Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Have a good Chrissie

I was sorta sad to leave Australia for Christmas. The idea of spending Christmas with chops and snags on the bbq was sounding pretty good.

But now that I'm here, and it's cold, it actually feels like Christmas. The carols sound rich and full, not tinny in that Charlie Brown Jingle Bells sorta way that they do when it's 85 degrees out. It just feels right to make scalloped potatoes and turkey and stuffing with NPR playing Handel's Messiah in the background.

Better get to bed so Santa can come in the morning. Have a good Chrissie, all.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Taking stock

Tomorrow, I leave to go back to the states. I, originally, had planned to return permanently, but I've since extended my contract for another three months. Given that I should be going home, I thought it was a good time to take stock on the predictions I made and see how far I've come.

Unexpectedly useful items: Predicted that second set of dressy clothes would have been unexpectedly useful. And though I did wear that dress to the Cairns Cup, I think the most unexpectedly useful item is actually the item I had predicted would be the biggest waste of space: sweaters. Although I only brought four, having sweaters for the few trips I had down south during the winter was key. And I'm expecting to be very glad to have them when I arrive in Portland 27 hours from tomorrow.

Things I wish I had brought: I predicted I would want more T-shirts, yep, I did, so I've supplemented my supply here. I also predicted I would wish I had brought more photos from home. Thanks to Jeff's digital picture frame (aka. the Harry Potter picture frame) I have been able to see many of my favorite people and places on a regular basis.

Total pictures: predicted 600. Wow, what was I thinking. I've already taken 1326 photos. And I ain't done yet. And that doesn't count any of the ones I've deleted along the way that never made it into picasa.

Shoes: predicted 11 pairs, which was an addition of two pairs. I believe I have worn every pair that I brought, though the ones getting the most wear are still the flip flops. I've added four pairs since I arrived, and I've got new running shoes awaiting me at home!

Books: I think I've only read 4, though my prediction was 3. I've added several over my time here, and still haven't read the really long one I brought. Nor have I finished "A Short History of Australia" - What a misnomer!

Venomous attacks: remains zero, thankfully.

A few other stats:
Wild kangaroos spotted: 1
Wild walabies spotted: hundreds
Other wild marsupials: 2, both bandicoots (not pademelons)
Total Kilometers cycled: 705 (since I changed over to kilometers in late september)
Falls from the bike since getting clippy shoes: 5 (last one this morning)
Average time training per week: 11 hours
Average distance swum per week: 6K
States in Australia: 6 (plus 2 territories)
Least favorite insect: sandfly (followed closely by the cockroach)
Favorite Cairns eatery: Hare Krishna restaurant on Spence
Australian phrases I'll use in the US: "heaps" "good on you" "how are you going" "reckon" "yih"
Total travel time: 27 hours
Total flight time: 19 hours
Excitement level for visiting home: 11 out of 10
Hours til I get on the first plane: 8

Good night and see many of you soon!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

More Bangkok

A few other fun facts and photos from the trip.

Being tall. For the first time in my life, I was tall. Amongst the Thai, I am tall.

Parking lot shrines. For every building we saw, there was a small dollhouse sized shrine. Many of them in parking lots. Apparently, these are spirit houses. I'm still not quite sure what they are supposed to do, but some of them are very intricate, complete with tiny buddhas and elephants.

Not all the shrines are for buildings. Our first day in Bangkok, Andrea and I found the "fertility" shrine near our house. It was essentially a garden of phalluses ranging from actual size to 8' tall. Some more realistic than others. Andrea, why haven't you sent me those pictures yet?

Giant buddhas. Then compared to the tiny buddhas was the largest buddha. Reclining, this buddha is still about 4 stories tall. And, we were required to take our shoes off and put them in the non-Thai shoe shelves.

Lady boys. Bangkok is famous for their lady-boys. Excrutiatingly skinny pre- and post-op transexuals who lip-sync to only the most popular English, Thai, Chinese and Japanese songs. Oh, and your ticket includes a drink!

Jenga should never be mixed with drinking.

Temples and Spirit Houses


Bangkok nights

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Roaches, part two

My message to the roaches in Cairns was not heeded. This means war.


Tonight, a second roach, nearly twice the size of the first one, was waiting for me when I got home. Why do they like hanging out by the front door? I'm trying to convince myself that he just let himself in. Why did he hide in my shoes? I love my shoes. Why, in a tiled apartment, do I always end up killing them on a rug?

I don't want my apartment to be taken over by roaches while I'm gone. Any strategies? How does one declare war on roaches?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The changing of seasons


Cairns is the home to Rusty's market, a large farmer's market with mostly fruit and veg, but a few stalls of other yummy things.

When I first arrived in Cairns, I was amazed by the avocados. They were always ripe. They had both Haas (aka California) and Green (aka Florida) avos. I actually prefered the Florida ones cause they have a more consistent texture. As temperatures have warmed, those large fruits have given way to almost golf ball sized Haas avos that have a smokey flavour.

Next were the "bush-ripened" tomatos. They're fleshy, red, juicy, sweet, and nearly perfect with just a bit of salt. Today however, they tomatos were more firm, not quite as red. Clearly their season is coming to an end.

Today, it's the mangos that are so ripe you can smell them from down the street. Their flesh is perfection. And as the other tropical fruits begin to ripen, I also picked up lychees and mangosteens. Neither of which had I ever tried before. The lychees were a little too fragrant for me. Also a little too eyeball like. But the mangosteens... Delightful.

Monday, December 10, 2007

An open letter to the roach population in Cairns

Roaches,

The man you sent is dead. I caught your emissary today scouting out an infiltration of the holiest of sacred sites (aka, my apartment). And I thought you would like to know how he met his unfortunate end.

I was impressed with his cunning plans to catch me at my most vulnerable. Hiding out in my swimsuit, so that he would only be revealed as I stood completely naked (and shoeless), was a brilliant move. He then surprised me by scurrying up my shoulder, and I'm sure he was pleased with the shriek I let out. After regaining my dignity (and putting on undies) I sought him out with my sneaker, but he was too clever and remained hidden.

However, when I returned from my swim, it was I who had the element of surprise. There was your man in my foyer. I calmly put down my goggles and water bottle, and picked up my sneaker. He knew it was the end. I could see the fear in his step as he scrambled to the living room. He stopped for a moment to look back and that's when I struck. With one fatal blow, even his antenna stopped twitching.

Let this be a warning to you. I bought new shoes in Thailand, and I know how to use them. Any further troops you send will meet the same end. And though I may yelp and recoil when I meet them, and I may jump at any rustle of papers or itch, I will prevail.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Christmas in the tropics


It just doesn't feel like christmas. Even after spending an evening on the esplanade singing carols. It just seems disorienting. Maybe it's the 80 degree weather, or singing carols in flip flops and a bathing suit coverup, or hearing singers beg the heavens to "let it snow". But I think the main crux of the thing was singing "Russell the red nosed kanga" Just doesn't have the same ring.

Bangkok by day

It's beginning to feel like I'm losing momentum in my Thailand blogging. So here are a few experiences to share, before the memories wear away:


Shopping is an experience unto itself. The malls are enormous and there seems to be an endless supply of them. Even with our hearty western breakfasts every morning (I mean, can you really mess with such a good thing? Eggs and bacon are the perfect fuel for a mall, even if the bacon always had a bit of the taste of asia fried into it. Was that oyster sauce I detected), we would still get overshopped by mid-day. With entire floors dedicated to small stalls of tourist kitsch, furniture, electronics (aka. knock off cell phones and pirated DVDs) it's easy to get lost or to just give up on seeing daylight again. In the end, I'm hopeful that each of us picked up lots of good christmas items.


We also spent a day wandering around chinatown. Mostly these narrow alleyway markets which went from selling basic consumer items like purses, shoes and jewelry to selling a variety of chinese food staples to selling incense and paper items for use in the temples.

These markets were packed, and the flow of pedestrians would frequently get interupted by a motorcycle that had decided to "take the short cut" through the markets. And the food stalls seemed to be a lesson in biology. Was that just intestine floating in that jelley? I think that was a pigs foot. Lunch, any one?



