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'" 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?


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 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!

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