Monday, June 26, 2006

Art & Beer

Riding the day train in Melbourne reveals a segment of restless people even more reckless with the spray can. Looking out the window, graffiti covers almost every piece of concrete that borders the train tracks from suburbia into the city. Most of it is just plain ugly, though some decorations do look decent enough at 60mph.

Here are some snapshots of cheap, public art I like. The first is part of a mural at Monash University Clayton, dedicated to two Asian chaps who were shot dead in class (how sucky is that?). The next two are an appreciation of a wooden chair outside one of the Monash libraries, with a very retro-cool VB (Victoria Bitter) bottle sprayed on it. The last two were taken at some back alley and are dedicated to Rachel. Now stop asking me to walk around SS15 with a camera, aimed at every random spray-on, okay?

Is peace only a concept that looks good on paper and walls?

Victoria is Bitter over her brew

Headless chick

Unarmed chick


I am watching a company of black ants exploring a white wall. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. There are seven black ants wandering aimlessly on a white wall. I wonder why they don't just form a bloody trail. Are they lost? Low on pheromones? Two meet, then disperse again. More stragglers examine the table's terrain.

Even though the days are short, I haven't been doing much. Winter doesn't embrace strangers like a friend. It's too selective. I am of tropical blood, raised on a bed of sunshine and created to flourish in warm weather. I want to go out, to make use of the limited warmth that winter allows in, but I have been indoors all day. I am not in Australia to be indoors all day.

I don't feel like a tourist, yet I don't feel like a native either. I just feel like a returning overseas student, and I'm not sure if I like the feeling very much. Tourist spots don't really excite me because I've seen them before (those I've seen anyway). Staying at home seems a waste of money. I didn't come all the way here to stay at home all day. Going out feels like a better option, because I'm here for a limited time only, but I don't know where to go.

Then again, I can't go out every single day. I sometimes wish I were born richer; that I could buy anything I wanted to under the sun, but no. Reality says one Aussie dollar is RM2.745, and that I am relatively poor. Already, I am/will be freeloading off my pal and her housemates, my uncle and her aunt. Some days you go out, some days you stay in. Accept that.

I am watching a black ant carry some food off to its home. Darn you, freeloader! Get your own room and food!

I think I almost understand what it's like to be an ant now.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Dead Spaces

Today, Wern wanted to visit the graveyard. According to her, graveyards in Malaysia are full of lalang and mosquitoes, whereas those in Australia are well-kept and... beautiful? So we (rather, she) planned it into our journey, which eventually included Monash University, (a wrong park), (some wrong roads), Carlton Gardens, (only the foyer of) the Melbourne Museum, Melbourne Central, Don Don - a Japanese diner, numerous tram, train and bus rides (a few of which were 'wrong' or at least miscalculated), lots of walking, and finally, Melbourne General Cemetery.

By the time we reached the cemetery, which is huge probably because it is so general, the clock showed half past four. The overcast sky and cold weather hung like sackcloth worn in mourning, as we surveyed acres and acres of graves before us. Crosses, statues, flowers, names, dates, tombstones repeated en masse. No living person was in sight. This was a rather scary thought, as a sign informed us that the gates would close at 5pm.

No one knew we were in there.

We could be accidentally (or purposely; we shan't assume) locked up inside.

We'd be spending the night with dead bodies.





In freaking 5 degrees Celcius.

Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' video was already looping in my head.

Wanting to leave no stone unturned, we said a quick prayer and made a dash for it. A dash inside, I mean.

We didn't stray too far from the tarred path or venture beyond a two-minute sprint to the exit. I took pictures like a nosy tourist while Wern turned sober like a proper human being with a good measure of respect for the dead. There were graves dating back to the 19th century. Most graves were nondescript; some were elaborate and gaudy; a few graves looked broken into. Wives joined husbands; children joined parents in their mortality. Jewish graves were sectioned together, much like how they remain an exclusive nation and people still.

Six feet beneath us lay thousands of bodies at various levels of decomposition. These people once led very different lives and meant different things to different people. Yet no one escaped death. Difference became neutralised by a common destiny.

