Saturday, February 27, 2010

quicko: daggy

... kind of tacky/unattractive/unfashionable/frumpy/old-before-one's-time/mismatched/uncool ...

Friday, February 26, 2010

quicko: bennelong

The Australian Squanto. Bennelong is one of the most famous Aboriginal Australians. He lived from roughly 1764 to 1813 and helped the governor of the settlement. He learned English and went for a visit to England, though returned unable to be accepted fully either among his own people or the settlers. The end of his story isn't particularly pleasant, but his name lives on.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

quicko: going batty

The Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney are famous for their large population of bats. I don't know what else to say, except that there are a lot of them. Come check them out.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

quicko: let's all stay at home

In America, any guy who lives with his parents past about 19 or 20 comes with a big red flag attached. In Australia, no one bats an eyelash until he's about 40.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

quicko: if you're (un)healthy and you know it ...

Here's a note on American commercials: we've got way more "ask your doctor" ads -- i.e., Australians have very few ads about various medicines. Guess their doctor didn't say Mylanta.

Monday, February 22, 2010

quicko: squash

Americans have one definition of squash; Australians have three.

1. A vegetable.
2. A beverage.
3. A sport.

I'm really not very familiar with any of them, but, well, there you have it. Hope this helps.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


So tonight was Tropfest (rhymes with "drop" not "dope") in Sydney. Somehow I'd missed even knowing about it the last two years, but evidently it's annual event, and a pretty good one at that. Sydney's really quite good with annual events, what with the fireworks and the festival and Marti Gras. Come to think of it, it's really better at annual events in the summer, though. Much too likely to rain in the winter.

Anyway, Tropfest is a free outdoor short film festival. The films must be under 7 minutes, and each year there's a theme. This year's was dice, which was pretty cool, though only seemed evident in about half the films. There's hundreds of entries, and 16 are picked to be presented at Tropfest.

Since it's free, people arrive early to get a good location. The films started about sundown, so my friends and I met up at 5 to get a good spot. We found a suitable one -- it had a good view and was close to the food. Not bad.

Despite being big (the official count was 75,000 people, though I'd have placed it closer to 10,000. Guess the census bureau won't be needing me after all.) the crowd was amazingly placid. Everyone seemed content enough, but showed no inclination of making much noise, much less doing the wave. It felt really quite casually low-key.

The host plowed peppily on, though, as he was being broadcast on live TV, but I don't think most people really paid much attention to him until he started the countdown (10=9-8) to the actual films. There was an lengthy intermission in the middle to give everyone a potty break, then another briefer one before the awards.

The awards were actually quite sizable -- several grand cash, plus lots of movie buff stuff (editing suite time, etc.) -- with a sizable chunk (going to best male actor and best female actor; when did people stop being actresses and start becoming female actors? That's what they all are here in Oz.) coming from Australia's leading female actor herself, Nicole Kidman.

Despite the reasonable size of prizes, though, I was surprised by how down-to-earth it all felt -- there was no glamour or glitz, hardly any security and continual announcements about please remembering to dispose of one's rubbish in the thoughtfully provided biodegradable bags. A lovely evening out, to be sure, but with an air almost closer to a large-scale, calm school carnival than a nation's premier film festival of the year. People'd brought their dogs, their cigarettes, their two Asian ingenues who laced themselves suggestively around their old, balding Caucasian escort, etc. A real night on the town.

You're probably really more interested in hearing about the films, though. Like I said, there were sixteen, so I'll give you a summary. Before I do, though, I just wanted to mention how very odd it was that no fewer than three of the 16 films (nearly a quarter, the nonexistent mathematician in me hastens to point out) contained scenes of choking, a topic I have always found particularly disturbing seeing as it has happened so frequently in my house. There was also quite a lot of suicidal script running through the films, though thankfully that has not been as prevalent in real life for me. They do always say comedy's harder to do, though I must say I emphatically prefer it.

And now, on with the show!

1. The first film was actually my favorite: it was of a director of one of these short films trying to figure out how to make a creative film with dice in it. (Not that the theme had gotten in the way of most of the others.) He kept trying out different genres (horror, romance, etc.) until, with his girlfriend's help, he finally hit on musical. It was great.

2. Stakeout, a show about two cops making funny Star Wars noises at each other when they were supposedly on duty. Two car dice dangled in front of their cruiser. It was alright.

3. A daggy girl talking about how she wanted a perfect man, yet clearly would have been unable to get one. Until the end. When she revealed that her father owned a brewery. No dice? No cigars. Won third place and best actress.

