Monday, 1 December 2014

End of the Line

Day 270

We finally reached the portal. Many stood in our way, plotting to capture us for their own nefarious purposes. But we struck them down and made our way to the portal. Truth be told, I hesitated for a moment - I had many fond memories of this strange dimension. But I did not belong in this world. So I stepped through, and I tumbled through a dark void... All of a sudden I found myself at home, on my bed. I immediately leapt out and searched for my family and friends. They really do exist! They're alive and they remember me! Oh, this is a joyous day.
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So that was an incredibly anti-climactic ending. Honours ended a couple of weeks ago, but it was such an abrupt shift from a heavy and consistent workload to... nothing. It feels exactly like I've retired from my (as of yet non-existent) job. That was a crazy nine months of work.

One would be tempted to immediately jump for joy, catch up on all the shows one has missed and play games for hours on end. I recognised this temptation immediately and took steps to avoid it, which is why I haven't been posting all this time, even though I'm technically "free". During the first weekend of "freedom", the only thing I wanted to do was mark exams even though they hadn't arrived yet. I had to do something that vaguely approximated the work I was doing this year.

So now that exam marking is over, I'm doing admin work and research assistant work to earn a decent wage and keep myself somewhat busy during this season. That said, I did go on a lovely weekend trip with my friends to Katoomba, Leura and the Jenolan Caves.

The bus ride to the Caves was so long, on top of an already lengthy train ride to Katoomba, but it was totally worth it. As I stood in the caves, I felt the enormity of the passage of time that has led to the way the mineral formations currently look, and the endless aeons that will come after I am gone. I thought about how, if water was still flowing into these caves, the time between my birth and my death would have contributed almost nothing to the development of these wondrous structures.

But water no longer flows around those parts, and instead humans have built structures and created a dominion over the corresponding surface for an infinitesimal amount of time. I am but a single torchbearer in the grand procession that bears "spirit" (as described by Allen Wheelis) from one being to another. Oh my god all of the feels. I am describing this feeling through rational and coherent explanations; sadly, through these words you would still not be able to feel what I felt. The emotions evade description by our limited human languages.

I'm not sure my companions felt anything similar, but for me it was an incredible experience. I am glad I was not just staring at the (admittedly beautiful) curtains and pillars and going "ooh", though I did plenty of that anyway. Upon recounting this experience to my friend, he said that it was not unlike a deeply spiritual experience, which makes a lot of sense. I felt a giant wave of wonder and reverence and perspective fill me throughout the experience.

The next day we headed down to Leura to look at the shops and buy things. I've learned that shopping is lots of fun when you do it on your own terms, whether it is online or offline! I found an excellent study desk which I would gladly purchase to furnish my future home.

Only ~$700!

Isn't it a marvellous desk? It would be a great start to furnishing my ideal home! But alas, it will have to wait...

Instead, I purchased a jar of lemon, lime and ginger marmalade and a jar of honey, with a honeycomb inside! I wish it was easier to purchase these sorts of goods, because they were very delicious. That was a very satisfying trip, though our time in Leura was limited, and I do plan on returning many times in the future.


- Rogiraffe -

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The Return of the Matcha

Guys!

I got some new teaware! It's so friggin' cool. Check it out! :D


Anyway, I got a pair of these from Hibiki-An, a great supplier to look up if you're looking for quality Japanese green teas and teaware. I really can't recommend it highly enough, especially after these cups came into my possession.

As you can see, the cups are visually amazing. The cherry blossoms and raindrops grace the interior and exterior. The glaze is also expertly applied, in that unique Japanese style - It's as though the cup and the falling petals are frozen in time, in the middle of being formed... incomplete, yet it feels complete at the same time. The texture is also brilliant. It's got all sorts of bumps and rough spots and other imperfections which make it an interesting tactile experience. It's a joy to hold the cup in my two hands as I drink from it.


Oh hello again, Tea Spirit!

I discovered soon after that these cups are perfect for drinking matcha. Especially shincha matcha, which is blessed with an abundance of umami, maltiness and a fresh taste. I think the umami is the main difference between shincha and older matcha, and it largely determines the level of enjoyment I derive from drinking it. Besides the taste, the residues and stains that the matcha leaves behind are perfect in this cup.

As I swirl the cup around and drink from it, I begin to paint on a canvas. The green watercolour painting features lovely hills and valleys complement the cherry blossom petal and the phyogenetic tree that springs forth from the bottom of my cup.

It's like etch-a-sketch for tea drinkers.


Now that is beauty.

There are few things in my life that bring as much joy as sitting down and drinking tea from this cup. It's only been a few weeks, but I know that this is an heirloom that I would pass down to my descendants. And it will only be infused with more joy and memories as the tea stains the glaze and strengthens the "branches", the cracks from the bottom of the cup.

I'm actually surprised at how quickly it's stained the glaze in the last three weeks! I've left the other cup in the box as an "experimental control" so I can see the stark difference as the days go by.

So now that I've had some experience with drinking matcha, I can tell you what works for me:
  1. Scoop in generous amounts of powder - 2 heaped scoops per person
  2. Pour in a little bit of warm water - approximately 40ml at 70-80*C
  3. Whisk vigorously to create a nice foam
Those are my personal parameters. It sits somewhere between usucha and koicha, and gives the best of both without using too much powder or risking it being too dilute.

I suggest you start off with a thick paste and try it out, because you can always dilute it if it's not to your liking. The worst scenario is making it too thin and it becomes watery and only mildly seaweedy. So be brave and start from the other end of the spectrum, because as my friend says from time to time:

Life's too short to drink weak tea.


...So don't waste either. :P

-Rogiraffe-

Friday, 6 June 2014

Wait, what?


Winter has arrived
It greets us with cold and harsh winds
It bids us to slumber, covers the land with endless snow
Go slowly now, and be still...

Entry #2:

Day 110:

The creatures of this world have retreated to their abodes, and we must follow. Fortunately, we have gathered supplies to survive the winter. Though we stumbled at first, our preparations were completed in time.

I yearn for the gentle rays of the sunlight, and the soft warm bed that awaits at the end of my journey. It has been so long, and yet so short. The days have blurred into an indistinguishable stream of experiences. By now, we've carved out a somewhat comfortable existence here while we plan our next move. Some wish to stay, but they will accompany us to the end so that the rest may leave this plane.

However, proper rest still eludes us. A guttural roar cuts through the howling winds, and it grows louder with each night. It troubles me deeply. Perhaps something terrible is approaching...

We are so weary. But still, we must stand guard. The struggle continues.


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Holy cow. Has it already been one semester? Exams have now begun!

Wow.

Honours has been a hell of an adventure so far. I thought travelling overseas did wonders for me, but this has been a mind-splosion the whole way. Kind of like a Michael Bay movie, now that I think about it. Things flying left and right, dodging all the shrapnel (procrastination), hoping the cart will clear the abyss... and perhaps, riding the minecart to victory. That part remains to be seen.

It's definitely enriched my mind and skills in so many ways. And I didn't think I'd ever get comfortable with critiquing 300+ pages a week, every week. It's a nice rhythm, once you get into it. It takes so much out of you though. I can't tell you if it's as bad as full-time work downtown, but I can probably make a comparison once I actually land a job. I suspect it's about the same though, since there is no rest at home when you do Honours.

I think the most striking improvement for me has been my increased comfort in presenting under pressure. As painful as it is, having to do that 1-2 times a week will do wonders for your confidence, especially if you think you suck at it.

The other thing is probably that my critical thinking skills have been improved significantly. Those classes have taught me so much more in this semester than in my entire undergrad degree.

What does this study supposedly examine? What are the hypotheses? Do the measures they use really represent the variables of interest? Why do they use this method, and not the other? etc. ...

It's kind of weird to think about it though. It's been a subtle shift that has gone undetected while fighting off the ungodly piles of readings in the last few months. But that spirit of questioning and inquiry has been thoroughly incorporated into my very being :P

Doing a back-of-the-envelope calculation, I think I've:

  • presented 20 times this semester
  • read 4500 pages (sorry, trees) of hardcore academic literature
  • written 4500+ words per week in summaries --> 50,000+ words this semester (sorry again)

Whaaaat. The. Heck.

I've never worked that hard in the last four years combined!

The other highlight for me is having the immense honour (lol) of working with four incredibly bright students with widely varying personalities and backgrounds. We've had many insightful conversations, and many silly regular conversations too. Seriously, I feel privileged to have such intelligent and funny colleagues and brothers-in-arms. We've given each other titles/nicknames, but those stories are going to have to wait for when we publish our awesome book.

