Friday, January 29, 2010

Dawn and James’ Visit

I had the pleasure of meeting James new fiancĂ©e (as of Christmas Eve) Dawn. She is a very lovely lady and I feel James is a very lucky man. Congratulations! They’ve been teaching English in Korea and just had to get out of that intense Korean winter for a bit. They had only a few, short days with me (probably enough for them) and I think they enjoyed Fairy Meadow, the beach, the Buddhist Temple, Art Museums and views off the Escarpment of the Illawarra below. I didn’t know the area had so much culture.

James came a packin’ 2 bottles of scotch with another as a gift that is still unopened after finishing off those two, mostly full bottles in such a short amount of time…well, let’s just say I’ll keep it for a special occasion. All of it was very good scotch and that can get you in trouble in a hurry and in trouble for a long time…so I’m told. I’ve included a picture of James doing the good drinker thing of recycling the empty scotch bottles into the HUGE (and necessary in Australia) container I’ve nicknamed, The Aussie Alarm Clock.

You see, most people think it’s a good idea to recycle first thing in the morning as they head off to work. Unfortunately, my neighbour heads off to work about an hour before my alarm goes off. I don’t really mind, I just think of it as a 1 hour snooze alarm for my ‘real’ alarm. You can also tell by the number of clinks, just how much of a good time your neighbours had the previous night if by some strange quirk, you didn’t happen to hear them partying. Another neighbour had his mates over and I could hear them all night long. In fact, they were still at it when I left for work the following morning at 8:00! I bow down the to stamina of Aussies when it comes to partying. Like the ex-pat Westerners in Japan said when Holly and I taught English, “If you want a successful party, invite a couple of Aussies!”

Their stay ended on Australia Day, which is very similar to our 4th of July. Family barbies, fireworks and lots of beer. We drove up to Sydney where the big action is and where Dawn and James would spend their last 2 nights in the land down under. They stayed at the Grace Hotel on my recommendation and I think were pleased with the choice.

We headed down to the Rocks where several bands were playing and ate at a pub where you cook your own steak. Along with a few midis from the jug of beer later and we were ready to walk around enjoying the crowd of people, the music and of course, another beer. They took off on one of the passenger ferries for a little more sightseeing in the sunset and I left them to return to the Gong and arrived just in time for the fireworks.

The timing was perfect as I was out of the big city by dark and the fog was rolling in over the freeway with the twilight behind it. Very cool and very eerie, I wish I could’ve taken some pictures that would do the scene justice. Then I thought…wait a minute, this is supposed to be summer! The weather is very weird around here. When Dawn and James came down Saturday, it was pushing 100F before noon! The so-called ‘breeze’ that was going through the flat seemed more like a blast furnace (I know, I’ve used that phrase before, but it is all too accurate). Within an hour after the arrival of a ‘cool change’ the temperature dropped nearly 30F to a much more manageable 70F something. It is just plain weird although you can use what we say in Seattle, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.” That’s a lie as well, since it is all to often more appropriate to say “If you don’t like the rain, wait 3 months.”

Enough weather and back to Dawn and James, I asked Dawn to be my beautiful spokes-model for something that really impresses everyone who visits down under…the bacon! I know I’ve mentioned this before as well, but now I have photographic proof! She’s shown holding a small package of bacon and just to provide reference, I’ve put a few rashers in a huge frying pan for a big brekky and they just don’t fit! Sorry, I only fix one piece per person and often, the whole thing doesn’t get eaten anyway. Also, they don’t smoke the bacon as much as Americans, the flavour is very subtle but very, very good.

“Hmmmmm….bacon.” Homer Simpson.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Another Day in Fairy Meadow

The big (one block) downtown Fairy Meadow which is bisected right down the middle by the Princess Highway, is lined with stores and little shops, most of which have apartments above. Usually there are only two or three levels to these buildings which really makes the place seem very livable as opposed to living and working among the high rises. In fact, it's so relaxing that I think most people forget they're in a crowded suburban neighbourhood. Apparently this guy forgot as I strolled down the street Sunday morning.

