If there were no evolution, it would be necessary to invent one,
to support the belief that we are the latest model -
now available with extra dominion over all other species!
Before I became vegan, I remember asking a few vegans that I met why they chose to be vegan. Now I realise that they should have been asking me why I chose not to be vegan. Certainly, it was the more extreme choice, though it didn’t feel like that at the time. In fact, it didn’t even really feel like a choice; it just felt like the default way of life.
Which brings me to some other questions that non-vegans often ask vegans.
“What if you were stuck on a deserted island and all there was to eat was a pig?”
Firstly, this will clearly never happen. Ever. But let me entertain this idea for a moment. Say I did end up, Tom Hanks style, the lone survivor of a plane crash and serendipitously found my way to a deserted island. Firstly, it is so much more likely that there would be bananas and coconuts on this island than wild pigs. But, okay, let’s say that the only thing that I could possibly eat to sustain myself would be a pig. Let’s say I was dying of starvation and had no other choice. Of course, in a life or death situation, I would probably kill the pig and eat it.
But now let me ask you a question: if you were in a regular, everyday situation of privilege (as many but admittedly not all of us are) where you had a variety of food at your fingertips and enough money to choose what to eat, would you choose the healthier, cruelty-free option of plant-based food, or would you go out of your way to eat “food” that is unhealthy, cruel, and unsustainable?
Another idea that I often hear is:
“You deserve to eat meat if you could summon the courage to kill the animal yourself.”
Firstly, anyone is physically capable of killing another sentient being, particularly if one finds themselves on an uneven playing field where they possess a dangerous weapon and the other creature possesses no weapon and no will to hurt them. Anyone could do it. But no matter how you frame it, this act would cause pain and suffering and cut short a life that was valued by your victim. Not to mention, it would probably be fairly traumatic for you. Again, if we were in the very unlikely situation of life or death, where there were no edible plants that we could choose to eat instead, then perhaps this would be excusable. But in any other context, it would be unnecessary and cruel. The bodies of other creatures are not ours to eat. They have value for the creatures in question, and not because we attribute a financial value to them.
And again, let’s face it, most of us will never be in the situation where we will kill an animal for food. So when we talk about diet, we should talk about it in a realistic context, which is usually one of privilege and choice. If you have the choice, which most of us do, why would you choose the cruel, unhealthy, and unsustainable option?
Let me be clear that I am not trying to make you feel guilty. The state of animal cruelty today is not your personal fault. I am sure that you were probably brought up, like me, by well-meaning parents in a society which teaches by example that it is normal and permissible to use, buy, wear, and eat animals and animal products. These practices existed well before we were born. And you were not in a position to make many choices for yourself until you became an adult. So there is no use feeling guilty or responsible for what you have no control over, including the past. But now that you are an adult with the capacity to distinguish between right and wrong, the time has come take responsibility for your actions. Asking questions of others is an important way to learn, but the learning process is only complete if you also question your own behavior and motives. I invite you to now ask yourself, “Do I feel right aout the way that I live?”
Start to look more closely at the products you buy and the practices you support, and believe me, veganism will start to look like the much less radical option.
Bikram seems to polarise people. I am often asked about my opinion of Bikram, and often I give my opinion even when I am not asked. Perhaps that is a characteristic of everyone with their own blog.
I generally try to follow the rule of reserving judgement for the sake of kindness, unless expressing your opinion can help others. And in this case, I think I can help protect others from injury/discomfort/inhaling other people’s B.O. for 90 minutes at a time.
I did a 10 day trial of Bikram in 2011. I did not like it for a number of reasons:
There was a colour-stained yoga mat that the staff had hung behind the reception desk, with a note that said something like: To whoever RUINED this mat: THANKS! Let this be a lesson to the rest of you to bring a towel to put on your mat! What a warm welcome to the dictatorship.
It was overly expensive.
