Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Give me sleep or give me - more sleep

I have always needed rather a lot of sleep. It is very aggravating for someone like me to need as much sleep as I seem to need to function even moderately effectively. There are all these things that I want to do ... but, like a child, I have to go to bed by a certain time most nights otherwise the following day is as unproductive as one of my best exam-study-period procrastination days.

I have a theory for why I need so much sleep (I have theories for most things). Generally, I'm aware that many of my theories are pretty crack-pot, but it's always gratifying to discover that someone else comes up with pretty crack-pot theories, remarkably like your own, without the remotest possibility that they would have ever had the distinct displeasure of meeting you.

My crack-pot theory about sleep is that my childhood sleep patterns are so finely ingrained, and so perfectly suited to the sometimes adult me that they keep bludgeoning into my everyday life, demanding I take a midday nap and go to bed around 10 and definitely no later than midnight on a school night.

An Aside: The repetition of 'crack-pot' is making me wonder why this term is used. So I looked it up in my dead-tree etymology book. Unfortunately, my dead-tree book is too concise and does not include an entry for crack-pot. If you google / wikipedia / doc-dictionary it, you might come up with something. My theory - yes, another one - is that the word is intimately connected with its imagery. This theory is just like a cracked pot: absolutely full of holes. But, like a well-worn, well loved pot, we can't help but bear an affection for it, can we? Maybe I should start calling it the ostraka theory?

Well, this crack-pot theory from the erudite bowels of the International Herald Tribune goes along the lines that there is such as thing as: "sleep's older primal pattern trying to reassert itself."

Admittedly, Professor A. Roger Ekirch, (who is a professor of history at Virginia Tech and the author of At Day's Close: Night in Times Past) is actually referring to an unusual interrupted pattern of night-time sleeping that seems remarkably civilised to me.
"... pre-industrial families commonly experienced a "broken" pattern of sleep, though few regarded it in a pejorative light. Until the modern age, most households had two distinct intervals of slumber, known as "first" and "second" sleep, bridged by an hour or more of quiet wakefulness. Usually, people would retire between 9 and 10 o'clock only to stir past midnight to smoke a pipe, brew a tub of ale or even converse with a neighbor."
How delightful is this sleep pattern? I could come home from work, eat & clean up, sleep my first sleep, spend an hour or so of the wee hours doing all kinds of auto-didact, polymathic things and then return for 'Sleep mark II'. Lo, I would wake up refreshed for an incredibly productive day at work where I would only have to work about 5 hours in the morning, have a delicious repaste for my midday nutrition, nap for a little bit and then work for another 5 hours or so. Perhaps I shall suggest this to my workplace who are so beholden to the notion of 'flexible work practices'. That's pretty flexible, wouldn't you say?

When I was in Viet Nam and with my father's family at que nha*, we slept with the tides. In the late afternoon, after another meal of rice, prawns and fish, most of the men and the guests would dangle around in hammocks until it was time to haul in more fish. I wondered then whether my sleep desires resulted from some kind of ingrained fishing tide pattern, part and parcel of my parent's genes (my mother's family were also fisher-folk). I just like that my obsessive need for sleep relates to some primeval and archetypal force - not that I am overworked, underexercised or just plain lazy.

* I'm going to post about this phrase really soon. But as a stop gap: it means 'ancestral rural home'. *

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Ha Long Bay

The sky, a deep blue sea
A golden boat,
wind-driven, lists and tilts -
unmoored, it sinks.
And coldly, time flows on.
~ Tran Gia Thoai

A poem actually about a falling leaf, but I hijack it here to capture the ephemeral beauty of visiting Ha Long Bay. These pictures don't really do Ha Long any justice.

We were so lucky - it was just my sisters and I (and our tour guide and the boat crew) on our Halong boat. Such a delight to have the entire boat to ourselves, and hence, the entire Bay too. Miles, acres, gallons of water and grey overcast sky were ours alone to meditate on and enjoy. It was the most thoroughly peaceful experience, siting at the end of the boat and just widely arcing the bay, watching the sea eagles dip and soar overhead, and marvelling at the limestone cliffs in all directions.

I loved the looming limestone cliffs, wild and untrammelled by tourists' feet, who must admire from afar. I took these because I hope to head back one day and explore the cliffs more intimately and directly - to climb all over them with the backdrop of the deep blue-green sea and the overwhelming serenity of the place.

