Saturday, May 25, 2013

Melbourne

Back in February we made a trip to one of Australia's must-see urban destinations, Melbourne.

Melbourne is kind of an anomaly in that the weather is rather un-Australian and, as an extension of that, is totes like Europe.  So it is fitting that we went when we did because our friends from Europe were in town.

She's Kiwi (I honestly don't know the technical term for a New Zealand citizen) and he's Norwegian.  I met her at my second stint in Norwegian-language-for-immigrants class.  I decided to re-enroll in the class for the sole purpose of meeting new friends, not to actually learn the language, so, score!

They were in town visiting family so we decided to coincide our visit with theirs.  As the relatively new parents to a baby girl we had to find a family friendly way to spend our day together.


So off to the aquarium we went!  Martin and I have been known to go to aquariums by our adult selves, so the child was really just an excuse to pay a ridiculous sum of money to see a few fishes.  And!


It was a nice touch to have penguins at an aquarium.  They were walled in by glass, which was nice, to keep you protected from 1) the cold and 2) the horrible, horrible stank they produce.

I am just not a picture taker like so many of my gender, therefore I didn't get a picture of all of us together.  Ho hum.  After the aquarium we spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the shade, drinking beer outdoors.  Perhaps parenthood isn't all drudgery and misery after all!

Melbourne is famous for its "laneways", which are just dingy alleys covered in graffiti that have been gentrified.  Out with the bums, in with the uber hip cafes!  In Australia they are the height of cool and all other cities aspire to have laneways like Melbourne.  Exhibit A:


We visited the Immigration Museum, which I highly recommend.  People don't realize that Australia is every bit the land of immigrants that America is, I'd argue even more so.  It told the story of various immigrants through the first wave up until the present.  It was so fascinating, and only cost $10 admission which, coincidentally, is about how much it cost for British people to immigrate here.

Value for money, interesting history (don't forget the overt racism!) and comical fart noises in the instillation that replicated the facilities on early immigrant ships:


A stop not to be missed in Melbourne!

Not so thrilling (and nearly double the price I might add) was the Eureka Skydeck 88, which is a building with a lookout on the 88th floor.  Eh, boring.  Maybe it didn't enthuse me because not two months before I had been to the Taipei 101 in Taiwan.  In comparison the Eureka Skydeck was a real snoozer.  There wasn't any commentary on what you were seeing out each window, and the circumference of the building was surprisingly small.  This was the highlight:


WoOoOoOoOoOah!

But on the plus side, I experienced my first Gaytime!


A Golden Gaytime, to be exact.

Golden Gaytimes are an ice cream treat on a stick that clearly were created so long ago that the name was totally innocent.  Today they're just a vehicle for myriad gay jokes, of which I took full advantage.  I love having Gaytimes with whoever I'm with, be they man, woman or child!

Cities are just cities, you can find them anywhere in the world.  This is my mantra about traveling in Australia.  This country/continent has outrageous scenery and natural wonders, so why spend all your time in cities?

If you haven't caught my drift I'm trying to segue into the fact that we got out of the city to see some nature.

The Twelve Apostles



The Twelve Apostles are a series of "limestone stacks" (I say rock formations) and are the highlight of the Great Ocean Road.  And there ain't twelve of them.  There never were!  This one used to be connected to the mainland:


When the bridge fell it stranded a guy and his mistress out on the rock.  Their faces were all over the news, so not only was his infidelity revealed to the world it was also discovered that he was skipping work that day so he lost his job and his wife.  That story is almost too good to be true in the "karma's a bitch" file, but even if it's an urban legend it's a delicious one.

Safety first!


I also saw my first in-the-wild kangaroos!


They frequent golf courses, so our tour guide knew exactly where to find them.  I had been in Australia a whole year without seeing any wild 'roos (at least alive ones)!

Fun fact: In grad school when Martin and I got the idea into our heads that we wanted to move to Australia we had our sights set on Melbourne.  He even interviewed thrice with his company to do a transfer there, and after dragging their feet for eight friggin' months they finally came back with a "Thanks but no thanks".

The Brisbane office, on the other hand, took eight days from first interview to job offer.  It was clearly meant to be that we be Queenslanders, and merely visitors to Victoria.

I will leave you with photographic evidence of how Melbourne is totally like Europe:


Sunday, May 12, 2013

It Ain't All Grand

Let me preface this by saying I am very happy in Australia.  I wouldn't change this experience for the world, and I have a great life here, but that doesn't mean I can't have an epic bitch and moan session every once in a while.

Ergo I present to you: my epic bitch and moan session.

Here are a few things that really blow about life Down Under:

The onions



Jeeeeeesus, they must pump their onions full of steroids here.  They are so strong, therefore it legitimately hurts to chop them.  I have had to leave the room before the skin was even off an onion because my eyes were welded shut.  I put cooked onions in virtually everything I cook, so this is pretty much a nightly problem for me.

Pro tip: Chewing gum while chopping onions will protect your eyes from the pain, but I find gum chewing pointless and low class so I don't keep it around.  I try to chew something when cutting Hulk onions but damn it they are painfully strong.

No jaywalking


Well, you physically can jaywalk but Brisbane actually employs "traffic" cops to bust pedestrians who jaywalk and give them a ticket.  In a country that is very American in its love affair with the motor vehicle this means pedestrians are more of a nuisance than a respected class of commuters.  So you sit and wait for the green man to appear.  And wait.  And wait.

The banking


Ok, that's unfair of me to say.  The banking in Australia has been, hands down, the best I have encountered in the world.  It was 100% quick and painless to set up an account (which I have described in detail before) and I've only been impressed with the customer service.  But here is one little quirk about the banking system here that is just downright nonsensical.

When using a debit or credit card you need to choose an account - checking, savings or credit.  This applies at Points of Sale, ATMs and anywhere else you might use a card to purchase something.  The thing is nobody knows what the hell the difference between these three choices are.  At least nobody I've met.  The bank also gives you 2 cards for your account - a Visa logo'd card and an "EFTPOS", non-logo'd card.  Now what in the hell is the use of a non Visa/MasterCard logo'd card?!  Now you have to keep track of two cards and which "account" you must "choose" for both of those cards.

The first time we used our shiny new debit card the store clerk asked, "Which account?"  We looked like right fools never having heard this question before.  "Um...the account with the money in it?" was our answer.  Wrong.  You need to selection 1 of the 3 options.  And if you pick the wrong one.....card declined; you look poor.  I always choose savings - even though the account is clearly a checking account and not a savings account - and that seems to consistently work for me. It just makes no sense.  What.  The.  Hell.

Fries with no ketchup


See that tiny cup of ketchup?  That'll run you 50 cents or more.  And you'll be lucky if purchasing ketchup (or "tomato sauce" as it's often called) is even an option at all.  Sometimes all you're offered is a tiny cup of "aioli".

Australians are crazy about aioli served with fries.  In this instance aioli translates to a boring, bland mayonnaise.  And the ketchup you can buy comes in this funky packet which looks clever...



...until you realize the end result is about 1/4 the amount of ketchup a normal packet would give you.  Fricking rip off when you've paid 70 cents for what amounts to 4 fries worth of ketchup.

The terms "chips" and "fries" are used interchangeably here, so when you see "Burger + chips" on the menu you're never quite sure if you'll get Doritos or slices of potatoes with your order.

If it's the latter you better pony up some extra cash if you want those fries to be palatable.  If poutine has taught us anything besides there is a benevolent god who loves us, it's that fries are merely a vehicle for various other delicious toppings. They are not delicious in and of themselves.  Give me my goddamn free ketchup!

It rains all the damn time


Let me be clearer: It rains all the damn time on the weekends.

You think Australia is a hot, dry country but that couldn't be farther from the truth (at least the coastal areas that are inhabited).  It downpours all the time in the fall, and this country floods more often than Europe and North America combined.

....but only on the weekends!

Seriously, Mother Nature is such a bitch.  You can spend the entire work week slogging away in your office under blue, cloudless skies.  The second the weekend hits BOOM torrential downpour.  It must cost the economy billions because nobody wants to get out and do things when the sky is falling.

But don't worry, come Monday the sun will be shining clear and bright it in the sky.

It fricking sucks so, so hard.

Solid deodorant is hard to come by


I don't know why North Americans are the only ones in this world who have realized that rolling a slimy, wet ball of goo under your arms is not an enjoyable personal hygiene experience.  

I've never bought a roll-on deodorant in my life and I'm not about to start now.  Hell, I'd rather use a 1970's can of aerosol it-might-actually-be-hair-spray deodorant than a disgusting roll-on.  So why are there 75 choices of roll-on deodorant at each store, and 1 or 2 of solid?!  Roll-ons are antiquated and disgusting so should be removed from the marketplace.

Signed, 
Everybody born after 1965

I better end my bitch and moan session now before I give myself a heart attack.  None of these pains in my ass are insurmountable.  I can always stock up on deodorant when I'm home in the US or spend my weekends holed up under a warm, dry roof, drinking.

But the worst thing of all is the distance.  This insurmountable problem will ultimately be the reason we leave this place that is perfect in every way (well, almost. See points A, B, C, D, E & F above).  It takes far too long and costs way too much to get back to the people we love the most.  I have refused to look at a globe since we got here, lest the reality of just how remote this place is really hits me.  A flat wall map I can do.  A globe?  Never.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sail.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover." - Mark Twain


Friday, May 10, 2013

Reefer Madness 2

Little did I know that the Whitsunday Islands are not part of the Great Barrier Reef.  I didn't know that until I was, uhh, actually floating in the ocean between the Whitsunday Islands.

Duh.

However "The Whitsundays" are super beautiful and cool and worth visiting, them not being a part of the GBR notwithstanding.

We started our 2-day, 2-night sailing journey at the liquor store stocking up for the trip.  There are so many things that are awesome about the sailboat we chose, On Ice, but BYOB and a huge fridge to keep it in was definitely at the top of the list.

On our first evening we just drove out to sea as far as we could so we'd be starting from a good spot in the morning.  We anchored.  We cracked open beers.  We took pictures of the sunset.  This picture sums it up nicely:


You know what's crazy about being on a boat (and subsequently, minimal access to electronics)?  You are in bed at 10 p.m.  Nothing says I'm 100 Years Old quite like missing the nightly news (not that we had access to TV anyway) but it's good we hit the hay so early because we had to be up early, to see this:


Sunrise at Whitehaven Beach.

Whitehaven Beach is the most famous beach in all of the Whitsundays.  It has fine white sand and is a Must See for all tourists, hence why were up at the ass crack of dawn so we could see it before anyone else could get there.

There are many tour boats to choose from and many, many of them are hella skanky.  We spent a good deal of time laughing at and feeling superior to those on the boat Atlantic Clipper, which is basically a seafaring frat party.  It holds 53 people, as where ours held 10.  The median age of our boat was probably 32 and theirs....no doubt spread a lot of herpes.  The crazy thing, though, from what I can tell our trip cost a mere $69 more than theirs for a trip of the same duration.  I can't fathom why anybody would chose that over our peaceful, spacious boat but I'm probably just jealous because I would be openly mocked and shunned if I showed my pudgy, white ass on their boat.

I found it interesting that of the 10 passengers 8 of us were expats now living and working in Australia.  The other 2 were mothers who had come from the Mother Land to visit their kids.  I think that says a lot about who travels in this country and props up the tourism industry.  I hope they keep that in mind when the economy starts to slow down (it has) and people start vilifying the dirty foreign workers who are stealing all the jerbs (they are).

We were 2 South Africans (they're everywhere in this country), 2 Canadians, 2 Scots, 1 Irishman, 1 German and us.  I am always fascinated by the citizenship breakdown in situations like this.  There is never, ever an American in sight.  Ever.  Every time I overhear a Canadian speaking I get all excited......until they drop the telltale "aboot" and I know I will remain the lone, token hoser of the group.  Where the hell are all the Americans?!

Ok, too much talking, not enough Whitehaven Becah.  Here's more:



It's amazing what you can see and do when you're not up until 4 a.m. doing body shots off a dread-locked teenager.

When we were walking to Whitehaven Beach we saw this huge-ass spider:


With its leg span it was bigger than my hand.  Crazy huge.

We then went and did some stand-up paddle boarding, which is a huge aquatic activity here.


It was pretty fun but I did lose my balance and oh so gracefully plummet into the ocean at one point.

We also went snorkeling in a few spots, which I have zero pictures of.  And let me justify that to myself.  Martin has been saying for months now "We should get an underwater camera" or "We should rent an underwater camera".  But you know what?  Screw an underwater camera.  I don't want to look at 5,000 pictures of fish and reef, much less would anybody else on the planet want to see them.  It's like taking pictures of the JumbTron at a concert.  Nobody.  Effing.  Cares.  It's boring; nobody wants to see that crap.  So let this be my way of telling Martin, "No, we're not getting an underwater camera."

More drinking, more snorkeling, more sunrises and sunsets.  Rinse and repeat.  And for me, napping.  It ain't a holiday for me unless I get in two, preferably three, naps in a day.

Oh, and I did see a shark!  For real this time.  A teeny, tiny reef shark but damn it, it was a shark!  In the wild!  They look like this:


Seriously, though, it was tiny.  Not even a foot long.  And I also saw 2 tiny sting rays.  They were about this size and looked really, really white (like moi):


Two things I saw that were decidedly not tiny were a Maori wrass and Green humphead parrot fish.



These fish were huuuuuuge.  Though not longer than a full grown adult like that second picture.  Damn near, though.  It was probably from the top of my head almost to my knees.  They were so big, dumb and slow.  They did not care that humans were all up in their business.  They were too big, dumb and slow to even notice.

Due to the timing of our flights we had to spend a full day on the mainland.  I tried in vain to find a 3-night sailing trip that fit our schedule but no such luck.  So I had to find something to entertain us on our extra day, as Airlie Beach is a seaside backpacker town that was, unsurprisingly, having a foam party the night we were there.  See above re: skanky; frat party; herpes.

So I had a genius idea, that I planned to keep secret from Martin until the moment we departed for our adventure.  Reef fishing!



That is, until Mother Nature pissed all over that idea, quite literally.

It was too rainy and windy to safely go out so our awesome day was cancelled.  In search of something to do all damn day day we went to the local used bookstore, made our purchases, then went to the local liquor store.  Books and beer - a kick ass combo.

I bought - and read in 24 hours - World War Z.  Have y'all heard of it before?  If you haven't you will soon as they're making a movie out of it starring Brad Pitt.  It's "An Oral History of the Zombie War".  It's a retelling - past tense - of how the world was overrun by zombies.  It was awesome, if you're into zombie stuff.  Gosh it was good.  The format was so different than any book I'd ever read before and it's impossible to lose interest in it because each story is incredibly short.  And because it's about freaking zombies.

So that was our cruise in the Whitsunday Islands and aborted reef fishing trip.  I'm not too broken up about the fishing, though, because we can quite easily do a similar trip from Brisbane and I love a good lazy day of reading.

One last thing of interest.  You know you're not staying at a 5 star hotel when this classy piece of information is in your hotel info book:

  
Barf cleaning: one hundred dolla!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Phone Dump

I kind of (really) hate that every phone now has a camera.

Sure it's great for capturing the occasional B-rate celebrity snapshot or police abuse of a racial minority, but when a picture is taken on a cell phone it enters some sort of photographic limbo - never to be seen again.

That is, until today.  I feel the need to let my proverbial balls air out and share with the world the pictures that, in the moment, I felt the need to take.  These pictures lie somewhere on the continuum somewhere between not-quite-Facebook-worthy (I'm 30, bitches, I don't do Instagram) but not really boring enough to go forever unseen.  I hope they're even remotely as interesting to you as they were to me at the time I took them.


Look at the big-ass spider on the steps in my apartment complex.  It was dark out so I don't know how I spotted that thing in the first place.  I have, like, cat eyesight or something.


Undignified, useless shit like this exists outside of the US, which was unknown to me until I got to Australia.  Garbage like this doesn't exist in Norway.  They ain't got time for that.

Y'all know Movember, right?  Well, Martin legitimately walked around looking like this for an entire month:


Best of all (and by "best" I mean you shall never be employed again) this exact photograph was set as his LinkedIn picture for the month of November.  It very well may still be, I don't really know.  Also on the topic of Movember this adorbs little doohickey that hooks on to a beer bottle was being sold at a bar for $1 each during Movember to raise money:



Genius.

Before we even set foot on Australian soil I decided one of the things I had to see is the longest continually running laboratory experiment in the world, a.k.a the pitch drop experiment.  Little did I know that I would work at the very campus where this esteemed experiment was taking place.



The Guinness Book of World Records has certified that it is the longest experiment EVAR, since 1927 to be exact.  According to Wikipedia it's expected to do something mildly interesting in 2013, which leads to an uncomfortably stressful viewing experience.  "Look at this!"  You say.  "That's nice but I better get back to work now"  when you know at any second the pitch could drop and you would be the first person in known history to witness such an event.  It's hard to pull away.

Speaking of getting back to work...


This is my work station.  Note the name on the side of the desk is not my name, but I can't be arsed to change it.  In a department of 5 people I think errrbody is all Cheers-esque and knows my name.  I can't tell you the number of hours I've spent huddled over that keyboard, typing away to people in foreign lands (or people hoping to go to foreign lands).

Have you ever sent an email to someone in Japan?  When I do an overly polite, submissive side of me comes out that I didn't even know existed.  "Thank you very kindly, sir, for your prompt response." and "I very much look forward to our continued mutually beneficial relationship." I don't know who this person is, but it's like a work Jekyll and Hyde, except it's not one good vs. one evil.  It's one brash American vs. one kiss-ass submissive geisha.  It's bizarre and I have zero control over it.



It's hard to describe this one if you don't know exactly what Vegemite actually is.  It is an exceedingly vile, salty, solid foodstuff that is all but inedible unless you grew up with it.  The fact that it is served on a pizza, with cheese is beyond comprehension.  Like, legit eew.

And finally, in a land where summer (mindfuck: December) regularly reaches 100 degrees Fahrenheit this is a natural occurrence:


Legit eew yet again.

As the American Midwest begs summer to appear I happily chant Bring On Fall!

It's fun to live in opposite land.