Monday, December 30, 2013

10 observations

In anticipation of not having internet connection for a few days, here are 10 observations about Nicaragua...

1. You can expect to eat lots of gallo pinto and tostones.

2. Nicaraguans love their dodgy backyard fireworks.

3. Like the rest of Latin America, don’t try to flush too much toilet paper down the loo…you will cause a flood.

4. If you are driving and you happen to stop at the traffic lights at a major intersection in Managua, expect to have your car windscreen cleaned – even if it has already been cleaned at the same intersection by the same kid less than a day earlier.

5. While waiting to get your windscreen cleaned, don’t be surprised if three or four people walk up to your car and attempt to sell you something (e.g. sunglasses, drinks, fruit, steering wheel covers).

6. The concept of a street ‘address’ (as we know it) does not exist in Nicaragua [I have no idea how mail gets delivered here].

7. Don’t be surprised to see people carrying machine guns or machetes (Even their statues carry them – see above example). 

8. If you are dining out, save some food for the dogs and cats that will come to your table begging for scraps.

9. The smell of smoke is ubiquitous in rural areas (people love raking leaves into small piles and setting them alight).

10. A laid back attitude is the best way to enjoy this amazing country and its people. 

Nicaragua day 14 - shopping in Managua

We managed to get quite a bit done in Managua yesterday. We headed straight to the Metro Centro shopping mall, which looks a lot like an Australian shopping mall (minus the Myer or David Jones department stores). We took the opportunity to stock up on a range of essentials like toothpaste, insect repellent, sunscreen and potato chips (for my student; not for me).

After shopping, we stopped by at a cafĂ© that seems to cater to rich Nicaraguans and foreigners (prices are in US dollars). I tried to order a tea but it somehow got very complicated in Spanish so I settled for a chai latte instead (which literally turned out to be a drink comprising a mix of chai and cafe latte).  

We ended up having an early dinner so that my colleague and student could make their concert. We went to a fast food place called Pollo Estrella.  It’s a bit like KFC – but with a Central American twist….You can choose to have refried beans, rice, or pickled onions as side dishes (rather than the chips or coleslaw that most of us would be familiar with at KFC).

This morning we had breakfast at the hotel (rice and beans) and are going to head back out to Metro Centro to grab a few more things that we forgot to get yesterday before heading back to Xiloa.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Nicaragua day 11-13 Lake Xiloa

We left Lake Apoyo the day after Christmas and have now arrived in Lake Xiloa (pronounced as ‘hiloa’). This will be my main base until I leave Nicaragua. We have several fish experiments planned here.

Like Lake Apoyo, Lake Xiloa is a crater lake and is teeming with fish. The surrounding scrub is a lot drier compared to the tropical forest of Apoyo. In fact, it looks a lot like parts of Australia (an illusion enhanced by the presence of Eucalypts).

We are staying at a privately run ‘research station’, several metres from the shore. There is a woodpecker living in a tree in the courtyard (will try to get some shots for a future post) and I saw my first scorpion on my way to the Lake (it may have fallen out of my colleague's diving gear...a good reminder to carefully check clothing and equipment beforehand).

We are back in Managua today (Saturday). My student and colleague are going to a concert after dinner. I will have a relaxing night catching up on internet.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Nicaragua day 10 - Christmas

The festivities in the village started bright and early with fireworks and lots of people everywhere....such a contrast from yesterday when the place was practically deserted. There is now a very noisy reggaeton concert taknig place.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Some pictures from the trip so far...

Meeting fishermen on the shores of Lake Managua in the wee hours of the morning to buy our scientific samples. Yes, it's a volcano in the background.

An example of the fish we are after. Note the big lips. Reminds me of Lisa Renna from Melrose Place.

The place where we are currently staying, on the shores of Lake Apoyo. 

These are begonia, which are a popular house plant in Oz. I though it was interesting that these were growing on rocks rather than in the soil.

Nicaragua day 9 - toucan update

The toucan has sure been consistent with its calling…6am sharp ­­– every day. 

Well, as it turned out, today would be the last day we’d have to put up with his loud calls because the caretaker has taken him back into the forest to be released.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Nicaragua day 8 - choko

Not sure about the dinners at the place where we are staying. Tonight’s meal was boiled choko and rice. Might eat out tomorrow night.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Nicaragua day 7 - the toucan

I woke up at 6am to the call of a bird that sounds a lot like someone jumping on a squeaky spring mattress. It turned out to be the resident keel-blled toucan. 

We are preparing for our experiments today, with the goal of starting tomorrow. Otherwise, it’s been a relaxing day so far (except when the toucan decides to start calling).  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Nicaragua day 6 - Lake Apoyo

We said goodbye to our Spanish collaborator today who is returning to Madrid for Christmas. She has been great value and has managed to sweet-talk our way out of having to pay a penalty (i.e. bribe) for ‘scratches’ to the side of the hire car and negotiating taxi fares so we wouldn’t get ripped off.  We are now without a native Spanish speaker so will have to rely instead on what I have learnt from Dora the Explorer.

Today we arrived in Lake Apoyo, a beautiful lake formed inside the crater of an extinct volcano. The lake itself is surrounded by lush jungle. It is really beautiful.

In contrast to our beautiful surroundings, the accommodation we have organised is a bit on the ‘basic’ side (truth be told, I think some Australian prisons are probably more luxurious). 

I’m a bit concerned about the bugs that might be already in the room, and the ones that are thinking of creeping in during the night….my collaborator already discovered a big whip spider on his bed (imagine a cross between a huntsman and a scorpion). And ‘no’, my collaborator didn’t manage to catch it so it’s still in his room, which, I guess, is a blessing because it means it isn’t in mine.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Nicaragua day 5 - machine guns, bats and iguanas

We went to a fancy restaurant last night that specialised in local Nicaraguan cuisine (which, of course, involves, bananas, beans and rice). The restaurant (in contrast to our hotel) is in a nice part of town. It was quite some distance and, not feeling terribly confident about driving at night, we decided to go by taxi.