Imagine the smell of a gym. Now imagine that, but carpeted, and heated to 40 degrees celsius, 3 or 4 times a day for 90 minutes, every day….I wonder when, if ever, these places are cleaned. It smelled like a hundred crotches. It took a good 60 minutes to get used to the stench each time I attended a class.
The cliquey vibe of the in-crowd that attends religiously.
The air of competitiveness.
They teach the exact same sequence, every single time.
The teacher stands on the stage and barks instructions at you, without performing the poses, or looking around the room or adjusting students to ensure safe alignment.
The teachers follow a script and must not deviate from the script, even to crack a smile for a moment.
They say things like “stretch further, further, until it hurts, you will get more benefit that way.” This is such dangerous and incorrect advice to give your Yoga students! If you overstretch, particularly in such a hot atmosphere where the synovial fluid of your joints is likely to thin and provide an exaggerated version of your own flexibility, you can easily cause injury to muscles/joints/nerves. And impatiently overstretching will not lengthen your muscles and help with long-term flexibility. It might instead loosen your joints, which may appear like you have improved your flexibility, but will only lead to injury and muscles that actually stiffen to overcompensate. If your body is sending you the message that you are in pain, then that is happening for a reason; and yoga is all about learning to listen to and heed the messages of your body, and not to ignore them.
I felt like vomiting or fainting most of the time.
You are required to stay inside the room the whole time, so you cannot leave to go to the toilet or quietly die outside the room.
Bikram Choudhury (pictured above), the elderly creator of Bikram, has been the defendant in a ridiculous number of sexual assault cases involving his female students. I don’t want to give my money to a sexist creep who owns some big soulless business masquerading as Yoga.
I don’t believe that you should practise Yoga in unnatural temperatures. Particularly if you are practising Pranayama (Yogic breathing techniques) where you inhale deeply into your diaphragm, you should not be inhaling stale, artificially heated air.
I think some twists on traditional Yoga can be interesting, such as Yoga with a ballet barre or Anti-Gravity Yoga in a hammock. However, many of the twists are unnecessary gimmicks. Why go to a “Dance-Yoga” class? I’d rather go to a dance class, or a Yoga class. Similarly, I’d rather go to mutually exclusive saunas and Yoga classes, rather than a marriage of the two. Yoga has been successfully practised for thousands of years. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
To be fair, I did experience some moments of sheer, bewildering bliss that I attribute to endorphins and a quick change in blood pressure once the Bikram classes had finished, and I can understand why some people want to continue attending to keep experiencing this feeling. But for me, the one benefit is severely outweighed by Bikram’s many flaws.
N.B.: Bikram is different to other types of hot yoga, which can be safer and more similar to traditional Yoga.
Lately I have been hearing:
‘I’m not a feminist’.
‘I hate the label feminism’.
‘The title of feminism has been ruined by some people’.
Katy Perry accepted the Billboard Woman of the Year 2012 award with the speech, ‘I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women’ … *Incredulity*
For many, the problem is simply that they do not know what feminism is and have not taken the 2 minutes required to google it.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines feminism thus:
Here are some simple quotes defining feminism:
‘Feminism is the radical notion that women are people’ – Cheris Kramarae.
‘A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men’ –Gloria Steinem.
Feminism means equal respect for all people, regardless of gender, sexuality, and race. If you believe in the strength of women, Katy Perry, you are a feminist.
Here are some things that are not the definition of feminism:
‘Men and women are the same thing and we should pretend we do not have different genitals’.
‘Men are stupid and we should cut off their penises’.
‘Men have really easy lives and therefore we should make them harder’.
The above thoughts are loosely quoted from interactions with men (especially internet trolls), and are unsurprisingly focused upon men and not women. Because, of course, feminism must be about men… *Incredulous sarcasm*
So now that we’re all up to speed, let’s consider these ‘some people’ who have besmirched the name of feminism.
Perhaps those who complain are concerned that the likes of vocal anti-abortion advocates like Sarah Palin call themselves feminists. Of course, there are self-appointed ambassadors of just about any cause or belief system who manipulate that ideology to achieve their own ends. But just as it would be wrong to assume that all Christians are malicious homophobes because Fred Phelps Sr. and his Westboro Baptist followers caused anguish by protesting spitefully at countless funerals about the deceased going to hell for being gay or facilitating homosexuality, it would be wrong to blame feminism for Sarah Palin advocating less freedom for women. And if Sarah Palin can get away with calling herself a feminist, the problem lies more in a lack of general understanding of what feminism actually is, than in a problem inherent within feminism itself.
But when prompted, antagonists will not usually name Palin as the person who has destroyed the movement for them. No, in fact, they usually do not know any feminists’ names. They are actually just repeating anti-feminist comments because that’s what they heard from some radio presenter/magazine columnist/other dreary regurgitator and enabler of mainstream culture.
There is no problem with feminism; there is a problem with sexism, because it is sexism that labels women as evil, stupid, ugly, ungrateful man-haters. If you stand against feminism, you disagree with the idea that women are people who deserve equal respect, and if that is the case, YOU are sexist and need to evolve.
Many of those who reject feminism believe that we live in an equal society already, and that feminism is therefore redundant. And while women can now vote, go to university, drive cars, and choose their own mates in most Western cultures; it would be blind to ignore the fact that rape, prostitution, and domestic violence toward women are still staggeringly common in countries like Australia. (And before I hear the cries of defensive privileged white males, I am not denying that bad things happen to men, too. In fact, feminists do not want anyone to get bashed, raped, or murdered, so you might see that we actually agree and can work together!)
If you subscribe to the view that no one type of person matters more than another, what is so wrong with calling this feminism? Without causes and movements with specific labels, privileged cultures such as ours have a tendency to wallow in the oblivion of apathetic postmodernity. I believe we have a responsibility to be informed and to educate others, and to treat ourselves and others with respect. If you are already doing all this and giving it a name other than feminism, then you have my admiration, but please think twice before criticising feminism.
The end of December seems like a perfect time to reflect further on all the people I’ve had the good fortune to spend 2013 with.
To bring you up to speed, I left my last blog post at late February in Cologne. After celebrating Karneval, I returned to Freiburg to complete my 6 week language course.
Once my German course finished, I headed to Berlin for my sixth time. I stayed with Kate, an old friend (the friendship is going on 15 years), who took me out dancing, to markets, cafes that would feel at home in Fitzroy, and to a fucking weird play that to my understanding was about gypsies in various states of undress chasing one other around in a shipping container. Anyway, I have always felt lucky to be friends with Kate – she is strong, super smart, hard-working, and loyal, even if not particularly sporty. ;)
I also spent a few nights staying with the gorgeous Rob and Liss in their stunning apartment in Kreuzberg, the Mission Distric equivalent of Berlin, which was nevertheless pretty lifeless in the winter. They had a never-ending pot of ginger and lemon tea brewing on the stove, which was great to curl up with while listening to Rob practicing vibraphone in the next room. Liss attended yoga teacher training in Rishikesh in 2012 and recommended that course to me, so I followed in her footsteps.
After Berlin I took a train to Poznan, Poland. I stayed one night with my clever and beautiful friend Weronika, who I had met in Amarante, Portugal, at a volunteer camp in 2010. She welcomed me into her apartment, and took me bar hopping amongst the twinkling lights and multi-coloured facades of Poznan’s old town square, starting with a traditional Polish pub where we had bar snacks and shooters for ridiculously small sums of zlotys, and then we made our way to the younger bars in town. We ended the night by making a snowman (and by “we”, I mean that her boyfriend made a snowman and I stood nearby and took poor quality photos).
I left Poznan for Warsaw, a city of less conventional beauty, but so much history and culture, and all those other cliches that circulate about cities like Warsaw, Berlin, and Melbourne. While there, I stayed with Joanna, who had been a wonderful friend to me in Vienna in 2010. She offered me her fold-out mattress, cooked for me, and made lots of inspiring philosophical conversation. We went exploring together with her equally warm and intelligent boyfriend, Filip. Joanna also allowed me to have lots of time and space to myself, which can be scant while travelling. Memorably, she accidentally locked me into her apartment before she left for work on my last day in Poland, and I almost missed my train(s) to Belgium. I entertained myself by playing her piano and taking embarrassing selfies while I waited for her sister to travel across town to save me.
