Articles by: Bianca Sorminis

  • Life & People

    Massimo Troisi Remembered by Anna Marchesini in Salina Island

    Anna Marchesini, the female face of the famous trio Lopez-Marchesini-Solenghi, has been awarded the prize established in memory of Massimo Troisi by MareFestival Salina.

    “For her brilliant talent representative of the finest Italian comic sense and for being a model of vitality and optimism” said the Festival artistic director Massimiliano Cavalieri when awarding the prize at the prestigious National Academy of Dramatic Art “Silvia D’Amico”.

    The actress, who for years has been afflicted by acute rheumatoid arthritis, in a recent  television interview has proclaimed her love for life. “I’m so interested in and morbidly avid of life, that I am even interested in it’s ending, death”. Despite the age and the challenges of her disease she has never given in to sadness and self-pity, and really never lost the wit that marked her success with Massimo Lopez and Tullio Solenghi.

    The entertaining characters she brought to life in the 80s and 90s, like Lollo (Gina Lollobrigida), Bella Figheira, Rita Levi Montalcini, just to mention some, are still vivid in the memory of the Italian TV audience. Her career, TV aside, stretches from radio and theatrical productions to dubbing and book writing.

    When awarded the prize this is how Anna Marchesini honored Massimo Troisi’s memory: “I was deeply moved when I heard I was the recipient of this Prize. He is the most exquisite example of emotional, comical and linguistic intelligence. His body language was at disposal of music, literature and creativity. There are rare actors and unique actors: Troisi is a unique exponent of the humanity and sacredness of this profession.”

    The actual prize consists of an original poster of the movie “Il Postino” carved as a bas relief by the resin artist Antonello Arena.

    “Il Postino” (The Postman), directed by Michael Radford in 1994, received five nominations and won the Academy Award for best music.

    The movie, a dramatic blend of poetry, natural beauty and moving simplicity, had wide international success that Massimo did not have time to enjoy.

    In fact he died, exactly 20 years ago, from a fatal heart attack a few hours after finishing shooting the movie ‘Il Postino’ on the Aeolian island of Salina. The island, who offered a beautiful and poetical background to the bike rides of Mario Ruoppolo, the Postman, will always be inescapably connected with the movie and it’s artistic legacy.

    As for Massimo, who knew very well he needed an urgent heart transplant at the time the movie was being shot, this is what he used to say to those close to him who wanted to postpone the filming: “No, I want to make this movie with my heart”. And he did.

  • Facts & Stories

    Excommunicating Mafia: Pope Bergoglio’s Latest Deed

    On Saturday, during his visit in the southern Italian region of  Calabria, Pope Bergoglio did what no other Pope had done before: in  a land infested by ‘ndrangheta, the local mafia crime organization,  speaking during the mass he publicly and unequivocally declared that all ‘mafiosi’ are excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

    It’s highly significative that the Pope harsh words were spoken in  Calabria, a land plagued by ‘ndrangheta . Here, only a few months  ago, mafia claimed the life of its youngest victim, a 3 year old boy  killed in a car bombing. While personally delivering words of hope and encouragement to the relatives of the little Coco’ Campolongo, the Pope’s mission this time was one meant to go beyond prayers and forgiveness.

    Once again differentiating himself from his predecessors, including Pope John Paul II, Pope Francis did not ask the members of the mafia to convert, to ask for forgiveness in the hope for redemption. There was no ambiguity in his words.

    “Those who in their lives have taken this evil road, this road of evil, such as the mafiosi, are not in communion with God – they are  excommunicated!" he said.

    His words were directed to the mafiosi themselves, in the attempt to  isolate them in their own communities while showing that the Church  clearly distances itself from them.

    It was also a concrete action to inspire young people and give them hope.

    "Our children are asking for it, our young people are asking for it.  They are in need of hope and faith can help respond to this need," he said.

    But above all his explosive words were meant to awaken the public  conscience to organized crime ‘because crime feeds on sleeping consciences’.

