Tag Archives: #family

Dad

papa and boo

Can I just say how grateful I am for my dad?
I mean, I am thinking daily, “Damn, I’m stuck here in Germany in this small apartment without any privacy, camping on the couch in the middle of the room.” True. There are no doors to close, and it’s a small one-bedroom apartment. Nowhere to hide from my dad’s loud snoring (or the even louder snoring of his cat for that matter). Nowhere to hide from the clattering of dishes when my dad (almost daily I might add) decides to unload the dishwasher right next to my ears at 7am…

Yet, while I’m feeling sorry for myself, I think again, yes, I’m camping in the middle of his living room. It’s been almost two months now… with no end in sight…
But, when I ask him, “Are you ok? This is your home. I know I’m disturbing your routine and there’s never a second for you to be alone. Let me know if it gets too much, ok?”, he just smiles and says, “I don’t mind. You can stay as long as you like.”

He doesn’t ask much of me either. I go shopping for us (“the fridge is so full,” he laughs) and I cook (“oh, spicy,” he says). In return, he takes out the garbage, and takes care of that dish washer.
He doesn’t ask me to do anything else, there are no conditions attached. We are just there, together for the moment, in the living room, him on one couch, me on the other, doing our separate things.

What would I do without him letting me stay here right now? I have no home to go to and my meager savings will barely keep me afloat for a couple of months if I have to pay any rent anywhere. And who knows when I’ll find employment again. It’s funny, too. Because, I rushed over here to make sure he is safe and to help him out in this global crisis. However, at the end of the day, it’s him, sharing his tiny living space so generously with me, who is saving my ass.

That being said, even before, his door was always open. What would we have done over the past decade, my partner and I, had he not sheltered us and helped us out financially over and over again? He took us in for months at a time when we needed a place to stay and shared all he had with us. He was there for us when no one else was. He was always happy to see us. And no matter how much he did for us, he never asked for anything in return. He was open-minded. Supportive. He never judged. He was just present, with his warm smile, accepting us as we were.

I probably don’t appreciate him enough. I know I criticize him way too often. I’m too impatient. Much better than I used to be, though. For that, I am grateful to my soulmate, who helped me see him through her eyes, and helped me realize that ancient past is just that – the past.

Most likely my dad will never see this post. I’ll make sure to tell him in person though, how much I appreciate him and all he’s done so selflessly for me, for us (when there was still an us).

This is what being family is all about, isn’t it? To be a safety net for each other. To be there for each other even if paths or opinions diverge. To care. To support. Unconditionally.
Thank you, Dad, for being in my life.

A Discounting Mechanism

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Have any of you seen ‘Where’d You Go Bernadette’? I’ve wanted to watch it for a long time and finally got around to it last night. The intro really hit me , which is why I want to share it here with you:

“Have you ever heard that the brain is like a discounting mechanism? Say, someone gives you a present and it’s a diamond necklace and you open it and you love it. You’re all happy at first. Then the next day it still makes you happy. Although a bit less so. A year later you see the necklace and you think, “Oh, that old thing.”
And you know why your brain discounts things? It’s for survival. You need to be prepared for new experiences because they could signal danger.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could reset that since there aren’t a lot of saber-toothed tigers jumping out at us? Seems like a design flaw that our brain’s default settings signal danger and survival instead of something like joy or appreciation.
I think that’s what happened to my mom. She got so focused on picking up danger signals that her discounting mechanism forgot to see all the good stuff in her life. And maybe Dad had quit seeing the diamond necklace side of mom.”

I pinched the photograph from this interesting article in Architectural Digest https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/whered-you-go-bernadette-movie-production-designer-interview

Boo, Lara, and Bocelli

Thinking of this little family today.

