This old sound …

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It is time to talk about my 2015 plans… My first act in 2015 will be to write a lot more…I will write more on my blog. I will write more emails to  my friends. I will write a journal. I want to write and write because I am at my happiest when I do so. I am relaxed and my imagination is set free.

I am now used to write and communicate with a key board and a screen, but it is definitely easier for me to write with a pen or pencil in my hand. There is a magical connection between my brain and the tip of a pen.

The other day, while talking with a friend about writing in general and communicating in the work place, I was amazed how fast we moved from handwriting or typewriting to the fully automated tools like the one I am using right now.

I remembered that at university, I had to pay someone to type my term reports and the final year paper because we had to handwrite everything except the final papers. Then came my first job in Dubai. Back then, we were 6 persons in an office sharing two IBM – Typewriters. I remember the surprise when they showed me how the keyboard switches by a touch of a button between the Arabic and English language. This was progress for me. I even practiced and passed a typing speed test because I had never used a type writer before…. I also bought myself, a type writer in the hope that I will write my dream book before I turned thirty!

The book is still in the making after many cities and many countries in between.  The typewriter is gone though. I sold it to someone who was planning to market and sell typing services. Today the type writer is nearly extinct. The typing sound is classified as a Classic just like the “Trin,Trin” tone of the big black phones that occupied an important place in every home.

I looked up the typing sound on the internet. I found this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFWXgB0wpsU…. Listen to it and Smile if it brings back memories and if it does not; you can still smile because you just heard something new.

Needless to continue talking about the great tools we rely on today to write and communicate but suffice to say that in a very short period of time, the computer and the smart tablets have become an extension of ourselves, helping us achieve whatever dream or plan we have in our mind…

“Pay it Forward”… Shall We?

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Recently, I watched the movie “Pay It Forward. I was struck by the violence of loneliness and how cities can take away our humanity. At the same time, I loved seeing what lies beyond the act of generosity.  It was an inspiring journey in the power of simple positive gestures.

All the characters in the film played their roles very well; I would however single out Eugene, the 7th grade teacher and, Trevor, the 11-year old boy who saw the possibilities and believed in turning his world around.

Eugene was comfortable managing his life within the boundaries and the routines he had established around him to keep him safe. Eugene, while protecting his own life, played an admirable catalyst role in the lives of the 11-year-old school children. He invited them to look outside their neighbourhoods and into the world and flip around what they do not like. He pushed them to think about “What does the world expect of each one of them?” and to belief that it is possible to make it happen otherwise they will face atrophy.

Young Trevor was a magician who could see beyond the obvious. He saw what some individuals needed and engineered solutions and made opportunities available to them. He wanted to help them turn around and in the process transformed his own life too. When he failed, he did not fall into the blame game instead he tried to look for other options and gave Eugene a nudge or two. Though it was not easy for a child to understand the dilemmas an adult faces during a transition, Trevor’s innocence kept the ball moving forward.

“Pay it Forward” showed me that we are more and more distrustful of each other. It was also worrying to see how quickly we fill our minds with negative thoughts and self loathing. Take the woman who was attempting suicide, her first reaction to the helping hand was to throw the purse assuming this is what they want while shouting : “I am not worth it”. The dialogue that followed was a powerful one. He pleaded with her to save his life from the next heroine fix, and hers too, by accepting to have a cup of coffee with him. Two desperate strangers connecting and reaching out…

“Pay it Forward” is all about generosity, a necessary act for everyone to GROW! When I speak of generosity, I am not only talking about it in the materialistic sense of the word but I am talking about the hundred of intangible acts such as loving, accepting, recognising, conversing, listening, encouraging, hearing, attending, and protecting.

The film is a convincing argument that positive acts, determination and belief in the outcome do actually transforms lives. While fear, self loathing and giving up, keeps everyone “Trapped” as Trevor says it very well at the end.

MY 2015 LIST

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As a trailer to all the New Year resolutions and reflections on doing things I enjoy the most, I want to share with you the 1st item on My 2015 list.

The 1st item on my list is to read one book a week. By doing so, I hope to grow my creative mind and to exercise my critical capacities… as well as spending my free time quietly!

In my quest to search for books to read, I came across this list on the very inspiring Ted page. I immediately thought of sharing it with you as you might be also have a a list to share with me….The 52 books listed cover a wide range of topics from science, to design, to leadership etc…

53 BOOKS WORTH READING The 53rd book on this list is my all time favorite classic by the Belgian author Marguerite Yourcenar ” Memoirs of Hadrien”.  It is a timeless classic that is quite relevant today. As the world is in turmoil where the old and new forces seem to be clashing with each other…We could promote his famous words: “humanitas, libertas, felicitas.”

