Thursday, December 24, 2009

A story, a song

If you see a girl with a treble clef at her throat or a grand piano around her wrist, this might be the story behind it.

My being at the markets is a rare occurrence, and my buying things (non-food, non-essential) things at them is even rarer because Sydney craft markets tend to be expensive. But on this cloudy, UV-heavy Saturday I had set aside a small amount of mad money to be used in the event that I saw something I liked.

Well, that didn't happen.

I did see and buy something -- two things -- but not because I liked them. It was so much more than liking them at sight; I knew they were mine long before I even saw them. Does that sound like something a stalker would say? Fine, then. As long as all I'm stalking is small objects of 925 silver, I think society can handle it.

For a few weeks, I'd been wanting a new item of jewellery that had something to do with music -- something that I don't just love, but rely on. Come to think of it, I see music the way my mother viewed coffee. I can quote her, practically verbatim: "Coffee is my everything. It gets me up in the morning and helps me to sleep at night. When I'm at work coffee perks me up and helps me stay focused."

Hearing variations of the same theme on almost a daily basis for years is bound to make one memorise that theme.

But just substitute "music" in there and you have me. OK, I know music isn't my everything because I also have dance and chocolate and reading and lavender and fluffy animals and all the other things that have the same effects on me, but music means a lot to me. I know I am in really, really bad shape when I won't sing and won't listen to a song. Ironically, the cure for that state usually involves forcing myself to do either one or both.

Anyway, I had been reflecting for a few weeks on how much music means to me, and I'm a girl, so my mind tends to wander over to jewellery when considering ways to commemorate something so significant. I did my research, but everything I saw was either cheap and hideously distasteful (according to my taste) or exorbitantly exquisite. Since I am at present, but hopefully not for much longer, still a Mostly Unemployed Student, I couldn't afford the latter and wouldn't settle for the former. I stopped looking and decided it could wait until that one day when everything would fit into place and I'd see something I could afford and could wear in public without first having to sign a blood pact with some clan organisation.

So, when I spotted the treble clef in a tray of silver odds and ends, you may imagine that I felt someone had placed it there for me. The price was friendly, and I got out my wallet to pay. And then my eyes fell on...

... the grand piano.

A tiny silver grand piano.

See, another dream of mine, years older than the one of owning a piece of music-themed jewellery, is to own a grand piano.

Although that most probably will happen one day, clearly it hasn't happened yet. And given the way things had been going of late, my faith as it stood that warm December day was rather too depleted to reach the grand-piano compartment in my trunkful of dreams.

I knew I had to get the piano, too. I got the two charms for a song (bet you saw that one coming!), less than I'd budgeted for just one. And, along with the answer to my recent quest, I got a hint to my future, a key to not being so Cranky and Easily Upset over facing my post-Master's future.

I'd gone to the market that morning to accompany a friend who'd placed it on her Must Do While In Sydney list. I'd prepared myself to browse and not buy. I'd allocated an amount of spending money so small that I wasn't expecting to find anything in that price range. In the same way, I'd shrunk the space around my self. I'd made myself into something that filled the cracks in my clients' and friends' lives, but didn't have a lot left over for me. I concluded that what I wanted might have to wait, so in the meantime, why not treat it like an aimless walk through a market full of beautiful objects that I couldn't afford?

As I walked away with my new treasures, cheap trinkets to anybody else, I saw how it was about so much more than jewellery. I learnt that day about knowing that my dreams are remembered. And that the desires of my heart are recorded, even when I've given up on receiving them.

If you see a girl with a treble clef at her throat or a grand piano around her wrist, this might be the story behind it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A change of heart

"I hope you never hear those words. Your mom. She died. They are different than [sic] other words. They are too big to fit in your ears." (Mitch Albom, For One More Day)

All right, so his grammar isn't perfect and his book editor didn't pick it up either (these Americans... sniff) but Albom kind of hit the nail on the head. These aren't nice words to hear.

But I have had to hear them, or words to their effect.

Fortunately, my version was kinder. My ears didn't feel the slightest bit enlarged or bombarded, because I knew before I reached home that day ten years ago. I knew even while I was driving home from uni, knew there was no harm in dropping my car-pool friends off because I wasn't going to make it in time to say goodbye anyway. I knew the moment I walked in the door and the afternoon quiet was a different sort of afternoon quiet, a stillness that felt as though someone had flung an invisible film over everything and even the cobwebs under the stairs were banned from quivering in the wind. I knew when I saw my brother come down the stairs, as though he'd been waiting to hear my car. Waiting to meet me the moment I walked in the door so that I would not have to ask. Waiting to come close, look me in the eye and whisper, "Mummy's dead."

