Santa Tax

Sounds Draconian, doesn’t it?

Last year, I posted a great response I came across to the Is Santa real? question.

As we’ve hopefully got some time before we have to visit this, I’m having a bit of fun with the whole st. Nick business.

So, to the background behind Santa tax. Every good lie (for the greater good, reasons of magic, and Christmas morning squeals) needs an element of the truth. We needed a story they could believe. Magic is reserved for Santa, so it begs a lot of questions in our household – how does it all work? Remembering that kids scope for time and distance is somewhat limited, there’s a fine line between the idea of magic being digestible and impossible, and to them, expectations of human ingenuity are rather high.. I cooked up Santa tax.

We’re fairly straightforward with our kids on the monetary systems that we rely on – and as working parents it’s helped us to provide some concept of the economy and why mummy is always the last person running up the hill after work in heels to the school to more often than not, to be sang at. Literally, sang at, a bit like being shouted at, but in song. (See also: Black Sabbath concert.)

So how to explain Operation: Christmas Eve? By involving a global community of  kind grown-ups, pragmatic about the logistical strains on Santa and mindful of Elfish welfare.  Mind you, magic still plays a very important part in all of this.

Book reference: The Harry Potter series. Photo: fanpop.cpm

Book reference: The Harry Potter series. Photo credit: fanpop.cpm

Before I get ahead of myself. Let’s start with the main components of Operation: Christmas Eve.

The Naughty and Nice list

Sorry, Orwell. For the purposes of controlling small children and otherwise encouraging good behaviour only for personal gain  incentivizing good behaviour we’ve decided that big brother watching you is OK. When we’re out in public this is done through CCTV – very omnipresent in Hong Kong. Just to make sure there is no funny business, a panel of adults close to said child -  aunts, uncles, grown-up friends of mummy and daddy’s, teachers, doctors and the shopping mall Santa’s are asked for a review. The Elves ask us to do a survey, like the census people. This is what much of the 11 other months of the year are spent on, with a review close to Christmas time. Diabolical. This is all of course conducted on email (still a novel concept to my two). Email is ‘other’ and boring and probably best left to adults who know how to be boring and ‘other’ best. Elf on the Shelf was a little too much of a stretch, conceptually for me, and it transpired that it’s something I couldn’t explain without a hint of sarcasm. So now we have the incentive piece locked down – to the reward.

The History of Santa Tax

Before I explain this bit, it helps to imagine every government, toy shop, children’s brand licensee, and toy multinational as this guy. This will probably require a lot of imagination:

Movie:  Home Alone, 2: Lost in New York. Photo credit: Google.

Movie: Home Alone, 2: Lost in New York. Photo credit: Google.

Where do the toys come from?

You see back in the old days when mummy was young, The Elves made the toys for all the children in the world.

buddy-elf-movie

Movie: Buddy the Elf. Photo credit: Google.

But with billions more people around the world today than 1 BM (Before Mummy), the elves were being overworked and the poor reindeer were under a lot of strain, the sleigh was getting slower and slower and Santa had to start using fuel towards the end of the journey, giving him, for the very first time – a carbon footprint. Enough was enough. This was starting to feel like a job. Santa needed help – big time. He went to the United Nations and all the countries passed a unanimous resolution (see, told you magic played an important role) for all the governments in the world to set up a Toy tax to support him. Now, Elves love to make toys. Next to their excellent organizational skills, this is their most favourite thing to do. Toy tax meant that they could have better working conditions, and now all the toys that the elves make go to charities around the world to children that may have otherwise not gotten anything for Christmas (which Amazon ship free from their North Pole office, of course.)  For all the other children, like you, who are lucky enough to have mummy’s and daddy’s that pay tax, a portion of this goes towards the Santa tax, alongside the other things that we enjoy like utilities, education, health care, and transportation. A little bit of this money goes to all the toy shop’s to help them cover their costs – because they, of course live in our world where they still need to pay rent.

Photo credit: 123rf.com

Photo credit: 123rf.com

So on Christmas eve, what Santa does is, he travels to the pick up point which is usually the biggest toy shop in the country and loads up all the presents and delivers them to all the children in that country. Because this is just one country’s worth, he and the reindeer do this in no time! Much faster than before when he had to lug a sack of the whole world’s toys to each and every country. He then goes to the next country and does the same thing, over and over again until all the countries in the world have houses with presents for the children. He of course, decides on the final naughty or nice list and chooses the present he thinks you should get beforehand. The rest is magic.

