A Special Relationship

Several days ago an extended family messaging group received a message from a cousin who has been working and living in the land with long white cloud. It was a wonderful (to me) news of her wedding to her long time partner. They’ve both been in NZ for a number of years and when we went down there for a holiday several years ago, we caught up with them both for a meal.

That cousin’s dad sent a response to that message overnight. It was a picture of a total dark screen, with no accompanying text. I wondered if that meant he was displeased or distraught with the wedding. I’ve heard second (or third) hand accounts of his displeasure with the relationship, as the man was a divorcee.

I was saying to Tress earlier that if I was my uncle, I’d be happy with the news although I’d be peeved at the surprise factor, especially if I was told the same time as everyone else. But then again I don’t know what his thoughts are and so there’s always a chance I’d react in a similar fashion under some circumstances.

Father/child is always a special relationship. At church yesterday it was an “all-age” service, meaning the kids ministry put on a special program. A couple of young girls put on a skit of some sort. One is a daughter of Mark, a member of the small group we go to. The other’s dad is an emerging superstar of some sort in the theological academic world. When the latter’s family came up to lead the congregational prayer I just got a sense that the young lady was such a confident, bright, articulate and talented person because of (at least partly) the stability of the father-daughter relationship. Likewise, we know what a special person Mark is, which explains his daughter’s similar characteristics.

On Saturday morning, the sun had shone unexpectedly (the bureau said it was going to rain) so we took LBJ for an extended walk around the neighbourhood. We walked past an auction property. After the walk I dropped by the local Bunnings to pick up some gardening stuff and later that day we rocked up for the auction. A bidder had his young kids around him, playing under the very tall gum trees. When he lost out, I said to Tress that would have been a wonderful home for that family. I wished quietly that the family would find a home soon, where the dad would have ample opportunity to nurture his kids and build a great relationship.

On Friday night, Tress and I found a Malaysian joint in Camberwell and got Jason and Mel and A Hooi and U Marloney to join us. We talked into the night and while the food was a bit average, I enjoyed just talking with old friends. We talked a bit about the scandal enveloping a tax commissioner and his son, who had scammed the tax office for over $165m. I guess that father-son relationship is a bit special in a different way.

Big Issues

Occasionally, St Alf’s holds a “Big Issues” night. One or more speakers, usually experts in their fields, speak on a… well, big issue. On Saturday night Tress and I went for one of those nights.

Earlier in the day we had busied ourselves with keeping the house tidy. The hedges have gone a bit hormonal and grown yet again. The last time I trimmed it had been before Kiddo’s wedding. It must have been easily 6 weeks, if not longer. LBJ also had his appointment with Amber for his quarterly trim and so by about 8.15, after LBJ was handed over for Amber to bring him into that cute little blue shuttle hooked to the back of her SUV, Tress and I finished up our brekky and got to work.

I had also lined up a visit to a unit on the foot of the Dandenongs – one of those places I hoped would afford me no more hedge trimming which involves climbing up and down a step ladder while lugging an increasingly heavy trimmer. That visit was to be between 12.30-1pm so when it was close to 12pm, I finished up – the hedges looked more presentable and lawns mowed – and we went to see that unit.

After the viewing we were subconsciously driving towards Madam K – which was a bit dumb as it would have been maybe 20-25km away – so Tress had a brainwave and suggested we went to a different place nearer to where we were – just a couple of km away. It was teeming when we got there so it was obviously very popular. After lunch we did our usual grocery shopping before we tore ourselves away from the couch at home and went for the Big Issues Night.

The big issue was the legalisation of assisted suicide/euthanasia in Vic and we had a couple of very eminent practitioners speak, both members of St Alf’s. JB is a highly qualified, experienced and decorated medical doctor/psychiatrist and MS is a senior lawyer, ex Crown Counsel of Victoria and now partner of a law firm as well as a founder director of a think-thank for civil society concerns. I guess one can say Saturday night was a richly rewarding 2 hours and a far cry from a day of gardening, footy following and such other more down to earth pursuits.

