Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Final day of #blogjune

So, this is the final post for yet another Blogjune. I missed one post along the way, and another time made a token effort that was hardly worth reading - I think both times were when I was in Prague, so that's forgiveable. So, let's say I achieved 28.5 posts out of 30. Not perfect, but not bad.

Certainly, there wasn't a shortage of things to blog about. There were topics that I also considered writing on, including:

- Kosovo beverages (Drinking yoghurt is weird, but good on muesli. The beer is mostly awful. Rakija is interesting and quince rakija is my favourite.)
- Fashion in Kosovo (If you want to fit in, wear jeans and some kind of black / dark top. Get a buzz cut.)
- Hanging out with the Clintons (There's a statue of Bill Clinton in one of the main streets, and next to it is a power-dressing women's boutique called "Hillary's")
- The Serbian side of Kosovo (visiting Gracanica Monastery, and wandering around the streets of Gracanica)
- National identity and ethnic identity - the issues from an Australian point of view, looking at the current state of affairs both in Australia and Kosovo. (I have many opinions, but I'm not touching that one...)

Blogjune has been an interesting exercise, as always. As a communal exercise, it's been a great way to share and compare ideas to a greater extent than merely an exchange of tweets on a topic. It's also been good to revisit some of the questions that we've been asking over the years, and see how our perspective has changed. On a more personal level, it's been an excellent exercise in forcing myself to reflect on my current state of affairs, on both a personal and professional level. For future reference, it gives me a snapshot of where my brain is at right now.

To be honest, I'm probably not going to continue blogging on a regular basis. I'll be blogging when there are major changes happening in my life, and also what is becoming my yearly review, reflecting on how my year went.

But for now, that's me, signing off for Blogjune 2015.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Maintaining perspective and living with ourselves...

Now, I like to think of myself as having an at-the-very-least-average level of political awareness, as an Australian who has spent much of the last few years watching Q&A, Mediawatch and The Insiders, as well as reading The Monthly and the Saturday Paper (which reminds me - I must renew my annual subscription). However, in the last few months, living in Europe and working alongside people who have spent their lives as specialists in political affairs, I've learnt to keep my opinions to a minimum, lest I get this response...


I expressed this to a colleague today, and their consolation was, "Well, at least you're not American." Great. But when it comes to matters of politics, I try to leave my Australian-ness out of it. Our government's attitudes to the comparatively minuscule volume of asylum seekers travelling by boat is now legendary across the world, as is our attitude to climate change, the global Islamic community, and marriage equality. But at the same time, it's Australia. They're on the other side of the world. Let them be a bunch of narrow-minded bigots, and play their petty political games. Here in Europe, there are bigger problems closer to home.

But I do consider how much my perspective has changed over the past year. Living in South-East Asia has increased my awareness of many of the social issues that plague our neighbouring countries, with problems of poverty, migration, corruption, environmental pollution, poor communication, media bias, the plight of ethnic minorities, and so on. And then, living in Eastern Europe, there's the impact of the Syria conflict and widespread poverty and unemployment that leads to mass-migration. There's national economic collapse, and the wider effects on the European Union, whilst other nations want to buy in as a way to stimulate their economy and bring about prosperity. And then there's poor education, social inequality, inter-ethnic tensions, and, again, the plight of ethnic minorities who will always be at the bottom of the pecking-order of society.

It's a lot to take on board, and at the same time, it really feels like the tip of the iceberg. And this all overwhelms me. And then I'm faced with first world problems and triumphs, and I feel bad that I'm not over the moon like everybody else is about marriage equality in the US, because, really, Canada has already had it for ten years, and meanwhile there's a massacre on a beach in Tunisia, hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers roam the land looking for sanctuary, and conflict situations and human rights violations continue to rage on around the world. Factory farming industries inflict ongoing cruelty to animals, palm oil industries destroy forests, kill wildlife and pollute the air, plastic bags fill our oceans, and carbon emissions fill our air, slowly poisoning this planet.

And then I have the gall to worry about myself, and my career, and whether I'm really happy with my life, and how I can keep myself both professionally and creatively stimulated, and worry about when I'm going to go swing dancing next, let along whether I'm ever going to own property or start a family because, y'know, that shit is important. It's really fucking important, otherwise what the hell is my purpose in life here?

This is how my brain works, and it really scares me sometimes.

I'm mindful to know that it's not healthy, but at the same time, it's also completely normal. We all live in our own bubbles, where we get so caught up in our own problems (and yes, First World Problems are still valid problems) that we completely lose perspective. But trying to maintain perspective is even harder. It's too hard.

How do we even live with ourselves?

Ugh, okay, this post was originally meant to be about learning to survive when living and working away from home... except, obviously, I let my brain derail my train of thought. Let's try to get back on track:

10 ways to stay sane when living overseas in a developing country.

1. Be mindful of your own mental wellbeing. Constantly check yourself, and give yourself a break from time to time.

2. Exercise regularly. Not because you think you're getting too overweight, or whatever, but because your body needs you to stay active and healthy now more than ever.

3. Stay social. Make the effort to go and make conversation with colleagues at lunchtime. Ask people out to dinner, or to meet up to watch a movie. Whatever it is, just keep making social connections.

4. Take pride in your work. You might be the only person who appreciates what you do, and that's probably the most important reason to do so.

5. Try to make some real friends. This is a tricky one, because you'll often be living amongst a transient population, and if you're anything like me, the number of people that you meet who truly "get you" will be few and far between. When you meet one - don't let them go!

6. Maintain momentum and direction. Set goals for what you're trying to achieve and what your next step in your life will be, so that you have something to work towards, and don't lose sight of it.

7. Don't drink (too much). It may seem like a valid coping mechanism, but it'll make things harder, especially if you're already not exercising enough.

8. Read books. I shouldn't have to explain this one to you. Trust me, I'm a librarian. I know.

9. Take the time to appreciate what's around you. Whether it's taking a weekend trip to the countryside, or just walking down the street and appreciating the lively colours, sounds - even the smells. You'll miss it all once you're gone.

10. Know when to walk away. Living and working in a developing country changes you. It changes your perspective on the world. It changes your priorities in life. But it's not without its challenges, and some of these will be insurmountable. By all means, take them on, and achieve what you can, but also know that you can't save the world. You can only do your bit, and eventually the time will come to walk away and pass the baton on to somebody else. That may seem like a cop-out, sure, and maybe it is. But if you have opportunities in life, don't waste them entirely. Not everybody in the world else has the luxury of choice that you have. Look after yourself, but do it with some semblance of grace and compassion as well.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Living in swing dance purgatory...

We're into the homeward run in #blogjune, and I've been trying to keep my posts diverse between my varied interests of libraries, literature, travel. However, I haven't been blogging much about swing dancing. For over five years now, it's been a big part of my life - it's very much a social activity through which I've made many new friends, it's a very physical activity, which makes me feel less guilty for neglecting to go running / to the gym regularly (and, in anything, provides me with motivation to go and improve my cardio fitness, so that I can be a better dancer!), and it's a creative activity, where I develop dance skills to connect musically and rhythmically with a range of authentic jazz music from the 1920s to the 1940s - as well as contemporary interpretations of this musical era - all of which is music that I absolutely adore to listen to. When in Melbourne, I would go out dancing at least twice a week, and often 3-4 nights a week.

However, in recently years, I've found myself living in cities / towns where there hasn't been a regular swing dance scene. This, of course, has a substantial impact on my life - for me, dance isn't just all of the things I've described above - it's also a release. There's an intense emotional connection with the music (and also, to some extent, with the dance partner), and this provides a cathartic function in my life. No matter how frustrating my work or personal life is, I can always dance my woes away. And there are times that I really crave that familiar comfort, connection and joy that comes from swing dancing.

