Blogging the 2010s — 123 — December 2018

Yes, I know. Out of sequence …  But it does pretty much wrap up these posts selecting from the 2010s!

How many HSCs is that now?

In today’s Sydney Morning Herald two once-familiar faces illustrating They topped the HSC over the past 40 years – what are they doing now?

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Jason Hui (left) who topped the state in the 1988 HSC, is now a gastroenterologist and hepatologist in Sydney. 

I remember them both but not from Year 12 as 1988 I was at Masada College in St Ives.

Actually I have gone through 50 years of HSC, though out of the fray for the last eight. Some tutoring in Sydney’s Chinatown in 2010 was my last hurrah.

Now as for FIFTY years ago see Shire: Jannali, Cronulla, family.

1966 I began teaching at Cronulla High School, now in Scott Morrison’s electorate. My second HSC class there — and the second HSC ever! — have a reunion planned. I have been invited, but am not sure I can make it. Night-time events in Sydney are an issue for me these days, but I will surely be there in spirit.

Class of 1968 member Paul Weirick has also sent a list of those attending. Brought back lots of memories.  Fortunately, I had been able to attend a couple of events around the 50th anniversary of the school itself — so I haven’t totally missed out.

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1978 I was on secondment to teacher training at the University of Sydney, but knew the Class of 78 at Wollongong High.

1988 is already covered. 1998 I was at Sydney Boys High again. Also finishing my Grad Cert TESOL at UTS.

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Students at Sydney Boys High School sit their HSC English exam on October 25, 1981.

Photo from Essential Kids.

More on Jason Hui — found online.

HSC stars 10 years on  (Edited Extract From “Sunday Life” January ’99)

Jason Hui, 27, of Sydney Boys’ High, came first in the state in 1988 with 496. He studied 4U maths, 2U English, 2U physics, 2U chemistry and 2U economics and is a doctor.

When he arrived in Australia at 13, Hui’s English skills were poor. He started year 9 and could barely understand the teacher.

His parents had sent him and his older brother out from Hong Kong to study. They boarded with an Australian family throughout high school and their parents visited when they could. “If you come from overseas with the aim of studying and going to university, you tend to be very focused and less distracted by other things. As the HSC drew closer I just studied whenever there was time. But I loved maths, physics and chemistry so it wasn’t a burden.

“Working hard was the norm in my school. It was a fantastic year with a lot of very bright people—there were two 4-Unit maths classes. I think we all pushed each other along and there was a lot of competition. I’m sure I wouldn’t have done as well at another school.”

At the time, Hui was tossing up between medicine and engineering and says he probably chose medicine “because there were a lot of engineers in my family and I wanted to do something different.” Looking back, it was the right choice. I can’t imagine myself in anything different.

“The amazing thing about medicine is you never stop learning. At each stage you encounter new situations and you have new and difficult decisions to make. That’s what makes it so interesting.”

Hui did six years at Sydney University, sharing the University Medal with Mark Gorbatov (88)—a former Sydney Boys’ classmate who came second in the HSC in the same year with 495.

“When I did the HSC, people said it was the hardest exam you ever did. At Uni, you quickly realise that is totally untrue. Exams get harder as you become more advanced and studying and working at the same time is much harder. To work 9-10 hours a day and then get home, have dinner and spend three or four more hours studying is very difficult.”

And that sparks my memory! I recall — and this was before my getting expertise in teaching English as a second language — seeing in 1985-6 that Jason had a problem. I referred him to a then neighbour of mine in Chippendale — unfortunately I can’t recall his name: a delightful young man who was then doing Linguistics at Sydney University under the famous Professor Michael Halliday and Dr Jim Martin. The neighbour gave Jason some help with his English.

And the 2008 HSC?

Just to complete the set from the previous post: in 2008 I was tutoring some HSC candidates and others in Chinatown. Here is a sample:

My coachee was unfamiliar with the expression “can’t see the wood for the trees”, so I explained that it means losing sight of the whole pattern because details grow and grow at an alarming rate. This is a state many HSC students find themselves in. So how to guard against it?

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Photo by Neil Whitfield 2008: artificial forest at the Sydney Chinese Garden

Make sure you read and understand the course description. My coachee and I are working on the Frankenstein and Blade Runner pair. The first thing to note is that the module is called TEXTS IN TIME: TEXTS AND CONTEXTS. That is the wood.

