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Archive for July, 2012

“Oh, you didn’t go to Sentosa!” scoffed a friend who shall not be named, when my friend Karen and I told her about our touristing adventures.

Karen and I looked at each other. Would we confess the ultimate sin and admit that not only had we been to Sentosa, we’d been to (gulp!) Universal Studios?

Karen decided to go all out. “I’m a bit of a tragic tourist,” she confessed, and we both quickly guided the conversation into safer waters, such as what everyone did for a living and how long they’d been in Singapore.

Being a tragic tourist is de rigueur when you have visitors from overseas.

It’s also a great way to learn about your new home, and one of the first things we learned on the bus on the way to Sentosa, the tiny tourist island south of Singapore, was that queuing was fun.

“Queuing is fun, Yeah?” said the helpful tour guide on the bus, who also advised us to keep any backpacks and bag in front.

“What’s in front is yours, what’s in back is mine or anyone else behind. Remember, Singapore has low crime but that doesn’t mean we have no crime,” he said.

I also learned was I am not a very good tourist.

I just don’t have the legs for it.

Standing in museums or walking for long periods makes me think about lunch and a comfy seat, instead of taking in the information in front of me – rather like Bilbo Baggins, in The Hobbit, who faced with leaping yet another fjord, found comfort in thinking of his well-stocked pantry.

But I do love a bit of escapism, and so I admit I enjoyed Universal Studios, especially the short shows in cool theatres.

We saw a show about monsters, we saw a simulation of a hurricane, we saw a barbershop quartet harmoniously entertaining the crowds in the streets, and finally, hot, sweaty and tired, we found ourselves in Far Far Away, standing in front of a poster of Donkey.

“Want to go here?” Karen asked.

“Ok,” I said, but regretted it when I saw that the room we were ushered into had no seats.

“I need to sit down,” I said to one of the ushers.

“That’s okay, you can stand around the edge. This only for five minutes,” she said, as the rest of the audience sat cross-legged on the floor.

A perky pixie in a purple and beige costume introduced herself. “Soon you will be going into the theatre,” she chirped, “And don’t forget this is an interactive show.”

The only interaction I was looking forward to was with a seat, so I was a bit disappointed when they were not plush movie seats but medieval-style benches.

Donkey was doing karaoke on a movie screen with Captain Hook as his one-handed accompanist, interspersed with banter from the pixie.

“Hands up anyone here from….Australia!” the pixie asked, as she moved about the audience.

Our hands shot up along with a half dozen others. “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!” the pixie yelled.

“Oi! Oi! Oi!” we found ourselves chanting back automatically.

The rest of the audience, comprising Americans, Indonesian, Malaysians, Chinese and some French people, laughed politely, or lolled or grizzled, depending on whether they were on seats or in arms.

The pixie then looked for someone for Donkey to interact with.

It’s hard not to stand out when you are twice as big as the rest of the audience,  even if you don’t put your hand up, which is why I chose that moment to examine my shoes.

Luckily, the pixie chose a little Indian girl called Luna, who inspired Donkey to bay to the moon in appreciation of her name.

It really was interactive, I thought, wondering whether there was a bloke behind the screen with a microphone and a computer.

“I think that one was meant for kids,” Karen said, as we emerged blinking in the light half an hour later.

So were the toys and the ice creams and the rides (that we didn’t go on due to bad backs), but who cared? We had fun.

So much so that we went back a few days later for another tour, this time of Underwater World, the Dolphin Lagoon, the Images of Singapore display and the Butterfly House, arriving via the cable car known as the Jewel Box, which gives breathtaking views of the river and city.

Our first stop on Sentosa was the Images of Singapore display, which began with a five-minute movie explaining Singapore’s history as trading port that brought immigrants from Europe, Malaysia, China and India.

We then wandered through a maze of tunnels firstly featuring waxwork figures depicting the signing of the treaty between Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles and Tengku Hussein, the rightful Sultan of Johor, giving the British the right to establish a trading post in Singapore.

