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

Questions

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. 

Neo-western 

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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August-September (2021) reads

September has almost gone and now it’s time to compile my reads for the last two months. Since my prior list, I have finished four more books. Jane Harper’s The Dry (2016) was the first to be completed. A gripping tale of tragedy in a small drought-stricken Victorian town, this was a stellar debut. Subsequently, I went through J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories (1953). The collection reinforces the late writer’s status as one of the hallowed fiction writers of the previous century. In addition, I knocked back two nonfiction titles. The one I’ll review here is Eddie Jaku’s The Happiest Man on Earth (2020). This is a breezy read from the centenarian, a Holocaust survivor.  

  • The Dry (Jane Harper). As per above, this novel was released in 2016. Set in Victoria during a long drought, the plot centres around the murders of a young family. Luke Hadler was a notable figure in town and his wife worked in the local school. His death brings his friend, Aaron Falk, into town. Through Hadler’s father, Falk resolves to conduct a clandestine, unsanctioned investigation into the killings. While the settlement hates him, he finds a pal in Gretchen, a former classmate. Falk left the community with his dad many years past. They were under a cloud of suspicion following the murder of Ellie Deacon, another friend. As Falk gets more entangled into the mess, past secrets come to the surface and tensions turn ugly. Someone doesn’t want Falk to unmask the slayer and would stop at nothing to do so.  

The book is more character driven. Harper seems like she’s been producing novels for years. The plot oscillates between the present and the past, as depicted in Falk’s memories. What makes this a splendid crime thriller is how Harper keeps us guessing. The matador’s identity remains a mystery until the very end. In crafting this microcosm, Harper foregrounds the idiosyncrasies of small-town Victoria. She gives an accurate portrayal of two time periods, a pair of stages in the lives of her mainstays. She moulds flawed characters and situations that give credibility to the story. 

Her writing is likewise commendable: fluid and where every scene counts. Her chapters are well-spaced. Due to the book’s popularity, this eventually became the first of a series. Last year, an acclaimed film adaptation was released, starring Eric Bana as Falk. I must add that, despite the stunning debut, Harper has largely stuck to what gave her success. All her books are rather similar. In this regard, she is the Aussie Karin Slaughter. While the thriller functions as a crime read, The Dry is likewise a timely insight into climate change. Recommended for anyone down for a good mystery. 

Rating: 4.25/5

  • Nine Stories (J.D. Salinger). I’ve had this one on my shelf for a while. At 195 pages, it’s a relatively brief read. With the repositories closed until further notice, now was the time to get cracking on Salinger. Catcher in the Rye was his only other text I’ve read. This one is emblematic of post-war America, highlighting Salinger’s own milieu. The author served his country during WWII. None other than Ernest Hemingway praised his early work; they met during the war. Seven of the stories were published in The New Yorker. Included are two of his most renowned stories: ‘For Esme – with Love and Squalor’ and ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish.’

The first few tales feature female leads. This impresses Salinger’s aptitude in underscoring protagonists of either sex. The collection tackles various subjects. A couple vacationing in Florida, with Seymour scarred from the war (‘Bananafish’); a mother and son debating by the pier (‘Down at the Dinghy’); a precocious kid with Hindu insights on a cruise ship (‘Teddy’). Some of these tales are loosely based on Salinger’s own experiences. For instance, a critic claimed that the character Seymour is Salinger himself. Furthermore, the author worked on a cruise ship and had a Hindu phase. 

For Esme is by far my favourite in the volume. It’s funny, specifically the line about triple-reading paragraphs. I also chuckled when Sergeant X became posture-conscious after seeing how Esme sat. The story was conceived for returning American troops who struggled after WWII. Salinger has been described as Sargeant X in situ. ‘De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period’ was likewise praiseworthy. John Smith recalls the events of his early life when he got a job at a dodgy ‘art school’. Here, he meets two Asian ‘instructors’ who ran the school through correspondence. He critiques the work of three students and just wings it. Ultimately a tragedy, the tale harbors deeper meaning: about the dilemma of making choices. The man must choose between superficial living and higher learning. This becomes a turning point in his march towards reason.

The book leaves no doubt in my mind as to why Salinger scaled the heights of the literary world. His prose, though from a different era, is terse but powerful. He gives his readers tremendous insight into family dynamics of the fifties. He democratises post-war America for posterity. Already critically lauded upon release, Nine Stories remains a classic. Salinger was not the most prolific producer but every book he released became a bestseller. The anthology is tangible proof of his literary genius.