06 2011

I found them in a pet store in Macau, in 2010. They had just been rescued from the street. A cat with three kittens. All of them were horribly sick. They had any infection you could think of… cat flu, ear infections, eye infections, ringworm, etc. One of the little ones was so tiny, he could fit in a tea cup. He looked like Gollum. Barely any fur left on him, huge eyes, and a greyish, wrinkly face. I wanted to adopt all the babies but the volunteers in the store told me honestly that Gollum wouldn’t make it. The other two stood a fighting chance. Only one of them seemed strong though. He was the largest of the babies… and the loudest… meowing non-stop. The other one didn’t look quite as bad as Gollum, but she was extremely tiny and scrawny for a five to six-week-old kitten. She had patchy, dark brown fur. What was left of it stood on end, making her look as if she had stuck her little paw into an electrical socket.

I decided to take the two healthier babies home. As we took them out of their cage, their mom crawled into my arms and didn’t seem to want to let me go. She was small for an adult cat, cuddly, with huge, expressive, green eyes. However, I had really only come for the babies. I left without her.

Arriving at home, her offspring soon crawled into every corner and jumped on every shelf. They made quick friends with the parrot I fostered at the time – a cheeky, red-lored Amazon named Cebi (short for Cebola… ‘onion’ in Portuguese. Since he was Brazilian, I had figured he needed a name reflecting his heritage at least linguistically). The first couple of days were mayhem with medicating the fur babies around the clock, plus trying to keep Cebi from pecking at their tails the entire time.

While I had my hands full with my ‘menagerie a trois’, I kept thinking about the kittens’ mom. The chances of anyone ever adopting her were slim to none. She was now together with Gollum in the cramped cage in the back of the pet store. Watching him die. It occurred to me how horribly alone and abandoned she must feel. Over the next few days, no matter how much the antics of baby cats and parrot made me laugh, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. “Screw this,” I finally thought on day five, “one more cat won’t make a difference.”

I went back to the pet store. Gollum had died already. And here was his mom. Huddled all by herself in the corner of her cage. The animal charity volunteers were more than happy to let me take her as well. I had brought a transport box with me, and off we went, to reunite her with her other two babies. As soon as we came through the door, however, her kittens didn’t welcome her. It seemed they had already made my apartment their territory. For two days straight, they hissed at their mom, and skulked around like John Wayne and Lara Croft, ready to draw their guns at any time. Thankfully, on the third day after the initial, slightly flawed homecoming, the kittens began cuddling with their mom again as if they had never been separated. One day later, she was nursing them as well. As they were massaging her tits with their paws, the babies were purring as loudly as twin tractor engines.

I named the two-year-old mom ‘Boo’, because of her big, round eyes, which made her look startled as well as inquisitive. She reminded me of Boo in the movie Monsters Inc. Boo’s little girl was fearless. Only a third the body size of her brother, she was the one who explored everything first, climbed up everywhere, and battled her illness with much courage and cheerfulness. She had a warrior spirit. I named her Lara. Her brother was easy to find a name for as well. He had never stopped meowing since the moment I had laid eyes on him and generally sounded like a mix between a goat and a squeaky door in need of WD-40. Henceforth, his name was Bocelli. My own little opera singer.

It took over a month for me to nurse them all back to good health. This not without them infecting me with ringworm first as well. We ended up being quarantined in the apartment together for four weeks, since the fungus infection was highly contagious. Thankfully, Cebi’s parrot feathers at least seemed to be resistant to fungus.

Six months later, despite all bravery, Lara lost her battle. At first, she had seemed to become healthy just as the rest of her feline family. But then, she had begun to show strange symptoms. She didn’t grow. While her brother became ever bigger, she remained so tiny, she could sit on my hand. Something seemed to be wrong with her muscles and nervous system as well. Five months in, she could barely walk anymore or lift her little head to eat from her food dish. Her muscles gave out every so often and she would just collapse on the floor. Nevertheless, she was still as cheerful as ever, snuggling in the crook of my elbow and purring her little heart out. I consulted with a veterinary and we both came to the unanimous decision that it was kinder to help Lara along and let her go.
She enjoyed one last meal with her family. Then, I carried her to the vet. I kept holding her in my arms as the injection was gently working its way through her bloodstream and putting her to sleep. I buried her in a niche high up on a rock wall along the coast of Coloane with her favorite toy, a little stuffed sun with a smiling face, pouty red lips, and blue eyelashes. Lara’s final resting place overlooked a beautiful pagoda and the South China Sea. She still rests there today and I feel more at home when I am close by, able to every so often walk past her resting place to tell her she is not forgotten.

