A Christmas Love Story: Lino and Vernie finds marriage like a tandem bike ride

Knowing that the challenge will be an arduous one, Vernie and Lino prepared themselves to work as partners. The trip required 100kms per day for 23 days. At that time she was 58yo and Lino was 59yo. Just like life, through coordination, physical preparedness and training prior to the trip made the goal possible.

Guest Blogger: Vernie Chiu Basilio

Our married life got richly defined by our Tandem Bike Challenge for 23 days. It changed the way we viewed our marriage and our faith in God. From April 18 to May 10 , 2015, Lino and I embarked on achieving the goal.

Very much like the day we pledged for a life together 33 years ago, we decided on this long tandem bike ride with faith on God’s great providence and the goodness of the people who supported and cheered on us. It also put to test our support for each other.

We kept our preparations simple. The Couple Tandem Bike is for a cause and the finances used for the journey should be just enough for our day to day expenses. Even the tandem bicycle we used was not expensive. It is a surplus  singled speed tandem bike with old-fashioned brakes, the back-pedal system.

Physically, we were not in a superb condition. Each day we rode for about 100 kilometers, a feat that is impossible without God’s grace. As a woman, I was psychologically anxious most of the time because the road was new to us. But I overcame this by soaking at the scenery and the reaction of most people seeing us bike together. I found it funny most of the time.

Not a geek, I learned to use my pocket wifi and phone installed with Strava app to record our trip and our performance. You can never be too old to learn new things.

As we cycled from Aparri to Koronadal, almost the opposite ends of the country, we faced very difficult challenges but we found comfort and happiness in seeing how beautiful the Philippines is and how kind Filipinos are on our way. For the most part of the ride, the panoramas are breathtaking, the sceneries are idyllic and most the people on the way are welcoming.

Our Couple Tandem Bike 2015 was partly dedicated to the St. Anthony Parish & St. Lawrence Kalinga Orphanage both located in Koronadal City. It was reassuring to see all of the children playing in the streets all over the Philippines. As we passed through populated areas, among our fans and admirers were the children.

Vernie says she wants to inspire other women, as well as couples, that if she can do the adventure at her age, then also can! Biking promotes good health and positive outlook towards life.

They would immediately notice us and always cheered for us even if we were strangers. It served as a great inspiration that every time we passed children we could also share with them the joy that we felt. They would often call the attention of their friends and share the discovery of us riding a tandem bike.

Now we understand why Jesus declared that God’s Kingdom belongs only to those who are like little children. They alone have the capacity to see the important things in life. What is important is invisible to the eyes and only the heart could see.

On our stopovers after a day’s ride, we were always welcomed by people we didn’t even know. During the entire course of the 2,287 km journey from Aparri to Koronadal, we never felt that we were strangers in their hometowns. In some places we had friends waiting for us but more than 95% of the well-wishers were people we didn’t know.

Others expressed their support and concern through messages or calling us while some have shown their support by donating to the cause.

Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” Single life may be similar to riding a bicycle but married life is like riding a tandem bicycle designed for two people so that they can take a ride together. To keep the balance, both need to keep moving.

There were also simple truths we learned along the way. If one of us falters, then the travel to our destination becomes harder. Any difficulty affects both of us as the other rider needs to pedal harder and stabilise the bicycle until the other one is able to recover. This teamwork of give and take is one of the secrets of a successful marriage life.

The ride also taught us to take everything one day at a time. We would plan only for the route of the next day and mostly on the potential challenges we might encounter. While most highways are easy, some can be tough.

Vernie and Lino: Perfect combination. This couple proved once more that marriage, just like life, is like a bicycle. You keep pedalling to go through the ups and downs and enjoy whatever comes.

From Sogod to San Ricardo in Southern Leyte, we were met with heavy rains, steep downhill terrain with landslides and some flooding. Our bike skidded so we decided to just walk and push our bike. The opposite happened in Atimonan, Quezon’s bitukang manok (chicken intestine). The terrain was uphill so we did single speed and walked up.

Uphills are the most difficult part because we need to pedal continuously to be able to climb up. In these occasions, the slope was too steep and the road too slippery. We often stop and start pushing the bikes until we could mount them again.

Life can be sprinkled with obstacles along the way. We can step down and push forward.

We learned that sometimes life isn’t lived in a straight line. We need to make decisions on which route to take and sometimes need to go through unnecessary paths because there is no other way to go.

