I’ve lived in Manchester. It was for 6 short months, but I, too, got fed up with the buses and the constant drizzle. I, too, ate at Picadilly Gardens at lunch time. I, too, shopped in the Arndale more than I should have. I also sat outside in my bare uncared for garden when the sun shone that one day last summer. I went to Asda to buy camping chairs and everything. It was a turning point in my life, living in Manchester… I made some pretty big decisions there.
I also met amazing people. People from all walks of life, from all over the world, but most importantly, with big, beautiful hearts.
When I heard the news, and when I hear the news still, my heart drops into my stomach with a lurch, and I bite my lip to hold back tears. These things always hurt, but they hurt more when it happened in your old backyard. It hurts because I was frantically checking Facebook for people to mark themselves as safe, racking my brain for anyone that I might have missed.
I’m so proud of Manchester and its people. Like every city, you have good eggs and bad eggs. But this week, the good eggs really showed the world something. The good eggs came out of their shells, and shone the bright light of unity and love for all the world to see.
Take that, you selfish jerks. Manchester has got good eggs, a whole lot of them, and you can’t stop them. You can’t stop them from spreading love instead of hate. You can’t stop them from winning over you.
As someone that has worked on different continents, countries, and different roles, I’m starting to see a pattern emerge. It’s really quite simple: A lot of the time, people just don’t listen.
I was recently sat in a corporate staff meeting. We got the swanky client meeting room with the Video Calling to patch in other teams from around the country, and even had someone come talk to us about some new policy changes. The policy changes came as a bit of a shock to everyone, and soon the mood in the room turned tense. My point, though, is that the questions being asked -and answered- were very interesting to me. Since I was new, I just took the policy changes as something that I just had to learn as a good habit. For the more senior team members, obviously not so. They all had their concerns (and they were very valid, so I’m not saying they were being unreasonable at all), but it was clear that there were wires being crossed in the increasingly tense exchange.
When we feel nervous, or uncomfortable, or even when we feel like we are being put on the spot, we tend to stop listening. This can happen in many situations. Some people don’t like being told what to do, they might be belligerent even though you are trying to help. People might only hear part of the question when you are trying to clarify something.
When it comes down to it, this all has to do with your priorities and your ego. The higher your ego is, the ruder you are because you’re looking out for yourself as number one and the hell with everyone else. You might not think you’re being rude, but dude, let me tell you, if your ego is your priority then yes you are being rude. The higher your priority is, the more direct you are going to be (regardless of ego), because of how much you are freaking out about getting it done. And if you are both egotistical to the nines, and are putting something on high priority, well, then, you’re pretty much an a***hole. People don’t respond well when you are trying to force a point across without listening. Because you’re so wrapped up in getting your shit done, you stop listening. When you’ve worked travel, admin, reception, and PA as much as I have, everything is a priority and everything has to be done now. Um, no. If no one’s life is in danger or in danger of losing a load of money on something, then I will get to it when I get to it.
Most of the time, most of us aren’t quite so extreme when it comes to conflict, or even priorities. They’re just slight micro-aggressions that people might pick up on. I’ve picked up enough over the last few weeks to write a blog post about it.
Basically, what I want to tell people in general is… just take a breath. And listen. Most of the time, people’s priorities are different, and that’s why their questions are phrased a certain way, or certain words are used. And just because your priorities don’t align, doesn’t mean that you can’t all get along. Give it a go: take away your priorities for just 5 minutes, and most importantly, take away your ego.
Most of the time, you’ll find you don’t have very much to prove to others, so take a freaking chill pill. Ego exists when we are not secure within ourselves or of the role we play in our community. Be that work, friendship circle, family, sports team, whatever. We try and overcompensate by being unsure by overcompensating with ego: I know all, I am all-understanding, I am great, I don’t need help. But you’re forgetting one fundamental thing: by taking up all the “all-knowing” space, you are putting other people at the defensive, and that’s when egos clash and conflict arises. If you first take a step back, and even if just play-act as the one that isn’t all-knowing, you will greatly increase the chances of your ability to communicate with others. Because when people don’t feel the need to put on a front with you, and vice versa, you can actually communicate better. “Let’s learn together” is a better mantra than “This is what you need to know” when you are trying to communicate from a strained situation. This will really create a lot more harmony and understanding between groups, so just remember: Listen!
