Monday, November 26, 2012

Karma for postmodernists

I often think about the popular saying 'What goes around comes around'. Take the supernatural elements of Karma away, and you're left with a very basic principle: The kind of energy you send out into the world affects the kind of energy you will receive from the others around you. If you smile at a stranger on the street, you're likely to get a smile back. If you glower and shake your first, people will mimic you as a way of relating. Your kindness/anger inspires their kindness/anger.

When you seek to hurt someone, you are operating from a place of hurt. The negativity which you wish to transfer onto someone else is already festering inside, wreaking all sorts of havoc on your system. You think it'll be better once you're done hurting your target, but you actually make it worse. Others' happiness, or lack of it, impacts our own. It's a vicious cycle.

What's better than two people who reinforce each others' hurt? People who reinforce each other's feel-good tendencies. To love and care for another person is to love and care for yourself. Altruism is a most 'selfish' act. If you receive hurt, try not to pass it on. Draw upon your reserve of good feelings instead. Tell someone how much you appreciate them. You're likely to get the sentiment back and more, thereby ensuring that the chain of hurt ends with you, and you've begun something entirely new to counteract it (either directly or indirectly). The lucky person who was treated nicely by you will go out into the world with renewed purpose to pay it forward.

A win-win situation is always around the corner.

There has been a lot of research on how societies with a comparatively low level of income inequality make for happier, closely-knit communities where there is a high level of trust between the citizens. It turns out that, even if you're part of the 1% (of people who own the highest degree of wealth) in, say, Chicago, you are still as affected by the same high level of crime and low level of community spirit as a homeless person. You can't insulate yourself from the rest of the city, because we're all interconnected. Your extremely high level of economic privilege is the result of someone else's extreme disempowerment. But what if you are both on the same socio-economic level, on even footing, sharing the resources as equals? The walls collapse and you become free to connect, knowing that you share the same values: a dedication to the collective well-being. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

O happy day!

There's nothing like the prospect of the name 'Mitt Romney' rapidly fading from public discourse to turn a girl's frown upside down! :oD I know that just because the Democrats have emerged victorious doesn't mean that I've heard the last of the Republicans, but it's very consoling to know that Obama and his administration will be the dominant voices coming out of the States. I am imagining an US Politics Word Cloud where the size of the Romney tag is ever-decreasing... soon it won't even be visible to the naked eye.

My dad and I watched Obama's victory speech live on CNN, and were both moved to tears, even though neither of us buy into American exceptionalism. The kind of soaring rhetoric which would be dismissed as overly idealistic in Australia touched on some resonant notes for us, and I was left to wonder what might have been if Obama's race wasn't demonised by a large section of the American population... what kind of policy and personality development he would have been allowed to develop if he were viewed as white. But it doesn't do much good to get lost in a hypothetical universe. No amount of wishful thinking can change the current realities I perceive. Envisioning an Obama leadership free of constant stigmatisation from racist hysterics does however allow me to imagine that Obama could have been a more effective, charismatic and powerful progressive force, and puts things into perspective. We all do the best we can with the circumstances we find ourselves in. Obama has managed to stay in the white house, keeping the politics, if not left-of-centre, then not as right-wing as they would invariably become under Republican governance.

So let's hear it for four more years of America's first third culture kid president! *clink*

Friday, November 2, 2012

Girls, get your misogynist today!

Hey girls, feeling alright at just this particular moment? Tsk tsk. What you need is a man to subtly undermine your self-esteem and subconsciously manipulate you into submitting to his gaslighting and demands. Make haste and become attractive to these people - they can only be nabbed if you sufficiently hate yourself. Remember the rule: Look good on the outside, let society corrode your self-esteem on the inside. If you're appropriately insecure you stand a good chance of catching their attention. The more you hate on other women, the better. Slut-shame with the best of the men to earn extra points. Regularly identify women as ugly or homosexual and that previously aloof misogynist will regard you with a vaguely vindictive glow in his eyes.

The good news is that the world is on your side. Contrary to popular belief, misogynists are not in short supply. Ubiquitous, they are. You're conditioned to hang on their every demeaning word and offer up the remains of your self-confidence for merciless slaughter.

Isn't heteronormativity brilliant? Conform, conform now. Good girl. For god's sake, don't become a feminist. You might do things such as not regard your body hair as hideous, speak your mind and be labelled a bitch for your refusal to be constantly considerate to male concerns. You will develop a distaste for the misogynists, and other female misogyny connoisseurs will shun you. No longer will your sense of self-worth be regularly depleted. Your rejection of mainstream male behaviour will effortlessly alienate the grand majority of the populace. Why do this when you could be just like everyone else and submit to being physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually abused?

Everybody loves a bit of humiliation in day-to-day life. Being female means you'll be on the receiving end of it. Clearly you need to accept that reality. To do otherwise means misogynists who would've happily dismissed you previously might reconsider the efficacy of their woman-hating ways. It's not for the weak-hearted. You might pick up things like courage, self-assurance and a healthy self-love along the way. Once again I must stress that you can't survive without becoming a victim to misogynists. Conformity may not be empowering, but it's instrumental to retaining the status quo. Don't abandon it now...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Swenglish puns

I've been learning Swedish over the past half-year, in a way that can best be described as whimsical. I started by copying the comments my Swedish friends made on Facebook and pasting them onto Google Translate, then progressed to following Swedish speakers on Twitter and translating their Tweets. Google Translate then allowed me to listen to an automatic interpretation of the text, and I could imitate away... These days I listen to Sverigesradio.se when I can, and have even taught myself to sing one or two Swedish songs. With little else but techniques like these, I've reached the point where I can understand a small but growing amount of the texts I daily come across. So, with no further ado, here's a few puns you can make to a speaker of both Swedish and English.

'Sounds kul!' - Kul means fun in Swedish, and sounds like cool in English, which means you can gently subvert its meaning for a subtle twist.

'I be so glad' - Glad means happy, so you can pretend to understate your sense of happiness. Only works with a UK or Irish accent.

'Vi went up with a hiss' - Hiss means elevator; vi means we

*

It's a lot easier than I thought to learn a new language. If you have an interest in doing so, I suggest finding really fun, interesting texts to sink your teeth into. Watch videos on Youtube.com, devour all the foreign language films you can find, dig up the lyrics to your favourite songs on the web, and befriend someone on Skype who you can practice with (I'm still working up the courage to do the last one - Benny at www.fluentin3months.com highly recommends this!).

Here's Benny Lewis speaking at TEDxSanAntonio, which motivates me to keep turning my inspiration into action...


