‘Lost in Translation’

We live in a multicultural society. We speak different languages at home. Though we live in the same setting, we come from different backgrounds. We have dissimilar interests. English is deemed the national language but we all have varying levels of fluency. This could make for some awkward scenarios, where the message is lost in the process. The whole shebang is an extrapolation of one movie: Lost in Translation. The Oscar-winning flick follows one woman (Scarlett Johansson) as she navigates Tokyo with her new BFF, played by Bill Murray. The picture sees director Sofia Coppola at the height of her powers.

Once, I watched The Virgin Suicides on pay TV. I mentioned this to my ex-neighbour: my first look on Sofia’s debut effort. He then mentioned Lost, which I had already seen in bits.

‘It’s a gem,’ he reasoned.

‘What’s so great about it?’

‘Everything’, he admitted. ‘The Tokyo scenery, the humour, the fully realised characters, the unconventional plot.’

When I elbowed him about Bill Murray, he was effusive with praise. He’s done commendable work in the past but Coppola got the most out of him in this outing. He told me that this was probably a career effort coming from Bill.

‘Do you remember the stockings scene?’

‘How could I forget? That was very memorable.’

We agreed that the scene was hilarious. ‘Rip my stockings.’

However, he told me that ‘it seemed like the woman was role-playing sexual assault.’

In the scene, a woman was telling Murray to rip her stockings, but she loses it when Murray does as commanded. Even though her instructions were obvious, something was obviously erroneous in the encounter.


I’ve had a few of these mixups myself. Allow me to share a number of them.

Once, I went to the Asian area in uni to get some lunch. I pointed at the Hainan chicken and told them ‘two choices.’ One of the assistants (there were two) thought I had ordered chow mein and gave me a number. I proceeded with my rice and viands order and did not put much thought into it. After about fifteen minutes, the assistant called out the number. I did not collect it since I did not order said item. Until I finished my meal, she kept at it.

I realised that the rice was not enough. I went to the counter to get more rice. When I was about to pay, the Asian lady spoke no English. She did not understand that I only wanted rice and that the two choices had already been paid for. I tried to tell her that I can’t just leave my meal because it will get disposed. I was glad to get out of that situation.

Speaking of meals, there have been other similar instances. I sometimes order Bahn mi from the Viet stores. I often get frustrated when I order it with chilli. Quite a few times, I would say ‘just a little chilli’ and they would then fill the bun with the stuff. They cannot distinguish between a little and a lot. Once, the same thing happened when my dad came around.

Upon seeing the rolls filled chilli, he told me not to buy from them any more since they don’t understand. Mind you, it’s not just Vietnamese. There was also this other race who did the same thing. My eyes would water every time I ordered Bahn mi from them.

It’s not just chilli either. When you tell them, ‘no sauce’, they think you mean NO SALT. Once, I pointed out to the owner that we just don’t want the sauce. She didn’t get it and instead pointed at the three containers.

‘One, two, three.’

There is no point in being sarcastic if you’re the one who can’t comprehend. Let’s not be confused: we are not the issue; their lack of language skills is the problem.


In other examples, I was clocking this bakery once when an onlooker asked for gingerbread.

‘Jingle bells?’

‘No, gingerbread.’

The lady regarded him as if he’d requested caviar.

Another time, my mum was asking for jelly.

‘Cherry? Cherry?’


‘No, we no have jelly.’

Going back to order mix-ups, allow me to share a few other instances.

I’ve twice been given the wrong order at this fast food place. Once in Sydney’s southwest years ago and also in the inner west last month. You have to wonder how attentive they are, or maybe they’re playing dumb on purpose. Or perhaps they are following someone else’s orders. Considering you’re paying shekels for an inaccurate order and overrated meal, it’s a disappointment.

Also in the southwest, I ordered from a world famous fast food chain. I clearly said ‘two cheeseburger meals’. They ended up giving me two DOUBLE cheeseburger meals, I only realised their mistake when they served me the wrong order. I mean it’s pretty obvious: two cheeseburger meals is NOT two double cheese. This time I’m sure I was clear. There was no one waiting behind me.

In all of these instances, the issues were external. No salt, little chilli, JUST rice, two cheeseburgers…I couldn’t have been more specific. It’s either they don’t understand, they’re lousy workers, or they’re doing it on purpose. I’ll leave my readers to make sense of their mess.

Beware of suits
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Banyo Tales

I’d like to share a few stories which I’ve accumulated through the years. There is a common theme among these tales.

I start with an account a while ago in Sydney’s north. I was passing through and was on my way home. I heeded the call of nature but made the mistake of leaving my backpack outside the station’s restroom. I was kinda in a rush.

Upon finishing my duties, I noted a guy who was on a walkie-talkie. He indicated my bag, ‘Is this yours, mate?’ 

He sounded worried.


‘Be careful. Your bag could be mistaken for explosives. It could also get nicked.’

I made sure to keep that in mind. Looking back, I didn’t think the red colour helped matters. A wine-hued backpack is a red flag.

A few months ago, I used the restroom in Revesby station. While I was doing my business, I heard this kid telling her mum about the comfort room. Not long after, the latter smacked her real hard. She started bawling. I would later deduce that they were with a stroller; she has a baby sibling. The stress probably got to her mother. 

Despite the strain, I find the spanking very irrational. Getting pummelled after pointing out the toilet seems like overkill. No doubt such actions will not bode well for any kid’s development. Since kids are curious, it’s best to be patient and explain things. Different cultures have varying views on discipline. In Australia, the scenario is prohibited. The nation’s children are well-protected against these outbursts. Regardless, I’ve witnessed a few of these flare-ups. 

I discussed the use of the rod with an ex-neighbour many years back. He told me that he had some friends who were not spared as kids. He admitted that his parents never struck him, although he couldn’t just say whatever he wanted. His pops made sure of that. There was a long gap in the conversation; I believe he was prompting me to open up. Though we were close, sharing is not caring. 

I grew up in another country and discipline was viewed differently there. The instructors could be harsher than their Aussie counterparts. This meant that the students were less wantonly. Moreover, if you want to learn more about discipline, the Bible has a lot to say. Skimming won’t hurt. I’ve heard of some parents who wouldn’t lay a hand on their kids. This leaves a lot of scenes of entitled kids who’d go bananas just for a toy. 

‘What ADHD?’ 

A wise parent once told me that there’s nothing good ol’ disciplining can’t cure. If you allow your kids to misbehave, then they’ll always get their way. You might think it’s just a toy. Yet if you cave in one time, expect more to come. Indeed, a world where kids can have license against their elders is not fair. 

