Monday, December 22, 2008

A Family Christmas...Down Under

I'm sorry that I haven't written anymore of my thrilling adventures (yawn) in the Land of Oz since...December 8th?! I've been, uh busy. Yeah, that's it...Busy! Getting prepared for the family's arrival on the 19th. You know the drill, converting a bachelor pad into a loving home, complete with doilies on the arms of the couch and sufficient rolls of toilet paper for a small, South American country.

They made it here just fine and after a quick shower and big seafood meal along the shores of the marina, the kids were off to Sydney with lots of my funny coloured money and my mobile phone (cell phone to us Yanks), not to be seen for 2 days. They did return for a day and spent last night in the big city again. They're supposed to return this morning (ha!) to join in the annual office tournament between the surveyors and the mappers. Each year the day before Christmas Eve, a different so-called sport is offered up so the surveyors can whip the collective butts of the mappers. The typical office vs. field workers, and you know who's in shape! This year it's lawn bowling.

We toured the office and when they saw my large, athletic kids immediately thought 'ringers!' One coworker did say divots in the lawn were frowned upon with me taking that to mean, divots in opponents were tolerated. It should be a fun time as Aussies are great to party with, just hard to keep up with. For example, we were invited to breakfast Sunday morning by Jan the lady at the front counter in charge of corporate travel and her husband who also works there. Another couple joined us, both from South Africa and both work at the company. Breakfast started at 9:00 and finally ended around 2:30 after some champagne and beer! Picture included.

As I can do for any of you who plan to visit, we thought surfing lessons for the kids would be a great idea. They really did like it and are planning on two more lessons before they leave, earning them some kind of certification, 5th class. Pictures are included as well. It is exhausting, even for my young and athletic kids so I'm glad that Holly and I simply laid in the sun and took pictures once in a while. Tough duty on the week before Christmas. If you visit, you too can learn to surf from a beautiful young instructor (Nick has already figured out her schedule), and I can provide you with a mobile phone and comfortable bed. No worries! I'll check into motorcycle rentals for the wilder ones I know, too.

Since the family is here, I hired (rented) a car. It's an Aussie Ford and has provided lots of opportunities for the family to laugh (and pray) while I'm learning to drive opposite of the rest of the civilized world (except England and Japan). It does take a lot of getting used to, especially driving on what we Yanks call, "The WRONG side of the road!" Another thing is the passenger side of the car seems to be too far over onto the side of the road...and often! (this is true for the Aussies and others who learn to drive on the RIGHT side of the road). For some reason, I just can't seem to keep the car near the centerline. But the gas, I'm sorry...petrol works and the brakes don't. Just another Island car to me.

Nick at least admitted that I was getting better, still crappy. Such encouragement from my children.

I will have more adventures soon. Have a great Christmas and New Year's! I'll try to have more interesting things more often as I continue my harrowing adventure into the land down under.

A near future expectation is watching the start of the Sydney-Hobart Yacht race from a waterfront, cliff side condo scored by the kids! An uncle of the the friends they've been visiting in Sydney has a big party every year to celebrate the event that is held on Boxing Day (the day January White Sales start to us, you know, the day after Christmas). More pictures of that for sure!

Hello from Holly - We've had such a great time seeing Craig and exploring his new environment. He made the 'flat' very inviting, including a decorated Christmas tree and lights in the window. His office workmates are a friendly bunch, and the office itself is very new and stylish. He also has very pleasant neighbors and we have shared drinks and stories with them. Haven't seen too much of the kids since they have Carly's host sis and friends in Sydney to play with, giving Craig & I plenty of catch up time. Last evening we drove down the coast to a nice little beach town for a delicious seafood meal. I ate 'bugs', which may seem unappetizing to you, but it turned out to be a creature that is somewhere between a prawn and a lobster, and was delicious. So, I highly recommend the accommodations here at Chez Berry, and have found the concierge to be most helpful. I suggest you book your stay soon.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Short History

The first month I was here, the company paid for an extended stay hotel room while I looked for a place to rent, or as they say let. And from most of the places I looked at, toilet was appropriate all right. In the end, I was able to find the flat that was the least expensive ($175/week) and the cleanest of anything I'd seen before. It is so different renting here than at home, I began to write a letter to the HR woman explaining that maybe a little help, especially for foreigners, might be beneficial. The HR woman is extremely nice, don't get me wrong. It's just that maybe a little more assistance in getting to understand the native ways would help. I hope this isn't too boring:


To open an account you will most likely need all documentation to indicate who you are; passport, driver’s license or other picture ID. In addition, if you are not a citizen, you will need to give them a copy of your employment contract and the front page of your visa or other information showing you are legally employed in Australia.

Transfer of money out of country is difficult. Most that I’ve contacted require a $27 fee per transfer while others simply refuse to do so.

You must open a bank account prior to the first pay period ending weekly on Wednesday. Pay is automatically deposited into the account you’ve set up with a one week delay.