I have to admit that going downhill is fun and easy. I wish we can live our lives this way. Unfortunately, it is when we push uphill that our muscles get stronger, just like life’s challenges. It makes us capable of climbing new heights.

We celebrated our return by sharing “Caldo (Soup) for a Cause”, the success of our efforts will be measured by the donations we received. The support for the completion of the construction of St Anthony Parish in Koronadal City is overwhelming. Donations for St. Lawrence Orphanage could continue as it seeks to serve more abandoned and needy children.

The trip also raised Koronadal City, the capital of South Cotabato province, in the hearts of those who do not know where it is in the Philippines. For those who want to donate, you can make your deposits for for the construction of St. Anthony Parish Church at PEC – Bank of Philippine Islands (BPI) Koronadal Account # 1833116599 and for St. Lawrence Kalinga Foundation, Inc. at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) Marbel – account no. 1543579978.

Our goal next year? For more couples to join us! Please email me for queries at linobasilio@yahoo.com.

With Vernie and Lino are their daughters Love and Faith with son-in-law JP.

Vernie Chiu-Basilio, who turns 60 years old next year, is the President of Easy Pay Finance Corp, and member of the Board of Directors of Marbel Universal Trading, Inc. (MUTI). She is a civil engineer by profession, graduated Cum Laude and a second placer at the Civil Engineering Board Exams. Vernie is also a licensed nurse, a junior geodetic engineer, a licensed real estate broker and appraiser. An active advocate in the community, she is an officer of the Philippine Breast Care Foundation, South Cotabato Chapter, a supportive Rotary Ann of RC Koronadal Central and a graduate of HAGGAI International. An adventure-seeker, Vernie has tried skydiving in Hawaii, paragliding in Indonesia and General Santos City, bunjeejumping in Macau Tower, scuba diving in Palawan and locally, she actively participates in marathons and duathlons.

Bohol Adventure: Lamanok’s Mystical Island Tour & Tips

The small banca glides effortlessly in the island’s dockyard. It’s a marvelous feeling to have the island by yourself. No jostling crowd and noise.

Going to Lamanok? Prepare yourself for a trip back on ancient history. The mystical island is said to be Bohol’s “cradle of civilisation”.

It is located in Badiang, one of the 16 barangays (or villages) of Anda municipality in Bohol province. One can take a 30-minute pedicab ride from Anda town to Badiang. Along the way, you’ll enjoy the lush green environment and cool breeze from the ocean.

After the registration, we went few steps down and crossed a bamboo bridge to get to the hut where our small banca was waiting. We have heard of the mysterious stories in the island so we decided to be obedient and avoid getting into trouble.

A Filipino balikbayan was said to have visited and took a small twig from a tree without the guide knowing. He went back to the US and felt pain in his stomach. After several trips to the doctor, it was never diagnosed. They were told that nothing was wrong with him.

Helpless, he went back to Badiang and consulted a babaylan (traditional healer) who told him the twig he took could be a body part and he got cursed taking it away. We were warned: “Whatever you see in this island isn’t what you think. So be careful”.

Would you dare?

When visiting a local spot, it is best to respect local traditions and follow the rules. Better safe than sorry.

The walk in this bamboo bridge is a nice, refreshing experience.

The island’s mysterious stories makes it all the more inviting. It is an adventure to the unknown.

As Fortunato “Forting” Simbajon, 61 years old, steered the boat towards the island, he started telling us about his life and what his dreams are for the island. He had been the island’s caretaker for 14 years along with the members of Badiang Fishermen’s Association that also manages the tour activities.

Several organisations supported them in conservation work, including tour management. He said, “I did not finish high school. When they asked me to join the training for tour guides, I told them they better get those who have gone to school and can speak English. How can I explain all these spots in the island properly for tourists to understand me?”

But having seen his skills, the group insisted and eventually got recognised as one of the best tour guides in Bohol. He also learned English in the process. “When I went through the test, the trainer said I was ‘amazing’. I have to run to a teacher and ask in local dialect what that means”, he shared laughing.

You can never be too old to learn anything and be good at it. If you badly want something to happen in your life, you can do it.

61-year old Fortunato Simbahon has been taking care of the island and sharing its stories for 14 years.

He knows his craft by heart. Manong Forting proudly shares the island’s treasures.

Expertly, Manong Forting guides you through the island, identifying all the important sites, from the red limestones to centuries-old scripts written by ancestors and the different caves with strange rock formations.

He tried to convince us to get inside the cave where the babaylans burn their offerings but we were not too brave to step in. It looked dark and musty. Outside of the cave, one can still see traces of the burnt animal bones.

One cave was said to have housed a woman unfortunately accused as an aswang (witch) by villagers years back. She died in the cave where her bones were recovered by relatives after several years of search.

Her story has become a scary legend in the area but Manong Forting believes she was unjustly labeled as a witch and she hid away from the world’s cruelty.

Those who possess a “third-eye” should be careful. A woman who was said to have one allegedly saw a hand waving for her to come inside the cave. Troubled, she told the guide who advised her to politely ignore what she saw.

Have you been unfairly accused? Sometimes stories we do not verify as true spreads and destroys lives. Be careful sharing what you heard from others.

These pre-historic limestones offer us a glimpse of our ancestors lives and traditions.

The cave where the babaylans and shammans do their offerings.

What I love the most are dangling limestones and pre-historic graffiti. It reminds us how far we have gone and the lives of our ancestors of long ago. They are living proof that centuries ago, people lived way ahead of us.

The secluded white-sand beaches were very inviting. If you have time, you can take the swim and enjoy the cool waters and the view. A cool thatched-roof hut was also constructed in the island and visitors can request for food and spend time. But leftovers and trash are strictly prohibited.

Manong Forting’s hope is that the island will be preserved as it is for future generations to enjoy and learn from. For years, he was aware of many bounty hunters who tried prying into fortunes said to be buried in the island, even the famed ‘Yamashita treasures’.

Lamanok was historically said to have witnessed early ancestors battle against the entry of foreign invaders (probably the Spaniards) converting people to Christianity led by local warrior Kabel. Kabel was able to forestall the invasion for years until a much stronger force with ‘mysterious fighting gift’ defeated him.

Manong Forting believes Kabel and Dagohoy are one and the same person. Dagohoy led the longest rebellion against the Spanish colonial government from Bohol island.

Ang hindi lumilingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan (If you do not look back from where you came from, you can never reach wherever you want to go to).

The Badiang Fishermen’s Association takes care of the island and has also battled undue interests that endanger ecology and natural treasures.

The bamboo bridge and the hut where guests are picked up going to the island. A beautiful show of the Boholanos’ ingenuity.

Looking back at our past teaches us to be grateful what our ancestors (our grandparents or parents) did so we can enjoy what we have now. Our history draws us back where we came from. Often, we learn to understand ourselves and our family by our past.

When you visit Lamanok, enjoy the sights but most of all, learn from what the island stood for.

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The island is best visited with friends. We enjoyed the trek as well as burning calories for at least 2 hours.

A friendly reminder from the association. Most of these you can observe when visiting tour spots.

Getting around Berlin: Brace yourself for the walking frenzy!

The enchanting garden at Pergamon Museum and National Gallery.

It was autumn cold. The leaves were yellow and falling. How travel giddy can you get, you get that at autumn.

The excitement was on high pitch. Yes, Berlin!

Germany’s capital is home to the Berlin Wall that fell down on 1989, the Reichstag, the Holocaust Memorial, the Berlin Dom, Checkpoint Charlie, the Pergamon Museum and well, Homeland’s Season 5. You can think of an emoticon for the last one but I won’t budge as a forever fan.

Taking a train and arriving in a hauptbahnhof (train station) in Germany is an experience in itself. It opened on May 2006 and transports at least 300,000 passengers per day. I have been to the stations (which are conveniently shortened to HBFs) in Cologne, Frankfurt (and the one at the airport), Freiburg, Heidelberg, Karlsruhe, Mannheim and Munich. The lucky 8th is Berlin.

This city has too much history in just one place. Exploring it for 5 days isn’t enough. Well, holidays aren’t always enough, are they?

The climb at the Reichstag was dizzying but amazing especially at sunset.

Some of these tips you already know but it helps to be reminded one more time before you pack and go:

  • Choose a place close to a train station. All the walking is punishing. By the time I got home at night, even if I did few coffee shop breaks, I can’t hardly lift my legs. The apartment in Charlottenburg was perfect. The place was also teeming with Asian restaurants I felt at home. It was at least 5 stations away by train but all the stations have their own must-visit spots (such as Bellevue that gets my vote for the nicest train station).

