Friday, October 31, 2008

Wanjina update

So the senior curator of aboriginal art got back to me yesterday arvo and tells me my artefact is by Alec Mingelmanganu. This is is significant. Some of his later paintings have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Who would have thought that something I initially spotted at a flea market turns out to be by a famous artist?!! I'm thinking I should maybe get it valued and perhaps insure it now.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

polish food, fiddles and my wanjina

Went to Chapel street last night with some friends for polish food at a restaurant with the intriguing name of Borsch, Vodka and Tears. Had a vodka but skipped on the borsch (and the tears) in favour of polish sausages with onions and mashed potatoes. The restaurant was packed, loud and full of atmosphere. A notable highlight was the live music involving an accordian and a very vigorous fiddle. The two female musicians (dressed in polish peasant outfit) were highly skilled at squeezing between the tables and playing their music without knocking over any of the food coming out of the kitchen or gauging out anyone's eyes with the musical instruments.

Afterwards, Nate and I caught the tram back into the city. Outside the National Gallery of Victoria, two women hopped on board and sat opposite us on the tram. One looked very familiar and I soon realised it was one of the senior curators who happens to specialise in aboriginal art. So...I ambushed her and asked her if she'd be able to have a look at an aboriginal artefact I bought from a private collector last year. She was kind enough to give me her email so this morning I sent her some images. It's an image of a wanjina from the Kimberley. I'm hoping the curator might be able to tell me who the artist might be as there aren't many who are entitled to paint these images.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Student evaluations (part 2) now I realise it must be sarcasm. Some additional evaluations just came in for other subjects. Amongst the comments, was this one...

"XXX should show more skin because he is a sexy beast."


I wrote this in Finland as a literary response to my experiences with the incinerator toilet...


The kind of weekend I like best
Is one where I can eat and rest.
Not worry ‘bout the risk of failure
Whilst sitting on an ‘incinerator’

I swear to God (I do not lie)
The toilets here will make you cry.
For I, myself, was traumatized
From thoughts of shit incinerized

With paper you must line the loo
Before you try to pee or poo
And afterwards, when you are done
You must push buttons, one by one

The buttons will open the toilet floor
Into which your ‘stuff’ will pour
Next, the flames will start to grow
And emit the most disturbing glow

And finally, there is the smoke
Do not breathe, it’ll make you choke
For the smell of burning turd, I say
Is sure to make you turn dark gray.

Back in Melbourne

Well...the trip has come and gone. Arrived back in Australia last Thursday and spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday chilling out. Managed to get upgraded to businss class on my frequent flyer points from Hong Kong to Melbourne. It was an unexpected surprise because I had earlier been told that my request had been declined. about a whole new experience for me. I went crazy playing with the seat adjustments and inbuilt massager, pigging out on the food, and using copious amounts of free moisturiser (even though I normally don't moisturise). The flight was over in no time (and my skin was baby smooth)!

Managed to hurt my back yesterday morning...whilst brushing my teeth! Yes...brushing my God-damn-teeth. I had a coughing fit when I went to spit out the toothpaste and somehow threw my back out in the process. I literally had to roll myself out of bed this morning. Grrr...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Took the Viking Line ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm on Sunday afternoon. The ferry between Finland and Sweden has somewhat of a reputation as a big piss up. Due to some dodgy stop over on an island in the Baltic that is outside of the EU, passengers are entitled to purchase a whole range of duty free and everybody seems to go crazy stocking up on booze and cigarettes. When they are not drinking, passengers are likely to be found either in the onboard casino or stuffing themselves on the buffet. I opted for the latter (I dont think I have ever eaten so much caviar in my life!). I retired to my room after dinner and stayed there until the morning when we arrived in Sweden.

Went to Svensk tenn in Stockholm and bought a ridiculously expensive Josef Frank designed textile of weird looking birds to hang on my office wall back in Melbourne. Stockholm is a beautiful, historic city situated on a series of islands and I wished I had more time to explore it but, unfortunately, had to dash off to Gothenburg in the evening by train. Sat next to a woman whose perfume smelt like scented toilet paper (made me glad that I had a mild cold and couldn't smell so well).

Spending the day in Gothenburg today for work. Flying back to Oz tomorrow.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

why students come to my lectures...

I spend quite a bit of effort trying to keep the students interested in my lectures so that they can actually learn something. And just when I thought I may be starting to make some inroads, I come across this (in the latest student evaluations):

"11. I only came to these lecture to look at him."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Middle earth is in Finland

Just spent the last 5 days at a conference near the city of Turku. We arrived at the mysterious conference venue at night by boat. The venue, itself, was like a scene out of middle earth (with a touch of "survivor"), comprising a cluster of rustic-looking huts situated amongst pine, birch and spruce trees on the beautiful shores of the Baltic. After getting off the boat, each conference delegate was offered a weird drink served in a wooden cup. The drink was made from tree sap (but smelt like tar and tasted like cough syrup).

The food at the conference was unbelivable. I don't think I've ever eaten so much fish in my life. I had salmon for breakfast, lunch and dinner almost everyday. These were hot smoked by the shore and was absolutely delicious (though some got a bit tired of eating salmon by the third or fourth day). The final night comprised the most incredible banquet, the star of which was a roasted pig (with head)....not sure how the vegetarians coped but I was in foodie heaven. I even ate both of the crispy ears (the left one first) I didn't eat the snout.