Apartment Hunting
Most real estate agencies are opened during the week with some of them open half days on Saturday. Most are closed on Sunday.

It is best to begin your search immediately! The best on line resources are:

These sites also have notices to share apartments and houses.

Or you can stop by many of the several offices located around the CBD. Usually on Friday, they’ll have a separate list of available rentals but typically, these are listed on line as well.

For each application to let an apartment, you must provide myriad of documents:
ID can include; driver’s license, Medicare Card, Birth Certificate/Proof of Age Card, Passport, Current Credit or Debit Card with picture. 2 required.
Rental Receipts if currently renting; Rental Ledger from landlord or agent
Copy of the front page of current Residential Tenancy Agreement (TCA)
Proof on Income; 3 pay slips, Centre Link Statement, Bank Statement and Employment Contract. 2 required.
Confirmation of current address: Phone/Mobile, Electricity, Gas or Credit Card Statement with address. 2 required.
Homeowner: Council rates, Water rates or if selling, Selling Agent’s Details.

This is one of the systems that will rate you, another relies on a point system where you must score at least 100 in order to be considered.

This evaluation process can take up to a week although some claim 24 – 48 hours. Since an application with all the above supporting documentation must be handed in for each rental you’re considering, I would recommend you prepare several packets ahead of time that you can attach to each application form. You can not be pre-approved by a major real estate firm.

There is not a standard application form. Each Real Estate company has their own so the common information can’t be filled out ahead of time unless you obtain an application first (some can be obtained on line) and fill it out in advance leaving blank only the address and weekly rental rate or any other information specific to the property.

In order to view a prospective rental property, you must contact the agent to see if there is a scheduled ‘open for inspection’ time arranged. If not, the agent may offer a time to meet you at the unit you’re interested in viewing. Typically, they’ll want to make the trip for several potential renters, not just one.

Once accepted, you must pay a bond that is equivalent to 4 weeks rent plus 2 weeks in advance. The real estate agent typically accepts payments and no personal cheques.

I arrived mid-October and it seems that quite a few, inexpensive places became available near the beginning of November as students left the University of Wollongong for the summer. These were mostly located in North Wollongong, Wollongong West, Gwynneville, Keiraville and Fairy Meadows but certainly surrounding these areas as well.
This is a far as I got in my version of venting. As I mentioned earlier, even renting a damned DVD is an exercise in documentation. Are these troubled times similar to post war Germany or post 9/11 Amerika? Anyway, I've been out of the market doing these tasks so maybe these processes (upon processes) have been in place for a long time and as my Dad would say, "You sure have to go through a lot of crap to do anything anymore!" Now, I know the feeling. It's like the government just can't seem to regulate enough. Even the City of Seattle as a reward for having the highest percentage of people volunteering to recycle, they decided it was best to penalize those who don't and those who recycle improperly. What a system!
Keep the faith, a change is coming.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I have a TV!

It's been a grueling 2+ weeks without a TV but I broke down and bought a 26" (yes, even in Oz they translate TV size into inches most of the time)! A flat screed, HD Toshiba supposedly on sale but it has a great picture of course and in spite of Oz being about 5 years behind the US in HDTV, there are 'experimental' HD channels along with some programs who've actually made the jump into the 21st century. As always after spending 100's of $(AU) on a TV, I turn it on and wonder why I wasted money on an idiot box. It's fine, at least I get to watch what is the contemporary excuse for news.

As I may have mentioned earlier, the 'laundrette' (they're also called laundromats) in this country just require a payment at the end of your laundry because they don't waste time with coin-operated machines. On Monday, the second time I used the local laundrette, I finished up and rushed out without paying. I didn't realize it until about 9:00 later that night while folding socks and about died of embarassment. The two sisters that own it are very nice and I'd hate for them to think "those damned Yanks! Can't trust them!" I did drop the money by on the way to work the next day and fortunately the other sister laughed at the quandry with my laundry.

After paying this morning, I walked past one of the usual bushes however, I noticed it had blossoms on it. Plumeria blossoms! I wonder if they'll let me pick some to make a lei for my family when they arrive in 2 weeks and 2 days...not that I'm counting.

I'm getting ready for their arrival by buying beds and associated bedding among other homey, xmasy things. I even bought some doilies to put on the slightly used couch to cover the wear and tear on the arms. I also saw a large frying pan and mattress cover that I'd been looking for (to protect the occupant, not the mattress). Since I'd missed my train, I had time for an innocent beer or 2 at Dicey Riley's, "Wollongong's Irish Pub." I got me pint and begin to settle into my table when I attempted to put the shopping bag into my backpack. Naturally, I tried this before sip or 2 of VB (Victoria Bitter) and dumped it all on the floor. The guy at the next table began to rib me in the friendly Aussie way until the saw the frying pan and mattress cover fall out. What made them turn away was the doilies I'm sure. I guess they think I'm what they call...a 'pucker.' Maybe I shouldn't have said I was waiting for the train to Fairy Meadow.