 When you leave Berlin in a train for the next city, be early in your designated gleis (railway track). The trains stop quite quickly for few minutes and closes the door on time. You’ll have to wait for the next and if your ticket schedule is non-transferrable to the next train, then you’ll have to get another one.

  • Bring your most comfortable shoes. I wish you luck! I brought two – a pair of street boots and one rubber shoes that I have alternately used. The shoes worked but my legs failed me. By day 5 my knees hurt I can hardly climb stairs, I began to be grateful whoever invented escalators and elevators that are available in most of the train and tram stations. Their escalators go both ways so it can take you down after they have taken people up.

  • Wherever you come from and it’s your first time, go straight to the Information Centre right in front of the station. You cannot miss it. If you cannot speak in German then they’ll orient you properly. There’s also the Tourism Centre where you can get a week’s ticket that already covers train, tram and bus rides inside the city. You can also get your ticket for hop-on hop-off tour buses if you’re interested.

The Berlin Dom is a basilica popularly known as the Protestant St Peter’s dating from 1905.

  • Check for a free walking tour. There’s always one wherever you go. It’s a nice way to start the holiday. Sometimes you also get to help a group of students or volunteers who get by with the tips. I’ve always done this in countless cities I’ve been to from Africa to Europe. In Berlin, I once again found Sandeman’s Free Walking Tour and it was great I signed up for their other paid tours. Check them out as they are in 17 cities in Europe and in New York in the US.
  • Do your homework before the trip. Nowadays it is easier to plan ahead with a lot of travel sites and Google helping you where the famous sites are located. Doing your top 6-10 list will help you shorten your travel time. Getting lost is not an awful thing in Berlin as wherever you end is always something unexpectedly fantastic. But that’s if you have enough time to lose. When I got lost finding a nice restaurant, I ended up finding that incredible Bellevue Train Station. Don’t forget the list plus the addresses. See mine below.
    • Brandenburg Gate
    • The Reichstag
    • The Berlin Wall Memorial
    • The Charlottenburg Palace
    • Berlin Cathedral
    • Holocaust Memorial
    • Museum Island
    • The Sunday Flea Market at the Mauer Park
    • Checkpoint Charlie
    • The Tiergarten

The Berlin Wall was was a sobering experience. It’s a stark reminder that evil exists but will never prevail with humanity’s goodness.

Our trip to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was a sobering experience. Political prisoners were kept as slave labourers from 1936 to 1945. It was there that the first crematory was built in 1940. Our tour guide Rob from Sandeman’s facilitated an interesting discussion of the camp, its history and the turbulence brought by the Nazi empire.

One more thing, if you’re staying at hotels, don’t leave your rooms a mess. I realised many of the rooms are cleaned up by hardworking immigrants and friendly locals. You’ll make their lives easier by keeping your room clean and tidy. Our holidays do not have to be a burden to others.

I’d say, Berlin is a city on history-overload. But I also like the eclectic openness, the warmth of people and its ongoing quest to have its own place among the world’s famous cities, trying to be ahead but not yet there. Not quite but watch out London and New York.

You do not need another word to convince me to go back. I left my heart in Berlin.

If you have enough time, plan for a relaxing tour where you do not hurry and cram the day so you see everything. The truth is, you will never see all of them unless you live there for a year. Enjoy and savor each moment. Don’t get too caught up with photo opportunities that you end up visiting the place but not really enjoying it. I appreciated Berlin because I’ve read it in so many history books. It felt like I was visiting a place I knew for a long time. Read about the place before you go. Every trip is a chance to educate yourself more about our beautiful world.

Inside the Reichstag. Orderly, fascinating and a walk through German Empire’s power hall. It opened in 1894 and got burned down in 1933. Schedule your visit on weekdays at around 5pm to avoid too much crowd. You can get the ticket in a booth near the building across the street and it’s free!

The Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Central Train Station) is a hub for travelers complete with a wide array of shopping and eating choices.

The entrance and main watchtower of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Thousands of inmates line up for morning and afternoon rolls cals in its wide space below. At the iron gate the infamous slogan “arbeit macht frei (work makes you free)” is embedded in wrought iron.

-o00o-

Next week: Let’s go to Munich’s Oktoberfest!

