Saturday, 18 June 2011


“I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.” - Vincent Van Gogh

It was a busy morning today with lots to do around the house and many errands to run outside, as well as the regulation shopping trip and visit to the library to return some books. It was hither and thither for several hours, but finally all was accomplished and then back home for a respite. Fortunately we don’t sleep in even at the weekends and the days are long and one gets a lot done.

In the evening we went out to dinner at one of our favourite Chinese restaurants. The “Red Emperor” in Southbank. We were there with friends and decided to have one the banquet choices, which proved to be an excellent one. We had “Banquet D”, which at $75 per person turned out to be very reasonable.

We started off with a selection of steamed Dim Sum, which included meat and seafood fillings. All three pieces were delicious and cooked to perfection. A touch of soy sauce on them improved the flavour. As one of our party was allergic to seafood, the prawn dim sum was cheerfully replaced. We then continued with Spicy Quail and BBQ honey pork on the side. Although the quail was tasty, I found it a tad dry, which of course is easy enough to do with such a small bird. Nevertheless the taste more than made up for the slightly dry texture. The pork was delicious. The dinner continued with Peking Duck. This was excellent, and one of the best I have had in Melbourne. The duck was cooked to perfection and was juicy, tender and extremely tasty in its sauce. The pancakes were light and well cooked and the condiments crisp and fresh. There were two portions per person, which we all enjoyed.

The banquet progressed with a serving of Ginger Prawns with seasonal vegetables. Well cooked, flavoursome and served in a delightful sauce. Once again, an alternative spicy dish with chicken morsels was substituted quite graciously for the prawns for the allergic one in our party. The next dish was Lamb Fillets with ‘Fire-up’ Sauce accompanied by Singapore Noodles. Both lamb and noodles were very tasty and cooked exceedingly well. The dessert was a choice of any one of the following: Banana Fritters, Pineapple Fritters, Fried Ice Cream or Mango Pudding. I chose the last, which was reminiscent of a Bavarian Cream with a delicate flavour and a silky smooth texture; very light and just the thing to finish off the meal. Chinese tea or coffee followed, accompanied by delicately thin homemade almond cookies.

We had a delightful 2001 Penfolds ‘Bin 128’ Shiraz with our meal, which certainly complemented the strong and spicy flavours of our meal, even the Ginger Prawns! A very good night out was had by all with all of our party recommending the restaurant very highly.

In keeping with the meal we enjoyed, an oriental fantasy piece popular some decades ago and very familiar to the service personnel in Japan and the Far East, who were posted there in the immediate post WWII period. The lyrics are in Japanese, but the theme is China Nights. I believe the original song was from the soundtrack of a 1940 movie:

China Nights

What a night in China
What a night in China
Harbour lights,
Deep purple night,
Ah, ship,
The dreamship 
I can't forget
The sound of the Kokyu.

Ah, China night,
A dream night.
What a night in China,
What a night in China,
Over the willow window,
A ramp was shaking, Chinese lady
Was there like a bird, 
Singing love songs,
Sad sounding love songs

Ah, China night,
A dream night.
What a night in China,
What a night in China,
I was waiting under the parapet
There was this girl in a rain
The rouge on her cheeks
Like flowers were in bloom,
Forever, I will remember
Even after we separated,
Ah, China night,
A dream night

Embedding of the video has been disabled, but well worth visiting this link on YouTube to hear the famous Japanese diva Misora Hibari singing this song.

Thursday, 16 June 2011


“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousand of miles and all the years you have lived.” - Helen Keller

Definitely a winter’s night tonight, wet, cold and dark! It’s the sort of night that begs you to come home quickly, turn the heater on and prepare something hot and filling that will smell delicious and taste scrumptious. The type of cooking that warms the air of the house with its aroma and ensconces itself in memory for later nostalgic reminiscences. Such a reminiscence is the cake below that always conjures up for me past winter afternoons at our house where the spicy, fruity aroma of baking permeated the house and promised delicious eating. I haven’t had this cake for some time now and the cold weather this year has made me hanker after it!


Ingredients - Cake
 2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
3 large eggs, beaten
1.5 cup milk
1 cup plain flour
1.5 cups self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground mace
1 cup prunes, pitted and finely chopped, soaked in Benedictine liqueur
1 cup chopped walnuts
½ cup sultanas
2 tsp vanilla essence

1.5 cup sugar
3/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp vanilla essence
3/4 cup butter


For the cake, blend sugar, butter and oil; add eggs and beat well.
Sift dry ingredients together; add alternately with buttermilk to the sugar mixture, beating well after each addition.
Add walnuts, prunes, and vanilla.
Stir to distribute well through batter.
Pour batter into a greased and floured 22x33x5 cm baking tray
Bake at 175˚C for 35-40 minutes, or until cake tests done with a skewer.
While cake is baking, prepare the sauce.

For the sauce, combine all ingredients in saucepan. Bring to boil and boil one minute. Pour immediately over cake while still hot from the oven. Let cool completely in pan.

This cake is quite delicious and one can even be convinced that this cake is healthy! The prunes, sultanas and walnuts have much fibre that works as a laxative to assist the intestinal movement and break down bulky foods.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011


“There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face.” - William Shakespeare

I am in Sydney for work all day today, spending the day in meetings, and therefore, thankfully out of the dull, gray and wet weather. Fortunately the flights in eastern Australia are all back to normal after the past few days’ disruption with the ash cloud from the Chilean volcanic eruption. However, the flights from Perth are still experiencing restrictions as the ash cloud from Chile’s Puyehue volcano has reached there, but there is also concern about the ash from the Nambo volcano eruption in Eritrea over the Indian Ocean. We certainly live in interesting times…

I shall continue on the theme of the moon rabbit from yesterday’s posting by proposing “pareidolia” as the word for the day.

Pareidolia |parēˈdäl.ēə| noun
A type of illusion or misperception involving a vague or obscure stimulus (most often an image or a sound) being perceived as something clear and distinct. “I experienced a strange case of pareidolia this morning where the face of President Obama appeared on my burnt toast.”
ORIGIN: From the Greek para- – “beside, with, or alongside” (meaning, in this context, something faulty or wrong) and eidōlon – “image”.

Pareidolia is a peculiarity of our brain wiring whereby it attempts to look for the familiar in the unfamiliar. The burnt toast really doesn’t look like President Obama, we know that. Our brains tell us that it’s an impossibility, however, this doesn’t stop us from seeing something resembling human features in the configuration of light and dark areas of toasted bread. Likewise, listening the constant drone of rushing water while in the shower can give rise to an experience of an auditory pareidolia (or to be more precise, a paracusis). We may think we hear the phone ringing or snatches of conversation. The white noise of the falling water stimulates the brain to manufacture all sorts of auditory misperceptions.

Scientist Carl Sagan proposed that pareidolia confers on humans an evolutionary advantage, especially where visual stimuli are concerned. He proposed that the human brain has evolved so that it is “hard-wired” to recognise the human face and easily distinguish a myriad variations of the basic features. This allows fast discrimination of friend from foe, but will also allow us to create order out of a chaotic pattern of light and shade, manufacturing a resemblance to a face of patterns on inanimate objects. Pareidolia is perhaps the most innocent form of this tendency of humans to create order out of chaos. It is only one example of a group of related experiences, all called apophenia.

Klaus Conrad in 1958 coined the term apophenia and defined it as the “unmotivated seeing of connections” accompanied by a “specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness”, but it has come to represent the human tendency to seek patterns in random nature in general, as with gambling, paranormal phenomena, religion, and even attempts at scientific observation. These attempts at creating meaning from random, chaotic events or data may lead to some serious effects, as gamblers can attest to after observing some perceived pattern in the random sequences of numbers that are generated at the roulette table and losing their fortune as a consequence. Similarly, serious trouble may await the scientist who may see complex patterns in the random data generated in the laboratory. Many a spurious conclusion has been drawn from such tenuous and convoluted interpretation of truly chaotic numbers.

Brain imaging has led to some interesting results when the phenomenon of pareidolia was investigated. When people see real faces, it takes a few milliseconds for the ventral fusiform cortex to register it recognises something meaningful and assign to it the label “face”. When people look at objects that resemble faces, the same part of the brain that recognises faces becomes active, although it takes a few milliseconds more for the person to identify the object as a “face”. Subsequent analysis may then disassemble the features into their component inanimate parts.

When I was a child I used to spend the summers at my grandfather’s house. As I lay in bed I used to look at the ceiling. The cracks in the plaster and slight discolourations were an infinite source of amusement to me as I could manufacture all sorts of scenes, faces, figures and landscapes. This innocent pareidolia often lulled me to sleep during siesta time, or on occasions when sleep eluded me, allowed me to construct whole stories based on the figures on the ceiling. It did not take much stimulation for my fertile imagination to be spurred into activity and allay boredom.

How many of us have not gazed up at clouds and seen fancied shapes, water stains on floors that resemble dragons, the moon and recognised rabbits, handprints or witches carrying bundles of sticks? Come to think of it, it doesn’t take much to trick our brain into pareidolic perception, does it? ;-)

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” - Anton Chekhov

Depending on where you are in the world, on Wednesday night or early on Thursday morning the full moon will plunge into the longest and deepest total lunar eclipse in more than a decade.
Moon gazers across the Eastern Hemisphere will be able to watch the moon turn shades of orange and red as the moon moves into the darkest part of Earth’s shadow for almost two hours. This is because the path that the moon is taking through Earth’s shadow is almost directly through the shadow’s centre, making for the longest possible path and so the longest duration.

Because of the tilt of the moon’s orbit around Earth, the moon usually passes slightly above or below Earth’s cone-shaped shadow, so no lunar eclipse is usually seen. Sometimes, however, the geometry is just right for the moon to cross the Earth’s orbital plane, which always happens during a full moon. As all three bodies (sun, earth, moon) line up, the moon passes through Earth’s shadow and we see a lunar eclipse. Partial eclipses happen when the moon grazes Earth’s shadow, while total eclipses occur when the whole moon passes through the shadow.

On June 15th 2011, the Earth’s shadow will start to darken the moon around 18:22 universal time (UT). The total lunar eclipse will begin at 19:22 UT and will last for more than a hundred minutes. The deepest part of the eclipse will occur at 20:12 UT, as the moon plunges into the umbra, the dark center of our planet’s shadow. The last hint of Earth’s shadow will slip off the moon around 22:02 UT.

Except for northern Scotland and Scandinavia, most of Europe as well as eastern South America and western Africa will see totality underway around moonrise—just as the sun begins to set on June 15th. The best location for viewing the entire eclipse is eastern Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and the western tip of Australia. From Indonesia to New Zealand, viewers will get to see the moon’s face slowly eaten away by the initial stages of the lunar eclipse just before the moon sets on June 16th. The eclipse will not be visible from North America, and moon gazers there will have to wait until December 10th, when western parts of the continent will be treated to the next lunar eclipse.

Looking at the rising moon this evening, inspired me to write this poem:

Winter Moon Gazing

“There is a rabbit in the moon, not a man…”
She said, looking up high,
“…Or so the Chinese say.”
I looked up and saw a rabbit,
Quite clearly, just as she said,
And I believed her truly,
For she is Chinese.

“My grandmother said the moon
Shows the murderous handprint of Cain…”
And I pointed it out;
“…And she was Greek and full of myth,
Whether biblical or pagan.”
She looked up and her laugh rang out
Like silver bells tinkling.

“You Greeks are full of stories,
And you make gods of men,
And women of trees,
You sometimes mark the moon with Selene’s face,
And at another, with Cain’s marks.
That is what I like about you
Your chameleon ways…”

“But my mother, who is English,
Insists that there is a witch on the moon,
Carrying sticks…” I said.
We looked up and tilted our heads
And looked into each other’s eyes,
In the moonlight,
And we kissed, bewitched.


