Category Archives: Culture

New Year Resolutions

I have made New Year resolutions for the past two years (2015 and 2016) and just made my resolutions for 2017 as well.

My resolution for 2015 was to eat more cake.  And I did.  I ate lots and lots of cake.  I don’t think anyone needs an excuse to eat more cake, but my reasoning behind this resolution was to enjoy food more and worry about it less.  “Eating more cake” packaged those desires into a nice, simple resolution which I could easily share with people.  I wanted to enjoy food more and worry less, because I wasn’t enjoying food as much as I usually do and I was worrying about eating a lot.  After moving to Australia in 2014, I started gaining weight due to a combination of factors, and I struggled to deal with and accept that weight gain.  I struggled a lot.  I started to feel very negatively about my body all the time, and that effected how I felt about food and how I ate.  Then some of my past disordered eating habits started to resurface.  So my resolution for 2015 was really an extension of my efforts to accept my body and be happy with it and in it and to not worry and stress so much about food.

I wish I could say it is all now better after my year of eating cake.  I successfully ate a lot of cake and enjoyed a lot of it without worry, but I am still endlessly struggling against a society that tells me my primary value is how attractive I appear and that a failure to exercise enough/diet enough/stay skinny enough/whatever enough is actually a moral failure on my part.  But reminding myself every day that I am not here to be beautiful and that every body deserves to be treated with dignity (and to cake) is helping.  I am gaining weight again right now, and though I am still struggling to accept and be happy with my changing body, it is less of a burden this time.  As it will be less of a burden the time after that.  As it will be less of a burden on our future generations.  Until it is no burden at all.

It’s not my responsibility to be beautiful.  I am not alive for that purpose.  My existence is not about how desirable you find me. ~Warsan Shire

I made three resolutions for 2016.  Like in 2015, the resolutions were simple goals motivated by larger ideals.  The first was to have more meal outside; the second was to use candles at dinner more; and the third was to wear bras less.

Wanting to be outside is a desire I’ve gradually developed, and developed rather recently.  I didn’t spend much time out doors growing up.  Really, I didn’t spend much time out doors until I met Pretty Boy.  After meeting him, I became a moto partner and started camping when we’d travel to races.  And then we started traveling on vacation together, and we found that hiking was a holiday activity that neither of us independently sought out, but together, it was the perfect compromise between his love of exploring and my ability to slow-walk forever.  And through camping and hiking, I found I really liked being in nature and the out doors.  The desire to be outside has been further bolstered, because eating outside and enjoying the out door in general is so much a part of life in Australia.

So I wanted 2016 to be the year I stretched beyond my default two out door activities, moto camping and travel hiking.  I wanted the out doors (both urban and wilderness out doors) to be part of our day-to-day lives.  I still fear the cold and the bug bites so much, and probably always will, so I haven’t succeed in making the out doors part of our day-to-day lives as much as I would have liked, but I’ve pushed myself some and enjoyed it almost completely.  Some examples: we spent several evenings last summer on the futon under the bug net in our courtyard because it was just too hot to stay inside our brick townhouse.  We planned more holidays focused on hiking and visiting wilderness locations and being outside.  And biggest of all I think for me, we went on a camping road trip, where we camped out of Pretty Boy’s work truck along the Great Ocean Road for five consecutive nights.  I make these resolutions as goals to enact for the year, but ways of living to maintain for as long as they fit.  I hope to keep working on this one and find the right level of out-doors-iness for our lives.

The resolution to use candles at dinner had a simpler motivation:  I wanted to celebrate more, make mealtimes an occasion.  Interestingly enough, I succeed in the motivation though not in the actual resolution.  We burned candles at dinner a few times early in 2016 when it was just me and Pretty Boy, but the resolution petered out.  2016 did however become our year of meal parties.  We hosted a number of dinners and brunches and get-togethers at our place this year, with more people than I’d ever cooked for before (and more people than we actually have chairs and flatware to accommodate) and more foods I’d never tried making before.  Its been great.  I love hosting and being in the company of friends in the comfort of my own home.  I’ve learned a lot about how much I love our house here, what I like about hosting, and how much me and Pretty Boy can reasonably accomplish before we have people over, especially when it involves large numbers of people.  And the focus, the important part, was always the people and the food.  Not how pretty the table was (with or without candles), not pictures or how instagram-able the meals were.  I’m calling it a successful resolution and hoping for many more successful party meals to come.

