Facebook: friend or foe?

Whenever I bemoan the lack of time I have to do everything I want to do in a day, my husband helpfully reminds me how much time I ‘waste’ on Facebook and I wonder again if I should come off it, even if only temporarily?

Unlike many in my age group, I signed up to Facebook in those early days when, as a mature student, FB was adopted by university students en masse and the concept intrigued me.  Gradually many of those young ‘friends’ have dropped off – as virtual friends at least – to be replaced by people I actually know and am friends with ‘in real life’.

I would agree that there are times when the site frustrates me – I don’t need a blow-by-blow account of your cat’s latest illness, or hourly updates on your husband’s recovery from an ingrowing toenail operation.  However, with friends and family scattered across all corners of the world and spanning several generations, Facebook is a brilliant way to keep people in my life who would otherwise disappear off the radar, as well as sharing and receiving information at a local and international level.  It provides a continuity and sense of community that might otherwise be missing in my life.

Where else could I:

  • Support a campaign to stop Dubai (or Abu Dhabi?) opening a SeaWorld;
  • Read Ricky Gervais’s pithy and poignant comments on animal cruelty;
  • Follow the plight of Nepal as the international struggles to provide support;
  • Share the adventures of my globe-trotting sister;
  • Enjoy the incredible wit and humour behind some cartoons and jokes shared by friends;
  • Connect with friends around the world who speak different languages and share items globally at the touch of a button?

Yes, there are days when I think I really shouldn’t spend so much time on FB and times when I vow to return to keeping a book of Crossword puzzles next to the kettle to entertain me in the couple of minutes whilst waiting for it to boil and not immediately reach for Facebook on my iPad.  But, on balance, I think FB is more friend than foe and enriches rather than impoverishes my life and so, while ever that equilibrium is maintained Facebook has a place in my life.  Hubby be darned!

Abba with Attitude

It was with huge excitement last Saturday evening that I walked to the Teatro de San Fransisco in Vejer with some of my news friends to enjoy the concert by an Abba tribute band.  My children might be surprised, and a little perturbed, at my use of the words ‘huge’ and ‘excitement’ in the same sentence as ‘Abba tribute band’ but let me explain.

teatrosanfrancisco

The excitement was less about the band and more about the event.  Having visited Vejer for over 10 years we watched the Teatro undergoing a transformation but – incredibly – have never actually been inside.  So finally going to an event there was a little bit exciting.

Add to this my overwhelming need for friends: people I like, respect, enjoy being with, learn from and laugh with and you can see how the excitement level went up several notches.  I have friends!  People who went out of their way to include me in an event, happening in my new home town.  And not only friends but a group of women.  Gaining admission into the elite world that is a group of female friends is not to be taken lightly.

And finally, Abba are pretty good too eh, had the odd hit record and all!

I’m kicking myself that my phone battery died so no photos of the social event of the year so far but, it was fabulous and slightly surreal at the same time.  Watching two high energy, raunchy young Spanish ladies cavorting around the stage and belting out hit after hit, predominantly in Spanish, accompanied by some backing dancers who confidently mixed dancing in sync with ‘do your own thing’ (Okay, okay, they weren’t the best – but they were very enthusiastic) and you have yourself the makings of a great evening.  Combined with the singing-along, dancing and ear-splitting applause from the audience and you’ve got yourselves a hit.

And all for 5 euros a ticket.  No wonder it was a sell-out.

Viva las diferencias

One reason for living abroad, or indeed just travelling, is to experience first-hand the differences in life, even in seemingly shared experiences.

Having lived in Vejer de la Frontera for just 4 weeks we were a little perturbed to discover two speeding tickets in our postbox one morning.  Dating from our first week in Spain our concern was with how many more might arrive over the coming days!

Anyway, the 200 euro fine would be halved if paid within 20 consecutive days.  No one seemed sure when those days started but everyone agreed that one would be quashed as, at 109 kms in a 100 zone we were within the 10% margin of error.  Wrong – that has been stopped, at least in the Jerez area, as vehicle equipment is apparently now so sophisticated that there is no error – and therefore no margin. Nothing, nada, zip.  100 kms means 100 kms!

Having tried to pay online and almost lost the will to live we decided to head to our local Santander bank, with the promise of desayuno (breakfast) in our favourite bar on the way back.  As an incredibly rusty lower intermediate Spanish speaker my automatic assumption when confronted with speech I don’t understand is just that – that I don’t understand it.  Sometimes though reality is a little more complex and, in fact, my understanding has been spot on linguistically, it’s the concept I don’t understand.

The very friendly lady in Banco Santander explained that we could only pay there for free on a Tuesday or a Thursday; between 8.30 and 10.30 and between the 10th and 20th of each month.  All other times, there is a 3 euro fee per ticket.

As I said, actually I understood her words but still didn’t appreciate the concept, until she showed me the sign pinned up on the wall where, sure enough it confirmed the 3 requirements for fee-free fine payment.  She advised us to come back the follow week when we could ‘save’ ourselves 6 euros.  All well and good until I asked her when the 20 days started from and she confirmed that it would take us to either the 9th or 10th March, she wasn’t sure.

By now exhausted and in need of my cafe manchado with tostados con tomato y aceite (milky coffee with toast, tomatoes and olive oil) we decided not to take the risk, paid 106 euros for the two fines and left the bank heads spinning.

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On one hand this seeming bureaucracy could drive you crazy, but on the other hand – it’s why we aren’t living back home.  Viva las diferencias!

Countdown

And so begins the countdown to another move. This time next week … This time tomorrow ….

A week today Sally will be waiting patiently in the kennels while we try to fit all the possessions we’ve accumulated over the last six months, plus her sleeping crate, into the back of a Skoda Octavia. We’ll be cleaning like crazy whilst doing a treasure hunt around the house armed only with an inventory and vague memory of how things looked when we moved in.

And I just know that, this time next week, when I’ve run out of time, I’ll remember with startling clarity all sorts of things I ‘Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda‘ in the words of the fabulous Miss Beverley Knight. But to continue with the quote these ‘are the last words of a fool’.

So, I’m trying to enjoy the week ahead, to do a little every day and to trust that experience and the universe will see us through!

Friday 23rd January 2025 – Goodbye Miskin, Pontyclun. Monday 26th January – Hello Vejer de la Frontera.

Wherever You Are, Be There

Feeling rather restless and rootless at the moment I am constantly reminding myself to:

  • live in the moment,
  • be present,
  • accept the present/intend the future
  • this moment is as it should be because the whole universe is as it should be

I eat well, meditate daily, walk in the countryside, rest, have fun and generally love life.  But. I find living ‘in between’ incredibly difficult.  My brain is screaming to get stuck into projects, communities, things, things, something to keep it active and busy.  I panic that life is passing me by and I’m not achieving anything, not fulfilling my purpose, wasting precious time.

Beautiful South Wales

Beautiful South Wales

And then I take a deep breath, slow down that monkey mind chattering away and remember that my life, right now, is filled with blessings, love, discoveries, good health, friendships and all the things that make it so magically wonderful.  So what’s the problem then?  I think that it’s the void.  We have been living in Cardiff for four and a half months and really love it here (partly because we know we’re leaving soon?).  It’s a fabulous City, great culture, architecture, people, scenery and so many things to do and keep us occupied that we’ve barely scratched the surface.  But it isn’t home.  We came here because it’s the city of my birth and I wanted to be closer to my parents for a while.  And I’m loving spending time with them and with the City and all it has to offer.  A lot of time though is spent planning and preparing for our move to Spain at the end of January so my heart is only ever half here and the other half across the water.

There is something to be said for that feeling of discomfort and ‘being’ in the void as I’m convinced that that is where the magic happens – where creativity can bubble up to the surface and be heard.  It’s like the analogy of dropping a pebble into a raging sea and it having no impact whatsoever, whereas the same pebble dropped into a calm lake sends ripples far and wide.  Today then I will enjoy the calm lake and drop pebbles of creativity into it and see what happens!

