Category Archives: Commentary

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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Defining Success

You’re valuable just because you exist, and you are worthy of doing something just because it’s nice with no achievement.

– Rebekka Tauqiri, psychologist

SBS Insight Program “Pushing for Success


successOur society likes to put labels on people – are they successful? What are their achievements? When someone asks “how are you?” are they really asking “what have you achieved lately?” If someone was to ask you “are you happy?” how would you respond?  How do you define success? Or do you let success define you? Do you measure your success by how much “better” you are than someone else?

First impressions are important in both our personal and professional lives, and very often, these are intertwined. For example, when you meet someone for the first time at a party, a function or some event, you introduce yourself by your name and, depending on the occasion, by your profession. Do you ever catch yourself immediately judging your new acquaintance or yourself by this introduction? If someone told you they were a doctor or lawyer, do you react differently to them than if they told you they were a janitor?

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Behind closed doors

I know I am a little late to the party but I recently caught the Broadchurch  bug and binge-watched this excellent British drama (starring Number Ten, aka the 10th Doctor Who, David Tennant) about a detective inspector who arrived in a small town called Broadchurch to investigate the murder of an eleven year-old boy.  Murder mysteries are not new, nor are stories of small town misdeeds or the out-of-town investigator with a checkered past.  However, beyond the crime at the centre of the show and what makes stories like these intriguing is what they reveal about the people affected by the crime.

In Broadchurch, we meet people who all seem innocent and pleasant enough. These are the ordinary people who could be our own neighbours. They have lived next door to each other for years. Their kids go to the same school and are best mates. They drink at the same pubs and sit next to each other in church. Small towns are even more conducive to gossip because everyone knows everyone’s business. But do they?

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Thank You, Social Media, For Showing Me Who My Friends Are

At some point in the last ten years, I was led to believe that the dawn of the age of social media was supposed to help us socialise, be more sociable, keep in touch with long-lost friends, etc. Sure, I have met lots of people via Twitter and even managed to meet some of them in person, many have shown me such kindness and generosity that I never thought existed in real life, let alone people I had never met in person before. I have also reconnected with friends near and far who I have not seen in a long time.

Of course, with every positive, there is always something negative you can find with the use of social media. For example, I am so glad I am not a teenager growing up in today’s age of constant technology, where schoolyard bullying extends beyond the confines of a schoolyard. A tweet, a photo or a video posted on the world-wide web picking on someone can ruin someone’s life within seconds.
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Jetlag 2 : Valerie 1

Valerie en route to Nola 2013

Unless you are a celebrity or someone who can afford to fly Business or First Class on long-haul flights, there is nothing comfortable about flying for 15 hours – the longest route possible, I’ve been told – from Sydney to Dallas and then spending another couple of hours waiting in line to get through Customs and re_checking your bag for your connecting flight.  Call me a time traveller: my plane took off at 1.30pm in Sydney on a bright Sunday afternoon and I arrived in Dallas at 1.30pm on a bright Sunday afternoon.

As if that long flight isn’t exciting enough, how’s this for fun: for anyone who has paid any attention to the news about travelling into and within the US, you are only supposed to use TSA-approved locks (these allow agents with master keys to open your lock without having to break them) on your suitcases.  Well, my suitcase had 4 of those for all the side pockets. By the time I picked up my suitcase at my final destination, I noticed there was an odd lock on one of the zippers. It appears that whoever had checked my suitcase had opened my suitcase, then put someone else’s lock on my suitcase! Well, I am no master lock-picker, so I wandered around the airport asking for official-looking staff to help. Finally the lock was removed and now I am one lock short. Thanks a lot! Bye bye brand new $16 lock that I must now replace!

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The Unhealthy Obsessions of a Writer

When I started blogging mid-2010, I was writing for myself.  Although I told all my family and friends about it and tried to make them read my drivel, I went on the assumption that nobody would bother, or might read it just to indulge me (or perhaps more appropriately, to stop me asking them if they have read it).

I figured blogging would help me improve my writing and give me a creative outlet as a way of de-stressing from a stressful office life.  But why didn’t anyone tell me I would develop an even more stressful obsession?  Why did nobody ever tell me I would become obsessed with checking my blog stats?!

Here’s an example of the latest stats for the month:

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Enjoying the Sound of Silence


Why is it that we must always surround ourselves with noise? Whether it be music or television, it seems we are never truly comfortable unless we have noise around us.  Are you one of those people who instinctively turn on the television (or music) as soon as you get home, not because there is a particular program you want to watch, but just out of habit so there’s some noise in the house?  I don’t know many people who know how to enjoy and appreciate the silence – except perhaps parents with noisy kids and librarians.

There’s a Chinese saying that my parents used to quote whenever we complained about being too hot: when your heart is at peace, you will find coolness.  It’s not an exact quote – that’s just a literal translation.  Basically, all it means is that when you stop running around, being busy and stressed and noisy, you will find peace and stop being hot and bothered.  And to find peace, sometimes you need to have silence.

In November 2010, I went to Vietnam with a couple of friends for a holiday.  It was a wonderful experience for many reasons but one thing that absolutely stands out for me is the traffic and the noise that is part and parcel of that!  Well before my trip, I had already been warned of the traffic and how to cross the road in the city.  Dodging the millions of scooters, cars and people is an art form.  I never thought it could get noisier than Ho Chi Minh City until we got to Hanoi.  After three weeks in the country, I was so happy to be home where traffic is not nearly as crazy (although I have to admit, it was organised chaos) and where I could just sit in peace and quiet.  I did not turn on the television or any music for the rest of the evening after I arrived home.  The silence was sheer beauty!

So, in this busy holiday season, when your heart is full of cheer and goodwill towards mankind (assuming you haven’t beaten up the old lady next to you with your purse in the Boxing Day sales), I would highly recommend you take some time to sit back, relax with a cup of tea or hot chocolate, tune out all the external noise and just listen – to the sounds of birds chirping outside your window, to the rustling of the leaves, or in my case, to the sound of the filter in the fish tank.  Recharge your batteries and get ready to face the busy-ness again!