Life Coaching: honoring my Chinese background

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Looking at this photo I see myself, a person with a Chinese background, born and raised in the Netherlands. My Spanish is far better than the Wen show dialect I understand and the few words and expressions I know in Mandarin. It’s just who I am.

What I have learned from my Chinese family

1. To cook and appreciate food
2. When family and friends come over we offer them food and when we pay a visit we bring food
3. When family and friends need financial help, we help them
4. Hard work pays off
5. Entrepreneurial mindset: be kind, respect, ask for what you want and give
6. Family ties go way back
7. Good health can be supported by massage, herbs (all natural medicine) and acupuncture
8. Understanding relationships in social cultures

Lo sientes, entonces hazlo

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Hace poco le dije a una amiga que me gustaría hacer un video sobre mi trabajo de coach en español. Pero ¿por qué en español me preguntaba a mí misma? Le dije que aunque mi inglés era mejor que mi español había algo que me llevaba a desear esto; yo quería llegar a la gente que habla este idioma tan bonito y toda su cultura tan fascinante. No hizo falta darle a mi amiga más explicaciones porque el sentir era suficiente. Y ella me dijo: “¡Lo sientes, entonces hazlo!”.

Ahora, pensando de nuevo en el por qué hacer un video en español mis pensamientos me llevaban a la época en la que yo estuve en España. Me fui a estudiar a Sevilla Comunicación. Por allí, rodeada de sevillanos y de la cultura española, aprendí a apreciar la cultura de mi familia, es decir, la de China. Esas dos culturas tienen mucho en común; la familia grande, la comida, el compartir comida con gente desconocida y una fuerte conexión con la cultura; mas bien se podría explicar con el hecho de tener orgullo y amor por su tierra.

Pensando en que la cultura española me abrió el camino de vuelta a mi familia, me emocionó. Siento que estoy muy agradecida de haber estado en España. Sobre todo que muchos amigos me abrieron las puertas a sus familias. Así podía sentir de nuevo cuánto me importaba mi propia familia. Además comprendí  mejor de donde venía mi familia y sus valores de la vida.

Mi familia nunca me ha explicado nada. Solamente me daba comida, ropa y una casa para dormir. Lo más importante era escuchar a los padres, trabajar por ellos y darles respeto. ¡Ya está! Por lo demás yo me buscaba la vida a través de mis amigos y la danza. Este espacio de crear mi propia identidad era muy pequeño. Después de haber salido de casa para estudiar, me buscaba la vida gracias a la ayuda de mi tía. Desde entonces, mi vida tuvo mucho más sentido.

Life explained

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A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

“Not very long,” answered the Mexican.

“But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the American.

The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The American asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. I have a full life.”

The American interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat.”

“And after that?” asked the Mexican.

“With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise.”

“How long would that take?” asked the Mexican.

“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the American.

“And after that?”

“Afterwards? Well my friend, that’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the American, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start buying and selling stocks and make millions!”

“Millions? Really? And after that?” asked the Mexican.

“After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends.”

Parenthood: I want to go faster and higher

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Yesterday I had an interesting encounter with a lady from Romania and her daughter (4 years old). My daughter and I were playing at a playground in The Hague city centre. (Rabbijn Maarsenplein) As always my daughter found her playmate within seconds and it happened to be a lovely looking bright eyed girl. Before the two mums exchanged a word the girls were already communicating non-verbally and verbally. The verbal part was especially interesting. My daughter spoke to the girl in Dutch and the girl responded in English. But was English her first language? Over a conversation with the Romanian lady I found out that the girl chose English to be her first language!

The girl is growing up in a household where her mum speaks Romanian to her, her dad speaks Greek and her parents speak English with each other, because neither one speaks the partners language. The girl started speaking English when she was going to childcare and from there on she chose to speak English at home. As if three languages wasn’t enough already she is now even capable of communicating in French. From December last year she attends the French school in The Hague. Their motivation to get her admitted to the French school was a practical one. They were advised that the French education system is the same in every country they would travel to. And that they will travel is a certainty, because the girl’s father is working for the Greek embassy. In the midst of all changes they wanted to provide their daughter a stable and dependable education system. I’ve heard some horrifying stories about the French education system so I was curious after their experience.

The Romanian lady spoke about teachers reprimanding children who somehow disturbed the class. They would be set apart in another class for like ten minutes. She thought there wasn’t something wrong in their way of handling disobeying children. There were no horrifying stories shared here. Another story she did share was one regarding the primary school our daughter will start attending from September on. It’s the JFK Montessori school in The Hague. It is a remarkable story of a teacher who walked into a class where the children were talking loud and making lots of other noises. The parent who shared this story with the Romanian lady witnessed the teacher started singing in a soft voice and the children responded to this with lowering their voices and noises. Amazing!

I found it particularly interesting to listen to all these stories, because of her open attitude towards these two different education systems. She was happy with the French school and at the same time understanding and in awe of the way of teaching at a Montessori school. But there was a huge difference in the way our daughters thought and interacted with each other. On a basic human level they connected in a playful way and there was a continuous desire to interact and have fun. But then somehow when both girls were on the swing the girl told her mum to push her higher, because she wanted to go faster and higher than my daughter. While shaking her head slightly as if to say she’s not agreeing nor happy with this attitude, but nevertheless with a smile, she explained that her daughter is very competitive in every aspect of her life.

I have the feeling she didn’t link the competitiveness with the people that her daughter is surrounded with in school and the education she is receiving. But I’m not sure, perhaps she is aware of it and dealing with it in her own way. For now I believe they have other concerns; they will start packing for their move to Teheran this August where they will stay for two years before moving to Greece for two years. It seems that in between all this instability the French education system provides them the certainty they need and believe their child needs.