Moving to Argentina from Indonesia, I found my groove as a woman and a housewife

By Enda Balina

From a humanitarian to full-time housewife in a new country, Enda found a new and worthy challenge to scale.

Many women have to choose between their career or their family at some points of their life. My time to choose came right after I just completed my advanced study abroad. I joined my then-new husband who was deployed to Argentina.

Switching my life from a humanitarian worker to become a housewife was not as easy as I initially thought. I imagined it would not be hard to adapt to a new city. After all, I have been living in different places over the few years and I survived. I was wrong.

Not only that the Latin’s culture is very different from Indonesian, my being unemployed often pierced my self esteem & confidence. I think one of my hardest challenge at that time was transitioning to not having work and become dependent to my husband. I have never out of job in my life, it took me a while to make peace with my new status as ama de casa (housewife).

She found a family away from home – and more. Learning a new language and navigating through a new culture were tough but enriching.

Wherever I go, “What do you do for a living?” is often the third question being asked by the people I meet after my name & where I came from. Before moving, I completed my Masters in Development Studies where the main focus was on gender issues. I also worked for eight years in the humanitarian industry that embraced gender equality. When I made this move, some people that I know questioned my decision to give up my job and independence.

Isn’t it strange that the society does not appreciate someone who is choosing a family over work? People often belittle the important role of a mother and a wife, stereotyping a housewife as a domestic task even if it is a full-time job. Often people ask me what I do everyday to make myself busy.

I took this as a challenge to change some mindsets, conscious that even I myself used to have it. I took Spanish courses to enable me to speak faster. I got involved in various social charity activities to support our embassy leading an Indonesian women’s association and joined the diplomatic spouses’ group enabling me to meet new friends from different countries. I also signed up in many random courses like free Spanish conversation clubs, pottery class, yoga and even French class!

Being a housewife has more than pluses than minuses. “I can travel as much and anytime I want.”

Still, I often found it difficult when I had to introduce myself to new acquaintances. Answering questions where I work was the toughest of all. Indeed we live in a world where a job determines your identity and are judged by work and professional engagement. I found this harsh.

In reality, being a housewife brought me lots of wonderful experiences and opportunities to meet people, something that I would probably have missed out if I moved to Buenos Aires for a job.

I met lots of people from around the world with amazing stories. I have time to listen! Some of them are refugees from Syria, Americans who left their life back home for their love of tango and lots of western women who settled in Argentina in the name of love. Since I managed my own schedule, I was able to invest more time in people and building relations. An anthropologist by heart, I love listening to people’s stories and learn the social and cultural contexts. Casual encounters turned into friendships who became our family away from home.

I fell in love with the warmth of the Latino’s culture: one kiss on the right cheek every time you meet people and another one when you leave them – the warm and sincere hugs from friends. An old lady called me amor when I helped her got off from a bus. All these were a bit awkward to me at the first time (coming from a culture that is more reserved and conservative) but at the end, I appreciated the genuine connection.

Apart from learning new things and exploring a new environment, Enda became a mom!

One of the best benefits of being a housewife is that I could travel a lot. Anytime. I love traveling and going to new places. During our time there, my husband and I were able to tick some places in our bucket list: trekking in Macchu Picchu in Peru, climbing the glaciers in Calafate, exploring the northern salt desert of Argentina and exploring the beauty of Patagonia. On our last year, we were blessed with a beautiful baby boy.

At the end of our journey in Argentina, it was difficult to say goodbye. The place has taught me many things, the biggest lesson of which was self-acceptance of who I truly was and not letting anything determine my identity. I realized they are all superficial and temporary. Becoming a housewife was my personal independent choice. Choosing a family more than a career is something that every woman should not be ashamed of.

It became my campaign for women to stop putting label on ourselves. Often, the stereotyping even came from women who were supposed to understand and support this. A lady once asked me why I bothered to take a Masters degree when I would end up in the kitchen as a housewife. It is sad to hear but it is totally untrue! Having the best education is a great qualification for raising a family.

Are you ‘standing at the intersection’ of your life as a woman and are about to make a drastic swift? You are not alone. I’ve been there and I am sharing my tips so we can walk together.

1. Do not be afraid to take a leap! Going to an unknown land and leaving our comfort zone can be scary. Brace yourself and take the risk! We can always learn something from the experience. It is way better than to sit still and not give ourselves a chance to take up the challenge.