    It was a message addressed to all, believers and not, to those fighting for change as well as to those ‘sleeping consciences’ whose inaction  renders them involuntary complicity.

  • Op-Eds

    David & the Cheap Shot

    The director of Florence’s Academy of Art, where the statue has been displayed since 1873, states that not only the Italian government has copyright on the commercial use of the image, but also that "The law says that the aesthetic value of the work cannot be distorted.”
    You need not be Italian, an art expert or a fierce opponent of gun culture to find the misuse of Michelangelo’s masterpiece image anachronistic and demeaning to say the least, if not even offensive and desecrating.
    The David is not just a ‘work of art’ by an Italian sculptor, but unquestionably a universal masterpiece, which is part of everyone’s timeless cultural heritage.
    If anything, this ad is an offense to cultural dignity itself.
    But let’s take a look for a moment at what is behind this amazing work of art.
    The Renaissance art of which the David is a majestic example, is the expression of the man’s rebirth after Medieval art had depicted humanity as sinful and helpless, praying for salvation of the spirit, often trapped in deformed bodies, bent in passive resignation.
    The Renaissance man is instead regarded as heroic, beautiful, conscious of his new potential, finally able to undertake nearly impossible challenges.
    Michelangelo’s David embodies both the aesthetics of Renaissance art, as well as Florence’s political ideals at a time when the little city aimed at standing up to the big political powers.
    Florence liked the idea of being represented by David, the young boy that defies the giant Goliath.
    The sculpture was completed in three years, between 1501 and 1504, amongst enormous technical difficulties: the amount of labor needed, the quality of the marble that other sculptors before Michelangelo had considered flawed and tricky to work with being too tall and thin, therefore refusing to go ahead with the project, the objective transportation dilemmas …
    But the end result was astounding: Michelangelo gave birth to an immense statue tense with motion, animated by exceptional vitality, a young hero with a mature mind caught in the moment before attacking…loosely holding the stone in one hand and with the sling on his shoulder, strong but not threatening, he represented the highest ideal of a man whose inner strength dominates brutality.
    What does all this have to do with a rifle… who knows?
    But maybe Arma Lite itself does not know…they were probably just looking for a news breaking advertisement that would put them in the spotlight, and in doing this, more than a work art, produced a ‘cheap shot’ (yes, even us Italians can play on words).
    What is apparent looking at this picture is that after more than 500 years, Michelangelo’s David once again stands tall to set apart beauty and brutality, brightness and gloom, his stature undiminished.

  • Op-Eds

    The Face of Many of Us

    It’s always the same story, many times seen before, the main difference, today, the staggering numbers of those who perished.

    Refugees and immigrants from Africa, fleeing from poverty and conflict, crammed into rickety and hardly seaworthy   so-called boats, armed with despair and courage, regularly try to cross the distance between Africa and Europe, between a hopeless life and the hope for a future...
    Teenage boys, young men, their women, their children, their babies… most of them unable to swim, trying their luck by putting their lives in the hands of international criminals…
    But for many luck was nowhere in sight yesterday, when a fire prompted most of them to move on one side of the boat causing it to capsize…
    The panic of those last few moments is not hard to imagine…the fire, scores of people moving away from it, the boat rolling on one side, the fear, the frantic search for something to hold on to, for familiar eyes to draw courage from and then the dark, cold, salty water, a deadly blanket that wraps you around and drags you down, while you deliriously try to move your arms and stay afloat, swallowing water and gasping for air, incredulous that what you thought was going to be the journey of your life has just in a few minutes turned into the voyage of your death…And then silence, the only screams probably coming from those that horrified watched how death was likely coming to grab them next…
    The island of Lampedusa has witnessed these tragedies many times before, today’s one though, is of a different magnitude...
    The few thousands of locals living on the island, often outnumbered by those who land on their shores, once again are offering help and comfort to the survivors, and a blanket of dignity to those lying dead on the ground in this improvised open air cemetery.
    How to comment this new tragedy without sounding rhetorical, knowing that most probably only a few days separate this carnage from the next…?
    We don’t know…all I read today, all the comments and condolences coming from all sides of politics, don’t ring true…
    The politicians, suddenly reawakened to the existence of this global problem, express their sorrow and their pledge to find a solution, to put a stop to this ongoing human tragedy that inescapably renews itself….

    And while some take their time to pay respects to the human beings who lost their lives, others don’t miss their opportunity to take a swipe at those whom they’d like to consider responsible just to earn a few, cheap, political brownie points …
    Italians have a long history of migrating to foreign countries, but often an opportunistic short memory when it comes to learn from it…
    We don’t know what the answer to this is…controlling the foreign shores, preventing the boats from leaving in the first place? Establishing offshore European asylum seekers Centers to allow refugees to legally and safely make it to Europe?
    Ensuring financial and practical support to Italy at European level in order to properly receive and process the refugees?
    Maybe all of this would be helpful, but I somehow feel that this is a hot potato that everybody is trying to offload to someone else, and that there isn’t a real desire to positively face this problem as a whole.
    The public opinion in Italy, drained by years of inconclusive and often damaging politics, gripped by a financial crisis that our generation has never experienced before and with little hope in immediate changes and improvements, has no time nor will to worry about anything else that is not themselves, and while we still believe that Italians have an innate sense of compassion we also know that asking to make and effort for anybody else but themselves right now is too much to ask for.
    We are crying the dead today, but we’ll be complaining about the next wave of refugees tomorrow. 
    This tragedy is twofold: it has the face of those who died, each one of them, and it also has the face of those who through indifference and inaction allowed it to happen…it has the face of many of us.

  • The Barilla Controversy: Family, Pasta, and 'Politics'

     In the last few hours one of the symbols of Italy abroad has been targeted by protests and boycotts because of the apparently homophobic remarks of Guido Barilla, the chairman of the famous Italian pasta company, during a radio interview.

    Over the years Barilla has become increasingly popular also thanks to its TV commercials, portraying the “traditional” family, mum and dad, two beautiful children, who reunite around the table maybe after a hard day at work or at school, and happily eat together a plate of pasta… usually dished out and served by the mother.

    When asked by the interviewer if he would ever include gays in one of its commercials, Guido Barilla replied that it would never happen because their company’s view of the family is of a traditional and classic one, and while he respects everybody as long as they don’t disturb the others, everybody is free to choose another brand of pasta if they don’t agree with their communication style…

     “Non possiamo piacere a tutti” he said…

    ”We can’t be liked by everybody”

    He added that he respects gay marriages as they involve adults that can decide for themselves, but not gay adoptions because, as a father himself, he is aware of the challenges of raising children and he wonders what sort of challenges would children face when raised in families with same sex parents.

    These comments have inevitably caused a national and international uproar and the reasons why they unleashed such a worldwide web storm aren’t hard to explain: it’s a war that not only sees consumers, politicians and rights associations choosing sides, but also other pasta competitors taking advantage of the apparent slip up to clarify and state where they stand on this issue.

    Buitoni, for example, has published on its Facebook  page  a photo of an open door and a caption that says :

    A Casa Buitoni c’è posto per tutti 

    In the Buitoni home there is room for everybody.

    Or Garofalo:
    “A noi non importa con chi la fai, l’importante e’ che la fai al dente”

    “ We don’t care who you cook it with, as long as you cook it ‘al dente’ .“

    A formal apology has of course followed the initial statements, and here Mr Barilla seemed to go from bad to worse when he justified himself by saying that all he intended to do was to highlight the central role of the woman in the family, (in his commercials always portrayed taking care of the home and the family…)  As predictable this fuelled another series of outraged reactions as seen as sexist and old fashioned…

    That Mr Barilla is free to express is personal opinion, is a given. 

