The FRRO part 2

Beer tastes better when you’ve earned it. After a tough but fun sports session, or on a Friday after a long week at work, that first beer is extra sweet because you know you deserve it. On the flip side of that is the sympathy beers. They don’t taste as good, but they dull the pain of loss or failure. Not in the drink-your-sorrows way, more of a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to lean on, even if you shouldn’t really need it. Tough week at work but it’s only Monday? Sorry, that’s a sympathy beer.  Fight with the spouse when you know you’re wrong but too stubborn to admit? Sympathy beer. Let me tell you, the beer I’m drinking now is up there with the most sympathetic I’ve ever tasted.

Gather around friends, for this is not a drinking story, not yet anyway. Lend me your ears, and let me tell you a tale of our favourite government department. The one we love to hate. The FRRO! Boo, hiss. At this risk of being a one-trick pony-blog, here I am again.

My fieldwork has started, it’s going well. I’m on the verge of getting stuck into interviews based on all the observation I’ve been doing. The juicy stuff. But my nemesis, the FRRO had other plans. If you remember, I did suspect I’d have to fight another battle in this war. The warning drums sounded yesterday, “You need to go to town, they want to see you.” Ok, no problem, I’ll head in first thing tomorrow morning. Town is an hour away, plus I need to take all my documents.

“No. They want to see you now. The car’s here.”

Right. Ok. So off we went. Winding up, down, and around steep peaks and valleys blanketed in clouds and tea plantations, the drive was absolutely beautiful. When we reached town, the brightly-coloured houses terraced their way down the hill, smoke puffing from their chimneys. The smell of tea was heavy in the air, it’s roasting season. It really was an idyllic scene. But we accelerated straight through that, following the severe-looking signs that directed us to the “Police Superintendent”.

I idly wondered what an Indian police station was like. It’s not something you ever hope to see here – the inside of a police station, or a hospital, for that matter – but seeing as I was there on, hopefully, non-criminal matters, it would be quite interesting. We were escorted into a plain building with whitewashed walls and an air of superiority. No jail cells, just white tiles and white walls. We entered an office where a man behind a sad-looking desk flicked his wrist in our direction. Our local guides fell over themselves greeting him, “Good afternoon, sir. Thank you, sir.”

My fellow FRRO victim, an American who was completing her exit proceedings, nudged me to sit down. Without looking up, Lord Almighty of the Wonky Desk, called, “Passport.” I blinked, unsure as to who he was talking to but the American and our guides had sprung into action. He flicked through the paperwork and the passport, still not making eye contact.

“The date is wrong. When did you enter India?”

The American tripped over herself to explain but His Excellency held up his index finger.

“It’s a simple question.”

Crestfallen, the American answered with a specific date.

“You should have known better,” he had turned to our guide at this point.

Our guide murmured some apologies and some more “sirs”. The paperwork was thrust back towards him.

“Where is the transfer certificate? She is violating the terms of the visa without it.”

My turn, I guessed. I opened my mouth but our guide gave me a look that was both a warning and a plea not to get us all into trouble. And then we were shown out. It took all of five minutes.

“Wait, what just happened?”

We were suddenly back outside, and I was completely thrown. The American, who’d apparently had a very positive experience, was almost skipping.

“Yeah, he’s just like that. I had to get mine transferred from Delhi, hopefully they can do it without you having to go there.”

Uhh, ok. Then we got back in the car and drove back. For an hour.

Following our guides advice, I dutifully mailed the university who helped me register in Hyderabad in the first place. They came straight back, said they would do their best, but it’s a long weekend so they’d only get to it on Tuesday. Great. No problem!

Not great. Kind of a problem. The next day, I informed our guide of my emailings and he nodded, seemingly satisfied. Went up to work as per usual. But then there was a phone call. I heard my name. That is never good.

We had been summoned.

“Where is your transfer certificate?” the NGO woman-in-charge demanded.

I explained what I had told our guide, also her PA, that morning.

“We need it now.”

She’d just been on the phone to His Imperial Majesty, and Tuesday was Not Good Enough™. Ok, sorry, I can try to call them?

“No, you have to leave. Today.”

And that’s the story of how the FRRO got me kicked out of an entire district of India.

So here I sit, sipping my first beer (ok, technically now I’m up to the second) since I arrived weeks ago. Nothing has driven me to drink, nothing has distracted me from my work, until now. I’m in need of a sympathetic ear beer. At the risk of cliché, I’m sitting at an airport bar, drowning my sorrows and planning my next move. Going to Hyderabad might be a retreat, but I hope it’s going to be a strategically advantageous one. Tomorrow is a new day. The FRRO may have won this battle, but the war ain’t over yet.

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First night in the field

20170612_102315Fieldwork has begun and it has been quite a start. There was a pre-pre-dawn departure, a delayed flight, a sweaty, steaming sprint between terminals, and then eventually touching down. But then it was on to the next leg. Two flights and a three-hour drive through windy, hilly roads with nothing but coffee sloshing around in my stomach did not make for a happy camper.

So, when the friend of a friend who had been helping me asked if I wanted to come to his parent’s place for dinner, my first instinct was to say no, thank you. I was tired and confused, and a little homesick already. Feeling completely out of my depth and in need of some decompression time. Fortunately, it struck me how rude it might have been to refuse the invitation so I accepted. Only after this I remembered my India survival technique. You have to say yes. Or at least shrug and go with “why not?”.

Because, much like her auto drivers and tourist touts, India doesn’t take no for an answer. She demands that you say yes. Obviously there are some fairly major caveats to this advice, I may be a solo female traveller in India but I’m not a complete idiot. It’s maybe not the best idea to follow shady dudes down dark alleys because they asked you too. But new experiences, meeting new people, eating new things, they’re kind of the reasons we travel in the first place. While India may be intimidating, so much so that the first instinct is to withdraw and regroup, that’s not why I’m here.

So we piled into our local host’s tiny Tata car and set off along the narrow mountain roads. The area was lush and green and stunning. The front seat were talking about how there had been elephants in the village two days early. The road curled around a tea factory and the air smelt like overbrewed tea.

As we pulled up in the village, there was a bit of a stereotypical moment. The car pulled up and we strangers got out. Two from the city, and me from somewhere else entirely. The men who were loading a truck with bags full of tea leaves stopped and stared. The children who had run up to the car initially hid behind each other and gaped. I pasted on my best goofy “hello” smile and followed our host up the hill.

We met his parents who smiled and welcomed us into their pristine home. It was warm inside, with the low ceilings and doorways trapping the heat in a way that was cosy, not smothering. Introductions were made complete with some broken English and completely butchered Tamil (mine obviously). “Come, we’ll take our tea outside.” It was hard to leave that toasty house that was just starting to smell like an amazing dinner spread. But it was worth it. The air outside was cold and crisp. We sat on plastic chairs and sipped on steaming hot, sweet chai. The village was on a steep slope, and this patio seemed to be on the main thoroughfare. This might not have been accidental, it turns out our host’s father was the village headman. People were constantly stopping by to have a chat and gawp at the foreigner. Two of the braver children stood near enough to headbutt me but were too shy to say hello.

It was pretty magical. Sometimes in the chaos and the filth and the poverty and the frustration, it’s easy to forget that India is indeed a special place. Bitch is manipulative. She makes you wait in ridiculous queues and tries to run you down with a trolley first, then a car, then a cow. She bakes you in steamy humidity then chills you with dry, dusty winds. She taunts you with images of delicious curries and rice, but then serves you a cheese sandwich. Still not sure how that happened.

Anyway, but then India turns in on and all is forgiven. It certainly was that night. After the long day of travel, I somehow ended up in a postcard of what fieldwork in India should look like. On a rooftop in a remote village, eating biscuits and drinking chai. The sun had long disappeared behind the mountains and the air smelt of cooking smoke and cows. “This might be what it’s all about,” I thought, as my host generous pushed the plate of biscuits towards me again. I declined though, gotta save room for that curry.

 

To heed the call?

I saw something on Pinterest that I didn’t understand. That in itself is not ground-breaking, I really don’t get half the shit that’s on there, particularly in the burlap-bound, flower-crowned, hellish depths that are the Weddings section. That is another post entirely though. No, this one pops up in the Travel section and a variety of “inspirational” quote boards.

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The quote is attributed to John Muir, a Scottish-American adventurer/environmental philosopher/conservation, who, by all accounts, seems like a pretty cool guy. He spent his days tramping through the wilderness of California, exploring, studying, writing. The quote is from a letter to his sister: “The mountains are calling and I must go, and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.” The last, oft-redacted, part of the quote sells it way more for me. Sounds like someone who has nailed their research topic, which is the dream, really.

Back to the mountains. Admittedly my mountain experience is limited. That comes with spending the majority of your life within spitting distance of sea level. But I climbed Kinabalu and bloody hated it. Rinjani did much to redeem mountains but I’d never been 100% sold. I love hiking and the outdoors, and I physically miss the ocean when I’m away from it for too long, but the mountains have never called to me the way they apparently call to so many keyboard climbers.

