Thursday, September 11, 2014

Have you ever been desperate?

Let me start by posing a questions:
What was your most desperate moment?

The Swedish general election is only days away. While the election prompted this blog post, the issue I'm addressing is far more important than swaying votes and it stretches far beyond the borders of Sweden. I'm talking about relocation, when a person leaves one place for another, in hope for a better future. Some move to another city hoping for a better job. Some move to another country hoping for better opportunities. And some move wherever they can, hoping to find safety and security. The first we call a brave go-getter, the second we know as an immigrant and the third is a refugee.

If I were to answer my own question, my most desperate moment is frankly not very desperate at all. Looking at Maslow's hierarchy of needs ('s_hierarchy_of_needs) I've never had to worry about the bottom two tiers, not really. I can't even begin to phantom what it would be like to live through some of the horrendous situations some people deal with every day. For this I'm indescribably grateful.

I have been very fortunate, very lucky. Cause that's what it seems to boil down to, luck. Personally, I didn't do anything in particular to deserve the good fortune in which I have lived. I was simply born. Born by parents who had the privilege of being able to choose, and to carve out a life with the aspiration of personal fulfillment rather than survival. Not to say I've never been challenged or had to fight, but in the big scheme of things, have I ever really been scared for my life, have I ever had to fight for my survival, have I ever really suffered?

In a perfect world, good fortune would breed gratitude and humility. While it does for some, it also seems to be taken for grated by us who are so lucky. But even worse, it seems to frequently breed a sense of entitlement, as if it's our given right to live with certain privileges while denying others the same rights.

Let me follow my initial question with the following two:
What would you do for the health and safety of yourself and your loved ones?
Why do we assume our own intentions and actions would be more noble than others'?

When listening to the current debate in Sweden (and Europe), much of the discussion is centered around immigrants and refugees. The picture that is painted is one of nondescript immigrants, from poor countries, flooding our pristine streets, soliciting our people at every corner, without any desire beyond asking us for handouts, whether it be through social benefits or a paper cup on the sidewalk. But why are immigrants and refugees perceived as such a threat? There are two popular opinions in particular I would like to address:

"They should be grateful they get to come to our country."
First of all, why do we assume they're not? Just because they haven't learnt our language yet? And who should really be grateful? They who were able to remove themselves from their suffering, or us who get to live the lives we choose, with our loved ones, at the place we call home?

"We need to take care of our own before we can take care of others."
In this sentence, the only thing that separates "us" from "them" is on which side of the geographical border one is born. However, it is a personal choice when defining that border. City border, regional border, national border, continental border etc. The narrower the definition, the more "others" there will be and the less amount of "our own" there is to look out for, and vice versa. So, who do you choose to be, exclusive or inclusive?

It is important to remember that our ability to choose is a privilege, and a responsibility. It's also a direct reflection of our good fortune. There are many choices to be made, whether it be choosing a career, a life partner, a political representative or a conviction. But the choice is ours, and we should take great care when making a decision.

My grandmother was forced out of China, and became an immigrant in Taiwan. My mother left Taiwan, and became an immigrant in Sweden. I left Sweden and am currently an immigrant in the United States. My family history has played a huge part in how I view the world and my understanding of how intimately connected we all are. I've been fortunate. There are many things in the world that can, justifiably, turn us into reserved, skeptical pessimists, sometimes even hateful. But I firmly believe every person choose their attitude and their outlook on life. Some things I understand, some I don't. When I don't, I choose to trust people and their intentions, trust that we're not all that different, that they simply want what I want, which is to be happy, healthy, respected and loved.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Can we claim ignorance?

I feel troubled. Uneasy. Worried. Something is going on in the world...

When looking back at historical events, we sometimes find ourselves dumbfounded at how things were allowed to play out, without anyone intervening. We shake our heads at people's inability to separate facts from propaganda and at how indifferent many seemed to be. How could they not have cared?

The world was a very different place not long ago. When the morning paper was the only source of information about current affairs. One would consult the family encyclopedia or head to the library for in depth knowledge. During time of war, families would gather around the radio to get the latest update on how events were unfolding. Photos from around the world had to be developed, mailed, printed, published and distributed before it reached the general public. There was very little information to be had and the power to decide what would be communicated lied in the hands of very few.

We live in a different era now. An era of instantaneous and unlimited information exchange. Never has it been this easy. Multiple connections to the world, at our finger tips. Regardless if your interest lies in Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's release or in Rihanna's CFDA dress, whatever you want to know more about, it's just a few seconds away. Same goes for our ability to communicate our thoughts, photos, music, videos, opinions etc. We are free to share it all with the world, to our hearts content.

Imagine, for a second, if the underground resistance of WWII had cellphones, GPS and instant messaging. Imagine if the protesters at Tiananmen Square could upload the image of "The Tank Man" onto Instagram. Imagine if Gandhi tweeted. Imagine if we had Facebook during 9/11.

It's been about two weeks since the people of the European Union voted on who they want to represent them in the European Parliament for the next five years to come. The European people have spoken and what they said should be taken very seriously. I'm not going to go into detail, it's enough to know that nationalistic thoughts, people and policies not only gained popularity and power in most of the European Countries, these agendas came out as winners in France (Front National), United Kingdom (UK Independence Party) and Denmark (Danish People's Party). To add the the picture, fully-fledged neo-Nazis from Germany, Greece and Hungary have been elected into the parliament as well.

Meanwhile, at Europe's Eastern border, Vladimir Putin and his Russia are up to no good. Whatever plan he's concocting, it's pretty safe to say it's not for the love of peace, freedom and respect of sovereign states and people.

While these are new developments, there is an endless amount of ongoing conflicts in the world, over resources, power and religion. What if all these conflicts eventually boil down to one cataclysmic event? Will we say that we didn't see it coming? Can we really claim ignorance in this day and age?

Today, this specific post is not an attempt to try and convince people that inclusiveness, tolerance and differences are something valuable and beautiful. I'm addressing you who are already convinced. Many will say that the world has always had conflicts and it's no different today. Many will also claim that the new uprising of racial alienation is just a minority of loud people making a lot of noise, that the majority of people are still progressive and proponents of a multicultural world. They might be right. I hope they are right. But just in case, let's prove that we can be loud too. We who embrace progress, include differences in our perfect view of the future and who value respect and freedom over power and control. I ask you to be fearful of what might happen but fearless in the debate.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bobette The Builder

I live in a 1 bedroom apartment, I have limited amount of storage, I don't like things (when in doubt, throw it out!) and I have a lot of hobbies. The consequence of this is that I try to make do with very little. It applies to everything from cooking with as few gadgets and appliances as possible, to using my kitchen table for sewing, baking, painting, jigsaw puzzling and, oh yes, eating.

A few months ago I decided to start growing a few potted herbs on my patio. The patio is shaded all day, with the exception of a 2 hour window in one of the corners. I wasn't allowed to put any pots on top of the patio walls (which I did at first until it landed me a notice from the leasing office), so I needed a plant stand or a work bench of sort. After lots and lots of research, I couldn't find any with the dimensions I wanted, at least not without spending hundreds of dollars. I thought to myself, "maybe I should build one".

I stopped researching for products and started researching for easy DIY-projects. To my dismay, amongst the plethora of DIY plant stand manuals out there, they all required power-tools and a decent amount of workspace, of which I have none. By this point, my mind was set on building a plant stand of my own so I decided to wing it. How difficult could it be?

After browsing my local Home Depot, for what felt like hours, I had developed a plan, picked my products and I was ready to get started. After a few days work, this is what I ended up with. A plant stand I'm proud to call my own:

If you would like to build your own or you're just curious how this came to be, please keep reading.

When starting this project I planned on using just a hammer and a folding saw as far as tools go. So when choosing lumber I had to consider what would be sturdy enough yet feasible to saw through. I also wanted to saw as little as possible and spend as little money as possible. I settled on three 2x3 from which I could get two 44" pieces (frame, long side), four 32" pieces (legs), three 14" pieces (support for the lattice) and later on in the process I discovered I needed an additional two 8" pieces (leg braces). For the lattice, I bought a 12 pack of grade stakes (9/16" x 2-3/8" x 23-1/2"), of which I used eight stakes. 

After all the pieces were cut, I assembled the frame and lattice with nails. As I moved on to attach the legs to the frame, I decided to save my neighbors from the excessive noise of hammering and went back to Home Depot and bought a couple of corner braces. After a couple of attempts at screwing nails directly into the wood with a screw driver, my hands were rubbed raw and I decided to pre-drill holes. I used the drill attachment to my screw driver and went at it. 

When the legs were attached I noticed how much sturdier the table would be if I attached braces between the legs on the short ends. Here is where the two 8" pieces came into play. I attached them a few inches of the ground with a couple of small corner braces. After all the pieces fell into place, the only thing left was painting. I wanted my bench to be bright yellow, so it took two cans of spray paint, with a drying in between.

