The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

A pinch and a squeeze

It’s a bit ironic that in order to feel better, you often have to go through pain first. 

Like getting yourself into shape, you must first experience the pain of physical exertion. I mean way before even putting one foot in front of the other, you have to go through the pain of getting yourself ready and nagging that other voice in your head to just get out there. Same like getting your eyebrows done, get a good brow therapist and years can be taken off your face. But that too is not without pain as two lengths of dental floss are used and just seem to rub and ping away at your brows. Though comparatively less painful than getting a real actual face lift. 

Anyways, I’m driving along and I can feel a few squeaks and spasms going on in my lower back. I’m thinking, ‘I need a massage.’ Long hours hunched over a computer, running and naturally being quite a rigid person I often end up moving like the Tin Man. But the jet lag and sleeping on a couch for the most part of four weeks has really caught up with me. I could barely turn my neck to look over my left shoulder, a problem that weeks of physio is needed to sort out every now and then. 

So why not treat myself to a bit of ‘me time’ and go get myself a massage that will soothe all those aches and pains away. How often are we sold the idea of a nice and relaxing masssage to revive and rejuvenate the soul. Trickling water in some zen pond, aromatherapy oils and therapists who glide silently bringing you herbal teas. That’s the kind of massage I should have gone for.

Instead, I go for a 90 minute session of Traditional Chinese Massage. There is warm herbal tea and zen background music. There is also Le Le, my therapist for today. She is a force to be reckoned with. I don’t know how she does it. The way she can channel such strength in one thumb that delved deep into a knotted shoulder. She actually pinned one arm behind my back and dug her elbow into my shoulder blade and dragged it down the length of it. And she pinched me. She actually pinched me. 

Now I consider myself a person with a relatively high pain threshold. But as Le Le traces her knuckle over a particularly stubborn knot backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, I have no choice but to yelp out in pain! Does she care? Does she even care? No she doesn’t. She just sort of says in a tone she clearly doesn’t mean, ‘ok, ok’ and eases off a smidgen. At other times she doesn’t even do that. She just ploughs on, regardless of the fact that tears, real actual tears are stinging the backs of my eyes. Places I didn’t know were knotted were being unknotted, like my buttocks. I thought they were just firm! 

Le Le is not the first massage therapist to have had her work cut out when working on one’s canvas. Each time I go, I always get told that I should come back on a regular basis. But each time one does go, the pain of unknotting half the knots inside of me is just so painful, you need to give yourself time to get over the memory, like childbirth, before going in again. Le Le is obviously very good at what she does and I’m sure in a few days time I’ll be feeling completely fluid in movement but for now, it feels like I’ve been hammered all over like meat needing tenderising. 

Unlike the time, I helpfully tried the same elbow in shoulder blade technique on Husband when he was feeling a bit knotted. It didn’t seem to have the same effect.

 

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UN Day Celebrations 2017 – We are all just people

On the Friday just before the half term break, #1 and #2s Big School celebrated United Nations Day. It’s the second one we’ve been a part of. I think it’s one of the best events in the academic calendar. 

A colourful celebration of the 52 countries  represented by all the children who attend the same school. A day to be proud of your heritage and learn about different cultures around the world. For UN Day #1 and 2 were representing England. It’s pretty hard to find an outfit that defines English national dress. So #1 wore flat cap, shirt and tie and #2 wore a Beatles t shirt!

At the first UN Day celebration, I was surprised to learn the school had so many different nationalities together with the school teaching to the British curriculum. But I really oughn’t be. After all, in the not quite eight and half years I have been in Singapore I have had the joy of meeting so many different people from so many different countries I couldn’t possibly name them all.  The experience has been amazing and so many valuable and interesting lessons learnt from each one of them.

I like how we have shared the parts of our culture and heritage that are familar and this makes being away from home that bit more bearable. Like having Pancakes for Dinner instead of just for breakfast. Having noodles for breakfast instead of toast. 

Sometimes though, I also like the ease of someone who gets your humour and colloquialisms, the cultural references and the music and television shows you grew up on. This shared sense of identity can make the art of fitting in go a little more smoothly when you’re living far from home.

But for #1, 2 and 3 everyone is just the same. To them and their friends they are just who they are. 

Only when you share the world with small children, do you see how simple it can be to live alongside each other harmoniously. You just need to observe on a daily basis that children don’t really care what you look like. But they do care about the way you behave.

UN Day celebrates all that is wonderful about cultural diversity. Teaching the children to be proud of who they are. Many children come from a blend of cultures and it’s exciting for them to acknowledge all these different parts of themselves.

For #1 and 2, their world is already quite open having been born in Singapore with family in England and Hong Kong and friends all over the world. For their age they are fairly well travelled. Their palates are internationally influenced as well. They enjoy the benefits and learnings of a multicultural and tolerant society.

The world has definitely  changed since my day. 