This guy on the 1st floor (2nd floor to us Yanks) decided it would be a great idea to wash the insides of his windows. After all, "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" and to celebrate this proverb, thought it a good idea to wear what God gave Not A Damned Stitch of Clothing! Here he is, standing inside the window on the sill, washing away without a care in the world. I just stopped for a second and stared. No one else on the sidewalk seemed to think this was anything unusual. Maybe they always see this particular guy or its just something people in Fairy Meadow seem to do. If it's the later, I should get out more often. If you noticed, no pictures with this post...thankfully.

Yes you too can experience Australia in the raw should you decide to come down under for a visit. Up next, James Greer and very good friend Dawn!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Aussie Humour

I was walking (yes, walking) to the auto parts store which is located just past cholesterol corner (where McDonalds, KFC, another chicken place, and other fast food franchises exist) to buy a fuel filter hoping that would help make my car actually start. I've been taking the Free Bus since Tuesday because it just wouldn't start.

On my way I passed The Cabbage Patch Pub. I heard "Chuck! Hey Chuck!" One of the usuals at the Charles, Aussie Bob, can remember calling me Chuck (Berry) better than Craig and besides, no one uses their real name at the Pub, just a nickname. I think this may have something to do with their history and its leftover from the convict side of the original population (ok, that's my bad joke).

It's 10AM and it's Steve Niko yelling at me to come in and have a coldie. If you think a 10AM beer sounds bad, it's not nearly as bad at the usual Sunday morning lawn bowling get together where you bring $2 towards a case of beer....AT 8AM! Talk about a rough start of the day. Anyway, I politely declined telling him about my plight with my car. My car is a neighbourhood joke as starting isn't one of it's strong points. So I left to buy the filter and returned to have a polite coldie with him and his mates at the "Patch."

Naturally Steve had to tell them about my car and that everytime I've offered him a ride home from the Charles, he'd climb in and wait and wait for it to start. I did figure out that if I waited a certain amount of time, it would fire up. I calculated the time in equivalent to drinking a pint of beer. Steve's mates were impressed! I did volunteer that once the car had died in the driveway of the Charles but had enough momentum to make it to a parking space. "Oooooh!" They said, "That's a marvelous car! It's well trained! I KNOWS you, Mate!" Maybe I can sell it to one of these guys and make a profit.

Now to the Aussie Humour portion of the entry. One of the mates at the Patch was talking about Texas Ted who's been around the area for a while and a few of these guys know him. Texas Ted is a very big, very likable and very funny guy I was told. Did I mention he was BIG?! They were talking about how huge his hands were and that when they'd shake hands, theirs would disappear in his huge mitt.

Being from Texas, Ted wanted to compare how a famous Aussie Barbie compared to a real Texas BBQ. He certainly was invited to one and the story teller had asked Ted how he liked it. Ted said, "Them t-Bones are mighty tasty, pretty damned small, but very good!" nodding with a mouthful of the mini T-Bone. He was told that wasn't a T-Bone he was eating but a lamb chop. Ted was in a state of shock! He said, "You mean I've traveled all this way for an Aussie BBQ and you're serving up prairie rat?"

The whole pub about fell over hearing that one. No one had ever heard the national meat being referred to as prairie rat before.

If this wasn't funny, try drinking a couple of coldies and read again.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ever Consider Working in Oz?

I came to Australia for fun and adventure. So far, it's been a lot of work and not as much travel as I would've liked in the past 14 months, however it has been fun and very, very interesting.

Australia really is a lot like I think the US used to be like. I know that really most areas in the US are full of good, honest people who would help someone out if they needed it and are generally kind and giving. I think that quite a bit of that is hidden or put on the back burner as people are tapped out under some of the worst working conditions in the civilized world such as paying more and more for health care and not having any time off to enjoy family and life in general. There was a survey a few years ago that listed the US as having the second to the least amount of time off of any 'industrialized' nation in the world. Mexico was the only country that had less. I personally think the only reason Mexico was added was so the US wouldn't be last. I really don't think Mexico qualifies as an industrialized country.

