a week in Yirrkala

I’m pretty thrilled with my new blogging app. I foresee lots of blog posts!

Ok, so first of all I’m inspired to finally put up the pictures of my week in the Northern Territory, when I was fortunate enough to get to spend time in the Yirrkala Buku Arts Centre as part of my degree in cultural heritage conservation.

First night, driving to the township where we were staying. This is a blurry shot out the back of the van, where 7 of us were bouncing around (2 more up front).

First morning, inspecting a selection of sculptures that have just been sold and need to be shipped… not easy when you live far in the outback!

Learning how to pack them…

I love them, they look so sad! I wish I could find my notes on what they are and their meaning, I will have to come back and add in more details.

Break for lunch. I was staying with three other girls in government-provided shipping containers. It was very luxurious, we all had our own bathrooms and a/c units.

In-filling cracks using sawdust and glue.

(I have stolen some of my classmates’ pictures when I feature in them; this probably shows due to the sudden leap in size and quality. I haven’t asked for permission as I am loathe to raise awareness of this blog, but humbly beg your forgiveness if you are reading this now and spot your stolen pictures!).

Sanding down larger cracks so they are easier to in-fill.

Manini, one of the artists, taught us how to make the ochre-based paint, as well as the fine paint-brushes used for the delicate hatchings in Aboriginal art.

The brushes are made from human hair, and fine, strong, straight hair is very much a prized resource in the artist community.

After sharpening a skewer, the hair is wrapped around with fine thread. I pointed out it was like hair wraps from the 90s, but just about all the other students were born in the 90s, so they didn’t get the reference.

Here is my finished brush. I’m really proud of it (in this picture I hadn’t yet trimmed the skewer-end of the hair, it looks much neater afterwards).

Manini showed me how to practice hatching on my own forearm, to get a feel for the brush. I think this small aside, when she was helping me, was one of my favourite moments of the entire trip. I won’t make it cheesy and lame by waxing lyrical, but I don’t want to forget this either.

After our day of doing our conservator thang, moving and packing and mending…

…we got to go to the beach. We couldn’t actually go in the water because of the crocodiles and stingrays, but it was excessively beautiful. I’ll try to limit the number of pictures, but I took so many, I just couldn’t capture the magic in the light and the air.

The surface of the water truly was opalescent, shimmering like mother-of-pearl – so many greens and blues and yellows and colours I can’t describe.

Driving back to our digs… blurry snap, but I wanted something to remember how the red roads always look so intense against the green of the bush and the blue of the sky.

Sunset at what was later to be named by us as Optus Rock, the only part of Yirrkala where there was a signal for those of us on the Optus network.

The next day when I look at my picture folder, I almost exclusively have many, many photos of a series of artworks by the artist Wukun Wanambi. I fell in love with it at first sight — a series done on foil-laminated insulation foam, teaming with small fish. I don’t feel comfortable putting photos up as my studies have taught me that Aboriginal art and sacred patterns shouldn’t just be put up whenever you feel like it, wherever you want, without permission from the artist. But one of the series was nominated for a Telstra Aboriginal Art Award this year, so you can go look at a sample and read a little about it here. Anyway, I spent a lot of time assessing the condition of this series and photographing it, with a view to making it a research subject, but in the end it took me in another direction — Aboriginal art on Found materials, which I became slightly obsessed with and ended up writing two different papers on (hit me up if you want to read them!).

Back to more traditional materials in Aboriginal art, we were able to go bark-cutting. Driving out into the forest, looking for suitable trees, I naively hadn’t realised the tree dies after the bark is removed. Here is a barkless one from a previous expedition.

Target identified:

Removing the first strip:

Cutting around the bottom and top with an axe:

[the removing of the bark was documented by video, so I could capture the sound it makes as the bark comes away from the tree… but videos are even more of a challenge than pictures, sorry… ]

Inspecting the bark after removal.

Naked tree.

We had a few more barks to collect. I got to participate this time… I remembered being quite adept at swinging an axe back in 1994, when I used to amuse myself by cracking kindling (and mostly making a mess) in the woodbarn at home. It was NOT the case 20 years later.

Making an inelegant fool of myself.

Whilst the bark-cutting was happening, the grandson of one of the artists who had come with us, Charles, spotted signs of something interesting beneath the ground (he’d already spotted croc tracks on the road, I have to say that made me just a wee bit nervous).

He dug carefully…

Bush nuts!

We gathered a few more barks and a few more bush nuts, and then headed down to the beach to set up a fire. The wind blows in fiercely off the ocean and this helps get the fire roaring!

The barks are placed over the fire, with the outer rough bark down on the flame and as they heat up, the moisture evaporates and they slowly relax and flatten out.

Then you rip away the smouldering stringybark in strands. This is also great fun (that is me below with the white hat and the terrible posture and the iPhone tucked into my bra strap, mucho eleganto).

To my dismay I don’t have any pictures of the bush nuts Charles and his grandmother cooked in the embers of the fire… they tasted somewhat like hazelnuts.

The next day came one of my favourite moments as a budding conservator — we got to clean mold off a huge crocodile carcass that hangs in the Art Centre. I’ll try and keep the number of photos down; you’ll have to forgive me, it’s not every day you get to clean crocodiles and I personally just love seeing these photos.

Close-up of croc-in-my-face.

Same croc, different day:

Okay, last one.

The first “crocodile day”, I also met and fell in love with my first serious art purchase. It means so much to me, for a number of reasons, not least because I came to Yirrkala with a very limited understanding of Aboriginal art. I certainly did not expect to leave with a bark painting of my very own. As an aside, it took me several days to settle down after buying it; I lived in constant anxiety due to its inherent frailty. Bark paintings are notoriously ephemeral and I knew before I even purchased it that it has a limited lifespan. But I love it so much, that I hate to think of anything happening to it. And yet it had to fly back first to Cairns and then to Melbourne, in the hold of the planes as neither Air North or Jetstar would let me take it as carry-on. I was so scared it would get damaged, cracked, dropped, hurt somehow. Then once I got home, I inspected it twice daily in case my living-room’s fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity were making its existing cracks grow. Two months in and I’m much more relaxed (and the cracks haven’t shifted, I don’t think!). I am looking at it on my living-room wall now, and just as it did the first time I set eye on it, it brings me immense joy. It’s a crying shame I do not have a better picture of it yet, sorry…

All too soon our week was almost up. More walks on the beach on our penultimate night in town. I’ll spare you the multiple beach pictures, this post is already so long!

On the last day, I made this little basket whilst waiting around for things to get started. I learnt how to make random-weave baskets in Cairns (new post coming up soon on that, I promise, now I have all this photo-blogging under control!), and consequently I was keen on learning more about traditional basketry skills, still very much part of the Art Centre’s offerings.

One of the Yolgnu ladies (I think her name is Eunice, this is the frustrating thing about leaving it months before writing things up) was generous enough to come along to give us some insight. First she showed us how to gather fresh pandanus leaves, using this hooked stick.

You use the stick to drag down the topmost freshest leaves from the top of the tree. Then you give them a tug and gather up the ones you want. When I did this I ended up with little thorns in my hands and legs, but Eunice didn’t seem to notice them herself. There are no photos of me trying to do this gathering process, fortunately, as I sucked at it.

The others went for a dip in a water-hole certified “probably croc-free”. I am not a coward, I genuinely wanted to sit with Eunice and learn how to prepare pandanus leaves, but knowing I was thereby less likely to get attacked by a crocodile did make it more enjoyable.

Dear reader, it was really freaking hard. Eunice made it seem really easy, when she split the upper layer from the bottom layer of each leaf.

When she handed me one so I could try, I discovered there was no “top and bottom layer”, as far as I could ascertain. I started out happy and graceful…

Rapidly becoming frustrated… Eunice kindly said that these were not very good pandanus and that’s why they were so hard to peel, but really… I don’t think it was the pandanus.

There’s a trick whereby you grip and fold and press super hard… my wishy-washy hands (already offended by thorns) found this very difficult. I laughed at my uselessness as I shredded stem after steam. My classmate was also struggling, and we rapidly realised that there wasn’t going to be much weaving of pandanus today.

I offered my little basket to Eunice as a thank-you, and we laughingly compared it to one she was working on at home… ah well there’s always next time.