And then there was my favorite day time activity: The Thai Cooking class. On the third floor of a thai restaurant, they had a classroom kitchen complete with desks and mirror over the cook top to watch the chef. Then across the hall was the student kitchen where we got to put the recipes to the test. By the end of the afternoon, we'd made 5 different dishes and had way too much food to consume for lunch. Now all I need is to find kaffir lime leaves in Australia...



The complete photo album from our daily activities (sans temples) is here:

Touring and Shopping

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Colorful city of Bangkok

Even getting to Bangkok is colorful. The official airline of Thailand, Thai Airways, is purple. Not just a bit here and there. All the seats, all the carpeting, all the uniforms, even the salt and pepper packets. We thought this was a bit much, but it didn't really prepare us for what we saw when we arrived.

Taxis in orange, pink, yellow, green, blue, red (sometimes sparkly red). This picture, though from Chinatown, was pretty typical of what we saw on every street, though smaller than most of the main Bangkok streets (and with more signs in Chinese).

Then there were the yellow shirts. Our first day exploring Bangkok, Andrea pointed out it seemed that a lot of people were wearing yellow. In fact about 70% of the people we saw were wearing a yellow shirt. Then we realized that actually about 60% were wearing the same shirt: a yellow polo with a triangular logo. Then we recalled that it was some sort of holiday. This must have something to do with the holiday.

We discovered later that they weren't wearing the shirts for a holiday. Turns out Monday is the King's day. And the King's color is yellow. It started last year when the king was sick, Bangkok(ers or ians or ese) started wearing yellow in solidarity with the King. Now, although he's returned to good health (and will be celebrating his 80th birthday tomorrow), people still wear his shirts with his logo on them. That's some serious dedication to the crown.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

The wet has arrived

Judging by the strength of the rain pounding the city, the constant flickering of lightning that mimics a strobe light, and the fact that my soap grew mould while I was in Thailand, I think the wet has arrived.

Further updates on the last tri of the season, the trip to Thailand and the Australian election (and ratifying the Kyoto) to come soon. Still unpacking!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Dirty Politics

The Australian Federal election is on for tomorrow. Three polls were released today. One showing a Labor landslide, one showing a labor marginal victory and one showing a Liberal marginal victory. My money is still on Labor.

But more interesting is the scandal in the Lindsay seat in West Sydney (congress seats each have names here). Liberal party member were caught handing out fliers from a fake Islamic group thanking the Labor party for their support. What a cunning plan! Pray on people's fear of Islam to get votes for your own party. The culprits included none other than the Liberal candidate's husband, who claims his wife knew nothing of the scheme.

Will this incident be the final nail in the Liberal coffin? If it's not, what does this say about tolerance within Australia?

http://news.theage.com.au/leaflet-scandal-triggers-resignation/20071122-1c2j.html

North meets South

What do you get when you mix boomerangs and lederhosen? A sunny afternoon in Australia with good German beer! Hooray Oktoberfest:

Oktoberfest + Lisa's karaoke farewell


Also, a few picts from Lisa's karaoke farewell.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A new chapter in cycling

Cairns has two seasons: the dry and the wet. So far, I've been enjoying the dry. This week, I've started to get a taste of the wet, which usually lasts from January through March. It's hot and humid. It rains sometimes in downpours, sometimes in sprinkles, but always when I'm outside. Then there's a little sunshine, and the sidewalks steam dry, and you have just enough time to fish out your sunglasses from your purse before it starts raining again.

This sort of weather pattern has created some new obstacles for biking:

A plague of frogs
Given the options for cycling in Cairns involve either the North Highway or the South Highway, roadkill is a common occurrence. Most of the time, it's just wallabies, identifiable by their fur and red meat. They have since been replaced by a plague of frogs that emerge during the storms and hurl themselves onto the highway. These are not little frogs either. These are the frogs you dissected in high school biology. In fact I think I could make money collecting them and selling them to high schools (10 bonus points to the student who can name which organ is still lying on the side of the road).

Was that a giant lizard or a tiny croc?
Really, who can tell when you're trying to avoid large chunks of it on the shoulder of the road? Seriously, based on the remnants, I believe this thing must have been between 3 and 4 feet long. One of the other riders swore it was a goana (aka, tiny dinosaur), but I'm not 100% convinced.

Mangoes: tasty treat or obstacle course?
Mangoes are in season here, and they are delicious. Unfortunately, the storms knock them out of the trees and onto the roads. They can be a bit hard to avoid, especially when riding in a pack. But they will either shoot out from under your tires or just squish. Occasionally though, you'll hit a pit. They can easily throw your balance.

Cycling shoes should come with drainage holes
I'm seriously considering drilling holes in the toes of my cycling shoes. Since the soles are a solid piece of plastic, they just pool with water when it rains. I could just feel my toes shriveling.

80K ride + buckets of rain = chafe
I'll just leave it at that.

Hurray, only 4 more months of rain!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Separation of Church and State

It is two weeks until the Australian Federal Election. As an outside observer, who works with some very politically passionate people, it seems to me that there will likely be a change in government. Not necessarily because Labor is better, but because it's different. 11 years of Liberal government has led them to be sloppy in their campaign. Polls have consistently shown Labor up by a statistically significant margin.

I initially drew the comparison to the US parties. Labor = Democrats, Liberal = Republicans. (Took a while to get that Liberal != Democrats) Using the analogies above, I assumed that I would be a Labor voter, as I tend to be a Democrat back home, but I haven't found the Labor party to be enticing in the same ways as the Democrats. And though at a fundamentals level these may be a reasonable comparisons, there is one primary difference between the parties here and those back home: the party lines are drawn on moral issues in the US.

In the states, I vote Democrat because I am pro-choice, I believe in teaching safe sex in classrooms, I believe in evolution, I support gay marriage. All moral issues, that in Australia do not define the parties. Other than a vague idea of big government vs. small government, I don't have a good sense of what really separates the parties in the US besides these moral issues.

In a way, I'm grateful to be currently living in a country where those moral decisions don't plague the government. But in another way, it makes me far less passionate about a horse to back in this election. Are they really all that different?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Bike lesson

I've made a lot of improvements on my bike in the time that I've been here. I'm a much more confident rider now, I can get a water bottle out of the cage and put it back in while riding, I can fetch things out of the pocket on my back while riding, I can open and eat a gu, I haven't fallen in 3 weeks! Today, I learned an important lesson:



Used gu wrappers should not be tucked into the leg of your shorts

I'm never quite sure what to do with the wrappers cause we never stop at all, let alone, near a trash can. So I'm left deciding where to put them, I have been putting them back into my back pocket, but as I've been doing longer rides (60K today!) I need more gu, and everything, including my keys, starts to get a bit sticky. So I decided I would try just tucking it into the leg of my shorts. Easy. About 30K later, I realize the back of my knee is sticking together on every stroke. The gu has melted down my leg. So I think, maybe I can just rub it in with the sweat, and it will be less sticky. Still sticky, only now my left hand is sticky as well. Ok, I can lick that off. Except that I have to brake, now my handlebars are sticky as well. By the time I got home, I think everything was covered in gu. Fantastic.



Off to clean my bike and buy a shirt with more than one back pocket.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Scary Cookies

To bring a little American holiday cheer to Australia, I decided to bake some Halloween cookies. Although, I can't really remember the last time I baked Halloween cookies, I do remember the last time I baked Christmas cookies, so I felt confident in my abilities. Unfortunately, several factors conspired against me to make some of the most homemade cookies, I think I've ever made.

  1. I didn't have Halloween cookie cutters, so I cut out stencils from paper, and traced around them with a knife. Maybe this seems obvious, but this step was incredibly time intensive.
  2. In the time it took to cut out the cookies, the dough would get too warm (tropics, right?) to manipulate onto the tray
  3. How many grams is one cup of butter? The internet suggest 240g, I'm still unconvinced.
  4. My oven doesn't fit a standard cookie (or biscuit) sheet. I learned this, having finally negotiated my first batch of cookies onto the sheet, and nope, doesn't fit the long ways, ok, and doesn't fit the short way. Hmmm. I ended up baking them with the sheet at an angle, the one way it would fit, making some cookies much closer to the heating element than others, and all of them battling the forces of gravity.
  5. I set butter out to come to room temperature for the icing, when I came back the butter was not just softened, it was a puddle, making my icing then a bit thinner than anticipated.
  6. All iced cookies then went into the fridge to firm up the icing. Promptly upon removing them the icing began to melt once again, so that jack-o-lanterns had smeared their smiles by the time they reached work.

