Saturday, 30 September 2006

A day in Soweto

We went to Soweto today, as tourists, not researchers (that will happen next week).
The township was pretty amazing actually, quite unlike anything I've seen before. It also felt perfectly safe, contrary to popular opinion and the advice of our (ever fallible) guidebook, which had the following to offer on getting to and around Soweto:

Without doubt, the easiest and safest way to visit [Soweto] is on a tour [but] the infrastructure is now such that a self-guided tour is not out of the question - heed local advice carefully if you, if you choose to do this [...] If you want some extra flexibility, and would prefer to avoid the aloofness of an organised tour, perhaps the best option is to take a tour as far as Vilakazi St (the greatest danger is getting hopelessly lost on the way to Soweto) and then rely on your guest house owner to get you safely between the various attractions.
Total and complete bollocks. No where does the travel bible tell us how simple a matter it is to get a minibus taxi to and from Soweto or just how helpful and accommodating every single person we've met has been in getting us wherever we have wanted to go.
You certainly want to be vigilant and avoid doing stupid things (like leaving your bag open hanging on the back of a chair, or wandering blithely down random alleyways) wherever possible. But the idea that you can't do anything in Jo'burg without a guide and an armored vehicle is simply preposterous.



Even downtown seemed a little less intimidating this time round. A little familiarity goes a long way to comforting a paranoid mind.

Not that I'd advocate tumbling headlong into downtown Jo'burg after dark, but taking a guided tour of Soweto in broad daylight for fear of having to interact with locals is taking things way too far.

Enough ranting and on to the pictures.

The first is a "typical" Soweto street, the whole place is exceedingly neat and tidy, but also incredibly dry and, therefore, dusty.



The next is of the Hector Pieterson memorial. Hector was the youngest of the students killed during a student march in 1976 to protest the introduction of Afrikanns as the only language of instruction in schools. He was 13 years old. Hector's death is generally considered to mark a turning point in the battle against apartheid.



Next to the memorial is a new museum devoted to the events surrounding Hector's death. The image below graces one of the walls and basically sums it all up.



The B&M Palace Restaurant served us a lunch of the only thing vegetarian on the menu - hot chips.



This shop seemed overly cautious about security, but you never can tell when all those package tourists might run wild...



Tempting as they sounded we elected not to have the cappacino or expresso at House of Coffees.



And the last one is all about speaking truth to power - wherever it lives.



Wednesday, 27 September 2006

Sunbury House and Melville pictures

Here are a few of the first images we've taken in Jo'berg. The first one is the sign out the front of our guesthouse.


The second is our lovely room, complete with couch (where I idle away the hours) and desk (where C slaves away on PhD related things).





This one is the outside of the guest house, inside the high wall that surrounds the property and all the others in the neighbourhood - firendly place this.



This last one is part of a large mural running along the wall of a building in the area.



I'm sure there'll be many more to come.

We are masters of the mini-cab

We had quite an adventure on Tuesday. C had an interview lined up in Pretoria, South Africa's capital, which is 50km or so to the north of Jo'burg. The interview was for 10am and when we asked our hotel owner (the lovely and lively Christine) what time we should leave to get there on time we were a little shocked when she said 7am.

She was absolutely spot on.

We left the hotel on the dot of 7 and walked down to the main road accompanied by Christine, who was worried that we'd disappear into the wilds of downtown Jo'berg and never be heard from again. We caught a mini-cab (a 12-seater mini-van taxi that holds more like 15) downtown, got out at some unknown spot and walked to the main station, where, guided by Christine, we ended up in another mini-cab heading to Pretoria. This time by ourselves - there's only so far your hotel owner is willing to hold your hand.

So far, so good.



When C told the driver we wanted to go to the University of Pretoria he looked at her blankly and said he didn't know where that was, but that we'd be able to get another mini-cab from where he would drop us that would take us to our final destination.

With those assurances we settled back to enjoy the ride, which was much longer than one might have anticipated. We hit peak hour on the Jo'Berg to Pretoria run and the traffic was bumper to bumper for most of the journey. Our driver, not to be slowed down or out done, would take off at high speed up every off ramp that we came upon, only to get stopped by street lights at the top of the off ramp. As soon as the lights turned green he would speed back down the other side and re-join the traffic headed to Pretoria, only slightly further back than before. We must have gone up a half dozen off ramps along the way and the fact that each time we slipped further back into the traffic didn't seem to affect our driver's dedication to the theory that it might just get us there quicker one of these times.

