31 December 2007

The Time of Our Lives

One year ago, we boarded a plane bound for Australia just before midnight. A few hours later we crossed the International Date Line, officially marking the shortest New Year’s I have ever known – until now. Last night seemed like it was only about twenty minutes long, and I couldn’t stretch time no matter how I tried.

At dawn, the parks and reserves of the foreshore were already filling with families and revellers staking out territory for the phenomenal party thrown across Sydney Harbour. Streets were barricaded and expressways closed as 1 million people streamed into the city, searching for the perfect vantage point, preferably one within a serviceable walk of a functional toilet. Indeed, access to reasonable toilet facilities played no small part in our New Year’s Eve plans, and there we could think of no better vantage point for the spectacular Sydney fireworks show than from the top deck of a luxurious cruise ship on the harbour.

At 6 pm, we joined an excited mob and squeezed ourselves sardine style onto a city bound train. At 7:30, we weaved our way through throngs of food stalls, glow stick vendors, and drunks (oof, they’ve got a long way to go) jammed into Circular Quay and escaped into the tranquil civility of Wharf 6, where we were cordially welcomed aboard the Sydney 2000. We grabbed some champagne and headed to the top deck.

Instantly, I became dizzy, spinning and swirling in a vain attempt to take in the scene that was unfolding in all directions around me. A chorus of cheers erupted from the crowd as we set sail. Flash bulbs popped from every balcony. The coves along the foreshore were stuffed with brightly lit boats at anchor. In the distance, a huge cyclone of flying foxes swirled above the city, sending off the occasional arm of migratory bats, like storm bands from a hurricane.

We slipped back to our table for the entrĂ©e of lobster and oysters, but our excitement could not be confined indoors, and we were soon back on the top deck, waving to passing boats. Downstairs again for an Intermezzo of melon sherbet, then up to the deck for the 9 o’clock fireworks display, put on for the kids who cannot stay up till midnight. After the show, our boat joined the other commercial charters for a parade of lights around the harbour in an exclusion zone off limits to all other boats. Thus the water was calm and uncrowded, save for the red and blue flashing lights of dozens of police vessels patrolling the edge of the zone. There was a beauty there as well.

After the delicious main course, (I used to make fun of my Aunt Bette for the excruciating detail she would relate when describing enjoyable meals she’d had on various vacations, and I vowed I would never do that. However, as I get older, I have come to appreciate the increasing sensory pleasures of the palette, perhaps because they swell as other pleasures recede. Nonetheless, I won’t torture you with sumptuous descriptions of grilled beef fillets with red onion jam or duck confit with dark cherry sauce.) time slowed down a little, and we were able to savour the atmosphere of the evening. With so many stimuli competing for our attention, it was hard to remain focused on any one pleasure for very long, and we were soon doing laps around the decks trying to imprint as many sensations on our psyche as possible.

At last, the captain parked the boat sideways to the bridge at the far end of the exclusion zone, the lights of all the other boats beautifully framed between the city lights of either shore. Perfect. Just before midnight, the sky erupted with light, sound, and colour from every direction, the flaming bridge at centrepiece. Thunderous explosions drowned out the appreciative cheers of the crowds. Horns and whistles sounded from all directions and the surface of the water became a shimmering reflection of the rainbow ballet of sparkling flares. From the tops of skyscrapers, fountains of flames contributed to the swelling crescendo of the blazing symphony. Then, climax: The deck of the bridge transformed into a brilliant white waterfall of flame, spilling into the sizzling water of Sydney Harbour.

Then it was done. Like a giant balloon that had finally run out of the pressure necessary to keep it sputtering and farting around the room in a manner that never fails to entertain all but the most severe old cranks. Nothing to do now but revel in our insufficient memory and gloat as we joined one million other people in a race for a train home.

Actually, getting out of the city was no where near as difficult as I had been lead to believe. Our boat docked at 1 am, and most of the crowds at Circular Quay had already dissipated, leaving behind a wake of garbage so impressive, that we lingered to discuss the beast that had left behind such chaos. By the time we made our way through the cheerful drunken stragglers, up George to Wynyard Station, the crush of people was less than a typical workday commute and we were able to step directly onto a train that took us right to our front door.

We sat on our balcony, gazing out across the harbour and tried once more in vain to slow time, to make this night last forever. Soon I was overcome with the beautiful fatigue borne of busy excitement and I succumbed to exhaustion at 3:30.

At 6:00 am, I awoke to the sound of hoots and hollers coming from a balcony on the next building as a group of drunks greeted the rising sun. They had squeezed every last minute out of the night.

