Caught in an epidemic…

When an epidemic strikes, it attacks both the rich and the poor alike. Living in HongKong during the Corona Virus outbreak has opened my mind to the realities in life I took for granted. Experiences I had heard of are now a reality for me living here.

Now Hong Kong is closely connected to China by several bullet trains, flights and ferry services. Wuhan to Hongkong is a crucial rail link. Trains from and passing through Wuhan were running till Jan 23rd 2020 carrying with it several passengers who may have unknowingly brought the virus.

HongKong has reported 36 confirmed cases with only one death so far(Feb 10th 2020). The recent instances identified had no connection with China or Wuhan, prompting that there may be others who are infected by local transmission. The government, to avoid the spread of the virus, has declared that schools and colleges be closed till Mar 2nd 2020 with online classes and students being given assignments to do at home . As of now, many offices, including government establishments, are working with the majority of staff working from home.

Memories of the SARS epidemic are still fresh in peoples mind. We can see people taking care of themselves with masks and sanitizers. Unfortunately, masks have run out in HK. We had to buy ten masks for HKD 150, which is about USD 20, each mask is USD 2. The cost of masks is way beyond the means of the poor. One of my friend’s conviction of sharing her masks with the poor, who do not have them has prompted me to think of what I would do in a similar situation.

My dad was a doctor working in the rural villages in Tamil Nadu, India. We lived in a hospital campus, which was 25 KM from the nearest town and 150 Km from the nearest City. This meant supplies were got only when we went to town or the City. Cuts & bruises were a part of life, growing up in a carefree safety net free world those days. I had also accompanied my dad when he went on medical missions to interior villages.

There were times supplies were over, and treatment had to be administered. My dad and his team would come up with alternatives. Boiling instruments or pressure cooking them were methods they used. Using instruments and linen, boiled, meant that only viruses, bacteria or germs that can withstand 100 degrees centigrade could be found. Pressure cooking these killed more germs as the temperature is higher with additional pressure. Most of the instruments, including cloth masks, were reused with boiling and pressure cooking.

Now, why can’t I use thick cotton or woollen scarf as a mask. Corona Virus is said to be transmitted by the water droplets produced by those infected. It can reach our body when we are in the direction of their sneeze, or we touch articles that were in the way of their sneeze and accidentally touched our eyes and face. A thick scarf would prevent my sneeze from infecting others or being infected with others’ sneeze.

Most masks are disposable, and we feel safe when the mask is thrown away in the trash just as we reach home. Disposing of a scarf after every use is not practical. So how can I be sure I am not carrying the virus home. A safe way would be to remove the scarfs and boil/ pressure cook them for five to ten minutes and drying them.

Will I be doing enough… I am not sure, but I know that this is the best I can do to take care of my self. Personally, I feel comfortable, reusing boiled/ pressure cooked scarfs instead of reusing disposable masks or going out without a mask.

Where is Home?

On a ride back home, our teenage son’s casual remark ‘I don’t think I am an Indian’ caught our attention. My son’s reasons, he did not know Hindi: Understandable coming from Tamil Nadu where it’s not the everday language and efforts to make him learn as a second language failed as circumstance killed his interest.

Secondly, the fact that he cannot handle the heat (Used to Chennai heat, spoiled by Jakarta temperatures and not able to handle Vietnam summer). It was an exciting conversation, but it brought up the question of where is home? When we were planning to move countries, those who had already moved spoke about the ‘Third culture child’. So who is a third culture child? It is somebody who is not sure where their roots are when asked the question where is home for you?.

I was born in Bariatu, Ranchi ( that’s in my passport). After about six months, my dad’s job took me to Pune(Maharashtra – six months), Nuzwid(Andhra Pradesh, one year), RUHSA(Vellore for about fifteen years). USA for a year when I was 5 yrs old. My college studies took me to Chennai for five and a half years. My job took me to Bangalore where I spent the next three years of my life. After getting married, my husband’s job took us to Gurugramam for a year, then Chennai before we finally moved out of India to Semarang, Indonesia. Next stop was Jakarta,Indonesia, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and currently in Hongkong. So where is Home for us?

Home is where people go for their holidays. So during, recent holidays when my husband said he was going home, people understood it as India when my husband meant Vietnam. An unexpected job assignment from my husband’s company required him to move to HongKong immediately. With my job and my son’s school commitments, we decided to join my husband on a later date. There were speculations that my husband may have a Vietnamese wife as they could not understand how Vietnam can be home for Indians. The reality is he has an Indian wife and son who called Vietnam their home then.

