Jesse Doesn’t Speak

Little Jesse is our husky dog who isn’t “little” but because he is the baby of the pack, he is Alex’s and I “Little Jesse.” We admittedly have a soft spot in our hearts for him because last year we almost lost him and his epilepsy has gotten worse. Before we got him we didn’t know dogs could get epilepsy nor be allergic to meats. (Our James the labrador is a vegetarian.) I suppose that’s life: there is always something new to learn.

Jesse has taught us a lot about life in his little ways. For one, he’s taught us to be more observant and remember that there is more to life than the daily grind of work. He’s a dog that demands attention and has his routines. He knows what he wants and when he wants it. He will stand there making hungry almost complaining kind of noises while I dish up his food. After he eats, he will need to drink his water. If the bucket of water isn’t there or its empty, he’ll stand there looking at you. Then he’ll beeline for the door. He has to relieve himself before coming back for a long nap. If you forget, he’ll give you his paw and turn his face to the door. Nothing wakes him during this after meal nap.

When his brain goes fuzzy (because of his epilepsy) you have to really watch him and see what he wants and what are the triggers that set it off. He’ll feel uncomfortable and restless and need a bit of love. Sometimes a sit on our lap calms him down, sometimes its a dark corner or a little ice cream. When this happens, he reminds you what are the priorities in life. We stop whatever we are doing to give him a hug or to just lay down by his side. It’s moments like these that make life and its moments like these that reminds us that not everything can be controlled and that you will just have to make the best of what you have.

He is a constant reminder that life can be taken away from us at any day. Most days when we get back, he’ll run to you, give a little jump and kiss you on the cheek. But one day we know that he may have a series of seizures while we are out and perhaps it doesn’t stop. We give him medication and love, but that is about all we can do. He has his own battle to fight. Nothing in the world can replace the “little moments” and memories. I know he’s a dog, but dogs too have emotions and love and a part of our family.

Crabby Hives

Four days ago in the wee hours of the morning I felt a terrible itch that permeated throughout my whole body: its the kind of itch that makes you want to crawl out of your skin. Half awake, half asleep I eventually dozed back into sleep while my legs felt increasingly uncomfortable against my bedsheets which overnight seemed to feel as if it were sandpaper. I thought to myself, when did I get a mosquito bite and why is it so £@! itchy! A few hours later, as I got ready for work I was faced with the truth. My whole body from the hands to my feet were covered in red swollen patches. For the first time in life I had gotten hives.

I went to the doctor, got medicine and went about my life. The itchiness subsided for awhile but the following night I felt as if suddenly my body was like the Serengeti being flooded and blossoming with red flowery patches. Some were round, others heart-shaped whilst some looked as if it was an army growing and attempting to take over everything else. I woke up, fainted, and fainted again to the horror of my husband. I could have hit my head and died. Life is so fragile. That little pill was strong, too strong and dangerous yet the red army marched on. It wasn’t till a change in medicine did things get better. I am forever grateful to my doctor specialist friend for recommending me the change to a second generation drug.

Now what caused this terrible reaction? I suspect it was the fried rice I had eaten the evening before the breakout because Alex too had diarrhea after having a spoonful of the rice. Not having brought my own food that evening, I had gone down to the local shop that sells foods in the evenings to hungry office workers. It’s a shop that has been around for as long as I can remember. It was the only food outside of the norm and the fried rice had contained crab. Now I usually eat crab, so we ruled that out as the culprit. We suspect though that the crab must have been preserved with the highly toxic formalin and that is what I must have been exposed to. It’s not uncommon to hear cases of this happening locally. I was the “unlucky” one who had hit the jackpot.

