There’s a rumble in the jungle

There’s a rumble in the jungle. And it’s emanating from my stomach.

Breakfast feels as if it was a long time ago, which would explain the gurgling coming from my mid-section. And even then, it was only a few pieces of sweet roti and a slice of cassava cake. I’ve hiked for miles since eating it.

Perhaps sensing my hunger, or more likely hearing the evidence of it, Mr Epi stops on the jungle track and smiles back at me. ”Don’t worry, Mr Ben, we will have lunch soon. Edible ferns, eh?”

Ah, edible ferns. My favourite type of ferns. At least for eating.

Mr Epi has been gathering handfuls of them from the side of the track, hacking at their base with his machete and tearing at their long green stems. He’s got a pretty decent handful now, which he assures me will make a smashing salad to go with our yams.

Except we haven’t found any yams. Mr Epi has been poking the ground and occasionally digging with a stick, but so far it’s resulted in nada. We have, however, found a large mandarin tree, so Mr Epi suggests a jungle hors d’oeuvre. ”Do you want a mandarin?”

I nod, thinking he must have seen a fresh one lying on the ground. But no, the best bits of fruit are still hanging from the tree, high at the top of the jungle canopy. Mr Epi leaps into the branches and starts to shimmy up, eventually tiptoeing out on a tiny limb to pick the best specimens.

”Here it comes!” he yells, hurling fruit down in my direction, expecting me to catch it. Soon it’s raining mandarins, giant hunks of Fijian produce thudding to the earth around me. I don’t know whether I’m being fed or attacked.em

By now you’re probably wondering pretty much the same thing I’ve been wondering: Where am I, and what am I doing here?

The first part is easy: I’m in Fiji, on the island of Ovalau, halfway up a steep hillside on an old walking track between Lovoni, a village in the centre of the island, and the town of Levuka on the coast.

The second part is more of a head-scratcher. Officially, I’m here for a hike, to experience life the way Mr Epi’s fellow villagers did before the introduction of roads and cars, to tramp through the jungle on a track that used to be the only way to Ovalau’s version of the big city. Unofficially, I’m slogging it out through humid air and thick undergrowth for hours on end. But hey, this is something the Lovoni locals used to do every week, and that’s why I’m giving it a shot.

Great travel should be about authenticity, and you can’t argue with the authenticity of Mr Epi’s tour. I just didn’t expect it to be so hard on the knees.

We began this morning with a short tour of Lovoni, before sitting down on a mat outside Mr Epi’s house to share a typically simple Fijian breakfast washed down with tea made from the leaves of the lemon tree growing right next to us.

Then we hit the track, stepping through streams and over tree roots as the jungle closed in above and the undergrowth started to thicken below.

Pretty soon Mr Epi’s machete went from scary accessory to vital tool as he hacked us a path up the mountain. Ever since then Mr Epi has been passing on his jungle survival tips, explaining what you can and can’t eat when hiking through nature’s supermarket.

Chew this if you have a headache, he says; boil this for a fever; only eat these when they’ve turned yellow; rub this on a wound.

The lunch we have planned for today is supposed to be jungle cuisine at its foraged finest: roasted yams with a salad of lemon juice and ferns.

Of course, we still haven’t found yams, and Mr Epi is determined to hold out until we do, which is why my stomach rumbles are increasing at the same rate my enthusiasm for bush knowledge is starting to wane.

Finally, Mr Epi thinks he spies a yam plant. He throws his machete down, grabs a sharpened stick and starts hacking at the earth, emerging with two dirt-encrusted tubers in his fists. ”Lunch, Mr Ben,” he smiles. ”Lunch.”

Soon there’s a fire going and the yams have been roasted, Mr Epi has stripped the fern leaves and mixed them with lemon juice, and all is right with the world. We tear at the hot tubers with our hands; we shovel fern salad in as a chaser.

The result is a surprise. Authenticity might be hard on the knees, but it also tastes good.

Have you eaten wild food when travelling? What’s been your experience? Leave your comments below.

KEEP UP WITH THE BACKPACKERsmh杭州夜生活; [email protected]杭州夜生活

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

Putting fun back into shopping

Can Kit Cheong’s methods put a smile on our retail dial?When Darren Lehmann took over as coach of the beleaguered Australian cricket team a couple of weeks ago, he encouraged his charges to see playing cricket as a fun thing to be do again, rather than as a stressful job. In Lehmann’s credo, having a bit of fun was the key to unlocking the players’ best performances. Results on the field quickly improved.

Kit Cheong hopes that putting the fun back into shopping will have a similar effect on Australian consumers, helping to unlock their tightly closed purses and wallets. She is the CEO of the Australian subsidiary of Japan-based variety store chain Daiso, which has just opened a 900-metre flagship store at Westfield Parramatta in suburban Sydney. It is Daiso’s fourth store in Australia but easily its largest.

Many more stores are planned across the country and by the end of 2013 the retailer will have 16 open in NSW, Victoria and Queensland. This will come as unwelcome news to retailers who have overlapping product lines such as variety stores, discount department stores and pharmacies.

To many Australian shoppers without a heap of disposable income, shopping and fun are two words they would rarely utter in the same sentence. Daiso is setting out to alter that perception with all guns blazing. In doing so it draws from the playbook of other wildly successful global retailers such as Costco and Aldi, which have figured out how to drive repeat visits by turning shopping trips into treasure hunts.

What is the secret of the treasure hunt?

Treasure hunts can be created within the shopping experience in a variety of ways. Daiso’s recipe includes the following:

Revolving inventory. You will not find all of the same products in the store each time you come. Part of the inventory rotates in and out, inducing shoppers to come back to see what’s new. It also creates a sense of urgency among shoppers that if they don’t buy it now they may not have an opportunity to do so in the future.

Roughly one-fifth of the average store comprises core lines that are always in stock. These are best sellers across the company’s 24 product categories, such as storage solutions, stationery and Japanese crockery. The remaining inventory is changed regularly.

Colourful and attractive products. Stores are a blaze of colour, with simple everyday products brought to life in whimsical hues and fabrications. Packaging carries labelling in both Japanese and English. Mundane objects become novel. This is heaven for the impulse buyer.

Compelling and uniform prices. Every item in a Daiso store sells for $2.80. This simplifies things for both customer and retailer – the customer doesn’t need to look for a price tag and the retailer doesn’t need to spend time and personnel resources changing price tags went it wants to mark something down. This frees up labour to help customers and do other chores.

Shoppable stores. Australian shoppers have been driven crazy for years by pocket-sized specialty stores with narrow aisles and poor sightlines that make navigation difficult and browsing a misery. The set-up works well for landlords who can harvest more rent from small spaces, but any pretense at shoppability goes out the window.

Global retailers like Daiso operate larger stores partly so that they can create superior visual merchandising experiences. Daiso’s Parramatta store also has low shelf heights of 1.5 – 1.8 metres so that even a fairly short person can easily gain a panoramic view of the whole store from any location within it.

Hard-to-find items. Looking for a finger-holed futon clip? A laundry net? While many items on display are taken for granted, some are so ‘out there’ they seem at first like solutions looking for a question. Or they address problems elegantly that the shopper may have solved by alternative means. But this is a key to Daiso’s technique for putting ‘fun’ back into shopping: it prods you with a constant question as you walk through the store and examine its products: “Why did no one ever think of this before?”

Daiso will have an easier time rolling out a large store count in Australia than Costco, Aldi and other international entrants. This is partly because Daiso doesn’t sell groceries so it will not be kept out of shopping centres by opposition from the supermarket majors.

Another key attraction in Daiso for landlords is its value proposition to lower-income people and its capacity to draw traffic to a centre. It is big enough and strong enough to behave like an ‘anchor’ store.

It will not be all a stroll in the park Daiso. The supply chain that stretches back to Japan (55 per cent of Daiso’s inventory is manufactured there) will be tortuous to manage, particularly as its low-cost business model militates against air shipment.

Speaking of costs, labour costs are a key challenge since they are too high in Australia to support the same high-service model that is possible in Asia.

