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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

Wearing your faith on your sleeve

In my new job, I now find myself part of a community that is both deeply and wonderfully familiar, and a little foreign around the fringes. My Christian roots are decidedly “post-Evangelical”, although I now balk at using too many labels to define my faith in God, except to say that I’m still learning and I’ve recently had a hermeneutic breakthrough.

All this to say that I come from a tradition with a flat and patriarchal hierarchy (no elders with collars or hats or robes, but still all male), and I’m getting used to being referred to as laity (not directly, but that is the bucket to which I now belong.)

I am loving the differences. I am loving learning about the differences, even as I am enjoying the security and natural ease that comes from being among the like-minded. Until recent years, I hadn’t realised how I’ve been holding my breath in the workplace, or
“reining my Christianity in”. Mainstream sentiment in Australia already seems hostile towards religion, but especially towards Islam and Christianity. It’s been the biggest culture shock for me, coming from a country that celebrates and emphasises distinct cultures and religions. To be “overtly Christian” — especially in the workplace — therefore seems like an open invitation for questions on my fairness, motives, and tolerance; an open season for potential discrimination suits and assumptions about my intellect.

In recent weeks, the topic of a more “overt Christianity” has cropped up several times in various forms at work and at home. At bible class recently for instance, I wondered if my decade-old approach of trying to Live By Example rather than Talking the Salvation Message has actually been a giant cop-out that I’ve justified to myself after living in Australia this long.

Since migrating here, I’ve come to realise (to my huge surprise) that on most policy issues, I am decidedly left-leaning (even if Labor leadership right now seems about as impressive as wet lettuce), but I also care deeply about issues supported by the Right. Just yesterday, I admitted in a public forum to a long-time friend that I am a Pro-life Feminist. To some circles, this sounds as paradoxical as a Thinking Christian. To other circles, the bemusing paradox is the fact that I am a Christian Feminist.

And then a couple days ago, I was asking about the collars that clergy wear and the origin of the collar, and we ended up digressing to how modern clergy go without the collar nowadays. Yet if every ordained priest wore their collar in the street, said Emma, there would be hundreds of them just walking about doing their own thing – and society at large might suddenly realise that there are actually more Christians in their midst than they thought. Than even we might think.

Brilliant idea.

In this age, the war-cry on social issues has been for greater tolerance – and by tolerance, it increasingly seems to mean the suppression of even personal convictions, judgements, and lifestyles. “The intolerance of the intolerant” has been used to suppress differences of opinion by characterising dissent as hate, and to elevate (left-leaning) neutrality – rather than dialogue – as the greatest good.

But it’s a fallacy – no one can please everybody. Even among the tolerant, there is no One True Correct in political correctness. We all believe nuances of different things across the board – which means at any given time, someone is going to get royally pissed off with you if they ever got to hear what you really believe and think.

Which brings me back to collars and overt Christianity.

I don’t have a collar, and I don’t even own a pendant of the Cross. And maybe it’s the mellowing of age, but I no longer feel the imperative to jump into the fray on parenting forums about seatbelt laws, let alone hot button issues like same-sex marriage and that plebiscite. But I want to be authentic about who I am, what I believe, and why. And that takes more courage than I currently feel, all the more so when Christians seem to be lying so low in our community that the national narrative about us is that we’re nothing more than a hypocritical, whiny, fun-killing gay-hating hick minority taking our sermons from fire-brimstone pedophiles, instead of a sizeable population that is just as conflicted about lots of issues,that doesn’t profess to have all the answers, but that is earnest about community and being a champion of the downtrodden – “the widows and orphans in distress”.

If you’re a Christian reading this, please help me by “putting on your collar” – not just in your home and church, but in the streets, in your workplaces, in areas of life where we’re assumed to be intolerant until proven “not that kind of Christian”. It helps me recognise I have a compadre. If we all shine a little beacon to say “I’m here, just doing my thing”, it makes the way clearer and the journey less lonely.

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Sharing books from my childhood 

Arddun’s getting ready for Bigger School – transitioning next year from preschool to Kindy. And I suddenly got nostalgic about school and the books I used to read. 

Found these online and decided to buy them. This was the edition I had growing up – same illustrations, same paper smell. The Naughtiest Girl in the School was my second Enid Blyton and Big Girl book that I read on my own. (My first was The Three Golliwogs but even then, the font was too big for me to feel like I was reading a properly grown-up book.) 

I’m planning to read a chapter a night with Arddun. Hope she loves it as much as I did. 

How to build a Capsule Wardrobe in tiny, tiny steps

I recently came across a minimalist fashion website about Capsule Wardrobes, and the very concept both fascinated and terrified me. 

Basically, the challenge is that you choose 30 items for your wardrobe (including footwear!) to mix and match for an entire season. 

Thirty. Considering I’ve now started an office job as well,  I can no longer pass off home togs as going-out duds simply by throwing on a smart jacket and sliding on some lippy in the car. 

Thing is,  I am already recycling the same old clothes week in week out. It gets especially bad in winter –  everything pretty gets swathed in the same winter coat or thick woollen tunics anyway.

HOWEVER. It’s now Spring,  I have a new office job, and my walk-in wardrobe is basically a dumping ground of ironing I have yet to conquer since 1993.

While I know I need a kick up the backside to refresh my wardrobe and think hard about how to deal with my clutter, the other slightly terrifying thing is the throwing out of things. I am HUGELY sentimental when it comes to crockery and clothes,  I’ve come to realise. This has only gotten worse since my mother died. She is inextricably linked to a third of the clothes I will never wear but will never want to give away because they are living memories to me. They speak of many shopping days gone by –  we loved shopping with each other. We didn’t have to buy anything –  it was all about the discovering. 

Most of these clothes were my mother’s way of showing she was missing me when I moved a continent away. Some of them have never fit me, but I never told her because I didn’t want her to feel she was losing touch. 

How does one declutter like that?! 

Simply by allocating them to a box in the corner of the walk-in robe. After reading a few blog posts about capsule wardrobes obviously written for sentimental schmoos like me, I am resolved to do the following. 

  1. Putting away the seasonal stuff first. 
    That’s an easy one, because winter has just ended. I used to rotate summer and winter outfits in my wardrobe Before Children, and I need to get back in that habit. 
  2. Tossing out the Absolutely Nots
    And being really brutal if I can. No, I’m not going to tell myself I’ll fit in them again. Because if I were to ever fit into those size 6s again, I’ll look like mutton dressed as lamb anyway. As for the things my mother gave me,  I’ll have to find a special box and limit myself to that space.
  3. Definitely Maybes
    Before she moved to Perth, Rosie C had told me about this Japanese decluttering principle where you mull over each item and whether it brings you joy. And if it doesn’t, to then think fondly of the times you’ve shared before letting go. Something rama-ding-dong like that. Very Dharma & Greg. We had a bit of a guilty giggle, mostly because as daft as it sounds, it feels like a process worth trying. In the privacy of my home. With no one looking, and moody jazz playing, and posh OJ swirling in wine glass because wine = itchy for me. 
  4. The final countdown
    The magic number in other articles is 30, but I’m just going to go with my age and try streamlining my mix-and-match wardrobe to 37 choice pieces. Per season. Which means really,  I’m trying to reduce my capsule wardrobe to 37 x 4= over 4 seasons. 
  5. The peace of resistance
    This is probably the other part of the exercise that is going to mess with my head big time: not shopping for togs. Or bling. Or shoes. If I am going to train myself to live within my means (and I have lots and lots of means!), it means not adding to an already bursting wardrobe every time I go out. I will,  however, reward myself at the end of each season with a small shopping spree – only because I suspect I’ll learn more during the process what I’m missing from a Capsule Wardrobe. Like a good, tailored all-purpose jacket. Or something. 

But these aren’t exactly “tiny-tiny” steps, I hear you say. Don’t worry. I’ve recently come across another interesting project management theory that I’d like to test out on this decluttering mission. More on that to come later this week. 

Meanwhile… 

Here’s a good article about Capsule Wardrobes. And a good introduction to the different approaches to capsules. And hey, Wikipedia – so it must really be a thing. And this guide is great too. And also, Pinterest

5 reasons to migrate to Canberra

So you’re dead set on migrating to Australia, except you’re not sure where to land. Do you go for the usual suspects — Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide (in that order), or do you get really crazy and try the less beaten track?

australia-map

I moved to Canberra in July 2003, thinking it was going to be an 18-month tree change. Thirteen years later, I live to tell how the unlikeliest of cities grew on me and why I’m suggesting you give Canberra a try.

  1. Canberra is classified by Immigration as “Regional”

    Let’s start with the most practical of reasons: your visa. Canberra falls under the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme, which means choosing to come here gives you one extra option for your PR application. The Subclass 187 visa is a permanent residence visa for skilled workers who have been nominated by an employer to live and work in regional Australia. Under this visa, you usually will have to work and live in Canberra for a minimum of 2 years before you can stretch your exploring legs… but 2 years is a good length of time for you to figure out whether you and Canberra are secretly made for each other.

  2. It’s a glorified country town

    I say that a lot about Canberra, and I say that with huge affection for the place. If you’re a City person like me, Canberra is about as “country” as you can tahan before it starts to feel too ulu. It’s bushland with mod cons sprinkled with *some* decent shopping malls and food. It’s the Tree Change you crave with decent internet speeds and MUCH better coffee. It’s the intimacy of a small town (population ~350,000!) with the sophistication of a Capital city. And driving here is a breeze — even in peak hour traffic.

  3. We get four seasons here

    Yes. Winters are WINTERS, and Summers are SUMMERS. You get the extremes of temperatures here, which means you never get sick of the weather for too long. Winter is cold, I’ll grant you that. It goes down to the minuses — so you’re either now thinking, “SHIOK AH!” or already shivering at the prospect. I can assure you that the body acclimatises eventually, and a well-insulated house makes a world of difference. We also get a lot of sun in winter. It’ll be bright as anything during lunch time so you think, “I’ll just go for a walk!”, and then you step outside and it’s friggin’ ZERO. But winters are generally quite cheerful here.

    Spring is very pretty and it’s also what Canberra is know for, but Autumn really grabs my heart. Autumn here is like walking around outside in free air-conditioning EVERY SINGLE DAY. It’s perfect weather — dry, sunny but not too hot, and the air is fresh and crisp all year long. My lifelong sinuses cleared up here, as did my skin. Some months of the year, I hardly break a sweat. Singapore, you step outside the shower already, you have to turn around and shower again. Look forward to saving water here.

  4. It’s comfortable living

    The rest of Australia reacted with disbelief, scorn, and even outrage when the OECD did some number crunching and scored Canberra the most livable city in the world out of 362 regions in their member states. No kidding.

    Yes, such qualitative scoring does tend to exclude that other equally stirring yet inscrutable criterion: that certain je ne sais quoi — call it vibe, character, or soul. But against the OECD’s “wellbeing” yardsticks, Canberra does look good on paper, scoring over nine points out of a possible 10 for all eight of their indicators — Income, Health, Safety, Accessibility of Services, Civic Engagement, Education, Jobs, Environment. We scored a perfect ten for income, safety, and civic engagement. Canberrans have the highest income per capita, possess the highest education standards per capita, and live in bigger houses on average. And it hasn’t been a fluke judgement, by the way. We’ve been ranked the top for a couple of years now.

    In crucial ways then, Canberra is a lot like Singapore — it’s safe, it’s got a huge middle-class, it’s got a good healthcare network (albeit pricier), and its natives revere educated. Its land size is also similar to Singapore’s, perhaps fractionally bigger.

    I was told this rather bizarre fact the other day by two chefs: Canberra also has the highest number of restaurants per capita in Australia. As you can imagine, this last one is a hotly contested fact among the loud and proud Australian cities but the fact remains – the food scene here is growing.

    There are, of course, also huge differences between Singers and Canberra which I’ll leave for another post. But by and large, you won’t be in for too much of a culture shock in terms of living standards.

  5. Fellow Singaporeans are few and far between

    And this can be a good thing, and this can be a terrifying thing. It depends on you, lah. If you want to move from one crowded city filled with Singaporeans to another crowded city also filled with Singaporeans, then you might struggle here.

    But honestly hor… if you want to spend so much money and time and effort and braincells and heartache to upside-down your life and start over in a different land, only to hang out mostly with the same kind of kaki spouting the same kind of Singlish eating the same kind of food, then… you migrate for what?


I’ll be honest — Canberra isn’t for everyone. You might find the winters too bitterly cold for you, especially if the insulation in your home is crap. You might find the quiet too deafening, the stillness too cloying, the peace too dull.

flying-over-canberra
Canberra. Artificial, yet genuine. Photo credit: Woroni (http://www.woroni.com.au/)

Or you might chance upon that hidden underbelly of hipsterdom beneath the superficial layer of constipated Government blah this city is infamous for. You might gradually break through the seeming cool cordiality of its inhabitants to find them possessed of very warm, very generous, very witty centres. Canberra is stately and formal, and indie-chic and cheeky. It’s the country’s punching bag that rarely bothers to straighten the record or apologise for itself — mostly because it’s also rather secure and self-satisfied… and even a little smug. Yet something else us Singaporeans can identify with.

Any change as big as migration is going to result in culture shock and take some getting used to. But if you’re willing to give things a chance, Canberra can very pleasantly surprise.

Why I’ve started a Facebook Page

I’ve been blogging semi-regularly since I came to Canberra 13 years ago. To me, it has always been about keeping in touch with family and friends in Singapore and around the globe – an extension of my Facebook profile, really. A means of chronicling our moments and milestones, of keeping a loose scrapbook of my life in general and my children’s lives in particular.

And I dare say that for the most part, my blog will continue in that vein. I think having the children has sharpened the focus of my writing, and has in turn brought me a small but loyal following of readers within my family and friends. Thank you for keeping in touch all these years and for delighting in my delights. I love writing these open letters to you.

Continue reading “Why I’ve started a Facebook Page”

Yelled I to Atticus this morning:

STOP SNORTING YOUR PEAR CHIPS!

Let me explain.

Which isn’t too far off from what Arddun’s done before.

When your daughter gets called a Bitch

It happened when I least expected it. We were at a small indoor playground at the local mall we frequent. We had just finished lunch. I had groceries to grab. Atticus was due for a nap but he had been hankering for the playground, so there we were.

Continue reading “When your daughter gets called a Bitch”

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