Monday, October 29, 2012

For the Americans


If the rest of the world could vote, they would undoubtedly re-elect Obama. But all Aussies like me can really do is remind our progressive American buddies that every vote counts; especially in a race as tight as this one. I understand many of you find it hard to get enthusiastic about Obama, but imagine if Romney were allowed to ride into into the white house due to voter apathy... things would deteriorate not only for America but for the rest of the world. So I say, if the idea of voting for Obama makes you sick, think of it more as a vote against Romney... let's leave the zombie apocalypse idea where it belongs, on Halloween (and Whedon's films)!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Alliances of the oppressed

There are a lot of oppressed people around: 50% of the world's population who perform the gender of 'female', all the people who are differentiated from the mainstream in terms of racial or ethnic identity and not given equal status or rights because of it, GLBTI people who innovate romantic, sexual and other forms of relationships and are detested by the heterosexualist status quo for it, physically or mentally disabled people who rail against the very definition they are made to align themselves with (some advocate for 'differently abled' or more empowering terms) and are regularly demonised or dehumanised, and so on. This is just one way of thinking about oppression, perhaps the most common - placing people in these groups that have a place in the landscape of popular activism. But it is not the only one.

Anyone who elects to be different, or cannot help but be relegated 'lesser than' the rigid confines of 'white, heterosexualist male,' can expect to have something to fight for. As a Slavic, pansexual female, I am one of the oppressed. And in being oppressed, I am part of the majority. The majority of us aren't white, heterosexualist males who are happy with the shoes they are expected to fill in oppressing others (and, in doing so, oppressing themselves). If we look for similarities between us long enough, we will find them, and it is this radical empathy - the ability to put aside the fear that other minority groups cannot understand us or won't come to our aid - that creates the beneficial relationships across different social worlds and fosters an environment in which 'my empowerment is your empowerment'.

I will always be thankful for the circumstances of my schooling, in which Eastern European immigrants were such a minority that I didn't have access to people who reinforced my birth culture to conform to during the teenage years. The majority of the people in my first high school class were Asian, and so I learned early on to question my formative cultural beliefs and relate to backgrounds different to my own. Unlike my parents, who grew up in a homogenous environment where extreme entrenched racism was the norm, I feel comfortable within a multicultural environment and like my social worlds to be informed by cultural and-or racial diversity. It feels like something is missing if there aren't at least a few different backgrounds in the mix. The most common instance of this is white people clustering together, and reinforcing the ignorance they have about non-whites in the process. Put simply, white people in the West need the lessons that come by the way of non-white socialising. We are letting the potentially most innovative people in our environments pass us by without reaching out and learning from them all we can.

When we forget to feel threatened by other groups, the most wonderful things can happen. New friendships can form, new ideas can be exchanged, new businesses can spring up, a new politics of transracial affiliation is given room to grow. We are changing the culture, one relationship at a time. Changing the nation from a segregated, fearful structure of clinging to old, tired, unproductive norms, to a new dynamic that prioritises openness and inclusiveness.

It all starts with a smile and a conversation, a genuine curiosity and some good-will. Sooner or later, if you make enough connections, you will find the emergence of new allies in your world. That girl who seemed vaguely alien may come up with just the right idea to get you out of your writer's block. That guy who you worried might be homophobic due to his cultural background might have a pivotal insight into your relationship problem. The gender-nonconforming individual you had been slightly avoiding could turn out to be your new best friend if you give them a chance to share their world with you. In difference lies beauty, inspiration, innovation.

Maybe, if you're like me, you feel that there aren't many people out there who can understand you. One thing I try my best to do is not to shut myself off from meeting new people. I don't want to let my sense of isolation prevent me from being open to whoever the day may bring my way. It can be difficult at times, but I know that only a willingness to communicate with others will lead to new the kind of breakthroughs I cannot make on my own.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Admirable Australians

This is a tribute to wonderful Australians who have inspired me in a multitude of ways over the years. 

Let's hear it for...

Germaine Greer - one of the world's most renowned feminists




Michael White - the creator of narrative therapy, a poststructuralist counselling practice


Julia Gillard - the first female Prime Minister of Australia, who recently made headlines around the world for speaking out against the sexist and misogynistic attacks typical of the leader of the Opposition


Cordelia Fine - a pioneering neurologist who claims that women and men aren't hardwired to be different, but that social conditioning accounts for their differences


Darren Hayes - formerly the more melodious half of Savage Garden, Darren came out as gay after their split and has stayed on the music scene. This is a guy who dares to expose the darker side of his experience, defying the homophobic criticism songs like this will inevitably attract in this day and age


The Veronicas - at the cutting edge of pop, the twin sisters have continued to fuse innovative music, provocative lyrics and delicious vocals over the years


Sexism and Misogyny

Seeing as the modus operandi of those who hate women and seek to prevent them from empowering themselves to a status that is equal to men is often to deny that sexism and misogyny exist, the very presence of the words is a sign of feminist thought being written into the language (at various levels of intensity). As long as we're discussing misogyny and sexism, the philosophy that there is inequality between those who identify as female and those who identify as male has currency. My goal is to make feminist discourses proliferate, as a strategy to empower both women and men through collapsing the gender binary. In an ideal world, we are all gender-free.

So keep the conversation going, folks.

*

Two and a half weeks ago I unsubscribed from most of my feminist groups online. I needed a bit of space to think things over. The debate that occurs within feminist spaces is vital to the creation and creative development of the movement, but sometimes too much antagonism can get me down. I've been following feminist rhetoric closely for what feels like many years, and I feel like I've grown a lot during that time. I expect more from the people I associate with now, and in reading the thoughts of activists around the globe I've found strengths within myself I hadn't imagined possible.

If you're thinking of getting involved in feminism or related activities but aren't sure it's right for you, I suggest you give it a chance. I guarantee that you'll find a spot within the feminist community that is both uniquely your own, and supported by many.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Disarmed

A few years ago I watched BBC or CNN footage of Stephen Fry trying to persuade Chinese authorities to pardon a bipolar UK citizen from his death penalty sentence. He reluctantly put his arms behind his back and clasped his hands together, recognising that the man he was speaking to was aware the he identified as gay, and was under the mistaken impression that Stephen might come on to him. This gesture felt familiar to me - I too am a forceful personality and people mistrust their own instincts when aware of my bisexuality. I felt sad that people couldn't accept us non-heterosexuals as a natural part of the attraction economy and compelled us to 'disarm' ourselves so that we don't seem so very threatening.

Last weekend, at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, I made straight for the bookshop in between speeches, and this was how I came face to face with the image of Benjamin Law, one of Australia's most prominent new writers, on the cover of his latest book, Gaysia.