Today having travelled and moved countries we are grateful for the opportunities and experiences life has offered us… some unique to those who choose to move… visiting countries is exciting but learning the culture of a country staying there makes us a better person.. we learn tolerance… we learn to respect each other in spite of our differences… we honour each other’s traditions and culture…

Today trips to India are exciting to meet extended family but the flight back is what we look forward to as we are going home…

Challenges of making a house our home…

when moving countries

  • There will be a lot of giving and taking – be clear on your priorities.
  • Decorate the house in such a way you would want to live there; however, short your stay is. During the transition, I make the houses we stay still feel like a home.
  • For more extended stays, buy items that reflect your personality but be careful that you don’t regret it in the next move.
  • Comfort for the mundane is a priority. I needed a second refrigerator to store my Indian spices and groceries. I went ahead, bought it. Sold it on the next move; don’t kill yourself trying to manage without it.
  • There is a constant “taking stock” of what we want vs what we need. We draw a balance by getting some items we want but don’t need, while others may be required but we chose to live without them.
  • Connect and make friends. For us, church is where we get connected and feel at home. The challenge is trying to belong, but over time we figure out and have developed skills unique to constantly being on the move.

Work life Balance

It’s mother’s day…. a casual conversation in the lift …led to an interview the same evening and a job offer…. My status changed from a stay at home mom to an working mom…before the change could sink in I was at work three days later… my years of planning to how I would manage my life after I get back to work didn’t seem to make sense….life had changed …. This was one year ago….

Exciting as it was, the challenges were real and striking a balance was not easy… Looking back a year later…on Mother’s Day it’s ironic to know that As my status changed from a stay at home mom to a working mom on Mother’s Day…..I am a mom first…. As I started accommodating a new software job into my daily routine, after a break of fifteen years the reality of going back to working started sinking in…. The no of little enjoyable activities I had to let go was daunting. This while facing the mammoth challenges that lay ahead of me, technically, physically and emotionally was a journey I learnt to enjoy…

Just after my studies I got a dream job and was working full time on a software job….. I took a break from my software job when my son was born , which to me was more than a regular full time job…. you are on duty 24 x 7… As my son grew , I was intentional in making him independent. This gave me more time on hand… but circumstances did not allow me to take up a full time job….This did not stop me from having my calendar full doing things I enjoyed. As years progressed they involved getting out of the house and taking up activities which challenged me. So technically I was working full time.

Now getting back to a ‘full time job’- working eight hours in one office….it just feels that what occupies my working day has changed. I still decide what I get to do on a particular day, earlier it was family and my personal choices, it’s still is the same, though is it revolves around my schedule at work.

Does it mean all of a sudden everything takes a back seat and work is priority. Yes and No. Yes because most of the waking hours I am at work and it takes my whole attention. It started with 12 hours initially including my commute to office… now it’s better about 9 hours a day. No because my priorities are still the same. My family and my personal needs don’t get compromised because I am now working. Though my priorities have not changed, the way I achieve this has definitely changed. I still make sure we get three meals but it’s not those elaborate time consuming delicacies I made but quick healthy and hopefully tasty food sometimes not made by me. I miss my workouts at the gym though I still make time for a quick one and am working on getting it into my daily routine to name a few…

What definitely I have learnt is to use my time wisely. One thing that I really miss is my writing. Writing for me needs the calm and quietness of long hours which helps me gather my thoughts which seems to be a premium now…

Thoughts to ponder as you think of work life balance…

  • Don’t let people define you by what your job is- explore new avenues
  • Keep working on your skills and acquire new skills
  • Think out of the box
  • Find opportunities to put your skills to work
  • Run your house as a corporate business
  • Work on your confidence, you cannot satisfy all your families desires
  • Learn to remain positive in spite of the changes and challenges
  • Realign with the expectation of the kind of job you can fit in
  • Be ready to take a drop in the designation and compensation
  • Keep your eyes and ears open you never know where your opportunity lies
  • Don’t belittle any opportunity you get but be sure of what you want….

