31 May 2008

Level Orange

Not enough can be said about the dismal state of air travel in America. Security screening is a humiliating and confusing process. Normally, I plan for the chaos and dress appropriately: slip on shoes, no belt, minimal carry-on items, but a late night drinking row coupled with an early morning flight and the last-minute acquisition of a bulky delicate item was a recipe for fiasco. I am not a particularly well coordinated person on the best of days, and at 5 am after two hours of driving and a mere one hour of something vaguely resembling sleep, I had all the makings of a Lucille Ball sketch as I tried to untie my shoes, slip off my belt, remove my laptop from its case while juggling my photo ID, boarding pass, and a large rectangular hat box holding my grandfather’s fedora. I almost had it under control until I was told to remove my sweater, then everything went flying in all directions. I made a quick if not awkward recovery and settled myself at the gate.

And speaking of sleep, what is it about being on vacation that allows one to function on such miniscule amounts of sleep? I fear I am racking up some serious REM debt as I have had a total of 20 hours of sleep (and none of that would I consider ‘quality’) in the last 9 days. By my calculations, that puts me 52 hours in the hole. I fear I am on the verge of psychosis, which is a little vacation in and of itself. At least I will look sharp in my fancy new hat.

28 May 2008

Stranger in a Familial Land

I often lament having grown up outside the circle of my extended family, mourning the security of a strong network of cousins, aunts, and uncles surrounding a core of grandparents – and then I return to small-town Ohio and instantly appreciate the cultural smorgasbord that is my life. My Norman Rockwell fantasies fade in the light of petty squabbles, ceaseless gossip, and outright meddling. There is nothing like spending a few days with your family illustrate the origin of some of your least favorite personality traits.

I have come to Ohio to attend the wedding of a cousin, who as it turns out, is quite a celebrity in the farming town of Fayette. I won’t bore my non-relational readers with details of the ceremonies aside from reassuring the bride that those goofy little mishaps that seem so frustrating today - like when the priest (who, by the way, manufactures dynamite as a hobby) forgets your name - will indeed become the treasured moments that you cherish tomorrow. Regardless of the numerous protocol deviations, it was indeed one hell of a good party. I truly enjoyed spending the evening with my family, even if they were their best behavior.

Except for Grandma:

Stranger in a Familiar Land

One of my initial observations, aside from how delicious American bacon tastes, is how much my identity has become intertwined with my status as an expatriate minority, that is, on being an outsider. Suddenly surrounded by familiar accents and a shared national identity, I am merely one of the gang. It’s not like I have forgotten how to be an American – I can be just as rude as the next person – but I do feel a little saddened by my change in status. Being in a tourist town, people ask where I am from, and I cannot resist answering “Australia” in an attempt to maintain some degree of specialness among the throngs. It turns out, that living in Australia is far more interesting here than it is there. But this is no surprise, being aware of America’s antipodean infatuation – even if the general population (and evidently my spell checker) is unfamiliar with that particular word.

I walk the Streets of San Francisco (with a bow-bow-chicka-chicka soundtrack playing in my head), infatuated with the sights and scents of this not-quite alien landscape that is far more colorless in person than in my memory. The smell of green-bud and urine are not quite so pungent on the city sidewalks of Sydney. Kevin isn’t sure if there were always so many kooks and panhandlers on Market Street, or if he has just become desensitized by the civil cleanliness of Australia. The police look mean, probably to cover up their fear and disgust for the refuse of society they must face each day. San Francisco is erased from my list of places I might like to live some day.

We stroll through the shops comparing prices. We have to be escorted out of the Shoe Pavillion, as we have doubled over in hysterics at the price of trainers (aka running shoes). I buy a year’s supply of my favourite skin care products and spend the rest of the afternoon making exclamatory statements. Shopping for undergarments is one of my least favourite activities in the world, but as I walk through the door of Victoria’s Secret, I am swarmed by helpful women with tape measures asking intimate questions about my support needs. Oh yes, I remember now…it is called customer service. I am reminded of it again when our smiling waitress asks if everything was all right and could she get us anything else. The cost of dinner and drinks is about the same – including the tip.

