Going on the great Australian road trip.

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

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

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

“Er. How many days do we have again?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

A map of National Highways in Australia.

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

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

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

“We can always pitch a tent out there.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which bridge are you? Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A picture of Amanda and I on the Victoria Bridge.

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

A picture of Southbank from the Victoria Bridge in Brisbane.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A picture of part of the Victoria Bridge in Brisbane.

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

A picture of the Chinese gardens in the Southbank Parkland

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

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

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

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

A picture of the Goodwill Bridge through the bushes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Discovering Africa in Australia.

If there is one thing about Australia I absolutely love, it’s the many enclaves found in major metropolitan cities. To a lesser extent they’re also found in country towns, but regardless of size or dominating ethnic group, each little pocket allows migrants to feel at home in this country for it is in an enclave that most find remnants of the lives they’ve left behind.

For an outsider, its like going on a holiday overseas without having to take your passport. When you want to leave, all you need to do is walk a couple of blocks in either direction, instead of getting on a plane. With that in mind, Janaki and I made plans to visit the African enclave of Moorooka in Brisbane’s South. We’ve been wanting to go since we had Eritrean food at Amanda’s school fete in June of this year.

One thing after another crept up for each of us but finally, we agreed two weeks ago that we’d go yesterday. As you may be aware from reading of yesterday’s home visit from Telstra, I almost had to reschedule. Fortunately, Jason the Telstra technician was efficient and I was able to keep my date with Janaki.

Janaki had gone to the trouble of asking her daughter’s carer at childcare, who’s African, where to go for lunch. She recommended a restaurant called “Made in Africa” specialising in Ethiopian cuisine. We went in and asked the waitress, who turned out to be Indian, to bring us the HOTTEST two items on the menu to share. She returned with a plate of stewed beef and stir-fry-like lamb framed with bits of salad. Neither of the meat dishes were hot by our standards, but tasty nonetheless. 

A picture of lunch at Made in Africa in Moorooka, Brisbane.

Lamb on top, beef below. A picture of lunch at Made in Africa in Moorooka, Brisbane.

A picture of the "bread" they serve with our lunch at Made in Africa, Moorooka, Brisbane.

A picture of the “bread” they served with our lunch at Made in Africa, Moorooka, Brisbane.

A picture of the shop front of Made in Africa in Moorooka, Brisbane.

A picture of the shop front of Made in Africa in Moorooka, Brisbane.

We ate in typical African style, with our fingers, using the yeasty smelling bread as spoons. They didn’t have any traditional beverages so we washed it all down with water. After which we went wandering around, looking ever so slightly out of place for the area.

A picture of me at the pool table at Made in Africa in Moorooka, Brisbane.

A picture of me at the pool table at Made in Africa in Moorooka, Brisbane.

Shopkeepers were very friendly; one even offered to “do” Janaki’s hair, which she politely declined with the excuse that she might upset her husband with the change. I think that like me, she was unconvinced of their ability to do contemporary hairstyles; no braids, no fros, just regular cuts. We spotted a shop selling jeans  soon after and thinking that I might be able to find a pair to cover my ample behind in this African enclave, sauntered in. Alas, I’m a little too short by African standards and they didn’t stock my size.

I asked to take a couple of photographs for this blog but most seemed uncomfortable with being captured on camera. None though, said no. So I took the few I could before we had tea and African donuts. The tea tasted like Earl Grey, but had a stronger Bergamot taste. The donuts were like regular donuts, except lighter and sugarless. Speaking to a Sudanese man having his tea in the shop, I learnt that they have these donuts even for breakfast!

A picture of me and the shopkeepers of a donut shop in Moorooka, Brisbane.

After Janaki took this, one of the ladies insisted on vetting the photo. She pronounced it “very good.”

A picture of our donuts and tea in Moorooka, Brisbane.

All that came to $6. A picture of our donuts and tea in Moorooka, Brisbane.

A picture of Janaki and I having tea in Moorooka, Brisbane.

A picture of Janaki and I having tea in Moorooka, Brisbane.

“Actually, any time of the day is fine to have them,” he said, before asking me where I was from.

“Malaysia,” said I.

“Isn’t Malaysia a Muslim country?” he asked.

“It is, but I’m not a Muslim.” Given what some of these people had to go through to come here, I was wary about talking religion.

“But isn’t 99% of the population like Muslim?”

“Roughly 60%, but the rest is whatever they want to be. Malaysia is a moderate muslim country.” My emphasis was on the word moderate.

“Yes but…”

I didn’t know where he was going with this so I blurted out, “I’m actually Chinese.”

That stopped him in his tracks. Then what he said next floored me.

“But you don’t look like any Chinese person I’ve ever met.”

“How do you know?” I said, almost indignant at his claim.

We have many Chinese in Africa. My teacher in school was a Chinese. You don’t look like a Chinese.”

Janaki shot me an amused why-do-you-bother-saying-you’re-Chinese look. I felt like the zebra that keeps insisting it’s a horse.

“Ok, fine, fine. You’ve got me there. I’ve Malay blood, but technically, I’m a Chinese.”

He seemed satisfied. Janaki and I left to check out one of their grocery stores to round out our African enclave experience. This store was packed with Fufu, made of cassava, yam or plantains, which Africans eat with most meals, dried fish, biltong, hair and more hair. It seemed like every second store we walked past on our way back to the car sold hair.

A picture of a tub of hair for sale in Moorooka, Brisbane.

A picture of a tub of hair for sale in Moorooka, Brisbane.

“What’s with all the hair?” I asked Janaki.

“It’s for their braids.”

“I thought all the hair on their heads were theirs.”

“Hair dressers wrap the clients hair around these add ons.”

How peculiar. But I suppose they think the same of people like me who only ever sports the one hairstyle too. Well, each to their own. Janaki and I enjoyed our outing to Moorooka so much that we’ve decided to bring the boys on our next trip.

A picture of a typical store in Moorooka, Brisbane.

A picture of a typical store in Moorooka, Brisbane.

 

 

 

 

The big move west to Perth.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention. Your friend Estella is moving to Perth, Western Australia, for a whole year, beginning late January 2013. That’s right. I’m packing up and going west, as befitting a supportive spouse who’s dragged everywhere for her husband’s career.

His Royal Highness had a telephone interview on Monday afternoon and he told me the news on Tuesday night. I can tell you that 30 hours is a very long wait when you are holding your breath, but we know now and as sad as I am to leave Brisbane, it is a huge relieve to be moving to Perth and not woop woop. Woop woop is Aussie slang for the great beyond.

I’ve been to Perth once, some 7 years ago, and it struck me as a nice place to live. Amanda was then only 4 and half months old, so my movements, during our couple of days stay, was restricted to the area around our hotel. I remember enjoying the weather, the fresh sea air and when His Royal Highness had time to take me around, parts of Chinatown, where Amanda had the worst ever watery poo. I was forced to change her on the backseat of our rented Audi, wiping down the leather seats with wet wipes afterwards.

Until our move, I will be making the most of my time left here. If you are in town and want to meet up, just give me a yell. Perth, on the other side of Australia, is almost 5 hours away from Brisbane by plane, so it might be a long time before we get to sit down for a cuppa.

I’ve since started getting rid of stuff I don’t use – clothes, books, bits and pieces – because from what I understand, we’ll be footing relocation expenses on our own. I expect our moving bill to be modest since we’re renting our apartment out fully furnished to the hotel in which we live. Befitting this type of accommodation, returns are excellent, so the mortgage and any incidentals will be more than covered.

Over in Perth, we’ll be looking to rent near His Royal Highness’ new workplace. A cursory inspection of www.realestate.com.au  tells me we’ll be paying anywhere between $550 per week and $700 for what is commonly known as “student accommodation.” We could live further out but we only have the one car and I like walking everywhere. We hope to enrol Amanda in a local school, and at this point, I’ve already zeroed in on two.

What might pose a problem is the Language Other Than English (LOTE) offered at either school. French is offered as part of LOTE for students from grades 1 to 7 and the LOTE I was going to enrol Amanda for was Mandarin, which will be offered at our current school from grade 4 onwards. LOTE looks to be compulsory, so I’m going to have to speak to Amanda’s prospective school about an exemption or allowing her to join the lower grades for an introduction to the language. If I am free, I might sit in with them and learn French too. Well, I’ve always wanted to learn the language and now I have a good excuse.

 

 

Money talks: East vs West.

The response to yesterday’s post alerted me to how different Western society operates to Eastern society. One of my Eastern friends, on reading about the suicide, at the end of the post, thought the jumper must have had money problems. After all, most suicides in Asia are the result of financial woes. Often, you read of people jumping from their apartment blocks whenever they’ve lost everything on the stock market. Certainly, that seemed to be the case in Japan and Hong Kong during the Global Financial Crisis, as people lost face through the downgrading of their financial status. I told my friend that no one here worries about their three meals, regardless of whether they can afford luxuries like holidays or a new house, because the government gives people money.

How much money? It is tied to how much you earn. If your household income is above $150k, you get next to nothing. However if you are of low income, then you can receive an average of $1200 a month through a combination of government payments. It used to upset me that everyone was getting free money save I,  but I’ve come to see the high taxes that get redistributed as payments to others as the price for the civility we live in.

The odd aboriginal in West End might ask me for a bob, but none other than charities will harass me for cash if I say no. Snatch thefts are few and far between because none need resort to crime in order to put food on the table. Around here, the banks are perceived as the robbers, because they levy fees on the small fry. There is a lot of empathy for the every man here, missing in Asia; Asian society expects you to be self-sufficient; God help you if you aren’t. The streets of KL abound with beggars some say work for a syndicate. Here, organised crime leaves the regular Joe alone.

The most heart-breaking story I’ve come across in Malaysia was of a child abandoned by both his poorly-educated parents, forced to skip school and shell prawns for pittance each day in order to support himself and his elderly grandmother. Things like these just don’t happen over here. People do end up on the street, but factors other than a low education come into play: most who end up on the streets usually have drug and alcohol issues or a history of domestic violence. Aid organisations like St Vincents and the Salvos come to their rescue. We, who are better off, are encouraged to think of them at Christmas time and make donations of NEW toys under “wishing trees”, as in at Kmart.

In Asia, who cares if you have no special meals or toys at Christmas? The raising of a child rests solely and squarely with his or her parents. A low education is synonymous with poor life outcomes: a life of menial jobs, being looked down by others, living in envy for the things you can never have. Hence, everyone works hard, some, as many jobs as they physically can, in order to get ahead. Once in a blue moon, an astute politician, weeks or months out from an election, will rock up to an old folks home or an orphanage, bearing gifts and money. He or she is almost always accompanied by the press, if not, why would they think of doing these things? Society’s unspoken perception is that one’s hardship is somehow the result of laziness or bad choices. Thus the few who pursue careers in the arts or sports, fields where there is no guarantee of a good income.

Even among family, the more you own the bigger your say is because there is respect in having wealth. Wealth is exhibited through the owning of imported cars, posh dwellings or in taking overseas vacations. Here in Australia, you can easily get as nice a house in the outer suburbs as you do in the old money neighbourhoods. Vacationing overseas is in many instances cheaper than vacationing locally. Our hotels are expensive, our food is expensive. Having said that, almost any person can afford a car.

One of my friends here who relies on government handouts to live, brought the whole family back to Malaysia en-route to Hong Kong, on the baby bonus she received from having a second child. Even though I belong at the other end of the household income continuum, our houses have more or less the same furniture, the same white goods, the same sheets even… All that sets us apart is home ownership, choice of schools – public versus private, medical insurance, which we are forced to buy to avoid the medicare levy surcharge – an additional 1% on top of the regular medicare levy paid by all, number of times we eat out in a week and places we vacation to.

Conversely, I would contend we have a lot less crime not just because people receive handouts from the government, but because the gap between poor and rich is hardly visible. The super rich keep to themselves, the middle and lower classes enjoy  a very similar lifestyle, but for the points mentioned above.

 

 

 

 

Which bridge are you?

It’s more or less confirmed that His Royal Highness, Amanda and I will be moving away from Brisbane at the end of this year so we’ve made a list of all the things we’d like to do here while we still can. At the top of that list is checking out all the bridges in Brisbane. Therefore yesterday, being a Sunday and Australian Father’s Day, we set off on foot to explore 5 of these magnificent structures that connect life on both sides.

Why bridges? Firstly since life revolves around the river in Brisbane, the city has many iconic ones and secondly, they strike me as being the embodiment of what the modern human being is: a bridge between past and present or present and future. Some massive ones span past, present and future, others like me, cover two very different cultures.

So which one are you? Let’s take a look at some of them.

The first we check out was the Go-Between Bridge that links South Brisbane with Milton. South Brisbane houses Brisbane’s Cultural Precinct whereas Milton is a trendy inner-city suburb, best known for being home to the Suncorp Stadium.

A picture of the Go-Between Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture of the Go-Between Bridge in Brisbane.

As you can see, it is a very modern, minimalist type bridge. If you are going to the airport from my end of town, it saves you 10 minutes of travelling time, compared to if you were to use the William Jolly bridge. However, you do have to pay $2.50 for what is roughly a 100 plus metre stretch.

A picture of me one the walkway that links both sides of the Go Between Bridge.

A picture of me one the walkway that links both sides of the Go Between Bridge.

The second bridge we took a look at was the William Jolly Bridge. This bridge looks like its made out of stone, but has a steel frame supporting the brickwork. It was opened during the worst year of the Great Depression and looks slightly out of place in our modern world, yet is still in as much use as ever, proving that functionality never goes out of style.

A picture of one of the concrete arches on the William Jolly Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture of one of the concrete arches on the William Jolly Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture of Amanda and I on the William Jolly Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture of Amanda and I on the William Jolly Bridge in Brisbane. You can see part of the Kurilpa Bridge in the background.

After William Jolly, we went to investigate the neighbouring Kurilpa Bridge. This has to be my favourite bridge, even though it only services pedestrians and cyclists, because it is light, yet strong, features solar panels on its roof to power its lights. It links the Gallery of Modern Art, The Queensland Art Gallery, The Queensland Museum and the State Library with the Central Business District.

A picture of the Kurilpa Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture of the Kurilpa Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture of the solar panels on the roof of the Kurilpa Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture of the solar panels on the roof of the Kurilpa Bridge in Brisbane. In the background is the William Jolly Bridge.

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

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

Our fourth bridge was a pair on the Gateway Motorway (M1), formerly known as Gateway Bridges. They have since been renamed the Sir Leo Hielscher Bridges. Streamlined and ultra modern, they are massive twin structures linking Brisbane airport with the Gold Coast and the newer of the two features a bike path. We weren’t sure if they allowed pedestrians on, so we only admired them from afar.

A picture of the Sir Leo Hielscher Bridges in Brisbane.

A picture of the Sir Leo Hielscher Bridges in Brisbane. This is only part of it.

Having walked more than my daily number of steps, I was quite tried, so I told His Royal Highness that we could only see 1 last bridge before calling it a day. He asked me which one I’d like to discover and without hesitation I named the Story Bridge.

The Story Bridge links Kangaroo Point, another inner-city suburb, with Fortitude Valley, better known as Brisbane’s original Chinatown. An impressive steel structure, the Story Bridge reminds me of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Unfortunately like the latter, it is a hotspot for suicides.

It is estimated that 4 people on average, take their lives by jumping off the bridge each year. While we were there, a man jumped. People standing on their balconies to see the commotion drew our attention to police and sniffer dogs down below. While it saddened us to be in close proximity to such a tragedy, it also reminded us that life is a choice and only the strongest of us will continue living.

I told Amanda that it she dares pull such a stunt on me, I will hunt her down in the next life and whoop her arse. I made it clear to her that suicide is impermissible. It is a silly, selfish, long-term solution for what is often a short-term problem.

A picture of a Lifeline sign on the Story Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture of a Lifeline sign on the Story Bridge in Brisbane.

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

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

A picture of a Lifeline phone on the Story Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture of a Lifeline phone on the Story Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture of Brisbane from the Story Bridge in Brisbane.
A picture of Brisbane from the Story Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture of me and Amanda on the Story Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture of me and Amanda on the Story Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture of part of the Story Bridge in Brisbane.

So beautiful yet so tragic. A picture of part of the Story Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture of the Brisbane skyline from the Story Bridge.

A picture of the Brisbane skyline from the Story Bridge.

A picture of Brisbane CBD and Kangaroo Point Park from the Story Bridge.

A picture of Brisbane CBD and Kangaroo Point Park from the Story Bridge.

A picture of boats bobbing on the waters from the Story Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture of boats bobbing on the waters taken from the Story Bridge in Brisbane.

A picture yesterday's suicide at the Story Bridge.

A picture yesterday’s suicide at the Story Bridge.

 

 

 

 

My worst nightmare: men who kill their wives.

Last night I had the mother of all nightmares. Mind you, my dreams usually feature a tsunami or two, angels, and deceased Cantopop stars, so on a scale of 1 to 10, this was a 10. Perhaps it was induced by all the arse-burning sambal I consumed on Friday and Saturday, and the conversation I had with my friend, Janaki, as she drove us down to the Gold Coast. Her husband, Mehan, was riding with His Royal Highness and Amanda.

Let’s cover this dream first, so you’ll know what I’m talking about.

I am travelling downhill via bullock-cart along a bumpy country road. The next thing I know, I am in my friend’s house where she promptly informs me that my boyfriend is a serial killer and he’s left all his hacked bits around as usual. She thought I needed to know – that he is so messy. And she would appreciate it if he were to clean up after himself.

Right, good thing she’s telling me so I don’t end up as a hacked bit too. No, we wouldn’t want that. Whaddaya know? I hear crazy serial killer boyfriend in the house.

“Quick,” she says passing me a dress and shoving me into the shoe closet. “Get dressed. You’re supposed to be going out for dinner. You don’t want to make him mad.”

Certainly, now that I know he’s a serial killer. Where did I put that pepper spray?

“Oh honey, I’m home,” he says to me in a silky voice on the other side of the door.

Why is there no button on the door handle to push in?  I spy a bolt and just before he can open the door, I slide it across, my heart almost breaking out of my rib cage. I can see him through a small gap between the door and the wall. Who built this stupid house?

“I can still see you,” he says in a slow spine-chilling drawl. “What are you doing in there?”

“I am uh…getting changed. I’ll be out in 5 minutes.”

God, where is the phone? Where is the police? My heartbeat is now deafening. In the far distance I can hear something ringing. Thank God it’s my mobile phone’s alarm. It’s 7am. I bolt upright in bed, drenched in sweat.

I don’t know how we ended up talking about serial killers, but Janaki and I are of the agreement that being killed by one’s husband is the worse fate that can befall a woman. Yes, I think I remember now. We were discussing that poor woman, Allison Baden-Clay, whose husband, Gerard Baden-Clay, has been accused of killing her. She was a mother of three, much loved by the community in which they lived and he was a respected realtor, Lord Baden-Powell’s great grandson. Her body was found on the banks of Kholo Creek, 11 days after she vanished.

“Their poor children,” said Janaki.

“What astounds me is him killing her. To think, in all the world I choose to be with you and you turn out to be a killer!”

“It wouldn’t be as bad if he was a serial killer.”

“Yes, that’s because victims of most serial killers don’t know their killer intimately. This is an astounding level of betrayal.”

“If he were a serial killer, at least you could say, ‘Well, I didn’t know about his psychotic tendencies. When he was with me, he was a very good husband.'”

“But when he’s your husband!!! Of all the bad luck in the world, you had to choose to marry your murderer.”

It made me feel sad for the institution of marriage, for love. How do two people go from wanting to spend their lives together to one wanting to take the life of the other?

“It’s a pity they abolished the death penalty in Australia. They should reintroduce it for wife-murderers and child abusers.”

“Definitely. Why lock them up when they can pursue a law degree at the tax-payers’ expense, then file a case against the state for supposed miscarriage of justice? What about the victims? Have you heard the latest, about prisoners complaining about the quality of their food? Hello, goal is not the Shangrila, ok?”

