Friday, December 31, 2010

top ten annual events in sydney

Sydney is an amazing city -- it's got the harbour, the bridge, gorgeous beaches, oh, and that Opera House they take all those pictures of.  But it's not just a pretty face.  Sydney's got character, too, and it hosts a ton of cool annual events.  Here's my pick for its top ten.  (And can I just mention that these are only my top ten?  As in, I had to leave lots of others out because they didn't make the cut.  Not bad, hey?)

1.  New Years' Eve.  This has to be number one for me.  I absolutely love New Years in Sydney.  Fireworks get me every time and the ones here are quite literally the best in the world.  I know you wouldn't think Cincinnati, Ohio would give it much competition, but Cincinnati's Labor Day fireworks are nothing to sneeze at and honestly the closest competition I've seen for Sydney.  The scale and vibe and Harbour Bridge, not to mention the fireworks themselves, just push Sydney right over the top, though.  I can't wait to see them again!

2.  Carols under the Bridge.  Perhaps it's a bit risky throwing in an event I've never actually been to and that isn't actually a Sydney city event, but I'm going to risk it and slot it in at number two.  It's my church's carols service and draws huge crowds (okay, not as big as NYE, but bigger than, say, the number of people reading my blog on any given day) for the free sing-a-long under the bridge.  It's got to be weird singing "Joy to the World" in the middle of summer (still getting used to this Christmas-in-winter thing), but I guess ye faithful o come despite the weather.

Sidenote:  maybe I've mentioned this before, but the fact remains:  Sydney (by which I mean any city located in the southern hemisphere), while odd to celebrate Christmas in (it really does seem most suited to a winter climate -- though I will admit to loving wearing summer dresses for Christmas parties! -- but how are you supposed to gorge yourself and then don swimwear?!), is really amazingly suited to New Years.  And Cincinnati, say (by which I mean any city located in the northern hemisphere), is really amazingly suited to Christmas (what with the snow and all), but could have such a better New Years if it were warm.  So it's rather impossible to get the best of both worlds (unless you do what I've been known to do and fly between them between the holidays), but each has something quite grand to offer.

3.  Sculpture by the Sea.  Always around Halloween and shortly thereafter.  It's fantastic -- intriguing sculptures situated along one of the most scenic walks in the city.  It spans from Bondi to Bronte (or Tamarama?) beaches and is an annual highlight.  What's even better is that, while the art is generally great, even if there's an off year, it's still okay because the scenery is still so beautiful.  It's a great way to make sure to do the lovely walk at least once a year, too.

4.  The Aroma Festival.  Held in the Rocks when it's on the chilly side, the Aroma Festival features tons of chocolate, tea, coffee and goodies (i.e., cupcakes).  It's also been known to include camel rides, which are a particular draw for me, as if the chocolate weren't enough.  It's gotten really huge and has not only free samples, but also clever names for various stalls.  What more do you want in an Aroma Festival?

5.  Cinema over the harbour.  This one's coming up, too -- I think maybe in January?  It's great, too:  you get to watch a movie outside (novelty right there!) but with the Opera House and harbour for a backdrop.  It reminds me of the question I had when touring the Greek theatre in Taormina, Sicily -- how did they tear themselves from the view long enough to actually watch the performance?  Here it's a bit easier because night falls and it's a bit hard to see.  Perhaps that's how they handled it, too.  You tend to get a few goodies, too -- Lindt chocolate among them.  And last year featured a free ride by a tuxed up young chauffeur in a new hybrid car.  If only there'd been roses.

6.  The Sydney Writers' Festival.  So this might be a bit esoteric, but it's my list and I happen to be a bit biased.  Writers' Festivals are cool.  Period.

7.  Shakespeare by the Sea.  Again, not technically a "Sydney" event, but it's close enough.  It's at Balmoral, which is just one of my favorite spots to begin with.  Though I tend to find the productions a bit blah, free outdoor Shakespeare at Balmoral is pretty hard to turn down.  Besides, you just end up feeling so darn cultured.

8.  The Sydney Summer Festival.  From the "this is our city in summer!" banners forward, it's hard to be anything but jubilant in Sydney's summer.  I have yet to come to the Festival First Night (on my list!), but I imagine it's pretty worth it.  The free events are my favorites (the pay-for theatre events I find to be a little too hit or miss to be entirely worth it) -- particularly in the Domain.  It's just such a fun, big crowd atmosphere.  And easy enough to blend in on your own if necessary ...

9.  Tropfest.  Speaking of the Domain, Tropfest is another of my yearly excitements.  I've only been once so far, but am keen (he he!  see how Australian I sound!) to go again.  It's a night of short films put forward for various awards, and generally lots of fun.  There's such diversity of films it's great because even if you don't like one, well, it's already almost over.

10.  The Noodle Markets.  Another annual event.  A bit more overpriced, but a fun night (or nights) out.  You can't deny Sydney's got its fair share of noodles, and Hyde Park's not a bad place to sample them in.

There you have it.  Sydney through the year.  And like I said -- these are just the beginning!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

photos: christmas

update: more bus bloopers

--When you think there's a seat free in the back and you're the only one standing and walk all the way to the back only to find that there isn't one.
--Vice versa:  there IS a seat free in the back but there's someone who won't go take it standing between you and the seat.  Even worse if you can't quite tell, but are pretty sure there is one.
--You push the button and nothing happens.  So you push it harder.  Nothing still happens.  You don't know if the button is broken or if the driver's got it turned off because he's already planning to stop.  Or what.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

quicko: out of town

The week between Christmas and New Years is similar in Australia to the U.S. -- nearly everyone is traveling somewhere.  I have Australian friends in New York, other parts of America, camping, Queensland, somewhere down the South Coast, somewhere up the North Coast, Inverell, Byron Bay, Foster, Melbourne, Ulla Dulla and probably a range of other places as well.  It's great to be in Sydney before Christmas and for New Years, but the time in between is ... well, relaxing.  And a wee bit tough on the extroverts.

quicko: further thoughts on boxing day

Did you know Boxing Day was also St. Stephen's Day?  Neither did I.  Turns out it was.  And you missed it.  Again.

In any event, I actually heard a very good sermon on Stephen -- the first Christian martyr -- on Boxing Day.  However, the only notes I seem to have taken revolve not around his sacrifice or even the ongoing martyrdom of Christians around the world (a huge number if you were unaware -- more Christians were martyred in the 21st century than all the preceding centuries added together*) but around Boxing Day.  Two further theories as to its origins were given:

--It was a day when leftovers were boxed up and given to charity.
--It was a day when boxed goodies were given to a family's butcher, baker, candlestick maker, etc.

*Check out Voice of the Martyrs -- particularly their section on how Christians are currently persecuted in countries (China, Laos, Vietnam, etc.) around the world -- for more information.

quicko: balmain bugs

I have a new favorite kind of seafood -- the Balmain bug.  Despite its unsavory name (and, I just realized here, appearance!), they're actually very good -- especially grilled.  I know it's cliche, but I'd say they taste like a seafood-y chicken.  Not quite as ... solid ... but very tasty.  Presumably healthy.  Possibly Christmas-y.  At any rate, I was served one on Christmas Day, and it was great!

quicko: further thoughts on christmas

--There are cars riding around with antlers and Rudolph noses.  This seems very American to me, but I'm in Australia.  I can only imagine it is a distinct effort to make me feel welcome.

--The pubs were packed on Christmas Eve -- absolutely pounding.  You could argue that had to do with the fact Christmas Eve was a major public holiday on a Friday, but you could also argue it had to do with the fact that Christmas Eve was a major public holiday in Australia.

christmas lack-of-cookies

Just hasn't got the same ring, has it?  The taste's a bit off, too.

I don't know why, but for some reason Australians aren't big into Christmas cookies.  Possibly because they call them biscuits.

I had one friend who made some chocolate chip (which they dub "choc chip") cookies and something gingery the week before Christmas, but that was it.  And I kind of think it was a bit of a fluke he just happened to be baking around Christmas.

Not that I was doing any baking, either, but at least I noticed what was missing.  It took me a minute, though, when my Christmas hosts asked what I usually ate for Christmas dessert (they asked this just as I finished photographing every angle of their their Christmas pudding (which isn't actually pudding, pictured left) and Christmas cake (which is fruitcake, not pictured)).  I couldn't quite remember.