I watched this woman and her child - or grandchild - row almost a kilometre at a measured pace. I could not help but covet the peacefulness of the journey, although I do not actually know for what reason they were rowing.

The child looks to me like he is being berated, head hung in shame.

I wish to live in this house - I came home and told my partner we were moving to Ha Long.

I am sure that there will be satellite facilities and my workplace will be more than happy to accomodate me working from home, from the China Sea. And then I wake up from my dream. I am not a very strong swimmer, and nor is my partner, and living in one of these houses is clearly asking for trouble!

But still, I have long dreamed of my own home.

I used to be an insomniac and my trick to get myself to fall asleep was to picture a home; I visualise and decorate it thoroughly. I usually fall asleep by the time I get into the backyard. I still use this trick when I am having trouble sleeping. The house I imagine changes; sometimes I am so familiar with the home that I merely have to start and the rest of it fills itself in for me.

The houses have changed as I and my desires change. When I was in high school and desperately wanted more privacy than my large family could give, I visualised a large warehouse, the edges filled with book-shelves from floor to ceiling (a recurring decoration in all my homes), and my bedroom and bathroom in a loft, in one corner of the high-ceiling warehouse. I don't recall installing a kitchen. Currently, the home I picture is environmentally sound - using it's natural surrounds (it's built on the side of a cliff) for light, heating and cooling. It has solar power, and water tanks. The kitchen is large, full of shelves for my many herbs and spices, and hanging space for my cooking utensils. This is my current phase in life - attempting to live more consciously of my impact on my environment.

Ha Long is a 360 degree experience, inside and out.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Take them off!

This sign made me laugh and laugh and laugh. Lucky for me, I was wearing long trousers so I didn't have to walk into the pagoda pant-less. Nevertheless, many people stood and stared at me laughing at the sign. I was quite a tourist attraction - I'm surprised no one took a photograph of me. No one else laughed. Well, that's not entirely true. When I explained the sign to my sister (whom I've taken to calling the Accountant) what was so hysterically hilarious about the sign, she also joined me in a stomach enhancing chuckle.

I am sure the good folk at One Pillar Pagoda did not intend the meaning I took. But if you are vsiting Ha Noi, heed my advice: don't wear shorts - you may be asked to take them off!

This is not One Pillar Pagoda. One Pillar Pagoda has many many pictures of it, and when I was there it was surrounded by tourists (me & my two sisters being more culprits) and the beauty of the place was lost. This was a pagoda we visited at almost dawn one morning - Chua Tran Quoc. (Chua is the Viet word for pagoda, so this is Tran Quoc pagoda) The pagoda is on the edge of a Ho Tay ( West lake). To maximise the little time we had in Ha Noi, we got up at the wee hours - the first morning to see all the folks doing Tai Chi and other exercises beside Hoan Kiem lake. Our last morning in Ha Noi we rushed out to Ho Tay as my eldest sister (the Vegetarian) wanted to go to a pagoda that she could actually pray at. The Vegetarian prayed while the Accountant and I wandered around the grounds - empty of all people except for a young woman ineffectually sweeping the path.

Viet Nam Airlines

Viet Nam airlines were not the terrible airline that most people suggested to me they were. We flew internally twice and both times the flights were delayed with little explanation - but a delay is not a hiccup that makes me consider an airline to be avoided at all costs. Efficiency, though worthwhile, is not the highest value that I can attribute to airlines.

I'm undecided about what is. It probably depends upon the reason I am flying. The ability to stay up, without too much rocking about, seems like a pretty good start. Cleanliness and friendly staff are also up there.

But I was amused by the food.

My sister took these photos, with her eensy teensy camera. I don't think 'amused' described my sister's reaction to the food. Sure, there was a level of humour. But the way she picked up this poor roll, doing it's best to be appetising, turned it over and put it down again could be better described as disdain. I ate the roll. It filled a roll-sized hole in my belly.

What I did not find amusing was the mid-teen caucasian North American girl who said to her father, loudly and in disgust - "Tell them to move their feet. They stink." Her father, obligingly, did not tell 'them' anything. He called a hostess over and told her to tell them to move their feet. The offending feet belonged to locals travelling. I wondered whether it was just too much for the mid-teen to turn around and attempt to communicate that she did not want the feet on her arm-rest. I'm sure there are appropriate gestures. She could have even indicated that the smell was not to her liking - surely pinching the nose is a universal gesture? Who knows, the locals may have spoken English.

Fetishising Asian-ness

I was going to call this post 'asian fetish' but then I got worried about what people might google and come up with. In any event, I read this story which is both humourous and sad, and it made me want to respond. But because I babble and comments are meant to be brief, here I am responding in a little web-room of my own.

My partner is not Asian. Although it has been suggested that he is Asian looking (his eyes, though blue, are almond shaped). We regularly have dinner at a Viet restaurant near where we live and were there beside a table at which sat three east Asians - I am not sure from which specific country - one man and two women, all roughly my age-ish.

The tables, like many Viet restaurants, are set reasonably close to each other. I am notorious for eavesdropping on other conversations - something about having once read that if you want to be a writer, than you should observe conversations - but it would have been quite difficult not to overhear. The conversation was about a movie called Glitter which I think was one with Mariah Carey in it. I tuned out. But I tuned right back in again when I heard - "There's another Asian girl with a white boy."

The speaker made the comment that lots of Asian girls went out with white guys because white guys think they're hot, but Asian guys then get left with no one because no white girls will go out with Asian guys. Instead, Asian guys go 'back home' and find some girl from home to marry.

There were so many assumptions in this brief monologue that I wanted to scream - not even counting the complete non-attempt to pretend she wasn't talking about my partner and I. I could not even discuss it with my partner because then I'd be guilty of the same thing!

First of all, I was thoroughly insulted that she thought the reasons why my white partner was dating Asian me was because he found Asian girls hot. Not because I might be interesting, that we shared intellectual and political interests, a sense of partnered independence, or the plethora of reasons, some known and some unknown to me, why we might be together but because Asian girls are hot. Insert oriental or exotic.

Secondly, the idea that Asian guys get left with no one. An inference I draw from this statement is that it is the hot Asian girl's fault that the Asian guy has no one to partner with. That the Asian girl should be preserved for Asian guys only.

Oh – and as an aside which I won't delve into – why not an Asian boy?

Thirdly, that white girls won't go out with Asian guys. Has she asked a white girl? Although in my anecdotal experience, I certainly do know more couples that are Caucasian male & Asian female than I do Caucasian female & Asian male, I know a number of couples of the latter description. My favourite pair met in Viet Nam – both as travellers, he from Australia and she from a northern European country. In Australia, he has no accent and she does. And I've known the reverse fetish to occur in women, most memorably captured in the statement (said to me): I want a chocolate baby. This blog is not even go to go into the can of worms that statement unveils. Not today.

Fourthly, does she have a fear of miscegenation? Is that an implication of her words? That's also a topic for another day, boys and girls.

Finally, that the Asian guy must go 'back home' to find someone to marry. Because the entire purpose of a relationship is the end goal of marriage. But marriage is another socio-cultural assumption that I currently don't have the patience to dissect.

My thoughts in response relate to the role of women from non English speaking migrant background. I don't know which type of Asian these two women and man were or if the same place / country, whether they would consider themselves Australian or not, whether they are migrants, or indeed, anything at all about them. The one assumption I allowed myself to make of them was that they were not local – they were discussing how best to get to somewhere in the city and certainly weren't discussing the most direct route.

Here are the bare bones of a theory: Women embody culture. (That one should not be very controversial). In a diasporic or migrant community, women come to represent the continuation of the culture and traditions of the homeland. The 'loss' of women to the dominant culture is a loss the greater because it is a putative loss of the next generation. To prevent this happening, women are more strictly policed – their behaviour more circumscribed to ensure that no loss will occur. I am a feminist; I believe that, in most societies and certainly in both the societies of which I am a part (mainstream Australian and first generation Viet-Australian), women are subservient to men and women's interests are subordinated to that of men's. In most societies, women are still “the other” - the one who is seen, not the one who sees. Women's roles are still limited – not necessarily to just being a wife or a mother – but limited in the extent to which women are referable to something other than their own autonomous beings and their own autonomous desires to flourish as complete humans. There are rules about how a woman should behave – and within a first generation migrant community, there are distinct ideas about the type of woman that a migrant woman can be. Even more so than in mainstream Westernised cultures, a woman is to be chaste, family oriented and obedient. And when she ceases to be any of these things she cannot be a part of the migrant culture from which she arose.

A woman of a background different to that of the mainstream may enter the mainstream for a relationship because it does not necessarily require her to behave in strict or limited ways. Although there are probably still limitations, these may be fewer than those expected of her as a migrant woman, within the migrant culture. A man of a background different to the mainstream has greater freedoms to explore his ideas of flourishing and remain within the strictures of his culture, and may not need to seek out a relationship from the mainstream because his ideas of his autonomy are accepted within the migrant culture or community.

As the generations go on, there should be less distinction about whether an Asian girl dates a white boy and not the other way around. Because the Asian girl and white boy may be remarkably similar to each other. I have a good friend who appears Asian. She is Australian and has been in Australia longer than my partner and, though few people will ask him where he is from, they invariably ask her. She is more gracious than I am, and will tell them that her grandparents are Chinese.

I wonder how my nieces and nephews, who will be second generation and who speak only English, will navigate these rocky multi-cultural and assumption filled seas?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Where are you from?

The question is heard often when travelling, and understandably so. But I am asked this question rather often at home. The question took on a different flavour while I was in Viet Nam and Thailand – I did not mind it so much.

But in Australia, this quite banal question riles me. One particularly aggravating exchange:-

It's 6.00pm. An Asian looking girl, in a suit, is standing at a bus stop, presumably waiting for the bus. That Asian girl is reading a novel and leaning against the wall, her head excited about the possibilities of travel and a holiday in the very near future. A boy, roughly the girl's age, approaches and stands beside her. The boy keeps looking at his watch in exaggerated and distracting movements. He finally leans in towards the girl and says:

Him: The bus is late.
Me: Mm.
Him: Where are you from?
Me: I'm sorry?
Him: Where are you from?
Me: What do you mean?
Him: Where are you from?
Me: (You do realise that you are just repeating yourself, don't you?) Um, Brisbane.
Him: No, where are you really from?
Me (looking perplexed and feeling angry but remembering my partner's generosity towards people): I'm really from Brisbane.
Him: Oh, I get it.
Me (not aloud): (Do you now?)
Him: Where are your family from?
Me (sighing): Viet Nam.
Him: What are you doing here?
Me: Waiting for the bus.
Him: No, I mean what are you doing here?
Me: I live here.
Him: No, like are you studying?
Me: I live here. (repeating himself worked for him)
Him: Oh, wow. So are you from the north or the south?
Me (my generosity – what little there was – gives out. I am exasperated.): I am from Brisbane.

He laughs. As if I made a joke. I look at him. As if he is an ignorant racist. He realises at least that I don't seem to want to talk to him anymore and becomes quiet. I return to my book.

In Viet Nam and Thailand, and probably other developing nations for which tourism is one of their main industries, the question is a way of engaging the traveler, before trying to get some money out of them (usually). I find the children who call out: “Where you from? Where you from?” particularly adorable. More so when I wander over to tell them and they respond with blank or fearful or surprised expressions. I grin, they grin.

Perfect communication. Just a joyous way of saying 'hello!'

The above exchange (verbatim with some blogger licence) is a convoluted way of saying 'I'm racist and have heaps of preconceptions about Asian women, belonging, identity, and no sense of general etiquette about waiting for a bus.'


I've been silent awhile.

It's because of a number of things:-

1. Life's busy.
2. I did not have access to a computer at home.
3. I got a new lap top as a present! I had to play with my new lap top. I am a new recruit to all things internet-ty and downloading software took so much time. Plus I had to figure out how it all worked!
4. I've been thinking a lot about the skill that is blogging - purpose, content. I've read great blogs about blogging as well as had an excellent conversation with an old, anti-technology / digital age friend about blogging and digital personas. I had to think for a long time before I could blog again.
5. Having a lap top means that I can now write, and save, my material without recourse to saving it on the internet.
6. I started thinking about the purpose of my blogging again. Internal monologues are great, but nobody else hears them. So I started reading more blogs and that caused further internal argument. I was so right so often, and also so wrong, usually more often. I can't stand me when I won't back down from a position.
7. I felt guilty that I had not posted. Then I felt angry that I felt guilty. So I didn't post *on purpose* just to show me that I could not post and I'd be okay with that. And lo, I was.

Clearly, I have somewhat altered the purpose of this blog, by mere fact of this post. Who knows what it will bring.

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