Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Part III: To screen or not to screen that is the question: teenagers and screen time

Our context

Put another way the title of this blog could also read 'to do or to be, that is the question'! I have blogged on screens and screen time for kids twice, 4 years ago and the time before that was 2014 though I think about it often and live daily the rapid evolution of all things internet and my children's interaction with it. I realise that engagement with a screen is a very active 'doing' practice not at all a 'being' one. It is very busy for the mind, and this stands in contrast to what kids might otherwise be engaged in which is 'being'; hitting a tennis ball against a wall, football with friends, lying in the sun or swimming, building with bricks, riding a bike, imagining with dolls, cars, alone or together in person with someone else, whatever... an activity known as Playing!  I have 2 boys, now a tween and early teen, their lives are being messed with; its time to update. 

I'll throw in a contextual caveat early because it has an effect; we live internationally, currently in Myanmar, before that it was Nepal, before that Ecuador, before that Lebanon, before that... you get the picture. We don't live stable lives where we can measure annual height progress against the doorframe or where we can run to the grocer and say hey because he's the same guy who sent a veggie plate to your first born's baptism. Sadly we don't really live in community, old friends and relatives are far away spread around the world, we visit them on holidays and not often. Locally the 'hood isn't very accessible, I mean its friendly enough but few people speak English and in this country newly opened to foreigners we are regarded with curiosity, still a novelty and treated with suspicion by some... it means aside from a few friends from school who live close by, we don't have community. And online community via social media pales in comparison to having thoughtful friends and wise elders living around the corner.

The other notable difference for us is that my sons go to a British curriculum international school rather than a public school. Burmese parents who can afford it strive to get their kids out of the public school system not known for it's progressive rigour in the education sector though it is reforming. The boy's school is well resourced and the kids there have all the toys, they wear a uniform (gasp) and across the board I'd say they want for nothing. This year, the 5th in its young life, the school, (I like to think) listened to parent-feedback and to their own good sense and have not sent home Macbook Air's for Secondary and iPads for Primary kids. It was making life screen-hell at home, the boys felt entitled to be on screen the minute they came home, the concept of screens and screen time being a privilege rather than a right was degraded by this school policy.  The policy was almost transparently a marketing ploy and that they axed it must have had a financial angle... 'nuff said they came to their senses and for that I am grateful.

Online life is different here in Myanmar. Internet is slower than in neighbouring Thailand but then it is much younger. Only 5 years ago a SIM card cost $200 and only 7 or 8 years it cost $2000 for a government monitored manky 3G data connection. Now it costs $3 for quite zippy 4G data. You can imagine the implications the sudden access to information and opinions combined with the low level of 'net literacy' has had. Imagine how much influence what appears online has to someone who has not had the benefit of living the evolution as information now delivered literally into their hands. Fake news for example, fools even the savvy e-content consumer; for those new to the medium and who didn't have access even to TV... hmm, you can see quite a problem developing. Facebook sees some of its highest penetration rates in emerging markets like Myanmar.  Some providers in Myanmar only give access to Facebook and very many people think FB is the internet (shock horror). And while more internet-evolved countries have moved on to Insta, Twitter, Snapchat, Reddit, etc away from Facebook, we are still in it deep, so much so a recent UN Human Rights report indicated FB un-vetted posts influenced public opinion and fanned the flames of hate during the Rohingya crisis of the past 2 years.

WiFi is not as prevalent here and often the signal is not strong or the band-width too narrow. By contrast 4G (and I fear soon 5G) is easy to get though not as cheap as in neighbouring Thailand and pretty fast. At my residence I can use Skype and Zoom easily and stream Netflix nearly without pause with pre-paid 4G and use my phone as a hotspot. Also, as parents we are not heavily invested in the virtual reality fad (we don't have the hardware), so I can't comment on this innovation or how it is problematic or not. Neither of the boys are into PS4 or X-Box mostly because we thankfully opted for the Wii and Nintendo's Switch, it has to be said though the unique hand-held option for this gaming platform is a mixed blessing; portability can be a curse.

In the USA particularly there is much concern for online safety for children and certainly teens are surfing far and wide so this is a well-founded fear though has to be seen in context; given the pervasive atmosphere of 'fear' and the incessant fear-mongering by media and government in the USA it is not surprising that there is a near-obsessive focus on it.  Online safety shouldn't need to be the centre of attention, it serves as a distraction from the main issue, the problems central to the internet and screen time with kids are deeper and more pervasive affecting their psychology, the integrity of their participation as responsible citizens and their individual wellness.  (As an aside it is an interesting analogy for USA society, where the focus on personal safety and national security in general distracts people easily and erodes community building, family values and social order, fodder for another blog to be sure.) All being said about teens on screens it is wise to be cautious and this website unpackages it for you. Please take the bits relevant to your context: https://www.wizcase.com/blog/a-comprehensive-cyberbullying-guide-for-parents/. 

Well-heeled international schools like the one my sons go to are quite savvy teaching the kids about the various traps inherent to being online, I believe (and pray) that this is sinking in with them and that they become discerning internet users. I advocate for everyone with children to go to https://www.commonsensemedia.org/and take time to peruse the 'Advice for Parents' tab. Take your time. And with your youngster vet their games or video choices and teach them to be informed consumers.

My kids have aged! Now 12 and 14 year old boys they are no longer children per se, they are tweenager and teenager. Their needs have changed, their interests have diversified, their skills have honed both in terms of knowledge of coding and what games and resources are high quality. Their ability to maneuver characters in online games is truly astounding; if you thought it was cute watching your 3 yr old swipe up and down, left and right check out a 14yr old's skills with a gaming mouse!

Content (games, websites, apps, anime, etc) they are able to access has widened, most have ratings that are 12+ or 13+ acknowledging the shift in cognitive understanding as kids mature and grow. Its a bit scary when you look at some of what the various sites have to offer to your 13 year old. Lately I was checking out Civilization 6 add-on packs with my 14 year old, it is very interesting weaving in climate change as a factor in building your empire though the final statement in the orientation session says 'Learn how to control the elements' quite the wrong paradigm to be encouraging... we know we can't control the elements, we should all be better off learning how to 'work with' the elements right?

Add to this the boom of online websites, like the .io games available on any device and they are often free. We used to filter access saying we only would look at free games, etc, now much of what was once 'pay to play' is free. What developers have figured out is that 'if you build it they will come', get the players on board and then bring in the dosh through the sale of accessories, cosmetics, add-ons, upgrades. So clever and kids unschooled in the wiles of marketers are rather open to the opportunities. Cosmetics are interesting, as they don't affect game play much but kids susceptible to the 'cool factor' who want the newest skin or what-have-you will have to pay for it much as they once needed the newest cool high-tops, or haircuts or fashion accessories.

YouTube is incredible now, I mean it always was but now, simply WOW. According to YouTube at the time of writing they have over 1.3Billion users, one out of two internet users views YouTube. Imagine how many channels there are available to your child. I'm told by he who knows (my 14yr old) to comment more about how content on YouTube has changed. Very popular are older Tubers (those in their 20's and 30's) who post instructional videos of themselves at gameplay on popular sites like Fortnite and Minecraft. Reality tubers are bigger than reality TV. Theres a whole culture going on out there, as evidenced by the BeautyYouTube tiff and that of pewdiepie vs t series... (seriously if you've never heard of these you gotta check it out). Often these Tubers were tech savvy screen teens who are now making a bundle (millions!) adding masses of content which can be pretty good stuff but when you consider the sheer mass, much of it is crap. Often content is delivered with questionable language, misogynist messaging, violent undertones and who knows what other less than desirable modelling behaviours. Suffice it to say there are also movie previews galore, and a ton of distractions and its not that they are all bad, some are great but there is no filter, only the brain of your growing child. Who monitors what their teens watch? YouTube Kids is for 8 and under, if you put the adult content filter on your browser it blocks out YouTube completely so is overly limiting for teens; over-restriction builds resentment and encourages finding ways to get around the restriction so is counter-productive.

Content they want to access has changed. According to Reuters online gaming for example has blown wide open, Gaming is now the number one entertainment media out there for kids, even surpassing television!  With games like Fortnite they can play with their friends and a plethora of others. There is live-chat during the game and they can chat with people they don't know as well as their friends and be exposed to any language. These aren't new games but there are many more now, Fortnite for example can be played on most common platforms (X-box, Switch, Playstation, etc) and it is available on all mobile devices IOS or Android, this is a new evolution.

Boredom is the anathema for teenagers; you have to ask yourself, before handheld screens, WiFi or 4G  what did they do with 'free time'? What did you do? Was there not significant value in day dreaming on long car or train rides or while waiting for a friend to show up or your turn at the dentist office. No value in watching the rain fall down the windows or the snow blow around trees in a blizzard? Did you not have more conversations, learn something from that person on the bus you saw everyday or just get into more mischief, have more adventures with your friends?  Share a smile, a chuckle or a frown on the subway, bus or plane? Did you happen to meet your partner because you were looking dreamily around you and caught the eye, instead of down isolated in an artificial domain? 

There has been much written lamenting the loss of 'boredom' particularly now operating from within an active 'doing' paradigm rather than a more passive 'being' paradigm; the distraction available is ever-present and taking us to who knows where but definitely away from within ourselves. Where has the time gone for self-reflection, for inner growth and realization? As this article points out Newton was simply sitting under an apple tree when the idea of gravity came to him and who can say how many other innovations emerged from people simply being instead of doing.

Necks and eyes with kids as tweens and teens I'm checking out their neck bent posture (and pronation) and thinking too about the state of their eyes evolving a focal length closer than if you were reading a book. I'm a Wellness consultant and am aware of how structure affects function. Surely there is a deleterious effect with a permanent kink in your brain stem though it isn't clear how or when this will manifest. I'd posit it already is showing up in behaviour and how kids think... their attention span for example! Certainly I wonder about evolution and whether people will start to evolve a closer focal length. From an energetic point of view it is more than that. It's about the isolation and the energetic distance you put between yourself and others when there is a screen involved. You see 1 in 2 people on public transport everywhere (even where I live in Yangon) on their phones, no one interacting, no communication even though you are easily within their energetic comfort zone. Somehow, having earphones in, or focused on your chat or reading on the screen you have shielded, distanced yourself from those around you.

What up? What can we do!

I set out writing this intending to provide some experience driven advice for how to manage tweens and teens and their screens. But what to say, each parent has their own take on it, each youngster has their approach and interest... and excuses for why they MUST be on screen NOW, or why they CAN'T go off-screen or there will be some excuse... 'my friends are online, they expect me to be there' is the newest one in our house.

Fostering a digitally minimal life is probably the best way forward, setting the example is critical and likely the hardest part; so limiting your own screen time, especially in front of the kids. It also means not buying into the latest innovations, getting the fastest connections, seeking the 24/7 online solution... It means finding perspective on this, a perspective that works for you and your children's futures. For example right now and in our school community, it seems that being digitally connected and keeping up is a priority. Can we step down, step back, not participate? I'm not so sure. I have maintained a digital footprint and use social media mostly because my nomadic world community is global, friends in many time zones. And partly because I do not want to get left behind my kids and not know what they were doing. I am anyway getting left behind in gaming, I am not a gamer at all, no time for it. Blood sport games are still off the menu at our house, but gaming apps have figured that out so you in many games you don't kill people but you do kill the opponent in whatever form they take, often humanoid. What to do!

The disconnect as we live increasingly urbanized, mechanized, automated lives is a disconnect from the natural world. How far can we get from nature sitting in an concrete and steel apartment building, electronics all around us and our heads bent over a screen? We are only now learning that electro magnetic radiation from modems, 5G, phones likely has quite a harmful effect on cell structure.

When the distance grows between us and the natural world, we fail to understand the impact of plastic consumption, of burning fossil fuels, of the value of friendships and community; we fall out of the natural rhythms of the earth and forget that to live successful fulfilling lives we need to be in harmony with the elements, we cannot control things like the weather, we must learn to work with nature as a part of eco-system and find the balance that will serve us and that will serve our children best.

I leave you with the commentary below from Clay Skipper in GQ magazine, and Richard La Flower. Jenny Hill also penned this great article recently affirming all of the above... its out there folks...pay attention: 'Smartphones, tablets causing mental health effects on kids as young as two'.

Passive screen media writes onto our subconscious just like reality, and creates triggers and habits. Be mindful of what you visually ingest, because it literally puts you into a textbook hypnotic state. You will become what you watch the most - Richard La Flower

You write about digital distraction as a way we can avoid ever having to be with ourselves. What's the value in having to turn inward?

You have to actually confront yourself and engage in self-reflection: thinking about your life, what's important, what's working, and what's not working. And this process of self-shaping is absolutely crucial to building an impactful and flourishing life. That's when you shape yourself. That's when a life of focus and value is built.
The second thing, and maybe this sounds a bit more trivial, is that through time immemorial, the way that people dealt with this void—whenever they were lucky enough to be in a time and place where they had some leisure time—was to seek out high quality leisure activities.... usually highly social, highly skilled activities. As Aristotle used to write, these activities you do just for the sake of the activities—just for the quality and joy of it—gives you this resilience that makes it much easier to deal with all the other hardships of life. Your life is not just all hardships, there's these things that we do that are intrinsically full and joyful.
If you can taper over the void with a constant stream of distractions—make it just comfortable enough that you don't have to confront it—you're in a really bad situation. Now you're avoiding that self-reflection that you need to actually grow up and to build a life worth living. Also, you can distract yourself enough that you never have to answer that drive to actually fill your life with the quality activities: getting engaged with your community; picking up a skilled hobby; art and poetry; these type of things.
I think it's actually pretty dire. Yes, it's scary not to be distracted, but I think it's even more scary to avoid all of the deep good that comes from having to just be there with yourself, and confront all of those difficulties and opportunities that entails.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

From Couch to Khumbu... Trekking with kids in the Himalaya!

Decision taken. We were headed for the high himal, the Everest Region, land of the Sherpa people in Nepal. Exciting! In the late '80's (and my early 20's) I had worked as a trip leader for groups of trekkers back in the early days of what flourished to become eco-tourism and had been through the valleys and towns of the region many times usually en route to Everest Base Camp. The last time though had been in 1998 on a vacation from Vietnam and that was before Nepal had been through its heart-wrenching civil war.