The taxi pulled up in front of the restaurant right next to a guy carrying a machine gun. I couldn’t quite figure out whether the guy was protecting the restaurant patrons or something/someone else but there were other people standing with machine guns at other street corners nearby.

The dinner was ok (I don’t think Nicaraguan food is in my top 10 of most global cuisine). I was more interested in the bats that were flying around our table. The bats were pollinating the banana plants flowering in the garden beds adjacent to where we were sitting. It was like seeing a David Attenborough documentary – but in real life.

Today we went to one of the major markets to look for some materials we needed for an experiment. Hmmm…how to describe the market experience? I guess it’s a bit like the Queen Victoria markets but more crowded and dirty and full of smells that make me want to gag. The worst part was definitely the section that sold meat…it almost made me want to become a vegetarian. The saddest part was seeing live iguanas (giant lizards) tied up for sale.  

Friday, December 20, 2013

Nicaragua day 4 - back to Managua

I haven't had access to the internet for the last three days, which is both a blessing and a curse. We are now back in Managua so it has been catch up on what's been going on in the rest of the world. Unfortunately, it's mostly work related stuff. My colleagues and I are sitting in a nice cafe being completely anti-social.

Nicaragua day 3 - fish!

We have fish. We started the day at 5.30am by going to the shores of the Lake to meet the fisherman as they were returning back with their catch. We basically went from boat to boat searching for the species that we wanted. The locals must have thought we were crazy.

The fisherman we specifically asked to go out for us the previous night wasn’t terribly successful but we still gave him money for his efforts. He felt really bad and offered to go out again to have another go.

It’s not an easy life, rowing back and forth out to the middle of the Lake under extremely choppy condition every night to fish.

I’d be keen to give our study species a try (they seem to be very a popular food fish among the locals) – but maybe at another, less polluted lake (my colleagues tell me that a factory had, some years before, released huge volumes of mercury into the Lake when it closed).

Nicaragua day 2 – pigs, dogs and cats

Today we headed to a village located on the shores of Lake Managua. We are staying at a nice hotel owned by a Nicaraguan woman and her American husband, a Vietnam veteran. Nice couple. The hotel property, with its lush tropical garden and crazy sculptures, is very different from the poor rural setting of the surrounding neighbourhood though. 

Soon after arriving, we headed to the shore of the Lake, which has a spectacular view of a smouldering volcano on the opposite side. We managed to find a fisherman who has agreed to set his nets in a particular location near a small island overnight to collect the fish that we are after.

In the evening we went for dinner at a nearby restaurant. We decided to go by foot, which turned out to be a mistake…Half way to the restaurant, I had a close encounter with a very large pig, who decided to come right up to me and then proceeded to rub its wet, smelly snout all over my legs (while my colleagues watched with amusement). Welcome to rural Nicaragua.

After the stand off with the pig (which lasted several minutes until it decided to trudge off into the night), we arrived at the restaurant…I think it was previously a public swimming pool judging by the fact that there was a large swimming pool in the middle of the restaurant.

For dinner, I ordered fried chicken, which was served with deep fried banana. Even though I have only been here less than 24 hours, I have noticed that it is quite common to have stray animals come sit next to your table while you are eating. Tonight, a cat and two dogs decided to join us for dinner while bats (did I mention that Central America is home to vampire bats?) circling around our heads.

After returning to the hotel after our delicious meal, I went straight to the shower to wash away the smell of swine. 

Nicaragua day 1 - first impressions

After a long journey, I have finally arrived in Nicaragua. First impressions: chaotic, colourful, noisy, exciting.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

trip preparation

The foot is much better today. It looks a bit wrinkly but I guess that's a sign the swelling is going down.

Today I must start preparing for the trip. I have to pack my bag and write copious instructions for Nathan to follow while I'm away. I also need to back up all the stuff laptop onto my newly purchased Time Machine. I hope it will be straightforward because I am hopeless with technology. Oh, and the dog. I will need to brush the dog before I go because Nathan definitely wont be doing that when I'm away so I should at least try to get out all the existing knots in anticipation of the new ones the dog will accumulate when I'm away.

I haven't really thought much about the trip itself, other than having to write a very lengthy security and safety plan for work – because Nicaragua is a country that has a higher DFAT warning (even though it is the second safest in North America after Canada, and the fact that we are not going to any of the dodgy areas).

I'm really looking forward to the plane ride this time. Am flying the Qantas A380 from Melbourne to LA. I booked a seat in premium economy. I thought 'screw it'. I have the research funds, I might as well  go in comfort. I also put in a request yesterday for an upgrade to business on frequent flyer points (I figure I might as well try to go in even more comfort if I can get it). The flight attendants will be wearing their chic new uniforms. Should be a nicer experience to what I am usually accustomed back in economy.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Stuck in bed today trying to get over a case of gout in my right foot.

The problem surfaced when I was in Queensland last week for a marine biology field course and I had no idea of the underlying cause. The foot swelled and it was difficult to walk.

I went to the doctor on thursday and after a bunch of tests (which included getting a needle stuck into my ankle to extract the fluid for analyses) I was diagnosed with gout.

I am desperately trying to get back to normal – especially as I am due to fly to Central America on Monday.

So far, the drugs are working a treat. I have also been drinking heaps of water to help flush out the toxins and eating cherries (which are suppose to be good).

Fingers crossed.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

the birds

I am up on The Great Barrier Reef this week for a field course. One of the student has a bird phobia. I didn't realise people can developed bird phobias. It is known as ornithophobia.