Although I haven’t experienced open racism for many decades, I still remember that feeling of wanting to melt into the background. Not wanting to draw attention to myself for any unwanted comments because I looked different or just because we ate different food. Thankfully those were different times and distant memories.

Lately though, I have had a slight worry that the world is turning the other way. That it’s becoming more angry and that anger is being manipulated to take us back a few steps. I worry that #1, 2 and 3 could experience the same unpleasant hurt that I once did and I didn’t think I would have to. 

Please don’t let us regress. 

Racism, prejudice, intolerance all stems from fear. Of what you don’t know. Something that is different. But different is a good thing. Different brings excitement and fun. Different brings a wealth of experiences and learnings and acceptance. It keeps us fresh. 

It was at UN Day celebrations that I experienced a moment of poignancy. A will for #1 and 2 to remember these days of true multicultural living. Their friends who are French, German, Indian, Jordanian, Scottish, Irish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Dutch, Finnish, Swedish, Australian, New Zealander and Singaporean. 

Where everyone fits in. Where everyone is just allowed to be. We are all just people gathered here on one planet after all.

 

 

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Inbetween two New Years

I hope this new year has started well for you. Already we are nearly towards the end of January. 

Living in the tropics, it’s very hard to allow those old January blues to take hold. 

Is it because of the weather? Mmmm, it’s been quite a wet sort of week. (It does happen occasionally here too.) Quite frankly the rain bringing cooler weather is a welcome change because it’s not going to last long. 2016 was the hottest year on record and if things don’t change soon, these kind of statistics will feature more regularly.

There is no time for resting on your laurels in Singapore. No sooner has the countdown to New Year’s Day ended then the  Christmas decorations are whipped down and up go the spring blossom and red and gold hues for Chinese New Year. Mummy’s no longer kissing Santa Claus in the supermarkets as he’s been chased out by a lot of cymbal clashing and Gong Xi, Gong Xi, Gong Xi Ni.

This year, with the Lunar New Year following hot on the heels of the calendar New Year and #1’s Birthday inbetween, there feels like even less time to linger in January. 

And after some of the disappointing events of 2016, we perhaps wish to put some rapid distance between then and now. 

But it is precisely because of those disappointing events that 2017 should count even more. 

I’ve decided without really planning to, that 2017 will be a year of activity. I haven’t set any ambitious goals. I just want to do more. More running. More baking. More hanging out with family and friends. All the things that make me happy and widens my reach and world.

Last year felt confined. That’s the only word I can use to describe it. And realising this, I don’t want this year to continue in the same vein. It’s enough for me to know this. And like enforcing any path of change, you have to be ready to make the conscious decisions that create change yourself. As much as it was clear to others, I had to reach that conclusion myself. 

So today, I wish to thank those closest to me who allowed me to give voice to all those events that had me confined last year. Whilst it was clear to them what I should do, I just wasn’t ready to make a change and whilst I haven’t done anything yet regarding that area, I feel that I can should I need to.

And that’s the difference I see. Change comes from within. Your head, followed by your heart, followed by your head again. 
So I’m picking up the things that I loved doing the year before last and hopefully I’ll learn a few more new things this year to boot.

Tomorrow is the start of the new Lunar New Year. May it be a continuation of good things to come.

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The first Reality TV Celebrity US President

I cannot lie, I once enjoyed a reality television show. Big Brother. Wife Swap. The Apprentice. I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. But I’m now so over the idea of such shows that in my haste to condemn them, I almost forget I ever enjoyed watching them in the first place.

If I remember back to the early years of Big Brother, in the early days of reality tv shows in fact, everything seemed more innocuous. I quite enjoyed getting home on a Friday night for 9pm to watch Big Brother. It was actually nail biting tense to have your particular favourite up for eviction. We even had Big Brother Final Night dinner parties. Mostly heavy in attendance of one gender over the other. I can’t remember what was so fascinating or appealing about watching a group of everyday people in one place. Sometimes funny, sometimes cringeworthy, sometimes outrageous. Perhaps it was because they were just everyday people that made it seem intrigueing. And most of all seemingly harmless.

Like with all such tv shows, after a few series, it all begins to go horribly wrong. In a bid for more ratings. To up the ante on the previous year. In pursuit of fame the easy way. Who can be more outrageous. How can we humiliate the contestants. Make them cry, crying always gets the ratings up. And a romance. Will they or won’t they on live TV. 

Nowadays, I wish this genre of so called entertainment would just go away. Instead it has evolved into the docusoap. Following the lives of already famous people like The Osbournes to making people famous like the Kardashians because we have created a monster out of this. I can only be glad that by the time I left the UK shows like The Only Way Is Essex, Made in Chelsea and Real Housewives of Orange County do not feature on my radar. 

