True Detective Season 2: Cheer up you 2! A True fan rant

cheer up you two!

cheer up you two!

I have one episode left to finish watching season 2 of True Detective and I have now lost almost all hope the show will take an interesting turn to vaguely produce the spine chilling effect of season one. The motel sex scene took place and it was as sexy as witnessing an AA meeting. I for once did not see it coming and how could I? There had been no sexual tension building up in the Velcoro-Bezzerides relationship so far, and neither had there been any real chemistry between them. The two main characters have been too-superficially- preoccupied with being hopeless, weak and frustrated to blossom. Kinda like two caterpillars who fail to become butterflies. Sorry, correction, I meant three caterpillars. Vince Vaughn is another promising actor of this season that was doomed by the comatose dialogues and strange facial expressions.

Why did the directors feel they had to express this darkness so literally is beyond me. Take Colin Farrell for example, an actor which is naturally very intense in expression. You cannot go wrong with Colin Farrell, he can be intense. If however you put him to express a character so monotonously and persistently gloomy and desperate you burn him out. This way Velcorro becomes way too weak to the point that he almost becomes a parody of himself. Velcoro-Farrell’s misery should have been significantly toned down to allow the character to develop, just like Matthew McConaughey’s character in season one. I mean how can you make a boring sex scene with Colin Farrell?? Hellooooo??????

Rachel MacAdams also. I read somewhere that her character looks like it was meant initially to be a man and there was a last minute change to female. i couldn’t agree more. Ani is tough in an awkward way. She drinks like a man, talks like a man, acts like a man… Only that she is is a woman. Shame not to give her a chance to be tough-as a woman. She would probably have a better chance having some chemistry with Velcorro if she did not constantly look like she is ready to burp in his face.

And finally the storyline. The complexity of it makes it hard to follow. And then you simply give up trying to follow -there is no reason after all since many elements are not relevant- and you are just pondering how you could alter the storyline, had you had the chance. Like I did last night.

Here are randomly some of my quick “alterations”:
a) Velcoro’s personal drama is not the rape of his wife and the ambiguity of his son’s paternity (too complex and the actions of his wife do not fully make sense and come across as an attempt to victimise him and make her look ridiculously mean). He rather has a daughter that his wife has decided to keep away from men after her daughter’s school molestation case triggered her paranoia against men. She has divorced Velcoro to live with her girlfriend and gradually finds ways to push him out of his daughter’s life. This way Velcoro has some common ground to connect with Ani, apart from the fact that they are together on X case. And perhaps this way Velcoro’s depression can be explained in terms of feelings of failure as a husband and the traditional male that he is supposed to be. Velcoro has attacked and killed the molestation suspect only to find out afterwards that charges against him have been dropped by the student who faced psychological problems.

b) Ani’s character has dark long very curly hair. She is tough as a woman who has tried hard to get somewhere in her life. She emotionally connects with Velcoro after hearing stories about his personal drama (explained above). The conflict in his personal life becomes the ground on which they connect in a non romantic way (non romantic just like the show clearly intends with the stiff dialogues and naff energy between them.) The man who had assaulted her still works with her father as a respectable lifestyle mentor (she has until now repressed all memories of the event) but is illegally involved in human trafficking. Things work out this way that Velcoro gets to face and kill Ani’s molester.

c)Taylor Kitch character would be out. (why is he a main character anyway?)

d) Obviously some drastic changes on Frank’s character that are the equivalent of brain surgery. Still working on it.

Shame for all the great talent in the season. Nevertheless I still look forward to the third season of True Detective. Who knows, next time we might be pleasantly surprised.

A small rant about things I miss while living in Sweden

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Being a parent in the suburbs of Stockholm is probably one of the least fancy things you will ever do. In fact life in Stockholm in general is not the most glamorous experience. Unless of course you belong to that special breed of the really affluent, who own an apartment in Östermalm and spend your weekends in your fancy neighbourhood bars, sipping champagne cocktails and nibbling on mussel and salmon canapés – with old school European charm.

