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.

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.

 

Green-eyed-monsters: the fallacy of thinking yourself smart.

Being criticised and commented on is part and parcel of being a blogger. Some question the premise of your statements, others, your right to make them. As most of you know, I am a rather modest sort of gal; you won’t find my CV in the “about me” column or do I purport to be an expert on any of the topics I write about, even if what I write about is based on my experiences, which are as innumerable as they are varied.

But one criticism I refuse to let go unaddressed is that I am what an acquaintance of a friend refers to in Cantonese as a “tai siew lai.” In English, that would be a “lady of leisure.”

Indeed, it is true that I enjoy more leisure than most people I know – and that is my good fortune – but I find this comment is often accompanied, as in this case, by some presumption that I must be somehow “dumb” or “mercenary enough to marry well” and hence, my opinions undeserving of attention; the acquaintance chided the friend for sharing my playful post on Malaysia being nominated as one of the most dangerous places in the world as she thought I was criticising Malaysia, when any lay person could see  that was obviously not the case. Alas, envy of my God-given luck at having unlimited leisure blinded her to the fact.

Meanwhile, she assumes that I, and others like me (whom I have identified in an earlier post) are simpletons, dealt a brilliant hand by the universe because we are “not as smart as she.”

Well, well, I hate to break it to you, young miss, but while you are slaving away on minimum wage with a fire-breathing dragon at your back reminding you of deadlines, I’m enjoying a low-fat soy latte at a cafe perusing the daily papers. And while you are having that same dragon spray your lovely face with spit for a minor infraction, I am enjoying lunch with some of my gal pals.

I know some ladies whose lots are much better than mine and instead of wielding my supposed smarts like some sword to swipe others with the way you do, I stand in awe of their ability to negotiate such stellar, life-impacting, deals for themselves; I marvel at their ability to single out the grain from the chaff, green grass from weeds. They know what is truly important in life: family and friends and time to spend with both. Thus, when I look at them, I don’t see the losers you do. Instead, I see very smart women.

For if at all these women work, it’s because they want to, not because they have to. Their families don’t need them to pay half the mortgage or the car loan, to put food on the table or save for the children’s school fees. They can do whatever they like with their money and their time. Even then, none, I assure you, feel especially compelled to talk about how smart they are.

You, meanwhile, chew on the chaff like it is imported Post cereal, kill all the grass with your brand of self-promotion, leaving only weeds to flourish around you. Using your friends’ facebook posts as podiums, you shout about your smarts to anyone who will listen. The occasional sycophant with an agenda of his or her own to push will agree with you, but what you’ll notice mostly, if you quieten down long enough, is the chortles. People are laughing my dear – unfortunately – not with you.

 

 

Failed friendships: what we can learn from them.

F and I were discussing a mutual acquaintance, C, when the issue of failed friendships arose. Usually I would shy away from such introspection, accepting that what is, is, except that F put to me the following: why do my relationships often involve such high-voltage drama?

C, whom I hardly knew, had beseeched me to secure her an audience with 1 of HRH’s close personal friends, working in the same field as her. When HRH’s close personal friend, in the manner of all Chinaman, obliquely refused the introduction, and I conveyed this to her, C “unfriended” me on facebook, hence effectively “un-friending” me in real life.

But why do your friendships involve such drama though?” asked F.

“Hey, wait a minute. It was C who wrote me a long email begging the favour. Unfriending me only showed a lack of gratitude on her part since I went out of my way to help her. Which I might add, I didn’t have to.”

On reflection, I realised what my problem was: helping people who didn’t deserve help. Sure, C might have asked for it, but should I have even tried?

“Yes, but C has been through a lot. Now that crazy Wendy, I totally get,” said F, referring to my well-publicised stalker.

I fell silent for a long moment, pondering F’s question. I knew she was concern for me as a person, even if to others, such a comment might come across as judgemental. I threw my mind back to all the testy relationships I’ve had. Why were they difficult and what did I do to make them difficult?

