#Majorca: a Special #Birthday Treat on a Magical Spanish Island

IMG_2180The rays of the sun, the sound of the sea, the long stretch of green palms and white plane trees, the glimmer of the fabulous yachts, all formed a pretty picture of a tropical paradise on earth.

I laid down my Bondi beach bag, picked a reclining sun lounger; in front of me was a sun-kissed, shimmering blue pool, reflecting the colour of a cloudless sky. Further ahead lay the vast Mediterranean, the harbour packed with a shining fleet of yachts of different shades of white, silver, grey and anything their owners cared to decorate with. Yes, I was on holiday, my heart sang, a cheerful song of contentment and bliss.

From where I sat, I could almost hear the sound of the ocean, relatively calm on a warm day. To cover the muffled traffic noise from the street below, I switched on my mini iPod and plugged in the earphones. Shuffling the songs I have recorded over the years, I reclined back on my deck chair and let my mind drift.

Reading by the pool

Reading by the pool

Here we are, in Majorca, one of the most enchanting Spanish Islands John and I have visited.

During our first trip in the summer of 2005, we stayed in Alcudia on the north of the island and hired a car to explore. I remember fondly our relaxation on the beaches of Polensa and further afield, swimming in the shallow part of the deep blue. On our drive around, we made stops at Deia, a splendidly peaceful village, where Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones had their exclusive hideout. It’s also where the English poet Robert Graves is buried. We paid a homage to his grave, as we climbed up in a cool breeze one afternoon.

Robert Graves - English Poet's Grave in Deia

Robert Graves – English Poet’s Grave in Deia

On the last leg of that memorable tour, we spent a day in Majorca’s capital Palma in the south. We were blessed with fabulous sunshine and clear blue sky. As cultured and creative as we are, we visited Joan Miro’s museum located at Palma Nova. Apparently, the Barcelona-born artist got married in Majorca, spent a lot of time and drew his last breath there. No wonder, we could  see his mark on many parts of the island.

Same Spot, different times. 2005 & 2014

Same Spot, different times. 2005 & 2014

This April, partly for my birthday, partly a break away from the still cold Sutton Coldfield, we headed to this Mediterranean hotspot again. An extra attraction to return to Majorca – it is one of the popular training grounds for cycling, and as some of you know, my husband John is a dedicated cyclist and outdoor enthusiast.

Popular cycling training ground

Popular cycling training ground

IMG_5589Every day in the last few days, he went onto his hired Focus  bike, racing off to some of the prettiest villages and towns. Moi? After the full Spanish breakfast, consisting of all the usual suspects, and a few Spanish additions, such as churros, fresh fruits, sweet pastries and cakes, I threw a few essentials in my beach bag and headed to the hotel swimming pool and sun deck, overlooking the harbour. I dipped into the cool pool, to test the water, so to speak, then read for a bit and write a little when my muse descended on me. If I was feeling lazy, I chilled with my music and shut my eyes to the world, allowing my imagination to roam, in the vast space inside my head.

When John returned from his cycling expeditions, he joined me on the deck chair. After cooling himself in the pool, he opened the parasol and started his surfing with his iPad. Once in a while, he would send me a greeting via Facebook messaging – what has the world come to? We sat next to each other and we were using instant messages? Virtual is taking over!

Former Gran Hotel, Now a Museum

Former Gran Hotel, Now a Museum

In the late afternoons, we walked to Palma centre, stopping at various locations, for a snap here and there, be it a walk around the Bellver Castle, or a majestic church along one of the cobbled alleys. We even spotted Gaudi style architecture and enjoyed the exhibition of George Melies at the former Grand Hotel, now a museum. Our wandering often took us into the past, when we paused to admire age-old buildings and unusual artefacts.

When hunger took over, we picked one of many restaurants or cafe bars. I usually go for a Tapas Menu, trying out different Spanish gourmet food, fried squid, meatballs in tomato sauce, grilled green peppers, Majorcan soup (which is not really a soup, more like a stew), you name it.

On my birthday, after John set off to his daily ride into the Majorcan mountains and countryside, I went to the YHI spa next to our hotel pool. Having a body massage by the hydronic pool, enjoying the steam room, sauna and jacuzzi for an hour or so was relaxing, a pampering I do not often indulge in, and when I do, it’s such a treat!

Historical Reminder: Arab Baths

Historical Reminder: Arab Baths

Following snacks and a wee snooze in the afternoon, John and I took our usual route to Palma centre. From our hotel right across the harbour, it is a pleasant 20 minutes walk, passing the fabulous sculpture sign of Palma, surrounded by red roses and tall, green palm trees. We stopped at the beautifully preserved Cathedral, and continue our way along the cool Passeig Born, we snaked our way around the old city and found the little gem tucked away: The Arab Baths.

For over 1000 years, the Arab Baths had been there, bearing witness to the passage of time and reminding us of a time when Muslims ruled Palma, following the Romans and Byzantines. It’s the only remaining Moorish construct in Palma. With a tranquil garden, filled with lemon trees and tropical colours, it’s well worth a visit – take a hop back in history, while enjoying peace and quiet in a medieval part of a otherwise modern, buzzing city. I loved walking along the zigzag streets, lined with ancient churches and old buildings, occasionally pausing to peek through the yards of a fabulous house.

Birthday Feast in Palma

Birthday Feast in Palma

By the time my feet were sore and my belly rumbling, we went into a restaurant in the La Ljota area. John ordered Super Festival for us, with five surprises to start with, a hot pan of meats and seafood for the main, and three delicious deserts to polish off at the end, not to mention the ice cold Mojito drinks as aperitif (See John’s various reviews of Majorca on TripAdviser.)

My wonderful birthday was complete as we walked back along the harbour which was lined with beautiful yachts, and the Mediterranean simmering in the evening sunshine. As I watched the sun quietly sets in the west, I smiled at the man next to me and whispered: “Thank you for another lovely birthday!”

Beautiful from sunrise to sunset

Beautiful from sunrise to suns

Sights in Majorca

Sights in Majorca

If you have a few minutes to spare,

Check out my video:#Majorca: Magical Spanish Island in the Mediterranean, or go to our Video Gallery for a large sample of fun clips. Enjoy!

 

 

Posted in Food & Cuisine, Social Media & Photography, Sports & Leisure, Travel Logs, UK, USA & Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Dinner – Disturbing, yet Dangerously Addictive

6279562I bought the book only a couple of weeks ago, largely because it was set in Amsterdam, a city I adore. From the blurb I knew that there was a crime committed somewhere so it fell nicely in the genre I love reading. Then there was the Dutch author whose name sounded German (completely due to my lack of knowledge of Dutch names) – He could be my first Dutch crime writer. Consequently, I picked it out of hundreds on my bookshelves and started turning the pages.

Once I started, I found it difficult to put down. So a couple of very late nights later, I reached its bitter end, the ending which I know quite a few readers on GoodReads complained about, deeply disturbing, yet somehow realistic.

As a norm, I do not read any reviews before I begin my book of choice, but I do scan through a few after I finished consuming, especially if I am prepared to write a review for it. I wanted to know what my fellow readers think of the book, and if they confirm my thoughts or otherwise.

Aperitif

Aperitif

The Dinner scooped thousands of reviews on GoodReads. I read only a couple, a positive 5-star with praises and a one-star which panned it. I liked them both.

I assume that most critical reviews stem from the unlikeable characters, especially the narrator. Personally, I don’t like any of them either, detesting some of them with a passion. I remember that when Claire was arguing with her brother-in-law in defending her son’s actions, I wanted to jump into the page, telling her that she sounded ridiculous and willing her to shut up! In Mark’s (GoodReads Reader) words, the characters in this book have “no sense of personal responsibility, no remorse, no soul searching”. I share my utter contempt towards them – they are sadly lacking in what typify many of the respectable values of white, middle class people in the West.

Posh dining - Main course & desert :)

Posh dining – Main course & desert :)

However, I am giving it 4 stars – I even considered a higher rating, had any of the characters displayed more redeeming characterisitics. The stars go to the writer of this book Herman Koch, who, in my view, has written a great book.

There were very funny moments in the early part of the book, which made me laugh. The writing style is very engaging, and it has kept my interest from the very beginning. Little by little, we get to learn more about the characters and what happened before the fateful dinner.

17878613If you don’t mind reading a story with despicable main characters and the associated actions, and getting into their psych and dysfunctional minds, you would enjoy this book. I loved this book, for its beauty of language (I read in English and I am greatly impressed, so a marvellous job for the translator, I must add), the setting (both the dinner and the posh restaurant served as a prolonged suspence, filled the readers with an eager anticipation), the characterisation (even though you may hate them), and the pace (slow to start with, but gathering pace and reaching the climax, or perhaps an anti-climax towards the end).

Deliciously dark and engaging. Recommend it!

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When a #ProfessionalInterpreter Met a Prostitute

NightBird2THE driver cut the engine and they waited below imposing church spires. All eyes were on the walkie-talkie, waiting for confirmation from the police officers watching the property in question.

The adrenaline in the van was palpable. Pearl looked at her watch, focusing on the second hand as it ticked a full turn and then another, bringing the time to 4:54. Another 30 seconds. Pearl’s shoulders tensed at a bit of static coming from the speaker, but then silence followed.

Tick… tick… tick, and a voice blared. “It’s 4:55! At exactly 5:00, you will position a plainclothes officer in front of the house, and follow the two punters onto the premises. Confirm!”

704px-Police_BMW_X5Sirens sliced through the steady hum of the rush-hour traffic as a number of police cars sped towards the location. The unmarked police van was close behind, as pedestrian vehicles manoeuvred towards the pavement to make way for them. A shriek of brakes alerted Pearl to a near collision between a police car and an old woman in a crosswalk, who was pulled back by an alert young man.

“Gosh, that was a close call,” the driver announced.

“She was probably deaf,” said Sandra. “You would think that the sirens would be loud enough to wake the dead.”

A round of tension-relieving laughter echoed in the van, including a nervous chuckle from Pearl. The temporary distraction was interrupted by the sudden stop of the van, throwing Pearl’s body forward. They had arrived at the target location.

A typical English Residential Area

Typical English Residence

The brothel looked like an ordinary, terraced house in a residential area. Nothing marked it out except for the multiple police cars parked in front.

“Go, go!” Pearl heard shouts from the armed officers, who had moved quickly to the target. The commotion made her heart pound faster than ever. She felt adrenaline rushing through her bloodstream, as Sandra nudged her out of the van towards the house.

Breathing heavily, she ran past a stone fence, through a front yard lined with hedges, and climbed a steep flight of stairs to the front door.

The next thing she knew, she was inside the house amid frantic noises and a mixture of English and Chinese dialects. She saw a middle-aged, Chinese male running out to the back garden. One of the officers shouted after him: “Don’t run! Come back!”

Seconds later, he was on the ground with two officers, one on each side of him. He was brought back into the sitting room, where he had been watching a Chinese film from a DVD. The voices coming from the screen merged with the cacophony created by the raid. The man shivered and mumbled in a dialect as the officers released their hold on him. He sank onto the sofa, his hands raised in surrender.

Sandra beckoned Pearl to follow her up the stairs. In front of them was an officer holding a gun, aiming straight ahead. The whole incident felt surreal, like a movie scene until then. Following automatically where the gun was pointing, she came back to stark reality.

“Interpreter, come in here. We need you in this room.” The voice, demanding her service, lured her back into her comfort zone, and Pearl geared up to do what she did best.

image (5)On entering the room, she was greeted with a sight she had never expected to witness in real life: a white, naked male, trying to cover his private parts with a small face towel, standing at the bedside. On the bed sat a petite, Oriental girl, completely naked, using her small hands to protect her modesty; one of her breasts spilled out, leaving no room for imagination what they’d been up to prior to the bust-in. The room was poorly lit; only a red lantern sat at the far corner, lighting the scene like a porn film set.

“Get their information,” the young officer barked.