But I know that this strangeness is nothing compared to what lies ahead...

21 May 2008


My heart did a tiny somersault when I spied the mountains of Central California through the frosty plane windows. I would have been more excited, but it is difficult to muster a lot of enthusiasm after 13 hours of contortion and some Hall of Fame Flatulence. I’ll spare you that description.

Perhaps it is a sign of the dwindling economy, but the airports on either end of our journey were sparsely populated, making our transition through immigration and customs a near pleasant experience. Despite my fatigue and disorientation, getting onto BART was nearly effortless, and it was fun to contrast this modern form of mass transit to City Rail.

Mind you, I really do enjoy commuting by rail in Sydney, but there is a special place in my heart for the Bay Area’s rapid transit, especially now that it goes somewhere useful. It only cost $5.35 US to get from the airport to Powell Street Station – which to be fair, is about the same price as to get from St Leonards to Sydney International, if one was not required to pay a $10 AUD ‘Gate Fee.’ I was pleased to note there was not one bit of graffiti on BART, nor were the windows etched with tags, though Kevin seemed to think the car smelled like ass. Evidently, his sense of smell on the plane was faltering.

I was approaching delirium when we exited at Powell Street, but was thrilled to discover our hotel was just across the street – indeed, we could see it from the station. With remarkably uncharacteristic efficiency, we settled our first order of business:

And then we took a deep nap.

Carry On Bloggage

I’m not especially fond of essays detailing trans-Pacific flights, especially if they include detailed descriptions of the gummy roast beef entrĂ©e or of the 2-year old incarnation of Linda Blair seated four rows in front of me, but really, I have always wanted to pull out my laptop in transit and pretend that I had something very important to do. So, I decided to write a blog entry as I enjoy the comforts of my personal entertainment system, which for me include an unlimited supply of ginger beer and rum and Gone With the Wind on video on demand…fiddle-dee-dee. We are fortunate enough to have a row of four seats between the two of us, which means we can take turns sprawling out and I can keep the flight path details on the screen next to me. Oh, and I see it is about time for the alternate title for my in-flight blog:

Crossing Over to Today

We boarded our flight at 2 pm on Wednesday, and now, all of a sudden, it is Midnight on Wednesday…a rare chance to live a day all over again. I think I shall spend the wee hours drinking rum and ginger beer and watching Technicolor movies. I am tired of my laptop now. Talk to you tomorrow.

20 May 2008

And Away

There is a dark cloud hanging over Sydney this morning...

I'm not trying to be poetic. There really is a single grey cloud floating over the harbour. The otherwise blue skies look like good flying weather.

I was up most of the night, not so much from excitement as simply wrangling with my intermittent and recurrent insomnia. Of course, I am excited, though at this point I am mostly anxious about the flight and of the landing. No one is coming to pick us up, so dazed and disoriented we will make our way to a hotel in the city via public transport. I would like to state for the record, that we had offers of airport retrieval from friends that live up to 80 miles from the airport, yet my allegedly very best friend in the world couldn't be bothered to take an hour off of work to fetch us from 13 miles away. My feelings are very hurt by this, but I am a big girl and if I can manage to get myself halfway around the planet, I can certainly walk make ti to BART and then walk four blocks through downtown San Francisco with my enormous amounts of luggage with a cranky husband in tow. Well, at least I will earn myself a martyr card to be played later. (Note to self: in the very unlikely event that this friend should ever come to Sydney, be sure to supply her with instructions on how to ride City Rail. Wouldn't want to weigh her down with welcoming hugs and kisses at the airport after such a journey.)

Well, I'd best finish my packing and complete my morning rituals. And see if I can get Kevin out of bed...we leave in an hour and a half.

