Hear Ye! Since 1998.

Archived Posts for December 2002

Please note: The posts on this page are at least 3 years old. Links may be broken, information may be out of date, and the views expressed in the posts may no longer be held.
31
Dec 02
Tue

Happy New Year!

The last few days have been heaps busy, between a daytrip to China and catching up with friends. Currently waiting for all the relos to get their acts together so we can go to dinner, then out to welcome in 2003.

Year in review? It’s been a long, long year, which at times has dragged quite badly, but all things come to an end, even the not so good things. I have learnt that the world is both small and big. I’ve learnt that there’s much more than one way to skin a cat. It’s all a matter of perspective.

What about the incoming year? I normally don’t make New Year’s resolutions. After all, all they are, are annual goals you set for the year, which may or may not be kept. I keep a list of goals throughout the year, continually revising them as they are achieved or are no longer relevant (although it is important not to confuse reclassifying a goal as irrelevant, with rationalising yourself out of that goal because it appears too difficult to achieve). Most goals fit within the convenient package of a year, but some don’t. When I get back to Sydney, for instance, I’m going to sign up for a Scuba diving course while it’s still Summer, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for years. I should receive word whether I’ve been accepted into law in Mid-January. I don’t know what to expect from next year, but nonetheless I look forward to 2003.

Anyhow, time to head off. Have a blast, this New Year’s Eve!

28
Dec 02
Sat

Dieting

Killing time waiting for a 10.45pm movie showing of Infernal Affairs. Here’s a page on negative calorie/kilojoule foods. It takes more energy to digest these foods than they give.

27
Dec 02
Fri

The Two Towers

I saw a midnight filming of TTT on the 21st in Singapore (it screens there a week earlier than in Sydney). It’s incredible, and a portent of the things we will witness in Return of the King. I have virtually no gripes about the movie. Admitedly, it deviates from the book somewhat in what it focuses on, but that’s what we want to see in a good fantasy flick, isn’t it? Widespread battle and warfare, arrows and swords (though not as many arrows as in Hero!). No magic from Gandalf, interestingly enough, despite what we see in the PS2 game. The so-called Eowyn-Aragorn-Arwen love triangle only has a brief feature, to the extent that there isn’t one. I think Eowyn knows she doesn’t have a chance. I guess she’ll “just” have to be content with the King of Rohan, eh?

Anyway, you don’t need to know anymore than the fact that you should: 1. Read the book (you’re really missing out otherwise as the movie doesn’t explain everything that’s going on – trust me on that), and; 2. Watch the movie. This movie deserves multiple viewings, which will be undertaken on return to Sydney. The Singaporean cinemas are pretty shit (we were at Lido).

26
Dec 02
Thu

One Hour Photo

Caught this film on the plane on the way to Singapore. Interesting, very interesting. It’s not really the film it seems like from the trailers (ie: a psycho stalker film).

Hong Kong Monikers

More Honkie names. I think I’ve linked this one before.

The 25th: Christmas Day

Kicked off the morning by meeting Edmond in a dodgy Mong Kok alley at 10. After getting him to translate for us a bunch of yellow doorway signs and posters adorned with attractive women and prices ($350 for all day “service”!), we went for breakfast. The unusually hot chilli we added to the won ton meen was just a bit too fiery for that hour of the day, and my stomach went a bit queasy for the rest of the day. Luckily it didn’t develop into something more inconvenient.

Next on the agenda, we walked to Olympia City to catch a 11.40am screening of Hero, joined by Kay (who was late again). The movie is in Mandarin, but has English subtitles. Hero’s a very cool movie, better than that other well known flick, Crouching Tiger. If it has made it out elsewhere, do go and watch it. The special effects are Hollywood-class, the actors are big name (Zhang Zi Yi has no functional purpose in the movie, but makes for good eye candy), the cinematography exceptional, and the plot is decent. The movie centers around assassins and the unification of China into the Qin dynasty in 221bc, a popular theme for Chinese movies like this one. Perceptions about the unification of China in Hero and The Emperor and The Assassin are interesting. On one hand, there is the view of the Qin kingdom mercilessly conquering the six kingdoms, ruled by a manical tyrant emperor. However, curiously the view that seems to emerge more strongly in movies is one of appreciation for the acts of this tyrant – the formation of the unified “Great Motherland” of China which would otherwise have not arisen. If not appreciation, then at least a Machiavellian understanding of Qin’s motives. I wonder how many Chinese share this view. From my airchair view of world politics, it is perhaps this view that goes some of the way to explaining China’s persistence in regaining Taiwan. Even present day nations dream of gaining or regaining glory (such as Mussolini’s vision of rebuilding a Roman empire), and China is no different. It’s just that today’s borders are more or less policed by the US.

It’s surprising how many shops open on Christmas Day. It actually feels just like any other day. I reckon Aussies are bludgers and Asians work too hard :). We had a good lunch at one of those festy roadside places. This was followed by some steamed milk. Although we were full at this stage, we chased it up with a taro pearl milk tea at this really busy stall which makes like $5 every 10 seconds. We also came across this large sign, when translated, advertising “First Love Internet Cafe”. Turns out that it was probably a net cafe with, hmm… “added services”. Let’s just say, you can surf the web and get some tech support for your joystick at the same time. An illegal practice in HK, but nonetheless a sound business idea.

Three full days of walking takes its toll, and we tramped into a reflexology centre for a relaxing foot massage. With our feet revitalised, we took a break at the hotel, before heading back out to do more shopping. We ended up at Pacific Place, where Edmond left to meet with other friends. We had dinner in the area, and went to a really nice asian desert house called The Sweet Dynasty. That really hit the spot.

Kay left for home, and Gerald and I decided to resume his mission for this trip – to find a piece of memorabilia authentically signed by Andy Lau (for a friend). We had exhausted the knowledge of all the Hong Kong locals that we had gone out with over the last couple days. (Carol – see previous post -claimed to know someone who knew Andy Lau to an extent that an autograph was obtainable, but this avenue would take more time than we had in HK.) Thus, we turned to the next available resource: Hotel concierges. They are meant to know everything, aren’t they? The one at our hotel was fairly uninformative, so we decided to test out the reputation of two of Hong Kong’s best. Arriving at The Peninsula, Gerald donned a thick Aussie accent and a register consisting of enlongated vocabulary. The concierge immediately pointed us out to the Sino Centre in Mong Kok, which we had already visited. Inside that centre there are shops which exclusively sell pictures of celebrities which I swear are photos off the internet printed by inkjet printers. Throngs of giggling Honkie girls crowd around those stores gushing at whatever male singer happens to be in fashion at the time. Unfortunately, none of the photos were autographed. The confidence of the concierge hit a brick wall and he concocted an excuse saying that autographed merchandise is rare, and are only given out in concerts to true fans who would never sell their booty.

At the Sheraton, we were attended to by a concierge by the name of Wesley. Wesley was a woman. I’ve heard of wierd Honkie names (eg: Apple, Mango), but that one takes the cake. She was a bit more helpful in a request that was rapidly turning into something much more difficult than anticipated. She referred us to the Sino Centre, HMV, a few other music stores (all unlikely), and finding out for us what music companies Andy is affiliated with. However, still no dice. We were half hoping for extraordinary American-style hotel service, but I guess inhindsight it was fortunate that none of them said, “Unfortunately we do not have that information, sir, but we will do our utmost to find out for you and get back to you. And what is your room number?” (Although Gerald half-jokingly pointed out that if they said that, he’d go and book a room for the night. :)

Next post on another day. In the meantime, go amuse yourself with pictures of urinals from around the world.

The 24th: A house? Like, a real house?

Gerald and I spent the first part of the day shopping, with two things in mind. The first was a digital camera (more on that in a later post), and the second was for random KK gifts. One for the night’s dinner, and another for the party following. The only restriction was that it had to be to the value of HK$100 per gift (AUD/HKD = 4.3). So after some aimless wandering, we settled upon a more or less matching set of gifts: for the dinner, a box of Lindt chocolates and an electric toothbrush. For the party, a bottle of Aussie wine and $100 worth of assorted condoms. They said be creative for the party gifts, so we were.

Following that, we took the MTR to HK island, down to Causeway Bay, which was absolutely packed full of human traffic, with the intention of meeting Kay and Bev. Kay was running late, and we were to meet Bev at the Clinique stand in Sogo. A fairly bad choice for a rendezvous point, seeing that the Clinique stand was at one of Sogo’s entrances which was constantly flooded with an unending stream of people. And also due to the fact that we hadn’t met Bev before, so had no idea who we were looking for. Anyway, Kay turned up and we discovered that Bev had actually wandered off to the Body Shop. We spent the next few hours shopping with Kay and Bev for their KK gifts, and also for wrapping paper for our condom “custom fun pack”. Mostly uneventful, except for the incident with some stuffed toys in a department store – Snoopy’s compromising position on the shelf and Mickey and Minnie’s questionable choice of undergarments. Hmm, yes.

Dinner was at a Western-style cafe at Wan Chai with Bev’s family and friends. Mediocre food. Turns out that when Honkies try to cook Western food, they are still influenced by Asian tastes. For example, the beef steaks were given a large dose of meat tenderiser (sodium bicarb), which is fine for normal Asian dishes where beef is sliced fine. However, for a large hunk of steak, it is decidedly strange. During the round of KK present swapping, we were extra careful not to mix the condoms and wine with the chocolates and toothbrush. I got a business card holder, Gerald got some Neutrogena shampoo. Right.

Dinner finished at about 11 and we went up to Kay’s office to drop off some bags. Kay works in PwC (GTS) Hong Kong, having transfered from the Sydney office a few years ago. Her office is in the Cheung Kong Center, also the office of Hong Kong’s richest man (the building is also owned by him). The view from there is quite impressive, one aspect showing the harbour to the North, and another aspect showing Mid-levels, basically the equivalent of Sydney’s North Shore, imposingly dotted with expensive high rise apartments climbing up the hillside. We also stopped for a quick toilet break in the schmick-ish executive Women’s toilet (it seems they have a separate toilet for execs). The toilets require security card entry and naturally Kay only has access to the Women’s ones, but this wasn’t a problem as the office was naturally deserted at 11pm on Christmas Eve.

(BTW, Bev is one of Kay’s friends, living in Hurstville, working as a market analyst in a Sydney firm on holidays in HK like us.) Waiting for a bus that never turned up, we instead took a taxi to the party, stopping on the way to pick up Carol, a UK-born Honkie working in audit also at PwC HK.

The party was at a house at Jardine’s Lookout. That middle word is a strange one on Hong Kong Island: house. In a place where space is at a premium, and where apartments abound, and an area such as Mid-levels, owning a house says something about affluence. So, naturally we were all quite curious to see this residence. It turns out that the place wasn’t quite a house, but a townhouse. Not that that didn’t mean a 7 or 8 figure price tag. Our host owned a few of them and joined them together. Nonetheless, going by Sydney standards, the place was decently sized. Although HK has higher wages and an extremely low tax rate (15%), this is balanced by significant living costs, especially for housing. For the same price in Oz, you could get a mansion in the ‘burbs, although we have a 48% tax rate to contend with.

The party was bustling when we arrived. It composed mostly of work people in their mid to late 20s, so not really my age group heh. The party was surprisingly tame (by Aussie standards, anyway). Lots of bottles of wine, but not a single drop of beer or spirits to be seen. And no one pissed. Unfortunately, everyone was jabbering in Cantonese (although a large number of people seemed to be overseas educated and therefore English-speaking) so we didn’t mingle much. The KK gifts were randomly distributed a few hours later, and we eagerly awaited to see who would receive our bundle of fun. It went a little something like this:

Generating an idea for a KK gift: Free
A few boxes of assorted condoms: $95
Gift wrap for the boxes: Free
The expression on the face of a rather innocent looking Honkie woman (and those around her) opening “gift number 42″: Priceless

I was a bit surprised that no one had had a similar idea, but as I said, it was a tame party. Turns out Kay knew the unlucky/lucky recipient of our gift, and she was married, so at least we knew our gift would be used in one way or another hehe. We eventually returned to the hotel later that night.

Post about what we did on the 25th coming later.

24
Dec 02
Tue

Merry Christmas!

I got stuff to write about, but later…

23
Dec 02
Mon

HK

Woke up with a whole lot of gunk in my throat this morning, but I think I’ve just about acclimatised to the pollution in the air. Spent the day tramping around with Gerald and Edmond looking for a 33.5kg Denon home cinema amplifier, which is roughly 50% cheaper than in Sydney. We found a good price for it, but I have no idea how he’s going to bring it back into Sydney. This evening, met up with Christine (from three years ago), and two other of Gerald’s net friends, Ron (a chemicals trader) and Ada (interpreter). Interesting mix of quite different people, but my lack of ability to speak Cantonese is proving a liability with regards to communication heh. Tomorrow we’re going to a Christmas Eve party. Daytrip into Guangzhou is scheduled for next Monday – apparently to visit my grandmother’s ancestral village which has records of her bloodline stretching back a millennium or two. Trying to meet up with Lill on Friday. Kit arrives tomorrow, Jamie on Friday. Other than that, nothing to really write about. Just the SES cycle (sleeping, eating, shopping).

22
Dec 02
Sun

Mobile Phone Transmission

Greetings from the Hong Kong immigration queue! We have 12 days here.

21
Dec 02
Sat

Mobile Phone Transmission

LOTR – The Two Towers: The epic continues and it is awesome. Proper review if I find net access in HK. Make sure you see it in a well equipped cinema!

20
Dec 02
Fri

Of Food and Massages

Nearing the end of our so-called “eating trip” in Hat Yai. It’s a small city, or large town, near the Malaysian-Thai border. We arrived here late Thursday afternoon. Although we are not here on a tour, we had hired a tour bus to drive us to our hotel. The tour guide gave us the usual spiel about the city, including a mention about the “agua show” and the “sexy show”. He took great pains to emphasise that the “agua show” (a transexual cabaret) was a family show, whereas the “sexy show” was… well, not. After a large scare involving my grandmother losing her passport (she was extremely lucky as it was eventually recovered intact, being lost on the bus which took us to the hotel), we headed straight for food. Dinner was on a hillside restaurant overlooking Hat Yai. The view was quite nice, although in the daytime, the city transforms into a grey slagheap like most other Asian cities. A$13 bought us a two hour massage (including tips) which we had in our hotel room. My goodness, a one hour remedial massage back in Oz costs $50. I was sharing a room with my American half uncle. The earliest we could have booked our massage was 11pm, so we were half asleep by the time they came up. It seems that because of Hat Yai’s proximity to Malaysia, that the Thai here know how to speak Hokkien, along with most members of my family. I, of course, do not. So my uncle is busy making banter with the masseurs (masseuses?) while she’s walking up and down his back, and I’m there clueless, trying to figure out if my masseur is trying to tell me to sit up or turn around. Turns out that my uncle’s masseur was having trouble with his somewhat larger frame, and was calling him a fat ass (in that many words). Nonetheless, very refreshing, no problems getting to sleep that night!

Today we went out to the markets where mum went crazy and bought out half a store – over 10kgs of preserved junk (nutmeg, dried mangoes, cuttlefish, etc.). In the afternoon we went for a reflexology session (foot massage). Again, very refreshing, although the guy did get a bit over zealous and as a result I now have a bruised left calf. Then I got a surprisingly decent A$4 haircut despite the barber not knowing a word of English (he just started cutting, no questions asked). The food here has been wonderful: fresh, sweet coconuts and mangoes, suckling pigs, pigs trotters, crabs and so on. Beautiful. (Kev & Em – I’m back on a one day cycle!) We leave tomorrow morning for Singapore, and leave the following day for Hong Kong. I think I have time to slip in a midnight viewing of The Two Towers on Saturday/Sunday in Singapore.

I swear, Australia needs 24 hour eateries. We arrived in Singapore on Wednesday at 11pm. The plane was 90 minutes late because Qantas misplaced someone’s luggage. After dumping our bags with relo’s, went off for a second supper (first one was on the plane) at 1am. Love it. This place is about to close, so I’ll be off now.

19
Dec 02
Thu

Mobile Phone Transmission

Touchdown in Thailand. Food. Mmmm.

17
Dec 02
Tue

I’m Off

Ok I managed to snag a terminal at Gate 32, the flight leaves in half an hour. Thank you, that is all. :)

Sydney Airport

Enthusiast’s Guide to Sydney Airport. There’s some pretty interesting info in there.

M5 East Broadcasts

Was driving back to Camden tonight through the M5 tunnel. Traffic was backed up due to late night roadwork. The radio was playing along nicely when all of a sudden a voice cut in through the transmission. “This is the M5 East traffic control room…” a voice intoned. An apology for the roadworks followed, and then the music cut back in. The transmission repeated every minute or so. Flicking between radio frequencies and AM/FM bands gave a “do not adjust the dial, we control all the frequencies” type effect. It’s the first time I’ve heard of it, but it sounds like they have some sort of radio jamming device they can use to broadcast over normal channels while you’re in the 4km tunnel. While I appreciate the intentions, can you imagine how annoying it would be to be listening to the news, then the cricket scores are about to be announced when suddenly… “This is the M5 East traffic control room.” It sort of defeats the purpose if their apology ends up pissing people off instead.

16
Dec 02
Mon

Happy Holidays!

Leaving for Singapore tomorrow, 5pm flight. As usual, I’ll try and shoot off a one-line post from the departure gate at the airport. Of course, if that fails, there is always the good ol’ SMS update. International roaming is enabled, so if anyone wants to drop me an SMS, you know where to get me. Have a Merry Christmas everyone, and another crazy New Year (in a good way, of course)!

Commenting

Just put in a couple fixes in response to the comments – it’s now scrollable (can’t believe I forgot to do that), and URLs starting with http:// will be automatically linked, don’t use HTML to do it.

15
Dec 02
Sun

Thesis

Received all my uni results back today. Got two HDs, and first class honours. My thesis is downloadable in PDF format (3mb), if you are interested in seeing what one looks like. I can finally graduate!

Star Wars Exhibit

Went to see the Star Wars Exhibit at the Powerhouse Museum. It’s a decent visit at $11 for students, although the $18 adult entry fee is pushing it. Some of the models really gave a feeling of scale (like Chewbacca). If you have nothing else to do over these holidays, or are a Star Wars fan, go and visit.

Tough Times

About three weeks ago I had a Saturday night that was triple booked. There was a surprise 22nd birthday dinner for a good friend which I had previously agreed to come to, a dinner with my girlfriend and her family including her father who had come over for a brief holiday in Australia, and a dinner with my family and grandfather who had likewise come over for a holiday. I ended up going for the latter, in light of the fact that my grandfather had been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Still, at 85, he’s already lived a long and good life, which is some comfort to the bad news.

Things haven’t always gone my way this year, and all in all, I don’t regard it as a very good year for myself. Nonetheless, I am still satisfied and grateful to be in my current position in virtually all aspects of life.

Perspective is always good, however. I visited this site the other day. It’s run by a friend of a friend, who I’ve met a few times previously, last in October, but didn’t have a clue what had happened to him. I was pretty shocked to read what had transpired for him. Even more so, when I realised that the first entry is dated in September, but he’s feeling even worse today, three months later. Time heals wounds, but some wounds develop infections, I guess (to analogise). Betrayals and break ups are awful.

How about this site: Thinking Out Loud. To summarise, read the entries for 14 July 2002 and today.

What’s worse, though? Here’s another heart wrenching site: page 1, page 2. It’s kept by a girl who has now passed away after contracting cancer. It’s only a few months long, but it shows the descent of her health as she struggles to maintain the semblance of a normal life. In her case, it’s not only the pain of her own health failing, but the effect it would have on her close ones.

It is a curse to note that there are a lot of teenagers in this world who are willing to commit suicide while I am here trying to desprately live when I am wasting my life away through vommiting and also starvation. My life is indeed a living hell, but I always make the best out of it. How much endurance do I posses? How much tolerance do I have? How much more pain and sorrow can I take? With everytime I cry, my tears flow out. With every news that comes it only cracks my heart and still I am standing here breathing. Do I have to be a living example of a Zombie? It is also already bad enough that I have label on me that states “Dying” and that I must have to have special treatment due to my handicap. This is not the life that I want to lead. This is not the life that I should lead. I strive each time to normalize the things that I used to do and everytime I do so, my efforts would crumble to the ground.

Very emphatic words, especially noteworthy for people like this. Her diary ends with that entry.

I apologise for the series of rather depressing sites above, but they do provide perspective (although maybe not comfort) for people in “lesser” circumstances. I tried searching for blogs and journals which had people undergoing tough times, and was thankful that they are actually quite hard to find.

Die Another Day

As the 20th Bond film, I thought Die Another Day was ok. It just felt a little disjoint, and with 007 being on the backfoot in a way I’m not used to. Otherwise, it’s got everything else you’d expect, including the return of that wonderful Aston Martin. Go watch it, it’s James Bond!

11
Dec 02
Wed

Parts of Star Wars

Parts of Star Wars: “Our ultimate goal for this site is to develop an in depth database of the original parts used in the construction of the props from the entirety of the Star Wars saga.” Quite comprehensive and somewhat interesting.

Commenting

Finally found a large block of time to do some development on this site. I’ve introduced post commenting. (I will be more likely to reply directly to e-mails sent to me than via the commenting system, though.) Let me know if there are any bugs.

I’ve also updated the stats page.

10
Dec 02
Tue

Time Capsule

Denise’s post about time capsules just made a neuron in my brain reconnect itself to another section in my brain that has long laid dormant. Fifteen years ago, when I was six, Dad helped me put together a time capsule. It was to be opened when I was 21, and I’ve just remembered it. Now I am 21, and I feel strangely reluctant to open that yellow Chrysanthemum tea tin which contains objects from my 80s childhood. All I recall is that I stuck a matchbox car in there. What else there is, I have long forgotten. Unfortunately, it’s currently somewhere back in the Camden house, and I’m in Kingsford, so when I get back there next week, I’ll open it up. Then we’ll get to see what 15 year old relics I left myself all that time ago. (I also made another time capsule when I was about 12. Perhaps I’ll open that one in another decade or so.)

Solar Eclipse in the Outback

Day 1: Arrival (December 3, 2002)
We stand yawning in Sydney airport’s domestic terminal. It is not yet 6am, as we arrive at the departure gate. The airport is uncharacteristically quiet, expected at this hour, but still feels somewhat surreal. Large letters printed on the windows announce that the gate is for departures to Adelaide. The chairs in the terminal are dotted with the usual businessmen, flying to attend early Tuesday morning meetings elsewhere in the country, but this morning’s mixture of flyers is different. Here and there, people are not attired in the typical garb of business suits, but instead, shorts and t-shirts. People who are blinking in an effort to clear their bleary eyes whilst pouring over maps, and arcane charts filled with numbers and symbols. These people, like us, are chasing the solar eclipse of December 4, 2002.

The flight to Adelaide takes only a little longer than the average Hollywood movie, 1 hour and 45 minutes. Breakfast is served, and soon we land in Adelaide, only 75 minutes after we left due to time zone differences. The morning sun is weak, and it is only 16 degrees, so we don jumpers and head off in the car that we have rented, a fairly new Ford Falcon with 12000 km on the clock. Our destination for the day is Port Augusta, roughly 300km away, or a three hour drive. As we have plenty of time, we decide to have a poke around Adelaide, unaffectionately acknowledged as the biggest hole of an Australian state capital city where nothing ever happens.

It is just past 9am, and the city barely feels like it is waking up. Many shops are still shut or in the process of opening, and the streets are surprisingly empty in what should be peak hour traffic. We wander around Rundle mall, basically a small version of Sydney’s Pitt Street Mall, but without the people, and shop until noon. At lunchtime, the city is decidedly more active, though the footpaths are still far from being crowded. I complain to Dad how much of a hole Adelaide is, to which he chides me for being so critical.

“Ok, you name me one thing Adelaide is famous for.”

No reply is forthcoming. To be fair, Adelaide, built around the Torrens River, is a pleasant city, although its demeanour is similar to that of an oversized country town than a major city. Still, finding that Adelaide has nothing to offer us that we don’t already have in Sydney, we begin our drive northwards.

South Australia’s tourism commission proudly proclaims the state’s miles of unwinding road. Indeed, South Australia is a wonderful state for driving. The main highway is wide, with many kilometres of dead straight road. The day is bright and sunny, with scattered clouds punctuating a pale blue sky, but a constant breeze keeps the temperature at a comfortable level. Meanwhile, the terrain that scrolls by is ever changing. In keeping with Australia’s reputation for being an incredibly flat country, visibility extends for kilometres around. There is a distinct impression of space and freedom. The horizons, normally suffocated by the cityscape’s irregular outline of buildings, are replaced by the more natural features of the Australian landscape. In the distance to the west, gently rolling hills have acquired a deep cerulean hue in the wavering heat haze, emanating off an intercepting expanse of water that is Spencer Gulf. To the east, tanned plains extend to meet a range of hills – a mixture of rich ochre and auburn rock, speckled with the faded greenery of parched vegetation.

We pull into Port Pirie for a rest, although its name is a mystery to us, as this “port” seems to be kilometres off the coast of the Gulf. Nonetheless, this non-descript country town sports a McDonald’s which serves as a toilet stop for us. Stepping down from the car, we are assaulted with a barrage of flies, reminding us that summer has once again returned.

We arrive at Port Augusta in the late afternoon, although dusk is still some hours off. It is here that we have accommodation booked in a motel for the next two nights – a staging point for our eclipse viewing.

Choice of viewing location is crucial for any eclipse. Because of the remoteness of the locations this eclipse passes over, travel to any location will be time consuming. The path of the total eclipse (the “umbra”) is a narrow band, only tens of kilometres wide, which starts in eastern Africa in the morning, and sweeps across the Indian ocean. It once again crosses over land via Australia’s southern seaboard in the late evening (7.40pm), before setting, still partially eclipsed. Although totality – the point where the moon completely covers the sun – lasts for over three minutes at the peak of the eclipse, somewhere over the Indian ocean, Australia only catches the last dregs of it. Totality will be, at maximum, 30 seconds.

Although the eclipse crosses over large tracts of both the African and Australian continent, there are only two towns in the world that are in the direct path of 2002’s solar eclipse: Ceduna and Lyndhurst. Ceduna is a coastal town, some 464km west of Port Augusta. Lyndhurst is much further inland, about 300km north east of Port Augusta. In Ceduna, hotels, motels and inns alike have been booked out months in advance. This small town, population 3000, expected an extra 20000 people to swarm in for the eclipse. Many of these 20000 have travelled internationally especially for the eclipse, and one particularly enterprising group of Japanese even hired out a football field for the occasion. Because Ceduna could not hope to accommodate this sudden influx of people, an array of “tent cities” have been set up around the town, impromptu lodging for the thousands of travellers gathered there for a brief, but spectacular and momentous event.

Ceduna has better facilities than Lyndhurst, being less remote. Ceduna, basically situated where the eclipse enters Australia, experiences a totality four seconds longer than Lyndhurst. However, being a coastal town, the chances of inclement weather are increased. Cloud cover over the sun will destroy the full effect of a total eclipse. Further inland, although not immune from cloudy conditions, has greater possibilities of clear weather.

Stepping out of the restaurant at 7.40pm, I check the sky, anxious that the late hour of the eclipse would see the sun being too low on the horizon, dampening the impact of the eclipse. I need not have worried, though, as due to daylight saving, and the lengthier Australian summer days, the sun was still at a fair height. The weather situation in Ceduna, on the other hand, is looking doubtful, with scattered cloud forecasts arriving in for all coastal regions. However, our choice for viewing location takes us neither to Ceduna nor Lyndhurst. Rather, tomorrow, we were off to Wirraminna.

Day 2: Eclipse (December 4, 2002)
Geographically, Wirraminna is roughly halfway between Ceduna and Lyndhurst. Wirraminna is not a town, but merely the name of a 2 kilometre rail siding, designed exclusively to let trains, in their long journey across the continent from Darwin to Adelaide, pass each other. Because of this, the crowds at this location were likely to be a small fraction of those in the towns and viewing conditions among the best.

Wirraminna is approximately 250km north-west of Port Augusta, situated along the Stuart Highway: a single laned, but well maintained, road that crawls thousands of kilometres up through the great, vast deserts of outback Australia, from Adelaide, through Alice Springs and finally to Darwin at the north end of the country. The highway is named after explorer John McDouall Stuart, who in 1862, after numerous failed attempts, found a path from Adelaide, through the gruelling outback environment, to the north coast of Australia – a seven month journey.


Start of the Stuart Highway

We pack for the day’s trip, ensuring that we have sufficient fuel, food and water, and importantly, our photographic equipment, which between the four of us, is composed of 2 video, 1 SLR, 1 digital and 2 normal “point-and-shoot” cameras. It is 9am when we leave.

In Australia, there are three types of environments: the urban, the bush and the outback. Away from Port Augusta, the transition from the urban to the outback is sharp. Unlike New South Wales, there is hardly any land that could be considered as bushland, as the Australian outback begins to claim the inland terrain almost immediately.

The outback landscape is extraordinary. As with the trip to Port Augusta, a 360 degree view of the horizon is possible, except that out here, the horizon is absolutely flat. Unbridled flatness. The same rusty red dirt that has scattered itself along the highway extends outwards for kilometres around. Tufts of dry grass abound, with the occasional low-lying Mulga tree disrupting the skyline. Wildlife, though scarce, exists, with the occasional emu striding off in the distance, or the occasional fly-ridden kangaroo carcass – victims of roadkill – lying alongside the road. The landscape is starkly monotonous, but the desolation is strangely mesmerising. The further we progress inland, the more barren the surroundings become.


Panorama of the Outback

We stop at a lookout that opens up a view across a salt flat. A vast, perfectly flat pan of reflective whiteness, a remnant of what, in the wet season, used to be a large lake. Now, it is a sterile curiousity, parched from the relentless evaporation inflicted upon it by the sun. The many lakes along the highway are in fact salt lakes at this time of year, a literally glaring reminder of the aridness of this place.

Traffic along the highway is busier than usual. Eclipse tourists. A line of cars, campervans and four-wheel drives stretches out in front and behind us. We pass only a handful of vehicles headed the other way, mostly road trains: huge, lumbering 150 ton trucks, towing up to three trailers, fully laden with a myriad of supplies for, or from, the townships along the highway.

At another rest point, a salt lake rests right by the roadside. We shuffle down a short embankment to get a closer look. Surprisingly, there is still a trace of water in this lake, centimetres thick, above a crust of damp salt. The damp salt tastes putrid, and is undercut by a gluggy layer of mud. Further away, where the water has long vanished, the salt has transmogrified into a rock hard, glittering surface. A Swedish eclipse watcher with a Canon Powershot G2 camera lies down to capture a particularly bizarre salt formation on the lake surface on film, but struggles to maneuver himself into a position where his supporting arms are not scratched by the salt beneath his elbows. The Swede has travelled a long distance to be here, his last eclipse viewing in Germany being stymied by cloud cover. He gazes up towards the heavens and smiles optimistically. Today will not be a disappointment, he says.

We look around and realise that we have been lucky. The sky is cloudless. The blueness above, even more featureless than the brownness below. The sun is high above the horizon, but it is not hot. A strong wind has arisen from the west, blowing dry but cooling gusts of air across the outback. Meanwhile, news from Ceduna filtering up is reporting scattered cloud down south.

It is still early by the time we reach Pimba, a tiny town marking a turnoff from the highway that goes to Roxby Downs. Pimba has not much besides Spud’s roadhouse. A 24 hour service station with attached bar and room full of pokies machines. Though mainly catering to passing truckies, today Spud’s was lively with tourists. We decide that Woomera, only 8 kilometres up the road, is a more interesting place and drive there for lunch instead.

Woomera is well known for its role as a missile test site, most active in the 50s and 60s last century. The Woomera township itself borders a huge area of land, the Woomera prohibited area, that is still under military control. More recently, Woomera has been in the news as it is the site of Australia’s much maligned refugee centre. Not surprisingly, there is no evidence that a refugee centre exists at all in the area. Instead, the town is dedicated to a commemoration of its historical role in rocketry development. Woomera was bustling. Probably the bustling it had been since the town was founded in 1946. Throngs of tourists – Americans with thick yankee accents, to mainland Chinese dressed in their characteristic suits and ties despite the outback weather, to Europeans wearing “Eclipse in the Outback” t-shirts – all milling around.

Inside the Woomera heritage centre, we eat lunch, and then elect to visit the local museum. We pay $3 for entry and ask for an entry ticket, only to be told that none exists. “Just go in,” we are told. I guess the honour system works well out here.

The small one-room museum hosts a variety of memorabilia from Woomera’s heyday, with model rockets and planes, theodolites and faded photos. A model of the Lake Hart Launch Area stands on one side of the room. The launch area was to be the test site for a cutting edge “V2” rocket that Britain was jointly developing with Australia. Unfortunately, after the equivalent of $200 million being spent on the construction of the site, Britain decided that it no longer thought the project was viable, and canned it. The site still exists today, alongside the salt flat that is Lake Hart, but all that remains of the launch area are its giant crumbling concrete foundations.

The hour of the eclipse draws closer and I spend some time constructing makeshift solar filters for my camera and video camera from the lenses of some eclipse glasses. Having not bought any costly solar filters, I decided to make them myself. After aiming them at the sun, now descending in the sky, I was feeling quite satisfied of their effectiveness. Not as good as proper $100 filters, but still incredibly good value for $6.

“First contact”, where the moon would first start to creep across the sun, would occur at 6.40pm, with totality being achieved almost exactly an hour after that. It is now 4pm. We leave Woomera and Pimba behind and make our final trip to the eclipse site, stopping by Lake Hart along the way. On the approach to Wirraminna, campervans, tents and caravans begin to line the roadside. Anticipation builds, as 52km from Pimba, we cross a cattle grid. 1.4km later, we cross the southern limit of the eclipse area and enter the umbral zone, where anyone within would see totality, albeit only briefly at this extremity.

10km further and we near the centreline of the eclipse. Crowds have started to gather by the roadside, an array of sedans, four-wheel drives, vans, tour buses, and even road trains whose drivers have been fortunate enough to pass through the area at the time, all sitting lined up on the dirt. The high radio mast of a solar powered radio transmitter signifies the Wirraminna rail stop to our right, but we decide to press on. The centreline of the eclipse is the point at which totality lasts the longest, however, due to factors such as atmospheric refraction, the true centreline now lay a few kilometres further down the road, just past the Coondambo Fibre Optic Repeater Station. The repeater station is a fully automated, solar powered facility. It acts as a repeater device, regenerating the optical signals that travel along the fibre cable that joins Adelaide to Darwin. Gigabytes of Internet traffic data stream through it, and from Darwin, are forwarded onwards to Asia and Europe.


Wirraminna roadside at about 5.30pm (large panorama). Cars continue to pour in over the next hour.

The roadside is now like a car park, as more cars continue to stream in. In the outback, however, space is ample, and we have no trouble finding a viewing spot, just opposite the repeater station. It is roughly 5.30pm, and we begin to set ourselves up. Conditions are perfect, except for a stiff wind that is buffeting our camera tripod, so we tie it down with three shopping bags filled with rocks.

Stretching up and down the roadside in one of Australia’s more remote areas, are now lines and lines of people, all waiting expectantly for the spectacle about to unfold. Some chill in banana chairs, VBs in hand. Some are fiddling with their equipment. Some are sharing a yarn. Telescopes, and all sorts of cameras and other monitoring devices point westwards, and there is a buzz in the air, palpable even in the brisk wind, and the excitement mounts.

6.40pm approaches, and people begin to cast their glances towards the sun. I slip my eclipse glasses on, which turns the blindingly incandescent fireball in the sky into an angry red circle, framed in blackness. The seconds tick on. Nothing seems to happen, but then in the bottom-left corner, something. An optical illusion? Our imaginations playing on our expectations, perhaps? But no, in the corner of what should be a perfect circle, is an imperfection. It is the moon. The eclipse begins.

In the initial minutes, people are pointing skywards, jabbering, “Look! Look!” Tautologically, it would seem, for there is not a single person not transfixed. Thus begins the hour long wait, as the moon slowly consumes the sun. Without the glasses, you wouldn’t suspect a thing, for although the sun is being covered, there is no visible diminishment in its radiance.

  
The eclipse begins at 6.40pm / The moon marches on.* / Almost there…

Relatively few people on earth witness a solar eclipse, for not only are they rare events, but when they do occur, they happen over remote, unpopulated areas or the ocean. Solar eclipses are rare, because the moon’s orbital plane is tilted from earth’s orbital plane. Thus, only when the moon lies between the earth and sun, and where its orbital plane intersects earth’s, will an eclipse occur. A maximum of five solar eclipses can happen in a year. Though lunar eclipses happen less frequently, they are more visible because when one occurs, half the earth can see it (those in nighttime), whereas, solar eclipses are only visible along the umbral path. Furthermore, solar eclipses are sometimes annular. This means that the moon is not large enough to cover the full face of the sun (even though it travels directly across it) and the normal effect of a solar eclipse is not achieved.

Solar eclipses in history have signified many things. Asians have traditionally believed that a dragon was munching its way through the sun, and have employed measures such as drum-banging, firecrackers and shooting arrows into the sky in an effort to scare it away. In Tahiti, eclipses have been regarded as the sun and moon engaging in sex. Even today, solar eclipses are interpreted as signals of divine providence, or omens. We Aussies are just happy that such a spectacle landed in our backyard.

The excitement simmers, while people stand around looking silly in their eclipse glasses. Some, though, employ a more traditional method of eclipse viewing – poking a hole in a card, and then projecting the image of the sun through that hole onto another piece of cardboard. It is at about 7.30pm when things start to pick up again. By this time, the moon is covering up a sizeable portion of the sun. And subtly, the light across the outback plains starts to dim. Imperceptibly at first, but slowly everyone notices. It is an eerie experience. Even though it is late in the late evening, the sun is still appearing to shine as brightly as ever in the sky. However, all around, things are harder to make out than they should be. The sun, through glasses, is crescent shaped.

Darkness begins to fall. This is not the gradual darkness of dusk, or even the sudden darkness of a black storm cloud covering the sun, but such something much more intense and foreboding. The drop in sunlight sweeps across the plains uniformly in all directions, ever accelerating, and even now, the sun itself is beginning to fail in the sky. The wind has whipped up, and the temperature drops. Shadows began to fade, merging with the increasing gloom. Silence.

Anticipation builds, and not a soul is not looking towards the dimming sun. Through the glasses, the moon continues is smooth slide across the sun, which is now but a sliver. People start to yell, “it is coming!” The sliver seems to thin forever, but suddenly there is a flash, the flash of the diamond ring effect – a parting gesture from the sun – as the moon completely slides across it, achieving totality and plunging the land into darkness.

It is as if a key had been turned in a lock, and clicked.

  
7.40pm: Totality.* / End of totality, shown by a diamond ring effect as the moon moves off the sun.* / The momentary flash of light from the diamond ring effect.

Everyone is awestruck. Some people are cheering, some people are clapping, some people are looking dumbfounded. But everyone has whipped off their glasses and is staring upwards.

All around, it is night time. Objects appear murky. Stars, shimmering beacons in the celestial void, have come out, and the temperature drops a few more degrees. But the chills running up and down my spine are not from the cold. No, for up in the sky is one of the most remarkably staggering and extraordinary sights people have witnessed, or will witness, in their lives. For me, it was the achievement of one of my lifelong goals, and an unforgettable moment. Suspended in the sky, which was no longer blue, but black, was the silhouette of the moon, as perfect a circle and as black a black as you could ever see, encircled and emblazoned by a fiery aura of rich crimson and orange – the sun’s corona – which appeared to gently pulsate and throb with a graceful smoothness. I was spellbound. All around, cameras fired and shutters whirled, people whistled and others moaned in wonder. The atmosphere was electric.


The landscape during totality. This has been scanned directly from the photo negative as the photo development place somehow neglected to develop this particular picture.*

28 seconds. A brief 28 seconds to savour the experience. A rich experience of sight, sounds, and spine-tingling feeling. It was all over too fast, as a flash from the second diamond ring effect triumphantly announced the return of the sun and the end of the unique spectacle. In my state of awe, I had forgotten to remove the filter from the video camera, thereby failing to capture totality on film, but it was but a small bother. I had seen a total solar eclipse, and that was what mattered.

Minutes later, people begin to leave. We decide to stay back to watch the outback sunset. Light gradually returns as the moon moves onwards. The sky begins to acquire a pinkish haze as the sun drifts down. We relax from the car, as another traveler begins to leave. A single man, from rural New South Wales. He too, drove from Port Augusta, and was meant to meet up with friends in Ceduna. However, upon hearing about the weather, decided to head for Wirraminna instead, thinking it to be the wiser option. Further news from Ceduna, however, was that the clouds had fortuitously parted in time for the eclipse. The sun finally creeps below the horizon, still in partial eclipse, obscured by the retreating moon, and twilight arrives.

 
Sunset in the outback. The sun is still partially eclipsed. / Queueing for petrol at Spud’s in Pimba.

On the way home, we are all exhilarated. Not in a psyched up, adrenaline induced way, but in a reserved manner of disbelief and amazement. It is a long drive home, so we stop over at Spud’s for dinner. Spud’s is doing business like it has never done before. Tourists are converging here from the surrounding eclipse zones for dinner or for refueling. Cars are queued up several deep, waiting for a petrol pump, and it takes up to an hour to get served food.

By the time we finish eating, the queues at the fuel station are gone, and Spud’s has started to clear out. The sun’s rays have completely disappeared from the land. On the highway back to Port Augusta, we pull into an observation point. A few cars are parked here, people staying for the night in their cars and campervans. We switch off the headlights and at once involuntarily gasp as we are enveloped in pure darkness and the beauty of the night sky becomes immediately apparent.

Far away from the “pollution” of city lights, it is as dark as it gets, and the night sky is free to explode in a dazzling display of starlight. The land around is shrouded in utter blackness, but where it meets the horizon, the sky has a deep, faint blue glow. Without light for kilometres around, save from passing traffic, it is so dark you cannot see yourself, nor your surroundings – only the stars above. A thick band of stars swathing the sky from east to west forms the Milky Way. There are clouds in the sky, except that you realise that the night is cloudless. These clouds are actually the magellanic clouds, distant clusters of stars. We spot the Southern Cross, low over the western horizon. Sirius and Canopus, the two brightest stars as viewed from earth, twinkle to the south. An unwavering point amongst a sea of thousands of shimmering dots is Saturn. Although forever gone from the city skies, the beauty of the night sky still reigns over the outback, as it has since the dawn of time.

It is 1.30am when we return to our motel room, slipping easily into a deep, satisfied slumber. We had seen what we came for.

* * *

The next eclipse in the world has a totality that extends for seven minutes, but as it is over Antarctica, very few people will have the chance to see it. In contrast, in a decade or so, another eclipse will pass near Shanghai, and will be witnessed by millions.
________________________
* Photo Notes
Most photos were taken with my digital camera. However, being the three year old brick that it is, it had trouble with the light metering, resulting in wonky exposures. Soph’s normal point-and-shoot camera was more successful in capturing the sun. These photos were scanned in and are denoted with an asterisk. Unfortunately, none of these photos remotely do justice to what was seen on the day.

9
Dec 02
Mon

Star Control 2

The source code to the original Star Control 2 for PCs may have been lost, but the code to the 3D0 version wasn’t. Some people are now porting it to other platforms, including Windows. It’s currently in Alpha, weighs in at 150 megs (the original fit on 4 5.25 inch floppies) and is available here.

8
Dec 02
Sun

Small World

The sociology department at Columbia University is running some fascinating research on the “small world” phenomenon and degrees of separation: the Small World Research Project. The project is a modern day, global scale replication of research work on social networks done by Stanley Milgram in the 60s. Milgram ran the experiment within America, and found an average of five people between any two given participants in the experiment (hence the popular phrase, six degrees of separation). Sign up to the experiment and give it a go.

Anyhow, I was at Denise’s 21st the other night. Remember my theory about degrees of separation and Sydney bloggers (this post)? Well the world got figuratively smaller that night when I bumped into Andrew while waiting to use the toilet. It turns out he’d come across this site as well. He expressed feeling a bit weirded out and uncomfortable by meeting someone who’s previously read about him through a web site. Which is interesting, because everyone who writes a blog (and especially if you publish webcam shots of yourself!), knows that the whole world can see what you’ve written and knows who you are. I have five years of archives, and I’m continually aware that it contains a wealth of personal information about me. Some of the beliefs I’ve expressed in the past, I no longer agree with, but have decided against removing the incriminating posts because this site reflects me and my experience in growing up. It is a small world, and if you bump into someone that knows you through your site, don’t be horrified, be pleasantly surprised! If I had anything to be uncomfortable about it was when I muttered, “Hmmm who is that in the toilet? They’re taking ages… I bet you it’s a girl…” to which he replied, “Yeah that’s my girlfriend Karen in there.” Oops :).

Karen later approached me, having heard the conversation through the door. (It was by coincidence I stumbled upon her site some weeks ago when I was searching for a photo of Gelatissimo.) Andrew pretty much matched the impression I got of his personality from his site, whereas Karen didn’t (although the exchange was very brief!).

It’d be interesting to see what roles institutions have on bringing social networks closer together. University is an incredible bridging force. I wonder how it compares to clubs, schools and the workplace, though. I should have done a sociology major hehe.

Update
Karen wrote on her site, “One thing I’m curious about (but I can’t ask on his blog coz he doesn’t have comments) is what he thought I was like from reading my blog, and what impression I gave when I met him. I seemed to be different from what he expected… hmm.. maybe it was the goth makeup.”
– The impression I got from your site is that you’re quite a perky, bubbly person, which in hindsight is probably a more accurate assessment of you than the 60 second exchange we had. That exchange was somewhat sombre (no doubt the makeup played a part!) and your voice is pitched lower (a more ‘matured’ tone) than what I would have expected. I was actually half wondering if you were a bit annoyed at my banter outside the bathroom because you weren’t smiling (maybe you were just ‘keeping in character’ with your alter ego for the night :).

Andrew asked on his site, “I have to ask Stuart – what kind of personality do I ooze from this site that matches me so well?”
– Well, with you, I pictured a typical Comp Sci student personality (with commerce thrown in for reasons relating to filial piety, right?) which pretty much matched your demeanour. Slightly harder to explain what a Comp Sci student personality is, but some people will know what I’m talking about! (It’s also probably a fairly good assessment of my demeanour.)

Changing Lanes

I liked this movie. It doesn’t seem to have been overly publicised, but its the tale of two New York men from different ends of the social spectrum, unescapably spiralling down and down – Shakespearean tragedy style – in what is an incredibly crap day for them both. One is an alcoholic black man (Samuel L. Jackson), desparately trying to prevent his ex-wife from moving interstate so he can still see the kids, who are in the custody of her. The other is a high-flying 29 year old lawyer (Ben Affleck) who has just been made a partner in a Wall Street firm. They cross paths and through a series of rash decisions, continually blinded by retaliatory anger, turn each other’s days to shit.

The film gives us a large dollop of cynicism tinged with an optimistic ending. I particularly loved the scenes where Affleck is interviewing the law students, and what was said during the interviews. For high-flying careers – what motivation truly drives people, and can the idealistic survive the world with their ideals intact? Or does “walking the edge” really necessitate a corruption of them, that a little bit of harm is ok, as long as it is counterbalanced by good? Highly recommended.

Paste

Paste, a new weekly online comic by Al, has commenced. He has three months of strips done in advance, so we are guaranteed of a new one each week! Check it out.

The Eclipse

The eclipse was an awesome experience. We didn’t end up camping in the outback, but instead decided to risk driving at night back to Port Augusta. We figured that the chances of us hitting a stray roo on the way back would be reduced with the large number of people driving on the highway after the eclipse was over. I’ve done a lengthy write up of the whole experience, of course including photos!

1
Dec 02
Sun

BRB

Off to see the moon eat the sun tomorrow. Back Thursday night. (If you haven’t visited this site for a while, I did a large update at the end of last month.)

Return of the King

After a year’s interruption, I concluded reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In typical Tolkien style, it meanders a bit in places, but soon snaps back to moving onwards. In terms of intensity and action, each successive book elevates the stakes and level of action, which can only bode well for the sensory feast that awaits us in the movies. It is interesting that Tolkien tends to step further back, the larger the battle is. The siege of Minas Tirith is mainly a summarised account, heard from behind the front lines, although if Tolkien had paused to describe the battle details, the book’s length may very well have doubled. For Peter Jackson, it gives him a lot more freedom in portraying the audio visual spectacle of war.

Although the writing style of Tolkien is somewhat aged (although this lends a medievalist feel to the tale), idiosyncratic, not always ‘exciting’, and mechanical in its descriptions of the environment, the work is definitely a classic – purely because of its scale, imagination, richness and depth. It’s true fantasy, unlike Harry Potter, which is simply competently written fantasy that has been marketed with inordinate skill.

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