My Unforgettable Taxi Rides

Would you let someone else decide about your future? How about leaving your life in the hands of a taxi driver?

I am someone who likes to be in control. Not that I am a total freak, but I am known to be stubborn. “Pig-headed”. “Stubborn as a mule”. “Like a dog with a bone” . . . you get the gist . . . I do not let go.

You will probably understand how I feel, when someone else suggests they know how to run things better than me. Especially when it comes to my children’s education, work ethics or personal life. It irritates me to the core. Most of the time, I grind my teeth and bear it in silence, but I am also aware hell’s gates are about to be unleashed.

A few years ago, while touring India’s golden triangle, I booked a private car with driver from a reputable Tourist Agency. I looked forward to the 200 kms journey from New Delhi to Agra, excited to visit one of the wonders of the world as well as experience local life and architecture, while staying away from extreme chaotic crowds. It was meant to be straight forward.

So, I thought!

My companions and I left early morning to avoid rush hour traffic. Less traffic meant less dangerous driving. Quiet roads, a few bumps here and there, rising heat, I soon fell asleep. Some time later, I was rudely awoken from sleep by a panicked voice.

 “What’s that in the middle of the road?”

We were driving through a quiet village with only a few houses jotted here and there. A stray cow with protruding bones stood in the middle of the road. I asked the driver to slow down, only to get a “No worry,” thrown over his shoulder before putting his foot on the accelerator. The inevitable happened. The car screeched to a stop, and I heard a loud thud.

I was propelled forward as I was not wearing a seatbelt. In those days, many cars in India did not have rear seat belts. Maybe they did not anticipate stupid crashes on quiet roads. My head bobbed up and down as if I were on a rollercoaster ride. I screamed but now I am certain it was more of a blasphemy of swear words than calling for help.

I asked the incompetent dangerous driver to check on the cow. My request fell on deaf ears. Instead, he reversed the car and tried to flee. Out of nowhere, a few locals appeared and circled our car. Some checked on the cow which was now on its side while others tried to open the driver’s door. An argument exploded, the tone rushed and loud. Our driver was about to stand trial on the spot. Who was the victim, man, or cow? At that moment, I understood the awkward situation we were in.

The cow is a sacred animal for Hindus and protected from harm. They are allowed to roam freely. They get fed and are often seen with a wreath of flowers around their neck.  Although I was worried about the animal’s well-being, I was more scared what the villagers would do to our driver. My heart was racing. My imagination started to run wild fearing what they might do to him. What could I do? We were tourists, in the middle of nowhere. Would we get arrested too?

Fortunately, the cow was not injured. She got up with the help of the locals and was led away to the other side of the road. The apathetic driver took the opportunity to speed off. Reaching our destination, I checked the front of the car and noticed the impact on the bonnet. I was lucky to come away from the accident with only a scare and a slight shock to the neck.

Take me back to London!

Every country, every town has its share of daredevil drivers. I favour an Uber ride when I am unsure of how to reach a location, or I am in a hurry. I believe they have a more profound knowledge of the area than I do. When I need to be at work at the crack of dawn or due to catch a plane in the next hour, I expect an uneventful smooth ride.

One early morning, I opened the door of my ride, and was instantly hit by a stench of morning breath mixed with lingering smell of fried food. I gasped and heaved. Lucky for me that I had started my day on an empty stomach or else I am sure I would have plastered the back of the car with projectile vomit.

I debated fast. If I cancelled my ride, I would have to wait a long time for another. But would I be able to endure a 20-minute ride while gagging behind my mask? That was, assuming I survived the trip without an accident or breathing issues. I could not afford to be late. I double wrapped my thick woollen scarf round my nose and mouth and breathed in my luxurious rose perfume which I had dabbed earlier in the crook of my neck. I stayed like this for the entire journey.

My most ridiculous and unforgettable taxi ride was a trip to the local airport. What should have taken 15 minutes ended up in a 75-minute drive onto the highway and through several towns. My stress level was mounting. I trusted the driver and his GPS and never thought he would fake his knowledge to get where I wanted to go. He told me he was not a local and asked me for directions. That long detour cost me three times the original cost and barely made it through security without stopping for duty free or coffee.

Of course, I can complain and demand a refund. Especially when I see that a driver has accepted the ride, then disappears off the app and another driver take the ride, and to also disappear as well.  How many times, have I seen “3 minutes away” turns into 10 or 15 minutes! Or, after 5 minutes, the car has not moved at all. Is it my name and location that make them weary of picking me up or just pure laziness or greed for lack of distance?

