Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Turn and face the strain...Ch ch Changes and Costco

I love Costco.  I can’t tell you the joy I felt when the lady in the Nashville Costco told me that they had a store in Sydney.  I know some might find this sad.  I was just relieved to know I could go to a place that I was familiar with and loved.  Never underestimate familiarity when moving to a new place.  Every once in a while it’s a great thing. 

The first time we went was during the holidays.  We needed to get appliances and such so I thought it would be a great time to see what they had.  Basically it’s like everything else American in Australia.  I call it Bizarro.  It’s almost like what we have in America but just slightly different and sometimes frustratingly so for me.  We eat Bizarro tacos. I have yet to find good Mexican food in Sydney.  I found Bizarro Sunflower Seeds and Bizarro Cream Of Chicken soup.  Things that are my very favorite in the whole world are now just slightly off.  Oh well.  Learn to love new things. Like Dark Mint Chocolate Tim Tams. They are just like Thin Mints from the Girl Scouts and available year round. Awesome!

Anyway, Costco is Bizarro Costco.  First of all, there is only one currently in Sydney.  Now that the word has got out it is beyond packed.  On the weekend there is a 30-40 minute wait for the hot dog stand. You know how there is usually a line to get your stuff checked on the way out in America?  There is a line to get in.  Bizarro. What should I expect we are "down under". 

The line to get in

I did some research and it seems that Australia is smack dab in the middle of growing pains.  From what I can tell it’s a lot like America forty years ago.  They are a growing market that’s open to change and new things.  But how do you change to allow ease of use for the consumer and not force the elimination of small mom and pop stores?  Some people think it starts by banning big box stores from coming into their area.  Big companies like Costco, Bunnings Warehouse (think Home Depot), and Ikea are finding that communities are pushing back.  New stores are in the works and awaiting approval that they might never get.  It’s a different kind of thought process.  Bulk stores encourage hoarding for some and who needs that much stuff?  Why would you not want your meat from the local butcher and your bread from the baker?

And yet, Costco is so full it takes us an entire day to get through it. I’m not exaggerating.  We plan the day around Costco.   

The meat and deli section. You thought I was exaggerating, right?
It takes a while to get there.  They built it out in the west I’m thinking because the area has cheaper land.  There is a line of cars to park.  It's an adventure in and of itself.  Then there is a line to get in.  I’ve never been shoved and pushed so much in my life.  It’s as if that box of coffee is the last box in the world and we must fight to get it.  Until I wait my turn and get the next box.  They seriously should paint arrows on the ground to show people how to move in an orderly fashion because it’s a total free for all.  

The problem is that with such a collection of cultures it creates a huge disconnect that culminates in me getting rammed by a shopping cart for no reason.  I wear my running shoes just in case because last time I made the mistake of wearing flip flops.  Bad idea.  Asians have a different sense of personal space.  I guess they are used to dog eat dog and no space.   Australians are incredibly laid back and just kinda go with it.  “Oh well, I’ll just wait in line here,” kind of attitude.  I like this but I find it hard to maintain with so many people pushing me.  

I get that this is a sensitive issue but the only people who pushed me, shoved me and actually hurt my hip by ramming their cart into me were Chinese and/or Koreans.  Maybe they aren’t used to the wide open spaces that is Australia.  Everybody please just relax. No worries!  You will get your kiwis and laundry detergent.  Let’s all just work together.

This might not be a popular opinion but I no longer fear the Chinese taking over the world.  They love America too much and our culture will be their downfall.  

The hot dogs really aren't this good...
In the meantime, I have to relax and just watch the fireworks.  I must say it is pretty entertaining watching people try to figure out fountain drinks.  Everything is in a bottle here so anywhere with a soda machine makes some people freak out.  What do we do?  How does it work?  Oh, and no one knows how to set it up right so every Coke tastes like syrup with a little bit of carbonation.  No worries,  they will get it.  It’s just growing pains.

Busiest restaurant in town

Saturday, January 26, 2013

My first taste of Vegemite

Before I get a bunch of people telling me that I did it wrong, yes, I know.  I have since learned and now know that certain things have to happen for Vegemite to get a fair trial.  Apparently the bread needs to be toasted.  Then a good deal of margarine spread on the toast.  Then a tiny amount of Vegemite.  So, I cannot accurately judge Vegemite as a whole.

That being said, I still don't get it. I just figured that I would put a whole bunch on and take a huge bite so I could really say that I tried it.  Maybe I might like it better if I grew up with tastes like this or it was the end of the world and all we had was a lot of Vegemite.  I think it might be great at that point.  But I will show my true American colors and say if you're gonna give me something that brown on my toast, give me Nutella any day please.  Hazelnut is the official state nut of Oregon after all.

Hope you like the video!

(Sorry for the crazy focusing sounds and focus in general.  Just getting the hang of these newfangled moving picture gadgets.  Or were we just being arty?)

Spider cam, Spider cam... (Australian Open Day Two)

On Friday, January 18, I had the chance to enter Rod Laver Arena to watch the afternoon matches.  First up was rising star American Madison Keys vs. Angelique Kerber from Germany.  I was excited to see Keys play as I watched her practice in Sydney.  She had some obvious nerves but how can you not playing in this arena for the first time?  I would encourage anyone who doesn’t get tennis to attend a major event like this.  It puts so many things in perspective and makes watching on tv that much more fun.

I think it’s kinda like NASCAR.  Yes, I just compared tennis to NASCAR and I’m pretty sure this is the first time in history that it’s been done.  But I used to be one of those people that said, “I don’t get it. You watch people drive fast and turn left all day.”  Then I went to a NASCAR race.  “Oh I get it! You watch people drive fast and turn left all day!”  It is a really fun atmosphere and I’m telling you try it once and you will be back.

Madison Keys with a big serve
Anyway, watching tennis live lets you into a world you don’t get to see on TV.  First of all, the ball kids are worth the price of admission by themselves.  They train for twelve months. Seriously!  They will start training for next years Open immediately after this one ends.  They are constantly graded and get placed at matches according to their grade.  For example, you have to have a 1 to be placed in Rod Laver and only the best of the best get to work the big matches.  That is why you will see kids make unreal catches and move around the court like little spider monkeys. 

Plus, they don’t just get the balls they are responsible for the players towels, getting anything the player might need, they clean the scuffs off of the court in between matches and they run out with towels and wipe off the lines when it starts raining all for free.  Well, they get their gear and stories to last a lifetime. Lots of current players have been ball boys including the greatest of all time, Roger Federer. The next time you watch a match pay attention to the ball kids. These kids are good.

Drying the lines when it starts raining
They work quickly as the roof is closing
Plus, before each session the Hot Shots kids come out on the court and play. It is so cute. They get announced and run around the court waving at the crowd.  Very funny.

The Tennis Australia Hot Shots Kids
Li Na - China, WTA Ranking #6

I also got to see this year's possible champions Li Na and Novak Djokovich.  Not a bad afternoon.  I also understood better how so many older people were watching tennis.  The day before it was a combination of oppressive heat and long bouts of sitting still. I was barely hanging on and I’m only 35!  I kept seeing groups of older ladies all dressed the same walking around the grounds looking immaculate.  How are they doing it?  I couldn’t figure it out.  Ah, now I see, they planned ahead and have tickets inside Rod Laver.  I had a nice seat in the shade and actually wore a sweatshirt for most of the day. What a difference a day makes?! Very pleasant. 

Novak Djokovich - Serbia,  ATP World #1
Novak waves to the crowd after a win
By the way,  I’m currently recruiting people to join me in my 70’s and 80’s to travel to Grand Slam events.  We will need a cute name, matching shirts, and unbelievably positive attitudes. A British accent is a plus.  

Also, I love the spider cam.  That’s what they call the suspended camera that allows you to see the players up close on the changeovers and the iconic shots of the players above the Melbourne sign on the baseline.  It’s suspended from all four corners and flies around the court. The thing is supafast.  I kept singing in my head, “Spider cam, spider cam, does whatever a spider can” every time it moved around. Once again I prove that I’m easily amused.  

Novak is always good for an entertaining interview
I also got to see the court with the roof closed.  I might be the only one in the Arena that was excited that it started sprinkling.  It was like someone pushed a button and all of the sudden the court was full of people down on their hands and knees wiping the court and about 10 minutes later the roof was closed and play continued.  The feel of the court definitely changes.  It became a little more humid and playing under the lights must be a different sensation.  I was excited to be able to see it.  But the showers passed so the roof was immediately opened for the next match.  Melbourne Park is undergoing major construction that will add a roof to Margaret Court Arena as well.  It will be the only Grand Slam event with three courts with closable roofs.  Your move New York.

The court changes with the roof closed
Garden Square with TV announcers in the background 

Friday, January 25, 2013

They banned something?!

Just a quick post to show you where Australians draw the line.  I think this ad is hilarious but it has been banned from the telly here.  So, I'm bringing it to the people via YouTube!  I actually can't believe that they really banned something but don't worry it's only banned from regular day airing.  Late at night is still good to go.