So this breaks tradition and it’s by no means a perfect explanation. Some would argue this is far too thought out and would all have been better left to be imagined on it’s own. Perhaps. For us though, it’s been a fun story to spin, and my kids listen to every word. It makes me feel like Danny’s dad in Danny the Champion of the World. And I know we’ll be laughing about it one day – always sooner than I think.

This also helped me answer some of the more obvious plot holes:

- Why you see the same present under your tree as at the toy shop?
That’s where they toys are from.

- Why do some kids not get presents? Their parent’s probably don’t pay Santa tax for their own reasons. These kids probably get presents at other times of the year. Or you know, coal.

And trickier ones I would have dug deeper with my famous shovel if I hadn’t thought of the response in advance:

- Billy Snotface III at school said that Santa isn’t real and that his mummy and daddy buy all his presents. Well, this one is obvious isn’t it? Sharon Boogerbreath and Harvey Toejam probably do buy all of Billy’s presents. Everyone knows that all the people in the house needs to believe in Santa for his magic key to work. If even one person doesn’t believe in him, then it would be wrong for him to enter a house where he wouldn’t be expected or welcome wouldn’t it?

- What about all the other Santa’s that we see in shopping malls and parties? They work with Santa on the ground – and they need to answer the survey about you too. Besides, don’t you like dressing up as your favourite super hero?

In our house, Santa only gets one present (we need some credit, right?) He doesn’t always get the kids what they want -  for practical reasons usually – (‘Santa, I want a magnetic telescope.’ You what?). He sometimes goes bigger, sometimes smaller. It usually ends up being just right.

And my final disclaimer, this is all just background, white noise, a story that comes out when a question is asked. Everything my kids still value about Santa are the magic bits. The flying reindeer, the cookies half eaten, the presents( ‘how did he know!), the deep Ho Ho Ho’s,  – in short the magic. Deceptive as it is, giving them some semblance of real world context to Santa folklore I hope helps it stay magic for just that bit longer.

Like the letter I quoted at the beginning said, ‘Santa is love and magic and hope and happiness. I’m on his team, and now you are, too.’

5 more days to go, Team Santa.

N

Mothers Day, 2013.

This photo came to mind tonight as mothers day comes to a close.We were walking around the lake and weren’t the only ones to notice this particular swan and her cygnet. There’s usually a weekend crowd that congregates with bread around the Fairview Park lake which surprisingly, estate management tend to turn a blind eye to. This particular weekend, there was also a huge net that was hoisted in the middle along the width of the lake for maintenance and quite a bit of rubbish was caught in it. The mother swan watched closely as the cygnet interacted with the bits and bobs in the water. Whenever she came across something potentially harmful like a cellophane bread bag or a leaf she would drag it out of the way, but only after the cygnet had a curious peck at it. She batted the more daring Koi out of the way, and snapped at any unsuspecting terrapins that came in for their share of the loot. She, or to be fair, it could have been a he – did this repeatedly as the the cygnet went for the same floating debris; fighting water, other animals and the gaggle of humans that kept attracting its young with more strips of bread. She watched, waited and asserted herself when she needed to and did it all from the backseat (so to speak.) Thanks for the lesson, mama swan.

To you, and to mama’s everywhere.

20130513-005427.jpg

The Autumn Ed. – Being Thankful

I am trying to de ja vous the post I did yesterday back. My fault for relying on auto-save, so here we go – Round 2:

I’m going to go right into it – the past couple of months have been all kinds of kaka. Tumultuous, heartbreaking, intense — very Mayan 2012. So what I’d really like to do is send out a proverbial thank you to the Universe, to my friends and family who have made their love felt, the books that I was able to fall into, cakes I got to make, long walks with the doggy, rare bouts of affection from the cat and the little pockets of peace I’ve reveled in. Quite fitting that our friends in the US will be celebrating Thanksgiving just around the corner – I think the world could use a collective burst of good juju.