In the meantime, fingers crossed, hope for the best.

Goodbye my love, goodbye

So much has changed since the beginning of 2020. The pandemic has disrupted our lives and relationships. We have been forced to separate ourselves from our friends to keep our family safe. Each day, we are reminded of loss. A loss of freedom and identity. A loss of purpose in life.

While the situation is difficult, most of us will get through it. But what happens when on top of this, we also lose someone dear to us? Since the risk of getting infected is high, we are unable to be with our loved ones during their final days in hospital. Every loss is important, yes, but the grieving process becomes much harder when we are not able to say goodbye.

Bereavement – A Lonely Time Beyond Measure

Each one of us reacts in a different way. The loss and pain hit us at various depth. We may become depressed or angry towards the person who has died. We may become anxious and fearful of our own mortality. Sometimes we think we are coping, but a sudden flutter and tumble in the stomach jolts us back in agony.  

When we mourn in isolation, extra layers of suffering are added. We lose an opportunity for closure. It may take us a long time to grasp what has happened and the grief may linger for years. If we cannot see the body, our mind can play tricks and subconsciously we hope that the person may still be alive somewhere.

In normal circumstances, we would be surrounded by relatives and friends supporting us through our griefs. From the wake to many days afterwards, we would not be alone. The person we are mourning may be gone but others are still here, real, solid. We forget to wallow in self-pity and allow ourselves to laugh without feeling guilty.

Be it Willingly or Unwillingly

Living in a pandemic, social isolation means no gatherings, no traditional funerals. We are plunged into a sea of fear and loneliness. Desperate to share our grief with others, for we long for their support, however at times we notice they are fearful of what to say or how to respond to our loss. They misunderstand our situation. Embarrassment appears on their face and they avoid us altogether. Should the bereaved be isolated and deprived of receiving any comfort?

Sometimes our loss is overshadowed by what else is going on in the world, because the spotlight is on other things. When Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh died, the whole country joined the Royal Family in mourning his loss. While the public was urged not to gather or leave tributes at royal residences, this request fell on deaf ears. Hundreds of mourners gathered outside Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, as if unconcerned about the pandemic. They wanted to pay their respects. They wanted to show their national sadness.

I do not claim to know why, but I guess they wanted to experience a sense of common grief, a social connection. And yet, they cannot share a friend’s fear and pain. The pain that we feel cannot be transferred from one body to another, but the mind can sympathise.

“Death” is a difficult word that feels heavy on our tongue. It means final, closure. But unimaginable as it might be, before any normality returns, it is important to grieve what has been lost. Every loss is valid, and we should acknowledge each one of them. Life has changed and along with it, so have we. Being bereaved is such a lonely time but there is no time limit to saying goodbye.

For the Love of One Fur Ball

When my daughter was four years old, she asked for her first pet. Instead of coming to us, her parents, she went to her nursery teacher and told her she wanted a baby rabbit.

Mama rabbit, the class mascot, was a breeding machine. Every school term, she had a litter of five or six kittens. Twenty children put their names on the list and endured weeks of patience for their long-awaited bunny.

We could have said no to our child, but we were inexperienced parents. We did not want to feel emotional guilt when those pleading eyes burned a hole right through our soul. So, we agreed. Our family was about to get bigger, but little did we know what havoc the new arrival would wreak.

We spent a lot of time pouring over catalogues; strolled through numerous pet shops to get the best bedding and toys, and even compared different nutrition brands. At last, we were ready to welcome Thumper, a white bunny with red eyes. He was fluffy and cuddly, and it was instant love.

My daughter had a furry friend, but no way was she old enough to be a responsible owner. So, we took it in turns to be the carer, while she spoilt him with cuddles and let him roam free. Like our child, he was given what we thought he needed – nutritious food, toys, and gadgets. But we forgot the most important thing:  bunny proof our home.

And so, it began . . .

One day I noticed water leaking from the freezer. When I opened the door, I got a shock. Every item in it had defrosted and needed to be thrown away. Somehow, the electrical lead at the back of the freezer had been chewed.  A few days later, we had a visit from the telephone company. Friends and relatives had reported not being able to get in touch with us for two weeks. The phone cable had been chewed.

How can a rubber-coated wire taste better than hay or pellets?

