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May 2014

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South Korea’s bizarre land of love

It’s funny living in a foreign country for so long, your once narrow-minded definition of ‘normal’ starts to unravel and you lose a sense of normality to some degree. Of course, each culture has its own set of rules and standards and it’s only natural to compare one’s foreign culture with your own. However, after time you start to forget what you used to think was ‘acceptable’ or ‘unacceptable,’ ‘reasonable’ or ‘unreasonable’ and you find yourself questioning the random and mundane obstacles you face every day.

It’s hard to remember my first impressions of South Korea, but one of the first memories I can recall was stepping off the plane almost two years ago and seeing a couple dressed exactly the same head-to-toe. I tried to come up with an explanation for this bizarre sight, but my life’s experience just didn’t have one. After only a few months, I figured out this absurdity was really as absurd as I thought. Korean couples actually enjoy, and are somewhat praised for, dressing identically in public. Their uniform proves to others that they are ‘going steady’ and are taking their relationship to a whole new level. This cultural dress code is known as ‘couple sets.’ Clearly, a bit more in your face than exchanging rings or updating your Facebook status, as is the custom in certain western societies.

In Korea, relationships are praised and envied by others. Stores around the city sell these eminent ‘couple set’ matching outfits. There are also restaurant ‘couple-set menus’ where for one price, you can order a meal for two. It is evident that South Korea takes pride in catering to couples young and old and in a very obvious way.

Tying the knot at a young age is highly desirable in Korean culture. A handful Korean’s live with their parents until they marry and since a large number of people have settled in apartments rather than houses, sharing rooms with family members is very common. As a result, there are a variety of ‘love motels’ that surround the country. A love motel is a cheap stay for lovers to spend some alone time together, either by the hour or overnight. Love motels are a distinctive part of Korea’s ‘love’ culture and are also economically alluring for travelers.

Last summer, some friends and I travelled to the east coast of Korea, where we stumbled upon an outdoor museum called “Love Land.” I can’t recall a more bizarre theme park in all my travels. The grounds are decorated with large (and not so large) phallus statues, along with sculptures of humans, presented in erotic sexual positions. Although the idea of love is a prominent concept in the minds of Korean people, the park itself portrays a heavy focus on sex which is taboo in most Asian countries. I would highly recommend it for some awkward moments and a good laugh.

As a Westerner living in a foreign country, sometimes it’s just best to appreciate where you are, revel in the culture and learn from it, even though it may be far different from what you’ve ever experienced before.

A renowned Korean, martial arts philosopher, Master jin Kwon, in many ways summed it up best: “Remove the roadblocks when you see them, otherwise you will have to climb a high mountain.”

Follow Gillian on Twitter at @GillyFarb.

Follow Women’s Post on Twitter at @WomensPost.

How NOT to hate running: Hill Training 101

I used to avoid hills like the plague. My legs turned to rubber while gasping like a fish out of water to the summit of what could only be described as Mount Everest II. It was far from an enjoyable experience but as I got used to running hills I began to appreciate what they were doing for my body. I developed stronger legs and became a stronger runner. Now, I run for the hills and enjoy it. Everest II, it turned out, was just about 600 meters long and not really that steep.

In a recent email interview with Dr. Jack Scaff, the Honolulu resident known as “The Father of Running” in Hawaii, he shared his expertise on hill training. In his book, Your First Marathon, the Last Chapter in Long Distance Running, hill training is covered extensively.

“Hill running is good strength training; however, it tends to be anaerobic,” Dr. Scaff said, “When one approaches a hill, run perpendicular to the horizon, shorten their stride and come off the backside of the hill or downhill using the same type of stride ―short steps going up the hill, the same short steps coming down, longer strides on the flat and no pounding at any time. While going up hill also remain upright and lean as little as possible into a hill. Swing your arms parallel to your body and not cross.”

He further comments, “Running downhill is a paradox since all the muscle can do is contract. As you run downhill, the muscle must relax at the same time while it is trying to contract. And of course this decreases recruitment as well as subjects the muscle to a greater potential for injury. There is another style of downhill running known as out-of-control or windmill running (which is what the arms look like) in which the individual runs downhill with terribly long strides, simply following through with longer and longer strides while going faster and faster. It’s effective but difficult to stop, dangerous and road rash is a certainty.”

More Tips:

1. How to run a hill: head up, pump your arms, lean slightly forward and run about 80% effort and jog or walk on the way down. Repeat six to 10 times.

2. Pick a hill suitable for your training. For average runners choose a hill that is about 90 seconds long.

Follow Christine on Twitter at @christineruns.

Follow Women’s Post on Twitter at @WomensPost.

How to raise your net worth

Often when asked, it’ll take me a few seconds of thinking to remember my shoe size, my dress size, or my home phone number. Never my net worth; that’s always top of mind. Is that backwards? Considering my priorities and measure of personal success, I really don’t think it is. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t want to give off the impression that a person’s net worth is the be all and end all of how they should be valued and treated as human beings, but I do think it’s a significant qualifying factor to a person’s success in business. There are a thousand business people and entrepreneurs who can talk a good game, but at the end of the day, the numbers don’t lie.

Your net worth is basically how much money you’d be left with if you subtracted all your debts from all your assets. I put a substantial amount of thought and energy into increasing my own personal net worth, and the habits I’ve developed have proven to be beneficial, not only from a personal standpoint, but also for my business and for my family. The simplest ways to increase your net worth are to purchase assets and to pay off debts.

Purchase Assets

One of the first lessons I learned, however, was that not every asset purchase you make will actually help you build your net worth. For example, a new car, unless it’s a collector’s item or vintage automobile, will depreciate faster than almost any other asset you could purchase. Forty thousand dollars spent this year could be worth $10,000 less next year. Any assets you purchase need to at the very least remain stable or ideally increase in value over time. I prefer to increase my net worth by way of real-estate, artwork and silver bars (a bit of a gamble, but I’ve found still more stable than gold). Others may choose to purchase rare coins, and my mother is partial to handmade Persian rugs. All these things will help in building your net worth.

Pay Off Debts

Another way to build your net worth is to pay off your debts—even if you have to start off with the small ones. Pay off your car loans, your student loans and your credit cards. If you have to prioritize, start with the high-interest debt first, or any other debt where the interest is not tax deductible.

Invest

It may also be worth it to use debt to build your net worth. This is especially the case when it comes to investing in real estate, where the debt you incur with a mortgage is being used to purchase an asset that will appreciate in value. This is always a risk of course, since there’s no way to know for sure whether an asset will actually appreciate, but there are lower risks involved if you focus on assets that have a habit of increasing in value.

As a business person, your net worth is an important figure to consider in your financial goals. Decide what your net worth goal is, and then do whatever needs to be done to get there. Work hard, make the sacrifices and ultimately, you’ll reap the rewards!

Are Canadians purchasing homes prematurely?

Purchasing a home is a large part of the North American dream, but maybe, Canadians should be rethinking before signing their names on that dotted line.

New housing statistics suggest that home purchasing is at an all time high at 70 per cent. But some economists fear that people are investing just for the sake of having a home without truly considering all the financial repercussions that come along with making such a large purchase.

York University’s Schulich School of Business Professor Moshe Milevsky feels that new homeowners have to think more critically about the market. Because of the U.S. housing crash six years ago, Moshe says home ownership doesn’t necessarily make sense for a mobile workforce that has to deal with fluctuating property values.

Many economists are saying that Canadian government has played an active role in encouraging people to own homes prematurely.

Ben Rabidoux, creator of the Economists Analysts blog, suggests that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has provided an unrealistic cushion for homeowners, encouraging them to purchase.

With CMHC loan mortgage insurance, a prospective homebuyer only needs to pay five per cent down on a home. Banks will secure a loan because it will be covered by the CMHC insurance.

Although Canada’s homeownership statistics are through the roof, other countries paint a very different picture. Seventy per cent of Europeans, in cities like Amsterdam, London and Paris, rather rent than own. In some South American countries, people wait till they have 70 to 80 per cent of the money needed.

What it means to be Mexican

by Christine Stoesser

“Resignation is one of our most popular virtues. We admire fortitude in the face of adversity more than the most brilliant triumph,” wrote Nobel Prize winning author and Mexican Octavio Paz in his 1961 collection of essays The Labyrinth of Solitude: Life and Thought in Mexico. On a trip to Mexico this past August I came face to face with a country vastly different from my own, yet linked somehow through its inclusion in the North American continent, and its close proximity to the bombast of the United States.

After two days in Mexico City I was already trying to form a cohesive opinion of my new surroundings; they eluded me. I was puzzled, and still am. My boyfriend’s iPod was stolen out of his suitcase in our hostel in the Zocalo; his underwear neatly folded as if in apology. The Zocalo (central square of the city) was once an Aztec city of immense pyramids before the conquistadores arrived and tore them down, building stunning cathedrals where they had stood, using the rubble as building material and the Aztecs as slaves. Underneath all this history, in the Zocalo subway station, is a glass-encased model of the original Zocalo. Although underground, it symbolizes a culture that has never truly died. The subway itself is a running example of ‘fortitude in adversity’—moving approximately 21 million people around 163 stations takes a special kind of courage— the service is smooth, the price right (about $.30) and the riders extraordinarily patient, and accommodating, knowing exactly how to angle their elbows and knees in order to create just a little more space.

Remarkable as well is Mexico’s reverence for the arts—celebrated artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo adorn Mexico’s $500 peso bill, their tumultuous, affair-ridden marriage a symbol of national pride. It is interesting to note that while Rivera’s murals ensconce the interior of Mexico City’s gorgeous Palacio des Bellas Artes, and his iconic mural Sunday afternoon dream at the Alameda Park hangs still in the park of the same name, it is the self-portraits of Kahlo that hang in the houses of the people, in restaurants, shops, and cafes. In Oaxaca, and throughout much of Mexico, art is not contained in galleries—it’s everywhere, and sustains the life of the sculptors, woodcarvers, potters, and textile artists who make and sell it. Music as well is integrated effortlessly into Mexican society, and every musician is multi-talented, confident, and always ready to perform.

At the onset of my adventure I felt annoyed by what I considered an overwhelming assumption on the Mexicans’ part that I was wealthy—by the end of the trip, I had realized that, in comparison, I am. Surprisingly, however, I only saw one person in three and a half weeks who was likely homeless, and unemployed. Everyone else was at work doing something, anything, whether it was driving a Collectivo taxi, running a public washroom, or waiting at a remote gas station with a basket full of mangoes for the next vehicle to appear. One Yucatan penitentiary was actually selling hammocks handmade by its inmates.

“Our poverty can be measured by the frequency and luxuriousness of our holidays,” wrote Paz of the Mexican fiesta, which is usually a celebration for a patron saint of a city or village. “…Fiestas are our only luxury.”

I was lucky to attend a fiesta in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. There were fireworks, and food, and drinks served while people danced to a band that grew exponentially drunker. I felt out of place but not unwelcome amidst the revelry, unaccustomed to such a blatant sense of community. But if I understood for a moment what it means to be Mexican, it is now lost; thus I feel I must return, perhaps in the winter.

 

WATCH: This man spent three years travelling the world — and taking selfies

The selfie is derided as everything from the ultimate symbol of selfish millennial to the modern day equivalent of scrawling “Joe was here” under a library desk. But when you’ve devoted three years of your life to travelling the world and visiting exotic locales what better way is there to show off your accomplishments than taking selfie videos with a GoPro on a stick?

That’s exactly how Alex Chacon documented his three year journey by motorcycle to hundreds of different countries, now compiled in one three minute video that is gaining plenty of hits on YouTube.

Check out more of Chacon’s adventures at Modern Motorcycle Diaries.

Besides searing jealously that someone has a life blessed enough to spend that much time traveling the world, what do you think — is this finally an acceptable form of the selfie?

Deafness and determination: My life story

I was born in Owen Sound, Ontario. My parents found out that I am deaf and have mild cerebral palsy. At first, I couldn’t walk at all. My doctor thought I would not be able to walk and would be in a wheelchair for life. My mom told the doctor that she would help me walk no matter how long it took me to learn. Finally I started to walk when I was 4 years old, which surprised her.

The deaf school in London suggested that she put me in the school for the deaf. She refused the offer and decided to keep me at home, as she knew it was not a good fit for me. I had a teacher, Brent Paul, come to my house once a week to help my family to communicate with me. I went to regular school with my siblings and of course I got the support from school having an interpreter and helping me achieve all my goals.

In grade 8, I was told I needed another interpreter to attend high school in a different sign language (American Sign Language). I hadn’t even learned sign language at that time and I had to learn so I could easily understand high school.

I kept getting support from school and they suggested I get a co-op placement so that I can get a job easily, My first placement was a three-month co-op at the Flower Expressions. I ended up getting hired there, so I moved to Kitchener and worked for them for three years.

After that, I found myself into the entertainment industry in Toronto. I volunteered at Toronto International Film Festival for a while, Female Eye Film Festival for few years, and worked for a fashion designer, managing the site as a blogger for a year.

I realized this career is what I want in my life so I’m staying in the industry.

I am really proud of my mom’s determination to work really hard to help me succeed in life. If anything, I could give her credit for being so strong. I want my mom to get the respect she deserves after helping me so much.

 

Why settle for less when real love could be just around the corner?

I was having drinks with a girlfriend last night — because gabbing about life over wine is my favourite pastime — and when it came around to the topic of boys she mentioned that she was comfortable settling. Just like that, as if settling wasn’t something we’d been advised against our whole lives. Why would I settle when I could have big, huge, life altering love? Because some people have stopped believing the stories the movies sell us.

The truth is in the world we live in today a grand romantic gesture would probably end up as fodder for blogs and columns like mine if you’re lucky, and if you’re not it might get you arrested or facing a restraining order. If Say Anything were set in the present day Lloyd Dobler would never win over Diane Court the movie would end with Diane jetting off to England with a hot hipster she barely knew and Lloyd would be left alone at home wondering why girls don’t ever like, ‘nice guys.’

But even if the grand romantic gestures we grew up watching, and believing in, on TV and in the movies are of the past why should we settle for someone who we only kind of love? Are we just so lonely in our big digital world that we’ll settle for someone who meets all the basic partner requirements? He has a good job, he treats you well and maybe he knows how to satisfy you in bed; do you also have to love him in that big epic way too? That seems like an incredibly tall order; at least it does to my friends who’ve given up, who’ve resigned themselves to finding someone so they don’t have to be alone rather than finding someone who makes their hearts flutter.

It may be because I’m in love now, it may be because I’ve been in love before but I hate the idea of settling just so you don’t have to be alone.  I have a partner who sets my world on fire and I want that for everyone else; even if you have to wait for the next 15 years it’s better to wait and find someone who makes you smile than settle for someone who, ‘will do, for now.’

It took a long time for me to believe in love again after the Big Ex left me, it was such a shock to my system, I remember sitting on the couch repeating the words I’d heard in movies and TV shows before, “No. I don’t agree to that. We’re not breaking up.” As if I had some say in what he did next. It always worked in the movies, she could always get him back, and it was never final; that time, it was. After that I wanted to settle, I didn’t care if I didn’t know his name and he was only there for a night, I just wanted a companion and a good time. I threw myself into my work and I stopped looking for love there were a few that came before Boyfriend that brought me out of the darkness, only to throw me right back into it.

Until the night that I met that silly, nerdy boy in line for a movie and everything changed. It’s OK to settle for a while but my big romantic heart still believes that every one eventually finds their match, sometimes it’s not what you’re expecting and sometimes it takes a lot longer than you’d like but it happens.

 

 

Here’s the first step in getting ahead in your career

Those who know me best know that I take a decidedly flowerchild approach to the way I conduct myself in business. As focused as I may be on success and financial rewards, I try my best to create and operate within a universally free-spirited domain, and I encourage those around me to do the same. I’ve never responded well to the rigidity and formality of the mainstream corporate sphere. So, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to my little circle that one of the main contributing factors to my business success is also touted by new age, likeminded flowerchildren like myself as a means to living a successful and fulfilling life: visualization.

Visualization is powerful. In my own day-to-day experience, I find that visualizing my business goals is often a foolproof way to attract the outcome and energy that I want.  But the practice itself, at least for me, is not as free-spirited and whimsical as some might believe.  For me, it’s actually pretty practical and methodical.

Before I visualize what it is that I want, I really have to sit down and work out exactly what that is. I set concrete, specific goals for myself, and I always make sure to include timelines. Writing them out so I can refer to them whenever I need to is also really important to my whole process.

Then I just use my imagination! I put myself in the center of it all, and visualize everything as if it’s happening right now, in this very moment. I imagine what it feels like and looks like to have achieved the goals I have set for myself, and I picture everything to the tiniest detail. I know what colour my office walls are, I know what artwork I have hanging, and what plants I have on my desk. I picture myself doing work that I love, working with my ideal clients, making my ideal income, and having enough time off for my friends and family.  I think about how I’ll feel – the sense of security and confidence I’ll feel as my bank balance increases. It’s not a snapshot or a photo, but my own little mini movie that allows me to breathe in the positive feelings that I experience as I imagine my ideal life.

The result? When I take the time every once in a while to indulge in a little visualization, I often find myself more prepared, more confident, and more believing of the fact that I can achieve any goal I set for myself. I’m energized and completely ready to start my day!

Of course, the simple act of visualization is really just a starting point – actually, maybe a pre-starting point.  The real fun comes in activating that vision and turning it into reality.

Girl power is alive and kicking

Previously, I wrote an article on women holding each other back in the corporate sphere through bullying, intimidation, and underhanded tactics that seemed to come straight out of a high school clique handbook.  It didn’t sit well with me.

I know what the statistics are, and I’m not naïve to the fact that there are women in businesses across the continent that feel that the only opportunity they have to get ahead is to power their way through with a blatant disregard and insensitivity to the women around them.  It just hasn’t been my own experience, and while I’m sad that this issue still permeates so much of the 21st century business woman’s experience, I am also so grateful that it has not affected mine.

I want to acknowledge my experience, and I’d like you to acknowledge yours.  It’s easy to recall vivid details of the woman who scorned you in her self-serving efforts to achieve success.  But I refuse to believe that we don’t all have equally significant stories of women in our workplace who have held us up, pushed us forward, made us laugh, and encouraged us to fly.

So to the woman who always made me laugh, even on a stressful day, with her blunt and to the point (sometimes inappropriate!) sense of humor and conversations – thank you.

To the woman who shared my love of summertime fun and soca music, updated me on new music on our lunch breaks, and helped me find quick flights to New York City – thank you.

To the woman who all but held my hand through the process of putting together deal sheets and never once lost her patience when I made a mistake or forgot to send through the right documentation – thank you.

To the woman who would intercept me on the way to the lunchroom with candy and chocolate bars and treats that made me smile – thank you.

To the woman who enabled my obvious problem with online and catalogue shopping and didn’t judge as she delivered boxes of shoes and clothing and toys and kitchen supplies to my desk – thank you.

To the woman who has been nothing but supportive of my personal accomplishments and ventures, sharing them with her network of friends and family and being such a positive source of encouragement even in times when she didn’t know I needed it – thank you.

To the woman who spent most of the time we worked together trying to “figure me out” and who always let me know which hairstyle she liked best and where to get a good healthy lunch – thank you.

The woman who sat across from me and helped me through real estate terminology I was not yet familiar with; the editor who goes beyond her role to speak kind words and offer help and advice; the publishing team that takes the time to understand what I need to say and helps me figure out a way to say it; friends who have my back and colleagues who push me forward – THANK YOU.

Maybe I’m just blessed – but I’d like to think that perhaps we’re too busy looking for the negative experiences that we lose sight of all the little moments with the multitude of women who realize that their power does not lie in your failures or embarrassments.  Our successes are shared, there’s room for all of us.

Would it be too cliché to end this article with the words “girl power”?  Well, I just did