Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Opportunity comes a-knockin'!!!

Yesterday, I arrived in New York. It's my first trip here after over two years so I'm very excited about being back. I have always been in love with this city, long before I moved here, during my time living here and ever since I left. For years after I moved from New York to London, I used to wish that I could get a job in New York, to find an employer that would sponsor my work permit, so that I could pursue my American dream. It seemed like such an impossible dream. Last night, my wish almost came true but it may be too late.

I have a friend named Chloe who moved to America about five months ago. Chloe is very special to me. She is my former boss and the person who recruited me to join her team and the finance department at our company back in 2011. If it wasn't for her taking a chance on me, I wouldn't be on the career trajectory that I am on. She moved to America to manage the internal audit team she was running back in the UK; the same one that I was a part of before I was promoted and got my own team to run. At dinner last night, she told me that she is recruiting for her team here in the US and asked me if I was interested. We discussed it and it was certainly an attractive prospect. I would get to live and work in the US doing a job that I know how to do very well and there would be a lot travel around the country, which is certainly appealing since the company has stores in many cities that I have never been to, including Las Vegas, Chicago and Miami.

However, I knew that it wasn't right for me...I have my life in the UK and I value it very much. My niece is there and I want to watch her grow. I am more than halfway through my accountancy qualification in the UK and if I were to move countries, it would make it almost impossible to continue my qualification. Finishing my qualification and becoming a chartered, certified accountant is my priority. This job prospect in the US is the right opportunity but at the wrong time and timing is everything. Your goals, priorities and dreams change over time; they change with the circumstances of your life. My life has changed in many significant ways in the six and a half years since I moved home to the United Kingdom. It is nice to be able to reflect on this and know that I'm growing and my life is moving in positive directions that will most definitely defy my current expectations of the future.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The show that changed my life!

On February 22nd, 2004, the very last episode of 'Sex and the City' aired on HBO. Not that there is anything wrong with being a late comer to the party but I was a fan of this iconic, eye-opening, life-affirming series right from the start, all the way back in the 90s! It wasn't just about the glamour and allure of life in Manhattan when you have a decent amount of disposable income and no obligations to anyone else but yourself. For me, the true appeal of the show was the way it portrayed four very different characters (some may say they were archetypes but I would argue that by the time the show ended after six amazing seasons, these characters well and truly transcended any archetypes) living their lives unapologetically and pursuing happiness on their own terms, sometimes failing and other times succeeding.

Personally, a lot has happened in the past ten years and I have to say that 'Sex and the City' was truly my bible through this period. In fact, because of what I have been through in the past decade, the show probably resonates even more deeply now than it did when I was younger. The show helped me to navigate and find my way in that awkward period of transitioning into adulthood. I moved to New York in the fall of 2004 and lived there for three years so there were times when I found myself at the same places where the show took place, including city landmarks, like Lincoln Centre and Bryant Park, and hotspots, like Chelsea's Cafeteria and Williamsburg's Sea, thinking that my life was imitating the show. More importantly, in this period, I accepted and embraced who I was and proceeded to lead an open life that was fulfilling and meaningful. I fell in love for the first and only time (thus far!) and had my heart broken. I've met some lovely (and some not so lovely) men along the way. All along, I had the support of family, work colleagues and most importantly, good friends, just like Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha.

Critics and even some fans say that the legacy of the show was diminished by the two movies, especially the second one, which was deemed by many viewers as being culturally ignorant. I am not sure if I could even disagree with that notion. Nonetheless, for me, the show lives on as a beacon of aspirational contemporary lifestyle and values; a guide for young urbanites still figuring out their identities and their place in the world.  Sure, the show was superficial and frivolous at times but why shouldn't it be? It was supposed to be entertainment, after all. However, if that was all the show had to offer, I seriously doubt that it would still have millions of fans around the glob, even ten years after it finished its run. 'Sex and the City' had a big heart and that's why I fell in love with it all those years ago and remain in love a decade later. Thus, I shall close this post with a clip from one of my favourite episodes to illustrate the ability of the show to move its audience and to celebrate the power of love, hope and friendship in this fast-paced, precarious and cynical world that we live in.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Left my heart in Sydney

Recently, I took a very brief but rewarding trip to Sydney...when I say recently, I should clarify that I left Australia just about 12 hours ago! It was my first time back in Australia in 16 years and my first as an adult. It had been so long that I knew the experience would be akin to visiting this unique country for the very first time, even though I actually spent my teenage years in the country's capital. I enjoyed growing up in Australia so it wasn't like I vowed never to return but the responsibilities that come with getting older took away the luxury of being able to run off to any destination whenever I please. Somehow, 16 years had flown by. Coming back here allowed me to reflect on how has happened in my life since I last stepped foot on this remote land down under.

