Summer recollections 21 October 2014Posted by uggclogs in Life.
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Slowly walking through the sunshine, still timid with a chilly wind, I was reminded of summers of my youth. That moment when school is out, realising that there would be no more instruction for two whole months. Ultimate lazy days doing nothing at all. Days that seem to drag on forever, like time stands still. Long summer nights that never get dark. Heavy summer storms at night, thunder, lightening. Clear, crisp mornings covered in dew.
Pasta salads with thousand islands. Whole prawns on the back veranda, spending what would seem hours with mother cleaning them. Push your thumb under the external skeletons between the legs. Circle the body, removing the scales. Pull off the tail, twist off the head. Pink, large, naked C-shaped bodies piling up in one bowl, cast off remains in another. Cold fingers from the ice chilling the prawns.
Mother braiding my hair, impressed with the bunches of flowers brought home, carefully arranged. Large vases and warm hugs.
Father building a deck, painting the house, tinkering on the car. Growing fresh vegetables in the garden, sweaty, sun burnt. Taking me fishing early mornings at the lake, misty forms dancing on the water, not necessarily catching fish, not that it ever mattered. Rowing out on the lake in the red plastic dinghy, keeping a watchful eye on the horse flies and the orange float gently bobbing at the surface. Perch for dinner.
My brother, playing games together. Sometimes on the computer; two-player Doom. Other times, running around the yard as cowboys (him) and Indians (me). The tepee was declared a safe zone. Building forts in the living room, or nagging parents to pitch a tent in the backyard. Reading books, devouring them as the cumulus clouds floated by. Feeding the squirrel in the garden, eating fresh rhubarb dipped in sugar. Getting on the bikes to go play tennis or to swim at the water park. Tanned to a dark hue, bleached hair from chlorine. Always smiling. Often together. Listening out for mother’s Lada as it came trundling down the street – jumping up to complete our chores in the five minutes that we had before she would enter the house.
Those summer days were magic. Not a care in the world.
Memories of pets past – a rabbit too big to pick up, a cat who would speak to us. Budgies, hamsters and another rabbit.
Carefree, tanned, young. Scabbed knees and soaked socks from falling in the brook. Burning nettle everywhere. Heat bead barbecues, the smell of summer. Picking black currants, raspberries and gooseberries, juice running down your chin. Strawberries still warm from the summer sun, sweet and soft. Cherries and plums fragrant and inviting. And bugs. Everywhere.
Later, these memories were intertwined with friends, late nights, parties and beer. Still by the water, swimming, grilling, laughing. But innocence lost, growing up too fast.
Cha ca 9 September 2014Posted by uggclogs in Cooking, food, Happiness, Vietnam.
Tags: cha ca, fish, food, street food, Vietnam
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Since living in Hanoi, one of the foods I miss is cha ca – or grilled fish. The best grilled fish is to be had in the old quarter in Hanoi, of course. Nothing beats the scenery and the atmosphere of being at Cha Ca La Vong, the most famous (and possibly the most expensive) restaurant. When we first arrived in Hanoi, they were still cooking the fish on coals at the table, and the spluttering heat from the frying pan would invariably end up being a health and safety hazard. This is as close as I have managed to get with my recipe, I am sure it’s still not 100%. I have used and adapted several online versions to get as near to authentic as possible.
This recipe is for two people, but I suggest you always make too much, as it is so delicious.
- 500 g of firm, white fish. Ling fish is the best, but cod has worked for me in the past.
– 3-4 spring onions (echalottes will work, too, but are a bit firmer)
– 1 tsp of curry powder
– 1 tbs of tumeric
– 2 tbs fish sauce
– 1 tbs yogurt
– 1 tsp crushed garlic
– 4 tbs vegetable oil
– 1 large bunch of scallion/spring onions, cut on an angle
– 1 large handful of dill, roughly chopped
– Fresh rice noodles (or rice vermicelli, if noodles are not available)
- 1 cup of peanuts, slightly roasted
– 1 cup of bean sprouts
– lime wedges
– fish sauce
– 2-3 cups of Vietnamese mint, basil, coriander and other fresh herbs
- Cut the fish into cubes of about 2cm/ 1inch and set aside in a bowl.
