Happy birthday ByEstellaDotCom!

Well, whaddya know? By Estella Dot Com is now officially 2 years old! Before we blow out the candles on the virtual birthday cake, let me give you a brief run-down of what I’ve been up to since my last post:

At the beginning of this month, I went to Singapore for a week. HRH had a work conference and we both took the opportunity to see family who travelled down from Malaysia to meet with us there. With an almost 5 month old in tow, it was one of the hardest journeys I’ve ever had to make anywhere – not only because of the logistics of travelling with a crabby infant, but because we missed the flight we booked through Scoot (which they changed 4 times, the last without informing us) going to Singapore! Oh, the drama!

I had a nearly 9kilo infant in my arms, the baby bag slung around my shoulders, my handbag stuffed inside it (fortunately I downsized to a smaller bag), running from one end of Perth airport to another looking for the Scoot desk, which had closed 10 minutes (yes, only 10 minutes!) before our arrival. Behind me was Amanda, huffing and puffing, moaning and groaning, all 36kilos of her, pulling our 19kilo bag while HRH parked our car in the long term parking bay. Meanwhile, the screen with the information of flights kept blinking BOARDING NOW!

As HRH had to be in Singapore for a 9am presentation, we just bit the bullet and bought another 4 tickets to Singapore with Singapore Airlines, which is indeed a better way to fly. There is nothing quite like the service and comfort of flying with a major carrier, as opposed to a budget one.

Even though I was born in the tropics, I felt like my head was about to explode from the heat the moment I stepped out of Changi Airport. I think it was a combination of having cradled Ethan from 5.30pm until our 1.10am flight and holding him a further 5 hours until we reached Singapore, while the other two slept and having coffee afterwards (which I’m allergic to) which really did my head in. Fortuitously I had not made any plans for the day and had time to relax once we’d checked in to our accommodation. HL, my good friend from secondary school swung by with her kidlets that evening and we had a quick catch-up after 18 years!

Thanks to HL, who played tour guide over the next six days and co-coordinator (the other was CCM) of a get together, I managed to see couple of our other classmates who also live in Singapore. It was a great reunion had by all! Obviously, an evening is hardly enough to make up for 18 years but we did try! Apart from HL, whose husband cooked for us (congratulations on having trained him well, HL!) and minded the kidlets, they each brought local hawker fare I’d been craving so badly. Now, if only I could get them to visit me in Oz…

Infernal heat aside, which neither of my children could stand – rather surprising since they are both born in summer – we enjoyed our trip to Singapore very much. I’m pleased to have noted the following for your reference:

  • Hawker fare is 1/3 the price of Perth and ½ the price of Brisbane. Servings are ½ the size. Drinks are the same size but ½ the price.
  • The price of restaurant food is roughly ½ but so are portion sizes. Unlike Oz, there is no such thing as free tap water.
  • Taxis are much cheaper than Oz for the same distance. In Oz it is almost AUD1 a minute. It was roughly SGD35 for the ride from the airport to our accommodation along Orchard Road during peak morning traffic. Travelling on the MRT is cheaper still.
  •  You can drink water straight from the tap but most people boil their drinking water.
  • Best place to change money is at Lucky Plaza, which gave us SGD1.16 for AUD1, instead of SGD1.12 offered at another plaza around the corner. Almost all moneychangers in the building offer the same rate.
  • Since we didn’t go during the island-wide sales, things were only slightly cheaper than Oz, however there was infinitely more choice. Come on. Don’t look at me like that! How can Chadstone or Westfield compare with the never-ending parade of sky-scraping malls on Orchard Road?
  • Breast pads are sold at selected department stores, unlike in Oz where they are sold in pharmacies. Comparing apples with apples, breast pads are much cheaper over there.

I don’t know if my trip coincided with some new national speak Mandarin campaign but everywhere I went, people were speaking Mandarin to me. And everywhere I went, people were calling me ma’am – another curiosity since I was dressed in shorts and thongs most of the time.

Okay. I’ve got to love you and leave you as Ethan is squealing his little lungs out. Happy birthday to my 3rd baby! Until next time, enjoy a slice of cake for me.















The Great Gatsby: is it a story of love and lost or inevitable self-destruction?

By now everyone’s probably heard of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, said to  be the magnum opus of a master storyteller, based very much on his own life, which some might say was defined by a compelling need to be a success, in order to win the woman of his dreams. Made for the sixth time into a movie, this adaptation stars none other than Hollywood heavyweight Leonardo DiCaprio, himself too, like Fitzgerald, of humble origins, once a long time ago.

I think it’s instinctive for those of the middle and lower classes to cheer for the underdog, even when that underdog assumes alpha status and thus, The Great Gatsby has that timeless appeal of poor boy – Gatsby – made good; his subsequent quest for what I’d call “social validation” by the rich whose ranks he’d managed to  scheme and maneuver his way into is what the more aspirational among us can relate to. Most men I’ve observed, like to imagine themselves as him. Women like to imagine that a young, handsome fellow such as Gatsby would set out to conquer the financial world, only to sleep alone on a bed of fine Egyptian Cotton a good 5 years just for them.

Perhaps I’m too cynical for a tragic love story such as this, but I watched it 3 times, the first 2 times with Amanda and the last with HRH, to make sense of the melancholy I felt after the first time watching it. And as a writer, I was keen to see how Fitzgerald had drawn from his own life because, as we acknowledge in the business, the best told stories are the ones we know most intimately. Furthermore, I was told by an old friend that a cousin of mine (on my father’s side, estranged due to family politics) worked on the special effects for The Great Gatsby and since she’d raved about his work in the past, going so far as to send links to me with it, I decided that even if not for the sake storyline analysis, I had to see the great talent she was determined to show me.