It makes me angry that the ‘stars’ of these shows are famous. For what? It’s bred a whole plethora of talentless ‘celebrities’ for no purpose whatsoever, except perhaps to fill column inches in the Daily Mail. What makes me despair some more is that people aspire to these ‘celebrities’. Aspire to being a reality tv star as a get there quick route to infamy. And then after your 15 minutes of fame is over, you still desperately cling onto it. But why were you famous to begin with? Many for all the wrong reasons.
You may say, if you don’t like such TV then don’t watch it. I no longer do. But it’s there and normalised. So normalised that there’s a whole generation of people who have grown up watching this tripe and think it’s acceptable to bully others, be racist, belittle, humiliate yourself and others for the viewing pleasure of millions of people. 
It worries me as a parent of a future generation. Am I being overly melodramatic you say? I don’t think so. There are no boundaries it seems. Do you remember the first time that Jools Holland uttered the F word on live tv? It was outrageous! As if none of us uses the F word if not daily then at least once a week. There has to be boundaries. And I don’t know where they are. Can Husband and I alone set these boundaries for #1, 2 and 3 to live by? Are we enough? It’s only enough if society also has these boundaries. How can we say don’t film someone so out of their minds on booze and upload it on YouTube when on the other hand you turn on the TV and you have it there? 
I need others to also find it enough. I don’t want to be pushed beyond limits of taste and decency. I don’t want to be told that you’re going to appear on a show and expect to do mind boggling things in next to nothing. I don’t want that on my TV anymore. And I certainly don’t want my children thinking this is reality. 
Reality TV is quite a dangerous thing I’ve realised. It’s so full of drama. I often watch the interactions of young people and wonder if these tendencies to overact every nuance is a by product of this tv era. I really worry. I worry for the impression it’s going to leave on my two girls should these shows still be on going in 10 years time. They’ve survived 16 years already and seem to show no signs of abating with the myriad of cable channels available for broadcasting. 
Perhaps this is why the Great British Bake Off became such an unexpected hit. As an antidote to the trash of other shows. I’ve only managed to watch two series but it was so reassuringly soothing. And I love the fact there was real talent involved. Not just about getting into a bikini or your kit off. Being rude and obnoxious. Real talent and something beautiful that you can eat at the end of it. Even then though, the media tried to make it something more sensational with the contestants being too bitchy or too pretty. 

Reality TV is also dangerous because it fooled me into thinking Donald Trump was harmless. I’ve never really watched The Apprentice US version but in recent months, I’ve become horrified that reality TV gave this man a platform to give him the exposure and following that he now has. Today as citizens of the  USA go to the polls and make a very important decision, I worry again at what the outcome may be tomorrow. 

Was it ever a career trajectory for Donald Trump to use The Apprentice US as a springboard to becoming the 45th President of the USA? I thought Donald Trump was a figure of buffoonery. A showman. In it just for effect. I never once imagined he would get this far to becoming one of the most influential global powers. And this is the power of television. For good and bad. Six hours a day. That’s the average number of hours a person watches tv. Unlikely it’s going to be filled with documentaries. It’s time to wisen up our viewing audience. 
If for some cosmic joke he is elected as President, I blame reality TV. I place the heavy burden of influencing such lack of judgement on a nation by the choice of TV programmes that have been brewing and feeding people’s minds for almost two decades. This should be a sign that we should get rid of all such programmes. 

It has given us nothing of substance, no people of character worthy of our attention and let’s certainly hope it doesn’t give us our first Reality TV Celebrity President.

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Laughs in unexpected places

Jimmy Carr played a gig in Singapore last Tuesday. Ticket prices were slightly on the inflated side, especially when the last time I saw him live was at the Hen and Chicken theatre, Islington for the princely sum of £10 with Ms Beefy back in 2007. 

But you know, sometimes it’s worth paying a premium for some home comfort laughs. Like the time John Cleese and Al Murray came to Singapore and I belly laughed the whole way through until I felt a bit dizzy. 

Who doesn’t love a pee your pants laughing session? Which one of us doesn’t need one from time to time either. Especially being the responsible Grown Ups that we are.

However, I never got the chance to belly laugh with Jimmy Carr as I had to take a work trip to Sumatra and drive through miles and miles of palm oil and pulp and paper plantations to get to a very small patch of natural forest where you may still find the odd wild elephant and tiger. If you’re lucky.

See what I mean about needing a good old belly laugh. 

But you know, when you book tickets for a comedy film or show then you sort of expect a laugh or two along the way. As I said earlier, humour is quite unique. I think of the people I hang out with the most and it’s the people whose humour I get. Or they get you. 

There’s nothing more painful in good company than not finding the same things funny. Or cringing at something totally unfunny or inappropriate from someone trying too hard.

Truly funny people love storytelling. They are natural entertainers. Sociable people who enjoy making others feel good. 