2. Close your ears to everything negative. Or even better, use them to motivate you in a positive way. People always have opinions about others, but so little about themselves. Don’t let all the negativity defines who you are and what you want to do.

3. Prepare yourself in advance. My biggest mistake was not preparing myself adequately before moving to Argentina. If I learned Spanish and the culture prior to moving to Buenos Aires, my early days in the city would be much easier. But then it was part of the journey and I learned from what I did not do.

4. Be flexible and ready to adapt. According to a survey, physically getting ourselves out of our comfort zone will widen our horizon and self-confidence. This is very true to me. If I did not move out of my comfort zone, I would never learn new things, a new language, cooking and organising skills, entrepreneurship or even the art of diplomacy.

Living in Argentina has definitely improved my cooking skills & creativity. Since good Asian restaurants were limited in Buenos Aires, I often had to cook my own food from scratch.

Learning new language for me was tough. The first three months were the most difficult as there were not many Argentinians who can habla Ingles (speak English). At first, I could only communicate with the lady cleaner at our apartment using Google translate from my Ipad. We literally had to type every words in order to communicate!

It has been a year that we are back in Jakarta and I love being closer to my family. But I also miss Argentina and the friends we left behind. Two months after we arrived, I went back to work making a career switch from Disaster Management to Grants. The new job is now giving me a lot of windows to learn.

Life is, indeed, a wheel. Our experiences are precious – if we give ourselves the chance to learn and explore.

Now back in Indonesia and again a working woman, Enda is happy to have her family close by. But her journey in Argentina still remains close to her heart.

Enda Balina is back as a humanitarian worker but stronger and prouder as a mom and wife. She lives with her family in Jakarta.

Growing Up at No.195: Embracing my roots as a Rojak Malaysian

By Joanne Tay

There is a stereotype that the Chinese must have their soup daily, master the art of eating rice in a bowl with chopsticks and naturally, speak Mandarin. I was anything but those.

The girl from No. 195. Bubbly Joanne sure knows how to treasure her roots and the rich Malaysian culture along with it.

Give me Sambal Belacan anytime of the day and I’ll gladly have them with anything just like how the Westerners like their cheese. While I master the art of eating rice with chopsticks, I equally excel eating rice on a plate flooded with curry with my bare hands. This way of eating is usually more common amongst the Indians and Malays but as a child, it never crossed my mind as uncommon for a Chinese family. It was just a familiar way of life in my household. This goes to show that a child is not coloured by stereotypes.

Growing up, my father sent me to a public missionary school. Penang, where I grew up, was a former British colony and I was Mandarin illiterate. The vernacular Malaysian education system means Chinese was not taught as a subject in some public schools. I learned the Malay language (my national language) and English, while I spoke a dialect known as Hokkien at home like most Penangites.

The beauty of having Rojak roots

But, Hokkien with my late amah (grandmother) was a little different.

[Hokkien mixed with broken Malay] “Ini kasi lu sambal belacan gua yang buat. Lu bawak balik makan.”

[Hokkien] “Wa ka-ki cho eh sambal. Hoh lu gia tui ki chiak”

Meaning: “Here, this is my homemade sambal belacan for you to bring home and eat.”

Hokkien’s ability to switch, mix and match languages and made them her own never ceased to amaze me as a child. When speaking with the Indian uncle who rented a corner of our pre-war house to operate his little his tuck shop or the Malay couple who sold sheaved coconuts by the side of our house during the morning market, amah would pepper it with broken Malay slangs. Then almost at an instant, she would completely switched to a full-on Hokkien with the Chinese uncle who rented the front of our house for his tailoring business.

The streets of No. 195 saw Joanne’s growing up years – and that also include her dreams and challenges overcome. (Photo-grab from Google)

Claiming that she was a nyonya (Straits-born Chinese who are the descendants of Chinese immigrants in the olden Malay archipelago, now Malaysia and Singapore), she embraced the peranakan way of life – food preferences, language, attire of baju kebaya, sarung and kasut manik (beaded shoes) with her hair dolled up into a bun with decorated pins.

Little did I know then, those formative 18 years of my life growing up with amah would eventually shape a big part of my identity and heritage. Often robust with spices and intertwined with a myriad of cultures, my Taosist family who also adopted Indian gods worship during annual festivities like the Thaipusam, made us such a rojak (a local fruit and vegetable salad dish, which also means “eclectic mix” in colloquial Malay) bunch! I could never quite settle for an identity.

