Robot Dancing

What better way to spend a sunny Tuesday afternoon than attempting to break a world record for the largest number of people to do the robot dance at once? Yes it completely derailed my day, but it was fun and silly and I learnt to do a dance I didn't know before (though admittedly I'm not going to be breaking those moves out in a hurry).

The ABC reports that we have broken the world record, but I don't know how official that is.

That's my neighborhood.

You've probably seen the images of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad up in flames, heard all about the truckload of explosives going off, the scramble to save people, the 60 dead so far and the over 200 people injured.

About 200m from the Marriott is my grandmother's house. My grandmother, my mother, my brother, our cook and his helper, and the maid and her husband were all home. They all heard the explosions (two of them) and then, moments after my brother stepped away from his bedroom window because he couldn't see anything, the shockwave from the explosion shattered every single window in the house and ripped out most of the panes and doors. If the curtains hadn't been drawn, they would all have been severely injured, my mother most of all, I think, since she was sitting right under half a wall of glass. For the past 24 hours, my family has been attempting to clean the place up.

All things considered, they were extremely lucky. Less sound houses have sustained far more structural damage. Less fortunate people are dead, dying, or lost somewhere in the rubble of what was one of the oldest and most well-known buildings in the city. There were about 1,500 people there - they're not all accounted for and I have no idea how long it will be before they are.

In the mean time, my family is cleaning up and repairing the damage to the house. They've been at it for 24 hours now. I have no idea how much more time it will take to get rid of all the glass that's lying all over the place or how long it will be before new windows and doors can be fitted.

I keep doing that. Shifting focus from my house and family to the larger, more horrific picture of a hotel full of people being attacked like that. I'm only just beginning to be able to stomach looking at footage of the blast, and images of the damage and of people being pulled from it. It still makes me cry, but that's to be expected for the time being. There's lots to be thought about - big-picture stuff like how all this fits into the political situation and all this talk of 'uniting' and 'common enemies' from the Americans and the Pakistani government, but at the moment it's the 'smaller' stuff like getting help to people directly affected by the explosion that's on my mind.

Food around the world

What the World Eats, Part I is a photo essay documenting what 15 different families around the world eat during an average week. It's from the book Hungry Planet, which features many more families and apparently deals in some detail with their lives and their relationship with food. It doesn't sound like it'll be all that interesting, until you start looking at the pictures. Even with very little text accompanying them, they speak volumes.

Mountains in the clouds

If you've known me any length of time and if we have ever spoken about Nepal, I have probably told you about that moment when you look out the airplane window and realize that those white things out there aren't clouds but the snow-capped tops of the Himalayas. At eye level. Next to the tin can you're flying in.
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Now do you see what I mean?

(Photo courtesy of David Merin.)

It's been weird

This past week or so has been pretty full-on, at least for me, what with meeting what felt like at least a million new people, getting 'orientated', getting in touch with my supervisor, wading through readings for classes, and being generally buzzed from the whole thing. I'm glad I had a quiet, fun weekend because the coming weeks look like they'll be a teensy bit stressful, if mostly in a good way.

My parents are leaving Tokyo tomorrow. They landed in Ankara on March 3 1974 and will arrive in Islamabad, appropriately enough, on March 3, 2008. It's been a pretty good run. Their stuff has been sent ahead and they're wrapping up their last-minute packing, interspersed with last-minute calls, last-minute visits, and last-minute last-minute stuff. I spoke to my father earlier today and, though Tokyo was the first posting we didn't 'do' together at all, the feeling was exactly the same as it's always been. Usually, once the place we've called home for one to four years is completely cleaned out, one or the other of us inevitably says, "It's all gone." Not in a despairing sort of way - after all, 'it' is now making its way to wherever we're going next - but it's still a feeling of emptiness. It's the statement that allows us that little bit of time we need to say goodbye to yet another life before we head off towards the next adventure. Today, when my father said it over the phone, I knew he wasn't just telling me but allowing himself to let go of this place that has been his home for the last few years. And, oddly, I had the same slightly choked up, slightly teary response I always do. I'm not sad - I visited them all of once and didn't know the place so leaving it doesn't mean much to me - but today, I'm there with my parents as they pack the last of their life in Japan up and walk onto the plane that will take them 'home'.

It's official

I'm enrolled in the PhD program. Till 2012. And I'm being paid to do it, which is utterly cool.

There were delays, of course - it's taken almost a month and a half to process everything. You'd think, with an unconditional offer and two full scholarships, there'd be no reason for any holdups, wouldn't you? I thought so too. I have seldom been so horribly wrong.

See Australia requires international students to have health insurance while they're in the country. In itself, this is not a problem. It becomes a problem, however, when you want to switch insurance companies. They don't like each other and while they're happy to have you, you need to be punished for ever going over to the competition in the first place. Once they work you over good and proper and make you swear a blood oath to never ever leave the fold again on pain of torture by red tape, you are finally redeemed and accepted into the fold.

You can imagine, then, what the company you're leaving does to you. Honestly, if my parents had divorced when I was 12 and I'd been forced to choose between them, it could not have been worse.

The incompetence of the people who are supposed to 'handle' us international students  was the next hurdle. Yes you need health cover for three years. No you don't. Yes you do. No you don't. Unfortunately, it was 'yes you do' when I went to accept my offer and I was sent packing straight to the insurance company with offerings of money and vows of eternal fidelity. They were in a benevolent mood - and hey, who isn't when you give them money - and back I went to finally, finally accept my offer. And then, naturally, I find out that the department of immigration only requires you to have cover for the first 12 months of your degree, after which it is your responsibility to keep it updated.

That stupidity aside though, it's done and I'm ready to start. I'm quite excited and nervous, but I have about four years to get over that.  I've started exploring German on my own, though I'll sign up for proper classes once I sort out where to go. I'm also sorting through what resources I've found at the library and looking for stuff online, though the amount of material searches turn up is a little frightening. Ah well, as I said, four years to go through it all.

I realized something else that's 'official', or at least will be by the time I finish: in 2012, I will have lived in Melbourne for just under six years - that's longer than I've ever lived anywhere before.  Who'd'a thunk?

AKC's top ten dogs

The American Kennel Club has released a list of the ten most popular dog breeds in the US. Beagles have been on the list since 1915, apparently so that wasn't a surprise. Neither were the Labs and Retrievers, but I was quite happy to see German Shepherds at number 3.

This just makes me want a dog even more, but we can't at the moment - we don't have the space and even if we did I don't think the our building allows pets. When we do, though, I'm thinking of adopting a shelter or rescue dog instead of getting a puppy. While I love raising puppies and I think they're quite possibly the most adorable things in the world, I want a grown up dog. Of course it'll probably have to be trained to some extent and will need time to settle in too, but that's easy enough to do with all but severely traumatized dogs (and I don't think shelters would be handing those out by the cartload anyway.). Plus, with a grown up dog, what you see is what you get. Whatever the breed characteristics and parents' temperaments, a pup will develop its own personality and it may end up clashing with that of its owner. It's easier to gauge whether you'll get on with a grown up dog

Ideally, I'd go for a German Shepherd, but really any big, sturdy, intelligent and preferably slightly goofy dog would do. Dogs generally aren't stupid and generally are at least slightly silly, so that's not a tall order, really. I may also have to reconsider the size because of space and time constraints (though really if you can't give a dog the time it requires you might not want to get one at all). Jack Russells have recently tripped my radar and I've found the ones I've met absolutely adorable. And even though they're little, they've got tons of energy and I've seen them keep up with much bigger dogs. Beagles have some appeal too, though I tend to prefer sharp-muzzled dogs - I feel for some reason that I can read them better, but that's probably because those are the kind of dog I've always had. While I might consider adopting a Lab or a Golden Retriever because of the two lab mixes we had back in Islamabad and because they're such incredibly sweet natured and intelligent animals, I just don't see myself connecting with them the way I do even with random Shepherds or Russells (yes I stop to pet dogs on the street if they approach), much less my late, wonderful Shepherd, Pooks.

Some places I'll be looking at when the time comes (or now, really - no harm just looking, right?) include:

The RSPCA's adoptapet site which lists animals awaiting adoption in its shelters across Australia and allows you to search by animal, state, and shelter. On the left nav bar, you'll also find information on the adoption process, animal selection process, pet care and maintenance, as well as good reasons why shelter animals are the way to go.

Another great site is Pet Rescue, which lists a large number of independent shelters across Australia. It's not owned by any one shelter but is instead a volunteer-run service that enables shelters to place their rescue animals up for adoption online. The amount of information provided about each rescue animal is, from what I've seen, pretty thorough and they'll tell you right off whether the animal can be moved interstate. They too have lots of other information available and also put forward a good argument for adopting rescued animals.

For a straight list of Australian dog rescues and shelters, there's always's list.

In with the new

Overall 2007 was a pretty good year. I finished my MA and found out I'd got the scholarship for my PhD the day after I graduated. I presented a research paper at a conference, taught an undergrad course, read my brother's first book, worked with students with disabilities, saw the Cure live, dyed a quarter of my hair purple, did some translation work, wrote a fair amount, blogged reasonably often, managed to swim a bit, moved house, and bought a bike that I'm (re)learning to ride. I also met some wonderful people who, along with the people I met last year, have all made Melbourne feel like home.

It wasn't all good though - most notably, the political situation back home went from bad to worse, with Bhutto's assassination capping it all. I'm still not sure why 'protests' are so self-destructive, at least in South Asia, but the apparent sway emotion seems to have over reason is a bit frightening.

Politically, 2008 doesn't seem like it'll be any less scary, at least for the first few months. It is unlikely that there will be a move towards issue-based politics in Pakistan - personalities and dynasties are where it's at and, to be fair, where it's always been.

Personally, I'll be starting my PhD (have I mentioned that enough yet?), probably learning a new language as well as improving my reading speed in a couple I already know, learning to ride that damn bike, writing more and developing the ideas I've been kicking around lately, and maybe seeing the family at the end of year.

Ameel and I (well mostly Ameel) will be updating our Things We've Done section in the next few days, chronicling our activities of the past year. We also realized while at a friend's new year's eve party last night that it had been exactly six years since we'd first met, which was quite a nice note to end the year on.

Moving music

We move in four days so, naturally, I've only sorted about one set of shelves. But that's because I've been doing something far, far more important: making a playlist. I don't think I can stress the importance of the playlist in moving enough. Sorting, packing, cleaning, moving heavy things around - all must be done to music. And not just any old music, either. The right kind of music.

For me, that means Springsteen. Oh yes. From Dancing in the Dark - which I danced around to in our half-empty living room in Geneva - to the gorgeous Radio Nowhere which I have on repeat at the moment and pretty much everything in between. It's probably because I've been listening to him my whole life that I associate Springsteen with moving, but there's also something about the songs. Think of Badlands, Thunder Road, Born to Run, Brilliant Disguise, Murder Inc., Glory Days, Human Touch, Lonesome Day, Worlds Apart, and most of the other songs like them - don't they seem to require some kind of movement? You can't just sit there, and it's not just happy dancey music either. You need to be doing something, preferably something that involves lifting heavy things and traveling.

There are others, of course. Some, like We Built this City by Starship (or were they still Jefferson Starship back then?), Fleetwood Mac and Foreigner seem to always have been there. But over the years the playlist has expanded to include Jackson Browne's Running on Empty, Cher's Walking in Memphis, The Passenger (both Iggy Pop's original and Siouxsie and the Banshees' cover), Blue Oyster Cult's Don't Fear the Reaper and Burning for You, Leonard Cohen's First We Take Manhattan and, of course, Everybody Knows, Melissa Etheridge's Bring Me Some Water, the Indigo Girls' Galileo, Least Complicated, Closer to Fine and Hammer and Nail, pretty much everything by the Police, and the La's There She Goes. Currently, they're all sitting lined up with Sisters of Mercy's This Corrosion, Placebo's Bitter End, Gin Blossoms' Hey Jealousy and Found Out About You (gotta love the intro), Dallas Crane's Curiosity, the Cars' Magic, the Stone Roses' Waterfall and She Bangs the Drums, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones' Royal Oil  and The Impression that I Get, and Something with Numbers' Apple of the Eye.

I'm still looking for the old Sponge and Killing Joke songs I used to listen to but haven't had much luck so far. Found the video for Plowed which I loved listening to while flying. There's some videos of Millennium here and there as well, which is encouraging. But these are simpler songs more suited to actual traveling. With sorting and packing, you need - I need - a good, strong beat first of all, but then lots of instruments doing something else entirely. I'm not a fan of lead guitar - I'd rather a great bass line and lots of piano and horns instead.

So there you go. The actual playlist has many many more songs in it, but these are (or look like they're going to become) staples. I'm still mining my mp3 folders for songs with that something extra going on in them and will hopefully have an even longer list by the time I'm done. In the mean time, suggestions are welcome.

Is it Friday already?

Oosp. Things aren't actually upside-down yet, but they're about to be. Starting right after this post, actually. But anyway, this time next week we shall be unpacking boxes and officially moved in to our new place. Oh and I graduate on Monday. I'd be excited but I really hate ceremonies and I don't know anybody I'm graduating with so it's a bit of a pain. Ameel and some friends of ours will be there, but frankly I'm a little sorry to put them through the 2.5 hours of watching people walk across a stage. I'm a bit sorry about putting myself through it too. Bah, humbug.

But to make up for somehow missing Thursday, here's that iPod advert song:

And since you're going to want to sing along, here are the lyrics.