Friday, January 31, 2014

back in Melbourne

I'm back home. I've had a gluttonous time in Canberra celebrating chinese new year. I've gorged on every auspicious dish imaginable (auspicious for us that is; not so much for the animals that were consumed), from braised pig trotters and 'drunken' chicken to beef cheeks and sea cucumbers.

My time back in Melbourne will be brief. I'm off to the airport again tomorrow (it feels like I have spent all of 5 seconds in Melbourne so far this year). Details tomorrow...

I want one...

This gorgeous little plant is a miniature orchid called Dendrobium cuthbertsonii (try saying that ten times after a drunken binge). Isn't it pretty?

Native to the highlands of New Guinea, the flowers can last up to 9 months! And they come in an assortment of colours from red to purple to orange. Just the thing to brighten up the house for chinese new year.

I want one.

fat choy

One of my favourite chinese new year food items is 'black moss' (yes, in its dried form, it looks more like a piece of steel wool than a vegetable). It's better known by its auspicious chinese name, fat choy ('striking it rich').

Unfortunately, there are several reasons why I shouldn't be eating it, including the following:

1. it is a photosynthetic cyanobacteria (eew!);
2. overharvesting of the stuff in the Gobi desert is contributing to erosion and desertification;
3. it has no nutritional value; and
4. it contains a toxic amino acid linked to dementia.

happy year of the horse

Thursday, January 30, 2014

I heart chicken

Those who know me know I love eating chicken, which is why one of my friends got me this...


I went to see the Gold and the Incas exhibit at the NGA. The works on display were amazing. The little figurine above was probably my favourite piece in the exhibition.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

the 'c' word

My friend has a brain tumour. She has to have surgery, followed by chemo. What sucks the most is that it's the second time she's had to have a brain tumour removed (and before that, she battled skin cancer). Its hard to make sense of why these things happen.

the heat

I am in Canberra to spend some time with my family for chinese new year. The heat seems to be following me around. It's going to be 38 degrees today.

I'm going to WA on the weekend for a wedding...hopefully it doesn't follow me out west.

contemporary dance

Monday, January 27, 2014


Nathan got back from Thailand on Friday to an apartment covered in baking soda. I had read that baking soda is a good carpet deodoriser so I liberally sprinkled a box worth all over the floor. Unfortunately, the vacuum bag filled up and the vacuum stopped working – and we didn't have any more vacuum bags left.

So...on Saturday we decided to take the dog for a walk to Port Melbourne to pick up some vacuum bags. We walked along the 109 tram route, stopping at some random place for breakfast along the way. After picking up the bags, we made our way towards South Melbourne Markets to pick up some groceries before heading back home.

We dropped the dog and the groceries back at home and then headed into the city for a late lunch at Il Solito Posti. We each ordered some zucchini flowers for starters (I had never had zucchini flowers before). I had a nice pasta for main course. Nathan had meatballs.

In the evening we caught up with some friends for dinner at Mesa Verde a Mexican place located on the sixth floor of Curtin House. Unfortunately the lifts were out of order (do they ever work?) so it was quite an effort to get up to the restaurant. The food was ok (though I admit I have very high expectations of Mexican cuisine after spending time travelling and eating my way across the country in 2004).

We slept in on Sunday. Well, actually, Nathan slept in. I was up with the dog watching breakfast TV.

When Nathan finally got ready, it was already lunch time so I suggested going across the Yarra to South Wharf to try Bang Pop (as if Nathan hadn't had enough Thai food this past week).

After lunch, we decided to go shopping on Chapel Street. I picked up a nice new (pink!) shirt at The Windsor Annex and then made our way back to South Wharf for more shopping at the DFO, where i bought a navy jumper (everyone needs a navy jumper).

We decided to have a quick 'light' dinner at the Hilton Hotel nearby, which has a decent tapas bar. Two hours – and quite a few plates of tapas and some dessert wine – later, we headed home to spend a couple of hours gawping at a broody Aaron Pedersen on Mystery Road.