This module requires students to COMPARE TEXTS in order to EXPLORE THEM IN RELATION TO THEIR CONTEXTS. It develops students’ understanding of THE EFFECTS OF CONTEXT and QUESTIONS OF VALUE…

Students examine ways in which social, cultural and historical context influences aspects of texts, or the ways in which changes of context lead to changed values being reflected in texts. This includes study and use of the language of texts, consideration of purposes and audiences, and analysis of the content values and attitudes being conveyed…

OK, that means:

1. You need to know what issues or themes of interest each text embodies. In our two, for example, one can think of: the moral/ethical issues in science and technology; the need for companionship or love; what it is to be human; what is “natural”… And so on. It does not greatly matter what the issues are, so long as they are important ones and are major issues in both Frankenstein and Blade Runner. Your teacher and your class will no doubt determine perhaps two or three big ideas to hang your readings on.

2. You need to appreciate what was being thought, said and done around the time each text was composed: 1818 in one case, and 1982 in the other. Consider also where each text was composed. How does what you discover about this explain why each text may have been composed? Be careful here. It can be tempting to write history or philosophy and forget about the actual texts. Not a good idea.

3. Having found an issue, explore where and how it is presented in each text. Don’t forget to be specific rather than general. Find key passages or scenes. Look closely at the techniques used in their making. Then ask “Why is this passage/scene like this?” What in the context may have shaped the way it has been done? What in the context made this issue of sufficient interest to the composer and his/her readers and viewers? Where does the composer stand on it? What does the composer regard as important, or troubling, or worth arguing for or against on this issue? Now you will be exploring values and attitudes.

4. There are also genre issues to think about: The Gothic, science fiction, dystopias, film noir… Why have these genres thrived at various points in history? Why have they persisted? What is the relation of our two texts to these genres?

It really is hard to coordinate all this thinking. Anyone who tells you the HSC has been dumbed down is just plain dumb! I know that I never had to do anything half as difficult in my final year of high school in 1959! The good thing is that the issues raised in these texts really are interesting – and important!

So, good luck. Also, any suggestions about how to organise the material in an exam-friendly way will no doubt be appreciated by others. You may use the comment space here for that, if you care to.

The truth is out there

Yes, you are also lucky. There is so much good material to explore, some of it suggested on my previous post on this….

Sixty years on

Yes, next year will mark sixty years since my final year as a student at Sydney Boys High. They had trams still then — I wonder if the troubled new ones will be running next year?

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See also 1959 revisited and The year my voice broke…, which refers to 1958.

1950 Grounds 3

Recently I downloaded the latest Flying Higher — an excellent new publication. And look, my Maths teacher 1958-59 is still with us! He was my boss too from late 1985-1987, and then 1989 through the early 90s. He claimed, probably correctly, that I owed him a Maths assignment from 1958…

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The Chris Lilley story took me back to the Howard era — eventually.

And what a miserable place that turned out to revisit! As you will see, I was not only still teaching then but in an area (ESL) that his particularly anal retentive philosophy impacted badly.

But to the Chris Lilley story. As I noted on Facebook: “I saw that original series “Our Boys” — it was one of the best education documentaries ABC has ever made. I was in awe at the teachers I saw in it, and what the school was doing in circumstances I may not have coped well with. At that time I was still teaching.

“I have definitely changed my mind about Chris Lilley.

“‘Young Filipe Mahe faced tremendous difficulties — the death of his dad, family illness and undiagnosed dyslexia — only to be ‘used to create a national figure of fun’. This background story to Chris Lilley’s ‘Jonah’ caricature is quite sad’.”

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That’s a still from the original Our Boys, showing the young Felipe. I went back through my own archives to see how I and others had reacted to Chris Lilley’s shows when they first came out. I am not totally ashamed, as I did have reservations.

Mr Rabbit, a teacher, younger than Chris Lilley who turns 40 next year, thinks Ja’mie is about as funny as childhood cancer.  Maximos, a former colleague of mine in SBHS days, could not watch after Episode 1. The Sydney Morning Herald critic Annabel Ross has a good valedictory on the last episode, screened last night.

As others have pointed out, it’s hard to know if Lilley’s critique is aimed at private school girls like Ja’mie or at the society that has bred them.

Ultimately, though, it all feels a bit so what. There’s been no redemption, no downfall, no real sense that Ja’mie has learned anything at all. But maybe that’s the point.

Ja’mie lives without consequence, and should temper tantrums and tears not win her arguments, the rest of her problems can usually be summarily dismissed with a breezy “whatevs”.

Ja’mie shed a third of its viewers over its Australian run, dividing critics, and attracting mainly brickbats in the US this week when it debuted on HBO.

