Happy Parent’s Day, on this Mother’s Day!

On the international Mother’s Day, social media fills up with poems, appraisals and touching pictures to thank you and honor mothers. Quite rightly so, mothers do deserve to be thanked and appreciated. They deserve that every day of the year but no harm done in dedicating a special day for recognition of their love and dedication.

The older I get the more I’ve started appreciating my own mother and also telling her how much she means to me. I’ve always known she’s an excellent mother but it took me many years before I learned to tell it to her. I’ve always been a daddy’s daughter and over the years have treasured the special relationship and bond I have with both. The years abroad have also opened my eyes to realizing how extremely lucky I have been and am, to have such loving and caring parents, who support me no matter what, with unconditional love.

My mother has always been my role model, enduring much physical caused by her rheumatism without letting the illness be on her way. She completed higher education at a mature age and started climbing up the career ladder without ever letting the well-being of the family be compromised. I never felt she sacrificed her own well-being for us though, I’ve always felt she’s been fully present in the moment, loving us and living her life at the same time.

Not all mothers have equal chances for being a good mother. Or even being a mother. In Finland the push for a motherhood law is a hot topic currently, which when legalized will give the right to more women for being the mother they want to be, by recognizing the motherhood of not only the birth mother but the spouse as well. For mothers are not made through giving birth to a child, but in raising up the child, providing unconditional love and guidance for growing up to be a good person.

A good friend in Thailand just became a mother of twins, which were borne by a surrogate mother. Pregnancy is not a prerequisite for becoming a mother. My love to my mother is not because she carried me in her belly for 9 months. Those 9 months were just a start for our life-long journey but equally a motherhood can start at a later stage.

I hope this mother’s day, we’d remember to recognize all mother’s for their love and support to their children – no matter how and when they became mothers. There is no one way of being a true mother, or being a good mother. I have enormous respect to all women in the world who have taken on the difficult task of bringing up a child. And same for all those men who are giving their everything in their roles as fathers. Being parents. Parent is a great term, in being gender-neutral and open for 1, 2 or many. Parent, in general, is what a child needs and deserves. Whether it’s one or more, women or men, is of lesser importance.

My mom and dad have been great parents to me and my brother, and for that I’m eternally grateful. My love for them isn’t conditional for us sharing the same genes, and for them being a woman and a man. I love my parents because they are amazing individuals, who have provided me with a safe and loving environment to grow up, the mental and physical support I have needed and their unconditional love.

In addition to this special Mother’s Day, I’d love to start celebrating a Parent’s Day – gender neutral, allowing for equal appreciation and respect and love to be shown to all the parents in the world. With this, to all the mothers and fathers of the world, thank you for your love and efforts. To my mom and dad, from the bottom of my heart, I love, respect and appreciate you.

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The Inevitable

There’s one aspect in life that has mastered full equality – death. Rich or poor, white or black, believer or atheist. We’ll all die one day, we all have only limited time given to us to make the best of our time. Make the best of our selves.

It’s the one thing fully out of our control. Unavoidable. Commonly, we choose not to think too much about death. Better so, as the life matters more than the death. But what about when the limited time left becomes known to us?

A loved one in my family was diagnosed with breast cancer just 8 months ago. Breast cancer being often treatable, we weren’t too worried. Now I learned the cancer has spread to the lungs. Now it’s no longer curable. Now it’s real – a death sentence. The unavoidable is drawing close.

In a situation like this, the treatment options are for potentially postponing the inevitable, not about the cure. I heard from my mom, that when her mom was diagnosed with lung cancer (a long time smoker) towards the end she refused the treatments which might have given her more time but decreased the quality of the time left. She had understood and accepted it. But all the more so, my mom felt now hurt and betrayed that her sister, now with the terminal stage lung cancer, still refuses to give up smoking. It’s understandable – those staying behind want to hold on to the remaining precious moments and not let go. It feels wrong that a person chooses to cut the already short time even shorter. We are used to being on a fighting mode – always keep fighting, don’t give up, miracles happen.

But it’s not that black and white. Whereas I would definitely urge smokers to quit, I do understand it’s easier to say than to do. Especially hard it’s understandably when you’ve been given the final warning.

Our lives are filled with unhealthy treats and habits. Unbalanced diets, lack of exercise, stress, deserts, alcohol, cigarettes and long list of other stuff are known to affect our chances for a healthy long life yet we still keep going. There are many ways for measuring quality of life but I’d say it’s every individual’s choice to define what matters for them.

I’m not judging my auntie for not giving up smoking as I believe in her mind it’s too late and she’s not ready to add to her burden. She probably needs the cigarettes for their calming effect and doesn’t have the strength for fighting the side effects of quitting. At the same time I understand m mom’s anxiety, losing a second family member to the cigarettes and being able to do nothing about it. People are not perfect. It’s horrible to lose a loved one and even worse so when you have to watch them destroying themselves and not being able to do anything about it.