Umm, gingerbread, sometimes, I told them, but even then that didn't sound quite right.  Then it came to me:  Christmas cookies!  No one's baking special desserts on Christmas Day because there are so many uneaten cookies everyone's trying to get rid of.

Where do all the cookies come from?  It's a bit of a mystery in the vein of how socks go missing out of the dryer.  (A mystery Australians, incidentally, know precious little about seeing as they use dryers only as decor and selling points of rental units, if that.)

Although most American households make some cookies (gingersnaps, the ones I don't know the name of, the other ones I don't know the name of, lebkuchen (which I'm pretty sure I don't like) and of course sugar cookies being the most common in my house), the number of cookies that appears tends to be far above the number actually within concocted.

An extra dozen or so surely come from a mathematical mishap at the cookie exchange.  Most churches run cookie exchanges around Christmas where every woman bakes 12 dozen cookies and arrives at the church to trade twelfths of her hoard with 11 other women.  (12 being, of course, a very biblical number.)

Then, neighbors, friends and strangers tend to drop off cookies because they've got more than they know what to do with, too.

And then, Grandma comes.

Now for many children and storybook characters alike this is a truly blessed event.  Their grandmothers, however, were not ancestrally German.

I have no idea what the current state of German cooking is, but the Pennsylvania Dutch German variety seems to have jumped ship a bit more than necessary when it comes to Christmas cookies.  I could be wrong, but I think they opted to take out all recommended quantities of chocolate and insert jelly instead.  In my house, anything including chocolate cannot possibly be deemed a Christmas cookie.  Ginger, yes, raisins, yes, jelly, yes.  Chocolate, no.

The result is a dry, jelly-filled morsel squished between six other kinds of dry, occasionally powdered sugared pieces of chocolate-less dessert that are supposed to taste good, but instead do nothing but add to your already off-the-charts daily calorie intake.  With none of the oomph of deliciousness.

This wouldn't be so bad in and of itself -- you could fairly easily avoid such cookies with a few helpfully ambiguous niceties -- but they distinctly prevent you from eating other Christmas cookies -- the kind brought by friends whose shallow definition of Christmas cookies includes any cookie made at Christmastime.

The ongoing problem then is that the rock-hard German Kekse end up sitting around for days upon days, the mother of more complete Pennsylvania Dutch heritage being the only one in the house who actually likes them, well into the time when the normal calorie count has actually stabilized and all your other friends are devouring delicious orange slice cookies, which they've told you about for years but as of yet never actually offered you any of, despite having been your best friend for over a decade.  And, alas, they're all gone this year already, too.  Maybe next year.

Thankfully I also have a father who likes dessert, but is of British descent and, while by no means a culinary master, can very convincingly whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies.  Naturally, having chocolate, these do not classify as Christmas cookies in my house, but it's usually nearly New Years by this point so my mother is too exhausted to argue.  We can even snatch fingerfuls of dough and not get in trouble.

This year, in a blatant effort to provoke what she believes are my very latent domestic cooking instincts, my mother sent me plastic baggies of every spice known in the McCormack spice rack and a recipe for gingerbread.  I am happy to report the bay leaves were the only substance actually seized by customs (evidently they should have been chopped up), and the gingerbread turned out, amazingly, perfectly.

Except that, never having used the measuring cups before I put them back in the wrong drawer and proceeded to get it so stuck that I required the aid of three male friends simultaneously pulling with all of their weight to get it out again.

And then I proceeded to break the sugar bowl.

But otherwise, I can't imagine why I don't cook.  I guess the Australian Christmas spirit's rubbed off on me.  Bah humbug.

update: yet another bus blooper

It is not necessary, when on a crowded bus full of standing passengers pulling into Neutral Bay, to push your way from the back past several other standing passengers to the door before the bus reaches its first stop.  Wait until it stops and a quarter of the bus will exit anyway.  You certainly won't end up a stranded mess a stop too far north on the mean streets of Neutral Bay.  Really.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

quicko: closed

Christmas Day I can understand.  Boxing Day I can understand.  Even the 27th as a public holiday makes a bit of sense.  But the day after the day after the day after Christmas??  Really??  How do they get away with that?

Perhaps I should back up.   I'm talking about the post office.  Not the restaurants or department stores or retail outlets or any other such luxuries, but the post office.  My little Australian calendar informs me that today is the "Boxing Day Public Holiday (except Qld, NSW)."  I can only imagine that the post offices are closed nation-wide, despite the fact I went to a post office demonstrably in NSW.  Okay, the concept is nice -- "lose" a public holiday on a weekend, make it up later -- but really!  Where do you draw the line?  And how does a governmental institution like a post office get off being closed 4 days straight with no one except tourists batting an eye?

I'd hate to think what the banks have thought to done.  Presumably they'll be open before Easter.

quicko: shrapnel

Slang for silver coins.  (Distinguished from "gold coins" in that they are less valuable, though occasionally colloquially Australians will refer to any coins as shrapnel, even if moments previously they have just told you it only refers to silver coins.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

quicko: teddy "bears"

Australians, it would seem, like the British, refer most incorrectly to any stuffed animal as a "teddy" or "teddy bear" or even "bear" regardless of species.  I don't have enough italics to express how very appalled I am!

Case in point:  Aslan is demonstrably a lion, NOT a teddy bear!  He has a mane, for goodness' sake!  And a lion-style tail!  And a Band-Aid on his foot!  I suppose that last one doesn't necessarily imply lionness, but I can assure you, he is most definitely a lion.  Rrrrrroarr!!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

quicko: boxing day

So today is Boxing Day.  You know, it's that little thing that shows up on our calendars on December 26 and nobody knows what it is or why it's there.  Ages ago I heard it was a British thing from olden days that, after Christmas, the family would give small boxes to their servants on the day after the day.  I have no idea how true it is, but it's the idea I've been thoroughly convinced by for a large number of years.

Regardless, Australians celebrate Boxing Day, if by celebrate you mean "call the day Boxing Day and not do much of anything."  It's really more a title for a day than anything, from what I can tell.  Nothing significant happens on it, but it accomplishes basically the same thing as The Day After Christmas.  Movies are released, plans are made and fun is had.  The end.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

quicko: "candles" and christmas eve

So we've known Australians are a bit on the casual side, but we didn't know they use glowsticks instead of candles for the Christmas Eve service.  The rest of the service was great and normal and joyful and all that, except I can't entirely vouch for the first 20 minutes because I was spending the time staring into a stream of cold water in the bathroom after my glowstick broke and squirt me in the eye.  It turns out they're probably reasonably harmless (google when I got home), but I didn't know that at the time.  Thankfully I was with my friend who's a nurse and also managed to reach my optometrist friend on the phone.  They both concurred lots of water was a good idea, so that's what I found.  I got a little nervous when I could see rainbows around lights that other people couldn't, but by the end of the service, things were pretty much back to normal.  Except that they still weren't using candles.

quicko: further thoughts on suburbs

Today I had occasion to visit the post office twice.  I'm not all that fond of the post office -- I mean, it's nice and everything, but I don't have any huge attachment -- but they sent me a little postcard this morning that said they had A Box for me.  So I went and got The Box.  (There's a two hour lesson on articles in those two sentences, but thank goodness you've mastered your English already.  It's really a rather dull lesson.)

When I picked up The Box I mentioned that, maybe, possibly, there might be another for me but I might not have gotten the corresponding postcard yet.  The nice woman assured me that I had the only box they had for me.  So I took it and chirped merrily home.  (It had been, incidentally, a particularly good mail day.  Not only had I received the postcard of boxiness, I had also received a Christmas card, a real letter and a wedding invitation for my favorite engaged couple.  And then I had gone to work, where I only had to teach 90 minutes, then got to have a picnic!  And then went for coffee with the teachers!  And get to wear my new dress tonight!  To a party!  And a Christmas Eve service!  With candlelight!  It was really more than just a good mail day, actually, it was an all-around good day!)

However, when I got home, I found at my door another postcard of boxiness.  Normally I'd have been content just to have left it for another day, but today is Christmas Eve and the first box came from Santa and was full of my stocking stuffers, while the second box came from Mom and was full of my Christmas presents.  I knew she'd want me to have my box on Christmas day (that's why she'd spent exorbitant amounts mailing it over seven seas, six deserts, three plains and two oceans) so leaving it on its own for the holiday was out of the question.  I traipsed back to get it.

