Monday, April 02, 2012

Burning in the mountains

Over thirty Tibetans have self-immolated since 2009 in protest at China's ongoing occupation of their country - 25 of them this year alone. And yet the world stays silent. How many more must burn before the world sits up and takes notice

Sunday, April 01, 2012

So, do you want fish with that?

I've been vegetarian for thirty-two years now, and it still surprises me when friends ask me if I eat seafood or chicken. Er no, I reply, I'm vegetarian. But vegetarians eat fish, don't they? people ask. I know lots of vegetarians who eat fish, they say. Then they are not vegetarians, I reply.

I almost had a stand-up row with someone over this issue once. This person had told me a while before that they were vegetarian too, which was nice as I'm often the only vegetarian in the workplace. But then one day, she was telling me about the chicken dish she had cooked the night before. But I thought you were vegetarian, I said. I am, she replied. I just don't eat red meat. That doesn't make you vegetarian, I said. Vegetarians don't eat any meat.Turns out, she tells people she's a vego so they won't serve her a steak. It's easier, she says. For her perhaps, but she's making it a whole lot harder for 'real' vegetarians because she's contributing to the perpetuation of the misconception that we eat seafood. I've lost count of the number of times restaurant staff have pointed to the seafood options on the menu when I've asked about available vegetarian dishes.

Back when I first became vegetarian, it was almost impossible to eat out. Nowadays, just about every restaurant does have a vegetarian section on its menu. Which is great. What's not so great is when they list a meal as vegetarian and blissfully add that it's cooked in oyster or fish sauce, or chicken stock. Er guys, newsflash - that's not a vegetarian meal.

Come on, it's not that hard. Vegetarians don't eat flesh of any kind. We also don't want to eat food that tastes of meat, or has meat-based flavour enhancers in it. We don't care that it's not real chicken in those chicken flavoured potato chips you're offering us, we don't want to be eating it, thanks very much.

And a final thing. Why is it that all the meat eaters at any function zero in on and scoff all the vegetarian food? I know, I know. All those little spinach and ricotto frittatas, stuffed mushrooms and vegetable kebabs just look so much more appetising than your fried chicken wings and boiled frankfurters, who could blame you for hoovering them up. But really, come on. They were for me, you dumbaxes!

There is a solution to this and I have often suggested it at my workplaces. Make all the catered food vegetarian. No meat options at all. It's not going to kill the carnivores amongst us to not have any meat for one meal and us vegos don't have to worry about not getting enough to eat. Simple, really.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A reading smorgasbord

Well, I've got my reading tally for 2012 off to a good start, with thirteen books read in January and I'm hoping to better 2011's total of 109 books by year's end. My annual tally has been dropping year by year since I first began keeping a record - 134 books in 2009 and 120 in 2010. An indication that I'm doing more things in my life, perhaps?

One of the reasons for the lower total last year is that I got myself an iPad in August and I am often playing on that in the evenings when I would normally be reading. I also went trekking in Nepal in November and so did not finish reading a single book, although I took with me Practicing the path: a commentary on the Lamrim Chenpo as my in-camp reading. Most evenings though, I was content to just sit back and shoot the breeze with my fellow trekkers rather than read. so, there were 10+ books that didn't get read in 2011.

So, what did I read? And what were my standout books for 2011? Fifty-three of the one hundred and nine books I read were fiction. Some of my favourites were Salmon fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday, RIding the black cockatoo by John Danalis, Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. The latter is a touching and beautifully told story of four people's lives in 80s India. It's an ultimately bleak tale with an ending that leaves the reader shocked and dismayed. I found it a haunting tale, just like Kiran Desai's Inheritance of Loss.

2011 was a year of favourites as well as discoveries of new authors. Into the former category fall Ian Rankin (The Impossible Dead), Val McDermid and Retribution and Peter Robinson and Before the poison. New authors that on my "must read more of" list are Michael Rowbotham Lost, Belinda Jeffrey Big River, Little Fish, and PM Newton The Old School. Interestingly, all three are Australian authors.

As usual, my non-fiction reading was pretty ecletic. A few books on Buddhism, some Himalayan or mountaineering books, lots of travelogues and some histories. Some of my favourite non-fiction titles were The Big Twitch by Sean Dooley - a book about birdwatching, Friends in High Places by Peter Mayne that tells of his sojourn in the Indian Himalayas and Kathmandu with members of the exiled Rana clan of Nepal, and How to Leave Twitter, an hilarious account of Twitter and its users by Grace Dent.

One of the things I vowed to do in 2011 was not to borrow a single library book until I had read every unread book on my own shelves. I lasted a whole six weeks before I cracked and gave in to the craving to visit the library and browse its shelves. I did manage to read 14 of my own books in that 6 week period and a further 15 throughout the year. That still leaves an awful lot of unread books, so I will try and devote at least one month a quarter this year to reading my own books. If nothing else, I should be able to work my way through the rest of Sue Grafton's alphabet series that I started last year.

