Category Archives: Things I did not want to learn
blame it on the stars…..
I have to blame it on someone for the ugly delay of my beloved project. This blame is no excuse, mind you, I can submit real proof.
Rewind to a few months back – I get the first printed version of the poetry book and present it to Him – SURPRISE!!! And the look on his face was nowhere close to any expectations I might have had in my present or former life. Nice guy but he totally hates surprises; he hasn’t in 20 odd years even tried to learn ways to deal with creative people – that pretty much speaks about his capabilities, and the fact that he does not know any other way of living but of a military, out-of-the-rule-book-pattern.
My partner was sincerely offended and hurt, reason being that IF he was the suppos-ed and lucky receiver of this creation, then why was he not part of the planning, creating, decision-making process? does his opinion not count? Blah, blah. why is the designers’ ideas given priority?
Make peace baby, give me all your opinion, and I’ll see how to put it in.
There! I mean, cant you be sensitive towards a piece of art made purely for love’s sake?! You are supposed to say the right things man- its amazing, it’s beautiful, thank you, I am overwhelmed!
No sir, we spot mistakes cover to cover, right down to the size, the shades, the title, the text is abstract even outrageous, the drawings not appropriate, the loopholes in terms of marketing this book, the acknowledgements not proper enough to appeal the potential publisher…..blah
You see, his complete logical sense is convoluted and confused. If I had to put in all of that, snip and tuck, make it fancier, with a certain twist that you feel would create the desired effect, it would become your book, not the thing that I was creating.
Ok, I admit to a certain extent maybe the abstract pieces, loose connections might need to be tweaked up…just maybe, not necessarily.
But the point is, I missed the joy of receiving a proud look ( aah, the things we do for love’s sake….) and I sighed at the tasks to be done before it becomes a bestseller, which it will not anyway. IT gives me immense happiness just lying here by my bedside, almost done, a few sheets sticking out.
All blame’s in place, guess I can get back to work on it.
My day is packed with things to do, important and mundane. Let me strictly confirm the harsh fact – the important things remain important and have decently placed deadlines, and the mundane are always necessary, and can create an emergency if not accomplished at the designated time. If I want to get down to the real tasks I want to get done on a particular day, I Better get the list of mundane & extremely necessary things done…starting with
Get the kids to school ( dress, breakfast, lunch boxes, drop off)
Cook , and while working on the menu check on the husband, parents, other family members & the pets, make sure all are fed)
Run errands ( if you don’t want one or more of the family people or kids getting into trouble at job or school – e.g get the Halloween dress in time, drop/pick THAT suit to the dry cleaners, and the like)
Return calls depending on whose calls I missed the most number of times, and how panicky that particular friend is – I don’t want the police/fire squad come in search for me.
Take it easy. Easy? I must not not shout at all those desperate & disturbed , confused, housewife lady friends from the coffee club, who just have to call to share the juicy gossip or their age-ing problems – forgive them, they have no idea that their actions are making me as mad and wasted as them.
To not forget my own Vitamin B or C, lest I am found drained & unconscious at the grocery store – that is a confirmed day of NO work.
Get the kids to the swim/dance/craft activity in time, you’ve paid the advance.
Do at least a bit of planning of the forthcoming pool party/family gathering, jot down some quick smart points so that I don’t feel guilty in case the coordinator calls on me.
Please the husband, keep a nice dvd ready for a Friday family movie time, or plan something for the weekend for ‘us’ time.
All the above mentioned tasks are during the weekdays, which are also my work days. My official working week ends on a Thursday night and I juggle with a different set of activities with no control over their time frame/ schedule, earliest I can find my normal self is around Tuesday noontime.
Did I mention the cleaning, clearing, changing bedsheets,grocery, fruits, watering the plants/gardner and my own workout time here. I think not, they have to be squeezed in between the 2 categories i mentioned above.
I mean, after all this drama, I am not sane enough to do the tasks I thought I wanted to get DONE TODAY!
This is what happens when you are a freelance writer who makes the mistake of announcing aloud, I work from home!
Oh, and several assignments decide to pour on me all at once. Just when I wasn’t bothered chasing after them. Becoz it was approaching autumn holidays. Uughh. So now after doing all that, I need a writing schedule! Or else, I lose those assignments, maybe even make a bad name in the market, even before a get known. More Uughhh.
Is this free? I’m forty now. And wondering what’s happened to my capital L Life? The one where I had to shelve my grand tour of book reading & signing event, because the award winning ceremony had to be preponed , becoz the gliteratti etc, etc, etc….the one where I preferred to blog special pages from the Hawai islands, blah blah The expectation that this big step in life is one day going to show me to be the Stienbeck or Hemingway or a Bukowski of our generation.
Except I don’t write much. Trying to match the School calender , and spouse’s travel plans with my own dates, and bills & family investments, and food, grocery and sports and summer have all got in the way of actual writing. But I have the thoughts! Oh yes. I am a thinker. Just get a few drinks down and I can blurt the complete script in a go! Got any coke? I need a break before I start some real writing.
One of the an/other hazards of living an expat life, is the fashion scene that I have to keep coping with. It has been proved earlier enuff, that my learning generally doesn’t follow anything that can be called a curve. Guess, that goes pretty much like my personality – either I learn the ropes, or not; either a yes, or a no! This way, or that!
Simply put, I am not good at learning a little of a lot many things, and so it’s difficult to blend into a new group (where people behave or dress or eat in a similar way) group easily; I have a tendency to always stick out!
When we were in process of planning our move back to China (this time SZ city), I took out my carefully stacked mandarin learning books & worksheets. After a gap of 2 years, if anyone expected me to swing back to the sounds n tones, they got to be kidding! As expected, I was behaving deaf & dumb again; even the words/phrases I was completely comfortable with, failed me. I was wishing for some miracle to pop the words out of my mouth, when I needed………just once, ONCE, to make me feel better, to save me from humiliation, that look my spouse gives ( my company spent so much on your mandarin lessons – and u cant even convey this much!)
No sir, miracles havnt happened to me all these 39 years, I am sure miracle fairies don’t visit my side of the world, ever!
And if not speaking the language didn’t destroy my confidence, the local fashion scene very much did. Take the ferry across the border ( to HongKong) and you’ll know where all the influence is coming from! Women take their appearance very seriously here. They swear by trends, brands, cosmetics, hair salons and waist sizes. I appreciate that, but I have none to boast of.
I must be really thick, that living in fashion conscious cities since the last 9 years hasn’t changed me much. I am reasonably well dressed when going to the supermarket or to the doctor or anywhere in public.
For sure I struggle to not succumb to the temptation to join the slob parade – No old sweats or baggy shorts or T-shirts proclaiming I’m still hot. It just comes in flashes now. I am decently covered, I buy my correct size, carry a lip gloss, and wear a smile, always! That is fashion for me. No sir again, my idea of fashion and being well dressed is way off the mark!
And this here, is sheer torture. It makes me want to weep. My jeans aren’t tight enough, my heels not high, my clothes not trendy enough, my lips not plump enough, my hands not manicured enough, my . . . do I need to go on? I think you get the picture.
Sadly, I will have to accept this state of affairs because trying to jazz up my appearance would require too much witchcraft. It’ll be a task for any witch, or fairy, you bet. Maybe I should get a T-shirt with this slogan I Took the Road Less Traveled, and Now Where the Heck Am I?
No amount of showing down will change me. Once get around here, I’ll find like- minded friends, like-dressed too. Or some who can understand me, and don’t mind my sartorial.
Juliet was a life saver. Professionally, she was an assistant to Madhav, but in truth, she was our everything. From phone calls to office directions, food ordering to foot massages, hair cuts to bargains, she was the answer to all our worries – the how’s, why’s, where’s, when’s of our daily life in Shanghai. The company wouldn’t have been up and running successfully if it wasn’t for Juliet. How she came to be part of CII, is also a mystery, but we’ll talk about that later. Oh, but before I forget her English was amazing, just the best I have ever heard from any Chinese, cool.
