Who’s a “little guy”? May the REAL little guy please stand up.

Where I come from, a “little guy” is – aside from being the owner of a diminutive physique – a person seriously short on moolah. What’s that? Cash. Money. Devil’s notes. Call it what you will but if you are putting up in a wooden shack with another 10 to 20 of your nearest and dearest, tapping electricity off lines that run the front of your charming “neighbourhood” and getting water out of a well or the nearest stream, then you are officially a “little guy.” The odd non-governmental-agency (NGO) might give you a hamper or a small hand out from time to time, but mostly you’re on your own in this big, bad, world. This my dear reader, is what poverty looks like up close. Stinking, limiting, potentially soul-destroying poverty. Such people are amply deserving of whatever help the taxpayer can and will give them. Where I come from, that amounts to almost nothing.

See what I mean? Where is the plasma TV or the Sony X Box?

See what I mean? Where is the plasma TV or the Sony X Box?

Can you imagine bathing in that water or washing clothes in it?

Can you imagine bathing in that water or washing clothes in it? Raw sewage goes from those shanty huts straight into the river.

So when a friend of mine argued, a day after the Aussie Federal Election 2013 that he, being a Labour supporter, was standing up for the “little guy”, I was totally mystified. After all, where in Australia do we have such infernal visions of materialistic deprivation? Do our supposed “little guys” live in slums or bathe in rivers strewn with faeces and garbage?

Let me make a few things clear: I’m NOT saying poverty doesn’t exist in Australia or that genuine poverty is not a cause for concern. It is. But is the “little guy” in Australia a REAL little guy or simply a guy who wants to eat off my table for FREE? In other words, a freeloader?

In response to the Coalition taking office, I told my friend, quite frankly, “I don’t get Family Tax Benefit (FTB) parts A and B, maternity payments or the school kids bonus. I plan to send both my children to private schools so GONSKI (the school reform proposed under Labour) holds no appeal either. So what difference does a change of government mean to me? Under Abbott, I will continue to get my Medibank rebate and HRH can get Fringe Benefits if he decides to buy a Lexus with his hard earned post 45% tax money.”

Note, it’s my money. And yes, I’ve already paid tax on every single dollar.

My friend said, “You’re right Estella. Screw the disadvantaged, screw the kids with poor parents and screw everyone who is poor because they choose to be poor so they can get $424.80 from centre-link every fortnight.”

Let’s examine that sentence, shall we? $424.80 a fortnight amounts to $11044.80 per annum. That’s just for FTB parts A and B. This excludes the yet un-axed school kids bonus or the rent assistance or the discounts on public transport, electricity and medicine that the   supposed-poor (I say supposed because I dispute that everyone is genuinely poor. More on that later).

I said, “Whatcha talking about? Have you forgotten that HRH and I are from regular, middle-income backgrounds? Tell me how many of the poor folks you know have moved as many times as we have or made half the sacrifices to improve their lot? We could have just sat back to suckle off the teats of society but we didn’t. Why punish people who want to get ahead by making them responsible for freeloaders who don’t?

Yes, that’s right. HRH and I  are from very ordinary families. There’s nothing remotely special about us, except that our parents valued education and made the necessary sacrifices to put us through school. HRH’s father – who yes, is a gambler – sold off ALL his worldly possessions to fund HRH’s medical degree in Australia. How many of you who supposedly (there’s that word again) love your children, want to do that?

I added, “No one is “entitled” to welfare. Society needs to rid itself of that mentality if it is to survive the 21st century.”

Whether you accept it or not, this is a very competitive century. For Australia to thrive and prosper in an increasingly borderless world, the country has to have a more skilled, more driven, workforce. We can’t afford to drag along people who don’t want to pull their own weight.

My friend’s reply was, “I do my bit to contribute to those teats. No complaints but let me tell you this no one with their right mind chooses to be on welfare. The fact is those who are on welfare are society’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable. The word freeloader is right wing nonsense.”

No one chooses, eh? Let’s dissect that for a minute. While I wholly support the provision of welfare to the needy, the question I have is, who exactly are they? Society provides a safety net for single mothers. That is very good, but how long should this net extend for?

I’ve met this gay (I love gays by the way, so this has nothing to do with that) single mother (many of my friends are single mothers) who has an 8 going on 9 year old boy, who she refuses to vaccinate or send to school. Aside from being the recipient of welfare, she’s currently doing a tax-payer funded law degree, which she plans to complete when her boy turns 16, just so that she can spend more time with him. Okay, I’ll put it to you: wouldn’t you say this person has CHOSEN to be on welfare? 

At this point, our mutual friend, on whose wall we were sparring, asked us to take our debate inside, as in to a private message.

My friend then said, “Well someone needs to stand up for the little guys.”

So back to the topic of “little guys.” Who exactly are they in Australia?

I said, “Little guys my ass la friend. So many who get FTB have their own homes, complete with plasma tvs and at least 1 car (this is called “middle class welfare” or the government trying to buy your votes). My car is 8 years old and only a regular Toyota. My kid wears hand me downs for the most part and the occasional new shirt. When she was a baby, all her toys were gifts. Is this how the rich really live? People sleep better when they believe Labour propaganda that the so-called rich are out to screw them.

At this, my friend, who runs his own business, and whose household gets the maximum FTB, even though they all live in a brand-spanking new home, complete with plasma TV and new car, said, “Oh, all those messages were not from me. They were from my brother.”

Sure. So do you see what I’m talking about? Who exactly is a “little guy” when no one is living from hand to mouth in slum-like conditions?

For the purpose of this post, let me clarify a few more things: it doesn’t matter whether you are on welfare or not. My question is, WHEN do you want to get off it? Do you believe that you should be supported in perpetuity?

What appalled me were the names Labour supporters had for those who support the in-coming Coalition government. Among them: stupid, cunts, shit heads…the rest do not bear repeating. Where I come from, stupid is what a teacher calls a 6 year old who cannot read. It’s what you call your fellow citizen who expects you to haul his ass to wherever you’re going.

If one truly believes in this great good called democracy that the West is so intent on spreading to every corner of the world, then one should also believe that last Saturday’s federal election outcome is the voice of society, as a whole, fed-up with being legally robbed blind and vilified, being heard. Under Labour, you’d think that the enemy is someone born into wealth, who sits on his ass, who refuses to share the bounty of God’s great earth. Under the Coalition, you will see that the enemy is one who propagates these lies.

The beauty of living in Australia is that everyone who puts in the time and effort to improve themselves can get ahead. It’s all about the choices and sacrifices one is willing to make. To this end, I’ll tell you what I have to say to the left-wing statements I hear most often:

But only the rich can afford to give their children a good education.

Nonsense. A good education is available to all who send their children to school. Teachers can’t possibly teach your child if you don’t send him or her to school. If you think the rich have better public schools, move to their area. There’s nothing stopping you from doing that, except for an attachment to the 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, rumpus and parent’s retreat you have going in the Nappy Valley.

But it isn’t the same as a private education.

Hey, I don’t expect a stretch limo to pick me up for bus fare so why do you expect something for nothing? If you want to give your child a private education, save for it.

But I’m raising a future tax payer.

So am I. Mine doesn’t cost current tax payers anything to keep.

But you are rich.

You obviously haven’t read my posts carefully enough. I shop at Salvos and Lifeline stores. I frequent farmer’s markets. I don’t own X box or Playstation. I only recently bought a small TV, just so I could watch the outcome of the Australian Federal Election. It’s all about how you spend, not how much you earn.

I’ll leave you with one final thought: imagine for a moment that you are a farmer who puts in 80 or more hours a week doing back-breaking toil. With your proceeds, you decide to buy some land to raise cows and sheep. From that, you have money to install a grey water system to water your garden, a couple of tractors, hire a couple of farm hands to help you out around the farm, buy even more land to grow more crops. You prosper as a result of taking risk, foresight and hard work.  Do you think it is FAIR then if I just come over to your property weekly to help myself to your fruits or sheep or cows? Swap the word farmer with doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant etc…Do you see the picture?

 

When YUPPIES and Hippies collide.

I’ve got enough friends from both groups – YUPPIES (Young Urban Professionals or Young Upwardly-Mobile Professionals) and Hippies (love the earth, don’t kill ‘em animals) – to witness, first-hand, the relationship between the two. At first blush, it seems like YUPPIES have nothing in common with Hippies, but if you ever move to West End in Brisbane, where I used to live, which I fondly refer to as the 4101, after the local postcode, you will see a peaceful, if separate, co-existence. Well, that’s how it is for the most part anyway.

Because for all the yoga classes we take together (or rather Hippies teach and YUPPIES attend), lentil-chewing, recycling, walking and cycling everywhere  (everyone’s into the “green life” to put it simply), there remains a core of beliefs within both groups that clearly do not overlap. What is that core? To put it in a word: Economics. YUPPIES are overwhelmingly capitalist, hence their ascension up the economic and social ladder, whilst Hippies have co-opted out of capitalism, but to their continued chagrin, still find themselves caught up in it’s web, one way or another.

From reading my many posts, you probably already know which group I fall into. For my many attempts at “turning vego” (9 at last count) and my ample admiration of other people’s gardens, I have come to accept that I will never give up meat entirely or be able to grow anything that can possibly die (which rules out all plants). I love visiting farmer’s markets on the weekends and eating organic whenever the opportunity arises (I don’t go out of my way to eat organic food), can be spotted at the Salvos and Vinnies from time to time trying to score a bargain, but if you ask me what gets my fires burning, it’s progress.

It’s progress that brought me to Australia and it’s progress that’s keeping me in this part of the world when I could be anywhere else. Where I’m from, people either progress or they perish into the unforgiving straits of poverty. It’s really that simple. There isn’t a third option.

That’s why you find many migrants singing the praises of the Australian government. In Alice Pung’s memoir “Unpolished Gem”, her grandmother cannot understand why the other oldies at the welfare office look like they’ve been sucking on lemons as she, unlike them, is overjoyed to be given an allowance by “Father Government”, who, let’s remember, is funded by the tax-paying public.

Maybe it’s where I’m from, but I know there is no such thing as a free lunch in the world. If someone is giving you money, then obviously they are going to ask of something from you in return. Recently I’ve heard a murmur of dissent among my Hippie friends about the Australian government’s move to tie child immunisation with some parenting payments. One says their child has never been ill even without the immunisation while another likens it to bullying and thinks AMA and the pharmaceutical giants are behind the change in legislation. And as usual, and this often amuses me, someone postulates how nice it’d be to be exempt from the will of the people who dole out money.

There is a way out of this, good people. It’s called, “Don’t take welfare” because the people funding your welfare have the RIGHT to feel that their children will be protected from immunizable diseases.

“Yes, but my children are healthy! They don’t need jabs from the white coats!” people protest, then they assert, “Immunization only makes the pharmaceutical industry rich!”

Let me tell you: your children may be healthy but if immunization levels fall below 85%, even those jabbed will not be protected from diseases like whooping cough, chicken pox or polio. Babies, who are most at risk from whooping cough, have DIED because people refuse to immunise their children to the disease. So in effect, if you choose NOT to vaccinate your children, you are potentially MURDERING someone else’s. Think about that. Think about that carefully.

People who know me, know I’ve never praised Rudd. In fact, although my 8 year old is his biggest fan (she rips the newspapers out of my hands to read about him), I’ve had nary a good word to say about him or any of his policies until now. This move to make the parenting payment supplement worth an estimated $2100 a year to some, contingent on immunisation, gets 2 big thumbs up from me. I think that if your fellow tax payers are funding your lifestyle, you OWE it to them, to keep immunizable diseases at bay.

