It is a matter of getting used to long-hauls. In a month's time, I was back in Europe arriving in London on a cold and rainy Summer evening reminding me that this is the place where all four seasons take place in a day. The next morning and setting all business aside, I hied off to Wimbledon where the annual tennis tournament was teeing off the following day. Hey, the All England Lawn Tennis Club is not anywhere around the centre of town. For those interested in visiting, a tube or train trip from London will take one to Wimbledon and a taxi ride from the train station is the best transport to the tennis courts which are a huge and complex affair. Very impressive and worthy of consideration as host of one of the world's grandslam tennis events.
Entrance to the All-England Lawn Tennis Club
Despite being in London for a week, I could not watch any of the matches as business meetings in London did not allow. I knew however that tickets have long been sold out through internet bookings which were raffled off to lucky buyers [I believe this is the same procedure for next year's Olympics - in London too]. It would have been my pleasure sitting in the stands along with famous celebs like Rory McIlroy. I could have stayed another couple of days or even a week just to watch a match or two and perhaps chance on any of the world's top four. Now, why did I not plan for that [But I already knew as early as January that I was visiting London!].
At the end of seven days, I left the moody London weather and took an early flight from Healthrow to Charles de Gaulle. I had enough of meetings. As usual, my mood completely changed soon as I set foot on the most chaotic airport of Europe. The sun was bright and the weather was hot [not just warm]. Why did I not take the Eurostar? I had wanted to really if only for the reason that I would be disembarking right in the centre of the City and could take one metro ride to my hotel. But the Eurostar's price had for the last couple of years been prohibitive compared to flying. I even got an award-flight out of frequent flyer miles. Now you know that this leg of my trip was not company-paid.
The brightest spot of this trip was witnessing the Paris Gay Pride march held last June 25. As early as 2pm, Boulevard Montparnasse teemed with marchers in street clothes and costumed, balloons, 'pride' flags, ten-wheeled trucks, and media fotogs and satellite dishes. Dance music blared from the trucks representing various associations joining the march. The composition of marchers was multi-faceted: political [e.g.,Youth of the Socialist Party, ActUp, Amnesty International], religious [e.g., Jews and Catholics], labour [e.g., police and fire men], social [e.g., parents of lesbians and gays, owners of bars], etc.
That day was significant because New York's state legislature had coincidentally approved the proposed legislation on same-sex marriage. On the other hand and as a major blow to the country's human rights record, the Assemblee National of France disapproved the same proposal in early June. Predictably, all Socialists voted in its favour but assemblymen from Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative party which held the majority in parliament thumbed it down. The theme of this year's march was therefore a warning to all politicians that next year's presidential elections would be a referendum on a candidate's public position in regard to this issue.
Hundreds of thousands attended the march which went all the way to the Bastille, their symbol of 'liberte, egalite, fratenite". While it was partying all over the bars and restos in the Marais, Chatelet, and around Hotel de Ville in the evening, the conversation was highly political converging on ways of attaining victory for their cause next year.
Dream on. Everytime I come here, the memory of that wish instantly pops up. It was ma cherie who spoke of it once as we walked down that street admiring the well-preserved architecture, intently listening to conversation and laughter from guests of an ongoing party upstairs, impressed with the huge windows that opened into small verandas allowing the sultry summer air in the salon. "We could own one of these apartments", came from cherie's. My silent rejoinder, 'indeed'. That dream was expressed a couple of years ago and is revived every year, each time I go around this fabled quartier in this City.
Once, I walked into a real estate seller's office just at the corner and asked for their catalogue. It was fun as much as it was an exercise in making choices based on location, facilities, and price. Now, if only we had the money. . . . Someday. And I hope soon.
Coming from cold weather, I felt my spirits soar (as always) while watching the shimmer of endless lights below just as the plane approached the City. Another deja vu. It was the middle of the last month of Spring then but the air seemed like Summer. May and September have been my favorite months here because of the beautiful weather and the endless outdoor activities possible without having to endure the extremes of sometimes the unbearable heat or the bitter cold. The Roland Garros tournament is held at this time.
I've succeeded in evading Winter no matter the frequent requests of ma cherie for us to spend Christmas here. But it may not be a bad idea after all. Summer would have been in full bloom by the time I got back at the end of June but it has always been our favorite time of returning.
Where. One of our friends once asked ma cherie where in the world to go when looking for beautiful boys. Without thinking, he spewed 'Hungary'. It was my belief that his recommendation was based on the exoticism or mystery resting on former Communist states much more so those of once Russian republics. The fact that the Bel-Ami outdoor [read forest and running rivers] shoots are held in Hungary, also the locus of actor recruitment for these money spinning films, may have contributed to the idea.
In a year's time, I was back for my second visit to Budapest which enabled me to validate ma cherie's statement and look at the local citizens up close. Yes, there were pretty guys in all public venues [trains, coffee shops, shopping centers, even hospitals] and they could actually pass for movie actors in Bel-Ami or in the Hungarian movie industry if there is one. But. These boys looked like they came from a single race [read white] unlike the products of mixed [African, Asian, Latino] races that abound in cosmopolitan cities of Europe as Paris, London, or Amsterdam. This observation led me to hypothesize that there might be undertones of racism which scared me once in Berlin or of simple disdain for peoples who are not Caucasian in appearance or origin.
As I stayed at a busy branded hotel in the city's center catering to many tourists, I had a perfect laboratory for proving my investigation. Comparing the tone of speech and body language in the interaction between front office staff and guests of different nationalities led me to conclude that there is a built-in attitude reserved for customers of different races. I could have been a victim of discrimination myself had I not been aware and prepared for confrontations.
Everyday, I would take a 30-minute trip consisting of a train-bus combination and noticed that despite the congestion inside the transport, the passengers would stare at those who don't look like them and I found very few of non-whites. They didn't smile as easily and there were only two occasions of friendliness that I came across: a young mother who responded to my inquiry on directions and an old woman who volunteered information when she noticed my perplexity while looking at a tram route map. Hotel personnel who would have been trained on fine hospitality did not flash those dazzling smiles no matter how insincere but were versed on the language of 'how are you doing today' or 'I hope you enjoyed dinner'.
Hungary's Parliament building
Gothic and rococo architecture shows the beauty of a country struggling to remain afloat with budget cuts so as not to follow the Greece-Ireland-Portugal example. It has opened up to the West [especially the USA] but may have a long ways to go in accepting Asia. Their transport system is wonderful -- trains, trams, and buses are punctual and frequent; clean and orderly -- although their underground terminals may need sprucing up. The airport is of world class. It appears that peace and order are not a problem in the capital. The suburbs are homey, typically of Europe.
There are reasons to visit and not-to. Are the boys/guys worth the visit? As if that were the purpose of my own visit. Yes, they are pretty and different. But do you want a date with someone whom you can't really talk to? The Bel-Ami films are always dubbed or subtitled to appeal internationally but interpreters shouldn't be brought along on dates. How does dating someone of another tongue actually work? Will that lead to sex just as well? Trying that out in Hungary may be uninspiring because their language is off-kilter to English and does take a while to learn. Takers?
Alert. While rummaging through old stocks at home, I accidentally dropped a mercurial thermometer releasing the beautiful element into the floor. Panic. Instinct told me to gather the quicksilver with a plastic pan and dispose of it in the trash bin. That alas was the wrong way to deal with the situation.
Using paper or a dropper, I should have collected the spilled mercury and kept it in a sealed bottle and then disposed of it through some hazardous waste system somewhere. With what I did, the mercury had split in very tiny droplets and released toxic gas to which myself and others inside the house would have been exposed. At that point, there wasn't a way of rolling back time and the process. I have been caught with ignorance and subjected all of us to much health risks.
Suddenly I remembered this news story about a school whose freshman high students played around with a beaker filled with the chemical during a science class. As a result, around 80 students were exposed and some of them had to be hospitalized due to symptoms of contamination. The school had been shut down as the toxicity level within had gone beyond tolerable levels. The school would have eventually resumed operations months later after having been certified clean.
Apparently, exposure can to lead to toxic proportions and may affect primarily the nervous system. As in the case of one student from this school, I learned that the poor kid who is now in college has been suffering from chronic fever and tremors thereby affecting his entire life.
To deal with and settle the issue, I would have to submit myself and others at home to some test that will determine the mercury content in our bloodstream. It is yet unclear at this point how we could determine the toxicity level, if any, inside our house.
Reality. When my colleague from China announced that she had contracted tuberculosis, I realized that because we pursue similar work activities around a region of the world I am just as vulnerable as she was. My immediate thought was that she may have been easily exposed during her flights. A simple cough or sneeze from a seatmate is a timebomb as droplets of potential TB bacteria circulate through the cabin into the clueless mass of passengers. Yes, travel is a lethal vector in mankind's health misfortunes.
A couple of years back, I felt invulnerable by not wanting to wear face masks in planes and in airports even when the SARS virus raged. That epidemic I know was taken very seriously not only by airport authorities but also by passengers themselves. At its height, I boarded a plane from Charles de Gaulle and pleasantly found the flight which is usually overbooked to have been less than half-filled. Despite that, I was not bumped into the next higher class.
Back home, my route at around 6pm takes me through a major street with hovels of videoke joints where retinues of young women front these establishments serving beer and barbecued pork. Working class gentlemen are among regular customers. I am nearly certain that on lucid moments with beer in hand and a tune to beat, these men suddenly kiss their women-hostesses on lips, not the dry kind though. A fertile ground for TB infection. Whether all these women are carriers or get infected by their clients is not an issue anymore in the same way that these workers are supposedly certified by the local health authorities. As TB is a public health problem, I do not think that preventive measures are easy to institutionalize particularly when they threaten livelihood and the economy.
My colleague is now well after a long regimen of treatment with what she called multi-drugs daily. She and I live in this part of Asia where according to statistics about a third of the population is infected with tuberculosis. Because it is a disease of poverty, TB is difficult to stem and much less a problem in treatment as compliance has always been unenforceable with daily and lengthy dosages not to mention the body's resistance to the drugs.
I do not have a choice but be exposed to this danger which could however be managed. What I know is that the threat is real , the disease curable, early recognition key, and prevention essential.
After a long while (haven't had any last month), I posted this not-so entertaining item but thought it may be relevent today from following the blogs I had.
Whaaaa. Due to the uncomfortably freezing weather, we had to skip and hop on the way to the nearest tube station heading for the studios somewhere near the Strand to witness the shoot of an episode of Nigella Lawson's television show. Within the BBC maze, we found our way to a pretty large studio barn where she was decked in a bright pink pant suit standing beneath a flood light warming herself while chatting with an aide as the production team attended to finishing touches for a spring set. I previously held the view that celebrities like her might be a mere product of media sensation and I therefore adopted a cautious appreciation of their pronounced competencies.
That afternoon however transformed my personal beliefs about Nigella. There wasn't any sugar-coating around the lady. The episode she shot was on typical desserts and despite the unnatural environment of a studio set, I was ready to grab the first dish out of camera view. I was convinced that she knew every part of what she did and acted on. There are many others out there who would probably know how to prepare the same dishes (and perhaps with better taste) but Nigella was something else. She came to the medium fully qualified with her ability to communicate effectively the content of her craft; in her ambiiton to infect the audience with the desire for a unique gastronomic experience out of what may be considered as ordinary food fare available in our cupboards or from the local markets.
Best of all was a comment from a colleague, "watching Nigella is like watching soft-porn. It is just too powerful". Watch her on youtube and see for yourself why.
Fortunately just like Jamie Oliver, Nigella does not work from or even manage a restaurant as that would translate to an overflow crowd every evening with reservations extending into three years. With husbands calling in the reservations! Now that El Bulli is changing into a laboratory of gastronomy after July, it had to close all reservations as early as a year ago. Where can we go to? Bobby Chinn has a resto in Hanoi and Kylie Kwong has one in Australia.
Gastronomy has opened up in the last decade proving that the world is indeed a small place as far as food is concerned. I wouldn't be surprised if this would be the next frontier of battle: food scarcity (not new!), world domination through cuisine, trafficking of spices and herbs, currency pegging to essential food commodities. Therefore, power to whoever wields the values (e.g., quality, quantity, pornography) behind food.
Breather? Kung Hei Fat Choi. Heard on the radio that the 'Year of the Rabbit' allows us to 'calm our nerves'. It is then a period of consolidation and resolutions. I'd like that. I've been personally told by the equivalent of a Chinese astrologer that it is a 'bright' year for romance and lucky for marriage and advised to appreciate the full moon from my garden in order to be especially lucky. He pointed out that my birthday this year fell on a new moon [as the Chinese year always begins].
What a promise!
With that, the week-long and violent uprising in Egypt should swiftly come to a reasonable conclusion. Saw on tv that Obama told Mubarak to "go" already and wondered whether that's the rabbit year in action. There should be less of natural calamities as the storm in the US northeast just raged and left, part of Queensland in Oz had been devastated by a similar weather quirk although La Nina is apparently in the cards this year. Something to watch and hold the rabbit to account.
Have you looked into how you and your own animal sign tangles with the rabbit's? It could be an interesting exercise if only to learn how accurate these predictions get to. I find it fascinating because astrology is borne out of observing planetary influences on people's birth charts and hence lives. For instance, it is said that Saturn has a very strong influence on my birth sign. From time to time, the planet Mercury they say goes into 'retrograde' meaning various means of communication could go haywire leading to confusion and misunderstanding. This latter I've observed to be real.
On another matter, yes, I've been unreliable with posts to this Blog. Apologies. I have however been reading posts of the 'Citizens of Never Land' and thoroughly enjoyed the brazen and oftentimes humorous content. All the best to us in this 'Year of the Rabbit'.
Bright and light -- that's what I'd like my year to be and in order to illustrate the quest I chose the photograph on the right that depicts these feelings through a sprig of colours on growing plants and playful feline mischief. A New Year has begun but is it really new or simply a continuation of the previous one. If the latter, then a new year is simply a marker of time akin to a calendar or even a clock and therefore never an instrument of change in life and society. If so, then all this talk about a new year ushering in new hopes is simply a euphemism. Would bright and light be a toss-up?
In reality and in my life, there is unfinished business from last year and has to be pursued and then completed this year much in the same way as the usual business plan bound by actions and timelines. At my disposal, I have expectations of what will happen this year following patterns of previous years. For instance, I already know the number and destinations of overseas travel that I shall undertake in the first six months. Can I change the pattern of events, their chronology, their content, their purpose -- if only to prove that expectations could be turned into surprises or that they could be manipulated. That will be an exciting proposition but the possibility may depend on the desired effect and on other individuals.
Resolutions alight on the turf of the new year. If this isn’t a fad, why should they be raised only at the beginning of the year or am I unaware that this is as well a practice on Valentine’s Day or during Lent. And why not. Or why not evolve resolutions throughout the year. Do we need a timeline of twelve months or is it the containment within a finite twelve-month period that matters when committing to the attainment of specific goals.
Should I view this year as a natural consequence of last year’s, I don’t see how 2011 could be light BUT it may be bright and even brighter than before. A bright expectation. If I needed to tweak that expectation, I have many options BUT why should I want it not to be bright. For it to be light as I had wished, I have accepted that it is in the work-life balance where manipulation should take place. This is real change outside the character of continuation and can be made more specific with time-bound resolutions. But WHY do I want the year to be bright and light in my life. A pertinent question!