food


Up in Kuranda, near Cairns in the tropics, I was sitting in an old reclining chair. As I did so, my brother’s partner said, ‘That chair is the same as your wok’.

‘What do you mean?’ I said.

‘He [my brother] said, “If the chair goes, I go.”‘

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Fortunately, they had not come to that point. As for the wok, well, in two former relationships when the wok appeared in the bin I knew that the relationship was over. On each occasion, the wok and I moved on.

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As you can see, it’s a glorious wok. I found it while camping in New England National Park more than twenty years ago. It has cooked more meals than I care to remember. So it has become very much a case of ‘love me, love my wok’.

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I can say that while teaching in China I am enjoying the process of setting young and active minds on the correct path. To that end, I tell them:

1. The United States is a very strange country, unlike any other. For that reason, they should not generalise from the USA.

2. Europe is a very barbaric place, full of petty tribalisms.

3. Bourgeois (liberal) democracy is a dreadful system, best avoided (actually, they know this already).

4. Australia is neither a Western nor an Eastern country, since it is in the South.

5. Kangaroo meat is very good for you.

Since many of my students will be future government leaders and officials, I hope these items and more will have some effect.

However, I have also learnt a few things from them:

1. Communism is not a rational ideal that you then try to actualise.

2. Communism is not singular but multiple.

3. They work very hard and know much more about the rest of the world than the world knows about China.

4. One’s stomach is the best guide for travelling to different places.

5. Office hours mean I buy them lunch and we talk for more than four hours – about everything.

‘Don’t swim after eating or you’ll get stomach cramps and drown.’

‘Wait an hour after eating before swimming’.

These and more are part of the common folklore, repeated ad nauseam to children in summer as they holiday by the beach. So the kids fidget and annoy each other before finally being allowed to swim again after what seems like an eternity. We have it from parents, teachers, and pretty much everyone.

It’s complete rubbish. You may as well say, don’t ride your bicycle after eating, or don’t run after eating, or don’t do anything energetic after eating. You might get a stomach cramp and crash your bike, trip over, or some other dire outcome. Actually, it is much like the myth of the common cold – that if you get a chill you might catch a cold. Like that myth, this one too is usually impervious to facts.

As for me, I have swum plenty of times on a full stomach. Not even a twitch in my gut when I do so.

Too often do we neglect the fact that Hegel was German through and through. Every now and then it shows through with one of those sentences that brings you up short. In the midst of his long and rather unoriginal ramble on the question of evil, he writes:

For to err is human and who has not been mistaken about this or that circumstance, about whether there was cabbage or sauerkraut with yesterday’s lunch, and about countless matters of greater and lesser importance? (Elements of the Philosophy of Right, 140(e))

Nice to be home, even after a great session at the Society of Biblical Literature on my book, The Sacred Economy (more on that soon). Above all, it is wonderful to greet our pet spider, who dwells in a corner by the dining table.

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It is a treat to introduce her to guests, who are usually not aware that they are sitting centimeters away from this beautiful arachnid. But she was looking a little thin after a couple of weeks of being on her own, so I caught a moth and dropped it into her web.

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Usually she runs and hides when my hand looms above the web, but when the coast is clear, she comes out to enjoy some dinner with us:

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Begin with purple flesh from the hump of a camel (tuo geng) and stew. Meanwhile, take the milk from a mare, agitate it until it ferments and turns into yoghurt (tong jiu). Eat the stewed camel hump, while drinking the fermented mare’s yoghurt, and then wash it down with some camel broth.

Since the itchy-fingered DG challenged me to substantiate my claim that I live on no more than $50 a week in the very expensive Land of Oz, here is a standard weekly budget:

$2.25  – 1.5 bags of rolled oats

$3.00 – half a bag of powdered milk, used for both breakfast (oats) and home-made yoghurt

$2.20 – two home-made loaves of bread.

$2.80 – 500 g of cottage cheese

$1.00 – usage of jars of honey, peanut butter and vegemite

$2.00 – 750 g of brown rice

$1.15 – a kilogram bag of pasta, if I don’t make my own.

$3.60 – assorted fresh beans (red kidney, chickpeas etc) and cans of beans

$10.00 – fresh fruit and vegetables – in season and on special

$1.50 – toilet paper

$3.00 – my indulgence: coffee beans (decaf)

$5.50 – occasional items, such as soap, detergent, toothpaste etc.

$12.00 – Meal out, transport, bicycle maintenance, etc.

$50.00 total

As you can see, there’s considerable room for luxuries, such as coffee, eating out, etc.

Note that this does not include accommodation, utilities, and internet costs: $180 per week. That’s a total of $230 per week for a very comfortable life.

All this comprises one reason why I argue that most people working at universities are grossly overpaid.

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