Neighbourhood Welcome

From 2001 to 2010, our young family moved ten times for my husband’s work. Twice we moved to different countries, four times to different cities, ten times to different neighbourhoods.

The first of these moves was from my husband’s hometown, where the same handful of families had lived for two or three generations. We moved to Hamilton, New Zealand, where we knew one Malaysian couple.

A Pakeha lady from a local church baked a batch of biscuits and gave them to us in a reusable plastic container, with a note. For some reason, the only thing that I remember about the note was that we could keep the container.

Perhaps it was because there is a kind of leanness to a new home. Every cup, pot, and plate has been brought over or acquired, not accumulated the way stuff naturally aggregates when you live in one place for a long time.

New Zealand Neighbourhood
Our new neighbourhood in New Zealand as seen from our driveway.

Our house was newly-built and unfenced. It was hard to keep the children penned in  while I was hanging out the laundry. Once, when my back was turned, they stumbled on their chubby legs down the slope. Fortunately, our new neighbour, Maria, who had very short hair and very long nails spotted them and asked, ‘Does your mother know where you are?’

As a result of my husband’s work, we moved from Hamilton, to Tauranga, and back to Hamilton again. This time, we moved into an old log-cabin-styled home. Some time after we had settled in, we noticed a new family moving into the row of units to our right. Having grown up in multi-cultural Malaysia, I instinctively avoided any welcome gift containing pork or beef, and baked them a cake.

After knocking, I waited, anticipation laced with nervousness. The door opened and I saw a grey-haired lady in a kurtha, an old man in a turban, and, I think, young children. The parents of the children were out. When I left, the cake was still in my hands. They didn’t eat eggs.

Seven house moves later, we introduced ourselves to all our neighbours, bearing a gift of Bracegirdles handmade chocolates. The Japanese lady two doors from us exclaimed, ‘Oh, in Japan, the new people introduce themselves. You’re doing this Japanese style’.

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Welcome card from my Japanese neighbour

A few days later, we retrieved this card from our letter box. Our Japanese neighbour had given us her phone number and the names of all the members of her family, in English and Japanese script. She also wrote these words: ‘I’m sure you’ve found the best Door to your life in Adelaide…If you need any help, we are here’.

We have now lived in this neighbourhood for over seven years. In this time, two neighbours have passed away, one has been involved in a motor accident and recovered, and one has had a baby. Our families have not known each other for generations, but we are not strangers either. We have some shared history, some shared memories. It’s sparse, but it’s something.

In my book, Island of Refuge, I interviewed Iraqi playwright, Sabah. He and his family fled Baqubah in 2003, applied for asylum in Jordan, and arrived in Adelaide in 2006. The family has lived here since. At the close of the last interview, he said,

‘Man belongs to his memories. Iraq was my home and I lived there a long time. My imagination is linked to those memories. I realise of course that if I had a chance to go back I will find that things have changed and I will have a shock. But still, this is the missing link in my life. In Iraq, I lived with people who shared my memories, people who knew us: Sabah the writer, Lamia, the actress; here, nobody knows us.’

Sabah and his family in Adelaide.

Perhaps knowing and being known is the essence of belonging. It’s nice when neighbours reach out to the newcomer, but if they don’t, there’s nothing to stop the newcomer from reaching out.

After ten house moves, here is my checklist for the nurture of neighbourliness:

  1. If in doubt, give fruit.
  2. Give without expecting anything in return. (After all, I once received golden Anzacs without saying thank you properly. At various times, I have attributed this to the chaos of moving, the busyness of motherhood and the lack of knowledge of local etiquette; these are all excuses.)
  3. Concentrate when the new neighbours say their names. (Can’t count the number of times I’ve forgotten the crucial point of introductions. Might have something to do with the nervousness when meeting new people.)
  4. Once out of sight, write those names down in a safe place.
  5. In time, as opportunities present themselves, offer neighbourly courtesies: pick up the mail and wheel in the bin and water the plants when they go away, exchange phone numbers, return stray children.

I would love to hear about your neighbourhood: how you’ve been welcomed, or how you welcomed new neighbours. Feel free to leave a comment. Email address will not be posted or shared.

Next week: Laundry on Life (or where we hang our laundry says a lot about our attitudes to privacy).

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How to Spot Psychological Manipulators *NEW POST*

I used to assume that I had done or said something wrong whenever people reacted badly. This post was illuminating. As I read the list, I wondered: how am I going to remember so many points? Then I reread the quote in the beginning. Just bearing that quote in mind – you learn a lot about people when they don’t get what they want – automatically puts me in a healthier relational space with another.

Source: How to Spot Psychological Manipulators *NEW POST*

My Invisible Disability

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L to R: Terri Mak, Euan Mitchell and John Duthie

Last Saturday, I attended Your Digital Publishing Options by Dr Euan Mitchell to learn learn how to convert my dad’s memoirs into an eBook.

During a round of introductions, workshop participant John Duthie speaks about a project that he and Terri Mak are spearheading called MY disABILTIES. They hope to produce a book about people with disabilities that focusses on their abilities.

Next in turn, Terri says she came to Australia in 2012 on a Working Holiday visa. In 2013, she was involved in a motor vehicle accident and sustained C5 level of injuries, resulting in tetraplegia. Euan asks how good she is with computers.

‘Well,’ she says, with infectious optimism, ‘I’m a quick learner.’

During the lunch break, another workshop participant confides in Terri, ‘I had a motor accident too. I have a 25% disability but it’s not as obvious as yours.’

It got me thinking about disabilities, visible and invisible. I don’t have a physical disability but if the ‘dis’ that precedes ‘ability’ means a non-ability, and if I stretch that to mean anything that prevents me from exercising my abilities, then my invisible disability would be self-doubt.

As an engineer, turned full-time mother, then teacher, then writer, each time I tried to reinvent myself, a voice heckled me: Who are you?  A mother whose children have grown up? A teacher with no class? A writer with no publisher? Can you even write? Teach? Parent? Engineer? Well, I don’t think I can engineer software or hardware anymore. I left that profession too long ago.

A few things have happened since I walked into that publishing workshop. Firstly, Euan equipped me with concrete tool to reissue my dad’s book online. Secondly, Terri’s can-do quick-learner attitude lifted me out of my morass of self-doubt. And finally, I’ve signed up to be a writer on the MY disABILITY team. When John emailed ‘Good job’ in response to a small task I did, I realised how much I miss being part of a team.

John and Terri are putting together a team to work on the book. They are looking for people with disabilities, writers, illustrators, proofreaders and editors. The closing date for applications is 15 October. For more info or to apply go to MY disABILITIES.

 

Parenting 101: Babies Grow Up

 

Honeydew Seeds

Once, I cut open a honeydew, scooped out the seeds and thought it looked too good for the food scrap bin. So I buried it in my vegetable patch. If nothing else, microorganisms would feed on the pulp and the seeds would be good for my soil.

The Accidental Seedling
An Accidental Seedling

A few days later, seedlings started to emerge. They were strong and vigorous. I separated and replanted them, and they thrived. In some ways, the ball of sweet pulp and seed hidden inside the honeydew reminds me of a mother’s womb, a secret place, safe and insular, primed for new life.

When I was pregnant, I watched my diet, refrained from alcohol, and fled cigarette smoke. I alone controlled what influences reached my child. The first few years of motherhood were physically exhausting, but emotionally rewarding. There were times when only I could quiet the baby. The baby didn’t want that toy, that book, that person; the baby wanted me.

But babies grow up and I was amazed at how quickly I was knocked off my pedestal. When they were toddlers, they happily allowed me to choose their library books. Now my literary recommendations to my teenagers are practically deterrents.

They have started to think for themselves and make independent choices. At first, it was alarming. This might be so for all parents, perhaps, but especially for the migrant parent, because apart from the generational gap, there is the culture gap, and it feels as if the child is venturing very far away.

But I quiet my fears and remind myself that they are children, not clones. Besides, I hope they will one day go beyond anything I ever dreamt of achieving. And to do that, they have to find their own way in the world and think their own independent thoughts.

It turned out that Adelaide weather is not suited to growing honeydew. Those promising seedlings shrivelled. But I had also started burying pumpkin seeds and two years ago harvested a bumper crop – around twenty pumpkins, no less!

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My Pumpkin Patch

At the tail end of that pumpkin season, possums in my garden discovered that pumpkins are tasty, and that was the beginning of the end. I sprinkled chilli powder on a half eaten pumpkin, but that didn’t deter them, and might have enhanced their culinary experience instead.

And yet, I still work in my a small vegetable patch because nurturing new life makes me happy. While I cannot control the weather, and am constantly battling weeds and pests, I know that if I persist in creating a nurturing environment, good things will grow.

Literature and Finance: a great combo?

What happens when you interview a 1987 Literature and Finance graduate from Xiamen University for your book? Well, you get a long reading list.

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My Reading List

Josie (not her real name) was born in 1965, a year before Chairman Mao launched the Cultural Revolution. Recalling her childhood, she tells me that the only entertainment people had at the time were eight state-sanctioned plays. Her opinion about these plays?

‘Boring!’ she says, definitively.

As a result of this intellectual deprivation, an underground network of readers emerged. People would hide banned books, read them in secret, and circulate them among like-minded friends. Books were so rare and precious that each reader could only have a book for a short time. In order to be able to reread the texts, Josie and her mother used to copy books by hand.

‘What sort of books did you copy?’ I ask.

‘Books that reflect human nature, human love, human feelings, because we were sick of political books. French classics: Camellia,’ says Josie.

From 1981 to 1987, Josie studied Chinese Literature and Finance at university. After graduating, she worked at the People’s Bank of China before flying to Perth to study English in 1990. She eventually settled in Australia as a political refugee.

As much as the first part of her story is astounding for the breadth of her reading, the second part is astounding for her business acumen. I could not have made up the story of how she moved from working on less than minimum wage to owner of not one, but two, small businesses.

I then ask Josie what she thought about the current unease over major Australian political parties receiving donations from Chinese businesses. Her reaction is swift and far more emphatic than what I had expected, ‘They should NOT! These politicians do not care where this money comes from, and Australia should guard her sovereignty.’

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In 2016, Senator Sam Dastyari lost his spot in the Labor front bench for asking a Sydney based company with close links to the Chinese government to pay his travel bill overspend of $1670.82. In his book, he explained that he had not done anything illegal but had underestimated how damning it would look beside his comments on China’s conduct in the South China Sea.

I had thought that Literature and Finance was an unusual combination, but after hours of reading the books Josie read, and hours spent writing her story, it dawns upon me that literature and finance is a great combination because it teaches you that money comes with story.

It matters where money comes from and how it is acquired. It matters because money is used to shape the future. This is a problematic thought when so much of the Australian economy is dependant on the Chinese dollar, and more broadly, when money moves fluidly around the world as if it is a neutral agent.

Danger: Blind Faith in Big Data

Originally posted on mathbabe:
It went up this morning, I hope you like it: The era of blind faith in big data must end https://embed.ted.com/talks/cathy_o_neil_the_era_of_blind_faith_in_big_data_must_end

Algorithms reflect the human biases of their designers. This matters because algorithms may decide what kind of credit card you can apply for or whether you get a job interview. Thank you Cathy O’Neil for unpacking the black box.

mathbabe

It went up this morning, I hope you like it:

The era of blind faith in big data must end

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