Back to Brisvegas!

It’s still some months away but it’s pretty much confirmed we’ll be moving back to Brisbane aka Brisvegas aka Home of Happy Hippies. The last one is my personal take on the place. Yay! Perth has been a great ride but we’re longing to put down roots and Brisbane is where HRH’s work is and where the next chapter of our lives await us.

It goes without saying I feel a mixture of emotions: it’s never easy leaving a place one calls home, knows the locals on a first name basis and has made loads of new friends. But move we must and move we shall, back east to Brisbane, this time by plane. If you want to relive my yet unedited (I don’t have the time with the baby) 9-day trip across Australia’s backyard moving from Brisbane to Perth click here.

To coordinate our move back to Brisvegas I have mental lists and paper lists and lists I’ve misplaced somewhere around the house for all the things that need doing. And for that question everyone seems to be asking: are you going back to West End?

Yes, by the grace of God we will. Amen. We will be moving back to live in the 4101. It’s home. I told HRH that for me Brisbane = West End. It’s the only equation I know even though nothing else about the future adds up at this moment. We travel to other parts of Brisbane for food all the time – it’s our family’s “collective hobby” – but 4101 is where it’s at for me. 4101 is home. I’m a WALKER who delights in all the wonders of the area that I can’t imagine wanting to live anywhere else. Even and especially with a baby, I’d still move back to live in an 85m2 apartment. Why? There are a number of reasons but chief of which is Amanda’s education.

In 2 years time Amanda will be off to high school. Living in our area we have the option of sending her to Brisbane State High, the best PUBLIC high school in Brisbane, possibly the best high school, sharing the podium with Grammar, which costs $30k pa. From the value-for-money-education angle, there’s no arguing it makes sense but of course since my mind almost never shuts off, what with the baby waking me 10 times a night (sometimes literally), I’ve had some reservations about this, namely: what if my child is NOT Brisbane State High material? I’m just throwing it out there. She has the highest LEXILE score for her grade (almost double the average grade 4 student) and is doing long division of many numbers and long multiplication of many numbers and will be at least 1 year ahead of the NATIONAL school syllabus by the time we go back to Brisbane (thanks to our wonderful Kumon instructor Ms Amy Lee-Smith of the Dalkeith Kumon Centre which we have been attending since December of 2013) BUT is she good enough to tango with Brisbane’s best? Can she foxtrot and samba her way to a decent OP there?

I laid it straight to her. “Amanda, Brisbane State High is a very big school.”

I showed her the latest edition of Kumon magazine with a grade 4 boy doing the level of math she should be at in 2 to 3 months time. That article got me worried.

HRH chimed in, “It takes students zoned to the area and those who get in on merit. Do you know what that means?”

She nodded. “It’s a big school.”

How big? 4000 students at last count with more on the way. In Malaysia that would be a regular size secondary school but in Oz, 4000 is a humongous number.

HRH said, “Those that get in on merit will be really very, very good.”

It was my turn to butt in, “So do you want to be one of those kids who are in the school just because your parents can afford a house in the zone or do you want to be one of those who deserve to be there?”

Right here is my mountain of a concern: Brisbane, unlike Melbourne that has Macrobertson and Melbourne High, doesn’t have a purely selective school that admits kids into high school from grade 9 onwards based on an entry exam. While I understand the desire for parents to want to send their kids to a local school the BSHS model means that there will be very scholastically capable children and those that will flounder and possibly drown under the weight of such competition. Which will my child be?

They say a mother knows best but this mother is at a loss as to how to proceed. Some friends with kids have said I should put her name down for a private school, just in case she needs that extra attention a public school can’t give her. I am considering that but am I already too late when others have registered before their kids can walk?

Regardless, living within the 4101 will give us the option of sending her there. Perhaps tonnes of others think like me because in my absence I’ve acquired only a thousand new neighbours, in the form of new apartment blocks all around mine. With the new addition to our family, I want to get into a house or something from which my now-crawling baby won’t decide to try his “superman” skills while I am in the toilet. Alas, that will require some serious financial re-jigging which even the thought of gives me migraines.

