21 April 2014

“S” is for Spanking and Stonking and Sydney – the place I call home

I live in Singapore and have been expatriated for many years now. Whenever I return back to Australia – and to my hometown of Sydney, it is both spanking and it is stonking. These are two terms used by my colleagues the English to describe very pleasant and good things.

I like both words and their application.

The word stonking is not made up. It is in the Oxford dictionary. It is defined as:

"….used to emphasize something impressive, exciting or very large".

I first associate spanking as a form of naughty playful slapping – or as something that is given by some parents to badly behaved children. I think that most of us would. I now however also perceive it in a different way.

I have adopted both terms from the English with whom I work. 

I have claimed them as my own.

Spanking and stonking – I like them a lot. 

Sydney - steak and kidney - the Harbour Town. I will be back there in a few short months and I know that when I alight from the plane I will immediately feel comfortable and relaxed and happy - deliriously so. Despite the long overnight flight from Singapore I am now bouncing all around the place at the thought of being there. Sydney is the most gorgeous of cities.

It is Bewdiful!

I am reminded every time that I return to Sydney just how lovely this city is. It is stunning. I normally stay at the Shangri La hotel in the Rocks district and when I look out of my hotel window I can see the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is one of those structures that is synonymous with the identity of a city. To the right of this is the Sydney Opera House. It is also iconic. And the harbour - Sydney harbour – it is the greatest body of water in the world. 

The view from my hotel window screams Sydney.

From my hotel window I will also see ferries gliding across the water. They will be moving people from Circular Quay to Balmain and beyond.

I love the Sydney ferries.

When I walk from the hotel to my Sydney office I will see a road sign that points east to the suburb of Woolloomooloo. That's eight 'o's and three 'l's! I will see another sign that points the way west to Parramatta. These are magnificent Australian and Sydney place names.

Just thinking of these signs and places makes me want to say them out loud. In fact I am saying them out loud now as I am writing them down. 



There is some debate regarding the origin or meaning of the name Woolloomooloo. It is aboriginal of course - as is Parramatta. Woolloomooloo is possibly derived from the Koori word Wallamullah. This translates to the 'place of plenty'.  

Parramatta means 'the place where eels lie down'.

Nice huh?

I think so.

When I return to Sydney I will be yacking away to people all day. I will be chatting to fellow Australians who are perfect strangers. This will happen quite naturally and from the moment I land. We Australians just talk to each other without any hang-ups or agenda and most often without scruple.

It is so different to Singapore. I talk to strangers here and they look at me like I am mad.

Perhaps I am.

Perhaps they are.

However from the line in Immigration at the airport to the crowded lifts in my Sydney office people will just start chatting. 

"Owzitgoin mate?

"Yeah good owzitgoin yourself?" 

"Beautiful day huh?" 

"Yeah but its gonna rain on the weekend" 

"No worries. We need the rain" 

And on and on it goes.

It is relaxed and natural and pleasant conversation. 

It is home.

I recall on my last visit I said "Gidday" to an American couple in the hotel lift. They told me that they were here on holiday. They said that they were on vacation in the American language. I asked them if they were enjoying themselves and they told me they were. The female of the couple told me in her Texan drawl how friendly she thought we Australians were. I agreed and I told her with no small amount of pride that this is what we do.

We be friendly and we talk. 

It is so nice to be there.

It really is.

The most impressive, exciting and very large part of going back to Sydney though is spending time with my old mates. It is quality time. That is Quality with a capital 'Q". We always talk and we laugh and we reminisce and hours slip away like minutes.

We all have them I think - old mates. Good and precious ones.

Really good ones.

They are that very small circle of people you have known for decades - since you were fourteen or fifteen years of age. Our collective memories are indelible. They are many and significant experiences that are shared from when we were in our impressionable years. These reunions are bonding moments where we laugh until our stomachs ache. There are never any awkward silences and we chat away as if we still see each other every day.  

Even Now. 

Thirty years later.

My old mates and I do that together whenever I return to Sydney. We do a lot of recollection and reflection and do-you-remembers. Our talk generally drifts at some point in time about others who are in our circle of old mates. We tell and re-tell old stories from when we were young and we sometimes literally roll around the floor laughing.

There is much mirth. 

It is hysterical.

A lot of the stories involve our common mate Berty - who happens to be my very best mate and who lives in the US. Berty hasn’t been very well of late and I worry constantly about his health. He is a tough cookie though is Berty - and he’ll be all right.

I know he will.

I love you Berty – and you too Dana. I miss you heaps but I will be over to see you soon – before I go to Sydney actually.

On my last trip back to Sydney my other mates and I spent some of our reminiscing time telling each other funny Berty stories. We remembered that one of his Aunt's on his mum's side was a Private Investigator and when we were still at school Berty spent a summer working for her.

Surveillance work.

We were all very impressed with that at the time.

We also remembered Bert's mum Shirley getting us jobs parking cars at the netball on Thursday nights. We used a torch in each hand to guide cars in between gum trees at the Jells Park netball courts.

We helped them park in the dark.

In this job we also got to watch heaps of hot girls play netball in very short skirts and we were paid for it - in cash. 

We were living the dream.

My mates and I also recalled with great fondness the Reynolds Melbourne Cup Day barbecues. They were a classic. Bert's dad Brian was an accountant with his own Practice and every Melbourne Cup day he would host a big barbecue around the pool at the family home. All of his clients and relatives were invited. I went every year from when I was about fifteen and Bert, me and his elder brother Shayne would help ourselves to heaps of beers that were chilled in ice in the many bathtubs that were in the house. 

It was open slather.

We also remembered that one year a different aunt of Bert's turned up at the Melbourne Cup Day barbecue with a guy who had just been released from prison. We were reliably informed that he had robbed a bank. He was heavily tattooed. This was in a time when tattoos were far less common than they are now. Being inked up is so common now that it is passé in my humble opinion.

Everyone has them.

I don’t though. I quite like the art form but I am afraid of pain and I would not willingly allow anyone to inject my skin with ink.

My mates and I remembered that we looked at Bert’s Aunt’s boyfriend with a bit of awe and fear and we made whispered references to him as "the Bank Robber". He ended up marrying the Aunt and he came back every year to the Melbourne Cup Day barbecue.

We also recalled that the Bank Robber and Berty’s aunt won a big lottery. It was a very big one in fact that was more than three million dollars. That is a lot of money now but it was even more back then. I am talking more than thirty years ago. We don't know how much he robbed from the bank but it would be safe to assume that it was nowhere near that amount.

Bert’s Aunt and the Bank Robber then invested all of their money into some scheme that was run by dodgy and aged famous-footballer turned Television-Personality turned Investment-Adviser. He was a very bad Investment Adviser as it turned out.  The dodgy ex football star apparently gave all of their winnings to an even dodgier guy in Hong Kong - who in turn invested all the money in himself.

Then he ran away.

They never saw him or their money again.

Berty told me that the Bank Robber was electrocuted repairing a faulty washing machine a couple of years later.

It was fatal.

He was shocked to death.

I personally think that the Bank Robber's life was full of great adventure. I think it was action packed.

Being shocked to death seemed quite an appropriate way for him to go.

Factual stories are so much better than fiction. 

They really are.

Berty's aunts were all a bit crazy but they were colourful and they were highly entertaining. 

Life is theater sometimes.

Theater is life. 

Reminiscing with my mates about all of this and other things is always wonderful and returning to Sydney is always excellent. 

It is both spanking and stonking. 

“R” is for Rude – A Rather Random Rant at a Rude & Annoying American Tourist who Riled me

I was having a quiet moment at the smoking area near my office the other day when a very brightly dressed tourist wandered up to me and made a gesture of clicking a cigarette lighter in front of my face. The tourist was male and looked as if he was in his early thirties. When I say he was brightly dressed he was wearing long yellow-checkered shorts with luminescent orange running shoes on his feet.

No socks.

Oops – I just remembered my Mum will read this. Sorry Mum – I may have been fibbing a bit when I told you on the phone that I had quit smoking. I am certainly thinking about it though. I think I might have also promised you that I would stop swearing too.

I am trying very hard to do so but it isn’t bloody easy.

Shit, I just did it again.

The tourist was also attired in a sleeveless t-shirt emblazoned with the letters USA on the front and back. His head was adorned with a baseball cap that also had the letters USA on them. This cap was on backwards and he was wearing those type of sun-glasses that have mirrored lenses.

I could tell that he was a tourist because he had a camera slung around his neck and he was carrying a backpack that had a tourist map of Singapore poking out of a side pocket. Unsurprisingly, the backpack had the stars and stripes flag sewn on it.

His attire alone was sufficient for me to feel vexatious. The cigarette lighting gesture made in front of my face and his open-mouthed chewing of gum was even more annoying.

I felt an almost immediate and compelling desire to set him on fire however I resisted. I am learning patience as I age and don’t worry Mum - I have never actually set anyone on fire. It is just a figure of speech.

I feigned a look of puzzlement and non-comprehension at the tourist as he persisted in clicking his fingers in front of my face and then I nonchalantly blew smoke into his face.

It did not dissuade him.

He then clicked his fingers once more at me and said, "Gimme a light".

The Californian drawl was unmistakable and the lack of a "please" pissed me off. I get peeved by poor manners and I once again felt a rising urge to incinerate the man.

"You mean gimme a light please?" I responded.

"Yeah sure. Please. You English are so funny" he replied.

English now - to an Australian. There is no greater insult.

"I am not English dude", I replied.

I pulled my cigarette lighter out of my pocket and handed it to him.

"Never say that to an Australian. You are Canadian?"

He lit his cigarette and handed me back my lighter then he blew cigarette smoke back in my face and gave me a blank look.

"Nah I'm from LA"

In my experience sarcasm is wasted on West Coast Americans and I shouldn't even have bothered. New Yorkans have a much greater appreciation of the art.

"You know it is illegal to chew gum in Singapore? I enquired.

"No shit?" he said.

He didn't look too concerned.

"No shit" I retorted.

"Mate you can get a $10,000 fine and ten lashes of the cane for even bringing chewing gum into the country", I added putting on my most serious of faces.

"You're not shitting me dude?" he asked.

He looked a little more concerned now.

"Really" I said.

"I shit you not. Lots of tourists get into big trouble chewing gum in public. The Singapore government are very strict on gum and there are cameras everywhere".

I pointed to a couple of security cameras on the buildings on either side of us.

Cameras are everywhere in this country.

The American tourist looked quite worried now and to my disgust he pulled a wad of pink gum out of his mouth and made to put it in the ashtray that was adjacent to where we were standing.

"Don't throw it in there" I hissed.

"They will be watching you now and disposing of gum is more of a crime than chewing it"

The American looked panicked now.

"What will I do with it?" he asked

"Put it back in your mouth and swallow it" I commanded.

He immediately put it back in his mouth and with a big gulp he choked it down.

"They're not American cigarettes are they?' I enquired.

I was looking at the half burned cigarette in his hand - knowing that they were.

"Yeah" he said nervously.

"Oh dear mate, bringing any foreign cigarettes into Singapore is a major crime too. You can only bring in one open packet into the country and all others must have this government stamp on them". 

I showed him my unfinished cigarette with the government duty stamp on it to demonstrate the point.

This is true. You are only allowed to bring one packet of cigarettes into Singapore. It is no major crime though and if you get caught with more they just make you pay the tax on them.

"How many packets have you got?" I asked

"Shit I got me whole carton"

"Dude you are very lucky you weren't stopped at customs. You would have been in serious shit"

"What should I do?"

"How many packets have you got on you?"

"Just two"

"Without making any sudden movements go over to that trash can and discretely drop them in there. Move slowly. Be very casual" I instructed.

I pointed to a rubbish bin about twenty meters away. I referred to it as a trash can because this is the American term for a rubbish bin. I wanted to make sure that he understood what I was talking about. The silly fellow did what I suggested - then he came slinking back to me.

"Mate I would get rid of the rest of them as soon as you get back to your hotel. Don't throw them in your hotel room trashcan though. That is the easiest way to get caught. Take a walk around the block and drop one packet into different bins. It is safer that way"

"Man this is one strict country,” the sucker American tourist complained.

"It is mate,” I agreed.

"Thanks for the tip dude. Which way is it to the Marina Bay Sands Casino" he asked.

"Walk about a kilometer that way" I advised whilst pointing in the opposite direction of where the building is.

"You can't miss it"

Now I will be the first to admit that my behavior was rude and cruel however he was rude first though. He also called me English and he clicked his fingers at me - and he was American.

He was from the west coast - not the best coast.

I was riled.

Singapore does have a whole heap of Rules and Regulations – both “R” words.

The chewing gum law though is a bit of an urban myth. You can chew gum here and you can in fact buy it. You get it from a pharmacist. All you have to do is sign a register after showing your ID.

It is not illegal to bring it into the country.

There are harsh rules for littering, as there should be. Throwing rubbish on the ground should not be condoned anywhere. Large fines apply in Singapore if you are caught littering and the courts can also force litterers to do a stint of picking up rubbish as an additional penalty.

It is not illegal to be homosexual in Singapore however any act of homosexuality is considered to be a breach of law. Section 377 of the Miscellaneous Offences Act of Singapore specifies that:

"Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animals, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine"

Section 377A states that:

"Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or abets the commission of, or procures or attempts tom procure the commission by any male person of any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be punished with imprisonment of a term which may extend to 2 years"

Nudity is also illegal in Singapore.

The government doesn't like it.

It is specified under Section 27A of the Singaporean Miscellaneous Offences Act that:

"(1) Any person who appears nude

     (a) in a public place; or
     (b) in a private place and is exposed to public view,

shall be guilty of an offense and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or to both."

(2) For the purpose of this section, the reference to a person appearing nude includes a person who is clad in such a manner as to offend against public decency or order"

It is therefore perilous for me to wear my speedos at my own swimming pool in the condominium in which I live.

They may easily offend Singaporean public decency.

I am not joking.

These are real laws.