In Memoriam: PNoy

‘To be understood or misunderstood is not so much a struggle as it is to understand or misunderstand the longing for peace in each man’s heart.’

Thus begins the late PNoy’s college yearbook entry. Here, he emphasized the consequence of one’s emotions as opposed to one’s mere cognition. PNoy proved this over the course of his presidency. Two weeks ago, he passed away due to renal disease secondary to diabetes. He was sixty-one. After his demise, social media was full of tributes and farewells to former Pres. Aquino. He was someone who touched the souls of many, because he was an honourable man through and through. Of course, there are other world leaders and notable figures who fell asleep, but the latter’s passing struck a chord across oceans. News of his death was reported around the globe. When your time is up, people will recall the good deeds.

PNoy’s college yearbook entry

Case in point: there was once a wake announcing the death of a hated entity. People were surprised that there was a throng of people gathering. Unable to contain their curiosity any longer, one of the passers-by approached them.

‘I thought he was a hated man. Why is there a big turnout?’

‘Without question that guy was despicable. We just want to make sure that he’s really dead.’

Blue blood

PNoy was the only son of Corazon and Ninoy Aquino, Jr. and. The latter was a key figure of the opposition who became a martyr. He once proclaimed, ‘The Filipino is worth dying for.’ His image is immortalised on the 500-peso bill. The family was exiled to the US for three years during the Marcos regime. Noynoy finished his university studies prior to joining them Stateside. After People Power 1986, Cory was sworn in as President. She had previously challenged Marcos for the Presidency, which was marred by election fraud. PNoy is a fourth generation Pinoy politician. Starting 1998, Aquino served three consecutive terms as Representative of the 2nd District of Tarlac. He then won a Senate seat in 2007. Shortly after his mother’s passing in 2009, he declared his candidacy for the top post. The wave of support from the public was termed ‘Noynoy Phenomenon.’

PNoy’s administration

Aquino was sworn in as the fifteenth President of the Philippines on 30 June 2010. He took residence at the Bahay Pangarap (House of Dreams), the first Filipino head of state to do so. He asserted that the Malacañang Palace was too big for him, his staff, and security aides. He engaged in talks with a key rebel group in Mindanao who sought self-determination. PNoy revamped the educational system, which has been in place for decades. He instituted the K-12 curriculum in the country, adding two years to basic education. This ensured that the Republic was more in line with the rest of the world. On the downside, this added further cost to schooling as well as the need for more teachers and classrooms. PNoy made his country better. His reforms and policies resonated well not only with the youth but likewise with older voters. He tried his best not to leave anyone behind.

He stood up to the bullies, whether they were superpowers, super-corrupt or super-potbellied. He championed the cause of Juan de la Cruz both at home and beyond. On the world stage, he did not back down from aggressors. I recall a time when, at an international convention, he even used a philosopher’s quote while fighting for our cause. Even the Chief Justice, who was alleged of being crooked, wasn’t safe. He was booted from his perch after a Senate vote. His handling of the pork barrel scam was classic PNoy. The rapacious politicians were jailed, the evildoers vanquished. He was the model Filo leader when it came to just governance.

The Filo flag bearer

Early on during Aquino’s term, the country had a diplomatic incident when a former police officer took a tourist bus hostage. PNoy cited the media for worsening the incident, as it gave the gunman ‘a bird’s-eye view of the entire situation.’ There were nine casualties, including the assailant. Nine other passengers were injured. Two days after, he declared a national day of mourning and the lowering of flags at half-mast across embassies and consulates. While he took responsibility and launched investigations into the crisis, he shunned an apology.

His handling of Typhoon Haiyan was also criticized. The government was tagged as ‘slow’ in providing aid to victims, with other Western countries doing a better job of giving support in Leyte. Now that PNoy is gone, commentators and voters alike have wondered how he would’ve handled the current COVID-19 crisis in the Philippines. They are convinced that he would’ve treated every Pinoy equally. He would’ve tackled the pandemic with a firm resolve.

Restoring our belief

PNoy was also noted for his use of the native tongue. When he addressed the public, whether in press conferences, speeches, or interviews, he never passed the chance to speak in Filipino. He did not marry and had no children; he was the country’s first bachelor president. Noynoy was the third of five children. His time in office was marked by the continued rise of our economy, thereby dubbing the nation a ‘Rising Tiger.’ The ex-President brought annual economic growth that was the highest since the seventies. Amid his term, I conversed with a family friend. She told me that ‘Things are looking up now that PNoy is President.’ More than anything, Noynoy – like his father – made us commoners believe in the power of true democracy again.

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Notes from (Sydney’s) lockdown

A flurry of COVID cases last week had prompted the NSW government to enact a partial lockdown last Friday (25th of June). This would’ve lasted a full week. The four councils included City of Sydney, Woollahra, and Waverley. This meant no sunbathing in Bondi Beach, after the local Westfield became a hotspot. With twelve more cases last Saturday, state officials imposed a full lockdown in greater Sydney. This was effective from 6pm on the 26th until the 9th of July, coinciding with the school holidays. In the days prior, other states had already closed their borders. The Sydney wide restrictions are only the second of its kind, after the nationwide lockdown last year.

Por J. Rizal

Last Friday, I visited my chiropractor. The whole city centre had gotten the memo. The train platforms were deserted, the streets empty. Downtown seemed like a still from The Walking Dead. Practically everyone was wearing a mask, as per the guidelines. The mask rules had been mandatory on public transport since the previous Friday afternoon. Since then, they have been expanded to all indoor venues, including workplaces, malls, and places of worship. Commuters were once again instructed to sit on the green dots for social distancing purposes.

During my visit, I discussed the Noli with Jeff. I am currently reading the English version of Rizal’s obra. I told him that it was originally written in Spanish. The book is considered the foremost novel in the country. I mentioned that Rizal lived in the nineteenth century, back when the Philippines was under Spanish rule. I also said that Rizal was a martyr, an ophthalmologist, and a polymath. He was so much more than a writer. I remarked that the dialogue could get tedious, with some characters going on for two pages. He mentioned that Flaubert wrote like that.

A city deserted

Lunch was at Hunter Connection. I noted that Subway had vacated for good. There was a big Korean place that had also closed. Many stores did not open for the day. The patron numbers were way down. The so-called Delta Variant of the virus is at large. Originating from India, the infection is twice as deadly as other strains. This lockdown could be traced to a limo driver, who transports overseas airline crew. He traversed Sydney while harbouring the virus. The infections were spread across several places, including the infamous Bondi cluster. On Tuesday, seventeen out of nineteen new cases were linked to the latter. Later, I wondered what would happen to H & M? Their Bondi store would close in July but the backlash from the cluster would spell doom for them. At least the Chatswood branch was able to leave with a proper goodbye.

More clusters

A social gathering in West Hoxton also caused harm, as thirty-four attendees have tested positive. The rest are in isolation. Meanwhile, a similar cluster had developed at a Double Bay hair salon. At last count, the number of infected there has ballooned to twelve. An ill Virgin Australia flight attendant also worsened the matter, exposing hundreds of passengers and crew. Lately, a few schools around Sydney are on high alert after students caught the virus. Most troubling are those cases not linked to the clusters. In the news, I heard about this flight to Hobart from Sydney. The passengers had already boarded the plane but waited three hours, only to be told that their flight was cancelled. Other states soon excluded greater Sydney, before shutting their borders for good. The New Zealand travel bubble was also off the table.

Sydney’s second wave

As mentioned, by Saturday afternoon, the government enforced a hard lockdown for two weeks. They urged all residents to stay at home, with a few exceptions. For instance, being an essential or frontline worker was a valid reason to go out. The premier outlined four main reasons to go out. The first is as per above: doing essential work. The other three are:  doing groceries, exercising, and visiting for compassionate grounds. I was surprised that, until further notice, all masses at our local parish had been cancelled. Retailers are still allowed to open but doing so would be a bad idea what with the lack of shoppers. Some stores, like Harvey Norman, Rebel, JB Hi-Fi, and David Jones have elected to stay open.

Food outlets operate on a takeaway basis only. The onset of Sydney’s second wave also prompted some panic buying. On Thursday night, the shelves at Woolworths Eastgardens were bare. Soon, the mad rush for toilet paper was back on. Images of grocers hoarding trolleys full of them were all over social media. The supermarkets again ordered limits on certain products. When I went to Woolies on Saturday, the entire bread section was empty. Ditto the meat section. At least there were still three packs of toilet tissues. Major sporting competitions have also had to improvise. The NRL (National Rugby League) is operating on level four restrictions. This means that they can only play, train, do essential shopping, and have no visitors outside the bubble. Meanwhile, all eighteen teams in the AFL (Australian Football League) are now temporarily based in Victoria.  

The bashful dollars

This is bad news for business in Sydney. The school holidays would bring tourism spending to town. Economists estimate a $2 billion decline for the state’s economy. Outlets who had just started attracting clients again would have to cool off. Cinemas will take another hit, especially perturbing since the school break would’ve brought more patrons. Furthermore, gyms are shut, and fitness buffs would have to carry on by themselves. While big brands have the insulation, small businesses are the real vanquished.  

Going places

In the latest developments, concern has now spread well beyond Sydney. First to take precautions were the Western Australian and Northern Territory governments. The former could link its infections to NSW. In particular, the Perth and Peel areas of the state were in lockdown.Meanwhile, Queensland had two new cases on Tuesday. A hospital clerical worker caused this. The state premier was ‘furious’ and promptly issued a three-day lockdown, which included Brisbane. On Monday, 50,000 COVID tests were conducted in NSW and the queues were even longer than that of the groceries. Lines for the vaccines were likewise lengthy as demand surged following the new outbreak.

On Wednesday, 22 new cases emerged in NSW. The new outbreak was said not only to be concentrated in a few areas but was apparent throughout the nation. Friday saw the number balloon to 31 and the COVID tests went over 70,000. Today (Saturday), that figure has risen to 35. With the citywide lockdown in full swing, we can all do our bit. This ties in nicely with the Noli. In the late 1800s, Rizal was fighting a social cancer. These days, we likewise must contend with a bigger battle: the hurdle of COVID-19. When the dust settles, we can embody the lessons we learned today.

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A Broadway Shopping Spree

Last weekend, we visited Broadway Shopping Centre. The mall is in the southern end of the Sydney CBD (Central Business District). Public transport isn’t as good as comparable centres downtown. Buses are the only proximate means; otherwise, you’d have to drive. Target and Kmart, two major department stores, anchor the edifice. A full-service Coles is on ground level. Furthermore, a 500-seat food court is located on level two. A 12-screen Hoyts complex sits adjacent to the food court. There is also JB-HiFi on level two as well as an Apple Store at the top level.

Lost on Broadway

This trip to Broadway was centred around Marcs. I was after this rugby top which had an owl badge. The mall houses the only Marcs standalone store in the CBD. Alas, there was no rugby to be found. When I tried to tell the sales assistant that it had a collar, he seemed lost.

‘You mean like a chunky collar?’

‘Not really. Is that menswear over there?’ I spied a discount rack further along.

‘Yes,’ he replied. Instead of confusing the guy even more, I went over and examined the rack. No sweater.

Off Target

We then ducked into Target and browsed. Finding nothing of interest, we headed to Dotti. Signs proclaimed, ‘fifty percent storewide.’ Upon further inspection, we gathered that the store was closing for good. My companion grabbed an acrylic sweater, which used to be fifty bucks; a steal at over seventy percent off.

Typo and Just Jeans

After this, we had a look at Typo. There were signs saying $2 selected styles. The outlet featured an array of notebooks. While they had nice designs, I thought that they were rather thin for my purposes. My companion ended up buying a pouch. The whole pencil case range was reduced. I picked up one of them but judged that it was too roomy. Sandwiching these two encounters was Just Jeans. The store was hawking forty percent off, but their range was sophomoric. Furthermore, the ones worth buying were out of sizes. I wistfully think back to the days of Jeanswest in the centre. I bought a few shirts here and they were very reasonable. I also collected shorts and scored a maroon knit jacket. The shop has long since been gone.

The Big Buy

Our next stop was Cotton On. They had a sale rack that I noticed, which featured some jumpers. This peach-coloured fleece one caught my eye. It was half price at twenty bucks. I also sighted this slim tapered jean in grey colour. I’ve been on a lookout for such an addition. There was still about eight of them left, in different sizes. I tried on a couple of them. Both items looked good, so I didn’t think twice about the purchase. The denim used to be $60. Therefore, I got a total of sixty percent off.

Stretching your dollars

We then ventured into K-Mart. I got three notebooks for six bucks. Later, I’d realise that they were just the same sheet count as Typo’s. We also grabbed this plug extension for three bucks. We had a look at some manchester but decided to hold off for now. We then headed to The Reject Shop where we bought some beverages and candles. Along the way, we passed by Industrie. Business has not been good for the brand; there was no one nearby. The same applied to Yd. I thought of having a browse, but the lack of window shoppers convinced me that it wasn’t worth it. I see these two menswear stops as the most likely to leave. For womenswear, next after Dotti would be Witchery.

Gourmet eats

H&M was the one we forgot to visit. The store is a recent addition, only opening in late 2016. The centre bought off what used to be office space and added Calvin Klein, Sephora, Victoria’s Secret, and the former. Last year, I purchased a five-pack of socks here. The food court was likewise upgraded in the reshuffle. Some new tenants opened shop, including Mexican and Malaysian eateries. The dining has a more upmarket feel. This was all part of the $55 million major refurbishment, which commenced the year prior.

The food court has a fair range. Apart from the aforementioned cuisines, there is also Chinese, Thai, Turkish, and Aussie fare. Moreover, sushi is available downstairs; Boost Juice; T2 and Chatime for the tea lovers. There are the usual cafes. What’s missing are the biggest names in fast food. Instead, it’s mostly mid-tier and gourmet fare. If you’re after pizza, burgers, or McNuggets, you’ll be disappointed. Once, they had this spin the wheel promo. If you order from the food court, you were eligible to try your luck and win prizes. When my turn came, I found the wheel heavy but managed to win some free sushi.

Meanwhile, the Coles used to be our primary stop for groceries. Usually, we’d stock up after Mass, before taking the bus back home. The renovated supermarket looks radically different than the one we used to frequent. The layout, deli, bakery, and checkouts have all been made over. I recall buying some apparel from Rebel Sport. I used to have a look at their shoes. They have a big store at the front. My companion commented that they have stayed on despite COVID. They’ve been around since my first visit.

Outdoor sale

Over at Aldi, I twice had a shopping spree during their annual outdoor sale. In July 2017, I was there before they opened, along with a dozen eagle-eyed shoppers. I grabbed two sets of thermals, snow gloves, and a down vest. I was prepping for my snow day. The next year was similar as I spent ninety bucks on thermals. Aldi occupies the space that Bi-Lo vacated. Above Aldi, there is also a Harvey Norman and a Dymocks bookstore. Both are long-time tenants. The Telstra store near the former has been around for a while.

Circa 1998

Indeed, Broadway has been trading since 1998, when it repurposed the site that was part of the former Grace Bros. The next building, also formerly Grace Bros, was converted into student housing. The centre added another floor in 2007. Mirvac has owned and managed Broadway since that year. Apart from the anchors and mini majors, the edifice houses some 100 specialty stores. Among these are Specsavers and House on ground level. There is also a post shop and some bank branches on the same level. Hype DC on the first floor is a recent inclusion. As for Hoyts, we watched Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland there. The theatre was packed.

Life happens

I recall going to the complex with family on Boxing Day. Compared to Pitt Street, Broadway was more laid-back that day. We scored Tefal cookware at Target for half price. As mentioned in my Top Ryde post, the bold travelators are the first thing you’ll notice upon entering the structure. To begin with, there are two escalators from street level as the mall sits atop the ground. Upon entering, the twin travelators stand out. To be fair, they are standard in the centre, even in the upper floors. As per above, I did not really intend to browse this complex. Impelled by a chance at nabbing a rugby top, I was glad to wander in Glebe. As a wise man once intoned, ‘Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.’

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June (2021) reads

At the onset of winter, I crested a classic. It took me four days to finish the main text of Cat’s Cradle. I’ve had this book for a while now and I loved Vonnegut’s originality. I followed this up with Grisham’s latest: Sooley. The novel focuses on the exploits of the eponymous protagonist. A refugee from South Sudan, he needs to accomplish something that hasn’t been done before. Sooley must become a basketball titan in twelve short months. Finally, Nomadland by Jessica Bruder rounds out the trio of reads. The nonfiction title has been adapted into an award-winning film starring Frances McDormand. The production shone at the last Oscars.

Cat’s Cradle (Vonnegut). Upon taking in Slaughterhouse Five, I yearned to read more of the author’s work. Vonnegut is one of the postmodern pillars, a writer well ahead of his time. This work did not disappoint. Originally released in 1963, Cradle was another anti-war novel. This is done on a much-lesser scale than Five. The writer’s creativity is on full display in this text. He invents a flawed Caribbean island (San Lorenzo) and conjures up its history. He devises a new religion (Bokononism) and utilises its tenets as guiding lights for Jonah, the protagonist. The novel is peppered with poetry, adages, and excerpts from the Books of Bokonon.

The characters themselves are not without flavour. There is a midget, Newt. He is one of three children of Dr Hoenikker, father of the atom bomb. His sister, Angela, is six feet tall. The house sitter story was particularly amusing. Jonah came home to find his cat dead, with the word ‘miaow’ attached on a note. Another comic scene was when Newt was painting on a cantilever. A character flings the sketch over the edge. Apparently, a net was set up underneath to ‘catch’ any fallen objects. Jonah, a journalist, goes to San Lorenzo fishing for big stories. The American ambassador to the island accompanies him, as does another couple; Newt and Angela.

Along the way, Jonah learns that Dr Hoenikker had been working on a lethal weapon called ice-nine. He also finds out that Frank, Hoenikker’s other son, is now in charge of San Lorenzo’s armed force. When the ill President is on his deathbed, Jonah is thrust into the spotlight. He learns that no one on the island wants to lead. San Lorenzo is a Bokononist stronghold and yet appears to fight that label. A select few rule the country. As expected, the world crumbles and only five humans pull through. How a car survived the tornadoes – with the whole planet decimated – was textbook Vonnegut.

If you’re dedicated enough, you could conquer this one in two days. At 206 pages and with fairly straightforward prose, this is definitely a light read. The book was written at the height of the Cold War, where tensions between the two superpowers were at its peak. The narrator mentions that the Soviets had access to ice-nine, aside from the Hoenikker children. Indeed, the whole republic could be an allegory of the hopes, dreams, and shortcomings of post-war America.

Rating: 4.33/5

Sooley (Grisham). I only heard about this gem after it was released. The bestselling author takes a different turn. The title character grew up in Lotta, a remote village in South Sudan. A third of the new country’s population are refugees. Basketball is his way out. Blessed with blazing speed and a mind-boggling vertical, the six-two guard participates in a youth camp that tours the US. In a tournament pitting them against other youngsters, Sooley was the last pick on the team. Initially thin with an ugly jump shot, Sooley is hell-bent on becoming the best. When his whole village goes down, Sooley is granted asylum in the States. He is given a full scholarship to study at North Carolina Central.

He settles in with Murray, also on the squad. The latter’s family welcomes him. In case you’re wondering, the football team’s star player gave him the nickname. The plot oscillates between Sooley’s new life and the plight of his mother and two brothers. The three are in Rhino, a Ugandan refugee camp. Meanwhile, the team is already stacked, and they decide on Sooley redshirting his freshman year. However, the losses pile up and rotation players get injured. Sooley, now six-eight, is then tabbed to resurrect their drowning season. I liked this angle. It reminded me of Fukuda, in Slam Dunk. Sooley becomes the secret weapon. The man came prepared. Every day, he would practice his shooting for hours and his work ethic impressed even his coach, Lonnie Britt. The latter secretly dreamed of helming an elite program.

Sooley’s game leads them to the play-in tournament, where they shock Florida. By then, Sooley is routinely dropping forty a game. Nothing but net. In the history of college ball, there has never been a more accurate long-range shooter. With his big smile and infectious love of the game, he becomes the poster boy of March Madness. He would lead them to the last dance aka the Final Four, though they were perennial underdogs. Along the way, hitting ten threes and notching up triple doubles would become old fare. He decides to go one-and-done and is drafted in the NBA.

