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....