Even though I grew up in Canberra, I had visited Sydney dozens of time so I didn't feel obligated to do too much sightseeing. I wanted to come here, catch up with some dear friends and spend time in the city centre to get a flavour of what the Sydney cosmopolitan experience is like in comparison to London and New York. I stayed at the Swissotel Sydney, which was an excellent choice. Located right in the heart of the city's Central Business District, I was in easy walking distance to the main landmarks within the city centre, including UNESCO World Heritage site Sydney Opera House. I was so central that looking out one of the windows (they kindly put me in a corner room), it was as if the Telstra Tower was right next door!

Sydney is one of those rare hub cities where you have the best of both worlds; it is a commercial and cultural epicentre that is located along a coastline so not only can you go to the visit the museum of contemporary art or see a production of 'South Pacific' at the Opera House but you can also spend a lazy Sunday afternoon at a heavenly beach. There are plenty of beaches to choose from around the city but the most famous Sydney beach has got to be Bondi Beach. My friends took me to Bondi the day that I arrived and as far as jet lag-relieving activities go, lying in the sand as you watch hunky surfers and lifeguards going through training drills wearing their little 'cossies' is definitely not a bad choice. It was as if my Sunday had turned into an Aussiebum swimwear photoshoot!

An indirect benefit of this trip was my heightened appreciate of the gay scene in London. Although it has long been considered one of the gay capitals of the world, a reputation that has been cemented in the past few decades by the world-renowned Sydney Gay Mardi Gras, the nightlife culture here is somewhere less developed compared to London and New York. The 'scene' is concentrated all in one area, along the stretch of Oxford Street in Darlinghurst. The bars and pubs that I visited with my friend all seem slightly dated, both in decor and the clientele. I don't intend to be flippant and it is certainly not my intention to make an ageist remark. There is nothing wrong with places that are welcoming and casual but from what my friends tell me, there is not a great deal of variety in the scene. People tend to go out only at the weekend. Unfortunately for me, I spent the weekend travelling to Australia so it would be unfair for me to say too much more about the scene here. Still, even if the gay nightlife in Sydney is somewhat lacking during the week, that is not to say that I didn't have a fabulous time going out during my trip. My friends and I went to some memorable cocktails at some of the most glamourous hotels in town. I found style and sophistication in abundance so if you are a traveller who enjoys the finer things in life, you will love Sydney, especially if you are staying in the CBD.

Anyway, I just arrived in Bangkok not long ago but I'm still on Sydney time and it's already 8:30am so I should probably go to bed soon. Here's hoping that it won't be another 16 years until my next trip to Australia!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

BOYcotting Russia

Yesterday evening, I was catching up with a couple of close friends and seeing as we're a group of socially aware gay men, talk inevitably turned to what is going on in Russia with their anti-gay propaganda legislation, which was signed into law by President Vladimir Putin in July. This legislation, in a nutshell, prohibits any discussion about alternative sexual orientation and lifestyle around minors. The logic, I'm guessing, is that hearing about the existence of gays and lesbians will automatically 'corrupt' children, 'turn' them and basically, there goes the perpetuation of the human race. Yes, because it is really that simple to turn someone gay. If this was truly the case, my local gym would be a whole lot more happening on a Tuesday night!

Anyway, all of this got me thinking about all the backlash that Russia is facing. I see on Facebook about people going to rallies outside the Russian embassy in London to protest this discriminatory law and I read about the city council of Amsterdam greeting Putin on his state visit to the Netherlands a few months ago by flying the rainbow flag across the city. I have read about gay bars boycotting Russian vodka to make a statement. While I think a statement should be made, I'm not sure if giving up vodka really says much about the character and integrity of the LGBT community. I mean, I get that vodka is more symbolic of Russia than most of their other exports but if we really want to have a substantial economic impact with a boycott, shouldn't we, maybe, boycott something like oil, gas, metals, minerals, machinery and other glamourous items like that? Of course, I'm only kidding...fuck their vodka; I'm more of a G&T man myself!

I read on a few gay news blogs today that on Russian television, a high-profile current affairs pundit by the name of Dmitri Kisilev said that gay people are of such low value that if they were to die and their hearts were to be donated to save the lives of others, 'their hearts...should be buried in the ground or burned as unsuitable for the continuation of life'. Now, as much as it makes me blood boil to read such hateful speech against people like me, I have to say that the comments posted by gay readers on these blogs, most of whom probably live in the English-speaking western world, do not exactly give me much hope for humanity either. One response said something about how 'the gulags didn't kill enough of these people'. While I am as guilty of generalizing as much as the next guy, I do feel like there needs to be some sort of measured response to the situation. We cannot lump all Russians into the same category. What about all the LGBT Russians who are living in a state that do not see them as citizens of equal value? Are they not worthy of our support and compassion? Similarly, I don't doubt that there are many straight allies who do not feel the same way as President Putin and Mr Kisilev. Recently, there has been a spate of gay bashings in New York but you don't hear people say, let's boycott New York coz every single New Yorker must be a goddamn homophobe! When La Manif Pour Tous, a French anti-gay marriage group, made headlines with their flamboyant and curiously homoerotic protests against the recent passage of same sex marriage in France, I never heard anyone suggest that we all get mad at zee French and start boycotting Champagne. Pourquoi pas? Probably because we're all a little hypocritical and hold a double standard for certain countries, especially the ones that are a greater cultural distance to ours...and also, because Champagne is fabulous.

