Sunday, May 5, 2019

Social media

I've been neglecting the blog. Too much going on with work and life. A few fellow bloggers and I have been connecting and following each other on other social media platforms, where I've been far more active. For the few regular bloggers/readers still checking in, feel free to send me an email and we can link up that way.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Bidding frenzy

Mirka Moira, a much-loved Melbourne icon, passed away last year.

Today, the contents of her studio is being auctioned off. The prices for her works are going through the roof.

Take the example of this soft sculpture.

With an estimate of $3000-5000, it ended up selling for $62250.

As they say, at an auction, you only need two people who really want something to drive the price up. When the hammer finally came down, the entire room broke out in applause.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Port Fairy

Nathan and I went to a wedding in Port Fairy a few weeks ago.

Port Fairy is a nice town but their tap water tastes strange.

I did some research when I got back. Apparently the quality of the drinking water there is a long standing issue. The bad taste and funny smell is because it is bore water.

I've had bore water elsewhere (e.g. in Central Australia) but I don't recall the weird smell and taste.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Incessant noise

The building next door has been driving me insane.

Car park exhaust fans installed at a similar level to my unit has been coming on very early in the morning and the noise is terrible.

I wrote to the Environment Protection Authority, and was told it's outside their jurisdiction. I was directed to contact the local council, and was asked to fill out a log documenting the extent and nature of the noise for two weeks to see if the noise constituted a public nuisance.

I judiciously filled out the log. A few days after I submitted it, I got a reply saying that the council can't do anything because noise of this nature is normal for the city between 6am to 11pm.

I politely pointed out that the noise was now coming on at 5am, which prompted another round of email exchanges (including a request for me to send them some photos). That was over a week ago. I haven't heard back since.

The joys of city living.

Monday, January 28, 2019

The worm in the soy sauce

People have an unfair aversion to worms. Sure, some are parasites and we should be concerned but many are relatively the one I found on my plate while enjoying a buffet dinner at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.

I think the worm, which was still very much alive and trashing about in a pool of soy sauce, had hitchhiked on some freshly shucked oysters.  I'm not sure what species it was but I could tell it was a polychaete (a group of marine worms), based on the bristles (see above example from the web).

I told my hosts and they were absolutely mortified. I tried to assure them that it was fine and I'll just flick it aside but they insisted on calling over the waiter who promptly took my plate away (along with the oysters and sashimi, which I was still very happy to eat).

A very worried manager then emerged. My hosts were explaining to the manager how gross it was to see a live worm and that they were embarrassed because I had come all the way from Australia. The manager was apologetic and offered me a drink on the house. I told him it was not a big deal and that the offer of the drink, whilst very kind, was unnecessary. In hindsight, I should have just kept my mouth shut – like the time I found a parasitic isopod in the gill of my grilled flounder at a seafood restaurant in Melbourne.


Nathan and I had a fantastic time in Singapore.

A highlight of the trip (or any trip, for that matter) was sampling the local cuisine.

We went to a few fancy places, including a fantastic buffet at the fancy Marina Bay Sands and chilli mud crab from the famous Jumbo Seafood restaurant.
However, some of the best dishes we ate were from the many hawker centres (food courts) around the island, where we ate everything from kway chap (stewed pork belly and pig intestines with rice noodles) to a Michelin awarded Hokkien mee (stir fried noodles). Typically, the Hawker Centre food prices ranged from $3-$5 so the meals were super cheap too.

Of course, I also went for durian. I finally got to sample the so called Musang King, which is a very popular durian variety in south-east Asia. For me, though, it was bit too bitter and I actually prefer the less expensive, sweeter varieties that are available in Australia.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Summer break

I've been on leave since before Christmas and I think this is the most relaxed I've been since starting my job in 2006.

Quite a few stars have been aligned to get to this point. First, I don't have to apply for a research grant this year. The grants are typically due in February and, hence, January tends to be a busy time for academics.

Second, I have accumulated too much annual leave so I need to take it or lose it.

Third, I got promoted to full Professor so I figured I deserved to treat myself to a break.

Nathan and I are off to Singapore today for a week. Should be fun.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The taxi driver

I am heading back to Canberra today for Christmas.

The first taxi I ordered didn't arrive.

The second taxi came – but the driver was an extreme Christian.

The conversation started off fine until I told him I was a biologist. And that's when things took an uncomfortable turn. The guy was a creationist. He was extremely passionate aggressive about his beliefs. At one point he wanted me to explain how bacteria can evolve into humans. I tried to change the subject but he kept coming back to to the Gospel and how God created everything. And that the Sun has always risen from the East because God made it so etc etc. He was getting louder and louder and, as he spoke, he started beating his chest with his palm. It was a tad bit scary.

He asked me if I had a wife. I said 'no' and left it at that.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018


It's official. I'm an LGBT ally at work. I had my training a few weeks ago and I just got sent my rainbow pin, rainbow sticker and rainbow cards (to stick on my door) to prove it.

When I told one of my (straight) colleagues that I was doing LGBTI ally training, he asked whether a gay man can be an ally. I had to think for a few seconds but the answer is, of course, 'yes': I can be an ally to the L, B, T, I, A and Qs in our community.

The training itself was lots of fun and a real eye opener. It made me realise that I was quite an ignorant gay man. If nothing more comes out of the training, at least I now know what pansexual means (I was pretty certain it had nothing to do with cooking implements but that was the extent of my knowledge prior to LGBT training).

I have been doing a bit of reflection over the past couple of months and have decided my new year's resolution is to try to promote greater diversity in academia.  There aren't a lot of gay Asian professors out there. Visibility and representation are both important.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Party Season

It's the season of work Christmas parties and I attended three this year.

The first was a day time event that took place at the zoo. I was super excited  about going to see the animals but it turned out to be a sweltering day and I decided best to stay indoors at the function venue where there was good air-conditioning. The few colleagues who braved it outside to wander around the zoo saw basically nothing. Even the animals had more sense than to venture out into the heat.

That same evening, Nathan had his Christmas part. I swear that Nathan only works so he can go to Christmas parties. He was so excited and ended up buying a new shirt (covered in tiny pink flamingoes) and a bow tie (in pink!) specially for the occasion. I was very surprised. First, Nathan doesn't normally do microprint. Second, he hates pink. I think he is going through a midlife crisis. 

Unlike my day time party, Nathan's event was super fancy. It was held in the Palladium at Crown, and his company always invites a headline act to perform. This year it was Peking Duk. For those of us who aren't on top of our electronic dance music, Peking Duk is an Australian, Aria-award winning electronic dance duo – not to be confused with the decadent Peking duck served at fancy Chinese banquets. Both are amazing.

My third (and thankfully final) Christmas party this year took pace last Friday. It was at a lawn bowls venue out in the 'burbs. This was probably the least extravagant of the three parties but was just as enjoyable. The food was rather mediocre though. The roasted 'meats' were covered in a thick layer of fat and had been cooked for so long that it was hard to tell whether we were eating animal or cardboard. I would have preferred Peking duck.

Sunday, November 11, 2018


The giant pear sculptures at the National Gallery of Australia are iconic. Until recently, they have been positioned out the front lawn of the Gallery.  A few years ago, I learnt that they were sculpted by an artist called George Baldessin. I have to admit I didn't know much about Baldessin at the time but, after looking into his art, Baldessin has now become one of my favourite artists. 

Yesterday, my gallerist friend and I attended a public talk by George's widow, Tess, at a gallery in Collingwood. Tess is a beautiful, dignified and articulate woman. She spoke about her late husband's early childhood, how he was separated from his mother as a baby, his time growing up in Italy during the war, and his reunion with his mother in Melbourne at the age of 10.  She spoke about his genius as an artist. And Tess spoke about the tragedy of his death and how she had to leave Australia after his passing (Tess ended up living overseas for 17 years).  The talk was well attended and the audience was clearly appreciative.

