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Monday, April 30, 2007

Fun With Packing

We've begun sorting through the stuff we have acquired these past two years as well as the stuff we brought with us from New York and never used.

  • Pile 1: Throw out
  • Pile 2: Give away or sell
  • Pile 3: Bring back home to sort in another few years

So I tipped over one of the wine boxes we used for storage and out spilled enough Allen keys, spare Christmas light bulbs and rubber bands to keeps a dozen elven MacGyvers entertained for years. Of course I saved dozens of cables I've never used, like USB extensions, mini to USB cables and cables I don't know how to use... because I'll never know when I may need them so I can't throw them out.

The most interesting curiosity was a little baggie from Ikea. It contained a small screw, two washers and a fabric strap. In Ikean style, there was no name for his device, but an illustration confirmed that I had all the parts needed, I should not cut the strap and that I should not set the strap on fire. The instructions told me, in 18 languages, how to thread the screw through the washers and piece of fabric. I have no use for this thing, but now I can tell someone how to thread a small screw through the washers and fabric in Casky, Magyar and Suomi! I didn't throw it out. Instead I cut it while setting it on fire. I feel stronger for it.

There were a few other gems in those boxes, like a little box of staples that was empty except for a single tack. Dana said, "Only you would do that!" But I pointed out that I found this tack well-preserved and without impaling myself. Several years ago, when I packed that tack in the empty staple box, this is exactly the outcome I hoped for. If I could reach back three years, I would pat myself on the back and say, "Well done, three-years-younger Denis." I would also probably tell myself to bet a lot of money on the Steelers in Super Bowl XL.

I also found a sheet of paper with step-by-step instructions for the Spider-Man Dance. Sadly, I still have not learned the moves. I'll bring it will us on our trip and practice in the streets of Rome, Florence, Nice and Lyons. This way I'll have it down perfect for the German bier halls. Oh how they will applaud me!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Yum Cha

This morning Dana finally tried yum cha. This is a brunch/lunch meal quite popular in Chinatown here in Sydney, but I have to be honest and say that I have no idea if it is a meal in China's towns. What I do have an idea of is how tasty it is! Lana and Sam know their dishes, so they ordered up some good stuff. We skipped the chicken feet. I've had them before: 1. they're a lot bigger than you'd think 2. when you remember that they run around on chicken shit all day they become less appealing and more appalling. It was a great meal, and Dana even had a go at being a trolley dolly! Our experience was at Emperor's Garden, across from Market City. Good stuff.
More here.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Bennifer Curry

Our friends Jen & Ben live on the other side of Sydney CBD, way up on the 87th floor of Century Tower. The apartment commands a view of Sydney Harbour and an army of Sydney Centurion Tower commandos. Don't ask them about the commandos, they'll insist that this is a lie.

Our next-to-last-most-recent visit was exciting thanks to SAS training on the building next door. Helicopters would fly in low, between the office and apartment buildings, to let trainees drop onto the roof of a building. It's a dangerous task: the helicopters could crash into one of the buildings it narrowly passes or a trainee could slip and fall to his death... but it will all pay off when Fox decides to shoot the next series of 24 in Sydney.

Our most recent visit was exciting because we had people in a bag and destroyed towers ourselves! The people in the bag were only there on paper (sigh) and the towers destroyed were only made of wooden sticks, a la jenga. I did make a helicopter sound after the tower fell over, if that helps.

So what really happened? Ben & Jen organised a fantastic curry night. Everyone brought a curry dish. Rice and side dishes were provided by the hosts... then we ate. Oh, we ate. Shout out to the meat represented at Bennifer's Curry Night:

  • Lamb!! That's right, it would be un-Australian not to include you
  • Beef!! Cheap and reliable, thanks for your continued presence in meals across the world*
  • Chicken!! You clucky bugger, source of so much protein... props! Leg or breast? haha, I'm just kidding
  • Goat!! This can-do, can-eating animal provides excellent flesh to us carnivores willing to cook them
  • Vegetables! Sorry that you only get one exclamation point. Eggplant is cool and all, but it's no goat
*Except places where they don't eat beef.