I have never spoken of that moment to anyone. It got lost in the jungle of officious tasks that materialises when a family member dies. We had a very distraught grandma and aunt to tend to, phone calls to make, authorities to notify. Soon enough, everybody who mattered knew that my mum had passed away. How I found out became an insignificant detail not to be bothered with.

I think that's how part of me, too, got lost in that jungle, a teenager bewildered by the sudden reality of life without her best friend.

It's comforting to know that that part of me was never lost alone, though, because my brother has always been in my memory of that moment. And out of everyone in my family, I can think of nobody I would rather have to break the news to me. For my boisterous, energetic, umm, hefty brother can also be my gentle, sensitive, tender brother when occasion requires.

Occasion did require, and he didn't fall short.

I don't know why I felt I had to write this post. It must be important if it's got me out of bed after midnight. Maybe it's that I know, even now as festive songs jangle in my head and I can't step out on the streets without passing a car that has antlers and a red nose, that sometime in your life, you are probably going to have to hear those words too. And if I don't write this post now I never will, and you'll never read it, and then how will it help you when you need it?

I pray that whenever your turn comes, you will have as gracious a messenger as I did.

I know. The timing of this post really does seem a little incongruous with the season. But life and death don't seem to respect our preference for convenience and congruity. I had to accept -- or should have accepted -- that fact when my mother died a week before Christmas Eve. I think ten years is long enough to spend being angry with God for his apparent bad timing. More than long enough.

As misleading as it looked to begin with, this post is a joyous one, and filled with thanks that I am finally able to express with no strings attached. I think the gratefulness only came, could only have come, when I stepped off my "Yes, God, I do know better than you, and that's why I have a right to say your timing sucks" high horse and admitted that no, I don't know better because I don't have a clue at all.

It isn't as though I don't miss my mother this time of year, because our family had some crazy (in a good way... mostly) Christmases back in the day. But even taking into account the trees, the presents, the food, the cousins, the music and the laughter and the colour and the not being able to sleep and not being able to tell whether it was from overexcitement, indigestion or the fact that 14 people were crammed into our made-for-six-at-the-most-any-more-and-you're-pushing-it home, taking aaaalllll of that into account, I am able to say with all my heart that I know I am blessed and that for every tear I have cried, I'm going to have some massive smiles. And then some. I've checked, it does work that way.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I met a new client for the first time the other day.

"You're the one who phoned to make the appointment?" she exclaimed. "On the phone, I had this impression of you as English and blonde."

I didn't know whether to feel insulted. Decided not to be, even if I should.

A few days later, at church we were setting up in a different room from the usual and I couldn't get the keyboard to switch on. We swapped plug outlets. We moved the entire setup to an extension plugged into the outlet across the room. I jiggled the cord every which way, because the contact even on the best of days is very poor. But none of it worked and now I was getting absolutely nothing, not even a blink from the display.

And then I popped around behind the keyboard and discovered I had plugged the adaptor in to the pedal jack.

Maybe my voice knows something I don't.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dance therapy

Last Monday, I had an unexpected day off from placement. Thus I found myself at the Broadway Jazz class that I almost never get to take because of certain clients who can only meet me after office hours. This instructor's choreography is usually a little precious (I guess that's to be expected, given what the class is called) but still a nice balance between challenging enough to be fun, and easy enough to get a good workout out of it.

So, since I had all this excess energy from a restful weekend with malfunctioning stovetops sparking merrily just eight feet from my bed, that sort of thing, I went for the routine with more gusto than usual. I had exited the spin and was going for the big fist-in-the-air ending when I heard and felt a glorious crack.

I thought I'd injured myself dancing, and it would not have been the first time, but a split second later I realised I wasn't in pain, I was out of it.

Five whole years after its onset, to be exact. One morning in 2004 I woke up with my neck out of joint, and it never quite seemed to go back. A change in pillows and several visits to a Chinese sinseh acclaimed for his joint work, not to mention countless Thai massages and chiropractic adjustments, didn't improve it. For five years I had gone through life with a neck that only turned about 35 degrees to the left before creakily, crankily giving up and making me pay the price in pain and discomfort.

All that's in the past now. It's been a week and I still have the same mobility. I was always puzzled by how a seemingly simple problem (according to the professionals who, nonetheless, were never able to fix it) had managed to remain for so many years. Now I am equally perplexed by the fact that it only got fixed through my being in this particular city, having signed up as a member of this particular gym, taking this particular class because on this particular day my counselling placement centre was closed at the last minute to give its staff a rest after their Christmas carnival.

