29 May 2007

27 May 2007


The editors of this blog offer their sincerest apologies for slanderous comments made in references to a certain best friend’s ability to read. As that friend has now re-entered the realm of conscious awareness (we welcome her back whole heartedly), we look forward to receiving more scorching repudiation of any future slanderous claims against her character.

26 May 2007

Temporary Resident

When I am feeling lonely, I sometimes visit a discussion forum called Yanks Down Under. It is a good place to exchange whinges about life as an expat with other folks who are experiencing similar frustrations. Mostly it is populated by women who are married to or in the process of marrying Aussie blokes and who are in a panic over the state of their visa applications and are seeking constant reassurance (editor’s note: several non-flattering comments about American women and Aussie blokes have been deleted from this document – suffice to say there is a strong argument to be made against compulsory voting.)

However, a topic arose in the discussion that has inspired a great deal of personal reflection. There is a black family from Alabama living in Melbourne (which isn’t especially relevant, but raises several other interesting observations that are beyond the scope of this essay). They are apparently suffering considerable anxiety stemming from the impending decision of whether to return to their homeland, where previously unnoticed episodes of insipid racism impinge upon the emotional well-being of their daughters, or to sink new roots into their adopted country, where the acceptance of multi-cultural living extends beyond mere tolerance into genuine appreciation. The wife seems to believe that much of her anxiety would be alleviated by obtaining the status and benefits of “permanent resident”, and this is what got me to thinking…

In some way, I find the label of “temporary resident” immensely liberating. It seems to free me from the worries and obligations of being a responsible participant in this society. I feel completely disengaged from the stress of everyday life, as if the consequences of my actions here don’t really count – not that anyone is counting. I feel exempt from the need to keep up with the typical measures of success. Because I know my time here may come to end at any moment, I am imbued with a sense of appreciation for details that often escape the notice of ordinary citizens. I am able to remained charmed by facets of daily life which others find tedious and tiresome. Going to work is not so much like commuting as it is an adventure in discovery. Grocery shopping is not an ordeal, but an entertaining opportunity to compare the nuances of tastes. My paycheck seems like a benevolent gift, not paltry compensation for my time and efforts.

Perhaps it is only because I am still caught up in the novelty of comparison between the familiar and the exotic. Maybe someday I will become bored and complacent, and soon after annoyed by the trivialities which now seem fascinating. However, I like to imagine that I have gained an understanding of the bigger picture – that in life, we are all truly “temporary residents”. Against this realization, I strive to cultivate these marvelous feelings of enthrallment with the mundane. I hope to be forever amazed by color of the evening sky, of the myriad shapes and patterns of the various life forms that surround me, of the small thrill of crossing a magnificent bridge over a beautiful safe harbour – to the exclusion of feeling overwhelmed by insignificant irritations…with the noteworthy exceptions of the dearth of quality Mexican food and noisy upstairs neighbours…and possibly the very existence of Britney Spears.


Last week, I made my first serious social faux pax – I wore my Ugg Boots to work. The weather has been frightfully chilly and I am seriously lacking in comfortable foot wear. I had no reason to suspect that a world recognized icon of Australiana such as the Ugg Boot is the fashion equivalent of a large brass belt buckle and a cowboy hat. My kind, yet condescending co-workers granted me a partial exemption from humiliation based on the fact that, being American, I am expected to be lacking in tact and sensibility. However, they felt obliged to enlighten me to the nuances of Bogan (read: white-trash) haut couture. Apparently, my Northen Suburb post code provides no protection against being mistaken for a Westie – a social distinction which must be preserved above all else.

I had no idea Sydneysiders were such snobs. It’s not like I showed up to work with a mullet and a neck tattoo!

Later that night (after changing into stylish, albeit ill-fitting black leather boots) Kevin and I met up with a group of his work friends for dinner and drinks in the Western suburb of Parramatta – the center of Bogan culture. They all too heartily confirmed the travesty of my style trespass, and pointed out several deplorable examples of Westie stereotypes cruising down Church Street. Apparently, in the minds of Sydneysiders, a Westie is on par with a typical guest on the Jerry Springer show. To me, they looked like average people with comfortable footwear.