So in the interest of my sanity the 4 of us (2 adults, 1 child and 1 baby) will move back into our 85 m2 (that includes the balconies) for now. At first the impossibility of “squeezing in comfortably” (an oxymoron in my book) depressed me but then my friend L said, “Remember how you were going on and on about taking Amanda to Museums, art galleries etc? You can make it work! I know you can!”

You’d have to agree good friends make the best cheerleaders. All right. We’ll give it our best shot. I’ve been binging on posts from apartment therapy and www.dwell.com to see just how I might achieve the impossible – taking a leaf or ten out of the books of New Yorkers who have done just that since the advent of skyscrapers. Yes. I will do it. I will “squeeze comfortably” into my tiny pad and make it work. Wish me luck.

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?

 

Older and better: growing into my own skin.

I recently celebrated a milestone birthday. How many candles did I blow out, you ask. Okay, I’ll give you a number. I might as well since many who know me personally read this blog and they already know. It seems only fair. Well, madam here turned 35. Now, you may let your jaw drop to the floor. It’s all right. I won’t be upset, I promise. Really, it’s fine.

I marked this birthday Gandhi-esque style – not chomping on lentils, but simply, without much fanfare; like most weekdays, I sent HRH off to work at 7.30 in the morning, then because I have Amanda with me for the next 2 weeks, had a lie in with her until midday. Then I took a nice long hot shower, dug out something new to wear, had Amanda change for the day and the both of us traipsed across the road for wanton noodle soup.

Perhaps dismayed by my ho-hum mode of celebration, Amanda kept asking, “Won’t you be getting a birthday cake? Don’t you want balloons and candles?

To please her, I said we’d get the cake from the French Patisserie on our side of the road, but no balloons or candles. “I’m no longer a child, Amanda,” I explained. “So I have no need for such things.”

“How about a present. I like presents on my birthday.”

Ah, to be a child again. When I was her age, I happily collected pieces of rubber from the caps of Coca Cola bottles. Then I went on to happily collect boyfriends, handbags, shoes, jewellery… all manner of rubbish really. Nowadays I’m in the business of consolidating and curating my belongings. 1 Husband, check. 1 Child, check.

I got rid of 15 pairs of shoes – quality ones too – to move from Brisbane to Perth this January. I decided they had served their purpose and were no longer necessary. I also gave away 1/4 of the contents of my wardrobe and brought less than 1/2 of what remained with me. And now having only worn 1/2 of the remaining 1/2 (you do the math) these past few months, I realise how much excess baggage I’d been hauling from house to house.

I did the same with my many relationships as well. Like my shoes and clothes, I took a good look at them and sorted the lot into 3 baskets: keep forever, keep for now, discard. I wasn’t despondent about the culling, merely cognisant that in quite a few cases, I’d reached the end of the line. There’s nothing you or I can do when that happens, except accept the facts as they are and move on.

Then again, I’m of the thinking that for every window that closes, a door must open somewhere. It’s just a matter of finding where that damn door is. I’m realistic about people and life, but also optimistic about the inherent potential of both.

Age also makes you see things differently; what was once so important, in countless instances, no longer is. Take for example my body. When I was in my late teens, I was preoccupied with having slender thighs. When I pinched them, all I saw was excess fat, skin and cellulite. Not exactly a pretty picture. But now, at age 35, I see them as these 2 marvellously fleshy pillars that take me from A to B, carry me through all sorts of wild adventures – dancing, chasing after Amanda down the road, childbirth. That they are wider than the width of a chopstick bothers me not.

I also don’t care if the young un’s call me Aunty. In fact, I insist they call me Aunty. How dare these cheeky buggers call me “Jie Jie” (big sister). Such insolence! I know it isn’t the norm for children here to address those older than themselves with honorific titles, but I get riled up all the same when Amanda’s friends call me by my name.

“It’s Aunty Estella,” I often correct them, sounding like butter won’t melt in my mouth.