So, that's it. Another year of reading adventures finished with the promise of so much more to come in 2012. Already on my To Read pile are Lindsay Tanner's Sideshow, IQ84 by Haruki Maramuri and Wade Davis' Into the Silence. Oh, and Practising the Path is still unfinished. Maybe I'll take it on my trip to Dharamasala later this year....

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Who's doing all that twitching?

I've always been bit of a birdwatcher. Not in the ranks of Bill Oddie (of The Goodies fame) or Sean Dooley, but with definite twitching tendencies. I don't go out of my way to spot birds and I don't maintain lists like more serious twitchers do, but I do enjoy identifying and ticking off species I've seen in my Field guide to the birds of Australia.

Our back garden is constantly visited by noisy minors, blue-faced honeyeaters, rainbow lorikeets, crested pigeons, currawongs, butcherbirds, the occasional ibis and once, one very pesky brush turkey. The most notable visitor, and a very recent one, is this fellow...

Image: Wikipedia
a buff-banded rail. Its usual habitat - according to the Field guide - is marshes, creeks, wet paddocks, tourist resorts, garbage tips and...well-vegetated gardens. Which explains why it's turned up at our place (well vegetated, not a tip) to apparently nest, since it is currently its breeding season. Pretty cool, I think.

My most memorable sighting was down at Lamington National Park, when Smithy and I encountered the magnificent Regent Bowerbird. Of course, we didn't know what it was at the time, but boy, was I excited to find out what we had spotted. Never seen one since, though.

I may not be in the same class as Sean Dooley when it comes to birdwatching, but unlike him I have seen a Rufus Scrubbird at Lamington. He had four goes at trying to get it for his Big Twitch - a year in which he attempted to break the national record for the number of birds spotted. Me? One fluttered across the track in front of me one year and went bouncing off into the undergrowth. Thought nothing of it when I identified it in the trusty Field Guide at the time - just ticked it off. Then I read Dooley's book and realised I had seen the very bird he had tried and failed to add to his list. Take that, Sean Dooley!  I've spotted a bird the Australian twitching record-holder never got. Gives me a small sense of satisfaction every time I think about it, that does.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Weekend at Binna Burra

Smithy and I headed off to Binna Burra this weekend for two days of camping and bush walking. We arrived mid morning on Saturday after a glorious drive in bright winter sunshine. I took my iPad along and plugged it into the little gizmo that allows us to play an iPod through the car stereo. The fact that I could surf the web, Tweet and update Facebook as we cruised down the highway to the soulful sounds of Renee Geyer made the journey just that much sweeter.

After setting up camp and having some lunch, we spent the afternoon exploring some of the short walks we hadn't done before - the Tallawallai Circuit, the Loop Circuit and the Bellbird Circuit. Very enjoyable. We then headed up to the Teahouse for a glass of wine. Well, it was Happy Hour!

Back at the campsite it was getting chilly, so we got a fire going and with a few more glasses of wine to go with our dinner, settled in for a evening by the fire, before clambering into our very snug bed for a good night's sleep before a big day of bushwalking.

My alarm woke us up Sunday morning and we reluctantly got out of bed and began making a cup of coffee. It was surprisingly dark for 7am, but lots of birds were singing and it promised to be a lovely day. We had breakfast, went and brushed our teeth, came back and made another cuppa. We were planning on being on the trail by 8.30am but when Smithy asked for a time check, to my astonishment it was only 7.10! How did that happen? Uh-oh. I had turned the wrong alarm on! Setting it for 6am, instead of the intended 7am. Oops!

So, at 7.35am, we hauled on our packs and hit the trail. The upside to such an early start? There's no-one else on the trail, which means lots of wildlife is still around. We spotted lots of pademelons (cute little wallaby-type animals) and lots of birds flitted across the trail - too fast for us to identify, unfortunately. The highlight of the day - indeed, the weekend - was when we encountered a young koala climbing a tree not 10 feet away from us. It was the first wild koala sighting for both Smithy and me, so we were both very excited.

New growth glowing like a jewel in the sunlight

Our plan for the day was to hike the Mt Hobwee Circuit, which we had not done before. Instead of coming back via the Border Track, as described in the walk notes, we decided to come back along the Coomera Circuit to avoid retracing our steps. It meant an extra few kilometres to the walk but we figured it would be worth it. We pretty well had the trail to ourselves and spent a glorious morning traipsing along through spectacular rainforest. The air was filled with the constant call and reply of whipbirds, as well as the chitterings of countless unseen birds. Just lovely. We were making really good progress and were surprised that it was only 10.30am when we reached the summit of Mt Hobwee. At this rate, we would be back in camp by early afternoon! After stopping to take a couple of photos, we headed back down to rejoin the main trail (this was the only part of the trail where we had to backtrack - and it was downhill all the way) which we followed until the junction with the Coomera Circuit trail. We were still feeling good, so decided to take the slightly longer way home via the Coomera Circuit, stopping at a picturesque waterfall for a well-earned lunch at 11.15am. We planned to have a leisurely lunch, basking in the sun, but the sudden arrival of some rather large clouds put paid to that as the temperatures quickly dropped and we got going again after only 15 minutes or so, already feeling chilled.

