Baby bytes

Benji wants to be Princess Elsa. I don’t blame him. Elsa’s the exciting one with the best song. The helpers try to convince him to be Hans or ‘the guy with the reindeer’. I want them to Let It Go.

 ***

Mimi calls Benji her sister. “Your brother, you mean,” I say. “There’s so such thing as brother or sister,” says V sarcastically, mimicking something I said a while ago. “Okay fine,” I say. Language is pointlessly gendered and I’m conflicted on whether to drive that home or not.

 ***

Mimi loves to choose my clothes. She picks a skimpy nightie I haven’t worn in ages. Everyone does a double take when I emerge. “Mimi chose it,” I say sheepishly, though I’m not terribly put out at having to wear it. It’s hot. The less clothes the better. Five minutes later, Mimi loudly asks: “You don’t want any pants?” Hmph. How did I land up with this closet conservative as a daughter?

 She did it again. I was wearing a vest and no bra. “Why are you not wearing any clothes?” she asks worriedly.

 ***

Phonetics is not Benji’s string point 

“Sh sh sh shark,” he says. “Sh sh sh fish.” “Not sh fish, fuh fish,” V corrects. “Fuh fuh fuh fish, fuh fuh fuh octopus,” Benji continues, merrily missing the point. 

 ***

“I don’t like you, I love you daddy,”  says Mimi.

 “Love you daddy,” Benji throws in as an afterthought as he wanders around with his water bottle. 

 ***

They are playing the game in which you catch fish with a pole. It’s hard. “Nevermind, it’s too difficult,” I say. “It’s not too difficult, mummy,” they say, their brows furrowed as they persevere.

Another games they love playing – taking torches into dark rooms and pretending to be space explorers. I leave them to it and resist the urge to peep in as it spoils things for the.

***

Mimi has turned into a reader. Obsessively, like me. She wants to be read to at any free moment. When she wakes up, when she’s eating, when she’s bored. “You did this,” says V. I did. I’m both horrified and happy. The little surpriser continues to surprise.

 ***

We found mushrooms blossoming under a tree in the garden. The kids were super excited about them and kept running around showing them to anyone who could be bothered to look. Clearly fascination with mushrooms is genetic. Also snails. And owls.

***

Grandma is here. Before she arrived, when I asked Benji if he was happy she was coming, he’d say a loud “No!” When Grandma walked in, Mimi burst into tears, her way of dealing with new people. It took all of five minutes for them to become her fan club. “Where’s grandma?” they ask if she disappears from sight for even a minute. I feel sorry for her what with their ardent stalking, but she seems to be loving it so far.

 

Reading speeding

Tiny

Tiny Beautiful Things – Cheryl Strayed

In ancient Greece there was the Oracle of Delphi who one could go to when one was an existential crossroad, and the oracle in her wisdom would dispense advice. In the modern world, we have Sugar aka Cheryl Strayed in the Dear Sugar columns.

No, really. I’m not being sarcastic. This should be every sensitive, thoughtful 21st century person’s bible.

When I first started reading this book, I wondered at her confidence and the audacity of bringing her own experience into the advice. This is not what advice columnists are supposed to do. This is not supposed to be about them.

But the introduction itself acknowledges it, and points out that this is Strayed’s power. And as I read, in most cases, I think her sharing her own experience helps her connect with the letter writer. And she’s had a helluva lot of experience, which I already knew from her book Wild. She’s led no life of comforts until quite recently. So it works.

I won’t say I agree with all her advice. But I agree with most of it. And as one reads the columns one begins to trust where she’s coming from. Which I think is so important (I’ve realised this with blog reading).

Each letter and the response from Sugar was like a tiny jewel that one could string onto a rope of greater wisdom to rub between one’s fingers when one’s soul needs solace. The letters range across situations and Strayed’s responses are wise, compassionate and spot on.

There were letters that made me think specially of certain people, there were of course letters that made me think of myself, there were letters I bookmarked mentally for when my children grew up and might need to read it.

This one’s for the bookshelves.

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Following from The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I decided to catch up on Judy Blume. I remember reading and loving exactly one of her novels, the only one I could get my hands on at the local library as a tween, and it stayed with me over the years. Goodreads tells me it was Iggie’s House. So I pulled whatever I could find on our library shelves and got Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Fudge-A-Mania. The Margaret book is a standalone one and a timely book for someone who’s lost her religion. I would have loved the book to have definitely solved the religion riddle but Blume is all about the ambiguity and exploration that is childhood. I loved that the book tackled the issue of religion so fearlessly, in addition to its frank depiction of periods.

Judy Blume seems like a nice old lady, but she was considered revolutionary enough to be at the receiving end of death threats. Read this fascinating interview here.

Fudge-A-Mania deals with a slightly younger age bracket and is apparently part of a series. I loved the quirkiness of the characters, the coming-of-ageness and the slightest hint of romance. I love how old people are eccentric and wonderful in her books. And of course, the precocious protagonists.Obviously, my kids are going to have these on their selves. I’m resisting buying the lot in advance.

While I was reading the books, we happened to Skype with my niece who is now eight (how and when did that happen?) and she happened to be reading Judy Blume too. It was both weird and wonderful to be bonding with her over this, and bittersweet to recognise that she’s grown up enough to read and reflect on books on her own. Also to talk like this: “So basically, you know,…”

These books are a great mood elevator and I wanted more but couldn’t find any in the library. So I had to move on.

crazy-rich-asians

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

I had read somewhere – maybe the synopsis of this book itself – that there is a super-rich echelon of society in Hong Kong where marriages are almost always arranged by the doyennes of the community. Apparently, it’s not just Hong Kong but the extended elite community of Chinese in Asia and overseas. This book offers an insider’s view into that milieu.

As expected, it’s all fabulous wealth and the trapping of richesse like you can never imagine, but the defamiliarising element comes in the form of the interloper – a Chinese American girlfriend of an extremely eligible Sinagporean. Rachel Chu has no idea about her boyfriend’s antecedents and is in for a rude culture shock when she visits Singapore at his behest. You’d think it would be a good thing to discover that your boyfriend is super rich and comes from the cream of Chinese society, but the flip side is trying to break into a clannish and snobbish community that immediately closes ranks while presenting a deceptively indifferent exterior.

I enjoyed this book as an insight into a facet of Chinese society that I only had an inkling of, but also because I identified with the situation. No, I don’t come from an extremely wealthy or esteemed family, but what I realised is that most families behave in the same way. All families think they’re the bee’s knees and view outsiders with suspicion. There’s almost resentment when eligible members of the family are snapped up by people the family doesn’t deem sufficiently worthy – and probably no one would be sufficiently worthy to the family, particularly to the mothers of eligible sons. Some things are the same everywhere, it would appear.

 

On the “selfishness” of having a child

People who choose not to have kids are often told (erroneously) that they are being selfish. Now people who choose not to have kids are turning the tables and saying those who have kids are selfish.

Oookay then.

In as much as conceiving and giving birth to a child involves the desire to create a minime to love and which arguably does not contribute anything to society (if one takes the view that the world does not need more people which I don’t), having children is selfish. The thing though is that having a child is as selfish as doing anything that gives one pleasure and requires effort in the process. Like climbing a mountain or tending a garden or creating a work of art.

But we don’t call those selfish pursuits. We don’t because there’s a qualitative difference between those activities and the ones that we normally term selfish. Selfishness is not just about being motivated by one’s own interest, but about negating the needs of others. While it is quite common to point to how the earth doesn’t need more children, the link between the environment and population growth is not simplistically more people = worse environment. So unless you believe parents are creating monsters in raising kids or are willing to go around shouting “selfish, selfish” at artists and mountaineers and frankly everyone, then “selfish” is a stretch.

Therefore, while an effective word for the purpose of defamiliarisation, I find the application of the word to “selfish” to human reproduction unfair. It smacks of tit for tat. Surely, there must be other ways to make the case for not having children (if such a case needs to be made at all) than going: “I’m not selfish. You’re selfish” even to people who never said you were selfish in the first place. Mature.

On a side note, while the desire to rear a child might originate in selfishness (if we must call it that), the process of child rearing is a lesson in the erosion of self. Having a child is like undertaking an allegedly selfish act in order to (hopefully) become less selfish. Like Buddha meditating under the tree, so to speak. Or fasting. Okay, don’t kill me. I’m not claiming to have attained Nirvana, only to doing a lot of deep breathing while under pressure. Only more fun, because slides and finger paint.

To summarise, people should be able to choose if they would like to embark on the fascinating journey (to those who choose it) of raising another human being or or the equally fascinating journey of not. Just because. The end.

 

 

 

 

Long weekend

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I never thought I’d spend a FRIDAY night surrounded by excitable minions (i.e. children) watching – wait for it – Dora the Explorer sing… and live to enjoy it.

Honestly, this was more excitement on a Friday night than we’ve had in a while. The days of catching a drink after work have long been replaced by hanging out on the couch feeling very tired. However, when we won free tickets to the Dora the Explorer show we swallowed our fatigue in a way we haven’t been able to for our own friends and took the kids.

They were so excited when they got to the exhibition centre where it was held, and they hadn’t even got to the floor where the face-painting and other Dora stuff was going on. In fact, they didn’t really experience any of that because V was late. Hmph. However, he went out during the show to get balloons for them.

Unlike every other kid on the planet, mine are not really familiar with Dora purely because we haven’t discovered it on YouTube yet. Instead, we often watch a cartoon entirely in Russian about a bear and a naughty little girl (Reminder to self: Ask friend with Russian husband for the name of this cartoon. It is awesome). I should have introduced the kids to Dora before the show but I was too lazy.

I was a tad nervous that they wouldn’t really get into a stage show because they’re three and two, but they totally did. Well, when the lights went out, they were a tad scared. But the show was very interactive and got the kids to shout out stuff and do actions. Many of the kids had these glowing stars on a stick, which is apparently a thing in the Dora series, but mine didn’t and had to make do with the free plastic stars because kanjoos parents. Mimi was more into the actions than Benji, who sat there with this stupefied smile on his face. They are both now obsessed with Swiper who was supposed to be the villain of the piece. Go figure.

I have to say, I was quite excited. I loved the theme song and all the tunes are quite catchy. It was obvious to anyone watching me that I was having a whale of a time. Still, it was a bit surreal even for me.

***

Ever since I read this, the only thing I could focus on was the possibility of Saravana Bhavan in Hong Kong because …idlis. So when a friend called asking if I wanted to check out Saravana Bhavan I was confused about how I could have missed news of its opening and also obviously game. Apparently, the restaurant is in Chungking Mansions which made sense, but the closer we got to the date, the more doubtful I was. In the end, it turned out to be Saravana ‘Hotel’ which someone had recommended to friend for South Indian food. We ordered: dahi puri, ragda pattice, mysore masala dosa, masala dosa, vada, and of course idli. The first few things out – the chaat, ragda pattice and dosas – were very promising. Tragically, the idlis were not. And I started feeling queasy towards the end.

Conclusion in the sane light of recovery from food coma: Worth it only for the chaat and dosas. The vadas probably had soda in them that made us all gassy.

***

The rest of the weekend was dedicated to football. It’s been an exciting if very shocking World Cup and by the end of it, with all the teams (Italy, Netherlands) and individual hunks (Christiano Ronaldo, Mario Balotelli, James Rodrigues) I was supporting out, I was neutral about the final. I’m just glad it didn’t into penalties and in the end, the most consistently good team won with a real cracker of a goal. It was cute how the kids ran onto the pitch to hug their daddies. Goetze’s girlfriend is very hot but didn’t seem to want to be there (“Maybe she didn’t tell her parents,” V said.) Lowe cracked a smile. Messi did not. He was really pissed. Angela Merkel checked her phone a lot but hugged all the ‘boys’. One thing I liked about the World Cup is how many of the (male) players let it all hang out emotionally. Yes, really men do cry. Alls well that ends well, but what will I do with myself now?

***

I had an awesome session with my shrink. Note to people seeking therapy: Go with a recommended one even if it costs the Earth. I wasted a lot of time and emotional energy on the free social worker, well-intentioned as she was.

***

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Had lunch at Ichiran, which is some famous Japanese ramen chain. The whole experience is a lesson in Japanese efficiency. You queue up in stages – first outside in the terrible humidity, then inside, then further inside where you can sit on stools and watch a control panel with lights blinking according whether the seat is free or occupied. Finally, you’re led to your seats, which are individuals stools in front of a counter, each seat partitioned off from the one next to it, though if you’re with someone you can still talk to them (but it’s not the most romantic setting). Surprisingly, they were able to provide a high chair for a couple with a baby. The best thing was that each seat had its own water tap with a note saying “Try our delicious water”. In a world in which restaurants behave like water is running dry unless you buy it, this personal fountain was much appreciated. I think I enjoyed refilling my own glass as much as the ramen. Which was delicious. I’ve never been a great fan of Japanese food, but I’m totally getting into ramen. I also really like the individual seating thing. It made me think how when I first got to Hong Kong I was so awkward and sad about having to lunch alone but now that I seem to have company for lunch almost every day, I really miss having lunch myself and sometimes purposely don’t schedule anybody in so I can do so. The only annoying thing is avoiding people in the regular haunts and feeling guilty about taking a table for two but ordering for one. So Ichiran would totally suit me.

However, I did have a tummy upset in the evening, which could possibly be due to me checking ‘5’ for spice intensity or due to the greasy McDonald’s breakfast we indulged in post World Cup.

***

Ended the weekend with a facial, despite V moaning that I was ditching him. It was lovely though I have a couple of pimples now. Hmph.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower

Read it in one day-ish. It was that good, but also I was suffering from extreme angst and needed a distraction so read into the wee hours. Also, it’s not a voluminous tome.

  1. It had me at the title.
  2. I wavered on the first page. After that, I was a goner.
  3. I’m developing a thing for YA if I didn’t already have one. Inching towards John Green, don’t know why I’m so reticent. Maybe the hype and fear of disappointing MinCat with my reaction.
  4. Yes, people don’t talk like that. I think the kids in YA books are the kooky and precocious ones. And those of us who love those books have some of that inside us.
  5. I feel like if I want to take a stab at writing, YA might be doable.
  6. Ok this is not much of a review, is it? But I never claimed it was, so there!

 

To get or not get the milk and other dilemmas

Indra Nooyi’s statements on work life balance went viral with many women refreshed by her candor on the subject, followed by a backlash of people rolling their eyes.

First, I want to say that it is tres irritating that female CEOs get asked about work-life balance and male CEOs never do. Maybe we should start asking male CEOs. Or maybe we should assume, as Nooyi kind of suggests, that CEOs don’t usually have work-life balance and thus, stop asking this question.

That said, Matt Lauer’s interview of the GE CEO Mary Barra was a far more egregious example. Nooyi’s comments on work-life balance were part of a lengthy interview on her vision for Pepsico (in which she makes far more controversial comments which few are talking about because how many people watched the whole interview?*)

Nooyi had told the story of her mom’s unimpressed reaction to her achievement before so she was asked to repeat it. As an interviewer, I can understand the need to bring in some human colour to an interview about company strategy and since she had already spoken about this, it was fair game.

Many people were unimpressed with Nooyi’s mom. I was unimpressed with Nooyi’s mom. I think Nooyi also was unimpressed with her mom. In her recounting of the incident, I read a wry acceptance of the older generation being what they are. I also think Nooyi was trying to illustrate that to a CEOs family the CEO is just a family member.

Maybe Nooyi should have refused to get the milk. Maybe she should have insisted her husband get the milk. But on an overwhelming day, maybe she decided she needed the space to calmly deal with her mom’s reaction and she didn’t want a fight, so she got the milk. Her actions seem in line with her modus operandi of doing what she feels is right at the moment and not thinking overly about it later.

This way of doing things is more apparent in the part of the interview about mommy guilt. Her daughter guilt-trips her about not being there for coffee mornings. People have criticized her approach of citing other mothers who were not there. Why didn’t she talk to her daughter about gender equality?

Honestly, I think her method was probably more effective than talking about gender equality, though such a talk was certainly warranted to her daughter and to the school. A blogger in Mumbai once wrote about how her daughter is not satisfied with her husband going to her events because all the other kids have their moms there. Nooyi was acting in real time at a school which had coffee mornings for moms and I suspect her method worked better with her daughter.

For me, it was not her exact actions that I liked but her approach which is non-apologetic. I can’t go. I refuse to agonise and beat myself up over it.

Now, about mommy guilt. Some have suggested that women should be over this by now. And I suppose, if we’re not over it, we better hush up because mentioning it only legitimizes it.

The thing though is that mommy guilt is a thing. To a greater or lesser extent. Even a feminist like moi is not immune. Maybe it’s because we were still socialized in an environment where women were primarily responsible for childcare. Maybe because gender roles have remained largely unchanged and in the communities that some of us live in, we are still pioneers in this. Maybe because women are socialized to be or just are more introspective and sensitive. I have noticed that daddy guilt is not much apparent and the reasons for it are more complicated than women just not being able to get over it already.

Maybe a little guilt is a good thing. An older and wiser commenter once said this to me when I wrote about the subject. Guilt keeps us in check. The trick is not to get over the guilt but to know when to suppress it and when to pay it heed. Nooyi’s example was her way of in her words “coping.”

What I liked best about the interview was her candor about “the list”.

You know, Raj always said, you know what, your list is PepsioCo, PepsiCo, PepsiCo, our two kids, your mom, and then at the bottom of the list is me. There are two ways to look at it. (laughing) You should be happy you’re on the list. So don’t complain. (laughing) He is on the list. He is very much on the list. But you know, (laughing) sorry, David.

I’m sure the haters will hate. Hawww what a person, how can she put PepsiCo first and her family after. But that’s who she is. Maybe that’s who you need to be a CEO. You need to be the kind of person that is obsessed with the company. I think there are some people like that and they are very difficult people to be married to or parented by. But they are who they are and in the past, only men were allowed to be those people (remember Gandhi?). And one way to look at that would be to guilt-trip all those people into choosing one or the other. Or maybe, as long as they are not horrendous but just not ideal, we can accept them if they are acceptable to us (and by us, I mean as a family member.)

Oh, I forgot about having it all. She was asked whether “women can have it all” and she said no. Many people believe she should have said “no one can have it all.” Agreed. But I also think the pressure to have it all applies more to women (see my thoughts on ‘guilt’ above). In recent times, the mommy guilt trope has morphed into the ‘have it all’ trope. Just like we are bombarded by images of women with perfect bodies (and men are only just being subjected to this pressure), we are now bombarded with women who have it all, ‘real’ women and in the movies and in literature and in the media (and men don’t have a similar pressure to ‘have it all’). So while we can say, oh blah, don’t buy into that, the message is insidious and everywhere and sometimes it’s good for someone with a loudspeaker to do a specific takedown. Which Nooyi did.

That’s my thoughts.

*V and I attempted to watch the whole interview but then V found some of her other statements on health foods too annoying and I was too sleepy to listen to someone talk about how to create value for shareholders so we switched off.

Going back to work

Note: At the bottom of this post, I’ll be linking to other mums who’ve written on this topic. So if this post pops up incessantly in your Reader, that’s why.

Indimommy surveyed readers on going back to work after having a baby and did a nice article summing up the responses. Since I responded to their initial questions, I got emailed in a few more and while answering those I realised I had a fair bit to say on the subject. So I decided to do a post here.

Why did I decide to go back to work?

Before my baby was born, I don’t think it really occurred to me that not going to work was something that I might do. Because although I wasn’t passionate about my job, I liked working and I liked drawing a paycheck and I was fairly sure I wouldn’t like being around a baby 24/7 and all the allied chores that get thrown your way when you’re ‘not working’.

At some point, V made his preference clear which was that I continue to work. He has never cherished being the only breadwinner, and all the women he knows well worked outside the home after giving birth. I did once sharply tell him that had I wanted to stay home, he should support that (since he could financially, though it would mean saving less) but since I myself didn’t really want to stay home, I didn’t pursue that.

In Hong Kong, most middle-class women go back to work. There is a large number of highly educated women and if the choice was between their jobs or having a baby, they’d choose the former. Hell, many couples forgo having kids anyway because they believe a baby is a cost they cannot afford, even if they can drum up the interest. To push along the declining birth rate and keep women in the workforce, the Government instituted the foreign domestic helper policy, allowing Hongkongers to employ women from other countries at a set minimum wage. This did enable large numbers of middle-class women to go to work, though the birth rate is still on the low side. Basically, it’s the norm for women in Hong Kong to go back to work after having a baby, because few can afford not to.

This makes it easier to decide to go back to work. In the office, I had three other women on my floor who had just given birth and we traded stories. All of us felt we were better off back at work.

Doubts

If I had any twinges of doubt, they were when interviewing a helper. This was when I was in my second trimester so the baby was a reality and the 10 weeks maternity leave seemed to be incredibly paltry once I met the strangers I was supposed to be leaving my infant with. I just could not figure out how to pick one for the task. If I had to pick a helper for just the husband and me, easy peasy. But a not-quite-three-month-old baby is a bit different.

Thankfully, our part-time helper who we loved and trusted offered to come on board if we could pay her for the gap period when she was between employers waiting for her visa. We decided the extra expense was worth it, and in the end, immigration came through with the visa quicker than expected so we didn’t pay as much as we had thought. Several people who I’ve told we paid this amount are surprised, but for us it was money well spent.

Then Benji had reflux and I began to worry about going to work again. When I voiced these doubts to my mother, she said she would look after him but I must go back to work. When my sister had doubts after her baby, my mom told her the same. My mother is a stay-at-home mom who has completely changed her views on being one. She believes in the security of a paycheck now.

When I went back to work, it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. Immediately, the haze of anxiety that had enveloped me after Benji’s birth dissipated as I was forced to think about other things than whether his milk was coming up and burning his throat or how he was napping. My helper seemed perfectly capable of managing him and the household chores (though we told her she could skip the latter if it was getting too much) and she did so without the excessive worry that characterised me as a caregiver.

Did having a good domestic help sway your decision in continuing working after the baby?

Yes and no. It was never that much of a decision to make. I just assumed I’d go back to work. But having a good helper gave me immense peace of mind.

There’s a small chance that the helper wouldn’t have worked out. Most people I know in Hong Kong do find satisfactory help to look after their children. But if I really couldn’t find someone I was comfortable with, then I would have had to stay at home at least initially. Although my husband would have naturally been a better caretaker, I have the smaller paycheck coupled with the fact that I was trying to breastfeed. This is the sad truth for most households and a reason why its mostly the woman that gives up her job (though also, most people just don’t consider dad staying home as an option, even though bottle feeding exists). Honestly, I don’t see how I could have continued that indefinitely because I would have struggled mentally and emotionally.

The availability of help swayed my decision to have another child. I would not have done it without because after the first child I knew what a child would demand of me.

My second helper also showed me what it would be like to have a helper you don’t trust implicitly. While she loves my child, she can’t be trusted to make decisions. I would have had to micromanage a lot more and I can imagine a lot of stress.

Right now, I have two helpers who work well together in looking after our children and our when we’re at work and I feel super blessed.

 Flexible hours

I don’t have flexible hours but I have reasonable and fixed hours. I also have understanding bosses who would understand if I needed to take a bit time off for something family-related. But it’s not the norm, so I’ve only done this once so far.

My husband also makes it a point to leave on time. We’re fortunate that we have jobs that allow this, but I think we’re also the kind of people who seek out these jobs even at the expense of money/career advancement. Thankfully, we do have enough money/reasonable career advancement anyway.

In cases of crisis, both of us are willing to work overtime (hell, I’ve edited stuff for my office a week after my baby was born, typing with one hand and holding my baby and breastfeeding on the other, because they called me in a crisis). I used to have to work the odd Saturday and the husband would back me up, I backed him up when he’s on business travel.

I think the reasonable working hours do help in keeping me from feeling overwhelmed and fatigued. I can switch off from work when at home and just spend time with my kids. Even so, as they grew older, I’ve felt the need to be there for them more, and hence the choice to do a PhD now (it was always on the cards, just a question of timing) which I think will give me more flexibility.

Policies

In Hong Kong, because of the helper situation, workplaces generally assume that parents don’t need to take time off for most kids’ stuff. Helpers serve the function that stay-at-home moms do in other places. Hence people are usually expected to work long hours, which kind of sucks.

Maternity leave in Hong Kong is 10 weeks which is far from ideal because babies are very vulnerable and need a lot of care in the first three to six months and it’s logical that parents would want to be involved at this delicate stage. Not to mention that it’s hard to sustain breastfeeding remotely, especially breastfeeding rooms are pretty much non-existent and one is reduced to pumping in the toilet or what you hope are deserted areas. I have a colleague whose child has severe allergies and she found with her second one that breastfeeding helped, but she couldn’t sustain it when she returned to work and her child is suffering but she has just accepted it. It pisses me off that such an affluent society that claims to want to tackle the birth rate cannot invest in the wellbeing of newborns by giving mums at least four months off.  Paternity leave was instituted only last year and is all of FIVE days and that’s supposed to be some great thing. While I have a stellar helper, not everyone does or feels up to trusting someone else with such a small child. So at the policy level, much needs to be done.

Also read

Anna’s Mom’s take on her experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch yoga

That’s what the class is called because it’s slotted during the time we’re contracted to take our lunch hour. Yes, our contract specifies when we lunch, but luckily our office is a tad flexible on this.

I resisted signing up for this class even though it has a large following from our office because 1) it’s in Cantonese 2) it’s embarrassing being Indian in Hong Kong and so inept at yoga. When an Indian walks into a yoga class here, everyone assumes you’re the teacher first and then after the real teacher makes herself known, everyone including the teacher assumes you’re an expert and the reality is then more shocking.

Nevertheless, because so many friends were going and I figured they’d babysit me a bit in terms of language, I decided to go. Yesterday was the first class. I surprised myself at actually being able to sustain some of the poses and not being the utter worst in class. A much younger and slimmer girl was to my eternal gratitude. Nevertheless, it was hard. There were parts that were good and I realised I’m old enough to enjoy yoga because I like the steady breathing and am not that concerned about weight loss, although that would be a bonus.

Halfway through the class, I was thinking that if I could do this twice a week, I’d be good in terms of exercise, but by the end of the class, I thought once a week was enough. It’s quite a workout and you end up feeling quite sleeping after.

For some reason, the people in my office don’t take a shower after. Okay the reason is that they’re adhering as strictly as possible to the office timings. Can you imagine, we did a kickboxing class and didn’t shower after? It’s ridiculous, though admittedly Chinese people don’t sweat as much I think. After V made fun of me, I was determined to try to sneak in a shower. It helps that my boss who was in the class is on leave and summer is a slow time anyway. So I raced off to the showers, and I landed up catching up with everyone else on the way back anyway. I don’t think five minutes of running water over our body is going to kill anyone.

As the day progressed, I was dead tired though. This may have been exacerbated by PMS but I am just not one of those persons whose endorphins make themselves known in a tangible way after a workout. Instead I usually feel in dire need of a nap. And this was when I was regularly running in school as well.

I have always been in awe of people who go to the gym during their lunch hour (my sister was one of those people). In my case, in addition to the sleepiness, it screws up my eating timings, and then once I drag my ass home, I don’t have the luxury of vegetating on the couch or hitting the sack right away. So this is not an ideal routine for me, but for now, I’m sticking with it.

 

Transformers

transformers-age-of-extinction-poster

V tells me that he has asked me to go watch the Transformers 4 movie three times before and I refused. I have a slightly different version of events – admittedly, I was never super keen on watching the films, but when the second one came out, I agreed, only we couldn’t get tickets. Anyway, V got fourth time lucky, because this time when he suggested it I agreed right away.

Not that I was super enthused by the idea of watching it, but I was in an amicable mood and not averse to sitting silently in a darkened room even if it meant paying to zone out. Also, I had heard good things about the movie so there was a small chance I’d actually like it.

And guess what, I did. Mainly, I was captivated by the transforming part, which I thought was super cool. I could watch those cars morph into robots and back again ad inifinitum I think.

Of course, the sexism got to me. This film scrapes through the Bechdel test because at one point two women talk to each other about something other than a man. Although they literally exchange one line: “Is that a bomb in the back?” “There’s a bomb in the back.” I don’t know if this counts actually. The two women were very peripheral characters, who it must be noted were rather strangely (for this plotline) both being courted by the same man, essentially their boss. These two woman, plus one mouthy real estate broker, plus Tessa were the only four women in the film who say anything. The only one who has a proper role is Tessa.

Ah Tessa. Would it be possible to have a more sexist female protagonist? The purpose of her seems to be that she’s a hot teenager (though she could pass as older) and that she can be a damsel in distress who the males in the film, her father, her boyfriend, and the autobots can save. In any crisis, she screams “Help me!”. Also her lipstick is always super fresh and bubblegum pink, but then so is her boyfriends. Only twice does she take action – one to pull the stick shift while her boyfriend is driving (“pull the stick” he orders in a way that is a sexual innuendo that her father reacts to) and then to run around weaving a rope that will bring a Decepticon down.

Even V could tell that this was excessive, but to annoy me he said this was the favourite part of the film. He thought the Tess character served no purpose and that they could have had a female transformer. Later, he asked me why I cared so much about this, and I said, I don’t have the luxury of not caring, these things affect my life. If people don’t care, it’s because we’ve been programmed to see this as normal, to not see the under- and misrepresentation of women in films as abhorrent and a perpetuator of the patriarchal status quo. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

Nevertheless, for lack of choice, we women have learnt to watch and enjoy films while bracketing out this offensive aspects. In the same way, that coloured people have to bracket out the lack or crappy portrayal of coloured people in mainstream films. But sometimes it gets too much. Or sometimes there’s nothing else.

Fantasy and superhero films make their appearance during times when reality is so troubling that it can most easily be approached through metaphor. Unlike the superhero films of the past, which were about us (literally the US) versus them, the current crop of fantasy films takes place on a more wider stage with the US government implicated in the corruption.

The last section of this film is set in Hong Kong and it’s always thrilling watch your hometown on screen. In this case, a major portion of the action is filmed in Quarry Bay exactly where we used to live three years ago, you can literally see our old apartment in the background and at one point the transformers step on the building where we owned our first apartment. The major part of that sequence is shot in these old-style decrepit Hong Kong building, where I used to get my hair cut and V used to go for a massage. Clearly that’s a slightly shady area as during filming some triad members threatened the director, causing quite furore about the rise of triad activities in Hong Kong. But when we lived there we never really thought of it as being shady, though obviously it was a more lower-income dwelling.

There were parts of Hong Kong that were unrecognisable because they were clearly shot in a set, and why they couldn’t have made those parts look more authentic is a mystery though I guess only Hongkongers would cringe at those. Another thing that Hongkongers would cringe at is the Chinese government coming to the rescue. It was all the more ironic watching that segment at the exact time when hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers were out in the streets marching for democracy and registering their protest against the Chinese government’s recent white paper that seeks to put Hong Kong in its place (under China’s thumb).The bit that got the most laughs from the Hong Kong audience was when the gang with the ‘seed’ was stuck behind some Chinese grannies who shuffled along oblivious as ever to the commotion behind them. Haven’t we all been there? The most tragic moment in the film for a Hongkonger would be the door-close button on the lift not working because we are obsessed with jabbing at button as soon as we get into the lift even if we don’t have anything with us that might save humanity as a whole.

Apart from the sexism, the other thing that irked me was the machismo that was attributed even to the good bots. Like with Optimus subdued that dinosaur thingie. Couldn’t that have been made more consensual? Also, the need of human beings to make every other species human-like is also silly. Can we not imagine anything that is not a mirror of ourselves?

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the film and now want to watch the others. I repeat, in case it’s not sufficiently clear, which it often isn’t – I liked the film.

The wonder of Goodreads

Is there no end to the social media I am on? I need to write a post on how I’m a social media addict as per V, or a social media enthusiast as per moi, but I guess the entire explanation can be summed up in one line – the internet lets me just fall down the rabbit hole and read, read, read thereby satiating my easily bored (with reality) mind and also provides the kinds of discussions I don’t have access to in real life.

So Thumbelina asked if I was on Goodreads and so I checked it out, and my God, how did this one escape me all this while. Needless to say, I’m addicted, because it’s book porn. I have this fetish for collecting books virtually because space and money do not allow me to do this in the real world (i.e. I cannot line up my fantasy bookshelf in real life, because my house literally does not have space for it). I’ve been tinkering with my shelves for the past few days, literally obsessing over the categorisation. I even went into my library record and am inputting books based on there. Yeah, a monster has been created, and it helps that it’s summer and I’m at a loose end till my boss gets snapping which she won’t because she’s on leave starting tomorrow.

Goodreads combines this ability to collects one’s reads in one place with providing reccos that are pretty good based on some creepy algorithm that analyses your reading pattern which is really useful when you have to library systems at your disposal and are spoiled for choice. The main point is reviews and discussion groups, so it’s useful to check out what people are saying about a book, and of course, since I do write my thoughts on books I read (if not really straight-up review them) anyway, I might cross-post mine.

I was dithering over whether to register as myself or my blog ID and finally went with the latter, because I know more people who read like I do on the blog than in real life alas, and the ones I do know in real life who read like me also read the blog. There’s a sliver of people who are not included in this overlap and I can live without them (on Goodreads).

My ID is TheBride. If you’re on Goodreads add me to your Friends because right now I have only three, sob!

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