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Retirement thinking (I)

At certain stage in your life, you will start to think about retirement. Especially when you have some friends who are much older than you, you will look at their footsteps and automatically think about yours. A friend of mine has lived in the UK for decades, who happily retired a few years ago at the age of 60. Looking at the retirement age now, regardless of gender, we will have to wait until 67, 68 or possibly much older, and the difference accrues just within less than 10 years of time.

Previously when you are 50 something, you may have planned your life of retirement already, especially for a woman, but now you will need to think about finding a job as there’s still more than 10 years ahead in order to get the state pension as well as some pensioner’s benefits. One of the reasons to prolong the retirement age is thought to be because people live longer than before, which is a positive sign. If only the job markets still welcome the over 50’s without being discriminated, that would be great. Nevertheless, my humble opinion is that retiring at 60-65 is preferable, providing it’s affordable in the future. In that case people can still do things with reasonable mobility, which they wouldn’t be able to do in their usual profession.

While the retirement age is the same for men and women, we shall not ignore the issue that women are often disadvantageous in the job markets that hence affects their pension later on as well. Let’s hope we will not end up in poverty in our old age.

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Sisters in two cities

Little Mermaid in Copenhagen:

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Little Mermaid in Warsaw:

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It’s said the two mermaids are relative sisters, but have different destinies. From the statues it seems the one in Copenhagen is more peaceful, whilst the one in Warsaw more in a fighting spirit.

They are both top attractions for tourists in their own cities.

The problem with having a PhD

Having a PhD doesn’t guarantee a success in your career or making a living. Some people having spent several years more on studying for a PhD only find out their salary for a new job actually being less than before. Because having a PhD may be just a measurement for your academic capability in a certain subject and will be paid off if you do academic jobs in a university or a research institute. But the fact is that there’re less academic positions in the universities than the number of the PhD holders. And there is no need for such a qualification across a wide spectrum of job markets and most corporate bosses will tell you that you’re over-qualified and even if you barely fit in you’ll have to lower your pay expectation. Having grumbled about this, I know some might disagree with me and give the examples of successful individuals.

I am not sure if I am the right person to write something about it without sounding too irrelevant as I am basically not an advisory person. But another little voice urges me to have a go, and you may have a different viewpoint to add up to the discussion.

So why do you study for a PhD in the first place? This is a hard question. The answer varies depending on individuals’ circumstances. If you look out to it for a fortune, you’d mostly be disappointed. However, it is the highest degree possible for academic accreditation. And it’s very hard to get it, especially from those highly ranked universities.

How can one get a PhD in a certain subject then? Simply put, you have to choose a topic to do research on, get a supervisor and write up a thesis. In your research work, you must provide novelty and make distinctive contributions, even make a breakthrough in the specific filed, either theoretically or experimentally. In order to achieve this, you have to carry out literature review, look at the state of the art worldwide progress so far, and pinpoint what’s the next step for your research. It will fail you if you just repeat other people’s work. So you must be adamant, even questioning the established theory, and being creative. You must be open-minded, welcoming any new ideas and critics. After years of hard working, your findings or discoveries should be written up in papers, sometimes a peer-reviewed journal is required for publication.

At last you must pass your viva from external and internal examiners, where you must be able to defend the details in your thesis, which will be put up on the shelf of your university library (or in the British Library if you study in a British university) afterwards. Then you may get congratulatory messages and drinks for celebration, and you may feel on top of the world for a while. When this short term ecstasy is over, the reality creeps in, as mentioned in the beginning.

But I do know that some retirees are working on a PhD just for personal interest. It’s a good experience for some, a part of a journey.  If it’s not for the sake of making a living, then people can do research in so many unknown fields, and the curiosity is never ended.

An intriguing book

The book “Classic of Mountains and Seas” (山海经 in Chinese) was written before 300 B.C. by unknown author(s) and is a compilation of mythic geography and myth. One is often disconcerted by the contents in it, which not only describe hundreds of mountains and water channels within four seas but also the incredible strange animals.

According to some scholars, the book recorded the ancient geography, even before the formation of the Himalaya Mt. which was thought still under the sea at the time. It was during the drastic geographical change of the earth, combined with natural disasters that one of the very ancient animals Dinosaur became extinct. The book had been called a geography encyclopedia by many scholars and historians in ancient times.

It was said when Qin emperor united the whole China about 2200 years ago, he once burnt all the books he could have managed to find but singled out this particular book only, which proved how invaluable this book had been. The world has been evolving and actually will always be going so naturally. However, Thousands of years later, until now, this intriguing book still remains a mystery to people who set foot in it.

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Image courtesy: amazon.com 

Anticipation on English opera

According to Wikipedia, “Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting.”

So opera can simply be referred to as singing plus drama. By the definition of this dual art form it seems more appealing than just one. I love opera, I must admit, although I only trained as a scientist later on. Since my childhood I had been watching/listening to popular Chinese contemporary operas and could still remember some of the operatic stories/songs. After living in England for many years, I have opted for western operas and undoubtedly been influenced by the music and sagas in them. However, I found that most famous operas were sung in either Italian or French, which regretfully I couldn’t understand a tiny bit, despite the wonderful music in them, and therefore had to give up on watching/listening them in the long run.

The West End show in London is ever so reputable and popular that even the tourists would rush to the theatre to experience once, especially the famous musicals such as Cats, the Phantom of the Opera etc., have touched some many souls since their premiere decades back. But it seems the operas in English are quite behind the English musicals in terms of their popularity and influence, and therefore the space within this art form to explore is enormous.

Art is the reflection of life. Imaging the lives and events in your familiar surroundings are sung in the contemporary operas, and the thrill can be attainable. I wish to anticipate more English operas coming to show and passing on to generations.

Harvest time!

This year we had a really good harvest of sweet plums in our garden. When the fruits are in their fullest form, the “wow” effect is obvious.

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In my friend’s garden, she has an apple tree and a pear tree, two mature and gorgeous fruity trees I would say, and the harvest this year was also fantastic.

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I’d think If you have a reasonable sized back garden, it would be a good idea to grow one or two fruity trees. That will always make you smile and expect something happening in the autumn, because, as an old saying goes like, “when you plant marrow seeds you’ll get marrows, and when you plant bean seeds you’ll have beans back.”

The below photo was taken at a small village near Pisa in Italy, when I visited there with a friend a couple of years ago. It was a public street scene, rows of orange trees for harvesting. But it seemed nobody bothered to pick the fruits, maybe it’s too much of this around the area and becoming cheapish. When goods are abundant everyone can have it within reach.

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However, it’s impossible that everything is free. We did pay for our tea/coffee and snacks at a local shop when we took a break. The town was quiet and people were friendly.

 

Acquiring knowledge on holiday

One of the rewards about travelling is that one can acquire some knowledge during the period.

My friend and I went to Portugal a while ago, and we visited the Jeronimos Monastery at Belem in Lisbon, which is listed as a World Heritage Site.

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While we followed the tour guide, she told us some interesting historic stories which we couldn’t learn by just going there alone. We have learnt that hundreds of years ago when Portuguese explorers went to South America and later colonised Brazil, they found that the local folks ate corns as main daily food. When they built the monastery at their own homeland in Belem, this cultural fact about Brazil was reflected and en-carved on the church walls and pillars, as seen from above picture (a corn in a hand).

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The Capital city Lisbon has its own character and cultural heritages. It had also experienced some major earthquakes, one of which occurred in 1755, as recorded being devastating to the city. Portugal is a beautiful country with a long coastal line facing the Atlantic Ocean. Many explorers and migrants once embarked on ships to sail towards America, especially during the WW II, Lisbon was one of the few neutral, open Atlantic ports, providing a gateway for many refugees fleeing from the war to America.

Apart from touring Lisbon, we had visited some other towns by the coast on a day trip. With the help of our tour guides, we had a really good time and learnt a lot during this trip.