Pulling One’s Head In


The Chinese year of the dog started last Friday. I have never been a big CNY person. I enjoy the “tuan nian” dinner when everyone would back in the home of the eldest living person of the extended family, on the eve and a big dinner happens, with a spread big enough to break a large dining table. Other than that, there is little else I enjoy about the festivities.

So, I went along with a couple of cursory elements such as dressing up in shades of red when Tress asked me to and going to a dinner at U Jin’s notwithstanding that was way yonder in Point Cook.

That dinner was on Sat night and Tress and I had spent the morning cleaning up the garden. Tress did loads of clearing up around the herbs area, where weeds had started to take over. I did my usual trimming, mowing and sweeping, along with a bit of mulching. Tress had made a cake earlier and so all we had to do was to make a salad. U Seng messaged us to get a ride so we stopped by his place en route to PC.

There were a bunch of people at the dinner, mostly extended family on Tress’ side. There were a few people from Marina’s (U Jin’s daughter) café. There was a lot of eating and laughing so that was really nice. David (Tress’ cousin) and Jessica his partner, sort of became a centre of attention somewhat, as most of us realised for the first time, they were expecting a baby. We were soon talking about the baby, including whether David, who is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, was going to be the doctor in charged. Of course he was never going to be that, with the whole thing pregnant with conflict galore. Tress and I also talked to and got to know Jessica, who is German, a little bit better.

We left U Jin’s just after 11pm and just when we were a few minutes from arriving home, we got a call from Auntie Pin, who told us Tress had left her phone behind. So we had to organise to get it back the next day and thankfully Marina offered to take it back with her to her apartment in Docklands.

So the next day after St Alf’s we trekked into the city on the metro, met with Marina in an apartment in Docklands which she was checking out to buy, and picked up the phone. We then wanted to head to Hawker Chan, a Singapore Michelin Star winner for hawker food, on Lonsdale Street. We had to snake our way through thick crowds on Little Lonsdale and Russell Street, which was closed to vehicle traffic (only food traffic allowed) to host Chinese New Year stalls. Hawker Chan had a long queue outside, so we headed to another joint before doing some window shopping in the city.

We headed home just before 4, did some grocery shopping and then went home and walked the little fellow. Later as Tress started preparing the morning brekky for today, the cricket on the oval finished but the players had a celebration of sorts in the clubhouse. There was Bollywood music blaring from the clubhouse and as the clubhouse was only about 200-300m from our home, it was loud enough to be a distraction in our home.

As I closed the windows to reduce the noise, I asked myself what has happened to the Australia we came to, all those years ago. When I first came to Sydney back when Bob Hawke was PM, it took a few months but then I fell in love with Australia. I have always loved living here since that time. Australians, as far as I understand, work hard, hate making a fuss of anything, preferred to laugh away most things thus earning that laidback persona now well known in most circles all over the world. We’d be as quick to tell someone to pull his head in – ie don’t make too much of a fuss of anything – as we’d be to check ourselves so as to stay quiet. It is a lesson I find myself needing to learn over and over again, as I seek to overcome my impatient fault-finding self. We also love our wide-open spaces where we’d wander along to find our own nooks and corners to enjoy peace and quiet. We hate a scene and we hate behaving like seagulls or galahs, making unnecessary ruckus of anything. Other than at sporting events or rock concerts, we hate crowds and loud noises.

So when I think of the arvo I had – one where Chinese New Year brought noise, crowd and mayhem on the streets in the city and where cricket teams made up mostly of people of Indian descent blare loud music in an oval clubhouse located in a quiet residential area – I wondered what people who treasured peace and quiet like I do, must have thought about what has become of this country.

The laidback Aussies would probably not say much about such new phenomena in our backyard. We’d pull our heads in and find another quieter spot. This country is still big enough. I wonder if that partly explains why in the past year, I’ve looked at making a “tree-change”, seeking to move away and into quieter pockets here in Melbourne.

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Awash


In recent months, I’ve turned on the sprinkler on the front lawn, about an hour before sunset. I’d leave it on for about 20 minutes. Yesterday, while the sprinkler was spitting, a couple of magpies descended onto the lawn. They stood under the showers, apparently having a wash. Even if you’re free as a bird, you need the occasional wash, it would seem.

Tress home


Tress came home on Sat. I had spent the day cleaning the house, spread out over two sessions. I vacuumed and wiped down the front of the house in the morning, before heading off to the red cross blood service in Ringwood.

The Red Cross Blood Service had sent out notices on a shortage of plasma and I had responded towards the end of last year. I was surprised you could donate plasma in short intervals, unlike whole blood which requires a break of a few (3) months. Plasma you could do every month, and there is no interruption even if you visited a country like Malaysia recently – something which would disqualify you from whole blood donation for a few (4) months. Plasma separated and collected, I tucked in to some party pies and mini sausage rolls right there, before heading home to continue the cleaning process.

House cleaning done, I did a quick grocery shopping before heading home to give the little guy a walk.

Then I caught a bit of a shut eye before heading to the airport to get Tress.

Alexandra parade and the start of M3 were undergoing some road maintenance work so traffic was crawling and we finally got home just after 12. We were both very tired but needed to, after some quick unpacking, settle down with a drink – I had my wine while Tress had her beloved Milo. I finished watching the Spurs v Gunners game before going to bed way past 1am.

We skipped St Alf’s the next day, having slept in till about 9am. We basically stretched out to unwind the past 2-3 weeks’ tensed up visit to Malaysia and all the trimming that came with that episode, before heading out to a late lunch and coming home to cook the week’s meals.

Tress took the little guy across the house to the oval for a walk as I finished up with the cleaning post cooking. It was a lovely cool evening and it was really nice walking in that condition. I think the little guy enjoyed his walk even more now that Tress is back.

LBJ wasn’t the only one pleased to have Tress home. It’s been really good with Tress back. For the umpteenth time, I confirmed I am no good alone without her around.

Weekend alone, work joys


I woke this morning to a wonderful photo of Tress’ family over dinner together last night. Her dad looked a little tired but he is otherwise on the mend. We discussed her return dates yesterday and at this stage it looks likely she’ll be back this weekend. That would be great as it has been horrible without her around.

On Friday night I took a walk and ended up having some pub grub. The live band played some Paul Kelly numbers so that was nice.

On Saturday, after a futile visit to the local Bunnings (they didn’t have the line trimmer cords I needed), I immersed myself into work tidying up the outside – I worked single-mindedly on the hedges, at one point taking some risks and nearly fell off the ladder. I had to place the A-frame ladder parallel to the hedges and it wobbled and threatened to tip over. A desperate grabbing of some rough and large pittosporum trunks saved me from a fall which at my age, would have been dire indeed. I ploughed on after that and completed the trimming, mowing and sweeping routines before continuing to scrub some bird droppings off the deck, and finally moving on to wash the MX5. Late that same arvo, having scrubbed off and walked LBJ, I took the glistening MX5 for a drive and it provided temporary relief from being alone without my better half.

Sunday after St Alf’s I headed to the local supermarket, got some stuff for another toastie meal, and went home to make another sandwich meal.

Then it was laundry and then off to the library – I had finished the book on Charles Bean Kiddo gave me and there was nothing to read at home. I picked up a fiction piece this time (Tom Winton) – and headed home, prepared for the work week, and took the little guy for his walk.

Interspersing all the activities with WhatsApp video calls with Tress was both very nice and disruptive – when there were no chores left to do, those calls were exactly what I needed.

*****

Last Friday a colleague came up to my desk and told me he had resigned. An intelligent guy who managed some key accounts, he was well liked and respected and I enjoyed working with him. So it was a sad piece of news.

He must have been the 20th or so person I worked with who has parted ways with the company. Like many before him, he joined the company after me so I guess it is a testament of the sort of future this company promises for its employees, that so many have such short tenures – they seem to leave the first chance they get.

I’m just continuing to put my head down and plough away. I have worked up a routine – I don’t know if I like it or not. I have come to think that the idea of work satisfaction/enjoying what you do can be overrated or overplayed. Most work require application/industry/just plain rolling up your sleeves and working on stuff. Whether that is enjoyable or brings satisfaction is a distant secondary consideration.

I have a routine which sees my days utilised doing work which helps an organisation manage it legal risks. That routine helps my days pass easier and I earn a living out of it. Those are easily and by far the more important factors than whether I enjoy doing what I do. Often, satisfaction is derived not from performing the task per se but from being gritty and staying the course to complete the task.

“There and back again”…


I got into Tullamarine last night, just before 10. I made a beeline towards the immigration gates, waited impatiently for my bag to appear on the carousel, almost ran out to catch the shuttle bus to the long term car park, and took the drive home, finally reaching home just after 11pm.

After a quick and minimal unpacking, I realised to my horror that I simply couldn’t sleep. We had been going to bed way past 11pm KL time the past week and so it was only about 8.30pm when I got ready to go to sleep. I was also a bit peckish so I boiled an egg, poured myself a glass of red and tried to watch some TV. It was nearly 1am – 10pm KL time – when I finally slept. So, waking up at my usual pre-dawn hour was a bit of a struggle for me this morning.

Tress’ dad had been out of the woods on Tuesday, having been released from intensive care into the general ward. My mother in law was back to her usual bundle of energetic joy, providing a study in contrasts from a week ago, when we first arrived. Her husband had been sedated in intensive care then, with tubes hanging out of him and looking very grim. That night Vic, Tress’ younger brother and eldest son, had gotten the family together to pray. My mother in law was beside herself, sobbing and pleading for his recovery. She looked tired and weak and we were all in a bad place.

The few days in that intensive care were testing for the whole family. He was under the care of a specialist physician but he really needed a respiratory medicine specialist – I think they’re called pulmonologists – which that hospital didn’t have. The family battled to get him referred to Sunway Medical, which has reputable respiratory specialists. He was finally transferred there on Friday and everyone, not least my father in law, felt much better for it. He had been through some very dark places, with thoughts of mortality front and centre every single moment. His sense of morbidity was communicated to all and sundry and we all tried to persuade him he would be better.

So, for a whole week, our days alternated between the hospital and home. We’d sneak in meals near Tress’ family home by stealing some local treats when we could. Tress’ other brother generously offered us the use of their daughter’s bedroom, so we stayed there, two middle aged persons holed up in a teenager’s colourfully adorned room. Tress and I are very grateful because that meant we could be with the family the whole time. We had booked a hotel room nearby but nothing beats being under the same roof at such times. There is a deeper shared sense of concerns, worries and struggles, and when there is a milestone achieved, the joy and gratitude is more commonly enjoyed. So in spite of the awkwardness of cramping into a teenager’s room and seeing that teenager sharing her brother’s, the experience was really good.

Klang remains bustling and numbingly free spirited. Having to drive to the hospital twice a day means braving the traffic up and down the Federal Highway, which has become even more congested since the tolls ceased. Drivers drift in and out of lanes without warning, and generally drove faster with a more heightened sense of haste. Getting through roundabouts and intersections is a gargantuan play chicken exercise and one needs to balance courage against care as drivers frequently barge in, daring oncoming cars to accept a challenge or forcing them to slow down or stop. The rule I distilled – don’t hit anyone/let anyone hit you – continue to reign supreme and when there is a traffic crawl, cars cramp into lanes, instantly converting a 3-lane highway into a 6 (or more) lane car park. Cars inch forward so close to each other you could have a casual conversation with the car next to you.

Other aspects of life in Klang are equally invigorating. One morning I wanted some Indian food so I walked through some shops. A short walk quickly turned into a dodge them exercise – cars double parking outside shops, pot holed roads, wet markets with water hoses running all over, crows scavenging and leaving chicken entrails and dead mice on roads and pavements, stray dogs snarling or pooping – your senses perk up and stay up the whole time. The sight, smell, noise and heat hit you constantly and from all directions. I’m not sure this was the home I left all those years ago but somehow, there is a sense of homecoming, the always on vigilance notwithstanding. Sometimes I feel so invigorated I toyed with the idea of living in Malaysia again. No sooner had such thoughts get sown when we would be caught in a massive jam and we wondered if we could ever get used to the Malaysian way again.

The ebb and flow of conflicting messages followed me too, when I saw my mum, my brother and his wife, and my sister and her two kids. They all looked well and it was again very good just to be with them, talking and sharing how our lives – and the lives of people around us and them – have been. I wanted so much to be with them but I’m not sure what I’d do and how I’d live there now that we have very much become settled here in Melbourne.

As I struggled to wake this morning and lumbered my way into the train, the sense of being home again is so comforting I cannot fathom returning to live in Malaysia. I think of returning only to be with Tress again – so thankfully, she too, will (hopefully) be back home in Melbourne again before too long.

My Father in law


He’s one of the sweetest, most gentle and agreeable men I know. A shrewd and astute businessman, he shines in providing for his family. So today as I watch him lie on a hospital bed with tubes going in and out of him, my heart ached. I was relieved when I witnessed Tress caress his forehead as he lay on his bed, heavily sedated in the intensive care unit of a hospital near his home here in Klang. Relieved because we get a chance to be with him and hopefully see him get better.

Tress and I flew out here early this morning. After battling past the immigration/customs blockades and the usual Klang Valley peak hour traffic, we got into his home just before 7pm, had a quick bite to eat and headed out to the hospital to see him. A short while ago the family got together to pray for him. I’m so proud of my in laws. They’re all such godly people now. Seeing how they are in immersed in the faith is so comforting. The battles rage on to see God’s hand in all of this but as the first book said, it is all good.

There are lots to write about and I hope to do so before too long.

Warm, sultry weekend, thoughts about visiting home


It has been very warm in Melbourne. Towards the end of last week it crept past the 40deg mark and life appeared much hazier as I stumbled around trying to keep focused and cool.

So when I left work on Friday night it was a sultry Melbourne CBD, the alleged cool change notwithstanding. That cool change crawled in but did not make its way to our neck of the wood till much later. By then we’ve had dinner with Jason and Mel and the Hipos at the newish restaurant near our home.

We then went home and watched the tennis, seeing the bad boy of Aussie tennis get into the next round. He’s been eliminated overnight so Australia continues its barren run in its own backyard.

Saturday we slept it as usual, took our time and lumbered around to work ourselves into the weekend housework. After walking the little guy, Tress did truckloads of weeding, and then went in to do the vacuuming. I did some edging along the lawns, trimmed the conifer golden hedges and the “cloud” hedges and generally worked the whipper snipper through the areas where the grass had crept into. Finishing with the mowing and sweeping took its toll on me – the hear and humidity thrashed me around and after cleaning up after 2pm I felt tanked.

Lunch at our usual place (Madam K) refueled us and after some grocery shopping we went home, walked the little guy again and finished the day with the tennis again.

I woke early on Sunday to catch the tail end of the Man City and Newcastle game, and again lumbered into the day after that. At St Alf’s the conditions remained sultry so it was surprising to me I could and did follow events closely.

I’ve been wanting to see if I could do more this year, to serve. Being in St Alf makes that head because everywhere you look, people are more knowledgeable, more experienced and appear to be more equipped to do much more than you. I just don’t feel I would be of use in any real sense of the word, compared with just about anyone. It feels I could just sit my way through my time there and everyone would have been equally ministered to, or even better ministered to.

We stumbled into Jason and Mel again at the lunch place after St Alf’s and so shared a table with them. They too, sound like they remain on the periphery of their congregation…

We went to the Bunnings store at Nunawading after lunch – I had wanted to look for some bird spikes to place around our deck as I’m sick of those minahs dropping their stuff around our deck. I couldn’t decide what would work best however so we parked that project.

After the usual cooking (for me) and ironing (for Tress) yesterday arvo, we just whiled away the day because it remained warm and humid. When we walked the little guy late in the arvo it stayed humid so we went home quickly too.

Tress had been exchanging messages with her little sister back home, with news of her dad’s being unwell. So we’ve upped our toying thoughts about visiting in the next few weeks. It would be CNY time too. Hopefully he gets better soon but as always, thoughts about being with the family always excite. Hopefully we get to see more of the family soon.

Lovely cool (albeit very wet) weekend


We had what was probably the wettest weekend this summer. It was raining and stormy on Friday arvo and to risk manage the MX5 which was parked near trees in the station, I left just around 4.30pm and headed home.

Car undamaged and home a touch earlier, Tress and I then headed out to a Korean restaurant for dinner. We had neither been to this part of town nor had Korean for a while so that was sort of an unusual Friday night for us. After dinner we went home and looked for something on Netflix. We settled on that awful “Daddy’s Home”. That was probably one of the worst way to waste 2 hours of one’s life.

Saturday we slept in, lazed around and then drove out to Ringwood. I had an appointment with the Blood Centre – it was the first time I gave plasma. The last time I gave whole blood (back in Nov last year) I was asked to consider giving plasma as there was a severe shortage. Incidentally, that morning we read in the Oz that Australia spent a truckload of dough last year importing blood products that could not be made locally as there was a shortage of plasma donors.

Tress had a wedding to attend in the city in the arvo so after Ringwood I dropped her off at the station and headed home. Later that arvo I trekked into the city and the both of us then had dinner in the city. We had wanted to visit a famed Michelin Star hawker place but it was bucketing down so we decided to stay in the Melbourne Central area and went for a famed Taiwanese place instead (“Din Tai Fung”). The food was really good and we sort of lazed the evening away in the shopping precinct before going home. We looked for something on Netflix again and thankfully, the Robert Redford/Nick Nolte double act in an Appalachian trail adventure was better, albeit equally lightweight.

Sunday we were on communion duty at St Alf’s and I felt uncomfortable being assigned next to Peter out on the front area, so I sighed a big relief when it was all over. We headed to our usual Sunday lunch spot on Doncaster Road, caught up with our grocery shopping and spent the arvo doing my usual cooking.

Sunday arvo remained cool but the rain had abated and it was gloriously sunny so we took the little fellow for a lovely walk as well as stopped to watch the cricket on the oval. The dog walkers who use the oval as a lead-free park often bemoan the cricket games but on occasion – when we got to somehow get on the periphery of the game (we watched and played with the kids of the players/support staff) – the sense of sharing the park so that a bigger group of people can enjoy this wonderful spot right in front of our home, was quite heart warming.

We ended the day by watching the doco on Diana. As I kissed Tress goodbye, as I usually do, this morning when I left home, I thought about how lucky/blessed I am. I am blissfully happy to be married to Tress – 26 years this year – while someone like Diana endured such an unhappy time when she was married to a prince. What irony and sadness. I wondered if she had really happy moments in her marriage.

Summer break 2017/18


Kiddo and Mic came down from Canberra on the 21st. They flew in, took the Skytrain from Tulla to Spencer and I met them there to take the train out to Blackburn. We had a few days of catching up, went to the Christmas Eve carols at St Alf’s which ended a minute before midnight, and on Christmas Day we trekked up to Woodend to spend the day with Ruth and family. Caleb, Cariss and Cooper came down a few days prior and Jonathan’s brother and his son were there too so it was a good day with lunch as an extended family of sorts. I had roasted a whole turkey that same morning and Tress baked a cake and we also did a salad, a noodle dish and a (bought) ham and Ruth had prepared loads of food as well so it was all a very good feed.

On Boxing Day we trekked the opposite direction and went out to Phillip Island to catch up with Mic’s family. Tress had again baked a cake and I cooked a similar noodle dish and we brought some other foodstuffs as well. We caught up with them in a home they had rented for the week, having trekked down from Canberra on an 11-seater bus – similar to the one I drive for the Manningham Salvos. We left after a couple of hours with them, and went to an early dinner. We were all very hungry then and Mic must have enjoyed the bottle of Pinot Gris I picked up at DM close to the restaurant, as he continued imbibing when we were home later, playing cards to wind up the night.

The next day as Tress and I busied ourselves to get ready for the drive up to Canberra, Kiddo said Mic had been unwell the night before. We waited as long as we could and when we finally left late in the morning, Mic was better but he was still visibly less then optimum. We got to Kiddo and Mic’s home in the evening and Mic stayed home while the rest of us had a quick dinner near the Hyperdome and then retired early for the onward drive to Sydney the next day.

Mic was much better when we drove to Sydney and we got in just after 2pm and quickly settled into the property at Bondi, where we were to camp out for a week.
Other than a day’s visit to the city, we pretty much camped out at Bondi the entire time. As usual, while in the city we did some window shopping but mainly took in the harbour views and enjoyed a quick drink in a café on the quay.

The property we stayed at was an enjoyable 15 minute walk to the beach and Tress and I took regular walks there and back. We also did the Bondi to Bronte walk, which Tress suggested – it was a magnificent 2km stretch of unbelievably beautiful views. We also did walks the other way to Bondi Junction, for food and (window) shopping. For New Year’s Eve, Kiddo and Mic shouted us to a fantastic tasting experience in a restaurant on Hall Street, just a stone’s throw from the beach. We walked the hilly path back after dinner and that again felt great.

We left Bondi on the 3rd, went back to Tuggers for a couple of nights and then pushed back to Melbourne on Friday the 5th.

It was a really good break and I felt we got to know the couple better. Kiddo has morphed into a wonderful wife and young professional who is passionate about her work. Mic is a wonderfully caring person and I have liked his sense of humour. My dad’s joke landed well several times and we had great laughs – mainly while playing cards. Mic, like Kiddo, also appears to be passionate about his work so that’s really good.

When we got back to Melbourne, it felt quiet again. I cleaned the cars and Tress did some laundry when we got back on Friday. Sat was a stinker – it hit 43deg at one stage so all I did was send my suits to the dry cleaner and gave our little guy a much needed bath. We spent the rest of the day just loitering in a shopping centre.

Sunday was much cooler and I did some mowing and cleaning up – mainly sweeping and tidying – as well as cooking again for the week’s lunches. That was the start of the feeling that we’re back to our normal routine again. The break’s been great – especially time spent with Kiddo and Mic. I found myself suggesting to Tress that we spent Chinese New Year with them…

While Tress and I love where we are in Melbourne now, there were moments when we were walking in the Lake Tuggeranong area, that I felt we could make a life nearer to Kiddo and Mic. That might all play out in Melbourne too I guess – they could move down here – but in as much as I’m contented with just Tress and I in our home across the oval where pooches have a ball, being together with a bigger family is something I can easily get used to again.

I’ve also been asking the Lord what I can do in 2018, to serve Him better. I have restarted reading from Genesis again and re-reading now of Jacob’s strategy to deal with his estranged brother on returning from Laban’s schemes, I wondered if like Jacob, I could have an encounter – a wrestle – to be sure I have God’s presence leading me some place in the days ahead.

Final gallop


The company had its Christmas party last Friday. It started only at 5pm however so it meant we went the whole hog work wise, before we could avail ourselves to some refreshments. It was on a rooftop of a pub just down the street and it turned out to be a far better party than the previous year. I left well after 10 and didn’t get home to nearly midnight. Tress had dropped me off at the station earlier that morning and she was there again to pick me up…whatever would I do without her…

The next morning Tress had a hairdresser’s appointment and when she left, I went to a favourite local bakery, picked up a couple of items and came back in time for Tress and I to have some much needed coffee to wash down the wonderful pastries.

Tress then did loads of washings as I cleaned the Weber to get it ready for the turkey, washed the windows and other exterior glass finishings around the house and generally lumbered through the morning. Late that arvo we went to Madam K, did some grocery shopping after that, and then went home to walk the little fellow.

We had picked up a couple of tickets for The Last Jedi, when we did the shopping so just after 6pm we were seated down to watch the much anticipated screening of George Lucas’ legacy, now owned by the behemoth that is Disney (they had just bought Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox).

I later said to Tress the script of TLJ no longer referred to the “Dark Side”, but instead, simply to the “Empire”. The struggle is no longer against the dark side. It was instead, against tyranny and supreme leadership (although against someone like Snoke, it is easier to be on the side of the rebellion). When one speaks of a “dark” side, the implication remains that there is right from wrong. Few want to live with that distinction these days, choosing instead to go with what’s popularly acceptable. Tyranny and dictatorship are easy targets, far easier than morality and truth. It is almost as if even Pontius Pilate’s “what is truth” mockery rates no mention these days.

Later that night we finished the last episode of the second season of “The Crown”, which hinted at Phillip the Duke of Edinburgh’s infidelity. We probably need another series to occupy our evenings after that.

On Sunday, after St Alf’s we trekked into the city in the mx-5, to meet up with an ex-colleague of Tress’. GBS worked with Tress in the early years of her career, and travelled to Europe together on a month-long training stint. Their fathers were friends too so although socially there weren’t too much interactions, the common history went some way back. We caught up at the South Melbourne market, had lunch and walked around through the shops a little bit. Back home, we lounged around, and I watched the cricket before taking the little fellow for a walk. It was around 6pm and it was too late (for me) to head to the Whitehorse Carols, so we just lounged around the home some more. I’m just glad we have the four working days to grind through before a couple of weeks of rest, away from work. Already this morning there has been a flurry of meetings teed up for when we return. I hope we can finish this week without too many other such scheduling.