Category Archives: australia

Three weeks of separation


Only Brisbane this time.  Arrival at about 11pm.  The taxi driver who took me to my hotel said his business was down about 30% due to people travelling less.  One thing’s for sure: the economic crisis provides a universal topic of conversation.  The Grand Chancellor is overrated and overpriced.  Never have I written as many critical comments on the comment card.  Good thing I only stayed there two nights and then moved to Mark’s house.

I spent two days with our distributors getting to know new people, showing them our system, and visiting customers with it.  They had organized two presentations at the main universities in Brisbane – a good start and an efficient use of time.

The weekend at Mark’s consisted of a fabulous outing to the Noosa headlands, a church service at the Sherwood Uniting Church where his mother preached, and noontime in the city and South Bank with Mark’s sister.  Brisbane was hot, but not as hot as I had feared, and I feel like with a little more time there would have been plenty more to do.

Flat Stanley in Noosa
Flat Stanley digs Noosa.

New Zealand:

We flew into Auckland on Sunday evening and spent the night near the airport.  Monday we drove down to Rotorua and set up our booth.  The drive and its vistas made me want to see more of the country, but a visit every other year is about as much as is reasonable given the market size.  If only we could sell microscopes to sheep!  One of the little towns we passed, Tirau, seemed to be the corrugated sheet capital of the country, with most signs and several domestic fixtures made of corrugated iron.

Rotorua announces itself by gentle wafts of sulphurous (IUPAC: sulfurous) odors.  Your eggs could go off in this town and you’d put it down to the local air.  The upside is a plethora of spas and baths, of which I tried the Polynesian Spa, a bit expensive indeed but ever so enjoyable late at night after a day at the booth and a big dinner.  Of course, it’s not Japanese style, so now my bathing suit reeks of sulfur.

The conference once again distinguished itself by its aura of familiarity.  This is indeed a small, tight, and friendly microscopy community, a group of people excited about microscopy and happy to hang out with fellow microscopists, wherever they may be from.  As usual, I have a photo of dancing microscopists.

Dancing Microscopists
Dancing Microscopists in Rotorua.

On Thursday we had the afternoon off and headed down to Wai-o-tapu, where the local geological instabilities reminded me of just how fragile our earthly existence is and what a mercy it is to be sustained day by day.

Mud splat
The mud pots.

The Champagne Pool
The Champagne Pool.

Rock brain
Wai-o-tapu has a mind of its own.

Champagne Pool Wai-o-tapu
More from the Champagne Pool.

The next day it was up early and off to the Rotorua airport.  This is an airport where the planes taxi up the runway, u-turn at the end, and then take off along the same runway.  My plane was a 19-seat Beechcraft 1900D, and I was seated in the second row and therefore got to watch the pilots all the way.  Here’s a picture of us landing.

Landing at Auckland Airport
Landing at Auckland Airport with a Beech 1900D.

See how the plane’s longitudinal axis is not at all parallel to the runway?

I haven’t yet transferred many pictures from Japan to my computer – most are still on my camera – but here’s one that also is the quiz of this post: What is in the below bag?

Mystery Accessory - Please Use
Mystery Accessory.

More later – going home now.  It’s about time.


On Saturday, February 23, Ken (one of my business partners) took me on a drive out to Healesville, named after one of the first Governors of Australia, where tourism and the Healesville Sanctuary have replaced logging as the main revenue generators.  Below are pictures from that outing.  The platypus is missing, as is the wombat and the Tasmanian devil – for different reasons.  The platypussary is too dark for pictures, but that’s a fair trade-off for getting to see these odd creatures putting on a show.  The wombat (Florence) lay curled up, sleeping in the straw, looking like a stack of pelts as much as anything.  The Tasmanian devil, acting counter to its name, had withdrawn and was neither to be seen nor its shrieks to be heard. 

Melbourne ANZ buildings
This is still Melbourne CBD (Central Business District).  The older building used to be the stock exchange, if I remember correctly, and now houses the banking museum; the building behind it is the new ANZ bank, full of visual nods to the original, but first and foremost bigger. 

Yarra winery
We stopped at the Yering Farm winery in Yarra valley for a brief tasting.  Ken preferred the Merlot, I the Pinot Noir. 

Parakeets, I think. 

Brown falcon
Brown falcon, I think.  All the raptors were part of the “Birds of Prey” show. 

Barn owl
Barn owl. 

Wedge-tailed eagle
The wedge-tailed eagle, Australia’s largest bird of prey. 

The osprey emerging from the water after an unsuccessful dive for a (dead) fish. 

Foxes in spandex
The flying foxes decided they’d rather sleep. 

Black-winged stilt
Black-winged stilt.

The ineffable ennui of the Koala. 

Koala with arms crossed
The ineffable smugness of the Koala.

Koalas have big noses
The ineffable nose of the Koala. 

Grey kangaroo resembling a Star Wars fighting machine
Suddenly one realizes that the oddly formed animals of this continent might inspire sci-fi battle machines. 

Grey kangaroo in slow motion
Look ma, no feet!

Rock wallaby
The endangered rock wallaby. 

The not so endangered duck. 

The echidna parade.  Snouty pincushions on feet.  I wonder if they know their ‘do went out of style in the early nineties? 

baby brolga
Baby brolga (of the crane family). 

Back in the city we had pizza on at Il Gambero at Lygon street.  Yes, pizza two days in a row, but I enjoyed it both times.  I’m easily pleased. 