Now my question to you is this. Should we allow this to recur again and again to unsuspecting consumers? Should we be conditioned as consumers to just brush it off to the shop owner who didn’t know better? When I asked the shop if they had had any other cases because I had gotten terribly ill, the guy at the shop said I should perhaps try the food again as if a test. If I could, I would have given the guy a punch to the face. I wonder what would have been his reaction, if someone he loved was inadvertently poisoned. I would not have been angry if his reaction was that he would check where they sourced their foods and try to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

The sweet and polite nature of the Thai people and adversity to confrontation allows this to sort of thing to happen again and again. Because it is difficult to take legal action, most consumers tend to just change their own behaviour and avoid risky encounters. Others are unwilling to be “inconvenienced.” Showing anger is suddenly seen as aggression. That is not something I think we as consumers should have to accept as a way of life. Personally, I believe we must take a stand to ensure this doesn’t happen to others. What do you think? What should I do?

Covid-19’s Message

2020 is a year I am sure most of us will never forget. It’s a year when we realize that even the highest level of technology is no match to to the power of nature. It’s so powerful that the world has been forced to take a step back, turn around and slow down.

We’ve all slowed down somewhat, at least on the weekends. I used to jokingly say that our house belonged to our dogs which enjoyed it 24/7 while Alex and I would visit to spend the nights here. That was the weekday work life. Weekends, were sometimes spent running around doing errands. There was always things that needed to get done, family to meet and friends to keep in touch with, events to attend and trips to plan. It was a busy life in cosmopolitan Bangkok. The shut down and subsequent no-travel restrictions have forced us to change our way of life.

With all the ills that Covid-19 brings, it is also perhaps Earth’s way of reminding us to not take for grant the simple pleasures in life. Being able to have a leisurely morning at the coffee shop, visiting family and friends, giving hugs and kisses, or even the simple act of taking a walk. Covid-19 has shown us how easily and how fast this way of life can be stripped away from us. It’s nature’s way of telling us how fragile we are and how small we are in this world. It is a message we should all take to heart.

COVID-19 Thoughts

“It’s been an emotional six months.” I think we can all relate to that sentence.

When we started out the year in January, I never thought the world would be in a state that it is. I remember being saddened by all the koalas being burnt by the Australian bushfires and donating to the koala hospital. Life, otherwise was still good.  Who would think that within the span of a few months, countries would close their borders, global supply chains disrupted, millions asked to stay home, millions more in the movement  for Black Lives Matter and standing up against racism, and the five day workday, which has its roots in the industrial revolution, finally disrupted. I certainly didn’t expect this and I suppose neither did millions of people around the world.

I have always believed that every cloud has a silver lining and in every crisis there are opportunities. Of course, the first month or so when the virus first hit, I must admit I was feeling down and stressed. The uncertainty of it all, the fear that I, that we, that my family and loved ones would catch it was undoubtedly hanging like a cloud overhead.  Life priorities came quickly into perspective as we were quickly reminded of how fragile life can be.

I remember watching CNN and seeing truck after truck carrying the dead out of cities in Italy to be cremated at a neighboring city because the local crematorium was at full capacity.  I saw makeshift hospitals being built at Central Park where I used to roam around and I remember the sadness of families unable to say good bye and images of ICUs filled with patients on ventilators. It’s these kind of images that remind us how real the crisis is.  I am not sure if the images are now being censored worldwide, or if it is too dangerous for journalists, but we are seeing less of the reality on the front-lines and as a result, many still believe that the virus is a “hoax.”  Others, in a desire to go on with life, have simply started to forget how deadly and severe this Pandemic is.

I too am starting to feel “lighter” and as Thailand has not seen any domestic cases in over forty days, we are starting to loosen and forget to “socially distance” ourselves.  This is only possible as we aren’t yet allowing incoming travel without quarantine. Once, we reopen our skies, let us remember that the risk is real.  Before there are any vaccines, there is a high probability that we will catch the virus that is now even more contagious than before.  If not us, then someone close to us.

In the meantime, remember to spend time with those who matter most to you. Do what it is you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t gotten around to doing.  Make decisions you have been putting off and remember that there is no time like now.

One day our time will come. We just don’t know when or where.

 

Paying it forward with Pann Imm

The past few months has toppled the world upside down and inside out. Lives for many will have been changed forever. It’s been around a hundred years since the last pandemic of the Spanish flu and we are the generation that have been born at a timely manner to experience this special time. It’s a devastating pandemic but there is some good to it.

