Chinese mate selection defined.

A non-Chinese friend of mine regularly engages me in conversations about marriage. Some days she is full of praise for how enduring Chinese marriages are and other days, full of scorn for how materialistic our women are, putting up with the shenanigans of men for the sake of money.

“Ah, but it isn’t just about money,” said I. “Our families are practically knitted together. Separation and divorce would be traumatic for everyone on both sides.”

“But you know my girlfriend in Shanghai, her husband just goes and sleeps with any woman. And she stays with him because they have lots and lots of money.”

“Perhaps he does, but as far as his family is concern, she is his wife. Unless she’s infertile, if not her place is more or less assured. Our primary concern is always stability of the home for the children.”

She shook her head. “But how can she put up with a guy like that?”

What my non-Chinese friend was unaware of was this checklist her friend’s in-laws had signed off on before allowing the woman to enter the family. I dare say that if I were to have been some factory-worker whose parents were market traders, my in-laws wouldn’t have signed off on me either. But my non-Chinese friend wouldn’t understand these things.

So at the risk of copping a hiding from other Chinese for exposing our mating practises, not to mention criticisms from non-Chinese who just won’t get it, here are the tenets of Chinese mate-selection.

1) Always marry a Chinese because non-Chinese don’t get us. If you aren’t a Chinese and wondering what you can do about this, wait, wait, I’ll get to that later.

2) Bamboo doors should face bamboo doors, wooden doors, other wooden doors. In a sense, this ties in to number 1, but it goes further than that. It means that if you are a uni graduate, you should marry another uni graduate. Your family backgrounds have to be comparable. If they aren’t, then the one with the better background will suffer after marriage. Let me give you an example. One comes from a family where there are no siblings to support, money is in abundance and anything the person wants, he or she can get. Another comes from a family where there are many siblings to support, money is tight. Forgetting the fact that they probably both have very different attitudes to money, which in itself is one of the top reasons people divorce, the one with more will be subjected to the hardships of the one with less.

Perhaps it is all bearable in the name of love, but Chinese parents don’t want a life of hand-stretching  for their children. Certainly if Amanda were to ask me for money after marriage, or even after graduation, I’d be most pissed off. And the rest of our family would most certainly hear about it.

3) Think about your children. This is what my mother said to me a long, long, time ago. Every generation is supposed to improve on the one before, but how can generational progress be achieved if you are yoked to someone a lot worse off than yourself?

She said, “Ok, so you say you love this person now. But your children are going to NEED a roof, a good education (one that is at least comparable to yours) etc… Do you want them to go without? To be deprived? Love cannot keep their bellies full.”

4) Find a STABLE character. Of all the “personal” qualities, this is perhaps the most important. Caucasians remark on how good looking a person is, citing it as an excuse to pick him or her, while all Chinese parents want to know is, “Is this guy or girl dependable? Will this person be able to care for my child the way I do after I’m gone?

Accordingly, to say a person is stable and dependable is exceedingly high praise. It’s much better than being called good-looking, except to Chinese who’ve all but lost their culture.

So what do you do if you can’t meet criteria 1 and 2? In other words, what can you do if you aren’t Chinese or have a suitable background? Here are my suggestions, borne of countless hours of observation. It will work, provided you try long and hard enough.

  • Make the family like you. All right, so they won’t like that you are poor and the wrong race. But you can make them see that you have a) a stable, dependable character b) are genuine towards their offspring (parents have sharpened bull-shit radars so be warned) c) have potential to improve your lot AND are taking steps to do so.
  • At no time should you a) whine b) brag c) criticise any member of the family. For a crash course on decorum go borrow the Joy Luck Club from your video store and fast forward to the point one of the girls brings home a Caucasian boyfriend.
  • Take an active interest in BEING Chinese. Yes, we know you are not one. All the more you should take an active interest in our archaic customs and practises. If his or her family say you are “just like a Chinese”, it’s high praise and means you’ve been accepted by them.
  • If you do want to impress the family, show that you are improving yourself; be it by learning Mandarin, or learning how to cook Chinese food or buying good stocks… Whatever you do, don’t try to impress them by talking about your dream to own a row of posh cars. a) cars lose value the moment you drive them off the tarmac, so they’ll think you have very poor money sense and consequently, a poor choice for their beloved offspring b) they’ll think you frivolous for only thinking about cars.
  • Don’t be offended if they dislike you. The onus is on you to win them over, so win them over you must. Fighting fire with fire will only make your beloved have to choose between them and you. Before marriage, she or he isn’t going to choose you.

So that’s all I have to say about Chinese mate-selection. You don’t have to marry one of us, but if you want to, the above-mentioned tips will help you along.

What is your child’s ADULT height?

Perhaps because I’m a short person, I’ve always been interested my child’s adult height. Whereas most people are happy to leave it to chance, I’ve wanted to know how tall she’d be even before I conceived her – heck, even before I met her father – going around more or less with callipers in my head. As such, I’m quite the pro when it comes to spouting the following formulas:

Boy’s Adult Height: (Father’s Height + Mother’s Height) divide by 2, + 7

Girl’s Adult Height: (Father’s Height + Mother’s Height) divide by 2, – 5

From personal experience, I’ve found both to work, although with girls, being as well-nourished as we are nowadays, the formula tends to lean towards (Father’s Height + Mother’s Height) divide by 2. Using this formula, Amanda’s adult height is 171.5 cm.