Photos here.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Glenn Hinton Dancing

Glenn Hinton dances at Aaron's place on Anzac Day.

If you can't see the movie, try this.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Anzac Day Antics

"Ohhhh, Anzac Day, Anzac Day, 2-up and beer." You all know that old song. Well, yesterday we had a chance to sing along to this song as well as many others (such as We Are the World) in Rozelle. Aaron & Ben threw a solid party, complete with 2-up! 2-up? Anzac? Little help here.

  • Anzac = Australian and New Zealand Army Corps
  • Anzac Day = Australian and New Zealand Army Corps Day, so you could also call it Anzacd
This day, the 25th of April, even if it lands on a Wednesday, is a public holiday meant to honour the diggers. Diggers?
  • Diggers = Anzac soldiers
Anzac Day starts with a dawn service, about a quarter after 4 in the morning. There are parades all over Australia and New Zealand. Supermarkets are closed until 1PM out of respect for the diggers. Pubs generally open just after the dawn service. Then people play 2-up (two-up). 2-up (two-up?)?

  • 2-up = This is a gambling game that is banned every day of the year except Anzac Day. (I know, it just gets weirder and weirder, doesn't it?) The game involves a "spinner" placing two coins on a flat stick, called a "kip". After this, I've heard many variations on the rules. Essentially you bet if the coins will turn up heads or tails. If their mixed, you spin again. A "boxer" oversees bets with the spinner, and other people can place side bets. It's good fun.

The story is that during WWI, Turkish troops saw a group of Australian troops playing two-up. They were too far away to see what was happening, but they saw the diggers' heads bobbing up and down. The Turks decided not to attack because they assumed they were praying. They were not too far off thinking that gambling was an Australian religion.

Back to the BBQ. After the two-up ended and we had a good comb through Aaron's record collection, we hit the 3 Weeds just down the road. It was an excellent day/night, though it made today, a Thursday, feel like a Monday/Friday.

Check out all the good shots here, including wolfman.

We ARE the world.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Brisbane is the beautiful capital city of Queensland. It was settled in the early 1800s as a penal colony for the convicts too dangerous or odious to be kept in Sydney. John Oxley was sent by the governor of New South Wales, Sir Thomas Brisbane, with an exploration team to find a location. Wow, you'd think they would re-do that portrait. Anyway, they initially settled closer to the water at Moreton Bay, but for some reason the Aborigines didn't appreciate their company and kept driving them to different locations. The city centre came to be 20 kilometeres up the Brisbane River. The convicts were treated brutally by the commandant, Captain Patrick Logan, until he was murdered in 1830. The only standing building that dates back to convict times is the old windmill. After it was built, they realised that no one knew how to make it run, so it was turned into a massive treadmill and convicts were made to churn it as punishment. I'm not an architect, but I think I know how you get a windmill to work. I think it's wind. Non-convict settlers started arriving in 1838 and the city has since grown to be the 3rd largest in the country. During WWII, it served as the headquarters for General MacArthur. Unlike Darwin, it was never bombed, but these fallout shelters indicate they were prepared.

It's a quiet and relaxed city, so we had an interesting time finding a place to eat after arriving at our hotel at 9PM. I called a restaurant someone recommended.
"Hello, can you take two people tonight?"
"Ah, yeah, two people."
"OK, great."
"Our kitchen closes at 9:30."
"Oh, so as long as we get our order in by 9:30?"
"Well, that's when our kitchen closes. So I guess if you get here soon."

We did get there in time, but we had to ask the cabbie to drive a bit faster.

South Bank is an area just on the other side of the Brisbane River from the city. It has recently been renovated and contains some really nice restaurants. You can also catch one of the most spectacular views of the city from the banks of the fake beach that has been installed. Oh yeah, they set up a park/playground with a beach set off from the river. We had a really tasty and reasonably priced seafood meal here.

