The Time Has Come (the Walrus said) Archives

Wasting money on Hybrid cars

How much do you pay for a Hybrid car?

Full retail for a Toyota Prius starts at A$36,000.

It is claimed that this has a fuel consumption of 4.4 litres / 100 km. In the old fashioned figures that is 53.5 miles per gallon.

That is pretty good, but last time I checked a Hyundai Excel with a 1.5 litre engine costs about A$17,000 and delivers about 8 litres / 100 km (30 miles /gallon).

Now take into account that the Prius (and the other hybrids) are mechanically a lot more complex, and use batteries. Mechanical complexity makes the cost of servicing higher. Batteries have a finite life and are VERY expensive to replace.

It is claimed that the batteries will last 8-10 years, or thereabouts, maybe a little less in Australia with the warm climate. Replacement batteries cost about A$7000.

Not to mention the cost of disposal of the old batteries…

So, by paying twice as much up front, more in service, and more in long-term maintenance, it looks a very expensive proposition because the total cost of ownership is much higher.

A quick and dirty calculation:

Assuming servicing costs you about A$1000 per year more, and ignoring inflation, the EXTRA cost of the hybrid over 10 years is about:

$19,000 (extra purchase) + 10 * $1000 (servicing) + $7000 (batteries)

or a total extra cost of $36,000 over 10 years, or $3,600 per year.

At current fuel costs, of about $1.30 per litre, that extra money spent on the hybrid is equivalent to buying about 2700 litres of fuel.

In your Hyundai, that 2700 litres will drive you about 34,000 km.

So – MAYBE, if you drive more than 34,000 km per year you will break even on total cost of ownership. MAYBE.

I’d struggle to do that many km every 2 years, so there is no way it is financially worthwhile.

Oh yeah on more thing – on the highway, that little Hyundai Excel is supposed to do quite a bit better – getting on toward 50 miles / gallon. So with a lot of highway driving your hybrid will NEVER pay for iteself.

If you compare against a bigger family car that chews through the fuel, it might tip the scales to the hyrid, not not by a huge lot. One day there will need to be something much more efficient…

A good article here.

EDIT 9 Nov 2005: The figures are in miles per US gallon. The litres are OK.

The PLW AGM

A happy coincidence saw me with too much leave accumulated with the consequent pressure from HR to use it up, and the Annual General Meeting of Peter Lehmann Wines.

So, yesterday was a day off work to attend the AGM.

Peter Lehmann Wines was a publicly listed company which my family and I had bought shares in during the original float about 12 years ago. It’s been a spectacular performer, with a 10 year average annual shareholder return of about 14%.

About 2 years ago a large foreign company launched a takeover bid, the ensuing fight eventually saw a partial takeover by the Swiss-based Hess group.

The company went from being owned by a few big players and many small South Australian individuals, to being 85% owned by Hess, 10% by the Lehmann family, and the remaining 5% is owned by about 430 small shareholders. Trade in the shares was very small, so now it is an unlisted public company.

We have tried to get to the AGM for the last 5 years or so – the formal meeting is always over quickly and we get to take a look around OUR company. Not to mention, the spread for lunch was always fantastic.

Yesterday saw us driving off to the Barossa Valley, admiring the farms and crops in the countryside on the way there.

The meeting was a much smaller affair than it used to be – about 50 shareholders turned up (it used to be about 400). There cannot be too many public companies that have Annual Meetings of shareholders like this:

. The meeting did not start until the Lehmanns arrived – and fair enough to show the founder some respect

. How many company AGMs have the major shareholders dog walking amongst the other assembled shareholders?

. How many companies have the (acting) Chairman making jokes with the other directors and shareholders?

It was a simple meeting, over with quickly, the company is trading well in difficult times, and there were “light refreshments” after.

Light Refreshments, Barossa style, means local produce: a locally smoked and cured ham, Mettwurst, salad, fruit, pie, bread and of course German cake. And not to mention – the company wine is available – whatever you want, as much as you want.

After the light lunch (stomach groaning), I’d hate to see a heavy meal!

