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Jun. 29th, 2015

10:36 pm - China: Great Wall hiking

The Great Wall is one of those places that pictures don't adequately convey. We spent seven days hiking up to and on various parts of it, and I could happily have done much more.

The factors that made being there different to what I'd expected from pictures were 1) the steepness of many sections, 2) the fact that in some parts it goes off in many directions, often to the top of the highest peaks in the area before diving down again and then rising somewhere else, 3) different styles and types of construction, and 4) in places it now ends right next to a highway or road or in a town, then picks up again on the other side. In one village we stayed in, we walked right past part of the wall next to the main street for two days before realising what it was on the third day.

Six of the days were at quiet spots where our little group was either completely alone or there were just a few other people. One day was at Mutianyu, a very touristy, fully restored section near Beijing. We called it the "Disneyland" section. It was complete with a huge ticket office, shuttle buses to drive you from the ticket office to a shop/restaurant area, a choice of chair lifts or gondolas to take you to the top, souvenir sellers on top, and toboggans to get down! It's still a serious walk if you cover the entire open section, though, since it's stairs and more stairs.

PhotosCollapse )


07:30 pm - China

I've just returned from three weeks in China, my present to myself to mark the end of my most recent job.

My trip was made up of three parts:

1. A guided trip organised by a member of my Perth bushwalking club who is originally from Beijing. It included seven days of hiking on various parts of the Great Wall and four days of sightseeing in Beijing.

2. A long weekend hiking trip to the Bashang Grasslands near the Mongolian border with Beijing Hikers. Most Beijing Hikers are expats, since hiking is not a popular activity among the locals.

3. Four days by myself in Xi'an, the city closest to the Terracotta Warriors. I assumed before doing any research that it would be a relatively small place, but it's almost twice as big as Sydney!

Things I was not expecting:Collapse )

My favourite thing was all the people, especially retired people, using the parks day and night to exercise, dance, and play mahjong and cards. In the park around the Temple of Heaven, a group of maybe 60-75 year old men were doing gymnastics on parallel bars and high bars. Just around the corner from the airport hotel where I stayed on my last night, people of all ages were ballroom dancing in a big paved quadrangle to Chinese popular music. This has to be far healthier, both physically and mentally, than the way many Australians spend their evenings.

Worst thing was without doubt the air pollution. It wasn't an issue the first week, but depressingly bad by my last day – and my "depressingly bad" wasn't actually that bad by local standards (153 or "unhealthy" on this meter). Second-worst thing was the noise pollution caused by incessant honking while driving / riding. It's not the aggressive-but-infrequent Australian style of honking, but rather a constant "I'm here on your left", "I'm here on your right", "I'm moving into your lane", "Coming through!" kind of honking. Driving in Perth seemed blissfully quiet on my way home. 85kms from my mother's house to mine, and not one honk!


May. 11th, 2015

11:12 am - Airline magazine ads

Since 1 May I've been "temporarily retired" (sounds better than "out of work") and have just returned from 8 days in the South Australian outback, which involved flying to Adelaide.

The Virgin magazine on the way over included an ad for height-increasing shoes for men. The height chart behind the model showed his "before" height as 6' 1" and his "after" height as 6' 2 1/2". Somehow I doubt people who are already 6' 1" are the target market!

The Qantas magazine on the way home had a full-page ad for an upmarket gay men's introduction agency, complete with a photo of an attractive smiling couple that I've since learned are the owners. Nice to see!

Apr. 11th, 2015

02:21 pm - More Swancon-inspired reading

The young adult dystopias panel at Swancon led me to finish the Hunger Games trilogy and then reread the part of John Christopher's Tripods series that's in the local library system.

The edition of The White Mountains included a preface written by John Christopher 35 years after the book's initial publication. I found it tremendously interesting, more so than the book itself.

He was born in 1922 and notes that when he was the age of the children for whom he proposed to write, he'd been very excited about space travel because not enough was then known about the solar system to discount the possibility of life on Venus and Mars.

But in three short decades everything changed. By the 1960s we knew more about the universe and the solar system – but what we'd learned was much less interesting than what we'd imagined. We knew that Mars was not just cold but an altogether hotile environment, Venus a choking oven of poisonous gases. The chance of any kind of life existing on either planet – or anywhere in reach of our probing rockets – was incredibly remote. That brave new world on the other side of the ocean of space had turned into a lifeless desert.

A couple of years after I wrote The White Mountains, space itself was finally conquered. ... The boy I had been at fourteen would never have believed that I couldn't be bothered to stay up to watch it.

It had never occurred to me, though it's obvious when you stop to think about it, that there are still people alive today who could plausibly have expected life to be discovered elsewhere in this solar system.

He goes on to talk about the extensive editing process The White Mountains went through.Collapse )

I also read Bumped by Megan McCafferty, which one of the Swancon panelists recommended. The premise is interesting: due to a virus, most people become infertile by 18, so teenagers are strongly encouraged to have children and give / sell them to adults to raise. The 2030s teen-speak and dehumanising of reproduction (babies are "deliveries") are kind of creepily entertaining to decipher. There's a lot more religion in it that I want to read about, though. Not really recommended.

While looking for the above books, I stumbled across Before I Die by Jenny Downham, a 2007 novel about a 16-year-old dying of leukemia. This one I do recommend. I read it in one sitting, getting up only for more Kleenex. In the first half it made my cry intermittently, in the cathatic way where you feel better immediately afterwards. In the final chapters I was crying so much that reading became a physical ordeal and I still felt the effects the next day. I gather some reviewers didn't find the main character likable enough to be so moved, but I don't expect perfect behaviour from a teenager who has only months to live.

Some of the writing is beautiful: She has the saddest face I've ever seen, like she drowned once and the tide left its mark there.

New York Times review
Guardian review


Apr. 7th, 2015

08:38 pm - The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

I enjoyed Swancon on Friday and spent most of the rest of Easter reading or rereading books mentioned in the panels I attended.

In the "Looking Beyond the Left Hand: Gender and Sexuality in Contemporary SF" panel, someone mentioned that Le Guin had made a big mistake in using the pronoun "he" for the androgynous Gethenians.

I reread it with that in mind and came to the conclusion that the reason the book works so well for me is that it uses "he". The use of a masculine pronoun for Estraven lets me read it as a m/m love story with some extra elements, rather than as what it's actually supposed to be. If Le Guin had used "she", as she herself stated later she should have, or a gender-neutral pronoun, I'd probably only have been mildly interested. A correctly-worded exploration of gender just doesn't do it for me the way m/m does.

Genly and Estraven have to come so far in understanding each other that their eventual deep rapport is extremely satisfying. One of my biggest issues with a lot of fanfic is that the misunderstanding that forms the basis for the story is so trivial it could be resolved in a thirty-second conversation (I recently read a 276,000 word story that turned out to be founded on such a minor issue I'm still getting over what a let-down that was!). Genly and Estraven – literally aliens to each other – have real cultural reasons for not being in accord. They can't connect until Estraven realises that Genly can only understand him if he disregards "shifgrethor" and speaks plainly, and Genly lets go of his standards of masculinity.

Genly seems young and underprepared for his mission and it's surprising the Ekumen let him be their representative, unless volunteers to timejump to such distant planets are few and far between. After two years on Gethen he admits "I had not wanted to give my trust, my friendship to a man who was a woman, to a woman who was a man."

Genly tells us in the first chapter "I don't trust Estraven, whose motives are forever obscure; I don't like him." Not far into their journey on the ice, and before they're even on a first-name basis, he acknowledges that he loves him and that he doesn't know whether he made the right decision in choosing not to have sex with him. A wonderful progression!

I'm not sure his rationale for the no-sex decision stands up:

For it seemed to me, and I think to him, that it was from that sexual tension between us, admitted now and understood, but not assuaged, that the great and sudden assurance of friendship between us rose: a friendship so much needed by us both in our exile, and already so well proved in the days and nights of our bitter journey, that it might as well be called, now as later, love. But it was from the difference between us, not from the affinities and likenesses, but from difference, that the love came: and it was itself the bridge, the only bridge, across what divided us. For us to meet sexually would be for us to meet once more as aliens. We had touched, in the only way we could touch. We left it at that. I do not know if we were right.

If the love sprang from difference, why would exploring that difference further hurt it? And how could difference be "the only bridge" in the face of so much shared hardship and experience?

It's odd that we're told nothing about Genly's sexual preferences or behaviours. He doesn't react positively to either the men or women of his ship when they land on the planet: It was strange to hear a woman's voice, after so long. ... They all looked strange to me, men and women, well as I knew them. Their voices sounded strange: too deep, too shrill. They were like a troupe of great, strange animals, of two different species...

There are only 14 English-language stories on A03 for this novel and only four Genly/Estraven – a strange shortage! I'd like one that goes AU before the penultimate chapter and envisages a plausible future from that point.

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Apr. 2nd, 2015

11:01 am - Cape to Cape Track

Last week I walked the 135km Cape to Cape Track in the south-west of Western Australia, from Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin. A most enjoyable experience, give or a take a few boring, deep sand 4WD tracks!

PhotosCollapse )

Feb. 21st, 2015

09:46 pm - The Giants in Perth last weekend

I'm running late thanks to half-year reporting season, but wanted to post about seeing Royal de Luxe company's Giants, the headline event of the Perth International Arts Festival, last weekend. The official statistics say 1.4 million people saw them, compared to a city population of 1.7 million. Not sure how they came up with the number – I went three times, so was I one person or three?

On Friday only the Little Girl giant made an appearance. I had an hour before a meeting to watch her put on her boat and driven around Langley Park. It was moderately enjoyable to walk around the park with her, but I was underwhelmed – six metres isn't that big! I enjoyed the music and the sense of it being a special occasion.

Little Girl Boat Fri

Saturday afternoon I dithered at home about whether to make another trip into the city (about 1 1/2 hours' drive) to see the 11 metre Diver. I decided I should, parked near the casino on the other side of the river, jogged the couple of kilometres to Langley Park and arrived just as hundreds of people were hurrying across the park to line Riverside Drive. I joined them and there was the Diver coming slowly towards us. Even in a seated position he was far more imposing than the Little Girl.

More phone photosCollapse )

Jan. 28th, 2015

09:37 pm - Something I never expected to see on Supernatural

Dean with a ...Collapse )

Jan. 13th, 2015

01:44 pm - Sanity weekend away, Cape-to-Cape plans

At 5pm Thursday I booked a last-minute weekend away to Busselton, 2 1/2 hours south of Perth, to make up for time off I didn't get over Christmas and New Year's. 18 hours later I was on my way.

Due to the very short notice I went by myself, and ended up spending my time quite differently to the way I would have with company. Zero swimming, zero restaurants*, zero wineries, two caves**, and hours and hours of walking each day. Apparently I need peer pressure to get in the water. One of the beaches I walked past actually looked very enticing, but I was hungry at that point and prioritised finding lunch.

I didn't have much interest in Busselton and only stayed there because it was close, but absolutely loved the 1.8km long jetty. It's the perfect way to experience the ocean for someone who isn't a good swimmer and gets seasick! PhotosCollapse )

Having enjoyed the short sections of it I walked, I'm planning to do the full 135km Cape-to-Cape Track in the last week of March. If anyone would like to join me for a day or more, let me know! You need to be able to cover about 20km a day, including up to about 7km on soft sand depending on the tides, but with no major climbs.

Scenery samplesCollapse )

There are snakes! I disturbed two, plus a big lizard.

I'll probably let this company move my bags and arrange accommodation so I don't have to carry a full pack: Cape-to-Cape self-guided itinerary.

* I don't mind going to restaurants by myself, but was never near one at the right time of day.
** Including the self-guided, unlit, ladders-and-crawl spaces Giants Cave, which I had all to myself in the middle of school holidays!

Dec. 28th, 2014

07:41 am - A couple of Yuletide recs

James Clavell's King Rat: Happier Than Before 8,400 words

Characters: The King and Peter Marlowe

King Rat is one of my favourite books, for the relationship between the American corporal who controlled much of the black market in Changi prison camp during WWII, and the British flight lieutentant who became his closest friend. Their parting did not invite a reunion. (Clavell was a prisoner in Changi for three years.)

Happier Than Before is set 14 years later and imagines a relatively positive future for each of them.

The title is from the WB Yeats poem "An Irish Airman Foresees his Death", which I'm putting here for my future reference:

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public man, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

If you've read the book, don't miss this story!

Hornblower litverse: On Land and At Sea 8,300 words

Relationship: Hornblower/Bush/Barbara

If you can suspend disbelief long enough to envisage Hornblower, Bush and Barbara in a threesome, this is the story for you! I managed to do that, and found it very easy to imagine Hornblower being turned on by compliments about his abilities.

"You needn't thank me," said Hornblower. "And don't call me sir." He tingled whenever Bush called him sir in bed, and that was reason enough to forbid it. It would be disastrous if he were to make any associations between standard naval formality and this.

Barbara shifted so she was at Bush's back, propping him up with her body. "Don't listen to him," she murmured in Bush's ear, still loud enough that Hornblower could hear every word clear as a bell. "He likes it when you address him with the respect that he's earned."

Bush grinned. "Don't I know it?"

Hornblower frowned and sped up his hand a little. Bush's hips jerked, and his head fell back on Barbara's shoulder, eyes slipping closed.

"Tell him," said Barbara. "Tell him he's earned it."

"Every bit of it," gasped Bush. "Every promotion, every honor, earned with sweat and blood and daring. There's not a man who's served with you who doesn't know your worth."

Hornblower shuddered, caught between shame and pleasure as his mind tried to counter-argue the compliments.

Dec. 21st, 2014

11:27 am - White Collar finale

White Collar 6x06Collapse )

Dec. 14th, 2014

08:36 pm - SPN mid-season finale

I gather this one wasn't especially well received, but I liked it. Six good ones in a row as far as I'm concerned!

Ten reasons I enjoyed 10x09:Collapse )

Nov. 24th, 2014

12:30 pm - Pain is very distracting

I don't know people with chronic pain manage to go about daily life as well as most of them seem to.

I'm used to feeling pretty good most of the time. Right now I have an extremely painful shoulder, I think self-inflicted from too much archery practice and ironically, exercises designed to strengthen my (pathetically weak) shoulders for archery. In the two-and-a-half days that it's really been bothering me, I've:

It seems like about 85% of my brainpower is diverted to noticing how sore my shoulder is. I don't think I'm really safe to drive and I'm clearly not fit to be out in public anyway. I suppose if this was my everyday reality I'd learn to manage it?? Those of you who do live with this daily reality have my sympathy!

Counting the minutes until my physio appointment (4,020!).

Nov. 13th, 2014

03:07 pm - SPN 200th episode

SPN 200Collapse )

Oct. 30th, 2014

07:47 pm - SPN 10x4

That was my favourite Supernatural episode for ages!Collapse )

11:15 am - Natural feet

The Weekend Australian ran a feature about the Pintupi Nine, believed to be the last major group of Aboriginal Australians to abandon a nomadic desert lifestyle 30 years ago.

You probably need a subscription to read the article, but what really jumped out at me was their incredibly healthy-looking feet in this picture taken the day they came into contact with modern Australia (and were given these clothes):

Pintupi Nine

Look at the width of their toes, especially of the women on the right. How many women do you know whose toes are wider than the balls of their feet? Not too many, I'm guessing.

They're just like the "before" case in the diagram from my favourite "natural" podiatrist's website:


My nerve pain that was such a problem for me 18 months ago is completely gone, after switching my footwear to almost 100% Vibram FiveFingers, open flat sandals and other shoes that let the toes be as wide as possible.

Oct. 12th, 2014

11:23 pm - Bernard Cornwell: archery and Sharpe

I read Bernard Cornwell's Harlequin because of the archery theme, but didn't like it much thanks to all the rape and plunder. The lead character really enjoyed those aspects of his work. I can't help but wonder whether the author and modern male readers secretly think, "That sounds fun! Those were the days!"

Even though I didn't care for the characters, the book did its job as historical fiction in bringing to life a time period – the 1340s – I knew little about, and I found the author's note at the back mind-blowing for this information:

Benjamin Franklin, no fool, reckoned the American rebels would have won their war much more swiftly had they been practised longbowmen and it is quite certain that a battalion of archers could have outshot and beaten, easily, a battalion of Wellington's veterans armed with smoothbore muskets.

I found it hard to wrap my mind around the assertion that bows and arrows could have beaten soldiers with guns more than 400 years later. I guess the pace of technological advance has sped up immeasurably in recent times!

More information from the author's notes:

One or two longbows might do damage, but thousands would destroy an army, and the English, alone in Europe, were capable of assembling those numbers. Why? The technology could not be simpler, yet still other countries did not produce archers. Part of the answer is surely the great difficulty it took to become an expert archer. It needed hours and years of practice, and the habit of such practice took hold in only some English and Welsh regions. ... For some reason or another the Middle Ages saw a popular enthusiasm for the pursuit in parts of England and Wales that led to the rise of the longbow as a mass weapon of war.

Having not enjoyed Harlequin but not wanting to be left with a bad impression of Cornwell, the creator of Sharpe, I've been revisiting Sharpe (and Harper!) in both print and film. Somehow I'd never seen the final film, Sharpe's Peril, released in 2008. I'm sure Cornwell didn't write this part, but I wish they hadn't made Sharpe beat up and very nearly kill Hakeswill's son in a rage, based only upon who his father was. "Bad blood" is a very poor argument, especially coming from someone with Sharpe's background! I'm not going to count that one as "real" Sharpe, since it wasn't directly based on Cornwell's books.

The 15 years from the first film to the last one take quite a toll on a person, even if you're Sean Bean.

Cornwell has given us so many wonderful Sharpe-Harper scenes. Here's one of my favourites, from Sharpe's Siege (book version) when Sharpe tells Killick and Docherty that he'll let them go if they give him their word they won't fight against Britain for the duration of the war.

Docherty stared in puzzlement at Sharpe. "You'll let all of us go? All the crew?"

"I said so."

"And how do we know...?"

Harper spoke in sudden Gaelic. His words were brief, harshly spoken, and a mystery to every man in the room except to himself and Docherty. The American lieutenant listened to the huge Irishman, then looked back to Sharpe with sudden, unnatural humility. "You have my word."

I can't come up with what Harper could have said that would cause Docherty to look at Sharpe not just with respect but with sudden, unnatural humility, but it must have been incredibly complimentary.

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Sep. 4th, 2014

09:51 pm - Highlander

Highlander is the fantasy world that's currently sustaining me through my busy work period, thanks to a rewatch killabeez is running.

I've never actually watched the whole show in order before and there seem to be a few episodes I've never seen at all, which I'm a bit embarrassed to publicly admit. I'm enjoying it so much. There are certainly some not-very-good episodes – so many that when I tried to do a complete in-order rewatch a few summers ago, I gave up – but the gems are fantastic and Duncan is wonderful to look at and listen to almost all the time.

Watching the show the way it was intended has totally changed my view of Richie. I was introduced to the show with season 3-5 episodes as a potential Duncan/Methos fan, and at the time Richie struck me mostly as a character who unfortunately took screen time away from Methos (particularly in "Methos", which is one of the most jarring episodes you could hope to find, with the juxtaposition of the riveting Methos scenes and the lengthy, boring Richie motorcycle racing scenes).

Now I really like him and I'm dreading what's to come. It's going to be a lot worse this time around. He's so game, even when he's completely out of his depth, and genuinely kind (OK, maybe not in "The End of Innocence" when he's so hurt by Duncan almost killing him that he throws himself into playing The Game and ends a 900-year friendship/relationship between a very intriguing odd couple). His dialogue is often fun, starting with the pilot: "Cut off my head? You don't think that's a little extreme for petty theft?" His most annoying habit is his reluctance to believe the truth when he's being conned, but that's not such a bad flaw.

I keep wondering how the Watchers are financed. Who pays all those salaries and bought those big fancy headquarters? Was there an extremely wealthy benefactor centuries ago who set up a trust fund?

Early-show Duncan strikes me as someone with very strong mental health. He says things like "We are what we are" and "Whatever happens, happens" and says he's calm about a certain situation "Because there's nothing I can do about it." He focuses on the positives like the many things he gets to see and do over a long life, not the negatives like losing mortal loved ones, never being able to have children, frequently fighting for his life, and even having to kill people who were his friends in the past. Richie seems to both naturally share Duncan's positive attitude and absorb his teachings.

Tessa had so many traumatic experiences at the hand of various Immortals that it almost struck me as a net positive thing that she was killed. How long could she have gone on like that? I think a person should probably walk away after the second abduction.

Did Tessa have no long-term friends or family who would have noticed that Duncan wasn't aging?

I'm loving being reacquainted with minor characters who haven't crossed my mind in years. My favourite of all is perhaps Damon Case in "The Immortal Cimoli", a strange choice perhaps since he's pretty much a religious fanatic who does nothing but pray and kill other Immortals, but I love his solemnity and his singularity of purpose, sustained through ten centuries!

Joe is another one whose story has much more impact when you watch in order (though his and Duncan's first meeting is great to watch knowing how important they come to be to each other later on). Joe comes close to begging Duncan on several occasions not to cut off their friendship, and he cares so much about it that he left the Watchers and had his tattoo removed on the faint hope that Duncan might speak to him again!

I'm not quite as forgiving of Amanda's foibles as Duncan is, but I've noticed that my "What fresh hell is this?" attitude whenever I get an email from a particularly uninformed and demanding client with that name has been reprogrammed. Now when those emails appear I instead think fondly, "Oh, Amanda!"

Aug. 13th, 2014

02:30 pm - Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb

Thoughts with spoilersCollapse )

Aug. 9th, 2014

07:59 pm - Fool's Assassin

The first 50 pages of Fool's Assassin are available online here!

I definitey like this bitCollapse )

Not so pleased withCollapse )

I wonder exactly what time of day on 12 August it goes on sale. I suppose that means 13 August Australian time, and I shouldn't spend the 12th endlessly refreshing bookseller links.

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