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.