I guess to some degree, it comes as no surprise that we have overstayed our welcome with my in-laws. How long did it last? 20 days? I kinda knew this would happen, when you are stuck in a house with 4 adults and 2 kids, and two of those adults are used to being left to their own devices, no interruptions, no changes in routine, its going to get stressful for someone, and so it has, so in the most awkward conversation on earth, akin to one I have had only once before in my life when I was 19, our family have decided to find paid living quarters somewhere else in this tiny Dutch town, so that we salvage whats left of our dignity and stay sane together as a family.
So now we have bought a car, a small, second hand that was owned by someones grandmother, with low mileage on it, it will do. And come the 5th day of January we will move into some sort of holiday home on the banks of a river, or lake, I am not sure, the pictures make it look fantastic, and hope to make an honest go of feeling at home for the few months before we get the boat, fix it up and then say our goodbyes to these here lands held captive by dykes!
In order to ensure we have the right to stay here, and more so that I have the right to come back here once I return from Hong Kong, we have had to register ourselves as residents in Holland. The problem is that although I am a Japanese citizen and enjoy certain privlileges such as not having to take an exam if I were to emigrate to Holland, as a visitor who doesn't need a visa, I get only 90 days of visa free status. This applies to the whole of Europe then, and so if we plan to sail Europe, I am going to need more than just 90 days. The other issue is also for me leaving Holland to return to Hong Kong in a time of Covid19. Not only is it going to be a shitfight to get into Hong Kong, a battle I have half won purely by being a permanent resident of Hong Kong and hence the only kind of accepted traveler into the country, its likely going to be a shitfight for me to get back into Holland unless I have some sort of paperwork proving I have rights to live here in Holland.
So today, we registered our family at the local City Hall. The only bummer about that decision is that home schooling is illegal in Holland. So until we can be sure that we check ourselves out of Holland, we will need to send our kids to an actual brick and mortar Dutch school where they will receive all instructions in Dutch!
That is correct, my sons who are 7.5 and 9 years old respectively and who have not spoken Dutch since they were babbling 2 year olds, are going to have to go to a local school, learn everything from Science to Mathematics in Dutch! That should be a fun experience! My husband says its no big deal, after all, he did it when he was 13 when his family moved him back to Holland from Australia, and his sisters did it too when they were 9 and returning from Australia after having only spoken English up to that point...and yet, I am scared to death about the shock my sons are going to have.
The one hope I do have is that after 6 months of immersion, my boys will finally speak fluent Dutch and that will be a beautiful thing for my husband, even if may end up being a lonely experience for me. I know my husband misses being able to speak his language, but its not the most important thing in his universe. I grew up speaking Japanese, but then I went to boarding school and I forgot it all. Well, I didn't forget it ALL, but I certainly lost my motivation to communicate in Japanese, so every time my mother spoke to me in Japanese, I would respond in English. I think to this day, I still do that. The only time I speak Japanese with my mother is when we are actively excluding someone from a conversation, like a rude stranger or some such.
I can comprehend Dutch, for the most part, much the same way I can comprehend Cantonese, its all situational, I can't watch the news and know for sure what the talking head is saying, but I could get a pretty decent grip of the basics of what is being said. When I read Dutch, that is much easier for me to comprehend, much the same that reading Spanish or French is easy to comprehend. I have studied so many languages in the past, and yet I am the master of none.
Anyway, the reason I am writing today is because one comment I got was egging me on into writing more, and technically I really ought to write more, its so therapeutic, it beats trying to find someplace I can buy weed in a time of Covid-19 in a country where its legal but its all been shut down with the lockdown! Writing is so much more relaxing, wouldn't you say?
There is one thing I am not sure I mentioned prior, that we brought our cats with us to Holland. They, Mittens & Meow Meow, flew to Holland with us on the same flight, albeit in cargo. They have been here at my in-laws place with us these past 20 days, but today we dropped them off at my husbands Aunts home for the time being as it was no longer feasible to keep them in this house, and even once we move to our temporary holiday home by the water, its unlikely we will be permitted to keep pets. So for now, they are in good hands until we are ready to set sail, at which point we will take them on board with us.
For now they are with my husbands Aunt who has two old cats and a nearly blind old dog. She's a lovely woman who lives on a large canal boat, and the cats, much to my surprise, settled right into her place without any anxiety or hiding behind standing furniture or book cases! So strange! I guess they must have felt the calm in that space. My son started to cry when we were leaving her home, even though she was reassuring him that we can come visit anytime and that this was only a temporary arrangement until we could leave to sail around the world with the cats, still, he's only nine, and he's so attached to the cats. Poor guy, but hey, he will be happy when he sees them again later this week, no doubt.
Holland is in strict lockdown, so we are just lucky we were able to visit her being as we are 2 adults and somehow "kids don't count"! It is strange here, the rate of infection is through the roof and its likely because they have rules like, "kids below 13 don't need to wear masks" when we are kinda in awe that they don't know that those are the super spreaders! I mean, if kids are out there carrying the virus around without masks, what the hell kind of chance has grandma got to protect herself from those walking petridishes?
We are ensuring our kids keep their masks on. None of that will be happening for us. Complete and utter nonsense, honestly. Even for my sister-in-law who recently lost her sense of smell and taste, eventually getting tested and being confirmed with Covid-19, the national health service told her to stay home for a week and that as long as she didn't have any symptoms, she could straight away head on out there as if nothing happened! And you wonder why Hong Kong has a 21 day quarantine policy upon arrival, even after one tests negative for Covid-19 on arrival, then negative again on day 10, and then negative again on day 19! Am I crazy to think that they aren't handling this well at all? And I am certainly not crazy to think Hong Kong is also over the top with the 21 days! Personally I think they are doing this forced quarantine in a Hotel you need to pay for, all to help boost the hotels income! Some of the room rates for the approved hotels were absolutely ridiculously high!
Its going to cost me nearly USD2000 for this horrible prison stay, and I have yet to figure out how I will get to eat or if anyone will actually clean my room! I am dreading the whole prospect and I hope against hope that the 21 days will be reduced to 14 days by the time I actually hop on that flight.
