day 2 down, a hundred more to go

Today I did Chinese practice with Rinny for 5 hours, working on reading content from a contract dispute. I am now 80x better at reading contracts in Chinese. Did you know that “该” in a contract has nothing to do with 应该 but in fact is the formal way of saying 这? This crucial fact has been lacking from my knowledge base for YEARS and caused much confusion whenever a contract was dumped in front of me. [version for non-Chinese readers: “gai” is a character most habitually found as part of “yinggai”, which means “must”. But when written on its own in a more formal piece of writing, it means “this”. You can imagine how confused I was for a long time reading things that appeared to start with “MUST AGREEMENT IS BETWEEN PARTY AND PARTY B”.]

After some long-distance phone cajoling by James, I then changed and went for a “run”. “Recover-from-injury-physio-run-number-2” involved lots of charging up and down around trees. I really feel like an idiot in the park; I basically run like a dog would, with no apparent direction or purpose, and stop and start at what must appear completely arbitrary intervals.

Warm up: 5min
3x [90s walk, 45s run, 2min walk, 45s run]
Cool down: 10min
Spiky ball massage.

I might go again tomorrow, it was very pleasant… I got a little stitch at one point, which part of me was rather happy about, because that meant I am learning to breathe as I run again.


i did it!

I woke up an hour before my alarm, and it was already daylight, so with all my running gear so carefully prepared the night before, I gracefully stepped into my running shoes and was off!

(Once more, my apologies to those who would love to hear about my travels and couldn’t care less about my pathetic running)

Day 01:
5 min warm-up walk
[2 min walk + 30 sec run] x 6
10 min cool-down walk
followed by spiky massage ball on my lower back and deep glutes, and foam roller on my calves and shins.

And yes, it was wonderful. I have to keep this going.


A long, long time ago, when I still lived in Fitzroy St, Fitzroy, and had no internet access other than my work BlackBerry Curve (and before that, my fiddly wee BlackBerry Pearl), I was trying to become a runner. James was at that time my platonic running buddy, and when he was not there to motivate me to run, I used to wake up in the morning and read running blogs on my BlackBerry, and reading about people’s runs made me want to leap up and get out there.

Fast forward 6 years and I have not been able to run for over half of that time. I still read running blogs, and belong to no fewer than 6 running groups on Facebook. But I think of myself as “used to be a runner”.

I was cleared to start running again a few weeks ago. Have I run yet? No. I am too tired, too busy, too unfit (yep that is one of my excuses). It’s not the right time, due to my job just starting and it’s winter and I’m travelling a lot, and also I’m only supposed to run on unmade tracks, not on pavement, and… The truth is I am not motivated.

And then tonight I was looking for something on my blog and hit a few running posts in a row. I suddenly remembered the joy and exhilaration. I need to get back out there… it’s 10pm now, but tomorrow morning, no excuses. I am writing it here so I don’t disappoint myself: Tomorrow morning, before work, I am going to Fitzroy Gardens to start my physio’s pathetic run-walk program (walk 2 minutes run 30 seconds woohooooo!)

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…


— and climbing up this mountain


to reach this ruined fort


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.

dating in Sydney

Today I had a day by myself in Sydney, as my flight isn’t until the evening. My friend Katie whom I’m staying with had a first aid course all day so she couldn’t accompany me to yoga, but she is also a Bikram addict and encouraged me to visit the local Darlinghurst studio — where I had the hottest, sweatiest, most intense class I’ve experienced in a long time. I’ve long suspected the studio at Richmond isn’t hot enough, either that or I’ve acclimatised, and Parramatta was similar. At Darlinghurst I naively placed my mat in a conveniently empty space in the front row of the very full and busy studio, only to discover it was right next to a huge hot air vent. As class progressed it became clear this was the hottest corner of the room and I did wonder if I would come to regret my choice! But actually it was just wonderful, so tropical and al-consuming, just the way I love it. I need to find a sweatier home studio…

After yoga I hopped on a bus and headed down to Circular Quay. I strolled along the water and enjoyed an ice cream and the Sydney icons:



Then I headed into the Museum of Contemporary Art, to see what treasures it held. At the entrance are two beautiful pieces, part of an exhibition on stars. The one with the light strips represents the movement of stars across the southern sky, I loved it and found it very moving.


The museum has some wonderful pieces in its permanent collection. I liked that there was a significant number of indigenous artists represented, but it made my experience very different from most contemporary art shows. See… Art is my thing. Even when I don’t like it, I get it. Even when I don’t think much of it, I get it. I won’t love everything I see — there will always be one or two stand out pieces, that speak to me on a very strong emotional level, but I’ll still be appreciative of everything I see — even if it’s appreciating its failings. From prehistoric carvings to medieval illuminations to East Asian ceramics to installation art — I can read it, even if I know nothing about it.

With indigenous Australian art however — the traditional art such as bark paintings I mean; contemporary art works (like the myriad tiny mirrors above) I am — I feel like I’m suddenly blind. Like I’m trying to read a book in a foreign language. I can’t read them; I can’t get a read on them. I don’t know what I’m meant to feel. I need to learn to understand them… but I don’t even know where to start.

After the museum I wandered around the market at the Rocks — very touristy but enjoyable nonetheless. I was drawn to a Japanese food stand doing a roaring trade in okonomyiaki and gyoza, irristable! I grabbed one and headed back down to the quay to nom on my okonomyiaki.


Then I headed back towards Paddington on the bus, from whence I saw a cafe call The Rusty Rabbit. It looked very cosy and I am fond of rabbits (yes that is a legitimate reason) so I jumped off the bus and went for a very excellent soy chai latte.


Across the road from the Rusty Rabbit I spied the National Art School, which displayed a banner for their recently opened ceramics exhibition “Turn Turn Turn”. What could this ceramics lover do, but go for a spin?

I hadn’t realised but the NAS is located in the old Darlinghurst Gaol, and the buildings held that very English feel to them…


The ceramics exhibition was lovely — a wide variety of contemporary pieces from artists and students alike. I tried to test my knowledge and ability to recognise stoneware from porcelain — but there were well over a hundred pieces on display, I ended up just getting lost in the enjoyment of taking them all in.



On on my way out, waiting for the bus, this bird was just stalking around. So much wildlife in the streets of Darlinghurst — I never tire of seeing cockatoos swoop past me!


I really loved Sydney today. The weather was perfect and everything was bathed in beautiful sunlight.  It feels much more English than Melbourne, but we won’t hold that against them!


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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