Chap Goh Meh, Countdown

Family is mostly a wonderful element of life. It provides, for many, a raison d’etre for being. It is a driver – a potent one – for me and often, dominates to an extent where it does become the be all and end all. At least on a psychological and/or emotional level. It certainly occupies much of my thoughts and feelings.

And so on occasions such as on Saturday night when Tress and I were sitting on the deck of Uncle Jin and Auntie Pin’s busy home it is easy to drift along and continue believing. Bathing in the warmth and comfort of home cooked dishes and uncles, aunties and cousins and their partners, it sits up there as a preferred activity for a weekend, distance to their home notwithstanding (a 100km roundtrip).

Ray, Auntie Hooi and Uncle Marloney’s eldest, sat next to me the whole night. He joined the ATO after earning a commerce/law double, and has recently bought his own home which he talked about excitedly. Next to him is Chris, Natasha’s boyfriend. Nat is Ray’s baby sister. Chris is causasian, a tutor and looks like a nice fellow. Next to Nat was Kathleen, Auntie Anne’s and Uncle Seng’s youngest. She was the sole representative of her family that night. She works for a PR firm (Dentsu Aegis) a stone’s throw away from my office. Next to her was Sherry, UJ and AP’s youngest. She’s an engineer of sorts and her husband. YW, also an engineer, wandered in and out of the house, mingling amongst the 2-3 groups who coalesce into one sometimes, then breaks off again. Next to Sherry was Boris, Marina’s boyfriend. Marina is Sherry’s older sister. Tress had Marina on one side and me on the other. She and I are the oldest of the group and it was great being amongst the younger group, although the average age of that group is probably closer to 30.

Family on the other hand, can also be a source of angst. As we sat down late yesterday (Sunday) arvo, having completed our household chores – Tress did loads of ironing and I cooked the week’s lunches – Tress received a video clip from her dad. She decided to ring for a chat. Her dad soon passed the call to her mum and before long, her mum was carrying on about the pain and expense of having to travel to Kiddo’s wedding. She came on strong about us picking up the tabs for guests’ airfares and hotel bills. I made a face at Tress, stuck my middle finger up rhetorically. Her mum has been doing a song and dance about trekking to Canberra and has repeatedly moaned and groaned about the whole thing so I was tempted to think this airfare and hotel bills shit had more to do with her spitting the dummy than us being generous. Money wasn’t the issue – it was her mum being her mum. Well her mum carried on for a bit, so I had enough and headed into the study to do some work – work I had assiduously put off as those emails kept coming in on Friday night and Saturday.

About an hour later I emerged from the study, things looked calm so I let it be, and watched TV together with her. The ever popular “Perfect Match”, Sino styled, warmed our hearts and made us smile, before the latest iteration of “24” came on at Channel 10. Even though I snoozed for a bit mid way, I kind of enjoyed the familiar themes, look and feel of the latest Baueristic responses. The CTU is almost family, for better or worse.

A few days ago I said to Tress it was less than 9 weeks to go. Having said all I have on the angst bit, I have to say I look forward to having the family around again when the time comes – in a bit over 8 weeks.

Metro, Nasi Lemak and Caroline Chisolm

Several months ago while on a work trip to Malaysia, I decided to visit Tress’ parents and my mum et al while I was there. I decided to catch a commuter train to Klang as the hotel I was staying in was only a few minutes’ walk to the KL central station. I expected the worst in terms of timeliness etc. but as I stand there waiting on the platform, almost 30 minutes later than the scheduled time, I messaged Tress to say I’d wait another 10mins at the most after which I’d jump onto a taxi. The train did eventually come but it was something like 40 minutes waiting without knowing if or when the train would come. That was my Malaysian commuting experience, less than 6 months ago.

This morning as I walked towards the ticket machine at Box Hill station, I started feeling uneasy as I saw commuters walking back, away from the station, as though they are changing their travel plans. I had heard on 3AW, as I was driving into the station, that the Belgrave Lilydale line has been disrupted and callers were sounding very frustrated. I thought and hoped however, that the disruption only affected stations between Lilydale/Belgrave and Blackburn. Blackburn had been closed for over a month while level crossing removal works were carried out and this morning was supposed to see it reopened to the public again. I had been using Box Hill the whole time Blackburn had been closed but I suspected it wouldn’t be all smooth sailing this morning so I had decided to keep using Box Hill this week.

As I waited at the platform and strained to hear the announcements, I became agitated. The announcements were more propaganda than disseminating information. The lady announcer carried on about the importance of safety and the merits of the level crossing removal projects, and further carried on about how everyone has had a tough 6 weeks adjusting to the Blackburn (and Heatherdale) station closures. Precious little about whether there would be any trains servicing Box Hill and the city.

After about half a dozen of these waffling insanities I had enough and went to the ticketing office to ask if there would be a train taking commuters into the city. I got the same waffle so I exploded. I looked at that dingbat of a lady and said, “Will there be a train taking commuters into the city soon?” She said she didn’t know and went on about inclement weather affecting track work. I said the rain wasn’t all that catastrophic in that we’ve had rain like that in Melbourne before and repeated my question. She again said she didn’t know so I asked did she have any idea how long it’d be before she could give commuters like me any idea of what to expect in terms of whether there would be a train to take commuters into the city anytime soon. Before she could answer I said I wanted a clear simple answer as all that waffle earlier hadn’t taken the commuters anywhere nearer the city nor had it advanced Melbourne Metro from the commuter trains in Malaysia. She looked at me with a pale face and I said to her not to worry and I walked away…

The train came eventually. Monday morning was a little different as a result but the tendency to waffle or to inject spin as a primary component of a piece of simple communication (train disrupted, apologies, next train due when, apologies if can’t tell when train will resume…) is a sure bet to stir anger and frustration.

It was a disruptive Monday morning but the weekend was good.

I had ended last week with what felt like an oncoming flu of sorts. Tress and I went to a lovely Malaysian restaurant in Bayswater on Friday night and because I was a bit under the weather, I felt queasy on the way home and had an early night of sorts.

On Saturday morning, after our usual leisurely coffee and breakfast at home, we went letter-boxing again. The ACL pamphlets carried an important message and we dutifully dropped them in homes nearby, in the Blackburn South area. We then went and got some groceries, mainly to cook for a dinner party at Jason and Mel’s later that night.

On the way home, Kiddo rang and spoke briefly about her first week at Caroline Chisolm college. It sounded challenging and I hope she finds a serene groove in this rough and tumble challenge of the socio-economic backwaters of ACT southern nether.

We then got home, cooked, vacuumed, and did other bits and pieces at home. When they were all done, I slumped into a bean bag and surfed Netflix before settling down to a trusty Marlon Brando/Al Pacino adorned mobster classic. I lost count after watching it for the 10th time some 10-15 years ago and it’s now a question of noticing nuanced twitch of Marlon’s face or Sonny’s shoulders or the annoyed look of Clemenza as he gave instructions of preferring a dessert over a weapon.

At Jason’s we feasted over a wonderful meal of nasi lemak – a la gourmet. We brought a chilli prawn dish and some pickled vegetables as well as some sliced cucumbers and enjoyed them with over a half dozen other dishes. The Hipos were also there, as well as a friend of Jason’s a lady who was there with her 14-year old boy who looked and sounded a music prodigy of sorts.

After church and Madam K on Sunday, we got home and I did a quick mowing and clean-up of the lawn, front yard, deck and driveway before doing the cook for the week’s lunches. Alex rang as I started to cook and asked if we’d like to join him for a drink with his new neighbours. I had to ring back later to say we couldn’t make it – just as well, as I was sitting down on the couch early in the evening (around 7pm), I quickly snoozed and drifted in and out of dreamland before heading to bed around 9pm. If only I knew what Melbourne Metro’s was about to dish out the next morning, I might have taken up Alex’s offer and called in sick this morning…

A Tennis Match for the ages

The usual Australia Open tennis competition which peaks on the weekend following Australia Day, is for this year, anything but usual. The two grand old masters of the modern era, Federer and Nadal, each hacked and mowed down 6 opponents to reach the final and last night, watched by a legend in his day whose name crowns the tennis venue in the marvelous Melbourne Park, served up the feast everyone hoped it would be.

It was a match few in Melbourne would miss, whether in situ in Melbourne Park or elsewhere on television. So Tress and I got with the program. It had been a warm day and after church and Madam K, we had dropped by Alex and Li Har’s home to give them Kiddo’s invitation card. They had been travelling for 6 weeks and had just returned a couple of days before. We then went grocery shopping and I had spent the arvo cooking. We had planned to do more letter boxing but it was still very warm when we were “ready” at around 6pm and I didn’t like the idea of walking around for over an hour in that heat.

We had done over an hour of that on Saturday morning, when it was much more pleasant, before heading into the city. We had planned to visit the food (durian) stall of Adam, Tress’ cousin, at the Crown Riverwalk. When we got into the city, we decided to first go visit the shrine put up by dozens of flowers and teddy bears on the corner of Bourke and Swanston Street. It was very sad just looking at the cards. We decided to have lunch at Tim Ho Wan before going back to Bourke to see the other end on Elizabeth Street where the shrine was far bigger. The sadness was overwhelming.

We finally made our way to the Crown esplanade area and mingled with a vibrant Chinese New Year. We caught up with Auntie Pin and just milled with the crowd before leaving late on. Back home, we took the little furry fellow to the oval and he had a wonderful time, as did we. We had spent the day walking a fair bit and didn’t feel like any walk but the little fellow was just visibly happy to be there, playing with the other dogs. His blindness appeared to have interfered little with his social fun.

That night the ladies’ tennis final was on and even though the Williams sisters’ final were also a memorable event, the “Fedal” of Sunday night was on another level. Federer’s momentous achievement deserved more viewing time – the speeches and trophy presentations were just as much compulsory viewing as the match proper. So I only crawled into bed around midnight and my usual wake time meant I only managed less than 4½ hours’ sleep. Coffee has been a close friend today…

Bourke Street Mall Tragedy, Stridency against Trump

Soon after I started my current role, I was introduced to AL, one of our service providers. As our conversation progressed and we peeled away our present, we realised we were school mates back in Klang. We’ve caught up many times since and on Friday, we caught up for lunch at a local Vietnamese joint, as well as coffee after.

While walking back to the office just after 2pm, I started getting messages about an incident which was apparently brewing in the city. Before long, the tragedy of the Bourke Street Mall driver hit me, like everyone else, with a sledge hammer.

On the way out of the office later that day, I said to a colleague to hug her two kids the moment she gets home. Driving from the station back home, I heard on the radio that one of the victims was a 3 month old baby. That baby was undergoing surgery but was to later die. When I got through the front door, I gave Tress a hug.

Life can be so fleeting. A walk through Melbourne’s CBD on a glorious summer afternoon can very quickly spiral into an ugly scene of the dead, injured and mayhem. 5 dead, and over a dozen injured, many seriously. At church yesterday, Mike McNamara started the morning service with a prayer for the victims.

On Saturday Tress and I spent the day cleaning and washing. She vacuumed and did tons of laundry. I cleaned the outside of the house and washed our cars. It was such a beautiful day and we had started a bit after 10, having been out to do some grocery shopping earlier. We didn’t finish till nearly 7pm and while my arm ached from lifting the hedge trimmer all afternoon, it felt good to just sit and watch the tennis later that night, confident and relaxed out home is cleaner and neater – at least for now…

It will be a short week, with Australia Day breaking up the week on Thursday. Many, including my boss, will be taking Friday off for a 4 day weekend. We’ll be having some people over for a traditional Australian Day barbie. I think for me it will again be a time of trying to get my head around what makes our present day psyche – the random acts of violence and the prevalent stridency we’re seeing these days, principally from across the Atlantic where Donald Trump’s ascendancy appears to have sparked so much vitriol and hatred from people who in recent past seemed to have made loud noises against such attitudes against certain minorities. People seemed to have put aside the willingness to speak nicely – giving others the benefit of the doubt – and objectively.

St Andrew, & Hazy Start

St Andrews market is one of those places you don’t forget easily. Certainly when Tress and I went there the first time, some 2-3 years ago, it left an impression. The obvious herbal smell wafting through the markets (marijuana), the occult bend, the hippy feel to the whole place was unforgettable. It felt like one was walking through some aspects of the 60’s or 70’s. I clearly remember enjoying a pint just before 11am – and not feeling odd or guilty about it!

On Saturday we took a drive there for a repeat visit. Ruth and Jonathan had texted to meet up and we said we were driving there so we suggested we met there. It must have been quite a drive for them – it took us over 45 minutes – but we met up and it was very nice. They’ve bought a large property on the western fringe, at Woodend, and as they described the property (5.5 acres, paddocks, sheep, alpaca, chooks, ponds etc…) I felt a heavy tinge of envy.

I’ve always cherished the vast swathes of space that Australia affords and could never come to terms with choices to live in apartments or townhouses. We live in a small house ourselves but at least directly across the road there are parklands, ovals and fields and playgrounds. 2-3 neighbours either side of us have no home opposite ours across the street so the strip of parklands was wide enough to give us a sense of space.

In any event, that catch up with Ruth and Jonathan made me think about living amidst even more spacious surrounds. Little Micah looked well, happy and I think he enjoyed a jazzy band which was busking and also enjoying themselves right through the whole time.

Later that night we went to dinner in Bayswater, with Jason and Mel and the Hipos. The Hipos had suggested we try out this funky hawker joint out there and it was nice. We then adjourned to their (Hipos’) home for drinks.

As always it was nice catching up with friends and relatives.

Before we headed out for dinner Mike McNamara,the minister in charged of the 10am service, rang to ask if I can do communion duty the next day, as someone couldn’t make it. So on Sunday we were mindful to be on time. After church we went Madam K’s. They had been closed a few weeks and it was the first time back since they came back from their holidays a few days earlier. We saw some very old friends from our hometown church and we shared a table, talked and caught up. We then went to YWAM at Surrey Hills to pick up some flyers for letter-boxing in the next few weekends before heading to Shoppo in Doncaster.

Last night as I thought about the coming week, I felt a tinge of tiredness. It’s only the second week back so feeling this tiredness doesn’t bode well. Maybe it’s the extra early start, with the level crossing works at my (temporarily closed) local train station making me drive out to the next station in. I’ve had to push my morning schedule even earlier so wake hour feels oppressively early (4.20am). It was however, cooler this morning (about 10deg) and I felt more alive as a result so for a Monday, I am a little more energized that a warm, hazy hot day would have allowed. I’m again grateful…

Cool Change- Back to Work

It was cooler this morning, when I opened the front door and walked towards the car. Dawn was just breaking and while it took some planning and mental preparation the night before, the early morning routine seemed to have worked back into its groove fairly smoothly.

It had to be an earlier start too, as Blackburn Station will be closed for at least a couple of more weeks. I had to drive a little further out into Box Hill station instead. At least there’s covered parking there. A train had pulled up just as I walked towards the platform and as I got on and sat down, I started to read “God’s Big Picture” (Vaughan Roberts). I hadn’t read very much these past 2 weeks and it felt good to read again.

I had with me, Gerard Henderson’s book on BA Santamaria, when we went away but I didn’t get to read much of it. It was very hot for most of the 2 weeks. We were at Point Lonsdale for a few days and then drove straight up to Canberra from there. It remained hot in both of those places, and even when we returned to Melbourne the heat was unrelenting.

I think I felt relief for the first time last night, when the cool change drifted in, maybe from 7pm onwards. Tress, Kiddo, LBJ and I have just had a lovely home barbeque dinner and we all went out to the oval across the street to enjoy the cooler conditions, along with many other pooches and their owners. Everyone was just glad the heat left us for a little while. As we milled with others, played catch with LBJ’s toy ball and generally mucked around, I was very grateful for such moments.

25 Years A Slave

This time 25 years ago, I was admitted to the Bar in Malaysia. I was allowed, from that day on, to refer to myself as a lawyer.

In the week running up to the occasion, I felt broke. I had spent my last Ringgit on the garb for the ceremony – wing tipped collar white shirt, bib, gown and proper shoes. I was so broke I did a runner when Andrew my cousin got married the week before, and avoided the tea ceremony. I couldn’t spare any dough for the ang pow.

Of the 5 people who were there with me that day, only my mum and Tress are left now. My dad and both my paternal grandparents are no longer with us. I miss them.

I wonder how many more years there will be left, before I stop being a lawyer. And do something else for a living.