Three years later, in 2013, I left Macau for the first time and shipped Boo and Bocelli to my dad’s place in Germany. They took to him faster than you can say “hello.” I moved on towards a more nomadic life.

Meanwhile, the cats contentedly snuggled with my dad and with each other. They still do. Boo is now twelve years old, Bocelli is ten. He still meows constantly. His mom is still as cuddly, loving, and caring towards both her son and her human companion as ever. She listens to and seems to understand every word my dad says. She licks his forehead and rubs her head on his hand. Whenever her son, Bocelli, sidles up to her in need of affection, she gently licks her son’s ears and face. Often, she lets him snuggle close. Then, of course, there are the inevitable, territorial wrestling matches when Boo needs to assert her dominance and make it clear that she can take the spot on the window sill or on top of the aquarium whenever she wants to. Bocelli usually doesn’t put up much of a fight but rather let’s her have whatever she desires.
Unless it is a box. He is passionate about his boxes.
He is a shy and anxious boy. Which is why he is also Boo’s admiring, respectful student. He watches her every move to learn and see what is safe and what isn’t. It took him five years of longingly watching Boo interact with my dad before Bocelli gathered enough courage to relax and snuggle with the tall, smiling human being, too. Now he rarely leaves his side.

My dad spends much of his days either feeding Boo and Bocelli or sitting on the couch with both cats curled up together in his lap. I am happy, I can visit them every so often. Each time, the felines are on a different diet, alternating between looking rather like furry balloons, or looking more like the little, muscular, former street cats they are. They both love snoozing in patches of sunlight. When sleeping deeply, Boo now snores as loud as a lumberjack…

I’ve gone back to Lara as well. Back home for a couple of years. Looking out over the South China Sea, remembering her, just underneath her resting place. Wondering if her little stuffed sun is still shining for her. Somehow, I am sure it is.

Under the Big Top with Zirkus Knie: Birth of a Passion

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Come run away with me to the circus… in my article on TheatreArtLife, pondering the intricacies of life backstage…

In the words of Geraldine and Franco Knie:
“This is our life. It’s what we grew up with. We don’t know anything else. We learned from an early age that the show takes priority over anything else. You either love it or you don’t. Not everything’s always hunky dory. We’re selling emotions, so we also need to live them and share them.”

Read the full article here.

Isolation with Dad, Cat, and the Fish

Isolation with Dad, Cat, and the Fish 2

It’s the end of March 2020.
A slightly ruffled, disoriented “hello” from myself and Bocelli, my dad’s ever-meowing cat who isn’t quite sure how he feels about me invading their space…

How are you all?

I haven’t written much in this blog since last December…
As stage and production manager on one of the largest cruise ships in the Caribbean, life as I knew it was put on hold. I worked non-stop, 7 days a week, 15 hours per day. I would get up early in the morning when, without fail, my phone would begin ringing… Then, after each relentless day, I would go to bed to the sound of said phone still ringing… Until I would pass out, exhausted, dreaming a fitful sleep, still working and solving backstage emergencies in my dreams. Relentless is the best word I can come up with to describe my experience managing a large, high-risk venue on an even larger ship. Other words that come to mind are growth and stamina.  And, thankfully, persevering, managing, learning, staying true to myself, and staying kind.

The absorption in our daily work onboard was complete. My colleagues and I heard about what went on in the world through word-of-mouth only. Or, sometimes, we managed to read about it when our anemic internet had one of its rare little bursts of energy and actually loaded an article or a post for us. Although we came back to sunny Florida once a week every Sunday since beginning of this year, Earth with all its viruses seemed a million miles away.

Mid-March, our ship headed for Miami, debarking the last of our passengers to cease operations in accordance with the entire fleet. Our stately vessel was then bound to sail into isolation on the open seas – with almost all crew remaining onboard.