4. A really well done and interesting take on a stock standard situation. Called "Falling Backwards," it showed the end result first (a man getting killed by a knife that was thrown into him) but then proceeded to rewind so that you got the whole story -- it was thrown by his wife who had just caught him in bed with another woman. The final (i.e., first) scene was of him turning over the picture of his wife before bringing his mistress in. Very clever, completely unconnected to dice.

5. A man in despair driving to work in Sydney. Turned out he was a morning radio broadcaster and then had to be all peppy. The whole crew only turned it on for the show, though, and otherwise things were pretty grim. The end of the clip was the clincher; it said it was dedicated to Kyle Sandilands, which made it instantaneously outrageously funny to Australians. Kyle Sandilands is a very well known radio talk show host who's recently been kicked off several program for crossing very offensive lines (the first was having a 14-year-old girl confess on air to having been raped; the second was a joke about a fat woman who'd lost a lot of weight and Holocaust survivors). The film won first place.

6. Bizarre animation with a sort of Wall-E type robot feel to it. One robot helping another come to "life" as a music box centerpiece before running out of battery.

7. A really cool film about a woman about to commit suicide because she's heartbroken, but is stopped by a knock on her door that's a singing telegram for Valentine's Day. Unfortunately the guy made a mistake and it's for the girl next door. But that girl's not there so he comes in and chats with the woman and cheers her up and she gives him the rope to tie up his character pants so they don't fall down. The end.

8. Sheer fun sort of clip about a neighborhood getting overrun by baboons. Bizarre, too, but cool. Won best score and second place.

9. Weird one about cousins dancing when they're young and trying to recreate their you-tubed falling-down mishap when they're older. Vaguely reminiscent of The Office's asides in parts, but generally just odd and blah.

10. Strange animation about a baby with testicular troubles. Won best animation.

11. Rather disturbing story about two brothers who were fighting. Their mother said if she got called again for them there'd better be blood. Later, they found a dead body and didn't know what to do with it. Spent most of the time trying to figure it out since they thought they'd get in trouble and be accused of murder, then were hanging around in front of some train tracks and the guy that was supposed to be dead wasn't and got up and then walked in front of the train and got killed.

12. A group of disturbed fathers talking about deep and sensitive issues. Seemed to be made to raise awareness for men's issues and the good that can come of talking through them.

13. Another of my favorites. It was the cutest little clip about the cutest little die who was a number one and all alone. Kept walking through the park and seeing number couples together -- two 5s for instance -- often with with little dice or even dog dice. The poor little one (it was red and always wore headphones) was so sad and cried cute little tear drops out of its number one. A big dog chased it off a bridge and it fell into the water but then another number one die came along and saved it and they went walking off together, happy.

14. Fish lips. Pretty cool, a story told entirely in French accents from the perspective of the goldfish (do I hear Dr. Suess anyone?) about a girl and two boys who played Yahtzee. Eventually they grew up and the girl gave the fishbowl a kiss and the fish begged us not to eat his cousins in our freezers.

15. Another kind of disturbing one. Two girlfriends (or self and alter ego?) sitting across from each other at a restaurant. One clearly a pampered, self-centered brat who was extremely rude to the other, the waitor, etc. Then the brat choked on her food and her friend drank all the water she needed to recover and let her die on the table.

16. A guy on the top of a tall building, accidentally loses his cigarette over the side. A woman comes out, thinks he's suicidal and tries to talk him out of it. The talk goes sadly awry though and he ends up jumping. Another man comes out and the cycle of a non-suicidal person about to become suicidal looks to repeat itself.

And there you have it, folks. Your very own personal summary of Tropfest 2010. Hope you liked it. But if not, there's always next year. The theme, should you care to accept it, which really isn't all that necessary, but civil to mention nonetheless, is key.

quicko: the killing of creepy crawlies

Constitutes high treason. Americans see a spider and grab the closest shoe without thinking twice. Australians rush for the closest combinations of trapping contraptions and thoughtfully preserve the unfortunate insect, then release it ceremoniously in the back garden, the poor little dear.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

quicko: self vs. group

Individualism vs. collective good. Give you two guesses which is which. Ding ding ding!! And American individualism is the answer again! Australians are much (or think they are much, I haven't quite ascertained which yet) more concerned about the collective good than Americans. A case in point an Australian recently pointed out to me: when it was learned that cell phones were Dangerous While Driving, Australia promptly banned them. Americans, however, got up in arms about their Constitutional Rights! and their Freedom of Speech! and their Pursuit of Happiness! and were, in many states, allowed to keep their individual rights, despite the fact that so doing could endanger others' lives. Other collective good initiatives such as recycling, responsible water consumption, not littering and mandatory voting also are much more enforced in Australia -- sometimes through legal measures, but so through social. There are some things that are simply done, and woe to he who does not do them.