Most Maternal Child Health Centres in Australia will also tell you that you can double your child’s height at 2 to find his or her adult height. I remember Amanda being 87.5 cm at 2, so using this calculation, her adult height will be 175 cm. At first I found this hard to believe, especially since her growth slowed to the point where she was the shortest in class between prep and grade 1, but now, she’s since shot up to become average Australian height for her age (an aggregate of males and females), so perhaps there is some truth to the formula after all. Her father, being the self-exalting royal that he is, pointed out that she’ll never be as tall as he is.

I said to him, “That’s a good thing too. If she were 6ft 1, no man would marry her.”

Except perhaps the newly-single Bernie Ecclestone whose ex-wife is 1 foot taller than him. They have two daughters, both towering over Bernie at 5ft 8 inches tall.

At 7, Amanda’s already cottoned on to the fact that she’d be much taller than me. Rather insensitively, she’s teased me about being the shortest in the family once she is grown.

“Ha. But you should thank me,” I told her.

“Why is that?”

“If not for me, you’d be short too for it is me who found you a very tall father.”

Another day, she came up to me to ask, “So why couldn’t you have grown taller?”

I said, “I’m the correct height for both my parents. My father is short and my mother is short, so how much taller could I be?”

Until puberty, I had been drinking an average of 1 litre of milk a day. I used to love cheese and yogurt too. Subsequently, I became lactose-intolerant. Cheese for me is now like diet food because it will go straight through me.

My mother boiled tonics for my brother and I to grow taller after her eldest sister found much success using them with her eldest child who was only 4 ft 11 inches tall at 17 years of age. That cousin of mine is now 5 ft 5 inches tall. What neither my mother nor her sister had considered was that my uncle, my aunt’s husband, was relatively tall, so yes, there is the potential to grow a lot taller when one out of two of your parents are a decent height.

But I’ve since accepted my height. There is not much use fighting what you’ve been given, is there? Rare is a person who can overcome their genetic makeup. His Royal Highness is lucky in that his father is only 5 ft 5 inches tall while his mother was 5ft tall when living. Moi would have accused him of being adopted except that both his brother and sister are tall too. It must be because they were all humongous at birth – an average of 9 pounds each.

All right, so since I can never be a tall person, I’ve compiled a list outlining the advantages of being a vertically-challenged person.

  • People think you are much younger than what you really are. I’ve entered quite a number of fee-collecting places paying only student rates, because I’ve often been mistaken for one. I’ve also found people to be very helpful because I’m small and “vulnerable.” Wink wink.
  • You can find clothes in the kids section. You know what this means, don’t you? Cheaper clothes! I don’t usually make it a point to shop for clothes there but I’ve found the styling of clothes for pre-teens to be very similar to the styling for adult clothes. Of course, I don’t recommend wearing everything from the kid’s section. You’ll get curious looks from mothers and children otherwise!
  • You can find lots of discounted shoes because being small, you typically have small feet too. I find that with size 5 feet (UK women’s size), either there are plenty of last-pairs to chose from, or there are none at all, because some brands don’t make your size. Brands that do are Hush Puppies, Nine West, Birkenstocks, Camper, Vein… Basically, they are all the brands I wear.
  • You’re supposed to have a longer life span than your tall peers.
  • You can fit in a regular length bed or drive a coupe. Both are unsuited to taller folks.
Are there any more to add to this list? Tell me so that I can add to what I have here.





Is love a game where the one who loves more loses?

I have a girlfriend who has had more loves than I have shoes. Each time she meets a guy, she tells me, “Estella, he’s the one.” She wants to introduce me to him, to show me what a wonderful upstanding fellow he is and each time, I think I’m seeing the exact same man.

To be sure, they’re all physically different. But the ending of each of my girlfriend’s romantic encounters is such that they might as well be the same person. Whilst watching this scene from the 2006 Korean movie “Seducing Mr Perfect”, it occurred to me that my girlfriend and many other single women – save for the sweet young things out to nab a sugar daddy – are not aware of how the game of love is played. Most are not even aware it’s a game, believing their earnestness, kindness and gentle, loving nature will win them the guy. According to Robin, played by the fabulously handsome Daniel Henney, giving advice to his recently dumped colleague, June, played by Uhm Jung Hwa, South Korea’s doyenne of Pop, they’re all wrong. Here’s that scene:

“Why have I been dumped 3 times now?”asks the doe-eyed June.

“Because you don’t know the rules,” says Robin.


“The rules of the game.”

“Love isn’t like playing Starcraft you know.”

“Yes it is. It’s actually a game that requires even greater precision and planning. A game of power. Manipulations of emotions to control the mind…that’s the game.”

She looks at him incredulously.

“Well it is a game,” he insists. “It’s a game where the one who display’s affection first, gives up total control and goes around like a dog on a collar.”

She exhales and looks to her wine glass for comfort.

“In relationships, you’re the one to call first and he was the one to hang up first, right?”

“Right.” She nods.

“And when you’re together, you’d always run to him and you always give him gifts on anniversaries, only you, right?”

“Right. How did you know that?” she asks, her mood visibly brightening.

