Bright Weekend

We used to watch the Australian version of the master chef cook show on Channel 10. One of those episodes some time back, was filmed at the Victorian high country. It looked so pretty and attractive. Conversations with friends confirmed we had to check it out and so on Friday morning Tress and I drove to Bright for the long Anzac Day weekend. Jason and Mel came along with us but drove separately in their own car as we had the little furry ball with us and I wasn’t sure they were up to being cooped up in the same car with him for 4 hours.

The distance was about 320-330 km away, north east of Melbourne. It took nearly 4 hours however – partly because once we turned off the Hume at Wangaratta, it was country road and partly also we (I in particular) have become accustomed to driving with much less passion and fervour speed wise. I have come to enjoy a drive without needing to floor the pedal. Maybe it is down to the simple vehicle I could afford – a Nissan X-trail cant gallop like a thoroughbred no matter how lead footed I become. Or it could be an age thing – the days of charging up and down a Malaysian highway doing speeds of up to 180km per hour are truly things of the past. Or maybe it’s the law. Hefty fines aside, the demerit point system is a great encourager of law abiding behaviour on the road.

We left home on Friday morning, just before 10am, and made our way to the Hume. Jason and Mel followed behind. We got to Myrtleford just after lunch, and made a pit stop of sorts. Myrtleford is only about 30km from Bright but we couldn’t check into our little cottage before 2pm anyway so we walked around in Myrtleford, had lunch, and basically took in the beautiful autumn colours of the high country. Towards 2pm we completed the remainder 30km of the drive and got to the cottage.

We had a pleasant surprise. Kaye’s cottage is only minutes away on foot to the town centre, and it was light, clean and airy. It has a beautiful little deck and backyard and a neat little sunroom which Scruffi could wander in. The kitchen too was clean, light and well kitted out.

The only snag was it was a 2 bedroom property and only one room had a double bed with an ensuite. The other room was a 2-single and had to use the property’s other – main – bathroom. I had written an email to Jason and Mel about a week before the trip reminding them of this and giving them the choice of room. They were either too busy or too polite but they never responded to the email on that point.

Notwithstanding this, once we got there they quietly – almost by stealth – opted for the double room with ensuite, without a whisper to us. Ah well, it wasn’t a big deal but for someone who regularly prided himself as “simple, straight forward” this (and other behaviours during the trip) suggests otherwise. It really was and is only a very small matter and it didn’t affect the trip in any way but I cannot deny it confirms for me, that no matter what we profess, reality in the form of actual conduct/behaviour always speaks louder than what we say over dinner tables or write on emails. I would have gladly acceded to their request to use the room had they raised it – like I said I even emailed them a week earlier stating this but they didn’t so much as whisper a word on the matter…

Well we got into Bright town after dropping off our stuff, walked to the town square with a pretty monument where wreaths were placed in memoriam of Anzac Day. The oak/maple trees around the monument were starting to turn shades of gold and red and it was a very pretty sight. We walked by the river, had a beer in the Bright Brewery, and checked out every pretty street. After a little while we started to look for a place for dinner but every decent looking place was booked out. We went back to the cottage and started looking at brochures to ring for reservations but it looked like other than pubs, all other establishments had been fully booked. So we ended up in a pub and had some pizzas, which were also pretty decent.

We went home that night and watched a DVD. “Beyond the Hills”, a Romanian story about abuse of a young lady in an orthodox monastery which killed her. Yet again, it showed how good intention alone can often lead to disastrous results. No one was patently malefide and yet a tragic ending was the result. The ending scene was poignant for me. As the monastery dwellers sat in the van looking into modern civilisation running – simultaneously as a “business as usual” basis as well as rebuilding/reconstruction – the background remains cold and wintery. As they stared into this scene, mud splashed across the windscreen, with the wiper not doing quite enough to clean things away. Great movie, although I doubt my companions enjoyed it.

What they clearly enjoyed were the other two movies we watched – one with Christian Bale in the Nanking massacre setting (Flowers of War) and the other is a Czech holocaust setting with a comedy of sorts thrown in, very cleverly. So a non-conventional foreign language movies weekend it was for us, away in Victorian high country. How very interesting, how very pleasant and memorable.

We got home late on Sunday arvo – just in time for us to watch the final quarter of Hawthorn thrashing the Tigers. It turned out my boss who is a big Tigers fan, was at the match with a few mates all of whom are Hawks fans. Poor him.

The coming weekend, Tress’ family will be visiting from Malaysia. I’m kind of looking forward to that, and sincerely wish Uncle Jin a great 60th birthday celebration.


Stations in life

I was a little bit excited this morning, as I looked forward to watching the champions’ league semi-final match between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. We used to have battle royals with these teams in Europe but alas, post Fergie we are now likely to not even be in Europe, let alone play in the ECL. Moyes’ departure has generated many column inches too and whoever comes in to replace him has a huge rebuilding task – something Fergie could not do in his final years, probably due to a restrained budget.

I was going to watch the second half of the game on the cross trainer in the gym this morning, and as I waited for the train, I stole glances at the live report on the BBC app.

And then… the train stalled at Laburnum, a little station just before Box Hill. A couple of minutes later the driver made an announcement that there has been yet another intrusion into the tracks. A lady was threatening self harm and police were on the scene. The train ended up delayed, and it changed plans to head into Flinders directly and bypassed the city loop. I had to get off at Richmond and wait for another train – all in a 20 minute delay.

To top it off, for one reason or another, the tv on the cardio machines couldn’t get SBS this morning so I ended up watching a grand total of maybe 10 seconds of highlight on the ABC news.

So I was a little annoyed. What stayed in my mind though, were thoughts about that woman on the tracks, and the apparent increased occurrence of such events. It must have been the third time this year, where someone got onto the train tracks and train schedules and operations were messed up as a result. I said a prayer for that woman this morning. Life must have become so confused, so tangled and so difficult generally, for someone to contemplate that. What events could have triggered that outcome? Did she have no one to turn to? To be sure, thoughts about being under the influence of alcohol or drugs crossed my mind. But those could be the symptoms and not the cause. Even if drugs and alcohol brought this on, one probably still has to work out what those triggers might have been. Or could drugs and alcohol actually be the cause?

I wondered how many lives were affected other than that lady’s. On the platform at Richmond station, two men donning Australia Post tradies’ garbs made calls saying they would be late. Several other people were on the phone. Me missing that Real Madrid game really should pale into complete insignificance. Almost certainly however, none of the resultant inconveniences would have stacked up against that lady’s challenges. I also wondered if life in the suburbs of Melbourne has generally become more challenging for some. Why is there an escalation of such incidents? Or is there? It may just be my perception. I may be growing old and grumpy and taking more notice of such disruptions to my commuting. But then again there really could be an escalation of such incidents. If indeed there has been an escalation, why? How can I, how can the church, make a difference?


Better Easter Weekend

Tress and I both left work early on Thursday before Good Friday. It was just 20 minutes or so early for me to pick up the dry cleaning before they close for the 4-day weekend. We then met up with Jason and Mel for dinner at a new place on Middleborough Road. A Singaporean food joint (Newton Circus) had replaced another Singaporean one (Tang’s Family Restaurant) and we used to visit the old one fairly frequently. The new one was ok – not too bad but nothing to shout about anyway. We probably won’t be going back anytime soon anyway.

On Friday I woke early – this despite going to bed only near midnight the night before. We attended the Good Friday service which was very good. The focus was on the cross, and of course, the events leading to the crucifixion – all told from the Bible and songs focused on that theme. On the stage in front was a cross draped with long red satin cloth which flowed down the stage. We were each given a black stone on the way in, and towards the end, we wrapped the stone in red crepe paper and placed it on the satin cloth. Our sins, cold and hard, wrapped in Jesus blood and washed and no longer visible when placed at the foot of the cross, said Jordan Hitchcock one of the ministers in St Alf’s. We had sung Graham Kendrick’s “Come and see” as the first song, where the line Worship at His feet, where wrath and mercy meet” stuck in my mind for the entire weekend.

Sat we slept in, went to Madam K’s for an early lunch, and then went to that home centre place in Springvale (where Ikea is) and looked around for a couch/lounge set. We weren’t successful… we stopped by Strawberry Point to mainly get some flowers which we wanted to bring to church on Easter Sunday. Tress got some roses and on Sunday morning we each placed a rose on the cross at the foyer. After church it was Madam K’s again and then we went home and we took advantage of the better weather (it had been raining for days before that) to clear up the garden. We had wanted to have a go at the inaugural “Sunday@4” service but the gardening sucked me in and by the time we were done it was nearly 5pm.

On Monday Tress and I trekked into the city and window shopped in the newly minted Emporium. As school kids back in Klang, Emporium Makan was affectionately known as “EM” and it is often a rendezvous for groups. I said to Tress Melbourne has finally caught up and has its own “EM” (Emporium Melbourne). We milled around the large crowds, and then trained into MCG for the big game between Geelong and the Hawks. We had the cheap tickets way up nearly at the top where it was windy… The Hawks lost (Tom Hawkins mauled us in the last quarter), we came home and started to reframe our minds for the new working week, after a very relaxing 4 days off. That isn’t all – there’s another long weekend coming up and we’d be heading to Bright in the Victorian highlands (Mt Hotham etc) this time.

Life’s turns

When I turned 20, I was in Australia. My parents were in Malaysia.

Kiddo turned 20 yesterday. She is in Singapore. Her parents are in Australia.

Strange turns are a given in life, perhaps more so today than before.

When I turned 20 in Sydney, I had started work in the fish markets in Pyrmont for maybe 4 months. It was a totally unexpected turn for me. Kiddo turned 20 and would probably get a taste of working life before too long, albeit in the form of traineeship or something like that.

Whatever turns life offers, I hope none of us in the family ever turn away from God.

Wedding in Daylesford

We missed out on a nice weekend away at a B&B in Daylesford but had it replaced by a bus-in and bus-out “day trip” instead, which had its nice bits.

Tress and I went to that lovely part of hippie country on Saturday for a wedding. Uncle Seng organised that bus and about 20 people got onto that rickety vehicle around lunch time, arriving about under an hour before the event. The Lake House spa and restaurant is a beautiful spot, with a fantastic reputation as a great restaurant too. We milled around a spot on lakeside from about 3pm, and although the wedding didn’t start till well over an hour later, people were generally in high spirits while waiting.

The wedding was simple and most of the guests were touched mainly by the fact that Uncle Jin, the father of the bride, had been diagnosed with cancer just about a couple of months earlier and had been undergoing chemotherapy. The illness and treatment bedraggled him and to see him dark and gaunt, barely able to walk but obviously so happy, caused many tears. After the simple service, the party moved towards the reception venue and while we waited for dinner, sat on the patio with drinks and witnessed the tea ceremony. This ceremony is easy to hold on to, because it offers obvious advantages which comparable practices of other cultures lack in terms a well-defined structure and clarity of expectations. The opportunity to be formally introduced to family members seals the creation of a sub-unit within the larger whole and allows it to relate to that wider fabric in a clear way.

So a touching service, followed by a meaningful ceremony. All that is needed now is a big party and the dinner reception did it too in spades. The food was great, the speeches were good, and the dances beautiful. It looked like a very good wedding all up.

If life is about the here and now, then who needs religion? Who needs God? Who needs the church? A wedding can be beautiful without God, His church and His people. But life isn’t about the here and now. It isn’t about how we feel, how good things and people are to each other. In spite of all the good things of the day, every single person who were there, who didn’t have a relationship with God through the saving grace of Jesus, would perish and face eternal death. It is always about God, His word, His people. If only we can help those we care for come to that life where God, His word and His people matter.

Home Group Riches

We were at the home group meeting of our church last night and someone talked about a recent conference in Sydney, which was jointly organised by World Vision and Centre for Public Christianity. The main speaker in that conference was Miroslav Volf. I remember coming across his work when researching essays in MST days. As usual, I read what fancied me instead of what the work required and although the research lead to Miroslav Volf, I only needed maybe a couple of hours of reading on something he wrote. I ended up reading article after article, extract after extract – all way off the topic I had started my research on. So last night when Tress and I got home after the home group meeting, I looked up ABC’s iView on the ipad and streamed the Q&A program of maybe 3 weeks earlier, when Miroslav appeared on that wretched program.

MV was certainly an interesting character. Interesting enough for me to jump on amazon to search for his book. I got the forgiveness one because that happens to be topical now. I’m sure I’d learn heaps from it. As I would from this home group.

Will we ever be free?

Interesting discussions on freedom and its limits have been circulating in the media and have even found their way into our church pulpit. We have been listening to a series of sermons on 1 Corinthians which had a lot to say about our freedom and how we ought to exercise this.

The media’s interest emanated from the government’s initiative to amend a law which prohibits a person from publicly saying anything which would likely offend someone or a group of people. On the surface this looks like good law. Peeled away, this becomes a policy issue which in turn becomes a philosophical one.

In the context of Australian society, I believe it is not good law. Australians are by and large, sensible and reasonable people who are (again generally) decent and fair. Also, they cherish freedom – freedom to say what they think. A fair and decent community, who is sensible and reasonable, would very quickly articulate countervailing views and arguments against any proponents of ills such as racism and bigotry. Freedom to say something which may be offensive will very quickly be met with disapproval by such a community. It will lose credibility and before long, currency. Someone would soon say “Oh, shut up” and everyone would approve and support. The racist and bigot would be left in no doubt the community rejects his or her views and such views would certainly not be acted on.

It is also not good law because there is no generally discernible way of ascertaining what is reasonable. The law in question criminalise an act which is reasonably likely to cause offence, humiliate etc. In a free society however – especially one which encourages diversity – what is that reasonableness? Malaysians find it acceptable to ask someone how much he/she earns or what he/she weighs. That would certainly offend and humiliate for another group of people, such as most of the Anglo Saxon community. When no standards exist, the court makes one up and this is usually the view of the presiding judge. So a single person, as opposed to the community at large, gets to determine if what is said publicly is acceptable or is offensive and so may not be said.

Are there groups which require protection from offensive opinions publicly aired? Maybe. Minority ethnic groups or special interest groups can be subject to unfair or inappropriate comments or remarks which amount to ridicule or vilification. But as before, a community which is fair and decent would soon perform that role and makers of such comments or remarks will no doubt find out very soon, that their views form a very small minority and are not well regarded. But they should be free to air their views – who knows, there might be some aspects of what they say – perhaps regarding how the behaviour of minority or ethnic groups need to be altered in the context of their new home – which may resonate and be acceptable to the community? The freedom to express a view is basic. That view may be totally wrong, may be reprehensible even vile, or may resonate well. That’s all for step 2. Step 1 – the freedom to express, should stand. Especially in an open, generally fair, educated and articulate community such as Australia.