We could have gone on the black narrow road for longer. But after 15 minutes, Wern began to hurry me home. Haha! Coward! I said. But I packed my camera, and we left.

Living Spaces

This is where I'm currently staying in Melbourne. It's a townhouse near the Monash Clayton campus; quiet and pretty cold. The people are nice though. If you're bored enough, you could try to guess the architecture of the house. All-correct answer gets a Tim Tam.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

I. Have. Arrived

I have arrived. The journey was boring but I learnt:

i) How to pull out the TV screen when there's no seat in front of you - this, not without some embarrassment
ii) How to pull out the food tray on a Qantas plane when there is no seat in front of you

There were so many movies I wanted to watch but I only managed to catch two (Joyeux Noel and Transamerica). After that my ears hurt from the pariah earbuds and mild nausea was beginning to set in. It also wasn't very fun squinting into a five-inch screen amid failing light.

Here are some pictures from the KL-Singapore leg. Boy, they're so interesting!

A window seat

Wing, not drumstick

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Scott free... almost

Thirteen hours more, and I'll be off on my month-long vacation! I've calculated that I'll be on eight different planes within that duration. I hope I don't get airsick with all the hours up there. I don't have a good stomach for travel. If you believe in prayer, you can pray for me. Otherwise I might just try to consume as much alcohol as I can up there - it's free and for a good purpose, I'm sure. (Though they say it's bad cos it dehydrates you; I bet they're lying just to save costs.)

And I'm bringing my work along! Yes, nothing like good 'ol work to keep your blood pressure up and heart beating while on a holiday. Thanks to that spell where I was so excited I kept procrastinating, I have now on my plate: one music review, one movie review, one book review, one feature article.

I should be paid in Aussie dollars.

Monday, June 12, 2006


Since 11+am today, we've been feeling tremors in our office building. My paranoid self says it's probably another earthquake and corresponding after-shocks going on in Indonesia. My colleague says it's some construction work going on somewhere behind the office. (The nearest Caterpillar was spotted two blocks away though — too far to cause our partition glass to shake and our fats to tremble like they did.) Rachel has tuned in to a live earthquake watch website, but so far, nothing that fits the timeframe has been reported. I remember though, that the last time I felt tremors in my old office—and which were later confirmed as after-shocks—our search on the Internet at that hour yielded zero results. I'm not sure if it's psychological, but I'm beginning to get a headache — a definite symptom of after-shocks. If I concentrate harder, I might even begin to feel nauseous. Oh no, I think I can't work!

It's definitely time to go home.

10 Things I Miss about Australia

(In no particular order)

1. Taking a walk around Lake Ginninderra, Belconnen, which is just a stone’s throw away from the residences of the University of Canberra. Although it is a manmade lake, nature has populated the surroundings with an undeniable sense of serenity and beauty. In autumn, trees shed their golden-red leaves, and as the season turns over to winter, cyclists, joggers and strollers disappear from the tarred path. The lake becomes barren and quiet. Once in a while, if you’re lucky, you can spot black swans and other long-necked birds gracing the lake’s surface.

Ducks going for a dip in summer

Two birds at the mini-pier at Lake Ginninderra

Seconds later, they fly off together into the setting sun

2. Jamming and singing with Jess, my housemate—an excellent musician and the person who got me into the habit of drinking scotch during winter, especially before singing. Less than a quarter glass (on the rocks or with juice) would be enough to warm up our voices and get the blood flowing to our numb fingers, even though our buttocks froze on the metal-framed chairs.

3. The open spaces, the starry skies, the clean air, the bush, wallabies hopping by, shooting stars, double rainbows, the beach, grey gulls, going on a road trip, the land, the strange feeling that this was home.

A sample of the bush landscape

4. Playing guitar for Bethany International church, where practice for four songs lasted two hours and there was always an ample supply of Indonesian food and hospitality awaiting us after. Church population: +/- 20.

5. Busking without fear of being robbed of my guitar/spoils. Although I did this only once, I would do it again. And again. And again. Judith, my Kenyan friend sang in her rich African timbre while I harmonised with a raw Chinese voice and played guitar. Grave accent differences aside, we managed to collect AUD$40+ within two hours, on a slow Sunday afternoon in Canberra’s city centre. I guess many Canberrans have either a really kind heart or too much money.

6. Eating Australian Milo from the tin. Aussie Milo, compared to Malaysian Milo, is smoother, richer and ain’t as sweet. It’s like a prime piece of real estate in heaven. It doesn't fully melt in your mouth — you have to chew it.

7. Doing a Tim Tam Slam. Ironically, I learnt this trick from someone I met online who lives in the States. You bite the ends off an Aussie Tim Tam (again, the original is far superior to the Indonesian-made ones found in Malaysia), then dunk one end into a steaming cup of coffee. Suck through the top like a straw. I usually like to dip both ends in to wet them, so that sucking up the coffee (best unsweetened) is easier. Watch out though—slammed Tim Tams usually melt quite fast, leaving a chocolatey mess on your fingers.

8. Taking photographs where everything looks crisp and clear under the Aussie sun, versus the muddy colours you get in KL because of the smoke and haze.

9. Being able to wear my Akubra hat out without attracting weird stares. (Then again, the sight of a Chinese girl wearing an Akubra hat will always attract stares even in Australia—probably more amused than weird, though.)

10. The thriving live music and arts scene. Jazz in the basement, jazz in the park, folk, singer-songwriter, film screenings at the university and rock gigs at the refectory left me feeling more ‘cultured’ and a very satisfied soul.

( |o }===:::

A few days from now, I will make my way once again to the vast land of Australia for a holiday. I wish it were spring or autumn (it’s winter now), but since I can’t change the seasons, I’ll try to make the most of it. At least I can recall the services of my long, woolly winter coat. I'm so excited I can't work. I can’t wait.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Knowing You

There seems to be a growing derth in meaning in many contemporary praise and worship songs. Stuff like "Looking out my window / I see the trees blowing in the breeze / Looking out my window / I see the birds flying in the sky" (Planet Shakers) doesn't really do it for me. Ugh.

Okay, so maybe it's wrong to assume that just because I can't relate to these lyrics, it's a bad song. But perhaps Christian songwriters need to do some soul-searching. After all, our source of inspiration is God, who did more than create the most majestic living artworks in the universe. Our songs should strive to capture greater depth and meaning. Yes, they can be simple, as musical and lyrical accessorising run the risk of reducing a song's purity, but we do need to be mindful of at least two dangers.

1. Being simplistic
The Bible holds many basic truths. A lot of which have been sung over and over again, reincarnating themselves in words that reflect the language of the time. The ease of using familiar themes becomes a crutch. There is no end to songs with the words 'love', 'presence', 'glory', 'grace', 'awesome'. While I'm not saying this is bad, my point is that we often just limit our expressions to these themes until it feels like a nauseating rewrite of a 1990s Church Top 40 song in the latest musical fashion. Meanwhile, the temptation to rhyme also gets in the way, as words that rhyme don't always offer the best meaning. We need to be careful that we don't dilute, or worse, twist biblical truth just so our verses end in a nice rhyme.

2. Being emo. Totally
While being emo is in, we also need to remember that we worship God with our minds too, not just until the ends of our hair stand up and our hearts are flush in a warm fuzzy frenzy. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:23-24, NIV). Sometimes I need to be reminded of God's all-sufficient grace; His Lordship; His power; His victory over my sin and past; that He holds my future. I can't sing 'I love you Lord' when what my mind and heart really need are things like healing, comfort or forgiveness at that moment. If I need faith. If more than half the songs in a worship session mush me into a lovey dovey feeling, I think we will die a diabetic church.

If we are to write songs, let it come from the heart. Search the Bible for nuggets of untapped words, wisdom, truths. But more importantly, we need to go back to our own growth as Christians, for it is in a personal walk with God that our hearts are actually lifted up, encouraged, humbled, touched. The music and words will then flow out naturally.

Graham Kendrick

All I once held dear, built my life upon
All this world reveres and wars to own
All I once thought gain I have counted loss
Spent and worthless now compared to this

Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You
There is no greater thing
You're my all, You're the best
You're my joy, my righteousness
And I love You Lord

Now my heart's desire is to know You more
To be found in You and known as Yours
To possess by faith what I could not earn
All surpassing gift of righteousness

Oh to know the power of Your risen life
And to know You in Your sufferings
To become like You in Your death, my Lord
So with You to live and never die

Friday, June 02, 2006

Evacuate! I just farted*

From smelling like flowers, my post-gig panties are toxic enough to knock out a two-year-old toddler. Imagine what my outer clothes smell like.

Even now, the room reeks of stale cigarette smoke any clogged nose can trace to my post-gig bag. The hair’s washed and I’m relatively clean, but the olfactory offence remains. I don’t want to speculate how many minutes of my life was cut short tonight — not that I lead a very interesting existence anyway.

But the point of this post is not to give a lecture on public smoking and its ill-effects on the health of an innocent bystander. You see, there really is no point in this post at all.

I have just returned from Moonshine—an acoustic gig at The Curve’s Laundry Bar—where Qings and Kueens, Mia Palencia, Reza Salleh, and Couple played earlier. And boy was I excited when Melina Williams made a guest appearance on her five-string bass, smiling a little more than usual.

While the overall music failed to leave a big impression, what I discovered from my first Moonshine outing is that I need some gigging buddies. People who love live music and can endure uncomfortable standing positions, smoky rooms and questionable crowds. Tonight, my sole company left halfway because he couldn't stand the smoke. (To his credit, he took a walk and waited outside till I had my fill of music.)

I shall now tell you a humble little tale of a smoke-fearing ex-copywriter and how having smoker friends helped her overcome the fear.

( |o }===:::

Once upon a time, I worked with an ad agency. We worked long hours; stressed hours. Hours stuck in an office with no air-cond after 6pm. Hours stuck in an office where almost everyone smoked.

Nicotine calmed their nerves, and the familiar movement to and from the lips—inhale, exhale—became a crucial extension of their physiological posturing. Fagging was also an important social activity where the latest gossip within the company would be exchanged; Marlboros and Mild Sevens burning together; the muted orange glow counting down the lifeline of their conversations.

They usually smoked in the stairwells or near the lifts. But it was when they smoked inside, at their desks, that I almost died.

At once! In my mind! I would see an image of the respiratory passageway from my nasal cavity down to my lungs turn from a clear blue to red, spreading out across the veins, arteries and alveoli like the changing colours of karaoke lyrics; then to black, as the poison seeped into my condemned bloodstream. Every time I breathed this defiled air in, the image replayed itself, as I imagined my oxygen cells dying, withering, screaming in vain for some fresh air. I’m dying! My nose would start getting congested with grey snot and I’d get a headache. Subconsciously—and this is where the trouble really starts—I’d also try not to breathe.

I admit, holding your breath while trying to think of creative ideas isn’t very smart. Nonetheless, my body was just trying to preserve itself. I did try dropping some hints to my smoking colleagues, such as wrinkling my nose in disdain, but obviously, the smoke clouded their vision. I hated it/them.

The turning point came when some of these smoker colleagues became my friends. It was something you had to accept in a relationship — much like bad breath. I got used to lunches under the hot and humid Malaysian sun (i.e. smoking section), as less considerate colleagues blew smoke and bad breath in my face. I learnt to hide disgust when ash from other tables flew into my water and food. I’d gaze enviously at the diners inside, enjoying free air conditioning and piped in muzak. And when the awful haze came, my tolerance greatly improved. How on earth my colleagues could think of sitting outside in the thick of pollution while others were sweeping pharmacies clean of surgical masks is beyond me. But they still had to eat—and smoke—and so I joined them.

Perhaps what I’d like to say is this: although I don’t enjoy the smoky confines where live music often takes place, I’ve somewhat learnt to live with it. And thanks to my ex-colleagues, the mental image of me dying at that very moment! from tar and carbon monoxide poisoning now haunts me less.

I guess breathing in some smoke is better than not breathing at all.

*Taken from a cool T-shirt someone wore at the gig today.