About Cafe

Welcome to the cafe. Join me for a coffee and a conversation :)

Intelligence — Do You Believe You Have It?


‎I’ve recently been thinking a lot about ‎intelligence — smarts, talent, whatever you’d like to call it.

It’s interesting that no matter how intelligent you may be in reality, if you don’t believe or perceive that you are, ‎you’ll be stuck.

Stuck doing the minimum that you think you’re only worthy of doing — whether it’s the kind of job you go after, ‎pursuing certain interests you wish to develop, or anything else that requires self-belief.

I see someone I know going through this now and it breaks my heart knowing they are capable of so much more. ‎But somehow, over the years, they seem to have lost the confidence that this is the case. And so, they settle for less.

I’ve been there. And that’s why it distresses me to see her like this, because I know exactly how it feels to not believe in your own worth.

There’s been two main things in my younger years that led me to experience this same way of thinking about myself.

But before I get into that, I want to explain that I was always smart when I was very young. I did advanced math and was in my school’s gifted program. I was also very creative and read a lot of books and wrote stories and poems. ‎So objectively speaking, I was an intelligent kid.


But the first thing that started me down the road to thinking less of myself was that I got into the cycle of working low-paying, survival jobs for many years.

I worked long, hard hours and usually multiple jobs at a time — but at the end of the day, I felt like I was working constantly around the clock towards a dead end as my destination.

It all started when I was in high school and my family had to go on social assistance. And it got worse when I moved out on my own, as soon as I graduated high school. At that point, I mostly felt like I couldn’t rely on anyone else but myself.

There was never enough financial stability in my life to have the luxury of “taking time off” to gain experience towards some kind of meaningful career or to build up the skills I was lacking. Or to apply carefully to jobs and wait for the right one to come around.

It was “take what you could get” and, moreover, take it right away or you wouldn’t be able to pay rent the next month.

Even though I dreamed to have more for myself, that’s all I felt I could achieve because that was simply life as I knew it.

It was very difficult to fathom things like ever ‎making a certain salary (never mind actually working a salaried position with benefits and a pension plan), or becoming a manager, or running my own business.

Those things seemed to be meant for another type of person. Not me.

The second thing that got me to a point where I doubted my intelligence was that I was in a relationship for a period of time where — whenever he was mad — this guy would tell me that I was fucking stupid, an idiot, loser, retarded, pathetic, worthless.

Even if I objectively knew that he didn’t really think so when he wasn’t angry, it was hard not to internalize it after hearing it yelled at me again and again and again.

After a while, I seriously started questioning whether I was actually stupid. And in that state, I didn’t have much reason to believe that I could achieve any better than I was doing in university at the time.

I now know that I always had the ability to be in the top percentile of my class, but I just floated by, believing I could never belong up there.

Things with him eventually got to the point where I felt so much despair and hopelessness when he’d yell those things at me, that I would punch my fist into my computer screen or bang my head against the wall.

I think it was the innate, visceral reaction of needing to fight back, except I had been so conditioned not to hurt him that I hurt myself instead.

I had come to feel very worthless — just like he said I was — and as though I was in the bottom of a deep, dark hole, unable to see a way out.

How could this be the rest of my life? I wondered.


With all the instances of people explicitly or indirectly putting down your intelligence, and with all of the actions (or omissions) you make that reinforce the idea that you aren’t deserving of a better situation, it’s easy to spiral into a cycle where you stay stuck at the bottom.

‎And when I say “bottom”, I mean at the bottom of your potential. You never aim higher. You stay fearful. You don’t ask questions or reach out to people who could become your connection or knowledge base to “better” things.

And so, you never find out just what you’re capable of. You never get to experience how truly fulfilling life can be when you stretch yourself to the limits of your awesome potential.

If you don’t believe something is possible and within your reach, why would you even try to take the steps to get there?

Since that time, I got accepted into a very competitive Master’s program and graduated from it with a 4.0 (out of 4.0) GPA. I have worked salaried positions. I have been a manager‎. I have proven to some of the most brilliant minds in my field of study that I am unequivocally deserving of their reference any time I’m applying for a new job.

I have also gone on three solo backcountry camping trips with zero fear and organized several group trips.‎ I have learned how to play the piano and guitar. I have composed my own songs.

I clearly am an intelligent person. ‎I always have been. It just took some time, a whole lot of sweat and tears, and an enormous amount of love and support to actually see it.

And now, I believe I can do anything I put my mind to.


The road that led me down to the deep, dark hole was long and complex.  And thus, it was a long, complex process to get out of it.

But one of the most important antidotes to combat my negative self-beliefs was the continuous reinforcement that I was in fact worthy enough to achieve more for my life.

That positive reinforcement had to be greater and more frequent than all of the negative messages coming at me, including from my own self.

And it came in the same two ways that conditioned me to ‎grow my self-doubts:

In the same way as my ex continuously put me down with words to the point where I internalized his image of me, receiving constant messages of encouragement, belief and praise for my talents ‎got me seeing myself in an opposite light.

Two further things on that: It meant surrounding myself more with positive people who brought out and saw those good things in me. And while most of that validation came from others initially, I had to eventually be able to find it in myself.

Secondly, just as failing to take action in order to aim higher led me to stay stuck in a cycle of fear and insecurity, taking small (and eventually big) steps that would end up in personal successes gave me tangible proof that I could in fact accomplish the things I once only wished for but never thought I could do.

There were many other things that helped me in my journey, like going to counseling and finding healthier ways to cope instead of turning to my defense mechanism of drinking to escape the reality I didn’t want to face.

It’s been a long road, but it brings me an immense, unexplainable joy that I can now genuinely tell you how much I do truly believe in myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still and will always be a work-in-progress. But the distance I’ve come so far gives me hope that if I could get here, anyone who may not think it’s possible can too.


And so now, when I see my dear friend going through her own struggles, I make sure to tell her how smart and talented she is, and how she is deserving of so much more. I remind her about her accomplishments and I try to give her advice on things that have helped me gain my own self-confidence.

And I hope that if you know someone who seems like they are drowning in the belief that they can’t aim any higher, you’ll also offer them your own sincere words of encouragement.

Let them know what their strengths are. ‎Give them practical advice too — help them develop the social and human capital that we all need, but sometimes don’t learn how to build up, in order to navigate the system.

Because if I hadn’t had people to throw out those life lines for me, I would’ve likely stayed stuck at the bottom of my potential. I might still be working dead-end jobs and would have never contributed my skills and talents to the places I’ve worked at or the groups I have volunteered for.

I might have lost all hope in finding my spirit and struggled to pass on the positive messages and energy every person should strive to add to this world.

And that would have been a serious waste of intelligence.

~ Janice (a.k.a. Cafe) <3


On mental health awareness and stigma: I think as a collective, we really need to open up more about mental health and talk about the hard issues we all face. Too many people feel alone and ashamed about their mental health issues. Let’s change this.

The discussion that happened on this past post I wrote really gave me hope that people want to talk about mental health. And that no one is alone in their struggles!: On Mental Health: If You Got Issues, You’re Officially “Normal”.

As I said then, thank you for reading with an open mind, and please feel free and safe to share your story here.

Photo #3 Credit: Sad woman
Photo #4 Credit: Storm clouds gathering
Photo #5 Credit: Thanks, Amy! :)

Taking Down Stage Fright: My First Show

I played my first show a couple of weekends ago. It feels pretty surreal now that it ever happened.

Even the next morning I wasn’t sure that it had. Probably because I went from singing on a stage to a crowd of people in a bar to sitting alone in my cubicle staring at some graphs.

But happen it did. It all started out with me attending my first ever open mic at a place called Free Times Cafe. I don’t want to sing professionally and I don’t care much about performing. BUT I hated the idea of having stage fright.

I’ve had stage fright all my life, since I was a little kid when I would cry if I was being forced to sing in front of people.

When I was a teenager I was taking classical voice lessons and actually dreamed of becoming an opera singer. But I would enter into these singing competitions and when I’d perform, I would get so nervous that I’d forget all the words and something that was NOT my voice would come out of my mouth. It was pretty brutal.

I got back into singing many years later, but this time just for fun. I was taking lessons at my friend’s music school and every year they put on a recital. I still got the uncontrollable shakes the couple of times I sang on stage. And that bothered me.

People who aren’t sure if they’re going to get killed stepping outside of their house on any given day in a war-torn country have something real to fear.

Stage fright? Well, I believe stage fright is an irrational fear stemming from the insecurity you have that people may think you suck after hearing you perform.

I actually think many of the things we’re afraid of doing in life come from caring too much about what other people think. And so we hold back. We don’t pursue the things that would bring us great enjoyment or a more fulfilling life.

And so, when I was asked by the Free Times’ open mic host to come back for their Best of the Open Stage show, I said yes because I knew it was time to really kick stage fright in its big butt.

I practiced really hard for the next couple of months to prepare. I went to a couple more open mics to get practice singing in front of people. I almost planned to go sing out on the street — I figured if I could do that, I was golden!

But I got sick a couple weeks before the show (of course). I tried not to panic and focused on getting better. The night of the show, I was still battling something and was barely keeping myself together. But the audience was so incredibly amazing and all I wanted to do was lay out everything on that stage so I could walk away knowing I did my absolute best.

It turned out to be a great night and I was mostly just ecstatic to have so many of my favourite people in the same room, showing so much love and support.

Would I do it again? Yes, I would. I truly believe that conquering fear in one area of your life will just make you less fearful in other areas of your life.

And as with most things, practice makes perfect — so, the more you practice pushing fear away and just going for it, the easier it becomes to ALWAYS push fear away when it’s trying to steal the spotlight.

What’s been one of your life-long fears that you’ve either conquered or would like to conquer?

~ Cafe <3

Nature Selfie



The assignment of taking a self-portrait compels one to ask themselves: “What words would you use to describe yourself? How will the viewer know what matters to you? What story do you want to tell?”

While in some ways there’s nothing particularly fascinating or unique about this photo, I feel like it answers all three of those questions.

What words would I use to describe myself?: I enjoy the simple things in life, I absolutely love and need to be immersed in nature, and I strive to be genuine and honest (which I think is expressed through the direct, open relationship between myself and the camera, or viewer).

How will the viewer know what matters to you?: The position of lying in the grass, book and  removed sandals in the background, and I think even the simple t-shirt I’m wearing communicates this aspect of my personality.

What story do you want to tell?: The story of returning to a less complicated life — one where my practice of happiness includes quiet spaces and time, and being in nature.

When I lay here in the park, my toes in the grass, marvelling at the puffy clouds in the blue sky, I mused to myself: This is why children are so happy and free in their minds — they immerse themselves in nature and find joy in these simple, quiet moments. Here, the demanding worlds of the work grind, social standards and even digital connection fade away.

What would your self-portrait look like?

~ Cafe <3

Photo taken: August 7, 2015
Camera: Blackberry Q10 cell phone

This photography assignment was from National Geographic’s Getting Your Shot.

Eating Ethically: The Chickens that Changed My Life


A few weekends ago, I volunteered at Cavaleiro Farm, my friend’s business located just outside Toronto.  It was one of those events that, when I look back years from now, I’ll be saying changed my life.

I’ll be writing up an article for the Farm about my full volunteer experience.  So I’ll save the details for that piece.  Today, I just want to talk about two things.  Chickens.  And eggs.

And no, not about which came first.


My hiking boots are a hit for these peckers. 

When I arrive at the farm, one of the first things to greet me is a group of birds — chickens, turkey and guinea fowl — who promptly begin to peck at my shoes.

Apparently, there’s a bunch of reasons for their pecking tendencies, but a main one seems to be to establish “who’s boss”.  So, I guess they’re trying to tell this farm foreigner (i.e. me) that they were here first.

Throughout my visit, the farm fowl are ever-present as they follow us around the land, chill with us on the porch as we sip our beers, and try to sneak their way into some potted plants that are temporarily sitting outside.

I meet Rudy, the gentle, spirited farmer who is taking care of the birds, and learn more about his lifelong passion for raising these animals. They seem to be drawn to him when he stoops down to take a photo for me.


Hmm, don’t seem to recall them pecking at his shoes.

I end up having an awesome volunteer experience at Cavaleiro Farm and say good-bye to my newfound farm animal friends the next day. I can sense that this is only the tip of the iceberg and the start of a new relationship with the world of food …

* * *

When I get back to the city, I make a trip to NoFrills to stock up on some groceries. NoFrills is a large supermarket chain in Canada known for its super cheap prices.  I would typically be psyched to have one of these in the neighbourhood, but as I walk around the aisles now, I just feel downright confused.

I’m especially perplexed standing in front of the shelves of eggs.  One farm purports to be selling eggs from hens “raised in enriched colony housing equipped with perches and nesting areas.”

The lightbulb in my researcher brain automatically flashes and the bullshit detector zones in on the term “enriched colony housing.”

Immediately, an image materializes before me: A team of marketers are sitting around a boardroom table, excitedly brainstorming how they can reel people in to the farm’s new line of egg products. They have to find a way to describe the living environment of the egg-producing hens (photo below, from the farm’s website) to their unassuming target consumer.


According to the farm’s website, Enriched or furnished cages” have more room than a conventional farm for the hens to “move around, stretch, and spread their wings.”  Oh yeah, baby, these birds are living the high life.

“So, how are we gonna sell this thing?” one of the marketers kickstarts the discussion.

“Well, these cages have perches that the birds can roost on,” another marketer points out emphatically.

“Right, right,” the first marketer murmurs, furrowing his brow as a fury of buzzwords whips across his mental whiteboard. Suddenly, genius strikes: “Furnished! The cages are furnished!”

A third marketer claps his hands together with glee. “Yes! People will love the idea of a homey environment. Shit, we could even use the word ‘housing’ instead of ‘cages’.”

The second marketer nods vigorously, then adds: “You know, these cages are definitely bigger than those jail cells all the other birds are crammed in.”

“Bigger,” Marketer One repeats in agreement. “Bigger. Better. Improved. Enhanced. Enriched. … Enriched!!

“BRILLIANT!” Marketer Three is about to fall out of his chair. “Enriched! No one will know what the hell that means!”