The popularity of this pose amongst prominent gay men seems to speak to the expectations mainstream society places upon them. They are allowed to be entertaining, quirky, witty and charming, just so long as they keep out of sight the kind of sensuality that informs many everyday relations, even though most people wouldn't own to their day-to-day communications having an sexual undertone.

Let me put it this way: You know how there are some shops you return to often? How some of the people working there are more pleasant to deal with than others? Think of your favourite shop assistant, and I guarantee that if you look hard enough (and are honest with yourself), you'll notice that both of you send each other subtle sexual signals. They may not lead to anything (usually this sort of subliminal flirting is just a light social lubricant, signifying nothing in particular), but they're there. You smile at each other, you exchange mutual messages about each others' worth, you subtly affirm their sexuality, and they yours. Most people aren't aware of this on a conscious level, but it registers in the subconscious, and that is why the homophobia of the mainstream bullies people like Stephen Fry and Benjamin Law into voluntarily 'disarming' the subtle sexual messages they send - messages that homophobes are simultaneously drawn to and repelled by, because they can't admit to their own attractions.

It took me about 25 seconds to find another image of Stephen Fry with his hands behind his back.


I say, we need to 'turn this around'. Let non-heterosexual people reclaim their freedom of movement. Most people are sensually aroused by most people on some subtle, barely conscious level. Let it be. Get over it. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Cascading

Rain like pepper from the sky
I watch with fondness as it falls


* 

 The weather in Sydney has been becoming rainier and rainier... and I've learned to like it. Perhaps it's no co-incidence that Woody Allen romanticised ¨Paris in the rain¨ in Midnight in Paris at a time when we are seeing more rainfall than ever, around the world. Whatever happens climatically, we are adapting quickly.

Friday, October 5, 2012

`What if we trusted you?´

There were many worthwhile talks at TEDxCopenhagen (I watched the live feed), but this one stood out for me as the most revolutionary:


Ambient sound and awesome feminists

Earlier this year I plunged a q-tip into my left ear without care and created a new dynamic there, whereby I experience a constant low-level ringing in that ear. At times I accept it, and at others I desperately want to forget about its presence, and surround myself with loud sounds (preferably music) to drown out the monotonous symphony that will probably never fade out of my background.

It upsets me that I may never again hear true silence. I have a referral to see a hearing specialist, but I'm too scared of the most likely conclusion they will be forced to deliver: I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do.

Nevertheless, I'm determined to see the bright side. It's a neutral sound, not unpleasant. I'm trying to relax into it, instead of making myself a bit on edge every time I become consciously aware of it again. Maybe I will coax myself into being extra nice to myself to compensate for any stress this new condition may cause me.

Last weekend was pretty intense - freshly sans the silvery wrapping that protected my severely burnt limb from possible infection, and looking forward to shaking off the blues that had accumulated from two weeks' confinement to the couch, I stepped out in style and attended a series of talks at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas before chilling out at Sydney's Parklife music festival.

Germaine

It was my second Germaine Greer talk. She's been described as brilliant, eccentric, elegant, sensible and looms large amongst my role models. At FODI she spoke on how 15% of women in the (I assume American) military had been evaluated as suffering from sexual trauma, and how while the solution was not to discourage women from entering the military, it was to discourage anyone from being part of the military. It's no place for a human being, she asserted with her typical inspired gravity.

Greer claimed that academics were impotent and later advised one of the audience members not to take on extra responsibilities within it because it was easy to get overloaded. She made me uncomfortable by ascribing to women who knit pervasive loneliness and an attempt to convey their deep affection for their families, even as their home-made produce would be most likely neglected, and admitted that she was describing her own practice.

Germaine's next book is supposed to be on her life in a rainforest, which sounds both like bliss and a nightmare - so many creatures around you, yet few people to talk to as you benefit from communing with nature.

The foremost feminist is an advocate of The Real, and while her achievements within that frame are superlatively immense, as a postmodernist I can't help but wish she shared my views on the social construction of reality. Then again, I could say the same for anyone.

My criticism of the idea of womens' liberation from a feminist perspective is that equality is not a weak concept. When given the space it deserves, I believe it emerges as the most radical stance of all. I do believe that women and men have relatively few biological differences, and much of what is popularly perceived to be biological difference in 2012 is actually social conditioning. Women are conditioned to be more emotionally expressive, men are conditioned to be more technically astute. If women make better counsellors and nurses, it's because they've been given millenia to grow into the roles of care-takers and providers of emotional support. If men are overrepresented in the hard sciences it's because this has been a traditionally male arena ever since it was first performed. Unconscious bias and phobia shapes much of our career choices and personality formation. Equality would necessitate we think of ourselves in a gender-neutral way, even make the concept of gender obsolete... It took me a trip to Scandinavia to realise that, at that moment in time, I had no idea what equality might look like. The gender binaries are so deeply embedded into our conceptual frameworks that I would be lying if I said I could imagine a world in which they didn't exist. This epiphany led me to stay open-minded about how I might change in the future, as I continue to innovate at the edges of my societies. I could grow in so many ways completely unforseen at present. Anything remains possible, and unprecedented subversions need to occur to get us closer to equality, so I'm just trying to stay connected to the constant flow of radical women and men making their visions of gender politics the next new thing.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Witty Ditties

We start with a South Korean offering that's been taking the world by storm. Psy mainly sings about Doenjang girls and pokes fun at the excesses of capitalism in 'Gangnam Style', which has become the most watched Youtube video of all time. (Gangnam is a prestigious suburb in Seoul.)


Next we find ourselves in a UK, where Nick Clegg's attempt to recapture the public's sympathy appears to have backfired, as parodies of the apology proliferate.


I don't even know which show this next clip is camping up, but there's something refreshingly over the top about it.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hanging out with the socialists

I've just realised that, while I am wholeheartedly liberal in my approach (go capitalist democracy!), I find myself drawn to, and identifying with, socialists on a regular basis. From the British journalist Laurie Penny, to the Australian editor of Overland, Jeff Sparrow, to American academic Douglas Kellner, I follow the work of a whole bunch of left-wingers, and they frequently move me. I find myself protesting the phrase 'wingnuts' because it implies that fascists can be placed in the same category as these endearing rebels, which does them a disservice.

Perhaps I am drawn to these consumers of 'utopia' because they are part of a much-scorned minority group. Take Slavoj Zizek, for example - his analysis of the world is frequently fascinating, and offers relevant criticism on topics like how liberals assuage their guilt over their nations' histories of Islamophobia (as in his book Violence) without really doing much to address the issue, however his fondness for authoritarian outlooks makes it difficult for me to identify with him beyond a certain extent.

