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To Assume, Or Not To Assume; It’s Never A Question

30 Jun

Back in the day when I was fighting my way through the crazy corporate jungle which was full of bigger -than-their -BMW’s-business egos (compensating for their insecurities and other “shortcomings), I had many an idiot of a boss.  One in particular.

But, ironically, this is the idiot that left one piece of advice that has always stayed with me:

“Never assume.”

This man doesn’t deserve any more of a mention but the other day those words struck a chord.

Waiting in line for my much-needed coffee, a lady tapped me on the shoulder and while pointing to the twinlets said, “Oh, please do tell me some of your nanny friends so I can refer either you or them to my daughter.  She’s looking for someone at the moment…and you seem to be doing a fabulous job with those twins…”

“Haha, I should think so.  After all, I am their mother…” I replied, trying to contain my urge to whack the tactless lady in the head.

Arriving at playgroup, I told the other mums about my run-in.  One mum knew exactly where I was coming from.  She is Hungarian; Her husband is of Filipino background; Their little boy is his dad’s mini-me.

Another mum made an interesting point.

“She just should’ve just asked straight up if they were yours.  At least she could’ve saved herself the embarrassment.”

And although I almost despise being asked that question too (It’s up there with “Are they IVF ?”), I think my mum friend is right.

I started thinking about assumptions and tried to recall a time where they have every played a positive role.

Being an Indonesian born Australian, I’ve been dumped with a few in my life.

There was the time a QANTAS flight attendant was frustrated with all the Indonesian passengers who couldn’t speak (shock !  horror !) English on a flight from Jakarta to Sydney.  Getting peeved at having to repeatedly explain that the dinner choices were either fish or chicken, by the time he came around to me, he spoke so slowly and yet in an impatient and rude manner.

I turned on my thickest of Aussie accents and twang:  “Um, dunno.  Maybe the chicken, but what’s in the fish ?”

I’ll never forget his look of shame and his lame attempt to explain his bad behaviour.

Then there was the awful time when my dad had a seizure in the middle of a road trip and we had to race him to the nearest hospital.  While waiting for his CT scan results in the emergency room, a nurse started speaking candidly to his colleague about my dad’s condition, thinking he and his family who were in the room didn’t speak English.

There will always be morons in this world.  There’s no denying that.

But I think assumptions can be prevented.  (And likewise, I definitely need some hard-up lessons of my own).

Perhaps, we could argue that they aren’t as severe as unsolicited judgements or criticisms.  One could even see them as harmless.

Yet, my life experiences tell me differently.  I think assumptions can be the root and the stem of the yuckiness and negativity of close-mindedness and prejudice.

Feel free to correct me, if I’m wrong.

Anywhoooo…ending on a lighter note.

Here is the latest photo of me and the twinlets:

Please, please, pretty please tell me that  you can see a teeny tiny resemblence of me in them.

The flat nose ?  The squidgy lips ? Anything ?

Lies and far-stretched truths will be happily accepted 🙂

Who Loves Ya, Pretty Mama ?

9 May

Coming up to my (barely scratching the surface) second year as a mum, for Mother’s Day, Nulla Nanna baby sat the twinlets while Hubby and I escaped our uniform of drabby tracksuit pants and sloppy joes and actually got dressed up to head out to the city for a special Mother’s Day matinee of “Jersey Boys”.

This was a far cry from last year’s Mother’s Day.  I remember it well.

I was bowled over in nipple thrush pain.  Lying in bed, disillusioned from sleep deprivation, I was battling conflicting emotions.

On the day dedicated for mothers, a day that was supposed to be especially memorable because it was my first, I actually didn’t feel any joy about being a mother.   And I felt guilty for having these thoughts.

The boys were barely three months.  Motherhood thus far had been overwhelming and daunting.

On that particular Sunday, I just needed some peace.  I wanted some relief from the constant pain in my right breast.  I was desperate for some quiet.  To appease and to avoid the wrath, Hubby took the boys out for a long walk.

So, this year, I was pain-free and far more lucid in my sentiments.

Which in turn, helped me realise that my own rocky road in parenting has made me further appreciate my own mum.

On our drive to the city, I called her.  Within the nano second I heard her voice, I teared up as I wished her a Happy Mother’s Day.

The current status of the relationship with my mother is bittersweet.

There were many, many tumultuous years of trying to live up to her expectations.  Then, early in adulthood while living overseas, I kept myself at a safe distance from the pressure.  As such, I ended up continuously clashing with her uptight, conservative Asian views on marriage, family and having children.

She always wanted to know what was the hold up.  I kept telling her to mind her own business.

Suffice to say, now that I am married with children, we have somewhat reached an equilibrium.

Mum watching me walk down the aisle...finally

Yes, there are still moments when she pushes my short-fuse button.  But ultimately, she is a devoted and doting grandma to my boys.

So, for the part that’s bittersweet ?  It does break my heart to see that it’s taken me all of my rebellious teenage years and most of my young, stubborn adult life to truly understand and respect her.  As much as I think she made it tough for me as her only daughter, indeed I’m sure I have sent her around the proverbial twist.

With my mum welcoming her 80’s in the next couple of years, it’s always in the back of my mind how I wish we could have mended things a lot sooner.

But then I think, my life has to run its own, perhaps unconventional course for me to eventually be grateful for those who have always been there.

On our wedding day: Mum bestowing us with her blessings; Me telling her I love her

Don’t they say it’s not the destination, but the journey that counts ?

Like Bread For Rice

20 Apr

1979 was a big year for my Indonesian migrant family.

We obtained our Australian citizenship.

Well, actually, I didn’t have a say in the matter as I was only eight.  Too young to do the paperwork, but old enough to know what that piece of paper meant.

Kinda.

When my parents showed me the freshly printed document with the Australian coat of arms and all of our names neatly printed, I started to cry.

Looking so official and scary, I thought that citizenship meant a complete conversion to all things Australian.

According to my eight year-old logic, that meant I had to stop eating rice…and start eating bread.

Stupid, I know.

Alas, my world was collapsing.

Yes, the drama started even back then.

I thought that it meant having to surrender what was familiar to me.

Rice wasn’t simply a staple – it was a big part of my identity.

In the kitchen, as I sobbed, my mother pointed to our ten kilo sack of rice and explained that I could eat it whenever I wanted.

No one was going to forbid me from eating it.  Certainly, no one would ever have to force me to replace it with bread.  Ever.

It took me a while to believe her.

Thus began my own personal battle of being first generation Australian.

Unfortunately, school children tend to find themselves as victims of cruel taunting and teasing in the playground and the classroom.

I found racial slurs and discrimination affecting me most.

Being bullied or ridiculed for having slanty eyes and darker skin colour.

Told to get back to the rice fields.

Gladly.  

Yelled at for coming over on a boat.

Actually, it was a Qantas flight from Jakarta.

Suffice to say, growing up in Australia wasn’t easy.

Happily, that’s the distant past.

Thankfully, for my half Indonesian – half Aussie boys, they will be growing up in a different Australia.  A more accepting one.

Since 1979, I see significant changes:  Play School showing Balinese dancers through ‘the Round Window’; a strong Greek accent reading the weather forecast on national radio; a flourish of Asian grocery shops and restaurants beyond the typical surroundings of Chinatown.

Just today, I discovered that a prestigious Sydney private school is represented by 35 nationalities.  Despite being a Catholic  Sacred Heart school, it caters to 23 different religions.  It even has a Buddhist temple.

Every week at their play group, my boys play with other children of mixed ethnic backgrounds.  Namely, a Hungarian-Filipino boy and another boy whose mother is from New Zealand and father is Brazilian.

Too cool.  I’m blown away.

Back in 1979, I was the only Asian kid in my class.

So as you can see, as a mother raising bi-racial children, I am excited about Australia’s future as an ever growing multicultural society.

I’m going to do all I can to ensure that my boys will be confident school children, proud of their own mixed heritage.

