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Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Problems & Solutions

I have a saying of my own: Today's solution is tomorrow's problem.

I am old enough to have seen the cycle in politics, business, any aspect of society. There is a problem, someone proposes a solution. That solution presents its own problem. Another solution is required which in turn presents a new problem. It's cyclic, sometimes like a pendulum. We continue going problem-solution-problem-solution on and on. A new generation comes into power, they haven't experienced the problem created by their solution but an older generation has—and who wants to listen to them.

I am not going to propose a solution to this problem, not a society-wide one anyway. When I was a young man I was fortunate that there were several older people in my life who acted as mentors. One of them once said to this young revolutionary, 'You can't change the world. You can only change yourself.'

I took that on board and that is what I have been working on ever sense. And so I sit in my relative stability watching the pendulum of our modern society. What is it that gives me my stability? I take refuge in the Four Noble Truths. It works for me. Maybe it will for you. Maybe it won't.

Monday, November 28, 2005


Tolerance & arrogance

On morning television recently a couple were married. The bride wore fairly traditional dress but the groom and his party wore open-neck shirts outside their trousers. Today this is quite acceptable here in Australia but there was a time when such dress would have been considered inappropriate. A man who might never wear a suit and tie at any other time in his life, would at least hire a suit for his wedding. I tell this simply to make the point that times change.

Someone was telling me a story recently of a young man who was visiting an older relative. At this time the young man wore a hat almost all the time, indoors or out. When it was time for dinner he came to the table wearing the hat. His older relative, the head of the house, asked him to remove the hat. The young man declined. The older man then removed the hat from the young man's head.

I was told this story as an example of the bad behaviour of the younger man. I could not agree with the teller of the story. I suggested that both were being intolerant and pigheaded. The older man was pigheaded because he was not prepared to acknowledge that times had changed and perhaps it was no longer bad manners to wear a hat to dinner. The young man was being intolerant because, lets face it, it wouldn't have hurt him to remove his hat just this once.

I advocate living in a culture that is different from your own as a way to help you realise that your way of looking at the world is not the only one. However, the older man in this story did spend a year or two living in Papua New Guinea when he was younger. I suspect he did so with the attitude of being better than the people he was living amongst and so he was unable to learn from them. Perhaps this is typical of we Westerners. We colonised half the world and learned very little from the people we lived amongst. We entered their countries with the attitude that they had to learn from us.

How arrogant.

There will never be peace in this world until we Westerners take a more humble attitude towards those who are different from us.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


Why rush?

I remember a time back when I was in Melaka. I was standing in a supermarket queue. The woman in front of me moved from my queue and joined her friend in another when it became obvious that that queue was quicker. I notice this practice often both in Asia and here in Australia. People shop in pairs, take a place in each of two queues and then claim whichever one is quicker.

When getting off an underground train in many Asian cities I notice the people waiting to get on can be very impatient and feel the need to enter before those waiting to get off have done so. The same often happens in elevators.

In Australia when driving at the speed limit it is very common to find someone tailgating me, trying to encourage me to either hurry up or move over and let them through.

Why the rush? In the long term we are all going to the same place. We are all on our way to meet death. If you really want to get there first, feel free to move ahead of me. I hope you don't mind if I take my time and enjoy the ride.

Friday, November 25, 2005


Greedy Christmas

The people of Australia are so wealthy that retailers spend large amounts of money printing brochures and catalogs for regular distribution into our letterboxes in hope of enticing us to spend a little of our wealth with them.

People in countries where Christianity is not commonly practised probably believe that Christmas is celebrated on December 25 each year and that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of the founder of the Christian religion. But I can't remember anywhere in any of the Christian teachings where Jesus encouraged his followers to teach their children to practise greed. However that is what Christmas has come to stand for in most Western cultures. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, adults commonly ask kids, 'What do you want for Christmas?' And if the brochures in our letterboxes are any indication, the celebration of Christmas started some time ago this year.

One such brochure recently promoted a toy robot, that actually works—though I'm not sure what it does, for $300. Is this what it takes to make an Australian child happy? For a child in Cambodia or Laos, $A300 would probably feed them for a year.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Am I unAustralian?

On morning TV, one day this week, there was a discussion about what is unAustralian. They suggested, for example, that it was unAustralian to not support the Socceroos. Well I have to say that I neither support nor disapprove of the Socceroos. I am totally disinterested in the Socceroos. If in your eyes that makes me unAustralian, then so be it.

I was of the understanding that Australia was a free country. I would therefore have thought that it would be unAustralian to denigrate another person simply because they do not think like or agree with you.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


I am great—relatively speaking

There is a new addition to the family.

Isaiah Lemuel Bell was born to Amy and Michael at 1.10 pm WA time, 22 November (Sharon's birthday).

Isaiah is my mother's first great-great grandchild, my sister Irene's first great grandchild, my niece Sharon's first grandchild and my first great-great nephew. I am a great-great uncle. And I thought such a thing would never happen until I was at least thirty.

There are now five generations of this family alive at the one time.

Monday, November 21, 2005


Supporting the underdogs

Creating quite some controversy here in Australia at the moment are the new industrial relations (IR) laws being introduced by the Howard government.

Many unionists have been marching in the streets to protest the potential loss of hard-won working conditions. On the other hand the government maintains that the new laws will improve job opportunities and create work for more people.

In reality we don't know what will be the result of the new laws. Only time will tell. But let's face it, they are being introduced by the party that gave us GST. This was supposed to improve life for all of us. Yeah? Well, as someone who was in business at the time of the introduction of GST, I can only say it was a factor in helping me to decide to give up my business and retire early. In my opinion the only sector of the community that has benefited from GST is the accountancy profession. The country just can't get enough of them since GST.

However, I don't think Australians have much to complain about in relation to the IR laws. Watching Australian TV from Thailand at the time of the last election I got the impression that Australians voted with their hip pockets. They put the Liberal-National coalition in power with a majority in both houses of parliament. Apparently they did that because they wanted the supposedly better economy this government brings.

Proponents of both sides of the argument, ie business and workers, are each concerned only with how they can improve or at least maintain their prosperity. There are millions of people in developing countries who are far worse off than anyone in Australia. I have been fortunate enough to travel in south-east Asia and see the lifestyles of people there. Even the most lowly of Australian workers would be at least 200% better off in wages and conditions than the average worker in Thailand. And Thai workers are way ahead of those in countries such as Laos and Cambodia. I have never visited Africa but I would understand that workers in most African countries are less well off than most Asians. If workers and unions here really care about improving the lot of those who are less well off, perhaps they could focus on the conditions of workers in developing countries. When Australian workers start marching in the streets for this cause, I'll be marching with them.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Media led misery

There are a few current affairs programs on television here in Australia that do a good job of making Australians miserable. In fact, the lot of the average Australian is quite good compared to that of people in developing countries. But the average Australian hasn't visited these countries so we don't know how well off we are.

Last week A Current Affair, in one evening, showed us how our members of parliament receive subsidised meals in the respective parliament house canteens. Oh how badly done by we are. If we want to eat like that we have to pay more than twice what they pay.

And as if that wasn't enough, they then told us how much the leading company CEOs in the country are paid each year. Sure it's obscene. But to the average Cambodian what the average Australian earns might also be obscene.

Now if shows like A Current Affair and Today Tonight were to show a little more of the lifestyle of those who are truly badly off we average Australians might start to feel a little happier about our lot.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Saving water

Here in south-east Queensland there has been a drought for most of this year. Since I have returned there has been some rain but dams remain at critically low levels. Quite severe water restrictions are in place.

Even though Australia is such a dry continent we live a life of plenty in general terms and tend to expect that whatever we want should be available to us. Perhaps we can learn a little about water saving from our Asian neighbours. What I write here I learned in Thailand but similar practises are common to most, or perhaps all, south-east Asian countries.

A traditional bath in Thailand is taken with water from a tub that one splashes over the body with a bowl. When wet, you soap up and then rinse the soap off with more water from the bowl. This is done with cold water. At the luxury end of the spectrum, at least from my experience, some of my middle-class Thai friends have an electric instantaneous hot water system connected to their shower. The temperature can be set in advance and being instantaneous very little water is wasted before it reaches the required temperature. Once again, one would usually wet the body, turn the shower off, soap up and rinse off. In between these options is a cold shower. Having lived with that I can assure you that in Thailand it is not too bad for over ten months of the year. However it can be a challenge in the winter which lasts four to six weeks when morning temperatures might drop to mid or even low teens.

I don't know anyone in Thailand who has running hot water in the kitchen.

The house I am staying in here in Brisbane has an instantaneous gas hot water system. It serves the whole house, ie bathroom, laundry and kitchen. The system is placed in the laundry. When having a shower it takes several minutes before all the cold water in the pipes has run through. When it does the water that comes out is probably not going to be the right temperature. It might take a minute or two more to adjust the two taps so that the temperature feels right. In the meantime quite a few litres of water have been wasted.

Now that the temperature has warmed up a little I have taken to showering Thai style with cold water. I feel I am doing my bit to help Brisbane cut down its water usage.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Terrorism in Australia

Recent events in Australia might suggest that the Australian government introduced its anti terror laws just in time. However when considering terrorism here it is necessary to look at the history of terrorism in Australia.

There has been only one terrorist attack on Australian soil. At 12.42 am on Monday 13 February 1978, a bomb exploded in the back of a garbage truck outside the Hilton Hotel in Sydney. Two garbagemen and a policeman who was on guard duty outside the hotel were killed. At the time the hotel was the venue for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. The bomb had apparently been planted in a bin at the hotel some time before.

A long time after the event, Tim Anderson, a member of the Ananda Marga organisation was charged with the bombing and sentenced. Some time later he was pardoned. There is little, if any, evidence, should anyone choose to investigate the history of the bombing, to support the case against either Anderson or Ananda Marga. Many believe Anderson was charged to take pressure off those actually responsible for the bombing. So who was really responsible?

In my opinion the only organisations who had anything to gain by placing the bomb were those whose job it was to protect us from terrorists, ie ASIO and the state police Special Branch. They were under attack at the time and their worth was being challenged. When the bomb went off the public opinion swung to one where people were prepared to consider that perhaps we did need our spies.

I do not intend to go into the details of the case here as so much has already been written about it. If you are not familiar with the story, follow the links below.

However, consider our situation at the present time. Our Prime Minister wants to give ASIO and the army more powers to protect us from terrorists. There is some resistance to this as many believe the new laws infringe on our civil liberties. And suddenly, ASIO report on the possibility of a forthcoming terrorist attack in Australia. Perhaps the report is true and if so, I for one, would certainly want the terrorists to be stopped. But has ASIO lifted their game at all since 1978? And can we trust John Howard, the man who made so much political mileage from the lie known as the children overboard affair?

More info:

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Media led compassion

Generally speaking my friends are a compassionate lot. Many here in Australia have recently been voicing their feelings for Australian citizens who may be facing the death penalty because of crimes committed in countries where death is seen as an acceptable penalty for serious crimes.

I feel their compassion is sparked by the media. I wonder if they would spare a thought for these people if they were not regularly being reminded of the situation on TV and in the press. I wonder how much compassion we have for the 720,000 innocent people who face death in the next month. They are rarely mentioned in the media. Do we spare them a thought?

720,000 is, I believe, the number of human beings who will die from starvation in the world over the next month. And the following month there will be another 720,00 who die. And the next month, and the next...

If the media could possibly give as much publicity to each and every one of these poor unfortunate people as they have for each of the Bali nine, maybe our compassion would be moved and those of us who are living a comfortable life here in Australia and other wealthy Western countries might think deeply about how we might make changes in our own personal lifestyle that could help to save the lives of a few of those innocent people.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Bad behaviour

I often meet people in Asia who have never visited a Western country but assume that life in such countries must be better than they have. If quality of life comes purely from material possessions perhaps they are right. But I believe there are many other factors that need to be considered.

One of the delights of teaching in Thailand is the respectful behaviour of the students. Mostly I worked with university students. I have also spent a weekend on English camp with a few hundred high school students. The amount of time their teachers spent on discipline and crowd control was zero. The kids simply got in and did what they had to with no fuss. They all enjoyed themselves and felt no reason to complain. They had fun. They were happy. Having worked with kids in schools and camps over many years in Australia, I can assure my Asian friends that even with hand-picked groups there is always some discipline needed. When I perform for kids in Asian schools the teachers occasionally apologise and say 'I'm sorry they were very naughty.' My response is that the teachers have never experienced really naughty kids.

At this time of the year we in south-east Queensland experience a phenomenon known as 'Schoolies'. This is a celebration by school leavers of the end of their years at school. They spend a week, or perhaps more, letting their hair down before getting on with the business of finding a job or preparing for university. I suspect most do this with due regard to other people but some use this as an opportunity for some really bad behaviour.

A recent issue of the Sunday Mail reported, 'Residents say they are under siege in their own homes after rampaging teenagers smashed up a police car during a third consecutive weekend of wild parties in a Redland Bay street.'

The article goes on, '...a year-12 party spiralled out of control on Friday night and police were called to confront more than 300 teenagers, most of them gatecrashers, who learned of the party by text message.

'As officers attempted to move the teenagers, bottles were thrown at a police car which was damaged in the attack.'

Why, you may ask, do they behave like this? They are simply celebrating because they have finally finished school.

What causes young people to grow up with the belief that such behaviour is acceptable, I do not know. I know that Asian parents are not perfect however raising kids in Asia seems to be quite different from the way it is done in Australia. Children grow up with an attitude of respect for their elders. I'm not sure how this happens. I know, for example, that in Thailand when I meet someone with a baby who can only sit up, it is quite common for the parent to hold the child's hands together in a wai, a sign of respect. When someone gives something to a child, the child will always wai in thanks before taking the gift.

Asian parents don't have all the answers but I think we in Australia could learn a lot from the way you in Asia raise your children. Please don't follow us. We need to learn from you.

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