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.

quicko: the $3 rule in action

I have taken a picture of this mango not because it is the most beautiful of mangoes but because it is the most beautiful of mango prices.  (Please note the sarcasm.)  How much should a mango cost?  I don't know.  I have this vague idea that 49 cents is about right.  How much did this mango cost?  $3.  $3 is not about right.  What is even more not right is that it was supposed to be $2.50.  $2.50 is, of course, very different from $3.  This is the price it was advertised at.  To be more specific, it was advertised as "2 for $5," which I very cleverly worked out to be $2.50.  However, realizing that evil stores like to advertise in less than ethical ways, I figured the individual price would be higher.  So I read the entire label on the sign very carefully and it clearly stated they were $2.50 each.  Utterly no mention of any higher price for individual mangoes.  So, bearing in mind other less than ethical maneuvers favored by such establishments, I figured it was a marketing ploy designed to get you to buy two just for kicks and giggles when, really, you probably only wanted one.  Savvy shopper in action, right?

Wrong.  At the check out the unfriendly man rang it up as $3.  I asked him if it wasn't $2.50?  He explained, painstakingly, as if I were the one not speaking his language, that it was only if you bought 2.  $2.50 each, you know, 5 divided by 2.  I was afraid he was going to keep explaining and the line was getting longer, so I decided to cut my mango losses and sulk my way home, fuming under my breath that nothing in this country ever costs less than $3.  Ever.  I should have known better than to think I could get a mango for $2.50 -- it's under the cut off and utterly unallowed.

quicko: pies

Pies are a huge deal in Australia, but they're not what you're thinking of.  They're meals.

I know you can technically make a meal out of pumpkin, pecan and apple pie, but the Australian pies are what they call "savory" -- i.e., not sweet.  Think of a chicken pot pie and you're on the right track.

They're a quintessential Australian dish and there are shops that sell them all over the place -- often, the only places open late at night.

Personally, I'm not a huge fan.  Seeing as I don't really like sweet pies, I was already going to be a tough sell to begin with.  I've never liked the crust (though I've started to tolerate it in recent years), for instance.  But they're just so big and so heavy and so filling.  They feel like the sort of food you'd need if you were outside rock climbing or building a house all day, not drifting around classrooms pointing out that, in fact, that relative clause was defining and so really didn't need those commas.  I just don't have the appetite for them.

But more than that, I just don't find them appetizing.  I'll eat the mini versions if pressed at an Australia Day celebration, but I could hardly claim to enjoy them.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

quicko: 3D movies

This is a similarity:  they have them here, too.

I know, an absolutely astounding observation.  And, no, it wasn't meant as a jibe.  It was meant as an excuse for me to say -- really?  Do we have to?  Why do people like them?  I don't get it.  You have to wear funny glasses, everyone looks stupid and results just aren't that mesmerizing.  I read an article that questioned whether or not 3D movies were a fad.  I hadn't realized that was even a thought on the table, but count me in and give me plain old 2D any day.  And another thing -- though it gives the illusion of being 3D, it's clearly not.  When the chocolate is actually oozing out of Chocolat give me another buzz and I'll be right there.  But till then -- really?  Do we have to?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

of banks and checks

I have a public service announcement:  if you live in Australia and receive a check made out in American dollars, mail it back home*.  No point cashing it here, unless it's really big.

My Grandparents, you see, very kindly sent me a Thanksgiving check.  Thanksgiving checks, for the Australian readership, are not particularly common, though obviously always exceedingly well received.  I'd written and mailed my thank you, which explicitly stated my intention of using the Thanksgiving money to buy Thanksgiving food for the Thursday night Thanksgiving I'm attending, when I walked into the bank and asked them if I could get some cash.

The man working there was just the sort of man I like to encounter at banks -- tall (it instills confidence), middle aged, exceedingly professional, fluent and polite.  He wore gray, which I find suitable in few locations besides banks.  In banks I don't mind.  I don't mind associates looking a bit drab; I assume it means they are conserving brain power for helping me solve my banking needs.

And so I asked the man, who, just for fun, I'll call Mr. Banks (he was certain a Mister something), if I could cash an American check.  Yes, he assured me, I could.  Did I have an account with them?  Yes, I assured him, I did.  Excellent, he said.  In that case I also had the option of depositing my money into the bank account, though it would take thirty days for the cheque (he clearly said it with the Australian spelling) to clear.  Seeing as Thanksgiving is significantly less than thirty days away, I favored the fast, cold, hard cash routine.  Excellent, he said.  There would only be the processing fee.  Was that a flat fee, I asked, or a percentage?  A flat fee, he assured me.  He wasn't positive off the top of his head, but it was certainly either $10 or $20 AU.

