the things i do for me

In the two+ months since I last updated (since Sydney) I:
– Interviewed and was selected for an amazing job
– Travelled to Hong Kong with said job
– Came back to Melbourne to cram for my next uni subject
– Travelled to the far-north-eastern-most point of Arnhem Land and spent a week in an Aboriginal arts centre
– Came back to Melbourne and did a course in conservation of plastics at Melbourne Museum
– Decorated my house in an attempt at procrastinating from uni assignments
– Thrashed out my assignments on Aboriginal art and finished uni for 2015 (much more to come in 2016 though)
– Started my new job in earnest.

But whilst all of the above would make fascinating blog posts, complete with interesting and/or beautiful photos and maybe even some meaningful reflections on art and culture…

…I’m posting now because I am needing to do the whole “today I did this for me” thing again to help me stay positive as I adapt to working very-much-full-time again and try not to lapse back into fatigue. Not very interesting for other people but very much a coping strategy for me!

SO this weekend:
– I got up early on Saturday and cleaned and tidied my house, ran down to Coles to pick up the groceries I pre-ordered online to avoid buying anything that wasn’t FODMAP-friendly (this strategy works wonders for me)
– Met with my new Chinese friend Rinny to smash out 6 (yes SIX) hours of Chinese conversation practice (the new job requires me to be able to talk about archaeology and Chinese history and UNESCO with fluency — isn’t that marvellous?)
– Watched 10 Things I Hate About You
– Read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (a wonderful hommage to The Jungle Book!)
– Failed to get to Bikram on Sunday morning, due to staying up late reading the above (I have lapsed in my Bikram practice and been maybe twice in three weeks, due to intermittent fatigue + working again being a bit much to combine, but I’m confident I’ll be back soon).
– Met my friend Kerry to see Trainwreck at the cinema (loved it)
– Came home and napped (I’ve been told to schedule naps in the day and not feel bad about it, and you know what, it’s so liberating!)
– Cooked low-FODMAPs coq au vin and ragu for the week’s lunches (plus a ton of white rice and hard-boiled eggs) (and can I just say that coq au vin is out of this world delicious for a low-FODMAPs recipe A+++).

Now it’s 9:30pm and time to wind things up for bed. Goals for the week:

– No panicking
– Practice Chinese every night (and not lazy writing or reading, proper speaking and listening!)
– Whether you think you can, or you think can’t, you’re right… so Rosie, know that you can.
– Maybe squeeze in a Bikram class.

views from the 11th floor

There have been ups and downs this week. Rather than follow a chronological narrative, here’s some of my ups, and then maybe I’ll have forgotten about the downs by the end.

  • Bikram is going great. I listen carefully and do exactly what the teacher says, and my body follows. I feel very strong despite my horrid shins (oh yes, update: definitely not a stress fracture; I’m on the waiting list to see a shin pain specialist) and I think I sat out maybe one position of my last 5 classes. I finish each class shaking and stand for as long as possible under a freezing cold shower, feeling wonderful.
  • To celebrate I got myself a new Bikram outfit from lululemon (who I had sworn off, because they are so dodgy, but I then got sucked back in because they do make such great clothes and I took Polly on a shopping spree to kit her out with running skirts and cute tops… WORTH IT). I have been hunting for a bikini in this Klein blue for years, and not only is this top adorable, but the ocean-print bottoms are great for Bikram because they camouflage the inevitable cameltoe.

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  • I also got myself a Camelbak insulated water bottle. I have been going back and forth between getting a Camelbak, which my work-wife Nat has and which is obviously awesome, and something insulated so I am not drinking hot water by the time the floor series starts. The one I got is gorgeous, but I am discovering it has the insulation properties of a paper cup so it’s not great. Regardless, it’s a great drinking bottle and I love how much more I drink because of it. Also, one of my staff got me a little desk fan which matches it perfectly!

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  • The desk fan is much needed, because as you will see from the below pictures, I am surrounded by glass and sunshine, and it gets very hot in my office. But so beautiful and sunny!

