Because the world needs more overwrought candour.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The end
Well, after three years, I'm a bit bored of Serepax. I've enjoyed the ride, but had enough of inflicting overwrought candour on the world. If you like, you can join me in my 100% emotion-free blog, Whisperling. There will be less wank, I hope. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Two word-of-mouth rumours about Mel Gibson

One could be put down to possible exaggeration, but two rumours have a little more weight. OK, so the story is: two female friends have independently told me they have been approached by Mel Gibson in a Sydney club. K told me she and her friend spent the night dancing with Mel and his bodyguard before his minder called them the next day to suggest a helicoptered lift to spend a weekend with Mel in a private estate (they politely declined). That was interesting enough, but a few weeks later, another friend, L, told me she was in a club in Sydney with a friend when Mel stumbled into the women's toilet, pashed her friend and stumbled out again. Isn't that great? Two friends who aren't prone to exaggeration tell of a married man famous for his Catholicism making advances on them or their friend. As a happily lapsed Catholic, I really, really enjoy discovering religious hypocrisy.

Monday, December 04, 2006


So good I had to watch it twice - but what a difference between viewings! Slumming it with the plebs at Melbourne Central's multiplex, everyone laughed at the heavy satire of the Running of the Jew or Borat's priceless speech outlining his Iraq strategy. The rather educated audience at the Nova was much less certain of laughing at racial jokes, even if the joke was that the exposed Americans were racist/homophobic/etc. A few small titters but generally a stunned silence with head-shaking. You could tell anti-American anecdotes were being accumulated. I even heard of people boycotting the movie because Mr Cohen is being so vigorously sued. Bah. Humour has to hurt. Give me the plebs of the multiplexes anytime. They might not get the satire, but by god, at least they can laugh.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Australia's record drought shows no sign of breaking, and as the environment changes, so too are the gears of society slowly grinding into a new, more suitable configuration. So now we have the remarkable sight of four large Victorian businesses pleading, begging, cajoling people to use LESS of the product they have on sale - water. It's stunning - millions spent on advertising to ask people not to purchase the commodity Melbourne Water and its spin-off state companies harness, purify and on-sell. In the land of economists, demand is usually thought of as more limited than supply, but in this case, the very nature of business - to grow through competition - has been inverted in the interests of cooperation, based on an external threat to the public good. Environmentalists have taken heart from this and the apparent tipping point towards accepting climate change, and are arguing with renewed vigour for the need for more rigorous controls on natural resources of all kinds - shifting from coal to gas fired plants and wind, linking climate change to the drought presently dislodging farmers off the land. While you wouldn't know it from the dismal Green vote at the State Election, the inverted economics of restricted supply have proven that people can and will adapt en mass to more sustainable modes of being - but only if the threat is imminent and visible. Enviromentalists would love the drought to slingshot the initially painful cuts to carbon emissions into the political sphere, but they're still fighting an uphill battle against Australia's cheap coal and uranium, compounded by the long timeline required to see serious shifts in Australia's climate. It will take more than a decade of drought to force a wide-scale shift to a new energy economy.

After successfully wrestling an Ikea wardrobe into existence, I collapsed into bed contently. Lying there, I wondered why it was so satisfying to make Ikea furniture. Then it dawned - it was exactly the same feeling I used to have after making Lego according to the instructions. And what is Ikea but larger Lego? Both companies hail from Scandinavian countries, the design-oriented areas of Northern Europe, and both global products are known for their DIY Build it for Dummies ethos.

But why can't the Scandinavians step up another notch in their simple instructions - why not Ikea-style houses? Why stop at filling rooms with furniture? Think bigger - prefab houses constructed overnight, in an updated version of a Amish barn-raising.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ok, so by popular demand (well, Laura's comment), here is China in two weeks:

Every country evolves its own set of road rules. Traffic flows can tell you a lot about a country. Australia's are rigid - cars keep to their lines and burst into angry flurries of beeping when the rules are flouted. China, on the other hand, with 50 times as many people, has embraced the Tao of Traffic. Scooters flow effortlessly around parping trucks; bikes zip through red lights. The system works so well and so seamlessly that racing another car around a truck on the emergency lane comes to seem natural until you see your first death on the road, an overturned threewheeler with a man crushed beneath it and people gawking openly. White Aussies can often heard saying dismissively that "Asians can't fucken drive" but I'd like to see them try handling Chinese traffic.

There was a recent survey on a Chinese newspaper's online forum that asked whether people would be reborn as Chinese if given the chance. With nationalism swelling and the mad scramble of a frontier economy, the results were surprising - something like 70 per cent said they'd prefer another nationality. Life seems hard in China - the buzz and sound of constant change sits uneasily atop the oldest lasting civilisation.

Chairman Mao looks the same as I'd imagined. Death has not wearied him, but rather given his flesh an unearthly glow. His mausoleum is the most silent place in China and his people lay flowers at the foot of a Mao statue, weeping for their murderer. The CCP has come to reinterpret Mao in the wake of the Great Leap Backwards and the safety of his death and now the official line is he was 30 per cent right and 70 per cent wrong. Three metres from his tomb is his defeat - a squadron of Mao-memorabillia sellers furiously bidding for the tourist buck.

The Great Wall lives up to all the hype and more, a rarity for designated tourist destinations (the Forbidden City was better when Forbidden, I suspect). World-class hawkers can't take away any of the majesty of a stupendous folly.

If it wasn't for the food, I'd be happy to leave Chinese cities for the countryside -mountain paths propped up on cement sticks above an abyss, bamboo forests so densely humid the air aches, corn drying on roofs. The cities are the most polluted creations I've ever been in. We stumbled into a city we later found out had the dubious distinction of the seventh most polluted in Asia, which drove us out the next day in a smogstorm, our eyes, ears and throats savaged. The rivers overflow with the filth of modernity - so much so soon!

Eating at a Chinese restaurant was oddly unsatisfying despite the guidebook recommendation -
like airports and hotels, we could have been anywhere. But the food on the streets was extraordinary - spiced noodles, bean cakes, unparalleled pork buns and the best of all, sticks of lamb salted with Xianjang spices. Clouds of smoke poured from the coals of the lambsellers, economic migrants from the Muslim separatist province seeking their fortunes. We spent nights camped at a Xianjang purveyor of lamb watching the tumble of characters through the seedy district - a sought and bought woman playing up to her date for the night, checking her roll of notes was still securely tucked into her dress, a laughing family, bored sex salesmen nestled amongst their fake plastic vaginas. In Beijing, three Chinese boys dare each other to eat the cicadas and scorpions on sticks, filming reactions as bug legs disappear down gullets.

The Shaolin Temple underwhelmed until testy monks tried to extort money from me not once but twice. I felt twice as manly for resisting a monk able to snap my neck like a twig. After their performances, the boy-monks played basketball in their robes and were surprisingly average at it. I felt still better about myself. In another city, a taxi driver took us for a ride and quintupled the agreed-on price. Ten minutes of shouting later, he pulled over and began a screaming match. It felt great - an acceptable target for all the built up culture shock.

B and I made the fatal mistake of assuming we'd be able to get back to her town on an overnight train the night half of China was trying to return from holidays. We barely managed to secure standing room on a midnight train. Everyone stared and sniggered. Can't foreigners afford sleepers? We tried to sleep. Men tested their mobile ringtones. The first stop came and dozens poured off, replaced by fifty more. Another stop and no-one got on. We began to stretch out and prepare for sleep, when a thumping of feet began and peasants began gushing into our carriage, tossing massive bags of produce ahead of them. A grandmother went flying underneath a sack of what might have been carrots. B clung to a rail on the ceiling and held on for her life as I huddled in a corner. Five intolerable minutes later, the conductor took pity on the foreigners and offered us two newly vacated sleepers. 10 million Chinese are on trains at any one time.

While the Japanese stare discreetly, the Chinese gawp openly and say hello in a way that makes you suspect they want the creature to react. It irritated B and I profoundly until I started thinking of it as payback for tourism, because what do tourists do but look look look? Flash crowds form instantly around any spectacle - a tiff between vendor and buyer, a whitie, a fight at a bar.

I wrote 'Advertising' as my profession on my visa application, but this suburban journo needn't have worried. Where were the troops? It was hard to imagine blood running off Tianamnen. Where was the authoritarian regime? Everyone in the cities is getting wealthier or trying to and the real dissent is in the stagnating countryside, where 800 million are trapped as peasants who know full well the gold rush is somewhere else.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Action before motivation
The essence of blogging is meant to be continuity, so consider Serepax dead and resurrected. What happened? A trip to China (great), a wall of work and a complete lack on inspiration. But! Jayden told me yesterday he reckons action comes before motivation. Normally Jay likes to inspire controversy with the minimum number of syllables, but here he got me interested despite myself. Why was that? Because motivation is so hard to come by, he said. There are so many people waiting for motivation to strike, when it most likely never will. So it's better to start now and wait for motivation to follow. I kinda like it. What do you reckon?

Monday, September 25, 2006

My near near death experience
So I went hiking on the weekend up in Mt Baw Baw national park with a couple of friends and we bravely forced our way through maybe 12 km of thick scrub before finding an elusive Scouts Hut. It was a fortress - bars on the windows and a cover over the keyhole. To break in, we adopted a two prong attack. Willy removed a corrugated iron section from the back, peeled back the insulation and crawled through the small hole, while Jules unscrewed the entire upstairs shutter and opened the window. Both made it in at the same time and we lounged in front of a fire rather than huddle in our tents. (We were good squatters, tidying up and repairing our break-in sites). The next day dawned rainy before the clouds parted and gave us enough hope to make the trek back to the car. Two hours in, the fickle weather changed again and unseasonal hail turned to unseasonal snow, dumping at least 10 cm in an hour. The joy of unexpected snow soon turned sour, as none of us had waterproof pants or shoes and brushing past snow covered scrub numbed our legs. Two more hours passed and the early stages of hypothermia set in. I found my mind wandering to warm times, an abstract mulling over memories as my dull legs fumbled with the slope ahead. I slipped and slid more than I should have. We lost the trail, once, twice, a third time and I started internally panicking in slow motion. Were we to die here? At 25? What a stupid death - caught out by frozen legs and an unseasonal blizzard. A death as stupid as dying from a toppling vending machine. Ollie said run Doug, warm yourself up, don't give into the cold and I did and fresh life came into my limbs for a while before the light-headed sickness crept back in. Willy had no gloves and the socks he'd made do with weren't the same and Jules was stumbling a little and Ollie was shivering uncontrollably and we'd lost the trail again because nothing looked the same beneath 10 cm of snow and finally, at last, we found a landmark and then another and then we passed a hill and the wind died back from perhaps 80 km an hour to 30 and we knew we'd be alive tomorrow.