We built Thumper an outdoor pen in the garden where he could be free to chew anything he wanted to his heart’s content during the day. He was happy and so were we. He lived happily-ever-after.

Fast forward to 2018. Another house. Another country. Another birthday. Another request.

“I want a pet rabbit,” said the same daughter with the same pleading tone in her voice.

“Nooooo!” was my reply.

Two days before her birthday, we went and got Romeo, a brown and white rabbit. We did not spare any pennies for his diet or toys. Did we forget something? But of course. We forgot to bunny proof our home. Again!

And the fun began . . .

And it is still going.

Cables chewed, wallpaper ripped, Persian rug damaged. We turn our back for a second and the irreparable damage is done. So often that we have become expert at organising a next day delivery with Amazon. When everyone is asleep, Romeo would stomp his foot until one of us would get up to tell him to be quiet, or to warn him where he could end up the following Easter.

But how can we stay mad for long? We cannot. He melts our heart when he follows us around and stands on his hind legs begging for a treat. When he joins me in a wild dance, hopping around my feet. Or, when we are sitting at the dinner table, he comes and nudges our feet asking for a head massage. All wrongs are forgotten.

 The power of love

One can wonder if we did not learn from our mistake first time round. The thing is, once we commit ourselves to take care of another body, we commit to love them warts and all. Yes, love can be blind, and it has led to the happiness of the whole family relaxing together with Romeo laying in his proud sphinx position.

Besides, having a pet can lower your blood pressure, reduce cholesterol in the blood and increase the level of serotonin and dopamine. I admit we need to be better prepared before taking on such a big responsibility, but material things can be replaced. Would I get another rabbit in the future? Most definitely.

Be Careful What You Wish For

At the end of last year, when COVID-19 vaccines were made available to the public, I swore I was not having any. I heard so many horrendous stories about the severe side effects and it scared me. I am one of those people who never volunteer to be first in the queue, and I was not going to change that. Better wait a few years until everything felt safe.

But when work invited me to register for the vaccine, I had a dilemma. I could refuse, but that would mean letting the team down. Reluctant to have a flu jab, for years I turned to natural medicine to fight off the symptoms. Could I do the same for COVID? I did not want to stand out as a sore thumb nor be the recipient of their disapproval.

Decisions, decisions . . .

I chose to support my team and went beyond that. Not only did I book a COVID vaccine but also my very first flu jab.  If I was going for one, I may as well go for the whole shebang. Was it a daredevil stunt or just stupidity to have both jabs barely spaced out? I considered I could tackle any challenge coming my way.

I went for the flu jab first, confident that all would be well as thousands before found it to be safe and effective. The result was a mild reaction consisting of a bruised arm and body ache, nothing that a painkiller would not cure.

Ten days later, it was time for the COVID vaccine. This was no simple flu jab. I listened to scaremongers talk about side effects and blood clots. Irrational thoughts spun a cycle inside my brain. I became afraid and worked myself up to a frenzy. I prepared for the inevitable by stocking up on groceries and doing all my chores and errands in advance, took a few days off work and cancelled meetings. Without thinking I was ready to feel miserable and relished to be a victim.

While I embarked on the fear route, a little voice of doubt kept nagging me. Like a persistent fly, I would try to swat it away, but it kept coming back more defiant than ever. I gave in and surrendered to the images that I created in my mind like a reel of old film unfolding in front of my eyes.

The Pfizer vaccine did not sting at all but the importance that I gave to the side effects propelled me into painful physical reality. I ended up creating what I believed. I got what I wanted. I woke up the next day, with a fever and a throbbing headache. My sore arm felt heavy. When I tried to walk, I felt weak and exhausted. I thought I was dying. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating, but my body felt like it was going through a storm. Ahh, I should be mindful of what I wish for.

I wanted to feel sorry for myself and plunge into a downward spiral. But if I were to have my second dose, I needed to stop my mind dictating how I should feel. I needed to be in control. The challenge was to change my thoughts and create a new belief, ditch any plans. I decided to veer from the path I needed to follow and embraced uncertainty.

Accept what it is, let go of what was, have faith in what will be.

I approached the second phase with acceptance. I let go of my ego and stopped giving importance to other people’s views. I had a choice, and it was up to me to act upon it. Instead of going safe, I went wild. I kicked healthy eating out of the window and indulged in rich food. If I was going to suffer, then it was better surrounded by chocolates and cupcakes. My anxiety vanished.