– Cut the spring onion into very small pieces, as small as you can.
– Mix the cut onion, spices, half of the oil, fish sauce, and yogurt together, and add to the fish – make sure the fish is completely covered.
– Place a non-stick pan over high heat and add the peanuts. Move the nuts around until they start to brown. Remove the nuts from the pan and set aside.
– Place the pan back on the heat, add the remaining oil, and fry the fish until just cooked.
– While the fish is cooking, add the noodles to boiling water and cook briefly until tender and warm.
– Add the scallion and dill and cook a little longer, then serve.
To serve, use small bowls. Half-fill a bowl with noodles, add a couple of spoonfulls of fish and greenery on top. Add any combination of the ganishes that you wish/like. Eat with chopsticks.
Ireland 28 August 2014Posted by uggclogs in Uncategorized.
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My holidays this year took me to Ireland – a country that everyone has been raving about and which I had never been to. I had high expectations, due to all the reviews I heard, but never actively sought it out. This year, a friend of mine decided to celebrate his significant birthday in Ireland, however, and asked us to come along.
I loved it. Absolutely loved it. And I am not entirely sure why or what made it so interesting and wonderful. But I would definitely recommend Ireland to others. But one of the highlights was the Irish. They turned out to be courteous, humorous and friendly, more than happy to have a chat and to talk to foreigners. Even traffic was courteous – cars slowed down for jay walkers, and let each other in when the roads were busy. I have never seen anything like it – and although only a small example, I think it reflected the general attitude of the Irish.
We only had a week and a half in Ireland, but we packed as much into our trip as possible.
We started off in Dublin, and went to a Gaelic Football Game at Croke Park. It was a real spectacle, and we had the opportunity to ask some of the Irish fans sitting around us about the game and the rules. The games we watched were Donegal-Armagh and Dublin-Monaghan.
The former was a tense game, eventually won by only a point – a real nail-biter! The latter was also a good game, but Dublin ended up winning with a large margin, which wasn’t as exciting. Dublin supporters, however, are full on, though!
One of my favourite moments happened in the stands near us, where a young fan found someone sitting in his seats, and asked the other person to move. The person in his seat was an older gentleman, who, with one eye on the game, realised he had sat in the row in front of his actual seats. He got up, but only to realise that his team (Donegal) was getting closer to the posts. Mesmerised, the older man watched, mouth open, sometimes yelling encouraging words. The young man (also a Donegal supporter) had also turned to watch the game, seeing that his compatriot was getting excited.
The team got even closer to the posts, passed it to someone right in front, and GOAL! Straight in the net. The young man grabbed the older fellow around the neck with his arm, and started jumping up and down, chanting together. It was a moment of pure joy and celebration. After the excitement of the goal died down, the older man moved to his actual seats, but they kept talking throughout the game, new friends over a shared team. It was a lovely moment.
In Dublin proper, we had been told to see the Kilmainham Gaol for a Dublin history lesson. It is essential to get there early to line up as you can only see the gaol through a guided tour, but lining up was absolutely worth it. Knowing little about Ireland apart from the potato famine and the large number of emigrants that have left, the gaol provided a good run-down of what can only be described as a sad history. The Victorian wing (below) is a fine example of later types of jails, and has been used as a backdrop for several movies.
I also went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral – worth a look if you like churches (there’s lots of them in Ireland, even more than castles!)
Finally, Dublin has pubs galore – and in one of these is where the birthday itself was celebrated. We had a wonderful time in Dublin before we moved on to Limerick.
Limerick was added to the itinerary due to the convenient distance for a day’s drive from Dublin. The city itself was not much to look at – it felt quite modern and industrial.