The city has a vibe unique to Australian cities. It's recently become a modern city, after hosting the Commonwealth Games in 1982. The event drew press for other reasons as well. Brisbane has the feel of a really fun, big, small town. People are friendly and everything is walkable. The arcade in front of Town Hall plays host to a market every weekend, each electrical box is painted by a different artist, new development maintains respect for the old town, and the original locals run wild. This is not to say that Brisbane does not understand its role as third largest city in Australia. By comparison, this is to Australia what Chicago is to the US... but Chicago has 2.8 million people while Brisbane is only 1.8 million. Actually, that's not a huge difference. What's more, both cities are set inland on a body of water. Brisbane relies on its many bridges, especially the Story Bridge, which was designed by John Bradfield, the same architect as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and he designed it at about the same time. And both Chicago and Brisbane have superb urban planning built around the waterways.

Of course, a city of this magnitude has to be considered on its own account, and there are some fascinating things we discovered. There is a walkway under the Story Bridge that takes you along some cliffs to a massive pedestrian dock. A dock build as a promenade that runs on the river for several kilometres.

We had a great time in Brisbane and if you find yourself there, make the most of it. Our friends Ian and Sandra from Toowoomba came in and we had quite a night. The Casino was blast as well as the pancake house in the old church. We did not figure out why the "Yellow Cab Company" cars are orange, but this is something we can live with. More disturbing observations were the number of people smuggling Krispy Kreme donuts from Sydney to Brisbane and the number of people we saw actually fall over drunk. I'm sure this is just was just due to the heat.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Thylacine - The Tasmanian Tiger

The Thylacine, commonly called the Tasmanian Tiger, was classified as extinct in 1936. After the animal had been hunted as a pest for decades, the last one died in captivity in the Hobart Zoo. Like many animals native to Australia, however, the Thylacine was probably on its way out as a result of introduced species even if bounties had not gone out head-hunting. The tassie was at the top of the food chain in Australia, munching on smaller marsupials until dingos were introduced to the mainland about 1500 years ago. Dingos were better hunters and the Tasmanian tiger couldn't hold its own. On the island of Tasmania, dogs, cats, foxes, and the like were introduced much later, so the Thylacine kicked on for a bit longer down there. Since they were marsupials, the young joeys did stay in the pouch. There are frequent sightings of Thylacines, primarily in Tasmania, but also on the mainland. Cryptozoologists arms themselves with cameras and head off into the bush. No photographs have been proven 100% guaranteed legitimate, but the search continues. If you make your way to Tassie, bring a camera. Or bring your golden retriever and paint a few stripes on his back.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Queensland Locked In

We depart (sadly) Sydney at 7AM on Monday the 4th of June. Upon landing at the Cairns Airport we pick up a car and drive north to Cape Tribulation. This is wild country, full of vicious cassowaries and fungi that would close up your mother's throat. Well, my mother's throat at least.

When my parental units visited this unforgiving land a year ago they just barely escaped with their lives from a team of hungry cassowaries. They sought refuge in the kitchen of their hotel after the lights went out, thinking the hunting cassowaries would never be able to break into the meat locker. They did. Those cassowaries hunt in a pack and are especially sensitive to motion. A sneeze gave away their location, but they were able to climb into an air duct and into the safety of their own bed, just in the nick of time. In their slumber, when they thought it was finally safe, the killer fungi got them. Gasping, they fled under the cover of night and recovered in Port Douglas, and also went antiquing.

Port Douglas isn't in our schedule, but that depends on the cassowaries and fungi, I guess. What is in our schedule is a short stay at the wild Cairns YHA hostel. Our boat leaves at 5:30AM the next day, so we picked the cheapest option we could find. As a bonus, it appears the guests tend to get crazy drunk each night and take compromising photos. Let's see if Dana winds up dancing on a table.

Yes, the next day we are departing for sea at 5:30AM for a three day, 2 night scuba diving trip. Over the course of 11 dives, we will be able to get up close to creatures living in one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth... sea turtles, giant clams, rays... but no sharks. Definitely no sharks, Dana.

The boat is run by ProDive, and Dana & I have a private room on the boat of 30 or so people. No doubt it will be an interesting experience. Dana is a bit worried... but she has nothing to fear... I'm a Rescue Diver, for Pete's sake! A Rescue Diver!

