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.

having projects

Ages ago, I read somewhere, possibly in an interview in newspaper, that it was important to have stay interested and do new things, try new things, all the time. In fact, that it was more important to keep trying new things than to finish them — and this is why I feel no guilt in having started and abandoned, in no particular order:

– learning Russian
– sewing classes
– 100 push-ups challenge
– an online sociology course
– dozens of embroidery pieces
– a variety of art projects
– ballet
– taking the exam to become a certified French-English translator
– several “classics” which I never got into, despite being a huge reader — I have documented my struggles with Anna Karenina before
– passing my driver’s license (although I will probably have to come back to this one day)
– half a dozen blogs and tumblrs other than this one

I still get a lot out of every new endeavour, but abandoned them, fairly quickly, when I lost interest. What mattered was trying new things out. I need to make every day interesting, and what is more interesting than something new? besides, you never know what I will come back to eventualy. There are things I keep coming back to over and over again though, such as:

– learning Chinese (10 years and counting! never give up!)
– writing this particular blog
– running

Yes! it’s a sneaky running post again. I have started a training plan (via Runkeeper) for a half-marathon. This time, instead of 8 weeks, I have 23 weeks (TWENTY THREE WEEKS? WHO KNOWS WHERE I WILL BE IN 23 WEEKS?) to work myself up to 21.1km. This time, I’m following a specific, professionally-designed training plan, instead of the advice of a well-intentioned but ultimately crazy Taiwanese ultramarathoner. And this time, despite the longing for more, I will NOT run multiple days in a row.

It’s actually really hard. The bright sunshine wakes me up around 7am every day and I don’t get picked up for work until 9:15. This is perfect running time and I’m aching to go, but I ran last night (intervals, urgh, 5x 3min @12km/h, 3min @6km/h) and I mustn’t run again until tomorrow. Looking back, it’s easy to see how I got injured last year. Even though McArthur’s pushing me to increase overnight from 5-8km three times a week to 12-17km five times a week was insane and I kind of knew it, it was kind of like being told to eat chips for every other meal — I knew it was a bad idea but it felt really good at the time!

However, this time it’s easy to remember not to over-train. The pain in my shins and knees has never really gone away and if I try to push it, the pain increases dramatically. Also the memory of how miserable I was in January and February, not able to run, is fresh enough of a threat to keep me in tow.

And so I went swimming on my rooftop this morning instead… 20 easy laps.
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spanish things

I woke up with a disgusting cold and sore throat the morning I flew off to Madrid. I was mostly worried about passing it on to baby Nalia, but Juan stuffed me full of garlic and I was fully cured within 48 hours. So… much… garlic… luckily in Spain it’s ok to stink of garlic.
Anyway, quick recap of the last few days:

Spain is HOT. The days are long and HOT. Now I understand why they have siestas in the afternoon and don’t eat till late at night… afternoons are just too caliente to hacer very much. Plus it still feels like the afternoon till late in the evening.
The sky above us as we ate dinner on the balcony at 9pm
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My beloved sister’s little family is as beautiful as ever, and Nalia is show-stoppingly adorable and fun:
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Ally and Juan are living in a beautiful flat on the absolute outskirts of Madrid. Their street is literally the last street between “Madrid” and the mountains. This means beautiful views…
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The local train station is very pretty and quaint…
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…and faces nothing but brush and mountains shimmering in the heat! Can’t imagine this from a Paris RER or London train station…
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This evening I finally felt ready to brave the heat and go for a run along the trails (photo taken the day before on a recon mission).
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It was pretty bad. I can list a number of excuses (heat, swimming in the morning, tiredness, the dry air, lingering traces of my cold and of course my period) but the reality is, it’s been 5 days since I ran and it was going to suck no matter what. I dragged 4 pathetic kilometres out, following the trails as they appeared in front of me. Nothing very exciting but I’m determined to go back out there and do better very soon.
As you can see from the map below, there is plenty more out there to be explored — I kept reaching dead ends!
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Lastly: Sociology Course update. I am almost done with all the reading for Week 2 (up to 45 pages, from 7 pages last week, wheeeeeeee!). Even though it’s a lot longer, it’s really, really interesting, and not at all a chore to read. I am really glad I signed up for this. I needed some (dare I say it?) gratuitous intellectual stimulation. It also helps a lot to have a “project” right now, as my days could easily slip away into farniente, other than brushing up on my 15-years-old Spanish skills… there are a few other projects on the back burner but I will broach them when the time is right!

sociology 101 – week 1

I can hardly believe it’s been 6 years almost to the day (16th of June 2006) that I finished my degree at SOAS. Since then I have completed 6 terms of Mandarin school, but language school requires little critical thinking. Even though once I reached an advanced level I was supposed to be doing newspaper classes and commenting on current affairs, the level of actual research and debate remained kind of elementary.

I’ve thought about doing a variety of Masters degrees over the intervening years since I graduated. I researched MAs in Art History, Curatorship, Geology (that was a shocker actually) and more recently Counselling. But the cost — and to be honest, the commitment — prevented from me ever putting too much serious thought into the matter. Maybe when I am an Australian citizen — but I’ll be in my thirties by then so it’s silly to plan that far ahead.

I saw Coursera.org linked to on Facebook a few weeks ago, and decided to sign up for the Sociology 101 course. It goes for 6 weeks and it’s completely free, and is provided by Princeton University, although of course it has no credit value. I don’t care, I just really like that I can do this course for free, online, from wherever I am in the world. I signed up from Taiwan, did the first session here in France, and will be doing the second session in Spain next week. It’s really interesting and is so very relevant to the work I was doing with David at Engaging Minds. I feel like this is a really helpful step as I continue in my moving towards what I am meant to be doing.

It’s a little challenging — in a good way! — to be reading academic material again. I tend to read a paragraph, realise I haven’t really taken in its meaning, and have to re-read it, sometimes several times. I got the readings done in the end though, and felt suitably accomplished even though they were pretty basic — my academic brain is kind of rusty. But the lectures are really engaging, and I luuuurve the little pop quiz at the end of each segment!

I did find the live seminar painful though. I am so horribly intolerant and listening to other students stammer their opinions out is frustrating. I wish I could have subtitles and turn their voices off! Also the frequent, not-so-subtle promotion of Princeton is a little annoying, but I guess it’s the price to pay for free education? Hopefully it will decrease as the course progresses.

Anyway, I hesitated about writing about it on here, but I think it is a good idea to try and hold myself accountable (even if no1curr but me). And I would definitely recommend the Coursera system to other people for the time being. I really want to sign up for a few of the longer courses but I am waiting to see how I go with Sociology first. I was surprised at the concept of a “free open university” but I suppose if it doesn’t have any accreditation then it’s not that implausible… I will keep you posted.