But through the magic of photography, this night can last forever...and when I get around to editing the videos, you'll see what I mean.

Happy New Year!


Happy 18th Anniversary, Darling.

25 December 2007

About Australian Diminutives

The distinctive accent and colorful vernacular make the Australian way of speaking one of the most charming dialects in the world. This may be especially true in America, where an Australian accent is the surest form of salesmanship (and possibly foreplay), in everything from tourism to magazine subscriptions (which I cancelled as soon as I got home and came to my senses.) Take, if you will this example I heard in a (terrible, but linguistically entertaining) movie today:

Ratbag Pommy: “I just love the dingo lingo! Hey cobber, say something in Australian.”

Cobber: “Fuck off ya drongo. I wouldn’t piss in yer ear if yer brain was on fire.”

Perhaps one of the most amusing, if not equally frustrating, habits of the Australian tongue is the tendency to shorten words that are otherwise cumbersome, containing too many annoying consonants and syllables that might exhaust ones lips and detract from more important oral activities, such as drinking beer. Thus, ‘breakfast’ becomes ‘brekkie’; ‘sunglasses’ are ‘sunnies’; ‘flip-flops’ are ‘flippies’ (although, being shorter and containing fewer syllables, ‘thongs’ is still widely favored, context usually providing clarification. ‘McDonald’s’ is ‘Maccas’ (pronounced ‘Mackers’) and ‘afternoon’ is, inexplicably, ‘arvo’. I’ll leave it to my readers to put all of those together in a sentence.

With the exception of ‘arvo’, (which I find painful to hear, much more so to pronounce) I have adopted many of these diminutives into my daily speech, not so much because I am charmed by them, as because, I too am inherently lazy and need to free up more time for drinking beer. However, I draw the line at one particular abridgement. In fact, I am so offended by it that I loathe to even write it. I refuse to wish you all a “Happy Chrissy.”

Merry Christmas.

(Post Script: A Google search of the word 'cobber' yielded a hit at a website called, of all things 'AustralianBeers.com'. The entry lamented the decline of Australia's colorful vernacular and proceeded to blame it on America. Blaming America for every Australian cultural defect is a common past-time, which I will undoubtedly address at some point in the future. But for now, let's just leave it at "No one is fucking forcing you! If you, as a people, collectively choose to adopt American culture, there must be something to it!" Living abroad has, of late, infused me with a new found sense of patriotism.)

17 December 2007

New Australian Visa Options

Effective October 31, 2007, the United and States and Australia have entered into a reciprocal agreement for working holiday visas. These visas are designed for young people (up to age 31 - Chloe, you still have time!) who would like to supplement their travel with casual work. The visa allows you to stay and work in Australia for up to 12 months, and there are lots of job opportunities for casual work - mostly restaurant - especially in fun tourist areas. The only restrictions for US citizens are enrollment or graduation from college (aka post-sceondary institution.)

If any of my young friends (or my brother) or friends children are interested, you have a place to stay to start your travels in Sydney...

For more information, see: http://www.immi.gov.au/visitors/working-holiday/462/pdf/fact_1_whv_us.pdf


15 December 2007

A Happy Night Out

CW Stoneking makes me believe in collective reincarnation. There can be no doubt that within his skinny white body resides the souls of the founding fathers of back porch blues. Close your eyes while he is performing on stage, and you can smell the alleys and side streets of New Orleans, feel Mississippi mud ooze between your toes, and taste fried catfish and collard greens.

When I first heard him, he and his primitive horn orchestra were live in the studios of Triple J radio. The deep and gravely voice that stammered and stuttered through the interview did not prepare me for what a marvellous showman he would be live on stage. He introduced each song with a short story punctuated with charm and humor (or, if you prefer, humour). The stories became increasingly outrageous as he progressed through his set, beginning with a believable yarn about the first blues song he heard on one of his daddy’s cassettes to a tall tale about arriving on the shores of Africa in a life raft, having used his banjo to paddle across the Atlantic. I couldn’t help but wonder if he invented the stories first, and then penned a song to fit.

We stuck around after the show to get autographs. I fully expected him to just shuffle through the line of people waiting, but he had a protracted conversation with each of his fans, and he was just as amusing and charming as he was on-stage. He and his wife were also married in Reno. He loves San Francisco. He was Cleopatra in a previous life.

14 December 2007

More About Australian Toilets

A comment from the previous post:

We are now into the century of water shortages / wars, so let's hear it for the great Australian invention of the dual-flush toilet!http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/australia_innovates/?behaviour=view_article&Section_id=1040&article_id=10044

"In 1956 Charles Rothauser, a Hungarian immigrant, renamed his plastics company "Caroma" and began manufacturing bathroom products, including the world's first one-piece plastic toilet cistern (the cistern is the water tank above the toilet that stores the flush)."

In 1994 the company completely redesigned the toilet in stylish porcelain in a modern 'organic shape'. Its 6 and 3 litre dual flush cistern and matching bowl halved the amount of water normally flushed away. "This combination of style and environmental awareness attracted attention in the tough European sanitaryware market and exports began soon after. The product is now shipped to more than 30 countries worldwide."

Thank you for the excellent segue. I have been meaning to comment on the dual-flush toilet in greater detail, so this seems a fine opportunity. (But first, a crack about the European sanitaryware market, not to be confused with the North American sanitarywear market.)

I was quite enamored with the dual-flush toilet upon my arrival in Australia, slightly perplexed initially as the first one I encountered featured two stainless steel buttons mounted on the wall, one featuring a raised full circle, the other a raised semi-circle, but I soon put it together. I pressed the button for the half flush and watched my toilet paper gently tumble in the now pale yellow water. So I pressed it again with the same result, and then opted for the full flush.

At 3 L per half flush and 6 L per full flush, I spent 9 L (=2.4 US gallons = 0.5 buckets) of water to rid the world of 300 mL of pee. By contrast, a typical low-flow toilet in the US uses 1.6 gallons per flush (= 6L = 136 jiggers = 0.02 hogsheads - WTF is a 'hogshead'?? BK, get on this - I am too lazy to google it myself) and can usually manage a full load in a single flush - except on those frustrating occasions when one produces a particularly buoyant turd that stubbornly clings to life on the surface, circling and circling (counter-clockwise, mind you) but refuses to pass into the next plane of fecal existence.

Really, the difference between the overall effectiveness of Australian and American toilets is negligible, and I have no intention of turning this into a battle of perceived superiority. And, since nothing creates alliances more so than ridiculing a common adversary, let's all have a good laugh about German toilets.

Still, I was very impressed with Australia's conscientious efforts towards water conservation, as I walked to the sink, turned on the taps and was dowsed with a high pressure blast of water reminiscent of fire hose effluent. Surely, I thought this must be an anomaly. The flow restrictor must have fallen out, but this same scenario has repeated itself in nearly every bathroom I have visited - and considering the inadequacy of my bladder, my love of beer, and my post-evacuatory hygiene habits, that is a respectable sampling.

At home, my kitchen faucet is no different. Each time I rinse a dish, I am sprayed with soapy water from the waist up. On the plus side, the kitchen remains relatively clean, since the basin must be wiped down frequently to prevent flooding of the apartment below.

However, there is a flow restrictor in my bathtub. Let me repeat that, in case you missed it...There is a flow restrictor in my bathtub! I guess the idea is, that after 30 minutes, when there is still merely a puddle of now-cold water in the bottom of the tub, one will give up and take a shower.

Or just go wash the dishes.

13 December 2007

About Australian Toilets

Perhaps it is a sorry testament to the degree of curiosity that many Americans have for lands beyond their borders, but the most frequent question I receive from folks back home is “So, do the toilets really spin clock-wise there?”

Aside from the fact that many people don’t actually say ‘clock-wise’, not being entirely sure of the direction of the Coriolis Effect in their own hemisphere, the short answer is:


The toilets in Australia are so decidedly different that they don’t spin at all. Indeed, most toilets I have encountered flush straight down, due undoubtedly to the fact that Australia seemingly feels the need to distinguish themselves from the rest of the civilised world in small but insignificant ways. Lest you accuse me of Australia bashing, allow me to make my case for at least one advantage of the good old American Standard.

In their defence, the architecture of Australian toilets does discourage unfortunate blockage from bountiful excretory events (Dad!) through the relatively straightforward design of their porcelain p-trap system, particularly in light of the sparse amount of water that inhabits the bowl. I have yet to see a plunger among the accoutrement of an Aussie restroom. (Unfortunately, this meagre water supply does necessitate the presence of a toilet brush in every bathroom.) An added benefit to this system is that there is hardly any ‘back splash’ upon release of any deposition which might otherwise provide an instantaneous, if not entirely unhygienic, bidet-like effect. (Oh, like you don’t know what I am talking about!)

