Archive | September, 2011

Membership Revoked – by Justyna

30 Sep

This week’s word ‘membership’ has left me feeling sad. So for this post I am throwing myself a pity party: the clubs I am no longer a member of…

The Boys Club

Ever since high school I have had, what was then termed, the buddy syndrome. Lots of mates, no boyfriends. This syndrome continued into university (well, with some amendments), meaning I had it best of both worlds, my female friends and my buddies. When I would get a bit overwhelmed with my female company, I had the comfort zone of frank, brash, straight-up dude talk with no over-analysis and additional dramas. It was excellent. Here, I have noticed, there are no true male-female friendships. And I am not talking about the idea of the ‘male best-friend’ (because that is debatable), but rather the fact that guys just don’t hang out with girls for the sake of good company. The division of roles and stereotypes are just too deeply seeded. It’s pretty devastating. I watch in pubs and restaurants how big groups of students meet to hang, the women on the one side of the table, the guys on the other. When there is interaction, it’s in the form of coquettish giggling and hair tugging versus gander-like anecdote telling. No actual mutual conversations. These mutual conversations appear to exist at a later stage when people are coupled-up, are a bit older and there are no longer any under-lying contexts. Sad really. So I miss the boys club, the Veses who I cannot call for a regular chin-wag, the Anthonies who I cannot meet with for some beers, the Rosses for a spot of squash and canyoning…

 The Adventure Club

This club I joined whilst at uni. I remember joining because I loved the bush and wanted to spend more time in it with people who loved it just as much as I did. I also found guys in shorts and sandals, with strong-calf muscles, super hot, and the adventure club was a breeding ground for them. Some of my best uni moments are adventure club related. And some of the mates I made there are still mates today. I guess when you spend considerable time 15 meters underground, with a lead torch stuck to your head, in the pit of some wild Janolan cave, solid friendships will form. Aside from the hairy canoyning trips, the caving, the crazy canoe polo competitions and mountain-bike riding escapades, I was surrounded by people who really knew how to participate in a club. To be real members. To share god-awful chores, to cook-together, to make joint-decisions without bickering (well, not too much anyway), to pitch tents together and share each other’s loads. Sigh. I miss it a lot. It made you a better person when functioning in a group.

The Craft Club

Oh how I miss those Saturdays of excellent conversations and even more excellent craft projects. To be part of the craft club was really something. Nothing else would matter on that day, no boyfriends, no chores, no essay responsibilities, no dinners with parents, no agonising track-work. The once-a-month crafty heaven always left me feeling a bit spesh for having so many crafty friends, with such excellent crafty ideas and most importantly such wonderful chatter. There are some efforts being made here to kick-start a Polish replica, but I am finding that some of the potential craft club members just ‘ain’t feelin’ the power and the magic. Their craft abilities, admittedly, far exceed mine but the sheer desire to be part of a club is simply missing.

The Potential Mothers Group

I’ve never been into the idea of a mothers group. A bunch of random women meeting up, drawn together by the fact that they happen to have a kid. Big wow. So they can exchange child developmental stories and think themselves special for being mums. Except that they are not that special because there happens to be a whole heap of women out there who also have kids and are not members of any such groups. Instead I fostered the romantic version of hanging out with my friends who also happened to pop out sprogs, meeting up just as we did pre-popping but now with an additional subject matter to cover. A natural evolvement of a mothers group without officially forming or joining one. A lot of my close friends in Sydney are now mums, and it makes me sad that I cannot be a part of this group, in an effortless, ‘just-pop-round’ kind of way, where we can share experiences because we’ve known each other for ages and really be into each other’s kids, because, well, we like the mums.

I assumed that this would happen naturally here too. But it hasn’t. After popping-out Kazek I experienced my first proper cultural-shock. I don’t seem to fit the standard Polish-mum bill. I’m not overprotective, fussy, I don’t worry enough, I let my kid run around the playground shoe less (that’s a horror story right there for the regular Polish mummy), I don’t scold sufficiently nor do I prohibit jungle-gym shenanigans. I let Kazek sit on wet sand in the sand-pit, I let him run around fast without telling him to slow-down, I don’t let the grandmas control his sausage intake and oh-and-behold, I have a pact with Michal that he has as much say in the whole process as I do (again, not a wise move if you want to be considered a serious Polish matriarch). As a result, out of the small pool of friends who have kids, there is an even smaller pool of gems who are laid-back enough to accept my ways. To these I hold on to, but the numbers are small. No way near enough to form a solid group.


