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Not so flexible after all – by Justyna

15 Oct

My mum, although not very sporty, was always quite flexible. Even as a woman in her mid forties she was able to touch her head to her unbent knees and do the lotus flower position without wincing. In today’s yoga enthusiastic culture that’s probably not much of a feat, but it always seemed to me like a big deal given she liked to smoke her ciggies, never exercise and generally not pay much attention to her physical wellbeing or stamina. We used to have competitions about who could stretch further and keep an awkward position, elongating the limbs, for longer. The older she got, the more flexible I became and started to win more often.

I’ve realised recently that I, now in my thirties, have let myself go in the flexibility department. I cringe in discomfort when, in bouts of stretching energy, I attempt to touch the floor on unbent knees without warming up. I’m angry at my thigh muscles that refuse to do the simplest flexibility test or cramp up when I attempt to sprint up the stairs whilst carrying a fourteen kilogram Kazek. I am annoyed with my body. I guess being seven months pregnant probably has a lot to do with it, but to me that’s just a cop out. The lack of effort on my behalf is appalling. I excuse it with a lack of time and two knee reconstructions. But it just makes me feel crappier. And now I am in a state of endless promises, determined to get back into shape once Dude II pops  out in January. It’s horrible how quickly the body deteriorates. It’s doubly horrible how quickly my frame of mind has changed too, from loving being active to putting it on a shelf for later. Blah.

Meanwhile, at the age of 53 my mum has quit smoking, rides her bike everywhere, goes for long strolls in the forest, works up a sweat in her garden digging trenches and chopping firewood, and exhibits an exuberant level of energy with Kazek that leaves me to shame.

Flexibility – by Karen

12 Oct
I was in Hong Kong yesterday and decided to take a walk around the Peak. It was a drizzly day that would later turn typhoonish. Fog sat on the mountain’s heavy moss shoulders, and black-eared kites wheeled like they always do in Hong Kong, improbably large. I sensed a message in the quietness of that view, the inscrutable grey-white of the sky so remote from the featureless buzz that nevertheless rose from the city below. I felt the suggestion of China and all the calamity of current affairs below that mountain. Fleetingly, I experienced a hint of warning of some unexpected doom, a warning available but not attended to. But what doom could possibly come that we haven’t been warned against – after 9-11, the Japanese tsunami and all the traditional miseries of war and famine? I guess the only doom that comes as a surprise is the one that gets you.

It was a nice walk though.

Flexibility – by Tabitha

12 Oct

One of the difficulties of forming friendships with Vietnamese people stems from the idea of flexibility.

Compared to Australians, the Vietnamese approach social engagements with complete spontaneity, and while I might think of myself as someone who likes the idea of a pop-in or a swiftly planned get-together, it turns out that I actually only really like these things on my terms.

Vietnamese people don’t seem to make social plans; they just DO things. And their friends always seem to be available to just DO things with them at a drop of a hat, because, I guess, they’ve never got anything else planned. It’s kind of like when you were at school, and your friends all lived close by and you could just go knock on their door and see if they wanted to play.

So, it’ll be 7am and your Vietnamese friend will come knock on your door to go get breakfast together. They don’t come over to see if you’re busy, or to see what you’re up to, they come to GET YOU.

Or your Vietnamese friend will call you to say, we’re planning a motorbike trip to the countryside. Do you want to come? And you’ll say, sure, why not! I’m a crazy, free-wheeling, fun-loving kind of sort! And they’ll say, okay we’re going this evening. And you’ll say, oh right, like, just a short trip then? And they’ll say, no, we’re going to China. Right now.

Or you’ll get an invitation for a friend or colleague’s wedding which is being held… in two days’ time.

The problem with all this is that it means you’re always saying no. You’re always saying that you’ve got plans, that you need more notice, that you have STUFF TO DO. This, of course, makes you seem extremely anti-social and inflexible. It also makes you feel ridiculous when you ask if you can book in a social occasion with them for two weekends hence.

So then, to make yourself feel better, you say to yourself, no! THEY’RE the ones being inflexible! They’re being inconsiderate! They’re imposing!

But you know the amazing thing? You can call your Vietnamese friends AT ANY TIME and ask them to help you and they will be there IMMEDIATELY. You can call them and say, there is a man at the door and I don’t know what he wants, and no matter what they’re doing, they’ll deal with it for you right away. You can call them and say you can’t find a particular shop you were looking for, and they’ll turn up immediately to take you there themselves.

Now, if I were living in Sydney and befriended a foreigner who then proceeded to call me asking to translate things for them, or open bank accounts for them, or explain their mail to them, I would get pretty peeved. In fact, I would probably stop answering my phone. I would say I was busy, had plans, or just other STUFF TO DO.

So many of the cultural differences between Vietnam and Australia come down to different ideas of what is public and what is private, and different ideas of personal space. The Vietnamese are less attached to “me time” than we are, and they manage their connections with other people more easily than we do, by virtue of living so close to so many other humans.

By contrast, our preference for independence actually seems like loneliness. And while there are many aspects of Vietnamese society which I don’t like, this idea of connection and interdependence is really growing on me. I might not want to get up at 7am for a bowl of pho, but I do hope that when I leave Vietnam, I’d be a little more flexible and generous with my time should I meet a hapless foreigner in need.

Basically, I could have saved myself some time and instead of writing this entry, just posted these images about the Eastern vs Western approach to relationships and way of life:

Blue = West, Red = East

And contacts:

Blue = West, Red = East

And parties:

Blue = West, Red = East

These images probably appear in every expat orientation session ever carried out in Asia, including ours, but I still think about them all the time, and how spot on they really are. You can see the rest here.

Thems the rules – by Beth

10 Oct

Hmm, interesting topic. I had a bit of trouble thinking what to write about: my failure as a student of yoga, trying to teach myself to do the splits again … but I’ve decided now.

Jeff and I aren’t overly rule bound with Leo, but there are some rules in our house. You know they’re rules when your 1.8 yr old can recite them back for all and sundry.

  1. No shoes on bed. (He said it to our neighbour last week when she came by for some ‘bed tip’ – favourite game of her’s. He also says it to himself as he climbs on the bed, even when he’s not wearing shoes).
  2. Soap. Not for hair. (Unfortunate repeated desire to wash hair with sorbelene – yes yes, Aunty Tabitha would be proud, but it makes your hair go yucky when it’s giant globs of the stuff).
  3. Hold hands. Busy road.
  4. Time for sleep. (as in, can’t stay up all night dude).

Jeff and I often have little rules going on for ourselves. I think I was greatly influenced by my Dad’s rules about food for himself when I was an adolescent. Such as alcohol every second day, or, cheese only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends. Which then turned into peanut butter only on Wednesdays, Fridays and Mondays, because he was pigging out on peanut butter. He never made anyone else follow them but I was impressed by his will power.

My current rules are: dessert on Saturday nights only (both of us following this which makes it so much easier). I am practicing a “no emotional eating” rule, which is going pretty well. I spoke to a friend about her ex-boyfriend’s evil-doings last week and I didn’t even think to reach for a sweet treat of some kind! This is quite a revelation for me. Also, tomorrow will be the start of a screen-free week for us, so no pooter or TV for me until next Monday. It always feels really good to not have the lazy option of surfing the internet and checking your email a million times a day, but unfortunately we need a rule to make it happen.