No point worrying about this, all I know is that once I return to Holland after closing the shop in March, my husband and my father-in-law will head to Sweden and they will sail the boat to Holland. That will be the point at which they begin working together on the boat and then we hope to meet up with the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) that will be coming this way from Plymouth, so that to some degree we feel that we will have safety in numbers. That should be somewhere early June of 2021, so for me, its just a matter of waiting until then.
Time...give me patience.
We arrived in Holland nearly 20 days ago. I have been managing what little I can for the team, remotely. I have been fortunate enough that my team is more than capable and that I have trained them well enough to manage the day to day operations without my constant presence to reassure them. They know this is a necessity, as my family had to relocate, they also know I will come back for the final month of our lease, to tie up all the loose ends before we hand over the shop to the landlord.
Its about a month or so before I get back on a flight to Hong Kong, and much to my dismay I have found that the government has upped the quarantine period to 21 days. This will mean 21 days that I sit in one room in a hotel, without being permitted to leave! I have been struggling to deal with the anxiety already creeping in purely from me thinking about being trapped in a room for 21 days.
How am I going to cope? How will I keep myself from going nuts? I mean, lets face it, Netflix ran out of anything good to watch after the first 4 months of the pandemic, and we are heading up to a year now! I know, these are completely minor first world complaints, but I am seriously worried I will get extremely panicked being stuck alone for 21 days without any change of scenery!
Anyway, its because of the 21 day quarantine that I have had to return to Hong Kong earlier than I had originally planned. There are so many issues with coming back, not the least of which is that Cathay only has one singular flight to Hong Kong from Amsterdam a week! Used to be one flight a day! Now its one a week.
This Covid19 pandemic has just been the ultimate spanking for everyone, hasn't it? Not just my business, but my family, our life, our security. Oh well. Can't go whining about stuff I can't change, all we can do is look to the future.
I feel optimistic about the future, I just wish it would get here sooner! So many things I want to get out of the way and so many things I have no clue how we will cope with, and yet, its just a matter of time and us being able to handle ourselves through the years of pandemic ahead of us.
What is the deal with the vaccine? If we got it, would travel become easier? If we got it, how long does it remain effective? So many questions and as yet, no one has any concrete answers.
My mother-in-law has been slated to be one of the first few to receive the vaccine as she is front line staff, working in a care facility for elderly patients with AD (Alzheimer's disease), she is also in a high risk category as she has MS. So although we are waiting for her to be able to get protected from Covid-19, we are also anxious about the widely discussed side effects and also about the efficacy of the vaccine, not to mention that we have no idea what the prognosis is in the long term. She has had allergic reactions to the common flu vaccine in the past, so we are concerned about how it will go with this vaccine. On top of that, many at her work are becoming concerned and having second thoughts on whether or not they will get the vaccine because they are unsure of the safety aspect of the vaccine.
So do I want to get vaccinated? No. I have never been one for the flu vaccine either. I am not an anti-vaccination nitwit, as I have mentioned previously, I have been vaccinated in my youth for all childhood diseases and I never got a single one, so my immune system actually received the vaccinations well and protected me. My children are all up to date on their vaccines too. The only issue I have is that this vaccine has been rushed to production and I honestly am no expert, but I wouldn't be willing to take it except if it made my life easier from a travel standpoint.
As we have seen time and again, many sailing families have ended up stranded off shore as countries refuse to allow them to set foot on land in a time of Covid-19 fear. Its understandable, but its also of great concern that we don't end up experiencing the same, unable to restock on supplies or being quarantined at sea.
We have bought a boat, a second hand sailing vessel, in Sweden, and we need to wait until the end of winter and the beginning of spring before we can get the boat from the yard there and into the water for all the final checks to ensure its ready for voyage through Sweden and Norway down to Holland. We have chosen this route because its likely the safer bet than sailing down to Holland via the North Sea, which will be rough and unforgiving at that time of the year.
I say "we" but really when it comes to the pick up of the boat and the subsequent sail down to Holland, I will be absent from the journey, it will be my husband, my father-in-law and some random third person they hope to join them, who will make the 7-10 day journey back, bringing our mono hull to Holland.
We have decided to name the vessel a Japanese name, Kokoro.
It was a tough decision, mainly one because we had initially thought we would name the vessel, "Confusion" after the shop and to just keep that dream alive, but after my first week in Holland, and a minor hiccup of my sister having a bit of a breakdown on the other side of the world, I came to the conclusion that the meaning of the name runs deeper than just two Spanish words pushed together and I didn't want that feeling following us around into the future.
Its a long story, maybe one I can go into at some point in the future, but for now, what I can share is that our boat will be named Kokoro. Kokoro is a hard term to translate, but it essentially means "heart, mind, spirit", its a very Japanese concept of being. It looks good in Kanji (Chinese alphabet) as well as Katakana (Japanese alphabet), so much as Confusion has a place in our history, we will not be naming the boat the same.
Our sailing vessel is a 52 foot yacht, a custom build from the 90's that has already done a few ocean crossings. Its a sturdy vessel with fully wood interior, 5 cabins and once we are done with fixing her up, will be kitted out with solar, lithium batteries big enough to run an air conditioning unit on, and with a water maker to make water that is drinkable, from the ocean around us.
Come summer of 2021, we will set sail to the Mediterranean and then sail around the Med for 2 years, home schooling our kids, creating video content about the world we see and our life lesson of sustainable living that we hope to share with others, as well as cooking videos that are creative and plant based, from our journey to farmers markets every port we call into.
But first, I have to come back to Hong Kong, quarantine for 21 days alone in some hotel room, then I have to get down to clearing out all the excess stock and equipment from the shop, one day at a time, one piece at a time, before we go through the process of breaking the shop back down to what they call "bare shell condition" which means no plaster on the walls, no furniture, no built in cupboards, no toilet bowl or doors, nothing...
Feels nuts to think that in just a few months, our little piece of home will be reduced to nothing but rubble and dust.
And so the story goes, maybe one day I can open another Confusion in the Netherlands...
I would like that very much.
But first...I want to travel the world, show my sons the beauty all around them before its too late.
Wishing you all well in the year ahead. And see you all soon.
I would like to share with you one of my favorite poems in the whole world.
in the gold light
turning this way
it was one
like any other.
the veil had gone
it must have been the quiet
that filled my room,
it must have been
with which I breathed
myself to sleep,
it must have been
the prayer I said
speaking to the otherness
of the night.
this is the good day
meet your love,
this is the gray day
to you could die.
