Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Matter of Degree

My nephew Liam who has just turned 9 and my niece Madeleine (aged 5) flew up to Sydney last week to visit their indulgent grandparents (my parents) and us. They flew unaccompanied by their Canberra-based parents but Qantas took excellent care of them during the flight.

Guillermo met them briefly two years ago but this time he had the opportunity to get to know them better during their week's stay under the same roof. I would go as far in saying that he got to know the worst of these kids since their whims were met with little or no resistance from their grandpa and grandma, unlike at home.

Treats which are not allowed often by their parents were showered upon them liberally by mine. Most came in form of cute souvenirs from the Sydney Aquarium gift shop, small toys, and permission to use their newly acquired water pistols to "clean" their grandparents' windows. They also wanted, only occasionally, fruit chews or TicTacs; most of the time, they found their sugar hits in sweet juicy mangoes and refreshing slices of watermelon.

Liam and Maddy ate their main meals sitting down and if we were in a restaurant they were allowed a small glass of Sprite, never Coke; they don't even ask because they already know Coke isn't any good for anyone. When they had eaten, they played quietly in their seats until the adults finished. If they were at home, they asked to be excused before leaving the table.

My niece who was more prone to playing up had occasional problems with the unfamiliar home cooked meals prepared by my mother. Just when Guillermo and I were anticipating the de rigueur request for a bundle of nutritionally deficient refined carbohydrate, salt and saturated fat commonly served in the form of fideos con manteca (pasta with butter), she asked for some penne cooked al dente with pesto. I was thoroughly amused and secretly chuffed that we seem to have another foodie in the making. She tucked into the short pasta with my freshly made pesto with mucho gusto indeed!

Bedtime was another area where Guillermo observed much difference from what he has grown used to witnessing with distaste in Buenos Aires. On the first night, each started getting ready for bed by having a shower, unassisted, at around 8:30pm. They then got on with reading their books they had brought with them. Both turned in around 9:30pm with no drama; pretty much the same as their usual routine at home. (When they were younger, bedtime was set at 7:30pm)

The excitement of being away from home or the realisation that their grandparents had little control over them finally dawned by the second night and their routine went out of the window. My nephew still got ready for bed at the same time but dragged his mattress into the living room as he declared he was to sleep there. Of course, his little sister took the lead and cheerfully followed suit.

In the end, my nephew stayed up to watch a documentary on corporations with Guillermo. This 9 year old was engrossed in the programme which was about corruption and fraudulent activities committed by corporations such as Halliburton, Exxon and Monsanto. Meanwhile, his sister kept asking for her mother. Satisfied with breaking their routine both kids turned in before 10:30pm that evening.

With a taste for more mature programmes as well as the usual Japanese animations in the mornings, the following night my nephew watched a programme on Japanese naval operations around Ceylon during WWII and their political impacts and implications, at the time, on India and the British Empire. On the third night, he watched a sub-titled Italian detective drama Don Matteo with Guillermo and me. On all three occasions during the week which he could have behaved much worse, he went to bed no later than 10:30pm on his own accord.

Guillermo who specialises in expertise which has much to do with the study of intelligence, concurs with neuroscientists that intelligence is largely a developmental process. Findings on the subject rebuke the common perception that some are born smarter than others. My husband mused that these two kids offered a glimpse into this nurturing process which begins with something as simple as having a healthy routine.

Liam (turned 9 in December) is starting Year 5 in his Express Music class at school this February. He has been excelling among boys up to 18 months older, ever since he started primary school soon after he turned 5, not only within his academically demanding Express class but in various inter-State competitions representing his school.

Maddy seems less academically inclined but impressed us nonetheless when I asked her to read to us from the book she had been reading at bedtime. At 5, she managed with minimal difficulty a book which averaged over 70 words per page peppered with words such as "wretched" or "struggle", targeting a readership quite a few years her senior.

After a week with them, we conclude that misbehaving is part of growing up as it is about testing and pushing boundaries. However, we now also have first hand knowledge that kids being drugged up with addictive Coke, sugar laden dulce de leche and neuron-murdering flavourings in papas fritas/ palitos (potato crisps/savoury junk food), or being allowed to party past midnight with their parents is thankfully, not the only way to go.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Our Computer is Dead but We're still Alive

Long time no blog; sorry folks! While I'd try not to blame other causes than my own laziness and preference to spend sunny mornings down at Balmoral beach, our computer has packed up leaving Guillermo and I to alternate between technological wilderness and banks of flatscreen monitors in the middle of a Westfield Shopping Centre such as right this moment.

Life is sweet and slow at the moment and Guillermo is trying very hard not to overeat as the portion size here has taken the lead from the U.S. and grown out of control. For someone who is brought up to finish everything on his plate, my husband struggled to finish a cafe breakfast of raisin toasts; 2 thick slices of raisin toasts (the same quantity as 4 generous slices of bread) with a large mug of caffe latte which is a lot of leche...and that was only breakfast! (Incidentally, my mother who ordered banana bread at the same cafe was served 2 thick and large slabs which would be almost a full loaf of budin (pound cake). She barely finished 1 icing sugar drenched slice, let alone 2.)

With fresh juice bars and food outlets selling more than just food but the idea of a fresh & light lifestyle, one wonders why Australia is fasting becoming a land of the obese - the key is in the portion. While we mind what we eat and we are what we eat, a lot of people seem to have lost sight on We Are How Much We Eat.

The blooming economy may be flushing people's bank accounts but it may also be choking their arteries; such are the contradictions of a good life.

p.s. I've not been able to respond to comment leavers with our ailing computer but I do read and appreciate your comments. Thank you very much.

To Eliza of Food Diary, I obtained the photo from my online chocolate seller, I'll alert them of your concern.

Monday, January 08, 2007

One City, Two Societies

One of the luxuries of reading the local newspaper (Sydney Morning Herald in this case) in print rather than online (as I did in Buenos Aires) is being able to savour the editorials.

In the few short weeks we have been here, I've observed that most writers for this major publication, from those in the main section to food writers and restaurant reviewers in the supplement section, are an open-minded, often well-travelled lot who appreciate and celebrate the diverse and multicultural spirit that has become an integral part of Australia in the 21stC.

Even the newspapers' weekly television guide prefers excellent and less commercial programmes of our exceptional and publicly funded multicultural channel, SBS (Special Broadcasting Services) to mind-numbing junk such as The OC and Desperate Housewives. Not only are we able to view SBS' own and other foreign programmes, viewers can watch daily local news broadcast from a number of countries including Italy, Chile, Germany, France, Greece, Japna, Indonesia, China and Hong Kong.

Each day we are told by the media of our young high achievers, Australians of various ethnic descents and cultural backgrounds making us proud of our country. Fields Medal winner Terence Tao, an Australian mathematician of Asian descent, has been nominated for Australian of the Year.

On the whole, the collective culture has shifted from Anglo-Celtic to one that is uniquely Sydney. Chai Latte (Indian), Affogato (Italian), Pho (Vietnamese), Tom Ka Gai (Thai) are as commonplace these days as a meat pie.

This is the Sydney I know and love, however, there is a Sydney I've read much about in print and yet to experience in person. That is a land where one Herald contributor, Lisa Pryor, dubbed as populated by "slack-jawed, cordial-drinking, potato-gem (frozen, processed potato bites) eaters...who are less Australian and more part of a band of international rednecks...who are let's face it, losers in life."

Most Australians would agree that bigotry stems from ignorance and insecurity which explains why racism is generally more obvious in the poorer parts of the city and among the less educated sector of society.

However, that is certainly not the rule; rich and popular yet trashy Hollywood entertainer Rosie O'Donnell was certainly not shy in broadcasting her bigot humour. And we need to look no further than the little blogsphere of Buenos Aires to spot her compatriot of the same ilk.

Friday, January 05, 2007

A Quick Hola from Sydney

Guillermo and I have quickly settled into our daily routine of early breakfast followed by a brisk morning walk around the hilly terrain of our (my parents') genteel neighbourhood. Generally, the rest of the day is devoted to introducing him to the North Shore of Sydney, one suburb at a time. Since we are here until late February I'm sure we'll make it across the Bridge some time very soon. (At the moment he only knows the City, Bondi beach, and the great Sydney Fish Market)

While my husband is blown away by all those magnificent trees characteristic of the Upper North Shore where we are staying, I suspect his porteño spirit is yearning for a local cafe within a few minutes' walk from home where he could read his broadsheet with a good dose of caffeine. If he has already fallen in love with the Australian lifestyle on this shore, he is going to find his spiritual home across the Harbour.

While we are enjoying a tranquil summer across the ocean from Buenos Aires, I am pleasantly surprised by new visitors to this blog who have taken the time to share their own experience and unique view of the Argentine society.

I am most appreciative that these new comment leavers who have led undulated porteño existence (one is a porteña of Japanese descent) have bucked the trend which is being promoted by a handful of expat bloggers with rather un-Democrat and misguided sentiments that observations on the country, unless rose tinted, have no place.

Positivism is great but if left in the wrong hands, it is no more than yardage for Emperor's new clothes; and this particular Emperor already has an extensive wardrobe.