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I often start my annual letter with a quote from the previous year. In 2019 I said: "I send my best wishes to everyone for 2020 -- it should be a good year for vision (which proves I can still tell a Dad joke)."

What can I say? No-one saw that coming.

All of my family are fine and as far as I know friends are, too. The general comments I received through the year were things like "I want to get out again", "I'm tired of this", or "I just want to go out for a meal". All understandable but a whole lot better than family or friends being sick, debilitated, or worse.

Looking back I've had a surprisingly good year on a family basis.

The best news came from Roger. Three years after graduating from Univ of Sydney he gained admission to a PhD program in Univ of Queensland (UQ). That happened in mid-January. He relocated from Sydney to Brisbane really fast and settled into the program just in time to be unaffected by the events of 2020. He has 4 years to complete the program which ties in nicely with my planned retirement. That implies he needs me for financial support, but he doesn't. He has a scholarship that pays tuition and a living allowance. Great job, Roger.

Rex continues his Master's in Virginia Tech in the US. He's in his 2nd year which would mean he should finish in mid-2021. He's unsure whether he'll pursue a higher degree or go into the job market. As an Australian citizen he can get an E-3 visa but still needs to convince an employer to make the effort to apply for it. I've been in that situation and know some companies will and some won't. At least if he goes into the job market he won't be a part of the annual stampede for the hard-to-get H-1B visa.

If the best news of the year came from Roger, the worst came from my sister Kim, in the US. Remember the September fires in CA & OR? Kim lives in Medford OR. You can see where this is going. Her community was told to get out of their homes due to the approaching fires. She evacuated to a friend's place and watched the fire from a distance, not knowing its exact path. She thought her place could be affected but couldn't get back there for a few days. When she did her worst fears were confirmed -- she lost everything. She says there's some govt aid; that, and insurance, will cover the physical loss. She'll retain her memories and move on. I had a house fire in 2005; we lost 2/3 of the upstairs of our BKK home. Kim has out-done me, losing everything. Bummer. She's a strong lady and has already put in place arrangements for the medium term so she can move on with life.

This doesn't look good

That's my house -- right there

My father passed away in July. He was born in 1925 and didn't quite make it to his 95th birthday but as we say in cricket terms, 94 is a good innings. He had quite a few ailments in his last 2-3 years and often expressed his desire for it to be "over", so he got his wish. Things in Australia were good enough at the time for me to travel from Cairns to Adelaide for his funeral. As usual my sister Barbara managed all the planning, I just turned up, presented a eulogy and went back to Cairns a few days later. It may be normal these days, but I was impressed the funeral was live streamed and available for another 3 months on a catchup service. That certainly helped with people who couldn't travel.

After buying my apt in Cairns in Sept last year I physically moved there in early January. On the first day I bought a fridge, a kettle and a sleeping bag -- the bare necessities of life! I figured I live almost fulltime in PNG so I didn't need much in Cairns. Things changed when I started spending more time there than expected (see a paragraph below). I don't have everything I want but I have everything I need, including a nice big 75" TV.

January -- Day 1

September -- as per the Rolling Stones

I even bought a car, something I didn't think I'd do for another 3-4 years. I've wanted a Honda Fit (Jazz) since I first saw one in Singapore back in 2003. I bought one that's 4 years old that hasn't done too many miles. Imagine that, it only took me 17 years.

I had a trip to Bangkok in early March, just when the pandemic began to get serious. I left Thailand on March 18, the day Thailand started its lockdown. That was dumb luck as opposed to good planning. A few days earlier Australia imposed a 2 week quarantine period for people arriving into the country so I changed my plans to travel from BKK-SYD-CNS and then CNS-POM to go via S'pore with routing of BKK-SIN and then SIN-POM. I had to self-isolate in POM when I arrived and during that time my client's Crisis Management Team introduced a new requirement for consultants to work remotely, ie, I was not allowed into the office, so I found myself working from my POM apt. By the time May 01 came around I figured if I was working remotely I could do it just easily from Australia so I left PNG, went through 14 days of hotel quarantine in Cairns, and have been working from my apt since May 15. It's workable but not ideal. I'm paid for 50% of my time as opposed to 100% pre-pandemic but I know that 50% is a whole lot better than zero. It's unclear when I can go back to PNG as there are several hurdles to clear -- too much information to outline here -- but I guess it'll happen some time in 2021.

And what about Thailand? Again, there are several obstacles. Australia has an international Do Not Travel ban; exemptions are allowed, but not for the reasons of "I want a holiday" or "I want to see family". Thailand has restrictions on entry which can be met after jumping thru multiple hurdles -- that seem to change every week or so -- but I think I'll wait for things to become a bit more like normal before I try to visit. I guess I'll go there sometime in 2021, similar to going to PNG for work. Kung is going well. She's affected by current events but not badly, so fingers crossed everything will be OK.

My life now comprises of work in the morning and generally free time in the afternoon. As my father said to me before he passed, "it will ease you into retirement". If that's the case then it's not bad.

Given what's happened in 2020 the year could have been a lot worse. I'm pretty lucky with things and won't make any Dad jokes about what may come in 2021.

All the best ... Neil

2021 ...