Monday, September 18, 2017

Leila Hanna 1931 - 2017 RIP

At Leila's 86th birthday in April at home of youngest son, Larry
Leila on my left side. Widad and Suad stand to my right, respectively
Picture taken ~ one month prior to her passing

Good Morning, I am Leila’s brother, David. Thank you all for coming to celebrate the life of my sister, Leila, who was 15 years my senior.  I have such fond memories of her starting when Leila baby sat me, in fact acting as a surrogate caregiver in the early years of my life before she suddenly disappeared from our Madison Ave home after her arranged marriage. Leila was indeed more than a sister to me.  

From a family of 11 children, only four of us survived to adulthood.  Coming from a poor country, from parents with only a second-grade education, Leila struggled through a life encumbered by a parochial and patriarchal culture of dominance.  In our household, I could come and go, I was free to date, I was supported through college and encouraged to seek a career. My sisters did not have the same opportunities, and Leila had little say in most of the aspects of her life at least until the last few chapters.  This is a concept that I will return to shortly. 

Leila had every reason to be resentful for aspects of her life that were beyond her control. But despite these circumstances, Leila resisted the temptation to act as a victim, or to whine or complain. She never said anything bad about anyone, and always seemed to find the positive rather than dwell on the negative.  For Leila, the glass was always half full, never half empty.

Briefly, Leila’s life was epitomized by love of God and love of family.  She had an unwavering belief in God and was a loyal life-long parishioner at Holy Trinity Orthodox Church. She smothered her family, her children and grandchildren, her mother and father, her nieces and nephews, her cousins, and her brother and sisters with unconditional love and a positive spirit. Remarkably, she perpetually put the welfare of her family before her own.  About two weeks before her death, I called to find out how she was feeling.  She dismissed my inquiry, opting to question me about whether I was recovering from a bronchitis related coughing episode that she had witnessed.  Even to her last moment, she was more concerned with the welfare of others.

Leila was a gentle and quiet soul, full of love, accommodating, and never wanting for confrontation or disparagement. But there was one thing about Leila that drove me crazy. The list of foods that she would eat could probably fit on two hands. She was totally stubborn about what she would put in her mouth, and while she would usually default to her delicious middle eastern cooking, I can think of only two restaurants that Leila would allow us to take her to and her predictable limited selection of items on the menu that she would eat was mind boggling.  And when I objected to her narrow minded attitude, or injected one of my many self-proclaimed edicts, she would respond predictably with her now famous retort “You’re kidding me.” 

As I mentioned, Leila’s early life lacked freedom of choice. Even her house was masterminded and partially funded by our father.  But there was one frivolous thing that Leila did on her own, against my advice and the advice of at least one sister.  Leila purchased a condo in Ocean City, Maryland.  It was a five-hour drive to get there from West Hempstead but she faithfully travelled there many times a year to enjoy her beach front panoramic view of the ocean, and some peace and quiet in her summer hideaway. She loved the feel of the cool and sometimes cold salt ocean water on her feet and legs. This Ocean City condo truly gave her great pleasure and joy.

This last year of Leila’s life, and particularly the last month have been a total shock and surprise to everyone around her. Bits and pieces have emerged of comments that Leila made – not to me but rather in confidence to others over the last year – that she saw her time coming. I think she had been preparing, unbeknownst to me and her family. I wish I could be more like my sister who was truly not afraid and was ready when God called. 

In a final act of love, Leila allowed her family to take her for medical evaluations to her doctor’s office and to allow for a hospitalization. This was not of her choosing. She knew however that her family could not passively witness her rapid decline without seeking some answers and treatment remedies. it is important to note that her daughter Diana, cared night and day for her at home an was at her mother’s bedside nonstop at Brooklyn Hospital.  I mean literally around the clock for the entire hospitalization!

It was a painful week for Leila in the hospital and one that she would endure, already sensing the outcome. She knew God was calling, and she resolutely rejected the one palliative medical option offered, wanting nothing more than to be discharged to spend what turned out to be her last four days at home.

I’m sure Leila is looking down on us embarrassed at what trouble she has caused us by her passing.  She was never one to impose on anyone and never wanted to call attention to herself or her ailments. She never once asked me for anything. I would always have to interrogate her to find out what she needed and how I could help.  But, I think she will be comforted to know how many people loved her and with the knowledge that she brought happiness and joy into the world for the many people in her life’s circle.

We live in a complicated world that is difficult to understand and to navigate.  But I know you will agree with me….that it would be hard to find a human, anywhere in the world who was as good, kind, generous, and loving as my sister Leila.  I’m sure if she were here today, she would say something like “God bless everyone here and thank you for coming”.  I hope you will join me in keeping Leila’s memory in our hearts forever.  Thank you again for sharing this moment in celebration of the life of Leila Hanna.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Be Nhi Restaurant Fresh Fish: Another Reason Why I Love Vietnam

To a great extent, we – Westerners - judge the quality of restaurants by the window dressing of their external package.  A beautiful setting, an ocean view, sparkling silverware and glassware, clean table cloths.  The food comes out beautifully presented, with smears of sauce forming savory artworks so delicate you feel guilty when disturbing it with your forks.  But none of this tells the story of how food is prepared, whether anyone washes their hands in the kitchen, whether the seafood or meat that you are being served is one, two or three days old or older and on and on and on and on.  You could be served someone’s left over’s from the night before and NEVER know it.  You can be served someone’s left overs and pay a bill that covers the nights cost in help!  The number of middle men involved pumps up the price while ensuring a profound lack of accountability by diffusing responsibilities through a complex network of restaurant services offered at competitive rates by third party vendors.  As American’s, we are a gullible lot, easily guiled by the corporate establishment bent on draining every penny out of our wallets for their own benefit.  Is this a cynical view or a realistic portrayal?    

Then its no wonder that - when you dine at a restaurant like Be Nhi across from the beach in Hoi An, Vietnam, what you see is what you get.  You walk into this open restaurant setting glaring with lights from all angles whose physical front is completely open or missing.  Across the street is the beach but its too late in the evening to see anything there. There are small aerated basins filled with water that are found in a slightly sunken area that house the evenings selection of fish and other ocean dwellers I could not identify.  You find a table and then you march back to the area with the basins to select your fish. I selected one that looked like fish – it actually looked a little like a snapper making me feel comfortable with my selection. 

 You retreat back to your aluminum plated covered table (fairly common in Vietnam) and look at the menu for other goodies.  We chose some clams which my friend really enjoyed, and a fried noodle, shrimp and bok choy dish to work the fish down with. We ordered two Larue beers and one bottle of water and waited for the fish to be grilled.  In the meantime, we were served this crispy rice cracker the size of a small pizza called banh trang, which was quite tasty.  Obviously a substitute for bread. 

Needless to say, by the five-star ranking of this review, I enjoyed the meal immensely.  Eating fresh fish has never carried the implications as it did that night – selecting your meal in person and not by proxy – or after trying to decipher the intimidating description of the preparation which adds another fist full of your dollars into the bill. 

The fish was indeed fresh and absolutely delicious.  The noodle dish was also a perfect accompaniment.  The fish came splayed down the middle with skin and bone baring fragments of partially burned surface from the grilling. Picking through to the fleshiest part was no problem; the fish was moist and tender. What more can I say. 

The restaurant looked more like a bare-boned cafeteria than a restaurant.  The decor was very basic except for some cute ceramic pictures of fruit that were overwhelmed by the vastness and blinding lights of the restaurant footprint. Service was basic but very friendly.  It looked reasonably clean and well-kept and certainly not pretentious. I can only surmise that this is a family owned and operated business including the daytime activity of catching the fish, and the chores revolving around the restaurant.  No middle men, no extra expense, and good value for the money. As this was my third visit; I can only remember once where there were any visible tourists anywhere.

