Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Chinese Spring Festival

On Sunday, we began the year 4705 in the chinese calendar which is a pig year.
Humm, let me phrase that again: 2007 is the year of the pig according to the chinese zodiac.

Some believe it is not just another pig year but the year of the Golden Pig, which according to certain myths, means that the babies born during this year will lead a "fat and easy life" and possibly making loads of money. So if you are ever given the opportunity to be born again and are given the choice of the year, you better choose to be born in a year of the Golden Pig! :P

Here in Mauritius, we get a public holiday for the Chinese Spring Festival. The Sino-Mauritians usually celebrate by having family dinners, giving foong pao (red envelopes with money in it!), lighting up firecrackers (to scare away bad things) and of course sharing cakes with our friends who are not of chinese descent. Some people go to the pagoda during the day to pay tribute to the gods, and some fast on that day. The customs of the day differ from family to family because our chinese ancestors were not necessarily from the same regions of China and because less and less sino-mauritians follow all the customs nowadays. Some customs are too complicated for the younger generations to learn without understanding chinese writings, so when the elders who used to perform the services , along with them goes the knowledge they carry.

I'm going to write about the little I know about today.
First, the week leading to the Chinese New year is always busy with cleaning because on the day of the new year, we cannot sweep the floors because we will also be sweeping away money we could earn during the year.

Then, on the day of the new year, people are supposed to wear new clothes. I have no idea why, but it must probably so you can get new clothes throughout the year.
Then of course the tradition where elders give foong pao to the younger generations. That again is a custom that vary among families. Some families stop giving foong pao to someone who has started working and some stop only when someone is married. But mostly, the money inside is not quite important, it is more the gesture than the monetary value.

The chinese new year celebrations basically should last for 15 days, at the end of which there is the Lantern Festival, which closes the festivities. It is at the end of the 15 days that people can go consult their "horoscopes" for the year and make promises to the gods if the "prediction" is bad, so that the year goes by with a little less unfortunate incidents.

The rest is quite unknown territory for me. I am sure there are loads other customs and traditions that should take place, but none of which I understand the purpose or timeliness. Sino-mauritians tend to comply to as many customs as they know of and to omit the unknown parts, so I am quite content doing just that also.
On that, I wish everybody a good year of the pig!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Valentine's Day or SAD...

February 14, a day lovers around the world await for.
Wanting to check the origin of Valentine's day, I've check wikipedia and as well as finding the different believed origins of Valentine's day, I've found that Singles Awareness Day (SAD) is celebrated on the same day.
Yes, it is true that if you're single and comes Valentine's day, you feel like the loneliest person on earth, especially if all your friends are in a relationship. So it makes sense that SAD is "celebrated" on the same day, but Asians take it even a step further, they have a Lovers-go-die club which is a club against lovers or couples (isnt' that just far-fetched or is it just me?).

The day has come and gone.
Whether you are in a relationship and you celebrated with your better half (or chose not to), or you're single and didn't celebrate (or maybe had a drink for SAD), the day is over, and gratefully, we won't have to bear the constant reminder of the media that we need to celebrate love for another year. It never used to be this commercial in MU before, but I guess with the influence of the West, Valentine's day has become quite popular over the last few years.
As one of the radio hosts was saying yesterday, why celebrate love on that day only? Why not celebrate it every day of the year, 365 days a year? The most recurring questions during the day yesterday were "so what did you get from your boyfriend/lover/husband?" or "What did you get your boyfriend/lover/husband?". Does celebrating love resume to giving gifts then?
That's what the media wants it to be about and that's what makes the day even more painful for singles.

If you're single and you survived the day without going insane, feeling lonely or sad, congrats to you. It takes a lot of wisdom to recognize that it is just an excuse for people to buy more and be theatrical about their love. Love doesn't have to be this big, as said in 1 Corinthians 13, it does not BOAST.

If you're not single and you celebrated (or not), keep in mind that there are 364 other days where you could be just as considerate for your loved one :P.

Monday, February 12, 2007

It's all coming back to me now....

The long-awaited list was out yesterday afternoon making a few chosen very happy and leaving hundreds deceived. Every year, school leavers await their results with impatience and those who have been hopeful to win a scholarship await the list of scholarship winners with a mixture of eagerness and stress.

At 18, you think the world would stop if you deceive your parents. At 18, you think it's everything to live up to their expectations. At 18, you think your future rests in having great A levels results. I can't imagine the stress of the very smart, those whose dreams and aspirations all stem from being a scholarship winner and hearing their names on the radio. One "laureate", as we call them here, was interviewed yesterday and she admitted not being to eat or sleep because of the imminent announcement of the results. Have she not won one of the scholarships, the same student would have been devastated and disgusted with life.

Flashback: February 2000. Having a combination of subjects that didn't allow me to compete for the scholarships, there wasn't going to be my name in the papers, nor being announced on the radio. But I was just as eager to hear the names of the scholarship winners so that I could congratulate them if I knew them. It's funny the frenzy around that list. When the list came out for my year, all of my friends' names were in the newspapers, not because they were scholarship winners, but because they were good enough to be ranked. Yes, it is something else when you see your name on that newspaper, isn't it? My mom says it's pride. The parents can be proud of their kids when they put their names on those papers because of their academic prowess.

So what happens to those kids whose names weren't in the papers then? Does that mean that their parents can't be proud of them? Yes, my friends were all in the papers, but they were there not because they happen to be among the very smart, but because they chose a "side" where competition is not that good. I, on the other hand, had excellent results but, as my mom points out, would never have the recognition provided by the papers.

