it's about life, my life, quilts, midwifery, and whatever else occurs to me.

25 December 2012

Thoughts on China

(Note: Yes, I know it was nearly 4 months ago. I've been pondering the experience until now. These things take time!)

China had never been on my list of top places to visit, but a confluence of circumstances led us to make a trip there in early September.

Some things I saw:

1. Chinese people. There really are a lot of them. Including some very, very cute Chinese children, although some of the boy babies have very bad haircuts, like this:


2. Temples. There are a lot of them, too. 

Outer gate, Nanputuo Temple, Xiamen, Fujian Province

Interior temple at Nanputuo

Temple at Sunlight Rock, Gulangyu Island, Xiamen

Main gate, Yuantong Temple, Kunming, Yunnan Province

Interior temple at Yuantong

3. Signs and labels with amusing English translations.

'Warning slip' (i.e. 'slippery when wet') at Gulangyu ferry dock

'Skin doing device' (what we would call 'hair dryer') in hotel room

4. Breathtaking disregard for safety.

5. Lovely old architecture, and horrible new architecture.

A traditional tulou, Fujian province, southern China

A planned community under construction far outside Xiamen, in the 'horrible new' category.

Victorian-era structure on Gulangyu Island, Xiamen, Fujian province

6. Walmart. When you think about it, it makes sense since the crap they sell is all made in China anyway.

7. T-shirts with, um, somewhat inappropriate English phrases in large letters on the front. I don't have photos of these because I was too distracted by my thoughts on why these shirts exist and why people would wear them, but two have stuck in my mind, both worn by young women: (1) "Eat shit and die" (2) "I'm not easy but we can discuss it"

Then there are things I smelled in China; at the time there were three, but at this remove I can only remember two: diesel fumes, and sewer.

Best things about the trip:

1. Leaving Xiamen and going to Kunming. It was September, and Xiamen was too hot and humid.

2. Amazingly good and cheap food. Iced tea and wifi at Starbucks.

3. Brian. No way would I do China without someone who can communicate in Mandarin.

4. Stone Forest in Yunnan. Other-worldly and weirdly beautiful.

Worst things:

1. Toilets.

A luxury squatter - at least it was clean (and luckily there was a sitter in the next stall)
2. A plague of scooters.

Scooters waiting at a light
Now these scooters are electric, which means they are silent and can sneak up on you. Almost no public space is off limits to them, including sidewalks, the one place pedestrians like to think they're safe. And they don't always follow the flow of traffic, so they can come at you from any direction. On the other hand, I never saw any actual accidents. According to Brian, an accident would be a bureaucratic nightmare for the driver, and even more so if the aggrieved party was a foreigner.

3. The beds. It's of course impossible to convey in a photo just how hard the mattresses are, if they are indeed mattresses and not concrete blocks, which is sort of what they feel like. I like sleeping on a firm surface as much as anyone, but these things go way beyond firm, at least in the tourist-class hotels we stayed in. 

In our 10 days there we could only get the barest taste of the country. The experience was intriguing and definitely worthwhile. Would I go back? Well...maybe. 

01 December 2012

China, part 1: Hong Kong

I probably should have written about China a couple of months ago, when it was all fresh in my mind. I think that's the way it's supposed to be done. Oh well.

We started off in Hong Kong for a few days, and we also stayed one night there on the way home. At the start, being in Hong Kong was pretty much like traveling anywhere else. Yes, there were a lot of Chinese people, signs in Chinese, etc. But English is everywhere, reflecting the British colonial past, so as an English speaker you have no problem getting around. And getting around is easy on the fabulous, frequent, air-conditioned metro system; then, if you have to go farther than it does, there are buses and cool old double decker trams, or ferries if your destination is the mainland or one of the other islands. 

Harbor and business district, with Kowloon in the distance, from  the Peak
Hong Kong is built around the periphery of a mountainous island, as well as into the side of the mountain. On the north side, at and within a couple hundred meters of the shoreline, is the commercial district with office buildings, shopping malls, hotels, and some giant apartment blocks. Here there are mobs of people going everywhere all the time. This is what most people probably think of when they think of Hong Kong. 

Night market in Kowloon
Away from this strip is where people live and some people work: shops, street markets, restaurants, and dwellings of various sizes. 

Phil and Nick on Dragon's Back track
But there are also large swaths of greenery where nothing has been built, and you can walk on a hiking track for a couple of hours in a park and hardly see anyone except for the people you're hiking with.

photo credit: Wing Luk

Much of yuppie Hong Kong lives in an area called the Mid-levels, a neighbourhood just above the central business district, partway up the mountain. Between the steep angle of the walkways that lead up to the Mid-levels and the heat and humidity much of the year, getting home after work would be quite a chore, driving being a nightmare. The brilliant solution is the Mid-levels Escalator, the world's longest covered outdoor escalator according to Wikipedia. In the morning, until about 10, the escalator   moves people down from the heights to the business district, accommodating the direction of rush hour. Then it switches over to move people uphill for the rest of the day and into the evening. There are covered stairs for when you're going the opposite direction of the escalator, as seen on the right of the photo.

Sok Kwu Wan village fishing fleet, from the track
We passed through lively fishing villages offering all kinds of fish that you wouldn't necessarily want to eat, especially considering the apparent lack of refrigeration. This one was at the start of a couple hours' walk from one side of Lamma island to the other.

Our days were full of walking and our nights included dinner, more walking, and visiting the Ben and Jerry's scoop shops. Our hotel in the early part of the trip was clean, quiet, and convenient, but hardly luxurious; the room had just enough room for a queen bed, a very tight desk and closet area, and a small bathroom. On our last night, returning home the next day to Oz, we splurged on THIS room. My phone camera doesn't do it justice, but this is the bed as seen from the lounge area (note the complimentary fruit bowl), with the glass-enclosed bathroom (separate shower and tub!) off to the left of the photo. Also not shown is the rooftop pool and the VIP breakfast/tea lounge just down the hall. This is where I want to stay next time.

28 November 2012

The new Dr. Long

It has happened at last! Today in my email:

The gown
"Dear Maryann

Congratulations on fulfilling all requirements to be awarded your Doctor/Master of Philosophy degree. Your conferral date is 27/11/2012 (this being the date that your award was signed off by the Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor)."

There was more, about tickets to graduation and ordering academic attire and such. Right away I emailed back to make sure they knew it was a Doctor, not Master, of Philosophy. How embarrassing would that be at graduation, for them to call my name and the wrong degree?

My diploma is on its way to me, and, dear Readers, I will dress up and walk across the stage in the ceremony beginning at 11pm EST (US) on 10 December at the UQ School of Nursing and Midwifery graduation, along with many of my students from my year of teaching in 2009. If you're awake then, imagine me wearing this. Unfortunately, red is the PhD colour here. The hat is too silly to show you. Hope it looks better on me.

 Actual photos will follow in due course. And, family and friends who offered me advice, suggestions or a sympathetic ear while I kvetched over the past 3 1/2 years, and you know who you are -- thank you!

16 October 2012

Waiting for The Word...

So, we already know I submitted my thesis on 31 August.  A few weeks ago I was able to see online that it was sent out for examination on 11 September (bad luck??) and the thesis examiners' reports were due back on 30 October.  I was doing fine not looking to see the status until tonight, when I got the notion to look and see what was up.

Sure enough, I found that both reports are was back on the 28th of September (only 17 days!! is that a fat envelope or a thin envelope?) and the other one just came in on 12 October.

I know from others who've been through it that it takes a few days before the graduate school contacts you to tell your fate.  So now I have to try not to think about it even though I know - -The Word will be coming soon.  

Will it be: "congratulations, awesome thesis"? or "you've got a little work to do here"? or "you've got a lot of work to do here"? or - PLEASE NO NO NO "you're kidding, right?"

11 October 2012

Being (sort of) done

Six weeks ago tomorrow, I submitted my PhD thesis.  I sat at my laptop in Venerina's office and typed in the necessary information and uploaded the pdf - that's how it's done here at UQ, it's all electronic.  After it was all submitted, we went to lunch to celebrate, without Fiona who was down with a cold.  The thesis went into the library's electronic repository, called "eSpace."  A few days later, the Graduate School emailed me to tell me they had sent it out to the two examiners, whose job it is (and a thankless one at that) to read it, comment and judge whether it meets the standard necessary for a PhD.  The examiners' reports are due in around the end of October, which is about 3 weeks from now. So for the moment I'm in a kind of PhD waiting room, I guess you might say.

What have I been doing in the meantime?

The first thing I did was have a couple weeks of holiday in China with Phil and Brian.  That will be the subject of at least one post coming up.  I just today got around to transferring those photos from my phone to my laptop.  This doesn't usually take me as long, but I just wasn't motivated.  I reckon this rainy cool day was what I needed to get going.

While we were away, I got word that the paper of study 2 as revised over the winter had been accepted.  Yesterday, I got the proofs and corrected them. Found one typo of mine that I hadn't seen before but also some that were added by the - typesetter? editor? Funny, you work so hard to make the manuscript perfect and then they mess it up for you!  It's supposed to be available online 48 hours after they get the corrections so that would be tomorrow sometime.  

