Opportunity cost

Opportunity cost is one of the very few things I remember from the economics unit I had to take at uni.

Until the last couple of months, I’ve never considered the opportunity cost of moving to Singapore. The benefits always seemed to outweigh anything we left behind, friends and family aside, of course. Plus, it’s not that far to visit.

I avoided writing this for a few reasons. I also spent a long time sitting on it, not sure if this is something I really want to share. Out of respect to my family, obviously. My cousins and aunt. And also my mum, who is still not ok. “I just had a moment,” she says.

A few months ago, I went to Sri Lanka on holidays. It was amazing. It’s such a special place and we had a fantastic trip. But while I was there my uncle passed away.

It was a pretty tumultuous time. I spent hours on the phone. When I got the news that he was moving to palliative care, I was on the verge of getting the next bus, train and flight back to Australia.

“Don’t come. We’re ok. Just send lots of pictures. Enjoy your holiday.”

Enjoy my holiday. I never expected that to be one of the most upsetting things said to me. But I tried. I sent photos. Mum showed them to my aunt, and my uncle in the hospital. They loved them, the kitesurfing, the sunsets over the beach, the cheap beer pictures. Under no circumstances were we to come home.

Then my uncle died. I spoke to my dad. “Please just tell me what to do. I want to be there.”

“It will just upset your mother and your aunt if you come back.”

Then my mum.

“Don’t come back, we’re all ok.”

I still don’t know if I did the right thing.

The rest of the trip was a rollercoaster of phone calls and tears, while trying to pull myself together to enjoy where we were and not spoil the trip for Partner 2. Which resulted in situations like me crying quietly while on a safari jeep but wiping my nose and giving Partner 2 a manic smile when he asked if I was ok. I’m sure it was tough on Partner 2, who doesn’t cope well with other people’s emotions at the best of times. This was something I was quick to lash out at, at the time. On reflection though, he was the one making sure I was eating and sleeping, he was booking trains and pointing out interesting thing, he was making sure we could always get phone reception when I needed it. Just goes to show what you want isn’t always what you need.

I looked back over family photos, as you do in these situations. There’s a gorgeous one from last Christmas, of the whole family, aunts, uncles, cousins, Grandma and Grandad, all around the table. Mum sent it to me, because I wasn’t there. The only one missing. And it was about to happen again. I wouldn’t be there.

Guilt intermingled with the sadness, which was followed by more guilt. How could I possibly be making this about me right now? My younger brother, who was inexplicably sage, told me not to beat myself up. “Everyone is here to support everyone; you just look after yourself.” It’s most off-putting when your baby brother is suddenly the wise one.

So the funeral came and went, as did our trip. I was ready to fly out to Brisbane within hours of arriving back in Singapore. But then the call came. “Don’t come. We’re not ready.” So I didn’t. I rebooked and waited.

When I eventually got home, we sat around the table after dinner. I nursed a beer while my parents finished their second bottle of wine. My grandparents had gone to bed and the conversation had turned from the forced light chitchat of dinner. There was a box of tissues on the table.

Mum asked when the last time I saw my uncle was. My throat had closed and I couldn’t meet her eyes. The question I’d been dreading. Because I didn’t know. And I’d been scared to wrack my brain because I knew the answer was a long time ago. Because I haven’t been there. I attempted a wry laugh but it died before it came out.

“On TV, at the Melbourne Cup. I should have been here.”

There were more tears and hugs and stories and booze.  As my sage brother said, it doesn’t get easier, we just need to figure out what normal is now. So wise.

In a nutshell, that’s why I’ve been thinking about opportunity cost lately. Living overseas is fantastic and I’m so lucky to be able to do so, but there’s always an opportunity cost. I just didn’t realise what it was until now.

 

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Understanding instead

I’m feeling sad today. Usually I try to avoid writing when I’m angry or sad, there’s enough angry and sad stuff on the internet already. But today, I saw a writing prompt: “Understanding”. So after a great weekend with wonderful people, and the tragic news from Orlando, feeling sad and writing about understanding just seemed necessary.

I caught up with a friend for dinner the other night. I met her outside the mosque where she had just ducked in for evening prayers. We raced off to dinner because she was, understandably, ravenous after fasting all day. We got a table at a busy café in a hipsterish laneway where everything was halal. I commented on how nice her blazer was and she explained that, because she had been fasting, she was freezing in the air conditioning at her office. She joked about how the Muslim holidays in Singapore had different names from what she was used to, and how she had vehemently stated that Hari Raya was not the holiday at the end of Ramadan, it was Eid. Same holiday, different names.