I wish there was a less-offensive, more politically-correct way to state the case but there isn’t. Hippies feel entitled to government handouts but do not want to be hampered by the constraints of regular society. For myself, this clash of ideals between YUPPIES and Hippies is something I came to realise when a pseudo-Hippie friend (she’s not really a Hippie but is sympathetic to their causes) brought around to my place a real hippie.

The real hippie seemed contemptuous of my supposed trappings of wealth – the product of a capitalist YUPPIE lifestyle – but was more than happy to use my pool. In response to my “friend request” on facebook, we became friends shortly after. I continued to meet her when our mutual friend organised Hippie-type gatherings but she never, ever, took it upon herself to chat with me even though as mothers, we would have something to talk about.

Soon after my move to Perth was announced, she “unfriended” me. Perhaps what  troubled her about our association is not how dissimilar to her I am but how similar. Perhaps from a distance, it’s easier too for her to believe that I am “evil” just because I live in a place with a pool, dine at restaurants and go on holidays.

Educational opportunities in the most unlikely of places.

Over the weekend I had dinner with a former classmate of mine and her gorgeous family. As you do when everyone is friends, you ask what they’ve been up to lately and they ask you the same thing. I confessed to an inexplicable fascination with the Jodi Arias Travis Alexander case, which I discovered when I wandered off-course on the Psychology Today website, after reading various articles on sociopathy.

I know you’re thinking, “Yikes. Sociopaths.”

It follows on from my profound interest in reading people’s ears, but that’s another story. At any rate, I was torn between allowing Amanda, who let’s remember is only 8, to watch the made-for-TV reenactment of the events leading up to Jodi Arias murdering Travis Alexander and the subsequent murder investigation and court case, and telling her a firm No in response to her repeated pestering. Then I thought of American Psycho and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, both of which I allowed her watch with me and the conversations we had about people and morality after that, and I relented.

“It was an educational opportunity too good to pass up on,” I told my classmate’s husband.

“Educational opportunity?” he chuckled.

“Of course,” I smiled. “Everything we come across in life presents an opportunity for us to better our understanding of the world. After watching this Jodi Arias movie with Amanda I told her that no man is worth soiling her hands for. That she should see Jodi Arias before she committed the crime and after 5 years of jail.”

Man, there is a big difference! Once she was this hot, young thing that could even make heterosexual women (this one at least) take a second glance in her direction. Now, with pronounced nasolabial lines, oral commissures and a loss of volume in the cheeks, she looks like a completely different person.

Now why would you do that to yourself?” I asked my classmate’s husband. “Come on. Even if you think nothing about the bastard, think about yourself. They need to revamp moral education in school.”

My classmate’s husband chuckled some more. He must have suspected me to be a recent escapee from a mental institution.

“Yes, now I believe that being moral is being kind to yourself first,” he laughed.

“Exactly! So why give yourself so much trouble by murdering anyone? The problem with moral education (or religious education) is that they expect everyone to have a conscience. Some people (namely Sociopaths, which supposedly account for every 1 in 25 people ), just don’t have one.”

Plus, children are for the most part egocentric; until their teenage years – some beyond, they won’t be able to see anything from another person’s point of view. So all this talk about being good for goodness sake, never gets into their heads! Perhaps when children are older, after they’ve demonstrated a smidgen of empathy, can you preach about the sanctity of life and split hairs over the right and wrong of a situation. Until then, you might as well be trying to teach them Greek!

“But didn’t he (Travis Alexander) hurt her (Jodi Arias)?” Amanda asked me.

“Maybe he did hurt her very badly by playing with her feelings (actually, as a woman, I would think that he did) but who’s stuck in jail now? The thrill of vengeance, especially if it involves murder, is very, very short lived. Better still is to cut your loses and just walk on.”

“Yes, but didn’t he do bad things to her.”

“Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. The point is he’s dead and she’s in jail. No man is worth the trouble she has gone through and is going through right now. If someone plays mind games with you and strings you along, he’s a dumb ass. But if you decide to turn someone into pork sausages, then you’re a bigger ass than he is. I’ll say it once and for all: the best revenge is moving on with your life.”

No doubt, there are many Travis Alexanders out there who see women as either whores or madonnas - the first for having fun with and the second for bringing home to Mama – when women can be both depending on where we are in our menstrual cycle. Be that as it may, it is my fervent hope this Jodi Arias story serves as a cautionary tale to them to avoid trifling with us girls while they get their heads straight.

 

Of proper Parangs and Australian Bikies in Chinatown.

One of my regular readers, also a friend, brought to my attention the fact that the parang in my last post is actually a Wu Shu sword, which is technically sports equipment. So in the interest of good blog-manship (a play on “penmanship”, get it?) I have scoured the internet to find you a REAL, scary-looking, can-cut-you-just-by-looking-it parang as my experience of being a victim of crime in Malaysia, has thankfully, excluded any encounters with one. If you must ask, I have only ever (note the sarcastic tone) been robbed and dragged across a drain, thereby having all 4 limbs abraded by gravel, in broad daylight.

However, let’s not get distracted from good and proper parangs. Here is a common version of the mean steel monster, as promised.

A picture of a parang.

A picture of a parang.

And here is a nice Chinese meat cleaver, currently on sale on eBay, which can do the same job, but which no self-respecting Malaysian thug will dream of brandishing because it smacks of amateurism.

A picture of a Chinese meat cleaver.

A picture of a Chinese meat cleaver.

So on Tuesday, just a day after my last post, HRH and I went to Northbridge (aka Chinatown) for lunch. HRH had already finished his Peking spare ribs and rice, complaining as he ate it that there were no vegetables, and I was at the tail-end of my fried rice and pork chops smothered in tomato sauce (I’ve since resumed eating Mr Pig), when in walked 5 heavily-tattoed beefcakes, sporting coloured mohawks and identical black shirts with only one word: Comancheros. A quick search of the internet reveal them to be involved in drug-dealing, murder and mayhem.