These obstacles are unlikely to bring much joy to its competitors though. They too will be forced to find ways of offering a more ‘fun’ shopping experience. After a lifetime of drudgery, that will be a hard act to pull off.

Michael Baker is principal of Baker Consulting and can be reached at [email protected]杭州夜生活m and www.mbaker-retail杭州夜生活m

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

New drug hope for breast cancer

Breakthrough: Breast cancer researchers Delphine Merino, Francois Vaillant, Geoff Lindeman and Jane Visvader. Photo: Walter and Eliza Hall InstituteAnti-cancer drugs in clinical trials for some types of leukaemia could prove effective in treating the most common type of breast cancer, according to Australian researchers.

A team from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute have found that a drug known as BH3-mimetics, when combined with another breast cancer drug called tamoxifen, effectively treats some types of breast cancers.

Known as aggressive oestrogen receptor-positive, or ER-positive, they represent about 70 per cent of breast cancers.

Medical oncologist Geoff Lindeman, the joint head of Walter and Eliza Hall’s breast cancer laboratory, said that in animal trials the drug combination had either delayed tumour growth or resulted in the tumour disappearing.

“For breast cancer it looks as though you need to have the two working together,” he said. “The drug by itself does not appear effective, but certainly with the conventional breast cancer drug tamoxifen it changes things significantly.”

The researchers used tumour samples taken from breast cancer patients and implanted them in mice whose immune system was unable to reject the tissue. The mice were then treated with the drug combination.

“This meant the responses that we saw were in real human breast cancers,” he said. “We’re all very excited by this.”

Professor Lindeman said the findings also had potential implications for other types of tumour-based cancers.

The common thread between these breast cancer types and some types of leukaemia is the molecule BCL-2. This molecule, which is expressed in up to 85 per cent of ER-positive breast cancers, serves as a kind of lifeline for cancer tumours.

“BCL-2 can make tumours more resistant to chemotherapy,” Professor Lindeman said. “So in a sense we have turned this lifeline into an Achilles heel because we’re able to switch off the survival pathways of this specific molecule.”

Professor Lindeman said this made cancer cells less likely to survive treatment, when combined with the breast cancer drug tamoxifen.

Improved targeting of treatments, as opposed to the “one size fits all” approach of chemotherapy, also has the potential to reduce side effects in patients.

The work, by a research team including Jane Visvader, Francois Vaillant and Delphine Merino, is published in the journal Cancer Cell on Tuesday. Human clinical trials could begin within a few years, Professor Lindeman said.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

Charity register aims to boost transparency

Where does the money go? … People are most likely to trust a charity that is open about how donations are used. Photo: Peter MorrisAn online charity register allowing Australians to compare and contrast the ways their donations are spent will improve transparency and may help mend a national reluctance to give to lesser-known charities, according to the sector’s new regulator.

A survey commissioned by The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, to be released Tuesday, shows people are most likely to trust a charity that is open about how donations are used. To make this easier, the regulator, which was set up last year to boost trust and reduce red tape in the sector, will on Thursday launch a searchable database that allows donors to peruse the financial records of 57,600 registered charities.

Commissioner Susan Pascoe said that up until now finding information about individual charities has been a big job. She hopes the register, which will be on the commission’s website and also be available as a mobile app, will make it easier for donors looking for more detail.

“If you want to feel confident that a charity to which you are going to provide a donation has good financial management and is well governed you can look at that on the register and make your own assessment,” she said.

Charities with an annual turnover of less than $250,000 are not required to attach an annual report to the register. Charities with with a revenue of between $250,000 and $1 million are required to report, and charities that pull in more than $1 million need to submit an audited annual report.

Ms Pascoe said the results of a recent survey of 1624 Australians and several focus groups, conducted by ChantLink, had revealed donors have a tendency to contribute to charities well-known to them, fearing that smaller groups they had never heard of might not be genuine. She said the register may help donors check information on smaller charities that have less money to spend on promotion.

The research found that while Australians typically regarded charities as trustworthy their confidence grew upon learning the sector now had a regulator. About 60 per cent said they had “high levels of trust” in charities.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.