    And he may even venture to assert that these views are behind his company’s communication line, providing he is ready to accept the commercial backlash of his words (but is he? Since he felt the need to apologize…) 

    In my view though, there is another layer beneath the surface of this conversation that is worth exploring, and that is that while many of us are quick to raise eyebrows with indignation in front of this explicit lack of respect towards a portion of our society, the truth is that the lack of diversity and misrepresentation of today’s Italian society in commercials is a fact, and Barilla is not the only culprit. Does it take someone to say it out loud for us to realize that what he is stating is what most brands do in their ads, and we are unconsciously accepting it…?

    Don’t commercials in Italy struggle to keep up with the changing societal composition, whether it is homosexuals we are talking about, or people from a different race, or disabled?

    Isn’t the woman more often than not portrayed as and dignified by her role of mother and housewife? Or, going to another extreme, the body of women exploited by wrong but obviously effective commercial strategies? Do we see single parents, overweight people or less than beautiful looking characters in our ads?

    The commercial strategies aren’t always politically correct, but they’re not often explained to us and spelled out like in this case… and this, whether a planned strategy (I doubt it) or a case of talking without thinking of the possible repercussions (more the case) was unexpected.

    As the receiving end of the commercials, as long as we’ll accept being bombarded by unrealistic messages of edulcorated and ideal families and individuals which represent only a small portion of our society, businesses and brands will be able to justify their approach because it works.

    Maybe we should think of other ways, apart from boycotting the Barilla pasta, whether we choose to do it or not, to take on this issue as it is much broader and deeper than what it started off as… 

  • Life & People

    Chinese New Year: Facts, Myths and Superstitions


    It’s happening in China right now, it lasts about 40 days and it repeats itself every year: it’s the world’s largest human migration.

    Millions of Chinese migrant workers leave the big cities to return home to their families, for what is in most cases the only opportunity they have in the whole year to spend time together. Shanghai in the last week has slowly been drained of its vital pulse... the streets gradually becoming emptier, the shops closing or cutting down the opening hours, the bustling city turned into a dormant giant…

     There is one documentary film that sums it all up. For me watching it was a revelation, even though after living here for a few years I thought I knew what Chinese New Year meant to the people of this Country…. 




     It explores the drama of migrants working hard in the cities in very difficult circumstances, the exhausting queues that often last for days and nights to get train tickets to then face an even more exhausting trip back home, packed like cattle in train carriages, the parents finally reuniting with their children who, being raised by their grandparents, don’t recognize their authority anymore nor appreciate their sacrifice.

    I remember what a young woman told me one day: she was giving me a foot massage and I had my 6 years old daughter sitting next to me. The massage girl said her daughter was about the same age as mine and living back in her province with the grandparents, and she was soon to go and see her during the Chinese New Year Holiday :”You must be so happy!” I said…And she replied, with a hesitant look on her face that clearly revealed her mixed feelings:” I am…I hope she would like to sleep with me this time, every year a bring her sweets and presents, but when night comes she doesn’t want me, she wants her grandma”….




    Red is the colour usually associated with fire, which is traditionally thought to burn off bad luck.

    In this period the grayness of this city is lit up by the red decorations: paper lanterns, good luck scrolls, zodiac animal signs…homes and buildings made up to look their best, like a woman going out on a date….

    And red is the envelope with money, the hongbao … The older family members give it to the youngsters, the employers to their employees… the fuller the happier, providing that the amount does not include the number 4 as the word four, when pronounced, sounds like the word for death, and therefore brings bad luck. Many hotels in China don’t have 4th , 14th, etc floors or rooms with those numbers (I was just reading about a month ago that the Australian Hotels catering for the growing wave of Chinese tourists are now ensuring no rooms with number 4 are being assigned to them).




    According to legend, Buddha once asked all animals to meet him for the New Year. Twelve animals came and as they turned up he named the years after each one of the animals…


    The first Chinese New Year I experienced here was the Year of the Rat, literally…

    During the holiday break I was putting the groceries away in the kitchen and I thought I could smell something. It was a foul odor.  (Small digression: even though God has been generous with the size of my nose, it hasn't been as good at making it work as it yes I have a big nose, but no, I can't normally smell anything, good or bad. So for me to say that there was a bad smell, it must have been really bad).