Some stand-outs in the food department from this and previous years:

. Linkes make really good authentic Mettwurst and still smoke and cure hams the old-fashioned way. The Linkes ham is THE BEST I’ve ever eaten.

. Try and get some Zimmys Barossa pickled onion relish…. Mmmm. Same for their Beetroot relish!!

. The Barossa bakeries do really good bread and some of the best German cake you will ever find:

- Try the Apex Bakery in Tanunda for bread and German cake (Streuzel) made the old-fashioned slow-rise way

- Linkes bakery in Nuriootpa does a really good bienenstich (the Australian corruption calls this a Beesting)

After lunch and a quick zip into Rockfords to try & buy a bit more wine (the sparkling Black Shiraz is one of the best ever) it was time to rush home and collect the kids from school.

We are so incredibly fortunate to have such a luxury of good food and wine, readily available. Sometimes it takes a trip out of the city to find the really good stuff that is grown or made the old-fashioned way , but it is there if you go searching.

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Shameless plugs: If you go to the Barossa, make sure you visit Peter Lehmann wines, if only to take a walk through the gardens. But buy some wine, it’s one of the few places to give 13 bottles with every dozen purchased. But also track down some decent bread, Streuzel, relishes & chutneys, and so on. It’s worth the effort.

Road vs Rail

Not a lot of freight is moved by rail in Australia, but a huge amount is moved by road.

Truckies are politically fairly well organised – an easy thing when there are so many owner-operators. They subtly push their message with things like signs on each truck saying “Truckies carry this country”, and similar.

Have you ever stopped to think about what the costs of transport really are?

The total costs are made up of:

. Cost of purchase of the truck or rolling stock, including loan service costs

. Cost of operation of a truck, or a train (such as fuel, staff, service / overhaul, stamp duties, excises, taxes, etc)

. Cost of operation of the infrastructure (building the roads, building the rail line)

. Profit

Looking at the INFRASTRUCTURE only and ignoring all the others:

ROADS are built by public expenditure, and maintained by public expenditure.

The ROAD lobby is good at stirring when roads need maintenance or become unsafe, it’s a political hot potato and so taxpayers money gets spent. But to build a road to a standard suitable for 14 wheelers requires something like 5 times the cost compared to the standard suitable for cars.

(OK – there are a few privately operated toll roads – but its very obvious what they cost to use because of the toll paid to get onto it. Does not count for this argument.)

RAIL is these days built by private companies, and maintained by private companies.

There is little incentive for a RAIL company to build a track and operate it, because competitors can demand and obtain access (!), usually a rate determined by a regulator.

So RAIL tracks are either owned by Governments, or infrastructure companies. Neither want to spend a lot, and all must get a decent rate of return on what has been spent. In the case of Governments, this is essential to avoid being accused of creating economic distortions or creating unfair subsidies. In the case of infrastructure companies, it’s to stay in business.

So, the charges for running on RAIL tend to be a honest charges, because there is little chance to bury a hidden subsidy.

But the additional cost of building ROADS represents a hidden subsidy to the truckers. They will all now be howling with outrage because they pay higher registration fees. But those extra fees go nowhere to covering the higher cost of building roads to withstand the trucks.

Some analysts have been saying this for years, but I think the message is gradually getting heard in high places. High fuel prices are contributing, because suddenly rail looks a little better when the operating costs are taken into account.

Eureka

I’m greatly saddened by three political moves underway at the moment:

1. John Howard and the hairy-chested Premiers agreeing on new counter-terrorism laws that seem like overkill, and that are grossly undemocratic.

2. John Howard and his government changing the industrial relations and labour laws that have stood this country well for over 100 years.

3. John Howard and his government considering changing from 3 to 4 year parliamentary terms.

These changes tear at the heart of Australian democracy, in subtle ways, where the impacts will not be seen or understood for a long time.

Our democracy was built with difficulty, blood, sweat and tears. One of two defining parts was the Ballarat miners rebellion of 1854. I’ll do a separate post about the other.