I decided to leave. Maybe, I had seen too many disaster movies. But my instincts screamed at me to keep moving… that being locked down on a ship at close quarters with thousands of other people was far more dangerous than to grab my bag and make my way across borders and continents back to my father’s home.

I had to go. To be there for my dad, in case he needed me. And to ride this pandemic out somewhere… not alone… but together with someone for whom I profoundly matter – and who matters to me.

My trip home, from the Southern US to the South of Germany, began on 15th of March. It became a 3-day odyssey and quite the challenge…
Flights were cancelled left and right. Borders were closing all around me, faster than I could blink. My window of opportunity to make it back safely shrank before my eyes.

Most of my cruise ship colleagues decided to stay onboard. They sailed towards the Bahamas. To drop anchor close by. They sanitized, cleaned, and partied together. There was no physical distancing. They assumed to be safe. They waited for the world beyond the blue horizon to find its way back to some kind of new normalcy. Which is when they planned to dock in Miami yet again to reenter a land-based existence…

Meanwhile, I squeezed through all rapidly closing gates and borders. Yet on the way, I shared close quarters with thousands of people on airplanes and in the airports of New York, London, and Zurich. Now, with daily rising numbers of infected people worldwide, I would not dare to tackle this three-day journey anymore. Far too much risk of infection. At this point in time, it has simply become too great a hazard to travel so far.

It seems, I left just in time.

Even so, I was terrified upon my arrival in Germany. My dad’s loving hug, which usually feels so good, made me quiver inside. Had I endangered him by trying to do the right thing? After the initial closeness, I tried to distance myself physically from him as best as possible in his small apartment…
I have now been at his place for 15 days. I’ve counted the minutes, the hours. And, I was glad, yesterday, to finally get to that magical 14-day-incubation-time mark with both of us – as of yet – still healthy.

But there is the ship. My co-workers and friends. Who worked and partied with vigor during the past two weeks out at sea. And for whom safety was an illusion.

Three days ago, I heard 14 people onboard our floating palace were infected with Covid-19. Yesterday, the count had already risen to 51 people. I am terrified and worried for my colleagues and hope with all my heart that this is it… not, how I fear, just the tip of the iceberg. 1’600 crew are still onboard. I can’t stop thinking about them. Trapped on the ship. I hope they will beat the virus. I hope their immune systems haven’t been compromised too much by months of working hard with barely a pause.

Here I am now, being stared at by Bocelli, my dad’s tone-deaf-opera-singer cat. I am grateful for my little harbor of momentary safety, at the border between Germany and Switzerland, amidst green fields and forests. I am, however, well aware that, just as on the ship, safety in the face of an – as of yet – undefeated, invisible enemy is an illusion.

For now, in self-isolation like most other human beings on our planet, I have way too much time to think on my hands. I endeavor to use this gift of time wisely. I want to rest, but also be creative. I want to write. I will write. Our world has shrunk so much so fast. Yet, through our creativity, with the aid of the Internet, there still are no boundaries. We can still let our minds soar. Writers like me can send their words out to ride fiber currents…

I am thinking of my friends and family around the world. More than ever before, I know there is nothing more important than the human connections we build throughout our lifetimes. I can’t wait to be able to travel again to do what I love most: hug and squeeze the people I care about, touch base with them every so often, share experiences, ideas, and thoughts.

No matter what’s out there, and no matter what happens to each of us in the months to come… as always, friendship, love, kindness, creativity, and hope will help us overcome it all… even when we have an annoyed, territorial cat glaring at us.

Nanala

2019 cargo container and blue sky

Last week, a friend of mine introduced me to a refugee from Pakistan (to protect her privacy, let’s call her Nanala). We had an unforgettable dinner together.
From the first moment onwards, Nanala struck me as a self-confident, warm-hearted woman. After a while she began sharing parts of her life journey.