Pretoria seems like a less hardcore version of Jo'berg, though we both still felt a slight sense of impending doom around every corner. I guess a country with 40% unemployment and horrific crime rates is never going to make you feel at ease. Jo'berg is the worst part of the country on both fronts. On the way back from Pretoria we walked about 10 blocks through downtown Jo'berg from where our mini-cab dropped us to another station to get a cab back to the hotel. Every step of the way felt somewhat scary. Downtown Jo'berg is a little like a war zone. There are burnt out buildings and the streets are filthy. People have a haunted look about them too, and you feel like every other person is a potential mugger. Not that we've had any trouble at all, quite the contrary in fact. Everyone we've spoken to has gone out of their way to assist us. People have dropped what they were doing and walked us several blocks rather than just pointing the way.

This is hard to reconcile with the stereotypes we have firmly stuck in our minds (and that are borne out in the statistics). Interestingly, it's the black "underclass" that have been helpful and have gone out of their way, while nearly every white person we've seen (outside the part of town we're staying in) has been inside a car driving furiously and looking hunted. There's a definite undercurrent of fear among the whites in Jo'berg. Most of them have moved to high-walled, security patrolled, gated communities in the north of the city and when they venture into the southern areas they seem to have a siege mentality. Almost an "us or them" mindset. Apartheid might no longer be a legal reality in South Africa, but the apart-ness it engendered lives on.

We met a white store keeper the other day who was lamenting that most of his generation (our generation) were leaving the country and settling abroad. He wondered what was going to happen to the country and then told us he was closing his business due to the changing spending habits in the area (read the encroachment of blacks into a formally white only part of town). This in a mixed part of town, where people seem to get along (though nearly every house is surrounded by a high wall and topped with either razor wire or electric fencing).

Enough of that for now, back to the mini-cab story.

After arriving in Pretoria we hopped out of our mini-cab only to be ushered straight into another. This new cab took us a couple of blocks before stopping. The driver pointed to a line of cabs a block or so away and told us that we'd get a cab to the university there. He didn't charge us for the ride so we jumped out, crossed the street and found ourselves in another cab, our 4th for the day. This one filled to capacity, drove across town and dropped us right at the front gates of the university.

I looked at my watch and saw that it was 9.30am, we'd made it with a half hour to spare. Two and a half hours to travel 50km! That's got to be some kind of a record.

The interview went really well, and afterwards we began the process of re-tracing our steps. Getting back to the centre of Pretoria was easy enough (in cab number 5). We then caught another cab to the place where we'd be able to get a cab back to Jo'berg (number 6, another freebie). Cab 7 took us all the way back to downtown Jo'berg and it turned out that the traffic we'd hit in the morning wasn't unusual as it was just as bad at noon on the way back.

Cab 7 dropped us in an unfamiliar part of downtown, but we were set in the right direction by a girl who told us she was studying pharmacology at Wits University (the biggest school in Jo'berg). This is the part where we walked 10 blocks or so and arrived at the central cab station - the one the Lonely Planet tells you not to set foot in. Not that we had any option at this stage. The place wasn't so bad, though I imagine it would be all your worst car park nightmares after dark. We were able to find the right cab (number 8) without too much hassle and ended up right back where we started from.

Like I said; we are masters of the mini-cab. We've even got the payment regime worked out and can travel at speed of up to 120kmh with no seat belts in sight and only experience mild terror.

Tuesday, 26 September 2006

Safe and well in Jo'berg

We're in Johannesburg finally after about 30 hours of travel (who says getting there is half the fun?) and have spent the last couple of days getting adjusted to the new time zone (we slept for 15 hours last night!). So far the city isn't as horrible and terrifying as one might have thought, given the amount of bad press it receives.

On the contrary, the area we're staying in, Melville, is really lovely and safe to wander around both day and night. It's an integrated community, which probably helps a lot. Though the preponderance of high walls, razor wire and electric fences, doesn't do too much for our confidence in the city as a whole.