Our last two nights in Queensland, and all of Australia, are in Palm Cove. We have a nice, relaxing place near the beach, far from deadly cassowaries, fungi and giant clams, so we can take in our last few thousand breaths of Australian air in peace.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Bob Hawke & a Yard of Beer

While he was prime mister of Australia, Bob Hawke held the Guinness world record for fastest consumption of a yard of beer: 11 seconds. That's 1.7 litres of beer, or nearly 58 ounces. To give you an idea of how much beer this is, the "beer yard" most of us are familiar with is only a half yard (pictured).

This is the first Aussie Fact O The Week. I'll try to include a bit of Australiana once a week before we ship off. Sometimes I'll comment on them... but this one needs no comment. If you've even been to Australia, you're probably not surprised by this fact.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Impromptu Party

Last Thursday we had nothing much planned. Ben sent an email around calling folks around to Sweeney's before they close and before he disappears into house maintenance responsibilities. Up on the roof of Sweeney's our group grew from 4 to 8 to 12 to 16 to 20. As the night grew on and the crowd grew, we realised we might need another venue - perfect time for an impromptu party!

Back at the Savoy we kicked on with a new cocktail called "the dwarbi". I won't go into detail, but it contains vodka and blue caraco, and not much else. The party rocked until about 3AM*. This was a great chance to spend some quality time with some close friends before the Big Trip, and it reminded both me and Dana of how much we'll miss them. The night.

(*for some of us, not me)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Singapore Locked In

Dana and I have nailed down how we are spending our 28 hours in Singapore. In order to get some great flight deals or free-via-miles flight deals, we did have to compromise a bit on comfort. We are landing in Singapore at 10:45PM, staying the next day and leaving at 3AM the following morning.

Yeah, it's a short trip, but we have all of the meals mapped out. Seriously. Singapore is know for it's great food, so I figured we would take advantage of our jet-lagged, long-ass stop-over and have six meals. Here's a hint: Singapore Chili Crab is three of them.

OK, I tell a fib. We will be sleeping a bit while in Singapore, this, The Most Cleanest of Pores. We're booked into The New Seven Storey Hotel, a highly recommended accommodation that features food, drinks and snacks as well as a personal message from the general manager*.

Singapore Chili Crab will be had at least once.

*Plus a SmileCam... can't beat that.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Big Trip

As previously mentioned, Dana and I are heading back to the Crazy Eights (United States) in a couple of months. It's going to be difficult to leave this sunburnt country, but we're taking advantage of the long trip home and stopping by a few choice sites on the way.

  • Cape Tribulation & The Great Barrier Reef
  • Singapore
  • Rome
  • Tuscany
  • Florence
  • South of France
  • Switzerland
  • Bavaria
  • (some other places in western Germany or eastern France)
  • Belgium
  • New York
It's a pretty amazing trip and it'll take boats, planes, cars and trains to get us all the way to the end. This is The Big Trip! I'm especially looking forward to trying to find my way around people who can't speak English, especially in Queensland.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Frog & Toad

Struth mate, Dana and I are heading back to New York/New Jersey. Yes there's a stroke/slash there in NY/NJ. After living here in Oz for over two years, we've decided it's time to move back. Both of us have made countless fantastic antipodean friends, many of whom we hope to teach how to walk upright while they visit us in New York. (/New Jersey.)

We will be in Australia for a couple of months longer while we wrap up work, say farewell to friends, plan our trip home, and decide on which side of the stroke/slash we will live in the United States of America. I'm looking forward to making the most of these last weeks in Australia. Shit! I need to eat a witchetty grub, learn to surf and throw a boomerang all in such a short time!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Easter in Sydney

Today we had Ben & Jen and Glenn & Alexis over for Easter dinner. Dana handled the appetisers: blue cheese & jam, baked camembert with cranberry & walnut, feta and pesto crostinis.
I took care of the main course: two lamb shoulder roasts with garlic, potato, zucchini, carrot, onion & brussels sprouts. Yeah, sounds gross, but you haven't tried my version.
Desert was back over to Dana: mini cheesecakes with a blueberry compote. Bloody beautiful, as they say here in Australia.

Easter is an odd time here in Sydney: Friday and Monday are public holidays and nearly everything is closed. It's mandated and heavy fines are imposed if anyone breaks these rules.

