Before 10 am.
A mushroom is a fungus penis
The difference between a Tanka, a haiku and a cinquain.
Before 10 am.
A mushroom is a fungus penis
The difference between a Tanka, a haiku and a cinquain.
On Tuesday, I took a mental health day and went to office.
I felt guilty, of course, for abandoning my children at home to two helpers and a husband, but after eight days of being a stay at home mom – albeit one with the full load of office work – I was ready to bolt.
I feel like those famous Japanese men who are bereft when they have to retire. I need to go to the office as silly as it sounds. I need to space out on the MTR. I need my two screens and desk and office coffee mug. I need to make polite chatter with my colleagues and go out to lunch. I need to need to dress up.
Two things I learnt this week:
1. Apropos the above, I’m not an extended work from home person
2. Homeschooling is better than school:
After disappointing results of an entrance tests in Bangalore and a not-so-great parent-teacher meeting, we realised we have to take matters into our own hands. I’ve been functioning under the illusion that having carefully selected a school, paying quite a steep price, I would leave the teachers to do what they presumably know best. So if this means, no homework, so be it. Heck, no homework is what I think education should be, in an ideal world.
The problem, I discovered, is that no homework and no textbooks coming home on weekends means that you have no idea what your kid is up to at school, what they are learning and how they are doing, until two months into the term when you meet their teacher and he says, “er, not so great.”
And you realise you need to do something, and again the teachers are not much help. For example, I have known for a while that Mimi is atrocious at spelling but all of last year her teacher told me not to worry. Now, her teacher says, worry, but not how I can help her.
Thankfully, the internet exists, though it turns out there are a lot more resources for teaching pre-schoolers spelling than kids in grade three. So I’m having to invent my own method and I’m actually having some success.
It feels a bit like groundhog month because I went through this in their final year of kindergarten when I realised the much vaunted Jolly Phonics was quite ineffective in teaching my kids to read (and now I recall that epiphany was prompted by the need to do primary school entrance interviews, so I guess I never learn). Finally, the internet, common sense and some kind people here who suggested Starfall helped me get them on the right track, and now I’m wondering again, what the point of expensive schooling is when I end up doing the groundwork?
But so it is. This episode has taught me that I need to tiger parent it up a bit and teach my kids at home. My ideal would be reinforcing what they’re doing at school, but that’s only possible if the teachers cooperate and send their books home on weekends (Mimi’s teacher has agreed to, I’m still waiting for a response from Nene’s).
In the meantime, we took the opportunity of the kids being home a whole week to print out worksheets and basically drill them. Again I knew this, but they forget everything over the holidays, so there was a lot of refreshing of basics to do.
Thankfully, there’s a fair bit of free material available online, but it needs to be sifted through and because I’m not a professional teacher, I’m not sure what to teach when.
Unfortunately, V and I have sort of fallen into the gendered daddy is the math person, mommy is the English person and even more unfortunately both my kids prefer maths but it is what it is.
Onwards and upwards.
But by day eight of this I was exhausted (and the kids insisted they don’t do this much work at school, even though they were essentially doing just three hours or so put together, while they spend six hours at school) and after losing it on Mimi for refusing to take a bath, I decided I needed to get out and “adult” again.
So I fled, took the MTR, schlepped to my own desk and breathed a sigh of relief.
The next day, there was transport chaos again, and I found myself working from home, but sometimes all you need for your mental health is a day at the office.
Or at least a person with less drama in her head. At the start of the year, I felt like I didn’t really have many resolutions to make. Well, this could an addendum. So here goes:
First, swallow opinions about:
1. Annoying columnists: they are only doing their best. Yes, they are sloppy with the facts. Yes, they hate being questioned (but didn’t you?). Yes, they’re defensive.
But hey, they could be worse.
2. Annoying colleagues/boss: Again they could be worse. Also, they’re just people who did not go to grad school, or in the case of one of them, who who did, but on the fringes and in strait-laced discipline. Ok I’m bring snotty.
They are allowed to have their own opinions that differ from yours.
Also, if columnists are painful, imagine boss who has to deal with them plus his boss all.the.time. Given that, he’s doing pretty well.
Painful colleague probably has marital issues. Ok and she’s really insecure. Plus, I should have just shut up and not challenge her anodyne outbursts.
Awkward colleague is not self-centered typical male seeking emotional labour of women while doing none but just someone too polite to ask questions needed to emotionally support someone else. Ok no, he is self centered. But he did help one in the early days.
3. Ungenerous thoughts about people that pop into head: e.g. guy you did not think was all that who got through his defence with no revisions. Think how nice for him, and resist the urge to text other person in your cohort to have a bitch fest on the side. (okay, I failed at that). Or friend who you generally like but who was literally unable to stick to the restaurant choice for dinner, possibly because she couldn’t handle going to a new one but couldn’t bear to say so.
I’m serious. I think it might benefit my personality or else reduce general drama in my life to squash these instincts to be bitchy.
On the other hand, I might just burst with the all the unsaid things I’m swallowing.
Time will tell. I think more likely I will vent to designated vent-friendly friend and hope that satisfies me.
Second, shut up and listen more.
Listening to this podcast, I was transported to my childhood, to a geography of bakeries – of freshly baked bread that earned my community the moniker ‘macapao’ to more hybrid offerings – springs rolls doused in crimson Szechwan sauce that no one in the Sichuan I visited this summer would recognise and the most perfect salted wafers. More than the food, it was the cadence of speech that called to me in the podcast, the tangential telling of stories, the “I tell you” and “men’.
As I ponder the question of belonging and the irrelevance of nationalism except for the most prosaic and political purposes, I realise that, new yuppie cafes and restobars notwithstanding, it is this corner of the world, this suburb where even the grocer spoke to us in English, is where I can claim to somehow forever belong to. At heart, I am a citizen of Bandra.
I sent a message about dance classes for the children to the wrong member of the Indian ladiz whatsapp group of my estate.
“Who is this?” she asked.
“C, from the Indian whatsapp group,” I replied.
“C is not an Indian name. Are you Indian?”
“But were you born in Hong Kong.?”
“Which tower do you live in?” As if I would fake being Indian to be a member of this whatsapp group.
Isn’t it curious how the people who demand patriotism from minorities never also fail to other us?
“Where are you from?” My children are asked.
“No where are you really from?”
They name the suburb of Hong Kong we live in.
My children’s geography of taste is also different. When they are in India, they tire of the local food and ask grandma, “can we get siu mai?”
I read that Portugal is one of the few European countries soliciting migrants.
“Hmmm, maybe I should apply, then at least I don’t have to explain my name.”
“Who do you have to explain your name to?” my Indian colleague asks in surprise.
I roll my eyes. The idea of India has grown smaller and smaller.
I listen to this podcast and learn that middle-class Muslims in India are thinking twice about giving their children Muslim names to avoid the inevitable bullying on the playground.
This is what we have come to.
Hong Kong was where I lost both my religion and nationalism (nationalism to my mind is a kind of religion in the “opiate of the masses” sense anyway). I recall reading about an artist who was invited to participate in the national pavilion of another country and her saying that she accepted the invitation expressly because it was not linked to national boundaries (I believe it was Dayanita Singh at the German pavilion of the 2013 Venice Bienale but I can’t be sure). I remember thinking that this was a sensibility I aspire to, even as I struggle not to root for countries at the Olympics and World Cup.
Five years ago, I wrote about how my sense of nationalism has faded. What has changed since then or while my affinity to the idea of the nation has eroded, ironically at a time when the idea of Hong Kong nationalism has been floated, my sense of belonging to certain places, my safe places – one dot in the corner of India’s west coast and one dot on China’s southern coast – has solidified.
10 March is Tibetan National Uprising day. A friend posted this poem on Facebook:
The Tibetan in Mumbai
is not a foreigner.
He is a cook
at a Chinese takeaway.
They think he is Chinese
run away from Beijing.
He sells sweaters in summer
in the shade of the Parel Bridge.
They think he is some retired Bahadur.
The Tibetan in Mumbai
abuses in Bambaya Hindi,
with a slight Tibetan accent
and during vocabulary emergencies
he naturally runs into Tibetan.
That’s when the Parsis laugh.
The Tibetan in Mumbai
likes to flip through the MID-DAY,
loves FM, but doesn’t expect
a Tibetan song.
He catches the bus at a signal,
jumps into a running train,
walks into a long dark gully
and nestles in his kholi.
He gets angry
when they laugh at him
The Tibetan in Mumbai
is now tired,
wants some sleep and a dream.
On the 11pm Virar Fast,
he goes to the Himalayas.
The 8.05am Fast Local
brings him back to Churchgate
into the Metro: a New Empire.
— Tenzin Tsundue
It’s a reminder of the alienation that exiles feel. And the complicity of ‘locals’ in that.
Strangely, when I read the poem, my dominant feeling was homesickness. [And I fully recognize here that there is no parity between my homesickness and that of the Tibetan in exile. My homesickness is marked by the transnational privilege to return – home for me is a just a flight away, an expensive one that precludes frequent returns, but the possibility is open.]
There was a time when this homesickeness would trouble me, not for the fact of it, but because when I moved to Hong Kong, I felt the need to pick a side. And after five years in Hong Kong I picked Hong Kong. The end. Or so I thought.
Last month, I gave a lecture on Salman Rushdie’s essay Imaginary Homelands, in which he talks about writing in the diaspora. I reflected on an incident that happened when I was in Bombay in December. Or rather, as I was leaving Bombay. As the plane was taking off, I pointed out the city spread out below us to Nene who was peering out of the airplane window. Suddenly, I trailed off. V, who was sitting in the row behind us, poked me and whispered, “Are you crying?” And I realised that I was. Ten years after leaving Bombay, I realised that some roots are never severed. Something is always left behind.
I have finally realised that home can be two or more places. On does not have to pick a side. When I leave Hong Kong, there will be a part of me that will keen for it. I have put down roots here too. My ties to Bombay are the ties of birth, the ties of familiarity, of blending in, of roads that can be navigated unconsciously. My ties to Hong Kong are the comfort of safety and ease, the exhileration of the aesthetic beauty of the skyline and the buzz of the international, the jolt of the strange, and the nostalgia of the early years of marriage and learning to be an adult. If Bombay is family, Hong Kong is a friend.
I lived two years in Hyderabad too. I should have put down roots there. But I didn’t. The city didn’t take to me and I to it. I fled every opportunity I could, and when I had no reason to be there any longer, I packed my things and never looked back.
With whom did you make the most worthwhile connections in 2012?
connect [LIVE]: This post is part of Weverb12
This is a toughie. I can easily cite who I did not make worthwhile connections with:
As most of you know by now, this has been the year of angst and irritation. People mostly got on my nerves. I probably got on theirs. Worthwhile connections were lacking.
Mainly, I forged a closer relationship with my kids. I realised I can stomach their company in larger doses than I can most adults. This is a complete turnaround from someone who would run a mile from kids. I am now the person who goes goo-goo-gaa-gaa at babies in the MTR. Stranger things have happened (NOT). Apart from genuinely enjoying my interactions with my children, as I realised on Christmas, they crowd out the need for other people and paint the grotesqueness of many adult interactions in sharp relief.
And if my children hadn’t caused me to isolate myself, Hong Kong encourages it too. One of the pitfalls of life in Hong Kong is that people wrap themselves into their own cocoons and the efficiency of the infrastructure and the way the city functions means one doesn’t need people in the way that one does in India, for example. So one is forced to consider whether one actually wants people. I fully recognise that this is a dangerous game to play whereby one could find oneself very alone and isolated later in life or if one moves away from Hong Kong.
But for the here and now, this year I found that I preferred solitude and my own company more than anything. For example, the week that V was away at the end of the year, I did a couple of things myself and enjoyed the experience immensely. I went to an exhibition of Andy Warhol’s work and loved taking my time and absorbing it at my own pace, reading every caption as is my want without feeling guilty about making others wait. And on Saturday night, I went to a HK Philharmonic concert, making a conscious choice not to call friends, and again, I loved being alone. I could space out and let the music wash over me without feeling the need to make conversation or think about whether anyone else was entertained. I could go to the loo twice during the interval without feeling embarrassed about my small bladder. At the end of it, I remember thinking how this was so much more worthwhile than doing than drinks and dinner. On a side note, I’ve discovered I enjoy Ravel – the gypsy notes in his music resonate with me – and I find solos trying.
I’d like to say that I’m going to make more connections in the coming year, but I think I need to wallow in solitude more. I need to cast of the cloak of needing people and being anxious about company. One of the wonders of Hong Kong is that one is free to do things alone. So, if anything, I’m hoping to isolate myself more and keep my interactions with people light.
*We were spoofing a Cher song. Are you stroganoff to live without me? Stroganoff!
What made you feel powerful in 2012?
empower [HOPE]: this post is part of Weverb2012
Thinking back to the start of the year, when Mimi had just been born, some of times I felt most empowered were during the darkest days of the first three months. Particularly when a day after we had been discharged from hospital, a check-up revealed Mimi had high jaundice levels and had to go back to hospital for blue light treatment.
I had to stay with her, sleeping on a fold-up round-the-clock, which was no joke for someone who had just had a c-sec. Apart from one night-time stretch when I panicked, trying to calm a wailing Mimi and change her diaper in that incubator thingie, I was surprised at how well I managed the feeding, sleeping, staggering to gross common toilet, making calls to V from corner of said toilet (the only place I got phone reception), etc. I would never have thought myself capable of camping out on a fold-out bed, and leaping to the demands of a newborn with a huge cut in my stomach but I rose to the occasion (literally).
And later, during one dreadful night when V was away on work, and I got food poisoning, Benji dropped the iPad on his foot and it turned blue, and I had to keep waking to feed Mimi and I managed to do all this and live to host a visiting friend the next day, I knew I had depths of strength I hadn’t imagined. More recently, during another bad night when Mimi was really ill and I slept with her cuddled in the crook of my arm, getting a couple of hours sleep, before heading to work, I knew I still had it in me.
I’m not one of those people that believes that one should welcome misfortune because it makes you stronger. Bad times suck. But I was proud of how I handled those physically and emotionally exhausting days and they taught me that I was stronger than I thought.
What distant memory/time did you find yourself longing for in 2012?
Sometime ago, V commented that childhood is the time we all hark back to. This was certainly true for me until my 20s. I remember doing a simple personality quiz that diagnosed me as stuck in the period from 5-12 and it struck me as very accurate.
In my 30s now, I am more realistic about my childhood. I definitely had a good childhood. A comfortable one, with necessities and a lot of extras provided, and a very loving family environment. I grew up in a building surrounded by friends and have amazing memories of summer holidays spent almost entirely downstairs. But I did have my insecurities as a child. In my first and second standard of primary school, I was practically friendless. I found secondary school extremely boring, although friends made up for it. I was mentally precocious but physically an awkward teenager.
The time I hark back to now is my early 20s. My personality was formed. I was confident in my looks. I was secure in my friendships. The period from 21-24 in particular was my heyday. I was the most social and confident I have ever been. I looked the best I ever have. I attracted people, friends and lovers. It was a time of romance, intense friendships, experimentation and joie de vivre.
I don’t necessarily want to go back to those heady days – though I wouldn’t mind going back to those looks – but that period is the touchstone of who I am.
What inspirational quote would you associate with this past year for you?
I have three quotes that resonated with me this past year
1. As you know, I have had struggles in my marriage this year. The quote below put a lot of things in perspective for me. It reminded me of something a priest once said to me about love being a gift you give and not something you take. Somewhere in these seven years, I stopped being so willing about giving, about backing down. To give, for me is an act of trust, and I stopped trusting. This quote reminded me of the idea that is actually the basis of the Christian faith, that to win you have to lose.
“When it comes to winning and losing, I think there are three kinds of marriages. In the first kind of marriage, both spouses are competing to win, and it’s a duel to the death. Husbands and wives are armed with a vast arsenal, ranging from fists, to words, to silence. These are the marriages that destroy. Spouses destroy each other, and, in the process, they destroy the peace of their children. In fact, the destruction is so complete that research tells us it is better for children to have divorced parents than warring parents. These marriages account for most of the fifty percent of marriages that fail, and then some. The second kind of marriage is ripe with winning and losing, but the roles are set, and the loser is always the same spouse. These are the truly abusive marriages, the ones in which one spouse dominates, the other submits, and in the process, both husband and wife are stripped of their dignity. These are the marriages of addicts and enablers, tyrants and slaves, and they may be the saddest marriages of all.
But there is a third kind of marriage. The third kind of marriage is not perfect, not even close. But a decision has been made, and two people have decided to love each other to the limit, and to sacrifice the most important thing of all—themselves. In these marriages, losing becomes a way of life, a competition to see who can listen to, care for, serve, forgive, and accept the other the most. The marriage becomes a competition to see who can change in ways that are most healing to the other, to see who can give of themselves in ways that most increase the dignity and strength of the other. These marriages form people who can be small and humble and merciful and loving and peaceful.”
2. As we weigh up moving to India, I am once again struggling with where I belong. I fear that in eschewing being a foreigner in a foreign land, I will land up in the more disturbing position of being a foreigner in my own land, or worse, realising that I never had my own land. This quote offers a different perspective to the idea of being rooted to places.
Via Masala Chica:
“Maybe your country is only a place you make up in your own mind. Something you dream about and sing about. Maybe it’s not a place on the map at all, but just a story full of people you meet and places you visit, full of books and films you’ve been to. I’m not afraid of being homesick and having no language to live in. I don’t have to be like anyone else. I’m walking on the wall and nobody can stop me.” (From The Speckled People, A Memoir of a Half-Irish Childhood)
3. Related to quote 1, the following quote provides a strategy for me. I need to learn to back down, and one of the ways to do that is to let things go, to not dwell.
Via Melbourne Maharani:
It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them. I was so preposterously serious in those days… Lightly, lightly – it’s the best advice ever given me… So throw away your baggage and go forward. There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet, trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair. That’s why you must walk so lightly. Lightly my darling.
(Aldous Huxley, The Rainbow)
Ok so there are a lot book-related prompts in this series, which is fine because I have a lot of book-related posts to get through. I mentioned in this post that one of my firsts this year has been reading a book on economics. Poor Economics not only gave me the confidence to read out of my comfort zone, it also answered many of the very basic questions and redressed misconcpetions I had (and I suspect many of you have) about poverty (are poor people always hungry? why do poor people have so many children? can anything be done to help them or is poverty eradication a dream?).
– There is enough food in the world so that no one needs to be hungry.
– Distribution of food, however, is a problem.
– Barring emergencies, even those below the poverty line would be able to meet basic calorie needs by living on a diet of banana and potato.
– However, understandably, poor people do not want to only eat banana and potato. Also, when they get a bit more money, they prefer to spend it on other things or on tastier food.
– Moral: Poor people are human beings like you and I and don’t want to eat only banana and potatoes.
– Just like the rest of us, poor people make healthcare choices based on what they believe works.
– Thus, stuff that shows quick results (like antibiotics, injections etc) are more popular than long-term stuff like vaccines.
– There is an element of conscious choice involved. Poor people are not ignoramuses (ignorami?) led to the slaughter by devious but more enlightened souls (not always, anyway). They decide what works for them and choose things that give them hope (even when that means faith-healers over hospitals that tell them that there is nothing to be done for a family member suffering from AIDS). This ties into a irate discussion I engaged in on an online forum with a woman who posted some article on how big, bad Nestle conned these poor, dumb poor people into choosing formula over breastmilk. Why is it always assumed the poor are so easily misled? Why does it never enter anyone’s head that a mother with less income might decide she prefers what she perceives to be an easier option, just like higher income mothers (though none of those mothers might like to admit the reasons behind their choice to a health-case worker, for example).
– Just like us, they can be incentivized to choose what Someone Who Knows Better thinks is best. This may be patronizing, but it happens to all of us, just that we don’t know it.
– Even rubbish education, helps. So rubbish government schools are better than nothing.
– And again, it is often the poor, including poor children, choosing not to go to them because they are rubbish and thus perceived to offer no significant benefit.
– However, good education helps more.
– The focus should be on ensuring that children are really learning at every stage, even if this means at the end of 10 years, they have learnt less than children in more privileged schools. Quality, not quantity.
– Do larger families really breed poverty? Or is there a good reason poor people choose to have large families?
– If saving is compared to support from children in old age, support from children trumps saving. To increase the odds of said support, more children are needed. Ergo.
– Is microcredit the magic bullet that will pull people out of poverty? No. But it does help. It needs to be complemented by other measures and it needs to be fine-tuned to make it more effective.
– Microinsurance would also be very helpful but no private company has figured out how to make the numbers work. The poor would benefit a lot from being insured against huge health events, weather incidents, etc. There might be a role for the government here.
– Stress is not some rich man’s disease. The poor get stressed too. A study measured the cortisol level of poor people and found it to be quite high. Some of them are so stressed and depressed they cannot function effectively enough to take steps to better their lives.
Through all this, the dominant message I got was – the poor are just like you and me. If you and I can’t do what we know is the right thing for our lives (each more healthy, save, be disciplined at work) when we have a lot of training wheels and guard rails put in place for us so seamlessly that we don’t realise they exist, why do we expect people who live in much more challenging situations to do so? Policies to help the poor might do well to realise that poor people are people first, just like everyone else and subject to the same vagaries of human nature that we all are.
The book concludes that there is hope for the poor if we can persist in devising and tweaking ways to help based on situations on the ground, rather than looking, as economists are want to do, at the macro.