All in all, this project took me a couple of days to complete. I allowed a full day of drying between the two coats of paint. Also, I had to rest my hands to avoid blisters and I had to give my back and legs regular breaks from all the awkward contortions. It's the price you pay for not using a single power tool and for using your floor as a work bench. But it can be done! However, if you have access to (or decide to buy) power tools, this plant stand can be put together in a couple of hours, tops! 

This was a fun project, it turned out exactly as I wanted it to and it ended up costing me about 80 dollars (the spray paint ate up more than half of the budget). I've had the plant stand on my patio for a couple of months now. It's been through pouring rain as well as scorching 95 degrees. It's still sturdy and it still looks great!

My "workshop"

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Brev till Farmor

Kära farmor, min pappas mamma
Tack för allt som du har gjort
Givit kärlek, goda råd, alltid, med detsamma
Ända sen första gången jag stod vid din port.

När jag var liten la du på minnet vad jag tyckte om
Oavsett om det var betydelsefullt eller ej
Därför åt vi ofta köttfärsås när vi kom
Och alltid rågbröd med gurka och pastej

När jag var tonåring satt jag en gång vid ditt bord
Och grät med ett brustet hjärta
Du lyssnade, tog mig på allvar och med väl valda ord
Lugnade du min själ och lindrade min smärta

Några år senare fick du ett nytt besök
Av fru Thuresson, inte längre fröken Åstrand
Klockan 11.00 firade vi med vin i ditt kök
På våran glädje kunde inte läggas några band

Sista gången vi sågs och kramades hej då
Hade jag ingen tanke på plats eller tid
Bara att det roligt att umgås och så
Att ha dig alldeles nära bredvid

Ja du, kära farmor, min pappas mamma
Det har blivit dags att skiljas åt ett litet tag
Utan dig hade jag inte blivit densamma

Jag minns, saknar och tackar dig idag.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Lobotomy through endurance

Today marks the three year anniversary of my first visit to the gym, which was also the first day of my healthier life. While a lot has changed since, I thought this would be a great opportunity to focus on the unexpected changes that I didn't notice immediately, but has been just as rewarding, if not more so, than the physical changes.

I'm happy with who I am and who I've turned out to be. But I would be lying if I said there are no room for improvements. Generally, there are three area I need to work at. I'm notoriously impatient, I hate asking for help (so I don't) and I 'm unreasonably competitive. I've struggled with these three personality traits since I was a child. I've always been aware, but have never found good tools to modify these behaviors. Little did I know that one decision to change one thing in my life would have such a ripple effect that it would change what I thought was unchangeable. In the pursuit of a healthier life with a stronger heart, stronger lungs and weight-loss I decided to start running.

Endurance training is not an intuitive choice for an impatient person. Especially when the first slow jog got me about half a lap around a track (200m) before my lungs started burning. Let me tell you, going from 200m to running a full marathon was a sloooooow process. But I suspect that because running was so far out of my comfort zone, every mile added or second shaved felt like a victory, I got distracted by the fact that the process took forever. It wasn't until I decided to run a marathon I realized how patience and endurance go hand in hand. There is only one way to prepare for a marathon. Run. Run a lot. But thoughtfully. Not too fast and not too slow. Keep a steady pace and trust that you will eventually get where you need to go. Diligently and patiently. I'm pretty sure I don't need to explain how this lesson in patience applies to a lot of different aspects of life.

About one year into running, before the marathon and the lessons I learnt through the training, I lost momentum and got impatient. It only took one single impatient workout to bust my knee. In trying to find out what had happened and what I did wrong, I realized how little I knew about running and proper training. I started reading articles, subscribing to magazines and talking to others. I started to ask people for advice. I started to ask them for help. I didn't even realize it at the time, I was just talking to people about running. Then it dawned on me, maybe that is all asking for help really is, a conversation between people where knowledge and experiences are shared.

I'm not cured from all my ailments yet, but I'm seeing progress. The biggest improvement I've seen is with my competitiveness. Maybe because this has been my biggest issue and I've never found a good outlet for it. While being impatient has pushed me to work harder to get places faster and my unwillingness to ask for help has forced me at times to be self-sufficient, being competitive has brought me very little joy. I've been know to yell at people after a night of friendly bowling. I grew up treating board games like a full-contact sport and I still don't do game nights cause I can't trust my reactions.

But no matter how competitive I am, needless to say, I've never been under the illusion that I will win at an endurance event. Given my training background, I have always aimed at the middle of the pack, wanting to be an average runner. That, in it self, is a far cry from how I usually set my goals. On top of it all, I haven't always been successful at reaching my goal of mediocracy. Maybe I would have faired better if I stuck to one specifik distance, but instead I've been looking for new challenges and the bigger the challenge, the fiercer the competition. Which has brought me to where I am right now, three years into my new life.