Furthermore, it's something that I'm missing right now. Up until about four months ago, I was all booked in to go to Herrang Dance Camp - in Sweden - the biggest Swing Dance camp in the world. I would have arrived yesterday morning. But my life's road took an unexpected twist, as it often does, and that's okay.

So, when the dancing's not immediately available, how do I find it?

1. Travel to where the dancers are. 
When I lived in rural Japan, I would travel 2-3 hours each way on a Wednesday, for the sake of an hour and a half of social dancing before I had to run to catch the last train home at 9:30pm. It was worth it. More recently, I caught overnight trains to and from Bulgaria for a swing dance weekend, and two flights each way to and from Prague, where they have regular weekend social dancing. I've got some leave planned for September, and hopefully more around Christmas where I'll head to Snowball in Stockholm, or one of the other big events nearby, depending on when I can get away!

2. Teach the locals to swing dance.
I did this for the first five months when I first arrived in Hanoi, teaching every Tuesday evening, in the hope that this would lead to building a community of local swing dancers. However, I learnt a few things here. Firstly, teaching / building a scene cannot be a solo effort. Furthermore, there needs to be a substantial number of locals who want to build the community - it's not something that you can build, especially as a newly-arrived foreigner. It takes a lot of work and organisation, and even then the social dynamics can be such that a swing dance community can collapse easily within a short period of time, if not managed carefully (especially where there is a huge transient population). I can kinda understand why dance scene leaders get awfully sensitive when it comes to dance scene politics.

That said, I did enjoy teaching swing dancing, especially when I had somebody to teach with. I developed some valuable skills, and like to think that in finding ways to teach technique to others, I'm also mindful of my own dancing. It's something that I've also been able to bring to the Balkans, and assist another swing dancing friend who occasionally teaches swing dancing workshops in her local community (only five hours away from me by bus - but totally worth it!).

3. Collaborate with other dancer(s) living nearby.
Now, if you're lucky, there'll be at least once other dancer living nearby. And if you don't want to teach, you can at least dance with each other, and exercise your creativity by developing a routine, like I did earlier this year with another lindy hopper who was in town for three months (which we performed at her going-away party - see below)

Yes, it was a flying carpet. Appropriate for the song. For dancing, not so much.

4. Focus on solo jazz dance.
This has been my latest tactic. When I picked my apartment, I made sure the living room had a nice big wooden floor. I've recently purchased the means to connect my laptop to my big TV screen, and now I have my own solo dance studio!
A photo posted by Andrew F (@lib_idol) on
With last weekend's activities in Prague, I had to learn the Big Apple routine - of which I already knew the first half (aka the easy half). After some cram-learning, I've spent the last week actually taking the time to learn it properly, and through this, I'm rediscovering my love for solo jazz dancing. Once I've finished locking in the Big Apple, I'm going to start revising the Tranky Doo and the Jitterbug Stroll, and then seek out other routines, like Doing The Jive. If you don't know what these are, then see below...

The Big Apple routine from "Keep Punching"

Part of the Tranky Doo from the film "Spirit Moves"

I kinda love this teacher demonstration of the Jitterbug Stroll...

Doing the Jive - in Seoul, Korea, where the scene is huge and the dancers are amaaaazing!

That should keep me busy for at least a couple of months until my next big Swing Dance adventure, where I'll be spending my whole birthday week at a Swing Castle Camp in Germany.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

The National Library of Kosovo

One of the most intriguing of buildings in the city of Pristina is that of the National Library of Kosovo. Built in 1982, and designed by Croatian architect Andrija Mutnjaković, it is often found on lists of the ugliest buildings in the world. Many people I've met here have never gone inside.


Actually, I quite like it. On the outside, there are the white domes, which are reminiscent of the ottoman baths in Prizren, or the domes of the various religious sites around kosovo, and although the building was completed before the rise of Milosevic and the Kosovo War, the stark cement-wrapped-in-metal-bars exterior seems fitting, given the political history of the area. But that's just my personal impression - other people see other things in this building, and that's the beauty of good art and architecture. It evokes a strong response in its beholder.

And the interior is just as striking, with patterned marble floors, large reading rooms, and an ornate wooden amphitheatre. And the semi-opaque domes effectively work as sky-lights, with natural lighting through the building. I had the opportunity to meet with one of the librarians, who was able to connect with through a former colleague and the International Librarians Network, and she showed me around the library.

      

As we have seen in other conflict situations, libraries such as those in Baghdad and Kabul suffer greatly at these times, often with the loss of significant collections of cultural heritage significance, and during the Kosovo War there were similar reports of destruction of cultural artifacts.

However, it was wonderful to see that this library has a strong focus on celebrating the diversity of culture found in Kosovo and making it accessible to all. The librarian was proud to say that they hold collections in languages that serve all the communities in Kosovo, and their role was to promote the culture of the community, rather than political agendas. And ethnic identity aside, they also have a collection for the blind, and I was able to meet some of the staff there who were working with equipment that transcribed print text into braille. Such underlying principles of impartiality and accessibility are so important with libraries, and it is great to see them underpinning the services provided here.

Library staff working with collections and equipment for the blind.
Display in music collection
Other collections in the building included the NATO collection, the music collection (which included musical instruments, sheet music, and recordings), and various donated collections of local cultural significance.

Unfortunately, I only had a small amount of time to view the library before heading to work, but I returned later that evening, and visited the "American Corner" - a reading lounge set up by the US Embassy, which runs programs to support English Language Learning, as well as collections of fiction by American authors. I donated a couple of my books that I had recently finished, and will certainly return to see if I can help in any way in the future, whether it be running programs or supporting collection development.

Friday, 26 June 2015

My difficult relationship with Wuthering Heights

So, recently, I was out with a colleague for some drinks, and we got around to talking about books, and how the nature of literary writing has changed over time, considering the intricacies and dense prose of classics such as Middlemarch or Moby-Dick.

And I confessed that I had, on a number of occasions, attempted to start reading Wuthering Heights, and failed. Maybe it was because I'd been reading too much contemporary popular fiction, or way in which it was written, or the introduction of such a strange and slightly confusing assortment of characters, but I've never made it past the first few chapters. It's a terrible guilty shame of mine, which makes me feel like a failure as both a librarian and an educated member of English-speaking society.

(Curiously, I had similar difficulties with the first few pages of The Great Gatsby, and the way that it sets the geography of Long Island and historical context, before we start getting into the characters.)

But I am resolved to succeed with Wuthering Heights. So I've decided to get some help.

Now, I know that film adaptations are almost never as good as the book, but I figured that this would be a good way of quickly getting my head around the setting and the main characters.  Given my former housemate's obsession with Tom Hardy (and isn't everybody these days, right?), I opted for the 2009 mini-series. And boom - I'm hooked.

Grunge was born long before the 1990s...
And really, who wouldn't be. So romance. Such brooding. Wow.

But. Here's the catch. I'm only allowing myself to go so far - and I've stopped at the moment that Heathcliff rides off to seek his fortune and presumably win back Catherine's love, after which point I'm sure it'll all be fine, right? Right?

Now I've got my motivation actually read the freaking book to find out what happens next!

Thursday, 25 June 2015

I #loveozya

So, I'm not a huge follower of hashtags. The times that I've used them have been with:
- Conferences (which have definitely been a game changer, in terms of live online discourse)
- Q&A (which I stopped watching a while ago when it became clear that it was just the ABC pandering to the government by giving them a soapbox without actually making them accountable for their answers)
- Writers festivals. Because we can't attend them all!

However, one hashtag that I've kept an eye on for a little while now is #loveozya, mostly found on Twitter and Instagram. YA - for those not in the know - is literary lingo for "Young Adult", usually made in reference to YA fiction. Oz, is short for Australian. And love... well, I don't need to explain everything to you, do I?

So, as an expat, it's been difficult for me to express my OzYA love, since I also read adult fiction and non-Oz YA, and being overseas, it's often difficult for me to get my hands on Australian fiction. Also, now that I look at my bookshelf, of the 26 books that currently sit there, 16 are Australian, so I'm not doing a bad job.