By not caring of what may happen, I let go of any resistance and turned my actions into positive thoughts and beliefs. I became comfortable with the knowledge that whatever the outcome, it would not last for ever. To my surprise I sailed through without any side effects. I was vaccinated and felt good. Mind over matter.

Shutting down the annoying voice that questioned my decisions was the key to stop focussing on the negative. Instead of resisting, I went with the flow. Lesson learnt.

Sucked in a Vaccum of Loneliness

I had been feeling a bit ‘meh’ these past few weeks as if I were being sucked in a vacuum of loneliness. Though surrounded by a loving family, a job and friends that kept me busy, I was losing my grip on reality. My world was sinking bit-by-bit. As the days went, it became difficult to get my butt into gear and I lost interest in anything that previously engaged me.

I did not pay any attention to my wellbeing until one morning I woke up with the feeling that I could not be bothered to get out of bed. On the first day I permitted myself a couple extra hours of lie-in, but when hours turned into days, I understood something was not right. Hard as I tried to stay in the present, my mind became overwhelmed by too many thoughts and doubts and I was sucked in the black hole.

Despite all that, I wanted to stay connected with family and friends and relied on social media as a form of communication. Barely out of bed, I got into the habit of checking Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages. I continued with videos on Youtube and TikTok. However, it got too much, because soon enough, I came to despise receiving calls and emails. I believe I was experiencing burnout.

Sometimes the worst place you can be is in your own head.

I am one of the sensitive people who gets affected by weather conditions, although never been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). On and off I seem to experience a sort of depression. My ideal temperature is around 18-20 degrees Celsius. Anything higher gives me a rash and sun stroke. Anything below 10 degrees, feels like the artic.

In winter months, I always know when it will snow. My knees start to ache, and I feel a permanent chill in my back. Whenever I mention it, my kids roll their eyes. They think it is old wives’ tales, though science has proven that changes in the atmospheric pressure can affect the fluid in our bones. In cold weather, when the fluid decreases, our bones grind against each other and the pressure leads to pain.

We all know sunshine improves our moods and wellbeing. Nevertheless, when we get four seasons in a day or week, the weather can play a trick on our mental health. On Easter day, with a temperature of 18 degrees Celsius, the weather was glorious. While every English man and his dog were bathing in the midday sun, I was the unsociable one who hid within the safety of my home. I preferred venturing out at dawn or dusk. Could one of my ancestors originate from Transylvania?

The next day however, on Easter Monday, the temperature dropped by 10 degrees. A cold front from the Arctic spread across the UK making it feel more like below freezing. In the following days, we would see snow, rain, and wind. Then we were back to high 20s temperatures. With all these fluctuations, my mental state did not know which tune to dance to. I am certain my moodiness, irritability, and tiredness affected those close to me even though they never retaliated.

“It’s okay not to be okay as long as you’re not giving up.”- Karen Salmansohn

I appreciated I would not achieve anything productive if I let myself feel like that. My priority was to get out of that procrastination vacuum. If I did not do something about it, I would continue to suffer in silence and hurt my loved ones in the process. I took it upon myself to find a way to keep distracted and inspired. I set a goal as to what I could achieve. I made a small list while visualizing what I needed to do, at the same time accepting that not all had to be done on the same day. Baby steps.

But by putting my intention on paper, I had taken all those overwhelming thoughts out of my head. Hence, I felt less pressure. I then turned to the only therapy I felt happy with. Dance. I created a new vacuum but this time, full of happiness. Although not a great dancer but when I blared some hip music and gyrated around my kitchen, all fears disappeared. Plus, I did not need any equipment to feed my Fitbit and increase my serotonin level. All in all, it was a win-win.

We can’t always choose the music life plays for us, but we can choose how we dance it.

Why Am I Allergic to Exercise?

As I unwrapped several layers of colourful paper, I was filled with a mixture of excitement and dread. My heart rate accelerated with each movement of my fingers as I guessed what laid beneath.

“Come on, rip it up!”

“Here, give it to me. I’ll open it for you.”

“Typical. She’s saving the paper for future use.”

I smiled. Given the chance, my children would have pounced and ripped the wrapping. I did not want to rush.

The last piece of paper fell on the floor. I now held a white box in my hand. A small box that held the key to better health. For, being continuously told that I was unfit, had finally got to me. I asked for a Fitbit as a Mother’s Day gift. A choice I hoped I would not regret.