I didn’t know who they were then but after a five-second glance in their direction – they were seated in a row, an arm’s length from us, one of them even leaning on our table – my inner safety radar said it’s better to mind my own business and go back to eating. I knew they wouldn’t touch me because which pussy picks on a small-sized, unarmed and inoffensive Chinese woman in Chinatown, anyway? But I was a tad worried for HRH who summarily got up and slid out the other side to pay for our lunch. Later on, as we drove away, we saw all 5 skip across the road to VHT, the gigantic Asian Grocery store my friend Joyce had suggested I check out.

“It’s a veritable treasure trove,” Joyce once told me.

Er, I think I’ll pass. After all, who knows what the Comancheros were in there for. I hope they were only stopping by to say hello to the neighbours. Another quick search of the internet reveals that their Western Australian headquarters is in – drumroll please – Chinatown!

“Why do you think Chinatown is full of pai kia (bad hats)?” asked HRH as we made our way home.

It’s not just Chinatown in Perth that attracts unsavoury characters, it’s Chinatowns the world over. I pondered the big question: why does Chinatown attract the underbelly of society? Could it be that Chinese are too focused on making money to really care who our neighbours are? Or is it our usual, mind-your-own-business policy that has them all living in our midst? What do you think is the reason?

As we neared home, HRH said, “They could smell the blood on me. Bikies like talking about smelling blood all the time but I have seen more blood than all of them. When they usually see me, I’m standing over them with a knife in my hand, fixing up their wounds.”

“Aiyah, these people,” I mumbled, irritated by all this talk of blood and wounds.

“That’s why we (as in Chinese) say that ghosts also don’t come near surgeons. The sat hei (killing force) is too strong. Don’t I smell of blood to you?”

Ah, the bullshit that men say. “No, you just smell like body odour and sometimes of shampoo. Really, I don’t see the point in all this stabbings and slashing and whatever else.”

Go to a place like Malaysia where innocent people have parangs held to their necks and you’ll know what I mean. Why go looking for trouble in a land as peaceful and blessed as Australia? I blame all those movies that glorify violence and breaking of the law. Well, one may achieve infamy through crime but there is no glory when one is six feet under.

 

Malaysia for non-Malaysians.

There is this list of top 10 most dangerous cities in the world making the rounds on the internet at the moment that has most Malaysians either nodding in agreement or spewing vehement denials. As a veteran fence-sitter, I am neither going to agree that our 6th place is deserved or question the method by which Malaysia was singled out for this dubious honour, but I am going to tell you what I tell ALL my Aussie mates who are keen to visit our wonderful shores. At the end of the day, we, expat Malaysians, or Malaysians living abroad, are our country’s most persuasive argument for visiting a country on such a list. We are friendly, law-abiding people in other people’s land, or are we not?

I always, always, stress this to all my Aussie mates: yes, Malaysia DOES have horrendous crime (more on that later) BUT by and large, the criminals leave tourists (especially white-skinned ones) alone. I cannot speak for Chinese tourists, reportedly asked to pay RM500 in bribes when failing to provide proof of identity, but I can say that most of the white Aussies visiting Malaysia have a lovely stay without incident.

It’s just like taking a trip to Springvale in Melbourne. Most Aussies fear being jumped on by Viet thugs while downing their pho, but I can tell you it is perfectly safe, even after having seen people pass suspicious packages to each other through wound down car windows. If you don’t mess with the gangsters, they certainly have no reason to mess with you.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to the local population in Malaysia. We are courteous only towards outsiders because tourism is a major industry and no one wants to upset the apple cart by scaring off the very people with money to spend.

Basically, the more foreign you look, the safer you will be,” I assure my Aussie mates. “As for your kids, kidnappers and child smugglers don’t want them because they are hard to move around undetected. So you can have a very good, relatively safe, holiday in my country. You can live like a king – no cooking, no cleaning, no dirty laundry – for the entire duration of your stay.”

“Even if you were to holiday there on the cheap, there would still be no cooking, cleaning or laundry either. Our laundromats or dobi as we call them, have attendants, who will take away your soiled singlets and shorts and let you know when you can collect them, clean and pressed.”

If you are personal friends of mine, you’ve probably already heard of my parents being threatened at parang point (I’ve included a nice picture so you know what to look out for) whilst having fish and chips at a bistro in OUG, a suburb outside of the capital, Kuala Lumpur. Or perhaps even heard of my mother’s friend, an 83 year old lady being stabbed to death in her own home because she only had a miserable RM30 on her to give the intruders. Or maybe overheard me discussing the latest robbery where someone was “lucky” to have only been stabbed on the hand because they had RM700 on them. Yes, we have a peculiar definition of luck in Malaysia. To my knowledge, it means you’ve not been stabbed to death.

A picture of a parang, available for sale on-line for Rupiah 250 000.

A picture of a parang, available for sale on-line for Rupiah 250 000.

You have to have a sense of humour about this because every day, if you care to pick up the local papers, you will read about muggings, stabbings, slashings, rapes…If you turn on the TV, you will also see news of some on-going murder investigation or court case, unlike in Australia where the most exciting news for the day is which politician is wearing a blue tie and hence, secretly coveting the top job in the land. Now you understand why the bulk of us Malaysians are not into adrenalin-inducing sports like bungee-jumping, swimming with sharks or leaping from planes. Hell, if we want adrenalin, all we need is to step out our door, although, in many instances, adrenalin also comes to us, in the form of thugs breaking into our homes.

This probably also helps you understand why many of your leftist “feel-good” policies (rights of criminals to a fair trial, support of dole bludgers etc) hold next to no appeal to us. We’re just happy to have our quiet little lives, a small safe place to call home.

As for why you should visit Malaysia when you can obviously go to Singapore, in the same part of the world but one million times safer, I’ll say this: price point, mate. You can get two times the holiday for half the price. I could go on and on about our mouth-watering soups and sambals and kuehs and all manner of cooked delicacies, but if you have typical white taste-buds, you’re not going to be able to distinguish the good from the bad. Moi, for instance, will never order something called “Singapore Noodles”, not because I dislike Singapore – on the contrary, I like Singapore very much – but because no one in Singapore has ever heard of Singapore Noodles. It’s what Butter Chicken is to Indians; it doesn’t exist in India.

