23 March 2007

Getting to Work

I leave the apartment at 8 am and make the short walk to the bus stop. I’m at the beginning of the route, so the bus is always on time. The bus fills up quickly as it winds its way through the village of Lane Cove before entering the freeway towards the city. The morning ride is smooth and quiet, and I pass the time reading essays by David Sedaris, shaking my head at his curious brand of insanity. I put my book away as we cross The Harbour Bridge, savoring the morning sunshine glinting off the harbour, the opera house, the ferry terminal, before descending into the mayhem of the central business district. I exit the bus at the Wynyard Train station. Every morning by the entrance, an aboriginal man plays the didgeridoo. Sometimes I put a dollar in his painted bowl because I enjoy hearing the music; sometimes he is busy talking on his mobile phone.

I enter the train station and ride the escalator down into a maze of subterranean commerce. I buy some dim sum or a sushi roll and munch on my breakfast as I stroll amongst the hurried commuters, past news agents, bakeries, fruit stands, shoe stores, little cubby holes packed with suits dropped off for alterations, grocery stores, McDonalds, gigantic food courts – a whole other city beneath the city. I climb the ramp to George Street and hop onto one of the dozen or so buses that goes to the University of Sydney.

Jerking along the concrete canyons, I entertain myself by cataloguing my observations.

Advertisements on the backs of buses: A brand of men’s underwear is called AussieBum. The latest movie releases are splayed across the backs of Silver Cabs. Cuervo Gold turns mates into Amigos. Corona – from where you’d rather be…

Buildings: The old cathedral that has been renovated into modern loft apartments. Trios of stately griffins with large globes resting on their backs serve as sentinels over the entrance to Broadway. The ornate tarnished copper trim of the Queen Victoria Building oozes turquoise under the morning sun. A magnificent frieze of kangaroos and emus with stone ribbons draped between their mouths adorns the Australian Post building. Small sandstone block churches are tucked between glass and steel skyscrapers.

People: The round old man with a faded pot leaf on his t-shirt. The healthy young student with creamy breasts heaving out of the top of her summer dress. The man in a striped suit smoking a cigarette while picking his nose. The policeman handing a ticket to the woman in a wheelchair. The hunch-backed Asian woman handing out magazines. The boys in too-tight jeans and fluorescent-colored flip-flops holding hands as they cross the street. The man with a tattooed face drinking beer on a bench and laughing maniacally at some private joke. People of every color, shape, and smell. No one smiles on the bus downtown. I try to make a point of it. The reflected expressions suggest I am to be avoided.

Sound Bytes: The Good - As the bus rounds the corner by Central Station, a magnificent African couple is standing on the corner. He is dressed in a sharp tailored suit; she is wearing a dramatic bright yellow and black dress. So stately, so exotic, so beautiful. The woman behind me, seeing my head turn to stare in amazement says “Isn’t she gorgeous! I was just thinking what a wonderfully diverse city we have. So many cultures. It’s just great.” I reply, “I hope she feels the warmth. I’d hate to think she is self conscious because everyone is staring at her.” The Bad – A throng of young Asian girls is gathered in a plaza. A man in a tuxedo waves to the crowd. The girls squeal with delight and admiration. A young British student behind me who has been twittering with the Scottish lass next to her for several painful kilometers says “Well, that’s a bloody lot of chinks.” The Ugly - A middle aged skin head boards and pays his fare. He asks the bus driver if the bus goes down Parramatta Road. I don’t hear the driver’s reply, but the skin head, walking down the aisle suddenly yells over his shoulder, “CUNT!"

Every morning, I nod a salute as the bus crosses Galbourn Street where AC/DC played their very first public performance. I gleam at the swans swimming in the ponds in Victoria Park. I marvel at the pulsing surge of humanity surrounding me.

I am completely over stimulated by the time I get to work!

18 March 2007

Are you ready for some rugby?

This weekend marks the beginning of the season for the National Rugby League - which is not to be confused with Rugby Union or Australian Rules Football or Football or Soccer - even though they are all referred under the blanket category of "footy". I'm not quite clear on the exact differences between the sports, but Rugby League is my favorite. This is based entirely on my personal observations that Rugby League has more blood shed and dropped trousers per 80 minutes of play than any other sport.

Rugby players are without question some of the toughest athletes on the planet. In yesterday's game between the St George Illawarra Dragons and the newly formed Gold Coast Titans, two players collided in a gushing spray of over-oxygenated blood. Play was not halted as their respective trainers rushed onto the field with a roll of tape and simultaneously wrapped their skulls. By the time the action had moved back to their end of the field, the players were back in the scrum, violently ripping at the shorts of the opposing team.

Knowing little about the 16 clubs that comprise the league, I have little empirical evidence upon which to select a team for which to root, thus I am obligated to make a decision based solely on nomenclature. Most of the clubs have tough, masculine names. Many of the mascots invoke images of violent animal death (or at least visceral discomfort): The Sharks, The Tigers, The Panthers, The Broncos, The Eels, The Bulldogs, The Sea Eagles, The Roosters (OK...this one is questionable). Some of the mascots are a bit more abstract, but none the less conjure images of rugged endurance: The Knights, The Warriors, The Cowboys, The Storm.

And then, there is my absolute favorite!

The South Sydney Rabbitohs.

Everytime I hear their name, my brain overflows with visions of pastel-colored bunny-shaped breakfast cereal. A rabbit isn't exactly the sort of animal that strikes fear into the hearts of men. Even if they didn't wear red and green striped socks, how seriously can you take a team whose mascot nibbles grass and procreates to excess? In a contest between a psychotic dog and a timid rodent, who would you endorse? But they're not just Rabbits, they are Rabbitohs...what the hell is a rabbitoh??

Well, there is just no doubt as to my new favorite team.

Go Rabbitohs!

Pumpin' some nippers

On Sunday, Kevin and I went for our fortnightly paddle with the Kayak and Canoe Club (one of the unexpected benefits of living in Australia is that I get to use words like fortnightly and no one sniggers). As we paddled near the Bobbin Head Marina, I spied a bloke engaged in a strange shallow water activity involving a bilge pump and a strainer.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm pumpin' some nippers." I looked to my Australian paddling instructor. She shrugged.

"What exactly does that mean in American?" I asked.

"I'm gettin' some bait." He rolled his eyes.

"Congratulations. You're going to be on my blog."

14 March 2007


Now, I am fully aware that there are some linguistic differences between American English and Australian English, but this was just ridiculous.

Imagine you are a young white male employee at McDonald's (which in Australia is called "Makka's" and is pronounced "Macker's"...see above). Now further imagine that a woman, albeit a woman with an American accent, comes in and says "I'd like a cheesburger with mayonnaise only."

What would you give her?

Crash and Burn

Hello All,

I apologize for the recent lack of posts. In addition to the exhausting demands of starting my new job, not to mention the exhausting 2-3 hours per day spent on Sydney Buses, my laptop has exploded, leaving me with a very disconcerting feeling of loss and electronic isolation. I've lost all my email addresses, photos, stories, and tax documents, among other more frivolous items, such as this year's celebrity death pool - the arguements will never cease. No Kevin, you did NOT have Anna Nicole Smith (though he won last year with Saddam Hussein...barely.)

It was so sad, right in the middle of a very inspired blog entry, the screen just melted into a white haze with rosy pink edges, then it simply faded to black. I hope it's like that for me when my turn comes. We still have some hopes of resurrection, and Kevin is secretly thrilled, since he has always wanted to take apart a laptop. I worry about his list of secret desires.

I have several blog entries rattling around in my now-crowded brain, and will try to get them posted over the next few days - but I cannot say that my computer situation at work is much better - but more on that later.



04 March 2007

I am Job

5, March, 2007

After several dispiriting and somewhat humiliating sales interviews, I have come to the conclusion that high-heels and nylon stockings are evil instruments of torture designed to keep women from being grounded. I cannot imagine why society would want half the population to be twittering around with calf cramps and sweaty toes, but I refuse to sign on. Also, I realized that I hate sales people, and I do not want to be one of them.

Therefore, after much soul searching, (which included a thorough if not entirely depressing investigation of my bank balance and stock portfolio) I have decided to return to the variety of challenges of lab work. My decision is not entirely based on wardrobe, but also on the dawning realization that I like science. I like working with my brain AND my hands. I like playing with chemicals and cutting open animals. I like having skills that are valuable to a potential employer without having to wear make-up or hair gel or having to have a manicure to prove it. (You know who you are…)

Almost immediately upon making this decision, all of my horrible recurrent nightmares have ceased. No more plane crashes. No more being chased by mobs of goth people. No more visions of Bill Murray naked.