People are different. Some have stronger self control than others. Some cope better under pressure as others. It’s also in our human nature to try and protect our loved ones. And it’s hard to let go.

I have no idea how it is to live knowing there’s only very little time left. That you might not make it to the next Christmas, are unlikely to have another birthday party. If I were to receive a message like that, I’d likely be tempted to grab something calming as well. I would hope there to be no big regrets present at the final moments. In my auntie’s case, I hope she’ll be able to find her peace.

Those of us who’ll stay behind, we do have the option to make choices which could give us more quality and time. Perhaps some damaging habits can be overcome with healthier options. At the end it matters how we lived our lives. The actions we took, the words spoken, love shared. Death is not the goal, life well lived is. To be able to say on the deathbed that we made the best out of the given time. Then there are no regrets shadowing the last moments.

Make the best out of your life, be the best person you can be. That’s my way forward.

 

Will We Ever Learn

Over lunch with my Chilean-German and Cambodian colleagues, we started discussing world politics, racism, refugee history and humanism. Not a light lunch. We are all equally shocked, devastated and often at loss with words in talking about the state of the world.

I well remember my first trip to Cambodia, my visit to the dreadful Killing fields and the encounters with the survivors. Being of such recent history, the country’s survival skills have astonished me, the friendliness of the people humbled me. You don’t need to seek out survivors – everyone alive is one. Those many years ago, focusing on the stories of those who didn’t survive, I remember wondering why other countries didn’t interfere, why such disaster was allowed.

In Germany too, the past is still present. It’s present in the silence. Germany has moved on, become unified and a respected European leader. The past is observed with a humble silence, being something too embarrassing to talk about. Quite rightly, people of today want to rub off the weight of their ancestor’s actions and not be associated with something they had no part in.

Chile I’ve only visited once, but the country left a lasting mark. I met nothing but friendly people (one guy came to warn me once that I had been followed so should take caution – I did and never met the person who apparently had an interest in my back bag) despite the massive language barrier (I even struggled finding a loo. I should learn Spanish). Pinochet must have destroyed many families, hearts and hopes, yet a regular traveler encounters nothing but optimism and friendliness.

We didn’t discuss any of the above over the lunch. The past of these countries, and of many others, is so painfully obvious and well-known to us. What’s rather more interesting to discuss, is the fact that we have learned nothing. We as the human kind. We, because we the people of the world are all on the same boat. Which is leaking. And whereas we should all be working together to fix it, we’re rather spending our time on trying to find reasons to not like the person sitting next to us on the bench.

It’s shocking that despite the many genocides, world wars, tyrannies etc that the world has gone through, we keep turning inwards and distancing ourselves from those in need of help. The current refugee wave hitting Europe, is splitting the people into two frontiers. Trump is achieving that in the US on his own. There are those who want to help, and those who spit on the helpers and worst, hit on those needing help.

When I visit a place where nightmares were a reality once, and meet people who survived times which I suffer even reading and hearing about, my first thought is, never again. I don’t understand why such massacres had to happen but I do understand that it can’t be allowed to happen again. Until it does. Time after time I turn my desperate gaze to people and plead them to be shocked and devastated, need them to want to make the madness stop. But more often than not, the response is the opposite. A cold shoulder at best, a direct attack and refusal to help at worst. I’m desperate when I read about attacks against the refugees, be it by individuals or the governing bodies. I’m shocked beyond imagination of the level of social media discussions where “normal people” are mocking and insulting those in need of urgent help. Even children.

Who are we? What kind of people are we if we can’t care for others? What kind of a person would literally kick a desperate person already lying on the ground? I don’t blame anyone for not taking direct action to help, but to actually attack those who already are under an attack? What’s left of humanity if people make entertainment out of people’s despair?

Do educated people in developed countries really require a code of conduct, telling them specifically that when you see someone being bullied, help the victim, don’t join the bullies? If you see someone stumbling and falling, give a hand, and don’t push him further. When someone is starving, give them food and don’t sit down with your pop-corns and amuse yourself watching them die. When a person escapes a war-zone, having experienced torture and fear for the life of the loved ones, open your arms and don’t go burn the shelter they’ve been given. Seriously?

Stop being a bully. Start being a good person. You don’t need to try and save the world, but don’t add to the misery either. We were all born equal, we were all born humans. By spreading love, not hate, the world could still have hope. Humans could win back humanity.

 

 

Hello, Goodbye

I moved from Vietnam to Singapore 5 months ago, but sitting now at the departure hall of HCMC airport, it for the first time feels real and eternal. End of an era, end of the HCMC life. This was the third time back at my old Saigon home, this time to say bye to my closest friend in town who is about to move back to the States. Singapore and HCMC are “just around the corner” in expat-lifestyle terms, but Singapore – Washington DC is a different story.

Having lived in 7 countries, I’ve had my fair share of goodbyes. They are always bitter sweet, knowing that true friendships conquer any obstacles but the good old times will be just that – old times, the past, memories.