Smithy (r) and me on the summit of Mt Hobwee

Our next landmark was the Coomera Falls, but first we had to negotiate numerous river crossings. Luckily, the water levels were a lot lower than the last time we hiked the Coomera Circuit back in May, so we didn't get our feet wet. We did get a bit cold though, as we were heading downhill and couldn't walk fast enough to keep warm! Perverse beings that we were, we were looking forward to getting to the Falls as it meant we would then be walking uphill for a few kilometres, thus warming us up again!

They do say to be careful what you wish for as, after a short rest and a quick snack of nuts at the Coomera Falls, the trail went up and up and up for seemingly forever! We were both feeling a little weary and footsore by this time and kept hoping the next bend would reveal the bench that marked the junction with the Border Track that meant we only had 1.9km to go. But, no such luck. The trail just kept on and on and on. Eventually, of course, we did reach that bench and what a welcome sight it was! Hooray! We only had to walk for another half an hour and we would be back at our camp. Well, that was a very long 1.9km, let me tell you and we were never so happy as when we got to the end of the trail at just after 2.30pm. It had taken us a smidgeon under seven hours to hike 23 kilometres, which was a pretty good effort, we thought.

Our planned reward was another night by the fire, after a well-earned shower, of course. But, just as we were about to organise the fire, it began raining and didn't stop for several hours. So we spent the evening zipped into our annex, reading our books, drinking wine and listening to the sound of rain on our canvas roof as a storm rumbled overhead.

No alarms this morning, but we still woke fairly early and were up and about just after 7am. We had been concerned that we would have to pack the campertrailer up wet, so were very pleasantly surprised to find it relatively dry. To give it some more time to dry out, we went and walked the Tallawallai and Loop Circuits again before coming back an hour and a half later to start packing up camp at a very leisurely pace. By 10.30am we were on the road and heading home after another excellent weekend at one of our favourite places.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Impulsive? Moi? Never!

I bought an iPad 2 recently. I hadn't intended buying an iPad at all. In fact, I had originally gone out to get three photographs enlarged. Because I was planning on getting them done on canvas, I went to Harvey Norman, where I soon learned that canvas prints take two weeks. That was no good, as I needed the photos in three days time, so I settled for getting some standard enlargements instead. While I was waiting, I overheard a staff member talking to a customer about some gadgets in a nearby bin. Being bit of a stickybeak, I wandered over to see what they were talking about. PC-free slide scanning gizmos. Ooh, I thought, Smithy would love one of those. She's got a gazillion slides she wants to digitize. And sure, we've got a whole setup at home where she can do that but it needs the computer and the scanner and it's SLOW. This little gizmo could do two types of negatives as well as slides too. So I bought it, collected my photo enlargements and headed home.

Smithy did like the slide scanning gizmo. When she opened it up, there was a little promo card inside with a Win an iPad offer, so we got talking about iPads. I really liked the idea of them but didn't understand how they worked and wasn't sure I needed one. I've got a laptop after all, right? Anyway, the promo card wasn't the only thing we discovered in the slide scanning gizmo box. We also found out it was missing the one component I had bought the gizmo for - the slide bracket. Instead it had two 35mm negative brackets. We tried fitting a slide into the film bracket, but no go. There was nothing for it but to package it back up and return to Harvey Norman.

When we got there, Smithy saw that they sold iPads. Reasoning that we might as well learn a thing or two about them while we were there, we got given a demonstration by a very helpful young man. The one feature that sold it for me, apart from its general all-round cleverness, was its 10 hour battery life. My laptop has a sucky 1 and a bit hours, which makes it next to useless for taking anywhere there's no power. Unfortunately for the young salesman, there were no more 32G models with wi-fi and 3G in stock. He very helpfully told us that Big W and David Jones also sell iPads, so off we went. Big W didn't have any in stock either, nor did David Jones. But DJ did have some 64G models in stock - three, in fact. Hmmm. They were $110 dearer than the 32G model, but twice the capacity. Wotthehell, in for a penny, in for a pound. I'll take one, I said. I even got a choice of colour. So, now I'm the proud owner of a little black iPad 2. Those three photos turned out to be rather expensive in the end!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bootcamp 2011 rebooted

After a short hiatus - what with going to His Holiness the Dalai Lama's teachings and then succumbing to a virus that stubbornly hung around for a month - I am back into my training regime. With only sixty-eight days to go until our Manaslu trek, every day now counts. So from now on, I'll be spending at least 30 minutes a day doing squats, lunges, burpees and sit-ups, along with some strength training and weight lifting. Of course, I'll also be squeezing in some all day hikes as well as weekly walking workouts at Mount Coot-tha and West End. Along the way, I hope to shed those three little kilos I didn't quite manage to lose at Jenny Craig's.