Chiaroscuro and the need to “HARDEN THE FUCK UP!”

There are sometimes that I feel so disassociated from the rest of the society that I live in.  Like one of the androids in Blade Runner once said, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe” and I feel some of those things that I have seen, separate me from most other people in the way how I cope with stuff that doesn’t go my way.

I am constantly amazed at the whingeing that I hear in this prosperous and fat first world country that I live in.  It seems to me that some people are living in some sort of antiseptic bubble that insulates them from the rest of the world.  It blows me away to think that some people (here in Australia) think that it’s acceptable to complain about water restrictions, and the fact they can’t wash their cars in the time of a drought. Or that it’s okay to harp on about not getting financial assistance from the government in the form of the baby bonus when you’re earning over $150,000 a year.


I’ve also noticed that a lot of Bloggs, that I’ve been reading lately have been discussing idiosyncratic eating habits.  It just goes to show what prosperous lives many of us lead in that we can be so choosy about what we eat.  There was a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald about people who falsely claim to have allergies to foods.  Apparently real food allergies are very rare and can be life-threatening, but it would seem that some people like to claim they have allergies as it is an attention seeking ploy that sets them apart from the mainstream.


I’m hardly without sin in this area myself as I hate and won’t eat pumpkin, cucumber, watermelon, or any offal. I’ve been thinking that on an evolutionary level it’s not a very smart strategy to be a picky eater.  We’ve spent millions of years developing a taste for eating just about anything that ever lived. 


My stepfather (Manfred), who was in Germany during the Second World War as a teenager, and in the Hitler youth, always likes to say “you can shit on my plate and I’ll eat around it”. Manfred has told me stories about the deprivations that he and his family went through at the end of the Second World War, when they were forced by the occupying Russians to leave what was once the German part of Prussia known as Upper Silesia (now a part of Poland) and walk to Berlin with no supplies.  When I was a teenager and I used to peevishly complain what was for dinner, Manfred used to remind me about how he and his family had to live on grass soup for two weeks and that I should be just grateful for what I have in front of me. 


My mother who grew up in post-war England during the time of rationing had very little patience for any sign of picky eating.  My mother’s standard response to any question about what was in a meal was “Shit with sugar on it!” “What do you think this is a restaurant?” “Shut up and eat it!”


Some people really have it tough

The woman in the picture above is a beggar that I saw in 1974 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia during the war. There were so many pathetic beggars in Phnom Penh at that time.  It was a regular freak show of maimed soldiers; orphaned children; refugees, lepers and war widows, not attractive enough to become prostitutes. In short, people with REAL problems.

I saw the woman in the photograph nearly every day, and one day I saw her on her hands and knees vomiting onto the sidewalk.  Her whole body just convulsed with spasms as she retched up what little food she had in her stomach.  When she had stopped being sick she scooped up the vomit and re-ate it. She obviously was too poor to be able to waste food by leaving her vomit on the footpath.

This brings me to the whole concept of contrast.  Chiaroscuro is an Italian word describing light and shade. It’s a term that one will see quite often in books about art and in particular, the Renaissance era.  By varying the tone of a drawing by simulating highlight and shadow, an artist can create the illusion of three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface. A bit of contrast makes things in general, more…….. “real”.

As I go through life and get older, I’ve come to realise that the old adage “whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”, has a lot of of truth to it.  I think that the bad things that have happened to me in my life have helped me appreciate to a greater degree, the good things that happen to me.  I also think that because I’ve had such an extreme range of highs and lows that I am better able to deal with life’s little disappointments. A little chiaroscuro serves me well.

When ever I have some difficulties, I just reflect on some of the really negative benchmarks that I have, in my stupidity, accumulated. I was nearly killed when I came under mortar fire by the Khmer Rouge. I’ve been beaten up by the police and a mob in Morocco, nearly had my foot torn off on a train, smashed my car in the desert nearly killing my wife and I, and last but not least, lost 10 kg (22lbs) in two months when I had malaria and was starving in Phnom Penh.

To lighten the mood of this rant, I’ve put in this little video, titled “Harden the fuck up” by Ronnie Johns (an Australian comedian), impersonating a famous Australian criminal and murderer called Chopper Reid (the subject of the excellent movie “Chopper” starring Eric Banna).

[youtube unkIVvjZc9Y]

16 thoughts on “Chiaroscuro and the need to “HARDEN THE FUCK UP!””

  1. Hi Razz,

    Funny, I was just thinking about similar situations before I read this post; maybe not eat phobias specifically, but levels of tolerance in general. After having lived and traveled extensively in SE Asia & Irian Jaya for almost 10 yrs, I also have a bit more patience getting over the rough spots. But I can’t hold a candle to my Viet wife, who grew up poor in a rice paddy thatched shack on the Mekong Delta after the American War there… she has seemingly the patience of the gods. She tells me stories about her and her brother spending days trying to snare sparrow-like birds so they would have meat to flavor their rice gruel soup, or about her taking total care of her 3 younger siblings for 4 months, at age 8, after her mother died and her father was sent for “re-education” – the Hanoi communist cadre’s euphanism for political indoctrination. And she tells these stories with her beautiful, dreamy little Buddhist acceptance smile, and goes to light some incense to help her now dead parents enjoy their new, hopefully better lives…

    Anyway, thanks for keeping the posts coming. I honestly believe I enjoy your blog due to the fact that we share some similar basic outlooks on life. When you have time, I have thrown up a bunch of new photos on the portfolio section of my website.

    Joe G

  2. We should stop complaining about the little things and think about how we’ve probably got it made in comparison to so many other poor bastards in the world.

    Also to take stock of how the bad things (providing that they eventually come to an end) that happen in our lives help us enjoy life even more because they give us something to compare with.

    Without evil, there would be no good.


    we (in first world countries) should all


  3. Great post, again!
    Sometimes when I think about the problems of ‘western’ or ‘developed’ world, like obesity and than complaints about how food prices went up in the last year, and similar, I think about how well and how much we eat, that’s why, in my opinion, the food is too cheap. We don’t have any ‘real’ problems, like our ancestors had. My grandmother died at the age of 84, I will probably never live that long. Our problem is not living in deprivation, but being to well off.

  4. My grandfather on my original father’s side died at 82 and I’d like to think that I’ll live that long as well, but I live a little too well.

    I think that the soft life that many of us lead, leads to a softness of character and spine. Many of us have such a problem with having to cope with change and discomfort. I’m sure that many dinosaurs also found evolution uncomfortable.

  5. That was a very well-organized, thought-provoking post – which should be responded to using only the sharpest wit and most poignant commentary.

    Unfortunately all I have to offer is that I really, really enjoyed that “shit with sugar on it” line.

  6. Thanks for your kind words. My mother will be pleased to hear that you enjoyed that “shit with sugar on it” line.

    As for wit, I’ll leave you with this little gem from Edward Meyrick Goulburn.

    “Let the scintillations of your wit be like the coruscations of summer lightening, lambent but innocuous”

  7. Great stuff once again, Razz.

    Having lived and explored in SE Asia and Irian Jaya for the past 10 yrs, it amazes me the transformation my thinking has undergone… and how low my tolerance for comfy, fantastically well-off 1st world whingers has gone. Having formerely likely been as bad as the rest of the ones I today cannot tolerate, it truly makes me appreciate the opportunities I’ve had to experience some of the day-to-day life and conditions the majority of the people of this planet call life. That awareness sure helps one pass right over many of the bumps in the road which used to upset the apple cart so easily.

    Keep up the good work, Razz. When you have time, I’ve started a major expansion of the portfolio at my site.

    Joe G

  8. Razz! This post has everything! Humor,Photography, Story: I shall never in my life forget the story of the woman from Phnom Penh, nor your photograph of her! It was a feast, (if that’s not the wrong word to use about this post)of images, words, art and chiaroscuro (and you can spell it!) and your use of it in life! Oh, am I gushing? Oh, and that video!! Please, my sides. Yes, I am gushing.

  9. Joe

    I’m so sorry that your comments took so long to show up. I found them in languishing Akismet (the spam filter).

    I agree with you that we have similar outlooks. I guess it comes from having similar experiences.

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