On a very humdrum Tuesday afternoon in the middle of working day, I book a cab to head to a meeting. Mind full of checklists and wondering where it is I’m heading to. I don’t often catch cabs in Singapore. Sometimes I try and make conversation. Other times I’m too concerned with the cab driver’s interpretion of road safety rules. 

On occasion you come across a real gem of a character. Inspiring accounts of personal struggle, patriotic pride or like today, pure comedy genius. 

It all started with one question. One that he probably hears all the time. “So Uncle, are you not ready to retire and enjoy yourself?”

Which results in him lamenting the need to work and work in Singapore. How he has worked and worked to raise five children. That he intends to work and work for a few more years and retire in Japan. 

But his is not a tale of hardship. He brushes over the difficult years when the five children were young and times were tough. Now, he says, they’re all grown up with the eldest being a year younger than me. 

I don’t know how much time he actually spends ferrying fee paying customers to support his retirement as he talked about fetching his children and grandchildren here and there. An act of kindness that must be a bone of contention with his wife who he says is always on his case about why he doesn’t charge his children and grandchildren a fare. 

He says she always going on about it and I say what to do it’s our son/daughter/grandchild. She says you ask them to pay like everyone else. Then I say to her ok the next time you ask me to collect you then you pay, she yells at me “what? I’m your wife and you’re asking me to pay?”

He continues in entertaining fashion for the remainder of the journey which sadly was all too short. As we pull up to my drop off point, I thank him for such a funny time. He rounds down the fare because he doesn’t want any coins. For that I round it back up to give him extra notes. 

Laughter is afterall priceless. 

As I head out to find where I’m going I feel so much lighter which puts me in a much clearer frame of mind ahead of my meeting.
If only that happened everyday, how much happier we would be. 

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Happy Star Wars Day

Who doesn’t love Star Wars.

 

Oh you. Well, we can still be friends. But how can you not love Star Wars. The original trilogy is still the very best, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away from Disney. Without the CGI effects of the remastered editions. Less polished than the much anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

 

But this is not a post about my love of Star Wars or the merits of each episode. It is more about a shared love of Star Wars. At some point I’m sure #1, 2 and 3 will instantly dislike anything that we do. Labelling it uncool to like something that your parents do because they are of course uncool.

 

Having young children is an opportunity to relive the best parts of your childhood. Like those student days when it was ok again to like all things retro. Books, films and characters may have moved on but there are ones that endure timelessly. The Magic Faraway Tree. Paddington. Beatrix Potter. I find that in this current world saturated with short lived fads it becomes more important to introduce them to simpler times.

  

 The long lasting appeal of Star Wars is that it’s about Dark vs Light. With hyper speed and light sabers. And the Force. And the Millenium Falcon. And X Wings. And just being oh so cool. I can’t even begin to imagine back in the day watching The Empire Strikes Back in the cinema and getting to that scene when you discover THAT revelation.

 

#1, 2 and 3 have all been to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The impact of the revelation that was revealed in that episode was slightly lost on them but I’m sure as time goes on they’ll value the significance. Right now it’s all about the light sabers and using the Force. I laughed so much when #2 tried her hardest to read our minds with her hand hovering over our heads. How I wish I had that power too.

   

I’m openly very pleased that #1 is such a big Star Wars fan. His Stars Wars trivia surpasses my own by a long shot. He is now the Master. Branching out into Star Wars Rebels. The Clone Wars. Educating me on characters like Ezra Bridger spawned from the animated series that I never really took to. Sometimes keeping it simple is best. Like trying to read the books as well. I love Star Wars but if I were to follow all the books that have been written, I probably wouldn’t have time to do anything else but that would probably be ok as I’d have no one to hang out with.

 

Star Wars: A New Hope is next on our reading together out loud list with #1. I’m looking forward to it just as much as being able to read the Harry Potter series. What is there not to love about a bit of magic and mystical powers.

  

 But what is equally important is having something fun to share with #1, 2 and 3. What is it that you have that is special. That makes them think of you. #1 has for the longest time associated Nana Moon with Star Wars and it helps to build rapport. Finding the things you have in common with others to build relationships on and share discussion and different scenarios and whether or not you want to have a blue, green or purple light saber.

 

I watch #1 keenly analysing all the characters in his Star Wars Visual Dictionary. Checking out the Lego Star Wars kits. Asking me which ones do I like best and whether he can ‘share’ my Snowspeeder.

  

 Just before Christmas, Singapore Changi Airport had a life size X Wing and Tie fighters. It was amazing! #1 was quietly impressed I’m sure. #2 and 3 were all about the Stormtroopers. Sometimes it can take some coaxing to get #1 to go places that he has dismissed as ‘not fun’ in his mind. Or will begrudgingly come along to and end up having a great time. But this weekend, he didn’t hesitate when I asked him if he could like to go to a Star Wars thing.

