Grad School

Well, I am currently in Russian class, which is today being exceptionally and exclusively delivered in Dutch.  Needless to say, I have no idea what’s going on—so after a rather protracted break, voici—a blog post!

I handed in my final piece of work for my Masters course nearly a month ago now.  Already.  I don’t even know how that happened.  It seems max four months ago that I was sitting in my course convenor’s office, giggling uncontrollably because I was so excited to start!!  (Yup, I’m that student.)  The last six months in particular were spectacular—in terms of my subjects, in terms of writing my papers, and in terms of writing my dissertation as an experience.  Plus, I’ve been lucky enough to have some truly awesome professors at the school.

Grad school is very different in Europe to in Australia, I think.  I don’t know that many people who have done it in Australia, for a start.  It’s not really necessary.  But here, everyone gets their Masters—there’s no question about it; it’s a market necessity.  In countries such as Germany you can do it for free, and here in Belgium it’s 800 euro a year (if you’re not at a British university, which I am).  This leads to a couple of peculiarities.  For one, a huge number of people seem to do their Masters without any actual interest in the subject area whatsoever.  It’s not about ‘mastering’ something, it’s about getting a piece of paper in order to start life.  To me this seems problematic for several reasons—firstly, people are expending a lot of time and capital in getting a qualification which they are not interested in, while simultaneously ‘education inflation’ means that a Masters degree will lead only to a couple of years of free internships before being considered for a paid job.  It becomes an entry-level qualification, or even a sub-entry qualification.  Secondly (thirdly?), there’s this idea of ‘paying for a piece of paper’.  Even though my school is way more expensive than the others in the region (again, British university :/), this is something which has been said to me a few times.  I have one guy in mind, who during his first semester bragged about not doing a single reading, didn’t participate in class (when he showed up at all), and just wants to ‘scrape through’ like he ‘did in his undergrad’, because at the end of the day the bit of paper is all that matters.  What kind of heresy is that?!  And yet these are the people with whom I am competing in the jobs market—and in fact they, in many if not all cases, have an advantage, because while they may not have actually learned anything, they are EU citizens and usually at least bilingual.  But they just don’t care !!!  Aaaagh!!!

Frustrations aside however, my course has been absolutely fantastic.  In writing my last round of papers, I couldn’t help but think what an incredible privilege it is—to do nothing but study for a protracted period of time, and to conduct investigations and write papers on topics in which we’re interested.  I mean, how much further from subsistence living can you get?  Education is such a magical and rewarding thing, and I’m so glad (/amazed/in awe) that it’s something I’ve had access to.  As a woman particularly, there are so many times in human history in which this would not have been open to me—relatively recent times.  And even now, in countries all over the world, it’s not a possibility.  So yeah.  I feel lucky.  Really, really lucky.

As to what’s next, well—the eternal question!  I’m still flip-flopping between going straight on to do a PhD, and returning to work.  I think I’m tilting slightly towards the latter, but we’ll see.  And, after all, I have time to think about it: in the morning, I’m flying out of Bxl, and I’ll be spending the next few weeks walking 500km along the Spanish coast.  I’ll then be spending some time in Madrid with Nastya (who has now moved from Wales to Spain with her family), before coming back to start whatever it is I’m doing next.  Ah, how glad I am that ‘direction’ is over-rated…


I have just spent two hours listening to a man spouting some of the most hateful bullshit I’ve ever heard in my life, without being permitted to say anything or give an opinion in return.  He was good-looking and I’m an idiot, which is how I ended up sitting down.  Forgive me.

This man is from South Ossetia (ie the breakaway region of Georgia), pro-Putin, an avid hater of gays, convinced that Jews are running the world and playing politics as if it’s a game of chess, and fairly distinctly anti-Arab Muslim.  I don’t even know where to start.  I’m actually overwhelmed.  ‘Flabbergasted’ would be the appropriate word, if it wasn’t so ridiculous-sounding.  It probably goes without saying, but none of the below reflects my opinions in any way.

