I've decided to retire this blog — I don't really see myself updating it any time soon, and haven't for over two years anyway. I intend to leave the content on-line for the forseeable future, but have converted it to a static site. As a result, dynamic things like search and comments aren't really going to work.

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Archive for October, 2006

Mountains Made of Steam

Monday, October 30th, 2006

I’ve always liked the last week of classes. You end up with entertaining classes, good exam tips, and usually a series of lectures that are short and to the point.

Take today’s Computer Science Methods lecture, for example. We got our assignments back (only five and a half weeks after they were handed in!), went through the exam in enough detail that anyone who attended would have no excuse for failing, covered the last topic in the unit outline — and were done in half an hour flat, thereby allowing an hour and a half to have lunch and avoid doing one of the four assignments I have due in the next four days.

In spite of the assignment-related stress, though, I can’t shake the feeling that it’s going to be a good week. Really, any time you get pulled over by a traffic cop and let off with a warning has to be a good omen. Plus, my timetable for next semester is, to my great shock, actually pretty decent. Well, apart from the fact that I have one class on Mondays, totalling one hour, which I unfortunately have to attend. That’s a bit of a drag.

Enough university-related rambling, anyway. Time to produce yet another scriptwriting draft. Er…

Time to produce another scriptwriting draft.


Send Pocket Protectors

Friday, October 20th, 2006

So, my PEAR account request has been approved. My descent into furry-toothed geekdom continues.


The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Football

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

Date: Sunday, September 17, 2006
Place: Bulgan-Mörön road, Bulgan aimag, Mongolia

Just a quick entry to catch up. We’re underway! We have an awesome driver in Hugi and Buddy, a friendly guide. Shopping for the first few days in UB yesterday was a bit of an expedition in and of itself, and we realised later just how many things we forgot! Still, we have enough food, so it’s all good.

Onto more pressing matters. My air mattress had a hole, but Buddy was able to help me get another one in Erdenet. Erdenet is the second biggest city in Mongolia, but very different from UB — the Russian influence is much stronger. It’s certainly more run-down in some ways than UB, but the change in demographics is also noticeable, with fewer gers and even more ugly apartment blocks.

Last night, we camped on the Orkhon Gol (River), which was a lovely spot. Apart from the midges, that is, which were plague-like this morning.

This morning we went to Amarbayasgalant Khiid, a 280 year old monastery. The main temple’s roof contains no nails; every piece of wood is instead help together through perfect shaping and, one presumes, the will of Buddha. The vibe of Amarbayasgalant is spectacularly peaceful, to the extent that even the tour group that was there didn’t seem particularly annoying.

Which brings me here. We’re on a hill just off the road from Bulgan City to Mörön, our jumping off point for Khövsgöl Nuur. As I write, we’re sinking vodka and talking about cultures, girls and punctuality — in other words, the typical conversation of the slightly tipsy.

Anyway, I’ve just been photographed writing by Dirk, so I guess that’s about all. Khövsgöl Nuur in two days!

Sleep Deprivation + Scriptwriting Student = Awful Scripts

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

Date: Friday, September 15, 2006
Place: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia



Lightning crashes. Beneath the statue of Sükhbaatar, the Western stereotype of CHINGGIS KHAAN appears, reincarnated, just in front of a bewildered Australian TOURIST.


Uh– wha–


I am Chinggis Khaan!


You– you speak English?




Uh, never mind. Why are you here?


I have come back to see what has become of my people. Where are the horses? What has become of the warriors? Why are there so many foreigners, and why are they not cowering?


Well, it has been 800 years–


Why are YOU here?


I just wanted to see Mongolia before the nomads disappeared altog–




Sorry. Time has marched on. Mongolia is joining the modern world.


This is not the way of Mongolia! The people should fight to resume their rightful place!

CHINGGIS KHAAN has now worked himself into a frenzy. Looking around and unleashing some inarticulate growls of rage, he finally draws his sword and runs the TOURIST through. The TOURIST gasps in shock.



