The flawing kangaroo 


Qantas. They’re synonymous with an unblemished safety record, premium service, and are ‘the spirit of Australia’. I’ve had the pleasure of flying with them twice (one was a code share flight with Emirates). They offered hassle free travel with excellent in-flight entertainment. They likewise provided 30 kgs of check in baggage, a lot more than the market average.

In trouble

Over the past few years, their image has been covered extensively in the news. We Aussies remember how they were losing money fast, causing widespread job cuts. Or how a few years ago they were given a junk credit status. Through the years, numerous emergency landings have set them back. Who could forget the pie incident? You know, the one where a man hit Qantas CEO Alan Joyce face first with a pie?

The fightback

Economically speaking, Qantas has recovered. They have posted huge profits thanks to the downsizing and budget cuts. As a result, they’ve rewarded their stakeholders. They have likewise overhauled their frequent flyer (FF) program. They’ve been offering fewer points for every dollar spent on flights, and a trickier tier system. Requiring more status credits to reach the next membership level has made it harder for frequent flyers. Instead, they’ve partnered with various banks and credit societies, offering massive joining bonuses on credit cards. Qantas has become synonymous with exclusivity or elitism, perhaps more than ever.

A charade?

A quick look though at Qantas servicing has questioned whether this elitism is indeed warranted, or is merely a charade. It’s like something purporting to be ‘Made in Australia’, but ‘from imported ingredients’. What’s the use of charging your clients premium dollar when at the end of the day, you’re outsourcing plane maintenance to SE Asia. At the moment, Qantas has sustained its immaculate safety record, but for how long? It seems like every few months, there’s word of another emergency landing. I don’t have to document the when and where, but anyone following the news would know. The latest incident happened just this week, where a direct flight from Melbourne to LA had to stop in Sydney due to excess fuel. Ground workers removed gallons of petrol to stabilise a wobbly plane. I understand the safety factor, but adding 4 more hours to a 14 hour flight is preposterous.

Where to, Qantas?

At this point, we could envy Air New Zealand. They’re just as competent as Qantas, and just as safe. They are most of the things that Qantas could improve on. Where Qantas is wanting, they deliver. For Air NZ, being over 50% government owned also helps. You see, paying premium price is OK, but make sure it is worth the difference. Me? I still collect Qantas points, but not from flights. I earn mainly from my Qantas card on everyday purchases. I do not shop the Online Mall, rarely if ever order from Deliveroo, and do not opt in on to receive Qantas points from Woolworths Rewards. I am wary of mobile phone contracts, so there goes the bonus points. I would say that you won’t get much value if you do not fly regularly with Qantas, spend money overseas, or have a FF linked credit card. At the end of the day, an old hand is no doubt worthwhile, unless of course, you’re ‘still a pre-op transhander.’

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Beware of cat

‘There either is or is not’, that’s the way it is. There are no grey areas: you are either a cat or dog person, or you can be neither. Sadly I never had a cat, except for a brief time when I was a kid. I was hanging around the patio when I chanced upon a stray white cat. I immediately began thinking, as the cat appeared to have no owner. Soon I was ignoring our three dogs and spending more time with the feline. I even fashioned a house for it, basically a cardboard box with some ornaments lol. 


String ties

To put my stamp on my newest pet, I cut a piece of string and attached this to it. This proved handy that night, as the cat had practically escaped via the patio. I pulled and pulled on the string, which fit tightly round her neck, until the black sheep returned. I was just glad to have her back; the manner of her recapture was trivial. Meanwhile, our dogs would have none of this feline phase. As I was making the cat at home in the cardboard the dogs started attacking the slim animal. She was no match, so I decided to remove said box and let the cat in the house. At this point I was feeding her some meat and veggie soup, but at least she wasn’t a fussy eater.


Endless future

I was beginning to think about our future when I woke up one day to see the string on the ground, the cat gone. At that point, I felt betrayed, but not all cat owners would feel the same way. My former classmate, Danielle, had a cat and she absolutely adored it, proudly showing me a pic of her friend eating Purina. She wouldn’t say no to a dog either, maybe a chihuahua or a labradoodle, but I can’t imagine how she’d be able to reconcile those two species.


A dog person

Now I just feel nostalgic. That’s the thing about pets: some are loyal and unstinting companions; others, not so much. I grew up having dogs as my guards; I’ll always have a soft spot for canines. 

And cats? I’ve had a brief link with those creatures, but by all means I won’t domesticate them. They’re a lot of trouble, and are high maintenance. Given our history, I’m just not that convinced that they’ll desert me once more. So think before you scat. While cats may be fun, dogs will always be ‘man’s best friend.’

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Afterpay reviewed

It has been touted as ‘the new layby’. With the tagline, ‘wear now, pay later’, Afterpay has taken the retail world by storm. The Melbourne based, stock exchange listed payment option is now seemingly everywhere. While there are others of its kind out there, Afterpay is different since it does not offer a line of credit, is interest free, and has instant approval. Today we take a closer look at the conceit that has changed online shopping forever.

Layby

Before the advent of Afterpay, layby had been the preferred option for instalment shopping. Similar to the latter, you pay off the item/s in four instalments, with the first quarter being deducted right away. It was an easy way to manage your spending, as four equal payments was more tolerable than one giant transaction. The biggest drawback of layby was you’d only get your item/s upon paying off the entire thing. Factor in transaction fees, and the potential of missing a payment, and the dangers are apparent. 

Now of course, with retailers offering interest free finance, layby would appear outdated. The problem though with these offers is that once the interest free periods are over, you will be slugged in galleons. You’ll sure have a rude awakening. 

Afterpay drawcards

Enter Afterpay. It’s been around since at least three years ago, but now it’s the new face of buying online. I’ve heard of Afterpay since last year, but it hadn’t caught on yet. I was wary of trying a new product; I didn’t want to be the guinea pig. In a space of a year, it’s transformed from a little known novelty to payment juggernaut. Afterpay’s biggest draw card is that you could enjoy the items right away upon payment. In other words, you don’t have to wait till payment no.4 to grab ahold of your shopping. The payment cycle could take anywhere between six to eight weeks. At first, some clients pay the initial instalment right away; with others, it’s after the first fortnight. 

Out of curiosity, I decided to sign up to Afterpay this week. There was an item from Myer that I was keen on, and it was eligible for Afterpay. At Myer, the minimum price tag for an item to be eligible is $100. This varies by store. Some retailers, like JustJeans and Jag, do not have a minimum amount. I’m glad to know that Kathmandu has also joined the Afterpay party. Meanwhile, some items at Myer, such as Apple products, are excluded. The signup process was cruisy. They asked for your date of birth to ensure you are over 18. They likewise asked for your mobile number, for added security. Once you give your full name and address, and have verified your account thru password and mobile code, you’re good to go. The credit card details come later, something you must add before making transactions. 

Drawbacks

I heard you get reminders prior to the other payments being debited. You could even pay early. There are some late fees though. If you forget your payment, you will be charged a $10 late fee. There is a subsequent $7 fee if you still do not pay within the next 7 days. And if you don’t pay at all? You will be referred to a third party debt collector and things might get ugly. I’ve heard before that Afterpay has poor customer service, and requests or refunds take a while. In my case, you couldn’t get a refund in store, only an exchange. The hassle and cost of sending it back thru the post would negate any further savings. 

My verdict? I think it’s as good as advertised. I see a lengthy future of Afterpay dominating the retail scene. 

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Some winter chronicles

Vivid light show at the Sydney Opera House

It’s the middle of the year and for us that means winter has arrived. You know: shorter days, colder temps, and of course torrential rain. The past week has been a classic winter one, with the drenching, 14-degree weather, and chilly air. Night time is much longer than daylight hours, and you’d be sensible to pack a parka (or two). In summer, you’ll see more shorts, tees, even singlets. While we would’ve wanted the warm weather to go on forever, it has hung around for too long. We had a run of warmer weather as late as May, with whole weeks of sunshine and no rain. But that was last month, and it’s time to turn the page. 

Vivid Sydney

Vivid Sydney is among the most popular activities during the cold season. For three weeks, crowds flock to the city to witness the dazzling light and music display around points of interest. From the Opera House to the Harbour Bridge, from Taronga Zoo to The Rocks, Sydney comes alive after dark. All this started a few years ago, and at night, the CBD (city centre) has been a beehive of activity, ever since. The reception has been infectious, with Darling Harbour and even Chatswood joining the party.

Hot food

Another staple of winter is the consumption of hot food. While this is not peculiar only to winter, this becomes even more so during the coldest months. Take coffee for instance. Many Aussies love the smell of coffee in the morning. Whether it’s a cuppa before work, a mid-morning energy boost, or a breakfast beverage, Aussies know their coffee. In the colder months, the queues in cafes are longer, and the whole workplace is brimming with the aroma of coffee. The same goes for pho, that wondrous Vietnamese soup. The taste of warm noodles not only soothes the throat, but also clears the head. 

Mid year sales

Early winter is also the perfect time the polish up your winter wardrobe. From the start of June, many clothing retailers will have their annual mid year bargains. So, ‘Let us count the ways’. Myer and David Jones both have their stocktake sales. This could range anywhere from 25-40 percent off original prices. At the moment, David Jones has a further 20 percent off clearance, which are mostly summer stock. At Myer, I was able to grab a pure merino thermal top and long john for almost half the retail price. 

I was able to score something small from Kathmandu during their short pop up sale, where everything was 40 percent off. Even Aldi, famous for their rock bottom prices, has had their annual snow sale. From prior research, I’ve heard that everything is plundered on the first day alone. I wanted to avoid the crowds, their shoving and elbowing, so I went on the second day. I managed to get a pair of grey snow gloves and a compression long sleeve top. Looks like the cold doesn’t stand a chance lol

Silver lining

There are less people wandering around during winter, which is odd since it coincides with the school holidays. I guess the oldies don’t want to get caught up in gloomy conditions. At night, the suburbs are virtual ghost towns; everyone is either on their computers, reading or watching telly. This makes winter appear like an cruel drone. In spite of the winds, the somber weather, and the isolation, the good thing is that it’ll be over soon. You’ll be enjoying those sunny days again in no time.

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My reading list

Over the past five months (or since this year), I’ve managed to read a few books in my spare time. This is significant since I’ve neglected reading novels for the last few years. Last year was an exception, as I finished four books, namely Rogue Lawyer (Grisham), The Games (Patterson), The Blade Artist (Irvine Welsh), and Barracuda (Christos Tsiolkas). I did most of that reading in the latter half of the year. This time I am more consistent, having done six books up until now. The following is a rundown of my finished texts:

The Whistler. Fairly easy to read, fast paced, but has some American slang/colloquialisms. I have to admit to consulting an online dictionary quite regularly because of the differences. Has some quality characters, and of course, a female protagonist. In a way not your typical Grisham novel, while cleaving closely to his niche of legal fiction.

The first phone call from heaven (Mitch Albom). It’s a quasi religious slash detective thriller. Imagine receiving phone calls from diseased relatives some day. It could be your sister, your spouse, or your mother at the other end of the line. Could it be real? ‘Impossible but true!’ To hear that soothing voice from the afterlife makes you so sure that heaven is the real deal.

The four legendary Kingdoms (Matthew Reilly). Let me get one thing straight: I am a fan of Reilly, not only because of his writing, but how he got there. By now, most Aussies are familiar with his being rejected by many publishers before finding the faith to roll the dice in self publishing. The rest, as they say, is history. I read his debut novel, Contest, a lifetime ago, and since then I have appreciated an artist at work. This book is another testament to that artistry, showcasing his wild imagination and adept storytelling.

The time keeper (Albom). Takes us back to Father Time and how he sets to right past wrongs. Two individuals, one with too much time, the other with too little time, would themselves be the link that may free Father Time from his nightmare (or not). Another tear jerker that lets us question the true meaning of family, love, and faith. With just around 200 pages to contend with, it’s an easy read that packs a fair bit. 

Grey Mountain (Grisham). The first Grisham novel to feature a female lead since The Pelican Brief in the 90s. This is more than a tacky romance. It’s about coal country, meth country, right in rural West Virginia. Think black lung, big mining companies and hapless mine workers. Can an insignificant legal aid clinic stop the torrent of injustice and blatant abuse?

A Long way home (Saroo Brierley). The last book I read, it’s a gripping biography that takes us from the slums of India to suburban Tasmania. The premise per se looks impressive: a five y.o. lost in Calcutta, thousands of miles from his family. Through incredible twists of fate, he survives the streets of the big city, and an Aussie couple adopts him. The background behind the award winning film Lion, it’s a funny, heartwarming tale that features little dialogue and thus more description. At times It’s a difficult read given the lack of dialogue, but I persevered and saw things through the end. While not as long as say Grisham or Reilly, I took longer to see the finish line. In the future, I’ll stick to engrossing fiction that is dialogue heavy, but a few non fiction books every now and then, make Topher avoid being a dull boy.

So there you have it, six books by four authors; five novels and one work of non fiction. My advice to readers: find a book that interests you and start with the first twenty pages or so. If it looks promising enough, soldier on and enjoy the material. I’m sure that you wouldn’t want it to end by the time you’re nearing the finish line.

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One game

Last week I posted about a former high school friend. Keeping in line with this theme, today I recall the game of my life. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I picked up a basketball. In high school I was much more consistent. At least every week during Phys Ed classes we would play full court five on five. I was a streaky shooter, sometimes I had the hot hand, other times I couldn’t buy a bucket. Whether feasting or famine, you could say I was in shape.

I didn’t shook off the cobwebs when the trials for the intramural basketball team was announced. The only prob was I didn’t have the right clothes. I only knew about the tryouts on the day so I had to race back home before missing the first game in progress. Before my match commenced Lex told some eager freshmen to wait til next year. On the first two possessions Melvin, from the other team, sunk two uncontested layups. On his third attempt, I hacked him pretty well. You can’t just feast in the lane Mano. No more cherry picking, brod.

Win or go fishing

It wasn’t my finest output, but I did left an imprint. Jay passed me the ball, demanding it back. I promptly squared up and released, the ball hitting the front of the iron…before falling through. Applause. Mucho gracias for the lucky bounce. Then on another play, I brought the ball up court only to be swiped by my man. I then guarded him like a glove and he gave up the leather. There were the nerves of course. I was wide open when I went ringless on an air ball. On another play I jogged up court only to find my teammates still playing defence. Then I was posting up when my defender pulled the chair on me; I played it cool and avoided a turnover.

What saved me was one play. My man gifted me the ball and I dribbled halfway up court. I surprised everyone when I stepped back from the key and unleashed a stop-and-pop jumper. The banker was strong and rimmed out. You should’ve gone for the layup, Ivan the batch mate admitted later. I grabbed the board on another possession and made the outlet pass which found my target perfectly. Score! It was a solid game in front of an audience. Two points on 1-3 shooting, 2 steals, one rebound, and one turnover. There were other instances where I scored more points, or hit more threes, but this was different. I had become a much better defender while facing off against weaker opposition. As we were running up the hardwood, it started to drizzle. The game was called off. 


Champ and forfeit

You might be wondering if I made the cut (I did). The only snag was that I also wanted to play scrabble. I’ve played the board game for three years, winning the trophy once. I would win again that year, forfeiting my place on the team. Sometimes I still dream about that intrams. You know, shoulda, coulda, woulda. I find it odd that it still manages to find its way into my subconscious. It’s either that or running out of time for a PE exam. I’ve had weirder dreams though. At times, I dreamt of dunking (just not windmills). Apparently I wasn’t alone; my former competitor (shorter than me) said he dreamt of dunking, too. He has an interesting background Chinese-Viet but lives in the US. 

It’s remarkable that I can dunk in my dreams but sometimes have difficulty hoisting up three pointers in them. Regardless, this is not a dream manual. I was glad to learn that my former crush was watching that game lol, cheering and all. Sometimes, everything can go right. Even though I missed the intrams basketball tourney, one game, and a few moments, are more than enough.

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Letter to a former friend

Dear ‘Noremak’,

I haven’t been in touch & haven’t seen you in ages. The last time I talked to you in person was when we were in high school. One day you just vanished, but you tried hard to maintain our friendship. When we were boys I didn’t see you as being needy. You were spunky and independent, and didn’t give a rats about what others thought. You defied authority and convention, but it cost you. Our high school wasn’t ready for you, so I promptly lost a friend.

I remember the times you’d bother me later on. I was always busy, but you kept persisting. Didn’t matter if I was encoding papers, or playing online basketball; you were vigorous. At times I wasn’t being subtle: I didn’t want to chitchat. Whether in sydney or back home, I just wanted you to take a hint. That didn’t stop the spam messages (pa spam nga ulit). I just wanted to shake your hand again, you taunted. I guess the distance barrier further undermined our chance to reconnect.

You were more than just a casual student; you were a gifted artist, a dependable friend, a computer whiz, anime enthusiast…you were ahead of your time. Shame they couldn’t get past your stubbornness. 

What I remember most out of all our interactions was when we played counter strike once. I was really good at getting shot, but I thought this must be my day. I knew the place, had a friend, so why not? We played some half life, before you asked me as to why I liked to get shot. I let it pass, doing some reverse psychology, staying silent. Then on the next play I saw you just standing around, so I shot and killed your man. Why did you get shot, I asked. You returned the silence. This just shows how much of a pal you were. You took, but you received more. 

I remember another instance in primary school. We were throwing rocks at the fence when you told me that you always hit something. I hit that concrete post, see? Show that again. That’s when your rock hit a walking IR. He came over and challenged you; we both had to hold our laughter.


When I think of who I’ve met since, few of them were as genuine as you. While you could be talkative and could blab a little, in the end, that’s who you were: a real person. You said what you wanted, but listened when the time came. Remember the hat? I gifted you this on freestyle, the online game. You were taunting me because of the scoreboard. Remember the lag? Oh I guess I didn’t tell you; your computer was lagging so much.

In the past few years, I’ve written a short story about that online game (fingers crossed). I’m glad to see that you’re making strides in your career, having finished in an A1 college. While there is no interaction between us at this point, I am thankful for our times as classmates and friends, brief though they were.

Best,

Topher

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