A book changed that. I’m sure that makes me no different from the Pinners that post these whimsical quotes and daydream about rose-tinted peaks, but it’s true. The book was Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, about the same events that the recent movie, Everest, was based on. I had no idea about the 1996 tragedy on Everest and no real interest in mountains but the author also wrote Into the Wild, one of my favourite books and my favourite movie, so I downloaded it for a seven-hour flight. The book consumed me. I hate reading on screens but I couldn’t stop. I ran my phone’s battery dead reading non-stop. When I landed in Singapore and got home, the first thing I did was charge my phone so I could finish. I’ve read it twice in two months and sung its praises to just about everyone who has made eye contact.

Safe to say the book had an impact. I had nightmares about storms and cold. The Himalaya became regulars in my browser search history. They were never too far from the top of my mind. It was not that the experience was romanticised. Far from it. Krakauer captured the dangers and pain of mountaineering with journalistic precision and openly catalogued the effects such a hobby has on the loved ones of those who do it. Nonetheless, I was equally terrified and enthralled. I was not exactly inspired to pick up some rope and crampons, and throw myself into a new sport but the fascination remained.

Base camp is a fixture on many a bucket list, Partner 2 has even expressed interest in the past. Not me though, the physical and mental strength that drives people uphill through thinning air is something I can only analyse from a distance, an interesting scientific phenomenon from which I am removed. But, I do want to see it. Everest. From a distance is fine. But I want to try and understand the pull. The power it has over people, who endure pain and suffering, who test the limits of the human body, and who risk their lives to stand on the summit. If the mountains are calling, then this one surely has the loudest voice.

So I guess the, long-winded, point of this post is that I get it now. I get it, John Muir. I understand how mountains can call, they might even be calling me a little bit. What I’m wary of is the rhapsodised, sepia-toned representations. We’re not always called to things that are good for us. Who says the mountain’s call isn’t a sinister one? A siren song. It’s not really a call that can be made by someone at sea level. Maybe one day I’ll find out.

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.

 

Observational

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It’s pretty grim when, on day four of a blog writing challenge, you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel for blog ideas. Never fear, dear reader. I’m hoping that delightful observational insights from Singapore will keep you entertained until tomorrow. After all, there’s only so many times I can write about weddings, PhDs and my cat.

In Singapore, there’s a different seating hierarchy on public transport (hoooo boy, a public transport post already!). There really is though. In Australia, it’s pregnant women, people with disabilities, and older people who get the seats. Not you. Stand up. Go on. That’s the way. You get a warm fuzzy, the person in need gets a seat, not so complicated. Here in Singapore though, it is more complicated. There are significantly less seats. And those seats are taken way more seriously.

In Singapore, the MRT (and I really cannot speak for buses) seating hierarchy goes pregnant women, people with disabilities, kids then older people. Yes, kids are in on the seating chart here. In Singapore, people will give up their hard-fought seats for kids. Children. As in those small humans with bouncy bones and young legs. Yeah, them. They get priority over an older Aunty with two fistfuls of shopping bags. But the Aunties love it, they smile and coo, all the while eyeballing the person on the seat next door. They’re happy to give up their seat for a kid, but if they do, they damn well want yours to make up for it.

They say that the fastest you’ll see a Singaporean move is when there’s a spare seat on public transport. I’m not sure if that’s true, but what I have definitely observed is the number of people I’ve seen leap out of their seats for someone who they think is more deserving. I do hate to finish on a warm fuzzy but it’s a Friday night and I’ve had a few drinks. Happy weekend, readers!

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.

Listicles are internet parasites

Listicles seem to be the bread and butter of internet websites these days. They have wormed their way up from Buzzfeed to infiltrate even the loftier echelons of the interwebs, proper news websites. Scroll down to lifestyle and entertainment, and suddenly you’ve descended into a clickhole of Dante-esque proportions. It started innocently, “5 things you should know about the situation in CAR”, then moved innocuously to “30 facts for Katy Perry’s 30th birthday”, then devolved into “10 reasons you should date a guy with hooves” and “7 signs you ate too much today, fatty”.

As entertaining as they can be, from a literary perspective, listicles are a threat. Most people would choose an easy-to-digest list over a comprehensive analysis any day, and this is starting to show. Supply and demand, baby. Give the people what they want. Even if it is to the detriment of think pieces, in-depth analyses and long-form creative fiction.