The announcement that high school bully Jonah will be the next Lilley character to get his own series will doubtless delight many fans. But I can’t help wondering if, like Ja’mie, it will feel a little like more of the same.

Perhaps it’s time for Lilley to go back to the drawing board and unleash a new creation….

I watched the whole thing.  Having taught in state schools but also in three private schools – and the South African references were very pertinent to one of those – I found myself having to cringe but acknowledge the degree of truth in Chris Lilley’s merciless satire. His performance is truly amazing – for a guy pushing 40 now! Linguistically he has a great ear. But I did find the whole thing just TOO dark, too, well, cruel.

I had posted on Facebook earlier on another story from the Sydney Morning Herald: “This really has affected my reaction to that Chris Lilley character. I recall that episode of the excellent ABC documentary on Canterbury Boys High, which has unfortunately disappeared into the for sale only department — if indeed it is still available there. In the comment section I will place a summary of it, and in another comment a more recent video about the school.

“It does now seem cruel, mean-spirited even. And I feel soiled by the fact I actually enjoyed it.”

‘I knew that Jonah was me’: former Tongan schoolboy reveals anger and pain about Chris Lilley character.

You will find an account of the 2004  episode of Reality Bites: Our Boys Filipe there.

Welcome to Canterbury Boys High, Prime Minister John Howard’s old school and the setting for a compelling four-part documentary series, Our Boys, screening on ABC TV from Tuesday February 10 [2004] at 8pm.

Our Boys follows the lives of five teenage students and their teachers at this cash-strapped government school in south-west Sydney.

Filmed over a school year, it tells the personal stories of today’s public education system – a school ‘starved of funds’, boys ‘at risk’ and teachers going far beyond their traditional classroom roles.

Canterbury Boys has a rich mix of nationalities – 90 per cent of the boys come from non-English speaking backgrounds. Many are refugees or come from disadvantaged homes.

This week, cheeky, disruptive 15 year-old Filipe Mahe from Tonga has slipped through the net. He’s made it into Year 9 without being able to read or write….

Have a look at Canterbury Boys High more recently.

Yes, back when former PM John Howard was a boy Canterbury was a selective school like Sydney Boys High and Fort Street. Over time it had become a multicultural school serving a disadvantaged local area.

I thought again of the Howard era. I was none too fond of him at the time and have the blog to prove it!  On the sadly vanished Diary-X I wrote:

19-20 January 2004

Dear me, I was annoyed yesterday!

And rightly so, even if perhaps instead of notorious hypocrite I could just have said canny politician, and for being disrespectful I might have written totally despising. As Labor frontbencher Julia Gillard quite properly said last year, the evil of the Howard regime has been the imposition of a bleak political correctness of the most ruthless kind upon what once was a country showing signs of developing values and attitudes more in tune with the age in which we currently live.

It’s time for those who oppose Howard’s agenda to admit that he and his helpers have succeeded spectacularly.

The nation is in the grip of a neo-conservative political correctness that is out of touch with the values of the majority of the Australian people. It’s a political correctness that has elevated values that most Australians don’t share: individual selfishness and a strange envy of the less fortunate because they are receiving Government assistance.

It’s a political correctness that has produced greater divisions in our society between the haves and the have-nots, indigenous and non-indigenous, new migrants and old. And it is a political correctness that puts winning before all else, where ethics, integrity and values like equality and looking after others less fortunate don’t rate.

John Howard has won his culture war, for now.

My argument is that it’s time for Australians of all political persuasions who don’t like this new political correctness – from Green on the left, to small-l liberal on the right – to wake up to the fact that they have lost the culture war.

Australia has been changed for the worse by John Howard. We can make it better again.

Howard is guilty of squandering important spiritual advances made over the decades since the 1960s and 1970s. He has done this with deliberation, partly out of his own small-minded convictions, but even more so out of “wedge politics”, knowing that the paranoia unleashed some years back by the Hanson phenomenon could be harnessed as a key to power.

So I am glad I sounded off yesterday, and particularly glad that I transcribed the NSW Department of Education’s statement about values. That is a fine document, distilling much thinking — indeed much of the spiritual advance Howard is so antithetical to. True, it is a statement of principles: but isn’t it nice to have principles? Also, from my experience, state schools do try, often in very difficult circumstances to put these principles into practice….

Howard’s agenda:

1) To spend as little as possible on public education, skewing what funding there is towards the private sector, so that privatising education will seem both desirable and necessary some time in the future, and ideologically in keeping with everything else this government stands for. One therefore undermines public education at every turn, without seeming to do so, as Australians are in fact rather fond of their century and more of public (free, compulsory and secular) education: it has been a core Australian value.

2) The teachers have a powerful trade union. The government is intent on destroying the union movement, or having a totally compliant one. It is now the turn of teachers, wharfies and other undesirables having been dealt with some time ago.

If there are flawed values at work in all this, just look to The Lodge (or Kirribilli House) to see where they are coming from….

Recalled from the turn of the century: chuffed!

On Facebook recently I posted some items from my English and ESL blog archives.

Neil Whitfield’s English and ESL site

“A great resource for all students and teachers…” — Frances M., English Teachers Association Bulletin Board, Mar 25, 2005. (NOTE: corrected link, but if you go there you will find the site referred to by its pre-retirement name and on its old Tripod.com address! The particular page that so impressed Frances M is now here.)

Of the first one I posted I said: “I just reread this for the first time in years, and aside from fond memories of Sydney High and Bob Li — he is second from the right in this photo from 20 years ago — it cheers me up to recall that I may after all have done some good through my teaching career!”

2000

Here is that post:

Multiculturalism — Bob’s story

In senior years students used to come voluntarily to the ESL staff if they felt their English may be costing them marks. Let one of 2000’s Year 12 students speak for himself on this, but it should be added that all his teachers assisted him achieve his goal–to study Medicine at the University of New South Wales:

Wish you all the best for Christmas and the New Year (and later the Chinese New Year). Hope you have a great holiday!

Thank you tons for teaching me 2 years of English, which enabled me to achieve the top 10% of the state: something I thought unrealistic before.

I still have all these 12/20 and 13/20 poetry essays from early year 11 in my folder… and also the 15/20 ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and ‘Richard III’ essays from the yr11 yearly exam. I still keep the 16/20, 17/20 ‘Empire of the Sun’, ‘Robert Gray’ essays from yr12 assessments, and also the 19/20 ‘Satire’ essay from the trial HSC. And of course, the ESL practice essays which scored 18/20 and 19/20 marked by you over the internet. And now, the record of achievement which says 91-100% percentile band in English.

It was indeed a solid progress, and I thank you again for teaching me, Sir!

The ex-student whose letter of thanks I just quoted is Bob Li (2000). In his email giving permission to quote him he said:

Of course you can quote me in the High Notes! I hope more and more students come to ESL and benefit from it just as I did. English is a headache for so many students from non-English speaking backgrounds. Continuous practice from year 7 is a great way to minimise (or even eliminate) the tremendous difficulty they are likely to experience in the HSC.

It is worth quoting the autobiographical piece Bob wrote as part of an ESL test at the beginning of Year 11 1999:

I’ve only been to Australia for six years, but my personal opinion about Australia has changed quite dramatically.

I still remember how I wanted to go back to China when I first came. I felt that everything had changed. Life here in Australia is so different. The streets are so quiet I could hardly see anybody. I’ve always liked to live in a crowded city like Shanghai, where I could see people everywhere doing all sorts of activities. Language is probably the biggest problem that I have faced. I couldn’t understand anything in English. School was disastrous, as I was always sitting in the corner waiting for the bell. I remember I always got scared when people talked to me. I felt very lonely in this totally unknown world.

My thought of going back to China started to calm as years went by. I started getting fluent in English, made a lot of friends here. I started to like Australia. Today I love Australia. I want to stay in Australia forever. I’m very used
to the life here and I love it.

My first goal for the future is to get an excellent result in the HSC. Hopefully I could get into Dentistry or Medicine and have success in my future. I think I will have my future life in Australia, and I wouldn’t get used to life in China.

In another email Bob had this to say:

Just to share something with you. I’ve been practicing Wing Chun Kung Fu in Melbourne in the last month, and I founded it very very beneficial. It not only helps my self-defence and fitness, but also increases my physical and mental awareness, reflexes and confidence. Kung Fu is really a beautiful art, practicing it transcends to a higher mental and physical level.

Just in case if you haven’t heard of Wing Chun, it’s a style of Kung Fu derived from the Southern Shaolin Temple. Usually it takes 15 to 20 years to develop an efficient martial artist in Shaolin, which was a rather long time. So some 250 years ago, the 5 grandmasters discussed their techniques, by choosing the most efficient techniques from each style, they formulated the new training program which takes only 5 to 7 years to develop a Kung Fu master. It was named “Wing Chun” and represented “hope for the future”.

Here’s the Philosophy of Wing Chun that I’d like to share with you.

  • One who excels as a warrior does not appear formidable;
  • One who excels in fighting is never aroused in anger;
  • One who excels in defeating his enemy does not join issues;
  • One who excels in employing others humbles himself before them.
  • This is the virtue of non-contention and matching the sublimity of heaven. “The practitioner should meditate on these principles and make peace through the study of Kung Fu – a way of life.”

I found it very rewarding, so I think I’ll continue to train… hope uni work doesn’t prevent me from doing it.

Asian Pride

I have seen such a slogan from time to time. Bob is a good example of healthy pride. As the last letter shows, he is finding much to learn from his Chinese background. At the same time, he is as comfortable as can be with other aspects of Australian society. In him the problem of identity seems to have been solved.

There are some for whom things may not be so harmonious. For them, perhaps, Asian Pride may be in opposition to people or aspects of cultures other than their own, rather than a healthy balance. At extremes it may even become exclusive and racist. I have to say that, even so, Asian Pride is better than Asian Shame!

The rest of us must make sure that no-one is ashamed of who he is. That is the core problem of racism–we build ourselves up at the expense of others, making others feel ashamed or inferior–or angry. This is bad for the community as a whole, as we all have to get along.

That was published in the SBHS newsletter and led to a rather amazing dialogue, too long to paste here: see A debate on race.

Next on Facebook:

Multiculturalism — Student lives

Experiencing cultural change through the eyes of young Australians who have been students of Sydney Boys High. The texts are not corrected, but may be slightly edited. These stories were gathered between 1998 and 2000 as part of my testing of student writing, but parallel stories occur still, over and over again.

Boy aged 12: in Australia 7 years

What happened to me when I was little would take pages to write, so I will just tell you one of the main point when I was little. Our family immigrated to Australia except for my father because he had to work in Hong Kong so we would have money but my father would visit us every 3-4 months and would stay for about a month in Australia. Every time when he leaves Australia I would cry for a very long time.

Now I’m 12 and whenever my father is going back to Hong Kong there isn’t a tear but I feel a bit sad. Also, now I’m 12 I have made it into Sydney Boys High and it is a very good school but I have to wake up very early.

In the future I would like to have a good HSC mark so I can get in to a good university and make alot of money after university. In this piece of paper is all about my life.

Boy aged 12: In Australia 2.5 years

Five years ago, I was a dull boy in China. Everything was just fine. I went to School in the morning and Slept in the evening. When I found out that I was going to Australia I had mixed reactions. My first thought was Yes I finally had my Childhood dream come true to travel in an aeroplane. Also I got to see dad for the first time in my life. When I was only a year old he came to Australia but I thought wait a minute I’m going to have to leave my friend.The thought hit me. I was confused.

Now here I am in Australia. I just got into Sydney Boys High. Our family is now prospering along very well. My study is improving gradually. I really think my future would be fantastic.

Growing up to be an adult is a time of tense learning and important decision-making. In the portion of life that I’ve got left I wish I could receive a worthwhile job and a reasonable pay. I wish to through my work benifit both to community and the country. If I have achieved these things then when I die I will look back and think that was a job well done.

Boy aged 12: in Australia 4 years.

It wasn’t a great year, but that is common in most school years. I think it was then that my parents had the strange notion to emigrate from Israel. I do indeed remember them discussing the move, I remember not being too happy about it at first. I did not want to leave in the least bit because I didn’t want to leave my friends behind, but eventually I realised that it was a wise decision. Approximately then I started watching the news and learnt that a war was raging between Israel and Iraq. And when my father went to serve in the army, as all Israely men have to, I realised that I would nothing more than to leave.

My life now is much better than before, I can state that quite clearly. I have become quite accustomed to the english language and the Australian way of life. It did seem strange to me at first but now I do not mind it. Over the last few years I have made a lot of friends and I consider my life now very good.

In the future my life should improve and I plan on gaining more friends in this new school. I expect succeed in my academics as well as my physical education and sport.

X*** aged 12: In Australia 6 years.

Hello! My name is X*** and I will write in this paragraph about an incident that happened nine years ago. When I was still in Shanghai, something almost fatal happened. It was a hot and stuffy night and some of my grandparent’s friends came. While they were talking, I climbed onto the window sill of a bay window. It was much cooler sitting on the window sill.

What I didn’t know was that the window was opened. So when I rocked a bit too hard, my upper body was dangling out of a 12 storey high apartment! Luckily, my grandmother saw me and grabbed me just before I fell out of the window and made a mess on the road. So, as you can see, I had a very frightening past…

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Shanghai 1995

Boy–aged 15–in Australia 3.5 years.

