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. 

Dawning


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.

Joy and sadness. Labour and rest.


We sat at our usual spot at church yesterday. Seated next to Tress was AC. As the service progressed, I could hear AC sobbing. Across the blocks I see Kiera too was wiping away tears. Both AC and Kiera were close to Elena and the sadness was palpable. I too was quite saddened. Tress wiped away a few tears too.

Later that night, Susan sent an email to all in the group, suggesting a meal later in the week to remember Elena. That was a good idea and even as the fog of yet another very warm night enveloped my mind, I found myself wondering why someone we knew quite little, touched us that much. Maybe it was her tireless advocacy work, especially for the deaf. She has this roundish face with large round eyes. I’d say she even glows – often – and she was just a very lovely person. She warms up to anyone she spoke to and her very gentle demeanor belies the steely strength that saw her labor long and hard for the causes she held dear.

She’s at rest now from her labor and her battles against a world that is often not attuned to the needs of those less able bodied.

Rest was the resonant theme yesterday. Both David Williams (leader) and Mike McNamara (sermon), had messages along that focus. It was what I needed to think about.

I had been saying to Tress lately, that I’m tired. Even at the footy at the G on Saturday night, as we saw a sluggish Hawks side labor hard against a pumped Bombers team, I felt tired. At half time, as Hawthorn was unbelievably in the lead, Tress and I decided to leave early. It was a night game and if we stayed till the end it might have been close to midnight when we got home. It was the first time we left the G at half time. I was glad we did however as we were able to have a wonderfully relaxed night at home and slept earlier than had we stayed on till the end.

And yet the tiredness lingered. Maybe it’s just the never ending warm weather. It’s the end of March and it should have been cooler now but it remained warm. An overnight over-20deg always makes sleep more fitful and though I didn’t wake till the alarm went off, that fogginess lingered to ward off any sense of being refreshed. Even a clean home – Tress and I had spent the better part of Saturday cleaning, vacuuming, wiping and dusting – did not appear to have brought us rest. Rest remained elusive and as we contemplate the next two weekends remaining before we head up to Canberra again, the weary fog stubbornly remains, un-lifted.

Even as we feel the sadness of Elena’s departure, she is probably – at rest now – the one feeling sad for us as she looks down from wherever her Elysium may be. She is no longer tired and as the rest of us labor on, I wonder if we should be joyful for her and sad for ourselves.

Elena, Hipos, Lessons


Tress and I were milling around at the end of the service yesterday and just before we left we had a chat with Peter, the Senior Minister. We talked a little bit before he mentioned he heard a terrible news the night before. He asked if we knew Elena and to our horror he said Elena died on the way to Geneva, sometime the night before. She was on her way to Geneva for a conference.

Of course we know Elena. Knew Elena. She was one of the first people we came to know in St Alf’s. Sue Bazanna, a person we sat next to for a few weeks when we first visited, had invited us to her home for lunch one day. The only other guest was Elena. Sue had left Melbourne to take up a role with UNSW in Sydney a few years ago. We had also become part of a small group who meet in the Maury’s home and both Sue and Elena were members of that group.

We missed the small group meeting on Thursday because after we returned from Canberra on Monday, work kept me busy and I was very tired and a little bit under the weather. Elena was rostered to lead the discussion on Thursday. It would have been the last time we heard her lead.

Elena had a hearing disability. She was almost completely deaf. Much of her work is advocacy for the disabled, especially the deaf. She was a lawyer with the government, presumably doing policy work (including with the Human Rights Commission), for a number of years before leaving to join CBM to continue her policy and advocacy work. She was always engaging and often sought our Theresa and I to have a chat. We will miss her.

Yesterday, as members of the small group exchanged emails on our experience with Elena and what we could do to remember her, I found myself searching within me. Tress had chided me for again being short and disagreeable for much of Saturday. I had taken that on board and reflected on Elena, her life and how fleeting life can tend to be and often is. We went to the oval late in the evening, as the cricket finished and the dog owners came streaming on with their little friends. As I walked amongst the dogs and talked to some of their owners, my mind drifted amongst Elena, the ongoing wedding plans Kiddo has been bathing herself in, my work, Tress and our own little LBJ. At some point I decided to switch them all off and just engage with the dogs, and soak in the atmosphere. It was warm, the sprinklers had come on and many kids were soaking themselves underneath the sprays. Dogs were darting across to and from everywhere, owners were talking and exchanging barbed banters with the cricketers who were having a drink – they all combine to create an atmosphere that was uniquely Australian suburbia.

It was not my kind of Saturday. We were to babysit a couple of little girls – Gerry and Jesslyn’s little darlings – and Tress had been exchanging text messages the night before with the parents as to what time they could drop the girls off. Their investment property – as the crow flies from our little abode – was to be auctioned off that morning and Gerry had been anxious. They had wanted to drop the girls off nearly a couple of hours before the scheduled auction. After a busy and tiring week – having been at Canberra the week before – I was just unsettled by having this silly notion that my Saturday morning was being invaded yet again. My lawn could not be cut and the outside of the house could not be cleaned or organized, for the second week running. I didn’t know better for much of Saturday but they were of course, just little things. I was being an idiot and Elena’s life and passing was a punch in between my eyes.

It turned out we had a great time with the girls. I read to Sheryl (the younger one) – and reading a book with a little girl evoked poignant memories – and we went to the oval and playground to play and walk. Sheanne walked along the boundaries of the oval a few times and as I walked with her, we engaged in a wonderful conversation and again I’m reminded what a glorious chatterbox a little girl can be. After they were picked up around noon – it was a successful auction – we went out to lunch. Madam K was jam packed and we ended up at Honey Thief on Canterbury Road. After grocery shopping we went home and it was close to 4pm when I finally started on essential chores. The car needed to be washed badly as each drive up or down the Hume to and from Canberra ends up with dozens of bugs stuck to the front of the car. After nearly a week, they were near impossible to be cleaned properly. As I scrubbed with a large but ineffective carwash sponge, my frustrations mounted. I thought about how the car was earmarked to be the bridal car and I wondered how presentable I could get the car when it mattered.

When both cars were eventually washed – with still visible bug guts etched on the front of one of them – I felt hot, bothered and frustrated. We were to meet up with Gerry and his girls again for dinner that night so I had to clean up quickly, which I did after a quick beer. We went to this tiny little Thai place in Mitcham Road. The food was delicious and it was good to just talk to this young family. They had bought another investment property a couple of years ago and with a growing family which attracts all of the financial burdens like childcare, school fees and the likes, they decided to sell the property which was auctioned off earlier in the day. As we were driving home, I said to Tress this typical Asian family has demonstrated enterprise, restrain and all the fiscal and financial responsibility which we have come to expect, instead of stretching out their hands to demand handouts as many other migrants have done. That sentiment and opinion required some tampering the very next day.

Elena and others in that small group have been strong on seeking more government funding for a range of social justice causes. I had often wondered to Tress, if we were, ideologically at least, in “wrong” company. Yet, mingling with this group has heightened my sensitivities to the marginalized and disadvantaged, even amongst an apparently opulent community. I guess with ruddy financial health arising from fiscal and financial responsibility, one has to then be generous in looking after the more vulnerable in society.

God puts all sorts of people in our lives to continually shape us to be more like him. We are I hope, also people he puts in others’ lives for the same purpose and function. Rest well, Elena.

Grumpily tired


It was another hot and uncomfortable Canberra weekend for Tress, LBJ and I. The last time we were there was probably not more than 10 weeks ago. It was even hotter then. While driving on the interminable Hume Highway yesterday arvo, I said to Tress – again – that I’m tired. The very thought of making this drive again in about 4 weeks, was in itself, draining.

There’s a bright side to most things. It’s God’s small mercy to those who are weighted down with one form of weariness or another. I guess the bright side of this impending long drive – yet again – up and down the Hume, is that it would be the last of a series of involuntary act of this episode. I no longer have to do this, when that sojourn is complete. I may choose to do it voluntarily but I no longer have to do it.

This sense of compelled action is the wearying source I guess. I hope, in a couple of days, when the balm of familiar routine – one which ends with happy slumber in one’s own bed each night – applies to rejuvenate body and soul, the creeping bitterness will ebb to be replaced with joyful anticipation.

We went up principally to check out the venues involved and to do a recci of sorts. Tress wanted to check out the hotel our relos will be staying, and to gauge the distance to the NPG and the Canberra Baptist Church in Kingston. To complete the recci exercise and experience, Tress suggested we attend the Sunday service in that church. That service turned out to be more like an activists’ get together to rant, chest beat and plan. Like many Canberran inner city churches, the cries of the progressive bend far overrides any biblical exposition one finds in churches planted in other demography. When Tress suggested we leave as the offertory prayer was uttered, I couldn’t be happier.

In between checking out venues, we ate, Kiddo shopped, and we tried to talk about their plans. I don’t know when weddings began taking on the importance they do now – the myriads of plans, programs, schedulings, etc – they have long ceased to be a mere mark of two people deciding to start a family.

Strangely, few moan against the grotesque takeover of the commercialised arts scene so that couples spend an exhausting amount of time and money to plan a day which need only be a simple celebration of two becoming one. If it was completely up to me, 25 years ago I would have simply asked that my family and friends come to witness Tress and I exchange vows and rings in a church, followed by a simple dinner in a quiet restaurant nearby. Minus all the lights and sounds.

Alas, the tide of an ever growing bridal party, the conquest of the fashion designers and photographers, the rule of the caterer and the creeping reign of social expectations, have not ebbed one inch since Tress and I were subjected to their forces. They have grown their tentacles and their grip continue to suck the joy out of the occasion.

It was a sultry 18 deg at 5.30am this morning. Maybe that’s why I continue to feel tired.