At this point I did what I believe you could term "to balk."  You see, Thanksgiving checks, which, as I previously pointed out, are relatively unheard of (thought it had come from my relatives -- ha!).  They're also not exactly down payments.  The particular one I had received happened to be for $20 US.  Math is not my strong suit, but even without doing the conversion in my head, I understood fairly clearly that cashing the check was not a reasonable option.  I thanked him hastily and hustled off to run another errand.

After that errand, I began thinking about the elusive first option Mr. Banks had mentioned.  It was clearly not ideal to wait 30 days for my money, but it would almost certainly be quicker than buying an envelope (I do not, as you may recall, currently own any envelopes -- I rarely actually need them, and you can't buy them individually), writing a hasty note to my parents, mailing it to America, getting Dad to deposit it and then transferring that money to my Australian bank account.  What's more, though, that would be entirely counterproductive as it costs $15 US from the American bank and $22 AU from the Australian bank to transfer the money, which, again putting my mathematical skills to work, would leave me soundly in the hole as far as the check was concerned.

Thus, I determined that, if the depositing option was not a go, the only real option would be to wait until I had a card to mail to my parents (they come with envelopes, you see), stick the check in there (signing it first, of course -- my family's always a bit funny about signing checks and mailing them (what if someone steals it!?), but I figured no one was likely to risk their criminal record simply to cash a $20 check.  Unless they're already in some sort of massively well organized check stealing mafia, in which case I really wouldn't want to mess with them anyway.) and ask Dad to deposit it in my American bank account.

My American bank account, no doubt, would be exceedingly thrilled to receive any money whatsoever (it's begun to forget what having money actually feels like), though it would make things rather more difficult in terms of buying an avocado and some ground beef here.  (Yes, for Thanksgiving.  Long story.)  However, seeing as I'd be waiting 30 days to get the money here even if the depositing scheme (sigh -- since when does it have to be a scheme to get your own money?) worked, I figured it really didn't matter at this point.  Might as well stock up at home to save for my next online shopping trip.  If I want to feel like I've actually cheated The System in a really devious yet fitting way, I could charge something to my American credit card here and pay it off with those very funds from my American bank account, but that's all a little more work than really necessary.  The American credit card's posed a few too many problems recently, and I'm giving it a bit of a time out, you see.

My plan thus coherently formed, I marched again into the bank and found Mr. Banks on the phone.  He was joined this time by another associate, a twenty-something girl who looked possibly like a misplaced art student, who was speaking to a man in a tradesman uniform who appeared to be bringing in new fake plants.  I caught her eye for a second, but she made absolutely no motion to acknowledge or greet me.  I breathed a sigh of relief and went back to waiting for Mr. Banks.

Being a banker, he was thankfully efficient on the phone and a minute later was able to greet me again.  If he recognized me from six minutes ago, he gave no immediate sign of it.  I decided to assume it was safe to assume he did recognize me (aside from the plant man, there didn't appear to have been any other customers, and, after all, how many Americans in bright red tops could they have possibly served in six minutes?) and asked about the possibility of depositing an American check in my bank account.  Oh yes, he said, they could do that.  It would take thirty days, though.  I explained that I was aware of the thirty day rule, but was curious as to any fees I might incur.  Ah yes!  Recognition dawned, and I was soon given to learn that, in true stalwart professionalism known only to bankers, and, perhaps, accountants, he had spent the intervening six minutes refreshing his knowledge as to whether the flat fee for international conversions was $10 or $20.  It turned out to be $10.  Which would, he explained, put my potential deposit, with the current exchange rate, at something just shy of $10.  In thirty days.

I again thanks Mr. Banks for his assistance, but informed him that, sadly, I still did not think it was worth it.  He appeared to understand, which is about the most you can expect from bank employees.  I bid him adieu and took my exit, now confident my plan of mailing the (signed) check safely home to my parents to deposit in my American bank account was the best plan.

Now if only I had some food for Thanksgiving.