Much to my surprise most of them got eaten, and it did remind folks that it was Halloween. I guess that's the point.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Math is hard

I've grown accustomed to continually doing the math to figure out what time it is back home. It's easy: just subtract 2 and toggle am/pm. I base all of my timezones on this simple calculation. If I need pacific time, then I figure out east coast, and subtract 3.

All of this is being thrown into upheaval. This week, Australia began day light savings time. Everywhere except Queensland. So now, Sydney and Melbourne are an hour ahead of me. That means I have another equation to remember. Then next week, the US goes back to standard time, and, for the life of me, I can't figure out what that does to my equation. Is it 3 hours difference from here but 4 from Sydney/Melbourne? Or 4 and 3?

There is no longer any order in my world.

Aussie Indie

New project: discovering great Aussie bands.

All of these seem to have creepy videos, and it's not cause it's Halloween, cause it's not Halloween here. Maybe just the Aussies like their videos creepy. Enjoy.

Exhibit A: Faker, one of my new faves, not available on US itunes, but still great, though the video is a bit creepy


Exhibit B: Operator Please. I think these kids are in high school. Maybe not as indie as they might be. They rocked the charts here with a song about ping pong, "Just a song about ping pong"


Exhibit C: Skipping Girl Vinegar. For some reason, I really like this video. Reminds me of The Maxx


Exhibit D: Sneaky Sound System. Probably the least "indie" on the list, but still fun dancy tracks.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

No shoes, no service?

I guess I've always assumed that McDonald's requirement that customers wear shirts and shoes was a matter of decorum. Maintaining a certain standard among its ranks.

I was standing in line at Bunnings (aka Home Depot) the other day and realized I was the only person in line wearing shoes. Ah, Cairns. This image spoke volumes to me about life here.

Then I got to thinking: shoes in a hardward store are not just a matter of decorum. They are a serious safety precaution. Think of all the things you wouldn't want to step on in your bare feet there. With the seriousness with which many safety issues are taken (e.g., the stickers on my oversized luggage reminding handlers to lift with their legs, not their backs; regular reminders from our office manager to keep cords coiled or under rugs to prevent a tripping accident) it seems odd that this one is completely overlooked. Then again, I would have been the only customer in that line had they required shoes.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

NFL coming to Australia?

The nytimes has an article today about a Giants v Dolphins game being played in London as another attempt to broaden the read of American Football. The article states the goal is to have a team on another continent by 2020.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/23/sports/football/23london.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&hp

Could Australia be next in line for a grid iron game? And would Aussies accept it?

My prediction is that it will not catch on here. There are already 3 different footballs (and soccer) being played here with strong regional ties. Every Aussie I meet has a particular favorite sport and team. They are accustomed to ignoring the other footballs and have vehement rationales for loving their sport and feeling nothing more than indifference, if not hatred, for the rest.

Plus, most have already passed judgement on grid iron and have found it "too slow and boring" for their taste with players who "don't look like athletes" and "only have to know how to do one thing."

I feel like the same statements could be made about cricket, but perhaps I just haven't been exposed to enough test matches.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Weekend sport

A few more lessons to be added to the Triathlon list:

Ocean swims are even harder when the water is choppy
Sunday provided the types of waves that I would have liked better with a surfboard. Enough so that I almost didn't do the swim. But it seemed once you got out past the breakers, it was ok.

If you compete in enough tris in a small club, you'll win an award
Even though I've never placed, or even come in above the bottom quartile. I got an award on Sunday for winning the most points in the 20-29 female division. I think I might have been the only 20-29 year old female to compete in more than one race. But, hey, I got a trophy and a $25 gift card to the bike shop.

Night Run: not such a great idea
Although, I think every one made it back unscathed, the 6K fun run on Saturday night was, in retrospect, a bad idea. First, running in the dark makes it difficult to see spots in the road that might, say, sprain an akle. Second, this road ran along a steep cliff down into the Barron Gorge. Third, the course was marked with glow sticks, but they weren't consistently on one side of the road, so each one you came to, you had to determine to which side of it to run. Fourth, it was an out and back course, so there was a risk that you could run directly into some one running the other direction.

Friday, October 19, 2007

CROC ATTACK!

Today's Cairns Post (the only reputable source of news in Cairns)


This guy was swimming in the ocean just north of Cairns when he happenned onto a croc, but was able to fight him off and get back to shore. I'm still not worried about the ocean triathlon swim this weekend because:

  1. He was apparently very near an estuary, the crocs natural home
  2. He was drunk, an didn't check the water before he jumped in
  3. Hopefully, the croc will attack people at the front of the pack (i.e., not me)
  4. He got away, right?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Marsupial encounter

I had completely forgotten to include in my Mission Beach post about my latest marsupial encounter. As Lisa and I drove down the dark, winding road toward Mission Beach, with eyes pealed for cassowaries, our headlights picked up a small animal sitting in the middle of the road that looked like this. Neither of us was sure what it was, but it was about the size of a cat and in our path. Following our wildlife instructions, we braked but did not swerve to miss the animal. And we safely missed it.

Rabbit? Must have been. We continued, then we saw another one. This one even scurried across the road, then gave a good hop into the bush. Couldn't be a rabbit, it has small ears.
Once at Mission Beach, we read that both bandicoots and pademelons are common to those parts and upon the advice of the "Wildlife of Far North Queensland" volume that we found in the long house, we determined it was a bandicoot. (Pademelons look like tiny kangaroos - definitely not what we saw, since we didn't notice the tail) Not quite as exciting or majestic as a cassowary, but still genuine Australia fauna nonetheless.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Hiking the Pyramid

About 20km south of Cairns, the highway passes Walsh's Pyramid, a naturally occurring mountain with a steep and pointy top. It climbs to an altitude of just over 900m and can be visible from Cairns on a clear day. When Rowan and I drove to Yungaburra, we passed it and discussed hiking the Pyramid. It's apparently the thing to do. Only takes 2 hours to get to the top.

Between triathlons, weekends in southern Australia and visitors the Pyramid hike had taken a back seat. But we finally arranged to go last weekend. We sought advice from some experienced hikers (Thanks, Dave!) and set off on Sunday morning at 6:30am with 6L of water, 6 granola bars, 3 bananas, 2 oranges and some almonds for Rowan, Lauren and myself.

The weather could not have been more perfect. After a week of breathlessly humid days in Cairns, we got a reprieve with a few clouds and a cool ocean breeze. Despite this about 10 minutes into the hike we were all soaked with sweat. The hike was less of a hike with some steep spots rather a set of uneven stairs with a few flat spots. Lauren set off at a break-neck pace, and would stop every 10 minutes or so for Rowan and me to catch up. The climb was so steep that we rarely spoke. We couldn't, we were gasping for air. The first 20 minutes seemed to take forever, and I felt like there was no way I could keep this up for another hour and forty. But from then on it went quickly, covering ground, looking back out toward Cairns and watching the surrounding farmland transition from fields of individual crops to a green patchwork quit.

We stopped at the halfway point for granola and almonds. The path got steeper from there on out. It kept looking like we were almost there, just around that corner, just over that boulder, that must be the top, that tree, that's it, right? The last 30 minutes were filled with false hope. Then we started to hear people. We had made it. It took just over 2 hours. We could now see out over the other side of the pyramid, out to the Tablelands and south toward Innisfail. At this point I thought to myself, this wasn't that bad. In fact it was pretty great. I could definitely do this again, maybe when Andrea visits.

We ate and chatted for about 30 minutes at the top before deciding to start descending back to the car. We were making plans for Cairns. We'd stop by the farmer's market for produce, then a quick shower, then to a cafe for newspapers, coffee and brekky. I was already hearing the siren call of poached eggs as we started back towards the car. Maybe it was the desire to be back in the city, or the knowing that the big sense of accomplishment with climbing the Pyramid was over, but the way back was hard. Harder than going up. Every step threatened to slide out from under you. Rarely was there a rock or tree to help steady you or take some of your weight off. I became much more aware of the changes in the landscape as well. Pine needles near the top were the biggest slipping risk for the first part, as we got lower, the needles gave way to loose gravel. Although we weren't winded and could talk on the way down, I found that the pain in my knees was making it difficult to focus on much else.

