Category Archives: Culture

Happy Bayram or Eid

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It is a special time of the year for some people of our world.

It is the end of Ramadan ( رمضان), the islamic month of fasting.

In Turkey the holiday period at the end of Ramadan is known as Bayram in the Middle East as Eid.

So to all my friends, have a great holiday, if you are with your family, make those ties stronger, if you are with friends, make those friendships stronger, if you are by yourself, rejoice that you are in the family of the human race, whatever their beliefs.

Many times in the past years, I have been in Islamic countries giving training, and although I was caught up in the celebrations, I really did not experience any joy or sense of occasion.

Then, I also noticed that in recent years, when in the same islamic countries, the participants on my courses experienced the same as I did for my main holiday of the year, Christmas. They did not understand what I was experiencing in December.

The italians have another holiday that I did not understand, that is the whole of August, they have the whole of August off. It was not until I spent a few weeks in Bologna in August this year that I understood, it was too hot with temperatures in the mid 30’s day and night.

I have experienced Bayram or Eid, and understand what I am missing by not being with you, and I wish you all happiness.

That is the beauty of the work I do, traveling to so many countries in our small world, experiencing so many cultures and beliefs and encompassing them into my life with understanding.

If only the whole world could do the same. 

Conkers, a British Sport

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It is now September in the UK, and it is time for the game conkers, a game that has been played for generations.

A conker is the seed of the horse chestnut tree, and it is in September that they become ripe and the seeds are ready to be picked.

A Conker Tree or Horse Chestnut Tree

As a young boy I remember being taken as a treat by my father into the nearby countryside, into the fields which were surrounded by hedgerows and large horse chestnut trees, and we would collect loads of conkers which had fallen from high above, assisting those yet to fall by heaving a branch into the tree.

Conkers on the tree, note the shell split on the right hand seed.

The aim was to select the best conkers, which will become “one-ers“, “two-ers” and so on in the game of conkers at school.

Once home the best conkers were found, that would not be defeated in the game. The shell would be strong so that it would not split when hit, and would be large enough to give a good hit.


A hole would be drilled through the conker, so at a piece of string could be placed through it and would dangle at the end.

We would try as many tricks as we could to harden the nut. Perhaps soaking it in vinegar overnight and then leaving it to dry for days, or to bake it in the oven. We had many ideas and methods.

We were ready for battle.

There will be two players, each with a conker on a string.

One player will dangle their conker down on the string, and the opponent will wrap their conker string around their hand and hit their conker against the other’s conker as hard as possible, the aim being to destroy the opponents conker.


Each opponent will take turns hitting the other’s conker.

There are rules to the game.

If the opponent who is doing the hitting, misses the dangling conker, then the one who is dangling their conker has two hits awarded against the other.

If the one who is dangling the conker drops it,  and the hitter shouts “stamps“, they can stamp on the conker thus destroying it, but if the dangler shouts “no stamps“, the conker is saved.

If the strings become entangled, the first to shout “strings“, gets an extra go.

The game ends when a conker is knocked off the sting, and the winner is awarded a point. Thus two new conkers having no points, the winner will become a “one-er“.

In the next battle or game, and the winner of the first battle (a one-er) is defeated, then the winner of the new battle will earn the points of the defeated conker, in other words, the losers “one-er” points plus the point for winning the battle, becoming a “two-er“. If the defeated conker had an accumulated title of a “ten-er“, then the winner would become an “eleven-er“.

A great British game which is now banned in many schools as the poor child could hurt themselves. Yes I sometimes had my knuckles hit by the opponents conker, and yes it did hurt, but there was no lasting effect, and I never heard of broken bones, blood being drawn from fellow school friends.

Yes we have strange customs.

Ferragosto, A National Holiday in Italy

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Today, August 15th, as in every year in Italy is a holiday or festival, called Ferragosto. It is the day when Roman Catholics believe the Virgin Mary is supposed to have ascended to heaven

Ferragosto or Assumption Day, is a national holiday, and most businesses are closed including shops and restaurants.