The souvenirs are also better in Malaysia; there’s Petaling Street where you can get LVs and Rolexs for the whole family. Although I should warn you against attempting to buy a parang; Malaysian law prohibits the unlicensed owning of weapons and a big, long, sharp knife, is considered one. Better to get a Chinese meat cleaver instead, which is used for chopping BBQ pork, which, in a pinch, might also double up as a weapon. I’m only joking. Just stick to the batiks, which you can procure for a decent price with much haggling at places like Pasar Seni. While you are there, you can also get your fortune told and your portrait painted for a couple of hundred RM.

If shopping is not your thing, take a sojourn to one of our highlands – even the Singaporeans dig this. They are especially enamoured by our Genting (pronounced ghen-ting, not, jen -ting, like the Singaporeans do). Or if stories of gamblers taking their lives by jumping from the hotel bother you, there are always national parks and quaint seaside towns to explore. Just be sure to observe at least the same safety precautions you would at home.

Freezing in Perth (aka my first winter in Perth).

It’s officially winter down under and for the life of me, I can’t explain why I thought Perth would be as warm as, if not warmer than, Brisbane this time of the year. Sure, we do crank up the heater once in a way in ol’ Brisvegas during winter, but Brisvegas has nothing on Perth when it comes to mercury plummeting.

On paper, the temperature difference between one coast and another is a minuscule couple of degrees. In reality, it’s the difference between wearing a light jumper in the day (Brisbane) and full winter gear (Perth). So if you are headed this way, consider it a friendly piece of advice from your not-so-local weather bureau to pack as if going to Melbourne – the cold is usually more of the dry variety here, as opposed to Melbourne’s wet, but after a characteristic seasonal downpour, you might think it is one and the same.

I certainly did this past week, taking refuge under the covers the whole of the long WA weekend with the heater turned on high enough for Amanda to have a nose bleed and myself, a very dry throat. On the upside, this presented me with the perfect opportunity to teach Amanda a new word: hibernation.

Doesn’t that only apply to animals?” she asked, rather miffed we were going to spend 3 seemingly good days (by her standards anyway) in bed.

“Yes, but it should also apply to humans. After all, we would save a lot of food and water if we all just plugged up our bums, the way bears do, before nodding off to a 3-month-long sleep.”

Amanda was not convince of these benefits of hibernation so HRH promised to take her to K-mart in exchange for 2 days of holing up with us in the heated bedroom.

“K-mart!” she squealed, her eyes brightening.

I swear K-mart should pay me for all the free promotion Amanda gives them. She told the owner of our regular Chinese restaurant, Lisa, about the promised trip, when we ventured out of our burrow for dinner (alas, human hibernation has to be punctuated by meal and toilet times), and the way she said it, it was as if we were taking her to Disneyland! But at least that ensured her co-operation as we spent yet another day buried under our IKEA-bought, mid-weight, King size doona.

“Do you know you slept 20 out of 24 hours yesterday?” asked HRH when I opened my eyes yesterday morning.

I’m practising to be a bear,” I said to him.

Last week I was practising to be a cat (read: took fewer baths). Now, having experienced the difficulty of sleeping on an empty stomach for extended periods of time, I have new respect for hibernating animals. Rather than view them as lethargic, defeatist, elements in nature, I’ve come to see that getting oneself to doze off to a fiercely growling stomach takes incredible will power and forbearance. As for why I would have to endure the discomfort of an empty stomach, let me just  remind you that mine refuses (and has refused for weeks on end) any food offered to it after 6 pm, thereby leaving me no choice but to fast until 7 am the next morning.

To console myself, I’ve marked all 2 months and 26 days until the end of winter; in the way that only humans seem capable of, I’ve also deluded myself into thinking it’s not that long a spell  and it could be worse if I was living in Siberia. Oh, and if there is one thing to be cheery about deep in the throes of winter, it’s Heston Blumenthal’s slated visit to Margaret River for the Margaret River Gourmet Escape, to be held between 22nd and 24th November, mid-spring. Be sure to mark that down in your diary, gourmet enthusiasts. You want to be booking accommodation NOW if you hope to score anywhere for less than $450 a night.

In the meantime, to keeping my frozen bottom warm, I’ve dug out the possum-wool poncho I bought a year ago in New Zealand, especially for dismally cold days like these. I’ve stocked up on the essentials – instant sachets of warm drinks, cream biscuits, what I’ve been told are “toxic” instant noodles – to stop myself from traipsing out more than necessary in the cold and paid up my utility bills – to make sure no one turns off the heat, even if I have to once in a while with Amanda’s bloody nose and me croaking up balls of greenish phlegm. If you feel for me (as you must since I am famished and cold), do send food parcels, knitted jumpers and sunshine my way. PM me for a send-to address. My frozen bottom and I humbly thank you.

 

In support of National Assessment Plan for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)

I’m well aware I’m in the minority of parents who welcome today’s NAPLAN test. The majority of parents tremble at the prospect; some have openly denounced NAPLAN as nothing more than an exercise aimed at rating teacher’s performances to justify school funding and wage increases. Some say it unduly exposes children in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 to stress – that life skills cannot be reliably measured using a series of standardised tests.

To them I say: would you rather your child’s first test be in Year 12? Or are you expecting them to be admitted into the University or Tafe of their choice based on a bunch of “feel-good” qualities that only you, as their parent, know of?

Some assert periodic assessment by the class teacher is enough to determine a child’s grasp of the “need-to-knows.” Bah! How do you know it is? I have a lovely tale for you.

There are 3 Year 3 classes in Amanda’s school. Since I get around quite a bit, I know parents whose kids are in the classes adjacent to Amanda’s. Those in the class next to mine have voiced their anxiety over their children not knowing how to tell the time, or gauge probability or even simple things like their 3 times table. One particularly concerned parent even went so far as to request a meeting with the class teacher, who assured her everything is fine. “The kids are only in Year 3,” she said.

