Mindfulness in Ho Chi Minh

IMG_7861Ho Chi Minh, (Saigon as it was) is a destination where I could sense my neurons lighting up with alacrity as I observed the city street scenes embracing a culture so different from Australia with its sights, smell and sounds of Asia teasing you at every juncture.

We had visited Vietnam once before, briefly on a cruise with day visits to Ho Chin Minh and Halong Bay, which was simply not enough time appreciate the magic of Vietnam. But enough time, with two hour coach rides into and out of Ho Chin Minh, to be amazed at the Vietnamese dominance and culture of the motor scooter.

The country boasts 30 million motorbikes/scooters equating to 95% of all registered road vehicles. A first time visit to ‘Nam spins you out of our established idea of motorbike usage. Forget Australia’s sights; a drove of newly bronzed backpackers nervously steering their scooters along coast roads hanging for the promise of a cold drink at the beach, men with red bandannas and leather chaps on gleaming Harley Davidson’s ready to throttle up the Great Ocean Road or the local postie wheeling into your drive. On the Vietnamese pot-holed roads you will more than likely see Momma and three small children perched precariously behind Poppa as he weaves his way in and out of the traffic. Here too you will see all manner, shape and size of commercial commodities laced to the frame of a Suzuki with the helmeted driver barely able to see the road in front.images-3

In Ho Chin Minh city, the bikes in all weathers create orchestrated chaos, there does not seem to be any road rules at all. Scooters flow into, weave around pedestrians and cut across the line of traffic without signals or sense of fear. While we did not see any accidents the road fatalities are understandably high in Vietnam with 1200 deaths a year. In Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) you can only be amazed that there are not more accidents as the city’s 3.1 million motorbikes, like buzzing ants, fill the roads to overflowing.

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Crossing city roads was my senior equivalent of a bungee jump. My guide said walk slowly and steadily across the stream of traffic, don’t stop don’t step back just slow and steady.’ But wait there is a crossing,’ I say ‘why don’t we cross there?’ My guide smiled Yes but the same rules apply as traffic does not stop or slow. A road-crossing phobic can do two things in Ho Chi Minh – stay in the hotel for the entire time and miss out on the bounty of life of Saigon or have faith in a different culture and trust that these bikies know what they are doing. Being one of the most fearful pedestrian when it comes to crossing the road I say proudly I did it, not once but several times and came away with nary a scratch or a bump.

We took a fascinating half-day tour in Ho Chi Minh visiting the Reunification Palace, Saigon Opera House, Notre Dame, Ben Thanh Markets and the War Remnant Museum. Mia, our tour guide of Charms of Indochina Travel Company gave breath and life to the history of Vietnam. No mean feat on a hot and monsoonal day when ones mind is sluggish and body sapped with sweat. Finally we asked if she rode a motor scooter in the city. Of course, she said. ‘But the traffic,’ we say ‘is so horrendous how to do you do it?’ It is about being aware, being conscious of the intention of riders around you and allowing their progress as they allow yours. Being mindful is the key.

 Very Zen I think as I cross the road to my shiny hotel, walking steadily beaming out my mind intention of simply getting to the other side.

 

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What did you say?

Unknown-3Like many people of my age, I am audio challenged – my hearing loss was caused by perforated eardrums.

But I am lucky quality hearing aids correct it. Without wearing these modern day wonders, if you are downwind from me I have little chance of hearing you. But face-to-face with good articulation I am reasonably able to receive your message.

When ‘aid-less’ the occasional blurring of consonants may give rise to confusion for me and the speaker.  Like sinking becomes thinking, Thursday becomes thirsty, fifth/lift, sit/shit and so on and so on.

Being deaf can produce amusing moments, especially for others. The fact is that lampooning hearing loss is still socially acceptable unlike making fun of other disabilities.

I join in the laughter at my gaffs. Like the time, BHD (before hearing devices), my friend asked me, “how is your urine?” Wow — that is personal I thought but she was a good friend and I presumed there was a purpose to her enquiry. I replied, “all good just have to get up a couple of times at night.”

She grabbed my arm, “No I said how is your hearing?” mouthing the words carefully and deliberately.

