Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Mona Lisa is Moving Pictures

As announced at San Diego Comic Con on the Halo Universe Panel, The Mona Lisa is being animated. The stop motion comic will be released in parts on the Halo Waypoint channel on Xbox Live.

My partner in crime Jeff VanderMeer shot me an email to draw my attention to the clip. The subject of said email was a line that, much to my dismay, was cut from the story. I shall now take this opportunity to resurrect this line of dialogue.

"Fucking fuck fuck!"

I just about peed my pants.

Dude. Dude. Dude. Dude. Dude. Dude. DudedudedudedudeDUDE. They all look way more badass than I picture them.

(Cannot wait to see Henry in action.)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Seven Years in Tibet - Heinrich Harrer (translated by Richard Graves)

buy - author wiki

In comparison, this book was exactly what I wanted it to be.

(Well. Apart from the introduction by Peter Fleming, which was so full of British arrogance I nearly tore the pages out.)

Another treasure I discovered in City Basement books, this is from the sixth print run, only a year after its initial publication. It is 56 years old, and has that old book smell about it. There's a gorgeous map in the front detailing the long route Harrer and his companion Aufschnaiter took from the internment camp they escaped at Dehra Dun in India to Lhasa in Tibet, and years later, his flight from Lhasa back to India with the invasion of Red China. At regular intervals are selected photographs that Harrer took during his stay in Tibet, which have changed since last I looked at them. Rather, my eyes have changed.

I believe this story is fairly well-known; with the outbreak of the Second World War the mountain climbing party that Harrer and Aufschnaiter were part of was detained in India and imprisoned for what was supposed to be the duration of the war. They weren't really okay with that, escaped (after a number of unsuccessful attempts), and hemmed in by both Nepal and India, neither of which offered any real refuge, pushed on to Tibet, the most neutral country in the world, with long term goals of maybe finding employment in China and making it through to Japan.

That didn't happen.

After the various accounts I've read of navigating Tibet and my own experience, I have to wonder if anyone is ever prepared for Tibet.

It is a tale quite simply and wonderfully told. Harrer falls well and truly in love with Tibet and its people, and while he does not attempt to sell this to the reader, that love saturates every sentence and paragraph. He cannot help but colour the narrative with his affection for the place, and so the reader, this reader, cannot help but fall in love as well.

This is the Tibet that people want to visit. I can't describe it as anything other than that. It's the mythical, mystical, magical holy city that exists in the minds of wondering outsiders. It's a land packed full of miracles, everywhere a miracle, and a people who are as warm, kind and welcoming as we hope them to be. Harrer had a singular opportunity to study and immerse himself in the country from an outsider's point of view, and this book is but a glimmer of the insights he gained into the character of the nation during his time there.

It's enchanting, enthralling and fascinating. Like Tintin in Tibet it's enough to plant that desire to go and insert a root system so deep that desire will never be uprooted.

And then, Red China "liberates" Tibet, and it ends.

This book was what I wanted, and at the same time, what I needed. A reminder that the Tibet that exists in this book and that I yearn to explore no longer exists. Every day that passes with Tibet beneath Chinese occupation the chances of that Tibet ever resurrecting diminish.

By the time you, I, reached that point in the book, in history, I was well in love. Harrer's heart broke with the invasion and so did mine. The terrible things that happen in war were only hinted at; China is well advanced in military finesse. Tibet is a nation that truly embraces peace, all aspects of it. The resistance, the Tibetan army, such as it was...

It's impossible to write about a book that within my mind is not the shape of a book.

Verdict: When is a book not a book? When it is this book.

A Mountain in Tibet - Charles Allen

buy - author wiki

Lonely Planet Tibet contained a list of recommended reading, with this book as being for those specifically interested in Mt Kailash. Unfortunately, this books is out of print. Fortunately, I have special luck when it comes to travel-related literature and City Basement Books (which is where I stumbled across Journey to the World's End), as I located this pristine copy amid a stack of books on the carpet for a mere $6. Unfortunately again, City Basement Books is no more.