For various reasons, the miners felt that they were being taxed and treated unjustly. They created the Ballarat Reform League, with (amongst other things) the following political aims:

(1) A full and fair representation. [i.e. in parliament]
(2) Manhood suffrage.
(3) No property qualification of Members for the Legislative Council.
(4) Payment of Members.
(5) Short duration of parliament.

The members of the League burned their miners licenses in an act of defiance of the Government.

At the time, a license had to be provided on demand, something that was not always possible because they were often kept in the miners’ tent, away from the wet and dirty conditions. However any miner found not carrying the license was immediately arrested and fined.

The burning of the miners licenses led, in turn, to the massacre of miners at the Eureka Stockade in a surprise night raid by the Victoria police.

The resulting rampage by the police saw innocent bystanders shot, the wounded being bayoneted, and much needless destruction of miners property.

About 22 miners were either killed immediately or died soon after, and a further 12 were wounded and survived. Casualties on the Government side were 4 killed and 12 wounded.

This is one of only two acts of defiance by Australian people against their government, and is the incident that had the largest impact on shaping our democracy.

Whilst the rebellion was over in 15 minutes, it led DIRECTLY to fundamental changes in Government in the colony of Victoria, and had a significant influence on all Australian Governments.

Some of the things we take for granted came about from, or were hastened by, the efforts of the Ballarat Reform League, and their leader Peter Lalor:

. short terms of parliament

. nobody needs to carry or produce identification papers or other government documentation to police on demand (generally you have 24 hours)

. true representative democracy

. the right to trial, to see and hear your accusers

. limits on powers of police

. fairness in dealing with governments and employers

I see Howards so-called “Reforms” as anti-democratic, and counter to the spirit of Australia’s history. I am sure that if Peter Lalor were alive today he would be leading the next rebellion against this morally bankrupt Federal Government.

The Eureka flag has no official status but is still used today, over 150 years later, as a symbol of rebellion against Government excesses in Australia.

References:

The Eureka Rebellion

Eureka Affair

History of Australia – Peter Lalor

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EDIT 25 Oct, 9:50 pm: I received an email from Jim McDonald, who I do not know from a bar of soap. He has a web site about the Reconstruction of Industrial Relations which seems to be packed with information. You can find it here. Worth taking a look.

Prioritising Product Development

Joel Spolsky sent the latest essay about prioritising product development, specifically regarding software.

I think it applies more generally.

It will take 10 minutes, but this is essential reading for anybody doing product development. You can find the article here. Take the effort to read it.

EU and World Trade

More wailing in the newspapers about the Doha round of the World Trade Organisation, and how it is teetering on the edge of failure.

The cause of the supposed failure is the demand for a reduction in agricultural subsidies, particularly in Europe.

I have just finished reading an interesting book – “A year in the Merde” by Stephen Clarke. This is a hilarious, semi-fictional account of the life of a Brit living and working in Paris. Reading this, and I suddenly realised what should have been obvious all along.

The Europeans won’t drop agricultural subsidies because they exist to protect the way of life in rural areas. The way of life is valued, the villages and small towns are vibrant.

And remember the power of the French farmers – whenever something happens they don’t like, there will be road blocks, barricades, truck loads of manure dumped on Government ministers doorsteps, etc etc etc. They are good at generating massive publicity, and getting what they want.

Compare that to Australia where there are no agricultural subsidies, and where the following rural problems spring to mind:

. constant wailing about farm incomes being low;
. ever increasing pressure to amalgamate smaller family farms into huge monster enterprises;
. corporatising of farming;
. increasing margin pressures on farmers because real (inflation adjusted) prices for agricultural output have been falling for decades;
. the slow and ceaseless death of rural towns and communities;
. the endless migration of people from the country to the big cities;
. the appeals to find a farmer a wife – because many women don’t want the hard work and pressure of living in a rural community.

Perhaps there is value in the European subsidies after all !

So, realistically, what is the chance of a substantial cut in European agricultural subsidies?

Try no chance at all.

Government Spin

I’m so tired of the spin doctored bullshit we hear from Government Ministers, and their Opposition shadows.

The Government Ministers cannot ever admit to a mistake, and have to make a positive out of everything that ever happens, or put a positive spin on every ideological utterance. But we all know it’s bullshit, so all that happens is they lose credibility.

Opposition shadow ministers have to be negative and tear down any and everything, usually with stupid or specious arguments. But we all know it’s bullshit, so all that happens is they lose credibility.

In South Australia we have one politician who seems to generally steer clear of the crap, and talk simply and straight. He is Rob Kerin, Opposition leader. For that privilege he leads a band of back stabbing, dysfunctional ideologues who would like nothing more than to get rid of him.

Is it any wonder that politicians are held in low esteem?

(And for the record, I think the current state Labor Government are doing a pretty fair job, and seem less ideologically driven than their Liberal counterparts. But gee, I do wish they would tone the endlessly positive bullshit spin down a bit.)

Marienberg 1999 Shiraz

The other night I opened one of the Marienberg 1999 Shiraz cleanskins picked up for the bargain basement price of $85 / dozen.

By crikey this was a good red.

If you live down South and feel like a quick hike to McLaren Vale for a bargain, jump to it, this won’t last forever.

To get a bottle aged 5-6 year old wine where some other mug has paid for aging is just a miracle. Leap to it while you can.

One Tel’s Interest Rate

I received this in the regular Crikey squatters email on 18 Oct, and it was so good I laughed out loud:

(And I unashamedly quote direct from Crikey)

6. How Kerry Packer juggles the balls when providing finance

If you ever wondered what interest rate Kerry Packer charges when he provides finance to his investment companies, this paragraph from today’s Financial Review report on the ongoing One.Tel court case in the NSW Supreme Court offers some guidance:

John Howards Industrial Law Changes

Thank you Duncan, you expressed this so well that I’m not repeating anything, but I am offering a link.

Please, read what Duncan wrote about Johnies Industrial Relations “Reforms” here.

I agree wholeheartedly.

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Part 2 – I had to include this when I read it in Crikey. This is written by a call centre operator taking questions from the public about proposed changes. Read it and weep. (Thanks Crikey – I’m pinching this in its entirety.)

A disgruntled WorkChoices Hotline operator writes:

I also work in the WorkChoices Hotline call centre in Dixon, Canberra. Generally I can confirm what has been written so far about the call centre and its methods. But it is worse than that…

As well as stock answers, we are given stock questions designed to pre-position the caller for the misleading response. The “answers” are then read out in dot-point form, all the better to manoeuvre the listener one step at a time, so that they don’t notice they’ve been bamboozled. You can see why the Government loves the call centre Joe Sixpack calls a child as young as 16 to find out about his rights, and there’s no chance a Tony Walker or Annabel Crabb will be able to ask difficult questions, identify the lies and expose the spin.

I had a caller on Thursday asking about the 38-hour week. The answers on this question are entirely soothing, and give little inkling that the maximum hours will be 38 ANNUALISED hours and therefore there will be no overtime. She hung up entirely reassured when the outcome will in fact be a dramatic change to what she expects.

On the other hand, the cafe owner from Queensland seemed to be far happier. His frank questions focussed on how he could sod*mise his staff, and how soon. “I have someone turning 17 can I sack him rather than pay him more after his birthday? Do these agreements need to be written down or is a handshake enough? The AIRC came in here last year to make sure the award was up and my hours written down will they be able to do that? I’ve got two 14-year olds who do dishes on Sunday can I stop paying them extra for Sunday?” And so on.

The final category of caller is the “already seen it in action” type people who have gone from awards to AWAs. One lady was almost in tears becasue now many Australians will know what she experiences the one day a year when “I have to go to the boss and justify my existence.” The lady says she does a good job and works hard, but the boss just uses the threat of the business not being viable. The lady knows she does not have good negotiating skills and “stays up all night” with worry the night before this “negotiation.”

These are the sorts of questions, and stories, to which I must lamely respond: “This centre is to provide information about the planned changes for information on current arrangements please call WageLine…” We are watched, not by our supervisors from call centre group Excelior (sub-contractors to Telstra), but by Department of Employment and Workplace Relations personnel. The grey-haired DEWR men love to chat to the attractive young ladies, which at least keeps them off my back.

Oh dear oh dear, what con. Howard and his ideological cronies will be judged harshly by history.

The Gourmet Hot-Dog

Hot dogs the other night…

Hot dogs with a difference. These had a proper sausage inside, not those horrible things that normal hot dogs have. But better than that, take a look at the masterpiece that the oldest son made:

To make this yourself, take a hot dog bun, add the sausage, tomato sauce, roasted tomato, roasted capsicum, cucumber, lettuce, fetta cheese and olives.

The fetta should be the sort that has been marinated with herbs and chilli. The olives should be real Kalamata, not those horrible uniformly black things. And remember to pit them!

Yummmmmmm…..

Dr Nelson

For those not in the know, our Federal Minister of Education is Dr Brendan Nelson.

For those even more not in the know, education in Australia is a strange mish-mash of State and Federal responsibility.

All non-tertiary schooling is delivered and regulated by the states.

Tertiary education is much more confusing.

Traditionally, the Federal government has concerned itself with tertiary education, and kept its nose out of everything else, apart from throwing dollops of money around now and again – mostly at the private sector schools.

Recently, Brendan has been throwing his weight around demanding all sorts of things from the states.

This brought to mind a comment from a distant relative of mine, a former English teacher:

“Brendan Nelson was one of my students when he was in High School, and I’m very disappointed in the way he has turned out.”

Need I say more?

McLaren Vale day trip

Last day on leave today – back to work next week.

As promised a while ago (after opening a bottle of Kay Brothers Merlot), it was time for a trip today to McLaren Vale. This is a about a 120 km round trip from where I live (ie from North of Adelaide to South, and back again).

I made the mistake of taking South Road.

If I ever even think about driving South Road again, somebody please hit me!

I hate South Road. Getting from Salisbury to Darlington took an hour – at midday, out of peak time, and then that stupid ONE-DIRECTIONAL expressway had not changed directions so I could not use that.

After driving for an hour and half down South B#$%y Road we finally arrived. Lunch at Marienberg Limburners restaurant made up for the crappy drive though.

If you are ever in McLaren Vale and want a really good meal – go to the Limeburners. My Kangaroo was fabulous (yes, in Australia we eat both of the animals on our coat of arms – the Kangaroo and the Emu – and they are both delicious). SWMBO* had a pasta thingy with lots of roast vegetables and a rich tomato sauce, and the children both had a warm chicken salad. This last is a bit cliched now, but I have never seen anything like this before. Slices of chicken with baby spinach leaves, mint, orange, pine nuts, roast capsicum, and a dill mayonnaise. Mmmmmmm!

There were two major reasons for driving all that way – buying wine, and buying olives. It is possible to get good olives at the central market, and that is what we would have done if it were not for the need for wine…

Lunch at Marienberg gives a 10% discount on their wines – which came as a very nice surprise. Even nicer was their selling a cleanskin 1999 Shiraz for $8.00 a bottle / $85 a case. And it was available for tasting. And it was REALLY good. A case of that one slipped into the back of the car, along with a few others they had which were not too bad.

Next up – a trip to Kay Brothers, for more red wines. Everything was good – the straight Merlot (normally a fairly disappointing wine from so many other producers) was exceptional. So was the Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Amery Shiraz. Strangely, I also had to buy a few of those, to leave sleeping for a year or two before drinking. Best of all, which I could not go past was a Tawny Port.

Port is expensive to make, mainly because it ties up inventory for ridiculously long periods of time (10 years or often much more), so there is not all that much port made any more.. Most of the small wineries still make port, but only in small quantities. The big wineries make industrial port, many of which are harsh, cheap and nasty.

Anyhow, Kays Tawny Port is just divine. It would have to be one of the best tawnies I’ve tried in ages. Sweet, rich, nutty, not a hint of harshness or acidity. Nectar of the gods…

And then… olives. Went to a couple of places: The Olive Grove (if you go, make sure you joing Club Olive beforehand, you get a discount). They have lovely Kalamata olives that we have been buying for years.

About 8 or 9 months ago we also discovered Brian’s Olive Shop in the main road of McLaren Vale. His olives are also locally grown, locally prepared, and very very nice. They are also slightly cheaper!

Along the way we also found, tried, and bought some spicy spread / dip / jam thingies, products of the Spice Girlz. Their Hakuna Matata is hot, spicy, and fruity. The Moroccan Jam is based mainly on capsicum, but also with lots of chilli to give it a lift. I reckon both will go very nicely with roast beef, in sandwiches, or on scrambled eggs.

A day of pure food indulgence, with the promise of a few more to come at home as the various jars and bottles are opened and eaten…

Please South Australians, stop the parochial whining about little things… We are truly blessed to have such a fabulous climate and such wonderful food made from good ingredients, produced by so many dedicated growers, processors and winemakers.

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* SWMBO = She Who Must Be Obeyed

Creamy Garlic Prawns & Pasta

This one is based on a few recipes that have come our way over the last few months.

We had one from an advertisement which we thought could be a bit improved, and had eaten another a couple of months ago but could not remember exactly what was in it.

A trip to the central market today saw us come home with a car load of wonderful fresh REAL food, so it was the perfect opportunity to try something new.

This went down really well…

Creamy Garlic Prawns & Pasta

About 400g pasta – shells or spirals are best
About 750g raw prawns
1 large tomato or about 15 cherry tomatoes
About 1/4 to 1/2 a capsicum
1 tbsp olive oil
About 1 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
About 1/2 to 1 cup white wine
About 1/2 to 1 cup Cream
A hunk of fetta cheese, about 3 x 4 x 2 cm
About 10 basil leaves

Chop the tomato and capsicum into small pieces, or if using cherry tomatoes, halve each. Place these in a shallow dish, sprinkle over a little olive oil, and bake in a moderate oven for 3/4 to 1 hour or until the tomato is slightly browned, well cooked, and sticky. Set aside.

Prepare the prawns by removing shells, head, tail, and de-veining (slow and boring).

Start the pasta cooking in boiling salted water.

Meanwhile, cook the onion and garlic in a pan with the butter and olive oil, for a few minutes until the onion is transparent.

Add the white wine, bring to the boil, and add the prawns. Cook until the prawns are all pink – about 3-4 minutes. Add the cream, and bring back to the boil. Reduce a little over a high heat if needed.

When the pasta is cooked, drain it, then tip back into the saucepan it was cooked in. Add the tomato & capsicum to the prawn & wine mix, and stir through. Make sure to include the oil and sticky bits from the bottom of the tomato pan – this is where half the flavour is!

Add all this to the pasta. Crumble the fetta cheese in, and tear the basil leaves into small pieces.

Stir everything through well, and serve immediately with a green salad. Sprinkle with a little fresh parmesan if you like.

The great Bali holiday adventure

Sorry Gra, but I’m not taking your suggestion.

We had booked 3 generations of the extended family for a Bali holiday at Christmas – not in the touristy areas, up in the mountains.

We booked accommodation and air fares back in January, and have since been watching with concern what seems to be a campaign to target Australians for drug trafficking. Mind you – it does seem that most of them are damn idiots, but I’m not so sure about one of them…

The second bombing though has done the trick. This was a deliberate targeting of families and children eating in a public area, with home-made bombs loaded with ball bearings and other nasties to make lots of shrapnel, and inflict as much damage as possible.

After much agonising and discussion and phone calls and emails between the various family members in Adelaide and Melbourne, we’ve pulled the pin. The trip is off.

Instead we are all going to Port Douglas. It will be hot and steamy, and rainy – much like Bali, I guess. I can think of a few advantages though:

- no passports and customs
- a shorter flight
- slightly lower cost (mainly air fares – even after the cancellation fees)
- very unlikely to get blown up
- less likely to get drugs planted in your luggage
- if anything happens it’s in the Australian legal system
- and best of all, it avoids coming home through that hell-hole known as International Arrivals in Melbourne.

So, lets hope this all works out OK. Maybe one of these days the Indonesians will get their local radicals sorted out – I hope for their sake it will be soon because if not, their economy will go down the toilet pretty quickly.

Wallace and Gromit

Yesterday afternoon I went with the extended family to see “Wallace and Gromit and the curse of the Were-Rabbit”.

I want to see it again. There were so many jokes, both visual and spoken, that I could not catch them all. The creators obviously had LOTS of fun making this…

If you have not seen it, then make sure you do, and watch out for Wallace’s jar of “middle-aged spread”, and the obvious paying homage to King Kong.

I’ll be getting this when it comes out on DVD – if only so I can watch it slowly to try and catch all the gags I missed.

Bizarre Restaurant in Shenzhen

When in Shenzhen the people in the office took me to one of their regular lunch spots. This offers a set menu for a low price (about A$5).

The restaurant is on about the 5th floor of a large building, and its a bit strange. Here’s an attempt at a description…

When leaving the lifts we were confronted by the obligatory 2 or 3 girls standing in front a closed door. They leapt to the door handle and pulled it open so we could enter.

Inside was quite dark, very large with lots of tables. There were cooks in white behind counters so you can see everything being prepared. There are large screens (very large – maybe 3 x 4 metres) showing fashion parades!

This is obviously a very cool place to go and be seen, which seems a bit odd for a place offering a low price fixed menu, where business people go for lunch.

The most striking feature was the black runway / catwalk which must be about 50 metres long running the length of the place from one end to the other. This is raised above the diners alongside – maybe 3/4 metre up, and has lights pointing upward at regular intervals on both sides.

When I asked where to go for the toilets, I was told to look for the sign on the floor down the far end of the runway… oh yeah… and the toilets are unisex.

So I set off down the runway, and finally made it to the far end where there was a doorway with a waterfall on the side side, but no sign… Looking around in the gloom I finally spied a mark on the floor showing the universal male & female symbols, next to a grey patch of wall. The sign was projected from above using some kind of focussed light beam thingy.

As I approached the sign, the grey patch on the wall turned out to be sliding door which slid back with a space-ship style whoosh as I approached.

On the other side… more girls standing around… at which point I was wondering just what kind of strange place this was… but it was all innocent. Inside were a collection of cylindrical things (I can’t call them cubicles, because a cubicle is square), each with a separate door. There was a girl to greet, another to point to a free cylinder, another to open the door…

Once inside, it was just a standard toilet in a round thing. Did my stuff, opened the door… this time nobody around (!!)… now to find my way out. Heading off in what I thought was the right direction I eventually found the grey patch of wall… whoosh as the door slid open when I got near… back past the fountain… strutted my stuff down the runway… back to the lunch table.

Certainly this is one of the strangest toilet experiences I’ve ever had.

Lunch after that was a bit of an anticlimax, apart from the fact that to serve it required about 6 staff for the 6 of us at the table: 2 to bring it on a tray, 2 to take it off the tray and put on the table, 1 to constantly re-arrange cutlery, and 1 to stand around supervising.

And the food? Not bad!

How far is the world from disaster?

Take a moment to think about how dependent our world has become on the modern essential services: water, electricity, sewerage.

In particular – think about how dependent we are on electricity.

Our modern houses need it for heating, cooling and lighting. We need it for refrigeration and cooking.

Think a bit more about our modern lifestyles – we need electricity for our workplaces – again to run the lighting, heating and cooling systems.

Think some more about the crazy waste – office buildings with huge areas of glass are still being built in Australia. Without cooling they are uninhabitable in an Australian summer. Why are these buildings built? For looks – to inflate the architects ego.

Think about all those other office buildings with an abundance of natural light available, so they have a great big roof to block it out, and artifical lighting inside that is run all day long.

Think about people who don’t understand air-conditioning. Walk around your suburb on a hot day and listen and look – see how many people with refrigerative systems have the windows and doors open. You will be surprised.

Think about all those people with courtyard houses, or palaces with a pool and no garden.

Think about the children who don’t know where food comes from – apart from a supermarket. All that food which is highly dependant on technology for delivery to us.

