Stop and smell the lunch

Szechuan chicken clay pot at Joy's Kitchen. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2014

Szechuan chicken clay pot at June’s Kitchen. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2014

I work at a university and most days, I can’t stop long enough to sit down and eat lunch properly. I have to eat on the hop, so to speak, often on the train or the platform. A home-made sandwich is the only practical thing I can carry to do this.
But the other day, I treated myself to a sit-down lunch at June’s Kitchen, at the Uni Cafe, at the plaza next to Monash University campus at Caulfield. I like this unassuming little Chinese eatery. It is not glamorous, trendy or innovative. It has comforting Chinese food, the menu on newsprint pinned around the room, written with Texta in Chinese first, with an English translation for most, but not all, of the fare.
For $10, this bubbling Szechuan chicken clay pot with side dish of rice was mine. The sauce was spicy enough to tingle without blowing your head off. I don’t know exactly what was in it, but it was a perfect balance of pepper, chilli, salt, sugar, spices, rice wine, soy sauce and more. The chicken was cooked on the bone and fell off to melt in your mouth. There were lots of potatoes in this dish, reminding me of the classic Thai mussaman curry and deliciously comforting. And this single serve would have been enough for two.
The mark of a good dish is that it stays in your memory, and I keep thinking about this one. Perhaps I will make it a weekly lunch treat. It sure beats a ham and cheese sandwich eaten while standing on the dreary platform at Flinders Street station.

Life on Mean Street

monkeysI see meanness all around me: mean employers trying to make their poorest employees work harder and harder for less and less money; mean local councils cutting back on maintenance of community streets and venues; mean people in car parks crashing into other cars and then just leaving, or nipping into a park to beat someone else; drivers not stopping for pedestrians on crossings; mean governments making the rich richer and the rest poorer; mean countries trying to invade and take over other countries; mean institutions making everything into a competition that participants must fight in to the (figurative) death.

Yes, it’s a mean old world out there. My late father once told me, “Life’s not fair”, but so much unfairness (just another word for meanness) need not be so.

Here’s my list of how to make the world a kinder and more peaceful place just by not being mean:

*Governments: you are the servants of the people. Your most important loyalty is not to the party, but to those whom you serve. Your priority is not a career path for yourself, free travel, or becoming so power-hungry you forget your real role. Your job is to make the country better for the people, not worse. Your job is not to make a few rich people get richer. It is to promote equality for all, and a decent life in which people are safe, comfortable, educated and treated humanely. Warmongering is not on.

*Employers: don’t try to make people work for less and less. Hire good people, reward industrious workers, give them proper jobs with holiday and sick pay. They will reward you by wanting to work harder (as opposed to being forced to), because they will love the business they’re in. Instead of fearful drudges, you will have an enthusiastic, happy team with you who want your company to be profitable.

*Drivers: just chill out. No matter how much you speed, weave in and out of traffic, toot your horn, monster the car in front or rip through a pedestrian crossing, you’ll probably only cut one or two minutes off the journey. Also, you might crash, and at the very least, you’ll make life miserable for others. There’s a great Greek word that covers this: “endaxi!” (relax). And if you happen to dent a parked car, own up and leave your contact details on a note.

*Neighbours: if a tree from the property next door drops some leaves on your side, it really doesn’t matter. Learn your neighbours’ names, say “Hi” to them, don’t leave nasty notes on their car like you own the road if they happen to park in a spot in front of your place.

So, to answer this month’s B4Peace challenge from Kobo at Everyday Gurus, How would you teach children to promote a more peaceful world?, my answer is that I would teach them not to be mean. This starts at the most basic level in the playground: share your toys, don’t hit others, coming first is not the most important thing, and if you see someone fall down, help pick them up. And here is some more great advice on how to make a more peaceful world.

Young or old? Here’s how to tell

photoSince last year, something strange has been happening to me. Younger people occasionally get up in a full train or bus to offer me a seat. It doesn’t happen every day, or even every week, but perhaps once a month, whereas before last year, it never happened.
Last year, I was gracious, but firmly declined any offers of seats, being secretly mortified that anyone would deem me less able to stand than them. This year, I’ve started to accept. Well, I’ve only been offered a seat once this year-that was this morning-and I was glad to have it. It was on a bus full of mostly students carrying us from the train station to campus, so there might have been something about respect for staff in it, too. Another student also offered the older, grey-haired but fit-looking lady standing beside me a seat. She graciously declined.
Is this the beginning of the end? I said to myself. Is this the beginning of the time when I begin to think of myself as “older” or no longer young, by any stretch of the imagination?
I know that people under 25 think anyone over 35 is ancient. In my (admittedly unscientific) questioning of young people, many have shown that they can’t recognise the difference between 40 and 60 or 50 and 70. They’re all just “old people”. My parents were quite a bit older than the norm when they had my brother, and when he was a mid-teenager and they were in their early 60s, one of his friends said, “How old’yer parents—about a hundred?”!
But who they perceive as being “young” is interesting and not necessarily about years. It seems to have something to do with “coolness”. I once asked a group of students, mostly aged 18-20, to decide whether a list of famous people I named were young or old. They had only those two choices, nothing in between.
I asked them about the then-Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd. “Old,” was the verdict. Then I asked them about the President of the US, Barack Obama, also in his 50s and less than four years Rudd’s junior. “Young,” they said emphatically. “Because he’s cool,” added one bright spark.
Perhaps I’m just not cool any more. *Sigh*

Coincidentally, this week’s Daily Post Writing Challenge is about ageing. You can read more here.

Goodbye to all that: decluttering your life

Goodbye, dear little car. Photo ©Gordon Dann 2014

Goodbye, dear little car.
Photo ©Gordon Dann 2014

We’re trying to declutter our home because we foresee we’ll be moving in the next year or so, and because we simply have too much stuff. Yesterday, my husband’s beloved 1958 MGA car was picked up by its enthusiastic purchaser and taken away on a truck. He had owned the car since 1969, when he bought it as a teenager and as his very first car. But he was pleased to see it go to a new person who would love it: he didn’t want to restore it (again) and he wants to do different things these days, such as travel to India.

I don’t have anything as large or valuable to get rid of, but I still have too much. A lot of the stuff I have is kept for sentimental reasons, but sometimes I wonder if these reasons are misplaced. For example, I have a novelty Easter bunny cup given to me by my brother when he was a little boy…truth be told, my mother probably bought it for him, and he wouldn’t even remember it now that he is nearly 30. The cat book-ends and the husband-and-wife cats with parasol I bought from Bali can probably go, too. Then again, when I grouped them for a photo for this post, I found they all looked so cute, I couldn’t do it. Back on their shelves, they went!

The Balinese cat book ends, the Balinese cat couple, the novelty Easter cup...could you part with these? Photo ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2014

The Balinese cat book ends, the Balinese cat couple, the novelty Easter cup…could you part with these?
Photo ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2014

There are some things I will keep forever and never even contemplate giving away. For many years, I’ve had a small art-deco style turquoise glass vase that I love—I’ve even done a painting of it:

"My Mother's Mysterious Vase", oils on canvas, painted by Caron Dann, 2011.

“My Mother’s Mysterious Vase”, oils on canvas, painted by Caron Dann, 2011.

My mother gave the vase to me, and it had belonged to her mother. But recently, I mentioned it to Mum, and she couldn’t remember off-hand which one it was. That’s because she gave it to me so long ago, and it was just one of those things she had in the cupboard and perhaps didn’t care for that much herself.

Talking about gifts, when people give me something, I am very appreciative. I love receiving a present and always feel so happy that someone has taken the trouble. I love beautiful wrapping paper and cards, too. Many of the presents I receive are things that I treasure for years, and keep for sentimental reasons. Yet, if you asked the person who gave you a particular present years ago, they probably wouldn’t even remember it, unless it was special to them, too. That’s because they bought it for you, had it for a very short time, then handed it over, duty done, and forgot about it.

Sometimes a present just wears out. In the late 1980s, I met a young woman who was to become my lifelong friend, and she gave me a huge framed Man Ray print. I loved this print and it travelled with me everywhere. It’s been on the wall of at least 13 different residences I’ve had over the years. Sadly, I realised recently that not only was the frame falling apart, but the print itself was the worse for wear. So, unfortunately, it was given away to the local second-hand shop. But someone else may be able to repair it and use it.

A few weeks ago, my mum finally gave away an old cassette recorder she bought in the US in the 1970s: actually, I would like to have kept this gadget, but it is gone now. Luckily though, I did this painting of it last year:

Old Gadgets #3: Panasonic cassette player-recorder, 1973; Sony Walkman, 2000. Acrylics and Faber-Castell Pitt artist pens on treated board.By Caron Eastgate Dann, 2013.

Old Gadgets #3: Panasonic cassette player-recorder, 1973; Sony Walkman, 2000. Acrylics and Faber-Castell Pitt artist pens on treated board. Painted by Caron Eastgate Dann, 2013

Sometimes, over the years, I’ve lived to regret what I’ve discarded. For example, all my handwritten notes and essays from my bachelor’s degree. Now that I’m a tertiary educator myself, I would love to be able to look back on my own undergraduate work.

But the worst decision I made about throwing something away was an electronic gadget my parents gave me in 1983. It was an early word processor, a light and portable machine about the size of a current-day notebook computer. It even had a small memory, and you had to buy special “thermal paper”, which you inserted in the top and which it then printed on as you typed. I wish I had kept that: it belongs in a museum, now.