Saturday, August 26, 2006


tagged by Cee over at Words and Things

1. One book that changed your life:

In primary school, we had these readers that were colour coded: Green Reader 1,2, 3; Blue Reader 1, 2, 3; Red Reader 1, 2, 3 and so on. They were themed - myth, monsters, family stories - and got progressively more difficult. I can't recall what was the beginner reader colour and what the hierarchy of advancement was. But I do recall that when I learned to read (in first grade) I devoured these. Because I did not have many friends early on in school, I spent a lot of my lunch break in the library, reading my way through the coloured readers. The Librarian, Mrs Reeves (and I haven't forgotten her either), spotted me and my voracious reading, and put me on a course of reading well beyond my years but she thought, within my capabilities. These books were my first friends, and they changed my life because they hooked me early on.

My love affair with books has never ceased. Indeed, I will probably die surrounded by well loved but dusty tomes.

2. One book you have read more than once:

The Road from Coorain and True North by Jill Ker Conway. Okay, I cheated - that's two books. But, I read and re-read them together and therefore really consider them as one. These two books are about Jill Ker Conway's growing up in outback Australia and her difficult journey towards scholarship in 1950s Australia, culminating in her taking a presidency at a liberal arts women's college in USA. These two books inspired me in my academic pursuits and dreams (some now discarded). There is also the third instalment in this autobiographical trilogy: A Woman's Education, written much later than the prior two. I've read that too and really enjoyed it, but it did not speak to me in the same way that The Road from Coorain and True North did.

Jill Ker Conway grounds her story in the landscape and her environment - you can feel the dry heat rising when you read about her early life on a sheep ranch in western New South Wales, the oppressive atmosphere of her boarding college, the stifling and conservative academic environment in the cloisters at Sydney University and, at last, the academic freedom within the cooler climes of the northern hemisphere.

3. One book you would want on a desert island:

Probably a fat collection of essays by a brilliant essayist – Martha Nussbaum, Umberto Eco or Stephen Jay Gould. But who knows what I will have on me when stranded on a desert island - I'm bound to have some reading material and it is probably something like this: two to four novels, one or two collection of short stories, one non-fiction, one collection of essays. Hopefully I'll be stranded with my partner so that he'll have an interesting selection as well! When the two of us travel, we usually take a mini library with us - and we usually come home with another mini-library and nary a souvenir.

4. One book that made you laugh:

Anything by Richard Brautigan has made me laugh and laugh. Recently, it was In Watermelon Sugar. Which also made me cry. But my favourite, and probably because it was my first, is Sombrero Fallout. Now I'm chuckling just thinking about them.

5. One book that made you cry:

Recently, the Full Story by Brian Caswell and David Chiem.

It is the story of a young Viet-Australian man, who leaves his study of the law to become a writer, falls in love and argues with his much loving and heartbroken father. Can you see why I cried? Not excellently written - some flaws - but, nevertheless, had my heart.

6. One book you wish you had written:

My family story. Oh, wait. I'm still writing it.

7. One book you wish had never been written:

This is very difficult. I could be polemical and say: "The Bible" which was the first thing that popped to mind, but that's just me being argumentative. I do not necessarily believe that the Bible should not have been written.

There are a couple of books that make me want to scream if that counts?

Anything by Ayn Rand or DH Lawrence.

8. One book you are currently reading:

I read lots of books at once. I think it's a fear of commitment. At the moment, I am reading A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth; The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer and Jim Mason, various collections of short stories (a set by Stanislaw Lem, another by Tom Robbins) and essays on writing; and there are a couple more lying on my bedside table and piled up on the shelves in my study. I've read Vikram Seth before and admire his crisp and densely descriptive writing. I am not persuaded that A Suitable Boy is his best work, but it's thoroughly enjoyable.

The Ethics of What we Eat is very interesting and rather depressing, too. But it's spurred my latent 'ethical living' ideas.

9. One book you have been meaning to read:

The rest of Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet. I have read Justine and am told that, before the story fades from my mind, I must read the others (Balthazar / Mountolive / Clea).

There are plenty of others - but I think that might need to be the subject of another meme (eg: 101 books that are currently on your reading list...)

10. Now tag five people:

No. I will tag as many or as few people as I like. :-P

I'd love to know what books you are reading and have been inspired by - so just tell me because this is a meme that makes you go - ooh! Books! I like books!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Census Night

The ABS records the languages we speak at home. I will not know how to answer this one, when I am faced with it on Census Night.

I do not want to answer that English is the language I speak at home because I know what the question is trying to elicit. But it is an inaccurate way of recording my ethnic diversity to answer, untruthfully, that Vietnamese is the language I speak at home.

And I am always confused by 'home'. I have made my own home with my partner – it's a workers cottage in inner city Brisbane (you'd love it) – and my parents have visited me there only once. But I will regularly say, while I am at home with my partner, that I am going home for a while. What I mean is that I am going to my parent's house in the suburbs surrounding Brisbane. The house I experienced my teenaged years and the rising racism of Pauline Hanson and ilk. The house I still consider home.

Before that house, we had another, smaller home near to where I now have my current home. In my dreams, that house is our family home – it is the house of my earliest memories: a kind of cosy mish mash of too many bodies, too few rooms and a stronger community. In that home, we hosted many families – either more recent arrivals from Viet Nam or family visiting from interstate. Family that my parents had to draw airborne diagrams to explain the connection to our family before I would call them by their appropriate title (uncle on my father's side, great-aunt on my mother's side), aunts who were younger than me, nieces who were my age but had to call me aunt, cousins I called 'older brother', 'older sister' and whom I begrudged giving up my bed to. This house is my archetypal home. There, I started school and made my first friends who were not family. There I developed a sense of myself, separate from my parents and siblings. And there, I refused to bathe in the bathroom where I had once seen a slug. (Until we moved out, I bathed in the laundry sink.)

On census night in 1988 when I was old enough to interpret for my parents and answer the questions with my brothers and sisters, the question about how many people lived in our house worried me. Why did they want to know that? I knew enough to know that the census form was for The Government and had experience enough to be fearful of authority. I had an inchoate concern that if we told them just how many people lived in that falling apart three bedroom Queenslander (what would be a 'Renovator' today), some person would descend and move a distantly related uncle, aunt and kids, away. Perhaps they would even take a sibling.

My friends at school did not have as many people in their family as I did – no, neither Naila's Muslim Lebanese family nor Ellen's Irish Catholic family had so many people under the one roof. The logic behind the fear had something to do with knowing that other households had fewer people and that the Government had power to help, and hurt. My parents received social security from the Government, and so did some of my older siblings. But I never understood why we received it, why it would occasionally stop and cause my parents an array of anxiety I was not a part of, and what was done to regain it.

By the next census in 1994, we had moved to a larger home and I was a teenager who was much less fearful of Authority arriving in white shirt and tie to take me, or my parents and siblings away. Indeed, I was vocal, political and unafraid to thumb my nose at Authority although I was still afraid to thumb my nose at my parents. By then, I knew that people in white shirts and ties who turned up on our doorstep were either Mormons, or people from Telecom trying to sell us pay TV. All were turned away politely. When I was younger I slammed the door and hid. By then, we were also Naturalised – Australian Citizens – and I was ready, willing and able to wield the force of that category against our enemies (usually more perceived than real).

That house is now largely empty and on Census night in 2006, my parents will ask one of my siblings to assist them to fill out the form. In my new home, I have reverted to impolite refusals of unexpected guests, who these days telephone rather than turn up knocking at our rotting wood door. I no longer hide. But I still cannot come up with a satisfactory way to answer what language I speak at home.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Bloggable event

I'm back! and I'm ... sleepy.

I am finding myself un-inspired to post. Predominatly because I have been reading heartfelt and heartrending posts from other, better writers than me. I'm curling up in a little ball of awe and self-doubt.

But onwards with the me-blog nevertheless. I've always been a battler. I was actually much more inspired to write posts during the Film Festival*, but, alas, sloth did beckon and I did obey.

* when I have sufficiently rested, and digested, I'll tell you all about it. I'm still suffering visual/aural exhaustion.


Bloggable event # 1

During one of our many speedy meals at (usually Asian) restaurants over the past few weeks, the (Asian) waitress said to me in surprise or shock (I was not sure): You've got a full on Aussie accent!

These things don't bother me so much any more. Depending on the tone and the speaker, I am usually amused and only occassionally bristle in offence.

I replied: That's because I am a full on Aussie.

The waitress exclaimed: No! Really? And, wittily, I said: Yes. Really.

Bloggable event # 2 -

I attended a law function and was seated at a table with a number of legal luminaries. Naturally, I introduced myself to the (not-Asian) woman beside me, whom I did not recognise. I stuck my hand out and said my full name. She stuck her hand out and said: Are you from Inala?

For those not in the know, Inala is a suburb of Brisbane wherein resides a large proportion of the Viet-Australia population of Brisbane. It's a wee bit notorious.

I responded, not unkindly but certainly in reprimand: No. I am from [the firm of lawyers that I work for].

She replied: No, I meant do you live in Inala?

At this, I gave up. Unkindness here I come. Actually, [her given name], I knew exactly what you meant. And then I turned away and managed to not speak with her for most of the night. I don't think she really wanted to speak with me, either. I hope she saw me walk over to the most luminous legal luminary present and have a friendly, comfortable chat.

Bloggable event # 3 -

On Tuesday lunch at a café, owned by an Asian woman, staffed by all and sundry. My (Asian) friend and (Asian) I were paying the bill, when another woman asked the owner (who was on the till) if the café would be open tomorrow, being the Ekka "People's Day" public holiday (it's a quirk of Australia).

The owner said: oh no! and laughed. We Asians like our businesses to remain open when other people shut. Then she turned to my (Asian) friend and (Asian) me and said: don’t' we?

I blinked at her in surprise and looked over at my friend. I am a lawyer at a middle-sized firm. She's an accountant at a large firm. The people who patronise this café are people who wear suits and work at the various businesses in Brisbane's 'prestigious' end of town, and I know the owner knows that a lot of her regulars are from the law and accounting firms round the area. Sometimes she serves me after serving someone else, even though I was there first, and says gratingly and apologetically, that was so and so from some large national firm. And I always want to say (but haven't yet been brave enough): I know and I really don't care. I was first.


So, what do these events tell me?

Event # 2 made me angry, but events # 1 & 3, which made similar assumptions about my Asian-ness did not raise any ire. A little amusement, and perhaps a raised eyebrow. (Okay, maybe a little ire.)

Looks like I'm racist too.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

in absentia

Reasons for silence in the most recent past:-

I've been on holiday. On this holiday, we did very little. We ate (rather a lot), walked (not very much for us, but probably a lot for most people - and considering that we almost got run over by zooming cars, most people were not gadding about their holiday by humble feet), read and I lost in Scrabble. I have yet to win a game of Scrabble against my partner and this makes me very pouty. In an endearing way, of course. I do win Trivial Pursuit, so it balances out.

This is a snapshot of what we ate:-

Dinner on the first night:- A five course "Japanese Fusion" dinner involving (1) Wasagyu Beef (2) Pumpkin and Cheese Spring Rolls with nasturtium garnish (3) Roasted Eggplant smeared with a peanut / satay paste (4) Seafood tempura and rice (5) home made home grown mulberry sorbet.

Dinner every other night:- Antipasto

Hot breakfasts every morning - scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, poached eggs with sausage and fried eggs and ham PLUS fruit salad, yoghurt and horseradish garnish. I eat garnish - all of it.

Lunches were a mish-mash of gourmet pies (asparagus and cheese, chicken and camembert) and hamburgers (the usual variety plus a delicious grilled mushroom, eggplant and zucchini one devoured by my partner with tapenade).

Holidays are for indulging.

Now, I am back at work and on day one, it was so busy I did not eat at all. Just to make up for the gastronomic extravagance of my holiday.

There will be silence from me for the near-ish future. Why? (I hear your plaintive cries and I will endeavour to provide a good excuse - ahem, reason).

Four little letters. B. I. F. F.

for the unitiated, and non-Brisbanite: The Brisbane International Film Festival. A two week adventure in the middle of my year where I am over-stimulated and under-slept - all in the name of exploring cinema. This year, I shall be watching surreal films by Jan Svankmeyer and Terry Gilliam, the latest from Peter Greenaway, some Japanese horror flicks (including one in which the protagonists burst into song - a horror musical), an exploration of meditative silence and unveiling of Islamic cinema to the emboldened auteur.

Attending approximately 25 movies, and working full time will leave me little time for sleep, let alone blog posting. Never fear, however: At work, I have access to browsing so I will undoubtedly still be reading YOU. And I am bound to return with plenty to blab about.


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