Saturday, January 25, 2014

Week Four – Trains, Planes and Coaches!

Week four of my blog is all about transport! 

Yes it doesn’t take long into my 52-week writing journey for me to address the subject of the different methods that I use to move about. As an integral part of my life and many of you out there, it is only right we dedicate the next few paragraphs to this subject.

And this week my journey began with facing what many experience every Monday morning in London and I am sure in other cities around the globe – The rush hour in Underground system!

There is a very funny YouTube video which I included above, that shows people in Japan who have been employed specially to push commuters into the trains during rush hour, and if you haven’t see it take a look, believe me, it is an art! And for those of you who commute in the London underground system (or any similar train organisation around the world) will agree with me that it’s about time we employed “Train Pusher” in the Tube!

I arrived at Victoria Station in Central London after two and quarter hours in a coach to face hundreds of people standing still outside the station. The doors were shut and they were feeding us through a tinny crack in the metal railing gates. It took me about half an hour to get into the station to then face further queuing to get onto the platform and wait for 5 trains before I was able to get on and be on my way. Remember week one? Stay in control? It is hard to do this when you are pushed and shoved and squeezed just to get on a train! And by the way the scariest moment of this adventure is when you eventually get to the front of the platform and you are now facing the empty space between you and the wall on the other side and you look down at your toes, which are an inch away from the edge. You suddenly feel like you are in one of those arcade machines that you drop a coin and it pushes the next coin and then it pushes the next coin etc.  You look behind and become aware of the sea of people and the fear factor kicks in knowing that if someone pushes the person behind you, you will fall onto the rails like that coin! If you’ve never experience this let me give you some advice, don’t move and when the train comes shut your eyes! Especially if you are at the beginning of the platform; it is a frightening experience to see the train, about 3 inches away from your nose, pass by at high speed! You feel it’s never going to end and you get quite dizzy! Anyhow, I digress. The point here is that I believe it takes so long to get on a train and as a result creates a mess of people who need to be filtered into the station because we don’t have “train pushers”. It is frustrating how commuters will not move to the centre of the train and, as the platform master announces when the train arrives, “use all available space”! I’m taking this idea to London Underground Transport Headquarters, so watch out for the add in the job section of the news paper that says “good with your hands? You like to push people around? Good at getting things into small spaces? Join the London Underground Train Pushers today!”

So after a somehow frustrating start of my week going into the office, I was looking forward to Tuesday to catch my flight to Yerevan via Vienna with Austrian Airlines.
My third method of transportation this week was to be the trusted metal bird. For those who have heard my story about British Airways would know that I don’t flight the “World’s Favourite Airline” since two years ago after they treated me like dirt and showed very little customer care. I would like to add to this list Austrian Airways!
As a frequent flyer I have some advantages earned through the endurance of being on a plane every week. One of those benefits is that I get to choose my seat, free of charge, when I check in on line. And in the majority of my trips I chose the aisle seat on the exit row, it gives me that little extra leg room which comes in handy specially when your flight leaves at 10 pm and arrives at your destination at 5 am the next day.
I had an unfortunate bad connection in Vienna and I had to wait 10 hours in the lounge for my flight to Yerevan. On the plane from London to Vienna I had my usual aisle seat that I had chosen when I checked in. When I came to board I was stopped at the gate and informed that my seat had been moved. This some times happens due to a change on aircraft but in this occasion I was told I was moved because I had not paid the 40 Euro charge for seating at an exit row. Yes you are reading this right, it is not Ryan Air, and it is Austrian Airways! Apparently they have introduced a new policy where they charge you if you are on an exit row! I, of course, protested at once and informed the lady at the gate I wanted the exit row. “if you want the exit row you have to pay 40 Euros” she replied. I argued that this was wrong as I had been allowed to check in on this seat and I wanted the exit row. “You will have to pay” is all she kept repeating while my fellow passengers where getting irritated as I blocked the gate. Conscious of this I let it go as I did not want to cause a scene, “remember week one Sergio, Stay in Control” I kept on saying to myself. As we boarded the plane and everyone was seated I looked around to see the exit row and guess what? It was empty! I called the person in charge of the flight and I expressed my anger and disappointment at how they were treating a frequent flyer and I wanted to sit there. And here comes the extraordinary part, when I asked if I could move she said, “you will have to pay 40 Euros if you want to sit there” I kid you not! The short slightness of the airline and their staff has cost them more than the 40 Euros they did not make with me this week, as if this is the attitude towards loyal customers, I no longer wish to be loyal to them and will look for alternative airlines to travel in the future. My only worry is that the airline industry is so bad at customer service and loyalty, because let’s face it they don’t give a dam about us, I will run out of companies to travel with!