This was followed by dioramas depicting the various ethnic groups that comprised the early population and the history that followed, including the fall of Singapore during World War II.

Like all such museums, and websites for that matter, these things are necessarily simplified, and rather sanitized. But nevertheless it was well done and very extensive and informative.

At one stage, as the only two from our group still lost in the labyrinth of displays, I wondered whether we would be trapped there and turn into waxworks ourselves – but then maybe I’ve seen too many Vincent Price movies.

But it did leave me wanting to know more, and with an appreciation for how far Singapore has come in a relatively short time.  As a nation of immigrants, there are strong parallels between Singapore and Australia, which also has come a long way in its short history.

Our tour finished at the Dolphin Lagoon, where two strangely pink (because they were immature) dolphins did various tricks, and an eager seal (named Greta!) balanced a ball on her nose and stood on her flippers.

Soon, Greta the seal and her friends would be re-housed in a big new facility at a cost of $27 million, our guide told us proudly on the bus home later.

As we passed Singapore’s busy dockland area, he told us that Singapore was one of the busiest ports in the world. “Every three minutes, a ship leaves or arrives in Singapore,” he said.

The whole docklands area was soon to be refurbished, he said. “In three years, if you return, Singapore will be a different city.”

I wondered too, whether Melbourne would be a different city in three years.

It had already changed in the six weeks I had been away.

Maybe then, I will go as a tourist and learn about how queuing is fun, and perhaps how our own ailing docklands has been refurbished?

Meanwhile, I’m planning my next trip…another bus tour …catching the bus outside my apartment to see where it takes me.

Singapore is very small, so I know it won’t be far, but at least I’ll be sitting down, and I will probably learn a lot.

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My play Supersnout was recently nominated for two awards at the Dandenong Ranges One Act Play Festival in Melbourne, Australia.
I didn’t win, but who cares? I got nominated and I can’t believe it, as this was my first real attempt at playwriting!
Supersnout was one of four comedies collectively titled “Four Slices of Fun Cake” produced by Hartwell Players as part of its  One-Act Play Festival for 2012.
The plays were performed at Ashwood Performing Arts Centre on July 6, 7, 13 and 14, in Melbourne before going on tour to compete in the regional competitions last weekend.
Amateur companies from all over Victoria present their one-act plays for these competitions.
Supersnout was nominated at Dandenong for Best Comedy and Best Original Script.
Even better, one of the other “fun cake” plays, Just Act Normal, was also nominated – and won!
Just Act Normal was a hilarious play, superbly acted, with lots of sight gags and slapstick that required perfect comic timing, and the award was well deserved. I feel very chuffed and surprised to be in such good company.
My warrm congratulations to Supersnout director Joanne Watt and the wonderful cast for the nominations,and my heartiest congratulations to Just Act Normal director Marcus Ingelby and the terrific cast for their win.
Best of luck to Hartwell for the regional competitions in Foster and Angelsea in the coming weeks.
Will now abandon housework and cooking in favour of sitting in Writers Room at Raffles and attempting more award-nominating plays.
Stay tuned!
Links:

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Yesterday was the first anniversary of my mother’s death.

On such days, despite your best intentions, images and conversations pop into your head about what was and what might have been. Even though I console myself with the knowledge that I did my best at the time, there are always regrets.

So to escape my demons, I sought solace as the movies.

Naturally, the Dark Knight Rises was out. I can’t tolerate any sort of violence in movies, and this was further tarnished by the terrible tragedy in Colorado. The pain of my own grief could only be exacerbated by imagining the grief of others.

So we chose Bernie, with Jack Black, Matthew McConaughy and my all time favorite, Shirley MacClaine.

The cinema was small and intimate and Rob and I settled in our seats comforted by the thought that we were in for a brief escape from thoughts of death and funerals.

Until the opening scene.