The story is set in the 1920s, an era characterised by superficial strictures on morality and underlying excess and decadence. In it we have Gatsby, the protagonist, Daisy, his married love-interest, Tom, her blue-blooded husband, Myrtle, his mistress and Nick, Daisy’s cousin, narrator of this timeless tale. Summarily, Nick is forever scarred by enabling Gatsby’s relentless pursuit of Daisy, whose flakiness combined with duplicity, eventually costs Gatsby his life.

The story is timeless even in the year 2013 because we all still want to get ahead – now perhaps more than ever – and we all still fall in love with impossible people in ever more impossible situations. It calls to mind a poem I once studied doing English Literature in secondary school about whether it is better to love in hell than to suffer in heaven. Personally, I’m partial to the latter, but you’ve probably figured out by now I’m not the most romantic person around. I did however, so like how Gatsby woo-ed Daisy.

The third reason why The Great Gatsby is timeless is because even in the year 2013, mid November at that, men are still expected to make a go of themselves before committing to a woman. Now, definitely more than ever, with the steep price of housing and spiralling cost of living, peer pressure to live a lifestyle commensurate with one’s social standing, that’s proving to be even more impossible than finding someone suitable to fall in love with. Alpha men may settle for Beta and Gamma women – in fact, most rather prefer it that way – but women, all the way from Alpha to Epsilon want to marry Alpha men. But such is life; we struggle and strive for our 5 minutes in the sun.

At the end of my viewing with Amanda, she remarked, “It’s NOT really worth falling in love with such a person (like Daisy), is it?”

I said, “Why do you say so?”

“She didn’t even send Gatsby a flower when he died.”

“That’s why you’ve to be careful who you fall in love with. There are worse things than not receiving flowers when you’re dead.” In my mind I was thinking, things like people disappearing for donkey years and expecting you to still be in love with them. I fancy that Gatsby was not so much “the most hopeful person” that Nick ever came across or is likely to come across again in his life, but the most unrealistic one: Gatsby “felt wedded to Daisy” even though Daisy was, for all the time that he was away, wedded to someone else.

Watching the movie with HRH, I was taken aback to see he had tears in his eyes. Usually, with his inviolable sense of right and wrong (as opposed to my flexible one) he sides with the chuck-holds; after all, one most relates to the character closest to one’s self. Husbands relate to other husbands, wives to other wives. But with Tom being a compulsive cheat and born-privileged racist one to boot, HRH couldn’t help but side with Gatsby, who, when you think about it, is the very definition of a home-wrecker.

HRH exclaimed, “But what pure love he has! To love only the one person.”

I contend that Gatsby was in love with an image he had of himself  and Daisy just happened to be a means by which to manifest it.

Afterwards HRH had me find on youtube “Young and Beautiful”, the haunting theme song from The Great Gatsby by Lana Del Ray. You can click the video below to have a listen.

Having said all this, the movie is a well-crafted adaptation of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece through which we can all study human motivation and character, the intricacies of relationships and the consequences of choice. Here is the trailer if you’ve yet to catch it. And like the song accompanying the official trailer, I do agree that “Love is Blindness.”


Things you do when you have just one child.

A friend of mine recently postulated the reason behind my very-involved style of parenting. In case you haven’t noticed, almost every third or fourth post is about something I do or have done with Amanda. In fact, if you were to stay a week in my house – not that I’m suggesting you do for I make a bad, bad, host – you’d notice that the idiot box, inordinately small in this age of super-size everything, is relegated to a quiet section of my bedroom where it is gathering dust as I type this. That’s because with Amanda singing, dancing and trading on the inherent cuteness of her jiggly bits every night (kept nicely plump by a steady diet of gourmet cheeses, macaroons and Ben Jerry’s Cookie Dough ice cream), I have no need for, much less attention left to give, a TV.

So what does one really do with just the one child? And can it ever equal the work of having as many children as Old Mother Hubbard? Have a read and you tell me.

1) Starting in babyhood, you give her two dozen names – in place of the other children you will not be having. She has so many names, ranging from “delicious” to “sweet and sour” (you can tell I’m constantly thinking of food), that when the Maternal Child Health Nurse asks,  “Does your child know her name?” you blink and ask, “What name?”

2) You know all your child’s measurements, starting with her APGAR score, so when that same Maternal Child Health Nurse tells you your baby has grown 1 kilo consistently since birth and is a good 68 cm and 9.5 kilos at 6 months, you decide a massive banquet is in order. Your spouse arrives home to find his wife – who usually feigns any excuse not to cook – has made enough food to feed the entire village.

3) Top of the Pops is replaced with more child-friendly tunes, composed entirely by you, looking at your baby.

4) Your spouse overhears you spouting sweet nothings and sees you staring at the baby.

5) Your spouse gets jealous of the baby. Most spouses do, but yours has put the baby on the table and suggested she be added to the dish of roast pork.

6) Because your bundle of joy (and cause for prolonged sleep-deprivation) was born on a Wednesday, you decide hereafter that all Wednesdays (if only for a whole year) will be “picture-taking day.” The following year, you decide to go one further by recording DAILY the evolution of bub’s speech. By year’s end, you not only have firm proof that she has the vocabulary of a child a year older, or 10 times a child her age, very clear speech at that, but can pose and answer questions. And yes, you still think she’s the best thing since sliced bread.

