The Distance

20191014_051439We moved to our neighbourhood mid-year 2019, five months before the first case of COVID-19 occurred. It was a quiet, residential area surrounded by bushland, hills, and walking parks. We introduced ourselves to the neighbours in our cul-de-sac when we moved in, but after that, we never engaged in conversation. Most of them were aging, though, and we made a habit to smile and wave when they are out tending their lawns or feeding birds. We learned early on, from our morning dog walks and afternoon strolls, where the dogs lived and whom owned cats allowed to roam free.

Less than a block from our front door, there’s the entrance to a one kilometre walking park where we let the dogs out on full-leash so they can sniff the grass and wee on the trees. Sometimes, they spot a kangaroo or wallaby before we do, leaving us puffed as we try to wrangle them to our sides.

But mostly, we learned that no matter the time of day we enjoyed a walk, we rarely came into contact with any other people. Evening walks at 4-5-6pm showed us that as people returned home from their jobs, they locked up and stayed indoors. The dynamics of middle-class life were the same: work-home-tv-sleep. Despite our differences, we were the same.

As we entered week four of social distancing, we challenged ourselves to 10,000 steps every day. It seemed unachievable. There was no walking from a car park, or train, into the office anymore. There were no incidental trips to the grocery store or to get coffee with the boss. Routines that we weren’t even aware we had were gone.

Late Monday, when the best I could muster was 7,000 steps from taking the dogs for a walk and pacing my living room during telecons, I suggested we go for a walk, like we used to. We left the house, expecting the same lack of people as before, forgetting that the world wasn’t the same since the last time we took an evening stroll.

As we entered the walking park, we noticed several couples and families on the paths. For the first time since moving into the area, we saw how culturally diverse our neighbourhood is. It seemed oddly heartwarming. But it didn’t stop there.

Every couple and group were observing proper social distancing. If there was an intersection, one couple would slow down while the other would speed up so they would not be in danger of coming into contact. Families chatted from across streets as one small group would cross the street rather than risk coming into physical contact. We followed a similar path, walking onto the grass when we noticed a dog and his owner coming our way.

As dusk sent the world in shades of pink and amber and orange, I realised we were all the same. Isolation has driven us from our homes but made us socially conscious for the first time. And that’s weirdly comforting.

It may not be the same everywhere, but here, in my little suburb, distancing has brought us a little closer together.

Mousse au Chocolat

First period class with Mrs French was our favorite. She was one of the coolest teachers. She somehow managed to pull off a pixie cut despite being old (read: middle-aged – ya’ll kids are jerks). Coincidentally, she was the French teacher and ran French club. The irony was not lost on us freshmen.

She walked in Friday morning wearing a cute little black beret, carrying a tray full of little glasses filled with chocolate-y goodness. Around me, there were little pockets of whispers and chuckles from my classmates. I bit my lip and clicked my pen open and closed and open again in quick succession.

“We’re totally going to get wasted,” I heard the girl behind me whisper out of earshot of Mrs French.

I shifted my weight as the teacher dropped the tiny glass onto my desk, teetering on a seesaw of should Ishouldn’t I? 


Last night, the first ever meeting of French Club was so cool. We went to the popular girl’s home and spoke broken French to each other while Mrs French (geez, that’s a lot of French in two lines) collected the ingredients to make our very own mousse au chocolat, the fancy way to say chocolate mousse.

We piled into the kitchen and started following the recipe. Mrs French carried over a bottle of amaretto and poured a tiny teaspoon into the mousse.

“A little won’t hurt,” she told us. “‘Sides, the french give their children wine to drink as early as six.”

We chuckled and whispered among ourselves as I stirred the chocolate mixture constantly.

It didn’t take long before something pulled Mrs French’s attention away and the bottle of amaretto came out. It was two inches from my nose, upturned and filling the top of the pan in a fine layer.

“Stir faster, Mel!” I heard. And I did, feeling a little naughty and a little ashamed at us.

Mrs French trotted back in, “That’s smelling so good.”

She asked us to work as a group to translate what she had said into french and walked away.

The amaretto came out again and trickled into the pan. Girls were snickering, and the few boys were elbowing each other in the ribs.

When the cook was over, Mrs French told us how great we had done and announced that the mousse had to set. It would take a few hours, so she would bring it in for class in the morning.

The small group of fourteen-year-olds groaned but accepted begrudgingly.


I eyed the dessert with a caution generally afforded to vegetables I’d never tried. I took my spoon, dipped the tip into the mousse, and put my tongue to the edge. It was sweet, but I thought it would taste funny. Dad’s Crown Royal smelled like it would taste cringe-worthy. I drove my spoon into the mousse again and tried it properly. This was creamy and rich and so yum, but there was no hint of alcohol. I breathed a sigh of relief and polished off the small glass in a few spoonfuls.

A few of my fellow students showed looks of disappointment.

At the front of the class, though, Mrs French sat at her desk with an all-knowing smile on her face. Needless to say, none of us got drunk off the mousse that day.

The Barrier of Subtitles


When I was a little girl, my dad and I would walk through the aisles of the video rental store in search of movies to watch. We didn’t have cable, so this was how we spent our days. The store usually only showed the front cover, and you could only guess at what was within its tapes. Sometimes you would walk out of the store with a gem, sometimes a b-movie, and sometimes a foreign film.

At the 2020 Golden Globes, director Bong Joon-ho, stood at the podium, accepting an award for his film, Parasite. In his native Korean, he expressed that if people could overcome the one inch “barrier of subtitles,” they “would be introduced to so many more amazing films.” And he’s right.

I don’t even remember what my first foreign language film was. It could have been a Bruce Lee movie or Umbrellas of Cherbourg or The Seventh Seal, for all I know. Dad and I didn’t care if suddenly words appeared at the bottom of the screen. We watched silent films like Metropolis and Nosferatu, so the idea of reading while watching was never much of a barrier. In fact, when I graduated to watching Japanese anime consistently, I refused to listen to the English dubs because they homogenized the dialogue, dumbed down sections for Western audiences, and back then, voice acting wasn’t as it is today in the U.S. – often using the same actor for multiple parts or female leads with whiny, high-pitched voices.

When I became an adult, I learned that my appreciation of foreign films had not been shared. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve heard “I don’t watch movies to read. If I wanted to read, I’d get a book.” But, folks, stories are universal! Everybody has a right to tell theirs. Just because they don’t speak your language doesn’t mean they are any lesser than you, that your stories matter more than theirs. Parasite tells a universal human story about class and the parasitic nature of both the haves and the have nots.

In my lifetime, I can remember Life is Beautiful (La vita e bella) being nominated for best picture in 1998 Oscars. It was a tragicomedy about the Holocaust, a very important story to tell. It wouldn’t win that year, but Roberto Benigni did take home top acting prize. The next year, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was nominated for Best Picture and lost to the lesser Gladiator. It went home with cinematography, art direction, and best foreign language film. I can’t think of a more beautiful film, even in recent memory, and it’s now over twenty years old. Last year, the fantastic and underseen Roma took home best directing and best foreign film, and lost top prize to (shudder) Green Book.

All of these land on must-watch lists across the internet, but there are so many others that deserve to be seen. Train to Buson is easily one of the best zombie movies ever made. Pan’s Labyrinth and The Lives of Others are both great movies that came out in the same year and tell stories about different parts of history, one set in Spain (with plenty of fantasy to keep you going) and the other set in East Germany during communism. Anything by Studio Ghibli is better enjoyed with subtitles and is a great way to get used to reading. Your Name is an anime with gender role reversals, a subversion of romance tropes, and the tiniest bit of science fiction sprinkled on top. Also, did you know? You can thank the Raid movies for the John Wick franchise too.

Best of all, all these movies are available on streaming services. So unless you are physically incapable to enjoy movies with subtitles, give them a go (accessibility is a discussion I’m ill-equipped to make).

Still, now, as Parasite wins Best Picture at the Oscars, I wonder if this will change anything. Most people think the Academy Awards are pretentious, old-fashioned, inconsequential, or boring, and aside from a few headlines over the coming days, the loud conversation about representation, telling non-Western stories, will settle to a whisper and fade. Parasite was the best film of 2019, but entire groups of people will never watch it because it’s not in English. And they will all be missing one of the best movies of this century, let alone last year.

Hard Lessons

Found on, from Twitter handles freeyourmindkid & MegMcA

In 1997, a few months after my 16th birthday, a new movie theatre was being built in my hometown. My best friend, at the time, mentioned to me that they were accepting resumes; she would be starting there mid-May when she turned 16. I begged my parents to drive me over to the office trailer where the manager was stationed so I could also put in my resume.

I arrived after school in early May, wearing a sweet little dress, and was hired on the spot.

I later found out that the Assistant Manager had been in charge of hiring and had already selected the thirty-odd staff. I happened to walk in minutes before he came to let the general manager know. Within four years, through hard work and a good attitude, I moved up from concession to projectionist and finally to management. 

In 2002, after my parents lost their home and we were all three basically homeless (living in cheap motels or with friends of friends), I was a newly-made college dropout, and the transfer I had been promised to a movie theatre in Dallas had fallen through. One day, hungry but not yet penniless, we went into Dave & Buster’s for lunch. I noticed a sign on the door that they were looking for a Front Desk Clerk.

I requested a job application and filled it out while Dad and I ate a plate of fries between us. When I took it to the desk, the HR Manager happened to be standing there. He read it on the spot; his eyes lit up.

“You have management experience? We have a position that just opened up. You’d be perfect for it.”

He invited me to an interview that afternoon and hired me the very next day.

I worked in the cash office, a secure room where the safe doors were a foot thick and weighed a ton. I counted the money coming in, reconciled credit card receipts, ordered office supplies. After a year of hard work, I became the assistant to the Business Manager, running payroll and doing accounts payable. After 3 years, the Business Manager had changed three times and each time I was passed up for a promotion, despite doing the work, so I started looking for another job.

By 2005, the concept of taking your resume door-to-door had ceased to exist. Online applications had replaced physical ones, and there was no more face-to-face interaction before the interview. The climate had changed completely. It became even moreso about who you knew, than what you knew.

As luck would have it, I met my (now) husband and moved to Australia in 2006. I studied for a year and gained my Diploma of Business, thanks to said husband, and after a year, I was ready to rejoin the workforce. But the truth was the same as in the U.S., qualifications and experience were needed for basic office work, and the idea of dropping your resume in at a store or restaurant was unheard of. Online applications were the only way to get in a job.

I snagged a management position at a tech store, Dick Smith Electronics (basically Radio Shack), in 2007. Unsatisfied, I moved from company to company until 2013 when I took a position at a telecommunications company. After 5 1/2 years, I moved from answering phones to case management to project management and ultimately quality management.

After being made redundant, I won a role in another company. The hiring manager was looking for someone with strong computer skills, a willingness to learn systems, and the right attitude towards change. While the experience and qualifications to do the role were stated, they were secondary to the soft skills. It was a rare opportunity. If I had been made redundant even three months later, the role would have been gone.

In these 23 years, I have learned one thing: timing – and to a greater extent, luck – has more to do with success than actual hard work. Sure, at the telecommunications company I spent years “growing my brand” and being tenacious to a fault (read: passionate and annoying). That helped, but mostly it was right place, right time (and right race – a discussion for someone smarter than me). Unfortunately, that also means I have no good advice for the younger generation. All I know is that the mindset espoused by some people – grit, determination, taking resumes door-to-door – are all a relic of a past long gone. Career experiences are not universal, so stop treating it like they are.

Accelerated Reader Prize Day

I walked along the large, wide cafeteria table and scanned the assortment of electronics, games, and age-appropriate toys. Above me, there was a banner flapping in the biting December wind. In bright, bold letters, it announced, “Accelerated Reader Prize Day.”

My heart leapt when I saw the off-brand CD Walkman near the end of the table. I snatched it from the pile and made my way to the facilitator.

“And what’s your name?” she asked in an affected voice. I tried not to ignore the condescension.

I’m thirteen, lady.

“Melony,” I answered. She lifted her eyebrow. “Foster. Sorry.”

She scanned her clipboard of names and points. I wanted to tell her I was in the top five of the school, but I kept my mouth shut.

“Oh, here you are!” she said glancing up from the page. “Do you like reading?”

“Yes, ma’am. Very much,” I answered.

“You have so many points. You must read alotta books.”

“I do,” I said with a slight hint of pride.

It was almost a month since the school librarian told me about the chance to win double points in the Accelerated Reader Program. The school had tested poorly in literature, and they were looking for ways to incentivize the students. My end-of-the-school-year goal, a thousand plus point prize, was within reach. I only needed to read several small books or five big books to reach my target.

“What type of books do you read?” she asked.

“A bit of everything,” I answered. I didn’t want to admit that to earn enough points for this prize, I forced myself to read Babysitter’s Club, Fear Street, and Nancy Drew. A book and a half a day and four on the weekends. But it was all worth it for a prize my family could never afford.

Earlier that school year, I wouldn’t have been caught dead reading 4th grade reading level books. House of Seven Gables, Heart of Darkness, The Screwtape Letters, Lord of the Flies, All the King’s Men – these had been my standard reading fare before the announcement.

“Well done!” she said, glancing at my spoils. “You deserve this.”

She deducted the points for the Walkman. I thanked her and pressed the package against my chest as I made my way out of the cafeteria. I couldn’t wait to show my friends and started thinking about which CD would go in it first.

I wondered if this is how rich people felt all the time.