That they will also embrace the diverse identities of their peers and school friends.

To see the playground and the classroom free of  discrimination and hurtful comments.


“Harmony Day” is held annually on March 21.

It is a day for Australians to celebrate ethnic diversity.  It is also the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  Managed by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Harmony Day events do not receive government funding.  Australian schools are left to their own devices to arrange their own activities to commemorate the day.

Does your local school celebrate “Harmony Day”?  If so, drop me a line.  I’d love to hear about it.

Lost in Love; Lost in Translation

7 Apr

I have a memory of an elephant.  I retain every piece of stupid, irrelevant trivia.  Quiz me on Michael Jackson song lyrics and I will leave you in the dust.

Alas, this memory bank of silly garbage also holds onto past wrong doings of others and misunderstandings.  I can’t seem to let them go.

Now, I can just write about them.  Reverting to cathartic blogging.

Around seven years ago –  in a single gal version of my former corporate self – business reasons took me to Tokyo for a 6 month stint.  There, I had befriended a Chinese female colleague.

Besides her native Mandarin, she spoke fluent Japanese while her English on the other hand, was rusty.  Meeting in the middle, we conversed in Japanese.

Miss J was a spruce, young lass in her mid-20’s.  Several years my junior, she was over-the-top keen to marry her Japanese boyfriend.

"Love"

Yet, most mornings she would come to work unhappy because he was struggling with commitment issues.

Attempting to prompt a marriage proposal, she had brought him back to her hometown in the Szechuan Province to meet her folks.  Miss J had even arranged professional couple photos in preparation for the engagement and wedding invitations.

Although, back in Tokyo, he kept avoiding the topic of matrimony like it was bad sushi.

One Monday morning she came into work almost in tears.  By lunchtime, we found a quiet place to talk.  There, she opened the floodgates.

Why won’t he commit ?  We’ve already had the professional photos done, so why is he stalling ?  I want to start booking wedding venues before the wedding peak season starts, but why won’t he co-operate ?

And so the discussion continued.

I suggested that it might be better to slow things down.  Perhaps he needed more time to be comfortable with a life decision such as marriage.

Being an intelligent girl, I thought she would see reason.

Instead I found myself in the middle of an emotional firing line.

Between sobs she cried, “Grace-san, the thing is…I just don’t want to find myself at your age and in your situation.”

Wham !

I thought, maybe, just maybe, my Japanese listening ability had temporarily gone haywire and I had misunderstood what she was trying to say.

But no.  I had heard correctly.

Because she then retorted, “I know that sounds rude and terrible, but it’s true.  I want to be married before my 30’s.  Live in an apartment big enough to have a dining table.”

DOUBLE Wham !  Ker-pow !!!

I knew my single status at the time wasn’t the most ideal.  A month prior leaving Sydney, I had started dating someone.  With my impending departure, we somehow decided to keep the relationship going.  However, since arriving in Tokyo, our communication had deteriorated.  Rapidly.

"Life"

It was highly probable that I was returning to Sydney to face heartbreak.  Of course, there were no other potential prospects to speak of, either.

As a 30-something lost in love, you could see why an ambitiously keen-to-be-a bride-Chinese girl would not want my life.

Later that evening, I had a dinner date with my fabulous girlfriends who were an eclectic group of married and singles.

Coming from different walks of life:  Japanese; American; Eurasian.

Calling from different fields of professions:  Lawyer;  Account Manager;  Pre-school teacher.

All confident, smart and fiercely independent.

Reassuring me that my life of singledom wasn’t dire, they were my perfect audience.  They were my cheering squad.

When I told them about my bizzare lunchtime musings, the reaction was unified.

They were aghast.  Appalled.  In disbelief.

After double checking that yes, I had heard her correctly.  And no, I didn’t have a temporary Japanese language amnesia moment, we came to some insightful conclusions.

"Friendship"

Obviously, there was something far more deep seeded there.

It wasn’t about me.

Then, we all established another verdict.  One that simply involved cultural differences.

Although said with little eloquence, it seemed that Miss J was expressing her own disapproval of the Western approach towards finding love and marriage.

Frivilous dalliances and casual dating without a set schedule to the altar was too risky.

Originating from a culture where there were stringent rules and strict direction to reach goals and achieve social status, the Western way was too complacent.

After all, in past conversations, she had mentioned her  demanding Chinese Tiger Mother who had been hounding her to set a wedding date.

Talk about rice cooker steaming pressure.

As such, she was sticking to her agenda.

While, I was going to stick to mine.  (Or lack thereof).

Right up to my last day in Tokyo, Miss J stayed oblivious about that fateful lunch hour.  There was not even an iota of acknowledgement.

I returned to Sydney to officially end what was already a doomed relationship.

2 weeks later, I met my future husband.

Meanwhile, I heard she ditched her Japanese bloke, moved to New York and is now happily married in suburban New Jersey.

I’m sure there’s a nice big dinner table involved too.

It’s a shame we don’t know each other now.  I do wish her well.

Leaving cultural contrasts aside, I would remind her that when it comes to the confusing maze of finding love, heartbreak is universal.

That the journey isn’t as straight-forward for some.

I would tell her that maybe back then, my life was pretty wayward.

But it’s not these days.

It’s actually pretty good.  Awesome, in fact.

Okay, now, I can let it go.

"Double Happiness"

 

A Million Dollars

3 Apr

Recently, I wrote a post about the unsolicited opinions and quick judgements I’ve encountered from random strangers and barely there acquaintances.

What I failed to mention were the side comments I receive from by-passers.  There are two particularly common remarks that get flung around so frequently that it’s even throwing Lady Gaga out of fashion.

People will walk by and inevitably have a good gawk.  Then, without fail, I will be hit with either a:

“Ooooh, double trouble !” or “Gee, your hands must be full !”

Are we that desperate for some originality these days ?

And why does it always have to be a negative tone ?

One always has the choice to say: “Twice as nice.”  Or better yet, just smile.  Then walk on.  Please.

I was waiting in-line at our teeny tiny shoe-box of a post office one day.  It’s a place where the Asian ladies working there barely crack a smile and the term “customer service” has never had the adjective “friendly” in front of it.

The man in front of me was drawing a cheque and happily exclaimed to the rest of the queue how he had just reached his first million dollars in his bank account.  The lady at the counter – in her typical icy cold style  – didn’t even bat an eyelid.  In fact, I’m pretty sure she threw one of her “Do you think I care ?” pouts.

As the brand new millionaire left the post office, and I moved up to the counter, I was terrified to face the dragon lady.  My twin stroller had pretty much taken up the entire narrow aisle and had knocked a few items off the shelves as I had inched my way to be served.  Looking apologetic for all the kerfuffle I had created, I handed over the letters I needed posting.

“Oh, you hab twins ?  Day boys ?” she asked in her strong Vietnamese accent.

“Uh, yes, yes.  Both boys…” I smiled timidly.

I had been in the post office before when the boys were barely 8 months and sleeping soundly in their covered pram.  So, this was the first time she had had a proper view.  Her out-of-character friendly small talk had taken me aback.

“How old ?  Day look ay-den-ti-kal. Day look same.”  She continued.  Even cracking a smile when looking down at the boys from the counter.

“Just turned one.  Yes, identical.”  I was floored.  I almost fainted from all her unusual niceties.

“One million.  Two million dollar. I don’t care.  When you have twin…who need million dollar ???”  She said matter-of-factly as she put the stamps on my mail and tossed them in the despatch box.

I was left at the counter gobsmacked.  While she, on the other hand, had already forgotten about me and was turning up her chin in military style to say to the next customer, “Yes, you.  Next.  Hup two.”

Who needs a million dollars when you have twins.

It was a comment that ticked all my boxes.

Original.  Positive.  Sincere.

Yup, I’ll take that.  Thanks.