Finally I said, “I realise I could have avoided half of the problems I’ve encountered in even the vaguest of associations if I cared less. Take Wendy for example. After she attacked me the first time for accidentally sending her a mail intended only for my friends, I could have ignored her, instead of writing back to ask what was the matter with her. If I had been less caring, I would have simply hit delete, which in hindsight, I should have. Her ex had the temerity to ask me to GO INTO HIDING ON HIS BEHALF. I asked him who the hell does he think he is, making such a request of me. It bothers me terribly that people contact me out of the blue, after 15 to 20 years, to ask advice and favours, then they have what they want, I never hear from them again. Or until they want something more.”

“Well, the world is full of users, Estella,” said F.

“That’s what I’ve come to realise, rather sadly. Maybe I have this sign that says, ‘Come Use Me.'”

To spare myself further angst, I’ve downgraded my expectations of all associates to the minimum, except those closest to me. There’s a Buddhist belief that says, “Expecting little is the way to avoid disappointment.”

It makes sense: no one can possibly hurt you if you expect from them nothing. In line with this new policy on friends and acquaintances, I will also only be giving time to people who give time to me. To this end, I will only help those less helpful if I have the time or inclination. If I don’t adopt this approach, I will be swamped with requests, mostly from people who think that just because I don’t go to work, I have a lot of time to listen to their endless complaints and dilemmas.

Sometimes, I’m beleaguered by agony aunt-type emails from people I don’t even know. Take for instance this young girl who suddenly started writing to me. She wanted to know how to find her soulmate or a boyfriend at any rate, and wrote to me because I look like I might specialise in such things. I duly offered her my past posts on relationships.

“It outlines broadly my beliefs on the topic,” I said.

“Does this mean I can’t have a one-to-one talk with you?” she asked.

“You can but I don’t have a lot of time to answer questions I’ve already answered.” I left out my terribly short fuse and contempt for people who refuse to help themselves by reading.

“But aren’t you not working?” she asked.

See, that there is my point. Her statement smacks of presumption and betrays a sense of entitlement for attention from one who is essentially a total stranger. Working through who to exempt from this policy change, I’ve come to realise my core group of friends is actually very small. Who are these people? They are people who support me as much as I support them, who I know, beyond a shade of a doubt, I can count on in times of difficulty to pull me through. They’ve been tested and found to be loyal, honest and reliable.

They are the sorts of friends who make me want to be a better friend and in order to do that, I have to severely cut back on my involvement with more superficial friends. While those who’ve come to your rescue in the past, may not come again, a truism of friendships and relationships is that someone who has hurt/disappointed/betrayed you before, will, given half the opportunity, do so again. I’ve come to accept that some friendships exist solely to make time pass in a more pleasant manner, some exist to challenge you out of your comfort zone, and some exist – like my difficult ones – to make you review your associations as a whole. It’s entirely up to you to discover which is which.

 

Is race about genes or nurturing received in childhood?

If you must blame someone for today’s post, blame Charlie Sheen. Before I go any further, let me state that I am a big fan of the former “2 and a Half Men” star despite his obvious personal dysfunction. So how is this his fault?

Hear me out: I was driving home from sending HRH to work this morning when  a radio host on Perth’s 94.5 said, quoting Charlie Sheen, “I don’t wake up feeling Latino. I’m a white guy in America.” Read more on http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/entertainment/2012/07/12/charlie-sheen-on-being-latino-never-part-my-life/#ixzz2USHQdGUe

In the interview with Univision News, Charlie Sheen went on to say that he isn’t ashamed of his background or running away from it, “But I was born in New York and grew up in Malibu.”

Having come across innumerable second and third generation migrants in the course of my travels around Australia, I’ve found this to be a common phenomenon, instead of the rarity non-migrants think it is. Before you start hurling apples at the likes of Charlie Sheen, calling them “traitors to the race”, consider what the main problem with being an ethnic minority in the West is: the lack of exposure to your own language and culture.