Anyway, here's my instagram shot of my #loveozya haul. (For those of you on instagram, you can find me at @lib_idol.)



This is a bit of an eclectic mix of books. Most of them are unread books that I randomly pulled out of my boxes of books that I had in storage during the three days that I was back in Melbourne between returning from Vietnam and heading to Kosovo. Some are books that I've been meaning to read for years, but never made it to the top of the pile. The rest are books that I may have impulsively bought online in the last month whilst feeling self-conscious about not keeping up with the YA trends (especially after missing the Reading Matters conference.) And yes, I'm counting Zigzag Street as YA - so sue me. ;)

And then there's As Stars Fall, by Christie Nieman. I should mention that I'm only partially through this book, and would usually never review a book before finishing it, but in this case I feel compelled to write about it now.

I worked in the same library as Christie for a number of months, and crossed paths with her many many times, but never really got to know her, as often can be the case in workplaces. I sometimes saw her at the odd book launch or literary event at the Wheeler Centre. And then, during my brief time recently back in Melbourne, I saw her book on the shelf, and decided to buy it. I'm always willing to give a punt on a new writer - especially if it's YA.

After reading the prologue, I was already obsessed, and wrote to a friend back in Australia that she had to go and find this book and read it, because I already knew that she'd love it.

Every time I open this book, I'm immediately transported. The themes are both classic and original, familiar and surreal, modern but gothic in a similar but altogether different way to Kirsty Eagar's Night Beach. And so very Australian - it makes me homesick to the stomach with each chapter, such is the craft of Nieman's evocative prose style.

I'm not going to say anything of the plot - what immediately drew me into this story is this amazing fella (please watch - it's only a 50 sec video!):



Almost nine years ago, I moved to Darwin. It was definitely a challenging time - moving along to a new city for the first time, living on the other side of the continent in a strange, humid land. As often in the case, I had hideous insomnia when I first arrived, and there were these very strange, haunting noises outside. It was about 1 or 2 in the morning, and it just wouldn't stop. Bleary-eyed but restless, I decided to go for a walk, as one does, hoping that it would help me sleep. The temperature was still in the high 20s, and a hot moisture hung in the air, but in the grassy courtyard I saw a number - maybe 3 or 4 - of these bush stone-curlews wandering around the yard, with their alien-esque bodies and stalk-like legs, echoing their creepy call into the air. I retreated back into my apartment, and the next morning, in my sleep-deprived state, I thought that this episode had maybe been a dream.

It wasn't of course.

On my last night in Darwin, before moving back to Melbourne, I remember lying in bed, hearing the curlew's call echoing into the late night, and wondering when I'll hear it again...

Whilst this is of merely tenable reference to Nieman's novel, my personal memories are constantly in the back of my mind as I read her words, and their underlying themes of feeling lost, alone, and grieving, yet utterly alive and connected to nature.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Today - for the last five years...

This time last year, I was reminiscing on where I was five years previously...

So, on this day, five years ago, we had a new Prime Minister. Julia Gillard, our first female Prime Minister. And regardless of how you feel about the politics of the time, it was nevertheless a momentous occasion. I was working in a high school at the time, and was with a Year 9 field trip to Canberra, where we tried to expose a busload of 15-year olds to the wonders of Australia's capital city. We picked the right weekend for it! We got to see Kevin Rudd in Parliament the day before, and the next day, we had a new PM.

On this day, four years ago, I was in Hobart for Devil City Swing - a weekend of swing dancing in Hobart. We also discovered this new place there called MONA. I almost didn't make it to Tasmania, because of a volcanic ash cloud from Peru. I'd already quit my job, re-enrolled into my masters degree and was preparing to move to live in Japan, only months after the 2011 tsunami disaster.

On this day, three years ago, I was in Hobart again. Made new friends, visited the snow, and generally recovering from the reverse culture shock of having recently returned from Japan. Here's a photo of me dancing with an Adelaide dancer, Sarah, who I hadn't met before, and wouldn't meet again...
Devil City Swing 2012 (Photo by Mary Awesömesauce)
...that is, until less than two months ago when she happened to be travelling through Kosovo! Whaaat? Also, here, I'm clearly still clinging to my Japanese fashion sense. Who ever thought that orange jeans were ever a good idea?

On this day, two years ago, I returned to Melbourne after spending two months working on an International Development project in Papua New Guinea, working with teaching and library staff at at training school for nurses in Alotau, Milne Bay. It was an eye-opening experience, and I had an amazing time, though not without its fair share of challenging moments. I was sad to leave, but that's okay, because I returned to PNG less than a week later, this time to the volcanic wasteland of Rabaul, working with their museum collections and exhibitions.

On this day, last year, it was my final week working at what should have been my dream job, managing a library in a modern inner-city high school. I can't quite explain why it wasn't right for me - more than that, it was very much the wrong job for me. I left to pursue another opportunity to work in international development, returning to Vietnam - a country where I had worked for three months at the end of the previous year. The decision to leave wasn't an easy one either - here, I had the opportunity to finally settle in Melbourne, with a permanent job that, whilst not without its fair share of challenges, didn't entirely suck either. It was a life-changing decision - one that set me on the path that would lead me to where I am now in Kosovo.

It's been an exciting, adventurous year, full of amazing experiences and new friends. It's also been a frustrating, challenging and, often, lonely year, as as much as I enjoy the thrill of new cultural, culinary and geographic wonders, I also often crave familiar comfort and company, and have been terribly homesick these last couple of days in particular.

I'd like to think I'll be somewhere more exciting on this day, a year from now, but being almost the end of the fiscal year, I imagine I'll be frantically getting reports written.

That, and/or blogging again for a month!

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Cities of Literature

I was planning a long and involved entry about cities of literature, but I've run out of steam, so here's the classic "I'm being lazy" blog post - yes, it's LIST TIME.

Top Five UNESCO Cities of Literature that Andrew should go to!

1. Prague, Czech Republic: Yes, I was just there. I already want to go back and explore more. It's one of the most beautiful and vibrant city that I've ever seen, which possibly means that I still need to explore more, but nonetheless an awesome city - even if the only Czech writers I can name off the top of my head are Franz Kafka, Milan Kundera and Vaclav Havel.

2. Edinburgh, United Kingdom: The original UNESCO City of Literature, I'd be content for any Scottish lass to read to me out loud, and I'd be weak at the knees. Plus it's the home of the Edinburgh Fringe - another of the world's great cultural festivals that I must experience!

3. Dublin, Ireland: I've lived this long without yet visiting the country of my national ethnic heritage on my Father's side, and would love nothing more than to spend a few weeks cycling around the Emerald Isle, with maybe the exception of experiencing Bloomsday in Dublin.

4. Reykjavik, Iceland: This is a place where, due to its isolation, the language has more or less remained the same since the days of the Vikings. This kinda excites me, especially as somebody who studied Old Norse back in my uni days. Plus runes are cool.

5. Melbourne, Australia: Yes, it's my home town. If it weren't for the literary culture of this place, I certainly wouldn't be the person I am today, and for that I'm grateful. Living in Melbourne, I feel spoilt for having access to countless literary programs every week, whether they be at the State Library or Wheeler Centre, or through events such as the Melbourne Writers Festival and the Emerging Writers Festival. There are countless indie bookstores that have seen Borders come and go, and a thriving indie literary scene through zines, performance poetry, and small press publishing. I do miss it, and will inevitably return, I'm sure.

Of course, I still want to visit some of the other cities of literature. Granada would be amazing for its medieval history. Admittedly, I'm more interested in Krakow for the swing dancing, and I'm more likely to visit Oxford and Stratford-Upon-Avon than Norwich. When I think Heidelberg, I'm more likely to think of Australia's impressionist art movement, and Iowa City is pretty low on my list of must-visit places in the US (but it is there - possibly at the bottom).