Poor student. The island is full of birds. They are absolutely everywhere. You can hear them chattering all day and all night. Sometimes they even fly into you. It's the unpredictability of the birds that the student finds most minute they are sitting on the ground and the next they are flapping everywhere.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

catching up with the boys

My 20 year high school reunion was last night. It was great. There was a huge turn out and I managed to talk to almost everyone who was there. I had great conversations with all the blokes I spoke to...even the ones who were not so nice at school.

I have to admit that I did have difficulties recognising a few of my fellow students. Some seemed to have aged a great deal while others were completely unrecognisable. Without the benefit of a name tag (and not wanting to sound rude for not reciprocating recognition), I left the night still unsure about who some of the people actually were.

Oh, and the most memorable moment of the night? Some drunk woman from another party tried to pick me up.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

hanging about

I spent the day doing a major rehang of the art inside the apartment to accommodate some recent acquisitions. I've been saying it for a while now but I think I can now officially declare that I have no empty wall space left. And to think when I first moved in, I was hoping to achieve a more minimalist aesthetic.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

blast from the past

I got an unexpected email this morning...from my grade 5 teacher. Admittedly, I didn't know who she was at first and it took a couple of email exchanges before I made the realisation.

Teacher (email 1): "This is just a query....did you attend [name of school] in Canberra?"

Me: "Hi Jennifer. Yes I did."

Teacher (email 2): "Think I taught you in year 5. Remember the feast your parents put on when you made communion." (everybody from year 5 remembers the feast).

Me: "Ahhh...yes...of course Miss [surname of teacher]."

What followed was a series of email exchanges where I learnt that she is still teaching, albeit at different school in NSW and that she has two boys aged in their 20s.

I remember my teacher being really skinny with big permed hair. She was a great teacher, very funny. I also remember learning about Australian history...I recall learning about Willem Jansz and New Holland and the gold rush and the Eureka stockade. She must have been a great teacher because I don't really remember much else from primary school.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


I have my twenty-year (!!) high school reunion coming up in a few weeks. We didn't have a ten-year reunion. No one bothered to organise one. This time, however, one of the guys went to great lengths to contact people. There are about 50 signed up for the catch up drinks, which will take place on a Saturday night. The following day will be a family day and tour of the school. Although I signed up for the both events, I must admit to having some reservations. On the one hand, I'd like to think we were a pretty decent cohort so am looking forward to catching up with the boys. On the other, going to a reunion feels a bit like going backwards. I wonder if that is one reason why some folks choose not to go. Oh, and then there is the whole "I am gay " thing. Let's see how that goes down (I went to an all-boys catholic school where everyone, it seemed, was straight). I'm sure no one will give a shit but it might potentially crop up when conversations turn to marriage and kids.

Tea cup disaster

Our friend's daughter wanted a tea cup dog. I had not heard of tea cup dogs before but did some research. What I read was frightening and both Nathan and I tried to convince our friend that she shouldn't get one. She went ahead anyway. It did not end well. The dog died in transit. Very sad.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

coffee for carnivorous plants

I recently added two new specimens to my 'collection' of tropical pitcher plants. They were bought on ebay following several weeks of unsuccessful bidding – until I worked out the sneaky tricks that ebay bidders use to win their bids (i.e. grossly overpaying in the last 10 secs before bidding ends).

Anyhow, I've had the two new plants for about a week and decided to give them a drink of coffee this morning. Yep, coffee. It seems that tropical pitcher plants are not only similar to humans in the need to eat, but they apparently also thrive when given an occasional hit of coffee.

Unfortunately, not any old coffee will do. They do not like instant coffee for instance. So...being a non-coffee drinker myself, I sent Nathan on a detour to pick me up a long black from Gloria Jeans when he was walking the dog yesterday. This morning I diluted the cold, day old coffee and gave each of the plants a drink. No notable changes yet...but give them a few weeks and evidently I can expect to see bigger leaves and traps.

pork bun postscript

Yum cha in Castlemaine wasn't too bad. The restaurant was tiny (the size of a small take-away shop). The pork buns were tasty (probably not 'the best in Australia', though still very good). But the best thing of all...all their dim sims were msg free which meant there were none of the post yum cha symptoms normally associated with an msg overload that come from dining in more conventional restaurants in the city.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Char sui bao in Castlemaine?

Am heading off to country Victoria again. This time, I'm going to Castlemaine with some friends from my PhD days (who have all ended up living and working in Melbourne). The plan is to catch the train in the mid morning and to get there by lunch. One of my friends has booked us into a restaurant that is suppose to have the best steamed pork buns (char sui bao) in Australia. Admittedly, I'm a bit sceptical. Not in country Victoria, surely? Will it be authentic or will it be "Aussie" char sui bao? I've been fooled before, most notably at the famous dim sim stall at the South Melbourne market... to me, the dim sims tasted like a sausage roll disguised in the shape of a dim sim and served with soy sauce. Let's see about the char sui bao...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

picnic, metal baskets and a good duck

We decided to to have a picnic yesterday at the Flagstaff Gardens. We walked to the Vic Markets with the dog to buy some bread, dips and tapas. The threat of showers in the mid morning nearly ruined our plans. As we were leaving the markets, we felt a few drops of rain and had pretty much given up hope but by the time we reached the Gardens, the gloomiest of the rain clouds appeared to have moved on so we enjoyed our picnic after all.

In the early afternoon, I left Nathan and the dog at home and headed over to Fitzroy to check out this exhibition. I had met the artist last week when they were busy putting the works together but the gallery was a mess so it was nice to go there again and see everything up on the walls (or suspended from the ceiling as was the case with some of the pieces).