There has been a resurgence in interest in Baldessin as an artist in recent years. And rightly so. He is terribly underrated. He is currently the subject of a major exhibition (together with Brett Whitley) at the National Gallery of Victoria. And on my recent visit to see the exhibition here in Melbourne, it was great to see some of his giant pears in the gallery space.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Plant sale

I got up super early in anticipation of a 'rare plants' sale at a nursery in Fitzroy.

I caught the tram from my apartment  and arrived at the nursery 6 minutes after the 8.30am opening, only to discover that the shop was already packed...mostly with hipsters.

A nursery worker was handing out numbered tickets because they were trying to control the mad rush (which was very wise) and were allowing only 20 people up to the 'rare plants' section at any one time.

I have to say that the thought of having to wait was tempered by the sight of so many plant enthusiasts. For most of my life, growing house plants was definitely not cool. How times have changed. I guess I should be grateful to the hipsters.

An hour later, I was heading up the stairs. A lot of the plants had already been sold but I managed to pick up a giant chandelier plant (Medinilla), which hails from the mountainous rainforests of the Phillipines. It was the last one left (phew).

I then had to drag the monster of a plant (it is over a meter tall) back to my apartment by tram in the rain.

Dedication (or maybe I'm slightly mad).

Sunday, October 14, 2018

My vase

Andrew wanted to see a picture of the vase I bought several weeks ago. I tried to take a picture but it is impossible to do so without weird reflections and colour distortion. I've decided it is not very photogenic and looks far better in real life. Here is an image I found on the website of the shop I bought it from.

MCG and the tooth fish incident

I attended a conference last week that culminated in a fancy dinner at the MCG.

I've been to the MCG previously for a footy match and the venue is, indeed, impressive when filled to capacity with a passionate crowd of footy fans. It is far superior to Etihad stadium (or whatever it's now called following change in sponsorship).

I've never been to the MCG for dinner before. The room we were in overlooked the stadium. Many of the interstate guests were in awe. For me, staring into the sea of empty seats, it was kind of 'meh'.

The dinner menu was terrific. Main course included Patagonian toothfish. I had never had it before and, honest to God, it was one of the best fish I've ever eaten. The serving of toothfish was not without controversy though. A few of the biologists refused to eat it until the host assured everyone it had been sustainably caught.

Sunday, October 7, 2018


This is a painting by Pierre Bonnard. It is a voyeuristic piece  titled "Toilette ou Femme Penchèe" (Toilet or Woman Bending Over).

On Friday, I had my very own toilette ou femme penchèe experience.

I was at a cafe that has one of those large unisex toilets suitable also for disabled people. I opened the door and there was a woman sitting on the loo peeing/pooing and texting. She said something that was mostly indecipherable (I did hear the words "Oh God") with her head down as if to hide her embarrassment. She simultaneously reaching out with one hand towards me. Not sure if she was trying to reach for the door (which was pointless, since the door was some distance from where she was sitting) or trying to block my view. Lucky there was nothing to see.

To all people using public toilets: lock the door.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Canberra and the American Masters

I've been in Canberra for most of the past week.

The original plan was to come up to help one of my students who is doing some work with specimens from the Australian National Insect Collection (yes, the country has a national insect collection and its based in Canberra). Unfortunately the fancy microscope we needed to us was not working so the student flew back to Melbourne and I took a mini 'sabbatical' at the ANU.

It's been great. I got a lot more work done than I would back in Melbourne (lack of construction work noises across the corridor makes a big difference).

I've been catching the bus to and from the ANU. I've probably used the Canberra buses more in the last few days than in the previous 25 years. Canberra public transport isn't the most efficient but it was far easier than what I remember it to be compared to the last time I caught a bus in the ACT.

Today I went to see the American Masters exhibition at the NGA, which is drawn entirely from the National Gallery's own collection. The exhibition really sheets home what a world class collection of American art is actually held here in Canberra. There were heaps of big name artists in the show, from Rothko and Wharhol to de Kooning and Pollock. Of course, Pollock's Blue Poles, purchased during the Whitlam era, is arguably the most well known. I loved the Morris Louis works the best.

The plan after the gallery was to go meet the rest of the family for lunch in the city. Unfortunately, one of my nieces, after polishing off most of a very sizeable portion of chocolate milkshake at a cafe near the gallery, then proceeded to throw it all up over herself and my sister. So, lunch in the city was cancelled and we went home so my sister could get herself and my youngest niece cleaned off.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Counting pennies

I went into a vintage furniture and decorative arts shop today in Richmond. I started talking to the owner and we must have chatted for an hour.

The owner told me about a man and a woman who had earlier pulled up to the front of the shop in their Aston Martin, and were interested in buying a vase. However, the couple didn't want to pay the asking price and tried to haggle down the price. The owner politely said 'no', and so the couple left.

Unbeknownst to the shop owner, it was the same vase I had admired when I walked into the shop, so I bought it. The owner gave me a discount (even though I didn't ask for it).

I don't have an Aston Martin but I now have a nice vintage vase.

Melbourne Symphony

A colleague invited me to see a performance by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) at Hamer Hall tonight.

I had never been inside the concert hall before and it was really impressive. Indeed, I don't really listen to orchestral music so this was somewhat of an initiation for me. The MSO was performing the New World Symphony. The piece turned out to be quite familiar. I assume I must have heard it in a movie.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Lack of client focus

A service provider  in the USA contacted me asking if I'd like to engage them for a conference I am organising in 2020 here in Australia.

They wanted to set up a Skype meeting. I said 'ok'.

They then send me a list of options for meeting times.

Two problems. First, all the times they gave were in Central US time, which was very annoying as I then had to work out what times those corresponded to here in Melbourne. Second, and even more annoyingly, all the times they offered were at ridiculously late hours of the night (1 am, really?).

I wrote back a polite email pointing all of this out and said that I don't think it's going to work. They have since sent me two emails apologising for the mistake. I'm normally a very forgiving kinda guy but lack of client focus is a big fail. Too many alarm bells.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Two deaths

A friend from my time working in the US posted a note on messenger this week saying that someone we knew had died. Will accidentally fell out of a boat. He was 35.

A day later, a close friend reminded me of the tragic death of another young man we both knew. Jared died many years ago but I guess the circumstances of his death still haunts my friend who felt compelled to write about it for a national newspaper. Jared was a scientist working in the US. He was driving home late one night after work. A drunk driver crashed into the back of his car at an intersection. Both cars burst into flames. Bystanders managed to rescue the drunk driver but Jared couldn't be rescued. He was 33.

Two deaths. Both sad. One was a tragic accident. The other was entirely avoidable.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Parallel visions

I went to see the new Baldessin/Whiteley: Parallel Visions exhibition at the NGV today.

I assume that Brett Whiteley will probably be the big drawcard to the exhibition as most people would be familiar with his work.

I, on the other hand, was there to see the Baldessins.

I'm a huge fan of George Baldessin's work, long before I even knew who Baldessin was.

Ever since I was a kid, I have admired the giant pear sculptures that sat on the front lawn of the National Gallery in Canberra.

I only found out a few years ago that they were sculpted by Baldessin (I hadn't even heard of him until then).

Hopefully this exhibition will showcase what a fantastic Australian artist he was.


I caught up with a friend mid week for dumplings in the city.

Towards the end of our meal, four customers walked in, two of whom were transgender.

Before the customers had even taken their seats, I could hear the waiters commenting to each other in Chinese. "They're men," one of them said.

I was so disappointed, especially given the rainbow sticker on the front door of the restaurant.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Henry Golding

And here are some more pictures of Mr Golding...

Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians has attracted a lot of media attention. Not since  The Joy Luck Club (which was released way back in 1993) has a 'mainstream' Hollywood film featured a predominantly Asian cast.

It's been interesting following the media hype surrounding this film – and the lofty expectations. For example, I was surprised to see the actors being criticised for not using their platform at the movie premier to promote Asian fashion designers (seriously?).

The strikingly handsome lead actor, Henry Golding, has copped flack from some media circles for not being Asian enough (he is of English-Malaysian ancestry).

Some commentators have even criticised the film for lack of diversity, suggesting that the film should be renames Crazy Rich East Asians instead.

Get a grip people.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Shrimp stink

I decided to roast some chicken drumsticks marinated in shrimp paste. Big mistake.

The whole apartment stinks to high heaven. I'm worried the stink has probably leached into the corridor and might soon be pissing off my neighbours. I hope they don't come knocking on my door.

 I now recall my German friend complaining about the smell of shrimp paste coming into her apartment from her Asian neighbours. I've become that neighbour.

Saturday, August 11, 2018


I'm in the USA for a conference.

Despite having lived in the US for 11 months, I still get taken aback by just how culturally different it is from Australia.

The striking differences begin upon arrival. The American airport experience feels like a cattle yard (I'm surprised the guards don't use actual cattle prods). The experience starts when clearing immigration and, if you're travelling domestically, continues right up to the gate of the connecting flight, where everyone is required to form one of 5 lines based on whether you are a premium flyer, a first class passenger or, if you're in economy, whether you are seated in the front, middle or back of the plane. Oh, and if you are an American servicemen, you get to go on the plane first.

American food is excessive. On board the plane, I was served a hamburger. Yes, a hamburger! With a side of potato salad and an apple pie. Last night I went to an American diner, which looked like a set from Happy Days. Not wanting to have another hamburger for dinner, I settled on the Ruben sandwich based on the waiter's recommendation. It was big, meaty, and coated with cheese.  Tasty, huge and very unhealthy. That seems to sum up American cuisine.

Today, I slept and then went for an early dinner. I decided to go for Vietnamese.

Sunday, August 5, 2018


Last night, Nathan and I drove to Inverloch to celebrate his maternal grandmother's 90th birthday at the Esplanade Hotel.

Even though Nathan and I have been together for what seems like a million years, I'm still meeting new relatives for the first time (both sides of his family appear to be highly fertile).

On this occasion, I met a new cousin, his wife and two kids. They were lovely. The cousin is a professional photographer and also does some videography work for the ABC involving drones. He was telling me about the various accidents he has had with the drone's propeller. I didn't realise they were so dangerous.

A few of Nathan's other cousins appear to have had new children. Its a sad reflection of how rarely we catch up with them that one of the cousins now has a six year old daughter, and the last time I saw her was at her wedding! The daughter's name is Eden (her father is a born again Christian).

Nathan's grandmother was in good spirits. The last time I saw her was a few months ago in hospital and she wasn't looking too great. She was clearly very happy to be surrounded by so many grand kids and great grandkids. She's actually became a great great grandmother already several years ago.

The blokes at the table next to ours were clearly perplexed to see an Asian guy amongst all the Caucasians. I think they were trying to figure out what my relationship was with the rest of the mob. Nathan's grandmother, mum and aunt do this weird thing where they kiss family members on the lips. I feel a bit odd about this and always try to go for a side kiss but occasionally still get a lip plant. That must have added to the confusion for the blokes at the neighbouring table.

Saturday, August 4, 2018


I recently came back from a two day work trip to Kuala Lumpur to meet some fellow biologists (see picture of wonderful tropical insects).  It was my first visit to Malaysia.

The hotel where we were staying was quite popular with tourists from the Middle East and, indeed, most of the guests were Arab. In that respect, as a Muslim country, Malaysia is very different to the other places I have visited in Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan). The hotel breakfast had a wonderful spread of buffet options from around the world – but not a single slice of regular bacon (aside from the turkey bacon). I went for Arab, Malay and Chinese breakfast options.

Speaking of food, the local cuisine was, of course, amazing. My only regret was not getting to sample the infamous Malay durian (and it was apparently a bumper durian season too!). One of the colleagues I met actually lives on a durian plantation and he showed me a photo on his phone of durians piled on his back verandah. I was very jealous.

On the last night, we went to an uber fancy restaurant that specialised in modern South American cuisine. Yes, I would have happily eaten Malaysian food the entire time I was there, but I was on a work trip and others wanted to try this restaurant. Besides, the restaurant was highly recommended by a local. It was superb, although none of the items we ordered looked anything like the food I ate in my travels through South America (see below).

Thursday, July 19, 2018


I inadvertently got someone fired today.

There is construction work taking place adjacent to my office and a lot of tradies on site. One of them was smoking in a toilet cubicle this morning and filled the entire men's room with smoke.  I mentioned this to our School manager.

My intention was that our School manager would then speak to the construction manager who would then have a word with the tradies to inform them not to smoke in the toilet.

Well, things didn't go the way I expected.

Whilst sitting in my office, I heard the construction manager walk up to two Chinese tradies working outside my office demanding to know which one of them had been smoking in the toilet.

At first, each of the tradies said it wasn't them. The manager pressed on and was using all kinds of obscenities. Eventually, one of the tradies owned up to it.

He was asked to leave.

I felt really bad.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Sunny weekend

I made the most of the fine weather this weekend.

On Saturday, I took the dog on an epic walk. We first headed towards Port Melbourne. 

On the way, I spotted this beautiful wattle already in full bloom.
 Truffles and I stopped briefly to look at the Spirit of Tasmania before heading off to the beach for a run.

We then made our way to Albert Park and walked around the lake. According to the pedometer on my phone, we had walked twelve kilometres.

Today, Nathan and I went to Chinatown for lunch. We had intended to go for yum cha but all of the better restaurants were already full so we went to Shandong Mama instead.
 Tonight I made minestrone.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Walking the dog

Truffles and I braved the cold yesterday and went for a nice walk. She was suitably rugged up—and so was I. We did about 10km in total, including a brief stop over at the Shrine of Remembrance.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Adut Akech

I remember a couple of years ago, David Jones put out a fashion catalogue with this incredible model on the cover. It was a bold move. And I remember being struck by the beauty of the image.
The image, sadly, sparked controversy; a consumer complained to David Jones about the cover not being representative of Australia.

Well, the model at the centre of the controversy, Adut Akech, is Australian and—judging by her very busy schedule walking for the likes of Valentino and Chanel in Paris recently—has clearly been doing very well.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Career change

I'm happy being an academic. I love the balance of teaching and research. I love the academic freedom and the flexibility I have in terms of my work time. At the same time, I hope I'd be brave enough to be able to make the switch to something else if the job no longer excites me.

I was at a birthday dinner for a friend last night and started chatting to someone I hadn't met before. I found out that he had previously worked in a circus, been a dancer in a night club, and is now working for a bank. That's quite a diverse career path!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Home alone

The dog and I have had the apartment to ourselves these last couple of days while Nathan embarked on an epic road trip from Melbourne to the Gold Coast.

Friends of ours have decided to move up north. It turns out that the cost of getting cars transported can be quite high. So, our friend's husband left on Saturday to drive one of the family cars up to their new home. Nathan and the friend drove up with the second car early yesterday.

Most of my long road trips have been for work.  Can't say I'm much of a fan of the driving, but my trips do involve plenty of stops along the way, mostly to collect animals for scientific research, which makes it fun.

Friday, June 15, 2018


The new NGV winter masterpieces show is in full swing. I'm waiting for the crowd to level off a bit before attempting a visit. I'm particularly excited to see this Rothko.