the perks of a job you love

I have a zillion photo posts to write, and I purchased an app that lets me drop and drag photos directly into blog posts so I’m hoping that resolves everything. It’s a bit messy and not quite what I’d hoped, so please forgive the disjointed nature of this post, hopefully it will improve once I get the hang of it.

This post is from a recent work trip, but I am unclear on confidentiality so I am just going to say it is in China and leave it at that.

Driving to the site on the first day, I’d been awake for most of the past 48 hours and was stinky and sticky, because our luggage got separated from us and I hadn’t expected to be on the go for 48 hours. But there’s nothing like steep mountains and winding roads to get me excited, and fortunately, you can’t smell me in this picture.

Many of the roads are very narrow and in order to prepare for the site opening (and a million coaches a day), they are widening the roads by literally just drilling away at the mountain.

Rather them than me…

 

This site has everything I love. Intense mountains…

Weird insects

And beautiful buildings.

But this was just on the first quick trip to the base of the mountain. Time to go back to the hotel and try and remember what it’s like not to stink.

We made a trip to the local shopping mall after dinner to find non-stinky clothes to wear until our luggage reappeared. I encountered this smooth operator:

It was actually operated by his dad, by what looked like a playstation controller, which I thought was pretty cool. I really wanted a photo with the two of them together, but his parents didn’t understand when I asked them and kept moving *out* of the picture.

Everything was happening at the mall that night. A “rock gig” was blasting on a stage in the middle of the mall. View from inside the lift:

I guess the mall is really the place to be. The music was really terrible, but I think people came for the novelty as they were Westerners playing/singing. I was more entertained by this sign on the lift (yup, 14 years of Chinese and I’m still amused by Chinglish.

Which is the perfect segue back to the site:

 

Even though I find even little mountains like this one fun (opposite our clients’ office)…

 

It’s these kind of scenes that get me really excited.

It’s a steep climb up, but the medieval “site planners” made it even harder, by thoughtfully providing steps… what’s not to like about steps, you may ask?

Well, these steps are about 50cm high, and on a slant, which means you pretty much have to crawl up them. Very clever for a medieval fortress, strategically speaking.

With a Rosie-The-Rambling-Hiker for scale:

I had thought I would give it a try, when I first heard about these steps. But once I stood in front of them, apart from striking a pose, I didn’t even entertain the thought. I actually clambered up just one step and it was embarrassing enough, as I struggled whilst my workmates watched and laughed at me. It is exactly like being in the giants’ abandoned city in The Silver Chair (from the Narnia books).

Luckily, there’s a sneaky secret passage that leads around the back up to the top.

View from the top of the steps (taken whilst shakily gripping the side of the wall with one hand — photos do not do this steepness of this scenario justice).

At the top of the steps is a pass, and in the pass is a guard whose job is to stand there from 8am to 6pm and call down to people telling them not to climb up the steps. He also told us we weren’t allowed to go up through the pass as the steps weren’t ready, but we had to, as it’s our job to get to the top, so he had to anxiously stand aside and watch us head off up the hill.

At first it seemed ok, nothing to fret about.

A little slippery without the wooden walkway, but as long as you hold onto the rails it’s ok.

Large amounts of water were pouring down the side of the mountain, making the 500-year-old steps somewhat difficult to navigate.

After a while, the Ming-dynasty steps dissolve into Song (possibly older, Tang has been hinted at) pathways hacked into the mountainside. The walkways aren’t complete by any means, but they’re our best bet for actually progressing up the extremely steep path.

More terrifying scaffolding…

Finally we emerged onto walkable steps again, where we could admire more ruins from the late 16th century (and earlier).

Here we had work to do, so there aren’t as many fun pictures, until later, when we paused for a tea break at the archaeologists’ hut (incidentally probably some of the best tea I’ve ever drunk).

There’s a chicken coop up here, presumably for eggs and dinner… it’s hard work getting provisions up that mountain and the archaeologists live here most of the time, so I imagine some livestock is worth keeping.

There’s also some adorable dogs, which my workmates told me were just wee puppies last time they came in June, and now are rollicking teens. I don’t know if they’ll be allowed to stay once the site is open to the public… I hope so, they were just so fun and sweet.

We raced down the mountain as night fell. It was very atmospheric; I love this photo so much.

That’s it for beautiful site visit pictures. I snapped one last mountain out the window on the plane… I’m really looking forward to heading back next week, even though the project itself is quite stressful. I’m so lucky to get to work in such a gorgeous environment!! And in the last couple of weeks I’ve been getting to do lots of research and writing on Chinese archaeology and history, proving for the first time ever that my 2006 BA in Chinese art and archaeology was not a complete waste of time! Only took 9 years to come to fruition…

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biscottes!

No running? …I managed to hurt my foot. Plantar fasciitis. It’s ok, I will try again when I am back from China in September (!!). I can’t risk not being able to walk as I have a lot of hiking ahead of me.

In preparation for my trip, I tried to think of FODMAP-friendly stuff I could take with me. I wisely cut off my internet time-wasting websites for 24 hours this morning before I left the house, which meant when I got home at 8pm this evening, I couldn’t default to my slumped-in-front-of-my-laptop default (I use a Mac program called Self-Control, where you can set a blacklist of websites and then tell it how long you’re not allowed to access them for. It’s a life saver when working on essays).

So this evening, in the 2.5 hours I’ve been home, I:
– Washed and hung out laundry
– Made myself quesadillas for dinner
– Worked through 3 huge piles of washing up (some of it from the weekend-before-last)
– Baked FODMAP-friendly banana chocolate chip oatmeal cookies for my trip (I am not even going to pretend that they will last me longer than the flight, but that’s already a huge deal)
– Made biscottes (which the internet informs me are generally known as “Zwieback”” by English-speakers?). I was trying to think how I could transport low-FODMAPS bread to Guizhou (which is hot and humid) without it immediately going mouldy. I came up with the idea of turning a loaf of my favourite Alpine Sour Rye bread into biscottes, which as long as they’re sealed in an airtight box, should be ok. Dry rusks may not sound terribly appealing but they’ll be most welcome if my stomach gets upset from too many FODMAPs.

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In case anyone ever wondered about how to make biscottes — leave your bread out for about 24 hours so it can dry out as much as possible first, then put them in the oven at 150 C for an hour (I’m tempted to put “or two” as I saw online to put them in for 1.5 hours, or 100 C for 3 hours — but I put mine in for an hour and they were perfect, if somewhat brown for the lower rack).

doing things for me

My Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday went by so fast. I worked a lot and then went home and laid on the floor and ate and internetted.

But yesterday I did spend an hour colour-matching whilst listening to podcasts. Colour-matching is a skill that is quite valuable in art conservation, and I was advised by a conservator I met at the Plastics course to get some paint chips and some basic acrylics, and just practice getting my eye in, since I’m about to spend 6 months nowhere near a conservation lab. I thought this was brilliant advice as it’s quite affordable and easy to do at home.

I looked forward to getting into this for days and days; I ordered the paints online as a birthday gift to myself — nothing but the best for Rosie, I got Golden heavy acrylics in 8 colours (two of which are black and white, so the challenge is working from your very standard red, yellow, green, blue, brown and ochre). I found a cheap set of white porcelain dishes at the op-shop, for mixing my colours. I ordered Resene paint chips from New Zealand (and they are beautiful!). I bought paintbrushes and I even found this lovely wooden tray at the op-shop, for $5, which proudly proclaims itself as “Langva, Made in Denmark, Water Wine Spirit and Heat Proof”, so I could easily move my painting gear around in my tiny cramped flat.

Finally the day came where I could collect my paints, take them home and begin! I finished work at 7pm so I’m pretty proud of myself for giving it a go when I got home (AND doing laundry, worr check me out).

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It was really fun, for an hour, but then the reality of the artificial lighting under my desk lamp made me grumpy. You can get a colour to match just great under yellow light, but of course in white light it will look ridiculous.

I came home this evening and looked at the paints and was just too tired to bother. I hope that when work relents a little, and summer approaches, I will feel more enthusiastic. As it is, I’m heading to Guizhou in 4 days — Guizhou being the land of this…

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— and climbing up this mountain

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to reach this ruined fort

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Sorry if the resolution is terrible, I’m updating from the “new” WordPress page instead of my usual old-fashioned one and I can’t check (really: can’t be bothered). Anyway, so that is part of my work these days, and I’m jolly excited about it, but I haven’t got much energy to do things for me. Must try harder.

Tomorrow maybe, I’ll succeed in doing something that isn’t work related!

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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keygen

It’s not always easy to get myself to yoga. I didn’t want to go yesterday morning — it was 5:45am, James was in bed after waiting so many months to be together again, and I had slept really badly and did NOT want to get up. I also was grumpy because I knew I had to buy a 1-month pass even though I’d be banned from exercise for a week (more on this below) and then we’re going to Taiwan. But it’s so expensive to do Bikram it’s rarely not worth getting a pass.

Anyway, I went, precisely because it was my very last chance before my one-week ban commenced, and I felt meh-to-neutral all the way through. But on the last shavasana, I felt incredible. I think it’s a bit like a Rubik’s Cube or a videogame cheat code — you have to configure your body in 26 different postures, twice each, feeling crap, and then ta-dah! You feel good.

And if there was a fairly simple cheat code you could use whenever you want, to feel happy and well… you would be a fool not to use it at least a couple times a week!

Anyway — exercise ban. This morning I had an appointment to get my right knee’s common peroneal nerve injected with cortisone to try and improve my shin pain/nerve damage. It was pretty horrid, and then my leg went rather numb, but it’s wearing off now. I am reassured that my shin is aching which suggests they hit the right nerve. However despite me cajoling the specialist, the doctor and the nurse separately, they are adamant that I cannot exercise for a week and no, not even yoga.

My volunteer stint for Oxfam Trailwalker is in 10 days so I am trusting I’ll be ok to hike 11km by then. I certainly am cringing at the idea of not going to yoga for a week! But at least James and I can relax and enjoy a lazy Easter weekend.

On the 13th of March, my replacement at work will be starting! So I am very close to an end and there is bright light at the end of the tunnel. I’m a little nervous about how quickly work wants me to move on (my boss mentioned me potentially not bothering to come back from my holiday, but if he thinks I can do a complete handover in 8 business days he is quite deluded). But I’ll certainly be out of there by the end of May.

I have been debating blowing some of my savings to go back to Europe in June. I’d like to go visit my grandmother in the UK, and I would also like to walk a couple hundred more km on the Camino. It’s probably not a very wise idea but… it’s at the back of my mind. First and foremost I need to call Immigration and work out if it will affect my Australian citizenship eligibility though.

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?