Friday, August 24, 2007

10 things I hate about Microsoft office

There are many many reasons I strongly dislike office, many which begin with 'autoformat.' However, now that I am living on the outskirts of the global empire (take your pick which one), I have a whole new set of issues.
1) the 'default' language button not only resets itself to US English for each new document (despite warning me that changing the default will affect all 'normal' templates), but it also resets itself EVERY time I open up an existing document.
2) If I notice in the middle of typing that the language has magically reset itself to US English, and change the default setting to Australian, the changes will only apply to what I type after I make the changes. Because, I mean, if someone changes their default language halfway through a document, the most logical explanation is they want the top half in US English and the bottom half in Australian English.
3) regardless of what form of English I pick, US, UK, or Australian, it will not accept -ise endings as legitimate. EVER.
4) I know this is basically the same point as above, but it bugs me enough to be a second point. SPELL CHECK WILL NOT ACCEPT LITRE AS A LEGITIMATE SPELLING. Maybe it's just because I have to write it all the time, as in "in 2007 Australia produced 1.3 billion litres of wine." On top of it, the second recommended spelling option is "litter."
5) Even more heinous, autoformat automatically changes words from British to American-- organise becomes organize, programme becomes program. Given that my first instinct is to write the American spelling anyways, I don't need any help in the random-American-spellings-scattered-throughout-my-document department.
6) This means that I must stare at irritating little red squiggly lines the entire time I'm typing my document, even though the words are properly spelled. It's a little act of in-your-face American chauvinism that makes me understand "why they hate us." It makes me want to draw little red squiggly lines on Bill Gates' glasses, so he is forced to look at them for the rest of his life. "Why don't you just turn off spell check?" you might ask. Well, unfortunately I do occasionally need help with an actual misspelled word. And isn't the WHOLE POINT of picking your language that then you can have a spell check that functions for that language?
7) Point 6 is getting a bit long, and I think it is kind of turning into a new point anyways. I wouldn't be as annoyed if they only offered US English, but to call something Australian English, and then have it be EXACTLY the SAME as American English is just #@*$ing insulting. And completely untrue.
8-10) I would write these out, but I have collapsed into pile of foaming vitriol.

Monday, August 6, 2007

marketing 101

Last week I went to the Adelaide wine industry expo, which basically consisted of a bunch of little booths, large machinery, and lots of wine industry people gathered to talk shop and sell things. Much of it was centered on the technical side of making and growing grapes, which is all a bit over my head, though there was a neat kit of little chemicals that simulated common wine flaws, which you could add to wine for staff training purposes. There was also a mechanical grape picker, which was easily as high as a small building. Apparently it's designed to be driven over the vines, so the empty space in the middle of the machine is at least 7 feet high, with big wheels and picker-thingies on either side (note my technical language).

Another item on display was the zork. Currently, there are two main ways to stop up a bottle of wine. One is the cork, and the other is the screw cap, or 'stelvin enclosure.' Corks, while traditional, are increasingly expensive and can possibly ruin the wine, either through oxidation (letting in too much air) or cork taint (average cork failure rate is estimated to be around 8%). Screw caps are cheaper and cannot 'fail' like corks, but some people argue that they do their job too well, and don't allow for the wine to 'breath' the way corks do, i.e., don't allow for a low level of oxidation, which many think necessary for a wine to mature. This isn't a big deal if you plan on drinking your wine within a couple of months, but it may make a difference if you plan to cellar your wine for 5-10 years. So, enter the zork. The zork is a resealable plastic closure with a tiny channel that allows for a very low level of oxidation. Its design combines the best of both worlds: it lets the wine mature but won't taint the wine. The down side? It's butt-ugly. It looks like a plastic blob is eating your bottle of wine. It's clunky and recalls a nalgene bottle, not elegance.
The problem is the zork designers forgot to ask themselves the first question in creating a product: is there a market for my product?
The answer is, well, no. According to statistics, 80% of wine is drunk on the day it's purchased, and I imagine that most of the remaining 20% is drunk not much later. Thus for the vast majority of wines, ageing isn't really an issue. And the stelvin, which is cheap, attractive, and environmentally friendly, does just fine. Wines that people want to keep around for a couple of years tend to be at the premium end of the scale (i.e. more than $20 a bottle). Wine makers at that end can afford to pay for high quality cork, which has a much lower failure rate (around 1-2%) than cheaper cork, which really pretty much solves the cork problem. Moreover, when people are paying that much a bottle, they generally want their wine to look sophisticated, not like film cannister died on top of it. If your wine costs $50 but the bottle looks like something people would be embarrassed to order in a nice restaurant, there's a bit of a problem. In fact, people buying a luxury product generally demand that the product doesn't look like the manufacturers cut corners in a rather obvious way. Not to mention wine afficianadoes tend to be into the 'tradition' of wine drinking, for whom popping the cork is an important part of the whole experience.
There may be a market for wealthy, outdoorsy gen-Xers who get into the whole design element, but that's a bit of a niche market.

You know you're a nerd when...

When I heard about the tragic bridge collapse in Minnesota, my first thought was, Lord Voldemort makes his first move." Though on second thought, wasn't there some freak tornado in Kansas a while back? Let's hope Harry Potter gets his act together before any more senseless muggle killings.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Botany bay is actually a bit south of Sydney. Sydney was built around Port Jackson. The first fleet landed at Botany bay, where Cook landed, hoping to settle there but found it too difficult and so sailed up the coast to Port Jackson. But even though no one actually lived there, Botany Bay became a generic term for the colony.

Botany Bay

I just got back from spending 5 days in Sydney. The harbor (harbour?) bridge and opera house were, indeed, stunning. After little Adelaide, which has a population of 1 million but has a city center of mainly 2-story 19th century buildings, Sydney felt like a proper metropolis. While the city was full of anonymous glass and drab 70s skyscrapers, its location of being spread out across various inlets and a peninsulas still made it incredibly scenic. It was also very green, which added to its attractiveness. From what I've heard, it's a more humid climate than Adelaide, and certainly, for 3 of the days there was a fairly constant drizzle. Most surprisingly, it was quite hilly, and in places it felt like San Fransisco (especially to my knees).
But underneath the modern glitz, Sydney has a lot of historical significance, as it was where the first fleet landed and set up camp in 1788. Unlike other countries, Australians haven't been too keen to glorify their convict origins, and much of the original city was torn down. We did get to see the preserved barracks, built in 1819 to house prisoners working for the state (most prisoners were assigned to a free family basically as slave labor. Some prisoners, generally the most recalcitrant ones, remained in the government's direct control to do public works). We spent a lot of time staring at things and squinting, trying to imagine what the land would have looked like 200 years ago.
We also saw the first Catholic and Anglican cathedrals built in Australia, an exhibit of Islamic Art at the art gallery, the house of the governor of New South Wales (not to be confused with the premier of NSW, who actually controls the government.) The governor of NSW is much like the Governor General, except on a state level instead of a federal one. In other words, it's an archaic and symbolic role characterised by incredible pomp and circumstance and excessive Anglophilia. The house, built in 1845 and located in the botanic gardens only a spitting distance from the opera house, was designed by an English architect who never set foot in Australia. The result is a Scottish castle, which is dark, formal, and apparently unbearably hot in the summer months. Outside it looks completely out of place next to the gum trees, and inside it looks like a 1960s movie set of a castle done up in the Georgian style (complete with gratuitous portraits of obscure British royals), due to a misguided attempt to 'contemporize' the furnishings. Dave thought it looked more like a VIP airport lounge. It was interesting though, to see oil portraits of the early governors from back when the governor of NSW was the governor of Australia. I especially wanted to see Governor Bligh, of mutiny on the bounty fame. After the mutiny, he became governor of Australia. He looked short and unpleasant, although apparently his harshness and competence served him better as commander of a penal colony than it did as a ship's captain.

