Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Art of Stalking

I spent last weekend with my new (to me) digital camera, Annie Dillard's Pilgram at Tinker Creek and a dilettante attitude under a gorgeous Moreton bay or Port Jackson fig at Orleigh Park, West End. I read and photographed, lazed and wondered. I promise to spend more days like that, rather than like this.

I had been reading Annie Dillard's treatise on how she discovered the art of stalking a musk rat. I followed her advice in a loose way - or at least was inspired by it (at p 184):

In summer, I stalk. Summer leaves obscure, heat dazzles, and creatures hide from the red-eyed sun, and me. I have to seek things out. The creatures I seek have several sense and free will; it becomes apparent that they do not wish to be seen.
Annie Dillard speaks of losing herself in the stalking (at p 198 - 199):
[The muskrat] never knew I was there. I never knew I was there, either. ... My own self-awareness has disappeared. ... I wonder if we do not waste our energy just by spending every waking minute saying hello to ourselves.

And so I tried to stalk a willy wagtail. There were other people at the park: a couple on another bench under another fig, a sole young man with his swag and a group of people having a picnic. All were absorbed in their own business but I could not evade my awareness of my slow and occassional halting to follow the willy wagtail with a camera. I'd stop where I thought I was just close enough and then cast a look about me to see who had been watching my creep towards the creature. I felt as an exhibit in Monty Python's Silly Walk museum. Invariably the casting about would lead to the willy wagtail flying to another perch and wagging its tail in a taunting, happy way.

This picture was taken while lying on a park bench engrossed in my reading of Annie Dillard's wondrous book. The willy wagtail flew to within inches of my nose and then landed on the grass, wagging a few teasing times. I extracted the camera from its case, pointed and shot.

If you have a interest in the world around you, read Annie Dillard. She sparks and amuses and her writing is nothing short of meditiatively incandescent. I feel as a child - renewed and wondering - when reading her work.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Nguyen Van Tuong

It angers and saddens me that this young man's life has ended.

It angers and saddens me that comments I have read from the "Asian Online Community" are so misinformed. I did not join the forum to comment - I am not a member and I do not particularly like net forums. I will not link it here because I do not wish to repeat the inanities.

One should not die for a mistake. One should not die for any crime. Whether you are Saddam Hussein (yes I am talking to you Mr Howard, oh prime minister mine) or a young ethnic Viet Australian, the message the death penalty sends is not: "Young people beware drugs" (I paraphrase) but: "We do not value human life."

The right to life is the most basic and most fundamental of human rights.

There has been no convincing argument that the death penalty as deterrent is any more successful than imprisonment.

People in prisons - the world over - are usually the most disadvantaged, the most marginalised and the poor. They will also be the ones most likely to die for crimes relating to drugs or violence if death is the mandated penalty.

The system makes mistakes.

I am yet - and hope never to be - convinced that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for any crime.

Nguyen Van Tuong's death was a waste. My heart is with his family and friends. I know the unreality of losing a loved one to senselessness. But my mind is with Amnesty International. I wish them success in their campaign to end capital punishment all over the world.


In little more than a week I will be flying to Viet Nam.

It is almost unimaginable. I alternate between excitement and forgetfulness. My first trip overseas from Australia will be to my 'motherland'. Those racists sure will be glad that I'm finally going home.

We are flying into Ha Noi and out of Ho Chi Minh city (Sai Gon). Our itinerary includes a tour of Ha Long By, Hue, Da Nang and Hoi An. From Ha Noi to Hoi An, we will be staying in four star hotels - cushioning ourselves from the culture shock that will be going to a developing country.

After Hoi An, we join my mother and father in Sai Gon where we will visit the remnants of my family in Viet Nam - one sister of my mother's and many brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins of my father's. The family live in the south Mekong delta area and we will spend a decent week exploring, reminiscing and teeming with emotion. I expect my sister to deplore the hygiene and lack of amenities. I expect to be confused, lost in the language and unable to suppress my reactions - whether of horror or joy - to anything. I am most afraid of the last.

Currently, I am trying to set up a photo gallery on a free web based photo hosting site. At present, it is not working to my high Blogger expectations. I can't see what I am getting straight away. I have to have my postings filtered. I have to wait.

In any event, the searching has spurred me to using a Creative Commons Copyright License on my work.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Summers in Qld

The gorgeous frangipani says that it is summer in Qld. Its fragrance mirrors the sticky humidity and its incontrovertible cheeriness says: "Don't work! Celebrate summer with me."

When I lived in Melbourne, I caught trains to random suburbs - my notion of exploring and making the town known to me. When summer came round, the sleeping Qlder brain cells starting looking for frangipanis, poncianas and mango trees. I could never quite understand why Melbourne summer felt wrong until I stumbled across a sad frangipani in some suburban yard in Epping. Its bare winter branches were struggling to come alive in the drier Melbourne heat. Some brave flowers had burst, to pave the way for its less sure siblings.

I felt like the Epping frangipani in Melbourne. Putting on an intrepid persona when really I was a supressed and more fearful version of myself. It was time to come home.

Monday, October 24, 2005

We could start somewhere else

On 20 April 1983, my family arrived in Australia.

The story of our migration from Viet Nam to Australia is full of so many threads that I have yet to pull together, yet to fully comprehend.

I guess the real story of my family’s migration to Australia started well before I was born and has its phases: the broad story of why, the intricacies of how and when.

In early 1975, towards the end of the Vietnam War, US troops who were leaving Vietnam made a unilateral offer to take any South Vietnamese who wished to go with them to the US. Three of my uncles, the third, the eighth and the twelfth (Tien, Quan and Y) decided to take this offer. Without telling my grandparents, they left Vietnam with the expectation of arriving in the US and then bringing the rest of my family over. Unfortunately, the Vietnamese who went with the US troops were unceremoniously dumped in Hong Kong, the troops returning to the US without taking my uncles with them. My grandmother did not know where they were, and was distraught. My father, being a practical and logical man, realised that my uncles had gone with the US troops. I do not know how my uncles finally contacted my grandmother, or even when they arrived in Australia.

In 1979, the communist government of Vietnam declared that part Chinese persons were free to leave the country. My family lived in an area that was predominantly Chinese-Vietnamese (Bac Lieu); both my maternal grandparents’ parents had been Chinese and my paternal grandfather was half-Chinese.

My grandmother chose 1979 as the time to leave. Assisting her decision was the government's decision to compulsorily acquire my grandfather's fishing business and boats. She went with my eldest brother and the rest of my aunts and uncles (excepting my mother, aunts number four and seven), and their children. At this time, only my immediate family was almost fully formed. Only I, the youngest of eight, was yet to be born. Aunt number six was married and had, at that stage, two sons. Her husband’s mother refused to allow the eldest to leave Vietnam and so he remained. An aunt-in-law, the wife of uncle Tien (number three) had one son. She also accompanied my grandmother.

My family were not strongly political. My father’s family were landowners, and he himself was staunchly nationalist but despised most political leaders for their unethical behaviour. All of my family, both my father’s and mother’s side were pacifist – evading where possible any involvement in the war.

My grandmother, eldest brother, aunts, uncles and cousins went by rickety boat, onto the high seas. I do not know if they went first to Malaysia, as we later would, or whether they travelled as directly as they knew how. I do not know if Australia was then their goal, or if at that stage it was the US. At that time, I believe my grandmother knew that her sons had aimed for the US, but still did not know their exact whereabouts. This astounds me; that with the distance and time, that we still found each other in the end.

This rickety boat was picked up by an Italian Red Cross ship, and taken to Italy. This part of my family stayed in Italy a few years, and under the refugee programme eventually migrated to Australia, because this is where my three uncles ended up. Somehow, at some time, the connection was made.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

A return

Double meanings amuse me.

Um, Ba, The Accountant & I will be travelling to Viet Nam in December of this year. A few weeks ago, when I had leave approved from work, I was very excited. Now, as the routine of daily life wears me in, I have almost forgotten that we are going.

I have long wanted to return to Viet Nam - and it is very important that I return with my parents, but especially with my father. Ba is well enough and happy enough to go and to take us.

We will be staying with the remnants of Ba's family, one group of whom lives at Hang Bay 13 - the place of our first home.

The Accountant will use the opportunity to research more deeply our family history, to note down the links and the stories. And I? I will accompany her, and I hope the landscape will allow me to meditate on what and how I want this to be written, what it means to me and what I can do for it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Memory is in the present tense.


A man struggles with his daughters in the grey light of evening. A bedraggled group of people wade through water, waves beating against chests and faces, arms desperately grasping at items soon to be lost in the water. This is where we lose most of our family photos; Um does not forget. We live beside and from the river; we must fight it to find another home.

Ba is leading and he carries me, asleep on his shoulder. Um walks somewhere behind, carrying Brother 8 who is not asleep but quietly hugging his much loved blanket. Between them stumble my sisters: No 4, No 6 and No 7, heads down, tired and alone. The cold water and Ba's jerky movements wake me - Ba calls back to Um asking about the sleeping pills she should have fed me. Um exasperatedly calls out - I fed her two. I wriggle and demand to be put down, to walk on my own through the water. I am two years old, going on three. Unimpressed, Ba shushes me, continues his struggle towards the distant green light of a small waiting fishing boat.

Sister 7 is youngest of those struggling on their own. She is five, soon to be six. The waves knock her down time and again. At last, it is too much. She turns around - it is so much easier to walk with the tide, rather than against it - and returns to the land: it is so much closer than the distant light, there is warmth and food back there; ahead there is only uncertainty and months on the water with only rice and salt to eat. But Sister 7 is responsible - she calls out to Um & Ba, calls out that she is returning home. Um yells at Ba and at Sister 7: at Ba to stop Sister 7, at Sister 7 to not be stupid, to continue with the family, who will look after her? "I will look after myself", Sister 7 announces and continues towards land. "Walk by yourself then" Ba says to me, letting me fall as he races back to collect Sister 7, whom he scoops up and carries. He picks me up, too and carries us both, struggling for different reasons.

We arrive at the boat, though it is hard to recall how. The walk was interminable and yet, may have lasted no more than half an hour.

People often ask me whether I was a boat person. My only response is - sort of; or maybe, no, not really. We came by boat to Malaysia and stayed in the refugee camp in Kuala Lumpur for many months before coming to Australia by the family reunion program under the auspices of the UN refugee program. From KL to Australia, we flew. We are boat and plane people. It was harder than for some, easier than for others.

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