Three month from now I'm registered to participate in Silicon Valley International Triathlon. A 1500 m (0.93 mi) swim followed by 40 km cycling (25 mi) finishing with a 10 km (6.2 mi) run. I feel relatively comfortable with the distances, and up until a few weeks ago, I didn't think much about the other participants. But one day, out of curiosity, I checked last year's results and quickly realized that I'm very likely to finish last in my age group. I'm not saying it to fish for encouragement or to downplay myself. It is the reality of things. I need to improve my personal best in all three disciplines in order to have a shot at anything else than finishing last. So that's my new goal. I'm training to not finish last. But if I indeed finish last, I will train to do so with the smallest margin possible. I feel that I can confidently say, I participate in endurance competitions to test my own abilities, not for the significance of winning.

When I started this journey three years ago, my goal was not to loose a lot of weight or to turn myself into an endurance athlete. I simply wanted to feel healthier, inside and out. So I stepped onto an elliptical, took a look at what I was eating and things slowly but surely moved along. I had no idea what consequences it would have. Good thing I didn't, cause I would have been impatient about getting to where I am today. Instead I will patiently await what lays ahead, meanwhile enjoy having meaningful conversations and for the first time truly understand that competitors come and go, while your own efforts and achievement are yours to keep forever.

PS. Got the results from my latest cholesterol and blood sugar tests. I did change, significantly, inside and out!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Make reasonable choices

Live life to the fullest! Seize the Day! Don't let a good opportunity pass you by! Live life without regrets! Reach your fullest potential!

It's a new year. For many, it's an opportunity to start with a clean slate and to begin molding a better and improved version of themselves. With so many exclamation marks to guide us along the way, one would have to be hyper vigilant and flawlessly self-aware to make the right choices and to act accordingly to reflect our willingness to be our best selves, to reach our fullest potential.

I don't know about you, but to me, it's too much pressure. Also, it's unreasonable to think we can be honestly self-reflective and perfect judges at any given situation. And if anything less than perfection is considered a failure, no wonder people give up on their new year's resolutions before end of January!

This got me thinking about Will Ferrell. Specifically, Will Ferrell in the movie "The Internship". Not a profound movie by any means, but in the movie, Will Ferrell plays a character with a big neck tattoo saying "Make Reasonable Choices".

I think this might be the way to go. Not perfect choices, but reasonable choices. As simple as that. Every choice we make cannot be expected to fulfill every optimal criteria, but maybe our choices can be reasonable and generally not detrimental to our wellbeing.

To help us make reasonable choices it might be good to have an idea about why and for whom we make the choices we do. Everything from why and for whom we choose to exercise or choose the career path we pursue, to why and for whom we choose to self-sacrifice or choose to love. Maybe not entirely necessary to contemplate why and for whom we choose to brush our teeth, but you get my point.

In this day and age when self-expression and self-image is something many of us publicly share on a daily basis it might be good to be honest about why and for whom we project the image we choose to project. As an example, I recently posted a photo on Facebook and on Instagram of my Playstation 4. Why and for whom? As with everything on Facebook, I shared it for other people to see. I want people to associate me with gaming. I want to be associated with gaming because I spend a lot of time doing it, it's important to me and I am a fairly competent gamer. I even dare say I'm probably a fantastic gamer, compared to other home-makers in their 30s! Was the choice to post a photo on Facebook a step closer to reaching my fullest potential. Clearly not. But was it a reasonable choice given why I wanted to post it. Personally, I would say yes.

I've also thought long and hard about why and for whom I'm writing this blog. In short, I write because I think a lot and because I enjoy writing. I've never been good at keeping diaries, so making it public holds me more accountable (not entirely sure why). I know most of you who read this blog know me in person, and I like for you to know how I'm doing, what's going on in my life and what I've been contemplating lately.

Obviously, I hope some of you can relate to what I've written, hopefully I've even sparked a further thought or two, but I am acutely aware of the fact that most of the things we read on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and see on Instagram are fleeting moments that will only catch out attention for a couple of seconds before we move on to the next thing on our feed. Because, the things we put out there are usually not terribly important, not always interesting and frankly, people don't care as much as we would like to think they do. So a sincere thank you for the time you've spent reading this and for the minutes of your life you could have spent on doing something else.

A final note on reasonable choices. Sometimes reasonable choices come in form of products. 2014 has just begun, but three reasonable products have already improved my life and will continue to do so for a long time to come: Playstation 4, a new Electrolux vacuum and my Magimix food-processor.