Anyhow, I do have to say that as I write this blog on the Austrian flight back from Yerevan, not on the exit row!, my week ends up on a high note and this is thanks to an immigration officer in Vienna. As I handed over my passport for inspection to board the Vienna – London leg of the journey, she takes her time and looks at my picture several times. She then starts a series of questions, which are un-usual, and keeps me there for about 3 minutes. At the end she looks at me and says, “I’m sorry to have kept you sir but you have lost a bit of weight and you look quite different to your picture in the passport” and I replied with a cheeky smile “that’s ok, you probably thought that was my fat brother’s passport” and she laugh. As I parted she said “well done, you look much better”. It is always nice when you get complements from an immigration office that usually hardly smiles.

I guess the learning for me this week has been that no matter how much you hate public transportation; it is an integral part of our lives and some of us use it more than others, you just have to remember that in the end is not the journey but the destination and as long as I get safely to where I’m heading, I’m ok with being pushed into a trained or taken my favourite seat on the plane away from me. All I asked is to get there safely to see my family and share with you all my adventures!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Week three – A tribute to a great man

“Talent and Imagination are to a Human Being what the hands are to a clock, without them it has no meaning”
Maestro Sergio Snyder

This was a phrase my father said to me the day I turned 18 and he told me I was going to London to study English for 3 months. It is a very emotive phrase because encompass two things my father had – Imagination and Talent, and those where what he was hoping I would develop as I left Mexico City in October 1985. We boarded an Aeroflot plane bound for Moscow where we would spend 5 days together. He was on a business trip conducting meetings for his travel agency called “Magallanica”. I had the opportunity to enjoy seeing the fascinating and intriguing USSR. At that point in my life I had only made a few trips outside of the hustle and buzzel of Mexico and this was all an amazing new experience. Moscow was an opportunity for my father to show me something new, completely different to what I was used to. And I was so amazed by this mysterious country and city that it left a mark in my mind, an imprint that would never fade away, a time with my father in a strange yet fascinating place. He was at this point cultivating my imagination.
After the five days in Moscow we flew to London where I would make my residence for 3 months. But his first task was to settle me in and he rented an apartment in Mayfair. 17 Audely Street, London, I still remember the very fashionable address. And it was only two minutes from Selfridges in Oxford Street. Remember I had never been so spoiled in my life and it was all like a dream, something I had never experienced before, and I was enjoying it with my dad, a man that up to this point had been I figure I had always admired because of his flamboyant and elegant life style, a man who lived with Imagination and a man with tremendous talent, someone I aspired to be. It was just the two of us; for five weeks, father and son time that we never had before. He was a busy man who travelled a lot and I saw periodically when he was back from his trips.
And at that moment as we shared a flat in London I thought he was being a great dad giving me the opportunity to see Russia and to go to England to learn English for three months, that was the plan, that’s what he told my mum. It was fun, exiting and different and I was set to return to Mexico after that, I had a very “busy” acting career back home and this trip was just a break from it. Little did I know that his plans where more than that. If the truth be known, I was an unemployed actor who had left school when I turn 17 and was getting no acting jobs. Instead I was hanging around with my best friend in an “acting and dancing” academy, waiting for something to happen, drinking and going out perhaps too much.
What my father was setting for me back then was not just a trip to the USSR and to visit England to have fun and learn a few English phrases. He was concerned that I had lost my way and focus to be an actor and this trip was his way of cementing my new life, my new future. This trip would help me refocus and pursue my dreams, my ambitions to be an artist in a country very close to his heart. My father was educated in England and he spoke a flawless English. He admired the English and relished the culture. And he knew that the best school for a young actor was here in London. He didn’t know at that point if I would return to Mexico after the three months, he would not be able to stop me. All he could do was to show me what there was on offer and hope I would make the right choice.  I myself did not know at that moment if I would stay or return, I don’t think anyone knew, but his vision of a better life for me was all he could seed into my mind, the choice at the end would be mine. And I did not disappoint him and after three months I asked, “Could I stay longer?” and he immediately said yes. I think back then he felt he had accomplished what he had set himself to do, to give his son a new lease of life away from his routine and what seemed back then a wasted youth. He knew I had desires to become a famous actor, and yet I was doing very little towards it.  My father was a very talented artist, a great piano player and it hurt him that none if his 4 children even played the flute, so when I had shown signs of wanting to be an actor, he knew he had to do everything he could to help me follow my dreams.
I was probably a rubbish actor as today I’m not on the silver screen, but his efforts and vision for me did not go to waste and thanks to him today I have a great life. Living in England gave me the platform to develop my talents and imagination, the two things that he so much wanted to cultivate in me, and here I am today writing this blog in his honour, 28 years after he took that boy out of Mexico wanting to give him a better life.
I entitled my blog this week “a tribute to a great man” and it may seem a little unusual how I am writing it as I have spent so far the majority of the time talking about me rather than him! But this is for a very important reason.