The crammed space at No.195 with cracked walls and crackling wooden flooring was constantly buzzing with people as relatives live together. Situated along one of Penang’s major roads in town, traffic was always a little too loud and the house even shook a little when heavy vehicles passed by. But the aroma of amah’s cooking filled the kitchen (and our stomachs) daily and I always look forward to what’s cooking!

What’s cooking? This delicious rojak is very much a part of the Malaysian culture where food always takes the centerstage. (Photo from The Star Online)

By the time I started school, I had multiracial classmates and was welcomed into their homes. Because of my love for spices and eating with hands, my Malay friends’ families were intrigued by my upbringing. And yet, I was puzzled why can’t they eat at my home?

School had me learn, unlearn and relearn a lot. Sometimes, when your home isn’t as what the school taught it to be, things can be a little confusing. I didn’t understand why race, language or the colour of our skins would be barriers in defining who we are. Because where I grew up, it was multiracial with my neighbours, food and language.

Joanne as a baby in her gangstah-look; one of the few rare photos with her dad while growing up.

Education propels me to search for an identity to call my own. And like all beginnings, I started to question my Malaysian identity and what it means.

“I can’t speak, read or write Chinese (but I’m supposed to be Chinese!). Neither am I Malay (but I eat with hands!). Neither am I Indian (but my family pays respects to the Indian gods!). So how should I call myself? Should I even categorise who I am?”

“Are we so different by our race?”

Malaysian at heart and a global citizen of this world

In the later years of my life, I had the privilege to see the world a little more and worked with international friends. These made me realised that humanity in itself is one global race. We are not so different after all despite where we come from, the language we speak or the stereotypes the society puts on us.

Remembering my late amah and her way of life taught me that despite what are seemingly stark differences, we can live in harmony if we choose to adapt and adopt the cultures that surround us and welcome them as our way of life.

We are who we choose to embrace. I am Malaysian without a doubt because it’s the only home I know. But I am also a global citizen who choose to think beyond the labels of races.

So what if there is a certain perception how a Chinese should eat their rice? Well, I  choose to eat it differently. So what if people say you’re not Chinese enough because you can’t speak Mandarin? I choose to embrace that part about me because as a Malaysian, I can effortlessly string three languages into a sentence!

I hope in your own journey in discovering an identity, you will choose to embrace the cultures that uniquely shape you. Those are the stories that define you. As for me, No.195 was a little chaotic but it was the spices of my roots. And it will always be my truly rojak Malaysian chapter.

What’s a rojak? No other dish embodies the essence of being Malaysian more.

Building her goals one brick at a time, Joanne’s journey is as fascinating as her cultural heritage.

Joanne Tay is proud to hail from the little island of glorious sun and food haven of Penang, Malaysia. She was a humanitarian worker and loves a good conversation, especially with children. Joanne is venturing into the new grounds in the field of science education for her next adventure. She believes FUN is the essence to creativity!

A celebration of full time motherhood: Running the house is rocking fun!

By Sikhonzile Ndlovu

Sikhonzile or Skhoe to family and friends found her bliss taking a break from humanitarian work to being a full-time mom and wife. There’s fun and joy doing it!

3 March 2017 saw me leave the house at 5 am and head to Target stores in Gaithersburg, Maryland to wait in the line for the new Nintendo Switch in sub-zero degree temperatures.

This was such a proud moment in my life because I have never been clearer on what makes me happy and my purpose in life. I was one of two women in the line.

The few men around me asked if I was a gamer. I told them I was buying it for my 15-year old son. One of the guys said ‘Wow! He must really be a good boy.’ I said my children are boss!

It has been a year since I took this giant leap of faith! May not sound so big to someone else but to me it certainly has been life changing. I resigned from my job after nine straight years as a women’s empowerment advocate, packed the family’s bags and got on a plane to start a new life in the so called ‘land of opportunities’ the USA. One thing I was certain about as I got on that plane was that I wanted to dedicate time to my family, rest, and just enjoy life whatever that means. I have not regretted this decision.

I remember telling a friend of mine that I was finally going to be a woman of leisure. She could not hide her shock! She said ‘Skhoe you are so young, you should find something to do’. I am just surprised that our society doesn’t seem to appreciate that one can be something without necessarily having a full-time job. Have we become a people that define people’s worth based on professional engagement? Just asking!

Isn’t it a joy raising future leaders of the world? Who can argue and win with Sikhonzile on this? Yes, it is!

Just the other day a fellow church mate asked me what I do and I proudly said ‘I work for my family. I am a wife and a mother’. I could see the baffled look on her face! I then explained that I support my family and cater for their every need. Then the next question was, ‘so what exactly do you do?’

I used to be of that mindset too in the past. I never understood the great role that mothers play in this modern capitalist world. I thought all they ever do is sit and tweak their fingers the whole day, eat, sleep and let their brains rot! I have always viewed high sounding job titles as a measure of self -actualization.  But my experiences in the past year, have changed my thinking. I feel that most of us mothers don’t realise how much we are contributing to this world by just being there for these future leaders.

When one moves to a new place there are obvious adjustments for the whole family. Imagine your children coming from school to an empty house, in a new city, with no friends or family around. Who do they share their fears, successes and everyday experiences with? With the neighbor who will need ten minutes to just understand what they are saying?

My family will never forget how our son missed the school bus on his first day of school. Initially we got out of the house ahead of schedule, then the driver told us she was going to drive around and come back. Being a mother I then told my son to go back into the house and have his breakfast. When we came out the bus was gone. I had to ‘make a plan’ of course. If I wasn’t there who was going to make the plan?

You still can find use of those rock-killer heels … and get a wow from your children.

A few days ago I drove to three shopping malls in different parts of Maryland just because my son wanted a particular brand of sneakers. When I eventually found them, you should have seen the happy look on his face. So tell me, do I need to find something to do?

And the occasional trips to meet the counselors and teachers to just try and understand the curriculum. And the awards ceremonies and talent shows of course. These are a highlight because I dress up with my rock killer heels. The look on my daughter’s face when I walked into a talent show rehearsal at her school was priceless. She was beaming from ear to ear! She thinks we are friends… (rolling my eyes).

And guess what! I have learnt to braid her hair. When I told one of my sisters, she said ‘since when Skhoe?’ I may sound like a cheap skate, but do you want me to pay $200 for her braids and miss out on a bonding moment? When I say, ‘a daughter is a baby who grows up to be a friend’ I mean it. In the past I was too busy and missed out on opportunities to talk, laugh and just let life be. I am however, often subjected to those stories about her ‘on, off, on, off and on again’ friends.

In her book, ‘Mom and Me and Mom’ Maya Angelou recalls how during a difficult time in her life she called on her mom to fly from San Francisco to Stockholm just to support her. She says, “This is the role of the mother. Not just because she feeds, loves and cuddles a child…but because in an interesting and eerie way, she stands in the gap. She stands between the known and the unknown.” Sounds familiar?

Being head of the Spousal Unit is mastering the job of a one-woman team. It’s a great skill to learn.

Besides being a mother, am also a wife! Just the other day I was telling my husband that I should add ‘Head of the Spousal Unit’ to my name. He asked how many people are in my unit. It doesn’t matter, the important thing is that I am the head!

My job description includes being a ‘wardrobe consultant, psychologist, massage therapist, meal planner, sounding board and my favourite editor in chief’ among many others. I am also a partner when my husband needs to think things through or someone to give him perspective. And yes, I joyfully run to and from the dry cleaners every so often before and after major trips and engagements.

The other night I sat up past midnight because I had to prep my husband for a major US Congress testimony. After editing, I made the poor guy do the speech eight times. Literally! Call me queen of mean but when he came out of those Senate Chambers, he had a spring in his step! Keeps my brain active.

People who have worked in gender circles would ask why someone so committed to women’s empowerment would then leave their job and ‘give up their independence’. But nothing has been more fulfilling than hearing my children sing in the house, cheering them on, looking at their school reports, just sitting together every evening, telling jokes and laughing about everything and nothing.

The former FLOTUS Michelle Obama showed the world that playing that important role of mother and wife does not reduce one’s status in society.

 

Independence as a woman is enjoying the fulfillment in motherhood and in running a happy household. There are many ways to define it but for Sikhonzile, family comes first.

Sikhonzile is a gender, media and communications specialist, mother and wife. She is currently taking a break from full time work.