“Often it takes some calamity to make us live in the present. Then suddenly we wake up and see all the mistakes we have made.” - Bill Watterson

Another earthquake in New Zealand with roads, bridges and all schools closed in Christchurch again today. Yesterday’s 6.3 and 5.7 quakes were followed by aftershocks, including a 4.7 quake overnight. Fortunately there have been no deaths, but hospitals have been treating people hit by falling debris. It is quite upsetting to think that 20,000 residents were without power and many were without water, driven out of their homes and fearing for their lives. All this in winter, with no heat and with the threat of more shocks to come. One can only imagine the terrible feelings they must be experiencing, especially those with young families.

News reports talked of more than 50 buildings collapsing yesterday in the earthquake-damaged area of the city where demolition and clearing work has been carried out since the previous quake in February that killed 182 people. Only workers who were carrying out the operations were injured as this area of the city is off-limits to the public. Eyewitnesses describing the scene said they were dodging debris as they struggled to get out of damaged buildings that were collapsing around them during the quake.

Up to 50,000 have already abandoned the Christchurch, seeking a new life in other New Zealand cities and in Australia. And now we have heard that more Christchurch families are to leave the city. I have visited Christchurch three times and have wonderful memories of a beautiful city with friendly and hospitable people. To think that is has been reduced to this with its population forced to leave it, is very sad.

I am to travel to Sydney on Thursday, but at this stage it is uncertain whether or not my flight will go ahead. Over the past few days air traffic has been disrupted in southern Australia and it looks as though it will continue to be disrupted for a few more days yet. The ash cloud from the Puyehue volcano is Chile is drifting across the Pacific to the Tasman Sea and it looks like even Perth may be affected in the next 48-72 hours. About 12,000 Qantas passengers are still grounded by the cancellations of flights with New Zealand and Tasmanian flights still not open.

All of this drives the point of the smallness and connectedness of our world. A volcanic eruption in Chile affects us here in Australia thousands of miles away. A nuclear accident in Japan poisons the seas and the air for hundreds of kilometres around. Our technology and “progress” is poisoning our atmosphere and polluting our land and seas all over the earth. The melting of the ice in the poles will affect millions of people worldwide. When will all of this sink in? Are we that stupid as a species? As if the natural disasters weren’t enough, we actively contribute to the destruction and despoliation ourselves.

Monday, 13 June 2011


“Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.” - C. S. Lewis

Over the last week we have seen three movies that could all be classed as “chick flicks” or light romantic comedies (well at least two out of three, one of them was a bit darker). All of these movies had in fact the same basic plot, but each dressed it a little differently. I read somewhere once that all novels, all movies and all short stories have a basic plot that is one of the twenty commonly used ones. Therein lies their success. Here are the 20 basic plots (I googled it!):

Tobias, Ronald B. "20 Master Plots". Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1993. (ISBN 0-89879-595-8).
This book proposes twenty basic plots:
•    Quest
•    Adventure
•    Pursuit
•    Rescue
•    Escape
•    Revenge
•    The Riddle
•    Rivalry
•    Underdog
•    Temptation
•    Metamorphosis
•    Transformation
•    Maturation
•    Love
•    Forbidden Love
•    Sacrifice
•    Discovery
•    Wretched Excess
•    Ascension
•    Descension

One can elaborate these further, of course and there are enough variations and window dressing to keep us interested, as well as combination of the above themes through subplots. However, by looking down such a list one realises just how limited the choice of plot is when we strip the story down to its bare essentials. Hence, the importance of the talent, craft and experience of a great writer or a good director in making something original and engaging out of a well-worn storyline.

The three films we saw are in brief as follows:
The 2010 Gary Winick movie “Letters to Juliet” is the classic “girl-in-an-unfulfilling-relationship-meets-a-new-man-she-initially-detests-but-comes-to-love” plot. There is a subplot of “love-lost-and-love-regained”, which allows two veteran actors (Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero) to shine. The film is very attractively packaged with the gorgeous Tuscan location adding great window dressing to the film. The young leads (Amanda Seyfried and Christopher Egan) do well enough and the film is a pleasant diversion. Light and fluffy and not too taxing on the neurones.

Anand Tucker’s 2010 “Leap Year” is of the same “girl-in-an-unfulfilling-relationship-meets-a-new-man-she-initially-detests-but-comes-to-love” plot, without the benefit of a subplot. The whole film hinges on the old Irish tradition of women being allowed to propose to the man they want to marry on Leap Day, February 29th. Add some gorgeous Irish scenery and pleasant enough two young leads (Amy Adams and Matthew Goode) and this is another pleasant film that will raise a few smiles, however unlikely the scenario is.

The third film, even though of the same “girl-in-an-unfulfilling-relationship-meets-a new-man-she-initially-detests-but-comes-to-love” plot has a little more depth as there are a few subplots that compete with the main storyline. It is Julie Anne Robinson’s 2010 “The Last Song”. We expected a little more from this film than what we received, having being written by Nicholas Sparks. He wrote the screenplay for this movie as a vehicle for Miley Cyrus (and it shows), and then adapted the novel from it. The novel was released shortly before the movie. Nevertheless, the film was a little laboured and the sentiments somewhat worn and mawkish.

Miley Cyrus as the teenage rebel is not terribly convincing, or perhaps I should rephrase that – terribly unconvincing, while her beau, Liam Hemsworth, is just too much to be convincing; I mean: A young, popular, sporty, handsome, rich, sensitive, understanding, intelligent, environmentally aware, public spirited, well-educated, literary (and speaks Russian), who is a good faithful friend, come on! Apparently, this film may have been the beginning of the real-life romance between the two leads, but I am not up to date with the lifestyles of the rich and famous, nor do I particularly care.

Greg Kinnear, playing the father, was a little annoying in this movie as he used about three expressions for the whole length of the film in quick succession of one another. I found his deteriorating health rather unbelievable given his good physical shape. Overall, this was stock Hollywood melodrama and a vehicle for what the studio hoped to be a rising new film star. What they ended up with was a cheap tear-jerker that lacked originality and conviction.

Out of the three films “The Last Song” was the most disappointing. Given the lightness of the previous two movies, one would not have expected much enjoyment from them. However, they were more genuine despite their unlikely plots and studious romanticised view of reality. The sugar coating held a soft centre of syrup and one could savour the cloying sweetness till the end. “The Last Song” was a saccharine coated bitter pill of cod liver oil. If one did not swallow it whole, buying into the film lock stock and barrel, one was left with a very bad taste. Presumably the film would have the same beneficial effect on our emotional health as cod liver oil has on our physical health…

Sunday, 12 June 2011


“Every form is a base for colour, every colour is the attribute of a form.” - Victor Vasarely

For Art Sunday today, the art of Victor Vasarely, or in his native Hungarian: Viktor Vásárhelyi   (born, April 9th, 1908, Pécs, Hungary – died March 15th, 1997, Paris, France). He was a painter of geometric abstractions who became one of the leading figures of the “Op Art” movement. Vasarely was trained as an artist in Budapest in the Bauhaus tradition. In 1930 he left Hungary and settled in Paris, where he initially supported himself as a commercial artist but continued to do his own work.

During the 1930s he was influenced by Constructivism, but by the 1940s his characteristic style of painting animated surfaces of geometric forms and interacting colours had emerged. His style reached maturity in the mid-1950s and 1960s, when he began using brighter, more vibrant colours to further enhance the suggestion of movement through optical illusion. Vasarely became a naturalised French citizen in 1959. Much of his work is housed in the Vasarely Museum, at the Château de Gourdes, in Vaucluse Département, southern France. In 1970 he established the Vasarely Foundation, which in 1976 took up quarters near Aix-en-Provence in a building that he designed.

For those of you with a Macintosh computer, download a free MacApp called “Kortil”. It is a virtual exhibition of Vasarely’s works in the Kortil Gallery in Rijeka, Croatia. Courtesy of the Regional Museum Janus Pannonius in Pécs, which has a collection of Vasarely’s works, the Rijeka Gallery hosted an exhibition in association with the City of Rijeka Department of Culture. Through modern technology, we too may enjoy this exhibition on our computer screen through a virtual gallery space.