Oh, and the shenanigans that we've gotten into... Of course, nothing's broken. We're honourable (groan) lads! But our raucous bouts of laughter will certainly be remembered. I would bet money on our coordinator regretting having accepted five students - five males, no females. :P

I may never return to academia after this but, for this short moment in time, that cramped room with bland furnishings, ordinary computers and four crazy roommates is my ivory tower. And I love it.

...Which means it's going to make working downtown a massive bummer. Damn.

If I had to go back in time by one whole semester, I would do it all over again. It's scary and uncertain at times, but it's also the most interesting challenge I've experienced so far. Speaking of which, I think that's (one of) the tricks to this messy thing we call life... As much as I grumble about the workload every year, it's often the challenge that it presents which keeps me energised.

Personally, I know it's challenging (but doable) if I feel some pressure, and I distinctly feel like I don't know what I am doing. Well to be more exact, I don't know if I'm doing it correctly. And sometimes, I just feel plain stupid, even though the level I'm studying at would suggest otherwise... but immersing yourself in an entirely new way of life will do that to you. And if I don't feel stupid/lost, then I should probably be doing something else.

You know when those people always tell you to go sky-diving, or some shit like that? You don't need to be that extreme to make your life interesting. Honours is like sky-diving for your brain. For 9 whole months. And you'll be a significantly better person for it.

So I guess what I'm saying is: If you're not afraid of a challenge, then go for Honours. It will be the challenge to dwarf all other (academic) challenges thus far. You will absolutely facedesk when you're up at 2am trying to finish your PowerPoint slides for the presentation at 9am. And you will question your sanity when you're facing down the horrible task of reading ~300 pages in depth, every week. But in the end, you won't regret it.

...

It's been an honour.

*runs*


-Rogiraffe-

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Ham


Horseshoe crabs and ham
Lions dancing forever
Somewhere beyond my reach

I will pour out a cup of sencha in your memory, my dear friend.

A Lifetime of Adventure

It's been a while, but I'm back! Honours is crazy, but I've finally gotten used to the current level. But soon it will be ramped up again so I will probably disappear for about another month or more. I'm much closer to figure out my thesis topic. But I will need to do a lot of reading and pondering before I make my decision. Time's running out...

But for now, here's something I meant to post a few weeks ago.
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I've finally figured out what I consider to be the best music. It's been a long journey, with many failed experiments, and a few successful ones. But I now know what it is! Or rather, how to describe it.

It is music that speaks directly to the heart, with all the grand triumphs and bitter sorrows of life. The tears, the laughter, the pain and the bliss. It doesn't matter whether it's conveyed through a dramatic surge of orchestration or the soft strumming of a guitar. It's something that might even make me shed a tear or two in emotional times. In a word: Bittersweet.

I was listening to the entirety of the album once a day for every day, for about two weeks. Heck, I even pre-ordered it before March and got it signed by the man himself. I was pretty excited after listening to Lifetime of Adventure, and I knew I made the right choice by the time The Last Sled was released on Youtube.


I'll just point out some of the most interesting tracks, which is kind of hard since they're all so fantastic in different ways. But here we go:

Into the West:
I haven't actually read any of the comics, which are apparently big in Europe, but I take it that this is inspired by one of Scrooge's first adventures. It's a wonderfully bold and full of "moxie", for lack of a better word right now. I absolutely love the use of the banjo and harmonica, which immediately evoke images of the Wild West, or at least a kid's cartoon version of it. It has a nice jiggy sort of rhythm that makes you want to tap your feet and clap your hands to the beat, usually when the banjo takes the spotlight.

Duel & Cloudscapes:
I'm not too sure what this one is about. But I can certainly feel a sort of juxtaposition between two elements: A very mischievous, light-hearted escapade created by the xylophone and flutes/piccolo, bookended by an incredibly tense clash, announced by the loud clap of thunder and organ at the start. The first part is definitely like a flashforward to the conflict under stormy conditions.

Go Slowly Now, Sands of Time:
The last words of an old man with many happy memories... It has that curious mix of happy retrospection, weariness and a tinge of sadness, which is reflected throughout the motif of inevitably returning home and the slow pace.