Back

Well, having spent a few months trying out Blogger instead of WordPress and acquiring a new iPad mini along the way, I think I’m back!
They say to embrace change but I wonder when I’m changing something just because I can, or to try out the latest ‘thing’ and when change really is to the benefit of me and those in my community.
Having struggled to access WordPress while in Vietnam I switched but it occurs to me that I prefer WP and now that I’m back in Europe there really isn’t any reason not to return.
So, here I am, back up and running and plenty to share from the last few months – about life, identity, family and a sense of belonging.
To be continued …!
Smiles,
Karen

The Hanoian Kite Moth

The Hanoian Kite Moth

Isn’t this unbelievably beautiful? At first I thought it was a small kite thrown from a neighbour’s window into my garden. Then I realised it was alive and was blown away by its beauty. It’s an Atlas Moth and they have no mouth, living instead on everything they’ve eaten as caterpillars. The females only live around 7 days – which got me thinking that if this creature had been created by man most of us just wouldn’t have bothered to go to so much effort for just 7 days. Truly there must be a higher power – my heart soars just thinking about it :-)

Blogging Made Serious

My day job is an interesting combination of marketing writing, teaching Business English and being on the Community Aid Committee of the wonderful Hanoi International Women’s club.  And of course those tasks get juggled alongside everything else that most women (and yes, some men) deal with on a daily basis – currently that includes moving house.  So it will come as no surprise that I cannot function without a daily To Do List, combined with jottings and slips of paper in a desk calendar, a pocket calendar and electronic calendars all neatly synched between laptop, iPad and phone.  Simply keeping these aide memoires up to date and colour co-ordinated regularly provides endless hours of entertainment (I think that was someone’s catch phrase but don’t know whose?).

In that wonderful way that only the universe fully understands, my various ‘worlds’ often overlap and merge in a very satisfying way (and occasionally collide in a less pleasant manner) and I marvel every time when I’m asked to write an article on a subject that is just the topic I need to know more about at that particular time.

Two recent examples illustrate my point.  The first, more positively than the second, was an article I wrote for an e-newsletter where the topic was how to handle email overload in the office.  I have the Post It Note in front of me as I type:  Do, Delegate, Designate Time and Dump and I have to say, this system works very well for me (when I remember to use it!).

The second article was a longer piece about business blogging – why you need one and how to get started.  Researching this article had me engrossed and I enjoyed writing it so much I even decided to implement some of the advice.  An hour or so later I had a hand written, a typed and an Evernote version of my blog’s mission statement, frequency, editorial calendar and keywords.

That was back in April and since then I ‘should’ have written fortnightly on:

  • Public Holidays in Vietnam
  • Getting a second dog
  • Trailing spouse syndrome
  • Visiting Thailand
  • Staying home alone in a strange country while hubby works away
  • Visiting Phu Quoc island
  • The CAC and HIWC
  • Moving house, what you look for in a home when living abroad
  • Holidays redefined – when going back home is not a holiday

And since April I think, from memory, I’ve posted about two blogs and probably not actually covered any of these topics.  In fact, I haven’t felt inclined to blog at all.  What had been a pleasure that I admittedly didn’t indulge in as often as I would have liked, had suddenly become a chore.  Creating this plan took all the creativity out of the process for me.  What had been fun has now become work.

Three months later here’s what I’ve learned – not all plans are good plans, you don’t always need a plan and – if it isn’t working ditch the plan!

So, hopefully I’ll be back more often and writing about the stuff that appeals at the time of writing rather than following a ‘features calendar’ and hopefully my readers will enjoy the randomness of ad hoc writing.  I’ll leave you with a photo of me and the hubby getting soaked playing splash with an elephant in Thailand – just to bring the fun back into this blog!

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Belle and Sally Sizing Each Other Up

Belle and Sally Sizing Each Other Up

There has been a great deal of circling around each other, nudging, lip curling and lying down in strategic places (like right across the doorway to bar the other one’s entrance or exit). After two weeks our English Whippet/Lurcher and the new Vietnamese Phu Quoc are just about learning that ‘yes’ there is enough: love, food and space for both of them within this family and not everything needs to be turned into a diplomatic incident!

Celebrating Public Holidays

One aspect of life abroad that can be both fascinating and frustrating for expats is that of Public Holidays.

