Bangkok Hilton

I was lucky enough to grow up in the age of the mini-series.
It's easy to forget what mega-events the newly invented mini-series were in the 1980s. The advertising for them would begin months in advance, and people could talk of nothing else. We all longed for the next mini-series spectacular, invariably "over three big nights."
I think it was The Thorn Birds that started it all, establishing the benchmark for the sweeping saga, the high camp and the resurrected movie stars that would come to characterise the mini-series as an artform.
Oddly enough, Australia was one of the countries that embraced the mini-series and made it her own. Naturally, the very acme of 80s Australian mini-series kitsch is Return to Eden, one of my favourite filmic events of all time. But I also really loved Bangkok Hilton, and it was the start of my lifelong devotion to Nicole Kidman.
I was at the Powerhouse Museum's 80s exhibition the other day, and they happened to feature Bangkok Hilton, along with some other wonderful 80s masterpieces like Starstruck, Sweet & Sour and Dogs in Space. I was overjoyed to discover that the museum gift shop was selling copies of the DVD of Bangkok Hilton, and I couldn't wait to get home and start watching it. I can honestly say that I hadn't seen it since I was 18 or 19.
And it was wonderful! Very overdone, very cinematic, and now the plot seems hopelessly implausible, but it was so extravagantly well done that it is impossible not to get caught up in the story. Denholm Elliott does a fine job as the alcoholic neer-do-well father, and Nicole is simply superb as a pre-Hollywood frump, still with wiry hair (what did they do to that?). And of course, in these days one can't help but draw parallels with the Schapelle Corby case, and wouldn't comparing the two make a fine academic paper?
It's funny because back when I saw it I knew nothing about Thai culture, but now I know enough to be sure that the whole thing must be deeply offensive to Thai people, and this DVD is probably illegal in Thailand, along with other such dangerous and treasonous fare as The King and I.
I doubt something so costly and so ambitious could be made for Australian television now. So find a copy of the DVD and give it a go. As you watch it, reflect on the final, glorious days of the Australian mini-series.

The Ordination of Theravadin Nuns

Oh dear, I'm about to stick my neck out and be controversial.
You see, I'm sick of all this nonsense surrounding the full ordination of women into Theravadin Buddhist orders.
This is the 21st Century for heaven's sake. Buddhist nuns exist in large numbers all over the world. Yes, even in Thailand, where thousands of women live as nuns in everything but name. They wear robes - albeit white ones - they shave their heads, they follow the rules, they are treated by the lay community as religious women. All they lack is official ordination.
So let's just accept reality, and acknowledge that, just maybe, the obscure passages in the Pali Canon that the conservative Thai monastic hierarchy clings to may not be holy writ.
Women and men are equal in Buddhism, and have equal access to enlightenment.
The Buddha himself ordained women.
Monastic orders have existed for women within Mahayana Buddhism for more than a thousand years.
The reactionary chauvinists in Thailand who seek to block women from ordination and seek to punish those monks who ordain them represent all that is ugly and wrong in Buddhist tradition.
There, I've said it.

What I Do

Jon Ronson is one of my favourite authors, and I was delighted when I discovered that a film has been made of one of his most fascinating books, Men Who Stare at Goats.
I've just finished the latest collection of pieces he's written for The Guardian, and was absolutely absorbed from the very first essay. I read the whole book in just a couple of hours.
His latest conceit is to record the most embarrassing and humiliating things to happen to him each day, and this makes up the content of his newspaper column. Now, in lesser hands this could become annoying very quickly, and there is a kind of inverted Erma Bombeck-ish quality about his observations on family and social encounters. But there is something so sympathetic about the character of Jon Ronson, something so instantly recognisable, that it is hard not to get involved. His desire to be recognised and acclaimed, his pathetic anxieties, his inability to perform social obligations in a successful manner - all are shared by many in the modern world, particularly by men who are slowly waking up to the fact that they are no longer as young or as hip as they once imagined themselves to be.
There is a running gag about wanting a neighbour to acknowledge Ronson's own minor celebrity which will be painfully familiar to any writer, and his rather devastating piece about being inordinately proud of the technology he possesses made me cringe, more from recognition than anything else.
It's also worth pointing out that Ronson is a smart guy, with an interesting take on most things, and What I Do is filled with bits of information I simply didn't know. I was intrigued by the whole Richard Bandler thing (especially as someone who spent years of his life selling his books), and he t alks about a voluntary code of ethics for bloggers drawn up by Jimmy Wales that I plan on pinning to my wall.
I guess that Ronson is so sympathetic simply because he struggles to be a good person in a modern, urban society where all of us are tempted to be difficult, priggish and vain - indeed, we are often rewarded for such behaviours. In a heart-breaking section he explores the ethics behind contemporary bank lending and credit practices (timely, what?), and interestingly he invents a whole cast of characters based on him to see who will attract the most junk mail. But what he is really doing is fracturing himself into a series of unattractive, two-dimensional parts that each expresses his own fears about the kind of person he might actually be.
In this book, Ronson captures some of the schizophrenic nature of contemporary existence. And he manages to be very entertaining in the process.

iTunes - I hate you

I have just got a wonderful new computer, my old one having slowed down to the speed of lead. I am now cruising along the information superhighway (remember that?) at incredible speeds. Except for one, rather huge, problems.
F*****g iTunes.
I spent, weeks, months - no, years - uploading my vast CD collection onto iTunes. How I adore my iPod, with it's precious collection of podcasts as well as my eccentric music library to accompany me on my daily travels.
But a new computer means that it is almost impossible to get my old playlist transferred. We spent an entire day doing the transfer, only to discover that my new version of iTunes refuses to synch with my trusty iPod. The heartache! The torment.
It looks as though I will have to buy a new iPod just to make the whole thing work again, and until then I have to fire up my old computer every day in order to update and re-synch my iPod. Which I may not do - other people I have spoken to who have had the same traumatic experience simply changed systems and banished iTunes forever from their lives.
Damn you Apple - I have officially joined the vast legions of Apple haters. Have they done a search on this subject on Google lately. I really hope those guys don't believe in Voodoo, because they are attracting some serious negative vibes.
I mean honestly, updating one's computer is not an unusual event. Can you please make it easier?

The Temples of Sydney: Evergreen Taoist Temple, Redfern

I've always wanted to visit Sydney's only purely Taoist temple, but because it's kind of out of the way (for me) in Bourke St, Redfern, I never really seemed to get around to it.

I finally got to visit it, and of course I was intrigued.
The temple is a wonderful place, brash and colourful in the way of all Chinese popular Taoist temples.
While we were there there was a memorial service going on in the hall of the ancestors, so we had the main hall entirely to ourselves.
I'm not very familiar with popular Taoist iconography, so I can't really explain much about the shrines you see in these pics. But the temple had some very helpful signs below the shrines explaining who the deities were, so soon I am going to do some homework and look them all up. Taoist statuary is fascinating, and I can't believe I've gone this long without learning more about it.
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