We learned a ministerial advisory panel had been set up, will finalise its report sometime in the next month or so and would by July, introduce draft legislation to legalise assisted suicide. We learned the difference between physician assisted suicide and voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. We learned of the experience of those living in Netherlands, Belgium, Oregon and about half a dozen other states in the US – all with similar legislation. We learned how much of an under-utilised area of medicine palliative care is, and how there is such a big chance that the outcome of this bill will be driven by individual experiences of people – MP’s – whose experience could have been so different had issues like palliative care, common good and slippery slope (logical weakness notwithstanding) been taken into account.

For the umpteenth time, I wondered about the type of society we live in. I am tempted yet again, to take the easy route by concluding therein like yet another evidence that man simply wants to rebel against God. In this instance, it is to thumb our nose at the pinnacle of his creation – human life – and say to him, “this too, I am rejecting”

When we got home I was yet again very grateful for being part of the community at St Alf’s and wo looked forward to the next morning.

At brekky on Sunday morning I looked up the church directory – just to be sure about the name of the gentleman we spoke with during a coffee break of the night before. Then it was to Madam K we went – before we went looking for some stuff to alleviate the harshness of winter. After the usual cooking (by me) and ironing (Tress) we both spoke to our mums later that afternoon and we talked about how the harshness of many things become more pronounced with age. It was good to speak with mum again. Apparently Goh – my brother in law – has been back from Suzhou to be with my sister and their boys. That was wonderful in part but we wondered if that meant his work there would come to an end after all these years.

We both enjoy watching Master Chef so that was how we wound up our weekend – watching those very talented home cooks almost always evoke the very satisfying sense of bon viveur – and they keep me honest. They soften the harshness of big issues that surround the proposed changes in law concerning something that we all have to eventually face.

Buffet Car

On the day of Kiddo’s wedding, I drove Tress into town for her to be with the ladies for a marathon dolling up session. Kiddo, the bridal party and Tress were all getting a makeover. It was early when we went into town and my plan was to then get back to the house in Monash, walk LBJ and treat him well (we were going to leave him at home from around noon till late at night), get dressed myself and then drive back to the hotel in time for the car to be dolled up. As I had some time, I decided to get some confetti too, as the lady quarterbacking the proceeding in Canberra Baptist had, during the rehearsal, suggested we got some.

I still had some time before I had to leave for my duties so I sat in front of Kiddo’s bookshelf to see if there is anything I could take back to Melbourne with me. I had done that a couple of different instances too but that morning I settled on a classic tale in Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky’ St Petersburg tale in answer to Dicken’s Great Expectations in London (or is it some other work by Dickens…).

I didn’t start reading this in earnest until the end of last week however and I am slowly getting into a pacey rhythm and it has become a bit of a page turner. His characters have such depths and breadths in spite of such dreadful settings and circumstances. I’m now just getting into the stage where Raskolnikov, the protagonist, had just done his thing and was going through a hellish phase of “what have I done”. He’s a total wreck and every page invites a visit from the local constabulary. In a way, I think such a visit should come sooner rather than later, which would be for his own good.

My train rides have become in many ways, the highlights of my work days on account of the books that kept me company. I hope to keep commuting like this for a little while yet, for these slow cook types of satiables to be soaked up by yours truly. 

Those books have become little gourmets and those trains are my buffet cars.

Routines – It’s back on the menu

We’re creeping back to our normal routine. Creeping because traces of the wedding linger on – we spent Saturday arvo with 6 Chek & 6 Chim (Stephen and Paddy) and we found out that while they managed to spend time with their children in Sydney and here in Melbourne and did some other personal stuff, they would not have made this trip to Aus if not for the wedding. So I felt even more that we did the right thing to reach out to spend time with them.

Tress and I spent a quiet Friday night at home. We made some soup on the soup maker, settled down to watch the Saints beat the Giants, and went to bed early-ish. Sat morning we motored through the vacuuming etc before quickly getting to the station to keep our appointment. We had lunch at Degraves Street – our first – before moving on for coffee someplace else. We sat and talked, which is what’s most enjoyable these days. We talked about family, health, aspirations of the younger generation, and generally just caught up with what’s been happening in our lives. When we left them at Southern Cross – where they were catching the V-Line back to Woodend – I told myself I must keep them in prayers more diligently. Back home Sat night, we watched the Doggies v Tigers game before heading to bed.

Yesterday arvo, after we resumed our routine lunch at Madam K’s it was back to the cookout routine again. That was after Tress, LBJ and I had a very pleasant walk, which ended in the oval. We’re now part of the oval’s facebook page – a tool we use to keep walkers updated on whether the oval had any sports on or whether it was free for our four legged friends to muck around in. It was such a pleasant end to our walk I took a picture and posted it on that page to let everyone know it was gloriously free of sports. As our home look straight into the parkland adjoining the oval, we have become the de facto eyes for the oval’s dog loving community.

Later that evening, as we were finishing up the cookout, we watched the Hawks’ thrilling hold out against the Dees who had kicked a goal through Jordan Lewis to cut the margin to a mere 3 points. Thankfully the clock had only a minute left and veterans like Hodge and Burgoyne showed experienced resolute to bring us just the second win of this faltering season. Still, the routine of a weekend of catching up with people, footy games, Madam K, cooking and walking LBJ, was almost completely back. That was good.

Colder, contemplative days

The weather has now turned cold. In the kitchen at work this morning, while still in my coat with a scarf around me, the CEO remarked that he was awake around 5am for a call with our US colleagues and it was cold. I guess that was as much a statement about the weather as it was about the round-the-clock nature of our business. I left the office around 5pm – as I normally do – but was back on the phone on a conference call with some overseas colleague, also as I normally do. My team member was still at the office and she too was in on the call.

Not long after that call as I sat with Tress on the couch watching TV, I could feel the temperature heading south. An App said it was to be about 7deg by 9pm but it was only around 8pm. I used to think or wonder why the elderly felt they had to wear woollies even on a mild day. I now think there is positively a correlation between age and feeling cold. By 9pm I was cold and said to Tress I’d hit the sack and turn up the heat in the bedroom.

I climbed into bed with a fleecy top and had intended to remove that top before sleeping. I ended sleeping in that thing through the night as I didn’t at any point in time through the night, felt warm enough to remove it.

As I woke to check the App again and saw a reading of 2.7deg, I felt a little assured it wasn’t entirely an age thing. It was cold. I had also taken the oil heater out of the box in the guest room the night before and put it on so the room was mildly warm but it was cold in the lounge and kitchen. I had also prepared a woolly jumper which kept me snug and warm.

I still had the soft and warm jumper on me when I made a cup of coffee just a short while ago – my first cup of warm beverage some 3+ hours after getting into work – but as I type this while sipping on that coffee, I am able to finally feel less cold. The jumper came off and I’m thinking surely now the long hot days are behind us for now. As I again contemplate what the winter holds, I again wonder what the Lord has in store for my/our days ahead, now that the “main event” of the wedding is behind us.

DJ Home

I don’t think I’ve seen as much of Melbourne or Victoria in a week as I had last week. From our “backyard” along Canterbury Road to out along the Surf Coast towards Port Campbell, from St Alf’s a suburb away to the Yarra Valley, from the markets in South Melbourne and city fringe to the wonderful autumnal splendour of Woodend and Macedon Ranges and right through different nooks and crannies of the CBD, including the vast shopping precinct of the South wharf, hitherto an greenfield to yours truly – I’ve been to more places in Melbourne and its outer reaches within a week than at any time in the past. To top it all off, I went to these places with my brother David and his wife Jean, who were finishing up their antipodean holiday after Kiddo’s wedding, a couple of weeks ago now.

Tress was with us earlier in the week on Monday and Tuesday (Anzac Day) and could only be with us again over the weekend so for 3 whole days, I played tour guide and host to our Malaysian visitors.

It was a wonderful week. I got to spend time with David and Jean, slept in, ate (very) well and went to places I loved visiting (with the exceptions of Crown Casino, which was only a quick 5minute walk around, and the South Wharf DFO). The flipside was I skipped my daily readings and my routines were parked and driven by my visitors’ needs and wants. That wasn’t always a bad thing as it truly felt like a privilege to be attending to them.

David my brother had been very sick in early January 2016, and in a couple of instances at that time I did not know if I would get to spend time with him again. When he eventually came through we all felt a great relief. When I went to KL for a week’s work last year, we both made it a point to catch up and he/they sounded really excited about their visit for Kiddo’s wedding. I guess it often takes a major jolt for us to shake off the inertia that numbs us into inaction in our relationship building space.

They left on Sunday night and landed safe and well yesterday morning. So from now I guess our lives return to its normal cycle and I’m sure at some point – possibly not too far away – the monotony and the drudgery will surely kick in. Winter will soon be upon us and with the Hawks not so happy, footy will only provide a limited respite.

On the arvo before David and Jean left, we took them to a shopping centre as Jean was looking for a certain footwear. Tress mentioned she wanted a certain type of winter coat and she got one and she mentioned it would come in handy when we visit Canberra. I wondered about that as I wasn’t sure I’d make another trip anytime soon, especially given our last trip there included some issues I had about us rooming in Kiddo’s new home. I’m also not sure we can presume to make our lodgings there in their home, when we visit. Anyway, that coat looked great on Tress and 3 days hence, I must admit I’m much less uptight about making another trip to see how the newlyweds are fairing. So I looked it up and the next school holidays will be from 30 June – pretty cold time for south Canberra, in the “cold plains”. I’m sure Tress would enjoy that new coat then. Maybe that could be a no frills respite for us.

With the last of our guests having left Aus, life hopefully reverts to some form of normalcy. Yet, normal isn’t always best, my preferences notwithstanding.

No turning back

I sit, alone, at the dining table of a house I did not want to be in. 

We arrived late last night from Canberra, having completed the last leg of a very long haul. Literally and metaphorically. After some more cleaning up and sorting out the monetary gifts which we brought to Melbourne with us, we spent the arvo tracking the whereabouts of Tress’ parents. They’ve been on a whistle stop gallivant with Tress’ uncle and aunt, through the nook and cranny of the west and outer west. 

They came to Melbourne all those years ago and could have easily bought somewhere more accessible to the rest of us in the east. 

Alas everything is a business proposition for them so they sought out monetary value, forsaking all else. What they pinched and saved, the rest of us pay in the form of time and effort every time there is a family event or when family visit. Groups of people have to make the swinging patterns between the eastern and western suburbs. 

I’m in the midst of one of those family events now, having been blackmailed and verbally assaulted to make the drive out west, and despite  having already made that shitty drive from Canberra just last night. Yet despite having left Malaysia for years, I’m still enslaved by its customs of unspoken rules of etiquette. 

I don’t want to be here now. But I am. 


It was a near diabolical weekend, weather wise. (I wont mention the Hawks…) The very wet and windy conditions persisted and this morning I had to leave with full winter gear.

Saturday morning held out for a bit and it only changed for the worse later that arvo. So in the morning while Tress was getting her hair done at Simon’s, I cleaned the windows and fly screens of the bedrooms, before I vacuumed the house and wiped down benchtops, window sill and many other surfaces. Post wedding, the house will see more people using those rooms and other spaces and so cleanliness has to ratcheted up a notch. Those cleaning tasks were for the earlier and most parts, relatively quiet tasks, without noisy tools and machineries. So we could start early – around 8.30am – without worrying about waking up our neighbours on a weekend morning. This meant we could finish the tasks soon after noon, by which time Tress had also picked up the hoop for Kiddo’s gown, from the bridal gown shop nearby. Tress and I then went shopping and other than groceries Tress also picked up some newer and fresher pillows for our coming guests.

Later that night, as we sat on the couch and I watched Bale, Pitt, Gosling etc on that very watchable movie about shorting securities leading up to the collapse of the housing market in the US back in 2007/2008, we fought hard to stay awake even though the movie was very enjoyable and it was relatively early. Both the advantage and disadvantage Netflix were clearly demonstrated that night – we could watch a very enjoyable movie anytime but because we could watch it anytime, we also forgot that we had watched it before. Tress and I had clear recollections of various parts of the movie – we both were pretty sure we had watched it before.

On Sunday morning it was again very wet and it was Palm Sunday so we had a bit of an upbeat start in St Alf’s. As it would be a very short week for us, I didn’t do the usual cooking – we had decided to just pack sandwiches for the couple of days this week, before we head up to Canberra on Wednesday. Instead, I did the ironing as Tress prepped up remaining little tasks before the arrivals commence later that night.

It was still very dark, wet and windy when I finished typing this up a short while ago. They say it’s always darkest before the dawn. I hope this means this week will be awesome.

Blainey’s Perceptive Tyranny

When we were at Kiddo’s home in Canberra over the Labor Day long weekend, I picked up Geoffrey Blainey’s “Tyranny of Distance” from her shelf. What an irony. I was reading PG Lim’s memoir and so I didn’t start this Aussie classic until about over a week ago. I’m just a little over the half way mark.

Last night Tress rang her parents and I think for the first time it hit Tress’ mum just how oppressive that tyranny can be. She sounded shocked to learn Canberra is about 7 hours away by road. We must have mentioned it to her several dozen times before in the many years our lives have been subject to that tyranny but now that people close to her – people like Uncle Jin’s family and Auntie Hooi’ – will be making this trip, it hits her. It finally sank in and she sounded horrified. I had just finished cooking the week’s meals – chicken curry with home made spices – after catching up with some office work, and Tress had just done the brekky after having finished the ironing earlier. So I was a little relaxed as otherwise I would have uttered even louder, what I said under my breath, namely “mum, we have been saying that to you for years”.

Distance is a tyranny for Australia. Even here in Melbourne. Ruth my cousin is technically living and working in Melbourne. Their new home – a farm out at Woodend – is on the fringe of the western suburbs but she works for Western Suburb health so that’s fine. For us to visit her however, it’s a 90-minute drive each way. That assumes traffic flows reasonably well and most Melburnians know that is not always a safe assumption. And so although she’s moved into her new home for maybe a month and a half now, we have yet to visit them. I guess that is partly down to us being busy in recent weeks but the tyranny of distance is the bigger culprit, as our “busy-ness” had included back to back footy at the MCG and meals with the Hipos and Chews and time with our home group, including that very thought provoking memorial service for Elena on Friday arvo, for which I was able to get away from work to attend.

This tyranny of distance is not just for relationships and well-being within Australia. It affects how Australia relates to the rest of the world too. Since moving to Melbourne, our overseas trips have dwindled dramatically. Last winter Tress and I had a quick escape to Hawaii and the warm weather and warm beaches were great respite in the middle of winter. It was a lovely holiday but everytime I asked Tress if she’d like to go again she shuddered at that 10+ hour flight. Our friends have loved travelling to places like Japan, Korea, Taiwan and such other destinations but I have zero inclination to visit. The sheer thought of making those long flights kill any interests I might otherwise have had. My bucket list for travel remains jumping on the Ghan to vertically traverse the Outback and see Ayers Rock. The tyranny feels far easier to tame when one embraces the journey, especially the romance of being close to the red earth and being up close and personal with the monolithic behemoth.

It is hard to embrace the monotonous behemoth that is The Hume Highway however, and Canberra as an institution of federalism and its consequential governmental webs of tentacles around the lives of Australians, remains such an artificial and manufactured place that one needs to be totally philosophical about the journey to deal with the tyranny. As usual, Geoffrey Blainey is such fun to read because what he says resonates with our experience of this vast sunburnt country.