So maybe it’s a good thing this post didn’t publish, because on my way home last night I had another mini epiphany riding the bus home. (At this rate, I should never get off.) Who doesn’t remember praying as a child with all the earnestness you can muster for a something that was desperately important..to the point your adult self can’t think of a single good example of what it could be. And at the end of said prayer, a cursory ‘please look after x y and z’ for flourish and karma points. What recent events have helped me realize is that this has more or less flipped. I’m OK. My needs are not front and centre nor pressing (enough). If I feel helpless it hasn’t been for want to help myself. I have enough to be OK. OK is good enough. I am thankful that I can take care of myself and my little pack – and if not, I’ve got the right people around me to help me figure out how to. I wanted to say this, because feeling blessed is about as close to feeling invincible I’m ever going to get, and it’s not a bad way to finish the week (or year) at all. One last thing, I want to share what a friend posted on Facebook recently (Louise, I hope you don’t mind me posting it on here) :

“On my way home today I thought “Life just keeps getting better and better”. Then I realized, that life hasn’t changed at all. I am getting better and better at looking at life….”

In conclusion, everyone should get on a bus, or a train, or a something – now.

The Gallagher Tree 2011

I’m a sucker for the warm and gooey things in life, so naturally this is one of my favourite times of year. Steaming mugs of tea, holiday baking, laughter, thankfulness, magic, jackets to fold into, friends and family – just a whole lot of love. Team Gallagher is spoiled rotten throughout the year and my kids get the best of all celebrations ; Chinese New Year, Pancake day, Halloween, TWO Eids, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. I think this article by Nury Vittachi put it best:

I hate people who corrupt Christmas, my favorite holiday. And I am NOT showing religious bias here. My father was a Muslim and my mother a Buddhist, but when it came to December, we all became fervent Christians, even our Imam. You may say that this shows a lack of respect to the beliefs of our forebears, to which I would reply: get real. You give folk a choice between going to work as normal, or staying home and wallowing in an orgy of affection, food and gifts under a tree and suddenly we are all into tolerance and understanding, even the atheists.

…most major cultural groups generate brilliant things which they share with everyone. Muslims created algebra, China’s Han Dynasty invented paper, my Uncle Ernie perfected the Nose Kazoo, and Christians created Christmas, which is gradually becoming everyone’s holiday.

Now, I don’t like getting tangled up in other people’s perceptions or politics so just putting it out there that The world can shove their bah humbugs because as far as I’m concerned – we made it, and we have everything to be thankful for and to look forward to.

Just to annoy you, here’s my Christmas playlist that I set up last year on YouTube:

And this is the last Christmassy thing for this post – I swear. Read this gorgeous letter from mother to daughter about the existence of Santa. The time will come when I’m at one end of that conversation and I want to remember this.

So where am I now? Firstly, SUPER excited because my sister is coming up from Melbourne for a month and I have most of that time off. Plus I’ll be doing a lot more ‘handsy’ things, complementing them with a bunch of tutorials. Here’s the first few:

How to make : Pinwheels

How to make : Personalized Bunting

How to make : A Skateboard Cake

And what’s next?

Wrapping up this post pronto as my lunch break is finishing fast! We’ve got Kian’s 5th birthday comicbook/ super-hero party to plan so completely nerding out and loving it. I’m reclaiming breakfast – stay tuned for my adventures baking our own bagels, muffins and brioches. If you like the tutorials, please comment and let me know if you want to see more. Til next time..Happy holidays, folks!

Social Media : A Piece of Cake

Project: Do Stuff is ticking along nicely and I have reveled in the energy that comes from doing things that fall outside of the day-to-day. It’s also been nice to see how these external projects have actually enhanced my day-to day (Google might be onto something with their 20% rule). So how did two of my favourite things – Social Media, and Cake find themselves as bedfellows? Read on..

So there I was, a month to go before  Adara’s 3rd birthday party, furiously researching cakes and decorating tips that would meet her highness’s discerning standards (in other words purple and pretty) when I came across a whole new world of cake-design on social media. Apart from the fantastic YouTube tutorials and a bazillion links on Pinterest, a productive chunk of Zuckerberg’s 1 billion are obsessively passionate about all things pretty and cake. I was struck with how active these cake pages were, daily posts – daily responses, helpful, passionate and fun.

Their efforts are solid – a mixed bag showcasing stunning creations, sharing tips, tricks, tutorials, theming days,  encouraging opinion, dialogue and conversation. Royal Bakery, Planet Cake, Victorious Cupcakes and Peggy Does Cake have become fast favourites. In terms of numbers, they’re  all in the double-digit thousands which I find impressive given these are home-grown pages, and almost certainly an organically-grown audience. From a social media practitioners POV, it was nice to get up close and personal with an interest group –  observe and be a part of a new kind of conversation.

I was at a SM conference a couple of years ago and it was stressed even then, that the best social media case studies don’t always stem from the wizardry of a 4A’s digital agency. Sometimes you only have to look as far as your local corner shop, at the individuals and businesses with a real understanding of their customers and what it takes to foster brand advocacy. One post in particular, from Royal Bakery stood out for me and I wanted to share from it some terrific home truths and (perhaps inadvertently) some tips to engage users on Social Media. I also love that Royal Bakery has a Monday Moan:

1. “Grow pages by giving visitors a reason to be there, a reason to come back and tell their friends”                                                                                                                   Once a user lands on your page, they should be able to understand at first glance – who you are, what you are doing on Facebook and how you engage with your fans.

2. “..By when she found me, I’d already started writing tutorials and making YouTube videos”                                                                             In other words… content, content, content! Always have a content strategy in place. Whether you’re a media giant or a car repair shop – there’s always something to say, or a story to what you do. Sample your content, ideas, and champion your cause! Try a few things out – unless your post is offensive or spam-my your page will hardly suffer any unlikes for it. Would a behind the scenes look  resonate with your audience? Why not? We know that hard-sell doesn’t work on Social Media, and we know the cost of acquisition (getting a user to like a page) is higher than the cost of retention (keeping them there) so you’re already best placed to find out what works and what doesn’t – they’re already THERE.

3.”The way to grow a page, like any business, is by hard work, finding a niche and trying to be original.” This is a great one -  there are absolutely no shortcuts, the quicker you accept that, the quicker you can get going!

4. “Give a little bit extra” If you can, if it doesn’t take a lot of effort, and is related to your product or content, why not?

5.” Lots of likes does not equal lots of customers” And the number of people ‘talking about this’ also isn’t an accurate message of how engaged your users are either.

6. “I have my Free-for-all Friday so everyone can show off their work once a week”    Welcome user generated content, feature it, celebrate it –  this is content for you, and a way to foster loyalty with your audience.  Everyone wins.

7. “If I like a page and want to see its posts on my newsfeed — then I’ll like the page” …and there we have it, a truth that hasn’t changed from day one. We’re at the tail end of 2012, and I’ve seen some conversations floating around on LinkedIn on the value of a ‘like’ in 2012. What’s a like worth? What it’s always been worth. There is a small window from the minute a like button is clicked and the first few of your posts appearing on a user’s newsfeed. Whether you stay visible on that newsfeed relies on you. I’m afraid you can’t really have any ‘off’ days.  Does your brand consistently offer value to your audience and initiate meaningful conversation?

So thank you, Royal Bakery for this delicious post and of course, for the fabulous and inspiring cake updates. Birthday party season (Oct – Dec)  is also my annual excuse to load up on baking love like piping nozzles (‘HONEY, There is ONLY one grass tip. How pedestrian do you want this cake to look?’)  Arcane gel colours I won’t ever use, specialty cake pans and more fiddly bits and pieces.  And if you’re wondering.. here’s the cake I made on Sunday for Adara’s 3rd Birthday Princesses and Knights party. It passed the 3 year old approval process with flying colours (she wanted to dip a finger into it as soon as she saw it) although she was a bit fixated on cutting the doll’s hair off. Last year of toddlerhood..here we go! More on the party on my next post.

 

Project : Do Stuff

A couple of months ago, a colleague posted the following article which really struck a chord with me. The idea is simple — we live a connected world where we consume constantly through our many screens – so go forth and create! Even better, create more than you consume. And just as I was about to post this I saw this Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 ad – it’s a sign!

Another nice inspiration-byte from the interwebs was this quote In the age of information, ignorance is a choice’ – Solid. I think we owe it to our brains to let information synthesize and take shape in some form. You can see how my schizophrenic interest areas might have sparked – encouraged further by Pinterest and the talented folk around me which may explain why I am suddenly under the impression that I can..wait for it.. sew. My last sewing project was a ¾ completed sock monkey and a butterfly cross stitch, or more accurately, a sliver of a butterfly’s wing cross stitch. I haven’t lost hope that I would one day finish them, it’s just I didn’t have any real reason to start them. I need to finish THIS sewing project by Adara’s 3rdbirthday party in October so I have a deadline to keep me in check.

Box of broken dreams – will I ever finish you?

New birthday project! Can you guess what it’s (hopefully) going to be?

