For You, Daddy!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Have Times Really Changed?

Filed under: Books — by For you, Daddy! @ 3:00 pm
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Daddy was the eldest of four sons. Daddy is the only one who is no longer with us.

A few months ago, when on holiday, I had visited Daddy’s third brother, Uncle Bill, who is addressed by my generation of nieces and nephews as Unca Bee. Like Daddy was, Unca Bee is a voracious reader. I love poking around his yellowed collection of books, inhaling that wonderfully musty smell of old books; yet another smell that reminds me of my childhood and of Daddy. 

Sifting through and savouring the feel of Unca Bee’s collection as is part of my routine when I visit, I chanced upon this book – ‘Something To Live By’ by Dorothea S. Kopplin

The title did not bring any particular subject or even genre to mind immediately. I was lured by the following print towards the bottom of the cover.  

A book of help and comfort for all ages … a simple, sincere and honest philosophy of living, gleaned from the world’s finest inspirational writings.

I opened the book and the excerpt of the preface I’ve keyed in below won me over completely.

Preface: A first step toward happiness, it seemed to me, was to learn to appreciate something of real permanence in my life beyond and above the material things, a deep love of nature would do just that. To feel a sense of kinship with nature and thence the Universe gives strength and confidence that belittle material losses and worldly ambitions.

Fortitude and courage are further essential elements of character for fine living, and finally, a realization of the power and joy to be found in a true sense of the spiritual.

I spent the scant reading time I had at Unca Bee’s devouring chunks of this book.  I am not going to do an analysis of the book or share my impressions of the excerpts I enjoyed because I want to talk about something else that surprised me.

I was quite fascinated by this weathered book with its sturdy, hard cover and faded, but still thick pages. As I tend to, I read the covers inside and out.

This book was published by Permabooks, New York in 1945! The price back then? The sizeable chunk of 35 cents!

I chose this image because it was the closest of the Google Images to resemble Unca Bee’s slightly beaten up copy.

 This image is from a Turkish* Amazon-esque company.

*I think it is a Turkey based company because I recognise the language as one that made no sense to me when I visited back in 1994, which were the pre-Thorn Tree days. In fact, I recognised precisely two words on the site:

Türkiye = Turkey in, well, Turkish


Izmir, where I ascended (a bump in terrain) called Mount Olympus. I was shocked upon learning the name of the mountain when the guide told us we could go there. Until then, I had thought Mt.Olympus was in ….. you did, too? Well, there are a whole lotta, uh, things named ‘Olympus’.

Back to the book.

On the last page was a list of other books by Permabooks available at that time i.e. in 1945. I have typed out that list below.

1. Best Loved Poems edited by Richard Charlton Mackenzie


2. Common Errors in English and How to Avoid Them by Alexander M. Witherspoon, Ph.D


3. Sex and the Love Life by William J. Fielding


4. The Standard Bartender’s Guide by Patrick Gavin Duffy


5. The Conquest of Fear by Basil King


6. Ida Bailey Allen’s Cookbook


7. How to Write Letters for All Occasions by Alexander L. Shelf and Edna Ingalls


8. Best Jokes for All Occasions edited by Powers Moulton


9. Eat and Reduce! By Victor H. Lindlahr


10. How Shall I Tell My Child? By Belle S. Mooney, M.D.


11. The Male Hormone by Paul de Kruif


12. Sight Without Glasses by Dr.Harold M. Peppard


As I read through this list, for those few moments, I felt like I was reading the covers of some of the popular books on the racks at Chapters or perhaps, on the NYT non-fiction bestseller list. And then it hit me! These books were popular close to 70 years ago. The topics of interest back then were not too different from the subjects we still gravitate towards today. And that led me to wonder – have times really changed?

Thank you, Cheerful Monk and mj monaghan, for commenting on my last post.


P.S.: Cheerful Monk adds a footnote to every post acknowledging those who comment on her previous post. She also gives the commenter the option of linking back to the commenter’s own blog.

 I like both these practices of acknowledging the time and effort put in to comment, and the free advertising! So I’ve decided to do what I do well – be a copycat! 


Sunday, 1 January 2012

A New Step

Happy New Year, dear readers!

In my third career avatar, I was a teacher at an international school in Zhongshan, China. This post is about my New Year’s Eve celebration in Zhongshan a few years back.

I brought in that New Year at a watering hole that is popular with the expat crowd because of the live (Filipino) band and dance floor. I love dancing, so I roped in twenty other acquaintances and friends, and had reserved seats for us at the pub.  

Auld Lang Syne-ing with friends

My (capitalist style) Mao suit was designed exclusively for me by Mr.Haute Stuff, Marc Jacobs. If you believe that, then you will also believe that he surprised me by creeping down the chimney on Christmas Eve. Hmm, probably not because I think I had told anyone who cared to listen that Jon Bon Jovi was spending the holidays with me. Ai ai ai ai ai! It’s so hard keeping track of all these men in my life. Wait, I need to get one first – a life, that is. 😉

That night, I did something for the first time. Something I had thought of doing for a few years, but was too afraid until then. I bought gifts for the twenty people who had promised to attend … and I wrapped them in newspaper. (I know!) I  had read about this environmentally friendly tip for a few years, but only then did I finally pluck up the courage to do it. (Go, me!) I was not afraid of being thought a cheapskate because opinions I know aren’t true don’t matter to me.  

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” Dale Carnegie

I was afraid the recipients would think I did not care enough about them to get the customary wrapping paper. I do not like receiving gifts from people I don’t much care for, and I am the same when giving gifts, too. Expectations and traditions? Stuff that. I give a gift only if I like the person enough. Then, I try hard to get what I think is suitable. Now some of the twenty people I gave the gifts to that night did not fall into the category of ‘People I Really, Really Like’. So why the charade, you ask? Because of the place I bought the gifts at.

When deciding on gifts, initially, I looked for organic products. No luck. Then I searched for biodegradable or recycled items. Still no go. Next, products made by families or individuals. No, no, no. Finally, I went to an Australian acquaintance, Jeremy, the longtime Zhongshan resident. I would go to him with questions about all things Zhongshan. With that query, Jeremy came through yet again. He told me about ‘The Charity Shop’, so I bought my gifts there.

‘The Charity Shop’ in Zhongshan is a small supermarket and all profits go towards local charitable causes. Among their many deeds, I remember the surgeries to correct congenital heart defects of twin boys and food supplies to the farmers in the countryside.

That year, I wanted to do something different. Instead of merely donating money, I wanted to share a little awareness as well. I decided to give gifts from ‘The Charity Shop’ to make my local friends and acquaintances aware that they could get an extra feel-good bang for their buck with something as routine and regular as grocery shopping, and I wanted to use the wrapping (news)paper to pass on a green message, too.

Buying edibles at ‘The Charity Shop’ was a great option, I thought, because I could give people I did not know very well things they’d actually use; consume, more precisely. So I got each a box of tea or coffee sachets (the ‘Just add water’ kind), a packet of digestive biscuits (they seemed to be popular) and a bar of dark chocolate (my fave). I made all the gift tags myself using the plain side of printed sheets from the school office. I attempted fancy frilly edges with little drawings, calligraphy-style name inscription and stapled a little strip of swirl ribbon on them. Big Sis is great at this artsy stuff.  I’m not, but I tried.

The gift tags opened up like a book with the name of the recipient on the cover. When opened, on the left hand page, I had drawn a map of ‘The Charity Shop’ area and included the name of the shop, the address, telephone number and hours of operation. On the other page, I had the landmarks legend. I did all that with the hope that all who received those gifts would do their groceries at ‘The Charity Shop’ in future. I did. It was a trip into the heart of town for me, so I combined it with my lunch/dinner meetings with the downtown-ers.

BFF Two holding the gifts of the no-shows of the previous night. The newspaper wrapping doesn't look too shabby, eh?

I must add that everyone was quite puzzled when I pulled out the newspaper wrapped gifts from my travel bag. After I explained the whole thing to them, they kinda believed that it was not a prank. Their expressions were simply precious! When I picked up a gift and called out their names, the first three or four recipients bravely, but very suspiciously accepted my gift. All eyes were on them as each of them turned the odd item over and finally opened it. The look that flickered across their faces was a mix of surprise, relief and a feeling that could easily be read as, “This Kate is nuttier than I thought a pecan, pistachio, peanut butter sammy!” The perv that I am, I derive immense satisfaction from bedevilling the heck out of people. 🙂

In the end, everyone was happy with their goodies and thanked me for being (as opposed to merely thinking or talking about something) a Jill-Out-Of-The-Box* yet again.

*People who know me well are now familiar with my outside the box thoughts and practices. I twisted ‘jack-in-the-box’ because I sometimes, quite literally, spring surprises at the people I like.

I’ve always been very mindful about electricity and water use. (Thank you, Daddy and Mummy!) I felt good about kicking off that year on a green note. Ever since, I have rarely wrapped a gift in regular gift paper. The few instances I reverted to regular gift paper have been for more traditional folk; only because they would just not get the green bent and I did not want to hurt their sentiments.

In addition to the common practices around the house, here are some of the other environmentally conscious changes I made a few years ago:
– Avoid travelling by cab if I’m on my own. (I allot extra time for travel by public transport.)
– Carry my own set of plastic and fabric bags when I go shopping – groceries and otherwise.
– Use bus ticket stubs to make my grocery lists or brief ‘To Do’ lists.
– Use the blank side of unwanted printed material to jot down notes at the initial stages of my work. I get these sheets from the office. I used such sheets from my school office to make the name tags for the gifts that night.
– Carry my own Tupperware (and carry plastic bags) to restaurants for take-aways. (Styrofoam is toxic.)

I’m quite a tree hugger, and would love to get some more ideas from you about your practices to add to my list above.

I do not make New Year’s resolutions. But a few years ago, sometime in the middle of that year, after months of mulling and planning and nail-biting, I made a drastic about-turn in life and headed off into a brand new direction.

Shortly before I went to China, I began listening to my own thoughts and tried doing what I felt made me happy. Not that anyone forcefully dictated my actions before. But, I used to pursue what was deemed important by society – brand name clothes, expensive restaurants, regular holidays away from the home state or country, higher positions at work, an exclusive neighourhood to set up home. I enjoyed all of that, nay, I revelled in it all like a pig in mud, but after a while, it left me feeling empty. When I finally tuned in to my inner voice and began pursuing things that engaged me at a deeper level, I began to feel a certain calmness and peace. Ever since I switched careers and became a teacher in China and a social worker in the different country that I am currently in, my savings account tells me that I am (comparatively) poor now, but my happiness bank? Doth overfloweth.

“Ordinary riches can be lost, real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.” Oscar Wilde

I am content with my life today because I heeded Tim McGraw a few years ago. And I finally began to

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