Pearl approached the girl. “It’s all right,” she said in Mandarin. “No need to worry. They just want to know your name.”

The girl complied, her voice small, but with an unlikely hint of pride. “Ah Fang.”

NB: This excerpt concludes Ah Fang’s Story: #Confessions of a Sex Slave, which has been published on this site in five parts, starting how Ah Fang was kidnapped in China and trafficked to the UK to work as a sex slave for the snakeheads. To find out what happens to her after the police raid to the brothel, go to Amazon to download an e-book Land of Hope, or order a paperback.

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What Makes an Effective Professional #Interpreter?

Appropriate dress code for a court interpreter

Appropriate dress code for a court interpreter

In the beginning of 2014, an agency I did occasional interpreting work for emailed me with an attachment titled Resolutions for Interpreters.

That’s a first, I thought. No other agency has done anything of the like. Curious, I took a quick look. It contained some very useful tips, such as practising your note-taking and memory skills.

Interpreting, as many of you know, has been my most recent stint in a rather prolific professional life, however, due to the dire economic showdown in the world in general and UK in particular, coupled with the condemned government outsource to private, exploitative agencies, this once-exciting career is now fading quickly into a distant memory and increasingly becoming a no-longer-viable option.

As I look back at a career spanning over a dozen years, a sense of sentiment and sadness gripped me. Time to move on and reflect: What have I learnt in my years as an interpreter? In other words, what makes a good, reliable professional interpreter?

Multi-lingual/Bi-Lingual is required

Multi-lingual/Bi-Lingual is required

All interpreters, in my view, should be equipped with basic skills, such as bi-lingual (Chinese & English, or any other language combination), bi-cultural, necessary qualifications (relevant degrees and diplomas associated with interpreting & translation, and languages in general), and belonging to professional bodies (ITI, NRPSI or on the Home Office panel etc), plenty of practical experience in the fields (legal, medical, immigration and business etc.), and satisfied customers.

It is not enough simply being able to complete an assignment, be it oral interpreting, or written translation. How effective are you? Are you helping our clients to communicate without misunderstanding? Are you doing the best you can?

If you are already an interpreter, or you intend to becoming one, perhaps you should ask yourself some of the questions below:

IMG_4510 21). How competent are you with the working languages? (language pairs like Mandarin/English; Polish/English; French/Arabic, whatever your language combination). Do you understand the nuances of the languages you are interpreting from and into? Do you try to interpret as accurate as possible without important information being missing or lost in translation? Are you passionate about the languages? Do you have a comprehensive knowledge about both languages? What do you do to improve your language skills?

2) Are you cultural aware? – do you know both cultures (or multiple cultures) well? Are you culturally sensitive? Are you up-to-date with what’s happening in the cultures/countries whose languages you’re working with?

3) Do you possess sufficient specialist knowledge? – Are you familiar with the subject area you’re working on? Nobody knows everything and some areas are very technical and specialised. Do you have a basic working knowledge, or have you done enough research and preparation to give you an idea as to where the clients will be needing your help?

IMG_4081

Interpreting for VIP of BCU & Chinese delegation

4) Are you a good communicator? Are you equipped with basic interpersonal skills? Do you understand the range of meanings of words and phrases, their subtleties? Are you able to convey the exact meaning, or as close as possible from the source language into the target language, or vice versa?

5) How is your note-taking skills? Are they up to scratch or do they need working on?

6) Are you independent and impartial? Do you become emotionally involved? Do you take sides? Do you try to interpret what is being said without deviation and misunderstanding?  Sometimes, this can be hard to do, but try you have to.

The list goes on, depending on the nature and circumstances of interpreting assignments. There are many Dos and Don’ts associated with this profession, and before I end today’s blog, I would like to highlight one more point:

Practice Makes Perfect - to be an effective interpreter, you need a lot of work experience. If you are regularly working for the courts and Police, you would become very familiar with the legal and criminal procedures and what needed to be interpreted at a drop of a hat. Likewise in a business setting.

Business Interpreting for a UK company in China

Business Interpreting for a UK company in China

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