Monday, March 24, 2008

The World's 2nd Most Popular Sport

Trailing only soccer, believe it or not, is the game of cricket, a sport that conjures up images of sunburnt Brits dressed in white taking breaks for morning tea and occasionally batting a ball around. They take it very seriously here, as well as in India (which accounts for its disproportionate global popularity relative to the attention it receives in North America). I never understood why it didn't catch on in Canada, considering that it has a stronghold in Australia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, the West Indies, and Bermuda. The common thread there of course being the English colonial influence. You could argue that the climate has kept us from embracing it, but of course we do happen to like baseball, the sport that fills cricket's niche in North America. Much like Canada's half-hearted attempt to adopt the metric system, our proximity to the US has led us astray.

Oh, and just in case you thought nothing exciting ever happened in cricket, check out this clip of a streaker getting body-checked during a recent test match between Australia and India (which the Aussies lost, to everyone's great dismay). The clip is from one of the morning shows here that is pretty entertaining.

One last thing about cricket. It really is boring, even those that love it admit that, much like we baseball fans will admit the same but still maintain the greatness of the game. They recently tried out a new format where the cricket matches were shortened from 5 days (or more) to a single day affair. No wonder people tell me that when it's on tv they glance at it occasionally but generally go about their business!

So what else have we learned about Australia? Well, we noticed early on that there are no 1 cent coins. Imagine a Canada without pennies! Well in fact I have. I think they are obselete and should be discontinued. And this is coming from a guy who as a young bloke used to scrounge the Irving parking lot in Taintville for pennies to buy whoppers and sour patch kids. Others have argued in favour of ditching the penny, including some economists. Australia got rid of theirs in 1991. The system works much more easily from a consumer perspective, especially since the tax is already factored into the cost of goods, so the price you see on the tag is the price you pay, and prices are in 5 cent intervals (the coins here are in denominations of 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents, along with dollar and 2 dollar coins). I just realized that I was about to close this post by saying I hope Canada comes to its cent-ses, but I'll save you the pun.

Finally, your list of Aussie terms for the fortnight:

Jean Coutu/Terry White
pylon/witch's hat
pound key/hash key
no big deal/no drama

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

We still sound Canadian

G’day Maytes! (You all knew that was coming at some point). We don't actually ever say that, but have noticed that we're picking up on the slang around here more than the accent. It's weird for Tim and I to be talking to each other and using Australian words like we've been using them for our entire lives. Makes you feel like a bit of a faker.

We’re just past our first month of officially living in Australia. And what a month. After having left Canada in so much snow, it’s a bit surreal to think about how accustomed we’ve become to birds, sunshine and flip flop tans in such a short time. Just to let you know, when we’re talking to you and you tell us about the 4th snowstorm warning that you’ve had that week, it really doesn’t sink in to us. Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe we’re just in denial, but our world consists of sunshiny days.

So, it’s Laura again. Yep, the long-winded one. Just as a point of interest, Tim and I typically take the same amount of time to write a blog entry. Think about that. I think the shortest entry that I’ve had was 4 pages in Microsoft word, Tim’s, I think we can all see, have been shorter than that. But he’s intense. Every sentence is jam packed with information, every word, important. I’m a little more liberal with my writing. I write what I think, and that’s what takes me so long to write. Tim takes so long because he’s actually researching. I’ll let you decide how nerdy or cool that really is.

We’ve had a number of fun adventures lately, but I must admit that I think we’re hitting, or have hit, the ‘Australia is cool but we liked Canada’ phase, i.e., the homesick blues. We miss our friends and we really miss our families, and our cat is up there on that list too. In Canada she used to greet us every morning by trying to jump on our bed, but just not having enough steam to make the whole jump. She’d end up ‘Prarie-dogging’ as we liked to call it, imagine a cat bouncing on her back feet while trying to see up over the edge of the bed. Every now and then I expect to see her run in and not make the jump in the morning. Thankfully she’s in good hands with my sister in New Brunswick, and is Prarie-dogging for her.