And Dunedin? I've always been fascinated with this place, even as an Australian child, looking at a map of the world, and wondering how cold it is there. In fact, let me check just now... *googles* Yup, it's zero degrees. That's what I thought.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Creative reading, libraries and the arts.

So, over the weekend, whilst in Prague, I had the opportunity to take part in a street theatre performance as part of the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space (or PQ as we all called it). The piece was called Kafka Dances - opening with a flashmob-like interaction of beleagued trenchcoat-wearing characters, burdened with their suitcases and trapped within their own futile nightmarish Kafka-esque existence... only to contrast with a hyper-absurd ending involving colourful costumes, pom-poms and swing-dancing.

Apart from the pure joy of being part of a creative process leading to a performance for an audience, this also made me think quite a bit about our relationship with literature and the arts. One cannot deny the impact that many works of literature have had on the arts - whether it's a pure adaption from print to stage or film, or a reinterpretation, or even the influence of literary themes, philosophies and perspectives. Stories and literature have influenced art since they were first told, whether it's the Nordic, Greek or Roman Epics, traditional folk tales, or sacred texts.

And even now, literature has permeated our popular culture. Whether it's the mega-successful film franchises of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and the Hunger Games (Twilight not so much). Or who could have imagined that Alison Bechdel's graphic novel Fun Home could have been made into a Tony Award winning stage musical - and it's quite amazing too! I can't watch the following clip without getting all the feels...


And on a more indie and personal creative level, there have been countless communities for fanfic writing - if there's a literary genre or cult-following, then you can bet that there's a fanfic community for it. Similarly, there are musical subcultures where bands might write music purely about Harry Potter (Wizard Rock), John Green books (JGrock) or, yes, Twilight (Twi-rock). Nerdcore rapper MC Lars has written songs inspired by Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe, and Moby-Dick. And that's all just the tip of the iceberg. Beyond the performing arts, there are also countless examples in the visual arts.

So, both in a mainstream, indie and pop-culture level, our literary culture continues to inspire and provoke creative arts. Which brings me to libraries.

Obviously, I'm mostly talking about public and state libraries here. There's a lot of focus on "What are libraries doing wrong, and how should they change so that they don't die?" Here's an idea: focus on the intersection of libraries and the arts. Reader development is a form of audience development. Don't just be a repository for people to borrow books and return them - provide opportunities to respond creatively to their reading experience. Turn readers into artists by fostering a culture of creative reading. Turn libraries into a reader-centred creative spaces, where reading is not just a passive activity, but an experience that you can share with others, be it through discussion and reading groups, or other forms of creative expression.

And seriously - invest the tens of thousands of dollars that you currently pour into reference collections and rarely-used databases into arts initiatives and creative spaces that intersect with reader development. Create partnerships with arts organisations for installations and performances. Most of all (and here's a modest proposal) stop pretending that public libraries are places for students to do research (with the exception of local history research). Let's face it, they're only using print books because their teacher didn't want them googling everything for their homework. We can do better than that.

Librarians and Imposter Syndrome: afterthoughts.

So, I've had a couple of days to consider my quickly-jotted thoughts regarding librarians and Imposter Syndrome. I stated that we shouldn't pretend that we're better or worse than we actually are, and that delusion achieves nothing. However, Katie made an important point in her reply - it's not really about pretending, but believing.

Of course, when I lived in Japan, I met a number of people who would pretend that they couldn't speak English - but it turned out that they could, but were just afraid of looking bad for not being fluent. They just didn't believe in the skills that they had. Having more conviction in our skills - owning them - and believing in ourselves is certainly one way of overcoming Imposter Syndrome.

Similarly, there are still librarians out there who will "get the tech guy" to come and do an online task that they themselves should very well be able to do. Whether this is "pretending" that they don't know, lacking in confidence in what they actually do have the skills and knowledge, or they're actually incompetent depends on the situation. But the worst thing that they can do is say, "Sorry, I'm just the librarian - I'll go call the guy who knows stuff about computers." After all, they're they ones with a Masters in Information Management.

At the same time, there are the ones that will proclaim their expert via their Masters in Information Management, but never deliver an expert service. Are they the actual imposters? To some of us, it would seem that they are. And it's working in an industry that sometimes breeds this attitude that makes the rest of us doubt the value of our own skills.

One factor is that it's a diverse industry, and not every job is going to work to our strengths as an information specialist. We need to be mindful of what we're good at - whether you've got the meticulous mind for classifying and cataloguing, or the people skills for working out exactly how their information-seeking behaviour operates, or the creative expression skills for engaging an audience, or the super-brainiac skills for processing and organising huge amounts of data into accessible knowledge, and so the list goes on. If you take on the wrong job, then you're going to feel like an imposter. Unfortunately, we have an industry where we tell graduates to take on any work that they can, because you have to get whatever experience you can get. I disagree with this. You need to be mindful of your strengths, and capitalise on them.

This leads to another contributing factor: the idea of being "industry-ready" when we graduate. Frankly, almost every job that I've had has been a severe learning curve, because we live in a diverse industry with diverse clientele, and no two jobs are the same. It's in these situations that we most need to believe in our skills and knowledge - especially when we have to think and redefine our own roles. Again, in almost every professional role I've had, I haven't had the convenience of a mentor to guide me in my role. I've had to use my brain, take initiatives, seek out partnerships, and often make mistakes.

And the reality is that any so-called "information imposter" (as they henceforth shall be known) can follow a procedural manual. But not knowing how to do your job - and then using your information and knowledge management skills to define your role and tailoring it to the context of your clients and improve the way your organisation uses information and knowledge - that there is called being a professional. And you're not going to be able to do it unless you believe you can.

Just don't expect to be able to do it straight away either; also accept your limitations.

And, to rephrase my initial statement - let's not delude ourselves in believing that we're better or worse than we actually are. Be mindful of our skills. Work to our strengths. Accept our weaknesses - and if they us feel like an imposter, then do something about it. Develop those skills that you lack, or seek out opportunities that work to your strengths.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Librarians and Imposter Syndrome

There have been quite a few #blogjune posts about Imposter Syndrome, which is something that I have a lot to say about, and will elaborate more on when I have more time, and not travellin. But for now, a few thoughts...

- There is an oft-emerging discourse on whether libraries - and librarians - are still relevant in society. Of course, we advocate for the value of our services, and the professional status of our calling, but at the same time, it's always possible that the naysayers might be right.

- As librarians, we spread ourselves quite broadly across a diverse range of specialied duties, and whilst there are often affirmations on how we are the experts in information particularly with skills in digital delivery of services, the reality is that we're often "jacks of all trades" but there are other professionals who might be better at things like, say, events / arts managers, or web developers, or social workers or teachers, or journalists, or social media experts and so the list goes on...

- As professionals, we feel entitled to a certain level of respect in the industries we work in, but we're not always very good at asserting ourselves as such.

- In fact, some libraries and librarians just suck. No offence, but it's true. And sometimes we worry that we might be one of them.

- But mostly, the world deserves better than what a lot of libraries currently offer. And if we're unable to deliver this, maybe somebody else should be doing our jobs.

So, how do we stop feeling like imposters? Lift our game, be proud of our achievements, and stop pretending that we are either better or worse than we actually are. Self-delusion achieves nothing.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Prague

Just arrived in Prague.
Why would I be blogging right now? There's exploring to do!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Don't Blink in Skopje.

I'm travelling at the moment, so the next few blog posts will be mostly pictorial. I'm currently in Skopje, the capital af the Former Yugoslav Republic ot Macedonia. One of its defining features is its abundance of statues present.

So what did I do to pass the time? I attempted to not blink...

I could sense something out of the corner of my eye..
I could tell when they were near
But then it was too late!
The End

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

In mourning...

Can't blog today. Just watched the Game of Thrones season finale.

That's all.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Monday Meme - peeling the onion.