However, because of the deep and wide opening to the sewer pipe, said depositions immediately slide into a cavernous ceramic conduit, rendering them completely inaccessible for review. Mind you, I am not implying that I spend an inordinate amount of time studying my efforts, but a brief survey of ones fecal constructions can provide conspicuous clues regarding the status of one’s overall health and well being…In Australia, one might go for years with undiagnosed colonic ulcers, only to be denied an insurance claim upon returning from an overseas visit.

And of course, there are those rare but satisfying occasions when the gods of peristalsis are smiling upon you, and you just want to spend a few moments admiring the 22" replica of your entire lower digestive tract.

Just be happy there are no photographic accompaniments to this entry.

Didn’t I promise to regain my edginess after my birthday??

Which leads me to a digression…does anyone else have a mirror positioned directly across from their porcelain throne?

Screw You Adam, and Your Home Typing Business That You Seem to Run From the Airport...

Sorry folks.

Sore optimist that I am believed I might be able to hide this blog from ass-sucking spammers, but alas, NO. Thanks to one rotten apple, you (well, all three of you that regularly read and/or comment on my blog -besides the shitheel Adam and his anal intrusive Home Typing Business) must now fill out the cryptic 'word verification' to post comments on my blog. Sorry. Personally, I despise word verification, since there is decidedly something wrong with my spatial vision and I never get it right the first time around...


08 December 2007

In Like a Lion

In the context of hemispheric seasonal juxtaposition, I reckon that particular turn of phrase would more appropriately be applied to the month of September, but there is no denying the ferocity of the first part of December. Sydney has been experiencing ten solid days of outrageous storm squalls. A calm sunny cloudless morning suddenly turns dark as night while violent winds rent the sky releasing a torrent of raindrops the size of hedgehogs beneath a blinding display of lightning accompanied by thunder claps sharper and louder than a used car salesman’s suit.

Usually, a long stretch of gloomy weather would make me feel likewise. However, on the rare occasions when the clouds part, the sun is a flaming blowtorch, searing my flesh and converting the surface of the earth to a steaming pressure cooker. The air takes on the consistency of soggy molten lead and every surface instantly sprouts a thin layer of aggressive mildew. No, I cannot curse the clouds today. They are benevolent guardians shielding me from solar incineration and muggy intoxication.

I also cannot complain about the rain, since Australia has been experiencing a horrendous ten-year drought. In the last week, over 150 mm of rain has fallen on parts of Sydney. Sadly, I just cannot seem to convert mm of rain into units that I can get my head around. Yes, I know how to do the mental math and say “Well that is about 6 or 7 inches,” but the fact that it was first reported in millimetres just fucks with me. I can’t explain it. Unfortunately, rain falling on Sydney is about as beneficial to the water reserves as rain falling in Santa Monica. But, it would be a good time to be in lawnmower sales.

As I was prowling around one of my favourite websites (and BK: I was perfectly aware of the BOM. Any liberties I take with accuracy and completeness are generally for the intention of entertainment, although sometimes done out of sheer laziness. I used to feel obligated to educate the world, but now I don’t even believe in most facts.) I found myself wandering down a quirky thread of links. Political correctness has a distinctly Australian flavour here and most frequently involves ensuring that everyone takes the Aboriginal people seriously. Oddly, attempts to illustrate the value of indigenous knowledge and culture invariably cause me irritable frustration and kind of piss me off in general. I don’t have the energy to get into all of the reasons right now, but being raised by a fervent proponent of the freedom of information, I take issue with Aboriginal notions of knowledge ownership.

Still, I applaud this effort at sharing, and confess that I have heard network weather forecasts that are about as insightful.

Perhaps here one might say, “In like Wantangka, out like Yurluurrp.”

That is, if you think you could say it at all…

07 December 2007

Keep Singing, Abdi

Descending the stairs from St Leonards Station to Herbert Street, my street, I am walking behind a man. He is singing softly as he walks. A quiet, exotic sound.

"Keep singing." I say. "Louder. Let it out. Louder."

"I was singing in my language."

"Are you homesick? Too?"

We strike up a breif conversation along the way. I am from California. His sister moved to California. She is a doctor. Very rich, now. He is from Ethiopia, been here 11 years.

"Did you move here during the war?"

"Yes...during...because of the war." I notice the scar across his eye, but we are in front of my building now. So much I want to know about his life. There is so much to share between random people.

"You live here?"


"I work there, at the hospital. Maybe we will see each other, again?"

I hope so.

"Keep singing, Abdi."