I guess I’d better start with gays.  He told me all about how:

  • Being gay is a choice.
  • Nobody in Russia gives a fuck because it’s sick and barbaric, and these people are monkeys who ‘care more about someone fucking their asshole’ than about their parents, heritage, brains or future.
  • Girls can choose either way at any time, but when a guy chooses to become gay, there’s no going back. He’s doomed.
  • A lot of guys in Russia choose to be gay to make good money. Because you see, if someone is good-looking but has no brain, their best option is to become a prostitute.  And these stupid, good-looking young men want money, so rather than do the ‘right’ thing, fulfil their ‘main role’ in life, they instead choose to fuck fat old guys in exchange for cash.  Because iPhones and travel.
  • Nobody in Russia would want their child to be gay. Gay isn’t normal, and the ‘gay movement’ is ruining Europe and the West and causing massive demographic problems.  That’s right, low Western birth-rates aren’t due to high levels of education or the availability of family planning, but to people choosing to be gay.

On women:

  • Russia’s main export is women, because they are top quality. The stupid ones become prostitutes, and the other ones wives all over the world.  This is because, despite the drinking and drugs in Russia, they just have good genes.

On life and love:

  • People’s main jobs are not to kill anyone, and to have a family. A guy is supposed to meet a girl, be in love for a year and long enough to have a kid, then can move on or whatever.  Love never lasts longer than 2-3 years, because that’s all that’s necessary to have a child.  Then if the parents stay together, the feeling mutates into something else.
  • Incidentally, I told him that I’m not having kids and I’m pretty sure that makes me a deficient monster in his eyes.

Children and heritage:

  • We don’t own ourselves, we are owned by our forefathers. Because, you see, they expended the effort in having sex and then protecting their lands, so that we could be here.  So that I could be here and ‘not look Chinese’.  They gave us genetic material and their knowledge so that we could be here, so we are theirs—and as such, being gay or not having children are not choices that are permitted to us.  It is our job.
  • Incidentally, apparently all of our forefathers were laughing at the ridiculousness of gay people, they were a joke. Because that’s historically documented (this was the point at which I just couldn’t take any more, and yet again he wouldn’t let me speak, so I left.  We will be having no further conversation, one-sided or otherwise).

On politics in general:

  • The US starts a lot of conflicts throughout the world, and ‘Cold War #2’ was caused by the Russian refusal to be dependent on the Federal Reserve.
  • Europe is the US’ bitch. So is everywhere else, for that matter.
  • Putin is awesome, 95% of the country agrees, and everybody else is a self-serving criminal.

On Jews and Muslims:

  • Jews are way smarter than everybody else, and it’s them in the top positions in Russia and the US and the world in general. Thus it’s them in charge of the world, it’s all one group of people having petty spats which appear to be political conflicts.  Instead it’s all a game of chess played from within the same ‘family’.
  • The Quran asks that people have as many children as they can, and Allah will protect said children. Meanwhile Jews only have as many children as they can afford.  So while Muslim children are raised at home by ‘monkey’ uneducated women, Jewish children are ‘high quality people’.  Europe should be concerned about all of these Muslim killers immigrating as they escape from US-started wars in the Middle East.
  • Muslim (?) men like to fuck sheep in the street in the name of their religion.  (Yes, that’s an actual example he gave.)

Interestingly, at one point he said that ‘you Europeans’ think we have some kind of moral or inherent superiority, but that’s not the case.  Later on he said that those who were going to be barbarians like gays or what-have-you aren’t good enough to be in Russia, and can try their luck elsewhere.

I can’t believe I made it to 5 weeks back in this country before hearing this shit again.  I guess it’s because I avoided speaking to Russian men.  I feel sick.

Romantic Despair

It’s a fairly normal day here in Belgium.  That is to say, my housemates are eating, it’s raining outside, and I’m catching up on uni readings (aka ‘procrastinating’).  I was idly wondering to myself this morning whether such procrastinating would result in an official Valentine’s Day post—I’m (perhaps obviously) not a V-Day kind of girl, especially given I dated a guy by that name.  Now, for the first half of February, I pretty much end up narrowing my eyes at all V-Day related signs and items.  If I weren’t entirely devoid of any notion of romanticism already, the first half of February would definitely cure me.