This is the day
how easily the thread
between this world
and the next
and I found myself
in the quiet pathway
the tawny close
me like fire
and all the angels
of this housely
through the first
roof of light
the sun had made.
This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.
This is the temple
of my adult aloneness
and I belong
to that aloneness
as I belong to my life.
There is no house
like the house of belonging.
'The House of Belonging'
From The House of Belonging
Poems by David Whyte
©David Whyte and Many Rivers Press
s-The last week has been a tsunami of emotional upheaval for my family.
I remember when I was a kid, my mother worked for a Japanese hedge fund kinda company. She loved her job, she had no idea about finance per se, but she was the equivalent of the head honchos personal assistant/company manager. Somewhere during her time of working in this small company that did investments for a number of Japanese people with money to play around with, her boss' wife passed away from cancer.
It was an insanely stressful time for her boss, an older Japanese gentleman who likely had spent the last three decades in an office, supporting his wife and kid, and suddenly his wife was dead. He was overwhelmed by decisions about the future but also with decisions more immediate such as "what kind of casket did he wish to choose for his wife to be cremated in"? Things he stood around, numb, incapable of making a choice because what the hell kind of casket did he actually think someone ought to be burned in?
Where I am going with this is...that for all those hard decisions, from the choice of flowers to the notices being sent out to clients and family, even down to the kind of coffin, my mother helped unburden him of these decisions. In many ways, my mother lightened the load for her boss.
Right now, my mother is 70 years old and trapped in India with my 75 year old father, locked down and social distancing, and I have no idea when I will see her again, but dammit I could sure as hell use her advise right about now!
My mother was about the same age as I am now when she helped her old boss through the sudden death of his wife. And as I sit here, just having had my 44th birthday, I feel painfully unprepared for what is essentially the greatest upheaval to happen at the middle of my life at a time where I feel woefully unprepared.
I have to remind myself of every obstacle in my life that I have overcome, all the way from childhood until now, so that I can become present to what I am capable of and the strength that lies dormant within me that will get me through this shitstorm unscathed.
So how about a quick trip down memory lane to remind myself of everything I have overcome in life? You up for this? Its gonna be a hilarious game of "Who knew!"
When I was about 11 years old, I remember injuring myself pretty bad. I had used a pumice stone (basically a volcanic rock that you use to scrub off dead skin cells) to try to sand off the hairs on my legs. Yes, that is actually a thing, hey, I grew up in India and I was in boarding school from when I was 4...plus, you know, being part Indian, I did have to deal with the shy embarrassment of having hairy legs and wishing I didn't!
Anyway, long story short, I over scrubbed...and I essentially scrubbed a lot of the skin off my shins. Not good. These two shins of broken skin then became a right messy wound that simply wouldn't heal, and I would quietly put whatever I had in my tiny school first aid kit (we were at boarding school) and I would then cut a piece of cloth from an old shirt, and cover it coz thats what was on hand, and I would pull my socks up to my knees.
Why I didn't just go to the school nurse had to do with one single fear: Tetanus injections.
If you have ever had a tetanus shot, you will recall that its almost impossible to raise your arm for a day or two after. They hurt, a lot! And in India, a country where dirt and rusty barbed wire are a thing, any kind of open wound would have you send for a tetanus jab just to be safe. I didn't want one so I ended up taking "care" of my own wound, in the most substandard and likely unsanitary way possible, for two whole months! Two months of oozing shin wounds and borrowing other students first aid kits once mine ran dry...and then for a weekend my mother finally took me home from school. She discovered these pus covered "cloths" in a bin and asked me what happened!
Ashamed, I told her, and she immediately chided me on why I had kept this secret from her, I had no real answer. Anyway, she cleaned my shins, raw and open as they were inflamed, and she used all these fancy imported sterile dressings and ointments, and in two days, the wounds were closed and healed!
I think back to that experience and I am just grateful I never had to get my legs frikken amputated because what the hell was I thinking??? Seriously, that could have gone so badly! But I survived it, and I still have scars on my shins, a constant reminder of the shit I went through, mostly alone, in fear, until my mother just gave me some proper care.
Fast forward some more. When I was 18, I lived in Austin, Texas. I was riding my bicycle towards somewhere downtown when I hit a curb head on...I flew over the handlebars, something hit me square in the face, I began bleeding something fierce...its when i learned even the smallest cut on your face or head bleeds a lot, way more than anywhere else!
So, I had to get help from passers by, I was taken in an ambulance, my face was stitched up, I was given crutches, I didn't know it then but I had basically torn my ACL in my left leg and likely torn the meniscus as well.
I had to pay for a cab from there...back to my Co-op, and then I called a friend who took me clubbing, crutches and all. I found that more than the Vicodin they gave me, what stopped the pain was MDMA.
Yep. You read that right. It was the 90's, I was a college student in Austin, Texas. Club kids were a thing, you got paid to go clubbing and be sparkly and cute. So yeah, I basically danced my way through every weekend, no need for crutches as long as you had Ecstacy.
Now, I can't use that trick now, mainly coz I know better, and I finally had surgery on my ACL and my meniscus some 20 years after that accident that I cured with Molly!
When I was 20 and finally getting my life back on track, I found out I was pregnant with the bubba who is now my oldest son. I didn't have a clue what I was doing with my life, but I knew that I was ready to be his mother. I didn't have a job, his father had a shit job selling weather information, my parents were livid, but somehow I went through with taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions.
Was it the best decision of my life to get married and try to pretend it would all be ok? Probably not, but damn we did try our best. I started working as a data entry clerk at my parents friends new start up, and two years later I was the manager of a team of nearly 20 people...before I finally made the choice to leave my sons dad, got laid off when the company had to cut costs, and then taking a job as an assistant teacher which essentially meant changing diapers for kids who wore pull ups (worst diapers for poopin pants!).
I moved to Lamma to save money, I had to pay for a maid, I had to split time parenting with my ex husband, and times were frikken hard! Holy moly, but I was happy inspite of it all.
I have dated abusive partners who I have had the luxury of kicking out of my home. I have dated abusive partners who have tried to suggest they are kicking me out and I have been more than happy to leave. And each time I have landed squarely on my feet, helped by kind friends, kind moving van guys who sneak into a house and leave with only my intended belongings on their shortlist, kind bosses who have bought me TV's for my kid or shoes for me to feel special in....I have experienced so much kindness amidst great heartbreak and upheaval.
I went back to University when I was 30 only to come back 2 years later to a contentious custody battle that, in retrospect, was so wholly unnecessary, and yet, I survived that. I spent over HKD70K purely to keep my rights and to request things stay the same. I never tried to fight for sole custody, especially since my ex and I were already divorced years prior and our agreement was joint custody...but people do strange things when they feel they are right, not merely in their own choices but in making choices for others, and as painful and confusing all of that was, I am glad I went through that because it taught me that no matter how you wish someone to treat you with respect, you can't control that...and you also learn that if push came to shove, you can fight tooth and nail for what you believe is worth fighting for.
When my son was 17, we went through a painful process of rejection by him, only for him to come back and regret making that decision, by which point it was almost impossible to turn back the hands of time. The pain we both experienced took us years to overcome, but we overcame it nonetheless. We are close, we love each other, and we are able to speak of those memories with honesty and openness without the accompanying bitterness that the experience once held. I love my son, and I understand every single step of the process we both went through, the rejection we both experienced in solitary and together, and the forgiveness we each had to choose to gift ourselves and each other.
Here I am now...and I am dealing with a future that holds nothing familiar to me. I don't have a home to go to, a job waiting for me, a school to send my children to, a car or a bank account, a language that is common...
What can I do? What am I good at? What will become of us? Where do we start? When do we start? How do we support our lives?
Its insane how I have no mental map for this because I have not been here, not like this, not with this many dependents, and not with someone else who is also doing everything he can to cope with these very same sheets of blank paper that is our future.
Here is what I know.
I don't have a tumor.
No brain tumor. No lesions. No shadows. No visible damage or irregularity of the nerves that connect to my brain either. So the Ménière's disease is here to stay, but it can be managed. The doctor believes I can still freedive, I can dive, I can swim, and there is technically no reason for me to give up those possibilities in my future.
Yeah, its not great, but its not over the top. I am only classified as borderline hypertension at the moment. My question to the doc was this, "What will happen if I do nothing about this?"
Well, heart failure, kidney damage, and I think there was something else...maybe a stroke, who knows, I wasn't paying attention by that point coz heart failure and kidney failure was bad enough for me to consider that running for 30 mins a day may not be so bad despite me swearing I would not frikken run ever since it took me a year to fully recover mobility after my ACL reconstruction and Meniscus tear repair.
30 mins of jogging...to bring my blood pressure down by 5-10 points.
So here we are, all our belongings worth moving have been packed and shipped to the Netherlands. 40 boxes of "stuff", no furniture, just stuff...so they will likely go from the port in Holland to a storage unit, coz, lets face it, its not going to be fair to expect my father-in-law to store that much stuff for an undisclosed amount of time!
My 9 year old asked us how we felt the other day, with the apartment being as empty as it is...and we had to admit it felt like there was a void of sorts, in our chests...
"Yeah, right?" he said.
"Its like...its empty. The house is empty. The shelves are empty. It feels empty in our heart right now, at least it feels empty to me. Isn't that right, Mama? EMPTY!!!"
My husband and I looked at each other and we had to smile...kids. They really say some damned crazy stuff, but they are generally spot on!
That is kinda how I feel right, like a piece of me has been just ripped out of my chest, and yet, I don't know what is missing just yet.
I mean, as a human, I have birthed a baby not once, but three times. I have been through birthing at least one of those humans with zero epidural and just pure breathing that life into the world. I am sure I can handle being jobless, homeless and purposeless for a few months, right? Pshhh, how hard could this be? Lol.
As I ask around through friends about if they know anyone in the industry looking for a fully kitted out restaurant space with a license, I realize, anyone taking on a restaurant right now is either wet behind the ears or overly optimistic...plus I know my landlords are unlikely to negotiate the lease down that much further for new tenants, so I am just kinda biding my time until the lease is up.
Its just time now...time to see this all conclude. Hong Kong is now going into what they are calling the 4th Wave. Another wave of Covid19 infections, another round of "lets shut everything down" with zero promise of funding to come, so expect the restaurants that were already struggling to struggle some more. I am proud of us lasting this long, under these insane circumstances, and who knows, maybe we will be able to open Confusion in the Netherlands...but more importantly, I need to remind myself that I have been through so much horrible stuff in my life and always came out the other end and went on to thrive.
So this, this is shit, yes, but its all going to be ok.
We will survive this, we will come out the other side intact, and we will have one heck of a story to tell!
I do hope we can share our journey with you, in a way that flows, like a natural as possible transition from restaurant to sailing and cooking classes online. Who knows what we will end up doing and excelling at, but for now, I am going to stop worrying about something I have no control over.
I remember a saying from way back when, "When you spend your time with one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you will piss all over the present!' So yeah, for now, I kinda have to focus on the good that is right in front of me, or I am gonna wish I had done so, and regret is not something I am signing up for.
To the future, and to gratitude for lessons learned...and to grounded awareness for the present moment.
Thank you for letting me share.
When I started nearly three years ago, never in a million years would I have thought that this is where I would be, this is how things would turn out, and this is what I would become.
Things have been immensely overwhelming this past month and as much as I would love to pretend I am ok, I am barely holding it together.
Where do I start?
Well, how about I start with Cathay Dragon shutting down overnight. A 35 year old company with an outstanding record of service, and nearly 6000 staff all made redundant overnight. The kicker was that many of them found out they would be jobless from the press leak the day before! Once they got the company emails telling them that they were out of a job, they were sent a QR code for them to courier their uniforms, lapels, pins, belt, you name it, all back to Cathay City.
14 years of service, many of those as a Captain, and just like that, my husband was out of a job and we were left with the scramble of a logistical nightmare that is ending a life lived in Hong Kong.
We are lucky, as a family, we made the switch to a minimalist lifestyle quite some time ago, so we have no furniture to ship, only personal belongings, our beds, sofa and dining table we will likely leave for the next tenant if they want them, if not, we will just have to send them to the tip.
Anything else of value, we have either sold are in the process of selling.
We gave the school notice and our kids will cease going to school by the end of the month, the same time that we hope to be able to hop a plane and make the move back to The Netherlands.