7) By 2.5 years of age, you’ve read to her so much (try 3 hours a day) that she can recite the contents of 100 books, word-for-precious-word back to you. Just for good measure, you decide to record her using your over-used camera. The sound isn’t great but at least you have something for posterity, along with 1000 photos from the first year, many of them featuring her in various states of undress.

8) Unlike other children for whom toilet-training is a breeze, yours resists every trick in the book. She even resists sitting on the toilet so pooing and peeing becomes an hour-long whole family affair with Papa holding the thrashing toddler in place and Mama reading (yet again) or singing the “Shee-shee Poo Poo” song.

9) Your baby, who’s no longer a baby, agrees to use the toilet if she can go to school. FYI, this hard-fought agreement only comes about after the principal tells her (or her back since she steadfastly avoids any discussion of her toilet habits) that only “Big girls (meaning toilet trained ones) can come to school.” Within a month of this, your baby is completely out of nappies. Hallelujah! You could kiss the ground!

10) Now that she is in kindy, your days are spent trying to get pen marks off your beloved red leather sofa and that WIP she has next to the throne – it’s a picture of a birthday cake on which she’s stuck another picture of a birthday cake.

11) One morning, all 3 bunches of car keys go missing.  Your spouse asks the toddler if she’s seen the keys but she wears an expression that says, “I no speak Englishee.” You then spend the next 45 minutes helping him turn the house upside down for said keys only to find them – wait for it, wait for it – on the shoe shelf, behind her shoes.

12) When she goes to Prep, you arrive to find her on the mat with all the other kiddies awaiting collection, but unlike them, she’s reapplying her lip gloss in anticipation of your arrival.

13) She has so many play dates that you have a diary dedicated to whose house you’ll be visiting next. Because you only live 3 or 4 blocks from Southbank, your weekends are filled with trips to the Queensland Museum, Gallery of Modern Art, Queensland Art Gallery, State Lending Library and the adjacent fake beach. By the time she’s 6, your baby, now a baby only to you, has seen all manner of earthly creatures, dinosaur bones, mummies (neither of them alive), and cost you hundreds of dollars in exhibition-entry fees.

14) You can scarcely finish celebrating one birthday when she asks what is she going to have for the next one. It’s either that or she’s pestering you to go shopping for another birthday she’s been invited to.

15) When you’re not buying presents or helping her with “Show and Tell” or cleaning up the mess from her latest experiment (they are learning Science at school), you’re taking her countless questions on everything ranging from Boy-Girl-Relationships (I told her no boyfriends until at least 30) to life after death (she’s afraid of you dying, even though you’ve told her you have no plans to for a long, long time).

16) Even when you’ve been freed of all of the above, you still have to protect her from everyone and everything. That’s because you’re now a 24/7 bodyguard. This year you’ve had to deal with death threats in the playground, stalkerama issues, other girls being mean to her…You even have to accompany her to the toilet at home and wait outside the door, in case the “monsters” in her imagination come to get her.

** Meanwhile, 8.5 years on, you still have to defend yourself against accusations of “neglect” or “inappropriate mothering” from people who a) are not mothers b) are mothers but never raised their children c) are mothers but never breast-fed or co-slept with their children d) mothers who just have a different idea of mothering to you. Oh yes, and meanwhile, you keep receiving “sweetheart letters” from total strangers the world over. Go figure that one out.

17) The baby, who is no longer a baby, now complains you are “forever tired.” It seems that you are tired almost from the moment you open your eyes in the morning until you close them at night; or in some instances at midday, when you have the house all to yourself. But since another full-day beckons, you dutifully down your vitamins, breakfast and a bottle of Chicken Essence. “Until the weekend,” you mutter to yourself. “Until the weekend.”

So do I ever worry I’ll be raising a very self-centred Little Miss? No. Quite the contrary. If you’ve ever met Amanda, you’ll know she’s a very giving sort of person; so much so that sometimes I think a bit of self-centredness would do her good. Because she’s never had to fight with siblings for her slice of the pie, she thinks that all children are as unconcerned about their possessions as she is. She doesn’t understand agenda or the games little girls play to manipulate each other. And for that reason, many of her playmates are male.

She knows she is lucky to have her father and I as parents, as we are very open-minded people. She knows we have afforded her many opportunities and spend a lot of time helping her make sense of what she sees around her. People with more than 1 child can do the same too, but obviously it will take more time, more stamina and more resources. For a long time I wasn’t convinced that I had more of any to give, that’s why I stopped at 1. That may change in the very near future. Do watch this space.

The straw that breaks the camel’s back: when hired help pushes you too far.

Up until very recently, I thought of myself as an exemplary employer: I took on a single mother on an AUSAID scholarship who agreed to come and work for me once a fortnight. Her hourly wage, which I should have asked beforehand, but thought would be reasonable since she is a devout Christian whose kid plays with mine, was AUD32 per hour, CASH ONLY. This, I discovered not long after our arrangement began back in April, is above the normal rate  of AUD25 per hour for a house the size of mine in our area.

Notwithstanding, I thought maybe she’d bring something extra to the job like outstanding work ethic (punctuality would be nice) or an eye for the finer details (like picking up ALL things from the floor when vacuuming). After all, she wasn’t the first cleaner I’ve ever had. Since I’ve had other cleaners in the past, and rolled up my own sleeves to straighten this pad, I have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done and how long such a job will take.

It’s about now you probably wonder why I even hired a cleaner. I’ll give you two words. The first: laziness. The second: rhinitis. My nose goes all crazy on me for days after a cleaning marathon. Perhaps, the other two (as in Amanda and HRH) can create mess faster than I can clean.

Maybe my first cleaner set the bar too high for the others to follow: we met while I was living in Wanganui, New Zealand, nauseous with all-day-sickness from being pregnant with Amanda. A young grandmother, M, knew just what a house like mine needed. Asking only NZD12 per hour CASH, she would arrive on the dot to vacuum all the floors, mop the lino-ed surfaces, scrub out the shower stall, euphemistic throne and vanity, wash all the plates and pots mounting in the sink and dust and oil all wooden furniture in the hour and a half allotted to her. Afterwards, I’d fix her a cup of tea and we’d sit in my lounge for a friendly chat.

HRH’s only objection to having M clean for us was that he often saw her in Emergency: one of her sons used to routinely kick and punch her. Sometimes she brought in one of her grandchildren who was being abused by the child’s stepfather. As such, HRH saw her working for me as blurring the doctor-patient boundary. I saw ours as a very good deal.

Subsequent cleaners all did a passable job, but were no where near as efficient as M. Moving to Melbourne, I hired a Chinese lady who attended the same church as a friend of mine for AUD12 per hour CASH. The Chinese lady was newly-divorced and as such, probably had not made childcare arrangements for her daughter in time for her first clean with me. She asked to bring the child along and I acquiesce. The cleaning went well enough but there were too many times when she paused to give me “marriage advice” – extolling her situation as superior to that of a married person since she was no  longer hindered in achieving her “financial goals” as she’d gotten rid of the deadweight – ie. husband.

I allowed the Chinese lady to prattle away since I supposed she was simply venting, but decided not to hire her again when she said, “Your microwave is so cheap. Who can believe you are married to a doctor with such a cheap microwave?

My next cleaner was a friend’s sister, a university student, who was keen to work for AUD10 per hour CASH (since this was more than the Chinese restaurants, which only paid AUD7 or AUD8) but didn’t know how to do anything. I spent much of our first meeting showing her what was expected of her, what to use for each task and how to use an iron since at that point the dishes in the sink had been replaced by HRH’s crinkly work shirts. Also by then, my regular hour and a half had also morphed to an acceptable 2.5 hours.

After the friend’s sister, I did without a cleaner for a while. Amanda, then just over a year old, was napping on and off and I found I could get some tidying done while she slept. It wasn’t until we moved to Brisbane, after Darwin, Cairns and Townsville, that I decided to employ a cleaner once more. Our apartment in Brisbane wasn’t so much big as it was perpetually dusty. On my weekly visits to Paul and Tania’s up the road, I began to notice that their home was always clean and dust-free so I asked them to let me on their secret; were they hiring someone? And if so, could this person come clean for me too?

A couple of doors down from them lived 15 Indian guys, all in need of some form of work. Paul and Tania’s regular cleaner, who was an electrician in the old country, couldn’t take any more clients on, but he could pass my query along to one of the guys. Usually, I’d be hesitant to allow any male into my home, but my next cleaner, S, came with a indirect recommendation (for safety that is) from Paul and Tania’s cleaner, who I’d never met, but who did a good job. For AUD17 per hour CASH, S did what he was asked to do, but I felt the clean wasn’t as thorough as what Paul and Tania’s cleaner did for them. That, plus he was in the habit of leaving 10 minutes early. Hence, I used S only a couple more times before I had him swapped with another of his housemates.

My cleaner after S, R, also worked for AUD17 per hour, but was more open to instruction. With a masters in biology, R, was whiling away time post-graduation, until the Indian government offered him a job. Even though he wasn’t such a fantastic cleaner, R gave me many useful tips on the preparation of pulaos and biryanis, gleaned from his other job as a cook in an Indian restaurant, for which he was only paid AUD10 per hour.

After R came K of Nepal, who also worked for Amanda’s besties mum, Melissa. K charged AUD25 per hour CASH but brought a knowing for how to clean borne of experience to the job. Aside from showing her where I kept all the cleaning implements, I didn’t have to instruct her on what needed doing. I could sit there with my laptop at the dinner table, banging out a thousand words an hour while she went about her business.

Sadly, because K was so good, she was offered a full-time job 3 or 4 jobs in to our arrangement. To the job hunters reading this: that just goes to show you that if you do things well, someone is bound to take notice and offer you something better. K was courteous enough to call me up to inform me of the development and to my surprise, express how much she enjoyed coming to clean for me!

After K, I probably had another 1 or 2 forgettable persons come to clean, but as with M, the bar was yet again too high for them to reach. Which brings me back to my most recent cleaner. What broke this camel’s back was NOT that she routinely came late (sometimes by as much as 15 minutes) or finished early (by as much as 10 minutes) or didn’t do things without me pointing it out to her, tersely I might add (like wiping down the bathroom mirror, vanity and taps or vacuuming the staircase), or allowing some spots to go un-vacuumed, or using a broom to sweep downstairs when she could have used the vacuum in the time given to her…it was that after paying her AUD32 per hour CASH (which means she pays NO TAX on any of it), SHE OPINED she was too poorly paid for the job. She text messaged me to inform me that as of October, her hourly rate would be raised to AUD37.

I smiled to myself. Nay, actually my face broke into a Cheshire cat grin, for as you might realise by now, I’m not all strawberries and cream in the behaviour department. Certainly not when my tail has been stepped on more times than I care to recall.