“She might say that, but my kid doesn’t even know Year 2 work,” said the parent to me.

And when your kid gets to Year 4, she won’t know Year 2 or 3 work either,” I said.

Those parents have every reason to fear NAPLAN and every reason to want to blame the system, citing GONSKI’s findings as reason for their child’s underperformance. If you ask me, by doing so, they take on the “poor me” victim mentality and abnegate their sacred duties as parents. But that’s just me.

Meanwhile, those in Amanda’s class are not just ready for NAPLAN, they’re actually looking forward to it. As I told Amanda when we started preparing back in January, “You will silently thank me when you see the NAPLAN test. Unlike the others, you will have no fear. You will cruise through it without breaking a sweat.”

Did Amanda willingly prepare for NAPLAN with me?

At first I had to threaten her, withhold privileges and offer up rewards in exchange for compliance but the day she aced a practise maths test, as the only one in her class (and I suspect all 3 classes) to get a perfect score, she came to me and said, “Thank you mama. You were right. I have nothing to fear now.”

Oh, and in case you think tests like NAPLAN only produce book-smart children, think again. Preparing for NAPLAN has taught Amanda discipline, perseverance, the need to read and understand a question before tackling it, it has primed her to think critically, to see how what she knows can be extrapolated to fit different scenarios.

Unlike in Asia, where it is all about memorising tables or facts, the Australia education system puts emphasis on knowledge application. Take maths for instance. Due to Mrs B and Mrs D’s stellar teaching of the current curriculum, Amanda can not only tell time but tell me how many hours and minutes there are until a particular time. She can convert hours into minutes and back into hours, if need be. Or divide a bag of 64 cookies among 4 people with ease. She can tell me how much change I should get from $10 if items purchased are $1.50 and $2.70. Or the probability that the items I’ve bought are one kind or another. She knows that ½ can be expressed as 2/4, 3/6, 4/8, 8/16 and an infinite number of fractions, and that they all mean exactly the same thing.

When it comes to English, she can easily write 2 to 3 pages in support of a particular argument, with a decent introduction, ending and 3 points in between. She can spot misspelled words, faulty grammar, provide correct punctuation. She comprehends syntax and semantics. What more can I, as the parent of an 8 year old, Year 3 student, ask for?

Since you don’t know my child, you may ask me, “How does all this help foster creativity? Independent thinking?”

I will answer you, “Look at that wonderful house you live in. Would you still be happy to live in it if it wasn’t built to safety standards? What are safety standards but a bunch of numbers calculated based on size of dwelling and strength of materials used? Yet, those numbers are necessary, aren’t they? Regardless of how wonderful the building looks, how eco-friendly the design is, how well it blends in with the environment, you wouldn’t want to live there for a second if you couldn’t be sure that the thing will hold its form without collapsing on you.”

“Same goes for the bridge you drove across this morning on your way to work. Or the medicines you took with your morning coffee. You want quantifiable facts in support of what you consume, because “feel-good” based on nothing solid is simply a con.”

The same, dear readers, goes for education. You want to be dead certain your child is on track for his or her Year; not just based on your personal bias because that’s playing a very dangerous game with your child’s future. He or she will not thank you when failing to get into the course or university of their choice. Of course, if you’ve been playing the anti-establishment, anti-system, anti-convention game so far, you can continue to do so by blaming the system, the establishment, convention and everyone around you.

However, since the dye has yet to be cast, I urge you to cast your view towards wider society where progress is made by mastering and building on the basics. Even if your child were to be as creative a person as Lady Gaga, for whom neither maths nor English is necessary, aren’t you the least bit concerned that he or she might be taken for a ride by his or her accountant or manager? Think about your various criticism’s of NAPLAN and broaden your perspective to take in ALL of your child’s future. You’ll realise that if you embrace orthodox schooling, embrace regular attendance, embrace standardised testing, and help your child prepare for these challenges, you have nothing to lose but everything to gain, in the form of a well-educated, well-rounded child.

Two sides to socialism (aka “If you have 2 cows, can I have 1?”)

I’ll tell you 2 stories, both true. I once asked a friend if she would ever return to live in Malaysia. She said, “Why ever do that? Australia gives me so many benefits.”

At the time, this wonderful government was giving her both parenting payments and rent assistance. This came to about $1100 + a month. Today, she still receives the same payments, but gets around $1250 a month. The school kids bonus and any free money going around is extra. She also has a health care card, which subsidises the costs of medical consultation, medication, utilities and public transport.

To her credit, she was able to feed her family of 4 adults and 1 child from Monday to Friday on only $50 a week, whilst on weekends, she’d eat out. From her, I learnt quite a number of penny-pinching tricks (good ones too) so  in return, using what I’d gleaned from faithfully reading Money Magazine, I gave her some layman’s financial advice.

“Lose the credit card debt,” I told her. “Your credit card charges around 17% in interest. How long will it take you to pay off what you owe? What you’ve bought on the cards aren’t even income-generating assets and if they were, I wouldn’t bankroll them with cards if I were you.”

She wouldn’t listen and the debt kept piling up. Instead, she confessed to spending up to $400 a month on herself, my then-home and personal belongings serving as a real-life “Pin-interest” with which to decorate her own home. Using her first baby bonus she bought an old car with a 5-year loan attached, and with her next baby bonus, she took the family back to Malaysia for a month-long holiday. After that, she brought them back another 2 times, an average of once every two years.

“Why don’t you put the children in childcare and get a job to help out? At your level of wages, the taxes are negligible,” I advised.

You might say the same thing of me but there is no point I work outside the home since my husband already pays the taxes he does. I’ll have you know: for him to work those hours to pay these taxes, I do the bulk of all home duties and child rearing. In return, I receive no parenting payments, no rent assistance, no school kids bonus, and if I were to have another child, no baby bonus either. Since I’m out of the labour force, I’m also ineligible for the paid maternity scheme, single, childless folks Australia-wide have been seeing red over.