Here in Vietnam there are nine weekday holidays, of which we’ve so far had 8.

Having arrived ‘post event’ in 2012, we decided to stay put for TET this year, despite the hugely conflicting advice about the wisdom (or otherwise) of such a decision, particularly given the proximity of our house to Phu Tay Ho – the main temple in Hanoi which is dedicated to the Mother Goddess.  Changing date in accordance with the Lunar Calendar, TET this year was celebrated between 9th and 14th February and the whole area around the temple was turned into a cross between a carnival and carnage.  Next year we will be going somewhere quieter – anywhere that doesn’t recognise this as new year.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

On the 19th April we had a day off for King Hung’s day to commemorate the first King of Lac Viet and this week we enjoyed a two-day break.  30th April was Vietnam Victory/ Reunification/Liberation Day (depending on your affiliation/geographic location) to mark the fall of Saigon and the reunification of Vietnam in 1975.  And yesterday, 1st May, was International Worker’s day which celebrates the economic and social achievements of workers throughout the year (not sure how these achievements are measured or whether they’re just assumed?).

Unlike in the UK where all Bank Holidays (apart from Christmas and New Year) are shifted to the nearest Monday – public holidays fall on the ‘correct’ day here so it is not unusual to have a Tuesday and Wednesday off – as we’ve just witnessed.

The reason that I find these holidays stressful is because they are completely alien to me.  I can’t always work out what is being celebrated.  I’m conscious that sometimes even the name of the holiday can be cause of contention – as in the case of Reunification/Liberation Day.  And it’s extremely hard, as a foreigner who doesn’t speak the language, to work out how the Vietnamese celebrate or enjoy said holiday.

I’m reminded of my first Introduction to Islam lecture at the University of Manchester when the lecturer posed the questions – which Islam, when, where and for whom?  His point being that, like much in life, there is no one ‘right’ answer – Islam is many different things to many different people.  So too is the way of celebrating national holidays.

Quat Tree - like a Vietnamese Christmas Tree

Quat Tree – like a Vietnamese Christmas Tree

TET is the big one – similar to the Western Christmas – with presents, food, food and more food, some alcohol, spending time with people you don’t necessarily see the rest of the year, rituals, traditions and an enormous amount of pressure.   It is, for the Vietnamese I’ve spoken to at least, both expensive and tiring and something approached with very mixed feelings.  Sound familiar?

TET feast

TET feast

The last two days have felt like a weekend and so today must be Monday, which for some reason everyone else is calling Thursday!  Hubby was off work but you wouldn’t have known it thanks to the constant beeping of his Blackberry and because he works in an international consultancy firm with colleagues around the world blissfully unaware that he was ‘on holiday’.

Which brings me onto the topic of how expats celebrate public holidays in their host country.  Many, particularly the more seasoned foreigners and those with children, simply flee.  Hanoi in particular engenders this desire because whilst it’s an amazing and vibrant city, it can drive you crazy with its constant noise, dust, humidity and general air of disorganisation.  Depending on the length of holiday many people take the chance for an adventure exploring parts of Vietnam they haven’t previously visited, others head for a beach or 5 star resort and recharge their batteries beside a pool.  Some friends of ours took advantage of one of the great deals offered to foreign residents and enjoyed a ‘staycation’ at a beautiful hotel on the opposite side of town to where they live and work.

We seem to be a little slow on the uptake and have so far been here for every public holiday.  Now that we’ve enjoyed experiencing them – in that strange twilight zone between not being a local and not being a tourist, we have both agreed that we’ve ticked the box marked ‘Experience Public Holidays in Vietnam’ and will, in future, take the chance to be tourists in another city, enjoying everything that that entails.  Staying put has meant that we’ve paid more for pretty much everything we’ve bought as local shops and restaurants all raise their prices at holiday time and we haven’t been able to enjoy the fresh ingredients we’ve become used to because, for example, the dairy producing the milk we like was closed for the holidays and the markets and small traders we usually buy from simply didn’t bother opening.

So here’s to our next public holiday, Monday 2nd of September when we’ll be celebrating Vietnamese Independence Day on a beach somewhere, or maybe even in Cambodia, Taiwan or Japan.

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