Conventional egg farm — “the jail cells” and where the majority of Canada’s table eggs are born. (Screenshot from the aforementioned farm’s website).

Shaking myself from the marketers’ meeting I have just imagined myself to have witnessed, I scan the shelves for a more promising carton.

Another brand is selling eggs from hens “who live in an open-concept barn environment where they are free to roam, feed and nest.”

I start to ponder: Just how large is this barn? How many hens do they throw into this “open” space? And if that’s the best description this farm can come up with to describe the hens’ living environment, is it safe to assume that the birds aren’t living outside the barn at all?

And what do you know?  When I start to do more research on open-concept barns, I run into images like the one below.  These fall into the “free-run” category of eggs.


Yes, run free in your wide open-concept abode.  Run free.

While these birds may not be locked up in cages, they aren’t allowed to go outside. They’re also typically de-beaked, which makes me sad for these natural peckers.

Coming from a criminal justice background, I can’t help but liken this to our prison system. These birds are serving a life sentence in confinement. Except, what crime did they ever commit? At this moment, in my mind, humanity sucks.

My head is spinning from all of the advertising nonsense that seems to be screaming at me from the row of shelves. In the end, I just walk away from the whole section of confusing labels and say screw the eggs.

Thing is, I don’t think I could even trust an “organic” label on a product at this point unless I’ve seen those birds roaming freely firsthand. I’ve started learning how even that term can encompass a vast area of greyness.


The Cavaleiro Farm birds.  I believe they’re happy :)

I never really understood what it meant to eat organically and ethically, but I’m starting to get it now.

I’ll be waiting for the Cavaleiro Farm chickens to start laying eggs, but until then, I’m still stuck pondering how I’m going to make my next over-easies for breakfast.

What’s your take on eating ethically? 

– Cafe <3

Want to learn more?:

  • Rolling Stone article on farm animal cruelty undercover activists: Animal Cruelty Is the Price We Pay for Cheap Meat
  • The Meatrix, a humorous but compelling series of educational videos on how farm animals are treated: www.themeatrix.com
  • Project Animal Farm: An Accidental Journey into the Secret World of Farming and the Truth About Our Food — a can’t-put-down book written by Sonia Faruqi, a Wall Street investment bank analyst turned investigative farm animal crusader: Project Animal Farm on Google Play

Know any other great resources on ethical farming and eating?  Please share in the comment box!

Exploring Family History on the Death Road


While my fellow Torontonians partake in ribfests and fireworks to pay homage to the birth of our Motherland, I sit here on the couch, sipping some red, as my mind wanders off to another region of the world (sorry, Canada).

Los Yungas. The lush, green rainforest that stretches across Peru, Bolivia and Northern Argentina. Teeming with colourful flora and weird and wonderful fauna, it is accessible from the city of La Paz in Bolivia via the deadliest road in the world, “la Camino de la Muerte” (the Death Road).

About 50 years ago, a Korean family consisting of nine siblings and the parental heads ventured across the world from their home country to South America. (The tenth sibling would later join them). They landed in the Los Yungas valley.

My mom was eight at the time, third youngest of the siblings. Although most of the family later moved to La Paz where they opened a clothing business, my mom stayed in the rainforest for another year with her father.

They would frequently make the trip to La Paz and back, and the whole family would sometimes journey to the Yungas for restful getaways. Which meant a lot of Camino de la Muerte for my mom.

My mom remembers how unregulated the Death Road was back then, absent of guardrails and vehicles having to play the passing game when the road became too narrow to constitute a two-way. (Don’t think too much has changed there, ma).

She also recalls trucks filled to the brim with oranges and people sitting on top of the oranges as they zoomed towards their destination on the winding road.

I remember hearing about these stories when I was much younger, but back then I didn’t comprehend the global infamy of the Death Road. After days of travel research, I now find myself in awe that this rugged journey — that thrill-seekers from all over the world pay bike tours to take them on — was just a part of life for my mom.

Yes, a significant piece of my family history puzzle lies in Bolivia. Thus, Bolivia is where I must go.

Visiting “the heart of South America” was barely a shade of a dream a couple years ago. I could only hazily envision myself in what I conjured up to be a dusty town where old Bolivian señoras in their bowler hats sold fresh fruits and nuts in open markets.

But today, the dream has actualized itself into a plan. It won’t happen tomorrow, but I’ve sketched out a pretty solid draft of my future explorations in what I consider to be the Third Motherland.

While I’d love to do the typical tourist traps, like Salar de Uyuni, I also want to be able to travel slow and really immerse myself in Bolivian life and culture. And, of course, I want to visit the Yungas and experience an important part of my mom’s childhood.

Now I just need to work up the courage to face the Death Road …


… and maybe stop watching stuff like this:

If you were to explore your family history and culture, where in the world would your journey take you?

– Cafe <3