Friday, October 04, 2013

Facebook worthy - CC8

What is the BEST souvenir you could bring home for yourself from your travels?

Toastmasters and most welcome guests, if you are like me and have a terrible memory, then photographs are the most valuable souvenirs from your travels.  I have travelled over the world and depending on who I travel with, the pictures I have as mementos might not be the only memories I want to keep from a particular destination. Some are really bad. Now, with digital cameras, you are at least able to check on the spot if the picture will make it to my Facebook and if not, to take another one right away. It does not however, take away the fact that if you follow 3 simple rules, you will not be spending the whole afternoon trying to get the perfect shot with the Eiffel tower.

First rule, determine what you are trying to capture. Do you want a picture where the focus is a person or a particular monument or object? As a rule of thumb, the focal point should be in the center of the picture, vertically and horizontally, whether it is a person or an object. Take this for example:

 What do you think the photographer was trying to capture in this picture? The lamp or the sofa? …These days, digital cameras allow you to have a grid on the screen to make it easier to center the main subject of your picture and to align the ground horizontally. It always amazes me that as easy as technology has made it, quite a few people still cannot take a decent picture. Like this one:

Apparently it is okay to cut my head off when taking a picture in the south of France. After all, I just need a memento of how blue the sky was and a sample of that wall there. Or maybe I want to remember that in Geneva [slide], the ground might not have been quite level.

The second thing you have to think about when you are the photographer is the lighting. [slide] I think most people would know that if you are behind the camera, then you want the sun to be at your back.

This guy knows what he’s doing. With the newest cameras, if the setting is on ‘automatic’, they would sometimes detect that you are taking a picture against a brighter background and the flash will be triggered automatically. If you do not know better however, you would end up with pictures like this.

This is my very first picture with the CN tower.  “Hi mom, I made it to Toronto. Can’t you guess that’s me with the CN tower?”. This is me not very happy that the houses on the canals of Amsterdam were brighter than me.

This is what happens when you put the flash on.

Let’s not talk about the angle there, just make sure you know where the brightest source of light is.

Framing and lighting may be subject to taste. The photographer may always use as an excuse that he or she, wanted to create an artistic photo, an out of the ordinary perspective on the subject in the picture. However, nobody could excuse a picture like this one.
The third rule is, unless you are trying to take a candid photograph, wait for the subjects to be ready. It is good to count out loud ‘1, 2, 3’ so that the people being photographed are fully aware of when it is going to happen. Now, my memento from Le Casino de Monte Carlo is a picture where I am half sitting or half standing. And my souvenir picture in Bangkok’s Grand Palace is this one, where I was still trying to figure out what the guide was saying.

Capturing digital mementos is easier than it has ever been before. According to 1000memories, a website that allows users to archive and share old photos, “Every 2 minutes today we snap as many photos as the whole of humanity took in the 1800s.” Quantity does not trump quality however so just remember the 3 rules: center the picture on what you want your focal point to be, think about lighting and allow the subjects to settle in before you click. Those will make for better mementos and will not make you ashamed of sharing your vacation pictures. There is nothing worse than going through hundreds of pictures to find 10 good ones to share on Facebook.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Two is better than one.

Raise your hand if you are bilingual!

Toastmaster Chair, fellow Toastmasters and honored guests, in this country, ‘bilingual’ largely means French and English, but you may know another language other than French. I am a bilingual, having learned French and English from a young age, as have all of my cousins. I visited one cousin and her family last week-end. She is married to a monolingual man and has 2 kids with one more on the way. Early on, they have decided that the children will be bilingual even though the father misses out on half of his kids’ conversations. Why would they do it? Why would he voluntarily put himself in a situation where he might not understand his kids? Let me give you 3 reasons why, like my cousin, I feel more parents should aspire to raise bilingual children.

