Archive for May, 2012

“Is that all you’re taking?” My friend Sultana said in astonishment when she looked at my wheeled backpack waiting by the door.

Yes, one of the benefits of living in a country where there is no winter, means that you leave all your winter clothes back in your native land and travel light on home visits.

The heaviest items in my backpack are my laptop and an extra pair of shoes.

After two months of creating a new home in Singapore, I am going back to Melbourne to visit family and to attend to my show and Greta’s.

I expect to be delighted to be back among family and friends, and shocked at the vastness of Australia and its more chaotic nature – at least compared to Singapore, where efficiency reigns.

In fact, it is so efficient here that there are even instructions on how to have fun. At least that’s how it seemed when we visited the East Coast last weekend.

I had been itching to see the ocean, to convince myself that I actually lived on an island and not in a shopping mall.

Not knowing where to start, we took our Lonely Planet pocket guide and on its advice chose East Coast Park Lagoon Village, where we planned to sample some chili crab.

It was early, so very quiet, as we wanted through the entrance, to the right of which was a large sign headed I’m ok, you’re ok, together Singapore’s okay.

Featuring charming cartoon characters, the poster instructed us not to litter, to bag our rubbish, to avoid crowded places (like the Lagoon Village?) and see our family doctor if we were unwell, to wash hands with soap frequently, to keep places clean and free of pests, to use a serving spoon when sharing food, to keep public toilets clean and “to spit, cough and sneeze into tissue”.

Later, another sign warned us to report any suspicious activities and yet another told us to “Be considerate. Stay on the right track” when walking along a shared bike/pedestrian path.

Around the lagoon, two water skiers did leisurely circuits, hauled by an overhead wire that ensured their safety, as the pace never changed.

Many large ships were visible from the beach, which featured a thin stretch of sand, some swimmers and some children playing in the sand.

A fenced off area featured an impressive display of beautifully architectured sand castles.

Further on, there was a skate park, strangely free of graffiti, and a place where you could hire charming tandem bike units, in the form of little red-and-white carts.

The sky was blue, the trees were green, the sea was calm, the food was great and ridiculously cheap.

A bit like St Kilda beach, but without the prostitutes and drug addicts.

How will I feel when I step out of this picture postcard and back to reality, I wondered? 

But there’s one thing I know I won’t miss about Singapore – the music.

 “All I need is the air that I breathe and to love you! All I need is the air that I breeeeeeeethe!!!”

That’s all I hear when I take taxis these days.

Syrupy songs from the 70s and 80s are popular on radio stations favored by taxi drivers, especially this song.

 This is especially ironic here, where with a rising inflation rate of 5.4 per cent and incredible rents, you need a lot more than the air that you breathe to survive.

Not only that, the air that you breathe is hot and humid. 

“It’s freezing here,” my friends warn when I tell them I’m coming back.

But warm hearts and cool breezes are what I’m most looking forward to.



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Cute, isn’t he


But don’t be deceived!

Things aren’t always what they seem.

Find out why when Hartwell Players, Melbourne’s oldest community theatre group, presents Four Slices of Funcake, its 2012 One Act Play Festival, including Supernsout, by none other than Jane Cafarella.

Supersnout is directed by Joanne Watt and features the talents of Andrew Jacobs, Xavier Lee, Jocelyn Cowley and Nina McLean.

Come along for a great night of theatre and support local writers, actors and directors who are keeping the craft alive, affordable and accessible.

For more information about the festival, check this link:


Photo by Nicole Kent: This is Bugsy, the Chihuahua we owned when we lived in Bangkok. Bugsy has been living the high life with Nicole in NYC, but is moving to Long Island this weekend. He’s come along way since we picked him up from Bangkok’s Chatachuk Market. These days, he even has his own Facebook page (Butters Kent). Stay tuned for more on the adventures of Bugsy later.

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The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Looking for something fun and exciting to do this weekend? Look no further.

Trinity College Music Theatre Society presents The 25th Annual Spelling Bee at the Guild Theatre tonight, Friday and Saturday night.

I’ll be there on Friday and Saturday.

The Gala Night was a huge hit and the cast is now pumped for the weekend shows.

Look out for Greta Williams as Marcy Park, the over-achieving perfectionist – proudly wearing her Box Hill High School uniform, which is still too big.

Read the review here:


See you there!

Herewith, below, the official blurb from Trinity:

  • Guild Theatre, Union House, University of Melbourne
  • T, R, I, N, I, T……. EE? Trinitee?…..Yeah you’d better work on that.Because the time has come. After months, for some even years, of trying to write our names in mirror writing, get our pen licenses and thus become top dog of the library… it is time for Trinity College Music Theatre Society to present…


    If you know how to spell words like “cat”, “tree”, and “antidisestablishmentarianism”…
    If you play Words With Friends more often than you speak to your parents (or Scramble with Friends, or Hanging with Friends – not Draw Something though sheesh)…
    If you can sing ABC better than the Jackson Five, and if you can dance the YMCA…
    Sound familiar? Then you will love The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

    Wed 23rd May: 7.30pm – COLLEGE GALA NIGHT
    Thurs 24th May: 7.30pm
    Fri 25th May: 12.30pm
    Fri 25th May: 7.30pm
    Sat 26th May: 7.30pm

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Around 3pm, I start to get edgy. I should be getting home.

Even though I know there is no reason to get home, I feel edgy.

I blame 27 years of mothering.

As a mother, you need to start getting home around 3pm to make sure you are there when the kids get home from school, or to pick them up and take them to the dentist, or to a singing lesson, or a piano lesson, or rehearsal, or to a play-date.

But now the kids have grown up and at 3pm they are probably at work, or at uni, or still in bed recovering from that 3am party and hangover.

I have been absolved, yet still, like a well-trained rat, I keep returning to that damned wheel.

At 5pm I start to feel like I should be making dinner – even when I know Rob is not going to be home until 8pm and we will probably have dinner in town.

At the supermarket, I feel the need to buy several hundred dollars worth of groceries, including biscuits and treats for lunch boxes, even though I know there is no lunch box and that if I buy any treats, the only person I will be treating is myself.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad I’m not cutting lunches anymore, or doing the after-school run.

I’m glad my kids have grown up and are enjoying their lives.

I just wish I could de-program myself and enjoy mine.

That’s why I decide that the best antidote to being an auto-mum is to go touristing, starting at 3pm in Little India

Touristing alone is a guilty pleasure. There are no compromises.

You don’t have to reach consensus on where and when to go, or where and when to eat; and there is no one to tell you not to buy that gorgeous piece of jewelry as a Mother’s Day present to yourself.

You can do what you bloody-well like. Finally.  (Just don’t tell Rob about the jewelry).  

On this particular day, doing what I liked meant eating my way from Buffalo St to Mustafa and back.

For the uninitiated, Mustafa is a huge 24-hour department store which has everything you Mustafa and more.

It was here in Little India that I discovered that I am probably a reincarnation of a northern Indian. Why else would I love Punjabi suits, jewelry and samosas so much?

“That’s so sweet,” my Indian friend Sultana says when I tell her that I bought a Punjabi suit (for 35!). “You could pass for Northern Indian,” she adds.

But it’s not just their beauty that has endeared me to Punjabi suits. Punjabi suits not only cover a multitude of sins, they turn them into virtues.

You can eat as many samosas as you like, and still fit into a Punjabi suit (albeit extra large), as even the most generous of figures look slender and elegant in the long-line tunic, light billowy pants, and matching scarf.

And like saris, Punjabi suits come in the most decadent colors and patterns.

This is a nice change, as in Melbourne the preferred color for most women’s apparel is black –  not because they are widows but because, like most Western women, we Melbournians are always trying to diminish ourselves. 

Indian women, it seems, feel no such compulsion. They think nothing of going food shopping wearing a Punjabi suit that is encrusted with fake diamonds or trailing metres of hot pink silk draped elegantly around their neck, and which wafts gently behind them as they walk.

How do they do it? I tried it and the scarf got caught in my crotch and strangled me. I nearly choked on my samosa.

 In Australia, summer means wearing fewer clothes, not more; so the idea of a tunic, pants and a scarf in 32 degree heat, may seem incongruous. But Punjabi suits are amazingly cool as they don’t cling like t-shirts and jeans.

However, so far I am not game to wear mine anywhere other than Little India, at a Bollywood party, or around the house – not just because I haven’t mastered the art of the scarf yet, but because I feel like I am wearing a costume rather than clothes.

I guess that’s why my Punjabi suit is pale green and cream.

It’s discreet.

And it goes fabulously with that new piece of jewelry. 





My aspiration!

My reality! (Although this is not me. It’s from Google images, and I apologise to whomever it is).


Check this website to see more of what I aspire to!


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The largely Indian audience was rocking with laughter, as Kanjooswamy, “a diehard skinflint”, ranted about how his children, the government and the world were out to rob him of his hard-earned wealth.

Rob and I exchanged little half smiles as the jokes about local Indian culture, the Singapore establishment and inter-racial marriage flew around us.

This is what it’s like to be an immigrant, I thought. You just don’t get the jokes – or at least not yet.

The play was The Kanjoos, which means “the miser”, and was an Indian take on the Moliere play The Miser, performed by HuM Theatre at the Singapore Repertory Theatre last Saturday night.

Subin Subaiah was perfect as the conniving and crafty kanjoos, as was Daisy Irani, as Jayalolita, “Singapore’s premiere matchmaker”.

With their over-the-top antics and slapstick comedy, it was easy to see what was going on. It was just those little moments when they delivered a subtle one-liner and the audience erupted while Rob and I sat mutely, that made me realise that while shopping is culturally transferable, humour is not.

Ironically, as Daisy Irani and producer, Sakina Dhilawala, said in the program notes, HuM is keen to explore integration issues through its plays.

The Kanjoos could quite easily have been a play enacted by homogenous cast but we deliberately decided otherwise. That is because we wanted to re-inforce the socially appealing idea of inter-racial romance and to emphasise that prejudice is often not religious or racial but economic in nature,” they wrote.

HuM’s two previous productions also explored the integration challenges facing society.

However, I’m not sure that any of these plays included the integration challenges facing expats.

This was no fault of The Kanjoos, which was perfectly pitched and delivered with some Indian spice, giving contemporary and local relevance to the age-old moral that greed is not good.

I don’t expect local culture to accommodate visitors like us, who historically have imposed our culture on Singapore and the rest of the world with blatant disregard for local sensibilities.

It just makes me more aware of what it must be like for immigrants generally, and perhaps more understanding of the City of Whittlesea’s request back in 2004 that a local theatre company my daughter was involved with drop its production of The Sound of Music for something more cultural relevant, considering that 36 per cent of Whittlesea’s population came from non-English speaking backgrounds.

At the time, we music theatre junkies scoffed mightily at this suggestion.

The Sound of Music has always been one of my favourite things, but now I understand how for immigrants, understanding local cultural and humor is yet another one of the many mountains they have to learn to climb in order to feel at home.


The Kanjoos, cast photo from the program. Photography by Wong Xin Yi, Alistair Chew and Sujoy Sen.

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Here’s a gift for all those who are without their mothers today, for one reason or another, and for those mothers who are without their children today, for one reason or another.

My own children are in Australia while I am in Singapore, so while we have spoken on the phone, we cannot be together today. My mother died on July 22 last year, so this is my first Mother’s Day without her.

But before you get too sentimental, I’d better warn you. I hate Mother’s Day – and here’s why:



What I don’t want for Mother’s Day




I have a confession to make. There have been occasions, in the 17 years in which I have been a mother, where I have forgotten to give my children money for the mother’s day stall – deliberately. The truth is I didn’t really need another recycled coffee jar filled with bath salts, or a homemade key ring, penholder, or serviette ring 

In fact these things, so laboriously made by other mothers, are more about pleasing the rest of the family and raising funds for the local school than about pleasing mothers.

And while I’m at it, here are a few other things I don’t want for Mother’s Day: anything electrical, especially anything for the kitchen. Come to think of it, nothing for the bedroom either – unless it’s another DVD player.

 Don’t give me a cookbook either – give me a cook and make him tall dark and handsome. Come to think of it don’t give me a book at all, unless you give me time to read it.

And don’t bother giving me breakfast in bed unless you know what I like for breakfast. It is depressing to be handed a cup of tea by someone who doesn’t know whether you have sugar or not because they never make you one on the other 364 days of the year.

And definitely no chrysanthemums, which must be the worst smelling and least attractive flower in the known universe.

Lest you think me alone in this ingratitude, let me introduce you to a few of my ungrateful friends.

My friend Karen, a primary teacher and mother of three, says Mother’s Day presents are among the worst she’s ever received and the worst of these usually came from the Mother’s Day stall.

“You know the glass with the stupid hanky inside it?” she says. “ What do you do with that? And it’s usually got ‘Mum’ on the stupid glass. You can’t even give it away!”

Then there’s my friend Lynne, who once received a stud-finder for Mother’s Day She was quite impressed until she found out it was one of those things that helps find the wooden beams behind the plaster in the walls. Her husband thought she might like to help him with the home repairs, but eventually she went off and found another sort of stud.

The trouble with Mother’s Day is that it’s yet another day when mothers have to grin and bear it.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy the endearing cards with drawings depicting me as a lop-sided spook. Or the oddly shaped parcels wrapped with more sticky tape than paper, containing objects d’art that have to be sent off to a laboratory to be identified.  These labors of love are the upside of mother’s day.

It’s not even the commercialism that bugs me. Every event associated with gift giving is abused commercially.

What bugs me about Mother’s day is that the gifts are so cliched and stereotypical. Breakfast in bed, flowers, slippers, dressing gowns, nighties, kitchen gadgets, and a special dinner to give mum “a day off”.

All these recognize us in our roles as mothers, but not as people.

I know the whole point is to celebrate motherhood. But the whole point of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Christ, but it’s not compulsory to given everyone a nativity set and a bunch of Christmas lilies.

Part of the problem is that the egocentricity of childhood means that it sometimes takes years for us to really get to know our mothers as people. Until then it’s difficult to think of anything really personal.

Chief among the things I don’t want for Mothers’ Day, is an apple corer. And after 45 years, I now know that my mother probably didn’t want one either. 

But back in those days, I didn’t know what she really wanted, so I bought the thing that most impressed me in order to impress her. These days I know what she’d really like to do with an apple-corer.

But perhaps even an apple corer is better than nothing? My friend Debra only gets presents sometimes. “My kids are too disorganised, “ she says. “Only one of them will have a present, so the other two will feel bad.”

She doesn’t blame them, as she usually forgets herself. Luckily, her own mother understands perfectly – or so she says. She also says things like:  “I thought I might have seen you on Mother’s Day?”

My friend Carolyn, legal service director and mother of two, avoids both the guilt and the presents by ignoring Mother’s Day all together.

Her own mother hated the obligatory Mother’s Day family gathering, and made it very clear she wasn’t interested in Mother’s Day.

She said people who made a big fuss over their mothers on Mother’s day were often those who felt guilty or who did not have a good relationship over the rest of the year. That’s what I tell my mother when I forget, too.

But having established what we don’t want – what ­do we want?

So, I ask my friend Karen.

“If I had to put in an order, I’d like to be thin,” she replies.

That’s a tall order, but Karen assures me that her GP is looking into it on her behalf.

Apparently there’s this pill you can get that gives you the runs every time you eat fat. It combines therapy and exercise all in one.

Her aim is to look like all those mothers in the Mother’s Day ads, serene, thin and not a day over 25, despite being surrounded by teenage children.

Seriously though, for Mothers’ Day, Karen and I agree that we’d like to be left alone with a good book or video and a bottle of wine – or two.

A good Mother’s Day is not about presents. A good Mother’s Day is a day to do what you want to do – not what you have to do.

Because a day of doing what you have to do is just like every other day.


*This story was broadcast on the ABC Radio National program Life Matters, some years ago. (Can’t find the date as Life Matters appears to have cleared out its archive.)

Below: me, my daughter, Greta (then aged about 12) and my mother, Lorraine, (then about 76).




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Romeo, Romeo, where for art thou Romeo?

In Singapore – and his real name is Hansel Tan.

Yes, last week we went to see a local production of Romeo and Juliet directed by Ivan Heng for the local Wild Rice theatre company.

Juliet’s real name is Julie Wee, also a local, although, from her list of credits she appears to have trained at Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts Drama School.

The two star-crossed lovers acquitted themselves splendidly – their passion only marred by the titters of some of the audience members who should have been home watching Playschool.

I especially enjoyed the balcony scene, which was whimsical and delightful. It was no surprise to read that this was Julie Wee’s favourite scene, too, according to the program notes.

Juliet’s nurse was also a gem, played by Neo Swee Lin, who carried an orange candy-striped umbrella, as well as a fan, when she went to meet Romeo on Juliet’s behalf.

And Benvolio and Mercurtio drank young coconut juice through straws as they whinged about Romeo having given them the slip at the Capulet party – giving the show a local flavour.

These days, it seems, the population of fair Verona is mostly of Asian descent, but speaking in accents that would have made Henry Higgins proud, with narry a “lah” to be found.

But there was nothing pompous or false about this interpretation, which was so authentic that at times I forgot they were using Shakespearian English.

In the program, vocal coach Nora Samosir, writes:  “To ‘suit the action to the word, the word to the action’, is not merely to gesture or move appropriately, but mind and body must work together to voice the word suitably.”

In this regard, the actors were spot on.

However, it was also delivered with a lot of authentic saliva, especially from the blokes.

It seems Shakespearean tongue twisters give the saliva ducts a good work out, as from the prologue onwards came sprays of spit that seemed to increase as the show progressed, visible against the mostly black background and dark raked stage.

I was glad I wasn’t in the front row.

The sprays were accompanied by snores from the large woman sitting next to me, whose extraordinarily large head kept lolling forwards and sideways as she dreamed on, perhaps of Mercutio’s Queen Mab?

When she did manage to open her eyes, she played with her phone, despite a request at the start of the show that all audience members refrain from doing so.

Ahh, theatre audiences ain’t what they used to be.

Back in Melbourne some years ago, I attended a memorable performance of Miss Siagon, made  more memorable by the people behind us who discussed the footy all the way through and then had the temerity to tap me on the shoulder and ask me to sit back when I leaned forward in my seat for a better view.

These days, it seems that theatres everywhere are full of people who have the money, but not the manners.

It is shame that they don’t heed the prologue of Romeo and Juliet and “with patient ears attend”.

However, there are those who attend with patient ears, but who still struggle to stay awake.

Like Rob.

“What do you think?” I asked, my cheeks feverish with excitement, as we emerged from Romeo and Juliet at  at interval.

“S’okay,” he replied, tucking into his second chocolate bar.

I was surprised. After all, there was blood, and fighting and sex.

The following night we ended up at Ion Orchard for Rob’s favorite food: Japanese. But there was no leisurely lingering afterwards.

“I thought we were going to look at the shops after this,” I panted, waddling behind as he belted along Orchard Rd.

“My show’s on at eight,” he replied.

“What show?” I asked, now having lost all hope of stopping for ice cream.

Game of Thrones.”

For the unitiated, Game of Thrones is also about feuding families and also includes a lot of blood, fighting and sex.

And just like in Romeo and Juliet, most of the decisions are made by men, with women merely chattels and incubators.

As one brawny and mean-looking brute says to his wife. “You were nothing until I squirted my son into you.”

Call me old fashioned, but I like it better as poetry.

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