The Good News Is
The good news is that I finally made it to Denmark, specifically Copenhagen! I’ve wanted to go for years as I was curious to know why the country often tops the index of happiest countries. I don’t care for the word happy, I think it is superficial and Hollywood-esque so I find the notion of such a list preposterous. Still, I was curious.
To get as close to living as a local as possible in five days, I rented an Airbnb apartment in a residential area a good distance from tourist attractions. Every morning, as many of ‘my’ neighbors did, I made my way to the beach to exercise. I had to make the most of the privilege of living less than 5 mins walk from the beach. While walking on the beach I saw many jogging, some doing yoga, a Crossfit group grunting their way through lunges. I watched a surprising number undress (some down to their “birthday suit”) and ease into the sea. It was early May and before 8am so the temperature hovered below 12 degrees Celsius with some rain, and at times it was very windy. Intrigued, I approached a young man who looked to be in his late 20s as he was about to start to undress. I asked him how cold the water is and, why swim in the cold? He didn’t seem bothered by my presence; he continued to take off his clothes as he talked. He said I should try the water myself. So I put my hand in. I exclaimed: “cold!” He replied: “it gets worse”. Now stark naked he walked into the sea, leaving me to admire the view. The next day, still intrigued to know why skinny dipping in the cold is so popular, I asked a couple of older ladies. They replied that it is the adrenalin rush. “You get so tense before you go in and then you get in, release. It is invigorating”. I said to myself I should try it on my last day there. I didn’t!
Walking around Copenhagen I discovered quite a few parks that made me seriously question if London has the best parks of any city I know after all. The pastries that stared back at me from the displays of cafes and patisseries brought me crumbs away from abandoning my staunch grain-free diet. My diet makes it a real challenge eating out in restaurants so I often avoid doing so but in Copenhagen it wasn’t a problem, I ate out every day I was there. They even had a restaurant chain called Paleo for people like me. Farm to table and organic food was ready available. The quality of food was impressive. Navigating the city was easy thanks to its well thought-out transit system, the metro station or bus was always just round the corner. Alternatively, I could have gone completely local and got on a bike. For 62% of the city’s working and student population, cycling is the main form of transportation.
I left Copenhagen unable to say if the Danes are ‘happy’ or not but I certainly felt more zen than when I arrived. Back home, after five days of not checking the news, I turned on my laptop and scrolled through news headlines. I hadn’t even made it halfway to the end of the home page of FT.com before I could feel blood rushing to my head. By the time I got to the bottom of the page, I was incensed. I’m well aware that the media is in the business of selling spin/negativity hence why I rarely go beyond the headlines, to minimize garbage in. But, my reaction surprised me. I guess the ease of Copenhagen must have affected me a lot more than I thought. Perhaps it is that ease that makes the Danes so ‘happy’? I liked the zen me and I wondered how I could make it last a bit longer. It occurred to me that I could create my own good news network where I will only log pleasing news. Here is a snippet:
“Time’s up! Line up!”, commanded our Sensei. The words I’ve been waiting for the past 15 minutes. I didn’t know that 15 minutes could feel like 15 hours until I started attending a Jiu-Jitsu fundamentals class. Unlike in the beginners class, the last 15 minutes is for sparring. In this time you get to test out your skills with anyone, at any level, of any shape or size that you randomly end up with. Relieved to hear our Sensei say those words, I found a burst of energy I didn’t know I had to rush to the very back of the line as my white belt mandates. Our Sensei thanked us for all coming. Then he said: “Oh, I almost forgot. Kehinde can you come up here please” with his usual expressionless face. As I got in front of him, he smiled. “You have earned a stripe.” He took my white belt and wrapped a strip on the blank square black edge of my belt. My fellow classmates cheered. I was stunned. I just spent the last 15 minutes getting my ass kicked by every single person I sparred with. And I had a big scrape on my right foot to show for it. I thanked our Sensei and proceeded to my previous spot in the line. Before I could get there my classmates made space for me at the part of the line where one-striped people stand. Then I really smiled, I was no longer at the back of the line. After the class I expressed my surprise to my higher belt classmates, they said I had earned it. I asked how? I reminded them of my recent performance in the sparring part of the class. One explained to me that in Jiu-jitsu you get stripes for showing up, not for winning. Another classmate, a black belt (favorite with many because of his mastery and generosity), confirmed this. He told me he has never participated in any competitions, he has just been showing up to the studio since it opened 10 years ago bar the lockdown period, a few times per week. Good news! I just need to keep showing up (so what if I have sprained my wrist like I have now!).
Benefits of Dubbing
When I lived in Spain I would scoff at the common practice of dubbing foreign language shows or films into Spanish. Regardless of how many Spaniards tried to sell me on the dexterity of their dubbers, I could never bring myself to watch Tom Cruise or Cate Blanchette “speaking” Spanish. Recently, I really wanted to watch the Korean show Thirty-Nine, but I couldn’t watch it and cook at the same time since I would have had to read subtitles (I mostly watch TV shows when I’m cooking so I don’t feel like I’m wasting time). Then I remembered I had had a debate a couple of days earlier with a Spanish friend about dubbing. He swore that the Spanish dubbed version of the TV series Lost is so much better than the original in English. I thought, why not see if there is a dubbed version in Mandarin or Spanish of the Korean show? Sure enough there was Spanish dubbing but no Mandarin. I was surprised to see how quickly I accepted that people in Seoul spoke Mexican Spanish. I wondered why had I been slowly eroding my lasik-corrected vision over the years reading subtitles in foreign films and shows? What a revelation! What great news that I can protect my eyesight and improve my language skills at the same time! Oh, of course, I haven’t revealed any of this to my Spanish friend.
As if by serendipity, around the same time I discovered the dubbing advantage, I found the app Du Chinese. I have written before about my embarrassing Mandarin reading skills and plan to wait until retirement to work on it. However, it seems that the universe wants me to use the eyesight I’m saving by not reading subtitles to read Chinese characters instead. My past attempts at learning to read Chinese characters were hampered by having to carry around bulky textbooks, tedious handwriting drills and constant dictionary look-ups. With Du Chinese I don’t have to do any of these things. It is on my phone, I can access it wherever and whenever I want. If I don’t recognize a character I simply highlight it, and I get the PinYin, pronunciation, and English translation. I can even create a game/test from characters I would like to remember. The good thing about being attached to my phone is that I usually end up at least once a day clicking on this app even if it is just for 10 minutes. I’m hoping that if I continue this way, by the time I can visit China again I will be able to read the road signs and menus without having to ask someone to read them to me. 我会加油 (wo hui jia you! I can do it!)！
Reconnecting with an old friend
One of my much loved pieces of music to play while working is Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No.2. For whatever reason, it’s been a good while since I played it. One of the characters from the TV show, Thirty-Nine, Cha Mi-jo, shares my love of the piece and an entire episode is dedicated to it. It made me seek it out again. My favorite rendition is by Anna Federova. I also appreciate Khatia Buniatishvili’s interpretation too.