Sunday, February 28, 2010

Canada Takes Olympic Hockey Gold!

I phoned my sister for our monthly morning ritual.
            "Pinch and a Punch for the First of the Month!"
            "Yes, yes, never mind THAT.  Canada won!!"
            She watched the game live from the house of a Canadian friend who has cable.
            "I'm a wreck!  I'm exhausted!  I'm sweating all over!  It was so tense - so agonizing - it went on into overtime and - Oh My Goodness - I could even see Mum and Dad in the audience - Did you see Mum and Dad?  Oh no - you don't have cable, do you?  You don't even have a Chanel 9 Tower.  How bad is that?  Anyway - can you believe the seats they had?  I was on the phone with Dad telling him when the camera was sweeping around the arena, and he told Mum when to wave - and I saw Dad talking to me on the phone and then I saw her waving at me!!
            And the game- oh my goodness - the game.   I'm sweating - have I mentioned that I'm sweating?  I'm exhausted and it's only nine o'clock in the morning.
            I just couldn't take the pressure.  In the third period I decided to put on nail polish to distract myself.  When  the Canadians actually won, that turned into a reeeeelllly bad idea."
            "What color?"
            "Bright red."
            "How bad?"
            "Let me put it this way.   I'm not just covered in sweat - I reek of acetone.  So do my clothes.  So does the sofa.  And I have to go a whole day at the hospital - I wonder if I'll be able to take a shower there?"

In more somber news, that was a hell of an earthquake that hit central Chile.  Our friends in Santiago are checking in as whole and safe - a few close calls - one friend was in the airport waiting for a family member - but unlike many people there, they dodged the falling debris and are unharmed.
            May all of you down there be safe.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Vancouver 2010 - Soar like Big Ginger Birds!

One evening this week we sat down to watched the Olympic Snowboarding Half-Pipe Competitions.
We started with the women's half-pipe event; we wanted to watch Torah Bright win her Gold.  The event was an absolute hoot. It has a TOTALLY different athletic vibe to other downhill events -intensely cool, deeply laid back. The competitors rock out to their ipods (apple corporate logos front and center, baby!) while waiting to start their runs, and keep the music going while they scream down the hill.

During the run, technique is loose and shambling to eyes accustomed to Alpine skiing.  We compared it to the Mogul event, which we'd watched the previous night and which is about perfect technique - precise form consistent on every single bump down the mountain.  In the half pipe - as long as you get to the other side of the bowl, knees and elbows are somewhat irrelevant.   And at the bottom, goofy smiles and fist-pumps replace shoulder shuddering angst - there's a YEAH MAN West Coast thing going on.

At Nagano in 1998, Ross Rebagliati, the gold medalist in the giant slalom was (after the fact) found to have done his runs high on weed.  His medal was confiscated, presumably to the accompaniment of high pitched giggles of incredulity across the Olympic judging committee. You have to be quite exquisitely laid back to have thought competing in international competition on any drugs would go over well.
The medal was later given back to him.  After all, the joke apparently goes, weed is hardly a performance enhancing drug - unless there's a mars bar waiting at the bottom of the run.

I guess that this is what a sport is like in its infancy - enthusiasts get together and have a good time and gradually the sport is codified and develops a body of technique.  During the women's competition, one of the NBC commentators told us solemnly that "this is NOT a' practice all day' kind of sport.  It's a 'fall in love with it, learn the moves one by one as you feel the vibe' sport.  And THAT'S how you get good."  Unfortunately for his philosophy, the next snowboarder out the gate was China's first ever snowboard entry - who proceeded to blow the competition off the mountain.  If the Chinese keep this up, the sport is going to get very interesting, and very different, very quickly.

In the Women's event the boarders tended to clip the edge of the half-pipe as they came down from their jumps and they splattered all over the bowl.  They got some good air despite the clipping.  We thought that their jumps were pretty impressive.  Then we turned on the Men's event, and holy HOOTENANEY!  The air!  The flips!  The back flips!

Torah Bright was the only woman to attempt a single back flip during her run.  The men wouldn't have rested at the women's level in a corn-snow warm-up session.  They grabbed six metres of air as a starting maneuver, and sailed on to perform off-axis flips and multiple twists.  And they moved FAST.

I'm wondering if that's the difference between the two styles. The men are big men with much more mass than the women, and because of it they gather more momentum as they drop down the hill.  This acceleration lets the jumps get larger and more complicated as they drop toward the base of the run.  By contrast, the women do their big stunts early and taper off as they drop - they don't seem to have the speed to get the height to clear the edge of the bowl consistently - and catching that ridge of snow slows them even further, and narrows the window for big jumps.

As for Shaun White, the American demi-god who won the men's Gold Half-Pipe - it's a wonderful thing to watch an event and see someone win a gold medal not because he fought tooth and nail for every inch, but because you are watching that magical circumstance where the whole field are astonishing and closely matched in their near-perfection, and yet above that magic one athlete stands so far above that he doesn't even appear to be riding in the same competition. Shaun White flew like a bird - a large, demented bird who pulled off two spins and three and a half backward flips (his signature Double McTwist 1260) as he came across the finish line.

In the Half-Pipe, each competitor takes two runs - the second run in ascending order of scores from the first run.  Final standings take the highest of the two scores. Shaun's score on his first run was so dazzling that nobody matched it.  He won the competition standing at the top of the hill waiting to take the last run of the evening.

There was a microphone pickup up there with him. He danced and hollered and hugged his coach and asked him:
“What should I do?"
"Anything you want."
"Go straight down the middle?!"
(Stern pause) “NO."

So they plotted out an exhibition run, and if we'd thought the man could ride that snowboard like a god - it was NOTHING to what he could do without any pressure on him.  I don't think anyone remembered that this run would even be graded, until a score came up that was so stratospheric the audience fainted en masse and the commentators broke their microphones screaming for joy.

It was quite an evening.

Monday, February 22, 2010

SSO Tour

Today I was shown around the primary school where I'll be working as an SSO. 
            When I arrived, I had to wait a while by the admin desk. On the floor a small girl sat cross-legged, patiently waiting for somebody, next to an enormous backpack that was larger than she was- almost.
            "I don't need chairs." She said to me, very sweetly.
            I watched Cathy, the principal, as she stepped out of her office and collared a 10 year old boy who was moodily kicking at the wainscoting; he was out of uniform - dressed expensively in designer hip hop rig, red streaks jelled up in spikes all through his hair.
            Cathy said "Good Morning" and the boy sneered and exploded a loud burp into her face.
            "I beg your pardon."
            "Having a good week, then?"
            "Planning on having one?"
            "Where's your -"
            And then he popped another one, louder and longer, and, abruptly, he changed and became a little boy, who answered all of her questions eagerly - his father is in Darwin, and therefore Not Around, and his Mum is pulling him out of school this afternoon because she feels like going to Adelaide for a holiday.  Then he shut off- burped in her face again, and shoved a greasy McDonalds bag into her recycling basket, and came out whistling.
            Poor kid.
            Cathy stayed in her office - presumably sorting out her trash, and a man, shambling, unshaven, with his shirt-tails hanging down his legs shuffled into the office.
            "Morning Mr Hanks!" the receptionist chirruped.
            He acknowledged her, unsmiling, with a vague half-raise of his hand.
            "Daddy!" the little girl jumped to her feet.  The receptionist smiled at her fondly and, expressionless, the man signed the little girl out. They passed slowly back down the corridor together, the child's enormous backpack banging against the backs of her knees. Whatever possesses people to give small children such large bags?
            This school is considered a Category One School, meaning that the students are classified as severely disadvantaged.  Almost half the students have subsidized enrollment. One third of the student body is indigenous Australian. The kids are tough little cookies and vulnerable babies - often both.
            Cathy took me for the royal tour - there is a computer room, new this year, but as yet it has no computers.  Cathy gritted her teeth and told me that the computers are all in storage pending the room being finished - it was supposed to have been done over the summer break, but the desks weren't installed till last week, and the contractors are being artfully vague about when the wiring will begin.
            The library is in chaos for similar reasons - but the new furniture (book shelves and primary color reading tables) is all in place - the frazzled SSO librarian is attacking great leaning towers of books and educational posters queued up for re-shelving. Even with paperbacks teetering sixteen stories high, it's a friendly room and the new tables and chairs are fantastic - perfect from small children to cuddle up with a picture book - or spread out crayons and draw.
            The school smells powerfully of nostalgia- wooden cubbies and powdered poster paint - I spent the tour taking deep surreptitious inhalations and, behind my eyes, painting with long-handled wooden brushes, the bristles scarred and stripped from stirring glue pots, and watching the powdered paint dry and swirl away from my paper in a cloud of softly scented pigment . 
            The classrooms and the hallways are painted in primary colors and pasted over, floor to ceiling, with student artwork and spelling posters.  The classes are small and the staff clearly makes a concerted effort to make the school a positive and supportive place for their kids.  The teachers are young and enthusiastic; many are on their first posting. Cathy said bluntly that she work hard to make their job as pleasurable as possible - in other words - please let them want to stay on past the end of their rural scholarship bond!
            We stopped at the door of an assembly room where Years Two and Three were having Physical Activity.  Three young women led a pack of children through a vaguely Jane Fonda-ish dance routine; perhaps half the children danced along with them, the others lay on the floor kicking their feet - at the shins of the dancers mostly, the rest dangled upside down from chairs, and forebore to notice the activity in the middle of the room. On the edge of the crowd, three small aboriginal girls stood sucking their thumbs or their fists, and stared at us warily as we leaned in through the door.
            "Physically, our children are very small."  Cathy told me.  "You don't notice it until you see them next to other students at inter-school sports days, but they're shorter, and much more delicate.   It's Malnutrition."  
            She grimaced sadly. 
            In the year 7 classroom it was recess and the kids were backpack-diving for morning snacks.
            "Nutritional food!"  The teacher bellowed.  "That means a piece of fruit or a vegetable only, Samantha!"
            Samantha, a tough young lady with a decided chin, gave her a blank look and dangled a chocolate bar ostentatiously between her fingers.
            "About 50% of them bring fruit."  The teacher said to Cathy in an under-voice. "If I can work on the parents-"
            A throat cleared behind us.  An frighteningly energetic young woman bounced impatiently on her toes her eyes fixed on Cathy.
            "Would you like me to finish this up for you?" She said brightly.  "You're needed in the conference room right now."
            "Is the mother - "
            "Yes."  The young woman said.  "She's still here -"
            And Cathy was gone.  Not even a puff of smoke left to trail in her wake - just spontaneous teleportation. The young woman looked at me and visibly shuffled mental note-cards. 
            "Sarah Cart- assistant principal.  And you are?"
            "Tabubilgirl - SSO tour."
            "Really?" She said, her eyes faintly covetous, and she whisked me back to the admin block, where I was speedily introduced to the Year 4-6 reading specialist, signed up for introductory "shadowing" shifts for Thursday and next Tuesday, and signed and sealed, found myself waving bye-bye at the front door before I knew what had hit me.  She really is appallingly energetic.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Beer and Bouncy Castles

My sister has her annual Med School sports day today.

The Queensland Heath Service loves sports day- all the first year students sneak into hospital supply rooms and steal scrubs for the occasion. The local hospitals, despairing of their short-stock inventories, have spent the last few weeks promising no-question loans to med-school ID cards, but this year, like every year, they've had no takers.  A lightning raid on a linen supply closet while a nurse's back is turned, jogging down Coronation drive and stopping traffic in scrubs six sizes too large - these things make you a medical student - one of the Big People.

The day was about beer and bouncy castles.
The fourth year students made a pub crawl of the route between the city and the university (at least it starts out as a fun run -they finished up crawling.) The first-aid tent on the side of the field was kept busy staunching wounds, and a friend of my sister lost his wedding ring in the jello wrestling tank.  Another of her friends went sideways off one of the castles after four beers and broke her nose.
The cry went up: "Is there a doctor in the house?"
Four hundred muzzy voices roared "YES!!!" and four hundred fourth year students lowered their heads back to the grass, giggling softly, and lay there while the second year students laid a mayonnaise slip'n'slide course over the top of them.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Last night Mr Tabubil watched the film Wolverine while he built himself a photographic lightbox.
The plot goes like this: Raaaaarrgggghhh! Raaarrrrggghhhh! Raaarrrrggghhhhh!
And then Hugh Jackman jumps on somebody.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I can't afford to stop working. My husband is doing his masters thesis.

Kevin Rudd shoved a size 24 gumboot down his throat recently at a talk on the population crisis facing Australia - in which he castigated my very own Generation Y for failing to reproduce as required.
Talking with audience members afterward, he was introduced to a young woman who is doing her PhD in journalism.

Quoth the journalist:
"At this, Rudd rolled his eyes and in a terse voice lacking any sense of irony remarked that is the "excuse" that "all" young women are using nowadays to avoid starting families.  Since then I've come up with numerous one-line retorts, but in the moment I just froze in shock."

How do you respond to something so ill-judged?

"I'm infertile, Mr Rudd."
"I can't afford to stop working.  My husband is doing his master's thesis."
"But I'm good at research!"
"I'll start believing you're serious when you start exhorting men to drop out of their careers to take care of the babies that they beget upon their partners.  What's that?  Men don't get paternity leave?  No problem! Neither do I, but I'm researching how to cure cancer.  We're expecting a breakthrough any week now.   He's a CPA.  I'm pretty sure I know which job is the more meaningful to the future of our patriotically conceived babies - but What?  You mean it doesn't work like that?"

No, I don't suspect that it does.  Not on either side of the aisle.  The most loyal opposition slams Deputy PM Julia Gillard with deeply crass ad hominem attacks such as "barren" and "empty fruit bowl" - Take that, you Able Public Administrator!
It's a reasonably clever form of attack, innit?  She's generally unfit because she's unwomanly, and if she were womanly, she'd be at home with the sprogs!