Tag Archives: #adversity

And Then All Changed Again

Where do I even start… well… as you know I was looking for a job and an apartment here in Montpellier. I was even looking with a friend. She has a French passport but is not registered in France at the moment. I have an EU passport. And we wanted to find something affordable together, to share. Can’t be that hard, we thought…

It’s incredible how many bureaucratic walls we ran into. This was even more surprising to us since we have both lived in multiple countries already. Neither of us has ever encountered so many bureaucratic barriers before. Anywhere.

To sum up weeks of going from Pontius to Pilatus in two sentences:
Basically, no one wanted to rent anything to us unless we had our tax revenue in France first. And no one wanted to give us a job unless we had an address in France first.

A conundrum which might have been funny had it not completely destroyed all hopes of my friend and I being able to begin a new life here in beautiful Montpellier at this time.

I pondered for a while if there was a workaround, because I really wanted to stay in Montpellier. Start a new life. New country, new city, new language, new job, maybe even a new profession. But, since I am by now already living on borrowed money, it didn’t make any sense to rent AirBnBs until I’ll be able to find a loophole in the local bureaucracy.

So, with a heavy heart, I decided to let go of Montpellier.

Immediately next came the question of where to go instead. Move onwards to maybe Spain or Portugal? But there as well I will be faced with extreme uncertainty and no idea of when and how I’ll be able to get a foot on the ground and find a roof over my head… and a job.

Instead, I have now decided to go back to the place which has already been my home twice for altogether 17 years: Zurich. In fact, each time I moved there, Zurich became my safety net after great turmoil. This will be the 3rd time. And, third time is the charm they say, isn’t it?

I have an amazing network of friends and acquaintances in Zurich. People who are close to my heart. That’s a definite plus. The climate is a definite minus. Brrrrrr.

So, onwards I go, in hopes of finding a better future. My little feline buddy JoJo and I will rent a car and drive to the Swiss border on January 10th, 2021. There, good friends will pick us up with their car. JoJo is now a registered French “cat-izen” and this will be his first ever time to cross a border as an international cat. Not bad for an old toothless street survivor.

Once in Zurich, I want to continue studying Le Francais, because I am still aiming to become fluent. And, I will begin another determined job hunt. Hopefully more successful than my last. If I can’t find anything in Zurich, in these Covid-stricken times, I might head towards other destinations after all. Malta, one of my favorite places on Earth, and a place I’ve already lived and worked in, has crossed my mind as well.

We will see. There is not much more JoJo and I can do than move forward with hope and as much confidence and positivity as we can muster.

We have roughly three more weeks here and JoJo and I both aim to enjoy our little rooftop flat which we will miss dearly. We’ll watch the golden sunsets together, and wave at our pigeon neighbors every night. I’ll miss those two love birds. So heartwarming to see them returning every single evening.

It’ll be a good Christmas. With JoJo, two love-struck pigeons, and my human friend, before she retreats to a bureaucratically friendlier locale as well. I believe a bit of French wine will be involved as well.

Merry Christmas to you all! JoJo, the pigeons, and I are sending many hugs around the world xxx

What a Year

It was.
What a year… found myself completely homeless, unemployed, and penniless for the first time in my life. Embarked on the Oasis of the Seas in the Caribbean to manage one of the most beautiful aqua theatres in the world. Called my first high-risk acrobatics show. Went to Germany to help my dad during the 1st lockdown. Went on a long-distance hike from the mountains of Switzerland to the Mediterranean Sea. Discovered Montpellier. Learned a new language (work in progress). Found peace of mind again (also work in progress). Crossed paths with the most loving and gentle feline. And experienced incredible kindnesses from friends, old and new, around the world (thank you!!!).
I don’t think I have ever learned more in one year.
And I am profoundly grateful.

There Is Always A New Beginning

And… lockdown continues… Yesterday’s election results in the US were an unexpected boost. I was so happy to see democracy in action. People voting and making their voices and needs heard. So now, hopefully, finally, one of the largest countries on Earth won’t be governed by a raving narcissist anymore. I am usually not voicing my opinions on politics much. And, honestly, I don’t want to give a monster like Trump any space in my head… because we created him. We gave him way too much space in our collective heads as well as in all the media, even though he doesn’t deserve a second of our attention.

On a personal level, lockdown is proving hard for me yet again. I have too much time on my own again. I am alone with too much pain again. And, as I try to process an accumulation of trauma, I need to stay alert so as not to be consumed by it. As I work through it all, I realize I have spent way too much time throughout my life smiling, taking care of others, being the strong one, and being ok, whilst inside of me turmoil was raging.
In order to overcome, I need to have the courage to be vulnerable. I need to allow myself to have needs, too. And there has to be the honest admission: Yes, I can function. Yes, I am strong enough to weather through it all. But, no, I’m not ok. I will be some day. But, right at this moment, I’m not ok.