“Let’s go for a walk and try it out,” said my son.

“It’s not charged yet.” I replied at once, a tinge of relief in my voice. I needed time to calm my racing heart.

Forget the mistakes. Remember the lessons.

To understand the above, I must explain that I have a bad reaction every time someone suggests some form of exercise. I break out in a cold sweat. My ears start thumping and my body feels heavy. That might seem like a silly reaction when I know that exercise is good for the body and mind. Not only does it help with weight loss, it can also act as an anti-depressant. But I cannot help it, my brain goes into overdrive.

Years ago, I was quite active. I would wake up at the crack of dawn and run several miles. I also joined the local gym, took up dance classes and aqua aerobics. I even encouraged my children to take self-defence classes, football, horse riding and swimming.

I enjoyed running. I practised in my hallway, building up endurance before venturing out into the streets. Several weeks later I was running three times round the block without stopping. I found running along the river at sunrise most uplifting. With no one about, I had the world to myself. I was on a roll. But all that came to end when I had to relocate. The change in my environment led me to become stagnant.

On and off I tried to get back into an exercise routine. But ten minutes in and I would be thinking, “I want to stop. I can’t keep going.”  Instead of hitting the treadmill, I sat on a yoga mat and read a book. My last Fitbit was not in synch with my phone, so I used to cheat by shaking my wrist to speed up the steps. Even resistance bands have been used to tie one thing or another around my house.

I lost the plot. I sat on the sofa and cheered athletes on TV. My gym ball became a footrest. I felt like I had completed some HIIT workout every time I came back from grocery shopping, loaded with six overflowing bags and climbing three sets of stairs. I was convinced I had lost 2000 calories just by panting and sweating.

I kept my family both amused and appalled by my lack of enthusiasm. I would not be surprised if they made funny videos of me doing the plank. The look on their faces and the shake of their heads in despair, were a good indication of how hopeless I was.

“Rule your mind or it will rule you”- Buddha  

The reason I do not like exercising is because I hate experiencing any type of discomfort. I wish there were machines that would do all the effort. I cannot understand people who are obsessed with gym and spend half of their monthly salary on membership and exercise gear. I know some who ‘live’ in branded sportswear and feel more comfortable in a pair of trainers. I would rather hit the town for a cocktail with friends.

Spring is the time of year when we ditch our thick clothing and feel more conscious about our bodies. As it is often the case, we discover that all our idleness of winter months comes with a price: lack of muscle and too much fat. We might feel sorry for ourselves, but we do not regret the indulgence of comfort food.

I have decided to regain some elements of my former routine and ditch procrastination. I am proud to say that I have not cheated. My phone is collecting accurate readings.  I am in for the long haul, a commitment that I need to honour. I know the journey will not be easy, but if I persevere, starting with a daily walk, it might end with a marathon sometime in the future. Well, time will tell.

And God Created Women

It all started with a march that took place in 1908. Thousands of garment workers went on strike, marching through the streets of New York demanding better pay and working condition. Four years later, in 1911, the first International Women’s Day was celebrated.  

Every 8th of March, across the globe, women stand together, fight for the end of discrimination and celebrate those who have achieved economic, social, cultural, and political success.

Yet, in some parts of the world and indeed in many households, women still face discrimination and inequality. While they perform the bulk of household duties, it is often the men who get special credit for the little they do.

My mother did not have a beautiful life. Growing up, I occasionally witnessed her feeling helpless, afraid, and insecure. I did not know why. No one asked, ‘What can I do for you?’. Instead, she was made to feel bad with ‘What’s wrong with you?’.

It is only after learning about myself while exploring areas that stunt me from growth, that I got a glimpse of what would have been my mother’s despair. Through a long emotional process, I have learned to get through the feelings of helplessness and sadness. It is a constant battle, fighting not to be sucked in by the negative energy of others.

Not only was she a wife and mother, but for many years she was the main breadwinner. On top of childcare and household chores, she provided us with basic material needs such as food, shelter, and clothing. She was a proud woman who never asked for help. She portrayed herself as a strong woman when she was probably on the brink of despair. She gave up her independence dedicated her life to the ones she loved.

Why didn’t she challenge the discrimination and inequality she must have felt? Her sole purpose was to love and guide her children and stand behind her husband. She inspired us to go to great lengths to attain our potential. Did she struggle with mental health? I have not a single doubt though she hid it well.