Now, I don't know the origin of 'pucker,' but the local arboretum is a 'known' hangout for gays. I've been 'warned' but I don't care obviously, living on Gay Island for 2 decades. I just don't care. However, last Sunday when I took a walk through the arboretum, I noticed the name...Puckey Estates! Who came first? Anyway, it dawned on me that there might be a connection.

Please comment. Don't hold back. Also, you can get notification when I add something new if you're really my friend. No pressure there. Gotta go and finish my marinated top sirloin over sauteed rice. Yeah, life's tough here in the land down under. Tomorrow, I'm going to check out the local butcher shop and seafood shop! They're supposed to be the best! No more extra dead meat for me! Write, too my fmaily and friends!

Friday, November 28, 2008

I'm Still Not Dead!

It hadn't occurred to me that leaving a picture of a deadly looking, possibly man-eating spider then not posting anything for quite a while might make some people a little...nervous. Sorry, I've just been lazy, I mean, busy. Actually, in preparing to write another installment of my blog, I've over preparing a bit too much so now, on a wet and gray Saturday morning (it IS just like home, only about 20 degrees warmer) I thought I'd better you know that rumors of my demise are false...this time.

I've finally met my net door neighbor (Flat #2) Mark, and he's a very nice guy. As with most Aussies I've met, he wants to help me, especially when learning I don't have a car and ride the train into work. It's funny how most of the people look down on taking the train. Anyway, when he saw me with my little old man shopping trolley, heading out to buy a TV, he was horrified thinking about me lugging a possibly 32" flat screen all the way from town on the train. C'mon! It's only 3 blocks to the station from the store and 2 blocks to get home! No big deal. But he has a van and wanted to help so maybe later, after he picks up his new kayak, he'll run into town with me to pick it up. Mark is a Science teacher, specializing in Chemistry and Marine Biology. He's about my age, divorced for 12 years and has 3 kids who'll be around during the Christmas holidays. 2 beautiful daughters (I've met Ashleigh, 19? who lives with him) and his son who is 15 or 17 who lives with his Mum but hangs out here a lot. He seems like a nice kid, too although he's only waved at me, and he used all 5 fingers doing it. Mark's oldest daughter lives in Perth and she and her boyfriend will be here, too. The boyfriend is in broadcasting so I hope Nick gets a chance to talk with him about the Aussie radio and TV work environment.

So, just a slow, laid back Saturday morning (Black Friday to you). I called all the family just before they were going to sit down for turkey and the thought was making me so hungry for a turkey sandwich that I'm sure my brother Mark ate for me, and often.

My exploration of Oz is going very slowly as I'm still trying to prepare the little 2 bedroom flat for my family's arrival. I make progress a little bit at a time but often just sit here when I get home from work and begin preparation to write in my that's working either. It'll come together soon and with work gearing up, I'll really need the time off with my family for Christmas. For example, I tried to rent a DVD last week and in order to set up an account, I had to have 2 pieces of picture ID, and a combination of a bank statement, pay stub, rental agreement or some such crap, each valued at certain points that must total 100 just to rent a damned DVD for $1.95! I did get the account set up last night and rented 'The Core'which was a semi-sci-fi thriller. Or is that, sci-fi semi-thriller. I liked it, really.

It is weird here in that they demand all kinds of 'identification' for the simplest things and safety is a huge issue as well. Everyone wears bright, fire engine yellow-green wear for any type of maintenance or repair work. Mot people wear 'corporate' clothing with company names and logos. My ompany 'gives' us 2 shirts and any additional items, including pants, hats, etc. are additional. This country is very big on this stuff. When told of this, I did ask about styles of corporate boxers to an unamused coworker. They're serious!

Neighbor Mark caught me heading out the door on the way to the office to catch up on just the stuff my boss dumped on me yesterday, so I'll have to go in either later today or tomorrow for a few hours. I might just walk into work when I do go. It's not that far really and I've been 'forced' to do a lot of walking since I don't have a car. A $3,900 'ute' (no, not 'youth' as in My Cousin Vinney) which is Aussie for utility vehicle. As near as I can figure, anything remotely like a pickup, such as an El Camino to a flatbed truck is generally refered to as a ute. They have some great El Camino like cars too, some with crewcabs so you can fit 4 or 5 adults inside. Of course, some of these are really tricked out with tonneau covers on the back. They look like Ghetto Limos almost. Anyway, this is an old flatbed where the bed is aluminium with small, 1/2' walls that can be dropped down and locked upright. Pretty cool! Most flatbeds have that type of bed here. I'd get it if it was a crewcab so that the whole family would be proud riding around Australia in an old, crewcab ute. I'd put a bale of straw in the back to get that authentic look, too. Accessories really make the difference!