You’d be amazed to learn that this lack of exposure often starts at home. Sure, your parents can speak your so-called “mother tongue.” They do so to each other, relatives and same-race friends all the time. But do they speak it to you? I’ve found many parents speak English to their children but somehow expect these same children to be able to converse fluently in their mother tongues. Frankly, I’m guilty of this myself: I’m still hoping that one fine day, Amanda will wake up spouting the perfect phlegm-inducing Mandarin of mainlanders even though I draw a blank from her every time I ask her what she learned at Mandarin class.

Well, we all have our dreams. I look to my two sisters, whom I have made nary a mention of on this blog, out of respect for their privacy, to form some sort of conclusion as to whether race is in our genes or upbringing.

The fact is if you were to see the 3 of us coming down a street, you wouldn’t think we were related, much less the products of the same womb. You’d look at us and think, “Who are those people with Estella?”

My eldest sister, Rachel, a purchasing specialist residing just outside of London, looks much like her white father, in that she can pass off for being totally white. My second sister, Rebecca, a top-notch divorce lawyer in Cardiff, has Rachel’s lower face but our mother’s Chinese-sy eyes. Since both spent their formative years in Malaysia, both speak Malay and understand Cantonese. Rachel though, lives as a white person would, whilst Rebecca is very proud to be identified as half-Chinese. I judge neither for their choices as they went through hell growing up in an unevolved Malaysia during the 80s – rejected and vilified by Chinese, the targets of racism even among family, who have thankfully grown to see the error of their ways. Far be it for me, who has experienced no such vilification, to get on my high horse and insist they “honour their Chinese heritage.”

Amanda is another case altogether. Even if, as an adult, she were to feel more comfortable in the company of whites than her own kind or wind up marrying someone outside of our race, I’d still very much like for her to embrace her Chinese-ness – leaving out the inherent bigotry and xenophobia of course. I recognise that whether she does so or not depends very much on my current efforts to educate her and of her own acceptance or rejection of her identity. What I’ve discovered is that many second and third generation migrants do take an interest in their own language and culture once, and only if, they get pass that adolescent and early adulthood phase of proving they are “just like the white guy.”

As for Charlie, he’s welcome to call Rebecca for consultation and representation the next time he gets divorce, which if you ask me, is probably some time soon after he gets remarried. And should any of you need a fabulous, win-’em-all, divorce lawyer in the UK, or perhaps simply some advice on asset division and custody issues, just PM me for her contact details. Mention you read about her on By Estella Dot Com and she’ll give you a good discount.

My protracted silence.

Just in case you were about to file a missing person’s report (do know the gesture is appreciated, although as yet unnecessary), let me share with you what’s been keeping me most occupied this past month. First there was my 9-day trip to NZ; I managed to squeeze in a post about NAPLAN and another about life in Perth’s affluent Western Suburbs on my return. Then there was much illness, which, I cannot tell you anything about at this point, only to say that it persists and even cleaning my 2-bedroom townhouse requires the methodical deliberation of an army general because I am so short of energy; now involuntarily vegetarian, I am as animated and energetic as an amoeba after sundown, subsisting mostly on liquids.

If you were thinking of inviting me over for dinner, thank you, but I don’t think I’ll make very good company due to the aforementioned reason. Then there’s the vomiting and overall lethargy. It’s amazing if I can even tell you the day of the week past 7 pm.

Anyway, last week, my Aussie mates F and B came to visit me from the other side of Australia. That was a triumph in planning and execution to rival some of the most complicated operations military too because F and B have 2 ankle biters and anyone with kids that age will know how hard it is to go anywhere with them, what more across a space as huge as Australia.

Cleaning the townhouse took me the better part of 2 mornings, as I was out of breath after each and every single self-assigned task and needed a bit of a break. Nevertheless it was worth it when F and B turned up; we were home most of the time because it was just easier with the kids and when we eventually ventured out, after B rented a car, we had “yum cha” in Northbridge and a short midday stroll along Cottesloe Beach one day, and a brief visit to Claremont Quarter the next.