5 years ago I was in Shanghai, China. I went to my local comprehensive primary school which was a alright school. In school learn mainly Math, Chinese and Biology. But we also used to do secoundary subjects like Art & crafts and music. The school was fairly small compared to the Public schools in Australia, but we had fun. In school every subject was very compatative and stressful. In school sport was not one of main componants. Every once in a while we play table tennis or soccer.

… In the next five years I want to go to America and Major in Music and Computer Engineering in “Julian University”. Julian University* I heard was a good school for musicans. might even get a Doctorate in Music. When I’m a bit older, I wish to join the Venia Philharmonic Orchestra. That is my vision of the future. I might even say I might marry a very good looking
super model, but I don’t think that will happen.

He means The Juilliard School.

Blogging the 2010s — 115 — December 2011

I should mention that the wake I referred to in the last post occurred in January 2011. See The Dowager Empress’s wake.

World AIDS Day and my circle…

On 11 September 2001 I posted:

11 Sep 2001

Thoughts of a survivor: Guest article by Ian Smith, the Dowager Empress of Hong Kong

It is difficult to give advice to any one regarding HIV/AIDS. However here are a few thoughts from a long-term survivor.

Do not panic. This is easy to say, but the best thing you can do, is ignore the virus as much as possible, within reason. If you are on medication, never miss a dose. Always have safe sex to avoid passing the virus to someone else, and keep alcohol and other recreational drugs down. By this I do not mean give everything up, just try cutting down. Think, “Do I really need that E tonight?” If you do, take only half, or less. This has the advantage of saving money. It also has the advantage of not damaging your immune system as much…

Today there is an excellent article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Ori Golan, a freelance journalist and volunteer with the absolutely admirable Ankali Project.

… Dr Lynn Pulliam, writing in the Lancet, predicts up to 30 per cent of patients infected with HIV will develop a debilitating dementia. HIV is the most common cause of dementia in people under the age of 40, Dr Lachlan Gray at the Burnet Institute says, and recent studies have suggested milder neurocognitive impairment could be as high as 50 per cent of the infected population.

Many people with HIV are leading normal lives, their viral load undetectable and their physical appearance excellent. This, ironically, is part of the problem. In an interview shortly before his death, the British AIDS activist, Cass Mann, put it like this: ”The greatest disservice AIDS charities pay to [HIV-positive] men today is to present images of them as healthy, buffed, gym bunnies with glossy beautiful bodies having great lives, climbing mountains, partying in Sydney and looking beautiful. If they showed people in hospices dying of dementia or people with lipodystrophy that would stop them in their tracks.”

A recent study by Dr Lucette Cysique, of the Department of Neurology at St Vincent’s Hospital, predicts the number of people with HIV dementia will surpass 2600 by 2030. The toll on their family and friends is tremendous. Moreover, Dr Cysique says the annual cost of care will increase from $29 million in 2009 to $53 million in 2030.

We can be proud as we don our red ribbons this World AIDS Day that new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths have fallen to the lowest levels since the peak of the epidemic…

There is no room for complacency. AIDS is still an incurable condition. We must act to curb it; we must reach out to this new generation so they know how to protect themselves. There is no time to waste. The global fight against AIDS is not over.

And The Dowager Empress is no longer with us either.

And we have all of us mourned the passing of so many others.

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Then go back to 2000:

Diary for December 2000

Saturday, December 2, 2000: Yesterday was World AIDS Day.
My little circle of friends has displayed over the past week an amazing range of emotions. We’ve had love gone wrong, love gone right…and so on. Quite dramatic really. Perhaps the dominant note, one way or another, has been love.:-)
I have, I must say, found December rewarding so far.
One of my circle has an anniversary coming up of one of life’s turning-points. There are mixed emotions involved, which I, perhaps, understand better than most. The person involved may read this, and he knows my thoughts are with him.

Sunday, December 3, 2000
I hope to dedicate December, one way or another, to love and understanding. Today it is the turn of my ICQ friend Atakan, a young (not gay) teacher in Turkey. He is quite a devout follower of Islam, but not a fundamentalist; indeed he found some elements of this site a bit shocking, but still talks to me :-) Given that here the popular image of Islam is coloured by media reports of extremism and violence, it is as well to reflect on the fact that this is a distortion. Here, for example, is what Atakan recently messaged me:
ATAKAN ALI 11/30/00 8:08 AM : “Be so tolerant that your bosom becomes wide like the ocean. Become inspired with faith and love of human beings. Let there be no troubled souls to whom you do not offer a hand, and about whom you remain unconcerned.”
ninglun 11/30/00 4:41 PM: That’s very beautiful. Thanks.