Glass wall behind my desk:
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Glass wall to the left of my desk:
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View to the front left sat at my desk:
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View to the rear left sat at my desk:
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View behind me when I turn right to talk to Nat:
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It’s not always bright and sunny… here’s a view from a more atmospheric morning of the week:
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In case you hadn’t got it yet… I love my view.

  • For an even happier picture of desk distractions cheering me: James DID order me my very own copy of Pioneer Girl. It’s a massive and beautiful coffee table book, wombat is not quite to scale but not far off! I am reading it very slowly as it is heavily annotated and has so much information about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her relationship with her daughter Rose Wilder Lane. It’s also quite heavy and unwieldy so not the kind of book I can throw in my handbag to read on the tram, but in a sense I like it better that way, it lasts longer…

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  • On my way to Bikram I go past a car salesroom. When I am on my way to the 6am class, I see a man cleaning the salesroom almost every morning, and I always smile and wave. The first time, back in January, he was obviously startled but then immediately smiled and waved back, and it’s become a tradition for us to do so. I’m not sure why I had that impulse, except that early morning cities are a bit more like villages, and a cleaner behind a window is a safe person to smile and wave at, as opposed to the clubbers who are weaving their way along Chapel St looking for a cab. This Tuesday morning the man was waiting for me out the front, and he said “I wanted to say thank you for always saying hello in the morning!” and I felt very smiley and happy and “the world is such a wonderful place!”… then my yoga class was HARD and work kind of sucked, so I probably read too much into it. Still, it was nice.
  • Today I ran lots of errands for my soon-to-be new home, and now own a fridge and a chopping board and a fancy Scanpan knife that was $35 marked down from $80, and at long last, a salad spinner. I wore my Marcelline dress — another gift from James, who really is such a sweetheart, and I am terrible for never sending him anything in Iraq!! — which I hadn’t worn all summer because I felt too self-conscious, but actually I really like it!

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  • I also made a floor plan for my new home in InDesign, to scale, with all my furniture, plus a couch and table which I need to buy. This is a very consumerist post! I am sorry…

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  • Non-consumerly pictures I found unexpectedly this week, of James and me on my friend Benjin’s barge, in London, at St Katharine’s Docks, back in May 2011. Benjin runs a fantastic NFP called Floating Films where he screens films and documentaries on the barge, if you’re in London you should take a look!

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  • My manager (who went on maternity leave then moved to Queensland, and whom effectively I have been more or less replacing for the last six months, which is why I hate my job so much) is down for 10 days, and she brings the baby into the office. The baby is 4 months old and is so god damn cute my ovaries won’t stop wailing the entire time. She plays on the floor next to my desk, gurgling and doing happy baby pose, and I want a baby, I want a baby, I want a baby and NOT to have to work.
  • Last but not least: James has finally shaved his beard off! The whole time he has been in Iraq he has been growing a hideous “Wild Man of the Woods” mass of ginger hair and moustache and beard, and I hate them. I was so grumpy when he sent me a particularly hirsute picture, and so excited and happy when he sent me a second cleanshaven one as a surprise!

The downs were really just one down: at one point this week, I thought maybe my job was quite bearable after all, and was even thinking I could keep things up for longer, maybe even till the Spring/September. But URGH I had a horrible day on Friday and I know the real reason things have been ok is because somehow I haven’t had much work to do; there’s been a lull in my campaigns and it’s just the calm before the storm. But hey, 7 weeks down… maximum 43 weeks left to go?

love and cheese

I stumbled across a rather strange quote whereby Colette apparently said “Un homme qui n’aime pas le fromage ne peut être bien au lit” (“A man who does not like cheese cannot be good in bed”). Few things pique my attention the way unlikely attributions do, and whilst I can see the rest of the world loving the idea of the glorious Colette dropping bon mots about men and cheese, to a French reader, the simplistic sentence structure and the quip itself seemed inelegant and unworthy of her writing. And “bien au lit”? that doesn’t really translate as “good in bed” — more like “comfortable in bed”, really.

A bit of googling detective work suggests to me that this attribution originated with that tacky book “French Women Don’t Get Fat”… which made me roll my eyes even harder, because it’s such a ridiculous concept. Even more suspiciously, there were no French results for this quote!