We also went to the Sydney zoo, which is quite large and spread out through beautiful parkland. It was full of lots of Aussie animals, including 11 of the 15 most deadly snakes, saltwater crocodiles, which 'only' kill 1 person a year, according to the sign, a kangaroo with a joey in her pouch, and ridiculously cute koalas. The animals did their best to give us a show, one that would probably earn an R rating if it were broadcast on television. Highlights were: (stop reading if you are easily offended or under 17) An escape-bent emu intimidating a group of Japanese business men in the petting zoo, a bit of sexual role-reversal involving a very frisky lioness and a quite grumpy lion, and a chimpanzee digging around in his butt hole, pulling out a big shit, and then eating it. Didn't realize chimps ate their own feces, though maybe it was deranged behavior as a result of confinement. More tamely, both the tiger and the cobra were came up to the glass to let us get a good look. My one disappointment was that the dingos didn't make an appearance.

On our final day, we took a ferry to Manly, a little resort town about 30 min. There was a very scenic 9 km hike that we did part of, but after 5 days of 8 hours of standing/walking straight, our feet started to rebel. We did get to see a bit of what the natural landscape around Sydney looked like though. Again, it was amazing how lush and green it was, and also how deceiving the landscape is, as it is almost completely unsuitable for agriculture.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

where the bloody hell are you?

is the Australian government's official tourism slogan.

In South Australia, our slogan is "Welcome to South Australia, now officially the poorest, most drug ridden state in the nation." (Well, at least until Northern Territories decides to join the federation. But as that's not looking too likely, our reputation is safe.) The most recent census data has just been published. Adelaide is the oldest capital city in terms of residents' age, and we just beat out Hobart (Tasmania) by $5 a week for the lowest average income. The federal government has asked the SA government to take special organized crime action against biker gangs, called bikies here and to stamp out a burgeoning meth, or ice, epidemic. (The two seem to go together.)
The opposition leader in the state government has just called for a crack-down (no pun intended) on a supposed rash of drug-addicted women who have children for the $5000 baby bonus. I'm highly skeptical, of course. If you're a drug addict and want some fast cash, holding up a pub or convenience store would be an easier option than getting pregnant, waiting 9 months, and then having and raising a child. (You don't get the baby bonus if you're not actually going to be raising it, of course.)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Bad Carma

There's some Chinese saying about "bad luck comes but in threes, happiness comes but alone," or something like that. Anyways, now is a bad time to be a car in the Lewis family. About two weeks ago, I had a why-don't-I-sink-into-the-ground-and-die moment when I got into a minor car accident in Dave's mother's car (a combination of a moment of spaciness and driving while American). No one was hurt, and both cars involved were still drivable, but I did manage to rack up a pretty penny in damages (who knew a little plastic thingy could be so expensive??) Insurance covered most everything, though I did have to pay a hefty "you're young and irresponsible" surcharge. Dave's parents, and the other driver, I might add, were remarkably nice about the whole thing. (They probably realised that the humiliation of having to explain to the police AND the insurance agent that I was "the son's girlfriend" was punishment enough.)
However, the whole family is doing their part to make me feel better. Dave's brother managed to also get into a fender bender in the family's pick-up truck (called a Ute over here) only a few days after mine. And then to top it off, Dave's sister's car broke down on Wednesday and will need $800 dollars of repairs, none of it covered by insurance.

And it's not just cars. On Thursday the meat toaster (it looks like a big toaster, but it grills meat instead of bread) exploded. No one was injured and nothing was damaged besides the appliance itself (even the lamb inside was ok), but it sounded like a rifle shot. Dave's mother said sadly after it happened, "it was a wedding gift, and they don't make them any more." (Gee, can't imagine why not. Maybe it has to do with the whole exploding thing.)
And today, one of the taps in the shower broke. The taps are old and irreplaceable and completely calcified, so fixing the problem involved four hours of wrenching them apart, decalcifying the taps and then trying to put a million fiddly little parts back together again.
This is all in the past two weeks. It doesn't even include the TV breaking. Anyways, I'd better stop writing before my computer combusts or something.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Why live in Portland Oregon...

...when you can live in Portland, Australia?

Pushing up the roses?

In the Zoroastrian religion, dead bodies are left in tall "towers of silence" for vultures to pick apart. In the Lutheran faith, we turn bodies into mulch.

I just read that Swedish scientists have discovered a a way to compost human bodies, which is a more environmentally-friendly burial method than the old 'sticking a body in the ground,' as it avoids release of methane gas and other harmful chemicals a decomposing body lets off. To do so, first the body must be frozen, chopped up into tiny particles, and then finally placed in a potato sack (that's the main gist. There may have been one or two more steps.) Although distasteful to some, the Lutheran Church of Sweden has officially endorsed the new method. (Of course, it does help that the church has a 5% stake in the company.) The benefits of this method are unmistakable--not only can you save the environment, you can get a bumper crop of tomatoes, a fact probably not overlooked by those ever practical and thrifty Swedes.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


New York has placed itself at the controversial forefront of public health by banning transfats. It's Australia though, land of fish n' chips and the meat pie, which has one of the lowest transfat consumption rates of the modern world. According a radio interview with a public health official, Australians are already well below the recommended daily consumption rates. In fact, I think we might have been the only western industrialized nation to be below the recommended amounts. Indeed, margarines (way more popular than butter here) and deep fried foods are often made with olive oil, and are pretty much transfat free (many fish n' chip shops are owned by Greek and Lebanese families, which may have some connection with the use of olive oil.)