On the other hand, Sydney-siders take to enjoying these holy days by going to the races and fully enjoying the four-day holiday. This means lots of drunk clowns on the street late at night, screaming. Why do they have to scream? The women are falling-down drunk and wearing silly hats, so you would think they would want to keep a low profile. Their male companions have every reason to keep a lid on things for their own interests.

For the rest of us it's just a mess. Yes I nearly tossed an egg on some folks last night, but I stopped. On that note I shall go to sleep tonight.

oh, and a Happy Easter shout out to my digital neighbour Gordon!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Hot Cross Buns!

Ah, the hot cross bun: an Easter tradition here in Australia and other British colonies. I assume the Americans stopped the tradition around the same time as they dropped the u's and cancelled the Queen's Birthday public holiday. It's offered on or near Good Friday, and the cross on top represents the crucifixion. Some schools in England have stopped serving them in order to be sensitive to non-Christians. Something Bill O'Reilly might call a War On Easter! But seriously people, you're eating a crucifix... who should be offended here?

So what is this "hot cross bun!"? (For some reason it is frequently followed by an exclamation point.) Well, you would imagine a warm, sticky, gooey sweet pastry of some kind. This is what I expected two years ago when I was invited to try my first hot cross bun! I lingered in the kitchen area and watched the boxes being opened. I picked one up, careful not to burn my fingertips - no worries, it's cold.

Let me inspect this foreign dish on my plate. Hmmm, it looks like white bread. There's a white cross on the top, so that must be extra sweet. The top's a bit shiny. There is one raisin sticking out of one of the sides... I made sure to get one with a raisin - about one in four.
Now to taste: still cold. Not sweet. Tastes like a dinner roll. It's really not very sweet at all. Smother it with some butter or jam and it's a good morning snack!

I'm about to try my third round of hot cross buns! today. Maybe today I'll understand why this tradition has persisted. It's clear why other traditions have persisted: presents on Christmas because we like presents; candy on Halloween because we like to eat candy; beer on St. Pat's because we like to get drunk.

If you care to shed some light, please add a comment.

*** EDIT - The hot cross buns! that I had this morning were far better than any ones I've had before. A tradition worth keeping!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Saturday, 31 March 2007

What a day! Dana and I woke up nice and early to have dinner with the growing Kouteris family. Food at the Barn in Balmain was great, and it's always great to see Chris and Cass, but the highlight was meeting Chloe Kouteris for the first time. Just three weeks old, she really kept it together during breakfast. I was especially impressed when she politely pointed out to the waitress that we had been seated for fifteen minutes yet no one had offered to bring us coffees. And as a capper, she picked up the tab.

Next Dana and I walked from CBD to Fox Studios. It was a brisk hour walk through Kings Cross and Surry Hills, but we had the energy from the Barn's eggs (compliments of Chloe). The markets were on, and we picked up a lovely jam, but ten pin bowling was what we really had in mind. We met up with Glenn, Fiona, B-Rad, Jodie and Cory at Strike. Strike is a trippy bowling joint that plays Christina Aguilera and Tom Jones at high volume while four kid's parties (average age: 8) fight over the bumper lanes. This could explain the tiny ziplock bag I found in the toilet that probably contained a sedative before it was deposited into the loo. Neither Dana nor I had been bowling in many years. Dana really sucked during the first game. Then she handily beat me in the second. Once she found her footing it was all over for me. B-Rad beat both of us in both games. At the lane next to us, Jodie, Fiona, Cory and Glenn bowled left-handed. I think each of them still beat the three of us.

Earth Hour saw the day to its completion. After another brisk walk back to the CBD, Dana and I cabbed it to Alexandria to Stiffy's place. He has an excellent view of the Sydney skyline, and so a perfect place for an Earth Hour BBQ. I'll assume you know what Earth Hour is/was. OK, no I won't. Sydney decided to shut off all some of its lights for an hour. It was meant to raise awareness about energy consumption. Stephan will have more on this in his upcoming guest post. Anyway, the BBQ was great. A good mix of lamb, beef and roo - can't go wrong! Add in some hat-swapping and glasses-swapping... we're talking about a rootin' tootin' good time.