Another day, F, Amanda and I took a drive out to Peppermint Grove to visit our mate G Rinehart who we suspect lives in the vicinity. I’m only joking. We don’t know G Rinehart or she, us. We just wanted a sticky beak around her part of town, as you do when you are on holiday, or convalescing like me.

As F said, “You know you are great mates with someone when they start cutting their toe nails in front of you.”

F had bought me a nail clipper to replace my misplaced one so I could get rid of my vampiric talons. Hence, after an impromptu house inspection (neighbour was selling), I hoisted one foot, then another, on to another neighbour’s outdoor table (I watch their house for them) to clip off the offending growth.

For most of F and B’s stay I also sported overgrown eyebrows (yes, I do have eyebrows), bed-hair, the clothes I’d gone to bed in the night before… Sometimes I napped in my outside clothes and when I woke up, had to have the heater on, even though I had on thermals, jumper, woolly socks and scarf. Seeing as my tiredness has reached absurd levels, I will have to look into Star Formulations, a vegan iron supplement for women produced by my mate Julie Moss, which had been previously unnecessary as I was consuming meat. But since I’ve been unceremoniously tossed from the meat-eating train…

Well, now that you know what I’ve been up to, you can go away reassured that I will be back. Speaking of which, what you been up to lately? Have you attended any public rallies or been a part of something I should know about?

The magic of “Guanxi”: defining networks beyond race.

I am very excited about 2 things: one, after a 10 year belly crawl through surgical training, HRH will be convocating this May in Auckland, having passed exams for Fellowship to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons almost a year ago. Two, one of my closest friends, F, will be coming with her family to stay with me for a week, upon my return from Auckland.

F, is a very private person, so I can’t disclose more identifying information, but suffice to say we have a close friendship that has defied geographical and cultural boundaries. F is a first-generation, born and bred Aussie, but unlike many, she possesses a deep knowledge of her “white” roots. I appreciate this about her; I particularly like people cognisant of their ethnic backgrounds because it seems the more that they do, the less threatened they feel about apparent and perceived differences between us.

Overwhelmingly, it is true what a cousin of mine said in response to a post I wrote much earlier about being the only Asian among whites: if you have interests in common with the other person, it doesn’t really matter what colour they are. It’s when you don’t that relationships become problematic.

F and I both love books and I have always had the greatest admiration for her grey matter. She can say to me things I’d consider rather insensitive coming from another “white” Australian simply because we know each other well and I know she means no offence. In most instances, she just wants me to give some thought to her comments and respond, as she knows I will, in an honest and forthright fashion. Being exceedingly RATIONAL, her ego isn’t tied to my agreement or disagreement. Take for instance this conversation we had at the end of 2010.

Kevin Rudd’s confidential talks with Hillary Clinton regarding China had just became public knowledge and I was so incensed by what I read in the papers, I wrote to Brisbane’s Courier Mail, after which, of course, I told F.

“What did you do that for, Estella?” asked F, seemingly angry with me. “Politics is very dirty and politicians are very dirty people. You don’t go near them with a 10 foot pole.”

Coming from Malaysia, I am in complete agreement with that.

“Yes, but in his capacity as Foreign Minister, he should never have said that,” I went. “I hate how white people think they have the right to determine the rules and yet preach the benefits of democracy.”

I can’t quite remember what else we said but F replied, “Then I can say that the only people to gain from the rise of China are the sons (and daughters) of China.”

“That’s not true. Chinese are very dog eat dog. Others might think we’ll benefit our kind, but that’s not the way Chinese operate.”

Any real Chinese person will know what I’m talking about. It’s the “guanxi” or personal networks that determine who’s in and who’s out; it’s not race-reliant, it’s relationship reliant. Like I consider F to be in my “guanxi”, even though there isn’t the remotest possibility we ever came from the same family tree. For anyone who’s interested in knowing, my “guanxi” is made up of family, former schoolmates, former university mates, mums and dads from my daughter’s school, some of HRH’s university mates, and some of HRH’s former colleagues.

