Monday, 4 April 2016

Handy counter questions for the unmarried, childless woman.

Today I am taking time out from my busy schedule to publish this handy guide for those in need of it.

If, like me, you have been asked just once or twice too often the following impertinent questions, you may like to keep this on hand in your purse or tucked into the waistband of your slacks.

Why didn’t you get married?
Counter question: Why did you get married? Were you just going along with the crowd, or were you, perhaps, up the duff?

Why didn’t you have children?
Counter question: Did you really want that fourth one? He’s just so horribly boring. How can you stand him?

Don’t you get lonely?
Don’t you sometimes, when your husband (who smells like cheese, by the way) scratches himself, want to sneak up behind him with a cast iron frying pan and put a stop to it for once and for all.

But now you won’t have grandchildren?
Which means I won’t have to cancel that trip to the Bahamas.

Don’t you regret it?
Don’t you ever look back and think “I’m so tied up to all of these people, I don’t know who I am.”

Are you sure you’re not in denial?
Are you sure you know what’s best for me?

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Another one of my travel articles previously published on Travelroads.

Vietnam Crying Out for Religious Freedom?

The "tear stain" with the culprit? on top of the world. by Nichola Hunter       

At 3pm on Saturday outside the Notre Dame Cathedral, the statue of the virgin reportedly began to cry. The once imposing square, dwarfed these days by a shimmering glass department store, filled up steadily as evening fell. By 10 pm, all the surrounding roads and footpaths were waist-deep in idling motorbikes, and you had to wade through them to get to the statue.

There certainly was a slivery substance gleaming from the right eye of the statue, all the way down the right cheek and stopping underneath the chin. Small bands of people were muttering prayers and hymns with the discreet religious fervor characteristic in communist countries, while scores of others were demonstrating Saigon’s newfound prosperity by taking pictures with their mobile phones. The police had arrived, standing around on the corners and looking uncomfortable. In fact the government still has a very uneasy relationship with religious orders in Vietnam and has been monitoring the event carefully since it began.

Sunday morning saw more people arriving, and all roads blocked off to the square. The cold light of day also revealed the "teardrop” to be the unmistakable colour and texture of bird shit. This did not detract from the enthusiasm of the crowd, which grew to around 1,000 by midday. People were calmouring to touch the statue and waving flowers and singing. As emotions stepped up, the story grew. “She was crying from both eyes yesterday,” one spectator said. An official from the Canadian embassy had reportedly seen the statue begin to cry from the embassy building across from the square – a miracle in itself given the time of day and the distance from the building to the square.

By early afternoon, the vendors had moved in selling dried bananas, balloons and ice cream. “The tear” had turned into “the stain” and people stood around in the rain marveling that the substance changed colour when it got wet. Monday saw the stain, but not the crowds. They were beginning to disappear and instead of wading through motorbikes, it was people waving Mary photographs for sale. The head of the Catholic Church Father Huynh Cong Minh issued a statement that the tears were merely from standing exposed to the elements without being cleaned.

The selling of the Mary photographs was banned within hours, and Tuesday saw one family of poor vendors being dragged off by police. The road reopened to traffic, and wardens, called in to keep the motorbikes away from the believers, were blowing whistles in a kind of mad 12 tone scale. A van with a megaphone circled the area sending a constant shrill message for people to “go home where you will be safe from thieves who will take your mobile phones and wallets.”

The serene, beautiful face of the Madonna with its disappearing “teardrop” looked down through the clouds of exhaust fumes on the noisiest place a miracle has ever taken place.

Religion is one place where the communist government doesn’t know best, although they maintain strict controls over official church appointments and all religious material must be approved by the government before distribution.

Vietnam has eight million Catholics in its population of more than 82 million, the second largest Catholic community in Asia after the Philippines.
The Vatican and Vietnam still have no diplomatic relations.
October 29 2005

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Breakfast in Nirvana

Today I'm leaving Indonesia and Islam and posting an article that I wrote for The Australian some years ago.

 Breakfast in Nirvana: 10 Days in a Thai Monastery

Are you the sort of person who really likes getting bossed around? Do you like getting up at 4am? How about eating a kind of tasteless vegetarian glue twice a day? Wooden neck-pillows? Serious lectures from virgins about the evils of sexual pleasure?
Wat Suan Mok monastery is about 70 years old and famous in Thailand and internationally for its vipassana (clear sight) meditation retreats. It is surrounded by rainforest, hot springs and rice fields. Bhikkhu Buddhadhasa, the founder of Suan Mok, is a respected figure locally and internationally. His monastery is said to reflect the form of Buddhism practised by the earliest disciples more than 2,500 years ago. I’m about to step off the train from Bangkok and take a trip back in time.