My mother laid the foundation for the person I have become, through her hard work and selflessness. I cannot thank her enough for the love and support over the years; for working so outrageously hard to give me a life worth living. She should have been celebrated every single day, not just on Mother’s Day. She should have been celebrated for being an exceptional woman, a jewel, a rare pearl.

On 14th of March, it is Mother’s Day in the UK. While I will be celebrating the bond that I have with my children, I will also take a moment to think of the one woman who dedicated her life to motherhood. A beautiful soul who was never celebrated as a woman. My role model, my mother.

“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” – Maya Angelou

“There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice.” – Michelle Obama

To my mother, the woman God created. Happy Women’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day

I Miss You…

It has been a while since you left. I still feel lost.

Have you ever felt that familiar feeling of missing someone you were close to? Or maybe you lost a cherished item, insignificant to others but irreplaceable to you. The void, deep inside, the churning of the stomach . . .

It is normal to be attached to someone so much that we miss them the second they are out of our sight. Our brain gets used to what we see, sending a deep feeling of longing to the heart. It is okay too if we get attached to an animal, a plant, or a material thing. It is okay to miss the touch, the sight, and the sound. The happiness that they bring us makes us feel alive, but the moment they are gone, we feel empty and lonely.

I am familiar to the feeling of loss. Whether it is because of someone dear passing away, or moving to a new country, I have felt different levels of pain. But missing someone I do not know or something that did not belong to me, took me by surprise. How could I get attached to something that I was not physically close to?

“Nothing makes a room feel emptier than wanting someone in it.” – Calla Quinn

Two years ago, I moved to a cul-de-sac, in a quiet, safe part of the suburbs. Nothing out of the ordinary from this insular enclosure – a row of red brick houses, unfenced front garden, set away from the main traffic. But out of the dull setting, something caught my eye. A white Cabriolet stood out among all the black and greys.

It took my breath away. In an instant, I fell in love. I had no idea whom the soft top convertible belonged to. I was attracted by with its red leather seats and sparkling bonnet. I fantasised about taking it for a spin – cruising along open country roads. It became my timekeeper. The purring of its 2.0 TFSI engine woke me in the morning and the unusual headlights shining bright reminded me it was time for dinner.

“I am crying over the loss of something I never had. How ridiculous. Mourning something that never was – my dashed hopes, my dashed dreams, and my soured expectations.” – E. L. James

Then one day the spot was empty. At first, I thought the owner was away on business, but several days later, still no car.  Over the days I caught myself standing by the window waiting for its return. I became disoriented – no longer grounded. Weekdays blended into weekends. Gradually I discovered that the empty space was causing an emotional gaping hole in my soul – an outcome that baffled me. I had lost something that I relied on; something that did not belong to me.

I realised that the loss had triggered some real issues. I had repressed emotions that I kept buried. I went through the process of mourning. I knew it would take time, as everyone has their own timeline to process grief and loss. But still, it felt silly to grieve for a car that was not even mine. In time I would heal.

“When I close my eyes, I miss you. When I open my eyes, I miss you.”

As I lean against my window in complete darkness, my eyes are automatically drawn to the familiar spot. Where once the object of my love stood out, now an unremarkable 5-seater grey minivan is parked in its place. Lockdown will soon be over and normal life will resume. But I know, in my heart, it will never be the same.

I miss you my little Cabriolet.

My Perfect Valentine

“I love you. I am who I am because of you. You are every reason, every hope, and every dream I’ve ever had, and no matter what happens to us in the future, every day we are together is the greatest day of my life. I will always be yours.”

It is early afternoon. The sun is still high in the sky. A light breeze blows in from the open window. A single rose sits in a vase as a centre piece. An assortment of chocolates, in different flavours and shapes, are scattered on the sofa. Soft music plays in the background, creating a romantic feel. I hold out my hand while whispering ‘Love me now’.

“Love is an action, never simply a feeling” – Bell Hooks

We all know what February 14th represents. Lovers celebrate Valentine’s Day by exchanging personalised cards with messages of love. A special day that urges them to express their affection by buying expensive things. Tables for two are booked in their favourite restaurant and surrounded by balloons, they spend hours gazing into each other’s eyes as if they are alone in the world. Love is their true destiny.

But Valentine’s Day is not only meant for those who are in love. It does not have to be a lonely and depressing day for singles. Everyone can celebrate this special day in their own way. In Finland they celebrate ‘Ystavanpaiva’, which means Friend’s Day and in Mexico, it is called ‘Dia del amor y la amistad’, meaning the day of love and friendship. The emphasis is not only on romantic love.  