It is said that major cities like Milan and Rome empty, as people leave for the beaches and mountains. Here in Bologna, the locals head for the hills and mountains, to meet with friends, to talk have fun and have barbecues.

I was informed that in pre Christ days the Romans’ honored the gods on this day, August 15, with a celebration they called Feriae Augusti. So like many Christian holidays, traditional holidays have been incorporated into religious beliefs and holidays.

It is not the only day it seems Italians stay away from work in August, as the whole country seems to close down for the month of August.

I will have a wonder around the city after the mid day heat and see if there any celebrations I can witness, Else I will stay indoors catching-up on sleep.

Villa Angsana Condominium swimming pool

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Here in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, it is a tough time as there are two gravely ill relatives, husband and wife, who cannot look after their basic needs, and as a result I find myself stuck in an apartment on the 26th floor in the Villa Angsana Condominiums, with no head for heights, offering what little help, encouragement and support I can. Today the husband will be taken to hospital for a CT scan, leaving me to be with the sister-in-law.

There is on the complex a swimming pool, in well maintained gardens, used by many of the residents in the complex of this multi cultural and religious country.

Villa Angsana, Kuala Lumpur, swimming pool  Villa Angsana, Kuala Lumpur, swimming pool
 Villa Angsana, Kuala Lumpur, swimming pool from 26th floor walkway and poolside.

Yesterday, two of the many nephews and nieces, and whose parents own apartments in the complex, well the father’s company constructed the condominiums, came across to visit and to take a swim in the pool.

Now me, uncle Phillip is always game for a laugh, and is roped-in to join them for the swim. I have no objection as I enjoy being in water, and it is a chance to cool down in the tropical heat and humidity.

I put on my red swimming shorts and a white short sleeved shirt, the nephew and niece each wearing a short sleeved swimming top and tight figure hugging swimming shorts.

We get down to the pool, and I am just about ready to dive into the pool, which already had a few teenager boys in their tight fitting swimming shorts and briefs, when a guard approached us and indicated that I could not go in the pool as I was wearing shorts.

But these are swimming shorts by Speedo, they are not baggy, or too tight, showing none of my manhood, in fact being very conservative, unlike the bulge enhancing swimming costumes usually seen on the beach or swimming pools, and as the ones being worn by the teenagers.

I then understood that it was not acceptable that I did not have any covering on my upper body, a tee shirt.

But hang on, what about the teenagers in the pool already, how about the man sitting in again tight fitting shorts at the side of the pool? They all have bare chests.

I can not understand that the day before I was swimming in the same way without comments, and now?

OK, I do not want to cause offence, cause distress, go against any religious beliefs, after all Malaysia is not my country, and I must respect others beliefs and culture. It is a shame that visitors and new residents to the UK do not respect the British way of life, culture, and demand to impose their beliefs and religion on the British.

So if my bare chest is a problem, I am happy to cover up, so I put my shirt on, and jump into the pool.

Now another guard turns up, senior to the first, as he is wearing a white shirt as against a blue one worn by the first guard, and also he has more badges. He is not happy that I am swimming in my white shirt. Me? I am happy as I will not get sunburnt like I did the previous week in Rimini, Italy.

So I take my shirt off, and nothing more is said, except the phones are hot to the relatives in the apartment on the 26th floor, that uncle is in the pool swimming in his shirt.

I am confused. Keeping calm, I try to work-out the logic, the reasoning behind what is happening. I can understand the need to keep standards, keep moral code especially in a family based complex, but a swimming pool is a swimming pool, what do people expect swimmers to wear?

Perhaps it is my missing six pack which has long since become a barrel, or my white skin which is really red from the sunburn, and or my white head of hair and beard contrasting against the blue tiles of the pool. Or perhaps it is that the residents management committee is holding their AGM near the pool, and the guard must be seen to be doing his job, upholding the rules.