Friday, January 24, 2014

sbs world news

I haven't been watching SBS late news for quite a while. I now realise what I have been missing....Andy Park. He is not only handsome but has an amazing newsreader's voice.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

another outing

I went to work yesterday....a full day of meetings. It was otherwise extremely quiet. Most people are still away. I sat waiting for the train yesterday arvo to get back home, I decided I was going to take another day off today.

I started the day by venturing all the way out to Keysborough to visit Collector's Corner (I am such a plant nerd). Orchids get me hot and sweaty (especially as I am hanging out in the heated greenhouse).

By noon, I was back in the city and I decided to treat myself to an extremely decadent (and expensive) lunch at Shoya (mmm...sushi). I asked to sit at the sushi counter so I could watch the master sushi chef at work (doing so also allowed me to justify to myself that the price of the meal also included 'entertainment').

Satiated, I headed off to Bridge Road to pay the balance on our new dining chairs. They have finally arrived in Melbourne after a million years and I am looking forward to having guests over again without the worry they will tumble over on our old, broken chairs.

I had a couple of other things I need to buy so I headed back into the city. I went to Myer to pick up a power adapter for my Macbook Pro. I left the original one in the office but figured I needed a new one regardless because the cord on the old one had started to fray.

I then went on the hunt for a desk diary. Our work place nowadays uses google calander for everything but I am still a traditionalist, insisting on a physical diary (rather than a virtual one). This causes two problems. First, my colleagues get annoyed when they think I am free and book meetings with me on google calander. The second is actually finding a desk diary I like. This is a yearly chore but I actually managed to find one (I like the ones that open up to a week at a time).

Not long after getting home, Nathan skyped me from Phuket. I think the dog misses him because she got very excited when she heard his voice (Ok, I got excited too). He seems to be having a great time. He and his cousins have been to a Thai kick-boxing match, an elephant adventure ride, attended cooking classes, gone scuba diving and evidently will be going to see a ping pong show tonight (I told them to make sure to keep their mouths closed when the balls start flying).

Monday, January 20, 2014

day off

I woke up this morning and decided I wasn't quite ready to head back to the office so I took a day off work. It's nice to have a job that affords that kind of flexibility and it was easy to convince myself to take some personal time to recover from the trip having worked through the Christmas/new year 'break'.

I caught up with my sister and niece over a lovely lunch at the Town and Country Cafe in Balwyn. My sister discovered the cafe during one of her mothers' group outings. The food was lovely...I had an exceptionally tasty burger. it was stacked so high that I had to eat i with a knife and fork.

After lunch, I caught the tram back towards the city. Due to track works on Victoria Street, I had to take a bit of a detour to get to Fitzroy/Collingwood where I spent the afternoon wandering along Gertrude, Smith and Brunswick Streets visiting all my favourite shops and checking out some new ones like Happy Valley.

I stopped by Myers on my way home and picked up some flowers (well, actually, a bunch of interesting leaves) for home.

All round, I had a very nice start to the 'working' week ;-)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

back in Oz

I slept pretty much the whole day after getting home from the airport (the dog kept me company).

I'm still trying to adjust to Melbourne time and have been waking up very early in the morning and feeling hungry at odd hours of the day.

I managed to lose 6kg on the trip (I guess eating beans and rice has some benefits on the waist line).

And after a month of cold showers, it was an absolute luxury to have access to hot water....The things we take for granted.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

in transit

Transiting through the US sucks.

It sucks really, really bad.

Just when I thought I had seen the very worse of airports, today I experience the joy of transiting and re-checking baggage through Miami International. Ok, where to begin?

First, there were the enormous queues. Even longer than what I have experienced at LAX.

Next, the customs officials. They can be extremely mean. I heard a custom's official tell off a latin American guy for not being able to speak english ("You have a US passport so answer me in Spanish!"). Hmmm...let's not overlook the fact that everyone in Miami speaks spanish and most of the people working at the airport (including customs) seem to be of Spanish descent. Totally mean-spirited.

Then, after, making it past the surly officials, I then had to try to recheck my bag and get the boarding passes for my flights to LA and Melbourne.  You'd think this would be relatively straightforward. Apparently not. I was sent back and forth to no less than five different agents (all intent on getting me to do a self check-in) until I finally got to go to a service desk and get help from a real person.