If I may, ‘You have to nip it in the bud.’ Before the vine grows, before the tree sprouts, you need to make sure that our future is on solid ground. 

I once read this Christos Tsiolkas novel, The Slap. This was made into a TV series. As you can deduce, the eponymous slap was the plot’s centrepiece. The child in question was a spoiled brat who got slapped because he wouldn’t play ball. Though he was cute, he had a bad temper when he couldn’t get what he wanted. Apparently, the kid had family issues, including an alcoholic father. The book problematises our perspectives. Who must we empathise with? The kid is clearly burdened with the wrong circumstances. Meanwhile, the system obviously favours the doer. Despite their flaws, they make a better impression. Yet we couldn’t help but agree that Hugo (the brat) would continue to wreak havoc unless someone deals him tough love.

Ultimately, being well-disciplined, kind, and emotionally-mature would open doors for our adult selves. These qualities would endear us to others and would create an appealing personality.  

Once, I went in to use the station toilet. I thought it was vacant but was mistaken. Upon opening the door, there was a tall Asian dude inside.


He sounded exactly like Juan Gilberto, my former classmate. Whenever something went wrong, the latter would go, ‘Oooh.’ 

Speaking of kids, I once stood beside this chap. This was during the flag retreat in grade school. I was playing with my rubber band when he exclaimed the same cry: ‘Oooh.’

Juanito, my classmate at the time, found this funny. I repeated the drill a few times for more laughs.

Another time, the same thing happened in the CBD. The lock was half-closed. When I unlocked the portal, an older lady – who was on the throne – said ‘Ops!’ She even rolled her eyes for good measure. Upon seeing her, I immediately closed the door and apologised. These examples reveal some refined denizens. Their reactions were much less confrontational and more prudent than the norm. On both instances, I had wrongly assumed that the cubicles were free.

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November 2021 reads

This month, I’ve once again gone through the requisite trio of reads. As with the last catalogue, there are two nonfiction titles and one novel. Jay Williams’s moving autobiography was first. I read this ebook as his story intrigued me. We follow him through his early days, his triumphs at Duke University, and as a member of the Chicago Bulls. We witness how to battle adversity. Next up was Matthew Reilly’s latest effort. The One Impossible Labyrinth concludes his seven-part Jack West Jr. series. Sixteen years since the legend began, the volume is another page turner. The Master, Roger Federer’s bestselling biography, rounds out the trio. The latter, a challenging but worthwhile portrait, has been trending on the Best Sellers list.

Life is Not an Accident (Jay Williams). I stumbled upon this book while looking out for my next read. I am familiar with this ballplayer. I remember his lone season with the Bulls, where they were among the league’s cellar dwellers. He was the second overall pick in 2003, after a stellar three-year stint at Duke. As a sophomore in 2002, he led the Blue Devils to the national title. There is a lot of basketball here but Life is not just a book about jump shots. He talks about his upbringing in New Jersey, where soccer was his first love. As an only child, he lived in a middle class neighbourhood but his parents didn’t always get along. He chronicles his struggles as a black teenager in a mostly white private school. He details about how he was conflicted and felt caught between two worlds. 

He shares his disappointment when his talent was under-appreciated. His AAU days are likewise foregrounded, where he played with future NBAers. Initially suiting up as a forward/guard, he figured out that he had to be a passer. Jay underscores the whole college recruitment frenzy, where Duke head coach, Mike Krzyzewski, made no false pretences. He had to make big adjustments as a freshman, but by his second year, he was the top player in the nation. He was torn between declaring for the NBA draft or returning to Duke. The promise of finishing his college degree ultimately led him to return.   

By now, avid hoops fans would’ve heard about the accident that prematurely ended his stint in the league. We read through the six operations, the rehab, and the despondency. We ponder the what-ifs as Williams re-learns most things. We see him squirm through his oxycontin addiction and his personal fight with self-pity. We glean that we must make the most of our time. As the author writes: ‘I had just been too obsessed with trying to renew what I’d lost instead of focusing on what I’d found.’ 

When Williams recovered, he had try-outs with NBA teams and was on the Nets’ preseason roster. However, Williams’ body seemed incredibly brittle and teams were wary of his health. He played in the D-league under Dennis Johnson. A few months later, his mentor passed away. This was the final straw in a long list of mishaps for Williams. He now works as a broadcaster for college ballgames. He still bears the battle scars and likewise despises others’ pity. He wants to be remembered more than just another dumb jock. He heard from naysayers that, at 31, he was too young to tell his story. Yet he brings forward a unique if cautionary tale. He ends on a positive note: ‘The past should be left in the past or it can steal your future. Live life for what today can bring and not what yesterday has taken.’

Rating: 4.45/5

The One Impossible Labyrinth (Reilly). Released mid-October, I had been looking forward to this finale. I’ve read the last six of the seven-part run. The prior volume saw Jack and his team entering the labyrinth in a race to save the universe. Their toughest opponent, the nefarious Sphinx, had put millions of people around the globe to sleep. He craves to rule the world with an iron fist. He was the first to ‘enter the dragon’ and has lots of help, including Cardinal Mendoza, a high-ranking Catholic official. Second in line was Dion DeSaxe, heir apparent to the underworld. He was the former fling of Lily, who is Jack’s adopted daughter. Up next was Brother Ezekiel with his woman-hating Order of the Omega. General Rastor, closely follows him. The latter was just as brutal as Sphinx. Rastor is different since he wants the world to end, as opposed to the others.

The book is full of twists, turns, and swashbuckling action, just as you’d expect from a writer who has built a career doing so. There were a few instances where you thought characters were finished, only for them to turn the tables and defy the odds. Reilly also uses lots of mythology, including the Theseus legend. The shiny albeit deadly orbs in the tunnel seem straight out of a Rowling book. Reilly even puts his spin on the fable of Troy. He builds sprawling underground cities that rise while playing the combatants in a fight for the ages. As usual, there is the requisite back stories – including a trip to the Gulf War where Jack saves Sky Monster’s skin from oblivion. 

True to the title, he dedicates a chunk of the book to a rotating, impenetrable maze. This will test  the team’s wits more than ever before. The challenges include goldmen, an improvement over the bronze- and silvermen from the prior instalment. Traversing the tunnels would take days and make Jack depleted. Towards the end, Jack running out of options was apparent. He was out of a team and out of energy. Reilly shows us what one’s fighting spirit can do in the direst moments. The use of the jet carrier and oil rig (and their ensuing destruction) was another rabbit out of the hat. 

