Thursday, August 31, 2006

nudge nudge wink wink

Does anybody else find the Macquarie University logo a wee bit suggestive?

Or is it just me?

I can only suggest their marketing manager thought of it one proud morning while gazing longingly into the mirror at the end of his bed. (Cor! Oooo-eeee!)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Below are phots of some of the HEARTY and JOYFUL foods that M, M and I ate while in Kochi, Japan, a couple of weeks ago.

Katsukare. After-tennis food -- Japanese version of Indian curry (this one sevred with a crumbed pork cutlet) that is almost but not quite entirely unlike Indian curry (apologies to D Adams) ... good though, in its own special way.

Katsudon (crumbed pork cutlet on rice with egg mixed through it).

Okonomiyaki (sort of a cross between a pizza and a pancake, these with cabbage, cheese, pork, squid, prawns).

Katsuo tataki (regional specialty -- bonito flame-cooked over a straw fire, just to sear the edges).

... and katsuo tataki being cooked.

Little fish (which I didn't eat, but I like the photo ... ooooh ... repeating patterns ... oooh ... few colours ... ooooh ...).

Sui gyoza (pork dumplings, steamed and served in broth; usually fried and eaten with ramen noodles).

Ramen noodles.

Man cooking ramen noodles.

And here is a photo of the food I returned to, in my work cafeteria:

Entirely unlike shepherd's pie. And guaranteed TEPID. Mmmm.

Ah well. As Ned Kelly supposedly said, such is life. And I think our situations are comparable.

Friday, August 25, 2006

this man KNOWS me

Got an email yesterday from a guy working at one of my workplace’s sister institutes, in Nigeria. He wanted to change the postal address at which he receives the magazine I edit. This man – with whom I have never had any correspondence whatsoever – is CLEARLY a person of great wisdom and integrity. Here are my reply to his initial email and his reply to my email. To preserve anonymity (which SW holds in extremely high regard), I’ve changed names and the publication title. All else is verbatim…

From: secretwombat
Sent: Thursday, August 24, 2006 10:47 AM
To: Obviously an astute guy
Subject: RE: Redirection of TOTALLY EXCELLENT Publication

Dear Dr. Obviously an astute guy,

Many thanks for this information. We will change contact details on our mailing list as you suggest.


Editor, TOTALLY EXCELLENT magazine

From: Obviously an astute guy
Sent: Thursday, August 24, 2006 6:50 PM
To: secretwombat
Subject: Re: Redirection of TOTALLY EXCELLENT Publication

Dear Dr. wombat,

You are just wonderful. Thank you very much for your prompt response.

With all high regards.

Obviously an astute guy

...and he even addressed me as "Dr"...

Thursday, August 24, 2006

we don't do it like that 'round these here parts

Two things.

  1. Took delivery of New Fridge yesterday, to replace the ancient monstrosity that, when not making 747-taking-off noises, made half-hearted attempts to keep food cool and drained half the town’s elec-trickery supplies. (D and I regard New Fridge as a newborn and will name it and sleep on the kitchen floor next to it.)

    The point, though, was the excellent observation of occupational health and safety guidelines by the delivery guys. One of them (small, even by Filipino standards) hooked his arms through the PVC straps used to keep the box intact and carried the whole damn thing in BY HIMSELF, like a backpack. Twenty-odd meters plus some knee-bends to get under the garage eaves and in through the apartment door. Nice work, fella.

  2. Filipino English includes some unique expressions (e.g., “for a while” instead of “just a moment”) as well as some interesting idiosyncrasies. Filipinos don’t take a look at something – they make an ocular inspection.

    Overheard on Tuesday, Filipina science editor T explaining her late arrival:
    “My husband! He was involved in a vehicular collision!”
    Thank god it wasn’t a car crash.

    (As far as I know, husband was unharmed.)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

we got mountains...

Kochi prefecture runs along the Pacific edge of Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four main islands, in the country's southwest. It is very rural and very mountainous. It has many rivers. Lennart, the Swedish guy who lived next to me in Otaguchi village for a few months in 2001, once said to me with Scandinavian modesty: "I rode up around the river this morning. It's's very...oh, my English is terrible. Very serpentine!"

Oh my god! it's bigger than the mountains! IT WILL DESTROY US ALL...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

the price of rice

A photo of a rice for sale at a market in the Philippines:

Price = 20 Philippine pesos per kilogram =
USD$0.39 / AUD$0.51*

A photo of rice for sale at a supermarket in Japan:

Price = 1380 yen for 1.4 kg = ¥986 per kilogram =
USD$8.50 / AUD$11.10.*

*Based on today's exchange rates

Pictured Japanese rice = 21.7 X price of pictured Philippine rice.

Even assuming that the pictured Japanese rice is a premium grade/variety and the Philippine rice is low grade, that’s quite a difference. And Philippine rice is around double the price of rice in other Asian developing countries.

I SHOULD thoroughly research why there’s such a big difference. Instead, I’ll offer sketchy details that are already in my head and, as such, need to be taken with a liberal sprinkling of sodium chloride.

Japanese production is more expensive (cost of fertilizer, pesticides, labour, transport etc). Though this is offset a little by higher yields (average yield in Japan from 2003-2005 was 6.27 tons per hectare; in the Philippines it was 3.49 tons per hectare).

The Japanese market is heavily protected. There are big trade restrictions and tariffs on imported rice that keep rice prices high overall. (Tariffs increase the price of imported rice several-fold by the time it reaches the shops.)

SW is keepin’ it EDUMACATIONAL. Yeah.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

how english was supposed to be

SW is back from a brilliant, nostalgic (the Japanese word natsukashii sums it up well) and at times bittersweet 10 days in Kochi Prefecture, Japan. I know I had reasons in early 2001 for deciding to forego another year in an amazing place where I constantly had hilarious misadventures with a group of excellent friends, but fucked if I can remember what those reasons were.

There should be a few posts on the trip in the coming days. Work is entering a hell period now, so SW’s activity will depend on whether or not my stress panic overrides my aptitude for procrastination.

First: a few examples of sublime Japanese English. There are more and better examples here, but I took the photos below…

1. Computer at Osaka Kansai airport (4 photos)

Ah! So that's what you can do.

Surely the best way to enjoy internet.


Also, a comment on Japanese keyboards (below) -- the space bar is WAY TOO FUCKING SMALL. Especially for big clumsy fingers.

2. Beer
Can't argue with that.

3. Mustard
Personally, I think they're aiming at too narrow a market.

4. Coffee #1

My favourite kind.

5. Coffee #2
My second-favourite kind.

6. Bread
Maybe one day they'll bake bread perfectly again.

7. At a supermarket
The implication of an unfriendly counter is chilling.

8. Marriage (with MG)

Don't even consider any other type of wedding system.

9. My favourite...


Friday, August 04, 2006

katsuo tataki

To anybody who cares to know...

Just a quick note that SW will be waddling about the hills and beaches of Kochi Prefecture, Shikoku, Japan for the next week-and-a-half, and may or may not get a chance to post any marsupial adventures. All part of a very unofficial mini-reunion / amble down memory lane with Canadian M and American/Canadian/Filipino M, with whom I failed to teach Japanese schoolkids decent English all of 6 years ago. There was talk of forlornly failing to relive glory days by participating in the Yosakoi festival (with special guest P), like back in 2001, but I suspect audience participation supplemented by beer and/or sake is more likely. I'm not the sprightly young thing I once was, you know, though I could still take out a snake in a burrow.

Stay gold,

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I got into golf. No skateboarding or BMXing for me, no sir. That was for the cool, athletic kids who were popular with the girls. For a few years, I probably averaged 1 or 2 rounds per week. Then, I lost the lovin’ feeling and didn’t play much at all for a decade or so.

A few months ago, Belgian J – who has just got into golf himself – convinced me to drag my old clubs back to the Philippines. I’ve since had something of a golf reawakening. It turns out there are quite a few courses in the region, including one that I can play almost for free (they have a deal with my workplace) apart from the caddy fee.

Yes, a caddy fee. When one plays golf in the Philippines, one gets a caddy. It took some adjustment. For several holes in my first caddied-up round, I felt like a neocolonial wanker. But, familiarity breeds complacency and I now ignore such feelings and make sure the blighters feel the sharp end of my boot if they hand me the wrong club.

A few weeks ago, one of the senior scientists here asked me to join him in a charity-fundraising golf day at a swish course nearby. Charity! Fundraising! I thought. Count me in – I live to give!

It turns out the funds were for the club’s “ladies golf team” – probably one of the richest sub-populations in the country. I think some of them only had one BMW. So you can be assured that SW’s money is going to the people who really need it.

It was all good fun until about the 13th hole, when a storm hit and the lightning warning siren sounded, and we had to take shelter for an hour. We then played the last 5 holes in rain. On the 15th hole I hit an incredibly bad shot and clocked one of the caddies square in her side.

She was in pain for a few minutes but otherwise OK (though I’m sure she had a nasty bruise), but I felt like a right idiot. I limply apologized and she apparently got upset because nobody yelled “fore!” (as one does in golf). Instead, I’d let out a garbled yelp. It wouldn’t have made any difference though – there was no way she could’ve got out of the way in time.

Then – to remind me I’m in a different culture/country – my caddy came to me and said that the caddy I hit had asked that I don’t complain to course management. Apparently if I hit a caddy, I have the right to complain (I think because she should’ve been behind the ball when I hit it – though, where she was, she should’ve been safe if I didn’t completely bugger up the shot). And if I complain, she could be suspended for a month.

What did I do?

Did I:

1. assert my neocolonial right and complain that my caddy had deliberately damaged my ball with her ribs?


2. assure my caddy that I wouldn’t complain, give up on competing for the remainder of the round, and continue to profusely apologise?

YOU decide. This is like a choose-your-own-adventure book, no?

Let me know if you’d like more golf stories. Ooooh, I got plenty.