But there were a couple of interesting sights, including the Hunt Museum – a quirky little museum with artefacts from all over the world. It also has a silver coin on display which is reputedly one of the coins Judas Iscariot received for betraying Jesus – worth a trip to see, I thought. I have no idea how it was established that this was indeed one of the 30 pieces of silver in question, but now I have seen it, and it makes for a good story.
Another thing worth seeing is the King John’s Castle, which has an excellent exhibition describing the various sieges of Limerick and the origins of the term ‘to undermine someone’. You also get to walk around the court yard and look at some very kitch dress ups of adults pretending to be from the middle ages, walk up through narrow passage ways to the top of the tower, and see lots of old-time weaponry.
Next stop was Galway, a far more touristy town with street performers and a holiday-feel down the main streets. The town felt quite medieval, and we enjoyed the lane ways and the alleys that felt like a movie set the most. We stopped by the obligatory pub, of course, and found a lovely Turkish restaurant for dinner. We went for a long walk along the water, stumbled upon the ‘Spanish Arch’ which is not remarkable in itself, apart from the fact that it was built in 1584 and still standing! The arch is in the background below.
Next stop was Donegal – the winners of the above Gaelic Football bout (which was a quarter final). Donegal Town was my personal favourite stop over, due to the little castle (below) which was lovingly restored and the true local pub where I had a beer with one of the other travelling companions. There was a group of locals sitting around looking at us suspiciously until we mentioned that we’d been at the game, and all of a sudden they got talking. I couldn’t understand much, but they sure do love their football!
One thing we noticed in the pub was the clear side it took in the ‘troubles’. Having by this stage not quite read up on the history of modern Ireland (I had only got up to the civil war in the 1920s and not actually read up on it) it was quite confronting. This pub was clearly on the catholic side of the subsequent upheavals, and it made me want to read up on the more modern history of the Island I was visiting.
Donegal borders what is variously known as Northern Ireland or ‘the six counties’ (depending on where you stand in the Catholic/Protestant or part of Ireland/United Kingdom debate) – the dark green part on the map (HT: Wikipedia).
Quick geography lesson (I had to look this up myself): Ulster is the 9 northern counties of the island – 6 of these became ‘Northern Ireland’ and are under United Kingdom control, hence the ‘six counties’. Donegal county is one of the 3 counties which is part of Ulster, but not part of Northern Ireland. It, however, shares a long border with Northern Ireland, and is mostly to the north of those six counties. The six counties that did become Northern Ireland, were perceived as being the area where Protestants/unionists (those that supported being part of the United Kingdom) would have a safe majority.
This was our first alert to the fact that the ‘troubles’ are very much at the forefront of the minds of the Irish living in the north of the island. We had been blissfully unaware until this point, but our holidays took a darker turn as we continued northwards. I will come back to this.
That evening, we went to the Olde Castle Bar and attended an event by a local ‘story teller’ – an Irish tradition going back for many generations. It was basically a man who entertained us with tales and stories, a poem and even a song. It was quirky and fun, and we thought it was definitely worth while to drink our beers and listen to him. I mean – what else was there to do in Donegal at night?
The next day we set our sights on Portestewart, but on the way, we stopped off in Derry/Londonderry based on advice from Tripadvisor. And this is where we finally came to understand the rawness of the ‘troubles’ in Ireland. In fact, we came to start seeing the issues as we were coming in to town. We knew in advance that some people call it Derry and others call it Londonderry. Driving in from Donegal, we noticed that all the traffic signs had Derry on them. We didn’t think anything of it, and passed by the town to keep driving out towards our destination. About 10 kilometres outside of town, we decided that we wanted to turn back to Derry, as it was still early, and we couldn’t check in to the hotel until much later. A roundabout later, and we were heading back, but all of a sudden, the signs said Londonderry. Many of the signs had, however, crudely been spray-painted to read
Londonderry. Still ignorant, we were wondering why this was such an issue – what’s in a name?, we thought.