And then 2006:

Queer Penguin on World AIDS Day

Posted on December 6, 2006

I have to admit, though I am usually a regular Queer Penguin reader, that visiting the hospice and other matters having perhaps distracted me, I only noted Hypocrisy and Condemnation are Also Diseases via Gay Erasmus. Sam’s post really is very honest, confronting, and powerful. Brace yourself if you are homophobic, but read it nonetheless. You may get a taste of reality. He is also quite rightly trenchant on stupid gay men who can only think with their genitalia. Of course, that failing, and the often combined stupidity (or is it a sad incapacity for genuine human feeling?) of so-called recreational drugs, especially the mind-mincers in the speed family, infect (in more ways than one) party people and airheads of every sexual identification, more’s the pity.

Sam’s post is still there and still worth a visit.

…I don’t pretend to have a solution to what is currently a disturbing problem, that nearly 30 years after the mysterious ‘gay disease’ first appeared, men are still falling victim even when there is now a simple and almost always effective way of avoiding the disease. Maybe a reduction in the omnipotency of sex in gay men’s world – at least in inner Sydney – could be a start, but it’s not like the urges will suddenly cease to exist.

I’d like to think that the first step will be for gay men to have less of a fight on their hands when nurturing their own self-respect and sense of responsibility. Once they genuinely value and treasure their lives, why on earth will they want to jeopardise it?

I also have a feeling I’m not the only person who’s not just made, but repeated, a stupid mistake that could have cost me dearly. Those without sin, etc. Every day I am grateful I’ve not become another statistic, but I never forget that is purely a case of good chance. I don’t intend to repeat that mistake ever again.

In the meantime, I also never forget those friends, and friends of friends, who live with the spectre of HIV because of one mistake.

At The Empress’s Wake, Midnight Shift Hotel

And here is a special treat — one of M’s circle, and hence for some years of mine.

See also Sadness (1999)

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My last coachee

“i never thought to see the day where mr  …. would get a band 6 in english. f*** the world bitches! i is da bestes” – Facebook yesterday morning.

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That’s him. He is a guy who at 12 or 13 was seriously being compared to Roger Federer. He came my way because, after spending just about all of Years 7 to 10 on the international tennis circuit, he arrived at high school Year 11 having never actually written an essay… He was sent to me for help in 2010, and I did what I could up until I moved down here to Wollongong in August-September 2010. I had hopes he would do all right, and I am really chuffed that he has!

Indeed: 90%+ in Advanced English and a mention in the honours list in today’s paper. Smile He is of Iranian/Filipino background.

Blogging the 2010s — 77 — August 2013

How time rushes on and all that

I happened upon a newsletter from a school in Sydney’s west and almost fell off my chair when I saw this – suitably adjusted for reasons of privacy.

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rabbit2Yes, that Head Teacher English is none other than The Rabbit! I knew he had taken to teaching like the proverbial duck to water, but HT already! It’s not unprecedented, but it is pretty bloody good I can tell you! So, he is no longer in The Gong.  I just checked: he was contemplating his first posting in April 2006, so 2007 to now is about the size of it. Truly remarkable. Better than I was! Smile

Meanwhile, if you check the August retro series (still ongoing) you may find a mention or two of him.

Looking at the 2006 blog I see this also in April: Looking for the “gay lobby”.  It still holds up, that post, and has a fascinating if sad comment thread. Last night’s episode of Insight on gay marriage did show how the discussion has moved forward in many ways in the past seven years. It was in turns enlightening, frustrating and moving.

JENNY BROCKIE: Tell us why you decided to come on television tonight?

NAM: There’s a lot, it’s very difficult because there’s a lot of stigma, there’s a lot of homophobia, there’s a lot of – it’s not easy to be gay. It’s easier, sometimes it can be easier to just let things slide and try and blend into the background.

JENNY BROCKIE: Were you worried about your family and your extended family’s reaction to doing this tonight?

NAM: I was, apart from my nuclear family which is my parents, my brother, my extended family don’t really know that I’m gay.

JENNY BROCKIE: They probably do now.

NAM: Yes. The, there was a question of conscience for me. Because me being gay, that’s a burden I can bear, but in my cultural context, if I were to announce that I’m gay, then a lot of, there would be a lot of stigma and a lot of, I guess, bad faith or bad will and shame that will be put onto, I guess, my family name. And I worry about how that will affect my parents; I worry about how that will affect my brother. And if it was just me who had to bear the brunt of all that, then I can make those decisions for myself, but it affects more than just me, it affects my brother, it affects my parents and I worry about them.

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you feel that shame?

NAM: I do.

JENNY BROCKIE: Why?

NAM: Because you don’t want to disappoint your parents. You don’t, sorry…

JENNY BROCKIE: Are you okay?

NAM: Mm-mmm. When you grow up your parents do so much for you. My parents were first generation migrants, they had to work really, really hard to look after me and when we grow up we have a formula of okay, you grow up, you study hard, you go to university, if you can, you get a job, you get married, you have children and then the cycle continues. I don’t want to disappoint my parents and the immediate reaction or the immediate instinct of if you’re gay, then you’ve already disappointed them because already you can’t get married and potentially you can’t have children. And in my cultural context, that – there’s no other sort of alternative, or at least there isn’t any other talk about any alternative to that reality…

August retro–16–2008 e

And then there was my English/ESL blog which began at Sydney Boys High. You can see a 2004 remnant here:

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Those powerpoints are still available!

A Twist In My Story: He Made A Difference

09 AUG 2008

I happened on this while randomly surfing through BlogExplosion. It’s not a total waste of time, you know, as every now and again something of real interest comes along — a whole blog, or a particular post. I mentioned BlogExplosion in Around 500 Education blogs… last year; sadly, since then, the site has had its ups and downs, and this blog is no longer listed there, though two of my personal blogs are.

To the point though. A Twist In My Story: He Made A Difference comes from a 14-years-old named Ben in Malaysia. It’s about his new English teacher.

He at times can feel really low when entering my class because of the response we give him. I understand how it feels but sometimes I too get carried away talking and forget myself. Even though we give him all this crap, he continues teaching us with a whole new style which I find very creative and innovative. And I can proudly say that I have learn new things from him.

His lessons are never boring and doesn’t use the old textbook teaching style which intrigues me greatly. Always teaching with a bang and no two lessons are the same. He teaches us how to speak up, to be attentive, to be considerate, to write a Thesis statement, to respect and believes strongly that respect is earned not given. By not scolding us but teaching us, he wins hearts of students that which even money cannot buy. This is priceless.

Through the past month, I have changed my view on a number of things by his teachings. I have learned that to judge people based on first glance is wrong. Most people judge others in a matter of seconds and though first impressions matter, take time to know more about the person your judging. Even then, who are you to judge them.

I think this too is priceless. :) I really hope his teacher has been able to read it…

Nice one, Ben.

Eddy Avenue, October 2008

Top 100 Language Blogs – Lexiophiles

26 AUG 2008

I can’t say I was displeased when I received an email pointing to Top 100 Language Blogs – Lexiophilesbecause English/ESL has been listed there — at #75. I strongly recommend your browsing the list as some very interesting blogs may be found there.

Now that we have our very own Top 100 Blog List there are bound to be questions and opinions streaming in from all corners of the Internet. This article is a preemptive post to answer what we feel are the two biggest questions. Why we made the list, and how we made the list.

Why did we feel we needed to make a blog list?
The short answer is that we couldn’t find one. We were looking at different language blogs and talking about which our favorites were and why. To make our discussion more colorful we wanted to compare our favorites with a toplist. When we couldn’t find one, at least one that covered our category we decided to make one!

How did we make the list?
We sifted through some 300 blogs relating to language and learning. Each blog was looked over and ranked with a number of points. No system is perfect, but we based our ranking on objective values, which were assigned according to the blog’s content and features.

We identified three main categories: content, consistency and interactivity. We know that no ranking is 100% accurate and always somewhat subjective. Still, we feel that these three categories give a good overall view of how good a blog really is.

Content: No need to explain that the reader appreciates good content. This category took into account what type of content the blog featured. We looked for authored and original content, depth of postings, incorporation of multimedia (such as videos, pictures etc.) and reviews of online tools and websites.

Consistency: A blog is about sharing information in a fast and uncomplicated way. The articles are not like research papers you work months on. People want to read something new every time they visit a blog. Therefore, we looked at if the blog was active, and if so, how active. Frequent postings gave a higher score as well as the regularity of postings.

Interactivity: In our opinion a good blog is not a one-way street but involves the readers as well. The most observable feature is comments, but it doesn’t stop there: Can the user contact the blogger via a contact page, Facebook or similar? Can the user follow the blogger via Twitter or RSS-Feed or share the blog with others via a bookmark button? There are many neat functions that make a blog more interactive.

Thanks, people!

English staff room Sydney Boys High 2008