And almost as immediately, I got a job!

I owe a HUGE thanks to Jim Douglass for hooking me up with a department chair at the University of Sydney. (I promise to send you some brownies.) And I owe a HUGE thanks to Mac Christie for sending my CV to every other department chair. Within two days, I received an invitation for an interview with Robert Vandenberg, and the day after that, I accepted a position in his lab with the Department of Pharmacology. (Turns out Professor Vandenberg worked at the Vollum Institute at the same time I worked there, but there was no spark of recognition between us.) I will be working on the characterization of glycine and glutamate transporters, using many techniques that I have already mastered, and also getting to learn a few more (such as harvesting frog oocytes and injecting them with RNA – cool.)

I’m pretty excited about returning to the university setting. I don’t want to say anything bad about Amgen – it is truly a great company. However, I think I will be happier working in a more altruistic environment where one does not need to consider the size and wealth of a “target population” in determining whether or not a disease is worthy of scientific research. (I just watched a very interesting show about ethics vs. profits in pharmaceutical companies that has profoundly impacted my thinking about drug development. It may change my life…or at least become the subject of a very nasty rant in the near future.)

I’m also excited (and very relieved) to learn that the pay scale for academic research at the university is much higher than I had supposed it to be. This means that we may actually be able to save some money while on this Great Australian Adventure…or at least we can afford to sustain our vices.


4, March 2007

Holy CRAP!

It seems that every three days there is a display of thunder and lightning so spectacular that I swear I have never seen anything so amazing...then, three days later, it is put to shame by the next display. Thus you must surmise just how amazing tonight's storm is that I am compelled to put words to print at this late hour (it is around midnight as I write this). I must try to capture these emotions in real-time...that, and I came to the determination that sitting naked on the balcony sipping port was probably not the safest location...not that sitting naked in front of high tech electronics is a better situation, but these are the risks I am willing to take for your benefit.

I am so tired, my eyes are drooping, but I cannot shut them to this glory of nature…not to mention the deafening roar of the thunder makes sleep impossible. Well, for me anyway – not for Kevin, that is until I ran onto the bed and jumped on him with a squeal after a particularly loud clap.

The flashes and streaks are non-stop. Watching the planes take off from Sydney Airport, I am certain that tonight will be the night that I will get to see one struck. I wonder if the pilots are as terrified and delighted by the spectacle as I. I know I would not want to be a passenger tonight.

"Rifle shot" does not even come close to the explosive noise that is cracking over my head. The crash echoes off the raindrops and reverberates through my every nerve ending. It truly sounds like the sky is ripping open. All around the apartment, car alarms are blaring under the weight of the noise.

Holy CRAP!!

Zoikes, I can hardly wait to see what is going to happen three days from now!

I can, canoe?

3, March 2007

It happens nearly every calm cool morning… likewise, every sweltering evening. Each time we see a kayak gliding across the serene waters of Burns Bay, we become consumed with a yearning to be out on the water, drifting among the shorebirds and adding some upper body workout to our exercise routine which currently consists of an abundance of walking. So, for Kevin’s 43rd birthday, I signed us up with the
Kayak & Canoe Club, a non-profit, member-driven club that organizes outings, teaches paddling skills, and promotes stewardship of local waterways.

On Saturday, we participated in a basic skills workshop. We learned about tides and weather, safety guidelines, and were shown the fundamental strokes. Notice I did not say that we learned the strokes. Although we “know” how to perform them, it turns out that paddling is much like riding a bicycle. While your brain may understand what is supposed to happen, you must wait patiently for your body to “get it” before theory and practice converge into actual ability. Thus, our efforts to paddle down the river actually resulted in a distinct spiraling motion, as we spun in circle after circle, never quite managing to go straight. On the bright side, we are really good at turning.

We also learned how to perform a “wet exit”, where contrary to my every survival instinct, I had to intentionally capsize my kayak and dislodge myself from the cockpit. Dangling underwater, upside down, the desire for fresh air is, fortunately, a strong motivator, and my body “got it” without much help from my brain.