I did manage to get to Bruges, Belgium at about 6 am after a ridiculously long commute. I arrived at my hostel and tried to order a juice, but was handed a beer branded “Geueze”, and decided I may as well start drinking anyway.
At this hostel I met James and CJ, two American guys with a mission to see Sigur Ros perform live; and with a peculiar contented, yet somehow ambitious sense of aimlessness that I could relate to. We chatted about travel, music, and our countries’ crazy culture of overwork and burn-out over a dinner. A group of Belgian students nearby stopped to feign interest in my poor effort to play my ukulele. They then coyly asked to have a go and I offered to teach them a few chords, only to find that they were closet musical geniuses.
They invited us to a little gathering at one of their student apartments, where we had a jam, drank beer (so much beer that day!), and played this amazing Belgian board game where you have to sing, dance, act, or in some other creative way describe the abstract painting on the card you receive, while the other players guess which card you are portraying. On the way back to our hostel, CJ, whose hobby is light photography, took awesome photos of us walking/dancing down the quiet cobblestone streets dissected at all angles by canals.
As if the universe had not already offered me enough benevolence, in Aix on Provence I “couchsurfed” with the very generous Max and stayed, not on his hard rubbish couch like one expects when couchsurfing, but in my own private wing in his (surprise!) mansion. As you do. [More in this blog post.]
Next up, I met my parents in Madrid, who of course deserve a whole book about all the wonderful things they’ve done for me, but I’ll have to do that another time. We stayed with family friends, Leah and Carlos, in their spectacular top floor apartment, all smooth wooden surfaces, dark furniture and chandeliers, and complete with a killer audiovisual set-up, situated near the Puerta de Alcala. Naturally they spoiled us with the best Madrid has to offer – tapas, sangria, and Flamenco.
We stopped in a few small towns in Spain and Portugal before arriving in Lisbon, where my gorgeous friend Catarina, who was a neighbour of mine in Vienna, an architect with a lovely, infectious smile (are you sensing a common thread here? Somehow all of these people are intelligent, interesting, and beautiful), met us and fed us amazing Portuguese tarts and took us to hear authentic, beautiful Fado music.
In April, I travelled to Rishikesh, India, via Delhi. During my yoga teacher training in Rishikesh, I met Andrea, a young chef from Chile with a beautiful, yet unfortunately underused singing voice, who performed Reiki on me while I was feeling sick, and whose invitation to visit I will take up as soon as I absolutely can (and I’ll visit my other gorgeous South American friends who I met in Freiburg while I’m there).
I also met Lauren, nurse/yogini/Miss Vermont 2012/talented writer/hilarious person, who had recently moved to the tiny, American-owned western Pacific island of Saipan. Mel, an Aussie school teacher who lives in Brisbane, also comes to mind. She and Lauren both supplied priceless antibiotics, painkillers, and food on a few days of debilitating Delhi belly. Mel also incidentally became my biggest (read: the only) fan of my singing, making me promise I would sing at her wedding. She is too sweet.
Unfortunately I’ll just have to gesture quickly, and in no particular order, to some of the other beautiful people I got to know through the course. Katy, Rosie, Andrea, Stevie, Katie, Cara, Ellen, Yoshimi, John, Tutku, Darius, Sami, Sabrina, Rakhi, Paul, Rebecca, Zane, Kirstin, Krystal, Yasmin, Brittany, Sarah, Meghan, Crystal, Stephanie, Judith and everyone else who I may not have had as much time to talk to – so sorry if I forgot anyone!
