Silver pony

I have fond memories of a second-hand, ratty little bike, or what I called the silver pony.  This was the vehicle that got me to work and dinner and back again during the months I spent in a small border-town in Thailand.  It’s strange how memory has the ability to smooth out the edges and change how you felt about things back then.  My time in Mae Sot was a jumbled mess of contradictions, loving the friends I made and hating some of the inconveniences.  I missed my housemates, cafes and American brunches in Chiang Mai so much that I rode a bus for six hours, one -way, every other weekend to have some respite.  But somehow, my time with the silver pony remains the same: a mixture of fear and pure freedom.

The reason that bikes are invaluable in many parts of Southeast Asia is that it’s too hot or rainy to walk everywhere.  The street dogs are territorial and when night falls in a more rural community, the streets become eerily quiet.  Just like you wouldn’t go down an abandoned side-street in the most metropolitan of places, you also need some wheels to get back to your guesthouse in this context.  And so the silver pony was my constant companion, the one that stopped at the market for some coconut sticky rice or ginger tofu, the one I rode to a cafe on the weekends for some beans and naan bread and the one that saved me from the crazy dogs after watching David O Russell’s The Fighter.

Riding was also a great time to think, well other than when you’re not dodging cars or people.  I still recall the feeling though, always without a helmet, in a skirt and with the flip flops and sunglasses.  It’s the easiest way to be young again.

My husband counts it as a pure miracle that I made it out of Mae Sot without a single accident.  I say it’s more miraculous that I took a bus up and down the side of a mountain every other weekend without incident.  As I’ve told you before, I’m not the most coordinated of people and spatial problems seem to trip me up.  Other than the wipe out in the Muslim quarter and accidentally running into the bottles of a man selling un-licensed liquor, it was pretty uneventful.  Basically, I rode away each time sheepish and saying “sorry” over and over again.

Near the end of my time there I was counting down the days to leave.  Not because I was not grateful for the learning opportunities and the amazing women I met and worked with.  No, it’s just because I missed not having to be on edge.  I longed to walk through Toronto, a place I know so well, without the slightest instinct to be aware of my surroundings.  And so I left, and I remember distinctly telling my friend that there was not much that I would miss.  She wisely told me that I would.  It’s true you know, there was no other place where I did more yoga drenched in bug spray, ate more Banofee pie made of condensed milk (nothing has come close since), chatted with nice people, or read before falling asleep each night by nine o’clock.  Perhaps it’s because within a year of leaving, I gave birth to my son and everything changed.  It was an ending you know, to a time when I could just decide to leave for months at a time to a more precarious setting.  With that new perspective I can safely say that it was a trip Mae Sot, and I thank you.

tumblr_nfapqafM011s5wuhko1_1280

Fortune

When the shit has hittith the fan my philosophy is to take it like a woman and to clean up later.  Because you know that’s where character’s needed right?  The clean up.  But when things are a bit shaky I also draw on two lines written by a Victorian poet and a man with a beautiful voice.  The words are from “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley and Morgan Freeman is the one speaking them.  “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”  In my mind there is nothing more powerful than that.  The belief that you have the power to make things better, and if not, at least the will to trudge right on through to the other side.  After the poem I also tell myself that “this” will not break me.  Perhaps it’s my own little prayer but man, the comfort it provides it indescribable.

All the talk of lyrical words also bring forth thoughts of spirituality.  I’m sure that many faiths frown upon it but as a Burmese Theravada Buddhist, I’ve been raised to also believe in a little bit of magic.  Perhaps it’s because we know that so many things are out of our control, we arm ourselves with a bit of the mystic.  Whether it becomes true or not, the practice of drawing on the gifts of individuals who may have access to another realm is not reduced to nonsense.  I appreciate that, the world is far too serious already.  Plus, it’s become somewhat of a ritual, that when I’m in Yangon I consult with the fortune teller, a woman I met when I was fifteen and last saw when I was twenty-eight.  Her face is pure light, her aura is very beautiful.  It’s all in good fun and I like having brunch with my family afterwards.  If you’re going to have Burmese fish soup (mohinga), it always tastes better at a cafe downtown, on a wooden stool, in the middle of so much life.

I’ve also had a long-term relationship with astrology.  I was that girl who looked up the sign of her high school crush and tried to figure out how to go about speaking to him.  Judging from my list of boyfriends (one, the one who became my husband), I was a bit shy and awkward during that time and didn’t end up speaking to most of them.  The idea that all born within a three week time-frame would have similar characteristics is somewhat silly, but those who take these things seriously know that the rising sign and moon sign make an attempt at drawing out the nuances.  Either way, I occasionally read my monthly horoscope at the back of fashion magazines.  While I chuckle and hope that those new opportunities do come my way, I am aware that working towards it is a necessary part of it all.

There are a million different ways to come to terms with the unknown.  Some people worry and others feel that they have answer before it’s even been delivered.  I always remind myself to ask for what I want and have the flow to change course when necessary.  After all, what are captains if they are not leaders.

tumblr_ndhy39QnC21r1si11o1_1280

Extraordinary

Over the holidays I saw films about two inspiring men (Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking), and yet I’m much more interested in the extraordinary women, or the co-stars.  Obviously.  First is Alan Turing, whose involvement in intelligence service for the British government during World War II is portrayed in The Imitation Game.  The success of this film lies in offering up something for everyone; for those who came for the strategies of combat, secrets and lies and others who wanted to know more about Turing’s humanity, everyone will go home satisfied.  It stands to say that Turing is incredible.  Hell, I even learned about the Turing system in my beginners Computer Science class in high school.  His brilliance is special but he lived within a society where he never quite fit.  Whether that’s from his sexual orientation and the persecution he suffered from it, or his lack of social know-how that meant that he was never quite accepted.  Either way, it was this perception of his own difference that he battled with his entire life but also what made him more open-minded.  It’s this history of being dismissed that made him consider the talents of Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), in spite of her sex.  Yes Clarke was smart and participated in very important work that she will never be credited for, but what’s also compelling is her relationship to Turing.  She was his friend when everyone thought that he was strange and a misfit.  She saw beyond his interest in codes to his ability to think bigger than anyone else.  Imagine how much her friendship was worth when he was treated with such little kindness his entire life.

In The Theory of Everything Jane Hawking (Felicity Jones) is Stephen’s university sweetheart and wife who was there from the beginning of his carefree days as a student to when his body began to give way.  She is the mother to his children, the woman who fed him and clothed him and set him off to work.  She is the light that kept things in perspective even when things probably were very dark.  Jane Hawking also has a Ph.D.  You would never think that would you?  That such a strong, selfless, awe-inspiring woman would also be so accomplished.  They showed it briefly in the film, the struggle, when she’s trying to study amidst the noise of the house, when she found the time to focus on her mind when I’m sure her body and soul were so very tired.  Jane was there as Stephen Hawking was making his mark and she bore it all.  She was steadfast when he initially said that they didn’t need help because they were a “normal” family.

What is it with these extraordinary men and their obsession with being normal?  You would think that they were far too special for something banal like fitting it.  The pull is always there though, that desire for some reprieve since it’s so much easier to be ordinary.  It’s no surprise then that the Hawking marriage wore down.  You can only go through so much together before you seek something a bit lighter, non?  Who wants to live with all of that weight?  With the end of Turing’s life you are sad for him.  Not for his life, but that he won’t see what an impact he’s had.  That it takes so long for the world to catch up.

Both films are beautiful in their own way.  One brings forth larger and relevant issues of security, identity, and social acceptance.  The other gets at the complexities of marriage and the politics of living with someone, the hurt we cause and the outcomes of this history of flaws.  But both provide hope, to continue on our paths because one day, you’ll be somewhere fine, the sun will shine, and all will be right with the world.  Perspective.  Both offer perspective.

felicity-jones-for-so-it-goes-2

Shiner

I spent all of last week walking around with a black eye and a chipped tooth.  After a perfectly lovely New Year’s eve celebration, I proceeded to slip in my in-laws’ tub the morning we were to depart for Boston.  This meant that I began 2015 at the hospital, rushed home to pack and then proceeded to board a flight for Logan.  My first thought was, damn I better change this “ju-ju” which is basically a nickname for fate/luck/karma.

Now, you would think that the painful part would be in the emergency room.  No, no that was perfectly routine, especially when the resident was our age and I felt like I was being treated by my friend S, or Dr. B.  The pain begins much later when your face starts to swell and takes on fifty shades of purple.  In spite of your condition, you still need to go the grocery store, attend orientation for your new position and face everyone at your child’s preschool.  I even went to a PTA meeting where the director of the centre was gracious enough to say “and no, her husband did not do that to her face.”  She is the classiest person I know, because seeing as my son attends daycare at a private school, this was going to be hardest crowd.

At least in most of these situations you can tell your story.  You can explain the state you’re in and how truly, the year can only get better.  For the strangers you’ll never meet, you don’t get this luxury but just their stares.  After I reached a certain age my first strategy is to not care.  I’ve written many a blog post playing around with this concept and I still believe that it’s the fastest track to freedom.  But there is a difference between trying not to care and actually not caring.  When someone looks at you with such incredible pity and then with disgust at your partner you want to ask them if they kindly have something to share.

The most important lesson I gained from this whole experience, more than the proper way to step into a tub, or not letting the haters get you down, is being reflexive about all the times I look.  Because no matter how politically liberal I strive to be I still look at the woman with the religious garb or the man with the piercings when they board the bus.  In my mind I start wondering about their story.  But here’s the thing.  Till you sit down with them and have a meaningful conversation about their personal history, you don’t know their story and your gaze is empty and useless.  If this has reigned in my judgmental ways even a little, well that is a gift.

It’s been over a week and the bruises are mostly faded and the tooth has been fixed.  When this is all under the rug and I no longer have to explain myself, it will be such a relief.  But here’s the thing, I’m lucky enough to not live with violence.  I am blessed to have a respectful partner but for even those in more complicated situations than mine, I can guarantee you one thing: they are far from weak.  Some things take time to sort through but it’s probably not made easier with pity or those thoughts that you could never say to their face.

tumblr_mw2jbqUlu01rp4397o1_1280

Blame it

You know the term “you need a chaser?”  A chaser is that wedge of lemon after tequila, the lime in your vodka-soda, gross sugary syrup in a mix drink.  Basically it’s something to cut the alcohol, which does not taste so great but has the potential to make you feel different.  For a time alcohol was my chaser to life’s hiccups or whatever else I found reason to be stressed about but I soon learnt that it doesn’t really work.  I saw a really great quote on a Lululemon sign once about how alcohol will only make you forget the question but never give you the answer.  Those yogis are wise non?

My relationship with alcohol was perilous from the start due to the allure it held as a banned substance in my household.  Everything becomes desirable when it’s unattainable.  Growing up in a Buddhist family, alcohol was a big no-no.  Along with the baggage that comes with having strict Asian parents is the concept that Buddhists’ minds are their most sacred parts of themselves.  So losing control of it to a legal-depressant is far from ideal.  So when I could finally get my hands on it and had the freedom to do whatever the hell I wanted, I got hammered.  It took me a long time to learn about drinking responsibly and knowing my limits.  It also took me awhile to not feel the need to be drunk to have fun.