I always knew that dance was healing...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

When in the city...

This city, at any rate...

... you might want to wander on down to David Jones to look at their animated festive store windows.

Some of the figures are looking a little frazzled. RSI, perhaps, from doing the same limited gesture several times a minute, all the live long day?

But still, they're nice enough to look at while wishing that one's two-year-old nephew were conveniently in town so that one could take him (and the whole family, yes adults too, no I haven't forgotten that I also have adult family members) out to enjoy the sights. Fortunately, although I do miss him more than I can express, I don't need to have a token Small Person with me in order to enjoy something childish in public. Considering that up to a couple of months ago I officially Hated Christmas and would have walked away from any sign of decorations and festive music, it's a miracle that yesterday saw me happily snapping away.

Lion royalty and out-of-scale jungle animals apparently celebrating that "the Lord is come" in the 'Joy to the World' window.

Starfish trio accompanying 'I Saw Three Ships'. I love their teensy weensy score that was probably all of 3cm tall.

Detail of pig guests, penguin waiter and cat fiddler from 'Good King Wenceslas'.

I have many more pictures and a couple of videos, but given the way Blogger has been behaving today, I don't think it deserves for me to spend any more time with it.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The sago sage

These are some of the things you might learn when you set out to make a batch of melon sago dessert for the monthly after-service lunch at church.

First, you might learn that three and a half hours is about three hours too long to soak dried sago pearls. If you had planned to "save time" by putting them to soak before you leave the house for an appointment, don't. Just... don't.

Next, maybe you will find that it's best to cook the pearls in a pot with as large a base as possible. This will enable you to stir the whole pot evenly, reaching all of the pearls at the bottom. This way, you won't have them overcook and stick to the bottom, leaving you with a steadily growing lump of starch. You might come to this conclusion by having first tried to cook one cup of sago in a 6" saucepan.

Third, it's possible that you will find you urgently need to think of a way to rinse cooked sago when you are alone and have nobody to help you spoon the sticky grains out of the pot and into the strainer. The solution will need to be reached quickly, before the sago cooks itself into unsalvageable starchiness like the batch before.

Fourth, you might learn to pray like never before.

Fifth, you may discover that it can take a very long time to prepare two melons. This is especially true if you choose, instead of simply cutting the melon into cubes, to use a flower-shaped vegetable cutter, and you insist that only perfectly formed flowers get to escape the pulp pile.

Sixth, there is a possibility, ever so slight, that you will have first-hand experience of the ugliest and most orange kitchen encounter ever: Ripe Melon Meets Stab Mixer in a Not-Too-Shallow Bowl That Still Just Isn't Deep Enough.

Seventh, you might learn that a small test bowl of the dessert is not only a good way to gauge the result and make sure that you won't be presenting any nasty surprises to your church members; it's also a good supper for someone who gave up eating dinner in favour of boiling sago and pulverising melons.

Finally, you might see the broad grins and hear the chatter of a church that you almost walked out on because it was too painful... and maybe you'll figure that staying through the pain was worth the joy of being here now. Just as all of that soaking (okay, some of the soaking), boiling, rinsing, straining, cutting, chopping and blending was worth the sight of those happy smiles.

Gifts from afar

My loot from Singapore. Multi-yarn scarf from Maggie; sticker sheet, mug cover (topped with a CAT! A coy eyelash-batting grey cat! It doesn't get much better than that), and instant hot pack with token Engrish phrases from Michelle.

"So that you have no more spider incidents," was the explanation for the mug cover.

Thank you, dears. It makes the distance between Sydney, Singapore and Perth a little more negligible.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Love that hair (no cut)

I have been hearing this one statement a lot lately. By a lot, I mean almost everyone I meet, even people I only just met a couple of days before.

"Love that haircut!"

Which is funny, because I haven't had a haircut. Not since April, anyway, when I was back in KL for all of 20 days... actually, that's not true. It wasn't all of 20 days, because two of those days were spent in Singapore, and with the nine hours of travel time that trip involved, it brings my total time in KL down to about 17 days.

When you know that time is limited, you account for every minute like a miser counting pennies. In any case, my hair has not been cut in a good while.

And it's funny, because for weeks I have been toying with the idea of having it cut. Now it seems I've somehow arrived at the desired result without having to go through the not-so-desired process. I especially do not enjoy the part where I hand over my hard-won money while wondering whether my instructions ("trim an inch off the ends") were too complicated.

So no, I haven't had my hair cut... but thanks for the compliments. My "hairdresser" does a great job, with everything in my life. Hair is just the crowning point.

And off I run before you grab a tomato to sling at me for attempting a bad pun ending.
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