As an American, I also find it strange that corn syrup is basically nonexistent in foods here. Even packaged cookies, which in America would be jam-packed with corn syrup and partially hydrogenated fats, are corn-syrup and trans-fat free. Syrups, jams, canned foods also are without corn syrup as that hidden second ingredient. Of course, this doesn't stop Australia from being the third most obese nation in the world (after the US and the UK, of course), and I don't really know if heart disease and diabetes rates are lower than in the US. But at least I know that I'm not unknowingly killing my arteries or giving myself diabetes.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Always winter but never Christmas

While you are all preparing for the summer solstice, I am sitting at work wearing a knit cap (ok, admittedly it's because I put my hat on when my hair was wet, and now I'm forced to wear it all day or have hat hair from hell.) The sun has barely risen when leave for work at 7:30, and it's dark at 5:30. Also, it's gotten cold. Not objectively cold--though after several months of 30 degree weather, 15 degrees feels pretty chilly. And at night, it does get cold here, lows are around 5 degrees, though it was only 2 degrees last night. (There was actually FROST on the grass and car!). Of course, what makes the cold worse is that Australian home's aren't really all that prepared for it. Dave's house has heating in the kitchen/family room through the floor, and a little fireplace, which isn't bad, but it's a huge drafty room with high ceilings and lots of windows & doors. There's no heat at all upstairs, though we finally got a little mini heater. That's better than most. Few homes have any heating beyond a fire place, mainly because it doesn't often get this cold. My hostel has no heat either, just a little oil heater in the TV room, at reception, and a sauna out back. In fact, if you're sitting indoors, the cold seems worse than it actually is. Often I'll be at home shivering in a sweater and scarf. When I go out I'll bundle up with a jacket, scarf, and hat, but then when I go out I don't get more than a block without having to take it all off, and by the time I've gotten to my destination, I'll even have my sleeves pushed up. Of course, back inside I'm putting it all back on.
But what's most depressing is that we get the worst parts of winter--short days, rain--without the best parts, which is all the festive holidays designed to ward off winter depression. No Christmas, New Years, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, no anything, unless you count the Queen's Birthday. As such, there's no excuse to put up lots of decorations and lights, have lots of parties, and stuff yourself silly, and sing Christmas carols. Australians swear that their system is better. They say nothing beats a summertime Christmas, where you can go to the beach and have seafood and surf. But to me, I'd rather have my fun spaced out. Summertime is already fun enough without having to throw a major holiday. Summer is when you can have picnics at 8 pm and eat fresh berries and go camping and surfing or swimming outdoors and hiking--it doesn't need Christmas.
Winter, on the other hand, is just bloody depressing. And while you can surf and eat seafood in the summer when it's not Christmas, you definitely can't do special Christmasy things when its not actually Christmas. Somehow it's completely unacceptable to put up a tree, or sing 'deck the halls' or exchange presents unless it's actually December 25, nevermind that probably wasn't the actual date of Jesus' birth. Plus, since Christmas is traditionally a northern hemisphere holiday, all the traditions are designed for winter. A Christmas tree in the summer when it's light until 9 seems a bit pointless, and no one wants to eat ham and gingerbread and drink mulled wine or spiced cider when it's above 90 degrees. And of course, 'let it snow' doesn't have the same ring when you're at the beach. So it seems like Christmas in summer is a bit worthless--after all, all the traditional things aren't as important, and you can be off having fun regardless. But in the winter, you just have to be depressed and pasty with no respite.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

oy mate!

look at those neville begs on that charlie wheeler!

10 points if you can figure out what that means.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

I'd like that one, over there

As I said earlier, trying to imitate an Adelaide accent is even harder than trying to do some sort of "Crocodile Dundee" accent, mainly because I can't get the 'a' sound down without sounding incredibly ridiculous. The worst (for me) is the word pastie, which is like a meat or veggie-filled turnover (or as the Aussies would say, a veg-filled turnover). Since it's not a decoration worn by a stripper, it's not pronounced "pay-stie" as I first thought, but neither is it "pasty" with short a (like in path). It's p-ah-stie, which when I say my tongue goes to the back of my mouth and it comes out all quavery, like I'm imitating a 19th century upper-class British grandmother. And of course, I can't say it without bursting out laughing. It's not exactly appropriate to walk into a bakery, order something in the manner of an effete British noble, and then burst out laughing, so I'm in a bit of a tight spot, since they're a fairly common part of an Australian diet. If you're not a fan of the gelatinous meat-filled pie, pasties are the way to go, since they're generally filled with actual recognizable vegetables and pieces of meat. When I'm with another Australian, I let them do the ordering. If I'm on my own, I generally end up pointing.
At the hostel we play the radio during the day, and it's on a popular music station. Unfortunately, they seem to play the same 4 songs over and over again. All by Kylie Minogue. It's no use changing stations because ALL stations play the same thing. Yes, I know she is the only world famous pop singer to come out of Australia. But please, couldn't they mix it up a little, with something more interesting, like, say, N'Sync, or perhaps a TV commercial jingle?

* * *

I read in the paper yesterday that the Dutch people who produce 'Big Brother' (If you're my mother, the show is about people who have to live with each other for months on end and have their lives videotaped and shown to millions) are planning a show called 'Big Donor' where three people compete for a kidney from a terminally ill woman. At the end, people vote on who should get the kidney, though the woman has the final say. Not quite sure what to say, except ethical considerations aside, is it even legal? Even the Netherlands must have laws against something like this, or perhaps there's an international law?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

G'day G'day

After almost three months in Australia, I'm getting accustomed to hearing Australian accents all the time. When I speak myself, I am quite conscious of my own American accent, especially the hardness of my Rs. I haven't picked up much of an Aussie accent, though my "g'day" has gotten pretty good. (Strangely enough though, when I'm watching television, it will sometimes take me quite awhile before I'm aware that the speaker is British or American. It seems that there's some sort of commonality to the TV news anchor or documentary narrator that spans all dialects of English.) The accent in Adelaide is a bit different from the standard Australian accent, it's formally called "cultivated Australian" and is much closer to British English. There are two other dialects, "broad" (think the Crocodile Hunter, RIP) and "standard" (think Nicole Kidman). For example, in Adelaide the word "rather" rhymes with how we pronounce "father", as do all words with a short a in the middle, like chance, path etc. People on the east coast say chance and rather the same way we do, except more nasally. Adelaidians claim it's because they were settled by second sons of wealthy British elites and pious German protestants instead of filthy convicts or Irish (which I guess would explain the huge preponderance of Anglican and Lutheran churches--there's literally almost a church on every corner in town). My guess is they preserved it over time for the pure snob factor. (no, actually people in Adelaide are very nice and friendly--though where did your father go to school again?). Another difference is elsewhere in Australia people say 'haitch' for the letter 'h', which in Adelaide might get you shot. Same goes with 'yous.'

Though also, some 's'es get pronounced as 'sh', for example assume becomes ashume etc. Occasionally, some one will say schedule like shedule. And of course, no one pronounces their Rs unless at the beginning of the word. Also, words like 'mate' and day get more of an 'ai' pronunciation, though less of that in Adelaide than in other parts of Australia. Which makes the Adelaide accent much harder to pick up, because it's actually more of a cross between an English and an Australian accent. I suppose English people might be better at imitating it though.

Do you speak English? pt. 2

I went to a deli the other day, the kind where they assemble a sandwich per your instruction from behind a glass counter. First, I had to choose my type of bread. They had a bread that vaguely looked whole wheat, so I asked for the wheat bread. "Okay," said the woman, and she grabbed what looked like (to me) white bread. "No no--can I have that bread?" I pointed at the wheat bread.
"Oh, you mean the oat bread." she said. Things went along okay, as I remembered to pronounce the t in chicken fillet (rhymes with millet in Australian, not ballet). But then we got to the cheese section, and things became difficult. None of the cheeses looked terribly appealing, but there was an orange cheddar type cheese, so I asked for cheddar. The woman began to put this waxy white cheese on my sandwich.
"No wait--I want the orange one instead, what's that called" I said.
"Oh, you mean the Old English" she replied, giving me a bemused look. Next I asked for green bell pepper, and she stared at me like she had no clue what I was talking about. Finally, after more gesturing and pointing on my part, she said, "Oh, you mean the capsicum."

Monday, May 21, 2007

pie floater

I finally had a pie floater, South Australia's main specialty dish. It consists of a meat pie floating in a bowl of pea soup sprinkled with a liberal serving of ketchup (hence the name, pie floater). It's a dish sold from carts on the street, generally at night for people leaving the bar who want a late night snack. Generally I think the later it is and more inebriated you are, the better a pie floater tastes. The cart has a selection of different types of meat pies (steak and kidney, steak and mushroom, chunky beef, etc.) and then a big vat of pea soup. You pick your pie, and then the woman ladles out a bowl of soup and places the pie on top. We got our pie floater to go, which isn't the best idea, because by the time the we got home the pie was completely soggy.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Grapes of Wrath redux

which, fyi, in South Australia is pronounced more like "the grapes of wroth"

Anyways, here are some pictures from the grape harvest: Top left: me in action (or is it inaction?) Top right: putting grapes on the truck
2nd row:me with my kill.
Next: the farmhouse
Below: the vineyard
Bottom: a row of grapes

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Do you speak English?

The other day I went to the supermarket to buy ingredients to make sushi. It was a couple of minutes before closing, and instead of searching the aisles for the rice, I thought it would be faster to ask. I walked up to an attendent and said, "excuse me, where can I find the rice."
she responded with a blank look. "what?" she said.
"um, do you know where the rice is?" I replied.
Again, she stared at me blankly, this time with a bit of panic. "what?" she said.
I was beginning to feel a bit desperate. Rice is a fairly simple word, and I couldn't think of any other way to say it. I tried agian, slowly, and as clearly as possible: "RICE."
Again, she looked at me blankly. "I don't know what you're saying."
Feeling very foolish, I tried to describe it. "Um, it's white, and you eat it in a bowl, with chopsticks" I mimed eating a bowl of rice, hoping no one else in the store was watching. I hadn't expected to have to do this in an English speaking country.
"Oh, RICE" she said, pronouncing it more like "Ray-uce" "I don't know where that is."

Saturday, May 12, 2007

here we come a hosteling....

So, a few things have happened since I wrote my last post. First of all, I have got a second part time job working as a receptionist in a youth hostel. I've been working for about two weeks, and it's a pretty fun job, though it manages to be both laid back and hectic at the same time. Most things are pretty straightforward, and it's gotten easier as I've learned the ropes. And of course, the number of weird requests I've gotten has decreased with each shift. My first shift was the hardest, with people coming in and asking for all sorts of things not covered in my training, like if they could take showers here (they did pay for them). Now people mainly just ask the same questions (where's the nearest....) or if they can have change for the washing machine. The hostel is in the middle of Adelaide (Adelaide "city" is a square mile of mainly commercial buildings, what we would call a down town. Everything else, what we'd call neighborhoods, are called suburbs. So even though I live a 10 minute walk from central Adelaide, I say I live in the suburbs. Confusingly, they also call the suburbs "suburbs" though they have fewer of those because there's less urban sprawl. Not that Aussies don't like the same sort of picket fence/McMansion houses we do, there's just fewer of them to sprawl out.) But anyways, that's a bit of a digression. My hostel is in the Northwestern half, kind of on youth hostel row. It's the area of town that was fairly seedy and is now getting funky/trendy with young people. It's still a mixture of mattress and auto shops, cheap cafes, strip clubs and hipster bars (there's some sort of strip place I walk past that lists its hours from 10-6pm. can't figure out the exact clientele they're catering to.) According to google earth, it's almost exactly 2 miles from my house, and I tend to walk there because the bus schedule doesn't really work for me, I can either get there half an hour early or 5 minutes late, neither of which is desirable. But it's a nice walk and it's a way to get some exercise so I don't mind.
The hostel is run by a Swiss woman probably 5 years older than me who has married an Australian. She's nice, although I'm a little bit intimidated by her, mainly because after my first shift, she listed off about 20 things I'd done wrong, and then at the end she said, "well, not too bad for the first day." Though seriously, when not telling me what I'd done wrong she is very friendly, as are the people staying at the hostel. Many of them are Swiss (does she advertise? is there some sort of secret Swiss guidebook?) There are also lots of people from the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands and Germany, as well as a few Italians, French, and Canadians (though no French Canadians). There have been relatively few Americans, though I did manage to offend several of the Canadians by asking them if they were American. There was one guy from Oregon though, who was from Eugene.
I don't have much occasion to use my Chinese, though I did get to take a booking in French. It was rather pitiful. However, I managed to get her credit card number if not exactly her name ( unless it's Bulamerv...). But anyways, have to go and deal with some laundry. I'll try to update more often in the future.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Hot Cross Buns

So Easter was over a month ago, and I started this post well over several weeks ago, but since I didn't publish it then I might as well do it now. Easter in Australia (or at least Adelaide) is a bit different from Easter in America.
In America, Easter is all about chocolate bunnies. Here, it is all about horse racing. In fact, there are two races in the Adelaide area on the Saturday before Easter. One is called Oakbank, and it's in the city proper. I'm told people are dressed to the nines-hats are obligatory for the women. The other race is the Clare race, held in the Clare valley, a wine producing region about an hour and a half north of Adelaide, also the location of Dave's family's vineyard. This race is referred to as "the country race" by Adelaidians. Dave's friends arranged for a big day out at the Clare races, followed by a night at the vineyard. Having never been to a horse race, I had no idea what to expect. Horse racing like, fox hunting and primogeniture, strikes me as being a remnant of feudalism, when landed gentry had to search for ways to entertain themselves on their vast estates. The only reference point I had is from the horse racing scene in "My Fair Lady," which reinforced my view. As such, I was interested but a little worried about the experience. After all, I didn't really have hat and gloves, much less ones that would match my dress (bought in China for about 10 dollars, très declassé). Nor was I willing to spend all day on my feet in high heels. However, Dave's Adelaidian friends reassured me that this was just a country race. No need to get so fancy. It wasn't Oakbank, and it certainly wasn't a Sydney or Melbourne horse race. I mean, who knows what the farmers would be wearing. As such, I went for jeans, sandals, and a blouse. It was the right choice. Most people (unwashed peasant masses included) were dressed in a similar fashion to me. There were a few women in cocktail dresses and heels, and and more perplexingly, a group of women who looked as though they'd gotten lost on their way to a pole dancing competition.

The race itself was held at a race course (duh) with the surrounding area cordonned (sp?) off for spectators. There were tents set up selling food and alcoholic beverages. The more prepared people had shown up with chairs, blankets, umbrellas and coolers full of food. We showed up with many cases of beer. We sat in the car park (trans: parking lot) right on the other side of the fence from the track by our car. I soon learned that horse racing was not at all about watching horses race and all about getting drunk before noon on cheap beer. A few people placed bets, but not even then did they really watch the race. Not surprising, because the races were half an hour apart and lasted for about a minute. Moreover, the course was big enough that after the horses passed by you in a under a second and were soon small dots off in the distance. Conveniently, the finish line was diametrically opposite from the spectators, so determining the winner was pretty much impossible unless you had binoculars and didn't get motion sickness. For our benefit, large TV screens played close-up images of other horse races taking place in other parts of Australia, so even if you couldn't catch the winner on the field in front of you, you could know which horse won in Sydney. I did manage to watch two races, and took some pretty pathetic pictures (which soon I will post). However, I can now say that I have been to the horse races.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Great Ocean Road

Here are some photos from our trip from Melbourne to Adelaide along the Great Ocean Road, from early March:

Life guarding competition

Melba Gulch

Along the Road

Me besides one of Southern Australia's greatest waterfalls

Saturday, April 21, 2007


And speaking of living in a small and insignificant country (in terms of global affairs--surfing is another matter), we are now Chinese commercials with English subtitles. Not commercials made for Australia that are in Chinese, but commercials made for Chinese people, which companies decided not to bother redoing, but subtitled and plopped on Australian TV. The first several I saw were for Western Union video chat something-or-others. You might argue, video chat, travel, international, blah blah, maybe the whole "this is just a Chinese commercial with subtitles" makes sense. But the next one was for a men's razor. And I thought marketing involved lots of people tailoring ads towards a specific market. Apparently not. And apparently Australia is now an afterthought for companies cashing in on Chinese consumers.

from the arse end of the world

To quote Paul Keating, former Australian prime minister.

Moving from a large country whose goings on are the center of the world to a remote nation (to paraphrase an English newspaper) that could basically sink into the sea without attracting notice really makes me aware of a sort of privilege that Americans have. Unlike America-bashers who claim it's a unique fault of Americans, I think that it's more an off-shoot of coming from a large, populous country with a great deal of international political clout. This is increasingly true of countries like China and India, just as it used to be the case with the Soviet Union. Most people follow the politics of these countries because they have to, and people large countries don't do the reverse because they don't have to. My guess is if the Italians or Norwegians or Sri Lankans weren't affected by US foreign or economic or environmental policies they wouldn't give a damn about who the president of the US was (to paraphrase Gone with the Wind). And the smaller the country, the more they must follow the affairs of larger nations. Australia, while large in landmass and number of sheep, has only 20 million people, fewer than California. Moreover, their prime minister, a keen member of the axis of the willing, has vowed to support America in all our causes, whether it's not ratifying the Kyoto protocols (despite meeting all standards) or by supporting a surge in Iraq. (Australia just sent in 50 more soldiers, bringing its grand total up to 450. This is despite Cheney coming the day after his pledge and telling the Aussies that their contribution is irrelevant and they might as well go home.) So given Howard's 'monkey see monkey do' approach to US policy, Australians have a decided interest in how the Fearless Leadership of the Free World behaves.
Of course, it's not just US news that Australians follow. As the 'white trash' of Asia (to paraphrase the president of Singapore), Australians keenly follow Chinese, Indonesian, and to a lesser extent, Japanese politics.
But anyways. This large country privilege means that as an American, I can follow American affairs through Australian media almost as well as I can through American media. Almost every day we get (hopeful) updates on the Democratic primaries, from the 10s of millions raised by Hillary to Obama's support among former Clintonites. We also get documentaries on the Newark mayoral race, and read about Schwarzenegger's renewable energy policies in CA. Australians up on current affairs have an opinion on Hillary vs John Edwards, or Romney vs. McCain, or whether or not Gonzales should resign, etc. You'd be hard pressed though, to find Americans who have a strong opinion on whether or not Peter Costello should have replaced John Howard, or whether Kevin Rudd was right to propose new work choices laws. But again, who's the PM of Australia is for all intents and purposes completely irrelevant to our everyday lives. It's funny to think that what our country decides to do affects the fate of 10s or even 100s of millions of people worldwide, but that those same people, living in countries of 10s of millions, don't really have the same effect on us. (Last night I heard on the news that Norway was hosting a conference to ban cluster-bombing, which can create minefields if the bombs don't explode, as during the Israeli bombing of Lebanon. Many countries signed the treaty, including the Netherlands, South Korea, New Zealand, Germany, England, Sweden, etc. Of course, the countries manufacturing these bombs (like the US) and using them (like Israel) were no where to be found, giving the conference an air of idealistic pointlessness. Australia of course, in solidarity with their ally, stayed away.)
On local news, the top story for the past several days has been the horrific shootings at Virginia tech. The event was a tragedy that ought to have received international coverage, but the pages and pages and hours and hours of coverage, in which Australian academics, politicians, and police have all weighed in, probably rivals America for sheer volume and scope of coverage. Admittedly I was very young when it happened, but I doubt the even more deadly Port Arthur school shooting in Tasmania received as much coverage in the US news.
Likewise, Australia is facing one of the worst environmental catastrophes in its history, and it gets nary a mention in the NY times or BBC. The country is going into its third year of drought, and until recently farmers have been going through water like hot dogs at an eating competition. Moreover, water policy is decided at a state level, not national, and the states' policies generally involve using as much water as possible with no regard for the states downstream (much to the chagrin of South Australia, at the mouth of the Murry-Darling river system). Because of this, the Murry River, the largest river in Australia, now has no run-off into the sea. John Howard, PM, has threatened that if there is no major rain in the next two months all irrigation from this major river system will be cut. As %60 of food production draws from the Murry-Darling river systems, this means disaster for the Australian produce market. Tens of thousands of farmers already stretched to the limit may go bankrupt, and produce prices may rise to $20 a kilo or more. However, since Australia doesn't really export much produce, this will have little effect on those outside this country. (Except for all you wine drinkers. Much of the wine sold in America relies of irrigated grapes, so stock up on your Yellowtail now before it rises to $10 dollars a bottle).

Saturday, April 14, 2007

aussie mozzies

I have 31 mosquito bites on my left leg and 20 on my right, leaving me looking as though I have an outbreak of the chickenpox, or perhaps measles. We tried to take a walk in the balmy dusk, but the mosquitoes were out as though they hadn't eaten in three months and we were the only source of nutrients for 100s of kilometers. We tried to fight them off with an increasingly strong arsenal (sprays, smoke, etc) but they eventually overpowered us (although they did have a higher casualty rate). Adelaide usually doesn't have an issue with mosquitoes, especially not in April (the equivalent of October). But this year has been hotter and more humid than usual, even given the severe drought. In the month and a half I've been here, we've only had two days of proper rain, and maybe one or two early morning showers. Every day the forecast in the paper shows a picture of seven suns next to the weekly temperatures, and they're beginning to look a bit menacing to me. Now, I look up hopefully whenever it appears a cloud cover is beginning to form, even though that usually just brings a day of humidity instead of the torrential rain it ought too. And not only has it been drier than usual, but it is also quite hot. After a few days in the mid 20s (high 70s) it's gone back up to 30 and stayed there for the past 2 weeks, leaving us with eerily monotonous hot weather.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Hello everyone.
First, if you have any interest in speaking to me (that probably rules out a majority of you) and you have a high speed internet connection, you should get skype. It's an online (Swedish!!!)* internet telephone service that allows you to talk to other skype members for absolutely free, even in Australia. You sit at your computer to talk, and if your computer is less than 4 years old, it probably has a built-in microphone, so it requires nothing else than that you spend 5 minutes downloading skype. (If your computer doesn't, all you'd need is a cheap set of earphones with a microphone.) The quality is on par with a regular telephone, and it allows freedom of motion because you do not have to be holding something to your ear or attached to a cord. You can even bake muffins and talk if in the vicinity of your computer (see below). My user name is britta.ingebretson.

Second, we're holding a muffin recipe competition in search for the perfect muffin. If you feel strongly about your favorite muffin recipe, e-mail it to me or send it to me through comments. May the best muffin win!!


*now headquartered in Estonia.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Of course

Of course, no discussion of Australian food would be complete without vegemite. Vegemite, a yeast extract, is the unofficial 'official' food of Australia. It's also thoroughly revolting, in my objective opinion. Like lutefisk, it's only palatable with copious amounts of butter, even to most Australians. (It's eaten on toast with a thick layer of butter and very thin layer of vegemite.)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Coffee and Tea

Australia is a land of contradiction, but nowhere is that more apparent than in the realm of food (hey, I know it's a trite, grandiose, and presumptuous statement, but it sounds good.) Seriously though. Australia is a multicultural nation with booming immigrant populations from Asia and the Meditarranean. It's also a former British colony. When good food floods into a nation with a lackluster historical cuisine, you get pretty interesting results. You can't shake a stick without running into a cafe serving espresso and gelati (or the Australian national coffee drink, a 'flat white,' which is basically a no foam latte), but in homes people drink nescafe, if they drink coffee at all. Breakfast, if not weet-bix (a bran cereal that in theory sounds like shredded wheat but isn't), is tea and toast or crumpets. Afternoon calls for another cup of tea, as does post dinner TV watching. Dinner can be meat and three veg (the meat done on the "barbie" and one of the three vegetables invariably being the potato) or it can be green curry, and it's just as likely one or the other. Of course, when Australians eat out, there's a wide range of Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Greek, Lebanese restaurants to choose from, but I've yet to see a British restaurant. (I did, surprisingly enough, see an "Australian" restaurant, with flags tacked up in the windows along with akubra hats (the ones with the corks tied to them) and pictures of Crocodile Dundee. I thought that level of outlandishness was just reserved for America.)
Now, Gyros (or Yiros) and chips is just as common as a 'pie floater' for a greasy late night snack. Of course, if you're not looking for dim sum or shwarma, you can always turn to the innumerable bakeries selling meat pies, pasties, and hot cross buns.
A case in point. Last night I had fair dinkum Aussie fish n' chips from a fish n' chips shop. However, everyone working in the shop appeared to be of Mediternanean ancestry, and besides various combos of fish, chips, and coleslaw, there was an equally long list of Yiros and shwarma sandwiches. And something that was called sausage on a stick. Mmmmm....

Speaking of mmm, South Australia, the state I am in, is famous for two regional dishes. The first one is the Pie floater, which I have yet to try, but consists of a meat pie floating in a bowl of pea soup. If that doesn't sound appetizing, then stop reading, because the next dish (and seriously, if you are easily offended, STOP reading NOW) is even less aptly named. It is called an Abortion, or AB for short (and seriously, that is the name posted up in the shop) because of its unfortunate resemblance. It consists of a plate of fries (or chips) covered with shaved lamb topped with yogurt cucumber sauce and ketchup. It's actually quite tasty in a greasy hangover-remedy sort of way, but the name, and the appearance, are incredibly revolting.

(You can resume reading now)
And speaking of ketchup, or tomato sauce, as it's called here, as someone who normally finds ketchup inedible, I was surprised that Australian 'sauce' is far superior to American ketchup. It's much less sweet and more vinegery, which gives it much more of a tangy tomato-y taste. Not that I'd voluntarily put it on my chips mind you, but in small quantities it's really not bad.
Other pleasant food surprises is the quality of fresh produce and the emphasis on organic foods. A few days ago we bought eggs and milk at a gas station supermarket where milk was bgh free, and the eggs were from free range chickens. (The reason we had to go there was it was after 5 pm on a sunday, and, of course, all the supermarkets were closed. They close at 5 as well on a saturday. I suppose I should be grateful that they're open at all on a sunday though.) I know it shouldn't be that surprising though, I suppose it's an example of my silly American stereotype as Australia as the land of grilled meat.
But anyways, given it's abundance of fresh produce and seafood, Asian and Mediterranean immigrants, and Australia's upwardly mobile aspirations in the cuisine department, it should really be no surprise that there is seriously some tasty food here.

At the beach

Yesterday I went to the beach (about 30 minutes from the city). The police and firefighter international games have been going on, and yesterday was the beach volleyball tournament. The competitors were co-ed teams from around the world. Some of the teams wore a national 'uniform' whereas others just wore bikinis, shorts, or T-shirts. The Finnish teams were easy to identify because the women had a Finnish flag on the butt of their blue and white bikinis. The men more modestly (or perhaps, more sexist-ly, if that can be a word) wore tank tops with "Finnish police force" on them and blue shorts. In contrast, it took me the whole match to figure out that the Canadian team was actually from Canada. The woman wore a very small bikini (I kept wondering how it didn't fall off) and the man wore board shorts. Their French speaking threw me off for awhile, it wasn't not until I saw a Canadian flag stamped on the woman's arm that I figured out they were Canadian and not French. Otherwise, most teams seemed to look the same regardless of nationality: incredibly tan, the women either with brown or bleached blond hair (usually bleached) and the men with brown hair. I guess tanning lotion and hair dye are the great equalizer.
I watched two matches, Finland vs. Canada and Finland vs. South Africa (the South Africans were wearing uniforms with what I assume was the S.A. flag. They were also the only black people I saw at the games. I'm guessing that this "global" event was heavily weighted towards European or North American countries, or at least affluent developed ones. Hong Kong and Japan were represented, which again although Asian are affluent and developed.)
Another interesting note about the games, I was talking to a German exchange student of Dave's friend, who is in Australia doing a medical externship, and she said that in Germany fire fighters are perceived as being right wing reactionaries, whereas police are seen as more mainstream. I feel in the US it's the opposite. The stereotype is that firefighters are hunky heros who save people's lives, while police men are more likely to be trigger happy vigilantes.

But back to the beach. The beach was nice, the day was warm without being too hot, and the water was steamy compared to NW Pacific coast standards. There were also palm trees. Unfortunately I didn't put on enough sunscreen, and managed to sunburn the oddest parts of my body, such as the right side of my left shin, and a small patch under my right knee.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Fourth Estate

So, I haven't written in awhile, mainly because I have been very busy watching TV. I feel it's completely justified because in a foreign country, watching TV is always the best way to learn the language. And besides, Australian TV is insanely better than American TV (though it's not like I really watched TV much in America, so it could just be that I am completely naive and out of it and would be attracted to anything that flickered, but I'd like to think not.) It's kind of ironic that the land that created (well, spawned) Rupert Murdoch should have such high quality television, whereas we are stuck with fox news, but that appears to be the case. There are only 5 channels, 3 are commercial ones and 2 are publicly owned. Australian TV seems to be 1/3 British, 1/3 American, and 1/3 Australian, so as such, they can glean the best programming from England and America, (some american shows are the Jim Leher News Hour, Westwing, and Frontline). Their commercial channels show lots of BBC sitcoms and dramas as well as many American movies (they also have such great shows as "The biggest loser, Australia" and "Bondi beach rescue," which basically consists of showing lots of really really buff tan men in australian flag speedos rescuing surfers from weird marine life). But the best programming is on the public channels. Their public tv stations seem to devote their time to showing interesting documentaries and in-depth news analysis instead of stuck groveling for money and showing reruns of John Denver concerts. They also have a program 'Media Watch,' which moniters and investigates the accuracy of all sorts of media, from regional newspapers, ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), to Vogue magazine. It sounds like something we could use in America. Everyone in Dave's family follows politics very closely, so I spend lots of time watching TV and reading the paper about Australian politcs. (Basically, John Howard, PM and George Bush syncophant has been stuck in a series of embarrassing scandals in which lots of people have had to resign, so he's taken to yelling a lot in parliament and visiting Iraq and Afghanistan, and the opposition leader, "Babyface," (okay, Kevin Rudd) just smiles a lot and does really well in the poles).

But aside from Australian TV in general, there seems to be an effort to make America appear as silly as possible. About a week ago, we watched part of a show about morbidly obese people. No wait, they're in a new category, "super-morbidly obese" people, who weigh over 400 kilos (880 lbs). One man was so obese he that when he had to be hospitalized, it took 20 EMTs to lift him, and they had to borrow a stretcher/sling from the local aquarium. He wouldn't fit in the ambulance, and had to be taken in on the back of a flatbed truck. Needless to say all the people were American. Another show chronicled an Australian man traveling accross New Mexico in an RV and sleeping in Wal Marts. And tonight, the Australian news had an in- depth report on the polygamous marriage movement in Utah, interviewing activists claiming that polygamy is a civil right. No wonder people abroad think we're crazy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Grapes of Wrath

This weekend was harvest weekend, so we went up Sunday and Monday to pick grapes. The majority of the vines had already been machine picked several weeks ago and sent to a large winery that Dave's family has a contract with. They get to keep about 5-10% of the grapes for personal consumption, so every year they invite friends and family up for a weekend of merriment to help them pick these grapes. Dave's family is working with a local winery to develop their own label of wine, named Wattle Farm after the farm, which they hope to start exporting into America (soo....anyone interested? wink wink). Dave's parents went up on Saturday, and then Dave, his brother, sister, and I came up Sunday. Soon after, friends and family showed up, and everyone got to work preparing for a large bonfire. The womenfolk sat in the kitchen, drinking tea, chopping vegetables and gossiping, while the menfolk did manly things out doors like using power tools, fiddling with electric outlets, lifting heavy things, and shooting small animals (well, not the shooting small animals part). As an honored guest from America, I got to skip the mother-daughter vacuuming session and take part in an Aussie male bonding ritual, which involved driving a four-wheel drive with a trailer down back-country roads and over a dry creek bed into a small forest of Eucalypts, cutting up dead trees with a chainsaw, loading the wood onto the trailer, and then drinking beer. Australia is in the middle of its worst drought on record, meaning that the country around Adelaide, generally fairly lush, is dry as a bone, and there are lots of dead limbs lying on the ground. Even so, there are also a surprising number of trees that are still thriving, and after 6 months without water look like they could go for another 6 months or year. It's amazing when you think about the resilience of native species adapted to live such harsh conditions. On the drive back I saw a Kookaburra, not in an old gum tree unfortunately, but perched on the ruins of an old stone farmhouse, which was almost as good. When we got back I returned to the kitchen to help gossip and drink tea (I attempted to help with the vegetables, but to no avail.) Then as it got dark, we all went up to a fire pit and drank lots of beer and ate cheese while dinner cooked in coals in the ground. Many hours and many bottles of beer later (well, at least the beer made it feel like many hours), we switched to wine, and then several more hours later, dinner was ready. We had a beef stew with potatoes and chicken stew with dumplings, both of which were delicious. By that time it had grown dark and all the stars came out. I wish I knew more about constellations in the Northern Hemisphere so I could be suitably impressed by the differences. Yet even with my ignorance the stars were still impressive. Orion's belt was visible, as was the Southern Cross, the constellation on Australia's flag. Most impressive was the milky way, spread out across the middle of the sky. Dave's brother set up a telescope and I saw the rings of Saturn so clearly it looked as though someone had painted the image on the lens (and for all I know they had.)

The next morning we got up early (though not nearly as early as we had planned the night before) to pick grapes. This year, Australia's wine crop has been a disaster due to a combination of the drought and severe frosts in October. Dave's family lost about 2/3 of their crop, and many farmers have lost much more. In the Coonawara region, one of Australia's main wine producing areas, there were no fewer than 15 seperate frosts in the span of one month, and farmers there have lost on average 70% of their crop, with many not bothering to pick at all. As such, Dave's father was not optimistic about the quantity of grapes we would pick. Yet after we started, we found that there was a surprising volume of grapes, often in clustered in one area along a long row of vines, whereas other areas contained almost no grapes. The bunches of grapes and the grapes themselves were smaller, which actually meant better wine as the flavor would be more concentrated. Dave's family practices dryland farming, meaning they do not irrigate. Underneath the top layer of red soil (the famed terra rossa) lies a thin crust of sandstone, but if you break through that layer, the soil is quite porous, and will soak up lots of moisture. If you get rainwater to seep in and make sure the vine's rootsystems are deep enough, there is enough water there to nourish the plants in between rains, even in drought conditions. Given that the grapes hadn't been watered in many months, I was surprised at how healthy the fruit and vines looked. With picking grapes, you clip off the bunch as close to the top of the grapes as possible, and then send it to the winery. There they put it all in the wine, grapes, stem, and earwigs. Eventually the nongrape parts float to the top and are skimmed off (I think). We managed to pick almost two tons of grapes in about 5 hours of picking, more than anyone expected. There were even a few more kilos left, but after 5 hours we were all hungry and tired and it was beginning to get hot, so we went back and had a large picnic of cold chicken, meats, cheeses, salads, bread, and something called a custard square, which is custard in between two layers of pastry and then coated in vanilla frosting. (It seemed very British to me). Of course, we also had more wine. We went home not long after, tired and sun dazed, with nothing to do except wait for the wine. (As payment, everyone who picks gets a dozen bottles of wine. I'm hoping there aren't too many earwigs in my bottles : )
p.s. considering I spent all day outdoors in the Australian sun I didn't get too sunburned. I was pretty vigilant about sunscreen and hat, though there was one area I forgot: my lips. They're now a deeper red and beginning to peel. It's kind of an odd sensation.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Well, I don't have a lot of time to post right now because I am going grape harvesting in about 5 minutes. Dave's family has a vineyard, and as part of their contract with a winery they can pick %5-10 of the grapes for themselves and do whatever they want with them (raisins??) This is an extended family affair, so everyone gets together and spends a day picking grapes, and then we drink lots of wine and eat barbequed meat in fine Aussie tradition.
Yesterday I spent at WOMAdelaide, or WOMade (pronounced wom-add, does not rhyme with 'lemonade' as any American would assume.) The whole thing stands for 'world of music adelaide' and is a huge 3 day international music fest. Unfortunately, the day was 37 degrees (in an effort to go native, I am attempting not to convert celsius to farenheit, but it's sufficient to say that 37 is really really hot. The type of hot skin actually starts melting with direct contact with the sun. And given that there's no ozone layer, you can actually your skin cells mutating under the sun's radiation). But besides the heat, the festival was very interesting. Among other things, I heard some Tuvan throat singers, an Irish band, some Jeff Buckley imitator (only for 5 minutes), a raggae/dance hall/jazz Australian band, a Sephardi-flamenco fusion singer, whose songs were all entitled something like "You broke my heart, I hate you and want to die" or "I have no home or land and want to die" (you get the picture), I Chinese man on a flute who played excellent elevator music....will write more, have to go now

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Everything bites

I have been in Australia for about 9 days and I have a constellation of mosquito bites on my lower back, a few scattered around my elbow and legs, and a large spider bite on my ankle. While I haven't noticed lots of insects, except for a few biting flies in Melbourne, I apparently can't even sit in a chair without getting bitten by some strange insect or another. Since I haven't died yet, and none of my limbs have blackened and fallen off, I apparently haven't been bitten by anything too poisonous. But in a country with the top ten most poisonous snakes in the world, and only slightly less venomous spiders, it's not reassuring to know that I am a flesh-eating-insect-magnet. However, as a kindly woman told me when describing the poisonous Whiteback spider, whose venom permanently kills off the skin and/or muscle at the site of the bite, you don't really need to worry unless you've been bitten.


One thing that's struck me in the week that I've been in Australia is how polite and friendly everyone is. I know that's a major cliche; before I went to Australia everyone kept telling me, "oh, Aussies are so friendly," and I remember thinkng to myself that it was such a trite generalization. However, now that I'm here, I have to add my hat to the pile because it's the one trait that keeps continuously overwhelming me--Australians ARE friendly, and to risk generalization, almost uniformly so. In fact, I couldn't imagine a country where people were friendlier and not have it come off as inhumanly creepy.
A case in point: having two and a half days of time in Melbourne, I decided to check out the University of Melbourne's anthropology graduate school. After several false starts (turns out there are many outdated maps of the campus, all of which place the anthropology school in a different quadrant) and an hour in the boiling sun, I ended up, sweating dripping down my beet-red face (in Australia, make that beetroot-red), wandering the halls of the anthropology and population science building. After about 10 minutes I had failed to find the main office, and finally a professor stuck his head out of a door and asked if I needed any help. I explained that I was an American who happened to be in Melbourne and had heard about their graduate school, and he immediately invited me in. Not only did he spend about 45 minutes talking to me, he took me around the department to meet with some of the anthropologists who specialize in China. They were in the middle of a meeting, but agreed to put it on hold to talk to me. After I protested, they agreed to continue their meeting, but apologized for making me wait 10 minutes to speak with one of the professors. After all, you've come all the way from America, they said. Again, I stopped by another professor's office. She too was extremely apologetic that she was in the middle of grading papers. "I don't really have time to meet today, but since you're only here today, I can of course fit you in," she told me, again apologizing for her lack of availabilty. In comparison, if a hot and sweaty foreigner showed up unannounced in America (or as I did at the UC Berkeley), professors not-so-subtly let you know that you are imposing on their time. After spending about an hour outside of one professor's door, he finally agreed to meet with me, letting me know with a sigh that I should have made an appointment in advance.
And this level of politeness seems to extend to all the areas of Australian society I've encountered in my brief time here. Waitstaff, while generally friendly in the US, cannot come close to rivalling the seemingly genuine friendliness of Australian waiters and waitresses, none of whom work for tips. In my 7 days here, I have yet to encounter one surly or rude person anywhere, not in any shop, bank, restaurant, cafe, hotel, bakery, or office building, or even on the street or the bus. I don't know if that a more laid back attitude to life makes you more tolerant of other people in general, or if it's a giant snowball effect, or if somehow the Aussies managed to maintain British politeness without the reserve or what, but it's been a pleasant element of culture shock. Now if only there wasn't vegemite to contend with...

Sunday, March 4, 2007

g'day from down undah

After a slight delay (6 days) I am now starting my Australia blog. I flew into Melbourne on the 28th of February and then after spending two days there took a three day road trip over the Great Ocean Road, which winds along the southern coast of Australia, and then up to Adelaide. Now that I am in Adelaide, I am getting adjusted and settling into my new life as an Australian (or, considering that no word longer than two syllables is left unabbreviated, an Aussie).
My trip was relatively uneventful, or at least as uneventful as any journey over 25 hours long and that involves 6 hours in the LA aiport can be. I did have quite a shock when the night before I was supposed to leave I received an e-mail flight confirmation listing my flights from Portland to LA and LA to Sydney. Considering I'd bought a ticket to Melbourne, this was kind of a shock (in terms of distance it would be like booking a ticket to LA and instead flying to Seattle). After a frantic phone call or to, I figured out that "nonstop flight to Melbourne" actually meant, "flight to Melbourne with a 1 1/2 hour layover in Sydney" (reason # 24 to fly United). My chagrin at the extra hours added on to the trip were offset by my relief that I would indeed eventually end up in Melbourne at sometime in the near future. The flights were on time enough, though the trip to Sydney took an extra 45 minutes because we were flying against 100 mph headwinds for most of the time. While it slowed down the flight, it did make it extra exciting--it's the only time I've ever felt that if I didn't have my seat belt buckled I actually would have fallen out of my seat, a kind of "6 flags meets airplane travel."
Even though we were taking the same plane to Melbourne, when we got to Sydney we all had to exit and go through security twice, after the first security check, we went to our gate only to find it boarded up and a sign telling us to go through a different gate. When we got to the second gate we found a line about 3 km long consisting of about 300 members of the Australian hockey team, all of whom apparently packed their entire knife collection in their carry on luggage. At the gate there was a line of arthritc old ladies going through everyone's carry-on with a pair of tweezers. As I pointed out to the woman routing through my back pack, I'd just gone through security about 3 minutes before. She looked at me apologetically but told me it was the way the system had been set up. (reason # 31 not to stop over in Sydney). The whole process took so long that I made it back on my flight just as they were announcing the last call for boarding. I boarded the now almost empty plane--we were on an international jet for a commuter flight--and made it safe and sound to Melbourne.