Another person I met in India was Dev, with whom I had a pretty distant link: he is a friend of a friend of an ex-colleague from Australia. Dev met me at the ashram and took me on his motorbike, without any protective equipment and with only flip flops on my feet, to the other side of Rishikesh, where we picked up his car, and then he drove me up into the Himalayas. We talked about his time living in Boston, and his love of Western culture. Meanwhile, I was quietly freaking out about the poor structure of the tiny roads lining the mountainsides, no protective railing, and a long drop down to the Ganges. We survived unharmed, thank goodness.
That takes us to May. To be continued…
I feel so lucky to have been the recipient of what seems to be a lifetime of kindness in this year alone, that, at the risk of being too oversharey and sentimental, I wanted to honour some relationships I’ve made and further developed this year by immortalising them on my blog.
This year has been completely transformational. After finishing my degrees and quitting my full time job at the end of last year, I resolved to meditate daily and learn how to do handstands in 2013. So I flew to Vienna on New Year’s Eve, and then spent 3 months in Europe, where I completed a German language course. Then I flew to India, and spent 6 weeks completing my intensive Yoga Teacher Training. After I returned, I moved into a new house and embarked upon starting to teach yoga – mainly to my friends, but I am building a humble client base. I also completed a Certificate IV in Small Business Management at RMIT, and my status as a NEIS business owner officially began last week. A few weeks ago, I moved into another new apartment, where I have 4 new housemates. Mom’s favourite saying, the only constant is change, comes to mind.
I’m becoming very accustomed to goodbyes, but I treasure all the relationships I’ve made along the way, and, thanks to the banal black magic of Facebook and email, I’ve been able to stay in touch with some of these people.
So let me introduce you chronologically to some of the people who have had an impact on me this year. I hope they won’t mind me mentioning them.
Firstly, my Austrian friend Eva, the dancer, the first person I saw in 2013. Eva invited me to her friends’ New Year’s Eve gathering in Vienna, where I promptly fell asleep at about 7:00 pm and completely missed the dinner that had been served, not to mention the countdown. Eva is the most warm, life-loving creature, who helped me through a very hard time in 2010, with infinite patience and with the most wonderful healing presence about her. At that time we had very little history as friends, having met once at a party in Melbourne, but this didn’t seem to occur to her. She took me partying with her gorgeous music theatre friends to cheer me up, cooked me beautiful Austrian comfort food, showed me her favourite Vienna cafes, and gave me the gift of a beautiful, smooth black stone, which had sat by the bedside of a friend of hers during a period of great difficulty. If I can repay half of the joy and generosity that Eva has brought to me, I will feel I have achieved a great deal.
In January, in the cosy town of Freiburg, on the edge of the Black Forest, I began my winter intensive course with the DAAD. The first thing that struck me was the standard of my peers – I was impressed by the level of everyone’s German, but more remarkable were the palpable senses of wisdom, creativity, motivation, and achievement amongst everyone who had received a place in the course. There were 9 other Australians, and, though everyone spoke English, we almost always conversed in German. The predominant group was from South America, and particularly, Brazil – unsurprisingly beautiful, spirited, and warm-hearted people with killer dance moves, just like all the clichés tell us.
One of the people who I became closest to could hardly live further away: Maca, from Argentina – surprise, surprise, a musician! Maca is a whimsical but fiercely intelligent conductor, with a strange Swiss twang to her German, and a thing for Italian boys. Maca always seemed to be humming a melody from The Magic Flute. I love her enthusiasm for the arts, for romanticising everything, and for her nonchalant attitude towards occasional bad behaviour.
This list is growing long and I am still in January, so I might have to just give a brief mention to the rest of the wonderful DAAD crew: Amelie, Derek, Carolina, Philipp, Julia, Jess, Louis, Fernando, Amanda, Ellie, Chenoa, Tjuna, Brian, Marlizel, Miriam, and everyone in the other groups…You all inspired me and I hope we can have a reunion in Freiburg one day.