We have a society full of people who are now incapable of surviving without the benefits of electricity. They don’t know how to grow anything. They don’t know how to care for animals. They don’t know how to preserve food without refrigeration. In many cases they don’t know how to preserve food WITH refrigeration.

Now suppose that the electricity supply failed. Suppose it was off for year.

How many people would survive?

How many would have no idea of how to keep themselves alive?

How many know enough about basic food hygene without refrigeration?

Just imagine – all those refrigerators – useless.

All those swimming pools growing algae.

All those people getting food poisoning because they eat things that have gone off.

How long do you think the current “civilised” society would last?

My guess – about a week.

After that the panic would set in, and the survivors will be those who know how to grow, how to raise animals, how to cook…

The difference between civilisation and total anarchy: about a week.

The shortage of doctors

I’m pretty pissed off about constantly reading and hearing about the shortage of doctors, be they GP’s or specialists.

Does anybody remember a health minister in the Federal Government called Michael Wooldridge?

Does anybody remember how he could not limit the number of doctors being trained, so he restricted the issuing of Medicare provider numbers (thus ensuring they could not register and get paid?)

This was back in about 1996 or 1997.

And now having restricted the number of new doctors entering the health system, we have a shortage about 10 years later.

Gee… what a surprise…

This government created the problem, now they are importing doctors from 3rd world counties (where they would deliver far better health outcomes, where the shortage of doctors is even greater).

Crazy.

Kays Merlot

I’ve just finished a bottle of 1999 Kays Merlot.

I’m not normally very impressed by a straight Merlot – most seem to die in the flavour stakes.

This one, though, was magnificent.

I feel a trip to Kays coming on when I’m on leave next week….

(For those interested, Kays is in McLaren Vale, and often hard to get in bottle shops. They specialise in reds and last time I was there, they do a pretty good Port as well.)

Shenzhen Photos

Some photographs in Shenzhen… Not many because I did not get many chances…

View from my Hotel at about 8:30 in the morning. Is that haze due to pollution?

I think (based onthe play equipment that this is a kindy for small children. I was especially taken with the contrast between the tiny building with the fading blue roof, and the huge multi-story buildings all around:

The subway is vast, clean, efficient. In the early morning, the pedestrian view at one of the stations was this:

We took a visit to a huge new apartment complex being built. There will be >1300 apartments at Mangrove West when this is complete:

A couple of night scenes:

And finally… this was in the bathroom in my hotel. I was especially amused by the ear cleaning:

The relevant part, enlarged a bit so you can read it. The colums are time (30 minutes), and cost (120 RMB – about A$24, or 80 RMB – about A$16 if completed before 9pm):

Shenzhen

I was picked up from the flash and expensive hotel and driven over the border into Shenzhen – about an hours drive.

You have the completely bizarre experience of filling out a Hong Kong exit card, and a China entry card (as well as needing a China entry visa), then passing through HK and China immigration and customs.

Der… I thought Hong Kong was part of China now… but not for customs and immigration.

I did not get to see a great deal of Shenzhen, so I can only give a few fleeting impressions, here is a stream of consciousness dump:

Big…

lots of money been spent…

fantastic subway and cheap to use – journeys start at 1 Yuan (about A$0.20)…

hot and humid…

lots and lots of people…

is that murkiness in the air due to the heat and humidity, or pollution? …

beggers…

lots of people about doing very menial jobs…

busy… activity everywhere…

After a couple of days I was sure I was coming down with a cold. By then time I got back to Hong Kong I was sniffly and feeling lousy. Strangely though after coming back to Australia it cleared up pretty much immediately. I’m wondering now if the air is full of gunge that was making me feel sick.

As for the people with menial jobs:

- There was a guard in a nice uniform at the entrance to the company office building. She stood there each day doing nothing at all – just watching. Can you imagine having that as a job – standing all day in uniform in about 32 degrees with about 98% humidity???

- We went for lunch each day to a few eateries nearby. Each had people standing around who would leap out and open doors, or say Nee Hah (hello??) as you walked in. That was their job…

Photos to follow…

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