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Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

I was in the US recently taking on some new work. Two things really struck me about being back in the US. The first was ERMAHGAWD, WINTER. Apparently I forgot what that felt like. The second thing was how the political atmosphere had changed. Marriage equality, healthcare, guns. It’s all happening. I submit this picture I took while entering the office as evidence.

Dear America, don't bring your guns to work

Dear America, don’t bring your guns to work

So strange to see these signs around, and even stranger that other people didn’t think they were strange. Or maybe 3+ years abroad has made me the strange one. Now there’s a philosophical question for you.

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I’m out with my friend, Afsan, and someone asks us how long we’ve been in Singapore.

“Six months,” I say.

She looks at me and says “No, honey. You’ve been here eight months. I’ve been here six months.”

Can that really be true? I start to do the math and sure enough, eight months.

I’m not the new kid on the block anymore.  I went to my first going away party a few months ago. Anywhere else in the world eight months might still be new, but in a city where people stay either two years or twelve years, I’m becoming an old timer.

Wow, this happened rather quickly.

Despite Afsan being in Singapore for six months, her husband, Max, only just arrived.  I spent a day with them and another friend, Colin, on a driving tour around town.

Colin jumps in the car and immediately hands over a copy of one of Neil Humphreys books on Singapore. I get a little too excited. “Oh my gosh I’m reading his collection! Insightful, though a bit cheesy at times.” I can’t express quick enough the pride in finding the book all on my own and the many thoughts I have about it.

It’s Max’s first time living abroad and his excitement is charming and infectious. I remember flipping through my Singapore Lonely Planet before I arrived, imagining a land of temples, tofu and adventures yet to be had.

Max has only been here two days and he has lots of questions and a little bit of jetlag. Some questions I can answer, some I leave to Colin and Afsan. I’m surprised at how much I know about this place in such a short time.

“What’s that building over there?”

“It’s an HDB. You can assume that pretty much any ugly building is an HDB,” I answer. The others look at me and I realize my bluntness is laced with cynicism – cynicism that can slay enthusiasm. Now I feel a desire to start checking myself. I want his excitement to last as long as possible.

I want the travelling new experience magic to linger. I want to see my own experience through fresh eyes, not the eyes that deal with finding work, struggling with grocery store food choices, missing my friends around the globe.

I remember what it feels like to talk to people back home about what I am up to, to see my life from their perspective. It all sounds very exotic and exciting to live all over the world. It’s one of the many things I have dreamed of.

I remember that yes, my life is exciting. I am doing the things I want to be doing. I’m living, I’m exploring, I’m learning. The daily grind is just the daily grind.

I start to recall the things about Singapore that I really appreciate. “You get to meet very interesting people,” I say to Max. And indeed, that’s the biggest most meaningful and honest complement I can give.

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Krishna Das was in town a few weeks ago. Two friends and I snagged the last few tickets. We followed the trail of flowing skirts and mala beads from Kings Cross St Pancras to the Camden Centre to find a rockstar style line. Actually there were two lines. One was for the VIPs; the special guests, studio owners and teachers who had front row tickets, and another line for us plebeians. I chuckled to myself at the incongruence of yogic chanting and VIPs.

We entered the building, settled on three seats together at the middle left of the hall and waited for KD to take stage. Whew, that was hard work.

As the building began to fill, the room became hotter and hotter. The girl in front of me opened a garlicky take out rice and began to eat. We tried our best to hold our collective yogic cool, but everyone was having problems. The girl behind us began to fuss over jackets being hung on backs of chairs and we were all trying our best to try and accommodate one another. The chanting desperately needed to begin.

Finally KD entered the stage with Radhanth Swami, an American Swami whose book, The Journey Home, we had all been given a copy. After some introduction, the chanting began, then stopped so that Radhanth Swami could tell his story. And a big story he had. His tales of love and his times in India were very interesting, but not what the audience had expected from the evening. I tried to pay attention, but the heat was still unbearable and now the garlic was beginning to seep out of the pores of the girl in front of me. Radhanth Swami was describing being stuck on a severely overcrowded train in India where you could not breathe for 12 hours and I made a personal vow always to splurge for first class trains in India. How could I survive that when I could hardly deal with the smells I was encountering now?

Packed house for Krishna Das at the Camden Centre

Finally Krishna Das took control of the stage and began playing again. It was already too late. One of my friends was in her second trimester and couldn’t take it anymore. We went to the back of the room where a door was left open and ventilation was available.

I am so glad we did because as KD continued to play, we had the freedom to dance, greet others and, well, breathe.

Finally the Kundalini was rising. By the end of the night the group at the back had formed a community, and we were all a little lighter than when we began.

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I’m typing this from the security of my flat. I came home from work tonight and deadbolted my bank vault style front door. I then called a friend and asked her to alert me if there was any danger in my neighborhood. I’ve decided not to watch any more news tonight. Absorbing the news on the riots was making me feel like a prisoner in my home.

This smells of terrorism. For the first time in my life I’ve uttered the words at work “I’m sorry, but we’re closing early due to civil unrest.”

“Wow,” said one of my yoga teachers, Gabriella. “The country I grew up in was a war zone. It feels like I’m back there.”

My mind brings up newspaper and television style images of war torn foreign countries seen across oceans. I’ve been so grateful in the past not to have experienced such things.

But now I’m seeing this all differently. I’m cautious, but not devastated. My house is fine. None of my friends are hurt. It’s still a little distant, but I can see it with my own eyes. There’s another shift too. I’m seeing the difference between the truth and the media portrayal.

I took the bus home late last night after working. I was aware of the riots, but oblivious to the level they had reached. The atmosphere around town was eerily quiet. People were being just a touch too polite for this to be London. I checked my Facebook page and was confronted with a steady stream of riot related updates. I decided that I was sticking my head in the sand and that I really should turn on the television. The next three hours were consumed by BBC and Twitter. The BBC kept asking people to check on their kids. I thought it was touching that the British were so concerned about the safety of the next generation, until I finally understood that the majority of the looters were indeed children.

I was so tired but I was afraid to go to sleep without a conclusion. Perhaps that’s a product of our TV culture. We want everything to be wrapped up neatly before we leave it. To be honest, I was more afraid of nightmares than I was of a break in. My neighborhood was still untouched, but the youtube videos were daunting. One moment a group helps a bleeding disoriented kid up off the street, the next moment they rob him. As Gabriella says, we all embody the good, the bad and the ugly, but this is a darkness I just can’t understand. Correction. This is a darkness I don’t want to understand. I don’t want to believe this is a naturally occuring state of humanity, but my eyes are now wide open.

I stayed up until I absolutely couldn’t. It worked- I slept through the night.

As I didn’t have to work until evening time, I knew I had two options on how my day would go. 1.) I could sit at home obsessively watching TV, checking Twitter and damning humanity. 2.) I could pitch in and help with #riotcleanup. I chose the second option. The first choice was never really an option.

How do you pack for a riot cleanup? I don’t know, so I went with water, trash bags, a shovel and garden clippers. The garden clippers ended up being unnecessary. I made my way to Clapham Junction figuring that I would spot the other anti-rioters in progress. I arrived to find about 500 people standing around with brooms and trashbags.

Many had already been to areas like Camden and Hackney cleaning up. They reported that with the sheer numbers of people it only took twenty minutes. Others had arrived at 9 am only to be turned away. Forensic testing needed to be completed before the cleaning commenced.

Typical crowd member: broom, home made shirt (trust me), staying connected through social media

The atmosphere was one of camaraderie. People were making shirts and posters. They were talking to one another and meeting strangers. The attitude was of “we’ll do this everyday if we have to, and we’ll do it with a smile.” I honestly had more fun meeting similar civic-minded people who fight fear and rage with love and grace than I could ever imagine having rioting. And that’s not because I don’t get angry.

Lovely girls with home made t-shirts.

As we waited, a man from Sainsbury’s came out to pass out water. Battersea Art Centre brought over loads of sandwiches. We shared food and stories.

Sainsbury's passes out water

Sandwich boxes from Battersea Art Centre

The crowd was not without it’s diversity. An elderly lady named Brenda came out to join. She had been out the night before challenging the thugs who were destroying her community. “Why don’t you go to a movie?!?” she asked one. “Because there’s nothing on,” he told her.

Brenda

We played the Mexican Wave with our brooms. (That’s just simply “the wave” in the U.S.) We dubbed ourselves the Broom Army.

Broom Army

The atmosphere was much livelier than when I had first arrived:

First arrival: Fire and police men in the distance at work.

I waited several hours in total as the officials carried on. The firemen in the distance are hosing down a party supply store. The looters raided the store for masks to hide their identity from CCTV and police while engaging in their debauchery. Surely that’s the type of clever thinking that when channeled appropriately could benefit our society instead of destroy it.

And that’s the theme that keeps popping up. As adults, how can we direct those who feel helpless when budgets are cut and futures are bleak? How can we help them channel their rage into something productive, good for society AND them? – not just the people at the top. Or at least we could teach them to protest properly. The riots were not a protest. Unintentionally, the cleanups were.

This is not the Big Society - we're just here to clean.

The rumor had hit that Boris Johnson was on the way. We instantly read from twitter that he had been heckled while addressing others in the area. As we saw him approaching, the resentment started to bubble. The crowd began chanting “Where’s your broom?” Lucky for him, someone passed him a broom. He stood in front of the crowd and addressed the cameras. I was standing near the front, but did not hear a single word he said. At this moment, I began to feel like a prop. A loving grassroots movement to clean up our community was turning into a PR opportunity.

I kept reminding myself and others “It doesn’t matter. We came here to clean.” Finally we were let go to do the job.

Finally.

The streets were clear at this point and most of the shops were asking the cleanup crew to stay out. Hundreds of people milled around the streets looking for things to pick up, but feeling largely useless. There was some cleaning going on, but mostly the feeling was of community support.

Some cleaning to do

Appreciation.

Some of the stores were passing out snacks and drinks to the clean up crew. Starbucks was there with coffee. Jamie Oliver’s Recipease had cupcakes. M&S had sweeties. “Great PR for you” a woman told the Starbucks crew. A little cruel, but indeed it’s hard not to be cynical.

Coffee

This lack of cleaning left a lot of time for gawking. The reason I hadn’t brought my fancy camera was exactly to avoid this. I did not want this to be a voyeur experience, but I guess some gawking was unavoidable.

T.K. Maxx Store Front

The Curry's was completely wiped out.

It was interesting the stores that were chosen. They seemed to be ones the rioters patroned themselves, like a backlash at their own consumerism. Many of the stolen goods were destroyed in the street and not even taken home.

I left at this point as I was of absolutely no help.

I sat by a police officer on the bus on my way to work. The city is now swarmed with them.

We gave each other knowing glances. He looked at the Battersea love sticker I had acquired.

“I don’t think I was much help, but I think my presence was appreciated,” I said.

“I’ve been working very long hours today. I’m going home to my family now,” he said.

“Get some rest and good luck,” I told him.

He exited the bus and stopped to wave from the sidewalk. I waved back, not knowing how to process this exchange or the past 24 hours.

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When we first arrived in London, I was at a party where someone told me “It takes about a year in London to find the right job, flat and haircut.”

I’ve been here over a year now, if you don’t count my time in exile. It’s been slow moving but finally starting to feel comfortable and fun. Where we are now is where we thought we would be about 6 months ago. Although maybe not, since six months ago it was winter and everyone was hunkered down in not so friendly hibernation survival mode.

My home is fine. Our garden is much expanded from last year. As I share my home with Husband, I have to let go of the little bits of control I want to exert on it’s operation. I have to clean when I don’t want to, and I have to do things like let him keep a desk in the bedroom even though it’s really not healthy or feng shui. In return, he has to put up with shoes and books scattered about and my aversion to the vacuum cleaner. But honestly, our real estate manager is the worst part of the whole deal. At this point I know that they are absolutely useless and I just have to roll with it until we eventually have a place of our own or take a private rental.

A part of 2011 Garden: tomatoes, swiss chard, peppers, mint, basil, courgette, oregano

I’ve also learned not to be so particular about my hair. It’s going to do what it wants to do and I have very little control over it. The styles that look great on other people aren’t always the best styles for me. My hair is like having a teenage daughter. In order to live in harmony, I have to let it express itself in it’s own way.

And my job? If I could extend those philosophies to my career I will have jumped a massive hurdle.