Anyway, my first year here I get 4 weeks of annual leave. I get paid well and considering the current exchange rate, very well. One reason the Aussie dollar is doing so well is the job situation is great at only 5.5% unemployment, HALF that of the US. See the article, link below:

Also, they've been saying for months now that there will be a skilled worker shortage and that the government should put in place NOW, express work visa approval. I'm only suggesting that you might consider looking into working down under, even for a couple years. A 457 work visa is good for 4 years and it is a fun adventure in a country that sort of speaks English. It's worked for me.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Christmas in Az 2009

Sometimes I’ve described my blog as someone’s vacation slide show where you don’t have to supply a gun and one bullet to the intended victims. I really hope my blog is a little more interesting than that.

This entry is Family Christmas Vacation 2009, the flight from Oz. As wonderful as Australia is, it is nice to get home and visit with family and friends. My family met up in Phoenix all within a half hour of one another, arriving from different parts of the world. At least, that was the plan. The ‘other’ airlines had different ideas so there I waited without a cell phone at the car rental desk for over an hour. In the end, all was fine as we headed to my brother’s home nearby.

The next day was Christmas Day and all of us headed to our folk’s home located in Hereford about 10 miles from the Mexican border. Holly was displeased at seeing snow on the ground. She believes that sitting in a plane for a few hours heading in a southerly direction means warmth and sun. Well, we got some sun but none of the warmth she so eagerly anticipated. Again, it was fine and we had a good couple of days.

Holly even got to catch up with an Up With People friend on the way back to Phoenix. She joined us in checking out Rooster Cockburn’s Ostrich Ranch, which looks dismal from the freeway but actually was a blast. Carly brought her boyfriend Alex and along with Nick, sat in the back of the Monster Truck that gave us a tour of their operation. It was driven by a wild woman who probably can’t believe she gets paid to have so much fun. We sat about 12’ off the ground in an open wagon and there was mud above our heads from the previous day’s fun. Apparently it had rained quite a bit and the driver took full advantage of it, much to the delight and dismay of her passengers.

We fed lots of different critters and oddly enough, Rainbow Lorikeets which are like vermin in my front yard back in Oz. Actually, they’re very fun birds (just not as much fun at 5:30 AM).

After only 4 days in the other Az, we headed back to our respective homes and in my case, a cold, wet and dark Island. Really, a bright spot was a new bedroom Holly had put together by herself! Well, Nick did paint the room a nice yellow, but new bedroom furniture and Holly had torn up the old so-called carpeting to reveal a fairly nice (if you like the antique look) hardwood floor. It was my Christmas/birthday present and a very nice one!

Holly had to go back to work on the 4th and with me leaving the 8th, gave me a few days on my own to visit friends. This included a Thursday afternoon at the Pub to meet up with the teacher’s and buy them a round or two for putting up with me crashing their Thursdays often and teaching my kids without killing them.

Sunday the 3rd, we had a late Christmas dinner with all my local relatives which we normally would’ve done on Christmas Eve, but they delayed it for me! I’m sure there were plenty of other reasons, but they do make me feel good. I do have a great family.

I hope your Christmas holiday was wonderful, too and that this New Year brings you happiness and success. I’m back at it in the Gong and wonder what the new year will bring. Mid-October will be the time to renew my contract or kick me out of the country down under. We’ll see what happens in the near future.

In the meantime, James Greer and partner Dawn will be in the area the last 2 weeks of January and plan on spending a little time with me. Former vanpooler Shelley may show up at the end of February or beginning of March. Holly will return the first two weeks of May. My vanpool replacement Christina is making rumblings of a possible visit at the end of May or beginning of June. There is plenty of space however due to my work schedule; the first two weeks of March, June, September and December are usually very busy for me. So, make your reservations early…or not. You’re always welcomed to your flat down under.