Straight into Summer Part II

February 12: We set up the booth, which was exciting only because a lot of things came together at the last moment and it took little time to get our stuff ready.  Otherwise we mostly spent a lot of time waiting in the cold draft – they only heat the halls when the visitors come.  To warm up, the Nanosurf crew went to the Oedo Onsen Monogatari baths two train stops from Tokyo Big Sight.  It’s a hot spring that strives to re-create the storybook Edo of bygone days: everyone in yukata, little wooden foodstalls, tatami rooms, indoor and outdoor baths, but with all the modern conveniences.  On this cold day, I cared less about authenticity and more about the water temperature.  We left a little dazed, but better prepared for a long day. 

February 13-15: What to say: the nano tech spans 4 halls and draws close to 50’000 visitors over three days.  We had planned to run setup demos, where we’d show that an AFM could be set up in less than five minutes.  I was the one setting the system up and narrating in English, while one of our Japanese partners translated.  This worked quite well the first day, but it became clear that we needed a mike, which Björn organized for Thursday.  We only did two or three demos that first day, which is why I had time to take a few pictures. 

The Nanosurf booth at the nano tech Tokyo 2008
Our booth.

Booth lady
I had to fill out a questionnaire to take this picture.  On Thursday I popped briefly into the HVAC&R exhibition to visit Dad’s former business acquaintances at PS Group and noted a change to shorter skirts and colors that seemed straight out of sci-fi comics on the Hisaka Works booth (silver boots! bright pink skirts!).  If you look closely, you can tell this one here works for Toshiba.  The ensuing conversation brought out that she’s “kuootaa.”  One of her grandparents is American. 

Closing time
Closing time.  Once we came to the line at the train ticket machine, we decided to eat near the exhibition site and wait out the crowd. 

Fuji and industry
All three exhibition days the sun shone bright, at least in the morning, and the air was clear enough to see Mount Fuji from the Yurikamome line.  Of course, we spent our time under artificial lighting, only to emerge after sundown.  Thursday we got our mike, and started running the show every hour, with a bit of a break at lunchtime. 

Set up an AFM in under five minutes!
This was our biggest crowd.  Starting was always hardest: I’d shout “If you want to see a suitcase turned into an AFM in under five minutes, here’s your chance!” which usually got translated as “Soon, the set-up of an AFM out of a suitcase will occur here.”  People passing by would look at me and take evasive action, but as soon as things got moving a bit and one or two people stopped to look, everyone stopped to look.  It was fun trying to come up with new lines and turning passersby into sales leads, and I often had to smile at how the translations got toned down.  My “easy to set up, easy to use, and easy to buy!” (inspired by Björn) got turned into “easy to set up, easy to use, and of economically advantageous nature” or something similar. 

Stephan hawking AFM
My main point in posting this picture is to show the extent of the hall.  If you started at the back wall you see, you’d get to our booth about 60% down the way.  This photo also shows the Nespresso coffee machine we had, which makes just under two coffees in the time it takes to set up the AFM (with the computer already running).  With no tea makers on our booth, I relented and had a couple coffees (two sugars, 50% milk).  In general, I drank far too little, especially on Friday, when we decided to step up the demos to every half hours. 

On Thursday evening, our Japanese partners took us out to a shabu-shabu restaurant near Shimbashi station, in a building full of game halls and massage salons manned by Chinese women.  Our waitresses were also Chinese, and I was proud to have recognized that by their accent.  Our partners had told me that my idea of walking a bit farther to get on the train a station before everyone else was a very Japanese ploy – but I think that’s the extent of my thinking like a Japanese, unfortunately. 

Friday the show ended an hour earlier to give us more time to pack up.  I had a motivation to leave as soon as possible because I wanted to meet up with Dean, one of my classmates from my Japanese class from last July, to go hear Quadra at the Rooster jazz club.  I prepared as much as possible Friday morning and also had made the packing invoice ready, and both Björn and Ola started shutting systems down a bit early and prepping everything, so once take-down began it took us about 45 minutes to pack everything up.  The only thing I forgot were the keys to the meeting room and store room – same forgetfulness as last year! 

I made good time out to Ogikubo and met Dean at the station.  Last year, I got to see Kazuhiro Takeda play in the Dodekachordon formation; this time, it was back to the formation I’d originally heard – my third Quadra concert by now – and this time they were joined by another saxophone quartet, Saxophobia (perhaps named after Rudy Wiedoeft’s tune?). 

Quadra at Rooster
Quadra in performance in front of a sell-out crowd.  It was only thanks to Mr. Takeda that we even got seats. 

Quadra and Saxophobia at Rooster
Eight saxophones on stage.  I remember my first shawm concert when they let loose just because of the sheer sound volume.  I don’t remember what they played at the end of the first set when they joined forces, but for the second they played what I had thought all along they should play, Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy, mercy, mercy.”  Now all they need to do for the next show is come up with an arrangement for eight saxophones of “Everybody needs somebody to love” from the Blues Brothers movie… 

Both Dean and I agreed we preferred Quadra, though I don’t think either band saw it as a contest.  Quadra plays with more edge, groove, and tempo, whereas Saxophobia plays a more mellow sound, sometimes incorporating flutes and traditional Japanese woodwinds.  It was late by the time I got home, but I was glad I’d gotten to hear these guys again, and experience the atmosphere of a small club crammed with enthusiasts. 

February 16: I met up at 7:30 at Shimbashi station with Chiharu, whom Cornelia knows from her time in Vancouver and travels in Kenya after Sophy’s wedding, and we took the subway to the Tsukiji market.  It opens much earlier than we arrived and apparently hosts a daily fish auction.  As a result of long-term promotion, tourists these days are too plentiful and restricted from entering some areas, though we either didn’t approach those areas or just simply didn’t notice. 