CHINGGIS KHAAN moves off, running people — Mongolian and foreign alike — through left, right and centre. As the TOURIST fades, we too:


And So It Begins

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

Date: Thursday, September 14, 2006
Place: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

After four flights, one bizarre town in Inner Mongolia, one missed flight, several frustrating hours in Beijing airport and God only knows how many language difficulties — not to mention two whole days — we are in UB.

More on UB later. First, the journey. All was going swimmingly until Beijing, where we were to catch an Air China flight to UB. After standing in the check-in queue for at least half an hour, we were told that we had just missed the flight. (We later realised that the guys milling around the counter were on standby and that when they went through, we should have kicked up more of a fuss.) We were ropable, although I think it may be eternally to our credit that we didn’t lose our tempers, even when told that the next Air China flight with open seats was on Saturday. (Later note: This was taking place on Wednesday, since it’s not entirely clear.)

From there, it was a quick dash to the Mongolian Airlines offices in the back blocks of Beijing airport, which were closed. Given that, we went back down to the MIAT check-in desk, where a helpful lass tried to get us onto the standby list for that morning’s flight, only to be blocked by a very disagreeable manager, who further informed us that he couldn’t help us get onto a later flight.

We retired upstairs at that point to get on the Internet and consider our options. After some research, an option was found to go to Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, and then try to arrange a flight to UB. Very Amazing Race. (For the record, there were possibly options through Seoul as well, but they were prohibitively expensive. We also looked briefly at the train, but decided that a visa would be too hard to get at the border.)

So we ended up in Hohhot, with only a verbal agreement from an Aero Mongolia representative there to get tickets the following morning — the morning of the flight. Once there, we tried unsuccessfully to get tickets that afternoon and had a quick look at the city itself.

Hohhot city is an amazing experience. Everything is grey: the buildings, the roads (all concrete, not asphalt) and, most importantly, the sky. The smog is extraordinary — it’s up there with photos of the worst cities in the world.

I think the thing that really got to us was the glimpse of the lifestyle we got. There were no apparent entertainment options beyond standing around in the streets talking — people seemed like they were born, worked in the mines or factories, and died. In between they got to risk death on (or anywhere near) the roads and — well, stand around some more.

It’s hard to describe, really. The people didn’t appear to be starving, or destitute, but the vibe was just that of a city that went through the motions to survive, but that its people just didn’t have the ability to derive much enjoyment from their lives.

Enough cultural imperalism. We ended up at the Air Hotel, simply because it was walking distance to the airport. (Amazingly, there appeared to be no road access to the hotel due to roadworks.) After some massive communication problems caused by neither Jas, myself nor the reception staff having a language in common we were rescued by an Air China pilot who could translate for us. Astonishingly, the staff ended up taking Australian dollars over US dollars and a Visa card — we didn’t have enough Yuan and there was no currency changing available at the airport. Honestly, I think the unusual nature of the notes (being plastic and very colourful) was what got us over the line.

Lest anyone think we short changed them, we gave them about 20% more than the room rate, once you do the conversion. The room featured only half working lights, rock hard mattresses, an inoperative air conditioner, a busted TV, no room key (a staff member had to let us in) and, oddly enough, one of the better showers I’ve seen in a hotel anywhere. Very odd.

So, how nerve-wracking is it to fly into a place where English basically isn’t spoken? Pretty nerve-wracking. Now add in that we didn’t have tickets, our transit visas ran out that day and that our only money was in US dollars and credit cards, and we were pretty jumpy. (We also realised later that the only UB-bound train had left Hohhot the previous night.)

In the end, despite a flight delay, my friend from the phone call the previous day came through with two tickets to UB, accepted US dollars (to our surprise, after the hotel), and got us to UB. I can’t recommend Aero Mongolia enough at this point. The flight crew were great, too.

So, UB. It’s a bit early to make a call, but Jas and I have been surprised by it so far. It’s more cosmopolitan than we expected, and the food thus far has been far less stodgy than anticipated. Jas has noted that it reminds him of eastern Europe, and I can sort of see that.

Still, I think we really just want to get going on the trek now. We leave UB on Saturday (Dirk and Nick arrive tomorrow), and I for one can’t wait, even as pleasantly surprising as UB is.

Most random moments thus far:

  • The taxi driver taking us from UB airport to the city centre playing Kylie Minogue on his stereo system.
  • The Air Hotel in Hohhot. All of it.
  • The Mongolian teenagers at the State Department Store wearing gangster get-up. Quite incongruous.

Угтуул Хэсэг (Prologue)

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

As previously threatened, I’m going to start putting up the journal entries I wrote while in Mongolia shortly under the Mongolia category. Before I do, though, I’ll quickly lay out the trip to avoid confusion, since I don’t think I explained it clearly at any point. (I’ll write a full summary of the trip and my thoughts on it after the journal entries are up.) The itinerary was pretty simple, all things considered:

  • Perth to Beijing via Kuala Lumpur.
  • Beijing to Ulaanbaatar.
  • After a few days in UB, 17 nights camping while doing a loop of northern, central and southern Mongolia.
  • Ulaanbaatar to Beijing, with one night in Beijing.
  • Beijing to KL, an overnight transit in KL, then home.

Of course, things didn’t quite go according to plan with the travel…

My travelling companions were tremendous. Jas, fellow cricketer and owner of a far, far better ponytail than I could ever manage, was unfortunate enough to be with me the whole way, while we met up with Dirk and Nick, his high school buddies, in UB. I could try to create some suspense as to whether we got through the trip without major disagreement — but we did, so I’ll disappoint any people who like hearing about trips-gone-wrong now.

So, without further ado, it’s onto the first atrociously scrawled entry.

You’re the God of a Shrinking Universe

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

Another entry from university. Ho hum. Nuclear war still hasn’t broken out with North Korea, which is probably a good thing for our temporarily-Pyongyang-resident hero, Dirk, but there’s plenty of other things to be depressed about.

Alcohol, for example. No, not the price of it, although that is something to be depressed about, but rather the film Drinking for England, which was just screened in my documentary theory class. It’s rarely a good sign when the screening of a film about the perils of alcohol is concluded with a comment from the audience, So, who’s for the tavern?.

Drinking for England is a funny sort of film. It’s a musical documentary about drinking culture, and while it’s obviously intended to be a cautionary tale, it really comes off as some poetic, participatory documentaries do: simply fake. It’s hard to take a film seriously as a non-fiction work when one person in the middle of rehab breaks into song (complete with cheesy fades to half-full glasses and the like) about the evils of sherry. Or the old guy who produces a series of outlandish statements about why he doesn’t have a problem and can handle alcohol far better than the average Badger.

I guess the problem I have with it is the poetry and music. While the interviews ring true, the wrapping is just so cheesy and fake that the film can’t be taken seriously, even when it wants to be.

Well, that’s five minutes, and I’m now nicely primed for the tutorial in six minutes. Excellent. Go nuclear war!

University Hordes

Monday, October 9th, 2006

Well, I’m back from Mongolia. I have some 32 pages of journal entries to transcribe over the coming days, so I won’t waste my precious typing fingers (and quality time here in the university cafeteria on a pleasantly warm spring day) talking about that for now. Instead, the readjustment back to life here is consuming my attention.

I think it’s just the little things, really, that make it seem odd. Looking the other way again when crossing the road. Actually driving for the first time in 27 days (there were a few fairly iffy gear changes in the first couple of kilometres, I have to admit). Seeing the usual random assortment of university students rather than Mongolian nomads. Hell, the fact that there are toilets and I can flush toilet paper down them is a bit of a novelty at the moment.

Unfortunately, I’m also consumed by the things I have to do in the near future. In addition to transcribing the aforementioned journal entries and titling and uploading 300-odd photos, I also have to clear my work e-mail (1800+ messages), write a project management presentation, write two essays, four scripts, contribute to a project report, one Computer Science assignment, recover whatever data is still readable on my work hard drive (which I’ve just been told is failing), do a very compressed cricket pre-season…

Oh, and all that’s got to be done in the next three and a half weeks. Guess the blogging’s going to take a bit of a hit. Now excuse me while I panic quietly.