Friday, April 1, 2011

Failing by default

I've just read a quote attributed to J K Rowling in which she said something about not being able to go through life without failing at something and that if you don't fail, you're probably living your life so cautiously you fail by default (my interpretation and paraphrasing). The concept started me thinking. Does that mean you have to fail at things regularly in order to be considered to be living life fully? I would find that demoralising.

I like to think that we learn how not to fail as we go through life; we learn how to do things better so our chances of success increase. We discover our strengths and weaknesses and exploit one and improve or compensate for the other. Of course that could also mean we also learn how not to expose ourselves to things we'll fail at; become more cautious. But is cautiousness a failure or a desirable skill?

I live cautiously. Any risks I take are calculated and manageable. I don't want to crash and burn - been there, done that, not going back. There are aspects of my life that I want to change and improve - I just don't have time to arrange it right now. Generally though, my life is where I want it to be. I'm working full time in a job I love; I'm studying in an area I enjoy; I'm writing, which I adore; and I'm even submitting work occasionally. I have family and friends - all really special people I'm proud to know.  Why on earth would I want any of that to fail, just so I could say I 'live', at least according to the definition in that quote?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Queensland floods

A huge chunk of Queensland is under water. I've been through floods before but I've never seen anything on this scale before. It's so huge, it's difficult to keep remembering that New South Wales and Victoria are also experiencing floods from the same weather systems that have devastated Queensland.

Yesterday significant areas of Brisbane went under water. The CBD and other business areas have been shut down completely. Power was switched off in the CBD at 7am yesterday and now it's deserted. The waters peaked at about 1 metre lower than predicted and that saved a lot of properties but there are still a huge number of people and communities that have lost everything.

My sister lives in Chinchilla, four hours west of Brisbane, and they're in the middle of the second major flood since Christmas. Most of the time since then, the town has been completely cut off. I have friends in Dalby, three hours west of Brisbane, who have fared well as far as the water is concerned, even though significant parts of the town are under water for the second or third time since Christmas. Dalby is cut off. Supplies of food are approaching a concerning level and the availability of fuel is such that only emergency service vehicles have access. Similar stories have come from friends in Goombungee (15 mins west of Toowoomba which is 1.5 hours west of Brisbane) and Gatton (one hour west of Brisbane). They're safe but cut off.

I've been worried about a friend who lives in Murphys Creek (at the bottom of the range east of Toowoomba) with her family, as I haven't been able to contact them yet. There are twelve missing from that area after flash flooding swept down the mountain from Toowoomba. The twelve are apparently from just two families. From what I can gather from the news and what nearby Grantham is like, the entire community is decimated. My friend isn't registered on the Red Cross database at this point.

Before today, I've watched the news about the progress of the flooding in Queensland and felt interested and concerned for the people there. Up until a few days ago it was only property being damaged and livelihoods lost. On Tuesday lives were lost and more people have died since then. Until then, I never had any doubt we, as a community, a state and a country, would manage. Queenslanders, particularly primary producers, have had to deal with a lot of extremes affecting their livelihoods in the last decade. We've just recently come out of ten years of drought and now this. Whole industries have come to a standstill and will take years to rebuild. The Queensland economy has taken a devastating blow which will affect the whole of Australia and overseas industries as well. But it's possible to come through all that and rebuild as long as we're alive to do it.

With the deaths has come a sense of hopelessness. Nothing can fix that.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Last days and coming home

What do most people buy when they travel and are faced with weight restrictions? Me? I buy books. I simply can’t help myself. If there’s a bookshop in front of me, I’m there. I spent time in Borders this afternoon. Much bigger than I’m used to at home with a wider range of products available – not just books.

Senior 'chill out' area, Australian International School.
On Thursday I visited the Australian International School and had a quick look around. It’s amazing the sense of space they’ve achieved inside the buildings when the outside space is so limited. The buildings are very different to what I’m used to but it still felt like a school, with the focus being the students and their needs.

Afterwards I went back to Orchard Road as I hadn’t seen the other end of it earlier. I don’t know why, I know I’m not a shopper, but apparently it’s the place to go. The Christmas decorations are going up at a rate of knots. I went past one huge tree inside a centre and could feel the heat from the fairy lights about two metres away. The only shop I actually went into was the Longines shop. I should have tried to find the bird park as I’d intended. Next time.

