21 December 2005

Bad news

Christmas greetings from Sydney, current temperature 25°—that's 77° to you, seppos. And the first person who can tell me the meaning and origin of that word will get a nod in my next update.
I'm sure most of you have heard about the racial violence here in Sydney last week. If not, go to the Sydney Morning Herald website and read up on it. Basically, the violence erupted from tensions between the predominantly Anglo citizens of Cronulla and a group the media refers to as "Lebanese gangs." Cronulla is a beach community about twenty minutes by train from our apartment. On a Sunday afternoon, 5000 people gathered at the beach in an effort to "take back their beach," and a few hours and many beers later, the mob was out of control. Much of the violence that followed on Monday and Tuesday was retaliatory. It was very shocking for Heather and me. In our time here, we have been constantly impressed with the diversity of culture, and the celebration of this diversity. But after last weekend's riots, we are not so sure. Most people are embarrassed, but letters continue to appear in the paper saying, "yeah, they took it too far, but I've been to Cronulla and understand how they feel." On a more personal level, that same Sunday afternoon, Heather and I went to our favorite Indian restaurant around the corner only to find it was closed because their glass storefront had been shattered, certainly race-related. We spoke to the owner, and it doesn't appear he plans to reopen. I am curious what kind of news coverage this received in the States, particularly any editorials, so let me know what you had heard about it, or direct me to any online articles or editorials you have seen.

Good news

Now for the good news. Heather and I went to several historical museums when we first got here, and we found that to be very helpful in learning about our new home. I highly recommend that you visit these museums where you live and when you travel. One of the museums had an exhibit about Captain Cook and his explorations. We learned quite a bit about the exploration and discovery of Australia and the Pacific islands—reward enough in itself. However, there also happened to be a prize drawing tied to the exhibit. I highly recommend entering these, since fewer people tend to visit museums than your average shopping mall, and your odds of winning are greatly improved. You may win items like a nice dinner or tickets to a play. Or maybe, if you are very lucky, the exhibit may be sponsored by Captain Cook Cruises, and you could win a seven night Great Barrier Reef "ultimate cruise." Well, you won't win that particular prize, because we already did. Go to the Captain Cook Cruises website to see what kind of fun we will be having.
Now, there are some drawbacks to winning this trip. I have already thought of three. First of all, I am going to have to get my scuba certification sooner than I had planned. Second, we had planned to go to Tasmania in April (we hear the (southern) autumn colors are beautiful), but will likely have to postpone that trip a whole year and go on the cruise instead. Third, the cruise is courtesy of Captain Cook Cruises, but the airfare will be covered by the museum, which means I have to make an extra phone call to arrange. Before you scoff, let me remind you that local calls here aren't free—it will cost me an extra thirty cents just to arrange our flights. Into every life a little rain must fall. But do not worry, we will persevere through these trials and make the best of the situation, and of course, take lots of pictures.

12 December 2005

How we spent our Thanksgiving

A few weeks ago, Heather and I were faced with celebrating Thanksgiving in a country that doesn't recognize it. Heather had asked her co-workers if they had a Thanksgiving holiday at any time of the year, and the response was no. The reason: Despite the similarities in the founding of our two countries, there is one major difference. The US founding fathers came in search of freedom, while the AU founding fathers came in shackles. Nothing to be thankful for about that.
Anyway, we had decided to do nothing, since neither of us particularly care for traditional Thanksgiving food. But on Thursday, Heather got a little homesick as she was reading emails from friends detailing their holiday plans. So she came home with our plan: we would support American industries. We headed to Tony Roma's for dinner (babybacks!), then McDonald's for apple pie, then to the movie theatre, where we saw Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, an American film. I think a new tradition has been born.
Hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving as well, and next year, consider the ribs.