“In cases like these, I admire Singapore. They just execute murderers.”

“Me too. Forget about damn prisoners rights. Why support murderers and pedophiles for years on end when there is no hope for them in the outside world?

What do you think? Is there any crime worse than murdering one’s spouse and is a prison term – however lengthy – fair punishment for crimes like these?

 

 

 

 

 

Demystifying the allure of E L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey.

In case you’ve been living under a rock like I have, British author E L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey is presently the most talked-about book. Everyone from twenty year old counter chicks to Sex and The City’s Kim Cattrall has gotten hot under the collar from reading it, and judging by half of a book I’ve thumbed through, they’ve good reason too.

Rarely has a work of erotic fiction taken the mainstream by storm. Part of the Fifty Shades of Grey‘s appeal, I believe, boils down to accessibility. It is commercial fiction. There is no high-falluting in any of its 514 pages. Indeed, there are next to no big words for which you might need a dictionary. Furthermore, with the exception of graphic sex scenes, Fifty Shades of Grey adheres to the traditional romance novel formula. If you have no idea what I’m on about, then read Danielle Steel or pick up any copy of Mills and Boons.

You’ll be struck by how the hero is always rich, tall, rakishly handsome and debonair. Since Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, heroes have become dysfunctional and brooding, but still rich, tall and handsome, while heroines have reverted to being helpless damsels in distress, often wearing jeans and sneakers, in need of rescue by some valiant knight. I like that E L James’s Ana is more gutsy and realistic than Stephenie Meyer’s Bella who wants to be wedded to a vampire at 18, but who am I kidding? Women read romance simply to escape back to a time when we held a man’s undivided attention.

For too many of us, that initial period being the object of someone’s fixation is just too short. We want to experience the thrill of the chase again, to be wanted, admired, and obsessed over, if only via introjection into a character’s eyes. Reading romance, we all imagine ourselves to be the heroine on whose hallowed ground the hero worships. Even if like E L James’ Christian Grey, the hero has serious control issues and is into BDSM.

People who object to E L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey on the grounds that it sets a bad example for young girls to follow, in terms of intimate relationships, miss the point that fiction is mere entertainment. At the very most, it’s edutainment; a cross between education and entertainment. I contend that the entertainment quotient is still substantially higher though. As a writer, I don’t imagine anyone picking up my work and referencing it like the Bible. If it resonates with them, they might read it again or share it with friends. Certainly not take it and use what I have to say as a road-map for future relationships.

For my part, I decided to check out Fifty Shades of Grey because I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. Since none I asked could put into words why the book spoke to them enough for them to recommend it to friends, in the interest of researching people’s reading habits, I had to experience it for myself. Reading it, I alternated between being impressed by some of the phrases used, and underwhelmed by the liberal sprinkling of words such as “flush” and “dryly.” In case you didn’t know, at 400 000 words, the English language is so voluminous that repetition is hardly necessary. Throughout my evening spent tucked in its bosom, I can hear Stephen King’s voice, however he sounds, exhorting me to kill the adverbs, fix the punctuation and chop the loose sentences. The story though, is gripping for the reasons mentioned, which explains why I am still reading it.

 

 

 

The wonder of siblings.

Being the third of four children, I’ve often postulated what life would have been like if I was an only child. Surely I’d have been the focus of both my parents’ attention. Without a doubt, I’d have been the sole recipient of any largesse flowing from them and although my mother isn’t the mothering-type (read: we’re supposed to be friends) anyone who sympathised with her under-productive womb would have molly-coddled me within an inch of my life. I know, because I have just the one child: Amanda. People pitying her sibling-less state often ply her with gifts – birthday presents, christmas presents.

However, had I been an only child, I would have missed out on many years of playing increasingly inventive games with my siblings, especially my brother, whose birthday is today and whom I am dedicating this post to. I’d have missed out on having someone’s hair to pull from toddlerhood, thereby decreasing my ability to identify and remove rogue hairs from my own face and I’d have missed out on playing catch and street-fighter rolled into one with our mother hollering from downstairs that she’d bash our heads in if she heard any more noise. I’d definitely have missed out on the years we commando crawled into our parents’ bedroom and hid under their beds, when they thought they’d gotten rid of us, and the years when my brother had fashioned a walkie-talkie thing-y out of tin can and wire, with on and off switches, linking his room with mine.

A picture of me and my brother as kids.

AD was 2 and I was 4. This picture was taken in the back garden of our childhood home.

I could name a dozen other memories from the many years we’ve spent together, but I’d rather relive them in my head. For in my head we’re forever young, blacked from playing badminton at midday in our backyard, comparing our yearly collection of Chinese New Year ang pows even as our mother compares us – I’m lazy while he’s hardworking – talking in the dark about feelings too heavy for the day. We’re best mates and I dare say I’d be a much different person if he hadn’t come along 2 years, 1 month, 1 day and 1 hour after I did.

Without the influence of siblings to moderate me, I’d probably be as narcissistic as I presently am, except I’d be immodest too. I’d most likely be as verbose, except lacking in the ability to discern between what I must communicate and what I should withhold, as until marriage, I’d  have little experience with feelings other than my own. As a writer, I’d have no conflict to draw on, because you can’t possibly get into an argument with yourself; even though on countless  occasions, with my head in the clouds,  I’ve proven this untrue.

So to my dear brother, have a happy 32nd birthday and thank you for being who you are. To everyone else, have a fabulous day valuing those closest to you for they inadvertently make you, you. To only children like my daughter, you have your parents’ unadulterated attention so you might as well milk it for all its worth. Go get them to buy you that Ferrari! Nevertheless, if they have mortgages to pay like me, please wait until they win Lotto first.

A picture of me and my brother as adults.

Me and AD as adults. Do you see the similarity in the face shape, eyes and nose? He likes to think he looks better, of course.

 

 

 

 

His Royal Highness’ 40th birthday celebration.

His Royal Highness turned 40 yesterday and to herald his transition into middle-age, we hosted a noon-time poolside gathering for his former study partners and their families. So as to ingratiate my way into a nomination to the Hall of Good Spouses, I did all the cooking while His Royal Highness, being the birthday boy, put his legs up.

Using my mother’s frozen sambal, I prepared Nasi Lemak, the de facto national dish of Malaysia for our meat-eating  guests and Vegetarian Noodles for the herbivores amongst us. To ensure that none went home hungry, I also fried some soy crackers and baked a whole Atlantic Salmon, weighing a whopping 4.2kg, which I slathered in Nyonya sauce.

A picture of the Atlantic Salmon I baked for HRH's 40th birthday.

This bad boy has to be seen to be believed. Weighing in at 4.2kg, we had difficulty carting him home, then stuffing him into our fridge. Whilst trying to put him into the oven, I even burnt my left hand as I accidentally brushed against a hot rack.

A picture of guests at HRH's birthday gathering.

Alicia with her baby, Tania and Bella.

A picture of me and Tania and the spread we had for HRH's 40th birthday.

A picture of me and Tania and the spread we had for HRH’s 40th birthday.

A picture of me and HRH on his 40th birthday.

Me and the birthday boy.

A picture of the food I prepared for HRH's 40th birthday.

A picture of the food I prepared for HRH’s 40th birthday.

Janaki, Mehan’s wife, kindly made His Royal Highness’ birthday cake – his favourite carrot cake with cream cheese frosting – while Tania, who you hear me refer to all the time, brought us two bottles of sparkling Moscato that tasted like champagne. I enjoyed both their offerings so much that I had two slices of cake with 4 glasses of wine. The old boy took no notice of my over-indulgence as he caught up with his mates in the sun. As you can see from the photos, everyone had a pretty good time. Later, after everyone had left, I went to have a well-deserved lie down.

A picture of Janaki, HRH and Maya with the birthday cake Janaki made.

A picture of Janaki, HRH and Maya with the birthday cake Janaki made. Looking on were Geoff’s kids.

A picture of HRH and his study partners.

A picture of HRH and his study partners Geoff, Ken and Mehan.

A picture of all the kids present at HRH's 40th birthday.

Naturally, there were kids. A picture of all the kids present at HRH’s 40th birthday.