As a kid growing up in France I loved finding cuttlebones on the beach. I kept marvelling at the structure of this internal shell, which only cuttlefish have. The cuttlebones I could find didn’t exceed a few centimetres. Here on the Victorian beaches about an hour’s drive from Melbourne, you can find the biggest cuttlebones I have ever come across (see the photo below). This gives you an idea of the size of the cuttlefish which live in these waters… Cuttlefish have ink like squids and octopuses. Did you know that you can read a cuttlebone to find out how many times a cuttlefish has released ink during their lifetime? If the animal has released ink, there will be a thick black line on the inside of the shell structure. Easy!
Monthly Archives: November 2011
The Tiger, by John Vaillant had been on my list of books to read for a while, but because of travel and work, I hadn’t got to it yet. I have now read it. It didn’t take me very long, which is a good sign. This is non-fiction, but Vaillant is fairly good at creating an interesting narrative out of a true story. In Far East Russia, an Amur (Siberian) tiger has been shot at and wounded by a logger and poacher. The tiger stalks him, kills him and eats him. This sends the Primorye region into turmoil, because in spite of the bitter cold, its inhabitants have to go into the Taiga to make a living. There are a number of tigers living there, but they normally don’t attack people. This tiger, however, proved it can be different. Because he was wounded (and indeed many times) he found it hard to hunt, and was starving as a result. After killing and eating his first man, he turned to others and killed a second person from the same village as the first one. This is not new – many similar stories have happened and still happen in India. A search mission was instigated, and the tiger killed. This is all that happens in the book (and not just quite enough for my liking), but Vaillant excels at describing the region, its people, and their drastic living conditions. He also distils very interesting information about Amur tigers, which is why I found the book fascinating. Having said that, after reading the story you don’t really want to go there – if you forget about the beauty of the Taiga, the living conditions and the poverty of the people are just staggering. I have always been fascinated by this part of the world and this is one of the reasons why I picked up this book. I’m less sure now, but come to think of it, I’d still go at the drop of a hat. I know the other side of the border, Chinese Manchuria, and as too often happens in China, not much of the original natural environment remains (and forget about tigers or any kind of animal!). Russia is a different story. Vaillant’s descriptions of the living conditions and unemployment remind me of a few stays I had to make in Moscow in the years 1989-1990. These were tough times, and I do not have great memories of the place. I just couldn’t find anything decent to eat or drink. Quite an experience, but not one I was looking forward to at the time. I understand things are different today. If you are interested in discovering Far East Russia (North West of Vladivostok) and want to know more about the fascinating Amur tiger, then this book is for you. Amur tigers (like most tigers) are heavily poached and their numbers are ever decreasing – this is partly due to the interest and beliefs of the Chinese in regard to the potency of Tiger organs, meat, paws, claws etc. They are ready to pay a fortune for them. This is bad news for the tiger, just as shark fin soup is bad news for sharks. I won’t delve more into the lack of environment protection in China – we’re all aware of it – but as far as tigers are concerned, The Tiger is a great book.
Here’s a link where Vaillant talks about his book:
I love my new iPhone! It took me forever to get one, but I took the opportunity that I was moving back to Australia to get on with the program and enter the world of iPhoners. No regrets. I am amazed at the quality of the photos it takes, so I keep taking random photos as I move around my day. I’ll post one or two here from time to time. This one I took at the office in Melbourne last week. I was about to start a meeting and realised the view was to die for. Enjoy!
I have decided that contemporary French and Chinese movies have quite a bit in common. This includes people smoking all the time and yelling at each other every five minutes or so. There’s also a fair amount of drinking going on at times. I’ve just watched The Equation of Love and Death, a 2008 Chinese movie directed by Cao Baoping. In the film, the main character Li Mi, who is searching for her boyfriend who left her suddenly four years earlier, smokes and screams more than she breathes. Okay, this is a little exaggerated. And her life is not easy. She works as a taxi driver, showing every passenger a photo of her ex and asking them if they have seen him. A suicide will trigger a series of events, all interlinked, and leading her to her ex. Three stories are the backbone of the movie: Li Mi’s search for her boyfriend, the fate of two drug traffickers, and Li Mi’s boyfriend’s erratic behaviour. Gradually each story will run into each other, creating a web of connections and complexities. Life in Chinese cities is well pictured. This movie falls into the thriller/suspense category, and it’s quite okay. A bit grim, but Chinese movies are often like that, I think. I wish Li Mi would smoke and scream a little less, but I forgive her. Now, has anyone seen this movie and know where it was filmed? I got excited more than once because I seemed to recognise my beloved Kunming, in particular the pedestrian bridge at the crossing of Dong Feng Dong Lu (区东风东路) and Bai Ta Lu (白塔路). Can anyone confirm that?
I’m adding the trailer to this banter. Unfortunately it’s in Chinese and there are no subtitles, but you’ll see what I mean about the yelling!
I was looking forward to reading The Colour of Death, by Michael Cordy, as most reviews I had read were good or even very good. It goes to show that you can never take reviews at face value – or at least that it’s not because most liked it that you will also like it. This novel didn’t really work for me. It took me a long time to read it, and it may be because I was moving house (and country) while reading it, but to be honest if it had been riveting, I know I would have finished it a long time ago. The story could have been interesting, but it just didn’t keep me on edge, and it was all fairly predictable. The characters felt a little like cardboard characters, their behaviours didn’t sound true, and at times it wasn’t moving much. Another problem I found is that you heard all the characters’ voices – including those of the antagonists – and it took away some of the mystery, nothing was left unsaid. And the plot (in terms of the actions of the characters) was not always credible. Give it a try though if you like supernatural stories, as the premise is interesting. The novel is about a young woman who appears on the scene after saving several captive women from a horrible death. But she has no memory of who she is whatsoever, so the police, helped by a psychiatrist called Nathan, try to help her remember where she comes from. Nathan quickly discovers that Jane Doe (as she is called by the police) has the power to relive people’s deaths, especially if they have been violent and painful. All of a sudden, Jane’s father turns up to pick up his daughter and take her back to the sect that he leads somewhere in a forest far away from civilisation. Nathan can’t help feeling something is wrong, and against his better judgement, decides to follow Jane and her father into the sect. What he discovers is a combination of lunacy, murders and sex, which he will help to bring to an end – saving Jane (whose real name is Sorcha) in the process. There you go… If you read it, I’d love to know what you think.
Au Revoir Taipei is a 2010 film directed by Arvin Chen. As the title suggests, it takes place in Taipei! Kai (Jack Yao) has been dumped by Faye, his ex-girlfriend who’s moved to Paris. Kai has no money but intends on joining her in Paris to try to fix their relationship. He gets involved with a customer of his parents’ dumpling restaurant, Brother Bao (Frankie Gao) who agrees to lend him the money to fly to Paris if he agrees to take with him a package, the content of which has to remain secret. But Bao’s nephew has something else in mind. In the space of a single night, Kai finds himself chased by a group of thugs who are after the package which has just been delivered to him. Susie, a girl he met in a bookstore (Amber Kuo) while learning to speak French in his spare time, is his reluctant compadre in this wild chase. Will Kai go to Paris? Will he be arrested by the police? Au Revoir Taipei is a love story, simple, discreet, sweet but effective in the end. It verges on boring at times, but a range of weird and quirky characters make it really interesting and even fun. I particularly loved the way the film was shot. Very dark (remember, it happens at night), re-creating the atmosphere that is so typical of Taipei: hidden, calm, almost dull. I love the scenes in the bookstore. Nowhere else in the world are the bookstores like those from Taipei: the layout, the shelves, the book colours, all are unique to Taiwan. And Taipei has so many bookstores! You also get a glimpse of the night markets, with their food stalls and strolling visitors. Night markets are another great feature of Taiwan. The actors speak Mandarin with a Taiwanese accent, of course, which I found difficult to understand at times (It was captioned, thank God). It reminded me that one of the greatest difficulties in learning Mandarin for me was that no one in China speaks the same way. Most people are bilingual, they speak their own dialect as well as Mandarin, but often their Mandarin is so heavily accented that it sounds like a foreign language. Not easy for the non-Chinese! Oh, I forgot to mention that the music of the film is great, really.
I’ve realised this blog is becoming more of a travel blog than a writer’s blog these days. I wonder what it’s going to turn into next? Anyway, I just meant to post a picture or two of the Grand Canyon. It is probably one of the most famous natural wonders of the world, and it is indeed beautiful. A bit scary for anyone who doesn’t like heights since there are no fences and you look straight down. I couldn’t help wonder how many people have fallen over since it’s been open for tourism. A friend of mine had a bad fall there years ago and she had to be airlifted out of the canyon. But she had only slipped on some rock or something. Here are the pix.
I watched THE READER a few nights ago, the 2008 movie by director Stephen Daldry based on the eponymous book by Bernhard Schlink. I read the book many years ago, which was a good thing because I had forgotten the details of the story, and as a result, I think I enjoyed the film more than if I had seen it straight after reading the book. The story opens in post-world war II Germany when teenager Michael Berg becomes the lover of Hanna, a woman twice his age. They lead a passionate affair, during which Michael reads Hanna stories and novels. But Hanna mysteriously disappears one day and Michael is left heartbroken. Some years later, while Michael is a law student attending Nazi war crime trials, he is confronted to Hanna again. This time she is the accused in the courtroom. Hanna’s terrible past is slowly revealed and Michael is faced with the terrible truth of what Hanna did. The movie is okay. It’s all about atmosphere, and The Reader one of those films where actors say something and their partner looks at them for a long time without saying anything or replies hours later. It’s a bit annoying after a while. Other than that, I enjoyed it. Hanna is played by Kate Winslet, who won an award for her role. The movie also stars Ralph Fiennes, as a much older Michael. I like Fiennes.
I’m back on deck! The move from Hong Kong to Australia proved harder than I thought… Finding a place to live was a challenge, with lots of competition and a tight market. We have found a nice place though, in a suburb of Melbourne called South Yarra, probably the nicest suburb I have ever lived in. And it’s only 1o minutes from work, which is a bonus (I hate commuting). The job’s been full-on from day one, with projects all over Australia and a lot of flying around. I am enjoying it though. As you can imagine, the reading and writing have not been a priority, but I am now dying to get back on track!
Before I started work, we went to visit Phillip Island, one and a half hour’s drive from Central Melbourne. Phillip Island is roughly 15 kilometres by 9 kilometres. It is linked to the mainland by a bridge and is famous for hosting the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, which was being held while we were there. A beautiful coastline, pristine waters, protected bush and an abundance of wildlife: wallabies, rabbits, a large seal colony and many birds, including the amazing Muttonbirds (Shearwaters) which come here to reproduce after spending the Australian winter in Northeastern Russia, what a journey! The first seal we saw was dead. Its body was lying on the beach and it was missing a huge chunk of its backside… taken away by a shark, most probably one of the great whites which live in the area. We were not at risk: the water is very cold and we were not about to go swimming, or even put a toe in. I couldn’t help wonder about the surfers though, but the ones we met said they are not fazed by sharks, which they encounter quite often. The most famous inhabitants of Phillip Island though, are not the seals and the sharks, but the Fairy Penguins! They are the highlight of a trip to the island. At dusk they swim back en masse to the shore to reach their burrow, in which a partner is sometimes waiting with an egg or two – or a baby penguin. They are very cute! The area is totally protected, but you can join a tour to observe the penguins at night. Most tourists gather in the main spot with a huge crowd. We decided to join what was called the “ultimate tour” and were not disappointed: a ranger led us to a secluded area on the beach, and we sat down on the sand to wait in silence for the little fellows. They turned up at the expected time and waddled their way to the shore. We saw about a hundred of them that night, walking around us, eyeing us with suspicion before moving on. Magic! As we made our way back to the main area we came across many of them having a chat in the bushes or getting ready for a good night’s sleep before going back to sea before sunrise. Too cute for words!