Wednesday, December 31, 2008

quicko: the paper cutter

The Australians aren't known for being dramatic, but they are. Take the paper cutter. The Australians take this humble little contraption of academic wonder and what do they call it? A paper snipper? A loose leaf jambler? A ruled scissor? Oh, no. They search high and low through the depths of history, finally settling on the proletariat of French revolution. For really, what noble paper cutter deep down is not truly a guillotine?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

australia, the movie

So I went to see Australia in Australia. (I like irony like that. I also sat at the base of the Notre Dame and read a few paragraphs of The Hunchback of Notre Dame because it seemed cool. No one else happened to comment that it was, but I appreciated my effort.)

Considering how Australia did in America, you probably haven't seen it, so I'll go ahead and fill you in on a few details. It's about Australia. And it's a bit more accurate than Finding Nemo.

Australia sees itself as an epic film and thus highlights two epic events -- the Japanese bombing of Darwin in WWII and the stolen generations of Aboriginal children forced from their parents. Now, both of these topics are genuinely huge and important and each could quite fairly be given a couple documentaries, as well as the Hollywood treatment. Squishing both into one, along with, golly gee, a plot, was packing it in and didn't quite manage to do either topic justice.

That being said, though, for an attempt to stuff all that in one place, they hung on and gave it a good, solid go*, if not quite the definitive movie. Any other movie, though, will have to exercise something of a greater creativity of title.

To be fair, if this movie is the only communication that many people will receive about Australia's history, culture and geography, you can see why they'd include such salient (yet oft-overlooked) details. You can argue that Australia's too political, or that the topics aren't the most salient points of the plot, or that they aren't the most salient points of Australian history, but they are important and it makes sense to draw attention to them.

Before the movie actually starts, there's a warning for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders that there may be images of people who have passed away; the movie also talks about the Aboriginal taboo against saying a deceased person's name. While Australians may already be aware of these concepts, I wasn't too well versed in them and found their mention fascinating.

The plot, like the history, is relatively predictable (rugged bloke; sophisticated lady; 1-D bad guy, hmmm), though ending is up for grabs until we actually get to it three hours later. I’m not really one to complain about length in movies, though. Perhaps it’s my Calvin years rubbing off, but I like feeling like I’ve got my money’s worth. But yes, there was one line at the end that was terribly cheesy. The Wizard of Oz is wonderful in its own rite, and, despite the (witty?) linguistic tie to Australia and a couple catchy tunes, I think it's far better to leave it there.

Having heard rave reviews of the Australian scenery in the film, I found it actually not as impressive as I'd thought it'd be. Of course Australia has amazing scenery, but I was expecting a tour brochure brought to life, and got more of a reality check. Dust prevailed steadily throughout, with a few glimpses of vast expanses and even fewer of with green, or really many colors save dust.

Also, based on Australia, you’d really think cattle were the national beast, with horses as its heroes. Kangaroos do make an appearance (and a rather hasty exit), but it’s entirely devoid of cuddly koalas (and it calls itself Australian!).

What relation does Australia bear to Australia today? Well, there are those accents, in varying degrees. And I did hear a good number of vocabulary words (sheila, good on ya, etc.). And it is clearly part of the history that has formed the country into what it is today. As an outsider myself, though, I don't think I can actually go much farther. I like both, though I have to say I like the country a whole lot more.

As for the acting, the adorable little Aboriginal child whose name I’d look up if this were a real review really took the prize. He of course looked the part, but also did a tremendous job acting, as well as endearing roughly all of the audience. Many Australians aren’t too crazy about Nicole Kidman, though she seemed to fit the supercilious bill fairly well in the beginning. I wouldn’t write her off entirely, but would advocate finding a different female lead for the more creatively titled film.

Oh, and did I mention Hugh Jackman? Alas, it turns out that all Australian men are not quite carbon copies.

*Go here is used, in the Australian sense, as a noun. Wasn't that clever?

Monday, December 29, 2008

quicko: to nick from another's blog

So was I just catching up on a friend's blog and found four (four!) Australian words in one post ...

--to nick off: to leave one place and go to another, as in "nicking off to Tassie." Different from "to nick" as "to steal, (often but not always) in a non-serious way."

--toblerone: chocolatey wonder! Not quite Max Brenner, but in the same league. As far as I know, toblerone just comes in bar form -- a triangular prism, to be precise. As another friend explained, growing up they didn't so much say "triangular prism" as "the toblerone shape." And they say American geometry's bad! Not only that, they pronounce it oddly. Not "tob-ler-one" as you'd imagine, but something more along the lines of "toe-bler-own." Jiminy crickets!

--to rock up: to arrive. Often late or at an unspecific or unimportant time, as in "I wonder what time she'll decide to rock up," or "they ought to rock up by five."

--to reckon: to think/have an opinion you're passing off as perhaps not quite fact, but something that's also not particularly up for debate. I know I've gone off on it before, but it's just such an everyday word in Australia, yet never ceases to appa...amaze my Midwestern ears.

There you have it. Four Australisms in one post. Don't believe me? Check it out for yourself:

Far From Home: Hark The Herald Angels Sing#c7391324768583975452

Sunday, December 28, 2008

quicko: red rooves

No, it's not a hotel -- it's all the rooves. They really are red!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

quicko: exchanging the rate

I'd like to exchange the rate this year.

As an American, I suppose I should be happy about $1US = $.65AUS, but as I am earning money in Australian dollars, I am not. Particularly as it was $1US = $.85AUS when I came over, which was approximately where I expected it to stay. Evidently it had other ideas.

I've saved my receipt and the bag I traveled over in; can I please get my .85 back?

Friday, December 26, 2008

happy christmas

Happy Christmas!

Who says "happy Christmas"? Happy New Year, yes, happy birthday, of course, but happy Christmas? The Australians say it. I got a "merry" from time to time, but by and large I was a whole lot happier than usual. In a manner of speaking.

The whole ethos of Christmas is somewhat off down under. Primarily this is due to there being sun instead of snow, which changes things ever so slightly. There's minor little details of dressing from head to toe in I-don't-care-what-as-long-as-it's-warm versus gosh-where's-the-sunscreen? or oh-look-at-the-pretty-snow-I-feel-like-ice-skating-or-sledding-or-skiing versus the man-let's-hit-the-beach mentality.

Even if it's not actually snowing in America (take this year's Cincinnati for example), people are at least suitably chilled to dash from their cars into Target (not chilled enough to avoid Graeter's of course, but that's an entirely different matter) and able to encounter holly wreaths and Jingle Bells without feeling their world is entirely out of place. (Australians are clearly much more psychologically adapted.)

Then there's the lyrics of roughly three-quarters of Christmas carols. Dashing through the Sand just doesn't have the right ring to it, nor does Frosty the Sandsculpture. Its whole premise rather disappears, in fact. And even the songs that don't directly reference snow tend to allude to it, or somehow evoke images of cold, wintery nights (why else are chestnuts roasting on an open fire? You simply can't tell me they're sides for the burning sausages on the bar-b-que.).

But despite having completely the opposite seasons, Australians have clung like mad to their British roots and hung on to pretty much everything else, including Christmas cards, gingerbread houses, trees, lights, decorations and ridiculously rampant commercialism. I suspect they even kept fruitcake.

Christmas cards are fairly obvious, but initially I had to ask (and I thought it was a fair question, I really did) if gingerbread houses were made in the winter (say, July) or at Christmas. They're Christmas wares, though. Not that I actually saw one, but, yes, theoretically, Christmas.

The poor evergreens are the new kids on the block in Sydney. They just stand there, in every public place, the most overdressed, out-of-place characters imaginable. They stare glumly at the camera-toting public as they shrivel up with severe cases of palm envy and shiver for snow.

The lights and decorations are perhaps not quite as prevalent in Australia as in America, but I have a hunch that has more to do with culture, if we can can call it that, than any sort of seasonally provoked necessity.

And Santa! He of course makes an appearance in Australia as well (though I doubt many American children ever realized he actually must stop in Australia long before he hits America), but reindeer don't do so well in the heat, so he pulls out the reserves (does he keep them at the South Pole?) of boomers -- large, white kangaroos. He wears a little less, but still delivers coal to the naughty and presents to the nice.

Since Christmas is celebrated in summer, most Australians don't feel like having the feast-to-be-topped-by-nothing-save-Thanksgiving. Instead, there's lots of seafood and fruit, which all sounds very good, particularly considering it's bathing suit season. Imagine! I think that's why they're not quite as big on Christmas cookies as Americans are -- they've got to be back in bikinis before there's time for New Year resolutions!

And so it comes that finally both Australians and Americans wade their way through miles (kilometres) of wrapping paper and ribbon, cards and carols and treats and trees and finally end up left with the one teensy detail of how Christmas all started, that little bit about the Nativity and the first noel (whatever a noel is; I'm assuming it has something to do with a manger scene ...). And the traditions differ slightly, but lots is still the same. We all sing Hark the Herald Angels Sing and O Come, All Ye Faithful and Silent Night (sans the candles down under), and we all spend time with our families, and we all go to church, and we all stop to remember that it's not about any of the traditions or seasons, but about the gift of life that God gave the whole world in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ. And we all celebrate the birth of the Baby, knowing that He grew to be the One who died on the cross, and rose again, all because of His love for every single one of us. And we marvel at His sacrifice, and the miracle of His resurrection, and the magnitude of His love.