We must have passed the halfway point and not noticed it. It's already been 45 minutes, surely we're going down faster than we went up. No, there was the halfway point, still ahead of us. We sat down, had a snack and stretched our legs. Ok, we were so close to the cars I could almost taste the eggs. One the way up, I had noticed a granola bar wrapper on the ground. On the way back, I picked it up to throw it out, thinking, this had been really close the cars, we're almost there. Still there were turns, the highway still looked small. This hike would not end.

We did eventually make it back to the car, Cairns, the market, coffee, newspapers and brekky. But, not before I had changed my mind about hiking the Pyramid again. It was great to do it once, and perhaps if some one installed a slide or a zipline from the top, I would consider it again. But at least for now, and given that my legs are still in immense pain two days later, I will not be making the trip again.

Walsh's Pyramid

SHARK ATTACK!

Pretty far off the reef snorkel destinations, even farther off the coast of Cairns. A man who was spearfishing was attacked by a shark. He is recovering well.

http://www.cairnspost.com.au/article/2007/10/15/4266_news.html

Second attack reported today off the North coast of New South Whales (over a days drive south of here)

http://abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/10/15/2059744.htm?section=justin

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Election fever

The Australian Election was called yesterday. Australians will go to the polls November 24. If the polls to date can be trusted, there will likely be a change in the Federal government. Not sure how this affects our work, but it definitely could.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Mission Beach Aquatics Festival

Mission Beach

Lisa and I went to Mission Beach last weekend which is about a 2 hours drive South of Cairns. Mission Beach is known for its Cassowaries, which are large, endangered, flightless birds. It's home to 50-60 of them and has the densest population of them in the world. Despite this and the many signs indicating that we should be cautious drivers we saw a grand total of zero.

We stayed at a place called Sanctuary. It offers accommadations to tourists in the middle of a bit of conserved rainforest just north of Mission Beach on Garner's Beach. We stayed in a rainforest hut which was like a screened in porch with two beds and a night stand. At night we could hear all the creatures of the forest come alives. So even though we never saw a cassowary, we are convinced that we definitely heard one. They either go "ribbit," "hoo hoo," or "cock-a-doodle-doo."

Sanctuary also boasts an organic farm (which you can work on for accommodations), a yoga studio, and an incredibly yummy restaurant. With everything there, there is a sense of responsibility, that you are renting a part of the community there. Thus, when the yoga class is done, you wash your own mat. If you would like dinner in the restaurant, you must order by 6pm off the menu which is announced at 4pm and it will be served between 7 and 8. It's the type of place that by the second day you get the feeling that you had significantly destressed. If you could stay there for a week, you may no longer be recognizable to your friends and family.

Ultimately, the rationale for going to Mission Beach was to see the Mission Beach Aquatics festival and to compete in the triathlon that Sunday. The Festival was small. And I feel like I'm starting to see the same "local flavor" bits again and again. The highlight of the festival was supposed to be the world's largest sarong. But when we went we saw that, in fact, it had been just many pieces of fabric pinned together in a patchwork sarong, and that most of it had already been disassembled. We then found a good table to grab a beer and watch the parade. The parade consisted of an old tyme car, kids with surfboards, scouts dressed as flip-flops and a firetruck. I think they might have won the award for the world's shortest parade. Our waitress went to get our beers and when she came back she had missed it.

I bought shoes for my bike. They clip into the pedals so you can both pull up on the pedals as well as push down. This is a big step in my cycling career. And it's to be expected that you will fall off your bike a few times as you get the hang of using them. Saturday, the day before the race, I still had not tried them out with the bike in motion (I had practiced them with the bike stationary and held in an upright position). So after two beers and the excitement of the parade, we decided it was time to practice. Lisa ran out ahead of me, so I could ride to her and she could catch me if I started to tip. I clipped in, pedalled a bit, clipped out and came to a stop right in front of her, still upright! She ran a bit further. Again, I made it successfully. "This is awesome" "You're a natural" "Ok, let's try it one more time, back to the car and we'll be good" As Lisa ran back toward the car, I turned the bike around with one foot still clipped in. And then, I was on the ground, laughing and calling out to Lisa. We tried a few more times and I didn't fall again, so I was feeling good for the race the next day.

I woke up in the morning anxious. Worried about the shoes still. But Suzie was there. Whew, not going to be last. Then it turns out, she was doing the half distance course. They explained the course to us: four buoys on the swim, left out of the lot on the bike, road turns right, over a small bridge, take a turn, out to South Mission Beach, around the cone, back, second lap, run across the street, pass the "Run-turnaround sign", but don't turn around there, take a turn up a hill, follow the cones, back to the turnaround sign, second loop and back to the transition area. What? I'll just follow the signs. The group of us traipsed out to the beach for the swim. I saw two buoys close to shore, where were the other two? Off on the horizon, I spotted two small orange dots. Those were them. Was it possible that was 750m? I started to panic. I can't swim that far in the ocean, I have clippy shoes I'm going to fall out of, I have no idea what the course is. I looked around and spotted Greg a member of the club. I told him I was anxious about the swim. He said not to worry about it, just take it easy, take my time, don't try to go out too hard and I'd make it.

He was right. I was very slow, and I got caught in a rip coming back in and kept getting pushed off course, but I made it out of the water. The very last person out. At this point I was a bit disheartened, but strapped on my new clippy shoes and took my bike out to the course. I couldn't get my right foot in. I had practiced starting with one foot in, and now I couldn't get it in. I stood on the right pedal, I heard it clip, but then my weight was on the right, and down I went. My second spill with the shoes. A race official came back over to me to help. He offered to hold the bike up right, and I could just clip both of them in. But I couldn't do that, that wasn't how I had practiced, I knew I would fall again. I managed to get the right foot back in with him holding the bike, then finally got on my way.

Ok, right turn, over the bridge, out to the intersection, there are people there directing traffic. I hang a right. I swear I pass people cheering me on. Then it's just winding hills. Where's the turnaround? I see a sign "Caution bikes on road", ok I'm still going the right way. Then the road ends, another intersection and there's no sign, there's no one there. Which way do I go? Where are all the other riders? I must have screwed up. I turn around. I go all the way back to the transition area. I spot Simone, "Where's the turn around?" "There's a cone in the middle of the road" How could I have missed that? Back out, I come to the first intersection, and I yell out, "Where's the turn around?" "It's to the left." The left. I turned right last time. Why didn't you stop me before?

Maybe, I should just rack my bike, and not run. But as I get back to the transition. There's Lisa, cheering me on. I get off my bike, and I don't fall over. Ok, time to run. It's now about 10:45am, it's getting hot. I'm running. I do the first lap slowly, and I know at this point that every one else has finished. I ask the official, "can I finish?" He says "Yeah". I turn around at this point things start to click. My strides feel good. I make it up the hill this time with a lot less effort. And when I turn the corner to the finish line, there's Lisa and Simone cheering once again.

I don't really care about being last. I do care about being so far behind. It's hard to keep myself motivated to push hard when I can't see any one ahead of me. And I feel guilty for making people wait on me. One more triathlon next weekend...

Monday, October 08, 2007

Summertime

It's 30 degrees (86 in fahrenheit) with 66% humidity. It is becoming critically important that I find the remote control to my air conditioner.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Why it's so expensive to get to Australia from the States

"Qantas makes an estimated 20 per cent of its profits on the route [US to Australia], deemed as one of the most uncompetitive long-haul routes in the world."

But perhaps all of this will be changing:

http://www.theage.com.au/news/travel/us-air-pact-ups-virgin-blue-hopes/2007/09/30/1191090945530.html

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Local Big Band

The best part of seeing the Atherton Hotshots play at the Cairns Yacht Club was not being the youngest people there by 20 years, or watching the blue-haired ladies glide across the floor, or even the sometimes questionable renditions of "New York, New York". The best part was the band leaders terribly awkward attempts at weaving the songs together with introductions like "Well that was truly joyful... Now 'Joy to the World'...er" or "Julia [the singer's name] the more I see you, the more excited I get... No, I mean, the next song is 'The More I See You'..." Pure gold.

