rolade's blog

Happy New Year - Surprises, wonders and hope

December 2016 was an unusual Christmas for me because I had received an unexpected, generous gift from someone who’s not a friend or relative. When I opened the envelope, I thought it was handed to me by mistake, so the next time I saw her I tried to return it. With the sweetest smile, she said “it’s not a mistake, it’s for you from Santa.” A week later, I still couldn’t believe and accept such a present. What did I do to deserve such kindness? This act of generosity propelled me to do the same, and I was even more blessed. I was so joyful to see the sparkling eyes of contentment and happiness of those I shared my blessings with.

The year 2016 has just ended, and it’s quite a challenge trying to find words to describe it. It has been a tough year for several people whose friendship I value (i.e. losing parents and family members, colleagues, etc.) This reminds me, as in other gloomy situations, that I should not neglect my family and friends, and be greatly grateful for what I’ve.

As well, I should look at the glass half full, and not half empty, even in surprisingly polarising events, such as Brexit in the UK and Donald Trump’s election as the US president. The situation in Syria’s Aleppo is dehumanising and unbearable, and how can peace and security be restored there? Last month’s terrorist attacks in Europe and the Middle East resulted in the loss of many lives, which have contributed significantly to making the fear of migrants and refugees even worse. Consequently, insecurity in many facets and from different directions besets our society. On the other hand, there were inspiring events last year that have left a positive imprint, such as the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro with its Refugee Team (the first time in its history).

Healthy and wise

It was a rainy day in the morning of November 5, and there was already a queue at our local theatre hall. A young lady opened the door and helped me find the umbrella rack. She said, “I’ve never seen these many people eager to donate blood, especially on a gloomy day like this.” I remarked, “It might be the warmth and dryness that have brought them here.”

After over an hour of waiting and filling in the 4-page questionnaire, the doctor told me politely that I could not donate blood because I’m less than 50kg. I was surprised and disappointed thus as soon as I got home, I checked online to make sure that it had nothing to do with reasons other than weight.

Yes, it’s true that donors are required to have the minimum weight of 50kg for a minimum of 400ml of blood for the blood bag to contain the sufficient therapeutic dose (as the doctor had explained to me).

I was really looking forward to it that I had ample breakfast to help me avoid feeling unwell or fainting; consequently, I had to delay lunch.

The Etablissement Français du Sang – EFS (French National Blood Service) is responsible for the collection of all types of blood donation and takes all precautions to ensure that donations (whether they be whole blood, platelet, plasma, and bone marrow or cord blood) are done in high quality and safety conditions for both donors and receivers.

While queuing I heard that about 14% of the French population donate blood annually. People between the ages of 18 and 70 can donate blood. After the age of 60, however, all donations require the approval of an EFS doctor.

Donating and volunteering: For love of self and others

In the first week of September, in Luxembourg, I had lunch with the funding member of ‘Dress for Success’ and my student who wants to join her in helping and empowering women. A few days later, I bumped into an acquaintance who has been teaching French to new arrivals in our region without financial remuneration. Two weeks ago, I attended a fundraising dinner and dance in a town about 10km from my city. It was a friendly atmosphere with men, women and children making sure that we would have a fantastic time, in addition to being busy collecting money for local charities and NGOs. Last week, through the encouragement of a friend, I went to the nearby park and was mesmerised by about a dozen tents with generous and smiling individuals selling and entertaining people for good causes.

As I write this article, I think of my friend who has always time for her environmental group doing information dissemination, pancake making and coordinating Christmas stalls; as well as my ex-student who founded ‘United by Dream Onlus,’ a humanitarian organisation aiding impoverished children and their families. Sometime in our lives, we are volunteers; however, some do more than others.