I think that brings me to the end of my Yirrkala trip. We flew out the next morning, and I came back to Melbourne with exactly 3 weeks to write my assignments before starting my new job!

Once again, the stark absence of Aboriginal artwork in this post is mainly due to the fact that I prefer not to post anything rather than risk posting something I shouldn’t without permission. I also am very grateful to the artists and their families who are glimpsed throughout this blog post, and have tried to limit pictures to preserve their privacy. It’s such an insane privilege to get to spend up in Yirrkala, to get to meet and spend time with these incredibly kind and generous people, who are so patient with us when we say and do foolish things. I mentioned above how much I love my bark painting, and among the many emotions I feel when I come home to it each evening, is that of gratitude for being allowed to learn about it and understand it, and appreciate it, and meet the artist, and carry it off home to Melbourne.

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.

everything where it’s meant to be

I just finished the first week of my first conservation job.

This was a long time coming — three years ago, on an aimless trip to Madrid, I stood in the Prado staring at the conservation labs, and immediately knew, just knew, that was where I needed to be.

Over the following months, I researched and applied for the Masters degree in Conservation at Melbourne University. They accepted me and I discovered the prohibitive cost of studying meant I would have to go part-time and find a job.

I started working as a lowly account manager in a telemarketing business. It was mind-numbing work, earning barely enough to support myself, so I started working extra hours on any admin or operations projects I could get close to. I worked 10-hour days, and studied in the evenings and on weekends, and when an opportunity arose I jumped and wriggled my way into a position that eventually became Operations Manager, and was salaried enough to pay for university.

For two years I worked so hard, spending 50+ hours a week at the office, whilst trying to console myself with the 8 weeks a year I got to spend at university. I am proud of myself for getting excellent marks all the way through that time (who can forget that 95 I got on my essay on conservation in areas of conflict? I certainly never will!), while simultaneously my diligence at work was increasingly recognised and rewarded.

But I was getting so sick. So anxious. So tired. My ulcerative colitis tripled in spread over those two years, and my doctors kept telling me to do less, work less, study less. I had to make a choice, and I thought the best thing to do would be to put university on hold for a year, negotiate a stiff raise, and save enough money to go back to school full time the following year.

That was a huge mistake, although even with hindsight I don’t know what else I could have done. Without my studies to keep the spark inside of me alive, I wilted. I burnt out. I went from being undeniably the hardest-working, most dedicated and capable person in our office, to someone who could hardly function. Of course, by most people’s standards, I continued to be a competent and reliable worker, but inside, I was boiling up with anxiety and anger and frustration and depression.

So I quit. I didn’t know how I would make things work without my big paycheck, but I knew I couldn’t go on, not even for a few more months. It took under 6 weeks (for 2 of which I was on holiday in Taiwan) to recruit and train my replacement, so I barely had time to gather my thoughts, when here I stood, unemployed, ready to apply for the dole for the first time in my almost-32 years.

My thoughts, when I gathered them, oscillated between terrified and relieved. I didn’t get to dwell on them for very long, however, as less than a week after leaving my job, I had been hired for a 2-week stint at the National Archives of Australia as a paper conservator, to clean 821 boxes of mould-covered books.

The night before I started my new job, my AirBnb hosts here in Sydney asked me if I was nervous. How could I be nervous? How could I be anything but elated? No, I was thrilled.

But the joy I felt before my job is nothing compared to the deep-seated happiness and satisfaction I am experiencing now I have my first week (and my first week’s paycheck!) under my belt. I knew this was my calling, so I am not surprised, but I am discovering how many ways this work is just made for me, I am made for it, and it is the most fulfilling occupation that I could ever conceive, no matter how humble the work at hand. It just fits. And even when it’s tedious, even when it’s physically exhausting, I will never take that for granted, thanks to the years spent in offices doing work I despised.

Tomorrow I am getting a police check finalised for my second job. On Monday I will be locking in dates for my third conservation position (a volunteer role). At the end of June I fly up to the northernmost tip of Arnhem Land to spend a week at an Indigenous community arts centre. I am spending my free time this month preparing a fellowship application to support research for my thesis next year. I look back at the past three years, where I was trapped waiting for my life to begin, and I am so happy to be where I am now, where everything I do is about conservation, there are no concessions to anything else. Of course, come August, I will probably have to get another full-time job with a real paycheck, that is not conservation-related, but at least I know now that I can do this, and it’s not for long, and I am already, at last, a conservator!

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new beginnings!

I have pretty much finished up at work. I still have several Taiwan posts that I will, I will get written — and I know I will, because I am about to have a winter off from working.

I am so excited and happy. I am finally going to be able to do all the things I never have time for. I will sleep a lot too — of course — and because it’s winter, and I’m going to be poor, I won’t be leaving the house very often.

It’s such a luxury to be able to take several months off from work. Here’s my general schedule for the months ahead:

– 12 days until James leaves for Afghanistan, so we have lots of fun things planned, catch-ups with his friends and mine, as well as a lecture of book cover design and Madama Butterfly at the opera.

– My first week of full solitude. Dear Reader, I know I will stay in bed all day every day for a week. I make no excuses. I will also be going to Bikram at my leisure during the daytime, FINALLY seeing the dentist, and visiting all the museums and galleries at the quiet times during the day (I suffer from rage whenever I have to hear the conversations of people around me).

– Writing an application for funding and a scholarship for next year’s thesis and research in Taiwan. Submissions must be in by the 30th of June, so I know I’m going to be able to dedicate lots of time to this. I am aware of how deadlines creep up on one, and procrastination can be a terrible thing. But still. A whole 6-7 weeks is more than most people can hope for.

– Doing all the reading and preparation for my uni courses throughout June.

– My uni courses: in the first week of July, I’m doing a unit on content creation in the field which is held at an Indigenous Arts Centre in the Northern Territory. I’ve rarely been outside of Melbourne, apart from the occasional trip to Tasmania, Sydney, and some of regional Victoria. I am really grateful for this opportunity and the framework which my course coordinators have tried to build so we don’t complete this course steeped in middle-class white privilege and concerns.

– At the end of July I will also be completing a Metals Conservation Intensive, which I’m both excited and apprehensive about. I feel very insecure about the huge gap in my learning after putting uni on hold for so long. So lots of revision and prep to be completed there!

– August will be spent doing my uni coursework, and applying for jobs… I am of this weird mindset where I don’t want to apply for jobs too soon, because I really don’t want to be working until I’ve got all of the above out of the way. I had to sacrifice too much for uni previously and I want to get the best possible results and learn as much as possible. Of course I know that I should not presume that work will fall straight into my hands; it will possibly be months and months before I get work, in which case after August I will be reliant on Centrelink and begging for cash from strangers.

Kinmen

The first stop after Taipei was Kinmen, an island (two islands, in fact, and also known as Quemoy) barely a kilometre from Mainland China. I hadn’t realised it isn’t actually part of “Taiwan” itself; it is part of the Republic of China but the people living there are neither Taiwanese (although they speak Hokkien) nor Mainlanders; they are Kinmenese, really (jinmenren, 金門人), and have no wish to be absorbed into the PRC either. The layers of cultural identity in Taiwan never cease to intrigue me.

We stayed in an absolutely gorgeous traditional “two hall house” guesthouse that was recommended to me by my friend Matt. I can’t describe how beautiful and enchanting the building and surrounding village are; in fact, when I originally began writing this post it turned into the basis of a potential thesis subject for next year (more on this later). So I have shelved all my obsessive architecture/cultural identity observations so I can develop a more academic version of them, and come back to write more of a “This is what I did on holidays” post. However it is SUPER LONG with ALL THE PHOTOS. Consider yourselves warned.

Day one in Kinmen, we arrived at the airport and took a taxi to Zhushan where Guesthouse No.17 awaited our arrival. We were a little early so we wandered around the surrounding buildings, stunned by the scenery of Ming Dynasty homes and small gardens.

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Our host Ms Zhang was wonderful, and when I explained that I wanted to hire bikes but James wanted to hire a scooter, she diplomatically suggested we hire a scooter and then make the most of the free bike services dotted around the island to explore different locations. She drove us to the scooter hire place, where the lovely Jerry set us up with a scooter for a very reasonable NT$900 including two day’s hire, a tank full of petrol (no need to refill before we return), and a free ride to the airport on our last morning (which costs around NT$300 by taxi).