Canterbury Boys High School

Since my last update, much has happened. If you remember, I said that I would be working as a casual teacher the next day. I found out that day that Canterbury Boys High School would be needing me every day the rest of the year, for a total of twenty days. This will be very helpful to Heather and me as we continue to pay off moving expenses and begin paying back school loans. It is also very surprising, considering the need for casual teachers is usually low at the end of the school year. That was Thursday. On Friday, Mrs. Martin (principal) called me into her office after school and offered me a temporary position for all of next year. This is the equivalent of a long-term sub position, and is the most they can offer me given my current visa status. It will be in the HSIE department (pronounced "hizzy")--Human Society and Its Environment. Think Social Studies. I am actually very excited about this, even if it is not English. This will give me the opportunity to learn much about Australian history and culture, and fully take advantage of our time here. In fact, these last three weeks of school, I will take over a Year 8 history class in order to orient myself with the department. Curriculum is thoroughly planned, often down to the day, and many resources will be available to me, so taking on a new subject area should be rather painless. There are no guarantees beyond next year, but Mr. Ponder (deputy principal) expects temporary positions to be available for the next few years to cover teachers on maternity leave. Given the way the education system here is set up, this has all been more than I could ask for, and Heather and I both feel very fortunate that I ended up at CBHS. Mrs. Martin, Mr. Ponder, and Daryl Currie (English Head Teacher) have all bent over backwards to get me in the school, and I have let all of them know how much I appreciate their help. In addition to job security, there are other advantages of this temp position over casual work. Over the course of a full year, casual pays roughly the equivalent of full time teaching, but there would be no checks coming during the holidays. With this temp position, I am paid the same as a permanent teacher, year round. Also, this position allows me paid leave--twenty days, in fact. As a casual, if I take a day off, I lose money. Anyway, this past week and a half has been interesting as a casual teacher. In a few weeks, I'll send some of the details of public school in Australia.

22 November 2005


Sorry to keep my fans waiting so long. Things have been busy around here. I have completed my Overseas Trained Teacher Program, and am now eligible to be a casual (sub) or temporary (long-term sub) teacher in NSW. I will be back at Canterbury Boys High School, where I completed my observation portion of the OTTP, for my first casual assignment tomorrow. It appears my extended vacation is coming to an end.
This week's pictures are of some of the wild animals we have encountered here. Enjoy.

The first picture is of an IBIS. I think they look like creatures out of a Dr. Seuss book. They have long curving beaks, and a little head bob when they walk. They look very awkward, both walking and flying, and they are everywhere in the parks downtown.

I'm sure you are familiar with the "Fosters—Australian for Beer" ads*. Well, FLYING FOX is Australian for "huge scary bat that stares hungrily at your neck while hanging in a tree above you." There are thousands of them in the Royal Botanic Gardens. They are about half a meter long, and their wingspan has got to be a meter and a half. There are signs posted that claim they are trying to get rid of them, but they are apparently failing miserably. The signs also warn to stay away if you see one hurt on the ground. All together now—DUH!
*By the way, most Australians don't drink Fosters. It is nearly impossible to find here. As it turns out, Toohey's and Victoria Bitter are Australian for beer.
In a different part of the Gardens you can find lovely COCKATOOS that are more than happy to perch on your arm and eat bread from your hand. There are nearly fifty of them around, so there is more than enough for everybody. It's fun, but they are very large birds. As you can see, Heather is kind of nervous in the third picture. But having done this twice now, I have a few bits of advice to offer:
1) Wear long sleeves. Their claws will leave a mark.
2) Bring an endless supply of bread. They
aren't very happy when you run out, and might resort to eating you.
Seriously. Some of them will nip almost playfully at your hand. Others get more aggressive, as seen in the fourth picture. This particular bird had already bruised my arm with a bite, and nipped at my ankles after I shook him off. As you can see, he wasn't afraid when I threatened to kick him—he would actually bite my shoe.
In the fourth and fifth pictures, you see me with two LORIKEETS. These birds are
much friendlier (and more importantly, smaller) than the cockatoos. They have a nice, soft chirp, while the cockatoo's call is more like holding a microphone up to someone's fingernails on a chalkboard, and the soundman is having feedback issues. But the lorikeets are very gentle, and they look like velvet. As you can see in the fifth picture, they don't necessarily need to perch on your arm, either. Once they finish your bread, they are more than happy to chirp away on top of your head. Heather likes to point out my eyes cut to the side. What you can't see is that I am keeping an eye on the evil cockatoo.