Considerable brouhaha has been made about the idea of boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics, which are set to be held in the Russian resort city of Sochi. After all, not only would it send a big message to the Russian government and their gay-hating ways but if participating countries were to withdraw from the competition, they would not be putting their LGBT athletes at risk by sending them to a country that threatens to punish them for being who they are. I don't know if I agree with this, not necessarily because I agree that politics have no place at the Olympics. After all, the Olympics are supposed to be about unity and how can there be unity when the host country is threatening to throw certain members of their own society, as well as those from other countries, into jail just for their very existence. However, I agree with the notion that the people who will be competing at the games have trained so hard for years that it would be wrong to deny them their moment to shine. I can only hope that the Olympic committee will do as much as they can to protect all of their participants from the hostile elements of the host country's society.

One of my friends from last night made a rather good point that people seem to be making a bigger deal about what's going on in Russia than they do about all the anti-gay rhetoric, legislation and violence that we all know go on across many countries in Africa. Uganda's 'Kill the Gays' bill, in particularly, drew a lot of attention in recent years. How come we do not hold these African nations to the same standard that we seem to be applying to Russia? Again, it all boils down to our own double standards and hypocrisy. If we are to be self-righteous in the fight against escalating fascism in one of the world's super powers, let's at least acknowledge our own shortcomings so that we can improve our own society before try to change others.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

I got this feeling on the summer day when you were gone...

As I start to write this blog post, it just turned one minute past midnight and I really should be heading off to bed. However, I realise that it has been five full months since I last posted anything on my blog, which is absolutely disgraceful. Blogging is a habit that I want to maintain but it requires a lot of commitment and effort.

I'm off to Milan tomorrow for what people used to call a 'mini-break'. It'll be my first time there. I realised the other day that so far this year, all the new places that I have travelled to begin with the letter 'M', which is quite a cool coincidence. In February, I was in Mumbai. In April, I went to an old friend's wedding in Munich. Earlier this month, I was in Mexico (Cancun) for my company's conference/party.

This blog is really a record of my life and I know that nobody else reads this but me so it is important for me to check in here every now and again. 2013 has been an exciting year so far. In addition to my trips to all those 'M' places, work is going well. My studies to become a chartered accountant is also going well (although I hope that I'm not jinxing myself by saying this two weeks before I am expecting some more exam results to be released!). The best part of the year, by far, however, is that I became an uncle. My beautiful niece is everything to me. Hmmm, I suspect I'm coming down with a case of birthday-itis! Symptoms include mild to severe reflectiveness and sentimentality! I don't care...I love it!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Bombay, baby!!!

It's my last evening here in Mumbai. Tomorrow, I fly back to London at lunchtime. This is my first trip to India and it has been a bit of a whistle stop tour as I just arrived in India five days ago. Even though it is a common thing for first time visitors to India to feel like being here is an assault on one's senses - the air, thick with exotic scents, and at times, pollution and repulsive odours, the overwhelming taste of the wide array of spices that flavour every local dish, the vivid colours of the beautiful saris that the local women wear, regardless of their socioeconomic status, the musicality of Hindi and over a dozen other regional languages - there is no doubt that I have just experienced a minutiae of what this grand country has to offer. Of course, you could spend a year traveling all corners of the country and still not feel like you have adequately experienced the vast arrays of cultures, cuisine, geography, etc. India is a country of almost 3.3 million sq km with a population of over 1.2 billion. Meanwhile, I have only spent a couple of days in two parts of it - the provincial Central India city Indore and the metropolis that is still called Bombay by the locals. All I can do is accept that I am only getting a tiny taster of India and be grateful for that.
The main purpose of my trip was to attend my oldest friend's wedding. A British-born Indian who is almost as unacquainted with Indian culture as her non-Indian guests, my friend married her Belgian husband last summer and was only having this Indian wedding to please her parents who wanted to celebrated their daughter's marriage as much as they wanted to celebrate their Indian heritage with their countless relatives and friends in India. It was a lovely affair and I couldn't have been more thrilled that I could have been a part of it.
After the wedding, I decided that I wanted to spend a couple of nights in Mumbai before returning to England. Although I, like millions of people around the world, had seen 'Slumdog Millionaire' when it came out in 2008, I knew that that there had to be more than just slums and squalor in this city by the sea (the Arabian Sea). I visited many of the iconic sites and places of Mumbai, including the Gateway of India (an archway that was erected to commemorate George V and Queen Mary's visit to India in 1911), Mani Bhavan (a house where Mahatma Gandhi lived for many years, whenever he was in Mumbai) and the majestic central rail station here, Victoria Terminus (although, officially, it is now called Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, an example of the renaming of key building and institutions to reflect the end of British rule).

