Here are two features I’ve been plugging away at for a while.
The joke that bombed
I met the now-notorious Jalals about a month before their arrest for their public shooting prank that turned out to be mocked-up. Savvy creators willing to mix truth and fiction to get big, fast.
You’ve most likely seen one of the Jalals’ viral videos on your Facebook news feed. Grainy shots of night-time suburbia. Three men in Arab dress cruise slowly down the street in a 4WD. One lifts an AK-47 rifle and takes aim at a man and his young daughter using a payphone, causing them to flee. The sound of tinny gunshots echo through the car’s speakers.
The man bolts, leaving his terrified daughter in his wake. In earlier clips, a man in Arab dress and beard appears, toting a suspicious bag. He tosses it into donut shops, car windows, the open doors of a lift. He throws it over the door of a closed toilet cubicle. He throws it at basketballers, kids playing on wharves, tradies on a lunch break, at a man descending an escalator.
The rest in The Age/SMH here.
The secret lives of international students
There she stood in the frenzied mosh pit, amid flailing arms, flying beads of sweat and the growling ecstasy of the mob, threshing like trawler bycatch. As a teenager in Jakarta, Dea Arida was never allowed to go to hardcore punk gigs, her protective, strict parents considering them dangerous and corrupting. But Australia is a long way from home. Here, for the first time, Dea could immerse herself in the punk band scene. For the first few years, she methodically removed her Blu-Tacked ticket stubs from her bedroom wall each time her parents came to visit. By 2014, when her 14-year-old sister visited, Dea was ready to come out as a hardcore fan. “I took my sister [to the mosh pit] to prove a point to my parents,” Dea says. “Gigs here are safe.” And Dea’s boyfriend came, too. New country, new rules.
As Dea was leaving to study at Melbourne University five years ago, her worried parents showered her with advice. Don’t let guys stay over. Maintain your Catholic faith amid Australia’s secularism. Avoiding alcohol didn’t even need to be said. Dea listened. But she was nursing a secret. “It wasn’t something I told my parents, but the liberal nature of Australia was a reason I came,” she says. “Here, you don’t have to conform to your peers as much. There’s a lot of freedom.”
The rest in Good Weekend here.
There is a wordless sweet communion between Thomas and Avia Kano, a brother-sister duo who have come to depend on each other in their parents’ absence. Thomas is the younger one, though he doesn’t look it. He’s already broad-shouldered, with wisps of a beard in the making and a ponytail. He speaks with small hand gestures, meeting your eyes with his, and veers away from words. Adolescence has made him awkward. Avia is small and well-formed, as if pressed from a mould. When school is over, they sprawl on the couch, heedless of the outside world, passing the snufflings of birdlings between them. They nestle on the grass on the foreshore, metres from the home of their patron, a priest, and speak without voices.
The rest at Medium
September? How is the year disappearing so fast? I’ve been a tad snowed under with New Dad Responsibilities, book excitement and impending PhD deadline.
AmalgaNations has been out almost eight months now. It’s been an interesting ride – from early media tarting to a long terrifying silence (was anyone reading it? was it shit? O gods) to a trickle of nice feedback. I sent a copy of the book to travel writer god Pico Iyer, and he wrote a very kind response.
The most interesting and unexpected thing that’s emerged out of AmalgaNations is that writing a nonfiction book has given me a platform to wax lyrical on topics I’m mostly unqualified about. It’s been excellent.
Anyway, in the interests of cataloging AmalgaNations meeja, here’s a short list:
I popped up on Radio Australia, ABC 702 Sydney and ABC 612 Brisbane and local stations from Newcastle to Mackay to Darwin to Hobart.
On Sunday Night Safran, I managed to bemuse Father Bob. Here’s the podcast.
ABC’s The Drawing Room with Jonathan Green and Tasneem Chopra
Fairfax – The Age / SMH / Canberra Times
Review by Steven Carroll
NON-FICTION PICK OF THE WEEK
AMALGANATIONS. By Doug Hendrie. Hardie Grant. $29.95.
Think of a tank with a machine gun directed by a Sony PlayStation controller – it actually happened in the Libyan civil war – and you’ve some sense of the unpredictable way in which cultures, in a globalised world, can intersect. Prompted by a coffee in Footscray, which led to an introduction to African-Australian hip-hop, Doug Hendrie travelled much of the world curious to discover the effects of globalisation. Is it just another form of colonisation, transforming the world into one great homogenised culture, or is something else going on? Culture, Hendrie argues, “has never been static” and preserving cultural purity is impossible. Hybridity, he argues, is the norm and he presents four case studies, from the Philippines to Ghana, that exemplify the amalgams that result when Western culture meets another.
The Australian Way – Qantas magazine: April edition had a nice review – “fascinating and funny”
Melbourne University Voice had a write-up.
I spoke at Melbourne and Brisbane Writers Festivals – terrifying but rather fun to be on panels with the likes of Prof. Ross Garnaut and Linda Jaivin.
I did a dinner event with the excellent Tony Wheeler at Eltham Bookshop, and also a Wheeler Centre panel discussion with Tony, Laura Jean McKay and Marni Cordell. Here’s the video.
I’ve also spoken at Melbourne University and Croydon Library. Cross-cultural wunderkind Tasneem Chopra invited me to address the Muslim Leadership Program at La Trobe University’s Centre for Dialogue, which proved to be an interesting discussion that served to educate me more than the participants.
A programmer walks slowly down the stairs, holding his laptop in both hands as if steering by it. He passes a mural of Super Mario Bros, circa 1988, and into the entrance of iHub proper – a large, airy space, full of earnest young women and men working on their laptops. A coffee machine hisses in one corner. A quiet game of table soccer is under way. Silicon Valley? Not quite. This is the heartland of the Silicon Savannah, and one of many startup incubators dotting dusty Ngong Road in Nairobi, Kenya.
Everyone is here nursing the same hope – to make the next breakthrough service for Kenya’s enormous and growing population of mobile phone users. More than two-thirds of Kenyans own mobile phones, the highest rate in East Africa. The mobile phone has become Africa’s leapfrog technology – communication, commerce, computing and increasingly, internet access, all rolled into one cheap device.
The rest at New Matilda
It’s raining heavily as Camara poles our pirogue across the still, shallow waters of the Bay of Rogues towards the world’s only pirate cemetery. My wife and I hold umbrellas high to fend off the deluge. Ile Sainte-Marie, a sleepy 60-kilometre splinter off Madagascar’s north-east, is ground zero for cyclones sweeping in from the Indian Ocean, and the season is imminent. Villagers wade through the silted bay with nets. When pirates came here more than 300 years ago, the Bay of Rogues was deep and still, secure from cyclones. Better – there was a tiny islet, the Ile aux Forbans, where the pirates could moor their small ships in plain sight. Passing traders would see these tadpoles and not spare them a thought. But lurking behind the island were larger pirate ships, dreaded by sailors, built for speed and for war. The traders – heavy with loot – were easy prey.
The rest at the Sydney Morning Herald
THERE is a single large tree on the wind-whipped salt-lake flats, the most marginal of marginal land. There are rivals – low scrub across the ground, bent by wind, introduced agave succulents with king-shard stems extending into the dust-filled sky, a few short and spiny trees – but only one tree. How do you create shelter against the stinging dust, the biting wind, the bulbous red-jelly sun that burns from near-dawn to dusk? You can build it out of scrounged wood, tin and plastic, but no one can stay indoors all day. The tree offers free shade beneath its spreading limbs, a patch of cool outdoors, a place to meet, mingle, talk.
This tree is the centrepiece of the founding story of Missionvale, an informal settlement of 120,000 people that has existed on unwanted land at the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, for over a century. A new influx came during apartheid, when the coloured township near the wealthy white enclave of Walmer – a township of servants – was forcibly relocated in 1965. The land was too desirable; it could become suburbia. And so eight thousand people were uprooted and moved, their shacks bulldozed, and an entire new township deposited on the saltpans twenty kilometres away. After apartheid, new water pumps were installed and the population ballooned, as blacks and coloured began circulating, seeking a better life. Many found Missionvale and a Xhosa influx took the township to its present size.