19 May 2008

About Australia Post

Australia Post has the brilliant business practice of charging money to NOT provide services. I hope the Postmaster General never gets wind of this scheme. For a mere twenty-six dollars, I can NOT receive mail while I am on vacation.

Australian banks still keep banker’s hours, making it extraordinarily difficult for employed persons to engage in banking activities, like depositing checks. Oh, there ARE express deposit slots – conveniently located inside the lobby of the bank. After several weeks of not being able to make it to my bank between 10 and 4, I called customer service for their mailing address and was advised against sending checks by post (snigger). Instead I was told to go to Australia Post and deposit my checks there. Ever so much more convenient, as the post office is open from 9 to 5.

Similarly, I called my bank to inquire about getting a bank draft (aka a certified check) to pay for some bureaucratic process and was told that such a service would incur a fee if performed by my bank. However, I could go to Australia Post and use my debit card to get a bank check for free.

I went to my bank and tried to mail a parcel, but they just stared at me without humour.

Like the US, Australian mail boxes are filled daily with an inordinate amount of junk mail in the form of store flyers, restaurant menus, and real estate adverts. Unlike the US, junk mail is delivered by private contractors. I daresay that the bulk billing of junk mail by the US Postal Service is the sole reason why they are the only financially solvent government agency. I am utterly confounded that Australia Post continues to let this enormous revenue stream go untapped.

It is a favourite past-time of Australians to secure signs to their mail boxes proclaiming NO JUNK MAIL. I receive much pleasure from depositing my own junk mail into these boxes.

To be fair, there is one completely adorable facet to Australia Post: Postie Bikes.

17 May 2008

T minus 3 Days and Counting

I am positively vibrating with nervous anticipation about our impending return to the US. I suppose I should be channeling that energy into some productive activity like doing laundry or cleaning my bathroom, but as soon as I walk into another room, I forget my intentions then wander around in a daze for a little bit, then I come back to the computer to search for some needed peice of information (such as the duty rates on Australian wine) but as soon as I log onto the internet, I forget what it was I was wondering about and become anxious that I should be doing something more productive.


Happy Birthday Xin!

13 May 2008


Last night there was a high speed police chase along a major commuter artery during peak hour. The police shut down portions of Parramatta Road during the 16 km pursuit, completely stuffing up traffic. Approximately 20 police cruisers were involved in the offensive. The suspects were apprehended after smashing their stolen SUV into a smaller car.

According to the evening television news, the driver has been charged with "using a motor vehicle to avoid apprehension." The two passengers of the car have been charged for "being carried in conveyance without the consent of the owner." Isn't that so much more charming than saying "riding in a stolen vehicle"?

According to the morning radio news, the NSW Police Department has issued a formal apology to the citizens of Sydney for having caused any inconvenience during the evening commute. It made me feel warm and fuzzy.

Can you just imagine the LAPD having that press conference?

08 May 2008

Morning Visitor

I awoke as the first rays of dawn came streaming in through the wall of glass that is the North side of our bedroom. The red-gold light spilling in from the East cast an unmistakable silhouette across the closet doors. I bolted out of bed and grabbed my camera. It didn't even flinch as I pulled open the door and crept out onto the balcony. It eyed me with curiosity as I walked slowly towards it until it was no more than an arms length away. I felt a distinct vibration of arrogance as it cocked its head and posed for me. I reckon with a beak like that, a kookaburra really doesn't need to fear much.

06 May 2008

Hearfelt Thanks

Thanks everyone who voted for my sister in the Pin-up girl competition.

She won!

And the big prize?

Bragging Rights.

Thanks again. My mum is very proud (though she still grumbles about the tatoos.)

03 May 2008


Whilst flipping through the channels this morning, we could not resist a brief pause upon hearing the voices of two American announcers. I am certainly no fan of NASCAR Racing, but Saturday morning programming selections are rather limited with the next most interesting program being the Greek News Hour. And so we watched for a few laps, if only to hear the soothing buzz of high octane engines wasting precious resources while soldiers over seas die to procure futures of crude oil.