On two of the evenings, we also had access to a gigantic smoke sauna (supposedly the largest in the world). It was partially set underground and consisted of a central furnace covered in a mound of hot rocks. The chamber itself took a whole day to heat and consisted of several raised wooden platforms with enough seats to accommodate over 100 naked people. It was a mixed sex sauna on both nights but (thankfully)nakedness was optional. I spent both evening alternating between the sauna and one of two hot tubs located outside next to the jetty. Those brave enough were also free to take a dip in the Baltic (though, at 6 degrees, I opted to cool off in the open air instead of the sea). Towards the end of the sauna parties, guests were also treated to a face mask made out of peat (but smelt like the mud one scrapes from the bottom of a lake). The mud made my face tingle but, alas, I didn't notice any improvements to my complexion :)

Am now back in Helsinki for a couple of days of shopping before catching the big ferry to Stockholm. Heard the ferry is essentially a venue for a big piss up but I think I'll need to catch up on some work. Sigh.

Monday, October 13, 2008

europe, mushrooms and burning shit

Arrived in Helsinki after a marathon 19 hour flight from Melbourne via Hong Kong. Headed straight from the airport to a summer cottage situated next to a beautiful lake where I've spent the last two days hanging out with friends, picking mushrooms in the forest, relaxing in the sauna, and getting acquainted with the idea of an incinerator loo.

The cottage has two toilets. Apart from the regular outdoor toilet(much like the ones that aussies are accustomed to) there was also an incinerator toilet located inside the cottage (next to the sauna and shower). Using the incinerator toilet was a most unusual (and mildly traumatic) experience. The bottom of the toilet bowl is made of metal and is dry. Before going to the loo, you must first line the bowl with a special waxy paper bag (resembling a coffee paper filter). The user must then sit down and do their business. Afterwards, one is required to stand up and push a special lever which opens a trapdoor-like mechanism on the bottom of the bowl. The bag (and its contents) then falls into a pit where it gets incinerated at around 800 degrees centigrade(yes, you can see the flames). The chimney that ventilates the incinerator is attached to the side of the cottage and, ocassionally, it is possible to make out the destinctive scent of burning turds and piss wafting through the air outside.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Tonight is the night. I'll be flying out of Melbourne to Helsinki via Hong Kong. I think the trip itself will be a relief...It's hard to imagine, but I'm actually looking forward to relaxing on the plane. It's been a hectic few weeks and I can' wait to get to Finland, drive out to a summer cottage somewhere, and spend a couple of days roaming through the forest, maybe go for a swim, experience a sauna, and pick wild mushrooms for dinner.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

all mixed up

One of Nate's closest friends just went into the operating theatre for surgery on her back. Nate found out about the operation yesterday. He then rang me up straightaway to tell me about it. The conversation went like this...

Nathan: "It's really risky. The worst case scenario is that she might become incompetent!"
Me [after a brief pause]: "She's already incompetent. You mean she might become incontinent too?"
Nathan: "Shut up"

Monday, October 6, 2008

A complimentary weekend

I received the most unexpected compliments from complete strangers this weekend. It started on Saturday morning when the woman making my tea at a cafe complemented me on how handsome I looked. immediate reaction was that she was (a) trying to get a tip or (b) being sarcastic. Regardless, I accepted her compliment with a smile and went on my merry way. I then headed off to the Garden Expo at Caulfield where I bought myself one of these (a tropical pitcher plant):

Carrying a pitcher plant around the city (I had to catch public transport to get back home) is equivalent to carrying a cute fluffy dog or a good-looking baby...people were absolutely mesmerised...

"What a beautiful plant you have".

"I have never seen such a thing in my life".

"Is it a flower or a leaf."

Then, on Sunday, some woman gives me a fashion compliment whilst I was shopping on Brunswick street. Although I tend to think of myself as having a pretty good dress sense, I don't think I've ever received a fashion compliment before frm a complete stranger. Moreover...the woman was complimenting me on my t-shirt, the t-shirt I got for free about eight years ago that I seldom wear out in public (I made an exception this weekend because I was saving all my nice stuff for Europe). Go figure. It felt that everybody in the world was being nice to me on the weekend. And God darn felt good!

Friday, October 3, 2008


Oh dear...with all that talk about fancy lounges, snack areas and places for people to hang out during the flight, I guess Qantas overlooked one niggling problem with economy... seat pitch.

The long ride to work

Somebody, it seems, forgot to tell our train driver that he/she was driving an express run out of the city this morning. Grrrr... more bitching for the rest of the week. The sun is shining and life is good.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

the little swedish bombshell

I swear there must be another world out there to which I am completely out of tune. A world that ocassionally encroaches into my own hectic little head space, knocks out my inner calm, and sends me into a spin. This morning I receive an email from my colleague in Sweden giving me instructions on my role in the examination of her PhD student. Apparently I have to give a 5 minute talk ("powerpoint would be good"). Fine. Then I have to prepare 5-10 questions to ask the student. No problem (I just hope I don't make the student cry during the inquisition). So far so good (all is manageable...deep breaths. Less than a week before the trip. Try not to panic. Deep breaths. Deep breaths). But then...

"Then we have a coffee break and at 15.30 it's time for your own research seminar. Have you got a title, by the way?" OWN research seminar? What f%^ing research seminar? My heart sinks. Panicked, I dig through my archives and find a couple of old powerpoint presentations. Hmmm...maybe I can cobble something together. Yes...I have no choice. It'll have to do. Cobble, cobble, cobble... This weekend. Disaster averted. I shall cobble together a brand 'new' talk for my research seminar in front of scary (big wig) colleagues on the other side of the world in less than two weeks. Yes. I'll get onto it as soon as I've finished writing my other seminar in Finland, my 5 minute power point presentation for the thesis exam, formulate my 5-10 questions to grill the PhD student (after I have read her thesis), and marking all those assignment. Yes. No biggie. Inner calm returning. Deep breaths. Deep breaths.