OF all life’s delicious ironies, this is the sweetest of the lot. On the day I’m meant to interview Tom Conley about his involvement in drought relief, it’s raining cats and dogs, our interview postponed while the torrent subsides. But that’s not the only spoonful of sugar in this story. You see Tom is only three years old, and if you love irony, you’ll adore the fact this chubby-cheeked kid not only bakes for drought relief, but was born just before the 2011 Brisbane floods. Yes, it’s raining men, and the blokes of the future are soaking great, if Tom is any indication.
Tom was just five weeks old when the big floods hit Brisbane, his mum Sally Gardner watching from the kitchen window as flood waters stopped just short of their next door neighbour’s house in Oxley. But Sally’s partner Brendan’s workplace at Rocklea “went under”, as they say in Brisbane, as did Sally’s books, CDs and photo albums stored there. Add to this Sally not only had a new born baby at home, but also another son, aged 2.5 at the time, and it was a bit of busy time.
“We didn’t have electricity so we couldn’t do the washing and we couldn’t go out, and we had three extra house guests due to the flood,” Sally says. But what Sally did next was remarkable. Rather than feel sorry for herself she decided to volunteer to assist her community, offering childcare, food and any other service her neighbours needed. And to cheer them up, she’d take baby Tom, in a pouch.
“We’d go and door knock and I’d have him in a pouch and people would just want to show me their photos,” Sally says.
“If we’d go into a community centre we’d take at least one of the boys. It was a bit of an ice-breaker.
“I was used to working in an HR roles and fixing a situation.”
And somewhere, amid all the mud and misery, Baked Relief was formed by Sally and her friends.
Fast forward three years and it’s no longer flood victims for whom Sally and her crew bake and distribute fresh goods, but those in drought. And Tom is an integral part of the operation.
“Tom gets involved in all the cooking adventures in our home. He especially loves baking and as soon as I get the utensils out he rushes over, climbs up and wants to measure ingredients, crack the eggs and lick the bowl,” Sally says.
“We talk about who we are helping or who we are baking for, he enjoys drawing pictures for the drought-affected families.”
When I visited Sally and Tom yesterday, he was a typical three-year-old, licking the chocolate off a biscuit. I asked Tom (whose favourite drink is milk) what he thought of the drought, and he had this message for the farmers: “I hope it rains soon.” Sally, whose mother was a GP who gave tetanus injections during the 1974 Brisbane floods, believes charity begins at home. This year Baked Relief has sent 2 tonnes of goods to St George and another tonne to Chinchilla. Sally also believes everyone in the city has a connection either directly or indirectly to the bush, which, despite recent rain, is still doing it tough.
“Everyone eats food. People should have a better connection with their neighbours and be alert to the needs of others and see if they can do one thing to help,” she says.
“Whatever pioneering spirit that got us all here is maybe what gets us through the crappy times. We want the people out in the bush to know they are not alone. Without them we don’t feed our children.”
As for Sally’s next project, her response is as direct as you’ll find from an Aussie woman with a huge heart: “I’ll just wait for the next shit to hit the fan and see what we can do about the situation.”
To find out more about Baked Relief go to their Facebook page or to donate money go to the Queensland Rural, Regional and Remote Women’s Network at http://www.qrrrwn.org.au
AGAINST my better judgment I have joined another dating site (I blame the wine, God, I blame the wine). And to date, things are turning out as well as can be expected. And that’s not so well at all. I am yet to secure a date from this new site, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been hours of entertainment to keep me amused. Where shall I start? Oh yes, their dating site names. The three which most recently sprung to my attention were: Mostlyagoodboy; Tedious; and Dunnowhatever. At first I thought I’d stumbled across the first three starters in this year’s Melbourne Cup.
Let’s dissect this for a minute. What do we think Mostly A Good Boy means? That he is generally pretty faithful, until he’s out on the sauce and then all bets are off? As for Tedious, does he find the whole dating game tedious (he clearly isn’t receiving the kind of hilarious contacts I am) or is he describing his sparkling personality? And then, of course, there is Dunno Whatever, who I’m sensing is not all that motivated, nor someone to come up with any great ideas. Want to go out for dinner? Dunno Whatever. What about a movie? Dunno Whatever? Fabulous.
I thought I was in with a bit of a chance with Mr Sincere. I mean, who can argue with that name? Well, seems Mr Sincere is not all that sincere and since he contacted me in the affirmative, and I responded in the positive, and he contacted me back in an encouraging manner, there has been no sign of Mr Sincere. Perhaps he’s been hanging out with Mostly A Good Boy?
A quick glimpse at some of the rest of the men, aged between 40 and 50, reveals some interesting insights into the human condition. There’s Jake The Peg (do we want to know where his extra leg is?); What About Me (no, it isn’t fair, and I’ve had enough now I want my share); and Mr Squigle (spelt with one “g” whose tag line states: “Upside down Miss Jane, Upside down”). Then there’s A Fine Cook (which I originally mis-read as something else); Vertical Brit (thank goodness, I’d hate him to be horizontal); and Six Pack Mack (is there a message in here somewhere?).
Then I tried something interesting. I put in a search for men aged 20 to 40 to see if they ran with similar themes. And they were refreshingly normal. (As normal as you can get on a dating site). In fairness, I also did a search on the opposite sex, pretending I was a man looking for a woman aged between 40 and 50. And goodness, there was plenty of blonde and plenty of boobies. (I must have missed that memo when I signed up). And then there’s quite a few interesting dating site names here, too including Nodramasplease (who looks like she’s a bit of a drama queen); NaughtyMonkey (I’ll leave that up to your imagination); and DebT (which I originally read as Debt, so I wouldn’t be going near her and her dodgy bank account any time soon). There is also ComfortablyDumb (who probably gets heaps of dates); MissAmazing (who probably doesn’t); and my favourite, LoopyLoo (who simply scares me).
Over on my other site, that I am yet to quit, Darren with the impossibly high standards has updated his profile to read: “I love beautiful and sexy women that are completely comfortable being feminine. Are you healthy, secure, optimistic, flexible, giving, intelligent, honest, outgoing, fun, great communicator, understands men, affectionate, sexy, happy, and very feminine?” I’ve already told you, Dazza, that I’m all those things, except for the “understands men” bit.
There’s also an emerging trend on this site for men to not only take a selfie of themselves, naked torso, in the bathroom mirror (I find myself looking beyond their pic to try and gauge the state of their bathroom); or holding a gun (I kid you not); but now with a picture of a mystery woman. Is it his wife? Girlfriend? Daughter? Who can tell? And what is the message here? Are they doing a Tony Abbott: “I’ve got 3 daughters therefore I am a feminist?”. There’s also a What If? section on this site, which means once you’ve exhausted every man they’ve matched you with, you can search further. Unfortunately, I’ve also exhausted the What If?
So what to do? It seems I should give up my first dating site and concentrate on the second. I’d love to give it all up, but seriously, it’s a bit like betting on the Melbourne Cup. You know you shouldn’t gamble but you can’t resist, it’s all so much fun. And perhaps one day I’ll snare the date that stops the nation. Stay tuned…
The Global Goddess thanks her friend, comrade and fellow blogger David May for supplying the pics to accompany this story. Unlike the blokes on her dating site, David can write beautifully. Check out his blog at http://jollyjunketeer.com
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand – http://www.tourismthailand.org
THE River Kwai is a jade jewel as late afternoon concedes languidly to dusk. The longtail boat in which I am travelling roars and sputters like an indignant politician up the infamous waterway towards the floating jungle rafts I have come to know and love so much. Travel writers don’t particularly like returning to the same place – there’s too much world to explore – but there are some destinations which become firmly etched in your psyche. And so entrenched in your soul you are unwittingly lured back. And for me, this is one of them, in part for its brutal war history involving the bravado of Australian soldiers and in part for its sheer natural beauty.
He doesn’t know I’m coming back to this place with no electricity and where internet connection is notoriously unreliable on the limited generator in his village. And anyway, I wish it to be a surprise visit to an old friend. Six months ago I found myself on my third trip to Thailand’s romantic River Kwai Jungle Rafts and I told him I’d be back for the next chapter of his story. But even I didn’t know it would be so soon.
I first met Sam Season several years ago, and over the years I have been speaking with him about the most salacious of all subjects: love. Regular readers of The Global Goddess will remember this 22-year-old tour guide, a Mon man from one of the earliest tribes to live in South East Asia. Considered neither Burmese, nor Thai, the Mon exist in a small slither of land along the River Kwai, not far from the Burmese border. The Mon number some 8.14 million people but I am remain captivated by this one man. This man called Sam.
At night, he paints his face in traditional Mon markings but speaks with an English accent plucked out of a south London pub, with a smattering of Aussie twang – picked up solely from the tourists with which he works every day. He moved to this particular village when he was 9, and has been studying to finish High School since, in between working 6 days a week at the River Kwai Jungle Rafts. And Sam is in love with a girl called Jaytarmon with beautiful long black hair who lives in a neighbouring village down the river. But access to this girl, like internet, electricity and hot water, are elusive in these parts. And to complicate things more, Sam is being pursued by a girl in his own village, who cooks for him and washes his clothes.
Last month I returned to the River Kwai Jungle Rafts on a last-minute work trip. Word travels fast in these parts and I’m sitting at dinner when a young man, his face painted in Mon tribal markings, walks up to me, his arms outstretched and in that unmistakable Aussie/British accent says: “It’s so good to see you, why didn’t you Facebook me to tell me you were coming?”. We laugh, hug and chat politely for a few moments and I tell him I am here to collect the next chapter of his love story. He blushes, coyly. “Well, it’s complicated but a few things have changed in that direction. I will explain to you tomorrow.” The one thing I have learned about my many visits to this beautiful region, and this young man Sam, is that you must take your time. Pause. Enjoy. Sway in a hammock and daydream. Listen to the river gurgle like a baby. And the story will eventually float down the rapids towards you.
The next night after dinner and by the light of a kerosene lamp, Sam pulls me aside to give me his next chapter. And he’s excited. He’s learned that a scholarship exists in Australia for which he may be eligible. He’s going to apply for it in one year, when he feels his English is adequate. He tells me he has only told his parents and me of his dream. “I really want to go for it,” he says, “I think it will change my life. I want to help my parents and we have a house but it is just bamboo. I want to build a house for my parents. I need to keep going with my dreams.”
I ask him about the state of his love life. He has finished his relationship with the girl in his village who cooks for him because “she is not nice to tourists. How can I introduce this girl to my family when she acts like this?”. So Last January Sam phoned Jaytarmon after an absence of a year. “I said Happy New Year, it is a New Year and I want to start new things with you. The past I just want to forget it. You can punish me however you like but please apologise me but don’t push me away,” he says in his broken, yet impressive English.
“She said it may be too late and that maybe she has a boyfriend. I said ‘I don’t want to have anyone else, please give me a second chance’. I told her ‘you are the one who can keep going with me for my whole life’. I told her ‘I have tried another girl, she doesn’t work out for me, but you are one of the best’.
“I asked her ‘when can I call you?’ She said maybe once a week. She just wants to test that I will keep going with this to test me. So I call her once a week, sometimes twice a week. We talk about our daily work and how many tourists.”
We wade into the murky waters of sex. “We are traditional Mon people. If we kiss we need to be married.” I ask him whether this mysterious girl with the long black hair is still beautiful. He doesn’t hesitate. “Oh, awesome. I want to listen to her voice.” He pulls out his iPhone until he finds a photo of her, laying dreamily on a bed with her hands in her chin. “I look at her photo every night before I go to bed.”
In the meantime, Sam will spend the next year perfecting his English, so he can gain the scholarship and work towards his dream of becoming a car mechanic along the Thai/Burmese border. If he is successful, he will be in Australia for between four and five years, which raises the question of Jaytarmon.
“I have to make her believe in myself and trust in myself. When I finish my education I will be ready. I have to show her ‘can you wait for me?’ One day, when I have an education we will have a good life and then we will marry.”
Our short but magical time comes to an end. The next morning Sam walks me to the long-tail boat to say goodbye. I go to shake his hand and he says “come on” as if to say handshakes are for strangers, and gives me a big hug. I wave farewell to my friend, this impressive young man, and smile all the way back down that beautiful jade river.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Thai Airways. Sam’s original story, and others, appears in Christine Retschlag’s first book (just released) Destination Desire – The Global Goddess, a single woman’s journey. This travel and dating book is available as an eBook via Amazon for $4.99 or as a limited-edition print run for $14.99 through The Goddess herself at Christine.email@example.com. http://www.theglobalgoddess.com
JUST as hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, it appears Facebook wreaks its wrath when a woman suggests a man should pay for the first date. Well, this is what I experienced last week, anyway. Yes, you could have been forgiven I had suggested we bomb all the boat people, such was the passion with which friends responded to a first-date which, in my opinion, had gone a little wrong.
Now, I am the queen of the first dates, and I have pretty much seen about everything. And yet still, the surprises keep on coming. Last week’s first date was with a lawyer, and for the record, Ladies and Gentleman of the Jury, I’d like to put forward my case of what occurred. Something that is rather difficult to convey in a Facebook post. So, with the permission of the kangaroo court, here’s my account of what happened.
The lawyer found me on my dating site and, after several email conversations which occurred while I was overseas dodging grenades in Bangkok, asked me out for a drink. Let me repeat: he did the asking. He suggested a place and I met him there after work. While it became rapidly apparent that we weren’t a good match (at least to me), never let it be said that I don’t give things a go. He then proceeded to out-drink me (I was driving) three drinks to my every one. But when he also suggested we dine, I agreed. We ate, we talked and then, just as the bill arrived, he excused himself to go to the bathroom. Where he was for a very long time.
When he eventually returned, there was a long, awkward pause, during which I offered to pay for half. To which he rapidly replied: “Oh, very good”. There was no mention, Your Honour, from either party, of his copious drinks. In the spirit of being a decent person (remember the days when we were all just basic decent people?), I offered to give him a lift home, as it had already become apparent that we lived in neighbouring suburbs. However, when I went to pay for the rather large parking bill, the machine kept spitting out my $50 note. The lawyer stood with his hands in his pockets, and watched as I then fumbled in my wallet for my credit card.
I drove him home, he gave me a sloppy kiss on the cheek and by the time I had arrived home, he had texted me, saying he would like to see me again. Unfortunately, I did not feel the same. But when I went on Facebook that evening to tell my latest dating tale, something interesting occurred. At first, the crowd was sympathetic, lambasting the lawyer for his tight-fisted approach. But then, the mood changed. One friend accused my behaviour of not being “Goddess-like” (What part of The Global Goddess ever pretends to have it together, I wondered?). Another friend took it further, saying the situation “smacked of desperation”….mine. Ouch. In their defence, and having spoken to them each privately, their comments were out of concern. But to say their words didn’t sting would be lying. The Facebook mood changed again and then the crowd turned on each other.
Such passion prompted me to conduct a survey, of Facebook friends and their friends, to examine this issue in more detail. And here’s what I discovered so far, from 102 respondents:
Almost 60 per cent of people believe a man should pay for the first date, 10 per cent believe he shouldn’t, and a further 30 per cent are divided. Of the 30 per cent who were divided on who should pay, most believed it should be the person who did the inviting or that both parties should split the bill.
The “Should a man pay for the first date” survey, of whom one third of respondents were male and two thirds were female, found the concept of chivalry is far from dead with a whopping 82 percent of respondents believing a man should hold the door open for a woman.
But, in a sign the times are changing, more than 70 per cent of respondents also believed a woman should pay for something else – such parking, cab fare or an after-dinner drink – if the man did pay for the first date – the survey found.
Comments on the survey were colourful and controversial.
“I think it depends on who initiated the date but I would definitely say that it is polite and chivalrous for the man to pay. Call me old fashioned…”
“Not when you are meeting for the first time with someone through a dating site. I think it should be a 50:50 split no matter who initiated contacted (provided one person doesn’t drink like a fish and the other doesn’t drink at all!”)
“The woman should offer, but surely not expected to (pay).”
However, old-fashioned manners are not dead with 50 per cent of respondents believing a phone call was the appropriate follow-up to the first date from a man; 28 per cent believing a text was appropriate; 11 per cent said flowers; and only 1 per cent supported an email as the acceptable post-date response. (Nothing and “other” made up the remaining 10 per cent).
Respondents also believed women should respond quickly to the follow-up and avoid “game playing”. Interestingly, more than 40 per cent believed the man should also pay for the second date, 10 per cent believed it should be the woman, and almost 50 per cent thought it should be both parties. (Nothing and “other” made up the remaining 10 per cent).
Overall, modern dating remained a vexed issue.
“A man should be a gentleman, be open, polite, clean, and interested. No excuses for rudeness or meanness. A first date should be fun and engaging even if you never see the person again you can still be polite and show respect.”
“Broadly speaking, I believe this speculation around ‘1st date etiquette’ is a bit sad. That we need to speculate at all presents an interesting ‘comment’ on the human/dating dilemma. However, given that ‘it is what it is’, I hope for an outcome which indicates respect and generosity of heart – assuming same, make the 15-30 group aware…
“Date as much as possible. Aussie girls don’t go in dates enough. Don’t settle too quickly on a person, think of the dating scene like a box all assorted chocolates?”
“Basic manners are not old- fashioned. There are circumstances such as each party’s financial status to be considered eg: a billionaire male lawyer wooing a lowly paid journalist or a squillionaire female surgeon wooing a uni student but it is generally accepted that whoever initiates the date should pay for it.”
Proving they may know a thing or two about dating, the majority of respondents were either married at 38 per cent; or in a domestic partnership or civil union (18 per cent). Single, but never married respondents (17 per cent); divorcees (14 per cent); separated (7 per cent); and single but cohabitating with a significant other (6 per cent).
The majority of survey respondents were aged 30-45 (38 per cent); followed closely by those aged 45-60 (36 per cent); 18-30 (21 per cent); and just 5 per cent aged 60 and over.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, in closing I simply say this. I am quite happy to pay for my share of the bill, but I would be lying if I said it wouldn’t be “nice” for the man to pay for the first date. I can only speak for myself, but I am looking for a kind and generous man. At the very least, don’t out-drink me, agree to a lift home and don’t even split the parking. It’s mean-spirited and there’s no room in the modern dating world for this.
I rest my case.
To participate in this survey, please go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WTFNPXT