There were so many instances where Sphinx was meters away from the prize, only for his plans to be thwarted. When the baddie got his comeuppance, Reilly had the perfect metaphor: ‘He’d been turned into a living Picasso painting.’ Like the rest of its brethren, Labyrinth was very easy to read. Short sections, clear prose, and an interesting plot ensured that cresting the novel would only take a few days if you were invested. After sixteen years of hopscotching the planet, deciphering riddles, and making history, this is a fitting conclusion to a much-loved series.

Rating: 4.8/5

The Master: The Brilliant Career of Roger Federer (Christopher Clarey). I first heard about this text in August. I seriously considered purchasing the paperback for nineteen bucks but decided that, for a one-time read, borrowing a copy was the way to go. Upon perusing the item, I am convinced that this was the right decision. The book reminded me of Halberstam’s Breaks, the preeminent basketball book: they are both rather technical. While Labyrinth could be summited in a few days, Clarey’s book is an acquired taste. Master has sixteen lengthy chapters, which have no subsections for the most part. Each instalment takes place in a different setting, providing snapshots of the key happenings in Roger’s life.

Unbeknownst to many, Federer started out as a fiery character. This is in stark contrast to the suave, ice-cool temperament that has come to define him. In the beginning, he lost a lot of matches and first-round exits were the norm. He was also initially a soccer player before pursuing tennis alone at age twelve. His one-handed backhand, one of his signature shots, was still pretty gung-ho in his adolescence. He would zap them all over the place as an amateur. An Australian, the late Peter Carter, was one of his early mentors. As a teener, he signed up with Nike. 

He would defeat his idol, Pete Sampras, at Wimbledon in 2001. Not until 2003, when he won the All-England title, would he make his breakthrough. By then, early rivals such as Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin, had already won majors. Master tackles his one-sided rivalry with Andy Roddick. His victory at the 2009 French Open is likewise highlighted, the win that gave him a career grand slam. On several occasions, Clarey foregrounds Fed’s impeccable timing. Furthermore, the author underscores Roger’s appreciation of history and the tennis greats who have come before him. Like Breaks, this text goes behind the scenes not just from a technical standpoint but also in other facets of the game. The writer gives considerable space to Roger’s world, including his family, his team, his management, and the tour at large. He name-drops ball-strikers, both active and retired, stars and regulars.

More importantly, Clarey provides detailed accounts of Fed’s greatest matches. Among them are his finals losses at Wimbledon in 2008 and 2019. The legend’s rivalries are likewise dissected, including those against Rafa and Djokovic. The author emphasises that Roger is a master at compartmentalising and moving on. He does not let his failures define himself; he will win some and others will get away. Apart from this, Fed always has a packed schedule but he is extremely organised. Despite his crammed load, he always finds a way to connect with fans and the like. 

He is not picky when it comes to the locations. He has travelled the world for tennis and is a true global ambassador of the sport. Though he’s competed for over twenty years, he has managed to remain hale through the years. His tour victories in over four decades have exhibited Fed’s staying power. Based on others’ opinions, I reckon that this book is a tad overrated. Indeed, there are a few foreign phrases that impact on Master’s readability. While this is not the easiest perusal, I believe that with the detail supplied, it should stand as Roger’s definitive biography.

Rating: 4.29/5

Red Sea
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Love Hard (2021) reviewed

For this week’s post, my first choice was reviewing season three of You. However, being a recent release, there wasn’t much material. I also thought of reviewing Knives Out (2020) which was both a critical and audience darling. Although the screenplay was quite ingenious and original, Daniel Craig’s Southern accent was off-putting. Considering Mr Bond had a pivotal role in the movie, the errant intonation was hard to ignore. This leaves us with Love Hard, which represents Netflix’s top pick at the moment. Critics have been lukewarm over the production, but audiences have raved about it. Jimmy O. Yang, a very capable thespian, headlines the movie, alongside Nina Dobrev. An unconventional love story set during the Yuletide season, Love Hard is a timely treat.

‘Going the distance’

The film begins with Natalie, an LA writer who chronicles her hopeless love life. Her boss has fired her at least six times but her heartbreak stories continue to captivate readers. She is a veteran of dating sites and apps. While flicking through potential matches, she pauses at this macho, sporty Asian-American guy. The more she learns about the hombre, the more intrigued she becomes. She yearns to hear his voice. When she does, this only whets her appetite. They bond despite the long-distance relationship. Natalie learns that Josh is invested. She convinces her boss that she’ll travel 3,000 miles to meet the dude. This would be the perfect story.  

Not a cakewalk

Upon arriving on the east coast, she realises that things are not as rosy as she’d imagine. For starters, she came in a dress while it was snowing in town. After a luggage debacle, she realises that the Uber driver is the same apathetic dickhead manning the airport counter. When she initiates Plan B, the self-same berk is apparently the Lyft driver. Upon emerging to Josh’s house, she realises that she’s been catfished. The tall, suave Eurasian dude is apparently a shorter, bespectacled Asian nerd. She meets his family, including his dad and stepmom. However, she tells Josh that she needs to leave as a result of his deceit. Josh reasons that his family will be devastated if she does so. She must pretend to be his girl until Christmas. In return, he’ll introduce her to Tag, her real target.


Early on, it’s obvious that she has nothing in common with the latter. We learn (as does the town) that she has a kiwi allergy. Josh coaches her prior to her conversations with Tag. She pretends to read this book to impress him, even though she hates it. She learns that Tag is into rock climbing, something she isn’t fond of. She manages to put aside her vertigo purely through Josh’s help. She goes bobsledding with Tag, though she is hardly the adventurous type. Finally, she eats roast meat during their night out – compromising her own vegetarian beliefs. Obviously, she is attracted to Tag only on the surface level; their personalities, interests, and lifestyles are mismatched. 

Meet the fam

She sleeps in Josh’s bed and the latter is relegated to the floor. Josh’s family welcomes her with open arms and treats her like she’s blood. The arrival of Owen, Josh’s older brother, steals the couple’s thunder. Natalie sees that Owen loves the attention and throws his weight around Josh. Indeed, he appears with his cute wife and has trouble believing that his brother can get a boo. During this charade, Natalie keeps procrastinating and gets into a few arguments with her boss. They sang before the oldies when Owen announces that his better half is preggers. Not to be outdone, Josh goes on bended knee and asks Natalie for her hand in marriage. The sudden turn of events gobsmacked Natalie, but she eventually relents and says ‘yes’. 

From there, the narrative descends into a disaster movie. Natalie has to contend with Josh, his family, Tag, and her boss while keeping the charade in play. She must come clean given that her hosts were nothing but upstanding and kind. In the process, she could crush a whole family. While it’s hard for Natalie, the same applies to Josh. Not only will he lose the former but he will also disappoint everyone else. He has feared that his father will not understand it if he admits that he never wanted to work in the family business. Making candles was more than a hobby for him. To his surprise, his dad urges him to fight for his passion. The movie has shades of Love, Actually, which happens to be Josh’s fave Yuletide picture. 

Deeper lessons

While Love Hard is Christmas-perfect, there are deeper lessons apart from depicting the standard rom-com. The first is being truthful. Sometimes telling a tall tale is easy, essentially passing off as someone you’re not. Like Josh, we want the limelight and the girl next door. We desire to be the coolest sibling, surfer, or critter on earth. We become impostors when being ourself is the best policy. Later, Josh will realise the value of honesty on social media. Natalie complimented him: he has great eyes and a winning smile. He took note of her advice and did a makeover.

Secondly, the change among the characters was palpable. This was especially true of Natalie, who transformed from being entitled to owning up to her mistakes. In adjusting to Tag, she revealed how she can put her whims to the side and change for someone else. Josh’s own metamorphosis has been outlined above. Thirdly, the film has a happy ending. Time for some Christmas cheer. I’ve seen a sample of Jimmy O. Yang’s previous work. He does not have the biggest roles but, despite the limited exposure, he shines through. This was Exhibit A of his acting flair. I’ve also sighted Nina Dobrev on TV before. Together, they make a cute match. I also chuckled at Natalie’s favourite Christmas movie: Die Hard. Did you get the pun?

Rating: 4.4/5

From Love Actually (2003)
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Second banana

Minimalist work seems to be catching on in the art scene. A few years ago, a Banksy painting was sold for millions at auction, only for the picture to be shredded seconds later, the highly original piece had the art world abuzz and brought about questions of artistic license. When I asked my friend how he reacted to this stunt, he said ‘Not much. Funny, I guess.’

Banana art


December of 2019, a piece evoking ‘banana art’ put another spin on creative freedom. True to its name, the work had a banana as its centrepiece. The artwork was exhibited in Miami, Florida. However, the fruit proved too tasty for one bloke to resist. He ended up chomping on it.

Several questions arise. One: was the stunt part of the whole performance? In other words, was the eater in on the joke? Second: does the piece lose value as a result of the consumption? How much worse off should the artwork be in light of this? Third: given this development, is it still worth buying? These aren’t the first examples when apparent sticky fingers have problematised performances. In Hollywood, some actors are really admirable in their dedication.

A performance

Make no mistake about the banana art: this is more than potassium on canvas. If it’s just about the kilojoules, one would be tempted to go to Kazakhstan, which Borat deems ‘greatest country in the world.’ Everyone who’s seen the film would know that Kazakhstan is bursting with potassium. No, as I’ve mentioned a few times, this is a performance. The artwork is akin to the magicians, Dynamo and David Blaine. The act of chomping on a banana is on par with a Houdini.

The setting could also explain the piece. Miami is known for its year-long sunny weather. Celebrities and commoners alike flock to South Beach for some serious surf and sun. Heck, even LeBron made light of this: ‘I’m taking my talents to South Beach.’ The team Prez, Pat Riley, had coached in both NY and LA but has lived in South Beach for over two decades and counting. The heat, beaches, and laid-back vibe, make for great entertainment.

A handy fruit

Speaking of bananas, there is no denying how handy, versatile, (and famous) this fruit is. I remember bumping into an ‘acquaintance.’ He had his game face on. Obviously, he had just done his groceries. I spied a few bananas among his haul. I also recall reading this Reader’s Digest vignette. ‘He’s hardworking, dependable, and rich in potassium.’ The image had a nana in a suit. Who could forget The Bananas in Pyjamas? B2 would always ask B1, ‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking.’ Insert head bump here.

Nanas can be the base of many recipes. Banana bread is the sweet tooth’s alternative. Banana fritters go well with ice cream. Or you could just make banana split. They are also a staple of smoothies, especially during the summer. They are likewise common in fruit salads. In Southeast Asia, you can indulge in banana chips. Bananas are rich in electrolytes, carbs, and other good stuff. With their hassle-free appearance and convenient shape, they make the perfect on the go snack.

Costly fibre

There is no doubt that a painting with a banana is some art. Couple that with an eaten banana and you’ll have tongues wagging. Was the banana placed not for aesthetic but gastronomic reasons? The banana would eventually have to be eaten. It’s not like pastels or oils that will last much longer. What does the fruit symbolise? Is it in reference to man’s evolution? A nod to Borat? An ode to sunny weather? A dietary reminder?

This brings us to the title: should the banana be replaced? Should it be with a second banana? Should they recover the peeling and tack it on? Or must another fruit take its place? Why a banana? Why not an apple, orange, or pear? The beauty of the artwork is it makes you think. Even if you’ve never actually took it in, you feel as though you’re part of the discussion. The artwork reportedly sold for $120,000. That’s one pricey banana.

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September-October (2021) reads

The weather has gotten warmer, and Australians everywhere have lined up for the COVID vaccine. Meanwhile, I have consumed the requisite trio of reads for another list. Adrian McKinty’s I Hear the Sirens in the Street was the first text. Set in Ireland during the troubles, McKinty perfectly captures the zeitgeist of 1980’s Hibernia. I followed this up with a rare foray into an eBook. David Halberstam’s The Breaks of the Game has been hyped as one of the finest books ever written about basketball. To be honest, I was a wee bit disappointed. Finally, I browsed through Consider the Lobster, another nonfiction title. This was my first encounter with David Foster Wallace and his maximalist prose required a paradigm shift on my part.

  • I Hear the Sirens in the Street (McKinty). This volume represents the second entry in the author’s Sean Duffy series. Set mostly in Northern Ireland c. 1982, the author paints a bleak, destitute nation on the grips of a silent war. The police force, which includes, Duffy, is hated. Riots are commonplace. The weather is dreary, and the future is not looking up. Anyone with half a brain has already left for Britain or the US. The coppers have learned to live with the guerrillas. 

A murder case falls on Duffy’s plate, involving a dismembered body. Another case, seemingly connected, involves the murder of a comrade. Duffy visits the widow to gain some answers. Meanwhile, an automobile manufacturer holds most of the jobs in the area. The authorities take a hands-off approach to said company because of its economic value to Northern Ireland. When Duffy starts poking his head in the business, he is told to back off. Could there be a connection between the slain officer and the enterprise, a beacon of hope in the sorry state?   

Regardless, Duffy – determined detective that he is – buys a ticket to the States. He craves to know what’s hiding in a safety deposit box in Beantown. Upon inspecting the goods, that’s when things get dicey. Throughout the novel, we could feel Duffy’s unbridled resolve to solve the cases. His superior, his underlings, even movers and shakers will not deter him. McKinty’s dry British humour is also apparent. Everyone is either overweight and clumsy or underfed and irascible. I chucked upon reading that a plump detective’s notes on a whole case barely filled half a sheet. He also had a noticeable gut. The author is also quite aware of his time: the Falklands, the guerrillas, the 1982 World Cup, the jargon, the despondent atmosphere, even the weather. Altogether an enjoyable read but at times, he needs to cut down on his description. 

Rating: 4.5/5

  • The Breaks of the Game (Halberstam). I was really looking forward to this one. Since Breaks was first published in 1980, it’s hard to find a copy these days. I settled for the soft version instead. The book chronicles the 1979-1980 season of the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers. A trying one, the franchise was just three years removed from a world championship. The author chronicles the squad’s injuries, disappointments, draft picks, contract disputes, and rigorous schedule. I didn’t like how Halberstam mentions Bill Walton too much. The latter was the cornerstone, the star centre of the Blazers. Although he played a huge role in putting the franchise on the map, he wasn’t on the team during the 1980 season. He had been traded to the San Diego Clippers during the offseason. At times, this seems more a book on Walton’s foot trouble than an insider’s look into the NBA. 

Halberstam, who won a Pulitzer for his Vietnam War reporting, did his research and it shows. He talks about league salaries like a general manager. He dissects the science of injuries. He gives scouting reports as though he were on the sidelines. The author discusses Madison Avenue at length. Not only does he underscore the league’s TV contracts; he provides much background. Halberstam even explores the Oregonian weather. Most importantly, he anatomises racial tensions. He canvasses the transformation of the league from an all-white enterprise into a predominantly black locus. The injustice is laid bare: the young, wealthy owners were all white and so was the management, including the coaches, officials, and referees. The blacks, who had the skills and the names, had to conform to the status quo. He also depicts Larry Fleischer, the pioneer agent who revolutionised the league.

The text is full of profiles, from ballplayers to scouts, team staff to league personas. The author outlines Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics. He opined that they were more than a team; they were a family. He even takes a nudge at the ageing Boston Garden. Indeed, we get an early look into the Larry Bird-Magic Johnson rivalry.  Jack Ramsay, the Blazers’ coach, is foregrounded. He is depicted as a tactician who gets the most out of his charges. That year, his best players were either gone, injured, or unwilling to play. Still, the team started out hot and won the first nine outings. He encourages his boys despite an extended losing spell. By season’s end, star players Maurice Lucas and Lionel Hollins were both traded. He turned to Billy Ray Bates, a great one-on-one player who looked out of place in Ramsay’s team-first, pass-friendly offence. Ramsay willed the squad to the playoffs, where they fell to Seattle.

Halberstam’s writing has been praised for being well-research, very detailed, and for having a commendable voice. I have mixed feelings about this one. I liked it for being basketball centred but I disliked the Bill Walton overload. I admired his storytelling ability, but his constant use of lists annoyed me. Every paragraph seemed to have one. After a while, I simply got used to them. While the book captures the fledgling league, the scope of narrative is over forty years old. This is not the first Halberstam I’ve unearthed. I perused the ambitious Jordan biography, Playing for Keeps, many moons ago. Purely from a research standpoint, Breaks is an A1 output. While this hoops book was worthwhile, it’s good for a one-time read.

‘For basketball demanded that though the players be talented, they also subordinate their individual talents to the idea of team and to each other.’

Rating: 4.4/5

  • Consider the Lobster (Wallace). The author’s posthumous deification intrigued me. This writer penned a three-pound book and his fiction is very distinctive. Others have asserted that regarding his nonfiction pieces is a better place to start, given how much more accessible they are. There are ten essays in this collection, most of them published in various outlets. Wallace’s writing is such that I did not finish all of the essays. Why? He makes extensive use of footnotes, which disrupt the reading experience. He uses a pompous vocabulary, which I guess is the mark of MacArthur grantee. His sentences are practically paragraphs. Lastly, all the essays were penned about two decades ago, making them almost irrelevant. 

The first story, Big Red Son, comprised the only long read that I crested. The article deals with Wallace’s coverage of the AVA. The next essay was on John Updike who, like Wallace, has since passed away. There was another piece on American English that was too dense for my liking. I did finish his musings on 9/11 in a small Midwest town. The writeup was titled, ‘The View from Mrs Thompson’s’. I then went through his review of Tracy Austin’s memoir. Given his tennis background, this was tolerable. I decided not to finish the next article, a lengthy, mind-numbing piece. I enjoyed the titular essay, wherein the author debates if lobsters feel pain. I admit though that the second half was getting too philosophical. The Dostoyevsky piece was the last one I crested. The long radio article in the end was not worthwhile and I gave up after fifteen pages.   

In general, audiences have rated this well. As you can see, I found parts of the book unreadable. If this is the feel of Wallace’s nonfiction, then spare a thought for his fiction. Personally, I wouldn’t rate this as highly. To be honest, I was tossing between this item and Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith. The latter is the first in his Arkady Renko series. While perusing the Updike read, I admitted to picking the wrong book. However, credit must be given for his research and interview skills. He was able to pen at least two articles while not even being an insider. The collection was also of varied interest, so not everything was philosophical or grammatical. Altogether, I felt disappointed; this text is on par with the two Chatwin’s I reviewed earlier this year.

Rating: 3.8/5

Blazers, the 1977 NBA champs
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Alice in Borderland (2020) reviewed

These past few weeks, Squid Game has been the series everyone’s talking about. The Korean thriller sat atop Netflix (NF) libraries around the world. Only last week, with the arrival of You’s third season, was the show supplanted from its perch. Squid was not only an audience success but critics were swooning over the upstart. While I thoroughly enjoyed Squid, the idea of deadly children’s games is not new. A family member reported that the show bears similarity to Japan’s Alice in Borderland. I’ve seen the title hovering around my NF homepage for a while now. Having been converted by Squid, I decided to give it a go. 

Tres amigos

Though Alice is popular, it wasn’t as big a deal as Squid. Yes, it charted around the world – especially in Southeast Asia. However, there weren’t enough reviews from top critics. As mentioned, the series overlaps with its Korean counterpart in utilising fatal children’s games. The series follows Ryohei Arisu, a twenty-something gamer who is at odds with his family. When he’s not killing aliens, he hangs out with his clique. His two pals are Chota Segawa and Daikichi Karube. After meeting up in Shibuya Crossing, the three hide from five-ohs in a toilet cubicle. They re-emerge to find a deserted Tokyo. The trio realise that they must take part in deadly games in order to subsist. Non-compliance means automatic death by laser. Should they outwit the game, they are given a visa for a few days before they have to compete again. The concept is similar to college basketball’s March Madness, where schools must ‘survive and advance’ or face immediate elimination.

The first game was a ‘Three of Clubs’ match where Arisu and friends must navigate a bevy of rooms with a time limit. Note: the latter would become a fixture in all future matches. Failure to crack the code would see them getting burned. Here they meet Shibuki, another competitor. She later admits that all her co-competitors perished in the previous outing. You need to be Cunning to suRvive. In the next game, Arisu and Karube participate in another game as Segawa is nursing his injured leg. Here, the former meets shy Chishiya who tells him about the various cards. Spades = strength. Clubs = team battles. Diamonds = brain challenges. Hearts = betrayals. Arisu barely clears the game, with the help of other players. He learns that the matches are deadly even for their foes. 

‘The Beach’

The next game is held at a botanical garden. Arisu must make an impossible choice, but he persists. As a result of these tough choices, he is crestfallen. He has lost all hope of living, much less competing. Usagi, a chick he met in the second ep, nurses him back to health. She is a climber, just like her father. She shares that she too has lost a loved one, but she still carries on. Together, they clear the next hurdle. The rest of the show takes part in ‘The Beach’, an idyllic location where there are only three rules. The first guideline was to wear beach attire. Arisu fit right in. From the onset, he could be seen wearing shorts and thongs. The third regulation was ‘Death to all traitors.’ 

Initially, two factions control ‘The Beach’: a guy named Hatter (the founder) and a group of paramilitaries. The tension and dislike between the two parties is plain. Aguni, leader of the paramilitaries, is Hatter’s best friend. Among the baddies is Samura. He wields a katana (samurai sword) and his face is covered in tattoos. In his prior life, he used to be a workaholic writer who ignored dinner and his young family. Despite his existential musings, his writing was ignored. In the brave new world, he sought to redefine himself and to release his true identity. 

‘Unsustainable Eden’

At first, ‘The Beach’ appears utopian. The site of a former hotel, the place is chock-full of life’s indulgences. If you know the right people, you’re treated like royalty. The series’ creators seemed to have gotten a page out of Alex Garland’s cult novel. Though the cast is larger, there is ganja, guerillas, and a pecking order. Like the book, there were signs of trouble in paradise, but the good vibes remained. As expected, the heavenly shogunate never lasts and Eden implodes.

Arisu, like Richard, was naive. He trusts the wrong people and pays the price. However, his virtues would ultimately save him. In pop culture, the good guys will find their friends. Though he hasn’t the numbers, Arisu will fight for what’s right. He will accomodate his pals even to his own detriment. He also questions authority; he is a born rebel. As per the first contest, Arisu has an eidetic memory. He is able to remember and work out the layout of the building after only one look. His quick thinking is reminiscent of Harry Potter. Tao Tsuchiya was eye candy as Usagi. Though she was independent, she was often a damsel in distress. Together, they are like yin and yang. 

A canvas

The show tackles several key issues. Sexuality, friendship, hope, trust, and injustice are just some of the themes highlighted. Unlike in Squid, the characters were playing purely for survival. There was no fiscal component. Moreover, the players were mostly left to their devices – unlike in Squid, which had staff involvement. The cinematography was very striking. I would later learn that they employed an Academy Award winner for post production. The Tokyo landmarks used were real, although the empty streets and buildings were done with the help of a set. However, this was created so seamlessly that it looked like the real thing. 

Final verdict

In case you’re wondering, the show is based on the eponymous manga. After being released for a month, Alice reportedly counted eighteen million homes as viewers. The first series’ success led to NF renewing the show for another season. The next instalment could land in either quarter two or three of 2022. I liked both Squid and Alice but I prefer the latter: the visual artistry couldn’t be ignored. Furthermore, the youth movement was a breath of fresh air. 

Rating: 4.8/5

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Royal Botanic Gardens: ‘A Walk to Remember’

I remember visiting the Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney with the family. My Dad had been there before, but he was looking forward to another day trip. This was the first such foray for the rest of us. The 30-hectare botanic garden is a nature lover’s haven. Situated on the eastern end of downtown Sydney, the garden has been around since 1816. This makes it the country’s oldest such oasis. The garden was added to the state heritage register in 1999, along with The Domain. Both green spaces, which are adjacent to each other, are open year-round and entrance is free. The garden is well-known as a paramount event venue, flora extraordinaire, and public recreation spot. The local city government oversees the greenery.

 Tales from the garden

As mentioned, the garden has a long history that dates back over two centuries. Then-Governor Macquarie established the current landmark’s site in 1816. The area used to be farmland. Thus began Australia’s epic history with plants, with the appointment of a veteran botanist a year later. The garden represents ‘the oldest scientific institution’ in the land. Moreover, the spot has played a critical role in plant acclimatation from various other loci. A few key people were involved in the growth of the garden. Charles Moore was the society’s director from 1849. Through numerous projects, he advanced the garden’s cause. During his three decades in the role, the garden expanded and flourished. Subsequently, Joseph Maiden succeeded Moore and was Director for 28 years. He further finetuned Moore’s astute landscape. He oversaw the garden during the WW1 and the Great Depression. In 1919, the total area among the Botanic Garden and The Domain was 72.6 hectares.  

In 1959, ‘Royal’ was added to the appellation following the visit of Queen Elizabeth II. Dr Lawrence Johnson was head honcho from 1972-1985. New flora categorisation and labelling were introduced. Changes in arrangements and the addition of new species ensued. Further activities and programs were foregrounded. In the 70s, a new cacti garden was also annexed. By 1980, a Royal Act was promulgated to conserve the area, which had then diminished to 63.04 hectares. Centennial Park, erstwhile a part of the garden, likewise became autonomous. During the 80s, other buildings and patches were appended or repurposed. This involved the Director’s House, which was opened by then-Premier Neville Wran. 

The eighties onward

In 1988, two satellite botanic gardens were also instituted. One is in Campbelltown, while another sits in the Blue Mountains. The 2000 Sydney Olympic Games also saw some quickie upgrades, as staff hastily facelifted the grounds to get some second glances from unsuspecting tourists. The Palm Grove was restored, with a noted philanthropist donating 1300 trees to recapture the magic. The Grove was once the foremost of its kind and the aim is to equal that honour, if not surpass it. In 2016, the Botanic Garden turned two hundred and there were many activities dedicated to celebrating this distinction. The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust administer the gardens. Since 1980, the Act gave them jurisdiction over The Domain, the garden, and later – the two satellite gardens. In 2014, the management of Centennial Park was returned to its erstwhile stewards. 

Four precincts

The Sydney Domain’s 51 hectares surround the garden’s 30 hectares. The garden is shaped in a sizeable natural amphitheatre. The location is divided into four quadrants: the Lower, Middle, and Palace Gardens alongside the Bennelong Precinct. Within these are loads of smaller gardens and wooded areas. Approximately halfway between the precincts is the Palm Grove Centre, where lies a few stores and a resto. The large and sophisticated garden has a strong nineteenth century vibe. Charles Moore was responsible for expanding the Lower Garden. The work on the shrubbery took decades. The current version has retained much of the eloquent parkland of yesteryears. I recall browsing the shop with my parents. We had lunch at the eatery, which at first glance seemed like it had a few Michelin stars. The joint catered to tourist dollars. 

The flower beds of the Middle Gardens have evolved through the years. What used to be a park laid out in English style has since transformed into a mosaic of plants, shrubs, and trees. A gate was built to separate the middle gardens from the lower garden, still standing two centuries later. This area houses the Palm Grove, notable for its international collection of palm and rainforest species. Other attractions include a tourist-friendly repertoire of oaks, lilies, and a cedar tree circa 1822. Meanwhile, the Bennelong Precinct contains Government House – the official residence of the state Governor. The House was completed in 1847 and features Gothic revival architecture. The garden is also archeologically significant as a site that could prove culturally or historically pivotal. The area is potentially rich in archaeological deposits, both during colonial settlement and during Aboriginal positioning. 

Unfolding history

Just like my family, you could spend a full afternoon discovering the delights of this green space. Indeed, I half-expected my dad to stumble upon the Mirror of Erised like in Harry Potter. In this sense, it has a calming quality like Hyde Park. With 30 hectares, the effect is more pronounced. The garden is adjacent to the Opera House and Sydney Harbour is in the north. Thus, the garden occupies a location stunner, which ensures its status as one of the city’s biggest draws. The garden predates other nearby landmarks such as the Queen Victoria Building (1893) and the Art Gallery of NSW (1874). Moreover, the attraction has been around much longer than the adjoining Opera House (1973).

My dad, who has a green thumb, was really looking forward to this jaunt. Though he had visited before, he was keen to wander for another time. We bought tickets for the touring train, which traversed the grounds. The circuit ended near the Opera House with a strong sea breeze from the harbour. I remember it being a beauteous summer’s day. Dad’s zeal carried over. In the spring of 2014, I went to Hobart with a friend. There, we checked out the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. Established in 1818, this represents the second oldest botanical garden. I even have the fridge magnet as souvenir. If you’re passing through Sydney, why not take in some ferns? Marvel at botanists’ creations; grab a memento in the shop; gawk at some paintings. As ‘the oldest scientific institution’ in Oz, by just exploring you become part of history. 

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Nomadland (2020) reviewed

On the verge of the October long weekend, I watched the Nomadland DVD. I had already read and reviewed the original book which formed the basis for the flick. The film version was perhaps the most acclaimed of the past year. It won the Golden Lion in Venice; the Best Picture and Best Director Globes; and three Oscars including Best Picture. This also marked the third and fourth statuettes for Frances McDormand. The picture is a heavy drama that feels longer than its 103-minute run time. Nomadland introduced us to a culture on the fringes; not the homeless but houseless. 

True story

Nomadland is based on the author’s actual experiences, which was depicted here as Fern. Bruder is in her thirties, and she embraces the wandering lifestyle. In the film, the protagonist is in her midlife. Fern’s backstory was that she lived in a well-off community called Empire. Her husband died and she stayed at the residence until the time came to leave. Before he passed away, her late hubby was the one who prodded her: ‘Just don’t waste any time, girl. Don’t waste any time.’ She decided to get rid of her sailboat and hit the road. The nomad culture is certainly nothing new but the global financial crisis in 2008 expedited this. Thus, the itinerants did not go on the road by choice. Seasonal employment sustains them, and a decent parking spot is essential. They go to various places in search of dollars, braving the snow and the elements. 

Like Fern, most of them are older. They’ve lived long lives already. They’ve tried their hand at various industries and worn many hats. This is just another chapter in their subsistence. The first company shown is a big, powerful multinational. Fern receives pay checks for a few months of drudgery. In one scene, the repetitive tasks are ears of the current age. Initially reluctant, she attends the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) in Quartzsite, Arizona. The messages from Bob Wells, one of the founders, intrigue her. There, she meets like-minded travellers, sells rocks, and embraces the wandering culture. ‘It’s a lifestyle of freedom and beauty and connection to the Earth.’ In what would become a common theme, there are sweeping shots of Fern walking through dusk. 


There is an eloquent silence that pervades the film. In this sense, the choreography bears resemblance to Moonlight (2017). The production is classified as neo-western and Nomadland does more to highlight this genre than any other cousin in recent memory. There is no comparable title in this variety that has been more visible or lauded. The screenplay has an understated elegance. Aside from the dusk scene, there is a similar lake scene. Likewise, the bonfire at the rendezvous – where the camp said vale to Swankie – was another segment worthy of the ‘director’s cut.’ The helmer ensures that the simple act of walking and pricing gains greater meaning. 

The movie’s surreal feel is reminiscent of American Beauty, another production that did well during the awards season many moons ago. Some might interpret this phantasmagoria as sadness. This is true especially as Fern celebrates Christmas alone, complete with kitschy reindeer ears. Ditto as she utters ‘Happy new year’ to herself. When she wanders unaccompanied, or sits alone, we feel her solitude. She gets over the loneliness by helping and serving people. As Bob Wells put it, ‘I think that connecting to nature and to a real true community and tribe will make a difference for you.’

Fern meets guy

Meanwhile, she meets Dave while serving as a camp host in Badlands National Park. Quick aside: the Badlands landscape was ethereal. David Straitharn plays the guy. A familiar face, he is known to audiences for his role in the Bourne franchise. She accepts his invitation to visit his family and meet Dave’s grandchild. While there, Dave admits having feelings for Fern. He extends an invitation to stay in their guest house. Fern decides against this and is soon on her way to the waves. The story comes full circle, with Fern going back to the company at the start. She catches up with Bob, who becomes emotional as he shares a family tragedy. Reflecting on the journey, the latter says that ‘One thing I love about this life is there’s no final goodbye.’ A while later, Fern goes back to Empire to rid herself of her belongings. She stops by the factory and the abode which she shared with her fallen husband. The final scene, where she drives her van on the road, was a nod to Good Will Hunting (1997). 

Real-life itinerants

The film is notable for mobilising the real-life nomads mentioned in the book. Among them are Linda May (as herself), Charlene Swankie (Swankie), Bob Wells (as himself), Peter Spears (as himself) and others. This lends more authenticity and credibility to the performers. I found the main role intriguing. In the source material, as mentioned, the protagonist is a bit younger. She took in the nomad lifestyle for research purposes. She arguably lived in a recreation vehicle (RV) out of curiosity, not necessity. In the film adaptation, the lead is older by decades and survives a deceased husband. The Empire subplot was appropriated from other characters’ plight in the text. In addition, this was adjoined for dramatic effect. Interestingly, the same was true with The Dry. The novel’s hero, Aaron Falk, was described as blonde. In the feature, he is played by Eric Bana, who has darker hair. In the end, all this shows how Hollywood rewrites narratives and roles for better entertainment value. 

Movie of the year

The movie was a commercial success, grossing $37.4 million worldwide against a $5 million budget. Moreover, the flick was also a darling for critics and audiences alike. Nomadland batted two out of four at the Globes, winning Best Picture – Drama. At the Oscars, the production snagged three statuettes. This included Best Picture, Best Director for Zhao, and Best Actress (McDormand). The Best Director gongs were landmark victories for Asians and women in Hollywood. Being one of the flick’s producers, McDormand bagged two trophies on the night. As noted, this has brought her total to four career statuettes. In view of these accolades, Nomadland gets the well-deserved title as the film of 2020. 

Rating: 4.55/5

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The Aussie battlers

I’ve been watching this TV series on free-to-air. The show deals with a group of adults who struggle with mundane daily tasks. Apparently, these people have rudimentary literacy skills, an issue that affects more Aussies than we think. Overall, though, Australia’s literacy still rates quite highly as compared to other Western nations. In an intensive nine-week stretch, the series tries to pick up where the classroom left off. They attempt to level-up the participants’ English after a crash course on reading and writing. The programme mentions the five literacy levels in the country: from level one to five. Throughout the show, the merits of good communication skills in everyday life are impressed to the viewer. 

The five levels

As mentioned, level one comprises the lowest rung on the ladder. As the label suggests, this represents the most basic of degrees. Ten percent of all Aussies belonged to this category. With this level, respondents can comprehend short printed or digital texts. They could also locate a specific piece of data that is identical to the information previously provided. Variations of these processes, such as asking for more information, would exceed the responder’s powers. This is by no means an isolated problem. The next level includes thirty percent or five million people. Thus, the number of wombats who have insufficient literacy skills balloon to forty percent. In this specific realm, Aussies can make more connections between two texts. They could also do some low-level paraphrasing.

Meanwhile, 38 percent or 6.3 million souls are at level three. This is the entry point for compliance in most knowledge societies. Members of this group can comprehend denser and lengthier material from mixed sources. They have a better and keener understanding of complex, mixed digital information. In level four, multi-step operations are routine. Creation, execution, and finishing of complex tasks are handled with aptitude. They typically draw on their stock knowledge, safeguarding this with their lives. Level-fivers are the kings of the jungle. They can spot inconsistencies from a mile away. In some instances, they can craft long papers on those inaccuracies. They have no trouble navigating and synthesising long, complex texts. Only 1.2 percent or 200,000 individuals belong to this denomination.

‘Struggle street’

The show unpeels the stories of the struggling participants. For instance, Lamine is at level one. He needs support to do the most basic tasks. When they were given a shopping list, he ended up with ciphers. Upon inspecting his purchases, the teacher told him that ‘This is actually quite good.’ He walks three hours each day, as the buses are beyond his powers. Like Shelle, he has trouble reading signs. The boards for the trains might as well be in hieroglyphics. The latter stutters but manages to catch the train – unlike Lamine. However, catching public transport is not the same as understanding it. The stops, though procedural, are foreign to her. Thus, she often gets confused when taking it and is at the mercy of good Samaritans. 

Meanwhile, Mike is another case. The teacher gave them a shopping list that included unsalted butter and prosciutto. Unable to keep up, Mike threw away his sheet. He had to re-listen to the list before shopping a storm. Apparently, Mike had a genetic condition that severely affected his cognitive skills. Most of these entrants left school early as they had a hard time. The instructors noted that school is progressive. You miss significant time and you’ll be left behind. Lamine came from a non-English speaking background. He had his work cut out for him. Taking up English as a second language is another factor. Indeed, the majority of those with poor literacy skills are either the latter or those who did not finish school. 

Various faces of dyslexia

The term bandied around in the show is dyslexia. The bunch have trouble comprehending words. In one such instance, Mike was copying board work. He was doing so a few letters at a time. This is more a childhood dilemma, a hurdle that learners have long since passed. Aside from reading, they also falter with sounds. The connection between pronouncing and spelling is a toughie for them. This is hardly peculiar to them but in their case, is more pronounced. In the latest ep, the teachers gave them poetry drills to give them a keener ear. Aside from the cooking list, they did this Amazing Race event where they blitzed through Sydney. They were allotted 2.5 hours to find their way to Darling Harbour, where lunch awaited them.   

Goal setting

At the start, they each created their goals. Shelle mentioned how her dad would read her Lord of the Rings every weekend when she was in school. She showed her bookshelf, which had some fantasy novels. Her goal was to someday write a book. Another participant shared that her kids often knew more than her. She had trouble tutoring them, finding their homework too steep. She hoped to one day read them a book. Mike’s goal was to read aloud the supper dine in menu to his fiancée. He was able to achieve this on the second ep. These moments reveal the consequence of a little mettle. The term ‘Aussie battler’ has evolved through time. Often correlated with the working class, the battler was someone who overcame the odds. Hence, these individuals have mostly succeeded in spite of their deficiencies. They have started families and are doing their bit. Literacy remains their biggest challenge and, as stated, is one that they will not overlook.

‘For better or for worse’

Before making judgments, I must point out that these literacy levels are not uniform. There are some industries with very high rates. These include ‘professional, scientific, and technical services.’ The same applies to the media and public sector. The older populace also possesses lower literacy skills than their younger counterparts. Literacy rates peak among those between 20 and 30 and taper down from 40 onwards. The 14.1 percent mentioned is not unusual among the progressive countries surveyed. Even though we come from different backgrounds, we couldn’t help comparing us to the characters in the series. I will end by paraphrasing Max Ehrmann, best known for his poem ‘Desiderata.’ Wherever you are, whatever your situation in life, there will always be people better and worse off than yourself. 

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