Musings on Change

It does seem irritating that it has often been wet evenings when, for once a week, I have to take out the household garbage bin to place on the road kerbside. And yet, the lawn is showing signs of being parched, yellowing in spots and on the edges. At the same time, weeds and grass sprout up on garden beds where we had subconsciously earmarked the space for other flora. Winter is showing signs of having a cold spell before the season departs, as blooms appear on certain species and noon has such contrasting warmth when compared with the chilly middle of the night. There seems to be more laundry to do in this mid year season in the Antipodes but truly one can ask "Hey, what winter do you truly have in Wollongong?". Scallops and prawns are slow cooking into a warm and satisfying congee brew as I write. I am beginning to sense real questions of whether city, suburb or regional living environments are better - or which are worse. I reckon there is no blanket answer, like in things human, there is the positive and the negative, there is the preferred and the disdained, the light and the dark, the warm and the cool. I begin to compare how humans find their niche of physical community - and still I cannot help thinking of us like being limited by the fish in my aquarium tank. Human individuals, at different stage of their lives, need to be free to wander, relish in choice and yet later to embed into a cocooned existence. Philosophy, cyberspace and imagination have untied the boundaries of physical space to liberate those who wish so to savour and nurture in unlimited existence. Despite this, there is a certain comfort in the familiar, the nearby and the routine. The young may rebel but later find themselves repeating the joys and mistakes of their fathers and mothers. The music may be not the same, the food may have transformed but the reflections are the same. I still at times smile over the obsessed personifications of some characters in the university space and I do not mean the students - and how each of them, in the worst extremes and in different degrees, swirl around in their delusions, egotism and imagined world of comfort. And yet there are others from the same campus who remain human, become more civilised and virtually are shining examples of light, despite having to work with personalities we would not accept if they were members of our family. Is a campus a microcosm of the bigger world, the outside community and the larger human condition? In some respects, yes, but I do not concur that they mostly do. Universities as institutions carry a burden of both heritage and innovation. The inherent pitfalls of such a sector are to dwell in smugness, not be humane and not to embrace what the future portends. Outcomes from such businesses are not just merely financial or chasing some dubious rankings like in commercial sport, but more rewarding when you nurture and win minds and hearts. The model of providing higher education may have a long history, but also that of change. Twenty four years ago, protests and so-called people power mushroomed across the world, from Beijing to Rangoon to Eastern Europe. This year we see deja vu events, with some more ominous, in the Middle East, bursting with violent frustrations after many years of political control and undemocratic forms of governance. Communism took more than a serious and significant route to oblivion in 1989. It was also the Lunar Year of the Snake to East Asians. China was on the verge to break free to many aspects of capitalism, dealing with change management at its grassroots as never seen since the Cultural Revolution of the late sixties. The sheer force and beauty of change can be a two edged sword, cutting through convention, assumption and reluctance. Yet this very change at the same time allows seeds which you have sown to grow, opportunities you have waited for so long to become reality and for you to be free of your so-called comfort zone, with all its constraints and peculiar mindset. In 1989, East German youth tasted personal freedoms not known by their parents, party cadres in Shenzhen jumped on money making band wagons that were taboo not much earlier. If one accepts lower pay in exchange for employment stability and a lifestyle, these very things were questioned in 2013 when the Australian economy faced its demons again not since the early nineties. The pains which ordinary Aussies had to adjust to this year were minuscule when compared to the realities of daily life and livelihood faced by Greek, Spanish and Portuguese twenty somethings. In 1989, the average mortgage rate was the highest in Australian economic history and today it is the lowest in perhaps seventy years. Australians did already have a tradition of travelling overseas as a rite of passage or in retirement years, but growth in such numbers exploded in line with the rise in value of the Aussie dollar. Still, the nation continued to rely on its natural commodity resources and higher education exports without seizing the bull by its horns and transform its economy. Resting back on past patterns and choices may work for some occasions and strategies, but may not work in some pivotal corners and turns of history. The tiny island nation of Singapore, which critics describe as over planned, over anguished and under spaced, has turned out to do so well that it has now achieved what it has dreamed long about - to be the Switzerland of Asia in per capita income, savings levels and the quality of life. It is so ahead of its south-east Asian neighbours which have more potential in resources, population and development. Obsession can be a downfall, especially when leaders are fixed with a mindset that retards, discourages and wastes. Japan was in a long term economic limbo for over twenty years until the present government pressed for change. Australian suburbs have the fascinating reality of retaining things from the past and concurrently showing signs of the new and the untested. The ovals and play grounds for example can remain untouched, but now surrounded by new fangled high rise constructions. People do remain ensconced in the back portions of their houses lined against a seemingly quiet street but now the chatter in the backyard echo different ethnic cultures. The healthy state of expression by politicians is not unabated by the rising impact of political correctness in other spheres of personal and public life. The quality and integrity of food ingredients in Australia continues to be respected in countries facing contamination, pollution and degrading of essential components of life. Systems may work a hundred times faster, especially when trading shares, but the sheer sense of commercial greed is carried on regardless by another generation. Returning to the use of public transport by train, I cannot help but bask in the same processes and procedures when I first used the Epping line in north-west Sydney. Perhaps this hotch potch of possibly contrasting realities assists us to manage change effectively - I bask in familiar parts, have a passion for the new and keep asking "Why not?". The important thing about change is to seize the moment. Enjoy the wet, I tell myself, for it may soon be too dry. Soak in the winter, for soon it can be unbearably hot.

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