When I was pregnant and not partaking in the wine I learnt the pleasure of having an intellectually stimulating conversation without having it dull my brain.  It was also nice to never worry about a hangover.  I got more stuff done.  Surprisingly I didn’t actually want to drink again right away after my son was born.  It was close to a year in fact before I indulged which is a far cry from the “party girl” I once was.  It is just not feasible to have a late night and care for a toddler the next day.  The pain is far too great and so not worth it.  So, I’ve learnt the advantages that come with moderation.  Don’t get me wrong, I occasionally still have a jolly good time, I just hydrate and realize that my body cannot handle those 3am nights, nor does it really want to.

We’ve all moved on in our own ways, with or without the babies.  No one really wants to be that old sketchy guy at the bar.  Dude, the party’s over.  Plus, a stiff drink will never fix the situations where acceptance, resilience and character are needed.  If only it was that easy.

tumblr_n536bejvYP1tx9q9lo1_1280

 

Festivities

Celebrations are an integral part of marking the December holidays and they come when we need them the most.  After a few weeks of leaving your office under pitch black skies, it’s precisely when the weather starts to turn that we have a few drinks and eat some canapes.  You might think, it’s January, the party is over, who cares.  While you are right, it’s only now, after the detox from champagne and rich foods that the mind is a bit clearer to look back on how to do it right.

What people often forget about the holidays is that it doesn’t happen by chance.  All of those perfectly decorated cookies and delicious meals do not just appear on cue.  There are usually individuals, be they wives or husband, mothers or fathers, who allow you to sit back and enjoy the outcomes of their hard work.  These rituals also have the danger of making you absolutely crazy.  Really, how many gourmet delights can you pull together till it takes a toll on your body and a part of your soul.  So, how can we make it easier?  Here’s my advice on how to be the best kind of host:  an engaged one.

1. Timing

Before I plan a dinner or party I make a master list of every single thing that I will need.  Now this list has several categories and contains everything from the ingredients to the type of cutlery I will be using.  Then, I make a plan of when I am going to buy or gather all of these materials.  The trick is that you give yourself a lot of lead-up time.  No one wants to work on a project constantly, even if it involves making place cards.  Take the time you need and know your limits.  If you need a break, take one and pick up the slack when you have more energy.

2. Be present

When you invite guests into your home be sure to take the time to speak to them.  Sure, some platters may need a bit of refreshing but that can be done after you’ve made the rounds.  Trust, they will come back to the table if they really want that savory tart.

3. Finer details

A few years ago I was walking in the grocery store and fell in love with the vintage coca cola bottles.  As someone who rarely drinks soda, this was a very strange attachment.  I love the look of those glass bottles engulfed in ice with the red label peeking out.  The aesthetic spoke to me of a casual cool with that extra care for the details.  Since then, they have appeared at every party I have hosted, from my son’s 2nd birthday to a New Year’s eve party for my parents and their friends.  I am also partial to: cans of San Pellegrino, paper straws (though no one seems to ever use them), Kiju organic juice for the young ones, and Perrier.  With regards to the alcohol, go heavy on the wine and lighter on the beer.  Party-goers seem to prefer to mingle with stem wear.  The French label Kronenbourg with their pretty blue bottles will strike a nice chord.

4. Simplicity

Most people will choose to have a smiling gracious host over a big hot, stressed mess.  To walk into a house with that vibe is just not appealing.  So, before your guests arrive have a drink in hand and be prepared to actually enjoy yourself.  To enable you to do that you might need some help.  Do you want to cut up fruits and vegetables?  If the answer is a “no” then order some platters from the grocery store or a caterer.  The same goes for the rest of the menu.  If it will make it easier, pair some of your dishes with pre-ordered ones.  There is no shame in that but it’s always a shame to miss out on a good time.

I feel that some temperaments are better suited to host parties.  My control-freak tendencies mixed with the generally calm demeanor means that I take great pleasure in organizing such fanfares but experience over the years has taught me to keep it real.  It is just a party.  As soon as it stops being enjoyable, find pleasure in something else.  Above all though, as we make our own happiness, we also make our own fun.  So chillax baby, it’s the people that matter.

tumblr_ngffv90wO01taiftro1_400