Jeff Sparrow writes that left-wing intellectuals have earned a certain amount of cultural capital amongst the intelligentsia. Indeed, their critiques of the institution of consumerism and democracy are often insightful because it's an atypical perspective they approach our societies with... they make the familiar unfamiliar, the supposedly reassuring and enabling seem oppressive. Their outsider perspective cultivates much in the way of creativity.

However, authoritarianism is authoritarianism, and while I enjoy hanging out and spending some time in their world, eager to learn something new, I can only get so close. I can't humour the self-defeating idealism which sees them prioritise a political system which has failed dismally every time it's been put into practice, because it doesn't allow for freedom of speech. Such naive trust in the power of a group of individuals to remain non-corrupt shows a lack of understanding of human nature, and shouldn't be indulged.

Reality sucks. There will probably always be uneven distributions of power. But at least in a capitalist democracy, we, the people, can write about it, read about it, and have the power to vote for the people we perceive to be the least corrupt - time and time again.

Nevertheless, there is much fun and knowledge to be had from spending time with socialist intellectuals, and I admire their drive and stubborn determination to hold onto views that many people ridicule or find offensive. Not to mention, most socialists are supportive of feminism, queer rights, racial equality and disability rights. More power to those who can contribute to society by being well-educated and well-intentioned, even if we don't share the same politics.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Saying no to white privilige

While lingering in the air conditioned cool of MBK, Bangkok's self-proclaimed 'most visited mall', I was accosted by a group of women in green uniforms who were selling beauty treatments. I usually avoid beauty clinics since they usually play on women's insecurities (with their posters of [most likely Photoshopped] women with almost impossibly smooth skin, big eyes with long, thick lashes, big lips and small noses, dyed and styled hair, etc), charging high prices for an effect of low importance.


That said, I am not completely free of superficiality or immune to being pampered, which is why I get a facial treatment once every 1-2 month(s). I took a look at the brochure proffered, expecting the usual array of skin services but was taken aback to discover that all of them were 'whitening' treatments. I found it insulting that "white skin" was being prioritised over the variegated Asian shades, which are perfectly lovely the way they are. I don't feel like my epidermis colouring makes me any more or less beautiful than any Asian (or African, Latin American, Native American, etc), and it's disconcerting that people should place my whiteness on a pedestal, giving me extra special treatment. It means that, somewhere else, a differently coloured visitor is getting less special treatment, or even outright abuse. People who are identified as having 'blackness' sometimes find that Thais save their smiles for those associated with 'whiteness'. So much suspicion, so much disdain, so much prejudice.

How can we change this? Speak up! I didn't have much Thai and the lady closest to me didn't have much English, but I was able to express how I offended I was to some extent. She went 'ohhh' and looked sad for a moment. Then she reclaimed the brochure and turned to look for another customer. But she got the message: whiteness is not what I associate with beauty.

So I have a message for white people: Please do you your bit to tackle racial prejudice when it rears its ugly head around you. You are perfectly suited to this job because you automatically have the attention of everyone - whites, blacks, Asians, everyone. Without having done a thing to deserve it, people give you more life chances. Use them to undermine the mindset that advantages you and disadvantages others. Use your privilege to point out how unfair it is. Explain that society has let you down because we've all been conditioned to believe that whiteness is better than the rest. Explain that you want to see more confident Asians in your social circle. Explain that you want black people to hold more and higher positions of power in government, the boardroom and the police force. Explain that you don't need white privilege because you are a valuable person in your own right, and it doesn't take anything away from you to elevate other races to the same status. Explain that it would actually add to your experience if non-whites were equally privileged to you.

I look forward to the day when the social construction of beauty does away with whiteness as an ideal, and a world where the darkest shades are as desirable as the lightest... but this isn't going to happen on its own, and change can feel awfully slow. Put yourself in the shoes of a dark-skinned Nepalese who lives in a multicultural white-majority society and has internalised the sentiments around her that her skin colour isn't as attractive as that of lighter women. Now imagine if her self-loathing were gone because she saw many positive representations of people with similar shades of flesh in advertising, or was reading a diet of books the authors of which shared her cultural background, or at least the experience of being an immigrant and/or an ethnic minority. Imagine if she mixed freely with people of every colour, not worrying what her parents might think if the person she loved wasn't of Nepalese background. Imagine if she grew up to be the CEO of Toyota in that country, because her leadership skills and love for this particular kind of transportation saw her be the ideal candidate - and that her race had never been a point of contention to anyone on her team. This is how a life might play out in a racially inclusive (not 'tolerant') society. Her satisfaction would impact that of many others - a well-adjusted person has a wide circle of friends, acquaintances and fans, as well as having special significance to their partner and family. We need more people of Nepalese (and Congolese, and Uruguayan, and Indigenous Australian) background to grow up with the opportunity to thrive in life. We need their happiness because it contributes to the overall happiness, including ours.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Pics from Phuket Town

Enjoy this collection of photos from Thalang Street and around... all images taken by me, Epiphanie Bloom.













Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Reprise (Phuket Town)

A last minute change of heart saw me getting in touch with its 'coolness'. The Thai saying 'to have a cool heart' alludes to keeping your emotions under control. This is ideally accompanied by a sense of mindfulness and feeling one with the world. I once wrote on Twitter: I'm an atheist amongst Buddhists, and my smile is tailor-made to fit. I try not to think of these distinction so much today... who's to say when atheist brainwaves end and Buddhist ones begin? These categories aren't as meaningful to me as they could be in another space, in another time. I want to be influenced by the best practices of the people around me. I am open. 

[Thailand is one of the few places where smiling all the time leads to an increase in your social status. In places like Russia, smiling all the time is treated as a symptom of insanity.] 

The humid heat is like a pleasantly textured curtain pressed to my skin - somewhere far away from the chill of the Sydney winter am I. Here life moves at a different pace, guys often wear purple or pink, and I assume more responsibilities, making me feel more grown-up. 

I'm about to begin a new chapter in my life - moving to Sweden on my own. I look forward to leaving Sydney, with its myriad of bad memories and a million false starts behind. My eyes are on the prize. 

I still have no idea where I'm going and where I will end up. But it's always a good time to be in Thailand, so Phuket Town is a wonderful start. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

My shifting politics of travel

When I was younger, travel was a race to pack in as many sights and attractions into my itinerary as possible. I would spend 3-5 days in each new city, making a tour of all the Lonely Planet recommended galleries and museums, restaurants and sites of interest. I had a terrific time hopping around, savouring each moment and I was always on a high as a result. It's only recently that I've discovered what Rolf Potts calls 'slow travel'... Slow travel is about getting to know a place in more depth by spending more time in one location, and getting to know some of its residents. Since I started doing this it has quickly become the preferable way to travel. What makes slow travel so lucrative is that it exposes the complexities of each locale, with their chiaroscuro of exciting and mundane, improbably welcoming and surprisingly off-putting, fabulous and dreary. The longer you stay, the more nuances you catch, the more layers you find, and the more that place leaves its mark on your psyche.