My million dollar twins

Japan: Crying on the inside and the out…

28 Mar

I was talking to a good friend the other weekend about my blogging.  As much as she enjoys reading my posts about family and parenting, she mentioned that perhaps, I branched out a bit.  You know, talk about something else other than baby poo and DIY disasters.

With the extended time I’ve studied, lived and worked there; Considering it’s the country where I’ve made life-long friends; She suggested I write about Japan.

(Geez, I might as well start up an entirely new blog, in that case).

But, for now, I will talk about one important aspect about the Japanese people:

The expression of emotions.

There is a popular belief among Westerners that the Japanese people do not show much emotion.  If any.  We picture Japan to be a society where bowing or kowtowing is as expressive as it gets.  Very rarely are there hand-shakes.

Hugs and kisses are totally out of the question.

Furthermore, within the Japanese language, there is a particular verb, Ganbaru

It means:

‘to bear’; to persist’;’to hang in there’; ‘to do your best’, ‘to persevere’.

It’s a term you use during sporting events to cheer on a team; to encourage a school child to do well in an exam; to wish someone luck when venturing out a new project or challenge.

It’s a way of telling someone to stay focused, to keep your personal feelings at bay and concentrate in achieving the task or challenge at hand.

It seems that it is a word used broadly.  Yet, ironically, for Japan, it’s also used under present excruciatingly difficult times.

Indeed, the devastating past events of the earthquake, tsunami and continuing nuclear power plant nightmare would be testing an entire nation beyond human control.

In the nine years of living there, I have only seen my Japanese friends cry a handful of times.

This earthquake has been one of those harrowing moments.

Four months pregnant, a dear friend of mine was on the 20th floor of her Tokyo office building when the quake happened.  Scared, frightened, seeking protection under her office desk, she watched her entire office sway with her roller-wheeled chair cart itself from one end of the office to the other.

In a brief moment of calm, moving quickly before the next after-shock, my friend found herself walking down the 20 flights of the emergency staircase to reach safe grounds.  Then, as all trains had stopped, she was left with no choice but to walk two hours to get home.  Picking up her little girl from pre-school on the way, she had to wait the next morning for her husband – who was on the other side of town – to make it back home.

In the meantime, her younger sister, who was on a business trip in one of the hardest hit cities in the north, was stranded.

Talking to my friend on Skype soon after arriving at home, she broke down.  Seeing her so devastated was not only so hard for me to witness, but made me feel so stupidly helpless.

Yet, as terrifying as her story was, she and her family are more fortunate than countless others.

The long standing effects of all these disasters have taken its toll for many homeless and destitute families.

And as we all know, the harder we try to cling on, to keep going; We will eventually crack.

After all, we are  just human.

This is when we discover that the notion of Japan being a nation of mysteriously ‘closed books’ is misconstrued.

During my time in Japan, what I have learned about its people, is that it’s not about the inability or the social taboo of exhibiting one’s true sentiments.

For a nation known for its resilience and super-efficiency, I think, it’s in their nature to be able to stay strong.  Through the thick and thin. Fleeting, fair-weather problems or inconveniences barely get a mention.

For the Japanese people, raw emotions are reserved for circumstances that have reached the pinnacle of trauma and tragedy.  When something is completely breaking their heart .  When it’s hurting them beyond repair.

It is in fact, about holding onto intense grief until all that is left, is to open up and reveal – in all its pain – that the burden is finally too much to carry.

Please keep praying for Japan.

A nation who can no longer go through this ongoing crisis on its own.

Wooden Prayer Plates, 'Ema' at Meiji Jingu, Tokyo. (Photo taken during a trip in 2007).

“I’ve Been To Bali Too”

16 Feb

“Indonesia ?  Hmmm…where is that ?  Is it near Bali ?  I’ve been to Bali…”

Growing up in Australia in the 80’s, this was the response I would constantly hear when I would tell people where I was from.  It left me puzzled.  Yes, even at the age of 9.

How can we Australians not know that Bali is a part of Indonesia ?

So here’s a quick refresher:

Indonesia is not that far away.  It is Australia’s closest Asian neighbour.

Although we couldn’t be any further apart culturally or demographically, we need each other.  Both economically and for the sake of national security  (Dare I say, in regards to the latter issue, Australia is more reliant on Indonesia).

The problem is that we don’t know enough about each other.  And what we do know, is sadly, only the negative depiction on what we see on television – the bombings, the natural disasters, the extreme poverty, the harsh judicial system that still enforces the death penalty.

Last week, the question of the Indonesian – Australian relationship was raised again. There was much ado from politicians regarding a 450 million dollar project that the Australian government provides to the Indonesian government in aid to build Indonesian schools.  There has been talk of cutting these funds.

I understand that when it comes to foreign aid and what the Australian government provides to developing countries can be a sensitive issue.  However, along with many Australians, I believe that by ending this funding – which is for the betterment of Indonesia’s education system, – would in fact, in turn, be detrimental to our relationship with Indonesia.

An Indonesian school boy's daily commute to school - through the rice fields

Here are three very simple, yet crucial facts about the country that is Australia’s closest channel to the rest of Asia.  If there’s anything you can take away with you from this post, please take this.

Indonesia is:

  • The fourth most populous country with 240 million people
  • The 3rd fastest growing economy in Asia
  • Australia’s 5th largest market in ASEAN and 13th largest trading partner overall

A prominent professor at Melbourne University who specialises in Asian law and is fluent in Bahasa Indonesia made an interesting point.  He says that those who have a personal or private interest in the Australian – Indonesian relationship are tolerant and understanding of both sides.

Enjoying some fresh coconut with a mountain village family near Candi Dasa, East Bali

 

Well guys, being born Indonesian and raised Australian, I can only say that the relationship between these two countries is a topic that is extremely close to my heart.

Educated in Australia, I feel damn lucky and proud:  The abundance of free educational resources from pre-school right up to high school; the freedom to study whatever I wanted, wherever I wanted; and most importantly, knowing that I wasn’t hindered by finances when it came to my tertiary education because the government had a system that I could pay back my university fees when I was financially capable of doing so.

Yet, when visiting relatives in Jakarta during my childhood, I was reminded of just how tough my cousins had it.  (And these guys were the lucky ones as they were able to have an education).

During some of these holidays, I would go to school with my extended family and saw how exhausting the two hour commute (each way) to school was.  I would sit through classes with them, sweating from the stifling heat and dense humidity as there was no air-conditioning. The playground was a concrete courtyard.  As for the school toilets – this is where I learned how to hold my breath, shut my eyes and do my business with great expertise.

Yet, I don’t ever recall them complaining about homework, their teachers or their insane early 7 am starts.

So now, to make things even closer to home – to help you understand how the future of these two very distinct cultures and countries is important to me – let me introduce you to some of my family.

This was at our wedding reception.

My family were performing a traditional ceremony where family members offer the newly wed couple their sincere wishes and blessings for a prosperous and happy life together.  Accompanied by (rather loud and raucous) traditional music, each family member holds up the colourful, woven cloths as they dance towards and around the couple before wrapping the blanket as a sign of protection and love from the family:

Hubby and Me: Bombarded with blankets, blessings and love

And here are some cousins, a brother, a niece and a crazy, yet loved, sister-in-law (can you guess which one she is ???):

Lastly, but certainly by far not least, the most important reason(s) – to me – why our two countries need to get along…my half Aussie, half Indo munchkins:

Okay, I’ll step off the soapbox now.

But just before I do, I hope that I’ve shed some different light about a country that we know so little about, yet sits so close to us that there are domestic flights to get there from Darwin.

I hope that by giving you a glimpse of the warmth, colour and laughter of my family, you can see a more personal side to Indonesia and realise it’s not a country that’s all about political and social turmoil.

I hope you can understand that by helping to improve Indonesia’s education system, Australia is making a long-term investment.  It’s work in progress to build a relationship with a vibrant Asian country that offers great economic potential.

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