With birthday season coming up and my promise to write, write, read, and the literary festival on the horizon I’ve got plenty to keep me busy – considering I spend 12 hours a day at work and commuting, I’m looking forward to seeing how it all pans out. This week I’m:

  • Updating my blog (tick)
  • Creating pinwheels (birthday related and sorta cool – I’ll be blogging about this soon, don’t want to spoil the surprise)

    I made a pinwheel! Studio feel care of a TV monitor I shot this against

  • Compiling poems to submit to various anthologies (fingers and toes crossed for me, please!)
  • Fondant foolery (birthday, again. I bought some fondant sculpting tools so in a show of good faith to my husband, who to his credit has not once rolled his eyes at any of this I will use them within the week)
  • Finally organizing all the baby stuff we don’t need into boxes to pass on to people that have use for them (tick! Did it last night)

I’m just putting it to the universe so I’ll be forced to post photos of the above when I’m done with them.

So why the project avalanche? Have I been hit by a productivity stick? Not quite.. It’s more of less a coping mechanism. 2012 has been a year of extremes – both good and bad. We don’t have any immediate travel plans (or are likely to for awhile), life keeps on churning around us and I need to keep a sense of newness abound, feel refreshed – sans the tan. The last few months have been more of an opportunity than anything else to focus on the ‘other’ stuff in life. The stuff that other people do that I’ve admired.. while only being a quick google search away from learning how to do it myself. Yes, I’ve put a bit of a PR spin on a ‘down’ year. But, why not? I’ve always learned on the go. I started my career on the go, and I’ve picked things up as I went along. Why stop now, or ever?

As I learn about the ‘other’ things in life – there is still the every day stuff that my kids are yet to learn. I’ve been meaning to write about the financial literacy semi-project we’ve started with Kian. A few months ago I began to notice that my kids were expecting a treat every time I came home from work. I have a children’s entertainment-affiliated job so my kids are fortunate enough to get freebies every once in awhile, and when this turned into an everyday expectation, I decided to introduce an economy in Kian’s life which Adara will follow into when she turns four. I wanted to ensure that whatever we introduced answered two key objectives:

  1. Help them understand the ‘real’ value of money
  2. Help them understand financial autonomy and opportunity cost

For the first point we needed to formalize the process. So along came a contract:

Kian’s first contract

It’s not exactly iron-clad, but we discussed and agreed to the terms together. I’ve received comments on the amount of money we’ve agreed for a weekly allowance and I do agree it’s on the higher side (4 years old x HK$10 for each birthday) but maintain that if we low-balled him, it would negate the first point and he’d get jaded and unmotivated because his money wasn’t really buying him anything (Yes, I wish all bosses in the world appreciated this!! ;))

What’s interesting is how he’s been using the money. The first few weeks he understandably reveled in the new found financial ‘freedom’ and bought – what else – cars and diggers. However, we’ve seen a shift in the past couple of months as he’s been saving up for a Transformers toy. He would have it too if it weren’t for what helps us drive home point two – consequence. We have set aside a jar to which he makes HK$5 contributions every time he decides to be a little mean to one of the animals. The money then goes on to benefit an animal charity. He’s pretty good with the animals, but he does tease more harshly than necessary sometimes and as this could end in tears (for everyone) we’re attempting to curtail this behaviour and for the most part it works. So far, Hong Kong Dog Rescue will be getting HK$10, and in this case, I really hope we won’t be donating too much from this fund.

Kian lost most of his money this weekend when he decided to go to the kitchen and try his hand at cooking (alone). Thankfully, he didn’t turn the induction cooker on because he’d emptied a gallon of oil into a frying pan (with a few other sauces, eggs and more ick) which seeped EVERYWHERE – long story short – our toaster is kaput. Since he kept brushing off what he’d done, and got over it much quicker than I did (ha), we explained that the new toaster will be coming out of his money. To his credit, (and I know I am biased) I could not be more proud that he thought about it, said it was fine, and that he’s been waiting a long time for his Transformer so he can wait a long time again.

And as we’re talking about financial planning (of sorts), for anyone who has been looking into getting a Will notarized – Oldham, Li & Nie, a Hong Kong lawfirm have a Free Will program which benefits Child Welfare Scheme - a very worthy charity. From the website:

“Hong Kong based law firm Oldham, Li & Nie (OLN) has generously pledged to prepare and witness the signing of a professionally prepared simple Will for any donor who contributes HK$1,000 to CWS. Support us by making a donation and receive a FreeWill in return! Click here to read more on the OLN website.”

So that’s one more thing to add to my to-do list that is already broken down into subcategories. Ah well, slowly but surely stuff is getting done. So to all the things in this big ‘life’ project that I can’t control – the other’s take you! I’ll just keep doing my thing(s) old and new.

My kids birthday party planning template – for real. I am aware that this is what crazy looks like.

Before

After

#TagPotpourri On Beaches, Art, Connectivity and Innovation

We’re back in the swing of things with back to school, something that my colleagues could have attested to at the beginning of this week to those that watched me scream obscenities – albeit telepathically – at the fax machine.

We ended summer with a final happy day at the beach. Adara, on several occasions attempted to walk into the ocean. I tried to get her to help me collect shells but she was more interested in standing at the shoreline and taking it all in. I can’t say I blame her. Kian, dug a hole, mostly – not wholly unexpected behaviour for your average four year old. As we’re technically in China, I was looking forward to see where the hole would lead to before remembering that we were on a man-made beach and the prospect of more concrete wasn’t very exciting at all – to either of us.

Image

We’ll definitely be going back soon, for more shells and sand and walks across water and holes to the other side of the World. I did end up with a few choice shells and as I was checking them to make sure there weren’t any sea squishes I was about to accidentally re-home it struck me that mother nature’s been recycling well before we ever identified a need to. Nature innovates. (More on that later)

Also from that weekend (this post is ten days over-due) I was surprised with the below drawings in my inbox from my friend Keon Lee.  I had a vague desire to get the Gallagher family cartoon-i-fied which I casually  mentioned on Facebook only to be surprised with these caricatures of Me, Angus, Kian and Adara. Which do you think captures us best?

The Gallaghers - Simpsons Style

The Gallaghers – Simpsons Style By Keon Lee

The Gallaghers - Muppet Style

The Gallaghers – Muppet Style By Keon Lee

I should start using Facebook like a magic lamp more often.

The only thing better than having awesome friends is having multi-talented awesome friends like the same Mr. Keon Lee who is also in My Big Gay Italian Wedding From 25-29 September @ The Fringe Club. Angus and I will be going – Tickets sold at HK Ticketing.

I’ve decided to give the WordPress iPhone app a go in an attempt to get this blog post out before the weekend.  Despite being exhausted, the bus hasn’t lulled me into my usual comatose state. The pollution has thinned thankfully after Tuesday’s midnight thundering (responsible in part for the fun hump-day exhaustion) and it hangs over Tsing Ma bridge  for the first time this week more like gauze than a shroud. Having grown up in Hong Kong, I am no stranger to poor air quality but I’m finding that the worse it gets the more it affects my mood (and blackened lungs). I’m thankful that my problems are of tater-tot proportions within the small potato category — or dare I say it, #FirstWorldProblems and it’s pretty easy to forget that we all share a part in the bigger, spuddy issues of modern living . Hasn’t pollution always been a negative externality on the road to development? My thoughts are clearly swaying with the bus, and the following quote I stumbled on recently comes to mind.

Tsing Ma Bridge on one of her better days

“We do not inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”

I was at a fascinating talk a couple of months ago by Vijay Vaitheeswaran, Global correspondent to The Economist and author of Need, Speed and Greed –How the New Rules of Innovation Can Transform Businesses, Propel Nations to Greatness and Tame the World’s Most Wicked Problems.

This interview goes into some aspects of his talk: Innovation in the age of Globalization and Googlization.To paraphrase poorly, Vijay defines innovation as an action that addresses a need that goes on to create good, he gave some great examples from the Industrial Revolution to Kiva.  He argues that in the wake of a population crisis, a failing global economy and climate change that the conditions are primed for the next big revolution, or at least to create innovation ‘clusters’ (think Silicon Valley). Of the many interesting points he made during his talk, I liked what he had to say about mobile and how mobile technology enables disruptive innovations from the bottom up. To quote the article; ‘a school child in Africa with a cell phone has more information at her fingertips than an American President did in 1970.’

After the talk and the Q&A I asked him how would he condense his talk (aimed at a room full of entrepreneurs which I was crashing) so my four year old would understand it. This was his advice:

  • Look for information and ask questions
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

Sound advice. I’m getting his book.

I’ve always been a big believer that when it comes to connectivity on the web, that the platform doesn’t matter. Platforms are the product of innovation in their own way. Innovation in the digital age has a lot to do with higher levels of connectivity and fresh ground to collaborate on. So platforms that respond to  user behaviour are the ones that tend to make an impact. In my late teens DeviantART answered the needs I had to create, consume and share poetry which eventually gave me the confidence to set up Poetry on Peel Street at Joyce is Not Here Artist Bar and Cafe  And how without Joyce is Not Here I would not have met my husband or know many of the incredible people we do.

Perhaps DeviantART or Joyce is Not Here isn’t everyone’s definition of ‘innovation’ but I think it’s made of the same stock as the big social hubs. They both addressed a need and with time transformed into their versions of an innovation cluster.

Much like the day those caricatures dropped in my inbox,  a few years ago I logged onto DeviantArt and was surprised  by this painting of a 17 year old me with words of a poem I wrote aged 17 by the artist Sam Raffa. This remains one of the best presents I’ve ever received by someone whose path I would have never crossed otherwise. I’ll say it again – it’s not about the platform. Places, real or virtual come and go, but their value lies in the connections they enable. So far, that’s whats changed my world, and forgive the pun – but it’s been a pretty great ride.

Back to School : The Write Stuff

Summer is winding down, and I’ve been going through the back-to-school motions this weekend. Labels, packed lunch ideas, haircuts and internal monologues on how much finger-wiggle room there should be at the back of school shoes. So, with thanks and goodbye – here’s a pick’n’mix of our summer:

One thing that has stood out for me this summer is how Kian’s reading has started to gain momentum and it’s been pretty cool watching this transformation. I’ve watched his confidence grow with each word-shape memorized, and how his eyes flick to the picture for context less and less as he becomes more adept.  We were passing through the playground yesterday and Kian pointed out to me, his tone colouring with authority :

Kian:‘That girl’s t-shirt says she’s ‘mummy’s happy butterfly.’

Me: ‘Yes, it does, well done!’

Kian: ‘Well, she’s not.’

Didn’t really occur to me to ask why not.

Angus and I also cracked up after we spotted this note Kian left for us tonight after we told him off for various misdemeanors. :

‘Bee Nis Two Kian’

This learning to read lark is especially significant for me because reading and writing have always intertwined in my life. I started doing the one as soon as I learned the other. I’m actually working on a series of three poems (triage sounds pretentious – even to me :))  on reading, writing and arithmetic which  fits nicely with the back-to-school feel of this post. The poems need some serious refining but admittedly, earlier versions have been read at Joyce’s Peel Street Poetry. (Every Wednesday from 8 onward / 49 Peel Street. COME!)  I find a voice can carry a poem a lot better than words on paper –  and you can generally disguise any flaws with intonation.

The purist in me wants to cry ‘wolf’ at this but half-finished, half-arsed writing is sometimes the compromise I have to make in order to keep the rhythm going. Failure to comply  results in a cyclical tirade of poems about poems, writing, or the lack thereof – and I really don’t want to go there again. The editing stage has now become the meat and potatoes of the writing process which has been good for me. Time constraints demand I have to be really clear about what I want to say in each poem. I can no longer entertain writer’s block. I  keep trying – consistently – a couple of times a week, and the best part is; even if nothing comes out of it I feel like my subconscious gets a little exercise and it never feels like a waste of time.

Back to Kian and his reading – here’s a part of that poem:

My four year old’s homework comes in dot-dot-dot’s, trace the letter,
Strokes one, two, three – ALWAYS, one, two, three.
Use a ruler to join the sound and the picture.
Colour her dress red. No, not blue – Red!
There are lines that he must stay in, NOT straddle,
His letters must sit,
And if his pencil is not sharp enough we get notes sent home.

See that, I still get notes sent home.

At bedtime he takes the book from me,
And we’re back there again – the  World about to get bigger,
The hover before a first step,

He reads the shape, his lips rhythmic, lashes flick
from print to glossy Oxford Reader pictures for a hint,
He finds cliffhangers in the sound of a suffix,
his voice mounting to hysteria, look at me, mummy!
Our grins playing Marco Polo,

My boy has already found a way outside the lines,
Eyes glistening with first dew of a new outside.

The first paragraph makes a reference to Kian and our experience of kindergarten homework in Hong Kong. It was also in part inspired by my friend Tanya Hart’s excellent Quintile Class Book Project. I think this series is brilliantly executed, candid, and for anyone from this region: this will strike a chord.  Please do check it out.

Have a great rest-of-weekend, folks.