If you want to enjoy FRESH fish in a family restaurant, Be Nhi is one place to go.  In addition, you may learn a thing or two about a real seafood restaurant and what it means to be served fresh fish.  You will also experience a true Vietnamese restaurant experience worthy of remembering.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The United States of America is an Oxymoron

It would be interesting to use time lapse cameras to view the traffic street life and movement of any major city in the US – by condensing 50 years’ time into a 30-minute period.  What you would invariably see is people looking fatter and moving slower. Indeed, despite what everyone must know regarding the consequences of overeating and the damaging effects of the sedentary life, we have purposely obscured and nullified the positive benefits of modern medicine by our own vacuous and reckless behavior. To think that this can be reversed by some magical formula, behavior modification or drug therapy is simplistic and delusionary. What we have, to be sure, is a doomed society, with the only tenable remedy being replacement -  with time - of this present generation - with a new one armed with lessons learned from the self-destructive behavior of their predecessors, and perhaps motivated by grief, the burden of such waste of human potential, and the desire to live a long healthy life.

This cynical view of this lack of intellectual plasticity extends beyond human physiology to ideology – which is really what I wanted to discuss in this narrative. Never in the history of my seven decades of life have I witnessed such bifurcation in ideological thinking in America. As in the case above, there are no quick remedies that will work to rid the human spirit of this indelible bipartisan divide. There is no one truth, there is no one black or white for white is black to the right and black is white to the left. That there is no one truth is a nightmare in thinking, and yet truth to those in each ideological camp has never been so categorically embraced.

Those on the left conveniently and tersely proclaim bigotry for every position taken by the right. They are intolerant of opposing opinions solely on this basis; the intolerance is of a hysterical and visceral nature, evoking uncontrolled animation and anger.  Ideology is indeed the culprit. The left believe that the global interests of society are satisfied by the simplistic world architecture that Bernie Sanders expounded. Health care should be free and for everyone, college should be free and for everyone, the rich should have to pay to fund the needs of those less fortunate. Big corporations are evil by their very nature and so on and so forth. Never mind we have a 20 trillion-dollar debt, never mind we must balance and measure what should be done by the government, what can be afforded by the government, and what should be expected of the individual citizen in our great country.

And what about the right. Greed, bigotry are the two words that come to mind. This is not just a difference in ideology, when the left judges the right, it’s a matter of intense disdain for the very fabric, cell layer, and DNA of these individuals…. as Hilary proclaimed “deplorables”.   These are not humans, they are bigoted, intolerant cowards. They are not compassionate humans; they are NOT humans.  We should not have to listen to their bigoted sentiments – their intolerance cannot be tolerated!

But how do I connect this discussion on ideology with the intro on obesity and the doomed generation?  Well - I think it’s the same! I do not think that there is any way to resolve the ideological rift that has been witnessed in America this last decade which seems only to be getting bigger, more intense, and more entrenched.  What a joke it is to call the US – the United States of America.  It is NOT united at all.  Contrast the views and attitudes of citizens residing in states on the peripheral borders of the country like California, Oregon, New York, and Hawaii with the red states of the south – Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Midwest – Idaho, Kansas. Its as if we are dealing with two completely different worlds. And hence this thought gave birth my epiphany.

The United States should dissolve, and two countries should form separated by theif opposing ideologies. While it would be convenient for each county to be bordered by states, let’s envision a situation where that doesn’t have to occur.  Each citizen could CHOOSE which country to live in and be governed by.  Somehow the geographic boundaries of mixing societies would need to be configured, whether virtually or perhaps by extending the wall that Trump will be using to separate the US from Mexico. But delving into this strategy is not my concern for this essay.  Rather I’m interested in the implications of such a proposal.

One caveat is that once you chose your country – Rederica, or Bluerica, you would need to apply, just like any legal immigrant would presently have to do, to gain citizenship in the opposing country - if you were unhappy or disillusioned with your original choice. Or maybe Bluerica would allow anyone wanting to move to Bluerica an open border – clearly this would not be the case for Redrica.

What are the immediate consequences?  Each country would likely be governed more efficiently and the paralysis of the present system, and the obstructionism and acrimony would no longer be an impediment to directive progress.  Decisions could be made efficiently as each country would follow its ideological, moral and ethical codes.

Of course, the question posed in this construct has many other interesting ramifications to consider.  Would we expect those who profess a leftist view to all gravitate to live in Bluerica, or would they consider their options carefully?  And we ask the same question of the proportion of those on the right choosing to live in Rederica.  I think it’s one thing to profess an ideology but people will want to do what’s best for themselves in the end.  Will pragmatism usurp ideology?