Warning:  if you are easily offended please don't click play and definitely don't move to Australia. Ha!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Jo Wil Jo Wil Tsonga! (Australian Open Day One)

Melbourne is brilliant.  I loved everything about it.  Of course, they had their best foot forward as the city is on world display for two weeks.  But they have it down.  Everywhere you turn there are volunteers ready to answer questions or give you a map.  Some of them are even dressed up.  The guy at the Yarra tram station had a wig, headband, short shorts and tennis racket and made a pretty good “funny” impression of Bjorn Borg.  Very entertaining.

First of all, I had no idea how close Melbourne Park, the tennis grounds where they hold the Australian Open, is to the CBD.  You can walk there.  But don’t worry because they also let you take the tram for free!  Awesome!

I told you, they call it Macca's!

Our trip was last minute as I tagged along with Sean on his business trip.  I felt really bad as he went off to work and I went off to watch tennis all day.  But I got over it. :)

We arrived on Wednesday afternoon. I decided to roam around downtown.  Like Sydney, Melbourne has a distinct European feel.  I loved Degraves Street.  It is an alley-like street with no cars allowed lined with cafes and restaurants, buskers playing The Tetris theme song on accordion and plastered with all kinds of street graffiti.  I thought it was great.  But I had seen it during the day.  Later that night, Sean and I were walking around and I said, “let’s eat at Degraves street”.  He said every time he walked by it looked really scary.  “What?”  “That’s crazy I was down it today.”  So we walk by and he was right.  It looks very different when everything is closed at night.  It closes in around you with a creepy feeling you might get mugged at any time.  Not that it would happen.  Sean had never seen it during the day.  Crazy!

Part of Degraves Street...during the day

Thursday I got a grounds pass and my ticket for Friday in Rod Laver Arena.  It’s a huge event but you can still usually walk up to the ticket office and buy tickets.  Wild but I was super excited.  Every hotel has photocopies of the next days schedule in the lobby so I was prepared.  I immediately headed to Margaret Court Arena to watch Jo Wilfried Tsonga.  He’s one of my favorites as he reminds me of my nephew, Kye.  They even have the same kind of celebration when they win something.  It’s funny.  

Jo Wil with a big serve
I got the seat I wanted and settled in to what would become the hottest day at this year’s Open.  This time I was prepared with lots of water, sunscreen, extra shirt, I was ready.  Well, I thought I was prepared.  

Jo Wilfried Tsonga
Tsonga’s match was great. The french fans were crazy and absolutely my favorite of all the “crazies”.  They were so creative they made me laugh on almost every changeover.  The Australian Open is like a little carnival with tennis.  Especially during the first week. They have clowns, face painters, an area just for kids, the atmosphere is very festive and lends itself to people dressing up, cheering, fake tattoos, crazy hats, etc.  Very fun and very kid friendly.

Tsonga's French Foreign Legion

Tsonga fans had cheers for everything.  Some of my favorites:

(to the tune of Taio Cruz’ Break Your Heart)
Tsongas going to break break your break break your serve!

(to the tune of Amy Winehouse’s Rehab)
They try to get the ball past Tsonga and he said No, No, NO

(to the tune of Queen’s We Will Rock You)
Tsonga you’re a young man, hard man
Hittin’ in the streets gonna win a Grand Slam someday
You got mud on your face, but you’re no disgrace
Serving your ace all over the place
Jo Wil Jo Wil Tsonga Tsonga

They also did an entire rendition of "Do You Hear The People Sing" with a Tsonga flair. 

Very entertaining!

And they had regular cheers like:
Tsonga fans in the stands get up and clap your hands, clap, clap, clap clap clap

It’s hard not to cheer for Tsonga with these guys around!

Also, let’s talk about this thing with women grunting in tennis.  I’m all for exhaling during the hit.  Sometimes in the course of a match you may actually grunt because you are putting that much into it, but every hit?  I’m in Margaret Court Arena just outside of Rod Laver Arena watching Tsonga play but I’m hearing Victoria Azarenka grunt.  No joke!  She’s playing inside Rod Laver.  It’s that loud and ridiculous.  No one needs to be that loud.  Please someone, make the madness stop. 

I took a lunch break and tried to find some place with shade. They are very clever as all of the merch tents are air conditioned.  So, my safe haven was a place that was trying to sell me things.  I may or may not have looked at kids tees for ten minutes because they were in front of the blower.  I don't have kids. 

I then went to see one of my new heroes, Kimiko Date Krumm.  She is 42 years old.  Is she coaching, you ask?  Nope.  She was playing in 104 degree heat on an outside court and winning her way into Round 3.  She is awesome to watch but even more entertaining is the entourage that follows her.  There were 15 cameramen court side and even more in the stands. Not to mention the hoard of Japanese men and women cheering her on.  She was playing Shahar Peer from Israel.  The differences in followers was amazing to watch.  The Israelis would loudly cheer and yell things at all times of the match.  Some were rather inappropriate and actually made me mad.  Then a set of older Japanese ladies would counter with a cute, dainty cheer of, “Ki mi ko, Ki mi ko”.  I have said it before and I will say it again, I love the Japanese.  I could've watched this all day but I actually got too hot.  I don’t know how they were playing because I had to leave and get water.  I stuck my whole head under the faucet and I’d do it again.  I really would. 

Ki mi ko Ki mi ko
Date Krumm with the Melbourne CBD in the background
I ended my day watching Serena and Venus Williams play their first round match in doubles.  By now I was figuring things out.  I arrived early to watch Marin Cilic finish his match and worked my way into the shade.  That way I could watch the Williams match entirely in the shade.  Huge difference.  I’m feeling much better about what to do for next year.

Stand for royalty
Serena, best serve in the biz
You lookin' at me???
Another day, another win
I am amazed at the distractions these players can play through.  The big favorites have earned their way into playing in Rod Laver and Hisense Arena but everyone else has to work their way through the gauntlet that is the outer courts.  Cameras, people yelling, moving, and generally being idiots, wind, faster courts, hotter courts, no challenge courts, the list goes on and on.  Tennis really does have a “pay your dues” kind of hierarchy.  It’s very clear when attending the big tourneys like this.  But it also offers fans to get really close to players on their way up.  

Stay tuned for day two of my Australian Open Adventure...

Monday, January 21, 2013

C'mon mate, you gotta trust somebody

My first trip to Melbourne. My first domestic flight.  What a difference in security.  Let’s compare my flight experiences in the United States v. Australia, shall we? 

First of all, Australian security has one agency that protects all airports, the Australian Federal Police.  In the US, the TSA is controlled by the state or local level which is why there is such a difference in training and implementation at each airport. 

Arrive at airport, stand in line
Arrive at airport, immediately find an open kiosk
(It’s kind of like the grocery store serve-yourself checkouts. One person is there to help in case you need it otherwise, you are on your own)
Get boarding pass, ID check, check in bags
Print boarding pass, drop off bags in queue
Get in line for security (wait ??)
Get in line for security for about 5 min. or less
Show ID and boarding pass to security
No boarding pass needed to get to gate
Wait in line...

Take off belt, shoes, anything metal

Take out laptop, Ipad and put in separate containers
Take out laptop and any aerosols
Take any change out of pockets

3-1-1 rule, no liquids over 3oz in a ziploc bag

Absolutely no aerosols

Go through x-ray machine, puffer machine, 360 degree x-ray, “randomly” get selected for physical pat down
Go through x-ray machine
Pick up stuff and get dressed again
Collect bags, put laptop and aerosols back in bag
Arrive at gate
Arrive at gate with free newspaper and wifi
(Qantas wing of airport)

No idea but not less than 15-20 minutes
Less than 5 minutes depending on how fast you are

*At no time was I asked to provide my ID

It is very clear how reactionary America has become in response to potential terrorist threats.  Are we really safer?  Someone tries to use a shoe bomb one time, we now must take off shoes for the rest of time.  Someone tries something with liquid one time, we can no longer travel with liquids over a certain amount.  Wouldn’t a terrorist try something new? I’ve heard stories of international businessman who apologize when their clients and friends have to fly airlines in America. Interesting and now understandable.  

As an Yraguen, I was randomly selected to be patted down about one out of every three times going through security.  Seriously, it became a joke in my family.  As a Wilbur, I have yet to be pulled aside.  Am I that much less of a threat now, TSA?  Just because my name is easier to pronounce? 

It all comes down to something the nice man from Perth said on New Years Eve.  A man had a hot dog and was trying to get it to his wife on the other side of a mass of people.  One guy said, “here we will pass it along.”  The man turned away and talked in his native language to his wife to come help him get through the crowd.  The man from Perth said in his Aussie accent, “c’mon mate, if you can’t trust somebody what have you got left? Give me the hot dog and I’ll pass it along.” The man did and everything turned out fine.  

C’mon humanity, we will surely be let down again from time to time but if you can’t trust somebody, what have we got left?  

Random pics o' the day:
I love that my area of town has mounted police

Australians are realistic.  Beyond is just a table.

Your food may be spicy when tissues are provided at your table.

Me and the Rubber Duckie at Darling Harbour

Lost in translation?  Or are their browns that harsh? 

The Tennis, anyone?

January 10, 2013

I love being in a country that loves tennis as much as I do. It’s January, the month of tennis.  I get to watch tons of tennis on free TV. They lead with it on the news.  Prime time TV shows won’t start until “after the tennis”.  It’s also really funny how they add “the” to tennis every time someone says it.  Did you come to watch "the tennis"?  This way to "the tennis".  Not sure why this makes me chuckle but it does.  Every time. 

I got a chance to go to the Apia International tourney here in Sydney yesterday.  It’s so fun to be able to get on a train and get off at a major ATP/WTA tournament.  I also forgot how accessible the athletes are in tennis.  You walk with them to an outside court so they can play.  You stand beside their coach and watch them court side as they practice.  It’s incredible! And kinda scary. Isn’t it sad that the “American” in me is wondering why they don’t have more security. Something could happen.  They barely checked my bag and let me bring in basically everything but glass bottles.  

And yet the only incident I can remember is the crazed fan that stabbed Monica Seles in 1993 in Germany.  Amazing considering how many tournaments there are every year.  

Aussies are going Bernard Tomic crazy right now.  He is on a winning streak and they only thing Aussies love better than good tennis is an Aussie playing good tennis. 

Can’t wait to go to Melbourne next week!  Enjoy the pics

Roberta Vinci - Italy, WTA Ranking #16 singles, #1 Doubles
Agnieszka Radwanska - Poland, WTA Ranking #4
Madison Keys, USA,  practicing on an outer court
Radwanska serving, she went on to win the tourney
Ryan Harrison, USA, serving in his win against fellow American John Isner 
The players have to duck their heads to get through fans wanting autographs
They change the nets for men and women.  All about sponsors and money...
Ryan Harrison watches as John Isner's serve is clocked at 219kmh
Bernard Tomic - Australia v. Florian Mayer - Germany
Atomic Bernie

Sara Errani - Italy, WTA Ranking #7 serving in her doubles match

Tomic and his wild kick on the serve.  This is one way to know he is feeling it!
John Isner - USA, ATP Ranking #13  The guy is 6'9"!!

Experience Wooloomooloo! 8 o’s = 8 times the fun

Been settling in lately.  Funny how time smooths things over.  We got a chance to meet up with Sean’s cousin and his partner.  We shall call them our first official guests even though they didn’t come here to see us.  They were on a cruise that stopped here in Sydney over New Year’s Eve.  What an incredible experience!  

It was so fun seeing other Americans that I think I talked their ears off.  I guess I didn’t realize how much I missed interaction with people I could understand easily.  It’s kinda like eating at McDonald’s, sorry, Macca’s.  It makes my brain turn off and I feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  Note: I limit myself to this only when feeling particularly homesick. Mmm, fries.  Thanks to Mark and Edgar for putting up with my craziness.

Famous Coca-Cola sign that lets you know you are in Kings Cross
They had a great recommendation to check out Harry’s Cafe de Wheels in Wooloomooloo so Sean and I made that one of our meet ups after work this week.  Located on the Finger Wharf where Russell Crowe has an apartment, Harry’s is famous for their meat pies and chili dogs. All kinds of famous people have eaten there as there are pictures of Colonel Sanders, the Blues Brothers, Elton John, Brooke Shields and many more on their walls.  I told them that I was open to having my picture taken but they stared blankly at me.  Guess Magnolia isn’t as popular in Australia as I had hoped.  Ha!

Harry's Cafe de Wheels

I had a Tiger, the signature dish named after the owner.  This is a meat pie with potatoes, mashed peas, gravy and goodness on top.  Basically everything that makes me happy.  We will be back.

My tiger!
Sean's Chili Dog
On a completely other note I finally found a place that sells Fosters!  Whoever had 33 days wins the pot.  Pretty sure that they have it only for the tourists though.  Nobody, I mean nobody, drinks Fosters in Australia.  They drink more Corona here than Fosters.  It’s a funny phenomenon when you think about it.  Beer is all about marketing.  For example, people rarely drink regular Budweiser in the US and yet it’s a favorite among Europeans.  No one drinks Fosters in Australia yet lots of people drink it in the US.  Mexicans don’t really drink a lot of Corona but it is popular everywhere else.  I think it comes down to the fact that domestic beer kinda sucks.  Seriously, I love it to the point that I can’t drink it anymore but it’s not good.  It’s an “acquired” taste.  My point is use your taste buds and drink Rogue and Full Sail.  Life is too short for crappy beer.

Finger Wharf

They sell Fosters?!

Stairways like these are prevalent all along Kings Cross to Wooloomooloo