Why do we volunteer? Research and individual testimonies have revealed that volunteering has benefits for individuals and societies, and the main ones are: i) It gives the volunteer a sense of achievement and belongingness to a community; ii) Offers opportunity to meet diverse range of people and experiences; iii) It enhances social and relationship abilities; iv) Enables development and/or practice of new skills, hobbies and interests; v) Can boost your career; vi) It’s a rich resource for organisations to carry out their missions, thus helping less fortunate than we are or those in need.

Computer Literacy

A few weeks ago, while researching for information on technological jargon for my intermediate class, I fell into a test on computer knowledge. I sometimes get into this spur-of-the-moment kind of thing and forget it in a blink. That test, however, turned out to be more than just an extemporaneous ego exercise. The result indicated that I only have average knowledge of computers (I’m being generous with myself as the average score on that day was 7.3/10 while I got only 7). For someone who has a website and blog regularly, has self-published a book and is active online, I thought I would be above average. I may not be a power user of new and advanced technology, but I’m certainly a computer literate.

Computer literacy (CL) refers to the ability to use computer applications rather than programs. How literate do we need in order to succeed professionally and make the most of life?

Australian public and private schools have computer science as a subject. For instance, the New South Wales public schools’ Year 6 students (their average age is 12 years) are taught and expected to have the following computer skills: Using computer-based technologies to manipulate, create, store and retrieve information to express ideas and communicate with others (Word Processing, Graphics and Multi-media); Using computer-based technologies to locate, access, evaluate, store and retrieve information (Spreadsheets and Databases) and to express ideas and communicate with others (Internet and Email); Downloading copy of document; Identifying hardware components, such as keyboard, mouse and screen (see ''List of Computer Skills addressed by the Year 6 Computer Skills Assessment'' on www.schools.nsw.edu.au).

Not long ago, I read a report saying that in the USA as much as 60% of schools issue laptops or tablets to their students.

I was in Nice, France

(This is dedicated to the people of Nice and those who were in this radiant and splendid city on the 14th of July 2016)

We lived in Nice (the capital of the French Riviera with about 344,000 inhabitants) for over one year and have unforgettable moments there, including visits of our Australian nephew and friends who jogged at the Promenade des Anglais (7-kilometre walkway along the sea) in shorts and sleeveless t-shirts in winter. They were amazed by the very narrow streets of Vieux Nice (Old Town of Nice) aligned with colourful (mainly yellow-brown) houses that have laundry hanging from the windows and specialty shops, such as the butcher that sells alive-looking pheasants (with heads and feathers, of course).

According to literature, Nice was founded by the Greeks, and during the 19th-century it was a famous destination for Europe’s elite. Today, it attracts travellers and artists from all over the world due to its sunny weather and liberal atmosphere, splashy markets, alluring restaurants and proximity to other well-known places (such as Cannes, Monaco and Saint Paul de Vence).

Its library, the Bibliothèque Louis Nucéra, was our second home. Almost every day, I found myself relaxing on its colourful small chairs between bookshelves and audio-visual stands. We made the most of the free artistic workshops and film showings on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I often mingled with retirees wanting to learn or improve their computer skills. Once I had to help a well-groomed woman in her mid/late 60s who was struggling to upload information on pages of an introduction website.

Expired Medication

There were more rainy than sunny days in my region last month. As in previous spring months, I took the pleasure organising not only my wardrobe but cabinets and cupboards. I was heartbroken putting outdated medicines in a paper bag. I thought of bringing these to the chemist (UK)/pharmacy (US) on my way to work, but the queue was half a kilometre long and my bus was about 5 minutes from departing, so I ended up bringing this with me to a nearby country (where I work) that does not legally obliged chemists to take unwanted or expired medicines.

Arriving in the classroom, the first thing I did was to ask my students if they knew of the nearby chemist that accept expired drugs. Co-incidentally, one of them actually took an expired aspirin that morning and she said that she had done this before and it was effective in getting rid of her headache.
The other two students asked me if we can still consume drugs after their use-by date. The Harvard Medical School has reported Psychopharmacology Today’s advice that a drug is absolutely 100% effective even when the expiration date has passed a few years.