And that was when it hit me:  it would take me roughly the same amount of time to get my from home in America to my post office in America as it would take for me to get from my home in Australia to my post office in Australia -- the only difference being that in America I'd be driving and in Australia I'd be walking.  And therein lies the difference:  the size of suburbs!  American suburbs are huge -- ten minutes driving inside one is perfectly typical, and I'm not just talking 25 mph -- certainly up to 40 (49 if you speed), if not 65 (74 if you speed) on the highway.  Mine has no fewer than 4 (4!) exits off a major highway.  If I drove that far in Sydney, I'd be four suburbs over, at least.

But who's counting?  It's Christmas Eve and I have my presents.  To all a goodnight.

quicko: 'twas the night before christmas

... and Kim suddenly decided to share all the rest of her Christmas thoughts before it was too late!

--There have been, contrary to previous posts, some signs of festive cheer around town.  For example, there have been buskers in the train station most days over the last week or two.  Christmas music has also been playing in stores for ages.

--Christmas music includes all the same snowy sorts of wonders as it does back home -- ones about jingling bells and sleigh rides and bedecked out halls, etc.  No one seems to be particularly familiar with the movie White Christmas, though.

--It's a Wonderful Life is known here.  In fact, my Australian friends insisted I watch it with them.  The biggest question:  what does "hot dog!" mean as an exclamation?  (Particularly as George says it at a time where an "oh drat!" seems more appropriate?  I fear I failed in my American duties.)

--I'm wearing shorts and a t-shirt today.  Today is Christmas Eve.

--Oddly enough, while I usually wear a little black dress on Christmas, I've got a long blue one for this year.  Note the irony:  my dress is longer in the warmer environment.  Very strange fluke.

--And finally, it doesn't feel like Christmas Eve really at all.  There's hardly any of that "oh gosh!  hello!  and do have a very merry Christmas!" feeling about on the streets.

--However, we do have a Christmas Eve candlelight service.  Thankfully the most important things are the same everywhere.

The joy of the birth of our Savio(u)r to you tonight and always!

quicko: awaaaaay in a manager

So the other day I tried to find a Christmas card with something -- anything -- about Jesus.  Turns out the absolute closest I could get to the real Christmas story were jokes about "gee, if only I had three kings I could have a full house" or some take-off on no room in the inn.  I was appalled.  Eventually, the best I could come up with was some generic tidings of peace and joy.

The whole holiday is really secularized -- although it definitely is in America, too, if people aren't Christians here, they're loathe to even admit the celebration stems from one of the most important Christian memories of all time.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

quicko: tis the season

... or not.  Christmas here feels much more like a day, and much less like a season.  I'm not sure exactly what it is, but I think it's a combination of no snow, no Thanksgiving, no Christmas cookies, no carols (except at specifically designated carol services), etc.  Christmas cards aren't as big; neither are, say, wreaths.  The decorations in homes are really just plain pitiful -- a small, fake tree, if that.  Not even Charlie Brown trees -- those I could live -- but just wimpy little artificial affairs.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

quicko: silly season

Slang for Christmas time.  My least favorite phrase of the year -- can't stand it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

quicko: whatchamacallems

Although they don't really call them "bathing suits," Australians have more than enough words to refer to such attire.  Their words include, but are not limited to:

--a cozzie
--a swimming costume

Or, of course, more specific options such as:

--a bikini
--budgie smugglers

Monday, December 20, 2010

quicko: the day delay

It's a hazard of living so close to the international date line, but it's been known to happen:  you get wished a happy birthday, Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, Easter, etc. a day late.  Your friends remember and want to wish you appropriate greetings, but forget they have to be on the ball about a day in advance.  Ah well.  At least they tried, hey?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

photos: carols under the bridge

invite: carols by the bridge!!!

I'm sorry it's such late notice, but if you're in the Kirribilli area today (as Kirribilli Kim will naturally be!), do come to CAROLS by the bridge.  There's jazz and kids' stuff from 5:30 pm and the Christmas carols themselves start at 7:30.  It's going to be an absolutely amazing night -- hope to see you there!!

quicko: bus update

Another handy bus tip:  there is no need to run for a bus when you can see that there are still people boarding it.  It will take them time to put their little tickets through, and you will be just fine if you wait it out and let them do so.  If you can see the last person's getting on and you're still a good ways back, that's the time to hustle along.  No need to be premature about it, though.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

update: "sleeps"

I learned tonight that the use of the word "sleeps" as a noun -- as in, only six more sleeps until Christmas -- is actually more of a kids' thing.  I had no clue, as everyone I've heard use it is well over 20.  Turns out they may just be hearkening back to their childhoods and I completely missed the sentimentality in their comments.  Obtuse American.

Friday, December 17, 2010

quicko: further thoughts brownies

Besides not finding brownies very frequently in Australia (and, did I mention, they tend to be entirely too rich when I do find them?  even Max Brenner makes them too exquisite for me), I've been told recently that Australians perceive Americans as all coming with their own, somewhat different brownie recipe.  I happen to favor Betty Crocker in a box, but have the utmost respect for others who choose differently.  Furthermore, I've decided I'm taking brownies to Brennan's Thanksgiving next year.  There just wasn't quite enough chocolate to go around and, gosh, if there's any food I'm most thankful for it's got to be brownies.  Hands down fantastic chocolate.  Brownies just can't be beat.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

quicko: weddings

Differences between American and Australian bridal festivities:

--the signing of the register takes place during Australian weddings, but before American ones
--the speeches are a bigger deal at Australian receptions
--there tend to be more Australians present at Australian weddings, go figure

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

quicko: nickels and dimes

Unknown to Australians.  Pennies they'd have a pretty good guess at, but even quarters remain slightly elusive.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

quicko: GPAs or other such nonesense

Australians don't really work so much with GPAs (grade point averages) as Americans.  What's really important to them is this number they get after they take a big test near the end of high school.  This national index number gives them a relative ranking against their classmates and various numbers open the doors to various degree programs.  It's all a bit complicated and I'm pretty fuzzy on the details, but basically it's very important.  High numbers (I'm pretty sure we're on a 100 point scale -- so, say, a 95 maybe) let you do things like become a doctor; lower numbers let you rethink your options.  If you don't do up to snuff but still want to go to university, never fear!  You can still go (Americans, sit down) as a "fee-paying student."  That is, if you're not quite there, no worries, you just have to pay for it.  Oh, or if you're international.  Then they don't care what your score is (you obviously didn't take the test), they just want your money.  And tons of it.

The whole process of picking a college (er, university) is very different in Australia.  Aside from the whole most people stay in the same city and live at home thing is the actual process itself.  If I'm understanding things right, high school seniors (no doubt called something different because Australians always get really interested if I mention my "senior" year -- or "sophomore" especially.  It's such a funny word, and just something they don't have at all, you see.) fill out some vital form that lists their first, second, third, etc. choice of program at a particular school.  Then, based on the number they get on that all-important test, they may or may not get their first, second, third, etc., choice.

I think, for example, they could say they'd like to do law at Macquarie, but, failing that, journalism at UNSW, but, failing that, social work at Sydney University, but, failing that, social work at UNSW, but failing that, dance performance at Macquarie, but, failing that, whatever's left.  But I could be wrong on that.  It's all very convoluted,  Of course they understand it all perfectly (like we do with GPAs and sophomore years), but it's a mite tricky for outsiders.

Monday, December 13, 2010

quicko: children

I feel like I ought to have cultural observations on children, but I really don't.  It's not so much children are seen and not heard as I hardly ever see them.  Aside from knowing that they wear uniforms to school and that the little ones play in a "creche" rather than a "nursery" at church, I've hardly interacted with any children since coming to Australia.  Presumably they have them.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

photos: christmas party!!

update: backrub lines

No sooner did I blog that Australians don't do public backrubs then what to my wondering eyes should appear:

quicko: the nutbush

A great Australian dance tradition, I am told, stretching back thousands of years.

Either that or one of those tacky lines dances.  Your call.

photos: friday night games night!

quicko: destruction of gingerbread houses

A big, mean Australian destroying my cute little gingerbread house.

quicko: abilities

There's an ad campaign going around (when is there not?) that reads:  don't DIS my ABILITY.  I'm all for the message.  Don't know what they're actually doing besides circulating images, but I'm not really in the know here and I figure every bit helps.  Good, as they say here, on them.  Whoever them is.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

quicko: thai play

I've mentioned before that there's an abundance of Thai restaurants in Sydney.  What I'm afraid I might neglected to have mentioned is how very cleverly named many of them are.  Stir Crazy has to be my favorite, but Wok 'N Roll and Thai Me Up aren't bad either.  They feature word play of what I think could be considered rather epic proportions, considering that it sometimes uses gags in pronunciation -- such as Thai Riffic -- that are really just incredible based on the pronunciation exhibited by so many Thai speakers I've met.  I don't know who they pay to do their marketing, but they're clearly getting their money's worth.

Friday, December 10, 2010

quicko: coles moms

This probably isn't exactly a cultural revelation of epic proportions (probably more of a similarity, really), but I've noticed that weekdays Coles around 11 am is full of mothers and kids and have just been itching to blog about it.  Why, I don't know.  I think it's just so rare I am observant enough to notice something of my accord I want to make a to-do out of it and show the world that, amazingly, it can actually be done.  To further demonstrate my skills of observation, allow me to point out that there's even a play area where moms can plop their kids to play.  I think they're supposed to stay with them, but who knows if they follow the rules.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

reminder: writers' read night upcoming!

Hey!  Don't forget:  a week from tonight is the Writers' Read Extravaganza -- my writers' group is reading our works publicly!

It's a bring your own wine and cheese and picnic blanket (or rug, if you're Australian) from 7:30 at Manly Lagoon.  Hope you can join us!

quicko: semis

You just don't see that many here.  Maybe it's because I'm mostly in the city.  But huh.  I see way, way more when I'm home than when I'm here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

quicko: practice makes perfect

Australians are weird about practice.  They spell it alternate ways.  Practise when it's a noun; practice when it's a verb.  Or maybe it's the other way round.  I really don't know.  I can't keep track.  50-50 says I'm right.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

the best bathrooms in town

Girls, I have a secret:  the QVB has some of the best bathrooms in town.  They don't beat the lower level of the Opera House (which has pretty much everything besides couches), but they're by far some of the cleanest public restrooms in Sydney.  And, what's more, they're centrally located.

I've rarely seen them crowded and they're perfect for a quick "okay-let's-regroup-and-refreshen."  The doors open automatically when you walk in (what service!) and there's plenty of room to move about.  The ones upstairs have nice ledges you can plop bags on while you switch into heels or do whatever else needs doing.  I haven't straightened my hair or painted my nails in them, but I imagine you could if you really had to.

Hidden gem of the city, but don't tell too many people.  I'd hate for them to actually get used much.

Monday, December 6, 2010

quicko: dragon removal

I don't know what this, but I saw on painted (with a picture, in case there was any doubt) on the side of a truck the other day.  I had no idea they still had dragons in Sydney, much less that you needed a small-ish white truck to remove them, but clearly I was mistaken.

And you thought sharks were the biggest Australian hazard.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

quicko: ocean care day

I was on the bus the other day and noticed a sign that read "Ocean Care Day."  While it makes sense to have such an event (I'm sure coastal American cities must too), I had never encountered one before.  Also, it was for today -- December 5 -- which still just seems funny to me as a day to run around out by the ocean.  Shouldn't it be, like, frozen over or something?*

*Yes, I know the ocean does not freeze over.  Thank you for almost correcting me, though.  If only I were actually wrong!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

quicko: gingerbread houses

So, I'm having a bit of an open house ...
No, really, isn't it cute?  (You have to say yes.  Go on.)
But really, here's the thing (did I mention this last year?):
Australians eat their gingerbread houses.  How wrong is that?
I actually tried my gables (how often can you say that?) and was amazed to realize they were kind of chewy.
Kind of chewy!  I'd never had gingerbread that wasn't stale, unless of course you mean real, homemade gingerbread which is very different and one of my all-time top ten favorite desserts.

quicko: pink and green slips

Not related to work or watermelon.  These are for cars:  the papers the mechanics and RTA (Road and Travel Authority if I'm not mistaken) must sign off on to allow your car to drive.  They're pricey and there's a particular order and all they must be done in.  They vary from state to state, too.  New South Welshfolk have informed me that their requirements are particularly stringent, which is why you don't see bad cars in Sydney.

Friday, December 3, 2010

quicko: backrub lines

I've only ever encountered these in America.  The concept of a group of people sitting in a row and giving a backrub to the person in front of them seems to be mostly high school sort of thing, though, so quite possibly it's done here, too, but I just came over a bit late.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

update: the $3 rule in further action

Stickers.  Cute little packet of paw prints, cute little packet of stars.  For cute little students.  Aww.  For cute little price of SIX BUCKS?!

(Yes, for those of you counting, that was exactly $3 per packet.  I'm telling you, this $3 thing isn't a joke.)

update: further bus bloopers

Here's another possibility:  you can be talking on a cell phone on a reasonably populated bus fairly late and suddenly realize that it has passed your stop because no one pressed the button.  You can be going to a wildly popular stop -- one that someone always gets off at -- but yeah.  Whoosh goes the bussie!

update: another game australians play

Cornering.  I learned it in the elevator yesterday, though forgot the name and tried to call it "crowding."  That's wrong.  Cornering is so named because it's when someone's standing in a corner (or, say, sitting in a corner on a bus) and you hurl yourself on to them and there's no where they can escape to because, well, they're cornered.  Point of clarification, though:  this game is not meant to be played with strangers.  I checked.  Which put my friends into hysterics.  "What if she hadn't asked?!" they cried.  "Can you imagine?  She'd have been throwing herself on strangers on the bus!"

No, no.  While ghosting is done with strangers, cornering is played only amongst friends.  Fair warning -- game on!

quicko: care package delights

So I got a care package from my mom the other day (the same day as the afghan package).  It was so exciting!  Besides an assortment of make up I'd ordered, she also sent some comics, various office supplies, Tide sticks and ... well, why don't you guess?  Go on, it'll be fun!  What else might my mother have sent to me?  Stickers?  No.  Purell?  No.  Bath and Body Works?  No.  Victoria Secret?  No, but I had my suspicions at first that she'd try to go there and something had gone horribly wrong ... Did that help?  Have you figured it out?  No?  Give up?  Okay, I'll tell you (and I owe you 500 words of congratulations if you actually managed to guess without being told) -- a Bavarian beer girl costume!!  Of my very own!  Can you believe it?  Neither could I.  Neither could my flatmate.  ("Is that your ... Christmas costume?" she asked, clearly trying to be as culturally sensitive as possible.  I assured her that it wasn't, but did try it on for kicks and giggles.  "You've ... certainly got the hair for it," she managed.)

My mother doesn't send me cookies or stuffed animals, oh no.  She sends me Bavarian beer girl costumes. I think it could also double as a piratey, wenchy sort of number in a pinch (mom told me that was what it was technically billed as, though she thought it was a bit more Oktoberfesty as well).

And there I have it.  A brand new addition to my costume box.  Ask on the blog and ye shall receive!  Thanks, mom!

Oh -- and another of those light weight wrap-y things that goes over anything would be great, if anyone happens to need gift ideas.  White, ivory, tan, gray, black, a couple, whatever!  I wear the ones I've got all the time!  Oh!  Oh!  And long white or black kid gloves would be great, too!

quicko: morning/afternoon tea

An Australian (and, yes, British) concept just not part of American culture.  A precise definition is probably a bit elusive, but the general idea is that, in the morning or afternoon respectively, a group gathers for tea and biscuits or something similar.  Biscuits of course are small-ish cookies (about the size of Chips Ahoys), generally store bought.  The something similar though could be homemade, which would make it a particularly lovely occasion.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

quicko: a hit and a kick for being so quick

The response to "a pinch and a punch for the first of the month."  May the record just stand:  after nearly three years, I finally managed to beat Jo to the punch (ha) and got her first today!

Though she did then teach me the helpful "and no returns" so I could guarantee she wouldn't do it back to me!

Consider yourselves pinched and punched!

quicko: afghans

I got a care package (two actually!! but this is just about one of them ...) in the mail yesterday and inside was what I call an afghan from my grandma.  ("Just in time for summer!" my flatmate pointed out helpfully.)  My Australian co-workers, though, had never heard this kind of blanket referred to as an afghan before were a bit confused.  Here's a picture to set everyone straight.  Behold, the afghan!

quicko: the boys are back in town!

Hurrah!!  The apes have gone and the boys are back!  Viva la end of Movember!

quicko: save 9 cents!!

Another grocery gripe:  I was in the store the other days and saw an enthusiastic ad pointing out that I could get nine -- NINE! -- whole cents off my purchase.  It was printed as exuberantly as the ads marking $1 or $2 off the price and was clearly designed to draw attention to the SALE! rather than the actual amount.  But really?  Nine cents?  Why bother?

It reminds me of the Big W (i.e., Wal-Mart) ads here.  They feature a similar happy bouncing smiley face knocking back prices -- but instead of by 20%, 50%, 70%, by 20 cents, 50 cents or 70 cents.

Why don't they just save -- SAVE! -- themselves the trouble?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010



by george she's done it

George Street is the main drag in Sydney.  Elizabeth or Oxford might give it a run for its money, but when it comes down to it, George Street's where it's at.  Not entirely sure what it is, or if you couldn't quite possibly get better it somewhere else, but the street does claim the heart of the CBD.  What it lacks in character it makes up for in sheer tenacity.

It is a lengthy little street.  It stretches from somewhere just right up near the southern foot of the bridge all the way down past Wynyard, Martin Place, Town Hall, World Square (don't want to go farther at night, just for the record) and Central.  From there it doesn't really die, but just makes a majestic curve and changes names.  Or at least from the buses I tend to ride I gather that's what happen.  Possibly it just contines majestically on forever, but I've never taken the right bus to know.

My first glimpse of George Street must have been ages ago on the very first day I arrived in Sydney.  I was a bit turned around for awhile and saw it alternatively as a large, glistening, modern city street and a slightly sketchy, gosh-they-advertize-that-out-loud! sort of street (that would have been south of World Square).  I found it confusing at the southern end (still do, come to think of it), and full of excriciatingly long blocks in its middle.  (Since when is a block actually two and half blocks?  Really!)

Its upper end throws me off a bit, too, though in a pleasanter way.  I feel quite safe, I just don't know my exact way around. I always figure it out eventually, but it tends to take a bit of trying:  am I at Pancakes on the Rocks yet?  Yet?  Still not yet?!  How long does this road on go for, anyway?!

I like George Street because I know it leads to home.  More specifically, it leads to Wynyard, and Wynyard leads to home, but it reminds me of the warm fuzzy feelings I got about the London tube, because as soon as I was on it, I knew I could find my way back.  George Street's very predictable.

I also like George Street because it absolutely glistens around Town Hall in the summer.  It makes the city look shiny and bright and fresh and new -- mixed with a bit of tasteful old -- and I'm happy to be in it.

The shops also help.  I could find nearly anything I needed on, of just off of, George Street.  At the very least I could find a bus that would take me there.  But, as aforementioned, you can start at the north end and get pancakes 24/7.  Really, I could stop right there and be more or less content, but the street goes on.  There's the Rocks markets.  There's my favorite souvenir shop.  There's a Max Brenner.  There's Wynyard, and, with it, Coles.  There's a Dymocks.  There's an amazing cupcake shop.  There's a medical center.  There's the store that sells my eye shadow.  There's sushi.  There's gelato.  There's movies.  There's clothing stores.  There's Vodafone, painful as it is.  There's Payless Shoes.  There's a church you can duck into.  And that's all north of the sketchy bit.  Dear knows what you can find south of Goulburn, but I think it might be a more risque than the church.

Incidentally, I just tried to teach the word risque to my students.  It wasn't in the dictionary and it didn't go over very well at first.  It was one of those excruciating moments where you're struggling to define a word appropriately, and yet convey the necessary implications. It's a lot harder than something that's, say, out and out slang for sex because then you can just say it and move on.  When it's kind of beat-around-the-bush-y, it's a bit harder.  (Same problem with the Grease lyrics, "did you get very far?"  I tend to gloss over them and hope for the best.  And can I just mention how indelicate it feels to try to explain French kissing when there's a French student in the class?  Better that that them asking about Brazilians, though, I guess.)

Eventually after a few minutes of ho-humming and blushing slightly and trying desperately to think of an effective way of communicating "risque," someone (was it me?  them?  I can't even remember.  Think I've blocked it out.) came up with the ingenious notion of a girl wearing a bikini in a church.  They latched on immediately and henceforth the definition of risque in our classroom is "girl in bikini in church!"  I think they've missed half the meaning, but they're long past the point of ever getting it back.  Oh well.

Getting back to George Street, though, I also like it because, though it is very long and would take ages to walk from one end of to the other, it is doable.  I estimate it would take me about 40 minutes at a solid clip. (Provided there weren't slow-walking people.  Can I just mention how very much I detest slow-walking people?  In a very non-judgemental, loving everyone made in the image of God sort of way, of course.)  Certainly long enough that I'll always hop a bus if I can (and I know my bus pass will cover me on any part of George, even if I (hehe!) only want to go one stop.  I just love doing that from time to time.  For kicks and giggles because I can, you know. Please tell me you do something similar.), but short enough that, should I find myself in really dire straights, I could always walk it.  On various occasions, I have walked pretty much every part of it.  It's comforting to know I know my way around it.  Or perhaps along it would be more to the point.

The main thing I don't know about it is which George it was named for.  I'm desperately hoping it wasn't the Third, or I shall feel terribly unpatriotic.  Probably was, though, if the street's character and tenacity are any reflection of a potential namesake's.

And now, by George, I've done it -- written enough about George Street to NaNoWri me over the river of 50,000!!  Huzzah!!!

tea time

It is really impossible to teach English without tea.  I don't know if you've tried, but allow me to warn you now:  it's much wiser not to risk it.  Math I'm not so sure about (perhaps coffee would be better?), but English I can vouch for.  I don't really know what it is about the tea, but there's clearly something.  As one of my co-workers says, if you can't go without your tea, you might as well not go.

I made the fatal mistake of teaching without tea this morning.  It was disasterous.  I was sleepy, they were bored, the teacup was lonely.  It was a no-win siutation.

Taking tea of course brings its own set of hazards, chief among them being embarrassment.  I have twice spilled tea down my front in the middle of teaching class.  Having taught nearly four years, that averages out to a spill every two years, which really isn't all that bad considering the benefits.  Not exactly amusing when it happens, though.  At least not for the teacher.

Another problem with tea is that it spills on the ground.  I know you're not supposed to cry over spilt milk, but spilt tea is another story altogether.  Spilt tea is hot.  Hot and messy, especially when it's saturated in sugar.  It creates puddles on the floor (unless spilled over carpet, in which case it's invisible and therefore Not a Problem) and drips on the desks and leaves those yucky little circles on the counters.  It takes a bit of looking after.

It also makes it a bit tricky to carry everything else needed for class.  Dictionaries, more dictionaries, markers and boxes compounded with tea turn into near-deadly combinations.  My students have yet to see me enter a room and not deposit half the contents of my cup on the ground.  I'm sure they think it's some odd superstitious ritual I have and thus politely avoid mentioning it, tactful darlings that they are.

Yet another dilemma is the old cold tea conundrum.  What do you do when you suddenly realize you've lost track of time and let your tea chill (or room temperaturify) once again?  Drink it, of course.  What else is there?

Even worse than a good cup of tea gone wrong though is a good cup gone out of milk or sugar.  I drink my tea with an abundance of both and the lack of either is cause for great alarm.  The other day we were out of sugar and I flagged the principal down wildly and proceeded to explain the depth of the situation to him.  He ran away.  He's not a tea drinker, you see.

Those of us who are, though, have a bit of a bond.  We know just how vital it is that there be tea bags and milk and sugar and connive together when one aspect is missing.  Occasionally we send someone to fetch the delinquent item, but generally we just collect and squawk together about the inhumane conditions we've been so shamefully relegated to.  We find if we make enough noise, something usually transpires to bring the milk back.  A slightly deaf coffee drinker, generally.

We don't just complain, though.  We look out for each other.  We know how important tea is, and are quick to offer the making of a cup if someone is experiencing a particularly inclement situation, such as the teaching of defining relative clauses.  A cup of tea, as the facebook group says, solves everything.  And goes well with world domination, but perhaps we shouldn't talk about that one too much just yet.

Even better than tea time, though (which happens, on average, five times a day), is Biscuit Day.  Biscuit Day is Friday, and it is currently a bit farther away than I'd really prefer.  Biscuit Day happens when, at 10 am on the dot, the biscuits appear and offer sustenance to the otherwise half-dead teachers.  We live for Biscuit Day when we can be once again rejuvenated and revitalized with the provision of kingstons, orange cream filled delights and aspects of other gooey and crunchy goodnesses.

I enjoyed Biscuit Day so much when I first arrived my friends took to referring to it as "Five Pill Friday," unaware of another way to provoke more exuberance in a human.  They quickly worked out the sugar connection, but really, it isn't the sugar.  It's the Friday, which is exuberant enough of its own accord in my opinion.

And there you have it.  Tea is necessary for teaching.  I can't really explain why, but I can tell you that it is so.  And now I really must be off -- the kettle is calling again!

of an evening

I had a lovely evening tonight.  It was a Monday, so the evening was bound to be better than the day.  Or at least presumably a bit less manic.

After work, I caught a 461 to my friends Melissa and Dave's place.  There we had a delicious spaghetti dinner and I was finally able to watch my borrowed DVD of Death at a Funeral.  (You can all breath a sigh of relief and stop feeling guilty for not inviting me over to watch it now.)  It was every bit as hilarious as promised (I told you American and Australian senses of humor aren't that far off), and we all had a delightful evening.

When it was time for me to go, Melissa helpfully looked up bus schedules back to the city.  We discovered there wasn't much time, so I had a quick dash for it to catch the next bus.  When I got to the stop, though, I read the little attached sign and discovered that it most decidedly did not correlate to the times advertised on 131500, which is generally the gospel of public transportation.  It said I had about 16 minutes to wait, instead of 4.  Not that big a deal, really, but considering a few particular circumstances, it struck me as very long.

First, it was night.  Not too chilly, but not too warm.  I was okay, but wouldn't want to push things too far.

Second, there was no bench.  I'm a sitter.  Some people will tell you they can't bear sitting all day and are thus glad to stand up.  I've never got that.  I could sit for 14 hours on a plane and still want to sit as soon as I arrived.  At bus stops, I figure the bus actually turning up is the only thing more important than there being benches.  Lack of shelter I can handle.  Rain doesn't bother me.  But, please, could I sit down?

Third, I quickly discovered there were two dogs snoozing in the car dealership behind me.  They appeared trained to growl at men who passed, but were docile enough towards me.  They were fenced in so they were unlikely to have disturbed me in any way, but I felt a little odd standing about in a place where dogs were employed to keep men at bay.

Fourth, men unaware of the dogs drove past and yelled out something about the bus.  I couldn't tell what they said, but it worried me slightly.  I wrote it off as misplaced catcalls and decided to ignore them.

Fifth, I really had to go to the bathroom.

In light of these circumstances, I figured what I really needed was a distraction.  It was 5 am in America, so calling friends there was out of the question, which left friends in Australia.  I called Janice, my head teacher, and she very kindly chatted with me until the bus came.

Buses at night carry interesting crowds.  The Monday nighters were a subdued bunch, bleary-eyed and generally giving the appearance that they were looking somewhat less dapper than usual.  I certainly was.  It was the end of a long-ish day and I, as girls are wont to do, was fading fast.  I just wanted to be home.

I had, though, miles to go ere I could sleep.  It didn't take the 461 long to get me back to the city, but it stops at Town Hall, which is decidedly not Wynyard, which is where I needed to go.  I popped down to the train station and checked the train times.  Nine minutes before either of the next two Wynyard-bound trains came.

Town Hall and Wynyard are not that far apart.  I could walk the distance in under minutes, and a bus could demolish it in about 2.  Buses weren't guaranteed to come, though, and walking was out of the question.  I decided to seize the day and find the QVB's much-recommended restrooms instead, which are even nicer than the Menzie's at Wynyard (the usual fall-back plan).

Mission accomplished, a train was due in two minutes (the ideal waiting time, if you recall) and I promptly caught it.  I even managed to snag a used mX to amuse myself on the journey.

I arrived at Carrington Street and found a 247 just pulling up, which worked perfectly.  The ride was so fast I hadn't even finished my mX and had to skim Who Was Looking At Me in the Coles entrance before pitching it.

The walk home was uneventful, but got me there entirely later than I'd hoped.  Funny how long things take.  And how very fast Mondays turn into Tuesdays.

the adventures of the little lost jacket

This is a choose your own adventure story.  I've never written one before so it might be a bit off.  But nevermind.  Just give it a go and have some fun, okay?  Cool.

So, imagine you are a little jacket.  A cute, charcoal gray little jacket.  Size ten (Australian, not American) from Esprit with cute little buttons and a cute little tie around the waist.  Why would you want to run away from home?  If it is because you are lonely, go to 1.  If it is because you are bored, go to 2.  If it is because you are undervalued, go to 3.  If you don't really want to run away from home but just got lost, go to 4.

1.  You are wrong.  You are not lonely.  You also have a lovely long pink jacket to keep you company.  Go back to the beginning.

2.  You are a bored little jacket.  You don't have much to do all day.  You just hang around and wait for life to happen.  Nobody talks to you.  Nobody plays with you or tells you jokes or even reads the paper to you.  What else was there for you to do?  If you contemplated tucking yourself in a suitcase bound for Brazil, go to 5.  If you thought about a career in politics, go to 6.  If you were just playing an elaborate practical joke the whole time, go to 7.  If you were slightly suicidal, go to 8.

3.  You poor undervalued little jacket.  You work hard most days to keep Kim warm and dry and get very little thanks.  She relies on you and never sends thank you cards, much less chocolate.  No wonder you wanted to run away.  But where did you want to go?  If Starbucks, go to 9.  If Max Brenner, go to 10.  If Coles, go to 11.  If the train, go to 12.  If church, go to 13.  If you didn't actually care where but just wanted to go somewhere, go to 14.

4.  Poor little jacket!  You were so lost!  You were sad and lonely and missed Kim lots but didn't know what to do.  You didn't have a cell phone to call.  You didn't have lungs to talk even if you could call, come to think of it.  You just lay about and waited and waited and waited.  Finally, weeks later, a very nice woman named Megan found you and she, fortunately, had both lungs and a cell phone to call Kim.  You were reunited at last!  A very happy ending!

5.  Adventuresome little jacket!  You have must have been bitten by the same travel bug Kim was.  You plopped yourself away in the suitcase and shipped yourself off to Rio where you had the most amazing time for nearly a month.  After a bit you got a bit too sunburned, though, and decided it was probably time to come home to roost.  But you didn't know the way.  If you jumped on the first plane back to Sydney you could find, go to 15.  If you just didn't know what to do, go to 4.

6.  A career in politics?  Are you crazy?  You might go wishy in the washy, but you weren't cut out (ha!) to be a politician.  Go back to 2.

7.  You are a very precocious jacket.  Kim must have been rubbing off on you.  Fairly understandable as she wore you so often.  Be careful not to pick up any more of her bad habits, and for goodness' sake behave yourself on April 1.  If you are still playful and want to play more jokes, go to 16.  If you are tired of jokes and just want to get found again, go to 4.

8.  You weren't suicidal.  You are a cute little jacket.  Cute little jackets are not suicidal creatures.  Go back to 2.

9.  You sat sipping lattes for awhile, but then Starbucks closed.  You didn't stay.  Go back to 3.

10.  You ate yourself into a state of stupor at Max Brenner.  You suddenly became a size 12 and the cute little tie wouldn't tie around your waist any more.  You felt very sorry for yourself.  Go back to 3.

11.  You wandered around Coles for a bit, but it really wasn't very exciting.  Go back to 3.

12.  The train was grungy.  You were a bit too delicate for it.  Go back to 3.

13.  Church was lovely.  You wanted to stay at church.  So you did.  You stayed and stayed and stayed.  Suddenly you realized it was dark and you didn't know where Kim was.  Go to 4.

14.  You found yourself out, alone in the big, wide world.  It was all very exciting for a little while, but before long you began to miss Kim.  You liked seeing the sights of Sydney, but you were lonely.  Go to 4.

15.  The first plane to Sydney ends up getting rerouted and making a surprise stop in Samoa.  You're adventuresome, though, and don't mind.  Until you finally get back to Sydney and then realize you still don't know how to find Kim.  Go to 4.

16.  Ha!  Joke's on you!  16 is a dead end.  Go back to 7.

haha thisaway

Humor, huh.  It's a funny thing.  One of the hardest to transport from culture to culture and all that.  (The only joke I've been more or less able to guarantee a chuckle from my students with is the old, "why was 10 afraid of 7?"  Because 7 ate 9, of course.  Ha.  Hysterical, I know.  But highly translatable.)

In general, I tend to think that American and Australian humor in person aren't all that far removed.  I'm sure I've offended my entire Australian audience right there, so maybe I should back up.  I'm not saying they're the same, but I do think that most of the humor can cross cultural lines fairly painlessly -- except of course coming from Australians to Americans.  In which case it can be slightly painful.

Australians watch plenty of American sitcoms and movies, though, and think plenty of them are funny.  It's true their humor is a bit bleaker and more British than ours, but, even if they don't like to admit it, they don't think we're entirely devoid of humor, which is a nice starting point.  Just for the record, I don't think they're devoid of humor, either.

Australians are more likely to lambast you in jest than Americans.  They say, like the British, that it's a sign of friendship to receive harsh jokes.  While they will go a bit farther than Americans typically will, I also know plenty of Americans who will make plenty of similar jokes among friends.  The Brits tend to think they have a monopoly on sarcasm, and, granted, they do use it well, but the Australians are right there with them and I don't think the Americans are as far off as we could be.  Again, we don't usually go to the same levels, but we do usually venture down the path.

The one area I utterly fall to pieces with Australian humor, though, is the last page of The Big Issue.  It's clearly supposed to be a humor page and I do find parts of it quite diverting.  However, the majority of it I read and go, "really?  how is this funny?"  The columns I get -- they're great.  But that last page gets me every time.  I wish I found the humor, but it generally just eludes me.

The comics are also not nearly as big here.  While Australians appreciate comic strips, they don't go out of their way to get them.  From memory, there are four comic strips in the Sydney Morning Herald:  Cathy, Wizard of Id, something else pretty famous and something a bit less famous.  Really?  Is that all the better they could do?  Cincinnati is a quarter of the size of Sydney and it has way more than four times the amount of comics.  Where's Zits or Baby Blues or Frazz or Beetle Bailey or Hi and Lois or Agnes or Mutts or Red and Rover or BC or The Middletons or Garfield or Family Circle?  Australians would adore Speed Bump if only they knew about it.  Alas.

Australian movies, though.  There's another story.  There things break down a bit.  Australians think they're hysterical.  I think they'd be a lot more likely to be hysterical if I could actually understand what they were saying through the thick ocker accents.  As it is, from what I can gather from the subtitles (joking!  I just get a friend to translate), they're really not that appealing to Americans.  I've had to show Australian movies to my students before and they always want to know about humor.  "I think Australians would find that funny," I say to them from time to time.  (I'm starting to get an idea of what they find funny, even if it isn't actually.)  "Why?" they'll ask.  "I don't know," I'll tell them, which they find very insufficient.  So do I, but no one's helping me either.  Poor darlings are on their own, I'm afraid.

But like I said before, Australians really don't mind American humor.  If the amount of air time it gets says anything, Australians must really be crazy about Two and a Half Men.  It's amusing, sure, but, wow, they must love it.  I don't think they're currently playing any other sitcom here.  You'd think they could find something better, but evidently not.  Either that or they just plain like it.  So yeah.  They'll take ours, but aren't so hot at giving out stuff we'd enjoy, too.

Oh, yes.  If I'm going to tell you about humor, I probably ought to mention a certain phrase.  It's a bit crasser than I usually care to go, but it's so prevalent I think I'd be remiss to leave it out:  taking the piss.  It means to make fun of someone and is used all the time.  In England they'll also say to take the mickey, which I'm pretty sure is at least understood if not also used here, too.  Same meaning, though somewhat more polite.

And that's the long and short of humor here.  Good luck – just smile and nod, as long as you don’t see 7 running towards you.

quicko: wife beaters

While Australians might know the garment, they're likely to associate it with Americans and have only picked it up from TV.

Monday, November 29, 2010

quicko: dorm room syndrome

This is about the Americans.  Or quite possibly just about me.  But it dawned on me the other day that I suffer from a bit of dorm room syndrome -- never quite realizing that, in fact, I have a space of more than the size of four single beds that I'm allowed to move about it.  What's that psychological thing where people or animals who've been in captivity or a cage or something are suddenly allowed out but don't go because they're so unused to doing that?  Is it the elephant that'd been chained to a rock but then the rock is removed and it doesn't have to stay but does anyway?  I think I'm vaguely like that.  Sure I have a fully functional dining/living area with a separate kitchen even, yet I find myself almost inevitably cooped up in my own room at my desk.

I was never like that at home -- I had the run of our whole house and I rarely relegated myself to my room (quite possibly because the computer was elsewhere) -- yet I have this suspicion that it was dorm room living that got me so entirely used to being very easily confined in a very small space for hours on end and not thinking twice about it.  Which makes me think this could be an American thing, seeing as how dorm-oriented we are, at least for four very formative years.

But who knows.  Maybe it's just me.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

bus behavior

How to act on the bus?  How not to act on the bus?  I thought it was all fairly, as my geometry teacher used to say about theorems and proofs, intuitively obviously, but I've seen such flagrant displays of how not to act lately that I've begun compiling a list.  I suppose if you're the sort of person who reads lists of behaviors to avoid on buses it's doubtful that you're the sort who acts in these ways, but you should at least be able to issue a few resounding "amens!" as we go, hey?  Or who knows?  Maybe you are.  Take note.

In no particular order:

1.  Don't spill your drink on someone else's toes.  Particularly not if they're wearing flip flops and really particularly not if you do it in such a way as to leave them confused as to whether or not you've just spilled a drink or actually thrown up slightly.  Very taboo.

2.  If there are free seats and you for some bizarre reason do not want one yourself, please stand to the side so that those who do want to sit in them can get to them.

3.  If there are two seats together that are empty, sit in one of them instead of next to someone already seated.

4.  If there's no room to sit, move to the back of the bus so that others who desperately want to be on the bus can get on to it.

5.  If someone asks you directions and you know how to answer them, do so.  Even if you overhear a conversation which is going sadly astray in these regards, it is permissible, though not imperative, to jump in.

6.  Only lay your head against the window if your hair is clean.

7.  When you know you're going to be getting off, give fair, unspoken warning to the person next to you (if you're by the window).  Start shuffling, collecting your bag or lean over and press the button yourself.  Then they're forewarned and will stand aside helpfully to let you out.  Otherwise, you may find yourself marooned on your own bus.  As lovely as the 247 is, though, it's no place like home.

8.  If a seat becomes vacated and someone has moved to take it, do not steal it from them.  This is not nice, and particularly not nice when it happens twice in a row and leaves the mover forced to then sit next to a large, grungy man.

Now, I will admit there are a few gray areas.  They are as follows:

1.  When do you push the button for the next stop?  Does it matter?  Obviously when you're at it it's a bit late, but if your stop is, say, the first one over the bridge, does anyone care if you press it prematurely while on the other side of the bridge?  Is that helpful because everyone knows what's what and can all breathe a sigh of I-don't-have-to-figure-out-when-to-press-the-button relief?  Or is it like being an annoying know-it-all?  Generally people seem to press the button once you're over the bridge, but not quite to the stop yet.  Is there any standard or rationale here?  Is it protocol or simply precedent?  Does anyone care?

2.  Do you have to move to recently vacated set of seats if one opens up and you're sitting on the aisle next to someone?  Granted, it's probably what you want to do, but how taboo is it not to?  My friends say very, but I think I've been known not to.  I'd finally plopped down after a long day, I was comfortable, no one was looking too ruffled about it and I hadn't known the rule.  I'd thought it was more an insult to move away ("ewww, not sitting by you any longer!") but I have now been made to see the error of my ways.  Henceforth I shall mosey.

3.  If someone talks to you, how do you respond?  Supposing they're a nice, normal person asking if this is or is not the Queen Victoria Building, that's all well and good, but what if they're asking how your day is or your political preferences or if you'd like to buy a magazine?  Do you pretend to speak another language?  Feign deafness?  Smile politely, then look the other way?  Answer, but as briefly as possible?  Turn around and ask them what Christmas really means to them?

4.  Do you say thank you to the driver when you get off?  If so, how loudly?  Do you wave?

Finally, I have a few handy tips.  Without further ado:

1.  If you're traveling late at night and you're afraid you'll fall asleep and miss your stop, set your phone alarm.  Under no circumstances should you forget that buses travel much faster at night than they do in peak hours when arranging your alarm settings.

2.  Always carry Purell to use when you get off the bus.

3.  Don't sing.

500 or not, here we come

500 is a common Australian card game.  If you don't enjoy cards, you might as well skip this post.  If you do enjoy cards but don't enjoy travel writing, this may well be the only post you enjoy.  If that's the case, I'm not quite sure why you're still reading (presumably your wife is insisting on it), but, either way, knock yourself out.  Game on!

The first step to playing 500 is assembling four -- not three, not five, not two, not six, but four -- players.  (Okay, technically you can make it work with three or five or six, but it's far from ideal.)  This is quite possibly the hardest step, but once you have managed to coordinate four (not five, not three) schedules to coincide precisely (it's probably easier just to happen to find yourself surrounded by three others at any one time than to actually have this event ever transpire), you are set.  Hope everyone likes cards.

500 is played with 43 cards -- 4s and up in red suits; 5s and up in black suits; and one joker.  Partners sit opposite each other and each player receives 10 cards.  Three are left in the kitty.  Cards are usually dealt semi-euchre-style (indeed, 500 is basically a more complicated version of euchre) with each player receiving first three, then four, then three.

Left of dealer opens the bidding, the lowest possible call of which is 6 of any suit.  (You're bidding on how many tricks out of 10 your partnership can win; 5 being 50-50 is moot.)  The suits also have a hierarchy:  hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades.  No trump ranks higher than hearts.  Thus, six spades is the lowest call possible.  After, say, a seven diamonds call, though, it would be impossible to call seven clubs seeing as clubs are lower than diamonds.  You'd have to go eight clubs or something different.

Points correspond to bids -- 40 points for six spades and add 20 for each suit (i.e., six clubs is 60, six diamonds is 80) and 100 points for each number (i.e., seven spades is 140, seven clubs is 160).  Ten no trump is 520, which is very clearly game.  The game is won when one partnership makes it to 500 or the other partnership makes it to -500.

Being well acquainted with euchre but reasonably new to 500, I'll admit my grasp is less complete than it could be.  Case in point:  misere (pronounced "miz-air").  I know it means you have to lose everything and is the most impressive maneouver you can make in 500 except for open misere, which is the thing to brag about (it's where, after the first trick, you have to lay your cards on the table), but there's several complications regarding it that I haven't quite come to terms with. One further case in point:  the joker if no trumps are called.  Just plain complicated.  I generally trust whoever I'm playing with to enact these rules fairly.  It's a big call, but at the moment it's the only choice I've got.  You either, come to think of it.

Once the bidding finishes (after all but one pass), whoever makes the bid gets the cards in the kitty and exchanges them for three of their own cards and begins play.

Play follows clockwise and everyone must follow suit.  This next bit is probably the most important.  Easy peasy if you play euchre; completely crazy if you don't:  the jacks are high.  More specifically, the jack of the trump suit and the jack of the suit of the same color are high.  (The jacks of the other suit fall in their order normally between queens and 10s.)  For example, if hearts are trump, the joker is the best card, then the jack of hearts is the next best card (the right bower) and the jack of diamonds is the next best card (the left bower).  The jacks of spades and clubs are normal.

It's crucial to remember that the joker is the highest card in the entire deck and is considered a trump card, as is the left bower.  Don't know how to stress that further, but don't forget:  joker and left bower are both trump!

Unlike pinochle, you do not have to trump if you don't want to, unless of course trump was led and you're following suit.

Play continues until all ten tricks have been played and points (or subtractions if necessary) are awarded accordingly until 500 is reached.

It's tons of fun and though much of it is like euchre, I have never yet seen a 500er milk the cow while in the barn.  Alas.

kim's guide to getting a free ride

Being carless myself, I have spent the last three years practicing the art of free riding.  I've not exactly arrived yet (see posts at public transportation), but I have very recently gotten a text that told -- nay, commanded -- me to get in the black Mercedes with the man named Ray.  I think you can trust me with the basics.

By far the obvious first step is to be female.  Failing that, you can attempt to follow the rest of the guidelines, but, really, I don't know the level of success I can forecast.  I suppose it's still worth a try, though.

Next, always look amazing.  Now, this is clearly a bit easier said than done.  I'm no expert, but I find that anything thrown with a short skirt should do in a pinch.  Heels never hurt.  (Unless, of course, you're soliciting a ride from a short man with short man syndrome.  In that event, it may behoove you to keep an emergency pair of flats on hand if you can get them to fit unobtrusively in your bag.)  Red isn't a bad place to start; neither is black.  After that, I'm afraid you're on your own.

If it's impossible to look amazing, pitiful is your next best option.  Cold, sick, drained or exhausted is best, but don't overdo it.  Just enough to prick the fringes of guilt without actually dropping the weight of a trip.

You're also highly more likely to be successful if it's pouring.  Difficult to gauge, but if it's been tempermental all night, plan your exit to correspond with a downpour.  Never carry an umbrella.

Hang around Christians.  Christians love to give rides.  Thou shalt give free rides is practically the eleventh commandment (and no doubt would have been, had there been cars in biblical times).  In fact, most of the time Christians will offer you rides without you even asking.  Should you be hanging around a Christian who forgets this principle, though, simply remind them that good they ought to do and do not do is just as sinful as ill they ought not to do and yet do.  Hopefully they'll make the connection; if not, offer to explain it to them over the ride home.

Ask for partial lifts.  This is key.  Unless your destination is very close, only ever ask for a lift to the bus stop.  It is rarely an imposition for someone to give you a lift to the nearest bus stop.  On the way, they'll make casual conversation about your final destination.  You have a couple options -- downplay the distance so they realize it's not that much farther or play up the distance so they feel even sorrier for you.  Play this one by ear.  It takes practice, but, with any luck, you'll get it right and end up dropped at your doorstep.

If at all possible, live near the destinations you frequent.  Not only will this help you to get more rides, but, in the unfortunate event that you fail, the cab rides are much cheaper.

Know your prey, er, options.  Do your research and figure out who actually lives where (a small talk essential for the free rider) and who's actually on your way. 

Ask different free drivers on different occasions.  Vary your ride sources so they don't dry up and disappear.  Turn offers down occasionally if you know another offer is on the way.  Make it seem a privilege for them to be able to drive you.

Never accept rides from strangers, unless they are friends of friends and come strongly recommended by initial friends.  If you're unsure or slightly queasy about someone, never take the ride.  Even if they're really ugly, it can be better not to risk it.  On the flip side, also be wary of the suave.  If anyone you're squeamish about pressures you to take a ride, make a quick decision to stay at the party a bit longer.  You suddenly realized there was an old friend you hadn't gotten to catch up with yet who you can't wait to speak to and who will certainly give you a lift, goodnight!

As much as possible, also keep an eye on how much your free rider has been drinking.  If there's any question they've been pushing things a bit, find a different option.

On the other hand, beggars can't be choosers.  The free driver might have parked far away, not have air conditioning, neglected to inform you they smoke or have their front seat covered in McDonald's bags.  You never know, but now is not the time to be picky.  As long as they're safe and sober, you might just have to deal with getting bored to death, stopping to fill their car with gas, running a few casual errands or realizing their driving upsets your stomach.  Bear these cons in mind for next time and remember the rule about varying your rides.

Witty conversation on the way is always in order.  You want to make this ride as enjoyable as possible for your driver so that they'll be anxious to repeat the procedure.  As aforementioned, persuade them to think you're actually doing them a favor by allowing them to enjoy your company.  Be as agreeable as possible.

Good directions.  Never get the person lost on the way, unless of course you've decided you severely dislike them and would never again be asking for a ride.  Otherwise, do your best to tell them to turn before they get to that very important left.  If you can direct the free driver back to the main road from your abode, so much the better; if not, they tend to forget any anguish caused by the next time you need a ride.

Effusive thanks.  When you leave, you must be sure to thank the free driver effusively.  If you are being driven from your home elsewhere, always plan to pay for parking.  (Not having coins tends to get you out of even this, though.)  Regardless, thank your free driver sincerely.  Not excessively, though, or a male free driver may attempt to kiss you, which I hardly need tell you can result in all manner of awkward situations.  Genuine thanks, then exit.  Never hold up traffic.

A side note:  your free rides do not have come directly from the free driver.  Making friends with wives or girlfriends who can then direct their spouse or boyfriend to be your free driver is often even more effective than soliciting your own free drivers.  The best bet is girlfriends with brand new boyfriends who are still out to impress them as much as possible by showing off their gallantry ad infinitum.  The gallantry will wear off after awhile, but by that point you'll hopefully have set an unshakable precedent they'll be socially forced to follow.

If all else fails, I got nothing.  Cut your losses and call a cab.