Friday, April 27, 2007

He doesn't understand English

When i worked as a waitstaff two years ago, VIP customers had discussion what they'd like to drink. While one guy was busy offering drinks to his friends, i asked 'pardon me?' in order to give them a courtesy notice to make up their decisions. To which he replied, "here we go, he does not understand English". I was livid but nothing happened. My superviser was moron who didn't have guts to tell them off. So my letter below is for him, if he gets in touch with popular culture and computer-literate.

Dear Sir,

I completely realise that my knowledge of English language is far from proficient and I have been aware of this problem since I have been starting to learn English 15 years ago. I should be, however, grateful for your remark: Here we go he doesn’t understand English. This remark will remind me again the need for augmenting my language dexterity. However I am certain that the phrase ‘pardon me” is commonly used in English and I wish that I could prevail upon you to look up dictionaries. I feel deeply apologetic if my question interrupted the discussion that you and your friends have. As the discussion was primarily about what alcohol drinks you and your friends should have, my question, ‘pardon me’ was sort of courtesy reminder as to decision has been reached or not. To my surprise, the response was bewildering me: you judged my poor English ability.

I asked myself sir after that incident: should my English be categorised as incomprehensible? I am in no doubt about the answer to such question. My English is fine: understandable despite some odd phrases and sentences. In other words, it is not eloquent. Yes, sir, I have an accent. But I am not alone in this matter as you may have noticed around you. With a great pleasure, I can present some evidence before you. There were moments in my life where misunderstanding caused by my English skill occurred. I learnt from it, however. Shan’t we learn from our mistakes, shall we? If my English was incomprehensible for natives, I would not certainly be able to engage in any social occasions and most likely I would not be able to have worked and served you that night. Yet it was because of my English skill that drove my fate to have experienced your manners. I am aware of different rules applied to different circumstances. I would not use the words which should not appropriately be used in a daily conversation. Likewise, I am not inclined to use colloquialism in academic writing. Once I wrote an article in Australian magazine which was aimed at selected readers. To this point, I have not had encountered any serious problem at university which my English skill may cause.

If you notice that this may sound disdainful to you, I apologise. Honestly I am not quite at ease in telling you about my educational background. Unfortunately this is the only defence that I can think of. Some people may perhaps react in the same way when they are humiliated. The reaction is reasonable as it is meant to uplift their damaged self-esteem. Furthermore, they are reacting that way in order to feel that they are not like what other people thought. I dislike seeing myself differently from you sir. Yet I wish you perfectly understand that what I am doing now is to convince you how ‘civilised’ I am, as ‘civilised’ as you are.

Please allow me to say this; my situation now is perhaps similar to your parents when they migrated to Australia. You probably have learnt this story many times when you were little whether in dining-table or somewhere else, or, if you happened to learn history, and this story was told by your parents in their natives language. Yes sir we agreed that it was appalling moment for those who migrated here. Now it is definitely different and we are pleased to know that our generation, even the Anglo-Saxon ones, is ashamed with racialism in their national history. They learn from their dark-side of history and will guarantee to minimise any potential reoccurrence. I wish you would not have done something that was done to your parents.

While I am writing this letter to you, I have been thinking of making a solemn pledge. I will never stop telling my offspring that they must not belittle any person no matter what ethnic, religion, political view, race they belong to. I wish you would have the same hope as well.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Boys Don't Cry

Ages ago i went to Frankston, a suburb which is located at the southern part of Melbourne. The first thing that was caught by my eyes was a group of men wearing short, sunglasses and sports car. This kind of guy was nearly everywhere. I know that the suburb has the beach and the beach has always been a masculine space in Australia. I am not denying that many women do hang out at the beach or do surfing as well but still the masculine culture is pervasive.

I feel suppressed sometimes by sexual cultures which sets a rigid boundaries between masculinity and femininity. I don't have a tendency to have an alternative sexuality. I am a straight guy. However, it is still difficult to draw a line between straight and less straight, between masculine and less masculine. When i hang out with some friends who have their biceps like Popeye the Sailor Man, i feel less manly. But i drink what most men drink and sometimes i also enjoy their blokey jokes. Only sexiest comments which discomfort me. Maybe concern with my body size, i was encouraged by friends to take up training at the gym. I thought once i got into the gym then the next thing that would be in my wish-list will be a sport car. I can't imagine myself driving a flashy sport car with a full-blast hip-hop music, wearing a tight t-short so people can see my muscle plus a girl siting next to me.

My dad used to tell me that i should do something that real man would do. But that was back then, in another part of the world which has a completely different sexual culture. Although it differs in their cultures, sort of adage: boys don't cry (of note, this is one of my fav song from The Cure) is a general consensus. So being tough was thought very manly. I should not cry when i was dumped by my girl. But i wept mournfully when he closed his eyes forever and i wondered if he could see me crying for him, would he say the same thing?

Once i settled in Australia, i partly learned about a set of cultural norms that prevail here. One of them is that boys don't share bed. So in several occasions, couch whether it is comfy or not was the only place for me to rest everytime i stay over at my male friends' house. I don't have any problem with it for i understand this as a culturally acceptable norm. In Jakarta, i used to hang out at a friend house. His house was kind of flexible with rules. In a tiny room with a queen size bed, four or three of us would lay there after spending the most evening chatting and drinking beer. Maybe because we know that neither of us have a tendency to like same sex relationship. There will be an awkward feeling if we knew a gay will stay over. In term of sexuality, i was not that open-minded back then, even though i claimed myself to be radical. But i do have gay friends and accept them as they are.

Here, we don't like sharing bed between boys but in some instances male kissing other males' cheeks are not that controversial. I have a friend who object to share bed with boy but at ease with the idea of kissing cheek. Oddly enough, we don't do that in Jakarta or to be precise, my friends and I never bring up the idea of kissing male cheek into our friendship.

Having learned these differences, what is called manly thing is never clear in the first place. But we actually never get into this idea as the dominant would insist that the definition of manliness never changes and would impose their definition upon others.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Call me Brad Pitt

Every time i'd like to have a cup of coffee, i always choose a rather small coffee shop. Not because of supporting a small business but usually they can make a good coffee and sometimes less queue.

Normally if you'd like a coffee in a take away cup, first you go to the counter, order a coffee then she or he will ask how many sugar in your coffee before writing down your name on the cup. Once they're ready a person whose job is pouring the milk will give the coffee by calling up (rather loudly) their names which are written on the cup. "JIM, COFFEE LATTE WITH SKIM MILK". Or JANE, SOY DECAF LATTE WEAK WITH SKIM MILK AND EXTRA FROTH ON THE SIDE".

The worse thing if the person does not have a common Anglo name such as Kate, James, Rob, Cathy, Fiona, Bill, Ben and so on. Say, he or she has a German or Albanian names. More likely the milk pourer will lower her/his voice and half-whisper: is it ujh4%Jh#@(*? My name is never called right even though i spell it out for them. A friend of mine who is German has experienced the same thing. Her name, Antje is always misspelled.

Now i always use an anglo saxon name and sometimes use celebs names as well.

The cafe person: "What would you like?"

Me: "Latte, regular and two sugar please"

The cafe person: "Your name?"

Me: "Brad Pitt. If i use my real name you would find it hard to pronounce it and it will be embarrassing, won't it"

The cafe person: "????"

Friday, April 13, 2007

Blogs and their mundane stories

No one will deny me that you can pretty much write anything on your blog. If you feel like to write how bad the traffic was in the morning is fine. Jotting down about making out with your crush is also great. Even if you just want to post how furious you were to find out your cousin vomiting all over your house is absolutely okay. You are also not restricted to write about a verbose political or philosophical ideas. Blog is functioning like kids' diaries.

Some might tag blogs which have a lot of mundane stories as self-obsessed nerd. Have a look a letter from David M. Ewalt to all twitters:

Dear self-obsessed nerds,

I'm not interested in what you had for breakfast. I don't need to know when you leave for work. Got stuck in bad traffic? Keep it to yourself. Your work habits aren't even important to your coworkers. Your lunch choices matter to no one. Now you're reading your favorite blogs? Color me uninterested. When you leave work, I don't want to hear it. If you go out for drinks, keep it between you and the bartender. And when you get home, don't share your TV viewing habits. They're about as interesting as watching paint dry. What are you doing? I really don't care.

Yours truly, Dave

He apparently missed something. Blogging as an activity is not merely recording what you were up to yesterday or what you have thought on particular topic. What he missed is that blogging can function as diary. He also fails to notice that through ordinariness bloggers build a virtual community. In a life outside your laptop or PC, it is odd to think yourself telling about your mundane life to a complete strangers sitting next to you in a bus or train and expect them to make a comment on it even though that at particular time both of you are probably thinking of how delicious breakfast that you had this morning.

But in blogsphere, you won't get freaked out when a complete stranger who live in the other side of the world shared the same feeling. Once they like your blog, they will return and check how you are. I am amazed to know that people can be regular visitor and have a conversation with the blog-owner. It is like popping in at peoples' house and have a chat, but without a cup of tea and biscuit or cheese platter, isn't it? I am even more amazed how bloggers can build such a beautiful relationship amongst themselves as if they've met before. When you are sick and your workmates do not give a shit about it, blogmates will give you support. When you are feeling low, they will cheer you up. So are they a bunch of self-obsessed nerds?

I don't really care if David does not like reading mundane stuff. But I do like reading what people have for breakfast. I do want to know what they feel about particular thing. One particular blog that talks about mundane life is my blogmate, Steph, her writings show how powerful the banality is. Every posting at least attract more than 50 comments. Ah well she deserves thousand comments as her postings will always make you laughing your arse off. Her creativity of coining new word such as boganesque is a great attraction to me (i like to make a new one as well, it is called dodginise which means to make things worse or dodgy). Her writings abound in wit. She is also quite good in maintaining the relationship with her readers by responding their comments. Anyway, i wish her cousin who spew all over her floor did not get an inspiration from my nickname. If he did then i should ask for an apology.

Sometimes we underestimate all the trivial things that happen in our life. In fact, people can learn from what we thought trivial. They can even share knowledge through their daily experiences.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


I've never thought about my identity before. I thought it was clear that i am not American or Malaysian. I lived in the country where i was born and i also spoke the same language as others, ate the same food. But only my ethnic background which is often questioned at the first encounter. Once a lady thought that i was an expat when i had lunch with my Australian friend in Jakarta. I was thought as Moroccan.

However, the question of who i am has been spinning around in my head since i've been living in Australia for 5 years. Here, people will ask what is your nationality if you do have different accent (funnily enough, some people recognise my Aussie accent in my english even though i tried to hide it by saying bollocks all the time, but yeah woteva mate!). If your accent and skin colour are not too distinctive compared to Anglo-Saxon Australian then people like to know whether you have Greek, Italian, and Croatian heritage.

In multicultural society like Australia, identity is very complex. What is called Australian is hard to define although a power walk and track-suit lover Howard suggests 'mateship' as a typical characteristic of Australian identity. Australian born but have middle-eastern background who were involved in the Cronulla riot will insist that they are Australian despite defamation against their ethnic backgrounds. If they don't drink Victoria Bitter but love to sunbathing on the beach, have an existential relationship with their thongs, have a Vegemite for breakfast, would Alan Jones and John Howard call them Australians? I doubt it! I also doubt it if he lived during 19th century, Cecil Rhodes would think of him as part of superior race, unless you were from respectable class in Britain.

Difference is perhaps the key why the issue of identity comes to the fore. By noticing and then maintaining the difference between 'US' and others, it is enough to create the wall amongst human race even though they live under the same roof.

