Archive | February, 2012

Duty – by Karen

27 Feb

I failed in my duty to post last week so I thought I’d better get in early for this one. All I had for “heightened” anyway was yet another rumination on my obsession with the tallness of the Dutch, and I’m not sure I’ve got any new material on the matter.

Duty of course makes me think of the army, which brings to mind a conversation I had at boot camp the other day (fitness boot camp, not active duty boot camp). Apropos of something, one of my fellow exercisers declared that she hates “that” back in Australia, “how people just bludge on the dole”.

Discussions of dole-bludging are par for the course in Australia, and normally I’d just back away quietly with a bad taste in my mouth. But the way she raised it had a freshness, the freshness of a practice now foreign and remembered with disdain. Because no one bludges on the dole in Singapore. It’s something she remembers people doing back home. So I failed to tune out. Within less than a minute all Australians present (self-excepted) had concurred that anyone on the dole for more than six months should be put into the army. This was still quite fresh and astonishing to me, because with all my inner-west living friends I only heard such talk coming out of a television or radio. So again, I failed to tune out. And when the time came for me to say something, I didn’t respond with anything I might have expected to, such as the lack of empathy this stance suggested, the difficulty of finding employment. I just said that I didn’t think I would make a very good soldier, and nor would quite a lot of people I knew. I would be of much more use to my country in some kind of office job.

This pragmatic response was accepted, and it was pointed out that national service wouldn’t have to mean active duty (the discussion had moved on from dole-bludgers to encompass the idea that everyone might do a year of national service after high school), and at my prompting it was reluctantly but fully acknowledged that society had pressing non-military needs, such as support for mental health, childcare and other community services.

No policies were developed, and no action was taken, but I left the conversation feeling more aligned with my bludger-hating compatriots than before, and wondering if more of our problems could be sidled up to and scooted around on practical hobbit feet. Asylum-seeking springs to mind.

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Duty calls by Beth

27 Feb

Is “duty” the word for something that you do because of either perceived or real need, that you’d rather not have to do?

There are some massive undertakings we can see as anything but a burden, and other small, infrequent tasks that are looked upon with loathing and only done under sufferance. Surely a fair bit of the distinction between duty and privilege is down to our own perception.  Funny creatures aren’t we?

Speaking of creatures…. Today Leo and I ate lunch next to the gorilla enclosure at Taronga Zoo (we have a pass so I take him every week or two). They really know where it’s at. Just being. A pregnant gorilla sat there looking hot and pissed off, eating sugar cane and everyone else just let her be. The young males wrestled one another and beat their chests in jest almost – just a hint of the aggressive power evident in the crew-cut silverbacks. Those guys are scary mo-fos. A female sat with her infant staring off into space – keeping an eye out but also dreaming of something. A woman turned to me and remarked how the young ones were so like our young ones, to which I replied that we’re all of us like them. It’s just that kids are in touch with that.

Leo had a fever this weekend and we didn’t do much or get much sleep. While he slept I managed to fold and put away the washing, tidy the house a bit and prep dinner. Just as I typed that first thought he awoke, but when I went and got him he just fell back asleep in my arms, so I could type this (he must still be poorly). Today those chores felt welcome, like clearing the air, but I know sometimes I want to scream at the mounds of washing – “vamoose!”

Here’s us:

Hugs to you all in your outposts ladies. P.S. I think we should get Mischa to do a guest post!

Heightened – by Tabitha

22 Feb

On the weekend, a friend lent me a book called “How To Be An Explorer Of The World“. It’s a series of small daily projects to help you heighten your senses and be more engaged in the world around you. Some of the principles to being an “explorer” include: “alter your course often”, “consider everything alive and animate”, and “trace things back to their origins”. I like this kind of stuff.

Some of the tasks are hilariously incompatible with living in Hanoi – no, I will not be making a sculpture from rubbish, and no, I will not be collecting water samples from various bodies of water – but most are your standard kind of “creative exercise” to make you get more shit done.

Today’s task is “Write ten things about where you are sitting right now that you hadn’t noticed when you sat down. Do it quickly. Do not censor.”

So I will.

1. A new post-it has appeared in Nathan’s ever-growing “pile of things from my pockets”. It’s fabric measurements from the tailor, written in the Vietnamese way, with commas for decimal points and European-style 1s, 7s and 9s.

2. That gecko poo is still on the desk. I thought I had gotten rid of it.

3. I can hear what sounds like someone unloading large plastic drums from a truck or a motorbike. Maybe it’s those drums they collect the pig slop in. Or actually, maybe it’s empty gas canisters.