Eleven years ago, soldiers had broken down the door of Nanala’s home in Pakistan. They had shot and killed her husband and two of her four children in front of her eyes.
Nanala had managed to escape with her remaining two children. She had gathered a small part of their belongings and managed to get passage on a ship bound for Europe.
Together with four other families, Nanala and her children spent almost two weeks locked inside a container. They had a small supply of dried food, fruits, and water, and some flashlights. Other than that, only a couple of small, round holes in the sides of the container brought a bit of illumination from the outside. Days began to blend into each other. The journey felt endless, the walls were closing in… but, finally, the container ship arrived in a harbor in Greece.

After months of surviving in a refugee camp on a small island, Nanala and her children were transferred to Zurich, Switzerland. There, they lived for many years in yet another refugee camp. Nanala took any job the Swiss authorities allowed her to have, to be able to provide for her family. Her children went to school and adapted well to their new Swiss home.
Nanala had never attended school. She had never learned how to study. When she asked her children to help and teach her, they said, “We are busy with our own lives, Mom. We don’t have time.”
Nanala was only ever hired on an hourly basis. Each time, she was promised that after a year she would be given a contract. She worked hard. Studied. Learned German. But each time, the promise would be broken and she would be let go.
Each time hope reared its head, it was smacked hard again with a whip. Yet, Nanala kept getting back up on her feet. She never gave up.

Nanala’s daughter graduated high school and found an apprenticeship as a dental nurse. During her studies, she began to distance herself more and more from her mother. She never helped financially. After three years, her apprenticeship was over and she found a good job. At the same time, she was given the Swiss passport. From this moment on, she became very hostile towards her mother and pushed her away ever harder. She was ashamed of her mother who had still not been given a resident permit. She didn’t want to be seen as the daughter of a refugee.
Nanala’s daughter even began influencing her younger brother against his mom. He will finish high school soon, and Nanala is afraid. What if he abandons her, too? If he does, she will lose the rest of her family. She will also lose the social housing they have been given by the government.

Nanala has been assigned a new job. She has started work for a company which makes house calls to elderly people who can’t take care of themselves anymore.
That morning, when Nanala cleaned one older lady’s apartment, a spider fell from the ceiling, landed on her face, and bit her in the cheek. A bright red bruise marked the spot.

What struck me more than anything about Nanala was her capacity to love, her emotional intelligence, her dignity, and her beautiful sense of humor. Even during our chat, she kept raising herself back up and vowed to claim her independence and freedom through further hard work and studies. For her own sake, as well as that of her children, she doesn’t want to depend on them. Or on anyone else for that matter.

Even after all that has happened to her, Nanala wasn’t self-absorbed during our dinner, but present, listening to our stories as well as telling us her own.
She cried when she remembered moments of pain and abandonment. At the same time, she was full of enthusiasm at the thought of being able to help other people in her new profession. Rarely have I seen a stronger, more compassionate human being.

Photo by Victoire Joncheray on Unsplash

Back in Pirate Paradise

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Again, it’s been a busy month. In true Macau fashion, wonderful and exasperating things happened all at the same time. Through unbelievable luck and the kindness of my real estate agent, I was able to get the apartment back I had rented here until 2013. However, it took a few weeks and several hurdles to get back into paradise. The contractors messed up a floor they were supposed to renovate. At the same time, the apartment we were in the process of vacating had already been rented out. This left my wife, our three cats, our small pile of possessions, and me stranded without a home for a week. In the end, it all worked out somehow. And now we’re here, in Coloane village. The cozy apartment has lost nothing of its charm. It is still as tranquil as ever. Overlooking a small arm of the Pearl River Delta where, centuries ago, pirates used to anchor, it is the perfect hideaway for the five of us to recharge our batteries and be inspired.

Lost in Space

2018 lost in space (j-w-675142-unsplash)

I love good storytelling – be it poetry, fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, movies, TV series, visual arts, or any other type of creative expression. For the most part, stories engage me when they are about being human, about compassion and about overcoming our shortcomings and challenges.

The other month, I watched the (rather kitschy) new ‘Lost in Space’ series. All of a sudden, in the midst of space oddities and other adventures, Mr. and Mrs. Robinson found themselves alone in an emergency where it seemed only one of them could survive. They had quarrelled for years because she had been disappointed with him and he had made the mistake of not being there for his family as much as he should have. Now, they had to make a quick decision so at least one of them could get out of their current predicament. She was going to use the only space suit they had to get out of some toxic goo their vehicle had sunk into… and he would remain behind and either suffocate or get swallowed up by said nasty goo. Mr. Robinson helped Mrs. Robinson suit up, ready to sacrifice himself, when all of a sudden Mrs. Robinson held him close, looked him straight in the eye, and said, “I wish I hadn’t spent so much time being angry at you.” It was just another, slightly over-dramatic TV moment. Yet, at the same time, it was so much more. It was a moment of profound wisdom.

We don’t always do the right thing when we are in a relationship. Especially in intimate relationships that last a long time… Without ever intending to, we make mistakes, we hurt each other, we are clumsy, we don’t listen well enough, we don’t spend enough time with each other, and we betray one another. So much can happen, because there is no recipe for life, we often find ourselves lost (in space), and emotions are not always predictable or controllable.

So, when the goo hits the proverbial fan, let’s think of the Robinson’s space slime and of what really matters. Family does. Friendship. Love. And forgiveness. No one will ever be perfect… And when two souls connect on a deeper level of understanding, it is something immensely precious, not to be taken lightly or given up easily.

(Photo by J W on Unsplash)

New Beginnings

macau seen from ferry

Even though I have done it so often and relish the excitement of new beginnings, relocating is always difficult for me. This time around it’s more difficult than ever before. Over the last months, I’ve been maniacally busy tackling the bureaucracy on my side of the world for my wife and I. There was no time to think.

Now, with everything done, there is way too much time to think. I’ve arrived at my new home with ample time to rest and relax. Instead of being able to enjoy the moment, I rather feel lost and like tumbling down a pitch-black, miles-long rabbit hole. 

I know, I just got here. I need to trust the process and things will fall into place… but, my mind on worrier-speed is wondering, “What now?”

Over the last 3 years, I’ve built up a career as motivational speaker in Switzerland and parts of Europe. It was a role I grew into with all my heart. It felt good being there at the front, building bridges, promoting understanding, and sharing inspiring stories. Maybe my relocation will temporarily or permanently end this part of my author journey… Does it matter? Or will one door close while other doors and windows will open?

Life is an unpredictable adventure. I know and love that aspect of our existence. Yet, at the same time, I long for guarantees I know will never be forthcoming. So I find myself over-thinking and over-worrying here on my couch in the steaminess of Southeast Asia… with an exhausted head full of hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

Then, there is coming home to my beloved partner after 8 months of being apart. Getting to know each other anew. Trying hard to give her space while at the same time almost bursting with neediness. Finding growth and change, admiring who she has become, who she is still becoming… and aiming to realign our paths so there will continue to be room for our independence and personal development as well as for holding each others’ hands while ambling along life’s paths together. I am thinking of skipping ropes, dancing in the rain, running through puddles, and finding butterflies along wildly overgrown roads. Then, there is gazing into the distance together, knowing no matter how apocalyptic that sky might look at times, we can brave anything as long as we have each other.

I am taking deep breaths. Confused, scared, hoping, dreaming, and mostly feeling like a little boy in need of that loving hand reaching out… to envelop me in a warm embrace and tell me that – no matter what – things will be ok, because home is right here where my heart is. Home is here, where I belong.

Thin Mattress With a View

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Time has been racing like a bullet train this month. Dissolving the rest of our household… cancelling all kinds of things like cable, phone, etc. etc. etc. … and multiple breakfasts, brunches, lunches, and dinners with friends and colleagues to catch up one more time before the big move.
Now, I am sitting in front of our large windows, enjoying the view over Zurich, the lake, and the Alps just one more time.
This also marks the end of three weeks sleeping on this rather thin and uncomfortable foam mattress. My bones and joints are looking forward to spending the next four nights on a friend’s couch. Just one more week of organization and goodbyes… then I’ll be off to join my family in Macao (and I’ll probably collapse on the bed and sleep for a month).