Thursday, 10 May 2012

Launnie as the locals call her

Launnie CBD from one of the many hills that surround  the city
I've been out of the radar for the past ten days, and it's all been Launnie's fault.

For just over a week now, Launceston (or 'Launnie', as the locals call her), the second biggest city in Tasmania, has been my base. I'm here to collect some data for the research project I'm part of, and I have to admit, if it wasn't for work, I probably wouldn't have visited, let alone stay in Launnie for more than a few days.

Sorry to say but this city isn't exactly high on my list of places to visit before I die.

Launnie gets a bad rep for being a bit of a bogan town. I was told that Launnie's pretty slow in the up-take of fashion, food trends, entertainment, and general mod-cons (my hotel still advertises their 'free dial-up internet connection'), and that I shouldn't expect much from the place. It sounded like in terms of Tasmanian cities, Hobart takes all the shine while Launnie is like the less-pretty, boring sister.

Before coming here, I was also told that there isn't really much to do for fun at night apart from going to one of Launnie's not-so-classy pubs or stay in at the hotel and be quite bored. All sounded very grim indeed. But after spending some time here, I'm beginning to think that Launnie has some little-known charms up her sleeve...

Launnie's 'seaport' on the North Esk river
I've found Launnie to be a relaxed, friendly place with a few gems in terms of food, coffee and wines. It's no Melbourne or Sydney in terms of the scale of gastronomic varieties, but if you look, there are a number of restaurants and shops around town that serve/sell some really fantastic local produce like seafood from the East Coast of Tassie, pinot noir from the Tamar Valley wine region, or the many types of cheeses produced locally in Tassie.

There is also a growing number of restaurants serving really great food that you'd be hard pressed to find elsewhere, even in Sydney or Melbourne. For example, I had the best pasta dish I've ever had in my life at Novaro's Italian restaurant here in Launnie. No jokes. Their linguine with Tassie king prawns, burnt butter, apples, verjuice and spring onions was just sensational. It was out-of-body experience stuff, made all the more awesome by the local Three Wishes pinot noir I had with my pasta.

Of course, I can't eat like that every day (it was on the expensive side and I'll be morbidly obese if I keep eating like this), but my point is that I am pleasantly surprised by ol' Launnie. Not just because of the gourmet food and wine, but because I find the city to be charming. There are beautiful pockets all around the city and it's only a short drive out of the city to get to somewhere gorgeous like Tamar Valley.

I found myself slowing down and really enjoying the pace of the city, which is probably something really healthy for someone who lives in Sydney. I'll need to be back here again for work in four months' time, and I think that won't be a bad thing at all...

In case you happen to come here too one day, here are some of the more memorable places I visited in Launnie, most of them thanks to the recommendations of locals and friends who used to live here. As can be expected of me, the majority are food and wine places:

1. Tant Pour Tant Pattiserie on Charles St. in the city => Really good pastries and good coffee. Try their chorizo sausage roll.

2. Stillwater Restaurant and Wine Bar, near Cataract Gorge => Good place for breakfast at a pretty spot by the river. The Millhouse providore and gift shop is right next door and they sell lots of local artisan stuff. There's also a gallery upstairs.

3. Novaro's Italian Restaurant in the CBD => Where I had my life-changing prawn linguine.

4. Pinot Wine Shop, Patterson St. near Cataract Gorge => If you like pinot noir, then this place is heaven. They sell lots of pinot noir from the region, particularly from smaller wineries. They stock other varieties of wines too.

5. Flip Burger, York St. => They say that they make the best burgers in Tassie and they probably do. The best part is, they deliver! Very handy for those cold windy nights.

6. If you're after some quick food, then there's Morty's food hall on the corner of Wellington and Brisbane streets in the city. Nothing special, but there are some Asian foods there if you crave it. It is, however, part of a gas station complex. Nice view of people filling up petrol as you eat. Just what you want.

7. Davies Deli on Wellington St => You can buy local cheese, wine and other produce here too, but again, it's part of a gas station complex. What is it with food and gas stations here in Launnie?

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Whining & Whinging Tuesday 1: Public Transport

I've decided that Tuesday will be my whining and whinging day on this blog.

There are a number of reasons why I've chosen Tuesday, but mainly because according to my calculations, Tuesday is the furthest point in the week from the weekend. That is not good. Also, there's never anything particularly good on TV on Tuesday nights, and Tuesday is usually the busiest day at work. All these factors generally result in me being a bit crankier on Tuesdays.

Please don't projectile vomit while on public transport. Not cool.
Unless of course you throw up on the guy with the loud music
coming out of his headphones. In that case, vomit away.
So my inaugural entry for Whining and Whinging Tuesday (WWT from now onwards) is about public transport etiquette. You've probably seen it all before in other blogs, opinion pieces, magazine articles, etc., but I need to vent my spleen about this issue.

As a relatively new regular public transport user (I'm ashamed to admit that I mainly drove when I was still in Melbourne), I've noticed some very disturbing behaviour by my fellow commuters. So I thought I'd come up with a list of what NOT to do when on public transport:

1. Don't play music on your mobile phone speakers => Seriously, just because there's no music playing on the bus/train, it doesn't make it an open invitation for you to play your own music. I am not interested in listening to your hard-core satanic rock or gangsta rap or soppy ballads, or whatever it is you're listening to. Please, get headphones.

Which brings me to my next point...

2. If you are wearing headphones, please make sure that the sound doesn't leak out. It's REALLY annoying when you can hear ambient beats coming out of someone else's headphones.

3. If you absolutely must speak on your mobiles while on public transport, please do it discreetly. The rest of the bus/train carriage are not interested in hearing about your grocery list, the footy on the weekend, your ex's new bitchface girlfriend, or what you're planning to wear to that party this weekend.

4. Don't be a seat hog. Give your seat to elderly people, pregnant women, the disabled, or to parents with small children. Common courtesy people, c'mon! Oh, and you should only lie down on train seats if you're dying/dead.

5. Staring => It's creepy and makes you look like a sex offender, don't do it.

6. Don't do your make-up on public transport. Sure, I've put on lipstick or do little touch-ups on the train, but I've seen women pretty much doing their make-up from scratch, or worse, grooming! Flossing teeth or clipping fingernails on the train are not acceptable behaviours. Now, I'm only going to say this once, but some things should be done in the comforts of your own bathroom.

Which brings me to my next point...

7. Don't urinate, vomit, or do anything along those lines on the train. I don't care if you've had a big night.

8. For goodness sake take your rubbish with you when you leave the bus/train/tram. Wedging it between the seats does not constitute proper rubbish disposal.

9. Give way to outgoing passengers before you attempt to enter the bus/train/tram. It's simple physics people. Really.

10. Don't snog or engage in overt public displays of affection. Don't get me wrong, I'm all about public displays of affection, but I really don't need to be exposed to heavy snogging, heavy petting, dry humping, or other such acts while I'm trying to get home on the train. Wait until you get to your destination guys, keep it in your pants.

Now I know I might have come across as a bit of a grumpy nanna, but I'm sure that any decent public transport user would appreciate these common courtesies. In fact, to illustrate my point that the courtesies are universal in nature, I've attached some public transport etiquette posters from around the world.

and the weirdest one of all...

Monday, 23 April 2012

Some Western Sydney stories

Recently came across this lovely photo essay from The Global Mail of two refugees from Darfur who opened a successful hairdressing salon in Western Sydney. Their salon has become a bit of a hub for African women (not just from Darfur) to come, chat, exchange stories and get a bit of beauty pampering. Their story highlights themes such as settlement, racism, inter-generational gaps, and gender roles. More importantly, the story illustrates just how diverse and multicultural Western Sydney has become in recent years.

Maybe I should pay a visit sometime and get some corn rows done :)

Another interesting story I found from The Global Mail is about Assyrian migrants in Southwest Sydney who erected a monument to commemorate their people's violent history.

Very interesting stories my new city has to offer!

If like me, you're also interested in the stories of cities and suburbs, here are some other blogs and websites that might interest you:

For Sydney: => a beautiful blog by Louise Hawson who decided that she'd like to know Sydney a bit more and travels around taking photos of 52 of Sydney's suburbs. She's now got a book out too => Sydney food blog. Much needed for a new Sydneysider like myself => interesting things Sydney people wear. Melbourne readers, retract your claws. => a new photoblog by a fellow Melbournian (and Adelaidian, it so happens!) who's trying to get to know Sydney one photo at a time.

For Melbourne: => the writer travels to a different Zone 1 + 2 destination every Sunday using the Sunday Saver ticket and takes funky photos => quite self explanatory, I think => a lovely photoblog by a lady photographer as she meanders around Melbourne streets and suburbs => for all the Fitzroyalties out there => oh yes, very necessary

For everywhere else: => Also by Louise Hawson, this blog is the 'around the world' version of the earlier Sydney one. So far, she's got Istanbul (love!), Hongkong, Delhi and Paris. => A travel blog. I know, I don't really like them either, but this one's quite offbeat, and she tries to get to know some of the more unconventional destinations cities have to offer. And she's funny too. Won Time Magazine's blog of the year last year.

Any other suggestions?

Sunday, 22 April 2012

We'd love to let you in, but...

To those of you who don't know me or what I do, I am a researcher for a three-year research project designed to look at the relationship between language training and settlement success among recently arrived adult migrants in Australia.

Because of my job, I am naturally interested in all things to do with Australian multiculturalism, migration, settlement, and the politics that surround all of these issues. I (along with other non-indigenous Australians, although our politicians tend to blissfully forget this fact) am also a migrant and therefore have a keen interest in other people's migration stories.

I recently read this really interesting article by Swinburne Institute for Social Research's Kerry Ryan about how both the Howard and current Labor governments have made gaining Australian citizenship harder for new migrants. The article's titled Citizenship for Beginners and it details how migrants from certain non-English language backgrounds cannot pass the mandatory citizenship test because of their lack of English or literacy.

One heartbreaking narrative that I keep hearing over and over again among many new migrants is about how frustrated they are that no matter how hard they try, they are always criticised for not being Australian enough. For many, language plays a huge part and new migrants are often mocked, excluded or even abused for not being able to speak English like the average Anglo-Australian.

Let's get one thing straight: the majority of migrants try REALLY HARD to learn English as fast as they can, often through much-needed programs like the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP). But it seems that they are constantly criticised for not learning English fast enough. Remember Teresa Gambaro's ill-thought comments earlier this year?

Anyone who's ever moved to a new country would (or should) understand how hard migrating really is. Heck, don't worry about moving to a new country, moving to a new house can be traumatising enough! The travel, the resettlement, the loneliness, homesickness, learning a new language, a new culture, a new society, etc. etc. I feel like hyperventilating just recalling my own migration process. I didn't even have to do it under the very hard, often life-threatening circumstances that many refugees and asylum seekers had to face.

This is why I get very sad (angry too, but mainly sad) that many in our government and wider society still can't have compassion towards new migrants. Settling into a new country is hard enough, and migrants certainly don't need added pressures and hurdles to become an Australian citizen (to many, the ultimate symbol of acceptance into Australian society).

I get the importance of learning a country's main language for the sake of integration, but rather than setting up mechanisms to hinder migrants' abilities to achieve belonging in Australia, the government needs to invest in helping migrants attain the level of successful settlement that would benefit both the migrants and the wider Australian society in the long-run.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Refracted Visions

One of the things that I want to do in this blog is to post some reviews of recent books that I've read. I’ve read a few excellent books in the last few months, but I thought I’d start with this one because it's by far the one that has impressed me the most.

I get very excited when I come across a really good history book. Don't get me wrong, I think there are many well-researched, well-written, very credible history books out there. But let's face it, many of them are just downright boring. It’s not very often that you come across a history book that is not solidly researched, but also engaging and (dare I say it?) fun to read. Now that is rare, particularly among books that are written from a purely academic perspective. That is why I really loved Karen Strassler's Refracted Visions: Popular photography and national modernity in Java (2010).

Strassler’s book grew out of her 2003 thesis from the University of Michigan. Being a history scholar who specialises in the history of photography, she looked at the development popular photography in Java from the early 20th century to the post-Suharto era (that’s today, for those of you not so acquainted with Indonesia).

Strassler divided her chapters based on the many forms of popular photography that exist in various layers of Javanese society. From posed studio photographs to journalistic photos during the 1998 student protests, Strassler linked photography's different uses in 20th century Indonesia to the nation's emerging national ideology and embrace of modernity. This was all done to illustrate her main point that ordinary individuals utilised photography to literally 'picture themselves' as whoever and wherever they want to be. In the case of Strassler's informers, photography helped them imagine themselves as citizens of the burgeoning Indonesian nation and modern global subjects.

Now, I did promise you that this book is not boring, and it's really not. And I'm not just saying this because I'm a bit of an Indonesian studies (and history, and photography) geek. To me, the book's main strength lies not in Strassler's theory work or meticulous documentation of events, but in her sensitive - and at times touching - storytelling. Strassler personalised every single point of analysis to an individual's story, and this makes the historical case studies relatable. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the key to a good history book, at least for this reader.

Although the book has a very specific scope, Strassler's writing style made it easy for the reader to recognise the underlying universal theme; that we all constantly look for new ways to imagine and portray ourselves. Just think of your last Facebook photo update and I'm sure you'll agree.

I've written a more formal review of the book for Inside Indonesia that you can find here.

While I'm at it, you can also find other Indonesia related articles that I've written for Inside Indonesia here and here.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Hello world.

I've resisted the idea of having a blog for some time now. There are a number of reasons for this, but mainly it's because I'm generally terrified of other people reading my writings. This is a bit of a problem considering that I'm a Social Anthropologist and I'm meant to produce papers and publications for a living. Besides, there are so many interesting things to discuss and I constantly talk about wanting to write more about things that interest me. So, after encouragements from long-suffering friends who have had to listen to my ramblings about various topics, confront my fears it is. Behold Internets, my thoughts about life and other stuff. I will mainly be talking about things that interest me, such as politics, Australian multiculturalism, Indonesia-related matters, food, wine, travels, books and pop culture. I promise that it won't all be about me.

I welcome suggestions, comments, and link recommendations!