detail. But also competitive. Very competitive. In fact, it was the highest rated quality of my persona at 98% (and it was my competitive side that wondered if anyone ranked higher). I did shrink a bit as our team compared notes, wanting to conceal what I initially perceived as a negative trait, but I'm learning to embrace it more openly. This aspect of my personality never stems from a dark place, only one of potential betterment (for myself and, I believe, others). For example, I would never aim to "win at all costs". If my body, mind and accumulated skill level can't get me to succeed on their own, I see it as a means to improve myself, not cheat. This is where the challenge of competition can lead to great things. It can motivate. It can elevate. Beyond sport, picture a world in which the genius of Thomas Edison wasn't feuding with Nikola Tesla. Imagine where we'd be without the duelling technological might of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Being inspired to evolve, rather than simply adapt, is what gives humanity purpose. 

It also reminded me of a piece of advice my father once gave me eons ago: 

"Don't lower yourself to anyone else's level. Make them rise to yours."


Press clippings from my father's hockey career. In this, he is pictured in the middle row, far right (©Deborah Clague). 

Press clippings from my father's hockey career. In this, he is pictured in the middle row, far right (©Deborah Clague). 

Press clippings from my father's hockey career (©Deborah Clague)

Press clippings from my father's hockey career (©Deborah Clague)

A letter inviting my father to attend the Winnipeg Jets training camp in 1969 (©Deborah Clague)

A letter inviting my father to attend the Winnipeg Jets training camp in 1969 (©Deborah Clague)