*I would just like to take this opportunity to point out that I am still very grateful to accept checks.  The money does get to me eventually and I am always thrilled to receive them.  It might be slightly less cumbersome for all concerned if they were sent directly to my parents, though of course they would miss their world tour that way.  And, seeing as relatively few checks get to say they've been to Sydney and back again -- well, who am I to deny them the opportunity?  Seriously, sending them either place is fine -- just know that they might not clear for several months.  There is something about opening an envelope and finding a check inside.  And there's really something even cooler about opening an envelope and finding Australian cash inside!

review: harry potter and the deathly hallows, part 1

So a group of us went to see Harry Potter today.  Aside from the fact that I saw it while in Australia, I don't think this post has any relevance whatsoever to American-Australian cultural gaps.  I am also now 23 days into NaNoWriMo and have been utterly out of ideas (There are no further differences between America and Australia.  I have written about them all.  Read the last two years of this blog if you don't believe me.), so am seizing the opportunity to write about something -- anything! -- that inspires me.  And it just so happens that Harry Potter does.  Or, to be more precise, his best friend Ron does.

You'd never have guessed it from the first few movies, but in the most recent ones Ron has really grown up.  I realize he'd still put me in a rather cradle robbery sort of position, but according to IMDB, he was born in 1988, which puts him only four years beneath me.  Not too bad, particularly considering Shakespeare's wife was six years older than him.  IMDB also conveniently informs me that he has bought an ice cream truck and can ride a unicycle.  Really, what more could I want?  Possibly someone not named Rupert.

Ron Weasley aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the movie.  It clocked in at well over two hours, and near the end of the second to last scene I suddenly thought, "hmm, I guess it's been awhile.  I wonder if we're getting close to the end?" And then, bang, it was over.

And talk about a cliffhanger!  Obviously being Part 1 of 2 everyone knew it was going to be such, but still!  For the record, I would be perfectly content to watch Part 2 right now.  And will most likely remain perfectly uncontent until I do.  Anyone know when it comes out?

Going into the movie, I was a bit apprehensive that we'd be doing a bit more trudging through the woods than I really enjoy (I'm not much of a woods trudger, personally or fictionally, at the best of times), but I thought that it moved really pretty fast.  Quite possibly due in part to the humor, of which Ron supplied a significant portion.  (See the nice, fair, balanced comment?)  There were a few points where my friends and I (all English teachers) were cracking up, but not many others were.  I'm not entirely sure if it's because much of the audience wasn't entirely fluent, or simply lacked taste.  I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume the former. 

Partially because of the story itself and partially due to the constraints of film, you could watch this movie and get the impression that, really, there were only three characters who mattered.  And while they are clearly the protagonists, my favorite parts were the ones when they actually interacted with other characters.  (I told you I'm not much of a trudger.)

Some of my all-time favorites (Fred and George, for example) hardly got any more screen time than, say, Mad-Eye Moody, who kicked the bucket after the opening scene.  (Oops, post-spoiler alert.)  And it was odd to see entirely new characters (the Snatchers, for instance), getting lines while standbys like McGonagall weren't even in the show at all.  Dumbledore's dead body literally had a bigger part than Trewlaney, Sprout and Nearly Headless Nick put together.

I suppose the bad guys should get a mention, too.  They must be doing a great job as actors, because I absolutely loathe them.  Voldemort, though, I really wish were depicted differently.  I understand that they want to make him look sub-human, yet insanely cunning, and a snake-like appearance will serve this purpose best, yet I really hate when movies disfigure human forms.  It's one of my bigger movie pet peeves, and I don't handle it well.  Voldemort is just as far to the edge of it as I can go without being utterly repulsed (the Orcs in Lord of the Rings, or Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean, for example, are over the edge), though I really wish they'd just give him a normal nose.  It bugs me.

It's been awhile since I read the books, so, while I noticed a few things that seemed off (Fred and George's radio show never came on!  I kept waiting for it, yet it never came on!), I think I missed a bit, too.  Didn't mind, though possibly if I had the plot a bit fresher in my head I would have.

At the very outset of the movie, I thought they set the scene well by flashing between Ron, Harry and Hermione, whose opening bit I found most distressing.

And, like the book, it is striking just how much death there is in this movie.  It's definitely not a movie for children.  As much as I wanted to discuss it afterwards, I was glad that, of all places I had to run, it was my Bible study.  It's a bit nice to be reminded that, no, that isn't real -- though actually confronting the real evil in our world ought to scare me even more.  I find that movies often freak me out not so much because of the events or scenes in them, but because they very often cause me to reflect on just what exactly is real and what isn't -- and there's plenty that's real that is incredibly more frightening than any Voldemort or fictional psychological warfare ever could be.  Of course, there's even more that's real that is incredibly more powerful and good than any Voldemort or fictional anything ever could be.  And knowing that God is ultimately in control and that I -- along with so many others -- are ultimately on His side is one of the biggest comforts I can imagine.

And so I really enjoyed Bible study, and am now particularly keen (was before, too!  just especially so now!) to give Jesus the highest priority in and full reign over all my life -- my time, my energy, my passions, my desires, my hopes, my dreams, etc. -- in order that I won't have any room for idols of any kind to creep in and take my focus off Him.  Except perhaps for Ron Weasley.

quicko: half eight

Means 8:30.  Can be used for any half hour of the day -- half three, half seven, half ten.  Not so much for half noon.

Monday, November 22, 2010

track work

I had an adventure this weekend!  I often have adventures, but this one involved trains, so it qualifies as a Great Train Adventure.  Without an exclamation point, but not without exclamations.

It all started when my friend Anne decided to start a dessert company.  Anne, might I just point out, is one of the best bakers I know, and her baked goods are absolutely amazing.  The mango cheesecake is a particular favorite, though the frosting on the malt chocolate cake gives it a very good run for its money.

But I digress.  The situation was that Anne had invited a bunch of people over for the launch of her company, Anne's Delectable Delights, and I was fortunate enough to be among them.  Our friend Rachel also planned to come along and, since Rach and I live relatively near each other, we decided to meet up at Town Hall and go together.

So far so fine.  We met at the Town Hall steps (the quintessential spot to meet up in Sydney) and headed down to the trains.  It was then that our epic journey was first foreshadowed in the form of a tacky yellow sign advertising Track Work.  We stopped and considered, but figured it was worth checking the trains to see which ones were actually affected by the yellow monster of guile.  It turns out that ours was.

Now the train we wanted was one that would take us to Revesby.  Revesby is on the Airport line, and significantly past the turf of Lower North Shore girls.  It's a good way in from the boonies, but it's not at all our neck of the woods.  The fact that we were venturing so far afield speaks volumes, mostly about the deliciousness of Anne's cheesecakes.

Unfortunately the Airport line was undergoing Track Work.  Track Work is one of those, they say, necessary evils that occurs roughly bi-weekly, and virtually always on the weekends.  Weekend travel is troublesome enough what with reduced services and traffic jams (I'm thinking of the buses on Military Road here), but adding Track Work into the mix adds a good half hour and ten pounds of frustration onto your journey.  At the best of times, it can take up to two hours to traverse one side of the city to another; at the Track Work of times, it is much better not to think about how long the journey takes.

I do not know what causes the need for Track Work.  I don't think anyone does.  Presumably it is because the trains use the tracks all day long and the tracks get tired and like a bi-weekly massage and check up.  They may be similar to the copy machine in that regard.  Despite the fact that their proscribed purpose in life is to function -- not even creatively, simply at all -- they seem inevitably unable to.  Perhaps it is poor design.  Perhaps it is poor execution.  Perhaps it is poor self esteem on the part of the tracks.  I haven't a clue, but I am inclined to think the latter.

To this end, I propose that everyone be as cheerful as possible to the tracks.  Whenever you see them, wish them a jolly good morning, or a smashing afternoon, as the case may be.  From a distance, of course.

Perhaps that is it.  Perhaps they just don't get enough love.  They crave physical affection.  They were neglected as young tracks.  People give them wide breadth even now.  I still don't recommend cuddling them (in fact, I wholeheartedly recommend against it), but perhaps a cheery wave or the occasional hello could work small wonders.  Blow them a kiss if you're feeling particularly compassionate.  Perhaps when no one else is looking, though.  I'd hate for that to get misinterpreted.

Until the tracks feel loved, though, I'm afraid we have no choice but to be regularly disrupted by Track Work.  I'm sure it could be worse.  I'm not quite sure how, but presumably it's a theoretical possibility.

So Rach and I found ourselves at Town Hall and realized that our best option was to take a train of a different line to Redfern.  (Thankfully the lines usually take turns feeling under-appreciated.)  The timing worked actually quite well in that we were able to purchase the necessary tickets and find our way to the platform with two minutes to spare.

Two minutes, I have long since decided, is by far the optimal waiting time for a train.  Anything over three gets a bit tedious (what do I do now?  ho hum.  hum ho.  hum hum hum, ho--oh, sorry, sir, didn't mean to say that out loud.), yet one is cutting things entirely too close for comfort.  One usually sees you running headlong down a dangerous flight of stairs, pushing innocent bystanders out of your way and hoping desperately that none of them were pregnant as you shout out a general cry of "sorry!" to your wake.  With two minutes you know you can make it, but not resort to fake texting to keep yourself amused while you wait.

In two minutes, our train arrived and we boarded.  The signs had suggested Redfern was a nice, scenic stop -- well, actually, they'd suggested Redfern was where we should transfer back to our beloved Airport line.  We passed Central, then hopped off at Redfern.

Neither of us knew the station all that well ("look!  there's a level underground!"), but we soon learned that it actually has very many stairs.  We didn't think to count, but suffice it to say we both felt the thigh burn by the top.

At the top, we found two very unhelpful signs (what?  the trains only go north from this station?!) and then realized there were six more just around the corner.  One of them showed a train departing for Revesby in one -- one! -- minute.  We ran.

We needed platform 9.  We saw 10 and we saw 8, but we didn't see 9.  We ran towards 10, hoping desperately that they didn't number platforms like they do residential addresses and skip around with sides of the street and all that nonesense.  Thankfully, they don't.  At least not at Redfern.  Platform 9 was right next to Platform 10, except its sign had been obscured before.

We tore down the stairs in our heels to the waiting train on platform 9 and plopped in, out of breath, but pleased with ourselves.  We could handle this Track Work thing.

When we'd managed to catch our breath, we chatted about where we were supposed to go after Revesby.  My plan, I announced, was to call Anne's husband Raf on the way and ask if he could pick us up.  Rach's plan, it turned out, was to do whatever my plan was.  We called Raf.

Raf was, thankfully, amenable to my plan, and by default Rach's as well, and asked where we were.  I looked out the window.  Sydenham, I informed him.

Sydenham?  He was confused.  Sydenham is not on the Airport line.  I explained they were doing Track Work.  Ah.  He sounded unconvinced and suggested we ask around and make sure we were headed the right way.  I agreed and promised to call back when I knew where we were.

It was about this time that I was remembering the last, and only time, I'd been in Sydenham was the last time I'd gone to visit Raf and Anne and had accidentally taken the wrong train line.  Odd bells of deja vu played in my head and I began to get worried.  Rach asked a guy on the train if we were headed for Revesby and he assured us that, no, we were headed for Campbelltown.  Evidently you can't get trains to Revesby from Redfern, but only from Central.  We promptly bailed.

Thankfully, there was a train stopped on the platform going the opposite way and we rushed towards it, pausing just briefly to yell in, "does this train go to Central?"  The passengers said that it did, so we fell in and hung on for dear life as it jolted into action.

Ten minutes later we were back at Central, and well on our way to being supremely frustrated.  We were hungry, thirsty and beginning to realize that our make-up was smudging.  Raf had suggested platform 23 as the necessary prerequisite for the Revesby train, so we asked an official the way.  He assured us that platform 23 was not where we wanted to go, as platform 23 was experiencing Track Work.  If we wanted to get to Revesby, he said, we needed to transfer at Redfern.  We explained that we'd just come from Redfern, but he remained insistent:  Redfern was the only solution for Revesby.  They'd rerouted the day's trains because of Track Work, and we needed to go to Redfern.  We had arrived at supremely frustrated.

So, we turned and found the journey entirely less amusing the second time around.  We alighted again at Redfern and scaled its now-familiar steps with the gait of one who has climbed them so many times as to find them extremely mundane.  At the top, we found the correct screens and realized, again, that there was a train departing for Revesby in one -- one! -- minute.  Down the stairs we ran yet again, and collapsed again into a train bound for Revesby.

We'd both checked doubly this time that we'd read the signs correctly, so felt confident in calling Raf to let him know we were, in fact, on the right train this time.  While paused at Sydenham yet again, I read the signs scrolling out of the window out to him so he'd know where we were.

"Fantastic!" he said.  "You've got an express train!"

"Err, yes," I said.  "I guess so."

"Great, you'll be here in 20, 25 minutes," he said.  "Call me when you get there."

Now this is something I have yet to understand, yet it happens nearly every time I get picked up at a train station.  Granted, I am extremely grateful for the lifts, but the sentence still makes no sense:  here I am, calling with 20-25 minutes of advance warning, and the picker-upper still wants a call when I arrive.  Surely it would be more to the point to simply look at the clock and leave in, say, 15-20 minutes?  It's their neck of the woods; I haven't got a clue how long the journey will take.  Which is why I call when I leave station.  Surely the people who live there and take the journey every day are better judges of when I will arrive than I am?  Yet I am consistently asked to call "when you get there," or, slightly more understandably, two stops before.  But really.  I'm doing six times the favor and calling twelve stops out!  Nevermind.  If it gets me lifts, I'm happy enough, as long as I don't run out of phone credit.

The stop before I gave Raf another call.  "We're nearly there," I said.

"Excellent," he said.  "I'll be there soon."

And he was, just a couple minutes after we disembarked, tired, slightly sweaty and extremely hungry.  And he drove us to a home full of chocolate cakes, mousses, brownies, tarts, cupcakes, cheesecakes and more.  We gaped at the table and tried not to drool.

And then we settled down into the most delightful of afternoons, full to the very brim and then some.  When we finally made our farewells, we could barely stand up straight.  Raf very kindly drove us back to the station and we again collapsed onto a train a few minutes later.  Unable to function or utter sentences more intelligent than, "wow, that was so good -- but I am so full!" (we were practicing for Thanksgiving later this week), we could hardly think straight to plan our return journey.

In the end it worked out:  we took our train to Redfern, ran up the stairs for the final time, switched to a train to Town Hall, as there was Track Work between Town Hall and Wynyard, where we needed a train to Milson's Point.  We took a bus to Wynyard, then hopped on our final train (#7, but who's counting?) of the day.

I waved goodbye to the lonely track, and blew it a veritable series of kisses.  Then, when everyone else was gone, I flashed it for good measure.

free advice: lessons learned while cooking spaghetti

I don't cook much, so figure these tips might come in handy for others who don't:

1.  Don't wear a new shirt.

2.  Corn is easy.  Thus, it goes well with everything.

3.  If you cook a big portion once a week, you don't have to cook any more than once a week.

4.  Eating the same thing every day for three weeks straight is very doable, particularly if the recipe's easy.  Like corn.

5.  The tea kettle is very useful for boiling water faster than the stove will on its own.

6.  Don't sample as you go.  Make it all really fast and it put away in tupperware.  If you sample, you'll get hungrier and eat more and more and too much.  Instead, if you find it the next day, cold, in a tupperware, you will have the necessary willpower to restrain.

7.  Do the dishes right away.  It's a pain, but easier to take care of the whole kitchen adventure in one fell swoop.  Recurring adventures are less fun.

8.  If you change one little thing each week, it's easier than starting with a great big new idea each time.  For instance, I kept things the same for two weeks to not ruffle feathers too much.  On the third, I added corn.

9.  You don't have to thaw ground beef before you cook it.  It's easier, but not necessary.  Taking the paper off the bottom is recommended, though.  And easier when thawed.

10.  Two forks can help turn unthawed ground beef much easier than one forks can.

11.  It is difficult to watch Hamish and Andy and cook unthawed ground beef simultaneously.  Best to check program times before attempting to cook.

12.  Spaghetti noodles take longer to cook than broccoli.

13.  Broccoli cooked as long as spaghetti noodles is disgusting.  Particularly when it's spent a week in tupperware.

14.  Overcooked, week old broccoli is, like most things, better with corn.  Cranberry sauce added in makes it a great meal.

15.  You only actually save money cooking if you give up the daily trips to Max Brenner for dinner, too.

quicko: DVD players

Australian DVDs don't play in American DVD players.  This has been really annoying me lately:  I have borrowed a DVD that I really want to watch.  Death at a Funeral, to be precise.  I hear it's funny, and I like funny.  Heartwarming, no, funny, yes.  Unfortunately, I don't have a DVD player.  Fortunately, I have a laptop.  Unfortunately, I have an American laptop.  Fortunately, my brother put VLC on it so it's supposed to play DVDs.  Unfortunately, it doesn't.  Fortunately, I have a techie friend who got it started and made sure the trailers worked.  Unfortunately, he didn't get the movie itself to work.

And now I'm back at square one with a DVD I want to watch and no way to watch it.  Does anybody have a house I can come borrow and watch it in?  I'll even let you watch it with me!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

private party

I noticed this first in Europe, but it holds true here, too, for the most part:  the showers are significantly less secluded than in America.  Their surrounds are see-through, and they haven't got shower curtains.  I know, it's rare that you'd be doubling up in the bathroom and need a great deal of privacy providing the door's already closed, but, I don't know, I guess it's the principle of the thing.  Either that or we're a bit more used to dorm life and the need for such shelterings.

It all came up at a party I had on Friday.  I'd mentioned near the outset that, having not gotten around to cleaning my ensuite bathroom yet, the hordes could make their way to the main bathroom and only the main bathroom, should the need arise.

Now you may say that it was very wrong of me not to clean my ensuite bathroom before the evening's festivities and you may very well be right.  I'd meant to, but.  Yeah, it just didn't happen.  My best defense is that it's genetic.  The very same thing once happened to my mother.  She'd had a goodbye party for a friend at our house, when all three of us were rather young and prone to make the bathroom into a place of profound disarray.  And she'd managed to clean the entire downstairs, bathroom included, and thought that'd be sufficient and that no one would venture upstairs.  It wasn't until the end of the evening when she learned that one guest had, one by one, taken every other guest at the party upstairs to the uncleaned bathroom in order to secretly write on a going-away t-shirt for the guest of honor.  She always cleaned all our bathrooms after that.

In any event, several hours later at my party the need arose and someone ventured off to find what I'd described as the "second door you'll encounter."  (There's a corner.  It's a bit hard to genuinely call it the second on the right, seeing as it's straight ahead of you.  But you don't want to say "the one straight ahead," in case they get turned around.  It's a bit of a conundrum really.  Similarly I have a hard time giving directions to my flat.  Generally I just tell people to look for the "orbs of light" and leave them to figure the rest on their own from there.  Seems to work.  Most of the time.)  Unfortunately, behind the second encountered door was the sound of running water.  It seems my flatmate was taking a bath.

Which led us all into a huge discussion of appropriate bathroom contexts.  We were clear from the outset that the guest, a male my flatmate had only just met, would not be welcome to barge in for, well, any reason short possibly of announcing an imminent fire, though even then we were pretty sure he could just pound and yell, "FIRE!"  However, it emerged that there could be gray areas in terms of bathroom protocol.

I'd helpfully pointed out that the lack of privacy thing made it all rather difficult in these gray areas.  Americans, should the need arise, can, on occasion, with very close friends or roommates, pop into a bathroom to, say, grab a brush while someone else is in the shower.  Curtain closed, no dramas.

With clear showerings, though (or even none, as I've occasionally seen), this is a bit less kosher.  Perhaps Australians are simply more patient than Americans.  Or amazingly less uninhibited.

The Australians present also pointed out that, actually, the bathroom and the toilet can be two different rooms entirely, and calling it the bathroom can be a bit misleading.  I understood their dilemma, but insisted that, by American standards, a euphemism was absolutely necessary.  It's a bathroom or a restroom regardless of what's happening inside.  Period.

I started to think a bit more, and determined, that, while it could be permissible at some times to double up in a bathroom while one party was in the shower, it was an entirely different matter if the toilet was in question, unless possibly one were throwing up in it.  Otherwise, anyone fully toilet trained should never find themselves in the situation of needing it desperately enough to encroach on another's in-bathroom privacy, end of story.

But what of the story at my flat?  How did it end, you ask?  Well, having been scared off by my previous insistence that guests use only the main facility, the guest, despite my remorseful re-insistence that, really, it was okay to use if you could just ignore the two bags of trash that were sitting on the floor waiting to go out, nobly insisted that waiting was by far the best option.

Two rounds of scattegories later, I'm still not sure if he ever made it.  But it would have been a private trip, positively.

the one who escaped

It is rare that I see biblical stories spontaneously reenacted, and rarer still that I sympathize with the wrong side.  It happened tonight, though, and I actually turned out to be a rather key player.  Let me set the scene.

(Curtain opens to reveal the kitchen of a Lower North Shore flat.  Long and thin -- well, rectangular, if not exactly long -- there is a sink at one end and a counter that wraps around either side of the sink.  Over the sink is a half-opened window that looks out onto darkness.  To the left of the sink is a drying rack, a toaster, a tea kettle and a canister for garlic and onions.  Under the counter is a trash can.  To the right of the sink, along the wall opposite the trash can, is the stove.  Enter JOB and WIFE just behind sink.)

Job:  Life is great!  I'm great!  I have a huge, beautiful family and live in a huge, beautiful mansion!  I can roam the great outdoors at leisure, and find food whenever I need it!  Praise God!

Job's Wife:  Hallelujah!

(Scene change.  Focus drawn to counter, just near tea kettle.  Enter JOB'S FIRSTBORN, SECONDBORN, THIRDBORN, FOURTHBORN, FIFTHBORN, SIXTHBORN, SEVENTHBORN, EIGHTHBORN, NINTHBORN, TENTHBORN, ELEVENTHBORN and TWELFTHBORN rushing merrily towards the onion canister.)

Firstborn:  This way, brothers!  Huzzah!

Secondborn:  What's that smell?  It's delicious!

Thirdborn:  Perhaps it's the onions!

Fourthborn:  Well, it certainly isn't the garlic.

Fifthborn:  Aha!  It's coming from down there!

(All JOB'S CHILDREN rush headlong towards the trash can, keeping a perfect linear formation as they rush.  "The Ants Go Marching" plays in the background.)

Sixthborn:  Where?  Where?

Seventhborn:  Lead on, Firstborn!  Can you smell it, too?

Firstborn:  YES!  This way!  Hurry!!

Seventhborn:  Why are there so many dead bodies here that look like our servants?

Secondborn:  Nevermind, it doesn't matter!  Come quick!

Seventhborn:  I hate being so far back.  And those bodies are kind of creeping me out.  Are you sure we should be going this way?

Eigthborn:  Faster!  I think I can smell it too!

Seventhborn:  My gosh, you're right!  The harvest is plentiful!  Hallelujah!

Twelfthborn:  I can't smell it yet.

Ninthborn:  I can!  Just three seconds longer, Twelvie, you'll catch a whiff, too.  Faster, faster!

Tenthborn:  Oh, how exciting!

Eleventhborn:  I just can't wait!

Twelfthborn:  At last!  Are you there yet, Firstie?  Is it worth it?

(FIRSTBORN enters the trashcan in a flurry of excitement.  As he does an EVIL GIANTESS enters and begins roaming the kitchen.  At first she organizes some dishes on the right side of the kitchen by the stove, then looks suspiciously at JOB'S CHILDREN.  She appears frustrated and takes a paper towel from the right of the sink, then walks towards JOB'S CHILDREN, who take no notice of her.)

Firstborn:  Yes, yes, my goodness, yes!!  A veritable jackpot!  Turn tail at once, we must to our father and report the good tidings that shall be for all our family at once!  We shall be even richer and happier, hallelujah!

Twelfthborn:  You're sure?  You're positive?

Firstborn:  Of course I am.  I am the Firstborn.  I am always right.  Turn tail at once and you'll not regret it!

Twelfthborn:  Alright then, off we go.

(All siblings run quickly in opposite direction.  EVIL GIANTESS wads up paper towels and begins killing JOB'S CHILDREN at random.  Everyone scatters.  It is pandemonium, yet she is relentless.  "Another One Bites the Dust" plays softly in the background.  SEVENTHBORN runs under tea kettle.  He waits, panting and crying until the horror stops.  He sees the EVIL GIANTESS deposit the paper towel with his brothers' bodies hastily in the trash can.  A moment later he cautiously emerges and makes a dash back to the sink.)

Seventhborn:  Father!  Father!

Job:  Seventhborn!  What is wrong?

Seventhborn:  An evil giantess has killed all your servants and other children and I am the only one that has escaped to tell you!

Job and Wife:  No!  No!  No!

Evil Giantess:  YOU!  How'd you escape?  I've just thrown away the paper towel with the rest of your brothers' bodies; I can't be bothered to get another one just for you.


You see?  Profound, wasn't it?  It even reminds me of a Bible verse from Proverbs 6:6:  "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!"  Who'd have thought they actually could teach us so much?  Or that they were so very willing to martyr themselves for the cause of our enlightenment?

Not that I've exactly been hugely theologically enlightened, but I guess you could say I got dinner and a show.

quicko: to flog

Standard meanings aside, it also means to beat.  Not as in "to whip with a cat-of-nine-tails" (that's the standard meaning, obviously), but as in "to not win."

And, yes, it is grammatically correct these days to boldly split an infinitive.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

quicko: to screen or not to screen

Australian homes don't necessarily have screens on windows or doors.  They might (the window in my room has a screen), but they might not (none of the other windows or doors in the flat does).  Guess the bugs just aren't that bad?  Or maybe they're just different sorts.

Friday, November 19, 2010

quicko: dishy

Attractive.  Possibly more British.  Only heard from one source so far, so don't throw me to the wolves if I'm wrong ...

advice: things i wouldn't mind finding in a care package

In case the last post has inspired you to run out and prepare a care package for me (a noble sentiment, to be sure), I thought I would be so helpful as to give you hints of what would be very welcome in it.  Care packages in generally have really been a bit lacking lately, and I'd hate it to be because no one has a clue what to send me.  Allow me to assist.

--Sephora make up or perfume
--Victoria Secret underwear
--stickers for my students (including some sports ones ... they sell them at Staples ...)
--index cards (multi-colored)
--contacts that fit my eyes (Dr. Glassman, if you're reading, this one's for you!)
--Girl Scout cookies (those coconut ones and the thin mints and the peanut butter ones)
--Shriver's salt water taffy
--Jody Coyote earrings (especial need for silver lately -- or even any silver earrings that are plain.  big hoops are fine, too.)
--Baby Ruth bars (homemade even better!!)
--little light sweater wrap things (very thin) in neutral colors like the kind from Charlotte Russe

Are those enough ideas for now?  Do let me know if you need more, and I'll do my best to think of others if necessary.  Can't have you clueless and shopping now, can we?