We scootered to the National Park in Guningtou first, which has a number of military sites, with the idea of trying to find a bike hire station. At Lake Ci, we came across a military fort, complete with tanks:

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View out to China

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James looking like a Japanese soldier inside the fort:

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The view from inside the machine-gunner’s room:

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The more time we spent on the scooter, the more it became apparent that cycling was the real way to go when visiting Kinmen. There is a huge network of bike trails clearly signposted all over the island, and even though many of them were on shared roads which we could follow on the scooter, they were much more enjoyable on a slower, biking scale. We sat down in Jincheng and stared at the map, whilst I tried (with much frustration) to work out the location of the dozen or so bike hire stations. I googled exhaustively (note to self: create a page with the information in English and a google map!) and eventually we gave up and decided to just ride over to Shamei and hope we would find one there. And we did! By this point it was 3pm and the station closed at 5pm — you get to use a bike in exchange for your passport, so I was pretty keen for us to get back in time. I was a little worried we wouldn’t have time to do much in 2 hours, especially with the clunky hire bikes which are the type I associate more with city bike schemes than “cycling”. But in the end we had a lot of fun!

Trying to hide my disappointment at these silly bicycles (I was in the middle of taking directions from the hire lady here, and struggling to remember which of zuo and you is right and left, which is of little help to me since I don’t know them in English either):

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I cheered up once we hit the road, the sun and the blue sky and the ocean breeze all made me happy!

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Speed wasn’t really something worth thinking about…

Love the timer function on my iphone, although between me setting the phone up on the beach, running back to strike a pose, running to get my phone and running back to James, the tide had come right in past our bikes!

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We covered a respectable 12.5km and then returned back to the station well before 5, quite worn out (those bikes are hard to work compared to Bon Scott).

Then we scootered home again to the guesthouse, before James coaxed me back out to catch the sunset. We drove to a lookout point but the sun was not quite in the right direction. Still, we had a very pretty view out to China.

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James breaking all the rules as usual:

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As the sun was hidden behind a hill, we watched it set on the iphone instead:

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We then headed over to Jincheng for dinner. Jincheng is a very pretty city, with some very fetching traditional buildings and brick archways.

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We were planning to eat at a place called Jessica’s Communist Cafe, however we couldn’t find it and ended up getting hotpot. Then we scootered home again in the dark, pausing to grab some Taiwan Beer and wasabi snacks at the 7-Eleven.

The next morning, Ms Zhang had prepared a wonderful traditional breakfast for us:

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Most of the food was heavy on the fructans, which I have to stay away from in the daytime if I’m going to have an active and enjoyable day, but I couldn’t help binging on the youtiao (oil sticks — giant fresh churros) and the fresh mulberries. James had to take them away from me, and I tried to console myself with the meatball porridge and a banana but it was not the same.

I was really, really sore from the cycling and the scootering the day before so we chose to explore close to home within walking distance.

Inspecting the map:

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First we meandered through the village and the eponymous “Zhushan” (meaning Pearl Mountain, but really just a hillock).

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A ceremony was being held at the local temple, with music, singing and dancing, whilst onlookers threw ghost money over the performers.

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I particularly liked seeing the singer/drummer follow along the words with one finger — he was very dextrous at turning the pages single-handedly.

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We then walked to Oucuo, which was settled by the Ouyang family during the Ming Dynasty in the late 17th Century. Oucuo was a wonderful place to visit because of the abundance of houses still in their original layout, carefully maintained and modernised. I get very excited about “living heritage” — buildings that have carried traditions and meanings over the centuries and that are not kept as museums of how they once were, but as a continuation of their first and foremost purpose: homes to the living.

Kitty cat on a doorway:

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Nesting doorways:

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Loved this one in particular with the bright flowers, scooters, paste-ups and laundry all artfully building a mosaic of pinks and reds around the red brick frontage… sigh!

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Not all houses were inhabited or in a good state. We came across one abandoned rundown building, which we were able to access as the doorways were clear and easy to get into. It was full of abandoned broken furniture and was incredibly moving.

From behind:

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Check out this ancient TV! (and the rude hentai comics… obviously still a popular destination for locals… living heritage?)

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A group of cyclists came through the empty streets, a little incongruous in their lycra kit, but obviously quite a habitual scene for Kinmen.

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We headed in the same direction, and finally reached the beach. I always love being by the ocean (who doesn’t?) and got quite excited about the seashells.

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I packed up James’ and my shoes in my bag — a bag I made myself, with my own fair hands, a few years ago — and we progressed, barefoot in the sand. The water was very cold so we just splashed a little.

Showing off my bag:

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Cold-feet selfie, the last picture before….:

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Then we began walking along the shore, and James picked up a seashell for me (I was looking for the perfect one). It was all sandy so I dashed to the water to rinse it off… bent over… and *ploof!* my iPhone landed in the water (hitting me on the head and the shoulder on its way out of my bag). I quickly picked it up, mopped it off, and James and I put it out to dry as I pouted about having ruined my only recently paid-off smartphone. I’ve previously dropped James’ iPhone in a Taiwanese waterfall, but there’s no way the chlorides in the seawater aren’t going to cause corrosion (I’ve studied enough metal chemistry to know!).

However it does seem to be fine for now — who knows how long it will last for.

Anyway we continued along the beach, coming to a tank which James had apparently spied from a long way off but I stumbled upon with complete surprise (more metal corrosion!).

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James did what he has done for the last 32 years and climbed onto it.

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I scolded him because one does not climb on History!

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Then we walked towards a military fort, which looked exciting and foreboding.

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It turned out of course that it was impregnable by foot (well obviously, otherwise it would be a rubbish fort) and James led us through a charming landfill instead. It was a shock to see so much rubbish everywhere — the beaches had been pristine up to this point, and it makes you realise how much effort goes into keeping Kinmen beautiful.

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There but for the grace of god go I — my brand new Mizunos realise that they too, one day, could be an abandoned thong.

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We found the entrance to the fort, however it was locked.

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We headed onwards towards Zhushan, stopping at the Zhaishan tunnel to appreciate the three years it took to blast a passageway into gneiss granite.

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We were extremely fortunate to time our visit between two coach loads of tourists, as the tunnels were dreadfully echoey when filled with chattering Taiwanese. It was interesting to imagine how it must have been full of soldiers and ships.

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We had an ice-cream and discussed a potential venture for creating tours for older grumpy people, who like me don’t want to talk to other people and don’t want any noise or chatter, but would like to get out and about and see a few new places. I think this is a great potential business venture!

Then another couple of kilometres and we were back at our guesthouse. I wanted to nap, but James only allowed me to rest my weary feet a little before we went off for afternoon adventures!

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We decided to go hike up Wuhu Mountain (pronounced woo-hoo!) which is apparently the second-highest peak in Kinmen (this means very little, however). I got us lost a few times on the scooter, as I have to navigate from the back seat, one hand around James’ waist and the other clutching my precious iPhone as I indicate left or right — sometimes I overestimate how long it will take to reach the next turn and we have to reset the route. Also… I don’t know left and right, which can be challenging when giving directions. A few zig-zags around the island and we got there in the end!

We debated whether to bring water with us, as there was no indication of distance or elevation, or of how long the climb would take. The answer was: not very far, not very high, not very long!

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We were extremely impressed with the view once at the top however so it was definitely worth it.

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At the top I also finally captured a picture of one of the giant butterflies I had seen everywhere:

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We then descended to the other side of Wuhu to the village of Shanhou.

Ducks holding sentry at the entrance to the village.

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James professed this to be “his favourite duck”:

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Shanhou was built by a rich merchant family, the Wangs, late in the 19th and early in the 20th century. It was very different from Zhushan and Oucuo, as they are laid out in a highly regimented and orderly fashion, according to the rules of fengshui.

Model of the village:

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We weren’t terribly enamoured of this rigid style, and did not stay long, although we were both quite hungry so we enjoyed an icy cold Taiwan beer and a cong you bing, fried spring onion pancake, mine with an egg and some veggies and James’ with sausage as well. I love bing!

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Here is a pile of turtles, trying to clamber on top of each other and up to possibly eat me. Poor things, they are trapped in a small kind of well, no wonder they wanted to escape.

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On the way back James disappeared to explore a tunnel, whilst I powered on up the hill as I was feeling quite tired and wanted to get it all over! He found a cave with some sort of abandoned military function.

We then rode back to Jincheng, pausing at a night market where we saw the seashells from earlier that day, now ready to be consumed:

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We were determined to find Jessica’s Café. I quizzed locals until it was revealed that we had eaten there the night before — Jessica’s Cafe is no more, and has been converted to the hotpot restaurant.

Jincheng by night is so pretty though:

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We wandered around Jincheng some more, and eventually landed in a quite crappy Taiwanese restaurant whose sole merit was that they kindly provided us with a hand-translated menu. Chinese menus are my nemesis, as even if I could read every character, the names of dishes are generally pretty obscure.

Bellies full, if not delighted, we clambered back on the scooter for what I swore would be the last time — my back and bottom were both aching and sore from sitting on it.

However the next morning we had a couple of hours to kill, so James coerced me back onto the stupid scooter and we lazily roamed the nearby countryside, almost getting attacked by dogs a couple of times, and taking photographs of old and modern houses for my new obsession with Taiwanese architecture.

We posed with a Wind Spirit, iconic lions who dot the countryside of Kinmen (squinting attractively as it was so bright without sunglasses!):

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We also found ourselves at the foot of a random tower/hill, so we decided to climb that whilst we were there. It was just a 10-minute walk up, and really nothing special, but it was nice to have done one more Kinmen “thing” before we headed home for the airport pick-up!

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One last thing that made me laugh was when Jerry picked us up another driver was navigating their way past our car as we loaded in our luggage. They wound down their window, presumably to check there was enough space, and Jerry called out “Plenty of room!” The driver revealed herself to be a woman, and laughed, calling out “I know, I know, I just wanted to get a better look at such a handsome man, in such a fancy car!” Jokes that are funny AND that I understand in Chinese will always make me laugh twice as hard.

study time

Today I successfully took the first of the three online workshops about Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). I am proud of this for two facts:
– I stayed away from my desk for two hours, alternating between the boardroom and being kicked out into the foyer during any meetings. I was hardly distracted at all — except for one annoying moment, when my boss asked me to move just as the tutor was answering my carefully crafted question (“How do we, as cultural heritage practitioners, negotiate our position as outsiders of communities – do we make ourselves available and wait until we are called upon? it’s obviously important that outsiders do not attempt to define communities we are not part of.” – in case you were wondering. I like having time to formulate my question properly before asking).
– I got mixed up with timezones and thought the lecture was yesterday — Wednesday 25th of February 3pm PDT is 10am in Australia… on the Thursday. Lucky it wasn’t the other way around!

I quite enjoyed the workshop, and whilst many of the concepts discussed during the first lecture were familiar to me (the tutor is Australian, even though the course is run out of Canada, so she used a lot of examples from Australian heritage protection that we have discussed at uni, as well as frequently referencing the Burra Charter), a couple of the things mentioned during the lecture were very thought-provoking. When discussing the movement of people into different countries, and particularly from areas of instability or economic difficulty into more wealthy countries, I tend in conservation to think more about waves of immigration building their own cultural bearings in a new environment (eg. the Greek and Italian populations that came to an Anglocentric Melbourne at the end of WW2, itself once colonial British outpost in an exclusively Indigenous Australia). But the lecturer briefly mentioned refugee camps, as whilst these places are meant to be impermanent, displaced populations can spend months and years in very trying and harsh conditions. Despite the psychological and physical turmoil of losing everything and having close to nothing, one might hope their cultural identity and heritage — particularly intangible culture — does not have to be completely stripped away.

