Friday, August 29, 2008

Last Saturday did turn out to be a pretty rough day on the harbor -- lots of wind and a little bit of rain. It was still nice to be out on the water, though, and we had enough wind to practice with just the jib up. I released it, Stewart (my friend from work) pulled it in, and Eric winched it tight. No problem.

We must have passed the test because they asked us to come out again on Sunday when the other prospective crew memeber, Ralph, could make it. By virtue of being last to join the team, Ralph got the toughest job -- getting the spinnaker up. Despite a number of attempts, I wouldn't say we were ever really successful. Ralph is from Germany, and I'm not sure he's able to hear all of the commands clearly up at the bow of the boat.

I think we also really need one additional person, but obviously Terry and Julie, the couple who own the boat, were already scraping the bottom of the barrel to come up with us. The next time we're together will be for the first race next Saturday. I anticipate either breaking something very expensive or coming in dead last, about 30 minutes behind the next-to-last boat. Maybe we'll just resort to pirate tactics and try to steal some extra crew from other boats.

Terry and Julie seem very nice and have been quite patient with us. However, I anticipate more heated conversations during the first race. I think they take it quite seriously. Terry is an anesthesiologist from England, and he and Julie have lived all over the world. He is now working at a hospital up in the beautiful Blue Mountains, where they live during the week. Each weekend, they drive the hour down to Sydney and stay on their boat in Sydney Harbor. We only have this weekend off because they are in Melbourne at the opera, their other passion beyond sailing.

I started yoga and "boot camp" this week. One morning a week, a trainer takes about 1/3 to 1/2 of the office to the park next to the Opera House and drills us. It's a bit like going to P.E. class with your co-workers. This week, we did a lot of boxing. Today, I can barely lift my arms over my head. Our building has showers on every other floor -- it's weird to be naked at work, though.

Last night, Eric and I both had work functions. His work bought all of the guys pizza and paid for them to go see Hellboy 2. The people from my office went to a Belgian beer cafe for beer and mussels. They were headed to a dance club when I left them...

Last Sunday, I came home to find a large lump of clay wrapped in wax paper in my mailbox. Our village, Erskineville, is creating a large art installation about the importance of horses to our local history. Each resident is being asked to make a horse and then leave it in their mailbox for firing. The horses will then be displayed in shop fronts around town. Today there is a workshop on how to make horses from clay for those of us lacking in sculpting ability or wanting to meet our neighbors. I'm headed there shortly.

We've learned that our shipment of nine boxes has been selected for a full customs audit. It looks like we'll be seeing our stuff around Sept 16 at the earliest. Sigh.

We continue to learn the subtleties of speaking Australian. Stuffed up means f*cked up, which I learned when I was commenting to one of my co-workers that they seemed unwell. Pissed, as you probably know, means drunk rather than angry, but I still seem to have trouble remembering that. Winging is complaining, and people say, "How are you going?" or "How did you go?" instead of "How are you doing?" or "How did it go?" People at Eric's work seem to say "Good on ya" a lot, but I haven't heard that at my work. One of my British co-workers did refer to someone as a bloke the other day, though. It cracks Eric up when people say the letter H, as in HIV or HR, with a heavy hhhhh at the beginning. It's hhhach r, rather than ach r with a long a. Even as we learn these linguistic differences, we still feel silly saying them ourselves.

Friday, August 22, 2008

When we moved in, we couldn't get the oven to light. We told the rental agency that we probably just didn't know how to light it. The handyman they sent to fix a couple of other things also couldn't figure out how to get the thing to light. This morning, we finally got an appliance repair man to come. In about 90 seconds he showed us how to light the stove. Dang it. Again we look like stupid Americans, but at least I can stop cooking everything in the grill (what they call the broiler)!

It's the coldest day of winter, and the day of our sailing interview. Wish us luck -- we may freeze!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Thai/Johnson Wedding Anniversary

It's hard to believe that Eric and I have only been married for two years. On August 19, 2006, we barely knew anyone in Minneapolis. Now we barely know anyone in Sydney! It feels a bit like all of the changes we've gone through together in the past two years were just training for what's coming up over the next year. At least I know I'm on a winning team. And if past performance really is the best predictor of future performance, we should be set -- we made so many great friends and had such a wonderful time living in Minneapolis (despite occassional rumblings about the cold).

We do have a sailing interview with a couple this weekend to crew on their boat for the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron Spring and Summer Series. Check out the RSYS on the web -- they're directly across from the Opera House. Tough view. That would keep our Saturdays busy from September until forever, and one of the really nice guys from work will likely also be crewing for them. Keep your fingers crossed that we don't blow it! We told them we're unskilled at anything but taking orders, so hopefully their expectations aren't too high.

Last night, Eric and I went to a nice Thai place up the street for our anniversary dinner. Most of the restaurants here are BYO, so we grabbed one of the bottles of wine from the kitchen cabinet. Turns out it was dessert wine -- the cap said "serve chilled." I can only hope the waiter didn't read English and/or didn't know anything about wine. All wine bottles here have twist off caps, so at least I didn't have to feel embarassed about that...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Australian Post vs USPS

When we were signing our lease, we asked the rental clerk if mail was received every day. He seemed a bit confused by the question and explained that we would only receive mail if someone sent us something. When we explained that in the US mail doesn’t come on Sunday, he assured us nothing like that was the case here.

Yesterday, we tried to return our Quickflix videos by leaving them in the mailbox. The postman must have been very confused as we have since learned that the postman only delivers mail here. As one of my confused co-workers asked, “How would he know if it was outgoing mail or if you just forgot to pick up your mail the afternoon before?” Eric and my co-workers’ were all heartily amused. Apparently we have to drop outgoing mail in a post box.

I did find out today, though, that mail is not delivered here on either Saturday OR Sunday. Score one for the stupid Americans over the rental clerk!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Death March

We've been trying some "American" foods this weekend. The verdicts:

1. Mac n' cheese: Not the cheesiest. Pretty wattery. Someone needs to introduce Australia to the mac n' cheese with the creamy cheese stuff you squeeze into it. Clearly the US leads the way in fatty processed foods. Hooray!

2. Pancakes: We actually bought pikelet mix, but it had a recipe for pancakes as well. As far as I can tell, a pikelet is a really sugary pancake. Anyway, Australians think pancakes are crepes. Next weekend, I'll try the mix again with half the suggested milk.

3. Pizza: They do deliver, and you're not even expected to tip! The menu is filled with the most bizarre options you could imagine -- perhaps squid and avocado do belong on the same pizza, but not on mine.

They still have us beat hands down on coffee, though. And access to Indian and Chinese take away.

Today we took the train to Cronulla, a little beach town at the end of the line. The desalination plant to whom Eric is being contracted out is in a town near there, and we thought we'd see if he could walk to work from the train station. Four little words the Aussies should learn are "map not to scale." We walked 9.2 km to the little town where the plant is, at which point we were pretty beat. Thank goodness there was a bus to take us back -- oh, wait, no bus on Sunday! I thought I was going to cry as I realised we had to walk another 9.2 km back. Eric still has to decide if he takes the car or the extra $10K/year, but I know in what direction we were both leaning this afternoon...

At about kilometer 18, we encountered the bar you see in the picture above. What you may not be able to read is the fine print that claims that Hog's Breath, in suspiciously familiar font, is "uniquely Australian." As if! This joint was established in 1989, long after 1976, when the doors opened in Destin. Perhaps they think it's okay since they called it a cafe instead of a saloon, but I'm not fooled by their semantic tricks. I challenge all of you who come to visit us from Florida to bring your Hog's Breath t-shirts, and we'll march (okay, train) down there and demand justice! What next, an Australian Lucky Joe's???

If you're wondering why I haven't been posting more pics on the blog recently, it's because we pay by the megabyte or gigabyte or something over here for internet access. Eric swears we're well within our limits, but I'm scared by those fancy computer memory words. I'm having enough trouble with the metric system. Anyway, once we get a feel for how much memory is what, I'll post more. For now, I just added some of our friends from Taronga Zoo. You knew there would be koalas, didn't you?

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Yesterday I was telling the girls at work that we had to go shopping for new pants for Eric, and they looked really confused. Then Kate, my co-worker from London, exclaimed, “Oh, you mean trousers!” I’ve just realised that their confusion was due to the fact that “pants” means “underwear” here. I’m blushing – what an obvious case of oversharing.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

First and foremost, Eric got a job yesterday. Naturally the wonder kid was offered the first job for which he interviewed. It’s a small company with lots of young people, and he thinks he’ll be able to learn some new skills. They’re still working out the details, but he’ll probably start early next week. If he works on the desalination project south of Sydney, they’ll provide us with a car. While it’s been an adventure trying to do all of our errands by foot or by train, it would certainly be a lot easier to get groceries home in a car…If he works on a different project, though, no car, and we’ll certainly continue to be fine.

Anyone who knows me well knows my love of celebrity gossip, actual news, and random facts. Every evening as I walk into my train station, a nice little lady hands me a short newspaper filled with all of those wonderful things. I look out across the harbor at the bridge and the Opera House at sunset, then get on my train to read my trash. Ahh…

I got a haircut last night – finally. I chose the salon based on the name – Pelo Hair. As pelo means hair in Spanish, the name is really Hair Hair, which I thought was hilarious. There aren’t too many Spanish speakers in Sydney that I’ve noticed. The salon is the first for two young friends, who opened it last October.

I arrived a bit early last night and was offered a glass of wine. I declined, not because I don’t love wine, but because I wasn’t used to being offered free drinks with my haircut. After a few minutes, another lady came over and offered again, letting me know that they just felt weird if someone didn’t have a drink. How could I resist? I was also offered magazines, and then the girl clarified, “Trashy?” I thought I’d gone to salon heaven.

When discussing what I wanted done to my hair with Bridget, I mentioned that I’d been thinking of some kind of bangs. Fortunately she has a brother in NYC and thus knew that I meant fringe, which is a much more accurately descriptive term, similar to mobile versus cell phone. However, she thought the word was bands, which makes about as much sense as bangs anyway.

As I left, I had another embarrassing tipping situation. I keep trying to tip people, and they keep pointing out that I’ve given them the wrong amount of money. The choice then is to either explain that you’re trying to tip them, or pretend you’re just an idiot who can’t count and take the money back. I made Bridget keep my $5. The haircut was $70, just $5 more than I was used to paying in Minneapolis, but I was used to tipping $15.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Pet Transport

Anyone who comes across this blog as they are trying to move to Australia with cats should read this:

Prices have gone up a bit, but the other information is correct.

Blah, blah, blah

I survived the first week at work -- actually it was better than that as I had a pretty good time. Everyone in the office seems tremendously friendly so far, and it seems like the work I'll be doing will be interesting and developmental. Given some relaxed legal constraints here in Oz, we can engage in more types of assessment activities. In the near future I hope to help design and facilitate role plays and assessment centres and to provide written and one-on-one individual assessment feedback, as well as any number of one-off projects of all types. The job market for skilled labor here is such that companies really have to invest in development of their employees, which means lots of interesting work. In the US, my company worked almost exclusively in personnel selection because companies have the luxury of churning and burning employees. I'm also doing a fair amount of sales support while the consulting schedule it a bit light. Some of my coworkers even went out for drinks with Eric and I on Friday night. Given that Eric had been running errands and applying for jobs all week, with only me to talk to at night, it was a pleasant diversion. I'm still worried about living up to this office's expectations and adding value to the team, but I haven't crashed and burned yet. On a funny note, I was asked to proofread some reports today, but I wasn't really able to tell what was a grammatical error and what was just a difference in the way English is spoken here from what I'm used to. I'm still getting used to calling my cell phone a mobile and asking people to call me on a number rather than at a number.

Eric and I went to the Maritime Museum this weekend. We spent so long walking around the boats that we only had time to go through the traveling exhibits and never even made it into the main part of the museum. Fortunately, the museum is free, so we can return as many times as it takes to see the whole place. We've also been dorking out by watching educational videos about Australia that we check out from the library. Key lesson: marsupials are cute.

People here a flipping nuts about the Olympics. I think every person in my office watched the opening ceremony on Friday night. I'm not sure if that's because they hosted the Olympics fairly recently or what. And it's funny how pro-Australian the commentators are. I'm still trying to get used to the regular newscasters stating their opinions as fact.

There definitely seems to be some anti-American sentiment afoot. No one has said anything to my face, but I've caught snippets of conversations, and the way people imitate American accents is in no way flattering. Since the murder of the American in Beijing, the Australian Olympic team has been ordered to wear their uniforms at all times to let people know they aren't American.

I watched my first Australian football match on Saturday morning tv. It was awesome! I've never watched a sporting event and that I immediately looked up on Wikipedia afterward. It's kind of fun trying to figure out the rules of a game just by watching it. The game is almost constantly in action. The field is oblong, and they use a rugby ball. While they mostly kick it, they also bump it out of their hands like a volleyball. At each end of the field, there are two sets of poles. If the team kicks it between the narrower set of poles, they earn six points. If they kick it between the the wider set of poles, they earn one point. And they don't wear any pads, although they all seem to have several inches of muscle. The Sydney team is called the Swans, so I may have to find someone else to cheer for before the Premiership in a few weeks.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

More of me than I wanted to share...

I only have a few minutes as I am at work, but I have to share a quick story from earlier this week. Wednesday I went out on a sales call with Chris, the new salesperson here. I was pretty impressed with myself, looking slick in my Ann Taylor suit. The meeting went well, and I came home feeling like I might make it here after all. Then I discovered that the entire back of my pants was split open. I have no idea if that happened early in the day or when I got out of the cab. Did anyone at work notice??? At least the pants had a black liner, and I had my jacket on all day, so it’s possible my backside escaped unnoticed. It’s also possible that no one felt they knew me well enough to point it out.

On a less embarrassing note, Eric and I went to the pub for dinner, and I ordered the “chicken burger,” which is just a chicken sandwich. All sandwiches on buns are “burgers” here and come with beetroot (just sliced beets), about which I was sceptical. I have to say, it was delicious! The mayonnaise is a very sweet version of Miracle Whip, and I love it, too.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Finally a moment for an update...

In the past week, Eric and I have been working very hard to settle into our new home and neighborhood. So hard, in fact, that I think it will be a relief to go back to work.
It’s required some ingenuity to furnish a house without a car. The fact that IKEA delivers has been very helpful, but we took advantage of that service back in Minneapolis. I’m thinking more of the cab we took with $850 of random crap from K-Mart, like a vacuum cleaner, microwave, pots & pans, etc. As we were checking out that day, a group of college kids at the next register kept an amazed inventory: “Wow, now they’re buying a microwave! Oh no, now it’s a mop! Holy crap, a frying pan!” I wanted to smack the little twerps. People in Australia just don’t seem to buy very many things at once, making our American excess quite a show. In fact, most stores, even grocery stores, don’t have the little conveyer belts leading up to the register. It is funny that most shopping seems to happen at K-Mart and Target, with Target being the upscale option. Perhaps it’s their international operations that keep K-Mart afloat; I keep expecting them to go out of business in the US.

Anyway, the worst was at the end of the tally when my credit card was rejected. Every other day, USAA shuts off our credit cards due to our obnoxiously large charges from the other side of the world, never mind that the address they have for us is in Australia. I call and confirm that I am indeed spending my life’s savings on $90 sheets that feel like burlap and $25 towels that shed fur all over you when you’re wet, and we move on with our lives. The first couple of times it was really humiliating, but I’ve actually gotten used to it. To USAA’s credit, we have put $6,500 on our cards this week…moving to Australia is really expensive! One of our books said it costs about $10,000 to furnish a home, and we’ve only come in a bit under that by taking the cheapest option in every case. The bed we bought at IKEA in the US was too expensive here, so we took a step down.

The cab driver we nabbed outside K-Mart was even less impressed with our haul. He tried to tell us it wouldn’t all fit, but we just wouldn’t take no for an answer. What the hell else were we supposed to do with three shopping carts worth of stuff when we were five miles from home? It was a bit like the cab driver who brought us from our temporary hotel to our new place with all of our luggage; he also tried to deny us passage.

Our favorite purchases have been from Crazy Charlie (the actual name of his business, not our nickname for him, although he seems very serious and not crazy at all), who delivers appliances himself at night after he closes his business. So far, he’s sold us our fridge, washer, dryer, and television. I’m not sure where he’s from, perhaps somewhere in the Middle East, but he’s been really helpful, showing us how to hook stuff up and whatnot. It’s still weird to me that $1,800 rent doesn’t include a fridge, but I guess it barely includes a bathroom.

Plenty of trips have happened under our own steam. The dishes I wanted were across town, so Eric and I carried them to the train, transferred trains, and then carried them home from the station. Eric was very patient, and I kept telling him that I really LOVED these dishes. Dishes are quite heavy, by the way. We’ve also made many trips to our local K-Mart, liquor store, and grocery market, about 1.5 miles away, and we’ve developed quite a system for hauling crap home. Eric carries his big Army backpack, I drag one of those little old lady trolleys with wheels, and we carry the remainder in two huge, plastic IKEA bags. All of the stores sell their own reusable cloth bags for $.99, which are designed to fit into my old lady trolley. They’re very environmentally aware here.

We just walk, and walk, and walk, all over the city, rain or shine. My whole perception of what is a long way to walk is slowly warping. I can’t imagine what it will be like if we move back to the US and have a car again. Hopefully, I’ll keep walking anyway, but I’ll definitely ditch the trolley.
We’re learning more about our neighborhood as well. We got library cards, which gives us free internet access and educational DVDs (so far, we’ve learned about Australia’s role in the Boer war and the platypus, although our Quickflix account, the Australian version of Netflix, has just been activated), and I joined a really nice gym up the street. We’ve also explored Sydney Park, which is huge and just a few blocks away. On the other side of the park is the largest indoor climbing gym in Australia, which we’ll have to check out once our gear arrives. We also went to the yard sale at the Erskineville Public School and ate hot dogs (mine was a chicken dog -- ??), just trying to be part of the neighborhood. The unit next door just leased, so hopefully we’ll get to meet our new neighbors soon. We hear he’s a Custom’s Agent, so we may harass him to figure out how to get our stuff out of hock when the boat arrives in early September. We did have a visitor the other evening – a local politician. However, once he learned we weren’t citizens and couldn’t vote, he asked for his pamphlet back. It was exciting just to have someone knock on the door, though.

We haven’t really made any friends yet, but the people we keep running into are all from Eric’s home town. We met an exchange student at K-Mart who was from Renton, and the girl making coffee up the street was from Kent. Given that the American girl I work with is from Seattle, I’m beginning to think that all Americans here originate in Washington.
Speaking of coffee, there is no such thing here: if you just order “coffee,” no one will know what the heck you want. I drink a flat white, which is coffee with steamed milk, no foam, and Eric drinks a tall black, which is just a black coffee. A short black is espresso. Someone always has to fix your coffee for you; there is no such thing as self serve.

Another interesting thing about our neighborhood is that it is full of transvestites. It’s a very gay friendly neighborhood, which I really like, but I still can’t help looking twice when an exceptionally tall woman walks by. A nice man in a dress checked out my groceries the other day, and it made me wonder where transvestites work in the US. Oh, and I hate it when their legs are better than mine.

We also have really large cats in our neighborhood, like 2-3 times the size of my cats, which is impressive. I think they descended directly from the saber tooth tiger.
We saw some other native animals at the Taronga Zoo, across Sydney Bay by ferry, like the wallaby, fairy penguin, kangaroo, echidna, platypus, and, of course, the koala. That was our big day off when we just couldn’t work on the house any more. Did you know that the koala sleeps 20 hours a day because it is working so hard to digest the eucalyptus?

The house itself is coming along. It’s a weird little place. Downstairs, we have a living room and dining room, and then a lean-to type structure with a kitchen and a bathroom. The bathroom is at the end of the lean-to, so you feel like a bit of a giant when taking a shower. The sink drains directly into the back yard through a hole in the wall. We have a small front porch and garden and a larger garden out back. The back garden has a large grill currently inhabited by about 6,000 cockroaches, and we’re plotting their death by propane. There’s also some kind of little shack out back, but we’re not sure what the hell to do with it. Upstairs are two bedrooms, one of which we’re using as an office, and a little balcony. One strange thing is that none of the rooms in the house are square. They look kind of square until you try to put square rugs or furniture in. You can tell the house is quite old because the electricity was clearly an afterthought, with wires running along walls instead of inside them. We also lack heat and air. It’s been really chilly lately, but I imagine we’ll remember huddling on the couch fondly this summer…Our new address, by the way, is:

50 Macdonald Street
Erskineville NSW 2043

Other than settling into the house and neighborhood, we’re just wrapping up the administrative tasks. We’re still not able to get driver’s licenses, but we’ve done everything else. The most interesting services to obtain have been health care and banking. Like all Australian residents, we have access to Medicare, the public health care system. However, because we earn over a certain income (something like $50K, not terribly high here given the cost of living), we also have to have private health insurance or pay a special tax at the end of the year. The private health insurance is split into hospital coverage and extras coverage. The hospital coverage pays whatever Medicare doesn’t if you have to stay overnight in the hospital. There are public and private hospitals, and to make matters more confusing, you can request to be classified as a private patient at a public hospital. We’re going with not getting sick. To pay the lowest premium possible, or $115/month for the two of us, Eric and I signed up for the highest hospital deductible: $50/night for up to 8 nights, nothing thereafter. The insurance representatives seemed really alarmed at the $200 risk we’re taking, but I don’t think they understand what we’re used to fearing in terms of medical costs. We keep asking if this and that are covered, and they keep thinking we’re crazy. Of course it’s covered – they’re not barbarians! The extras coverage takes care of things like ambulance rides, dental care, and doctor’s visits. Again we have the minimum coverage, hoping against hope that we won’t need any of the bizarre, hippie therapies that are covered under other packages. I think I can make it a couple of years without Reiki therapy. One strange thing is that contraceptives aren’t covered by Medicare or the private health insurance. Paying for babies to be born must be cheaper than prevention.
We had some confusion with our bank for a couple of days. We have two accounts, one of which earns interest, and the other of which is designed for daily transactions. We assumed these were equivalent to savings and checking accounts and kept choosing “checking” on the little keypad when using our EFTPOS (like debit) cards. We kept getting declined. Given our credit card woes, this was getting exhausting. Well, it turns out that we have TWO savings accounts with slightly different names, and almost no one has a checking account. A checking account here is strictly to be used for writing checks.

Oh, what will we learn next…

Friday, August 1, 2008


I only have 7 minutes remaining here in the internet cafe, but I'll try to make the best of it. I can't wait until we have the good ol' interweb in our house next Friday! Aside from getting a credit card, getting the interweb is probably the most difficult thing to do here. We were finally approved for a credit card -- with a whopping $2,000 limit! How do they expect people to get themselves into massive, American-sized credit card debt at that rate?

Eric and I are mostly settled, and the place is definitely looking better, although a bit like an Ikea showroom. We got a washer and a dryer, which will be much nicer than lugging our laundry up the road. And we can use the dryer to heat the living room until Sydney warms up, which will hopefully be soon.

We had our first guest the other night, a politician looking for votes. He actually took his pamphlet back when we told him we weren't citizens and thus couldn't vote!

We also managed to visit a bar. There were some dicey moments trying to determine if we wanted a "schooner" or a "jug," but determined alcoholics that we are, we figured it out. Keno is the big thing going in the bars here, although bingo was also on offer the evening we visited. Basically, normal, young Australians don't mind acting like senior citizens if it involves gambling..