Wearing bras less was the easiest and most-completely implemented resolution.  And that surprised me.  I made the resolution tentative:  I wanted to wear bras less, rather than something more resolute, like stop wearing them all together, because I anticipated it would be a challenge.  But almost immediately after I resolved to wear bras less, I stopped wearing them almost all together and now only wear a bra for very infrequent reasons.  I never realized how uncomfortable bras were for me, and if I wear one now since giving them up, I find it so uncomfortable that I feel validated in my decision to stop wearing them.  It started as a push back at all the way society tells women how they should look, what they should want, and what they need to be women.  Now, though, it is as much about comfort and saving money as pushing back.

I used to wear bras because I thought my boobs were “funny” shaped and too small, and because I thought bras made my clothes fit and look better.  And that reasoning persisted until I read a series of articles about going braless, and I really thought about my reasoning, really thought about the judgments and view I was supporting by wearing bras for those reasons.  I realized my boobs are not “funny” shaped by any measure I care to judge them by and my desired look and fit of my clothes is no longer the same as conventional figure flattery.  I don’t want to have excessively round and protuberant boobs that are the focus of my shirts and dresses, which I feel is what the majority of bras and women’s clothing is striving for.  I want more gender neutral clothing that does’t highlight my body in any manner (sexual or otherwise—see above Warsan Shire quote), and I want to be comfortable.  Not wearing bras supported both of those desires.

The one true thing I’ve always know about my boobs that is still true today is that they are small.  And on the very, very far end of small.  As in, I have to search and search and search for bras that actually fit me, because I’m a small AA or smaller.  For reference, that’s three sizes smaller (small AA, AA, A, B) than the smallest cup size typically offered for fashion bras (B).  If I find a bra that fits, and I like the style/color/cut, and it isn’t ridiculously padded (because yes, there are small breasted women who don’t want to make their boobs look bigger), I definitely won’t like the price.  As a result I have a few very expensive bras and several more ill-fitting bras.  I was delighted to find I could be more comfortable and save money by not chasing after affordable, well-fitting bras.

The biggest hurdle has been getting over my fear of being confronted and accused of being indecent.  I don’t think I’m being indecent. at. all.  And I have a good response at the ready if I ever do get confronted: guys wear tight or short shorts here all the time and if one doesn’t want to see their crotch-bulge, one averts one’s eyes.  If one can’t avert one’s eyes, that’s their problem and they don’t demand the guy changes his clothes.  The same logic should apply to me.  But I haven’t been confronted.  No one’s mentioned anything about it to me at all.  I haven’t even caught anyone staring.  Nothing negative has happened, only positives.  And as time goes on, I keep getting more confident and less fearful of getting confronted about it.

I do recognize how privileged I am to be able to make the choice not to wear bras: I don’t need the support of a bra for comfort (athletic or otherwise); my preferential style and desired presentation help “camouflage” the fact that I don’t wear bras, making it less confrontational; I have conventionally-attractive-privilege and thin-privilege so I can get away with more unconventional presentation choices.  But it is a choice I make for me, its the right choice for me, and I’m grateful I have the privilege to make it.

After a bit of thinking and inspiration in response to the current state of the world as I see it, I’ve decided on my 2017 resolutions.  My resolutions for 2017 are to 1) go to bed earlier (even if that means compromising what and how often we cook at home) and 2) read one book a month, particularly about domestic or international politics or history, in a digital format.

I’ve been exhausted for the last 4 months, and it has to stop.  I’ve been motivated and working on my research; I’ve been feeling social and ambitious cooking at home; I’ve been traveling.   The combination of those activities is really effecting my sleep and its unsustainable.  I feel the decline in my motivation and desire to be social, so I want to recommit to taking care of myself.  I know I need more sleep than average to function, so I want to prioritize getting enough sleep in 2017, and prioritize it over saving money on food and eating healthier food by cooking at home and mostly from scratch, since I have prioritizing those two things very highly since moving to Australia, often to the detriment of my sleep schedule.

