I’m just pretending

At a party last weekend, I was telling someone I just met about how I want to go to Iran. Air Asia used to fly to Tehran but they don’t anymore. Ana told me that I could go to Iran with her and Aitak and Sepi but actually she was just playing a trick on me.

My new friend told me that she had recently discussed going to Afghanistan with some of her friends. At least one of them told her she should just pretend to be Hazara and then she’ll be fine. I thought that was weird, because I thought it was the Hazaras that are getting fucked up over there, but she wants to go to Hazara parts, so pretending to be Hazara might make more sense in that case. In telling me this, she made sure to tell me that she would never pretend to be someone/something else. And she repeated it again to make sure that I understood.

The next day I went to a Malay wedding. While my friends and I were seated, a person with a microphone started to say something that I assumed was some sort of prayer. I assumed this because people throughout the hall stopped what they were doing and held their hands in front of them as Muslims do when they do some prayer thing that probably has a name but I don’t know what it is. It’s what Sonny Bill Williams did before this year’s Grand Final began.

I just sat there, being the awkward kafir. Until my friend sitting next to me got my attention and brought that attention of mine to her hands. She then gave me a look that I’m pretty sure said: “See my hands? Just follow what I do.” So I did.

I was a Muslim, doing the proper Muslim things during the Muslim prayer. But I’m not a Muslim. I was pretending. I sat there, not paying attention to the prayer but to the memory of the conversation I had the night before. I thought about pretending. Pretending allows me a chance to blend in, to be invisible, to be normal. It is a strategy for deflecting unwanted attention, for deflecting the negative gaze of the dominant group. It is a strategy for enhancing my sense of belonging by diverting attention away from my status as the Other.

While studying at the Academy of Islamic Studies (API) at the University of Malaya (UM), I often wished I knew more about the Islamic habitus so that I could blend in there. I wished I had taken the time earlier to study the basics and show up on the first day to give the best Muslim performance that I could. But it was too late for that.

Greetings were the worst. Despite the opinion of some Muslims I’ve met, the dominant view at API seemed to be that saying assalamualaikum and responding with walaikumsalam was for Muslims only. So whenever lecturers and tutors would greet the class with assalamualaikum, or fellow students would greet me in that way, I would always just smile and lower my head. They got the message: “Sorry, but I’m a kafir.”

My exclusion from this simple everyday ritual was made clear to me after class one day when one of my class mates apologised to me for having previously greeted me with “assalamualaikum” (prior to finding out that I am not a Muslim). As nice as it was for him to go out of his way to apologise, it only reinforced my status as the Other in this context. I was not to have peace wished upon me now was I to wish it upon others. A simple “hello” was enough.

Every time I walked through the doors of the API building I wished that I could have gone back to the first day and started again as a “Muslim”.

On coffee and being a half-wog baby.

After finishing my HSC, as my school friends and I went our separate ways into the world, there were the inevitable expressions of desire to catch up articulated in the phrase: “Let’s get a coffee sometime.” In my early years of adulthood, before I discovered that “coffee” is just a metaphor, I was terrified by this phrase.

I don’t drink coffee. I’m not sure why. It might be the taste or the residue of a teenage straight edge. I just don’t. But I haven’t always lead a coffee free lifestyle.

A few weeks ago I was hanging out with one of my friends. We were discussing our childhoods and since he’s Lebanese and I’m half-Italian we were searching for a shared sense of wogness. We both spent a lot of time around our grandparents growing up. As the first child born to young parents from working class backgrounds with a mortgage to pay off at early-90s interest rates, as soon as I was off breast milk (which was pretty easy because I was allergic to it) my mum was back at work and I was off to nonno’s and nonna’s.

“Did your grandma give you the bottle?” my friend asked.

“What the fuck bro? No.”

“My grandma gave me the bottle until I was seven. I used to have to hide it from my parents.”

“Nah bro, I didn’t have the bottle, but my grandparents gave me coffee.”

My friend burst out laughing.

“Yeah, I used to drink coffee every day when I was like three years old.”

He kept laughing.

“Is that normal? I don’t really talk about this stuff, so I don’t know what’s normal and not normal for growing up with wog grandparents.”

“That’s not normal bro.” And he just kept laughing.

When I was a kid – a little one – I drank a lot of coffee. Black coffee too. I loved drinking milk too – I’d yell at my mum, “HOT LATTE! GIVE ME HOT LATTE!” – but I kept my latte and coffee separate. Latte was my night drink, coffee my morning drink. The coffee came served with my regular breakfast: a Tip Top English Muffin, cut in half, with each half coated in a thick layer of formaggino. I’m not sure what brand of formaggino it was but it was the wog version (with Italian or French packaging) that my nonno would buy from Big Ed at Earlwood, so it always looked different to the brands I’d see in Coles.

So apparently it’s not normal. Wog babies of the internet (with Italian/Sicilian grandparents), please back me up on this shit and hmu if u agree.

Cougar Flashy & His Spooky Adventures @ Newtown Cemetery – 16/5/2009

I have a lot of old recordings on my hard drive and others that aren’t in a digital form yet. I’ll probably upload them and post them here, eventually. Here’s one I found tonight.

Cougar Flashy & His Spooky Adventures
25 min 53 sec / 33.5 MB / 192 kbps
This little kid came to the cemetery with Grant and Zac. I think he was Zac’s little cousin or something like that. The whole time Cougar Flashy played he was telling them what to do. He made them stop halfway through the first song because his camera stopped recording. Then later told them to stop talking and hurry up and play another song because he only had 160 seconds of recording space left. And Grant does his best to make his lyrics child friendly. Eventually the kid joins them in making up a song at the end; he plays the drum while refusing to do anything else that Grant asks him to do. It was all great. But probably better to watch than just listen to. Since this audio recording was taken from my video camera, getting a video might be possible. If I can figure out how to get it onto my computer, I’ll upload that too. For now, there’s three videos on YouTube uploaded by my friend Di. (See: 1, 2, 3)

The Bakwan Story

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to make a Facebook status update about it did it actually fall?: that cool thing that just happened to me so now I’ve come straight home to tell the world about it. (aka. the Bakwan story) [Originally published on Pesbuk.]

I was walking home from Lakemba station and remembering the one dollar coin in my pocket that I had taken from the spare change jar in my lounge room this morning with the purpose of buying a box of Teh Kotak I made my way towards the Indonesian store that is next to Al-Aqsa hair salon, a very very new business that seemed to have all of a sudden popped up in between the Indonesian store and Sana’s gift shop. I took the Teh Kotak from the fridge and paid my one dollar. I then noticed the assortment of kue, gorengan and other snacks on the counter. I felt a bit hungry so decided to stare at the foods and see which one I wanted or at least which one’s were suitable for people wishing to maintain a vegan diet. I saw a box of fried stuff that looked like bakwan (cucur sayur for my Indonesian-impaired Malaysian friends). I asked the kakaks at the counter if it was bakwan. Yes it was bakwan. I asked how much was the bakwan. The bakwan was $1.30. I started counting the remaining coins in my pocket and had to stop one of the kakaks from putting a bakwan into a plastic bag, explaining I didn’t have enough money. I left the store and continued on my way home.

After passing Warung Ita, someone behind me sounded like they were calling me. I turned around and it was one of the kakaks from the Indonesian store. She was holding a plastic bag with a bakwan in it. “Here, we felt bad for you. You can just have it anyway.” “Ahh… oh my god, thank you so much.” I was feeling quite speechless but as I turned around to walk off I hoped that I was at least to use my words and other sounds to convey an adequate level of gratitude that would make the kakak think I’m a nice person. [Ed. – if you don’t know Lakemba geography, Warung Ita isn’t really that close to the Indonesian store.]

At this point my tendency to be a little shit (or a flirt – depending on which way you look at it) kicked in. I turned back around. She was at least fifteen or twenty metres away and I yelled out, “Kak! Kak!”. She didn’t turn around. “Mbak! Mbak!” She turned around. “Ada cabe gak?!” I smiled and laughed trying to convey a sense of kelucuan. “Oh no! You want cabe? Sorry!” “Haha! Gak apa!” “Ok, ok, next time ya.” And then I turned around and kept walking hoping that I came off more silly and cute than ungrateful. And hopefully she didn’t think I was racist for yelling out at her in Indonesian. I just couldn’t help myself, it just happened. And I ate my bakwan and, and, and, oh em ji, I love the world so much.

The End.

PS: Also, on my way home I found a CD on the side of the road. It didn’t look too scratched. I turned it over and it had something printed in Arabic on it. I put it in my hoodie pocket hoping it will be as fruitful as the time I found a CD of Indian music on the side of the road and made some beats taking some samples from it. A few minutes along I found another CD. Maybe the lawn in the Lakemba-Roselands area is fertile for the growing of CDs. It was more scratched than my previous finding and didn’t look as interesting (i.e. it wasn’t ‘exotic’ enough).


TL;DR Version:

Luka walks home followed by Indonesian girl bearing gifts of bakwan. Luka now loves life again. We don’t know anything about her except for what she can do to make Luka’s life worth living. She has no will of her own. Classic MPDG story.

World Refugee Day Protest @ Town Hall – 24/6/2012

World Refugee Day was last weekend, and so there were two rallies to mark the occasion. I attended the Sunday rally. I arrived a little bit early, and just after I arrived a band started playing. So I recorded them.

12 min 23 sec / 17 MB / 192 kbps
Ember is a 3-piece band fronted by Mohsen Soltani, an Iranian refugee, who reads his poetry and plays an instrument whose name I do not know. Unfortunately, I missed the beginning of at least one song/poem. Also, while I was recording a group of Acehnese men gathered near me and started talking loudly, so as well as Ember and their music you can also listen to the sound of Acehnese men speaking Acehnese and English.

The Riff Raff Radical Marching Band were also in attendance playing their repertoire that ranges from Pokerface to Bella Ciao to Killing in the Name Of. But I did not record them.

For more information on refugee issues and actions check out Refugee Action Coalition Sydney.

Nara, where did you go?

So, a few of my good friends have started working on a documentary of Street Art in Western Sydney (see: Deep Corridors) and it got me thinking back to 2007, a time when Oatley had its own playful and mischievous stencil artist. I think their name was ‘nara’, but it’s a little hard to tell.

By the time I was in Year 12, sleeping became more important than the public transport social, so I spent most mornings in the car with my mum (who also attended the same school), hijacking her CD player and car sound system with the sounds of more acceptable punk bands such as Defiance, Ohio. In art class one morning, a friend told me about a big piece of street art on the wall just outside the entrance of Oatley train station. She described it as huge stencil of a person (doing something, that five years of time has caused me to forget) with the words “Bow your head to no one”  scribbled next to it. A few days later, I went down to the train station to take a picture. Unfortunately I had arrived too late. The piece had been painted over, however the outline of the words could still be made out.

Further up the hill, toward Georges River College, just before you get to the one lane bridge that connects Oatley to the rest of the world, there was another piece. This one not so explicitly anti-authoritarian, but more playful and cute, and maybe that’s one of the reasons why it had stayed up for a lot longer.

There was at least one more piece by ‘nara’. It was in Penshurst, along Railway Parade. A few bricks of a wall had been painted gold. On top of these golden bricks were perched the silhouettes of a few birds. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of this piece.

Since finishing school in November 2007, I haven’t been back in Oatley or surrounding areas such as Mortdale and Penshurst. I have no idea if any of these pieces still exist or if more pieces have appeared in the streets since then.

The Birds Outside Casula Train Station

The Birds Outside Casula Train Station
1 min 35 sec / 2.18 MB / 192 kbps MP3

I went to Casula train station for the first time yesterday. I went out that way to go to Casula Powerhouse for an Acehnese dancing workshop which was part of No Added Sugar exhibition of Australian Muslim women artists.

I arrived at the train station a little bit late, but there was this sound I needed to record. I couldn’t work it out at first. I thought it was coming from the train. Maybe the sound of the wheels on the tracks or a sound made by the electrical wires. But when the train left the sound was still there. I came assumed that I was surrounded by many birds that I couldn’t see, but I could hear them. Surrounded birds sitting in different directions and distances away from my ears, all making the same sound. There was some amazing delay plus reverb surround sound thing going on.

And, sorry about the extra sounds made by things touching the recorder while trying to make the recording. Also, I have no idea what kind of birds these are.