Anyone who had the pleasure and privilege of knowing my father better than me could share more intricate stories and anecdotes about him. Some people may even claim to know him better than I do. And they would be right. I cannot tell you hundreds of stories about my dad, as we did not spend a lot of time together. I cannot share with you anecdotes about my father and I; we had little adventure time together. I would not be able to tell you what he liked or disliked, what side of the bed he slept in, what was his favourite chair in the house or what he always had for breakfast. My father and I did not play football on a Sunday or watch a movie on a rainy Friday afternoon. So I cannot give you the usual tribute most people would give about their dad. But what I can give you is better than that.  Yes I may have missed all those moments most people have with their dads when they grow, but my tribute to my father today is to thank him for giving me a chance to change my life and become what I am today. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been if I had not stayed, if I had returned, if I had not chosen what my father had given me. There is no better tribute to a great man than to share with you who I am.
And I don’t mean to imply I did not know him at all. I do have memories of my father, an exiting, adventurous and exotic man. He knew people from all walks of life, from high society in England and India, to hard working honest people around the world. He was a true artist, and an accomplished pianist who moved people with his talent. He had the ability to make you feel good and special, he could tell stories and tales that would keep you entertained for hours, he knew about wine, food, sent, seas, cities, civilisations, countries, history, religion. He could hold your hand and make you feel safe even after he let go. He had a smile that said humble and loving yet powerful. He had time for everyone, even if he did not agree with you. He could cook, sing, write, swim; I don’t think there was anything he could not do.
His love for travelling and his desire for exploring the world led him to be away most of the time. This in itself brought a huge distance between him and I. But he had an ability that not many people have. He was able to make every moment you spent with him special. Every time we met, he would educate me by sharing good food, wine and books. Although the times we saw each other were scarce, he would take me to the theatre or to a concert and infuse that desire for art. The little time we would spend he would read me poems or share phrases to get me to see the beauty of the world. He knew our time together was limited and he try to bathe me with as much culture and fascinating views of the world as he could leaving me behind to process and soak it all in until our next time. These were the formation years of my youth, a time crucial for anyone, and all the time he was pointing me to the right direction, to become what I am today. I often said I could have gone off the rails; I was alone in London, with no one to tell me what to do. And the late 80’s, early 90’s were a time where “sex, drugs and rock and roll” were back in fashion. Yet he was doing something, in those few times we saw each other, which kept me on the right track. He was doing what any great dad would have done; give his son a goal, an illusion and a desire to succeed in life. He believed in me, in my talent. Without his support and encouragement I might have not reached what I have done so far. My values and personality are a reflection of what he cultivated all those precious moments we spent together.
Time with him became less and less and as I matured and became I guess more aware of the world and realities around me, we began to loose touch. His lifestyle was different to mine. I had to become independent and start to look after myself, and life isn’t always as fascinating as my father made it to be, some time life became hard and even cruel and I had to deal with those realities. He was a true artist and in a sense some times not fully in touch with my realities. This was to be the biases of our separation and eventually those 15 years of silence.
Towards the end of his life we kindled our relationship again, we patched things up and it didn’t matter what had happened, we just picked up from where we left. I’ve no doubt that he was disappointed during those 15 years we had lost contact and neither him or I were prepared to make an effort to speak, he had his life and I had mine. But that doesn’t matter, I can never deny that thanks to him I am what I am and I hope he felt proud of me. Thought not a famous actor, I have accomplished a lot, and there I was, in Moscow, doing well, the day he died, just as he wanted 28 years ago.
There are moments in life, which get imbedded in your mind and I want to share one of those moments with you. Sometimes those moments seem magical and for the first time it all starts to makes sense. If you know what I am talking about you would know those moments that give you the shivers, that stand the hairs on the back of your neck, those moment where you finally know why and how things happen. That moment came to me on Monday as I looked outside my hotel window in Moscow after I was given the devastating news of my father passing away. I stood there for a few moments looking at Red Square, I was in Moscow, the same place I had seen for the first time with him 28 years ago, the same place he had taken me to start my new life. Was this fate? Was this a message for me? Was there a sublime meaning to this? There I was standing looking at the first place my father and I landed the day I left Mexico for a new life. Red Square was staring me in the eyes as if to say, “Remember who you are”. The place where my new life began was right in front of me, like a painting that had been hanged in front of me to remind me of where it all began. I was not meant to be in Moscow that day; this trip had been arranged last minute on the Friday. I arrived the day he would peacefully leave us to finally rest after his two year suffering in silence. I was meant to be in Moscow when he died, this would be the sublime moment for the rest of my life to remember my father for who he was, the great man who gave me a chance to build my own life.