No one has paid much attention to it; the middle class of Port Elizabeth drive past on the road to Uitenhage without noticing the timber-and-tin shacks thronging the salt lake. On the tourist map, a giant picture of an impala papers over the shadow city. But a diminutive white Irish nun wandered into this poorest of black settlements one day in 1988, in the last bitter years of apartheid, and knew this was where she wanted to be.
The rest at the Griffith Review
When I first started riding between two of the housing commission flats in Lygon St, Carlton, back in 2010, I wondered where the residents were. The four immense towers – some of the largest ever built by Victoria’s Housing Commission – are home to more than 3000 people. So where were they?
Two years later, I had my answer. As a long-awaited renovation of the flats gathered speed, men in orange vests turned bare earth into grass and shiny new playground equipment. And then, suddenly, children. By their dozens they came, squealing, shucked from their flats, and with them, their mothers and fathers. A barbeque area sprouted. Next up is a community garden and, government willing, a proper park built on council land. And all the while, the orange vests treated the concrete cancer spreading on the exterior walls of the 50 year old flats, while colleagues renovated the interiors of aging flats in the largest housing redevelopment in the state’s history. Close by is a large new set of private apartments built on what was state land, pitched as a way to fund the redevelopment and reduce social isolation. To the north lies College Square, evidence of Victoria’s mini-boom in mining the rich veins of international students. But what I was taken by was the people.
“I remember the change well,” says Hamdi Ali, the secretary of the Carlton housing estate residents association. “It was last summer, and it was warm and school holidays. There were children playing on the new playground till 10pm at night. There were complaints, sure, but it’s good! The children love it and you see the mothers coming down. And people are socialising more – there are weddings here, coffee, meetings. That’s what happens now.” He giggles, a surprisingly young sound. Ali works three days a week with the computer exchange at the base of 510 Lygon St and donates the rest of his time to the association. Hamdi – black jacket, brown shirt, a gleaming grin – has been in Melbourne 18 years, first in public housing in South Melbourne, and then renting with friends in Heidelberg West, another Somali settlement. He’s 38, though it takes him a while to remember (“We don’t celebrate birthdays so you don’t get the yearly reminder”). Hamdi was one of the first to find refuge in Australia from the drought and war of the Horn of Africa in the 1990s, leaving war-torn Ogaden, a restive Somali enclave in Ethiopia, for Somali camps in Kenya before settling in Melbourne. When he was finally able to bring his wife and three children across, he thought the Carlton estate would be ideal. The flats had become a safe haven for migrants from the Horn of Africa – a place to learn the ropes of a very different society. Somalis are now the main group in the Carlton flats, alongside Ethiopians, Eritreans, and older people from previous migration waves: Vietnamese, Turkish, Greek. And that makes Ali’s role the Chief Explainer, the go between who teaches new arrivals the ways of this foreign place – how to get a car license, what to learn to pass the citizenship test (“I knew someone who failed eight times”), where to buy a second-hand computer and what time the sewing group meets. He’s between worlds, negotiating with representatives from the Office of Housing, the Melbourne City Council, the State Government. The redevelopment push will move next to the large flats in Richmond, Prahran and Fitzroy. But the economic backdrop is less certain. There are lengthy waiting lists for public housing at a time of extreme housing unaffordability. In March, Victoria’s Auditor-General released a damning report on cost blowouts in public housing. Part-privatisation is one option being floated. Hamdi tells me he likes the new private apartments springing up nearby, that he thinks increased mixing is crucial for the newly arrived. “The best way to adapt to Australia is to interact with an Australian, to know how things are done here,” he says.
In the late 1930s, poverty was common in Australia. In the Victorian countryside, the poor still used Depression-era techniques to feed themselves – bandicooting potatoes, taking the tuber while leaving the plant intact. The cities were worse. Melbourne was riddled with hidden slums, with disease and misery tucked away down bluestone laneways. In 1938, Premier Albert Dunstan declared a war on slums. The newly formed Housing Commission began building public housing everywhere it could, reclaiming slums and building new estates on the urban fringe. By the early 1960s, the Commission had shifted focus to the inner city and commenced work on the first of its 45 famous bleak concrete high-rises across Melbourne’s inner city. Residents in workers cottages across the entire suburban block where the Carlton Estate now stands had their land compulsorily acquired. Before long, more than a quarter of Collingwood and Flemington were public housing, with Fitzroy and the inner north-west not far behind. By the mid 1970s, a rising community backlash stopped the Commission from repossessing more of Carlton and other inner city areas. Resident groups fought to keep their working class cottages from the wrecking ball, a prescient move in the years before inner-city gentrification began enriching owners in earnest. Elsewhere, there was rising unease about the idea of keeping the working poor walled away from the rest of society.
By the 1990s, the flaws in the high-rise flats had become evident. The 20 inner-city high rise sites stood out in a sea of gentrified creatives and white collar workers. When heroin dropped drastically in price, the commission flats became ground zero for the junkie wave. To the middle-class eye, the flats were not working class – they were underclass. But then the heroin wave receded, leaving a few strongholds – Collingwood, Fitzroy, Richmond. Elsewhere, the high rises were morphing into migrant havens. Flemington, Footscray and Carlton are amongst the most migrant friendly. “The Horn of Africa communities have their own issues. But they don’t have drug issues,” says Hamdi, grinning broadly. “There’s a perception out there that this place has very low socio-economics. But this is a good place to live for people new to this country. We don’t need permanent security guards like other commission flats.”
Hamdi introduces me to Mustafa, a Turkish resident of 17 years. Mustafa takes me up to level eight. The mirrors in the lift have been scratched by knives, the ceiling carpeted in the black blossoms of cigarette lighter burns, but the floor is freshly mopped. Mustafa harrumphs. “I cleaned the lift myself,” he says. The doors open to a million dollar view of the CBD. “Here is my flat,” he says, and shows past his yappy white dog to his aging kitchen. “I need a new oven,” he says. Hamdi leans across. “Mustafa owned restaurants across the inner north. He’s a chef,” he says. The flat is well-kept, but has not aged well. The carpet moulders underfoot, and the walls are dingy. As Mustafa shows me out, I nearly trip over an upturned BMX once belonging to a son of his. He grins. “Three sons. A designer, a primary school teacher and an accountant,” he says proudly. “Education – that is key.”
Hamdi takes me back downstairs, into the chill air. I spot a noticeboard in his office, papered with events and opportunities. The Australian-Somali Football Association invites spectators. The international-student run Meld Magazine has launched a Carlton Community Cookbook. There’s a new Men’s Shed. I ask him what people do as a job when they first arrive. He smiles. “Men drive taxis,” he says. “I did for many years, before studying to be a network engineer. But women – women have just started running family day care businesses in their flats. There are now 10 to 15 businesses in these flats alone. My son goes to one.” He flashes brilliant teeth and disappears back into his office.
Money speaks in politics. That is certainly true in Papua New Guinea’s remarkably resilient democracy. As this year’s elections shift to the laborious counting phase, more than 4000 candidates wait with bated breath. Will they be one of the 109 chosen to represent their area? Will they — instantly — become one of the modern era’s bigmen, respected, powerful and rich?
The surge in candidates has been widely seen as an effort to get elected before the $15 billion ExxonMobil LNG pipeline comes on line in 2014, when serious royalties start to flow into government coffers — or siphoned off into private accounts or apartments in Cairns. The party system is weak, while local loyalties based on blood and lineages remain strong. Around half of PNG’s parliamentarians are turfed out after each five-year cycle. With limited preferential voting, candidates have won with as little as 7 per cent of the vote. The effective village system — where bigmen would throw huge feasts with dozens of pigs slaughtered and beer flowing freely in return for support — has been scaled up to level for the national elections. Many voters expect to be bought beforehand, for they will see little afterwards.
The rest at New Matilda
Fifty years ago, South Korea was poorer than many African nations. Today, it’s the 15th wealthiest nation in the world. With wealth has come social change. Like fellow Confucian countries China and Vietnam, South Korea has a strong emphasis on education and beauty. The small Asian nation is emerging as one of the world’s hotspots for plastic surgery. Billboards for cosmetic surgeons abound in Seoul, and with one of the highest ratios of surgeons to people in the world, competition is driving prices ever lower. A decade ago, eyelid surgery was $2000. Now, it’s around $1250 and dropping. Surgeons estimate that more than half of women in their 20s have had cosmetic surgery done.
Pioneered by Korean pop and drama stars, the most popular surgery is the double-eyelid operation, producing the open European-style eyes which are increasingly common on the streets of Korea. Many young women go under the knife for the first time after high school, where they are expected to study hard to make it into a top university and avoid distractions like make-up and boyfriends. Parents foot the bill so that their daughters can maximise their chance of meeting a husband during university.
Seoul woman Eun Jung Lee, in her early 30s, says young Korean women switch from focussing on their studies to their appearance virtually overnight. “It’s an extreme makeover after you graduate, and often as a gift from your parents. You go on a diet, have plastic surgery and wear makeup for the college dating game,” she says. “Beauty really matters for Korean people,” says Lee. “Americans and Europeans really focus on their bodies – breast enlargement, liposuction – but in Korea, beauty is your skin and face.
“Having confidence in yourself is very important in life,” says a young Korean woman who recently underwent surgery. “First impressions are everything, and appearance matters. I didn’t have confidence in my appearance before surgery, but now, I’m very happy.” The 25 year old had her eyelids Westernised and her nose made higher and thinner. “The surgery made me alive. It made me think I can do anything and everything,” she says.
Another woman in her mid 20s had double-eyelid surgery paid for by her parents while she was in university. “As I was a college student, I couldn’t afford it. It wasn’t a present from my parents. They just paid it for me,” she says. “I was very nervous, but I went to a reliable doctor. I like the result,” she says.
But Lee says a friend of hers is less happy with the result. “The surgery changed her face too much. Before, it was calmer, more traditional. But now, she’s more Western and photogenic and it doesn’t suit her calm personality.”
Seoul’s cosmetic surgery epicentre is the affluent area of Apujeong, with upwards of 500 clinics servicing the 24 million people who call Seoul and its sprawling outlying suburbs home. Kangnam is Seoul’s second largest cosmetic surgery centre with an estimated 200 clinics.
Gowoonsesang Plastic Surgery in Kangnam is one of Korea’s top ten cosmetic surgery providers. The spotless reception is lushly appointed, with elegant potplants, red plush velvet and a glass-topped coffee table with rosepetals beneath the glass. A pretty hand mirror lets patients take one last glimpse at their original face before going under anaesthetic.
Dr Lee Byung Hoi, the top doctor at Gowoonsesang, says that cosmetic surgery is a booming industry in Korea.
“It lets people increase their social income, that’s one reason for it. The second is the influence of Western society,” he says. “Koreans are very susceptible to talking about other people’s appearances. It’s acceptable to talk about that.
Dr Hoi says the face his patients are aiming for is a mixture of Caucasian and North Asian. “We want the eyes and nose of Caucasians, but we keep our rounder faces. We don’t want the narrow Caucasian face.”
“Late December is my busiest time,” he says. “It’s the end of high school, and former students are my biggest demographic.”
Men are increasingly having work done as well, Dr Hoi says. “Twenty per cent of my patients are now men. They get nose jobs – that’s the most popular – and eyelid surgery is next. Men want higher noses, less flat.”
Dr Hoi has himself never been under the knife, and believes that plastic surgery isn’t good for Korean society. “I think beauty is a natural thing and training your mind is more important than your appearance,” he says. “But some young people don’t know that. They are always watching TV stars and they want to be like them. It’s not good for society. But as a plastic surgeon, I like it,” he says, smiling broadly.
Every other Sunday morning, Jakarta’s major thoroughfare becomes a bike superhighway. Thousands of residents reclaim the streets from the grinding traffic that makes the megacity a chore to navigate.
But amid the tide of lycra-clad racers, mountain bike riders, and teens on BMX bikes is a new sight: the colorful, fixed-gear velodrome bikes known as “fixies.” Popularized in American hipster culture, fixies have crossed the Pacific. Male riders sport jean shorts, moustaches, beanies, and black-rimmed glasses.
The rest at the Christian Science Monitor