The flight home was mostly uneventful. The Captain put the seat-belt sign on every time there was the slightest turbulance so I felt a bit like a jack-in-the-box. Again, I had three seats to myself so I raised the armrests, stacked the pillows behind me and stretched out to read. Not a bad way to travel. I thought I should buy something duty-free so I spent some time going through the catalogue and eventually chose four fragrances to buy. Unfortunately they wouldn't take my debit-VISA cards. Why would they prefer to do business with people who are using borrowed money? The reason I was given was they would land and process the sales and they would bounce. I would have thought they'd have the same problem with credit cards being over the limit. Ah well, all it means for me is I came home with a slightly lighter bag and $400 richer than I planned.

Since getting home I've dropped straight back into my routine. That basically means I'm alternating between reading (and hibernating) and picking up and cleaning up after other people (one of my least favourite things and the reason I read so much). Tonight I need to write. There are just six days left of NaNo. I know there's no way I'll make the 50K but I want to do something more than I did in the first week.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The museum and shopping in Singapore

Singapore museum
I spent most of today on my feet. From 10.00 am to 1.30 pm I visited the museum. The Pompei exhibit was there. Most of it was resin casts and copies of things but I still walked out of there feeling for all the people who were there. They had a time-lapse (computerised) film of the eruption of Vesuvius at that time and I kept thinking ‘get out, get out’ until the 1.00 am eruption with the pyroclastic flows and then I thought, ‘too late’. Even if they’d left before that they might not have made it, not with all the ash rain 20m deep.

The next exhibit I went through was the history of Singapore. Just brilliant. The detail and the explanations behind every decision made, particularly since independence in the 60s was amazing. The foresight required to push for such drastic (at the time) measures is mind-boggling. I can’t decide how to make things happen for me tomorrow, let alone plan for a whole country for the next 50-odd years.

I left the museum because I’d been on my feet for four hours (I walked from the hotel) and still hadn’t had breakfast. Like the library, I could stay there for a couple of days and still have new things to look at.

After the museum came Orchard Road, the up-market shopping district. I didn’t last long. I’m not a shopper at the best of times and the idea of miles upon miles of shops doesn’t thrill me. I stayed there long enough to browse through two shopping centres and buy a few things and lunch (finally had the chicken rice everyone keeps recommending to me) and then decided enough was enough. I didn’t go through all the really expensive shops. It would be interesting but I know it’s not for me so other things keep being more important. I went back to Selangor Pewter and exchanged the pate knife I bought on Monday and then back to Chinatown to pick up my suit.

Tomorrow is my visit to the Australian International School. I’m really looking forward to that although getting there is a bit problematic. I have three maps and none of them show me exactly where the school is. I know the MRT stop to get off and the street name but that’s it. I guess I just need to look at it as another adventure, albeit one that has a time restriction since I have to be there by 11.30 am.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Round-the-island tour, Singapore

Today was amazing. The round-island tour is the best I’ve been on, along with the hop-on-hop-off tours. The guide gave a lot of basic information about how Singapore is organised. Things like the public housing system where 20% of income is put into a fund and that’s used to help you buy a house and provide for retirement. We drove through all the industrial areas and the sections of land that have been reclaimed from the sea were pointed out – there’s a lot of reclaimed land.

It’s absolutely amazing what has been done with such a small island in 45 years. The planning and organisation required to make it all work, and work so successfully, is just mind-boggling. Today was the first time I’d seen anything resembling a military presence too. Even then, even though areas were pointed out and I saw a lot of ‘restricted area’ signs, the only military personnel I saw apart from the guards at gates were National Service boys just finished their basic training and waiting at a bus stop. There are highways that can be turned into airfield within an hour or two. What a clever use of space.

We were told a story about two brothers who built a house in 1937. When the Japanese came, the house was bombed. One brother died during the Japanese occupation, the other survived to return to the house and witness the destruction of his home. He demolished the house and built a garden that showed 101 ways to behave well. The garden also included the ten gates of hell. The garden has pretty much been abandoned now and is slowly decaying. They’re trying to find sponsors to provide funding for the upkeep.

At one point I stood at the water’s edge and looked over the sea to another country. I’ve never done that before. In Australia, everywhere you look, there’s more Australia. To know that the land you’re looking at belongs to someone else with different rules and regulations, language and culture emphasised the transitory nature of life.