There was Jack Black as Bernie Tiede, mortician, instructing a class on how to prepare a body for burial.

The Dark Knight was looking good.

“Do you want to leave?” whispered Rob.

“No, it’s okay,” I replied, closing my eyes. “Tell me when this bit’s over.”

How had I not realised that this was about a funeral director?

Set in a small town, (my mother lived in a small town), the parallels were uncanny.

Bernie Tiede meets crusty old bag Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLain) and does everything to please her.

But there is no pleasing her (there was no pleasing my mother either), so he kills her.

I wanted to kill my mother, too, when she was like this.

However, I didn’t – even when she asked me to – and I was both sorry and relieved when she died, as her suffering was intense.

Bernie was sorry, too, that he did actually kill Marjorie, and a bit surprised at himself.

But no more than the townsfolk.

For them, the affable and community-minded Bernie was a local hero.  How could such a nice man do such a terrible thing? It was beyond belief.

Watching the movie it is easy to see how the unlikelihood of such a person committing such an act makes it look excusable.

All along we are rooting for Bernie, not Marjorie, and we are all disappointed when he gets life imprisonment. (Aww, shucks!)

But if we root for Bernie do we also root for James Holmes,  who according to all reports was also an unlikely murderer?

Remembered by a local pastor as “a shy boy driven to succeed at school”, and by his classmates as a PhD student obsessed with the video game “Guitar Hero”, James Holmes appeared perfectly normal, or as normal as anyone else.

We do not yet know James Holmes’s motive, but whatever it was it cannot justify his actions.

Nor can Bernie’s motives justify his actions, likeable as he is.

In the movie, we see him exploited, emotionally and verbally abused, and annoyed by Marjorie’s incessant mastication (yes, I mean mastication)

As he says in his confession, it felt  as if there was no escape. He was in “prison”.

However, there was an escape. He had a house of his own, a car of his  own and a good job.

He could have just left Marjorie and told her to stick her millions, but he lacked the courage to be disliked and to disappoint someone. Being liked was important to Bernie, who showered his friends with gifts, even if it was at Marjorie’s expense.

So he stayed and shot her instead. (Personally, I’d rather be disappointed).

People who have been in such relationships say it is not as easy as this, and I understand that. People like Marjorie mess with your head.

But Bernie’s action was that of someone at the end of his tether. It was not premeditated like that of James Holmes.

It still doesn’t justify it, but it appears less evil and more understandable.

By contrast, James Holmes deliberately set out to shoot innocent people, including children.

No doubt in the coming months, we will find out why. Perhaps, like other mass murderers he felt that he missed out on something in life? But most of us feel like at that at one stage or another, and don’t seek to take out our revenge on others.

Steve Albrecht, a police officer turned “threat-assessment expert” , is quoted in The Sun Daily, (a Malaysian newspaper, I think) as saying that these days experts are moving away from profiling and instead are looking at the behaviours of such people.

Albrecht says that typical questions to ask are: “What were the pre-attack behaviors that this guy exhibited? What were the relationship failures, relationship problems that he had? Was he disconnected from society and disconnected from reality?”

Albrecht goes on to say: “My suspicion is that they’re going to learn a lot of things (about the Aurora gunman), and that people were very concerned about this guy – but didn’t know what to do.”

Let’s hope they work it out these “pre-attack behaviours” before there are any further tragedies.

Meanwhile, I recommend Bernie, despite the confronting opening scene.

Not only is it very funny and well acted, this movie, and the tragedy of Colorado shootings, are a sobering and comforting reminder that there are worse ways to die than in a nursing home at the ripe of old age of 83, with your loved ones around you.

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Melbourne musings

Road trips in June

I am driving down the Calder Freeway on the way to Castlemaine to see my stepfather for his 89th birthday.

Above me is a blue dome, dotted with grey and white clouds, and on both sides the road is flanked with pink-hued bleached yellow grass and the lacy grey branches of trees that have lost their green summer dresses and now stand naked, slender and vulnerable. Behind them, gum trees form a grey-blue backdrop.

I have missed the muted colours of Victoria, the subtle palette that inspired the painters of the Heidelberg school.

There are no vivid yellow-greens here, no warm footpaths exhaling steam after a tropical storm. The only steam here comes from my breath on this chilly winter morning.

Magpies warble, strolling the sides of the road and looking for lunch, and later, as I am washing dishes in the kitchen in Castlemaine, I look out the window and see a tiny, but plump silver-eye and its mate, chirruping in the bush near the newly-painted white trellis.

Later that night, when I arrive in Guildford, where I am staying, I marvel as the blue sky dome turns into a disco dome of stars.

“I feel like I’m in the planetarium,” I tell Chris, at Celestine House, where we have been guests on and off or the past 15 years.

In the morning, the green patch of grass outside the cottage is dotted with red and blue – crimson rosellas looking for breakfast. In the distance, the gum trees, heavy with squabbling cockatoos, look as if they have suddenly developed snowy blooms.

It makes all that driving worthwhile.

As any expat knows, coming home is a mixture of joy and hardship.

There are just too many people to see and too many places to go and you want to do all of it and see everyone, but there is just not enough time and not enough of you, which is why, I guess, I am writing this from bed quarters, where I have a souvenir from all my travels – a cold.

It’s not a bad one, but I need to keep out of the way of those who can’t afford to be sick. As I am not working, retreating to bed is a welcome respite.

In the two weeks and five days that I have been home, I have travelled more than 1500 kilometres and seen more than 40 friends and family.

“What’s it like being home?” asks Rob, from drizzly London, where he is working this week.

“Like I’ve come home after a holiday in Singapore,” I say between sneezes.

While my real home is now Singapore, I haven’t been there long enough for it to feel like home yet, especially as all my family, friends and responsibilities are here in Melbourne.

Even in that short time away, I am surprised how big Australia feels and the huge distances you have to travel just to go about your normal daily affairs compared to Singapore.

All I seem to have done is drive, eat and talk about myself. At least 25 of those trips have been to Carlton and back to visit my daughter.

Back in Melbourne, the gold of autumn has been replaced by grey dotted with black – the colour of choice for most Melbournians who form black huddles at the station, and black swarms as they cross at the lights at peak hour.

The homogeneity of Singapore is replaced by the diversity of Melbourne – red heads, shaved heads, bald heads, dreadlocks, pink hair, blue hair, white hair, black hair, big people, small people, earrings, nose rings, tattoos, and scarves, lots of scarves, worn by a kaleidoscope of nationalities and races, all of whom seem to be in a hurry.

All these things which were once the norm, now look strange.

Where do I belong now? Both here, and back in Singapore, straddling two lives?

“Where do you live?” someone asks me.

“Singapore,” I reply.

But perhaps the only place I really live is in my own head.

Change

The old adage that the only thing you can be certain of is change has been obvious in the past six weeks in Melbourne.

Since I’ve moved to Singapore, all my old haunts in Melbourne have changed.

In Lennox St, the hair dressing salon Embody has moved to where the Crystal shop used to be. The Crystal shop has moved to Swan St, and the retro furniture shop in Lennox St has been replaced by Cheerios, a tiny Indie café.

Across the road, Hellas, the cake shop that has been part of Richmond streetscape for more than 50 years, has had a facelift and has been transformed into a beautiful new café, where the strawberry tarts are fast becoming a favourite.  And the Indian takeaway on the corner has also been revamped and has a new menu.

In Carlton, Brunettti’s has announced its move to the old Borders site in Lygon Court, and the Nova box office has swapped sides.

And now I find it has taken me an hour to get out of Richmond to go to Hawthorn as the water pipes in Swan St are being replaced and the road is closed.

And I thought I was the only one that had changed in the past six weeks.

Reunion

Sometimes, you have to go back in order to move forward. That’s the way it is with me and my family.

Like most families, we’ve had our share of dramas, some of which led to one half of the family being in one camp and the other in another, with an avalanche of ill-will and misunderstanding forming an impasse between.

This has lasted for the best part of 36 years.

Strangely, it has been the death of three of the participants in that drama that led to a new beginning for their children, we cousins.

Loyalty was no longer required, and like the East and West Germans divided by the Berlin Wall, we have at first tentatively and then joyfully demolished the barriers and faced each other across tables strewn with good food, good wine and good memories.

Now we are all adults, no longer in our prime, and with grown children of our own – growing that we all missed out on.

But instead of talking about what we missed, we found ourselves talking about what we shared.

“Remember the time when…” we found ourselves saying, jostling for space on the table where memories are laid out, as each new image prompts another.

We toast each other with sherry – in memory of our parents for whom a sherry – or two or three – was derigour at 5pm each day, or earlier if circumstances required it.

Through this process, we are piecing together our pasts, each recalling and contributing a different piece of the puzzle.

Some of it will remain incomplete as the main players have passed on, but slowly by standing back and viewing with a clearer eye and an open mind, we are getting a clearer picture of what happened and how it made us who we are today.

It has taken a lot of courage – but the rewards have been great. “It’s weird but great,” my cousin, B, confessed when she came to lunch at my apartment in Melbourne.

We stare into each other’s faces, searching for the child in the adult and confess that we have both been “high” since our reunion.

I am high because I am no longer alone. Now I understand the joy and sense of belonging that adopted people feel when they are reunited with their birth families.

Questions that have plagued me are being answered at last, and I understand more clearly where I fit in the picture. And memories that I had begun to feel were a dream, were in fact real.

We didn’t cry at this reunion, as you might have expected. Instead we laughed.

We laughed at the stupid, exasperating and funny things our parents and aunts and uncles did –  and didn’t do – that had led us to this point in time.

It just proves that no matter the hurts in any family or relationship, the healing power of love and forgiveness endures.

But before we get too sentimental, I should confess that at times I’m glad that the two main protagonists in this family drama are now dead.

Because sometimes I could kill them!

Begging not to be harassed

“Can I have a dollar…pleeeezzz!” the man says in furious exasperation.

I am a kind person. I often give money to people who ask me in the street, and many ask, so I must look like a kind person.

Strangers also often tell me their stories on trains and in queues, so I must look approachable.

But something about this particular person, a slim man in his early 30s with dark hair and a bit of stubble, and who often wears a hoodie, makes me feel very unkind.

“No”, I say, and march on, grim-faced and furious.

The reason? Every time I go to the city, this particular man harasses me.

“Come on, have a heart!” he says, with narrowed eyes and clenched teeth, when I walk doggedly on.

We have come to the point where there is a moment of recognition when he approaches.

I never give him anything.

I have wrestled with myself over this. Why do I feel so angry? In my middle-class arrogance, do I think the poor and disaffected should be grateful rather than demanding? I hope not.

“Bullshit,” says Rob, when I tell him this. “It’s because you felt threatened.”  And I guess I do.

This particular incident occurred at the top of Bourke St, on a rainy cold Sunday, with few other people about.

As the man was angry, and possibly suffering a mental illness, part of me worried that if I didn’t give him a dollar, he might give me a thump, or worse still, pull a knife on me.

He’s not the only one that demands, rather than asks for money or cigarettes or train fares  when I go to the city.

Just last week, while waiting at the lights outside Young and Jackson’s in Flinders St, a dazed and unshaven heavy-set young man came up to me and my 79-year-old mother in law and asked for a cigarette.

“Sorry, we don’t smoke,” I replied, and he moved on.

My mother-in law does not often come to town, and she was disturbed by this event.

Once, I would have regarded this situation with pity. I often give to a poor disheveled man who sits crouched in doorways in Elizabeth St and Bourke St, or to women in particular, in case they have children to support, or to beggars who have dogs.

I even wrote a story about it The Age a few years back, urging people not to forget the poor and dispossessed after the Global Financial Crisis.

But my sense of responsibility and compassion has recently been replaced by unease and anger of my own.

Apart from feeling threatened, I am an angry at the assumption this particular beggar makes that I am holding out on him, and that I have endless funds to give.

Like most people, I have financial obligations and the pot of funds from which these must be met is finite.

Between the beggars, with or without dogs, the door-to-door fundraisers, the roadside tin-shakers and windscreen cleaners, the clip-board holders and raffle-ticket sellers outside supermarkets, the unsolicited telephone callers, the envelopes that arrive unsolicited in the mail and the bigger appeals to help maintain our hospitals and other necessary institutions, there seems to be endless demand on some individuals to solve the problems of others.

I’m happy to help some, but I cannot help all.  And when I venture out to go shopping, or to do errands or lunch with friends or see a film, I do not want to be harassed.

The same goes for being big issued. The Big Issue has replaced the old cry of Melbourne, which once was “Get yer ‘erald! (Get your Herald!) Now, it’s “Buy yer Big Issue! Help the homeless!”

I like the Big Issue and sometimes buy it. It’s interesting. I’m glad it exists and that it provides employment to those that might not otherwise have it. But I don’t like the way it’s sold.

“Have a lovely day, ladies,” the seller outside the Nova cinema in Carlton calls after us as my friend and I leave Lygon Court. “You have a good night,” he calls loudly and pointedly as we walk by.

He may as well add, “…while I’m stuck here out in the cold trying to make a buck, you heartless bitches!”

It’s hard to have a lovely night when you feel harassed and guilty.

At least on Red Poppy day, having bought a red poppy to wear in your lapel, you are not further harassed as you have proof that you had given. (Perhaps, Big Issue purchasers should be stamped or should wear a sticker to prove that they have that particular issue?)

Last year, shortly after my mother died and I was seeking distraction and solace in Readings, a beggar tapped my on the shoulder and asked, “Can you spare a couple of dollars?” I was shaken and surprised and too shocked to even think of giving him what he asked for.

“Did you know that beggars are asking your customers for money?” I told the shop assistant, who promptly asked the beggar to leave and gave me a Readings bag as compensation, which I didn’t need or want.

The beggar may well have had a legitimate need for money, but customers in shops are entitled to be left alone to browse without being harassed.

Drivers also have the right to stop at red lights without being harassed.

Pulling up at the intersection of Swan Sts and Punt roads, I always lock my doors now, as once, having declined to have my windscreen cleaned (mainly because it makes me nervous to be held up at the lights) the young man thumped my car in fury and swore at me.

Sadly, this is why the goodwill I once felt to those in my hometown who are less fortunate than me is slowly being eroded.

Melbourne is a beautiful city with a lot to offer, but it seems only if you have a lot to offer in return.

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Back again

I’m back. Apologies for neglecting my “shop” for so long, and especially to those who inquired about whether I might have dropped off my perch.

Thankfully, I am fine, now writing this in bedquarters back in Singapore where I am resting my aching tourist legs.

I’ve been back in Melbourne for six weeks, and then entertaining a friend in Singapore for the past week, so I haven’t had time to blog.

In truth, I haven’t had inclination ether. As you may have gathered form my earlier blog Every Waking Thought, I’m in two minds about the value of recording my every waking thought.

I did draft some blogs while in Melbourne, but didn’t post them.

But since your inquires, I’ve decided to post them here as a series of vignettes titled Melbourne Musings.

Obviously, although they are mostly written in the present tense they are now in the past.

I hope they help explain what I’ve been doing since I’ve been away.

For the next few weeks, I will be a student – studying playwriting online with Gotham Writers Workshop –  so I will blog between exercises when I have something to say.

Please let me know what you think.  I’d love to hear from you!

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