Amanda’s bestie’s sister in Brisbane even does a wonderful impersonation of me, coming across all crusty and stern. It’s so true-to-life it had her mother worried I’d somehow moved into their house – she of the school of gentle parenting.

Anyway, the evening of my birthday, a dear old friend messaged me. She said, “Hope you can have a simple celebration as I don’t think you (need) anything in life…

And of course she was right. I had a simple celebration for the precise reason that I lack nothing. Even though not particularly religious, I replied, “I thank God I have family and friends, reasonable health and wealth and the mental acuity to recognise this.”

Many people have a lot more but have to be twice my age before they see this. I think the greatest gift I’ve received this birthday is not something that came gift-wraped, but hard-won wisdom to appreciate what I already do have. For that I am amply grateful.

 

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.

 

By Estella Dot Com turns 1 today!

Dear readers,

I’m pleased and proud to announce By Estella Dot Com turns 1 today. Thank you for your generous support and many useful suggestions thus far. Like many a new parent, I’ve been trying to make this child of mine fit some lofty vision of parenting. To my chagrin, I’ve found it’s no different to parenting a real, flesh-and-blood child, in that the idealised vision swiftly gives way to the needs and practicalities of day-to-day life.

The child, once thought to be a passive participant in the parenting exercise, is no less assertive than a hungry baby left alone in a cot. It demands of you a great deal more fortitude, patience and energy than you bargained for, testing your resolve at every step not to abandon it in favour of a good night’s sleep and some precious “me-time.”

And so it has been with this blog.

Because By Estella Dot Com remains very much a 1 person venture (ie. me), I’ve often found myself holding a squalling infant, technically and editorially. What started out as a bare-bones affair of text and the odd picture, has slowly morphed into a semi-polished site. Excuse the continued use of parenting metaphors, but we’ve gone from nappies to diaper pants, sole milk feeds to first solid foods, not much physical movement to crawling. Much can still be done to improve the look and feel of By Estella Dot Com, but as I have yet to master programming, this will take awhile.

I may mention a business or product from time-to-time but please know, I receive NO remuneration for doing so. Friends and family may lobby me to give them free press but I only do so if the post I’m writing calls for it. Most are only too happy for me to leave them alone or portray them in a sufficiently benign light, given my propensity to reflect on the past.

About that, I suppose my tendency to look back is borne of a deep need to always take stock of where I’m going because from experience, there is no greater predictor of where I’m going than where I’ve already been. I’m a glass half-full kinda gal, so even with all this looking over the shoulder, I still say my best days are yet to come, even if things are already pretty good right now.

Looking forward, I hope to bring you more stories with heart and perspective on matters relevant to modern, transglobal, multi-cultural living. I anticipate more spirited dialogues with many of By Estella Dot Com’s regular readers, who often hold views very different to mine. I welcome comments from others who’ve so far only sent me private messages or stayed silent, even as I maintain the right to moderate such comments. As civilised human beings, we can all say our piece in a peaceful fashion, regardless of the number of raw nerves touched.

With that, I thank you once again for reading my blog. Feel free to share posts with your nearest and dearest or simply folks you think might be interested in my various ramblings and postulations. Ours has been a fascinating discourse between author and reader I’m very much keen to continue.

XOXO

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Our first month in Perth.

Since a picture paints a thousand words, I’ve decided to allow a selection of photos I’ve taken this month do the talking. Do enjoy!

Amanda's swimming teacher would be so proud of her. She can now swim 25m freestyle and backstroke, do tumble turns and recently mastered survival backstroke too.

Amanda’s swimming teacher would be so proud of her. She can now swim 25m freestyle and backstroke, do tumble turns and recently mastered survival backstroke too.

A picture of the noodles I prepared in our Fraser Suites kitchen in Perth, Western Australia.

Who says tasty can’t be healthy? This bowl of noodles captures the essence of summer with of punnet of grapes tomatoes, 1 yellow capsicum and 200 gms of spinach. It’s low in fat but high in flavour.