Research has shown that bilingual children outperform monolingual children in executive functions. Executive functions are cognitive processes such as problem solving, mental flexibility, attentional control and task switching. I am NOT saying that because I’m bilingual J! Ellen Bialystok, a Canadian psychologist and Distinguished Research Professor at York University has done extensive research on the effect of bilingualism on different aspects of cognitive development in children. She has found that being bilingual gives the individual an advantage of better attention control and therefore facilitates processing and functioning in several cognitive tasks. Imagine presenting an object to me. Immediately my brain provides the labels of the object in both languages I know. Which word I pick to say out loud depends largely on which language is being used and the appropriate word to use in the context. Constantly making the decision about how to best respond to a situation, as well as having better control over what they select, results in better performance in regards to problem solving and attention control. In other words, bilinguals are exposed to more situations where they have to make decisions based solely on the situation they are in, making them better at focusing their attention on the details that are relevant at a specific moment in time.

If that isn’t reason enough, let me give you a second reason. The American Speech Language Hearing Association promotes good listening skills and ability to connect well with others as advantages of being bilingual. Language goes beyond just a means of communication. Each language has the ability to shape an individual's perception of the world, and a bilingual's perception of the world would change according to the language they are currently functioning in. This makes them more sensitive to cultural differences hence makes them more adaptable in a social setting and more likely to make friends.
There is another strong, third, reason parents decide to raise bilingual children in Canada. In a 2007 survey, 60 percent of Canadian parents cited increased job opportunities for their children as the main reason for enrollment in French immersion schools. That is because a 2006 research poll for Canadian Heritage revealed that almost 70 per cent of Canadians felt that bilingualism improved employment and business opportunities. With over 30 countries with French as an official language and over 220 million French speakers worldwide, bilingual employees may work with multinational corporations working in or with these countries. Exports from French-speaking countries represent 19 per cent of world exports, creating a sizeable market which requires French speakers.

In summary, my cousin’s children will be better than their monolingual counterparts in executive control tasks such as problem solving and task switching; they will do well socially thanks to an increased cultural sensitivity and; they will have a better chance at landing a job when they get older. If you are not bilingual, and you are thinking right now about how to reap the benefits of being bilingual, do not despair. Since learning a new language is no small task, prove your dedication and determination, other traits increasingly valued in the globalized world, by picking up a new language now. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Need For Speed

GoodAfternoonToastmastersAndHonoredGuests, todayIamPresentingMyCC6WhichFocusesOnVocalVariety.

Imagine if I talked like this for the next 5 to 7 minutes? Not only would I be stressed out, but you would be too. Nobody would have enjoyed the experience. I might even hurt myself by biting my tongue.

Toastmasters and dear guests, if you have seen me outside of this club, you have probably seen me walk at a brisk pace, rushing somewhere, always trying to catch the next event in my calendar. Yes, I’m that annoying person who HAVE to pass people walking leisurely on the sidewalk. Yes, I am the one who is too impatient to stand on the escalator. Yes, I get annoyed when fast food staff is far from being ‘fast’. Where does this need for speed come from? Life has been trying to warn me to slow down for years but I have been turning a deaf ear. Today I would like to tell you 2 life lessons I have received.

First example is when I was about 6 years old. The school used to provide chocolate milk to the children. One cup per student, every day. I was always so eager to get my chocolate milk. One day, as soon as the teacher gave the signal, I rushed out of my seat, ready to outrun everybody to the door. Two steps forward and I realized that I didn’t have my mug. Noooo, quick turn around and grab it! That was without counting 20 other kids also rushing to the door! As I turned around, a little boy, who was just about 3-4 inches shorter than me was right on my heels and we collided full on. His forehead. My eye socket. BAM!  Guess who had a black eye for a few weeks after?  Would it have killed me to slow down and be a little further down the line? No, but it would have spared me a black eye!