    A little while later I opened a drawer and saw a few black things scattered around, like black rice grains…

     I called my mum and asked what she thought, she wasn't sure, I then asked Lan, the ayi who had just started working in our home the day before . She was quiet for a few seconds and then started talking, in mandarin of course...., and the one word that kept on repeating was laoshu, laoshu,.... I obviously had no idea, I had only just arrived in China, but my mum at a certain point said...what if it's a mouse, and I shuusshed her saying ... “how could a mouse have gotten into this 5th floor apartment…” So the ayi started cleaning it up, being very careful at not touching that stuff with her hands, and using huge amount of disinfectant (I remember thinking..."I'm really pleased, she seems to be very clean ")...but then called someone on the phone, spoke for a minute and then handed it over to me… and through the phone came the translation for LAOSHU, the first word I learned in mandarin, the word I had not dared saying but that my mum had guessed, MOUSE.

    Yuuuuuuuk, disgusting…the poor ayi and a man sent from the compound management closed themselves in the kitchen looking for this mouse,  I refused to even walk passed the closed kitchen door fearing an improbable resurrection of the mouse running for his (second) life…my mum was wandering around shaking her head and muttering " Oh mio Dio, oh mio’e' possibile, al quinto piano, e dov'e’ adesso, e come faro' a dormire stasera con un topo in casa.." (Oh my God, how is it possible, on the 5th floor, and where is it now, and how am I going to sleep tonight knowing there is a mouse in the house"). The only one that was having a ball, of course, was my daughter who couldn't understand why all this fuss for Mickey Mouse and entertained herself looking for it with dad’s torch.

    I then decided to look for myself, and after a few minutes between the washing machine and the kitchen bench...I saw looked like a piece of string...maybe a tail....

    Found it. And it wasn't moving.

    Got two people to come up and get rid of it...which they did and proudly showed me their trophy on the way out...(yuuuuuk), and as I walked back in the kitchen... My God the stench! I could have no nose and I would have still been able to smell it!

    I then rang up my husband, who was pleasantly working in his RFO (Rat Free Office) and told him the story, and he went:

    “Well this is the Year of the Rat after all, well and truly!”


    We are now entering the Year of the Snake and I don’t expect to find any in my kitchen (in the same way in the past few years I didn’t find any oxen, tigers, rabbits or dragons)…. 

    According to the Chinese Zodiac, people share some characteristics of the animal whose year they are born in…. for example if you are born in the Year of the Snake you should be intuitive, introspective and refined, exciting and dark at the same time…

    Out of curiosity I looked at the animals and characteristics of my family…. We are a family made of a rat, one tiger, one sheep and two dogs….just picturing this unlikely combination sends shivers down my back… if I had to believe  that we share the characteristics of each animal associated with us, this is pretty much what the scenario would be.

    My 3 years old son, the tiger, with his courage and self reliance, vanity and intelligence, competitiveness and unpredictability would practically annihilate his 10 years old sister who, being a sheep, is supposed to be quiet, reserved nurturing and soothing. She would probably be caressing him while he is elbowing her to get to the dinner table first.

    In the meantime the two dogs, my husband and middle daughter, would take turns at trying to take control of the situation alternating opposing states of mind, swinging between an anxious sense of responsibility and a somehow despairing duty of compassion.

    If that was the case it would leave me, the rat, doing what rats do best, RUN!




    There is a lot of symbolism associated with the food eaten at this time of the year…

    If you are looking for wealth eat bamboo shoots, egg rolls and oranges…noodles and peanuts for long life, eggs and seeds for fertility. But if your marriage is shaky or your children rebellious and you don’t want your family to fall apart then the secret is sticky foods as the stickiness is said to hold the family together.

    And let’s not forget about the fish, in itself a symbol of abundance, that is cooked and served whole with head and tail attached to symbolizes good beginning and ending for the coming year.

    But don’t turn it over or it’ll bring you bad luck!




    New Year’s Eve: at midnight in the temples across the Country the bell rings…it’s the end of the old year and the beginning of a hopefully prosperous one…. At the same time the whole Country is rattled by the explosion of fireworks and firecrackers, meant to scare the evil spirits away.