On the plus side, the sushi place at the airport is A.W.E.S.O.M.E and immediately put me back in a relaxed mood (you can see the wave of calm sweeping through my body in this picture).

And, I got my business class upgrade from LA to Melbourne. Yay!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Nicaragua day 26-30 - the military incident and the frenchman

Following advice from a local researcher, we decided to drive to Lake Managua a few days ago to try to buy some fish from local fishermen. So, very early one morning, we made our way to the shores of Lake Managua (or at least, that's what where we thought we were heading).

At one point, there was a gate in the road. So...I got out of the car to open the gate. And that was about the time a soldier with a machine gun walked up to me and muttered something in Spanish (God, I wish I knew the language at that moment).

Fortunately, my colleague could speak enough Spanish to explain to the soldier that we were biologists on our way to the Lake to buy some fish. He gave us a puzzled look, asked for our identification, and disappeared into the darkness.

After what seemed like a very long time (enough time, at least, for it to be light enough to realise we had strayed into a military training zone), a more senior soldier came over. He was very friendly (uncomfortably so) and explained that the road actually leads to a restricted area and there are no fishermen near the area. Somehow, we had turned off the wrong road. Oops.

More pleasant run-ins today. A scantily dressed, extremely tanned, tattooed, handsome french guy (who looked like a model) was loitering near where we were doing our research. After casually looking at the bathers the guy was wearing, my student turns to me and says "Of course he is French".

We are back in Managua today. Flying out tomorrow.

Friday, January 10, 2014

driving in Nicaragua... not for the faint hearted, which is why my student has been doing all the driving and not me. He has been very good at driving on the other (wrong) side of the road and dealing with the crazy drivers. Some interesting driving-related observations:

1. Passengers on motor bikes (usually a woman, small child or both) generally do not wear helmets.

2. If the traffic light changes, you can expect to be honked at within a ten of a millisecond if you do not start moving right away (a bit like in Sydney).

3. If travelling by taxi, don't be surprised if the driver pulls into a petrol station mid journey (it has happened to me 66.67% of my taxi rides so far).

4. At the traffic lights, don't be alarmed if a woman lies down at the intersection and starts throwing a child in the air in bizarre acrobatic manoeuvres. They are just performing for spare change.

5. A horse-drawn cart is a perfectly acceptable mode of transport – even in the capital city.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Nicaragua day 15-25 - fieldwork

I am back in Managua and have access to internet. Yay.

Since my last post, I have spent pretty much the entire time doing fieldwork on the shores of a crater lake outside of Managua. I love my job.

We (a colleague, my student and I) have been based in a highly fortified house only a few meters by the edge of the lake. The house is guarded by two American pitbulls – and an unknown crossbreed dog that would surely lick to death any thief who manages to scale the high concrete walls that surround the property.

We have a cook (the mother of the neighbor) who has been feeding us tropical fruits for breakfast, soupy things for lunch (usually delicious) and either left overs or gallo pinto for dinner.

Our daily routine involves getting to the water by 7am to collect data, followed by breakfast a few hours later, and then more fieldwork before lunch.

I tend to spend a lot of time trying to take in the beautiful surroundings (whilst trying not to take too much notice of all the rubbish that people leave behind on the shores of the lake).

There is a TV in the house but I quickly learnt that the evening news is not really meal-time viewing. It is far more graphic compared to Australian news. Basically, if there is a gory road accident, you can expect to see it all (unpixelated) on the evening news (hosted by an anchorwoman in a too short skirt). I am usually in bed by 8pm.

The birdlife has been amazing but fortunately I have been spared many of the other wild animals that manage to find their way (by either creeping or flying) into my colleague’s room (e.g. whip spiders, bats). The worst I have seen in my bedroom so far (touch wood) has been a ‘barking’ gecko. It was very cute.

We stayed in Managua last night. My colleague’s girlfriend is visiting with us for a few days. We will be heading back to the lake today. My trip is almost nearing an end. I’ll be back in Oz late next week.