My favourite place was Mani Bhavan, which now houses a modest but compelling museum to the Father of India. It is pretty hard not to be inspired by the man and I know that I'm not the only one. US President Barack Obama visited India in 2010, he was so moved by the man whose legacy Mani Bhavan represents that he subsequently sent a piece of stone from the Martin Luther King. Jr. Memorial, as a token of friendship between the two nations.
To use a rather common phrase that every city or country likes to use to describe itself, Mumbai is a city of contrasts; the old with the new, the religious and the secular, the rich and the poor, the last of which is more pronounced than anything else. You see people sleeping on the street and kids selling things as they weave in and out of the traffic. Meanwhile, there are billionaires living in ostentatious 27-level mansions towering the rest of the city. Of course, I am not one to judge since here I am staying in my 5-star hotel and taking a private city with my own driver and a separate English-speaking tour guide. The money that I'm spending in my short time here could probably be better spent by a few families living in the various slums that we drove by today. The picture below, by the way, is of the city's Dhobi Ghat - open air laundrette. It is where the middle class take their clothes to be washed by the poorer people who live in the surrounding slums for a small fee. Like Jenny from the Block once sang (using a line stolen from 20th Century Steel Band's 'Heaven and Hell Is on Earth'), 'everyone's got to make a living'!
I am staying at Trident Nariman Point in the affluent South Mumbai area, right by the sea. It is ranked third in the top hotels in Mumbai on Tripadvisor. The top two hotels are The Oberoi, followed by the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Both of these hotels were attacked by terrorists in 2008. Many people, locals and foreigners, were taken hostage and killed. I felt uneasy about sleeping in these hotels as I felt like they were the sites of some shocking violence and I did not want to absorb any of that energy. Little did I know that Trident Nariman Point is adjacent to the Oberoi! Oh, well...I'm leaving in 12 hours so what does it matter now?

Security is extremely tight getting into my hotel or any other 5-star hotel in this city (I experienced the same thing at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai on my first night here). This is a direct consequence of what happened in 2008. You are confronted by the sight of guards using car bomb detectors before you are even let through the gate and once inside, you have to put all bags through a bag scanner and walk through a metal detector. I don't enjoy this at the airport and I certainly don't enjoy this upon checking in at my luxury hotel when I'm on vacation but after what happened in 2008, this is definitely a necessary evil!

These past few days in India have been interesting and memorable. I'm not sure if or when I will be back again but if I do return, I will hopefully be a bit more prepared for it all and it is fair to say that there will always be an infinite amount of new experiences to be had!

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

We are on our way...

Yesterday was a significant day; the UK's House of Commons passed a key vote proposing same sex marriage in England and Wales. While this measure does not automatically mean that this bill has passed into law, the overwhelming majority that voted in favour (a majority of 225 votes) pretty much guarantees its passage in the House of Lords, where the bill now goes. After all, it is highly unlikely that the unelected house would overrule a clear decision made by the elected house. If, as we expect it to, this bill gets enacted by the summer, as Prime Minister David Cameron plans to do, England and Wales will follow in the footsteps of less than a dozen countries around the world where there is same sex marriage. By this, I don't mean civil unions or partnerships or PACS (as they're called in France); I mean marriage in the traditional sense of the word, redefined as an institution to be more inclusive and encompassing of the social values of our constantly evolving world.

Even though this was the Conservative government's initiative, they faced a great deal of dissent from their backbenchers (with 136 Tory MPs opposing the bill), many of whom protested that such a proposal undermines the very essence of being the Conservative Party. However, I think that it's fairly obvious what Cameron's strategy with this is; it is to show younger voters, who might not be inclined to vote Conservative, that they are in touch with modern society and are prepared to evolve with it. It also demonstrates that the government is capable of working with the opposition on a social issue (with most Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs supporting the bill), one that is, arguably, even in 2013, still fairly divisive. Whatever the political motivations, I applaud them for carrying on the legacy of the Labour party who brought in civil partnerships less than a decade ago and going the full monty with what is the cornerstone of the struggle for gay rights equality. It's a step in the right direction. With no disrespect to the 11 pioneering countries that brought in same sex marriage before us (including Netherlands, Canda, Spain, South Africa and Argentina), the rest of the world will take notice of this. The UK will be the example that they may, one day, follow.

In the meantime, let's enjoy the music video below from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis for their moving pro-same sex marriage song 'Same Love'.