Sunday, August 28, 2011

A surfeit of joy and other depressing experiences

As I was preparing to go to sleep, in bed, quiet, I had one of those transcendental moments.

I was happy.

How strange to be so separated from everyone and yet in a flash of insight I felt pure pleasure. Pleasure that whelms from within that is as hot and bright as a scorching sun and yet it was nourishing. Tangible as music is, and permanent as heat. There was nothing that brought it forth, it was (is) there always. What happens is that  we layer silt on top of it. Sometimes the silt gets scraped off by an event, or a friend does something loving, a good dinner, or an emotive opera, and we assign the pleasure that comes from within, to the thing that scrapped the silt off, rather than to the pleasure exposed.

Then I thought, how much silt do I have? Where do I get it from?


Eight thousand miles separate me from San Diego, but there is a schism that cannot be measured by miles. But the distance is not between two geographies. The distance is the broader, deeper, and indelible...residing within. A detachment that happened years ago, and has continued. Sometimes becoming immured in distractions of my own making, to realize the distance being created. But the break was there. Permanent and growing.
When I was at graduate school we used to refer to these as our monsters. Not that they were tangible or actual beings, but because these were the things that kept us awake at night. Circling and nipping at our conscious, but never quite perceptible enough to tackle. My fear makes these monsters invisible. When I look at it head on it moves around in my head and disperses into tiny fragments. Fragments that I have learnt to deal with and having done so, I do not learn how to deal with the entirety of this monster. It is elusive, clever and totally transparent when I want to address it. What I have learned after layers of procrastinations is to address the fear when is presents itself.  Even, as is always the case, it is not the right time.
It is "not the right time", is the time to make things right. If I feel it, now is the time. Because by the time you allow the monsters to invade you, then it will disappear. Now is the time. Be prepared. The monsters want to be slaughtered. They are unhappy creatures. They want you to make them mortal. If you feed them with thought they disappear. As I switch on the monitor, a blank screen faces me, and I start the combat.

Friday, August 26, 2011

From Pariah to Parrhiases

"Apollo and Marsyas" 1637 by Jusepe de Ribera

Last week I think I was complimented. The organizer of the symposium that I just presented at called me a parrhesiastes. This was before we hit the whiskey and caronas, but after 9 bottles of wine. I was primed. I was after a "discussion." I love to argue and discuss and disagree and talk. But this stumped me. My first thought went to my common retort....I would insult you but you would not understand.

The next morning I received a paper from the interlocutor, Shaun Ewen, that provided a definition of parrhesia.

The Greek definition of parrhesia is the possession of certain moral qualities, and innate proof that they know and speak the truth. The fact that a speaker says something dangerous---different from what the majority believes--is a strong indication that he is a parrhesiastes. The parrhesiastes is always less powerful than the one with whom he or she speaks. The parrhesia comes from "below", as it were, and is directed towards "above".

Only two months ago I was a pariah an outcast and here I was a parrhesiastes. Assuming the duality of life, good and bad, black and white, I thought how variable life is.

Only while writing this blog that it dawned on me that the two terms are inseparable, and not extremes of a continuum. You have to be a pariah to be a parrhesiastes. You cannot be part of the system.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

You do not have a Buckleys' chance with the Shielas.

Before I left the United States, Dixon Arentt and his wife Wende Chan hosted a party that some 50 close and wonderful people attended. At this party Dixon as an introduction to the land down-under, wrote and read an ode to me leaving for the land of Oz.
One of the phrases, which characteristically stuck in my mind, was the phrase "And you do not have a Buckleys' chance with the  Shieilas."

I did not know the phrase Buckley's chance. But I forgot about this phrase until I took bus tour to the Great Ocean Road and heard about Buckley's chance again. But the real tour was in researching William Buckley.

File:William Buckley.jpg

In 1803 William Buckley was convicted of knowingly receiving a bolt of stolen cloth. He was sentenced to transportation to New South Wales for 14 years. When they arrived in Port Phillip near Melbourne, Buckley and several other convicts cut loose a boat and made their escape. They quickly split up and Buckley travelling around Port Phillip Bay on his own found an aboriginal grave. He took a spear used to mark this grave which he used as a walking stick. When he came across some Wathaurung women who  believing him to be the returned spirit of the former buried tribesman, he was joyfully welcomed and adopted by the group.

For the next thirty-two years, he continued to live among the Wathaurung people on the Bellarine Peninsula. He had at least two Aboriginal wives, and almost certainly a daughter by one of them.Then in 1835 William Buckley appeared at a British camp site with a party of Aboriginal people. That same year, he was granted a pardon and given the position of Interpreter to the natives. By late 1837, Buckley had become disenchanted with his new way of life—and the people around him—and left for Van Diemen's Land. He remained there, married again, for the next nineteen years, until his death in 1856.

In my mind Buckley had a charmed life. He survived three wives, imprisonment, hunger and one of the most dangerous natural environments on earth. He was a lucky guy.

So my question to Australians is why use the term Buckleys chance to mean you "do not have a chance" when in fact Buckley was a very lucky and fortunate man. It changes the meaning of my friend's parting ode  "And you do not have a Buckelys' chance with the  Shielas." But in reality the original meaning still holds true.

Shielas just Love Old Balding Men on a Bicycle

I might have a Buckley's Chance with the Shielas indeed.

Which brings me to my bicycle. I have been walking everywhere in Melbourne. And it is not because the public transportation is inadequate or expensive, but because I have lived in America for so long that I am uncomfortable using it. Strange that we become so reliant on having control over our transportation that I"d rather walk rather than rely on the tram and bus system that carpets the city. This insight also makes me realize how true it is when I write about older adults wanting control of transportation. I understand now how unique we are in the United States.

After a few failed attempts trying to get a call back from people selling their bike on, I eventually got someone who responded. He set a time to come and I agreed. I should have realized there would be a problem when I could not find the area of Oakleigh on the tram map. But I put that down to me being uncomfortable with the transportation system. I did not think much of it. Only when I boarded the v line train did I realize that this was not a tram but a long distance train. I asked for directions from the guard, and boarded the train I was suppose to on the platform that I was told. The train went around the city and then was heading west rather than south east. After 15 minutes I deluded myself that I was on the wrong train. I jumped off, only to realize that this was infact the right train, but the doors quickly closed and I was resigned to waiting ages for the next train. But I only had to wait another 8 minutes. This is a very efficient system.
Passing a number of stations and then out into the suburbs,I was again happy that I was sure that I am on the right train. Looking back,  I could not see the tall skyline of the city. I started to think about what I was doing. How far out of the city am I going? I have to cycle back. My buttocks twitched. Yeah, your turn to suffer.

A long way. When I got there I borrowed a spanner to raise the seat, paid him, and put on my dorky helmet. Put the end of my trousers in my sock, and rode off to the farewell of "good on ya' mate.".  I felt like Cadel. Speed master himself.

The bike worked well and I felt strong. My bum quickly informed me however that I have not ridden for more than 6 months, but I knew that it was only warm-up pains. Once it goes numb I would not feel anything.

I thought the easiest and most scenic way was to head towards the port to the east and then ride north alongside the port heading to Melbourne city. I realize when I hit the first major road that the port at Brighton was 15 kilometers away, and then another 18 kms to Melbourne city or in the local lingo CBD (city central business district.) However I was enjoying the ride. Pedestrians looking at me and waving. I thought yeah baby...speed master. Faster and harder I pedaled.

Once I tackled the busy North Road into Brighton I was rewarded by the beautiful vista of Brighton and Port Philip. Once there I forgot about the urgency of making it back to Ormond College before dark. I had no lights. The bike trial that meanders north through Brighton and St Kilda is peaceful and tranquil.A multipurpose trial shared with skaters and walkers, all obeying their designated side (left). An elderly woman in her 70's overtook me and gave me a smile. I thought yeah lucky lady I was enjoying the vista, speed master is resting.

It was getting dark fast. The vista was changing, as I was slowly making my way up towards the city skyline. It was enchanting but with the ebbing light the air cooled down significantly and I slowly started thinking about options. The worse case scenario is I have a puncture and I have to walk back.  I thought about walking the grand canyon from the north rim to the south, 26 miles. So I could walk the bike home. Once I realized this I relaxed again.

People waved, and I thought I must look a sight. Pedaling like crazy with a grin on my face. How happy can $25 make you? Buy a cheap bike and ride. By the time I made it to the City it was quite dark. The slight incline of the wide avenue going up to the University slowed my pace. I was thinking of a hot shower and dinner. Perhaps they will have a roast today. Pedaling past pedestrians waiting to cross the road, they waved. I wish I could wave back, but I was busy pedaling and maintaining momentum. Yeah speed master coming through.

By the time I reached Parkville, where I am staying, I had cycled over 30 kilometers. The road inclined steeper. As I came across a busy junction, shooting a furtive look around for Trams--which still confused me--a pedestrian stepped off the curb and shouted..."you can do it mate!"

Perhaps I did not look like a speed master but you should have seen me when I first started.

Pastizzi are calling me

Last week I joined my academic host--Shaun Ewen--for a drive up to Shepparton to meet with a couple of people working with the Rumbalara indigenous community there.  Just before leaving Shaun stopped for a coffee and in the shop I saw a tray of fresh pastizzi. Now there is nothing that says comfort food more than pastizzi. These are filo pastry wrapped around ricotta cheese with parsley. Some are made with mushy peas in a slightly curried sauce. So I asked where they got them from, and later I googled the name, I found that the shop is in Sunshine, Melbourne.

The latest  Australian Census in 2006 recorded 43,700 Malta-born people in Australia,  a  decrease  of 7.0 per  cent  from the 2001 Census. The 2006 distribution  by state and territory showed Victoria had the largest number with 20,850, followed by New South Wales (16,980),  Queensland (2,780) and South Australia (1,630). Within Victoria, Melbourne is home to more Maltese than anywhere else in Australia. By 1981, the suburbs most popular for the Maltese in Melbourne were: Sunshine, Keilor, Broadmeadows, Altona, Whittlesea, Preston, Springvale, Coburg, Melbourne city (CBD), and Footscray with concentrations ranging from 505 to 6,895. In some areas Maltese make up to 7.3% of the total population. Keilor has 30.2% of its population born overseas with Italy, Malta and Yugoslavia being the main ethnic groups. In Sunshine, 33.3% of the population was born overseas of which the main ethnic groups are Maltese, Yugoslavs and Italian.

So today, armed with my recently purchased bike I headed to Sunshine.A cold but thankfully dry day. Eight miles of fairly industrialized vista and armed with my inability to read maps --and therefore I do not carry one-- I felt like an intrepid and extremely unqualified explorer.

I managed to find the shop on the first go. It was closed with no times posted. Not dampening my spirits, having survived another excursions without a map, I toured the small busy town center. A  lively shopping precinct primarily populated with Vietnamese bakeries and restaurants. Not what I expected from the census. There was no mention of a Vietnamese wave of immigrants, but then again, it is always different experiencing something directly, rather than googling it. Now if I can experience some pastizzi.

Friday, August 5, 2011


My world is upside down. This is truly the land downunder. I have begun to do things in reverse.

At the cafeteria where I eat my meals, I eat my hot dinner first--so that it does not get cold--and then I have my salad. Every time I do this I remember all the arguments that I had, while working in China. When I asked for a salad with my meal the waiters always brought my salad after I finished my main dish. I constantly argued with them--despite the echo of my father’s insistence in the back of my mind to never argue with someone who has control over what you put in your mouth.

Another reverse has been my running. In San Diego I used to get up before dawn and off I go for my run around La Mesa. Getting back home as the sun is rising. Here the last time I did that the freezing air quickly sent me back to my room. So now I run in the early evening.

I am further reminded of this topsiturvy world when I open a door. To unlock a door I turn the key clockwise and anticlockwise to lock. I have to relearn this simple behavior every time.

This week I went to the Maltese Community Council of Victoria center. I have been to a few community centers in my lifetime. All of them, without exception, are the same. So not much news there. At this particular one I was met by a couple, Marilyn and John. I was enthusiastically anticipating speaking Maltese. John responded in English and Marilyn in Maltese. Only to learn that John is Maltese, and his wife Marilyn is Australian and learnt to speak Maltese (and therefore happy to practice her newly acquired language).Topsiturvy.

Did mention they we drive on the left here.