Various lockdown hacks and escapes — 3

Things have not improved significantly. Hopefully my on-line order (see yesterday’s post) arrives this morning, keeping me in food and such necessities!

Now one thing you can do in lockdown is read. As well as my few library books, I have the vast eBook library I have posted about before. That now stands at 2,830 books! One recent acquisition — and 99.9% of my eBooks are freebies — is E M Forster, A Passage to India. I would say it has just emerged from copyright, as it was not available from Project Gutenberg before.

Now of course I had read it before, first while a student at Sydney University around 1961-2, and again later on. Naturally I also saw the movie.

All sorts of interesting things can be said about the book and the movie! We perhaps need to be reminded of three things: 1) E M Forster was a closeted gay man 2) the book appeared in 1924 3) the emphasis on the Muslim in India was one with the way the British tended to think about the “natives”. The novel, while not autobiographical, is rooted in Forster’s own experiences in India and with Indians. Much has been said, and fair enough too, along the lines of post-colonial critique; the first and still most famous example of that is Edward Said.

But what struck me most as after all this time I read the first few chapters is what absolutely brilliant writing it is. Also, that it really is better than any movie or other adaptation. Let me close by indulging in a long quotation from Chapter 1.

I quote the entire chapter!

Except for the Marabar Caves—and they are twenty miles off—the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary. Edged rather than washed by the river Ganges, it trails for a couple of miles along the bank, scarcely distinguishable from the rubbish it deposits so freely. There are no bathing-steps on the river front, as the Ganges happens not to be holy here; indeed there is no river front, and bazaars shut out the wide and shifting panorama of the stream. The streets are mean, the temples ineffective, and though a few fine houses exist they are hidden away in gardens or down alleys whose filth deters all but the invited guest. Chandrapore was never large or beautiful, but two hundred years ago it lay on the road between Upper India, then imperial, and the sea, and the fine houses date from that period. The zest for decoration stopped in the eighteenth century, nor was it ever democratic. There is no painting and scarcely any carving in the bazaars. The very wood seems made of mud, the inhabitants of mud moving. So abased, so monotonous is everything that meets the eye, that when the Ganges comes down it might be expected to wash the excrescence back into the soil. Houses do fall, people are drowned and left rotting, but the general outline of the town persists, swelling here, shrinking there, like some low but indestructible form of life.

Inland, the prospect alters. There is an oval Maidan, and a long sallow hospital. Houses belonging to Eurasians stand on the high ground by the railway station. Beyond the railway—which runs parallel to the river—the land sinks, then rises again rather steeply. On the second rise is laid out the little civil station, and viewed hence Chandrapore appears to be a totally different place. It is a city of gardens. It is no city, but a forest sparsely scattered with huts. It is a tropical pleasaunce washed by a noble river. The toddy palms and neem trees and mangoes and pepul that were hidden behind the bazaars now become visible and in their turn hide the bazaars. They rise from the gardens where ancient tanks nourish them, they burst out of stifling purlieus and unconsidered temples. Seeking, light and air, and endowed with more strength than man or his works, they soar above the lower deposit to greet one another with branches and beckoning leaves, and to build a city for the birds. Especially after the rains do they screen what passes below, but at all times, even when scorched or leafless, they glorify the city to the English people who inhabit the rise, so that new-comers cannot believe it to be as meagre as it is described, and have to be driven down to acquire disillusionment. As for the civil station itself, it provokes no emotion. It charms not, neither does it repel. It is sensibly planned, with a red-brick club on its brow, and farther back a grocer’s and a cemetery, and the bungalows are disposed along roads that intersect at right angles. It has nothing hideous in it, and only the view is beautiful; it shares nothing with the city except the overarching sky.

The sky too has its changes, but they are less marked than those of the vegetation and the river. Clouds map it up at times, but it is normally a dome of blending tints, and the main tint blue. By day the blue will pale down into white where it touches the white of the land, after sunset it has a new circumference—orange, melting upwards into tenderest purple. But the core of blue persists, and so it is by night. Then the stars hang like lamps from the immense vault. The distance between the vault and them is as nothing to the distance behind them, and that farther distance, though beyond colour, last freed itself from blue.

