Tuesday, February 26, 2013

You can find so much when you're lost

I took the wrong bus today.  Here I thought I finally had a handle on all of the buses in my area and where they went.  Nope.  Waiting for the M20 that I know for certain goes to Central, the 301 comes first.  I think, "Sweet, I can hop on and get to central faster."  I know immediately as I take my seat on the bus. Duh, this bus doesn't go to central.  Oh well. I have to walk a little longer.

It's amazing the things you find when you are lost.  On my walk, I literally found a hole in the wall cafe called Cafe Nookie. It serves take away only, this is what they call "to go", and just consists of a small hole in the side of the building from which you order.  Awesome.  I also found a quicker route to where I can play tennis.  By the way, one downside of living in a country that loves tennis is that you have to make a reservation or "booking". Plus, you pay by the hour even on public courts.  The courts are great though.

Tennis courts at Prince Alfred Park

I finally reached my destination and luckily had given myself plenty of time so extra walking was a bonus. Woohoo! Don't need to do cardio today.

It's incredible how everything is so relative.  Facebook is amazing to me because I get to see the differences of all of my friends from all different countries.  Most people in America have very little to complain about.  We have it really good.  Even if you are mad at the government or upset about gas prices or bummed because your bananas aren't ripe enough we have it good.   And yet it's what Americans do best.  If my future self is reading this please remember and stop complaining.  Either do something about it or be happy.

John Wooden said, "Things work out best for those who make the best of the way things work out." Yep. I miss my dogs.  Stuff is weird.  I can't get real sunflower seeds in the store. I hardly have any actual friends.  Mexican food is non-existent.  I'm finding it impossible to keep the correct humidity for my guitars.  I miss my family. I could go on...

But I'm in Australia!  The stars are upside down! Seriously, we just figured out this week that the moon cycles are the opposite here in the Southern hemisphere.  AND the Big Dipper is upside down too and actually called Crux, the Southern Cross.  Holy everything I ever knew just got thrown out the window and flew into the sky, Batman!  I wouldn't be able to experience this if we hadn't just said yes.  So, for two years at least, we are crazy.  And I'm not complaining. (Well, okay, the nicknames get a bit much sometimes...)

Things that I find magical:
Bus Drivers = They drive metal monstrosities the length of 8 Hyundais through cross streets, around roundabouts, and get me from point a to point b.  Amazing!

Croissants = Flaky Witchcraft

Old-time Sailors = How did they navigate by the stars?  They knew about the stars being upside down in the Southern Hemisphere? Or are they upside down in the Northern Hemisphere??? That is crazy and it must have been magic.

Sydney signs =
Because I always wear my Native American headdress when I cross the street?

I also dance across like Fred Astaire so beware drivers!

They have a song to remind you to be careful of the sun.  Check it out!
Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide!!  It's been around since the 80's but I kinda want it to become the next dance craze after all of this Harlem Shake business is over.

I refuse to conform to your magic numbers.  So I added my own and my husband laughed. 

Not sure if this is "magical" but it's definitely funny.  Stand proud Australia!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Baby you can drive my car...

We finally got our stuff that we sent from Nashville 90 days ago.  90 days without a guitar was the most I’ve gone since I started playing.  I’m determined to never let that happen again.  One good thing is that it has made me want to practice again.  I was definitely in a music funk and this has allowed me to break free and love music again.  Hooray!

So, I made another trip out to IKEA yesterday now that I can see what we actually sent here. I had honestly forgotten.  There is something very empowering about driving in another country. Especially one that drives on the opposite side of the road.  Empowering and frightening. Very frightening.  I don’t really feel “safe” until I’m home and the car is back in its spot. But then I feel like a young lioness that just attacked its first prey out in the wild.  Well, something like that. 

The hardest part is the fact that everything in the car is also opposite.  So, I occasionally turn on the windshield wipers while trying to signal a turn. Okay, I do this all the time.  But I’m getting better.  Sean’s cousin gave us some great advice when he was here.  He said that when he was in Ireland he imagined a little leprechaun sitting on his left shoulder saying in an Irish accent, “stay to the left, stay to the left”.  As funny as this sounds it is absolutely brilliant advice.  Now I have my own little leprechaun I like to call Seamus that tells me to “stay to the left” whenever I need him.  Which is all of the time. 