Okay, this week's Monday Meme is once again from Fiona... and this one has layers.

LAYER ONE: THE OUTSIDE
  1. What’s your preferred name? Andrew. Not Andy, or Drew, or Ands (which is just weird).
  2. Do you wear glasses? Yes. Except for that time when I wore them to the beach in Hoi An, and they disappeared into the ocean. Then I wore contact lenses for a few days.
  3. How would you describe your fashion style? Modern vintage fusion. I like to have elements of vintage stylings - especially to go with my swing dancing habit - enough to have some character, but without being overly eccentric.
LAYER TWO: THE INSIDE
  1. What do you fear? Missing out, especially when it's my fault, because I was too lazy / apathetic / distracted to take the initiative.
  2. What is your guilty pleasure? The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It's very silly, but I find it extremely charming.
LAYER THREE: YOUR THOUGHTS
  1. What was your first thought when you woke up today? Why am I awake? My alarm hasn't gone off yet. (And then I almost slept through my alarm when it *did* go off and almost missed the bus to work.)
  2. What you think about most? Where my life is going.
LAYER FOUR: WHAT’S BETTER?
  1. To be loved or respected? Respect. If people stop respecting you, it's probably because you deserved it.
  2. Dogs or cats? Cats are better than dogs. Fact.
LAYER FIVE: BELIEF
  1. Believe in yourself? Cogito ergo sum. I can't argue with that.
  2. Believe in love? I believe it exists, but despite what the Beatles might say, you need a whole lot more.
LAYER SIX: YOUR TALENTS
  1. Do you play a musical instrument? Yep. 
  2. Do you enjoy cooking? Yep.
  3. Are you any good at gardening? Actually, no. This is something that I'm quite bad at. I am good at inadvertently killing plants, though.
LAYER SEVEN: YOUR FAVOURITES
  1. Favourite animal? Pangolin. I've never met one, but I think I'd like to.
  2. Favourite movie? Lost in Translation or The Big Lebowski (I cheated and picked two.)
  3. Favourite book? On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.
LAYER EIGHT: AGE
  1. How old are you? 36
  2. Does age matter? Yep. It matters to a lot of people. In many cultures, the nature of our relationships are based on who the older person is. I often feel like I'm not taken seriously enough, because people assume I'm in my 20s. At the same time, I often feel like my age is starting to slow me down, and I can't keep up with my 20something year old friends who are all footloose and fancy-free. Whatever. I'll go read my book and adopt some cats.

Staying connected to the community.

Just a short one, since I've fallen behind schedule (but will catch up tonight!)

I spend a lot of time in an office these days. I evaluate computer file systems, read policy and procedure documents, update online content, scrutinise draft reports, etc. It's all interesting work, that contributes to a worthy greater goal of the organisation, but sometimes it's easy to feel disconnected with why we're here and what we're trying to do.

Then last week, I took an opportunity to meet with a librarian at the National Library of Kosovo (hello, if you're reading this!) and learn a bit about what they do there - which I will get around to blogging about soon, I promise. That afternoon, I also visited the American Corner with a few donations, and chatted with the staff there. On the weekend, I travelled to Macedonia to help a friend share our love of swing dancing with the community with some workshops and an evening social dance.

And it reminded me of how important these personal interactions are to me, especially in the work that I'm doing. It helps us better understand the issues that we're trying to address in our operations, it builds connections within the community, and it adds a personal touch, reminding us that we are all human and we're here to share our knowledge, experiences and culture in order to build a peaceful society.

And when it comes down to it, that's why we do what we do, right?

Right?

Saturday, 13 June 2015

But how *did* I get here?

Wait, didn't I already answer that question? Well, yes and no...

Back when I was starting out in my career in my librarian, I wasn't really interested in travel. I moved to Darwin because I thought it would be good for my career, but I never cared to travel the short distance to PNG or Timor Leste or even Indonesia, Malaysia or Singapore. I didn't see the point. Besides, I didn't have a passport.

But I do have a passport now. Last night, I was handing over my passport, as I crossed the border into (the Former Yugoslav Republic of) Macedonia, and noticed the date on my first ever stamp.

11th of June, 2009, Port Vila.

And I remembered. This is where it all started. At the New Librarian's Symposium in 2008, I met a lovely young librarian named Romany who was working at the RMIT library, who was soon to head to Vanuatu for a year as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development (AYAD). We stayed in touch, and I decided that it would be worth visiting. I mean, Vanuatu isn't that far from Australia (Actually, it's 6.5 hours via Brisbane). So, I went, and it was my first time travelling abroad by myself. It was also a wonderful cultural experience, from taking in the local culture, to sleeping in a village, snorkelling, hanging with other AYADs and VIDAs, and coming to the realisation that if I want to travel, all I have to do it take the step through the door.

And although it took quite a few years, I ended up initially heading to PNG for 2 months, which turned into 3.5 months, followed by another 3 months in Hoi An, which turned into another 9 months into Hanoi. And here I am now in the Balkans where, strictly speaking, I'm not working in development anymore, but my skills and experience in the international development field have been perfect preparation for the kind of work I do now.

So, thank you Romany, for helping set these wheels in motion. My life would have been very different otherwise.

For those interested in Romany's adventures in Vanuatu, for a candid account of here experiences, you should start here. :)

Friday, 12 June 2015

Enable backpacker mode!

So, I'm travelling this weekend. Nothing has gone to plan.

Firstly, I was dropped off at the bus station at 5:15pm - plenty of time to get a ticket for the 6pm bus to Skopje. Except that when I went to buy a ticket, the guy said, "Oh, just go to the bus and get a seat. Over at bay 8." So, I was like, okay, went over there and waited. Eventually, somebody came along and said that the bus was now completely booked out, and that anybody who didn't have a ticket had to go and buy a ticket for the 7pm bus.

Well, at least there was a 7pm bus so I guess that's a good thing!

On the plus side, I met three young women (two canadians and one swiss) who were interns with the UNDP in Kosovo, so I had some bus buddies to chat with who were vaguely on the same wavelength, so I guess that's a win.

Then, I arrived at Skopje and went to the hostel that a friend had recommended. Now, I have to confess that at my age, my days of sharing dorms are pretty much completely over. On my arrival at the hostel, I asked for a single room, and was told that there were none available - just dorms. I was not in the mood for sharing, and was halfway out the door when that voice in my head said, "Oh, go on, just do it. Be sociable with complete strangers. Have a few beers. You're not a real backpacker, but you can at least pretend for an evening."

I'm so glad I did. Sitting around a table with a bunch of random Irish, Kiwi, English, Turkish, American and Macedonian backpackers drinking beers was a surprisingly pleasant evening. The on-duty guy at the hostel was more like a host for a dinner party than receptionist, and it made all the difference. So, if you're ever travelling through Macedonia, I would recommend Shanti Hostel. Best of all, it's only 10 minutes walk from the bus/train station.

I'm not sure I'd do it every night during my travels, but it's good to know that I'm not too old for this shit yet! :)

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Kosovan Kuisine...

So, after living in Vietnam, the land of rice, noodles, leafy greens, fish sauce and assorted mystery meats, my general diet has changed rapidly, now that I'm living in the Kosovo, the land of bread, cheese, pickled peppers and... more assorted mystery meats!

Like in Vietnam, the cost of food is very cheap - a filling snack costs less than €1, and a basic meal shouldn't cost much more than €3-4. If you feel like splashing out for a nice steak dinner, you'd be looking at around €10.

So, what kind of food can I expect in Kosovo?

Meat

Whilst it's certainly possible to get by in Kosovo as a vegetarian, meat is very much a part of the culture. Walking around Pristina, you see many qebaptores that serve grilled qebapa - meat patties - with bread and salad. You can also opt for the more US-friendly hamburger, or there's often marinated steak or chicken if you prefer your meat less processed (but slightly more expensive).