For my second resolution, I haven’t picked the books yet, but the Guardian’s list of non-western books that every student should read and the Wired-reported list of President Obama’s essential reads are going to be my starting point.  I enjoy reading non-fiction and have read a lot of non-fiction at different points in my adult life, but I want to do so now, with a clearer intention: broadening my view and understanding of the world.  I want to learn about view points different from mine and about history that I am most unfamiliar with.  I want feel more prepared and educated to take on more influential roles and positions, personally and professionally, in the future.  Or even just to have conversions about global issues.  I want to be prepared to act in those potential future roles in an educated manner with the goal of making the world around me better.  And not just better how I think society should be better, but research-supported, fact-based better.  I also have an undying love of print that is at odds with my desire to reduce waste.  Hence, digital.  I actually fear that might be the hardest part of it all.

Do more better. ~Tim Challies

Using reason and evidence to do the most good. ~Effective Altruism

Intentionality is something I value very highly.  I try to do as many things in my life with thought-through intention as I can, but it takes a lot of information and knowledge and self-awareness to act intentionally.  I am trying, as always, to further my knowledge and self-awareness.  And with my resolutions, past and present, I try to reinforce those goals.

Advertisements

We brought the Halloween to Australia

We threw an awesome Halloween party, and brought all the Halloween to this place that hasn’t quite embraced it yet.

Most of our October was occupied by preparations for the party.  Earlier this year, the plan was to again co-host a party at a friend’s house.  We did this last year at VIM2’s house, and the plan was to co-host a party this year at the house we used to live at in Dickson.  The party last year was great, though Pretty Boy and I didn’t get to do as much party planning and preparation as we wanted to (like the party didn’t have a theme beyond Halloween), because it wasn’t our house so we could only do and move so much there in the day or two before the party.  Plus life, life keeps us busy always.  Side note, last year we were a cos-play version of the Cheshire Cat (me) and a Mad Hatter from the 2010 Alice in Wonderland movie (Pretty Boy):

me as the cheshire cat

pretty boy as the mad hatter

halloween 2014

When we found out not too long before Halloween that our friend had too much going on to co-host a Halloween party with us, we were stuck.  Our choices were: (1) no Halloween party or (2) put on our big-boy Halloween pants and host the party ourselves.  I was hesitant to commit to option 2 since I knew it would be a lot of work and clean up and I thought our place wasn’t the best party house, but option 1 was pretty much not an option in Pretty Boy’s mind, so we decided to throw our first ever, real-life adult party for Halloween 2015.

And throw a party we did!  I got right on the planning and organizing.  There were 4 Halloween party planing tasks, each of which had subtasks.  The main tasks were costumes, decorations, food, and entertainment.  Some of the inspiration and ideas are collected on a pinterest board here.  We decided on costumes (Zombie bride and groom) and food (Mexican) first which lead to our party theme: Day of the Dead Zombie Wedding.  We made an invitation using picmonkey.com and got to making our vision for the party happen.

party invitation

For costumes, Pretty Boy bought a button down and blazer from the second hand store and set to them with a metal grinder (not recommended), file (recommended), scissors, and a lighter to distress them enough to match his already-very-distressed work pants.  I combined a cream skirt and linen tank top I already owned with “sleeves” made from tights with the feet cut off, a homemade flower crown veil and bouquet, and some jewelry.  The flower crown veil was my favorite part.  I tied tulle and dollar store, fake flowers onto a headband with fishing line, and hot glued in a few black plastic spiders.  For the bouquet, I used black paint to painted the flowers from another dollar store flower bouquet, then hot glued some black painted gummy worms (called gummy snakes here) in among the flowers, and tied chicken bones around the base.  The last part of our costumes was makeup.  We did a makeup trial the week before Halloween, and Pretty Boy came up with pretty standard Zombie makeup with face wounds made from liquid latex and fake blood.  I did a combination of lady Zombie makeup tutorials from the internet and the signature, under-eye blush from one of my favorite Minnesota burlesque performers: Musette the Mistress of Mischief.

Concurrently, we started working on decorations for our place.  Even though we got an awesome care package full of American Halloween stuff from Pretty Boy’s mom (called mum here), we decided we wanted a really creepy Halloween vibe and a lot of the care package stuff was just too cute.  I mean look at those socks and ghost lanterns!

Pumpkin socks

mini ghost lanterns

There wasn’t a great assortment of Halloween related stuff for sale in Australia, so we mostly made our own decorations.  They are still working on understanding Halloween, and the market is small, so Halloween stuff for sale is just different here.  This for example:

not so giant bag of candy

When has 20 pieces of candy ever been considered a “GIANT VALUE BAG” in the US?  Isn’t that just a normal bag?

Keeping with our creepy Zombie party vibe, we hung Christmas lights (called fairy lights here) inside and outside, decorated the windows with cut up and stretched garbage bag garlands inside and outside, and a black feather wreath for our front door.  We put white spider webbing on the window glass and sliding glass door and brown spider wedding on the walls.  Our normal wall art was covered with spooky skull art prints.  We covered the inside flat surfaces with black or cream pieces of fabric and placed on top beef bones and a variety of glass bottles and jars with tea candles and long taper candles.  Pretty Boy organized a fire pit and fire wood for our courtyard.  A lot of the decorating ideas this year were sourced from Martha Stewart.

decorating

This was mid-week, as we were slowly adding decorations. We hid all the plants in the garage for the actual party.

creepy candles

So creepy, right!?

For food, I decided on Mexican food because I miss Mexican food so much and its so festive.  This was the menu:

The tamale and guacamole recipes are my go to recipes for those dishes.  I made the tamales with rendered beef tallow instead of lard and served them with the garlic, creamed corn but not the swiss chard (called silverbeet here).  The recipes for red rice and black beans were new to me, but the Homesick Texan blog comes highly recommended from the Smitten Kitchen blog, so I thought I’d try them out, though I veganized both by using water instead of vegetable stock and vegetable oil instead of animal fat.  The coffee caramel tres leches cake was another new recipe from a trusted source.  The main reason for picking these dishes was to create a well rounded meal; the second reason was pre-cook-ability.  I outsourced the guacamole to a friend and bought chips and salsa, but made the other things over the course of a week.  I prepared and froze the tamales on Monday, cooked and froze the red rice on Tuesday, cooked the black beans Wednesday, and made the tres leches cake Thursday.  On Friday, the day of the party, I used bamboo steamer boxes to cook the tamales and reheat the rice, heated the beans and kept them warm in my slower cooker, and make the whipped cream for the cake.  Since I’d already placed the tamales and rice in steamer basket and the beans in the slower cooker pot, it mostly just took turning the stove and slower cooker on.  Sourcing Mexican cooking ingredients and beverages was not easy and required at least 4 or 5 stores, but I got everything I wanted, even the epazote in the black beans, which I’ve never used before.

The food turned out great!  The beans were much spicier than I anticipated , which some of our guest couldn’t quite handle but others were absolutely thrilled about.  I’ve made the black beans and red rice again since the party because we loved them so much.  The tres leches cake was good, but I like Martha Stewart’s plainer tres leches cake better.  And with another Martha Stewart reference, I will acknowledge that none, I repeat none, of the recipes are used are from Mexico.  Texas, Indiana, Minnesota, Georgia, but not Mexico.  I wanted to find Mexican sources for my recipes, but I don’t currently have any trusted Mexican sources for Mexican recipes and I didn’t have the means or time to test recipes before the party (you know I don’t trust random recipes off the internet!).  So here, when I say Mexican food, I’m talking about an Americanized take on Mexican food, though as I continue to cook Mexican food in the future, I want to find more sources from Mexico.  Though admittedly, Americanized Mexican food is the kind of Mexican food I have a taste for, the kind I’ve eat in Minnesota.  Its a struggle.  Even Epicurious named an American-written Mexican cookbook in their Epicurious Cookbook Canon (I still want it and the Southern cooking cookbook on that list), though I’m interested in this one now too.

Lastly, there was party entertainment.  This involved getting a DVD of the Rocky Horror Picture Show to play on the TV on repeat during the party, making a Spotify playlist of Halloween-ish/spooky/party songs we liked, and setting up pumpkin carving stations.  We had a lot of fun putting together a really crazy and diverse collection of songs for the playlist, but it worked out.  If you have Spotify, you can listen to our Halloween mix here, featuring everything from Michael Jackson to Modest Mouse, Nina Simone to Lady Gaga, and everything in between.  The pumpkin carving stations went completely unused.  Pretty Boy and I carved our pumpkins before the party, and no one brought pumpkin to the party to carve (even though I instructed them to), but that’s alright.  Big orange pumpkins here are rare and out of season October, so they’re very expensive.

pumpkins

mandala pumpkin

My carved pumpkin

jack skeleton

Pretty Boy’s carved pumpkin.  Love to oogie-boogie man in the moon!

We had so much fun with all the party preparations.  We put a lot into the party, but had so much fun doing it all that it never felt like work.  If anything ever did start to feel like work, I crossed it off the list and we just didn’t do it.  Here’s how the decorations turned out:

front of housefront door

living room

dining room

kitchen

kitchen banner

And then I think the party went great too.  People came in waves throughout the night, as people will do at a party.  I made way more food than was needed, and it was supplemented by tasty things brought by friends, like salad, homemade wheat tortillas, and hummus.  I couldn’t stop saying “farty paux pas” when I was trying to say “party faux pas” about someone messing with the music.  Many more people came in costume this year compared to last year, which was great, including some amazing homemade costumes and other creative get-ups.  Someone did come covered in glitter with a can of silly string; the silly string cleaned up alright… we’re still working on the glitter.  And here we are under the fairy lights in our courtyard with the party in full swing:

costumes

practice makeup

Closer view of my flower crown and practice makeup the week before

It was awesome.  We might make a tradition of it.  So until next year, Halloween Pretty Boy and Halloween Pretty Pie say, “RAAAARRR!”

favorite picture of our costumes

Thanksgiving in June

Christmas in July is a thing.  Especially, it seems, in some parts of Australia.  And it makes sense to me:  July is the Winter in the southern hemisphere and winter has always been so strongly tied to Christmas.

So we Americans thought, if its Christmas in July, then it should probably be Thanksgiving in June too!  Once Pretty Boy and I committed to Thanksgiving in June being a thing, we committed and decided to throw a Thanksgiving dinner.  We wanted to do a very traditional Northern Thanksgiving for 8, so this is the menu we came up with:

We started preparing Wednesday for dinner Saturday night.  I had the whole thing scheduled – empty fridge then most of the shopping Wednesday plus some early kitchen prep work like washing and chopping vegetables and roasting pumpkin, the rest of the prep work Thursday and Friday night so getting the turkey in the brine and making pie crust, oven and stove schedule for Saturday to make sure everything got in (oven: 8am pies, 10 am turkey, 2 pm casserole and stuffing, and rolls just before dinnertime; stove: 7:30 am bourbon pecan pie filling, 10 am cranberry conserve, 1 pm mashed potatoes, 2 pm gravy), and last minute shopping Saturday before dinner.  Pretty Boy ran out to get more cream, the bakery rolls, and cutlery.  He decided last minute that our plastic stuff wasn’t going to cut it.  Since we only have cutlery for 4, that meant buying another set of 4.

Fridge, pre-shopping

Fridge, pre-shopping.  Emptied and prepared for Thanksgiving madness.

Fridge, post-shopping

Fridge, post-shopping and after prep work had started.  I used all the bowls!

Shopping started with the turkey because turkey is usually only widely available around Christmas time, and a frozen turkey would take some time to defrost, and Thanksgiving dinner hinges on the turkey.  Luckily, I found a turkey on my first stop at our local butcher’s.  It was the one and only turkey they had lurking in their freezer chest.  I was hoping for a 4-6 kg turkey… but instead, the one and only turkey in the butcher’s freezer was 8 kg.  That’s about 15 lbs.  It was HUGE!  We cooked a 15 lbs turkey!  It was almost as long as our oven is wide.  I followed AB’s recipe pretty closely.  Modifications include omitting stock, allspice, and ginger from the brine, doubling the apple and onion inside the turkey, and roasting in a fan forced oven at 180C for 3.5 hrs.

The turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and the green bean casserole recipes were all new to me, but I have great trust in AB.  I followed the mashed potato and green bean casserole recipes almost exactly, though half my tray of onions for the casserole burnt and the other half never browned.  I blame the fan-forced oven.  I used homemade beef stock in the gravy instead of chicken broth and choose rosemary for herbs.  I’d made the wild rice and mushroom stuffing, cranberry conserve (though I didn’t know it was Ina Garten’s recipe until this time around), pumpkin pie, and pecan pie before.  Having good recipes from sources I trust is always key to successful dinner parties.  I didn’t alter the proportions of any of the recipes much, and I think they were all meant to serve around 10-12, so we knew we’d have leftovers.  And I have a bad habit of putting more veggies into everything.  Recipe says half an onion, but I like onion, why not the whole thing, half the ingredients later and I’ve effectively double the yield of the recipe.

Mid-cooking

Mid-cooking, as dishes started making their way to the table.

Table set

Table set, we had leftover red party ware from our Chinese New Year party.  It fit our Thanksgiving great as well.  We had to pull my craft table out of the craft room to have enough seats.

Of course, the food was set up buffet style.  I have pretty strong feelings about appropriately picking buffet versus table set depending on the number of people. 4 or less is a pretty perfect dinner group size if I’m going out OR eating in and then if I’m hosting, I can manage table set food.  If there are 6 people, that’s about the maximum size I would be comfortable with going out or serving table set food at home.  For dinner parties of more than 6, I’ll always serve buffet style.

The buffet

The buffet and a good view of our little kitchen.  From right to left, plates, turkey, mashed potatoes in the crockpot, gravy, rolls, stuffing, and green bean casserole.  The pies are hiding up on the ledge, and the cranberry conserve and drinks were on the table.

Pretty Boy's plate

Pretty Boy’s plate

It was a great dinner.  We invited Pretty Boy’s three moto friends and their girlfriends/partners, because we’d been wanting to have them over and because they are the most Aussie people we know!  It was really fun watching and listening to them eat food and dishes they’d never had before and marvel at me whipping the cream by hand right in front of them.  One guy was pretty sure he’d never had turkey before that night, and the green bean casserole and pecan pie were big hits among the Aussies.  Pretty Boy couldn’t get over the gravy and all of it!

Pretty Boy’s friends definitely aren’t cookers, so I think a lot of what we did was lost on them, but they definitely appreciated the end result anyway.  It was a lot of work, but Pretty Boy and I had a good time with it all.  With careful kitchen management and planning, everything went smoothly and was done on time!  I think our biggest advantage was being able to host Thanksgiving dinner on a Saturday instead of Thursday, without any worries about traveling family members, store closures, crowds, weather, traffic, or any of the rest of the stuff that comes along with Thanksgiving in the USA.  I don’t know if I’m ready to volunteer to host any big family Thanksgiving dinners back home anytime soon, but if I ever had to, after this experience, I’m pretty sure I could.

Stories from Conferences

In December, I attended two conferences back to back, one here in Canberra and then another in Sydney.  I got to present my research at both, as well as meet researchers from industry and academic and listen to many lectures and other research presentations.  Over the course of the two conferences, in both tracks I attended, there were only two other female presenters, a professor from Arizona and a professor from Spain.  No other female students in my tracks.  This isn’t unusual, but I am always very aware of it.

I want to share and contrast two antidotal stories I heard told by two different men at the conferences.  The first story was told by a man who founded a successful solar research company.  As the company expanded, they relocated from a larger city near the ocean to a remote inland desert sight.  Both the ocean and pollution from the city were negatively impacting the solar research, and desert sights are often best suited for concentrated solar technology.  The antidotal story went something like this:

When the man moved his family out into the desert because of his job and company, the man told his wife they would probably be living there for a year and a half to two years as the man completed that phase of his research.  The wife said she’d stay there a year, tops.  The man jokes that three years later, his family is still living with him in the remote desert as the research stretches on.  And he chuckled at that.

The second story was told by a man who was a professor at a prominent California university until he was invited by President Obama to serve as the first scientist (as opposed to politician) Secretary of Energy.  He was very successful as the Secretary of Energy during President Obama’s first term and enjoyed his position in Washington.  When President Obama was reelected, the president asked his Secretary of Energy to serve with him for a second term.  And the antidotal story went something like this:

After President Obama was reelected and the man shared with his family that the president had asked him to serve as Secretary of Energy again, the man’s wife said to the man that everyone is replaceable, even him.  And that she was going back to California with or without him.  So the man told President Obama that it had been great working for him, but he was going back to California.  And he chuckled at that.  The man went on to become a professor at a different and even more prominent California university.

The difference in these two stories was so striking to me.  The first is typical.  Individuals in research are expected to make sacrifices for their research and their research careers.  They have to make the hard decisions like asking their family to move to the middle of the desert.  And I think there is a lot of social pressure on families (read wives) to support their spouse’s career, to swallow the discomfort of living in the middle of the desert.  And for the career demands (like extended time in the desert) to take presidence over the wife’s demands (only living in the desert for one year).  When I heard that man’s story and heard him chuckle, I wondered about the wife: how happy or miserable she really was in the desert, if it was bad enough that she wanted to give him an ultimatum like the second man’s wife gave, if she feared the man would choose his career over his family if she did.  And I wondered about the people in the audience, listening to the story, laughing along with the man, who took a story that was really about the wife’s sacrifice as normal, even expected, spousal behavior with regard to balancing career and family.

I loved the second story.  I loved it because the way the man told it.  He didn’t apologize for his wife.  He didn’t imply that she was being over-demanding or excessive or even color her ultimatum negatively in any way.  He told the story like it was a funny and true thing that she said and he responded in the only way he personally could respond: that of course he would follow his family back to California, regardless of what it meant for his career.  It should be noted that a professorship at a prominent California university is in no way a downward career move, but that isn’t really the point.  I think the reason the man told the story was to explain how he ended up doing his current work instead of working with the president.  The point I took away from the story is that life is about career and family.  Both are important.

I was so happy to hear someone as important as the former US Secretary of Energy state so plainly that he put family before career because that is not a narrative that I hear ever in academia.  And personal, as someone who did ask my partner to give up his life and move across the world away from his family for my career, I appreciate people talking openly and candidly about the overlap of career and family, especially validating when family takes precedence.  Because sometimes, family does.

We go on adventures

Pretty Boy and I have returned! I presented my research at a conference in Kyoto, Japan back in July, and enough of my expenses were covered that we could afford for Pretty Boy to come along too! We were gone for two weeks and visited Japan and Hong Kong. A quick overview of the trip: the conference went from Sunday to Friday the first week. We stayed in Japan until Wednesday for another four days of sight-seeing. Wednesday was lost in transit to Hong Kong. We had three days in Hong Kong, and flew overnight Saturday back to Australia. We’ve got tons of pictures to share, and I might have to feature a guest post by Pretty Boy himself since he did a lot of exploring on his own while I was in the conference the first week.

When I first started planning my trip to the conference and Pretty Boy’s possible accompaniment, I was very excited when I learned Cathay Pacific was one of the cheaper airlines to fly from Canberra to Osaka for our trip to Japan.  Cathay is our favorite airline, and if we flew Cathay, it would mean a layover in Hong Kong.  We love Hong Kong even if it’s just for a few hours on a layover. Then I learned that Dr. Sam would be in Hong Kong at the same time as we would be passing through on our return to Australia. So I checked and was even more excited to learn that a three hour layover in Hong Kong versus a three day layover in Hong Kong were the same price. So that’s how we ended up visiting Japan and got a few days in Hong Kong.

Getting to Japan, we were scheduled to fly a QantasLink flight to Melbourne where we would connect on a Cathay flight to Hong Kong and connect again on a Cathay flight to Osaka. But our Qantas flight was delayed and we just missed our connection in Melbourne. Bummer! The next two flights later that night that could have gotten us to Osaka were both oversold, so Qantas put us up in the airport hotel and we had to wait until the following morning to get to Osaka. It meant that instead of flying over night Saturday night and arriving early Sunday, we had to fly all day Sunday, arriving late late at night. It was too bad that we lost a full day in Japan, but the Qantas lady in Melbourne that helped us was awesome and took good care of us.  And flying during the day meant we lost the day, but it also meant that we weren’t on a red-eye flight and exhausted on arrival because of it.