As an expat one has to develop an ability to make friends quickly, approach new people with an open heart and embrace and treasure every moment together. For an expat, life and its precious moments are always right here, right now. A best friend of today might move to the other side of the world tomorrow so there’s no time to lose.

It’s nothing sort of easy to open your heart time after time, to new people, knowing that the day of goodbyes is already being scheduled. It’s hard and it’s painful. But it’s worth it.

The best part of the expat life are these moments making new friends, sometimes even meeting soul-mates. People you would never have met had you stayed living in one place. Moments you would never have had without trusting your heart being strong enough to handle yet another goodbye. Expat friendships are fast, deep, and full of emotions. They are made of short experiences that make all the difference because they were shared. They are full of realizations of how small and how big the world is, and how soul mates can be waiting at the oddest corners of the world.

Goodbyes mean an end of something special. Goodbyes don’t end friendships but they change them. As with anything special, it’s painful to let go. But letting go is a natural effect of an expat life. Our journey is filled with hello’s and goodbyes, with the value of the hello’s out weighting the sadness of the goodbyes. Even with the most difficult goodbyes, the saddest moments, there’s always the gratitude and joy present in having had a chance to meet that person, to be part of their lives and share special moments together.

I let the tears come to my eyes for a moment, allow my heart to ache, but keep a smile on my face reminding me of the time we shared together. It’s only hard to let go of something unique, something special. I’ll treasure the great moments we had and look forward to a thrilling reunion someday, somewhere. I’ll keep the gratitude and love in my heart and in the memories. And I’ll keep my heart open, not letting the fear of a future goodbye limit the opportunities ahead. Expat life is a journey filled with big emotions, amazing adventures, memorable moments and special people. Even at the times of sadness and longing, it’s a life that makes me feel alive and happy.

Friend, I’m sad to see you go but I’m eternally happy to have met you.

Of airports, of the joy of living

Most people I know love traveling, exploring new places, and typically referring to the part of being on holidays.

I love traveling, exploring new places and holidays included, but what I really mean by “love traveling”, is the act of traveling itself. Being on the road, in the air, going to places. My favorite travel song says “the destination is out there, ahead of us somewhere, let’s go but drive more slowly”. There’s no rush, we’ll get there, let’s enjoy the trip itself, the getting there.

Part of my passion for traveling is flying. I love flying. Sitting on a chair, in the air. It’s nearly as good as breathing underwater. So unnatural, so me. Further to that, I actually love the airports. Not all of them, Manila for example has about the worst terminals one can imagine, but most. The feeling of stepping into an airport terminal, looking at all those potential destinations displayed, dreaming of new places to go to, and getting excited about soon boarding one of the planes. That’s magical. No matter if the board shows 2 destinations like a small airport in Laos on a wooden, hand-written board, or hundreds like the big airports, there’s always that feeling of a world being out there. Near and far, within my reach.

There have been many memorable airport experiences, and one of the never disappointing ones is Changi in Singapore. It has that feeling of a cozy living room, with many cool amenities such as a movie theatre, swimming pool, butterfly garden, couches and free massages – and then of course the gates leading to all over the world. Every time I’m at Changi I’m partly hoping for a flight delay, to get just a bit more time to enjoy that special feeling of soon being on my way to somewhere.

Airports embody to me the essence of life – it’s right here, right now, meant to be lived and enjoyed. The destination is out there, you’ll make it there, but stop first to embrace the place you are in now. This moment. When that moment is Changi-like, remember to value and treasure it, that will get you through those Manila airport moments of life.

Black and White

I’m white. I’m a caucasian women with very fair skin (which just refuses to tan, no matter what and how hard I try) and blonde hair. Not completely naturally but that’s not the point in here. I know I’m in a privileged position by birth in many ways.

I have friends from all over the world, representing many cultures and religions. Muslims, catholics, atheists, not-sures-as-religion-is-not-important-s, Christians, hindis, Buddhists. Whites and blacks, and all the shades of colors in between. Those who want to be whiter and those who admire the tan.

The color of one’s skin matters. The religious views, cultural background and family relations matter. But one is not better or worse than the other. These things matter and should matter as a part of the person’s identity and heritage. They tell part of our story, give it a frame. They don’t need to define us though. They might be part of the story of where we come from, but not where we are going to.

That’s why the Thailand-based campaign for skin whitening products, suggesting that white wins, was absolutely outrageous. Unfortunately it’s true in Thailand. The fairer one’s skin, the higher the respect and career and mating chances. The campaign used a picture of a white and a black women but equally this discrimination is felt by many Thais who face criticism and open mockery for not being pale enough.

Sadly the claim of the campaign has some truth in it. Too often it’s true that white wins. But the solution is not skin-whitening. The solution is making the claim ridiculous. I don’t want to be privileged based on my skin color. I want to live in a world where every person is deemed and recognized as equal by birth. Where the beauty of different looks is admired. Where white is one equal part of the color palette. I want a world where whitening lotions and tanning products are irrelevant. I want to live in a color blind world where the skin color isn’t used to define a person.