Hi lovely girl, your life is nothing like Taylor Swift’s “Fifteen” and soon you won’t be fifteen. If one fine day you stumble across posts like this and Thinking Thirteen, I hope you like them. Unavoidable that coronavirus, though not a featured character, still appears in the backdrop of these stories.

Looking up to big girls

“Little girls like hanging out with big girls. They look up to them.” Last week in the car I was explaining to C why the young girl was so excited to be at the beach with her.

“Oh really?”

“Yeah, maybe you don’t notice too much of that because you always have a big sister around. Although when you were young you did try to make your hair long and straight like mine!”

“My hair is straight now that I don’t do swimming.” Then a minute later, “I admire your organisation.”

“Which organisation??” What organisation?

“Your organisation and focus when you work. And that you can plan things.” Sweet but surprising – she typically rolls her eyes when I try to get her to prioritise her assignments, or think through and plan tasks for the coming week.

“When did you see me at work?”

“When we were sharing a room!”

Ah, so it was a side-effect of school being closed for two weeks or so. It’s hard for children to imagine parents (or older siblings) at their jobs. But for a little while we shared the home office. I sat at one table and she sat at the other. Occasionally, she was dodging the webcam and my multiple wardrobe mirrors during teleconferences.

Universal truth?

The preacher on Sunday was talking about conflict and forgiveness. He was talking about when “an issue becomes the issue”.

“Ooo, universal truth,” C comments.

The story goes that a few days prior, C was agonising over how to write a conclusion for her English assignment. The texts she was comparing had common themes of survival.

“Some people conclude with a universal truth. Like… people are survivors and will overcome. Or, we grow through struggles. A bit optimistic though,” I remark, “so think of your own.”

Optimistic like the narrative played over and over again that everything’s going to be okay. All the lovely COVID-19 story books for children about how things will go back to the way they once were, or that we will surely overcome… It’s nice to help children to understand what’s happening. But let’s not simplify the issue. How can everything be okay for families of the dead?

“How about this – in a dangerous situation you might survive? ” She offers. A bit grim. So we turn to S.

“Dangerous situations are dangerous.” Dang. Teacher won’t like it. Dad’s turn.

“Yeah dangerous means you have more chance to die,” says dad. “Lucky if you survive.” How’s that for a universal truth?

Reading the Bible without reading

I would like to say that COVID-19 has brought us time to bond and reflect. But it hasn’t.

The homebound experience has been difficult and church is a particularly trying experience. I think my dad has been avoiding all things church-related for years but suddenly, we are there doing church in his living room. So he hides in his room and when he can take it no more, comes out and makes a racket in the kitchen, starts shifting furniture or equipment from here to there, banging doors as he moves in and out of the house…

Then there’s my teen sister with a particularly short attention span for reading, and listening to sermons. We’ve found some of these resources helpful over the years. They would probably be useful for youth ministry too.

1. Reading the Bible

Without reading!

  • Manga Messiah (books) – picture Bibles doesn’t necessarily need to be simplistic. We liked this series that takes readers through Old and New Testament books, not only the popular stories but also challenging books. Dialogue is creative but faithful to the Word.
  • Bible Apps (audio) – there’s many out there eg. YouVersion. Helpful if seeing words on a page makes you dizzy. Good for “reading” while driving or walking.
  • Lumo Project (videos) – word for word reading of the 4 gospels with modern videography. In many languages!

2. Overview of the Bible

Adults have books like God’s Big Picture and The Goldsworthy Trilogy. How about visual big picture overviews?

  • Bible Project (videos) – we love the drawings and animations. The big-picture overview of individual books of the Bible is helpful, as is the videos on specific Biblical themes or words.
  • Bible From Scratch (book) – similar concept to above but shorter, and more of a “lightning sketch” through the whole Bible. Good for putting the whole story together.

3. Miscellaneous topics

  • Easter in Australia from ABC Religion & Ethics (video) – this month we were pleased to see “mainstream” media present this documentary with a surprisingly respectful and clear explanation on the meaning of Easter to Christians, both Catholic and Protestant.

  • Liked (book) – we don’t typically go for pink covers but this was an important book on addressing friendship complexities and the desire to please Instagram followers, through knowing our identity in Christ. How big a deal it was for C was made clearer on our holidays where she downloaded 5+ VPN apps “just in case” to get around the firewall. Plus one evening she partially faked having tired legs so that I could get a taxi back for the 1km trip, which allowed her to get back to Wifi and Instagram sooner!!

4. Questions about faith

“You didn’t answer my question about the dinosaurs!” Of course the dinosaur question doesn’t just stop at dinosaurs. Related questions are whether the Earth is young or old, and ultimately, whether the creation account is true.

  • Got Questions (videos) – an extension of the Got Questions website, which has a great repository of FAQs with thoughtful and Biblical responses.
  • Alpha Youth (videos) – engaging 20min videos on the basics of Christianity – who God is, who Jesus is etc. Good conversation starters and we like the interviews of random people off the street.

And finally, a great video we discovered – not just for teens, and not just for Christians.

Chasing the wind in a new light – part two

Another week has passed and another chance to review where I am at – and where I’m going. Continued from part one.


Jobs and careers end, even when they come to a good and natural end. Not to mention facing our fragility as healthcare professionals and mortals with tick-tock limited time sand in the hourglass in light of coronavirus happenings.

We talk about succession planning, but in reality we have little influence on what happens to our projects, or patients, when we move on.

“I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish?…” – Ecclesiastes 2:18-19

Animal experiments

Thinking about all those cute lab rats. Years ago I had this distressing animal-related experience when I followed S to volunteer at a vet clinic with an attached animal shelter. The inmates from corrections had a rat breeding program. The officer brought rats to be gassed en masse (or killed in other ways, depending on how big they were), then frozen for snake feed.

“Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other…” – Ecclesiastes 3:19

Envy-driven achievement

Someone always has a better CV, publication history, scholarship, grant etc. The fact that others live in the right city, with the right universities, right connections, right opportunities, can drive discontentment too. Is the race always to the swift?

“And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” – Ecclesiastes 4:4

“Better one handful with tranquility than two handful with toil and chasing after the wind.” – Ecclesiastes 4:6

“The race is not to the swift… or favour to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.” – Ecclesiastes 9:11

Supervisors and teams

Teams that function well and teams that don’t. During an inter-faculty introduction workshop, a student was telling me about the research exploitation that was going on in one of her supervisor-student relationships.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour…” – Ecclesiastes 4:9

“If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things…” – Ecclesiastes 5:8

Health economics

Increased income –> increased purchasing power –> increased utility?

“As goods increase, so do those who consume them….” – Ecclesiastes 5:11

Writing tips?

Many words. Completion. Patience is better than pride. Could be a great outline for a thesis writing workshop!

“The more words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?” – Ecclesiastes 6:11

“The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.” – Ecclesiastes 7:8

Remembering mum

Here I’ll move from being tongue-in-cheek to sober. I’ve been thinking of mum more for a few reasons. The research institution where both my husband and I are working is the same place where I came with mum when I was 10 or so, many evenings, entertaining myself with the computer and office stationary while she did her research work. One of the desks I sit at now has a huge full-height window facing the entrance to the palliative care facility where she died.

I approached potential supervisors with an open mind to join a suitable project rather than specifically seeking out her field or her previous colleagues. It’s hard to take parents seriously as professional colleagues and I wasn’t familiar with her area of work anyway. Subsequently, I’ve found that her thesis and journal publications are some of the most closely related work done by this institution. And I found myself specifically thanked in her thesis acknowledgments.

“For the living knows that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten.” – Ecclesiastes 9:5-6

Where will your name be?

More important than having our papers remembered or forgotten is having our names written in heaven, through receiving Jesus as the one who saves us from sin and judgment.

“…rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” – Luke 10:20

Chasing the wind in a new light – part one

Over the years I’ve been peripherally involved in various aspects of academia, especially in the medical publishing industry. In starting my new adventures as a research student I was resolved to treat the role as a regular job rather than some all-consuming endeavour.

But even within the space of a few weeks I’m finding it hard not to get sucked into the common traps within academia. Ecclesiastes has a lot of reminders that I’m reading in a new light.

Claims to originality

In any submission, authors will try to convince reviewers that this is something new and worth publishing/funding. Most research outputs can be described as novel although few actually are in reality.

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”?…” – Ecclesiastes 1:9-10

Filtered out

Often when a systematic review is done, there is a year filter eg. a search for articles within the past 10 year period. Filtered out!

Also here, I’m thinking of the old city graveyards of Edinburgh and Glasgow. There was no small number of sad-looking fallen/broken headstones – even where stones was intact, the engraved text could be so worn out that it was impossible to work out the names and identities of the individuals.

“No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.” – Ecclesiastes 1:11

Missing data

No advances in statistical analysis can completely resolve the issue of data that has been incompletely or wrongly entered.

“What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.” – Ecclesiastes 1:15

Running big projects

In research it seems you start with little projects, then gather the skills, resources and reputation to run bigger and better projects.

I’ve written previously about Solomon’s big projects that were somewhat but not completely satisfying.

“I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards… My heart took delight in all my labour, and this was the reward for all my toil.” – Ecclesiastes 2:4, 10

(To be continued…)

Train journeys

I’ve written to death about death and funerals. But I want to remember my maternal grandmother, who was hospitalised and died during our recent trip. I felt sad that she was much loved but died alone on New Year’s Eve, behind those cold metallic ICU doors that are designed to keep families out. Even when a patient is clearly dying, the medical team still focusses on recommending expensive imported medicines, heroic surgeries, TPN and bags of saline, invasive ICU procedures and CPR. China needs a human touch to end of life care but I’m not sure how that would happen in this litigious age.

The benefit of sitting on trains is that there is plenty of downtime for your mind to float. To think about how I was born a city rat and still am a bit of a city rat – enjoying underground tunnels, or tunnelling underground, and emerging out of the right hole in the ground. Plenty of time to reflect on my travels too.

Trains and cities
Being in a number of cities in quick succession, I find it interesting how trains reflect their cities.

For example, Shanghai has one centralised, government-owned, metro company. This isn’t such a big deal until you compare it with Tokyo, that has a separate train and (multiple) private local metro services, meaning that station transfers are logistically complicated in terms of walking to separate stops and separate ticketing systems. Singapore is a high achiever, expanding from two main train lines when I lived there, to about five lines now, with dozens more stations currently under construction.

Melbourne and Sydney have a hub and spoke model, with a city circle in the middle, which seems dated and a recipe for peak-hour congestion. To improve things Melbourne has this Metro Tunnel project underway, but the proposed route doesn’t appear particularly useful. Perhaps the project makes a little more sense after seeing Sydney’s new Metro operating side-by-side with existing trains. The Metro is deep underground, has high frequencies of about one train every 5 minutes, is incredibly fast in comparison, and driverless. Excellent, as long as the tunnels are not flooded.


Subways and Babel

Maybe a proper metro or subway system is the mark of a real city? Which brings me to a tangential thought that humans can achieve a lot when there are lots of them. I do enjoy the mix of cultures, cuisines, creativity, and many other aspects of a bustling city life.

But being part of a big city, we can be proud of the collective achievements to an extent that it makes us feel self-sufficient and proud – there is a sense that if you’ve made it in the mega-city, you are truly on top of this world.

“Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.'” Genesis 11:4

We often have friends and family ask when we will move onto bigger and better places where there are “so many more things to do”. Aside from missing friends interstate and overseas, and missing out on traffic jams, I think we are not missing out on too much if we have eyes a better city.

“For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” – Hebrews 11:10

A one-way train journey (not death)

I’m too old for K songs, but have been mesmerised by this one. It’s the 2019 Chinese cover of my favourite Ghibli song, sung by one of my favourite vocalists.

I am older now, but saying goodbye along this one-way train journey is still undoubtedly sad. The Chinese lyrics are somewhat lighter and brighter though, than the Japanese ones that describe reflections upon shattered mirrors.

“就此告别吧 水上的列车就快到站
开往未来的路上 没有人会再回返

说声再见吧 就算留恋也不要回头看
在那大海的彼端 一定有空濛的彼岸…

既然相遇是种 来自于时光的馈赠
那么离别时 也一定要微笑着 回忆放心中…”