I remember when i was a newbie, in town just a couple of months. I and he decided to join and Internations event to meet people, which on that occasion was a movie followed by dinner at a restaurant nearby. I remember I was wearing a  black winter dress and my super comfy 3 inch Camper boots. (Campers in other societies equal orthopaedic shoes). Just before we head to the restaurant which was two blocks away the girl who had organised the event scanned me from head to toe: “Are you okay to walk on those heels to the restaurant?” she asked

My goodness, where am I? I thought.

That Winter I spent it in the most ugly square light brown snow boots, no doubt designed for Hobbit feet. The snow which lasted for several months and crystallised on the sidewalks would not allow any other type of shoe sole, unless you were willing to risk spraining your ankle or worse.

Since then I have made several lifestyle adjustments but if i were to make a list of the things I just can’t help missing the last years, here is the following:

I miss going out to socially interact with people without having to remove my bloody shoes every single time at least once. (often more times.) Whether it is a playground where I take my baby, or a house where i am invited, social interaction in Sweden is often shoe-less. I have given up on looking good in shoes.

 I miss dressing up a bit to go out without feeling that it is “too much” to put on a pair of earnings or a necklace . Or just making a small change to my casual look without having someone commenting on it as if I am dressed to go to the Opera. Which ends up making me feel overdressed again and going back to my “I ‘ll pop to the store to buy some milk” look.

 I miss spontaneity. I want to be able to buy a bottle of wine whenever I feel like it instead of feeling like a dirty alcoholic restocking at Systembolaget from 9am-3pm while pushing a trolley with dozens of bottles of booze for the next two weeks.

 I secretly miss the times and place of the happy non apologetic pub drinking, where everyone was too cheerful to bother about anything. And here is a secret dirty thought: During those times, I dreaded evenings with couples. In fact whenever I saw a couple among a group of friends I was overwhelmed by a feeling of boredom even before i spoke to them. Nowadays we all come in twos.-oh-my-holy-god- and we fight each other for the last baby chair in the restaurant.

Finally, I miss not feeling stressed because the day might not look like the day and the night might not look like the night for half of the year.

Lost in Translation: are we meant to transcend language?

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What would humanity look like if humans did not use language to communicate? What if we possessed a more advanced, let’s say telepathic way to communicate information through images?

I recently watched  Lost in Translation again, one of my favourite films of all time. For those who have not seen it, Lost In Translation is a delightful journey through Japan’s urban culture and traditional imagery. But what makes the film truly great is the way it uses its spectacular photography to surpass dialogue.  In fact, the whole movie is a demonstration of how awkward,  inadequate and redundant verbal communication is compared to image. The sophistication of the vernacular is demystified and reduced to mere incoherent utterances and comical mishaps . Throughout the film there is a persistent communication fail that leads to the gradual deconstruction-the death- of language.

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Powerful images effortlessly replace words. Communication in Lost in Translation resembles telepathy, or if you prefer, a  soul connection than allows instant knowledge without employing words. The two protagonists do not connect so much with speech (which has the habit of bringing unwanted aspects of their personal lives into their present reality) but rather by surrendering to their surroundings, almost transcending time.

There is somehow the instant knowledge that their surroundings depend on their inner truth. The couple creates their own external reality, whose chaos is a reflexion of their own inner chaos.

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Undoubtedly, communication through image requires a new perception of reality, and a new purpose. Instant access to an image would mean instant access to the purpose and the intention behind it. This requires honesty and truth, both of which are obstructed by the formalities of language. An image is clear. “One picture is worth a thousand words.”

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An image is non linear. By this I mean that it encompasses information that is absorbed in  random order, and in diverse ways. Indeed, we use a different part of our brains to process an image than we do for speech and language. An image doesn’t require a  logical or moral response. Instead we “feel” or even experience the image’s message as a whole, and as a type of encoded hologram. (hologram: greek word holos (whole) and gramma (message).) We can have a psychological, mental or spiritual response instead of a logical response. But in order to achieve this, one would also need to develop a form of telepathy.