Life – a balancing act


I  was delighted on being invited to be the keynote speaker at my husband’s office as part of  their women’s day celebration’s.  Topic given was ‘work life balance’ , my only concern being at that time, I was a ‘stay at home mom’ asked to speak to a group of working women. Yes, I had worked earlier and was on a break to take care of kids, keeping  an eye on how to get back to the work force if opportunity would allow me. Now back to working full time as a software engineer, the tasks and place of work have changed and I realize I was always working and the challenges were similar.

As part of my talk I asked people to think about how they would want people to talk about them at their funeral. Yes generally at the funeral good things are said about a person,  for some we know that what is said and the life we saw are not the same. This is important, if we want people to remember us in a particular way, we need to live our  life making the appropriate choices. Personally, I wanted to create a memory for my family of somebody being at home when they came back home after their day.  It was this desire that made me decide to quit my career when I was doing well. I was conscious that I would give up my career the day kids came, this was a decision I had taken early in life.  Even though I had taken this decision, it did not hinder me from doing my post graduate degree in an academic driven college and taking every opportunity that came my way, what I learnt then is helping me even today.

IMG_1761I realize not everybody can take a break when kids arrive because of circumstances or it’s just their personality.  Life is not about one size fits all. We are different and our differences need to be celebrated. Today when my responsibilities at home have decreased and staying at home does not challenge me enough, I have gone back to working full time and am enjoying it.

For some their work is part of their life and they enjoy it. Life can be described as family or leisure. What if there is a conflict between our leisure and family. In reality life is a balancing act. Being a person who cannot be idle,  even when I was a stay at home mom, my days were busy and filled with activities. Having gone back to working I am finding it difficult to accommodate the actives I loved doing earlier and miss them now. Just because I am working my responsibilities at home have not changed.  So life becomes a balancing act.  Some pointers to keep in mind to enjoy our life as we do the balancing act.

  • Periodically list down what we want to do in life.
  • Prioritize them according to what we want and what we are willing to let go.
  • Talk to people who who will understand what we are going through.
  • Work out the cost in terms of time and material in pursuing the particular desires.
  • See if that is what we want to be remembered for. (Imagining the small talk at our funeral helps).
  • The balance is not only about tasks but it is also about the relationships we have in life.

Success & failures – Do they make or break us….

Success and faiSlide1lures are relative to the one talking about it. Both success and failures are associated with a standard set by us or others. Success is when a standard is met and failure is when it falls short.  Choosing the right set of standards to follow is important in life. Success or failure is not decided by the outcome of a competition, marks we score or what we become or don’t become. Just because I did not meet the criteria’s of a certainty college or company or competition it does not hinder me from being successful in life.

In today’s world we can understand success and failure, in terms of a box which is defined by a set of standards. When we fulfill all the standards we are inside the box successful. When we fail to fulfill even one standard we are considered a failure. We need to move away from this mentality.

Others talk about my success first and I talk about my failure first it is never the other way around.

Coming from India where all that matters to parents are the marks, career and pay their children will earn in the future, I was lucky to have parents who created childhood memories while balancing and encouraging me to do what I wanted.  We  have decided the same for our son.  The mantra in our house is do your best! Your best may not be as good as others, it’s ok. The best is also a common ground we have decided with our son and takes into account various factors relevant to the time of decision. We also believe in working hard and being smart in achieving results.

From my own life I have seen that to some I am considered successful and to others I’m a failure. Whom I spend time with determines how I consider myself, a success or a failure. Rather than considering myself a failure I have had feelingsof being inadequate which I feel is slightly better than feeling as a failure. When we feel inadequate we magnify our flaws. Came across this word ‘flaw some’ – being awesome in spite of our flaws.  How we believe in ourselves and work towards our goals determines how successful we are in life.



Some guidelines …….

  1. Understanding and accepting ourselves with our strengths and limitations and working towards a logical goal outside our comfort zone is what will help us be successful and flaw some.
  2. Success is in our hands and we define it not others.
  3. We are not defined by the success and failures in our life.
  4. Those around me will not share my vision; it’s ok to be swimming against the tide, sometimes alone.
  5. Be aware of what works and doesn’t work for us. One size doesn’t fit all.
  6. Long term goals are long term, sometimes we will not see immediate results which is  frustrating, it’s important to stay motivated. Breaking our long term goals  to small achievable intermediate goals with deadlines is encouraging.
  7. It’s not worth being hard on our self when we don’t achieve our results, it’s better to look at it as a setback and not a failure.
  8. As parents it’s very important that our children see us as a confident successful role model.
  9. Children need to see parents handling setbacks, not going into a ‘failure mode’ but into a ‘success mode’.
  10. Its okay to fail but it’s not ok to park ourselves there. Failures are stepping stone to success.
  11. Being successful is good, again it’s not good to park ourselves. Pride in our success can lead to our downfall.


Do we know what we are eating?

As I was cleaning my kitchen shelf this morning my stored asofetida caught my attention. It had 30% maida. The package that caught my attention was the one I bought in my hometown Chennai. I was happy that finally Indian products were starting to have the ingredient list. I checked my current package which was bought in Jakarta and was suprised to see how it’s ingredients were described differently. Wheat starch sure sounds healthier than maida. 

This is not something I use in large quantities but it triggered my topic for today, What are we eating?
Having grown in the villages of India where fresh unadultared produce was freely available, I can spot the difference. I miss the tastes of my childhood. I remember how plain stirfried cabbage with just a green chili and salt would tickle my senses. It was never my favorite but I still loved it.  When I was small I was annoyed when my parents would buy only fresh local produce. They would tell me the other did not taste well. Today it’s my turn, they were right!!!

When the milk powder and margarine have palm oil, mock chicken and lamb have no trace of chicken and lamb, not sure where the chicken and lamb on the menu is actually real or mock, when the rice and egg we eat have plastic and the beautifully gorgeous looking vegetables have absolutely no taste because they maybe  genetically modified, going organic may seem the safe bet. 

I’m sure that all the organic products, you get in the market is 100% organic? We can be sure only if  we grow and produce everything we eat ( I know people who are doing that). Is this the life we want? Secondly the organic and good quality produce available in the markets are so expensive that even if we are aware there is the question of affordability?  So where do we draw the line? Some tips to reduce the harm we cause ourselves. 

1. Have kitchen gardens when space is available. 

2. Whenever possible prepare everything from scratch, including sauces and spice powders.  Homemade French fries are better than the ones we pick on the go.

3. Buy good quality produce whenever possible and available.  We need to realize not everybody can afford the best so never look down on people who are not eating like us.            When calculating costs include the medical costs incurred because of our bad eating habits.

4.  Just because it’s organic doesn’t mean its the best unless I have grown it.

5.   Just because it’s vegetarian doesn’t mean its better. According to me butter is still healthier than margarine. Chicken is better than mock chicken. 

6.  Just because the package says it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s not artificially flavored. I was amused when I bought a natural flavor microwave popcorn which was artificially flavored. 

7. A longer shelf life means it’s likely to have a lot of preservatives.

8. Too much of anything is bad. It’s about balancing.

9. Above all trust your instincts and taste buds, they usually don’t lie!

Empowering Vs Protecting 

When you have a thirteen year old going on fourteen, the question on our mind is

  • How much do I empower?
  • Do I just protect my child ?
  • How much do I push?
  • When do I hold back?

This is a struggle we face almost every day, from helping them find their socks to what they do online. The pressures and challenges of life, along with the teenage blues can become a nightmare or an enjoyable phase in our lives.  It is that phase when we see our child blossom into a young adult, as they progress through these teenage years. Some values which are helping us enjoy this phase are

1. Help them develop their Identity by allowing them to choose early.

‘How early’ would be the next question? From the day they can make choices and I should say its child specific and parent specific. Start as early as possible. One of the first choices kids want to make is the clothes they wear. I remember our
son crying he did not like the clothes we picked up but wanted only full length jeans and some round neck T-shirts. We realized it was not a tantrum but to do with his identity. It next went to the colors he liked.  Already the choice for boys is limited and now our son made it narrower. We wanted to see our son in shorts and shirts, formal wear but he did not like it.  Once we gave in he would accept the boundaries we set. Though jeans and a round neck T-shirt were ok most of the time, there were occasions where he was expected to wear formals etc which were nonnegotiable. As they were agreed on it was easier for all of us. Now as a teen he has not given up on the round neck t-shirt but yes he wants only shorts how times change!!! I would add that we need to allow them make age appropriate choices. We don’t get them something just because they want it or demand it.

Some of the rules we follow are

  • We don’t get something just because our friend’s have it.
  • Is it a need or a luxury?
  • Can we afford it right now?
  • Even if we feel it is a need and we can afford it, can we wait for some more time before we actually get it? This has been crucial as when we wait, sometimes we may realize it’s not a need and we have saved ourselves from buying a white elephant and other times we get better deals cost wise product wise.