In town, we parked and walked to the museum of Free Derry. We also did a walking tour around Derry with a man whose father was shot dead on Bloody Sunday. And despite being fully aware that this tour was going to be heavily biased, all of a sudden the significance, the reality, the raw emotional intensity of the troubles, Bloody Sunday, Northern Ireland/the six counties, Catholic/Protestant, unionist/free Ireland – hit us. Like. A. Tonne. Of. Bricks.
This country – this beautiful, green, lush, welcoming country that we had come to – has gone, and is going, through the hell that is differences based on religion. Arbitrary lines that decide what side you are on. The baseness that is human nature, declaring lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’. And the awful perpetuity of pain, loss and revenge. The hurt felt by losing loved ones and the impossibility of getting through that pain. Lives lived without those who should have been there, fanning hatred towards those who are to blame.
Many (all?) of the guides that do this tour and run the museum are related to the 14 people that died on Bloody Sunday. Our guide lost his father, and he described in detail how it happened. I have no idea how he is able to talk about this loss and the details, including the fear that his father had every day. I assume it must be cathartic, perhaps even therapeutic. A way to ensure the memory of the dead stays alive through spreading the message to others, spreading the information and knowledge through peaceful means rather than hatred and anger. I am sure there is still anger. Of course there is. This did not happen a hundred years ago, Bloody Sunday happened in 1972. The latest inquiry did not conclude until 2010. Unresolved questions remain.
We were all deeply affected by the day, and sat in silence in the car. None of us could believe that these events had happened. Paradoxically, we had seen a clean, vibrant city. Blue skies above us and yellow rays from the sun had warmed our backs. The area known as Bogside was no longer slum-like, and many of the most densely populated public housing estates that had been the site of the shootings had been demolished and the area gentrified. A park takes up most of the space where only forty years ago, 14 people were shot with heavy military fire, where there had been barricades and misery. Some of the misery remains and lives on in the people that remain in Bogside. What a day. I must read up on the history of Ireland to seek to better understand, but I am afraid I never will.
In Portestewart, we ended up walking along the water and having a couple of drinks at night.
The next day, we drove to Belfast along the coastal route – very scenic and via Dunluce Castle and the Giant’s Causeway. Dunluce is a ruin with an interesting past – in it’s hayday the kitchen of the castle crumbled into the sea without warning – killing several of the people working within it.
The Giant’s Causeway was the one thing that I had wanted to see all along prior to coming to Ireland, as I am a total nerd and I love the geology of the Causeway. When we got there, however, we found out that there was an entry fee (the 2009 Lonely Planet we had with us mentioned that entry was free) and that was a real dampener as we felt pretty ripped off. But the site is wonderful and spectacular, I was glad that we still went.
In Belfast, we decided to do the Black Cabs tour, to gain a better understanding of the recent history of the city, and because it came highly recommended to us. We chose the Paddy Campbell’s tour, but unfortunately, you have to call them to arrange pick up. Being the person that I am, I do not like to have to speak to people on the phone, and I would have much preferred to have had the option of going to a specific location to arrange the tour. But they were extremely helpful on the phone, and were more than happy to pick us up from the location that we were at (the St. George’s Market).
I would now also highly recommend the tour – we had one Protestant and one Catholic driver (we were a group big enough to require two cabs) – and we learnt a lot. One thing that surprised us all is that Belfast is divided by a large wall (55 feet high in some places – see below) with gates that close at night to keep the Protestant and Catholic population segregated. Schools are still mostly segregated. One of the tour guides told us that they are still living in a powder keg, which could very easily explode. Kids still throw rocks, bigger kids throw bigger rocks, and it escalates from there. People still own guns, and petrol bombs are easy to make.
It boggles the mind that this is still happening today – in 2014!
We left Ireland emotionally drained and unable to comprehend that a beautiful country like Ireland could have such a horrific past and such a difficult future. We did not really explore anything further in Belfast as we simply did not have the motivation to get out and about anymore. We went for an early morning jog, and left without seeing any more of the sights.
I am overwhelmed with the impressions that remain, and I will definitely not forget my sojourn in Ireland. I will leave you with some of the landscapes we drove through – the beautiful lush greenery.