So I harnessed the power of the internet to search Colette’s canon for mentions of fromage. Nothing linking cheese and sex showed up in her most famous books, however a slightly more obscure book Paysages et Portraits contained this:

Si j’avais un fils à marier, je lui dirais :
“Méfie-toi de la jeune fille qui n’aime ni le vin, ni la truffe,
ni le fromage, ni la musique.”

If I had a son to marry off, I would tell him:
“Beware the young woman who does not like wine, truffles,
Cheese or music.”

I find it fascinating how her original words seem to have been twisted from celebrating the value of a young woman who loves rich and delicious food when choosing a life partner, to being misquoted (and downgraded, in my opinion) to a blasé statement about men who don’t like cheese being bad in bed.

That said, if anyone can find the original Colette reference, I will take it all back. Maybe Colette had inelegant moments after all!

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this holiday i did this for me

The original reason behind this blog was for me to document one thing I did every day for myself. I started it back in 2010, when I was unhappy at work and needed to focus positively on just one thing I had done, every day, that wasn’t my job. I couldn’t quit my job until I had permanent residency, and felt so trapped and miserable.

And now, in 2015, I feel the same way. I know that I just need to ride out this one last year, in a job where I am unhappy, in order to have the money saved to turn things around in 2016. In 2016, I will be an Australian citizen, and will therefore be able to get some financial support, which combined with the money I save up this year will allow me to be a full-time student instead of working myself to the bone to pay for part-time university upfront. In 2016, I will also be able to go overseas, returning to Taiwan to do a conservation internship and research for my thesis. Everything will be great in 2016.

But right now, it’s really hard being stuck in 2015. I go back to work tomorrow, and I feel like I did nothing for me during Christmas break. So in an effort to go with the original spirit of this blog… this is what I did for me, over my holiday:

  • Spent time with my sister Polly enjoying being lazy, watching lots of silly TV and eating delicious foods
  • Went to Bikram yoga nearly every day
  • Downloaded dozens of books from Uni and did lots of reading on the topics I want to understand better for my thesis (intangible cultural heritage and human rights; ethnic minorities in Central and Eastern Asia; tourism and indigenous cultural heritage)
  • Went to the Zoo on Christmas day
  • Went to Wangaratta to see dear sweet Bonnie
  • Found a new place to live where I will able to live by myself but for half my current rent (moving in February!)
  • Redid my Excel budget for 2015-2016 entirely so I have a financial plan to carry me through to Graduation
  • Prepared a full calendar for 2015-2016 so I don’t miss out signing up for various conservation memberships and conferences, as well as all the steps for my citizenship
  • Read a paper book (this is kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel, but it’s rare that I put down my phone, laptop or kindle and read fiction from a paperback, and it feels good!)

Ok, that isn’t really enough for me to feel great about myself. Compared to last Christmas, when I was trekking the Himalayas with James, it seems pretty weak. I know that it was important for me to have some time out after a long and stressful year, but I don’t have much to show for it.So here are some things to do for me in January:

  • Keep going to Bikram as close to daily as possible — having Polly here is going to be a tremendous help for getting me there every night after work
  • Go to the ACCA with Polly to see the Menagerie exhibition
  • Go to the ACMI with Justin to see the Yang Fudong exhibition (when I did my BA at SOAS back in 2006, I wrote my ISP on the influence of traditional Chinese landscape painting on modern Chinese photography and film, and went to see Yang Fudong’s work in Amsterdam as he was a huge part of my thesis… it’s so exciting to have the opportunity to see it now in Melbourne!)
  • Keep drinking lots of water so my medication doesn’t make me sick — the immunosuppressants I’m on make me very dizzy and irritable, which doesn’t help with my overall mood, but hopefully hydration will improve things?
  • Pick up my Chinese studying again — I have this app called WaiChinese which is fantastic, but I haven’t been practicing for the last month and I need to get back into it
  • Do my physio exercises every day — I haven’t done them at all for so long that my physiotherapist probably thinks I’ve moved away, but if I ever want to run again (hint: I do) I cannot keep ignoring them
  • Get my hair cut. It’s looking pretty awful after daily Bikram.

ancient book love!