On Sunday, I met up with some other friends. They offered to take us with them to a Hindu temple and give us a tour. We took off our shoes, leaving them in the shade so they didn’t burn our feet on our return, washed our hands and feet, and headed inside. The temple was busy: children raced around, dodging glares from their parents, women in gorgeous saris and men in their Sunday best accepted flowers from shirtless priests, and families sat together on the ground eating rice and curry. The air was punctuated with the sound of ringing bells and the occasional lilt of a nasal-sounding pipe instrument. My friends walked us around all around the temple, stopping to pray and explain who was who and what was going on. I always feel awkward playing tourist in religious places but no one seemed to mind. Though we stood back, out of the way of people who were performing puja, one of the priests even waved us forward with a big smile and gave us some blessings. It was a really special morning, topped off by a ridiculously delicious South Indian lunch that we ate with our fingers.

As I scrolled through the news from Orlando, a quote popped into my head. I had to trawl through my notes to find it but here it is:

“In a truly dialogic democracy, participants would have to demonstrate knowledge of others before moving on to critical or condescending statements about them” – T. H. Eriksen

Obviously this quote is referring to more political sentiments, but I think it has a powerful message. Surely we should try to know and understand others before we judge and criticise them? It is simplistic to say that a lack of understanding is the root of discrimination. Understanding implies knowledge and learning, questions and answers. Really, these are the steps that are missing. Understanding doesn’t just happen, it’s something you actively work for. And it’s fun! Learning new things about people and places, it’s why so many of us travel. But why are we so reluctant to do that in everyday life? Why is it easier to spew hate from our mouths and keyboards, and even commit acts of violence against those who are different to us?

It seems like, when it comes to people, the unknown is a cause of fear, and fear breeds resentment and hate. But why? How? What has gone so terribly wrong that the unknown now fosters violence instead of curiosity? If human beings had always taken this attitude, we’d still be cowering in caves, waving sharpened sticks at the sky water and cloud grumbles, and dying at the age of 26.

What if we were curious instead of scared? What if questions came out of our mouths instead of ill-informed comments and snark? What if we made the effort to understand instead of judging and demanding assimilation to our own views?

I know it’s idealistic and naïve to even suggest but my inner cynic, who has the wheel most of the time, is sobbing in the foetal position and can’t come to the computer right now. Maybe if there was a little more understanding, the world wouldn’t be such a nightmarish, fear-riddled place. There might be a few less people looking over their shoulders. There might be a few less families crying. There might be a few more reasons to wake up happy on a Monday morning, instead of sad.

 

Squad goals.

Cringe. What has the world come to? This is not going to be an ode to Taylor and her gaggle of powerful friends. My goal is just to get my squad in the same place at the same time.

We all got together twice this year. It doesn’t seem like much but it’s an impressive achievement considering our geographic spread and assorted time commitments. When we do rarely get to see each other, I’m struck by how easy it is. There’s no hesitation, no testing the water, it’s as though we were briefly interrupted by a waiter bringing a coffee rather than six months. “Now where were we…” It’s lovely and comfortable and fun. It also gives a lot of perspective.

The initial conversations are frantic and excited. We talk over each other, screeching and cackling, we’re very much that annoying group of women everyone hates to sit near in restaurants. We settle down into old habits, we talk about work and relationships, and what we’re going to be when we grow up. Just like old times. We’ve all known each other since high school so it’s easy (and fun) to regress a little. Then something comes up that reminds us all we’re not 16 anymore. We talk about house prices and rent, the cost of living in different cities, politics, and travel. And suddenly we’re grown up. How did that happen?

We’re in the midst of organising our next weekend trip, the first of 2016. Also the first since two of us got engaged (not to each other, kind of unfortunately…), one of us bought a house and one of us quit her 9-5 job. We’ve got a lot to catch up on. We did the same thing early this year, a weekend away in Sydney, and I’m hoping it can be at the very least an annual thing. I love my girls, my squad as Taylor Swift might put it (or has she trademarked that word already?). Despite the fact that we pretty much live in each other’s pockets via Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp and any other myriad of technology, it’s not the same as being there in person.

My Mum and her friends, some of them she’s known since they were kids, catch up at least once a month. They go for drinks or dinner or gather at each other’s houses or go away for a weekend. They shriek and giggle and drink wine and talk about relationships and their kids and politics. They listen to music and dance badly and generally cause a ruckus. Mum and her harem are pretty inspirational to me in terms of female friendship.  Inspirational may be a little strong considering the way they dance after a few bottles of wine… (A surprising amount of fist-pumping and an upsetting amount of hip-swivelling). But they all make the effort to get together whenever they can and just enjoy each other’s company. I hope that in 100 years’ time (sorry, Mum, couldn’t resist), that my girls and I are the same.

One final note, I concede that I have failed miserably at my self-imposed blogging challenging. The benefit of hindsight reveals that perhaps this time of year isn’t the best time to start a daily blogging challenge. Christmas madness, prepping for a Euro trip and a looming confirmation of candidature seminar all take up a lot of time but unfortunately are not good blog fodder. I’ll be a little more realistic and aim for once or twice a week. Hopefully I’ll have plenty of time when we’re travelling. Eish, I can hear hindsight chuckling already!

Clementine Ford and modern feminism

In Australia, there has been a lot of talk about feminist writer Clementine Ford in the news lately. Personally, I think she’s great! She calls people and organisations out on their bullshit. Her language is colourful but compelling and she is, to me, the epitome of modern, unapologetic, in-your-face, riotgrrl feminism. She also has great style and I love her tattoos. Am I fangirling too much? Meh, don’t care.

Anyway, Clementine is in the news for calling out a man who wrote crude things and threats on her Facebook page and reporting him to his employer. The employer promptly sacked this shining beacon of humanity. A win! But instead of a national bout of fist-pumping, the response has been one of butt-hurt from those who believe he shouldn’t have lost his job for being a twat.

I suppose there are plenty of twats who are gainfully employed but as an employer, would you really want an employee who doesn’t respect 50 percent of your workforce? Would you want to employ someone who threatens people with violence for simply airing their views? Would you really want an employee who doesn’t understand that Facebook is a public platform and that they are, in fact, accountable for their actions?

The critics justify their opposition by pointing out Clem’s use of foul language. The argument is that Clem herself is prone to colourful language therefore she should not object to being harassed and threatened. Wow, writing down makes the argument seem even more obscure. Anyway, the example provided was that Clem called Australian right-wing journalist Miranda Devine a f*cking c*nt on Twitter. Regardless of what you think of that kind of language and of Miranda Devine (I’m kinda with Clem on this one), calling someone names is very different to graphic threats of violence. And is anyone really offended by being called names anymore? Really? If someone called me a bitch I could shrug and move on pretty quickly, potentially with the help of a single-finger gesture. But if someone said they were going to follow me home and rape me? That’s next level name-calling, the kind that has you looking over your shoulder and wondering if you should call the police. Neither is ideal but one is a hell of a lot worse than the other. Apples and oranges.

There are other flimsy, apologist counter-arguments too. “Oh, he lost his job, what about his family?” You expect me to feel sorry for this hate-spewing misogynist? Nope. But maybe they’re right, we need some sort of place where these ignorant, angry people can be rehabilitated while undertaking meaningful work to earn a wage. Perhaps in a secure facility where they can reflect on their actions and undergo counselling to figure out where all this hateful bile is coming from. Between sessions they can make up care packages for women who are homeless due to domestic violence, they can arrange flowers to send to the families of women who have been killed as a result of their gender, they can write thank-you letters to women’s rights activists, particularly to those tackling intersectionality, they can make “Check your privilege” business cards to hand out when necessary. They’d earn a wage for these tasks, one that they could send to whatever family they help support, and when they are suitably rehabilitated, as assessed by a panel of independent experts, they are free to return to the community.

In the course of my reading, I came across a quote by T. Eriksen that goes: “In a truly dialogic democracy, participants would have to demonstrate knowledge of others before moving on to critical or condescending statements about them”. It’s talking about democracy but I think it’s relevant it most cases. The example TE uses is the (vocal; why are they always so vocal?) criticism of Islam but those who have never so much as picked up a Quran. The same is true here. Unless you know what it’s like to be a woman, or at least make a concerted effort at empathy, you don’t have the right to criticise, particularly criticisms along the lines of what Clem cops on a daily basis. Of course, the experiences of women are by no means universal, I would never even suggest that. What I experience as a straight, white woman is a world away from the experiences of women of colour, women with disabilities and trans women. But being discriminated against, intimidated, bullied, threatened, excluded or made uncomfortable on account of your gender is experienced by women across the board. If you can’t be empathetic and try to understand what that is like, you don’t get an opinion. You straight-up don’t. That’s not ruling out the participation of men. There are plenty of dudes that are fellow feminists-in-arms and engage in meaningful dialogue about how change can happen. It’s just unfortunate that they’re not the ones doing the majority of posting on Clem’s Facebook.

Good things

 

There’s a lot of pretty average things going on in the world at the moment, to say the least. Mass shootings, terrorist attacks, wars and bombings. It takes a lot of stomach to read the news without wanting to rest your head on the kitchen table and sob. Adding to that, we’ve reached the back paddock of the year. We can see the end, we can see holidays, but we’ve still got a field’s worth of shit to wade through before we get out.

In an effort to circumvent all of this unpleasantness, I’ve been thinking about the little things that are good. Not in a cheesey “a child’s smile” kind of way, but just those every day, mundane things that make life just a little bit brighter. I am, of course, extremely wary of coming across as one of those Instagram positivity banshees who post pictures of sunsets or the ocean with a vague quote plastered over the top of it.

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I think it’s time to aim for a middle point between the reality of this messed up world and the proliferation of overly filtered portrayals of how great everything is. We need to tone down the Everything is Awesome!/#blessed/#soblessed/500 days of gratitude and tune out some of the barrage of terrible news we’re faced with every day. That’s not to say it isn’t important to be informed and engaged with the issues facing us as a society. It is. Now more than ever. But I think there’s scope for a little corner of our minds, or in my case the internet, for appreciating the everyday things in all their mundane excellence.

So here it is, my three average things that are absolutely nothing special. They don’t make me #soblessed or #grateful enough to post about on Instagram, but they are also not highly contagious diseases with high mortality rates or radical militant movements. They’re just good things. And sometimes that’s enough.

So here we go:

3: Singaporean carrot cake

You’re not really a carrot cake! Where’s the cream cheese icing? Where’s the walnuts? You’re not even sweet! Is there even any carrot in you? You are more like an omelette than anything else. Cake? Pfft. No, you’re a savoury, sneaky bastard but dammit, I love you.

2: Cats.

Shocker, I know. It seems like every day I creep a little bit closer to crazy cat lady territory. I’m embracing it though. I am unashamedly grateful for cats. For my own cat who has a huge attitude problem and is responsible for the cat hair tumbleweeds bouncing down the hall. I am also thankful for our community cat, affectionately known as Catniss Neverclean. She is always so happy to see me and runs down the street to say hello. She is, however, only available between the hours of 6am-9am and 4pm-8pm, otherwise it’s too hot. Even though I’ve stopped carrying cat food in my handbag, much to the relief of FS, Catniss doesn’t hold it against me and is always up for a pat.

1: Binge-watching TV series

Gone are the days of waiting a whole week for the next episode of a great TV show. What a time to be alive. I’m currently working my way through The Office, the American version, and it is pretty excellent. Being able to watch a full season of a TV show in one sitting is an absolute privilege for which I am so very #grateful.

They’re not much, only tiny stupid things, but watching my cat chase a tuft of her own fur and ordering a cheap plate of delicious hawker food are all it takes to put me in a good mood. And that’s all I need.

 

Back again

So it would seem that 2015 has been a big year for life, but not so much for blogging. My last post was in April. April. Ouch. It has been a big year though. I started a PhD, only to go back to work in Australia for a few months. I managed an event for almost 1000 people, then promptly disappeared back into my hermit hole of academia.

On a personal note, I lost my grandma, the one I wrote about here. I had the privilege of helping my Dad write the eulogy, an experience that was both devastating and wonderful. In happier news, I am now in possession of a bona fide fiancé (yuck, there’s definitely a blog post on my hatred of that word coming soon…). Partner 2 surprised me on the side of a volcano with a ring and a question, to which I said yes. That volcano is now spewing ash into the air and disrupting the travel plans of many. Take from that what you will.

I tell you all this not out of a sense of self-importance (“Look how busy I am! Look! Validate me!”), but as more of a recap. A ‘previously on’. Some context for upcoming posts, because there’s going to be lots of them! For real! In an attempt to resuscitate this ailing piece of internet, I’m setting myself a challenge: to blog every day in the month of December. I can’t promise I will succeed or that the writing will be any good. The first few weeks could be a mixed bag: will they be light-hearted and abstract, the result of heavy procrastination? Or will they be panicked odes to the report I should be writing? Time will tell. I can promise briefing and debriefings from Partner 2’s office Christmas party, travel blogging from London, Denmark and Norway, and a birthday blog. Maybe some sort of 2015 retrospective for New Year’s Eve? I don’t know, I’m not a planner. Hence my patchy blog attendance… Anyway, hopefully I can provide some daily enjoyment for you, readers, over the course of December, or at least a welcome distraction from whatever you’re supposed to be doing. You’ll hear from me soon.

Missed Opportunities

My grandmother has her birthday this week. This bad, nasty granddaughter is not quite sure of how old she is but it’s 93 or 94 or 95. In that vicinity. Bad granddaughter. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the last 90-odd years and the things my grandmother must have experienced, how much life has changed. Also about how much time I’ve spent with her that I have straight out wasted. She has so many stories and experiences that are now locked up inside, stories that I never thought to ask about when I was growing up.

There was a routine whenever we’d visit Grandma Dulcie. The adults would sit in the dining room with coffee and biscuits while the kids would sit at the kitchen table with glasses of Coke and our own plate of biscuits. As soon as we finished, we’d race outside to build cubby houses, go to the park and pick macadamia nuts from the tree in the neighbour’s yard. We were never there for the conversations. Our parents would eventually call us and we’d emerge, sweaty and covered in dirt, for our goodbye lollies from the jar on top of the fridge.

Grandma Dulcie always had an insatiable sweet tooth. Her house was always full of soft drinks, cake, Arnott’s Assorted Creams, and the lolly jar on top of the fridge. I was the last one of the cousins to grow tall enough to reach it, despite being one of the oldest. She used to make the most incredible cakes. Once I got old enough for birthday cakes to be more about the flavour than the shape (thank you Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake book), I asked for her cheesecake every year. Her Christmas trifle is the stuff of legends. Even now, the drawers of her room in the home are filled with a stash of chocolates and she loves the occasional piece of cake or ice cream. There’s a gorgeous photo of Grandma and my cousin’s 3 year-old daughter eating ice cream cones with equal enthusiasm.

As we constantly remind ourselves, she’s doing incredibly well for someone in their mid-90s. She repeats her stories, she calls me by my mother’s or my cousin’s or my aunt’s name, each time I visit there is a look of blank confusion when I first arrive. I have to introduce myself. But despite this, she’s doing well; she asks about Singapore and about my brother in Melbourne and my parents in Brisbane. She gets frustrated when she can’t remember things but occasionally comes out with a crystal clear anecdote. Last time I was there she told me about when her mother taught her how to sew. I wish I’d taken the time when I was younger to ask about life on the farm, to ask about her childhood, to ask her to teach me how to make cheesecake.

It feels strange though, asking these personal questions of family. You feel as though you should already know, by rights of being family. This hit home on the way to visit my grandfather (on my mother’s side) in hospital over Christmas. Partner 2 asked a fairly innocuous question about Grandad’s career before he retired. I had no idea. When we got there, Partner 2 posed his question to Grandad. Grandad sat up a little taller and told us a great story about how he became a shipping engineer. Not a uni course in those days, a lot of hard work in tough conditions. It was a great story, one that I had never heard before. As the grand finale of the tale, with a segue that would put the most seasoned radio presenter to shame, the story turned into an argument about why we should get married. As a poor apprentice, he was hoping to save money by moving in with Grandma Jane who would not have a bar of it. No ring, no housing. It was mortifying and hilarious and generally pretty lovely. I wish I could have had more of those moments with Grandma Dulcie.

I won’t be able to make it back home for the celebrations but I have it on good authority that birthday plans are in place. There’ll be flowers and lavender hand creams and cake and ice cream and probably chocolates too. I’ll send a card, maybe a postcard with a nice picture of Singapore, and I’ll get some Arnott’s Assorted Creams in honour of the occasion. Happy birthday, Grandma.

Coins for Australia and the Bali Nine

I’m always surprised at how politicised travelling can be. When you arrive in another country and start talking to people, a number of topics come up: where are you from, where are you going, where’s good to eat, sport, culture, movies, Australian animals and cricket players; fairly innocuous stuff. But there are times when you are reminded that just because you’re not keeping up with the news doesn’t mean the news doesn’t exist.

We were having a chat with the manager of our hostel. He’d seen we lived in Singapore, “But where are you from?”

Australia, we told him.

“So you are defying Julia Bishop?” he asked, grinning.

I was taken aback. A man in a hostel down an alleyway in Jakarta (almost) knew the name of Australia’s foreign minister: it was impressive. A lot of Australians couldn’t tell you this much. Unfortunately, in context, his joking statement was also pretty embarrassing. News of Australia’s misguided foreign policy and stance on Indonesia had reached the backstreets of Jakarta, and was colouring people’s opinions of us. There was some awkward laughter and I proclaimed, too loudly, that I hadn’t voted for her.

This encounter stuck in my mind as the trip continued. We were treated to amazing scenery, chaotic traffic, incredible food, and, best of all, the friendly, wonderful people we met along the way who were so very patient with our bungling attempts at speaking Indonesian. Yet the implications of the actions of the Australian government hung over us, and the two Bali Nine on death row were never far from the top of minds.

I don’t agree with the death penalty. People should pay for their crimes but they should also have the opportunity to rehabilitate and better their situations. This becomes impossible if we kill them. This post is not about debating the death penalty, or the implicated guilt of drug smugglers in drug-related incidents. This is about the role of the Australian government in potentially signing the death warrant of these two men.

It has been almost 10 years since the Bali Nine were arrested. 10 years. That’s a lot of time for tactful diplomacy and negotiations. But instead, it has all blown up at the last minute, in the month leading up to the executions of the alleged ringleaders, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan.

I’m not hiding of my left-leaning politics but successive governments, Labor and Liberal, have had the opportunities to make things better for Mr Sukumaran, Mr Chan and, frankly, bilateral relations. If respectful negotiations were ongoing rather ebbing and flowing based on newspaper headlines, the issue would have been resolved. No doubt the Bali Nine would still be serving a hefty prison sentence, but they would be safe in the knowledge that there’s no firing squad waiting for them at the end of that sentence.

Hindsight is, of course, 20/20 vision. We turn to what’s happening now, and the disgraceful handling of the situation by the Abbott government. First, calls to boycott Indonesia, and second Abbott’s tactless mentions of tsunami aid.

Boycotts of countries are always problematic as they tend to hurt the average citizens rather than influence the powers that be. Just imagine: if Australians suddenly stopped going to Bali. The government of Indonesia would eventually take notice and potentially support airlines and hotels to encourage more visitors from elsewhere to the region, but that would all take time. The first victims of this boycott would be the aunties and uncles selling drinks on the beach, the family-run restaurants who rely on a steady stream of Bintan-swilling Australians hungry for mie goreng, the guesthouses and the small souvenir stalls. It would be devastating at the lowest level of the local economy. It would be hurting the local people, not influencing government policy or laws.

A secondary aspect to this call for a boycott is whether Australians would actually do it. I wouldn’t for the above-mentioned reason, but I’m not the target demographic. This boycott is aimed at those Australians who regularly make the pilgrimage to Kuta for cheap drinks and hair braids. Triple J conducted an SMS poll over the Australia Day long weekend that revealed 52 percent of people surveyed believed that Australians convicted of drug trafficking overseas should be executed. So assuming this poll is reflective of general opinion, there’s more than half of the country that would not be fussed if the executions went ahead and would continue to go to Indonesia anyway. A boycott is a simplistic answer to a complex situation and one that is more focussed on placating the unsettled Australian public than actually influencing the fate of Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran. Australians who don’t support the death penalty can sip their lattes guilt-free as they read of the boycott in the weekend paper, smug in the knowledge that by simply not going to Indonesia they are “making a difference”.

Next, Abbott’s mention of tsunami aid and his transparent attempt to hold it over the head of the Indonesian people. How disgusting. 286,000 people died. Most of them Indonesians. Yes, Australia provided $1 billion in aid but how could we not? How could we stand by as our closest neighbour reeled from the effects of a cataclysmic natural disaster that affected many Australians as well? The fact that Abbott though it appropriate to use the tsunami aid as a political weapon less than eight weeks after the 10 year anniversary is deeply disturbing. Scars from events such as that do not heal quickly or easily. The anger that rises like bile in my throat is nothing when compared to what Indonesians must be feeling. The outrage that lead to the #coinsforAustralia, #coinsforAbbott, #KoinuntukAustralia campaign should not be surprising and is completely justified. For those unfamiliar with the campaign, as a sign of protest against Abbott’s lack of humanity, Indonesian’s are collecting coins to pay back Australia for the aid.

I was in Jakarta and paying more attention to street food than the news when Abbott made these comments. It’s a testament to the Indonesian people that we, as Australians, were not treated differently because of the ignorance and tactlessness of our ‘leader’. Not once did we experience any vitriol or even a mean look because we were Australians. In the same way, Australians need to rise above the misguided advice spewing from Parliament House and treat Indonesians the way we would like to be treated, regardless of their government policy and laws.

Unfortunately, government bungling has been a major distraction from the sad focus of the story. It’s looking as though Mr Sukumaran and Mr Chan will be moved for execution at some stage this week. We can only hope for an 11th hour reprieve, and the only way this can happen is through urgent diplomacy. Abbott must apologise for his tsunami comments. He must dispel any illusions for a government-supported boycott of Indonesia. He must forget, for once in his entire reign as Prime Minister, about opinion polls and what’s on the front page of the Daily Telegraph. There are two men about to be killed. That is the perspective we need. Two men, whose fate will reverberate through their families, friends and communities. Two men who made a mistake, and who may never be given the chance to atone for it. Mercy and compassion are the true tests of strength. It will take a lot of strength for Indonesia to show leniency in the light of the Australia’s political chest thumping. But for the sake of those two men, I hope they do. I stand for mercy.

Resolutions for the new year

It’s monsoon again here in Singapore. It’s cool and rainy, and there’s a sense of resigned calm. Construction workers sleep and play on their phones under makeshift shelters, people huddle under umbrellas and stand on their balconies, waiting for a break in the weather. It’s a fairly gloomy way to start the New Year, but perhaps an apt one.

2014 was a pretty shitty year. We’re supposed to have reflected on what we’ve achieved and learned, and then set some well-meaning resolutions for this New Year. But 2014 sucked. It was a year of fear and suffering: Daesh, Ebola, the endless conflict in Syria, airplane disasters, thinly-veiled and institutionally-sanctioned racism. It sucked. 2015, so far, hasn’t been much better.

I had a conversation with a friend on New Year’s Eve about 2014. She’d had a shitty year on a personal level as well, so I told her vehemently that 2015 would be better.

“It has to be,” she said. It was said without self-pity and without melancholic longing, just a statement of fact. A resolution in itself.

It’s the time of year when we’re supposed to be writing lists about how we’re going to start exercising and drinking less and about how we’re sticking to it this time, dammit. But the only resolution I have is to make 2015 better. There’s not much I can do on a global level. But I can refuse to be intimidated. I can learn more about those who are misunderstood and misrepresented. I can smile at strangers, I can mean it when I ask how you are or when I tell you to have a good day. I can call my family and friends more often. I can be there when they need me, even if it’s from afar. 2015 will be the year of making the best of things. 2015 will be doing what we can with the hand we’re dealt, even if it’s just throwing the cards into the air and laughing.

It’s still raining outside but, in the manner of those who live in the tropics, I’ll shrug and get on with it. It’s good weather for thinking and writing, for eating noodles, and going for a walk, believe it or not. It’s cool, a rare respite from the exhausting humidity. There’s an upside, there always is. And despite the rain, life goes on. It has to.

The Sydney siege

They say no news is good news and that is absolutely the case in my house. A good day is speckled with opinion pieces and social media, with just a dash of current affairs and events. A bad day is one where the news rolls all day long.

Today was one of those days. When the TV is on all day. A day when Twitter is constantly refreshed and news sites are minimised, not closed.

I thought long and hard about what to write about the Sydney siege. I wanted to write something. There’s a lot that can be said about the media’s handling of this, about the dangers of social media and speculation during police manoeuvres, about how the Australian public will react to these events, about what effects this will have on the Muslim community, about terrorism in the Western world, and if this means Australia is no longer safe.

The journalist in me considers these angles and implications, potential sources of comment and analysis, but it’s not the right time. There will be time for these discussions but it’s not now. Not while the situation is still unresolved. Not while there are still people whose average Monday morning became a waking nightmare. Not while lives are still in danger.

There will be time to figure out what went wrong, there will be time for explanations, but first everyone needs to get home safely.

Stay strong, Sydney.