The island is full of bird life – and they are not shy of humans.
The white capped noddies are currently nesting all over the island. Despite their fishy-smelling droppings, I think the are a very beautiful bird.
My favourite, however, are the rails. They are very mischievous and try to get into the research station kitchen (one did manage to get in the other night and it took quite some effort to get it out again).
Speaking of the night time antics of birds...the mutton birds make the weirdest noises at night...a bit like wailing children.
Barely recovered from the jet lag, I'm already preparing for the next trip. Fortunately this one is just interstate...a week and a half on a tropical island for work. Before my trip to Norway, I had arranged to get prescription sunglasses made so I could take them with me. I went to collect them yesterday but when I put them on, everything looked blurry. At first, I thought I just needed time for my eyes to adjust but it soon became apparent that they had made a mistake with one of the lenses. The store manager said she'd try to get them corrected for me before I go. Otherwise, she offered to courier them to me. Not sure what kind of courier service they use but I doubt they'd be able to easily get it to me.
The flight was uneventful (which is a good thing I guess). There were grumpy toddlers sitting behind me and a baby screaming in our section of the plane but, alas, I couldn't hear a thing thanks to my Bose noise cancelling headphones (the best Christmas presents ever). Currently at home with Truffles trying to relax (and catch up on sleep) before work tomorrow.
Well, having just returned from my breakfast, I can certainly see why it is the best in Norway. In fact, it is the best breakfast buffet I have ever had (and the best thing is that I'll get to have it again tomorrow morning, and the morning after that too). It was bloody amazing. They had separate 'stations' dedicated to cereals and breads, waffles and pastries, eggs (e.g. fried, scrambled, poached, custom-made omelette), fresh fruit, freshly squeezed fruit juices, chacuterie, fromagerie, poissonerie (and pretty much every other kind of '-erier' you can think of). Apart from one poached egg, I pretty much spent the last 40 minutes gorging on the wide selection of Norwegian smoked and cured fish.
I am finding it exceedingly difficulty to settle into the time zone on this visit. Anyhow, what better way to whittle away the wee hours of the morning than to update one's blog. I left Oslo yesterday for the beautiful city of Trondheim. So far, even though I am here in Norway for work, I must say that the visit has been a real culinary treat. The seafood here is magnificent...they even have whale on the menu. Apparently, whale is very tasty but I'm not sure if I can bring myself to eating it (even though its meant to be a tightly regulated and sustainable fishery in Norway). Anyhoo... speaking of large tasty mammals, I had moose for dinner last night. I was told by my hosts that it was a roast leg of moose. Actually, it was a portion of the leg of a moose (I'd imagine an actual leg of moose would have had difficulty fitting into their oven). Talk about yum. I had no idea the meat would be so tender. It was flavourful, melt-in-your-mouth and juicy...everything you could possibly want out of a piece of meat (the secret, apparently, is to cook it on very low heat). Anyhow, I have been assured that the culinary ventures will continue this morning...evidently the hotel I am staying at does the best breakfast in Norway but alas, I still have two hours to kill before the restaurant is open.
The days are short at this time of the year. Mid afternoon feels like early evening and early evening feels like the middle of the night…probably not helped by a long, sleep-deprived flight. After gorging on Norwegian fish cakes for dinner (purchased from the local markets), I was sound asleep by 7pm.
It was pretty warm on Saturday afternoon when I left Melbourne. About a day later, I found myself arriving in Oslo at the other temperature extreme (- 1 degree to be exact). I am staying with my friend, Marianne. After dropping off the bags at Marianne’s apartment and a quick shower, we decided to head out to the Munst museum. As the name suggests, the museum is dedicated to the works of Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch. The artist’s most iconic painting is The Scream.
There are several versions in existence, one of which was on display. The security at the museum is one of the most extreme I have ever seen for art gallery. Visitors firstly have to go through an airport-like security system (x-ray machine for bags, walk through metal detectors), and several glass gates/barriers before entering the security camera-laden gallery spaces to see the paintings. Leaving the exhibition requires visitors to pass through two addition security gates. The reason for the heightened security? A few years ago, the museum fell victim to a brazen theft of several Munch paintings. Still, the system in place seems a bit of an over kill to me.
I enjoy going for a bit of a wander around Changi airport. Apart from the benefits of walking after a long flight, there are lots of pretty garden beds scattered throughout the airport. Here is one planted with nice orchids.
I'm off to Norway today. I've never been before so I'm really looking forward to it. It'll be a very quick visit though (back in Oz already by the following Monday). I'll spend the first few days in Oslo visiting my friend, Marianne, before heading north for work. Marianne has already warned me that it will be cold but I had a look at the weather forecast and it looks like Canberra winter temperatures to me so I think I'll be alright. The University that invited me will be paying for the trip and my hosts have promised to take me to a nice sushi restaurant when I am there. Should be fun.