Another important question is what each country would look like in a decade. The laws of the land, the middle class, the economy, military, size of government, overall wealth, social justice, social security, healthcare, tolerance of alternative opinions and lifestyles, etc.

Thinking about the implications of America dividing in half is an intriguing exercise of thought, one that may lend to a better understanding for whether we would be better off living in Rederica or Bluerica, or we were better off before some moron came up with this ridiculous idea of dividing the country in the such a fashion.  Maybe we should have a national referendum to see the interest in such a proposal.  How do you think the results would unfold?  America, Rederica, Bluerica, or maybe even Noerica.  Or maybe the mere thought of such a disassembly of states would result in the ultimate division into 50 different countries.  In that case, at least we wouldn’t have to think of naming them these silly names.     

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Smattering of Recent Moments

taken on my last cruise on the Crystal Serenity - Jan 17

Divino Ritmo Showcase - Jan 2017

in Lima, Peru - Feb 17
formal night on Queen Elizabeth - Nov 16
son David - on top of Gem Lake
Big White Ski Resort

with grandson, Duncan
at Big White, Canada
March 17
father and son - 70, 42
grandfather and grandson - 70, 2
She saved my life after missing my flight
back home from Vietnam by 24 hours - Feb 17
Japanese Bridge - Hoi An
found in a restaurant bathroom - only used to
remedy the problem of drinking too much

Monday, January 30, 2017

Divino Ritmo Dance 8th Annual Showcase - The BEST!

So much to say about this fabulous event but all of my writing efforts being consumed by work related obligations.  More later with detail.  Anyone not attending this event missed something very special.  It was the best of the best.

Friday, January 20, 2017

TRUMP Day - Jan 20th, 2017

Posted at the exact moment that President Trump was inaugurated as 45th POTUS
Deer Valley, Park City, Utah - Jan 8th, 2017

Friday, December 23, 2016

2016 – It is a Good Year; It is a Great Year!

Is this a good year or a great year?  Any year without any real or imagined furthering of my medical paranoias is a good year.  This year witnessed my lowest PSA and cholesterol values in years!  This year witnessed the least number of foot injuries of the last five thanks to excellent medical care by Ken Arakawa and the medicinal benefits of colchicine. This year witnessed the improvements in my chronic cough as well as reaffirmation that my lung function and lung anatomy are normal according to the most basic testing methods. I suppose, I could go through a litany of other tidbits of good news and note the status of every bodily function but that would cause mass exodus from this blog.  Moreover, I cannot reveal the defects in activity and function of the more embarrassingly sensitive organs.  Even if I did, it would only satisfy the morose curiosity as few would be surprised or titillated by the organ dysfunctions and travails of a 70-year-old male. But aside from the inevitable age related apoptosis, as I think about it, with this amount of good fortune, it already qualifies 2016 as a great year.  But there is more.

Yes, this is a Great Year! I am healthy and I continue to travel the world – 18 trips total! Great Britain, South Africa, Mozambique, Canada – western & eastern, Vietnam twice (which everyone know I love very much), the Caribbean, Spain, Portugal, Morocco and many cities in the US – San Francisco, Seattle, San Jose, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Cleveland, New York City, Washington DC, etc, etc.  Only one trip was for work and I even attended the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.  And I’ve planned for even more exciting trips/cruises for next year thanks to the prompting of two interested friends who are willing to share their experiences in the artic (Svalbard) and all the way down to Antarctica.  Indeed, next year I have too many cruises (five), those mentioned above, one dance cruise to Chile and Peru, one with my sisters that cruises from the Canada to the north-eastern US beginning in Quebec City, and one on the west coast – Los Angeles to Vancouver. I am going to Vietnam at least twice and maybe travel to a contiguous country like Laos for a few days. I travel to ski at least twice a year and next year will be no exception. I will travel to visit my children. Some trips are casual and stark, some are elegant and decadent, some are adventuresome, some are for sport, and some are social and poised.  With some, my job is to trek and explore and observe, e.g., Svalbard, with others it is to listen, and converse and dance, e.g., Crystal Cruises and then there are those for skiing.  Many more cities in the world will be left with my footprint. At this point, I have at least 14 trips planned for next year with one in the process. And maybe even a third trip to Vietnam will top it to 16. 