The sky settles everything—not only climates and seasons but when the earth shall be beautiful. By herself she can do little—only feeble outbursts of flowers. But when the sky chooses, glory can rain into the Chandrapore bazaars or a benediction pass from horizon to horizon. The sky can do this because it is so strong and so enormous. Strength comes from the sun, infused in it daily, size from the prostrate earth. No mountains infringe on the curve. League after league the earth lies flat, heaves a little, is flat again. Only in the south, where a group of fists and fingers are thrust up through the soil, is the endless expanse interrupted. These fists and fingers are the Marabar Hills, containing the extraordinary caves.

I just revelled in that!

Inspiration point

It is very tangentially related to the above, if you give yourself enough leeway! But in fact it is from our local Wollongong news, and is a marvellous example of human kindness and also of Australian multiculturalism at its best.

You may have read here in the past about one of the favourite restaurants of my friend Chris Turner and myself — Samara’s. See for example Munching against the fear of “the other”…

On Facebook I remarked by way of introduction:

Samara’s is such a great restaurant, and such wonderful people. Their restaurant is halal.

If that worries anyone, then those worriers have the problem, not Samara’s.

Chris Turner and I were meant to do Friday lunch at Samara’s when the signs of what we are now going through became apparent — before Gladys actually called it.

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Now see what they are up to in the current lockdown.

Update

The grocery order arrived! Early, in fact!

Soul-searching? #2

NOTE: I think this post will do you for two days at least, so there will be a short hiatus here.

Memory Lane has been in overdrive!

Back Row L-R: Terry Naughton, “Pip” Dryden, Clive Kessler.

Front Row L-R: Grahame Delaney, R W “Rockjaw” Smith (coach and English teacher), Alfie van der Poorten.

Extraordinarily ancient relic! And that is just me!

That is a more or less deliberately antiqued photo of the First Grade Debating Team at Sydney Boys High in 1959. I was not in the team, but some very impressive classmates were. One featured in my blog post of 16 May and another features in today’s.

Pip Dryden arrived from Shanghai — yes, Shanghai — and joined us late in the piece. Sadly he passed away at 19 from cancer. Terry Naughton became a QC and a Judge. Clive Kessler was the subject of Sunday’s blog post and is an Emeritus Professor of Sociology at UNSW. Grahame Delaney sadly died young, I believe.

Alfie van der Poorten passed away in 2010. He was a famous mathematician. It is worth looking at his Wikipedia biography.

His childhood before Sydney High was very different from mine in quiet old Auburn and Vermont Streets in Sutherland!

An extract:

Van der Poorten was born into a Jewish family in Amsterdam in 1942, after the German occupation began. His parents, David and Marianne van der Poorten, gave him into foster care with the Teerink family in Amersfoort, under the name ‘Fritsje’; the senior van der Poortens went into hiding, were caught by the Nazis, survived the concentration camps, and were reunited with van der Poorten and his two sisters after the war. The family moved to Sydney in 1951, travelling there aboard the SS Himalaya.

Van der Poorten studied at Sydney Boys High School from 1955–59, and earned a high score in the Leaving Certificate Examination there. He spent a year in Israel and then studied mathematics at the University of New South Wales, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1965, a doctorate in 1968 under the joint supervision of George Szekeres and Kurt Mahler, and a Master of Business Administration. While a student at UNSW, he led the student union council and was president of the University Union, as well as helping to lead several Jewish and Zionist student organisations. He also helped to manage the university’s cooperative bookstore, where he met and in 1972 married another bookstore manager, Joy FitzRoy….

Another of my childhood companions because of whom I have been historically sympathetic towards Israel, much as I despise Israel’s current government — if indeed they still have one? — but also have no time at all for Holocaust denial or any conspiracy theory that invokes Jews.

I think of two others: Herbert Huppert, Professor of Theoretical Geophysics and Foundation Director, Institute of Theoretical Geophysics, at the University of Cambridge, since 1989 and Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, since 1970. And Peter Deli.

I have posted on them before. First, Herbert:

Back in the late 50s the Head of Science was in fact an elderly chap much stained by tobacco whom we dubbed “Dodo” – as in the extinct bird.

Tracking Lenny Basser (a legendary Science teacher and Athletics coach who taught Lord May of Oxford among others) led me to a former classmate, in Science at one point but more memorably in the weird Mr Levy’s French class. I had wondered what became of this lad who had come to us from Cranbrook – a decided disadvantage – little realising that he was a leading geophysicist these days!

Herbert Huppert

I have found a fascinating interview with him telling me much that I had little insight into at the time. Since this is already out there, I hope Professor Huppert won’t mind my sharing.

Born in Sydney, Australia, 1943; my maternal grandfather was a shamus in a Viennese synagogue; both he and his wife were very religious; I got to know them when they came out to Australia in about 1947-8; the remarkable thing about my paternal grandparents is that I knew nothing about them; my sister and I both assumed that they perished in the Holocaust although we had not been told; my father died when I was thirteen; about seven or eight years ago my sister did some extensive research in the Viennese archives and found that both had died natural deaths in hospital in 1935 and 1937; my father rarely talked about his time in Vienna and neither did my mother; she would talk about St Stephen’s dome in Vienna and the giant wheel nearby; when I was eight I bought her a book on Vienna for her birthday with both illustrated on the cover; she was clearly upset by it and I never saw the book again; many years after when both were dead (my mother died when I was twenty-two) I heard that a few months before they left Vienna my father was told to queue up to get a visa to leave; the night before he was warned that the queue was to be bombed by Nazis; he decided not to join the queue and it was bombed; two weeks later he did get an exit visa; they left in 1938 and arrived in Australia on 26th January 1939…

…I first went to a Jewish kindergarten which I remember with both pleasure and terror; on one occasion the headmaster threatened to put me into a duplicating machine as I had been so naughty and that terrified me; generally I enjoyed the school and had lots of friends; I then went to an “institution” which my mother chose, which cost about £300 a term; it would have been better if my father had paid the money to charity and sent me to a state school; I hated this institution, Cranbrook, with a passion; I have recently come across two people who went there some ten years after me who thought it was wonderful; one is Richard Hunter who is Professor of Classics here and the other is the new Director of the Fitzwilliam…

Cranbrook was everything that I hated; I went there when I was just six; clear that I could add and on that basis put me up a class without ascertaining whether I knew anything else; I found myself a year and a half younger than everyone else and I was nowhere near mature enough; that had a bad influence on me; later it became better because when I went to a proper school I could run well, but Cranbrook was a terrible institution; I left when I had just reached twelve; I passed the exam to Sydney High and my mother gave me the choice of going there or staying at Cranbrook; if I had stayed in Cranbrook five more years I would not be here today; they taught badly; they hired a chemistry teacher who was a Nazi who told us how wonderful it had been flying over England and bombing it, and also about the problem of German Jews; it was just unbelievable; there was bullying, but don’t know whether it was anti-Semitic or just of younger people; we were forced to have a shower after P.T. after which we had to dress outside; there was a female music teacher who was constantly looking out at us; there were many things like that

21:33:13 Sydney High was much better and I can’t remember a day of unhappiness there; it was a fabulous school and has produced some brilliant people, including Bob May, President of the Royal Society, and John Cornforth, Nobel Laureate in chemistry; we had an inspiring chemistry teacher, Leonard Basser; he was also the athletics coach and I ran for the school, something what was inconceivable at Cranbrook…

And now Peter:

I told the story of another of my class of 1959 confreres in 50 years on – 1: a classmate’s story in 2009.

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Peter Deli

There I quoted from a biography:

Peter Francis Nicholas Deli was born on 26 March 1942 in Wellington, New Zealand. His parents, Lewis and Lily, were both Hungarian refugees who had fled Europe just before the beginning of the War. His father, an architect by training, had been a violinist in the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. His mother, who was Jewish, had tried to emigrate to Britain and Australia before settling for New Zealand. They met in New Zealand and married in 1941. After the War the Deli family moved to Sydney, Australia and settled in the Eastern Suburbs at Bondi. Sydney had a much larger population of East European migrs than the whole of New Zealand and the Delis were soon absorbed into the Hungarian community’s protective embrace. Peter’s early school years at Double Bay Primary School were far from typical of the elementary educational experience of most Australian children at the time. The extraordinary mix of nationalities and class backgrounds in the school must have had a profound effect on his early development. In 1955 he won a place to the prestigious Sydney Boys’ High School, one of the best secondary schools in New South Wales. Peter excelled in his studies during these years and matriculated with honours to the University of Sydney in 1960. During his undergraduate years he read History and Philosophy, graduating Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours in History in 1964….

I continued:

After a very interesting career, including being in Paris in 1968, Peter succumbed to leukemia and died at home in Hong Kong on 12 February 2001.

The point made there about the cosmopolitan mix at Double Bay and SBHS at the time certainly struck me when I “migrated” from Sutherland (with Ross Mackay, Arno Eglitis, Robert Burnie and Laurence Napier) to SBHS in 1955. On the other hand, much to the surprise of one of my coachees who is now at SBHS, of  206 of us starting out in 1955 only one was Chinese (ABC) and one was Indian – Ashok Hegde, who became a close friend until he went to London in 1958. Ashok’s father was in 1958 the Assistant Indian Trade Commissioner in Sydney, if I recall correctly – but thus not a permanent resident in Australia.

Such are few of the experiences of my schoolboy self that took this Shire lad into worlds previously unknown to him, and which shape his reaction to such things as politics and the events in the Middle East to this day!

More relevant to yesterday’s post, it was the consideration of such friends as those named in this post and what the theology that prevailed in the mid 1960s at Sutherland Presbyterian Church about “election” — God’s inscrutable thing of saving some and not others for reasons we poor mortals could not hope to understand — logically had in store for them gave me the uncomfortable feeling that God was some sort of petulant idiot!

Robbie Burns in “Holy Willie’s Prayer” offers a parody of that doctrine of election which, however, is not all that wide of the mark:

O Thou, that in the heavens does dwell,
As it pleases best Thysel’,
Sends ane to Heaven an’ ten to Hell,
For Thy glory,
And no for onie guid or ill
They’ve done afore Thee!

There was more to it of course, but such a thought eventually became too much even tacitly to assent to. From there over time it became clear that some of the fundamentals were really off — this took a long time.

First, the idea that there is a systematic theology recoverable from the many and varied texts of the Bible became less and less viable.

Second, the idea that the Bible, wonderful as much in it is, was in any literal sense the word of God rather than the product of centuries of human beings thinking about God also seemed less and less likely — and hence the pointlessness of the first exercise. Which is not to say that the Bible is not worth reading; it certainly is, but not as I had conceived it.

Finally — well not quite! — the idea that God ever has had or is likely to have had a Chosen People is actually ridiculous, and possibly even blasphemous as it smacks of the Supreme Being picking favourites — hardly a moral position worthy of the All Knowing.

Back in 2012 I posted Searchings — 1, one of quite a few such posts in my blogs over the past 10-15 years:-

There really have been so many things I have seen or read in the past few days that deserve to be shared, that have provoked more reflection than I can possibly capture in one blog post or even two. But to begin.

God’s Politics asked Is God a Cosmic Jerk?

That’s how I ask the question, but professional theologians use the term theodicy. It comes from two Greek words: theo, which means “God,” and dike, which means “justice.” Theodicy asks, “If God is good and just, then why is there so much evil in the world?” There are many answers to this question. Some claim that God causes evil. In which case, my question becomes relevant – Is God a Cosmic Jerk?

Let’s first examine the word “evil.” Theologian Joe Jones succinctly defines evil in his book A Grammar of Christian Faith “as the harm to some creature’s good” (280). Jones distinguishes between two categories of evil that harms a creatures good. First, there is moral evil – the harm humans inflict upon one another through violence, injustice, and oppression. The second category is natural evil – the harm caused by cancer, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural events…

The older I get the more unsatisfactory the theologians seem to me, and the more “fundamentalist” they are, even less satisfactory are they then likely to be – unless you are better at believing a thousand impossible things before breakfast, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll, than I am these days.

“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Unfortunately the impression one is left with after much fundamentalist apologetics/theology is that God indeed could very well be a Cosmic Jerk!

This especially plagues the bibliolatrists who constitute the more conservative wings of Judaism and Christianity and, alas, far too much of Islam. The unfortunate tradition of Divine Mouthpieces and Pens is as much a curse as a blessing, indeed I suspect more a curse than a blessing. Infallibility and certainty are among the most dangerous and foolish of human constructs.

anonymous-source

Take Monday’s poem from Three Quarks Daily.

For insulting the Quran, “’Thousands of people
dragged a Pakistani man … from a police station …
(and) beat him to death,’ police said Wednesday.”

Insulting Books

Is it even possible
to insult a book?

Has it a soul within its leaves
a heart that beats
an eye that winks
a cord running through its spine
descending from a thing that thinks?

Is a book of inky lines
(of characters not themselves sublime)
capable of being hurt or ridiculed
or cheapened by critiques
either of the wise, or fools?

Has it veins between its covers
salty with the blood of lovers?

Is there something in its pages
(even if put there by sages)
that warrants death to critics?

Is it a thing so lame that priestly brothers
(arrogant, imperious, parasitic)
who worship sheaves of ink on paper
must, for its sake, snuff the holy breath
of others?

by Jim Culleny

11/6/12

Go and read the comments that follow it. An excellent series, those daily poems from Three Quarks Daily. Jim is the editor of this feature and most wide-ranging in his selection and very knowledgeable. Even Aussie poets score there at times.

Revisiting Sydney’s Chinatown again…

Via my archive, not physically.

The Chinese Garden:

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And here is a video from someone who visited the garden just a couple of weeks ago:

Now a bit more about Sky, the busker I shared in yesterday’s post. He has a Facebook page where, I note, in March he announced that he is retiring.

I am Sky. I am a Japanese Chinese. I come to Australia at 2007. I have 8 CDs and 1 DVD. I wish everyone could support me continually and my dream is that bring my beautiful music to the world.

Here he is with an abridged version of The Butterfly Lovers. Michael Xu and I bought the CD this is on, having heard him play this in Chinatown one day when we had been shopping at Paddy’s Market.

And here is his story:

Racism no way — 20 years on

Recently a story from Australia made a bit of a splash on BBC, partly I suspect because my impression is that Neighbours is bigger in the UK than it is here these days. Commenting on SBS reports on 7 April I wrote on Facebook: “And in circles where one would expect people to be better than this! Take stock, Australians — racism well and truly exists here, both personal and institutional. Don’t try to “whitewash” it or make fatuous comparisons with, say, us not being as bad as Nazi Germany or sections of the USA….” I also reposted something I had originally written 20 years ago. More on that shortly. SBS had reported:

Wongatha, Yamatji, Noongar and Gitja woman Clanton, who played a guest role as Sheila Canning on Neighbours this year, first posted the allegations to social media on Tuesday, detailing the use of slurs and racism “disguised as ‘jokes’” on set. 

She claimed that “overt and covert levels of racism were rife” behind the scenes, which left her traumatised.

Without naming anyone, Clanton said she heard “n—–” being used twice in the green room, while another actor laughed. She also alleged that an actor openly called another actor of colour a “lil’ monkey”….

After Clanton’s post, Wongutha-Yamatji actor Wyatt alleged he also experienced racism on set while working as a series regular between 2014 and 2016.

He said the incident involved the use of the “c—” slur, which he called out….

“It didn’t happen around me again. Though I did walk in on this incident? So I have no doubt things were being said behind my back,” he said on Twitter.

“It is disappointing but not at all surprising to hear that five years later racism continues to be present in that workplace. But what can you say, we are in Australia.”

Meyne Wyatt in Neighbours

What I posted then was this:

In our school newsletter I had been running a series of articles dealing with racism, leading up to the International Day for the Elimination of Racism on March 21 2001. I received the following anonymous letter from a senior student. I would be interested in your responses. I would not normally publish an anonymous letter, but behind the anger and some serious misconceptions, I feel there is an intelligence that deserves respect. I have slightly abridged the letter, but kept true to the author’s views.

On March 2 2001 I received another very polite letter enclosing an American White Supremacist article taken from the Web, I have linked a counter-article by sociologist Caleb Rosado. Please consider.

From 23 January 2006 and for the following two Mondays, ABC in Sydney showed the PBS documentary series Race: The Power of an Illusion. That site is worth visiting.

It could seem depressing that 20 years ago I was — and I remember it being a great meeting — at Bondi Public School for a gathering of local Eastern Suburbs and Botany District teachers looking towards that International Day for the Elimination of Racism. That hasn’t quite worked out yet, eh! We were particularly looking at a resource the Education Department had developed called Racism No Way. It still exists, but expanded.

The debate I had via the SBHS High Notes Newsletter back in 2001 follows:

LETTER AND RESPONSE

Enough of all the double standards on racism…. In the quiz you ask whether “Overtly or covertly demonstrating that one believes one’s own cultural or ethnic background is superior” is racist, the answer is yes. Yet about a month ago you printed an article entitled “Asian Pride”. There has never been an article on “White Pride” as whites are obviously meant to feel shame about the so-called “stolen generation” and other instances where whites have colonised a country or done something similar. I mean, obviously the only people capable of being racist are whites, or so the double standard of racism seen today would have you believe.

RESPONSE: First, the term “whites” is an interesting one. The emphasis on skin color misses the point; this is the most superficial of human differences. “Race” as defined by physical characteristics is a dead concept, unscientific and archaic. The Human Genome Project has merely underlined how spurious it is. I take it the writer refers to Anglo-Australian or European cultural heritage. These are still quite rightly celebrated in many areas of the curriculum. Indeed all Australians need to take pride in the concepts of individual freedom, representative government, the rule of law–and so on–that spring from that tradition. I know I do. I also know that many people who come to Australia come here because those traditions are better served here than in many other parts of the world. On the other hand the Christianity that still helps many shape their values derives ultimately not from Europe but from the Middle East; it is good to remember that.

To quote from Norman Davies, Europe, A History (1996): ” ‘White’, ‘Caucasian’, ‘Aryan’ and ‘Europoid’ all reflect the protracted search for an exclusive and therefore non-existent common denominator in the racial make-up of Europe’s population. They form part of a wider vocabulary of doubtful terms including ‘Black’, ‘Asian’, ‘Semitic’, and ‘Hispanic’, where physical, geographical, and cultural criteria are hopelessly confused.”

Second, pride is something we all deserve, so long as it is not at the expense of others. No-one need feel ashamed of who they are or what their heritage is. I am not ashamed of mine, and I extend the same courtesy to others. We do not need to be clones of each other to be good Australians. Just as we differ individually, so can we nurture our cultural heritage so far as it is part of who we are. At the same time we subsume all that in loyalty to the community as a whole, in all its diversity. We are free to differ; that is one of the good things about this country.

Third, racism is not something any one ethnic or cultural group has a monopoly on. Europeans have not been the only colonisers either–ask the Tibetans, or the Ainu of Japan, merely to name two. In Australia, in my view, we have developed a healthy interest in our past that corrects the silence I recall hearing when as a child I wondered–but what did happen to the Aborigines?

No, I’ll tell you what’s racist. Any white person that speaks out and tells about the pride they have in being white is instantly branded a “hick” or “KKK”. Yet any Asian or person from a minority ethnic background who feels pride in their race is some kind of hero or pioneer.

RESPONSE: Any person who exalts their race above the rest of the human race is probably a fool, whatever their background. I am all for Human Pride myself! I also enjoy finding out about other ways of looking at the world, and exploring what they have to offer. Often this makes for a much more interesting life. For many writers and artists in Australia the traditions of our neighbours have been most fruitful; the poet Robert Gray, for example, thoroughly Australian, has nonetheless found Chinese and Japanese Buddhism provide a way of looking at the world that makes sense to him and permeates and enriches his work.

However, it is obvious why the school is willing to take this kind of action. As the school is majority Asian they must try to do everything in their favour and to make them feel special. As a majority they can speak freely about how great they are, whilst anyone that thinks otherwise is obviously from the Ku Klux Klan, a neo-Nazi, or some redneck hick with an unbelievably small IQ. However, the huge influx of Asian students into the school is meant to bring multiculturalism into the school and this multiculturalism can only be achieved when the minorities of society (Asians) are a majority at the school, which is the case now.

RESPONSE: The students in this school are the students in this school; everyone who pursues excellence academically, in sport, or in other activities will feel special. Hilbert Chiu (see below) has made this point rather well. Some may be more dedicated to the pursuit of excellence than others, but all have the opportunity to excel. “Multiculturalism”, as the word suggests, simply means that we have (and have had for years) people here from many different cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds. There is no barrier for anyone entering this school, except to achieve a certain academic standard. No-one asks what your socio-economic or ethnic background is; if you get selected you get in.

But of course this letter will never make it into the High Notes, as it is obviously and blatantly “racist”. However any Asian, or any other non-white ethnic background who wants to write about the pride they feel for their race and the downfall of other races will be praised for standing up and having their letter published because they are “heroes”. I am therefore issuing you, Mr Whitfield, a challenge to print this letter in the upcoming newsletter. You say you encourage everyone who has been victimised because of ethnic differences to speak out against the “racist bullying” they are being subjected to. Well, here’s my letter. It talks about the “racist bullying” I and other white students at the school receive every day. I dare you to print it so everyone can read about what really goes on at school. To do otherwise would just be totally and blatantly RACIST.

RESPONSE: Bullying, whatever its origin, is deplorable. Students are encouraged to report instances of it to teachers, their Year Adviser, the Deputy or the Principal. Instances of racism, whoever is responsible, should be drawn to the attention of Mr Codey, the Anti-Racism Contact Officer, who will investigate them. Feeling alienated or experiencing xenophobia may, however, be neither bullying nor racism. In that case the alienation and xenophobia would need to be addressed, in the interests of the individual and the harmony of the group. Perhaps education is the key to that.

As to the comments on Asian Pride and so on, I counsel you to read the original article [by Bob Li]. If you can find anything there exalting race, or about the “downfall of other races” I will walk backwards from here to Taylor Square! What I see is the story of a fine young Australian who has worked hard, overcome a few disadvantages, and is now happy with himself and where he is.

2000
That’s Bob Li in 2000, to the right of the aging teacher!

RACIAL BULLYING?

Hilbert Chiu, Year 12 2000 (written 2001)

As with all forms of bullying, racially motivated bullying is based largely upon intimidation. The cause of this intimidation in my experience has been a lack of understanding for other cultural values and attitudes. For example a young boy of Asian background is often taught by his parents that bullies get a high out of any reaction he gives, so the best way is to ignore and to avoid a bully; a sort of passive resistance. However, a would-be bully often takes passive resistance as a sign of weakness, of helplessness and of ‘easy pickings’. This is where the trouble starts, as cultural differences turn what was only bullying into racial bullying. Of course, racial bullying is not always so ‘black and white’, and I believe that intimidation stems equally from all races.

I do not think that it is a severe problem in the school, and must be taken in perspective. If racism were rife, this form of bullying would be seen in a one-on-one basis, but in my time at school serious racial incidents only occurred when conducted by groups. It could be that individuals who would otherwise be respectful and friendly feel a need to impress their friends. Common excuses I have come across have been: “It was only a joke”, or “We didn’t know he would take it so seriously” – precisely the insensitivity which causes unwitting intimidation. Hard for a year seven student to see the joke when feeling physically threatened by older boys with that aggressive attitude. Respect for another’s feelings is no where to be seen.

As for solutions, I could only advocate greater participation of all races in all school activities. It fosters greater understanding and respect for all parties, and will eventually eliminate the barriers between the so-called social elite (who will find matters a little different at university), and those who just want to get on with their studies.

Hilbert Chiu remains a friend on Facboook. I am happy to say he gave a thumbs up there to my recent blog post on China.

Now to go back to my English/ESL blog, the heir to my Sydney High English and ESL pages:

Cross-cultural issues are part of an ESL teacher’s business

12 JAN 2007

There are times when this aspect of ESL teaching and support leads down paths some might see as controversial, but I have found most ESL teachers find themselves travelling together on this. On the old Tripod blog there were a number of entries that arose in my own practice. Most were also published as articles in High Notes, the SBHS newsletter. They were all read by the Principal before publication and addressed ongoing issues in our very multicultural community.

Today I am posting the most recent one, written Monday, 6 February 2006 and thus not in High Notes. There are links there to other entries; these will still work, as when I come to trim that old blog I will leave those entries untouched, or perhaps cross-link them here.

Here is that post:

Schoolchildren cast judgements on Muslims – National – smh.com.au

This is very unhealthy indeed, I would say.

MORE than half of Victorian schoolchildren view Muslims as terrorists, and two out of five agree that Muslims “are unclean”, a survey has revealed. Just over 50 per cent believe Muslims “behave strangely”, while 45 per cent say Australians do not have positive feelings about Muslims.

These are the preliminary findings of the survey, which aims to measure student attitudes towards the Muslim community. The research was conducted in the second half of 2005 and is based on responses from 551 year 10 and 11 students in Victoria…

One of the researchers, Abe Ata, of the Australian Catholic University, said the findings showed a need for educators to develop new ways of promoting multiculturalism among children. “There are very strong signals that there is a chasm between mainstream students and Muslim students,” said Dr Ata, a senior fellow at the university’s Institute for the Advancement of Research. “Educationalists and policymakers in education should take proactive steps to help create more racial harmony in the classroom and outside it.”

Waleed Aly, a member of the Islamic Council of Victoria, said the results were troubling. “What it demonstrates is that Muslims are being viewed in a way that is really subhuman,” he said. “The only way you can combat this kind of prejudice is on a personal level. It’s much harder to hate people when you know someone in that social group.”

Phong Nguyen, the chairman of the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, described the survey’s findings as “a wake-up call”. “We cannot assume that our children who grow up in a multicultural setting will automatically be accepting of each other,” he said. “Adults need to do things to make sure that our impressionable young children have a growing, mature understanding of the world and other people.” Learning about other faiths and cultures was just as important to a child’s education as studying subjects such as maths or physics, Mr Nguyen said.

The Victorian Government’s draft new education laws explicitly permits the teaching of comparative religion in public schools, and enshrines values of “openness and tolerance”. However, according to the Australian Education Union, while some schools discussed issues involving Muslims within the curriculum, others are more hesitant to do so.

“Sometimes schools do shy away from such controversial issues because of the sensitivities,” said the union’s branch president, Mary Bluett. “There’s always the thought that you might fall foul of politicians or parents.”

But Andrew Blair, the president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, said schools had a social responsibility to discuss such sensitive issues with students. “Just because it’s tough, you shouldn’t turn your back on it,” he said, adding that the task of helping young people learn about other cultures lay not only with schools, but also with parents. “The lack of understanding and generosity out of these (survey) results is incredibly disappointing,” Mr Blair said.

The survey results are not merely unfortunate; they reveal one element in a situation that actually makes our world a more dangerous place: the persistence of ignorance and prejudice. So of course I support the various statements in the article above, particularly the one I have highlighted.

… See also the search for “Islam” on Lines from a Floating Life.

To finish, some will remember this brilliant savage monologue seen on ABC’s QandA in June last year:

Videos following up on yesterday’s post: Mei Quong Tart and more…

Such a fascinating character, this Mei Quong Tart. There is even a public statue of him in the Sydney suburb of Ashfield.

And a rather special Uniting Church home for the elderly, located in what was his mansion in Ashfield:

And when Quong Tart died in 1903:

Quong Tart’s funeral procession along Liverpool Road Ashfield headed by a band from the Professional Musicians’ Association

That is from a memorabilia page from the Ashfield and District Historical Society. Given that in 1903 the Yellow Peril fever was at its height, this is remarkable. The following short history is fair enough for a 5-minute go, even if it is rather silly to use the Peoples Republic flag to represent the China of 1901! The speaker sounds Indian to me… Not that this necessarily matters….

You can research that one for yourself easily enough. Now to Quong Tart. There are some good video resources on him specifically, including this one showing his encouragement of the suffragettes through his tea rooms in Sydney.”2016 Diploma student Catherine Turner interviews City of Sydney Historian, Dr Lisa Murray, about the Loong Shan Tea Rooms at 137 King St, Sydney.”

And an overall look at his life:

On the subject of Chinese in Australia today, do watch this:

Jiawei Shen, interviewed above, ‘Self-portrait with GE (Chinese) Morrison’ 1996

On recent difficulties Chinese Australians are experiencing:

Many factors are at play, but among them must be the toxic rhetoric in recent years of one Donald J Trump. As plays out too in the USA: