Sunday, June 27, 2010

World Cup Fever

“World Cup Fever” is the first part of a three part series:  “Dear America.”  Look for the second and third installments in the days to come.

Dear America,

World Cup fever has taken the world by storm!  Are you watching?

Of course you’re not.  Do you even know what the World Cup is?  Oh man.  Let’s start at the beginning.

There’s this sport called football.  Wait – let me back up.  There’s this sport called soccer.  Actually, the sport is only called soccer in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.  The rest of the world calls that same sport football.  There is no relation between the football that the rest of the world plays (soccer) and the football that is played in the United States (NFL).  Are you following me?  Ok.  Let’s proceed.

Every four years there’s a competition to see who has the best football team.  No no no – it’s not the Dallas Cowboys.  Remember, football = soccer.  Yes, that’s right.  All clear now?  Ok, let’s keep going.

So, every four years they have a competition to see who has the best soccer team.  It’s sort of like the Super Bowl of soccer, but instead of teams from different cities in the United States, you have teams from different countries all over the world.  So really, it’s more like a blend of the Super Bowl and the Olympics, especially since it only happens every four years.

You follow me?  Yes?  Wow – I’m shocked.  Let’s keep going.

Now, you’re going to be surprised to hear this, but soccer is the most popular sport in the world.  Yep!  That’s right!  Soccer!  Not (American) football.  Not basketball.  Not baseball.  Soccer is the most popular sport in the world.  Teams from 204 countries and territories entered the qualification stages for World Cup.  I bet you didn’t even know that there were that many countries and territories in the world, did you?

I love it when I’m right.

Of those 204 teams, only 32 of them actually make it all the way to play in the World Cup!  So really, the World Cup is sort of like the playoffs.  You follow?  Good.  I’m figuring out how to speak your language.  The United States has a soccer team, and they’ve done quite well.  The good ole U.S. of A made it to the Top 32!  And then, better yet, they made it to the second round – the Top 16!  YAY!

So, could the U.S. actually win this?  Well, no.  Sadly, the U.S. got knocked out of the contest yesterday by Ghana.

I’m sorry, what?  That’s Ghana.  G-H-A-N-A.  Ghana.

It’s a country.  A country in Africa… No, it’s not near South Africa – it’s more toward the top of the continent.  It borders Togo, Burkina Faso, and Cote d’Ivoire.  Oh lord, why do you have that confused look on your face?  It’s a country!  Yes, people live there.  It’s about the size of Minnesota and they have as many people as Texas!

Yes, they all fit.  What?  No, there are no African-Americans there.  There are only Africans there.  What’s the difference, you ask?

I should just give up.

Getting back on topic:  it’s a big soccer competition and everyone around the world is watching very closely.  All of my Aussie friends are up to date on the latest scores, and our team made it to the Top 32 too!  Sadly, though, the Australian team didn't do as well as the U.S. team, so they didn't advance to the second round.  Sad panda.

Oh, well, Brazil will probably win.  If not Brazil, then maybe Argentina or Uruguay, but I wouldn’t count out the Netherlands either.  What’s that?  No, Uruguay is not the same thing as Paraguay.  I’m surprised you even know what Paraguay is.  Oh yeah – it was in that McDonald’s commercial last year.

So, America, tonight when you’re sitting at home watching television, maybe flip to ESPN6 or whatever network normally shows soccer in the U.S.  The rest of the world will be watching it, and who knows, you might actually like it a little.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Let There Be Light

Winter has arrived in Sydney, and it’s damn cold.

Ok fine, it’s not really that cold, but the Aussies aren’t used to it and they just bitch bitch bitch about it all the time.  I’d compare Sydney winter to Seattle winter, but maybe 5 degrees warmer.  It’s been in the 50’s here during the day, 40’s overnight, and raining a lot.  To be honest, I’m sick of it.

Everyone is sick of it.  The days are short and houses are cold, and my shoes are constantly wet from walking to work in the rain.

Aussies love their beaches and they love their sun, and this time of year is just brutal.  What do Aussies need more than anything right now?  Ok, yes – beer.  Always beer.  What’s next?  That’s right.  Light!

To help get us through the short, cool winter, there are a few events, festivals, and sales that take place.  The first one of note is Vivid.  Vivid is “a festival of light, music, and ideas.”  But in my professional opinion, they can get rid of the music and ideas part.  The light part was sufficient.  Basically, they shine pretty lights on a row of buildings in the CBD, including the Sydney Opera House.  The Opera House is done up in vibrant, pretty colors.  Some of the other buildings, including the cathedral, are lit up to tell the history of Australia.

Despite the frigid temperature outside, the whole thing was pretty cool.  I even took some brightly colored pretty pictures and, as I promised, I am sharing them here for you.  First the Opera House, then the cathedral.  Note that I have a crappy little camera and I had to rest it on a bench in order to get the Opera House to come out properly.  In front of the bench was a fence, so there’s this dark line in front of the Opera House on all of my pictures.  I’m not a professional.  Don’t judge me.

And if the light festival isn’t your thing, there’s always the winter sale at Ikea…

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Tribute

You know when you’re a kid and your dog gets hit by a car and your parents tell you he went off to live on a farm in the country where he’ll have space to roam and chase birds and be happy?

That lie won’t work this time.

I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but I need to do a sad post.  Just one, and I promise I’ll follow it up later this week with a post full of happiness and brightly colored pretty pictures.  My mother e-mailed me this weekend to let me know that she finally sold my beloved car.  Talk about a Debbie Downer.  And her name is actually Debbie.

I looked into shipping her here – my car, not my mom - and I would have paid the few thousand dollars to actually do it, but I would’ve also had to pay to move the steering wheel to the passenger side – because they think the passenger side is the driver side here.  It would’ve been incredibly expensive and probably would have looked ridiculous too.  And because I want to be here for a few years at least, I decided that selling my car would be the most practical and most logical move.

But still, I’m sad.  My mom told me via e-mail on a weekend - as instructed - just in case I started crying.  It would be very awkward to start bawling at work and then have to explain to your boss that it’s because of a car.  They probably would’ve sent me to the loony bin.

But I didn’t start crying, partially because of that “I have no soul” thing, but I’m working on that.  Instead, I’m doing a blog tribute to the car that has treated me very well for 7+ years.  Denise the Nissan has been to more U.S. states than my sister has and has traveled much further than most Americans.  She's lived in Florida, Texas, and Washington state.  From Florida to Seattle and back – and everywhere in between.  Nearly all of Interstates 10 and 5.  Most of Interstate 20.  More than half of Interstate 40.  She’s even been to Canada more times than you.  She's been from below sea level near Palm Springs to over 8,000 feet high near Flagstaff - in under 24 hours.  She’s ridden ferries all over the Pacific Northwest, and she’s seen Disney World, Mount Rainier, the Grand Canyon, the mighty Mississippi River, and more Cracker Barrels than I should probably admit to.  85,000 miles.  Never a flat tire.  Never a major breakdown.  She’s been good to me ever since I drove her off the lot, with "Beer Thirty" by Brooks & Dunn playing on the radio as her inaugural song.

I’m going to miss her.

Denise the Nissan
May 13, 2003 to June 19, 2010

Photo taken Saturday, October 1st, 2005
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Florida license plates

Photo taken Friday, December 4th, 2009
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Washington license plates

And of course, she’s forever ingrained sitting outside my old apartment in Seattle.  Thank you, Google Maps.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ask About Vegemite Instead

Upon returning from a vacation, everyone wants to know all about your trip.  It’s your time to tell them all about your adventures, and of course, make them a little jealous.  Or a lot jealous, if the destination allows for it.  Now, even though I wasn’t really on vacation per se here in Australia, it was no different for me when I went back to the States in May.  Everybody had a question and everybody wanted to know all about life down under.  Some questions I was expecting.  Others, I hadn’t even thought of.  Here are some sample questions you may receive upon returning from select destinations:

Hawaii:  “How were the beaches?”
Las Vegas:  “Did you win any money?”
Orlando:  “Did you see Mickey Mouse?”
Mexico:  “How were the margaritas?”
France:  “Did you go up the Eiffel Tower?”
Italy:  “How was the food?”
Australia:  “OMG - which way does the toilet flush?!?!”

Seriously, people?  “Which way does the toilet flush?”  That was the number one question I was asked when I went back to the States in May.  Sure, a few people asked if I had held a koala, or gone surfing, or eaten some kangaroo.  But, thanks to a little pop culture myth and an episode of The Simpsons, an overwhelming majority of people asked about toilets flushing.  Great.

Because toilets are what we usually discuss right when we get back from vacation, right?

I guess we Americans really are a classy bunch.  Well, just this once - and only this once - I’ll try my best to appease all of you ever-so-curious Americans.  So, which way do those Aussie toilets flush, you ask?  Well, I’ll tell you this:  I don’t fucking know.

I don’t know!  I really don’t!  I mean, can you honestly tell me if your toilet at home swirls clockwise or counter-clockwise?  I have no idea because I don’t stand there and watch the nuggets swish down the drain.  That’s gross.  I stand up, pull up my pants, press the button, and immediately go wash my hands.  I don’t linger.  I don’t look.  I just drop the children off and leave.  Do you stare at it???


I will tell you this:  Most of the toilets here are designed to conserve water, so they have two flushers - one flusher for pee and another flusher for poo.  The pee flusher uses just a bit of water so you don’t waste gallons upon gallons of it on a little tinkle.  The poo flusher uses an amount more than the pee flusher but less than Niagara Falls.  I’m pretty sure a lot of the toilets just suck it straight down – no swirling – no swishing – just opening up and letting it drain out.  It’s sort of like an airplane lavatory toilet, except these here on land don’t have enough suction to pull your entire head off if for some reason you get within four feet of it.

Sorry to disappoint you all.

The next time you have a friend come back from the Land of Oz, don’t let the first question be about which way the toilets flush.  It’s a bit ridiculous.  Ask about kangaroos, or koalas, or beaches, or Vegemite, or the outback!

Let toilets be your fourth or fifth question.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Heaps of This, Heaps of That

And today I present to you a typical Aussie conversation:

Aussie #1:  G’day, Mate!
Aussie #2:  G’day! How you going?
Aussie #1:  I’m heaps good, mate.  I got heaps to tell you.
Aussie #2:  Heaps?  Oh well, this should be heaps exciting.  Go on.
Aussie #1:  Well, we had heaps of problems at home today.  Mom went heaps crazy because my brother left heaps of dirty dishes in the sink, and my sister bought heaps of new clothes on my mom’s credit card.  They were all yelling heaps at each other, and then dad came home and it only got heaps worse.  You know he can get heaps angry when heaps of stuff happens!
Aussie #2:  I know – heaps!
Aussie #1:  Luckily, I had put heaps of gas in my car earlier, so I just left, but I found that heaps of gas were gone!  I put in a few more heaps to get me to Heapsville, and I’m heaps relieved that I’m out of that heaps angry house.  Heaps.
Aussie #2:  Heaps heaps.  Well, I’m heaps glad you’re here.  Heaps.  Want to go eat heaps of pizza?  Heaps.
Aussie #1:  Heaps of pizza would be heaps great.  I heaps love eating heaps of pizza.  Heaps heaps.
Aussie #2:  I heaps know.  Heaps of pizza is heaps yummy heaps.
Aussie #1:  Heaps.
Aussie #2:  Heaps.

Heaps.  Aussies love the word.  It’s probably one of the three most spoken words on the continent (falling behind, of course, “G’day” and “mate”).  A heap to me is a pile.  So when I hear that there were “heaps of people at the mall today”, I always get the image of either some tragic mafia-style murder scene or some over the top performance art installation.  I’m not sure which mental image is worse, but I’m leaning toward the performance art.

They only use heaps.  They never spice it up.  They never use lots.  How about trying “There were lots of people at the mall today”?  That’s a little clearer and the imagery isn’t so horrifying.  Maybe tons?  Now, anything involving tons of people may imply fat people, but maybe we can reserve it for non-human descriptions.  “There were tons of cars on the road today” or “There was a ton of stuff on sale at Best Buy.”  I wouldn’t mind the occasional buckets – because after all, isn’t that very similar to heaps?  Buckets may be a little too Texas-sounding though, so it should only be used sparingly.  And lest we not forget about oodles!  Oodles generally implies good, so “There were oodles of children at the zoo today” would not be proper usage because that would not be good.  However, “There were oodles of topless hunks at the beach” would be grammatically appropriate.

Or we could go with the standard American word:  loads.  “As expected, there were loads of poor people at the Wal-Mart.”  Ok, maybe loads wouldn’t be enough for that one.  How about a shitload?  “As expected, there were shitloads of poor people at the Wal-Mart.”  That’s better.  Similarly, the shit ton unit of measurement would also be appropriate.  Adding “shit” to the front of the adjective is helpful in conveying the sheer amount of that ton or load which you are describing.  Shit heaps wouldn’t work the same.  Shit heaps sounds like… well, it sounds like heaps of shit.  Piles of shit if I may.  And the imagery I get from that is some tragic mafia-style murder scene where the mafia added insult to injury by first covering their pile of victims in manure, or similarly, that performance art installation this time done by hippies where they cover themselves in feces to make a political statement about something that nobody is going to care about or understand.


Would it kill the Aussies to spice it up every now and again?  Using the same one adjective over and over again is getting heaps boring… oh no… I just said it.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Semi-Insightful USA Recap

Only 4 months after my arrival in Australia and 3 weeks after I began work, I took a two week vacation back to the States. Yes, the trip seemed a bit awkwardly timed, but I was a groomsman in a wedding so of course I had to go back. And in typical Phill fashion, I gallivanted across the country - stopping everywhere to see everyone. I spent a few days in Seattle, followed by a brief stop in Houston, with a week in Florida as the grand finale. The trip proved very useful in two main ways: (1) it was the perfect opportunity to buy all of the clothes that I’ve needed but have been completely unable to afford at Aussie department stores and (2) it made me reflect on my time in Australia and my big move here. Sorry, I might get all insightful later in the post. I’ll try not to, since that’s just not my style. First, here are some highlights:

1. I may or may not have purchased nearly $200 worth of chocolate from Theo Chocolate in Seattle. It may or may not have been enough to make them search my bag at the Houston airport and question me on it. TSA: “Are these gifts?” Me: “No. I’m a fat ass. Thanks for pointing it out.” I don’t think TSA appreciates my humor.

2. Even after being gone for 6 months, I was remembered by a waiter at the DeLuxe and a waitress at the Wallingford Pizza House. I’m a loyal customer, even from 10,000 miles away.

3. Waking up in the middle of the night with a cat purring ON MY HEAD. Thanks a lot, Nick. I guess that was more of an anti-highlight.

4. Food, food, and more food – from the gluttonous meal at Kingfish Cafe in Seattle, to Tex-Mex at Chuy’s and BBQ at Goode Company in Houston, to real bagels and pizza and ice cream (Jaxson’s!) and Cuban food in Florida, to two stops each at Chick-fil-a and Chipotle! I ate my way from the west coast, to the gulf coast, to the east coast, and loved every minute of it.

5. Winning $65 playing blackjack at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino at our mini Bachelor Party. Woohoo!

6. Learning how to “Cunt Blast” someone, courtesy of the groom’s college friends from Duke. You’ll have to ask me about this one in person if you want to know more.

7. Keeping Macy’s in business by spending ridiculous amounts of money there. Overall, I spent over $1,000 on new clothes. Over $700 of that was at Macy’s. Yummy.

8. Three words: Best. Wedding. Ever.  A rabbi who tells jokes?  Not tripping or sneezing during the ceremony?  Latkes at the cocktail hour?  Open bar?  The bride doing a shot with me?  The bride’s parents doing a shot with me?  I don’t even know what the best part was!!!

9. And of course, seeing all of my friends and family!  Special thanks to Rob & Ellie, Nick, and Jenny & James for hosting me, to David for the discount at Theo, and to Jason & Sasha for an awesome wedding!

Now I’m back in Australia and I’ve realized a few things. Not to get too deep or insightful or anything, but here are some reflections from somewhere inside my near-soulless self:

I used to bitch about the food in Seattle all the time. After living in Sydney, I now have a newly found appreciation for it. And I miss it.

Old crushes linger on. Maybe I need to get some new ones here in Sydney. Any volunteers?

I love my car, but I had to say goodbye to her. There’s no point in letting her sit there unused in my mom’s driveway. I gave her a kiss on the steering wheel before I left, and I know that I’m going to start bawling the moment my mom calls to tell me she sold her. Is that healthy?  Maybe not, but I don’t care. 7 years. 85,000 miles. 12 states and 1 Canadian province. And many memories. Denise the Nissan and I have come a long way together. She and I have seen more of the USA than most Americans probably have. Without a car waiting for me in the USA, I guess this means I’m going to stay in Australia for a good long while.

Seattle still feels a little like home. I miss it. And Houston feels like home to a lesser extent. I sometimes miss it a little too. And so does Florida, but to an even lesser extent. But I don’t miss living in Florida at all. It sucks. But Sydney…

I landed at 6am on Saturday in Sydney. Maybe my emotions were influenced a bit by the 25 hours of traveling, or the extreme tiredness I felt after two weeks of non-stop activity, or the sad thought of never seeing my car again, but when I got out of the cab and lugged my suitcases upstairs, I laid down and thought to myself “It’s good to be home.” I was starting to miss it.