    Fireworks were invented in China, everybody knows that… What I didn’t know was how much Chinese love firing them and that the celebrations (therefore the deafening and nerve wrecking noise) lasts for over two weeks…

    In this Country not only everybody is allowed to buy them, apparently everybody has a moral duty to fire them everywhere, and relentlessly, day and night.  

    For us foreigners this is pretty much how it goes:

    Day 1 :  Oh, this is exciting, WOW… what a festive atmosphere….

    DAY 2: OK…. they really love their fireworks

    DAY 3: We got the message, you like your fireworks, but wouldn’t it be nice if we had a break???…

    DAY 10: I know now why all the foreigners left for the holidays!

    DAY 15: It’s finally over, thank God!

    The day after….noooooo, someone still has a few spare ones to fire , ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!




    Apparently no one should be crying on New Year’s Day, otherwise they’ll be crying all year long…so children are never to be spanked on that day… (if I was one of those children who regularly get spanked I would turn that day in my Revenge Day….)


    According to tradition on the seventh day of the New Year all people in China become one year older…. which gives a whole new meaning to the words: aging population!

    On this topic, did you know that in China when you are born you are already 1 year old (age is calculated from the time of conception)?  So let me do some math…if a baby is born just before the Chinese New Year, and is therefore 1 year old, and soon after, on the seventh day of the New Year ages 1 more year, together with the other 1.3 billion Chinese, does it mean that he is considered to be 2 years old when effectively he is only 2 months old???  Math has never been my forte…


    There is a lot of pressure on Chinese young people to get married and have a child. Going back home every year without the good news of a possible life partner can lead to nagging questions and family arguments. The latest trend is to rent a partner to take home for the holidays, to share family events with, have a chat with the elders and, for an extra charge, be shown some affection, maybe a kiss or two…

    I wonder if they also have special deals like…rent two months, get the third half price, or end of season sales…or rent one partner, get the second one free…





  • Life & People

    FROM SHANGHAI - The Foreign Taitai (Housewife) and the Srocery Shopping


    I have lived in Shanghai for over 5 years and during this time we’ve had so many food scandals that they defy the most fervid imagination … milk tainted with melamine (which looks like proteins in tests), exploding watermelons (after being injected with a chemical to make them grow faster and bigger), glowing pork (apparently contaminated by bacteria but deemed safe to eat), artificial green peas (the hint there was that after 20 minutes of cooking, the peas did not turn soft but the water turned green), fake eggs made from resin, artificial beef made from reconstituted pork, fake pepper (made of mud and flour) … We’ve had poison in the toothpaste, skin irritating paper napkins (made of recycled paper and therefore a little bit grey, so someone thought it was a good idea to add bleach to make them look whiter…), chlorine-tainted soft drinks … and many more.

    You’re so caught up reading about these regular finds, that you nearly forget the daily excessive pesticide used on crops, antibiotics on chickens and pigs, or the polluted ground water watering them...

    To be fair there have also been some imported goods scandals ... like the tainted Italian olive oil (the origin wasn’t clearly stated, the olives could have come from Spain instead of Italy, posing of course a very serious health hazard) or cereal bars from a very famous brand found with mold, a total of 14 yoghurt products from a very well known French dairy company imported to Shanghai were destroyed because they had expired, and even more than five tons of a German mixed vegetable mash were found to have labeling problems and, of course, they were destroyed as well.

    I must admit it does give me some comfort to know that the China's quality watchdog is always on high alert and that foreign Countries have to step up checks on products to ensure they meet Chinese standards. What a relief!



    As a consequence of these unreliable at the best and life threatening at worst ‘incidents’, maybe for fear of the ‘(un)known’ or maybe because it feels more natural to buy products whose name you can read, maybe for the nostalgia that grips you when you’re so far away from your Country…the average expat tends to buy considerable quantities of imported food: meat from Australia and Argentina, UHT  milk mostly from France and New Zealand, pasta from Italy and Spain, wines from anywhere but China (the most popular local wine is Dynasty – which foreigners read as “Die Nasty”), imported frozen foods (only if when you get the box out of the  supermarket freezer it doesn’t come alive…clear sign that somewhere on its way, it hasn’t been kept at the right temperature and has in the meantime defrosted  only to be put in the freezer again ready to be sold), and over the years the variety of imports has increased much to the delight of us foreigners…



    But of course the imported food area is only a small part of the (super ?)market… the rest is just the best free educational experience you can get… … half cows hanging from a hook,  chicken feet , dried pig faces,… if your children are young enough you could even tell them you are at the aquarium … just take them to the fish section where the tanks overflow with sometimes lively (but more often agonizing) fish, turtles and frogs…and , depending on their age I guess, let them experience “how” those creatures go from being their favorite book character to being the second course of your dinner…all live, in front of your eyes, and for free.


    The imported food section displays a variety of brands and foods that immediately improve your knowledge on what other Countries can offer… It doesn’t matter that the food content and cooking instructions are written in another language (the paradox is that all those foreign languages you’ve never studied before like German, French, Spanish all of a sudden don’t seem so foreign anymore when compared to mandarin)…it’s a matter of survival so you learn pretty soon, and if not…all you need is Google translate... That of course when those contents are legible because, as if it was not challenging enough, the China food authority invariably applies labels with Chinese translation exactly on top of the original instructions or food content information. The issue with those labels is that they are as sticky as the wax you put on your legs when you want to get rid of excess body hair… so when you try to remove them they peel away also the information you NEED to read leaving you with plain ripped brown cardboard to look at. 

    No panic, “ MATER ARTIUM NECESSITAS” the Latins would say … in most cases, if you do a Google search of the name and brand of your article, you’ll find it online, and no labels to take off. All of this, of course, providing you have a VPN, otherwise, thanks to the Great Firewall of China,  connecting to Google without it might leave you and your family starving…


    Now, if you come from one of those Countries where you go to a shopping mall or supermarket and are able to buy there 90% of your weekly needs…forget it. Here you soon learn that while there are a variety of places that offer imported articles, none of them has them all, and/or at a cost that will not send you broke. So there is one place better for meat, one more affordable for cleaning and home articles, one for organic fruits and veggies, etc. Doing a complete weekly shopping could take a whole day and a number of taxi trips. So let’s say you go to one of these expensive shops, because they have the best, freshest and ‘safest’ imported meat…, but then you remember you also have to buy ‘another couple of things’… if you go down that road you might end up buying toilet paper worth  the backside of a king or cereals that will inevitably improve your lazy bowel movements ( my case) upon realizing that you’re eating 2 dollars with every mouthful .

    And when you finally go home bankrupt, you sneak in like someone that has something to hide… and you DO HIDE the shopping receipt from the ayi (home helper) feeling guilty that, after having argued with her the reasons why you cannot increase her salary, you have just spent half of that amount in one day’s grocery shopping.

  • Life & People

    Adopting Liam. We Can, and We Will

    April 26th 2012. Liam officially becomes our son…. a journey started over a year ago when we first welcomed and fostered our little boy.

    A new type of pregnancy, a different kind of labor…

    After waiting for months we’re finally invited to go to Henan Province to put in writing and anofficial stamp on what we already knew within ourselves, that we are a family. 

    We pack that bag, like the one I used to pack going to the hospital to give birth to my girls…. The same excitement, the same anticipation, as every birth is different and unique…

    Big Hotel, many foreign faces with Chinese little bundles of joy… all living this moment after many months, sometimes years of trepidation, worries and often frustration….but showing now the delight of the incredible reward painted on their faces.  All happy today, more of less comfortable with these new lives entrusted in our hands…

    All strangers to each other, but at the same all truly close …

    We mingle with people we have never seen before but with whom we already have a lot to talk about, and when dinner time comes we spontaneously gather to go and try some local food…

    There is us, with our girls and adoptive son, there is my friend from Shanghai with her little girl whom she has also looked after for quite some time, and there is a lovely couple from Colorado. They have left their biological children back home to be fully dedicated to their new adoptive daughter, who lies in her pouch, oblivious to the chitchat around her, nestled in her mum’s chest, abandoned and trusting of that new mother whom she seems to have never been apart from.

    And then there is big John, 4 adopted children waiting at home, (one ‘traditional adoption’ he says , which means a healthy Chinese girl, and then 3 more , all ‘special’, which translates to some sort of  health issue), here to pick up his two new boys. Big John with two kids, one on each hip. “One is happy and eating well, this other one has me worried, he seems so sad”.

    Big John, big heart, big smile…big hands caressing his latest son’s small head.

    “Are you going for more?” dare I ask… “I don’t know, you should ask my wife, she might already be browsing the website”…

    A new child at your fingertip…just a click on a website link.

    Like in a hospital nursery where new parents smile at each other, exchanging congratulations and commenting on their babies’ hair, eye color, skin complexion and weight…so all of us new adoptive parents having dinner around a big Chinese table, peacefully talk about our children’s ‘imperfections’: spina bifida, missing limbs, benign tumors…

    Other adoption stories come up…the 10 years old boy that on the first day kicked and screamed refusing to ‘comply with the procedures’, resembling a newborn that reluctantly comes into the world and cries desperately wishing to go back into the safety and comfort of the womb… But more than the hugs from his new mum and dad do his little fingers on his new I pad…the next day he is settled and cheerful …great idea for a new ad…:    “ IPAD , when technology  brings your family together…”

    But for all these love stories that seem to have a happy ending, there is always one or two that get us thinking…

    Little Yuan Yuan, adopted a few months ago, 9 years old who never understood why someone would take her away from her real home, the orphanage, to place her in a new one. Months into it, she still desperately kicks and screams to go back into the orphanage womb… that makes me wonder what right do we have, if any, to play God ‘assembling’ families together...

    All this unfolds under the eyes of the apparently uninvolved, seasoned adoption mediator, who like an obstetrician in a childbirth room observes things many times seen before… Who knows how many of these ‘births’ has she already facilitated, and what does she really think, does she feel for us, does she really comprehend? Or maybe we are just new numbers and new papers to process…, some this week, some more next week , and the week after…

    All around the big Chinese table, till yesterday total strangers, today human beings by fate put together to share a magic moment, to have so much in common.

    And it’s not just the children, the love and the pure joy, but the road that got us there and the one that lays ahead. For although a lot is left unsaid, we’ve all shared the same idea, the same dream and the same fears: with just how much can I cope? Should I dare or should I wait? Should I trade what's safe and certain for all of this unknown?

    Because if adoption is in itself  a challenge,  choosing a ‘special’ child goes one step further. 

    And between a drink and chilly tofu, a cup of tea and delicious rolls, we carry on sharing our lives, and what yesterday seemed unthinkable today seems strangely manageable.

    Spina bifida, cleft palate, heart defects ... what yesterday made these children ‘special’ today makes them just precious.

    Like flipping a coin on the other side, what had been misfortune and bad luck for some, and made these children an unwanted burden, today becomes a gift and a blessing for others, for us…since there is no doubt that as we were all there dining together, contemplating our ‘less than perfect’ children, we were on top of the world, so happy and so proud, so grateful and hopeful (some of us openly, others a bit more secretly) that maybe, one day, we could try for just one more…

    I look at family... my husband, my daughters who in their hearts adopted Liam well before I did myself, and my new son ...

    I am overjoyed and a little guilty at the same time, the bittersweet awareness that what was your greatest loss Liam, your parents and the life you were meant to live, is what gives us the biggest joy.

    Forgive us for this, we can’t help but be happy.

    But I also know that when your parents gave you up, placing you on that bench in the hospital’s yard, probably watching from a distance until someone noticed you, they didn’t really abandon you, they just put you in different hands, in the hope that what they couldn’t do for you, someone else could.

    We can Liam, and we will.