The pandemic is bringing out the best in people and encouraging each other to help those less fortunate, to reach out to our friends, and to be more caring and attentive to those we may have lost touch with due to “life” as we used to know it. These are just some examples but one such project that I want to share with you is a local crowdfunding program called “Pann Imm.” The name means to share the feeling of “being full” as in after a good meal.

The program was initiated to help the vulnerable groups affected by the pandemic. They are usually the service providers we rely on and who are paid for a day’s work and cannot afford to lose their jobs. These “temporary workers” are usually the first to go when companies make cost reduction decisions. As a result, millions have lost their jobs in Thailand without adequate savings to see them through the month. Imagine the situation now that this has lingered on for over a month. We all have families and mouths to feed and with everything in shut down, life isn’t easy.

The program helps by “Paying it Forward.” A friend of mine, together with local businesses, has worked together to put in place a system where meals are paid for in advance by donations. A sign in front of the restaurant indicates the number of meals available for those in need. Those who need a meal can then come to the restaurant for a meal or even ask to bag some back to their family.

Although less than a week old this program is already making a difference. If you want to make a difference, you can contact the administrator via her facebook page “@pannimm” – https://www.facebook.com/pannimm/ – and you can discuss with her regarding developments. I’ve known the founder of this wonderful program for twenty years and she has always had a heart of gold, helping others. Make a difference and help Pann Imm pay it forward.

LIVING MORE WITH LESS

Originally published on Urban Affairs Magazine on December 7, 2017

Winter has arrived in Bangkok with cool mornings and breezy evenings. It’s that time of year when you reunite with good friends and things at the office hopefully start to run at a slightly slower pace. It is also a time for reflection and for setting goals. One of my goals is to live more with less. The other day, my husband picked up something of mine, and asked me, “When are you going to use this?” Although I’ve been decluttering regularly for the past few years, I realize I’ve fallen off the decluttering bandwagon and need to get back on.

I first started decluttering a few years ago after I read an article in The New York Times about the Kon Mari craze grappling the US. I was curious and went out to buy Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I immediately saw why it was a hit. The book was both humorous and eye-opening. After reading it, I looked around the house and started seeing things I hadn’t used in years. Ever since, I have been working on minimizing the amount of “things” in my life.

Marie outlines her Kon Mari Method which is a guide to acquiring the right mindset for creating order and becoming a tidy person. Purging and throwing away things takes a lot of mental power as it is all about making decisions. I find myself asking a myriad of questions: Should I keep this or that? What if I would later need to refer to these old lecture notes? This was a gift or this was once my favorite bag/shoe/dress. Should I save this for when I lose weight?…And it goes on and on. The reasons as to why I should keep something are endless and mentally exhausting. Looking back, some of them are quite funny. My husband solves this by suggesting I take photos of things I’d miss.

Marie Kondo’s method is simple. You keep the things that “spark joy” when you touch it. That is her sole criteria for whether you keep or throw something out. If you decide to throw something out, she says you should also thank it for the joy it gave you when you bought it, and for letting it teach you that it doesn’t suit you and to let go. This part reminds me a bit of Buddhism.

Following the Kon Mari method does not mean you tidy by room or area as we often do, but by following a systematic Kon Mari approach. We start with clothes, then books, papers and miscellaneous items. This is to prepare our minds for decluttering more difficult categories. Each category is subdivided. For example, under clothes you start with tops (shirts, sweaters, jackets, etc.). You take all the tops you have, wherever they may be in the house, and pile them altogether. The size of the pile gives you a sense of how much you have. The first time I did this I was shocked. I was never much of a shopper, but I certainly had more than I needed and there were certainly a few I hadn’t touched or thought of in years. It was a bit overwhelming. I had to take a deep breath and go for it and I’m glad I did. The outcome is cathartic. A house clear of unwanted and unloved goods feels amazingly good.

A wonderful side effect of decluttering is that you save money on buying storage and you save time because it becomes much easier to find anything you need. Money and time for you to live your life and accumulate more experiences. Isn’t that wonderful? Marie Kondo sums this up well in her book: “when you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order, too… You become surrounded by only the things you love… pour your time and passion into what brings you most joy, your mission in life.” Life begins when your house is in order. Now let’s get on the decluttering bandwagon!

Japanese Perfectionism

In the several times that I’ve been to Japan, I’ve always been at awe at the Japanese strive for perfectionism and dedication to work. This Japanese concept of “kaizen” of continual improvement in the pursuit of perfection or “kodawari” is noticeable the moment you step off the plane and onto Japanese soil.

I remember my first few times landing in Narita and noticing a unique phenomenon while waiting for baggage.  Typically for me, waiting for baggage is something I feel happens  in a daze. In most cases, I get off a long flight, and walk the walk through immigration and to the baggage claim. I find a spot and watch the bags roll off onto one another and onto the belt. Everyone stands and waits patiently for their bag to come and if you’re a small lady, you might struggle if your bag happens to have fallen on top of someone else’s bag.   In Japan, however, efficiency is key.  As airports most likely want to move people in and out of the airport as fast as possible, design and process are important. To help the travelers, as bags roll onto the conveyor belt, a man helps stack them in order. The bags are placed vertically, with the handle facing up and lined next to each other. They stay on the conveyor belt perfectly lined up waiting to be picked up.

It’s a simple action but is one that makes your travel so much more enjoyable.  There’s more space on the conveyor belt for other luggage and it’s easier for everyone to take their luggage. Travelers are efficiently and politely moved out of the airport. You enjoy a seamless customer experience.

Earlier this year on our snowboarding trip I saw more examples of this Japanese dedication to perfection.  When getting on the ski chair lift, the chair lift operator would without fail know perfectly where to brush off the snow before you fall on the chair.  For example, when I took a four seater chair lift by myself, I noticed that in the split second that the operator had time to brush off snow from the seats, he would accurately brush off the snow precisely where I would sit and lean back. The other three seats had snow, but where I sat, it was nice and dry.

Another example Alex and I noticed was when we were resting at the restaurant looking out onto the slopes. By the restaurant was a little slope area that had been cordoned off by ropes. Over time the rope had slacked a little but it wasn’t noticeable unless you really observed. In many other countries, I’m sure this would have been overlooked. The observant and dedicated Japanese slope patrols however noticed, and we watched them stop to pull the rope just that little bit tighter.

I believe it’s this Japanese dedication to perfectionism or “kodawari” that also makes their products so desirable. Japanese products are well known worldwide for their craftsmanship and unique designs. Everything is made with care and whether the customer sees it or not, as much care is given to the outside as to the inside. Every detail is thought of.  This is also reflected in their excellent customer service.

I wonder though, if future Japanese generations would continue on to carry on this culture of perfectionism.  If future generations lose this sense of perfectionism, then one of the  unique charms of the land of the rising sun would have been lost and their products less desired.  For now, let’s hope that we can all adopt a bit of this Japanese perfection into our work ethic. Let’s all continue to improve and strive for perfection. Let’s remember “Kaizen” and “Kodawari.” Good night!

The Elder Gentleman

I’m tired and sleepy, but this story has been whirling around my head all day and it’s one I’d like to share .  Like many mornings the past eight years, I woke up and got myself to the gym for a run before work.  Over the years I’ve come to know a few ladies through locker room chit chat, and to recognize the regulars by face. After eight years you start to know who comes on what days, what time, and who likes what kinds of exercise. I’ve also grown accustomed to being greeted by a gentleman who must be in his late seventies or early eighties. He’s a regular and spends around an hour each day on the treadmill followed by the bicycle before lifting a few weights. In between he’d greet people with a big smile.

I always thought to myself how active and pleasant this man was.  He’d smile and go around asking people how they were.  If I had gone missing for a week or longer than a two days, he’d ask me where I’ve been and remind me that I should keep coming regularly. He’d encourage you to keep up the good work when he sees you working out well. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the familiar face at the gym even though I don’t know his name or anything else about him.

Then he disappeared for a few weeks.

I wondered where’d he gone. If it was for a holiday, it usually wasn’t more than a week but this time the absence was noticeable. Thoughts crossed my mind. I wondered if he’d fallen ill or passed away. After all he wasn’t young anymore. I pushed such thoughts out of my mind.

This morning I found out what happened.  Walking to the fitness room, I saw him sitting on a bench just in front of the fitness room. In that moment, I felt a big rock slide down my throat.  I felt like my heart dropped.  He was surrounded by two helpers with a walking aid in front of him. He wasn’t his old self and most probably had suffered a stroke. I dared not ask. When greeted, his speech was blurry but he still recognized and remembered everyone. After awhile, he slowly started his rounds at the various weight machines.

I write a lot about death, but it’s events like this that remind us how fragile life can be. One day you are living your life, following your daily routines, and the next, you find yourself having difficulty just moving a few steps. The trick is to keep on going. The gentleman continues his recovery but no one knows what will happen tomorrow.  Live life and enjoy it before it’s too late. In the end there’s one truth we can’t escape and that death is always on our doorstep.  Time stops for no one. Do what you want to do before it’s too late.

Good night!

Hanamaru Sushi @Sapporo

I like to try to make good use of my time and waiting in line for restaurants isn’t usually my thing. These past two days I’ve been waiting in line for over an hour to have lunch at the same place just because it’s so good. In Japan, I guess that’s what you do if you want to have good food. At the moment I’m in line waiting to have sushi at Hanamaru Sushi in Sapporo.

I had it yesterday and so I thought I’d write a little review on why we love it here. Hanamaru Sushi has several locations and the most convenient for us while waiting for our evening flight is a Kaiten Sushi place at Stellar Place or the Sapporo JR Station. It’s on the 6th floor next to the Daimaru mall entrance and you can’t miss it with the long line in front of it.

The first thing you must do is to quickly get a number from the receptionist machine. You key in the number of people and choose what kind of seating you want. They then ask you if you want to key in your mobile number so they can call you. We don’t have a number so we just wait. Its in Japanese so watching the person in front of you is a good idea.

They have an english menu so if there’s something that isn’t coming around, just write down the number on the paper at your table and give it to sushi chef. Don’t forget to ask them for the menu as they have seasonal specials.

The dishes are colour coded for the price starting from around 160 yen to 350 yen with the blue dish being the least expensive. The English menu has all this translated for you complete with instructions so it’s pretty easy.

What about the sushi? The sushi is absolutely delicious and fresh. The small rice balls with long pieces of fresh fish taste absolutely divine. Maybe it’s the wait that makes it all the more special but we still love it. The price is also very reasonable compared to the quality of the fish. We ate for the world with yellow tail, uni, and eel and the season’s special shirako for a total of almost 20 dishes and it came to roughly 4,000yen.

Ok, I’ve finished writing this very long post and we are still waiting in line. Getting hungry! Itadakimasu

http://www.sushi-hanamaru.com/la_en/

The Japanese Cash Register

The other day at the supermarket I was pleasantly surprised by the cash register at the local Niseko supermarket. I’m not sure if it’s new or not but it was definitely new to me. It was a combination of a vending machine and cash register at the same time.

Basically, you scan the items and the machine tallies up the bill. Usually you’d hand cash to the cashier and she’d open up the cash tray to give you your change right? Nope. At the supermarket the lady inserts the banknotes into the machine and it spits out exact change.

Fascinating and simple at the same time but not commonly seen (not in Thailand anyways). Here are some good things about it that I can quickly think of. First of all, this saves time. You don’t need to wait for the cashier to count your change. Secondly, it also prevents any mismatches at the end of the day. No human error. Thirdly, it’s safer. I’m not completely sure but I suspect the cash draw can’t be opened that easily so it would be harder to get cash stollen from. And lastly, I wonder if the machine scans for fake banknotes. If so it would be an all in one machine removing any possible problems that could have been caused by human error.

Although cash is being used less elsewhere in Japan it still prevails. Isn’t this cash register an awesome idea? Japanese inventions.