We use a car share called GoGet.  It’s great.  We pay a monthly fee and then book the car online whenever we need it.  Gas, maintenance, insurance is all in the fees so we don’t have to worry about anything.  I just walk across the street to the car, use my card to activate the locks, get in and go!  So, with public transportation and GoGet we get to keep our travel expenses down.  Awesome!  More money to do fun Aussie stuff.

IKEA is always fun for me.  I usually get a coffee with lunch and just sit and people watch.  You see all kinds at IKEA. It reminded me how different the views on children are here.  Several times we have been out and about and seen kids running around, screaming, playing, and no one says anything. They fall, they get up, they hit each other and all this time I keep waiting for a parent to step in and say that the kids need to be quiet or something but it never happens.  It seems this is a country that refuses to grow up so why wouldn’t they let their kids be kids? It’s kinda great. An adjustment to be sure but kids are always playing and asking questions and moving around, learning about the world.  

A kid around the age of 4 or 5 was walking behind his mom in IKEA, fully transfixed upon staring at me.  I smiled and he smiled back just as he smacked his face into a chair.  Hard!  I grimaced but still smiled.  He looked at me then looked at his mom who didn’t pay any attention to him. He smiled back at me and continued on as if nothing had happened.  I have seen something similar to this happen in the States and the reaction from the mom was immediate.  “Are you okay?” or “You’re alright.” But definitely an acknowledgement of something happening.  I believe you would only get this reaction in Australia if there is blood involved. No blood, no foul rules apply here. 

Funny thing is that I just read an article in the paper about parents who are becoming too doting on their children.  They want parents to back off and let the kids learn. They are worried this will create a generation of whiners and entitled kids.  Sound familiar?

In Australia, everyone is entitled to a “fair go”.  After that you are on your own.  Seems that they teach this from birth.  

 Here are your random pics o' the day:

Manly Beach

Manly surfer at Manly

Manly Ocean Walk

Surfing by the rocks

I do love koalas!

So, you're saying these aren't tennis balls?

New flights from Sydney to the Gold Coast so let's make sand art in the middle of Circular Quay

Amazing detail.  This is all sand!

Opera house at night from the water

Our packers were great...at putting boxes in boxes. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Come to Australia, you might accidentally get killed.

This weekend my husband and I celebrated our anniversary.  We decided to take a trip to the Blue Mountains just west of Sydney.  I thought it would be fun to find a tour since we didn’t have a clue what to do or where to even start.  I found a tour online and we were ready to go.

It was a beautiful day so I was pretty stoked that the sun would be shining in the mountains.  Our tour guide, Jimmy, picked us up at the Sydney youth hostel with a couple other young backpackers.  This should have been my first clue that I had a chosen a tour that was guided more toward the adventurer type.  While waiting for our tour we watched as nice, new buses picked up other tours.  We then found ourselves climbing into an older, rusty bus filled with eager-eyed French, Swiss, British, Chinese, and Spanish kids.  I call them kids but they were probably 18-28.  I take my seat realizing that I am probably the oldest person on this tour. This is a first and it is a scary first.  But, I’m excited because these type of starts usually lead to the best stories. 

Jimmy was great!  Everything you would want in an Australian tour guide filled with sayings, fun anecdotes, etc.  Our first stop was in the little town of Glenbrooke.  It was fun seeing little kids playing their Saturday morning cricket.  No teeball here.   As we headed to our first bushwalk Jimmy played us his favorite bushwalking song.  I found it on YouTube.  Pretty much sums it up.

Then we headed to Wentworth Falls.  It was beautiful.  Our first lookout we came to we could see stairs on the other side of the valley.  Very steep stairs with a small group of folks going up and down.  Sean and I actually commented how crazy they looked.  We took a picture and marvelled at them.   Jimmy didn’t tell us that we would be there in a matter of 20 minutes.  I wonder how funny he must think us as we all ask the same questions, say the same things, take the same pictures as every other group he has had in the past.  I wonder if it gets old.  

