Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Be Thankful for your Features!

Happy Thanksgiving for those of you in the US, and those of you celebrating it abroad.  It is a work day here us, so we always celebrate it on the weekend.

My son had a small Thanksgiving breakfast at school yesterday.  I was in charge of table cloths.  Knowing I can deliver a huge dinner, with Turkey, pies and more, I felt I was cheating somehow just bringing a festive table cloth.  So, I bought two.

We also got back the school pictures this week.  A professional studio in Dubai banks on the market of school pictures here and seems to do well in this.  It is a smart way to boost their business, and they probably get some families that come in for portraits as a result.

I saw the proofs - one head shot, and one upper body.  Both very cute, but of course, I think so because he is my son.  I am very impressed at the over the shoulder look my son gives the camera. They have posed him well.  His hair is so well groomed it looks like they had a stylist on the set.

The prints came back and they are beautiful.  But wait.... the more I look at them, the more something looks different.  It is him, but it is just different somehow.  I see the package every day on my desk waiting for the weekend so it can be framed.

Then yesterday it hit me.  They have photoshopped him too much!  That is why he looks so different.  His face is very soft and angelic-like, and it seems they have photoshopped his nose to the point where it is almost too small.  It does not look unnatural or out of proportion, BUT, this is not my son's nose.

My son is blonde haired and blue eyed.  Just like his father.  He looks just like his father did when he was that age.  A photocopy.  He even has his nose.  Yes, his father is 100% Turk, but most Turks are not blonde and blue-eyed.  In many ways, his nose and it's cute little deviated septum is one of his few physical features that is distinctively Turkish.  They took away his Turkishness!  Not many people would notice the difference, but it is just enough that I can.

As a photographer, yes I use photoshop.  I use it for mild corrections and to enhance colors when I need something to pop out of the frame.  I do not really use it on people.  The only time I have was to photoshop a huge vein sticking out of my own forehead on a snapshot that is now my Facebook profile picture.  Its not something I would usually do, but I do have a pretty big forehead so I thought it best to avoid Neanderthalism on social media.

But to overly photoshop a child's nose?  This just seems wrong.  How are we supposed to teach our children to love themselves just as they are if someone is photoshopping out their ethnic features?  

I will contact the studio as I am curious to see the pre-processed image.  I doubt anything will come of it.  It is not a bad picture, but it is just not quite him.

So on that note, have a great Thanksgiving and be thankful for your God-given features!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Lost in Translation

Living abroad can be challenging sometimes.  For most people, I guess the biggest challenge is missing someone or something.  After this, I am guessing that the frustration of communication has to be pretty high on the list.  If there were anything to remind me I am in a new or different place, it is almost always the communication.

When I first moved to Turkey, I had that Carrie Bradshaw moment she experienced in Paris when she was with her Lover and his friends as they carried on in French and she could not join in the conversation.  Such a scene is expected. If you do not run back to New York with Big, over time you learn the language and become just as opinionated as everyone else.

But what do you do in the case of Dubai where everyone for the most part speaks fluent English and you sometimes cannot communicate effectively?  There are days when it can feel more challenging than not speaking the same language. 

Case in point.

I was out with a friend a few weeks ago.  Before she drove back home, she wanted a black coffee.  The conversation to order went something like this:
Can I have an Americano coffee please?
Would you like milk with that?
No, black coffee please.  Americano.
OK, I will bring the milk on the side for you?
No, just black coffee.
You do not want milk?
Ok. Just bring the milk on the side.

My friend was so polite and patient through all of this and finally obliged.  Coffee without milk just did not seem like a possible concept.

The same waiter arrived with the coffee and an elegant little pitcher of milk on the side.  After he put the coffee on the table, he politely asks, “Would you like me to pour the milk?”

I try not to smile too much.  My friend once again manages it and calmly responds, “You know what, I don’t need any milk. Thank you.”

The waiter smiled and walked off happily knowing that he delivered the best service ever.


A few weeks later we were with friends at a hotel over a long holiday weekend.  Her son wanted a cheeseburger for lunch.  The waiter came over and the boy politely ordered.

Can I have a cheeseburger please? 
Do you want falafel burger or beef burger? 
Um, can I have a cheeseburger?

Granted this waiter could be a vegetarian and perhaps where he is from there could be many vegetarians so falafel burgers may be more the norm.  Seeing where this was going, I chimed in with the answer.  Beef. 


My husband arrived later than planned from the airport after a business trip. He was never able to find the complimentary car service offered.  He called the number of the driver to find him, and so the conversation goes.

I will be there in five minutes sir.
Ten minutes passed, no car.  He called back.  Where are you?  
I am here sir. 
Where is here? 
At the gate. 
Which gate?  He gave a number.  The problem was that this number did not exist in terms of airport exits.  My husband explains in great detail where he is.  The driver ensures him he will be there in five minutes. 

At this point, a taxi would have been faster, but he kept trying to work the system, or lack thereof.  The driver never showed.  My husband went to an airport bus of the same company and had that driver speak to the driver of the lost car.  Even with directions in his own language, the driver never showed. 

My husband called again.  There was a lot more of  I am here.  Where is here?  Over there.  It is very challenging to not loose your patience after a 1am arrival.

These are harmless social examples.  What if you are trying to get something done at the bank, a work related transaction, something medical, or somewhere else critical?  It is not always so entertaining.

I don’t really have a solution.  Some situations have worked out with directness, almost to the point where I feel rude.  Realizing that our reactions and responses link back to our culture and education, not the language itself, is important. Things may not translate even though we speak the same language.

I do realize that altering expectations of things like service has somewhat helped to get past the frustration.  Throwing expectation out the window can be a good survival mechanism for living abroad….well, maybe sometimes.  And if that doesn’t help, then I guess there is counting and deep breathing.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

My Exercise Mantra

Lately I seem to have, or see the same discussion among a lot of friends… The subject of exercise.  When is it not on our minds?  At some level it always is.  Get healthier, get slimmer, get fitter, get faster, get stronger….

I was reading a friend’s awesome blog the other night, 40’s Here I Am and her entry I Heart Triathlon was so timely.  I have known this blogger, Cristen Plummer, since high school.  We spent a few years next too each other in the same high kick line in our school dance team.  We spent many hours dancing, kicking and sweating under the hot Texas sun together.  She is now an awesome triathlete among many other things and has a great blog that I recommend.

I Heart Triathlon resonated with me because she really articulated that she is in a very Zen place with her training.  I am not even training for anything, and I could relate. 

I have another very dear friend in Dubai who just participated in an Ultra Marathon and completed her first marathon in a very brutal Venice this year.  She is also a rock star.

In a few brief emails upon her return, she mentioned she wants to take me to the ultra, and she thought of me when she was in Venice and is encouraging me to get back to my runner self again.   In theory, I love this idea.  In reality, I don’t think I want to.  At least not anytime soon.

In no way am I slighting her amazing achievements, or her thoughtfulness.  As Cristen acknowledges she is in a place that she is happy to focus on shorter tris.  I am happy to acknowledge that I am in a place where I am not focusing on any type of distance what so ever… Insane? maybe.  

A “few” years ago I completed a marathon.  It was one of the best and worst days in my life equating to a life changing experience.  Having experienced both, I think childbirth could be easier.

Back when I was a long distance runner, I always told myself I would complete an ironman when I turned 40. Well, guess what?  I passed that benchmark.  I am sincere when I say that I am equally ecstatic that another friend I know from that same dance team completed an ironman – two years in a row.  And she rocked it.  I have not completed an ironman, or any kind of tri for that matter, and it is okay.  I am so happy for those that have.

My philosophy about exercise today is if everything works and I can function, then that is enough for me.  I don't sit around and let it deteriorate, but this is my mantra right now.  I think a lot has to do with the fact that I always live by a number. 

I live by the time I need to get up.  The time I need to get out the door.  The time I need to drop my son at school.  The time I need to pick him up.  The time the nurses will check his blood sugar.  The time they will call me if something is off.  The time I need to be at this meeting or that one.  The time my son’s blood sugar will be checked again.  The time I need to go to a doctor’s appointment.  The time my friends are getting together for an early dinner that I will not be able to join. The time I need to work later because I break in the day to pick up my son from school mid-day.  The time my son goes to bed.  The time I need to check my son’s blood sugar.  The time he needs to eat so his blood sugar does not go too low later.  The time of that yoga class I will not make because I need to work to finish something before the scheduled meeting the next day.  The time of that cool aerial silk class that is way too early for anyone who works.  The time I need to be at that party.  The time I need to be at that dinner.  The time I should be sleeping.  The time I need to get up the next day to achieve everything else I need to do… the time…tick tock tick tock.  Enough scheduling and racing against the clock.

As a result of living by the watch, I have a new exercise philosophy, which I owe a lot to my previous yoga practice.  I started yoga years ago as the result of a running injury before it was as cool as it is now.  I found something amazing, and I was in the best shape of my life, but the benefits are not only physical.

What it did teach me was to live in the present.  Enjoy the moment.  This is my new training regime.  I am just in the present and enjoy it.  Maybe I will change someday.  But for now, I am just happy to be with it.  Be in it. 

I do not run every day.  I do not do yoga every day.  I am not sure what I am.  I am pretty sure this does not matter.  Shocking revelation: I exercise based on my mood and what I feel, and what time of day it is.  I look at what I need at that time, and do it. 

I do not have any PRs (Personal Records) to beat, or distances to further.  It has been refreshing to not have to train for anything.  I just go out and do what it is I need to do.

I ran the other night.  I love running again.  Why?  Its not the distance, or the hope to fit into my skinny jeans.  I love running because I can run past the Dubai Fountains while listening to the Talking Heads or something else that is not expected.   I can run to meet my friend that is getting her hair colored at the salon nearby.  I can run behind my son as he rides his bike and we stop for lunch. 

I wear no watch.  I know no distance.  Be sure, “Run mommy run!” is the best phrase you will ever hear that indicates you are about to embrace the best speed workout or tempo run of your life.  The beauty is, it does not feel like work.

I really salute all of you amazing people out there accomplishing your fitness goals.  It is never easy, and always admirable.

However, sometimes, there is something indescribable about being in that moment.  That moment which is so amazing that you will never get it back.  I do realize a lot of those epiphanies happen during races and PR’s.  They also happen at other times when you least expect them…

Today I asked my son if he wanted his sunglasses as I ran after him while he rode his bike around the Burj Khalifa past the Dubai Fountains. 

“No mommy.  Everything is so beautiful I want to see it”.

Make sure you see it.  Don’t miss it.

View from a run in Downtown Dubai