Life threw me a bigger warning a few years later. I have a scar about an inch long on my right knee. I got a cut from a lawn mower. Yes, a lawn mower! I was thirteen and rushing to the grocery store at the corner of the street. As I got out of the front door, my dad intercepted me to ask me to lift the front side of the mower over the ledge onto the lawn. My dad’s lawn mower was capricious, could never be started on the lawn itself. I had a plastic bag in my hand and reluctant to waste any of my time, I squeezed it in between my knees and lifted the lawn mower. As I lowered it over my bent knees, the blade grazed my right knee. I looked down and I could see the soft, white tissue under my skin. AAAHHH!!!!!!! In retrospective now, I should have taken the time to put the bag aside, it would not have impeded my movement when I squatted down and that would have saved me some blood and tears.

These are 2 examples where my need for speed were the root cause of my downfall. Next time you are impatiently trying to pass someone on the sidewalk, think again. Is it worth risking an eye for? It certainly wasn’t for chocolate milk. Or the next time you are in a rush and want to skip a step to get there faster, ask yourself if it’s worth having a scar for. You don’t always have to be the first in line and it’s not always best to take a shortcut. Life is not meant to be lived with black eyes or scars. If you are like me and you live life at full speed, then my best advice to you is to slow down and ‘smell the roses’. The 6 year old me with the black eye and the 13 year old me limping to school would agree. 

Sunday, July 07, 2013

The hump speech - "Laughter, the best medicine"

Last Thursday, I did my 5th speech for Toastmasters. 
This being the half way point, I needed this to be good.
CC5 focuses on 'Your Body Speaks' and I needed to move around a little bit and add more gestures. The title came to me because of the jokes section of Reader's Digest. Here goes: 

Are you feeling low? Are you feeling down? Do you need a pick me up?
I have the perfect remedy for you!
Toastmasters and honored guests, good afternoon.

This is not an ad for a drug or a crisis helpline! What I am trying to sell to you, is an all-natural, free and always available cure for everything that could go wrong in your day: LAUGHTER!
How do you feel when you laugh? Doesn’t laughter make you feel better if you are having a bad day? Did you know that in addition to the instant vacation you get, laughter may make you feel better physically? Research has shown that laughter makes the brain release endorphins that can relieve some physical pain. So in theory, whether you have a headache or a heartache, laughter might help you through it. How could you use more of this miracle cure in every day life? Let me give you a couple of things you could do!

First, be ready to laugh at yourself. Have you ever watched kids finding endless amusement in the silliest of little things? The latest video to become viral is the video of 2 toddlers each playing with an elastic band on doorknobs and laughing hysterically. Who would have thought? Elastic bands! Kids usually go into hysterics when they do something silly and then laugh at themselves. Somewhere along the way, adults lose touch with their inner child and their ability to be silly. We take ourselves too seriously and do not laugh at ourselves readily.  People wonder whether I am on drugs or have gone coo coo when I’m being silly or insanely happy laughing at myself. Don’t mind me, I’m just having a mini-break from the daily grind!

My second suggestion is to tap into your memory bank of funny anecdotes. Imagine this, 2 of my girlfriends and I got lost driving in the States once. As I was trying to figure out where to go, the car started making a weird flapping noise. One friend got busy looking up directions so we decided to stop by the side of the road to investigate the noise. As I slowed down, I asked my friend in the back seat to find the origin of the noise. ‘Huh?’ she said, ‘let me close the window…I cannot hear you girls over that noise’. With the window closed, all was quiet!!! The wind coming through the open back window was making all this din.  That is probably not the funniest story you have heard, but to the 3 of us, recalling that moment of panic because we might possibly be lost with a broken car across the border and the realization that the noise was just the wind, always bring us to tears laughing. Sometimes I am smiling while walking down the street because I’m recalling a funny moment. Sometimes I am laughing by myself because I am replaying a hilarious conversation in my head.  I sure look like a crazy person doing so, but I think every person should have a fountain of funny moments to go to for an instant pick-me-up moment!

I once read that 3 minutes of laughter a day could help to keep you healthy. I’m fairly sure I laugh for more than 3 mins a day. Do I ever get sick? Of course! But even in sickness, if you can either be silly and laugh at yourself, or if you can tap into some cheerful memories, you will definitely be in a better mood. Something that no other remedy can give you instantly. So, be ready to laugh and build up your arsenal of laughable moments. Laughter is the best medicine and you too may use it on a daily basis! The recommended dose: a minimum 3 minutes a day!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

After a cousin gets married...