Friday, February 19, 2010

quicko: the mechanics of swearing

So this too is not an entirely scientific study, but in my professional pedagogical opinion, Australians are more likely than Americans to use swear words as parts of speech other than interjections. Both nationalities use them as interjections, of course, but Australians are more likely to incorporate them into daily conversation or stories as nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs. Of course Americans can do this, too, but they seem an even more integral component of the Australian vocabulary than the American.

Incidentally, the category of Words One Does Not Use in a Church also has a significantly lower threshold in Australian than in America, d@$$!#!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

quicko: ankle-biters

AKA children. Ingenious, hey?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

quicko: a squiz

AKA a quick look. As in, "can you take a squiz at this and tell me if it's a huntsman or funnel web spider?"

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

quicko: olympics? what olympics?

For a country that's generally on top of news -- particularly sporting news -- I'm shocked that I've heard next to nothing about the Olympics this year. My parents keep telling me about them, and I see the occasional facebook update -- but all from Americans. No one in Australia's talking about them at all. I have this funny feeling they're not on TV, or perhaps just at odd hours of the day? My best guess is that Australia, being a warm climate that excels at summer sports, hasn't got as strong a representation at the winter Olympics as the summer (and, as it's summer here now, people are less likely to watch snow-filled events??), so they're just not as big a thing? I don't know, but I wish they were -- the winter Olympics have always been my favorite by far!

Monday, February 15, 2010

quicko: (lack of) work ethic

Perhaps this is a bit unfair of me, but I am really starting to get sick of Australians telling me they are the hardest working people on earth. It'd be one thing if it were true, but I am utterly convinced it is false. Have you, I ask, ever seen an Australian work? I rest my case.

Really, Australians can be quite good at working hard -- very diligent and thorough, even -- but they are incapable of sustaining it after quitting time, which is generally defined as 5 pm, or whenever the boss leaves, whichever comes first. Anyone there till 6 is crusin' for a bruisin' and any hour past 7 clearly indicates a severe case of workaholism. It's less about finishing the work and more about getting out on time. There are things, you see, to do!

And that is all well and good -- the beaches really are lovely here -- but when these same people insist their fellow countrymen are the hardest working in the world, I desperately beg to differ. Quite possibly they outwork the French, but that hardly gives one bragging rights.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

taking care of business

Yesterday was Saturday. Yesterday my friend Melissa and I saw six properties before 1 pm. This shows you not so much the depth of our friendship, but more that she had bribed me with a free lunch.

I do not do mornings, particularly Saturday mornings, on moral and philosophical grounds. There are, you see, people who prefer mornings. They like sunrises and quiet and stillness and tranquility. I, however, have never been much associated with any of these concepts and thus I very generously leave mornings in peace for those who love them. It strikes me as the least I can do.

However, occasionally duty calls and I attempt to tiptoe delicately through a morning. Such an occasion arose yesterday as Melissa, jet-lagged, sick and caught in the rain, was otherwise going to be flat hunting alone as her fiancee (the other future occupant of said flat) had to work. What sort of person leaves a friend in a situation like that, really? Clearly one who hadn't been bribed.

Flat hunting somehow sounds quite romantic. Flat hunting in Sydney, flat hunting in London -- both have a certain mildly exotic and wildly Wilde ring to them. They feel a bit bohemian, and I think it's all in the word "flat." Apartment hunting in, say, Detroit loses the feel entirely.

Unfortunately, flat hunting and apartment hunting boil down to exactly the same thing: miserable hecticness compounded with stress, worry, disappointment and emotional turmoil. Happy Valentine's Day to you, too.

What made flat hunting particularly problematic for us was not having a car. I'm not sure anyone in America has ever attempted to look for a new residence without a car, and Melissa and I, might I just point out, are Americans. Public transportation is not in our blood. And yet, do recall we saw six properties before 1 pm. I think we should be given a medal, though the Purple Heart and Pulitzer are the only two springing to mind right now and I'm not even sure the Pulitzer comes with a medal. Something, though, surely.