Upon starting this book I was a touch put off; it wasn't quite what I wanted. The focus was not upon Tibet, and although the various narratives related within the pages take place within Tibet's borders, the focus is not really within Tibet either.

The book concerns itself with the surveying of the Kailash region, specifically in regards to finding the sources of such rives as the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, as well as the Indus and Sutlej, and the majority of such surveying attempts stem from the British Raj in India.

After what felt like a very dry history lesson regarding Kailash's cultural, religious and geographical significance, the book goes on to detail each foray into the region which results in some of the white areas in the map of Tibet to be unveiled as each occurs in history. A lot of time is spent skirmishing around the foothills of the Himalayas at the mercy of the hill tribes. An equal amount of time is spent looking at the politics of the Raj and the wider world (Tibet played a significant role as a buffer between British India and Soviet Russia during the years of the Great Game) as well as the smaller politics and scraps between academics and scholars regarding who discovered what first and the validity of any claims made by any explorer returning from that most mysterious unknown land.

Once reconciled to the fact the book wasn't what I wanted it to be, I had an alright time with it. Although I'm certainly it wasn't intended to be a comedy, the absurdity surrounding some of the expeditions mounted by the Raj had me laughing out loud. I became particularly enamored of the Pundits, the surveyor-spies trained by the Survey of India. Cartography at its most badhorse.

The final chapters deal with one Sven Hedin, a Swedish explorer who was much maligned by the Royal Geographic Society and, in turn, not presented by Allen without bias.

Hedin became the highlight of the book. In both his failures and successes was a...I don't know that there is a single word that will serve the purpose. At once reckless and determined. His expeditions were frightening things which demonstrate either ignorance or deliberate heedlessness, his first expedition across the Taklamakan being a perfect example. He was presented as a conflicted man, doing great things but demanding recognition equal to his deeds, his own character sabotaging the good will of those who would provide such recognition (the fact that he was a Nazi supporter didn't help either) and thus poisoning his own view of his achievements.

He was a flawed man with a magnificent ego. Yeah. I empathise.

Despite, or perhaps because, being so unfavourably presented I fixated upon him of all the explorers, and went on to buy his own accounts of his travels. Possibly because of all the explorers, he went out of pure personal desire, not political.

It is interesting to see how history treats the people that come to shape it. Later, in my further reading regarding Tibet, the accounts in which he feature painted a very different picture of the man.

At any rate, I read this several months ago, and details have blurred. Although it wasn't what I wanted, it did give me a fantastic lesson in Tibetan geography which I used not only around Kailash but the whole country.

Verdict: Dry, not without academic bias, but yes, very good for those interested in the geography around Kailash.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Why are you worth knowing?

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Elephant and the Tortoise

The program for the Melbourne Writers Festival was released today. In the week leading up I tried to work up some enthusiasm, and got out my diary and pen when flicking through the schedule today. I jotted down a couple of items, and then...scribbled them out. That wasn't enough, so I whited them out too.

I kept asking myself why I was looking, why I was even thinking about the writers festival, when I am not writing, and therefore not a writer.

It hurts.

At the top of my thoughts is an obese flaccid white elephant that I'm doing my best to ignore and failing miserably. At some point during my slow fitting of the identity of writer I ruled that I would not be a "writer" by intention only. Writing is an act, and if nothing is produced then you're not a writer, you're a wannabe. A poser. Worse than someone with no luck and no skill, you're not even bothering to try. And in all honesty, there are better identities to fake than that of the shut-in-spending-all-day-in-your-head-making-shit-up home body, which is also easily confused as 'nutjob'.

Here I am. I'm not writing. I haven't opened my manuscript since returning from Tibet, nor have I given it a great deal of thought.

I'm scared.