Rating: 4.7/5

  • The Happiest Man on Earth (Eddie Jaku). This represents one of the best-rated memoirs in recent history. For starters, the author writes with simplicity – making the work very accessible. The title is also a veritable quote machine, giving readers much awareness into life. Who better to dish out advice than someone who’s lived to a hundred? The text details the struggles of a young Eddie, as he deals with Nazis in his native Germany. Being born a Jew, he had a happy childhood in Leipzig, a major urbanscape in Deutschland. German was his first language and he also spoke French. He changed his identity just to finish his engineering studies. He saw his environment being turned to poison because of the Nazis gaining power. 

He relates his experience in this culture of suspicion, hatred, and betrayal. He was twice interned in concentration camps, losing almost all his family. This included a lengthy stay at notorious Auschwitz. He faced death numerous times but was able to survive and tell his tale. Despite these challenges, he was resolved to remain positive. He focused on the good things he received and the friendships he forged. ‘The best balm for the soul is friendship, and with that friendship, we could do the impossible.’ He was amazed on the good Samaritans he encountered. Though he stayed with his young family in Belgium, he decided to bring them to Australia, where they thrived. ‘When there is life, there is hope. And when there is hope, there is life.’

Over the years, he refused to speak about his ordeal. As the Jewish community around him became more substantial, he gradually decided to share his story. Soon, his audience grew from thousands to even more. However, the memories remained painful, and he could not bear to discuss them with his immediate family. As he turned a century, he put his ordeal to paper. The result is a manuscript that’s less than two hundred pages. Reading the work in a day and a half is certainly possible. Aside from being well-written and quite quotable, this is likewise an uplifting read from someone who’s been there. He introspects near the close: ‘They will never really understand because they have not had this experience…it is something only we can understand.’ 

Rating: 5/5

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Sydney’s historic Hyde Park

Hyde Park, Sydney is a large urban park located in the city’s central business district. The Park covers two blocks (16.2 hectares) and is the oldest such parkland in the country. The Park was built between 1810 and 1927. City of Sydney owns the park, an offshoot which the NSW Government manages. It was added to the State Heritage Register in 2011. 

It is part of a parks chain that begins with the Domain, followed by the Sydney Botanical Gardens. Heritage-listed Hyde Park Barracks is within the vicinity, as are St. Mary’s Cathedral, the David Jones flagship store, the state Supreme Court, among others. The Park is home to well-tended gardens and about 600 trees. It is notable for splendid tree-lined avenues.

Hyde Park: a history

The area that is now Hyde Park used to be marshes where the local Aborigines hunted geese. The site also represented a key contest ground among the Aborigines that is part and parcel of their Sydney history. The British were not the only ones to witness said contest; the visiting Russians and French explorers likewise grasped this.

There used to be a tributary called the Tank Stream which skated the former marshes. The area of Hyde Park was relatively flat, in consonance with the valley. The place was known to be timbered just like the rest of the landscape. These included eucalyptus and palm trees, figs and apple trees. From 1788, the plane represented a locus where troops could easily assemble to quell a convict uprising. Probably, this was the site of a bloody struggle between colonial settlers and Aborigines for land dominance in Sydney.

Before departing, Governor Phillip designated the area as crown land. This was subsequently diminished, though Hyde Park remained within its confines. While The Domain belonged to the Governor, the Hyde Park plot was for the people. Later, this became a sports centre and racecourse – both firsts for the colony. Cricket battles and boxing fights were held there. Prior to 1810, the area was referred to as ‘The Common’, ‘Racecourse,’ among other appellations. On 11 February 1810, then-Governor Macquarie allotted this as open space, the first such instance in the country. He drew the boundaries. 

Macquarie took a page out of London, naming it Hyde Park. The designation was all part of the governor’s planning policy. Fifteen years later, the governor’s architect exclaimed that the park was to be Sydneysiders’ forever and would be accorded only the finest landscaping. The spot continued to be a sporting haven, regularly showcasing cricket matches, boxing bouts, rugby contests, and military drills. 

Over the next century, the place was still upgraded and repurposed. For instance, in 1868, the Park was the site of Prince Albert’s ball. A parks movement across the empire ensured other sizeable parklands became public property. Hyde Park also showcased exhibitions. Ultimately, the ANZAC Monument and the Archibald Fountain were put up. The former took four years to be erected and was finished in 1934. Meanwhile, the latter was done in 1932. In 1927, the David Jones store opened. The 1980s saw the city council making major upgrades on the area, improving walls and paths, plantings, and monuments. In 2016, the same council advanced the restoration of the Frazer Memorial Fountain (1881), which was to transpire later in the year. 

Facelifts

Throughout its history, Hyde Park has undergone changes and faced challenges. The modernisation in the CBD has gone on around the locus. Events – whether distinctive on not – have been planned and held. The site has hosted sporting meets, such as boxing, horseracing, and rugby. The ambience has transformed from rural marshes to the most expensive blocks of land in the world. While passing through with a friend, I remember describing it ‘like an oasis in the big city.’ He loved the description.

Monument central

As mentioned, the park has some significant monuments. The Archibald Fountain is chief among these. A French architect designed the geyser, which immortalised Australia’s part during the Great War in France. The centrepiece was even featured on an 80s B-movie. Moreover, a gigantic chess set is also at this end. This sits near the entrance to Saint James station. Furthermore, the ANZAC War Memorial could be found on the southern block. The Pool of Reflection complements the tourist attraction. In addition, also at the southern end, is artwork dedicated to Indigenous servicemen. There is also an Egyptian obelisk at the western end circa 1857. An outdated monument to James Cook, who ‘discovered Australia’, is to be found at the locus’s southern half. Given the #blacklivesmatter movement, I am surprised that it’s still standing. 

A heritage-listed park

On 13 December 2011, the gardens received state heritage recognition. The Park ticks all the boxes. Firstly, the locus is crucial in displaying the state’s cultural and natural history. As mentioned, the Park is NSW’s oldest and has endured despite a lot of change. Secondly, the setting has both a special and strong association with the people of New South Wales. The locus has robust Aboriginal ties. Thirdly, the area exhibits the high artistic merit of NSW. Hyde Park is the paramount example in the country of a significant public park in an urban setting. Fourthly, Hyde Park has strong associations with a specific cultural group in the state. The locus honours the ANZAC and current servicemen; the area is culturally significant to residents of Sydney. Fifthly, the place harbours endangered, rare, or uncommon aspects of NSW’s natural history. The Park is only one of two public spaces that have survived since 1810, the time of the late Governor Macquarie. Sixthly, the Park is consequential in evincing the chief aspects of a class of certain cultural environs in NSW. Hyde Park is influential as both open space and public park. There have been many copycats throughout Australia, but none as worthy as the original.

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9/11: Twenty years on

9/11/2001

On this day twenty years past, Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked two airplanes that struck the twin towers late that morning. This was the most brazen and the worst terror attack ever in history. Pictures of the crumbling towers dominated the news coverage for the weeks to come. Aside from the skyscrapers, another plane was supposed to hit the White House. Through the help of daring passengers, the jet crashed on a field in Pennsylvania. Another aircraft hit the Pentagon and caused significant destruction and loss of life. That day, 2,977 humans were slain, including 265 on the four jets and 2,606 in and around the World Trade Centre (WTC). The latter left a void in the New York skyline. When the towers were built, they were the tallest buildings on Earth. They embodied America’s commercial might. Now they were a gaping reminder that terrorists had trampled on America’s front yard. 

A little perspective

The 9/11 attacks weren’t the first on the Big Apple’s pre-eminent skyscrapers. In 1993, a similar foray transpired, which the same terror group perpetuated. However, the edifices remained intact. The genesis of the attacks could well be traced to US foreign policy during the Reagan years. Particularly pertinent is their stance on Afghanistan. They armed and financed the locals, which included Osama bin Laden, as they fought the common enemy. They also put Saddam in power, before regretting the decision and going to war with him. In the end, that America did not listen to valuable intelligence also cost them. Commander Massoud, a key opposition figure in Afghanistan, warned them of imminent terror attacks and to take the plight of his countrymen seriously. However, the US powerbrokers affirmed their commitment to neighbouring Pakistan, wary of upending the natural order in the Middle East. 

Bush’s retort

In the wake of the deadly attacks, then-US President George W. Bush announced a global ‘War on Terror.’ Bin Laden became the most despised man on earth. The leader further unveiled an ‘axis of evil’, which included Iraq, Iran, North Korea, and the Taliban. He then proclaimed that Iraq harbouring weapons of mass destruction was ‘a slam dunk.’ This became the basis of the Iraq invasion. In a matter of days, the media widely reported that the Americans had liberated the Iraqis. Indeed, they toppled an imposing statue of the tyrant in the capital. However, there was no sighting of Osama Bin Laden. Moreover, the media failed to report that Iraqi civilians butchered four American soldiers, their corpses paraded along the streets of Baghdad. Regardless, no such cataclysmic weapons were ever found in Iraq.

The aftermath

Aside from the US government’s response, the city became a no-go zone as the dust settled. Bernard Hopkins and Felix Trinidad were to meet in a mega-fight at Madison Square Garden. The two pugilists came in to unify the middleweight crown for the first time in a decade. However, their press conference was postponed considering the strikes, which happened just a few blocks away. The fist fight itself was rescheduled to 29 September 2001. Even a golfer named Tiger became a scared rabbit, spurning his event despite a hefty appearance fee. In ensuing reports, the towers’ great crumble was reportedly heard many blocks away. The haze from the buildings was visible from other boroughs. 

An Aussie’s tale

Filmmaker Michael Moore takes a different tack on Bush, as highlighted in Fahrenheit: 9/11. He suggests that the President gave conflicting messages as he dealt with the situation. Meanwhile, a few years back, an Australian programme did a special. An Aussie who worked in New York at the time was one of the guests. He remembers the experience as being very surreal. He was in one of the middle floors when disaster happened. He recalls seeing his officemates becoming upset and despondent. Remaining calm, he climbed down the stairs. In such scenarios, using the lift is out of the question. As he made his way down the stairwell, he encountered a guy, who asked him a question. The descent took forever, and he admitted that it was the longest such walk in his life. Later, having heard of the fatalities, he was very grateful for being alive. 

The enduring battlefront

The hunt for Bin Laden became a protracted struggle in two countries. The Afghan intervention lasted twenty years, marking the longest war in American history. The main purpose of the conflict was to free the country from the Taliban’s radical rule and to oversee a democratic government. A surge in terrorists and oppression were seen as the grim alternative. Meanwhile, the fall of Saddam Hussein did not mark the end of hostilities in Iraq. Barrack Obama, Bush’s successor, finally silenced Bin Laden. This campaign had cost the US billions of dollars and left the economy in dire straits. After twenty years, the Taliban toppled the US-backed government in a matter of days. Scenes of denizens desperately fleeing the regime captured the irrationality of the war. Thus, that hundreds of Afghans would converge on an American cargo plane was ironic.   

The War on Terror has concretised every Westerner’s paranoia, legitimising the use of surveillance in carrying out these ends. Whole new agencies were established and not just in the US. Ordinary citizens caught in the wrong situation are branded as ‘terrorists’, while the real wolves blend in with the herd of sheep. This ensured the popularity of such shows as Homeland, which built on these fears head-on. In fairness, the 9/11 attacks were not an aberration. The subsequent Bali bombings likewise resulted in the deaths of hundreds. This has been perceived as the Aussie version of 9/11. Subsequent bombings in Europe meant that this is far from an American headache. In the past few weeks alone, an attack was carried out in Afghanistan in the last days of US withdrawal.

Twenty years later

A memorial listing all the victims’ names was set up at ground zero. Like the War Memorial in Washington, this is a lasting tribute to all the lives that were tragically cut short. Regardless, during the Saturday prior to 9/11, my auntie and my late uncle were able to visit the landmark. Three days before the crumble, I must hand it to her as her timing was spot-on. This was a day that lived in infamy, the day when the threat of home court terror became actualised. Twenty years on, we remember the courageous efforts of both the rescuers and those brave passengers who defended their country when all hope seemed lost. 

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In honour of my father

Today, 5 September, marks Father’s Day in Australia. Unlike other countries such as the US and the UK, our celebration falls on the first Sunday of September. For most of us, our dads fill an important role in our lives. For starters, we can thank them for the gift of life. They are among our first teachers and growing up, are our prime role models. They are the breadwinners who nurture our talents. They show us the way. I can share a lot of tales about my dad because he has done so much good to us. However, I’ll pick a few to represent the whole. 

  • Do the right thing.’ This is one of my father’s catch phrases. Later, I heard of a Spike Lee joint with the same title. The directive seems easy enough: stick to the rules, be morally upright. Having seen the things, I’ve seen; this is easier said than done. As youngsters, this is not difficult. Most of us would listen to our elders in following the straight and narrow. We are developing a sense of right and wrong and are still finding our place in the world. Our parents are the natural buffer as we navigate the microcosm. Therefore, to be adults and to be still doing the wrong thing is inexcusable. When we make flaws, this reflects how we were brought up. In case you’re wondering, one’s abode cannot be a mere pit stop to have meals and gather things. The home is the place to grow, to learn from one’s mistakes. 
  • Grace before meals. As a child, my father bought this tablet and positioned it at the head of our dining table. It contained the full text of the grace before meals. My dad taught us how to give thanks prior to consumption. He showed us how to do the sign of the cross and soon we knew the prayer by heart. Growing up, we always had our meals together. This is significant as my classmate, Juanito, told me that they ate separately. Apart from this, he likewise taught us how to pray the rosary and we prayed this together when we had the chance. Moreover, he introduced the Thanksgiving Prayer to us. We learned how to be grateful for our blessings. The knowledge he shared has long remained. 
  • The value of an education. My dad is a staunch advocate of the merits of the classroom. He valued our education enough that I spent my formative years studying in the oldest institution in our area. When we needed something for school, he never forgot them. He was there during our graduations and even during recognition days. Regardless, he urged us to be more than high achievers. Whenever we traded stories at the dinner table, I remarked that he always had the most interesting day. 
  • Chess. When I was in school, I remember taking an interest in board games. He bought us a scrabble board, and, for me, a wooden chess set. He topped it off by purchasing two beginner’s guides to the latter. In high school, I transformed into a two-time scrabble doubles champion. Meanwhile, I played chess casually with schoolmates, forging new bonds. With chess, I was more a student of the game. Over many lunchbreaks, I watched as others showcased their mad skills. I even joined the chess club as a freshman. Furthermore, my dad also gave me a basketball as one of his Christmas gifts. Soon, I couldn’t stop watching and talking about basketball.
  • Campus writer. As per above, my father fostered our gifts. Together with my sister’s help, they moulded the writer in me. My sister heard about the qualifying exam for the school paper. Consequently, in my sophomore year, I became sports editor. That year, I would write the paper’s banner headline in the last issue. This set the stage for senior year, where I would secure the associate editor post after acing the exam. I would go on to get published in magazines. Later, I would write an Honours thesis, hard-earned manuscripts, and I maintain this blog. While I would utilise the help of invaluable lifesavers, my dad represented one of my earliest believers and proponents.
  • Cooking. My dad was a wannabe chef. Over the years, he’d cook all sorts of delicious grub for us. Whether it’s soup or pasta, American or Chinese cuisine, he got us covered. He is fond of fish, fresh produce, and sandwiches. He taught us not to be fussy and to eat everything (as he did). I have fond memories of Sundays. He would cook tuna or blue marlin in flour, which we would pair with rice and fresh seaweed. He would then make freshly squeezed lemonade from our front yard lemon grove. Other Sundays, we’d have beef soup.  Yet on other occasions, it was tenderloin steak with the same plus pili. He cooked on other days, but Sunday was best as he honoured the Sabbath. 
  • Books. Early on, he instilled in us a love for books. As toddlers, he constantly read to us despite his busy schedule. Most of our earliest reads were from Childcraft and a bevy of picture books. He bought a whole set of the World Book encyclopaedia, which I started perusing this on the summer of third grade. He both the latter and Childcraft together as a set. The tomes greatly aided my flair for writing. In high school, I wanted a copy of this nonfiction hostage book. He gladly bought it for me, brand-new. For all high school, he purchased the newspaper daily. Even though we had the nightly news, reading the papers furthered my passion even more.
  • Trying new things. Intrepid is a good descriptor of dad. He does not limit himself to one dimension; instead, he explores. When he tries something new, he’ll try the other iterations and brands. His reasoning: how can you say it’s bad when you haven’t even tried it? Aside from being daring, he’s also a plus listener. Irrespective of one’s standing, he’ll hear out their side. He’s lived in Germany, Asia, and Australia. In those stints, he has easily adapted to the change in food, climate, and terrain. From a young age, he’s shown me how one could live and thrive independently. Though he’s far from an island, he’s as self-sufficient and cool as Ibiza. 

These vignettes are light portraits of my father. His influence is such that I would need a good many blog posts and yet that would just scratch the surface. I haven’t even mentioned how, as a young man, he’s been on three continents and hopscotched through Europe. How he likes to have a mid-afternoon snack (merienda), which I have since adopted. Have I mentioned that he has a green thumb? My dad wears many hats but being a parent par excellence is at the top of them. As I touched on in a prior blog post, we remember the good deeds. As my dad has shown, being great or powerful is not the same as being honourable. I would like to take this opportunity to wish my dad and all dads out there, a ‘Happy Father’s Day!’  

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