Some of the areas we access through my course are confidential and I can’t share them. These however I am fairly sure are fine to write about and put pictures up, as they are from the University of Melbourne archives and pretty much anyone can access them if they request to. It’s just a short post really, to share my delight at a few of the volumes that I saw on Monday.

A volume of William Morris’ Kelmscott Chaucer! This I could have drooled over all day… from the link you probably won’t click: The Kelmscott Chaucer was the most ambitious book Morris ever printed; it took four years, and was only finished just before his death. But it was a labour of love, the culmination of Morris and Burne-Jones’s long friendship. Morris designed the typeface, decorative initials and page layout; Burne-Jones designed the illustrations. SO. SEXY. I wanted to touch it so badly but “on touche avec les yeux”… the printing was magnificent, and the binding in white leather was so fabulous, oh my… you can’t tell from the picture but the book is 11×16 inches and 600 pages long — massive and completely impractical and utterly desirable nonetheless!

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Also fabulous — a gigantic volume of Owen Jones’ Grammar of Ornament.

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It inspired me to purchase this beautiful book of wrapping papers ($7 only!) a few days later. Sorry for the horrid quality picture but my room’s lighting is not ideal.

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In the background of the Grammar, you can see this treasure: …I have forgotten the details already unfortunately. It’s a herbalist’s manual, full of hand-coloured prints showing not just all the herbs and plants but also all the animals — including unicorns and mermaids.

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This — also glimpsed in the background above — is a single page from an original Gutenberg Bible. Not the best picture but this is kind of like being a paparazzi really — I’m just excited to catch a shot of a celebrity. Even though I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about Gutenberg, as he gets all the credit for inventing moveable type hundreds of years after the Chinese did (and after the Koreans perfected it). Still. Pretty cool! Of course, if I’d studied in Europe instead of Australia I would probably have access to more than a single page… but I’m the only person allowed to point that out.

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A week or so ago you may have seen me get excited on Facebook about the etymology of the word miniature: The name “minium” was used for both orange lead and cinnabar [from which were extracted red and orange pigments]. An artist working with minium was known as a “miniator”, who made “miniature”, so the term miniatures was originally used for the red capitals used in illuminated manuscripts. The term was eventually applied to any small feature and came to mean anything reduced in size.* Here is some original miniature for you! The vellum of this manuscript made it a perfectly acceptable candidate for binding another book, completely unrelated, and it has held up just fine over the centuries.

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Last but not least in this episode of book geekery… You may note in this action shot of the Chaucer, a small, unprepossessing volume, bound in a dubious floral print, hovering in the background.

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It has been in the collections for years, more or less ignored. Upon fortuitously opening it one day, however, the archivist was amazed to discover…

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*I have written up some information about pigments and their history but I’m not sure if it’s really fair as it’s more or less a rip-off of the article I read, and I don’t have time to re-write it completely in my own words… maybe later?

is it legal?

Not sure it can be legal to feel as good as I do. I have been in my new home a week now, and yesterday I finally got my room unpacked and organised. I took a panoramic picture on my iphone that can give an idea of my room (and a peek into the living-room) but I don’t know how well it will come through on my blog, it might be necessary to click through to see it properly. It’s actually really cool how you can zoom in on all the details! the iphone 5’s camera really is amazing.
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I am enjoying my current readings for my essay. I finished The Buddhas of Bamiyan (reviewed here in the Guardian) which gave me a really fascinating insight into the history of Afghanistan and into understanding how the Buddhas were perceived throughout their existence, whether by Buddhists, Muslims or intrigued Western travellers and soldiers. I’m currently reading Art and Cultural Heritage: Law, Policy and Practice, which covers a broad range of topics of course, and it’s hard not to get distracted by all the case studies of cultural artefacts plundered or destroyed due to the travesty of war.

I’m particularly intrigued right now by the case of the Ethiopian Stele of Axum, originally because of the inconsistencies between what is in my book (published 2006) and what is on Wikipedia, notably because Wikipedia’s spin sounds more plausible but is lacking in citations (and also contradicts itself). The book says the stele was broken into 3 pieces by the Italians so they could carry it back to Rome in 1937, as a spoil of war. Wikipedia points out that the 24m-high stele was erected in the 4th century, in an area prone to earthquakes, and that it collapsed more or less immediately, laying on the ground in either 3 or 5 pieces until the Italians carried it off.

Stele of Axum

Of course I could head off and search for more information but it’s not the topic of my essay and I suppose it doesn’t really matter. But firstly, it’s made me doubt the reliability (and objectivity) of this book, and secondly, OMG HOW COOL IS ETHIOPIAN HISTORY? It frustrates me that even though my BA is in History of Art and Archaeology of Asia and Africa, I was so focused on East Asia and China that I never had more than a brief flirtation with African art in my first year. And now I need to get back to Afghanistan… but there is so much out there to read!!

Also in the works for the rest of my Sunday: hit up Bikram at 6, and cook a giant pot of soup for my work lunches this week. It’s already 3:30! where did my day go? (the answer is easy: I was up till 5am emailing with James in Afghanistan so I slept in till 11… NO REGRETS).

plus on en fait, plus on en fait

Today, Friday, the gods were smiling upon me, as I got the afternoon off from work. I headed over to uni to try and get to grips with both the campus and the readings, both of which are equally intimidating, to be honest.

I did my undergrad studies at SOAS (wave and say Hi, SOAS readers) which, for those of you not so fortunate to have experienced the School of Oriental and African Studies, is a very… niche school of the University of London. I started my Bachelors degree 10-and-a-half years ago, and whilst it was a wee bit overwhelming to move to the big city after my tender youth spent in the French countryside, SOAS is actually quite a small, cute little institution. Cosy. Even its fantastic library is fairly easy to navigate.

The University of Melbourne is NOT small and cute and cosy. I got lost several times the first day I went there back in December. It also has this pseudo-Oxbridge vibe to it, which I sometimes quite appreciate and sometimes roll my eyes at.

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Somehow — told you I am lucky — I’ve accidentally found myself at one of the best universities in the world, and doing the only professional arts conservation course in the Southern Hemisphere (LOL COS THERE ARE SO MANY…). Consequently it’s nothing like the chilled out world I knew a decade ago. It freaks me out sometimes to be such a tiny minnow in such a huge ocean.

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I’m sure I’ll get used to it very quickly and soon I’ll know this rambling campus like the back of my hand. Eventually I found the bookshop — and its queue approximately 80 people long that covered the ENTIRE shop, prompting a swift exit. Then after wandering around for 20 minutes, I found the library… right next to the bookshop. I was expecting something a little more impressive, I have to say, given how the view from the toilets is more romantic than the entrance to what is surely the most important building in the entire institution?

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It would appear not, though, as whilst the computer areas were packed, the upper levels were not only devoid of students… there weren’t even any books.

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I’m not sure if this has anything to do with it: Given the sheer volume of reading to be done; the cost of printing; the fact that everything is provided online as a PDF; the convenience of being able to take my 500 pages of reading with me anywhere I go… I have dug out my faithful olde iPad (the original, as “borrowed” from my boss two years ago). It’s crazy but instead of carting around massive ring binders full of tatty photocopies, all I need now is the iPad and a notebook. My desk felt so empty!

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After studying for what felt like hours (but was more like… two hours), they kicked me out of the closed library and I went home to get changed and go to Bikram. I’m having to walk everywhere again, as Gary has been locked in Graham’s garage for the safety of my knees. I can’t be trusted not to ride him so poor Gaz is now a recluse once more.

Bikram sucked a bit. I didn’t enjoy it. I had a few good moments, but my knees keep getting tingly and fizzy and I was too hot (well DUH you say, but sometimes the hot is more bearable that others. This evening my towel felt like an electric blanket every time I came into contact with it). Also, even though I drank 4 bottles of nuun-water today, I think the pizza work ordered in for us (a tradition every first Friday of the month) must have been super-salty because I still was parched.

And so ends my Friday night. Work, Study, Yoga. This is going to be my life for the next couple of years.