What I saw written on the bathroom wall

The women’s facilities near one of the classrooms where I teach have been annoying all year because of their leaky taps.
As we all know, a dripping tap wastes a huge amount of water, which is expensive for the institution, and environmentally irresponsible, particularly in a water-challenged country such as Australia.
Anyway, recently, two identical notices went up in this bathroom, one on each wall. This is what they said:
Tap1
One of them was directly above the worst tap, which now runs, rather than drips, and which is nearly impossible to turn completely off, even if you twist it as hard as you can. Here is a picture of how much it runs (a few weeks ago, it only dripped):

Tap2
A few days after these notices went up, some bright spark added in pen to the notice above that constantly running tap, “Or…you could fix the tap”.
Well maintenance would be a fine thing, but it seems to be at a minimum these days. The maintenance staff simply don’t have time to fix everything.

And it seems sarcastic comments are not appreciated, either (even when they tell the truth).
Yesterday, I found that the notice with the graffiti had been taken down, leaving the other unannotated notice, on the other side to the faulty tap. However, by mid-morning, this had happened to that remaining notice:
Tap3
Same message, worded slightly differently. I wonder if anyone will actually get the message, or will it too be removed?
By the way, at least three of the six taps in that washroom drip. I wonder how much water is wasted across the entire university because there are no longer enough maintenance staff. In some bathrooms, there is a notice with a number to ring to report faulty equipment, but not in this one.
I might add that in another building, there is a faulty toilet cubicle door that hasn’t closed properly for 10 years…

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A hotch potch: pink frothy tea, stir-fried cucumber and an accidental recipe

 

Have a nice cup of (pink and white frothy) tea, why don’t you?

Here is what I tried this week: a “geisha green tea latte”… that was not green at all, but looked like a strawberry and vanilla milkshake, only hot.

latteI read a lot of inventive things on blogs such as RocketNews24, which has articles about the weird and wonderful flavours of food products in Japan, mainly (chocolate-covered squid, anyone?).

So, what did a geisha green tea latte taste like? It actually tasted like green tea…with rose-flavoured milk froth. It was pricy at $5.20.

Would I have it again? Probably. I like milk shakes, and I like rose-flavoured herbal tea, so a hot green tea milk shake tastes pretty good to me.

When I was a young adult in New Zealand in the 1980s, cafes offered coffee or tea, and that was it. If you ordered coffee, it was usually a spoon of Nescafe stirred into just-boiled water; if tea, you still usually got actual tea leaves in a tea pot. But there was no, “Will that be English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Earl Grey, Lady Grey, Orange Pekoe or decaf, with skinny or whole milk?” The only choices were black and white, sugar or none. My great-grandmother was disturbed when she discovered I didn’t take sugar. “A girl needs sugar in her tea – it’s good for you,” she maintained. (She also felt it highly disturbing that I washed my hair in the morning before heading off to uni. I would, she said, catch my death of cold, one of these days).

But back to choice. So great are the choices these days that what we finish up with often doesn’t resemble the original product at all. My husband recently ordered a “low-fat decaf latte, no sugar”. The waiter retorted, “Why bother?” and we all laughed.

When I first came back to Australia in 1993 from my first two-and-a-half-year stint in Thailand, I was appalled by the amount of choice in the supermarkets of Melbourne. Who needed 50 different types of breakfast cereals? I would stand in the aisles, just staring at the burgeoning shelves. I hate breakfast cereal anyway. My favourite breakfast is congee with chilli, fish sauce and chicken, the way they do it in Thailand. Or reheated left-over rice, with a raw egg stirred through. But toast and marmite or toast and tahine will do if I have to have a western breakfast.

In Thailand in the early 1990s, supermarkets were evolving but they were still not the most usual way Thais shopped, except for canned goods and other packaged products such as instant noodles. They mostly went to markets with fresh unpackaged and unprocessed produce.

Supermarkets had a limited choice (unless you wanted hair-care products), but always great were the lean chicken, truly free-range eggs with the yellowest yolks, delicate quail’s eggs, and luscious prawns ($1 worth was plenty for the two of us for dinner). In the vegetable aisle, we soon learnt to choose Thai vegetables, because such things as potatoes and carrots were pitiful, if available at all. Straw mushrooms, aubergines of all sizes down to the bitter pea-size ones for green curry, red capsicum, snake beans, snow peas, baby corn, spring onions. The best buys were the pre-packaged vegetables and herbs for recipes, just enough to add to your tom ka gai, tom yum or gaeng keow wan that night. A packet, which cost just a few baht, would contain, for example, kaffir lime leaves, a couple of sticks of lemon grass, garlic, chillies, a lime, and so on.

Now, of course, supermarkets in Bangkok are huge, swish and unrecognisable from what they used to be. I’m pleased to see, though, that they retain their “Thainess” among all the expensive imports, and that you can still buy those little packets of herbs and vegetables.

When I first went to Thailand in 1990, you couldn’t buy a cappuccino, really. Some restaurants had what they called cappuccino, but it was regular coffee with whipped cream on the top.

No matter – I used always to order nam manao (Thai lime-ade) when I was out, anyway: lime juice, soda water, salt and a little sugar syrup, the most thirst-quenching drink ever.

Sometimes, mistakes end up being the best recipes. I remember one time, we decided to have dinner with some friends who lived in the same apartment building in Mung Thong Thani (Nonthaburi province), which was then a small village but is now a satellite city. Here was what the village and its supermarket looked like in 1991:

Muang Thong Thani Village, Nonthaburi, Thailand, 1991. Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann

Muang Thong Thani Village, Nonthaburi, Thailand, 1991, about 1km from the apartment building where I lived.                                  Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann

You wouldn’t recognise it today.

Anyway, we were just to bring over to our friends’ place what we had planned to have for dinner, they would add theirs, and we would all share.

I had been planning to have prawns and stir-fried zucchini – wonder of wonders, since I hadn’t seen a zucchini before in a Thai supermarket and had found one that morning.

Or so I thought.

When I went to cut up the “zucchini”, I found that it was, in fact, a cucumber. There was nothing for it  but to put it in with the prawns, anyway. I cut it into long crunchy ribbons and added it just before serving over rice. I also used garlic, chilli, lime, thinly sliced capsicum, fish sauce and a touch of oyster sauce. It came out so clean and fresh-tasting, and I still make that recipe today.

Sometimes the combinations you make by accident are the best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Australians: lazy and overpaid? I think not

The bakery—good business but hard work. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2014

All stocked for a busy day at the bakery—good business but hard work. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2014

Everyone I know is working harder, in every industry—and I know a lot of people. Let me tell you about the manager of a bakery/lunch bar from which I buy a sandwich and a coffee three days a week. She commented to me on Tuesday that I had an early start that day, when I uncharacteristically bought a chai latte at 8.30am.

I said, “But you had a much earlier start.”

“Yes,” she said. “I start at 7am every day.”

“And what time do you finish?” I asked.

“7pm,” she said.

Turns out she works 7am-7pm from Monday to Friday, but she also starts at 7am on Saturdays and Sundays.

“And what time do you finish on weekends?’

“Oh, finish early – 5.30pm,” she said.

So she works 81 hours a week, and there’s travel time to and from work on top of that. I thought I was doing it hard at 65-70 hours, much of which I can do from the comfort of my own home.

“It’s a good business though, isn’t it?” I said. There are loads of customers at all hours at the bakery, because the food is ultra-fresh and tasty, the service fast and always with a smile.

“Yes, but we just keep afloat,” she said, adding that she should earn more money than she does.

Ironically—or perhaps just coincidentally—this conversation happened on Budget Day.

As I said, every Australian worker I know, including me, is toiling harder than ever before, many of them for less pay than they received previously. So I took it as a personal insult when Dr Sharman Stone, a Member of Parliament (Murray) in the current federal government, inferred on Monday on the ABC TV panel show Q and A, that Australian workers were lazy and overpaid.

Dr Stone did this by claiming that Australia had one of the lowest productivity rates of any workers in “developed” nations of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and in the next breath noting that Australians had one of the highest minimum wage rates in the world (she said that like it’s a bad thing).

Dr Stone, a former Minister for Workplace Participation (2006-7),  has a PhD in economics and business, but it seems here that she’s letting her politics get in the way of her education; she’s manipulating statistics to frame her agenda.

This is what she said, from the transcript to the show on the ABC website: “Australia has some of the lowest productivity per worker in the developed world and it has been going down over the last 10 years. We have about the highest, I have to say, minimum wage as well in the developed world…

“If we have a very high minimum wage and we have very low productivity, when we have a highly regulated work force, so there’s very little flexibility…” (http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s3985872.htm)

The Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, this year criticised the ABC for not supporting Australia. So how is it that one of the most long-standing MPs in his party felt it was OK on national television to put down every Australian worker?

For a start, her use of OECD productivity figures ( http://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?queryid=32480#) is misleading. Our productivity as estimated by the OECD is above that of Japan, New Zealand, the UK, Canada, Finland, Italy and Spain, amongst others. But more importantly, her assertion that Australians are not pulling their weight is offensive.

If you read the OECD statistics, you realise they are not suitable for application to a judgement on whether individuals or groups work hard or not and whether they are thus overpaid. To use them as such is a logical fallacy. They are a macro-type guide for big business, exporters and so on. The OECD itself has a disclaimer on its website, saying that the statistics as “[e]stimates of productivity levels are more uncertain than estimates of productivity growth; therefore, some caution may be warranted when interpreting those measures.”

Meanwhile, Dr Stone seems to think that cutting people’s wages will result in them working harder. So, my message to Dr Stone is this: look around you and see that people are already working hard, many for so little that they can barely afford to put a roof over their heads, such are our exorbitant housing prices in Australia.

And, crucially, this: You don’t get more productivity by paying people less, including cutting the minimum wage, though in the (very) short-term, some statistics might make it appear so. In the medium and long term, you get better productivity by paying people fairly, by providing good working conditions, job security and ongoing training.

That would seem obvious but, apparently, it’s not.

Tree change

I haven’t been blogging as much as usual lately, because we’ve just moved house, and also, I’ve been really under the pump at work. In fact, I’ve been overwhelmed with the amount of work I have to do.
When you’re overwhelmed by work, it’s easy to forget you still have to live your life, that great things still happen, and that every day, you should be just glad to be alive.
I was reminded of that this morning as I walked to the train with my heavy briefcase, on my way to work.
Suddenly, I looked around me and saw the trees. The outer suburb to which we moved two weeks ago is like a country town, and our street is full of well established trees.
Who wouldn’t be happy, walking to the train, with this vista?

Picture: Caron Eastgate Dann, 2014

Picture: Caron Eastgate Dann, 2014

It was a glorious autumn day – the best season in Melbourne. Blue skies, trees with multi-coloured leaves. Heavenly!
People say “hello” here. There are a lot of people much older than me, and no one passes me without us saying a hearty “good morning” to each other. The men even tip their hats! Lots of people are walking their dogs, whether it’s 7am or 10.30am (I start work at many different times).
So instead of worrying about work, I’m just going to look at the trees from now on, and think about how lucky I am – to live in such a nice street, to have a job (albeit one without any security whatsoever), and to be able to enjoy every day.

In the end, it’s the little things that count.