 

You could call it our very first Star Wars convention. There were all the characters, a Jedi Academy and all the merchandise. #1 loved it. As did #3 who declared she likes a Stormtrooper. Hmmm. #2 was all about the lightsabers.

  

 Next stop Comic Con 2016. I’ve still got my Leia buns from Embracing 40.

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Another place that’s home

I was eight years old the first time I went to Hong Kong. I remember the experience vividly for many reasons. 

In those days, and I am sounding like my Dad, Mr Li, people just didn’t go on holiday much in my family. They didn’t even take a day off and even now when they do take a day off, it’s considerately early on in the week when you can still be bothered to cook for yourselves. 

Yes they are a hard working lot but times have changed and they’re a little more restful and a lot more adventurous with their choice of holiday destinations these days. I can honestly say, that according to my Dad, Mr Li, if you have to go on holiday then there’s no point in going anywhere else but Hong Kong. Like you can’t be full if there’s no rice attached to every meal. ‘What’s the point?’, he says. ‘To see new things Mr. Li.’ ‘What is there to see?’, says my Dad, Mr Li and that is what makes him such a steadfast man.

 

As a child I can distinctly remember being asked ‘What’s China like?’ Not in any mean way I should add. It was a time way before the World Wide Web. The truth would be, I don’t know. I still don’t. Nana Moon can tell you more about China than I can. ‘But you’re Chinese!’, they would cry. I know. ‘And you’ve never been to China before?’, ‘No, my parents are from Hong Kong.’ ‘What’s Hong Kong like?’ ‘Erm, I also don’t know….’ ‘But you’re Chinese!’

  

I know I’m Chinese! I’ve always known it. Even when people have helpfully pointed it out on the street, I was aware. But finally, when I was eight years old, I went to Hong Kong where I had this whole other ‘home’.  My Dad, Mr Li and a long line of Li/Lee/Lei’s hail from our ancestral village Tai Po Mei in the New Territories on your way to the China border. 

  

When you think of Hong Kong, you may think of the beautiful skyline adorned with skyscrapers across the harbour with a few ferries or junk boats passing by. The bright lights, the haggling for cheap knock off replicas, the noise, the smell the frenetic pace. The Hong Kong that I’m more familiar with is one that moves slightly slower, more green, more rustic. The one where I remember my Grandma. My Por Por. Living in our village that bustled with so much activity. 

  

The first time I went back to Hong Kong there was so much family I was meeting for the first time. I think that’s what really struck me. To suddenly have so many Aunts, Uncles, Great Aunts and Uncles all in one place. They knew me as daughter of my Dad, Mr Li and sister of Big Brother Li. The reason for this visit was for a special occasion. To celebrate a new house. A house with indoor toilets. I mean, for you and me, we’ve always known that toilets are indoors, it had never occurred to me that they wouldn’t be! Or that toilets could be anything but the ones that you sit on. And flush. Then suddenly toilets were outdoors and around the corner. Or indoors but nothing to sit on. Or something to sit on that you then push under the bed. It has obviously left a lasting impression.

  

I’m eight years old and I’m in Hong Kong for the first time.  Hanging out for three long weeks with cousins I hadn’t even met before. What is there not to love. Is it time that makes me view that first holiday with such nostalgia or how times have changed since? I haven’t stayed in our village since I was 16. In fact I’ve lived in our village for a total of 16 weeks in all my years. It’s not long at all to feel such strong associations but never underestimate the power of association. All my life it was embedded in me that this was our village. And that sense of belonging, no matter where you choose to live in the world, is reassuring. The village belongs to many of us. My cousins, my Aunts and Uncles, my nephews. I think this is also what makes it special. To feel this connected. 

  

So every time I go back to Hong Kong, I feel I have to visit the village. And every time it changes. I’m walking down a path that leads down the mountain to the start of the village where you then wind your way past houses that have been modernised and family members of a certain generation pop their heads out to greet you. It’s a lot quieter these days. Most people migrated out to the suburbs or to other countries a long time ago. But at the other side of the village there’s a new road that has been built on reclaimed land that could change all that and bring back families to the villages. There was a time that you looked out straight to sea but now the sea is just a bit further away.  
The path that we’re following is at once familiar and then not so. Where once there was just jungle, there’s a lot more concrete and then we reach the start of the row of terraces that led to our old house. Somehow, it looks a lot smaller. As nearly everything does when you revisit places with Grown Up eyes. I’m hit with unexpected emotion. I think of my Grandma, my Por Por. I think of my Dad, Mr Li having left this home over 50 years ago. I think of Big Brother Li looking on and wonder what kind of memories he has, especially on that particular day being his 50th Birthday. I look at #1, 2 and 3 and wonder when they will understand just how important this place is and what it will mean to them. 

