Friday, May 26, 2006

different heights

There have been a bunch of Everest stories in the press lately – the legless bloke (who made it), the 15-year-old kiddie (who turned back), and a few blokes who never made it back. I think getting to the top of Everest is an incredible feat, despite not really empathizing – I have precisely zero desire to do anything remotely like that. But there's one thing that puzzles me (and I admit it could well be because I simply don’t understand the whole mountaineering thing):

The foreigners – usually, it seems, westerners – are feted and celebrated for making the summit (assuming they get back down). But the Sherpas – while apparently more acknowledged now than once upon a time) hardly rate a mention. From what I’ve read, they not only help the foreigners get to the top, but also scoot up and down the mountain rescuing the honkies’ arses. Why don’t their achievements count in the same way as those of the people who pay $70,000 for the chance to die?

It seems a little as if, say, Mongolians, were extraordinarily naturally good at, say, the marathon. They can run 42km half an hour faster than anyone else and they are employed at the Olympics to run alongside the non-Mongolians to make sure they don’t get hurt. They reach the finish line with, say, an Australian, and the Aussie throws his arms in the air, does a victory lap and collects the gold. The papers cover it on the front page and there’s a paragraph at the bottom that says, “Oh, and Smith’s Mongolian also saved a couple of the American competitors who were about to die from dehydration before rejoining Smith as he finished.”

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Fuck me if SW didn’t disappear for 24 hours or so. BUT – being the IT WHIZZ that I am, I SORTED it. And it certainly didn’t get in the way of the work I have to finish before heading OS on Sunday. “OS?” you ask, inquisitively (as, I suppose, is appropriate for a question). Oh, yes. Through a ridiculous sequence of events I’m going to a conference of agricultural communicators (tell me THAT doesn’t get something happening in your downstairs regions) in Quebec. I’ll be stopping in NYC to meet Canadian M and American M. Candian M said we can get some crack, find some whores and take them to Denny’s. Not do anything with them, just take them to Denny’s. I LIKE it.

Monday, May 22, 2006

slipped shorts

I don’t want to say that my sartorial standards have in any way slipped since I moved to tropics. It’s true that I’ve never exactly blazed a trail of style. However, it did occur to me last night, when preparing for French M’s farewell party, that maybe my previous relaxed standards had mellowed even further. It now appears that – in Los Baños if not Manila, where I am surely on the verge of being featured in the society magazine Philippine Tatler – my idea of “making an effort” is to wear the shorts that require a belt, rather than the ones with the drawstring. (It must be noted that this is because the former are less scungy than the latter, not because of method of keeping them up.) Despite this descent, I should add that I insist on clean clothes. Cleanliness is a STRENGTH.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

It's the system, man! The SYSTEM!

I would like to think that I have a “strong sense of social justice” and all that jazz. But I have an underdeveloped sense of moral outrage at the social injustice that pervades the globe. The sort of moral outrage that provokes action and activism. The problem is that I’m a white middle-class male. I don’t mean that in some sort of guilt-ridden I-wish-I-was-a-persecuted-minority way, or a guilt-ridden I-am-a-feminist-too way. It’s just that the “system” works for me. (I guess the system here means things like government support in terms of education, health etc, and social support or at least the absence of social discrimination based on race/gender/sexuality/etc etc.)

I’m probably from the least persecuted demographic on earth (within my country/culture, anyway). I’m even tall – I don’t even suffer from height-based discrimination. The system was designed, by and large, by people like me, for people like me. In terms of government support beyond public health and education (which I’ve had in spades), I’ve never needed much help from the system, but if I did, it was there (with the exception of Austudy, which would have funded many a beer in the mid-to-late 90s, damn you, Amanda Vanstone). So I have to remind myself that, for a hell of a lot of people. The system doesn’t work so smoothly. And that’s in my wealthy country; in many countries you’re lucky to even have access to any sort of supportive system. Or the system is geared towards your oppression.

And, in an academic way, that frustrates and saddens and angers me. And I can be truly moved, brought to tears by stories of injustice or whatever. But, at some level, I’m missing something – I can’t know what it’s really like to be oppressed or persecuted or ignored or hated. Because I’ve never experienced it. So I need to remember that there really is a shitload to be done, and that I can or should do myself – even if it only has a small, local impact – because there are a hell of a lot of people who aren’t part of a system that’s pretty much made for them.

That’s it. Nothing funny here, folks. Go to some smutty frat-house prank site if you want that.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

To do

A friend of mine is concerned for his own mental welfare after finding a To Do list that he wrote for himself in April 2004:

  • Instant soup
  • Poo
  • Stray cat
  • Hairy chest/back

So many more questions than answers. So many...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A thought experiment

Imagine a bus:

Consider the best possible IMAGE you could place on this bus. It could be anything – a photo, a diagram, a graph, a table. Anything.

If you performed the experiment correctly, you would have arrived at this (look carefully):

That's right -- THIS is the best of all possible images that could appear on a bus. And I am VERY happy to say that it exists in the physical world. Here, it’s on the Southern Luzon Expressway at 5.25 pm on Sunday 14 May, 2006. [If you can't quite make it out, it depicts a FAT NAKED LADY facing a FAT NAKED MAN with the words "MISSION IMPOSSIBLE" between them. YOU do the maths! Uproarious!]

Needless to say, Schrödinger's cat was driving the bus.

Monday, May 15, 2006

an Italian comedy

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just don’t connect with some people.

Last Wednesday night, I was down at my local with some workmates, sipping on my alpha-male macho usual:

(Thanks to D for the camerawork.)

Ph, a French sciéntiste, arrived with C, an Italian here to be interviewed for a postdoc position with Ph. We were introduced and she happened to sit next to me. My high EMOTIONAL QUOTIENT or “E.Q.” kicked in as I IMMEDIATELY spotted a chance to put her at ease with some light-hearted repartee. Using my best hail-fellow-well-met demeanour, I asked jovially: “Are you sure it’s ok to be out drinking with your potential boss?” I was pretty sure I’d used the appropriate jocular tone – the nudge nudge wink wink would have registered on the Richter scale.

C: “Yes, it’s OK. There is no problem.”

I was a little stumped. I wanted to yell, “Come on! Take it and RUN with it!” Look at the OPPORTUNITY I’m offering! Instead: “Uh…um…er…I was only joking.”

C: “Yes, of course. I am Italian, I have a sense of humour.”

I was struggling, and I confess that I resorted to outmoded national stereotypes to try and get back on to solid ground. I apologise for any offence to my Teutonic brethren, and I remind you that I have a significant amount of Germanic DNA in my cell nuclei. Please realize I was desperate – I know many VERY funny Germans; some of my best friends are German.

Me: “Ha! I didn’t think you were GERMAN!” (Guffaws)

C: “Germans have a sense of humour. It is the Swiss who do not.”

Me: “Oh. Oh. The Swiss.” (Thinks: What about Italians doing impressions of outmoded stereotypes of Germans?)

At this point I cut my losses and broke desperately into a conversation on the other side of the table.

Flash forward to Thursday lunchtime. Moving tables to talk to friends in the coffee shop, and I end up next to none other than … C! My HIGH E.Q. kicked in again – a chance to get back on the right foot after the dismal failure of the previous night! She was just about to leave. After some brief pleasantries, and as she made to stand up, I went in for the kill: “Good luck! Or, maybe after 3 days here, you won’t want to get the job!” (smiles, winks, gentle matey-matey punch to the bicep).

C: “Why?”

That was it. There was no more fight left in me.

“Uh…um…er…um…you know…maybe, uh, you didn’t like it…I mean…but, really – I’m sure you’d LOVE it here…”

If she hadn’t launched into an explanation of why it would be a “good challenge” for her to work here, I would have been on my knees, pleading. We ALL love it here! No, really! NO, DON’T GO! PLEASE STAY!! Please…

I hope she gets the job so we can get together for similar conversations every day of the week.


The above examples of my conversational skills should IN NO WAY be taken as representative of my overall aptitude for human-to-human communication. I was under EXTEME DURESS.

Friday, May 12, 2006

mining the depths

Is this really happening? Is this the world in which I live? The Channel 9 “special Footy Show tribute” to the rescued Beaconsfield miners (click the link for a photo of the miners with their new best friend). I knew our society had a tendency towards crass commercialism, but this…this is more tawdry than I could ever have imagined. I don’t blame the miners for going along with it – shit, if I was being offered the kind of sums being talked about, I’d probably do it too. I won’t bother to go into why the whole thing makes me feel so uncomfortable and, frankly, sad. I’m probably just preaching to the converted; the Eddie McGuires of this world wouldn’t ever get it (not that anyone like that would ever read this, mind you).

Just a couple of points from the Sydney Morning Herald article:

McGuire said $450,000 had already been raised by corporate Australia and asked the viewing public to make donations to a fund, to be managed by Mr Shorten on behalf of the miners.

As somebody asked on Crikey yesterday, what and who is the fundraising for? Why are the citizens of Beaconsfield suddenly destitute? OK, if the mine shuts down, the local economy will be hit, but, as far as I know, the mine's future isn't known yet. And surely that possibility doesn’t warrant half-a-million (and counting) in donations. Besides, if the reports are to be believed, that’ll be pocket change for the two miners.

In recent days rumours have swirled around the town as a bidding war escalated between the Seven and Nine networks for the miners' story. Seven will stage its own show on Wednesday.

Of course! Standard protocol after 14 days trapped down a mine: medical checkup, greet family, attend co-worker's funeral, negotiate TV deal. At least I think it's in that order. The only thing this circus is missing is a we-are-the-world-athon.


McGuire had said last night was a chance for the men to thank friends, neighbours and rescuers but could not resist asking the big question: "I'd be sacked as a journo if I didn't ask you what it was like down in that mine." Mr Russell: "Tell me how big the chequebook is and we'll talk." The whole town cracked up. It was their night.

Nothing wrong with the joke itself – fair play to Russell. But it sums up the whole vulgar exercise very well, really.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

i think we'd better call off the croquet

It's 5.50pm and it's just started to rain -- the first time here in what seems like weeks. The reason? According to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical & Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), Tropical Storm "CALOY" has accelerated slightly and is now moving closer to Samar-Bicol Area (several hundred kilometres southeast of Los Baños, where I am, and Manila, where I'll be over the weekend). PAGASA also offers a 5-day forecast.

The forecast for Manila tomorrow is a little ominous but par for the course in the tropics. It's summed up by this icon:

The weather icon for Sunday is a little more disconcerting:

But it's Saturday's icon that raises my eyebrow in the bemused and slightly smug manner of an ignoramus who's never experienced a serious storm and although he knows it would probably be pretty scary -- not to say dangerous -- secretly thinks it would be exciting and cool:

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

they built it, i came

It's happened. It's finally HAPPENED... OPEN FOR BUSINESS.

I know you all remember this:

Well, now it's this:

...RESPLENDENT in green and good ol' aussie acacia gold.

I don't mind confessing that D and I were a little overwhelmed as we took our seats. But our nerves were soon calmed by

We perused the menu (click on it for larger size, that thee may read of its virtue)...

Great value and SO VERY AUSSIE AUSIE!

What true blue -- dare I say DINGKUM -- Ausie doesn't have joyous memories of gleefully tucking into this, for example:

Or the Outback Sizzling Beef with Saffron Rice and Veggies? Or the Waltzing Matilda Sizzling Chicken with Saffron Rice and Sidedish 1/4 chix Hot & Spicy? Or Spring Rolls with Saffron Rice and Coffee?

Yes, at BIG OZ, they've faithfully -- disquietingly, even -- recreated the OZ experience to minute, painstaking detail. It's almost scary. And while D and I were flummoxed as to why we were the only diners apart from

we're confident it's only a matter of time before the place starts bursting at the seams with cork-hatted men and women in Drizabones and RM Williams boots.

I'm honoured to be able to show you the dingkum dishes D and I chose. D had Oz Lamb with Gravy + Drink:

I was hungry, so went all out and ordered two dishes -- Sauteed Pork and Ginger Cabbage (to remind me of counter meals in outback pubs):

and Ausie Double Burger with French Fries + Coke TLC, Tomato, Lettuce and Cheese. This is the "coke" I was given:

And the burger:

"That burger looks like it's in a bowl!" I hear you say. Well, what would you expect, you dunderhead? Obviously, you've never eaten AUSIE burgers.

So there you have it. The BIG OZ. THE Big Oz. I need never come home. Why would I? This is more Oz then Oz. I admit I was a little disappointed that (unlike at the Outback Steakhouse in Manila) the waiters weren't dressed in Steve Irwin croc hunter garb. And that they didn't greet me with a lackadaisacal "G'day!" upon entering. And the toilet doors weren't adorned with endearing "Blokes" and "Sheilas" signs. But, really, that's just nitpicking. Just ask

  1. The food actually sort of sucked. None of the staff gave any indication they'd ever woorked in a restaurant before. For example, the woman at the counter, who seemed to do little other than pretend to add things up on a calculator, had to call the "chef" because she didn't know how to open the microwave door. That they reheated dishes in a microwave in full view of the diners probably wasn't a good sign, either.
  2. I do feel a bit tawdry writing such a sarcastic ironic entry -- it was a soft target, I know, but HOW COULD I RESIST?
  3. I also feel a little sad seeing that there's obviously been quite a lot of work put into preparing the place, and I can't see it lasting more than 6 months (which is a pretty common lifespan for small businesses here). But I am ready and willing to EAT MY WORDS (if not most of what's on the menu).
Finally -- one last time for good measure because it rocks SO hard: WHO loves ya, baby?


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

newsflash: ants consume grasshopper!

Despite the seemingly sensationalist nature of the headline, IT'S TRUE. Examine closely the photo below. You will see a RING OF ANTS. These ants are DRINKING FROM THE TROUGH OF SPILLAGE that gathered around the bottom of the measuring glass I used to make a grasshopper (creme de menthe, creme de cacao and cream -- shake with ice in a cocktail shaker, garnish with grated chocolate). As well as being SCIENTIFIC PROOF that ants like to drink noncy cocktails, it's all part of my grand, 5-YEAR, 6-POINT PLAN to become the best cocktail artiste since Bryan Brown in Cocktail. I have a book and a shaker, and everything.


Why don't they CROSS THE LINE? WHY?

Monday, May 08, 2006

how convenient...

For who's convenience?? The hide! If these people ran a restaurant, they'd ask you to do your own dishes (for your convenience). Hmph.

And here is a photo of two guys being bundled into a police van in Manila on Sunday after trying to do a runner on their taxi driver:

Yet more evidence (as if it were needed) that I live a HIGH-RISK life of extreme DANGER.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

mind vs body

Would you rather lose your physical or mental faculties in old age? I get the sense (though I have no real evidence) that most people would opt for the former. Of course people express sadness at seeing somebody’s body fail them, but it seems that witnessing someone’s mind deteriorate (I’m talking about the Alzheimer’s type of deterioration, not psychotic deterioration such as schizophrenia) is seen by many as the greater tragedy. People seem to take heart in the idea that, although somebody is bedridden and decrepit, they remain mentally sharp. I’ve heard comments along the lines of “… but she’s still sharp as a tack!” much more frequently than the converse, “…but he’s sprightly for an 80-year-old!”

I think that, in many ways, I’d rather lose my mind. There seems to me something intolerably sad about being fully aware of one’s own decline from a physically active being into a lump of flesh and bone that can’t do much other than think. I’m talking here about serious deterioration – the sort that requires constant care, not just the natural and gradual waning of one’s physical abilities with time. I’m sure it’s frustrating to not be able to run as far as fast as one did when younger but, as long as I could get around on my own OK, I think I’d cope. Being unable to dress or feed myself, and being horribly, painfully aware of this, would be, I think, unspeakably awful (though I’m not discounting the idea that I or anyone else may be able to come up with ways to cope with it).

Take, then, the loss of mind. From my own encounters (admittedly very limited, i.e. my paternal grandfather…sample size n=1 is, I admit, hardly compelling – but what is a blog for if not wild conjecture based on slim anecdotal evidence?) with true mental deterioration (through Alzheimer’s in this case), this seems – at least for the person undergoing the decline – the less traumatic of the two conditions. In the throes of his Alzheimer’s, my grandfather seemed as happy as ever. It was the people around him who noticed and were saddened by his increasingly addled brain, not him. Certainly he didn’t get to participate in intellectual pursuits (by which I mean anything as simple as rational conversation) on the same level as somebody of sounder mind, but – precisely because of his apparent lack of self awareness – he seemed oblivious to his “problems” and more or less content (though I confess that, at this time, I was not terribly close to him and saw him only rarely, so my observations should probably be taken with a pinch of salt).

I get the feeling that being mentally astute enough to fully comprehend one’s own spiral into a physical abyss would be a bit like watching a slow-motion car crash without any ability to intervene. I also suspect I’m the type of person that might be prone to lamenting my former abilities (as moderate as they are). I think I’d rather be happy and oblivious (though I’m not assuming for a second that all elderly people dementia-suffering elderly people are pictures of ignorant bliss... “He’s so wacky now! I envy him!”). And this is a very selfish thesis, considering only my feelings and not those of the friends and family who are cognisant of the descent into senility (though I doubt it’s all beer and skittles for anyone having to look after and witness a degenerating loved one, whether the degeneration is in mind or body).

Which all leads me to make two footnotes:

  1. Maybe my inability to see tragedy and despair in losing one’s mind merely suggests that I’m not the book-smarts type.
  2. At some point, I want to come back to the “pursuit of happiness” question – specifically the divide between what seem to be the goals that many people and governments strive for versus the goals that would stand a better chance of bringing happiness and contentment* (this ties in with the earlier WC discussion on community). Partly this is economic growth (whether personal or national or anywhere in between) at all costs and over and above any other sort of “growth”. But that’s for later – I bet all four of you who ever read this can’t wait…

* “Happiness and contentment” here are assumed to entail, at the very least, no harm to others.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

searching for ladyboys plus a wee bit of angst

The most hits SW gets through search engine searches are 1) "ladyboy" (or variations thereof) and 2) "uninspirational quotes". I guess I could've predicted the first, had I thought about it. To those of you who expected salacious photos of shemales, I am truly, truly sorry and I promise I'll make it up to you one day. A lot of the ladyboy searches (and I should add that I'm talking about half-a-dozen -- inexplicably, the site doesn't get thousands of hits every day) come from the middle east. I have no idea what this means, if anything.

On Tuesday, I did a reasonably solid day's work, spent 9-odd hours at the office and somehow, when I went home, felt like I hadn't done enough. Where the hell do I get this Catholic guilt/work ethic thing? I can rationalise it and completely comprehend that I am not owned by my employer and that there are a billion worthwhile things to do in life that aren't part of formal, paid work (though they are often undervalued for that reason). Yet my actions are so often at odds with my ideas.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

the BIG 3!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Seen in Malate, Manila, on Monday 24 April:

How much do you wish you'd gone to this???

Our hot young hunks come clean in the shower
Go Ace!

Explore the taboo of the male G-spot
Go Biboy!

Peek on a sexy practicing his best stroke
The double entendre is sublime!

The big three indeed. What a line-up. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it back to Manila for the show.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

why MY weekend was better than YOURS

Last weekend, you probably sat around in some sort of mute torpor, counting your toes or playing hour upon hour of Ms Pacman. I however, spent my weekend at a beach house on the west coast of Luzon. I sunned myself on the lawn while taking in this view:

...and ate some of the finest food in the land -- such as this lapu lapu fish (which was later perfectly grilled)

...and The Perfect Breakfast: a Danish rye cracker spread with gorgonzola cheese and topped with slices of sweet, juicy tomato, and cracked pepper, accompanied by excellent coffee:

You probably ate a shit sandwich, made with stale bread.

When I felt a little warm -- as one does from time to time in the tropics -- I cooled off in this pool:

You were probably so preoccupied with your itchy, scabrous skin that thoughts of temperature would have been a luxury.