I felt a bit lost when i go back to Jakarta. My friends thought that i was different. I was more like any other expats that they've met or seen. My gesture? Not sure. Maybe the way i am thinking? Or my life style? I could not answer them all because i am afraid of being seen different and i therefore dread to be myself. But i honestly think that i sometimes feel the loss when i go back to Jakarta. After few weeks, i began to realise that the space that i used to be familiar with seemed to be foreign to me. I got up in the morning and expected to have a walk along the shopping strip at Newtown and have a sip of latte and a plate of Turkish bread with vegetables and melted cheese. But these are found in another land which is approximately 6000 miles away. The loss is more than food and coffee. It is more about my existence. It is about the question of being.

Existence has a close tie with identity and space. You would not feel awkward in the morning once the foreign space has been filled up with your routine. Having blended into local culture may perhaps help in diffusing the cultural differences.

Friday, April 06, 2007

On Thursday Night

Went to see a movie last thurs night. We had three options of movies: The Lives of Others, The Last King of Scotland and Hot Fuzz. Agreed to pick up the last one at the end after considered place and time session. The movie was funny with an English black humor. After the movie finished, we were off to Dumpling restaurant in Chinatown. It was shocked to see a long queue in the restaurant. I told the guy which seemed to be the host that we don't need a romantic spot as we are not couple and will be happy to squeeze in any seat. This place is incredibly cheap but has a scrumptious dumpling. Most importantly, it is the right place for those who want to go out on shoestring budget. While we're lining up we had a chat about people and their budget. Say, with 50 dollars, 6 dollars will be allocated for food and 24 dollars for drinks. But you just need to spare 20 dollars for taxi just in case if you would be fucked up after several rounds in the pub.

The city was extremely busy. Schoolies have their holiday coincide with a long weekend that falls during Easter. Adding to this, the Melbourne Comedy Festival also started last night. So imagine what the city might look if it is crowded by people who are hanging to have some fun.

It was a little disappointing that he didn't want to join me to catch up with other friends in Fitzroy. He said that he is totally shagged and preferred to go home. So i made my way to Fitzroy. When i arrived, two friends of mine already seemed to be drunk. It was not surprising to know this as one guy is Irish but grew up in London and another guy is Kiwi.

One topic that was brought up in the conversation was Easter. What do Easter eggs mean and why a rabbit gives his chocolates away? My Irish friend talked about Pagan influence in Catholic. But i was more interested in making things up. So my Kiwi friend thought rabbit has something to do with shagging. But i propose another interpretation. If someone died and in this case is Jesus, why should we celebrate it? and for fuck's sake, sharing chocolates with others? So this rabbit who is happily hopping around with a bucket of chocolate is probably a reincarnation of King Herod. Someone came up with another idea, suggested that rabbit is the good model of Catholic follower as he always champions the idea of procreation, hence the expression of 'fuck like a rabbit' means procreative sex (Has anyone seen rabbit wearing a condom?).

I don't remember how topic has shifted to class question. But it was interesting one. My friend argued that there is no working class in Australia as they are not so bad
economically. What i think of class in Australia is that the gap is obvious in other levels but may appear less in some cases. If we look at in a geographical sense, we could see that some suburbs have more distinctively classy characteristics which could epitomise middle and upper class domination. So perhaps class structure is not as rigid as in underdeveloped countries but it does definitely not perish.

I thought we would finish that night in the pub. But i could not take the circumstance that most likely to happen when you already had several rounds at the pub into consideration. We ended up crawling to other pubs. Oh dear! I was doomed! I should bear in mind that i am going out with Irishman and Kiwi.

Anyway, it was a great night apart from taking a piss on the street and looked after a horny lad. It was also cheering me up after a letter of ticket infringement arrived two days ago (i won't let them to have my fuckin money!).

Well, happy Easter!

*A question to ponder during holiday:
Would you prefer to fart loudly in front of mother-in-law or someone whom you have a big crush on?