Tuesday, January 31, 2012


My parents raised us in a cultural vacuum, or near-vacuum, an uncomfortable space created by one parent's baby-and-bathwater view of cultural practices not implicitly described in the Bible and the other parent's putting up with it. I guess life sans baby, bathwater, towel and tub is easier to bear in the long run than the prospect of living indefinitely with belligerent dogma.

And so I've spent a lot of energy in the past few years trying to learn more about where I came from. One thing I'd observed and wanted to know the reason for: Hokkiens really, really like sugarcane. It's there on altars or near doors whenever there's a big festival; when you pass a bridal car on the street you know if at least part of the happy couple is Hokkien by the four feet or more of sugarcane stalk protruding from the car window. I wonder now why I've never heard of any traffic incidents caused by a motorcyclist or pedestrian getting swiped by sugarcane.

Image by Jesuino Souza

So, the short version of all that I've gathered from talking to relatives and reading strangers' blogs: the Hokkiens were once on the run from enemies. Sugarcane plantations were the only place that provided cover for our trembling ancestors while their homes got sacked and pillaged. And ever since then, the strong, flexible stalks have been a symbol of our thanks. They're present at every major milestone of life to remind us how fortunate we are that life goes on at all.

I also learnt that it's on the ninth day of each year (which falls today and YAY I just proved I still have some level of attachment to this blog and I am so glad I finally have a timely post, even if it did entail having lunch at my desk) that we ritually give thanks for our deliverance as a people. I wouldn't know first hand; see beginning of post. But I have always known that there's a day during the Chinese New Year period when my relatives go the whole hog -- actually, the whole pig (roasted, head on) -- preparing food and paper offerings. By the time I got old enough to ask questions, I was also old enough to decide I didn't want to ask them because I rather prefer sweet silence to another blood pressure raising, high-volume lecture on idolatry.

Much of my energy is spent on understanding why people say and do the things they do; when I fail to arrive at comprehension, I try to accept and tolerate because I think that is how you avert most of life's destructive moments. There are things worth fighting for but once they've been identified, you realise how much else there is, therefore how much isn't worth fighting over. So I don't bear any grudges for having had huge parts of my heritage withheld from me in my formative years. There's nothing I can do now to change it all.

I'm only left wondering: how do you get so hung up on whom to thank and how to express those thanks that you cause your entire family not to give thanks at all?

Monday, January 23, 2012


Today's the first day of the year for us Chinese and our Korean and Vietnamese kin, and anyone else who goes by the lunar calendar. All my best wishes to you for the year ahead. May you find yourself on the road to all that your heart desires.

Friday, January 13, 2012

What else did I do in December?

After looking through my pictures taken in that month, it appears this post might just as well be titled "What else did I eat in December?" I think I should make concerted effort to take pictures of other things I do, because I really do more than eat.


But since the food-skewed pictures have been taken, I might as well share the main highlights.

A couple of months ago, feeling restless and hungry, I took a good-sized detour on my way home from church. "Huge" in the manner of "unnecessarily crossed river even though church and home lie on the same bank". The happy result was my discovery of this Vietnamese restaurant on the business end of Northbridge. It's spacious, charmingly dingy, and serves authentic, subtly flavoured food that doesn't leave me parched. I've returned a few times since, seemingly happier with each successive experience.

December also being the month of Christmas, there was the work Christmas lunch. The set menu was a forehead-slapping ordeal for indecisive me. Did I want festive (turkey) or favourite (fish)? Unusual (veal)? Or how about going totally veggie? Veal won in the end, tweaking my animal-loving, humane-lifestyle sensitivities in the nose.

And then there was that full Sunday, which doesn't happen often at all these days (I write this thankfully, remembering seasons not so long ago when Sundays were more tightly scheduled, physically depleting, emotionally fraught and spiritually wounding than any other day). I was hungry after church and needed something to tide me over before our late-afternoon date with deep-fried sushi which was to take place before we went to the jazz club, finally, only eight months after we'd first talked about it. This kransky roll filled the gap just right.

You'd have thought I'd made Herr and Frau Hotdog's day when I insisted on having mine the way they would, the way any self-respecting German would. "Onions?" she'd asked, beaming when I nodded. Another nod to sauerkraut, and the beam got wider. But I have never seen a happier sausage-selling pair than these two when I winced at the offer of ketchup and accepted a squirt of mustard instead, not the common-or-garden mustard next to the ketchup but this secret mustard from the small bottle that stood on its own far away from the standard fixings. ("It is very, very hot. Trust me, you don't want too much." She underestimated my Malaysian-raised palate. I will have more of the "very, very hot" mustard next time.)

So, it appears I'm still eating meat. More uncomfortable dialogue between the different parts of me. Yippee.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Seize the fluffy, small, stumpy-billed moment

This lot were among those waddling around UWA's Arts courtyard when I had business being there a month ago.

I am of the "fluffy = adorable = where's my camera?" persuasion, which can be awkward on days when you've chosen to use the oversize tote with but one compartment and are holding abstracts from the conference on music and emotion in one hand, tea and a scone in the other.

But you do what you have to, because ducklings don't stay ducklings forever.

It isn't that the conference was such a drag that I had to go looking for fowl to photograph, or stay awake by posing donkey and conference materials just so. It was an interesting, eclectic three days. I made friends with an Iban girl studying music education in KL and an Australian Chinese doing her PhD in Spanish piano music at my alma mater. ("Friends" of the sort you have animated, stimulating conversations with at lunch and tea breaks but know you're unlikely ever to meet again.) Made contact with music therapy types. Listened to findings from music therapy studies on all sorts of populations: old, intellectually challenged, dying, friendly. Revised a long-ago lesson: People who can write up an interesting session abstract are not necessarily as gifted at making the actual session work. Watched a Japanese dude concentrate really hard on a score as a computer read his brain waves and played the music for all to hear.

And yet, when it was all over, I didn't wish that I could keep on listening to talks and learning from people who've done the hard yards with their clients... what I wished for was time to return to the courtyard soon with a book, beverage and sandwich, and all the time I wanted to sit and read and listen and watch ducks. A wish that has high chances of coming true.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

I like it old-school

I have a soft spot for hand-lettered signs.

Vietnamese eatery in a tiny arcade, Balmain, NSW

It follows, then, that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. And Part 1. I hope you do, too.

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