7 years down the road, it doesn't mean anything now. It didn't even mean anything when we all went to university. Nobody cares that you were or weren't ranked for your A levels, nobody cares that you were in the papers in tiny Mauritius. I'm sure it certainly made a difference for the scholarship winners, their parents didn't have to provide thousands (if not millions) of rupees for their studies, but that didn't make them more likely to succeed than others who didn't win.

It's outrageous the pressure parents put on their kids to win those scholarships. It's outrageous that success in Mauritius is mostly measured in academic results.
For those who weren't in the papers or for those who tried their best and still didn't make it to the top, I want to say: chin up, life doesn't resume to one exam. There will be loads of opportunities for you to succeed, it's up to you to take them and to find your way to the top.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Brain drain or the exodus of the new generation...

Today, I've read an article in the NY times where the subject is about Germany and the loss of its younger and highly skilled population.
I couldn't help but notice how true it is of the Mauritian population also. People try to seek a better future elsewhere, be it in Canada, Australia, the States, the UK or even Singapore and in doing so, the best and brightest, most often than not, are lost to their home country. Here in MU, it is becoming ever so common that school leavers go abroad for college/university education and rare are those who ever come back. In fact, those who do come back to stay are usually those whose parents own a business (and hence, it's been understood that they will take over), those who couldn't get their residency papers in their adopted countries (therefore couldn't stay there), those who couldn't find work in their adopted countries (lack of money always bring children running back to their parents) or those who never adapted to life outside of their home country.

This exodus of the young could only be understood if you've lived here in MU. I've tried explaining this to my friends back in CA, and they could never understand why people would want to leave paradise island for snow-covered Canada. The prospect of earning more money (and in a currency that is recognized world-wide) aside, ".. the natural beauty and the sense of possibility", as the article so beautifully describes, is enough to appeal to the young and ambitious. Not only that, there is now another category of middle-agers who, trying to be a step ahead, are emigrating so that their teenage children could benefit from lower university fees when they finish high school.

It is interesting to note that those who study abroad and then come back to MU can expect to earn a slightly better salary (in some companies) than their peers who studied at the local university. This is only because there is the idea that the level of education abroad is better than the one delivered locally. I am not here to debate whether the level of instruction of the University of Mauritius is comparable to international levels, but if for anything else, just experiencing the world beyond our small island gives those who studied abroad a slight advantage. That said, I'll put my case to rest on that subject.

Another interesting fact is that often those who emigrated in their youth nurture the idea of coming back to MU in their old days. They may not want to stay all year round, the health care abroad being substantially more trusted, but they certainly wish to flee the cold winters abroad and find sunshine in our homeland.

So what changes should be made in MU to stop the brain drain you would ask?
Nothing much an individual could do, although if you're Prime Minister and you want to make your people WANT to stay, you could find a zillion ways to help. But I'm not here to criticize the government or anything else, God knows I'm not really an expert in politics or economy. I think, all people need to be happy here is (just like everywhere else) a little bit more money, less tax to pay, better health care and way way more entertainment!
But then, that's only my opinion and a very simplistic way to solve the problem.

For those who are just back in MU, from someone who's been back more than a year now, you will definitely get used to it again.........maybe not tomorrow, maybe not in a week.... but within a year for sure!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Slouching beings

I've been watching people walk by recently, people at work, people at supermarkets, people on the streets.
One noticeable thing that most people have in common, across generations and race, is that they slouch.
"Children carry huge over loaded backpacks, adults lug briefcases to work, and thousands of people spend hours hunched over a computer whether for work or play. " **
Because slumping into our chairs is easier than consciously sitting straight, people get into the habit without realizing it until someone brings it to their attention. Even then, most people will hold their spine straight for a few minutes before forgetting and reverting to their slouching positions.

Ageing already brings a slight slouch to our posture, but now, with worse sitting and standing postures, not only the population as a whole would soon be subscribing to regular visits to a chiropractor, but by the time we reach old age, we would all be bent in two with a who-can-do-better list of back problems. In countries such as CA, where chiropractor fees are covered by health insurance if they are justified and recommended by a doctor, more of taxpayers' money will be involved into paying for the cost of bad posture.

It takes real effort though to sit straight, bring back your shoulders, and walk tall and to remember doing this all day. But remember: "Change takes willpower! However … the rewards of good posture are well worth the effort. You will feel great and your physical appearance will look tall and confident! "**

**quoted from an article about posture tips.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Hump country...

You could take the same route every single day of the year.
You could know the road by heart, every single turn, every single pothole.
You could even say that you could drive your eyes blindfolded on that road.
Yet, one morning you wake up and do the same stuff you've been doing for the past x years and driving leisurely down that road, woahhhhh hold on, there's a SPEED BUMP on the road!!!

Here in MU, this happens quite often. Out of nowhere, speed bumps appear overnight. They put them everywhere, on smaller roads as on bigger main roads, near schools or near supermarkets, anywhere they think people usually speed. They spend thousands of rupees making those humps and then they spend as much to remove some of them because in someone's eagerness to make humps on the road, they didn't realize that they are hindering vehicles that need to speed, like ambulances or fire trucks.

Out of the capital, on one of the main roads for buses to go up north, there are 3 humps on a stretch of 100 m, just in front of a temple. Yes, I agree that there's been quite a few accidents there because of speeding drivers, but those humps cause monstrous traffic jams during peak hours because that being a busy road for buses, the humps slow down buses and other vehicles more than they should.

I'm not saying speed humps are bad, but hell, why put them all over the place?
If that goes on, MU's roads will become just a succession of humps, one after the other so that everybody would need 4x4 to drive around.