Naturally, an essential part of my procrastination today has been reading hilarious book reviews on Goodreads.  And eventually, it always always comes back to 50 Shades reviews.  After reading a review of the second book, I stumbled across this little gem:


There you have it, people: the abusive fuckwit character of Christian Grey is ranked 27th ‘best book boyfriend’ from at least 4911 possible options (I’m assuming there’s a predictably large number of love triangles in the books included on the list).  I actually teared up.  Not with laughter, mind you—with horror.

Then it struck me: what if this number 27 ranking was only his character for the second book.  What about the first book?


Second.  Second best book boyfriend.  Wtaf.  I mean for starters, have they never read Howl’s Moving Castle?!  And he’s neurotic as fuck!  Glaaaagh what hope for humanity.

But I’m not going to launch into another diatribe against the 50 Shades series, because apparently that’s exactly what I did last Valentine’s Day.  Instead I’m just going to leave this here, and conclude that people are screwed.  In a potentially rapey, manipulative kind of way.

Domestic abuse helplines

  • UK: 0808 2000 247
  • Australia: 1800 737 732 (1800 RESPECT)
  • Canada: 1800 363 9010
  • USA: 1800 799 7233

It’s easiest for me to find the English-language hotlines, but a quick Google should help find the relevant support in your local area.

Other stuff

Lastly, please oh please, if you meet a real life Christian (or Christina) Grey, stay far far away.


I nearly accidentally punched the marketing director this week.  I mean, I’m sure that happens to a lot of people, but this was very much a close thing.  My work has just moved premises, and my new desk has me standing with my back to several passageways.  Apparently my colleagues have ninja skills, as I often don’t hear them coming until they suddenly appear behind me, scaring the daylights out of me.

That’s pretty much what happened with the marketing director.  I was working away when suddenly her voice popped up behind me, and I spun around with my fists up because apparently a boxing stance is a reflex for me.  Hmmm, and I wonder how that happened.

When I arrived back in Australia at the end of last September, I spent my first night pretty randomly at a friend’s dad’s house (my house-mate-to-be was away so couldn’t let me into the apartment).  We were having a discussion about the idea of safety while travelling.  A couple of weeks beforehand, a guy had said to me a little condescendingly that “I guess that’s a difference between men and women; you need to feel secure.”  What an incredibly stupid thing to say.  Firstly, because things like food security—which I hadn’t had for a lot of my time in Russia—are essential to everybody.  I’ve been a traveller for over ten years now, and I can’t say things like budgets or not having somewhere to stay phase me (obviously again, I made reference to financial security a lot in Russia, but that’s because I didn’t have any).  There’s a certain degree of emotional security involved, it’s true, especially once you pass the year mark: but moreover, it’s physical security.

My friend’s dad was pretty much face palming.  “Well obviously,” he said.  “Look at you—you’re a commodity in most of the world.  If I lived over [wherever], it’d be straight off to the harem with you!”  In some ways, this is a misunderstanding.

‘I wonder what ways she’s talking about,’ you might be wondering, while simultaneously worrying that I might be about to rant. Allow me to address both concerns, and say that the misunderstanding is in thinking that one country or culture is safe.  Another is that anything you can do can make you feel safe within yourself: the unpredictability of travelling heightens the lack of ability to feel safe, but it’s certainly not just inherent there.

I haven’t written about my experiences the first time I went to Turkey yet, and it’s now getting on toward 2.5 years, so it mayyyy not happen.  But basically I was there during the off-season, I was white-blonde at the time, and every single guy on the street made a comment to me.  It was exhausting.  I ended up hiring a male walking tour guide for a few days, just to help tone down the amount of harassment.  Of course, he’d finish at 3pm each day, and I’d last until about 4pm before I couldn’t take it any more and would return to hide in my hostel.  I didn’t even go out for dinner, I ordered in.

Or of course, there’s the one particularly persistent guy in Colombia who followed me down the street for a kilometre or so, saying obscene things to me.  (Or that other guy I mentioned).  In Russia, there was the guy who groped me on the trolley-bus: you couldn’t even call it ‘upper thigh’ any more.  Or the big group of ‘Stan guys I found myself in the midst of on NYE in Piter, one of whom grabbed my ass as they all jeered at me.  My reflex on that occasion was to lean back and smash my elbow into his solar plexus, before having the instant terror of ‘what now, I’m surrounded?’

Oh sure, these aren’t Western countries.  Well, here’s the article from the US that set off today’s rant (when I meant to write about the epic event I went to last night, or to do the overdue ‘road trip’ posts).  There’s the time that a friend’s brother came up from behind me and licked my face ‘as a joke’.  Yup, reflexes saw his face bleeding everywhere and me crying my heart out in the middle of the club.  Or speaking of clubs, the time I danced with one guy briefly—something I don’t do in Western countries any more because of all the grinding—and when I wanted to leave he held me there, furious that I wasn’t going to fuck him.  There’s the time when I went for a massage here in Australia, and the masseuse was a guy who proceeded to wrap my hand around his dick and start jerking off.

Then there’s the cat-calls, the anxiety about walking past building sites, the constant groping in clubs or bars.  This is not a thing that is part of travelling, and it’s not a thing which is relegated to just one place or just one culture.  This is part of every single day of being a woman.

Sure, some people feel less threatened than I do.  Some people feel safe to dress up, or to wear heels they can’t run in, or invite male attention.  I feel better by putting a lot of effort into being as invisible as possible (other than having an extreme love of bright colours, it has to be said).  And it hasn’t always been this bad: for a few years up until I was 18, (having been a girl of 5’9″, 52kg when I finished school at 18, braces, glasses, bad skin, pragmatically short hair, no EQ and apparently too smart f or my own good) I got a real kick out of it.  Every time a cute guy perved on me, it was like something to be celebrated.  But then everything changed, I realised that it wasn’t always innocuous, and from 19 until I was around 23 I didn’t feel safe going out in the day time, when people could see me.

And the thing is, this is why I’m a feminist.  Not because I think men and women are the same (because I’m not freaking retarded (oh PC!!)), but because any world where I have to feel threatened because I’m a girl is just not good enough.  I’m not saying all men are bad, or predators, or anything so ridiculous.  I’m likewise not saying that being a woman is bad, nor how you choose to express it.  Nor is liking the way the opposite (or same!) sex looks.  But this physical insecurity seems invariably a part of the world we live in, and until people are treated as people rather than things, decorations or conveniences, then I’m probably always going to be a little bit angry.

A Poem for Tony

There are a few things which make me angry. Pretty high on that list are sexism, racism, climate change deniers, stupidity, and people who are bad at their jobs. As you can imagine, therefore, I’m not a big fan of the current Australian Government. In fact, the last federal election sent me into an unparalleled fb friend cull, and I still can’t talk about it without getting a rage headache. Not just rage at the politicians you understand, but at those morons who were uneducated, greedy or simply short-sighted enough to vote for them. (Deep breaths Laura, deep breaths).

Now, as we’ve seen before, when I get angry I like to write angry poems (to Greyhound coaches; to my travel agent). So, here is, as requested, a hopefully cathartic and highly sarcastic explosion at our dear prime minister, Tony Abbott. In verse.

Dearest PM Tony, it’s little old me,
Wanting to say please DO take down ABC.
Impartiality has no place in journalism,
When it compromises values like good Aussie patriotism.Cos I’m just like you, our feelings the same:
To think other nations equal, it’s a crying shame.
You’re doing a great job, don’t listen to journos
Screw those balanced bastards, let’s of them dispose.

And the UN! How dare they suggest
That our actions toward asylum seekers aren’t simply the best?
Protocol on Refugees? Treaties galore?
I didn’t sign ’em, so I say ‘what for?’

And as to these upstarts, the ICJ
Us spying?  Rigging prices?  They’re being led astray.
So don’t worry, dear Tony, I say screw the law
Ignore our commitments with gusto and guffaw.

Then there’s those bloody boat people, how dare they intrude?
And how dare they say their return is so rude?
There’s opportunities where they came from, I can’t believe they’re so lazy
Instead on a cruise–surely they’re crazy!

At least we’re doing a great job, clearing the way,
Immigration’ll nab ’em, once we clear all the cays.
And I’m so glad we’re destroying the Great Barrier Reef
I hate fish, and coral, and tourists, believe!

