Category Archives: culture

Cheers to the year 2019

Cheers to the year 2019 as it gives us the opportunity to do better at home, work and play.

As in previous years, there were irreproachable and rough moments for me in 2018. The latter has been due to being in France at this time of constant grassroots demonstrations due to economic difficulties caused by political decisions and indecisions, such as regular increases in taxes. Meanwhile, France’s the 2018 World Cup (soccer/football) champion.

During the first two weeks in December I was coming home later than usual and walking a kilometre or so farther because bus drivers were instructed not to enter the city centre to avoid being hit by the demonstrators’ stones. These protesters adopted the name “yellow-vest movement” after a social-media campaign that urged people to go to the streets wearing the high-visibility “emergency” yellow jackets (In France, a yellow vest “gilet jaune” must be carried in every vehicle). Initially, they were against the rise in duties on diesel, which had long been less heavily taxed than other types of fuel. Their causes have since widened to include issues concerning education and employment. Do protests work? Well, the French government was forced to scrap the unpopular fuel tax rise. As well, it promised an extra €100 (£90; $114) a month for minimum wage earners. On the other hand, there were ten deaths and many people were injured and properties destroyed.

The reported sightings of drones caused havoc for about 200,000 passengers a fortnight ago at Gatwick airport (LGW) outside of London. A member of my family was impacted and had to travel the following day at a different destination that incurred additional expenses and longer travelling time.

The terrorist attack in Strasbourg, a French city known as the Christmas capital, in the midst of the festivity caused deaths and injuries. My sadness was summarised in this message: “I express all my sorrow for the victims of the Strasbourg attacks. This Parliament will not be intimidated by terrorist or criminal attacks. Let us move on. We will continue to work and react strengthened by freedom and democracy against terrorist violence” (Antonio Tajani @EP President). The EP building is near where it took place.

What a difficult time we are living in! How can we help each other during difficulties? Research studies have shown that we, human beings, are predisposed to feel empathy and show kindness. In 2018, these were evident during the earthquakes in Italy, fire in the USA, tsunami in Indonesia, flooding in the Philippines, bushfire in Australia, and many other natural and human-made disasters. The risky, unprecedented international rescue of 13 Thai boys and their coach reminded us of the selflessness and kindness of strangers when needed.

An act of kindness can be a simple hello, smile, hug or forgiveness. It can be carrying an elderly’s heavy shopping bag, letting another car to merge ahead of you while other drivers have refused, or paying for the parking of the person on line before you who’s having difficulty doing it annoying others behind.

A few months ago, I saw a woman giving a man some coins at the checkout as he didn’t have enough to pay for his groceries. Last November, a young lady wanted to pay her bus fare by cheque which the driver refused. She looked really disturbed and was perspiring (in winter!). There were eight of us behind her waiting patiently in the cold. I asked her how much she needed; she opened her wallet and said “rien de tout” (nothing). I handed the bus driver five euros and gave her the ticket. She offered to issue me a cheque. I declined politely and told her that it’d be alright to pay me next time we meet. Although, to date, I haven’t seen this person again, I don’t regret doing it. Expressing and receiving kindness makes me feel good with modesty.

Hopefully, the year 2019 will be safer and more peaceful for all of us. I wish you good health and happiness every day.

Globetrotting, sensible tourism

The 29th of September was a fantastic Saturday. It was sunny, which was ideal for outdoor activities, and peaceful. My friends and I opted for a 10-km walk that brought us to scenic, quiet places in three borders (France, Germany and Luxembourg).

We left our dwellings at 1:30 PM for the French village of Contz-les-Bains where we joined the 60 men, women and children eager to do the bush hike. The weather was conducive, the company was great, and the organisation was flawless. Above all, I felt close to nature, especially with the absence of “western” toilet.

Considering that there were some steep and sloping areas, we did fairly well. We got to our destination and came back in one piece feeling proud and wanting to do a similar undertaking soon.

What impressed me most was the Saint-Jean-Baptiste chapel, which was built in the first half of the 15th century and whose choir is classified as a historical monument. We passed by Stromberg, which used to be a place of exploitation of gypsum and dolomitic stones. We also stepped on grounds that lead to a village known for the Schengen Agreements which got rid of borders in most of Europe.

After the walk, I had the opportunity to talk with the organiser, who gracefully explained the principle and modus operandi of “Just Boarded”. I liked what I heard. They organise small adventures that respect the environment and give fair remuneration to everyone involved, particularly the local hosts and guides. In short, for me, it’s a sensible tourism in which you are a responsible traveller and not an insensitive tourist.

With concerns about overtourism and drive for health and fitness activities, this sort of holiday, weekend getaway or day trips is a positive action not only to our wellbeing but also to the sustainability of our planet.

According to the CNN, travellers should think twice about visiting these following places as their number of tourists have increased significantly and there are risks to their ecosystem: Isle of Skye, Scotland; Barcelona, Spain; Dubrovnik, Croatia; Venice, Italy; Santorini, Greece; Bhutan; Taj Mahal, India; Mount Everest, Nepal-side; Machu Picchu, Peru; Galápagos Islands, Ecuador; Cinque Terre, Italy; and Antarctica (https://edition.cnn.com/travel/article/places-to-avoid-2018/index.html).

“Tourists who come to Nepal look at terraced fields and see their beauty but remain blind to the hard labour they extract from tillers.”
― Manjushree Thapa, Forget Kathmandu: An Elegy for Democracy

(I’m writing this article while in Sarreguemines for the annual Moselle regional chess championship. I did 2 games today and still 7 to go till Sunday.)

Summer 2018

Many of us cannot wait for the summer holiday to arrive as it means no school, no work, getting together with relatives and friends, and leisuring. Some individuals and families are fortunate to afford a relaxing, fantastic getaway somewhere sunny and vibrant. The 2018 summer, however, was not only a question of money. It was so hot that many English and French vacationers opted to stay home. French radio stations had 24-hour updates of traffic situations with their warning of orange “dense – bad” and red “very bad”.

Holidaymakers expected heat in the mid-30s in their favourite countries of Greece, Portugal and Spain, but it went up to 50°C; while the rest of Europe had above-average temperatures in July and August.

Some experts had said that the heatwave was due to warming in the tropical equatorial Pacific Ocean while others disclosed that it was because of the very dry, hot air from the African continent. Whatever the official reason was, our consumption habits and environmentally-unfriendly behaviours have contributed, and will continue to do so, to the erratic climatic conditions and heating up of planet Earth.

Given the hot weather and the time I spent outdoor and in the water, I had my share of bites from fleas and mosquitoes and a mild pollen allergy. Fortunately, with preventative measures, I was able to avoid athlete’s foot, food poisoning, heatstroke, and sunburn. I had a fabulous 5-day stay in Sofia (the capital of Bulgaria) visiting the Rila Monastery and awesome Orthodox churches. Bulgarians were friendly and considerate, and it was amazing how they (even those with little or no English) went an extra mile to help me. My forthight’s stay in England and Wales was terrific, too.

Last year, the most visited countries were: France, the United States, Spain, China, Italy, Turkey, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, and Thailand (https://earthnworld.com/top-10-most-visited-countries-in-the-world). The World Economic Forum has reported Euromonitor International’s latest top 10 city destinations as: Hong Kong, Bangkok, London, Singapore, Macau, Dubai, Paris, New York, Shenzhen, and Kuala Lumpur (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/01/these-are-the-world-s-most-visited-cities/). Even with the spiralling prices of most things, from public transport and entertainment tickets to car parking, tourists continue to pour in these metropoles (metropolises).

I always go through the “feeling sorry for others” period at the end of every summer. An out-of-country holiday is too expensive for my acquiantance and her family, so they always go for budget airlines and Airbnb during off-season periods. One of my students never travels because she doesn’t have anyone to go with. When I was in Bulgaria I met an English primary school teacher in her mid-30s who was holidaying alone. In the bus to Rila Monastery, I sat next to a Dutch man in his early 30s who was a solo traveller to several central and eastern European countries. Solo travelling shouldn’t be an excuse not to have a memorable vacation.