4. Cars are making the sound of driving through puddles.

5. The pens and pencils in our pens and pencils bowl are all dusty.

6. The bottle of Scotch, a present for a friend, which is sat behind my laptop has a blurb on it which begins “Caol Ila’s name (say “Cull Eela”) comes from the Gaelic for “Sound of Islay”. It continues, with various words italicised throughout, including the words “hidden cove“.

7. It’s definitely gas canisters.

8. There are many more things on the desk  that don’t belong here than I realised. There is a tie, Nathan’s bear hat, a necklace, a dirty bowl from my lunch, my keys, bobby pins, the Scotch, and my sunglasses.

9. No-one is working in the government building over the road, and actually, I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone there.

10. Our landlord’s car has a bumper sticker written in Arabic. Weird.

This task has taught me that my desk is actually really dirty, and that if you quickly write something without self-censoring, it’s really boring to read.

Heightened by Beth

21 Feb

Are we get more, or less, able to deal with heightened emotions as we get older?

I got worry stomach aches (I called them tummy bubbles) a fair bit as a kid. I was an intense teen. In my adulthood I have had an episode of pretty extreme anxiety and depression, and some pretty up and down times aside from that.

I think for the most part I’m better at dealing with ups and downs as I age. I’ve gotten better at processing those heightened times, making sense out of them, and understanding THIS TOO SHALL PASS – both the ‘my cheeks are sore’ good and the painfully bad. I’ve found having a kid is a really good way of drumming that lesson into you hard. What gets more difficult is that we have responsibilities now that we didn’t as teens. I can’t just take the day off. Several nights of poor sleep + PMT + a grumpy toddler, and I surprise myself how quickly I feel burnt-out. Luckily, I’ve become an expert in finding a gap long enough for a bath or a walk and making that time count as processing time, and then surprise myself at how quickly I can feel functional again. But the last two and a bit years (especially the first year) have felt like that roller coaster metaphor from Parenthood.

This feels like a good time to tell you about my podcast project. I’m interviewing parents about what they’ve learnt from their parenting experiences. The good, the bad and the ugly. But with a real skew towards the bad and the ugly because they’re way more interesting and people talk about them less. I have always wanted to do a radio doco, so this gives me an excuse to talk about stuff I like to talk about anyway and get to ask more probing questions than usual. I have my second interview tonight.

Delicate – by Justyna

20 Feb

When this word was generated by Tabitha and I started mulling over what to write, I could not escape the numerous post ideas concerned with, well myself. I am not a delicate person. Physically nor emotionally nor behaviour wise. And this is not a recent thing. I can almost mark on the calendar when my lack of delicacy was firmly established. I was six. My parents had just announced that they bought me some new clothes, and with great enthusiasm started to pull out three new dresses that I would undoubtedly love. Up until that moment I was a normal girl-child, who indeed wore dresses. But when both my mum and dad started pulling out the three new frocks, something inside my head snapped. I officially became a tomb boy. Those dresses were the most hideous things I had ever seen and I fought tooth and nail not to have to put them on. I remember exactly how two of them looked like. One was purple (ala t-shirt dress – no frills to speak of), with a picture of a girl on it with floppy hair and a sew on necklace, the other was a stripey polo shirt-type dress, with a polo collar (pretty much a tennis outfit dress of the 1980s). My mum made me put on the dresses and started taking pictures of me to send back to Poland to my grandmother. I was mortified. And I chucked a massive tanty, which led to disciplinary action, which led to tears. From that moment on I wore shorts and pants only and my hair was never allowed to be left out. The only dress permissible in my wardrobe was my school uniform. The only acceptable hairstyle, a pony tail or a plait. This lasted up until I was about fifteen.

The delicacy associated with female clothing and my lack of wearing it, probably led to more possibilities for me as a young girl. My dad was just as keen to teach me how to change the washers in the laundry taps and to hook up the entire stereo system in the house as much as my mum was happy to teach me how to appreciate really fresh bed linen. For a long time I prided myself on being able to lug a 20 kg backpack through the mountains as well as being able to knit a scarf. Schwarzenegger’s Commando is still one of my all-time favourite movies. I also loved the winter Rocky IV training scene, the martial arts of Bloodsport, the male camaraderie of Stand by Me (umm, I actually knew most of the words off by heart), and the survival and the rites of passage of Kevin Bacon’s White Water Summer (that’s right ladies, not Footloose). My dad also allowed me to watch Rambo, but the war aspect just didn’t do it for me.

When I was pregnant with my first kid my friend Ves told me over the phone that obviously it would be a boy. When I asked why, he replied laughing I wouldn’t know what to do with a girl. I didn’t take offense because I have always liked that about myself, that I am not a predictable delicate female type. And when I was ready to start a family the idea of having three boys, my own private army unit, appealed greatly.

Meeting Michal and having him draw out the softer side of me however has been a value added. There is nothing wrong, it turns out, in being delicate from time to time and having someone else be stronger than you. I know that Michal knows that I can manage with a 20 kilo pack on my back in the mountains, but it’s nice that he takes the tent and all the heavy water bottles and the gas cooker and the cans of stew, just so that I can have an easier load.

Delicate – by Karen

19 Feb

It has been a much too busy week. It’s true that I despise people who embrace being “delicate”. I also despise people who enjoy being busy and who wear it like a badge of honour. So it is with due shame that I disclose that this week, I have been too busy. I have neglected some favourite activities (like posting on Far Flung Four, and thinking about what I’m going to post on Far Flung Four) and some of my least favourite activities (like preparing pages for the K1 “class pet” journal detailing the exciting week Waldo the Wombat spent at the Gould house. This is made unenjoyable by my son’s disinterest in craft and my perfectionist tendencies resulting in a too professional-looking product which I force him to scribble all over. Learning outcomes?)

But… why do we despise these delicate people? I suppose I have been mulling over it just a little during the week, while never  coming up with a satisfactory answer. You see I suspect it reveals something bad about my character. I can’t quite put my finger on it.

You know the icky feeling you get, when you realise that a grown adult is jealous of a child? When you hear someone say, “well we never had anything like that in MY day”, and you realise that they actually resent an advantage available to a child, which offers nothing but benefit to the child and, through building him or her up, makes the world a better place? Because they never had that. Because they were hit and not taken to ballet and so other children should be hit and not taken to ballet.

I kind of get that icky feeling when I think about “delicate”. That I am being the resentful adult as I’m reminded of a girl I instinctively disliked, who was tiny and frail and yes, Tabitha, WAN. Who trumpeted it to all and sundry and would point out that she simply couldn’t contribute to tasks that other people could because she was a very small girl – it would be too physically demanding and also UNSAFE. These folk seem acutely aware of their peril in the urban environment, as though they’d been living in Singapore too long.

Why should I despise her? Why should her character anger me? She was undeniably small and incapable of lifting heavy things and probably was the victim of citydwellers in a way that robust and earthy types are not.

I think it’s two things. Firstly, an evolutionary drive to kick out the weaklings that will sap resources and threaten the success of my tribe. This is sound. Secondly, a jealousy that there are some people who, through congenital lack of robustness, get to sit back and enjoy the pleasures of being cared for. This is unsound, Karen, unsound.

Delicate – by Tabitha

15 Feb

“Delicate” is not a word I like. Wan people are delicate, and you know how I feel about wan people.

I don’t like making delicate things, be they foods or crafts. They’re fiddly and intricate and time-consuming, and require patience.

I don’t like delicate issues that require sensitive handling or tact, because I have neither. And I don’t like people with delicate health, or fragile dispositions.

I don’t like subtleties. I don’t like pastels. And I don’t like the delicate washing cycle which always leaves clothes too wet to dry.

I like things that are robust, bold, vibrant, strong, distinct and overstated, such as the co-authors of this blog.

There’s only one thing worse than a delicate person, and that’s a person who hates delicate people having to admit they feel delicate themselves.

And that’s me, right now.

I have an enormous infected pustulous lump in my armpit, some kind of gross, angry staph infection. When I went to the doctor, they told me to wait until it was ready to burst, then come back. I waited two days, practically unable to move my arm, or find any comfortable position to sleep in, then returned. As soon as I gingerly raised my arm as much as I could for the doctor’s inspection, the lump erupted in an explosion of pus. I guess it was ready.

It turns out a pustulous armpit is exactly what it takes to throw me off my game. I came back to Hanoi with energy and excitement to Get Shit Done in our remaining few months, and instead I’ve spent the past five days in a self-pitying slump at my desk, precious petal that I am.

Is it because of this slump (and this lump) that I can’t even work out how to end this post? Will I be forever wan? All I know is I wasn’t wrong about people with delicate dispositions. They really are goddamn annoying.