He leaves behind a legacy of memories which many people share.

Maestro Snyder touched the lives of many who will remember him for what he was, a talented man who lived with imagination… and now the clock has stopped but the memories will live on.

I love you dad… forever.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Week two – Look back to look forward!

Me with long hair in my past "rock and roll life"

As the second week of 2014 comes to a close, we can already look back at 10 days of a new year!

Sounds melodramatic but one thing is for sure, time waits for no one and the next minute you know we are already shopping for Christmas presents for 2014!
We should not take time lightly and as I have written before in previous blogs, time is a very important commodity we all posses but we need to use it wisely in order to look back and think, “that was time well spent”

And I got thinking about time not because of the last 10 days I’ve already lived in 2014 (though they have already been eventful!) but because through the amazing power of social media and the Internet I was able to spark something magical related to time, something that allowed me to look back in my history and past times.

Most of you who use social media as a vehicle to share experiences, thoughts and feelings with those in our lives would confirm that through this platform we have rekindle with various people from our past. People that perhaps without the support of the Internet, we may have never seen or speak to again in our lives.

For several years I have been doing this very same thing, and since I got hooked onto Facebook I have contacted many friends and family members I had not seen or heard from in years. Being a “foreigner” in my country of residence means I have met hundreds of people who like me, came from other parts of the world to live and work here. Many of those went back to their countries (unlike me who came for 3 months and 28 years later I’m still here!) and we lost touch. I also lost connection with many family members as they were all so far away and I was, believe it or not, lazy to write to them! I blame it on being young! Nevertheless, without social media and the Internet in those days, if you did not write a letter and post it, wait for a few weeks to get a response, you would loose touch with people. But thanks to technology nowadays we can at the drop of a hat let the whole world know what we are up to and know about people’s very interesting and new lives!

And this has extended even within my work environment. I’ve been working for my company for over 22 years and I have also met many people with whom I have worked and shared many great experiences. Because of the nature of the business (hotels) I have moved around and worked in different locations and cities and every time I’ve moved I have left a bunch of great people behind with whom I had form a bond, a friendship.

This week in one of this virtual social media hang outs someone posted a scanned picture of times gone by. This picture then sparked a conversation between a group of people and we wanted to get in touch with one of our work colleagues from the image. Next thing you know, we’ve tracked him down and we are all in touch again. Then someone says “it would be great to get the gang back together” And that one picture in the Internet with some ex-work colleagues of mine sparked a great moment when I thought “you know what, we can bring everyone that worked in that hotel together” and thanks to the magic of the virtual social network we are doing just that! We began a page inviting anyone who worked a certain era of that particular hotel and within hours we were brining them all in.  It was like being in a pub for a re-union (minus the drinks) everyone began sharing thoughts, names and pictures that brought back such great memories. There is even talk of actually physically meeting again but that may not be as feasible as we are finding out that we have people in that group that now live in all four corners of the world! Then again, through the magic of social networking, we don’t need to be physically there, we are all in one virtual Pub reminiscing on the “golden” ear we all enjoyed.

Looking at some of the comments posted got me thinking we had such fun, it was great to work there and did I really have that hairstyle! And I ponder on the importance of our past and how we must look back at what we did, whom we knew and how we enjoyed our time together, these are all important aspect of who we are today. And who we are today is a refection of our past. This is so powerful that we should never take for granted our history, where we came from. For me I have reminded myself this week never lose track of where I came from, because it will continue to help me get better at what I do and cement further relationships with people that I want, in the future, remain in contract with them through virtual networking.