My little Aussie has a sausage roll to start the first school day of the year.

My little Aussie has a sausage roll to start the first school day of the year.

Here come the dragons! Please welcome the snake year!

Here come the dragons! Please welcome the snake year!

T'was 42 degrees on the day but we were glad we braved the heat to be part of the festivities.

T’was 42 degrees on the day but we were glad we braved the heat to be part of the festivities.

Picture of the crowd taken by HRH, who seemed to be the tallest one there.

Picture of the crowd taken by HRH, who seemed to be the tallest one there.

You can tell how much sun there was by how tan I am. Since I bought Amanda a sam fu in Singapore, she could dress up for this year's Chinese New Year with me.

You can tell how much sun there was by how tan I am. Since I bought Amanda a sam fu in Singapore, she could dress up for this year’s Chinese New Year with me.

It was the Chinese New Year but we had every race known to man at that street fair.

It was the Chinese New Year but we had every race known to man at that street fair.

What Chinese New Year is complete without Choy San, God of Prosperity? Here he comes to give out red packets with gold-colored tokens to children.

What Chinese New Year is complete without Choy San, God of Prosperity? Here he comes to give out red packets with gold-colored tokens to children.

You wouldn't believe it but the lion dancers were Latin Americans!

You wouldn’t believe it but the lion dancers were Latin Americans!

Bite-sized pieces of Nyonya kueh were real good.

Bite-sized pieces of Nyonya kueh were real good.

To escape the 42 degree heat, we ducked into a desert shop along the main street in Northbridge, Perth.

To escape the 42 degree heat, we ducked into a desert shop along the main street in Northbridge, Perth.

Amanda enjoying a ride on her new two-legged scooter.

Amanda enjoying a ride on her new two-legged scooter.

Another lovely evening in Perth. You can always admire the yatches even if they don't belong to you.

Another lovely evening in Perth.  You can always admire the yatches even if they don’t belong to you.

 A picture of the crabs in a tank in a restaurant in Northbridge, Perth.

Snow crabs look better than they taste. These babies here were destined for someone’s Chinese New Year feast.

Having a light moment in a regular shopping centre.

Having a light moment in a regular shopping centre.

Such lush grass at the Nedland's Esplanade.

Such lush grass at the Nedland’s Esplanade.

If only I could cart that tree home. I reckon it'd look marvellous in my lounge.

If only I could cart that tree home. I reckon it’d look marvellous in my lounge.

That building in the background is a hotel.

That building in the background is a hotel.

Capitalising on the Chinese's love of gold and money, this restaurant has both as part of its decor.

Capitalising on the Chinese’s love of gold and money, this restaurant has both as part of its decor. Not sure about the spiral josticks hanging from the ceiling.

10 out of 10 for presentation and taste.  A picture of the Sunomono we had at Kido Japanese restaurant in Nedlands, Perth.

10 out of 10 for presentation and taste. A picture of the Sunomono we had at Kido Japanese restaurant in Nedlands, Perth.

"If I don't learnt to skateboard now, then when?" asked HRH before buying that hazardous contraption.

“If I don’t learnt to skateboard now, then when?” asked HRH before buying that hazardous contraption.

A picture of HRH and Amanda in Perth City.

Enroute to buying me a new handphone. A picture of HRH and Amanda in Perth City.

 

 A picture of the all at Gino's in Fremantle, Perth.

A picture of the wall at Gino’s in Fremantle, Perth.

Gino's is a gastronomic institution in Fremantle, Perth, that started long, long, long ago when a Italian tailor dreamt of opening a coffee shop selling good coffee. Today the place has coffee, a wide selection of cakes and perfectly-cooked main meals.

Gino’s is a gastronomic institution in Fremantle, Perth, that started long, long, long ago when a Italian tailor dreamt of opening a coffee shop selling good coffee. Today the place has coffee, a wide selection of cakes and perfectly-cooked main meals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2012, the year that was.

