Happy Chinese New Year!

I was on a ship off of St. Maarten last year when one of the staff greeted me at breakfast with Gong Xi Fa Cai. I am quite fluent in mandarin. My head didn’t get itself around to recognizing what he had spoken or what language or why. It was apparently the day of the official “Chinese New Year.”

If I had gotten my international copy of the USA today, WSJ or FT (aren’t we all familiar with those when abroad?) I would have undoubtedly been reminded of the fact with some front page coverage. I, in all my embodied Chinese-ness, can tell you all about the traditions and intricacies of Spring Festival. However, if one were to ask me where it calls in the calendar this year (remember, it’s “lunar”) I would have zero idea. It has never been apart of my world.

Last year a little familial episode (don’t we all have those come holiday season?) involved my brother not calling our grandmother to speak best CNY wishes. My mother spent a little phone time retelling me the event, grandmother is so old and was hurt and everyone else so offended. Etc, etc, etc. I get it, CNY travel is a very big deal and there’s huge expectation for families to gather

Baidu tracks CNY travel with an amazing interactive map.

It is the largest annual migration, taking place over approximately 40 days. The IB Times estimates roughly 2.4 billion trips by road, 295 million by train, 47.5 million by air.

chinese-new-year-goat<photo credit: Aly Song/Reuters>

It has never crossed my mind until recently how fortunate I’ve been to be spared much of this holiday. Curiously enough, the 5 of us have never been on the same continent at the same time in my life. My family has never “migrated home” for CNY. However, one can likely tell that with the mass cultural tradition in place it would be expected for children to pay respects to the grandparents. Any Chinese family would undoubtedly be horrified with the thought of my brother not even phoning to speak holiday regards.

Poor guy, I’m sure a bit of admonishing was facilitated via facetime.

In the middle of listening to this I suddenly thought “wait wait wait. I have never called y’all for Spring Festival, I have never even thought to wish happy CNY.” My mother brushed it aside with “because you’re an arse, it’s be useless to expect.” 🙂 All in good humor of course.

A part of me finds the warmth of it all endearing, reading and seeing photos of Chinese people hard working, saving up to purchase what they deem to be the most worthy items to bring home and gift loved ones. Mostly I’m thankful to be spared the investment of time, effort, capacity and resources.

Happy CNY to you all.

Advertisements

The challenge of learning to enjoy for enjoyment’s sake

I have my favourites, Valentina Lisitsa, Yujia Wang and (heads and shoulders above everyone else) Freddy Kempf.

I’ve watched and listened to this exact performance hundreds of times.

The Pathetique

It was my signature piece at the time I stopped. More than a decade has passed.

I made a little acquisition recently, I am in limerence. It is the absolute best sounding, feeling upright I have ever touched. It is better than a former parlor grand Steinway. It is so wonderful.

image1 (1)

It has been a curious thing, learning to play for one’s self, one’s own enjoyment. In brief moments, my head is full of judgement. A voice inside is just horrified at how bad I am, how very very awful, how terrible I’m nowhere near where I am supposed to be. My fingers are stiff, clumsy and raw. I picked up the Pathetique once more and am stumbling around the first movement.

Then I remember there’s no one here, and I am simply enjoying my love.

5 Things I love about living in the UK

1. Drinking. It’s easily accessible, everywhere, inexpensive and acceptable. I truly enjoy going for drinks with friends, silly talk all around and just casual drinking. Most of the (young) English crowd is far too ummm….youthful in a way I was never and sort of envy at times. Most non-high end pubs are frequented by the loud, obnoxious, humiliatingly intoxicated youths. Whilst it can bring about many eye-rolls it’s great for me, because drinking in the UK is not a high end experience. I can go walk down the street when my day is rounding up to just “be” and enjoy a few beers, ciders (ok I really really like that Ciders are readily available in most places vs. say in the US where it’s still up and coming) and just round out the evening. Having drinks is not a “see and be seen” like in many many other places but an every-man’s experience.

2. Curry. I absolutely love a great Indian curry, it is without a doubt my all-time craving food. I like it from any simple, street corner, takeaway only (sometimes because you really cant stand the thought of “dining” in such a place)and as spicy as I can get it. Also lamb, great lamb curry, perhaps any lamb. Why is great curry (and lamb) less readily consumed in the US and Asia?