It’s the eve of my departure, and with my suitcase packed, the usual flutter of butterflies settles in the pit of my stomach. It’s not dread, as such, or fear. It’s just… nostalgia mixed with looking forward to the future.
After swearing I would never come back to live in Taiwan again in 2008, I find myself almost ten years later finishing a 7 month stint back to the place I call home. Here is what I’m going to miss:
The relative ease of everything- Yeah, it’s pretty freaking easy living here. You want something? Let’s hop on the scooter and go get it. It’s not so difficult to do what you want. Yes, sometimes there’s red tape, but even then! When I went to shut an old bank account down, I needed to have proof of name change (yeah that’s a whole other story). It was a bit annoying, but I went over to the registry people, and for 15NT I had a stamped Hu-Ji-Teng-Ben to take back to the bank. It’s not like I had to wait in long queues, fill in request forms, and wait 3 weeks. It took maybe 20 minutes!
Food- Duh. If you didn’t know this already then you don’t know me at all. I live for Taiwanese food. I love the Red Bean Cakes on the corner, the hot pot restaurants, and even department store food halls have a special place in my heart.
Driving- I was telling an English friend just the other day: driving in Taiwan is so much easier because you know it’s chaos. You have to watch out, you don’t depend on anyone but yourself to make sure that you get in and out of the traffic safe and sound. You’re the safest person on the road.
Suei-bien culture- Suei bien is mostly translated into ‘Whatever’, but if you think of the words used, it means ‘however is easier’. I love that. Not everything has to be super rigid and structured, we can also just see how things go. Yes, sometimes it’s extremely annoying and you just want a straight answer, but most of the time, it’s easier just to go with the flow, isn’t it?
Generosity- This might have to do with positive racism, but people are extremely generous here. The bread-stick man always gives me an extra one (although that might be because I’ve been going to buy breadsticks from his little stand since I was like six), the tea stand people are always sure to double check what I mean when I tell them what sugar preference I want that day (I like to switch it up). Then there’s the lady at the fruit stand that also remembers me and tells me they have ready-to-eat Buddha heads. When we went to Xiao Liuqui, the hostel owner went fishing for us so we got to eat literally THE freshest seafood (this was definitely not a positive racism thing he was just such a generous guy).
Kindness- Of course, with generosity also comes kindness. But this one comes with a bit of a double-edged sword… this is definitely due to positive racism because I’ve seen some real bitchy Taiwanese people especially when it has to do with their own people. But generally, people mean well. Even when they tell you you’re too fat, or you should get married, or you should stay in Taiwan to help your parents… they mean well. I admit, I often have to remind myself of this. Problem is, meaning well is all fun and games until it is taken the wrong way. This is where people (and not just Taiwanese people!) have a lot to learn. Just because you think you are portraying it one way, does not mean it is perceived as such. It’s a big lesson to learn, one that has to be constantly RE-learned, but one all the same.
Cash culture- I often find that spending actual cash makes you realize how much moolah you’re actually spending. And often that’s a good thing. Credit cards and online payments makes you forget how much, say, 1000NT is. Having said that, though, Taiwan needs to make some serious strides on the banking front. You might be able to pay for something via LINE, but hell will freeze over if you want to move money internationally via Internet Banking.
Saying ‘hai hao’ to the doctor- God, isn’t hai hao just the best phrase in the world? I’ve come to rely on it way too much too. So much so I even use it in English conversations with non-Mandarin-speaking folk. I love it especially when the doctor asks me a question! “Do you have a dry mouth and tongue?” In my head I’m like “I have no clue” so I just respond “hai hao”. “How’s your sleep?” There’s a freaking night bird that keeps me up “Hai Hao.” Do you like this food? “Hai Hao”. Did you enjoy the movie? “Hai hao”. It’s the most non-committal phrase EVER.
So, I close this chapter and am ready for the next. And you know what? I’m so excited to be Asian again. I’m not very comfortable playing the wai-guo-ren. It’s much easier, much more fun to be the Asian. White people are just so vanilla sometimes, and that becomes expected of you as a mixed kid. More on that later. Off to have one last Korean dinner with a friend.
I’m a big believer in social enterprise when done well. I believe that small, local businesses are the most sustainable way to go deeper into the 21st century. I believe in this because I want to talk about a dear friend of mine today, Jamal.
I met him in autumn 2015 in Denmark. We were both attending International People’s College at the time. He was a volunteer worker at the school, having just completed two semesters of classes himself. We had a great instant connection, recognising that there was so much to learn from each other. We spoke at length about different world issues, especially ones that affected us directly. Jamal is from Tanzania, and he really opened my eyes to a lot of new concepts and ideas. What’s more, his dedication to the betterment of his community was inspiring to say the least. During his time at IPC, he had managed to use one of the classes to actually start an NGO, and started moving his community to work towards a better future. Amazing, because he was still coming back to Denmark to learn. He has a love for football, and he even secured a volunteer role to help train a local football team to secure certification for training. Unfortunately, due to visa complications, he had to leave Denmark halfway through our term.
I’m never going to forget the day he left. It was a dark day. Winter hadn’t quite yet fallen but Jamal, if you’re reading this, IPC wasn’t the same without you. He was only given a few weeks notice to leave, and in those weeks, we started working together more fervently than we did before. We talked at length about his dream of opening a Sports Centre in his region, where he would be able to inspire boys to take positive actions towards their future when they felt like they didn’t have one. We wrote emails, we made Excel documents, we did as much as we could to make things happen when he got back.
I’ve kept in touch with him a few times over the past year, and recently we had a big catch-up. I have to say, I’m absolutely blown away. Thinking about us sitting in the common room, writing up a Mission Statement and Goals, and now seeing them realised, I swell with pride knowing that my friend has worked so hard to make this happen. Changing lives is what happens when you give it your all, and Jamal is a living example of that. In the last year he has not only started a centre, he has inspired change.
Since opening this time last year, their achievements are as follows:
6 students have gone back to school (the Sports Centre has a rule that you need to be in school if you want to participate)
Increased school attendance (a lot of students would skip school and now they have to sign in and out!)
Won two championships: 1 regional, and one playing against four countries in Arusha (The Chipukizi Cup for those in the know).
70 kids are now joining the Sports Centre on a weekly basis to train
3 kids have already gone on to play for the national team
Received press conference on Tanzanian national television as well as newspapers local, regional, and national.
For those that are naysayers to the entrepreneurial people around the world, I’m sorry but you have got it wrong. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the money right now, or if you have a big dream. You will make it if you believe you will. Believe in yourself, and keep moving forward. Step by step, take the highs with the lows, and don’t stop moving. Don’t give up. And if you can have a year like Jamal has had, well then you are in for great things!
From one expat Dutchie to you, here are my 3 must-do’s in Amsterdam.
I’m not only an expat Dutchie, I’m like a full-time expat Dutchie. If you don’t already know, I grew up in Asia. My Dutch life consists of summers in Holland, odd weekend trips here and there while living in Europe, and a weekly phone call with my grandma. Yes, it’s a wonder I speak Dutch, albeit a bit broken at times.
This is exactly why you should ask me for top tips for Amsterdam because I see it through a tourist’s eyes and I’ve been enough times to also have a more seasoned, perhaps less hazy, view of it too 😉 First and foremost, I’m going to tell you loud and clear, I do not know anything about coffee shops in Amsterdam. While I’m not against it, I just don’t have much interest in it, and never bothered with it. What I do know, weed is still the main attraction it seems, especially for younger folk from across the Sea, so it’s very easy to find. Just walking around Dam you will get propositioned if you fit in that young tourist demographic.