  

Since then I’ve been back to Hong Kong six times. Not that often to be honest. Before you could buy all things Asian at the click of a mouse, a trip to Hong Kong was an opportunity to eat amazing food, buy the latest gadgets and get yourself a Hello Kitty/Ding Dong now called Doreamon fix. I would still say it’s the best place for amazing food. But living in tropical Singapore, some of the other things that you once couldn’t get enough of, is now quite accessible. So what does Hong Kong hold for me now. Well, it’s still great for shopping but the shopping with #1, 2 and 3 renders that objective impossible as demonstrated on our visit last month. Brilliant New Adventure had high hopes of us hitting the shops together but we sadly only got a measley half an hour in. Pah.

  

Brilliant New Adventure. That’s what Hong Kong holds. And Big Brother Li. And Nephews #1 and 2. And all the Aunts and Uncles and cousins that is the other half to my family. Having lived in tropical Singapore for seven and a half years with it’s own fair share of high rises and beautiful skylines, you always will miss a good mountain. Hong Kong is so mountainous and I had never appreciated that before. You can even climb these mountains but we’ll leave that for another time. 

  

I always imagine ‘home’ as being the UK. The place where we will grativate towards in due course. It’s where I was born and grew up. Where all our family and friends are. We have amazing times each trip back to the UK and it’s hard having to leave it behind. To look at #1, 2 and 3 and wonder if it’s fair that they don’t get to hang out with grandparents, aunts and uncles, godparents, close family friends all the time. 

  

And yet, what about this other ‘home’ that I have? One that forms part of their identity too living a blended cultural upbringing. You know, it had never occured to #1 to question why he didn’t have a Chinese name before this visit to Hong Kong. So Big Brother Li is working on that for him right now and most likely that’s how #1, 2 and 3 will proudly introduce themselves on their next stay in Hong Kong.

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International Women’s Day 2016: “Pledge for Parity”

This International Women’s Day, I have taken the #PledgeforParity for a better gender balanced world. I have specifically pledged to take women’s and men’s contributions equally.

 

There is no question that there is global gender inequality. From salary gaps and career opportunities to the access to education and the perceived value of the lives of girls and women.

 

I want to be able to read the newspaper and not be faced with articles of Doctors in some countries offering their services for free to parents who know they are expecting baby girls to stop them from choosing abortion. Of war torn countries using violence against women and girls as a weapon. To read that education is not a basic human right but a long hard fight for even the most minimal level of education.

 

 

Gender inequality is a great many things. Power, tradition, carelessness and a lack of action to help those around us.

 

As a parent of young children, a boy and two girls, I see the gender differences in the way they like to play, what they like to play with, how they like to dress. It never ceases to amaze me that #1 almost seemed genetically coded to like anything with wheels attached to it from the get go. Whilst #3 having been surrounded by toys, colours, television programmes for both genders has always without fail chosen the most frilliest, sparkliest thing she can reach out for. Pink was the first and only colour she learnt. Out of the three, she was the only who ever raided my make up bag before she was 2, wanting to make herself look pretty.

 

I thought I never actively encouraged this gender specific differentiation but when buying something as simple as water bottles I’ve reached for the pink, purple and blue ones. Every time it makes me uncomfortable as I question my contribution to this fight for gender quality. Sometimes there’s no choice in the matter, it’s very much either one or the other.

 

But I do have control over the positive messages I give out to them and to people around me. Language is a very powerful tool for a start and constant reinforcement that you are capable and allowed to be whoever and whatever you want to be.

 

 

Gender stereotypes were starting to creep into play with #1 declaring that certain Extra Curricular Activities were for one gender or another but school plays a big part in knocking down those perceptions as well.

 

What the children like to play with should be viewed as exactly that. I wouldn’t want to say you can’t do this or that because it’s for girls or boys. It’s for everyone.

 

There are times at home when one of us is seen to be doing more of the domestic household chores. Is that gender inequality? Or just because one of you has more time than the other? Or perhaps just one of you needs to remember the milk is running out and there’s no bread for packed lunches the next day. Should we clearly split our household duties down the middle so we’re clear who’s doing what or can we rely on a more holistic approach?

 

I think you do within couples need to remember to show consideration for what makes everything work well in your lives. If you fall within a pattern of specific roles then why not so long as you’re both comfortable with it.

 

 

I am very fortunate to live in the times that we do, with the opportunities that are often taken for granted. A good level of education, being able to drive, have my own bank account, choose to marry whomever I pleased, have a career, read a book, wear what I like and say what I like. I am more privileged than I know and what am I doing with it?

 

For starters, it’s important to reinforce those positive body images and achieving one’s ambition in #1, 2 and 3. It is also equally important to teach them kindness, compassion and respect for themselves and others. It’s about them as people and they deserve to fulfill their potential and we are in a position to help them with that.

 

Speaking up for all those who don’t have such privilege is our responsibility. Regardless of their gender.