The shop will continue, the team is staying put, and they are the most dependable team I have ever had the luxury to train, share ideas with, learn from and work with, so I know they will be fine until I can return to Hong Kong alone to ensure a smooth transition when we either return the key to the landlord or we find someone to take over our license & lease. That date comes by the end of March 2021. At this stage it feels like a lifetime away, but 2020 has passed by in the blink of a lazy eye and I know that March will be upon us before I have a second to practice gratitude or to continue feeling sorry for myself.
The same day my husband found out he was out of a job, October 21st, a day that nearly 6000 people will remember forever, is also the day I received a message from my mother telling me my fathers PSA numbers were high for the second time in 6 months and that they needed to get an appointment with a specialist to confirm whether or not my father had Prostate cancer.
Yeah, that was NOT a good day for my family.
I cried...a lot.
I was scared, helpless, just...I felt useless. I had no means to get back to India to be with my 70+ year old parents and I had no way to help my husband feel better about the very real prospect that the aviation industry is unlikely to recover for another four years at least, by which time it would be a miracle if he can get a job flying planes again!
My husband has wanted to be a pilot since he was four years old.
You know how many people dream a dream and actually make it reality? From four years old!
Now at 46, I have to watch his heart break...
And it breaks my heart. It just breaks my already broken heart. It hurts so much, I don't even know how to make the pain go away.
So here I am, trying to pick up the pieces, put it in boxes, to cargo what is left of us, and to top it all off, I got diagnosed with Ménière's disease! Like, seriously, double wtf with a side of fries, please! I would like a rare disease that has no cure and may possibly be managed by avoiding alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine and SALT!
Seriously, no soy sauce, Lis, no frikken soy sauce for an Indian Japanese Vegan Chef who cannot survive on a diet of "eat high protein, eat meat, meat, more meat, nuts, seeds, veggies and fruit"
Yeah, sure, like I can manage that and it won't depress the crap out of me!
Man, I could do with a drink right now!
I can't though...coz I know what will follow...loss of hearing, pressure in my left ear, vertigo, nausea, dizziness...and much as I would love to say, "just this once won't hurt", I have felt the pain, I have felt the almost instant pressure in my ear, the loss of hearing...and the nausea that is constant like the last dregs of a bad hangover...oh, and don't forget the fatigue, its like being pregnant without the joy of expecting!
I know, I am trying to be cheerful about this, but add a scheduled contrast MRI coming up this Monday to ensure its not a brain tumor I am contending with and you get the icing on that cake with, "Oh yeah, I forgot, look Ma, no insurance!!!"
Yeah, we had insurance with Cathay Dragon...and just like that...we don't. Ain't that how it always goes? You have brilliant to semi brilliant health, all the while that you have insurance, then once its gone you get diagnosed with a rare disease, your blood pressure scoots you into the "borderline hypertension" category, and you have to pay for a stupidly expensive MRI just to make sure you don't have a brain tumor which, holy crap, lets hope I don't! Pfft.
The silver lining in all of this is that we finally got news last week that my father has been confirmed by a specialist who shoved him into an MRI as well to be cancer free. Praise the forces of good!
We are doing our best, as a family, to be grateful for what we have and not dwelling on everything that is lost. Still...there are moments that I stop during my work and just begin to cry, not ugly sobbing, although I do have a lot of those moments too, but tears just begin to roll down my cheeks and I can't stop them. Its important to cry, I know this...just let it out, right? Besides, when you can't stop it, what choice do you have but to just go with the flow!
Our kids are just looking forward to no more school and making the monumental shift to home schooling. Yeah, I bet they are! Lol. Little do they know that this tag teaming duo of Mom and Dad are gonna be busting their asses to make sure they are ahead of the curve. Its going to be a whole new world for them...and for us.
People keep asking me, "so what are you guys gonna do?"
Well, what can you do when the primary breadwinner has no future job prospects in his field? Well, you adapt or die.
The restaurant may be seeing daily diners but we are nowhere near returning to pre-covid, pre-protest numbers. We are running on fumes. The team has been whittled down to bare bones staff and I can see that the fatigue has begun to set in for all of us. It starts with feeling run down, it continues with poor sleep patterns, and then all we need is one person to get sick from being immunocompromised and its game over for the rest of the team.
That is where we are right now.
One person finally got ill, and that means I have to step up my effort a bit more, that means other team mates have to cut short their days off and wait till we have a replacement, and all the while my heart breaks for my team even though all I want to do is close my eyes for a short break and forget about the immense stress we are all under, but more importantly, my own personal stress.
Damn. This year has been a hell of a year, eh?
To think we said, "Happy New Year" back when this year started! Pshhh, thanks for the punch in the face is what we should have said!
Nah, it will get better. I mean, maybe I have said it before, like...if you are at rock bottom, the only way to go is up and all that jazz...
Sometimes the worst stuff happens to you as a means to teach you how strong you are and how capable you are of keeping your shit together and lifting others up while you lift yourself out of the mosh pit of self-pity!
I have been fortunate this year in many ways. I have been able to make new friends, build lasting bonds, my husband and I have weathered the ultimate perfect (shit)storm and we have come out of the other side still holding our heads high. We have each other, we have a lot of people who have reached out to just share a kind word of encouragement or simply to quietly say they are sorry we are where we are but that they believe if anyone can survive it, it would be us...its a vote of confidence in our resilience, I guess, and I will take what I can get, coz I need to know we got this.
I need to know we can do this, not for us, but for my team, and for my kids.
How we deal with this will teach our children how to cope with extreme circumstances and to come out on top no matter how that looks. We don't need much money, as long as we can manage to home school our kids, earn a living through creativity and we do our part to live a sustainable life that is kind to the environment, the animals and to our bodies, we will be fine.
So whats the plan?
Well, we sell all our stuff, we buy a second hand yacht, we shove all our stuff and our kids in said yacht, and we spend the next decade making videos about sustainability, about living on the ocean, about the changing environment, about cooking with local produce from every stop we make on land...and about teaching our children about the world they live in, first hand and not from a book.
Are we any good at making videos? Not yet, but we will figure it out. Have we done any ocean crossings? Not yet, but we will figure it out. If there is anything we have on our side, its time. The world has slowed to a standstill thanks to Covid19. People have had to improvise, do a 180 degree turn in life, reassess their priorities, and we are not the first nor the last family to be dealt the hand we have. We will survive.