My response was, “About your increase, your hourly rate is already $32 (TAX FREE!). My friend who works as anaesthetist (that’s a specialist doctor) only charges his patients $34 (which he has to pay tax on) for calls out in the dead of night. Someone offered to clean for me for AUD15 per hour (that’s less than half your rate) a month ago but I declined to take her on because I was sympathetic towards your situation (single mother on limited wage). I’m sorry but this increase is untenable. I will no longer be requiring your services.”

She apologised for having brought up the raise but the dye was already cast. The poor often say that the rich (which I am not) are out to screw them when, from observation, the opposite is more the case. Since then, we’ve run into each other a couple of times. Initially, she’d scurry away – in embarrassment perhaps – but as I’ve acted like nothing has changed between us, when everything in fact has, we can still be civilised in front of the children – which is all I really care about right now.

Lost in translation: converting from third world to first.

Most migrants I know lead double lives. There’s us, bright and cheery, speaking in rose-coloured tones about things as mundane as the weather to friends in adopted homelands and there’s us, huddled together in a sombre circles, discussing some new calamity (there’s always one) to have befallen our original homelands. In the second scenario, many of us even manage to crack one or several jokes – humour often veiling contempt, frustration or even plain despair. But it’s not something we care to share with those in the first scenario  because our inner reality – fear for family far away, fear for the lands of our birth – is just too different from our outer reality of sunshine, picnics and BBQs. Perhaps, why piss on everyone’s parade?

This has gotten a friend of mine down. “All anyone wants to talk about is what they’re doing on the weekends or where they are going for holiday.”

“Isn’t that why we moved here?” I asked her. “To get away from it all?”

My most memorable conversations have been with people who’ve survived worst than the legally codified racism of Malaysia. One was with the husband of an acquaintance who survived being shot in the bum as a boy, escaping the rebel forces of Sri Lanka. His mother stood down tanks and now in her twilight years in Australia, is standing down anyone who says she has to accept her Chinese daughter-in-law. I’ve never met the woman but she makes me – who’s been labeled the yakuza of the family – look like a tame pussy cat.

Another woman I chanced to talked to many years ago when visiting a friend who’d recently delivered a baby, had swum from China to Hong Kong to be with her husband, back in the days when China and Hong Kong were two separate countries instead of one.

“There used to be a watchman guarding the  coast,” she told me in Cantonese. “We’d wait until nightfall and five of us would try to swim across at a time. If they caught you, you’d be in big trouble. They’d sent you back a long way from there. The worst part of this,” I expected her to say the swim in cold waters with an armed guard at her back, “was there was no soup to drink. Not a drop at all!”

So what’s a couple of conversations about BBQs, picnics and holidays every week? If not contemplating the fate of family left behind – inhaling heavily polluted air romantically called “haze”, or enduring chronic power outages and water cuts, or living in fear of masked bandits wielding parangs – a fate you, by virtue of having migrated to this gloriously safe and well-governed land have left behind, what is there to do otherwise?

The problem I’ve found with first generation migrants like myself is we come with too much memory. We come with an ingrained knowledge of real lack, real poverty, real hopelessness, sometimes gleaned first hand. We also come with too much logic for refuting things like the need to prop up the lazy, stupid or undeserving – a first-world conundrum that seem to bother only the most unenlightened of arm-chair activists.

To be sure, we have ample compassion for the downtrodden but to say to us, marginalised and disadvantaged means to not have the money to go to a private hospital or private school because one’s parents breeds young they cannot feed, or to expect me to be responsible for young that don’t belong to me which I have fed through my taxes, forever and ever in some cases, is like waving a red flag at a very wound up bull. The animal will charge, I warn you. Best not be in the vicinity when that happens or it will be your entrails flying everywhere.

Tellingly, my best Aussie mates are other migrants or those with enduring memories of their parents hardships settling in a new land. They appreciate the difficulty of acquiring English as an adult (not that I’ve ever had that problem, as you can see), or adapting to the myriad of peculiar customs and ways the second generation find as easy as breathing. Defying the call of those unacquainted with such emotional baggage, to lay our pasts to rest, a precious few even remember the history of their people and what drove them to seek greener pastures. But they are in the minority and are few and far between – your troubles too deep, wide and high for them to comprehend, much less juxtapose theirs against comfortably.

Which is why we should all stick to safe topics like the weather, BBQs and holidays; especially before happy hour when everyone’s too sober for murder-conspiracies in far off lands, involving peoples none is particularly inclined to know about. Which is why I showed Amanda several videos on dole bludgers yesterday (people who rob your father, I told her) lest after a privileged childhood in this blessed country, her conversation is restricted to politically-correct, gender-neutral, colourless, position-less, statements about the weather, BBQs and holidays.

That’s not to say there aren’t any dull birds where I come from. There are plenty.  When checking out the pages my friends LIKE on facebook, I was consternated, alarmed and insulted in turn to find that in a land where political, social and economical issues are rife, “Lady of Liberty”, an elderly woman who puts herself in harms way to fight for political reform has fewer fans than the bimbos who cut their faces and take off their clothes.

Maybe this is the way of the future. Maybe we’re all meant to be bright and cheery and speak only of mundane things, in case we offend anyone, which, with uncountable, cross and semi-cross interests, that could be just about anyone. Maybe. A small voice inside my head says, “I’ll be damned if anyone expects me to keep quiet.”


Why roll up your sleeves when you can always hire someone?

Despite growing up in a house filled with the smells of freshly baked goods, lunches that were never the same as dinners, no less than 3 dishes of meat and vegetables at every meal, accompanied by soup that takes donkey-years to boil, I had scant appreciation for home-cooking until I left home. In the ignorance of my youth, my most oft-spouted response to being asked to help out in the kitchen was, “I don’t want to spend all my time slaving over the hot stove.”

After all, apart from having the physical dexterity of a chicken with duck feet, I was going to become a career woman. What need did I have for cooking when all the working women I knew had catered food delivered to the home or bought family dinners from the economy rice stalls?

When my extremely hygienic mother (she’s a former nurse, if you must know) asked me to help her clean for the umpteenth time, I’d grumble, “Why do I need to know how to mop and clean when I can pay someone to do all that for me in the future?

Oooh…the things you say that come back to haunt you. Little did I know that my future involved living in a land where cleaners command upwards of $25 an hour (about the same as or more than entry-level professionals) and economy rice stalls do not exist. Ha! And guess who I had to crawl back to for easy recipes on not-so-humble home-cooking?

After living more than half of my life away from home, I’ve come to see the wisdom of what my mother said earlier, in response to my many protestations: “When you can cook, you can make food taste EXACTLY THE WAY YOU WANT, instead of the way someone else wants.

When you can clean, you won’t be held to ransom by maids and cleaners.

Back then I had no idea what my mother was on about. Who would quit on me if I pay them? Why wouldn’t the chef make food the way I want it to be made?

Obviously I had to learn the hard way. This morning for instance, I discovered that although big fry-ups are a staple at most breakfast cafes, not all know how to make a proper one. Sure, the eggs were poached as I requested and there was a sausage, which I was looking forward to, but the eggs tasted of the vinegar put into the water to poach the eggs.

Now, I’m no master chef, but I can tell you that if the eggs were very fresh, the vinegar would not have been necessary. At any rate, they should have been rinsed and drained well enough after the poaching so I wouldn’t taste the vinegar. Meanwhile, I swear that the sausage came straight out of a microwave: it was split right down the middle from over-cooking and the ends where it had been cut from the other links had oozed out to form crusty “muffin tops.” On top of which, the sausage was as dry and chewy as a piece of bark. The other elements of the fry-up were all right, but as I said, fry-ups form the bulk of business for most breakfast cafes so they should know how to serve up a decent one.

Having said that, my taste buds are simply spoilt from all those years of home-cooking. My mother wasn’t just one to cook and bake, she’d go over the one recipe until it was perfected, totally convinced that the author of the recipe had left ingredients out or given erroneous measurements on purpose. Until today, many of her cookies, cakes, tarts and whatnot are still the best I’ve ever had (and I’ve eaten heaps) but please don’t think of asking me to ask her what she puts in them because I haven’t the slightest interest in baking and the only people she’d tell are family.

Nowadays, the one who preaches the benefits of DIY is me. My mother practically rolled her eyes when a couple of years back I showed her Shannon Lush’s “Spotless.” That’s probably because, with few exceptions, I have someone clean my house for me. Nonetheless I do know how to roll up my metaphorical sleeves and dig in, should I need to. Since her accident, my mother has been having catered dinners. My father usually hops out at midday to buy lunch from the coffee shops near their house. Since we kids left home, she only makes the cakes, cookies, tarts and whatnot for church bake sales or when she comes to visit me, at Amanda’s request.

Amanda’s most recent request has been for her to make apple pie and apple crumble when she passes this way again in December. Last December when we went home, the two of them made 2 batches of walnut-topped, blueberry muffins together. I was chuffed to see grandmother and granddaughter working side by side, the two of them bonding over flour and butter, even as I sat there with my legs up, surfing the telly.

I suppose, regardless of where you live and what your means are, it all boils down to how badly you want something done. Because I had to have “keropok lekor” and no market stocks that over here, I scoured the internet for recipes, then using the amalgam of several, attempted to make my own. I’ve also made my own Chinese pasta from scratch, which I wouldn’t have thought to do if I could have just bought it ready-made, cooked and flavoured from a shop.

True, you can buy whatever it is I make in Malaysia or Singapore, but do you really know what goes into your food? Rumour has it that fried foods bought from the stalls stay crispy for hours because plastic is melted into the oil to form a coating on the food. I’ve also heard that tissue paper is routinely mixed in with flaked fish to bring down the cost of each bowl of Assam Laksa. And just yesterday, I read of the link between maternal nutrition and autism. While the author of the article didn’t say autism is caused by food per se, the only thing to have changed between 1990 and 2000, accounting for a 870% increase in the incidence autism, is our diet and the food chain. If that doesn’t make you sit up and take notice, I don’t know what will. Perhaps it’s time to dust down that apron.

Migrating: it’s not about us versus them.

I eavesdrop. No, scratch that. I actually do partake in many conversations, real and virtual, but the number of conversations I listen to or read without making any comment is by far greater than the number in which I do say something. Most of the time, people don’t even realise I’m listening, intently in fact, because I must have this clueless, “dumb dodo” look about me.

Which brings me to what I’ve discovered: a disturbing number of negative comments from some (I said some, not all) Malaysians on their countrymen who’ve migrated. Aussies don’t seem to mind where other Aussies move to – after all, people move according to need and economic circumstance – but Malaysians take this “outflow” most personally.

Comments range from, “If they like that X country so much, they don’t need to come back ever again” to “I’ve been to X country. It’s nothing great. They don’t have A, B and C.”

Excuse me, hello? But do you own the country? Of course they don’t have A, B, C. That’s because they’re a different country. People get on well enough without the things they supposedly lack, I can assure you. Meanwhile you’ve got your panties in a bunch because you think (and this is you thinking, just me saying it aloud) that I must think I’m so smart and so grand to have packed up and left. Again, it’s what you think. 

Do you see what I’m saying? It’s your assumptions that have upset you and not my actions.  Me leaving or having left is about where I feel I’ll be heading with society and the economy the way it is. It is in NO way an indictment of the people who still call the country home. I, personally, respect my fellow Malaysians decision to stay on or move abroad because their decision, one way or another, is not a reflection of my relationship with them. My own decision to migrate was made after careful consideration of my wants and needs.

In fact, you should look at it this way: Malaysians out in the world are carrying the Malaysian flag on their backs. That’s why the world knows who we are! It’s like when people talk abut Jimmy Choo; they say he’s Malaysian-born. Or when they talk about Australian Senator Penny Wong, they say she’s Malaysian-born too. Or (and I’m sure those from the Malaysian opposition are going to be pissed off by such a reference) when people refer to Michelle Yeoh, they refer to Malaysia in the same breath.

Really, no one would know about Maggi or Asics or Selangor Pewter or any of our many “treasures” if we hadn’t sent them out into the world. Human beings have the potential to carry the Malaysian “brand” further and wider. I, for one, think I should be on Malaysian Tourism’s payroll for the amount of promotion I give the country. While we are at it, I should be paid by Aussie Tourism board too, for the number of posts I’ve written on Aussie culture, food and scenic attractions.

For this reason I find it hard to stomach the vitriol surrounding migration and the countries my fellow Malaysians have migrated to. To me, there is no need for “us versus them” type comments, posts or discussions. We all have free will so each to their own. Like I don’t mind people telling me about the many new developments in Malaysia. Even though I’ve migrated, I’m happy to note improvements in the efficiency of the public sector and new services available for issues not previously addressed (eg. a fund for couples seeking to use IVF or welfare measures for single mothers). I’m thrilled to know that our hospitals can cope with the delivery of high order multiple births and that Malaysia now has magazines on new stands for people like myself, not just the single girls.

However, to me too, one must have a deep and abiding inferiority complex if every second word is about how you are better than the next person. From personal experience, I can tell you the next person doesn’t give the matter all that much thought. It’s like how the Kiwis are always slagging off the Aussies but the former still come here to live in droves. For every one thousand comments Kiwis make about how poorly Aussieland fares in terms of rugby or social services or what-have-you, only 1 comment is made back about them. Why? Because Aussies simply don’t give a toss.

Similarly, Malaysians wagging their fingers at their compatriots who have move to Singapore or Australia are missing the point: we aren’t talking about you in the negative. Until this post at least.



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.


The story of Boy.

This is the story of Boy who plays with my Amanda most days after school. You can tell that Boy is a good boy, raised by very conservative Asian parents, because he plays the piano – even though he doesn’t want to.

He reminds me a lot of myself at that age: unsmiling, wary of adults and highly guarded. Unlike Asian kids with more liberal parents, who are in many ways similar to their white Aussie counterparts, he knows better than to assume that you, an adult, are a friend, regardless of the number of times you’ve spoken to him. You’re not just an adult; you’re the mother of the girl he plays with often and he knows that if she loses even a couple of strands of hair, you’ll flambé his liver with your dragon-breath.

He’s well aware of the dragon-breath because he’s seen his parents turn his brother into toast; which is why he’s still tickling those damned ivories.

“But you’ve got to tell them at some point,” I say to him, in the same tone I use to remark about the weather. “You’re just putting off the inevitable,” I add.

He looks at me like I’ve never seen a dragon up close before. For some reason, conservatively raised Asian children lack the imagination to picture adults as children. More liberally raised Asian children and their little white Aussies friends are the exact opposite: once they get to know you, they think you’re a child just like them.

“But my brother quit playing just last month and my mother had a cow.” Had a cow is Aussie speak for got mad. It’s got nothing to do with real cows unless you live on a farm.

“Yes, but it’s obvious you’re just wasting her money and your time. I played for 10 years and the day I found the courage to tell my mother I wanted to stop (actually, she found the courage to tell me to stop since I wasn’t practising), was the day I could move forward with my life.”

Years later I found the courage to tell my mother I didn’t want to do accounting either but she wouldn’t hear of it.

Like most crafty Asian mothers, I believe in the wisdom to Sun Tzu who says, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” It’s too early to say whether Boy will end up in the first or second category but I’ve been keeping an eye on him ever since, especially since HRH demands that I do.

“Is he trying to tackle my daughter?” he asks when I report to him the goings-on in the playground.

“Amanda says they’re just friends.” Then again, Amanda says that of every boy she plays with.

A few days hence, she comes to me and says, “Boy called me a sucker.”

Boy is less than 20 paces away, climbing rope in the playground. Instead of getting up and walking over to where he is, I project my voice over; “Boy, did you call my daughter a sucker?”

He gets to the top of the rope and says, over his shoulder, “No, I didn’t.”

Amanda goes over to him and returns seconds later saying, “He said he called me a loser, not a sucker.”

“Same thing,” I say. “Has he apologised to you?”

“No,” Amanda says, folding her arms, her surly pout suggesting I should do something about it.

“Don’t play with him then,” I say in a voice loud enough for Boy to hear.

He looks at me in protest. She too looks at me in protest.

“Yes, that’s right. Since he thinks you’re a loser you can’t play with him. Okay, off you go. Find someone else to play with.”

When we are about to go home, Amanda says, “Boy said he’s sorry. He asks if I’m allowed to play with him now.”

“Oh, I’ll have to think about it,” I say, picking up Amanda’s school bag to leave.

A couple of days hence, when ordering Amanda’s school lunch, I come across Boy. With me is HRH on his morning off from work.

“Boy, this is Amanda’s dad,” I say with a head-tilt in HRH’s direction, as I scribble Amanda’s name and class onto a white lunch bag.

“Honey, this is Boy, who plays with Amanda all the time.”

After that meeting, HRH asks me, “Why did you introduce me to him? Were you trying to scare the kid?”

HRH knows me only too well. Boy is a large Asian kid but HRH is a large adult, even by Caucasian standards.

“No, I was just introducing you since you are Amanda’s dad,” I say, shrugging my shoulders.

Soon after, Amanda returns from school bearing a name card.

“Boy asks if you like crab. This is his mother’s card.”

I flip it over to find the name of a proprietor of a group of well-known restaurants in Perth.

“What is he trying to say?” I ask Amanda.

“I don’t know. He just asked me to pass you this card.”

Weeks later, I overhear Amanda and Boy having a dispute.

“What’s this about?” I ask.

“He says I’m a rooster because I’m born in 2005, but I keep telling him I’m a Monkey.”

“Everyone born in 2005 is a Rooster,” he insists.

“Look here, smart ass. Amanda was born before the Chinese New Year and is therefore a Monkey. I should know when the Chinese New Year is because I’m Chinese.”

An Aussie child will offer up some excuse at his ignorance or try to engage me in a different topic of conversation but he just maintains the same vacant expression throughout. I turn and leave.

Yet a few more days later, he comes up to me with Amanda’s sweater. “She left this in class,” he explains, holding out the garment to me.

“Thank you for returning it,” I say, my expression exactly the same as his, one of nothingness.

On the walk back home from school I relate the incident to Amanda. “Boy returned your sweater.”

“Did he? He asked me if I was going to get it or if I wanted him to get it for me. He was stupid enough to get it for me so I allowed him to.”

Not stupid,” I correct her, “chivalrous. It means he did something nice for you.”

Having said that, I’m still figuring out why he handed the sweater to me instead of her. Could it be he’s trying to tell me something?








The docile Chinese female: a western fantasy.

I’m always amused whenever a middle-aged white guy writes to me asking me if I’m single, which, in the last couple of years, has been happening fairly regularly. For reasons I have yet to determine, it appears I give out “Asian mail order bride” vibes. At times, I don’t know whether to remove all my pictures from the web or simply say, “Hey mate. I’m not the right type of Asian girl for you.”

Not just because I’m married.

I think it is a white male fantasy fuelled by Hollywood depictions of us, Asian chicks, (Cue: Suzy Wong, the Last Samurai, Memoirs of a Geisha) that we are all docile and subservient. That may be true of Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Filipino women – and even among them I’m sure there are many exceptions – but Chinese women in general are renown for  being tigers, not just as mothers but as spouses.

Ask any modern Chinese mother-in-law and she’ll tell you that her son listens to his wife just a bit too much for her liking. Aside from bringing home the bacon, many of our men cook, care for children and contrary to all the studies done on male participation at home, help around the house. If at all they do none of these things, it’s likely that we, as tiger spouses, have failed to train them. Either that or we must have been stupid to have picked someone who resists training. It does seem harsh but yes, you read correctly: stupid.

Comparing notes, we say to each other, “That stupid so and so, working like a dog for her good for nothing beep beep beep.”

Nodding, the most probable rejoinder to this would be, “Yes and she should just kick him to the curb.”

While our other Asian sisters take immense pride in how few hours of sleep they get catering to the various tastes and needs of family members, we get a thrill every time someone turns to us and says, “Wow. Your husband can not only make money, but he cooks and cleans too?

One of my friend’s husbands not only makes enough for his wife to stay home reading magazines all day, he calls when he is about to leave the office to ask what she’d like him to buy home for their dinner. Another cooks and cares for his children on his off-work days so his wife can have some time to herself. Defying gender stereotypes, many are so hands on with their children, you’d think they don’t have day jobs.

I’m not a white guy but I’m betting the Chinese tiger is not the type of girl one hopes to land when one goes searching for an Asian woman online. At any rate, should I return as a male in my next lifetime, I will probably go for a Vietnamese, Thai or Filipino girl. Why? Because in my next lifetime, I’ll still need someone who brings home the bacon and cooks it too! Don’t you notice how hardworking Vietnamese, Thai and Filipino women are?

The typical Vietnamese woman is expected to help support the family, cook for all her husband’s relatives while her man goes out drinking with his buddies. In Australia, she typically owns a bread shop, a nail salon or perhaps one of those $10 a hair cut places. Filipino women will help their men by running a highly successful take-away shop. Thai women I’ve observed have jobs as masseurs, hotel cleaners or restaurant operators. If I marry any one of them in my next lifetime, I’ll be at the back of the shop, sitting next to the till, counting money. No fierce, controlling, ball-breaking, Chinese woman for me.

Even HRH likes to joke about wanting me to be a good “Japanese wife” just to rile me up. He’s says I’m cute when I’m angry.

“What is that?” I bark.

“Someone who makes a nice warm meal for breakfast, bento boxes for lunch, washes my feet when I come home…”

“And?” I eye him with one raised eyebrow.

“And nothing,” he smiles. “I love you just the way you are.”

Now there’s a smart guy who knows it’s best not to piss off someone you have to sleep next to for the next forty years.