We roasted a duck for dinner. I entrusted Nathan to figure out how to use the duck fat to roast the crispiest potatoes (as I had earlier seen on a Jamie Oliver cooking show). It worked a treat. I also cooked up some purple cabbage with vinegar, fish sauce and sugar. It went very well with the fatty duck. I wished I had asked Nathan to take a photo before we devoured everything – but we couldn't wait. Must be more patient next time.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


Was back in Canberra over the weekend. I left on Friday and returned last night. I hadn't realised that Monday was actually a public holiday in the ACT: Family and Community Day.  What a wonderful excuse for a public holiday.

I went with my youngest sister to the Malaysian embassy on Saturday as they were having some sort of celebration/open day. After buying some traditional Malay desserts, we went for a walk around some of the other embassies and noticed that quite a few were open to the public that weekend. Here I am in front of the Finnish embassy.  

More generally, there seem to be a lot of activities going on in the nation's capital as part of its centenary celebrations. Though I missed it, Floriade this year was supposed to have had a centenary theme. The art gallery was also full of new pictures donated from various sources as part of its '100 works for 100 years' program.

I know Canberra is often described as sterile but I still have a soft spot for the place where I grew up.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

dog attack

I took Truffs out for a walk yesterday morning around the Dcoklands. We made our way to a park near Woolworths. There were two other dogs in the park playing ball with their owners. Both dogs were off leash (even though there are no off leash areas in Docklands).

As we were making our way across the park both dogs ran over and one of them instantly set on Truffs and started biting her head and neck. The dog's owners and I were frantically trying to pull the dogs apart. All the while, Truffs was yelping.

We finally managed to separate them. The dog's owners, a lovely Asian couple, were apologising profusely and checking Truffs for any damage. Fortunately she didn't receive any (I think her thick fur saved her from serious injury).

Evidently the aggressor was a rescue dog and the new owners are trying to get it better socialised with other dogs. I think it still has a long way to go. Despite seeing Truffs attacked, I was empathetic to the owners (though they really should have had their dog on a leash or muzzled). Anyhoo..we had a nice chat.

As for Truffs, she got a treat from the aggressor's owner for the 'trauma' and almost instantly started wagging her tail at the owners' other dog. Seems like all was forgiven.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

new acquisition

One of these is by an American artist and is owned by The National Gallery of Australia. The other was painted by an aboriginal artist and just entered my collection. Which is which?

tonight's dinner highlight...

....was a whole fried snapper at Longrain (photo courtesy of sis).

collecting my award

I got a teaching award yesterday. It was nice to celebrate it with Nathan and my youngest sis, who flew down from Canberra as my 'interstate' guest. The awards ceremony was held at the museum in the afternoon. Unfortunately I had to give a lecture so I was a bit concerned I'd arrive late but the traffic Gods were kind yesterday and my European driver (who doesn't seem to speak english) was very efficient getting me there.

We stayed for canapes after the ceremony. I think there is definitely a strategy to attracting the attention of waiters that are bringing out food (and I don't mean standing outside the kitchen). We used eye contact and a friendly smile that said 'come dither with the food' (see example below):

Afterwards, we headed off to dinner at the delightful Commoner. The food there was amazing. We ordered several dishes to share (the eel special and the pumpkin are illustrated). All photos courtesy of my sis. 

Off to Canberra on the weekend. Looks like I just missed fellow blogger Andrew.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


So, The University of Ballarat is going to be renamed Federation University. Seriously? FU?


We went to Ballarat yesterday for the day with some friends. Beautiful city. We had a lovely lunch at the Craig's Royal Hotel  and wandered around the Art Gallery. It was a lovely day. The only dampner was our v-line ticket purchased for $24.80. We subsequently found out we could have paid just half that amount had we used a myki (being a weekend)....Such an amazing price disparity. It was clearly more of an issue for some of our friends than for us – judging by how much they were going on about it. As far as Nathan and I were's not worth sweating the small stuff. You live and learn for next time.

Saturday, September 21, 2013


I was lying on the couch this morning with the lap top, reading the news. I think the dog felt neglected and started competing for my attention...

Friday, September 13, 2013

wow...what a week

Some working weeks are quite unremarkable. This past week was not one of those.

I had a student collapse in one of my lectures on Monday. He was unconscious for several minutes and an ambulance had to be called. I thought about cancelling the class but the paramedic suggested it would be best to continue. I ended up delivering the lecture while the three paramedics were assessing the student at the front of the lecture theatre. Thankfully the student was ok.

Today, I had a different kind of 'remarkable'. I spent the day with a production crew who were filming me for a short documentary. It's a fascinating process but I'm not sure if I will ever feel 100% comfortable in front of the camera. This crew was much more enjoyable to work with than my last filming experience where I had to stare at the cameraman's arm and pretend that I was looking at the interviewer (who couldn't actually make it in person and interviewed me by phone)...that interview was such a disaster that I was too embarrassed to watch it on TV (and no, the fact the cameraman had a decent bicep didn't help).

Sunday, September 8, 2013


Aside from the terrible election result, I had a fantastic weekend. I got to catch up with a friend on Saturday for brunch, and took the dog to my favourite dog park in North Carlton today (which happens to be right nearby my favourite pub restaurant).

Sunday, September 1, 2013


Nathan and I just got back from Canberra. I went up on Wednesday and spent a couple of days doing some gardening – first at mum and dad's place and then at my sister's. It was nice to be out of the office and doing some outdoor work in the sun. Nathan flew up on Friday. My Melbourne-based sister and brother-in-law drove up and arrived on Friday night. We celebrated grandma's 91st birthday on Saturday and took dad out for father's day lunch today. I feel energised for the week ahead, which is just as well...I begin teaching first year students on Monday.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Recent acquisitions

I've been doing quite a bit of shopping of late. Some notable highlight:

I saw this stuffed bird at the Chapel Street Bazaar a couple of weeks ago. It's suppose to be from the 1950s. It's a green-billed toucan. The red around the eye was originally painted blue but that was not the right colour for the species so I repainted it.

I bought this table lamp last week from Space Furniture on Church Street. Nathan picked it up from the warehouse on Friday. The light came in two boxes. I spent the evening putting it together by painstakingly clicking each sphere into place.

This sideboard is by British designer Richard Hornby. I came across it at the Smith Street Bazaar when I was in Fitzroy with my sister last Monday. Given the shortage of storage space in the apartment, I justified the purchase as a "need" rather than a "want" ;-)

a relaxing sunday

Nathan and I had a most relaxing day today. It started off with arepas at Sonido on Gertrude Street, followed by a nice walk around Fitzroy.

Nathan had to make a brief stop at work so I left him in the city and headed back home to polish my latest purchase – a 1960s sideboard – with liquid wax. After finishing with the sideboard, I moved onto  the other items of furniture in the apartment. It was very therapeutic.

Nathan got back mid afternoon and we decided to take the dog for a walk to the South Melbourne markets, where I ended up getting a grilled fish sandwich. Delicious. Nathan ordered two spring rolls from that famous dim sim place that everyone (caucasian) rants and raves about. He loved it. I think it tastes like a chiko roll...but each to their own.

On the way home, we stopped by at the Boat shed near the Polly Woodside for a nice drink.

Dinner tonight was a lamb roast. Truffles got the bone and has been happily chewing away for the last hour or so.

It was the ideal kinda Sunday to ease back into the working week.

Friday, August 9, 2013


I have to cross a road on the way to the train station every morning and I always do so at the pedestrian crossing.

I never take it for granted that cars will give way so I make sure to watch out for the cars before crossing.

Yesterday, I stopped on the side of the road and waited for an approaching taxi to stop. I then proceeded across the road. Unfortunately the car behind the taxi did not stop and ploughed into the back of the taxi.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

a fork at security

Whilst at Melbourne Airport on Sunday, I had a little incident at security. And it's all Nathan's fault.

Let me explain...

Whenever I bring my lunch to the office, I always use the cutlery at work and then pack it away inside my lunch box to bring home to wash. Nathan, who has a thing about matching cutlery in our kitchen drawer, then places the (mostly) mismatched office forks back into my work bag, with the idea I'd return them to work.

The problem this time around was that Nathan did not tell me that he had put a metal fork in my bag.

So...forward to Sunday when I was at Melbourne airport. I made sure to take off my steel-capped shoes, my watch, my wallet and my keys and placed them inside my bag. I walked through the metal detectors without any incident. But then I notice the security guy remove my bag from the conveyor belt. A few minutes later, he tells me I have a fork in my bag and had to go through security again. And 'yes', I had to endure the pre-scripted, condescending spiel about how I am not suppose to bring metal forks into the airport.

Thanks Nathan. Thanks a lot.

Monday, August 5, 2013

a flying visit

I made a quick trip to Canberra this weekend to see my dad, who was suppose to have surgery today. Unfortunately,  the surgeon was sick and postponed the op at the eleventh hour. I am now back in Melbourne and the op is rescheduled for Wednesday.

I must say, flying into Canberra this time, I was quite impressed by the airport which seems to be nearing completion. I still remember the crappy little airport in Canberra when we migrated to Australia in the early 80s. Back then, the planes that flew into Canberra were mostly small and from a limited number of destinations. Also, there were no aerobridges so it meant walking onto the tarmac to get onto the plane (which was a real pain in the rain). I guess this is progress.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

a beautiful day

Nathan's and I have visitors from Sydney hanging out with us this weekend. We started the day with breakfast on Elizabeth street. We took the dog with us. She is not a fan of the horse drawn carriages in the city and went a bit crazy when she saw one.

Nathan then took the visitors to see the dresses exhibition at acme. I took the dog home and then headed to Johnstone street to get a canvas stretched. I ended up taking a walk along smith street and up along Gertrude before catching the tram to meet up with the others for a late lunch.

Nathan is cooking chicken curry tonight. We've invited the visitors over for dinner. Should be a nice, relaxing evening. The perfect Saturday.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

sunday roast

I seem to be regressing with my jet lag....I actually slept in (and only woke up because the dog was licking my face).

I went to look for a gift for my friend who is visiting from Canberra. Awkwardly, I bumped into his ex (who is now also living in Melbourne). What are the odds? Such a coincidence.

After the catch up session with my friend on Sydney Road, I decided to drop into Woolworths in Brunswick to pick up some pork belly for a sunday evening roast. I had been inspired by the sight of roasted pork belly and perfect crackling on Master Chef earlier in the week. Alas, it seemed that everyone living in Brunswick had similarly been inspired and Woolworths was sold out of pork belly; so I got a pork leg instead.

I am now waiting for the roast to finish cook. So far, the crackling is looking really. I've now turned the heat right down so the skin doesn't burn. Wish me luck.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

first week back

Got back to Melbourne last Sunday. I don't ever remember Melbourne night time temperatures getting down as low as 2 or 3 degrees. What's with that? Going from long sunny days in Finland to short wet ones here in Melbourne has been tough.

I went back to work on Tuesday and found out the uni is going through another round of job cuts. I ended up spending part of the working week consoling a senior colleague who had been tapped on the shoulder. By Friday arvo, I was glad I had survived the working week (physically and emotionally).

Despite the crappy weather today, I decided to make the most of my saturday by dragging Nathan and the dog out for the day (rather, the dog dragged us out...she loves her walks). We made our way over to Rathdowne Street and had a wonderful lunch at The Kent Hotel before letting Truffles loose inside a dog park where she had an absolute ball chasing after the other dogs.

We then wandered to Brunswick Street, walked down Gertrude to Tarlo and Graham (to introduce Truffles to the store manager), before making a stop over at Dianne Tanzer Gallery (where I bought a sculpture..retail therapy is the perfect anecdote to a shitty week).