It hurts, it still hurts, it hurts enough that I don't want to type, I don't want to type anything at all. Every now and then I try. I get brave and ballsy and start a blog post. They look long. Longish. Long enough you need to scroll even without photos. And they hurt. I wince and flinch and stop too often to flex and stretch and take the edge off.

I can't write like this. I can't immerse myself in anything if all I'm thinking about is how much my wrists hurt and how much more they'll hurt by the end.

I'm afraid to try and work on my manuscript, because I'm afraid I won't be able to at all.


Or do not.

There must be something else. This white elephant just sits there, not saying a thing yet all the while asking, "If you're not a writer, then what are you?"

I have to be something else, I have to do something else, I have to. Writing shapes my whole life. Everything I do, decide, consume, no matter how random or trivial or unrelated to anything of significance, it's all collected because I might need it later. It will out in a story, inevitably. That is the purpose I have given my life.

It is not enough to merely live.

Whenever I tackle the elephant the possibilities I feed it aren't big enough to fill the void that writing will leave. Sometimes I wonder if it is defeatist thinking. There are many who have had their dreams thwarted only to discover alternate ones that are just as rewarding, but.

Always the but.

The only thing I can think of that would consume me, shape my every waking thought and colour my whole existence is to have children.

Which is a whole other elephant I don't want to acknowledge.

I just spent $500 on ergonomic equipment. I'm using it now, and have lasted longer than I would have before, but that may simply be rum taking the edge off. This sweet little tortoise of hope peeked out of its shell when the packages arrived, because maybe this will make enough of a difference that I won't have to tackle the elephant at all.

This tortoise has peeked out before. This tortoise has been crushed before.

I don't want to do this any more.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Happy Birthday, Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso.

The Dalai Lama turned 75 yesterday.
He hasn't been home in more than 50 years.

The above video, Leaving Fear Behind was made by Tibetans in Tibet, giving their views on the then upcoming Olympic Games to be held in Beijing 2008. Some were too afraid to show their faces. Others had to show their faces.

I break down every time I watch this.

The film maker Dhondup Wangchen and camera men were arrested shortly after the tapes were completed and sent out, and are still imprisoned. See Filming For Tibet for further.

Perhaps consider donating to the cause of Tibetan independence (Australian Tibetan Council / International Campaign for Tibet) as a birthday present for the most patient man on the planet.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Tintin (and Sir Tessa) in Tibet (and a swish bar)

The one book on my required reading list for Tibet was, wait for it...

Being more of an Asterix girl myself, this is the only Tintin comic I own. It's well-thumbed and falling apart. I loved this comic so much that in Grade 4 I wrote and illustrated a 31 page EPIC which was plagiarism as only children can get away with.

This comic is why I have been determined to visit Tibet for the better part of my life. At 8 years old the mystery of a country inaccessible by both geography and choice was powerfully tantalising, and the need to explore that mysterious country for myself dug down into my subconscious and has stayed with me ever since.

On rereading it, I was surprised at how little of Tibet actually features. Tintin and Captain Haddock spend most of their time with Nepali sherpas and lost in the Himalayas; a landscape that shapes nations, but otherwise pays no attention to the those nations. The few encounters with Tibetan Yellow Hat Monks and the Yeti/Migou were apparently enough to win me over.

(I did not see any Migou in Tibet, and while I did see plenty of monks, none of them were levitating.)

monks debating at sera monastery

Having established this as the primary driving force behind my desire to see Tibet, I felt a little silly. This was erased upon flipping through the Lonely Planet Tibet and reading the brief bio of author Robert Kelly:

His interest in Tibet can probably be traced to early readings of Tintin in Tibet...

I feel further vindicated on discovering that Tintin was the first fictional character to receive the Dalai Lama's Light of Truth award.

On June 1, 2006, Tintin became the first fictional character to be awarded the Dalai Lama's Truth of Light award. “For many people around the world Tintin in Tibet was their first introduction to Tibet, the beauty of its landscape and its culture. And that is something that has passed down the generations,” said the International Campaign for Tibet's Simon van Melick. During the awarding ceremony copies of Tintin in Tibet in Esperanto (Tinĉjo en Tibeto) were distributed among the attendees and journalists.

Which is more than most of us can claim.

I found some Tintin in Tibet t-shirts in Kathmandu, but unfortunately they were all so bad I could not bring myself to buy one even for the novelty factor.

On our last night in Beijing a handful of us decided to hit up some bars, and were directed to Beihai Park, which wikipedia portrays as a lovely place to have a picnic. I'm sure it is during the day, but at night all the bars and lounges lining the shores of the lake open up and the place goes off.

Quite upmarket, some great places there. We stood out being severely under-dressed and, yanno, European, and were mobbed by people trying to guide us to bars and get a finder's fee.

Being as Tintin was floating around at the top of my thoughts, I nixed their efforts by squeeing in my pants at the sight of this:



Sadly, being as the company I was keeping at the time consisted of a German, an American, and an Englishman, only the Englishman had even heard of Tintin, and he did not share my enthusiasm. Despite that, being I was the only one of us who had picked a bar from the many on offer, we went in.

It wasn't an opium den. FYI.

I think opium dens would be cheaper.

The decor was quite chic, with incredibly high-backed chairs fashioned like lotus petals in red leather, and bar that was so well stocked the bottles took up two whole walls. Mildly disconcerting was the live music, consisting of a couple of African-Americans (they must have been a hit, they were the only black people I saw the whole time) singing an odd selection of covers, which ranged from "Everlasting Love" to "What a Wonderful World" and clashed with the general vibe of the place.

The cocktail menu made me squee all over again. Cocktails based on the characters? Hell yes.

most people focus on the blow job here

I figured Captain Haddock would be pure whiskey with more whiskey and a shot of whiskey, couldn't imagine what Snow[y] would be, and went with Lotus Blue. Definitely blue curacao and malibu, not sure about the rest. Tasty, and not too strong.

It's interesting the different reasons which drive people not only to travel, but where they travel to. When in Japan I was drawn to places that where the host of not only major historical events but entirely fictional events as well, and in South America I felt distanced for having only a thin bank of literary associations to draw upon.

Stories are the ruling force in my life. Everything I buy, read, do and choose may have at the time entirely circumstantial reasons, may look on the surface as though I'm going about my daily life, but in the end it is all because it feeds my mind, and everything that goes in makes the knowledge I can draw upon richer, and it will all out again in the stories I write. I cannot help but pay homage to the narratives that have sustained me, because I hope that one day someone will stand in a real place and be delighted to be at the scene of something I made up.

They may be "only stories", but they make me who I am, and who I am is what I do.

The Apocalyptic Gulf

This has been linked widely in my reading circles.

There is nothing to say.

Thursday, July 01, 2010


Higgs Boson: sounds like science fiction (no really)

God particle signal is simulated as sound

Their aim is to develop a means for physicists at Cern to "listen to the data" and pick out the Higgs particle if and when they finally detect it.

Dr Lily Asquith modelled data from the giant Atlas experiment at the LHC.

She worked with sound engineers to convert data expected from collisions at the LHC into sounds.


The team is only now feeding in real results from real experiments.


But Richard Dobson - a composer involved with the project - says he is struck at how musical the products of the collisions sound.

"We can hear clear structures in the sound, almost as if they had been composed. They seem to tell a little story all to themselves. They're so dynamic and shifting all the time, it does sound like a lot of the music that you hear in contemporary composition," he explained.


"Its so intriguing and there's so much mystery and so much to learn. The deeper you go, the more of a pattern you find and it's fascinating and it's uplifting."

The article comes with three samples of what the Higgs boson may sound like, and what strikes me is that we've been hearing these sounds for years. I'm fairly certain the harmonic signature features in the Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio play.

The Higgs boson also sounds like it hasn't yet had its morning cup of tea.

Make sure you always keep your boson onside.