British barracks, Changi.
Changi museum and chapel was emotive. The British barracks are still there, untouched. Even though everything’s falling apart, you can still sense the lives of those lived there during that time. There’s still a prison on the site. We didn’t have access to that, of course, or to the original site of the prison that was there during WWII (it’s a huge tract of land). I had thought I’d be disappointed that there was so little left of what had happened, but I wasn’t. I’m glad there’s the memorial, but I’m even more glad that things have moved on from that time. They’ve taken the lessons to be learned and put things in place to try to prevent it happening again, but they’re not letting it control the lives of everyone living in Singapore. There’s a sense of the past underpinning the present but the future driving direction.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Raffles Tour, Singapore

Today has been a day of misunderstandings. The tour today was Raffles footsteps followed by high tea at Raffles Hotel and a boat ride from Clarke Quay. They were to pick me up from the hotel at 1.30pm. I was there from 1.15 – 1.45 but no one turned up. The Concierge knew nothing about it when I asked him at 1.40 so I walked to Raffles Hotel, totally forgetting about the Raffles footsteps part of the tour.

Raffles Hotel knew nothing about the tour either but let me ring the tour company from the lobby and wait in the lobby until the bus picked me up. The tour company weren’t happy with me and spent the rest of the afternoon checking where I was. Everybody knew my name because it was called out at every stop and I was given specific instructions separately!

The Writers Bar at Raffles Hotel
The main lobby, Raffles Hotel
Waiting in the lobby of Raffles Hotel was a treat. No one gets into the lobby of Raffles Hotel unless they’re staying there. They even let me take a photograph (I took two). Who could resist the sign! I nearly took three but the bird was too fast for me.

As I was sitting in the lobby I looked up to the balcony above and found a small bird perched on the ledge. He was leaning forward, ready for take-off and his gaze was firmly focused on the front door. When someone went through the door, the bird dropped from the ledge and swooped through the opening, the door closing regally behind him. He’s obviously done it before.

High tea at Raffles Hotel was different to the high teas I’ve had in Australia. Not as much food on the trays for one thing but the food was also different and offered differently. There was the usual trio with sandwiches, cake and petit fours (eight small sandwiches and four of each of the others). Tea was never-ending, leaf tea and freshly made. I’ve been missing my tea. Once the tea part was over there was a buffet on offer. There was a supply of steamed Asian things – little dumpling things with different fillings. The sweet and sour chilli sauce was good. The buffet also offered a range of cakes and desserts and fruit.

After Raffles Hotel was a boat tour. I’d taken a boat tour the other day and this was similar but I love being on the water. It’s such a relaxing way to spend time.

The Selangor Pewter shop was a must-see according to our guide. I didn’t mind because I like pewter and bought a pate knife with a sunflower pattern and a little merlion. I saw a gorgeous tea set that I would have loved. It was designed for the 125th anniversary of Selangor Pewter. A little out of my price range though. When I unpacked the pewter I found I’d been given the wrong knife pattern. I’ll have to take it back and change it.

The next misunderstanding came in Chinatown when I went for a fitting. I had arranged to fit the jacket being made today because I’m out all day tomorrow but the jacket wasn’t there. He’d written down tomorrow’s date in his book. I know I didn’t agree to that because I’m out all day. Now I have to go back again on Wednesday and hope there are no alterations required for the jacket. Otherwise I’ll have to go back again on Thursday. I’m spending more time in Chinatown than I am anywhere else. I'm starting to know my way around - and those of you who know my sense of direction will be amazed by that!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Singapore Zoo

At nearly 7am there were barely half a dozen cars on the road and two pigeons on the ledge outside my window – the first pigeons I’ve seen here. Noisy minahs (the brown ones with black heads) are the only birds I’ve seen here so far.

There are so many images that flash like strobe lights as I drive around. A tray-back truck full of men sitting in the back on their way to a construction site. A church, the grounds turned into a parking lot, regimented rows of people neatly filling inside. A man and a woman standing on a street corner, she coming barely to his chest, his upper body twisted towards her, leaning over her, eyes focused on her face. She, for that moment in time, is the whole focus of his being. A girl, riding pillion on a motor bike, light-weight skirt flying half-way up her back, white legs flashing in the light. The rider in front of her wearing protective clothing.

An Orang Utan
I went to the zoo this morning. We had two and a half hours there, including breakfast. In that time I managed to see only one third of the zoo and still nearly missed my bus – the only one for the day. I took a few good photos and a lot of really bad ones. I managed to get some shots of orang utans for Lois but unfortunately didn’t see the komodo dragon. On the bus there was a family from the Isle of Mann and another, three generations travelling together for a holiday, from Australia (Ipswich, Adelaide, Gold Coast, Melbourne).

It started raining on our way home. Thunder, lightning and heavy rain just as I was crossing the street. Now my shoes are wet and nothing dries here. I spent the afternoon watching the rain from my room and dozing.