....I cut my hair!

That's the pattern apparently.
I have checked.
After a cousin's wedding in 2004, I cut off my long hair and donated 12 inches to Locks of Love.

Then 5 yrs later, when my other cousin got married in California, I cut off my long hair just past my shoulder a few months after. I donated 10 inches to Locks of Love again.

19 days ago, another cousin got married. I wanted to cut my hair before going to California one week after the wedding, but I did not get to it and I chickened out a few times when I had the time. Tomorrow is the day, I have booked an appointment at a learning institute. No backing out of this one! I haven't decided yet if I will be donating 10 or 12 inches, but this week, I have tried to enjoy my long hair as much as possible. Tomorrow, all this awesomeness will make its way to be part of a wig, hopefully enjoyed by someone who needs a wig because of cancer. That is my only consolation right now, that I will be helping someone restore some confidence in their appearance at a low time in their lives.

Come on now, it will grow again! And maybe it will look better tomorrow when it's short!!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Failed 'How to Say It'.

Today was one of the most embarrassing day of my life. Ok, maybe I'm dramatizing.
I did my CC4 for Toastmasters today, whose goal is to pay attention to the words and expressions and the general 'How to Say It'. To be original, I titled my speech the same and talked about greetings. Since the last speech was such a success without notes, I decided again, not to bring notes to be at the lectern. WHAT A BAD DECISION! First, the chairperson did not introduced me as convened. So as I walked to the lectern and thinking about all the reasons why she did not introduce me the way I asked her to introduce me, I started the speech but 3 sentences in, I had the biggest mental block EVER!!! I stood there not knowing what to say, I breathed in and out and tried to recall what my next sentence was without success. Everybody was watching me, I was getting quite uncomfortable. Finally, I gave up, and excused myself to gather my notes at my seat and came back to the lectern to resume my speech. It went smoothly from there, I just had the biggest mental block on that one sentence. 

The reviews are in, and most people said I handled it well. But man, I am so disappointed in myself. I knew it by heart of course. The only problem might have been that I did not practice it enough. I only finished the speech on Monday night and had it reviewed by Mark on Tuesday and started learning it Tuesday evening and Wednesday evening to do the speech today. What to say, other than I better be ready for the next one in 4 weeks!

Here is my speech:

What do we do quite a few times a day, at the beginning of every interaction we have with each other?

Toastmasters and honored guests, this is my greeting to you. What is in a greeting? It may come in different forms, we extend a hand to shake, we wave or verbally acknowledge each other. Have you ever  thought of the risk of an awkward moment happening when greeting another person?  Think about it. Unconsciously, we all have a personal, unwritten set of rules for greeting another person under different circumstances. I have found that those rules are loosely based on 3 factors for most people.

First, gender. As a woman, I do not always shake people’s hands. In casual, non-business situations, men are more likely to shake hands than women. In some countries, handshakes are rarely performed by opposite sexes because it is considered inappropriate or impolite. Even in my circle of friends, the male friends shake each other’s hands, but when they come to the girls, it is usually a kiss on the cheek or a hug. I never quite mastered the handshake myself although my brother spent hours trying to teach me how to relax my fingers before the shake while giving a firm handshake when hands make contact. Hence, I am always very self-conscious doing it. Imagine what Toastmasters meetings do to me with all the handshakes! 

The second factor in how to select the appropriate form of greeting is the relationship between the two people. The way you greet a coworker or an acquaintance is often not the same way you greet a friend. The trouble with this is when both parties view each other at a different level. For example, my coworker thinks of me as a friend, but I only think of him as a coworker. If we happen to see each other outside of the workplace, say, on a spry stroll along the beach, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, he might come in for a hug and but my unwritten set of rules dictate that I may shake his hand, so I would naturally take a step back and extend a hand. How awkward is that? However, a hug would have been entirely appropriate if I also thought of him as a friend. It all depends on the relationship YOU THINK you have with the other person.