Some Extraneous Verbiage. I live to savor the smell and taste of cities near and far, the people, the shops and streets, the hustle and bustle of those living their lives, those purposefully loitering the streets and others relaxed and enjoying the moment. To do so effectively, I have to accept the notion that I have invaded their privacy.  But that allows me to dream for a moment what it would be like to be them or live among them. Cities in Spain are like those in Italy, with the old blending melodically with the new, having both the present and the past to savor and appreciate. You can never escape who you were - living with such history, and reminders abound in nearly every city, and cannot be avoided with an endless presence of beautiful ageless monuments of wood, stone and mortar, many in disrepair or perpetually being renovated.  Contrast this with other cities even in beautiful countries like New Zealand that is only a few hundred years old and you will understand what I am trying to convey.  And contrast this to the virtual world that most of our youth live in, and you will no longer wonder why they can be so easily mesmerized into foolish, dark and dangerous deeds.  

I turned 70 years old this year and had nearly as many celebrations.  They were truly meaningful. I hope to live several more decades but I think my next planned celebration for having lived any duration on earth will come IF I can make it to 100 years.  Otherwise, I’ve had enough of birthdays.  But turning seventy when most people would guess otherwise brings me great joy.  Something I did was right, and while my parents also gifted me with many things, sharing their DNA was unquestionably the most cherished.  My father lived to nearly 102, my mother not so lucky – 84 (too many pregnancies did not help), but her brother lived to 95 and her mother - my grandmother to 105.  What’s more, they were all ambulatory and quick witted to the end. CNN posted in recent days a list of those well-known individuals from all walks of life that were lost in 2016. Some lived as little as two decades, some lived until nearly 100. Almost everything can be purchased by those with world fame and endless resources except the most important thing in life – life itself.  I also lost some personal friends this year which is always a powerful reminder of the fleetingness of life, which seems to never linger long in one’s consciousness.  How do many of us live life knowing that we will inevitably no longer exist sometime soon in the future – maybe tomorrow, maybe next year, maybe next decade…..?

I never expected to work until 70 but here I am still working part time. I come and go as I please but somehow find time to work from near and afar without my employers complaining.  But my travel schedule has accelerated greatly these last few years and I can’t imagine how anyone would want to keep me on the payrolls. Still I thoroughly enjoy the role I have carved out for myself and wish to continue - at least for a few more years. At the very least, it keeps my mind sharp and is gratifying. In some ways, I enjoy working more than ever before indubitably because I no longer NEED to work. I am indeed a lucky man and a happy man.

To repeat, I am a happy man. Not every reason I am happy need be divulged. But I am a happy man because I have tried very hard to understand what makes me happy.  Surprisingly, there are more remedies than roadblocks EVEN FOR A MAN OF 70. Skills that can no longer be achieved such as those on the dance floor must be accepted. I have to accept that I have reached the pinnacle of my dance skills. Its no fun to live in a world where the best you can do is the best you have done in the past. I felt the same way about tennis. I did not want to continue to play tennis when I could no longer become a better player.  That’s just me. Others are satisfied with the status quo.  Not I.

What Else Makes Me Happy?  There is nothing insightful here.  My family, my friends, my co-workers – as always relationships matter. 

What Would I Wish for My Children and Their Children?  I am saddened by the notion that as I enter the last chapters of my life that I will eventually be leaving my children and grandchildren in a more hostile and dishonest world than greeted me in my life.  Presently I do not believe that they will live a better life than I have. What I wish for my children and grandchildren is that this belief in their future is INCORRECT and that they will indeed live a better life than God has bestowed me.  Then I will be truly happy.

Final Thoughts.  Well, was it worth the time and effort to write this blog?  I believe its important to periodically catalogue the good and the not so good moments in a person’s life.  I actually learned a few things recounting the events of the year in writing this blog.  My initial euphoria in writing became heightened as I relived the events of my year of good health, good fortune, work, and travel.  How often do we look back and congratulate ourselves for anything in life?  Are we only relegated to be unnerved by adversity?  We must periodically collect all of the memories of the past and relish those that bring us moments of happiness.  Collect these moments and you will be a rich man or woman or person whichever fits the bill. Indeed!

Taken this season at the Halekulani Hotel