On the other hand, if you're out with a group of people, you might order a mezze plate of cold meats - usually consisting of an array of sliced smoked, dried and cured meats, with some local white cheese for variety. A great salty snack to go with drinks on a sunny afternoon.

Having been occupied by the Ottoman Empire for a number of centuries, the Turkish influence is also certainly present, with its share of Turkish restaurants around town, where you can get meat and cheese-filled pides, or sliced doner meat in a sandwich or on a plate with salad.

Salads

Speaking of which, salads are great here! I'm not talking about some leafy tossed salad. Most salads will consist primarily of fresh cucumber and tomato as a base, with a variety of other ingredients depending on your taste. Greek salads with feta and olives are a popular choice (although, if you're south of the border, make sure you ask for a Macedonian salad!) There are also meaty options with chicken or beef. However, my favourite is the shop salad, which is the salad as above, but with sliced peppers, onion, and grated white sirene cheese on top. It's the best! Who says you can't make friends with salad?

Shope salad

Baked wonders

Bread is plentiful here. At most bakeries you can get all kinds of bread, which is pretty much the same as bread anywhere else in the world. But the magic happens when you order a byrek. There are generally three kinds - the meaty kind that has mince and onions in it, the cheesy kind with the salty white cheese goodness, and the spinach kind that has cheese and spinach. It's cheap - usually less than €1 and tasty. Locals often cut it up and dip it in yoghurt. Another similar traditional dish is flija, which can be best described as a pile of savoury crepes which have been glazed with layers of salty dairy goodness, and left to set, so that you cut it up like a pie. I'm not describing it very well, so here's a picture:

Flija, you fools!
Pizza is also very common here. it's cheap and tasty, and they take thin crusts to the extreme, compared with pizza that I've had back home. Then again, I've yet to have real pizza in italy, so I shall reserve all judgement until then!

All of the above meals are often served with a pickled sides - usually olives and yellow peppers. Be warned though - the peppers may be yellow, but they pack quite a punch in the spice department.

Dessert

So, you've eaten dinner and, what? You're still hungry? Fortunately, at the moment it's berry season. Around every corner there's somebody with a cart full of punnets of fresh strawberries - which you can purchase for €1. Similarly, turkish cake shops will sell you some delicious baklava. However, if you're feeling decadent, a local speciality is treleqe. Now, this is very much a sometimes food, and here's why: First, they bake a cake. Then they make a mixture of milk and sweetened cream and, once the cake is cooled, the sweet milky-cream is poured over the top of the cake until it is soaked right through. Finally, spread a caramel on top.

Trileqe
Enjoy! Then go to the gym the next day for penance.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

How to spend a weekend in Sofia (without needing to take leave).

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Sofia Swing Dance Festival, in the nearby country of Bulgaria. As I had only started work, I didn't have any recreational leave, and it would have been a bit cheeky to ask for it anyway. Besides, there are no direct flights from Pristina to Sofia, so to fly there for a weekend without taking any leave would have taken 4.5 hours each way via Vienna, arriving at 12:40pm on Saturday, and leaving at 6:45pm on Sunday for the not-so-cheap price of 800 EUR.

However, there is another way, if you're feeling intrepid...

Friday
6:00pm - Board the bus at Pristina Bus Station, bound for Skopje.
8:30pm'ish - Arrive at Skopje Bus Station, depending on how long things take on the border crossing into the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Change some Euros for Macedonian Denar, and get some dinner.
10:00pm - Board the bus for Sofia.

Saturday
1:00am - Be awoken as the bus crosses the border into Bulgaria.
3:00am - Arrive at Sofia Central Bus Station. Find an ATM to take out some Bulgarian Leva. Find a taxi, go to your hostel, fall asleep....

8:30am - Wake up, and head to swing dance workshops all day. Followed by social dancing late into the night!

Source: Sofia Swing Dance Festival FB Page.
Sunday
3:00am - Stumble back to the hostel, sweaty and swungover.

8:30am - Wake up and head off for another full day of dance workshops. Skip the afternoon workshops for a Communist History Walking Tour of Sofia. Have dinner, and head out to social dancing in the evening until...

11:30pm - Get a taxi to the Central Bus Station.

Monday
12:00am - Depart for Skopje. Vaguely wake up to hand over my passport at the border.
3:00am (Gaining an hour crossing the border) - arrive at Skopje Bus Station. Attempt to nap for a couple of hours on extremely uncomfortable furniture.
6:00am - Depart on the bus for Pristina.
8:00am - Wake up in Pristina Bus Station, not even recalling when you went through the border, but there's a new stamp in your passport, so it must have happened. Head home for a shower and a change of clothes.

9:00am - Arrive at work, ready for a productive day!!

Monday, 8 June 2015

Fifty shades of whiteness...

Okay, disclaimer: this is going to be a bit lot of a ramble. I'm going to say things that some people will not agree with, and that's okay. Ideas of racial and cultural identity are complicated, and I don't pretend to have the answers. But I'm hoping that one day I'll be vaguely on the right track. Here goes...

I am biracial. You can call me Eurasian, if that label appeals to you more. My mother is Chinese, born in Malaysia, where her family has lived for a number of generations. My father was born in Australia, where his family has lived for a number of generations, a descendant of Irish immigrants. His ethnic identity is... um, let's come back to that later.

Anyway, I was born and raised in Australia. Race was something that I was aware of, growing up in school. I remember singing, "I am, you are, we are Australian" in primary school - after all, we were one, but we were many, and from all the lands on Earth we came. We shared a dream, and sang with one voice.


Except that we didn't. In the school yard, there was the usual multicultural mix of Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Greek, Italian, Turkish, Egyptian, Lebanese... and then you had the "Aussies". The "white" kids.

So, as a kid, I described myself as half-Chinese. The other half, being "Aussie" from my dad's side was assumed.

The 90s saw the rise of such visionaries as Pauline Hanson and the One Nation party. I don't know if it was out of shame of my Chinese heritage, or just that I didn't want people putting me in a box, but I realised that I needed to claim my Australian identity, otherwise other people would take it away from my. So, for a long time, I insisted that I was Australian - born and raised here - and whatever genetics my parents added to the mix had no bearing on who I was as a person. That's how I felt for a long time.

That is, until I lived in Japan and, later, Vietnamese. Despite my Asian genetics, I was a gaijin - a white person - and that other W-word - "Western". My frustration grew when Japanese and Vietnamese people asked questions about the culture of "white people" and "Westerners" - like we were just one race of people who all looked the same, in much the same way that Pauline Hanson might have viewed Asians in general. And then they would ask about "Australian culture". To this day, I still have difficulty in describing exactly what Australian culture is. We're still a very young country, and have hardly been around to really establish some kind of National identity - and no, it wasn't born on the shores of Gallipoli.

I wasn't sure how to feel about having this "whiteness" thrust upon me. Especially when I think about the recent rallies across Australia where those against multiculturalism want to "Reclaim Australia". The thing is, when I think of the cultural diversity that our immigrant population has to offer, what does "white Australia" have to offer, other than cooking snags on the BBQ, downing tinnies of VB, and drunkenly shouting at people whilst wearing the Australian flag as a cape? What could be more Aussie than that?

Which brings me to libraries. Yep, I'm great at segues.

I recently read a really interesting article entitled, "Soliciting Performance, Hiding Bias: Whiteness and Librarianship". I absolutely agree that the mainstream ideas of libraries have been based on American and European models of learning and knowledge-sharing, which often reflects values of the privileged educated middle-class. And that the bulk of librarians, having been raised under such conditions continue to reinforce many of these attitudes, particularly when hiring staff. In doing so, they "paralyse" themselves, as they do not represent the diversity and cannot truly empathise with the needs of the communities that they serve.

The author epitomises this as "whiteness", defined as "white, heterosexual, capitalist and middle class"... the "ideology based on beliefs, value behaviors, habits and attitudes, which result in the unequal distribution of power and privilege". These lead to "gestures, enactments, and unconsciously repetitive acts which reinforce hegemony."

And yes, I can agree that libraries have been traditionally a tool for the privileged, and you can judge how privileged and middle-class a community is just by walking into their public library. I've worked in libraries in Darwin where plenty of indigenous people see it as "whitefellas" business - probably because they're mostly staffed by non-indigenous people, and full of books in English. I've seen and heard of libraries set up in the Pacific, organised using Dewey Decimal Classification, and bounded by strict rules, because those were the rules set by those who established the libraries, unfortunately incompatible with local knowledge systems and ways of thinking.

Call it privilege, or colonialism, or plain old-fashioned-ness. But "whiteness"? Something doesn't sit right with me about that. It's more complicated than that.

That's not to say that white privilege doesn't exist - it totally does. And maybe that's enough to validate this case for "whiteness" in libraries. But to me, it doesn't hold that much meaning. Maybe I'm blinded by the "white" privilege that I at least partially possess, and I need to be a "real" person-of-colour to truly appreciate the extent to which "whiteness" has paralysed libraries.

But one final thing that I find interesting from this article is the idea of libraries being neutral, which thus situates white as default, and in doing so supports white cultural values. In the same way, I feel like the moment that Australian identity shifts to truly embrace multiculturalism, then it's that neutrality of whiteness that is eradicated. And that scares people. I get that. I've been constantly denied part of my cultural identity all my life. It's confusing.

So, when people ask me about my ethnic identity these days, I say that I was born in Australia, descendant from Chinese and Irish immigrants. You can do with that information what you will.

M is for Monday

M is for Monday. The start of a new week. M is also for momentum, of which I am currently lacking, and I need to get the ball rolling. To kick-start my brain this morning, M is also for Meme.

This meme was started by Kate, and following Fiona's tradition of the Monday Meme, I thought I'd join in:

I’m reading – Just finished "Guardian of the Dead" by Karen Healey. Loved it. Now I've just picked up "As stars fall" by Christie Nieman, who is a former work colleague. And the cover is exquisite - immediately evocative and haunting. Ever since I lived in Darwin, something has always creeped me out about curlews...

I’m watching – The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I'm loving it, actually. It's exceedingly charming, funny and silly, yet subtly smart and cleverly written, as only something written by Tina Fey could be.

I’m cooking – Not as often as I should. Vietnam broke me out of the pattern, because eating local street food was infinitely easier and cheaper (and more delicious) than cooking myself. Now that I'm living alone, I'm yet again less inclined to cook, and eating out is still cheap. To be honest, I usually only cook if I have guests and have somebody else to cook for.

I’m drinking – Sabaja Smoked Porter. This is one of the offerings of Pristina's local (and only) craft brewery. They also make a tasty IPA, but this is my favourite:


I’m thinking – about the future. What to blog next. Where I want to travel to. Where I have friends relatively nearby who I can meet up with. Where my career is going, and how to get there. And always thinking about ideas for writing. Sometimes I even write them down.

I’m taking – one step at a time. deep breathes. notes. drugs to help me sleep at night.

I’m missing – dancing. friends. having a comfortable familiar space.

I’m enjoying – the adventure of being out of my comfort zone, both professionally and geographically. There's always something new to do around the corner.

I’m planning – travel. Macedonia (and teaching swing dancing!) next weekend. Prague (with more swing dancing) the long weekend afterward. Otherwise, making lists of places to visit over the summer.

I’m listening – to recordings of Tibetan singing bowls. They also help me sleep at night.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Pristina nightlife

For its comparatively small size, Pristina is a lively city, and this is evident just from looking around town from the moment work finishes through until the early hours of the morning.

Now that winter has well and truly passed, many of the bars have courtyards filled with people, and all along Nene Tereza boulevard, the restaurants are set up for al fresco dining. It's a sociable, but civil, affair, with a macchiato being as common as a beer or glass of wine - coffee being as much the social lubricant as alcohol in the local culture.

Once the sun has finally set, it's approaching 9pm, and the temperature begins to drop a little. For the more traditional continuation into the night, there are a number of rakija bars (I will explain rakija in another post), where you'll see a blend of local young people, and older Albanian men. However, at the same time, there are a number of hip modern places - two of my favourites being Dit' e Nat' (Albanian for "Day and Night") and Soma Book Station.

Both of these are unique in that they are cafe/bars that are also bookstores (or are they bookstores that are also cafe / bars?). They often hold performances by bands - both local and visiting - and attract the closest thing to what you might call the local hipster community. I'll often see posters advertising local creative startups and cultural festivals, and I'll often see young people set up with their laptops and notebooks, sipping their coffees or local craft beers whilst working on some creative endeavour. And so, I quite like both of these places - not just because they most remind me of my home town of Melbourne - but also because they provide unique creative spaces in the community. Also, it's dangerous to have books for sale in a place where I might have a few drinks, and lose my inhibitions...

Soma Book Station
On the other hand, if what you're after is a smoky bar with DJs playing latin music, then the Cuban Bar is the place to be on a Friday or Saturday night - especially if you've got some salsa moves. Personally, I know enough basic moves to dance salsa if absolutely necessary, but it's no substitute for a good swing-out.

Finally, once the midnight hour is upon us, it's time to make a choice. With the onset of my middle-age, I must confess that I'm usually in bed by midnight, or 1am at the latest. However, on one occasion, I'd had more than my daily quota of espressos, and was ready to push through into the darkest hours of the night. In this case, we ended up at an extremely smokey underground bar called Zanzi. There was quite a good cover band, ripping out some power anthems to an appreciative crowd, and then some DJs of varying quality. Entry was free for the women (and 3 Euro for the men) and looking around, I could see why. By 2am, it was 98% men bopping along on the dance floor (plus the 3-4 women that I'd arrived with). I've been told that this is just part of the local culture - and whilst I made the observation that it seemed far more progressive for women here, who seemed quite liberated in their dress sense, here was an indication that there are still conservative social attitudes where women don't stay out late. Either that, or we were at a particularly crappy dive spot that women just didn't want to go to!

Eventually, the DJ started playing some pretty obnoxious techno (still not as bad as Vietnamese house though!) and we used that as an excuse to leave. I arrived home at about 3:30am, and, smelling like an ashtray, put all of my clothes straight into the laundry, and made a mental note to wash my hair in the morning.

The next morning, I woke to find that I'd spent more money than I planned, but on the plus side, I had a new impulse-buy novel to add to my bookshelf.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Taking the weekend off.

Living and working overseas can be exhausting.

When I'm living back in Melbourne, it's relatively easy to fall into patterns. I go to work, I have my various hobbies, and my social circle manages to fill the rest of the gaps pretty much without having to think too much. And if there's nothing happening, then I can just enjoy a book or watch tv or something, and not feel too bad about it.

But it's different when you're overseas. On one hand, there are the everyday challenges - trying to learn the language, learn a new job, make new friends, seek out opportunities for socialising without seeming too weird and needy. And that's just part of being a new person in a new place - you have to get up to speed before this little voice starts piping up in the back of your head...


Then there's the FOMO - fear of missing out. Taking every opportunity to make the most of my experience of living overseas. Travelling to another country each weekend, finding out where the local festivals are happening, or even just taking a day trip to a nearby heritage site.

I always feel like a day of doing nothing is a day wasted.

But at the same time, I realise that it's important to take time off constantly trying to push myself forward toward winning at life. And because I've got two big weekends coming up, I've decided to take this weekend off.

And so, my day consisted of:

- Sleeping in until 11am. I've had terrible insomnia lately, so I figured I'd let myself get a full cycle of sleep, even though I hope that changing my usual waking-up time won't make things worse.
- Going on a long walk. I discovered a small amusement park, and a couple of nice parks for walking through. I also saw my first hedgehog - not something I'd experienced before, having only ever previously lived in the Asia-Pacific region.
- Going to the cinema. Saw Pitch Perfect 2, which had its fun moments, but lacked a lot of the charm of its predecessor.
- Sitting in a cafe and read a sizeable chunk of the book that I'm currently reading.
- Writing my daily #blogjune entry.