I was closely working with CII, at that time, the year of 2007, when every multinational, wanted to set foot in china. Our Indian business houses were not behind – the Godrej family, Ashok Leylands, Kirloskars, Ranbaxy-pharma groups were exploring eagerly for ventures, with the Tatas , videocons, and the steel tycoons already in place. To support trade, Madhav (from the CII group) had planned a consultant seminar. It was basically designed to encourage the big (moneyed) shots to help them understand Chinese trade laws and be able to invest in Shanghai & around. A team of consultants (from varied backgrounds and experience) was to speak over the 1 & ½ days workshop, and a mix of important industrialists/investors , Chinese and Indian, were invited. Lot of good food, excellent hospitality and catering services by the Mariott, and lot of intended deals/plans by the end of the seminar took place.
Second day evening, we sat together, happily enjoying the winding off coffee, just the three of us, Madhav , Juliet and I, telling each other we did a great job.
Madhav and I have a very limited vocabulary of mandarin, mine happens to be tucked into that dark corner of the brain, which tends to get paralysed, more in times of need. And the way the words get tangled/tassled/twisted with each other is another horror in itself.
Madhav was recalling how impressed all the invites were, and how much they appreciated his efforts. He asked Juliet, “hey why was everybody saying – do syair, do syair nin? What does it mean? Juliet replied , “Sanx” in her Chinese accent English. For a few seconds after that madhav and I went totally silent, didn’t look at each other at all, but kept staring at her quizzically. She looked at us, once at him, then me, must be trying hard to understand why are we acting like such morons, and we tried to think, what in the hell is she thinking right now? She must have thought we need more explanation, she said – “mani mani sanx – it means”. Believe me the “n” was quite inaudible, and we heard, well, sex. Madhav went searching for words, it seems all the way to Jupiter, the only sound came out of him, from that far, was “oh”, pause, and then, “oh, but why?”
“Why?, why not? They all wanted to thank you, for all this, we did.” She was definite by now , we sure can be morons at times. We got it. It thundered upon us , the word – thanks. I sighed a sigh of relief, madhav turned and smiled at me – “oh, I heard something else, you did too, right?” “Yeah, right.” Now it was her turn to look at us strangely. Madhav kept on grinning till the end of time, it was upon me to explain, “ umm, well actually, we know only one word for thanks – xie xie. This is new.”
Moron I was, living in Shanghai for 3 years, it never struck me to find out why the Chinese speak English the way they do? Why the simple English alphabets sound like ancient latin coming out of a Chinese mouth. Because they learn the latin alphabets through their knowledge of pinyin. Spell out the letters of your name in common English, and no one understands you. Every single time I have travelled, I reach the Hotel and confidently say – I have a booking in the name of Mrs. S Ghose. No Sir, the booking only reveals itself after the 3rd protest. I have learnt the art of protest and patience. I didn’t know earlier, they go hand in hand.
Are friends, real friends, friends forever? They certainly are, according to the well-known philosophy of Winnie the Pooh: “We’ll be Friends forever, won’t we, Pooh?” asked Piglet.
“Even longer,” Pooh answered.
In sentimental poetry and cards you will come across that same line of thinking. “Without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods.” – Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics.
The reality is a bit more complicated, as many expats will be able to confirm. In a lot of cases it’s hard to maintain a friendship once you have moved abroad; no matter how warm the friendship was while you lived in your home country. Email contact becomes less frequent and you don’t call or visit each other as often as you used to.
Should you feel guilty about this? Not at all, according to research conducted by sociologists at the University of Utrecht (The Netherlands). They asked over one thousand people about their friendships. Seven years later they approached the same people again. The study concluded that within seven years half of our friends disappear from our social network.
The reason being that people generally do not choose friends for who they are, but for where they live or work. When those places change, the friendships change too. Friendships developed in the workplace, at parties or during holidays are particularly vulnerable. When one of the friends takes up a job someplace else or when the holiday is over, the friendship is likely to come to an end. We have to be practical, however difficult it may be.
Children are able to do that more easily, and we should encourage this behavior. Expat kids have to make neighbors in the global village. As soon as they get a comfort level with the language, they can make friends, or as soon as they start playing with local kids around, they will pick up the language and get rolling. It goes hand in hand, we don’t know which comes first, but the efforts always make us more at home in the host country.
Connecting with a local friend for me was an excellent portal into the culture. Not only did she help translate bills and make phone calls, she offered insight into cuisine and cultural cues. She confessed that while helping me with my account & currency issues at the Bank of China, she also learnt about the different (strict) rules that apply to locals, and to expatriates. I am glad she empathized with my situation. Then again, Fellow expat friends help to form an even stronger emotional dependence. Just like me, they have struggled with language, homesickness, and public transportation, at some level. Our meeting at Starbucks on Monday mornings is such a re-assurance. We can laugh it off, and make life easier for each other.
I wonder why this whole New Year thing has to be accompanied by resolutions. I have been doing this resolutions drama for ages now, and it’s already 1.1.11 a date much awaited! Looks so cool. All new all beautiful, we should also stop following this old tradition of making- breaking resolutions, and think of something new.
– Start exercising
– Eat Healthier
In Europe or let me confirm, almost all over the world, the sales of nicotine patches shoots up in January, before slowly falling again. Most gymn memberships are also sold in the 1st month of the year. Well, we all know the story, being repeated year after year, we start, we can’t keep up, and fall back into the trap of the old habits.
Maybe for other people it happens every once a year, for me it’s more regular. I am an absolute Pro – let me explain, I make resolutions on New years’ eve, I eat drink party so much on 31st that I can hardly get up & have a proper bath on the 1st. So for the records my promises start a bit later, like, on the 3 rd or 4th of January, once I am sober. Then a few more new year coffee’s and luncheons, a few b’days and my resolution goes down the drain by the 20th of the same month. No worries, we are in China, Chinese New Year is a great time to start afresh! Mid- feb we have more parties and wine tasting ( drinking) events, and food sales, chocolate sales, You name any sales, u have it here, but I vow to keep my CNY resolutions, once everybody gets back to work & school, and the needs for shopping trips & dinners is over. well…i honestly try.
More enlightenment coming your way, New Year in North India (& south India) falls on 14th April – A very important day for us to celebrate and eat, pray and dance ad infinitum. So I get another chance to pull up my socks (literally) and start my diet program coupled with my gymn regiment, because I totally am not able to fit into my jeans by now. Shameful yes!
May break comes, followed by summer vacation which I plan to spend roaming in Rome, and eating pizza, more Cheese and wines, or (as happened last year) in New York City – I guess by now you do sympathize with my inability to stick to the difficult schedule and even more-difficult-to-reach goals.
Let me spare you the festivities of the Autumn festival in early october, be it China, or Europe, I must enjoy.
But wait, I still have another chance. The good lord is great. Early November we celebrate India’s biggest festival – Diwali, financial New Year, and we thank the Goddess of wealth & prosperity, loads of sweets will be sent to each others’ house as a token of love and regards – eat, pray, dress up & dance. Be merry, it’s the New Year – we ask the goddess to give us more happiness, more prosperity, and the blessing is beautifully visible around my girth!
The struggle between me and my conscience has been brief. My conscience, weak by nature, and grown fat by long want of exercise, gives in quite easily. Building plans in my mind is enough to raise my spirits. Intent to do things, is as good as actually doing them, I keep telling myself. Guilt must have got disgusted with me, and eventually left.…so I’m cool! U understand, right? Who would afford to fight this guilt game every 2 months, not anyone in such circumstances i bet.
Let’s agree – The big problem is that these kinds of resolutions are far too serious for a happy-go-lucky kind of person, as me. I mean, if I am still alive in 2011 after so much of eating, drinking, and late nights, I must be doing something right! I say why not we try achieving some fun goals. How about trying a new cocktail every few weeks? Or going to the movies more often? Try this, and you will definitely have no worries keeping up with the resolutions.
I‘d say, In 2011 I will:
– Have dinner with friends at least once a week
– Read more books, in all kinds of genres
– Try something new every month (sport, recipe, charity…u name it)
My close friend dislikes resolutions too. His plans are big but short lived. He is quite a juggler, at times he reads more, or writes, travels, gets involved with political groups, makes his own wine, enjoys horse riding, or hikes , ……come to think of it now, I feel he has some jinx with the 3 week period, still this attitude makes him an interesting person. whoops! I am glad I am not one of his resolutions!
That one special evening when my husband’s colleagues invited us for dinner in Eindhoven (The Netherlands) is still vivid in my mind. I was anxious; since this was the 1st time I was going to meet the group.
When I moved to the Netherlands ( from Shanghai) my dear husband had filled me with all the lovely things that happen here in the land of the tulips, the greenery all around, the nice helpful people (who speak Engels), and food, and how I would not miss bookstores and supermarkets and coffee shops anymore. True, all turned out to be true. Still there were times, especially the first few months living in such a quiet, bland place, when homesickness would rise in waves. I would worry about my mother, now half the globe away. I would look out my windows at the grey & black shades of the world, the soppy sky, the strange colours and textures of my new home, and I would long for the winter to get over.
I have learnt the best way to deal with how alien my new home felt was to indulge into it, enjoy its oddities. It’s not hunkering inside under a blanket with a cup of hot coffee and a good book, although sometimes that’s what you need. I tried but my moods didn’t warm up at meeting other parents at the school gate either. I’d rather just wait for the weekend grocery trip with family, and a takeaway dinner!
That pouring Friday evening, I and my son picked up my husband after work, and tried to navigate our way to the colleague’s house. Our host was this French couple with 2 kids, who also offered for us to bring our boy along. Well, we don’t have aayi’s there, and I hadn’t thought of fixing up a babysitter for my son yet. It turned out all invitees that evening were expats, one other couple (German man, Turkish wife), a Belgian man, an Austrian single girl, and us an Indian couple. They looked at me, and once we settled down with drinks with bits of cheese & olives, they had plenty of questions for me. I had questions for them, too, and the French lady smiled and brought tea for me (they were surprised I did not drink alcohol) and my husband did his best to introduce me, to each one. I was trying not to address her by name, because of the fear of pronouncing the tongue twisting long French name she had. There were jokes about workplace, and there were jokes about cultures. Slowly we warmed up to each other and their dog too who had refused to leave the big sofa seat, like an adamant kid he didn’t want to be polite to the guests. Our Host Francoise was a tall, humble man; while others were telling me that Netherlands is very flexible, and part time job is easy to find – he told me, “I also work part time – day time at Philips, night time at home.”
Our hostess had nice salad & food laid out for us, and homemade fruit chocolate tart fresh out of the oven, followed by more drinks and bitter coffee , the French coffee, how much ever I put milk or cream, the bitterness doesn’t go. And it amazes me how they can alternately drink their wine & coffee nonstop, beats me!
The most memorable part, although I feel guilty of doing this and enjoying it so much, was 8 people of different nationalities, sitting together on the Holland soil, enjoying this exotic expat location and its niceties and completely bitching about the Dutch!!
It’s a small thing, this evening and yet, as I know from my own experience, its small things like this that can help make a foreign place begin to feel a little more like a place where you might want to be.
I am trying to read China. After a span of four years, with gaps, and I am still reading China. Understanding, comprehending will happen later. When do we read again, or re-read? When we do not understand, when it is difficult to comprehend. Someone wrote, “When we reread a book, we see more in ourselves, than in the book”.
China came by as a lesson (of life), which I didn’t choose, for me it is like a pre-determined curriculum book for grade 6. I read, I get scared, I run away from difficult chapters, I build some strength, I use some more will power, get back to my lessons, try to attempt a few puzzles, and am constantly terrified of failing. The fear settles deeper, this is one course I may not pass….
I moved to Shanghai in November 2004. Frozen by geographical disorientation, lack of confidence and chilly winds, I kept inside the house. Who can travel even a few miles without a pack of address cards in one’s bag? My initial response to all stimuli was to withdraw into isolation.
Basic interaction with the Chinese was so exhausting or frustrating, that I didn’t even keep an Aayi. What will I ask her to do? I might as well use my own muscles a bit, to kill time. We went for weekly grocery to Carrefour, which took hours to figure out products seemingly similar to home, yet not. We made lots of mistakes, tried to use some things because they cost money, and threw quite a few away, because they were totally unsuitable. We tried to eat out, sneaking to look at an agreeable plate on some other table, and point like a three year old, I want that! Most of the time, when it came to our table, it didn’t taste at all, as I thought it would. Weekdays, after sending my husband and son to work and school respectively, I turned inward with a pot of coffee, curled up in my blanket, read. Read the same magazines again, read the same books.
I read the Shanghai Daily, which almost reads itself daily. Bored, I turned to my diary, my old journal, and to little stories to entertain my little one. My journal looked sad. Fatigue was setting in, I slept, then got up, cleaned and cleared the house, had some more tea, then slept some more.
The need for daily necessities and a bit of exercise led me to the local wet market. After initial awkwardness with pointing out the vegetables and fruits, I chanced upon an agreeable vendor, who had a modern weighing scale and calculator for me. His cheeks were so chubby, that his already little eyes always seemed closed. He kept smiling (unlike others), and came after me holding plastic bags, so that I can just pick up and dump all the veggies I wanted. Then he would sort all, weigh each, calculate and write on a little paper, add up, smile widely and show me what to pay. I, of course, could not understand the names, just the numbers, and the final figure. No need to talk; it felt convenient to pay and walk out with my bulging bag. It went on this way. Another time, I entered the market, nearly choking while I passed the meat section, all those slaughtered animals hanging in frustration; and when I reached his counter, I couldn’t see him. Now what? I looked around again. Another vendor beckoned me warmly, you can come here, and then I heard shouts, shrieks, and saw him running up to me , smiling widely, his cheeks flushed, eyes closed. I figured out the boys were calling him out. I could feel these words, despite the alien the language – “Yo man! Your foreigner client is here! The mute girl! The one who pays without bargaining. Run for it you ass! What luck, you got a nice one there, huh!” How embarrassing! They all smiled at me, in a certain secretive way. Eve-teasing? It was extremely discomforting. For a few days after I didn’t want to go there. So the first task for my new Ayi was to buy fresh vegetables and fruits.
Physical and mental drain started affecting my health. I was despondent. My partner, in spite of his own adjustments with his new job assignment and busy travelling schedule, tried to keep me entertained and happy. I hate to admit for the first four months I was of no support to him. He encouraged me to join a Chinese language course. I was initially scared, but the staff at the school was warm, helpful, my teacher (Laoshi) a young beautifully dressed Chinese girl had a college degree in English. My classmates were a chatty Australian and a diligent German, who was struggling with her English as well. Besides lessons, Laoshi helped with urgent translations. We frequently convinced her to take our lessons at Starbucks. Three hour classes, twice a week, was the high point for the next few months. I do not remember a single time I went back with completed homework, many times not even attempted. Laoshi always forgave my excuses and patiently tried teaching me new techniques. Unbelievable! I had been a bright student all my life, and I turned in my homework/ assignments always on time, nicely done. It was embarrassing to realize that I could be a bad student. I had such a gripping fear, that I would not be able to learn. After four months, my progress was slow, compared to my classmates. We were to take a break and later rejoin for an advanced course to learn to read and write Chinese characters (Han Zi). , IN time , my Australian friend was to return to Melbourne, the German friend joined the University to study seriously, and I didn’t feel like starting the next level with a new group. Now with my supportive expat circle and survival Chinese, I confidently took a job, and that gave me an excuse to not go back for more lessons. However, the cacophony of my Chinese colleagues’ in the lunchroom and their indifference did make my life harder and the need to learn more important.
At times, we just decide to learn the hard way. I trudged on, continuing to read China, very slowly. I came to enjoy my job, travel within and outside China, the shopping experiences, night life and parties eventually forgetting the initial depression as I returned back to my bright self. I moved out of Shanghai, and am back in China after a gap of 2 years. I am trying to re-read China, and though I still see myself as a lazy, pathetic student, a slow learner, who struggles to retain the simplest details, I am like a tortoise, slow and, I hope steady.
Oh..Tortoise reminds me, my son was insistent on getting a pet. Allergies prevented the usual dog, cat or other furry creature and the thought of paperwork & trouble to transfer them into other countries scared us. A tortoise maybe? Feng shui tells us a tortoise slows down your life. I didn’t want to get any slower in my 30s, and I have no opinions or superstitions on such matters. After much thought we bought a lovely pair of turtles, Slider & Glider….