Joy to the world -- and a very merry Christmas!!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

quicko: possum magic

Since I'm back in the land of Reasonably Priced Books, I took advantage of the situation and got myself a little amazon present: Mem Fox's Possum Magic. It's a children's book that I'd seen in the land of Unreasonably Priced Books and it's absolutely adorable. It has a cute story, beautiful illustrations and all sorts of cultural food references. I definitely recommend it, particularly if you can find it for 1 cent (plus $3.99 shipping) like I did!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

quicko: (pro)nouns

It's taken me nearly a year, but I've finally figured it out: Australians use the pronouns "yours" and "mine" as nouns. Not always, but in one particular context: places of residence. As in, "if you're in town, you can stay over at mine." It'd always take me a second to process and figure out "your what?" because, of course, mine sounds like a possessive pronoun that needs a noun to follow it. But that's just it: it's being used as the object in the at- prepositional phrase, and thus as a noun in its own rite.

I slept so much easier last night.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

quicko: EFTPOS

Perhaps I should have studied economics a bit harder, but I was really taken aback the first time I encountered POS in a professional setting. I'm pretty sure the entire acronym is "electric funds transfer point of sale" (does that require hyphenation? a comma? no wonder they acronym it.), and they use it absolutely everywhere. People even say "EFTPOS." Surely there's something better -- "use your card!" perhaps?

Monday, December 22, 2008

quicko: dates

Don't get too excited, I'm just going for the calendar kind here. As in, when it is December, you write "12/day/year," aren't I right? The Australians get it all muddled up, though, and write "day/12/year," which is extremely confusing when you've just figured say, October 1 was your arrival day in Sydney, and suddenly you realize you meant to be landing in Australia in January and you panic madly until finally it dawns on you that actually the day we're talking about is in January, it just happens to be the 10th.

Of course it's also confusing when all of a sudden you hit a 24 and go "what! there's no 24th month!" but that's slightly easier to sort out than figuring it out the other way round.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

quicko: 5 cents' worth

The Australian penny is MIA. They lost it a few years ago, and it hasn't resurfaced since. In light of the missing currency, the Australians, being a wee bit on the lackadaisical side, decided it'd be easiest to just soldier on without, and the poor little penny has never been seen again.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

quicko: elevators

The Australians (and Europeans, come to think of it) seem to have got the idea that, if you don't start counting years until "1," you ought to apply the same rules to floors of buildings. Not only that, they're also convinced that "0" is a weird number to name a floor, so, to cover, they'll call it "G" instead and assume no one will notice the difference. Thank goodness some of us are observant.

Friday, December 19, 2008

techno bit ...

For anyone looking to comment, but having trouble because you're not a googler ... you CAN!! Instead of checking the obvious first option that is for googlers, scroll down just a bit and it will allow you to leave a comment with your name or anonymously. Try it and let me know how it works!!

quicko: time zones

Sydney is in the eastern Australian time zone, which means that it's currently 16 hours off US EST (Eastern Standard Time). When both countries have experienced their next time change, they will be 14 hours off, though for the month in between the dates the US and Australia switch, they will be 15 hours off.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

quicko: obesity

America gets a pretty bad rap as far as obesity goes, much of which is deserved. Australia deserves one, too.

I'm not going on personal experience here so much as national statistics, but the figures really are quite signficant -- despite the swimming and surfing and rugby, around half of Australians are overweight. The Biggest Loser has an Australian edition and was quite a popular show. It's a serious problem (though, come to think of it, I'm not sure I've seen a public health announcement about it on TV yet, so perhaps not ...), not that Max Brenner does much to help.

I know it goes against the stereotypes of sporty Sydneysiders doing all sorts of extreme sports -- but that's just it, they really are just stereotypes. Sure, lots of people do exerise, but not the majority. And the beautiful bathers at Bondi -- well, mostly they're not Australian.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

quicko: sydney stereotypes

Like most places, Sydney has stereotypes for various sectors. The biggies are below, in approximate order of snobbiness. Take with liberal grains of salt ...

The Eastern Suburbs -- south from Bondi, including Randwick, Coogee and the edge of Paddington, among others. La dee da, houses overlooking the water, kids going to private schools, old-ish money.

The Lower North Shore -- just north of the Harbour Bridge, such as Kirribilli, Milson's Point, Neutral Bay, Cremorne, Balmoral and Mosman. Pretty posh, too, plenty of cash, not too many kids.

The Upper North Shore -- north of the Lower North Shore. A bit more inland, good places to raise families.

The Northern Beaches -- from about Manly on up, including North Balgowlah, Dee Why, Long Reef, Narrabeen, Collaroy, Mona Vale, Newport and more. Beachy areas, good for families, a bit more relaxed than the North Shore.

The Inner West -- the chic suburbs, like Newton, Balmain, Glebe and Leichhardt. The residents might not be the wealthiest, but they're cool, artsy places.

The Western Suburbs -- more working class areas. People aren't necessarily commuting in to the city, but going about daily life where they are.

The Shire -- way south, even past Cronulla, which is about an hour out on the train. Still, though, people commute in to the city for work. The stereotypes are the strongest and worst here, but surely there must be some redeeming factor for people called hobbits??

In a category alone is the city -- Darlinghurst, King's Cross, Redfern and Woolloomooloo, among others. They range from sleaze to sophistication and really vary depending where you are. King's Cross is the red light area -- lots of backpackers, but also lots of drugs and bizarre behavior.

There's also some areas south of the Eastern suburbs, but they don't really seem to have a name. For example, Maroubra is a gorgeous beach, but most famous for the 'Bra boys -- a local gang that has claimed the area as their turf, and has quite the reputation for being kings of the sea, surf and sand. They tend toward the violent, and are evidently best left to their own devices.

quicko: movie ratings

G: general
PG: parental guidance
MA: mature audience
MA+15: have to be 15
R: restricted to 17+

Sunday, December 14, 2008

quicko: tinsel

There's been a bit of a mix-up down under. Not only have they got their seasons swapped, but also in the confusion they somehow managed to jumble up the meaning of garlands and tinsel. Just how they managed this is a bit of a mystery, but be warned: garlands are now tinsel and tinsel is (unknown).

quicko: kris kringle

Secret Santas, Yankee swap, here it's Kris Kringle. (I always thought he was European, but apparently not ...) It's a fairly standard gift exchange the night of a Christmas party -- everyone has drawn a name, buys for a set amount and arrives with a wrapped present to go under the tree (or on the table). At some point in the festivities, Kris (I presume?) stops the hooplah and delivers all the gifts, to much applause and general merriment.

I was one of the lucky ones -- not only did I correctly guess what was inside my package (a book! And, yes, I do have a witness ... who, for the record, also thought it was a book), but Kris actually seems to have known a bit about my taste in books and got me one I'm excited about! Now, if only I had a long airplane flight to read it on ...

Friday, December 12, 2008

quicko: organise

Not just with an "s." This actually goes a bit deeper. It's used a whole lot more in a way that we understand, but don't naturally produce nearly as frequently. It's "organise" in the sense of "figure out and get under control," followed by a noun. For example, "who's going to organise food for the picnic?" Or, "we didn't have time to organise proper costumes for the party." Incidentally, "fancy dress" refers to costumes as well as?/but not? black tie.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

quicko: the bugs are back in town

It's official (not, obviously, in a CTC sort of way).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

quicko: the dish

Maybe you knew already knew this, but despite practically being Neil Armstrong's next door neighbor, I just recently learned something: the Australians broadcasted the moon landing. They even made a movie about it.

The movie is aptly called The Dish and evidently more or less follows the true story of a small town's efforts to get live video feed around the world.

I wouldn't recommend watching this movie when you're sleepy, but if you're feeling educational on a rainy Saturday afternoon, I'm sure there're worse things you could do with your time. It might even give a chuckle or two -- if you can make out what they're saying.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

quicko: pash rash

Vocab lesson: to pash = to kiss.

Thus, pashing mixed with stubble, etc. leads to what other than cleverly rhymed redness? Pash rash.

Monday, December 8, 2008

quicko: in your blood

It's kind of common knowledge here, especially among ex-pats, that Australia just has a way of getting in your blood. I suppose it's a combination of the weather, the scenery and a drop of something special in the water, but Australia has a knack for drawing people in. You come thinking you'll stay four months and end up for eighteen.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

quicko: on not drowning in australia

"Always keep a fat man between you and New Zealand."

quicko: the accent

I have an official declaration to make: since moving here, I have actually grown to like the Australian accent more than the English (yes, I realize there are myriad options there). Lest confusion arise, I'm not talking about the exaggerated Australian accent you often hear in movies or on TV, but the regular, standard accent people in Sydney actually speak with.

Or else I just mean I prefer Hugh Jackman to Hugh Grant.

Friday, December 5, 2008

quicko: a feed

As in, "After the Australians have been drinking for a few hours, they reckon they might be keen on a feed from a fish and chips shop."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

show me

I'm sure you know the feeling. Every now and then a mood just strikes and you realize you can never again be completely satisfied with life until you've gone to see a musical set in London.

It happened to me a few months ago, but, oddly enough, the mood was actually beginning to wear off in the time it took me to locate a theatre in Sydney.

I knew that My Fair Lady was playing somewhere because I'd seen signs on the backs of taxis, but no one seemed to know precisely where it was. When I finally broke down and consulted my trusty Streetwise map, I was amazed to learn the Theatre Royal was not only listed, but also three blocks away from my daily grind.

Finding the theatre thus proved to be significantly easier than expected, though tackling the ticket price was another story. Turns out they run $75 a pop, no matter how much your nose bleeds. Desperate times calls for desperate measures, though, so I shelled it out and settled in to relive London.

Within the first ten minutes I knew I didn't like Henry Higgins' actor. I don't even know his name. Thankfully I hadn't gone in with high expectations for him (he looked ugly on the taxis), but I'd hoped he'd redeem himself in other ways. Turns out, he also couldn't sing, dance or act, which puts a slight damper on a musical. To be fair, I suppose he could act, it was just there was a bit too much method in his madness, if you catch my drift. I'm all for jumping on sofas in real life (apologies here ...), but I just don't see the English gentleman Professor Henry Higgins being a couch-jumper.

Eliza's actress thus had very little to work with by way of a helpful partner-on-stage, but she soldiered on and did reasonably well through the first act, except for her accent (naturally of minor concern in a play obsessed with linguistics). Unfortunately, after intermission she seemed to decide her task was insurmountable and gave up entirely.

Pickering plodded on precisely as a Pickering should, leaving Alfie P. Doolittle to be the little bit of luck of the entire show. Besides the pub owner, he was the only one to really nail his accent, his character and, presumably, Eliza's step mother.

From a technical standpoint the show went off beautifully. The set was of the caliber one would expect, and lighting, sound and props all landed on their feet throughout. There was even a turntable, which made me a bit sentimental until I thought of the blocking notes it would require. It was amazingly well blocked -- the Ascot scene in particular -- and I am sure there is a stage manager running around somewhere with no hair on account of it.

Now I really have to say a bit more about the Ascot scene: the costumes, which were satisfactory throughout the play, but phenomenal for Ascot. The entire cast was in shades of silver, white, black and peach. Maybe that doesn't sound impressive, but it was exceedingly handsome. Dashing, actually. The hats were hats to be reckoned with and were rather closer in size to large umbrellas than your standard sombrero. They were carried off with much style, class and feather-span.

'aving 'ated 'enry 'iggins the 'ole way through, I found him completely irredeemable at the end. Unfortunately, I seem to have blinked and missed precisely what the end was. She of course ("of course" beause the script says so) came back, after having promised he'd never see her again, and he of course (script again) asked for his slippers. The end. There were no slippers handed over (she stayed at his desk; he stayed on the couch and moved his hand from waiting for the slippers back to normalcy), no fight, certainly no kiss ... it was all rather abrupt, and suddenly the turntable was spinning and the extras were taking their bows. I don't even know which way the ending was supposed to have gone.

Now I know the script is rather hard for a Higgins, but I do think it's possible to create a likeable one. Casting, say, Graham Abbey, would be a good start. This Higgins did absolutely nothing to make me like him, though. Eliza had spunk; Pickering was a gentleman; Higgins merely threw his lanky body around as if he were a teenage actor trying to steal the show at an audition.

In the end, the show worked in that I've got my fill of cockney accents, dancing street urchins and hearing "Tottenham Court Road" (which, as a sidenote, I am convinced has the snazziest mosaics of any London Underground station), but, despite Alfie and Ascot, just lacked splash. It was nice and good and all, providing you could get past the bad actor and the Australian-trying-to-be-British accents. Which I couldn't, seeing as I'd paid $75 and had a bloody nose.

quicko: tipping

As a former waitress, I'm still a bit shocked, but Australians really don't tip much at all. A little bit here and there, maybe, but certainly not 10%, let alone 15%-20%. As far as I know, the no-tipping applies pretty much everywhere -- waitstaff, taxi drivers, hair dressers -- but, on the flip side, they do actually pay these people to begin with. So it works out. Sort of.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

banner bonanza

So there's these gorgeous banners all over Sydney city that tend to make me go a bit shutter-happy. They're great decoration and I'm all for them, but I've got to thinking about them lately and have now raised a whole series of very important questions hitherto unconsidered in modern academia.

First, do they use new ones each year or do they recycle the old ones? Also, when do they get put up and taken down? Second, how much do they cost? Third, what do they do with the old ones? Fourth, what exactly are they made of? Fifth, what exactly is the animal on the blue poster? Finally, has anyone ever stolen or otherwise pranked one (or more)?

I then started to answer these, with the help of a friend who really is from Sydney and thus is completely qualified to give accurate assessments on such pressing life matters.

Initially she thought that certain annual banners might get recycled, but that the special ones would be made new each time. Then we thought about the exposure to the mighty Australian elements, though, and decided that perhaps new ones were used each time around, as they do always look quite fresh. Tattered banners just wouldn't do, now, would they? When exactly they change from one design to another, as they do with definite regularity, is still a matter of some concern. Presumably someone, or rather, a lot of someones, come along and yank them down, fasten in new ones and send them on up. But have you ever seen these someones? Neither have I, and I am not entirely sure they exist. Every city has its deep, dark secrets, and I think it is possible this is one of Sydney's. London might have Jack the Ripper, but Sydney has Jack the Mysterious Banner Ripper. Never heard of him either, have you? See. He's even more mysterious.

Regarding the cost, we came up with the figure of precisely $100 a poster. Noting that each pole always has 2 banners and that these poles line many, many long streets, we came up with the figure of precisely Very Large for the grand total city expenditure.

The question of what happens to the old banners remains, unfortunately, a mystery. We're inclined to think the city probably just pitches them, but I am happy to report that we've come up with several possible uses. First and most humanely, they could be sewed together and the homeless or heater-less could use them as blankets. Second, they could become doormats for loyal Sydneysiders. Third, they could be sewed together for the Guiness Book record of largest bunch of banners sewed together, and then go on display at the Royal Easter Show. Finally, if nothing else, surely they could be balled up and sold in tourist shops like everything else.

Now, we think that these banners are probably made of cloth and not plastic. It's just a guess, but we also don't think they're ceramic.

The dilemma of the animal on the blue banner is of yet another one of life's little unsolved mysteries. Originally, I thought it was a cute upside down cat, which is why I took a whole slew of pictures of it. However, I later looked at the photos and realized the tail was entirely too long and thin for a cat's and, thinking how this was the Chinese year of the rat and everyone'd made a fuss over that back whenever it was and there had been posters with amazingly cute rats on them, concluded therefore that it must be a rat. My friend, not wanting to introduce an animal not rhyming with HAT to the discussion, opted for a bat, which was also a good plan, as it was the only animal that really fit with the upside down plan, unless of course you count a cat with a long, thin tail stuck in a tree (I do). It does not, however, account for the huge googly eyes. Thus, she hit upon the idea of marsupials at large, by which she did not, alas, mean wombats. I believe possum was what she was going for, actually, and it's the best guess we've come up with, though doesn't rhyme with HAT, so its validity is, naturally, open to question.

Which brings us to our most important question: have any banners ever been stolen or otherwise pranked? Alas, we know of no such revelries. But, might I add, I have a wonderful, fabulous, fantastic, super-amazing prank idea. Think George Street. Think night. Think every single banner. Think turning them over and re-hoisting them. Upside down. But you didn't hear that from me.

Monday, December 1, 2008

quicko: seasonally challenged

Guess what today was!

(This is the part where you take a guess. A mental guess is okay, though the real troopers out there will use this nicely provided opportunity to scribble down their hunches in order to prove just how right they were. Okay. Set? Good.)

The first day of summer!! Not only do you have to flip flop the seasons down here, you also (this is truly tricky) have to then move the day back by 21. Throw in time change and it’s enough to make your cerebral globe spin.

I’ll clarify: December 1 is the first day of summer. March 1 is the first day of fall (except they like to call it autumn). June 1 is the first day of winter. September 1 is the first day of spring.

Yeah, we’ll leave time change for a different day.

quicko: christmas carols or not

I had a terrible discovery here: it was the first Sunday after Thanksgiving, and I went to church, all set for O Come, All Ye Faithful and Go Tell It on the Mountain, only to learn that Australians don't sing Christmas carols until Christmas!!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

quicko: jacaranda trees

Unfortunately, this post is about three weeks too late and the photo's about a week out of date now, but better late than never, right?

The reason it's late is that the jacaranda trees finished their week of intense blooming about two weeks ago. They're absolutely gorgeous trees, hugely filled with purple flowers that petal all over the ground, creating a lavendar carpet all around the base of the tree, the neighboring street, the neighboring zip code, etc. They're beautiful.

And, while the photo really doesn't do them any semblance of justice, I thought you'd appreciate a glimpse of what they're like.

Evidently the place to go to seet he jacaranda trees in all their glory is the North Shore train line between North Sydney and Hornsby. Amazingly enough, this line is actually one I've been on and is quite easy for me to get to. Less amazingly, I was told this the week after they finished blooming.

One more thought while we're on the topic: it seems there's a saying at one of the universities strategically situated upon this train line to the effect of if you haven't started studying for exams by the time the jacaranda trees bloom, well, there probably isn't much point in starting.

Friday, November 28, 2008

at the corner store

So I made an embarrassingly stupid mistake tonight. I covered it quite well, though.

It all came about at the corner store. Now, we have corner stores in America, too, or at least I know definitively that there is one in northern Ohio. I've been to it on several occasions and know it is a corner store because it is three doors down from my grandma's house, and everyone calls it "the corner store." I think I used to figure that most grandmas had one.

Here, though, there are a lot more corner stores. When I first arrived, I found one an easy five minute walk away and was amazed to learn that it actually was the far away one. Having grown up in suburbia where the Kroger was an easy five minute drive away and convenience stores are not convenience stores but gas stations that happen to sell a wee bit more than gas, I was blown away by being able to walk to buy milk for my morning cereal if I needed to. (On Saturdays, of course. Weekdays remain a completely different story.)

I'd been warned early on that the corner store, being so convenient, did charge convenience store prices, but as I couldn't find a container of milk for less than $4.90 anywhere I looked, I figured I already so much skin off my nose I wouldn't really notice the extra dollar or two or ten.

Now the hours at my corner store end at 8 pm. (No, I don't know when it opens. Why would I?) So it was 7:30 and I was on my third straight day of being sick and only just beginning to think that the next day I could go slightly stir crazy (two days usually being sufficent to drive me to distraction gives an indication of the severity of my condition) and that my only edible options included toast, the okay-but-not-as-good brand of cereal, pasta (required a bit more preparation than I felt inclined to give), pasta sauce (tasty, but insufficent as an actual meal), the orange juice that stung my raw little insides, tea and toothpaste. I decided to visit the corner store.

It is my general modus operandi to make a thorough sweep of the corner store whenever I go, just in case they've acquired something new and delicious, like chocolate peppermints. (This has really happened. It was quite wonderful.)

Not finding anything terribly new or intriguing, on my second sweep I gathered up the necessities (the good brand of cereal, Milo and an ice cream bar), as well as the apple to counteract the ice cream bar and keep my balanced diet in tact. I also noticed that they had movies for sale.

Now movies for sale were an intriguing option, particularly in light of the impending stir craziness. I'd noticed them once before, but having been less than amazingly impressed by the selection (they were clearly a second-cousin side item at the corner store), had never purchased one. The situation at hand, though, led me peruse them, despite having fulls hands and needing to blow my nose.

I was thrilled by what I discovered: Mamma Mia! Out on DVD! And only $5! Now, I realize that there are many of you who would not purchase Mamma Mia if someone paid you $5 to, but I happen to enjoy beautifully colored musicals set in Greece, and really there are not so many of them. I would also submit that you are not about to face day four of Kleenex and social isolation, and perhaps would think differently if you were.

Not only was there Mamma Mia, though, there were at least three other relatively recently released romantic comedies. Being a Responsible Consumer, though, I decided that buying two movies in one night was quite enough, so settled on one other I hadn't seen, but thought I'd probably have to pay $5 to rent, let alone purchase.

Quite pleased with myself, I marched to the counter, deposited my items and seized the opportunity to blow my nose. The man, whose name I don't know, but which I should, seeing as I see him often enough what with him being my primary cereal provider and all, rang up my necessities and then asked me to fill in a form with my name, address and phone number.

I think I may be commended for realizing immediately what the form was, and responding, I am convinced, exceedingly appropriately. First, I told the man behind me to go ahead as I'd be a minute or two. Second, I decided that actually I didn't really need Mamma Mia after all. Third, I asked how long exactly I got the movies for, just as a point of note. And upon hearing the answer of only one night, I hemmed a bit, because, oh dear, I really wasn't planning on watching the movie tonight and maybe I'd have to come back for it tomorrow. Which really was possibly true, and, might I point out just for the record, was it not brilliant to hand back Mamma Mia before asking the length of rental time? Yes, I thought so, too.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

quicko: nippers

So "nippers" is the cute little name for all the little kids who are in swimming lessons at the beach. From what I can gather, lots and lots (most?) Australian kids are in nippers somewhere around age 8, and they are quite effective at making a joyful noise as they troop from one end of the beach to the other.

quicko: fairy floss

AKA cotton candy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

quicko: tight*** tuesday

I'll tell you what it means, and let you guess what the *** stands for, deal?

Tight*** Tuesday is the cheapie entertainment night -- you can see movies for more like $9 than more like $16, get special deals at pubs and generally revel in the glory of being a tight***.

Figured it out?

Monday, November 24, 2008

quicko: sweet as

I thought it was misplaced Valley Girl the first ten times I heard it, but the Australians really use it in daily life. It sounds so Clueless, but yeah -- sweet as!

Sunday, November 23, 2008


As much as I enjoy life in Australia, this week is Thanksgiving, and what sort of American would I be if I didn’t talk about the things I was thankful for? Of course I’m thankful for the opportunity to live here, my church, my place to live and my job. Of course I’m thankful for my friends and family. And of course above all I’m thankful to God for His love, presence in my life and sure hope of salvation. Since I’m abroad, though, this year I’ll list the things I’m especially thankful for – the ones I miss most:

10. Mexican food, Bombay Cuisine, Common Ground, Panera, Coldstone, Graeter’s and mom’s cooking. Yeah, you guessed it, that’s all food. First off, Mexican – they just haven’t got much of it here. A little, but not much. Bombay Cuisine for the nan bread. Common Ground because it’s my favorite coffeeshop, and everyone needs a favorite coffeeshop to come home to, even if it is five hours away. Panera for the Asian sesame chicken salad, the cinnamon crunch bagels and the hot chocolates. Coldstone for the Mud Pie Mojo, add some brownies and put it in a waffle bowl, Love-It size, please. (Incidentally, that is not the biggest size. That’d be Gotta-Have-It). Graeter’s for the black raspberry chip, obviously. And mom’s cooking, enough said.

9. Tri-County Mall. It’s not really as materialistic as it sounds. It’s a comfort place. I can just go there and walk around and know where (okay, approximately where) the stores are. There’s Charlotte Russe and Wet Seal and Body Central and, in the department stores, Jody Coyote earrings. I get the biggest kick out of being able to go there now in the middle of the day and being allowed to be there – I don’t have to be in school anymore! (If anyone questions me, though, I’ve got my handy pocket-sized diploma to prove I am a genuine graduate of Lakota West and most definitely not truant.) And there’s the memories. There’s the store I always avoid because I once got offered a job there and then took a different one a couple days later. There’s the glass elevator I acted out a Lady Macbeth scene in multiple times in succession for a theatre project. And mostly there’s just tons of ambles back and forth with friends, chatting, shopping and sharing lives.

8. Dates, measurements, sides of road, elevators, etc. It would be so incredibly much easier. The month goes first, it just does! And my brain just thinks in pounds and inches and miles and Fahrenheit. And I nearly get run over on a regular basis. (Not really, Mom, it just sounded better.) And that ridiculous "ground" floor notion. As if we count "zero" in any other context!

7. The choices and prices. America’s just got so much variety so cheap – and I am so ready to stock up at Meijer! And get my film developed. And run into some random person I happen to know from somewhere.

6. The Cincinnati Enquirer. I’m excited that I’m going to be home over New Years so I can see Jim Borgman’s year in review. And read Tempo, and Forum and the comics. I get Speed Bump online, but that doesn’t make up for Red and Rover, Zits, Baby Blues and Frazz.

5. The Cincinnati theatre scene, by which I mostly mean the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival. I’m also pretty partial to LaComedia and whatever’s on at the local high schools and community theatres, but you’ve got to have a favorite theatre company and Cincy Shakes is mine. Sitting on the stage, making eye contact with the actors, going to talk-back sessions after Sunday matinees and seeing Jeremy Dubin and Giles Davies.

4. My library. I love it. I even have its phone number memorized, which is slightly more than I can say for my own library number. Thank goodness they let you check books out regardless. And rack up fines of up to $10. It’s a great library. It has all my favorite books and movies and the CDs that I think I own because you can check them out for three weeks and then renew them (online!) up to three times, and I won’t even be home for that long. They let me stand out front and do "Issue of the Week" for the Pulse-Journal and didn’t kick me out like they did at the grumpy Kroger’s (that, HA, doesn’t exist any more!). And the librarians are great and there’s the summer reading program and the easy-to-use computer card catalogues and the sales with ultra-cheap books I’m sure to get a few of for Christmas.

3. My car. Freedom to an American. Independence! Liberty! Sorry. I’ll stop naming elementary schools now and get on with it. Despite Baby Blazer’s suspect AC and perpetually breaking-though-Dad-assures-me-they’re-really-fixed-this-time wipers, Baby Blazer is my pal about town. We crashed on the regional highway together, got pulled over (and let off) in Michigan together and are generally inseparable on the road. We listen to music together; sigh when we find our keys swallowed inside one of us; search wildly for the sight of each other in the parking lot; and occasionally beep at each other for the fun of it.

2. Snow. It just really isn’t winter without it. And, may I just say, my driveway and yard make an absolute winter wonderland when it snows. Really, honestly, they do. The driveway’s lined with huge evergreens and we’re all in a woods and it’s beautiful.

1. My friends and family. Okay, you just can’t make one of these lists and not put friends and family in their rightful space. Being so far from home, easy access to my family is what I miss the most. It’s horrible being in a different time zone and having to coordinate schedules to times when both parties are 1. awake and 2. not at work, which pretty much leaves weekends, and heaven forbid you make plans then. And not only that, it’s so ridiculously expensive to fly home. And it takes so long. I miss being able to jump on a quick, cheap flight – one quick, cheap flight. Or be in a plaec where I could feasibly drive home. Doesn’t really work so well from Australia. Anyway, I can’t wait to be home and see them all again. I can’t wait to hug everybody and hang out with Dad and play games with Mom and take my one brother everywhere with me and talk Calvin with my other brother. And hug everybody some more.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

quicko: laundry

I have never claimed to like laundry, but I particularly do not like it here.

I know it's utterly undomestic of me, but I am not a clothes-line-loving sort of girl. Some girls are. It runs in my family, actually. My mom and grandma and aunts all like them. Mom wouldn't let us buy a house in a neighborhood because codes and regulations would have prevented us from having one (not that she usually uses ours much), and I've never heard a woman so enamored with freshly air-dryed sheets as my aunt who-is-too-wary-of-the-internet-for-me-to-mention-her-name.

But back to the problem at hand. I hate doing laundry. And here not only do I have to do it, I also have to put it up on the line, where any number of frustrations can arise. The clothes can fall on the ground and get dirty. The neighbors can take in my favorite beach towel thinking it's theirs. I can leave the clothes pins in the wrong place, thinking I'm being helpful, but actually creating more trouble. The sky can start raining.

And that doesn't even take into account the time it takes to put all the clothes up on it.

I think the time's my biggest gripe. It's so ridiculously time consuming to pin my black sweater up, pin my teal shirt up, pick up the black sweater that's fallen and repin it, get more pins, pin up three green shirts, repin the sweater, pin up six pink shirts, find three big pins for the blasted sweater, pin up the blue skirt, get more pins, get a new stash from the washing machine, pin up three black tops, avoid stepping on the dead mouse, catch the sweater, get more pins, pin up two black skirts, pin up the pink pants, retrieve the sweater from the ground and carry it upstairs in desperation. I have such better things to be doing with my time. Like writing about how time consuming laundry is, for starters.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

quicko: department stores

Two biggies here: David Jones and Myer. (And, yes, it's pronounced the same, but no, Myer does not sell groceries, develop film or employ half the teenage population of Sydney.)

They're a bit on the snazzy side -- closer to a Macy's or Dillard's than a Penney's, Sears or Elder-Beerman basement. Emphasis definitely on the ladies -- perfume, makeup, shoes, accessories and, obviously, clothes.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

quicko: to spit the dummy

Betcha don't know what that means!

Okay, we're good on "to spit"? Cool. "The dummy" then translates to "the pacifier." (It's really just what they call them, don't ask me why.) Closer to understanding? No? All right then: when does a baby spit its pacifier? Answer: when it's very angry and throwing a temper tantrum. Thus, to spit the dummy is to throw an adult temper tantrum -- a hissy fit. It doesn't actually have to be so extreme, but that's the idea.

So, yeah. Don't spit the dummy about it.

quicko: cheers

I sent an email to a professional American the other day and thought nothing of signing it "Cheers" -- until after I pushed "send."

(It's a standard email sign-off here, maybe not the most formal, but acceptable and fairly widely used.)


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

quicko: language

I had a bit of breakthrough tonight.

I don't know if it's scientific, factual or anything like that, but it sure makes sense. Here's the idea: Australian English is closer to British English than American English is because the majority of Australians who speak English as their native language come, historically, from Britain. However, the majority of Americans who speak English as their native language come, historically, from all over Europe. Thus, the American accent in its formative years would have been impacted by lots of various accents -- German, Italian, Polish, Russian, Swedish, Dutch, French, Spanish, etc. -- that Australian English wasn't. And so, Australian English remains closer to British English, while American English drifts farther.

Is there a breakdown in the breakthrough?? Do tell!

Monday, November 17, 2008

quicko: rainbows

There's been so many rainbows here! Not every other day or anything, but a good handful of times since I've come, which is considerably more frequent than I would have seen them at home. They're absolutely gorgeous here, huge, stunning ones that reach all the way across the Spit and just make you want to stop and gaze at them until they go away. The pictures don't do them justice. You'll just have to come visit.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

quicko: movember

This needs a quick clarification: "mo" means "mustache" here.

Movember is thus the month of mustaches. In theory it's a raise-money-for-male-cancers concept; in reality, it's more of an excuse to look ridiculous without feeling guilty.

divided by a common you-know-what

There’s just way too much linguistic intrigue here not to mention some of it. Obviously you’ve got the accent. It’s closer to British than American, but it’s definitely its own entity and colors everything you hear. A few particular oddities in terms of pronunciation: cafe, aluminum, weekend, massage, fillet, ballet, Isaiah, oregano and, of all things, pronunciation. Not sure who’s responsible for that.

Spelling, of course, is also obvious to the linguist in the midst, and, again, generally follows British English, what with its excessive u and omnipresent s for z, which, incidentally, they call "zed." Imagine that – they’re actually so fond of the letter they name it. Whoever said Australians weren’t adorable?

If Austalians can’t think of a creative enough way to spell a word, they have an ingenious solution: change it. Thus, we get tons of new vocabulary words, such as star jumps for jumping jacks, lollies for candy, sticking plasters for Band-Aids, sheila for girl and thongs for flip flops.

Shortening words is also a national pastime, ranking somewhere shy of beer, but perhaps a bit above rugby. Generally it’s just nouns that bite the linguistic dust, getting either an –ie (brekkie. mozzies, Woolie’s, sunnies), an –o (arvo, journo, muso, doco, veggo), –er (swimmers, boarders, Mackers) or sometimes something completely random (brolly, trakkie daks).

There’s also phrases that are distinctly Australian and may or may not have direct American translations. "G’day," for instance, is like hello, but not exactly. You’ll understand it, but be completely unable to reproduce it.

I’ve had slightly better luck with the omnipresent "how ya going?" Using the verb "go" with the reckless abandon Australians do had never crossed my mind, but after a few months I’m finding that it really does roll off the tongue a bit more eptly than you’d think. Try it yourself and tell me how you go.

Then there’s "to sus out," as in to find something out, like if he/she/it is good/bad/ugly. I’ve heard it called a derivative of "to source out," which was supposed to explain things to me, but being as I’d never heard of sourcing (or is it sourceing?) anything either, that didn’t really help. It’s used as in, "why don’t you go and sus out that restaurant?" or "I’ll sus him out for you." As a side note, citing bibliographic sources is also called sourcing, not citing.

Although you could probably get by with "intense" or "hard-core" here, if you want to be Australian about it you go "full-on." The movie was full-on, the day of team building activities was full-on, the encounter with the great white shark was really full-on.

There’s also a handful of words that we use and understand, but just don’t feel the need to drag into every other sentence. "Heaps" is one of these. Arguably we use "lots" to the same level of excess, but, hey, it never bothered me. A word, though, that for some reason just grates my nerves this side of the Pacific is "venue." I don’t know why, but everything has to happen at a venue. Not a restaurant, a conference center, a hotel, a reception hall, a studio, a theater or even, good gracious, a place, but a venue. Ooh la la.

"Good on ya" is one of the quintessentially Australian expressions that I could never pull off and sound natural about it. It’s used similarly to "good for you," and means something akin to "good job," but half the time it’s sarcastic. Good luck with it, and good on you if can get it right.

Oddly enough, "reckon" is not just restricted to rednecks. Lots of people here use it lots. "Whaddaya reckon?" or "I reckon if we meet at 6 we’ll beat the crowd" or "Do you reckon the American can understand us?"

Another Australian oddity is "keen (on)." It’s to like something, or want to do something, and doesn’t just have to do with being intellectually zippy. "A group of us are going out for Thai. You keen?" or "So, who’s keen for bowling?" or "I’m keen to get started."

Of course, there’s also the standard Australism "mate." Used frequently by some and hardly ever by others, it keeps people on the same plane. If you’re not Australian, though, you definitely shouldn’t try it in public.

On a more grammatical note, Australians, like the Brits, have a very interesting reverse-gerund sort of way of changing nouns into verbs. Thus, we get all sorts of expressions like "having a think," "having a sleep," "having a browse" or "having a surf." You can figure out what they mean, but again, would rarely produce something similar. (Although "taking a nap" springs to mind as an exception.)

They also do very odd things with prepositions here. Most notably, things are located in streets instead of on them. That store’s in York Street, he works in George Street, she lives in Liverpool Street.

There’s a few differences in punctuation, but to save me from appearing entirely pedantic, I think I’ll skip them for now. Full stop.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

quicko: christmas is coming

This week I heard my first Christmas carol in Australia. (Noel. In Starbucks.)

I know it's happening everywhere, but it's just so strange to find fake Christmas trees in open-air areas that are hot. One of my co-workers recently suggested children's picture Christmas books as unique gifts -- they feature kangaroos and koalas, as well as Santas in shorts.

And Christmas parties -- you wear summer dresses! (Yes, I realize the more observant among you, such as my mother, will point out that snow has never stopped me wearing summer dresses in the past.) At least here I can legitimately get away with them.

It's funny, though, the lack of snow doesn't stop people doing all the Christmasy things like caroling and cards and gingerbread houses (I had to ask someone if they did gingerbread houses at Christmas or in the "winter" ... they do them at Christmas). I guess it's a bit like in Dr. Suess -- Christmas without snow is still Christmas after all!

(But thank goodness I'll be home in the snow.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

quicko: computers

I haven't actually seen this yet, but my flatmate told me and she's a pretty reliable person: you can buy computers in department stores. Like Penneys or Dilliards or, good heavens, Macy's.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

quicko: panera, or lack thereof

That's just it -- there is no Panera here. There's hardly any bagels to speak of at all, come to think of it, let alone cinnamon crunch ones. And no Asian sesame chicken salad. And you already know my views on hot chocolate.

quicko: the capital

It's an easy mistake to make, but one I'd prefer you not to, since you have a friend in Australia and all. The capital is Canberra. Not Sydney, not Melbourne. Canberra. Which is not to say that you should come visit it if you come, just that if you find yourself unexpectedly on Jeopardy, I'd hate for you to get it wrong.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

quicko: NRMA

I have no idea what it actually stands for, but it's Triple A here, plus a whole lot else. I think I heard of it as insurance first, then saw them helping someone by the side of the road. That sight spun my little brain a bit until my friends told me they also do "roadside assist." So, yeah, hell hasn't actually frozen over.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

quicko: mnemonic device

Just learned this one:

Never Eat Soggy Weetabix: North East South West.

(Weetabix is a standard, closer-to-cardboard-than-Shredded-Wheat cereal here.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

quicko: A4

They have a very odd way of specifying paper here. Instead of tackling the inches (8 1/2 by 11) or even, I am prepared to grant, the centimeters, they change the size (it's not 8 1/2 by 11) and call it ... you'll never guess, unless you read the title here ... A4. A3 is a bigger poster size, and A5 is smaller. There's some B-somethings, too, but I haven't quite figured out what they are yet.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

quicko: summer lovin'

Sydney absolutely loves summer. The whole city comes alive and everyone's in the best mood. There's festivals, tons of free stuff and the beach! Yay!

techno bit ...

max brenner

I should really quit my job and apply to Max Brenner's advertising department.

Now on principle I'm quite opposed to saying, "oh my gosh, you've never lived until you've had/seen/done (fill-in-the-blank)," what with the majority of the world generally not having experienced (fill-in-the-blank) and still managing to somehow survive. Also, I generally haven't had/seen/done whatever the supposedly essential thing is, and I don't particularly enjoy being told I've only imagined the last 24 years.

That being said, you've never lived until you've had Max Brenner.

And before I proceed, perhaps I should just point out that Max Brenner is not a person.

Max Brenner is a chocolate shop. It's amazing. I could stop the blog right here, but I don't think you've got the full picture quite yet. How could you? I haven't told you about the crepes.

We'll save the best for last, though. First off -- the hot chocolate. There's lots of different hot chocolates, of which I highly recommend all but the American one. As you may recall, the marshmallows are not quite up to snuff here, and trying to use them in a s'morey type way just doesn't cut it.

What does work, though, are the thick Italian milk hot chocolates. They're like drinking a melted candy bar. They're also the only "regular" size anything that actually fills me up in Sydney.

And, this is a public service announcement, I have just recently learned that they will happily put coconut flavoring in your thick Italian milk hot chocolate if you are very torn between a plain coconut hot chocolate and a thick Italian milk hot chocolate. They're particularly likely to do so if you stand wavering at their counter for upwards of two minutes while a line begins to form behind you.

Besides the many variations of hot chocolate (which are plentiful for Sydney, though sadly behind the Calvin Fishhouse standard sixteen), there are also chocolate entrees, among them, Belgian chocolate waffles abundantly drizzled in chocolate. Until I once tried them simultaneously, I had been under the impression that the waffles were drizzled in the same substance as the thick Italian milk hot chocolates (I told you it was thick). I found, however, that they are slightly different, though both utterly amazing. My only complaint is the quantity of this blessed substance they see fit to drape across the plate: if you're going to make something so good, why waste it on dishware when it could spend several happy seconds in my mouth? Aesthetics should never infringe on the territory of chocolate.

For the chocolate die-hards (and who can legitimately claim to like chocolate in any other capacity?), there is a chocolate pizza. It comes with various appropriate toppings (i.e., other varieties of chocolate), and its only real failing is the bread beneath, which is a wee bit bland.

Perhaps you're in the mood for something a bit more summery, though. I was the day I stepped into the Manly Wharf Max Brenner's and decided to try the thing in the pictures with ice cream. At first I thought I had to pick between the three toppings of chocolate, chocolate balls or rainbow sprinkles, but the friendly-though-not-quite-fluent cashier eventually steered me right: it comes with all three. Then, though, I thought I had to pick what flavor ice cream I wanted. I didn't. She told me I'd get a chocolate. She also said I'd get a popsickle.

That was where I got really confused. In my experience, popsickles are lovely endeavors, pleasant enough of a sunny summer afternoon with small children, but not precisely what I'd like to mix with chocolate balls and rainbow sprinkles (though, granted, there are relatively few foods to which those goodnesses cannot be applied).

I kept asking if she really meant a popsickle and she kept saying yes and she also kept saying chocolate and the picture didn't look too bad, so I decided to go for it and see what I got.

A few minutes later my meal (yes, that is what I'd call it) arrived: three small containers accordingly filled with chocolate, chocolate balls and rainbow sprinkles, and a Magnum chocolate dessert still in its wrapper.

I was surprised. I'd have thought they'd at least have tried to make it look like the ice cream was actually their product (like they did with the Meijer cheesecakes at Perkins), but they didn't. It was also then I realized that here something doesn't have to be fruit-flavored and come with a joke to be considered a popsickle.

I have to say, I like the Australian popsickles better. They are fantastic, especially dipped in the chocolate, which freezes on them almost instantly like Magic Shell, only much, much better.

I promised the best for last, though: the chocolate crepes. It is one of my Rules of Life to never turn down a nutella crepe. A Max Brenner crepe, though, I go so far as to never let my friends turn down.

There's not actually a lot to say -- if a taste is worth a thousand words, you won't have broken close to even by reading this -- but if I might mention, it comes a la mode. With strawberries (if you ask for them instead of bananas, which I, being a banana-hater, am prone to do). And crepe. And chocolate. The end.

The chocolate isn't the only, though by far the main, thing to love about Max Brenner. It's also one of the few places in Sydney that has justifiable prices. It's comparable to Starbucks, possibly a tad bit more, but it's the sort of place I'd consider a special occasion place. Like a Cheesecake Factory or Melting Pot, not a dash-in-for-your-daily-dose of Dunkin' Donuts. Not that that stops me going a couple times a week.

Furthermore, Max Brenner is open relatively late. In a city that hardly supplies a coffee after 6 pm, you can count on Max Brenner until 11 pm. It's much easier being single in Sydney with him around.

Well, what else would a girl fall in love with but a chocolate shop?

I tell my students the one thing they need to learn in my class is where the closest Max Brenner is (the David Jones on George Street, in their cases). Being a Northern Beaches girl, though, I'm quite a Wynyard regular. The other day I was in and they were having a staff meeting. No one raised an eyebrow to see me sitting at the next table, amid the discussions of wrappings and trimmings for Christmas products. Maybe they thought I'd already come on board. Maybe I really will.

techno bit ...

Technorati Profile

quicko: vocabulary lesson

Three new Australian words I keep hearing:

--veggo (vegetarian)
--muso (musician)
--doco (documentary)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

quicko: howdy, partner

So here people don't have husbands and wives.

Well, okay, some of them do, but they don't call them that. They call them "partners."

It's a PC, very socially ept thing to do. "Partner" applies not only to husbands and wives, but also to boyfriends and girlfriends or homosexual partners. It's a nice, neutral way to specify an important person and is a whole lot faster than "that person I'm romantically attached to in some way and probably live with."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

quicko: their politics

I don't really know a ton about Australian politics, but I managed to pick up a few tidbits lately that I thought might be of general interest:

--voting is compulsory here. You get fined if you don't vote.

--the two main parties are Liberal and Labour, which very roughly would translate to Republican and Democrat, respectively. (Ironic, eh?)

--if I'm understanding this right, when Australians vote they can just pick a party at the top of the ballot and then everything else will get filled into how that party wants it to go. Of course, they also have the choice to vote for each candidate individually if they want to.

--if Australians vote for a candidate who doesn't end up really being in the running (say, the Green Party), instead of that vote going to the losing party, it will then be allocated to whichever party (presumably Liberal or Labour) the losing party (in our example, the Green Party) had thrown in its lot with. To put it in American terms, it would prevent situations like Ralph Nader pulling votes from Democrats because those votes would ultimately end up being Democrat votes.

--they do all the electing a whole lot faster than we do, and are shocked and appalled that it could possibly take us so long just to make up our minds and pick a President.

quicko: our politics

I'm so glad we've got a new President picked: now, hopefully, everyone will leave me alone!

It's amazing how many people here thought that my vote was their business. I don't know if it's a me thing or an American thing, but I always thought votes were fairly private matters. Families talk about them, friends broach them delicately and acquaintances never dream of going there.

Here, near-strangers have no qualms about asking who I voted for in the same breath as hello.

I know it's part conversation, part curiousity and part a cultural difference, but it's taken me a bit by surprise, as have people's assumptions that I'm obviously voting one way or another. They don't even know me!

And, call me antisocial, but can I just say I can't stand conversations with people who never normally talk to me, but suddenly thrust stubby fingers at me and demand to know my political positions? Golly gee, I'm an American, I need a two-foot bubble of personal space!!

quicko: doobie-whacker

I learned a new word tonight: DOOBIE-WHACKER!

Isn't it just one of those words that makes you want to run and open up your Microsoft Word document where you keep a list of your favorite words?

What's it mean? Same as thingamabobber or whatchamacallit.

Any spelling or hyphenation corrections please let me know, and also, if anyone knows what a doobie is, do tell so I can properly whack it ...

melbourne cup day

Today was Melbourne Cup Day!

Until a week or so ago I had never heard of Melbourne Cup, but as soon as I heard about it I knew I was going to like it: you get to wear cool hats.

The Melbourne Cup itself is not just a horserace, but the horserace, and not just the horserace, but an event.

If you’ve seen My Fair Lady, think the Ascot race scene. (Alternatively, if you’ve been to Ascot, think Ascot.) We’re talking out and out fancy dresses, hats and fascinators.

I’d also never heard of fascinators. (Turns out it’s the name of those big, floppy flower things fancy women attach to the sides of their heads in case of, I don’t know, some sort of floral emergency.)

Seeing as I like dressing up, I set out to experience Melbourne Cup Day to the hilt, even going so far as to acquire a fascinator. One has to be culturally alert.

I was the only one dressed up on the bus, and suddenly wondered if it was all some very bizarre joke Australians love to play on unsuspecting Americans. I got to work, though, and found the girls glamorously glitzed and the boys sharp and snazzy.

And so many people had hats!!

I can’t quite say it was The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, but it was the closest I’d ever come. We pranced around taking pictures for awhile, then got down to business: sweeps.

Maybe other more gamblingly inclined folk are familiar with sweeps, but, like much in Australia, I had never encountered them before. Basically what happens is that everyone puts a small amount ($3 AU, which isn’t so small if we’re considering the current exchange rate) in a pool and randomly draws out one of the horses. (There’s cute little pictures of the jockey’s uniforms in the paper that get cut up for the drawing.) Then, if you win you get, in our case, $35 AU. There’s a bit for second and third, too, and last place gets their money back.

With sweeps taken in in the morning, we set about the arduous task of teaching (odd what they put you through in academic environments) until the blessed hour of 2 pm arrived. There was then a lovely little parade of outfits and hats, complete with prizes for the craziest and best.

From there we trekked to the Shark Hotel (why they call all the pubs hotels is still beyond me) to watch the race in style (which is to say, we provided the style). They had a couple big screens up to accommodate the couple hundred students, teachers and, presumably, other townsfolk who showed up to cheer for their stake in the sweeps.

I had drawn Septimus, who was the favorite for the race, though I decided I’d cheer for Mad Rush since he had the coolest name, though Zipping and Ice Chariot weren’t bad, either.

As the race itself drew near, people across the country huddled around to watch.

I’m still not sure you get how big it is. Literally: in Melbourne, everyone had the day off work. And tons of people dress up. And everybody talks about it all day. I’m not saying it’s as big as, say, Christmas, but it definitely ranks higher than Columbus Day. It’s a come-from-behind-out-of-nowhere holiday: one you’ve never heard of and never contemplated having. It’s a great country.

Though we didn’t have the whole day off in Sydney, the city stopped for three exhilarating minutes to watch. And watch we did, just like they do in movies where everyone kind of leans to one side to follow as closely as they possibly can. We held our collective breath. We did our collective lean. We kept holding our collective breath. We collectively leaned some more. Like I said, it was exhilarating.

And it came down to the wire! Septimus had been rocking around in and out of second and third place, but dropped out somewhere in the last third or so. It all got a bit hazy. They kept passing horizontal lines on the ground and I kept trying to figure out which one was the one until suddenly they were showing replays of the photo finish and announcing that an outsider had won!

Septimus, unfortunately, did not win, place, show or even have the decency to come in last, but I couldn’t really hold it against him. He’d come a lot closer to making it than I had.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Melbourne Cup Day. The three minutes that stop the hat-laden country flat in its tracks. Till next year.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

quicko: noooo

What part of NO don't you understand?

Personally, it's somewhere around the third syllable I start getting confused.

Australians have the most unique way of pronouning "O." It's pretty much impossible to mimic, but it spreads the seemingly short sound from one day into the next. Ooooooh, what a feat.

Monday, November 3, 2008

quicko: newspapers

I was really distressed yesterday. I was at Max Brenner's and I was still upset, so you know it must have been bad.

I was reading the Sydney Morning Herald, which is the paper in town, and was shocked to find it using "Ah" and "mah" to quote an American saying "I" and "my." I understand they're not fond of certain Americans' sentiments and are linking them with redneck speech to strip people of their credibility, but I couldn't believe such a legitmate paper would stoop so low. Why not just let the words speak for themselves without adding insult to injury?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

quicko: coogee bay

So this isn't really so much a cultural observation as a you-can't-live-in-Sydney-and-not-mention-it-if-you-have-a-blog type deal: in Coogee Bay (that's a place) this pub (which they call a hotel, for reasons best known to themselves) served annoying customers um, excremement with their ice cream. What's more, the customers ate it.

Having been a waitress, I do empathize with the need to frustate the frustratingly frustrated, though I certainly can't fathom taking such extreme measures. At Perkins we usually just stuck to pee.

the wheels on the bus

Every time I think I've experienced every possible bus disaster I run headlong into the next.

Take this morning. It was 8-something am, which, may I point out, is EARLY. I was waiting calmly for my friendly neighborhood 144 to take me to Manly when my keen eyes saw it approaching from beyond the closest traffic light (thank goodness I had new contacts in). Naturally I sprang to my feet, sprinted the three feet to the curb, plunged out my arm as far as I could reach and jumped vigorously on both feet. (All of those steps, as you'll see, are integral. Forget any one and the bus will not stop. All the drivers are blind, except they can sometimes spot you if you do all that wearing green polka dots, but even then it's a gamble.)

Amazingly, the bus stopped and I climbed gleefully on and contentedly slathered myself in sunscreen for about two blocks until it turned right.

The 144 is not supposed to turn right. It is supposed to go straight. Everyone knows this, but none of the other three people on the bus seemed concerned so I figured maybe I was just getting the scenic route around the block (Australians are friendly like that, you know). But we didn't go around the block. We kept going lots of different directions, actually, until finally I broke down and broke bus etiquette (thou shall not speak to anyone thou doesn't know) and asked the couple in front of me where the bus was going. Manly, they said, which was good. But I was still confused. "Is this a 144?" I asked. "Nah," the man said. "It's a 132."

Now I can't blame your stomach for not falling right there, but it really ought to have. Let me explain: the 132 is the route Moses would have taken if he found it in the desert and didn't want to ruin God's plan by speeding things up, but thought it'd be nice to give everyone the chance to sit down a bit for awhile. It's a nice bus if you want to take a tour of Sydney without paying what the Original Bus Company tours charge and don't care about seeing any of the major sights, but it's not exactly the one you want to find yourself on at almost-9-something am when you're supposed to be starting beach volleyball at the hour. Thank goodness I'm not the sort who always has to be everywhere on time.

For months I thought Australian children were born with an innate sense of busing it. It wasn’t until I overheard three primary school boys discussing whether or not the express bus we were on would stop at their intended destination that I realized they aren’t; they simply are forced to develop it very early on.

Anyway, I was going to offer a top ten of bus disasters not because they're amusing (you think they're funny? you try some and then get back to me), but then realized that there were way more than ten of them, so instead we've got something of a running list of woes. You might want to find some Kleenex now.

--First and foremost: you never know where they’re going to drop you. You see your street (if you’re lucky enough to recognize it) go whizzing by and anxiously press the button, moving rapidly toward the door to assure the driver you do want to get off, perilously poised as he lurches round a corner, double ups the speed ante and leaves you frantically clinging on and memorizing every street you pass in hopes of finding your way back. This has happened to me. Seriously. On George Street.

George Street is the main drag in Sydney and it really takes a bit of talent to get lost on it, but I had every intention of getting off at Wynyard (in order to catch my next bus, of course) when suddenly I watched Wynyard fly past. Oh, I made it back, don't worry. Ye of little faith. There are far worse things that can happen with buses. Keep reading.

--Another dilemma is of course that you’ve been told it’s amazingly easy, all you have to do is jump on any bus to Neutral Bay and switch there to either the 143 or 144, whichever goes through, only not the 180 (the 145 of course having been discontinued last year due to lack of use), unless of course you don’t mind a healthy walk at the end of your ride, in which case the 180 wouldn’t be all that bad. Easy as pie, a trained monkey could do it.

The first problem I spotted with this was not merely remembering the bus number, but determining where precisely Neutral Bay was; the second, when I was there; and the third, where within to disembark (I’ll never get the hang of "alighting").

The bulk of this problem was solved, though, when I realized that American suburbs cover a much larger geographical base than Australian ones. Aussies, in good British measure, find a line of shops, plonk a bus stop in front of them and create a new town. Americans tend to add a few Wal-Marts first.

In any event, that still left me, most probably, unless Neutral Bay proved to be an Aussie exception, a mere two options of stops – one at either end of the line of shops. I was mercifully saved from picking the wrong end by asking a woman next to me where exactly I could get off if I wanted to change buses for North Balgowlah. She very kindly suggested the second and even rang the bell for me at the appropriate moment, a gesture for which I was highly grateful.

Passengers (and the occasional driver) are the one saving grace of buses – huddled masses dependant upon each other for survival – who can be generally depended on to help, at least when they’re not desperately memorizing streets themselves.

--Okay, then there was the time I did everything -- everything! -- right to wave down the bus I wanted. It stopped a ways before the stop, which was a little unusual, but not unheard of, so I scampered on down. As soon as I reached the bus it took off, then stopped a little ways after the stop. Accordingly, I re-scampered, and arrived panting and slightly disgruntled to find a stubby finger pointing to its sign: "set down only."

--Then there was the driver who told me to get off at the wrong stop. I had been doing very well following directions to get to my friend's place and asked the driver to please tell me when we got to the corner of King and Broadway, which he agreed to do. After passing a landmark or two my friend had told me were close at hand I went up to ask if my stop was coming up soon. Yes, he said, just wait three stops and get off. Having always been an obedient sort, I waited. Traffic was bad, though, and I called my friend to explain. She asked where I was and I said I saw a coffeeshop called the Giraffe, at which point she explained I'd passed her stop and should probably get off immediately and start walking backwards. Thanks, Mr. Driver.

--My friend Holly fared even worse than me, though. She'd asked the driver to tell her to get off in Seaforth, but he forgot. It wasn't until she went over the Spit Bridge that she suddenly remembered she hadn't gone over it going the other way. Oops.

--Then there's the times you know (oh, the joy!) your stop is coming, you press the button and ... nothing. The buzzer doesn't work. That leaves you running madly to the front, pressing every button you pass on the way and finally getting the driver to grind to a screeching halt as he happily tosses you out of the bus. "You might want to check the buzz--" you attempt to say to the exhaust, which doesn't seem overly interested.

--Even once you think you've got the hang of a particular bus route, they like to do something crazy like change where the stop is. Case in point: a brand spanking huge new Apple (computers, not fruit) opened up on George Street and all I can figure is that someone pulled some strings and got my Barrack Street stop moved from Barrack Street to in front of the brand spanking huge new Apple store, which is wonderful for people who want to go brand spanking huge new Apple stores, but bad for people who want to get on E68 buses. Guess which sort I am.

--Then there was the Friday night I was riding home a bit later and a bit more exhausted than usual. I'd really just spaced out for a bit when suddenly I noticed that my surroundings were not what they were supposed to be. I again broke bus etiquette and asked the man next to me if we were really on a 185. He thought we were, but was just as confused as I was. We knew we'd both reached a low point, though, when I shamefacedly admitted that I really had no recollection of whether or not we'd driven north over the Harbour Bridge or not ... and neither did he.

We peered fretfully out the windows, trying to determine where in Sydney we might be, but neither of us could work it out until he remembered that after a certain time of night bus routes sometimes change so as to get more people closer to home. We finally worked out we'd taken the scenic route through North Sydney, which, might I add, is considerably more scenic by day.

--My favorite bus situations are the buses that just never, ever come. Holly and I experienced what I'd always thought would be a one-off time of this with the 7:15 168 out of Wynyard, but then it happened to me in North Balgowlah (it was cold and rainy and I looked so miserable a nice lady took pity on me and gave me a lift instead) and then again on the 7:15. This time I was prepared. This time I called 131500. And five minutes later after I made it through all the voice recordings and wrong people and I finally talked to a nice man who told me there'd been an accident on the Spit Bridge, but that my bus would probably be there in the next five minutes, but definitely by 8. I waited till 8. At 8:15 I hopped on a 185, and at 8:30 I lodged an official complaint. I haven't heard back since.

--Now I know the drivers and bus people and everyone can't help some of the things that go on. One particular Monday morning springs to mind: it was, naturally, the same Monday morning that my phone had run out of credit that there happened to be a major accident on the Harbour Bridge and all the buses got terribly rerouted, but actually traffic was so horrendous almost everyone got out of the buses and walked. I followed suit and so had a very nice ferry trip across the Harbour instead of the usual bus ride. I was an hour late for work; had I stayed on my bus, it'd have been about three.

--Besides the dramatic misadventures, though, there's plenty of little, regular nuisances: not having a seat and having to stand up for half an hour springs to mind, as do tickets getting bent up and bad smells. But like I said, little, regular nuisances.

--A bigger problem is getting on the wrong bus entirely. Twice it's happened that I've been on a bus I was convinced was going to stop at a certain place, yet it had utterly no intention of doing so. Once I found myself stranded halfway between home and the Warringah Mall, and once I found myself a suburb (why is it only an American-sized suburb when you're lost?) north of where I wanted to be. Yes, I made it back; no, I was not a happy camper. Resigned, actually, I think is how you could describe my attitude. It all goes so much better when you just get it in your head that bus disasters happen and all you can really do is the hokey pokey: turn yourself around and wait for the next bus, that's what it's all about.

--So lots of times you don't know where to get off. It's embarrassing, utterly humiliating. I hate it. You feel so stupid, eyes glued alternatively to your map and your surroundings, fingers at the buzzer-ready, ears attuned to overhear any useful comments. Usually I err on the side of getting off too early, which tends to mean a healthy walk. I was perfectly healthy before the walk, though, thank you very much. I took the bus because I didn't want to walk in the first place!

--Now this one hasn't happened to me, but I've seen it happen to others, and it's downright cruel. There's someone who can't get out of the bus on time and so another passenger yells out, "back door!" and generally the driver reopens the door and lets the passenger out. Generally.

--Most of the time you can make a bit of racket on a bus and no one gets too bent out of shape, at least publicly. But my morning bus ride is silent. It's not so much a stony silence as a how-the-heck-could-anyone-talk-before-7:30-am? silence, which I empathize with utterly. Except one day I had a phone call. It was awful, I was trying to talk to my Dad, who didn't understand why I'd suddenly started whispering and wanted me to speak up so he could hear the reason and I ended up getting frustrated with the whole situation, cutting Dad off and undoubtably leaving the rest of the bus convinced I was a complete waste of a daughter. Great way to start the day.

--One of the most frustrating bus situations I've ever experienced is the bus that comes while you're checking the schedule to see when it's supposed to come, but darts off before you locate the current time and routes. Alternatively, there are buses that just decide not to stop because there's others in front of them (but you needed THAT one!), or because they're already full (and you're late for work!) or sometimes, aren't they sweet, for no reason at all.

--A different sort of dilemma is the talkative driver. He crops up on those days when all you want to do is get back to the city as soon as possible because the Sunday public transport trek took two hours and fifteen minutes and now you're going to be late for church, but you know, he's from Macedonia and came here to make a better living (all his family's there) and thinks you really ought to get married because 24 is actually a good age for that, you know, and if you left a boyfriend behind in America, you really shouldn't hold out for him because he's not going to hold out for you, that's just how it goes, you really ought to marry an Aussie, and soon, Macedonia's actually quite chilly this time of year, you know.

--Buses, unfortunately, can change their numbers at will. You never catch a subway doing that. Take the London Underground: have you ever caught the Piccadilly line going, gee, I'm awfully chirpy today, I think I'll be the Jubilee line now? Of course not. But buses do. It pulls up and it's a 185, then suddenly there's a shuffle, a quick costume change and voila, it's the new 186, which of course is fine if you live north of Curl Curl. Guess who doesn't.

--Of all my bus adventures, though, my favorite was on the E68. The E68, you see, that express bus of express buses, is the one that stops directly on my lovely street. But one day it would seem the unfortunate E68 got itself in a bit of kersnuffle and couldn't find its poor way home. It bounded energetically right just after the "someone tell him to go left!" call had sounded, and the poor E68 found itself spun into, horrors, the route of the 144 or perhaps even the 143. Befuddled, it betook itself to the side and pondered gravely for some moments before settling suddenly on its newfound course of action, spinning out amongst traffic to pull (brave little soul) a 3-point u-ie to the other side of the median. And then on it putzed, brave little bus, chugging merrily down the hill where it appeared quite content to follow the road's natural left before a resounding shout came from everywhere on that small, delicate bus's interior, "straight ahead!!" And straight that brave little bus went, over kerb and all. Good little bus. Don't you just love the E68? I do.

Maybe buses are a skill that some people and some people just lack, and I'm clearly the queen of the latter category, but may I just point out that I've only been in Australia since January? That's less than a year and every single one of these events has actually happened to me. Really, I had no clue how the southern half lived.