I have for the past 18 or so months been interested in the role of cultural heritage professionals as potential first responders to endangered artefacts in areas of conflict. The loss of homes and family must always the first concern of humanitarian movements, and cultural objects are much harder to safeguard; their loss is mourned but difficult to prevent. My readings when I researched an essay on this topic back in September 2013 indicated that there was real human value in trying to protect and preserve historical and cultural monuments and art objects, because it could assist in rebuilding an area post-conflict — whether rallying people around common cultural identities, or supporting tourism to boost a fragile economy. However the number of organisations that venture into warzones for this purpose — Monuments Men, if you like — are minimal, and it is a highly dangerous ambition (not that I don’t still dream of it in an abstract way).

However, when it comes to intangible cultural heritage — which can be traditions, song, food, dance, rituals, language — living heritage — these are things that travel with people, that change as populations move and mingle with each other. How could I have failed to consider the impact on ICH of having to flee ones home and live in a refugee camp? Particularly given that my beloved partner is a humanitarian aid worker, currently working in Iraq with displaced populations? I feel simultaneously ashamed that I never thought about this before, and grateful that I have my very own live resource to help guide my research a little.

My first step in this particular direction is to read this report on traditional knowledge in Burundian refugee camps in Tanzania, after which I hope I will be able to articulate myself a little better on this subject.

posit even

It’s so hard to stay positive! I am finding it hard to feel pleased with myself at the end of this weekend. I wait all week for work to be over, and then the weekend goes by and I have nothing to show for it but naps. What did I even do with myself?

  • I went to just one yoga class on Saturday, and none on Friday or Sunday, although it was a really good class. I’m starting to wonder if Bikram is more enjoyable going every other day instead of 5 times a week. Maybe if I set that as a goal I would stop beating myself up when I don’t go, too.
  • I taped up some boxes and packed up most of my books (they are always the easiest thing to pack, after all).
  • After a few issues, I finally installed the Blackboard application for the online workshop on intangible cultural heritage I have signed up for. The three sessions will be run on Thursday mornings in February from 10am to 12pm Melbourne time, which means I will have to be strong and determined and step away from my work for two hours, and not let anything stand in the way of that. I’m already worried about a meeting coming up this Thursday, which I’m pretty sure my boss hasn’t bothered to put into my diary but will want me to attend, but I will just have to put my foot down. The third session is the same day as an absolutely incredible-sounding lecture I want to attend at Deakin: Building Capacity for Reducing Disaster Risks to Cultural Heritage Challenges and Opportunities in Asia Pacific. So… so I will take the entire morning off work. Scary! But I have to get some small amount of study in, having otherwise given up uni this semester.

(This listing thing is cheering me immensely. This is why I have this blog, which is basically a long list of things I did)

  • I offered a load of my pre-loved high heels on Facebook to whomever amongst my friends wanted them. I was surprised by the positive response I had, and it feels really good to re-home them! Plus it means I have/will be seeing friends who come to shoe-shop, which is nice. James’ sister came over and picked up 3 pairs for a start.
  • Sent a huge pile of books off to donate to the op-shop.
  • Sorted through all my papers (and even organised them into an accordion file with little stickers and everything) whilst listening to the audiobook of Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, for old times’ sake. Polly and I listened to the Red Dwarf audiobooks at least 20 times over the course of our childhood, and it’s very soothing to me!
  • Found no fewer than 5 unfinished needlework projects (a scarf I have been knitting for several years, and 4 different needlepoint projects (a duck, some lavendar, some wildflowers, and another which I have already forgotten again). These can go in the queue behind the sashiko I am literally 30 minutes away from finishing.
  • Cooked egg fried rice and tofu, with leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Yes that was the only thing I cooked. I don’t even know what else I ate in the last 48 hours, apart from ice cream.
  • Spent lots of time Skyping with my wonderful, albeit monstrously hirsute, boyfriend, who I just am too lucky to have, even if he sometimes does weird things like send me unsolicited, unwearable onesies. Although he has also booked us an AirBnb bush retreat for when he gets back from Iraq so it evens out (also following mysterious requests for my mailing address, I am pretty sure he has also got me Pioneer Girl, the Laura Ingalls Wilder autobiography, which is pretty much sold out everywhere. Or maybe it was a salad spinner! both are highly coveted objects of desire…)!

So I suppose overall I have done SOME things. Eeeep it’s 10:45pm and I need to pack my bag for 6am Bikram… urgh… mornings… work… must resist temptation to get miserable again.