rolade's blog

Real trophy in life

Two weeks ago, I participated in a club chess tournament not because I’m a naturally competitive and gifted (i.e. in chess) person, but to have fun and please my son. It’s an annual event when children and their parents join in a friendly competition. Some parents find excuse not to participate, such as “really hopeless in chess” and “can’t stay the whole afternoon due to other commitments.” I was the only female joiner. I was happy not because I got a lovely trophy for finishing 2nd among the parents but because my son was proud of me. He beamed with gladness recalling how his 3 friends had difficulty winning against his mum, especially that one of them said, “I had to use my tower and knight just to take your mum’s pawn.” Another added, “She didn’t give up at all, she kept on depending until her king was cornered.” His joy and pride was the most rewarding trophy for me.

I’m absolutely certain that if I finished last in that competition, he would still have been proud of me due to my willingness to share his interest and experience defeat. In chess competitions, everybody shakes his/her opponent’s hand before and after each game and winners often explain to his/her opponent how the loss could have been avoided (which contributes in the improvement of future performances). These two demonstrations of sportshumanship are not evident in other sporting competitions. As well, participants mingle or play together (other sports like football) during the break.

Beauty, Love and Health

Lately, I've been bumping into online photos of Pierce Brosnan (James Bond Golden Eye, Mamma Mia, TV series Remington Steele, etc.) and his wife. There seems to be a fascination for the couple's physical attributes: “Pierce Brosnan should be able to get any woman he wants, but the 60-year-old is sticking with his overweight wife” (Celebromance.com March 7/14), which I find stomach-turning. Most women, me included, would exchange place with Kelly any time to have the love and devotion of a partner or husband. Likewise, we rather be with a physically unattractive but faithful and caring spouse than otherwise.

Our concept of beauty is learned and transmitted through family values, cultural traditions and socialisation via formal education, entertainment and the media (print, audio-visual and internet). Generally, beauty is not only about face and weight; it involves smell, movements and a combination of all the individual's qualities that please our senses and mind.

Beauty is the label we attach to different criteria based on what we've been(and are..) socialised into, experienced and exposed to regularly. It is relative and not universal as it means different things to different people. For example, Samoans and Mauritanians consider big women as more desirable and make better wives. (“Samoa's prime minister has called for his nation's women to stay away from international beauty contests because they favour skinny and scrawny-looking women” (Samoaobserver, 6/10/13).

Give and Take

PERSONAL AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT, SOCIETY
GIVING AND RECEIVING

Life is about giving and receiving. This gift isn’t always an object or money, but it can be time, compliment, appreciation, blood, care or affection. Such giving and receiving cements a relationship. If it’s only one side, i.e. either giving or receiving, there’s an imbalance that leads to discontentment and failure.

Not so long ago, staffers of Badoit in France offered their colleague 170 days off so that he could look after his son of 9 years who’s suffering from cancer. It wasn’t possible for this employee and his wife to stop working or reduce their working hours due to their financial commitments and difficulties. A petition was circulated in the company, and each personnel was given the opportunity to give days of their paid annual leave. This is a real demonstration of kindness and solidarity. The media reported him saying, “This gift, I will be grateful to my colleagues to my last breath.” He and his wife have since created an association to help families in the same situation. (A law was passed by the French National Assembly in January 2012 allowing employees to “offer” their days off to colleagues who need time to be with their sick child).

Two weeks ago, while in the bus to Luxembourg, I heard a French radio announcer commenting ecstatically on US CEO Dan Price’s slashing of his salary by 90% and dipping into company profits to give his employees a pay rise, i.e. at least US$70,000 annually in the next three years. When I mentioned this to my students, several of them commented that it’s easy to give when you’ve too much and what you give doesn’t impact negatively on your lifestyle, or when it benefits you (e.g. tax reason). Well, it’s easy to criticise when you’re not the direct recipient of such generosity.

Mental health and safety concerns

First and foremost, our condolences to families, relatives and friends of the 150 passengers on board Germanwings A320 Airbus flight 4U 9525 from Barcelona to Duesseldorf that went down in a French mountain. According to media reports, the victims included 72 Germans (16 were school students), 51 Spaniards, and those from Argentina, Australia, Britain, Colombia, Denmark, Iran, Israel, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, the US and Venezuela.

The following is AirlineRatings.com's 2015 annual list of the world's 10 safest airlines: Australian airline Qantas ("Continues to lead the industry with safety innovations and its fleet is now the youngest -- 7.9 years," AirlineRatings.com editor Geoffrey Thomas tells CNN). The others, in alphabetical order, are: Air New Zealand, British Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, Emirates, Etihad Airways, EVA Air, Finnair, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines. (see CNN's "What are the world's safest airlines?").

Lufthansa owns Germanwings, and its reputed safety measures didn't prevent a psychotic deed from killing innocent people. The cockpit voice recorder's information suggests that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz took over the control of the plane and crashed it. There have been reports of Lubitz' depression as the reason for such tragedy. This incident, no doubt, will make airline companies more stringent when hiring personnel and conducting compulsory mental and psychological examinations of all flight crew members (in addition to the physical ones).

Losing a parent or loved one

My dad passed away on the first Thursday of February this year and I wasn’t able to attend his funeral (as that of my mother a decade ago) because I had influenza, couldn’t take an instant time off from work and a host of other reasons related to distance between 2 continents. His death, like that of my mum, reminded me of my own mortality and the urgency to live fully every day. (Oddly, I didn't think that I would become an orphan one day).

I hadn't gotten over yet with the loss of my mum and then my dad; and these days I often find myself recollecting childhood memories. They knew me better than anyone else and I wish they were here. Why aren’t they here now when I need them most? I was never dependent on them for moral, emotional and financial support since I left home at the age of 16 to go to university in another region, but I still feel the vacuum. As they say “you are always your parent’s child,” and I suppose such a loss doesn’t fade with time or age.

My relationship with my dad was harmonious but there were resentments due to hurts and misunderstandings resulting from his and my mother's life as a couple on one hand and as parents on the other. Their death has made me reassessed the past while dealing with the present and planning for the future.

Charlie... a month later

You certainly have heard a lot about the January 7, 2015 tragic shootings in Paris of 12 cartoonists, journalists and staff of newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The day after that, I received emails from friends worldwide, notably from Australia, expressing their profound sadness and sympathy -- describing such brutal act as a bloody offence against freedom of speech, liberty and peace. My responses included notes on immigration, identity, social inequality and education.

Global solidarity poured in instantly and there was a historic gathering of heads of states and communities in Paris on the 11th. Virgils and gatherings of support and commemorations took place in many cities in France, England, the USA and other countries, which were moving and impressive.

During that week, my French friend apologised for being late in responding to my email because she was distressed with what happened in Paris. I was intrigued by her testimony that I asked her if I could publish her write-up. I have translated it in English, and the French version follows after.

"I do not agree with what you write, but I will defend to death your right to write about what you think." This was written in the 18th century by Voltaire who experienced life in prison and exile for his writings that displeased people in power.

Giving, Receiving and Reviewing

Happy New Year To You and Your Loved Ones!

Three weeks ago, one of my friends asked his wife what she wanted to receive as presents. Without hesitation, she said “love.” His eyes widened and said he meant something tangible. (Love is complex and unquantifiable and we need something to represent it). He insisted, “What can I buy for you?”

Nowadays, in many societies, cost is associated with love. The more we love the person, the more we spend on gifts (presents). There is a tendency to express appreciation in terms of “how much?” Gone are the days when handmade and creative inexpensive presents were valued as meaningful and memorable.

There are many occasions in our lives when we give presents: birthday, wedding, graduation, etc. Gift giving is universal and important in any relationship. Dictionaries define gift as a thing (for me, service as well) given willingly to someone without payment (I add, ‘not expecting something in return’) How about re-gifting? Have you given something that you had received from someone else? It’s environmentally and financially worthwhile to do this; however, a recipient may have a different view. When you receive a regift, what do you think and feel about it? Being the second born of 5 children and having both rich & poor cousins and both needy & generous friends, I am used to giving and receiving pre-loved belongings. I believe that sharing our possessions and experiences is part of being humane.

This year and beyond

The year is coming to an end, and this is my last article in 2014. We've read and heard a lot about crimes, illnesses, injustices, the Ukraine crisis, shoot down of Malaysian Air Flight 17 with nearly 300 people on board, abduction of Nigerian girls, Ebola virus and on-going Middle East conflicts.

In fact, there are more happy stories and remarkable progresses than gloomy ones. There have been useful research findings and inventions, such as robotic exoskeletons that can provide support to a ravaged body that needs to heal. There are now about 3 billion people in the world who have Internet access. The FIFA World Cup, which was held in Brazil from June 12 to July 13 and won by Germany, was a success. The Rosetta spacecraft's Philae probe landed on Comet 67P, which was the first time in history. National and international laws have been introduced and collaborations established to combat organised and cyber crime, terrorism and tax evasion (e.g. US FATCA - Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act that requires US citizens, including those who live outside the US, to report their financial accounts held outside the country; and obliges foreign financial institutions to disclose to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) information about their U.S. clients. This increases national tax revenues as it makes it difficult for US taxpayers to conceal assets abroad). There have been local and global meetings, conferences, working parties, fund-raising events and other gatherings addressing social, political, economic and environmental concerns.

Patience

I am a great believer of reliability and consistency, so when my website became un-operational for 3 weeks, I became annoyed and impatient. I didn’t expect that renewing the registration of my domain (roladesocietalblog.com) through a different company would take time. I spent useless hours trying to speed it up by using live chats, help buttons, etc. for the reason that I had always published an article in the first week of the month and was so frustrated that this had changed.

I delayed grocery shopping, postponed appointments, cancelled cinema outings and prepared dinner simply and quickly in favour of trying to put this website online. After so many hours spent fiddling with the computer, logging on/off, I decided to stop bothering my service provider. (Hopefully, the delay did not disappoint my wise subscribers and readers).

I wanted instant result though I was already told that it would take between 5 and 15 days. My parents brought me up to be patient and be gracious when waiting. But, have I changed? I hope not, and it was just a rare occasion when I thought that impatience was necessary to cope with our current high-speed, information-loaded society.

What did I feel during those 3 weeks? I was irritable, tired and tense. Some people have reported feeling angry, stressed, sick and detached from their relationships when they are impatient. So, why are we impatient? .. because we want instant gratification, which is evident everywhere these days.

There are passes that enable us to jump queues in cinemas, nightclubs, supermarkets, etc. When you post something, there are choices for one-day, 3-day, 5-day delivery or normal one. Quick leisure and fun activities, e.g. games on iPhone, are more patronised than chess and other board games.

Generally, patience equates to healthy and successful career and relationships. ...

Wealth and Health

Two weeks ago, I received a letter from the State advising me to avail of the free testing for colorectal cancer. It says "It has already been 2 years and is time to do this." All I've to do is bring this letter to my generalist who'll organise it at the expense of the French Government. Though the positive results are between 2-3%, it's fairly important to do it because colorectal cancer develops in the colon, rectum and intestine from an abnormal growth of cells that can spread to other parts of the body. The common signs of this cancer are: change in bowel habits, nauseas, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, weight loss, weakness and anemia.

As such, I take this preventive measure seriously and feel lucky to be in a country where health, social and welfare services are accessible to its population. The government is wise because "prevention is better than cure." Treating an illness is more expensive, takes more time and is more emotionally draining. So, all governments should do this, but why don’t they? These preventive measures cost and, not really the priority, especially of those who are struggling to feed their people. Hence, it’s not surprising that, generally, wealthy nations have healthy people. However, there is also the question of politics and policies.

According to World Health Organisation's (WHO) data, the country with the highest government spending per person per year on health is Luxembourg (US$ 6,906/ Euros 5,441.60); country with lowest government spending per person per year on health is Myanmar (US$ 2/ Euros 1.60); country with highest annual out-of-pocket household spending on health is Switzerland (US$ 2,412/ Euros 1,900.73); and country with lowest annual out-of-pocket household spending on health Kiribati (US$ 0.2/ Euros 0.158).

Going back to work after a holiday

I am not a workaholic but love my job and one of the lucky ones who leave home with a smile then come back with a bigger smile. My students, who are mainly bank employees and whose interests range from football, food and wine to spirituality, have a good sense of humour. Nevertheless, getting back after a holiday is quiet a challenge. There are phone calls to return, paper work, backlog of emails and meetings. (I came back from Barcelona late last night and it is such a good idea to have one day off to recover physically before heading back to the class/training room).

Therefore, I have decided to plan how to handle this "back-to-work after the vacation" challenge. Firstly, since there will be no more hop on/hop off tours in Prague and Bratislava, tennis training at Cap d'Agde (France), Flamenco evenings (Spain), etc., I will just relax and enjoy the quietness. I will resume my Thursday Zumba and thrice/week visits to the gym.

Since I won't be able to catch up with everything in one day, I will prioritise my tasks appropriately and delegate, not only at work but at home. I'll definitely avoid the mourning period by seeing friends, going to the cinema and trying new recipes. I'll also put an ad for an hour of a friendly tennis game with a female beginner-player (like me).

Summer holiday (UK)/vacation (US)

I was nearly finished writing an article entitled "Not on holiday." After lines and lines of experiences of men, women and students doing summer jobs to put food on the table, pay for driving lessons, save for university studies, etc.., I decided not to go ahead with it. I realised that my thoughts were all over: from the economic crises, social evolution to work ethics, and these issues are boring as a summer reading. So, I'm going to talk about my tomorrow's visit to central Europe instead.

From Metz (the capital of Moselle in the north-east of France where I live) to Prague (the capital of the Czech Republic where I'll stay for 4 days) is 7 and a half hours by bus. From Prague to Bratislava (the capital of the Slovak Republic where I’ll be for 4 days), is 3 and a half hours by bus.

The Czech Republic is a member of the European Union (EU) but not of the Euro Zone (thus money exchange will be a bit inconvenient -- about 28 Koruna to 1 Euro); has a population of slightly over 10.5 million; has a multi-party democracy with the Prime Minister as head of its government; and has varied landscapes and temperatures. The warmest month is July and it’s sunny and festive in August.

Sports and Societies

France has just won 2-0 against Nigeria (It’s 11:00PM, 30/06/14, here): there are horns blowing, people laughing and yelling, and motorists brandishing French flags. We're in the middle of the FIFA World Cup 2014, and I can't help questioning the influence of sports on our society.

Likewise, cultures and values affect how and what sports are played by who, where and when. Sports have been in our lives as entertainment and leisure, as part of a political strategy, as an economic activity, as cultural means aimed at establishing relationships, and to show power and strength. In the middle ages, sport was used to settle disputes, punish, revenge and attract attention of women (e.g. jousting with swords, daggers and lances).

These days, football (Europe)/soccer (Australia & USA) is used as a platform to assert one’s national identity with flag bearing, singing of national anthem and wearing emblems before, during and after the games. In developed, developing and underdeveloped nations, football has faced new challenges due to globalisation, commercialisation and mediatisation which have both positive and negative outcomes.

In Belgium, football is viewed as a cementing force between the Flemings in the north (Netherlander: Flemish speaking) and the Walloons in the south and east (French speaking). Highly-paid footballers from humble socio-economic backgrounds have become multi-millionaires and influential.

On the other hand, the hosting of the World Cup costs billions which go a long way in a developing country (like Brazil). It's no surprise then that the 1994 Golden Ball winner Romario, who's now a member of the Brazilian Parliament, has been reported to have said that the money should have been spent better for health and education.

To motivate, inspire and work smartly

This month, I have been coming home later than usual due to extra hours spent helping my students prepare for their international tests (IELTS – International English Language Testing System, TOEFL – Test of English as a Foreign Language, CAE – Cambridge Advanced English and BULATS- Business Language Testing Service). These tests are designed to assess the language ability of individuals to study or work in a country where English is the language of communication. Last year, world-wide, IELTS alone had over 2 million takers who wanted to study in universities in the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and tertiary institutions in several European cities, such as Paris and Amsterdam.

My international test preparation students are highly motivated, and this is because they have a goal (i.e. to obtain the required grade for university admission). Their motivation shines in their attitudes and behaviours during our lessons and in the quality of their assignment.

I believe that motivation is a major key factor of success: the more you have it, the quicker you reach your target. My students are motivated by high grades and acceptance into higher education, which can lead to a successful career that has implications on their personal and social lives.

Not so long ago, I received a compliment from our Director of Studies with these statements: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” (You can replace ‘teacher’ with parent or boss).

Online shopping

End of February this year, I succumbed to the temptation of online shopping for clothes. My birthday was coming and I thought of getting myself a gift in case my significant others fail to remember it (neither I was going to remind them nor suffer in silence). I decided to do it online because it is convenient and offers a variety of choices and fairly competitive prices.

Online shopping (E-shop, internet shop, e-store, web-store) is buying of goods and services from a seller over the internet using a browser, and the most common methods of payment are credit cards and by PayPal.

I visited 2 websites recommended by a colleague; but because I found their dresses expensive, I searched for other similar vendors. Finally, I chose a good looking website with lovely photos and clear information (e.g. size and price). While some online shops require both the billing/buyer’s and shipping/receiver’s addresses to be the same, the one I had selected allows customers to send items anywhere in the world.

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