Whatever book you choose, it will definitely bring you enormous rewards….Enjoy!

“A book is the most effective weapon against intolerance and ignorance.”
– Lyndon Baines Johnson

My name is Red….

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My favourite pass time is to wander around markets and to walk through the streets of cities. Luckily, Ho Chi Minh is filled with markets and unnamed street corners where you can uncover wonders. It is in these narrow and packed alleys that I hear the rhythm and feel the beat of the city. Whenever I have some time on my hand, I make it a point to wonder in a new place.

Recently, I read in the Saigoneer about the Binh Thanh District’s market which is best known as Chợ Bà Chiểu.

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Last weekend, I spent a whole morning roaming the alleys of Chợ Bà Chiểu. It is clean and not as busy as the other well known markets in Ho Chi Minh city. It is as stocked as the others. What struck me, the most, was the huge display of foot wear; sandals, snickers, boots, moccasins, high heels pumps, ballerinas, slippers, loafers, clogs, dancing shoes, tennis shoes…Some were original pairs from old stocks and some were “original fakes” as one sales woman put it. They were made of leather, shiny plastic, colourful rubber or plain fabric material…

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The stalls were stacked so close to one another, you would not know one from the other. To me it was one mega shoes shop!

The sales women in Cho Ba Chieu were by far the friendliest I have dealt with since I   have arrived here. They were helpful and called on the other vendors to find someone who spoke few words of English or French to assist me.

I spotted a beautiful Red pair with a buckle. I have a weakness for Red color and for this style of shoes. I already have two similar ones in different colours. To try them, I sat on a small low plastic chair on the side of the alley. They fit me from the first try. They truly look and feel special….

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After some haggling & bargaining, I walked away with a new Red pair tucked in black plastic bag. And No they did not put them in a box or fancy carry on bag.

Cho Ba Chieu is a friendly market in this big city; I am definitely returning there soon…

A seamstress’s daughter….

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I grew up in a home where the sewing machine played a central role in our family life. As a kid my Mum cut and sewed dresses for every occasion and every season.

20131026_191823I grew up watching colourful and plain fabrics be cut and sewn into beautiful shapes & designs. Her many Burda magazines and other fashion journals with news from catwalks in far away lands kept me entertained.

In the early 70s, the family moved to live in the UAE. Soon after, she bought a sewing machine so that our every day life feels as normal as back in our home country. I recall the many trips with her down the old souks of Sharjah or souk Murshid in Deira. She would spend hours wondering around shops to choose types of fabrics to sew anything from our clothes, to curtains or bed covers for the new place. I still remember the name of her favourite textile store in Sharjah. It was the Al Amiri store.

As a teenager, I rebelled. The home sewn dresses were quickly replaced by pairs of  jeans and other ready-made dresses and shirts. Occasionally for special events, we would sit together to decide on a dress for her to put together.

Today I live in Ho Chi Minh City where I have had difficulty finding ready-made clothing to fit me. Most fashion retail outlets rarely carry sizes above size 12… So after many years of wearing ready-made garments, I found myself walking back into the local fabric markets where thousands of bright materials are stacked up on display. I moved around the hot and narrow alleys discussing the types of fabric as if I have been doing this all my life. I checked and felt every piece of material.

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With the help of my friend Denise, an expert in Ho Chi Minh’s fabric markets, I decided on cutting few meters of bright pieces. Then for the design, I logged into Burda style.Where else! Once I opted for 3 different dresses for my first collection, I printed the patterns and visited the neighbourhood tailor “Li Su”.

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The print outs for support, the many smiles, nods and ahas, followed by few trials; the four dresses turned out to suit me perfectly.

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I am hooked! Today, I went to Cho Than Din to choose new fabric to sew my New Year’s eve party dress…

” If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor”                            Albert Einstein

A trainer in everyone…

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Since our arrival to HCMC, the only two words, I have managed to learn in Vietnamese language have been ” Xin chào” for Hello  and  “Cám ơn ” for Thank you. Everything else in between is either expressed using sign language with google images to support my request or relying on the famous carte de visite.

The card is very helpful especially when going around the city in a taxi because the drivers in HCMC do not understand or speak English. Sometimes they do not know where you want to go and they are unable to tell you either. Last week I experienced something different. I took the ever present Vinasun Taxi to go home. I gave him the carte visite and repeated the street address with full confidence just like I do it everyday.