Melissa actually looked at the first place before I arrived. (She had, bless her cotton socks, not even told me there was an 8:30 showing to go to. Presumably she did not want to anger the morning people any further than necessary with my unnecessary presence.) It was, however, a total wreck of a place and, as she did not feel spare cracks or crack in the walls were entirely mandatory attributes, she'd crossed it off the list before I'd gotten off the train.

The second place was doable. It was a nice little flat in a nice complex in a nice neighborhood with a more than nice walk to the train station. It seemed like a potential fall back option, but we wanted to see what else was out there.

Out there, it turned out, was not far at all. No sooner had we stepped out of the nice complex than we saw two nice relators putting up a sign about another showing the same complex. We decided to hang out ten minutes until theirs opened and check it out too.

And so, ten minutes later, in we went. This flat was much nicer than the nice one. It was a split level, with a bit of a balcony and an upper bedroom that looked artsily over onto to the living room. It was decorated elegantly and came with a lovely kitchen and dryer (a dryer quite understandably being Melissa's primary requirement in a flat). We asked the nice relator how much it was.

"$495," he said crisply.

"$495 a week?" I asked.

He blinked and scrunched up his eyebrow slightly.

"Four hundred ninety-five thousand dollars," he said.

"Ah," I said. "This one's not to rent, hey?"

He turned to the female relator.

"Why don't we just cross this name off the list now?" he said. She already had.

After that, we stepped out into the drizzle and made our way towards what we hoped was New Caledonia Road. We stopped to ask two ladies sitting outdoors at a cafe if they could help.

"Just keep walking down this way, dear," said one. "When this road Ts, that's New Caledonia. Which part of it do you want?"

We gave the number. They frowned a bit.

"It's a long road," said the other.

We knew, but figured we were hardy young things and headed promptly off. We found the T easily enough and turned to follow the numbers in the proper direction. We clipped along for awhile, though we knew we still had quite aways to go. It was here Melissa started to get worried, though.

Unlike the States, you see, where open houses are frequent affairs and generally last from, say, 2 to 5 pm on a Sunday afternoon, Australian open houses are fifteen to thirty minutes long and are almost exclusively confined to Saturday mornings. How this works is quite beyond me, but it seems that it is really how things are done in Australia. Everyone knows it, everyone hates it, everyone puts up with it. If you want to find a place to live, you must run around all Saturday morning, spend four minutes in various places before darting off to the next, and, should you wish to actually acquire any, arrive first with your application filled out and a cash deposit on hand. Otherwise, forget it.

And that was why Melissa had started to worry. Trekking it might I remind you without a car in the rain, we decided to catch a bus. Unfortunately the bus stop indicated that its bus came only Mondays through Fridays. Never mind, then, we trekked onward.

A bit of civilization eventually emerged (it had been mostly quite leafily residential) and we finally managed to catch a bus that actually ran on weekends. We carefully watched all the house numbers, but suddenly they'd gone a bit haywire and the bus turned off our road. Time was ticking and we didn't have a clue how to get where we needed to go, so we decided to give it five minutes: if a cab came, we'd take it; if not, we'd cut our losses and head for the next spot on the list. Four minutes fifty-five seconds later a cab pulled up. We jumped inside and the driver backtracked us to the point where we'd first encountered civilization a mile or so back, at which point he took a 90 degree turn to the right. Yes, New Caledonia Road, it seems, turns perpendicular to itself at a light. Aren't those Australian roads creative?

After a bit of haggling over the street numbers ("Surely 869 will be after these saying 751 and 863," -- "No, it's that way!" -- "Err, actually, we're quite sure we must keep going a bit. That's 863 there and we need to go up." -- "Oh, is that an 8? Could have sworn it was a 6. Right you are then.") we ended up in front of the the fourth flat of the day.

The fourth flat was gorgeous. It was a split level as well, modern in the kitchen facilities and had an amazing view of Sydney stretching even as far as the bridge. The price was indulgent, but not excessive. I was ready for Melissa to sign on the dotted line so I could come visit, but she decided to ask the relator one rather hairy question.

"Can we have pets here?" she asked.

"Er, no, no, you can't have pets here," he said. "STRATA won't allow it."

I was crestfallen. Melissa, you see, has a puppy. An adorable puppy, a beautiful puppy, but a puppy that will nonetheless turn into a dog and be Not Allowed in many places. Our relator, however, was unfazed. Picking up immediately on the situation, he had quickly formed a new plan.

"You need a place you can have pets?" he asked. "I know just the one. I'm going there next, actually, if you want to come along. It's similar to this -- two bedrooms, a bathroom -- the bedrooms are much bigger than these, actually, and the kitchen's very new, too. And the owners are dog lovers, they've got one in fact. If you'd like to come along, I can take you in my car -- it's a company car," he added hastily.

Melissa and I looked at each other. Why not? A free ride was sounding pretty good, and the place was potentially promising. We waited till the others had left, then let Andy, our new curly haired friend, open doors for us all the way into his (company) car. It did say Greer and Greer on the side, so we figured it was pretty legitimate.

We chatted on the way and I got to ask the question that had been nagging at me since he'd mentioned it, and it wasn't about the company car.

"What exactly is STRATA?" I asked.

He was only too pleased to be asked a question he had a prepared five minute answer to (I suspect there were actually many questions that would have fallen into this category) and launched into a detailed description that was actually quite informative. STRATA, it turns out, is the organization in each apartment complex that governs all the common areas -- the gardens, the pools, the hallways, etc. I could go on, but I'll spare you.

By the time we'd had STRATA properly explained, we'd arrived at the dog loving property which happened to be just above a bottle shop. Melissa was starting to feel slightly woozy again, and though we agreed the proximity to amenities and buses was excellent, the proximity to 4 am hard liquor was not as essential as it could be. We looked through the place, though.

It was quite big, in a long and narrow style set-up, and fairly well maintained except for a little present from the currently loved dog who was showing us around as well. Andy didn't seem to notice, but he did take great pride in showing us how the soundproofing curtain came down over the bedroom window so the sound was almost entirely cut out. So was all the light, but I suppose you take what you can get.

From there we had a short walk to the train station to take us to our last property on the list. The trains, however, were not particularly mindful of our time frame, and saw fit to come somewhat later than we'd have preferred. We waited, though, and ended up in Strathfield just barely after our fifteen minute window was to end. We studied the station map carefully and were given disjointed directions from station workers who were trying rather unsuccessfully to be helpful, then set out. We knew we didn't have far to go, but succeed primarily in walking around the block before we figured we needed another squiz at the map. Before we hit station again, though, we realized we were right outside LJ Hooker, which is, oddly enough, a prominent real estate chain, and, more importantly, the one sponsoring the flat we wanted to see. We popped in and said hello.

The woman at the desk had business headphones on and clearly did not wish to be interrupted. She managed to say hello, though.

"We were just wondering how to get to this flat," we said, pointing at the picture on her leaflet.

She looked at her watch.

"That showing is over," she said.

"Er, yeah, we thought it might go on just a couple minutes later maybe?" we asked hopefully.

"Of course it won't," she said. "The real estate agents will be at their next property already."

"Oh," we said. I had a thought.

"Would that property allow dogs?" I asked.

She looked as if I'd asked if Tasmania were the capital of Australia.

"Of course not," she said. "No where does. STRATA would never allow it."

Then she promptly went back to her headphone conversation.

"Er, bye," we said.

We exited and regrouped.

"At least you know it wouldn't have worked," I pointed out, in what I hoped was a helpful sounding voice.

"Yeah," she said. "Oh well. Do you want some lunch now?"

I smiled. "I thought you'd never ask."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

quicko: service? what service?

A perennial complaint of American tourists is how utterly shocking the service is in other countries. (Evidently the customer is not always right -- who knew?!) My latest experience involved an unnamed restaurant on the Manly Corso that had literally no less than six waiters milling about -- not serving others, milling -- none of whom realized I was desperately trying to get their attention. Never mind then. I won't take the bill, if it's all the same to you.

quicko: generosity

I don't have this on any scientific grounds, but I have been continually impressed not only with the friendliness of Australians but also their generosity. Again and again, I have been treated very kindly and generously by Australians. Either that, or they're waiting angrily for me to step up to the plate and take a turn back!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

quicko: taking classes

One of the occupational hazards of being a Christian is knowing entirely more Daves than you can possibly keep straight. I ran into one tonight and he asked what I was up to these days. More like what I'm not up to, I said, and mentioned that I was taking classes.

"That's so American, 'taking classes,'" he said, completely unaware that I would also punctuate his sentence in the American fashion as well.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

quicko: on not putting all your eggs in one basket

I was walking through the grocery store today when I made an astounding discovery: the eggs were not refrigerated. They were out in the open, sitting between the vegetables and the bread, with nothing to keep them cool. Lots of them. Practically boiling. Clambering to fry themselves on the nearby sidewalk. As I said, I was astounded.

Which just goes to show, you shouldn't put all your eggs in the refrigerated basket.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

quicko: birthday goodies

In America, kids always bring treats to school for their birthdays; I've been told they do in Australia as well. Adults don't usually bring anything to work, though -- even if they work in a school, for Pete's sake! Thank goodness I work with another American -- who bakes!!

Monday, February 8, 2010

quicko: assessments

What Australians call assignments, as in from college. A slight difference might be that there are generally fewer, weightier Australian assessments than there are American assignments. Also, homework is "set" more often than it is "given."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

quicko: things reasonably priced in australia

I have found two:

1. Postcards (40 cents each or 10 for $4)
2. Pedicures ($30 and no tax or tip; add $5 for a design and $10 for a manicure)

(injuries not included)

open SESAME street!!

When I called my party “open SESAME street” I was thinking much more about Big Bird, Cookie Monster and Princess Jasmine than sunny days. However, it turned out that one of my more prominent tasks was actually to sweep those clouds away.

I have always liked rain. I find it calming (dear know my friends must appreciate this, too), de-stressing and generally quite welcome. I love to run around and play in it. Jump puddles. Climb soggy trees in my bare feet. Jump into freezing cold ponds just as the thunder booms. I love, unlike any other female I’ve ever met, what it does to my hair. Alternatively, I also enjoy sitting inside and watching it, preferably when there’s a thunderstorm. In short, rain has never bothered me.

Switch scenes now to Sydney. Sydney generally has good weather. Sunny, pretty skies, gorgeousness. It often gets a wee bit more humid than I'd really prefer, but I generally don't mention that too loudly. Because of the humidity it frequently showers briefly, especially in the summer evenings, and there are sometimes amazing thunderstorms. But sometimes the skies open (heaven forbid) for nearly a day and Sydneysiders throw themselves immediately up in arms. They do not like rain, they cannot stand rain, it depresses them, rain does. They were happy until it rained and they just can't stand rain. (You should have been here last year when it rained for two weeks straight. The city was about to shoot itself, and everyone in it. They were so distraught that Sydney’d been caught, well, with its metaphorical pants down, quite frankly.)

Sydneysiders, you see, take it as a personal insult when it rains. Their city is not supposed to get rain (that horror belongs primarily in London, eww), it is supposed to be sunny, everyone knows that, Sydney is sunny. It’s even alliterative for goodness sake, have you ever heard of (shudder) “rainy Sydney”? Of course not. It does not go together, it does not sound good, end of story. Thus, rain really brings out, or keeps in, the worst of people. (Oh, go back and reread that sentence. It contains more brilliance than even I realized at first write.) It makes them immediately whiney, crabby and, if you hadn't quite caught it, exceptionally prone to stay home. That's right, Sydney treats a day of rain the same way Cincinnati treats an impending 4 inch "blizzard" -- everyone freaks out, runs to the grocery store, stocks up, cancels all their events and mopes miserably inside until it dries up and their (it does belong to them, you know) sun reappears. No one really thinks to get out there and start sweeping those clouds away.

In the wake of this astounding feat of meteorology, can you believe this impudent American (hold on to your seats) had the gall to schedule a party? Granted, it had been scheduled months in advance before any of the impending doom had been announced, but the fact remained I did not cancel it and actually (the nerve!) presumed Australians might still attend. It is clearly a tribute to their stalwart hearts, true and noble characters and Brave Little Umbrellas that 30 actually managed to drag their bedraggled selves into the warmth of what I’d cunningly themed “open SESAME street!” (Though two of them did promptly shut a window in a rather warm room when a few mists of rain dared to edge their way in. Keep that weather where it belongs! But that’s another story.)

Backing up a bit, I will admit that I, too, had my fair share of trouble getting to my party. I’d been at church a bit later than was really ideal if I wanted to arrive on time, but the sermon was on Not Giving Up Meeting Together, As Some Are in the Habit of Doing, so really, what was I to do? I caught the 7:24 train, which was actually more like a 7:35 train because, well, because trains don’t always recognize the fact that the number they’re called is supposed to match up to the time. I think they think it’s just a cunning little number randomly assigned to them and toot merrily along their way without regard for what it really means.

But in any event, the inaptly named 7:24 did eventually arrive and whisked me away to Central, where it had been downpouring all day. Like I said, I do like rain, but I don’t like it as much as usual when it’s also making me cold and late, as well as potentially ruining not only the bottoms of my jeans but also cell phones, cameras and borrowed books.

The train to Newtown, unfortunately, had been canceled due to track work, which meant I had to get a replacement bus. Thankfully everything was close at hand and well labeled (though not before I’d heaved several great, “I hate Central, I hate Central … and Town Hall if it comes to that … why can’t this be Wynyard, I hate Central” snarls under my breath) and I soon found the makeshift rain shelter they’d kindly put up for us huddled smoking masses. Yes, smoking. The people behind me were smoking, and I was in no mood to be smoked at, much less have the dreadful smell affix itself to my hair for my party. I gave up in disgust, and faced the rain, which, like I said, I wasn’t liking quite as much as usual.

Somehow in that I’d managed to sneak a glance at the time and realized that if the replacement bus didn’t come soon, I was really going to be up a literal and metaphorical creek. After a few false starts (“what do you mean, you don’t go to Newtown!?”), I gave up entirely and hailed a taxi.

Taxis are always my last resort. Sydneysiders don’t bat an eye thinking about taxis, it’s generally their first idea when you have to get somewhere. I, having grown up driving and being driven everywhere I ever needed to go for at least 23 years, never think of them. When I do, it’s generally with a sigh of, “oh dear, what a waste of perfectly good cash!” (Sydneysiders point quickly to the fact that no matter expensive taxis are, you can rack up a mighty large number of cab rides before you equal the cost of one car. They have a point.) Last night, however, I was desperate, so, after a few more false starts (“but I need you so much more than they do!”) I finally hurled myself in the first cab I could and asked for Newtown. The driver shook his head.

“Traffic’s terrible there.”

“Oh dear,” I said. “I see, but I think I’d still like to go.”

He gave me an odd expression along the lines of some-people-are-just-too-willful-for-their-own-good.

“How long does it normally take to get there in good weather?” I asked, desperately clinging to the belief that since I had at least acquired a taxi, the weather would surely be turning any second now.

He sighed. “Twenty minutes.”

“Twenty minutes!” I cried. “In good weather?!”

“Twenty minutes tonight,” he said. It was then that I realized his English was not yet at the level my school would classify as proficient.

“But it’s my birthday party!” I wailed. “I can’t be late to my own birthday party!”

He looked me in profound distress, clearly wishing he’d never picked up this miserable, wailing waif.

“You call your friends,” he said.

Realizing he was right, I whipped out my cell phone and called the bar in a mild panic. They answered on about the tenth ring, and the man was clearly busy.

“Right there, hello, um, Newto – er, Zanzibar, this is Joe,” said a tall-sounding man.

“Hi there, this is Kim, I’ve got a couple tables reserved there for tonight for, um, eight o’clock, but I’m caught in the rain and the train was out and the replacement bus didn’t come and I’m in a taxi and I’ll be there really soon, my guests should be arriving any second now, I’m really sorry, I promise I’m on my way,” I spat out in one breath.

“No dramas, love,” Joe said. “What’d you say your name was?”


“Okay, doll, no worries, we’ve got your tables, they’re not going anywhere. Thanks for calling, see you when you get here.”

“See you,” I said. “Thanks so much.”

The driver gave me a how-bad-was-that-really look. I ignored him. Next I racked my brains for who I deemed the guest Most Likely to Arrive on Time and came up with Melissa. I called her frantically.

“Melissa!” I said, “Are you there yet??”

“No,” she said, “I’m just on a bus going over the Harbour Bridge now. Sorry, did you need me there now?”

“Er, no,” I managed. “It’s just that I’m running late – the rain and the train and the bus and the taxi and the rain, you know – and, the guests and the party and I’m going to be late and it’s my birthday and I don’t know what to do.”

Being an observant sort of friend, she quickly picked up on the urgency bordering on now more-than-mild panic in my voice.

“It’ll be fine,” she assured me. “Look, the weather’s really bad tonight and everybody’s going to be running late. I’ll be there soon, but I reckon you and I will be the first to get there. Transportation’s down all over the place, the rain is making people late, don’t worry at all. If anybody gets there and can’t find you, they’ll just call. It won’t be a big deal.”

I breathed a sigh of relief. “You’re sure?”

“Definitely,” she said. “The worst that can happen is they call you, and no one’s going to be upset about having to have an extra drink before you arrive. I still reckon you’ll be the first one there, though.”

We hung up and the driver gave me another look which was not meant to be entirely sympathetic. I felt I owed him an explanation.

“Sorry, it’s just been a difficult day, I woke up kind of sick and then like all day I’ve got nothing but texts from people canceling on me because of the rain, but then it is still my birthday party and I’ve got to be there on time and –”

At this point I felt I was being rude, so I changed tactics.

“How’s your night been?”

He gave me another look.

“As bad as mine, hey? I’m sorry.”

There was a slight pause. Then I suddenly realized I had a birthday present with me.

“Look!” I squealed. “I have a present to open! That’ll cheer me up!”

“Don’t you wait and open with your friend?” he asked.

“Well, I could, but I’m kind of grumpy right now and this’ll cheer me up so I’m going to go for it anyway.”

He clearly disapproved, but didn’t stop me. In fact, he seemed a bit curious.

“I think it’s a book,” I announced. Judging by its shape, this wasn’t a bad guess.

“Hardback,” I said, pulling off the paper.

“You like read?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, “I do. Oh, look! It’s a blank book! One to write in!” I showed him joyfully.

Clearly a blank book was not his idea of the perfect present.

“You like write?” he asked.

“Yes!” I said, “I’m a writer! This is fantastic!”

He made an undecipherable noise, and we rode in silence for awhile.

We finally arrived outside Zanzibar just a smidge past eight o’clock.

“Thank you,” I gushed, eager to leave a relatively positive impression.

“You got everything? Nothing on floor?”

“Think I’m okay,” I said, handing him a $20. “Keep the change.”

He glanced up at me. “And now you write about this, eh?”

I looked down, surprised. “Err, yeah, actually, I probably will.”

“Happy birthday,” he said, and drove off.

I shook my hair out while I waited for the lights to change, then darted madly across to Zanzibar where I was promptly card, searched and de-watered.

“You can’t take this in,” the guard declared, pointing to my water bottle.

I was beyond caring. “That’s fine, I don’t care, you can take it,” I said. He did, and let me in.

I dashed upstairs and looked madly, chaotically around. A tall man saw me floundering and asked if I was all right.

“Yeah,” I said, “I’m just, well, it’s my birthday party, I’m not sure where …”

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Kim,” I said, happy to have the right answer to at least one question.

“Oh, cool,” he said. “Over here, I’ve just finished cleaning it off for you.”

He led me into a smaller room where two long tables were clearly marked with signs reserving them for Kim. No one else was in sight.

“Thank you!” I said. “The others should be arriving any second now. I understand if you have to give one of the tables up or something.”

“Nah, no worries, love,” he said. “It’s your birthday, these are your tables. If anyone tries to take them, you just go over and point to the sign and say, ‘I’m Kim. These are my tables, scram.’”

I decided I rather liked this place.

Seeing as there weren’t any other guests yet, I ran to the bathroom to change. I was dressed pretty appropriately for the bar, but not at all for my party. It took a little while to get myself situated and tied up properly, but I finally emerged, elaborately regaled and definitively the only person in the bar in Arabian dress. I’m generally a fairly self-confident person, but it took a deep breath even for me to walk back over to my two large tables.

It was then my friend Joseph arrived. Seeing as he was first guest, I greeted him enthusiastically.

“Er, was this a costume party?” he asked.

“Yes!” I said. “Did I forget to tell you?”

It seemed that I had, but he was a good sport about it and soon others began arriving, some in costume and others not. It was a small crowd for awhile, but soon guests (along with a ream of apologetic texts) began trickling steadily in and soon we were in the midst of a full-blown zanziparty!

There were several Arabian-styled girls, some turbans and even Syrian sweets on the “open Sesame” end of things, and Cookie Monster Adam rounded out the “Sesame Street” contingent, which was brought to us by the letter P.

We took pictures, danced and raved about how fitting the d├ęcor was, how fun the music was and, really, what am amazing turnout there was, despite that dastard weather. All in all, there were thirty guests, albeit I didn’t meet two of them until we’d finally packed up and headed out (they’d somehow missed us and hung out by themselves downstairs).

The fun and revelry, interspersed with occasional presents and lots of camera flashes, danced on until Christian o’clock when many of my church friends moseyed on out. A small gang of five of us soldiered on, though, dancing our hearts out for another hour or two until we finally decided to call it a night.

Funny, though, it almost seemed like a sunny day to me.

Friday, February 5, 2010

quicko: washing powder OR liquid

(Not "laundry soap.")

Thursday, February 4, 2010

quicko: induction

AKA orientation. Australians use the word "induction" instead of "orientation."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

quicko: can i get your details?

One's "details" in Australian English refers to "details of means of contact" -- i.e., your phone number, email address, address, etc.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

quicko: leavers

The Australian name for graduates of a college, or, really, anyone leaving anywhere officially.

Monday, February 1, 2010

quicko: hide and go cockatoo

There are four cockatoos hidden in this photo taken right outside my window. How many can you spot?