We Are Australian – Happy Australia Day

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch atop Sydney Harbour Bridge in April 2014 - Photo credit: Bridgeclimb

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch atop Sydney Harbour Bridge in April 2014 – Photo credit: Bridgeclimb

I often joke that, had Les Misérables been set in England and not in Revolutionary Paris, Jean Valjean would have been sent to serve out his prison sentence in sunny Sydney instead of the galleys in Digne. It is a well-known fact that the first European settlement of this British colony (then known as New Holland) consisted of English convicts. These days, British tourists (and other countries near and far) arrive in droves on a daily basis.

Australia Day is celebrated on January 26th to mark the landing of the First Fleet and the raising of the British flag in 1788. Despite past controversies over the treatment of the local Aboriginal people by the white settlers, this day is usually celebrated by the sights and sounds that Australia is famous for. As it is summertime, a “barbie” or a visit to the beach are common on this day.

For my family this year, however, we decided to do something a little different, not the least due to inclement weather that has lasted all day (nobody like soggy sausages). We decided to celebrate Australia’s cultural diversity, of which we are contributors of, being migrants ourselves, and went to my local Shanghai dumplings restaurant. We stuffed ourselves silly, just as we would have had I been doing the barbie, but with no clean-up afterwards. I tried to tell my 12 year-old nephew that dumplings are just like sausages – you never really know what’s inside. Then we came home and watched the Australian Open Tennis.

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,300 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Reading, Writing and Speaking: Do We Still Know How?

I am fascinated by words and their daily use. From the time I was a kid, my mother was always correcting my use of English, which meant that the use of slang never sat well with her. When we first came to Australia, it was only natural that I would start to absorb how Aussies speak and not just the accents. For example, it was not uncommon to hear people say: “Can I have a lend of that?” to which my (horrified) mother would respond with “The correct way to ask that is ‘Can I borrow that?'”. Another favourite was: “Have a look at them things!” Tsk tsk.

One of my several majors in high school was English. It really was no surprise given my love of storytelling and having words drilled into me from a young age. I never quite “got” poetry, despite my love for Dead Poets Society. I also found it difficult to appreciate many of the prize-winning literature we studied, though I suspect that had as much to do with the fact that I lacked the understanding of the historical background upon which those plays and novels were based: think British playwrights and authors such as Terence Rattigan, John le Carre and George Moore’s Esther Waters, American classics like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter or Australian classics like Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.

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Long Live Letters!

Women of LettersThis is not just about alliteration. Over the weekend, I wrote a letter. Yes, you read that right: I wrote a letter. With a pen. On a piece of paper. Several pieces of paper, as a matter of fact. Four long pages of long-forgotten cursive writing that my friend, Kathy, will have to endure when she receives the letter in approximately a week’s time, if Australia Post and Royal Mail are co-operative.

It has been a very long time since I have hand-written a letter, probably several years. Every year, at Christmas, I would attempt to write a short missive inside Christmas cards to overseas friends and relatives, just to give them a quick update on what I’d been up to over the course of the year. I never bothered to do a “standard” computer-printed letter insert that people frequently use, mostly because I never had that much to tell – just a couple of highlights such as “I spent five weeks around the US for the first time in more than 10 years” would generally suffice. After all, who wants to hear you brag about what a glorious time you had wandering around New York City for two weeks going to Broadway shows and meeting Alec Baldwin?

Anyway, I digress.

Letter-writing has become a lost art in the last twenty years since the rapid growth of the use of computers, internet, electronic mail, mobile phones, tablets and so on. Whilst I am a big fan of technological growth – many of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook well know I can barely go a few hours without checking my phone – I also remain a steadfast and loyal servant of the humble paper and pen. I still prefer to read a book in paper form, unless the book requires a cherrypicker to lift from my bookshelf. There is still a special excitement when I can turn a physical page in a book and being able to see your progress as the left side of the book starts to get thicker than the right side (unless you are reading a book in Chinese or Arabic, in which case you would be reading from right to left).

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Boston, We Heart You

IMG_20140416_103452On Monday, April 15th, 2013, a couple of brothers set off a bomb at the finish line of the Boston Marathon that killed three and wounded hundreds of others. Just as I remembered exactly where I was and what I was doing when the tragedy of 9/11 happened, I still remember clearly where I was when I heard the news of this latest tragedy.

I had been spending the day with two friends who had travelled from Atlanta, GA, to Charleston, SC, to meet me on my long-overdue return to the USA.  We’d spent the day at Drayton Hall, a former plantation that is now owned and managed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It had been a rainy day but an enjoyable one hanging out with friends.

When I got back “home” to where I had been staying with my university friend (and the reason for my visit to Charleston) in the early evening, she’d had the television on while preparing dinner. The coverage of the bombing was all over the news. First reactions always include: Who would do such a thing? Why? How many innocent lives have been lost or are injured? Where are those responsible? The manhunt commenced immediately, of course, and  security was heightened everywhere.

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