Thursday Doors – home

Today is Australia Day. I’ve actually scheduled this post ahead of time because I’m expecting to be a bit busy that day (i.e. today). Not working though (surprisingly). I’ll be moving house soon, so I have to pack and make preparations and all that. Also need to think about packing for my upcoming holiday. It’s kind of weird trying to move house and go on holiday at the same time…

Anyway, all that’s probably something for another post (or several posts, depending on how well/badly that goes… The moving house part, of course. The holiday part is probably going to get more posts than anyone’d care to read, regardless of how well/badly it goes.)  Continue reading

Advertisements

rethinking alcohol

For some time now (over the last few months? this year? since last year? not really sure…) I’ve been pondering about the drinking culture in Australia, and reflecting on people’s relationships with alcohol (including my own). You don’t have to be an expert in public health to know that alcohol contributes to a lot of health problems (long- and short-term), and can lead to death. For some time, I’ve been thinking of writing a post about all this, but just kept putting it off. But when I read this post by George at The Off Key of Life, I thought I’d lend my support and do my bit (and basically add my two cents’ worth).

Continue reading

south for the winter

Alright, here we go… I’ve decided to start my series of holiday-related posts with what was probably the highlight of the trip: Launceston. (Keeping in mind that I’m probably not going to write a post about my cousin’s wedding, since this is not really the sort of place I’d write about it if I did.)

For those of you unfamiliar with Australian geography, Launceston is a town (or small city?) in the state of Tasmania, which is that island at the bottom of Australia, just south of Victoria (which is where Melbourne is). Being the southernmost state, I suppose it is the coldest, and, apart from seeing my friend who lives there, I was probably looking forward to that the most. Well, that, and exploring a place completely new to me.

Continue reading

why I’m here

Last week I read a rather thought-provoking post on Campari & Sofa about the reasons why people live where they do, and the things that draw people to certain places. (I was going to just leave a comment on that post, but then realised that I couldn’t do so succinctly, and so this post was born.)

I, personally, have not moved a lot in my life – Brisbane has always been my hometown – so I think you could almost say that I’m kind of just here by default. I sometimes feel like a bit of an anomaly in my generation, for various reasons, but no less because I don’t have a strong compulsion to travel. It’s not that I have zero interest in travel and exploring new places – I think that’d be an amazing experience – and it’s not that I don’t have the means or time for travel; but I don’t daydream about it the same way my contemporaries might. And if I’m not dreaming about holidaying in these far-off places, I’m certainly not dreaming about making a long-term move to a foreign country.

Please don’t misunderstand – I’m not xenophobic or otherwise afraid. I think I’m simply … complacent or content. I am also probably just really attached to my hometown and, of course, to the people in it. I’ve always thought that if I had to uproot myself, I’d probably go to Melbourne, a city where a lot of my friends and family already live, and a city that I’ve already visited many times in my life. The only daunting thing is that Melbourne is so much bigger than Brisbane. I generally think Brisbane is a good size: big enough that there are things to do and places to go, but small enough that it’s not overwhelming and it doesn’t take forever to get anywhere.

In my pondering, I also thought of a conversation I had with a taxi driver in Rockhampton on one of my visits. He was perhaps 50 or thereabouts, and I asked him about how long he’s lived in Rocky. (I usually find it easier to make people talk about themselves than to talk about myself.) He told me that he’d actually grown up in Rocky, had moved to Brisbane for work at one point in his life, but then returned to Rocky to settle down. His children had all grown up and moved to bigger cities, but he thought that even Brisbane was too big a city for him.

For those unfamiliar with Australian cities: Brisbane’s population is about 2 million now; Rocky’s is about 115,000, according to Google. In comparison, Melbourne and Sydney have over 4 million people each. On a side note, but kind of related, Google also tells me that the population of Paris is comparable to Brisbane’s, at about 2.2 million. This actually really surprised me until I did a comparison of land area, and found out that Brisbane is more than 50 times the size of Paris. I suppose our suburbs are just really spread out.

If I ever move away from Brisbane, I reckon I’ll eventually end up back in Brisbane, just as my cab driver returned to Rocky. But I don’t think that I’m impulsive enough to pack up and move somewhere on a whim because I’ve fallen in love with a place, so it’d have to be thought-out and practical. And then, if I do move (after so much consideration), it theoretically would not be impossible for me to fall into the same contented complacency with this new city. And then perhaps I wouldn’t return to Brisbane, except to visit the people and places I’ve left behind. (I almost want to move overseas just to test this theory out. Almost.)

I’ve previously discussed with fellow Brisbane-ites the virtues of living where we do, and one point that was raised was that it makes everywhere else in the world seem more magical. This might have been said sarcastically, but it is kind of valid. I mean, if I go on holiday, I want to feel like I’m on holiday, far removed from my usual life. And when I come home, I want it to feel like home.

 

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

In a previous post, I mentioned that I was reading “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” by Richard Flanagan, and that I had borrowed it from a friend. In that same post, I also mentioned that I’m predisposed to like books that are borrowed from friends. Now, I have finished reading TNRDN, and whilst I really, really, really liked the novel, I am wondering a bit about this bias.

Well, you see, the friend who I borrowed it from hadn’t actually finished reading it before she lent it to me; she just read a few chapters, and then kind of gave up on it. As I was reading TNRDN, I kept telling her how great it was, and that she should persist with it and give it a second chance. But I think at times I also forgot that she hadn’t read it yet – it’s not that I tried to discuss details with her, but in my mind I had this vague impression that she’s read it in its entirety.

Anyway, I’m not sure if my bias/predisposition still works if the person whom I borrowed the book from hasn’t finished the book and/or didn’t like it. And then I’m really grateful and really want to thank her for introducing me to this book, which I will probably always associate with her irrespective of whether she ever does finish it or not, but I’m sort of wondering if it’s kind of a false connection.

Am I overthinking this? Sorry to say, but this is typical of my thought processes sometimes.

Enough rambling.

I actually really, really, liked – wait, I already said that. Ok, let me explain why. But first, a bit of background: TNRDN is an Australian WWII novel about the POWs who helped build the “Death Railway” through Thailand and Burma. It’s mostly the story of one character, Dorrigo Evans, but the stories of some of the side characters are also explored in some detail – other POWs but also those working for the Japanese military as well.

I actually didn’t know anything about the Death Railway before reading this novel, which makes me feel like this was something I needed to read (also makes me feel guilty about my lack of knowledge about Australian history, but supposedly it’s a part of the war that just didn’t get talked about very much, and still doesn’t). The novel’s probably aimed at people like me.

There’s a lot of confronting, gruesome detail in it (not of actual warfare but of things like foul diseases, and crude surgery with makeshift instruments, and the cremation of corpses) but, although some reviews on Goodreads thought it was unnecessary or over the top, I thought it felt honest and was fitting with the story being told. (I should add, though, that the vast majority of reviews on GR are very positive. It’s just that I tend to only read bad reviews (after finishing the novel myself) so that I can gain a different or more critical perspective.)

One of the things about TNRDN that my friend found quite irksome was how Flanagan does not use quotation marks at all throughout the book, so it’s a bit hard to follow. Especially in the first several chapters, I found myself having to re-read sentences because I only realised halfway through that it was actually someone talking. Not sure if I just got used to it after a while, but it stopped bothering me. I’m not entirely sure what the point of not using quotation marks was – I mean, the novel would work just as well with them – but I’m speculating that it’s something to do with the visual flow of the text (if that makes sense).

There’s a lot of poetry in the novel – actual quotes from poems, as well as references to or mentions of poems – but Flanagan’s writing, in itself, is also immensely poetic. I especially like reading novels where the writing is very powerful; and it doesn’t have to be poetic to be powerful, but this novel was both. It was very human.

Dorrigo Evans, who becomes the colonel when the original one dies of dysentery, is more of an antihero, and he struggles with his position of command during the building of the railway, and also with the fame and respect he receives after the war is over. He feels like everything is false and that he is a fraud. And yet, despite this weakness in his character (or perhaps because of it?), and despite all the adultery and his random obsessions (which, strangely, didn’t bother me that much, but apparently other readers found really off-putting), I thought Dorrigo Evans was a likeable character. Definitely a memorable character.

For some reason, I also really liked the characters Darky Gardiner and Jimmy Bigelow. Maybe it’s a sympathy thing. There probably wasn’t a character I just did not like at all. I also reckon Flanagan did a good job of incorporating the Japanese perspective into the story, as told chiefly through Nakamura, but also through Choi Sang-min (AKA the Goanna), who is actually Korean but worked for the Japanese as a prison guard on the railway. There are a number of other reasonably significant side characters, but those are the ones that stand out for me.

TNRDN is probably the best historical fiction novel I’ve ever read (but, to be fair, I don’t read a lot of historical fiction). I feel like I’ve learnt a lot without feeling like the author was trying to teach me something. As such, I don’t think you need to have a keen interest in Australian history (or history in general) in order to enjoy and appreciate this book. It probably qualifies as a “challenging read” though (challenging in a number of different ways), so you probably wouldn’t want to read it if you prefer more straightforward novels. I might re-read it one day. It would be worth re-reading.

aquila audax

I mentioned in my previous post that I was considering writing a post dedicated to the wedge-tailed eagle, my most favourite animal, so that’s basically what I’m going to do here.

From a very young age, I’ve had a fascination with birds. I remember as a kid, I had a poster of various Australian birds. It was a lift-out from the newspaper, so it faded over time, and I eventually took it down (and replaced it with a postcard mural), but it was there, on the wall above my bed, for many years. I’m not sure what it is that I really like about birds, but I have a few theories.

For one, they are beautiful. They are unusual but they are beautiful. Secondly, they can fly – something that we humans could never execute or replicate with the same finesse. Note here that I don’t have a great affinity for flightless birds (emus, penguins and the like). I mean, they’re ok – I don’t have anything specifically against them – but, to me, they don’t compare to birds that fly.

Of course, there are probably birds out there that I just do not like at all. I just can’t think of any right now.

I used to wonder if my affinity for birds was related to my desire for freedom, or if it had something to do with my fear of falling (I’m ok with heights as long as I’m confidently secure, so I consider it a fear of falling rather than of heights). As a kid, I particularly liked birds of prey. Perhaps that’s saying something too… But then I also liked more peaceable birds. Yes, despite their ubiquity, their reputation as “rats of the sky”, their general lack of anything that usually recommends an animal to “favourite” status – despite all this, I like pigeons. Such simple, unassuming creatures they are.

I was going to include an actual picture of a wedge-tailed eagle but I couldn't decide which one of the many Google results was the best photo, so I'm just giving you my trademark stick pigeon that I drew in about five seconds on Paint.

I was going to include an actual picture of a wedge-tailed eagle but I couldn’t decide which one of the many Google results was the best photo, so I’m just giving you my trademark stick pigeon that I drew in about five seconds on Paint.

But amongst all of these birds, one always stood out for me: the wedge-tailed eagle.

While reading “The Anatomy of Wings” (by Karen Foxlee), I mentioned to a few colleagues that small detail about the protagonist (Jenny) having the same favourite animal as me. I was then asked a few questions about the wedge-tailed eagle (you know, just out of interest), and I realised that I actually didn’t know a whole lot about them.

I probably knew a lot more about them at some stage in my life (probably in my high school years when I had better access to resources that could tell me a lot about them, and when I had time to read such things) but that day at the lunch table at work, I couldn’t confidently recite any facts about the wedge-tailed eagle. A bit concerning, maybe, but I don’t think it’s a big deal.

Nevertheless, this prompted me to question why it is, indeed, my most favourite animal.

At one point, I wondered if it was kind of similar to how (I would presume) Americans might like bald eagles because it’s an iconic American bird. (The “audax” part of the wedge-tailed eagle’s scientific name translates to “bold”, which is kind of similar/close…) But the wedge-tailed eagle doesn’t feature on our coat of arms, or on any sort of official emblems and such. So it’s probably not a patriotic thing. (If patriotism had anything to do with it, I’d probably like emus more. Not that I don’t like them, but they can be scary. Cassowaries too.)

As a kid, I probably just thought they looked cool. They’re such mighty, majestic birds: so much power in their talons, so much strength in their wings. Perhaps, then, they are a sentimental favourite: they made such a big impression on me as a kid that I’ve just liked them ever since. This is very possible.

What else is odd, however, is that I don’t really have anything to show or suggest that I like wedge-tailed eagles. Sure, toy stores don’t exactly sell plush eagles and whatnot like they do for dogs and tigers and bears, but if you went through all of my things, I doubt you’d find anything eagle-related, let alone wedge-tailed eagle-related. You’re more likely to think that owls or cats were my most favourite animal. (I do like owls and cats, though, so that’s ok, I guess.)

In “The Anatomy of Wings”, Jenny says she doesn’t really have a definite reason why wedge-tailed eagles are her favourite bird. They just are. I guess the reason doesn’t really matter; there doesn’t have to be an explanation. Wedge-tailed eagles are my favourite animals just because.