We're staying in a lovely (read pricey) bed and breakfast called Sunbury House. It's an old house that's been converted. It has 12 foot ceilings and our room is painted a calming shade of blue.



We've found the "tourist infrastructure" rather lacking so far. We can't get hold of a decent map, the buses seem non-existent, the taxis are incredibly expensive, and our Lonely Planet has, so far, proven wrong on every count. I guess if we were staying in the wealthy (read white) northern suburbs where most of the cheaper backpacker places are we'd have more information at our finger tips and probably more people trying to sell us tours of every kind. I'm not sure if I'd prefer that to our situation (a total dearth of information of any kind, but staying in a far more interesting area).

I guess the fact that today is a public holiday (Heritage Day) doesn't help much. Perhaps tomorrow, when things come back to life a little, we'll get more of an idea of how things work around here.

Tomorrow the work begins in earnest, with C meeting some contact or other in Pretoria (the country's capital - about an hour or so north of here).

We've taken a few photos, but the dial up connection in our guest house doesn't want to upload them. I'll get them up when I find a better connection.

Friday, 22 September 2006

Buggered, but on the way

It's been one hell of a day. C and I have been running around frantically getting all those last minute things done before heading off to South Africa tomorrow - actually I guess it's today at this point.

We're almost packed and about to head to bed. Not sure how often we'll get the chance to post in the next few weeks, but we'll aim for at least once a week and see how we go. Be sure to check in occassionally and see how we're going.

To top of the hectic day, I found out I got that promotion too. Funny, it's always the interviews that we fret about the most that tend to work out just fine.

Good timing too, what with the 3rd pea gestating along and everything.

So, tomorrow will consist of:

a 3 hour bus ride to Sydney airport;
a bit of a wait;
an 8 hour flight to Singapore (against the wind);
a 2 hour lay over; and
a 10 and a bit hour flight to johannesburg.

We'll get there first thing Sunday morning, rather groggy I'd expect...

Wednesday, 20 September 2006

Military Coup in Thailand


I am not a fan of Thaksin and was looking forward to seeing the Thai people vote him out of office later this year, but I am feeling a little uncomfortable at the military's decision to speed up the process by staging a coup yesterday while he was at the UN in New York. I am inclined to believe them when they say that the takeover will be temporary and power will be "returned to the people" soon, and it does sound like it has been a very peaceful coup. However, Thailand has had its fair share of political unrest over the last 15 years, and this just doesn't set a good precedent for the establishment of rule of law and sustainable democracy in the country.

I wonder how the people of Thailand are feeling today? It sounds like the mood in Bangkok is fairly jubilant:
"i have been speaking to various people on the street and the general feeling is good. One elderly gentleman shouted "Thailand is now good" is Thai to me."
I guess Thaksin's supporters in the north must be fairly unimpressed. Plus the coup leaders have announced that "political gathering of more than five people is banned."

In case you are interested, here are some Thai blogs that are live blogging about what is going on:

Metroblogging Bangkok

Bangkok Pundit

2Bangkok.com

gnarly kitty

Thailand Blogs

Thai Photo Blogs
[Also where the top image is from]

Thursday, 14 September 2006

Hypocrisy

Let me just say that I thought Beazley's policies on guest workers and visitors signing up for "'Stralian values" were just another round of reasons for why I have joined the Greens.

However, surely Amanda Vanstone is trying to be funny with her opinion piece in the age this morning? I really cannot believe that she is quite as blind to reality as this pot calling the kettle a racist article seems to indicate.

Punchlines:
"Does (Mr Beazley) really think that xenophobia is his ticket to the Lodge?"
Where would he have got that idea?
"Mr Beazley himself regularly calls temporary skilled migrants 'foreign workers'. Foreign has become a pejorative for Labor."
"Cue jumpers" on the other hand is a lovely compliment to the tenacity of spirit displayed by asylum seekers.
"A national leader brought out the best in the people, but one who brought out the worst was fit only to lead a lynch mob, she said."
We can only hope.

Mum's Puy Lentil Salad goes global

In possibly the strangest blog related occurrence that has happened to me so far (I realise that this means that I have a very low threshold for these things), SusanV from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen has just posted a recipe and photos of my mum's puy lentil salad. To give you the back-story; Susan asked for salad ideas and so I shared Mum's puy lentil salad, because it is a favourite of mine and seemed to suit Susan's cooking style. So it was really not particularly shocking that Susan then went and made the salad and posted it online.

However, for some reason reading "Cristy's Mum's Puy Lentil Salad" on her blog this morning struck me as very strange and made me giggle. It also inspired me to make the salad for dinner tonight.

On another cooking note, I tried making those veggie dumplings into moneybags and they were surprisingly easy:


So I made about 60 of them to take around to my grandparent's place on Sunday for Mum's birthday lunch. I hope that the family enjoy them.

Wednesday, 13 September 2006

You win some, you lose some...

In order to solve my maternity wear woes, I took Tigtog's advice and got straight online to purchase myself a Pregnancy Survival Kit. I found Belly Basics and was delighted to discover the Kits were on sale for just $45. Bargain!

Since I love a good bargain, and wanted to avoid having to shop ever again, I decided to buy two different kits: The three-quarter length kit with bootleg pants in Pistachio and Black, and the Short-sleeve kit in Charcoal (unfortunately with legging, but what can you do?). I also called them up and told them that I was going overseas next week and asked if they could speed up the shipping. They promised to do so.

True to their word, the kits arrived this morning. I was so shocked that I almost turned the delivery guy away. Anyway, I also got quite excited and ripped open the package in the lift on the way back upstairs. This was my first ever Internet purchase.



I opened the three-quarter kit first. It was great. The bootleg pants were actually flattering. The long skirt did my butt no favours, but it was very wearable, and the pistachio top with 3/4 sleeves was actually quite nice. I was over the moon, and then I opened the second kit.

I knew that I was in trouble straight away when I saw the t-shirt, but I decided to try on the other pieces first. The short skirt fit, which started to make me feel better, but then I tried on the dress. Tent would have been a better description. Determined to make this a success, I decided to try on the t-shirt. First, I put on the leggings underneath and let's just acknowledge that these are never flattering and that charcoal only makes the situation worse. But, you know, some things are even worse than charcoal leggings...


All I can say is that I think that this package may have been mislabeled. Oh, and I guess I will be heading down to the post office this afternoon.

Monday, 11 September 2006

Foods of the world

I have been readings lots of these five foods memes and have really enjoyed the ones that listed five different foods from five different countries, and so I thought that I would give it another go. Clearly all of these foods were vegan, which I hope will help to dispell the common myth that being a vegan prevents you from enjoying food all over the world.

Favourite five foods from five different countries
  1. Coffee in Italy (they don't really do soy milk, which is a shame, but their coffee is just so good).
  2. Fruit shakes in Laos, especially Vientiane (the fruit is so fresh, the shake is so cheap - about 25-50 cents - and the smiles are in such abundance).
  3. Steamed dumplings in China, including Hong Kong (Beijing and Xian were the best places to find delicious, cheap dumplings. The mushroom ones were my favourite).
  4. Massaman curry in Thailand, especially at Tree House on Koh Chang
  5. Ethiopian food in Adams Morgan, DC, USA (I am sure that it would be better in Ethiopia, but I have not been there, yet).
Top five honourable mentions:
  1. Baguettes in Paris
  2. Sushi in Vancouver (again, haven't been to Japan)
  3. Masala Dosa in Kathmandu, Nepal (they are good in Singapore too)
  4. Gelato in Italy and Mexico (not sure why there was so much gelato in Mexico, but the fruit sorbets were so fresh)
  5. Lao coffee & baguettes (fresh colonial legacy)

Sunday, 10 September 2006

Vegetarian Dumplings!

I mentioned recently that I have been craving dumplings lately and had come to the realisation that I was going to have to make them myself if I was to be able to satisfy my craving. So, last night we did just that and I thought that I would share the recipe with you.




Ingredients:
  • 250gms firm tofu
  • a dash of vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped or minced
  • a dash of soy sauce (or Braggs)
  • 2 teaspoons of finely minced or grated fresh ginger [or less if you are not a big ginger fan - it does give the dumplings quite a bite!]
  • 1 small red chilli finely chopped
  • one small bunch of spring onions finely chopped
  • small bunch of fresh coriander finely chopped (we didn't have this and it didn't matter too much, but it is yummy)
  • 1/2 cup carrot (grated or cut in short, thin julienne strips)
  • half a bunch of baby buk choy finely chopped (including lots of the stalk)
  • one stick of celery finely chopped
  • small bunch of enoki mushrooms (or button if you prefer) finely chopped
  • a decent dash of sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce (or Braggs, or half hoisin/half soy...)
  • 40-60 small dumpling (wonton) wrappers [available at most asian grocers for around $2)
  • a bowl of cold water
Tools:
a wok (or fry pan)
a pastry brush
a teaspoon
a large mixing bowl
a small bowl
a bamboo steamer (or metal if that is all you have) and fitted saucepan
  1. Wash the tofu and then chop into very small squares (about 1/2 centimeter sqaured) or just crumble it. [We chopped it and would crumble it next time - it is easier to use.]
  2. Heat the wok over a low/medium heat and then add the oil and the garlic and stir. After a minute or so, add the tofu and turn up the heat to medium high. Keep stirring and add the soy sauce as the tofu starts to brown slightly. Stir in for a couple of minutes and remove from heat and allow it to cool for a little while.
  3. Combine the ginger, chilli, spring onions, coriander, carrot, buk choy, celery, enoki mushrooms, sesame oil, and soy sauce in a bowl.
  4. Add the tofu once it has cooled a little and stir it all together.


  5. Place one wonton wrapper on a plastic chopping board and cover the rest with a damp cloth. [This is faster if you have a few people doing the wrapping.]
  6. Use the pastry brush to dampen the edges of the wrapper with water.
  7. Place a small amount of the mixture into the middle of the wrapper (about one level teaspoon, any more and it will be difficult to get the edges to stick together). Fold the wrapper in half and use your fingers to press the edges together. [You can try trickier shapes too, but I would start with this one.]



  8. Place the dumplings into the bamboo steamer, making sure that they do not touch each other. You may only be able to steam 10-12 at a time unless you have several steamers. If you are using a metal steamer, it may make sense to brunch with a little oil to prevent the dumplings from sticking.
  9. Place the steamer over a pot of boiling water and leave to steam (covered) for around 15 minutes. [We tried steaming them over the wok, but the steam wasn't concentrated enough and we had to transfer them to a fitted saucepan.]



  10. Serve the dumplings in mini courses or keep them warm in the oven while you wait for them all to finish.
  11. A mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, lemon juice and minced chilli makes a nice dipping sauce.


  12. ENJOY! They are yummy.


Maternity clothing

Before I became pregnant, my wardrobe was looking a little worse for wear. Most of my t-shirts were quite old and had shrunken so much that they were getting a little short for dignity. Others were also looking a little faded and tatty, while my pants were not in much better shape. This bad starting point has now been made worse by my slightly expanded mid-section. I am having some difficulty in buttoning up my pants and my tops are starting to look even less flattering than they did before.

Since we leave for South Africa in less than 2 weeks, and I will be gone for 7 weeks in total, I realised today that I really needed to buy some new clothes. Unfortunately, despite P's valiant support, my first attempt was not particularly successful.

We started at Pumpkin Patch, which has a small selection of maternity wear up the back. A few of their tops were quite nice, but they only had them in a medium, large or extra-large, so I gave up on that. I did, however, find a skirt that looked quite nice, was reasonably priced, and came in a small. Bingo, I thought, and carried it off to the change room full of hope. I put it on and it immediately fell to the ground. It was massive on me and not just around the waist, much to my disappointment.

So we proceeded to a maternity wear shop just a few stores away. A lot of the stuff was frighteningly ugly, but I found another skirt that looked quite nice. Then I looked at the price tag: $160. WTF? Why would I spend $160 on a skirt that I am buying for the next 6 months of my life only? It certainly was not that nice. In the same shop, I also found a couple of tops, but once again they were absolutely massive and looked ridiculous on me. I was starting to realise that small people are not supposed to get pregnant.

Somewhat discouraged, but feeling more determined we moved on to some non-maternity shops. Jacqui-E had some nice looking skirts that even came in a size 6, but none of them had elasticised waists and so they weren't going to work. Their tops were also too short (or just plain ugly) and so we moved on.

I decided to be brave and try Sportsgirl and Portmans, but let's just say that it was a mistake on all levels. Now I was despondent. I was convinced that I was going to have to spend the next 6 months in a moo-moo, when P suggested that we try DJs. We strolled in and straight into the Witchery section, where I struck gold. Well, I found two tops that actually fit me and which had plenty of length and stretch to grow with my tummy.

Of course, I still need a pair of pants and a skirt or something to take away, but I am certainly feeling a lot better about the situation now. All up though, I had no idea that it was going to be so hard.

Image from here, but I messed with it a little.

Saturday, 9 September 2006

"Feral hag"??!!#

I didn't write about the passing of Steve Irwin, because frankly I didn't have a lot to say and everyone else seemed to be going overboard in their own expressions of grief and admiration. I also didn't write about the opinion piece that Germaine Greer wrote in the Guardian, because although I thought it was ill-timed and unnecessarily nasty, particularly so soon after the poor family had just lost a husband, father, and son, I also felt that the sycophantic media coverage was getting pretty nauseating and so some kind of balance was needed.

However, this article by John Birmingham did get my attention. When exactly did he decide to run for Liberal preselection and why must be continue to masquerade as a lefty in order to just throw sh#t at everyone who genuinely does have lefty values?

First, he writes not one but two articles where he makes ridiculous sweeping generalisations about the clichéd latte-drinking-lefties-with-no-sense-of-humour and generally tries to insult everyone who doesn't vote for Howard. Now, in attacking Germaine Greer for her opinion piece on Steve Irwin, he seems to find it necessary to hypothesize about how the entire "inner urban elite" (this time painted as "a significant minority"; "a whole class of Australian sophisticates"; and "self-styled green activists or sympathisers") felt about Irwin's death and to lampoon them for daring not to grieve over a man they had never met.

The crowning glory for me, however, and the part that has now cemented my permanent dislike of Birmingham, is when, instead of dealing with her arguments, he chooses to describe Greer as a "feral hag" and also manages to throw in a gratuitous allusion to those ridiculous accusations that she is a paedophile and is only sexually interested in young boys. Essentially, he is saying that since Germaine Greer is old and female and, therefore, not sexually attractive to guys like John Birmingham, her opinions are completely irrelevant and she should learn to shut up and know her place.

Update: As an aside, Helen over a Cast Iron Balcony has a great post on the similarities between Irwin and Greer - she thinks that essentially they are both Larrikins and we are simply unwilling to allow a woman to adopt such a role in our culture. Rings quite true for Birmingham's reaction, doesn't it?

Another update: Tigtog has a post about the general reaction to Greer's article and also points out the general misogyny that is driving people's anger over the content of her article (a misogyny so well embodied by Birmingham). She also links to an article by Tracee Hutchison in the Age which deals with this issue at greater length.

Tracee's conclusion is right on the money:
Very little of the anti-intellectual hot air blown about this week has been about what Germaine Greer may or may not have thought about Steve Irwin. It had everything to do with a dominant male power-base telling women to be seen and not heard. Of marginalising a particular kind of woman and reducing us to condition and circumstance. Of reminding those of us who like to speak our mind to watch our step, to remember our place and to shut up and agree with the menfolk. We are all a lot poorer for the unsightly fallout.

Friday, 8 September 2006

Major car maker tells it like it is, unwittingly

C and I were watching a bit of TeVee last night after dinner guests had departed. As usual there was nothing much on so we channel surfed a little in the vain hope something vaguely watchable might appear on one of the five channels we can access in our non-digital household.

During our flicking we stumbled upon perhaps the greatest car ad either of us has ever seen.

Now, just to set the scene a little, C and I aren't car people. We don't own one and, if there is any possible way of avoiding acquiring one when Future Child is born we'll remain car free - at least until we can afford something hybrid at the very least or with zero emissions in a best case scenario.

This dislike (to put it mildly) of oil-based private transportation puts us in somewhat of a critical position when it comes to car advertising. The vast majority of car ads in this country try to associate vehicle ownership with concepts like "freedom", "fun" and "thrills", and would rather their products weren't associated with their more physical impacts like "global warming", "pollution" and "traffic jams".

Until now. Ford, it seems, has decided to come clean (which is more than one can say about their latest range of cars - how ridiculous and inefficient is the above-pictured Territory?). Their latest ad campaign talks about "melting prices" and shows their newest models encased in blocks of ice that, as the ad progresses, melt around the cars until they are able to stand tall and proud in a puddle of former polar ice cap.

It's amazing that Ford are so open about acknowledging the impact their products have on the global environment.

Well done Ford. The next step is to minimise the impacts you have now openly acknowledged to the world. Come on, I know you can do it.

Five things to eat before you die

This is a meme started by Melissa from The Traveller's Lunchbox and it asks bloggers to nominate the five things that they would recommend that other's eat before they die. I have to admit that I would find this easier if it was 50 or even 10, because five really doesn't seem to be enough to even scratch the surface of all of the delicious foods that exist out there. However, I'll give it a go:
  1. Sourdough bread from Silo or Bourke Street Bakery (preferably topped with vine ripened tomatoes and basil).
  2. Coffee at Cafe Mint (and their lemon, pineapple and mint frappe).
  3. Yum cha at Bodhi in Park.
  4. Salt & Pepper Tofu at Longrain.
  5. Mango and Lime Frappe from the Fruitshake shop in Vientiane, Laos.
Two points:
  • One: I am sure that my list would be different if I was to do it tomorrow.
  • Two: I was surprised to realise that most of my selections were from Sydney, despite having enjoyed food all over the world. I should acknowledge that the coffee in Italy gives Mint a run for its money.
Actually, I feel as though I should add some honourable mentions, in no particular order:
  • Vegetarian Chinese dumplings, either from the Dumpling Restaurant in Vientiane, Laos, or the Dumpling Shop on Nathan Road in WanChai, Hong Kong. I have been craving these recently and realised that I am going to have to make some myself.
  • Spicy eggplant, either from the Dumpling Restaurant in Vientiane, Laos, the hole-in-the-wall takeaway shop in Beijing, or from Thanh Long, Crown St, Surry Hills, Sydney.
  • Vietnamese Rice Paper rolls - I like the version that I make at home the best actually, but they do them well in many places, world over.
  • Orange & Almond Cake covered in Dark Belgium Chocolate from O-Organic, Crown St, Surry Hills, Sydney. (We had this cake for our wedding).
  • Ginger "chicken" at Au Lac, Dickson, Canberra.
  • Fresh strawberries dipped in melted organic, fair trade, dark chocolate (home).
  • Vanilla Sago (Tapioca) Pudding - I also like my home version the best, but the one at Bodhi is pretty good, as is the version they do at Longrain (which is where my recipe comes from). The orange and lemon version from Iku is also very yummy - I ate one just after P and I got married and it very much helped to settle my tummy.
  • Moroccan chickpeas (home - Mum's recipe).
  • Fresh sushi with avocado, carrot, mushroom, and spicy tofu. Again, best made at home, but there are plenty of very good sushi places about, especially in Sydney.
  • Carmen's Muesli (I eat some of this almost every moring).
  • Strawberry, rasberry and banana smoothie - also eat this for breakfast, but sans the bananas of late due to the whole shortage thing.
  • Almost forgot! Black Sesame Ice-Cream (non-dairy of course) from Green Gourmet, Newtown, Sydney.
OK, I'll stop now. I am hungry.

Oh, and I tag anyone who is interested. If you stick to only five, it really doesn't take that long.

Wednesday, 6 September 2006

IMF reforms: nothing changes

The International Monetary Fund is reforming itself, or so we are being told. Rodrigo de Rato, the IMF's Managing Director made a statement yesterday that said, among other things:

"...the changed distribution of economic weight in the world demands that we reform our governance structure... I see a clear need for a rebalancing of quotas to reflect changed economic realities, especially the increased economic weight of major emerging markets... I also see a need to protect the voice and representation of low-income countries. Their voting power has been eroded over time... This gives rise to concerns about the adequacy of voice and representation for a number of countries that continue to borrow from the Fund but that have only a limited share in Fund voting... Why are these issues important? The Fund has a global membership and a global scope of responsibilities. It is the most important and sometimes the only forum for collective action on complex economic problems."
Interesting, if only it were true. The IMF certainly isn't the "most important and sometimes the only forum for collective action on complex economic problems" at all. Well, it wasn't supposed to be when it was created, but mandate creep has created a monster that needs to be tamed.

In today's Guardian there is a piece by George Monbiot which is well worth the read. It begins like this:

"The glacier has begun to creak. In the world's most powerful dictatorship we detect the merest hint of a thaw. I am not talking about China or Uzbekistan, Burma or North Korea. This state runs no torture chambers or labour camps. No one is executed, though plenty starve to death as a result of its policies. The unhurried perestroika is taking place in Washington, in the offices of the International Monetary Fund."
And goes on to detail the hypocrisy surrounding the much self-praised governance reforms the Fund is undertaking. Monbiot goes on to discuss the mandate creep I mentioned above, far more eloquently than I could:

"None of this would matter so much if it had stuck to its original mandate of stabilising the international monetary system. But after the collapse of the Bretton Woods agreement in 1971 the IMF more or less lost its mission to maintain exchange rates, and began to look for a new role... [w]hen it amended its articles of association in 1978 they were so loosely drafted as to grant the IMF permission to interfere in almost any aspect of a country's governance. It lost its influence over the economic policies of the G7 and became instead the rich world's viceroy, controlling the poorer nations at its behest. It began to micro-manage their economies without reference to the people or even their governments. Since then, no rich country has required its services, and few poor countries have been able to shake it off."
And concludes with the following statement, which just about sums up my thoughts too:

"I am among those who believe that the IMF is, and always will be, the wrong body - inherently flawed and constitutionally unjust. But if its leaders and supporters are to persuade us that it might, one day, have a legitimate role in running the world's financial systems, they will have to do a hell of a lot better than this."

For more info on the IMF and it's supposed reforms check out the Bretton Woods Project.

Tuesday, 5 September 2006

It's enough to make me want to stay exactly where I am

I had a job interview yesterday. I really hate job interviews.

I seem to have a special skill whereby I sit down, listen carefully, answer lucidly, stand up, shake hands, walk out the door and immediately forget every question and every answer. This results in me never actually having a clue as to how the interview went until I find out the result.

The worst thing is that this particular interview was for a promotion within the same organisation, so not only did I know the panel members, I know that they know all about me. There's no mystery left at all. Where's the fun in that I ask?

Anyway, shall know the outcome of my (possibly) incoherent ramblings within a couple of weeks, by which time we'll be on the verge of leaving for South Africa, which will conveniently lessen the sting of failure, should that be forthcoming. Fingers crossed, of course, that failure isn't forthcoming and in all honesty I think I probably did okay, but one should never count ones chickens (particularly when one is vegan...)

Monday, 4 September 2006

A heartbeat

I went to the doctor this morning for a regular check-up. She took my blood pressure, asked me how I was feeling etc. and then... she got me to lie on the bed thingy and put what looked like a microphone (covered in blue sticky stuff) on my tummy (apparently the instrument is called a doppler or handheld ultrasound). First we could hear my heartbeat (quite slow and steady), and then she moved the doppler a little and there was another one (about twice as fast as mine). Apparently the little one sounded very healthy.

I could have listened to it for ages, but I kept giggling and drowning out the sound. It was simply amazing to hear this little person inside me!

Friday, 1 September 2006

3rd pea?

Today is the first anniversary of Two Peas, No Pod.

So this seems like as good a time as any to mention that some time in March next year we may need to change the name slightly. What do you think of three peas, no pod?

Yes, we’re expecting a baby. And yes, we’re quite excited about it.

C is almost 14 weeks pregnant and we’ve been physically holding ourselves back, preventing ourselves from shouting it from the rooftops and blogging like mad about every little thing.

This is also the reason that C hasn’t been posting as often of late. Having to run to the bathroom to combat nausea after less than 5 minutes in front of the computer screen isn’t particularly conducive to posting. It isn’t particularly conducive to writing a thesis either, but that’s another issue entirely.

Life goes on as normal for P, for the time being at least. He’s mostly concerned with making sure he still has a viable income stream in March, so that when C stops working life won’t grind to a halt.

All of our friends responded to the news with a general “well it’s about time” attitude. We have been pretty clucky for the last couple of years, it’s true. But we don’t have to be anymore – at least not about other people’s children so much.

So there you have it. The new look three peas, no pod will be launched in early March, but we may have to wait a few years for the newest collaborator to make her or his first post. S/he is bound to be a star attraction though.

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