I fell in love with the Finnish textile and design store Marimekko when I was living in Helsinki. Every time I go back to Finland, I would invariably drop into a Marimekko shop (or three) to check out their home wares, fabrics and bags. Well...as of last week, I no longer have to haul my purchases half way across the globe: Marimekko has launched its first stores here in Australia (Sydney and Melbourne). Nathan and I popped into the Melbourne shop today and went on a buying frenzy. Here I am checking out the cushions:
A lovely purple, red and orange cushion for the festive season:
Me modelling the tea towels and oven glove that I'm not sure if I will use:
We took Truffles to the vet today. Nathan and I were hoping to go to the clinic of our favourite vet blogger, Dr Nic, but unfortunately the lack of a car meant that we had to search for a clinic closer to home. The good news is that we managed to find a vet within walking distance. And he seems very passionate about animals. In fact, he spent the first minute with his face buried in Truffle's face, while Truffles vigorously licked the vet's nose and lips (As much as Nathan and I love Truffles, even we don't let Truffles lick us on the lips). We probably would have said something though if the vet proceeded to sniff Truffles' butt but fortunately he didn't. The vet was very good with the Truffles so we've decided to bring her back there for desexing in a few week's time.
Today was the perfect Sunday. I woke up at a reasonable hour for a change (as opposed to getting up at dawn's crack) and lazed about in bed savouring the thought of a nice, relaxing day ahead. Lunch was a roast loin of pork I started preparing the night before to ensure that the skin would crackle to perfection. And it did (for a change)...Crispy, crunchy, yummy crackling. Later in the afternoon, Nathan and I decided to go for a walk along the Yarra. We made our way to the NGV for scones before making our way home back along the Yarra, soaking up the sun and the wonderful atmosphere.
Two weeks and two dress up parties. Last week was a halloween-themed party. The folks that hosted decked out their house with lots of cobwebs, fake blood and artificial body parts. Nathan wore a wig and a cape. I wore a henchman's outfit accompanied by a plastic axe. Last night's party had a 90s theme. I've decided that the 90s was a very nondescript decade. Most people dressed up as movie characters from the decade. Nathan went as Jim Carrey's character from The Mask. It was embarassing catching the taxi with him (bright yellow suit, painted green face). I went as a scientist from Jurassic Park (with a canister containing a dinosaur 'embryo'). There was 90s music playing all night, with the video clips projected onto a big screen. There's something rather formulaic about a 90s video clip...half naked back up dancers, skimpy outfits, random words flashing, block colours, and an obligatory rapper. Cheesy but fun.
I spent the day working at the Prahran library yesterday. Sometimes it's good to get out of the office...too many distractions. There is a quiet area at the back of the library with desks for people to work so I found myself a nice little spot and settled into the thesis I was suppose to be marking. About an hour in, a guy settles into a desk opposite me and starts to use the internet. At first, he was mumbling very softly to himself (evidently there were some issues with his keyboard or internet connection). But then he got increasingly more aggressive and started swearing at the computer, talking to himself, and banging wildly at the computer. This goes on for at least half an hour. Seriously, are those antics really necessary?
Nathan and I rushed to catch the train this morning with the intention of going out to Armadale for brunch. We realised (a bit too late) that we were on an express train that didn't stop at Armadale. We got off at the next stop (Caulfield), walked over to a platform for city bound trains, and hopped onto another train. We then realised we had boarded yet another express train back to the city. Once again, we bypassed Armadale. We both felt pretty stupid.
A stranger on the tram this afternoon started chatting with me and asked what course I was doing in Australia. He had assumed I was an international student. Seriously? In today's multicultural society, is it still right to assume that someone who is not white is either (1) new to the country or (2) a foreign student? I politely told him I am Australian and grew up in Canberra.
Nathan and I had heard that the Napoleon exhibition at the NGV was opening 24 hours over this, its final, weekend. We were both very enthusiastic about going and had been talking about it all week. And then, last night, neither of us had the will power to carry it out.
Hmmm...I might have to reassess my negative views about Copenhagen. My friend, the one who had his wallet 'stolen', had it sent back to him in Finland. Either the thief was nice or some good samaritan found it and took it to the police station. Perhaps it was never stolen in the first place (my friend is pretty clumsy...he might have simply dropped it).
This map shows the three stops that a trial ferry will be making as it moves around the Docklands.
What an absolute waste of money. Those stops are already easily accessible by catching the 48, 70 or city circle trams. In fact, the two furthest stops are just a short 15-20 minute walk apart. My dad will love it though because it is free.
According to Wikipedia, "An izakaya (居酒屋) is a type of Japanese drinking establishment which also serves food to accompany the drinks". Well, imagine our surprise when we went to a newly opened izakaya at Hawthorn last night and were told that they weren't able to serve alcohol b/c their liquor license hasn't been approved yet. It didn't bother me so much (I don't drink). My friend's husband, on the otherhand, wasn't too pleased.
Oats. Krill oil tablets. Macadamia nuts. Salmon. Even chia seeds. You'd think the steps I've taken to reduce my cholesterol would pay off. But no...it actually went up. Sigh. Hmmm...I wonder if eating those ox tail stews and cholesterol-rich squid might have been counter-productive.
I went to Queen Vic markets yesterday just before closing time. If I had bothered to check the time, I may well have skipped it altogether. The vendors in the meat section were desperate to get rid of all their produce. I attempted to buy 2 kg of ox tail from one of the butcher stalls. The woman behind the counter asked if I wanted the rest of the tray. I asked her if it was 2kg worth. She told me it was about 2.5 so I gave her the thumbs up (it's so noisy that hand gestures work well). She bagged the meat and placed in on the scale and then told me it was 3.5kg and asked if that was ok. You can probably guess what my answer was.
Ok...so three food-related posts in a row must make me look like I've done precious little this weekend other than eat. And you know what, it's true. But heck, if it's blowing a gail outside, I'd much rather be in front of the kitchen conjuring up a culinary feast. So...back to the topic of this post: squid. After we left Silo, Nathan and I headed up to the Queen Vic markets. I ended up buying a couple of squid (with heads still attached), with the idea of making salt and pepper squid for lunch (the problem with eco-friendly breakfasts is that you get hungry very quickly). We brought our molluscs home and I got started on the prep work. Now, I have to admit at this point that I've only ever prepared squid once before (and I must have blocked the trauma of the experience out of my mind) but let me just say it right now...preparing squid is a friggin' bitch. I reckon this guy knows what I'm talking about:
The kitchen was plastered with ink, guts, and beaks. But it was their eyes that really got the best of me. Those advanced cephalopod eyes. I don't know how I did it, but I did manage to get some edible parts from the dismembered body sitting in the sink. These (i.e. the edible bits) were dusted in flour, paprika, salt and pepper, and lovingly fried in oil (for only a few seconds...you don't want to over-cook them). Accompanied with some mayonnaise and wedges of lemon, the squid turned into a most delectable experience after all.
In return for the sumptuous dinner the night before, Nathan suggested going out for brekky yesterday so we headed off to Silo. It took us a while to find the place but the cafe was located in Hardware Street in the CBD right opposite the Hardware Societe cafe (which, by the way, seemed a lot more popular with a long line of people waiting outside). Our venue was far less crowded and I must admit that when the menu was delivered to us, I very nearly joined the back of Societe's queue. It's not that I don't have faith in Nathan's choice of restaurant venues (his cooking is another matter) but when the menu has dishes titled 'leek, egg, seeds', it does make me a little nervous ('where's the sausage?'). The waiter did explain, however, that this was an eco-friendly cafe (whatever the heck that means) so I guess I was in for an ecologically guilt-free breakfast experience (And why not? I am an ecologist after all). I was more nervous for Nathan (he complains when I sprinkle chia seeds on his porridge or serve him quinoa with the sunday roast). But as it turns out, my concerns were unfounded. We were both extremely satisfied with our 'coddled hen egg with mushrooms'. The bread they served it on is made in-house (and when I say 'made' I mean they even mill their own flour!), as was the soy milk I had with my earl grey. Sure, I'd probably like to try Hardware Societe one day (there must be a reason why folks were patiently waiting in line in the wind yesterday to secure a table), but I had to hand it to Nathan for picking Silo. And the smug bastard knew it too. As we walked out of the restaurant, he asked "Were you surprise I picked such a great place?". "Not as surprised as you", I replied.
It was friday. I was feeling in need of a treat so I arranged with Nathan to meet up after work for a fancy dinner. When I think fancy, I think of japanese. I'm not talking about teppanyaki here (is it even authentic?). No, we went for japanese degustation at Shoya. It's been a while but it was still amazing. We went for the 'festive course'. And festive it certainly was (in fact, each morsel they brought out felt like a full on carnival in my mouth). My favourite was the beef cheek wrapped in spinach. A lot of food though. Nathan and I had to go friday night shopping afterwards to help us digest.
What a glorious weekend. The weather was fantastic. Nathan and I went to Northcote for lunch with his cousin on Saturday. Today, we headed off to the Camberwell markets in the morning before making our way to Victoria street for sugar cane prawns and vietnamese noodle soup for lunch. We spent the afternoon perusing bric-a-brac and then headed to the Queen Vic markets, where we bought some produce for tonight's dinner (ox tail for soup...I love doing a soup or a slow braise on the weekends). I'm feeling totally rejuvenated for the week ahead (including the start of 8am lectures). Bring it on.
We celebrated my maternal grandma's 90th last weekend. So, basically the day after returning from Europe, I was at the airport again (this time with Nathan) on our way to Canberra. All the extended family were descending into town. My uncle and aunt were already there and made paella for us on the Friday night when we arrived. The paella was a personal request (my uncle and his wife lived in Brazil for many years and are exceptional cooks). My cousins arrived on the Saturday from Brisbane, as did my sister and brother-in-law from Melbourne. I hadn't seen my two cousins for years. They are all married now, with kids. Very cute (the kids, that is). Saturday night was the actual birthday party. We went to the Hyatt for...of course, a buffet (What is it with chinese families and buffets?) All of my dad's side of the family were invited too. All in all, I think grandma had a nice birthday party. 90 years is a hell of a long time when you think about it. She has seen the world change very rapidly in her life time and has experienced so much (including a world war).
"Unfortunately the in-flight entertainment system is not available in economy class on your flight AY081 Helsinki - Singapore Changi 21.08.2012 due to technical reasons. We are sincerely sorry for the inconvenience this may cause you. Kind regards, Finnair Customer Service"
I have a bout of the squirts so have been confined to bed all day. I'm staying hydrated with plenty of energy drinks and trying my best not to shit myself. Other than that, I just have to let it run its course. I suspect it was the salmon salad I had in Lund before I left. Food poisoning is a real pain in the butt (literally...it is seriously hurting down there from the coarse toilet paper). I think I'll be ok though (so don't worry mum). It seems that it wasn't only me that had a shit day. My travelling buddy went out in the afternoon and was pick-pocketted.
The conference ended today so my Finnish friend and I caught the train to Copenhagen.
