Mr Phillip Antippa: Finding Music in the Bustle

Phillip Antippa started playing the piano when he was five, the violin at eight, and the viola at around ten. Throughout this time, he also knew he wanted to pursue a medical career.   Now, he is a thoracic surgeon at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and a director of the Corpus Medicorum Orchestra. Antippa openly acknowledges the people who have shaped him throughout his journey, mentioning significant role models such as his first music teacher.   “You’re always influenced by the people you meet or surgeons who inspire you. I’m encouraged by colleagues who share my passion. They inspire me to enjoy music like I do and aspire for excellence.”   When asked who he finds most important in his life, he recites an extensive list of family members, co-workers and patients. He ends with saying, “The people that are important to me are the people I’m important to.”   Living a passionate life, he explains, means having to make sacrifices. Loving music and medicine (and the occasional skiing trip) takes a toll on just how much time you can devote to one thing without taking away from another.    “You need to work out for yourself if you think you can do everything, or you think you can do anything. Both of those are possible but they have limitations.”   In other words, find out what is most important to you, and fight for it. He adds, “I’ll never be the musician I want to be because I never have the time to practice. If I did, I would be better at it than I am. I can do anything but it’s limited.”   Antippa professes the importance of community within his musical pursuit, and how this has been highlighted by the COVID-19 shutdown regulations.    “Much of the pleasure that I derive out of playing music is chamber music or orchestral music, which means playing with other people. I play a lot of quartets for enjoyment over the weekends, and that I can’t do either. We depend on each other for our musical satisfaction.”   The orchestra has had to cancel one concert so far, and the future is on shaky ground. Still, there is some hope that, through it all, they will come out with a greater appreciation of everything that was almost taken for granted.   “We know that when it starts back up again we’ll enjoy [playing] in a way we never did before, because we know what it feels like to not be able to do what we want to do.”

Ejuen: Faith at the Front Lines

Ejuen Lee, 26, found her calling in medicine when she came to a Melbourne church conference. There, they played a video about children in need and something moved in her, changing her forever.   “At that point, God just broke my heart,” she says. “I knew this was something I wanted to do.”   Three years later, Ejuen finds herself working night shifts at the COVID ward. Being a frontline worker, she mentions how grateful she is that the situation in Australia is a lot more stable than in other countries. Shortage of medical equipment is not an issue and emergency rooms are not overflowing with patients. Overall, she has encountered four positive patients in two different hospitals.    “There is some heightened anxiety for sure,” she explains. “But we also acknowledge that Australia is quite good. It’s pretty well-controlled.”   Ejuen tells me that she has been pretty lucky.    “Honestly, I’m grateful that I still have a job and I still get paid. I think this is [also] just the time that people get to help one another.”   One problem, she points out, is how isolated COVID ward patients are, and how this affects their mentality. Being surrounded by people in masks and facing a potentially fatal disease alone is challenging for anyone.   “When you’re in the COVID ward [the patients are] isolated and there’s all the stigma. You’re meant to have minimal interaction with them, so it can be quite a scary time. They’re all alone in the hospital. That’s what I’m praying about before going into my shifts, so I remember in the small interactions we have that I can still bring a bit of hope and joy.”   When asked how she remains positive in this period, she simply answers, “I get lots of comments about how ‘you’re always happy, you’re always smiling, you need to share whatever it is that you’ve got’. And I’m like, well, I can. It’s God.”

Jance: A Life of Recovery and Not Looking Back

Jance Deiker, 42, lives a life filled with love. 20 years have gone by since his recovery, yet his life of drugs, music, and sex doesn’t seem so long ago as he recalls his old ways.   Everyone looks for self-love and a sense of identity. When asked what started his drug habit, he answered, “70s and 80s rock bands were my inspiration, and I fell in love with the idea of becoming like them. At one point, I found my answer in drugs.”   He continued to describe how he spiraled further into drugs. “Using drugs made me feel like my life is awesome. It allowed me to see life from a different angle, it expanded my creativity horizon, it made me feel like I could slow down life as I like it. It made me feel at peace with myself.”   Despite feeling like he was on top of the world, the people around him knew he needed help. However, when a therapist was provided, he denied the need for one. “What was the need for a therapist when I feel like my life has never been better?” He could not have known the euphoria was only temporary.   As with drugs, all highs were followed by a comedown. He went through a paranoid phase for a month where he was isolated, thought he had lost his mind, and felt as if the world was coming for him and his loved ones. His whole identity that came from his desire to become like the 70s and 80s rock bands were instantly stripped away when he had no choice but to stop using. He felt–and was–lost.   During his path to recovery, Jance traveled to Japan for a year. It was there that he found the true value of his relationships. “It was funny how during my drug-filled days, I became distant with my family. And after my recovery, most of my friends who had used drugs with me since high school were instantly gone.” He realised that for his recovery to stay permanent, he needed to reprogram his mindset to heal and rediscover who he was.   His relationship with God made him discover his true self, helping him reconcile with himself. “Relationships became primary in my life. I built relationships that are healthier after my recovery,” ones that were with the right people, himself, and God.   When I asked whether he was ever tempted to return to drugs, he chuckled and answered with no hesitation, “Never”.        

Weng Yew: On Passion, Clouds and Self-Discovery

A dash of white and grey, feathers ruffling on the wings of a bird, rushing past the image. And beside it, its twin, except softer, the light less contrasted, less in a hurry. A bird reaching the shore and taking a moment to rest. ‘In your light I learn how to love’ - like a final sigh, a quote by Rumi completes the photograph. After ten years of experimenting, Wong Weng Yew, 35, has found something in clouds that reflects the way he looks at life. “Clouds make you think of the movement of time. They are there for one moment and they quickly disappear. It shows us that things are not permanent,” he says. The idea behind his art is to make people pause. To make them look twice at reality. What do you see when you use a different lens, a different exposure button? This reflection also influences the way he looks at relationships. “When you see both images, they’re actually the same cloud. Part of the idea of putting them together is that I want the viewers to experience this tension that exists between the images. They are the same, and yet they are different.” There is a subtle unease, Weng Yew describes, in personal relationships when he rubs shoulders with someone who is too similar. “If I am competitive and I see someone else who is very competitive, I will view that person as not very friendly. But then I realise, after taking such photos and putting them together, that perhaps the reason I don’t feel comfortable with them is because they are too much like me.”

Jamie: Finding Family in the Drag World

“Drag is my alter ego,” she said, “It gives me confidence. It’s what I want to be.” Jamie, now 21, has been performing drag for the past two years. For our interview, she sits in her bedroom in full drag attire – a black choker, thigh-high stockings, platinum blonde hair.  She left Japan in 2016. “I was like a misfit,” she recalled. “I was so different. In Japanese tradition everyone had to be the same, and I just– I didn’t want that.”  Jamie grew up as a shy Filipino boy named Shota who loved dancing. Since the age of 18, she would watch in awe as many different drag performers went on stage night after night. One night, Jamie saw a drag group performance of the Pussycat Dolls here in Melbourne – they later became her drag family.  It gave her four drag sisters, and a beloved drag mother, Gigi. “In this house, we are all people of colour,” she explained. “It’s unique, and there’s more diversity.”  Drag mother Gigi became a doting figure. “She would call me, ask if I’d like to come over, offer me Filipino food…” Gigi also helped Jamie book performing gigs. In one of their shows in St. Kilda last year, Jamie’s mother from Japan had come to visit and watch.  “My mom’s always been supportive,” Jamie said, even when raising the shy boy Jamie once was. “She’s really fun, she loves people.” On that shownight, she was introduced to Gigi. The two women clicked from the very beginning.  “They were like besties,” Jamie told me. They shared a language, went out to lunch, had their own jokes. “It was like they [had known] each other for a long time.” Jamie’s mother still lives in Japan, in full support of Jamie’s career. When I asked what she thought of the show, Jamie answered, “She always knew I loved dancing.” The drag family stays in touch, including Gigi, who now runs a business from her home. “People accept you no matter what,” Jamie added. “So be who you want to be.”