As I go back to Southeast Asia, a region I have been enchanted by, disappointed in, found overabundant and morbidly lacking in turns, I look forward to discovering something new. I don't know what it is yet, and that's part of the joy. The freedom to shape my own questions, discover myself in between the tones (of the languages), communicate with my eyes and my toes... such is the power of travel as a state of mind.  

Monday, July 23, 2012

Towards Departure

In nine days I plan to be flying to Kuala Lumpur, the hub of AirAsia. I stay there for a night, then fly further north to Vientiane. From there I expect to travel up to Luang Prabang, east to Vietnam and go down the Viet coast... my Vietnamese must-sees have emerged as: Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hue and Hoi An... I'll try to strike a balance between relaxing and seeing the sights that most appeal to me. Depending on how much time I have, I could move further down to Dalat and HCMC (/Saigon). I have some very pleasant memories of Hoi An, Dalat and Nha Trang. I doubt I'll reach Tay Ninh again, the site of the Cao Dai Holy See, which I wasn't able to photograph back in 2005, but hopefully I'll bump into some Cao Dai sites of worship in the centre...

I've been feeling stifled by family life for some time, so I expect the sudden 6-week dose of freedom to revive my stuttering soul into a deeper, sweeter melody. I have no idea what I'm doing, which is always a desirable thing. My surroundings are irritating me so much that I have to remind myself to aim for equanimity all the time. Perhaps it would be an opportune moment in time to seek out a temple retreat, even though it's not presently on my agenda. Travel is always an enlivening, inspiring time... there's never a shortage of sights to marvel at in Southeast Asia, nor tastes to pursue, textures to caress and sounds to follow. I miss "white roses," the prawn dumplings of central Vietnam. I've never been to Laos before, but I already miss it. How can you not miss a place like this before you've even been there? :o)


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Something like 'Talking About It'

It is with some regret that I must admit that I'm not ready to take on all the responsibilities I set out to assume by participating in the Talk About It movement. Perhaps I'm being too much of a perfectionist in some ways, and I don't need to talk about everything in great detail... it does feel like if I do this, I need to do it properly, though. Both for my sake and the sake of all the other untold stories that are in silent circulation, informing every sentence we form on the page and every phoneme we speak... I hope to return to the topic of sexual consent and how often womens' (and mens' boundaries) are violated through revealing my own personal examples... it's just that, the more I went back to a time I have somewhat suppressed in my memory, the more down I was getting, and I fear that it's too much, too soon, to go back to that time. Perhaps just by writing about the experience of wanting to write about it, I can help people who see the value in lifting out of shameful silence the injustices committed against us.

Ok, here goes: It wasn't my fault that I was raped. The fault is solely that of the rapist.

One of the first things I wanted to talk about was the reaction I received from my parents. I told my parents in our living room one night, and was angered by the silence. It seemed to go on forever. When at last my mother said something, it was inadequate: I was expecting "Oh my god, are you alright? What happened? Did you recover physically without complications? Did you go to the police? How can we help you with your psychological recovery?" Instead, I remember the silence more than what was eventually said, because it spoke volumes. It said: Your rights are not as important to us as you think they are. You don't deserve emotional support because you probably asked for it on some level. 

I know otherwise. I know that I had (and still have) the right to have my sexual integrity respected, and it's horrible (not to mention illegal) that it wasn't. Rape is a violent act (nothing to do with sex) which is designed to terrorise, intimidate and otherwise disempower an individual. In my case, the rapist wanted to put me in my place because I demonstrated a lot of confidence and independence, which was threatening to him. I didn't need him, and he knew it. I was a white solo female traveller in China, and he was suffering from state-sanctioned structural gender inequality which prioritises patriarchy through brutal performances of dominence. You'd better believe that he was a seriously fucked up individual who needed to abuse to feel validated.

I guess I just began to Talk About It after all... ha!

Did I report the rape? Yes.

Did the police do anything about it? No - he basically got away with it. He told me that, when the police took him in for questioning, they beat him. But I'm not sure if he was telling the truth, or lying to seem more vulnerable and likeable.

Is this common? Yes - if I remember correctly, it is estimated that only about 1% of rapes are ever brought to justice. Most of them aren't reported, and this is because the abused individual often struggles to frame their experience as one of 'being raped' and 'requiring that it be brought to justice.'

What is rape culture? As an Australian and a global citizen, I live in a country and a world in which women are not treated as equal to their male counterparts. One extension of this structural inequality is Rape Culture. A good example of it is how the comedian Daniel Tosh joked about how it would be hilarious if a female audience member were to be gang raped in that moment. Rape is trivialised, normalised, made to be something other than what it is, which is a cowardly demonstration of control aimed at hurting another person physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Recently there was a phenomenon called SlutWalk, which I didn't participate in because I have never identified with its eponymous slur, much less the need to 'reclaim' it (I argue that creating extra circulation of this language is irresponsible and more damaging than helpful). Anyway, the point of these marches was to bring home the message that 'No means no' and that it doesn't matter what a woman is wearing, how much she has had a drink, how provocative she acts - if she indicates she doesn't want to have sex at some or any point in an interaction, that is her right, and our society needs to accept that as a basic truth.

What happened during the rape? I said Stop. He kept going. I was so shocked and traumatised that all I could do was lie still, trying to distract myself from the pain. It was traumatic and has had a big impact on my life (mostly negative, as can be expected).

What gave you the courage to speak out? Knowing that I'm not alone. Apparently 1 in 4 women will be raped before they graduate university, according to that news report. That doesn't take into account rapes that happen outside the college years. I belonged to a community about a year ago which was made for women by women, and as we started talking about our troubles, we started to talk about rape... and it emerged that most of the active participants (there were many) had been raped. We concluded that rape was prevalent, and did our best to be supportive of each other. It helped me understand my experience in context. Since then, I've joined other feminist groups, and read a lot about the subject. It has helped me find some peace, and Talk About It.

So if you're reading this and you've been raped (and don't forget that men are also subject to rape), remember: It's not your fault. You have the right to be angry, you have the right to be upset, you have the right to seek justice. No matter how society might seek to blame you for being abused, the blame lies solely with the rapist. Nobody ever "deserves" to be raped. Nobody ever "asks" for it. Do people "ask" to be murdered, or robbed? No. We would largely see such an attitude as horrible, and society is frequently horrible. It is all the more horrible because it doesn't largely recognise how horrible it is. (In the words of Mark Twain, Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.)  