A week or so after our return I heard from another journal where I had the study 3 manuscript waiting for a decision that it had been accepted!  With that acceptance, 4 of the 5 papers that form the backbone of my thesis are or will be published.  I can live with that.

I thought I would be energised with all this fun and success, but I'm having a hard time focusing.  I've gone back to my data set, with at least a couple more studies in mind, but for some reason the data management is overwhelming me.  So many questions come up: who is a midwife here? should I use the whole data set or just the practising midwives? Should I exclude people who are pregnant? who have arthritis?  Look at all symptoms or just work-related symptoms? Focus on lifestyle factors or work factors? 

So when I'm not wrestling with data, how do I spend my days?  Catching up with TV shows in the morning (having recorded them overnight) is my guilty pleasure.  I'm doing more cooking - not because I particularly want to - never that! - more because I don't have the excuse of a thesis to finish, and since my stipend ended I don't feel right about doing takeaway 3 nights a week.  Gym, or walking, I try to do one of them almost every day. Facebook, that bloody time sink. (Just a second while I check my news feed...)

I had a list of things to do that I put off while I was finishing the thesis.  Some of them - a few - are done.  I finished my CMP requirements for the year, installed Stata v. 12, and got a mammogram.  (It was normal, thanks for asking.) Surprisingly to me I haven't really felt like doing much with the quilt I started working on a couple of months ago.  Still on the to-do list are follow-up with the dermatologist, learn Prezi, get my bike fixed, continue the work I started on BOR procedures, and organise the Oz taxes for last year.  You can bet that job's not calling to me.

How would I like to be spending my days? I'd like to find something to do part time for money.  Best would be as a researcher in some exercise physiology lab so I could learn more about the toys they use to measure work activities.  I've looked around locally but not found anything like that.  I do have a CPD idea for a women's health course for midwives, yeah, okay, and nurse practitioners too. I feel like my head isn't quite there yet for constructing such a thing.  But now that I've started thinking about it, I just may start on an outline later.

I'm speaking to the midwives in our area in 2 weeks about my research, so pretty soon I've got to put some slides together for that event.  Soon afterwards, I should be hearing from my thesis examiners.  I'm told that the usual outcome is "minor corrections" and I hope there won't be more to do than that.  Once the corrections are approved, I leave the PhD waiting room and move on to my still-mysterious next thing.

30 August 2012

End of the road

I never thought today would come.  No, that's not quite true.  It's more like I've had a hard time imagining today would come, and when it did, what it would be like.  What I would be like.  The last time I had a professional milestone, I guess you could call it, was four years and one day ago.  August 29, 2008.  That was the day I resigned my position at Mount Auburn and turned in the pager (do they still use pagers? must ask) I had kept on me almost 24/7 for the previous 3 years and never too far away for 4 years before that.  And let me tell you: that was HUGE.  Coincidentally, it was my birthday, and Phil and I went out to dinner, and I drank way too much and copped it the next day with a massive migraine, but never mind that.  

The point is, it's happening again.  Today, with the help of a cast of thousands - this is almost literally true - and after 3 1/2 years of work, I finished my PhD thesis.  Tomorrow it goes into the university electronic repository, 'eSpace,' there to await the pleasure and, soon, I hope, endure the scrutiny of two thesis examiners.  I'm sorry to say that unless you are a UQ student or staff member, you won't be able to read it unless you want me to send you the PDF. Sometime during the spring (or fall, if you are reading this above the Equator), I'll get it back with the examiners' comments, corrections, revisions required.  If these are not too radical, I'll make the necessary changes, submit it again for approval, and if, no, WHEN granted, I will immediately be awarded the PhD.  But the majority of the work is done, and so I consider today the milestone.

So: last time I made a big change, I knew what was coming next.  This time, I have no idea, and yet, strangely for me, I am unperturbed by the not-knowing.  Here's what I do know.  Now that I've arrived at the end of this road, I will: maintain this blog in a healthier state; work on quilts; plan and carry out my next few research projects; get at least two of my three unpublished manuscripts published; perhaps find some paid work to do; get my bike working again; explore Brisbane some more.  And see what happens.

20 July 2012

The Aussie alphabet: L is for larrikin

So, Wikipedia says larrikin refers to a "mischievous or frolicsome youth" and larrikinism an "Australian folk tradition of irreverence, mockery of authority and disregard for rigid norms of propriety."  The Ur-larrikin was, of course, Ned Kelly, although I think there's a pretty big gap between irreverence and shooting police, which is the most serious crime of which he was accused.  He usually expressed his larrikinism by committing robberies, cattle rustling, the sort of thing that today might be referred to as hooning.