As for Confusion...
Yeah, I burst into tears from time to time about Confusion too...
Go big or go home...or just go quietly into the night...and say that it was good while it lasted, we did our best, we gave it our best shot...
Maybe one day we can open one in another country, but Hong Kong is no longer our home.
I grew up here. I went to school here. My children are all born here.
After 30 years, I am finally leaving and it feels surreal, if feels like nothing, it feels like I won't realize I have left for good until I simply realize I won't return. How many times have I taken a plane out of Hong Kong? I have always returned. Lived in America for four years, I still returned every year. Lived in Japan for two years, always returned, nearly every month!
So yeah, it is a bit surreal...that this time...there is no coming back. There is no reason to come back. My parents left here so many years ago. My brother left here so many years ago...and now...its my turn.
Now its our turn.
My oldest son is still at HKU...he has another year to go, so he will stay to complete his Undergrad and then he is planning on going straight into a Masters program. I don't think either of us has really registered that we may not see each other for a few years. 22 years in his life...and then who knows when I will see him again, I hope its not too long.
He's grown into a fine young man. I am so very proud of him. Working with me for nearly three years, I have seen him go from a clueless, entitled little teenager to a man with a fully developed prefrontal cortex, someone I can actually have deep and meaningful conversations with without calling him an idiot, lol. I am going to miss my boy, but I also know I can be confident he can manage just fine without me. He knows he is loved, deeply, and always will be, and he can always come sail the oceans with us when he wishes to take some time off from the real world.
The plan is to pick up this sailing vessel in Sweden come the end of winter in Sweden. We will then either sail it via Denmark and through to Holland, so as to avoid the possible rough North Sea, or we just brave it and sail the North Sea down to the coast of Holland, that plan has yet to be decided. From there we spend a few months altering the boat to install a water-maker, a desalination set up, put in more solar panels so we can comfortably run on solar for all our needs, and also to get lithium batteries so we could even run more energy taxing items on the solar without having to use fossil fuels to run the generator.
Once that is all done we will cast off and sail to the Mediterranean.
My husband says we can spend a year or two there to get our sea legs and once we are confident that we can handle ourselves as a team, we will make the ocean crossing towards the Caribbean Sea. What do they have there? Saint Kitts, the Dominican Republic, Saint Lucia, Antigua, The Bahamas....Cuba...shit, I don't know, its like all make believe for me right now because its about as real as dealing with the fact I have lived in Hong Kong for 30 years and may never return!
This all sounds so awesome and all, but deep down, I am scared shitless!
I am scared I won't be good enough. I am scared I don't know how to sail. I am scared for my health. I am scared for the safety and welfare of my kids. I am scared about money. I am scared about the oceans turning on us. I am scared of so many things that I don't even know I am meant to be scared of.
All I have is a very recent Ocean Survival course that I took with the RYA, so basically I know how to bust out the life raft and how not to abandon ship unless I absolutely have to. I know that if we were to abandon ship and end up in a life raft, don't eat a thing for 24 hours! I also took an Ocean First Aid Course....also very fresh in my memory, and I know now how I can set a broken leg or arm, I know how to clean a wound, I know how to do CPR and what brand of shock emitting thingy I may need to buy and how to administer it to jump start someones heart!
You can imagine, all that knowledge did not make me feel better whatsoever! I hope I never have to deal with a lion fish spike or one of those funky small blue dotted octopuses poisoning me or my family! I am just scared to death about the future and yet...I know I was built for this. My family is ready for this, ready as we will ever be, I mean, what else would we do? Sit in Holland, send our kids to local school while my husband works in construction and I work in a restaurant busting our asses, paying high taxes and doing the same old thing everyday?
I am not built for that, we aren't built for that.
So for better or worse, Fear can hop in the back seat with us and as long as he stays silent, he will be with us for the whole journey. The future is wide open...literally!
So I want to say thank you to everyone who has helped me along the last three years. I want to say thank you to my team. I want to thank my business partner for taking a chance on me. I want to thank everyone who continues to come and eat our food and to support us in any way they can. We will remain open until early next year, March at the latest if all goes to plan, so if you are wondering how much longer you can still dine with us, you still got time!
I will try and post again once my MRI results come out, lets hope we have some good news. I am as optimistic as I can be right now.
So thank you, for being along for the ride, and thank you for hearing me out.
With kindness and heartfelt gratitude.
Many moons ago when I studied and earned my "Plant Based Nutrition Certification" from eCornell, I remember learning about how there was no such thing as "sustainable fishing". And now, I find, well, there is this whole other world out there that is related to "ethical" eating even as a vegan, that many people are unaware of the ethical price of their food choices.
Oh sure, you hear the usual questions about, "Do you use plastic packaging at your shop? Because I don't support plastic packaging use!" but does anyone ever consider where their sugar comes from? Or whether or not the workers on whatever farm they get their veggies from are treated fairly and paid a fair wage? Do people ever consider how staff are treated/paid in the restaurants they dine in?
There is a whole other level of cognitive dissonance that exists, lurking beneath the feel-good factor of choosing a vegan diet, and delving deeper will only make your head spin and make you feel hopelessly incapable of enacting real change in a world obsessed with consumption.
We live in a capitalist system where resources are limited, food is scarce, clean drinking water is swiftly becoming a dream of the past...and its all part and parcel of our continued need to consume and to participate in this system of excess.
Whats wrong with owning less? Whats wrong with minimalism? Whats wrong with eating less and wearing the same old clothes many times over? And while we are on this subject of whats, what on earth is an "Influencer" and why do they have any say in anything at all?
You know what my brother said when I told him I was looking for a change?
"Yeah, man, you can become one of those "Vegan Warriors", you know? One of those "Influencers", like spreading the Vegan message, fighting for the Vegan cause!"
WTF is that supposed to mean? For real?
Like...is it about hashtagging everything? Hashtagging myself as a "Vegan Chef" and hashtagging my food as "saving the world one vegetable at a time!" or is it about making a name for myself so that then people will somehow believe what I say as being gospel and then change their ways?
I just...I've been walking this earth for more than four decades now. You know what I have learned? People don't change unless they want to. You can't force change. Sometimes I feel dejected and depressed and I think, damn, people aren't going to stop eating animals until they have fished the last damn fish out the ocean, until they have eaten the last calf to be born in an unnatural manner, until they have cracked the last egg on earth that was laid by the last sick and dying chicken...people will keep drinking the milk meant for another animals young, they will keep saying shit like, "Oh, but I can't really give up Cheeeeeeeese!" pshhh. Yeah, sorry, but what more can you expect out of me after I already went vegan, opened a damn vegan restaurant and really did what I could to show people whats possible with choosing a plant-based diet? What more can I do?
I can't even figure out where to begin...I understand now that you teach by example. I have always known that, and I just don't get the whole "Vegan Warrior" thing because I have always been averse to being hit over the head with something and when I am given the facts in a manner that respects my intelligence vs scaring me half to death, I tend to be more receptive.
Fear is a constant in our lives as human beings, why do we need to dish out more? Ethics and Morals are taught, and they can be learned. Many people don't want to change because change is hard and people are essentially insecure about the strength of their will power. More often than not, though, change weighs heavily on ones circumstances. Choosing a plant-based diet, choosing to eat "grass fed" whatever, choosing "organic" vs not, that is a luxury that many people the world over simply cannot afford.
So even though I actually put my money and my time where my beliefs align with my actions, I can still get shit from an armchair activist who believes they know what I ought to sell, what I ought to cook, what I ought to do with my time they have no hand in supporting financially. These same activists had an opinion on when our shop served Impossible Meat. They didn't consider the bigger picture and the lives (livestock) saved when this product came to the market.
They were willing to "cancel" a plant-based eatery serving Impossible but were all cheering and signing up for a "vegan tasting menu" on a Monday by a meat heavy restaurant playing soft ball with the plant-based movement.
Ripe with cognitive dissonance on exactly how blind they truly were.
You want to know what is hard about running a vegan restaurant? Knowing that no matter how hard you try, all you are doing is "reducing the harm", not just to the environment, but to all living beings. You still end up with issues like needing pest control, although I will be honest, that issue is more to do with fruit flies or not understanding that every bit of cardboard packaging needs to be discarded as soon as items are delivered if you wish to avoid things like roaches.
You can learn to make your shop the most inhospitable place for a pest to want to rock up to, maintaining cleanliness to high standards, ensuring everything is stored in airtight containers, and to lay down eco-friendly deterrents to things like ants crossing the threshold, but there will always be that odd chance that something escapes all your carefully laid plans to not take lives.
Our shop, before we moved in, was previously a family run local Chinese restaurant. When I viewed the place, prior to paying to take over their license and premises, I remember seeing tubs of raw chicken laying on low shelves, uncovered, maybe they were defrosting them, who knows, but I remember being mortified.
Cleaning the space was a mission in itself. I did a lot of it myself, scrubbing years worth of grime off walls, sweeping away the carcasses of roaches from years of people not having looked in corners dark and damp. My word, it was one of the most disgusting experiences of my life, and yet it was also an experience I took great pride in, because I would personally see a wall go from black to white, thanks to my due diligence.
Located on the ground floor and facing a "park" of some kind, we would see rats the size of small cats trot past on the regular. Keeping those rats away from our shop was a matter of militantly avoiding opening the back door, sealing every possible nook or cranny or hole in our walls and facades, and initially we did need to call pest control to ensure that these creatures were eliminated.
These early experiences are what pushed us to adapt and to store our goods with such care as to give a tiny mouse zero reason to come trotting in. You know, there is nothing worse than an exterminator laying down traps and you having the misfortune of coming across something like a gecko trapped on there. Its heart breaking. You feel like a frikken murderer. I cannot even begin to describe how awful it feels.
This is the reality of where your food comes from, just on the surface. You want to eat in a place that is clean, that has no pests, that makes you feel good about your food choices. And that comes at a cost, not just to the staff who work there, who are constantly working hard to make sure there is never going to be a breach of the perimeter, but also many of my team are Buddhist and have had to ensure that something as simple as a fruit fly, is not seen flying about near your food! Its a paradox of sorts.
Beyond all this was my sense of urgency with regards to protecting the health of my staff. When I worked at a restaurant, I remember that every first week of the month, they had pest control come in. We would have to cover all food and serving equipment with bin bags, and then the place would be heavily sprayed down. I would come in the next morning and part of my job was to remove all those bin bags that were used to cover everything.
I would end up with cold and flu like symptoms, brain fog, and fatigue that would last a week to ten days. It didn't take a degree in science to understand that the toxic load of that was what was causing my symptoms. I experienced this several times before I actively requested to avoid working the day after pest control, because I was already contending with liver damage that I was doing everything I could to recover from.
The first time I paid for pest control in my own shop, I ensured that I was standing right outside the shop as I waited for the fogging to be done. What I saw truly horrified me. Not only was the guy fogging the place not too concerned about protecting himself, he seemed to be quite blase about the whole thing saying that, ":Its safe, don't worry". Again, after I removed all the covering, despite me wearing protective 3M particulate mask, I got the same symptoms as I had experienced when I worked at the restaurant I had wprked at before I opened my own shop.
So I pushed the team to be mindful about how they cleaned everything at the end of each day. If we are extra vigilant about ensuring we don't create an environment that invites pests in, then we won't need to expose ourselves to these kind of toxins. I am proud to say we succeeded.
The last time we called an official pest control service of any kind would have to be towards the end of our first year. We have used everything from borax to baking soda, vinegar to fruit fly traps we make ourselves...but most importantly, we have done everything we can to always ensure that everything is properly stored and that our floors and fridges are always thoroughly cleaned daily.
To this day, I know that the choice to avoid serving ANY animal products has been a huge deterrent in keeping pests out. I also believe that in avoiding the use of excess chemicals I have not only saved the health and welfare of my team but also avoided unnecessary build up of toxins in our working environment. I would never have known what was possible if I hadn't been exposed to much of it first hand.
Covid19 has actually killed off the majority of our furry friends that we would see in great numbers in the back alley behind our restaurant. I am guessing that the lack of sightings have to do with the lack of easily available food scraps, a scarcity that was brought on by the curtailing of business hours for most restaurants and also the curtailing on the supply and demand for food produced in restaurants. Its a good thing, for sure, no doubt they stopped reproducing as much, and they just quietly went underground.