However, I am also lucky and so thankful for all the kindnesses I’m experiencing. Like my dad, who always has my back. Like my therapist, who knows I currently have no money and who has offered to do weekly sessions with me for free. “You need this right now. I’m worried about you. And I trust you. You can pay me when you’re back on your feet again. And I know you will be soon.” Her faith in me as well as coming to my aid means more than I will ever be able to express in words. Then there are my friends who embrace me as I am, and let me know they’re happy to have me in their lives. There is my current employer and friend who trusts me and always lets me know she values my input. There is my teacher at Alliance Francaise who writes me a worried message to see how I’m doing when I don’t show up for Zoom class. There is the entire team at Alliance Francaise, who are so helpful and human. They do and care far more for their students than their job description requires. And then there are my “neighbors”, the pigeon couple. They fly back into a little alcove across from my balcony every evening to cuddle with each other and spend the night together. The sight of them loving each other so deeply and authentically always warms my heart.

In the meantime, I’m not idle either and try as best as possible to give myself a kick in the butt every day. I don’t always succeed. But mostly I do. I aim to give myself a healthy structure. Every day, I go out for that one hour we’re allowed to, and walk. I write articles for TheatreArtLife. I photograph. And I try to pamper myself a bit whenever I have the chance. When I just need to collapse on the bed and do nothing at all, I let myself do that, too. I study French intensively. Zoom lessons, mountains of homework, plus additional grammar books, Duolingo, novels, and graphic novels. Thankfully, I stocked up on books just before lockdown. I miss the weekly book flea market underneath the sycamore trees, in the Esplanade Charles de Gaulles in Montpellier. And can’t wait for it to reopen. There is something magical in the way the light reflects off the sycamore leaves onto the literature beneath. There is a reflective calm as well, as people browse through the knowledge of the ages, as they enjoy the cover designs and imagine the worlds waiting behind those covers.

One such world I brought with me into lockdown: “Le Petit Prince.” I’m enjoying it all over again in French, the third language I’m reading it in.
“C’est une folie de haïr toutes les roses parce que une épine vous a piqué, d’abandonner tous les rêves parce que l’un d’entre eux ne s’est pas réalisé, de renoncer à toutes les tentatives parce qu’on a échoué… C‘est une folie de condamner toutes les amitiés parce qu’une d’elles vous a trahi, de ne croire plus en l’amour juste parce qu’un d’entre eux a été infidèle, de jeter toutes les chances d’être heureux juste parce que quelque chose n’est pas allé dans la bonne direction. Il y aura toujours une autre occasion, un autre ami, un autre amour, une force nouvelle. Pour chaque fin il y a toujours un nouveau départ.” So very true.

The Show Must Go On

Long shadows after another almost sleepless night… thoughts… nightmares I’ve had for months… sadness… heartbreak… a bit of exhaustion… mosquitoes… and an owl which, I swear, was sitting somewhere right next to my ear…

Thankfully, I managed to set up my little camp close to a small and ice cold little mountain creek. That meant a cold and prickly footbath while eating crackers… last night, as well as this morning.

I walked through this enchanting green ocean of dancing grass when the first message reached me that Le Reve, a beautiful show, the beginning of an era, an amazing vision, literally a dream, is being closed down for good in Las Vegas. Another almost 300 of my colleagues and friends are losing their livelyhood for now, not knowing where to turn.

I wish the initiative my friends and I are trying to build was not still in its infancy. Step4Circus is something that needs to come about. A small, yet important contribution to create jobs, hope, and a positive step forward in our circus community. It’s still a work in progress… I’ll keep you updated on all further developments! https://step4circus.com/

Today, as every day, my heart goes out to all my colleagues in the performance arts, to cast and crew, my show family, who put so much passion, soul, and hard work into creating moments of magic. We will find a way. We will be back. What is humanity without storytelling and the collective experience of eloping into our imagination? The show must go on xxx

Always Learning

Currently, I am a bit like a fish out of water. Instead of being surrounded by my usual abundance of ocean, I‘m immersed in green, rolling mountains, hills, meadows, forests, and fields. There is the odd lake of course. Nothing better than vibrant greens and blues going together.

I had finished my book Paralian hopeful, filled with a happiness and sense of home I had never before experienced. Life didn’t disappoint however and everything turned out different than I had dreamt and hoped. I had been through so much already, that I didn‘t quite expect life was going to punch me in the gut harder than ever before…

But it did, last year. Now, I am finding myself homeless at fifty with a tent and a backpack my only possessions. Good thing is, I have my resilience, hope, and positivity. I am starting over, still loving life, always learning, enjoying the moment as best I can, going with the flow… and hoping, somehow things will line up in whichever way they are supposed to.

The Light

Candle by Eyasu Etsub on Unsplash

Photo by Eyasu Etsub on Unsplash

The light went out.

Thankfully, he had prepared for such emergencies.
He owned a flashlight. He was an organized guy.

Finding the nearest wall to lean on, he followed it towards the kitchen. Once there, his fingertips found the counter. They felt for the top drawer on the far left. Soon, the drawer handle rested firmly in the palm of his hand. Feeling the reassuring, cold steel, he pulled. The drawer opened. And yes, inside was the flashlight.

He turned it on and walked back towards the hallway. Grateful to have light again.
However, he had forgotten all about the garbage bag he had prepared for disposal. As he turned right towards the front door in the hallway, his gaze focused forward on the beam of light, he tripped over the large bag and fell. The flashlight hit the ground. The bulb broke. The light went out again.

As far as he remembered, there were matches and candles in one of the other kitchen drawers. He got up from the floor and kicked the air until he hit the garbage bag. It tumbled out of the way. His path now unobstructed, he felt his way back to the kitchen counter. Growing increasingly irritated, he opened drawers roughly with contents falling painfully onto his bare feet. The fourth drawer held the matches and candles he had remembered. He lit a match, burned his fingers, but managed to light the stubborn wick. Instantly, his home was illuminated again, albeit minimal and flickering.

But enough to carefully venture out into the hallway once more. He made his way to the front door and opened it. From the porch he could just make out his nearest neighbor’s house in the distance. The lights seemed to be on over there. This wasn’t a general power outage affecting the entire neighborhood.

The wind almost snuffed out the candle, forcing him to step back inside quickly. He needed to check the fuses in the basement. But could they all have blown at the same time? He quickly walked from room to room. None of the light switches worked. The house was utterly without sound. No humming refrigerator, no softly buzzing appliances.

Back in the hallway, he opened the door to the basement and, carefully, made his way down the raw concrete stairway into the dank, windowless underworld. The candle flickered and was almost blown out twice due to a slight draft following him from the ground floor like a whispering wave.

He opened the fuse box and was astonished to see nothing. All sockets were empty. All spares were gone.

Instead, a handwritten note inside the fuse box read, “You made it this far. Come into the boiler room.”
What? Why? Who was toying with him?
He walked down the hallway, carefully protecting the candlelight with the cup of his hand.
At the end of the short hallway was the boiler room.
The metal door stood open.
It shouldn’t be open.
Fear and unease almost made him turn around right then and there, but curiosity and mounting confusion drove him forward.

He stepped into the boiler room. Nothing but darkness.
He said, “Hello?”
No answer.
He took a few more steps.

The door behind him slammed shut with a bang. As he whirled around, he heard the outside bolts sliding into place.

The candle flickered violently, smothered, on the brink of going out. It gave just enough light so he could see a poster on the door. Large, black letters proclaimed:

“Now you have more time than you think.”

The candle didn’t recover. It suffocated.

The matches were in the kitchen.

The ordeal began.

I Am Liam

Ever since writing this blog, I’ve noticed how I lose followers when, for a while, I don’t specifically write about being transgender. I guess some people are hoping for specific insights into a trans existence. But what is a trans existence? The truth is – and I can’t stress this often enough – we are all the sum of our experiences. That being said, no matter what I do and write, being trans (or being categorized as trans in our society) is undeniably part of who I am.

However, when you are trans it isn’t foremost on your mind every single day. It isn’t what you think and talk about all the time. It just is. I transitioned 25 years ago. Yes, I have faced and still face many challenges because of being trans. But, in essence, I am facing what everyone else does. Like every other human out there, I fight my battles, struggle, grow, love, hurt, long to belong, long to be loved, and aim to find a healthy balance between taking care of myself and taking care of others.

Over the years, what has become most important for me is to open my mind wide and see beyond the labels. If I am any sort of activist, then this is it: I fight for a world of compassion and mutual respect. A world in which labels become obsolete.

The more I experience life all over the globe, the more I realize that, rather than focusing on what makes us all different, it is so much better to focus on what connects us. The best I can do for myself and for everyone else out there is to be authentic, ignore the labels, and rather write about life in all its rawness. I want to observe the world around me with empathy. I want to understand those around me, no matter what their background, and write about the beauty and painfulness of our shared existence.

The longer I think about it, I even wonder, “What does transgender mean?” I was born as who I am. The gender assignation of the body I was born with did not match with my soul. But my soul was always human. I was just another splotch of color in our diverse universe. No matter what my physical shell looked like at any point in time, inside of it I was always beautiful, flawed, unique, struggling Liam. Society will classify me as a trans male. I classify myself as male. But in the end, does it even matter?
I am Liam. And I believe that is enough.

1996 liam in seebach 3

Photo by Susanne Stauss

When Kung Fu Leads to Coffee

for linked in

Hon Kee Café – A Hidden Gem in Macau’s Coloane Village

Walk towards the ferry pier in Coloane Village, then turn right, and trek over the hill until you see a row of eerie, abandoned shipyards on your left. Keep walking until you reach a jumble of colorful, corrugated iron houses. This is Lai Chi Vun Village, where most of Coloane’s boat builders used to live. A little further ahead is Hon Kee Café… essentially a large open shed with just four wooden tables, ringed by tall trees, which provide additional shade and almost cause you to miss the unassuming place altogether.

I must have walked past this gem a hundred times, never giving it a second thought. Then, one day not too long ago, a local woman told me about Ah Hon, owner of Hon Kee Café. Both, man and café, turn out to be nothing less than local legends…

Many years ago, Ah Hon was one of the young boat builders working in the shipyards. In 1986, an accident with a rusty saw nearly severed his left arm just above the elbow. Two bones, muscles, and blood vessels were gone. Ah Hon almost lost his life that day due to severe blood loss. In the weeks that followed, his body fought against life-threatening infections. His doctors urged him to amputate the arm but, as our stubborn local hero let CNN know during an interview in 2013, “I told the surgeon I’d rather not live than live without my arm.”

Thankfully, Ah Hon’s body won the battle against the infections. However, many surgeries and experimental nerve transplants later, Ah Hon’s arm had shrunk to the circumference of a thin bamboo stick. It was clear, he would never be able to work as a boat builder again.

At a loss of how to earn a living and provide for his family, Ah Hon began thinking of transforming one of the abandoned buildings in his village into a café for the boat builders. His first application for a restaurant license was rejected by the government. Not willing to give up, Ah Hon wrote a letter to the Portuguese mayor of Macau, imploring him to interject on his behalf. The mayor did… and the government authorities relented.

Despite his weak left arm, or rather, as a self-made form of physiotherapy, Ah Hon began building his café all by himself. He fortified the structure of the abandoned shed. He built his own furniture. By the time he opened Hon Kee Café in 1991, Ah Hon’s mangled arm had regained a little of its functionality and strength. This was encouraging, but compared to its former brawniness, the arm still felt useless.

What else could Ah Hon do?

Kung Fu, a simple wood stove, and coffee provided the answer.

Ah Hon built himself a wooden dummy in a small alcove inside the café and began practicing Kung Fu on it. “I am no Kung Fu Master,” he says, “but practicing daily on the dummy certainly helped me regain my physical power.” To exercise even more, he bought the heaviest axe he could find and pushed himself to chop wood for his coffee stove on a daily basis.

During the café’s early days, a foreign couple stumbled upon it. They decided to escape the afternoon heat and have an iced coffee in the shade. Soon, they engaged in lively conversation with Ah Hon and suggested to him to hand-beat his coffee, to lend it a unique strong texture and taste. Ah Hon dismissed the idea at the time. Then, one day the famous Hong Kong actor Chow Yun Fat stopped by and ordered a coffee. Star struck and embarrassed to serve the great international movie star a regular cup, Ah Hon remembered what the couple had taught him and made his very first hand-beaten coffee.

He has been hand-beating his coffee ever since.

According to Ah Hon, he beats each cup 400 times. This, of course, also with his left hand, which, through the café owner’s many years of relentless exercising, is back to its former vigor. Ah Hon uses instant coffee powder for his one-of-a-kind brew. First, he stirs a spoonful of thick coffee mixture for a few hundred rounds at high speed until it thickens. The process takes a few minutes. When more hot water is added to the coffee, a thick layer of foam and cream rises to the top, creating an unusually viscous texture and an irresistibly aromatic scent.

As for food, Ah Hon’s is the simplest and most charming menu I have ever laid eyes on. You have your choice of either toast or instant noodles, with egg, pork, or canned sardines. To add additional spiciness, there is a small squeeze bottle of homemade chili sauce on each table, which I personally find irresistible.

Since 2005, all of Lai Chi Vun’s shipyards have been abandoned. However, even with his initial customer base gone, Ah Hon’s café keeps going strong. Local and international TV stations and newspapers still pay him the odd visit. Macanese as well as Mainland Chinese customers come for some instant noodles and the famous hand-beaten “Chow Yun Fat” coffee. Ah Hon’s story has inspired many. A visit to the humble and cozy Hon Kee Café reminds his customers that everything is possible if your heart is in the right place and you never give up.

kon kee small

Hon Kee Café

Merendas de Lai Chi Vun Park, Coloane, Macau, +853 2888 2310

Open daily, except Wednesdays, from 7:00am to 6:00pm