More, later.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Midnight Visitor

Don't you just love the soft, muffled pitter patter of little furry feet around the home. Typically there're only four of those feet per critter, but Friday morning I got double the treat in one! This tarantula-looking little guy (about 5-6" across at the ends of his feet) was over the door on my way out. Fortunately, I do have a back door and he was on the outside. This is a Huntsman spider that aren't poisionous but can bite although rarely. Some of my coworkers said they'd play with them when they were kids and never got bitten by them.

I've been asked if the Aussies do anything for Thanksgiving. No.

They do have the 4th of July however (and the 4th of August, and the 4th of...)

I did call during the usual Teacher's usual Thursday afternoon 'shout' as you'd call here in Oz. It was great saying 'Hi' to the usual suspects. The fancy restaurant a few blocks from the house had changed to a pub which in these troubled economic times seems to make more sense. Murphy is my co-pilot, just when I leave they turn it into my alternate living room! I could've made them rich! I'll just have to look forward to hanging out at the Back Bay next summer.

Just a quick note on a Saturday morning. I think I've cleared the remanents of Friday night enough to go out and buy more used furniture in preparation for my family's arrival.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Strong and Bitey!

I'll provide more on this subject but earlier I wrote that it does take longer to do things here such as grocery shopping. It's only in getting used to different labels and terminology like when I was looking for some cheese. I like sharp cheeses but couldn't find anything labeled as such. I assumed that 'Sharp and Bitey' was Australian for sharp. There are others I'll write down and add to my blog if it's of interest to you. Some others are dog food brands. There's 'Blood & Bone' which I could see popular in agricultural areas but not for Fifi who lives in a penthouse. Also, 'Chum' which is odd because I've always been told that salmon (and it IS salmon) is bad for dogs as there's a parasite that doesn't die in the cooking process. Humans digest it, but dogs can't and eventually can develop problems and sometimes death, from them. I do know a lot of people who feed salmon to their dogs and don't seem to have any problems.

Another odd thing (I've mentioned that Aussies are progressive if not functional) is that most of their wines have screw tops. Even expensive wines have screw tops and to find a corked bottle is almost rare. Apparently not rare enough for me as I was all set to have a glass of red wine at home last night when to my horror, I realized I haven't bought a corkscrew yet. I do have a brand new can opener that hasn't been used yet as even the cans have pull rings, I think they call them. And Aussies loved their baked beans for breakfast, especially with a little BBQ sauce on them. Their BBQ isn't like anything I've tasted labeled as such, but it is good and I have a bottle in my fridge alongside the bottle of tomato sauce (ketchup) and mayo.

Speaking of the endangered species of the corkscrew and possibly the can opener, I once came across this situation several years ago of having a bottle of wine waiting for me, taunting me to open it, but I was unprepared! It was a late night and I had a long wait for the ferry so naturally, I thought a small sip of wine would make the wait a little for palatable. I did find screwdrivers, tire gauges, first aid kit (no corkscrew in there dammit!) and the usual stuff...but not the RIGHT stuff. So, I wheeled around and ran up to the Thriftway store on California and Fauntleroy to remedy the situation.

While surveying all the choices (3) and which one is the cheapest but will still easily do the trick, a woman came up to make a similar decision. I mentioned that I didn't have a corkscrew in my car and she looked at me with such pity, uttering these pearls of wisdom that I've since adhered to, "EVERY car should have a corkscrew!" Alas, my new flat doesn't...yet!

Also, as typical of us cheap Americans, the damned thing unscrewed while trying to get the cork out. It was the cheapest metal I'd ever seen and returned it for a better one at my first opportunity. The woman who gladly made the exchange for me after explaining the circumstances asked, "Well...?" "Well what?" I responded. "Well, did you get the cork out?" Obviously the wine laden path to the ferry late at night is well trod.

What this has to do with Oz I don't know. I guess I'm just trying to make myself feel resourceful and prepared somewhat for the adventure I'm on now.

By the way, the picture is near my new flat. Notice the train station about 2 blocks to the west and all the water about 4-5 blocks to the east, heh heh heh. I have sent this to some friends who now either hate me or promise to visit (those are the real vengeful ones). Joking.

Monday, November 17, 2008

'ere ya from, Mate?

‘ere ya from, Mate?

I stopped by a store near my new flat on my second night. Ok, a bottle shop for a couple bottles of wine. I guess they knew I wasn’t from around there when they asked what kind of wine I’d like and I responded “Both kinds.” As Mad Ted would’ve said, ‘they looked at me as if I’d had horns, poppin’ outta me head!’ So I got the question upon check out. No, not “Do you have ID?” I miss that one now, no he asked me where I was from. I told him, “Wollongong. I just move up here last night.” Again, another look that wasn’t quite daggers, rubber bullets, maybe.

Then I told him I’m from Seattle and he got very excited. In a year and a half, he’s planning on flying into Vancouver, B.C. and taking a road trip along the West Coast down to LA. I may give him some pointers like, “Stop in San Francisco to pick up some beautiful women. Yeah, they’re really women, trust me.” Just kidding. I did think maybe I should have him get in touch with Mad Ted and suggest he sail my boat down here for me. As I was leaving I said, ‘Jeez! I’ve been here for a month and I still have an accent?!” More rubber bullets!

Also we have a WINNER! Tamara asked if the spare bedroom was available the week of February 14th! She's the first one to ask to come down under! C'mon you guys, I'm going to have 2 single beds that can be pushed together with a full sized pad and bedding for those couples who are romantic or just not fighting at the present. My family will show up during Christmas vacation and they're the real winners, it's just that it's expected of them. How come when the call me a winner, they roll their eyes?

My New Flat

My New Flat

It’s quiet Sunday evening as I’m pre-heating the oven to bake my Australian pie, or as the Aussies call them ‘piiies’ with a longing in their eyes. Dino was wrong, it wasn’t a pizza pie. Anytime I bring something to my desk that remotely smells like meat, one of the office women who is very nice, walks around sniffing saying, “Who has pie? Someone’s eating pie!” as if it was an offense not to bring enough for everyone. One guy who works for us told me, once he found out I was from Seattle, that he’d spent a couple years in Vancouver, B.C. and went to Seattle often. He confided in me as if this was a deep secret, only to be told to those who would appreciate it is, “Mate, there’s the Australian Pie Company in Seattle. It saved me life as I craved some real, home cooking.” So there you have it, I’ve spilled the beans, or…meat and potatoes in a crust.

I’ve spent another day spending. Buying all sorts of ‘necessary’ things to make living in a flat bearable. Today was garbage day. No, not take my rubbish out to the curb, but buying a rubbish bin, as they say, to make my garbage look more civilized. “How many waste paper baskets does a 2 bedroom flat need?” you might ask. I had thought only one, but then there’s the bathroom, and at least one (occupied) bedroom and…after looking at the prices for a small piece of plastic (probably recycled to boot) I decided to stop at 2 however did splurge for a stainless one with a foot pedal as there’s no room anywhere to hid a cheap one like I’d bought for the other rooms. Now, I can display my kitchen trash proudly.

In between excursions to the store, a woman came to the door looking to take my pole. Needless to say, I was disappointed to learn it was a Gallup poll and I should’ve been suspicious when she asked if she could come inside and sit while she conducted the pole. (On a Sunday?! I guess they catch people then.) She then brings out a legal sized document of about 20 pages (I later found out they were double-sided) and the accompanying book of over 100 pages for me to use as a reference. It took over an hour and for all my trouble, I got a pen! She was actually very nice and originally from Holland who married an Australian who emigrated from Holland when he was 4. I guess she visited here and it was love at first sight. That was 4 daughters ago as she’s about my age and they’re all grown.

Her husband is an Occupational Therapist and between the both of them, visit quite a few homes. She said that there are some very sad and disgusting places. One disabled guy her husband worked on had a year’s worth of empty pizza boxes laying around, complete with a rat for almost every one. She mentioned a young woman she’d just visited in the neighborhood who was obviously depressed and lonely. In contrast I must’ve appeared somewhat normal in comparison to the usual riff raff, so she invited me to a gallery opening of one of her daughter’s boyfriend. Apparently, he also does quite a bit of illustrations on archeological digs and was asked if he’d like to do some work and an exhibit somewhere for $10,000. He was thinking New York or something like but when the papers came in for confirmation, it was London and it was in pounds, so that more than doubled what he’d expected! I think the reason I was invited is because I had laying on the table, an invitation for another gallery opening on the same night and the competition must’ve been too great for her. Yeah, yeah…Mr. Social Butterfly.

Speaking of potential upcoming social obligations, one of the surveyors asked if I wanted to join him and his group that meets every Wednesday evening. I was thinking it was a surveyor function but he later clarified it as having nothing doing with any organization, just him and his mates getting together for drinks and dinner. Now THAT’S the Australia I imagined. He’s also a member of Rotary and invited me to a BBQ on an upcoming Sunday afternoon. I just hope I don’t get corralled into joining.

I’m writing this on my computer and don’t have internet access yet so saving it to my usb drive in hopes I can just copy it to the blog. You see, my big plan was to take the train to the office and write it from there this morning, risking the sober blog = boring blog result. I hope I’ve remedied that fear. So it was kind of a dry run to practice my commute. It was a good thing I did that because this morning, I’d forgotten the key to my desk. I’m required to lock up my notebook computer every night and keep it safe, apparently even from me. So I grabbed some else’s computer and sent most of you pictures of my new place with a few comments that again, I hope weren’t too boring.

Keep in touch and ask questions. I’ll try to answer them.

One last thing, I don’t know about tall cranes and safe ways to store them over the weekend, but at the main intersection in the business district where I’ve moved, is a huge crane resting for the weekend. Except what I did notice is the pulley and hook at the end of it is right over the center of the main intersection in town! I look at it every time I walk by. I’m sure it’s safe, it’s just…Murphy is at least MY co-pilot.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hi Ho, I've found a place to rent. What's weird about it (among other factors I'll discuss soon) it is the cheapest rent ($175/week) but the nicest, cleanest place I've looked at in all of the Illawarra. Ok, I didn't really look at everything, just those places that were either in town (Wollongong) or close the a train station and the beach. This one is halfway between station and beach. 2 bedroom, hardwood floors and even a refrigerator, which is unusual as that's considered personal furniture here, even in rentals. It's at the end of a cul-de-sac

What is...unusual about it is the location. I'm in Fairy Meadows, right off the Princess Highway. At least I'm not in the place across the street...69 Donald! You might really begin to wonder, not that there's anything wrong with being gay. In fact, my decades on Gay...I mean, Vashon Island has steeled my manhood to take the anticipated beating for living in a place with this name. Vashon Island has bumper stickers that say "20% Gay, 79% Gay Friendly." I am in the majority there so please don't jump all over my butt for the jokes about my new residence.

Today I'll take the train into the big city of Sydney for a Satellite Workshop my company is sponsoring. So far, nearly 70 people have RSVP'd for this morning workshop. It'll be a good chance to meet some of the company's clients and hopefully, I'll be able to understand what they're saying (both technically and because of accents).

I work with a very nice young guy (30ish) named Brett who has offered to take my junk from the hotel to my new place, which is only about 3 km from here. A suitcase, a briefcase and contents of the He is familiar with the area and after I drop off my junk (no Fairy Meadows jokes, now) he'll show me some of the places he likes to go out to for a beer or 2. I realized this morning that Australia is the Wazzu of Countries in this area. There are 'clubs' that have very loose restrictions on people who can enter to eat and drink cheaply. Like Eagles clubs without the stringent membership requirements.

Anyway, gotta get for my 2 hour train ride into the big city. Sydney, the New York City of Australia. I hope it doesn't eat up and spit out this poor little Yank from the country. I hope this isn't an example of what a friend said about blogs, 'sober blogs = boring blogs.' It is 6:00 AM and I'm not even under the influence of caffine...yet.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


The Rambo Granny of Melbourne , Australia
Gun-toting granny Ava Estelle, 81, was so ticked-off when two thugs raped her 18-year-old granddaughter that she tracked the unsuspecting ex-cons down - - and shot off their testicles.

The old lady spent a week hunting those men down -- and when she found them, she took revenge on them in her own special way, said Melbourne police investigator Evan Delp. Then she took a taxi to the nearest police station, laid the gun on the sergeant's desk and told him as calm as could be:
'Those bastards will never rape anybody again, by God.'

Cops say convicted rapist and robber Davis Furth , 33, lost both his penis and his testicles when outraged Ava opened fire with a 9-mm pistol in the hotel room where he and former prison cell mate Stanley Thomas, 29, were holed up.

The wrinkled avenger also blew Thomas' testicles to kingdom come, but doctors managed to save his mangled penis, police said. The one guy, Thomas, didn't lose his manhood, but the doctor I talked to said he won't be using it the way he used to, Detective Delp told reporters. Both men are still in pretty bad shape, but I think they're just happy to be alive after what they've been through.

The Rambo Granny swung into action August 21 after her granddaughter Debbie was carjacked and raped in broad daylight by two knife-wielding creeps in a section of town bordering on skid row. 'When I saw the look on my Debbie's face that night in the hospital, I decided I was going to go out and get those bastards myself 'cause I figured the Law would go easy on them,' recalled the retired library worker. 'And I wasn't scared of them, either-- because I've got me a gun and I've been shooting all my life. And I wasn't dumb enough to turn it in when the law changed about owning one'

So, using a police artist's sketch of the suspects and Debbie's description of the sickos', tough-as-nails Ava spent seven days prowling the wino-infested neighborhood where the crime took place till she spotted the ill fated rapists entering their flophouse hotel.

I knew it was them the minute I saw 'em, but I shot a picture of 'em anyway and took it back to Debbie and she said sure as hell, it was them, the oldster recalled.

So I went back to that hotel and found their r oom and knocked on the door and the minute the big one, opened the door, I shot 'em right square between the legs, right where it would really hurt 'em most, you know.

Then I went in and shot the other one as he backed up pleading to me to spare him. Then I went down to the police station and turned myself in.

Now, baffled lawmen are trying to figure out exactly how to deal with the vigilante granny. What she did was wrong, and she broke the law, but it is difficult to throw an 81-year-old woman in prison, Det. Delp said, especially when 3 million people in the city want to nominate her for mayor.

Easter in Oz, or The Melbourne Cup

The similarity of what 'we' think of as Easter and the Melbourne Cup are pretty obvious. Down under where things can seem so backwards, you watch the toilet flush to confirm that, Spring is in the air and that means women and now men (referred to as Metro-sexuals by the back home media) tend to dress to the Nines (although I see plenty of 10's everyday. Women, people! WOMEN! see previous post). I took a short train ride up North to look at a potential apartment (the horrors of apartment hunting in the Illawarra will soon follow) and noticed that dozens of great looking women (and so-called men) would get on at each stop and all just dressed up as if the Queen herself was going to grant them a personal audience. Young men is ties, and women with lace bows in their hair to match the lace in a feeble attempt to cover their ample bosoms (see another previous of my favorites). It was as if there should've been a red carpet on the the train.

I didn't understand until I got back to the office and realized it was the coveted 'Melbourne Cup.' Which is like the Superbowl in our native land except its only for one state AND that state gets the day off work as it's IS considered a state holiday. Naturally in Australia, every bloke feels a kindred kinship to his fellow Aussies so tends to take the day off, too (along with the required day to recover after the day off).

In this spirit of kinsmanship, ALL other horse racetracks have parties to watch and celebrate the coveted Melbourne Cup. Everyone dresses up in their newest and finest. Fortunately, there are several races prior to 'the Big Event' so that everyone has time to be seen, drink, meet their friends, drink, meet new friends, drink and of course...DRINK! Actually this is much more civilized than our version which is go to church and if you want to drink, go up for communion several times until the Priest finally refers to you by your first name. Being raised Southern Baptist, I had a special name which I shouldn't repeat here and I never got any of the good stuff like those Catholics or Jews...Man! What I wouldn't give for a shot of Manichewicz when I was a kid. Ok, just joking. I'm joking!

So back to the Melbourne really is a National Holiday. TV coverage is so rampant, you'd swear that an ex-President was discovered betting on the ponies. The local track does host an 'event' for the Cup. Most of the smart people do take the train down to the track to partake of the special day's activities. Unfortunately (except for us voyeurs) the train station is across the main highway from the track. By 5:00 when the track officials have finally had enough of these well dressed (often, formerly dressed) party goers, the kick them out to navigate the pedestrian signals across the highway and apparently quite a few people just stop to watch the entertainment as most have trouble staying with in the lines of the crosswalk or are carried by large, burly Aussies who probably don't remember carrying anyone or anything and wonder why their backs hurt the next day. In Sydney this year (again I go with Aussie pronunciation...'Yeeeyah!") an electrical problem stopped the trains from the racetrack there and party goers actually had to walk to another station! It was HELL according to one woman on the news. Since 99% wear high heels (so high, I think they're referred to as 'F... Me heels) they had to take them off and complain about their numb feet hurting. I'm sure that wasn't all that was numb.

I know that I probably make all of this seem silly, but really the entire country gets together to celebrate. Something we (or US) don't do nearly enough. Instead of getting dressed in the very best and going where? To church?! LMAO! No, they go out and see their friends and get drunk and have a great time (news at 11:00!). So who am I to judge? I'm not really, just making observations about how the Aussies live and enjoy life. Can we take a lesson?

Anyway, it is a phenomenon that is enjoyable to be a part of and I hope that I can still be flexible enough to fit in with these great people.

C'mon down! I am renting a place with a spare bedroom. It's definitely worth the trip and expense. In fact, the news mentioned that Oz came up #1 for places to live. I hope they don't tout this too much. Look what happened to Seattle when we were supposed to be the #1 place in the US to live! We attracted 'people' from SoCal and NY/New Jersey for 2 decades.

With that sour note, I hope I haven't bored you too much with a day at the races.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

It's a Colourful World

Today while I took a walk during lunch in the 25 degree weather (that's 76 to you) along with the cooling breezes reminiscent of the Hawaiian trades, I realized that the populace is so diverse, it's like going to an Obama campaign meeting. I mean, all the different people, Greek, Italians, Serbians and a lot of Middle Easterners not only walk and talk but own businesses here. You can always find a Middle Eastern deli or a Greek or Italian Restaurant usually run by people who are 1st or 2nd generation. Even Mama's Italian Kitchen is run by Lubena who actually is a Serb. Hey, I didn't say it was perfect. To see how some dress in their traditional clothes and speak in their native tongues, I listen to the interesting languages...sometimes realizing I'm actually listening to Australian, but is so thick, my alleged mind can't process it right a way.

This is one reason I'm trying to write as much as I can while I'm still American. I talked with a young couple who were looking at the same apartment I was Saturday. After 10 minutes of "oh, you're 6 month old is so cute!" and "What?! I didn't realize your second bundle of joy is on it's way!" and..."Haven't you figured out what causes that?!!!" The blissful couple didn't realize I wasn't from Australia until I had to tell them. I know they weren't playing with a full deck, but I'm wondering if I'm going Aussie already. When Carly was down here, her school mates would ask her to say things and laugh and laugh, but that quickly faded as they either got bored with it or she started talking funny. I'm afraid things down here are starting to appear....normal! When I was in Japan, I actually started dreaming in Japanese. Man! Was I fluent in my dreams (and after drinking). Now, when I read stuff, I start putting in the extra vowels and effort that the locals seem to put in their speech. I really do like it here and the people are very nice, I just have to make fun sometimes as really, in a lot of ways, they're much more advanced than us, I mean, US.

One thing about Australians is they dress up very nicely. I feel like a raggamuffin compared to most of them. And the women! I was expecting to see Benny Hill in drag for the most part, but in reality, the women here are always dressed very stylishly, and are very thin. Another thing about Aussie women, ok...2 things, are their boobs. I mean, MOST of the girls/women have huge boobs! Not only that, they love to show as much cleavage as leagally possible. I think all the bras from the 1950's (the 60's was the lift and separate era) where boobs were pushed up and together as much as possible, have all come to rest down under. Women from the holier PC than Thou PNW could emulate this by shoving a 2X4 (sorry, I don't know the metric equivelent) along the bottom of their bras to 'go Aussie.' I'm not complaining (except when the sun isn't out) but you don't know how many times I've almost smacked into a pole while walking.

Unlike what I've read prior to coming here and listening on TV commercials every break time complaining that 1/2 of Aussies are overweight, I thought I'd fit in. Where ARE these fat people so that I may roam among them, free of being stared at KNOWING that they know I'm an American?! Of course, I'm in a beach area and not on a farm or station in the Outback where they probably keep people like me. Maybe if I don't lose weight, I will be shipped to an office in the middle of nowhere.

I still don't have an apartment and I'm really stressed. As soon as I get one, I'll let my loved ones know. And I hope the address isn't "In Care of Worranongadonga Fat Farm." It might be 6 Market Place which is really nice. NOT like in Seattle where I'd be sharing my scrap of blanket with a (another) wino.

Cheers! I mean, good bye (see! the transformation has already started!)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sunday Stroll

Typical Morning

Sunday at 4:00 AM and I can't sleep due to a combination of time changes and probably a short circuit in my brain from getting up at this time for the past several years, too. It's a typical Saturday night/Sunday morning as drunk Aussies are coming back to their rooms now, making lots of noise. The parking lot behind me had someone wandering around apparently lost in the dark and alcohol. The smell of something burning has been in the air for a couple hours and I checked to make sure it isn't the place I'm staying.

While shopping at Woolworth's (believe it not, the largest grocery chain in Oz) I realized that in spite of being in an (presumably) English speaking country, everyday things are more difficult as you learn the ways of the locals. At the grocery store, I have to really concentrate on all the labels as most of them are very different. It's the same at work, everything I do takes a great amount of concentration to do what usually is the simplest task. I do get tired quickly because of the combination of lack of sleep and greater effort for most things.

But the good news maybe that I've found an apartment! I have less than a week to go in the company paid, extended stay hotel and at $125/day at company rates, I can't stay here after this Friday. The apartment is an old, very nice building with hardwod floors, 9' or 10' (or whatever the metric equivilent) ceilings and a kitchen that is up-to-date...if it was 1940. While waiting for the real estate agent to show up, a very stately, classy woman came out of the building and started talking to me. She lives in one of the 'penthouses' on the top floor and was very nice. I'd say older, but anymore...not THAT much older. After she'd left, I began to wonder if she owned the building and if renters who misbehaved were called into her darkened top floor apartment where she'd put on her best Betty Davis impression, having trouble lighting a cigarette at the end of her 1/2 metre holder. Obviously I was bored waiting for the RE agent who wasn't much older than Carly and came roaring in with a car that has a red "P" tag on it.

That's another oddity of Oz is that new drivers must display a red "P" for the first 2 years of having their driver's license, then graduate to a green "P" for the third year. After that, they're "P"less. This is similar to Japan as Craig Sweet can attest, where new drivers have what looks like the feathers of an arrow on their cars. It's green and yellow and actually is supposed to represent a delicate rice or bamboo shoot. Americans put those on their cars as if in an accident, regardless of details, the driver with the little sprout usually is blameless as the police attitude is the 'experienced' driver should've been able to avoid the beginner.

Please email me with questions and comments. I'll still hoping I don't bore too many of my family and friends. Holly and the kids are supposed to be here for Christmas and certainly want them to show up and not be afraid of boring old Dad.

Friday, November 7, 2008


Hi All,

At the suggestion of a great (former) coworker of mine, James Greer (who now occupies my old office before the overstuffed chair is even cold! lol) and my son who suggested I keep a diary of my adventure, I've decided to start this blog. I hope that I'm still young enough in mind to make it not too boring as I've noticed that a lot of blogs can be just that. As I told James, blogs are the stuff of younger people. But both James and my son are right, I hope that at least this serves as getting more information to those I email regularly my misadventures and is a good way to express how much I appreciate their interest in my so-called life.

This is a test and I will notify you about this blog and if for some reason I miss someone, please let them know. Also, you certainly can continue to email me to keep your questions out of this blog and everyone else's business. After all, I would like to try to keep this somewhat interesting.

Anyway, I do appreciate all my friends and loved ones. Thank you for checking me out.

Crickey Craig aka Skipper (and his little Buddy)