Saturday, April 28, 2007

100 Things you probably don't need to know about me (51-100)

51. I am irrationally afraid of slugs. Please don't tell me they are like snails, but without the shells. I am *irrationally* afraid of slugs.

52. I also don't like maggots, worms, caterpillars and other things without legs or that move as if they don't have legs. For some reason, snakes are okay. Snakes don't make my skin crawl or my heart jump. Slugs, maggots, worms and caterpillars all do. Like I said: irrational.

53. I like compost. I worry about how to compost when living in a flat. I know worms are necesary for compost. But they still make my skin crawl.

54. I sing silly songs, like "oh little wormy, why are you so squirmy?" or "bed time, bed time, it's time to go to bed - TIME!". For some reason, silly songs come out of me in flowery abundance just prior to bedtime.

55. I am an appalling singer.

56. But I have a lot of enthusiasm.

57. I talked a lot as a child. I sang, too. Almost non-stop, according to my parents and siblings. I only stopped when I had a book to read.

58. I talk a lot, now. This is why my blog posts are so long, and sometimes, why my comments run on and on.

59. I take things literally. I am a 'concrete thinker'.

60. I still sometimes take phrases literally. I also like to have phrases explained to me.

61. I love language. I love words, their meaning and their etymology. Once upon a time I was going to grow up to be a semantist.

62. I love languages. I keep picking up another language to learn. I have tried to teach myself Esperanto (oh!). It was fun but I did not follow through.

63. I don't follow through rather often.

64. I always follow through on promises I make to people.

65. But not on my many and varied projects.

66. I like to think of myself as a polymath.

67. I'm not.

68. I often forget my family members' birthdays.

69. My excuse is that I have a lot of family. But really, that's not a very good excuse, is it?

70. Although most people think I am an extrovert because of my self-confidence and ability to talk to complete strangers, and probably for other reasons too, I am an introvert.

71. No, really. I am an introvert.

72. I am an egomaniac.

73. And a megalomaniac.

74. I've been practising my evil laugh for when I take over the world.

75. The pragmatic side of my megalomania means that I am obsessive compulsive.

76. Have I mentioned that I am a lawyer?

77. Democracy is not the most efficient way to make decisions.

78. But then, the value of efficiency is questionable.

79. Unless you are deciding where to eat dinner. Then efficiency is important in direct proportion to how hungry I am.

80. In social relations, tyranny can work.

81. I believe that the ends cannot and do not ever justify the means.

82. Otherwise, I probably do not believe in any absolutes. I'm not sure though. I might believe in more absolutes than this.

83. No, I don't believe that Thou Shalt Not Kill is an absolute.

84. Maybe sometimes I do believe that the ends justify the means.

85. Ice cream will always make me happy. (That is connected to the last, but it's difficult to explain how).

86. Kurt Elling sings in wailing tones: "Ice Cr reeeam!" followed by a panicked "Sea Lions! Sea Lions!" I really like that song.

87. I am what I call an "oscillating sociable vegetarian". Or perhaps I am a social omnivore. Anyway, I eat meat in company, I will cook meat for friends and family, and I eat meat in restaurants (what is called the Paris Exemption in Peter Singer's & Jim Mason's The Ethics of What we Eat).

89. Tofu is great. I love tofu.

90. Of the meat I eat, I much prefer red meat - beef, 'roo, lamb - to white - pork, chicken. turkey, duck.

91. I once heard pigs squealing and screaming while a family member (of the pigs', not of mine) was being slaughtered for a feast. This was a horrible sound. I'll post about it.

92. I really like fish. But I prefer little fish, not big fish.

93. I also prefer little fruit and vegetables to big fruit and vegetables.

94. Bramley apples are disturbingly large. Although they make delicious apple crumble.

95. I am not very good at obeying recipes. For this reason, my baking adventures do not always have happy results.

96. I am not very good at obeying lots of things - rules, people I don't respect, & so on - even though I am a lawyer.

97. If you google my full name, you find me. Otherwise you find a lot of other people who could be me, but aren't.

98. I google myself regularly. See no. 72.

99. I'm small.

100. But vicious.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

100 Things you probably don't need to know about me (1-50)

1. I don't post very regularly, although I would like to. I have good reasons and stuff.
2. I was born in Viet Nam and emigrated to Australia as a refugee when I was very young.
3. I insist that I am Viet-Australian. I will become very offended if you think otherwise. Asian-Australian suffices if you cannot pick my Viet-ness, but I have issues with the term.
4. I started this blog to write my family story because I did not have a computer so I needed somewhere to save everything.
5. Then I got a computer.
6. This blog has changed rather a lot since it started. Especially since I got a computer.
7. Some of my favourite posts are on my photo-blog, which was dying a slow death. Then my camera died. Now the photo-blog has died an abrupt death.
8. I really love living in Brisbane, Qld, Australia.
9. I don't live there anymore. I relocated with my partner to sunny England. I variously refer to her as the Mother Land and Eggland, depending on how respectful I am feeling. You may decide which term is more respectful.
10. I am a law nerd. Oh, and a lawyer. But mostly a law nerd.
11. I tie myself up in knots thinking about things, especially about people. I believe everyone is entitled to respect but I have real issues with certain things.
12. Race things.
13. Feminist things.
14. Identity and anonymity on the web type things.
15. Probably plenty of other things too; I just can't think of them right now.
16. Real issues.
17. I am the youngest of a very large family.
18. I have loads of nieces and nephews. They all make it onto the blog at one time or another.
19. I am concerned that they have not consented to being portrayed on my blog, and also that they may not like how I portray them.
20. Nevertheless, I post blithely on.
21. I fictionalise other people in my life who make it onto my blog. Characteristics get exaggerated or merged with others, so that I can write about them but not have them too readily identifiable.
22. I think it is silly to feel offended if you discover that a blog you read is all fiction.
23. I am appalled by people who are rude (to the writer or to other commenters) on other people's blogs. Thankfully, no one has yet been rude on mine. I am not sure how I will deal with it.
24. I take criticism badly. But I won't let on.
25. I have spurts of enthusiasm when I post a lot and when I read a lot (of blogs). Then I get dejected because there is too much out there and I will never read it all, and I will never write very well, and what's the point anyway of adding my measly voice to that enormous ever-expanding ether.
26. That's one of the reasons for why there are occassional hiatuses in my posting. But only one.
27. And then I post again because I enjoy being in this world so much.
28. I don't own a television. Nor do I want to own one.
29. This is not a criticism of people who do own and watch television. Matter of fact, I really enjoy reading blogs about television.
30. I am much happier when I don't see much advertising and when I don't read 'women's magazines'.
31. I studied Latin and Ancient History to honours level. I was particularly keen on empresses.
32. I have now forgotten almost everything I ever learned.
33. I have been described as "unrelentingly optimistic". I like this description.
34. I have been described as aggressive. May I refer you to number 10?
35. I have been described as "unnormal". This was by a guy in high school whom I had a crush on. I laughed in his face when he said it. That made me feel a bit mean.
36. I have been described as an ice queen. I think this is a funny and very inaccurate description. It was by a guy in high school who may have had a crush on me. I concede that I may be haughty. But hardly an ice queen.
37. I will, and often do, talk to anyone and everyone. I have frightened people in lifts by being friendly. I have no qualms walking up to total strangers at parties, introducing myself and launching into a conversation.
38. My closest friend in the whole wide world (and it's getting wider for me these days) told me I was tactless. She is right.
39. Empathy is my strong point. It is also my weak point.
40. I wish I could say that I studied law because I admired Justinian's codification of the laws way back when. Mine is a much more prosaic reason: I studied law because I had the grades and did not really know what to do with myself. Justinian came after the time in Ancient History that I was really interested in.
41. I made a bid for freedom and independence immediately after high school, by moving down to Melbourne. Eight months later, I returned home again. I think this is one of the bravest decisions I have ever made.
42. I don't know where home is. I call lots of places home and it all depends on context.
43. A lot of things depend on context, don't they?
44. I love books. I love the physical object and the ideas they contain.
45. I am an avid watcher of films.
46. My partner is not Asian.
47. I have issues with how to describe my partner in the real world and on this blog. I would prefer just to use his name. I've thought of a couple of pseudonyms for him, but none of them are right, and he has not endorsed them. At least, not with sufficient enthusiasm for me to believe that he does not mind being referred to in that way, on my blog.
48. But it's MY blog.
49. I use to want to be a writer. Then I grew up. Then I got a blog. It's a beautiful story, with a happy ending for all.
50. I was not sure I'd make it to 50. Now I'll have to make it to 100.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Think it over

I believe everyone (in employment) has a job to do, and no one's job is more important than another's. Nor should anyone be treated without respect on the basis of the perceived status of their job. But sometimes, I can take this to extremes.

I have been working late last few weeks - not very late mind, just a wee bit. The cleaners come round while I am at my desk, typing or dictating (or ocassionally just surfing the net). The bin & vacuum guy looks in at my door and turns away because I am in. If I am fast enough, I wave him in, apologising profusely for being in his way while he apologises for interrupting me. I am of the view that he should not apologise to me - after all the cleaners have about two hours to clean a two storey building and I am messing up their system by still being at my desk. I go for a quick walk along the corridor and return: he usually takes no more than a few minutes to empty the bins, clear the desks of forgotten mugs and vacuum. I make a point of thanking him if I pass him on my way back to my office.

Last Friday I forgot to wash my coffee plunger (French press / cafettiere - the other names the English call the humble plunger). When the cleaner came round, I leapt out of my chair, reminded that I had left it sitting beside the kitchen sink, and rushed into the kitchen in order to hand-wash it. Horrors of horrors, I had not even emptied the coffee grinds. I don't think the cleaners should have to wash my plunger. All they do is load the dishwasher with the random collection of dirty mugs from a day of lawyer-inspired caffeine intake, let it run and put everything into the cupboards once the dishwasher is done. In the firm I am with now, the only coffee choice is instant and I am a declared and unapologetic coffee snob. I therefore bring in my own ground coffee, and my own coffee making implement.

A woman cleaner was in the kitchen, loading the mugs and teaspoons into the dishwasher. The kitchen is very narrow. When the dishwasher door is open, you cannot get past it to get to the kitchen sink. It is also a small kitchen: two people makes it feel crowded. I was moving too fast to turn around when I saw her in the kitchen, so I opened the door and looked stupidly in.

"Um, hello," said I.
"Oh - sorry," she said "I'm loading the dishwasher. I won't be long."
"Oh - don't be sorry. I'm just after that thing there," I said gesturing towards the offending plunger.
She looks across at the plunger, and then back at me. "I will put it into the dishwasher for you."
"Oh, no need. I'll -"
She interrupts me: "Oh! Handwash only? Okay, I'll handwash it for you."
I gasp at her."Oh, no, please don't. You don't have to. You shouldn't have to. I'll just, um, take it into my office."
She smiles at me and says "Are you sure?"
"Oh yes!" I cry confidently and march back towards my office with the dirty plunger.

I am now in my office with a dirty coffee mug and a dirty plunger. If it was not-Friday, I would just shove both into a drawer and deal with them the following morning. The thought of leaving my precious plunger dirty for an entire weekend does not sit well with me. On top of my letter out to opposing lawyers that must be sent first thing Monday morning, I now have a dirty plunger to worry about. Naturally, the dirty plunger takes precedence.

After about five minutes, I get up and try to look from my office into the kitchen to see if the cleaner is still in the kitchen. She is. I sit back down and finish my letter off. I stand again and contort myself to stare into the kitchen. She is still there.

I decide that I will rinse the plunger out in the bathroom sink, hide it and my mug in a drawer and go home. To get to the bathroom, however, requires passing the kitchen. I do not want her to think that I don't trust her with my plunger - after all I only think she should not have to wash something out of the ordinary which is only present because of my own peculiar caffeine proclivities. This is now going to sound really stupid - but I thought it a reasonable solution at the time: I put on my coat, in order to hide the plunger as I walk past the kitchen and into the bathroom. I then successfully rinsed the plunger and manoeuvered my way back to my office in the same silly fashion. I then picked up my bags and went home.

After thinking about it, I should have just let the cleaner put my plunger into the dishwasher along with everything else. One machine wash would not have hurt it.


A similar incident occurred many years back when I worked at another office. I had a special ceramic tea cup inside which was a ceramic strainer so that I could have brewed tea leaves rather than tea bags. I can be a bit precious about my hot beverages.

One day I arrived at work to find my tea cup in pieces and with a post-it placed beside it: "Sorry. I broke your cup. Please let me know how much to pay."

I thought it was very lovely and generous of the cleaner to offer and to apologise for breaking my cup. But it was, after all, only a cup (albeit a birthday gift) and in the routine cleaning of offices, things get broken.

That evening I stayed late at work to wait for the cleaner. I wanted to thank her for the gesture but did not want to leave a note. When she turned up, she looked shocked to see me sitting there. I did not intend to be menacing, but she quickly scrabbled around for her purse. I stood up and put my hands out, in what I hoped was a conciliatory gesture, and started speaking too quickly, "No, no. I'm sorry. I just wanted - I didn't mean to -. Um. Er. Thank you for letting me know you broke my cup and your offer to pay for it. But honestly, it's just a cup. I'll buy another one, and no need for you to worry about how much. Okay?"

She was now holding out her purse to me.

It dangled there between us making me, and possibly her too, feel foolish.

"Sorry to startle you. I should not have waited."
"Okay." She said and left.

I slumped down into my chair, thinking I had completely misunderstood and misread the situation. And to top it off, I had offended the cleaner, giving her the impression that I was some kind of heavy. And I worried that I sounded a bit flippant, and as if the cost of a mug was nothing to me. I phoned a friend and relayed all of the above. The friend is a psychiatrist and she just laughed at me, saying all the right reassuring words.

I should have just left a note.


I am surprised, sometimes, that I get anything done with the analytical contortions I go through during my daily life.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Ghosts - A film review

This is an excellently made film, telling a very sad story.

I think the IMDB plot precis is quite amusing: "A young Chinese girl is smuggled into the UK so she can support her son and family in China" and it does not, by any stretch of the imagination, capture what the film is actually about.

The film is a fictionalised drama based on actual events that some of the actors, including the lead "young Chinese girl", experienced. The official website has a better synopsis, but still calls the lead a "young Chinese girl". I don't mean to go off topic, but honestly, the lead - Ai Qin - has a young son - aged about 3/4 years (but maybe older as she takes him to school) when she leaves China at the beginning of the movie - and about 5/6 years at the end of the movie. She can't be a girl. She just can't. (here I stamp my feet - that's how good my argument is)

Ghosts is about Chinese illegal immigrants in the UK, brought sharply and shockingly into the news when 23 Chinese illegal immigrants drowned while cockle picking in Morecambe Bay on 5 February 2004.

The film opens with a van full of Chinese people, driving across a grey beach, they pick cockles and the water swirls around them until all are stranded atop the van, dark waves menancingly rocking the van side to side. A shivering few use a mobile phone to call their family, and the "young Chinese girl" sings a song to her son, which segues us to the beginning of the story. We follow Ai Qin from her negotiation of her fare and passage in China, through her six month smuggled transit to UK and then in her housing and factory and farming jobs with a fake work permit, culminating in her work cockle-picking and its fatal consequences. These Chinese immigrants have indebted themselves to their smugglers, and must work to pay back their debt, send money home and cover the cost - usually exhorbitant - of their accommodation. At the end of the film, we are told that many of the families of the Morecambe Bay victims are still repaying their debts, and there is a fund that one can donate to, to assist the repayment.

There are a lot of illegal immigrants in the UK. At the moment, there seem to be a lot of concern about Polish immigrants. The newspapers reported recently that there were probably twice as many Polish immigrants in the UK than the authorities were aware of.

The use of the term "illegal immigrant" is interesting of itself. The people depicted in Ghosts are not, to my mind, illegal immigrants. They are trafficked persons. They have been misled, misinformed and are treated as no more than commodities; this is neatly symbolised by their passage inside the hull of a shipping container. They are exploited by the persons who have brought them to the UK, and by the persons who 'look after' them in the UK. I was very impressed with Nick Bloomfield's representation of Mr Lin - the head of the Chinese workers that the lead character is placed with. He is exploiter - but he, too, has his own difficulties in the UK. He swaggers when we see him first, but his eyes cloud over and his shoulders droop as he struggles to find work for himself and his fellow immigrants.

The film touches upon a number of issues, which provides a real-ness to the experience of Ai Qin. There is racism, of course, but there are also moments of fun and camaraderie: although I am not so persuaded that a day apple-picking is actually fun. Racism is depicted in many forms: from the mundanity of Ai Qin's fake work permit bearing the picture of a another Chinese woman, to the neighbours who spit on the ground as the Chinese immigrants walk past, to the group of English cockle-pickers who assault the Chinese immigrants for picking in "their spot". The film title is also apt - and with myriad interpretations: coould it refer to what the Chinese immigrants themselves call white English people, or does it refer to their unseen status as illegal immigrants?

Underlining Ai Qin's precarious position is the constant threat / offer of prostitution. There is another woman in the illegal immigrant household: she is Mr Lin's lover and she does not like manual work. She may also be the lover of the white English landlord, who comes by in a doof-doof car, with swinging gold chains to collect the rent (in cash of course). She giggles and pouts, in a cheong sam, on his lap at a party. You wonder who is exploiting whom in this interchange, and how neither of them will budge any stereotypes about the other.

There is also the very interesting depiction of the inhumanity behind factory processed meat: Ai Qin works in Sainsbury's packing duck and maybe chicken too. Ai Qin is not involved at the killing stage, but even the treatment of the duck meat is disturbing. It is strange to use the term 'inhumane' because the animal is not, obviously, a human and yet it is inhumane treatment. The duck meat is no more than a commodity, and it is mass produced. I am not articulating myself very well here, about this. I have long been concerned about the mass production of meat, the way the end product is so divorced from its living reality. The mass production of food leads to inhumane conditions for the humans involved in the production, and for the animals, too. This is another blog post, however.

Not long after I saw this movie, I read an article in the newspaper about Vietnamese illegal immigrants who worked inside homes owned by Vietnamese gangs looking after crops of cannabis.

Two things leapt out at me when reading this article. The first was the awareness that the poor illegal immigrant (probably trafficked person) left to mind the crop would be the one who took any punishment meted out. The second was this paragraph:

The police have become so concerned about the criminal gang connection that they have warned landlords and letting agencies of the dangers of renting property to apparently innocent Vietnamese people.

In fairness to the article, the following paragraph warns about potential breach of anti-racism laws. But that's a bit scare-mongering, isn't it? Yes - there are Viet gangs in London (and probably elsewhere) producing drugs. But you know, some of those apparently innocent Vietnamese people are innocent Vietnamese people. And some of those apparently guilty Vietnamese people, like the people the subject of Ghosts are not as culpable in their own misfortune as they would appear.

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