According to Psychopharmacology Today, most of what is known about drug expiration dates comes from a study conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration for the military, and this study found that 90% of more than 100 drugs (both prescription and over-the-counter) were perfectly good to use even after 15 years of its expiration date (except nitro-glycerine, insulin and liquid antibiotics), and placing a medication in a cool place (such as a refrigerator) will help drugs remain potent for many years.

(Do you wonder about the role of manufacturers and those in the market chain regarding the use-by or expiration date?)

Language, identity and global necessities

Language is a cultural, political and economic tool, and English has shown great success in this domain. The spread of English internationally has been aided and abetted by the advancement in technology, forging of international organisations, and bare economic and political necessities. On the other hand, languages have been (and can be) taken over by one which is spoken by those from an economically, politically and socially dominant nation.

People who speak English as a second language do so because either they want or are obliged to (it is imposed from the outside). These days, they represent more than two-thirds of English speakers in the world, and the distinction between native and non-native speakers is not that significant anymore.

In the Philippines, for example, English is used in government, private and public dealings. Although Tagalog is the official language, English is the medium of instruction in schools and universities and is used lavishly in the mass media. This country was a Spanish colony for more than 300 years; however, it's the Americans who have had the recent influence on its culture. Its proximity to Australia - another native English speaking country - has been a convenience. In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines has the largest population of English-speaking inhabitants (over 102 millions).

The majority of this year’s Eurovision songs were in English. Even the winning title by Jamala of Ukraine has more English than Tatar words. For the first time, Spain's entry was also in English which aroused criticisms from its Royal Academy of Spanish Language (RAE), the official body that oversees language use. The French entry was also mainly performed in English. (In Eurovision's earlier days, contests were dominated by francophone nations - e.g. France, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg & Monaco - and by entries in French). These days, contestants believe that English gives them a better chance to win because it is more widely understood than other languages; as well, successful songs have English lyrics.

The words in our language

“How was your staycation?” my student asked her colleague.

“It was relaxing,” he answered.

Another young woman sitting next to him raised her hand. “What did you say? What was it?” “stey-key-shun?” He replied, “Ah.. you were not with us last year. Staycation means vacation spent at home doing something you enjoy. In the beginning, I also thought it sounded funny.”

Then he added, “holiday in UK and vacation in US English.”

I couldn’t help smiling and was glad that my student remembered something from our previous course. Languages evolve, appear and disappear to adapt and cater to the changing needs and developments (e.g. technology) in our society. Often, new words are created by: 1) putting together letters from 2 different words (e.g. ‘Brexit’ – British/Britain’s exit from the European Union. There’s a referendum on this issue in June 2016); 2) shortening words (e.g. company representative = company rep); 3) borrowing from other languages (e.g. French ‘chef’ – cook); and 4) even from mistakes or words of celebrities (e.g. Gwyneth Paltrow’s conscious uncoupling which describes divorcing or separating couple who find the source of unhappiness in themselves and refrain from blaming each other).

Not always whiter and greener

My friend’s daughter always complains about the heat in Brisbane and has said to me how she would love to live in cold Europe. She doesn’t like her air-conditioned car and looks forward to skiing. My Belgian acquaintances find winter miserable and think it is a paradise to use the outdoor swimming pool and visit the nearby beach any time you feel like it.

A former neighbour recently confided to me about unmet expectations in her new job. She described in detail her uneasiness working with native-English speakers (she’s French) which, ironically, was one of the main reasons why she left the Francophone working environment (i.e. she wanted to improve her English by speaking it every day).

When I visit Singapore or Philippines, I observe smilingly women snuggling under their umbrellas not necessarily to prevent from having skin cancer but to avoid getting browner/darker. In western countries, however, men and women spend a lot of time and money trying to get tanned as it is considered good and healthy looking.

Consumption of dietary and vitamin supplements is cultural

Getting into a chemist (Oceania and the UK)/pharmacy (US) in Australia, you notice immediately the wide range of dietary and vitamin supplements occupying almost a third of the store. There are a variety of choices from A to Z of brands locally and internationally. But, in France and Luxembourg this is not the case. Often, you have to ask the staff for common vitamin supplements, such as Omega 3 and grape seed tablets, which are stocked between beauty products and medicines. In developing countries of Asia, Africa and Central & South America, these are highly unaffordable for most people. Surprisingly, however, the Nielsen study showed that Asians (and North Americans) lead the world in the usage of dietary and vitamin supplements with the highest levels found in the Philippines and Thailand (66% compared to 56% in the USA). Europe (30%) and Latin America (28%) had the lowest intake (France and Spain at the bottom: 17% and 13% respectively). The respondents' main reason for not taking vitamins was that "their diets were already balanced while those in Poland, Russia and the Baltic states felt that "it is too difficult to understand which product to use." (''North-America, Asia lead vitamin and supplement usage'').

It is known that, generally, Europeans have poor vitamin D. A comparative study of eating habits and calcium & vitamin D intakes in Central-Eastern European countries conducted by the Faculty of Health Sciences in Semmelweis University, Hungary headed by Dr. Katalin Tátrai-Nèmeth concluded that the highest calcium intake was in the Hungarian population while the lowest in Slovenia, and vitamin D intake was critically low in both of these countries. (''A comparative study of eating habits calcium and vitamin D intakes in the population'').

Leap year, Valentine's day and more

I hope that 2016 has started very well for you. Definitely, it has for me: I am spoilt being in Queensland (the third largest state in Australia) with its weather suited to outside entertainment and activities (e.g. only a sliding door and a compulsory gate separate our living area from the swimming pool).

January 26 was Australia Day and there were fantastic celebrations with fireworks and musical shows all over the country. While working for Multicultural Affairs Queensland (formerly Bureau of Ethnic Affairs), we had fun coming up with definitions of an Australian; and my updated version is something like this:

Being Australian is driving a Japanese car (most likely a Toyota or Mazda) to an Irish pub to drink a Belgian beer; then on the way home grab an Indian takeaway or have Yum Cha at a Chinese restaurant; at home sits on a Swedish furniture watching an American TV program or film on a German TV while texting or Facebooking in a gadget with components from Malaysia or Philippines.

The year 2016 should be better

I'm writing this from sunny Brisbane in Australia. I'm so delighted to be with family and friends, especially that I didn't see them for five years. Being a family addict and social connoisseur, every day is spent dining together, playing board games and sports, visiting places or simply lazing around talking to each other. Giving and receiving are also a habit. Fortunately, I received only useful presents last Christmas. However, even if I had unwanted gifts, I would have turned these into needed and appreciated possessions. In fact, even when I don't like my gift, I never return it. Of course you can do this if there's a receipt (but never ask for it) and exchange it for something that you really like.

In the past, I did regift expensive wine and champagne bottles (I don't drink alcohol). Sometimes, I had presents that stayed in my wardrobe for a year or so waiting for the right person and occasion. Since I have a fairly good memory when it comes to people and their kindness, I always remember who has given me what. However, one day when my memory starts to dwindle, I will record my unwanted presents so that I won't offer these embarrassingly to the original givers.

As well, I am good at reusing presents, e.g. my current make up porcelain holder was actually given to me as a jewellery box.

Barbara Young, one of my role models and former work supervisors, donates unwanted gifts to charities (e.g. Save the Children Fund) and those less fortunate. About 8 years ago, I helped her get rid of unused belongings in a garage sale.

Perhaps one day I will organise a swapping party for unused/unwanted Christmas (or birthday) presents.

The year 2015 was enlightening and productive for me, however, global events (several of which I had mentioned in my previous articles) saddened me. Currently, what worries me more is that our world continues to be riddled with mutual distrust and division, conflicts and terrorism. What can we do about these – antidotes and answers?

Solidarity amid insecurity

At 5am on 14 November 2015, I was awaken by a phone call from Australia. My sister was so relieved that none of my family and friends was in Paris. My brother-in-law continued the conversation with information on deaths and damages unfolding on their television screen the whole day.

We were in Luxembourg that Friday evening watching Spectre, and as soon as we got home at 11pm we went to bed oblivious to the terrorist attacks in the city of lights, where my first son was born and I resided for 2 years. Though we don’t live in Paris any more, I’m affected by this insecure state and threats of terrorism, which I had never seen in my life before. Last week, one of my students was at the funeral of his cousin’s son who was one of the Bataclan victims. For 2 weeks now, I’ve been coming home late, missing dinner with my family as it takes 2 hours to get home due to traffic jams and security checks. These days, I spend more time commuting than teaching.

Terrorism threatens our existence and that of the civilised world. This has ramifications on every aspect of our society: psychological (limit our activities & choices/create fear), political (e.g. State resources are redirected from social development to security measures), social (relationships are redefined, suspicions arise, and stereotypes prevails) and economic (increased expenditures on health and security; loss of income – e.g. shops in Brussels were deserted last November 21-22).

As the saying goes “If it doesn’t kill us, if will only make us stronger,” and this is exactly what our democratic world has become. There has been an outpouring of support and solidarity. This write-up is my contribution to ensuring that such support and solidarity continue even after families and friends have buried their loved ones and the injured have left their hospital beds.

Citizenship, loyalty and belongingness

Thousands of Filipino-born Americans cheered vehemently for Manny Pakyaw for “The Fight of the Century” boxing title against American Floyd Mayweather Jr. at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas in May this year. From time to time, we hear about some South Asians in the UK feeling gloomy when the English cricket team wins against Pakistan or India (their ancestral homes). My first work supervisor in Australia was a New Zealander, and I believe he celebrated in the comfort of his Brisbane home (Australia) the win of the All Blacks against the Wallabies/Aussies in yesterday's Rugby World Cup 2015.

Sport is one of the primary means through which citizenship and belongingness are contested and resisted. The teams we cheer for, flags we fly, anthem we sing and colour of clothes we wear are a part of our interpretation, as individuals or groups, of the cultural, linguistic and national connections that unite or divide us. These days, such connections are quite complex as the very concept of a national identity is challenged and redefined (sometimes as multiple identities) and dual citizenship have become more common than ever.

Globalisation, migration and family relationships have (and will continue to) changed individual and collective identities within a nation. At the same time, international connectedness has been confirmed by membership to organisations, e.g. European Union, creating a new kind of identity that is different from what is traditionally associated with a single country. Likewise, constant economic, political, social and cultural developments contribute to the transformation of our identity and sense of belonging, which aid or complicate our rights and responsibilities as citizens of one or more countries.

Sports and Pubs

Last fortnight, I watched the Australia-Fiji game as part of the Rugby World Cup 2015 in England. It wasn’t the first time I sat in front of the television screen looking more at men’s gluteus maximus (backside/behind/bums/buttocks) than the ball. It wasn’t also the first time I was in the pub; and like the others, it has a lively decoration and variety of beverage on offer (the pineapple, mango and coconut delight attracted my attention).

The Rugby World cup is the third most watched sporting event in the world after the FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup and the Summer Olympics. (football in Europe while soccer in Australia & USA)

There are two kinds of rugby: Rugby Union and Rugby League. The League has 13 players on the field while the Union 15. The former has a six tackle rule which is not the case with the latter. In League a try is worth 4 points, goal is 2 points and field goal or drop goal 1 point. In Union a try is 5 points, conversion kick 2 points, and penalty kick or drop goal is 3 points each.

The Rugby Union World Cup was first held in New Zealand and Australia in 1987 and is since held once every four years involving the top 20 teams (those that have qualified) from around the world. The 2011 champion was New Zealand, the Blacks. At the end of October, we’ll know who are the best rugby men in 2015.

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