October 29, 2009

Don’t sneeze on me…

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Health at 5:45 am by dinaheng

I’ve been on eight planes, flying cross country to somewhere, in the last three weeks, and on every plane, there were passengers coughing and sneezing up a storm. I count myself lucky that I didn’t have to sit next to any of them.

With swine flu being declared a national emergency, it’s time for people who are clearly sick to stay home and concentrate on getting well. But many people don’t.dinah-eng-21

If I had to guess, I’d say it’s partly because we live in a society that expects you to go to work — no matter how badly you feel — to earn your paycheck, especially in this economy. Never mind that spreading your germs around at work just makes everyone else sick.

Companies try to avoid encouraging employees to take sick days like the plague. If one person’s out, someone else has to take up the slack, and in these days of hiring freezes, that someone is likely to be higher up the office ladder than in the past.

In fact, the higher up you are, the more likely you’ll go home when you’re sick… and work from home. Just so that no one questions whether your job is really necessary in the next round of layoffs.

It’s not that businesses don’t care if people get sick. Hand sanitizers are popping up everywhere you go — at the cash register in grocery stores, in restaurant restrooms, at airport check-in counters. It would just be nice if managers ordered sick employees to go home, and didn’t penalize them for doing so.

“I know if I go home, my desk will be piled with things that didn’t get done, and I’ll be even further behind when I come back,” one friend said, recently. “It’s just not worth taking a sick day.”

I understand what she means. When you’re self-employed, like I am, there are no sick days. If I don’t work, I don’t earn any income. So I do everything I can to stay healthy. At the first sign of a cold, I get extra sleep, dose up with Vitamin C, and quit work earlier in the day.  It usually doesn’t take more than a day or two to feel normal again.

While I have some sympathy for those who feel like they have to go in to work when they’re ill, I have no empathy for those who go to public events because they’re thinking more of their own needs than others.

I went to a lecture and screening not long ago that was standing room only for sci-fi fans, who packed the special event to hear from some of their favorite writers. Behind me, and two seats over, sat a man who coughed through the first 20 minutes of the lecture. The poor fellow who sat in front of him couldn’t stand it, so finally got up and left. At least we weren’t on an airplane.

The way human physiology works, it’s inevitable that there will be times that we catch other people’s germs.

Some suggestions…

* If you’re going to sneeze, bend your elbow, and sneeze into the crook of your arm. If you go to shake someone’s hand, you won’t pass along as many germs.

* The proper way to wash your hands is to wet your hands with warm water, apply soap, lather, and rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Be sure to scrub all surfaces, up to your wrists and between your fingers, before rinsing and drying off.

* If you’re working in an office or workplace where many hands touch common surfaces, wipe those areas down with disinfectant wipes.

* And if you actually get sick, do everyone a favor, and STAY HOME.



October 25, 2009

That small town feeling…

Posted in Between Us column at 2:28 am by dinaheng

The autumn leaves have turned color, but are still clinging to the trees in Oshkosh, Wisc., where a business trip has taken me for a few days. I’ve never been to Wisconsin, and am shivering a little as my colleagues and I walk through the campus at the university in town.

There’s something innately charming about college towns. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of remembering our youth, when life was full of unlimited possibilities and we didn’t know the meaning of limits.dinah-eng-21

I’ve never wanted to live in a small town, but the college campuses I attended felt like small communities, even though they were in the midst of large cities. The one small town experience I’ve had was living in a tiny town one summer while doing a three-month internship in Washington, D.C.

The town was Garrett Park, Md., outside the nation’s capital, and I rented the house of a University of Maryland professor who had left for the summer. The town was so small, the postal service didn’t deliver the mail — you walked to the local post office and picked it up yourself every day.

Everybody knew everybody… and their business. It was a little too close for my comfort, so when the internship ended, I moved to a high rise condominium nearby.

I guess I’m more of a city person. I like having a variety of entertainment options, restaurants with different cuisines, and an airport that connects you to the world without having to make multiple stops. I love meeting people of different races and ethnicities, from all walks of life.

To have all that, I tolerate traffic jams, higher prices, and rudeness from strangers who probably have no one to go home to.

As we drive past neatly kept homes around the Oshkosh campus, I think about the folks who have told us that their commute to work is 10 minutes, that people are so honest here, a local mechanic would never think of charging more for a repair than needed, and that everybody’s a Green Bay Packers fan.

They say most of the students in this small town want to stay close to home after graduation, and that even those who go off to a big city inevitably gravitate back to Oshkosh.

On the other hand, there’s a discomfort with strangers and newcomers. One resident, who’s lived in town for more than 10 years, says he still feels like an outsider. “People don’t just glance with curiosity at you,” he says. “They stare at you. They’re very friendly here, but you’re definitely expected to adjust to their way of doing things.”

Every place has its pros and cons. If we look, we can always find something of value wherever we go.

On our last night in Oshkosh, my colleagues and I worked through the evening, finishing up very late. We decided to try an Italian restaurant on the way back to the hotel, driving up just as the place was about to close at 10 p.m.

The wait staff took pity on us, and agreed to keep the kitchen open for four strangers who clearly were from out of town.

Dinner was delicious. If you’re ever in Oshkosh, go to Primo on Jackson Street. They’ve got the perfect combination of big city menu, served with small town heart.

October 15, 2009

Catch a caper…

Posted in Between Us column, Relationships, Television at 3:45 am by dinaheng

Breaking the law isn’t just a matter of right and wrong.

The difference between good guys and bad guys tends to blur a lot on television these days. I suspect it’s because we’ve come to understand that human beings are not purely good or totally evil. We all have the capacity to act both ways.dinah-eng-21

The latest crime show to spotlight a buddy relationship between the good cop and not-so-bad thief is USA Network’s “White Collar,” starring Matt Bomer as criminal mastermind Neal Caffrey, who agrees to help Tim DeKay, his FBI nemesis Peter Burke, solve  crimes in order to stay out of prison.

The show, which premieres Friday, Oct. 23 at 10 p.m. Eastern, teams the two men in a weekly hunt for white collar criminals, reminiscent of the 1960s spy series, “It Takes A Thief,” which aired on ABC from 1968 to 1970.

In that show, debonair thief Alexander Mundy (played by Robert Wagner) agreed to steal for the government in exchange for his freedom, teaming with Secret Intelligence Agency boss Noah Bain (Malachi Throne) for their weekly adventures.

Nearly 40 years later, DeKay says it’s a lot of fun to work on a show where the capers revolve around museums, banks and art galleries, rather than gory murders and violence.

“These shows are an escape, and this one has great heart,” DeKay says. “These two men care for each other, but they’ll never say it. Men never say they care enough to their good friends. We express it by teasing each other.”

DeKay’s character is a straight-laced G-Man who teaches his charming, con man cohort that there’s more to life than chasing after money. In turn, the thief extraordinaire teaches the dedicated lawman a thing or two about how to deepen his relationship with his wife Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen).

“Peter doesn’t have the kind of freedom that Neal has, but Neal envies Peter’s home life —  the fact that he has a wife and security,” DeKay says. “There’s safety in being on the side of the law, and to be able to enjoy the adventure of solving the case. For Peter, it’s more important to have safety and security, because he gets enough adventure chasing the criminals.”

Escaping into the entertainment of a TV show is probably a lot more fun than the adventures most of us face every day at work. Navigating office politics and dealing with personal relationships isn’t for the faint of heart.

If we’re lucky, we too, have a safety net at home with a family that loves us, even when we screw up.

“Sometimes we forget how good we have it, until we see something through someone else’s eyes,” DeKay says. “”I’ve loved to pretend my whole life. I went from playing cowboys and Indians to being in plays through college. I realized, this is my life. I love to watch people and the behaviors they have.

“Other than the technical aspects of the FBI on this show, I learn more about myself, humanity, and our psyche. I learn most that I’ve got a lot of learning to do.”

So what would DeKay steal, if he could get away with it?

“I’ve always wanted to steal a pie off a window sill,” DeKay says, laughing. “I love food. That’s where I’d break the law.”

October 10, 2009

Free the Slaves tackles human trafficking

Posted in Between Us column, Women at 5:12 pm by dinaheng

Most people know that slavery still exists in today’s world, but don’t pay much attention until an Elizabeth Smart gets on the stand to testify about the abuse she suffered at age 14 from a kidnapper and his wife who held her captive for nine months.

Even then, many would say, how horrible that such a thing would happen to one young girl, not realizing that modern slavery doesn’t just occur as isolated incidents. According to the International Labor Organization, a United Nations agency, there are at least 12.3 million adults and children in forced or bonded labor and commercial sexual servitude at any given time.dinah-eng-21

In the United States, State Department research estimates between 14,500 to 17,500 slaves are trafficked into the United States annually — a person every 36 minutes — says Peggy Callahan, co-founder and director of communications of Free the Slaves, a non-profit organization that works to eradicate slavery through legislation and aids grassroots anti-slavery organizations in seven countries.

“The definition of slavery is being forced to work without pay, under threat of violence and unable to walk away,” says Callahan, also executive producer of Free the Slaves’s educational documentaries. “Most people think of sex slavery, and it’s much bigger than that.”

Slavery means forcing people to do the dirty work that others don’t want to do — be it laboring in fields, mines, clothing factories, restaurants, or as domestic servants. It also includes human trafficking of women and children as sex slaves.

