Friday, March 24, 2006

I have nothing to wear

Found myself going to church one Sunday wearing clothes that were not exactly colour-coodinated.

I remember a friend asking why the Chinese in immediate post-Mao China seemed to be wearing clothes that clash in colour. You know, like they mix an orange blouse with a red skirt.

He was a medical student (and now trains doctors in deepest, most rural China) and posed the question: Are they all colour-blind?

Of course not. They simply didn't have enough clothes to match them accordingly.

I am in what some social anthropologists might call being in a liminal, in-between, state. I, too, do not have enough clothes to ensure that I am always colour-coordinated. (One of my ex-colleagues reading this will be gobsmacked. She might remember how I used to have a 'personal shopper' who picked out all my working clothes as I hated shopping even back then.)

Yes, I do have clothes in the wardrobe, but they are mainly of conventional cotton, and some have polyester and viscose mixed in.

My heart says to buy organic cotton but I cannot find a retailer who does organic cotton in petite sizes and I cannot now bear to buy anything that proudly declares itself '100% cotton' any more. So I'm wearing to death clothes that I've had for some time and not been able to buy new ones. Occasionally, therefore, I find myself looking a bit naff.

Not quite an orange blouse with red skirt just yet, but I know intuitively that it is not right.

What can I do?

I can learn to sew my own clothes using organic fabric.

I can learn to alter organic clothes that are too big for me.

I can write a business plan on manufacturing and selling organic cotton clothes in petite sizes.

Actually I won't do any of those for now. I'll just sit out this time and wear my existing clothes till I can't wear them any more and hope that by then I can find suitable sources of ethical /organic clothes in my size, style and colour.

Come to think of it, I did do something quite different this winter as I seem to be wearing my boring beige/brown rain/coat ALL the time: I bought new scarves. (Actually one was given.)

I found some beautiful raw silk scarves sold on the The Leprosy Mission website, made by leprosy sufferers. I've decided to look 'fashionable' by using essential accessories.

O yes, one other thing I plan to do is buy plain organic cotton T-shirts (I have bought the T-shirts) and use fabric pens to decorate them. If you wish to know where to buy these plain organic cotton T-shirts, drop me a line.

My ex-colleagues and I used to live by the principle of 'work hard, play hard'. I think I should re-work that into 'buy smart, dress smart': Be prepared to pay a little bit more for something that would last for a little longer.

And hope not to put on too much weight meanwhile!

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Musical Milestones

Last Saturday, Husband and I had the rare opportunity to attend a concert at our local arts centre. It featured Cantabile, a male quartet, that does a lot of a capella singing.

I first saw the group perform on TV and was thrilled that they were going to perform at the Singapore Festival of Arts more than a decade ago.

I was then working for one of the 'Big Six' accounting firms as a change management consultant and could pretty much afford to attend any of the big-name foreign acts -- including the musical Evita and Placido Domingo -- being brought in by promoters aiming for the 'Yuppie' market.

Cantabile left a distinct mark on my musical landscape as I had one of their cassette tapes when I packed my one suitcase and headed to Amsterdam to begin my life as a full-time Christian worker.

From a habit of indiscriminate use of taxis in Singapore, I had to resort to cycling or taking the tram in Amsterdam. Instead of a fat wage package every month I made the transition to being given an allowance of 60 guilders a week.

I had to share a room with an American girl who's become a good friend. She surprised me one evening by coming home with a carpet that's been ditched by someone else. (Yes! It was left on the street on 'bin night'.) She shampooed the carpet, dried it and we became the proud owners of a carpet that helped to reduce the number of 'dust rabbits' in the room.

That one year spent as staff member of an Amsterdam Christian Youth Hostel was a period of learning: particularly on how to cope with the climate. Sometime I woke up so cold that it took me 10 minutes to dress, both because I was too frozen to move and that I had to layer it on.

Cycling to report for work at 7.30am or finishing work at 11.30pm was not that much fun in the freezing weather. I didn't know what hit me -- literally -- when caught in my first hail storm.

There was no TV. I learned most of what was happening in the world that year listening to BBC World Service on my little personal stereo/radio. There were no English-language newspapers apart from the American ones that sometimes got dropped off by travellers using our hostel.

But then I learned a lot more than others when, for example, trying to find accommodation for two Yugoslavian men only to find one reading a name on a slip of paper, "He's a Serb. No way am I sharing a flat with him." He spat on the ground and threw the piece of paper away. I come from a multicultural society that is thankfully still living in relative harmony.

Neither would I forget that tall clear-skinned Senagalese man who was obviously being controlled by a Dutch woman pimp. After he's stayed away from the hostel for the night, returning only in the early morning, he would go to his dormitory and come down for breakfast wearing an all-white outfit.

When the hostel was opened to non-hostel guests we often met and tried to minister to Dutch nationals who found our cafe a place of solace, and where they could find a listening ear from amongst the international all-Christian staff. Many had a history of mental illness, claiming to have suffered nervous breakdowns, who found it difficult to cope with city life in Amsterdam.

(This was a strange phenomenon for me, having just come from Singapore where I was used to working 70-80 hours a week when projects needed finishing 'on time, on budget'. Stress? What's that? Several of my ex-colleagues are still making pots of money, and still very single.)

So we had a regular from a former Dutch colony who found it too stressful to hold down a job, but found it not so stressful reading Sartre (!).

Then there was a woman who was gang-raped and only ventured out at night, feeling too ashamed to be seen in the day. She needed someone to listen to her woes.

The very positive side of working here was that people often returned kindness with kindness. One chap who learned that I did not even have money to buy stamps (before my papers came through from the relevant authority and therefore could not be paid) bought me some narcissus bulbs, knowing that those bulbs would have been a luxury for me.

When not at work we lived in the 'staff house'. One day I discovered that one of my co-workers owned a cassette player. I borrowed it and listened to Cantabile. Their music was with me when I was doing well professionally, and it cheered me up no end then when I was, by choice, living a rather more simple (but at the same time more fulfilled) life.

Last Saturday when I heard this group sing again, my circumstances have changed tremendously once again. Their music, or rather form of music-making, caused me to think again of those words by the Apostle Paul noted in the previous post: "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. "

It was good to be reminded thus.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

The right to parenthood

I think I might get a lot of hate mail after this. But as I merely wish to discuss some vexing contradictions in life, I hope readers would just take this as an 'airing of thoughts' with no ill-will directed at any particular individual.

This week a young woman who's suffered from cancer is refused permission to have her frozen embryos implanted because her ex-partner has refused permission.

I just saw a programme about a child of a very disabled woman who is struggling to be a single mother and a professional artist. I recall another TV programme about another single mother who is profoundly deaf and blind who had a baby and needed a retinue of supporters to provide childcare.

Isn't it strange that the very people (scientists) who believe in evolution -- survival of the fittest -- are prepared to give medical treatment to women to conceive babies when there isn't a chance that they could look after these children on their own, and especially without a father?

What about the child's right to a father?

Evolution in the past has ensured that people with disabilities, disease, etc, will not marry and procreate. In so-called primitive societies, men chose young women with big hips who can carry, give birth to and nurture babies without NHS midwives, anaesthetists and surgeons on stand-by. Women chose men who were proficient hunters/providers and strong protectors.

So even if the weak and diseased were able to procreate (sadly, sometimes through rape), their children would not normally survive childhood from a lack of protection from an absent father or lack of nurture from a mother who has died young or at childbirth (no bottled milk available). That way, the defective genes naturally 'died out'.

With medical advances and paradigm shifts in moral/ethical consideration, people who would previously have been 'selected out' are now able to reproduce. In western cultures with welfare states, this often means that other taxpayers get to pick up the bill.

When I was growing up, it was emphasized that we needed a good education, to get a good job, so that we could get married, have children and provide for our family. Without a welfare state, those who were lazy and didn't get an education got 'selected out' and never got to have children.

Children born out of wedlock were usually put up for adoption, to be given a family (and advantages) the unwed mothers cannot provide.

People say to me so often that we should have another child. We have been very blessed with a normal healthy child despite marrying so late in life. We were prepared to be childless. When I fell pregnant, we were delighted and agreed that we would accept this child whichever way he/she came.

An aside, really: So we were not happy when medical staff kept trying to get me to undergo amniocentesis to ensure that the baby did not have Down's.

What were the chances of my baby having Down's? 1 in 300.

What were the chances of my miscarrying after amnio? 1 in 100.

We were prepared to accept the baby, Down's or not, and refused the offers of testing. But my husband did want to know the sex of the child. This was refused on the basis that where we live, people tended to abort female foetuses. So it was OK to test and abort a baby with potential Down's syndrome, but it was not OK to say whether we were having a boy or girl just so that we could prepare better.

When the baby got distressed and my body refused to cooperate, he had to be surgically removed. Husband's words were: your cervix has forgotten how to dilate.

Yes one could hit him for saying that, but there is a grain of truth. Older women are not programmed to give birth to their first children.

The fact is: If not for medical intervention, I could have died from giving birth. Or our child might not have survived. Husband did say that if push comes to shove (pardon the pun especially when I could do neither), he would have chosen to save me and not the baby.

Precisely because I am thankful to have my life (still) and a healthy child, we decided against another child.

So, back to having another baby: When one has to put on one's reading glasses to read the dosage instructions on the Calpol bottle, it is clear that our bodies are telling us, 'time to stop'.

Of course I would like to have more children. But the next child is more likely to be genetically disadvantaged. I can insist on my right to parenthood and NHS and Social Services to provide the support before and after the birth, or I can think about the right of any child to younger, more energetic parents who can run around and play football/whatever with him.

Children have the right to two parents, preferably two who are alive!!!

I often imagine what I would be doing had I not got married and have a child. Would I be professor by now? Would I be travelling all over the world giving lectures? Would I have published many books?

Maybe. But would I be more or less happy than what I am today?

I think I would still be happy, but in a different way. I've learned to stop envying my single friends what they are able to achieve without the considerations of husband's career and child's education.

As the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:11-12:

"... for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. "

Why did the Apostle Paul feel this way?

"13 I can do everything through him [Jesus Christ] who gives me strength."

So I wish this young lady strength to carry on. Celebrate the life that she still has. Channel her energies into doing something positive.

Having two children is not necessarily better than having one. Having one is not necessarily better than having none. Being married is not necessarily better than being single.

Each is different and each brings with it joys as well as tribulations. Let us learn to be "content in any and every situation".

Many blessings to all!

The link to the newspaper report http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,8122-2075264,00.html

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Bird farms, bird flu

Found the following report which supports what I've suspected all along and mentioned in a previous blog. It's factory farming that is to blame for the spread of bird flu.

Worse is to come, it seems. Note the last sentence in this report.

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Taken from Straits Times Feb 28, 2006

'Poultry industry to blame' for bird flu
Wild birds, backyard farms not at fault, says NGO report

BANGKOK - A NEW report released yesterday blamed the transnational poultry industry, and not small-scale poultry farming and wild birds, as the root cause of the global bird flu crisis.

The spread of industrial poultry production and trade networks has actually created ideal conditions for the emergence and transmission of lethal viruses such as the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, said Mr Devlin Kuyek of the Montreal-based international non-governmental organisation, Grain.

Once inside densely populated factory farms, viruses can become lethal rapidly and amplify, Mr Kuyek said in the report released in Barcelona yesterday, the Bangkok Post reported.

Air thick with viral load from infected farms was carried for kilometres, while integrated trade networks spread the disease through many carriers: live birds, day-old chicks, meat, feathers, hatching eggs, eggs, chicken manure and animal feed, he said.

'Everyone is focused on migratory birds and backyard chickens as the problem,' said the researcher at Grain, which promotes the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity based on people's control over genetic resources and local knowledge.

'But they are not effective vectors of highly pathogenic bird flu. The virus kills them but is unlikely to be spread by them,' he said.

By contrast, Grain argued that backyard poultry farms watch their birds closely and know when they are sick, but a sick bird or two among thousands in industrial poultry outfits are much more difficult to detect.

Although wild birds can become ill with H5N1 bird flu, BirdLife International said that if they have any role in spreading the virus, it is minor compared to other mechanisms.

BirdLife, a global partnership of conservation organisations in more than 100 countries, said: 'All the evidence suggests that H5N1 is highly lethal to migratory wild bird species and kills them quickly, that infected migrants cannot move long distances and that the virus is most likely to be contracted locally, close to the site of deaths.'

For example, in Malaysia, the mortality rate from H5N1 among village chickens was only 5 per cent, indicating that the virus had a hard time spreading among small-scale chicken flocks.

H5N1 outbreaks in Laos, which was surrounded by infected countries, had only occurred in the country's few factory farms, which were supplied by Thai hatcheries, the report said.

The only cases of bird flu in backyard poultry, which accounted for more than 90 per cent of Laos' production, occurred next to the factory farms.

'The evidence we see over and over again, from the Netherlands in 2003 to Japan in 2004 to Egypt in 2006, is that lethal bird flu breaks out in large- scale industrial chicken farms and then spreads to other places and regions,' Mr Kuyek was quoted by the Bangkok Post as saying.

The Nigerian outbreak earlier this year began at a single factory farm, owned by a Cabinet minister, distant from hotspots for migratory birds but known for importing unregulated hatchable eggs.

Grain asked a burning question why governments and international agencies, such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, were doing nothing to investigate how the factory farms and their by-products, such as animal feed and manure, spread the virus.

Instead, they were using the crisis as an opportunity to further industrialise the poultry sector.

Initiatives are multiplying to ban outdoor poultry, squeeze out small producers and restock farms with genetically modified chickens.

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