Blue mountains

Crazy stairs

So, we kept going down and down. Stairs became steeper.  I just kept thinking, “Please don’t fall. You are not going to be the one that falls into somebody and pushes them off a cliff!”  That would put a damper on the trip.  But seriously, these are some crazy passages we were flying down.  Just when I get a handle on what’s going on all of the sudden the stairs would be wet.  Then filled with mud. Argh!

We made it to the bottom of the Valley of the Falls in like 45 minutes.  Now that I’m doing a little research that was supposed to take 2.5 hours.  Not to mention the climb back up.  One girl from Britain said it was like boot camp except without the yelling and more scenery. I wouldn’t go that far but I am still hurting from it.  
Heading down the Grand Stairway

Tour guide Jimmy making red paint from the rocks

Queen's Cascade

Pride kicked in about a third of the way down the first bushwalk and I was not about to be shamed by a bunch of French backpackers.  Everyone was actually very nice but all I kept imagining was how bad of an accident would be required before they airlifted you out of the bottom.  Surely a twisted ankle would not be worthy.  I’m thinking it would have to be major.  I ask Jimmy.  He nonchalantly says that it has to involve death and then tells a story of a kid who had been drinking that fell off the mountain a couple of weeks back.  He was airlifted out but he was dead, so…okay.  Note to self, don’t fall off of the mountain. 

Going down and up Wentworth Falls in two hours, doable.  Then travelling to Katoomba Falls and doing the same thing?  Australians are nuts.  But, I think it has kick started my workout routine.  There are all kinds of tours for all types of people so please don’t be afraid of visiting the mountains.  They truly are breathtaking.  But if you find that you are the oldest in the tour group?  Get ready.
Three sisters

This sister looks more happy than frightened

Katoomba Falls

Here is the legend of the Three Sisters as told to us by Jimmy.  It is an Aboriginal tale that parents would tell their kids to keep them from wandering off.

Long ago, three sisters, Meenhi, Wimlah and Gunnedoo had a father who was a witch doctor. His name was Tyawan.There was also a Bunyip who lived in a deep hole in the valley below. The Bunyip was a monster kind of like a Yeti.  
Passing the hole was considered very dangerous, therefore whenever Tyawan had to pass the hole in search for food, he would leave his daughters safely on the cliff behind a rocky wall. He told them to stay there and be careful.  
One fateful day, Tyawan waved goodbye to his daughters and descended down the cliff steps into the valley. 
Meanwhile at the top of the cliff, Meenhi was frightened by a large centipede which suddenly appeared before her. Meenhi took a stone and threw it at the centipede. The stone continued on its journey and rolled over the cliff, crashing into the valley below which angered the Bunyip. 
The rocky wall behind Meenhi, Wimlah and Gunnedoo then began to split open and the three sisters were left stranded on a thin ledge at the top of the cliff. All the birds, animals and fairies stopped still as the Bunyip emerged to see the terrified girls.As the Bunyip began to approach the girls, to protect them from harm, their father Tyawan used his magic bone to turn them into stone. 
Angered by this, the Bunyip then began to chase Tyawan. Tyawan ran into a cave and became trapped by the Bunyip.  Fearing for his life he turned the magic bone on himself and turned in a Lyre bird so he could easily fit in a crack away from the Bunyip.  
Once the Bunyip had disappeared, Tyawan returned in search of his magic bone but he couldn’t find it anywhere.  He started scratching at the ground looking to no avail.  You can still find him there as a Lyre bird scratching at the ground, searching for the magic bone that will one day allow him to be turned back in a man so he can free his daughters. The three sisters stand side by side waiting in rock formation until the day their father comes back. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

How do we sleep while our beds are burning?

I’ve been thinking about how to approach this subject for a long time.  It’s obvious.  It’s strange.  It’s disheartening. It’s sad.  And above all, it’s the question that nobody seems to ask above a silent whisper.  Where are the black people?  

For everything that the Australians get right there is a glaring hole in this society.  I would encourage anyone that wants to read a great book filled with anecdotes about Australia and better writing than you will ever see here to find In A Sunburned Country, by Bill Bryson.  In it he addresses the “aboriginal problem”.  That was the first I had read about blacks in Australia.  Now living here the simple fact is that there aren’t any.  At least in Sydney, which is my only real experience thus far.  Seriously.  I have lived here a little over two months and have seen less than twenty black people total.  