I hope you enjoyed our pictures of the wild animals we have met. Perhaps you were expecting pictures of people riding kangaroos to the Opera House? Silly American. I had a student at the school ask me if I had a horse when I told him I was from Texas. I responded by asking if he had a kangaroo. But do not despair: we will make it out to the bush and find some traditional Aussie wildlife in our time here. Until then, I hope these pictures will do.

29 October 2005

Taronga Zoo

I began the Overseas Trained Teacher Program with Teach NSW (the public schools) on Friday. This will be seventeen days overall of workshops, classroom observation, and some teaching. Also on Thursday, I had my first private school interview, which I believe went well. The commute is about an hour-fifteen, by train and bus, so it isn't the most convenient location, but I'll see what happens in the next few weeks with other possible interviews as well as the workshop.
The pictures this week are from the Taronga Zoo, which stands on the north shore of the harbour. It is built on an incline, and has many great points to see the harbour, as you can see in the first picture. You get to the zoo by ferry, and ride a cable car to the top. The cars are enclosed, so South Carolinian school children would not be about to spit out of them. Cancel the field trip. Sorry.

Our first picture is Heather with a giraffe, with the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background. We watched a public giraffe feeding, although we didn't pay a buck to feed it ourselves. These giraffes really like carrots, and have really long tongues. Rather entertaining, and more than a little gross.

The second picture is a wallaby, not a small kangaroo. I didn't see it do anything that you don't see in the picture. Moving on.

Ah, the koalas. You will notice in the first koala pic the baby on the mother's back. Mama didn't seem too worried about getting leaves for the baby, though.

This second koala pic is of a very shy, smaller koala. It stayed at the top of the tree, while the others all came to the lower branches for their feeding.

The last picture is a Tasmanian devil. Every picture I have seen of them in brochures, etc has been frightening. They always have their fangs bared, and look like they are about tear you up. So I was rather disappointed to catch this one during his siesta. Not very scary at all.

We also saw gorillas, including a huge silverback, a seal feeding, and of course, the reptile house. It was a very nice zoo, especially with the bonus glimpses of the harbour you would catch frequently. That wraps up the captive animals. Next week, I'll share pictures of the wild animals that we have encountered.

21 October 2005

Sydney Aquarium

I decided to divide the animal show. Part one will be from the Sydney Aquarium. And it's gonna be long, so maybe you should go grade some papers first, Mary.

First is a PLATYPUS. There were three of them swimming around the tank, along with a couple turtles and lizards. They are smaller than I thought: less than half a meter (foot and a half, yanks) including their tail. They dive for the bottom and root around for stuff to eat hidden in the sand. They close their eyes while underwater, and their ears and nostrils clamp shut, too. They are very strange creatures. Some of you may have heard that when explorers first came here, they caught one, stuffed it, and sent it back to England. The scientists there were convinced it was a hoax. I understand why; they look like someone went to the discount bin of leftovers and grabbed spare animal parts.

The SALTWATER CROCODILE. Maybe it is just me, but I always equated crocs and alligators. Not that I thought they were the same animal, but I thought they were the same size, and had the same disposition, etc. Wrong! Now some crocs are smaller, but a large saltie can reach six meters (nineteen feet--I am really enjoying the metric system. I wish the US had switched over like all my elementary and middle school science teachers promised). And they aren't shy, either. You see people doing stunts around alligators. Tightrope walking over them, running through a mud puddle with a few of them, feeding them meat out of their hands. No one does stuff like that with a croc. Wikipedia begins the entry on saltwater crocodiles by saying they are "the largest of all living reptiles, and is often said to be the most dangerous to humans." Wikipedia also mentions that the largest found was nearly nine meters (29 feet). Measure that off somewhere and try to picture it. This picture was taken from a viewpoint above the open tank. If you can't read the sign in the picture, it says, "Do Not Enter. If the fall does not kill you, the crocodile will." I've read about more croc attacks since we have been here than sharks. They'll stalk you. Two quick stories. There were three boys up north who got caught in a storm, and their boat capsized. Two got safely up a tree in time to watch a croc eat the third. It then waited under the tree for them to fall out. Three days later they were finally rescued. Their first words to the rescuers who had braved the croc infested waters to save them: "Are you insane?!?" Second story: a group was having a picnic on the shore. They knew crocs were around the area, but they had never seen one attack anybody, so it was OK, right? Most were swimming. A lady was standing on the bank, watching the swimmers, when a large croc leaped out of the water, grabbed her, and fell back in the water. No one had even seen it coming. I have a few more stories I have read in the paper, but it is time to move on. I can sum most of them up like this: If you must take a boat up a croc-infested river, why would you choose a small canoe or rowboat?

The SHARKS. This picture was taken inside an underwater tunnel. The background is pretty dark, and I look like a ghost, but we weren't working with the best lighting conditions. Anyway, there were five or six different species of sharks in this tank, along with rays, including the GIANT RAY also pictured, a good
three meters across (I'll leave the conversion to you). What you see in the picture is what it did the entire time we were there. It just hung out on top of the tunnel. Maybe that's why we couldn't get good lighting. Back to the sharks. There were small Port Jacksons, black tips, and white tips. The ones posing with me are nurse sharks. They are larger, about three to four meters, and they have snaggle-looking teeth, and their bodies looked pretty torn up, but they are all show. Harmless. There was a separate tank with a tunnel that held seals. Watching them swim is like watching a bird fly. They are so fast and smooth.

The aquarium is definitely taking advantage of the NEMO phenomenon. As you approach the reef exhibit, you begin seeing signs saying "This way for Nemo!" or "Can you find Nemo and his friends?" As you can see from the pictures, I could find Nemo and his friend. I also found his black and white friend, but that is another picture. If you visit Sydney, and decide to check out the aquarium for yourself, prepare to hear a racket of squeaky voices all saying "Nemo! Nemo! Nemo!" And be prepared to delete a photo or two when a kid sticks his hand in your nicely framed picture in an attempt to pet Nemo.

Well, that's it for this week. Next week I'll share pictures from our trip to Taronga Zoo.

14 October 2005

SC in the AU news

Just wanted the South Carolinians know that your fine state made the news down here. MX is a free daily paper handed out at around the city here, and this article was in Thursday's edition in a side bar titled "What in the Weird".

Spitters Take Aim From Chairlift
Visitors to the South Carolina State Fair had to do a bit of ducking and weaving yesterday, after 80 school children were caught spitting from the chairlift. Spitting from rides had always been a problem, a spokesman for Richland County Sheriff's Department said.

Eighty?!? For you Dutch Forkers, anybody we know?

12 October 2005


This week's pictures are from our bush walk in the Blue Mountains. We had a great time. In about four hours of walking, covering two connecting trails, we walked along cliff tops, in the depths of the canyon, hopped rocks in a stream, and hiked through a rainforest. It was quite a variety. Hope you enjoy.

In the first picture, I am standing in front of the canyon, which was very different than I expected. Other than the sheer walls of the canyon, it is all green.

Heather being scared. She says this reminds her of when her family went to the Grand Canyon, and she held blades of grass for security. That is a cute story and all, until last week she mentioned she was FOURTEEN! I have heard that a picture exists documenting this scene, and I would love to see it, if a Bowles would dig it up and send a copy of it to me.

Heather out on the trail, standing over a river, which six meters (twenty feet for you Yanks) behind her becomes…

Bridal Veil waterfall. This was taken from a lookout point a few minutes further up the trail.

Ant mound. Watch your toes!

04 October 2005

Harbour pictures

Here are a few pictures of the Harbour that Heather and I have taken here. In the next weeks, I'll send some more pictures of different things we have seen or done here.

1) Harbour Bridge and bird-This was taken from the Circular Quay ferry docks.

2) Sydney Opera House-Taken from the ferry going to Taronga Zoo.

3) Harbour Bridge and Opera House-There is an excellent view of the Harbour from a point right outside of the Botanic Gardens. Lots of other interesting things in the Gardens-more on that next week.

4) Harbour Bridge, Opera House, and Heather-Same place as previous picture. Great place to go and watch the sunset.

5) Harbour Bridge, Opera House up close-look at the bumps on top of the bridge, directly under the flags. Those bumps are people on the Sydney Harbour Bridge Walk.

We really enjoy going down to the Harbour and the Botanic Gardens. Other than the sights, there are great restaurants, interesting animals, and beautiful flowers and plants. There seems to always be an exhibit or show in the Gardens to catch. It is very easy to forget that this is all in the middle of a city. There is no street noise, only birds and crashing waves. Overall, this is probably our favorite place to go in the city.

More to come next week. Hope you enjoy the pictures.

19 September 2005

Busy, busy

Well, a lot has happened since my last update. We have painted our apartment, I have turned in three applications to private schools, and, what else...oh, yeah, our shipment from the US finally arrived. We are actually eating off of real plates, not plastic. And we can really cook something on the stove, not just cooking on foil in the oven. Imagine the possibilities!
Some of you have heard the Nightmare of the Shipment, but I'll sum it up here for the rest of you. Two weeks after our shipment was picked up, we were notified that it was double the size that we knew we shipped. After a few days of arguing over that, it was agreed to pay the original contract, and the shipment would be remeasured upon arrival. There was also a problem with insurance: they wouldn't sell us any. We were told we could add it at any time, and after all the problems that came up (including our shipment not being placed in a crate) we felt the need for insurance. However, since the shipment was on the water, no insurance could be added, which was news to us. The boat got to Sydney on Sept 1 and was remeasured. It came in right between what I said and what they said, due to some creative stacking of the the boxes, but I let it go. We had three days to get it out of the warehouse before they charged us $88/day, which Tradewind burned by not returning calls or emails. That Friday, Heather and I pulled an all-nighter to get this wrapped up, including caving and paying what they said we owed. Even though we paid Tradewind that night, they MAILED a money order to their company, Troy, who of course waited until they received it before releasing the shipment, so we ended up paying five days of storage. Oh, and Tradewind had lied to us about them port charges, so that was another $500. Oh, and the boxes looked like they had been dropped off a cliff.
Now for the good news: virtually everything was undamaged. It looks like I am going to lose a pair of shoes to some bizarre sole warping, and a couple of books had to go, but that's it. Dishes--check. Glasses--check. Eames chair--check. Framed French ad poster--check. Everything else--check. But wait, it gets even better: On the morning I took everything through customs, I got a phone call from the Federal Maritime Commission, who I had filed a complaint with during the Marathon Friday Night, at the suggestion of both Tradewind and Troy. A lawyer for the Feds is currently reviewing 101 emails I sent her, contracts and other documents, and pictures of the shipment. I don't know if we will get anything from this, but I'll bet Tradewind and Troy will get hefty fines or some other punishment. Turns our Tradewind isn't licensed to operate in the US. If you ever need a shipper, I can't tell you who to use, but I can definitely tell you who NOT to use.
One other thing, since this is getting long. What was the last book you read, and would you recommend it? Mine was Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and yes. Let me know,

