Tag Archives: Politics

Tali’s story

Not long ago, I had a particularly memorable class with a young female student I see once a week. I have been going to her house to teach Tali (13) and her younger brother, Uri (9) for over a year now, and we have become quite friendly with each other. She has quickly shed the shy, mouse-like qualities I saw in her in November 2014, and begun talking to me unreservedly in English, her third language after Chinese and Hebrew. 

Theirs is a fascinating family. The kids’ parents met in Hong Kong. She is a mainland Chinese woman, not originally from Beijing but she graduated from a Beijing university (not far from my home) a little over 20 years ago. It’s hard to imagine the changes she has seen, but she shares them with me openly. He is a tall Israeli man who discusses international politics with me more often than he comments on his children’s education.

The family spend much of the winter months in Israel, Uri and their father going ahead of Tali and their mother. Uri will go to school in Israel for a few months, but Tali has to stay behind in China to take exams and continue to study. In Israel, they visit the extended family. Tali and Uri’s big sister studies there, living with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and even great grandparents on their father’s side. Yes, their great grandparents are still alive.

Enough about the family. More will abound in later posts I am sure. Time for the story.

In 1919, Tali’s great grandmother was born in Yasina, which is now in the Ukraine, and named Rachell. If the clues haven’t implied it already, Rachell’s family was Jewish. They were always well-off, with houses in several locations, and they were well-loved by the communities of which they were part. They were pretty famous, too, in those communities. 

The youngest but one of 9 (or was it 12?) children, Rachell had a happy childhood. She grew up an intelligent, independent young woman, aware of her rights and her morals. When Rachell was in her late teens things began to change around her. Sometime in her late teens, or perhaps her early twenties, local officials burst into Rachell’s family home and turned the house upside down. They upended furniture, emptied cutlery drawers, smashed expensive glassware, tore pictures and littered the family residence with debris. What they were looking for, nobody knew. 

After watching uniformed men tear her home apart, every minute seeming like hours with the panic and fear pumping through her blood, Rachell had had enough. She emerged from her hiding place and stood to face the officers trashing her home. Rachell, young as she was, had the heart of a lion. 

Above the racket they were making, Rachell shouted at the two Nazi officers destroying her home, telling them to stop. Initially, they did not hear her. So she shouted again: “STOP!” And this time, they did. They froze, staring at Rachell not in anger but in shock. 

Taking advantage of her captive audience, Rachell continued. She scolded the two men, shaming them for behaving so inappropriately in the home of one of the best loved families in the town. She told them that they would have to pay for the damage they had done, pay whatever it cost to return the home to its earlier state. The men left in disbelief, but they paid what she had demanded they pay. 

Later, Rachell met Nazi forces in another setting. Just a year or two later, when Hitler had gained more power outside Germany, Jewish families in the Ukraine were targeted and shipped off to concentration camps. Rachell was parted from her large family and faced these ordeals alone, surrounded by people she had never met before. Rachell was packed onto a train with strangers. She was going to Auschwitz. 

Hundreds of people were squeezed onto this train, bodies pressed up against on another with no room to move, no facilities, and nothing to eat for days. A woman had a baby she could not keep quiet, however hard she tried to hush the child. She was shot by Nazi officers, the baby handed over to someone else nearby.

When finally released from the crowded train, Rachell was ushered into a long line. In its short little life, that baby had made it all the way to Auschwitz. The women in her carriage had taken pity on the child and, by this time, Rachell was holding it. 

Inspectors patrolled up and down the line. Rachell handed the baby to another one of the women she had spent the journey with, unknowingly, at a crucial moment. An officer walked past, saw the baby and sent both the baby and the woman away to die. That moment saved Rachell’s life.

This winter, when Tali and her family go to Israel, they will hear this story again, first hand, from Rachell, who is still alive. As are the majority of her numerous siblings, most of whom were born before the now 96 year old great grandmother of three wonderful (half Chinese) children. 

N.B. This post was written and intended to be posted on November 11th 2015. November 11th is known as Remembrance Day (UK) or Veterans Day (USA) to mark the armistice signed in 1918. The Great Firewall, China’s way of messing with its inhabitants access to the outside world, had other ideas. So here it is, almost two hours too late for November 11th (in China’s time zone, at least).

Burma (Myanmar) elections: The day after

The positive news this afternoon came early: some say
The positive news this afternoon came early: some say this was a misinterpretation of the ruling party chief conceding his own seat.

At five past three (China time) today, I saw some fantastic news, via the Guardian’s breaking news app:

Myanmar elections: ruling party concedes defeat to Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party

This was the best news I could possibly imagine. I shared it. But I knew it was too good, or at least too fast, to be true. Many sources said there may be no finalised results for weeks after yesterday’s elections. Unless the USDP, the ruling party that seized power in 1962 in a previous incarnation, had decided to throw in the towel and simply hand the reigns to the NLD? For some reason, I had doubts about that.

NLD voter’s finger dyed with indelible ink © Chit Mwaye (via Facebook)

Since this announcement, many have speculated that this was a misinterpretation. The ruling party chief may have simply conceded his own seat. Although perhaps this reinterpretation is one way of saving face for the party as a whole? Reuters reported that acting chairman Htay Oo literally said “We lost” in an interview today. The Guardian later reported him saying, that the USDP ‘has more losses than wins’.

By the time I write, initial results have begun to come in. Every single one of the first 12 seats to be announced went to the opposition party, Suu Kyi’s NLD. By five thirty China time, 16 of the 17 announced seats have gone to the NLD. This is excellent news for the Burmese people, who have not experienced a truly free and fair democratic election in 25 years.

The Union Election Commission’s Election agenda for today’s results

Three of the first fifteen successfully elected NLD candidates are women.

However, Burma (Myanmar) is a big country. The first constituencies to be announced are in Yangon and surrounding districts. Yangon is the country’s largest city and the area predicted to concede most seats to NLD. There is a high likelihood that other areas of the country will not yield such positive results for the NLD.

Nonetheless, the NLD are expected to will a large majority of the 498 available seats. Burma has a first-past-the-post electoral system (like the UK), which means the NLD must win a majority, but will probably have to share power with (several) other represented parties. 

Suu Kyi has warned her supporters against gloating over NLD successes, trying to encourage NLD celebrations without increasing existing tensions between the NLD and other parties (particularly the USDP).

Three voters show their ink-stained pinkies. This prevents voters from voting more than once, an effort to ensure free and fair elections. ©Hlaphyo Tun (via Facebook)

Celebrations began outside the NLD headquarters in Yangon hours ago.

Supporters have been singing songs dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi in anticipation of a potential election victory. They sang a song titled ‘The Strong Peacock’, which is a reference to the NLD party logo that shows a golden peacock and star on a red background.

They sang: “She is the people’s leader that the whole world knows… Write your own history in your hearts for our future, so the dictatorship will end. Go, go, go (away) dictatorship…”

So, although the USDP have not entirely conceded power to the NLD (as perhaps many were led to believe), the Burmese people are in high spirits (despite the reported downpour dampening outdoor celebrations) as the initial election results are revealed.

Election results will likely not be clear until Tuesday (tomorrow) at the earliest. And what the potential NLD victory actually means for the country may be a long time coming. But now is definitely a time of change in Burma, as the NLD slogan “Time For Change” has been promising for decades.

Read on:

The Guardian’s live election results: Myanmar elections: ruling party ‘has more losses than wins’ says chairman – live | World news | The Guardian.

Reuters report: Myanmar ruling party concedes poll defeat as Suu Kyi heads for landslide

25 Things I Did Instead of Getting Married at 25

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 19.13.15

Thirteen months ago, I published an article entitled 25 Things I did Instead of Getting Married At 25. It’s a polemic and judgemental piece about marriage and married people, spurred on by sensationalism. It was an overreaction to people I knew getting engaged, having babies, and posting pictures of their weddings on Facebook. Perhaps it was I, not they, who was scared shitless about the future.

I had been worried that people my age were choosing marriage, relationships, and children – what I viewed as symbols of conventional life – over careers, travel, and self-improvement. I wrote: How can they be my friends when we are so clearly of very different attitudes toward life?

I was proud of everything I’d achieved, having left my home country and arrived, alone, in China. I wanted to tell the world: there are other ways to live a fulfilling life. (Or did I think I needed to prove that some ways are better?) But, what I failed to ask myself was “why should their life choices reflect mine?”

I have always had conflicting views on marriage. Marriage doesn’t seem personally necessary when I know I could live a (financially, socially, politically) stable and independent life perfectly happily. It is difficult for me to see the relevance of an ancient social convention in modern life, particularly with its links to religious bodies that have never held a significant position in my life. It has been particularly hard to reconcile my feminism with the idea of one day getting married: marriage traditionally implied the ownership (and thus restriction) of a woman, and why would any woman willingly choose that?

Times have changed. People have changed. The nature of marriage has changed.

I would still argue that marriage is largely non-essential in modern Western life. I do still believe that marriage is not the only way to show you love someone. But I’ve stopped seeing it as “a pointless gesture people undergo to publicly declare their feelings”.

The very fact that it is non-essential for the majority of people is possibly the most powerful element of modern marriage. Rather than becoming insignificant, it possibly means more than it once did, purely because it is so heavily reliant on individual choice.

I would nevertheless advocate exploring a less conventional path through life, particularly for young people in countries where marriage is still the expectation. For example, many young Chinese women are still expected to get married by the time they are 27, under threat of becoming a “leftover woman” if they wait too long. Rather than be forced into marriage by the phantom “biological clock”, I believe the marriage question must be left to individual choice.

At 25 there’s still so much learning, growing, travelling to be done!

Perhaps there are many more interesting things you could do with your time than settle down with your mortgage and a brand new hubby. But marriage is not the end of life. In fact, it could just be the beginning. There’s still so much living to be done, that in 10 years time, you’re probably not going to be the same person you are right now. So if you’ve found someone who’ll love you for who you are in years to come, rather than who you once were, then you’re a very lucky person.

Getting married is not settling down, it is flying free together.

Nonetheless, it is with pride that I give you 25 things I did instead of getting married at 25:

  1. Fill up a passport five years before it expires
  2. Get a job that changes lives
  3. Move a few thousand miles from home and stay there
  4. Live alone and make your house your home
  5. Start a blog and publish things people actually read
  6. Meet friends with whom you only speak your second language(Korean)
  7. Begin studying a third language(Chinese)
  8. Make your own fresh coffee instead of buying it
  9. Create and nurture an indoor garden… keep the plants alive!
  10. Sing at an open mic event unrehearsed
  11. Learn Capoeira
  12. Quit the job with the sexist boss
  13. Read non-fiction of your own choosing
  14. Study online courses
  15. Become financially independent which means doing your own tax returns & facing up to the Student Loans Company
  16. Vote in the UK elections from overseas
  17. Dance around naked in your living room
  18. Make your Dad proud so he tells you every time you talk
  19. Invite your Mother to visit and stay in your home
  20. Tell the world “I am a Feminist!”
  21. Actually make friends with colleagues
  22. Learn more about Buddhism
  23. Inspire people around you
  24. Celebrate Lunar New Year in proper Chinese style(over-eating and fireworks)
  25. Never stop setting new goals

post revised 10th April 2016

Read on


Having It All: Career and Love: can we ever have it all?