Such is life.

Great Turkish food

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So not to show bias to one country against another with regards to food, I had better put the record straight, I will eat anything as long as I like it, and as long as it is not fish, peppers and apple pie, apart from those I will normally eat what is put in front of me and enjoy it.

Whilst here in Gaziantep in Southern Turkey, giving an NLP Practitioner course, a Coaching course and a talk to the Gaziantep Chamber of Industry, my host Mehpare of GAP Consultancy, has taken me to many restaurants, to savour local dishes.

Today I was taken to Semazen Et Lokantasi, (Gazimuhtarpasa Bulvari No: 69). This restaurant serves Konya cuisine, in a clean, light and airy atmosphere.

Semazen et Lokantasi, Gaziantep
Semazen et Lokantasi, Gaziantep

The lamb meat served is so tasty and moist, it melts in the mouth, and falls apart on the fork. The cooking is done in giant ovens faced with traditional Turkish tiles. The traditional Konya pizza type dish, known as pide, with a topping of knife chopped lamb, is placed on a long spatula to be inserted into the oven, as seen in the photograph below.

The giant oven in the Semazen restaurant
The giant oven in the Semazen restaurant

The dish is then served on a long wooden board covered in paper, to the table as the photograph below, along with a salad and a yogurt drink called Ayran. Italian pizza has never been served to me like this.

Pide or Konya pizza
Pide or Konya pizza.

The second course was the succulent lamb cooked in the ovens above, served on bread, a helping og of rice, some very hot chillies and raw union, again with salad.

Kuzu Tandir or a Konya Lamb Burger
Kuzu Tandir for me Konya Lamb Burger

Kabak Tatlisi or a Pumpkin dessert
Kabak Tatlisi or a Pumpkin dessert

The dessert was pumpkin boiled in sugar and water, so it had become soft in texture and to eat, and served with a sprinkling of walnuts, all swimming in the sugary sauce, plus sesame sauce called Tahin.

Karanfil or cloves to freshen the mouth
Karanfil or cloves to freshen the mouth

The meal could have gone on and on I am sure, but I was too full and satisfied, even to have a Turkish tea or coffee. It was impossible to eat all the food, in fact, I had a large “doggy bag” to take back with me.

To finish, a plate was presented with the inevitable wet towel, a much needed toothpick, and dried cloves, in Turkish the name is Karanfil.

The dried cloves confused me somewhat. What should I do? I had only seen them placed on food as it was cooking.

Mephare took one and place it in her mouth, and said it is traditional in Turkey as it refreshes the mouth, like brushing the teeth. Apparently you should keep it in the mouth until it become soft enough to swallow, but the taste for me was too much, and it stayed in my mouth for a few seconds only.

Garibaldi, an Italian Hero

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Giuseppe Garibaldi was an Italian revolutionary, a hero, who changed the history of Italy, as Ataturk (read about Mustafa Kemal Ataturk) was to the Turkish nation and people.

Garibaldi is said to have united Italy as we know it today. to my surprise, the country as we know it today, the boot, was in fact a collection af states prior to 1860, the north east controlled by Austria, the north west by France, Spain had its’ power base, and in central Italy there was papal power.
It was in 1860 that Garibaldi started his quest, and went to Sicily and defeated the Neapolitan forces with just 800 volunteers, known as the i Mille or Redshirts.
From Sicily he took Naples, the papal states, and the Austrian controlled states, thus unifying Italy as we know it today.

Giuseppe Garibaldi, Italian revolutionary
Giuseppe Garibaldi

Another interesting fact that came to light whislt in Bologna, and why did not I know this before, that was prior to 1946, Italy was a Kingdom, having a monarch, which was expelled and exiled to France by referendum.
Oh what a small knowledge of our world have I.

Garibaldi Biscuits

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Garibaldi Biscuits in packet ASDA

Garibaldi Biscuits in packet sold by ASDA in the UK

Going back in my far and distant past, I remember one of the treats my mother would serve, it was a biscuit called Garibaldi. It was not a treat for me as I was not found of them, but to mother and I suspect other British people, they were from an exotic world, a far off country, a touch of something un-British.
The biscuit was a thin sandwich of biscuit with the dried chewy fruit of currents at the center. A current is similar to a dried red grape.
Garibaldi Biscuits

Garibaldi Biscuits

I would mention this memory to the participants of my courses in Italy, and they would look at me as if I was a visiting Martian, they had no idea of what I was talking about, no clue from the description or name of biscuit.
I was really confused.
Here was an Italian product, and the Italians had no knowledge of it. Was it my pronunciation of the word? Was it called something different in Italy?
Then, just before I was leaving for Bologna, I went into my local supermarket, and after years of not seeing the product, there was the biscuit on the shelves. I had to buy it.
During the NLP Master Practitioner course I reviewed Anchors, and brought out the packet of Garibaldi biscuits as an example of the memories it gave me. The participants looked at me with a blank face, they had never heard of the biscuit or seen them.
At the break, I offer each of them a sample, and their reaction was in the negative, they did not like the taste, texture, and most of the biscuits went untouched.
That evening as Elena and myself walked back to my hotel after a splendid pizza meal, in a small square or piazza bordering the main street running from the railway station to the Piazza Maggiore is a statue of a man on a horse, and in bold letter at its’ base or plinth, is “A GARIBILDI”
Garibaldi Statue in Bologna

Garibaldi Statue in Bologna

So I was not wrong. The name is Italian. Perhaps I had the wrong “cat on the mat“, the wrong understanding.
Who was this person, A GARIBALDI?

Interpretation gone wrong – Ambiguity

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Recently a member of Mee Len’s family was diagnosed as having cancer of the liver, which does not have a good prognosis.
The doctor suggested that it would be in his best interest to go to seek expert advice and treatment in Kuala Lumpa, Malaysia. This would mean a long car journey of perhaps five hours from Penang to KL (Kuala Lumpa), mostly by a motorway.
As this journey is long, soul draining, one of his sons who lives in KL drove up to collect his father and take him down to stay a couple of weeks whilst tests were done and treatment given. After some rest, they returned to their home here in BM (Bukit Mertajam), Penang. Again being driven back.
Since then a few weeks have past, and another appointment was made for a follow-up check-up in KL, meaning they would have to travel down that motorway again.
The conversation I heard was that they would “follow” their son, who was staying with them at the time, down to KL.
So, in my mind I saw the son driving his car, with the mother and father following behind, in their car
To follow” means from the internet site  “to travel behind, go after, come after“.
From the definition is “To go or come after; to move behind in the same path or direction”.
I was confused, thinking he would not be well enough to drive for five hours, but I was not privy to his health, so said nothing. Perhaps I should have cleared my confusion by verifying my understanding.
Yesterday, they return again to Bukit Mertajam, but caught a train from KL, a journey time of over seven hours.
I was even more confused. Why catch a train when their car is with them in KL? How are they going to get the car back?
When I queried this, I was given a very strange look. Was I stupid? The car is in Bukit Mertajam, not KL.
Then I found out, or informed, that the literal translation in the Chinese language to English of  “to follow“,  is “to go with“.
How often do problems arise, arguments ensue, through misunderstandings, misinterpreting, not really understanding what we have been told or what we have said, “putting our own cat on the mat”?
Oh Poo Poo. Wrong again.
The use of the word “follow” was ambiguous.

Happy New Year

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A Happy New Year, I hope 2009 will be the first of the best years of your life.