Oddly enough, everyone who criticized the Ugg boot confessed to having never owned nor even worn a pair. Thus I cannot help but question the validity of their convictions against the complete lack of first hand knowledge of the superior attributes of such functional and cozy podean accoutrements. Kevin says Australia would have an entirely different opinion about Ugg Boots if they had seen Daryl Hannah’s spread in Playboy.

Nonetheless, I was disappointed in myself to learn that I am not as immune to the estimations of my colleagues as I would like believe. Therefore, my Ugg Boots will be relegated to the temporary role of house slipper, and I am now faced with the unpleasant and immensely dissatisfactory task of going shoe shopping.

24 May 2007

Science Geek Porno

OK, so maybe this won't get you as hot as it did me, but I thought this video was worth sharing! I especially like the part where the ribosomes assemble proteins into the endoplasmic reticulum. The lipid rafts and the seven transmembrane receptors are pretty cool, too.

So if you've got a good interenet connection, check out "The Inner Life of the Cell" at:



19 May 2007

Dear 24,

You are truly blessed to have such happy and vivacious children who wake up with so much energy and enthusiasm – and such early risers, too! Perhaps some day you will be fortunate enough to have a house of your own, where your children can run and wrestle freely in the open air of your yard.

Until that day, you have the extraordinary opportunity to teach them valuable lessons about the behavioural compromises inherent to cooperative living in a high density apartment block. Take the time to explain to them that other people (who might live below you) work very hard during the week and probably look forward to the vital luxury of sleeping late (let’s say maybe…9 O’Clock?) on Sunday mornings. This will help your children cultivate an admirable sense of empathy, awareness, and social responsibility, and these qualities will help make the world a better place for everyone.

Sincere Regards,


12 May 2007

Yo Ho Toh-Ho!

Although I have made a few minor references in passing, I now realize I have not described in any graceful detail the empty fields that sit beside our apartment block. Located at the end of the building, our unit is uniquely situated in that our northern windows overlook the site of an abandoned bowling green. The wide flat lawn, ringed by tall pine trees and made lush by recent rains, is the home to a prosperous warren of happy rabbits. Nightly do we rejoice in watching the brown and white bunnies carelessly nibbling and hopping amongst the verdant blades, their tranquillity disturbed only occasionally by a cacophonous dive bomb from a cranky cockatoo. Never once did I consider their presence pestilent. Indeed, contrasted to their noisy avian compatriots, I take great pleasure in their silent mammalian existence.

Now, I cannot cite any specific references, but it is my understanding that rabbits, not being native to this sunburned continent, were introduced in a manner both unfortunate and laughable in its after effects. It seems, as I am learning myself on a very personal level, that crusading expatriates invariably strive to recreate the pleasures of their origin in an attempt to assuage their wistful longing for their homeland and to maintain a sense of connectedness to the life they have left behind. The early British settlers were no exception. Amongst the valued practices of Mother England, such as planting gardens and boiling meat, hunting for sport evidently provided a gentlemanly repast which was lacking in the new colony. And, since koalas do not offer much in the way of a challenge considering that they sleep up to 22 hours a day and are just so damn cute, the founding fathers of Australia decided to import rabbits for the express purpose of slaughter by gunfire.

In 1859, 24 rabbits were released onto the property of Thomas Austin. Having no regard for the fence line and with rigorous colonization ambitions of their own, the rabbits, doing what rabbits do best in the absence of natural predators, quickly and permanently altered the constitution of the Australian bushland in a manner which can best be described by the word “devastation”. (Though beyond the purpose of this essay, I find it worthwhile to mention that nothing was learnt by this exercise - as evidenced by the subsequent introduction of the European Red Fox for identical purposes and with identical consequences.) In 1991, the population of rabbits in Australia was estimated to be between 200 – 300 million.

Which brings me to the inspiration for this tirade. Yesterday, I found the following flyer in my post box. Aside from the obvious unpleasantness inherent in this notification, can any of you, dear readers, identify the sentence which is causing me particular consternation and amusement?

05 May 2007

Clubbing the Monkey

In honour of Cinco de Mayo (which by the by, is far more popular in America than in Mexico where it is scarcely acknowledged), we set out once more in search of Mexican food, this time operating on advice made by a dyke from New York. I must confess to having no confidence in the ability of a New Yorker to discern quality Mexican fare, and have found in general, over the course of my limited interactions with lesbians, that seldom do they share my tastes or inclinations. Upon expressing these sentiments, she informed me that she had lived in Texas for several years. I cannot say that this admission elevated her credentials in my opinion, as I am not particularly fond of Tex-Mex cuisine. However, lacking as we are in reliable Hispanic sources of gustatory recommendations, I felt obliged to investigate.

(My, but my writing style is prone to infection by my current reading selection. Any guesses as to which 19th century lady author I’ve been reading of late?)

We made our way via a complicated zig-zag of pubs and beer gardens to the lively and bohemian neighbourhood of Woolloomooloo (affectionately known as “The Loo”). After ensuring that the owners of
Café Pacifico were not on an extended holiday and that the facility was not undergoing extensive renovations, we retired to a nearby roof top lounge to await their opening. As the last glow of daylight faded from the warm autumn sky, we were treated to a most wondrous overhead procession of megachiroptera. Their numbers were so staggering, I felt sure they must be swirling in a circle above the tavern – there couldn’t be so many bats on one planet! At length, the crick in my neck and descending darkness forced me to turn my attention away from their evening migration and return to the task at hand.

Outside the brightly painted façade of Café Pacifico, we could hear music, laughter, and the clinking of ice cubes in Margarita glasses. We ascended the stairs and surveyed the lively décor. Paintings of muertos festooned the red walls. The toilets were segregated by images from the popular Loteria game: El Diablito for the gents, La Sirena for the ladies. The rafters were stacked with shabby but genuine carton boxes of Pacifico, Sol, and Bohemia beer. I held up two fingers to the hosts behind the counter.

“Ah sorry, mate. We’re totally booked out.”

I looked once more around the room and observed rather vocally that there were but two other diners at a table in a hall set for at least 60. He assured me that the place would be shoulder to shoulder by eight o’clock. I employed my recently acquired whingeing skills, and began recounting our misadventures to Azteca of the previous week, my swelling homesickness, and the fact that my heart would surely break if I did not eat some Mexican food this very instant. At last he conceded and said we could eat at the bar. I would gladly have eaten in the toilet, if necessary. Then the more quick witted of the hosts suggested that we could have a table IF we promised to vacate it by 8 o’clock. I looked at the time. It was currently 6:15. I had every intention of being in bed by 8 o’colck.

“Is your service that slow?”

He assured us it was not and we assured him we would consume our meal in the allotted time frame and so we were seated at a cheery red table with a cozy candle beneath a Diego Rivera print. We ordered some 17 dollar Margaritas (have I had occasion to mention the outrageous tax on hard alcohol in Australia?) and perused the equally expensive menu. The dishes were standard fare, tacos, fajitas, burritos, with nothing that stood out as particularly exotic save for a beef dish, the name of which now escapes me…something like plato de pico pequeño.

It was quickly dawning on me that regional cuisine is by necessity and virtue, just that: regional. Although such innovations as electronic commerce and overnight freight shrink the globe on a daily basis, the true essence of a “place” is thoroughly linked to our sensual detection and can never be completely recreated elsewhere. While subtle hints can stimulate our memories to conjure up feelings of past occasions, it is the difference between being in love and remembering having been in love.

And so, because Australia is not Mexico, or California, or Texas, the food here can only reflect their unfortunate British heritage and subsequently under cultivated taste for spice. However, it does have merits all its own. The avocados here are unrivalled in flavour and texture. The quality of the beef is robust and refreshing. The corn chips were authentic and the salsa flavourful, providing considerable relief to my nostalgic tastebuds.

Overall, I would rate the meal on par with methadone – it satisfied the craving but lacked the euphoria.