The trains connecting Sweden and Denmark are very confusing...there are special carriages for people who don't want to talk, people who have prams, people on bikes, those with luggages, and those who are disabled. Do the wrong thing in the wrong carriage attracts wrath from the otherwise peaceful Scandinavian commuters (i made that mistake on my first train rip when I was chatting to an American in the no speaking carriage).
We are staying in a hotel close to Chinatown that has no front desk. The way it works is that you get a text on the day you are due to arrive and are provided with a code that opens the front and room door. It's very impersonal but efficient. Not surprisingly, I was told it is a Finnish hotel chain (Finns seem to go out of their way to interact with people).
Still no sign of Princess Mary but I did see some Arne Jacobsen swan chairs. Swoon. Oh, and apparently it is Copenhagen pride this week. What a coincidence.
Had a half day off yesterday so I took the train with some friends/colleagues across to Copenhagen for the afternoon. One of the friends suggested we avoid the touristy part of town and to go, instead, to the 'meat village.' It turned out to be a mistake. The meat village was not as hip as it sounded. Within 5 minutes of walking through a courtyard, we witnessed a woman having a heroin overdose so we promptly left and went to a nearby cafe for ice cream instead. Other than the cafe where we were having our ice cream, this district of Copenhagen seemed a bit seedy. Every second shop was a tattoo parlour with people who look like skinheads standing outside. We decided to go to the touristy end of town after that.
I caught up for dinner with my former boss from the US and a few other American's last night at the home of a dutch girl who now works in Lund. We had a Swedish-Italian-American feast. Starters were very Swedish – lots of fish (smoked, pickled, more of that pink stuff in a tube) – along with some ham and salami that my boss had brought over from Italy. His wife cooked a beautiful risotto with chanterelle mushrooms for mains which was a perfect accompaniment for grilled ribs and pork chops. Both my former boss and wife are jewish but obviously they don't keep kosher. We ate dinner at the back of the dutch girl's house, which overlooks a brook (teeming with iridescent blue damselflies) and a paddock with two horses running around....beautiful (it felt a bit like a photo shoot for some epicure/travel magazine). I met their two young daughters for the first time. They speak perfect English, Italian, French and Spanish but the oldest is only 5! When it got dark, shooting stars were streaming across the sky. What a wonderful evening.
I headed down for brekky this morning at the hotel cafe. It was deserted. It seems everyone else must be sleeping in so I help myself to the food. They had reconstituted scrambled 'egg' on the menu. I didn't know it was reconstituted. It tasted like egg but had a nasty texture (don't think I'll be going for that again). There was also pickled herring at the buffet. I developed a liking for it on my last visit to Sweden but it is definitely an acquired taste and it took me several attempts before I finally decided I can stomach it. In addition to the pickled fish, I also tried some of the pink fish egg that comes in a toothpaste-like tube. Salty.
Flew from Helsinki to Copenhagen this morning and caught the train to Lund in Sweden where I will be based for the next few days. Lund is a beautiful city – probably the most beautiful city I have seen so far in Sweden. My colleague and I bought some nice bread, salad and smoked salmon and had a nice picnic lunch in the botanic gardens. We are now sitting in a nice cafe somewhere enjoying the sunshine and practising our conference presentations. I'm really looking forward to exploring the city over the next few days (in between breaks at the conference of course).
The second day of my trip in Finland was a mix of work and play. I caught up with one of my colleagues for lunch and then spent a couple of hours working on a scientific manuscript in a cafe. As a reward, we went shopping afterwards. There was the obligatory stop over at Marimekko as well as a visit to H&M (Nathan had a wish list of clothes he wanted me to get for him). In the evening, I caught up with some other friends at a restaurant that was simply called "China". Evidently it was the "first chinese restaurant in Helsinki since 1973". Not sure exactly what that means but it was packed with chinese people. In fact, I haven't seen so many Asians in the once place since leaving the airport. The food was passable. Then it was off to a bar for post dinner drinks. We each ordered a 'mocktail.' I know it sounds lame but one of us was pregnant (not me) and one of us doesn't drink. Plus, we had to get up early the next day for our flight to Copenhagen.
I am in Finland (again). This time, I'm in transit (sort of). I head off to Copenhagen tomorrow and then catching the train to Sweden for a conference. I'll be returning to Copenhagen for a couple of days after that. I'm looking forward to it, having never been to Denmark before. I wonder if I'll see Princess Mary?
Anyhoo...back to Finland. I got in bright and early yesterday morning (i.e. 6.30am but the sun was already high in the sky). I've brought a cold with me. Managed not to get sick the entire winter until just a few days ago after catching up with a friend in the city ("I'm not contagious," she said. Yeah right). One of the first things I do in Helsinki is go to the supermarket and purchase a bottle of unsweetened lingonberry juice (well, I accidentally bought unsweetened cranberry juice but that's what happens when you can't read Finnish and have to rely on the picture on the label). I guzzled half of it in one go. It was mouth-numbingly sour but I'm thinking (in hope) that the hit of vitamin c and powerful anti-oxidants will do me some good. I then spent the afternoon fishing in Helsinki harbour on a tinny. It was my friend's idea. He said I needed to stay awake, get some sun and try to overcome the jet lag. We caught 16 pike perch, took three home (on the bus), and ate them for dinner. I was asleep by 10pm. Perfect.
The builder and plumber came in and fixed the sink on Friday. Yay! Apparently the original plumbing work was mega dodgy...there was a bloody hole in the pipe. No wonder water was gushing out and rotting the skirting boards. The plumber had to cut out the old pipe and install a new one. The smell that came out of the plumbing system was pretty nasty. The plumber reckons it's the worst he has ever smelt. Both he and the builder were speculating as to what the smell could be. "At least you know that shit smells like shit", the builder said.
I've had dramas with my apartment ever since I bought the place back in 2005. In fact, it wasn't long after moving in that I first noticed a damp smell coming from the kitchen area. Because it was a new apartment complex, I got the builders to come in to check it out. At the time, they insisted it was just the pipes and that things would settle. It didn't. The skirting board started to expand indicating that there was a moisture problem under the kitchen bench. Because I was still covered by the builder's warranty, I got someone from the building company back to check it out earlier this year. He removed the worst of the skirting boards to reveal a microcosm of fungal diversity flourishing under my kitchen. He told me to let it dry out and that he would return in a couple of weeks to have another look. He came back six months later. This time, he removed a much larger piece of skirting board that had become rotten so that he could inspect the plumbing. The amount of construction debris/rubbish that was still sitting in the cavity was absolutely astounding. The guy ended up pulling out 2 bags of decaying pieces of wood, nails, tape and even an old cigarette box...all of this rubbish had been left in situ when the builders installed the kitchen. Is it standard practise for builders to entomb rubbish in wall cavities and under kitchen cabinets? It makes me wonder what other treasures lie hidden away in my apartment.
I caught up with two of my closest friends last night for dinner at an inner city Vietnamese restaurant. One of the friends just got back from overseas. I have known him since grade 4. He and his wife are expecting their first child, a boy. The other I met while at uni and is currently working on the manuscript for his second novel, which will be centered on a gay character. He has been quite heavily (and obsessively) researching the piece and I recently wrote about his visit to a sex-on-premises venue (quite brave given that he is both straight and has a girlfriend). Maybe it's the stage we are at in our lives but it does seem that we are now having very grown up conversations. We talk about my friend's baby. What will they call their son? (not sure yet, but it'll have to match the Spanish surname of his dad). Will the baby be circumcised (Don't know. Don't care. Got to ask the wife. Her background is Jewish). We turn to my other friend. Has he and his girlfriend started talking about babies yet (Yes....the plan is to have a baby within the next year and a half...women and their biological clocks...tick, tick, tick ). My turn. Will Nathan and I ever get married? Have kids? It's so far from my reality, I tell them, I haven't allow myself to think about marriage or kids. "Nathan and I are thinking about getting a dog though", I say.
I got to the National Gallery and bump into my friend's mum, his cousin, the cousin's wife and newborn baby. I go to the national museum and bump into my friend's husband and their two kids in the gift shop. I go to a cafe for afternoon tea and bump into my uncle, aunt, and three of my cousins. Everywhere I go in Canberra, I see familiar people. It's hard to sneak into town.
I'm in Canberra for the week (too much annual leave).
I arrived on Saturday and, after the obligatory visit to Costco (it is next to the airport and my folks are a fan), went for a family lunch in Dickson (Canberra's china town).
The owner of the restaurant used to work for my parents. She is loud, nosy and inquisitive. And, like many chinese people, feel that it is perfectly acceptable to ask about your personal life.
Sure enough, the moment I walked into the restaurant, she ambushes me (in cantonese) "When are we going to see you with a girl next to you?". I roll my eyes. She persists and speaks at a volume that is typical of cantonese-speakers (i.e. loud so that the entire restaurant can hear) "Do you have a girlfriend yet?"
"No," I reply.
"Why not?", she asks.
I am silent and present her with a steely smile [how does one say 'homosexual' in cantonese?].
Sensing that she wasn't getting anywhere with me, she moves onto my married sister and brother-in-law. "When are you two going to have a child? Your parents want grandchildren" [ok, she is not only nosy, but psychic too].
Then she turns to my youngest sister. "Do you have a boyfriend yet? Aunty knows lots of people. Let me be your matchmaker." [nosy, psychic and relationships expert].
When she has finally had enough, she walks away. I whisper to the family "Let's not come here again."
I spent the day trying to reconcile my work credit card statement with the huge pile of invoices and receipts I have accumulated in the last few months. Our uni just switched to an online system. Previously, we had to staple all our tax invoices onto a sheet. Now, we just have to scan everything in. Thanks to the photo booth function on my mac...I have been taking photos of my receipts instead...
In light of the comments to my last post from Andrew and Victor, I decided to do some further research and it seems that the evidence for 2D:4D ratio differences between straight and gay men is not as clear cut as what I had originally thought. While some studies have reported statistically significant differences, others have not. So Andrew and Victor can breath easy. Intriguingly, according to a study published in Archives of Sexual Behaviour in 2003, digit ratio does appear to relate to erotic role preferences in gay men.
I recently saw a video of myself giving a public lecture. It's an interesting experience, watching yourself talk. There is the voice that is not immediately recognisable as my own. And there are idiosyncratic physical gestures too...the smile, the posture, the tilt of the head, and...the flamboyant hand movements. Man, am I really that gay? Scientists have shown that there are, indeed, behavioural differences between gay and straight men in the way that we gesture. I guess non-scientists who pick up on those cues call it gaydar. There are important morphological differences as well. The most intriguing is the difference in the so called 'second-to-fourth-digit' ratio between gay and straight men. Imagine my horror a few years back (when I was not yet out of the closet) when a colleague asked to see my hand. After inspecting it thoughtfully, she declared "you're gay". Don't believe that a man's hand can reveal his sexuality? If you're a bloke, do the test yourself. Lay your hand on a flat surface with the fingers close together. Which is longer? The second digit (i.e. index finger) or the fourth? Compared to a straight man, the index finger on a gay man should be longer than the fourth digit. Not quite sure how this would work for men that sit somewhere in the middle of the Kinsey scale.
This is my most recent art acquisition – a collection of 30 bones wrapped in red velvet. The artist, who is from Western Australia, scours the country side for road kill. She takes the animals, boils them down and extracts their bones. She then sews them up individually in velvet. I think they are beautiful. Nathan reckons they are creepy (as, I suspect, will most of my readers). In fact, Nathan initially refused to have them in the apartment and suggested I bring them into work and hang them in the office instead. However, when he finally saw them, he conceded that they were not as bad as what he had originally thought...so the bones are now hanging in a discreet location behind the stairs to the bedroom.
I am having postal issues. It seems that our postie doesn't give a shit or is simply incompetent. For a few months now, I've been finding other people's mail in my mail box and vice versa. And I don't think it's because I'm living in an apartment complex (where one might expect the odd mix up with unit numbers) because I've been getting mail that is not even addressed to the right street name. More recently, mum had sent me something from Canberra that ended up being returned to her even though the address on the envelope was correct. My experiences with Australia Post in the last few months is a far cry from my parents' experience back in Canberra. They've had the same postie delivering their mail for decades. I remember a few years ago, a bloke with an impressive moustache walking into the family restaurant for take away. After placing his order he asked me if I knew who he was. I said "No". He then pressed both hands against his cheek (to simulate the look of someone wearing a motorcycle helmet) and proudly declared "I'm your postie".
I am awake and cannot get back to sleep...a perfect opportunity to post a few blog entries. Nathan had to wake up super early this morning to catch a flight to Perth. He is visiting his friend Penny to celebrate her son's first birthday. Penny got impregnated by an Indian chef when she was living in Melbourne (we think she has a thing for black men). Penny decided to head back to WA to raise the baby on her own because the father of the child isn't interested in being in the baby's life (and hasn't even bothered to tell his family). It's his loss really because the baby is absolutely adorable. The baby's a boy and his name is Alex. He has beautiful long eye lashes and will no doubt grow up to be an extremely handsome adult. Pity he won't really get to know his Indian roots.
Just got back from a conference. I think I'm getting old. I used to be much more social at these events...going out for dinner with large groups of grad students/colleagues and maybe even going dancing at a bar afterwards. This time around, I opted for quiet dinners with the colleague with whom I was staying. I better lift my game for the big international conference in Europe in August. Start banking sleep now so I can have the stamina to dance the night away.
I will never forget the first time I visited Mexico. Everything was a revelation: the people, the culture, and above all, the cuisine. Mexican food in Mexico was like nothing I had tasted before, from the tamale I bought from a vendor while waiting at a bus stop to the stewed pork and rice I ate in the family kitchen of a 'restaurant' in the village where I was working. Authentic Mexican cuisine absolutely trumps the stuff that is passed off as Mexican food outside of Mexico. So...it was with absolute anticipation that I set off from work on Friday with plans to join Nathan, my sis and brother in law for dinner at Mamasita in the city. Everyone, it seems, has been raving about this place...including Mexicans. But alas...dinner at Mamasita never eventuated. It seems that the rest of Melbourne (in its typical faddish way) has also discovered the delights of authentic Mexican...and Mamasita in particular. Even at 5.30pm, the place was absolutely packed and there was a 2.5 hour wait for a table (I love real mexican but i don't love it that much). And it's not like we didn't try to book a table beforehand but the place is so popular that they have a very strict reservation policy (reservations for groups of 8-10 only and even then, the conditions are stricter than Australia's mandatory detention policy). Alas, authentic Mexican will have to wait another night.
I've had lamb shoulder on the mind ever since our last visit to Cumulus Inc. So...when I saw lamb shoulders at the local woolies yesterday, I grabbed one with the intention of slow cooking it for lunch today. The preparations began last night. I had no idea how many hours I had to cook it for (should really have checked the internet for such things BEFORE I start cooking). Anyhoo...a whole two hours into the cooking process, I decide to check the lamb. The thing was still stone cold. Bloody fan forced option on the oven is not working. Panic. Fortunately, I realise that the 'bake option is still working fine so problem solved. A few more hours later, I go off to bed and switch the oven off. It is back on again this morning. The lamb bloody better be 'melt in the mouth' by lunch.
I can't believe my luck. Yesterday, when I was on my way to meet a friend for lunch, I decided to drop into the Chapel Street Bazaar. Lo and behold, I see a pair of orange vinyl dining chairs that look identical to the ones I have at home...except you can actually SIT on them! Of the four I have at home, one has a broken leg, and two have broken backs. For quite a while I've thought about tossing my old chairs out and buying new ones but ever since the photo shoot for The Age (and all the positive feedback from friends and strangers alike), I've been reluctant to let them go. Now, I have the possibility of buying two replacements and to send two of the broken chairs into storage (until such time that I can get them restored). Hmmm...I just hope I haven't tempted fate by not buying them right away (just had to confirm that they were, in fact, identical).
I attended a public lecture last night, along with a bunch of other scientists. It never ceases to amaze me just how bad some scientists communicate. A few simple tips would most certainly prevent the audience from falling asleep. First, don't use crazy big words (and if you must use them, explain what they mean!). Second, make sure you keep to the allocated time limit (a ten minute talk shouldn't go for 20 minutes...it's bad form). Third, don't say things for the sake of trying to sound like you have something intelligent to contribute to the debate (because it makes you look stupid).
I went out for dinner with Nathan and a bunch of friends last night on Lygon Street. The manager of the restaurant had the most amazing physique of any man I have ever seen in real life. We are not talking about subjective perceptions of beauty here. He was scientifically beautiful...a strong jaw line, a high forebrow ridge, a v-shaped body. He was almost too beautiful. I couldn't stop gawping. It didn't help that he wore a very tight shirt with the top buttons undone, thus accentuating his sizeable pecs. The only downside was his habit of constantly reaching his hands right down his trousers to make sure his shirt was tucked into his pants....dinner service at a restaurant (no matter how sexy you may be) is definitely not the time nor the place to have your hands down your pants.
Nathan and I went to Albury for the weekend. I must admit that, prior to this trip, I had never really thought about Albury as a tourist destination in its own right. It was always a place to stop during the long trips between Canberra and Melbourne (either to eat, stretch legs, swap drivers, go to the loo, or all of the aforementioned).
We decided to go to Albury on this occasion to attend a friend's brother's 30th.
We went by train (or at least that was the plan). Nathan booked us first class tickets, which were only $20 more than economy. However, when we arrived at Southern Cross on Saturday morning, the train was replaced by a bus instead. The excuse we were given was that the train was defective (though the cynic in me noticed that there weren't many of us going to Albury so maybe a bus was more economical).
Albury itself was much nicer than I remembered (i.e. when used as a toilet stop). The cafes were pleasant and we even did some shopping though, in total, we spent just a little under 24 hours in the city itself (had to get back to Melbourne to do some work stuff). I must check out the nearby town next time though.
This morning, I read an article in The Age about a girl who is suing her former school because she didn't get into the course she wanted to at uni. I wonder if it is a symptom of this generation (i.e. If you fail at something, it must be someone else's fault). In my job, I frequently have contact with students who don't hand in their work or neglect to read the instructions on their assignments and then complain why they were awarded a low grade or mark. Earlier this year, I met a student who had failed multiple subjects. Rather than taking an introspective look at her own behaviour, she blamed the university system, her teachers and even the subject itself (mathematics) and claimed that her high school teachers told her that she was 'brilliant'. Maybe it's the way we treat young kids nowadays.... Everybody wins a prize....Everybody is brilliant. Propping up self-belief is one thing but delusions of grandeur is not a desirable outcome.
My sister Joanne turned 30 on Wednesday. Last night, a bunch of cousins and some of Joanne's closest friends came down from Sydney and Canberra for a celebratory dinner. We went to Melba, which has an amazing buffet. I gorged almost exclusively on sashimi and roast duck. As an aside, this is what I would look like if I had a claw for a hand...
Looks like I'll be visiting Scandinavia quite a bit this year. Having already visited Sweden earlier this year, I'll be there again for a conference in a couple of months. Then, out of the blue, I got contacted by a colleague from Norway asking me to be the 'opponent' on his student's PhD thesis defense at the end of the year.
I've never been to Norway before and, even though it will be cold at that time of year, I am very tempted. I would want to make a stop over in Oslo so I can visit my Norwegian friend (a girl I met on the train when she was working here in Melbourne).
I know it is not politically correct but I am also intrigued about the possibility of eating some whale (still undecided on that). Apparently hunting whales in Norway is very tightly regulated and is actually a sustainable fishery so I harbour less guilt about eating it there than say, eating tuna, here.
Apologies for my absence. I've been out in the wilderness collecting fish with one of my students.
It was quite the road trip. A few notable highlights/lessons:
1. Driving the 4WD. I'm pretty much crap at driving anything other than an automatic.
2. Dingoes. Here is an important lesson for camping...dingoes like to dig up (and consume) human poo.
3. Adelaide. What a quaint little city (We saw advertisements warning drivers to watch out for 'drunk walkers').
4. Vegetarianism. The concept doesn't exist in rural Australia. This was not a problem for me but it did bother my student.
5. Flies. They breed 'em small and mean in the bush. A fly net really helps.
6. Baby wipes. Not only good for wiping baby's arses.
7. Man skills. It helps if one can do manly things like (b) strap a jerrycan securely onto the top of the hilux, (b) put up a tent, (c) light a camp fire, and (d) not squeal like a girl every time a road train comes flying past in the opposite direction.
To the student who wrote me an email on the weekend asking if he/she should write out the answers to the assignment in pen or type it out on their computer, please use your initiative. You are not a child anymore. You are at university now and are expected to exercise some initiative.
My very last metcard finally ran out on the weekend while I was in Canberra.
Today will be my first day back at work after the weekend and I'm going to have to use my myki.
Although I got a myki card over a year ago, I have resisted using it because of all the problems that have beleaguered the electronic ticketing system. I hope it doesn't fail me today.
I've used 'smart cards' for public transport in other cities. In Helsinki, commuters are assumed to be honest and public transport authorities have abandoned gates at stations and do not require people to 'touch off' at their destination.
I think similar initiatives here would stop bottlenecks like this:
We took some friends to the Ripponlea mansion the other day. The building was donated to the national trust in the 1970s and is quite spectacular. Unsurprisingly, it is frequently used in films and is a popular wedding venue.
We went on a tour of the mansion itself. It seems that the last owner made a lot of changes...but not necessarily for the better. She painted over the original gold-leaf wall paper and the marble columns, removed the french doors, and knocked down adjoining structures to put in a pool. Some of the other people on the tour were quite critical.
My friend Pete went to a gay sex on premises venue. He is doing research for his second novel. It was his first time. He tried to get me to go with him the last time I was in Canberra but I told him it wasn't my thing. He tells me it was quite a confronting experience and that he felt very uncomfortable (not surprisingly). I can't help but wonder what his girlfriend thinks about it all.
About 2 years ago, I got a friend request on facebook from a guy I didn't know. This happens from time to time (mostly undergraduate students who want to be my friend...a definite no no). But this guy was different – even though I had no idea who he was, we had several friends in common (plus, he looks like Hugh Jackman). What confused me most was that our mutual friends bridge several of my existing friendship circles. Who the hell was this guy? I decided I would ignore his friend request.
Fast forward to Saturday morning. I am on my way back to Canberra (from Melbourne via Sydney) to deal with the leaky fish tank. I am sitting in the aisle seat in the emergency row. Another passenger needs to get to the window seat and as he does, looks at me with surprise and calls out to me by name. Turns out it was the facebook guy (I still didn't know who the hell he was).
Anyhow, we start chatting and it turns out that he had just arrived back to Oz from Europe and was on his way back to Canberra for a week. So let's look at the series of coincidental events that led to this unusual meeting....
ME: 1. Aquarium in Canberra springs a leak. Decided at the last minute to go back to fix it. 2. Only available flight using frequent flyer points has me flying to Canberra via Sydney. 3. Asked for (and was granted) exit row seat (seat 11D).
FACEBOOK GUY: 1. Invited to a wedding in Canberra. 2. Decides to go to Australia for a week. 3. Gets seat 11F (no one sits in 11E so we get to chat).
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a pilot. In fact, I still remember going to the Australian High Commission in Singapore (a pre-six year old memory) and being interviewed by an Australian woman who asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her I wanted to be a pilot. And she suggested maybe I could fly for Qantas one day. I didn't say anything (I didn't know what Qantas was).
I obviously didn't end up as a pilot. But, as a biologist, I nevertheless get to do a fair bit of travelling: travelling to conferences; travelling to field sites; travelling for work shops. I've been doing so much travelling of late that, quite frankly, I think I'm over it.
So...just when I thought I would be done with travelling for a while, it turns out I'll be flying out of Melbourne over the weekend.... to Canberra. My aquarium at my folk's place has sprung a leak. Dad has managed to construct a device to channel the drips back into the filter system but I'm worried the drips might turn into a torrent if I don't do anything about it.
Fortunately, with all the travelling I've been doing of late, I've earned enough frequent flyer points to go home (minus the $100 credit card payment for 'charges and taxes').
The flights are not great though (they never are when you book on frequent flyer points three days before the day of departure). I'll be flying to Canberra via Sydney! Yep. I'll be flying over Canberra on my plane towards Sydney and then, after an hour at Sydney airport, I'll be zipping back south on another plane to Canberra. I'll get in at 9.15am. And less than 24 hours later, I'll be on my way back to Melbourne – a direct flight this time (I don't think I can do the CBR-SYD-MEL thing on a Sunday).
On the plus side, all the recent travelling has finally earned me enough status points to elevate me to Silver membership on my frequent flyers so I'll get to enjoy the Qantas lounge.
I'm back in Oz. I flew from Helsinki to Melbourne via Singapore. Changi is impressive. The last time I was there, it was still undergoing refurbishments. I went for a walk to see the butterfly house. I then sat myself in front of a huge TV monitor to kill time...it was showing Air Crash Investigation (not sure if it was really such a great program to be showing at an airport).
Got back to Melbourne early on Thursday morning. Pretty much went straight to sleep, woke up for lunch and dinner, and then slept straight through 'til 5am. The unprecedented bout of sleep seemed to have killed the jet lag. Went back to work on Friday and didn't feel tired at all.
I just had a sauna in my friend's apartment. Yes, my friend has a sauna in his one bedroom apartment (that's how obsessed Finns are about their saunas). Anyhow, I'm not complaining. It's a great way to start the day. Very relaxing. I'm now ready to go out and face the snow.
Arrived in Finland last night. The first landing attempt on the way into Helsinki was suddenly aborted due to another plane on the runway. I've never experienced an aborted landing before (though I have experienced an aborted take-off...also in Helsinki...hmmm..).
Anyhow, I didn't spend much time in Helsinki. I got to the city centre and immediately boarded a train to Turku. Tomorrow, I'll be going to Tampere. All up, I am only spending four days in Fniland and it looks like I will be spending it in three different cities. Should be fun.
The swedes really know how to put on a feast. To celebrate the final night of the student workshop, we had a traditional 'festmiddag' comprising mountains of shrimp, crabs and scampi prawns accompanied by creamy garlic dipping sauce, fresh bread, and cheese. I don't think I have ever peeled or eaten so many crustaceans in my entire life.