Transcendence

Here in New Zealand we’re in lockdown so I am home all day. I have work to do, which I often do accompanied by RNZ Concert on the radio. This morning the I heard Tchaikovsky’s Andante maestoso from The Nutcracker played by Simon Trpceski. It is an evocative piece that replayed in my head all day. When work was over for the day, I poured a glass of wine and looked up performances of the grand pas de deux online. Watching Misty Copeland and Sterling Baca dance to that uplifting and haunting music made me forget everything – the lockdown, the anxieties it causes, the strangeness of working from home for days on end, the worry about family and friends during a pandemic – and I was reminded of how the sublime blend of the music and dance has the power to transcend ordinary life. (I’ve ‘borrowed’ the image from the New York Times)

Another bend in the river

I resigned from my job this week, having accepted another. Around the middle of March, I will move on yet again. While I am excited about the new opportunity (as a research assistant for a cancer research trust), there are always reservations about leaving what you know and have become used to. And as always, it’s those people you’ve got to know, like and respect who are the hardest to leave. I have few regrets about the work itself, which was routine and repetitive. The thought that I will be stepping off the treadmill of scheduling meetings, organising agendas and catering, taking notes while others drone on endlessly and then writing up coherent minutes is liberating. I am under no illusion that the administrative nature of the new position will be very different, though I hope the significance of the research being undertaken will make being a small part of the team feel worthwhile. I have not had a career and have worked either part-time or in what I call general-dogsbody roles, which could never have paid all the bills. But if you’re supporting others to achieve important gains, you feel some measure of job satisfaction. That is why I’ve always enjoyed the copy editing and proof reading that helps graduate students achieve their higher education goals and go on to what one hopes will be brilliant careers, which improve their lives and our society as a whole. Too idealistic? Perhaps, but one has to keep dreaming that what one finds around the next bend will be fulfilling.

Waitangi weather

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Today is Waitangi Day, New Zealand’s national day and Aucklanders celebrated in magnificent summer weather. The bays along the waterfront were packed with picnickers, swimmers, paddle-boarders and kayakers. I wandered along Tamaki drive enjoying the views of the sparkling water and people watching. It was lovely to meet up with friends. I even had an ice-cream cone! A perfect summer’s day.

Perfect Penang day

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Last Wednesday was a public holiday in Malaysia (it was Merdeka (independence) day and we’ve now been here for three of these holidays!) so we decided to spend the day in Penang. We left Ipoh early and got to the China House cafe in George Town in time for morning tea. We wandered around the Armenian Street part of the old town before lunch at the quiet Cafe 55 in Lorong Stewart, where we enjoyed an interesting conversation with our Filipina waitress. By then the sun was high and we retreated to the cool of our lovely room at 23 Love Lane, a beautifully restored boutique hotel (http://www.23lovelane.com/). After a rest under the whirring ceiling fan, we walked along the waterfront and ended up at the Eastern & Oriental Hotel where we indulged in an early cocktail. A walk back to the hotel in the rain, detouring to explore some of the lanes in the area, gave us an appetite for some dinner, which we had at our favourite Italian restaurant Via Pre. After a good sleep and a quick breakfast, we were on the road south and back Ipoh in time for the day’s work.

Raglan lookout

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This is the view of Ngarunui beach from the lookout in the Bryant Memorial Reserve at Raglan. I think it may be my favourite spot in the whole world. Twice last week I walked up the hill from Manu Bay, stopping often to watch the tui (and once a huge kereru preening itself on an exposed branch). After pausing at the bench overlooking the surf break, I walked down the steps, along the path shaded by tall ferns and onto the lookout platform. Sitting in the warm summer sun, listening to the waves breaking on the rocks far below and watching the surfers, the boaties and the birds is idyllic. I don’t think I would ever tire of it even if I went there every week. As it is, I get only there about twice a year now and it is all the more special because of the long break between visits.

Mumbai

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While Jim was working, I took an all-day tour of chaotic Mumbai, home to 22 million people. Like a latter-day memsahib, I was driven around in an air-conditioned hotel car under the expert care of Sunil. He dealt with the manic traffic calmly and efficiently, dropping and fetching me from various sites around the city. I could never have seen so much without his help. I saw everything I expected – filthy children playing in the street, wandering cows, teeming pavements lined with stalls and tiny shops, all kinds of vehicles from hand-carts to overloaded buses sharing the same inadequate roads, people sorting through piles of rubbish, homes ranging from plastic-covered shacks to mansions on Malabar Hill. I visited several museums including the beautiful Dr Bhau Daji museum and Gandhi’s Mani Bhavan. I gawped at the magnificent colonial buildings – the Victoria Terminus, the Gateway to India and the Taj Mahal hotel. A drive along the waterfront revealed what an oasis this is for Mumbaikars. I snapped this photo along the Bandra Promenade, where Indian film stars are immortalised in full-size bronze statues sitting on benches. I enjoyed every minute of my day in Mumbai and would love to visit it again.

Hold your breath

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The API (Air Pollution Index) for Ipoh at 11am today was 138. Any reading between 101 and 200 is regarded as unhealthy. The temperature reading at the same time was 35 degrees. Guess where I am? Inside with all the doors and windows closed and the fans on. Schools are closed and some airports in Malaysia are reporting disruption to flights. Pity anyone whose only form of transport is a motorcycle or who has to work outside. Some news reports are now saying that the fires in Indonesia are impossible to put out and only the monsoon can do it. There are predictions that this haze will continue into next year, maybe as late as March. And that’s in addition to an outbreak of typhoid in KL this week.

Seaside Sydney

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Sydney beaches are fantastic and many of them have tidal pools that I long to swim in. So much better swimming in a salt water pool that is regularly cleaned by the tide. The beach in the photo above is Curl Curl – what a brilliant name for a beach! We also spent  a day at Cronulla, where the surfer among us went into the waves (see pic of another surfer below) while the rest of us relaxed and read in the wintry sun. We had a picnic lunch, which we had to protect from the predatory seagulls who would try to sneak in the moment our attention was diverted elsewhere.

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City of contrasts

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We are in KL for a couple of days and yesterday I did my usual recce round one of the huge shopping centres for things we can’t get in Ipoh. While waiting for the shuttle back to the hotel, I was struck by the diversity of the people entering and leaving the main entrance. There were Malay women almost all wearing the hijab though some wear tight jeans and basketball shoes too, there were young Chinese women wearing the shortest of shorts (appropriate in this climate!), there were Muslim women from other countries veiled from head to toe in black, and there were the sleek women sweeping through the doors on their high heels, designer carrier bags swinging from their arms. In the midst of all this, was the cleaner whose job it is to mop the front steps. He is probably from Bangladesh or Nepal and earns less in a month than what one of those women disappearing into shiny Mercedes had just spent on one designer purchase. To cap it all off, a bright yellow Hummer vehicle swept onto the forecourt driven by an overweight, balding middle-aged man, displaying his mid-life crisis by driving a car completely unsuited to the frenetic KL traffic.