So we have come to the end of yet another year. Now wasn’t that fast? It seemed like only yesterday we were ushering in the new year and now, we’re farewelling it in readiness for another one. How was your year? Was it good? Did you get up to plenty of mischief?

Even though I saw family in Melbourne around Easter, I had a largely forgettable first quarter. By the time April rolled around, I was more than itching to up the ante on my social life. One of my good pals who you’ve heard heaps about, Tania,  had gone abroad the previous August, and I was bemoaning the lack of a regular Thursday date. We get on like a house on fire when we’re together but since her move I had not heard from her. Then suddenly on the April 1st, she called saying she’d returned!

It would be another 3 weeks before we actually saw each other again, during which time I had a whole spate of other reunions. Friends I’d not heard from in years called, texted or wrote to me, and in every instance we were able to take up where we left off, as though we’d never been apart.

At the end of May, after much nail-biting, His Royal Highness found he had passed his specialist exams, a culmination of ten years of hard slog as he balanced work with studies and family life. The truth, as any surgeon’s wife knows, is that we had not had much family life in the YEARS leading up to the exams, so I had to learn to stomach his company anew, one of the challenges being to cater to his food preferences, since up until then, Amanda and I often dined by ourselves.

To celebrate His Royal Highness’ passing, all three of us flew to New Zealand for a ski holiday at the end of June. Being virgin skiers, Amanda and I were both thrilled to see the snow. New Zealand in winter is simply stunning and I was glad that our stay there coincided with my birthday, at the beginning of July.

We took a few more celebratory trips in August and September, but they were mostly to nearby Gold Coast where we often stayed just the one night, leaving on a Saturday and returning on a Sunday. His Royal Highess found it odd at first not to lug around his books, whilst we found it hard to believe him not to buried in them.

In October, after yet more nail-biting, it was confirmed we were moving to Perth in 2013. Being a city-chick, I was relieved to know we’d be swapping one capital city for another, although sad to be leaving our home of 3 years, Brisbane. We’d made many friends here, lived through the floods of January 2011, savoured the cities many delights, all in all had a mostly rollicking good time.

That month my family of 3 also made our first trip to Hervey Bay, home of whale watching on Australia’s East Coast, to spend three days with Tania and her family. Days later, I flew up to Cairns to visit Frances, my astrology guru and great mate, with whom I had and continue to have many conversations about the unknown in our special language.

At the end of the same month, Amanda and I followed His Royal Highness to Sydney for a work conference, where I had the chance to meet up with a former classmate, Yuens, who owns a lovely cafe there. Like a kid from the backwaters of civilisation, I was shocked to see the number people in Sydney, all dressed like they were attending some gala function.

In November, my preparations for our move to Perth kicked into high gear. I arranged to have our place here in West End rented out and after much shopping around, booked a storage unit in Macgregor, in the Brisbane’s Southeast. His Royal Highness and I devised a definite route to travel to Perth by car, which would allow us to do get there in good time, comfortably. It is a 4800km journey across some of the loneliest stretches of road in Australia, so we’ll be sure to carry enough water and fuel to get there.

In December, Amanda’s school, like most schools in the Southern Hemisphere, finished for the year. We flew back to Malaysia to see family and friends, for the the first time in 5 years! Because of time-constraints, we were not able to meet up with everyone. At the top of my must-see list were Sheau Jing and Keng Yew, who I went through university with, with whom I have remained the staunchest of friends. They were welcoming their first child and as such, unable to travel to my parent’s home in Ipoh to see me. Hence, my rendezvousing with them in Kuala Lumpur instead.

I paid visits to many aunts, uncles, a couple of cousins and in-laws; I ate the foods of my childhood, heard the singsong voices I know so well, and reminisced, as Cancerians do, of yesterday. Oh yesterday, all my troubles seem so far away, now they look as though they’re here to stay…

Which brings me to the end of 2012. Catch me in 2013 for MORE parenting, lifestyle and relationship stories with a cultural, nostalgic bent to them. I wish you a happy new year and  a blessed and safe holiday season.