Lost in Translation is a great example of communicating through images, and accessing information through visual stimuli instead of a narrated storyline. Hyper-urbanised , futuristic Tokyo is the ideal backdrop, offering a glimpse of what communication will look like once humanity moves past the Age of Reason.

Thinking about relocating abroad as a “trailing spouse”? Some things you should know

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I may use it in the title but I dislike the term “trailing spouse”. To me it describes someone who lets her or himself be carried abroad like a another piece of luggage and from there lives trapped in a semi-stigmatised existence, confined in the role of the housekeeper and the emotional supporter. It might be true that once (you know in the olden days) when couples relocated, the wife was not expected to do much other than support the husband’s career, volunteer in the local community with women in similar situation, and attend weekly get togethers with expat women so she can vent about her expat life.

Nowadays, however, with globalisation having transformed completely the international work dynamics, a spouse should be able to do better than that. First of all, finding work abroad is much easier and much more common. People can work remotely with a laptop and a good internet connection. There is much more mobility, diversity and flexibility. So theoretically the life of the “trailing spouse” has become much easier and uncomplicated.. Right?

In my experience I have met some pretty amazing people living abroad, trying to support their partner’s career while they work hard to find their own decent place in the new society. It usually takes a lot of courage, strength, and dedication to make things happens. Often it is a huge blow to the pride. But you have to work with your self and the personal issues that every one has and find your way.

I know because I am one. Having lived abroad several times for my own sake and ambitions this was the first time I let my partner’s career goals decide where I will be.

Here is the list of things that in my opinion you should consider before deciding to take the leap:

Your motto: good research.

The Country: The country where you relocate can make or break your success story. Being “abroad” in one part of the globe will not be the same as being “abroad” in another. In short, don’t just jump with excitement in the prospect before researching the place. If you move for example in Paris, France you will have a completely different life from if you move in Oslo, Norway. Which means that if Paris is what you have fantasies for and you move in Oslo to have a similar “european” experience you will be disappointed. (the opposite is true as well, desiring to live in the woods and find yourself in the middle of a big chaotic city). Of course in this example i use extremes, Parisean lifestyle is lightyears away from Scandinavian. I know that it does not depend on the “trailing spouse” where the relocation will be but I am only highlighting patterns you should avoid. At the end of the day the connection you personally have with the country and its people will determine your willingness to work hard to integrate.

The Country: Romantic Ideas vs Real facts. You may have already visited the place and find it charming, romanic, refreshing… Only because you have seen it as a tourist. You have done all the cool stuff and somehow that makes you feel that your life there will be like that, a constant amazement. Almost every place in the world can look charming when you are a tourist. But think that once you move there you might not live in the cool city centre because the rents will be just out of reach. You might find yourself in a suburb away from amenities and attractions. When the initial newcomer’s excitement fades, would you like to live in THAT place permanently? Will the transport be convenient to use on a daily basis? What do the people do for entertainment and does that match your expectations? Are you attracted to the culture, people and society?Remember you will be a newcomer there, you need all the conveniences you can get. Is this place what you think it is or a beautiful holiday memory?

The Language: This one is a HUGE HUGE factor. Do you speak the language of the country you are going? If not ,are you willing to learn it? I mean really learn it, beyond ordering “a big cappuccino please”. Your partner will probably be fine speaking in English at work but the same unfortunately will not be true for you. In certain parts of the world many people will look at you in shock,bewilderment and even contempt if you don’t address them in their language. Think that learning the language is not optional when you relocate and especially when you have not already secured a job.

The job: Getting a job in the new country might be easy or difficult. it depends on the place you are, the language, your own field and skills, and in many cases nationality, ethnicity, race etc. (Sad but true. ) If you plan to work asap try to find out what people in your shoes generally say about their experience. Don’t take things for granted. You might be hot stuff in one country and in another get constant rejections. Be prepared, disappointment might come. While volunteering at a swedish shelter I met a girl , a rather fierce go getter from Spain who had moved to Stockholm because of her Swedish boyfriend. She wanted to get a job the next day. You could see she was like a lion in a cage, she was not ready to take the blow to her pride and surrender to the new hard reality where her CV did not get her any interviews. Even the simple task of handing food to the homeless had become for her a competitive task where she had to prove herself. Only a few months later she moved to Germany to work in her field. Having said that there are many well educated professionals who endure much longer than that in order to be with their partners. The reason why I think this example is important is because many people today, especially if they have invested a lot in education and personal growth, lose their sense of identity and self worth once they are removed from their jobs and careers and thus feel lost and disorientated.

Money. This is something you will probably need to sort out with your partner. His or her salary might sound alluring in dollars or yuan but once you calculate your expenses according to the cost of life in the new place you realise that your lifestyle might actually worsen. Plus his salary, if you have no job will be used to support the whole family. Will you be happy to live in a smaller apartment, have no car and depend on your partner for pocket money?

I don’t mean to sound too discouraging. At the end of the day each of us is different and will take the decision considering what they have to give up and what is important to them on a personal level. But you have to be well informed-know what you are in for.

Living abroad can be a very rewarding and unique experience. Plan your “escape” wisely.

And if you try and fail don’t beat your self up. Always kudos to you for having tried.

thinking life as a sitcom

The Cooper Extraction

Life has taken me to very different places. When I was much younger I used to think that moving countries around the world would always be fun, challenging and exciting. I remember someone telling me before my last move “Yet another move, I wonder how you cope!”

At the time I thought the comment was funny. Lately I think I get what it implied. But the truth is that life is journey whether you decide to relocate or not. There are always times coming and going, things forgotten and things imprinted forever in your heart and mind. There is always people you meet, you connect and travel with. A human relationship reaches its climax and then subsides, transforms or fades.

In many ways other people are my personal journey as my life’s “setting” has been ever changing. The people I have met and shared moments with. And the people that have made a deep impression or impact on me, and of whom I think about almost daily even though I never see.

I think now I understand why people get so hooked with sit-coms like the Big Bang theory or Two and a Half Men. (just to mention two of my own favorites). Life happening in the same unchanged snug setting of a Malibu Beach House or in a book swamped PhD student apartment (with a surprisingly pleasant upmarket living room view), creates the most beautiful illusions for the human mind: the security of consistency and purpose. Personal conflicts, challenges and dilemmas all in the end resolve with a shared order in Thai meal and the company of the same gang in that same homely living room. There is nothing that can shake or challenge the existence of that ideal space: It is in fact the center of life itself: it feeds and keeps relationships alive.

“I don’t want to own anything until I know I’ve found the place where me and things belong together. I’m not quite sure where that is just yet. But I know what it’s like…. It’s like Tiffany’s….” Holly Golightly says in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. That vague ideal place that Holly dreams about is where you simply live. It is your aesthetically compatible microworld where life simply happens and you lose the desire to relocate or travel. In a certain way you are that place.

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This ideal permanent space serves as a point of reference. It might be difficult to understand this if you have not relocated a fair number of times. In our little rented furnished apartment in Sweden for example, (where the majority of things are not ours and where we listen to four languages throughout the day) I realized I used Peppa Pig as a point of reference for my daughter: Every morning while she eats her breakfast I put Peppa Pig on (the original British, no funny dubbing). Very often it is the same episodes where I already know all the dialogues. It can be very boring for me. But strangely enough I am rarely happy to change the show. I want it to be one of the things that do not change in her baby life, at least I can guarantee that as long as I am there and as long as an internet connection exists, Peppa Pig will be playing on the tablet in the mornings.

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Life is not a sitcom. But just as we allow our babies to immerse themselves in magic worlds where everyone is happy, loved and cherished (and who it return loves and cherishes everybody else) to delay the hard truths of adulthood, so we as adults need from time to time to allow ourselves some of this fleeting feeling of consistency. Consistent love, joy and magical transformation.

Life is not a sitcom, but it would be nice if it were.

If I don’t see you again before Christmas Merry Christmas everyone and have a magic holiday!

Commenting on the Comment War: The superficial age of outsmarting (dedicated to the Matt Walsh post)

Lately I have seen a number of interesting yet provocative and controversial online posts about different aspects of motherhood. I say controversial because they attract a plethora of online reactions, apparently from people who, judging by the context of their comment, shouldn’t be interested in reading in the first place.

“Motherhood simplified your life? OH PLEASE!!! All my friends became selfish self centered and boring after having kids!!!” on Lauren Laverne’s Having a Baby will simplify your Life or on one of my all time favorite posts by Matt Walsh You are a stay at home Mom what do you do all day? “OH PLEASE!!! I work full time and STILL have to take care of my kids when I go home!! In fact I work all day!!!” or “B***hit My parents are both successful psychologists working full time throughout my childhood and I am SOOO normal!!”.

Of course open comments are meant to do just that, allow people to express their personal views and opinions and thus create and ongoing debate. But very often I do wonder how people read and comprehend an opinion article. For one thing both pieces mentioned describe life lessons learnt, and life discrepancies observed and they are all drawn from sincere personal experiences. And there is something more. In Matt Walsh’s piece for example I love how obvious and yet intangible is his love for his wife. How noble is his desire in his writing to protect her from obnoxious people and defend her against social madness that sees her role as a mother as an obstacle to being someone. And by doing the above declare how invaluable is her contribution to his life and the family. His intention behind his post was sincere and true.

And yet there were numerous comments accurately reflecting the kind of negativity the author observes in his post: Women berating other women and bragging about how busy they are, exactly by doing what he described as confusing being busy with being important. It is their right to do so but it just sad. How can you really reject a piece written with honesty and love that reflects the soul of the writer?

Ernest Hemingway had said about writing “All you have to do is write one true sentence, write the truest sentence that you know.” What can be truer than a reflection of one’s soul? Because today we are continuously being drawn to the idea that one version of truth does not exist. All our thoughts and beliefs can be refuted. Even though that applies to many essential philosophical questions, it sadly also applies to moral responsibility. We have seen it in politics, society, tv shows. Being the bad guy is socially acceptable, even desirable. There are after all always two sides of the same coin.

But there is something true. It is what comes from your soul. I don’t believe all people have a soul, even though in theory they are supposed to. But to write a “true sentence” you have to have a reader that will read it with “truth”. A reader with soul. One that will not seek to destroy it with popular punch lines that reflect what is socially acceptable.

I do enjoy writing and reading comments as well as online debates. But I do wish fellow readers and writers to always read, think and write with truth.

“Conquer your Fear and you will conquer Death” Escaping Reality or Challenging our Belief System?

Lately I have been thinking of all the people I know back home that deliberately escape reality. By reality I mean all the practicalities of life-nowadays mostly related to the loss of money, acquisitions or social status-that went wrong and now appear to have dire consequences on our lives. Of course Life is not about money and our reality should not be about taxes and debts.

In debt ridden Greece a growing number of people, unable to control how things will turn out in their lives, appear to choose to sweep problems under the carpet. After all maybe what the Science guys say about perception based reality might be true and perhaps the problem will just disappear once you turn your attention away from it?? Or something like that. (Higgs boson bottom line interpretation by those of us who never had any idea of what particle physics is saying).

Truth is we all have different ways to cope with things. Our minds process information in different ways and we subconsciously or consciously choose our defense mechanisms. In this sense every single piece of information out there is perceived by each and every one of us in a different way. We could never go into another person’s mind and experience their perception. We can never know what they truly fear or feel in its totality even if we spend hours and hours psychoanalyzing them by listening them trying to explain. In this sense what we call our gut instinct about people can often give us information that we cannot logically justify.

The devastating financial crisis has brought radical changes as to how we see our closest family members, friends, colleagues, or our selves. It has changed the way we see society and life. It has changed the way we visualize the future, and it has altered our value and belief system. People cannot easily adapt to radical lifestyle changes. There are those who often prefer to shut down and dwell in the past or in a better place on their minds and hearts. A growing number of people around me, at the expense of others as society rushes in to remind us, would rather hold on to these illusions for a bit longer. Maybe if they let go they feel they have nowhere else to go.

There might be a feeling of sadness when you observe, but in the mind of the object/person there is probably peace. Peace after all, like fear, exists primarily in the mind. Is it real peace?? Society critically attacks. Will it be real peace when the bank comes knocking on your door and claim your house? Or when you realize that despite waking up every day at 7 and go to what you once called work you have neither income nor real work to do. Probably there is no way to escape what is happening in the country right now. And you will wake up one day feeling it. They want you to feel it after all.

No matter what happens, the bottom line will remain the same: it will never really be about the bank balance, the house or the car. What will matter most will be the family, the companionship, the love, the laugh you shared that night. It will be about the good time you had and about how good you felt. It will always be about those nice experiences that the chemicals in your brain or the energy of the place or the people created for you that moment in time. You will never be sure what it was exactly, but you will hold on dearly to it.

My conscience says deal with it with Dignity and that is how lots of people do it right now. But when it gets too upsetting, too much, too devastating, too ugly, sweep it under the carpet and refuse to be sad. Refuse to be overwhelmed by fear and defeat. Like everything else in life, these too, are part of the same illusion.

My experience with NGOs and “institutionalized” Help

In the past I have spoken a bit harshly about Ngos. I intend to keep it that way. I suspect that the last thing the human species needs right now is somebody to pick up the pieces. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t support turning a blind eye to pain, loss, or grief. Quite the opposite. I just think that the whole concept of humanity and humanitarian action can no longer be isolated in strict institutional frameworks, manipulated as a political instrument to keep things on an even keel.

Personal virtue, morals, kindness and integrity. These are principles that do not interest anyone anymore in politics or in most professions as a matter of fact. Somehow they are seen as dated principles, linked to dying religious beliefs and truth is they carry an innuendo of embarrassment as well. Yes, embarrassment, because kindness is seen as a form of weakness. Try writing in a job application Cover Letter something like “I am an honest or just person” instead of the equivalent of “I am a corporate slave”. You don’t like where this is going? Ok, let’s move on.

My experience working for a prominent Greek NGO which in this blog I call The Public Sector for obvious reasons has been an interesting one. Its rampant bureaucracy and shocking deliberate isolation had created a surreal Orwellian landscape where extremes of Kindness and Evil existed side by side, making no pretenses. At the same time there was a total absence of grey zones in which a somehow healthy, productive, professional environment can contain the beast inside of us. In there you were likely to meet the most benevolent souls, often ordered around by the ones whose personal demons had found the most fertile ground to run wild.

The good people you met in there were almost definitely good by nature, and their goodness in this restrained and isolated environment was maximized perhaps analogically to the levels of the inhumanity of others. These kind people were kind in all aspects of their lives and obviously treated their friends, spouses and colleagues with respect. Their work helping people in this sense never ended. It was not a mission, a project or a plan but essentially a way of life.

I am thinking that, in fact, this is the only way to go ahead. You simply cannot “help” people 9-5. You can certainly try, but in the long run will not get very far. And once you try to institutionalize kindness, compassion and humanity then you are more likely part of a society that has devalued humanitarian principles.

Another simple example can be drawn from my experience in first world Sweden. A few months living there and I took up a Language Volunteer role for an Ngo helping Immigrants coming from EU countries.(not necessarily EU citizens). At that time, despite my legal rights as the wife of someone who worked full time in Sweden, the bureaucracy was preventing me for months from getting a Personal Number. (The Holy Grail of Survival in Sweden).The majority of Language Volunteers had similar profiles and stories to share: they were mostly well educated multilingual South European (and not only) women who had moved in Sweden to be with someone, either that someone was a husband, a boyfriend or family in general.

They all had more or less the same legal issues that caused great frustration and strain in their lives and relationships. In fact, many of them were not much better off from the immigrants visiting the Center to get food, shelter, clothing, Internet, Communication and legal advice. However what they needed most was a piece of solid legal advice about their pending cases and the shady laws that supposedly covered their rights as EU citizens. I for example turned to the Human Rights lawyer in the Center to ask a simple routine question about how I can deal with my inexplicably pending case. Instead I received no reply. The irony was that, as volunteers, we were asked to perform a number of such phone calls to help visitors to the Center. But we could not get further support for our own cases if we did not give up our status as volunteers and instead ask support as immigrants. Instead we were strongly encouraged every week to attend Free Counseling that was offered to all volunteers. Ironically, venting about our problems for an hour every Tuesday was fully funded and guideline approved, while getting a 5 minute practical advice about how to solve them was not.

Which leads me again to where I started. Personal virtue, morals, kindness and integrity. Can you really be humanitarian by the book? Or does the sole act of helping others conflict with the way our whole system works? Education, experience, planning, funding are always very important. But they are useless when people-leaders especially- lack charisma and integrity.

I don’t object to systematic efforts. But please bring Goodness back in the field and people who genuinely want to help others.

My First Day in Beijing-The Kindness of Strangers

I spent Winter 2007 in Beijing and that was my virgin journey to Asia too. One Sunday afternoon I boarded an Air China flight from London to Beijing, half drunk and not sure what I was doing. You see, I had this brilliant idea to buy the friend who drove me to the airport a couple of drinks to thank him for the ride. He was Russian; he could take a bit of drunk driving, but it turns out I couldn’t handle the intercontinental check in intoxicated. I was ordered by the airline to remove the extra luggage weight to avoid a hefty fee and in my blurry rush ( I was going to miss my flight apparently) I misplaced my ipod, books and all survival related gadgets, only to find myself half an hour later sitting lonely and confused in a ready to take off plane for the other side of the world. Still under the spell of white wine, I started crying.

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The purpose of my trip was to improve my Mandarin language skills by taking a 3 month 7 hours per day intensive language course. Having already completed a one year Mandarin language course in London, I thought the knowledge in my Mandarin textbooks would be good enough to give me a sense of familiarity, but when I landed in Beijing 10 hours later, all jet lagged and flustered I felt like I had landed on another planet. Nothing I saw or experienced felt familiar in any way. Until then China was for me images picked up from Bruce Lee’s action movies, a combination of stereotyped China Town aesthetics with the occasional traditional architectural elements of pagodas here and there. I expected to see compact and “Europeanized” Hong Kong (which at the time I had never visited). Instead I found myself in a vast, chaotic smoggy megacity that at the time resembled an endless construction site: Highway after highway that connected eerily identical gated communities of residential towers, sprawled in a bare treeless land and keeping a very unfriendly distance from each other. The background noise night and day (and I mean all night) was that of construction drilling and sawing as new towers and gated communities sprang up.

View from my apartment, 27th floor

View from my apartment, 27th floor

As I was dropped by my airport guide at a spacious studio apartment on the 27th floor of one of these towers, dizzy and dehydrated, I had the disconcerting feeling that I had just landed in hell. I had no idea where and how to initiate my Chinese living experience as literally everything felt completely alien. For a person like me who had spent all her life in compact European cities, this was like exploring a new planet.

I remember walking outside, walking past the military dressed guards and seeing a big loitering crowd standing at the edge of the highway, watching. A young man approached me and spoke to me in Mandarin. I realized that unlike a listening exercise at my language school, his accent was hard to grasp and I could not understand what he was saying. I told him I needed to find a bank and a supermarket. He said he could drive me to both. I was so exhausted, muddled and my mouth burning with dehydration (the apartment had no water) that I went with him in his car. The man did as he said, took me to a cash point and waited until I got money and then he drove me to what it looked like a shopping mall. “The supermarket is here” he said and dropped me there. In my confusion and unspeakable relief to see a Carrefour in front of me, I forgot to ask him if he was a taxi driver and if he wanted money. He did not ask for any money though and just drove away.

Already late and nothing looks familiar

Already late and nothing looks familiar

After doing some shopping, I realized I had absolutely no idea how to get back. I did not even remember what “home” looked like. All the highways looked the same and all the gated communities were completely identical. My airport guide had provided me with a hand drawn map of where I lived. When I asked her for the exact street address, she had replied the place had no official address, just a name. It was already dark outside and I had started feeling panicky when some elderly Chinese couple approached me, “Where are you going”? They asked. I showed them the hand drawn map and they both nodded in recognition. “You are going the wrong way” they said “Your house in the other direction on your right hand side”.
I followed their advice. From the corner of my eye throughout my return home, I could see them walking on the other side of the pavement and silently keeping pace with me, making sure I got home alright.

Inside my Beijing apartment

Inside my Beijing apartment

In the next 3 cold Winter months that followed I got familiar with all the highways, bridges and underpasses of my “neighborhood”. I met lots of Beijing-ners and always made small talk with the taxi driver that drove me home. The conversation always started like that “Ni shi Meiguo ren?” (Are you American?) “Bu shi, Wo shi Xila ren” (No I am Greek). Xila ren! They replied always in astonishment. In the city of 20 million Chinese I was a rare species.

For me Beijing remained overwhelming, stripped of tradition when it came to aesthetics and architecture, but at the same time one of the most original places to experience China. I never really warmed up to its vastness, its impersonal highways and suffused with luxury, sanitized shopping malls, (Golden pillars hosting a paradise of Italian fashion, often accompanied with shocking sanitation facilities) which always contrasted with the loitering crowds and heavy smog outside. Its luxuries served however as a pleasant getaway from its harsh realities.

Tibetan restaurant Beijing

Tibetan restaurant Beijing

There was a lot to be explored, experienced and learnt. Looking back I would not change Beijing for anything. If you could scratch underneath its hard surface there was an incredible energy emanating from that megacity that was transforming, so quickly and miraculously, that its eagerness to move into the Future nurtured my mind and soul. It was inspiring. It was happening and it attracted young people from all over the world thirsty for its energy and vibe, proud to become witnesses to its transformation.

The Perfect Transplant

My significant other thinks I should make more effort to involve my parents in my pregnancy.

“Ask your dad to touch your belly” he told me the other day.

“That’s not a good idea. He doesn’t like touching people that much.”

“Maybe you can go near him and let him touch your belly by accident.” SW insisted who believes that my dad’s aura is weakened by touching sick people all day and could use some positive energy coming from the baby.

My mother on the other hand touches my belly all the time. She is very happy to caress my belly and speak to it. However when it comes to sharing information and having long mother/daughter conversations, she is not that good.
Lost in her transplantation journals, my mum gets really excited only when a conversation turns scientific. Trying to have the regular chit chat about morning sickness does not really work that well between us.

“So mom, how was it when you were pregnant with me?”

Her face gets an agonized hard expression as if she recalls life in the battlefield: “It was difficult” she says “A day before I delivered I had to sit for my University Exam at Med School. I had so much studying to do. It was such an important exam…” Blah blah blah, she goes on about the exam.

“Did I kick a lot?”

“It was such a long time… I don’t really remember now”.

One last effort:

“So mom, how do you wax the bikini when you are pregnant when you cannot really see down there?”

“……”

Finally she finds a way to relate, her eyes light up and her expression changes into that of a happy child that realizes that Christmas is here.

Do you know that the fetus is the perfect natural transplant?” she says with excitement. “It has 50% completely foreign DNA and yet your body does NOT reject it. It is an unexplained miracle of nature.”

The miracle of nature and its scientific dimensions have finally triggered a conversation. I try to adapt and ask more questions or get more involved practically into Science. Like that time I made my family take a pricey DNA test to find out where our deep ancestors come from and how we are genetically related. The only two people that resisted the test were my sister, who believes human DNA could be similarly compared to the DNA of rats, and my dad who could not give a rat’s ass.

“So is it possible to save the umbilical cord after giving birth…? For the future health of the baby…?” Or something like that.

Her eyes light up again: “You can save the umbilical cord blood for the benefit of Science” she gasps “It is very unlikely your baby will ever need it.” and adds:

“It can be arranged.”