Recently a friend chanced upon my “world-famous” spreadsheet and though he was impressed with it, he asked why there wasn’t an annual summary page for each year. That is a good question but in addressing that, instead of adding an extra page to my spreadsheet, I will use it to extract significant events that have happened in my first full year in Sydney as a recapitulation of how well (or bad) I have lived as a Sydneysider.
I attended my first major New Year Day party at Homesexual, a very big gay dance club at Darling Harbour. By itself, the party did not do much for me but it once again made it evidently clear that the clubbing scene no longer speaks to me like it briefly did years back. Age, phase of life and a repugnance towards a boozy and druggy lifestyle all constitute to why bright lights shining on bare bodies gyrating to deafening music are nothing to me but an obstruction to a quiet evening cuddling and spending time with my baby.
This month also saw my last setting-up-a-new-apartment purchases namely a red rug and painting for the living room. People who have completed such a project would attest to the joy and satisfaction it brings, especially when you are doing it together with the one you love. My next big goal would be to buy an apartment of my own. My friend advised me not to see it as something that would drain my savings to zero but an investment that would eventually reap a profit. But this would involve a whole lot of research, something which I am not ready to commit my time to yet. In the meantime, I will continue to save up (you cannot go wrong with saving money) so that when I am ready, finances would not be a stumbling block.
My first Valentine’s Day with Ision–nothing special, just a simple dinner somewhere close to home. We agreed not to give each other a gift but I couldn’t help it for I felt that I needed to do at least a little something. Ision’s favourite food is dumplings and I bought and gift-wrapped eight of them and hand-delivered it to his workplace. To me, it is the thought that I have put into a present that makes me feel all nice and warm inside. Of course it would be an added bonus if gifts are genuinely appreciated and in the case of my simple Valentine’s Day present, it was.
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is a very significant event in the life of Sydneysiders, gays and straights alike and 2009 was the first year the government contributed financially to the event (it’s about time seeing how much tourist revenue it brings to the state!) . This was also my first Mardi Gras and the first time I marched in a parade of a scale like this. I have blogged about the march before so I will not say anything more here. There is a Chinese New Year parade (called Chingay–no pun involved, that is the actual name!) of a similar scale which I will march in as a gay participant when I get back to Singapore next year. I am not expecting a lot of people to join me but I have to capitalise on this first ever opportunity where citizens are invited to register and march in the parade.
As a permanent resident, I am entitled to government-subsidised healthcare and on top of that, people are encouraged to have their own supplementary private health insurance (with the penalty of not taking up private health insurance being a higher level of taxation). April was the first month I made use of both of these by means of a visit to a doctor to get a medical certificate and a dentist to get my regular twice-a-year cleaning done. The clinics here do not dispense medication like those in Singapore. Instead doctors fill out a prescription which would allow patients to buy their own medication. This to me results in more hassle and (likely) higher costs. I remembered when I was back in Singapore, visiting doctors and getting medication was so easy as everything was covered by my employment contract. I got health screenings, blood tests, X-rays and even a colonoscopy at no charge at all. Those were the days…
Ision and I have our anniversaries in May (6th of May to be exact) and this was the first time we actually spent it physically together. Although it was again a simple affair, to me it is this simplicity that makes it meaningful. When two people live together, things will inevitably get simplified (especially when we both need very low maintenance and hate drama with a passion) but along with the predictability and routine comes stability, familiarity and security. Sure, elaborate and expensive gifts can be extremely pleasant but if you ask me to choose one, the choice would be as clear as day and it would certainly not be in the form of an object.
As we grow older (and more jaded), real positive surprises get rarer but I got a very nice one in May. I knew my best gal pal would come visit for two weeks but she kept her travelling partner a secret up till the day I met her at her hotel. That partner is also a good friend of mine and it was a really good surprise! They toured Sydney for the first week and I joined them on the Melbourne leg of their tour along with the travelling partner’s boyfriend. I have written about this trip as well so all I want to say is that having seen Melbourne in greater detail, I think I would choose to live in Melbourne if I had a choice.
June is the month when I have to renew my army exit permit and I do it with utmost fervour and glee. In retrospect the two-and-a-half years spent in active service in my opinion were really good for my personal development but the couple or more weeks spent almost every year in reserve service were a gigantic waste of time and inconvenience. We used obsolete (and often damaged) equipment, practised old strategies developed during the Vietnam war era, slogged through mud and insects three nights at a sitting whilst spending time away from our loved ones. On the flipside, you get to catch up with old army buddies and get a little breather from work if you are in highly stressful jobs. But with my magical exit permit which I renew online without the need for any supporting documentation and waiting period, all this is but a not-so-distant memory now. I know with absolute certainty that everyone who is still stuck in that farce the government call national service would envy my position to death.
June also saw the biggest fight between Ision and I ever. The reason for that fight was of little importance as it was how it continued and the things I have learnt from it that were important. Everyone knows that quarrels are part and parcel of all relationships, especially those in which partners live together and some might even hazard the assertion that quarrels are essential for love to grow. In this instance, it really helped me understand the boundaries of our relationship better and how the pathways through the heart and brain of the relationship should be traversed for optimal balance. Love and emotions are not totally blind, irrational and uncontrollable concepts like what romantics like to profess. I would like to see it more like a science in which we can observe events governed by standard laws, support our arguments with empirical evidence and conduct experiments aimed at better understanding the relationship.
I have scanned my spreadsheet for July a couple of times but I could not find anything worth writing about. This is in agreement with one of the lessons I have learnt in life–when nothing happens, nothing happens but when things happen, they happen all at once. Also, I tend to concur with the adage “no news is good news” so this is all good (as long as it does not happen in consecutive months)!
There were several firsts in August. I won my first lucky draw prize in Australia. As a cheapskate, I like to enter those competitions with the submission of your particulars as the only entry requirement. So far, I have won concert tickets, casino buffet and restaurant vouchers. The second first would be my first-ever opera at the Sydney Opera House. I have watched plays and concerts there before but never an opera. I must say if I had to fork out an actual $200 for that opera experience, I would never have done it. I mean it was not awful but just so overrated. If you think that Singapore is a country void of artistic culture, Sydney is not far behind. For instance, you could see people wearing shorts and slippers into the Opera House just like you see them entering the Esplanade. The next first would be filing my first Australian income tax. I did it online and the process was a little more complicated than that of Singapore. As you might already know, taxation in Australia is very much higher and it is much more difficult to evade taxes here than in Singapore. It is not uncommon for migrants living here to start appreciating life back in Singapore all of a sudden come tax season. My last first was also my mother’s–she came to visit me and lived at my place for almost three weeks. Details of her trips in vivid colour can be seen here.
I had my first-ever formal week-long work training in September and this came more than a year after I have joined the company. This training was actually not provided by my company but by my client company as I was required to work on a new application used to calculate the refinery’s pressure relief requirements. My company has issued a wage-rise freeze, tighter hiring and unnecessary-spending policies (think company Christmas parties being downsized from already low-budget banquet-type events to squalid drinks-and-finger-food-socials at lawn bowling clubs–disgusting!), redundancies across the board and a discontinuation of all external non-work related training all in an attempt to better weather the global financial crisis. Sometimes I think that big companies like mine consciously use such “crises” as an excuse to unleash the budget-cutting measures that have been in their planning books for some time so that the lowly working-class fools like us would not notice the more-than-subtle changes. It really makes you question what your worth to the company is and where employee-loyalty fits in this whole equation. Well, phrases like cut-throat, rat race and dog-eat-dog don’t get coined for nothing.
Continuing its rampage of cost-cutting attacks, my company’s big-picture plans hit close to home in October. Three contractors from a sister-department got laid off as Caltex (led by the over-zealous new CEO) was not only trying to reduce overheads, it was also trying to hire more employees of their own and rely less on contractors so as to keep the skill- and talent-base within the company. This spelt an even worse disaster for contractors as they are always the first to go in money-saving exercises. I am not sure whether my company has given the three laid-off project managers good alternative positions elsewhere or have they been released from the company altogether (as part of the redundant mass of sheep being culled). The whole episode left me so worried about job security that I had to schedule a meeting with the boss of the company I am seconded to to seek affirmation that we have enough projects going on for our department to continue sustaining me as part of the contract team. And it never fails to amaze me that amidst all this, lazy colleagues can still feel all warm and fuzzy sitting on their unproductive arses and remain as indolent (if not more) as ever. I seriously am beginning to think that sloth runs in the genes of some ethnicities.
My 31st birthday passed me by in November and aside from (yet another) simple dinner and a gift from Ision, nothing else happened (I cannot even recall what present he gave me–it was not documented in my spreadsheet! Goodness me!). My mother used to ask me in relation to birthday celebrations–why do you need to celebrate your birthday when you should be celebrating the pain and sacrifice put into giving birth to you and raising you by your mother. This really struck a chord deep within me which also partly explains why I am not a fan of birthdays–mine or otherwise. There is also an element of not making people feel obligated to give you birthday gifts when you did the same for them (I know I will feel this way if the tables were turned). On top of it all, I feel that a person’s life should be celebrated based on his or her accomplishments, not age. I heard a friend say recently–birthdays must be good for you because the more birthdays you have, the longer you live. Hilarious!
December was an exciting month as I starred in my first-ever MTV. It was Natalie Bassingthwaighte’s “A Love Like This” as part of ACON’s (AIDS Council of New South Wales) “Wear It With Pride” campaign highlighting the 85 pieces of legislation that discriminated against same-sex couples that the Federal Government had amended in July 2009. We all wore T-shirts designed with an assigned number (I guess they ranged from 1 to 85) and I was involved in the part of the shoot where people had to wear a shirt on top of an already-worn shirt whilst dancing and mouthing the words of the song. Totally not on purpose, I stripped in front of the director when changing into my T-shirt and that gave him the idea of allowing people with nice bodies to start the half-a-minute-or-so section of the shoot from a topless state. Of course no one there by far had a body like me and I kind of stole a bit of the limelight. Evil me! But I fumbled when wearing the T-shirt as I did not know about this shirt-wearing concept in advance and thus did not have a chance to practise (unlike some others). Since everyone had only one take, I really think my segment would be axed from the final edit. However even a split second of me topless in that MTV would already be so amazing to me. The video will be released in January 2010 and I will certainly post it on my blog. Watch this space!
In addition to that piece of excitement, I spent my first-ever Christmas physically with Ision and according to him, he has not had a work-free Christmas day for five to six years now (he should not be complaining as he earned so much extra “red packet” money from loaded residents this festive season). We visited Ision’s brother who recently moved into a new place much closer to where we live. It was a totally awkward experience as there along with him were his hillbilly friends, one of which was in such a deep inebriated stupor that he could not even stand and speak properly. That environment was so foreign to me that it put me in a state of constant unease. I told Ision later it could be quite disconcerting after having to mingle and be friends with only our own kind for a long time to see what the rest of the country (or at least a big part of it) is actually like. The day was not all bad as it ended with our first-ever full-length 3D movie “Avatar”. If you have not seen this movie, go see it! I will not spoil it for you here but suffice to say it is probably the best movie that I ever watched in my entire life.
So there you have it, an entire year in retrospect. If I had to grade it from 1 to 10, I would give it a 7. Living in Sydney does present its fair share of problems (what country doesn’t give you the same?) but as long as I am facing them united with my love, I know that everything will turn out fine in the end. On this last day of 2009, I hope you have achieved all that you have set out to achieve for the year. It is now time to make a new to-do list as we move to the next decade of this century.