26 August 2005

More from AU

I was scolded for my last email being too long, so I'll try to keep this one shorter. I forget that some of you have jobs and responsibilities. So sorry, it is easy to forget. Actually, I applied to teach last week, and got more information about that. There are three levels: casual (subs), temporary (long term subs), and permanent. I can't get a permanent job because I have a temporary visa. This will be OK, though, because it gives me the freedom to not work when I have the opportunity to travel with Heather, who already has a weekend conference in Melbourne scheduled for October, by the way. Temporary positions are for a minimum of four weeks, and can be extended until the end of the school year. So I have options. I am waiting on background checks to go through, then there is a twelve day course, including three days of workshops, and nine days in a school. After that, there are five days where I am basically student teaching again. The guy I talked to seemed excited about me, and in a hurry to get me in, so there is definite need here.
We moved into the apartment on Monday. So far, we have a bed, dining table, and a rug. Couches and dining chairs should be here in about two weeks, as should our shipment from the US. Still wrestling over that one, you don't even want to know what a pain that has been. Everything about the move has been very easy except that.
Guess I'll cut it off here for now. Can't keep Mary from grading those papers. We will wait to send pictures until we have all of our furnishings.

10 August 2005

Apartment Update

Heather and I put a deposit on an apartment just now. We didn't go with the Haight and Ashbury--we finally decided we didn't need to give up that much. We found a new neighborhood Sunday night and started looking there. We looked at three apartments today, and really liked two of them. The one we picked is a little funky layout. The kitchen is on a hallway. The whole apartment has hardwood floors, except the bathroom (tile). One whole wall of the living area is a glass sliding door to a balcony. It has a dryer included, but no washer. That is normal here, we have discovered. It also includes a fridge, which is rare, but it is a small dorm-style. We think it will be manageable. So the only appliance to buy will be the washer. It has more storage than I have ever seen in an apt. We can't move in until the 27th, so we need to arrange for something for another five days beyond what we have booked at the hotel. It is a five minute walk to Central Station, which every train in the city goes through. We are very excited to have found it. The inspection today was public, and there were four other groups to view it, all of which seemed very interested. They had a fax number for everyone to fax their apps to. I let a girl borrow my pen so she could write it down, then when she left a minute later, I told the guy, "OK, I let her use my pen, but we want it now. Where do we sign?" They still need to review our apps, but there is no reason that should be a problem, and they have accepted our deposit. We'll send some pics along in a few weeks when we get moved in.
Speaking of pics, we went to the Sydney Aquarium on Sunday and got some great pics there. Platypuses (platypi?), a salty, sharks, jellyfish, and of course, Nemo and Dory. We want to get some pics of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, too, so be on the lookout for those pictures.
There are parks everywhere here. We walked by a golf course in one yesterday. We have seen people walking dogs, playing rugby, and flying kites. It is a very active lifestyle. We are really looking forward to getting settled in and getting involved.
I guess this has rambled on for long enough, and I think Heather is emailing some of you right now, too. I'll let you know how things go as we move in to our new apartment.

06 August 2005

Quick note from the other side of the world

Hello, all. Heather and I arrived in Sydney on Thursday morning. We were not on the ground for two hours before we saw a confederate flag in a shop window. "It's a small world, after all..." Walked WAY down to the Harbour Bridge and Opera House Thursday afternoon. Friday we took the rail out to Bondi Beach, walked in the sand and watched some surfers. This is going to be fun.
We looked at seven or eight apartments today. Only one was acceptable. It needs some paint and cleaning, and we wouldn't have chosen the carpet, but we really like the area it is in. Heather says it is Haight and Ashbury. It is not in a complex, but above a hair salon. Of course, it is very close to the Uni, and public transportation. We can get a washer in it, but no dryer. Still one appliance better than the past three years. And it is a two bedroom, so pack your bags.
I went to a sporting goods store across from our hotel earlier to look at the rugby and cricket gear. They had a silver and blue Cowboys football in a bin. A couple local kids saw it, and I had the pleasure of seeing them ohh and ahh over it--"Dallas Cowboys!"
Heather is supposed to drop by her office on Monday, and we should learn more about the apartment then, too. One more good thing about the apartment-the "Apple Centre" is just down the street. More later,