Just like meeting a coworker outside of the workplace is an unusual situation, you also need to consider the accepted forms of salutation in the situation you are in. Cultural context is the 3rd and most important determinant in my opinion. In Mauritius, where I grew up, we follow the French fashion of greeting each other with a kiss on both cheeks. It applies to family and friends and acquaintances alike. Numerous times I have kissed my parents’ friends, friends of friends or even people I have just met, on their cheeks. That is the norm, I would not think twice about it. Here in Canada, people start hugging you after having spent a couple of hours with you. That was strange to me at first!  It is however, all about what is perceived to be acceptable. “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, they say! I have therefore learned to suppress the instinct to back off when a new acquaintance move in for a hug! I am not against hugging, mind you, I just haven’t been brought up in an environment where it is acceptable to hug people I barely know.

Taking into consideration one’s gender, one’s relationship to the other person and the cultural context is sometimes not enough to avoid a faux pas. Some of my friends with similar background have now assimilated the Canadian way of greeting, whereas others revert back to the Mauritian way when amongst Mauritians. What do we do now? Shake hands, hug or do we kiss on the cheek? Doing all of this, might just be a little bit over the top for a greeting! The safest way I have found to avoid any awkward moment when saying your greeting is to allow the other person to choose how to say it. Who would have thought that something as fundamental as greeting another person could be so complicated? Now, let’s not talk about the various ways to say goodbye!

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Carine, poète inédite!

I was looking through one of my photo boxes today where my postcard collection is stored and I found 2 poems I wrote 10 gazillion years ago!! They are in French, but they rime!!!

This one starts off really sad (I must have been in some dark phase or something) but ended hopeful:

Je me réveille de bon matin
Et je veux déjà être au lendemain
Ma vie n'a point de sens
Elle n'a certes aucune importance

Tout me semble futile
Et je me sens inutile
Je voudrais reprendre le début
Avec en tête au moins un but, un rêve
Quelque chose qui quand je me lève
Me donne l'envie de savourer chaque instant, chaque moment.

Ma vie telle qu'elle est me donne l'envie de crier
"Il te faut t'arrêter,
Prendre le temps de respirer!"

Je veux metrre une bonne fin
A ces pensées noires qui peuplent mes matins
Après une longue réflexion
Les choses ne sont pas si mal

Avec de l'imagination
Peu de choses sont banales
Alors il me faut trouver cette imagination qui doit bien exister
Quelque part dans cette tête qui n'est pourtant pas bête.

The second poem I found is titled 'Le Soleil' which translate to 'The Sun'.
I must have been in a good mood and just contemplating the sun!

Chaque matin, il nous accueille
Pour adoucir notre réveil
Il nous regarde à travers les feuilles
Et toute la journée nous surveille

Il n'est pas que chaleur
Sa présence respire le bonheur
Il efface tous les malheurs
Et nous met du baume au coeur

Il nous donne l'envie de danser
De tout oublier et de fêter
Dommâge qu'il nous faut nous séparer
Chaque soir avant de se coucher

Mais le matin le ramène toujours
Pour souhaiter la bienvenue au nouveau jour (Pour éclairer le nouveau jour/Pour remplir de lumière le nouveau jour)

I amaze myself!!! :)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dancing through life

Since I do not have the time to write new posts here and I do have to make the time to write my speeches for Toastmasters, I decided that I will post my speeches here, with minor edits!

This was my 3rd speech, focusing on 'getting to the point', with a broad purpose and a more specific one, titled 'Dancing through life'.

I used to dance for money. Shocking!

Toastmasters and honored guests, it’s not what you think. 
My mom put me in Chinese folkoric dance classes when I was 5. From that young age, I performed every year at the annual dance show, the televised Spring Festival show, the Chinatown festival show....anything related to Chinese community in Mauritius. Then, in my teenage years, I started performing at hotels on a weekly basis for pocket money. Mauritius being a multicultural country, hotels aim to showcase the diversity every night with a different cultural show. The Chinese show was on every Friday or Saturday night and I did that for about 5 years. What have 5 years of dancing for money taught me? Well, believe it or not, it has taught me a few ways on how to cope with real life situations. Let me give you 3 examples.

Performing the same routine every week does not mean you have a flawless performance each time. In fact, you rely so much on muscle memory and habit, that you allow your mind to drift away during the dance. Countless times, I have missed a step or let go of my prop which resulted in me seemingly doing my own thing on stage. Here comes lesson #1: if you do not know where you are going or you have forgotten the next step, move in the general direction everybody is going.  Even if you are not doing the same pirouette as others, the audience might not notice a mistake if you are moving with the pack. In life as in a performance, we need to know where to go, or anticipate the next move. Sometimes you feel out of sync with other people or sometimes you feel like you are behind as compared to others. The important thing to remember, is that it is okay to lag behind, as long as you catch up with others, preferably before the end of the dance. It is that much easier to fall back into the dance if you are already moving in the right direction.

What happens if you cannot mask your blunder and you are mortified with embarrassment? Lesson number 2 is to smile and keep moving. Nobody will notice your mistake if they are too busy looking at your smile. A professional dancer smiles even if she misses a step, it is the dancer’s ultimate poker face. When a dancer makes a mistake, she has to fight her own panic-stricken thoughts, quickly think of the next move, and force her body to move faster to catch up while smiling brilliantly. Sometimes in life, we are caught off-guard and we let our emotions show in that moment of complete panic. I have learned to put a smile on even when I’m feeling lost and I’m put on the spot. I’m not saying that you have to cover up every emotion with a smile, but it does help to be able to ride over some difficult news with a smile while your brain is still processing them.

Which brings us to the 3rd thing I’ve learned. So what if you were not where you were supposed to be and you end up doing a solo piece involuntarily? Or you have a wardrobe malfunction that embarrasses you so much you think it is the end of the world? Well, it’s not. I once ripped my pants while doing a split during a performance. Crack! just when the music paused! My fellow dancers heard it and were fighting a fit of laughter. I was livid and I thought of rushing off the stage in shame. But true to my training and experience, I kept smiling and finished the dance while trying not to lift my leg too high. It would have been easy for me to hash things over and over and to be afraid of ever donning that costume again. But the following week, the audience had changed, my fellow dancers forgot about it and nobody who cared for me cared that I made a fool of myself. The lesson: the dance will end, the audience will change and you will get another chance to prove yourself as a dancer.

You know the saying ‘dance like no one is watching’? Well that is complete absurdity! Dance like you know SOMEONE is watching. Because in the performance called Life, someone IS always watching. Do not worry though, you now have 3 coping mechanisms to help you: 1, if you do not know where to go, move with the flow until you figure out the next step. 2, smile while dancing it makes all the difference especially if you make a mistake and 3, even if something goes wrong, tomorrow is another day,  another audience. If none of this works for you, just remember that no performance is ever complete without a beautiful reverence at the end. That is your opportunity to dazzle and leave a lasting impression with your audience. 

*make a little reverence*

Saturday, March 09, 2013

The ballet dancer on the pole

Yesterday, I went to my first pole dancing class.
It was all part of a coupon I found online, 5 classes for $25.
I convinced a friend of mine to come with me.

We both did not know what to expect. I have heard though that it is a good workout.
The other women there made up an eclectic body. A couple of younger girls with very long hair (aren't they afraid their hair would get entangled around that pole?) and quite a few middle-aged women who looked like they were there to revitalize their marriage or something.

The class started with cleaning the poles! Yes, imagine whatever number of women who have touched, grabbed, hooked their limbs around that same pole you are holding on to!