Now it's Saturday night, and I'm going to bed at a respectable hour. With some luck, I'll be asleep by midnight. Yes, it's boring, I know, but I'll get back to my usual shenanigans next week.

For now, I'll let myself recharge.

Friday, 5 June 2015

How did I get here?

Now, since I'm participating in #blogjune, and the majority of participants are those working in the library and information industry, I thought I'd share a little on how I came to be where I am.

Firstly, one of the things that attracted me to this profession is the scope of work that I could potentially be doing. When undergoing my masters, we learn a range of library-specific skills, but more importantly, underlying all of these are professional principles of information management - which, of course, are essential in libraries, but they are also kind of essential in any work environment, regardless of whether they have a traditional library or not! And yes, all professionals have their own ways of managing their information and knowledge, but organisations often need somebody to coordinate this so that information and knowledge can be shared through a system that is compatible with all of its workers. Given the human element involved in the personal management practices of many staff, this is no mean feat.

So, as a professional, once you've established a strong knowledge of information principles, the opportunities for work are limited only by your imagination, your contextual knowledge of a particular industry, and the human resources budget of your prospective employer (and this is a major factor!).

So, given that you've done the professional groundwork (i.e. qualification and fundamental experience), how do you get the specialist experience to get to the interesting stuff?

Do you remember those word puzzles, where you change one letter at a time?
Source: http://www.powgi.com/puzzle/2015-03-02.png
Yes, there is the traditional career path of getting a job, and then doing your supervisor's job, and so on, moving up the hierarchy, and certainly, my career did start out that way:

Public Library Officer
Public Library Technician
Public Librarian
Public Library Team Leader

But it's once you start replacing some of the elements and completely changing work environments, whilst progressively developing skills, your career starts taking a completely different pathway - one that doesn't always seem organic at first glance:

Reference Librarian - State Library
Reader Development Programs Officer - State Library
Secondary School Library Manager
Community Development Librarian - Public Library
(Including partnership programs with schools/community and local history projects)
Librarian Trainer for a health library in regional PNG
Information Manager for a museum in regional PNG
Museum Programs Development Officer with museums in regional Vietnam
Knowledge manager for a cultural heritage / human rights NGO in Vietnam
Information Management Officer for a high profile international organisation in Kosovo

There are times where I feel like I'm following a winding path up a mountain, in the hope that there's a way down on the other side. It's hard work at times, but right now, the view is spectacular.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Get out of town...

Day three at work, and it was already Friday. Had I thought about what I was going to do on the weekend? Of course not! I had barely settled into my apartment, and despite my best efforts to adjust my sleeping patterns, my body was still off by something between 4 and 8 hours.

Fortunately, being the new guy at work, one of my colleagues invited me to join him and a couple of others on a day trip to Peja / Peć to visit a monastery and then go to a waterfall. I most graciously accepted.

Now, I'd only been in Pristina for three days, but after spending many months living in the big smoke of Hanoi, travelling to the neon jungle of Seoul, and then hipster central in Melbourne, it was quite refreshing to be sitting in a car for a couple of hours, staring out at rolling green hills, framed with jagged snow-capped mountains. As an Australian, unfamiliar with this landscape, I don't I'll ever bore of it.

Anyway, we passed through the city of Peja / Peć and to the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Monastery of the Patriarchate of Peć. This site was the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church from the 14th century, though it sustained substantial damage during the Ottoman rule. As an important Serbian cultural heritage site located within Kosovo, and given the ethnic tensions that still remain since the Kosovo War, measures have been made to keep the site secure with guarded checkpoints at the entrance, requiring our ID to enter the site.

But stepping through the gates, into the walled grounds, it was like stepping into another world...



The interior of church itself was beautiful as well, and there's nothing like 600-year-old medieval frescos to transport oneself to another time. With the beautiful sunny spring weather, with a cool fresh breeze coming off the mountains, we didn't want to leave.

And then it was lunchtime.

After lunch, we headed up toward the mountains and visited a waterfall. I took some photos, but next to the above photo, it looks kinda dull. However, Peć is also the gateway to the Rugova mountains, part of the Albanian Alps, and I made a mental note that I definitely needed to return for some bushwalking in the future.

So, less than a week in Kosovo, and I already had a glimpse of what the region does best (other than coffee) - medieval monasteries and majestic mountains!

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Driving on the wrong side of the road...

So, during my interview for this job, the subject of driving came up - firstly, and seemingly most importantly, if I could drive a manual car, which I confidently said, "Yes". Because it was true.

The next question: "Hmm... you're from Australia? You'd be used to driving on the left side of the road, right? How are you with the right side, considering that the traffic in Kosovo can also be a little unpredictable." I replied that I'd was used to the right side of the road here in Hanoi, and that I doubted that the traffic would be any crazier than it was here. Also true.

That said, I may have neglected to mention that I was used to driving a bike on the right side of the road, and that I might have some trouble driving under such conditions in, say, a large Toyota 4WD.

Flash-forward to Day Two on the job, and I've been booked in for my driving exam - and I'm presented with a large Toyota 4WD. Possibly the largest vehicle that I have driven, like, ever. And my first task is to reverse park in between two tiny traffic cones (which promptly disappeared once I was within a metre of the space). I had three goes to get it right. Somehow I succeeded on my second go, which meant that I was clear to proceed to stage two: the streets.

So, I had been mentally preparing myself for this moment for 24 hours, and there were a number of rules going through my head.

1. Stay on the left right side of the road.
2. Pedals are the same as usual.
3. Change gears with my right hand (not my left).
4. Indicate with my left hand (not my right).
5. Overtake on the left (not the right).

With all this in excellent espresso-fueled mind, I was ready to hit the fury road!

I will ride eternal, shiny and chrome.
However, my course wasn't so much the Fury Road as it was a series of confusing slow-paced obstacles, so my driving probably came across more like this:


On the plus side, I managed to avoid stalling the car, or opening the car door when I meant to change gears.

Unfortunately, there were a few unfortunate moments:

1. Pedestrian crossings. Firstly, we're actually meant to stop for these - as we are in Australia, but not in Vietnam. At least not that I'm aware of. However, the presence of a pedestrian crossing every 50-100 metres presents the dilemma of either taking twice as long to get to one's destination, or maintaining just the right amount of aggressive velocity to discourage a pedestrian from wanting to step out in front of you, whilst also travelling slow enough to stop if they DO step out onto the crossing.

2. Left-hand turns. Whilst right-hand turns are easy, left-hand turns turned out to be terrifying. Again, my risk-aversion meant that I missed a few windows-of-opportunity to turn. Also, remember to stay on the right.

3. Allowing enough space. As it turns out, drivers in Pristina are accustomed to only allowing an inch more than absolutely necessary when passing one another in a tight spot. I, on the other hand, am not.

4. Three-lane roundabouts. Seriously, what the hell? Apparently there are rules for which lane you're meant to be in, depending on where you plan to exit the roundabout, which results in traffic zooming between lanes whilst within the roundabout. Plus I'm meant to indicate when changing lanes. I think I'd rather a life of hook turns, and navigating the Elizabeth Street Roundabout of Death over this.

So, at the end of my test, my examiner paused for about 20 seconds, which felt like they lasted forever. He didn't explicitly tell me that I'd failed, but suggested that I get a few hours' practice driving on Pristina's streets, and then come back to him, and he seemed confident that this would be no problem once I'd built up some familiarity.

I wholeheartedly agreed with him. Fortunately, I wouldn't need to do the reverse parking test again.

Two weeks (and half a dozen hours of driving) later, I met up with my examiner again, and passed with flying colours with one accidental curb-bump which he chose to overlook.