“I know these because these are the consequences of dating without any self respect, Ms June. That’s how I know.” He has a sip of his brandy, then says, “So take my advice, and this is sincere so listen to me: If you continue acting like this, being so…” He searches for a word. “Pathetic. You will always be treated like trash by men. And you’ll grow old…all by yourself.”

At this, His Royal Highness who has been watching with me, points an accusing finger and says, “Now I know why I am wearing a dog collar!”

“Hey, it’s only a movie,” say I, even so realising that this Robin character may be on to something.

Not that I’ve ever played these sorts of games with my husband.  We’ve always been honest and open with our emotions, where the other stands a known fact from the word go. My abiding belief is that game players deprive others of knowing the real them; as such, they may have control or a relationship or situation, but that control is based on illusion. Be that as it may, if my girlfriend’s romantic woes are indicative of the strife faced by single women in general, it appears more and more men are into these games.

Now, is hiding one’s emotions and following a set of rules the right way to go in romance? Men have tried playing me before and got a rude awakening when they found themselves on the curb, next to yesterday’s newspapers and take-out. I know all their tricks: talking themselves up, not talking at all, calling me like my number is the only one in the phonebook, not calling at all, calling me on certain days of the week then hanging up…

You see fellas…that’s the reason why I just celebrated my 11th wedding anniversary while you’re undoubtedly still trying to con women. I suggest women be aware of these games and if men try them on you, then you just use your sidekick and send them flying. I’d leave a message for these sorts of men too, but not enough of ’em players read my blog. The word “parenting” in my banner usually puts them all off.






My 11th Wedding Anniversary.

In most respects, my 11th wedding anniversary yesterday was like any other Sunday. Being a non-milestone anniversary, there were no family members from afar to help me celebrate, no status update on facebook to let the world know I was marking the occasion,  not even a bunch of flowers from my husband who had woken before me, to play with Amanda’s Ipad.

I moseyed out of out bed at the regular time for a Sunday to find a text on my mobile from my parents, congratulating me on the occasion. Minutes later, while spying on friends over facebook, I received another text; this one from someone responding to my ad in gumtree for a small side table I had for sale. We exchanged a couple more texts and it was agreed that this person  – whoever he or she is – would turn up at noon to claim the table.

I made His Royal Highness a bowl of instant oats and sat down to eat a whole chopped up pink grapefruit sprinkled with salty plum powder, before going to ready myself for the day. Employing my mother’s mantra of always looking presentable, I’ve taken care of my appearance for the past 11 years of marriage. So why should today be any different?

Very early in our marriage, His Royal Highness had remarked, “My aunt only wears make-up and dresses up for special occasions.”

With no disrespect to his Aunt, the woman who’d raised him alongside his grandmother, in place of his largely absent parents, I’d asked, “Are you married to your aunt?”

Subconsciously or otherwise, men expect their wives to be like their mothers. Women, brought up by other women, other mothers (if not we’d have incest), obviously have other ideas. It’s these other ideas that husbands and their families should be mindful of when welcoming a woman into the family. I felt that His Royal Highness and his family were out to impose their ideas on me; given I’m more stubborn than the average mule and was relatively young when we married,  they were met with barely-concealed hostility.

We now get along a lot better, but it’s lot like we’re pally. The great part about having been married this long is that you’ve established that you’re no fly-by-night bimbo floozy their son/ brother/ nephew is seeing. If at all you’re a bimbo floozy, you’re his bimbo floozy. It wouldn’t do anyone any favours, least of all your in-laws, to be forgetting that.

As expected, someone turned up at noon to claim the small table we’d used for sitting the TV in our bedroom on. His Royal Highness gave me a hand with lifting the thing off, so I could grab the table from underneath. The person gave me $50 and left with his purchase. After that His Royal Highness, Amanda and I left the apartment in search of lunch.

“So what do you want to eat?” asked His Royal Highness.

“What I want to eat, you cannot eat,” I said.

He’d been having diarrhea for the past 3 days. In those 3 days, he had said more about the vicissitudes of his misbehaving bowel than I did of pain during the whole of childbirth. Even when I had food-poisoning for 6 days after consuming the leftover shrimp from Amanda’s 5th birthday party, where I made Vietnamese cold-rolls to mark the occasion, he had heard nary a word about my reddened bottom. Here he was like the sick man of Asia, Australia and Europe combined. If I were to make him take me to my favourite Indonesian restaurant near Amanda’s school, I’d never hear the end of it. He glared at me when I suggested he chop out his own goddamn bowel if it was giving him such strife.

“How about fish and chips at that shop,” he said.

That shop serves one of the best, if not the best, fish and chips in the whole of Brisbane. You don’t get much change from $40 for two people and you leave feeling half-full.

“You asked what I wanted. I don’t want fish and chips on my 11th wedding anniversary. Look, Indo was my first choice, African my second. Chicken Rice, which you complain about having to drive all the way to Sunnybank for, is my third.”

“But it just feels like I’m working all the time.”

“It’s your wedding anniversary mate. Chicken Rice and a bowl of soup is hardly a luxurious meal.”

On the contrary, I’d argue that Chicken Rice is the antithesis of luxury. It’s what we have most weekends when feeling homesick. Don’t even let me get started about the lack of flowers or a present.

“Fine, fine,” he said, driving us to Sunnybank.

