Monday, January 30, 2006


Felt a bit shit last night, really, after what appeared to be a cute white fluffy puppy (I didn’t see it for long enough to be entirely sure) decided to run across the road that cuts from the highway across the mountain back to home, just as I was driving up it. I hit the brakes but had nowhere near enough time to stop before I ended up on top of it, its yelps of pain piercing the closed car windows. I moved forward with an almost imperceptible bump and the yelps ceased. I wasn’t sure what to do next. Belgian J, in the car with me, advised (rightly, I think) to drive on – there was nothing I could do, it was probably a stray, and there was a good chance that I might be the target of attempted financial exploitation. (Or violence? Probably not, but you never know.) Besides, official advice for expats here is to not stop after a minor (I think this qualified as minor) accident, provided no people were injured. At least the bump – hopefully – put the poor thing out of its misery. (And note that the bump was unavoidable; at this stage I was merely trying to get the car off the animal.) I drove away considerably faster than I'd been travelling when I hit it; images in my mind of witnesses phoning friends ahead up the road, organizing a mob, and securing a wrathful vengeance.

Most of the dogs around here do seem to be strays (why couldn’t it have been one of the aggressive, mangy, wretched examples that would be better off dead?) and D pointed out that, had it been a pedigree pet, it probably wouldn’t have been out on the road. Plus, previous experience in having my car occupy the same space and time as something else taught me that attempted exploitation is a possibility (it only takes a split second for a now-dead dog to be elevated from a stray to a beloved family pet). Am not feeling overly guilty (I don’t think I could have avoided it…I guess I could’ve been driving a little slower, but I wasn’t driving fast), but do get a tinge occasionally when I think of some poor Filipino kid wondering why Fluffy never came home last night.

The onsen incident...or: A small surprise...or: A story with which to impress

The below is obviously not something particularly recent or topical -- I just happened to have it sitting around so thought I'd paste it in. It was rejected last year by The Morning News, which I got onto via a story someone sent me about Gary Benchley, rock star. I enjoyed the Benchley series a lot at first but it seemed to lose something that it had at the beginning and I lost interest. And, of course, they rejected my story. Bastards. And fools.


An onsen is a Japanese hot spring. Businesses have been erected around onsen throughout Japan: members of the public can pay a fee — anywhere from a few dollars upward — to bathe in the springs. They are rich in minerals and people attribute to them all sorts of medicinal and health properties.

A few years ago, I lived in Japan, teaching English in a farming prefecture in the country’s southwest. On a warm day in early autumn of 2000, I visited an onsen for the first time.

Protocol is as follows: after arriving, you enter a change room and strip naked (men and women are usually segregated). Those of modest disposition need not fear: etiquette dictates that you vaguely obscure your genitals with a small white towel. Once nude, you move through to a communal bathroom where you sit on a tiny wooden stool and wash thoroughly under a shower. You then enter the spring itself and soak to your heart’s content.

The onsen I visited with two friends, T and E, was spectacular. The pools perched on a cliff, high above the Pacific Ocean. A glorious wall of grey-blue, sea and sky, stretched out forever, dotted every now and then by gliding sea eagles.

T, an onsen veteran, had washed by the time E and I worked out we needed to return to the front desk to buy the aforementioned small white towels. When we got back to the showers, T approached and whispered that we’d be sharing the pools with a yakuza — a member of the Japanese mafia. His identity was revealed by the tattoos covering most of his torso and the absence of both his little fingers. Yakuza atone for indiscretions by ritually removing bits of their little fingers, joint-by-joint.

Although we discussed him excitedly in schoolboy whispers, he ignored us. The soak was glorious — hot and invigorating, with wet-season rain falling on us as we gazed seaward.

After an hour, we heaved ourselves out and headed back to the change rooms. Our yakuza friend was there, sitting on a bench, drying himself. As I passed, still nude, I heard him grunt — a guttural, elongated “eehhh!” Assuming this wasn’t directed at me, I kept walking. Upon a second, louder “EEEHHHH!!”, I looked towards him.

He pointed at my genitals (despite my small white towel), smirked and made a “small” symbol with his forefinger and thumb.

I was — understandably, I think — lost for words. The first response that crossed my mind was the Japanese for “you too”. A couple of things held me back:
  1. Without my glasses on, I would have had to stick my face half-way into his nether-regions to confirm this.
  2. I am so not tough and he was a hardcore member of an organized crime syndicate.

Instead, in a nervous, probably cracking voice, I spat out “er … uh … daijobu…” Loosely, this translates as, “Hey, um, it’s OK, it’s cool.”

Then he left alone and I decided that I should tell the story because if nothing else it would make people think about my genitals. And, surely, that’s a good thing.

Friday, January 27, 2006

don't blink

Thursday, January 26, 2006

burn down the desk, oh!

I’m at the first point in my professional career where I feel I’m really on the verge of receiving a bollocking from a boss. The chances of me finishing my current ball-and-chain task (a report summarizing the entire institute’s research achievements in 2005; previously mentioned here) by deadline (Friday 3 February) are diminishing by the hour. I’m no stranger to dicking around and avoiding work to the point that I then need to work long hours and weekends to complete it on time. But usually I reach a stage where a productive sort of panic sets in, I pull my finger out, and I actually work solidly until I finish. With the current task I reached that panic point days ago, but the solid work never kicked in. I don’t think I have another level – this is it. If my current panic/stress don’t motivate me, I have nowhere else to go. I should’ve told the selection committee they really should have tried harder to employ the guy they wanted originally

The problem is I know that if I just had the discipline to put my head down and work a solid day – as much as the work itself would suck, I’d be so much happier. Yet that doesn’t seem to be enough incentive, somehow.

Also, understanding that, really, in the greater scheme of things, you are lucky only makes things worse, because I get down on myself for being negative and not appreciating my own fortune. And of course that sort of bullshit whiny angst gets me down a bit as well, and the whole positive feedback system kicks in.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

this is what happens if you ride recklessly

...100 pesos per hour -- just pay the pig.
(Shot taken in Sabang, island of Mindoro, Philippines)

A few of the ridiculous things that have caused me to have tantrums and spiral into a dark fog of short-lived self-hatred tinged with self-pity

  1. Failing to light a fire while camping in a New South Wales national park in 2002.
  2. Backing into a tree in a car park (see here) in the Philippines in December 2005.
  3. Allowing myself to be bitten by a water fowl at Cleland Conservation Park, Adelaide, in December 2005.
  4. Attempting to make a pavlova for a bring-a-dish-representative-of-your-own-country dinner at my neighbour’s apartment in the Philippines in 2004 (see here).

the pavlova incident

Sometime in 2004 – I forget exactly when – my next-door-neighbour, DM (also an Australian) threw a bring-a-dish-representative-of-your-own-country dinner. She asked me to make a pavlova, a request to which I readily agreed.

I duly went shopping for the required ingredients, compromising only on castor sugar – this is very hard to find in the Philippines, so I opted for regular white sugar. I don’t think this actually influenced what unfolded, but it seems worth mentioning.

Things went wrong from the beginning. I couldn’t, for the life of me, beat the egg whites into anything near the stiffness required for a pav. As I continued to beat, flecks of egg white gathered on the walls and table of the dining area (where I was working) until, eventually, it looked like a scene from a Christmas snowdome.

D (girlfriend D, not next-door-neighbour DM), who was watching me become increasingly agitated, suggested that maybe it would be OK and that I put what I had onto a tray, anyway. It was a perfectly reasonable idea and she was in no way to blame for what happened next. And although I was the perpetrator, I myself had no clue to what was about to unfold.

As I poured out the “meringue” (which, of course, by definition should not be able to be poured), I realised the futility and, in so doing, slowly raised the bowl (melo)dramatically heavenward, such that the mixture fell down, down onto my head and dribbled onwards over my face, down my neck, and onto my torso.

Despite her justifiable shock, D guided me to a shower, made me remove my clothes and positioned me under the water. I slid down the wall on my haunches until my bottom was on the floor. I brought my knees tight up to my chest and sat there for several long, silent minutes in mute torpor.

It was not, in hindsight, one of my most dignified moments. Although, in the context of previous tantrums, it did represent either a nadir or a zenith, depending on one's point of view.

Heroically, D went down the street to get some more eggs, returned, sent me to my room, and produced a perfect pavlova that was devoured by the dinner guests.

Using alcohol to wash away the deep psychological pain, I got drunk enough to attempt some breakdancing.

I haven’t attempted a pavlova since.

Filipino food

Liempo (barbecued pork), rice, and mango shake.

Calamansi and chillies (combine calamansi juice with soy and chillies to make a sauce for the liempo).

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

secret wombat in the 90s

Where is he??

There is a chance that a few readers may remember that Secret Wombat was spotted galavanting around Europe in the late 90s. I can confirm that he can be placed in the Ukraine -- possibly micturating on old Soviet statues -- around September/October 1998. If anyone has any evidence for this, please post details here (as a comment) or email to

Friday, January 20, 2006

rabid elephants

In 2 weeks, I have to finish a draft of the research summary for the whole institute in 2005. I have never hated a work task as much as I'm hating this one. It is consuming me, and there seems to be a physical barrier that prevents me from actually doing it. No matter how often I say, "dickhead, just do the bloody thing," I revert to websurfing and other modes of procrastination. This, in turn, gives me the guilts for pretending that I'm actually hard at work. I want to come out of the closet, throw myself on the floor in front of my boss and confess to it all.

In the past couple of days I've daydreamed about 1) being fired, 2) leaving an apologetic note and flying home to Oz, never to return, and 3) subcontracting the job out to someone else, paid for out of my own pocket (probably not feasible, but right now I'd be willing to foot the US$2000 I estimate it would cost). In an attempt to feel better, I emailed the guy who had this job in 2003 and 2004:

I don’t need a reply to this, but had to get it out somehow: This is the most fucking mind-numbing piece of shit task I’ve ever had to do in my life. I’d rather be buggered by rabid elephants.

It worked, but only fleetingly. His response:
Editing the report is exactly being buggered by rabid elephants, but they're invisible. Actually, I've done some things recently that are more mind-numbing. The report, as I recall, ends up being a string of utterly unrelated sentences, saying this was done, that was done, this other thing was done. But, when it comes to staggering, blinding, oh-my-god-not-again repetitiveness, some XXX staff and consultants are in a class of their own.
The empathy is appreciated but I don't feel all that much better...

Kangaroo Island, South Australia, December 2005

Cape Jervis ferry wharf, South Australia, December 2005

number one career with a bullet

Given my current (major) career doubts, a few friends -- bless 'em -- have commented that my results (specifically the magazine I edit) are OK. Problem's not my ability that's the problem. It’s my motivation and (for lack of a better word) joy. Makes me think: my career so far, in terms of achievement, has been OK. Not stellar but reasonable, on a CV at least. I wonder what I might achieve if I found something I enjoyed more often than not. Like delivering wine orders. Driving around town...listening to radio...happy recipients...stopping off at bakery for lunch...praise for a mediocre job adequately done...sigh...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Miss Red

Two words that, when I read them, I always pronounce incorrectly in my head:
  1. Awry. I read this "oree" instead of "a-wry".
  2. Misled. I read this as if it was the past tense of the fictitious verb "misle". She misled him with her deceptive dancing. He hoped she wouldn't misle him again.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006



I have lost the ability to drive without crashing into things.

My first effort was in October 2004, driving my then boss’s car. I somehow believed that his was the only car in the carpark. I was correct, apart from the brand new Honda I backed into. That led to joyous fun and games as the Honda owner tried to extort me for a few hundred dollars (despite all their repairs being covered by insurance). Somehow, the saga seems to have mysteriously ended without my paying anything. Yet.

Since I started in my current position (and hence gained the right to rent a car for a nominal monthly fee), I have had no fewer than 5 accidents. Thankfully, none have resulted in physical injury (unless you count a dented tree). The below table summarizes these (apologies for the demented formatting).


Damage to my car

Damage to other vehicle/object


Backed into work truck in work carpark

Minimal damage to bumper

None (that I could see – though I didn’t check all that carefully)

  1. Did not report

Drove up arse of another work car, driven by a senior employee, after noticing too late that traffic had banked up due to a funeral procession (see here)

Damage to front bumper and bonnet

Damage to rear bumper and boot

  1. Reported to Motor Repair, given replacement car while my car repaired
  2. Significant embarrassment

Swung around too early while backing out of work carport and consequently hit a concrete support pillar

Damage to front right bumper and lights

Didn’t check the concrete support pillar very closely, but the carport hasn’t fallen down yet

  1. Reported to Motor Repair, given replacement car while my car repaired
  2. Significant embarrassment

Within 24 hours of collecting car after above repairs, scraped a jeepney while turning out of my street onto another street (jeepney was standing in my path and I had to turn sharply to abvoid oncoming traffic)

Scratch/scrape along side at right rear of car

Probably none, but didn’t stop to check

  1. gestured angrily at jeepney driver
  2. Did not report

Backed into tree in middle of carpark in town

Damage to rear bumper; minor damage to boot

Probably a dent in the tree, but I drove away in a cloud of self-flagellation without checking

  1. Anger / self-flagellation manifested in repeated throwing (and consequent bending) of keys at concrete wall
  2. Reported to Motor Repair (no need for replacement as I went home to Oz for Christmas holidays)
  3. Brought pasalubong (gifts after a holiday) of Emu mettwurst back from Oz for motor repair staff (in anticipation of future prangs – I know where my bread is buttered)

Wind turbines, Cape Jervis, South Australia, December 2005

thank you VERY much...

Things that might be described as fawningly sentimental in Oz are run-of-the-mill in the Philippines. That isn’t to say that 2 years in a relationship isn’t a worthwhile thing – it is, and my 2 years with D are a clear record for me. G, the woman who cleans my apartment, thought it worth celebrating and penned the below note. I was genuinely touched, despite the last sentence, which I will put down to a grammatical error and not vindictiveness on her part.

Jan 12, ‘06


Hi, Good day. I know this day is very special to you both. Have a wonderful celebration w/ your friends and most specially w/ D.

I wish your relation never last.

Happy Anniversary,

this morning

Things that went wrong this morning:

  1. knocked coffee plunger jar into sink and broke it
  2. used espresso thingy instead and forgot to insert filter, resulting in black coffee-mud oozing out
  3. top of milk container (UHT; fresh milk here is rare and/or unreliable) ripped off, causing spillage
  4. arrived at work 45 min late instead of 30 min late and boss happened to be facing his open office door, therefore noticing my arrival
  5. procrastinated for first 2 hours despite swearing that I wouldn’t because it only leaves me stressed later.
Also this morning, I came out of the blog closet and let a few friends know I have one (THIS one). Hello to J, who has known about this for months, but didn't know I knew (nice work discovering it, though). As I mentioned in my email, I'm not at all convinced this is worth a look, but welcome to anyone who does...

self-help and back-to-work blues

Two articles in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning (yes, I'm off to a great, hard-working, efficient start on this delightful Wednesday -- prepare for self-flagellation/loathing by 5pm tonight when I realise I have done fuck-all all day and will hence stay at work till 10pm) that struck a chord. One on the self-help / importance-of-self-esteem movement (especially prevalent in the US but fast-encroaching on Oz), the other on my current predicament: back-to-work blues after a holiday.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The tonk...

Friday, January 13, 2006

what a card

Went to a meet-and-greet “networking opportunity” (my quotes; can’t use corporate-speak seriously) last night at a bar in Manila with J, G, PH, and JR. It was run by a big development consultancy (I think that’s what they were) and was for “development professionals” (I think that’s what I am).

Unless I’m in a very buoyant mood and/or drunk at these types of things, I tend to chat with people I already know. There was incentive last night to branch out, though, in the form of a “who can score the most business cards” game that the 5 of us agreed to before we arrived (hot and sweaty after a ride on the Manila metro – I console myself in the knowledge that 99.9% of the crowd have their noses at my armpit level and not vice versa – and a walk down EDSA, Manila’s teeming cesspit of a main road).

I helped myself to about 5 piña coladas, which, on account of having no effect whatsoever, seemed rather weak. They were tasty though, and no doubt exaggerated my rugged alpha-male image.

Professionally the evening did nothing for me, but the card competition kept things interesting. I wasted valuable time spending 10 minutes small-talking to a dull guy from an insurance company (not sure why he qualified as a “development professional”) only to discover he’d already run out of cards.

By the end of the night, J and I had a mediocre 8 cards each, but it seemed it might be enough, coming in ahead of G’s 5 and PH’s 6. But silent assassin JR proved to be the black sheep, pulling in 14. The 5 of us headed off to Greenbelt for some food (it being nonexistent at the bar, despite promises to the contrary), with me cursing the insurance guy.

I redeemed the night, however, by zipping ahead of J into 2nd place via a card from the lovely Stella. She and another ladyboy beckoned me as I walked past their seats outside Greenbelt Starbucks. Stella offered me a seat but, despite the allure of these not unattractive bakla – as ladyboys are known here – I regretfully explained my friends were waiting and I was returning to Los Baños. “Then how will we be together?” Stella asked, spotting the obvious hurdle blocking our fateful path towards each other. “Anyway, txt me when you’re back in Manila,” s/he said, and – glory of glories – handed me her card, which offered a street address, 2 email addresses, a phone number, and the promise of “sexy massage”.

Assuring Stella that I would of course txt, I strode back to the others, triumphantly brandishing my trophy. J was not impressed.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Long and hard...

Arrived in Manila on Monday evening after 3 frenetic but enjoyable weeks in Oz. As usual, I tried to do too many things, which created the usual tensions with family and D, and a tingling sense of guilt due to feeling like I shortchanged a few friends by a few hours (or days) here and there. I have vowed (as usual) that next time I will plan far less and reserve much more chill-out time. This remains to be seen, but I sense I'm nearing some sort of straw-breaking-camel's-back threshold that will result in me actually doing what I intend.

My first couple of days back in the orifice were horrendous -- I really didn't want to be here. In many ways I still don't, but this afternoon I find myself in an unexpected, inexplicable, and irrational good mood. I'll try to just roll with it.

In short, I think I've hit a writing/editing wall. I'm sick to death of sitting at a desk in front of computer, fiddling about with bits of writing and editing that relate to other people's work -- some of which is interesting, to be fair, but much of which is not.

Maybe it's just the come-down after a holiday. I hope so. Otherwise, 2006 is shaping up to be long and hard...