Not your standard tourist attraction, the famous retreats are silent (you can’t speak for ten days) and open to people of all or no religions. The retreats are run by the monks, with assistance from some volunteers from various western countries. I am personally not particularly interested in Buddhism. I’ve just come here because I really need some peace and quiet – but I’m prepared to keep an open mind and listen…..or am I?

Welcome to Day One
4am Rise on bell
4.30am Listen to a reading
5.30 – 7am Yoga
7-8am Breakfast (you can’t taste it at all)
By 10 am it definitely feels like bedtime. A very old, wise, lovely monk comes to give us a lecture. He is obviously an important and respected man and has among his credentials the experience of having lived alone in a cave for nine years. I think he probably has a lot of useful things to say. Unfortunately this monk taught himself English and I can’t understand one word he is saying. By Day 8, I’ll be literally shaking with boredom and frustration when he begins to speak (he speaks for an hour, twice a day). After the talk there’s meditation and another talk, and meditation, and another talk and meditation – and there’s another silent, gloomy meal in there somewhere. Everyone looking like dejected, red-eyed sheep at the table. The bed is a concrete slab and they turn the lights out and lock you in at 9.30.
I’m not sure I can do this.

Day 2
The same as Day One.

Day 3
The same as Day Two. Unless this is Day Two. No. I was wearing a different shirt. I am beginning to understand how a snail feels.

Day 4
… is definitely different. I’ve slept in and someone’s trying to get into my room.
“Please go outside.”
“I didn’t hear the bell.”
“You didn’t listen.”
Rolling off the concrete slab to confront the voice of trite authority is an ugly moment. I am suddenly wildly angry and realize that I’ve been getting bossed around and having my privacy violated and sleep interrupted for three days. I’m all hunched up like a baby bird and I’d murder a cup of coffee if I could get one. It’s pre-dawn in the forest – quiet and black. Stumbling down to the hall where the others are already sitting on their cushions on the concrete floor. I can’t find my cushions and I’m convinced that the smug German girl with the paisley headband has stolen them. This is a morning so unbearable and ridiculous that I can’t believe I’m not dreaming.
7am – Meditation – The sun is a huge orange disc over the coconut trees. Something has happened. I’m breathing and listening and watching and I can feel the golden roundness of every moment rising and falling away. My body is radiating and the morning is pure and beautiful. I can feel the exchange of energy between my body and the entire world, it seems. The rest of the retreat will be like this – one moment frustrated to fever pitch, the next profoundly calm and radiant. A human yo-yo.

Day 5
A cadaverous looking English monk comes to speak. He speaks English, which is a great relief, and he’s very witty and entertaining until he starts to talk about the dangers of sexual desire. (We’ve heard a lot about that already and as I’m only a week out of a torrid holiday romance, I’m not convinced.) He suddenly sounds angry. He gets a bit worked up and starts to sputter:
“Sex is for procreation only – otherwise it’s just like mutual masturbation – and we all know where that leads!!!”
Where does it lead, I wonder. To blindness? Diabetes? A nasty rash?
Then he switches the subject to food and suddenly I’m dreaming about sex and bacon and egg sandwiches.

Day 6
Reading – yoga – meditation - lecture from the incomprehensible monk - meditation - not bacon and eggs – lecture from the monk who doesn’t like us to have sex – red eyed sheep eating glue…
Day 7
Every evening we are asked to send loving kindness to the leader of our country. In fact sending loving kindness to any of the current political leaders is the tallest order I’ve had so far. Ok – I’ve promised not to read, write, talk to anyone, masturbate (alone or with a friend) , kill mosquitoes , wear perfume or use toilet paper. But you’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

Day 8
Today I actually jump the fence and escape into the forest. After a few minutes I come across two completely naked men in a hot spring. Their clothes and a packet of cigarettes are on a stone bench nearby. Could these people be the spirit elves of the forest? Or a mirage set up by the monastery to tempt me? I ask for a cigarette in tourist Thai and they answer just like normal, courteous men would if a mirage in mint-green meditation trousers stepped out from behind a tree an asked for a cigarette.
“Would you like to join us?”
“Better not.”