Hearing devices amplify sounds so in most situations they work well but in excessively Unknown-2noisy situations like a shopping centre, they simply swell the peripheral noise.

Most hearing loss adults over time have learned to read people’s lips and I am no exception. I cannot read people’s chatting lips from a distance. I need them in front of me where I follow their lips, eyebrow lifts, chin thrusts and body language to interpret the message as accurately as possible.

Sadly there is a stigma attached to deafness, people see it as being ‘old,’ ‘slow,’ ‘rude’ or ‘stupid.’ The broad sweep of ageism that society conveniently attaches to the aberrations of growing older.

And it is a condition that most frequently affects the older generation (65 and over) with one in three people in the US and one in six in Australia experiencing a hearing loss.

Steps you can take to manage adult hearing loss positively:

  • Acceptance – once you accept the limitations of loss of hearing you can manage it more effectively
  • Focus on doing things that you love
  • Get a good audiologist’s advice when investing in quality hearing devices
  • Own up to your deafness with family, friends and colleagues – tell them how they can help you
  • Keep socially active
  • Keep physically active

Risks of listening to excessively loud music

There are various factors that cause adult deafness but one that is on the horizon and growing rapidly in risk is exposure to loud noises. Society has been aware since the ‘50s that industrial noise can cause damage and we have taken precautions in the form of legislation to protect workers. But no legislation is in place to protect our young who like to listen to their music on their phones and iPods at a dangerously high level. It seems loud music driven into ears by those pesky ear-buds can be the same decibel level (110) as a jumbo jet taking off! Fifteen minutes of listening at this decibel level will damage the ears.

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The World Health Organisation back in 2015 warned nearly half of young adults – between the ages of 12 – 35 are exposing themselves to dangerously loud noise level and that more than one billion teens and young adults are at risk of losing their hearing.

Hearing loss caused by constant exposure to loud music is something we can prevent. Like any other medical condition prevention is the key:

• Use headphones rather than ear-buds.
• Use earplugs at nightclubs or loud pop concerts.
• Turn the volume down.

Hearing loss is not fun. While people may smile and josh as you laugh at their hearing bloopers, the truth is hearing loss impacts on the quality of work and social life. Your frustration in being with them is nothing compared to the isolation they feel without their hearing devices.

Rosie Malezer author of “How to be Deaf” wrote, “Your hearing status doesn’t make you a better person. Your humanity does.”

And with the rising tide of adult deafness predicted this is how you can show your humanity:

  • Talk directly to the person.
  • Don’t turn your head, especially downwards where your voice will disappear.
  • Articulate purposefully, as in ‘a,’ ’e,’i,’ ’o,’ ’u.’
  • Speak more slowly, not necessarily more loudly but more clearly
  • Understand that most will have learned to lip read to a certain extent so don’t put your back to the sun with the person in front of you – they will not be able to see you clearly to do so.
  • Avoid venues where clatter and chatter override a deep and meaningful conversation
  • Above all be patient

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Creative Journeys

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My parents and I on a summer holiday 1952

 

In my book A Journey of Creative Healing I tell how I believe  that committing to a creative project every day, come rain or shine, helped heal me from multiple sclerosis.

When that intuitive message came to do something creative everyday it made total sense as I had learned the joy and satisfaction of being creative from an early age.  My mother was the ultimate creative,  and an eminently kind gentle soul – I was her shadow,  I loved her beyond the widest ocean, higher than the sky and all of the tea in China!

My grandfather was a self-made man, he was an importer of coffee and dried fruits and conservative to the bone, which meant he did not believe in women working. Instead, Mummy learned to sew a fine seam, make all of her clothes and hats. She loved hats and wore clochethem well, so much so they became her signature dressing, ‘choose the hat first darling and the decision on the rest of the outfit falls into line.’

imagesWhen eventually my Grandfather gave permission for my parents to marry after seven years of ‘courting,’  in setting up her first home she rebelled against the heavily Victorian style of the house of her childhood and embraced the 1930’s cutting-edge-fashion of art deco. She was an avid collector of Clarice Cliff, the legendary ceramic artist’s pottery.  In the Blitz, we lost our home and everything in it.  Later when we lived with our grandfather, his house was hit by a V1 doodle bug and again all we had were clothes we stood in.

make do and mendMake Do & Mend’ was a government catchphrase during that time and my mother was very good at. She found a semi-detached house to rent and once again created a stylish home. There were no quarterly household item collections, there were no flea markets and furniture was scarcer than hen’s teeth with everything rationed. But she begged borrowed and made make-do-&-mend into an art form. Today’s home-stylists  would have adored her as she was the Queen of renovation.  She bought the old, tired and worn back to life;  recovering threadbare chairs and settees, French polishing scratched and dull furniture to a glowing patina and painting the house inside and out.

lampshadShe especially loved the spill of lighting from table lamps, overhead lighting was never used, and graced all of her many lamps with her hand-made pleated chiffon lampshades. She was equally at home in the garden and our small colourful blooming patches, both front and back, were the envy of neighbours.

She was a good cook, and when her father died and left her a small inheritance she set pinkup a small café. Immediately her morning and afternoon tea concept was a winner, people loved her sense of style, pink bone china for tea and for coffee, the first of its kind shatter free glass cups and saucers. Soon the market demanded luncheons and she started her day before sparrow twitter preparing, baking and cooking and achieving a regular sixty covers a day for lunch and a steady morning and afternoon trade.

She smoked, a pack of cigarettes a day, but elegantly like a glamorous heroine out of a forties film and died too young. She was a casualty of the English class system,  she identified herself as ‘upper middle class’ and fought to hang onto to this label throughout her life. Sadly if she had been asked to define herself her first priority would be ‘I am middle class, but upper middle class,’ instead of saying what a magnificent all-round nurturing Goddess that she was.

In Memory

imagesDo you realise that death is sexy? No? You obviously have not been watching enough daytime television. I’m talking about the surfeit of ads for funeral expense cover. Advertisements with symbolic backgrounds of fluffy white clouds fading into the distance of verdant hills and valleys which feature folk who provide us with a specious ‘neat and tidy’ sense of their loss.  The superficial scripting invariably shows an actor place a forefinger softly to their lips as they stare into the distance, indicating their wistful remembrance of their Mum/Dad/Aunty/Uncle. The lead turns to the camera, pauses momentarily, before they warmly endorse the benefits of the deceased’s choice of funeral plan or funeral home. ‘It made it so easy for us at a time when we needed support.’ Action: a clutch of a lace trimmed handkerchief before once again staring into the distance.

Advertisers like to shield us from real grief, after all there is nothing sexy about raw, gut-wrenching grief is there? Their spin is that caring men and women will not leave their families burdened with the responsibility of their funeral needs. The message re-enforced with the use of strong minded and active geriatric parents in rude good health with images of them hitting a golf ball or driving away with the caravan in tow demonstrating that although they live life to the fullest they will always do the right thing by their families.

The subliminal message from these spin doctors is that death is a natural part of life and if you have done the right thing and organised your funeral plan your loved ones will be free of the burden of responsibility, and hypothetically allow them to manage their loss more conveniently. While those people that don’t buy obviously show no care for their families.

Recently in the mail I received a letter with the headline ‘What would your doctor say if he or she could see inside your arteries?’ It gave me descriptions of four serious silent diseases guaranteed to kill me but if I paid $199 NOW (saving $101) I could save my family heartache and despair. Early detection is vital it said – the same message that is drummed into us with every other scare-mongering health catch that drug companies like to promote.

Yes we are going to die, yes disease may manifest but aggressive marketing such as this is simply causes the vulnerable to focus on the negative. We need to come out of fear and trust in our own ability to act on our health when we think appropriate, not because some company is determined to make its profits from healthy people who may well will be swayed by fear to buy.

Personally I find this type of fear and guilt marketing pornographic. Its single aim is to shame people about the depth of their love of their family. Fear and shame our powerful motivators but we know that love is even greater. I’m sure most families would reflect their gift of love in organizing the last farewell gives them time to assimilate the shock of death and a bridge to the processing of their grief for the dearly departed.