Have you lost touch with someone from your past? Do you need to get your old photo albums out to remember where you came from and what you have achieved? Don’t be afraid of social networking on the Internet, sometime is a great way to look back at what we were to figure out what we will be.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Week one – Stay in control

My Window of inspiration!

Happy New Year to all!

And as promised on my last blog in 2013, this year I will be sharing with you my observations and experiences on a weekly basis. This is my personal goal to push myself to do more writing and exercise my power of observation. And if you read my last blog (if you haven’t you can still do so, still there!) you will recall the analogy I made about staring out of the window. I shared the impact of turning what you see and observe into reality. The concept focused on a writer and how he or she is busy at work while staring out of the window, getting inspiration for their next piece. In other words, writing is the easy part, getting the idea is hard. And I challenged everyone to stair out of your own window, and use that moment to get your best ideas to put into action.

I talked about my window being my travel time, observing everything around me and that I would use it as the basis of my blog, what I saw or experienced. As it turns out, January will be a quite month for me with only a couple of trips planned and the rest of the time working from my office or being at home. But nevertheless, I did promise to write every week and that is what I am going to do, so here is week one, a blog about observations of the last few days of 2013 and the beginning of 2014.

I’ve entitled week one “stay in control” as the thing that hit me in the face this week was how much I need to be in control of my emotions and how important it is to manage situations you are faced with.

And the holiday season is a time when we need to be in control of our emotions and feelings. I am sure we all experience these past few days’ emotions and feelings as we met with many family and friends to celebrate the festivities of Christmas and New Year. Some of these were positive and some were negative, as we try to socialise with people we may only see occasionally and around this time of the year. I have been at home since my last trip in 2013 and it has been great to spend well-deserved time with my family. We have also seen and met friends over the holiday season, gone out a couple of times and hosted people around in our house, it is all part of this time of the year.
And it was during one of these events that I understood how important it is to stay in control. During social gatherings arguments always spark on subjects we all feel very passionate about. What happens when you discuss a subject you know about? Well, you believe you are the expert.  And often enough you may not be the expert and the other person may know more about it than you. At this point you should always back away and give the ground to the expert to finish off the conversation and move onto the next subject. However, we know this is not the case and fuelled with a bit of wine and too much emotion we not only know we are the experts but we are also the person who had experienced on this particular situation, so we don’t let go.
Sadly, I fell a victim of this situation during one of this social gathering and at one point I slammed my feast onto the table to make my point and that got everyone’s attention bring that awkward silence and moment where you wish you had not done that.
Later that evening, my wife reminded me of the moment and that it was pretty embarrassing.  I have to admit she is right. So as a person who does not believe in hindsight or having regrets about my actions, I wanted to use the power of observation and I played a memory video in my head of that moment to see myself completely and utterly not in control! Lesson learned, and now I am aware I must stay in control!

Apart from helping me to change my own behaviour, this was my “staring out of the window” moment, my chance to observe human behaviour to inspire me to write. So I’ve taken what happened that day and I am putting it into good use.

First of all, it was the inspiration I needed to write my first blog! My objective is to stay on track of my commitment to write and I just needed that moment to “stair out of the window” to bring my first week’s observations to life, and I do hope that by the end of the blog some of you will identify with this situation and beginning to think about staying in control.
I am also now more aware of what I did and I won’t let situations get hold of my emotions and feelings towards someone or something. Shortly after this incident I got an e-mail, which I read, I pressed the reply button straight away and I began to type furiously my answer. I got about half way when I stopped and remember to be in control. I closed it and moved away from it. This is an important part of my everyday life as I deal with thousands of people both during travel and at work that can easily get me wind up and I might end up banging my feast again. So no more feast banging for me, I will now smile and think, “I am in control”
I also think that self-control is probably a good topic to start my year. It is a much bigger subject that would take more than a blog to explore, so we can come back to this topic throughout the next 51 weeks to remind ourselves of the power that exists from being in control.

For now, and I did promise to keep it short, as we beginning our new year of observation, I encourage you to reflect on what experiences you had this holiday season with people who may have rubbed you the wrong way, either at a dinner party, at the supermarket, when you were trying to board a train or just simply someone closed to you trying to get you to see something their way, did you stay in control or did you end up banging that feast to make your point?