At the Australian Museum here in Sydney, they have a wonderful Aboriginal exhibit.  It tells all about the history of the indigenous people of Australia and their struggles and hardships.  It actually made me cry walking through it. Maybe I was a little homesick, maybe it was humid, maybe it was that time of the month, I have no idea but I do know that it truly touched me and bothered me all at the same time. It’s not the greatest exhibit in the world but it was the simplicity that I found remarkable.  

It’s a collection of tv’s with people telling real stories in their own voices and artifacts of their heritage.  There is a group of rocks that you can sit under and hear someone telling a story of “the dreaming”.   There is a replica of a chapel in the middle of it.  You go inside and see how they already had their own form of religion and adapted to add Jesus into their stories. They believed.  What must they think of their God now?   

Dreamtime Sisters
courtesy of http://www.dreaminaustralia.com/
The beginning of time is called “the dreaming” or “dreamtime”.  The Ancestor Spirits came and created the land and everything in it. Once the spirits had created the world they themselves became trees, stars, rocks, etc.  This is why the land is so sacred to the Aboriginal peoples.  It is their ancestors. I love this idea because it forces you to appreciate the resources around you.  
In Genesis 3:19, it states,  "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." 
Your loved ones become the earth. Matter does not disappear.  So, the next time you throw a cigarette butt down and think it does nothing realize you just threw it on your loved ones.  Quite a change of attitude, don’t you think?

Meanwhile, the indigenous people have this beautiful past and heritage and the British naturally want to fix them into proper British subjects.  Interesting that it parallels what the Americans did with the Native American peoples.  Maybe God has been testing us over and over until we get it right.  But this time the Australians got it very wrong.  

The Eora (pronounced ‘yura’) people were the ones here in Botany Bay when the first ships arrived. In 1770, when Captain James Cook claimed the land for Britain they tried to help them so that they would go away.  When they left to tell Britain about the new land they thought that the ghosts had left for good.  Captain Cook and his party were only the first though.  The ghosts came back and brought more ghosts.  And it never stopped.  In the book, A Commonwealth of Thieves , author Thomas Keneally describes the Eora people standing on the shore waving their arms and yelling “Warre Warre”.  The British thought they were waving at them.  They were actually yelling at them to “get away”.  They had arrived nearly 70,000 years ago and the British came in and changed everything in a day. 

The Aboriginal people continued to become more of a problem for the new settlers as time went on.  From approximately 1869 to 1969, the government would remove children from the Aboriginals to integrate them into “white” society.  This is called the Stolen Generations. Can you imagine?  White strangers coming and taking your kids away and telling you it’s for their own good.  In some cases, they were told each other were dead. Obviously, this practice did not go over well.  

courtesy of creativespirits.com
In 2008, the Australian government finally made a formal apology to Indigenous Australians.  There is actually a “National Sorry Day” every year on May 26 to remember and commemorate the mistreatment of the the indigenous population. But how much has actually changed? 

So that, in very small part, explains the treatment thus far, but where are they now?  I think they have to live in the poorer places of Australia.   That is not Sydney. Nor any other Australian city as far as I can tell.  But what about immigrants?  The British, French, American, etc?  No black people?  I don’t get it. 

It also makes me love and understand the Midnight Oil song Beds Are Burning even more.  The lead singer Peter Garrett is now a politician.  I guess he always was but now he’s actually running for office. 
The time has come  To say fair’s fair
To pay the rent  To pay our share

The time has come  A fact’s a fact
It belongs to them  Let’s give it back

How can we dance when our Earth is turning?
How do we sleep while our beds are burning?

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Random thoughts about Oz...

I have a bunch of little things that can’t really fit a whole post so I figured I’d throw them all in one.  Here is my collection of (in big echoing voice) Random Thoughts About Oz oz oz oz.

**Australia loves Pink. Nope not the color. Not the Victoria Secret label either. Pink, the musician.  I'm not exactly sure why they love her so much.  She just finalized her tour this year with 42 dates in Australia.  That's 42 dates in five cities!  What?!  Apparently last time she was in the country she made a little over 41 million dollars playing 58 shows.

Everywhere I go they are playing Pink.  In Melbourne, before one of the tennis matches they started playing a song and the middle aged lady next to me starts singing along very loudly.  I don't know what to make of it.  I guess she calls Australia her 'second home' but if I was Pink, I would buy a huge house here on the beach and live in adoration.  But that's just me. So what, she's still a rock star?!

**Australia has a fascination with Havaiana thongs.  Yes, that is what they call flip flops here. Thongs.  But Havaianas are basically just a piece of rubber in a wide variety of colors.  They offer no foot support and they cost at least $20/pair and go up from there.  They even have vending machines for them.  Since I am an avid flip flop wearer I know a lot about flip flops. Believe me, I have no idea why you would walk so much with no arch support and no cushion.  It’s a Brazilian brand and yet I think if you asked the average Aussie they would say they are Australian. Weird.  I’m encouraging my Aussie friends to check out a different Brazilian brand, Reef.  Reef Sandals are my very favorite and way more comfortable.

Forgot your shoes again? Don't worry.
Also, you can wear thongs for any occasion here.  Are you moving? Going out to eat?  Headed to the beach? Church? Footy? Anything?  Throw on your thongs and you are good.  I really like this because it is my footwear of choice but when moving?  Really?

There are also a lot of people without shoes all together.  Not just at the beach too.  It is not a real surprise anymore to see a guy get out of his car and walk into the convenience store with no shoes.  Or a kid walking around the Hungry Jack’s with no shoes. No kidding.  Whatever. They are just shoes. You must be confined by your lifestyle. It’s not that they don’t have money for shoes they just choose not to care for some reason.   You know it’s a laid back country when people don’t wear shoes in the city and nobody seems to notice. 

Popular item for Australia Day

**Young Australians believe that they have to choose between pursuing sport or getting a higher education.  Corey Payne is a back rower for the Aussie Rules football team, the Canterbury Bulldogs.  They play in West Sydney.  The “bad” part of town.  They are not known as a team with a great reputation but Corey has decided to try to change things.  Why pursue sport only?  He completed his undergraduate degree and is now juggling his postgraduate studies with playing footy.  He is encouraging other schoolies to do both as well.  This is so amazing that he was recently nominated as a National Finalist for Young Australian of the Year.  This is a big deal here.  Colleges don’t have organized sports. Sports are left to individual clubs and national teams. 

American Collegiate sports are screwed up but think of all of the kids who get college educations because they are good at sport?  What if colleges didn’t have organized sports and kids were forced to choose to become a full-time athlete?  Americans take it for granted but I think we are on the right track with this one.  Good on ya, Corey.  Hope you inspire others to get an education too!

Figure this one out. 

**Why is tires spelled “tyres”?  Why is yogurt spelled “yoghurt”?  Why is defense spelled “defence”?  Did we change these or did you?  Why on earth would these be different?  Was somebody just a bad speller and that’s the way it was left?  How would this affect the National Spelling Bee?  Do they know all of the spellings?   I could go on but I need to let it go...

**This is a personal one but it’s really hard being an alcoholic in this country.  I thought the American culture revolved around drinking, ha!  I’m a three-headed alien here.  Good thing I’ve had a lot of practice being in bars with drunk people.  I’m playing on expert level here.  If Angus can do it...

This is what you get on a Qantas flight. A paper and an iPad. Sweet!

**Lots of people run with backpacks.  Not hydration packs mind you, regular backpacks.  Not really sure what the thinking is behind this.  Do you need to be somewhere so you just figured you would run there and change your clothes when you get there?  Are you delivering something?  Do you really need wifi fast and you have to bring your laptop to the cafe?  I have yet to figure this out.

Every toddler needs patriotic nappies! Australia Day!

**My favorite TV programs here are The Project and Spicks And SpecksThe Project is a daily news program that informs while making you laugh. Perfect way for people to actually watch news.  Spicks And Specks is a music-based trivia show that helps me catch up on learning Australian music.  Named after the BeeGees song, it sadly ended last year but I’ve been watching reruns because honestly, it’s all the same to me. 

**I finally figured out why they call McDonald’s Maccas.  They say Mac Donalds. So naturally a nickname would be Mac cas.  Not sure why they have added an “a” but they have and they think that Americans are weird for calling it “micky d’s”.  Once again, really?  Americans are weird for pronouncing an American restaurant correctly?  Who says? You and Dr. Seuss?  What’s that you say?  He pronounced it “soyce” like “voice”?  Um…

More nicknames, sayings and translations:
Chook = Chicken
Capsicum = Bell Pepper
Nappy = Diaper
Chuck a sickie = Calling in sick to work
Fairy Floss = Cotton Candy
Star Jumps = Jumping Jacks
Whinge = Whine
Glassing = Violence that involves glass,  I’m not joking. I hear this on the news all the time. Most common is smashing an intact glass into the face of the victim.  What? Yes. 
Bottle-o = Liquor store
Boot = Trunk of the car
Spider = Ice Cream Float like a Coke Spider
00447778 = They would pronounce this as Double o, Double four, Triple seven, Eight

Friday, February 1, 2013

The One On The Right Was On The Left

A lot of you have asked how far cities are from each other.  I thought I would post this map I found to show each country in relation to each other.  This is a huge country!  It’s the sixth largest country by total area in the world. 

Now, let’s all learn about the Australian government! Woohoo! Best post ever.

Australia is formally known as the Commonwealth of Australia.  It is a federal constitutional monarchy under a parliamentary democracy. What a mouthful!  Basically it means that they have a Queen (Queen Elizabeth II since they are still a part of the British Commonwealth) with a constitution and two houses of Parliament; the Senate and the House of Representatives.  Seem familiar?  Just like everything else here you take a dash of Britain, add a touch of America and toss it in an Australian sauce and bam, Australia! 

Parliament can suggest changes to the Constitution but they are not effective until they are passed by a referendum of a double majority of all voters in Australia. This means a majority of all votes and a majority of votes in a majority of States.  Voting is compulsory so anyone over the age of 18 has to vote or you get a penalty of $20.  So, if you want to change something everyone gets to vote on it. Since making the vote compulsory in 1924 no vote has had less than a 90% turnout. 

Australia is made up of six states (New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia) and three main territories (Australian Capital Territory, Norfolk Island, and Northern Territory).  Each state has their own constitution but the territories have no representation in Parliament. Think the District of Columbia.  They have to follow the rules but they don’t get a say in making them.  No taxation without representation. I’ve heard that somewhere...hmmm.

This is where is gets interesting.  They vote by party.  So, they don’t necessarily vote for Julia Gillard for Prime Minister per se.  They vote for the Australian Labor Party to lead the government of which Julia Gillard is the leader.  Also, people within each party can challenge at any time.  For example, in 2010, Kevin Rudd was the Prime Minister because he was the leader of the Labor Party.  People within the party didn’t like the direction that Rudd was taking them so Gillard led a challenge one day and the next day was voted the new head of the Labor Party.  Instant Prime Minister!  

Votes can happen at any time too.  For the most part they happen every three years.  Actually, Prime Minister Gillard just announced that the next Federal election will happen on Sept. 14th.  There has never been an election to last that long in history.  The news is freaking out.  Normally, the head calls the election about a month out and then each party puts forth their plans for what they would do if elected.  Then they campaign for a month, vote and move on.  Now they will finish governing and be campaigning at the same time?  This is crazy?!  Also, elections are always held on a Saturday.  This time it falls on Yom Kippur and the middle of the AFL Footy Finals.  Wonder which one most Australians care about more. 

Julia Gillard with her new hipster glasses
Photo Courtesy of www.heraldsun.com.au 
Australia primarily has two major parties since that’s all anyone ever votes for.  The Australian Labor Party (the only time labor is not spelled ‘labour’ figure that one out!) is the center-left leaning party that is officially linked to the Australian labour movement and is led by Julia Gillard.   The Liberal Party of Australia is the center-right conservative leaning party currently led by Tony Abbott.   Let me get this straight.   The Liberal Party is conservative and the Labor Party is the Social Democracy party.  Yep.  Politics is politics anywhere you go. 

The challenger, Tony Abbott
Photo Courtesy of www.tonyabbott.com.au

So, it’s Julia Gillard vs. Tony Abbott.  But really it’s the Labor party vs. the Liberal/National Coalition party. Let the campaign begin!