Transportation at Tsukiji
The typical transportation cart, which I’d never seen before.  Quick to mount, easy to steer, stripped to the bare essentials. 

Some of the produce. 

Vegetable market
Veggies, as far as the eye can see. 

Cart driver
He said he was embarrassed, but taking a picture was okay, as long as I didn’t sell it.  He said nothing about posting it on my blog. 

Sawing tuna
The fish is frozen, then processed with a band saw. 

Before sawing
Before the sawing process. 

Fish scraps
Scraps left over after sawing. 

Sashimi preparation
Pre-cutting fish blocks for sashimi. 

Sea cucumbers
Sea cucumbers, namako in Japanese.  I have no idea where they end up, but I bet they’d make a fun prank assault weapon. 

Seafood for sale
One of the prettier seafood stalls.  The grossest had to be the whalemeat stall, with dark red chunks of meat oozing blood onto the colorless, transparent plastic sheet beneath. 


Weird shellfish. 

Octopus flowers
Octopus ikebana. 

silver fish

We headed north to Utsunomiya from Tokyo, after a short coffee-and-donut breakfast, where we met up with Tomo and Eunsook for lunch.  Tomo I’d never met, but kept in touch with irregularly via e-mail after having been introduced by possibly Sophie – neither Tomo nor I remember, but it had something to do with the Navigators.  Eunsook had just moved to Utsunomiya from Basel a few months ago for her job, and had to learn how to drive because she was going to be unable to commute by public transport.  (Eunsook says hi to all the BCF folks.)  Because Utsunomiya is known for its gyoza, we ignored the current Chinese gyoza scare and filled up at a gyoza place near the train station. 

Yaki-gyoza – also know as potstickers or Chinese dumplings.  (That recalls a vague memory of a kids’ story where dumplings keep growing and growing until they overflow from the pot and fill the house – made all the more mysterious because at the time I had no idea of what dumplings were.) 

Chiharu, Tomo, Stephan, Eunsook
A much too dark picture of Chiharu, Tomo, myself, and Eunsook, that I had to lighten up to grainy poster quality just so our faces would be visible. 

After saying goodbye to Tomo and Eunsook, who both had plans that afternoon, Chiharu and I headed out to Nikko.  We both slept on the train, and she had to wake me up when we’d arrived.  From the town of Nikko we took a bus up to Chuzenji lake, where we got off and, bracing ourselves against the frigid wind, walked to the Kegon waterfall.  We didn’t stay long, due to the merciless wind that whipped through our clothes and needle-pricked our faces, but walked to the lake to see it before the sun set.  If anything, the wind was stronger coming off the lake, and as soon as the sun had set we set out to find the Chuzenji onsen.  It felt great to soak in hot water, but the bus departure time limited me to just about five minutes, because I’d wasted a lot of time trying to get my coin locker to work. 

Kegon falls Nikko
Kegon Falls.

Chuzenji lake
Lake Chuzenji.

Lake Chuzenji, Nikko
Lake Chuzenji. 

It took a long time to get back to Tokyo, but we did, sleeping most the way. 

February 17: I went to Honda chapel again, but this time left pretty soon after the service, because there were a few things I needed to do in Tokyo, though I ended up forgetting to purchase toe socks.  I wasn’t done sleeping in trains, and I have yet to learn how to get up on time to get off.  Fortunately for me, Tokyo main station was the final stop, so other than getting to experience the odd feeling of waking up in an empty train car, no harm befell me.  I was under some time pressure to make it back to the hotel on time to skype Switzerland, but although I expressed it poorly at the time, that’s the kind of pressure I don’t mind. 

February 18: I just barely made the Narita Express from Tokyo, having gotten off to a late start from Shiodome and having underestimated the time it took to lug two suitcases to the train station, but got to relax on the train and then, after check-in, in the lounge.  The only surprise for me was that I wasn’t able to check my baggage through to Melbourne: I would have to pick it up in Shanghai and then check it in again.  In retrospect, I should have simply taken all luggage through the nothing to declare line and checked in without any regard to my Carnet A.T.A, but I thought I’d play it by the book, or at least by what I thought the book asked of me, which would be to get a transit paper stamped.  This confused the customs employee, who had just arrived, and after I had told her I didn’t want to have the importation form stamped she said “wait a moment” and went into her office and ate dinner.  I paced outside, waiting for a sign of activity that didn’t involve mastication.  Just as I was about to take off again a guy appeared who had a better command of the English language.  Things were happening.  After a few discussions back and forth he suggested I just ignore the whole Carnet thing and go through customs without a stamp, which I would at that point have loved to do, but I’d already filled out the blue transit form, thinking that was the right thing to do.  It turned out the customs official had never come across the blue transit form, which including me made two clueless people on either side of the transaction.  They took the form I’d filled out, stamped the thing somehow, and told me to explain the incident to their Australian colleagues.  While the incident proved to me that I still need a good helping of patience, it may have proved beneficial in the end, because I ended up being upgraded to business class, further corroborating my suspicion that tardiness at check-in gets rewarded by a better seat.  With the business class seat I managed to sleep pretty well, waking up just in time for breakfast – the smell always wakes me up despite eye covers and earplugs. 

