Thursday, 7 October 2010


Hello Internet, it has been a very long time. I'm not sure whether to be sorry about that or not, but by way of an excuse, it probably has something to do with spending my working days with words.

I promised a friend very early this year (or very late last year) that I would do another of my New Year's lists, and well, better late than never.

I decided on only two resolutions this year, but important ones. They both stem from the same belief - that you can't change the world, but you can change how you live in it. Maybe I'm just getting Kantian as I grow older, but I've decided that you can't really judge most actions by their possible results - you really just need to think about what is the most ethical way to live and hope that everyone else does the same. It can get a bit overwhelming, because trying to do the right thing can feel like a drop in the ocean, but I've decided that opting out on those grounds is really more of a cop-out. How can you hold theoretical beliefs on what we all should do, if you're not willing to see them through yourself? How can you benefit so much from your place in the world when you're not willing to give a little thought to what you should do with it? And look, I can't be perfect, but I can try and make the world I live in a tiny bit better, instead of a tiny bit worse. Maybe this is all an exercise in pointlesslness, but at least it's something.

1. Reduce my greenhouse gas emissions by 10% in 2010.

Honestly - I really don't understand why we're still arguing about climate change. Every single single scientific institution of international standing agrees that climate change is occurring, and that we have caused it. Yeah, there are individual deniers, but you know what? I'm going to go with the scientists on this one.

(Incidentally, it makes me utterly rageful when I talk to someone about this and they say something like 'yeah, that's what they say, but why was this winter so cold then?'. Right. Well that proves it then. Please directly pass 'Go' and collect your PhD in Climate Science.)

Now, if that's the case, we should be doing something about it, right? I've gotten pretty disheartened by leaders who don't do the right thing, and people who are wilfully ignorant because it's more convenient. So I'm doing what I can.

Which is this - reducing my my emissions by 10%. This is a manageable amount, and an appropriate amount if we want to continue inhabiting this planet.

You can read more here and here.

(As another aside - I kind of love this quote from the last link above, about politicans arguing about climate change and doing nothing: 'Unless there is a radical change of plan ... world leaders will not only be discussing the alignment of deckchairs on the Titanic, but hotly disputing whose deckchairs they really are and who has the responsibility for moving them. Fascinating as this argument may be, it does nothing to alter the course of the liner.')

2. Give a proportion of my income to help fight poverty

I've thought about this for a while, and I've just never gotten around to it. Inexcusable really, but now's the time. And it's not even that hard when you think about. What good reasons are there for not sharing your relative wealth with those who can't even afford to eat?

And then I read Peter Singer's views on it all, and as ever, the man convinced me. He's just so damned logical! Did you know that extreme poverty could literally be wiped out if the top 10% of U.S. earners gave a proportion of their wealth away? That is freaking ridiculous. It would be a significant proportion for sure, but still small enough that they could continue living in the lap of elegant luxury. They wouldn't have to give up their yachts or anything.

And if that's true, then if all of the world's 'regularly' well-off people (i.e. those that can spare the cash for a coffee every day) gave a very small proportion of their income, then we could achieve the same result. Extreme poverty is literally a fixable problem.

For me, this means giving away about 1% of my income. That is extraordinarly do-able!

You can read more about it all here and here (and it is very interesting too).


Perhaps there is an ulterior motive for me writing this all on the Internet. One further conclusion that I've come to recently is that it's important to challenge people's beliefs if you think something is important. I find this really difficult to do - I was brought up to be polite, never to imply that someone might be wrong, to believe that it's ok for people to have their own opinions, regardless of how misguided they may be. Well, I'm not so sure about that any more. I will never aim to be rude to people, and it sure can be hard to talk people out of their comfortable bubbles; however, I've also come to the conclusion that it's really not okay to ignore dangerous thoughts, just out of a fear of being thought 'impolite'.

So here you go, Internet, friends. These are things I think are important. I would really like it if you would have a serious think about them, maybe read the articles I've linked to, and consider making my resolutions yours too. And you know what? They're easy things. Cutting 10% of your emissions might be as simple as turning off all your blinking electronics at the powerpoint when you're not using them. And 1% of your income? You won't even notice it, and you might like the warm fuzzy feeling.

End proselytising.


Just two resolutions? Did I say two? umm...well (surprise surprise) there's actually a few more than that. I can't think of them all off the top of my head, but here's a few for posterity:
  • wear a wider range of my clothes - stop wearing the same three outfits because they're comfortable and no-one sees you most of the time anyway, while lots of lovely clothes languish in the wardrobe because they're too dressy or too wacky
  • start running again (again)
  • become a mostly vegetarian (again)
  • cook at least one new dish per week
  • visit Sydney
  • be more pro-active about wordsmithing.
Hmm. Can't think of any more. I'm sure there are more. I might update this list at a later stage.


Review of last year's resolutions:

1. Play music - find an orchestra, join a band...whatever. Don't let it slide more. 90%
I joined a band or two and did a bit of teaching. Tick. Now working on actually practising.

2. Watch 1 French film per week 10%
Yeah. I maybe managed 5 French films. Lame.

3. Improve my skills in a visual art (perhaps take a drawing class?) 30%
I took a class or two, no drawing classes.

4. Become a morning person (get out of bed) 5%
I begin to wonder if this will ever happen. Actually I watched this documentary about how more people have heart attacks in the morning, so maybe I should hope it doesn't.

5. Get back to running - 5k before my birthday 20%
Well, this patently didn't happen before the deadline. But I have started again, so that's something.

6. Write one short story per month 0%
Strike out. I did do a bunch of voluntary and fun non-fiction though, so not a total loss I guess.

7. Be more pro-active about being social 55%
I did make a bunch of new friends last year, though I'm not sure being pro-active had much to do with it.

8. Learn to drive a manual car (REALLY this year) 60%
This is another one where the deadline got me. I have started, though.

9. More books/less screens 55%
There are still too many screens, however, there are also more books.

10. Continue to take photos as if i were not in my hometown 55%
I kept this up for a while, and then lost momentum. Time to start again.

11. Continue to cultivate an independent sense of style (even though it's harder here) 12%
Yeah. It's harder here.

12. Become a mostly-vegetarian 70%
I did pretty well on this one, fell off the wagon, and now I'm mostly back on it again.

13. Strike 'should' from my vocabulary 30%
Honestly, mostly I forget. But I think this might be one of those ones where just thinking about it is half the importance.

14. Begin learning another language (Japanese?) 0%
Strike two.

15. Limit my usage of the word 'awesome' to only those situations which truly warrant it. 51%
See item #13.

Average score: 29.53%.
Let's be honest - this is not great. But funnily enough, 2009 turned out to be another one of those years where heaps of life-changing stuff happened. I moved (more than) a few times, got a new job (the first step in a career I'm actually interested in), got a new boyfriend, saved up enough to buy a sweet sweet ride (and one or two other beautiful investement-y items). So in light of the context, maybe 29-odd-% is not so bad. And looking at that list 18 months later reminds me of a few things I might like to have another crack at. So I think I'm ok with it.

And since it is nearly the end of 2010, how am I doing with this year's list? Well. Really? Pretty abysmal. Which is totally unacceptable and inexcusable, since I set myself Important yet Achievable goals this year. Still, there is time to work it. And I have always been a bit of a last minute girl.

Resolution #1 - well, I'm in a rather inflexible living situation at the moment, and I'm pretty conscientious about emissions wastefulness already, so this is proving a challenge. I'm sure the re-vegetarianism is helping, and I am growing my own veggie garden. Maybe I have already made 10%, but I feel in my guts that I should be trying harder. I think the best thing I could do would be to start riding a bike, but honestly - I'm really scared I will fall off and badly hurt myself. This is a painfully true but still crap excuse. Time to try harder! It is lovely weather! Get it together, Emily!

Resolution #2 - I started off trying to put aside a little each week, but somehow it kept getting sucked into bills etc. I am getting a goodly tax return though, so this will be done in a week or so. I am not giving myself a tick yet, because it should not have taken me so long to get around to it; however, I am confident it will indeed happen and soon. The challenge will be to plan better for next year.

As for the other resolutions, well, I'm not doing so good in general honestly. I am doing a lot of stock-taking right now anyway - I am not feeling very happy and I feel that I am stagnating. Having gotten closer to figuring out what I do want, I have gotten too good at convincing myself that it is unattainable, to the point that I don't even try any more. It is time to start making plans again, and more importantly, taking action again. This applies to the small things as well as the big ones, but mainly to the big ones. I have an abiding fear of realising at age 80 that I've wasted my life, but I seem to be doing a good job of letting that fear push me in the direction of making it a reality. Time to wake up!

Gosh. 2000 words. How is it that I can dribble on about navel-gazing, but writing about something that people might actually be interested in still feels like the words are my teeth and I am pulling at them?

This is not a very exciting place to end, but this is it I suppose. I wonder if this will be the end of this blog altogether?

Just in case here is a picture. This is all of the drinks I tried from the Asian grocer in 2009:

Sunday, 1 February 2009

talking more rubbish, disguised (poorly) as navel-gazing. You've been warned.

Hello internet, long time no words. It's getting hard to do this introspective stuff now that more people are reading. People I know in the flesh. It was easier when I could just talk about what city I was in this week, and it was easier when this was largely anonymous, but I think the navel-gazing is one of the more useful things I get out of dribbling along here, otherwise all these thoughts are just transient and there's nothing to make me remember them, let alone to hold me to them. I hope you'll bear with me...but if not, you can sneak out now and I'll never know.

Someone asked me about my New Year's resolutions, and whether I was going to rank myself on last year's, like I did the year before. Well, I only had one resolution last year, and I'd say I did about 95% on that one, so that's not bad, hey? You don't get to know what it was though, sorry.

I only made the one resolution last year, because I knew I was going to do a bunch of stuff I wanted to, without having to make a list, or even plan it much beyond 'get on a plane, and see what happens...'. I did achieve a lot in 2008, though I would not say it was a good year. In fact, let us be clear: 2008 was mostly pretty dreadful, but that's not to say I'd trade it in. I'm just trying very hard to remember that it was unfun and to take what lessons come from that, rather than getting sucked in by the revisionist synthetic happiness that my brain's now manufacturing. You know, it's hard to tell people 'oh yeah...Paris sucked'. Because more often than not you get the look that says 'Really? That doesn't sound right. Are you sure you weren't just doing it wrong?'. And then I feel like apologising for being a failed bohemian. Well, whatever, sometimes it's as hard to go against the grain as with it, and I'm fighting to hold onto what was real about 2008. 'Fighting to hold onto what was real...?'. My God. Did I just write that? I can be so pretentious sometimes. Anyway. What is my point? Hmmm. Despite 2008 being largely a sinkhole of blergh, I did achieve a lot and without resolutions. I moved overseas, lived in a city where I knew no-one, learnt another language to a practical standard, saw a fair bit of the world, worked out what I want to do with my life. So I guess I would count 2008 as an 87% successful year, even though I would probably give it a 20% on the happiness-o-meter. But that's ok. It's not all beer and skittles.

And now, despite being unemployed, single, poor and generally not having most of the tangible things I'd like, well, I'm a lot happier than I have been for years. I'm not putting the big stuff in my resolutions, because it'll either happen or it won't, and I doubt a January list is going to help it along. Beginning again is refreshing, but also a bit terrifying. It's nice to have a clean start, but there's not a lot to hide behind, so every knock-back is a bit of a blow to the old self-worth. I've got a couple of things in the pipelines, which is exciting, but generally I'm peeing my pants because if they don't work out it's not far back to square one. Lord I hope they work out. I hate square one. But it's only just February, and hopefully by 2010 I've got the big things sorted out - a job, a career, a home - and I'm still happy like I am now. I'm working on it but I don't think I can plan it. So I'll get back to you on all that next year.

And in the meantime, to keep me honest, here's (most of) my 2009 resolution list of the littler things:

1. Play music - find an orchestra, join a band...whatever. Don't let it slide more.
2. Watch 1 French film per week
3. Improve my skills in a visual art (perhaps take a drawing class?)
4. Become a morning person (get out of bed)
5. Get back to running - 5k before my birthday
6. Write one short story per month
7. Be more pro-active about being social
8. Learn to drive a manual car (REALLY this year)
9. More books/less screens
10. Continue to take photos as if i were not in my hometown
11. Continue to cultivate an independent sense of style (even though it's harder here)
12. Become a mostly-vegetarian
13. Strike 'should' from my vocabulary
14. Begin learning another language (Japanese?)
15. Limit my usage of the word 'awesome' to only those situations which truly warrant it.

Yeah, it's kind of a long list, and that random commenter from a few years ago would probably tell me I should cull it to something more manageable. But I'll be happy with a P1, and being at square one for now at least has the advantage that it will be easier to compare a few steps forward come 2010.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

in need of some pithy motivational speaking.

I've been putting off writing here for a while now - like so many things lately I just don't seem to be able to find the motivation. I lay everything out in baby steps ahead to make it easier for myself, but when you can't bring yourself to take step one, then it's a shaky ladder indeed you're building. In this case I've been planning to write a 'how I feel about being back' post to round off the travel writing, before writing anything else, and now it's been so long since I arrived I've forgotten my first impressions.

Let it suffice to say that I don't regret coming home. The orange blossom smells good, the coffee tastes good, and the sky is the right colour again. I have the strangest feeling here, like I'm the only one for whom this year has passed. It's as if the rest of the world works on Narnia time - 9 months living in Europe feels like I've missed a week here. I'm (mostly) glad for the time I spent overseas, and the things I did and saw, but it feels like I'm back where I'm meant to be, and it feels better.

This is not all I wanted to say on that, but now I am at least on rung one of my ladder.


I am giving a lot of thought at the moment to careers/directions/big-life-decisions etc. It's nice to be in a position to 'turn over a new leaf' so to speak, but I also wonder if this is the type of stuff better left to the subconscious, because all this time on my hands is doing my head in. (Clearly, otherwise I'd do something about the amount of cliches in this paragraph).

Meanwhile, I'm reading Michael Pollan 'The Omnivore's Dilemma' which is simultaneously a dry hard slog, and incredibly interesting and enlightening. I would recommend it, but probably with the proviso that you either have a lot of time on your hands or are happy to read it at the rate of a few pages a day. Or you have a more than passing interest in food and agriculture.

One of the things Pollan discusses is how (American) farming practices have changed to reflect the need for industrial efficiency over other criteria. Farms have changed from small affairs, cultivating a number of different crops and animals, to extremely large mono-cultures. The latter is more efficient at the most basic level - growing more per acre than the former and for less money. This is, until you factor in things like soil and animal health, nutrition, transport, subsidies, (oil-based) fertilisers, antibiotic resistance, environmental and public health, and global stability. The big-scale farmers themselves are less and less important or skilled, but on the other hand there are many more employment steps in the chain from production to plate. More diversified farms are arguably less 'efficient' as they require more initial manpower and cannot be replicated on a large scale, but because they require fewer inputs, and don't degrade the resources that they have (in fact quite the opposite) they are significantly more sustainable. In the sense that they're not doomed to collapse.

Traditional investment logic would tell you the same thing - diversify your investments and prosper in the long term. Stick to just one thing and you're in a precarious position.

It's a pretty universally applicable concept: 'Don't put all your eggs in one basket'.

So why is it that at an individual commercial level we feel the need to do exactly that? We go to work, we do something very specialised, most of us don't enjoy it very much, and we look forward to going home at the end of the day and doing something else. Industry decrees that, as a whole, the system is more efficient by assigning one task to one person, one cog for one job. In theory by becoming extremely good at that one thing, we are more efficient. But does it really work like that? Most people waste a lot of time at work distracting themselves in an attempt to force variety into their day. At a macro-level it's a well oiled machine but at a micro-level in reality we're checking our email 15 times an hour and playing typeracer. And how exactly does that translate to productivity on a macro level really? Or does it only work because of all of the things we can't or don't count?

We've come to believe that if we're dissatisfied with doing just one narrow task, it's simply because we have not found the right narrow task: our 'passion'. That once you find it you will be completely fulfilled doing nothing else for 80 hours a week. But is that really true? I don't know so many people who live like that. Most (educated, happy) people I know find their jobs satisfying-on-balance at best. Those who do love their jobs seem to do so because they have personalities inclined to focus on the good elements in their lives, or because they're fortunate enough to have a challenging and varied role, rather than because they are the lucky few who've found their calling. I've no doubt that there are some people who live the dream - they keep the myth alive after all - but I imagine that they are the minority. Most people seem to get by with a balance of liking elements of their job, and recognising it as a means to an end.

I spent at least ten years of my life working towards a career in one of the most highly trained and specialised fields around. If I hadn't changed direction, it probably would've taken me another five years of hard work before I actually had a chance at a stable job, if I ever got hired at all. And this in a field noted for its 'passion' but nevertheless ranked 2nd highest (after flight-traffic controllers) for stress, and lower than prison guards for job satisfaction. What was I thinking? And why do I still feel like a failure for walking away?

Okay, some jobs require specialisation simply because it takes a long time to become very skilled at something very necessary. I'm pretty happy that my anaesthetist took 12 years training to be really good at his craft, and it would be a bit of a waste having him spend 25% of his time sending patients off on the Good Ship Lollipop, and 75% of his time doing random other stuff. But not many jobs require such high levels of training, and nor, would it seem, do many people have the capacity to achieve them.

I don't think we were built to live like this. We've evolved the way we are because to our genetically-identical ancestors, being good at a number of tasks was an advantage. Those who had the ability and inclination to do a number of things (hunting, gathering, building fires, behaving socially, creating tools etc) had a distinct advantage over those who were really good at say, 'information architecture' (what even IS that?) but not much else. Oh hello Mr Sabre-Tooth Tiger, I'm just integrating your database with...*chomp*. Is it any wonder we don't enjoy working like this?

So why is it that we each accept the premise of industrial productivity over individual gumption, whereby faulty number-crunching translates to overall efficiency and high salaries at the expense of job satisfaction? Capitalism only measures currency, not happiness, and it delights in large-scale measurable systems. To get us on side, it sells us the dream of finding vocational bliss by marrying skill and passion. If you're doing it right your mistress will be a hefty salary. That's fine, and if you've managed to achieve it I applaud you, but what if you don't like your job? You'll think it's because you're in the wrong field, not because you're a rounded person being squished into a small square cubicle.

And where does that leave me on my job quest? Do I only feel like this because I'm Gen Why (or whatever the flip they're calling us these days) and my attention span has allegedly been ruined by computer games? I'd like to spend my working time enjoyably and efficiently - I don't want to waste my time any more than my employer does, and I think for me, like most people, that means doing a variety of meaningful tasks. And hey, I'd like to be paid a reasonable sum for doing my job well, because I've swallowed the rest of the dream at least; I'd like a house and a garden please, and I wouldn't mind an iPhone either, while you're at it.

But that's not the name of the game: it's employability vs balance, and as I read the job ads, I find myself continually berated for being well-rounded. 'A jack of all trades and master of none' - that's me. Except it's actually more like 'pretty good at many things, intelligent, reliable, helpful, practical, adaptible and with decent packaging, but not extremely specialised' which apparently is not so a much selling point for potential employees as it is for, say, Swiss army knives.

So here's my real question: what happened to the dream of the Renaissance (wo)man?

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

considering herself, at home.

Ah, London. I worked out that in the end I've spent almost a month in London this year: enough for it to feel familiar, enough to feel almost-at-home, like a visitor not a tourist. Still, becuase I've got a pattern going here, more dot-points (sorry Kate) and then finally some words about this city. K? K.

  • Thursday: to London. Yo! Sushi @ Paddington station. Went to Oxford St, fought with the Apple people again, Primark, the Gap. Collected the rest of my luggage.
  • Friday: Boden shop morning, Jermyn st (tie). Helped Nhan to the airport with her luggage (novel to be on the other side), Mozart's Requiem at St Martin in the Fields.
  • Saturday: Flamingos 6 floors up, Kensington High St, Hyde Park (Albert Memorial, Diana Memorial, kids soccer), Harrods (madness and the Laduree for one final macaron), the British Museum (saw the Rosetta Stone, gave up on the crazy crowds in exchange for truffle cake), the Mousetrap, Avenue Q (most excellent, a real highlight!).
  • Sunday: Windsor Castle (better than Buckingham or Versailles, collections like a storybook), coffee w Sarah.

London is an interesting place and I'm not sure I can express my feelings about it properly to anyone but myself. One of my friend's uncle's lived there for 20 years, and he says that the only people who lived in London are the exceptionally rich, those who grew up there and have never known anything different, and foreigners who're still starry eyed and haven't figured that you can have a nicer quality of life by commuting. That seems a fair enough summary to me: there're bogans (chavs?) here when in Paris they'd be relegated to the suburbs, yet a good standard of living is incredibly expensive , and there are more Australians than in Hobart. Which all makes for a rather odd experience really: it's a huge city so there are always things to amaze; you never really feel like a foreigner, but never really fit in either. Constantly in London I felt torn between different parts of the world, and different parts of myself.

The thing I liked most about London is how much of everything felt so familiar even whilst it was brand new to me. So much of our culture is based on the British, and so much of the British is based on the capital... Tube stops ring bells for Australian suburbs, familiar words like 'ta' and 'bloody' are used here easily though they cannot be in America or Europe, street names recall nursery rhymes, the architecture screams of a certain ABC cop show...

What I gleaned most from London, however, was an understanding of why English people are as they are. Or maybe it's the other way around. English people are a bit dowdy, glum, and deadpan. A M&S sandwich represents a gourmet lunch (actually, they are quite good). There's a murder in London almost every day. The landscape reflects all this: it's grey, a bit grubby and it rains, rains, rains. But despite all this, there are wonders everywhere. Perhaps not around every corner - it's too big for that, but this city has nourished the English language's best writer, it has built (and, ahem, pillaged for) the world's greatest museum, its tube carries a billion passengers a year. London is quite literally, the centre of the world, yet somehow, like the people, this giant city just keeps calm and carries on, but always with a twinkle in its eye.


Here I am again: I find myself in an odd position - I miss the regular writing, but haven't been feeling like finishing off the last few trip entries as something about being at here has blanked out my memory for anything other than being home and content at last. So I'm in the position of wanting to write, but not being able to write because I don't want to write. Stooopid.

Anyway, I'm getting fed up with all the procrastinating, so here we go:

We visited Bath for a couple of days, before the final mad london-home dash. The day we arrived it was raining and horrible. We went for a quick walk before the weather finally got the best of us in the form of a very spectacular umbrella inside-outage. It was one of those giant non-collapsible golf umbrellas and it went WOOMPF and the fabric even ripped from the metal. I must say, for all that it sort of ruins the function of the umbrella, I kind of like it when that happens. You'll be trudging along feeling wet and cold and grumpy, and then all of a sudden there's nothing to do but see yourself as motorists must and have a little giggle. On this occassion we therefore abandoned the tourism and had a long warm dinner at a resto called The Circus.

Wednesday was yet another exercise in fitting as much in as possible to one day. We went to Bath Abbey which was quite pretty, but the thing I liked most about it were all the dedications to people all over the walls and floor. Entire flagstones were taken up by small font accounts of departed people's lives and personalities. It's a shame we've lost that and it has all been boiled down to the impersonal 'First Name, Last Name, RIP, Sadly Missed'. I'd like someone to write something long and poetic and insightful for me and the wind...

We went to the Roman Baths which were kind of underwhelming. The old baths themselves were nice, but the whole thing has been turned into a big museum about it all which I found massively DULL, unfortunately. The funnest thing was tasting the water in the Pump House afterwards, which fyi, is really impressively gross. No more whinging about Adelaide water. The funnIest thing were the signs impressing that the untreated water is dangerous to ingest and even to touch. I wonder if it was always so...I therefore wonder where the health benefits come in...

In the afternoon we hired a car (oooh how powsh dahlink, except it was actually only about two coffees more than joining a bus tour, with more flexibility and fewer socks and birkenstocks). We went to Stonehenge, which was really cool for about 5 minutes, before the cutting wind got to us. I think it would be more worth the visit if it was less of a trek, as it's pretty much how you imagine it. Although it's in a big field filled with sheep which is kind of amusing.

On the way back, we headed for the little village where my mum's family hails from. It turned out to be a REALLY little village (2001 pop: 45) - ie. if you weren't looking for it, you'd probably assume it was a large farm on the side of an 80km/h road hidden by a hedge. It had a letterbox and that's about it. Unfortunately we couldn't really see much, as there was only one access road, and it had a big sign saying 'private driveway'. Still, it was nice to go there, to take my molecules where they haven't been for a few hundred years, and the surrounding countryside and larger villages are ridiculously pretty. We headed back to Bath and had a very standard I-talian dinner.

Enfin, Bath is a really sweet part of the world, but is also sort of exactly how you'd picture it. Thus is is pleasant, but there are no real novelties or surprises. The best bit about this trip though, was that I found some boots. Ok, they aren't quite the magical boots of my dreams, but after 10 years of searching they were close enough to actually make a purchase which is really something. Brown soft leather, round-ish toes, some heel, well-shaped/non-cankle making, appropriate for office or eveningwear, no ugly seams in ugly places, not too cowboy/horseriding/femme fatale/biker/spaceman. Re-sult.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008


Sometimes, things are better in theory than in practice.

Take for one, liberalism. In theory, I wholeheartedly support the idea. However, in practice, sometimes, the results are less than pretty. And that is all I have to say on that.

Take for two, our hotel. In theory it was uber-funky, modern and efficient. In practice it was gimmicky, annoying and uncomfortable. And that is all I have to say on that.

So Amsterdam took a little while to grow on me, but grow on me it did. On the first afternoon we went for a random wander with our little time, found the tourist-y areas (and as you imagine this ponder for a moment on the kind of tourism Amsterdam that attracts) and didn't like it very much. The one nice thing that we did see was the Bagijnhof, a serene little complex of old churches, houses and gardens, entered by a secret door.

The next day we got an early start after hardly any sleep (see theory vs practice). We jumped on a bus (which ended up being two busses, and join me, will you? in thanking the standard international deity that ALL of the Dutch, including the busdrivers, speak excellent English) to get to the Aalsmeer flower market, the largest flower auction/distribution houses in the world. The getting there was fun, as we drove through some cute suburbs, with sweet Dutch houses with colourful gardens, and driveway bridges over the canals between the footpath and the roads. The market itself was amazing with huge warehouses full of pallets and palets of flowers, all being hooked together and pulled this way and that by little men on industrial segway-like vehicles. The warehouses were so big that bikes were provided for workers who needed to get from one side to the other! The auction rooms (12 in total) were like large lecture theatres, full of buyers on laptops all focussing intently on the product being wheeled in front of them and the screens displaying the changing price. It was all very cool to watch; however, considering how much effort has gone into making the place tourist-able (purpose-built special walkways around the factory), I think they could really do a much better job, for very little more effort.

After this we headed into Amsterdam itself and went on a New Europe walking tour of the city. This, as always, was fabulous and really gave us lots of insights into the city, both as it is now and in a historical context. It presented the more controversial aspects of the city in an interesting and non-threatening way, as well as introducing the gentler and often more hidden side of the city. By the end I had totally warmed to the city, the gorgeous canals, the live-and-let-live character of the people, the crazy tilting houses (built on an angle to make it easier to get stuff through the higher windows), the polyphonic church bells, the lovely boutique shops (very welcome after city after city of chain stores), and the lilting language, which sounds like a cross between English and German, as pronounced by the Swedish chef. The only thing I didn't like in the end was the cyclists, who are totally, completely, utterly mad. They ride on the bike paths, the streets, the footpaths, the right way, the wrong way, through red lights, at pedestrians.

After the tour, we went to Pancakes! to have, you guessed, wait....poffertjes! (Teeny pancakes!). Then on to Metz & Co, a super fancy department store with a cafe on the top floor serving average coffee, made worthwhile for the spectacular view of the city. We then aimed to fit in a museum before the evening, but didn't quite make it.

During the tour we were taken to La Place: Marche du Monde for lunch - a giant marketplace-like hall with any type of food you could imagine, from sandwiches to salads to soups to steaks to smoothies. You just pick up what you want, take it to the cashier and then sit down and eat it. The food so was delicious, healthy and cheap, that we went back for dinner.

And that was it for Amsterdam. Short, and sweet. (Except for the hotel, which was awful).