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When I came to London last May, I left friends,  a city I loved, and a very dear project and blog behind. I learned so much and had more fun than I ever imagined with Dining In Austin Blog. I met good friends and amazing acquaintances through it.  It was a project made out of love for life, food and community in the ATX. Best of all, I got to share it with my amazing friend, Mariah. This creative outlet designed to complement our rigid science-y careers told the stories of our lives as lived through our food. We included irreverent and offhand tales of life as a 20-something (and then 30-something) Austinite.  People started reading it and before we knew it, we were involved in the Austin food scene in a way that we’d never expected but that made us really happy.

This was a good lesson for me. Do the things you love. Success will come.

I consider Austin, Texas a home. The people and culture are unique. The city is a blend of urban cowboy, artist spirit and burgeoning eclectic beautiful city. A huge chunk of my heart will always be there, but I have wanted to experience another country and culture and the time and opportunity was right. My intuition said to go.

I have such a desire to love London with the same passion and tenacity. I’ve wanted to devour every bit of it and live it completely. I get frustrated and homesick when the impossibility of experiencing it all becomes obvious. I have had to dramatically adjust my mode of thinking.

…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.

– Samuel Johnson

The two cities are distinctively different. I found it difficult to experience all of Austin. I find it downright impossible to experience all of London. I can’t afford to. I don’t have the money. There will never be enough time. I don’t have the social network and close friends I had in Texas. My approach has to be entirely different. Friendships have to be developed. Places and experiences have to be explored for the first time. I feel less on top of everything and more like I’m swimming about, tasting life along the way. I’ve come to realize that this isn’t better or worse. It is just different.

Consequently, I can’t write about London like I wrote about Austin. I struggled with this at first. Should I create another dining blog? I couldn’t afford all the dining out and I definitely couldn’t write about London like an expert. I also wanted to expand. I wanted to write about events, art, community, food, yoga, life, travel, philosophy – the things that I love. Or just whatever happened. I didn’t want to be tied to a particular subject even though I knew successful blogs were more often singularly focused.

To hell with success. It’s ok for things to be about the process instead of the outcome.

So what did I do? I just wrote. I picked a name and I got on with it.

After a bike ride around town early on in this blog’s life, I arrived back at home and turned to then-Boyfriend “so… that’s London.” Thus a temporary name was formed.

And I wrote more. I let the blog take on it’s own personality. I let it develop organically and become what it was going to be – a reflection on life in London as told the only way I could tell it. The honest account of a Texas girl hanging out on this city along the Thames. Not quite the same Texas girl anymore. Definitely not British.

Now that I’ve found a voice, this blog has been appropriately renamed. You can now find me directly at www.TexasOnThames.com

I hope you enjoy.

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The other day while walking through the park and looking like total hell, I was thinking about how it was a good thing that I wasn’t famous. There was very little chance that someone was going to run up to me, snap my photo and then draw funny pictures around my image describing how I had let myself go all because I didn’t bother to put on makeup or heat damage my hair that day.

This thought was very fortuitous. The very next day I was walking through London a bit more groomed when I was nearly knocked over by a large man running down the street. Out of the corner of my eye I saw that he was holding a professional camera. I turned to see what was going on and realized there was a whole crew of men with cameras in their hands.

Waiting for the shot

Standing at the foot of The Wolseley the men were poised and ready for action. Papparazi, I realized. I’ve crossed paths with a few celebrities in the past, but hadn’t given much thought to how many there must be in London. I decided to pause for a moment to find out who it was.

When the door opened, the men started yelling “Kate! Kate!” and I immediately got excited that I was only a few steps from Kate Middleton. A minute later, a woman exited yelling at the papparazi to go away. She retreated into the restaurant and re-emerged with Kate Moss.

Oh, THAT Kate.

I texted Mariah back in the U.S. figuring this would be the exact type of thing she got a kick out of.

“So how did she look?” she asked.

“Gorgeous, of course. Flowing hair, large sunglasses, designer clothes. Actually with all of that in the way I didn’t see her at all.”

So that’s the trick.

That evening I told Husband about my celebrity run-in.

“Why didn’t you get a photo? You probably could have sold it” Husband asked.

I thought back on that day I looked like hell walking through the park. “I don’t know. I guess I wanted to respect her privacy. What if she was having a bad hair day?”

“Celebrities don’t get to have a bad hair day” he answered.

Exactly.

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