Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Last weekend I went to visit my friend Kimberley and Hamish in Canberra. They're both public servants there. Canberra, like DC, was the capital designed when the country couldn't decide if Sydney or Melbourne should be the capital. As a result, it's the only major city not located on the ocean. Ok, calling it a "major city" is probably not quite right. It's more like a "major town". Canberra only has 300K people, almost all of them working for government.

The visit was mostly about hanging out with friends, but I also wanted to take in some government, and K and H are excellent tour guides when it comes to that. We went to see New Parliament House on Saturday. New Parliament House is 20 years old, but the "New" differentiates it from "Old" Parliament House which preceded it. It struck me just how similar our governments are. Sure there's the big difference about having a PM instead of a President, but once you get beyond that, bicameral systems descended from Mother England just aren't that different.

That afternoon we checked out the War Memorial. Which is much more of a museum than a memorial. After being thoroughly educated on the Anzacs at Gallipoli and the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese, I came out stunned at the rules of war. How, in the midst of the bloody and futile months long battle with the Turks, they would call a temporary armistice with their opponents to collect their dead. Then, they'd each go back to their sides to continue fighting. It seems that the wars we're involved in today don't follow those gentlemanly rules.

The following day we saw Old Parliament House. It's must more British, and not nearly as circa 1980s as New Parliament House. In fact the chair for the Speaker of the House is a replica of the one used in the House of Commons in England. However, the original was destroyed in the bombing of London, and now the Brits have a replica of the replica made out of timbers from Queensland.

We also covered, what I can only assume to be, the defining event in Australian Political History. Since Australia remains a commonwealth of England, the Queen has ultimate power over the government. In the 70s, the Governor General (ie, the Queen's man in Australia) told her that government wasn't functioning because the PM refused to call an election (the PM can call an election at any point in his 3 year term). And so the Queen sacked the PM, and put the opposing party in power and demanded an election. Most famously the dismissed PM Whitlam stood on the steps of Parliament and said "May God save the Queen, because nothing can save the Governor General." This story was told and retold in both Parliament Houses.

We also explored the National Gallery, which was a sweet abridged museum. Each room covered one genre of art. It had all a work from each major contributor to the movement, then moved on. Here's the Monet in the impressionists, now just to your left you'll see the Dali in the surrealist corner.

Other than the political history, the biggest impression Canberra made on me was the weather. It was freezing. It rained on and off all weekend and never topped 50 degrees. In fact there was even snow reported in the mountains. Brrr. This queenslander can't handle that sort of chill factor anymore.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Race Report: Robina

This was the weather after the race. Thankfully, it was clear skies during the race, but it was hot.

This was a short race: 400m, 15K, 4K. Swim was in a lake, which means it was not salty! So nice for once. Swim felt good, though my time was over 8 minutes which was a bit disappointed. The ride felt good, though heart rate was a bit high, probably due to the cold I had this week, or the blistering heat. 82 degrees, 75% humid. The run felt terrible for the first 1500. The air was still, and I started to feel like I shouldn't have drunk all that water on the bike. But once things settled in I felt good on the run. It was a 2 lap course, and I did the second lap about 10 seconds faster than the first. Overall I came 10th in my category out of 41. 1h 3m 53s.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sushi Quest, pt 3: Sono

The sushi quest may end up being much shorter than previously anticipated. One of the restaurants in the city has closed. I think this leaves only one or two other options to try out. Bummer.

This week I visited Sono, at the bottom of the Queen St Mall. It was by far the best ambiance. Wood paneled walls, small rock garden, waitresses in yukata. Sort of reminded me of Fugakyu. They offered a lot of non-sushi dishes. We opted for the large sushi/sashimi platter. This might have been a mistake for two of us, as I think it had no less than 35 pieces of sushi, and after a large bowl of edamame and miso (plus raisin toast on a few hours before) it was a bit aggressive. Still, the pieces weren't too large, and in the end I think we only left half a dozen pieces. What they did have though was a large variety of fish. Many I had never tried, but since they didn't identify them for us, I will not likely remember them. We had tuna, salmon, yellowtail (sometimes called kingfish), swordfish, snapper. I think there were 3 other varieties of white fish, but I couldnt' tell them apart. One that looked like mackerel, but wasn't. Maybe this sounds ingracious, but I sort of wish there were fewer varieties. I started getting them mixed up. The overall experience was great. I will definitely return. Though I still think I prefer the quality at Oshin.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Things to do before you die

My time in Australia is limited. I will, someday, go home. And I don't want to settle into that, I just live here I've never done the tourist things. I mean I don't want to do the touristy-tourist things, but it's like living in Paris and never going up the Eiffel Tower. My friend Julie gave me a deck of cards today each with a Brisbane Day Trip on it. They cover museums, markets, vineyards, ranches, rainforests. So, I thought it's time to put together my list. Things I want to do in Australia. Here we go:

  • Uluru (I'm on the fence on this one because of time and money, but it's supposed to be awe-inspiring)
  • Play on a touch footie team - Aussie rules or league doesn't matter much. I'll be equally ill-equipped in either of them. Maybe Aussie rules is better cause I can run. But either way, I think this will go nicely with my netball experience.
  • The Outback Spectacular, brought to you by RM Williams (they make the boots) - ok, they advertise this on TV and it looks like a Medieval Time Restaurant with an Outback theme. I mean seriously, how could I miss this?
  • Australia Zoo - I don't even like zoos, but I might be able to see a Bindi Irwin in her natural habitat, that alone is worth the price of admission
  • Canberra - I'm going next week, so it's sort of a gimme, but both old and new parliament houses are on the must tour list
  • Hangliding - I wanted to do this in Cairns, but never got around to it before the wind died for the wet. I think I can find a place around Brissie to do this.
  • Climb the cliffs at Kangaroo Point - I see people do this every weekend and it looks like fun. I've never been rock climbing before, but this seems like as good a place as any to try it out.
  • XXXX Ale House - it's shit beer, but it's local shit beer. And for ages the only beer in Queensland, and the brewery is right across the river.
  • Witch's Chase Cheese Co - (no explanation needed)
  • A half ironman. It's not uniquely Australian, but triathlon is a big part of my Australian experience, and I'd love to do my first one here. There's one in Feb, but with christmas, I don't think I'll have the time to properly train. Then there's another one in May, so that may be the goer.
I think that's enough for the time being. Any other suggestions?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes, we can

Patriotism is a funny thing. It doesn't really exist in Australia, and I have trouble explaining it to my friends here. It's a feeling in my gut, a doctrine driven into each American child every morning with the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem. The love of country in the US is practically a religion. I was brought up on 4ths of July, Born in the USA, and the belief that I was fortunate to be born in the greatest nation in the world. It's a very personal thing for me. And a thing that has been attacked by the current political leaders for the last 8 years.

My second night in Australia, I went to see a play. The play was critical of both Australian and American military initiatives in Iraq. And I came away with this feeling. It was one of those "I can talk bad about my mother, but no one outside the family can" feelings. The Aussie's didn't see it that way.

My feelings toward the US for the last 8 years have ranged from frustration to shame. But, no longer. Watching the results come in, in my office yesterday with two colleagues, I felt that desperation vanish and be replaced by hope. It sounds cheesy, but I felt pride again in my country. That's right MY country. I hope I am not wrong, but I believe Obama may lead my country to greatness once again. And that makes me feel patriotic.

Sushi Quest, part 2: Hanaichi and Mizu

This week two sushi joints join the ranks of the Sushi Quest. Hanaichi in the Winter Garden on the Queen St Mall and Mizu in Newstead.

Hanaichi is a sushi train. I know, I know, I said no sushi trains, but I hadn't tried it, and I had a friend with me, and I figured it would be the more wallet-friendly of the options on the Queen St Mall. The most I can say for Hanaichi is that it was decent. Better than Sushi Train branded sushi trains, but not as good at Ginga (the sushi train closest to my house). They did mostly standard fair (nigiri: tuna, salmon, kingfish, prawn, eel, squid, octopus; rolls: salmon/avo, chicken/avo, duck). The pieces were small, and presented no need to chew through them. The thing that most turned me off from the joint was that they had a stack of sushi plate waiting to go onto the train - making me think the fair we were getting was pretty old already. For quick sushi on the Queen St Mall, I stick with the to-go rolls in the food court of the Myer Centre.

Mizu was a different story. I had lunch there today. They're less sushi-focused, more general japanese. I had the sashimi bento box which included 6 pieces of sashimi, prawn and vegetable tempura, salmon teriyaki, miso and salad. I thought this was very good value. The sashimi consisted of tuna, salmon and kingfish, with the kingfish being the standout on texture and flavour, and the salmon being the disappointment. But given that they didn't specialize in sashimi, I thought they were very good. I felt the other items in the box were all strong: tempura crispy, teriyaki sweet and flavourful and miso, um, miso-y. I would return to Mizu for dinner and hopefully find more sushi varieties on the menu.

Just a small PS: My faith in democracy and the American people has been restored. I watched the results and speeches with a few coworkers on a laptop in my office today. I was overcome by chills and tears at many points during the speeches. I am filled with hope for a country, I am once again proud to call my own.

Monday, November 03, 2008

An imperfect race: Noosa Triathlon

My first Noosa Triathlon (and second ever Olympic distance) was plagued with mishaps. No catastrophes. It was still a good race, just lots of little things.

Saturday morning I woke up at 3:30am. I'm usually an early riser, but really even I like to be asleep at that time. I tried to get back to sleep, tried reading, nothing was working, I was too anxious about the race, so I got up. I read the competitor briefing, and realized I hadn't printed out my receipt with barcode (!). Ok, not a huge deal, there's a Mailboxes down the road that's supposed to open at 10am. I get myself packed up and ready to go. Check my triathlon shelf no less than 5 times to make sure I haven't forgotten anything (no to bike gloves, no to chamois cream, yes to sunscreen and heart rate monitors).

I get to the print shop at 10, and they're not open, in fact, they're not opening. They are closed on weekends. Bugger. New plan, have to go into work on the way to Noosa (which is, btw, in the wrong direction).

I take the train into the valley to pick up the car (no car rental place in my neighborhood), and they can't find my reservation. It seems I managed to book the car to pick up at the airport and return to the valley. Gah. But fear not, if I can wait 20 min, they can get a car for me there. Now in my head, I had sorta been thinking, I'd leave at 11, be upto Noosa by 1, easily make it to register before 4. But I don't get the car til 11:30, then I have to go home and load it up with my gear (thank god the bike fits it, it was a close squeeze). Then to work, and finally.... on the road.

When I get there, they scan my receipt and the bloody thing doesn't read, so they have to call over a tech to manually input me. Good thing I went to print it out, right. I take my bike over to transition, which is not at all near the registration tent. And I've forgotten my little ticket to get my goody bag, but I convinced the woman that I wouldn't take more than one. And in the end, I don't know that I even wanted that one, it's not a very nice shirt, and the hat is the same as the one from Mooloolaba only blue.

Fast forward to Sunday morning. I felt relaxed. My transition area was set up, and I was chilling with the team. In the Noosa race the elites go off first. They race the same course and have the same no-drafting rules. In many elite races drafting on the bike is legal, which means that so long as you're out of the water at roughly the same time as the rest, you can ride in a pack for the whole ride, then the race really comes down to foot speed on the run. Personally, I think this is less exciting, and I'm not allowed to draft, so I don't think the pros should either. We watched the pros start the swim and the bike. Emma Snowsill won the women's race in just under 2 hours. She's also the reigning Olympic champion and took hoome her 5th consecutive Noosa win. The woman is inspiring.

Back to my race. Open water start, and no wet suits. So we're all treading water and it's a long start line, so it's not too busy. The horn goes off and away we go. It's nice being so spread out cause we're not swimming on top of eachother. But that only lasts til about midway to the first buoy, which is a turn, and every one pushes to get the inside lane. From then on it seems it's difficult to find open water, I'm always swimming in between people, feeling other hands on my legs. The course is in the canals of Noosa, which makes it calm and protected. But it's not a straight out and back course, and it's hard to get a feel for where I am in the course. And, about halfway through I realize that I'd forgotten to start my watch at the gun. Crap. Ok, i'll start it coming out of the water, and that will give me cycle and run times at least.

I recently purchased tri cycling shoes. The differences with these are that they only have one strap, so their easier to put on and take off while you ride, and the straps open out, so they don't get stuck in the gears. I started with my shoes clipped into the pedals, so all I had to do was hop on the bike and get going, then put the shoes on as I rode. Unfortunately, when I hopped on, my left shoe got caught on the ground, unclipped and dropped off. I had to stop, go back, get my shoe, put it on, and then get started again. Frustrating to see so many people pass me as I was just trying to get on my bike.

But the ride itself was brilliant! I was down on my aero bars most of the time, which I'm getting pretty good at. I passed people on the way out and was riding pretty fast ~35-37K/hour with the tailwind. At the 10K mark, the course turns off onto a winding track through the woods. It's a gorgeous, long climb. The type that you ride in the saddle to conserve your legs. The turns are numbered with 14 to the top. I saw another BTS suit up ahead of me, but I wasn't sure who it was. Then I saw the hot pink bike. It was Tanya. She'd started in my heat on the swim, and I was closing ground on her. She's super fast, so I was excited. When I came level with her, she gave me a "well done, mate" which thrilled me and I pushed on. She passed me back coming down the hill, but we played tag for the rest of the ride, maintaining a Holden Comodore's distance between us when we weren't passing eachother to abide by the no drafting rule. At 6K to go or so, I passed her, and she didn't pass me back. I felt unstoppable. I was watching the clock as well. I had hoped to do my ride in under 1:20, which would mean better than 30K/hour. I came in at 1:18! Sweet!

I get my feet out of my shoes, dismount my bike and start to run it in. I'm trying to hit the button on my watch to get my split time, and I lose control of my bike and lose my balance. I face plant coming into transition. Lucky I still had my helmet on! I slammed my knee pretty badly, and my hands, but I'm ok. I get up, and start to run it back in, this time with both hands on the bike. As I enter transition, I start walking, my head is spinning from the adrenaline and I start hyperventilating. I see several volunteers eying me, but I won't ask for help, there's no way I'm dropping out of this race. I rack my bike, take a minute to get my breath back and get some more water, and I head out to the run course.

My knee is throbbing and swelling as I go, which in a way is a good thing, cause it takes away from any pain in my shin. The run feels like the longest 10K of my life. Turns out, it almost was. I spent 58 minutes on the run, which just narrowly beats the time on my first 10K, which holds the title for longest 10K at 59:03. I keep thinking I'm further along the course than I am, thinking I must have just not seen the 3K marker, then a minute later, seeing it still ahead of me. Mentally it was tough, cause I haven't done that distance, my brain kept saying, you just don't have this in you. And I think the adrenaline spike from the fall didn't help. I just felt wiped out, like I had nothing left to give, even after the gu. It was just put one foot ahead of the other and finish this thing. Finally at 8K, I started to put the doubts aside and move with confidence, but it was a long hard slog. And to top it all off, I forgot to stop my watch at the finish, so I didn't have a time for the run either.

In the end, I came in at 2:48:57. I beat my Mooloolaba time by 3 minutes, shaving 1minute off the swim, 7 minutes off the bike, and adding 5 minutes to the run. I feel confident, with more run training (still no shin pain after 2 days!), I can get those minutes back on the run. I will beat 2:45 at Mooloolaba this year!

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