The coolest part about being at the Melbourne airport was spotting an Airbus A380 airplane.  Man, those things are huge!

A380

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Hanging out in the Melbourne airport

After a early morning flight and really quick connection, we made it. We flew into the Osaka Kansai International Airport and took one of the last buses leaving the airport at around 1 am in the morning and slept the 45 minutes it took to drive from the airport to the Kyoto city center.  The transition from mild winter in Australia to full on summer in Kyoto was something I was not ready for.  Though I knew it was coming, there really wasn’t anything I could do to prepare except pack ALL my summer clothes and remember to keep hydrated.  The heat and humidity were like a slap in the face.  But like a slap that you kind of like because you’ve just been cold for so damned long.  And by you, I mean me.  The time difference between Canberra and Kyoto is only -1 hour, but the difference in latitude is rather more: 35 deg south for Canberra, 35 degrees north for Kyoto.  Having absolutely no practice dealing with crossing the equator, I would take crossing time zones over crossing the equator anytime.  Let me tell you, it was so, so nice not to be jetlagged!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Conference center/futuristic alien space station?

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Beautiful campus and gardens surrounding the conference center

My conference went really well.  There were some great keynote speeches and presentations.  There were some not so great keynotes and speeches.  I gave a pretty stellar presentation to a disappointing-sized audience, but that’s what happens when a presentation is scheduled in the afternoon right after a coffee break… no one comes back from the break.  It was disappointing because the audience was small and unengaged, but my advisor, who was in the audience, was happy with the presentation, and the small audience meant I didn’t get asked any really difficult questions (the greatest fear at any conference presenter, though I have practice with difficult audiences and know when to say I don’t know, so it doesn’t bother me as much).

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Conference center catering, Japan-style. The vegetarian bento boxes were amazing!

I must say that two most surprising things about the conference were my excitement over hearing/seeing other Americans and the difficulty I had networking.  There were a fair number of Americans at the conference and hearing other people who sounded like me, who spoke in such a familiar way, was actually quite comforting.  I didn’t realize how disconcerting it can be to constantly be surrounded by people who sound and speak in a different way.  I definitely confused more than one American when they saw that my name badge said Australia but once I started speaking, they would all say, “Wait, you’re not Australian, are you?”  No, no I am not.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Another view of the conference center, under construction

As for networking, I have a theory as to why it was particularly hard for me to network at this event.  The event was largely segregated into two groups: those who were comfortable speaking casual English and those who were not.  Of the people I met, those who were comfortable speaking English were people from America, Europe, South Africa, Australia, places where higher education happens in English.  Those who were not were from Japan and China, where higher education happens in the local language.  To many of the people comfortable speaking English, I think I looked like someone who might not be comfortable speaking English.  But to the Chinese and Japanese, I think I definitely looked Western.  People would smile at me and act friendly, but wouldn’t make the jump to starting conversations.  If I finally started talking, people seemed relieved that I was a competent English speaker.  It is unfortunate how much of a disadvantage being a non-native English speaker is in the research community, and I have never felt so grateful or guilty that English is my first language.

There was an awards banquet on Thursday night, that I had a ticket for, included in my conference registration, but we neglected to buy an extra ticket for Pretty Boy.  As luck would have it, a colleague left Kyoto early and gave us his extra ticket, so we both got to go have a really nice dinner at the conference center and I got to introduce Pretty Boy to some of the people I met.  It was an exhausting week.  By the last day, I was so happy for it to be over, but overally it was good: I got to met some big names in my research field and learn about a lot of really interesting research related to my topic that is going on all over the world.

After we returned from Japan, we needed some time to recover from the trip and deal with the strongest homesickness we’ve both experienced since moving here.  I also had a very busy few weeks at school.  Then I celebrated my 30th birthday with a long weekend trip to Cairns in Queensland.  And then another even busier few weeks at school.  Grad school induced dry-spells on the blog are something I am all too familiar with, but stay tuned for the rest of our adventures around Kyoto and in Nara, Hong Kong, and Cairns.