Travelling is an expression of independence and an effective way to learn new things (i.e. culture, places, people) but, unfortunately, some people cannot do it for financial, work and other reasons. When I was living in Down Under, I did not holiday abroad every year. The weather was so beautiful (warm and sunny) that we had picnics (in addition to regular barbies), went to the beach, and camped on weekends. There was no pressure to have an annual holiday outside Australia. Yes, a staycation can be as enjoyable and fun as going somewhere far. What is important is to recharge and be ready for another year of stress-free work.

How was your summer holiday? Was it a peaceful and relaxing staycation?

Who are you? What are you? Where are you from?

I am writing this while on a short holiday in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, before heading to Spain and England. It is summer here in Europe and because we travel a lot during this period, we often get asked “Where are you from?” Depending on my mood, my answer ranges from my birthplace to current city or country of residence. Often, I give information on my nationality/citizenship, and I will tell you why later. In some cases, the enquirer really just wants to know the main language I speak and my religion.

During the world cup, when I wore my gold and green outfit, some strangers smiled and commented, “You’re from Brazil” thinking that I had something blue invisible to the naked eye. Whereas, friends and acquaintances teased me “Socceroos, go, go..” My gold and yellow dress, green sandal and green bag said it all. They did not question my citizenship (Are you Australian?), appearance (but you look Asian), etc. On other occasions, however, I have to answer a follow-up question “Yes, but where do you really come from, your family?”

A fortnight ago, a close friend invited me to her barbecue dinner party. Her house is 15 minutes on foot from where we live, and since it was a sunny day, I decided to walk. France had just won the 2018 World Cup and knowing that there would be jubilant crowd, I put on my blue, white and red apparel. The time it took me to her place doubled as I had to stop and shake hands, take photos for others and kiss strangers. Everybody was so happy, friendly, and courteous. How I wished it was like that every day. No one asked me “where are you from”? Instead, many nodded and shouted amicably “On a gagné” (We won). They ignored my physical attributes and my non-French accent. They made me feel like I was one of them, which wasn’t my intention. I am a lover and partaker of peaceful and jovial celebrations, festivals, and traditional gatherings.

I, too, sometimes ask people “where are you from”, but it’s only to start a conversation. When I recognise the accent, I even say, “You’re from _______, aren’t you”? So far, no one has been offended by this question; instead, people have been friendly and helpful.

The answer to the question “where are you from” is generally based on one’s personal identity related to national and cultural belongingness. Though I was born in the Philippines and typically look south-east Asian, I often say with pride “Down Under” then add a few Aussie slang words and expressions as it’s my country of citizenship and where I have my educational, professional and social roots (my dear relatives and friends live there). Furthermore, I have this sense of pride and familiarity with Australia being considered by many people in other countries (such as those in France and Luxembourg) as a great place with fair and peaceful inhabitants, which is always a bonus to new and old relationships.
When the situation warrants the question “where are you from”, I present myself as a global citizen with a Filipino heritage and dual nationality (Australian and French).

Regarding France, one thing that amazes me in this astonishing country is that 2nd and 3rd generations of North African immigrants still call themselves Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, etc. Recently, I said to one of my students, “Why did you say you’re from Algeria when you were not born and have never lived here? For me, you’re French”. He said, “That’s nice, I feel French when I’m with those who think I’m French”. Many French people don’t make me feel that way, so it’s ridiculous to claim I’m one of them”. This situation demonstrates that the question “where are you from” has a temporal element.

As well, the answer to the question “where are you from” has moral and political grounds, as my case with Australia. I can identify with its values of simplicity over exuberance, resilience and reward for effort, and layback mentality. Compared to the majority of nations, it is a more middle class country with more efficient social and welfare services.

Have you asked someone “Where are you from”? Did their answers meet your expectations?

Foosball – football’s/soccer’s cousin

Foosball international competition in Rouen, France in May 2018

Table football (EU/UK)/ table soccer (Australia/USA), which is also known as foosball, is a game for everyone (i.e. irrespective of age, gender and physical attributes). Playing foosball is a fun way to reunite with family, friends and colleagues. It brings out the competitive spirit in the players while making them mentally alert thinking of wise tactics to win the game. Therefore, if you want to be physically and mentally challenged, try foosball.

“Since this game involves the art and skill of coordinating your hands and eyes as well as keeping the body active, it is perfect to be done by all especially by people suffering from arthritis and brain injuries. In addition, foosball is a great rehabilitating sport for people with joint and bone problems. Aside from helping people in recovering from brain injuries as well as in joint and bone problems, foosball is not as tedious as other games and sports, thus, it does not cause too much pain on their part.” (https://foosballtablereview.com/benefits-and-reasons-to-start-playing-foosball/seen on 1/07/18).

Foosball is based on football/soccer, where 2 or 4 players try to hit a small ball into their opponent’s goal by turning rods with wooden figures then kick the ball downfield. Unlike football/soccer, there are no unified rules in foosball, i.e. there are different explicit regulations, styles of playing and table used in different countries. The Europeans generally use the Bonzini table (e.g. the Fédération Française de Football de Table in Rouen organised the World Series Bonzini in May 2018 — photo above) and emphasise quickness and skill “finesse”. The Americans have been using the Tornado brand for more than 30 years and focus on power and speed (I saw them play this way at Rouen last May).

While football/soccer is widely-known to have begun in 1863 in England, the origin of foosball is not clear. There have been some write ups pointing to its German history back in 1891 (foosball became its national competitive club sport the 1960s). So, foosball is most likely a German translation of «Tischfußball”.

In France, many brasseries and bistros have a table for foosball. Brasserie is an informal open restaurant that is often noisy and serve drinks and simple menus (e.g. soup, burgers and croque-monsieur). Whereas, bistros are small, intimate, and low-key as are they generally family-owned with the monsieur “the man/husband” as the cook and the madame “the woman/wife” as the manager of the cash registry and dining; or vice versa. In other European countries, particularly in the UK, foosball tables are found in pubs (derived from “public house”), which are drinking establishments fundamental to the Anglosphere culture. Since drinks are ordered from the counter and served by the bartender, it is a kind of bar except that it also serves simple meal/food.

Whether in brasseries, bistros or pubs, foosball enthusiasts eat, drink and play before, during or/and after their meals and drinks. You can hear a lot of laughter, cheers and sighs. Foosball can be an individual or collective game. It builds camaraderie, promotes fitness, and gives a sense of individual and team achievement. Some tournaments are held to raise money for good causes, such as to fund projects for sick and homeless people.

I don’t drink alcoholic beverages but go to brasseries, bistros and pubs for family and social outings, including watching foosball games. These places serve tea, coffee, fruit juices and water.

Schools and social/community centres should have foosball tables to provide diversity of choice when it comes to sports and entertainment. This will make foosball more accessible to those who don’t have extra money to go to brasseries and pubs; as well as prevent exposure to alcohol drinking.

Civility, respect and responsibility

It was a beautiful sunny morning; unlike the previous three months, it was neither raining nor snowing. At 7:30 in the morning, there were already more than 20 cross-border commuters lining up for the public transport. On the same street “Place de la liberté”, there was a local bus waiting for the traffic light to turn green. We watched in disgust as four teenage girls opened its window and threw empty cartons of orange juice that landed in front of the queueing passengers. I got out of the queue and picked these up then gave them a disappointing look wondering whether they realised that they had just exposed publicly their uncivility. When I returned from the nearest bin, their bus had left and mine had arrived, and no one uttered a word.

I didn’t think twice; picking up that litter was an instinctive reaction. I didn’t expect or want recognition from anyone; however, if I see you removing a piece of rubbish left lying in a public place, I’ll definitely give you some words of encouragement. Littering is hazardous for our health and environment.

During my first two years in France, while in parks and playgrounds with my toddler, I used to pick up wrappers of snacks and boxes of juice and put these in the bin while asking myself whether it was the kids or their parents who littered.

Whose responsibility is it when children litter: parents or society?

We, as parents, have an immense responsibility and opportunity in educating our children to be respectful of people, properties and our environment. Our words and actions help shape our children’s values and behaviours. If they deliberately litter, we must tell them why this is unacceptable. (When my son was 3 years old, he said, “Mummy’s bag is a fridge and a bin” because I had water, snacks and fruits every time we went out and kept all wrappers till we found a garbage bin). If the parents litter, their children are likely to do the same, and this is a societal problem.

Is the onus on the society (i.e. governments, school, association, neighbours, families, etc.) to ensure that children don’t litter?

Although we learn values and behaviours from our parents, our society and cultural environment play an important part in making us “who” and what we are. If our teachers, politicians, relatives and friends reinforce the message at home that littering means being disrespectful and irresponsible, we grow up with an attitude that is averse to littering; otherwise, we get confused and may not appreciate the importance of collective duty of care for our global planet.

According to an Austrian activist living in Sri Lanka, Ms Carolin Baumgartner, different cultures have different attitudes towards nature. She reasons that in Europe and the USA there is waste management (bins everywhere, garbage collecting and recycling plants) unlike in Sri Lanka where there’s a lot of garbage throwing, plastic burning, turtle eggs eating or dolphin killing.

It’s not only the children and those in developing countries who litter. Sometimes, I take umbrage to the roadside litter, which is mainly recyclable plastic bags and beverage containers, in some places in Italy and France. Whether littering is cultural or not, it should be stopped through education at home and at school, effective government policies and programmes, and community involvement.

She lived with purpose and meaning

Today is International Labour Day; and in the 80s, Barbara and I used to have a stand of leaflets and Trading Partners’ products on May 1 to advertise and raise money for development education in Queensland. Three weeks ago, I received a very sad news about Barbara, and I will surely miss her.

I go Down Under whenever I can to be with family and friends and celebrate special occasions. Amid Barbara’s hectic schedule caring for her sick son and other commitments, she came to my 50th birthday party in my sister’s house in Brisbane, and we had a memorable time.

Even if I had known, I would not been able to attend her funeral because of my work and family situation in France. I’m writing this not only to appease my deep sorrow of losing someone who did a lot for many socially and economically disadvantaged individuals and families, but because she was an exceptional person – a role model and an inspiration, especially to those involved in local and international charities and aid agencies.

The Sydney Morning Herald has published an article about Barbara’s many humanitarian endeavours, particularly as the first national president of the Save the Children Fund and past chairperson of the Refugee Council of Australia. (The photo above is from this article).

I knew Barbara as a work supervisor and a friend. She helped established the then Queensland Development Education Centre (QDEC), which is now called Global Learning Centre, and was its chairperson for a considerable period. As its foundation coordinator, I often talked with her about projects, networking and fundraising. She would spend time and money to raise awareness among Queenslanders on the interconnectedness of our developed and developing nations and the real causes of poverty. Other founding committee members (Beatrice, Mike, Jenny, David, and Wayne) got on so well with her that we always met our objectives.

She was truly interested in me as a person, and she even invited me and my husband to dinner parties in their home. She respected every person she encountered and made them interesting.

In Queensland, in the mid-80s and 90s, Barbara and I (through QDEC/GLC or other committees she was involved in) would organise or participate in rallies, public meetings and workshops aimed at making our world more just, peaceful and environmentally-friendly. Unfortunately, the causes that Barbara stood up for remain today (as our world has become even more complex and divided); and we need more people like her – generous, understanding, resilient, and active. I’ll always associate the Queensland GLC with Barbara Young who lived with passion, purpose and meaning.

Last month, two other influential women passed away. Ms Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, a hero of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and an ex-wife of former South African president Nelson Mandela, died aged 81. Ms Barbara Bush, the former US first lady and mother of former US president, died at the age of 92.