Wednesday, 29 September 2010

China's National Day

I hear from my friends in China that they are planning holidays this weekend as it is China's National Day. It is 61 years since the forming of the People's Republic of China.  I remember last year, and I was in Australia, that there were huge festivities to celebrate the 60 years.

Only today did I think to find a video of the celebrations in Tienanmen Square, in Beijing, and saw some footage on YouTube.  I can not help but be impressed when I see the Chinese military marching and performing.  The freshmen (first year university students) do what they call "military service" for 2 - 3 weeks at the beginning of the semester.  In uniform, they march constantly in the stinking heat of summer for most of the day.  

It is strange to the foreigners that the students never discuss this.  I wonder why?  Are they sworn to secrecy about the constant marching and military discipline enforced on them during this period? Do they just think it is not interesting enough to discuss?  We always found it a little curious.

This "military" precision is obvious with some performances too - but nothing beats the thousands of soldiers performing in Tienanmen Square.  Notice how wide the roadway is and count the numbers of people in each row.  I tried, but cannot.  On one video  I think there were about thirty across, but for the big event in 2009 there were more.  50 across?  Awesome.

See the precision in this display.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Baldy and her friends

Baldy, my friendly butcher bird is very friendly and she is first to the door each morning for mince meat.  She's very greedy, but as I've said I think she has a nest of babies.  I hope she brings them to visit soon!

A few days ago, another butcher bird, was squawking in a low bush.  It was sitting on the bush with wings slighty open and fluttering as the squawking continued.  I looked on with interest, wondering if it was not a smaller bird yelling for its mother.  Then, I saw a lizard - a slim long lizard about 12 inches long ran from under the bushes.  The butcher bird was swift and caught the lizard in its beak and quickly flew with its tasty morsel (I presume) to a distant tree.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

House sitting and studying

While in many ways I'd like to be teaching in China right now - I am house sitting and studying.  In the last week I was in China, I met with a former student who asked me why I was not returning to China for this semester, and I told her I was going to university. 

"Why?" she asked seriously, "You already have much knowledge."

I found her response amusing.  In China it is uncommon for anyone to keep studying unless they are already at university or need to study to improve their qualifications.  Doing it for other reasons does not make sense, and few older people tackle such study.

And so it is that I have enrolled in a Master of Arts (Writing) through Swinburne University in Melbourne. The course is all "on-line" - or in the CD's that were posted to me.

It will be hard going - but a good use of time as I am not keen to work at the moment.

I am in regular contact with Chinese friends - students and teachers from Yuexiu, or graduates.  I still feel connected and they still get English lessons from me.

Monday, 20 September 2010

My new friends...............

I have some new friends - of the feathered variety!  I am house sitting, while the owner is in China. L used to feed several birds and I continue.  There is a family of butcher birds, and one that I recognise easily as he/she has a baldish patch on the skull.  This bird is very intrusive and is usually the first to line up for a morsel of mince meat.  I think it must be a female, as it will load its beak with as much meat as it can handle and flies up high up into the trees on a hill.  I like to think that there is a little family there benefiting from my generosity.

I am trying to work out "who is who" - but it is hard. 

It has been raining today and I was surprised to see how wet the birds get.  One appeared looking like it had been swimming - opening its wings a little perhaps to help dry them off.  I promised it some food if it posed for a photo - which is how I managed the photo above.  

We don't get to see how the rain affects them!  I see a few birds with wet feathers taking refuge under the roof of the deck.  Lorikeets, butcher birds and noisy miners or mickey birds are abundant in this area and I've seen them all taking refuge.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Thinking of China

It is day one of the first semester at Yuexiu University in China and I feel rather wistful.  While I am glad I am in Australia and happy with what I am doing, there is part of me that would like to be in China. I've been in contact with students and FT's over the last few days - which does make me think for of being there.  Another time, perhaps.

One thing that I discovered is how the young people do not learn to cook - for a start they spend most weeks in the dormitory and live on a fare of canteen food (which is pretty good really), or take-away from the hundreds of stalls adjacent to the north or west gates of the camps - the little trolleys laden with food and fires to cook - appear late n the day and only depart after the last wave of students when classes finish at 9 pm.  We do laugh that Chinese people are always eating.  

When they go home for weekends or holidays mother or grandmother cooks in rather primitive kitchens - usually cramped and with few "modern" cooking facilities.  But mostly they eat out.

When the two students were visiting recently they loved cooking classes we gave them.  Not enough, but I've promised some cooking instructions.  One thing I learned of course is that they do not have the facility to measure ingredients the way we do.  No spoons, no cups, no kitchen scales, so I am creating recipes using measuring spoons and cups - I gave one of the students her own sets, so hope she can work out some of the recipes.

One of the foods that students buy is a flat bread.  I found some recipes for Chinese Flat Bread, and I've created a recipe that can be done without worrying about scales.  A cup helps.  I ate this bread several times,but as someone who is not an egg lover, I'd rather the street vendors mix the egg in the batter, so that the ingredients were properly mixed and that a clump of egg yolk was not visible.

What do you need to make it?  

A cup or container that holds about 250 mls.
flour (plain flour is best) - you will need about 1 1/4 cups.
some shallot or other green onion leaf, chopped fairly finely (about a quarter of a cup full)
2 eggs (whip them up in a bowl until they are mixed well - a whisk, chopsticks or other beater work well)
a cup of water (use drinking grade water)
Oil (I like to use olive oil) 
Salt (I like to use very little - a couple of pinches of salt)
Pan for cooking
Stove or fire
Wooden spoon


Add the flour, onion, oil and salt to the beaten egg, and mix until it is a smooth paste.  Heat the pan and put two spoonfuls into the pan and spread it using the wooden spoon.  When the bottom side is golden brown, turn it over and cook the other side.

You will have enough mixture to make several flat breads.

Clean up all your cooking utensils.

I'd be interested if anyone tries it.  Can you think of any other variations? 

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Brisbane Writers Festival (2)

The only session I was able to attend was one in the big red marquee between the State Library and the Gallery of Modern Art, in the area known as "the Breezeway."  I had no tickets for any session, and I knew that my time there was limited, so I slipped into the big marquee and did as was requested sat right in the front - not the front row, but two back.

The session was entitled "Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Illustrated" with Jacqueline Payne (a Queensland Magistrate) in the chair, and Rodney Dillon from Tasmania who was described as an "Indigenous Campaigner for Amnesty International",  Michel Streich, Illustrator, and Anita Heiss, author and social commentator.  I arrived soon after Rodney had started so I missed most of what he had to say, but I was interested to see Michel's sketch book of his work in the book which celebrates the 60th Anniversary of the signing of the declaration of human rights.  It was a little challenging to clearly see the illustrtions but will have to buy the book to see them all.

However it was Anita Heiss that fascinated me.  She spoke about and read from her book which targets 10 - 14 year old readers about an aboriginal girl Mary Talence who was given a diary for her 10th birthday, and what she wrote as she tried to make sense of her aboriginality in the midst of white people.  She read excerpts from the book and I set out to find it later in the bookstore but could not.  I will buy it - and read it myself before I give it as a Christmas gift to my 10 year old grand daughter.  Hopefully it will help her understand a little of the history of our indigenous peoples.

I do find some of the words used by the speakers  confronting.  They speak of the "invasion" by white people in 1788, and they object to the words "discovery of Australia" by Captain Cook - the latter of which I do too.  Why does our history not acknowledge that there were thousands of people living here before Captain Cook came?

In any case I do have some understanding of the way the aboriginal people feel about the way the country we know as Australia was taken over by the British all those years ago.

I will get Anita Heiss's book and I will try and be more open minded about some of the issues, and I would like to endorse Anita's wish for more indigenous studies to be included in schools.  That is a MUST.

Brisbane Writers Festival (1)

It was one of those weekends - so much on, and I had to make some choices that I'd rather not make.  The Alice Awards or going to an event where I would meet dancer and author Li Cuxin.  I chose to go to the Alice Awards, and missed meeting Li - but I now have my book, "Mao's Last Dancer" signed by him and the children's version ready for Christmas gift giving.

I stayed with my friend Heather Jacobs at The Chiffley at Lennons in the city, and after breakfast in the Mall we returned home early on Saturday morning.  I then had a meeting of WOO - Women on Oxford - a group of writers and we are currently working on producing an anthology for later this year.

From there I paid a visit to the Brisbane Writers Festival.  Now this event I like to spend many hours on as many days each year, but on this occasion because of other commitments with family etc I have only had a small window of opportunity to attend.  Saturday afternoon.

I started by going straight to the Information desk and collecting a variety of useful brochures - including the insert from The Australian (wish I'd bought The Australian in July and then I would have been able to research early.)   I was disappointed in the 12 pages of information - in previous years there has been more information about the writers and guests.  I'd tried to print out the brochure online but it was so small and such a waste of paper to print it ALL out, and even then it was unreadable.

My next stop was the Queensland Writer's Centre, which just on 9 months ago moved from its daggy but full of atmosphere digs at the Metro Arts Building in Edward Street.  The new venue is marvellous - housed within the hallowed walls of The State Library at the cultural precinct on the Brisbane River, between the Queensland Art Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art.

I purchased a few things there - one being the book that I savour each publication - The Australian Writers Marketplace.  Then I wandered the sparse collection of small marquees.  There were two publishing organisations - some writers organisations, and a display of paper making.

The artist Lesa Hepburn was a very friendly and chatty lady.  I had done paper making before - self taught (something that I do - too impatient to do classes, and when I do get to do them I am frustrated that I have to go through stuff I think I know!) - to show grandchildren about paper making.  Lesa's display was fascinating and I found myself drawn in to learn more about the art and she willingly shared some of her "secrets".

I saw some small cards - held together with cotton string to make a small booklet and I explored the making of the smaller cards.  My frame is A5 - and the papers I have made languish in a cupboard somewhere, but I learned I could easily make them into smaller versions with a pain brush, water, and a ruler.  It was interesting to see the tools that make up the paper making kit she has on sale.  I found things around the house - even tearing up an old cotton sheet to use in the paper making process and Lesa uses nappy liners.  

She's clearly one talented lady with a few paper arts in her repertoire.  And she does paper making classes, and paper making parties.  Will have to think about that idea - perhaps I can find a group of ladies interested in learning the art.

Meanwhile Lesa has an interesting website, and I'd reckon her paper making kit is worthwhile as it has not only the materials, but a CD with the instructions.  Sounds like a good investment to me.  You can check it out at her website.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

The Alice Award

Christobel Mattingly (left) and President of the Society of Women Writers Qld, Inc, Heather Jacobs.
Patron Estelle Pinney and Alice Award winner Christobel Mattingly.
I attended The Alice Award last night - this is an Australian award for an Australian Writers.  Previous winners have been

Eleanor Dark - 1978
Dame Judith Wright - 1980
Dame Mary Durack - 1982
Kylie Tennant - 1984
Ruth Park - 1986
Nancy Cato - 1988
Nance Donkin - 1990
Elizabeth Jolley - 1992
Mem Fox - 1994
Patsy Adam Smith - 1996
Kathryn Purnell - 1998
Jill Shearer - 2000
Kate Grenville - 2002
Margaret Scott - 2004
Rosemary Dobson - 2006
Brenda Niall - 2008

Last night's award function was organised by the Society of Women Writers Qld Inc, and the nominees were
Christobel Mattingly
Colleen McCullough
Sally Ogders
Hellie Turner
Hazel Edwards
Susanna de Vries

And the winner?

Christobel Mattingly.

President of the SWWQ welcomed the attendees - around 100 people - and writer Estelle Pinney, who is the patron of the SWWQ, announced the winner and presented Christobel with the trophy and certificate.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

So much reading....................

It is a big daunting - but I am finding it interesting as I wade through all the material for my three subjects.  I hope to have my first three exercises completed by Monday - they are due to be posted by Tuesday. So hopefully I will keep on track.

I have had some emails and skype sessions with students in China.  One wanting to help me to help her with her spoken English for an exam she has in the next week or so.  Oral English - and clearly I can help her with that via Skype.  But she was vague about what questions would be asked, and wanted just to "speak".  Mmm.  Not good enough for me, so I asked her to do some research on what TOPICS would be discussed.  I asked for more and more information.  Initially she said it was about "current affairs" so I asked her questions about the recent major airline disaster in China, and Expo, and clearly she had scant knowledge of these things.  I sent her off to do some research.  I smiled as she told me that "a plane was "damaged" in north China, and that there were 96 people on board.  OK, but it crashed, and around 40 people were killed.  Her knowledge of Expo was scant too.

So I gave her a task of doing research on some topics - and I'd create some questions.  I could check her English and we could then do the conversation on Skype but she would be following my questions and answers in English as I had corrected them.  

No one had taught her how to plan for such a test - so I will be keen to see how we go - and of course I will be keen to hear the test results.  Am I on the right track?  Then she has come back to me with a series of other topics that she will have to talk about.  Again, I have asked her to write down the answers that she would give -based on some questions that she had indicated.

I should hear today or tomorrow from her, and we will go onto the next step.

Meanwhile another student has been corresponding with me.  He's about 19, was at high school but forced to give up school as his parents wanted him to earn money so that he could buy them a beautiful home.  He's quite good at English, but totally lacking in confidence.  He wrote to me to tell me he hated the job, but his parents and sister had given him a lot of abuse about his wish to remain at school.  In the end he has given up the job and enrolled back at school, and has a dream to push forward with his English studies.  

He thanked me for my continued support and encouragement - and wrote a lovely email to me. 

The pressure many Chinese students have put on them is immense, such that the suicide rate for students is very high.  Just so much pressure - and as I believe, a lot of insults from teachers if they do not do well.  Sad, but true.