2. Be consistent, this helps them trust you.

We need to earn our children’s trust. Yes early on we are their world. As years go by we start competing with their friends, friend’s parents, teachers and society in general. I fondly remember the days my son would come and argue that the method I taught him was wrong and his teacher was right. Letting go of my ego I encouraged him to learn from his teachers and also to make sure he went to the teacher to get his doubts clarified. In the process I taught him to learn on his own at school. In the meantime as a parent I told him how the teachers would ask extra questions to see who the smart kid was to have learnt the whole lesson. I remember my son thinking I was just trying to make him study more, but when the questions I had prophesied came in the paper he was overjoyed and would look forward to my opinion.  This happened in grade 1.  Today I am that annoying mom who gives him my two cents but in his heart he knows it’s for his good and is willing to engage in those conversations.

As they grow old they are evaluating us against what we teach them and what they see us practicing. They need to see us consistent in our words and actions. As parents this is important to capture their trust and also protect us from not being taken for a ride by our kids. This will also help them to trust us and allow us help them during their difficult times.

3. Start money management small.

In this age of supermarkets, when the kid friendly racks are arranged at their level, it’s not a surprise many of them appear in our trolleys at the billing counter even if we did not pick them. When our son was small it was mainly snacks and every trip the no of items seemed to increase. So we had a family meeting and it was decided that he would pick five items every month. He was only about three at that time.  Slowly the bill value was increasing though the number of items was only five. So now we agreed on a budget for the five items. We moved from the quantity to quality. He started making his choices. The next logical step was pocket money and though he was five we decided to go ahead. So we decided on a monthly allowance for our son and he was to put into three boxes – offering for church (10%), saving (50%), treats (40%). He had to remember to take his offering to church on Sundays. He could not touch the savings. He could use the treats to buy what he wanted at school or when we went out. This money was for the whole month. He had the choice to keep it for a month or finish in a week. At the end of the year depending on the savings he was able to pick up toys in this budget. Within a year or two he realized that if he saved his money on treats he had more money to spend at the end of the year. As years went by my son comes up with his plans for spending money and has even learnt to get the best price deals. Now he has moved to three year plans. He now negotiates with us as to how much he would give and how long he would have to wait if we needed to fund the rest.  Having said this, it was tough as a parent to actually make him give his part of the money. At times it was also difficult to stay in the budget but this is where consistency helps. He has made mistakes but he is also learning to handle money effectively. It takes a lot of letting go on our protecting nature but I would encourage parents to try it and you will be surprised. Important principle here is to lead by example. If my spending habits are bad I can’t expect my son to be better.

4. Make them accountable for their decisions.

To be accountable, boundaries need to be set. Right from when they are small, be vocal with your expectations. When our son was about two I remember having conversations in the car telling him what we expected in terms of behavior when we went to a particular place. It had a list of do’s and don’ts. On the way back we would evaluate saying where we were happy because he followed the expectations and where we were upset that he failed us. The do’s and don’ts were not a set of rules, but we tried explaining why we expected that behavior. I was surprised it worked.  Always have a discussion of what you expect from them and also ask them to come with a punishment which is agreeable for both if they fail to deliver.

Once we are vocal with our expectations and are willing to listen to their limitations, we empower our kids to choose what they want to follow and along with it decide the consequence if they fail.  Again start young with age appropriate issues. Gadget time is an issue across ages but the consequences need to be revisited as they grow old. It’s important to stick to your side of the deal and to be consistent.

5. Protecting is easy and false, empowering is the hard reality.

As parents we need to realize protecting is easy and it creates a false sense of safety. In a world of protection we create the world we want for our children, shutting out those we don’t. The more we protect the more we live in a false world.  For example we teach our kids honesty. We may be honest, but unfortunately we live in a dishonest world – how are they going to face it? We try to shut out dishonest people from our lives and then we live in this bubble of ‘we are honest and others are bad’. When we choose to empower them we teach them how to stay honest and teach them when to trust people and when not to. It takes hard work. It means making mistakes and correcting them. Isn’t this the reality of life? We understand situations and we learn to come up with solutions not letting go of our values in life.

The small changes  we embraced  when our son was small is paying off now. The issues we deal with now have changed but the principles remain the same. Life is about enjoying every stage of our children let’s do our part to make it stress free for all of us.