Truffles and I left Nathan in the CBD (the poor bugger has to work tonight...he had his own issues at work to deal with this week). The dog and I headed bck home. Truffles is now snoozing on the couch and I'm about to settle into a quiet night at home in front of the television a– with a warming bowl of lentil soup.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

the clean up

Ahhh...the clean up has begun. My student and I have been busy finishing up the last of the experiments and cleaning up all the stuff we have been using. I smell like algae and detritus.

Tomorrow we head off to Tampere. My student and I will be staying with my friend's parents. His dad does the most amazing hot-smoked fish.

Monday, July 1, 2013

meanwhile, back in Melbourne...

It looks like the dog has been learning how to drive. I think Truffles will get her license before Nathan.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

tar appeal

A few years ago, while visiting the Finnish city of Fiskars, I came across a tar-scented candle in a candle shop. I thought it was odd that anyone would want to buy something that would smell like road works but apparently the smell of tar is something that is quite nostalgic and comforting to Finns. Earlier, on this trip, we went to the town of Hanko for ice cream and my student was brave enough to try the tar-flavoured ice cream. He thought it wasn't too bad. I could only imagine what a tar ice cream would taste like.

part in Turku

I finally managed to get out of the research station yesterday (albeit for only a day).

I was invited to a colleague's 50th birthday party in the beautiful city of Turku. The birthday girl's husband gave one of the best off the cuff speeches I have ever heard. Who would have though? A romantic Finnish man.

I didn't know most of the guests at the party but it was interesting that several of them raised the recent political changes in Australia when they found out I was Australian. Europeans seem to be quite well informed about Aussie politics. And it seemed that Gillard's misogynist speech had quite an impact.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

causal link?

Hmmm...three years ago, when I was last in Finland doing fieldwork, Julia Gillard took over from Kevin Rudd as PM.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

escargot (part deux)

I'm not sure what the snails have been eating but the longer we've left them in the bucket to clear their digestive tracts, the less I am inclined to eat them myself.

My student managed to get the only french scientist at the research station to cook them for us tonight.

Me (to colleague): Talk about racial stereotyping.
Colleague: Well, you've been cooking fried rice all the time.
Me: Good point.

Sunday, June 23, 2013


We are purging some snails in a bucket. They will be ready for us to eat tomorrow. The research station is full of these large, slightly off-green snails that were brought to Finland by monks several centuries ago as a food source. So, we though, why not give them a try?

sea change

I have friends, a couple, who have given up their regular jobs and, for the last few years, have been travelling on a sail boat with their baby (now a toddler). They started in the US, have gone down to Central America and are currently in French Polynesia. I wonder how their kid is taking all of this? must be an amazing experience for a young child to be immersed in something as routine that most of us will never ever get the chance (or the courage) to experience.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

a dip in the sea

My student fell into the sea today. He is fine (and so are the fish he was trying to offload onto the jetty when he fell). I saw it happen. And so did five others in another boat that was pulling into the jetty. The people in the other boat started to laugh. I felt embarrassed for my student but he took it in his stride.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

changing my sheets

How frequently should one change their bed sheets?

Here at the field station, the answer is once a week.

My colleague's 18yo daughter just started working here as a house cleaner for the summer. Today, she told her mum (who then told me) that they were cleaning my room and apparently the older ladies were curious why I hadn't changed my sheets (despite leaving me a fresh set every week).

I thought I was being considerate. Instead they think I am a pig.

home alone

I've noticed every time I'm away, Nathan takes the opportunity to buy stuff and/or rearrange things in the apartment.

Here is a recent old sellotape container. He proudly showed it off today on skype.

Me: "What is that?"
Nathan: "It's a sellotape box"
Me: "Why is it on the table?"
Nathan: "I bought it from Lost and Found."
Me: "Does it have actual tape in it?"
Nathan: "No, it's just the tin."
Me (???): "Hmm...o.k.a.y."

To be fair, his purchases are generally small and inexpensive. He also tends to support tolerate the things I buy even if he finds them creepy (like the time I bought home a sculpture made out of animal bones covered in red velvet).

Me: "Look what I bought"
Nathan (looking at velvet-coloured bones and clearly hating it): "Ohhh...I like it."
Me (being really good at reading people's true emotions): "I can take it to the office and hang them there."
Nathan: "No, it's ok. Display them at home...just not in the bedroom."


Truffles waiting to skype with me the other night...

Monday, June 17, 2013

poor Nigella

The photos of poor Nigella apparently being choked by her husband are bad enough but an epic FAIL to the Fairfax news websites in how they have categorised the story under the 'entertainment' section. Seriously?

...nor is it something that would warrant placement in the lifestyle section either.

 Daily life?  Hopefully not.

Fail, fail, fail.

animal magnetism

How could I not have known about Les Lalanne? Here is a sample of their crazy animal furniture...

Sunday, June 16, 2013

education for all

I was talking to two Finnish students a breakfast this morning and got very envious of the education system they have set up here. First, university education is free. Second, students get up to 500 euro a month allowance. Third, the lunches are subsidised (students pay less than 3 euro for a decent three course meal and drink). Can you imagine such things in Australia?

cabin fever

Although I enjoy my time at the research station, I think I am also starting to get cabin fever.

It is really quiet here at the moment...a lot of the staff and students depart for the weekend. I really should have done the same and gone to Helsinki (if only for a day trip).

A colleague from another city, Jyvasklya, tried to entice me over for a visit with the promise of cooking me moose and mushrooms. I was tempted. Jyvaskyla is an interesting city. I've visited there only once before. Parts of it reminds me a little of Canberra, with its lake and concrete (brutalist) architecture.