3. Fashion. This applies to two fronts. One is the wide array of international styles around London that one will encounter. Mostly I mean the other side of things, my girlish vanity enjoys the UK. While I may be far less self-conscious than most women, I do appreciate how great English girls make me feel. (Gosh, here I think thank goodness I have so little traffic on this blog that I’ll not get verbally beaten for this comment). For example, Korea has about the most beautiful (and I do mean beautiful) flawless, impeccably feminine women with perfect hair and perfect (never over done but always always “done”) makeup. The German, Swiss, Swedish, etc girls are more put-together. They may not do mostly high heels, stockings and carefully selected jewelry and accessories for a coffee and grocery run, but the walking boots and jeans are always well-fitted and well kept, the hair oftentimes more cared for. American girls are casual, very casual and there’s a wide difference between different regions of course but in the UK I can run to Tescos in track pants, an oversized sweatshirt, hair still wet from the shower and there’d be many women in less fitting sweats perhaps not even clean. Going out in the evenings to a lovely restaurant or bar, there’s a section of women always very “primped,” they’ve likely spent hours doing up the hair and makeup and squeezing into dresses bought recently that never fit quite well. The majority of English women do not appear like they feel good in their skin, and it shows. The benefit is it doesn’t make me feel like the ugly duckling or Steinbeck’s clumsy Lenny.

4. Civility. Each culture has it’s own version of civility I suppose. Years ago I encountered a number of occasions where people asked me why I kept saying “sorry.” It doesn’t mean I take responsibility for being the A and took action B to cause consequence C onto You! I have a challenge explaining the sometimes (I don’t think too frequent) tip-of-the-tongue courtesy when you lean a bit over someone to shout across a noisy bar or as we bough squeeze by a narrow lane or sometimes in place of “pardon/excuse me.” Also people are generally nicer in a homey fashion, not as overboard as the American Southern states may be (which is also enjoyable) certainly not comparable in way of small talk (Americans can out small-talk anyone in my opinion). Also “sorry” is used in leading up to a (often times very common, reasonable request of someone). I would say something like “Oh sorry! I’m afraid you may have mistaken my coat for yours” instead of many more direct cultural ways such as “Hey you! Grow some eyes, that’s mine, this one here’s yours!”

5. Tea. I picked up Fifty Shades when it began making all the headlines. I was fascinated, what was this best selling fiction of all time (out selling all fiction novels in the world, combined in 2013)? My takeaway from that? Quite vividly, I recall the protagonist preferring her Twinings breakfast tea weak (just dig the bag in the water and right out again). I can’t give you a play by play of the bedroom scenes but I do recall how she’d request her tea. It’s terrible. I actually don’t care for any particular brand but I do love black breakfast tea, I like it heavy (from a distance perhaps the blackness could be mistaken for coffee). I like it as heavy and strong and basic. The whole delicate “tea culture” coming out recently (wander through any American shopping mall and you’ll come across the new-age high end tea shops ready to compete with the starbucks but with a hippie appeal). To tell me there’s 185 varieties your shop carries, this with a hint of rose bud and the jasmine green picked by hands of virgins served only in clay wrought from tibetan monks to be only X temperature blah blah blah….I like my tea Irish. Quite sincerely, I’ve not yet found many places where I can even get decent English Tea, black. Perhaps Ms. Steele had to conserve her strength for the bedroom and had stamina left for real tea.

What Chinese TV taught me

I had no exposure to Chinese media til mid 2014.

I’ve recently begun to watch a particular show, basically Chinese (romantic-some married, some dating, some playing around with possible dating) couples solving their issues. Their ages range from 20 to 70, the conflicts are sometimes idiotic, sometimes heart-wrenching, sometimes rather dark.

images<photo credit:tianjinweizhiaiqingbaoweizhan>

The dialogue (led and guided by the host and panel of “teachers”) generally consists of both parties telling their history, how they met, complains about the other’s actions’, etc.

I watched a few minutes one time, then an episode, then ten episodes. I found myself truly surprised by a building realization.

Chinese people are ill, often.

We’re talking young college aged kids to married couples in their 30-40s to elderly pensioners dealing with their own children’s marriage, etc.

The picture this show (and much of tv news and general chatter online) gives is that people are often sick with the flu, a cold, fever to unknown mysterious illnesses that seem to not have much impact on their dating/online gaming activity but require much needed medical attention, hospitalization and costly medication.

Out of my recent (in the past 6 months) exposure to Chinese tv and the Chinese society (employees, colleagues, acquaintances, etc), I have learned:

-People (even but maybe especially young people) frequently fall in love with someone based on how the “potential bf/gf” acts while the individual is sick. As in “Oh we knew each other for X years and he pursued me in A, B and C ways but then one day I was very sick, had a fever was hospitalized, went on IV fluids and he brought over fruit and medications…..I was so emotionally moved.”

-Chinese people are ill very often, it often requires immediate trip to hospital.

-When in hospital (admittedly a complex and frustratingly inefficient system) Chinese people require much Much emotional support (it would be offensive to not).

-“To go on IV” is a phrase on to itself. Individuals obviously incapable of much movement (especially post op) or comatose let’s say, among a number of things are put on IV, also makes it much easier to administer drugs whilst in hospital for many patients of course, I get it. However, to “go on IV” seems to be an indicator of the severity of an illness, it is evidence to the “oh woe is you.” What’s in these special Chinese IVs? Why are so many people on IVs?

-Chinese people are frequently hospitalized, for many days at a time.

-During hospitalization, the patient needs to be attended to by family members. One hears the phrases “What if they needed a drink of water?” or “What if they were cold and had a suffer in the bed with no one?” or “What if they were hungry and…” I still don’t know why the individual was hospitalized to begin with so I’m not understanding the problem.

The Chinese factories I’ve dealt with (in 2014) had ridiculous numbers in way of employee sick leave. I’m talking only the 20-40 year old (equivalent of modern day assembly line) workers. My question is, How can so many of them be ill? More than 80% of illnesses quire 3+ days for recovery. It’s very much expected that the employer allows time for sick leave, doctors visits and the like.

I am very much dead center of the present working population age pool. I’ve never been hospitalized. I’d say if I asked close friends they’d also indicated there was that one bout of the Flu that us out of the work for a few days (a week maybe).

It’s not the air pollution, it’s not the food, it’s not the genetics or “something” in the water.

At first I was a bit alarmed. The dating drama went unnoticed, I began googling whether the Chinese really have some major health issue. Is life expectancy on the rapid decline, rampant tail-end waves of SARS? Okay, now I’m teasing. I came to the conclusion that it’s not a really weak and sickly population as a whole. Culture, of course it is.

On many an occasion I’ve thought of stopping the machines to make an announcement — those with weak and delicate health/dispositions will be laid-off, if you find yourself inefficient and unable to perform the duties hired for self-terminate today for a one time offer of 60% comp for 3 months.

Women also quit or request months off when they discover they’re pregnant, OR when planning on pregnancy. Funnily enough post-birth leave requested is rather short, generally 3-4 months vs say the length of gestation.

In this moment my english is failing my, befuddled brain. People gotta stop being so ill.

The Laundry

As much as I may represent the antithesis of the stereotypical “balinghou” woman, certain aspects of daily life put me right in the mold.

Laundry is my achilles heel.

Absolutely.

It is only in recent years that I have discovered (more like run into the brick wall) how I am entirely the product of a culture and generation that undervalues household upkeep.

I can be high self-sufficient. I am quite organized and clean in many regards.

Laundry tosses me on my ass, every single time.

image6

By this point in my life, I can say it is not for lack of trying.

I launch into things, any issue, whatever the field of expertise. Part of it is ego, part of it simply because I am rather confident in my problem solving abilities. Whether it be finance, to sales, to operations to hr to labour disputes to terminations to IT support to customer service to fixing appliances around the house. I don’t hesitate in launching in.

Admittedly sometimes against better judgement and senior advice.

Laundry is awful.

85% of the time the washing and drying (yes, as the assimilated American I am, I do always rely on a washer and a dryer) goes okay. The folding is….like Californian pollen season. I still cannot figure out why it takes me so long and I do it so so very Very badly.

I know this, because the once a week my cleaning ladies come in for the hour they’ve managed to make everything spark, lemony-fresh AND my laundry all folded like they belong on some home shopping network commercial.

I’d like to get good at housework.

One day.

Why I don’t plant Flowers

What began as the desire for a personal blog initiated itself as a few rather brazen commentaries.

Let me get off of my soap box for a moment and give, at least, something personal. This blog you see, was brought forth from a building desire to speak my thoughts and reflections in a way I may not be able to readily do in daily life. I have a sense it could be valuable.

Therefore, let me venture a step away from the safe subjects I have fallen upon (those impersonal subjects, where I can be at ease and “loud” as I am in my daily life) — to escape sharing the personal I’ve repeatedly dabbled with writing on the fall of the euro, national debt to gdp ratios and how we can best develop new practices.

I do not garden. I have many friends and acquaintances who do, and enjoy as such. The desire to (and “hobby” if you will, is so foreign to me).

Until a few years ago, I traveled with a small black carry-on duffle. Only that, no matter where I went or for how long.

There were more items in my car than in my home.

I invest heavily in human capital and spend (obscenely) little on material possessions.

I have an attachment to non-attachment.

Duffle

The black duffle was an older version of this one. It was nondescript, free of visible logos, slid under the seat in front of me easily (of any plane) and held a second pair of heels, my tennis shoes, all of my clothes, my chargers, macbook, and toiletries in a ziplock.

I carried or wore a black, knee length cashmere coat, wallet, mobile and passport held in the inner left pocket (earbuds in the right outer).

I was proud of that, and spoke jokingly of it to friends who commented on my oddities. I showed up well dressed (suitably) for anything my life presented, laundered frequently, and when something needed to be replaced (usually: black, non-press blazer, undergarments and the single set of workout clothes, the one mascara or lipstick) I did so. I used to say I did not see how people’s lives were improved by having the amount of “stuff” they tend to accumulate. I’d watch a friend throw on some running shorts to head out with me and complain about how her favourite were better in X but were in the wash or the time and effort people could spend into putting together outfits. Does it really add the quality of life?

I believe now I was somewhat correct (one could say tyranny choice). I believe now I was also somewhat — odd.

I enjoy, very much, walking through shopping malls in different countries. It’s one of the most entertaining, thrilling leisure-time activities I can think of. I never find myself wanting much. In fact, some would argue I enjoy the “not spending” money more than its alternative.

Money is freedom.

It’s not the only form of freedom and certainly not even the most powerful. However, it is a tangible, quantifiable item in which freedom. To me, freedom is secondarily the power to do what you choose and primarily the power to avoid the things you choose to avoid.

graph

Like all forms of freedom, it’s not a guarantee, I do know that. When times of distress fall upon us (i.e. 2008 and the present Euro dive) ones sees even more the power of freedoms accumulated. Even as one’s anxieties can reach extremes watching the markets plummet, currency value cut in half — freedom is still freedom, it is relative in the very basic sense. As I walk through the streets of Wangfujing, Jumeirah Plaza, Outlet malls in holiday season,  I find myself taking great pleasure from my “not purchasing.” The temporary (or perhaps even year(s) long (naturally at the effect of the law of diminishing return even if lengthy) value from a new handbag, pair of sunglasses, designer denim, etc rarely (note I don’t say never) seems worthwhile when the tradeoff is a piece of freedom accumulated for the future.

Saving seems difficult for many. While I rarely think in terms of “saving” in the classical sense, I do find myself enjoying saving much more than is conventionally thought of as healthy.

Trading momentary comfort or pleasure for 2X the value at a future moment? When it comes to delayed gratification, I often joke that I would have left in starvation but with a lifetime supply of marshmallows.

I invest in myself. One step above money, is human capital. What I mean by that is the accumulation of knowledge and skills that will allow me to build. This is much less at the effect of market forces beyond one’s control. Building knowledge, skill, thinking and how to leverage human capital into financial capital is more satisfying than most anything. Building an offer in the marketplace, the satisfaction is not altogether in when the cheque clears or the contract is signed but that I am able to make the transaction. The more offers I see to make and close, the more I am at ease with the knowledge that I am able to transact.

I say this not with pride, the reasonings so far have been not a recommendation but an illustration. I cannot glimpse the desire to plant a garden, arrange a home, accumulate furniture for one’s environment and material possessions in general.

It is worse.

If all the people I love, care for and depend upon were gone tomorrow — life would be very very different and an adjustment and rebuilding period quite challenging I’m sure. I know I would be okay.

I find it difficult to allow myself to want something into the future, however large or small. This could be a vacation a year out, furnishing a home is second degree black belt and, of course, planting a garden is always on my mind as a curiosity.

We are all somewhat the product of our pasts. Extreme uncertainties in early years formed much of my patterns today. Those conditions no longer apply.

Slowly, I’ve accumulated more clothing, more “stuff” around the home, I’m slowly letting myself settle a bit more and more.

Letting myself “want” things is a challenge. The consequential things regarding business and production I have no problem with. I’m happy to speak in ways of projecting years out into the horizon, easily. However, the personal things are very very much so.

Last week, I found myself watching some video ads. I, for a moment, let myself get a bit of girlish excitement and say to myself how I’d like to get the 2016 1-series coupe when it comes out. Then I froze. The immediate and ingrained reaction is — of course not, idiotic, how silly to say as such when my personal situation, needs, capabilities, lifestyle at that time coupled with the offerings of the market that I am yet unaware of in this moment and so on and so forth…..would make it highly unreasonable for me to declare as such now. It is further irrational given there is no benefit to speaking as such in this moment when the only thing we know for sure is that circumstances at the moment such an action is available (the coupe open for purchase) are sure to be different than they are today, sure it may be the way things unfold at that time however there is no benefit and possible detriment in planning on it at present.

More than the little things, I am allowing myself to become attached to people.

I find myself in little fantasies (occasionally) about moments years ahead with some.

Some things are not “present time” and some habituated ways of being perhaps no longer hold much value.

This blog is a step out of the habituated.

One day when I plant a little something, I hope I will be able to post about it here.

A #Selfie Epidemic

Take a look around the next time you visit a touristy venue, beyond the medley of languages, fashion and ambient energy of leisure you’ll undoubtedly see the rise of the #selfie epidemic.

SAFRICA-MANDELA-MEMORIAL<photo credit: Getty Images>

If someone had pitched a selfie extender to me just two years ago, I would have politely given a “we are simply not allocating in that space” whilst pondering who I would enthusiastically mock the product with over happy hour.

Today, I extend (respectfully) the term “selfie culture” to include all amateur photography destined for one’s social media networks.

The cultural spread of this absolutely fascinates me.

Why?

Why does it unnerve me?

Narcissism and validation, I frequently hear those words used in the answers.

Does our life hold only as much meaning as can be shown?

“Sharing our life” with friends and strangers is a vicious cycle. The more we feed it the more we want to feed it. Validation becomes more and more important, we begin to live experiencing the emotions we selectively choose to engage in (and are much more at the effect of those we selectively choose to avoid).

In the late 90s, walking about Japan’s metropolitan centers, one notices women and youths photographing everything, publicly. I found it curious. I watched the world go from photographing the world’s wonders (recall the days when tourists actually setup tripods in front of the pyramids? Yes because a single shot likely took too patience to hold in place) to photographing oneself in front of Niagara falls to a group of friends asking the favour from the waitress to get a group shot of a school reunion to a studious young man unbothered by the public as he takes headshots of himself, solo, by iphone, at a starbucks table.

I too have come to the party, late as always (to any fad). As I pull out my phone at the restaurant I think excitedly of posting these photos of my charcuterie plate or the glass of wine I chose.

There’s that gnawing feeling of — Why?

I find myself (frequently actually) in an uncomfortable “limbo” where I often times think I should certainly throw myself into the game (as my “friends” various platforms have 99x more material than I to “share”) and if I should simply abstain as it doesn’t comes easily to my daily patterns and I have a challenging time figuring out how it connects to my ultimate ambitions.

Yes, every action is only “green lit” when it fits into my ultimate ambitions (what it means to live a life I want, simply that). The actions are simple really, and small — long showers (maybe twice a day) produce a brighter, more pleasant mood for myself and therefore those around me, taking time for “play” such as a vacation or mini-breaks every couple of months allows for completely exposure into a new environment, new moods, new thinking is produced and new conversations with loved ones that would not likely occur otherwise, and etc.

Naturally I could argue this is a great way of maintaining and opening oneself to ones family and friends, keeping “alive” for those around given the public is already on the boat and sailed halfway across the Atlantic. Time to at least tag along.

Perhaps.

I am still unsettled with this.

It appears, if a tree falls in the woods we care how it was documented and shared by whom. –Generation Z