Then there was Iradj, my Iranian/Spanish/German housemate in Freiburg, who shared similar standards of cleanliness to me, and who introduced me to mixing Thai curry with yellow rice fried in turmeric, garlic, and some mysterious combination of Middle Eastern spices. He also introduced me to the Baha’i religion, which teaches that there is one God, and that all the major religions worship this same God in different ways.
A common theme amongst the people mentioned in this post seems to be patience: Iradj patiently played many games of chess with me, in which I invariably lost concentration halfway and left my unconcerned king nipping at a cigar somewhere on his private island in the middle of the board, miles from his minions, waiting to be slowly accosted. Iradj also encouraged me to play music, even going so far as to sit with me for hours and help me record a very amateur version of a Regina Spektor song. We had many in depth discussions about how we foresaw our respective futures (often in German, but I’d have to fight for this because his English was so perfect!), and, once I told him I didn’t plan to marry or have children, he set about trying to convince me that it is people like me who should be bringing children into the world; people who consider the implications of their actions. No dice, but thanks for your kind words anyway, Iradj.
I visited Scandinavia for the first time in February, and was surprised when Anna, a friend who I had hung out with a few times in Vienna in 2010, invited me to stay with her in Espoo, just outside of Helsinki. I cannot put enough emphasis on how outstanding European hospitality is. Anna picked me up from the bus stop and took me to her snug little apartment on public transport, where I was offered a comfortable futon in my own room, a drink, dinner, and even a spare mobile phone to borrow. I could hardly believe that she had also taken the time to knit me a gorgeous pair of warm woollen socks so that I could adjust to the Scandinavian winter! Anna lives with her lovely boyfriend Ville, with whom I had philosophical discussions about how to find purpose and motivation in life, and about consumerism and socialism. Anna had invited a big group of friends over that night so that I would have a warm welcome. It turns out that Finnish people love karaoke as much as I do, so we played Sing Star and then headed out to a deliciously seedy karaoke bar in Helsinki. The next day, Anna insisted on taking me out to buy me the whole spectrum of Finnish chocolate bars, so I could decide which one I liked the best. My favourite was the Fazer blue chocolate bar. Yum! Anna has a harp that she plays beautifully, and that I massacred in this video I recorded.
Next up, I visited my host family in Selm, in the North-West of Germany, at the home where I had stayed in 2005, and then again in 2010. What these people have done for me, I am sure I will never be able to repay. A luxurious trip to Hamburg in 2005, where I saw my first drag show (my middle aged suburban host mother turned out to be less conservative than I had expected!); countless beautiful home cooked meals; so many gifts; again so much patience, this time with my budding German (one time in particular comes to mind when I was telling a friend that my host family had taken me to a cave, but I slightly mispronounced the word cave and ended up saying that they had taken me to hell); and so many cuddles and affectionate bum pats (“Komm Lady!”).
In late February, I visited Cologne for Karneval, where I stayed with my boyfriend’s ridiculously talented friend, Ruben, in his tiny one bedroom apartment. His room was an old converted hotel room, with funny little touches like a kitchenette next to the bed, and a sign in the bathroom instructing you to leave your towel in the bath if you would like it to be washed. Ruben cooked us a big, warm risotto, the perfect antidote to the snow outside. Then we went to a costume party at the music university where he is studying. When we returned, ignoring my objections, he happily slept on the floor and gave up his single bed so that I could sleep comfortably.
While in Cologne, I met Selim, the brother of my boss from the job I left last year, who, by the way, while I’m on the subject of generosity, gave me an awesome Asus Zenbook as a going away present last year! (Perhaps I was Florence Nightingale or Martin Luther King Jr in a previous life and karma is thanking me?) Selim and I drank mint tea and laughed constantly at a central bar, and after I told him I was vegetarian, he drove me across town to a cute vegetarian café with an attached wellness centre. We ate a spicy lunch and then walked around their shop, where he insisted on buying me a book about yoga by Osho.
This is becoming very long-winded, so I’ll have to leave it there for today, but stay tuned for more gushing about creative, inspiring people who have been incredibly generous to me.