Membership – by Karen

30 Sep

I was planning to take a similar approach to Tabitha, and go through all my membership cards and say something of interest about them. It turns out, I’m no longer a member of anything much, as far as my wallet can tell.

I was a Borders member, but that card expired one year ago, and the chain has just shut down its Singapore operation. I was outside Borders Parkway Parade just this week, which was an eerie sight. All the books had been stripped from the shelves, leaving a sort of graveyard of milky beige laminate and powdered steel. There was a vigorous woman pacing around with a clipboard who seemed to have purchased this fortune of shelving, and was excitedly gesturing and fussing at workers who were involved in its acquisition. It was a vulturely scene.

I am not a member of a gym, although I paid extravagantly for a two year membership a couple of years ago, which I used for approximately three months. I am always disgusted by the marketing strategies of gyms, with their poorly trained cold-callers and their capitalisation on the weakness, misery, poor health and delusion of the populace. I played right into their hands, and have done so several times. Signing up 99 people who will attend consistently for a few brief weeks and sporadically thereafter more than compensates for the cost of servicing the one per cent who stick it out. I even wonder if the horrible decor and atmosphere of gyms is intentional – you won’t pick up on the deadening ambiance on your sign-up visit, but once your credit card is captured you’ll never really want to be there again.

Why else would you design a space so poorly? Think of other places people want to recreationally spend time, say your favourite cafe or I don’t know, a cool fashion boutique (trying to imagine the hangouts of a typical gym user). Would a shop, aiming at female clientele, have a floor made of grey, wiry polyester with unembellished industrial fittings and walls utterly devoid of colour? Without windows or soft furnishings of any kind? I know there are practical considerations (sweat etc), but I’m convinced they could be primarily overcome.

Like Tabitha, I have recently discovered a love of fitness training, so it’s not just an inability to exercise that made me such a gym quitter. I do my regimen partly at home, partly in parks, once a week at a small independent gym (no marketing zombies) and at least once a week I go to my yoga studio.

This is almost the polar opposite of the gym atmospheres described above, to a hilarious extreme. My yoga studio, let’s call it Novo Holistic Wellness (because I’m sure they’ve set Google Alerts on their actual name which is exactly as ridiculous), pipes music throughout. I am embedding some here to serve as your soundtrack for the remainder of my post:

At the entry is a reception desk behind which is inevitably seated a beautifully groomed woman from the Philippines, who smiles and greets you warmly. There is also a gorgeous, deep pile rug in soft cream, which you will walk around every time because it looks extremely expensive and you are wearing shoes. You will hear no sounds of incidental talking, laughter, phone calls, or any other indication that anyone in the building is alive. Perhaps this is why yoga teachers like to say things like, “And now let’s all remind ourselves that we are alive.” My yoga studio is  a pristine and sterile vessel for the spirit, and I must admit I love it. Do join me some day at Novo’s in-house cafe for a salmon filet on quinoa pilaf. Receive your breath.

Two membership cards – by Tabitha

28 Sep

In Vietnam I have two membership cards. The first is to Cinematheque, Hanoi’s art-house cinema. The screen is only slightly larger than most people’s televisions, and it smells of mildew.

Everything else about Cinematheque is awesome. For example, the tickets cost $2.50 and they have a little courtyard café where you can have dinner and a drink before the movie. Nathan invariably gets the steak frites, I invariably get the spaghetti della casa, and we both invariably share a bottle of red wine, resulting in one of us falling asleep during the movie. On Friday we went to see To Die For. It was Nathan who fell asleep.

Usually they show the typical film festival documentaries and wanky European films, but they also show classics, such as The Princess Bride or Point Break. That is correct: Point Break.

The Vietnamese guy who runs the ticket counter is very strange and has a habit of making “jokes” that are actually just confusing statements. Such as:

Me: Here is my membership card.
Him: No, you are no longer a member!
Me: What… do… you… mean?

We like him despite, or maybe because of, this. One time we gave him an unwanted tin of German herring that we had acquired:

Nathan: We want to give you this fish.
Him: Why…?

And that’s how we showed him that he doesn’t have a monopoly on weird in this town.

My other membership card is for the Viet Fighter gym. I also have a Viet Fighter t-shirt, which has cut-off sleeves and features two Viets fighting. It makes me look like a lesbian. Nathan has one too. It makes him look like a lesbian also.

The gym is primarily for Muai Thai kick-boxing, and – something I always laugh at when I read it on their timetable – “grappling”, but I go to their cardio and circuit training classes.

It’s basically a large tin shed with some fans, a tyre attached to a chain, some ropes, three punching bags, and chin-up straps. It couldn’t be more ghetto if it tried.

After I tired of the instructor playing the same Black Eyed Peas songs on repeat during our classes, I decided to make him some CDs. I thought he’d just use them for the classes that I’m in, but one day I arrived during a kick-boxing class to find that all my favourite Diana Ross and Cyndi Lauper hits were now the featured soundtrack to several burly men kicking the crap out of each other. It was extremely pleasing.

“I’m in the mid – BOOF – dle of a – THWACK – chain re – URGH – act – WHAM – ion.”

This is the first membership I’ve ever owned relating to any kind of physical activity, and indeed it’s the first gym I’ve ever been to, usually preferring the park or my lounge-room. I go regularly and I’m actually pretty good at it.

It’s been hard for me to readjust my image of myself as a fit person. It was such a defining characteristic of my youth, always being the last one picked for the team. I brought that completely on myself, by conforming so self-righteously to what the sporty types expected of the nerds.

For the same tightly-wound reasons I was a non-dancer right up until my late twenties. So was Anthony. We sat on the sidelines of sports carnivals, and we sat with our arms folded at the school dances.

Not too long ago he and I were dancing together at a party, probably to some nineties classic which made us nostalgic. We remarked on just how transformationally wonderful it is to be liberated from the self-consciousness of youth, and then we danced like total spazzes.

Belonging to a club that will have me as a member – by Beth

27 Sep

When I think of what this week’s theme “membership” means to me, I think of that Woody Allen joke – “I wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member”. I LOVE that joke! It totally applied to the relationships of my early twenties.

Anyone who has known me for longer than 2 minutes knows that I was born in New Zealand (because I somehow work it into the first conversation I have with anyone I would like to have any kind of connection with). I think sub-consciously, I feel this piece of information is vital to understanding The Essential Beth. The core of my very being.

When I go back to New Zealand, Wellington in particular, I have an awesome “a-ha” moment and I look around and think “these are my people”. It’s that strong. Brings tears to the eyes and a lump to the throat. I haven’t done scientific testing of this, but I’m pretty sure it would stand up to any rigor you could throw at it. People’s faces, the sound of their voices, the fashion and sense of humour. It’s a powerful and wonderful thing. But sad because I go back so very rarely.

But this brings me to my realisation as of today…. I BELONG in Marrickville! There is a club here, it’s called The Concordia (it’s a German croquet club) and I’m literally a member!

I did a little science experiment of my own this morning and Leo and I walked down to the train station with Jeff (as we do every weekday for whichever one of us is going to work that day). We didn’t do anything different, except that I took note of all the people we knew on our journey. It’s a 1.1 km walk and we left at 7:45am and returned at 9:20am (times make it sound more scientific).

We saw Jeff off and bumped in Maria, a friend from my mother’s group and walked her back to the station and saw her off. Then we went to the Greek bakery to buy Leo a bikkie which I always forget the Greek name for and chatted to the ladies there. Out the front our friend Gwen was having a coffee with her two golden retrievers Monty and Gandolf and her fella. We know Gwen from frequenting the local park. We nodded hello to Albert the shop keeper, exchanged greetings with our neighbour Vanessa as she walked to the station, and chatted to Richard the friendly check-out chap at Woolies (we see him every week at least). As we started walking up the hill we ran into Jo and Phil – a neighbour from the next street across and his boy, and then stopped to have a goss with Katie and her two boys when we got to our street. So that’s 13 people and 2 dogs in the space of 2.2kms. Not bad.

I’m sure that having a kid is like covering yourself in social glue – you’re easier to talk to, have someone adorable with you. But I think it’s also because you’re home more. You’re walking places. You’re taking an interest because a bit of adult conversation doesn’t go astray! Several weeks back I ran into a woman from down the street and we chatted. She has a newborn and has lived here for 3 years, but I’d never seen her before, and now we see each other all the time.

Belonging is a great feeling and one I don’t take for granted.


Switching between fast and slow – by Beth

24 Sep

When a tiny person called Leo crashed a semi-trailer (at speed) into what I will call “life before Leo”, I never could have dreamt of the repercussions. Well, I totally could, but it’s just different actually living in “life after Leo” and one of the big things is how my relationship with fast and slow has changed.

At the start, my life felt like it slowed down to some insanely slow groundhog day. Feed, change, sleep, feed, change, sleep, feed, change, sleep. And he took soooo long to go to sleep. Always has. Just close your eyes and sleep already! Having left a fast-paced, busy job a couple of months earlier, I couldn’t believe that this is what my life had become. My brain was in a fog too so I couldn’t think so fast. Baby conspiracy to force you into “slowing the hell down Career Mummy and take a chill pill”.

So, I adjusted, and leaving the house I was struck by how everyone was moving so fast, talking so fast. Do do do. Buy buy buy. TIME WARP!

After a while I got my regular brain back. Phew! But I started to (literally) smell the roses and learn to enjoy the new pace of my life.

Then, he started crawling and stuff sped up again. and walking, and it sped up again. Today, he was insisting not only that Leo was running but that mummy needed to be running too. But don’t get me wrong. It still takes us 30 minutes to walk around the block if he’s not rushed by me. Close gate. Open gate. Close gate. Open gate. Look a cat! Ooh, a berry! etc.

I’ve returned to work two days a week and it’s so amazing to have the opportunity to straddle the two time zones. It’s given me that “perspective” thing that older mothers tell you get when you have kids and you think yada,yada. But it’s true! I’m so much more adept at switching between fast and slow than I used to be. It’s very satisfying.

And now for a couple of lists, because I love a good list….

Stuff I’m faster at since having a kid: Shopping (I liken it to staging a raid, London riots-style, except that I pay for it at the end); sex (it’s only us that read this, right?); internet shopping (I sometimes terrify myself how fast I can buy multiple things on Etsy); reading crappy women’s magazines in supermarket queues.

Stuff I do slower since having a kid: Cooking (I do it faster, but it takes a lot longer. I start chopping vegies at like 9am and make it in bits and pieces throughout the day); folding laundry (or it could just be that there is so. damn. much. of. it. Blah!) Walking anywhere, or here’s a new one – walking with no particular destination in mind! Just walking where the mood takes you.

A Speedy Loss of English – by Justyna

23 Sep

Apparently, according to the stats, you lose 8 words per day if you do not regularly speak or use your primary language. English, being mine.

I have been living in Poland for nearly 6 years now. That’s almost 2190 days. And that my friends, is a whopping 17 520 English words gone. Lost. In a vacuum. Retrieved only by either coincidence or hard work (googling). There appears to be a speedy decline of my brain’s left hemisphere and a quick mud pit evolving out of my lobe’s Wernicke area (the part responsible for language comprehension). It’s a mystery to me why I am still considered an English ‘native speaker’ here, when I couldn’t for the life of me, the other day, remember the words for ‘duster’ and ‘dust pan’. Even though my mother tongue is actually Polish, my Aussie accent and an entire Australian education from primary school into university, are deemed worthy enough of granting me this ‘native’ title. Not taking this honour lightly I do my bit on a daily basis to have some English in my life. But recently I have been feeling that trawling through etsy and watching five back-to-back seasons of The Wire, are simply not enough. You fill me? Also I got a massive slap-in-the-head wake up call a few months back, when visiting Sydney. We were driving to my cousin’s wedding and Michal turned to me and said (in Polish), “you know, you’re much more confident, witty and self-assured in English”. Uh, really? Great. So why are we back in Krakow exactly? So you can have a mad, whiny, boring wife who walks around the place unsure of herself. This, as a result, has led me to fight my very own bilingual warfare. Improve my Polish even more (it’s currently pretty good, but I still do get wobbly in heated arguments. When they’re with Michal I quickly revert to English so that I can win) and simultaneously stop this speedy decline of my English capabilities. The latter is being achieved with our two-year-old, Kazek.

Kazek is being raised in an English and Polish language environment. Meaning, he’s hardly able to string words together, despite being two years old. He’s also becoming a lazy little bugger, by selecting the easier version to pronounce. E.g. ‘ball’ instead of ‘piłka’, ‘up’ instead of ‘wysoko’, ‘stół’ instead of ‘table’, ‘dać’ instead of ‘give’ and ‘poo’ instead of ‘kupa’. It’s remarkable though, how quickly he’s adapted to understanding both. Having to be consistent and never throwing in any Polish words for convenience, I have had to brush up on certain areas of the English language to assist in the healthy development of my son. Namely in the vocab area of heavy machinery, farming equipment and road construction. From excavators, to crane trucks, to harvesters, steam rollers, pile drivers and hooklift hoists, I am not only working on the 8 words per day loss, but am sounding like quite the engineer to the passer by. If they too were ‘native’ English speakers. Kazek in return shows his enthusiasm for the new words by appropriating the required sounds a particular dump truck, for example, makes.

Further to slow down my gradual English language decline, but more importantly, my ‘aussiness’, I find myself throwing in a few rippers also for the benefit of the sprog. After all, the dude needs to know where his mother is from. Hence:

Kazzah, stop chuckin’ such tanties!


Kazzah, get off the table or you’ll end up face-plantin’ all over the shop!


Oi! Get back ‘ere,

and a few other variations of the above. Maybe there’s hope for me yet.

Speed – by Karen

22 Sep

This week, in the lead-up to the first FFF reissue post, I have not been feeling very creative. I have, on the other hand, been watching a hell of a lot of Project Runway, in which people are constantly being creative. Inspired by that most transcendental of reality TV shows, I am going to attempt to apply typical Project Runway maxims to the creation of this post. First and foremost, I must “make it work”, which in the current context I will generously consider achieved if a blog post of any kind is produced. Secondly, I will “edit, edit, edit”. So this will be short. Thirdly, and most importantly, I should not, at any point, be “literal”, in my interpretation of the week’s theme.

Theme: a photo of dirty water in a gutter. This interpretation was deemed acceptably non-literal.

So as I drove home from boot camp at a gym called the SPEED Institute, in a car, going at a particular SPEED, I made sure to ignore all of these far too literal potential blog topics and encouraged my mind to wander. I did eventually get to thinking. My thoughts were about the trajectories of people’s lives, and how they impact long-term friendships. At this point I remembered my high-school physics, so I will note that what I’m really talking about here is velocity, which encompasses both speed and direction.

Before Facebook was invented, I used to wish that the people I interacted with every day were selected not by happenstance, employment or geographical location, but rather by their importance in my life and simply my love of them as people. If I could gather together my best three friends from Beecroft Primary, say, along with a lovely German girl who worked with me in a bed shop in London, plus my high school girls, favourite friends from the uni era and early jobs and so on and so on, I could make my social life more like a Best Of compilation than a random radio station. Facebook came along and did this to a small extent, limited by the fact that a surprising number of people I like simply aren’t on Facebook or never post.

I have a friend who has complained to me a number of times that she used to have a wonderful group of friends with whom she’s lost all contact, because she doesn’t like using the computer. She made it clear that she feels primarily guilty about not staying in touch, which I thought of as an odd reaction. Surely you’re harming yourself more than anyone else by opting out of your friendships?

I too don’t regularly contact some of the friends I like very much; again it’s circumstance, living far away, and other aspects of life trajectory. I am amazed at the impact having children has on your social patterns. This is very evident in just the age distribution of my friends in Singapore. Because I had children “young” (by highly skewed, middle class standards), most mothers I meet are 5 to 10 years older than me. The fact that most of my friends here are 5 to 10 years older than friends from my pre-children life demonstrates to me how many of my friendships have been formed around children. This, and the “expat experience”, is excellent in that you befriend a more diverse range of people.

I occasionally wonder whether having had children a few years earlier than most of my friends will tilt our relative trajectories, as my interest in conversations about preschools and phonics dulls at an inappropriate speed.

Recently I was visited by the lovely Tabitha and Nathan, and rather than letting them sleep or shop, I dragged them off through an obstacle course of mundane exercise routines, children’s gymnastics classes and probably grocery runs too. I wonder if this was an attempt to force them temporarily on to my trajectory, to inflict a little of the closeness that geography would steal away.