Having said that, unlike most Chinese who will walk pass you without the slightest hint of a smile if unacquainted, I am friendly to strangers. I smile and chat with them when queueing up for coffee, waiting for the bus or abroad a long flight to somewhere. But that’s how I am. F and I are very different persons but our relationship works because we have mutual respect. We also have a language which, in my entire “guanxi”, only she and I speak: astrology.

As example of this is when F expounded her findings on the solar eclipse which coincided with Julia Gillard usurping Kevin Rudd. Neither of us were all that interested in the event, but we both marvelled at astrology’s ability to predict such happenings. Similarly, when Kevin Rudd challenged Julia Gillard for the top job, and I cast a chart to ask the outcome to that (my chart said he’d not have the support of those under him),  F and I were more interested in the accuracy of astrology (or my ability to read charts at any rate) than we were about any actual outcome. You could say that we’re nerds and like nerds everywhere, “guanxi” is based on mental affinity with one another instead of superficialities like outer appearances.

Other than initiating me into the world of astrology, F has taught me to say “I love you” in a host of European languages (I still know it in French and German), shared with me a variety of dishes her mother brought with her from the old country, lectured me at length on the differences between Europeans, which I’ve found rather eye-opening. Before F, I used to think that all Europeans are the same, as in everyone is “white”, but thanks to her, I can even make educated guesses about where a person is from by looking at him or her.

What I’m straining to say is that F and I have never shied away from the topic of race for fear of alienating each other or allowed it define our relationship any more than 2 people of the same ethnicity would. We are different in obvious ways, and similar unobvious ways, but such is the nature of relationships with people in our “guanxi” that over time, we notice more of the latter than former. Over time, what was once the opening line between two people, becomes a footnote in a long, comfortable and mutually satisfying relationship.

Bridging the divide: a visit from in-laws.

My in-laws left yesterday after a week’s stay with yours truly. They were here for sister-in-law’s (SIL) first entry into Australia as a permanent resident. For those of you who’ve migrated to these parts, you’ll know what this first entry and do-not-enter-after-this-date business is all about. For those of you who haven’t, it just means she has to enter the country. If you’ve read some of my past posts on my relationship with the in-laws, you’ll know that we haven’t always gotten along like the cliched house on fire. In fact, at some point in my close to 12 years of marriage to HRH, our relationship was so explosive, our house may have caught on fire. But that’s all water under the bridge now.

HRH once said to me, some 9 years or so ago, during very testy times in my relationship with the in-laws, “I know they have done wrong but YOU can be a BIGGER person.”

At the time, my stubborn retort was, “I can’t be a bigger person. I’m a small person! Can’t you see I am a (physically) small person?”

Being a lion (he is a Leo) HRH wanted me to be magnanimous; proud but forgiving. Picture Simba from Lion King, standing on the edge of the cliff before his animal subjects and you’ll know the pose I was asked to adopt. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

As a lioness (I am a Cancer with 4 planets in Leo, hence my rapport with HRH), my main priority is to protect my turf and everything that lies within it. Forget that and you’ll feel my claws in your back. But time has a way of making even the most ferocious of us mellow. It’s as if, through the looking glass, what was once so important, is not as important any more. All of us are 8 years older and as the events, or rather non-events, of the week have proven, 8 years wiser.

I no longer need to demarcate the boundaries to my territory with the blood of fresh kill because everyone can see the caked blood. Like anyone new to a group or situation – be it workplace, family or social organisation – I was eager to establish myself, eager to show that “you’re NOT the boss of me.” But as I said, time, and little children (Amanda) have a way of softening the hardest of hearts. When you see how the in-laws fuss over your child, indeed any person who fusses over your child, you tend to look at them with more empathic eyes.

Watching the in-laws talk to and play with Amanda, I had so much empathy coming out of me that I was my most magnanimous self. I cooked them 4 dinners in a row to a theme of “Welcome to Australia”, burning my forearm when I stupidly yanked out a rack from a heated oven, I took them to my favourite French Patisserie in the neighbourhood for buttery croissant and freshly-made coffee, I even drove out of Nedlands, my village, which I’d never driven out from since moving in (I only drive around the area) to take them to Fremantle, so that they wouldn’t have to catch the bus.

More amazingly, father-in-law (FIL) and I had many conversations, NONE of which ended in one of us saying we are no longer related after this visit, which has happened before. FIL seemed to still want us to move back to Malaysia but was respectful of our decision to continue living here.

At the end of the day, time, a child and many hours of talking have given us the secret ingredient for a decent relationship: mutual respect. FIL gave HRH his medical degree and I gave HRH everything that came after that.

I said to FIL, “You do know that Victoria once passed a law requiring all foreign-born medical students to leave the state upon graduation, don’t you? That’s why your son had to move to Adelaide. There, a director of emergency had it out for him because he took his annual leave to go back to Malaysia for a month. She tried to stop him from getting into surgical training by bad-mouthing him to the selection committee but  he got in anyway, in Victoria, thus moved back. After his first year in training, the college made it a rule that all trainees MUST be permanent residents or citizens to get into ADVANCE TRAINING. At the time (and no one seems to remember this), Australia DID NOT WELCOME DOCTORS. Our bid to become permanent residents failed, so we moved to New Zealand to try our luck there, since the college also covers New Zealand. At the time, the college introduced a move called TIME-EXPIRING to kick out anyone who failed to get into advance training by a certain time. So your son could have already passed his Part 1, which he did, BUT COULD STILL GET KICKED OUT.”

“Thinking he only had DAYS to having his career truncated, I wrote to the Minister for Immigration to ask for special intervention; if we waited for the regular migration process to take place, it might be too late. The Minister’s office declined. I pestered them, appealing to their better natures to help me. It took me hours to craft each letter I sent to them. In the end they agreed to investigate the matter; they asked the college to put your son’s application aside pending the outcome of their investigation.”

“The Minister’s office rang his former employer in Victoria. The former employer rang your son and asked whether he still wanted to live in Australia. They had changed the migration regulations (again)  and they could now sponsor him. Hooray! Except that I was pregnant with Amanda and for permanent residence to be granted, Australian Immigration (DIMIA) wanted me to be undergo a chest X-ray. It ordered Health Services Australia (HSA) to perform the X-ray on me. HSA declined because they didn’t want me to sue them if my unborn child develops cancer further down the track as a result of exposure to the X-ray. Your son very much wanted the PR to be finalised so that he could be eligible for Advance Training before the next cut-off (once a year) so I HAD TO CHOOSE BETWEEN HIS CAREER AND MY UNBORN CHILD. Tell me how many people have to make such a choice?”

“There were only 80 positions in Advance Training. When he failed to get in after the first two rounds of offers, he was depressed. I asked him to go for a review of his application to see WHY he did not meet the cut off and HOW he could next time. He reluctantly took my advice and the next week, the college called to say they had miscalculated his position and offered him Darwin.”

When he was bullied by 2 bitches in Cairns, he asked me if he should just be a GP. I said NO, you’ve come this far, you will go all the way. NO surrender. No matter how tough, how many people called me (everyone ALWAYS calls me) to ask him to do this or that, regardless the number of doubting Thomases, I have always told him to march on.”

“He has never had to wake up in the middle of the night to care for Amanda, be there for parent-teacher interviews, first days at school, sports days, or take leave when she is sick. I cover his parental duties 100% of the time. I do our banking, manage our various investments, even sighted, signed for and negotiated with the bank for our last property.”

I just wanted FIL to know what it is I do in our relationship, that his child is in good hands.

At the end of his stay, walking a fraction of the Nedlands Esplanade for the last time, he even begrudgingly admitted that Australia is a much better place for us to stay. “You people can even go walking in a place like this during the day.”

All around us were perfectly manicured lawns; in the river, sparklingly clear waters with yatches bobbing on them.