Current Top Played Songs on my iPod

1. Unfinished Sympathy Massive Attack

Quite sublime. I was bored by their concert, but this song is almost perfect.

2. Mamma Mia Abba

No idea how this one got in there, and am rather embarrassed by the fact that I have listened to it so often recently.

3. I'm An Indian Too Ethel Merman

A deeply politically incorrect song. I love Ethel Merman, and this is simply a beautiful song filled with yearning. This is the not half as good Betty Hutton version.

4. Mountain Greenery Ella Fitzgerald

A beautiful song. I adore Ella, and I don't care if it's a cliche. She has the perfect mid-20th Century voice - her and Doris Day. Here is some guy singing it.

5. You Can Have It All Eve Gallagher

Eve was brilliant, and perfectly embodies early 90s House music. And this is just the best video.

6. Stuttering Helen Terry

Helen was Boy George's backing singer, and is one of my heroes. Her little-known solo album from the 80s has recently been re-released, and I have it on high rotation. This is great mid-80s polished UK pop.

7. Trust Me I'm Talking

80s Australian dance pop at its most perfect.

Giac Vien Pagoda

Here is a younger and slimmer me being particularly pious in front of the amazing Kwan Yin shrine at Giac Vien Pagoda, one of my favourite places in Ho Chi Minh City.
I first visited the Pagoda back in 1994, when getting there was quite terrifying. At that stage the surrounding area was a notorious slum, and one of the most dangerous parts of the city. Tattooed toughs glared at me as I rode past, and when I arrived at the temple I was accosted by drunks and beggars and scruffy chidren leaing monkeys wth string around their necks. It was scary.
When I was studying Vietnamese in 1999 I would visit the temple regularly, and became good friends with the Abbott and one of the monks there. The monk in question was an eccentric character - he wore hot-pink pyjamas, for a start. He was abslutely lovely, though, and kept me constantly on the prayer list.
The temple's fortunes have ebbed and flowed over the years. At one stage it was connected by a bridge to the neighbouring Dam Sen amusement park, and included as one of the park's attractions. These seemed to do it the world of good, and things picked up for a while. The park seemed to contribute to the temple's upkeep, and if you wanted to shell out the $10 or so entry fee (for foreigners) it provided a much safer and more comfortable way to access the temple grounds.
But for whatever reason the gate between the two properties was bricked up and the bridge was destroyed, and these days Giac Vien continues to crumble and moulder away. It is one of Ho Chi Minh City's oldest temples, and its collection of statues is really quite extraordinary, spanning just about every period of popular Buddhist art for the last 300 years. I can - and do- spend hours in there when I am in Vietnam.
The surrounding neighbourhood seems to have picked up somewhat in recent years - the road is now more or less paved, and the neighbourhood residents seem quite friendly really, and well disposed to visitors. There are still one or two beggars, and a couple of the monks seem to be rogues who will ask you directly for money.
It's a fair trip from the centre of Saigon, and you should put aside an entire morning or afternoon to get out there and see it properly.

Giac Vien Pagoda (Chua Giac Vien)
Entry on Ð Lac Long Quan, District 11 - ask locals for directions from there, as it incolves turning down several alleys.

Teaser Tuesdays

TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

  • "Having said that, it has to be admitted that many FHM readers may be sexist, in one way or another, and their reading of FHM may not challenge their sexism, and might indeed support it. That's sadly true."

    p. 178 Media, Gender and Identity by David Gauntlett

    Old Boy George Stuff 6

    This is a rather mean-spirited and not very funny cartoon - I've got no idea where it appeared - perhaps the NME?
    I include it because the cartoonist has made the bizarre decision to make Boy George look really masculine and sexy. It also has beside it a wonderful quote from the beautiful Ben, lead singer of Curiosity Killed the Cat, talking about how he was Boy George's lips in the video of the Culture Club hit Love is Love.

    Life Matters

    I have had so many really wonderful responses from my interview on ABC Radio National's Life Matters. People keep asking me, "Was Richard Aedy as sweet as he sounds?" and I have to say that he was. Very engaged and very interested, I think he's a natural interviewer (and a very talented one), and he's gently thoughtful and sensitive in his questioning.
    For those of you who may have missed it, here is a direct link to the interview.
    Now, you may note that we talk about the durian in the interview. This apparently caused something of a flood of angry calls and emails in defense of that smelly fruit which I defamed on the national airwaves. They were forced to offer equal time in defense of the durian, and ran an interview with an Australian woman living in Brunei who has become a passionate devotee of the fruit.
    I'm glad to have been the cause of some genteel controversy.

    Walter at Theosophical Society, organised by Adyar Bookshop

    Walter giving a talk about the spirituality of Vietnam at the Theosophical Society, organised by Adyar Bookshop on Thursday, 25th March.

    Adyar is Australia's largest and longest established metaphysical and alternative bookstore (est. 1922).

    Old Boy George Stuff 5

    From memory this was from a special booklet that came with Smash Hits or Number One magazine, I'd say around 1987, from Boy George's look and the things they are saying.
    Does anyone remember Number One magazine? I loved it. It was sassier and funnier than Smash Hits, and it always had lots more features on obscure British Pop Groups. It disappeared at some point in the very early 90s.
    Man I wish I'd kept my old stash of Number One magazines - I could spend hours every day leafing through them now.

    Old Boy George Stuff 4

    I love this pic because it captures the perfect moment of tartan-mania in the early 80s - and it really was just a moment. And it also shows Boy George's enormous man-hands, which I understand he's always been self-conscious about.

    Boy George's enormous (but beautiful) hand circa 2011

    And have you seen Boy George's new song? Brilliant!!

    Old Boy George Stuff 3

    This was, I think, an ad for Stiletto Magazine in one of the street papers, hence its being in black & white. It could only have been 1989 - that beautiful, glamorous year which has never really been surpassed.
    Stiletto was once essential reading - again, it was the golden age of Australian magazines.
    And, once again, George is just looking fantastic - he was incredibly beautiful in these healthy, recovering-from-heroin-addiction years.
    He still is beautiful, of course, just in a different way.

    Teaser Tuesdays

    TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

  • My two teaser sentences for today:

    "Several months later, I decided I needed her to do an "exorcism" on the beach house Gary and I were living in. Gary could never sleep...he kept seeing spears flying."

    p. 12 Interludes With Gods by Sondra Ray

    Old Boy George Stuff 2

    Yes, this picture is meant to be a peculiar shade of green. I think it was originally one of those 3D Hologram pics that were so big in the early 90s. This comes from Blitz magazine.

    Old Boy George Stuff 1

    My house is a museum.
    Actually, it is several museums. Once I am gone the National Trust can found several institutions based on my collections.
    I have extensive collections of popular religious art, of Edwardian novels, of self-help books, of rosary beads and, most importantly, of Boy George paraphernalia. If ever a Pompeii-like event occurs in Cabramatta, future generations will be at turns amused and delighted by what they discover beneath the ash.
    This week I am resurrecting some of my old Boy George scrapbooks and scanning the stuff.
    My first effort is this review from one of my favourite Boy George periods - the More Protein/Acid House years. I have no idea what magazine the review comes from - some British music magazine, obviously. I simply tore the pages out. At the bottom of the page it says "RM" but I'm really none the wiser.
    I'm delighted that the review takes special note of Eve Gallagher, who is a current fave of mine. Interestingly, the reviewer compares her to an "erect penis," which is always a comforting comparison for a performer.
    Technical error note: the reviewer seems to be labouring under the misapprehension that Boy George was a Buddhist. Everyone knows that George is much more at home in the Hindu tradition.

    Candles at St. Patricks Church

    If you're ever near Wynard, a wonderful place to go and light a candle and say a special prayer is at St. Patrick's, Church Hill. This is one of Sydney's historic churches, and is beautifully decorated inside. The side chapel to the Virgin is a perfect place to spend a few minutes of reflection before you head home from work, or head down to nearby Circular Quay for a day out.
    Forgive my ignorance, but I can't quite work out who the pictured saint is - can anyone help me out?

    Samantha Sang - Emotion

    A friend reminded me of this absolutely wonderful song - and I was reminded too that diva Samantha Sang (was there ever a better name for a pop star?) was an all-Australian girl.
    We just don't breed 'em like that anymore!

    Sorlies Lunch, Glen St Theatre, 19th March

    Walter speaking at Sorlies Literary Lunch, today.

    SBS Radio Vietnamese Language Program

    Giving an interview to Vu Nhuan on SBS Radio Vietnamese language program on 9th March 2010.


    Was a time when just about everyone in Australia was baptised, irrespective of the level of religious belief of one's parents (I'd actually love to see the figures on this - I wonder if anyone has ever collected this peculiar set of statistics together?). I doubt that is the case anymore. My sister, for example, refuses to have my niece baptised because she has no religious beliefs and sees no need to impose any sort of religious structure on her child, until such time as she might ready to make her own decisions. I actually find this quite admirable, and it is very much in line with traditional Buddhist views which teach that imposing a religion upon a child is in fact its own kind of sin. This is also the major source of criticism from the neo-atheists, who see the indoctrination of children with exclusivist religious views as a not-so-subtle form of child abuse. And really, how many people among even the most fundamentalist and doctrinaire really believe anymore that a child who dies will burn in hell for eternity if they have not been christened?

    Of course, in my day the christening was a simple rite of passage, a chance for a family get-together, and I seriously doubt that anyone who attended the event even thought about it in religious terms. What it did serve as was a tribal marker, ensuring that another generation of Lutherans or Baptists wouldn't stray too far from the communal flock. And I well remember the peculiar shepherding of small children on religious instruction days; when even at five or six we could state clearly what sect we belonged to, thus ensuring we were herded into the right religious space. Even then my mind was somewhat preoccupied with difference and hierarchy, and I ached to know what the wicked Catholics and the stuck-up Anglicans did in their cavernous halls of instruction. We Methodists only came in third, though we were conscious that ours was a somewhat easier ride - no confirmations or first communions to worry about.

    But I do see something valuable - and spiritually significant - in having a baby blessed. It is a nice ritual, and brings the family together to celebrate the existence of this new life in quite a unique way. Naturally such blessings can be (and are, on many occasions) more non-committal, and not involve claiming the baby's scalp for your own particular set of prejudices. I'm just a firm believer in blessings, I guess, and think they have an impact even on those who don't believe in them.

    There is something of a vogue these days for a renewal of one's baptismal vows (as though a baby can take vows), especially at this time of year. This is also a quite delightful ceremony, steeped in significance and seriousness for the person doing it, and addressing an earnest desire to re-state to oneself and the world how very important one's spiritual life is. I hesitate, however, because I have seen that it's a ritual very much claimed by our more fundamentalist kin, and it is beginning to take on that kind of (to me) unpleasant odour of sanctimonious play-acting. I saw it done very beautifully at the Pitt St Uniting Church, however, where people were invited to come to the font in silence and wash their hands in it, thereby re-stating their commitment to God in a private and gentle way.

    Walter Mason trying his luck at the local temple

    Here's Walter shaking the sticks at a local temple.

    Teaser Tuesdays

    Just in the nick of time!

    TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

  • My two teaser sentences for today:

    "Now we can take advantage of the explosion of tremendous, free digital platforms on the Internet, which are also making the gatekeepers more and more irrelevant. And now it's no longer a special interest story if you make it big without family connections or money or an education, because everyone can do it."

    ~ p. 69 Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk

    The Sunday Service

    Observing the sabbath by attending church on Sunday morning is something which is a kind of racial memory for people in Christian countries, though in fact it is honoured more in the breach than in the observance these days. Indeed, in post-Christian nations such as Australia, most churches are startlingly empty on a Sunday morning, and the pews see fewer and fewer bums as the years progress.

    I think the reasons for this are many. A standard Sunday service is now a thing of mystery, not just to a generation of people, but to 2 or even 3 generations who have never set foot in a church, and have no idea of how or why certain things are done on Sunday. Sunday has also become just another day, and for many people the only day which they can devote to their partners and families. If they are interested in exploring a spiritual life on their own, they can't really sacrifice an entire morning every week and explain it away to their loved ones - I just don't think it's realistic any longer to expect that. If they were going to give up an hour or two on a Sunday, I think it would be much more likely to occur early in the morning or at night. 10.30 - 12 on a Sunday morning is prime leisure real-estate these days, and who in their right mind is going to sacrifice weekend plans for fun because they have to be somewhere else at the middle of the day? I think that churches should look at conducting short services at 8am on a Sunday morning so that the curious and less committed can be out doing other things by 9.30.

    The diminishing numbers at Sunday morning services is a source of genuine despair for most ministers and committed lay-people. They have constant meetings over the issue, and obsessively (and sadly) do head-counts each Sunday in the hope that things might have mysteriously shifted. They decry people's willingness to go to the gym or attend yoga classes or meditation groups. "Why can't they make the same commitment to church?" they demand.

    I like to point out that the activities they describe tend to take place directly after work, so that people can stop off and do them on the way home. Show me a church that offers a similarly convenient and work-friendly time table.

    The last line of defence is always, "Well, religious life requires committment and sacrifice, and Sunday attendance is one of those disciplines that the serious must learn to embrace." While I personally agree with that statement, I also see it as the death-cry of most churches. The truth is most people are only idly curious about religion, or want to taste it and see. Requiring a peculiar sacrifice of time and convenience right at the outset doesn't seem to me a particularly clever way of attracting them into a deeper contemplation of life and its meaning.

    I do respond to the idea of the sabbath, and the observance of such a day is important to me. But I reiterate that for many it is an unknown and bewildering concept. And lets face it, most churches are observing it only in the name of tradition, habit and the convenience (and inertia) of the clergy and lay people.

    As far as I can tell, the Sunday morning service has got to go. Or at the very least, cease to be the central focus of church life. The world has changed too much for it to be a viable idea any longer. Churches must begin to experiment with times and formats if they hope to survive beyond the next 15 years or so.

    Cabramatta Shopping with Walter Mason

    T&T Supermarket, Cabramatta

    New Books for March

    Ok, so here is my collection of new books that I have bought this month. From the top:

    The World Is My Cloister - the minute I saw the title of this one I knew I had to have it. It's an exploration of Franciscan monasticism, something I have been interested in for a very long time.

    The Sacred Meal - this beautiful looking book is part of the Ancient Practices Series, looking at the history and significance of the rite of Communion. The author, Nora Gallagher, is one of my favourites. I have read all of her books, and think she is one of the most fascinating writers on contemporary religion - right up there with Kathleen Norris and Anne Lamott.

    A People's History of Christianity - Diana Butler Bass is one of my newer discoveries, and her writing on the failings of modern Christianity really intrigue me. I gave her book, Christianity for the Rest of Us, to several people. Bass posits herself as an everyday centrist, neither fundamentalist nor liberal, and she writes intelligently and thought-provokingly.

    The Happiness Project - I had to get this one because I felt I was part of its creation. I have been part of the author's Facebook group since she began researching and writing this book.

    Do More Great Work - I can't remember why I bought this, but it looks great.

    Moose - for obvious reasons, I am interested in stories about fat people. Interestingly, I have discovered that many of the writers who write books about being fat AREN'T particularly fat. Which is weird. And kind of offensive.

    The Amazing Power of Deliberate Intent - the Hicks are a publishing phenomenon, and I bought this 'cos I am trying to catch up on all of their books. I find them really difficult to read, because they are just transcriptions of talks and seminars, and that NEVER makes a good book. I think maybe they should concentrate on creating properly edited and developed books and releasing them less often. But I guess they are making a mint.

    Road to Heaven - I have been aware of this book for years - an old work colleaugue of mine used to be a big fan of it. With my developing interest in Taoism, I suddenly remembered it and hunted down a copy.

    Interludes With Gods - I found this in a second-hand shop (Gould's) and it's absolutely fascinating. A compendium of short essays about great spiritual people Sondra Ray has known. I love that kind of stuff, and this book is perfect.

    Committed - I just felt like I had to read it, because I see her as the pioneer of the genre I write in (spiritual travel), so I want to follow her career.

    The Casinos of Macau

    Now everyone knows I don't gamble.
    In general, I despise casinos, and avoid them like the plague. I hate the way people look and act when they are inside them, and gambling leaves me desperately bored. It just epitomises all that I find most dreary in life. The only two things that can lure me into a casino are elaborate buffets and cheap-ish Long Island Iced Teas.
    But while in Macau a visit to the casino is an absolute necessity, if only because the casinos are such an essential part of Macau's culture and economy.
    My favourite is the ritzy and totally over-the-top Grand Lisboa right in the heart of town.

    This is the mother of Macau casinos, and the complex stretches over several buildings, some more tacky than others (though all are tacky).

    You are greeted at the door by extraordinarily tall Chinese boys (surely hand-picked for the job) dressed somewhat incongruously as Portuguese soldiers of some kind. The lobby features antique art-works bought by the casino's owner, the obscenely wealthy Stanley Ho. It flashes and sizzles in the night and its lights really do illuminate all of down-town Macau. The buffet is an elaborate spectacle all on its own, stretching for hundreds of metres and offering every food imaginable.
    A close second comes the Venetian, which is out of town (though a short bus-ride away) on the Cotai strip.

    This is the second-biggest building in the world (I have never gotten around to finding out what the biggest is), and represents a truly pointless effort to recreate the delights of Venice. There's no denying the place is massive, filled with kilometres of shopping arcades and restaurants that wend along the fake canals. The canals are filled with gondolas and rather hunky gondoliers from just about every country in the world. Ours was a Puerto Rican boy with enormous feet (he told us that!), so the mind does boggle, rather. There are also shows and light-operas constantly being performed for free in the complex, and I am certain that the place must have employed just about every available Filipino opera singer on earth.
    When we were there last time we went to the opening of Australia's own Crown Casino, though the crowds were so amazing that we soon gave up and slunk away home.

    This complex offers a Hard Rock Hotel, which sounds wonderfully tacky.

    Minnie Riperton

    Minnie Riperton was a musical genius, a jazz-funk, ultra-cool diva who scored a mega-hit in the 70s with her whimsical little song Lovin You, and died soon after, tragically young.
    I am a devotee of her 1975 album Adventures in Paradise, a wonderfully sexy album vaguely reminiscent of Roberta Flack, though considerably more funky. I am also intrigued by the lyrics of the songs, as they seem to be espousing some kind of feel-good New Thought philosophy which I can instantly recognise.
    Ms. Riperton had soul - I recommend you download some of her albums on iTunes right now!

    Rua da Felicidade, Macau

    The Rua da Felicidade is one of the most charming urban streets in the world, and offers a wonderful window into the scandalous history of old Macau.
    For centuries it was the pleasure-quarters of a notoriously decadent colony, filled with opium dens and brothels, lending a certain piquancy to its name, "The Street of Happiness."
    These days, of course, it is home to moderately-priced hotels (a rarity in Macau) and rather upmarket restaurants. The whole street has been beautifully renovated and preserved, and is a must-see for any visitor to Macau.

    That Old Time Religion

    Like most, I am a parade of contradictions.
    I abhor fundamentalism of any stripe, and my religious beliefs are defined by my refusal to bend or conform to anyone's dogma.
    And yet the traditional forms of religion fascinate me, and more often than not I find them beautiful and moving - while at the same time rejecting many of the claims made for them.
    One of the strongest ways this contradiction is shown up in my life is in my love for the old hymns, particularly those of the Methodist Church I grew up in. Now, I don't need to be told that to a progressive the words of these hymns are frequently repugnant. They are filled with religious chauvinism, Christian supremacy, and sexist and racist notions. But so are the Psalms, and I don't ever see Progressives seriously wanting to throw them out of worship.

    The fact is that the old hymns - which are almost universally despised by ministers and church music directors - still retain a great cultural power, which is evinced by the enormous crowds that rock up to churches whenever an old-fashioned hymn-fest is staged. I understand the desire of church professionals to change things, to introduce new music, but why not retain some of the old, especially when they are such crowd-pleasers?
    And if the words are terrible and theologically suspect, can't we use them for a deeper reflection on contemporary spirituality, as a compare-and-contrast with older notions of church and Christianity which are no longer useful or even desirable?
    I think it's hilarious that the two subjects that most deeply divide the Uniting Church in Australia these days are hymns and homosexuality. Probably inevitable, really.
    Anyway, if you will indulge a reactionary moment, I'd like to divulge my Top 5 Favourite Hymns, as heard at my grandma's knee:

    1. Shall We Gather at the River - Now what's wrong with this one? I can't find anything offensive in its lyrics, yet it's frequently cited as the pinnacle of embarrassing hymns of the past. I think it's all of those images of God as King, sitting on thrones etc. And yet NO-ONE can remain quiet once this one gets started.
    2. I Come to the Garden Alone - this one is genuinely beautiful. The Mahalia Jackson version is to-die-for.
    3. Whispering Hope - I want this one sung at my funeral. Somebody write that down.
    4. How Great Thou Art - Billy Graham's great show-stopper lets everyone be a star.
    5. What a Friend We Have in Jesus - I remember sitting down very seriously to learn the words to this one. I thought they were deep. I was 6. And this Odetta version makes me cry.

    Reading extract of my book at the official launch

    Reading a chapter from my book at yesterday's official launch of Destination Saigon.

    An alley in Macau

    I love Macau.
    It is one of the most fascinating and most romantic places in the world. It's almost a fantasy town - the kind of place I dreamed about living in as a child.
    And what I love most about it is its alleyways. I grew up in the bush, so roads were a rarity, let alone the narrowed, cobbled alleys that I read about and fantasised about. I would have given my life to live in an alley, and whenever I go to Macau I look up at the balconies of all the little flats that overlook the alleys and think to myself, "Why can't that be me?"
    In a couple of years I plan to go and stay in Macau for a few months and write a book about it. There is surprisingly little about Macau in English (would gratefully accept any recommendations), and I can see myself deep in the old part of the city, my balcony overlooking some travessa or other, munching on a custard tart.
    Macau has always held a fascination for artists, writers and misfits. For centuries it has been the home of political exiles, prates, gangsters and other people escaping the world. There is a fabulous old Hollywood film called Macao that captures perfectly this mythically dangerous side of the island.
    And while its all very cleaned-up these days, and the casinos have more or less taken over the town, there is still plenty of history and atmosphere to keep old romantics like me satisfied. I am going to treasure ducking down a darkened alley, past a brothel and a mah-jong parlour, on my way home to my manuscript mouldering away on a rickety desk in the hot night air.
    And no-one will be able to find me in my alley in Macau.

    ABC Radio National and Radio Australia Interviews

    Publicity for Destination Saigon is really picking up, tomorrow (Tue 2nd) if you're in Australia and near a radio please tune to Life Matters with Richard Aedy on ABC Radio National around 9.30am.

    Also tomorrow, if you're near a computer, you can stream my interview on the Breakfast Club on ABC Radio Australia at around 11.50am Sydney time.  If you're outside Australia, you can hear this program on almost 300 AM and FM partner stations around the world.

    Destination Saigon has gone international!

    Cable Guys, Ho Chi Minh City

    The extraordinary cables of Ho Chi Minh City are legendary, and I am always amazed at how the workers from various utility providers can work out which cable leads where. I mean, I have trouble distinguishing the chord from the kettle with the chord for the microwave oven.
    These guys must just approach it all with a zen-like calm and patience. Up there on those poles in the baking heat.
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