Summary:
One of the many things you'll notice from listening to this album is that it's very much unstructured, except for A Lifetime of Adventure. I think that's one of its greatest strengths. It's not formulaic, and it is so much richer for having additional variation in the melodies and prolific use of (what I would consider) uncommon instrumentation. With every listen you will certainly find something new. I cannot recommend this enough.

-Rogiraffe-

Friday, 11 April 2014

Kevlar Hearts and Mini-Giraffes

"Oh good god this Rohini is the dog's bollocks"

     - Rogiraffe, 2014

Every once in a while, my two modes of speech collide in amusing ways. Notice and appreciate the majestic juxtapositions present in that expression. :P


So apparently Teabox now gives these things out. I love these little sack thingies. It looks a lot like those sacks they use to fill up the tea at plantations. Rustic but miniature :P

But now the question is... What's in there?


Yaaay more tea! I purchased about 50g of the Rohini Classic a few weeks ago, when it was super fresh. It was practically only days old, freshly plucked and shipped from India (Teabox, formerly Darjeeling Express). And man, it was frickin' amazing. Unfortunately I didn't really have time for anything leisurely, so this post has been delayed for quite a while...

The leaves are nice and whole, and full of life. The aroma is fruity and otherwise very sweet. Pineapple and banana are the first things to come to mind. With a bit of concentration, there is the vibrant splash of citric oils. Under that is a strong and enduring base note of damp wood, accompanied by a good level of bitterness that emerges with repeated steepings. The endurance is excellent, and I always get many enjoyable cups of tea out of a pot whenever I sit down and brew this one.

Admittedly, it is slightly less amazing than the first time I tried it, but it's still at 90% awesomeness - although, it's scary how quickly teas can lose their brilliance. I'd better drink it fast!

Initially, I bought 50g at $35/100g, then 100g a week ago for $30/100g. I'm not sure why the price fluctuates so much, but I'm sure my tea-chum and I are very pleased at having bought our "stocks" in the market at the best time :P, because...

As of the time I am writing this, the price stands at $45/100g, which is veeery pricey. You can easily get 20-25 tea sessions out of that. The initial cost is rather steep but the cost per cup is actually fairly cheap. Way cheaper than that coffee stuff. bleaghhh.

Rating:
9/10
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BONUS section: Music of the Month!

I would have chosen Essence of Silence, the new single by Epica, because holy shit Simone Simons singslikeanangelaslkfjkle;sdkjf!. It sets my heart a-flutter every time. It is incredibly catchy and epic. That being said it's catchy with a bite/edge to it. Listen to it... if you are feeling brave enough to suffer the initial shock and sit through the first minute.

Essence of Silence, off the upcoming album The Quantum Enigma
The only thing I don't like it how the new lyrics-guy actually threw in "ain't" into this song. Why.

Otherwise, chill out with tea and listen to something much calmer like Celestial Bond, Parts I and II.


-Rogiraffe-

Monday, 10 March 2014

The Longest Journey


The longest journey of them all,
Has to be made all alone
A flame in the skyline reaching the stars,
Guiding the seeker through the night!

Far beyond the dark stream, we'll meet again
Across the wilderness, and we will be home!
Gather your strength, don't be afraid
Far beyond the dark stream, we'll meet again......

[Ensiferum, The Longest Journey]

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If you are reading this book, then I may have met an untimely end in this strange land. Please, read all of this carefully. I hope that this will let you succeed where I have failed.

Entry #1:

Day 22

The sunset draws near, and finally I've found a precious few hours to myself to begin to document my harrowing journey.

I have been here for three weeks, and I still don't know where I am. It would appear I've entered another universe. Everything is so different here. No signs of civilisation... Only the mesmerising swaying of the fiery leaves in the cool breeze. But the idyllic peace was soon broken, and I was ambushed by unspeakable horrors. They still haunt my dreams even now, long after they have been slain.

After some wandering, I found some other unfortunate souls who, as luck would have it, also foolishly accepted the same challenge. We have all agreed that we must stick together, or die alone in this beautiful but harsh world. We quickly set to gathering resources and scouting out this land to get some idea of what we're up against. So far, our efforts have been rather amateur, and we feel so lost. But I believe we will live long enough to become familiar with the wilderness.

I miss my friends very much. They're so far away now. I wish I could see them again. If I survive and find my way out, then we'll meet again...

-Rogiraffe-

Seriously though, I'm okay. Always tired though. There's no such thing as weekends. I'm just sat upon my chair reading papers all day, every day...