Colombian lady talking loud

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Today I found myself in a bus from The Hague central station to where I live. My attention was immediately drawn to a lady speaking in Spanish. I believe I stared at her, because my eyes met the eyes of a lady who noticed I was staring. Her eyes moved quickly from me to the loud Spanish speaking lady. Reason why I stared was that she spoke Speedy-Gonzales-Spanish. Up until now I hadn’t heard anyone speaking Spanish that quickly. My brains were working overtime to understand each and every word. I know, this comes across like eavesdropping and I don’t want to be rude, but I was so much impressed by her speed of talking. It came down to understanding some words and phrases.

In my head thoughts started to circle around and around. Shall I speak to her? Wouldn’t that seem weird to her and to all the passengers in the bus? What shall I say? Could it be that she is talking that fast, because of any disease? Oh, no, if that was the case, it would be very awkward to have a small talk. What I really wanted to share with her was how impressed I was. I stopped all the circling thoughts and decided just to do it, because otherwise I would regret it. Right after my decision her phone made a loud noise. She looked at the back, our eyes caught and I smiled at her. She smiled back. I saw my chance and moved from my seat to a seat behind her and said ‘Disculpe’ (excuse me) and off I went.

We had a really nice talk. I discovered that she is Colombian and that all Colombians talk fast like that. Well that was her opinion, because I have met Colombians before and their speed of talking never struck me in a way as with this lady. She has almost lived her whole life in the Netherlands with her Dutch husband. They have one child, a son, 33 years old and moved back to Colombia and is raising his three kids there together with his wife. She works in healthcare and only speaks Spanish with her husband and when she is back in Colombia. Her life is in Dutch.

She also shared with me that Dutch people don’t talk as loud in public transport as Colombians do. I know, I said, but I’m used to it, because Chinese people talk loud as well. I very much enjoyed our ‘small’ talk which in fact ended in sharing more with each other than what we think of the weather or things happening in and around public transport. Yes, it was the right decision to go and talk to her.

IFFR: The Amazing Catfish

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There we were, sitting in a crowded room, waiting for ‘The Amazing Catfish’ to start. Being part of the International Film Festival in Rotterdam (IFFR) is amazing. The atmosphere was vibrant; people talking, smiling, the smell of food mixed with the loud sounds produced by a life dj in De Doelen. I totally forgot about the way they would go about this, so yes, I was a bit surprised when filmmaker Claudia Sainte-Luce walked up the stage. She was introduced by a presenter of the IFFR. Her presence was open, sweet and grateful. She took a photo of us, her audience.

This Mexican tale moved me to the bone. It relates about the protagonist Claudia who gets to know a family within vulnerable circumstances. Slowly but steadily she gets to know each family member and each of them in their own space opens up to her. We got to know Claudia more through her non-verbal communication rather than her verbal communication. This was because of her character, someone who doesn’t speak a lot, but also because of her roots, Mexican culture.

While observing al this non-verbal communication I linked it to a part of a training I recently provided. The training is called ‘Positive communication in relationships’. I shared examples of high-context and low-context communication styles within personal and professional relationships. How Mexicans communicate is definitely high-context with lots of non-verbal communication expressed in eye-contact, gestures and pauses.

This was again demonstrated while filmmaker Claudia was interviewed after the movie. She used a lot of words and story lines to answer questions from the audience. She showed her emotions. She moved us by her presence, because she was even willing to drink whiskey and dance for us if that was what it would take to start asking her more questions about the movie. I didn’t have any questions. The emotions triggered by her movie were still trembling inside of me. I was only able to listen for a bit more and than we left.

Organizing first party in years

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So yes, finally, after 4.5 years we’ve organized a party at our home. And we’re damn proud we did a great job. Our daughter Amé turned 3 years old and I was determined to organize a birthday party for her. She loves birthday parties, cakes, ice cream and presents so I wanted to make her heart sing with joy. My partner and father of Amé has been out of the party game for three years now. He is still suffering a continuous headache. Anyhow, let’s focus on the party joy.

Our daughter wasn’t able to rest the whole morning so when the party was about to start she went to bed to take a nap. Hearing the noises of the first guests she yelled out for mommy. Miss party girl wanted to go downstairs. The kids were having so much water fun. They started out on the balcony playing with boats. After the singing and eating the birthday cake we moved to a communal garden. There the water joy went on with water guns; shooting water is fun for everyone, young and the somewhat older guests.

While a group of guests were playing in the communal garden my mom and sister were preparing the food. I invited everyone like two months before, but only one week before the party my mom phoned me asking me what I had prepared. Well, mom, I will prepare different cakes, ice cream and the activities for the children. ‘And the food, what about the food? she asked. You must feed the family coming from a far. You should send them home well fed. That’s how it goes. I will help you.’ But mom…all my ‘but’s disappeared with the air I exhaled. ‘I will prepare a very simple dish, it’s ok, I will manage.’ She didn’t even tell me what she would prepare and I didn’t even bother to ask her, because I knew she wouldn’t tell me.

We had chicken à la mama style (Chinese) and several vegetable dishes going along with that; carrot, mushrooms, tomatoes and string beans. As a dessert we served homemade banana chocolate ice cream on a stick. After having finished their meal the kids went on playing with the presents. Blowing bubbles was the last outside activity. Even though I prepared the activity by buying the goods the kids initiated it on the balcony. Where was I? I believe I was eating and enjoying my meal, my rest. Talk about rest. I rested two full days after the party, highly sensitive as I am.

I loved the presence of family and friends. My partner and I agreed to do this more often. Perhaps not on this scale, but just to bring people together, reconnect and have fun. On a food note: there was no candy, only watermelon, pineapple and strawberries. All fresh and luscious.

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