It was Labour Day in Australia today, but there was no rest for the wicked, and we ended up having to pick our Pinot Noir grapes today in the sweltering 37 C heat. We have been experiencing an unprecedented heatwave in Melbourne and on the Mornington Peninsula. The previous longest strength of 30-plus days was in 1961 and the current hot spell is anticipated to last for twice the length! So we really only had 2 options – pick today (as our sugar content was already a nectar-like 24.9 on the Brix, or consign our entire 2013 harvest to making a sticky dessert wine.
So the Irishman rounded up a last-minute motley crew of our vineyard manager Paul, Paul’s parents, Paul’s best friend, our 72 year old babysitter and our nanny S. I was on kid duty, having injured my foot badly. Note to self – do not practise handstands around a curious greyhound.
As I was immobilised in front of the computer, I was finally able to read the controversial Wall Street Journal article about my hometown of Singapore ( “the world’s richest city”) that set Facebook on fire over the past few days, at least amongst my circle of friends.
It seemed like a lot of tongues were wagging and expensive noses were put out of joint over the hyperbole, which made Singapore sound like Disneyland for D*ckheads – $26,000 cocktails, billionaires partying at night clubs, $400,000 bets on the casino tables, and a nose-bleed worthy Gini coefficient.
Fact – more than 17 percent of Singapore’s resident households (1 out of 6) has disposable private wealth of at least $1 million, EXCLUDING property, business and luxury goods. If property is added in, the number would be significantly higher, Singapore real estate ranking amongst the most expensive in the world. Singapore also now has the highest GDP per capita in the world at $56,532, having overtaken Norway, the U.S., Hong Kong and Switzerland.
Apparently, some guy at the London School of Economics, has calculated “that the world’s economic center of gravity—measured by looking at income averages across more than 700 places worldwide—has shifted east over the past 30 years, from the Transatlantic Axis to somewhere across the Arabian Peninsula. If current growth trends continue, this center will move in another three decades to a resting point between India and China—just about where Singapore is, meaning its potential as the world’s economic center may not even be fully realised.”
It was quite surreal to contemplate all this from my little study overlooking the rolling hills and Phillip Island in the distance, the huge divide between the glossy organised chaos of Singapore and the simple pleasures of the Mornington Peninsula, the two places I call home.
Just a quick swipe through the camera roll on my iPhone reveals a bipolar life – one swathe of photos documenting a frenetic existence – nights out, social events, shopping expeditions, kids at tuition classes and camwhoring with everyone from celebs to my kids school teachers…
And the other half of my camera roll, post our move back to the Aussie countryside, looks like the outtakes from an issue of Country Life. Kids racing down the vineyard slopes on wooden carts, running through sprinklers, rescued animals, exploring beaches, records of eggs laid… It’s a tale of two very different existences.
From the Wall Street Journal article- “Yacht clubs are popping up along with super-luxurious shops, like the Louis Vuitton Island Maison, a flagship boutique of the ubiquitous luxury brand housed in its own floating pavilion. Nightclubs like Pangaea and Filter, which are frequented by the young Saverin and his crew of millionaire party boys, have turned into havens for the wealthy to mingle. Rich out-of-towners play at Singapore’s two glamorous new casino resorts, opened in 2010, including the Marina Bay Sands complex with its celebrity chef restaurants and an infinity pool on the 57th floor with palm trees overlooking the skyline.”
“Pangaea, though just over a year old, is now considered the most profitable club in the world with revenues of more than $100,000 per night in recent months, Ault says. It’s also one of the most expensive clubs, with tables costing as much as $15,000, and the uber-rich regularly chalking up six-figure bills. ”
Now, I can’t say I’m a stranger to the nightclubs back home. During the last F1 weekend, we started out at Ku de Ta, where we were swigging champagne with a local billionaire and 30 “models from a dancing school” when suddenly he decided that the micro-moment was over, and moved his entourage over to Pangaea, leaving $50,000 worth of opened bottles on the tables. 10 minutes later, at the aforementioned Pangaea, the Irishman volunteered to buy a round. The local billionaire grinned indulgently and said, “That’s alright Mark, I’ll buy the first 6 bottles and the next 6 are yours.”. Needless to say, the Irishman timed it perfectly so we exited stage-left at Bottle #5.75…
The thing is, there are few things the Irishman and I enjoy more than a good dance. For me it’s practically genetic – my dad is clubbing royalty in Singapore being an icon at the oldest club in Singapore, the venerable institution of Zouk. He is the only man allowed on the dancers podium and can be found on Saturday nights getting mobbed by Japanese tourists clamouring to take their pictures with him. I remember him sneaking me into clubs when I was 16 to watch Massive Attack, Portishead, Paul Oakenfold and his “mate” Dr. Albans whom you may remember from this terrible song Recently he received a lifetime achievement award from Zouk which was presented to him onstage while 5 backup dancers dressed like him gyrated to his signature “Minimalist Taoist Dance Movement”.
You’d never recognise him in the daytime. He’s your normal looking doctor in pressed white short-sleeved shirt, pleated pants and wire-rimmed glasses.
But my dad doesn’t dance because he likes social media tycoons, crocodile-skinned couches, Cristal champagne, prestigious tables and models in Herve Leger dresses, he just loves the music, plain and simple. Jungle and house being his favourite. In a rare interview with the Straits Times, he told the reporter that he wore leather pants because they were waterproof since girls like to spill drinks on his trousers. Since then he has refused all offers of media coverage, turning down documentary-makers and persistent reporters alike.
My dad has a point I think- remember the important things and don’t get carried away by the rest of the beeswax.
For us, life had gotten increasingly crazy in Singapore. The great local food we enjoyed in the past had morphed into thousand dollar dinners complete with French Bordeaux, just because it was a Tuesday night. The kids had their own entourage of chauffeur, maids & Chinese nannies and sometimes you could bump into 4.5 adults you weren’t related on your way downstairs before you saw a member of your family.
The Irishman was travelling for work so much he could be in Beijing on a Monday, Seoul on a Tuesday, Hong Kong on a Wednesday and so forth. Our important conversations ended up being carried out in the car, after telling the chauffeur to hop out and take a taxi home so he couldn’t eavesdrop. It was really empowering to help raise hundreds of thousands of dollars at charity galas but sometimes I didn’t have the slightest clue what to do with my kids other than book up their social diaries with playdates, Singapore having the unfortunate humidity of a hooker’s armpit. I don’t like exercise enough to brave the 35 C + 99% humidity combination thank you.
So when we realised that we had to move back to Australia for a while, due to permanent residency conditions on our visa, we took it as a sign that we needed a sea change.
Ever heard of hedonic adaption? It’s a theory that people adjust to things / pleasures so that our pleasures get more and more short-lived and after a while, we find that few things live up to our expectations. The result being that even when we get exactly what we want, we often end up disappointed.
Hedonic adaption creates a hedonic treadmill – we run faster and faster but don’t seem to get anywhere or feel happier.
A little digression – shortly after we returned to our farmhouse, I remember standing in the kitchen on one summer’s afternoon, carrying a basket of pilled precariously high with freshly picked peaches. I pulled out a peach and bit into it absentmindedly. My tastebuds nearly exploded. It had been so long since I tasted homegrown produce, varieties of fruit which weren’t bred for hardiness, to survive transportation to chiller bins in supermarkets.
This particular peach was picked on the exact day that it was at the height of its gloriousness. Rivers of peach ambrosia ran down the entire length of my arm while I savoured the voluptuous deeply fragranced flesh.
And then I saw that I wasn’t the only one enjoying the peach. At the centre of my peach, were a mass of tiny wriggling white worms surrounding the peach pit, furious at my invasion.
So that was the dharma lesson for my day. Nothing is ever perfect or as it seems. Under the model’s bodacious Herve Leger dress lies a pair of grotesque flesh coloured Spanx knickers . Skyscrapers built at light speed come with construction workers buried in wet cement . The adrenaline high of watching the Formula One night race is the flip side of the horror of the youtube video of a Ferrari driver crashing into a taxi at 180 kmh.
And yet there are perfect moments. That peach wasn’t perfect, but that first bite was. The nights are laced with flies, a dead possum on our roof is making one part of our house smell like an abattoir and there is 4 weeks worth of rubbish in my carport because none of it will fit into the one miserable trash bin we get a week. (In Singapore you get 2 bins collected from your doorstep Every Single Day- which some part of me still says Hallelujah to).
And still, with every passing day we find more to be grateful for because we understand the value of everything much better. You learn not to expect perfection from the thing, and after a while, the things get less important.
In the end, this Labour weekend was spent in the most basic way, manual labour, bringing the kids fishing at Stony Point, an unpretentious but delicious dinner at the beach with good friends, celebrating the new harvest and remembering the music, always the music.