We were living in Kathmandu, with a normal schedule around school and activities, we don't actually spend that much time on the couch but one day we decided to up and off to the Khumbu! This time it was with our kids... the boys, ages 8 and 10, old enough to do the walking and appreciate where we were going... to see Everest and be among Sherpa friends to visit their culture... the lure of the yeti skull reported to be kept in the Sherpa village of Khumjung also helped fan the fire of enthusiasm. And the prospect of finding snow, that helped too! Enthusiasm... the main ingredient to having fun trekking with children; its not necessarily an easy ask, the anticipation is clouded by the hard work required at least in the phase of discussing it with 8 and 10yr olds... you need their buy-in for things to go smoothly! And if they insist on their latest 359 page book to bring along... just go with it!

Waiting for the flight to Lukla
Selecting a trek is about several things, not least of which is determining the level your kids and you are capable of... how many days, consideration of altitude, length of the trekking day, facilities en route and the possibilities of evacuation. The treks about the front ranges of the Annapurnas (Ghorepani/Ghandruk/Poon Hill for example) out of Pokhara are popular starter treks since they can range in duration from 3 -9 days. Langtang is also short, popular and close to Kathmandu, so is Helambu and the new Tamang Heritage trek.  Trekking in Khumbu is also popular, region of the Sherpa people with its monastery's and mountain history centred around Sagarmatha (Everest) which if lucky with the weather you can spot on your second day on trek. Flying to Lukla (possibly the world's most errr, interesting place to land) a bit of a thrill all on its own, you can also walk-in to Khumbu in 5-7 days. There are plenty of other treks to choose from so ask around and see what others have experienced.

Organizing the trek is the first step towards making it happen and can be done in different ways... when we went to the Annapurnas we booked with an agency in Pokhara to get a guide and porters... easy enough to do. Check the qualifications of your guide... at a minimum they need to have taken the 6 Week guides course (and have a license they can show you), know the area you're planning on going (preferably be from there) and speak enough English (if your Nepali is lacking). Experience needs to balance with your own... if you are an experienced mountain traveller then you may not need a hotshot guide... you need to be comfortable and confident with who ever goes with you and it isn't enough that they are good with your kids because if something were to happen and they didn't have training to find a solution... look what happened in the Annapurnas in October 2014.  On our Everest trip all we needed was a single porter, I knew the route well enough and have background and experience in mountain travel including at altitude, and so we got a young fella from Solu Khumbu through a Lukla hotel where I used to stay, he had a nice smile and was friendly and strong and knew where we were going, thats all that I required of him balanced with my own experience. When you book through an agency there is the added advantage of being assured that the guide will also have insurance and be properly equipped. Recently a Nepali friend, an experienced guide, had serious problems at altitude and had to be heli-evacuated... insurance is key.

Equipping yourselves properly comes next and proper footware probably the most important thing. Despite the plethora of trekking supply shops in Kathmandu to find children's trekking boots (below size 36) is a task. What works is sturdy trainers, if you can find them those with higher ankle tops are best. Shoes are important so getting this part right is critical, normally you size trekking boots a size bigger than normal (to accommodate thicker socks) but don't get carried away! A loose boot is asking for blister trouble. If you're of a mind to go trekking you'd do well to source trekking boots for little'uns outside of Nepal. Kids 6 years and up can carry their own back-pack... most want to. In it though are the bare necessities... a fleece jacket, a light water-proof jacket, their water bottle, sunglasses and hat and maybe a little snackage. Thats all they need to carry and importantly it has to be light because as a last resort, to get them over that final hill, you might need to carry it! Your back-pack needs the same as the kids, and a proper First Aid kit. Go light, if you need more, your porters will be walking with you and you can always get from him/her what you need during the day. Depending on the time of year the rest of the packing can be light as well. On our Annapurna trip we had 2 bags for the 4 of us for 5 days, this time we had 1 for 7 days. We went through everything and didn't have to do laundry! If you're taking a flight bags should weigh no more than 20kgs. I'm not going to publish a gear list here, there are tons on the internet to refer to but go light whatever you do, that old axiom of halving what you think you need to take when travelling... halve it again when you go trekking.. With children who are out of diapers, the only 'extras' are things to occupy them... (not including screen devices!), playing cards, travel chess, etc. With kids who are still in diapers... bon courage, beware of altitude with wee ones, their sleep needs, and of course mindful of the un-biodegradeability of disposable diapers and where you are going. My kids needed books so a Kindle or such-like would have reduced our collective weight considerably! A solar charger would not be a bad thing if you bring a reading tablet. Remember your porter carries your bag... so be kind!

Attitude and altitude

Attitude is everything on a trip to anywhere with kids. Nepali guides and porters are renown for encouraging and egging kids along, singing with them, and picking them up and carrying them if that is what is needed. Rest assured, on most of the common treks you absolutely don't have to walk further than you feel you need to on most given days, there is always a teahouse over the next hill, around the next bend. So don't stress about getting where you had a plan to get to... discuss with your guide/porter, see what they think. Often they will under-estimate... err on the side of caution and that is fine, they know what they are doing. Enjoy the early morning, the mid-morning, the lunch spot, the afternoon walk.... you get the drift... just enjoy where you are, value the place you have found yourself to be in... the high himal! 

Altitude is one of those things that can become a major pre-occupation and a trip-wrecker if you let it be one; your attitude about altitude is key. Yes altitude needs to be properly understood, yes it can be serious... all that means is for you to be prepared...so do the research ahead of time. Many of our fears are based in the unknown... so know about altitude. Understand that essentially you will trek so that you acclimatize well if you follow your guide's and guidebook's advice, do not short-cut to save time. If they say you need to spend a day acclimatizing then do so. Don't worry about the kids, but do keep an eye on them. Know signs and symptoms of altitude sickness, pulmonary and cerebral oedema but don't obsess. And don't panic because going down altitude (down hill) is always an option in night or day... and it is usually the cure all. When and if in doubt ask a trip leader, they usually have high competency and experience with altitude related problems and can offer advice, err on the side of caution always even if it means significant compromises to your trip. Never forget where you are, in the highest mountains in the world, subject to all the various challenges that come with high mountain travel.

Kids can be a challenge to have on such an adventure but you have friends along to help, so let them... and they sleep really well on trek! Let go of control, you're up in thin air, the best you can remember to do is breathe, smile and enjoy the sunshine. I love trekking with my son's. They love the connection to the natural world, to the Nepali people and to each other. A couple of years later we did the trek up to Lo Mantang in Mustang and after that attempted a small trekking peak in the Langtang region (picture above!)... as they grow they can do more and more! So much fun to watch them evolve!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

55 Reflections: meanderings of a globalist

Yes, I just turned 55! Whew...

1. The oldest person in the world died recently at 110yrs old, wow, so I'm half way there.

2. I'm 40 years younger than my Auntie Margaret who while 1 generation away from me is actually 2 generations older right? My eldest son is 43 years younger than me, he could also be my grandson.

3. I was born in 1963 as the jet engine was taking off (literally) for commercial passenger transportation. To emigrate to Canada in 1967 we had to fly from the UK via Gander, Newfoundland (bless) and then go through immigration at the Port of Montreal and then fly on to Edmonton in Alberta. (my Mum did this on her own with a mountain of baggage, 3kids under 4yrs old and my brother who was a very helpful 10yr old!) This year I flew from Singapore to London in one hop on the Dreamliner. Cool right? Yet it has to be said that jet travel hasn't changed much at all in terms of what it actually is. Sure it is more efficient in fuel consumption because planes are lighter and so they can fly higher, further, faster but they still burn fossil fuel in a turbine driven internal combustion engine. Thing is though they still transport us in a linear dimension from a to b over a continuum of time. Why is that I wonder? (hint: big oil)

4. All said, air travel is the miracle of our time imho, the way planes now fly at over 10,000m, at over 1000km/h, catching the jet stream, soaring over the poles... its all quite sick. Airports still suck... been to CDG in Paris or LHR or UIO (Quito) lately? Chinese airports like in Kunming… sheesh!  On the bright side there are airports like Changi in Singapore, the KLM terminal at Schipol and the new Indian airports which are beginning to help ease the pain, otherwise they are still like big bus stations and I'd still prefer teleportation from one couch to the next.

5. Music has gone wobbly, in the '60's it was fine, there were recognizable genres and some amazing innovations in Jazz, Hip Hop, Reggae, Rock n Roll, Punk,  etc... there has been a serious splintering a new genre every new album, electronic music has opened up a new esoteric (psychedelic) world and soon every band playing original songs will be its own genre if not already... does our understanding of 'what is genre' get wider or narrower?

6. Access to Music and music storage has changed incredibly in my lifetime from the radio, to vinyl records 45's, 78's, to 8 tracks, to cassettes to CD's, USB storage devices and now...  you can store your music on a cloud and still play it in your car... what’s the next thing?

7. Plastic has become the most evil thing on the planet, and it is really evil. Plastic came into common use in the 60's and every piece of plastic produced then and since then still occupies the planet... 8.3billion tonnes https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-40654915. This is sick and it is now entering the food chain in a manner that will shout at us through our bodies and their illnesses. The consumption of fossil fuels is what will kill us and the planet.... oh yes, doncha know, plastic is made from oil and gas... google it.

8. My generation bears the blame for not waking up soon enough to the excesses and indulgences that we have enjoyed through our childhood and that have brought on the destruction of our ecosystem. We (and while we can blame corporations and Keynesian economics),we are culpable because we have ignored the warnings on global climate change passed down very clearly from the Earth Summit in Rio in 1990, 38 years ago. We have known things were going badly awry and we haven’t acted with nearly enough urgency not on an individual, collective, governmental (dare I say corporate?) or regional level to stop it. Government, big oil and corporate media share the same bed.

9. We figure we are the smartest beings on the planet, and yet we are the only species to engage in activities that are destroying it, Initially (the agricultural revolution) and later in the industrial revolution we didn’t really understand the science and anyway the population pressure didn’t really present our activities as much of a problem… now and for decades we have understood it and still we didn’t act, how smart is that?

10. Technological advances in the computerization (now the digitalization) of everything have been simply amazing, has it been a good thing? Or has it moved too fast? As we head into the kind of scary age of robotics I'm not very convinced we are ready for it.

11. Miniaturization has really taken hold, back in the day at my University the computer was in one big ventilated room, the work-stations, monitors and keyboards in another with cables connecting them all. It's a good thing everything has become smaller, carrying around a desk-top sized computer in your pocket is just not convenient. The question though is when miniaturization leads to skin and iris implants and the opportunity for constant monitoring of our everything… have we reached the moment to stop?

12. Unprotected sex is dangerous these days, has been for a while, though it hasn’t been like that forever. The sexual revolution of the 60’s and 70’s changed it all in the Western countries from whence I come. The condom, well its still the condom after all these years ‘bagging it’ is the same as it ever was. Flavours have changed, bumps, ribs and dots in various combinations but otherwise, a rubber is still a rubber. And still it is as disliked by men and women alike.

13. Being a man has never been harder, roles back in the day were well-defined (by other men) until women finally got involved, now the role definitions in many societies are changing forever, the process resulting in seeming unending social tumult as we roll from acceptance to rejection to acquiescence to what?... to embracing a more balanced understanding of our gender equality and living in peace and harmony? Really?

14. There are too many people on the planet, and the educated and wealthy few of them use up resources at a prodigious rate as well as create the waste that is choking the planet and retain the lion's share of the wealth. There is something deeply wrong and quite disturbing with this picture that has evolved during my tenure here on earth. The disparity of wealth continues to grow incredibly rapidly, no end in sight and no divine intervention to get the top 1% (or 10%) to realise that unless they spend and spend fast to support those down the line, we are all doomed. Whether you have an excess of $1Million or $100Million who needs excess?

15. Transportation remains pretty similar to what it was post steam turbine invention. Internal combustion engine, 2 or 4 or more wheels, close the door and broom broom... not very interesting. What happened to folding time on itself, teleportation, beam me up Scotty? Very, very unimpressed here.

16. Vaccines were heralded as amazing and who knows how many lives have been saved because of them, and now as well clinical treatments became better, and better understood and people are saved clinically. But things have become carried away and... its not clear how vaccines are good all the time and everywhere; from the debate about interfering in natural selection, the debate about their efficacy vs harms (autism, allergies), the debate as to whether they should be mandatory (shock/horror) and follow the 'protect the herd' formula. Is it black and white, or a murky shade of grey?

17. What to say about world peace? Politics have gone stupid-as. Seriously, led by the USA, the corporate takeover of politics or shall we just say the dominance of economic interest is very clear and 'people first' the underlying principle of any good governance... well you don't see it often. I had considered at one point of going into community level politics, but these days I am given pause when I see the nonsense that people engage in for their own self-aggrandizement or that of their business interests. It simply isn't worth the effort and the stress and grief. No wonder politicians are generally poorly equipped to govern, they are not the sharpest pencils in the box, the sharp pencils are running corporations that run the politicians.

18. Traffic patterns mirror society. Ever noticed that? How the traffic moves, how people react in their vehicles, the rules that are in place and how they are enforced are reflections of how a society functions, how well it is organized, how people treat each other, their levels of tolerance, etc. From Kabul to Kathmandu, Edmonton to Yangon I've been checking this out... blogworthy!

19. Taking off is more risky than landing.... a metaphor for life if ever there was one. How hard is it to bring about change? Get it off the ground? That is when all risk is taken on board? How many of us don't make changes because we don't like risk taking? And yet how many of us need to make the change happen? Landing... pishaw, how hard can that be when you have gravity on your side ;-)

20. We live in an era where a quick comeback can land you in a deep pile of doo-doo that you never expected.... people have a bit of a hard time taking a joke in these days of ultra-neo political correctness.

21. I'm single again! Single with kids and co-parenting. How does that feel? I don't know yet so new it is. More to follow but there is a lurking sense of liberty in there somewhere. Perhaps as I travel from East to West and back again this summer I'll feel it better. For now the transition isn't easy and finding the right place to be, the place that fits not an easy ask. For now it is a transition.

22. Back in the day, as a man, you could compliment a co-worker on her new hairstyle, or something she is wearing just as an off-the-cuff remark (and maybe even a wink)... these days, well, you gotta take care with that one... or youtoo could get the label... just sayin', the remarkable absence of men's voices from the #metoo discussion itself speaks volumes.

23. In just 3 generations (often only 2) we have forgotten how to grow food; how many people's parents grew some food of their own, how many don't grow their own food?

24. In just 2 generations (often only 1) we have forgotten how to cook our own food; how many people go out to eat at least once/day or buy pre-packed ready to cook meals (often re-heated in a microwave).

25. Food. Don't get me started... we have to recognize and realise and analyze and accept that the food we buy whether in the fresh market, in the super market or that we put on our plates is not what it used to be. Food has been adulterated, it has been tampered with genetically, it has been sprayed and messed about with and in ways we have no idea about. As I understand it, the manipulation of food production (glyphosate spraying, fertilizing, GMO, pesticiding, corporate farming, etc) is in the interest of producing enough to feed the world, when actually what we have is a distribution problem, is disingenuous. And we are poisoning ground-water sources and the oceans It smacks of corporate interest and is symptomatic of the takeover of yet another industry by the economically powerful and wrong-minded prioritization of commerce to serve profit not people. How did we let this happen? In 2 or 3 generations we have lost small holder farming, naturally organic growing and with it our food-connection to mother earth.

26. Travelling by plane is an economic privilege; some would argue it is a necessity because of where they live and for their work. But is it? Travelling by plane is also the single best way for an individual to deepen their carbon footprint and therein lies the conundrum, stepping into my footprinte would be a bit like falling into a rabbit hole, is that deep.

27. Where do I come from? Oh, you mean my Race? Ethnicity? Nationality? Identity? Residency? or do you mean did I just come from the pub? Please be specific, your question needs to reflect the intention, what information are you after, what is behind your enquiry. 

28. Where am I from? Having not lived in Canada now since 1997, have visited a few dozen or two times and still identify as Canadian and am a citizen as well as the UK from whence I sprung into the world. I am of Indian bloodline yetwas adopted early on and brought up by British parents. Where am I from? For my sons' that is another question, they have never had a sense of home identity, never lived in Canada or France where their Maman is from. Kasem at 11 has lived in 5 countries, where is he from? He is born in Malaysia but doesn't even have the right to citizenry there. The trendiness of being Third culture kids pales in comparison to this phenomenon that of ‘Multi-culture kids’ which is what mine are. Most importantly is this going to be a confusion as they grow into their years of establishing their identity or will they simply evolve into being global citizens of no fixed address and that will be okay?

29. Nothing is as it seems. Never forget this and you won't ever be disappointed.

30. People are not who you think they are, they are as complicated or as simple as you give them the perceptive space to be.

31. The vast majority of International schools are built on a business model. Be conscious of this all ye who are seeking one for your children. This is the lens to see them through when various quirks and twerks reveal that their prime motivation is to make money. Perhaps I am jaded, where my kids go to school in Yangon this has been clear, only skillful management can add the depth of quality to this equation without affecting the bottom line.

32. Once your kids turn 12 they pay adult fare to fly but on the majority of airlines still have to travel as unaccompanied minors with additional surcharges. There is something wrong with that. Either raise the age of paying an adult fare or get rid of the extra charges. The most important thing for an airline is weight, all their costs are fixed and it is with the weight that they play with their profit margin per flight. So how is it that a 30kg 12 yr old with hand baggage pays as much (or more if unaccompanied) as an 85kg adult with 23kgs of checked baggage and 7kgs of hand baggage? The whole air travel pricing system needs to rethink around who they are using as their profit centres.

33. $75 is today's price for 1 barrel (159L) of Brent Crude oil and the price is subject to global market forces which as we know affects the cost of petrol, of manufacturing and of goods... according to this article  https://interestingengineering.com/japanese-invention-converts-plastic-into-oil it takes 1kg of plastic to make 1L of crude oil, quick bit of math.... thats about $31/L. Some would argue that we need to reduce fossil fuel emissions not increase them but while we are ramping up and bringing down renewal clean energy costs, wouldn't this be the way forward? And who better positioned to bring this one in... than big oil. Government plays a role, for every barrel pulled from the ground one has to be made from Plastic... or you lose your exploitation rights. If you agree and if you have stocks in big oil? SPEAK UP, its the ultimate CSR, or remain part of the problem (see 48 below).

34. Speak up, the silent majority has to speak up. It isn't enough any longer to stay quiet in the corner nodding. If you see an injustice, say something, if you aren't actively involved and contributing to the solution... then you're part of the problem (see 49 below).

35 Balance is the key, at the individual level and on up through families and communities we have to find a balance everyone has yin and yang and yang has dominated for so long from left-brain oriented schooling to decisions based on economics (or politics!) not people... the state of the planet is the evidence, we bought into Keynesian economics and 'ran with the ball' and look where we are, loads of indulgent and wasteful prosperity but much more degrading, unsupportable, poverty. WE ARE OUT OF BALANCE.

36. Time for change
Men need to change up and accept women as equals. Salary disparities and unequal partnerships and everything in between need to be corrected. How long have we been talking about this? Weren't they burning bras in '66?  The shift has to come and it needs to come quickly, really frigging fast actually. You know I almost want to say, if you're over 50 and in a power position and you still think with your penis and don't know what I'm on about... step aside brother, you're done. Let us move on. 

37. WATCH the documentary: 'Occupy Love'

38. VOIP is amazing. Skype was the early-comer to voice over internet protocol (I know right ;-)) and I was as impressed then as I am now with all the copy cats... I mean free video telephony? Here in Myanmar people have gone from no access to telephony to deep penetration of smart phones with 4G in 4years... it is not clear yet how well this is going to go over in a society still very entrenched in tradition including how they communicate with each other and within communities. I have no doubt it will have far-reaching impacts both positive and negative.

39. WATCH Carl Sagan..

40. I need to recognize the patterns in my behaviour that do not serve me well or serve well those around me. I need to recognize them, identify the source of what causes them and change up in order to move on into a better place. We all have our shadow side, reconciling with it takes work. Do the work.

41. You need to love your work, or do you? Is it enough to love the fact that you have work? Is that where most people are at? For any reason besides loving it, they go to work and believe they are happy. Is it delusional to think you have to love your work because thats the premise I work off, why else would I spend 40+hours a week of my life engaged in something I didn't like to do?

42. What is clear to me these days is that having a job where the work day is more or less defined for you (a regular job) is akin to a luxury because why, because what could be easier than having someone prescribe when you should work, how long and even on what. For some a luxury, for others like a shackle. Hats off to entrepreneurs and the self-employed to innovators and inventors, you have to figure it out for yourself, lately I'm discovering this latter is much harder.

43. And then we have to wonder, about work and how we got to where we are in the world today... are we better off or worse when we have less time to spend with our families and friends or hanging out in nature. Pre-industrial revolution and still in many parts of the 'less industrialized' world, work is around food production and distribution (including selling and buying), then it became around manufacturing. The different work ethics that evolved apparently suits the culture, apparently. But it could be this isn't true and it could be that the tensions in our societies are rooted in the simple fact that people have to work too much to support their families. Middle class North America... can't survive without a double income? Japanese salaryman spends 16hrs a day including their commute. The poor work themselves to death, often literally.

45. Global circumstances at the time of writing are sadly grimmer than usual, actually I'd suggest that since what the Vietnamese call the American War we seem to be spiralling back into an era of chauvinistic nationalism for which World War II was fought and for which peace was won and institutions like the UN set up to prevent. What happened? And who let these idiots out of their cages (don't get me started)!

46. And then again, there is the notion (is it a Universal truth or a cop out...) that you shouldn't worry about that which you cannot change and its corollary that if you can change something then what have you got to worry about, go ahead and change it. The fact is that we are often in a position to change things or participate in a change movement... and then decide not to do so for any number of reasons; thing is, and you know who you are, some of those reasons are not very good ones.

47 Tied in to the above is the decision not to take in too much world media because of its negativity and its impact on our psyche and some people make the choice to ignore the world outside their particular bubble. But if we don't know about issues for example those around social justice, or around voting and we can be part of changing things for the better then how will they ever change if we don't know about them.... hmmm do we live in this world or don't we. Do we have a responsibility for seeing to it that a dictator who is undoing all the good work and ruining the environment for us all is unseated? Does voting mean we agree with the system and therefore we shouldn't vote?

48. If you're not part of the solution then you are part of the problem, just sayin'.

49. In matters of injustice if you remain silent then you are complicit in it. This is fact.

50. Have you discovered yet the 'Heart of Yoga' practice, discovered yet the beauty of the basic Tai Chi Chuan 24 movements, discovered how to move energy with the Qi Gong practice of the microcosmic orbit? You haven't? I invite you to please do so. Don't delay, find a conscious movement practice that works for you. Especially if you're over 50!

51. Did I mention finding balance yet?

52. Democracy doesn't work very well as we are seeing. 'Nuff said.

53. Did I mention balance in the context of managing our lives? It is all about balance, the framework I subscribe to is one where our body system can become out of balance, and needs realigning, rebalancing and recharging. We have to be able to flow otherwise we invite ill-ness (as opposed to well-ness) and dis-ease as opposed to ease. Which would you prefer... (please don't mind the following shameless advertisement).

54. I am at a bit of a loss turning 55 that many people of my age cruise along perhaps happy, perhaps thinking they are happy, perhaps not happy, perhaps not aware they are not happy, perhaps unhappy and unaware they can do something about it, perhaps unhappy and aware that they must do something about it but don't know what to do... whatever the case may be, the common element is that we want to be well. That is a human thing. Be well, visit my website and find out how... https://www.elementalwellness.life/

55. Don't ever, ever forget to breathe: https://imgur.com/gallery/DqK7H0S