Then came 10 minutes of stretching and 10 minutes of abs work!
Those. Were. Gruelling. Exercises.
We then moved on to some 'sexy' hip exercises.
The thing is, I've been a dancer since I was 5yrs old, I know my body and how to move it and yes, I can make my hips move this way, but I did not learn how to flip my hair while doing so! The most embarrassing moments were when the instructor was yelling at us to look sexy, while 'working' it as if she's a professional! She yelled at us to slap our butts, and after a delayed reaction, we all did and then started laughing.

How do you learn sexy?
Well this instructor seemed to think that if she yells at us hard enough, we'll magically know how to be sexy! Of course, every time she yelled, I'd end up laughing. The whole thing seemed ridiculous at the time! How do I release my neck and flick my hair at the pole (without banging my forehead on it!) when all I've learned so far have been to hold my head up high and hold my position? Quite a challenge!

My arms hurt today and I have bruises on my knees where I've landed quite a few times.
Those abs exercises also made it hard to laugh today.
Let's see what week 2 will have in store for us.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The magic of penpals

"Pen pals"....most people would not even know what that means today.
Who even have pen pals these days?

Believe it or not, I had a couple of pen pals throughout my teenage years. They were in France if I remember correctly. I do not remember their names, let alone remember what they look like or what we used to write about. I am fairly sure there is an envelope back in my room in Mauritius with all the correspondence throughout the years.

I remember one of them was in Menton. She sent me beautiful postcards of the festivals there. In 2003 when I visited Monaco, we went through Menton and I fleetingly thought about her.
I had lost track of her, so there was no way I could find her, but it was a good feeling to be in a place where I know someone, I have shared bits and pieces of my life with, was currently living.

What got me so hooked for all these years?
Try sharing your life, what is weighing you down, or what makes you jubilant, with someone miles and miles away. Someone so far removed that you know even if they judge you, it would not affect you. More often than not though, it was an exchange of petty incidents who made you happy or sad at the time, but then you forgot about it until a letter comes in the mail a couple of months later reminding you of the incident! It also showed, that what might seem so overwhelming at one time, may have absolutely no importance in a couple of months! 

What brought back the memory of my pen pals today?
I recently watched an episode of the Jeff Probst show about a college student starting a movement to have more hand-written letters around the world. I thought of doing it too, but I do not really have time for it. Maybe the next time I'm feeling low, I will try it so it may make me think of how blessed I am, and get me on a more positive mood. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Icebreaker

On January 31st, I delivered my first speech for Toastmasters.
In TM lingo, that's CC-1. CC is not for my initials, but for Competent Communicator. There are 10 projects for the Competent Communicator path and I hope to do all 10 projects within the year.

CC-1 was fairly easy to write, you are supposed to write about yourself, give your club a way to know you better. The goal of the project is to get you up there in front of everybody for 4-6 minutes. I believe that I talked for a little bit more than 5 minutes. I learned it by heart, but I fumbled once and I forgot where I was in the speech once, so I had to go back to my notes. I had no qualms about my writing ability. I did have my doubts about the delivery.

The feedback I have received was good. Everybody thought it was well organized and I delivered it well, with voice inflections, peppered with laughter, smiles and eye contact. As I was wrapping up the speech though, I could feel my body relax and my voice changed, gained more confidence. As I go along my Toastmasters path, I hope to get to that level of confidence at the start of my speeches, not as I am wrapping up, with end in sight!

Below is my speech:


"If I were to ask someone on the street to guess where I come from, they would probably be wrong.

If I were to give that person a second chance, they would probably still be wrong. 

Toastmasters and guests, je m'appelle Carine and I am African.
I was born and raised in Mauritius, a tiny island off the coast of Africa.
When I say tiny, I really mean tiny!
In my early years here, when asked by people where my accent is from, and I would get a blank stare in return, I would draw an imaginary world map.

*Draw in the air* 
Africa. Australia.
And someone in between these 2 continents, in the middle of the Indian Ocean, there should be a dot marking Mauritius. That is, if you are lucky. 
Some maps do not even have the dot representing Mauritius.
Some have the dot, but not the label, so people could mistake it for a fleck of dust.