Day 9
Things are breaking down a little. Several people have left and there have been wild rains, thunder, lightning, some small fish throwing themselves out of the lake by accident and trying to walk back on their fins. There seems to be a message in there somewhere. Some people have already started talking and I want them to stop. Tomorrow is really there, although they keep trying to tell us it’s an illusion.

Day 10
I’ve made it. Today we can go. I’m walking down the lane with this bloke called Harry from Adelaide, who’s telling me about the current “situation” with his wife. It’s like exiting from a dream into a world of lost children. This whole thing has been such an incredible struggle with discomfort, tiredness, boredom, my own very strong dislike of being bossed around. It’s only when I get back to Chai Ya that I notice it. The quiet that I seem to have taken with me like an extra piece of weightless luggage, in place of a whole lot of angry noise left behind.

Some useful tips for meditators that I picked up on the retreat:

• If you find yourself falling asleep, beat yourself with a stick.

• You can overcome lust by looking at pictures of decaying corpses

• It is important to sit in a way that is both stable and secure, so that when the mind becomes semi-conscious, you do not fall over.


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

We interrupt this broadcast....

Today I want to post my review of fellow authonomy author, Kevin Bergeron.
I was expecting his novel, In a Cat's Eye to be good, but not quite this good. Below is my review which I posted on good reads and Amazon. All hail Kevin!

Stunning Writing

What a beautiful, poignant story. Vaguely reminiscent of John Steinbeck but more subtle. The narrative voice is flawless and the blend of humour and sadness expertly handled. The characters in this story are down and outs - thieves, hookers, users, crazy, or just plain mean. The main character, simple-minded Willy, is adrift among them, one step away from returning to jail, with no real purpose or guide and no direction. The murder of a woman at the hotel has him hunting for evidence, in the form of a statue of the Madonna. In this seemingly lost world the statue shines out as a symbol of simple human kindness. This book was hard to put down. Beautifully constructed and, I think, heading for the bestseller list.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Indonesia and democracy – is it growing stronger?

A friend has recently returned from Jakarta, the setting for Ramadan Sky. He reports that new grand shopping malls have eclipsed the ones from just a few years ago and that, surprisingly, he didn’t see any beggars on the streets. (He did not go to Kuningan, though, and was only there for a few days. The skyline is still smoggy and it takes hours to go anywhere. The traffic still crawls along like a drunken millipede and it is hot and muggy as ever.
One very noticeable and encouraging thing is the growing rise of union strikes which are happening with regularity. October 31st this year saw a two-day nationwide strike in Indonesia, with unions expressing their dissatisfaction with the rising cost of living. This year minimum wages have risen, but inflation is .offsetting the benefits of this. Nevertheless, the workers are getting a voice. The papers are reporting the strikes. The people are growing stronger.
Check out this report from the BBC.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Where does the money go?

Sitting on Jimbaran Beach in Bali you can see the big planes fly in from all over the affluent world. There was at least one every half hour when I was on that beach for the day, not so long ago. The ocean and the surrounding terrain, were almost shouting in golden light. I had the obligatory beach manicure and a group of musicians came up and sang “you are so beautiful” to me, as I finished off my grilled sea food. As my companion was telling me off for paying the five-piece band ten dollars, another plane seemed to float down onto the nearby runway like a giant bird. People were coming to take a well-earned rest in the island paradise – a cliché, but it’s hard to bother coming up with anything else in this gorgeous, magical part of Indonesia.

This morning, at home in Australia, I’m reading the latest on a disagreement between the Bali wage council and the unions on the minimum wage for workers in Indonesia. According to the Bali Daily, the Bali Wage Council has set the minimum wage at 1.4 million Rp (about $130 AUD) and is now waiting for approval from the governor. The Independent workers Federation wants it to be raised to 1.7 to 2.1 million ($160 – 200 AUD).

Something doesn’t sit right--negotiations over $70 per worker per month going on while these huge planes arrive, from the bellies of which emerge millions of tourists every year. They will spend more than $70  per day on having drinks and seafood served up to them, luxuriating in spas and shopping for fake or real designer clothes, and locally crafted jewellery. Where does all the tourism money go?  We Aussies with our sunburn, pot bellies, thongs and Bintang t-shirts are an odd-looking global aristocracy, haggling over goods in the markets and shops of Kuta. I don’t know what the answer is, or even the question sometimes, but reading this Bali Daily report this morning as I think about my upcoming Christmas trip to Bali, my toast isn’t going down as well as usual. In the great land of the fair go are we becoming anesthetised to global inequity?