 

The World Economic Forum states that closing the global gender equality gap will not happen until 2133. I’ll be 159 by then. That’s like three generations away at least. It’s pretty ridiculous isn’t it.

 

So whilst it is International Women’s Day,  take the #PledgeforParity not just for women but for men too.

  

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On an extra day

So what do you call today?

 

Besides 29 February 2016.

 

This year is a Leap Year but is today a Leap Day? I don’t know. I just know that there are 365 days in a year except in a Leap Year when there are 366.

 

You know, standard textbook trivia that you practiced hard remembering when you were like five. Not like now. When you can just Google it. Though you really shouldn’t have to Google this stuff.

 

But do you know why there’s an extra day every four years? That you may have to Google.

 

Anyways, I found I had an extra day to my weekend today. Ah, the luxury of the long weekend. Especially since returning to Gainful Employment are days of Annual Leave allowance precious. Not to be squandered as you please but to be saved and hoarded until most needed during the school holidays.

 

 

Whilst that is important, it’s also important to give yourself a break. I’ve just finished an event last Friday. I forgot how exhausting and stressful these things can be. The event had been at the back of my mind for at least six months and snowballed into late nights at work and so many To Do Lists that needed ticking off. The pressure of it being a success in so far as people turning up and for there to be no massive hiccups. Yes, the pressure was huge. Coupled with the fact that the late nights take you away from bedtime stories, dinner with Husband and give you a pre-occupied mind even when you are together.

 

So today was a much needed break. An extra day of dedicated ME TIME! Yay! You start thinking about what you can do. All the possibilities of a free day.

 

Like:

 

  • Coffee/lunch with that person you haven’t seen for some time.
  • A massage to undo all that tension in between your shoulders.
  • Baking an abundance of snacks for school packed lunches.
  • Go for a run. Get some new running shoes.
  • Sorting out the mess in your home you haven’t tended to for the past few weeks.
  • Buying some new shoes to replace the ones that make your feet smell at work.
  • A swim and lounge by the pool.

 

So many choices to fill just one day. Which isn’t really one day at all when you take out the time for tending to the needs of #1, 2 and 3. Equally lost was time spent hungover. Yep. Totally. In fact I’ve spent Saturday, Sunday and today hungover. Quite possibly tomorrow too. But you know, it’s good to do once in a while. Because I’m not going to be repeating the pain for at least a month or so. There’s just nothing I can do about the 48 hour hangovers these days. I’ve realised that Day 2 hangover feels like the equivalent of a Day 1 hangover from my youth.

 

So once the fog cleared from my brain this morning, I realised there were some Must Dos. I mean clearing out the junk and tidying up is an endless task so that can wait another day but there’s also other admin stuff that needs doing like checking all vaccinations are up to day and having to spend your day off taking #3 to be jabbed in the thigh is not as much fun as heading to the zoo. It wasn’t that traumatic for her actually, she was very brave. We went for lunch that we haven’t been to for a very long time. We used to go there quite often with Brilliant New Adventure, so I sent her a photo of #3 watching the soba noodle man do his soba noodle making.

  

 
That’s one thing I miss you know, since heading back to Gainful Employment full time. It’s that time you get unrushed to have lunch with #1, 2 and 3. I really must make more time at the weekends to go out with just one of the three or even two of the three or even all three really.

 

After lunch we went shoe shopping to replace the shoes that make my feet smell at work. Then it was to school to pick up #1 and 2 and talk about school stuff with #1’s Teacher. When I do get to pick them up, they’re usually waiting at the School Pick Up point but today we had the time to wander around the play area where #1 pointed out the spot that he used to go to dig for worms and to show me the tadpoles in the School zen garden. All these things I didn’t know about their daily lives.

   

It felt so unrushed today. Quite possibly due to my Day 3 hangover. Or perhaps it’s been because these past few weeks have been so busy that a regular day feels slowed down. Perhaps tomorrow when I’m back in the office, everything will continue at the same hi-speed because there is always going to be another big project coming up.

 

Today though, on this one extra day, I appreciated the opportunity to spend it with #1,2 and 3. To just be with them and thank them for understanding that last week is not going to be the normal week. Also to set a precedence that we are allowed a break and today whilst I’ve had messages relating to work, it’s ok for me not to respond to them because it really can wait until tomorrow.

 

And today being a Leap Day,  of course I proposed! And Husband accepted.

  

  

 

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The night before Christmas……

I only have myself to blame really. I know that.

 

Especially when the shops have been filled to the rafters with all kinds of Christmas merchandise possible for months. I even had the audacity to complain at the sight of a Christmas bauble in September that was jostling for space on the shelves with a pointy witch’s hat.

 

I saw rows and rows of sprouts and cranberries last week on my regular weekly Big Shop.

 

A few weeks ago I made a note to actually buy some when I admired the same staple Christmas crackers that have been decking the aisles in my eight tropical Christmas celebrations in Singapore.

 

I pondered the Christmas wrapping paper and even bought a couple of rolls back in early November.

 

I only got as far as thinking about most things Christmas though. Whilst I had in mind exactly what I was going to buy for the gifts and for Christmas lunch and Boxing Day. I just never consciously started acting on the To Do List.

 

So today I have been racing around  the shops like the proverbial Kardashian glitter bottomed fly. Picking up sprouts, cranberries, chestnuts, double cream, single cream, potatoes, Christmas crackers, Christmas wrapping paper and last minute stocking fillers. I had a moment of panic over the cranberries as the mountains and mountains of the week before had suddenly been snapped up.

Yet as I was busy locating the cranberries, it didn’t fail to register in my mind that if there were to be no cranberry sauce or sprouts, who would actually mind? Certainly not #1, 2 and 3 who are a broccoli and carrots crew and any other vegetable is still consumed via Annabel Karmel’s ‘hidden vegetable’ pasta sauce tactic. Would it really matter if I bought a tin of cranberry sauce? Or not having to explain what is bread sauce. That lump of mush that smells of cloves to the side of your plate?

 

 The thing is, these traditional food items only grace our plates once a year. To miss out would mean waiting a whole year more. (Which, if this year is anything to go by, won’t take that long to come by again.) Without these traditional food items, it may as well be just a regular Sunday roast dinner. Actually we are more or less having a regular Sunday roast dinner as at the request of #1, we are having roast beef. Posh roast beef though because it’s Christmas but not quite Wagyu roast beef posh leaving no expenditure left for anything else. #1 is of that age where it’s important to recognise his contribution is valued in this household. Equally, it sort of doesn’t quite spell Christmas without some form of turkey product on the table. It’s quite odd for me to think this now when I happily spent nearly 30 years without a turkey in sight adorning the Christmas dinner table.

 

The other more practical issue we have right now is that with #1, 2 and 3 you really can’t have the items on their Father Christmas list magically get delivered weeks in advance. How could you possibly explain that one? Father Christmas decided that because they have been extra good (ahem) then they get theirs way before anyone else? So to avoid this, we usually get the most important gifts at the very last minute.

So much so, that Husband just managed to get to ‘Father Christmas’s Workshop’ with 15 minutes to spare for #2’s ‘gift from Father Christmas.’ A request that was suddenly put in last week. Unlike #1 who is always consistent and slightly prescriptive, with detailing who is bringing him what. As for #3, it changes every time someone mentions something else. I don’t know what her reaction will be when she opens ‘that’ gift but we can easily get around it because she would have asked to put it on her list at one stage or another. She’s 3.

 

Speaking of which, this year #1, 2 and 3 are giving gifts to each for the first time. After ‘helping’ to wrap up her gifts, #3 in a very secret stage whisper says to #2, ‘Shhh. #2 you can’t open your Shopkins. Shhh. You can’t open your Shopkin ok?’ To Husband, ‘Daddy, I told #2 she can’t open her Shopkins.’ Whilst #2 is stood right next to her.

 

So why all this last minute exhausting dashing around doing everything in a Supermarket Sweep fashion?

 

It has nothing to do with not loving Christmas. I have always loved Christmas. Perhaps though, in this tropical heat, it takes a little longer to get into loving Christmas. There is no gradual transition from the warm, lazy summer days to the long, cold winter nights. Even though the shops are telling you it’s Christmas soon. There seems to be mixed messages from is it Halloween or Christmas? To is it Christmas or Valentine’s Day? The commercial aspect is relentless. The Sales have now started even before you’ve got the presents wrapped up.

 

The longer you live this Expat Life you realise just how much your Christmas wish is to be amongst all your family. Which may present other festive challenges and logistical issues but embrace them I say.

 

 

 

I still have a few more things to do but an improvement upon last year may mean that they’ll be done the night before Christmas instead of the early hours of Christmas Day!

 

#1, 2 and 3 are finally asleep. The wine is out for Father Christmas and the more responsible apple juice too. I’ve made the annual batch of almond tarts he likes. A few things have been prepped for tomorrow’s lunch, so I think we’re winning at Christmas 2015!

 

 But if there’s anything I’ve forgotten, it won’t really matter, because I already know that for #1, 2 and 3, it will be a brilliant day. It is Christmas Day! CHRISTMAS DAY! I can’t wait to be woken up super early to hear how excited they are. Has he really been? Check out what’s there by the tree. Can we open anything yet? Can we? When can we open another. And so on.

 

And there’s another reason why I’m looking forward to tomorrow and whether they truly believe. I’ll tell you about it afterwards though.

 

For now, I’m looking forward to a good day, perhaps not John Lewis Christmas ad perfect but it’s our Christmas Day. I’m sure you’ll have one too.

 

Merry Christmas. Wishing you and yours all the joy that being together brings.

 

 

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