rolade's blog

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.

Immigration, Asylum Seeking, Refugeeing and Accommodating

It’s “the worst refugee crisis since World War II” – I can’t agree more as I very sadly see every day on the news thousands of men, women and children looking starved and exhausted in unsafe boats, desperate individuals and families crawling under and climbing fences, and dead bodies found in seas and abandoned vehicles (such as last week’s discovery in Austria).

Any discussion about migrants and refugees is complicated, complex and emotionally-laden thus we really have to be careful in our choice of words and with our behaviours.

Foremost of all, there are significant differences between immigrants and political refugees. The latter don’t have a choice but flee because of well-founded fear of persecution, illegal imprisonment, torture or murder.

Then there’s what’s commonly known as political correctness (PC), which is about the avoidance of language and ideas that may offend members of a particular group and lead to discrimination. PC first appeared publicly in the 70’s. A decade later, it was well into the consciousness of many educated and well-informed people.

“Illegal” entry and asylum seeking had been a paramount concern in Australia before it became a crisis in Europe. In the late 80’s, while working for the Queensland Government (Australia) as Policy Resource Officer on multiculturalism, I realised the necessity of PC for a harmonious and just society. Australians try to avoid colour identification with their use of Non-English Speaking Background (NESB)- and English-Speaking Background (ESB)- Australians to refer to those who originally come from Asia & other non-English countries and those from the UK & other English-speaking nations, respectively. Also, they often attach the national or ethnic origin of the person to the word ‘Australian,’ such as Asian-Australian (as in the USA: African-/Asian-/Latin-American).

From Fish & Chips to Pizza & Mozzarella then WORLD EXPO

Long queues at Calais but, fortunately, the ferry was under 20 minutes late in crossing the tunnel. The traffic in Dover was fairly smooth sailing considering that it’s the long summer holiday and Europeans move a lot, thus I got to Cambridge University as scheduled. My son’s graduation went very well though I understood but a few words in the purely Latin ceremony. It was a showcase of a truly English academic tradition.

England is a member of the European Community (EC) but not of the Euro Zone. It is a highly disciplined country where drivers stop at traffic lights, respect give-way signs, don’t go over speed limits and park in authorised places only. Its skies are constantly grey with sparkling rain. I love the English sense of humour and I’ve never met a ‘Pom’ (as Australians call them) who can’t tell at least one good joke.

Only a day of rest and I headed to Italy. My diet of fish and chips, sausage rolls and meat pies adorned with green salad was replaced with pizza, pasta and mozzarella. Generally, while the English are reservedly polite, the Italians are expressively gracious. In Naples, I witnessed these hilarious yet dangerous situations: A woman driving a motorcycle with a mobile phone between her tilted head and left shoulder; 2 women on a motorcycle (again) and one of them (the back rider) was holding 2 helmets with her right hand while moving her left hand as if giving traffic directions; drivers optimising 2 lanes into 3; motorists and motorcyclists over taking in a hurry and don’t give way readily to pedestrians on designated crossings. Meanwhile, unlike in England, from the north to the south of Italy, it didn’t rain for nearly a fortnight (while I was there) and the temperature was over 30°C.

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.

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