February 19: Melbourne customs handled the Carnet well.  Janelle, the girl handling my case, had just started her shift and I think had never done a Carnet, but she had a number of experienced colleagues to walk her through the procedure.  I asked about the transit sheet, where I thought I was missing a stamp, and the Australian guy said that as long as I got home with all the stuff on the list, it didn’t matter which stamps I did or didn’t have.  That said, Melbourne airport does not handle customs well.  It takes at least an hour to get through, and that was only because I was in the shorter “difficult” lane because of my Carnet.  I don’t know if the length of the line correlates with the presence of the filming crews, or if it’s always that long and only coincidence that both times I’ve arrived internationally at Melbourne Tullamarine filming crews have been present.  They generally slouch with their equipment on chairs near the customs exit, looking bored, waiting for the opportunity to shove a microphone into the face of some poor long-distance traveller who ideally struggles with English. 

Steven picked me up and drove me to the hotel.  For the next three days, Steven would be my driver and accompany me on customer visits, usually to universities in the middle of orientation week.  We had a good few visits that allowed him to get a first handle on our microscopes. 

February 22: In the evening I took a train from Southern Cross station to Glen Ferrie, where Tim works, and met him at his office.  We picked up his daughters from childcare and drove to their home, picking up two pizzas on the way for their traditional weekend kick-off food (which is usually home-made, but not this time, due to Tim’s travels).  Viv was out with friends, so I didn’t get to see her until late, and then only for a few minutes, as it was time to get back to the hotel.  I have no pictures of the girls on the backyard trampoline, but here are a few pictures that are right up there with Léon’s on the kawaii scale. 

Izzie with pizza
Izzie loves pizza! 

Caitlin is a bit more successful in keeping it out of her hair. 

Tim and the girls
Tim and the girls. 

Isobel playing with what I think is a bathing suit. 

That’s it for now – I’m still a week behind, but it’s 12:30 and well past bedtime. 


I completely forgot about the Interview

But such are the facts: David Freund interviewed me at the COMS 2007 about our microscopes for  Of course, I think I sound like a nasally arrogant Amurrican, what with a cold on the way, and there are a number of things I would have said differently or not at all, but now you can hear thduggie trying to think on his feet.  It starts at about eleven an a half minutes into the 17MB file, so if you’re on dial-up, ignore it.  If the link doesn’t work, try going to the Azonano podcasts, and looking for the September 17, 2007 podcast.

There.  Four down, eleven to go on my quest for my own fifteen minutes… 😉

Round the world, part I

Friday, September 14, 9:08 a.m.
weight unknown (v.g.), calorie intake unknown (v.g.), thigh circumference unknown (v.g.), cigarettes 0 (v.v.g.), alcohol units unknown (but >0, hence only g.), predictable plot twists 2

I boarded the Skybus late because stuffing my stuff in my suitcases took longer than intended and apologized to the driver.  I don’t think it would have changed which bus we boarded at the Southern Cross Station terminal, but I still felt embarrassed.  At the airport, I checked in, proceeded with no delay through customs, and went to claim back the GST from my opal purchase.  The girl working the TRS booth started peeling the cover off my passport, which nobody had done so far at any customs station, then, when she realized it wasn’t easy, handed it to me and asked me to remove the cover.  Confused by the request and annoyed at the prospect of having to stuff the passport back in, I asked: “Why would you need that?”  She took the passport back.  “Oh, right, I don’t.  I’m used to being over there,” she said, and pointed to the customs booths.  She went to work on the computer, and I was left to reflect on my question and my tone.  “I’m sorry if I was rude before,” I finally said, belated and still not fully admitting guilt.  “No worries.”
After getting my documents and passing through the security check two officers pulled me aside for a random check to pat me down and swipe a detector for explosives residue on me and in my carry-ons.  I’m quite sure the TRS girl had nothing to do with that.  I passed the search and continued on to the gates, all located in a circular hall with stores in the nexus.  I bought a lemonade and a rocky road at the only coffee shop and sat down to read.  The book I held in my hand was “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” but the real reason for reading lay in having registered “Prey” at Bookcrossing before and indicated this coffee shop as the drop-off point.  I thought it was quite clever to read another book and placing “Prey” in full view on the table, because that way I could pack my things and everyone would see that I was packing a book and hopefully infer that “Prey” wasn’t mine.  It worked, but I think the subterfuge was wasted on the loud Chinese around me who clearly had other things in mind than hollering after me that I’d forgotten my book.

The plane was a bit late boarding and then even later leaving.  A Qantas flight to Auckland on to L.A. was delayed by about two and a half hours because it was waiting for a missing part from Sydney, and the passengers bound for Santiago de Chile got reshuffled to our flight in order to be able to make the connection to Chile in Auckland.  I fell asleep in the waiting plane, only to wake up to the sound of the purser’s voice announcing that boarding was complete.

Friday, September 14, 1:00 p.m.
Runway, Melbourne Tullamarine

We took off into a patchy sky and circled over the plains west of Melbourne.  Through one opening in the clouds I saw an area with a surprising number of O shapes, possibly horse-racing tracks or something similar.  It looked like a giant piece of retro appliqué with earth tones and elbow patches arranged at ninety-degree angles to each other.  We flew right over the CBD, so I saw nothing of it.  After that came the ocean, and I turned to the entertainment program and watched “Surf’s Up,” which I enjoyed as a fun divertissement, noting in the process that Zooey Deschanel has a lovely speaking voice.

Flying into Auckland just after sunset the colors turned magical: soft hues of steel blue with orange highlights in the clouds, intense aquamarine and turquoise with sandy swirls in the water, and rich green with darker woods across the landscape.  The guy next to me caught sight of my Hawthorn scarf as we got ready to deplane, and said that had he known I was a member we could have spent all flight talking.  Instead of voicing my gratitude for the way things had turned out, I quickly admitted to being a rookie member and a fake one at that, but I think the scarf alone and the reminder of the great game the previous weekend were enough to cheer up this guy who had clearly not enjoyed the delay we’d had.  (Note: Hawthorn lost this weekend against the Kangaroos and is unfortunately out of the competition.  Now I have a beef with roos.)
Friday, September 14, 6:45 p.m.
Auckland International Airport
Auckland airport once again seemed convoluted for so small an airport.  We passed security first thing after leaving the plane – even those carrying on to SFO on the same plane – and then walked round a corner up a flight of stairs into the main departure hall.  I passed the chapel on my way to the bathroom, turned in, and found a pulpit with a Bible on it open to 2 Kings or something similarly exciting and approachable.  To the side, a compass sat fixed to a wooden pillar, with an outlined T above the needle, the crossbar facing east-west and the upright pointing north.  Below, on the railing, a small plaque with an arrow pointed to Al Kaaba.  Above, in the main hall, I ordered sparkling water and received Coke without the syrup.  I hurried up with drinking because the display proclaimed 10 minutes until boarding for my flight, although even so apparently the gate was yet unknown.  Soon it switched to proclaiming five minutes until boarding, a number it stuck to for a quarter of an hour.  When Gate 8 appeared on the board I walked over toward the gates, where two officials sat behind a trestle table in front of three sheets of paper taped to the wall.  Two papers seemed semi-permanent and indicated the way to the gate; the third looked more improvised and more ruffled and read “LAX Gate 8” in two-tone highlighter.  After the airline employee checked my ticket, two officials again asked me to step aside for a random search.  I passed again, amidst quips about being used to it because of the search in Melbourne.  I must have been the safest passenger on board that plane.

I read more Bridget Jones and wondered if just as Jones is annoying to me because of her scattered flightiness, I am annoying to other people because I curb and hedge my enthusiasm.  Somehow my thoughts meandered off and ran to being on the beach and needing suntan lotion, and I suddenly realized my suntan lotion was still in my camera bag.  60ml of liquid smuggled on board just like that!

I found it harder to sleep on this flight.  Air New Zealand served lamb (darn good for airplane food) and after a few hiccups provided a decent entertainment selection.  I watched “The World’s Fastest Indian,” a delightful quirky story that makes a man want to build his own motorcycle, “Ocean’s 13,” with a plot of such basic simplicity and such byzantine contortions that I’m not sure I followed it, and an episode of Top Gear.  I finally fell asleep, only to be woken at breakfast by the flight attendant moving my seat back into the upright position.
Friday, September 14, 1:35 p.m.
LAX airport

We land.  Taxiing takes a long time, as does waiting for baggage, which shows up on belt 6 instead of 5 and gets taken off the belt by an eager official before it makes the round back to where I stand.  My smaller suitcase has sustained damage, par for the course for flights to the US.  The walk from the baggage claim to the exit is short, the arrival room looks like a proviso with the ATM standing in the section that’s inaccessible once you’re out of the double doors.  I wait, armed with not a single dollar, and a few minutes later Heather arrives to pick me up.

Jetlag weariness keeps me from relating the rest of the weekend now.

The Eve of the Flight (reprise)

I’m once again procrastinating instead of either packing stuff or going to bed so I can get up early and pack stuff.  Mind you, the microscope’s packed, and everything else should go quickly – crumple and stuff. 

I’ve mostly worked these last days, as business trips tend to work out, and that stuff is either boring or confidential or both, though why boring stuff is confidential beats me.  It’s like saying “I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you about yesterday’s meeting of the Hello Kitty Toothbrush Lovers of Wollongong because it’s confidential.” 

I did get a short window of free time yesterday afternoon, which I used to go shopping a bit, for postcards, souvenirs, and books.  I even stopped in the City Hatters’ store, and nearly drooled over the cool hats, but until I figure out a way to transport a $100 Panama hat without packing it in a suitcase or chucking it in the overhead compartment I’m not buying one overseas. 

Books I did buy, so as to be ready when I finish Bridget Jones’s Diary.  I can’t believe how insecure and incompetent and prone to dumb decisions poor Bridget is.  I have even more trouble understanding why the book has resonated so strongly with so many women.  Does that mean they identify?  If so, why am I attracted to women? 

Anyway, when buying books I also asked the clerk for her recommendations on Australian authors, and ended up choosing a book by David Malouf.  After I’d paid, she asked me if I mainly read fiction, or if I also enjoyed non-fiction.  “Fiction,” I answered.  “Life is enough non-fiction.”  It made her laugh and she wished me a good escape, but looking back I think that answer slipped out because I liked its cleverness, not because I considered its truthfulness.  I do enjoy non-fiction, and I enjoy life. 

I walked back through some side alleys and found the difference between the cute ones that had been done up and the neglected ones lined by six-storey brick walls depressing.  Melbourne could be such a charmer of a city if those alleys had some life to them!  Back home laundry lay waiting for me.  Once again, I’d given the laundry service two identical pairs of toe socks and they’d come back with the two right feet together and the two left feet together.  It might not sound too bad, but if it’s early morning and your sock won’t fit it’s a bit of a nuisance. 

For dinner Thursday we went to an English pub called The Elephant and the Wheelbarrow.  The name drew me in.  True to form, hearty dishes and hearty beer prevailed.  I enjoyed a Steak and Ale Stew with a Newcastle Brown (smooth, tasty) and afterward a Toohey’s Old (roasted flavor and a little more edgy).  It ended up being too much, and I still felt heavy the next morning. 

Today Friday I had a Netmeeting conference with a slow video connection and a jumble of whiteboard sharing and desktop sharing.  It was my first such experience and reminded me of the power of being there and showing real stuff. 

For dinner I was again invited at Tim and Vivienne’s.  It’s such a delight to be with them and their girls.  They’ve really made my trip to Melbourne.  The Great Ocean Road pales in comparison to two darling little girls and two good friends.  Those of you who know them: They say hi, and they miss you. 


Installation and a banquet

I caught up on some e-mailing this morning and random busywork.  After a lunch of Seven-Eleven-bought English muffins and peanut butter I met with my business partner and we went out to Monash University to install a microscope for our new customer.  A screw had come loose in the unit, which is very unusual, but we found and repaired it easily. 

After that we flew through installation and setup and got the first measurements underway.  Our customer and his assistants were very systematical and good about asking relevant questions, so except for my still slightly sore throat I had a good time at the installation. 

For dinner, I got invited to the Annual Church Banquet of the Faith! Christian Church Dandenong North.  It’s not really too complicated to explain why, but I don’t want to explain it here.  Anyway, it was interesting to see how an Australian 2000-member church holds its Annual General Meeting.  I’m used to Swiss AGMs according to Swiss law, which does change a few things. 



I went to church with Tim and Viv and their family this morning and found an atypically informal setting – not quite a “beanbag church,” but one with sofas along the walls and two crescent arrangements of chairs.  This irregular and spacious arrangement meant that a person could move during the service without distracting the others – going to the bathroom, getting a drink (such as I did when a cough wouldn’t stop), or, for children, walking to or from parents.  The children had a play area, but not all played there.  Several sat through the sermon. 

They had no formal way of welcoming newcomers, who I suppose would be rare in a local church in the suburbs.  They also had no formal way of collecting the offering, except for pointing out that there was a tin box somewhere.  Now usually I believe a bit of formality goes a long way toward saying you care, but here it felt different.  They cared enough not to focus on mere perfection – the praise songs weren’t perfect shows and unlike many other places I’ve been I never got the impression anyone of them was performing.  Again, I run the risk of contradicting my usual soapbox statements in favor of the pursuit of excellence in a church service, and it’s hard to describe what it is that felt different.  Perhaps it was that the informality wasn’t forced, but a natural common denominator, down to the open floor for questions and comments on the sermon.  That I liked – and I think it worked primarily because (a) the congregation is used to it and (b) the speaker is physically close to the congregation. 

The speaker highlighted passion for God and a relationship with God as central, and once again I felt a bit alienated.  Passion, I tend to think, is not my forte.  “Intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction” – not me.  I tend to associate passion with loud, agitated, irrational behavior, things I try to avoid because I don’t find them helpful.  I’m less emotive than most, too, so I feel left out by this insistence on passion.  I’d prefer zeal – without the fanaticism often inferred.  I’d prefer fervor – but just a little toned down. 

But maybe I need not feel so left out at all.  Maybe the root of passion, the Latin word for suffering, helps me out here.  I suffer when people laugh at Christian belief, when people dismiss it as outmoded and disproven, when people believe and spread rumors and half-truths and urban legends about it.  I suffer when people don’t care about getting it right, when they take poor decisions.  I may not get loud or agitated – I may often not react at all, stunned by the baldfaced nature of whatever statement was made – but if we must wear a badge of passion to be a rightful part of the righteous flock, then I can only claim it as a silent sufferer.  I hope that counts.  I want it to. 

Anyway, after church we went to St. Kilda for fish and chips and the girls got to play in the sand and loved it.  Tim and Viv are clearly my Cafe Credo down here. 

I walked back from their apartment and got a bit turned around after the Fitzroy gardens, but the CBD is hard to miss, and the lights of the Princess theatre serve as a great beacon for Little Bourke Street, where my hotel stands.  The bonus of getting off track was getting to see another cathedral in Melbourne.  Back at the hotel I copied my photos to the computer in order to finally post them below – starting with South Korea. 

But before I post them, I want to provide you with a link to AFL club songs.  These get blared from the speakers before the game and the winner’s tune gets blared again umpteen times after the game.  There’s also a brief history of AFL club songs on a related site. 


Jokduri-bong in Bukhansan National Park, my hiking destination. 

The way up.

This guy had an easier time getting up. 

Bukhansan National Park

A view of the Bukhansan National Park. 

Ignore the shirt – this picture was taken by a guy standing about two meters higher than me and gives a good idea of the grade.   

Seoul from Bukhansan National Park

Seoul from the north. 

Part of my route down.  That rock is slippery even when dry. 


That’s where I stood not long ago: Jokduri-bong from the rear side. 

I don’t care what the joint looks like: if it serves cold drinks, I’ve having some. 

Seoul Museum of Chicken Art

Some fowl from the Seoul Museum of Chicken Art. 

Seoul Museum of Chicken Art

More wooden fowl. 

They’ve found out the best way of proclaiming that they know about the mistake and that it’s not really that important. 

A woodworker at Insadong, the Seoul shopping street (for tourists). 


Typical Insadong confusion. 

Seoul Tower

The Seoul Tower through my hotel window after a shower. 

Melbourne CBD from St. Albert Park Lake

Melbourne’s CBD across St. Albert’s Park Lake. 

Black swan and cygnet

Mother and child on the lake. 

Melbourne CBD

The guy has an interesting shirt, too, but I doubt it can be read at this resolution. 

Miffy turns to Snuffy

If you bend the ears like this, she looks like Snuffy!

Great Ocean Road

One of the first views of the Great Ocean Road. 

Wye River beach, Great Ocean Road

The beach at Wye River. 

Australian Road sign - Drive on Left

These signs stand at the exit of all parking areas. 

Gibson Steps

A sense of scale from the top of Gibson Steps.  Those are human footsteps below. 

Gibson Steps Great Ocean Road

Looking westward at the bottom of Gibson Steps. 

Twelve Apostles Great Ocean Road

Looking at the same rocks from the Twelve Apostles. 

Twelve Apostles coastline from Loch Ard Gorge

Looking back east from Loch Ard Gorge toward the Twelve Apostles. 

Big huge series of big huge cliffs Great Ocean Road

Another shot that gives an idea of Australian scale. 

Twelve Apostles at dusk Great Ocean Road

The Twelve Apostles after sunset. 

Twelve Apostles at gloaming Great Ocean Road

The Twelve Apostles, again. 

Twelve Apostles blue hour looking east Great Ocean Road

Looking eastward again. 

Great Ocean Road coastline in the mist

Looking a little farther east, into the mist. 

Twelve Apostles

A close-up westward. 

Twelve Apostles in the evening glow

Yet closer up. 

Another sweetie.  Three teeth make a gorgeous smile when you’re really young (or really old). 

In the US, it would say “WRONG WAY.”  You decide which is worse…



Yesterday, I got up and called Thrifty to rent a car.  The girl on the phone told me that all their cars were at the APEC in Sydney.  I was a bit unsettled.  What if I couldn’t find a car to rent? 

I called Budget next and my fears evaporated.  They had a Hyundai Getz for me.  A lemon yellow Hyundai Getz.  I opted for the extra insurance because I had never driven a right-hand drive and on top of that, Melbourne has this weird way of having cars on a street with a tram line turn right by waiting on the far left corner for the light to turn red.  Better watch that a few times before you try it. 

I drove out of the parking lot and switched on the wipers to indicate I wished to turn right.  Everything is wrong on these cars.  When I got in, I’d grope for the belt on the left.  I’d shift from fourth into third instead of fifth because that motion of pushing the stick away is so ingrained.  I leaned away from the door because I felt so close to the right side. 

Slowly, these habits vanished, as did my confusion with signage.  Driving through the CBD proved a great way to make sure I got used to the chirality of the car quickly, but even so, I took two wrong turns before finally getting on the Princes Highway toward Geelong (pronounce that Juh-LONG).  In Geelong I stopped at the information center to get some information on the Great Ocean Road.  I decided to drive the windy road on the way there and take the inland route home.  The lady at the info center explained that driving back on the coastal stretch would mean the view was behind me, but I’m still not sure what she means with that. 

I drove the US 1 down the California coast last year and can compare between the two, as far as that is possible.  I prefer the California scenery but the Australian road quality.  Despite having a Hyundai Getz, I rarely had to let another car pass and that only uphill, where mine just wasn’t the little engine that could.  Around squealing corners the Getz held its own quite admirably. 

I stopped for food in Wye River: a Hazelnut Choc Magnum and a three packets of nuts, along with four bottles of water.  This was to be my balanced diet for the day, and I continued on toward Apollo Bay, another quiet town nestled in a sandy bay.  Summer sees the population increase, but at this time of the year the beaches are empty and the gas station attendants bored.  From Apollo Bay the road cuts inland through the Otway range and lush meadows.  At one point a sign informed me that potato and related equipment wasn’t allowed any further, but because I didn’t understand that sign, I ignored it.  Every now and again, I would catch up to a careful driver that decided to drive 75 on a 100 km/h road and groaned every time he didn’t pull over at the slow vehicle turnout (“Consider Vehicles Following,” as the signs had it).  He must have just not considered the little Getz a vehicle. 

At about three thirty, I arrived at the Gibson Steps and climbed down the walkway to the beach, giving me a good idea of the height of the cliffs lining this part of the coast.  A sign on the way down warned visitors not to swim, and just watching the tow of the waves spoke volumes as to why not.  I stayed on the sand and took pictures of the ochre cliffs and the beach before walking back up to my parked vehicle and turning back onto the road with its signs that said “Drive on the left in Australia.”  Perhaps it was a year of cycling on the left in Japan, but that part caused me no trouble during the entire trip. 

I got to the Twelve Apostles at about four o’clock.  These are giant rocks standing tall above the beach, where the water has eroded the rock around them and pushed back the remaining shoreline.  When you realize how rarely the water even reaches the cliffs, you get an idea of how long it would have taken to shape these formations and you stand in awe of the beauty and fragility of creation and wonder why big, uninhabitable rocks in a dangerous surf would cause human viewers to experience beauty.  Come to think of it, how many things have you seen in nature that you’ve deemed ugly?  (Count out your spider and snake phobias.)  What is it that makes useless and even hostile elements of nature beautiful and useful man-made things ugly? 

Because an hour or two remained until sundown I decided to drive on to the Loch Ard Gorge for a quick look and return to the Twelve Apostles later again.  I walked to the Blowhole, where I expected to see the sea water shoot up in an angry spray, but on most sides the path led a route too far from the rock edge to see down into the circular pool.  From the landward edge I could see the waves tunneling in and lashing at the sides, but that was it.  I continued on the path to another view of yellow cliffs and blue water, and from there back to the parking lot.  I only briefly walked out to the Loch Ard Gorge because I was worried about missing sundown at the Twelve Apostles. 

Loch Ard Gorge is named after the Loch Ard, a British ship that sailed for Australia in 1878 with about fifty people on board.  They had sailed for three months and first seen Australia the day before, leading to celebrations.  Fog rose that night, and the ship went off course, until the lookout saw breakers.  The captain tried to sail back out to sea, but the winds drove him back; he tried to anchor the ship down, but the anchor wouldn’t hold.  The Loch Ard ran aground, broke, and sank, taking all but two with her. 

I drove back to the Twelve Apostles parking lot and sat in the car writing postcards until I thought the sun was low enough to warrant walking out to see the sunset.  I figured it might be a bit chilly, so I wanted to take my second jacket with me.  I got my camera out from the passenger side, but when I moved the seat forward to grab my jacket I noticed the rear left tire was flat. 

I’d had a flat tire before, with Jerry, in my parents’ car, so I knew how to go about changing one.  I grabbed the utensils out of the trunk and got cranking until the tire hung a few centimeters above the ground.  When I tried to undo the nuts, all I succeeded in doing was turn the tire.  I leaned into the car and yanked the emergency brake tighter.  That just meant I couldn’t move the wrench at all.  Where’s Jerry when you need him?  I resorted to kicking the wrench, stomping it with my whole weight in the direction I thought would open the nut, until finally it moved with a shriek, and repeated that with all others.  From there on it was easy – switching the tire, kicking the wrench again to tighten the nuts, lower the car, replace everything in the trunk.  I rubbed my dirty hands, stretched my back, and looked up.  The sun had set. 

But that didn’t keep me from walking out again, delayed just a little more by washing my hands at the welcome station.  The sun had indeed set, but the sea glowed with a luminous reflection of the sky above – the blue hour.  The Apostles stood as dark silhouettes in the mist, backlit by the afterglow of sunset.  Eastward, the warm yellow of the cliffs around Gibson Steps contrasted with the soft outlines of the sea and the hard lines of its breakers.  The daytime choppy growl of the flightseeing helicopters had ceased, and only the dull roar of the sea continued unabated.  Only at the welcome center’s septic pond the frogs joined the eventide. 

I returned to the car lot, almost empty, and left for Port Campbell.  On the map it looks big and important.  In the dark it’s a three-roundabout whirlpool of windshield wiper confusion – poor signage and my unfamiliarity with the town names in the vicinity made me fall back on left-hand-drive habits.  I drove north and then east to Colac, where I stopped for my only real meal of the day at a Red Rooster

For the last thirty minutes I’d been listening to the Dirty Thirty on some rock station, the only station my car radio could find on automatic search.  Between Colac and Geelong I got sick of it and switched to a classical station that aired an interview about Sally Beamish’s composition for accordion and orchestra that James Crabb and was performing with the Melbourne symphony orchestra, followed by a Vaughan Williams piece for Chromatic Harmonica and orchestra.  I flipped onward after that, and got SBS during its Dutch hour.  It’s surprising how much Dutch a Swiss German speaker will understand!  At 10pm the program switched to Spanish, and I drove to the hotel listening to a eulogy to Luciano Pavarotti in Spanish, “mas grande” and all. 

I would have loved to sleep in today, but I had to get the car back.  I slept as long as permissible under the circumstances and got the car back a few minutes late, but with the queues they had I doubt they cared.  Upon their request, I left them my e-mail because of the flat tire, but so far I’ve heard nothing, and I’m assuming no news is good news in this case.  I walked back to the hotel via an opal store. 

After a shower I headed to the Southern Cross station, where I met up with Tim and his brother Pete.  We scarfed a quick lunch and then headed over to the Telstra Dome for the elimination finals game pitting Hawthorn against Adelaide.  Pete decked me out with a Hawthorn scarf.  I’d never seen an Aussie Rules Football (Footy) game before, so Tim had some explaining to do all along, but the general principle is simple.  There are four posts on either side.  Kick the ball between the middle two, and you score a goal worth six points.  Kick it at a post or between outer posts, or carry it in, or bounce it in off your hands, and you score one point. 

The game was not only an ornithological delight, pitting the Hawks against the Crows amidst a few seagulls, but two and a half hours of real excitement.  Adelaide pulled away early, and at one point held a 31-point lead over the Hawks.  The Hawks fought back and finally pulled ahead 96-90 in the final quarter, but Adelaide levelled the score again.  Hawthorn had two set pieces that resulted in only one point each to put them ahead 98-96, and the crowd, mostly Hawthorn, didn’t know whether to savor the lead or fret about the missed chances.  At the end of the next Adelaide attack, they did the latter, as the Crows hit six points for a 102-98 lead.  With only a minute or two to play, Hawthorne again got into place for a set piece, but missed again, only moving to 99.  The brown and gold fans had all but given up, when Lance Franklin got a mark with a few seconds to play and sent Hawthorne fans into a frenzy of jubilation by scoring six for a final score of 105-102.  People spilled out of the stadium in the dazed stupor of fading excitement, and to my surprise, there seemed to be no hard feelings.  Even during the game it was obvious that some friends barracked for opposing teams; after the game, some random stranger asked Tim and me how we had done against the Kangaroos.  As it was news to me that I had any beef with any kangaroos, I let Tim take care of that one. 

That’s it for today.  I’ll try to post photos – sometime. 

Oh: stay away from Coopers beer.  Not good.