But everyone knows what it’s like to miss home, so I won’t bore you with our middle-of-the-night-wide-awake-why-the-heck-did-we-leave-our-happy-home thoughts. The reality is that we were going to be moving somewhere at this point, and we’d be missing home no matter where we were. Having a bun in the oven makes it a little more rough for us, but thanks to cheap phone cards and skype, it’s really not that hard to keep in touch. As for the bun, it likes to lean to the east in the morning, pushing my bellybutton over to the right side of my body, just a titch. Tim called me a freak the other day when he saw it. Good guy that he is.

So, on to our adventures. First off, last weekend we took the recommendation of a couple of good Canadian friends of ours (Baxter and Lins) and traveled to the northern part of New South Wales to visit Tropical Fruit World. We’d made the mistake of telling some of our new Aussie friends that we were going and they scoffed at us a bit. There’s a giant plastic avocado off the highway pointing the farm out, which makes it a little gimmicky I guess. Either way, we wanted to go and did. It’s a really, really cool spot. I highly recommend it to anyone traveling in these parts. It’s basically an old family fruit farm that decided to go into the agri-tourism business in the late 80’s. They still commercially produce massive amounts of fruit, but also run this tourist-attraction as well. I really would have no idea which is more profitable. The entrance fees are a bit dear (pricy), but it’s SO worth it. There are a lot of different things that you can do at the park, but I’d say their major tourist thing is a guided tour that takes you through different parts of the farm. The biggest part of it is a tractor ride through the fruit plantation where they tell you all about the fruit being grown, the seasons, the markets, research that’s going on, etc. It’s really informative, right up our alley. There’s another component where they have a fruit tasting session, they also hock their many health and beauty products, and brilliant sauces. We bought a few and do not regret those purchases whatsoever. Oh, here’s a fact for you that they liked to drill into our heads- the avocado is the most nutritious fruit out there. It’s actually in the Guiness Book of World Records for being such. They grow a lot of avocado, so it works well for them that it’s so good for us. I’m a little scared that I might end up with a 15 pound baby inside of me because I eat so much avocado, and it’s so nutritious. Let’s cross our fingers for a healthy, normal-sized wee one that simply has a liking for avocado...That’s delivered by a stork.

Speaking of more avocado, how many of you knew that avocados grew on trees? No lying. How many of you had never thought about where they grow (other than in warm climates and not Canada)? I was embarrassed to be shocked to see them hanging off of branches at the fruit farm…I’m supposed to be a farmer, yet I had never, ever thought about how this fruit grew. Perhaps it’s a great example of how detached we are from food sources in society (don’t they come from the supermarket?). Made me sad to think of how alienated I am from the real life of growing food.

So, the downside of Tropical Fruit World, perhaps an upside for younger kids, is a guided tour to Old MacDonald’s farm and Treasure Island within the vicinity of the farm. Both of them were rather disheartening. They really didn’t need to have captive animals on display for us, nor did we need a boat ride around a man-made island with ducks to feed and sappy Zeller’s music playing over a loud-speaker. The funniest part of it all was a little train that they took us on a ride on to get around treasure island. You’ll see in the picture, the Tropical Fruit World Express is no major passenger train. The funniest thing was that the conductor’s knees were basically up around his ears to ‘drive’ the thing. At least it gave us a good laugh. And, I actually saw ‘roos for the first time at Old MacDonald’s Farm, although they were in a caged in area. Did you know that they use their tails as a 5th leg? How is it that I didn’t know that? I’m not sure what I thought they used to help them bounce (springs in their hind legs?), but that tail is essential. I should have paid closer attention to Sesame Street creature features. Overall, Tropical Fruit World got two thumbs up from us though. It’s a pretty neat little spot.

On the way back home up through Southern Queensland, we decided to hit up either a beach or park. We lucked out and got both at once at a place called Burleigh Heights National Park. Burleigh Heights is actually formed from an old volcano, the heights make up the rim and it overlooks Surfers Paradise. It was an amazing little hike along a rocky, undeveloped coastline and eventually the path led to more of a public beach, the first beach that we’ve been on since we got here. The water is like bath water. Now, I grew up in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia where a day at the beach consisted of a numbing period so that you could stay in the no more than 8°C water all day. Even on the hottest days you had to be foolhardy to get in the water (I loved it!). This, was warmer than any pool I’ve been in, in my life. It was amazing and I’m gonna like it here.

So all of that adventure took place on Saturday of last week, but we still had the rental car on Sunday. So we decided to check out a Koala Conservation Park not far from us (and also bought a 2nd hand lawnmower from an old man that morning). I’m not sure what we expected to see at the Koala park, but we seemed to be the only dorks walking around the forests craning our necks to see Koalas in trees that were higher than 3 story buildings. It was about a 7km hike and we looked, and looked, but saw possibly 1 Koala off in the distance. Possibly. We felt like idiots because there were so many other people running, or biking and in general enjoying being out in the woods while we were dying to see a Koala in the wild and feeling grouchy because we weren’t and because our necks hurt. So, in the end I decided that perhaps the park was just in the shape of a Koala and that’s how it was named. But later in the week Tim spoke with a new friend of ours (a former Vancouverite) who said that he’s been to that park and seen Koalas there. I guess it’s just hit or miss. And we missed. It’s actually a Koala rehabilitation park. So there are definitely Koalas there.

So our weekend was action packed. It was nice to be doing things that weren’t necessary functions. And we found it a relaxing weekend despite all of the running around.

So, my newest favorite Australian find is a restaurant called “Seafood Platter” that’s just down the street from our place. Despite its name, it’s the cheeseburger that’s taken my affection. A couple of weeks ago Tim was out of town for a conference and on the Saturday that he was returning, I had one last meal to find for myself before he got home. I’d seen the big picture of the cheeseburger on the outside of the restaurant, but the place didn’t really look all that clean or non-greasy. Either way, on that Saturday, I just had a hankering for a cheeseburger, I blame it on the hormones. So I walked down to the shop and ordered one for take-away (take-out). When the lady handed over the package, I was a little shocked by how big it was, but, you know, I like a good challenge, so I took it and walked back home. It was hands down, the BEST cheeseburger I’ve tasted in my life. I savored every heart-stopping bite of it. I don’t even know exactly what it was about it, but the combination of sauces and vegetables and hunk of Australian beef- but you couldn’t ask for a better burger. I will make sure that if you come and visit us, you will get a complimentary cheese burger from the Seafood Platter on us, just to prove my point. Once I had eaten one, I made a deal with myself that I could only eat another if Tim was eating one (he’d not had one at that point and I knew that he could resist better than I could). He has tried the burger and agrees with me (that means that he’s had one so far, and I’ve had two). I think it’s our tickers that might be saying ‘take it slow kids. We’re not built to last’. So, I try not to think about the burger. Most days it works.

So, Tim and I have both been working for a couple of weeks now. Tim’s started his post-doc position at Griffith University and I’m still working for the same environmental consulting company that I had been working with in Canada. We’re both glad to be back into a working routine, and have slowly been able to get involved with organizations outside of work that make us feel a little more human. It’s been good. One organization that we’d both been quite involved with in Canada was Engineers Without Boarders (EWB). We’ve gotten ourselves hooked up with a chapter here in Brisbane and are getting back into the swing of things with them here too. It’s a lot of fun and good to get back into some critically thinking circles. It’s hard not to say “well, we did things this way in Canada”…but we’re learning lots about Aboriginal issues here in Australia and about development in Southeast Asia, Indonesia, PNG, etc. It’s good to have a fresh take on what poverty means to people on this side of the world.

And that about wraps it up for us this week. If you’re reading this, you can take some solace in the fact that it’s probably you specifically that we miss. Take care of yourselves and keep in touch, please!

Oh! And a big thanks to Joy for pointing out that people can’t leave comments on our blog without registering with Google accounts. GRRR. I would be mad at us if I were trying to leave a comment for my friends and found out that I’d have to give personal information to a huge super-corporation in order to do so. So we’ve fixed the situation. You shouldn’t have to give any information to anyone in order to leave us a message. So feel free!

Lots of love to everyone.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Am I a pom?

I was in the butcher shop the other day, ordering up some meat, and the guy behind the counter says to me, "Are you a pom?"

"Pardon me?" I said.

He replied, "Are you a pommie?"

"No," I said, "I'm just a Canadian."

Pommie, as it turns out, is a partly affectionate, partly derogatory term for someone from Britain (think "Yank" for an American, or our use of the term "Limie"). While the origin of the term is still up for debate, it got me thinking about accents. Is it possible for someone to confuse a British accent with a Canadian accent? To me, the British accent is far more similar to the Aussie accent than the Canadian accent, but perhaps that stems from my own personal bias. Then there's the New Zealanders. They have a charming way of pronouncing some of their e's and i's the opposite way we do. So, for example, a kiwi would eat fesh and cheps and write with a pin. It's all quite fascinating.

Some follow up notes to earlier postings:

-I've learned a lot more about Fiji since our trip here on Air Pacific (Fiji's national airline!) and our brief journey through the Fijian countryside with Ham the taxi driver. Fiji is a military dictatorship (bloodless coup in December 2006) that has been turning over land and privilege from the more prosperous Fijian Indians (settled from India by the British in the late 1800's and early 1900's) to native Fijians. The government is also supposedly suppressing freedom of the press and imprisoning political dissidents. Sound familiar? Yet another former colony trying to find its way. While we were in the taxi Laura asked Ham, who is a Fijian Indian himself, about the government situation and he claimed that "the government is good" and they are "putting the right people in the right places." We'll never know if he meant what he said or if he was being guarded about his opinion to the two curious foreigners.

-I made my first trip to Darwin in the northern Territory last week. It is a remote outpost in the heart of Australia's tropics, about 80,000 people, claiming an amazing 52 nationalities. It was bombed by the Japanese in WWII and leveled by a cyclone in 1974. This time of year the temperature is exactly 32 degrees everyday with close to 100% humidity and a thunderstorm every night. It's an interesting place to say the least. You can see what is making the headlines there in the pictures on the right. And yes, I will be doing field work collecting fish from rivers around there in boats that are about the same size as the one in the picture. I had taken some comfort in knowing that we will often have Aboriginal guides (who hunt the crocs) accompanying us in our work, until it occurred to me that there's probably been plenty of Aborigines attacked by crocodiles in their thousands of years of shared time on the continent. As my supervisor put it, they have a long history of mutual predation.

-Finally, my monthly update of Aussie quirks:

run into/prang
maze/rabbit warren
granny panties/nana knickers

Monday, March 3, 2008

We're in!

Hey everyone. Hope the weather in North America isn’t getting you down, if it is, come a pay us a visit. We’ve got a guestroom! Complete with a bed and sheets. No pillows yet but if you give us fair warning, we’ll see what we can find. This is Laura by the way. And I write like I speak, long winded.

So, we’ve been in Australia for over 2 weeks now. It seems like we’ve been traveling (i.e., living out of a suitcase) forever, but since we’re now in our own place, things are settling down quite a bit. Tim and I have both felt a little bit guilty in that we’re in such a new place where there’s so much adventure waiting around each corner, and meanwhile we’re taking on adventures such as hunting down cheap bath towels at local malls (grumpy, because we both hate malls). Honestly, by now I thought that I’d at least snorkled the Great Barrier Reef. I haven’t yet seen the ocean.

There are a number of rationalizations that we’ve come up with to justify our lack of extreme adventure so far. 1) If we were here visiting, it’d be a different story (we like to tell ourselves that). Traveling here kind of took the travel bug out of us momentarily since we knew that we’d be here for a while. 2) The Great Barrier Reef is pretty far away. Since arriving, I’ve realized that my perception of how big Australia actually is, was way off. It reminds me of the people that get off the Bluenose Ferry in Yarmouth, NS in the morning and think that they can bike to Halifax for lunch (that’s a good 3 hour drive by car, at least). So, with a lack of transportation other than the public system, we’ve really had to rethink where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. This will change with time as we get more comfortable and familiar with the many ways that we can travel here. Brisbane has an excellent bus system and has trains which travel north (Great Barrier Reef) and south (Gold Coast). It’s actually nice that we have the time to figure out the best ways to get around, it’ll help us know better how to get you around when you decide to come and visit us. 3) There might be some that argue that we like to read too much, that we’re perhaps a little on the boring side. It is true that a good book can keep me out of adventures way, and there’s an excellent 2nd hand book store just down the street from where we live. There may be a good balance that we’ve got to figure out there. On to our non-extreme adventures in Brisbane.

So the first huge thing that has happened to us is that we’ve rented a house. It was the first place that we looked at and within a couple of days (stressful days) we’d convinced the landlords that we could be responsible tenants. I think that they might have thought we were a bit batty when we tied to explain our rationale for moving in the first place. There’s really no way to explain how it feels to try to rationalize our personal reasoning for moving here other than we felt quite vulnerable. The importance of telling you this is that we were shocked by the process of renting here. Either everything is done through an agent where you have to arrange appointments for viewing places, or you meet up with the owner of the place (if they don’t use agents) for viewing. After the viewing, you’re given an application form which asks basically for a personal history of your life as a renter, and such questions as salary and whether you plan on having kids, etc., it’s a whole lot of very personal information. I’d like to think that if I’ve decided to rent a place from someone, that it’s a given that I can afford it. Why does the landlord need to figure that out? How is it their business where my money comes from? I digress…So, next, you fill out the application and give it back to the agent/home owner and they call you to either tell you you’ve got the spot or, in our case, to arrange for a further interview. This may be the process that people in larger cities have to go through to rent, but given that Tim and I have never lived in a really big city, we were pretty unprepared to be scrutinized so closely. It certainly has something to do with the fact that it’s really not a tenants market here, therefore landlords can be very picky for the people that they want. And maybe we just fell upon really thorough landowners. Either way, we ended up getting the house that we wanted and it felt like we’d just passed a huge exam. We’ve got some pictures posted to show you how cool this spot is. It’s actually next to our landlords’ place so that could explain why we had such a process to go through, and they take really, really good care of their properties. We hope we can live up to their standards. I can hardly believe that I feel this way when we’re the ones that pay through the nose to live here.

So, it turns out that the landlords are actually very great and helpful people. Honestly, every single thing that we’ve wondered about, Craig (the husband of the couple) has a solution for. I mean EVERYTHING. It’s great, but I’m getting to the point where I’m now starting to keep my yap shut so that I don’t cause them to have to bend over any further backwards then they already have for us. Tim just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, I’ve yet to finsih it but basically the author talks about different kinds of people that influence trends in society. One type mentioned is the maven, they’re people that are full of information about everything, i.e., from where to get the cheapest bedsheets to traffic rules in Melbourne. This describes Craig to a T. It’s actually hard to get him to stop giving out useful information. So we’re glad to have him next door. Another useful resource is a lady across the street named Marcia. On the first day that we were here Craig mentioned to us that if we ever needed any information about busses (which we both need lots of help with) Marcia knows all the routes that we’d ever need to know. To give you an idea of just how friendly the folks are here, he just told me to go across the street and knock on her door if I ever needed bus information (think about that. Would you do it?). I did. And she helped. Not only that, she invited me in and we had a nice long chat. And it turns out that her daughter and granddaughter spent a year living in Fredericton, New Brunswick in 2006 on a teaching exchange. The mother taught at Priestman Elementary School and her daughter went to Fredericton High School. What are the chances of that? Marcia and her granddaughter Monique brought us over an apple cake yesterday because Monique wanted to meet “the Canadians”. The cake is amazing and we’re really glad for such great neighbors. We’re slowly coming on nodding and “how ya goin’” terms with the residents on our street as well. And I think I have made a real connection with the Korean lady at the foodmart down the street. She gave me change for laundry today and told me that it was her pleasure. Made me feel good inside.

A cool feature of our house is our alarm clock. It’s the chorus of birds that seem to greet the sunrise with eagerness every single morning. It’s a crazy way to wake up. They start around 5am and peak in volume around 6:30am. Some birds sound like our friend Baxter is sitting outside of our window whistling up a tune, others are your more standard bird calls. It’s amazing. I hope we don’t get so used to it that we start to sleep through it because it’s great to be out of bed so early and not to have to rely on some buzzer or bad pop radio to rouse us out of good sleep.

So, on Sundays there are a number of huge fruit and vegetable markets within close distance to us. Craig and Trish (the landlords) regularly get to a specific one early on Sunday mornings and asked if we’d like to go with them today. When they said early, I was thinking about how empty the Fredericton market is when Tim and I hit it up at 9:00 in the morning. These two are troopers and leave the house at 5:30am. No word of a lie.

So we got up and went with them on Sunday morning. It was great. So much food that we love and for such reasonable prices. And grown locally. I am telling you…For people like Tim and I for which food is so important, and equally having it grown well, knowing who grew it, and having farmers paid fair price for it, this place is like a dream. I’ll say it again, the food here is worth the trip. Seriously. So come.

Later in the morning we decided to check out the local Salvation Army church. Both Tim and I have known about the focus on social action that seems to be intimately intertwined within church policy at the Sally Anne, so we thought it would be an interesting venture. And it was. For those who’re well versed in church life, the majority of their music was provided not by a crusty old organist or trendy new worship band, but by a very lively brass section in uniform. I kid you not. It was enough to make me want to crack out my junior high trombone just to get that stageband feeling once again. Just to be a part of the club. They also were very fond of the old hymns of whose high notes only the most seasoned of church ladies can reach. Just like the old days for me. They (and I mean everyone from the people in the pews to the pastors of the church) appear to be actively involved in feeding people and looking at poverty in compassionate and thoughtful ways. We felt pretty comfortable there and are looking forward to getting to know people better and seeing what’s really going on.

This afternoon we were visited by a colleague of Tim’s who just moved from New Zealand with her 3 kids (her husband will be here in a couple of weeks). They were a blast to have around, I’m the eternal kid at heart. I actually still really like playing hide and seek and it’s just so much fun to see the amazement on the faces of kids when they figure stuff out…We identified birds with a field guide (yup, I’m a geek) and they were so good at it. They were a whirlwind though, and in the end when they were leaving I just felt such pity for Lisa (the mom). They were WIRED. Monday (i.e., kids in school and daycare) couldn’t come soon enough for her. I wonder what parenting is really like…

I almost forgot about our most extreme non-adventure yet. With the move into the new house we had to find furniture to at least give us a place to sit down. We’d bought a bed and had it delivered, a fridge too, but things like couches and chairs we decided to go second hand with so as to save our bank. So last week I scoped out the Salvation Army store near where our motel was for furniture, etc. I was able to snag some great stuff for very little $, relatively speaking. The only thing was that we didn’t really have a way to get anything to our new place. So on Thursday, Tim and I bit the bullet and rented a Ute. What’s a Ute? It’s a utility vehicle of course, or what we in North America would call a truck. Here they call what we call a truck, a Ute, and what we would call a utility vehicle (à la sport utility vehicle) a 4 wheel drive. And they take their 4 wheel drives quite seriously. We’ve seen a number here that have something like an exhaust pipe that leads from under the vehicle up to somewhere on the roof, this is so that if they should ever encounter water higher than their hood (i.e., in the middle of a river) then they could keep driving. Makes sense really.

So, we rented a Ute. We decided that Tim would drive and put just a bit of extra insurance on it, just in case. All Utes for hire (for rent) here are manual transmission, so I was glad that we both at least knew how to drive this kind of vehicle, although everything is controlled by the left hand in this case. I actually never got out of the passengers seat, and Tim, although he had a few butterflies in his basket, handled the driving very well. We’d made a smart move by waiting until 10 in the morning to head out so as to avoid rush hour, but still there was enough traffic on the road to keep us following a pack of some sort. By the end of the day we’d decided that we could handle driving in Brisbane, even in a manual. And it was nice to be able to go where we wanted to go without having to check to see what bus we had to catch or wait for years for a cabbie. So next weekend I think we’re going to rent another vehicle and try to find a Tropical Fruit Park. Apparently there are a few down south. It should be fun. Oh. I should mention, the temperature on Thursday when we were moving all of the furniture was recorded at 41 degrees Celsius. We definitely had a few cranky moments between the 2 of us.

So, they have French fry vending machines here in Australia and it makes me wonder what the world is really coming to. And, how do French fry vending machines really work? I envision a big vat of warm oil within a glowing vending machine where old potatoes get dipped upon the machine receiving the proper amount of change. Yuk. Don’t do it Canada!

Love to everyone, please keep in touch.