Atherton Hotshots

Best Practice Care Packages

I'm not posting this to make you feel guilty, but should it encourage you to send a care package, well I wouldn't complain. I've received two care packages since I've been in Australia. Each of these packages has braved crossing the US, the Pacific, the equator and the East Coast of Australia, and each is a bit worse for the wear:

This one suffered through Australian Quarantine for a week while Australian Authorities determined that the homemade cookies and custom-designed "Down Under" granola bars were of no threat to the Australian landscape. And even with that the cookies were scarfed in a day, and the recipe for the granola bars has been requested by several of my officemates.
Amazingly, this one made it here covered in 39 cent stamps (and surprisingly no customs form). In it's hold: a mix CD and a homemade "Book about Wa".
What I love about both these packages is not only the distance that they dared, but their contents were conceived and created in kitchens and living rooms back in the states. Each of them sweet in their own way.
Thanks, Margot, Mike, Jen

Monday, September 24, 2007

Lessons from my first Australian Triathlon

1. Ocean swims are hard.
I guess I haven't done an open water swim since maybe last summer in Boston, so attempting my first one in a while, in the ocean, in a race, wasn't the best. But I did not drown, or have to get saved, I did get kicked by a bunch of the kids that only had to do half the distance. Which brings me to...

2. It's unfair that the 10 year olds get to do shorter distances, they are obviously fitter than me so they should have to put themselves through the same toils. And they gloat.
Seriously, these kids were doing laps in utero. They are ironmen in training. When I was 10, I thought riding my bike to the end of the driveway was a feat. Most of these kids haven't hit puberty yet, and I could probably hold them at arms distance to keep them from hitting me if I had to and they still look barely winded when I crossed the finish line. I do feel bad for the one kid I beat (same kid as in the duathlon), it's gotta be way harder to be him than me.

3. Setting expectations that I'll be at the back of the pack make for a far more enjoyable outcome.
I've learned by now to not expect any great performances out of me relative to the rest of the race. This race instead, I focused on not letting myself down - I didn't stop the entire way except in the transition areas. I ran the whole thing, I held a 16mph pace on the bike and I didn't drown. Even though they were already taking down the bike racks when I finished, I felt great. This was also helped by...

4. Knowing I will absolutely not be the last also makes for a more enjoyable race.
Ok, maybe it's not nice, but there was another woman there who had a basket on the front of her bike. Sure, I don't have clippy pedals, but a basket, really? I am an order of magnitude more hardcore than her. I had ridden with her the week before and knew that even if I blew a tire, I could probably run the bike faster than she could pedal. Knowing that she was "racing" meant I would definitely not be last. I took solace in that. I may not be competitive, but at least people aren't looking at me thinking "A basket?!!" And I am getting clippy pedals on my bike today!

5. Having a cheering section rocks no matter how small the race or the cheering section.
Lisa and Kimberley came out to watch the end of the race. So when I crossed the finish line I had the only cheering section at the race. It was awesome. Then we went for brunch out on the beach. Could not have been a better Sunday morning.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Festival Cairns

Just realized I posted pictures without much explanation. As I try to fully integrate into Aussie culture (e.g., netball, sushi trains, "reckon"), these sorts of "local flavor" events are definitely my favorite.

I have a lot of respect for Cairns. Considering how easily Cairns could just be another tourist stop (see Port Douglas, Noosa), Cairns really goes out of its way to provide local events and to create a sense of community in town. For three weeks every September Cairns puts on Festival Cairns with a host of various events around town. Jeff and I went to the Cairns Regional Museum to take in art from Far North Queensland artists. Definitely the highlight of this show was a sculpture titled "Shark Watch" that was a clay shark sitting on a life guard chair in complete Aussie lifeguard attire (i.e., red and yellow beanie).

But the true culmination of Festival Cairns was last Saturday. It included the Rotary duck race, the Parade of Lights and the Fireworks extravaganza. The duck race is a raffle, you can sponsor a duck for $5, then the ducks race across the lagoon, and the first duck to reach the end of the chute wins thousands of dollars in prizes. How thrilling does that sounds! I was very excited for the race. It turns out rubber duckies don't tend to race of their own accord, like cane toads, they require a bit of prodding. This was provided by two lifeguards, pushing an inflatable barrier at the back of the duck pack to coax them along. The entire race takes about 20 minutes, which for an event that involves watching rubber duckies drift across a pool, is quite a long time. They even have moment by moment commentary, "Now there's a cheeky little blue ducks looking to make a move." Still, it was great to see so many people come out.

The Parade of Lights had all the hallmarks of a good community parade (just like the Somerville Memorial Day parade only without the Shriners in tiny cars or the revolutionary war re-enactors): high school marching bands, dance troupes, Karate schools, Hare Krishnas, and unicyclists. Afraid the pictures didn't come out very well from these, as the light was dying, but three floats were my favorites. The first was a school that dressed up as the Esplanade (see photo below). As I've already established my fondness for the Esplanade, I'm sure you'll understand my great pleasure at seeing a host of kids dressed up as the water fountain in the lagoon and the big fish statues, compete with big blue tarp connected them, followed by kids dressed up as palm trees and sunbathers. Fantastic.


The other two floats were a gymnastics troupe that had mounted a trampoline on the back of a semi truck and a day care center that in an effort to emphasize safety had put up a 4ft fence surrounding the float, thus making the kids look caged.

As soon as the parade ended, people raced across the street and onto the Esplanade for a good view of the fireworks out over the water. Of course, the fireworks didn't start for a good 40 minutes, so we decided to give up our great position which we had knocked little old ladies over to get to, and go have a beer. Fireworks are in the sky anyway, right?

Nettie!

Netball is a derivative of basketball that was invented to provide a less rough alternative to the fairer sex. It seems to have remained a favorite for girls in Commonwealth countries (sort of like softball). The main differences are the lack of dribbling and running with the ball - it's a passing game - and that positions have very clear areas of the court they are allowed to play in, so there's no crowding the goal. And there's no backboard.

The girls from work have formed a netball team. I've never been much for throwing and catching. I find most games devolve into dodgeball for me. I prefer biking or rowing. But, then again, there's no better excuse for sucking at a game than having never even seen it played before, so really the expectations couldn't be lower for my performance. And they desperately needed players.

In our first game last week, we got completely creamed. I think we lost by 20 points. This was not the way to instill confidence in my game or even to enjoy playing. This week I relectantly returned to the court, this time playing offense (specifically, wing attack). The other team was short a player (so it was 7 on 6). We seemed well-matched at that rate. Then their goal attack sprained her ankle. Needless to say, we won! Definitley not a fair fight, but far more enjoyable this week than last.

Next week, I think we'll move down a league, and hopefully that will ensure future wins. And maybe I'll actually learn to catch.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Some things just don't translate

I assumed that food that is neither American nor Australian would remain unchanged between the two countries. Indian, Chinese and Japanese food should just be the same whether you're in Australia or the US, right? Why should they be different? Considering how different Chinese food in the US is from authentic Chinese food, I guess it makes sense that Australian Chinese food would be different from US Chinese food.

In most things the offerings are the same, but the names can get a bit lost in translation: "chicken tikka masala" is "butter chicken" here. "Dim sum" is called "yum chaw," but they do have "dim sims" which are those dumplings that inevitably have both pork and shrimp in them.

But sushi is just different. They have (cooked) chicken rolls. There are never spicy tuna rolls. It seems that every roll is made with mayonnaise. More stark than those though are the sushi delivery methods. It seems there are two types of sushi restaurants: the stall and the train. The stall offers pre-made rolls that haven't been sliced into pieces, so you just buy the rolls and eat them with your hands (like a hotdog). The train involves many small plates that rotate past your table, you select the items you want, and the plates are different colored to indicate the price. I know that sushi trains exist in the states, but I'd never seen one, and given that I have few other sushi choices these days, I thought I'd comment on what makes for a good sushi train.

Of course the quality and variety of sushi matters, but the hallmark of an excellent sushi train would actually be a moat with boats of sushi floating by. However, there are none of these in Cairns. As a result the next best thing is a real model train (usually US), complete with engine and passenger car. Otherwise it's just a conveyor belt.


And now for more pictures from the Festival Cairns:

Festival Cairns

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Photos from Sydney

Jeff's visit to Sydney


details to come

Monday, September 10, 2007

What's in a name

September 11th has become a somber day for me. It's the Kennedy assassination of my generation. I know precisely where I was when the details began to unfold - the confusion, then the chilling realization of what had happenned. Every year I feel a considerable loss, and I mourn not only for the people who died on that day, but also the loss of the banding together, as Americans, that happenned that day, that has since been extinguished by the misuse of 9/11 as a cover for a misguided war.

Did 9/11 affect our nation more than the Kennedy assassination? Will people 45 years hence know and commemorate the date of September 11th? I will admit I had to look up the Kennedy assissination on wikipedia to discover when it was (November 22, 1963). But, since September 11th is "September 11th" or "9/11" not the "Al Qaeda attacks on American soil" or even the "World Trade Center bombings," it seems difficult to think that the actual date will ever fall into neglect.

The fact that the events and the date are so inextricably tied creates a disorienting sensation when abroad. It's September 11th here. But 6 years ago today, it was September 10th in New York, still bright and hopeful. Most Australians likely didn't hear the news until September 12th. I feel like I should be taking my moment of quiet contemplation today on the events 7 years ago and the reactions to them across since then. But, I feel alone in doing so. I could wait til tomorrow to review the nytimes.com slide shows of the memorial at ground zero. But that's still not my September 11th.

Perhaps though, mourning without the media's recounting of events, the excerpts from the blackboxes, the harrowing 911 transcripts, is the most healthy thing to do. Maybe it is part of the recovery process. I don't believe that a September 11th will pass in the next 100 years that will be devoid of some formal recognition of the date, but maybe it's time for Americans, or at least for me, to start to move on.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

America's image abroad

The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit has just wrapped up in Sydney. I don't think it made much news back in the States, but the President was here. And once again, he did his country proud, referring to "APEC" as "OPEC" and "Australians" as "Austrians." It is a sad state of affairs that his cringe-worthy blunders no longer make papers. Best I can tell, it didn't even get a nod on the Daily Show.

Recently, I came across this quote in an article criticizing the Australian PM John Howard for his alliances with George Bush. It seems that we are resigned to riding out this presidency with the hope that, this time, the next four years will bring change.

From the New Yorker:

"When Sarkozy met Condoleezza Rice, she said, ‘What can I do for you?’ And he said, bluntly, ‘Improve your image in the world. It’s difficult when the country that is the most powerful, the most successful—that is, of necessity, the leader of our side—is one of the most unpopular countries in the world. It presents overwhelming problems for you and overwhelming problems for your allies. So do everything you can to improve the way you’re perceived—that’s what you can do for me.’ "


Being a tourist again

Jeff's been visiting for the last few weeks, so I've gotten to be a tourist again.

It's fun rediscovering my city again. The first day in Cairns, I showed Jeff around. We walked down the Esplanade which is my favorite feature of the city. Cairns doesn't have a beach, it has mudflats. It used to have a beach, but years of dredging the Trinity inlet to make room for bigger boats and placing that mud along the shore has created a marsh. The Esplanade is a 2.5K stretch of coast that has been developed for community activities. There are free gas BBQs and picnic tables, playgrounds, a skate park, bike and walking trails, the Lagoon (a pool), and public performance spaces. For a city like Cairns that doesn't have very many locals (population only 130K), it seems very important to have space like this that is dedicated to public use, not just tourist traps.

Also visited is Rusty's market. The produce market is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday and sells the freshest, cheapest produce available in Cairns. They also offer some prepared foods, various jewelry, clothing and second hand stalls, thai massage and tarot reader. I only wish it was open every day.

Last weekend, we traveled up to Kuranda which is "the village in the rainforest". It's up on the tablelands above Cairns. We took the Scenic Railway up to Kuranda. It was beautiful, but touristy. Thankfully, it was not kitschy, there were no train robberies along the way, just lots of tunnels, a few waterfalls and some spectacular views back down to the ocean. While in Kuranda, we broke down and went to Koala Land. It would have been a wholy unsuccessful trip to Australia if Jeff had not seen some marsupials, so we gave up on seeing them in the wild and paid out $15 each to check out this small park in Kuranda. There they had freshwater crocodiles (not native to this part of Australia - and much smaller than the salties we have here). We also so kangaroos and wallabies, including one joey that was still hiding in its mother's pouch. They offered koala snuggling, but I don't believe in it. Koalas are naturally like Cooper. They sleep 22 hours out of the day. If you disturb their slumber, they get angry. They have sharp claws. So in order to provide a good tourist attraction, the koalas are drugged into submission. No koala snuggling for us. Then the highlight of the trip. We took the cable cars back down the mountain. This was oustandingly beautiful, floating over lush green rainforest, with almost no sounds except those made from the trees below. I think the best tourist thing I've done in Cairns.

There are a few other random pictures here. And I'll put up more from Sydney shortly.

Jeff's visit to Cairns

Posting from my living room!

Hurray for internet at home. I feel like I've just discovered Australia!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Birthday at the Cairns Cup

It was a full day of birthday celebrations. Starting with the races at the Cairns Cup. Apparently, Cairns hosts "Australia's Hottest Racing." Maybe they're refering to the temperature? The weather held out, not hot and didn't rain, but very grey, as the pictures will attest. The girls and I got a table and picniced and made $2 wagers on horses. The highlight of the event was definitely the "Fashions on the Field" event which gave away a trip to Guam as the prize. For as proud as we had been of our homemade fascinators, it seemed we were a bit out of our league for the competition.

After a nap and dinner, I ended up going out for drinks with my downstairs neighbors Rob and Monique. Great people. Lots of fun. Though most of those pictures didn't come out as I managed to turn off the flash and not realize it.

Birthday at the Cairns Cup

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Medicine vs Medicinal

Before I left for Australia, I went on a CVS shopping spree. I didn't want to get caught in oz without the medicines I know and love. Unfortunately, somehow I managed to not include cough medicine in that spree.

Last night I was starting to feel a bit of a tickle in my throat, so I went to the supermarket (I needed carpet cleaner as a result of an unfortunate yogurt accident that morning). And I discovered that the supermarket here only contains "Medicinal" products, not actual "Medicines". Thus I picked out some zinc/echinacea tablets some some antibacterial lozenges (I was curious) and hoped that that would stave off this cold. Unfortunately, at 1am, ~22kg of lead had filled my chest. And despite my best efforts the lozenges just weren't going to do it.

I then remembered there was a late night pharmacy in town. The concept of 24 hour doesn't really exist here. I looked it up in the phone book. They're open 7am to 11pm. I searched through neighboring districts, that was the best option. I had to wait 6 hours for cough syrup. Something so readily available at any time of the night in Porter Square was completely off limits in Cairns.

Thankfully, they do stock robitussin here, though the labels are a little different. I got the "Chesty Cough Forte" which contains "Mucolytic". And I'm feeling a bit better now, though, still a little sleepy.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Contact info

Just in case you need to find me. Here's my new address:

11/172 McLeod St
Cairns QLD 4870
Australia

(It takes roughly 2 weeks for mail to arrive from the US)

Cell phone: +61 438 632 855
(if dialed from the US, it's 011 61 438 632 855)


Birthday update and photos coming soon.

Monday, August 06, 2007

New apartment

Apartment is being cleaned as I type this. Plumber came this morning to fix the disposal (which they call just the insinkerator). Still no sign of the electrician. I'm softening on the idea of BCG just paying out the remainder of the contract on the internet.

Here are some pictures of the new place:

New apartment

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Homesickness

Up until this point, I've been mostly just fascinated with the differences in culture and tickled with the lack of 'r's in pronunciation. Last week, I finally moved into my new apartment. And in the process have been plagued with little issues. When I moved in the apartment had not been cleaned from the previous tenants. The previous tenants were my landlords. But I don't interface directly with them. I go through a rental agency. There were also little things, like one of the light bulbs was burnt out in a wall sconce, so the wall sconce was disassembled, but a new bulb had not been put in. And the disposal has something stuck in it. Just little things that are frustrating.

And the electrician has now stood me up twice to fix the lights. And the phone company cancelled my installation without telling me, then I found out I can't get broadband without a 24 month contract. This isn't a third world country. I'm not asking for something special. Isn't internet a god-given right?

And I'm getting tired of asking people to repeat themselves so I can figure out where to put the r's back in, or asking them to explain another slang term. It's just exhausting. I miss home. I miss touchdowns instead of tries. I miss right-turn-on-reds. I miss cell phones. I miss apartments. I miss prices being listed below the item in the supermarket. I miss commonwealths being states instead of nations.

Not that I don't enjoy it here. I really do love the experience. I don't regret it for a minute, I am just tired of introducing myself and immediately being asked if I'm Canadian, if I'm on holiday, what I do for the institute. I guess the honeymoon is over.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Australia's terrorist

Not sure how much news on Mohammed Haneef has made it over to the states. A quick search reveals a few AP articles. Which is a few more than made it on the treatment of indigenous people in the Northern Territory. I guess terrorism is always of interest in the US.

In brief, Dr. Haneef was working in a hospital on the Gold Coast. He attempted to board a plane for Bangalore on July 2nd to visit his wife and newborn daughter on a one-way ticket. His second cousins are suspects in the Glasgow terrorist attack, and as a result, he was detained in Brisbane for the better part of a month. The longest detainment in Australia without a trial in recent history. Charges were subsequently dropped on July 27 due to lack of evidence, but his visa was revoked, so he was required to leave the country on his release from prison.

What's interesting about the case, from my perspective, is the reaction of Australians to his detainment. People have been incredibly vocal about how he was mistreated by the justice system. There's been outrage at the use of the "dangerous terrorist" label to prolong his detainment without evidence. And, there's been a cry for more of the information to be shared with the general public. Sort of a "We're not saying you shouldn't detain him, but you won't tell us what you've got against him, so we think you've got nothing, so you should let him go." It seems so counter to the patent American acceptance of guilt by association of any terrorist suspect (or relative). Sure there's the ACLU, but there always feels like there's a majority of right-wingers around to roll their eyes at those crazy liberals because they don't understand national security.

The Australian outrage was then doubled when his visa was revoked, especially as this happened as it was unfolding that there was no evidence against him. My rudimentary understanding though is that this is totally within the rights of the Ministry of Immigration to do. Granted most of my knowledge is from this fantastic reality television show here called Border Security that features customs and immigrations officers doing their duty to protect Australia. The thing that struck me about this show is the incredible power that these people wield and the relatively low burden of proof necessary to confiscate property or revoke a visa and send some one back home. In both of the episodes I've seen, people have been sent back to their homes on suspicion that they were here to seek work. The suspicion is usually based on their inability to articulate their travel plans in Australia. And there is a harrowing correlation between skin color/ origin and the outcome of the inquiry. People from south east Asia get sent home, those from England are allowed in, even if they're carrying huge quantities of cash, have a criminal past and are claiming to be attending a wedding but have brought only a backpack with no details on the wedding in it. Using this as my metric, revoking Dr. Haneef's visa seems totally in order with common practice. People on visas do not have the rights of Australian citizens, they shouldn't expect to, and Aussie citizens shouldn't expect them to either. Especially if English is not their first language.

Dr. Haneef left Australia after lodging a review of his visa revocation with the High Court to be held next week. On Monday morning a poll of Australians through one of the big morning news shows showed that over 55% of Australians believed he should have his visa reinstated. However, on Tuesday, the Minister of Immigration provided some of the evidence he had viewed to determine the fate of Haneef's visa. This included a reference to a chat room conversation with his brother in India. This conversation included phrases like "Nothing has been found out about you" and to use your daughter's birth as an excuse to return to India. The same news program ran the poll again on Tuesday morning. When I saw the results, the percentage was then less than 15%.

The court of public opinion has ruled. Still, there is criticism on the "sloppy" way in which the Haneef case was handled and the lack of public disclosure. I believe that the political pressure (there's a Federal election on) from the public outcry pushed to have Haneef released sooner than prosecutors would have wanted. Australia's distrust in their own government, and their government's inability to supply evidence have allowed a suspected terrorist to roam free. And yet, I feel strangely proud of them. Maybe it's my liberal bent, but the people spoke, and the government listened. I'm not sure if the world is a safer place, as a result, but it says to me that there is a place where people stand up for the rights of others.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

More photos

Here are some photos from my trip with Rowan to the Yungaburra markets on the Tablelands, then onto Kuranda and the Barron Gorge Falls.

Yungaburra


And here are photos from the duathlon in Port Douglas
Port Douglas Duathlon


And finally, pictures from Nirav and Neha (Kellogg grads) farewell parties:
Nirav and Neha's farewells

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Duathlon

I participated in my first duathlon yesterday hosted by the ironmen. It was a nice relaxed race. No pre-registration. No timing chips. Only about ~25 competitors.

I scanned the competition and put them into 3 groups: 14 year old boys, ironmen, grandmas. I figured I'd try to hang with the grandmas. In the end I came in 1st in the international division, of which I was the only competitor. I finished ahead of only 1 14 year old boy and 1 grandma.

The race was a bit different than what I had expected. It was advertised as 3K run, 15K bike, 5K run. It turns out it was 3K run uphill to the lookout point for Port Douglas, an 18K bike, and a 7K run down the beach.

It was an incredibly beautiful race. On the drive up to Port Douglas (about an hour north of Cairns), I saw the sunrise over the ocean. Running along the beach, although difficult, was also amazing, just palms to my left and ocean to my right. And truly there's no better way to finish a race, then to kick off your sneakers and run out into the surf.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Australian accents

What do you reckon?

In my mind "reckon" had always been a bit of a country-bumpkin type of a word. But apparently here, it's a regular part of the vernacular. People reckon lots of things. Or rather people reckon heaps of things.

When discussing this with my Australian coworkers. I pointed out that I thought they used "reckon" in place of "think". They shrewdly made the point, that they have "think" and they use "reckon" instead. The point was made that reckon:think as sure:yes. It's a little less certain. Closest I can come up with is "guess" or "bet" but even these words have a slightly different meaning.

In the end, I like "reckon." I don't know that I can use it without sounding phony. But I like that it expresses a slight variation in meaning that Americans don't recognize.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Pictures from Mossman Gorge

Mossman Gorge is located on the edge of the Daintree Rainforest about an hour's drive from Cairns. Traditionally land belonging to the Kuku Yalanji, there is a large effort underway to create a visitor center run by the indigenous community there. Definitely a place to visit again, and one of the few rivers you can swim in without risk of crocodiles.

Mossman Gorge and a few strays

Cairns Show

Regional cities across the country hosted their Show Days on Friday. The show is something akin to a county fair, which considering my passion for the Somerville Memorial Day Parade, I loved. There was livestock, a dog show, skydivers, tons of amusement park rides and games complete with Aussie Carnies, candy floss (i.e., cotton candy), dagwood dogs (i.e., corndogs), chips (i.e., fries), arts and crafts competitions, a wood chopping contest and booths advertising everything from politicians, to Jacuzzis, to churches, to dust mite removal products. But a key differentiator from the American fair is the show bag. They have huge booths selling various branded bags each including an assortment of goodies. They have Cadbery bags, Bratz bags, Carebears bags, Wiggles bags, and my personal favorite: the American Chopper bag.

Cairns Show

Out of my league

I got in touch with the Cairns Crocs Triathlon Team looking to meet some locals to train with. Maybe I should have known from the the list of training sessions for the weekend including: a Friday morning ride of 60K with 7.5K sprint sessions followed by a 14K run, a 100K Saturday morning ride followed by a swim, a brick Sunday morning followed by a 12K run. Maybe I should have known when I was told that of those the 100K was probably the most accessible. Maybe when they all had clippie shoes, or when they took off at 18mph for their long slow ride at 6am on a Saturday. But somehow it didn’t really hit me how far out of my league I was until about 15 miles in when I asked one of them what distance they were training for. Answer: Ironman. Stunned, I asked if they’d done one before. Answer: “I’ve done 4, but Darryn’s done 6.” I was training with Ironmen. Me, who’s done at most 25 miles on a bike in one sitting, was trying to keep up with people who are too hardcore to do just a marathon.

They were incredibly nice, though, despite the fact that I was holding them back. Two of them broke off from the pack to take “Young Laura” back on a 40K loop of their ride. And they offered to train with me anytime or get coffee or just hang out.

The ride itself was brilliant. We saw the sunrise over the beach. Cairns is relatively flat, being built almost entirely on mudflats, but it gets enough wind to make it challenging, even without hills.
Another 40K ride with the Ironmen next weekend? Definitely.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Cultural experiences

I got an apartment! I will have internet in August! Yay.

I love that the license plates in Queensland let you know that you’re in “The Sunshine State.” This in a country that’s faced 7 years of drought, and a state that has regions which are typically flooded for 6 months of the year. It seems a little unfair. What about the NT?

I went shopping this last weekend for t-shirts with real sleeves. Maybe fashion in the states has changed significantly in the 3 weeks since I left, or maybe I was never very attuned to fashion there to begin with, but it seems here that every one is wearing jumpers (aka. pinafores in Australian) and smock-like dresses (some with pockets). I could not find polo shirts anywhere, only dresses for 6 year olds. The other thing that struck me was how similar each of the stores’ offerings were. I’m not sure if I’m just very well marketed to in the states and so I see differences in brands even when the products they offer are remarkably the same, but it really did seem like I saw the same yellow jumper with big buttons in at least 4 stores.

Australian shopping has far exceeded my expectations in terms of swimwear though. So many styles – most of them sold as separates with lots of different styles of tops and bottoms. And tops in bra sizes! I guess when there’s beach availability all year round, you have impetus to innovate.

I have yet to figure out union rugby versus league rugby versus footy versus AFL versus soccer, but I have picked up on the team names. Some of them familiar: Eagles, Warriors. Some less so: wallabies, crows. Some completely un-American: Bunnies, Swans. Maybe they’re mean bunnies, but really, bunnies?

Speaking of un-American, I got a car. Well, it’s a shared car with one of the regional orgs, but it seems to be mostly mine. It’s a distinctly un-American car. No American would have put 4 doors on such a small car. Cairns is not a walking city. Not that it’s that big, it’s just that it doesn’t have sidewalks. The sidewalks are the responsibility of the property owner to provide, so in many places, you’ll have several houses of sidewalks then just a grassy path. So, I’m happy to have a car even though it has no power steering. The driver’s seat is broken, so I can only barely reach the clutch. But, it’s a car, and with its perks, it’s not that popular with the rest of the office. We call it, lovingly, the green ant after the green ants we licked in Cooktown.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Taking the piss

One of the great joys of being a stranger in a strange land is convincing Australians of ridiculous American cultural quirks. For instance, my team and I convinced one of our co-workers that all American women work out in leotards. It's very fashionable, and we each brought at least one with us. Somehow she believed us, despite our inability to keep straight faces.



As such, here is the picture I sent them of the team in their leotards.















PS. My Aussie friend actually didn't draw the conclusion from the photo that we were joking. Only once one of us went running with her and was not wearing a leotard did she finally get the joke.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Living in the tropics

It surprising how familiar and American things feel here. Every now and then something will catch you off-guard and remind you that you are living in a foreign country.

For instance, I was looking at some locally produced yogurt in the super market the other day. It looked lovely, but yogurt can be deceptively caloric. So, I went to look at the breakdown of calories. It contained 408 kJ of energy. At that I decided, it just wasn't worth looking at the labels any more. I'm already converting Celsius to Fahrenheit, kilograms to pounds and kilometres to miles. I can't keep another conversion factor in my head. Plus, I asked google and it delightfully told me that my yogurt had over 120K calories in it. And I'm still hungry.

I'm not fully accustomed to living in the tropics yet. I don't have glass in my windows, just shutters. There are bugs everywhere. My desk at work has tiny flies and spiders, I keep all of my food in the refrigerator because there are ants in the kitchen. To my surprise, I haven't seen the big scary bugs that could kill me, it's the little ones that are bothersome.

Last night I went with my team members for Mexican. And we asked the waiter if the beans had meat in them. He said it was the most ridiculous question he had ever heard. Who doesn't have pork in their beans?

Oh, and I'm very glad I brought my sweaters, it's been getting down to ~60 at night. One prediction unfulfilled.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Great Barrier Reef

Sonia and I went to the Great Barrier Reef on Saturday. We took a tour that drove us South of Cairns to the Mulgrave River. From there we took a river cruise out to the ocean and onto the Frankland Islands chain (Normanby Island to be specific). The big perk of this tour was that you could walk-in from the island to snorkel, head back to solid land for lunch and to sun. I took the guided tour of the reef. I saw parrot fish, flounder, striped and neon damsels, angel fish, needle-nosed fish, long-beaked fish, cleaner fish and disco fish*. And giant clams (which were much bigger than the picture of the giant clam shell and some were nearly 200 years old). And a sea turtle. I also saw boulder coral, spaghetti coral, brain coral, blue-tipped coral and liver coral*. It was beautiful, but still didn’t live up to the memory of snorkeling in the Bahamas. I think the tide has a lot to do with how clear the water is, and feeding the fish has a lot to do with how many fish you see. Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed the snorkeling, it was just an area that wasn’t quite as active as I had hoped for being renowned as the best snorkeling and scuba in the world.

They also have a semi-submersible boat that they take you on to see other areas of coral. From there we saw manta ray that was about 2m across.

I would recommend it to those who are new to snorkeling, but I think if I’m going to go out again, I’ll go with a smaller company and deeper water.

*: some names made up.







Great Barrier Reef

Friday, July 06, 2007

Driving on the left

Driving on the left is not as difficult as I had imagined it would be. In fact after spending two days driving an enormous landcruiser, I think I'm even getting the lane placement ok. It's the little things. The rearview mirror, I almost never use. I always turn to my right to reverse the car. And, I thought I had finally gotten used to the turn signal being on the left, when I got a different car today from work and its turn signal is on the right. Gah.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The World Will Never Know

Probably the most popular question besides my job that I got about moving to Australia was “Do toilets flush the other way south of the equator?” Australians are much more eco-conscious as a culture than Americans. There are hybrid taxis, the landlord admonished me to turn out all my lights and fans before leaving the apartment in the morning, and a 7 year drought has required people to conserve water throughout the country.

One of the water conservation efforts is that modern toilets have two flushers one that uses less water than the other. I haven’t been able to tell a discernable difference between the two because they both seem to just pour water straight down the drain, there’s no swirling; it’s more like a waterfall. So where does that leave the second most popular question? I guess the world will never know.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Nesting

I flew into Cairns yesterday. The flight is only about 2.5 hours from Sydney, but it’s amazing how much the landscape changes during that time. From red-roofed suburbs, to yellow and purple farming plains, to lush green mountains and mossy rolling hills, finally out over the bright blue reef. Cairns feels a lot like Maui to me: tropical weather, beautiful coast with mountains looming to the west, every corner has a tourist agency, big hotels and small cinder block houses, tons of backpackers, it even has a big mall with a target in it.

I checked into my modest apartment which is situated in North Cairns. My apartment is sweet and seems to be family-owned and operated. The owner has offered to reassemble my bike for me as he’s “a bit of a cyclist” himself. But the apartment lacks a few things that I think are necessary for the stay. First, drawers – there’s a closet with 10 hangers, but nowhere to put things that don’t hang. Second, guest space – unless people want to share the bed with me or sleep on the floor, the rattan loveseat is probably not going to make them comfortable. Finally, internet – which I’ve decided, since it’s my best connection to back home, I need in my apartment.

For the first time in the trip, I felt truly lonely. In a town where I don’t know anyone, in an empty apartment, on a Sunday afternoon when everything was closed and no one seemed to be out. I decided to walk into town. The most singularly amazing feature of Cairns is the new boardwalk area. It runs a couple of miles down the coast of the CBD (central business district = downtown). The coast line is salt flats not beaches. Cairns is situated where the Hodgkinson River meets the Pacific for easy shipping of the sugar crops it was founded for. It wasn’t til 1984 when the airport was built that it became a major tourist destination for the reef. The boardwalk goes from the harbor all the way up to North Cairns and includes both a pedestrian and a bike path with trees, grass, a large swimming lagoon, monuments and memorials. And this is where everyone from Cairns is on a Sunday afternoon. Most shops close between 4pm and 6pm if there were open at all on Sunday, so the rest of the town has a ghost town feel to it, but the boardwalk was teeming with people which put me at ease.

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