After lunch, instead of driving us straight home, he took us to Orleigh Park, where he proceeded to relax while I had to accompany Amanda, first to the loo, and then to the playground. When we returned, he thoughtfully gave up his camping chair for me to sit on. He had a lie on the grass and soon, Amanda and I were begging to be taken home.

A picture of me and HIs Royal Highness in Orleigh Park, Brisbane.

The King and his slave in Orleigh Park on a Sunday.

“But don’t you like this place?” he said.

“I do. But we just came last week.”

“With who?”

“Imogen. It was her birthday.”

“Who’s Imogen?”

“Amanda’s friend from school. This park here is where we come to for birthdays all the time.”

He seemed disappointed. “I thought it was special.”

“It is but…”

How do you tell your spouse the place is kid party special and not wedding anniversary special? It’s nigh impossible to be romantic with a seven year old there; even harder when you are in a field full of strangers eating hotdogs, talking and strumming guitars.

A picture of HRH and Amanda in Orleigh Park, Brisbane.

A picture of HRH and Amanda in Orleigh Park, Brisbane.

A picture of St Lucia from Orleigh Park in Brisbane.

T’was a lovely, if boring, day.

“Let’s go home,” he said.

At home, Amanda harassed me for a swim. It was a lovely day for it but I was too tired from the heat and lunch.

“Ask your father,” I told her.

He said, “Not today. Papa and Mama are celebrating their anniversary.”

He had her Ipad on his belly and I was half-way to siesta-land. Being a typical only child who is used to getting her way, she turned on the waterworks; sobbing first, then howling.

“Don’t make so much noise, Amanda,” I said. No way was I taking anyone swimming today.

She curled up beside me and continued whimpering until I don’t know when. I fell into a  fitful sleep after that. When we rose hours later, she had that look that says, “We wasted a whole afternoon.”

She was right. This was certainly one of our less event-filled Sundays. Usually she and I take a stroll down to Southbank where we visit the market. Last month, His Royal Highness, Amanda and I had explored 7 of Brisbane’s 15 major bridges. Today was a nothing sort of day. I was anticipating another nothing sort of meal.

I really should stop whining. People in Africa are starving. Some are being recruited as child soldiers.  My biggest gripe about the day was that this was a non-event event.

“Where do you want to go for dinner?” asked His Royal Highness.

“Anywhere is fine,” I said. The point for special had long since passed.

“Let’s go to Southbank since it’s a special event.”

A picture of Bamboo Basket in Southbank, Brisbane.

The restaurant we went to for dinner.

A picture of chicken La Mein at Bamboo Basket in Southbank, Brisbane.

The ancestor of Japanese Ramen, Chinese La Mein.

A picture of egg and chives pancakes and shallot twists at Bamboo Basket in Southbank, Brisbane

A bit too oily for our liking. A picture of egg and chives pancakes and shallot twists at Bamboo Basket in Southbank, Brisbane.

A picture of BBQ pork puffs at Bamboo Basket in Southbank, Brisbane.

My favourite BBQ pork puffs.

A picture of prawn dumplings at Bamboo Basket in Southbank, Brisbane.

Amanda’s favourite steamed prawn dumplings.

A picture of HRH and Amanda at Bamboo Basket in Southbank, Brisbane.

A picture of HRH and Amanda at Bamboo Basket in Southbank, Brisbane.

A picture of Amanda and me at Bamboo basket in Southbank, Brisbane.

A picture of Amanda and me at Bamboo basket in Southbank, Brisbane.

We ended up at this Shanghainese restaurant His Royal Highness enjoys frequenting. We’d been there so many times that it felt like just another eatery to me. The food was all right but it didn’t shout celebration. He paid the bill and we went home to watch “Cello“, a Korean horror movie on my laptop. Amanda took her father’s laptop and went into the next room.

After “Cello”, I found us yet another Korean flick with English subtitles. This one was entitled “Invasion of the Alien Bikinis”. We watched for 10 minutes before deciding it was one of the most absurd movies we had ever seen, and we have seen lots.

I ran a search on youtube and came up with another Korean movie – 2006’s “Seducing Mr Perfect“, starring the infinitely delectable Daniel Henney. His Royal Highness got miffed at the crazy smile I had plastered on my face watching so left me with my laptop, while he cozied up to Amanda’s Ipad in bed. By the time Amanda and I went to join in him, it was 2am – he’d since turned in for the night.

That folks, is 11 years of marriage for you. Perhaps it is not representative of everyone’s marriages but I dare say, most long-married people have a story very similar to mine.














Clearing the clutter to make way for new beginnings.

Like most women, I have way more clothes than what I actually wear. So full is my wardrobe that without my knowing, I’d been harbouring several dresses that look identical! It’s more of less the same story with my make-up collection: on the hunt for the perfect red lipstick, I’d amassed no less than 30 sticks. When I took them all out to do an “audit”, I found they were ALL the same shade!

A picture of me wearing one of my 30 shades of red lipstick back in 2010.

A picture of me wearing one of my 30 shades of red lipstick back in 2010.

Being the Sun in Cancer hoarder that I am, I was reluctant to part with any of these things, even though I realise I’d require a couple of lifetimes to use them all, until it was confirmed that His Royal Highness, Amanda and I will be moving to Perth next January. Since then, I’ve had no choice but to vet my belongings with a critical eye and donate what I don’t use.