L also stands for a couple of other Oz specialties:

Lantana.  It's pretty, right?
1) Lantana.  A movie with Italian-Australian actor Anthony LaPaglia.  Also, and more annoyingly, a ubiquitous and noxious and invasive weed that grows everywhere around here.  My thought: "But it's so pretty!"  See for yourself.

2) Lunch, Sunday.  It's not that all they do here is eat.  But let's face it, sharing a meal with friends is one of the joys of life, and Aussies take a back seat to no one in that department. Besides morning tea and of course the barbeque, another mealtime custom is Sunday lunch.  It seems to be one of the Brit customs that has survived the colonial period.  Not unlike the Sunday dinners of my childhood, except that it's not preceded by church-going, and it doesn't always feature a big piece of dead animal, at least not among people with whom I've shared it.  Wikipedia says it's aka Sunday roast - but dead animals are optional.  The important ingredients are food and friends, and perhaps a nice bottle or two of wine.  Lovely way to spend a Sunday arvo - that's "afternoon" for those of you who don't know Strine.

02 April 2012

The Aussie alphabet: K is for kookaburra

I've been trying to avoid using animals in this compilation because it's, or they are, such a cliché here. And of course there are some obvious candidates, you know the ones; the macropod and the somnolent eucalyptus eater. But I hardly have any contact with those two, whereas right outside our house somewhere, we have a kookaburra who "sings" for us - screeches, more like - most mornings and afternoons. And this is how it sounds. Loud. Mighty loud at 5 am.

Here's a nice photo of a blue-winged kookaburra.

You know, of course, about the Great Copyright Fight. In case you don't, it started with this song, and the melody sounds like this. Then, in 1981, an Aussie band Men at Work made the charts with a song called "Down Under"; of course you've heard had an instrumental bridge that sounded a lot like the main melody of the original song from 50 years earlier. The copyright owner sued the band for royalties and won, but only back to 2002.

Apparently the original has now been modified to eliminate the use of the word "gay" in its erstwhile meaning of "happy" in order not to cause the children of today to ROFLTAO.

14 January 2012

Life as a study subject

Because I sort of feel that karma requires me to participate in other people's studies so that people will participate in mine, I recently signed up for a study of physical activity in older women, older being defined as 50+. It's part of an Oz breast cancer study looking at risk factors and this one is specifically trying to determine which of 3 electronic activity monitoring devices is best for recording physical activity. I enrolled in mid-January and was selected for the two-week full-on sub-sample.

At the enrollment visit, I had my height, weight and body fat % measured and drank a small amount of isotope-labeled water. The degradation of the isotope over time is the standard against which the output of the monitors is compared. Every day I peed in a cup, and plotting the declining quantity of the isotope in each day's sample generated a curve that described my metabolic rate. I also kept a daily diary of activity.

The monitors were: 1) an accelerometer in a small red plastic case, attached to a black elastic waistband, that sits on my right hip (photo on right); 2) a grey armband with a small plastic device that records galvanic skin response, i.e. sweating, Velcro'd on my right upper arm (also on right); and 3) the most recognisably medical thingie, a double-ended black affair with two electrode attachments, one to monitor my ECG and the other another accelerometer (in situ, photo left). I was allowed to remove #s 1 and 2 for showering, swimming and sleeping. #3 stayed on all the time except once in the middle of the week I had to change the electrodes. This was accomplished by peeling the old ones off, washing the spots, roughing up the skin a bit with emery paper, then wiping with alcohol (ouch! that stung!) for optimal adherence and then reapplying new ones.

So how were these monitors? #1 overall wasn't bad. It was comfortable to wear, and relatively nonintrusive. Its worst characteristic was probably the excess elastic that hung down in the front from my waist. When I went back for my mid-trial visit, the research assistant gave me a clip for it and that was much better. #2 was a bit more confronting as I noticed it when I moved my arm, and it created a muffin top of arm fat/skin above it that wasn't that nice to look at. On the plus side, it played a happy little electronic tune every time I took it off or put it on again. #3 was the secret monitor, not visible externally at all unless I were to wear a bikini (and that didn't happen so no worries there). Its downside was a slight degree of skin irritation, ranging from barely noticeable to somewhat obnoxious, just from it being there all the time.

At mid-trial I brought in my week's worth of pee samples and my activity log and the research assistant downloaded information from the 3 monitors, gave them back to me with another 7 specimen cups and a new activity log and sent me off for the final week. Oh, and I got results of the body fat % testing. 28.3%. When the data were all in, I got results from analysis of the falling isotope levels, which confirmed my suspicion that my postmenopausal metabolic rate is somewhere in the snail range.

Hooray for science!