2016 is over. Finally. While most of us usually approach December with “I can’t believe how quickly the year has gone by already”, it seemed as the year was drawing to a close, everyone was happy to just get through the year and hope for a better start in 2017.
Twelve months ago, the world mourned collectively for the loss of music icon, David Bowie. Whether you were a Bowie fan or not, you knew the words to at least one of his songs. His final album was released only a week before his death, so the news of his passing came as a huge shock to everyone except for his family.
A mere four days later, we bade farewell to Alan Rickman – the thespian with the voice that could at once seduce, threaten and command you. Kids grew up knowing Rickman as Professor Snape in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series while their parents loved him as terrorist-thief Hans Gruber in Die Hard or the cheating husband in that “other” popular Christmas movie, Love Actually.
December 1995: my first visit to New York City. The Big Apple. So much to see. The famous World Trade Centre was definitely on my “must-see” list. However, I never got past the lobby. Being holiday season, the queue to go up to the observation deck snaked through the lobby and I was short on time. “You can always come back next time,” my friends suggested. So we left. There was never a “next time” for the Twin Towers.
After the Twin Towers were destroyed on September 11, 2001, “Ground Zero” became almost sacred ground. It was the resting place of almost three thousand people. When the dust settled (literally), discussions began about the best way to honour the victims, including the First Respondents who perished during the rescue efforts.
One thing was agreed – that new towers would not be rebuilt where the old towers stood. Instead, a 9/11 Memorial with two reflecting pools featuring North America’s largest man-made waterfalls, would take the place of where the original towers were.
April 2013, construction in progress behind the reflecting pools
Many of us take our schools for granted. It was a place we had to go to as children, similar to our parents having to get up to get to their work places. It was just something we did – no questions asked. We never had to actively think about it. School is a different experience for each person, and as they say, it is what you make of it.
I went to school in two countries: Hong Kong for my early education and then Australia after fifth grade. The two education systems were like chalk and cheese back then. I can’t say for sure that I enjoyed school very much in Hong Kong. I was not a very good student, owed largely to my laziness in a system where studying hard was considered better than studying smart. I got “in trouble” more often than was considered acceptable which was not hard because we were not allowed to talk in class and if you were caught speaking Cantonese during English class, that was automatically a reportable offense.
Looking back now, I can laugh about those incidents. I was caught chatting with my classmate more than once but that hasn’t turned me into a serial killer. I received detention a couple of times (I cannot even remember the reasons but most likely for talking in class – again – or forgetting to do my homework or some such), a secret that I managed to hide from my parents for about twenty years. I remember very clearly my second grade maths teacher making the whole class repeat the word “quotient” about fifty times because we had forgotten what it meant.
When my family left Hong Kong to come to Australia, it was to offer my sister and I a better future. School could not have been more different from what I had known for the previous seven years. Our teachers encouraged creativity – we painted and wove baskets and made ridiculous keyholders (which I needed Dad’s help with). We ran in the playground (I fell over because I have two left feet) and played handball (challenging the boys). In sixth grade, I was part of the school radio broadcast where we read Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach over the PA system to the entire school. It was magical. Grades mattered but were not the most important part of our school-life.
Time marches on. We say we are grateful we have not had a “World War” since 1945. We say we shall not repeat the “sins of our fathers”. And yet, every day, when you turn on the news, it feels like the world is very much still at war – that it has always been at war. Terrorism attacks, crimes, massacres – these are our everyday lives.
The world is getting smaller, despite the population continuing to rise, because technology has allowed us all to grow closer to each other. We can communicate with friends and family with the touch of a button any time of the day. We can fly to the other end of the Earth faster than ever before (though I would still appreciate it if I could get to London in less than twenty-four hours). And when there are terrorist attacks or violence in other parts of the world, we still reel with the pain as if it had happened in our own backyards.
2016 marks the 101st anniversary of the Gallipoli Landing at ANZAC Cove. It marked Australia’s greatest military defeat, alongside our brothers-in-arms across the ditch, New Zealand, yet April 25th is a day we now spend each year to honouring the more than 102,000 service men and women and nurses who have died in battle. Some have questioned why a country would commemorate a day of such a loss. Former Governor of New South Wales (2001-2015), Dame Marie Bashir, commented in a presentation last year that Australia’s participation in WWI, and the Boer War before that, was critical in the country’s identity as Australians as Australia became a Federation in 1901. As we say the words “Lest We Forget” we are honouring the memories of those who fought for their new country and the sacrifices they made to look after our own.
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.
This 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).