People often preach to me the value of work-life balance, of spending time with the family, but no one acknowledges that my husband is not just keeping me at home, but other mothers too. My friend’s husband works a regular 40-hour week. Mine works double that. Until last year, HRH was upgrading his skills (to pay even more tax in the future) so he didn’t have much time for us when not working.

Anyhow, a family member of hers told me, “She wants what you have, to be taken care of by a man, but married someone who can’t even care for himself.”

“What are you going to do in the event something happens to your husband? How much does his work insurance pay?”

“Sixty thousand.”

“That’s not enough to bring up children,” I said, out of concern. “What more with outstanding credit card bills.”

I tried to get her to put her finances in order and aim for self-sufficiency but that ultimately put a strain on our friendship. The way she sees it, I’m a FAT CAT because I live a much better life than her. She doesn’t see the sacrifices, the years of toil.

The flip side of the coin is story number 2. This other friend is like HRH, a surgeon. He isn’t HRH, because my stupid HRH is too much of a socialist, plus he always likes to take the opposing side just to rile me up. He says I look cute when pissed off.

Let’s return to story number 2. This conversation took place roughly a year ago, in my house.

The country is heading down the drain under this government,” said this other friend.

“Why would you say that?” I asked.

The government penalises you for working hard. People all point to me and say I’m rich and use that as an excuse to take my hard-earned money, but don’t see the 20 years I’ve put in to get to where I am. I had to work very hard to get into medicine, then very hard to get into surgical training, then very hard to stay in surgical training, then very hard to exit surgical training, then very hard to establish myself… when I could have skipped university, got myself drunk every night, found some interesting hobbies and gone on the dole.”

The truth is it doesn’t pay to be responsible.

We, stupid people, have mortgages, body corporate and council rates to pay (so we can fund our own old age), a flood levy to foot (so we can afford to clean up after another flood), the carbon tax to bear (God knows what’s that about), medibank levy and SURCHARGE taken before we even see a cent  of our wages (now no longer offset completely by the taking up of private health cover), private health insurance  to cough up (to reduce the strain on the public health system), flood insurance to protect buildings (to nullify dependence on public funds collected through the flood levy), and a raft of personal insurance policies (to prevent dependence on the government in the event of being sued, falling ill or being struck with disability) and FOR ALL THAT, we’re labelled SELFISH FAT CATS and targeted every time the public coffers run short.

“In hindsight, option 2 probably seems much better,” I said. “The interesting part is you have to provide care for the very people who accuse you of being a FAT CAT and you have to PAY for their care through taxes and various levies. And, none of them will ever hesitate to sue you, because you’re a FAT CAT and they are the “little guys.”

“That’s true.”

“Did HRH ever tell you about one of his consultants? He asked the guy why he drives such an old car. The consultant said he once treated someone, who subsequently tried to sue him, even though everything went well surgically, because the latter simply needed the money. ‘It’s not personal, doc,’ he said as he slapped him with a lawsuit.”

I’m not saying that all patients are ungrateful bogans. Many are very considerate and appreciative folk who bring sushi and fruits and whatever else they sell, as gifts, when coming for consults. But you will encounter those who think you should be taken to the cleaners simply because you are doing better than they are. You will also encounter many who feel ENTITLED to welfare payments because Australia is a supposedly rich nation and everyone, save them, is OBLIGED to help the underprivileged.

At any rate, I don’t see the need for more levies or more taxes. If, in managing the country’s finances, the government were even half as good as a regular housewife is at managing the family budget, they won’t have to keep slapping tax payers with more levies to fund projects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 ways to change Malaysia (apart from voting in GE13)

Presented with the opportunity, we must certainly exercise our constitutional right and privilege to vote. However, there are others things that we, as citizen Joes and Janes, can do to combat rampant corruption, escalating crime, rising living costs and declining education standards.

Based in Australia, where people are not only encouraged to speak up but to get actively involved in community affairs, I’ve come to view societal participation of the individual as key to effecting change.

I’m not suggesting that these simple measures will wipe out RM500billion worth of national debt or narrow the divide between the super rich and hardcore poor, but if everyone adopts them, change will be imminent, even if at times, very hard won.

1)  Stop paying bribes.

This came to me when a friend said, “Even if there is a change of government, so what? There will always be corruption because we’ll choose to pay coffee money instead of receiving a summons from a traffic officer.”

If you feel corruption is endemic in society, then don’t be part of it. You can’t pay your way out of traffic infringements and around the bends in the law and then suddenly expect people to be honest mid-way through the food chain or at the top. If you want corruption gone, work within the framework of the law. Pay your summons; refuse to grease wheels to make them turn in your favour. If enough people put their hands back in their pockets, the bribe-taking folks will soon get the message they’ve to ask proper authorities for higher wages instead of moonlighting as toll collectors.

2)  Join your local neighbourhood watch (rukun tetanga). Know your neighbours. Watch out for each other.

Yes, it’s a dog eat dog world, but we can’t prosper, even if we can survive, alone. When you are friendly with the neighbours, they’ll watch your house for you and you for them. Someone will take in the mail when you are not around so you don’t alert the robbers to your absence. Someone will water the plants for you or feed the cat, so you won’t signal to low lives, “I’m not home. Come and rob me!”

By joining the neighbourhood watch and knowing your neighbours, you’ll know the faces that belong in your neighbourhood and those that don’t. Those that don’t, if not neighbour’s guests, are most likely thieves, robbers or similar scumbags.

3)  Call the police if you see suspicious behaviour.

This is common sense and they actually teach this in school, but how many pick up the phone if they see something untoward happening in the house next door? The old Chinese will say, “Less one problem is better than more one problem. Mind your own business.” Well, it will become your business sooner or later if you do nothing about it. I’m not asking you to be a vigilante or a cape and mask-wearing Marvel Comic Book hero; I’m asking you to exercise your civic duty as a concerned citizen. Pick up your handphone to record suspicious sightings when you are out and about to show to the police. Jot down car license plates of strange vehicles rounding your neighbourhood – they’re probably scoping out which house or person to rob. Police need tangible leads to work on. Be the eyes and ears that keep your area safe.

4)  Volunteer your time. Form Groups. Get involved.

Do you want to have greater say in your child’s education? Or perhaps have ideas to improve the education system? Apart from writing in to the papers to complain about the current system, ask your child’s school if you can spend some time volunteering in class. Get to know the current curriculum first, before tearing it down. If you still have reservations, join action groups to agitate the government for change. There is power in numbers. If none exists, consider forming your own group. Don’t have the time? Then you don’t have the time to complain either. Don’t be a backseat driver. Do something about your own complaints.

5)  Stamp out the money culture.

Sure, money makes the world go round, but did you know that overt materialism is also responsible for deforestation, poor air quality, poor water quality, corruption, blasé attitudes among the civil service…the list is pretty endless. And do you know why this is so? When everyone is focused on materialism, no one thinks that the new toys of today might end up in landfills of tomorrow, or the ink used to dye the perfect, must-have, pair of blue jeans might be polluting the drinking water of an impoverished riverside community somewhere…The desire for more money, more goods, just more of everything manifests as a money grab by everyone from the trash collector who demands his New Year ang pow all the way to the highest echelons of society who plunder the national coffers.

Ask yourself: are you contributing to the problem through conspicuous consumption?  

6) Vote with your feet.

Often, the price of essentials like flour, sugar, oil and salt, might go up a paltry couple of cents per litre or kilogram, but shopkeepers and restaurateurs see this as an excuse to raise prices across the board. If you think  a price hike is unjustified then don’t fuel demand. Use less, walk away, or find a substitute. If enough people react to price hikes by turning away, prices will come down to reflect a downturn in demand.

Similarly, there is no reason to tolerate shoddy treatment from your service providers or vendors. If they don’t value your business, take yours elsewhere.

How about rising petrol and toll costs? Car pool. It’d also help with the congestion on the road and protect you from would-be muggers who target drivers of single occupant vehicles.

7)  Enrol your child in a national type school.

As Chinese schools revert from teaching science and maths in English to Mandarin, another friend lamented the potential divide between those Chinese-educated and other Malaysians. As she rightly pointed out, people need language to communicate so how does only speaking a language not spoken by others, help national unity?

Even non-Chinese educated Chinese think and act differently to Chinese-educated Chinese. There may be a growing number of non-Chinese attending Chinese schools but they are still a minority. Unless Chinese schools halt the decision to return to teaching science and maths in Mandarin, I’d suggest you send your children to national type schools where they have better chance of picking up decent English and the official language of the country, Malay. Like it or not, Malay is the language used at all levels of government and their inability to read, write or express themselves adequately in the language won’t just make them aliens on home soil but also make them vulnerable to fraudsters who capitalise on this deficiency.

The bottom line is if you want a more caring, safer society, you are going to have to become involved. You are going to have to take a stand against corruption at all levels, not just the fat cats at the top of the tree. You are going to have to make yourself heard and visible somehow. If you keep saying, “I don’t want to get involved”, “It’s not my problem”, “I don’t want to court problems” then you have no one to blame for society’s decline but yourself.

P/s Do remember to vote on 5th May!

Dear Future Government of Malaysia.

Dear Future Government of Malaysia,

I have no interest in politics or politicians. However, since Malaysia’s General Election is once more upon us, I see it fit, as a proud, if absent, daughter of the country, to share with you the average Malaysian’s dream for our beloved country.

Many might contend I am the wrong person to speak for the average Malaysian, since I live abroad, and have done so for close to 15 years, but believe you me, the human heart knows neither reason nor geography. Although Australia has graciously housed my family over the years, affording me the freedom of speech and expression you see here, a large part of me still hankers for the familiarity of roots, of home.

It’s true what they say about childhood: it’s the time of our lives when foundations are laid. In my childhood, I played hopscotch and  “five stones” under trees raining red saga seeds, lost a couple of baby teeth munching on leathery keropok lekor, and every monsoon season, especially on the East Coast where I lived for 3 years, wondered if the Malay boys kicking football in the rain were going to catch anything more than a cold.

Thanks to the national-type schools I attended, I made many friends of different races who I’ve kept in contact with until today. My Malay friends in particular, are often surprised I not only still speak Malay but do so rather well, choosing to do so when communicating with them, even though we can all speak English. Given the persecutory policies that led to my being based in Australia and the generally tense state of affairs between Chinese and Malays, I’m glad our friendships have survived time and distance. It’s testament to the fact that regardless of race or religion, Malaysians have more in common with each other than we do with anyone else.

Outside of Malaysia, or at least in cyberspace, away from the racial polemics typifying Malaysia’s social and political landscape, we get on like a house on fire, united by concern over the same issues: increasing costs of living, declining personal safety, affordability of education for our young, welfare for the old and infirm. Over here, we’re all minorities, indistinguishable by the local population from one another. On the world stage, we are one among many Asian nations – something I hope voters think about when they arrive at the polling booths this 5th of May, for Malaysia’s General Election. Regardless of race or religion, we are all bound for the same destination. As a people, we can put our racial and religious differences aside and concentrate on the important issues at hand, or we can bend to the will of those who will use our differences against us and go backwards.

It is my fervent wish that one day, when I speak of Malaysia, I won’t have to qualify my statement with, “But I’m Chinese,” (actually, I’m Peranakan) or give my audience a synopsis of the many issues hindering our progress from third world nation to first. I want you, the future government of Malaysia, elected with the mandate of the people this General Election, to address these issues without resorting to blame or racial polemics. Restore the people’s faith in you. Roll up your sleeves and get the job done. Make good on your election promises, whatever they are. Let the peoples of other nations, who achieved independence when we did, see us as equals, worthy of their respect and (positive) attention.

Thank you.