Then there’s ‘global warming’, what a complete joke
And cancel the carbon tax–what total hoke.
And there’s news that we’ve added to our temperature scale
What reporting is this–another ABC fail?

And speaking of getting hot under the collar,
There’s another thing about which I’ll holler:
Those impudent Canberrans I’ll have to disparage–
They tried to legislate to allow gay marriage!

Thank goodness you were there, Tony, my hero
You destroyed that legislation, set them right back to zero.
Because this ‘love’ between other people is surely our business
How dare they claim rights, it’s all a great menace!

And speaking of things to do with people and beds
What a stroke of genius, giving $200 to newly-weds
And taking it away from disabled and old
Straight marriage is more important: way to be bold!

Then there’s your foreign policy, about which I can’t say
Because all I’m good for is a roll in the hay:
Don’t you worry sir, we’ll get to that bit
Cos, after all, it’s one of your hits.

While Indonesia threatens with missiles and planes,
It’s nothing to me if it goes down the drain.
And as to our vaunted relationship with China?
What do I know?–I’ve got a vagina.

And we all know what that’s good for, don’t we old chap?
It all comes down to what sits in my lap.
You’re the guy who sold his daughters on national TV-
“I’m the one with hot daughters, so vote for me!

But of course you’re right, despite what I thought
It must have been that I was wrongfully taught
Though I’ve got two degrees and have written a book,
I should be despatched to the kitchen and immediately cook.

I know, cos you’ve told me, men have these ‘aptitudes’,
(I can’t believe I’d listened to Y gen attitudes!)
If I did aught but housework, it’d be nothing bar tragic:
I’m good at these things, because vagina magic.

Keep stripping that money from higher education
We don’t need any more qualifications in our great nation.
Cancel the program, cancel the class;
Those ‘professionals’ at unis just sit on their ass.

Then there’s the NBN, the national broadband network
I have a great secret, don’t think I’m a jerk:
This whole internet thing is ‘evil’, it’s plain to see
The train’s full of people staring at phones on their knee.

It’s brought no benefits, it’s not useful for work
We don’t need it for community or to go to the kirk.
And while I guess I admitted in Russia it’s faster,
It’s fine staying slow, ignore these past ‘masters’.

And how could I forget–I love big oil,
Promise you’ll subsidise, and the Greenies you’ll foil.
It’s clear fossil fuels are the way of the future–
And those big mining co’s could sure use a booster.

But back to the fish, and the forests, and trees:
Declassifying World Heritage areas makes you the bees’ knees.
We need no trees in our future, after all, we’re Aussies,
And we know that air’s just as plentiful as mozzies.

I know there’s those reports about Australian living standards–
Second to Norway?  We’ll surely them hand it.
And clearly this sits not on liberties, nor education;
No need for such things to be super-nation.

It sits not on our economy (it matters not you’ve no plan)
Nor on our environment–I think you’re the man!
And obviously we’re intrinsically better than all other places
Take that, rest of the world, up in yo faces.

Because as we all know, it’s not circular logic;
(Which I don’t understand, for reasons gynaecologic)
Australia’s the best, we don’t need to try
So fuck everything, for this job you’re the guy.

Tony: “it dismays Australians when the national broadcaster appears to take everyone’s side but its own and I think it is a problem.”Tony: “[asylum seekers are] people who are attempting to break Australian law” (more links: 1, 2, 3, etc) 

(ICJ =International Court of Justice in the Hague)
Charges by East Timor. Asylum seekers allegedly mistreated; towed to Indonesia, in defiance of international law.Tony: “Jesus knew that there was a place for everything and it’s not necessarily everyone’s place to come to Australia.”


Tony: “The climate change argument is absolute crap, however the politics are tough for us because 80 per cent of people believe climate change is a real and present danger.”








Tony: “I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons”; “The problem with the Australian practice of abortion is that an objectively grave matter has been reduced to a question of the mother’s convenience.”; “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially it’s going to go up in price and their own power bills when they switch the iron on are going to go up, every year…”

kirk = church in older dialects


Tony: “Why isn’t the fact that 100,000 women choose to end their pregnancies regarded as a national tragedy approaching the scale, say, of Aboriginal life expectancy being 20 years less than that of the general community?”






Ladies and gentlemen, my prime minister: