Tag Archives: #nevergiveup

Milky Way

After camping for a few days, we’ve now stopped for a couple days in the beautiful city of Biel. Yesterday was a lovely day of spoiling myself. I took a long, hot bath while listening to Cinemix, had a picnic dinner from Migros (awesome Swiss supermarket!), and went to the pharmacy to get some advice on why the soles of my feet are still hurting like hell…

Turns out, I have an inflammation in my feet. The pharmacist was helpful and seemed super competent. She prescribed some pills and a special ointment. I was a bit relieved to hear that, apparently, I am not especially whimpy, but this happens to rather a lot of hikers whose feet have troubles getting used to carrying the extra weight of the backpack in addition to hiking up and down through the Swiss Jura region. It doesn’t help that there are no cold creeks to hang your feet into in the evening.

Anyhow, the pharmacist recommends that I stop for at least three days to make sure the inflammation is gone, before I continue. I am gutted to be slowed down, but also immensely grateful to finally know why my feet feel like I’ve got half a dozen knives stuck in them.

Dave will continue on with his partner who is due to join us today. I’ll sadly remain behind for now. But I’m planning to continue on the trail by Monday, or Tuesday at the latest. Depends on those two rebellious feet. Fingers crossed!

Being here in Biel with time to think brings back memories. I shop in Migros, in awe at all the delicacies and realize that, while I lived in Switzerland, I probably didn’t appreciate all these little luxuries enough. Even after only one and a half weeks on the trail, my perspective is already shifting. It’s a good thing. Being more aware.

I also think back on the last few years. Life, work, travels. There was so much good. Like the best road trip of my life so far, in 2013, from Zurich to Barcelona and back… all the way along the Spanish coastline, through the South of France, through Monaco, to Cinque Terre in Italy. Then we drove straight north, over the alps, back to Zurich. Driving this entire route for the first time was like a dream. As was experiencing the FINA world championships in Barcelona or deciding spontaneously to go to the opera. Or drinking Sangria in Barcelona’s old part of town. Then we drove on, through landscapes that were ever-changing and magnificent.

I get all nostalgic thinking about life experiences like these and think about how lucky I was to be able to share it all with someone who loved it as much as I did. It’s good to hold on to these memories, to treasure them. Life moves on, forever changing, but certain things remain forever good. Like stars in our firmament, lighting the way for us in harder times.

And, every time we have another profound experience, be it on our own or when we share it with someone who matters to us, we widen our horizon a bit further. We end up adding another star to our own personal Milky Way… making it glow just that tiny bit brighter…

More Sure Than Ever

Whilst on the trail and enjoying each moment as best I can, I still think a lot about what will be. What will the future bring? Will I ever find a job as a stage manager again? So far, I have mostly big show and circus experience. Will circus be reborn? I miss my work backstage. It’s always been so much more than just a job.

As my thoughts run away with me, I tell myself to relax and not dwell on what will be, because we simply don’t know, do we? Best to enjoy the moment and make the most of it, be proactive, use my enforced downtime wisely, and let it lead me to where it leads.

On the trail, I meet so many who inspire me. Like Chriggel the other day, a 14-year old farmer’s boy who goes on hikes even though he has lost his left leg from the knee down and wears a prostheses. He has an awesome sense of humor and told me, “I want one of those new prostheseses they are developing. Those will be sensitive to touch and you can feel when something touches your toe. You can even feel water. Then my dad won’t accidentally run over my foot anymore.” I just looked at him with a big question mark on my face. “Yeah, he backs up the truck to park it, and if I stand too close it happens. And then, I want to walk away but am pinned down, and I need to tell my dad, hey can you back up a little more. You’ve parked on my foot.” We both laughed and he proceeded to tell me, “In a couple years, I want to hike from here all the way to Rotterdam, and then take the ship back on the river Rhine.” Chriggel was full of life and worked hard on the farm, helping his dad. He didn’t seem like he’d ever let anything stop him.

Or then, yesterday, an old man literally ran past us on the trail when it was at its steepest. A little later we caught up with him and got to talking. Fred had hiked over from Lugano in the Italian part of Switzerland which is a couple hundred kilometers away. He was now on his way hiking back home again. He was 72 years old and told us how he used to hike up Mount Everest with his alphorn. And how next year he wants to do the Little Matterhorn and play alphorn at 4000 meters before it is too late. He said, “I am not as fast as I used to be. I used to be able to hike up 2000 meters in 1 hour, now I need 1 1/2.” (At my current pace, I’ll need 4 hours to do that.) After talking with us for 10 minutes, he finished his quick rest and walked away at amazing speed. A minute later, he had already disappeared over the horizon. Oh, and he does his long hikes with only a shopping bag. When I asked him what’s inside he said, “A spare shirt and a bottle of water. It’s all I need.”

Making the impossible possible, stretching the limits, overcoming boundaries… It’s what we do in circus every day, too. And as we do, we bring magic to the world. At the moment, all shows worldwide are closed due to Covid19, but we’ll be back! After meeting Chriggel and Fred, I am more sure than ever.

For now, I’ll try to make a difference for myself by walking and absorbing the many experiences along the way… and I’ll try to make a difference for our circus community by walking for #step4circus. Check out these links if you want to find out more:

Our first trailer on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Msf7rKELYxg

Our website: https://step4circus.com/

Our campaign: https://www.gofundme.com/f/step4circus

Also, on Facebook, search for Step4Circus and you will find our FB group.

Wildflower Meadows

The new shoes did a good job. I didn’t get one single new blister today 🙂 feet were hurting a lot though after 6 hours of intense hiking… but that was to be expected. It was a day of wild flower meadows, buzzing bees, gigantic ant hills, and cows. Hundreds of cows! We are now at Weissenstein, soon crossing over into the French-speaking part of Switzerland.

That Immortal Spark

2020 lonely by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash-edited

We can only ever find happiness in the moment, can’t we.
Nothing ever lasts.
All happiness we feel we have attained can be taken away in an instant, at any time, by circumstances, or even by the people we love and have learned to trust with all our heart…
Unless we have found that immortal spark of resilience, self confidence, and joy within ourselves…
(Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash)

When Kung Fu Leads to Coffee

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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.

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Hon Kee Café

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

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

 

De-limbo-ing Myself

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The wait continues… I’m really not a big fan of being in limbo. So, while looking for job opportunities, I keep doing my best to de-limbo myself by getting productive and continuing to write my 2nd book (as well as tackling smaller projects)… including passing out in between and recharging my batteries for whatever may come…

Being Grateful

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Lately, life has run away with me a bit. Too many things happening all at once… some of them rather surprising and turbulent. Yet again, I was reminded to never be sure of anything. Everything can change in a heartbeat. We can lose and gain all we hold dear from one second to the next. I guess, the universe felt it had to shake me awake a bit, “Hey little bi-ped, don’t get too self-assured, don’t take things for granted. I’m am lending you some moments of happiness. Enjoy them while they last.” So I am trying to do just that. A friend of mine said a while ago, he copes with life by being grateful for everything. He is grateful for all the good that comes to him. But he is also grateful for all the blows life deals out, because they, too, teach him, and shape him into a unique, continuously growing human being… and he uses whatever cards life has in store for him to nurture his creativity and be productive.
I am indeed grateful for many things. I’m grateful for all the love and friendship I’ve been lucky to experience so far. I’m grateful for comical moments like these, when our little boy Nacho stubbornly stares me down at breakfast in hopes of getting that little piece of croissant. I am grateful and I am hopeful.

No Limits

2017 paralian-no limits

25 years ago, when I had my gender reassignment surgeries, I vowed to never let this important decision of aligning my soul with my body hamper or limit me in any way. I was going to continue going after my dreams. And I wouldn’t take no for an answer. Part of this meant to be able to retain my flexibility and spontaneity. In order to be able to live abroad and travel over longer periods of time, I overcame my fear of needles and learned how to inject myself. Since then, no matter which cultures or corners of the planet I go to, needles and vials are always part of my luggage…

“Sitting on an airplane bound for the Indian Ocean, with all relevant possessions in one bag and no return ticket in my pocket, I felt like an explorer about to make his greatest discovery. When would I take to the skies again? And where would I fly if I did? I had no idea, but anything seemed possible now.
Before leaving Switzerland, I had asked my doctor to write me a special prescription: thirty-six ampoules of testosterone. Not being able to produce enough of the male hormones on its own, my body needed a little help on a regular basis. My checked luggage now contained a two-year supply of testosterone injections, vials, and needles. My doctor had written a letter, attesting to the fact that my bodily functions would be severely disrupted without the medication I carried. Nevertheless, I was nervous. What if my stash was confiscated at Maldives customs? What would I  do?
Maldives immigration was easy. I presented papers from my employer and within five minutes, my passport sported a big, new ‘work visa’ stamp.
Then came the hard part. Already sweating with apprehension, I collected my luggage and headed for customs. There, my heart skipped more than a few beats when my luggage was singled out for inspection. Vials and needles were easy to see on the bag scanner’s screen. Even I could spot them, as I nervously snuck a peek over the customs officer’s shoulder. Surprisingly, he waved me through. Just like that, maintaining my manhood was ensured for the immediate future.”
(Excerpt from Paralian, Chapter 6 “Indian Ocean”)

A Friday Night

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One moment I was having a beer with a friend, enjoying a good conversation. The next moment I felt my heart racing. The small shoulder bag, which I had placed carefully between my knees and the bar wall, was gone.
You know that question, “What would you take with you on an island if you had to leave right now and could only take one item?” Well, the one material thing I would currently take with me was in this bag: my Moleskine notebook… in which I had been scribbling the first draft of my new book over the last eight months.
I am only at chapter seven so far, mind you. But, carving out writing time for these seven chapters next to my day job and private turbulences had been incredibly hard. Most days, I would write during my morning commute to work, or on my lunch breaks…

After the initial shock and after making quick phone calls to block bank and credits cards came the moment when I hurried outside into the park right next to the bar. Phone in hand, I tried to open the flashlight app. But I was so upset that, instead, I took about thirty photographs of my feet and the ground before I managed to hit the right button.

I searched for hours. Checked in dark alleys, in garbage bins and bushes, under benches, in public bathrooms, and under containers… but there was nothing…

To be fair, I experienced a lot of kindness that night as well. I came back to the bar five times, making my rounds, re-checking all the convenient spots where a burglar might discard unwanted items. Each time, the bar staff insisted to give me yet another beer free of charge. Some guests inside the bar were genuinely concerned. People kept asking if I had found anything. Some of them even came outside for a while to help searching. My friend and I had planned to go to a concert. I spontaneously gave my ticket to a homeless guy who had sat on a bench in the park across the venue. He was over the moon and ran over to the entrance, waving the ticket over his head like a magic wand as he slipped inside to enjoy the rare treat. My friend went to the concert as well. Meanwhile, the bar security guard lent me his heavy-duty flashlight, and my friend came back after the concert to help me search further into the night.

Now, the weekend has passed. My initial depression as well. There is nothing left to do but to order new cards and IDs, buy a new bag and wallet, and otherwise hope for a miracle. Maybe the thieves DID discard my – for them – useless items in an accessible spot after all. Maybe someone who cares WILL stumble over them and will either ring me or bring my stuff to the lost and found.

I really don’t care about anything but the notebook. While writing, I had felt frequent moments of magic, when I had gotten the words just right to paint a strong mental image for my readers. There is no way I can re-write this first draft exactly as it was.
So keep fingers crossed for that miracle my friends!!!
If it comes down to it and I have to, I’ll try to write it even better. But, if I can actually manage to do THAT is in the stars…

You’re Becoming You

2017 liam at devil's eye in lembongan

A little while back, on June 2nd, 2017, I read the following text underneath one of Brandon Stanton’s photographs for Humans of New York (thanks for your inspiring work Brandon. I hope you don’t mind if I share this here):

“I don’t think I’m going to miss eighth grade. It’s been a tough year. A lot of my friends are struggling with depression and self-harm, and it’s hard for me to watch. I just care about them so much. Growing up is so hard for some people. It’s such a big thing. It’s your foundation, I guess. You’re becoming you. It’s such a big thing and we’re going through it right now. Some of my friends are struggling with loving themselves and loving life. I think they forget that we’re still learning. They think that they’re already who they’re going to be. They think they know the future. And it’s going to be horrible. And they’ll never be able to fix it. But that’s not true because we’re still changing. And we’ll always be changing. Even when we’re old, we’ll be changing.”

As I read the musings of this insightful teenager, what she said struck me as such a profound truth. She talked about herself and her teenage friends, most likely never realizing that, by doing so, she described the human condition in general. Most, if not all of us, face similar existential questions and troubles no matter our background or age. Many of us are struggling with loving ourselves and loving life. And yes, we’re all continuously changing. Life and change are one. Irrevocably. We spend our entire lives becoming who we really are… learning, un-learning, growing, evolving with each experience we make throughout our turbulent life journey. There is nothing to do but to face those waves as they crash over our heads. Some breakers will pummel the crap out of us. They’ll push us down like a bully in a kid’s swimming pool until we can barely catch our breath. Other rollers will lift us up and carry us further than we ever imagined.