More than the lives lost to pest control, I have become increasingly aware about our hand in the working conditions that are faced by those who produce the raw materials with which we cook our food. We have, from the beginning, done what we can to avoid using vegetable and fruit that are listed on the "Dirty Dozen" and to maximize use of vegetable that we know are on the "Clean Fifteen" list. Of course, we can only do our best.
Ever considered why Almond Milk is something not ethically sound? Its a very water intensive crop. Avocado? Yeah, again, cartels, drought, and yet people want to put it in every frikken thing without considering how damaging this crop is to the ecosystem. Lets not even get into Sugar.
You want to bake anything, sugar will be part of that process. You want to be vegan and feel good about your veganism? Give up sugar!
Give up consuming anything with sugar in it. We can say, "Yeah, but raw sugar is vegan" and what not, but its not ethical. People working the sugarcane plantations are working under dangerous and often abusive conditions, modern day slavery is real.
I always wince when I see vegan blogs and Vegan "Influencers" who are all about the pastries and the cakes and the nuts, nuts and more nuts...oh, and avocados.
As a restauranteur, sometimes you have to make a choice and balance your ethics with what you know you are willing to serve and what the customer demands. There is still a lot that many vegans are willing to stomach as long as it comes with a vegan label, they don't want to have to think about the ethical cost of that product beyond some sort of "fair trade" or "sustainably sourced" label.
I get it, sometimes you think, "Damn, dude, I am already doing so much, why do I also have to do this to make a difference? Why can't one of those animal eating fools cut out the sugar instead of me?" lol.
I feel that way about a lot of things sometimes...and I have been through all the stages of grief, as a vegan and as a Chef/restaurant owner.
Then yeah, most of what I have been dealing with the last year or more has been depression and acceptance.
Almost resigning myself to the reality of the world we live in. A world in which a self-proclaimed "Vegan" is happy to eat plant-based chicken from a deep fryer at KFC that is shared with the real chicken eaters. How someone can call themselves "Vegan" and actively campaign that this is "progress", that is the reality I have to contend with.
I am just...yeah, I accept that this is the world we live in. Where "Vegan" doesn't mean what I believe it to mean. Where saying "Plant-Based" actually carries way more gravity than being Vegan. Where being Plant-Based also has its zealots about being whole foods plant based (WFPB) which in the end actually IS the most ethical way of eating, and I have been so not ready to deal with that myself that I got caught up in the small picture aspect of choosing a plant-based diet and running a plant-based restaurant, none of which will ever be enough in the long run.
I have to hold myself up to a higher standard than that, not because someone is watching, but because I am just as much of a hypocrite as a "vegetarian who eats fish twice a month" if I don't seriously face up to the reality of my food choices.
When you look up unethical companies, Coca Cola and Nestle are listed right up there at the top of that list.
You want to know how many companies/brands Coca Cola owns?
That is A LOT of different brands, I mean, they are listed from A-Z!
I have been guilty of drinking iced tea that comes in a tetra pack (assuming I am doing less damage than an aluminum can or a plastic bottle) and I am pretty sure that its made by the Coca Cola Company!
I am posting all this because I want to be facing the reality of my choices at the same time I am hoping to share with others what it actually means to be part of the capitalist system, to be a consumer, to see the hypocrisy in someone like Marie Kondo now selling shit on her site that "sparks joy".
Its apparently not good enough to declutter, you got to replace that clutter by spending money yet again on something that has a predestined spot at the landfill.
Who will keep your precious little trinket after you die?
Your kids won't likely want to hang on to most of it. Does it serve a purpose? Does it carry water or can it be used to carry groceries? How many handbags or watches do you need in order to carry your smartphone or to tell you the time of day?
How many shoes can you wear at any given time? Does it matter that your watch strap or your shoes were made from Pineapples if the process created pollution in the environment or that the people producing it were working under substandard conditions?
I just...I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to falling prey to marketing ploys, but I hope to genuinely work towards being more self-aware, more mindful, more discerning, and to simply avoid buying anything that doesn't serve a bloody good purpose that actually is a necessity for sustaining life. More than this, I hope to avoid causing suffering for other earthlings, not just animals, but for humans as well.
I am but one person on the path to enlightenment with nothing to guide me but my own moral compass.
I am thinking about all of this, rather heavy thinking, as I look to the future and to the life I will be leading in the years to come.
I am becoming starkly aware of my choices and the avoidance of responsibility for problems I believe are too big for me to get a handle on. As I watched the second season of "Rotten" on Netflix I became aware of the heavy weight of guilt that was practically choking me, the issues I was unaware of but that now I had no excuse to feign ignorance about.
Another documentary I watched that struck a chord, "Kiss the Ground".
You can't walk away from that feeling good about the capitalist system. Covid19 has made it infinitely clear to me the world I am living in, and for the most part, I am ashamed and I want no part in it. But that is not a solution.
I want to do everything I can in the years to come, to raise awareness about the poison of empty consumerism, to show what it means to move towards a more sustainable way of living, to harvest rainwater, to process sea water into drinking water, to use solar power to meet the needs of running on board fridges and fans...to cook in a sustainable manner, to stop buying processed crap regardless of the labels...and I do not expect any of that to be easy, trust me, I am sure I will have moments of utter failure and despair ahead of me, but I am going to do my very best to work towards my goal of true sustainability and use my lived experience to teach by example.
The system is broken. The world we live in is controlled by politicians and governments who do not always have our best interests at heart. I am grateful for the eye opening experience that has been the pandemic we are all enduring. Time will tell how and what people will choose to do with the truths they are facing today.
I for one am done with the system, I want to change it and I have yet to figure out the how of it, but make no mistake, the change has got to be something I aim for because I can't pretend to be happy with everything I have achieved so far and claim that it has been good enough.
There is ALWAYS more we can do.
I am not giving up. I will not give up. I will do my best and keep fighting to maintain my best effort or die trying.
That is all from me, for now.
Much loving kindness, always.
This video literally gave me goosebumps...well worth sharing the positive feels.
My name's Lisa. I love to cook, I love to laugh, I love to write. I don't always believe I have the time for creating, and now I am going to work on simply going with the flow, with the food, the restaurant, the writing...and if I can, for one moment, spread a little joy along the way, well, its worth the effort.