The Santa Beard

On Christmas Day 2011, Santa Claus sat in my parents’ home eating a small piece of the last remaining bit of their wedding cake from 31 years ago. The cake tasted exactly like the hallway of an apartment building that hasn’t had its carpets changed or cleaned since the days when you could smoke inside.

Santa eats 31-year-old wedding cake

Aside from the question of why anyone would voluntarily eat such a thing, you’re probably asking yourself why Santa was in my parents’ home. Let me try to explain:

On June 8th I left Canada, relatively clean-shaven. On June 18th I shaved again in Germany, then flew to Côte d’Ivoire the next day to work for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). A month later I decided to shave my head, but keep the facial hair. A month after that, I did the same.

At that point, seeing my beard and moustache in the mirror each morning, I had to laugh at how ridiculous I looked. Also, I had to come up with a legitimate excuse to keep this farcical facial hair. The first thing that popped into my head: a Santa Claus beard. So, every month thereafter I shaved my head but not my facial hair. From mid-October to the end of my contract in late December, I didn’t even both shaving my head anymore. I think many of my colleagues didn’t believe me when I told them about this Santa beard thing. With 6 months’ worth of facial hair, I think some of them were really starting to worry about me.

6 months of facial hair

On December 23rd I landed in Vancouver. By 4pm the next day I was sitting in a comfy chair at Studio D Hair Salon in Vancouver.

Studio D Hair Salon, Vancouver

Donna went to work on my beard, first bleaching it twice to get it to turn blonde:

Bleaching my beard at Studio D Hair Salon
Bleached beard

After the two rounds of bleaching, it was time to shampoo the crap out of it, then putting purple toner in to remove the remaining bits of yellow and turn it as white as possible. Given that my beard was seriously dark brown, it was really impressive to see it change!

Donna brushing the purple toner in

Once the toner was in, it was time to let Donna enjoy Christmas Eve, so I said goodbye and went home to let the toner sink in a bit longer:

Donna at Studio D Hair Salon, Vancouver

When I got home, I shaved my head and washed the purple toner out, leaving me with a relatively white Santa beard with which to scare the next generation of my extended family at our family party on Boxing Day.

End result: Santa Chris

Of course, some members of the next generation saw past the beard (maybe the eyebrow piercings gave me away?) and knew I wasn’t Santa. That didn’t stop them from yanking on the beard, insisting it wasn’t real (or, in the case of one of them, insisting that while the beard was real, I had not grown it myself).

Smart enough to see past the beard

2 weeks in Vancouver – Assorted Photos

I flew into Vancouver December 17 to surprise my family and friends for Christmas, and this is what it looked like from the plane:

Waiting in the car for my sisters, this was what I was looking at:

I bought a shirt for $3 in Bangkok the day before flying out, and my friend Margarita Reyes decided it needed to be Christmassified, so she got out her red and white felt and made a Santa hat to pin on my shirt!

On one of my many walks in the snow, I took a few photos of art drawn in the snow on parked cars:

Waiting for two of many late buses, I took these shots:

I had two physiotherapy sessions while I was in town. My physio says that my knee is doing very well, and I’ve got some exercises to do to make it even better. This is the view from inside his office on Granville St, while warming up on the stationary bike:

We put up a tree and decorated it really quickly, but it looked really nice.

Mom carved the turkey on Christmas Day, having cooked it as well – it was delicious!

Every year on Boxing Day we have a big family get-together for my mom’s side of the family. This year the snow was way too crazy so we held the party on the 28th instead. People:

On New Year’s Eve, I joined a whole bunch of great people to celebrate the end of a very long year. After gathering out at UBC, we went to the King’s Head to dance and sing along to Monkeybar’s terrific live act.

My friend Sarina even made a surprise guest appearance!

To add to the excitement, my high school English and English Literature teacher, Mrs Nannery, was partying with us! Margarita and Josephine were equally excited.

Stash got to sing along with Steve for a couple songs, which was great.

After the party ended, a group of us went to eat Phở at Kim Penh Xe Lua before we all headed home to bed.

On the night of the 2nd, out at UBC, a couple of raccoons weren’t particularly afraid of me, though the snow got in the way of my cheap camera’s flash.

On the 3rd I ran around town madly buying a few things and hanging out with some friends, then just after midnight I flew out of Vancouver. I landed back in Thailand on January 5th just before noon and the adventures continued…

Merry Christmas 2008 update

This is the mass email I just sent out, in case you didn’t get it.

Dear friends and family,

This is my yearly update, to let you know about my adventures and maybe even get a reply about what you’ve been up to. It’s a tad bit long, so feel free to ignore it or read only bits here and there. This is not going to include too many stories, because then it would turn into a full-on novel. But you can find stories and photos from most of these things on my blog if you care.

The year started out in Uppsala, Sweden, where I’m just about to finish my Masters of Humanitarian Action (gotta hand in a pesky thesis in the next few months). It was freezing cold and dark, and I had metal spikes on my bike tires to cycle 7km each way to/from class on ice and snow. In January I visited friends in Amsterdam, The Hague, and Utrecht for a week, then moved into a new flat near the Uppsala city centre, with way cheaper rent. That cut my bike commute hugely, but instead of a bachelor pad I then had a bedroom in a shared flat with 4 other guys. It was really great, though, and we had lots of space for guests and parties. I was one of 4 students in our program who didn’t go on exchange for the second semester of classes, and I’m really happy I stayed in Uppsala. The students who came on exchange from our partner universities (there were 7 European universities running my degree at the time, now there are 9) were really cool, and most of our classes were better than the first semester (and reportedly better than most of the other unis).

During the semester, I went on a weekend cruise (incredibly cheap) to Helsinki, Finland with some friends and another one to Tallinn, Estonia. In March, I flew to Dublin to visit a friend I met in Cameroon, and some UBC friends, for St Patrick weekend, then spent a day in Uppsala before flying to Vancouver for a 10 day visit to get my knee examined by specialists and schedule a surgery. Back in Uppsala at the end of March, a few of us self-organised a May study field trip to the Balkans (actually I did very little organising, but I did the flight bookings).

April 30 in Sweden, and particularly in Uppsala, is Valborg, which is a massssive all-day party with thousands of young (and not-so-young) people out on the town to celebrate the arrival of Spring and whatnot. We hosted a big group of people at our flat who came in from other countries for the occasion, and a series of large parties ensued. A few days later I had to head to a conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia, so I flew alone to Ljubljana and spent a week there before flying to Sarajevo, Bosnia to meet up with my classmates for our field trip. I really loved Slovenia and the people I met there. We also had a good week in Bosnia and a very short but nice stop in Dubrovnik, Croatia before heading back to Sweden.

Back in Sweden, we had a few final class sessions and then at the end of May I caught a train to Göteborg to meet up with Vania, Ratana, and Karin, all of whom were at the Uni of Otago with me in New Zealand. We were joined by Henrik, who was at Otago the year after me. A weekend of fun, and then it was off to the airport at 5something in the morning! I landed in Vancouver May 26 (the previous year I left Vancouver for Cameroon on May 27), had reconstructive surgery on my left knee (ACL replacement, partial meniscectomy) June 2, and spent the next 2 months on crutches and then cane, while going to physio 2-3 times a week.

On August 13 I flew out of Vancouver again, and spent the next month in Oxford, England for an internship with the Fritz Institute hosted at Oxfam GB headquarters, which was a really neat experience. I learned a fair bit and met some really cool people, including my boss Fraser who’s an exceptional guy. After my four weeks were up, I spent a week visiting friends in the UK (Vania in Manchester, Will in Aberystwyth, Augustine in Cardiff) before heading to Germany for a weeklong roadtrip with Marcus and Prashna, two of my flatmates when I lived in New Zealand. We went to Oktoberfest in Munich, then visited our friend in Göttingen, made a trip up to Berlin, and then all the way down to Düsseldorf where Marcus lives, and I then flew from the Köln-Bonn airport back to Uppsala.

I spent all of October in Uppsala, working on my thesis background research and framework, seeing a few friends, and attending two days of thesis defences (half my class defended at the end of October, a number defended just before Christmas, and I’ll be one of a handful to defend in the Spring). Soon it was time to leave cold, dark Sweden for a brighter place – Thailand!

I spent a night in London for an extremely short visit with my childhood friend Aidan, who I hadn’t seen in years, then off to Thailand via Kuwait. I landed November 5, spent a few nights in Bangkok to get rid of jetlag and visit my friends Pavel (friend I met in Cameroon) and Nick (studied with me in Uppsala), then an overnight bus took me up to Mae Sot, which is just beside the border with Burma.

I spent November and half of December in and around Mae Sot, eating amazing food at delicious prices, making new friends primarily among other expats as well as a few locals, and trying to get thesis work done. I’ve managed some interviews so far, but it looks like I need to get some more done, so hopefully January will see me finishing that up. It’s a long process trying to get things done in the circumstances, so it’s frustrating at times, but the end result will hopefully be worth the arduous process.

If you want to know what I’m studying, since everyone seems to ask, here’s the short version: I’m looking at young Karen refugees from Burma, to see whether there are any links between A) their levels of exploration and commitment to different ideas about things like occupation, religion, politics, male and female roles and B) their levels of exploration and commitment to ideas about the ongoing conflict in Karen State in Burma (the longest running civil war in the world, now over 60 years old!). I plan on having my thesis finished by the end of March, so at that time you can ask me if I found anything interesting and I can answer by sending you the pdf like the lazy man I am.

In October, while I was still home in Sweden, I booked a flight from Thailand to Vancouver, Canada. I kept it secret from everyone, both family and friends. On Dec 17th, after almost 24 hours of travelling, I landed in Vancouver and a couple hours later had made my way through the snow by public transit to my parents’ home. I cut my hair (shaved head, it’s easy), and shaved, took a shower, and put on clean clothes, then went upstairs to surprise my dad who was the only one home at the time. I’ve been here a week, and I’m leaving back to Thailand in a week. It’s been a good week, though quite tiring at times with so much to do and so little time, and soooo much snow. I was a child the last time I remember seeing this much snow in Vancouver – we’re used to rain all winter, not this strange white stuff! It’s wonderful.

That’s pretty much my whole year in a nutshell. If anything from this email in particular seems interesting to you, you can probably find some photos and stories to go with that on my blog at which is now 4 years old. Just look at the archives by date order and it should be easy to find anything you’re looking for.

A lot of my friends ask me to keep in touch, and I’m not great at that, so I built a new set of websites to help force me to be more ‘visible’ to my friends and family without taking as much time and effort as it would for me to actually write emails and make phone calls on a regular basis. So check them out, at (yes that is the correct spelling – was taken so I bought and added a subdomain). One of the four sites is a photo-a-day thing (many of those pics never end up on my blog, so they’re different) and one is a GPS tracking project where I put up maps of everywhere I’ve been each day. I try to keep them updated regularly, and you can add them to your feedreader (I suggest as an online feedreader if you don’t already have one) so it’ll tell you if/when the sites are updated. The archives on the GPS site are a bit muddled right now, but should have them fixed soonish. So now no one can ask me where in the world I am – just look at the site and you can see not only the country but exactly where I’ve been to something around 5-10m accuracy!

Well, it’s 130am on Christmas Day here in Vancouver and I have yet to wrap the gifts I bought my family in Bangkok last week, so time to get busy! I’d really like to hear from any/all of you about what you’re up to, what your plans for 2009 will be, etc. If you’re in Vancouver and want to meet up before Jan 3, my number here is 778.316.2129. Once I’m back in Thailand, my number is + so feel free to call or text me any time. In March I’ll be back to my Swedish number, +

Merry Christmas, or as my Hungarian uncle likes to say, Cherry Mishmash! I hope the year has treated you well, and that 2009 is even better for you. Send me an email and update me on your life!

Christmas hugs,