One of the first things I noticed is that when the announcers cut to a commercial break, the Australian feed simply continued showing the race without commentary (to which Kevin remarked “Great! They found a way to make NASCAR even more boring?”). I cannot decide if Australia has not fully grasped the economic implications of having paid commercial airtime for 3 out of every 5 minutes of a sports broadcast, or if their reverence for athletic competition supersedes greed. Either way, it is a decidedly civilized tradition. American football games are typically shown here without all of the annoying commercial breaks, like immediately after a change of possession and whenever a time out is called. For a live broadcast, the cameras just keep showing the action on the sidelines; for a re-broadcast, an entire game may be viewed in under two hours! Rugby League games consist of two 40 minute halves, with zero commercial interruptions during play. Truly, it is a far more civilized approach to televised sports.

The second thing I noticed about NASCAR was the unusual and unlikely sponsors of the cars. Mind you, having already stated that I am not a NASCAR fan, I was still quite surprised to discover the complete and total pussification of the sport with regard to the complete and total absence of sponsors representing the alcohol and tobacco industries. It seems NASCAR has gone the way of Las Vegas in bending over to court the family-friendly politically-correct dollar. I suppose it was inevitable, maybe even wholesome. Nonetheless, I find it disturbing to see race cars sponsored my Quick Cuts, Clorox Bleach, and HAAS Avocados from Mexico (who new a breed of avocado had so much extra cash.) I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before there will be cars with hoods adorned by nauseating ads for Huggies, Kotex, and Monistat.

And since I’m having a rant, why the hell are there race cars sponsored by all the branches of the US Armed Forces, including the US Border Patrol? I understand that those particular government agencies have some sort of a budget for public relations and recruitment, but I think there needs to be a serious congressional review of their budgets if they are able to spend one million dollars for prime placement of their message on the hood of a race car. Am I the only one who thinks that may constitute a gross misuse of tax revenue?

And who the fuck thinks, “Hey, The US Army hasn’t won a race all season! I think I’ll sign up to have my balls shot off in Iraq!”

01 May 2008

Happy Hour

There was a period in Australian history where pubs only served beer between 5 and 6 pm, the intention being to discourage drunkenness and facilitate evening meals of family togetherness. The result, however, was that for one hour each day, pubs were chocka-block with men guzzling beer in order to get as drunk as possible before driving home. No greater creativity is applied by mankind than in finding loopholes around inconvenient laws. In this case, the men would save their empty glasses accumulated throughout the hour and race to get them filled at 5:59, giving rise to the colourful phrase “The Six O’Clock Swill.”

One consequence of this ill-conceived public policy was the proliferation of pubs and hotels. Fortunately, this occurred during one of the more pleasant periods in Australian architectural design, so that today, nearly every intersection in the city and in many suburbs is adorned with one to four beautiful art deco style buildings, with curved windows and ornately tiled exteriors. What I find amazing is that, given the small population of Australia in the early years of the 20th century, so many publicans could squeeze adequate profits out of one good hour to remain viable. This says something profound about Australia’s love affair with beer, which saves me from having to actually say it myself.

The legacy of the Six O’Clock Swill is a bountiful selection of conveniently spaced pubs most suitable for crawling across town in any direction. One is never more than a short city block from the next beer. Most of the old pubs have been renovated or “gentrified”. Swanky furniture and mood lighting have replaced wooden stools and rickety ceiling fans, but the exoskeletons sugges the grandeur of the bygone era.
Some of the pubs retain their original interiors, clinging to the hope that shabby will become chic, or more likely, for lack of funds in the face of impending destruction. This is especially true along a desolate stretch of Parramatta Road in front of the old Foster’s Group Brewery (earmarked for major re-development), where shabby has completely yielded to decrepit. If you ever want to get rid of a tattered old sofa, simply drop it in front of The Abercrombie or The Claire Hotel and they will give it a loving home within their dark and musty interiors.

However, these daggy pubs do have some of entertaining graffiti: