rolade's blog

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.

Body and Organ Donation

“If the doctor had asked for the body of my daughter, I would have said yes. I don’t want any parent to go through this. Hope they’ll soon find the real cause and treatment for it.” I couldn’t control the tears rolling down my cheeks thinking of the generosity of this mother who burried her 19yo daughter three days before my visit to her home.

I had thought of donating my body parts to save lives but not to science (and why not?) The human body is the source of knowledge necessary for medical education and research. Any major or adult person of sound mind can donate his/her body for medical education and research; and there’s no upper age limitation. In all cases, a written and witnessed autorisation is required prior to death. Our family members or doctor should be informed of our decision as it’s them or our executor who notify the recipient- centre/institution. Medical and research institutions in most countries refuse bodies that resulted from a suicide, have been subjected to an autopsy or had infectious diseases, e.g. HIV. Donated bodies are cremated and family can obtain the ashes if not forbidden by the donour.

How about donating my body for transplantation? According to journal articles, my sole body (with healthy kidneys, lungs, heart, liver, pancreas, intestines, cornea, bones, skin, etc) can help as many as 50 people.

Comparing food and well/ill being in 125 countries

This month, it hasn’t been easy to decide what to write as there as several interesting issues that have come my way. Should I respond to my English friends' remarks about French politics, morality and mentality? Should I share my first chess tournament experience involving nearly one hundred (only about a dozen female) players? The PISA results? How about food and health?

According to the recent OXFAM survey of 125 countries on food availability, diversity, affordability and quality, the best country is Netherlands; followed by France and Switzerland. The other top countries are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg and Portugal. (www.oxfam.org.uk)

Unfortunately, among these 12 countries, Australia has the highest obesity level (27% of its population). Forty-two per cent of Kuwaitis while a third of Americans and Egyptians are obese. The study doesn't include the Pacific Islands; however, it notes that these nations have the highest level of obesity in the world. For instance, 72% of Nauru’s population is obese. Meanwhile Saudi Arabia has the highest rate of diabetes.

Expectedly, there is very little obesity in Bangladesh, Nepal and Ethiopia; and malnutrition is worst in Yemen, India and Madagascar.

The 10 worst countries in terms of food availability, diversity, affordability and quality are Chad, Angola, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Yemen, Niger, Burundi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone.

Goodbye 2013 Welcome 2014

Happy new year to you and your loved ones!

Like most of you, during the festive season, I spent a lot of time with my family and friends dining, playing board games and watching movies. I particularly like films which are based on facts or true stories, and in 2013 these ranged from horror (e.g. ‘The Conjuring’) to politics.

The last one I saw in 2013 was ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’ While queuing my attention was directed at the classification notice, and I wondered why it’s not allowed for viewers under 12 years old. My husband chose this film and since I didn’t read the reviews, all I knew was that the main actor was Leonardo di Caprio (playing Jordan Belfort) and it’s about the world of finance and stock market.

After 20 minutes of the 3 hours, I thought of the under 12yo restriction. How can it be only ‘-12yo’; it should be at least ‘-18yo’. Upon returning home, I told my 18yo son that this is not worth his while -- there’s unnecessary show of drug use, sex and swearing. He looked surprised and mentioned the talent of the director. Well, to be objective, I pointed out that there are only two positive things in this movie: 1. You can start from scratch and be successful (but contrary to what Belfort’s said, I believe money does not automatically make you a better person); and 2. Crime doesn’t pay (Belfort made millions by defrauding others. In his Dad’s words “someday you’ve to mend the broken pieces”. I watched it in French so this may not be the exact phrase in the English version).

On the other hand, my 12yo and 18yo sons have watched “Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom” and I’m glad they did. At first, I was skeptical due to the scenes of violence (which really happened; e.g. police brutality and ‘Soweto uprising’ in 1976). To date, we still continue to talk about it; especially issues regarding human rights, equality and what make a ‘great person’ – discussions that have led us, so far, to exchange views on Gandhi and notable presidents.

Generosity, Politics, Economy and Disasters

Like most weekends, my last Saturday was spent talking to family and friends in Australia. Our conversations focused mainly on Halyan, a category 5 typhoon that hit the Philippines badly on November 2013 causing deaths, injuries and destructions. One of these friends was still saying goodbye to her guests when I called. They had a birthday party and instead of gifts, she requested cash donation for the typhoon victims. The A$1,000 she collected will be used to buy nails, lumber and other basic construction materials for three families whose houses were destroyed. When there’s a disaster, no effort or help is insignificant.

Overall, the global community has been kind to the Halyan victims and there are reports of many Governments that pledged to send cash: e.g. the USA US$20 plus massive military rescue operations; Australia A$10M; Japan A$10M; European Union about E13M; UK £6M – just to name a few. As well, there are international, national and local NGOs; banks; companies and individuals whose generosity hasn’t made headlines. On the contrary, China – the second largest economy in the world – has attracted world’s attention due to its original pledge of $200,000 (which was increased to $2M after global criticisms – i.e. “peanuts” compared to a Swedish furniture chain’s offer of $2.7M through its charitable foundation). Meanwhile the Canadian Government matches every dollar donated by its citizens to the Halyan victims.

Is giving aid or helping others (during disaster or not) culturally- and nationally-driven?

Literature & Arts or Maths & Science?

I bumped recently into an acquaintance, who with an obvious sigh of relief on her face, announced that her high school daughter is doing Literature. We’re in France, hence I would like to talk first about the secondary schooling in this country.

Secondary education in France consists of Collège (junior high, 11 - 14 years old; 4 years of schooling) and Lycée (senior high, 15 - 18 years old; 3 years of schooling). Like in most high schools in developed countries, the core subjects in Collège are Math, Science, History, Geography, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Music, Physical Education and languages. At the Lycée students prepare for the Baccalauréat (known as ‘le bac’) which opens the door to a tertiary education or the workforce.

The Lycée is divided into general (for university studies), technology (for short-term studies) and professional (vocational qualification). During the first year at Lycée (known as Seconde), students choose a stream (série): S – Scientific, ES – Economic and Social, and L – Literature. The S is mainly high level mathematics, physics-chemistry and biology-geology. The L is heavily focused on French language & literature, foreign languages & literature and philosophy. ES covers economics and social sciences.

Taxes, taxes, taxes

There’s no half a day when I don’t encounter newspaper articles, radio reports, TV documentaries and talks about taxes. Every tax payer I come across sounds unhappy with how much they contribute to Government services.

Late last year, in France, there was the famous (or infamous) decision of one of its film stars, Gerard Depardieu, to take a Russian citizenship for tax reason, i.e. in response to the Socialist Government’s introduction of 75% tax on earnings above 1M Euros. Paying taxes is an act of duty and solidarity, but …

When we think of taxes, we often have ‘personal income tax’ in mind; but there are many other national, regional and local taxes, such as those imposed on capital gains, land and residential properties, corporations and specific situations (e.g. inheritance and lodging taxes in France). It’s true though that we mostly pay taxes on our personal income and purchases (VAT - Value Added Tax).

There are national similarities and differences when it comes to taxes and how these are spent. In France, its citizen-residents have to pay taxes on their world-wide income; whereas non-residents must complete a return only if they receive income from letting properties in the country. Similarly, in Australia, non-residents are taxed only on their Australian-sourced income.

Beggars and begging

While watching the French Chess championship in Nancy last month, a lady sitting next to me said that she regrets giving one Euro to a teenage beggar with a non-French accent. According to her, in less than a second the one Euro disappeared from the beggar’s palm while a 10-cent coin emerged from his sleeve. She was embarrassed being told in public that the 10 cents won’t buy half a loaf of bread thus she grinned, “You won’t get a penny from me again.”

Recently, while entering a supermarket, a young woman with a baby caught my friend’s attention and thought of giving them some money on her way out. Fair enough, an hour later there was a woman with a baby at the same spot; however, they had different faces and other physical attributes, hairstyles and clothes. She concluded that the ones she saw earlier on had finished their shift.

I’m ambivalent when it comes to beggars: my heart says give while my mind dictates otherwise. A few months ago, I read an article about an Austrian Police’s revelation that beggars in Vienna are tied to the Eastern-European mafia. Apparently, the mafia requires women, children and the disabled from Rumania to bring in 80 Euros a day by begging and subject them to violent abuse when they fail to do so. Consequently, a new law has been introduced to make professional begging illegal in Austria.

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