Vinasun-vanHe started driving but somehow I could tell he was not sure about the destination. He started to gesture and raised the carte de visite. At this moment it was clear he did not know where I wanted to go. I pointed my hand like an arrow and said to him ” drive straight”. He replied “đi den” pointing his hand just like mine. Smiling I said “yes, di den”. Before the cross road, he pointed his hand to the left asking “trai” or ” phải” gesturing to the right. I replied “phai”. The drive continued with me sitting in the back of the car giving directions using the three Vietnamese words I have just learned. When the taxi drove in our parking lot, the lessons ended with “cam’on, bye” 

Little did I know that by the end of this taxi journey with Mr. Son, I will learn, use and memorise my second set of very useful Vietnamese words….

” I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Confucius 

 

A memorable celebration..

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This year, I had a special birthday celebration. It was impromptu the HCMC way. It kicked off during a girls night out with Kim & her Vietnamese women friends. We were were at the Seventeen saloon live pop band bar. On the second round of drinks, I raised my glass and toasted my birthday.

This was the excuse to switch the mood from an uneventful girls night out to a wonderful and memorable celebration. They called in more of their friends to join the party. They organised a cake from “tous les jours”. The 24/7 Korean pastry and bakery chain found everywhere in HCMC. The band sang Happy Birthday in many languages it was hilarious… Unfortunately, they did not sing “sana helwa”!

The best part was the little fire crackers. We played with fire crackers just like during my childhood. It took me back to Baabdate during the summer months celebrating the holy days with bon fires and fire works. Holding two fire crackers in my hands, twisting them and swooshing them around filled my heart with joy.

The party went on for a while. We celebrated like one would with close friends and family. It did not matter that we had just met few minutes before entering this bar.  Thank you everyone… This was a wonderful evening because you are:

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“Patty’s curry” one of my travel delights’

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Another pleasure of my life in Ho Chi Minh city is spending few hours in the kitchen preparing a meal for my sweet heart.

My culinary repertoire is limited so is my experience in the kitchen. However throughout the years of expatriation, I have managed to collect some unique recipes just like the persons who had shared them with me…

This small repertoire is what I call ” my travel delights’ “. Not only every recipe comes with a story about a place or a time but every time I prepare one I think of the many wonderful persons I have met in my life. The top five on my travel delights list are Fifi’s Sambousik, Brenda’s Sweet n Chilli Spare Ribs, Jane’s Spinach Sour Cream Dip, Ursula’s Walnut Cake, and of course Patty’s Chicken Curry…

I woke up this morning feeling like eating a curry. As I know Patty’s curry recipe by heart, I have been unconsciously preparing for it. I bought the ingredients randomly when I found them in the markets. So I started my day by preparing the mise en place of my recipe and wondering how is Patty today? What is she up to?

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Chicken filets, tomatoes, coriander, turmeric, bay leaf, curry powder, ginger, garlic, vegetable oil, salt and pepper. It is a simple and straight forward chicken curry recipe. I believe Patty’s Mauritius mother in law handed the recipe to her. Tonight in Ho Chi Minh city, we will savour this recipe from a far away land….

While cutting, mixing and cooking the ingredients, I thought of Patty’s engaging scrabble games. How she was a strong opponent who did not like loosing. I recalled how the two of us organised a christmas eve dinner for the neighbours who were not going home for the holidays. We planned an international dinner with dishes from the countries of our guests. Our menu was long and varied but what I cannot forget was Jose’s Sangria…It simply rocked!

Smiling, I leave Patty’s curry cooking over low heat and move on to catch up with today’s news.

Hej… Its my joy luck day

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Ever since I have read and watched the Joy Luck Club of Amy Tan, I want to play Mah Jong. I thought back then and I still believe it until today that only through such games, do we appreciate the camaraderie of others & build special bonds. I likened the story to my life back in Lebanon during the civil war when as a young teenagers we would get together to play rounds of “Tarneeb” or other card games. Those were unforgettable days of survival and friendship.

In the late nineties, when I moved to Lagos in Nigeria I have finally discovered the fun and the joys of playing Mah Jong. I remember how lively the games were and how amusing it was to move every week from house to house carrying the board game to play. Back then the instructions and the various hands were handwritten on a copybook for everyone to use and photo copy. I played so often that at the end I bought myself a beautiful set. It took one Mah Jong afternoon with Brenda, Bettina, Liliane, Claudia, Carla, Fifi, Donna and many others to forget about the insecurity of being in Lagos.

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After Lagos we moved to Dubai, my beautiful Mah Jong set was carefully wrapped with the other personal belongings in the shipment. It remained packed and shelved in the attic while we travelled from city to city for work with no time to play or engage in simple pleasures of playing a game of Mah Jong…Fast forward to July 2013 we arrive to Ho Chi Minh City with a personal commitment to change and expand my social skills. I made this commitment to a circle of dear dynamic women during our workshop on Change Leadership in Sweden earlier this spring.

Since we are here, one of the best things I have done has been to play Mah Jong again with a group of amazing women. Nowadays, we play in one location we do not move around. We borrow or own our own books illustrating the various hands one can develop. We do not bring our own game set. We build the wall and roll the dice to choose the East wind. We throw the tiles and shout Bamboos, Dragons, Characters and Circles loud as if chasing demons.

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We manage a Goulash every now and then and every week we try our luck at some difficult hands. We switch tactics half way through and keep the others waiting until we make up our mind.. All this goes on while sharing our news and talking  about our latest find in the city, a planned trip to a dream place, a doctor’s visit, a baby’s name, a special recipe, special food, etc…..

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My Joy Luck day is my chance to share a bit of me, to connect and to laugh. It is when I bring out the little child in me to play…..

ALLO! ALLO!…Ho Chi Minh City….

Hi….Yeeeey!   It is two months today since we moved to here….For me, the last few weeks went by in a flash. I find it entertaining to spend my time discovering and learning the ins and outs of this big and inviting city.

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The first few days were about finding an apartment. I remember the first real estate agent arriving to pick me up for a tour of houses on her Motorbike. I panicked. Instead I convinced her to park the bike and join me in a Taxi. Shortly, after we moved to our beautiful new flat located within minutes from the city centre.

Then I started a collection of “carte de visite” for everything. It is the first thing you receive when you enter any place and it is what you hand over to your taxi driver as soon as you hop on board. Otherwise you will end up either lost or playing a “telephone casse” game with your driver. Every morning before leaving home, I select the “carte de visite” of the places I am going to. I even bought a stylish pouch to file them neatly in my handbag. It goes without saying my largest collection is the restaurant one. HCMC is the right place for food lovers like me. For comfort food, I always head to Beirut Express for some good old Hummus or to Zeus for a hearty greek Moussaka….

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When it comes to buying groceries and other household necessities, it is a case of knowing what is sold where. After many scouting trips to the various stores across the districts and checking with friends, I can say I have managed to understand the system. Now I know where to find the things I need.  With this, I started another collection of cards the very important “discount” cards. They are common here and are handed out to you soon after your first big purchase…

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I also wandered in and out of the many markets scattered across the city. So far my favourite is the market on Hai Ba Trung.20130721_112844

It is neat and small. It offers a variety of goods from foodstuff to toys and a colourful selection of fabrics and handbags with a chance to bargain! At the Binh Thanh market, the sellers are not open to bargaining. My challenge remains crossing the streets. It takes courage to zig zag between motorbikes and cars. I normally stand on the “trottoir” for few minutes observing the flow before daring to take my first step. Once on the street there is no stopping, no slowing down or even going back and no looking at the motorbikes. I keep walking at a steady pace until I cross to the other pavement. Here, the “trottoirs” are large with a life of their own.

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ALLO ! ALLO! I have to go now…I will catch up with you later…

The Extra Mile 2.0

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To understand the man, you must first walk a mile in his moccasin.
North American Indian Proverb

The bed, in our new flat in HCMC, comes fitted with a Latex Mattress. This type of mattress is extremely hard and rigid. For the last two weeks, we have been trying to get used to sleeping on it. It proved to be more difficult than quitting smoking!

Yesterday, we decided to buy a new mattress. A comfortable one. On my last scouting trips in the city, I noticed that more than 6 stores at the Vincom Centre sell mattresses and bed linen. Early in the afternoon, we drove to the Centre in search of the ultimate bed mattress.

We went in and out very quickly from the first store because the mattresses were also made of Latex. Despite her welcoming smile, we were unsuccessful in the second store because she did not understand English. In the third store the mattresses were outrageously expensive and the sales woman in the fourth one welcomed us saying: “you will get the best price here”, nonetheless the prices she offered were on the high side too.

Short of giving up, we walked into the fifth store where a young man was quick to establish rapport with us. He showed us the different mattresses that were quite reasonably priced and he offered us a discount with a free delivery service. When we asked about the delivery day, he replied saying: “Monday”. On hearing this, we were disappointed as we truly had hoped for same day delivery. On seeing our faces, he started making one phone call after the other and kept gesturing for us to wait. His colleague offered us cold drinks and chairs to sit on and used google translate to communicate with us!

With a big grin on his face, he hung up the phone saying: “hôm nay!” “today you will get it”. He was delighted so were we…Of course this sealed the deal. We happily paid for the mattress. He wished us bye and told us the delivery will be at “IPM” which translated into “Eight PM”.

Thanks to his understanding of our needs and to listening to our cues, we had our first good night sleep in our new flat…