Anyhow...going away is kinda difficult at the moment. We have a tight time schedule for the experiments we are doing. This year the fish are being recalcitrant and are not breeding too well so its pretty slow going. Also, I reckon I'd feel guilty abandoning my student. This is his first trip to Europe and if he is stuck in a research station doing 15 hour days, I should at least be around him to offer support (even if I am in my room watching youtube videos).

At least the mosquitoes have mellowed a little. Even they seem to have left the research station for the weekend.

Friday, June 14, 2013


I saw the following passage in The Australian and got totally confused.

SYDNEY University is set to focus its health and medical research on four priority health and medical priority areas which will attract the lions share of resources and support over the next decade.
The four pillars will be obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, cancer, mental health and neuroscience and infectious diseases.
So, what exactly are the four pillars to which the journalist is referring to? It's quite ambiguous. Let's see...
1. obesity
2. diabetes and cardiovascular disease
3. cancer
4. mental health and neuroscience
5. infectious diseases (hang on, that's five)

Ok. Try again:

1. obesity
2. diabetes and cardiovascular disease
3. cancer
4. mental health 
5. neuroscience and infectious diseases (nope, still five)

1. obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease
2. cancer
3. mental health and neuroscience
4. infectious diseases 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


I was on skype with Nathan last night. He took the dog to the country over the long weekend. They stayed at Nathan's mum's new place. Apparently Truffles took a crap on the new carpet and then went to sit on mum's face. Unfortunately for Nathan's mum, there was a dingleberry still attached to the dog's bum. Ooops.

Call me the nag in the relationship but I did ask Nathan to make sure the new house was escape-proof, which he assured me it was. So surprise, surprise when Nathan said that the dog had escaped and he had to spend 20 frantic minutes running up and down the street looking for her. Fortunately Truffs had run up to a couple of kids and were busy playing with them when Nathan found her.

She is naughty (and so is Nathan).

only in Finland

So picture this....It is 11.00pm. I just got into bed. I'm about to doze off and then I hear the distinctive sounds of...a whipper snipper. Soon after, I catch the smell of cut grass wafting into my room. Yes folks, the gardener at the station is still doing the lawn close to midnight (probably because it is light outside). Everything (and everyone) seems to be working on a different time schedule here to take full advantage of the light, from the birds singing late into the night to the gardener intent on keeping the long grass trimmed.  

false idols

Oh dear. What a mess. It seems that the National Gallery of Australia might have been caught up in an art scandal.

There are allegations that the NGA has purchased several indian antiquities from a dodgy dealer based in the US. These items, it is alleged, were looted and smuggled out of the sub continent.

If proven to be true, the NGA will have to repatriate these items, which will represent a huge financial loss – not to mention a loss of reputation.

I do find it amazing that investigative journalists have the capacity to hunt down info that has somehow alluded public collecting institutions despite the importance of making sure that the provenance or history of the pieces check out...especially if you are going to fork out millions of dollars on an item.

It did occur to me the last few times I had been visiting the NGA, just how rapidly it had expanded its collection of indian art since the current director took up his position. Oh well, I guess it might soon contract again when everything has to be sent back to India.  

Friday, June 7, 2013

eye contact

I try to say hello or, at the very least, acknowledge people who are walking towards me with a smile or a gentle nod of recognition, especially here at the field station. I've found that the foreign researchers always greet you back. Most of the locals, on the other hand, tend to avoid eye contact. They either  look away at the last minute or not acknowledge the greeting at all. I think it might be cultural. Perhaps I need to change my brash Australian ways. The locals must think I am creepy.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


In April, I flew back from Europe on a Finnair plane painted in the distinctive poppy designs of Finnish-based design company Marimekko.

Recently, Finnair unveiled a second aircraft painted with another one of Marimekko's designs, 'metsanvaki'. Unfortunately for Finnair, the design had actually been plagiarised from the artwork of an Ukranian folk artist. Now Finnair has to repaint the plane. I wonder how much that will cost?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

a Finnish bargain

A few years ago, Nathan and I went to my favourite shop in Surrey Hills in Sydney and I ended up buying a nice-looking flower pot designed by Richard Lindh in the 1960s for Arabia, Finland. I think I paid $90.

Last weekend in Helsinki, I saw the same pot for sale at a flea market. I paid 3 euros.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

field station musings

Its been a few years since I've had the opportunity to work at the research station here in Finland.

I would have to say that I am more of a city person (which, a lot of my biologist friends find perplexing) but nevertheless it's really nice to be able to escape the city from time to time and to work in a place like this for a month or so.

The nearest decent-sized town is only 20 km away – but without a car, it might as well be 200 km away. Periodically, we have to rely on another researcher or student at the station to drive us to town to buy groceries, to go for the occasional meal at a fancy restaurant or to grab an ice cream (like we did yesterday) but otherwise we are pretty much 'stuck' at the station surrounded by forests and the sea.

It's a bit like being in a pleasant wilderness retreat...except for the work. Still, despite the long work hours, there is usually plenty of free time to go for walks or sit outside in the sun (just have to avoid the giant mosquitoes).

We managed to catch some shrimp the other day while out collecting fish for our experiments and decided to incorporate them into our stir fry that night. They were small but otherwise tasty. Word quickly got around about our foraging adventures and a french student turned up to our lab last night with a pan full of shrimp she had caught and fried up in garlic. It was a different species and more tasty than we asked her to bring us more next time.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Foraging for food seems all the rage nowadays. Tonight my student made a risotto-like dish and included some stinging nettles he collected near the aquarium facility where we are working. They were surprisingly delicious.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


I left my room's bathroom window open yesterday at the research station. By evening, I noticed a wasp had flown in and started to build a nest just below the window frame. Those who know me will know that I am not a fan of creatures with enlarged abdomens and/or stingers. Still, the biologist side of me was fascinated with the nesting behaviour. The wasp was obviously busy at it all night and by this morning, this is what it had managed to accomplish.

Unfortunately for the wasp, I was in the bathroom when it took a break and flew outside – so I shut the window.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

hello Helsinki beloved Hesinki. How I have missed you. It was nice walking your streets again, eating your rye bread and baltic herring, and watching your people sitting out in the parks trying to soak up the sunshine peeking through the clouds.

Friday, May 24, 2013


It didn't instill a lot of confidence this morning at Melbourne airport seeing the pilot and co-pilot struggling to figure out how to release the rope on the barricade to get to the gate. Fortunately, they were much better at flying the airplane and after a very smooth flight, am now in Singapore waiting for my next flight to Helsinki (sadly, it will be on a crappy old Finnair plane).

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Helsinki bound

Yep...Just a few weeks after returning from Europe, I'm about to head back to Europe. I'll be there for six weeks this time 'round. Sadly, Truffles and Nathan have to stay at home but I'll get to bring one of my students. Am looking forward to spending some time at the research station. It'll be nice to spend a decent block of time out of the office.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

sunday animals and art

Nathan and I headed to the junk company today and I couldn't resist getting some of these cute lead toy animals.

After lunch, we headed off to the NGV. We started of at NGV Australia to check out the top arts exhibition.We then headed went to NGV International to check out the Dior & Yamamoto exhibition – and to eat scones. This is a new art installation in the foyer....mesmerising.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

truffles by the bay

Nathan and I took the dog for a walk today. We made our way from Docklands to South Melbourne and then onto Port Melbourne. 

It's the first time any of us had actually walked to Port Melbourne and I was surprised by all the nice shops we walked pass on our way to the water.

Here I am with Truffles on one of the dog-friendly beaches talking to a girl from the UK who was taking her friend's spaniel for a stroll. Truffles is having a great time.

We then took Truffs off to see the Spirit of Tasmania. Like us, she is longing to get to Tassie to see Mona.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

beyond Melbourne

Early last week, I took my honours and PhD students to country Victoria for a work retreat. The students had a cook off, we sat around the fireplace in the huge house we rented, and generally had a good time.

Later in the week, I headed to Sydney for an invited seminar. After that, the postgrad students from Sydney Uni whisked me off to the the Central Coast for the weekend. We went on nice walks, had great food, and the students asked me for career advice.

Here is a picture of a friendly kookaburra who came to say 'hello' when we were having brekky (in truth, I think it was after my food).

Thursday, May 2, 2013

poo in the foyer

I took Truffles for a walk this morning and forgot to bring a plastic bag. Fortunately, I realised when we were walking with Nathan to the train station so he gave me some tissue paper instead. Just as well because Truffles decided to wait until we got back to the apartment complex where she then proceeded to take a huge dump right inside the foyer as I was checking the mail box. I was panic-stricken and started grabbing at the droppings with the tissues and running outside to dispose of them in the bin. It took several trips, back and forth (at one stage I was even using the free newspapers left in the foyer). And 'of course' someone walk through the foyer as I was trying to get rid of the evidence.  I was so embarrassed.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


I had a really nice flight from Helsinki to Singapore (and 'yes' it was on the plane with the marimekko livery). I even managed to get some decent shut eye.

I'm now relaxing in Changi. I've discovered the wonders of the airport shower facility at the 'Rainforest Lounge'. Well worth the $8 (it even comes with a complimentary beverage afterwards). I feel completely rejuvenated and, of course, I'm now thinking of food.

Update: In the 30 mins since I published this post, I've managed to eat a bowl of mee siam and a plate of chicken rice (with extra meat). In my defence, the mee siam was a very 'small' portion.


I'm already at Stockholm's Arlanda airport waiting for my flight (I arrived 5 hours early). I had planned to walk around the shops but that took all of 20 mins. Thank God for free wi fi in the terminal.

Was hoping to get a final taste of Scandinavian food but there are only 3 restaurant options in the terminal (and one of them is a Starbucks)....I should have done more homework.

Speaking of homework, I have been once again keeping a close eye on Finnair flights via in the hopes I don't end up on one of the crappy old ex-air france planes.

The good news is that one of the planes (OH-LQG) is still enroute to Helsinki from Deli and the other one (OH-LQF) just left for Shanghai so it seems I will be taking one of the newer planes from Helsinki to Singapore.

I'm hoping it will be OH-LQD, which was repainted last year with the distinctive Marimekko poppy design 'unikko'.

(yes, flying is boring and I need to keep myself occupied with trivial things).  

Friday, April 19, 2013

tropical house

I finished my work engagements today and decided to check out the tropical glass house next to the University. There were a few things in flower, mostly orchids. There are suppose to be poison arrow frogs free-living in the glasshouse but, alas, I didn't see any. Here are some images.

I head back to Oz tomorrow night – less than a week after I arrived.

Hambergs fisk

It was wet and gloomy today so I decided to work in my hotel room. I set up the lap top on the windowsill, which overlooked the cathedral (much nicer than working behind the desk).

Given the huge breakfast this morning, I managed to survive the day without the need to break for lunch. However, by late arvo, I had decided it was time to grab an early dinner.

By now the sky was clearing so it was a perfect opportunity to head out to find Hambergs Fisk. I've had a craving for seafood since arriving in Sweden and had found the place doing a search of potential restaurants the day I arrived.

Hambergs Fisk is an interesting place: part restaurant, part fishmongers (the latter gives the impression that the seafood must be super fresh).

I ordered the 'assortment' of house specialities for starters (poached salmon, cured salmon, shrimp in mayo, quiche with roe, seafood terrine). Delicious. This was followed by a delectable bouillabaise with a sizeable portion of garlic aioli on the side (all of which ended up in the soup, of course). Amazing.