Some hours ago, as the we entered 2009 here in Malaysia, it was nothing different, many people had gone to bed, the change of the year paid little significance to the people around me.
It is the Chinese New Year that is the major time for celebration, this year at the end of January.
But to me the Chinese New Year has little significance.
It is the same with most of the festive celebrations around the world. In the UK, Europe, America, Christmas is the most important time of the year, a family time. People start saving for the next Christmas as soon as the old one has finished.
Yet, in the Middle East, Turkey, Christmas has no significance at all, it means nothing. Perhaps Eid, or Eid ul-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, is the most important time of the year.
As I sat here in Bukit MertajamMalaysia as the old year passed by and 2009 entered, I was updating my SlingCatcher software, so that I can continue watching UK TV from my home in  Norbiton Hall, Kingston upon Thames, England, everyone else had gone to bed. A few fire crackers were going off, but apart from that, I was alone and quiet.
I was then thinking, about friends in Bahrain and Turkey, just finishing work, for it was still only 6pm, 31st December 2008 there. In Italy it was only 5pm, I had only just finished talking to friends there about future engagements/courses. In the UK, they were probably just having their afternoon tea and biscuits at 4pm, yet on the East Coast of America, they were probably just waking up to start the last day of the 2008 year. A friend in Australia must be well asleep by then 3am
So what is time? Is it a construct that we humans have to use to understand where we stand in our existence. Time fits nicely into our lives, as the Earth rotates around the Sun every 24 hours which we have defined as a day, and there is a 365 cycle to this rotation which we have defined as a year.
But it is all relative to where we are standing on the Earth. 
What is the actual time? What is the actual day?
Have we got the figures right even then, because we have had to adjust our watches by one second on the 31st December 2008, to get them accurate again with actual time. Not only that, every four years we have to add on and extra day to get our timings right.
What about peoples idea of celebrating the New Year?
We in the Western/European world are now 2009, the Gregorian calendar starting January 1st, today.
Come the 25th January, the Chinese will celebrate Chinese New Year, which is 4707, the Year of the Ox. which is also known by its formal name of Yi Chou. 己丑.
In the Muslim world they follow the Hijri calendar, it is now 1430 AH. Their year approximately 28th December 28, 2008 (evening) to17th December 17, 2009 (evening).
It is all down to our culture, our beliefs, our up-bringing, which is so deep seated we will fight over who is right or wrong.
Everything is relative to how we see the world we live in.
Let us make the best we can our our world and the others, by respecting each others New Year.

Wedding Meal

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Weddings are a big celebration time in any country, a time of joy, a time of sadness.

It is a time for joy that two people have chosen to spend their lives together, to share with each other the ups and downs of life, to learn to give to the partner more than you get back, to communicate, to talk.

It is a time of sadness, when one relationship ends and another starts, in that the parents have to learn to let go, that their child has left the nest to find their own tree or place to start a home, to be making their own choices and decisions in life.

It is the same the world over, the only difference is the way the ceremony is conducted.

Mee Len was invited to the celebration meal of the wedding of her old school friend, Mee Siam Ho‘s daughter Su Ann and Teil Hong.

The hotel hall was packed tight with guests, not just one wedding diner, but two, with a small six foot wooden screen dividing the celebrations. The other group seemed to be celebrating with a Karaoke sign along, ours was a more “getting to know you” meal, with old friends and relatives getting together again.

Mee Len had left her schools, The Convent School in Bukit Mertajam  and the MBS (Methodist Boys School) in Penang, many years ago, and Mee Siam had invited many of the old girls to the wedding meal.

Unlike western or European wedding meals which are served on individual plates, the Chinese way is to serve the helpings on a central serving dish in the middle of the table, and those at the table help themselves.

I have often talked in my courses of how a whole fish is served on the central server, and so it was last night.

Pomfret (Tau tay) Fish
Within minutes the flesh of the fish was consumed, leaving just the head and bones, just like a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

Pomfret (Tau tay) Fish bones

Another dish served was a suckling pig, a young pig that has only fed on its mother’s
milk. The piglet is killed between the ages of two to six weeks, and roasted, only being served on such special occasions as a wedding diner.
Suckling Pig
Within minutes of the wedding diner being finished, the place was empty, unlike other cultures where there would be dancing and drinking.