We can all be inspired to acknowledge the important people in our lives. We do not need heart-shaped balloons and gifts. A simple card, a message via social media – anything to show our love and appreciation for families and friends without the usual overcommercialised frills.

This year as we are still in lockdown, shops and restaurants are closed. The ambiance is different. Romantic dinner is home cooked and low-key: no serenade from a live band and no pressure to buy a single red rose from the seller hanging over our table. For once, we can find more meaning in our relationship with each other.

“The most desired gift of love is not a diamond or roses or chocolates. It is focused attention.” – Richard Warren

A few years ago, I lost the excitement of celebrating Valentine’s Day. I felt there were too many expectations on how I should celebrate the day. It had become too much of a cliché. I realised I did not need expensive jewellery to be shown that I was loved and appreciated. 364 other days mattered too. So, I started a new trend: look after the person who has the most importance. Me. I learned to love myself and appreciate my worth, putting extra effort on those special days.

So, here I am, relaxing with a glass of Prosecco in hand. John Legend is expressing his love and words from the ‘Notebook’ are dancing in front of my eyes. I am alone and undisturbed. This is my choice.

I have a date with myself, my perfect Valentine.

Good Things Are Around the Corner

‘Good things are around the corner,’ says my sister via zoom.

‘Hmmm, which corner, right or left? The way things have been, I hope they come at breaking speed. This world certainly deserves some positivity,’ was my sassy reply.

My sister and I grew up in a melting pot of cultures. No surprise considering our forefathers came from the four corners of the planet. In fact, across the generations, we have benefited immensely. We have been given the opportunity to learn and adapt different cultures, traditions, and languages.

Today we are celebrating Chinese New Year, also known as ‘Spring Festival’. It marks the beginning of the new lunar year. It is not a religious celebration. It is a time when we pay respect to our parents and grandparents and a great opportunity for family gathering and to indulge in delicious cooking and sweet delicacies.

When we were young, one of our duties was to decorate all doors and windows with red paper strips. Red being the symbol of luck, joy, and happiness. But first we had to vacuum and sweep the past, saying goodbye to the old year. Then we would light incense and welcome wealth and prosperity.

In the same way as we would do at Christmas, we would leave sweets, water, and beans to Zào Jūn, the Kitchen God. He would visit the mortal world before reporting back to the Jade Emperor about the situation of each family. But unlike Christmas, the Jade Emperor delivered good or bad fortune not only to children but also to adults.

Long gone are the days when I followed strict tradition. Maybe I have become lazy. Or maybe it is no longer a necessity now that our branches are spread throughout the world. Whatever it is, I still delight myself in the joy of eating. Instead of spending hours in the kitchen, I find it easier to pick something from the shops.

Last year I spent the day in China Town. The news of a pandemic had not yet reached us. We were fearless and in high spirits. The streets were alive with noisy parades of lion and dragon dances. Fireworks were set off to scare away any evil spirits for the coming months. Incense and offerings adorned the entrance of every shops. Performers, tourists, and locals all came together to be part of the soul and tradition of the Chinese community.  

A year on, a lot has changed. Restaurants and small shops are closed. China Town is deserted. Not a soul around, not even a stray cat. No fireworks to leave my ears ringing, no lantern lit. Gongs are silent, lions do not dance to the sound of the drums. It is quiet. Far too quiet.

Nothing will frighten away monsters. The evil spirit will hang around in the coming months.

This is the start of the year of the Ox. The rest of the year does not look promising. Are we are doomed?

I settle down to a quiet evening, looking forward to scrolling through social media and catching up with the other side of my world. While nothing is happening here, somewhere else must be busy. I can celebrate with some spring rolls and noodles.

20.00. The oven timer goes off at the same time as the dinner gong. For the past hour, a delicious aroma has been emanating from the kitchen, saucepans have been banging and the oven whooshing. My young chef has put a lot of thoughts and care in this sumptuous culinary feast: sweet and sour chicken, sticky chicken wings, fried fish, steamed bao buns, nems, red bean mochi, nian gao . . .

“Wait! Let me take a food selfie!”

“Come on, let’s eat!”

Time to say goodbye to the past. Prosperity, happiness, and good fortune are around the corner.

新年快乐 . . . Xīnnián kuàilè . . . Happy New Year!