The Mauritian population is made up of mostly Indian, then African, European and Chinese descendants. The culture is diverse, as everybody has brought a little bit of their countries with them.
The history is rife with battles between the French and the British, fierce enemies at the time, both trying to conquer as much land as possible.

Though the Brits were the last to own the country before it was declared independent in 1968, the French colonists were more successful in establishing the language, building roads and naming places. So when they left, tail between legs, the Brits imposed English as the official language and implemented their educational system. But they were not able to kick the french out of the people.
This is how we became bilingual, English and French and to add to the insult, we made up our own third language, creole, closer to french than english.

The French and the British both brought African slaves with them to be domestics and work in the sugar cane plantations. When slavery was abolished, the African slaves were freed and the British brought in indentured labourers from India and encouraged traders from China to come and settle in Mauritius with promises of land and wealth.

My ancestors were among those brave ones taking a leap of faith, leaving China for a faraway island.
In essence, that is what I did some 13 years ago when I came to Canada. Except I didn't come on a ship, but on a British Airways flight. And I didn't come with promises of wealth and land, but with the promise of an education.

The dilemma that I often face today is when I have to fill out my ethnicity on forms.
How do you categorize a french speaking African of Chinese descent?

Of course, physically, I should check the box for Chinese.
But I do not speak the language, nor do I understand the intricacies of the culture!
Should I check the box for French? 
But I have never lived in France, nor do I have the innate taste for wine or cheese.
Should I check the box for African?
Look at me! I do not look remotely like a typical African.
So more often than not, I would end up choose 'Other' or 'Prefer not to answer'.

Please do not pity me though, it is not as if I am ashamed of where I come from.
Mark Twain and Charles Darwin both referred to Mauritius as heaven on earth.
In fact, Mark Twain said 'God created Mauritius first and then paradise was copied after it'. 

So when I'm asked where I come from, although I may not say that I come from the great White North, it is more interesting for me to say 'from paradise on earth'. 
After all, there are only 1.3 million of us who may say that in the world."

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Resolutions...or not.

Mid-way through January. The statistics say that some people have already failed at keeping their 2013 resolutions.

What is it about a new year that calls for resolutions?
Why are New Year resolutions such a big deal, year after year? Is it because of the high failure rate?
Why don't resolutions taken randomly, any time during the year,  have the same impact as publicly stating at the start of a new year what you intend to do for that particular year? Why do people assume that most people would have a resolution for 2013?

I thought about it while watching TV the first few days of 2013.
The word 'resolution' means 'a firm decision to do or not to do something'.

Well then, I can make a firm decision right now, I do not need to wait till the next year to make one, do I ? 
In fact, most of my life-changing decisions came out of the blue, triggered by some petty thought or action, or motivated by seeing someone succeeding at something I would try my hand at.

My resolution to start running came to me sometime in May of 2010, triggered by a random email from York Alumni office. I signed up for a 5k, then I stuck to running throughout the year,  wavering at times, but coming back to it without having to wait for the start of another year.

I picked up crocheting around September last year just because a friend was available to teach me. The offer was always there, I just had to act on it and the resolution came to fruition as easily as going to Walmart and buying some yarn and a needle.

The resolution to join Toastmasters came up last October, sometime after running the half marathon and while looking for some other ways to improve myself.

Some time last November, I decided that I need to know more about world and local news, so I made the on-spot resolution to watch the 11pm news (almost) every day. To help myself with that one, I found the neat timer function on my TV which switches the TV on at 11pm every night for 1 hour, on the news channel of my choice.

I am not saying that crocheting or watching the news daily are life-changing, but resolutions, as easy as they come and go, and as hard as they may seem, just needs one little step to get you going and it does not have to be the start of a new year. I understand the whole 'the year is coming to an end, a brand new slate is given to you for the next year' and the motivation behind starting something new with the start of a new year, but I couldn't find a good one this year, so I did not stress about it. I am sure to pick up a few resolutions along the way.

Bring it on 2013!