Wednesday, August 29, 2007

...and I shall be thinner in the morning...oh, wait, that doesn't work.

SW is back in the Philippines after a very interesting first visit to China. The holiday component was excellent -- thanks to AD, SD, BS and EF. The work component went well and every single person I met was welcoming and friendly.

A few memorable moments, in no particular order:

1) On Beijing subway:

Chinese woman says to me, totally out of the blue: “I don’t think you play any sports. Because you have a very big belly.”

Me: Uh…thanks.

Her: When I look at it I think of a baby inside it!

Me: Uh…I DO play sports. I just eat a lot too.

Her: You should exercise because you are handsome, but your belly is big.”

Me: I DO exercise!

NOTE: for any of you who don’t know me, I’m actually very svelte. It’s true that, in the wrong light and at the wrong angle, it might APPEAR that my belly does protrude a little more than one would expect given my athletic stature. Note also that it was just after a big breakfast and, as a large man (6’5”; 195 cm), I NEED to eat a lot. Not that any of you little people out there would know. Or care. At around 100 kg, I sit right on the upper end of the healthy range of the body mass index, I’ll have you know. Yet you teeny weeny fools would have me get by on a couple of dry crackers and a carrot. Exile’s too good for you. And I DO exercise most days, too.


2) Being forced to skull little glasses of this LETHAL Chinese spirit (50+% alc/vol; I saw one bottle that was 56%) at dinners AND lunches. The custom is to show respect by cheers-ing people around the table and downing the booze. My compromise was that I’d only have a couple of shots of the hard stuff and then stick to beer. It was weird getting tipsy every day at work lunches.

3) The spitting (more of a lowlight really). I know one must be open minded etc in other cultures and, consequently, I can more or less handle the spitting in the street (and the attendant hocking up of phlegm that precedes the spit). But I really struggled with the spitting onto floors in restaurants. Only a couple of guys did this, each at a different lunch. We’d be sitting there, then a cough, then turn 45 degrees and spit past the waitress onto the floor. The second day it happened, the floor was carpeted too (which somehow makes it seem worse).

4) Trying turtle (not a highlight, really, but memorable). They were cooked and served whole; you pulled the carapace off and dug around for the edible bits inside. The meat really did taste like chicken. Really. It seemed to me like a lot of work (each of us was given a clear plastic glove to help us pull it apart to eat it) for little reward. Admittedly, I just ate the meat (about a teaspoon’s worth I reckon) and left the innards alone, being the softcore person I am when it comes to innards.

5) At the same lunch, the carpet spitting guy drinking so much of the liquor that he threw up at the table as we were finishing up (not technically a highlight, either).

6) The tofu in the city of Fengtai (Anhui Province), renowned for its tofu. I like some forms of tofu, but not all (not so keen on the really spongy and really sloppy stuff). I wouldn’t by any means call myself a tofu freak. But the tofu in Fengtai – several different varieties – was awesome.

And, because I care, here is a photo I took in the Forbidden City in Beijing:

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

thoughts from yestermonth

Ah, the urgent impulses of youth. Flicking through a notebook I used on my trip to Vietnam and Laos in May this year, I found the below. I'm not sure why, somewhere in northern Vietnam on May 5, I was thinking this, but:
May history judge John Howard as a man (not a leader) who fiddled around at the edges of of an economy that was perfectly capable of governing itself; as a man who single-handedly squandered the greatest opportunity our nation ever had to progress technologically, to embrace our human neighbours, and to lay the foundations of a truly great and prosperous nation.

Reading it now, I'd edit it pretty heavily. It's hyperbole, the last bit sounds too nationalistic for my liking, and it could probably be shot down by a well-informed tory, but the sentiment stands.

Off to Beijing tomorrow to hang with AD, SD, BS and EF before scampering headfirst into the world of aerobic rice.

Friday, August 10, 2007

ooooh, aren't we serious today...

Recently, I've told several people they should have a look at Hans Rosling's presentations at the TED conferences, which are held annually in California. (Thanks to another wombat-related blogger for alerting me to these in the first place.) As it says on the TED website:
As a doctor and researcher, Hans Rosling identified a new paralytic disease induced by hunger in rural Africa. Now the global health professor is looking at the bigger picture, increasing our understanding of social and economic development with the remarkable trend-revealing software he created.

There are two talks you can watch (links below). Both address Rosling's ideas about 1) improving information itself by improving the way it's presented, and 2) misconceptions about how the international development sector categorizes and looks at the "developing" versus the "developed" world, and how these misconceptions stand in the way of effective development. The videos seem to work very well (not sure if that stands for dial-up connections) and if I had any idea whatsoever about the technology I'm sure I'd dazzle people by explaining how they've wisely chosen a thingamy platform to optimise the data stuff. Then I'd throw in a snide comment about some other competing technology. Then you'd respect me.

There aren't too many talks on statistics that make the hair stand up on the back of my neck, but these did:
Hans Rosling shows the best stats you've ever seen

Hans Rosling reveals new insights on poverty

Thursday, August 09, 2007

a familiar theme / broken record / deal with it / etc.

Rigid office hours really don't suit me. I can say that because, like most days, I'm here in the orifice past 7PM, despite not being insanely busy just now. Most days, I arrive around 8.45AM. I try to make it by 8.30AM (but usually fail), my revised official start time. Work's official office hours are 8AM-5PM with an hour for lunch (no cushy 7hrs 21min bludge-offs here in the Philippines, people). Because I was always at least 30min late anyway, my boss graciously offered me official hours of 8.30-5.30.

Often, my long hours are a result of crap time management at work: a lot of procrastination followed by self-flagellation around mid-afternoon, then some genuine work for a few hours; before I know it, it's after 7PM and I'm pissed off. I have periods when I'm genuinely very busy (often as a result of too much procrastination when a deadline wasn't looming) and I need to put in longer hours. That's fine, I can deal with that. What shits me to tears is when I spend long hours but I'm not nearly busy enough to justify them.

Part of the reason for my poor time management (apart from my ill-disciplined, weltschmerz-fuelled professional existence) is that, being a "writer/editor", I'm supposed to write and edit. It seems that, often, I'm only capable of doing that in fits and spurts. (I'm sure I'm not alone here.) So being confined to a rigid 8-hour work structure just doesn't work.

I can counter this to some extent by working from home occasionally. Without the typical procrastination tools (I have no internet connection at home; you extrapolate), and without the distractions of the office, I'm a hell of a lot better at just doing it, if I can use that phrase without Nike suing me.

What I'd really love, though, is a job where I'm judged purely on productivity, not on appearing to be productive by being plonked in an office in front of a computer 8+ hours a day. Output not input. Such work structures do of course exist -- I've heard that Google programmers have no set hours, and are regarded only by what they produce.

There are realities one can't scape: meetings, management responsibilities etc. And there can be many positives about being among co-workers (not necessarily for 40 hours a week, mind you). But, on the whole, if I could work whenever I wanted -- within certain limits, I'll grant -- I think I'd be happier and more productive (I acknowledge there may be unseen pitfalls). Better for me, better for my employer; everyone kicks a goal etc etc. I imagine I'd still be in the office 20 of my 40 hours each week -- I'd simply be more effective and motivated when I was there.

It won't happen of course. I can't think of any good reasons why not. I can think of plenty of reasons that would be offered, but none that I couldn't refute convincingly.

Friday, August 03, 2007

I HAVE been to Bali too

A couple of weeks ago (13-21 July), D, K and I visited Indonesia for the first time last week. DH has been living in Jogja(Jogya?Yogya?Yogja?...I'll opt for the phonetic version)karta for the last 4 years, and MG is in Jogja learning Indonesian as part of his masters. We all met in Bali for a few days and then headed across to Jogja.

Bali was lovely – my only image of it, apart from surf and bombs, was of drunken aussie yobs. But there are a lot of options and it turned out very easy to avoid the yobs. Went to an increasingly famous bar/restaurant/club named ku de ta. It's perched right on the beach, full of tanned bodies and big deck-chair-style lounges. The sort of place I’d think was pretentious wankery and where I’d feel totally out of place and nowhere near hip enough if it was in Sydney, but on the beach in Bali it was worked for me. Amazing cocktails – eg “grilled pineapple and cracked pepper martini” (v good) and the best bloody mary I ever tried, made from “juice of slow-roasted tomatoes”. Good food too. This is the place by day:

Had one night in Ubud, little town in the hills. V touristy but nice feel, lovely accommodation and some v good food. DH took D and I on a beautiful wander through rice paddies in hills just above the town:

Jogjakarta was excellent, due in large part to having DH there to host us. Fantastic house, designed by one of Indonesia's most eminent environmental architects, in a village only 20 min out of the city. AND rent-free. Not sure how he does it, but this sort of stuff just happens to DH. Several times, D or I cruised around as a passenger on the back of his 1200cc Harley – which he ended up with after a friend sold it to him cheap because he (original owner) was desperate for cash.

I loved cruising round the city on the little 100cc scooter -- it was automatic, ridiculously easy to drive and comfortable at, oooh, 60km/h, which produced plenty of excitement for me. But I was shitscared (in a retrospectively fun way) on the occasions Dave semi-opened up the Harley while I was on the back (including weaving between cars and trucks on the road into the airport). I am really a very long way from hardcore.

Typically, I was very untouristy (sometimes to D's frustration) – most of my travel these days revolves around hanging out, chatting, eating and drinking. I’m more interested in getting a feel for a place (which is an attempt at sounding credible by euphemising "hanging out, chatting, eating and drinking") and catching up with friends, than traipsing around historical sites etc. Or maybe I’m just lazy. Whatever. Pour me some wine.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

BA Baracus

Suffering a bout of Blog Apathy (BA...geddit?) at the moment. Not intended to be a protracted state of affairs (so the dozen or so people who read this can rest eeeeeaaaassssy).

Anyway. These days, Wednesday night is JOE'S night! So it ain't all bad.