28 January 2006

Royal National Park: Heather's Worst Day Ever

Thursday was Australia Day here, celebrating the landing of the First Fleet. There is some controversy over this holiday, given that many of the Aboriginals consider it a celebration of the beginning of indigenous subjugation. Some even refer to it as "Invasion Day." There is a movement towards focusing the holiday on the Anzacs, Australia and New Zealand veterans, even though there is already an Anzac Day. But it is a national holiday, so Heather had the day off. We decided to visit the Royal National Park and do some bush walking. Heather found about the Coast Trail, which leads to Burning Palms Beach. Along the way, there were several lookouts over the ocean. Heather is pictured at one sipping some water from her new CamelBak (courtesy of her in-laws). Sounds like fun, right? Just wait.
We began walking down the trail, enjoying frequent views of the coast, looking forward to getting to the beach. The trail got really tight, with trees and bushes crowding in. At one point, I noticed a small twig on my shoe. When I flicked it into the brush, I realized it was soft. I wonder...
We kept going along the trail, me in the lead. About twenty minutes later and halfway to Burning Palms, Heather said, "Hey, you have a leech on your shoe! Ha, ha, h--THERE'S A LEECH ON ME! AHHHHHHHHHH!" At that point, the leech on her twisted into her shoe. I took her shoe off, and tried to pull it off of her sock while she kicked wildly. She also noticed more little squirmy leeches all over the ground. We had a momentary crisis of character, but resolved to make it out of there alive. I led again, and Heather watched for leeches. We had to stop periodically so I could pluck one off of us when Heather let me know by screaming at it. We stopped for a breather at a lookout (on a rock formation--no leeches) when a large party came by and asked for directions. We showed them our map, and they asked if we had been to the beach. We said no, we had turned back, and warned them about the leeches. A lady wearing strappy sandals and no socks said, "Leeches? What you have to watch out for are the ticks and the brown snakes."
We got back to dry ground (no leeches) and could finally relax. Heather heard something to her side in the bush, and saw an echidna (also pictured on the five cent coin). A couple came along and were pretty impressed with the spotting. They said they walked out there frequently and had never seen one.
We got off the trail, and had a picnic overlooking the ocean. We thought we had left our bad luck on the trail, but a bird flew over and, um, left a mark on Heather while she was eating, and I got bit by a spider. We had debated walking down a trail to the ocean, but after the spider bite, my decision was made--we went home.
I heard the Wiggles mentioned Australia Day on Thursday. For those of you with little fans, post a comment. I'd like to know what the Wiggles said about it.
And sorry we didn't stop to get a picture of the leeches. Maybe next time.

27 January 2006

White Stripes Concert

My birthday was nearly two months ago, but Wednesday night I received my gift. Heather had given me tickets to the White Stripes concert back in December, but I had to wait until now for the show.
There were a lot of people following Jack and Meg's lead wearing red, white, and black at the show. That's the Stripes gig, and is OK for them, but kind of sad for the fans, especially when you are wearing a black fedora, red shirt, white tie, and painted-on tight white pants. And let's not forget the grandmotherly lady wearing a t-shirt that read "ASSASSIN" across her back. My personal unintentional concert humor was wearing my Freebird's World Burrito shirt. Another entertaining event was the stairs. Only every other one was lit. Heather and I were sitting on the aisle, and watched nearly everybody take a high step over a flat seam, then trip over the first unlit step. Heather laughed every time, and I kept hoping someone's drink wouldn't end up on me when they pitched forward. Thankfully, I left the concert dry.
On to the bands. The opening act was the Situations, an Aussie band. Eh. Seemed more interested in finding new ways to blow fuses.
Next was the Greenhornes. If you like your British Invasion (via Cincinnati) with a twist of Cobain guitar solo, then check out the Greenhornes. Not too bad. And they are a trio--got to respect that. If you are a fan of Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose (produced by Jack White), you have already heard their drummer and bassist.
Finally the White Stripes took the stage, and they were excellent as always. Jack is definitely ADD, but he does a great, high energy live show. If you haven't plugged into the Stripes yet, you're missing out on some great music.

26 January 2006

Twenty-five weeks and counting

It was twenty-five weeks ago today that Heather and I stepped off the airplane, walked up George Street towards the Sydney Opera House, and saw a confederate flag hanging in a store window. In recognition of the past twenty-five weeks, I have compiled a list of twenty-five interesting facts about Sydney/Australia/Southern Hemisphere/ Whatever-else-I-found-interesting.
  1. Many Aussie males use the term “mate” frequently.
  2. The only Aussies who use the term “G’day” work in the tourism industry or live in the sticks.
  3. The hole in the ozone layer is directly over Australia.
  4. Eggs aren’t refrigerated at the grocery store.
  5. Cilantro is coriander.
  6. Cell phones are mobiles.
  7. 911 is 000.
  8. Uluru was once considered the largest monolith in the world. Not only is it not the largest (Mt Augustus in Western Australia is 2.5 times larger), it is, in fact, not a monolith at all.
  9. Don’t tip. They don’t want it. They are afraid if too many people tip, their wages will be cut.
  10. Passengers in taxis sit in the front with the driver, as a show of equality.
  11. El Caminos are alive and well in Australia, except they are called Ford Pursuits and Holden Utes.
  12. Drivers here are insane. Not in a speedy, aggressive, American way, but rather an “I’m going to do a five-point U-turn in the middle of this narrow street with cars parked on both sides, and I don’t care how much traffic is surrounding me” sort of way.
  13. “I reckon...” is a commonly used phrase, even in the city.
  14. Australia lost the Ashes, a cricket test series with England held every eighteen months, in 2005 for the first time in sixteen years. An illustrative picture of this prize can be found here and an explanation of its origin here.
  15. The southern hemisphere contains only 30% of the Earth’s total land mass. In fact, the ratio of water to land between 30° and 60° N is 1:1, but 16:1 within the same range in the southern hemisphere.
  16. Less than 10% of the world’s population is in the southern hemisphere.
  17. Roughly one in five Australians lives in Sydney.
  18. Australia is the home of the world’s most lethal species of:
  19. Australia is believed to be the only country that eats its own national symbol, the kangaroo.
  20. Cultural Cringe refers to the embarrassment over Australian events or entities that other countries may find to be humorous and/or stupid, e.g. Steve Irwin.
  21. Voting is compulsory.
  22. Australia has no Bill of Rights.
  23. It is illegal to drive with your arm out of the window [Part 16 Rule 268 (3)].
  24. Contrary to popular belief, water does not drain in opposite directions in the northern and southern hemispheres. Any particular swirl has more to do with tub/basin/drain design, construction, and installation than its position relative to the Equator. Most sinks, toilets, and drains I have encountered do not swirl at all, but rather go straight down.
  25. “In the southern hemisphere” is a frequently used qualifier (in the southern hemisphere.)

16 January 2006

Questions posed to an American at Canterbury Boys High School

As promised in early December, I have a list of questions I was frequently asked by students at CBHS. Before that, I want to draw attention to the photo. Please note my official locker room Longhorn National Championship shirt (courtesy Paul and Marty) and my double Matthew McConaughey reverse hook 'em. And the tan (courtesy Coogee Beach). I did get to watch the game, but in the company of fifteen USC fans. Good thing Texas won, or it could have been ugly. It was nice to talk football with people who understand the language. Now on to the questions.

Questions Posed to an American at Canterbury Boys High School
  1. Are you American? Yes
  2. Are you British? No
  3. Where are you from in America? Texas
  4. Is America better than here? Pros and cons
  5. Do you have a horse? No
  6. Do you have a cowboy hat? Yes, a blue one with a silver sequin band (go the Mavs!)
  7. Do you have a gun? No
  8. Can you say "aluminum"? ah-LOO-mi-num to their AL-you-min-ee-um
  9. Can I call you Captain America? Uh, no.
  10. Can I call you Captain America if I see you outside of school? Still no.
  11. Do you watch wrestling? No
  12. Do you know Stone Cold [Steve Austin]? Personally? No
  13. What celebrities do you know? Because, you know, they're everywhere in America, and they all want to be my friend.
  14. What NFL team do you go for? Go the Cowboys!
  15. Are there gangs in America? Yes
  16. Have you ever been mugged? No
  17. Is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre real? Loosely inspired

03 January 2006

Holidays in AU

Holiday greetings from Sydney. First order of business is the "seppo challenge." Our winners are Paul, Barbara, and Glenn, each of which correctly identified "seppo" as short for "septic tank" which rhymes with "Yank." Australians love puns, rhymes, and other word play. A similar example was in "Ocean's Eleven," when Don Cheadle's British character says "We're in Barney." When met with blank stares, he explains, "Barney Rubble," and when the stares continue, he provides the rhyme—"trouble." Bonus points to Glenn for calling me out on the use of a derogatory term prior to describing racial tension at Cronulla Beach, and for recommending the website www.realclearpolitics.com, a source of political news and information.
Good news: our favorite Indian restaurant has replaced their glass front and reopened, and cut their prices slightly. We have been back twice already. We do have some more good news/bad news, this time good first. The moths that invaded our apartment every day have largely disappeared. Bad news: they were apparently killed by mozzies (mosquitoes), which we spend every evening fighting now.
We have had a good holiday week. Heather was off this past week, and I am on summer holiday, of course. After opening gifts Christmas morning, we headed to the beach, where Heather unfortunately forgot to apply sunscreen to her stomach. The twenty-sixth was Boxing Day, and the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. We, along with an estimated 40,000 other Sydneysiders lined the harbour to watch the start of the race.
The first photo is of WILD OATS, the early leader and eventual winner of the race, setting a new record in the process. Eighty-five boats participated in the race, and hundreds of OTHERS CHASED THEM out of the harbour, as seen in the second picture. One-man sea kayaks, tour boats, and
everything in between were involved in the chase. Very near South Head Point, where we watched the race, is a NUDE BEACH, seen in photo three. Click and enlarge at your own risk. We chose to go to a different harbour beach for the afternoon. It was calmer than the open water beaches, but
smaller, murkier, and colder. Tuesday we took a break from the beaches to allow Heather's burn a chance to heal and hit the post-Christmas/Boxing Day sales, where we bought (what else?) beach towels. Wednesday, Heather's burn had actually turned purple, so she stayed home while I went back to the beach. She took Thursday off as well while I went to Coogee Beach to swim and play beach volleyball with Klaus, Heather's German co-worker. (I'm a little rusty.) Friday, Heather braved the sun again. We enjoyed the water, and I played some more volleyball. Saturday and Sunday was more of the same: sun, sand, and swimming. Heather is planning on getting to work early the rest of the summer so she can be at the beach by four. We encountered a new resident creature Sunday at the beach. We were out in the water, floating up and down on the waves, when Heather saw a clear bubble floating on the surface a few meters away. A man on a body board was near it, and gave it a closer inspection. When he said "jellyfish," Heather said, "I'm out of here." She then attempted to sacrifice me to the jellyfish so she could make her getaway. We saw two more as we swam to shore. A few minutes later, the lifeguards announced that bluebottles (known as the Portuguese Man o' War to the rest of the world) had drifted into the swimming area, and to swim with caution. We decided lying on the sand was much safer.
Saturday night was NEW YEAR'S FIREWORKS at the harbour, viewed in person by an estimated one million people. Heather said it was the best show she has seen, but I am undecided between it and July 4, 2004 in DC. Washington's show was longer, but Sydney gets marks for great timing: three
shows around the harbour were going on in perfect synchronisation (note the Aussie spelling) in addition to the fireworks on the bridge. Finally, I leave you with a picture of a NEW YEAR'S EVE BANNER which can be seen everywhere in downtown Sydney. For most of you, this is a simple holiday reminder, but for those at Dutch Fork Middle School, it is a familiar campaign slogan.
Happy New Year, and stay warm.