Everything seems bright for the young star, until carelessness becomes his downfall. We later learn that he has been finding ways to bring his family to the US. Murray then unearths Gaston, an ‘extricator.’ This makes for a very unreal subplot in the finale. Sooley’s impact on those around him was incalculable. His coach gets his wish. His teammates were in the national spotlight. His school became the talk of the town. His family couldn’t have been prouder. This is more than just a basketball book. Grisham did his research: on South Sudan, their people, and college basketball. The author is also an avid sports fan, which becomes clear. Sooley is a riveting tale of excess, wanting, and loss. While there are limos, private jets, and banquets, there are also camps, the third world, and civil war. Through the eyes of a young but courageous cager, Grisham puts forward the American dream. So far, this title is my favourite of the year.

Murray: ‘I guess so. He was a smart guy.’

Gaston: ‘Very smart, and very determined.’

Rating: 5/5

Nomadland (Jessica Bruder). This is a travelogue as the author hopscotches around America. Her mission: to tell the story of a new kind of identity: the nomad living in vehicles. The recent proliferation of campervan and RV (recreational vehicle) dwellers can be traced back to the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC). House prices went into free fall; businesses went bankrupt; savings disappeared; jobs vanished. Bruder was treated with similar stories of once-busy bees getting their hives smashed. While the writer deals with many accounts, she foregrounds Linda May. The latter is a mother and grandmother, then in her sixties. She calls a Jeep Grand Cherokee home, together with Coco, her dog. Starting from California, she moves through various states to gain employment. She battles injuries as she tries to save for her dream home, an earthship.

The author introduces us to various nomad gatherings. These include Quartzsite, Arizona and the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. Here, there are seminars on a motley of topics. Recruiters from the big companies try to pitch their workplaces. Crowds gather round bonfires as they share the tales of the trade. I learned that this kind of community is not new. In the 30s, the aftermath of the Great Depression saw people taking to caravans. While this numbered in the millions, they ultimately went back to living in traditional housing. However, this exodus is more permanent. The revolution is not just physical, but also online: in social media and forums.

Through three years of reporting, Bruder embraces the itinerant lifestyle, even buying Halen, her own RV. She travels 16,000 miles, befriends the drifters, thus getting an insider’s look. She brings us to overwhelming warehouses and incredible working conditions. We are there at the sugar beets harvest, where she doesn’t last long. Racism and homosexuality are likewise navigated. She purports that this way of life is still very much a white phenomenon. The journey is depicted, through scorching summers and shivering winters. Bruder reveals that there has been literature dedicated to them, including one by Steinbeck. First released in 2017, there are only twelve chapters. While clearly well-researched, they are not the easiest to read.

Rating: 4/5

South Beach
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June 2021 Long Weekend

Coinciding with the plummeting mercury is the long weekend. Aside from the usual two days to cap off the week, Monday represents a public holiday as this commemorates the Queen’s Birthday in our state. About three years ago, I wrote a similar post on Mot Juste. Then, the ski fields were the hottest ticket in town. One must recall that this was before COVID. Three full calendars later, things have changed. Here is a recap of what to expect and what has changed since June 2018.

  • Queensland is the place to be. Before, Sydneysiders were spoiled for choice. Victoria and the sunshine state (Queensland) presented equal options for the weekender. Melbourne and Brisbane are roughly the same distance from Sydney. Victoria offers the best live sports events, is a foodie and arts haven, among other things. Meanwhile, Queensland is synonymous with the surf and sun. If you wanted a more temperate getaway, a cavalcade of beaches, and water sports, then off you headed. However, with the recent number of COVID cases in Victoria, the pick is more clear-cut. For instance, my chiropractor is spending six nights on the Sunshine Coast. He told me that he had planned this trip for a while now. Events are being rescheduled from Victoria to Queensland. Even Melbourne-based AFL had to improvise due to the fourth wave. Some matches were rescheduled to neutral venues.

Game 1 of this year’s State of Origin was moved from the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) to Townsville, Queensland. This edition marks number forty of the annual best-of-three showcase. The attendance was a robust 27,533. I anticipated another Maroons romp, but the effort of NSW coach Fittler’s boys was pleasantly surprising. From the get-go, they attacked the Maroons’ defence and were accumulating tries by the middle of the first half. The Blues side also had an exemplary kicking game, going eight for eight from goal. Tom Trbojevic netted three tries in a triumphant return. This represented the most decisive NSW win in Origin history.

  • The French Open: different but the same. Three years prior, Ash Barty (who is pictured) was ascending the women’s ranks. A week later, she would win the 2018 Nottingham Open for her second career WTA Singles title. Rafael Nadal would notch up his eleventh French Open, defeating Austrian Dominic Thiem. The latter is regarded as the second-best clay courter on tour. Three years on, another Nadal victory seems a foregone conclusion. Already tied with Roger at the top for twenty grand slams, a fourteenth Paris close-out would secure Rafa sole first-place among male slam winners. There has never been anyone as dominant on one surface. Moreover, nobody has matched his haul, full stop. I recall this conversation many moons ago. Roger had just surpasses Pete Sampras’s fourteen slams. This critter told me that Rafa would one day eclipse Roger. If all goes according to plan, Nadal would pull this off in a couple of nights.

This Open has a curfew for fans, in line with local regulations. Until 9 June, the curfew was at nine pm, which was later moved to eleven pm. The tourney itself was moved forward from last year’s September start to the traditional late-May commencement. Spectators were capped at a thousand and subsequently increased to five thousand. This is the 125th staging of the premiere clay court championship. This time, Barty fell at the second hurdle while her male compatriots – including Alex De Minaur – did not fare so well either. The Fed Express notably withdrew, citing health reasons. He rather favours his chances at Wimbledon, site of his greatest successes.

  • The mid-year sales are heating up. Just like in 2018, the June long weekend sees a gamut of stores hawking their mid-year sales. Now is the perfect time to rug up for the cooler season. Whether you’re after baselayers, mid-layers, gloves, or ski jackets, now is as good as it gets. Stock up on those winter woollies. Apart from clothing, there are reductions across shoes, small kitchen appliances, and electronics. Get your hands on that shiny 5G phone. Better yet, nab that bulky 4K TV set.

Recently, we bought a replacement Thermos from Myer. Earlier, I also picked up some notebooks. I want to start chroniclin’ like Chatwin. DFO Homebush is currently having a Big Brand Weekend, with some stores offering fifty to seventy percent off. However, these storewide reductions come with asterisks. The exclusions make the sales appear farcical. As a kid, my sister pointed out this sign announcing one hundred percent off. My dad, who drove us, was immediately sceptical. ‘That means those shoes are free,’ he told us. ‘Feel free to choose the shoes you want. They’re freebies, after all.’  

Of course, I understand the hesitation. The COVID era has made us think twice about spending big. Unlike before, you wouldn’t spend hundreds on a few branded items. Thinking about the bigger picture is always nice. At the same time though, striking a balance is key. If the past lockdowns have shown us anything, it’s that life’s too short to overthink. When the days were long and the restrictions were intense, we had little options. We still do. We can’t travel to other continents or, in some cases, another state. Social distancing is in place. Some stores are temporarily closed, others, permanently. In any case, one look at the train, in shops, or on the street, and we have braved the tide. Life has gone on.

  • Snow days are back. The ski season will be radically different than last year’s. Instead of empty snowfields, resorts will be booked out. 2020 saw businesses boarded up; passes and bookings dishonoured. This year, demand for snow trips has never been higher. This is directly related with the closing of international borders. The only options for snow enthusiasts are Oz and New Zealand. Niseko (Japan) and Aspen (US) are off the table. The first dusting of snow has arrived at Kosciuszko National Park. The ski and snowboarding seasons are officially here. Time to get those mittens, poles, and snow goggles and work on those snowploughs.

This coming long weekend, we may be in different spots. Queensland is the people’s pick as New Zealand’s too far. Some of us will visit relatives and drive a few hours. Some might head to the snow and practice their flips. Others might be content catching the footy or witnessing another Rafa masterclass. Many will go out of town. Let us just pause and think back to a year ago, when having a long weekend didn’t mean much. We have sure travelled a long way since then.

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Hunter Connection (Wynyard, NSW)

Today we’re going to review a shopping and gastronomy hub in the heart of Sydney. Hunter Connection (HC) has a strategic location. HC sits adjacent to Wynyard train station, near the northern end of the Central Business District (CBD). The Wynyard light rail stop is also in front of the station. I frequent this place since it represents the nearest food court (FC) to my chiropractor. Coincidentally, the centre offers some of the more reasonable eats in downtown Sydney. While grub dominates the scene, the hub also has a number of barbershops. There is a news agency. A few clothing alterations also operate here. Likewise, a mobile shop could be found. The centre also houses a variety store.

An embarrassment of cuisines

The range of cuisines at the FC is impressive. There are four Chinese places, including Famous Lunch. You could have your choice of rice or noodles, plus your pick of two to three viands. One of the Sino outlets is really popular with their made-to-order menu. This is in contrast to the rest of the stalls, which have dishes ready to be served. They also feature four Vietnamese outlets. One of these specialises in banh mi. Another has an array of rice paper rolls. The others sell takeaway boxes.

There’s sushi from the Japanese place and spicy Thai dishes. There are two Malaysian joints: one in the FC and another at the corner of George and Hunter Streets. HC likewise showcases Middle Eastern cuisine. The lone shop has been there for years. Not to do outdone, a budget burger place – full of deep-fried delights – could be found near the escalators. The FC also includes a fresh juice stand. Before I forget, there is also a Subway. I used to buy from them a bit.

Noontime rush

Lunchtimes could be crowded. The FC is a hot ticket in town. If you are caught in the noontime rush, finding a seat is difficult. While most of the places are indoors, there are a select number of outside tables. These would not be ideal in cold or rainy weather. In spite of the pandemic, a majority of food spots are still operating. At the height of the outbreak, sitting was not allowed. Gradually, a few chairs were provided. For months, social distancing under the four-square metre rule remained. Recently, with the easing of most citywide restrictions, the show has gone on. The seating is back to full capacity.

The FC is notable for closing early. By three pm, the whole FC has left for the day. In the early afternoon, and even during peak hour, the stops have already discounted their stuff. The prices are budget-friendly since the eats compete by value. Raising prices would be silly if the trend is to reduce them. There are other nearby FCs: MLC Centre, Australia Square, Gateway, and Westfield Sydney, to name a few. Indeed, MetCentre is a short walk away. None of them come close to the HC prices. There used to a bun place in the basement, but they left some time ago. Also in the latter is a massage parlour.

Enter the dragon

The centre has a few entrances. There is one via George Street. You would take this if alighting or catching the tram. I use the Pitt Street entrance when going to my chiropractor. Along the way, you’ll find the barbershops, the news agent, and not a few food stops. The stores on this side are mostly sandwich stops, with some pasta added for good measure. They also hawk fruit salads. There is also a Hunter Street exit down from the FC. Here, you’ll find most of the clothing alterations. HC also has some mini cafes, perfect for a pick-me-up.

‘A view to a kill’

The Pitt-Street side of the FC has floor-to-ceiling glass windows. It provides a nice view as you munch on your lunch. While sipping your laksa or fighting with your chicken, you would catch sight of the passers-by, the occasional vehicle, and the tall buildings. The vista also offers a snapshot of the current weather. HC is certainly not the latest, widest, or most modern FC. It’s not the glitziest or the avant-garde in dining. Yet HC proffers to two standout features: an enviable location and bargain prices.

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May (2021) reads

Autumn has passed in a whirlwind and winter is upon us. The time has arrived for another reading list. First off is Norwegian Wood, the book that made Haruki Murakami a superstar. This is more of a period novel, first released in 1987. The current English version, which Murakami himself authorised, is by academic Jay Rubin. Next up is The Midnight Library, a Times bestseller from last year. Matt Haig paints a vivid sketch of near-death experiences. The book reminded me of Mitch Albom’s works, particularly The Timekeeper and For One More Day. Finally, I wrap things up with a nonfiction title: Remember by Lisa Genova. The author keeps to her forte of neurological matter and brain science. This represents another popular pick coming from the writer of Still Alice.

  • Norwegian Wood (Murakami). This is my introduction into his prose, and it was a fitting one. The book is firstly a love story, chronicling two years in Toru’s love life. He recalls his first love, Naoko, who was his best friend’s girl. At the time, he stayed in the dormitory. He would amuse Naoko with stories of Storm Trooper, his roommate. He would befriend Nagasawa, who lived in the same dorm. The latter was a Casanova, and they would head to bars to pick up women. The book was set in 1969, complete with stereos, prolific letter-writing, and free love. Naoko gets ill and retreats to the hills.

While studying at university, Toru meets Midori. She is the polar opposite of Naoko: vivacious, impulsive, and candid. Though he is still in love with Naoko, Toru falls for Midori. She is the daughter of a bookshop owner and loves to speak her mind. He visits Naoko at her new pit stop and meets Reiko, who is in the same boat. Together with their fellow inhabitants, they grow their own vegetables, eat mostly fresh fruit, and teach one another new skills. After this, Toru writes to both women constantly, but Naoko could rarely muster the courage to reply. Nagasawa’s narcissism increasingly unnerves Toru, and he distances himself from the former.

He moves out of the dorm and finds his own place. When meeting up with Midori shortly thereafter, his phlegmatic stance and ruminating about Naoko creates a void between them. For months, Midori does not acknowledge him. In the end, tragedy strikes, and Toru takes a break. He wanders along the coast and sleeps in graveyards. After three weeks, he decides that it was time to return to Tokyo. He lets Reiko in as a guest, who finally leaves the shelter. He realises that Midori holds a special place in his heart and phones her.

Norwegian is quite easy to read. The text has eleven (mostly lengthy) chapters. Murakami had released a few novels before this, but – as mentioned – this put him on the map. Norwegian has been deemed semi-autobiographical. Indeed, some of Toru’s details mimic those of a younger Murakami. Their ages are similar. Both studied university in Tokyo and were then newcomers to the metropolis. Student protests overshadowed both in college. An early Murakami creation, Norwegian reveals some of his hallmarks. For instance, the inclusion of a cat and an enigmatic well could be found here. Furthermore, the main character is an only child, another feature emblematic of the novelist.Interestingly, the author admits that his earlier life could not be that eventful. Many decades on, this remains one of his most famous pieces.

Yokohama

Rating: 4.6/5

  • The Midnight Library (Matt Haig). This was a treat from the veteran author. Since being published last year, Midnight has been a mainstay on the Times bestsellers. The book combines time travel with existentialist probing. The use of the library was a brilliant conceit. At the start of the book, Nora Seed is fed up with her banal existence. Her day worsens, she finds no purpose and connection, and at the end, she’s just gutted. Enter, the Midnight Library. The repository functions like a sort of limbo. The shelves are stacked with infinite possibilities for Nora. Her mentor, the librarian, guides her through the process. The clock is stuck on midnight.

Nora picks up the Book of Regrets. She slowly works through these, starting at the major ones before proceeding to minor regrets. She gets to live various versions of herself. She indulges in her life with Dan, her ex-fiancée, and finds that their life together isn’t what she imagined. She goes to Australia, only to realize that Izzy, her best friend, has perished. She lives for fame and fortune but finds emptiness. She survives a polar bear attack in the Arctic as part of a group of scientists trying to deconstruct climate change. She uncovers a simple life looking after dogs in her hometown.

Waking up as a spouse and mother was by far the happiest iteration. She felt something different and deeper: she experienced love for Molly, her child. After each foray, whether they be days or weeks, she ends up with Mrs. Elm (the librarian). Yet, untangling the multitude of possibilities, there will always be a loose end; disappointment will loom in the corner. While in the freezing North Pole, she meets Hugo, a fellow slider. He admits that the limbo is different for various souls. In his case, it’s a video store with his uncle. In all these scenarios, Nora has to improvise. This reminded me of the show, Thank God You’re Here.

In all, Midnight has shades of Recursion by Blake Crouch. I reviewed that last year. The read also reminds me of Mitch Albom. I loved the writer’s creativity, utilising ‘Ryan Bailey’ and ‘Henry David Thoreau.’ He likewise paints a beautiful landscape with his prose. The book has short chapters, is fast paced, and the page count is reasonable. Like most worthwhile novels, the protagonist changes in the end. She appreciates what she has and exudes new joie de vivre.

Rating: 4.6/5

  • Remember (Lisa Genova). The Harvard-educated neuroscientist returns with a dissection of human memory. The book is divided into three parts. ‘How We Remember’ is Part I. The first six chapters comprise this section. This functions as a handy introduction into the mechanics of memory. She emphasises the need for paying attention in order to cinch recollections. We also need to ‘make it meaningful,’ as this adds value to our memories. Visualisation is likewise critical in the process as our brains need cues. In this section, the author unpacks muscle memory, the processes that are deeply ingrained into our psyche – like riding a bike or surfing. She also differentiates between semantic and episodic memory. The former is made up of all our stock knowledge, while the latter is your history, remembered.

Part II is called ‘Why We Forget.’ The author reveals that, as we retell our stories, they become less accurate. The further we are from the event, the more unreliable our accounts. One chapter is titled ‘Tip of the Tongue.’ The average person gets this a few times a day. Genova reveals that this happens more often with proper nouns. She cites the Baker/baker paradox, where subjects would remember the common noun more than the surname. The author also assures us that remembering stuff is not always better. When we do want to recall, we can always use lists, calendars, diaries, and even mind maps. She then discusses ‘Normal Aging’ and ‘Alzheimer’s.’

Part III is Improve or Impair. Genova kicks off the final section with a nudge for people to contextualize. If you’re struggling to remember something, try to retrace your steps. Memories are far likelier to be recalled when the conditions match the original. You are more likely to make associations. She also dedicates a chapter on stress. The latter causes all sorts of ailments, so chilling out is key. Genova debunks myths. For instance, she points out that there’s no scientific evidence that drinking red wine prevents Alzheimer’s. The same applies to dark chocolate, coffee and tea. Instead, she advances certain dietary approaches, exercise, yoga, and meditation.

The author brings this altogether in the fourteen-page Appendix. The writing could get a little technical. However, the short chapters allay this. In general, Genova’s language was quite straightforward. There is no doubt that this is a well-researched book.

Rating: 4.1/5

Present-day Shinjuku
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A puppy’s (healthy) lunch

At the best of times, having pets can rejuvenate your life. They shine a light in the darkness and are your trusty companions. Therefore, giving them the right attention and proper nutrition is imperative. While they may be cute and cuddly, they could turn into Wolfman if not fed properly. I notice odd behaviour by dogs here in Sydney. They don’t bark as much as our dogs overseas. I deduce that this is from a lack of a balanced diet.

Case in point

Last year, my friend and I bought subway sandwiches. We then hung out at the park to eat these. I had already finished my sandwich, but my friend had only gotten one bite. Around this time, a guy was walking his dog. The canine made a dash at us. Sensing trouble, my pal hid their unfinished sandwich behind them on the seat. The brown labradoodle made a beeline for the sandwich and finished it in a few big bites.

Afterward, the owner was apologetic. He concurred that he has been teaching his canine, but that – at two years old – she is still a puppy. He admitted that ‘my dog loves sandwiches.’ He told us that he can buy my pal a new sandwich. My friend said he didn’t need to go through the trouble. My bud refused to accept the guy’s money, but he left the ten-dollar note on the chair. I observed that this kind of pouncing didn’t happen as much in the Philippines.

Another example

One time, I was hanging out at another park. I bought some McDonald’s with me. As I munched on my chips, this Pomeranian was hanging nearby. She kept staring at my grub. Was this normal dog behaviour? I did not flick her a chip as there were other dogs around and I did not want to tempt fate. Compared to humans, dogs have a heightened sense of smell. There has been a plethora of depictions in the media about this. This only serves to foreground canines as ‘man’s best friend.’

Feisty felines

This time, we take a detour from dogs. I hung out at Darling Harbour (in Sydney’s CBD) together with two mates. We had barely sat when this Indian chick took a bite from her pork roll. Suddenly, a pack of underfed cats converged on her late lunch and clawed at the sumptuous roll. The woman tried to laugh it off, but it was a good cautionary tale on the perils of flashing your lunch.

I’m sure some of you have heard about the boar incident. A German man was sunbathing on this beach when the boar stole his laptop. He chased the hog around – buck naked. Some of the beachgoers captured the moment. With his permission, the file was uploaded and became a viral hit.

The secret is out

In spite of these proclivities, most pets could give you pure joy. Dogs are incredibly intelligent and loyal animals. Given the right diet, healthy exercise, and tender loving care, these pets will flourish. Humans have long grasped these attributes, making canines ubiquitous companions. They catch saucers in the park. They guide the blind. They detect anomalies in airports. They rescue people on the beach. They act alongside stars in movies and on telly. Indeed, even Hagrid -with his quaint cottage – has Fang (a bloodhound). They’re the sidekick par excellence – for all seasons.

Invaluable

True empathy for your critters holds no dollar value. Whether they’re adorable lap dogs, border collies, or Saint Bernard’s, you will treat them as another member of your family. You ought to treat them right. I recall this exam for Good Morals in grade one. Part of it was multiple choice. There were a few illustrations, and you would pick the right one. In one question, there was a picture of a dog being spanked. Another choice had the dog being patted. Such an existentialist dilemma, ay? For a moment, I wonder who would’ve picked the dog spanking as their response. My naughty classmates?

Though they’ve been around for millennia, we are just beginning to tap into the tremendous potential of these furry creatures. For instance, the chihuahua can trace its beginnings back to ancient Mexico. Incidentally, one of my peers have found the chihuahua quite annoying, with their high-pitched bark. Shame, since they could fit in your bag and are thus quite handy. Indeed, dogs have supposedly been evolved from wolves. Times have changed and technology has evolved, but dogs remain a large part of human culture. The landline and pager have gone out of vogue. The video store has long left. The typewriter is dead. Instead, the humble canine has outlasted them all.

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2001: a voyage in time

For this week’s post, we turn back the clock…to 2001. Two decades seem like a long time but they sure pass by quickly. Before we teleport to twenty years earlier, let us consider the status quo. The coronavirus remains the biggest concern at the moment. In particular, India has been ravaged. The death toll has been incredible. This is not to say that the pandemic is foreign to us. International travel is not happening this year. Social distancing remains in place. While numbers have been down, there has still been a few local cases. Events have been cancelled and crowd attendance at matches, closely monitored. One need only remember the last Aussie Open. The fortnight began with restricted attendees, only for the tournament to be made crowd-free.

Social studies

Twenty years ago, what was I up to? I was a student in a Catholic school, having just wrapped up an eventful year. I had started reading Harry Potter and was loving it. In December of 2001, I had watched the first Potter film at the cinemas. It was a full house. I would get 95% in social studies, which was the highest in my year. It was by far my favourite subject. Reading the sports section of the dailies became a routine. The education system then was quite different. Nowadays, the Philippines follows a K-12 program where all years are compulsory. In high school, there are now a variety of learning streams which were not present before. 

No Grisham, no Picoult

At my age, I have yet to read some big names like Grisham, Baldacci, Picoult, and Connelly, to name a few. The Da Vinci Code hadn’t been released. That school year, I joined the school paper for the first time. Then, they published three of my articles. I became sports editor the following year. There was no such thing as an iPhone. Neither were there iPads. Facebook was still a few years away. Google had been around for less than a decade. I remember Buwan ng Wika (Language Month), which transpired in August. I recall agape, where we would sit together in groups and discuss matters of the faith. At the same time, we would share a meal. 

Days of yore

Due to the lack of social media, ultra-thin laptops, and emojis, the era had a very different feel. People wrote letters instead of emails. Landlines were still in. There were no trending topics or memes. Online shopping didn’t exist. However, some things were already on hand. Food delivery was happening. We would sometimes order from them when we wanted something different. Halo-halo on Sundays was lovely. Chicken-Joy, palabok, sariwang lumpia, and Jolly Spaghetti were sumptuous. Other times we’d have McDonald’s: Big Macs, cheeseburgers, McNuggets, and sundaes. 

There may not have been streaming services, but pay TV was popular. This brought the world to us: CNN, sports, HBO, and the BBC, to name a few. We were able to catch up on the latest anime episodes, often dubbed in Filipino. Others would view reality and lifestyle shows. Earlier that year, Denzel Washington won a second Oscar for his gritty portrayal of a corrupt five-oh. In lighter news, the first Shrek movie was released on 18 May 2001. It was an inchoate time, where the next phase was just commencing. The time had a nineties feel but shades of 2010’s. I feel nostalgic remembering those days. 

Manila

The following summer, in 2002, I was probably in Manila – a few weeks before the start of the next school year. It wasn’t a vacation; I was there for a reason. Less than a year ago (2000), I joined a school tour to the nation’s capital. We occupied two buses for three days of work and play. We stayed in a dorm. Regardless, I started tuning into Slam Dunk, which would be a talking point for the whole school. I remember visiting SM Manila and did some shopping. I snagged some Jag items. I remember seeing Spider-Man (the original) at the cinemas with family. I also recall twice going to Chinatown. I recall buying some books in a National Bookstore, including The Little Vampire, a Grant Hill bio, and Michael Jordan: a biography. The shop was in Recto Avenue.

‘NBA Action’

Speaking of Jordan, Ronald Lazenby had yet to pen the definitive biography. The late Kobe was only on one ring at that point. Steph Curry was still a teenager. He was tagging along during his dad, Seth’s, dog days. Even LeBron was in high school. At the time, Shaq was the most dominant player in the league. Hakeem was still suiting up, as were Ewing, Gary Payton, and David Robinson. I recall the All-Star game, which I watched for the first time. Kobe talked in Italian. Jason Kidd was my favourite then. The association only had twenty-nine teams and had a second Canadian franchise. There were no outfits in Brooklyn, Oklahoma, and New Orleans but there were in Seattle, New Jersey, and Vancouver. 

Summer

We had four dogs at home. Our house was beside a massive mango tree. Summer spelled vacation time, a respite after the long school year. May would have been the height of summer, with cool smoothies, lots of mangoes, and ice cream. It also meant fruits like santol. As per above, this is also the time of the NBA Playoffs, where legends are made. That May, the Lakers, Spurs, Sixers, and Bucks were still alive. They were the few squads who had a legitimate shot at the Larry O’Brien trophy. While the Lakers swept the Spurs, the Bucks gave the Sixers all they could handle, forcing a Game 7. 

The Lakers pulverised the opposition, going a then-record 15-1 in the postseason. They got out of the West without a single setback. The Sixers were worthy adversaries in The Finals. Iverson dropped 48 points in Game 1 in LA. However, playing 1-on-5 he wouldn’t emerge victorious. My favourite moment of that playoffs was when he hit a shot over Ty Lue late in Game 1. Marv Albert’s sentiment was priceless. The LA title repeat was arguably the sports story of the year. However, the biggest headline belonged to the 9/11 attacks. A terrorist strike at the world’s financial and media hub…in broad daylight? In the aftermath, even a mighty cub named Tiger had to cancel his golfing event. I’ll make sure to expand on this in the future, when I commemorate 9/11 on its 20th anniversary.   

Simple joys

Unlike today, social distancing or wearing a mask were not required. Establishments were not capped at a certain number of visitors. You could enjoy the game as a supporter and did not have to worry. You could go to the beach, get a tan, and not squirm about whether the spell is short-lived. You could go to Reykjavik or Samarkand, the Pantanal or Kilimanjaro. As long as you fulfilled the travel requirements, you were on your way. Going back to the present, we sometimes took these things for granted. These simple joys are more precious than we imagined. Looking forward, what would the next twenty years have in store for us? 

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Ozark (2018) reviewed

I’d been streaming Ozark for some time and have wrapped up the viewing early this week. The series derives its title from the Missouri Ozarks, where a family of four converge to launder money. Jason Bateman stars as Marty White, with strong support from Laura Linney (Wendy Bryde), Julia Garner (Ruth Langmore) and other talented actors. Three seasons have been completed, each numbering ten episodes. These individual eps range from 52 to 80 minutes. Ozark’s theme and premise have been compared to Breaking Bad and Narcos. The programme is one of Netflix’s most popular shows. The series is currently in production for its fourth and final season.  

Season 1 (2017)

The first thing you notice about the show is the perpetually overcast weather. Perhaps this is always the case in the Missouri Ozarks. The second thing you’ll grasp is the show’s unusual intro, featuring a big letter O with the characters z-a-r-k within. The latter four letters are always different images. The series starts in Chicago, where Marty lives with his family. He owns an accounting firm and launders money for the Navarro cartel. Del, a lieutenant in the organisation, pays them a visit. He understands that Marty’s workmates have been stealing money. He kills off the entire firm, but Marty gets a deal: he has to launder $500 million in five years. Marty is able to walk away with the promise of being a ‘washing machine’ in the Ozarks.

He then sells off all his assets to pay back the $8 million which his pals have nicked. He also learns that his wife is unfaithful to him, which ends badly for her lover boy. Having moved to the Ozarks, Marty immediately takes stock of his new surroundings. By season’s end, he manages to be a silent partner in a few legitimate businesses. These include a strip club, a funeral home, and the Blue Cat Inn. Shortly upon arrival, he meets Ruth Langmore. Initially, the lass is intent on terminating him and running off with the dough, but cooler heads prevail. She then becomes Byrde’s right-hand. While initially confused about the sudden move, Byrde’s children get the low-down on their disguise.

They meet the Snells, who grow poppies. The two sides clash, as Marty’s expansion threatens the Snell’s bread and butter. Charlotte, Marty’s kid, hangs out with Wyatt, Ruth’s cousin. Marty acts as go-between as the cartel tries to make a deal with the Snells. However, things take a deadly turn when Del insults the latter. This all transpires as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) keeps tabs on the Brydes. Agent Petty even manages to get some snitches against Marty, but his investigation makes little progress.  

Season 2 (2018)

The second season introduces a new party into the equation: the Kansas City mafia. Marty believes that a casino would solve many of his problems. However, he has to have a few things fall into place before the magic can happen. He needs senate approval to open a new casino in the state. The Brydes then have to deal with a lobbyist in his glasshouse. His clout per se could swing the voting in their favour. Through a bit of blackmail, cajoling, and some blind luck, the casino gets approved. In the aftermath though, a state senator falls on his sword.  

Ruth’s father, Cade, is released from prison. He soon becomes a headache with his vices, demands, and domineering personality. Later in the season, Charlotte lets it be known that she wants to emancipate. The family’s drama tires her, and she wants out. We are also introduced to Helen Pierce, the cartel’s in-house lawyer. She is the main negotiator this time between the cartel and the Snells. Marty manages to secure the land from the Snells and they become dispensable.

As a side note, the Snells almost got their operation outed. Wendy helped burned the poppy field. However, the Bureau team managed to find bones from plantation. By swapping these fragments with the Snell’s ancestors, the cartel was able to get them out of trouble. At season’s end, Marty devises a plan for his family to retire from their business. Once the casino is up and running, he intends to bring his family to the Gold Coast. However, Wendy nixes this plan and convinces him that this scenario is the best possible one. Wyatt, unsure despite a uni offer, learns from Ruth that she’s responsible for both his father and uncle’s demise. He becomes fed up with the family and leaves. Agent Petty is killed, and Cade Langmore gets his comeuppance.

Season 3 (2020)

Following the explosive end to season two, the latest instalment sees the Byrde family thriving with their new casino. However, with great progress comes great challenges. The FBI audits the Byrde’s casino and lingers in their business. Charlotte reneges on her emancipation demand but dictates that her parents attend counselling. The couple therapy is a farce with Marty secretly paying off Sue Shelby to side with him during discussions. When Wendy counters with her own bribe, Marty gives Sue a lump sum final payment to keep mum on their illicit dealings. Soon, she is going about in a luxury sportscar. This doesn’t bode well with Helen, who has her eliminated. A Kansas mobster attacks Ruth. She is furious that Marty wouldn’t terminate her assailant. Wyatt becomes involved with Darlene Snell.

We are introduced to Erin, Helen’s rebellious teen daughter. Erin lives with her father and brother in Chi-town. She eventually learns about her mother’s disguise after Ben confronts them. The latter develops a relationship with Ruth but soon relapses. Without the right routine, he morphs into the Incredible Hulk. In effect, the season reminded me of early Six Feet Under. Billy, Brenda’s brother, was just as difficult as Ben. He also dated Claire Fisher but, soon after, became unravelled. The latter half of the third canto was heartbreaking. It also shows that Wendy’s a toughie, as if that wasn’t obvious enough. She has also been in direct contact with Omar Navarro, the head honcho. Throughout the third instalment, she has been championing the cause of expansion. Her desires to purchase a second casino has courted trouble during the aforementioned counselling sessions. The end sees three main characters going to Mexico to meet Navarro. Only two of them will survive.

Compelling

Acting-wise, Julia Garner shines with two Primetime Emmy’s. Meanwhile, Bateman has found his mark as part-time director. He earned himself an Emmy for directing. Critical acclaim has met all three seasons. Some of the actors have grown on the show, including the Byrde children. Throughout the series, the eye-catching Ozarks are featured. Characters have even made use of boats to showcase the lush greenery and serene waterways.

The programme’s humanity is what appealed to me. The characters have their own quirks and flaws, and you could well relate to them. Though the eps are around an hour in length, there’s fairly a lot of going on. You wouldn’t feel the runtime. The fourth season would be fourteen eps altogether. These will be divided into two parts of seven eps apiece. I’m glad I walked into Ozark. With a balanced mix of impassioned drama and compelling action, the series lives up to the hype.

Rating: 4.55/5

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