The items that are of emotional significance to me – like the dress I wore to my brother’s graduation a decade ago or the one I bought on a memorable shopping trip in Melbourne, which turns heads everywhere I go – I’ve given to friends as parting gifts. That way I can be assured they’ve gone to a good home, where they will be loved and cherished. It’s almost like giving away a pet; you want to make sure that they will be cared for.

His Royal Highness doesn’t laugh at me for doing this because he is equally sentimental about his belongings. He once had a tissue box which housed receipts for his yearly tax return. After ten years the box began to fall apart. Before reluctantly consigning it to the waste bin, he insisted I take a picture of it. Once from all angles. The same for his rhino house slippers with holes at the bottom.

The items I care less about, I’ve dropped off at my neighbourhood Salvo or Lifeline store. Some I will be taking to my friend’s West End Spring Fair to be sold for a dollar or two. I used to buy clothes with the idea of using them for the next ten to thirty years but I’ve discovered that manufacturers don’t make garments like they used to. Now, especially with “on trend” pieces, you’ll thank your lucky stars if they last beyond two washes. I’ve since been converted by friends to the beauty of wearing light-weight, iron-free, easy to co-ordinate Metallicus, an Aussie brand that specialises in making one-size-fits-all garments, which I hope to have with me for the next decade or so.

Beyond the wastefulness of owning something that will only add to the pile at the tip, I prefer to buy well-made pieces because owning something for a prolonged period of time says something about who you are and what you value. From my observation, people who change cars at the drop of a hat or toss away clothes after one season, tend to play fast and loose with relationships. In many instances, tossing away a person is no different from tossing away an item to them. I’m especially wary of people who chase new. As a Sun in Cancer, anything with history is gold, and if that history is familial, even better.

Going on the great Australian road trip.

When His Royal Highness suggested driving from Brisbane to Perth, I was filled with the kind of dread reserved for trips to the dentist. No, actually it was far worse as I do quite like seeing the dentist. I’d liken it to receiving a surprise visit from my father-in-law. If you’ve been following my blog thus far, you’ll know how I feel about HRH’s old man.

Sure, I live for road trips but one that stretches from one side of Australia to the other? You’ve got to be kidding me. This is a 46-hour undertaking we’re talking about; excluding the time we’ll need to rest and refuel – Australia being more than twice the size of Europe.

“But doesn’t this excite you?” asked His Royal Highness, all bright eyed at the prospect.

“Er. How many days do we have again?”

“Eight. But we can do the journey over 6 days.”

When we drove down from Townsville, I thought the journey would never end. That was only 16 hours, spread over 3 days; my bum had lost all sensation when we arrived. This is 46 hours spread over 6.

“Day one, we’ll stop in Dubbo,” His Royal Highness announced, with Amanda’s Ipad perched on his lap for reference.

I had a glance at the map. It seemed like an awfully long way to go until the next bed.

Confirming my suspicions, His Royal Highness said, “We’ll have to drive for more than 10 hours that day.”

Being the thoughtful person that I am, I’ve included a map of Australia so that you can trace the distance with your eyes. Basically, all you need to do is look at the second red line from the right, leading southwards, away from Brisbane. Sorry about the picture quality. That’s about all I could do given that most maps are protected by copyright laws.

A map of National Highways in Australia.

Note Perth on your left and Brisbane on your right. That’s a 46 hour journey going from A to B. A map of National Highways in Australia.

“We can either stop in Dubbo or in…” I didn’t quite catch the second name. It all sounded very far to me.

“As long as we have a clean bed to spend the night and a warm meal, I’ll be okay.”

“We can always pitch a tent out there.”

“Are you crazy? What about dingoes and mad men?”

I had visions of a dingo making off with Amanda like that poor baby Azaria.

“No, no, no camping for me. I want to sleep soundly through the night, thank you very much,” I said.

We’ve only ever tried camping once and it ended when I had to use the loo in the middle of the night. That was in New Zealand where there are no known predators of man.

“Day two we’ll go from Dubbo to Port Augusta.”

Initially we were going to stop in Adelaide, but His Royal Highness decided that 6 to 7 hours was too short a drive. Perhaps, a shorter drive on one day means a much longer drive the next. I’ve agreed to take the wheel for two hours of every day.

“Day three we’ll stop either here or here,” he said, mouthing two strange names and pointing at the map. Both were somewhere along The Great Australian Bight. “There are only two resting houses along this stretch. From there, we have another 2000km to go.”

“We will need to carry a good spare tyre, water and petrol,” said I, regurgitating what I’d heard from Tania, who regularly makes road trips to visit her husband Paul, away again for work. We’ll be seeing Paul in Hervey Bay next weekend, where he’s currently locuming.

“No need petrol as we’ll be travelling along a major road.”

I hope he’s right about the petrol because it’ll be a bitch to push the car all the way to the nearest town.

“From there, it’s just another 2 days drive. How do you want to do it?”

“The fastest way possible.” I thought this an utterly modest request given the length of the journey. “After that, we’ll just check into a hotel and not move an inch until you have to start work.”

So if you don’t hear from me for six days to a week at the end of next January, you’ll know what I’m up to. Chances are, I’ll be massaging my comatose buttocks.








What is a private education worth in real terms?

Reading yesterday’s post, you probably wondered why anyone would send their child to a private school in Australia. After all, the average class size in Australia is half that in Asia. Most prep classes have a teacher aide to help out in class; higher grades get the occasional student teacher, making the rounds to chock up workplace experience.

When I asked the guy I had spoken to while waiting for Amanda to finish Jiujitsu about this, he said, “Oh, it’s the connections you build through school. It’s not just about going to school. If my son were to apply to medical school they might ask him where he studied.”

“I’ve never heard about this in medicine but in law, yes,” I confessed. Two of my closest friends, both lawyers, had told me the same thing. Believe what you will about equal opportunity and non-discriminatory hiring laws but where you went to school, what suburb and which side of the tracks you lived at, are all important in getting your foot through the law office door. “What do you say to the guy interviewing you when he spent his school holidays at his father’s Swiss Chalet while you were working in your father’s restaurant?”

“Funny you should say that,” said the guy. “My wife was working in her father’s restaurant throughout law school and she said the same thing too. That’s why I’m putting my kids through grammar. That way they’ll have the right background for whatever job they want.”

Except perhaps, work as a tradesperson. Then again, most grammar graduates make it to university. Those who don’t do so well at grammar, get expelled; I’ve heard the school takes its academic track record very seriously, so it’s not enough for you, as a parent, to be able to afford the $30k per year for however long your child is there, your child has to make good grades as well.

There are other options along the private school route. You can go for less-reknown Anglican schools, which cost roughly $20k per year or you can go for Catholic schools which cost half of that. Catholic schools give discounts for siblings; in some cases, the fourth child gets to study for free. Anglican schools as a rule, don’t allow for a reduction in tuition fees. Most have a scholarship programme, but if I were you, I wouldn’t bank on that.

The criticism levelled toward public education is that it caters only for the brightest or the dumbest of the lot. If you are in the middle, then you are on your own. Some parents whose children make similar grades to Amanda call their offspring “smart” and “brilliant”, but I prefer to be realistic about my child’s ability. I see smart and brilliant every Wednesday when Amanda goes for Mandarin tuition – her teacher’s daughter was reading in 2 languages at 3 and doing division by 7 years of age – so I know my child is not either.

At best, she is “bright.” But I won’t even burden her with the expectation of achievement arising from that; I’ve told His Royal Highness that this is our child and we must do our best to help her make the most of what she’s got. That might include a stint at grammar where she’ll receive all the scholastic support she needs to lift her out of that dreaded middle zone. She already reads and does math above the average, but like most Asian mothers, I think my child can do better.

His Royal Highness is still considering my proposition. He went to Trinity Grammar for Year 12 and is of the opinion that the experience added nothing to what he already was or had. He was already at the top of his class even before he went there. There, his classmates were more interested in comparing penis sizes than they were studying. Perhaps we’re zoned to the best high schools in Victoria and Queensland. Both outperform almost all private schools. But these schools are very academically competitive. If you aren’t zoned to them, then you must sit for an entrance exam. Houses within the zone fetch a premium.

Regardless of where Amanda winds up going, her father and I both tell her that anything worth having is worth working for. We insist on her putting a 100% into everything she does because even the best educational opportunities in the world can’t make up for a lack of desire to succeed, or can it substitute pure hard work.


Is a uni education all it’s cracked up to be?

I was having my “goodbye” coffee with two mums from school when the topic of Queensland Premier Campbell Newman’s mass sacking of government employees came up. Both were understandably disgruntled at their spouses being fired, and as permanent part-time employees, excluded from the official figure of 20 000 sacked. Being permanent part-time employees also means that their spouses, bread-winners in both families, are entitled to little, if any, retrenchment payout.

“But can’t they find new work?” I asked.

“My husband is trying, Stella. But there are so many competing for the same jobs,” said one.

“Those that have been fired do the work while management get to keep their jobs,” said the other. “Just because they all have MBAs, people think they know what they’re doing.”

“Do you still believe an education gets you anywhere?” I asked. In a land where plumbers and  electricians make more than white-collar professionals, I find this hard to believe.

“Sure it does. All these people in management have bloody MBAs.”

“Do you remember that day when you called to ask me when I was going to come and pick up Amanda?” She had thought that I had forgotten to get my girl from school.

“Amanda had actually forgotten about Jiujitsu.”

“Yes, and when I arrived, with 10 minutes to go until the end of class, I spotted Fiona talking to this guy. She later left, but because she had been talking to the guy, I thought it fine to strike up a conversation with him while waiting for Amanda to finish Jiujitsu. I asked him who he was waiting for and he said his three kids. Except for his daughter, I’d never seen his children around school before. He told me that’s because the eldest goes to grammar.”

Grammar schools are notoriously expensive. Those we have here in Brisbane cost on average $30k per year, per child; fees are less than that but by the time you add uniforms and excursions, it will come up to that figure.

“He told me his eldest is in grammar and he is going to send numbers 2 and 3 there soon (that’s $90k per year on school fees) because he believes the quality of education is excellent. I said to him, ‘If you don’t mind, can I ask what you do for a living? Our school has the children of many doctors and even they can’t be sure to send their kids to a place like grammar.’ He told me he had a bunch of restaurants in mining towns.”

“Ah,” said mum number 2. “That explains it.”

“I said, ‘You must be very smart to do so well then.’ He said he’d spent 10 years setting them up. He was only a middling student at school, not at all brilliant. He went to Brisbane State High and he doesn’t want his kids to go there because most of his classmates are in jail! It makes you wonder on the value of education, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, one plumber I know has so many clients that he refuses to take any more on.”

The average charge out rate for plumbers and electricians is $150 per hour. Because it is a cash business, there is the opportunity to under-declare tax, whereas as an employee, taxes are deducted from your wages even before they are handed to you.

“It doesn’t make you feel so smart for going to uni, does it?”

Mum number 2 nodded. She has 3 degrees herself.

“And with this mass sacking, it shows you that not only can you ill afford to send your kids to a place like grammar, you are totally dependent on someone else to give you a job. That’s not all. I said to the guy, ‘Oh so you must want your child to score an OP1, going to grammar. That’s the whole idea why someone would send their kids to a school like that. He said, ‘My kid doesn’t have to make an OP1. He can get an OP4 and I can pay for him to do medicine in Bond University. Bond University is a private university.”

The question on my mind was why have your kids study medicine if they can make more money and have a better lifestyle doing business or a trade? This guy was talking to me at 4pm in a school playground, on a weekday. Most men are at work at that time.

“That’s the same with MBAs,” said mum number 2. “Those who have it don’t necessarily know more than those who don’t. Companies are not rewarding you for staying on with them and working your way up.”

I told her about my brother who’s currently doing his MBA. “He has to do it because that’s the only way he can get ahead. As a regular professional, the prospect of advancing to management or executive level is low. Even then, someone else decides whether you have a job, how much you make, what your working conditions are.”

His Royal Highness thought that with a medical degree, he’d be done. Then he discovered he’d have to spend the next 10 years specialising to be a surgeon. Now that he’s finished, he has to sub-specialise further in order for us to stay in the city. He expects to be working until he’s 70. Meanwhile he’ll keep getting taxed while I receive no handouts in return.

“So what does Amanda want to be when she grows up?” asked mum number 2, since we were on the topic of useless vocations.

“Something impractical, I suppose. But I think she’ll either do medicine or dentistry. She likes science and like her father, is particularly fond of chemistry.”

“But we just spoke about how unrewarding it is to be a professional. Amanda should be a plumber,” she said.

“I know. But it’s an Asian thing to chase paper. We just feel so much better if our kids go to school.”

And with that, we both went home. Each to think, because that’s what we’d supposedly been taught to do at university.






In praise of no praise.

When I first had Amanda, I showered her with enough endearments to make the sky blush.  I heaped her with so much praise that my mother, helping me for the customary month of rest post delivery, said I could make crows come down and give me their cheese.

“Not just drop it down like in the fable,” she said. “But hand it to you.”

In the fable, a person standing beneath a tree flatters a crow with a rare find of cheese in its beak until the bird attempts to speak. In doing so, the crow drops the piece of cheese down to the ground, which the person swiftly picks up and makes away with it. The moral of the story, which should be clear to all, is to remain stoically unmoved by sycophants.

Like most Chinese mothers of her generation, my mother thought she was protecting me from the ills of the world by employing strict discipline and very little to no praise. In fact,  she didn’t even allow me to praise her until some time in adulthood. And then only for things she deems praiseworthy; cooking well, giving to others and running a household on a strict budget. She especially loves praise for being clever with money and time.

However, she’s never allowed me to compliment her on her looks, even though it’s evident  she does her best to maintain hers. At age 9, thinking I’d make her happy with the new Malay idiom I’d been taught at school, I told her that her beauty was comparable to the Moon at the gates of the Stars.

She chided me, saying, “Don’t mention it again. If you say that, people will laugh.”

In my innocence, I insisted that she was beautiful but she was more adamant than ever.

“Real beauty is on the inside,” she said, sounding a tad cross.

She opined that any emphasis on beauty, on a quality that isn’t in any way earned, would hinder her children from achieving scholastically. Worse still, it would leave us  vulnerable to the deceivers and degenerates out there who prey upon others with flattery.

For that reason, the number of times she’s praised me for anything, can be counted on one hand. She made no mention of my looks until two years ago. It was then that in a offhanded, almost begrudging sort of way, she said, “You’re rather good looking.”

If memory serves me correctly, my jaw dropped open. Think about it: I’d gone thirty-something years of my life without one positive reference to my looks from my mother. All of a sudden she says I’m rather good looking. Is she running a fever or something?

Her idea of beauty is the eastern ideal: sculpted faces, large deep-set eyes, sharp Caucasian noses, dainty rosebud lips. When I was a kid, she allowed me to think myself ugly by comparing me to my father’s younger sister. Everyone knows that people on my father’s side have flat faces, slits for eyes, bridge-less dumpling noses, and sparse hair. The men start balding in their late thirties. By their mid-forties, they’re balder than babies.

Due to the stuffed sinuses I inherited from my father, I used to breath through my mouth. She would say, “Don’t be a gaping goldfish. If you leave your mouth open, people will think you’re retarded. Perhaps, a fly might go in.”

During my teenage years, she’d say, “You’d better take care of you’re skin because that’s about all you’ve got going for you.”

All this sounds harsh but none is criticism for how she raised me. On the contrary, it’s praise for how well she’s raised me. Because of her, I put less stock in beauty than many people I know. Even though I’ve consistently sent Amanda to have professionally-taken photographs from birth, specially taken pictures of me are the last things you’ll ever see anywhere. Most pictures of me are taken by family and friends, some by strangers, all completely unretouched. The way I see it is: why pretend to be something that you’re not? People can tell who you are and what you look like just by meeting you in person.

Belatedly, I’ve come to realise that my effusive praise of Amanda may do her more harm than good. Some children receive so much praise that they become bullies.  Others are afraid to try for fear of failing, being so used to having praise heaped upon them for any endeavour. Either scenario makes me more considered in my approach to parenting; certainly, it causes me to pause to think before I praise.









Which bridge are you? Part 2

Ok, so far we’ve covered the following bridges in Brisbane:  Go-Between (modern and functional), William Jolly (classic, sturdy dependable), Kurilpa (light, strong and futuristic), Sir Leo Hielscher (massive, imposing, minimalistic) and Story (beautiful yet sadly tragic). Before you decide which bridge you are, I should tell you about this week’s two additions: the Victoria Bridge and the Good Will Bridge. Both link Southbank with Brisbane’s  Central Business District.

The Victoria Bridge, like the William Jolly Bridge, is an old timer in a modern world. Other bridges used to exist at its site but the current bridge is one built in 1969. It services pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles. At any time of the day, there’s bound to be someone walking its length. On special occasions like New Year’s Eve or Australia Day, hordes will claim a spot on it from which to watch celebratory fireworks launched nearby.

A picture of HRH and Amanda on the Victoria Bridge in Brisbane.

Notice the pink flag above HRH’s head? That’s to publicise the Brisbane Festival.

A picture of Southbank and Brisbane CBD from the Victoria Bridge.

It was such a lovely day. A picture of Southbank and Brisbane CBD from the Victoria Bridge.

What I like about the bridge, other than a gentle breeze coming off the waters of the Brisbane River at all times of the day, is that it is one of the few places you can see “Green Taxis” moving alongside regular traffic. The Green Taxis are bicycle-pulled rickshaws, so named because their drivers wear green; it’s also a play of words based on the idea of being non-polluting, hence green, and ferrying people, like regular taxis do.

Even though Brisbane has 15 major bridges, I would consider the Victoria Bridge the “flagship bridge” of Brisbane because you can know whatever festival or event is going on simply by taking note of the changing signs or decorations on the Victoria Bridge. For instance, when we visited the bridge, there were flags to publicise the Brisbane Festival.

A picture of Amanda and I on the Victoria Bridge.

Holding on to my hat in case it flies away. A picture of Amanda and I on the Victoria Bridge.

A picture of Southbank from the Victoria Bridge in Brisbane.

See the wheel in the background? That’s the Brisbane Eye, supposedly modelled after the London Eye. A picture of Southbank from the Victoria Bridge in Brisbane.

From the Victoria Bridge, His Royal Highness and I cut through the Southbank parklands to get to the Goodwill Bridge. In line with the Brisbane Festival, the parklands were  decorated with rows of hung paper lanterns, each curiously, bearing Chinese characters.

A picture of Amanda and I at the Southbank Parklands in Brisbane.

A picture of Amanda and I at the Southbank Parklands in Brisbane.

A close up picture of the paper lanterns in the Southbank parklands in Brisbane.

A close up picture of the paper lanterns in the Southbank parklands in Brisbane.

Being a Saturday, the Southbank parklands were teeming with people. Amanda harangued her father for an ice cream from one of the two vans we saw entering the parklands and enjoyed hers while I took a couple of snaps of the city.

A picture of Amanda enjoying her ice cream cup on a bench at Southbank in Brisbane

A picture of Amanda enjoying her ice cream cup on a bench at Southbank in Brisbane.

A picture of part of the Victoria Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture of part of the Victoria Bridge in Brisbane. The CBD is in the background.

A picture of the Chinese gardens in the Southbank Parkland

I was trying to decide if the bronzed statue overlooking the pond is Confucious when HRH said, ” That’s Lao Tze.” Never heard of him before.

After much walking, we arrived at the Goodwill Bridge. The Goodwill Bridge is like the Kurilpa Bridge in that it is only used by pedestrians and cyclists. From afar, it looks similar to the Storey Bridge, except that since presumably no one suicides from it, it is a more cheerful structure. I caught sight of old boats parked in the Maritime Museum from it.

A picture of the Goodwill bridge from afar. The silver ball is a new addition to the parklands.

A picture of the Goodwill bridge from afar. The silver ball is a new addition to the parklands.

A picture of the Goodwill Bridge through the bushes.

A picture of the Goodwill Bridge through the bushes. To my right was a cafe. 

A picture of the Maritime Museum from the Goodwill Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture of the Maritime Museum from the Goodwill Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture of HRH and Amanda having a break on the Goodwill Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture of HRH and Amanda having a break on the Goodwill Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture of Southbank and Brisbane CBD from the Goodwill Bridge.

A picture of Southbank and Brisbane CBD from the Goodwill Bridge. The long thing stretched between both sides is the Victoria Bridge. The circle on the left is the Brisbane Eye.

We went back the same way we came and finished our bridge discovery excursion with a couple of cold drinks at a cafe on Grey Street.

A picture of Amanda and I at a cafe in Grey Street, Southbank, Brisbane.

A picture of Amanda and I at a cafe in Grey Street, Southbank, Brisbane.