It’s Saturday night and I’ve just woken up from a little nap. I’m on holiday for the next two weeks and so I think it’s only right that I should have the occasional nap, especially as it’s been almost two years since I’ve had a proper holiday. There’s been the occasional day here and there, but the last real holiday I had was in the weeks leading up to going to Perth last year.
Today was a really terrific day. After bumming around at home for a while, I met Sue for lunch atBodhi, the vegetarian (vegan?) restaurant near St Mary’s Cathedral. Sue hasn’t eaten meat for manyyears and, during our time living together, I didn’t eat meat either (aside from the occasional binge).
I became a vegetarian again at the end of last year in an effort to clear my body and my mind. Mostly I’ve been pretty successful in sticking to the diet, though I sometimes have a bit of a craving, especially for something like steak or duck. I also don’t make a big deal of it, if those around me are eating meat, but mostly I don’t eat meat any more and I feel pretty good about it. And anyway, the food at Bodhi is great, especially with today’s addition of a salt and pepper tofu.
After lunch, Sue and I wandered off to the National Maritime Museum for a special dedication as part of Refugee Week. The museum was re-launching its restored Vietnamese refugee boat Tu Do (Freedom) with the family who made an epic 6000 km sea voyage on it in 1977 attending as special guests.
Tu Do, 19 metres long, was in the first wave of refugee boats to arrive in Australia after Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) fell to the communist forces of North Vietnam in April 1975. Tan Thanh Lu, a young businessman on the island of Phu Quoc, built Tu Do in the style of a local fishing vessel for his family’s escape. With his pregnant wife, Tuyet, their three young children and 34 other passengers, he set out secretly from Phu Quoc under cover of darkness on the evening of 16 September 1977. Having outpaced pirates and survived a wild storm in the Timor Sea, Tu Do reached the safety of Darwin Harbour 13 weeks later. Tan Lu had navigated his way to a new homeland with the aid of a simple compass and a map torn from the lid of a school desk. The Lu family gained refugee status.
Tan Thanh Lu died last year while revisiting Vietnam for the first time. Clearly moved as she spoke, his daughter talked about the importance of the day and with great honour about her father and the difficult choice he would have had to make almost thirty years ago. Both Sue and I were very moved by the whole ceremony and were really glad that we attended, especially as the family went on board the boat again and threw petals overboard.
On the way back towards the car park, we wandered through Hyde Park where the annual Food & Wine Fair was being held with funds raised to support the Aids Trust of Australia. As we wandered through the park we noticed everyone wearing the red ribbons. It’s remarkable when you think it must be 15 or 20 years now since the red ribbons first appeared. I reflected briefly on all of the ribbons that are around these days and concluded it was only the red ribbons for AIDS and the pink ribbons for breast cancer that have really made much traction.
We also spent a little while watching a big Italian wedding at St Mary’s Cathedral. And when I say big wedding I mean big, with four bridesmaids and groomsmen. Looking around at those attending you could clearly see they were two big Italian families and the wedding was probably of the grandchildren of Italian immigrants. Maybe they were here before WW2, maybe they came after, it was hard to tell. But you just kinda had the feeling they (the grandparents) came to Australia with nothing 50 or 60 years ago and here they were all those years later, enjoying the fruits of their labour with a big wedding.
And that’s when it synched together. All of these things were about meaning. The Vietnamese boat, the AIDS ribbons, the Italian wedding. They were all about people finding meaning in their lives which, in an increasingly materialistic society, was an optimistic sign for the future. I’m not writing about this in some kind of preachy way, but I suppose as a really interesting awakening to parts of Australian culture which aren’t necessarilly celebrated as much as they perhaps should be. And it all happened so naturally walking around Sydney.
On the other side of things, it also occured to me today I know quite a few people overseas at the moment, probably for the first time in my life. I received an email from Michael today who observed “BTW, everyone in NYC is just like (NAME BLANKED OUT) – they premise everything with “You know what..” and from Wendy in China who wrote… “And I thought China was my retirement job, travel, food and fun. I hadn’t counted on the Chinese work ethic. Well its not really the Chinese work ethic, they seem to go very slowly, its more what they expect of the highly paid expats.”
On the verge of my fortieth birthday, it’s an interesting moment for a young working class boy from country NSW to reflect back on his roots and to observe and give thanks for the amazing life he now leads.