Hear hear 22 April 2014Posted by uggclogs in Life.
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I am already a sucker for XKCD, but this is a perfect post.
Christmas tree 16 December 2013Posted by uggclogs in Christmas, Happiness.
Tags: Christmas, decorations, family, fun, tree
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Christmas is back.
Anyone who knows me, knows I love Christmas. Sadly no snow for me this year, though, as I am staying in Australia. But look at my Christmas tree – finding the Christmas spirit all the same. Enjoy your Christmas wherever you are!
Cognitive dissonance 18 September 2013Posted by uggclogs in Canberra, Life, Philosophy, Politics.
Tags: Abbott, Australia, Australian politics, cabinet, Opinion, Women in cabinet
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I am suffering, dear reader. I am suffering from cognitive dissonance.
I’m sure you have heard of that before: holding two or more beliefs at the same time, where those beliefs are incompatible in theory and practice.
I often suffer from cognitive dissonance, which is why I could never go into politics. The world is not sufficiently black or white for me to pick a side and not see the other’s merit. There are times I feel strongly one way or another, but often, I cannot reconcile conflicting beliefs to take a position on a matter. How easy it would be to be certain of yourself all the time.
This time around, it’s politics. Today, the Abbott government was sworn in. Out of 20 ministers, there is one female, and 19 male ministers. And I am struggling with this on two levels.
On the one hand, I am disappointed that there is only one woman in cabinet. I think there are plenty of capable, interesting, intelligent, measured, hard-working women in the Liberal Party. And I am sure there could have been more women on the front benches. I believe the government and the cabinet should represent the people that put them there, which may mean they should look like a cross-section of society.
On the other hand, I do not believe there should be a ‘quota’ of women that should be promoted (in any position), and merit should be the driver for appointments. I believe women are not ‘equal’ when they experience positive discrimination. I think they are equal when people no longer see their gender. As a woman, I would hate to think that I get to where I am in life because of (or despite of) my gender. I want to be respected, valued and appreciated for my brains, my abilities and my shutzpah.
I think selection bias, or the fact that one tends to select and promote people who look, feel, sound and behave like oneself, is a driver behind many appointments. And not just in government.
I don’t think it is necessarily done in a malicious way, but I think a leader who is unaware of his or her own bias might easily fall into the trap of promoting those like him- or herself. My selection bias might explain why I am disappointed there are no more women in cabinet. I want to see strong, capable women in places of power and decision making.
And as per my previous post, I think Abbott plays a dangerous game in terms of his outward views on women. Whether he actually holds a low opinion of women or whether the media is just portraying him as such, is not really the point. However, I do think it less than politically astute to give his opponents more fodder, which is what this cabinet has done. And to say he was ‘disappointed’ there were not more women on the front bench was outright silly – he chose the front bench.
There were countless Facebook posts in my feed over the past days reflecting a less-than-flattering view of “I cannot believe any woman would have voted for this government, and now you reap what you have sown” or worse still, “Abbott will take Australia 20 years back in time”. Simplistic gibes.
Because Abbott and his party did win. And it would have taken a significant number of female voters to get him there. It is, however, possible that women who voted for him are also suffering from cognitive dissonance.
The world is not black and white, and it is the varying levels of grey that makes it interesting. I will keep an open mind on this cabinet. May it do good for Australia.
Abbott talks about looks too much 5 September 2013Posted by uggclogs in Canberra, Life.
Tags: Abbott, Australia, election
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Clearly, Tony Abbott should steer clear from commenting on fellow candidates or his daughters looks. In case you missed it: not long ago, he noted that the Liberal candidate Fiona Scott had ‘a bit of sex appeal’. More recently, he said about his daughters (he has three) that they were ‘not bad looking’.
Not because the comments are actually that bad – if you watch the footage from either occassion, he is actually being a total dag. Lighthearted. And even friendly.
On both occassions, though, people cringe. And here is the rub: it gives further amonition to people who think Abbott is out of touch, old-fashioned and (god forbid anyone should have known this word prior to the infamous speech in parliament earlier this year) mysogenistic!
Set aside that he also praised Fiona Scott for multiple other qualities that she is supposed to bring to the table. Set aside that he is obviously a biased dad who seems to adore his girls. Set aside the fact that ‘not bad looking’ is the quintessential Australian understatement.
You, Mr. Abbott, are in the public eye. And soundbites are the way of the media. So steer clear of praising women for their looks. Completely. For some reason, it is no longer acceptable.
Like it or loathe it, stick to telling women (and men) that that you work with they are well-qualified. Smart. Intelligent. Astute. The best option for the future. Or whatever you choose to say. I must admit that I would not like to be introduced at a work function with any reference to my looks. I would like to think that I am where I am because of my ability and my skills. And it would be highly inappropriate for a supervisor to say that I have sex appeal.
At the same time, leave the man alone about his daughters. He clearly loves and adores them, and probably thinks they are the most gorgeous girls he knows, both inside and out. So what? That’s a dad’s perogative.
Wonderful Canberra 4 September 2013Posted by uggclogs in Canberra, Happiness, Travelling.
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It is amazing what three weeks can do in Canberra.
Blistering cold winds, rain, clouds and grey have been replaced with the big blue skies that makes me all sooky for Australia, warm, sunny days, with a light summery breeze. Not quite spring, but on the precipice.
Blossoms everywhere, crocuses popping their head through the grass. And the rose bushes in front of my house, which I only pruned back to nothing in the beginning of June are visibly growing buds every day. Yesterday, they were buds, today they are two centimetre long leaves and stalks.
What an amazing turn around. Soon there will be ducklings galore. Lunches outside. All those wonderful spring activities.
I bought a motorbike. And two weekends ago I rode it to Uriarra Reserve. A perfect ride of about half an hour. Gorgeous scenery. Windy roads. And a picnic with friends at the other end of it all.
And this weekend, I went with my partner to the south coast to celebrate his birthday. We brought our push bikes, and rode them along the beach. Ate fish and chips and had one of the best Thai green curries we’ve ever had. It was only for two nights, but it felt like a holiday.
So bring it on, Canberra. I can’t wait to run and cycle along your paths. Familiarise myself again with you after what felt like a short and rainy winter. Bring it on :)
Bird watching 5 July 2013Posted by uggclogs in Life.
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Outside of my window at work, there are some gorgeous trees, a favourite spot for local birds. I get to see all sorts of beautiful birds. At the moment, with the shrill, cold winds raging through the winter wood, they are even more easy to spot. Sadly, I don’t take my camera to work, so all of the pictures below are courtesy of my favourite website, canberrabirds.org.au. I have tried to attribute the pictures as best I can.
There are spotted pardalotes:
Superb fairy-wrens (although being winter, they are not as blue):
Eastern Rosellas (always in pairs):
King parrots (male and female):
Red wattle birds:
And crested pigeons:
Last year, I was fortunate enough to save a female Superb Parrot from certain death after it flew into a window, and all dazed, the magpies decended on it:
And the fine folks over at RSPCA nursed her back to life, ensured she had no concussion, and finally released her back in the vicinity of my work. Apparently, Superb Parrots tend to mate for life, and her little boy would have been very happy to have her back. I have seen the boy as well, but they are not around at the moment.
When I went for my walk on Wednesday, I saw a Golden whistler:
I have also seen lots red-browed finches in the past.
What a delectable feast for us bird nuts.
On positive blogging 27 June 2013Posted by uggclogs in Life.
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My latest posts have had an undertone (or overtone) of complaining and bitterness. What a cop-out that is – sitting in my high and mighty state and pointing out the foibles of life around me.
This is not why I got into blogging. Anonymously ranting and raving. I shall turn this around.
I am aware that this reflects my post from 2 years ago: blogging positive. Old habits die hard.
Better attitude, better writing. That’s the goal.