The cat, the wardrobe and the Good Weekend


Recently a cat arrived at our place, as a temporary guest. His name is Roast Beef, which is rather funny because his owners are vegetarians. It took him a while to get used to our place. Eventually he decided to settle in a wardrobe in our study.

It is an old wardrobe, with a mirror in the front that is supposed to make you look slimmer (which is why we have not thrown it out — sometimes vanity is good). We had been stockpiling all sorts of newspapers and magazines in it throughout the past decade, things that we thought are too interesting to carelessly discard. However, now that Roast Beef has expressed interest in the wardrobe, we decided to take out all the papers.

As Roast Beef wandered through the house, we gathered the papers in the lounge room to be burned in our pot-belly stove. On top of them is an issue of Australia’s Good Weekend magazine, dated September 1, 2001. The front cover is a photo of Kurt Cobain, lead singer of the rock band Nirvana, who was found dead on April 5, 1994. One of his biographies was published in 2001, with an excerpt included in this issue to detail Cobain’s last days.

Another feature article in the magazine asks “Why don’t we have kids anymore?” It forms an interesting pair with a column called “Inner Life”, which in this issue advises its readers to “Love thy parents”. A stand-out quotation asserts, “Being ignored or belittled by your children; being seen only in terms of your capacity to offer money or babysitting; all of this can be profoundly wounding.” I wonder whether the columnist knew that she had well answered the other article’s question.

The last page of the magazine is a full-page advertisement for the then-new iMac. Looking stylish even today, the product was described to be “a creative base, hungry to hook up with the world’s most advanced digital products… It can be all systems go in under 10 minutes”. Indeed, the ad serves as a symbol of a world that was much simpler than the one we have today.

Nearly 10 days after this issue of the Good Weekend was published, our world changed forever. Our sense of peace and security was challenged, our lifestyles modified, our views of each other severely stereotyped. Influenced by those who claim to be our representatives, we started to imagine this world in ways that are considerably different from the past. We lost our innocence, and it most likely will never come back to us.

Journalism has changed. Publishing has changed. As legendary author of speculative fiction Neal Stephenson challenges all sci-fi writers to “ditch the dystopia and start depicting positive, even optimistic, visions of our future”, I look at the Good Weekend magazine and recalled the one and only feature article I have ever written for it. That article, investigating the construction of the Three Gorges Dam on China’s Yangtze River and its impact on the Chinese people and culture, was published on December 6, 1997. That was the same year when I left the Chinese world to pursue a brand new life and career in Australia.

Even I have changed since then, so very much.

As we put the magazine aside, perhaps for another 10 years or so, I had a brief look at the issue’s very last article, which was written by a guy called Phil Johnson for his column “View from the Couch”. He was writing about Gladiator (2000) and how the film’s computer-generated doves fly over the computer-generated Colosseum, and whether the sci-fi world in the then newly made A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) would be even more “real” than old-school films such as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The following paragraph rings true, particularly in our world today:

“While kids always seem to find the special effects in old films risible, even hilarious, it’s unclear whether this is because the effects are so bad, or because the standards used to measure them derive only from the governing conventions of the time… In short, each age creates its own idea of what represents ‘the real’ on screen, and laughs at everyone else’s. It’s in this sense that you can begin to question whether there’s any progress in special effects at all, or only a change in perception. It may even be the case that we’re into the era of retro-progress, where things that are meant to look more real actually end up looking less convincing than their…predecessors.”

The truth is, we can only keep writing. With the past constantly re-written and the future ready to be altered, all we can write about is what we are experiencing at the present.

P.S. Here is a copy of my 1997 Good Weekend feature article “After the Flood“.

Image thanks to: “Can the future affect the past?” by


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