So why is this? Have our literary consumption habits been so degraded that we can only process bite-sized pieces of prose? Have our reading habits devolved so badly that we need our material obviously signposted so we know what we’re committing to?  “31 reasons Broad City is the best show ever”? 31 reasons? No time, I’ll take “5 times cats were jerks” instead.

A curse of the modern age perhaps, or the road toll we pay for the information super highway? I think it’s more insidious than that. Listicles are parasites. Feeding on us and real writing. There’s probably a few reasons for this. Firstly… No. No. You just read this whole thing, no signposts. Left to right, top to bottom, you won’t get lost I promise.

Anyway, listicles are the parasites of the internet. They are endemic, duplicitous and feed on the lifeblood of their hosts – readers and proper articles. A sneaky tiger leech, hiding on knee-skimming ferns, just waiting for you to brush past unaware so it can drain your blood. A tapeworm hanging out in mystery meat, waiting for you to make an ill-informed dietary decision. A strangler fig choking the life out of the tree who supports it for a spot in the sun. There’s a wealth of metaphors for listicles, even the word itself is a red flag. The portmanteau is cutesy, stolen from other words, it even has the syllable ‘ick’ in it!

Listicles are those wasps that lay eggs in the brains of other insects. Then the babies hatch and control their zombie hosts. I’m not even making this up. Listicles destroy your ability to make your own reading decisions, you can’t click just one. Before you know it you’ve spent an entire morning falling down a clickhole of listicles and have nothing to show for it. Listicles, like fleas and lice, are adaptable and can survive a range of conditions. They embrace mixed media openly, a trait widely-lauded in this multimediascape we call the internet. Listicles are as at-home with video as they are with music,text and images. They are laid out in order: you read the title, you smile at the .gif or watch the video, then read the paragraph that goes with it. Simple, no critical thinking, no consideration, nothing to show for the time wasted. The most effective parasites go unnoticed.

This may come off as very high and mighty but I’m not immune, I absolutely indulge in listacles from time to time. I’m not saying stop reading them, parasites have their uses in the circle of life. We derive vaccines from mosquitoes, and would we even have supermodels without tapeworms? When listicles act as a mental break in your day at work or the odd link shared among friends, there’s no problem. The cause for concern is if all we read online comes in list format. Obviously my glorious readers won’t have to worry about that, but as a whole we need to be more receptive to long reads on the internet. I love The Awl, particularly this one from a few weeks ago, New Matilda for current affairs, and The Daily Beast cultivates a weekly list of good long reads. Yes, they require a bit more time and concentration, but long reads are an investment rather than a distraction! Together we can fight back against the listicle infestation and hopefully fill the internet with thoughts and words rather than advertorials and YouTube clips. The cat gifs can stay though.

Homeward bound

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I’ve been suffering from some fairly irritating writers’ block lately. Everything I jot down is scribbled out or deleted or filed away in a bottomless ‘Drafts’ folder. I’ve found that if I can’t write a post straight away, in one go, the idea tends to languish and rot away. I lose interest and… yeah… You’ve seen the results, or more accurately, the lack thereof.

I’m hoping this evening though will provide some relief from my block. It obviously has already and it’s not even here yet. This evening I’m heading to the airport to fly home. A situation fraught with emotions and writing material!

For some unknown reason, I expected a triumphant homecoming. I’d sweep off the plan clad in designer sunglasses and smart-casual leisurewear, full of stories about the exotic Orient (is Singapore the Orient?) where I now call home, and suddenly be worldly and erudite beyond measure. I’d sneer at Australia, land of uncultured convicts, and bemoan the fact there’s no authentic satay in Brisbane.

Where do I get these notions from? Honestly, I think I watch too much TV. Instead, I’m going home to catch up with friends and family. To eat whatever is on the dinner table. To roll my eyes when my Mum fusses about how much protein I’m eating and if I’m making friends. To go to the beach. To maybe wear a jumper to survive the paltry high-20s temperatures and low humidity. To see whether the place has changed or stayed the same. To see if I’ve changed or stayed the same.

In true Australian fashion, I’ll be picked up by my Dad and his cattle dog. My togs are at the top of my backpack, ready for an airport bathroom costume change. We’ll go straight to the beach. I can feel the hot sand under my feet already. I can feel the gasp in my throat, ready for the shock of plunging into cool, clear salt water.

In case it’s not painfully obvious, I’m a little excited. So I’ll see you on the other side! Of the equator, that is. Hopefully I’ll have something more compelling to write about than airports and sand.