1. Canal Boat Tour
Right so first things first: the Canal Boat Tour. There are several different companies, and I’m sure there’s not much difference between them. I went with City Sightseeing twice and both times I wasn’t let down; especially if you’ve only got a couple days to make the most of it. It can feel a bit steep when you’re paying up for the 24h pass, but your legs will thank me for it. I’ve done Amsterdam by foot as well and that was just tiresome. A Canal Boat Tour will give you an audio-tour as you go along, and there are several stops you can stop off at, walk around, and catch the next boat. You know, the typical hop-on-hop-off. Cos if you’re like me, and you like hearing about history, but don’t want to get caught up in it, this is really ideal. You hear a few good stories about the important bits, and you get to hop off the boat and explore! And also, on a rainy day, this is literally a saviour. You get to sit in the (relative) warmth of the boat, with a clear roof over your head, while still taking in city sights. Oh, and City Sightseeing let you have a free tour of one of the most established diamond workshops/museums in Amsterdam. Ladies, feast your eyes. Gentlemen, hold your breath and pray she doesn’t find ‘the one’.
2. Get lost in the Red Light District
The first few times I went to Amsterdam, the prude in me was very reluctant to go to the Red Light District at all. I was like, ‘yeah, great, so prostitution is legal here and women are safeguarded, good for them’, and I never really bothered to properly walk around. Last time I went, I not only walked around, but got lost, did circles, had a few drinks, and stayed later into the night. After dinner, the whole area kind of comes to life. Bars start filling up, fairy lights along the canals give you a cheery mood lighting, and the sheer amount of people is amazing. Walking around, you find yourself not just watching all the entertainment there is available to you (apparently there’s a liquid you can drink to get rid of your hangover? Yeah, right), the other tourists are also great entertainment! When I look back on that night, I just remember being very entertained by everything around me. It was like carnival except with drugs, sex and everything in between on display! There were so many cute (and scary) little sex shops everywhere. The way people reacted (and probably the way I reacted) was also comical. Everything was accepted here in this heathen’s paradise, just smile and be good to everyone around you.
Yes, it’s a bit of a tourist trap. But Amsterdam is all about the tourist traps and making it your own, so go with it! Book online and get a couple of euros off the ticket price (and avoid the long queue to buy tickets once there). The museum starts off mostly self-guided in the beginning. See a bit of its history (ugh yay…?), and then you go through to the brewing process, which is done really well! Heineken have definitely made the best of modern technologies and worked with different sorts of videos, touch-screen stuff, sensors, etc to make it interactive and genuinely quite interesting. After you go through that bit, you get to see some horses that work for Heineken (promo horse drawn carriages is still a thing), whose grandparents also worked for Heineken! Very cool. Then you start getting corralled.If I’m honest, it’s a pure genius move from Heineken. A bit of crowd control about halfway through the museum is a great way to make sure that things are running smoothly and avoids clog-ups at the free drinks rooftop bar. And in return for being corralled, you also get a very fun surprise (I’m not going to ruin it here) as well as a super crisp, fresh Heineken drink at the demo of how to actually drink beer (seriously, I never knew so much science went into it).
After that, you get to go through the sponsored stuff. There’s a chill out room playing all the latest hits because Heineken sponsors lots of concerts and festivals. And of course, sports!! There are lots of fun interactive sports stuff to do. Kick an invisible rugby ball, play foosball, and a lot of stuff I don’t remember, etc. Among other things, you can get your picture taken with a green screen, pick a Heineken museum background, and see the result! If you don’t want to pay for the printed version, you can ask for it to be sent to your email (again, SO SMOOTH!). Then, after a few rounds of losing miserably at pulling a pint with a ‘virtual’ pint glass thing, we finally get to the lift to head up to the rooftop bar for our two free Heineken beers! The day was gorgeous so I could say we were lucky. A great, leafy view of Amsterdam with a cold Heineken in hand. Ahh. I do have to say, Heineken never tasted as good, and never will taste as good as it did there. Definitely go!
One More Thing…
Before I sign off, I wanted to recommend one more thing. My dates and times unfortunately didn’t match with their tour times, so I didn’t get to try it myself. But I heard about it on Al Jazeera I think, and I was just so impressed by the efforts and the programme that I want to take a moment to shout about it. Rederij Lampedusa, the canal boat tour is called. It’s an initiative to bring attention to refugees living in the Netherlands and the plight of refugees trying to come to Europe right now. The boat is actually a boat that crossed the Mediterranean, and refugees volunteer as tour guides. Definitely worth looking into and asking about! Check them out here.
Doing cultural things is really normal in Taiwan, even with the locals. Maybe it was in England, but I was too poor and too car-less to be able to go far and wide at my leisure. Here in Taiwan, a day off is really rather precious so people take full advantage of it and try and so as much stuff as possible.
One such touristy spot is Fo Guang Shan. As my friend exclaimed when he checked it out on Tripadvisor, “That’s one big-ass Buddha!” It’s not actually very far from where I live out in the Kaohsiung countryside, so it wasn’t a total trek to get there. If you’re an old-timer in Taiwan and remember going years ago, it might be worth revisiting again now. But make sure you give yourself a few good hours to do so, and also time to do both old Fo Guang Shan and the new one.
We started at the old one, and I would recommend others to do the same. It’s relative peace and calm is really nice (especially if you come from the city). You’ll have a bit more time to peruse and read all the different plaques and signs. Make sure you take into account the “this is a place of worship not for sightseeing”. Be respectful of that while you walk around. With no ill will meant, but old FGS feels a bit like a Disney Park for Buddhism. There are shrines tucked in corners and on top of hills. A tea shop is hidden behind the Main Shrine. There’s the super well-kept Lumbini Garden with happy little Buddha statues lining the path as you walk along. There’s plenty to see and take in. Don’t forget to go to the Pure Land Cave, either. There’s also the cafeteria you can go to for lunch, made by the monks. We didn’t go this time (we just weren’t hungry), but be sure to ask around. Monks walking around are usually more than happy to help and offer directions.
Once you’re done here, you can go get back in your car and drive 200m down to the next parking lot (your legs will thank you later I promise). Now, the new FGS. If you want to better understand the history of the place, then I suggest that once you reach the plaza with all the pagodas, go into the ‘8th’ one and ask to watch a short, 10 minute introductory video about it (in English). In short, the new FGS was built because one of the three teeth left from the original Buddha was given to the monastery to protect. You’ll hear all about its journey and how the new FGS was built. It really does give you more appreciation of the scale, size and just how well-finished it is.
When you get to the Main Hall, make sure you run up the stairs to see the big Buddha. But there’s quite a shrine or two downstairs, too, so make sure you take a look at that. If you want to see Buddha’s tooth, you will have to pay for a guided tour that takes half an hour (it’s usually in Chinese, they didn’t tell us about any English options unfortunately). It’s called the Jade Shrine Tour, I believe.
The new FGS can feel a bit… I don’t know… huge? A bit over the top if you ask me. And the Front Hall is stuffed with shops and trinkets it doesn’t feel like people come here to worship or even admire anymore at all, but rather come here for the shopping. There’s even a Starbucks! There can also be hordes of people if you come in tourist season or at the weekend, which isn’t ideal for a peaceful feel. For that you’ll need to go to the old FGS, the ones tourists usually skip out on.
All in all, I would say one can’t really go without the other to get a full picture of what FGS means and to understand its past and present. Buddhism is clearly making its way into the 21st century with their head held high, and I have to say, for that, I applaud FGS.
It’s already January. I did not expect this so soon. As every year comes, and then inevitably goes, I find myself grasping more and more at one thing: time.
When I think about time I always have to think about the one Bible verse that I could stand back from my MAK days…. (See below). It’s weird that it’s religious, but I guess that’s why people also like religion. It gives them a chance to reflect and use a ‘higher power’ to confirm how they feel. I just like it because it’s simple, straightforward, and not preachy.
Every year I go through strange cycles and experiences, and every year I’m grateful I made it through, battle-worn. I know that this year is going to be my year because finally, FINALLY, I put my own power into my own hands, and I’m grasping life with vigour and positive vibes and energy. Here’s to 2017 and all the promises that it brings!
A Time for Everything
1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.