On October 13, Free the Slaves will be presenting its second annual Freedom Awards in Los Angeles to some remarkable individuals who have dedicated their lives to eradicating slavery. These freedom fighters include:

* Sinn Vann, who was kidnapped at age 13, drugged, raped and put to work in a Cambodian brothel. She was raped by 20 to 30 men nearly every day, rescued, only to be returned to the brothel by corrupt policemen. After a second rescue, she decided to help sex slaves escape, and to give health advice to those who remain trapped.

* Veero, the sole name of a woman whose family was kept hostage at a farm in Pakistan to pay off a bogus debt, slipped away and walked to the nearest town to stage a three-day sit-in at a police station, demanding that authorities take action. After police freed her family, she went to work teaching other illiterate villagers how to stand up for their rights, despite death threats from the slaveholders.

* The Working Women’s Association, Shramajivee Mahlia Samity, is a group of activists in India who work undercover to expose traffickers of domestic slaves. The group helps slavery survivors to return home and rebuild their lives.

* Two young American women — Alexis Weiss, a paralegal who has helped to build cases against sex traffickers in the United States and Africa, and Betsy Bramon, who has done research on slavery in Amsterdam and Cambodia — will receive one-year fellowships to study at Georgetown University and work with Free the Slaves.

“This year, all the winners are women, which reflects how important women are around the world to ending slavery,” Callahan says. “We know we can end slavery in 25 years. There are a lot of things people can do to help.”

Callahan makes these suggestions:

* Urge representatives to join the Congressional Caucus on Human Trafficking;

* Spread information about the issue of slavery online through e-mails, blogs and social networking sites;

* Buy or rent a movie or documentary about slavery and have a movie night in your home to talk about slavery and what you can do about it;

* Have your book club read books about slavery and discuss it; and

* Participate in the activities of organizations like Free the Slaves.

“I think people want to be part of the solution,” Callahan says. “Many times, people are overwhelmed because they don’t see what they can do as individuals. But we’ve made a lot of head room in the last 10 years.

“Before, when slave holders were caught in the United States, they were prosecuted under labor violations. Now, they’re prosecuted under anti-slavery violations. The need is to get it to where people aren’t enslaved in the first place.”

For more information, check out www.freetheslaves.net.

October 1, 2009

All that matters…

Posted in Between Us column, Relationships, Women at 1:18 am by dinaheng

We all think we’re the center of the universe. We see things first from our point of view, and do what we can to advance our own interest in most situations. We behave in ways that we think will win us friends and lovers, and rarely realize that no one judges us more than we judge ourselves.

Two lovely films, which may not draw widespread attention, drive home the message that life is too short to waste on anything but love.dinah-eng-21

In the film “Paris,” French filmmaker Cedric Klapisch tells the story of Pierre (played by Romain Duris), a Parisian who is in need of a heart transplant, and his sister Elise (Juliette Binoche), who moves in with her three children to take care of him.

As Pierre contemplates his death, he sees new meaning in the lives of the people around him, and we see what life means to the university professor, the open-air market vendor, an architect, an illegal immigrant from Cameroon, and others who live in La Ville-Lumiere (the City of Lights).

Subtitled in English, the film shares the universal story of every soul’s longing for companionship, appreciation, and love. If we were to have an intimate look into the lives of our neighbors, colleagues and friends, I imagine the stories and feelings shared by this film’s characters is what we would see.

The film asks — what is the happiest moment of your life? Not what has been, but what is, the happiest moment today? Are you truly happy? Are you grousing about things without recognizing how much happiness you really have? Are you ready to risk for more in your life?

As Pierre tells Elise, “Give chance a chance. Your life isn’t over. Maybe it hasn’t even started.”

And when the life of someone we love ends, what do we do with the life we still have?

In “Love Happens,” Burke Ryan (Aaron Eckhart) is about to close a major multimedia deal, but the best-selling author who specializes in helping others to confront their pain is secretly unable to deal with his own feelings about his wife’s death. When he meets Eloise  (Jennifer Aniston), a florist who has the worst luck with men, he discovers the one person who just might be able to help him help himself.

While trailers make this movie look like a romantic comedy, it’s not. The film is a drama about love and life, with a few chuckles sprinkled in to lighten a story that we all, in one form or another, will face.

The first time death touched my family was when I was a teenager. I’ll never forget the night my mother got the phone call telling her that her parents had been killed in a robbery attempt on their grocery store. It was the first time I ever saw her cry.

We never know when the people we take for granted will no longer be in our lives. But we can do our best to make every moment we have with them count. We may not be able to avoid arguments, but we can resolve them in ways that will not leave us with regret.

The way to do this, of course, is to remember that life is not just about us.

Life is about love.