My New Friend

My robot vacuum cleaner is shiny and new. I though a long time before purchasing it. Apart from a little noise, it does its job without fanfare, asking for no reward.

My robot vacuum cleaner is forever ambitious. It thinks that it is much smaller than it is, banging itself repeatedly against small openings, trying to get to the dust on the other side. I don’t think It’s too smart.

My robot vacuum cleaner is aways calm. If it gets tangled up in electrical cords it patiently tries to back out of the situation, not causing a fuss, though one day while I took a nap, it swallowed a small one and soldiered on with a tummy ache (Warning: Do not try this at home – we now have one dead electrical cord).

My robot vacuum cleaner is highly distractible. Even if there is dirt right in front of him, he may turn away and go towards some dirt that’s caught his eye on the other side of the room. I don’t mind, he will come back to it later, ….I hope, …. one of these days.

Sometimes I help my robot vacuum cleaner by sweeping things he’s forgotten to get. It’s all right, he’s only little, (with a 90 minute capacity) and I’m big.

My mum follows my robot vacuum cleaner around the house saying, ’Cute!’ in Chinese.

My robot vacuum cleaner likes to hide under my bed and play with my slippers. He has the habit of spending too long in the bathroom, so much so that I have to lock him out after one visit.

One day the power went out and my poor robot vacuum cleaner wondered around the house, red-faced, cleaning for hours. I couldn’t get him to go home, even though I showed him where home was. He just pushed his home around as if it was something to clean. I found that quite disturbing and kind of disrespectful. I didn’t know that my robot vacuum cleaner could have such attitude. But then once the power went back on he snapped out of his trance and went back home for a long, long rest.

My son doesn’t like my robot vacuum cleaner. When he’s in his room my robot vacuum cleaner always likes to rattle the shoe rack, making all the shoes fall off. He is banned from that room now, but that doesn’t stop him from going down the hall and knocking on the door many times to see if my son has had a change of heart.

He’s not a snob, I’m sure, but my robot vacuum cleaner won’t pick up fine dust. That’s ok, he can’t be expected to do everything. He’s not a slave! I follow him up with a Swiffer.

Yes, my robot vacuum cleaner is not perfect, but neither are the rest of us! I love my robot vacuum cleaner.

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Follow the Portaloo

Last week, while driving to my parents’ house I got stuck behind a truck holding some digging equipment and a portaloo (portable toilet). I considered going around the truck but noticed that the portaloo’s door was facing sideways and the door kept on half opening whenever the truck took the corners.

I decided to stay behind and wait until the road divided up ahead and hoped that the portaloo would go one way and I the other. All of at the cars behind me did not take the same decision and immediately changed lanes, passing the portaloo before changing back again.

I thought, am I making the wrong decision sitting back here. Is everyone else right and I’m wrong? They are taking a big risk there with that door opening all the time. As I sat behind I considered portaloo rules. Yes, I have some experience with portaloos, I had one in my front yard for over a year when we renovated years ago. Apart from remembering that they were very expensive to hire, I remembered that they were delivered clean. Now is this portaloo being delivered or returned? (I have a 50/50 chance.) I also know that someone comes to collect the waste and clean the toilet once a week; surely it would have to be cleaned before being returned! The Department of Roads and Transport would insist that the only portaloos travelling on our roads must be clean ones.

I decided that I had a 100% chance that were that portaloo to fall off the back of the truck, my car would possibly be crushed but at least it wouldn’t have poo on it!

I tend to make portaloo-type decisions all the time when I drive. If I see a bad driver up ahead, I’d rather hang back and so that I can see what they’re doing rather than try to overtake because I worry that they will do something weird in the moment I’m beside them, like drift into my lane, or if I’ve already overtaken them, they might drive into the back of me.

I’m risk-averse, but I don’t know which strategy is better. I believe most people will overtake. What would you do?

(While I’ve been typing this up, the word predictor thing keeps changing my portaloos to portals, even when I say, no I don’t want portals, they say, yes you do! I suppose they are portals in a way. Portal could become a more grown-up way of saying portaloo. If I used portals though I don’t think this story would have any humour in it at all!)

If it is possible, I dedicate this post to Don Tillman, the hero in the novel The Rosie Project, the man who made odd cool!

Big Family Dinners

For many years my parents held weekly family dinners at their house. Initially our family of six had plenty of elbow room around a large oval table. Over the years the family has grown to twenty-one squashed around two round tables and no elbows to be seen!

Mum and Dad toiled in their kitchen putting on sumptuous Chinese banquets. In later years we children would contribute a dish or two each. We don’t hold the dinners anymore — catering became too difficult, especially if one or two siblings were absent.

Apart from the stress of cooking, I miss those times and look back on them with fondness. The Big Family dinners provided a chance for siblings to stay in touch, to get to know their siblings’ partners and look on them like their own siblings. It provided an opportunity for young cousins to play together and become close – the large rumpus room downstairs was a perfect setting for this, where many a table tennis tournament, piano duet, tricycle race and paper plane contest took place.

We’d begin the dinner by drinking to anyone who had any achievements during the week. Sometimes the number of people who had announcements was so long, the food was in danger of getting cold, as we each clinked glasses with the happy person!

My second sister started a “Cheers Book” where we recorded the announcements. They could be as important as ‘We’re having a baby!’, or as simple as ‘Jonny did his first wee wee in the potty!’. The book charts the journey of our family over the years – a speaking part in a school play, engagements, Good Sportsmanship Award at soccer yesterday, new job, leaving old job, participation in art shows, going on holidays, getting through a difficult week, good assignment results, degrees, anniversaries of Dad’s quitting of smoking. I once received an award for volunteering as a reading tutor at my children’s school for 5 years. And I was proud that my achievement was documented in the family book.

Conversation-wise, my family has a taste for the ridiculous. One of my sisters would start by recounting something funny that happened to her that week. The rest of us would add comments here and there escalating the story to high comedy and while we’d almost choke with laughter, Mum, who is hard of hearing, would catch one word of the conversation and start talking about something else completely.

If there was a new baby present, grandmother and aunties would quietly race each other to finish their meal so they could be the one to relieve the tired parent of his/her load and run away to coo over it.

Birthday dinners came with singing and cake, the inevitable embarrassing ‘blowing the candles’ photo, and gifts.

Dinner on Election Night has always been a tightrope. The TV is left on through the night while someone looks around the corner of the dining room at it to report the latest. Some members of our family like to clearly show their political colours and of these, some (my eldest sister) try their hardest in the weeks leading up to the election, to influence those who like to keep their voting preferences to themselves (me). This could be very irritating for both parties involved, but one must suffer for one’s right to privacy!

Politically, Mum is the most vocal of us all and we all know that if you provoke her too much, the conversation at dinner can quickly turn sour. So most of us hold our tongues and wait until we clean up after the main meal, congregating in the kitchen to whisper our thoughts.

One of my sisters has correctly predicted winners of elections for as long as we can remember. She is like our very own Eden-Monaro (a swinging seat which almost always swings to the next government) and at dinners leading up to elections we always ask her opinion. She is like a sage.

Talk of politics at family dinners is not restricted to Election Night. It continues right through to the next election, especially when the government of the day has made a blunder, with the supporters of the last losing team saying to the supporters of the government, hey, how do you think the government you voted in, is going? Except for Mum, this is all taken in good humour.

Those were good times. Thanks Mum and Dad for all the effort you made to put on these dinners. They shaped our family and made us close.

Dreaming of Canned Soup in 1962

Last month we visited the Pop Art Exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW. It had been showing for a while but as is our habit, we waited until the last minute to go. There is no advantage to going late. We just get to see the exhibition with other latecomers. I often wonder if latecomers have a certain recognisable look? Do they have scuffed shoes or are their clothes mismatched or wrinkly? Do they fumble in their bags for the right money for the admission fee? Are they in a hurry because they forgot that that they also have a nephew’s birthday party to go to? I’ve never really noticed any identifiable look, as looking takes too much time and I’m too intent on getting through the exhibition before our parking runs out!

A guided tour was just about to start but we didn’t join — being short is not an advantage when it comes to looking at artworks in a group — I get distracted as the tour becomes a race between me and the rest of the group to the next artwork to make sure I am always standing in the front.

Fortunately the gallery was wasn’t as crowded as it usually is when we visit late, and we could linger in front of particular artworks instead of following gallery etiquette in crowds which requires us to look fast, read fast and move on.

The main artist I wanted to see was Andy Warhol. I have only a high school knowledge of visual art and Warhol is the only member of the Pop Art movement that I remember. Is he the most famous one? I was keen to see the iconic Campbell’s Soup and Marilyn Monroe for real!

I stood in front of large paintings of many Campbell’s Soup cans and tried to imagine myself as one of the first people to see this at Warhol’s first solo exhibition in 1962. I’d be wearing a loose, white boatneck sweater, black pedal pushers and flat shoes. My hair would be a short bob and I’d have thick, black eyeliner, and pale lipstick (yes, I know I’ve gone too far, but please indulge me a little longer). The sounds of traffic would be playing in the background.

I’d walk around the corner to be confronted with this wall of giant Campbell’s Soup cans. I’d think to myself, is this art? They are just perfectly painted cans of soup! Like an advertisement. They even look like they’ve been stencilled! This is outrageous! What is this doing here! …. Wait a minute, the artist is making a statement. I think he’s making a statement about how our world has become industrialised, and where once you would only get soup made from scratch for you by your mother or your wife, or a chef, you can now get it in a can, with very little direct human involvement at all! Soup has become mass produced for everyone. The tomato soup that you’ll eat today will taste exactly the same as the tomato soup that you ate yesterday. He’s saying that our lives are now fed by the convenience and duplication that machinery offers us and we like it! He’s brilliant!  (The last statement said out loud to my companions, stretching my arms out wide, dropping a bit of ash from my cigarette.)

Back to 2015, I truly did feel that the cans were special, and felt very happy to be standing there in the presence of them. (Though I was a little distracted by the Black Bean Soup. We don’t have the Black Bean Soup variety in Australia, and being of Chinese descent, I could only think that soup made with salty fermented black soybeans would taste awful!)

Less inspiring to me was Warhol’s sculpture (?) of three Campbell’s Soup boxes — packaging for 12 cans each. One box on top of another, a bit askew and the third casually placed nearby. They looked exactly like the boxes I see late at night on the floor of the local supermarket, thrown bowling ball style down the aisles by shelf stackers in a hurry. The boxes looked like they were bought yesterday. After standing there looking over the boxes for some time I still couldn’t see the significance of them. I said this to my husband who, perhaps sensing my overwhelming compulsion to kick the boxes, quickly pulled me away. I wouldn’t have actually kicked them, I’m not silly, but I felt that Warhol was playing with us and I was annoyed with him.

I wasn’t excited about the Marilyn Monroe silkscreen prints. Perhaps they needed to be seen from far away. I know that Warhol bought the rights to that photo just after Monroe died. Would they have made more sense to me if I had seen them at that time? Perhaps I had seen them so often in the media over the years that their impact had become lost on me.

They also had an Electric Chair print that I thought was chilling to look at close up. The details were so sparse, I think it was a pale green on a pale blue background, I really felt, like the person was alive, and then they were dead and the memory of them fades like this print and it’s like the person never existed in the first place.

So that was our visit to the Pop Art Exhibition. I later told my son about the boxes. He jokingly said that perhaps there was significance in the way the ‘This Side Up’  arrows were pointing. I started thinking, 36 cans of soup. You could exist on that for perhaps 12 days and never have to leave your flat or see another person in that time. Sustenance in 3 small cardboard boxes. Who knows what it all means! I sometimes wish artists would write something to tell us what they are trying to say so that we don’t speculate on their meaning.

I read that Andy Warhol was very fond of eating canned soup for lunch. Maybe he’s just laughing at people like me.

I have an Itch. An Itch to Knit!

I didn’t mean to mock the I-feel-the-need-the-need-for-speed line from the 1986 movie, Top Gun …… ok, yes I did, but there is so much you can mock in that movie — from the 80s style electric guitar theme, to the macho dialogue and of course, that cheesy Tom Cruise smile. Every time I see Tom Cruise on TV I say to the screen, don’t smile, don’t smile, you’re doing well, …. you’re quite good …..oh, he smiled.

Not that I know anything about acting — I hope there are no readers out there who will now make an impassioned Facebook video telling me to leave Tom Cruise alone! I’m sure Tom Cruise himself is thinking, why do they get me to smile all the time? I lose all credibility when I smile, I keep telling them that but they don’t listen (damn my perfect white teeth!)

But getting back to knitting, at the age of 10 I learnt how to knit at school, making a square, orange face washer. Mum taught me more fancy stitches. I cherished that time with Mum, and I’m pleased that I now have a skill that comes from her.

When Mum was a young teenager back in the village in China, she was taught how to knit by one of her aunties. In exchange she would babysit her cousin while the aunt worked in the rice field. Back then, knitting and sewing were considered good skills for a daughter to have when time came to look for a husband.

On the morning city bus to high school I’d notice that many of the women passengers knitted. Every day I’d see how their scarves/cardigans/baby clothes had progressed since the morning before. It was exciting! That was the first time I got the knitting itch. I wanted to join that creative club! My first effort was a shawl. I was happy that I was the only schoolgirl to join the city bus knitting club.

The Itch has come and gone over the years, but this latest itch may be here to stay. It started a couple of years ago when I was going through a bad emotional time and needed something to do to keep calm. Knitting seemed the only thing. I started knitting squares. I ended up with a large patchwork blanket that I gave to my nephew. Then I learnt how to knit a beret for my niece’s new baby. It looked pretty cool and was quite easy to knit!

I then knitted a beret and fingerless gloves for another niece who lived in the country. Then I thought, why stop there, I’ll knit hats for all my relatives! So here I am, I’ve knitted berets and beanies for almost all of my large family and I’m halfway through the in-laws! I must have knitted 27 hats to date!

Whenever I’m feeling a bit lost or down I start knitting and feel better. It’s a mystery to me why this happens. Perhaps it’s to do with being creative. Perhaps knitting is like meditation — repeat actions and counting may have a mood levelling effect. Perhaps it’s something to do with using your hands. Any psychologists out there? What do you think?

Why knitting works may always remain a mystery to me, but I’m glad I’ve rediscovered it. Just wondering what I’ll do once I’ve knitted all my hats. Socks anyone?

This post is dedicated to my young friend and talented fellow blogger Christina (fussyguide.com) who suggested that I write about my Knitting Itch. Christina writes about food, and restaurants among other things. Have a look, she’s very clever!

A Stranger in the Modern World

I was born long before the digital age, … well long enough to have used a typewriter for my school essays, and annoyed my parents by staying on the family phone too long. I have yet to fully appreciate or understand the way people communicate and record information in this modern world. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a foreign land.

I was in town walking down busy Pitt St one day when a young man in a suit ran up, and fell into step with me.

Hi, he said.

Hi, I replied (I’m a very polite person ).

I’m not disturbing you, am I?

No, no (I kept walking).

So how are you?

I’m well, thank you.

When did you get into town?

Oh, about half an hour ago, got off the bus at Circular Quay and thought I’d walk down …..

How about the other night! You were pretty out of it!

Huh?

What? You still in bed? You lazy bastard!

I stopped as the man kept walking – he was talking on a bluetooth in his other ear! I just had a conversation with myself!

Once I stood outside a coffee shop and noticed a couple sitting by the window, facing each other with their heads bowed. The table was small and the tops of their heads almost touched. I thought, what a tender moment! They were actually both using their mobile phones under the table!

Another time I saw a man in the distance holding onto the pole of a parking sign, talking to it. He walked around the pole slowly and every now and then he’d look up at the sign and laugh. I thought oh, poor man! When I got closer I saw that he was talking on the phone using his hands-free kit.

Is it just me or does all this seem weird to you? I saw the above about a year ago and I must admit, events like these faze me less now. Same with seeing a group of girls all dressed up and out to dinner, spending the night taking group selfies and pictures of the food and drinks in front of them, and talking to people on their phones but rarely to each other. I’m getting used to it, but I still don’t understand it. Does it have something to do with social media? Is there pressure to show proof of the things that you do so that people know that you do things? And were you mentally present when doing the thing? Did you actually have fun while looking like you were having fun?

You’re probably thinking, you should talk, you’re writing a blog! You’re documenting the things that you do online. And you’d be right. I’m slowly getting sucked down the cyber-world spiral too. I don’t think this is as far as I go either, as I feel a few photos coming on in the future! Help! Grab my hand!

But really, I don’t think cyberspace is all bad. I spent a lot of time in my youth wondering about things and having no way of getting immediate answers to them like, I wonder what time it is in New York right now, or I wonder who is the head of Vanuatu? (?) And I’d just put up with the fact that I’d never know unless it was important enough for me to do some serious research later on.

Young people out there, the following is a conversation two people could have had before internet and mobile phones came onto the scene.

Say, when I went to Melbourne last year I had lunch at a little shop, I can’t remember its name, but they had steamed Chinese bread, you know the bread that they use for making steamed pork buns, and they used it to make tiny fresh warm sandwiches. The fillings were like pork belly, coriander and a lovely sauce, or tofu and chives, and that sauce! ….. Mmmmm! I still think about that lunch!

Yum! I’m going to Melbourne to visit my brother soon. Where did you say the place was? And what was the name?

It was somewhere in the CBD, it had a name ending in BAO, I know that much, something like Super Bao, or Mighty Bao. It was in a little laneway with graffiti on it, near a university or something. The laneway had an unusual name, something fitting in with the university setting, something to do with books I think. Oh I wish I’d kept the CBD map that the hotel gave me when I was there. If I had it, I could show you.

Where to find a map of Melbourne’s CBD in Sydney? Hmmm. We could go to the Victorian Tourist Bureau, in the city tomorrow, but it will be a bit of an effort to go all that way….. I know, I’ll ring my brother!

(beep beep beep beep) HELLO! WHAT’S WRONG!

Oh hi, It’s just me, nothing’s wrong, I was just talking to my friend here and she recommended a bao place that I should go to when I’m down there. I just wanted to ask you if you know where it is?

WHAT? NOT ONLY HAVE YOU WOKEN ME UP BUT YOU HAVE CALLED INTERSTATE JUST TO FIND OUT WHERE A SHOP IS? DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH THIS CALL IS COSTING YOU? IT’S $5 FOR EVERY HALF MINUTE! SEND YOUR QUESTIONS BY MAIL! STAMPS ONLY COST 7 CENTS! (click)

Oh dear! Your description of the food really has me intrigued! Perhaps we could find a recipe to recreate it.

(1/2 hour later) I couldn’t find anything remotely like it in any of my recipe books! Perhaps we could go tomorrow to the library to see if we can find it in their recipe books.

No, I’ve tried that already, this is something very new, it’s steamed bread. The only thing I found remotely like it  there was a recipe for pigs-in-blankets.

What’s that?

Don’t quite remember but it was something wrapped in something, but it wasn’t steamed bread!

That’s it! Tomorrow we’ll go to the post office, find a Melbourne phonebook, the Yellow Pages and look up Chinese Restaurant!

It sounds rather tedious.

But what else are we going to do?

True

Breakfast in Drummoyne

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I went out for breakfast – a treat after banishing ourselves from home the night before while our sons and their cousins took over the house, networking their computers to play games through the night.

We hid out in a local hotel. Alex unfortunately had work to do so was busy online while I spent the night sitting on the king size bed watching Death Comes to Pemberley on TV, drinking complementary tea and eating biscuits! We woke the next morning with sore necks and backs from the feather pillows which squashed down so much once the head was applied, they could hardly pass as pillows!

Alex suggested breakfast at a nice cafe in Drummoyne (a waterside suburb 10 minutes from Sydney CBD) as compensation for the bad night.

We parked behind the cafe and entered by the backdoor, passing a small, dark room to the right. With a tiny window, high up but level with the ground outside, it would have been a perfect place to shoot a scene from The Sopranos. Sitting at the only table were three middle-aged men who jumped almost as high as I did when I turned to look inside. Who sits in almost complete darkness on a sunny morning???

After checking out the blackboard menu we moved on through the long room, and decided to sit three tables from the front window. Alex left to join the queue to order. I immediately regretting sitting facing the front as watching the busy traffic of the main road whizzing by made me dizzy. The queue was long and I distracted myself by looking away at the other customers in front of me. I was interested to find that there were two types of customer.

One type was very fit looking women who wore racerback singlets, shorts and sun visors. The singlets showed off their well defines muscular shoulders and upper backs. They looked totally different to what I did in my new racerback singlet, a purchase made in a bid to stay cool without putting on the air-conditioning at home. My racerback made my pear-shaped figure look even more pear-shaped! These women ate meals like fresh fruit and yoghurt or sliced banana on rye, scrambled eggs on their own, and each with a latte. I was surprised that there were three tables of these women, arriving at different times – one big group, one woman on her own, and one with her boyfriend.

As we worked on our Eggs Florentine on sourdough with crisp grilled prosciutto (which was delicious, by the way), I noticed the other type of customer — tired young couples with toddlers. The parents wore loose light coloured t-shirts and shorts, taking time over their precious coffee and newspaper while the toddler played with the cafe’s toys at the table. Given their casual wrinkly attire and flimsy slip on sandals I assumed that these people were locals. They must have been well to do to live around there! I imagined the men in an earlier time as the short, plain looking nerds that were bullied at school, and now they live here with their beautiful blonde wives and their beautiful blonde children.

I started to hurry my meal as I had an itch to race home and write a story about the human personality of this Sydney suburb by the water — racerback singlet women and young wealthy families, and what a gift – it’s all just sitting there in front of me as I eat!

We get up to leave. I turn around to find that the rest of the cafe was filled with people like us! Middle-aged, some overweight people, and some noisy families digging into their bacon and eggs!

I was so disappointed! Alex said, can’t you just pretend and write it as you imagined it?

NOOOOO! I can’t! Boo hoo!