Believe in yourself, and continue to empower yourself. One day, when we have true gender equality, rape culture will probably fade away. Help me spread the word to those more vulnerable than you: Rape is a tool for the oppression of women. The personal is political. Talk about it. (If you're on Twitter, you can use the hashtags #talkaboutit and #prataomdet.)

One more thing: You're gonna be okay. Time heals all wounds. And this is from someone who thought I'd never feel as good about my life as I do now.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Working up the nerve

I'm still figuring out how exactly to tell my story in a way that will have the best possible effect. In the meanwhile...

There are no two feminists alike. Some people are fighting for the right to abortions, some people are fighting to dismantle rape culture, some people care about heterosexual relationships above all, some people are engineering a new society without gender, some people are fighting for female quotas in parliament and the board room, some people are fighting to implement the Nordic model or better laws concerning prostitution, stripping and slavery, some people want to encourage everybody to hold women to a double standard when it comes to multiple sexual experience or going make-up free. Some people are fighting to make the word vagina obsolete due to its patriarchal origins. Some people are fighting for misogyny-free porn. The rights of pregnant women, the rights of queer, disabled, racially stigmatised women, the visibility of mothers, the need to mobilise men to get onboard the gender equality movement.

Recently, I've been realising how much work needs to be done, in all those areas and more. Quite frankly, it's an overwhelming amount of work which requires a lot of energy, and so it's not surprising that many feminists would feel discouraged or daunted. As someone with depression and anxiety, sometimes I don't want to leave the house for all the misogyny I'll be exposed to, let alone challenge the deeply ingrained prejudices of people dishing it out (male of female).

At times, I am livid. How dare society be so conservative? Don't they see they are waging wars upon themselves, preventing themselves from achieving the happiness and peace of mind that they could claim as rightfully theirs? I don't understand this crazy world. At other times I am forced to understand its workings when I need to pay attention to some kind of procedure in order to increase my livelihood. At these times, previously disconnected fragments cluster together, and a new part of my experience becomes apparent. I try to communicate this for the people who are interested. I do my best to make the world a better place.

I am a bit gloomy today because I have a throat infection, but I'd just like to say that, for those of your despairing at the comprehension of how much effort is needed of us feminists - hang in there. You don't have to be an activist 24/7. You can take weeks or months off if you want to. No one will think less of you if you need to heal in order to do better work in the future. It's understandable if you can't give it your all as often as your high standards compel you to try to do - you are human, and you have the corresponding emotional needs.

These days I choose my fights carefully. I'm doing my best to accept the myriad of ways women express their sexuality in my culture and others, without judging or accusing. I'm doing my best to be compassionate and encouraging, because this is how I want to be treated in return. I want the freedom to do exactly what I decide is the best available option for me, without fearing others' judgements. Most of all, I want to find that space within myself where I can be as secure as possible.

This is why I prefer to go without a bra, don't wear make-up or high heels, don't wear revealing clothes, choose my sexual partners very carefully (I'm actually not sexually active at the moment - and happy about it), and am very picky about who I let into my social circle.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Enjoying life

In the near future I expect to be posting on a rather dark subject - the 'grey areas' around sexual consent. (The 'Prata om det' (Talk about it) campaign started in Sweden in 2010, as a response to the charges of rape and sexual assault brought against Julian Assange by two women in Stockholm. It became a Twitter phenomenon that is still continuing today under the hashtag #prataomdet, and there is an English section of their website.)

Today I woke up in a great mood that I wanted to share, though... so I will let the first song off Eric Saade's Vol 1. cd set the mood...


The news item of the day is Anderson Cooper's official coming out in the mainstream media. I shed some happy tears alternating between various write-ups and Tweets on this topic, because this is the most understated coming out of a famous person I've as yet seen, and the response has been rather a lot more positive than I was expecting. In fact, most commentators have focused on the lack of surprise associated with this news story. "Thank you Anderson Cooper for making America feel good about our gaydar,' twote @LOLGOP.

I have had the fortune to discover the English feminist Laurie Penny on Twitter, and am currently in the middle of reading her very insightful interview here. She writes, 'I think lost kids, the kids who the world nearly breaks, are the ones who will grow up to change it,' which makes me feel better for being medicated and often finding life pretty hard. Quickly becoming one of my favourite writers, she's one of those rare figures an activists for my 'big three' issues - gender, sexuality and race. Further, she also writes about mental health, which is something I aspire to do in the future.

I know I have a lot of male readers, and I think they'll find food for thought in one of the articles Laurie recently quoted: Straight White Male: The lowest difficulty setting there is. It's written by a member of the group he wishes to address, which may make it easier for some to relate to.

Next up, I found a tumblr dedicated to autodidactism! There are many wonderful strategies for learning that other people have come up with that we can all benefit from. Whether we're part of academic culture, or more freestyle in our ways, learning independently is both fun and deeply satisfying.

Guess what?! My poem, Up Against, was published by the Australian feminist site Settle Petal! Please show the page some love here. I'd like to thank my Nigerian friend Bello Saeed for his praise, without which I wouldn't have considered submitting the piece. :o) The Settle Petal editors included a magnetic image of an eye with my poem, showing that they know how to market my work better than I do (I rarely include images on this site).

In other great news, I'll be raving to Lady Gaga in concert on the other side of Australia in just five days, and I'll be catching my other favourite singer, Robyn, on the 30th of September in Sydney. Woohoo!

And I think I'll end with another Saade song with a message anyone can get behind... Have a great one! :oD


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Musings on marriage

I don't understand the heteronormative pressure to get married that seems to be driving a great many of my old school friends and acquaintances. I can't help but wonder how people I used to associate with every day could have wound up with such different attitudes to me. In order to understand the pressure they have grown up with, and have succumbed to, I have to remember that they always predominantly identified as heterosexual, and never rebelled against their traditional Asian upbringing too much. Even then, I have to wonder - why didn't they decide to be different anyway? "Why be happy when you could be normal," asks Jeanette Winterson, and the question is succinct to the point of brilliance.

Sure, I was out (and about) since I was 15, doing such "audacious" things as rejecting the expectation of marriage. "It's just a piece of paper," I would defiantly decry the institution. "I hope I never reach the point where I need to validate my relationship like that." Much later, Gloria Steinem sums up my sentiments with "I don't breed well in captivity." Not that Gloria is alone - there are a wide range of women (and men) who've proudly denounced marriage, preferring to make their own blueprint for love and life.

It could be because I've often identified as the eccentric (in fact, my former psychiatrist saw me as fitting the official description of such). It could be that - yes - I got married eight years ago for immigration purposes, or what would have been immigration purposes if I hadn't had enough of the American life and divorced the guy a few years later. It could be that I currently identify as gay for all practical intents and purposes. It could be that my parents have learned by now that, in the end, I always do exactly what I want, so there's not much use trying to persuade me to shun my nonconformist ways.

Whatever it is, I think marriage is a social construction I can be perfectly happy without. And it kind of amazes me that people haven't caught up to my ultra-progressive views yet. Stubbornly enough, I hope they will. In the meanwhile, suffering prevails in mainstream culture.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Starry-eyed Pragmatist

This week I came close to buying a cute apartment in a tiny village in the Scania region of Sweden. The village was called Tomelilla, famous for artists and apples, amongst other things. My daydreams of changing my Twitter location to 'Middle of Nowhere, Sweden' (it's actually well connected to Malmo and other bigger towns, but sleepy enough to fit my description) were rudely interrupted, however, upon finding out that my idyllic Nordic dwelling had some problems with robbery and other kinds of crime. It then occurred to me that all the villages I had been to were quite xenophobic. By the time I found out that the contract was leasehold (you buy the right to live there for a certain amount of time, but after that it no longer belongs to you) my dreams had been well and truly dashed.

I'll always have this picture of a lovely-looking bank to remember my fleeting obsession with Tomelilla by

No matter. I am now learning everything I possibly can about the nearby town of Ystad, and creating new dreams as I speak (so many dreams, so little time).


Sunday, June 10, 2012

The new bogeyman

I happened to watch two Hollywood blockbusters in the last month, and couldn't help but notice how prominent homophobia is in both The Avengers and Prometheus.

In Prometheus, two men venture out to explore a part of the unknown planet they have just landed on dressed in the standard protective wear. Their supervisor, clearly not thrilled with the situation, advises that they 'try not to bugger each other,' which works as a portent if you're paying attention to the symbolism of what comes next.

The two men explore in the darkness until, suddenly, an off-white, phallic-like organism (and it's hard to overstate how penis-like it is) shoots up from a mysterious ebony puddle to monopolise their attention. One of the men is all smiles and curiosity, stepping forward to kneel down, speaking to the being and eventually trying to touch it with his hand in the spirit of friendly exploration, while the other urges caution as he hangs back. This when the erect member alien life form breaks into action, coiling around the limb of the human, and growing longer, thicker and more monstrous by the second. The victim's arm is broken, and when the onlooker tries to cut the organism it gets him too. Eventually both men meet a grisly end when the organism's head buries itself deep into their mouths (only one of their deaths is shown). So there you have it, folks: death by anal sex, where the oral cavity is the more visually acceptable (and less literal) one to penetrate, but the reference to 'buggery' suggests another.

The Avengers is a lot more tame by comparison, even though you could argue that there is a phallic-style monster to contend with in the New York City battle as well... but mostly I was scratching my head at the witty dialogue, such as:

Steve Rogers: We have orders, we should follow them.
Tony Stark: Following's not really my style.

Steve Rogers: And you're all about style, aren't you?

Tony Stark: Of the people in this room, which one is a) wearing a spangly outfit, and b) not of use?


There is a quest to single out the behaviour which can be perceived to represent the highest degree of 'gayness'. Steve is punished by having no comeback and wearing a miffed expression. It should be noted that both of these heroic characters wear non-neutral, shimmery eyeliner at some point, with Steve in lavender and Tony in pale blue. What this movie offers in innovation of Desirable Male presentation it punishes with self-scrutiny of the homophobic kind.

The 'people in the room' are almost all male, and most aren't given a female love interest. They take a keen, almost invasive interest in each others' activities (especially when they're tearing each other apart, verbally or physically). It is then a fitting climax in Whedon's world that when Tony regains consciousness after exerting great effort to save the world, and finds himself surrounded by men hovering over him, his first words are something like: Please tell me nobody just kissed me.

From an optimistic view, we can call it progress that fear of homosexuality is becoming so topical. When I was growing up, homosexuality wasn't given much thought in the movies I consumed, but times have changed. These days, there are a lot more gay role models, laws have been amended to allow homosexual couples the right to marry or adopt children, and people who would have never considered homosexual attraction a decade or two ago are now doing so quite fearfully.

I'm confident that, in another decade, we will be seeing homosexual themes explored in a more loving and accepting manner. Those of us who already have homosexuality within our comfort zones are given the task of helping out the rest of the world, which will warm to our wisdom, sooner or later.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Absorbing it all

Experiencing the world can get very intense very quickly, unless you know how to filter, sort and ignore some of what you register.

Coming out is hard to do

Especially when it's to yourself, in private. I've been vocal in public about being attracted to women as well as men, but at some point I started owning it less and less... by the time I realised it was time to get back in touch with that aspect of my experience, I had some faint internalised homophobia to replace with genuine self-love. Admitting this was difficult, because I've always prided myself on my open-mindedness and my political activism, especially where GLBTI rights are concerned. But I am lucky - like remembering how to play the guitar again, I relied on sense memory and positive NLP to work through my fears, and now I feel ready to love anyone.

I love and support transgendered and intersex people

In the feminist (radical and otherwise) circles I am part of, many women identify as 'transcritical' and think themselves progressive by churning out transphobic arguments, which I can't stand. Fear and hate are apparent in each interaction, can hardly be concealed. In contrast, the transpeople I have known have invariably been lovely to me. Very often they have offered me nothing but kindness and consideration from the beginning of our interaction till the end. They experience extreme prejudice from a startling variety of sources, yet still maintain their dignity and a love for the people they share the earth with. If only more people put themselves in their shoes and walked around, the world would be a better place.

If you don't know any transpeople, please go to your nearest queer-friendly bar and start a respectful conversation when you can... I promise you that the only thing to fear is fear itself. Transpeople are just like all of us, trying to make sense of a world where the gender roles given to us are rigid, confining  and inadequate to express ourselves as we'd really like to. At the end of the day, it's about being comfortable with who you are; trying to find that elusive [comfortable, creative and celebratory] space within.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Curating my own Education

I went to one of Sydney's highest-performing selective schools, and so it came as a surprise to everyone when I dropped out of university. For a while, I was paralysed. I had quit because I wasn't willing to study the things that I was expected to study, even though they were the courses that most corresponded to my interests. I was constructing my own syllabi in my head, and they interested me much more than what was offered. I actually went around to many different faculties and read all of the course descriptions available. I became increasingly aware of the limitations of modern academia. I had enough confidence in myself to let the structure of university go.

I didn't think of what I was doing as brave. I thought it was inconvenient that university didn't cater to my interests, but I had to follow my heart all the same. I watched a lot of Buffy. I read a lot of Buffyology. At the time it was a goldmine of interdisciplinary study, and I learned a lot about academic culture in the US and UK.

It came down to this: One of the two courses on offer for first year English students was called The Cannon of English Literature. One of the first texts we had to study was Chaucer's Canterbury tales. I had read a synopsis of this text, and, quite frankly, I wasn't interested in studying. I am passionate about postmodern/contemporary literature, and while I recognised the value of studying historic texts, I was more interested in visualising a progressive future than I was in dissecting a narrow-minded past. I wanted to be animated by the cutting-edge, because there wasn't enough of it in my life. Indeed, this was just one of my reactions to the course. Almost all of the works were written by dead white heterosexual males. In other words, the course represented everything that was wrong with the study of English literature for me. The fact that I had little choice but to study it was the cherry on top. I ejected myself from my Bachelor of Arts space.

My parents were angry. They would often attack my decision not to be a sheep viciously, to the extent that I felt unable to focus on writing my book. I soon realised that I would have to move out of home if I wanted to heighten my independence. So I travelled to far-off places - Poland, Hong Kong, California... looking for a friendly, conducive environment, looking for love and acceptance. Two months into an attempt to live in Southeast Asia in 2005 I came back downhearted, admitting defeat. I was having a difficult time mental health - wise, and decided that the best decision, now, was the one that had seemed the most impossible: Live with the parents and enjoy life as much as possible from that perspective.

I travelled a lot. I discovered blogging, and fell in love with it. I divorced the man I married in the States for immigration purposes. I traveled some more. I got a poem published here, a photograph published there. I made e-friends from all over the world, and I can't stress the 'all over the world' part strongly enough. I devoured knowledge of different countries and cultures. Eventually I found myself so worldly that the people around me seemed hopelessly ignorant. Which created its own kind of angst - I had dedicated my life to learning, to transcultural flights of fancy and international forays into the unknown... and the very fruits that this had grown (the anti-nationalism, the understanding that people of all human shades were deeply relatable, the ease with which I fused different parts of the world together to study their interrelationships) isolated me even more.

To this day I remain content with my choice to eschew formal educational training. To this day, I mind routine, detest predictability, and avoid modernist narratives. My life would have been a lot less interesting if I had continued on the path everyone had laid out for me. I can't really imagine what my life would be like without the freedom I gave myself early on to dream unrestrainedly, pursue my unique visions, and generally construct my own education.

There are so many different stories I could tell you about my learning experiences. I found out recently that my former best friend had looked down on me because I opted out of what was, for me, the path of lesser wonder. So I just thought I'd share: Designing my own education was the best decision I ever made. I don't necessarily recommend anything to anyone on the question of whether to pursue university, but I do know that there is no right or wrong way to learn. Seek maximum wonder, inspiration, an intuitive sort of innovation, a playful kind of maturity, and you'll go far.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The future is comment-free

I'd like to thank everyone who has commented on my blog in a constructive way in the past. I'm now disabling the comment feature because I'd like to focus less on what other people think of my writing and more on how far I can challenge myself! :o) I have to admit that past misogynistic and negative comments have led me to blog with some trepidation, and I'm hoping that this move will embolden me.

I welcome any well-intentioned responses to my work at epiphaniebloom @ gmail . com

To better understand the psychology of being a female blogger who writes on controversial issues, read this.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sailing Out

In the course of your antagonised
Attempt to wield an equation, I've
Been navigating silken waters
Negating belonging to any nation

*

Through the aesthetic of expedition
I've been deliberately going backwards
Unraveling the source of disquiet
So that a new one may take its place

Friday, May 18, 2012

Perth & Paradise

I'm loving this song at the moment:


It pretty much sums up my attitude towards Australia: it's at its best when it reminds me of somewhere else. The hardest part of not travelling is, well... not travelling. If I want a Thai studio (the Swedish one comes later), I have to staycation.

Not that I will be completely Sydney-bound this year - I managed to talk my parents into letting me visit Perth in order to catch Lady GaGa in concert. Never one to let a travel opportunity go to waste, I managed to bargain up to a fortnight in Ubud/Bali before or after the event. Why Bali, you ask? A few years ago I wouldn't have thought twice about dismissing this extremely popular tourist destination from any kind of itinerary. It was simply too full of Aussies. I had heard that there were cultural sites of interest, but I imagined that there were plenty of other Asian destinations that offered a similar level of enchantment, without the drunken revelry of my fellow countryfolks interfering with my peace of mind.

Fortunately, the travel writers I follow were less prejudiced than I (on second thoughts, maybe they just weren't Australian), and reading one enthusiastic rave about Ubud after another eventually wore broke down my resistance and had me googling AirAsia flights. So unless I change my mind at the last moment (which is, admittedly, quite likely) it seems I will be discovering my own version of 'paradise' before too long. Until then, I'll just keep listening to Imagine.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

To lead the 'way

The Eurovision Song Contest semi-finals won't be making it to my TV screen for a month, but my imagination has already been captured by Tooji of Norway.


It's refreshing to see a Norwegian of Iranian heritage get the crowd vibing to pulsating Scandi-pop punctuated by sultry Middle Eastern sounds. Tooji also subverts expectations with his gay-friendly dance moves and lyrics (I don't know if it's wrong or it's right), appealing to the most enlightened of the immigrant-friendly Norwegians. The choice of 'Stay' will probably be seen as a defiantly progressive political statement in the aftermath of the 2011 massacre by Anders Breivik, which exposed deep-seated fear and hatred of Norway's emerging multiculturalism. Quite apart from that, it stands on its own as an inventive and charismatic ditty, and I hope it will be met with a lot of enthusiasm in the competition. This year's unconventional location of Baku, Azerbaijan, can only be inspiration to think outside the box of racial categories.

Tooji has been compared to last year's second runner-up, Eric Saade (a half-Palestinian, half-Swedish performer), but a closer look at his resume (he studied social work and worked at an asylum seeker reception centre, and has been a TV presenter) differentiates him from the Swede. Interestingly enough, Sweden will also be entering a foreign-born singer this year - check out Loreen's Euphoria below.



I find myself heartened by these selections - it shows that Scandinavia is abandoning racism and slowly but surely embracing people for their personalities, not their colour or cultural background.

For fun, and comparison's sake, this is my favourite Eric Saade song (there are subtle Middle Eastern influences in his vocals also):