Friday, January 21, 2011

One Year Anniversary

Tomorrow, January 22nd, marks my one year anniversary in Sydney – and I’ll be starting my day off in the same spot as I started it off exactly one year ago:  Sydney Airport.

Astonishingly, in a whole year in Australia, I’ve yet to venture more than two hours away from Sydney.  I’ve been as far north as the Hunter Valley, as far west as the Blue Mountains, as far south as Wollongong, and as far east as… well, the beach.  But, I haven’t really been anywhere that’s more than a stone’s throw away from Sydney.  I haven’t made it to Canberra or Brisbane or the Great Barrier Reef or even Melbourne.  So, for my first trip, I thought I’d better make it a big one.  I roped my mates Karen and Cade in and we’re on the first flight of the day to…


Perth is Australia’s fourth largest city with a population of around 1.7 million.  It’s consistently ranked as one of The Economists top 10 most livable cities in the world, and it holds the distinction of being the world’s most remote big city.  Nowhere on the planet is a city so big so far away from any other city of any significant size.  To put it in perspective:  imagine you live in San Diego.  You hop in your car and start driving east.  The next city you hit would be… New Orleans.  Or, for you East Coast people, imagine you’re in New York.  You start driving and… just nothing… until a little past Denver.  Perth is really out there.

And those distance comparisons are only to Adelaide.  Perth is even further away from Sydney.  The flight is about the same as a flight from New York to Tucson or a flight from Seattle to Cleveland.  Flights from Perth to Jakarta or Bali are actually shorter (and usually cheaper) than they are to Sydney.  And, once Boeing gets their new 787 up and running, Perth will be the only Australian city with a direct flight to Europe.  Currently, it’s just too far.

In addition to Perth, we’ll also be doing a little road trip around the southwest corner of the country.  We’ll be hiking and wine tasting and beaching and singing dirty rap songs as we cruise around Western Australia.  It’s 10 days in total – and it’s going to be a great start to my adventures beyond Sydney.  Can you think of a better one year anniversary present that I could give myself?

I didn’t think so.

I won’t be posting while I’m out there… so see you in February!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Year’s Eve Tidal Wave of 2010/11

We Americans see it on TV every year.  New Year’s Eve morning all the New Yorkers and Floridians and Texans and Californians wake up to TV footage of fireworks shooting out of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  It’s always one of the first ones shown on American TV because (1) it’s one of the first ones that happens (2) it’s right by two very iconic structures (the Opera House and the bridge itself) and (3) it’s a pretty neat show.  New Year’s Eve is a big deal in Sydney.

The waterfront parks to the east of the bridge get packed early – people start getting out there and claiming their territory at dawn.  By noon, the general public has invaded and taken up every last square inch of green, green grass.  Seeing as I generally despise the general public, I opted to head to a park to the west of the bridge – still right on the harbour with a pretty good view – but far less crowded and infinitely more enjoyable.  More enjoyable that is, until the fucking tsunami hits.

Karen and I got there around 4:30pm – complete with full picnic supplies:  a blanket, playing cards, snacks of all sorts, and bottles of wines poured into those water bottles that you take to the gym.  Classy.  We grabbed a spot right on the water – what luck!  The park wasn’t nearly all that crowded yet!  It wasn’t long before our fellow Americans – Chris, Kei, and Ryan – arrived with more blankets, more food, more booze, and an iPod and some speakers (and one of their Australian housemates – who invited the Aussie?!?!?).  So there we were – chillin’ on blankets on the grass in the sun – playin’ cards and drinkin’ moscato from a thermos – rockin’ out to some Jay-Z/Alicia Keys on the iPod – and generally doin’ anything that involved strikin’ the “g” from the end of a verb and replacin’ it with an apostrophe.  Then all of a sudden – from the corner of our eye – we saw it – and there wasn’t anything we could do about it:

A big fucking wave crashed up over the seawall and soaked us and all of our shit.

Seriously.  Now, I don’t mean soaked.  I mean SOAKED.  Everything was wet.  Our blankets were like little pools of water – Karen and I proceeded to wring them out but they were still sopping.  Our playing cards were all stuck together, but luckily the iPod and speakers survived – though there was panic as they were right in the line of fire.  And poor Kei – wearing a white dress.  Poor thing.

Then we looked around.  Nobody else was wet.  Just us.  This rogue wave came right for us and only us.  It must’ve been a big boat or something that came by and sent the ripple of water in our direction – hitting our stretch of 6-foot high seawall at just the right angle and with enough momentum to rise up and take us down.  Bastards.

It was just moments later that the sun began to set so there was no hope of the heat drying us out.  Luckily, David and Elcid came to the rescue shortly thereafter with a very large, dry blanket for us to sit on.  We decided to move 5 or 6 feet back away from the water.  And of course, people came and sat right in front of us.  And of course, there wasn’t another single wave the entire remainder of the evening to soak those buttmunches.

But it was a fun night nonetheless.  We ate, we drank, and we played a very interesting game of “Kill, Marry, Fuck” (the fun equivalent of the “Marry, Date, or Dump” game that some of you less risqué people might be familiar with).  And there were fireworks of course – first at 9pm for all the kiddies to see, and then the big ones at midnight.  They shot off of the bridge, off of the top of the skyscrapers in the CBD, and from various barges located up and down Sydney Harbour.  It was pretty neat.  And the best part:  all that noise really fucked with the seagulls.  Hehe.

Some boys – Ryan, Antony, and Chris:

A girl – Karen:

Some more boys – Elcid, me, and David:

And another girl – Kei:

The harbour and the bridge:

And the city:

Some fireworks shooting from all different directions:

And don’t forget the fireworks shooting right off the bridge!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mimosa Christmas

Co-worker:  So, what are you doing for Christmas?
Me:  Not too much.  Just heading over to some friends’ house for Mimosas and Challah French Toast.
Co-worker:  Mimosa?  Is that like a samosa?
Me:  Seriously?
Co-workers:  Oh – it’s a flower, isn’t it???
Me:  WTF?!?!?

Australians do not know what a Mimosa is.  I was super excited for my Christmas Mimosa brunch at David & Elcid’s house.  Elcid was making Challah French Toast as well and we were going to lounge around all day watching all sorts of American TV that I had been missing.  But every time I said I was going to make Mimosas, every Australian looked at me funny – like how a cow looks at an oncoming train.  Seriously – not one of them knew what it was.  The Brits didn’t get it either.

How do these people not know what a Mimosa is???

After asking at least a dozen people, I was amazed to find that they would simply call it “Champagne and orange” here.  BORING!  Champagne and orange is not a fun cocktail name.  It’s lame and lazy and a poor excuse of a name for a drink.  Mimosa sounds exotic and delicious and tantalizing.  And the Brits… the Brits call it a “Buck’s Fizz”.  Now, for you Americans who don’t know, “buck” is another name for a dude (for example, instead of a “bachelor party”, guys in Australia have a “bucks night”).  So, when I hear the words “Buck’s Fizz”, all I can think about is… jizz.  Because that’s what it sounds like and that’s that visual you get.

And who the hell would want to drink jizz?

Ok, maybe a whore named Chrissie would, but nobody else.

Oh, maybe some power bottoms too.  But that really has to be extent of it.

Further research revealed that the International Bartenders Association classifies a Buck’s Fizz as having 2 parts orange juice to 1 part champagne, whereas a Mimosa has 1 part orange juice to 1 part Champagne.  Therefore, Mimosas are the obvious choice.

People of the world outside of North America:  Take note!  Mimosas are delicious beverages that can be enjoyed at breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner, or as an afternoon snack, as an after dinner drink, or past midnight.  They can be enjoyed at home, at restaurants, on patios, or in-flight.  There are no limitations!  And, even better, their name doesn’t remind you of jizz!

Step 1:  Start with some strawberries to add a touch of class because we’re classy like that.

Step 2:  Add champagne.

Step 3:  Add orange juice.

Step 4:  Consume with Challah French Toast.  Yummy!

Make sure to wear your finest Christmas pimp outfit!  Poor Elcid.

And, after brunch, have a fancy roof top Christmas dinner!  It’s Australia.  We can have a Christmas dinner on the roof without freezing.  Hahaha!

Make sure to include Elcid’s orgasmic sweet potato concoction!

And maybe some chocolate cake for good measure.

And that’s a good Mimosa Christmas.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Black, Asian, or Hispanic Christmas

It definitely wasn’t a White Christmas.  It’s fucking hot here and the closest thing we have to snow is white pavement.  And that’s not even remotely close to snow at all.

Christmas is equally as big and equally as obnoxious in Australia as it in the United States.  First off, everybody has a party for Christmas.  Everybody.  Your friends, your other friends, your family, your other family, your company, your department, your team, your veterinarian… Australians don’t need an excuse to party and drink, but when they have an excuse – especially an excuse as big as Christmas – they tend to go all out.  December is just one long booze-filled month of Christmas parties.

I’m ok with that, but I will say it’s exhausting.  I had our company Christmas party, and our department had a Christmas picnic at a local park, and we did a Secret Santa the week before.  Our team at work also went out for karaoke and since someone talked of singing a Christmas song (maybe we sang Mariah Carey’s but I was drunk and can’t remember…) I’m going to contend that it was a Christmas karaoke.  Bojan and Charlotte had a Christmas gift exchange party at their house one night and I even co-hosted a Chrismukkah Party with Tara, Simon, Karen, and Elsbeth.  It was really a Christmas party but I changed the name to Chrismukkah because I was inviting Jews and because I had a big fight with the Baby Jesus a few years back and I’m still a little bitter.  Also, my housemates (except for the awful guy) and I hosted an “Orphan’s Christmas Dinner” the weekend before Christmas (they call it “orphan’s” because so many people in Sydney are foreigners and they have no family here so they are invited to the “Orphan’s Christmas”) and then I ended up at David & Elcid’s for an actual Christmas dinner on the actual Christmas.

Christmas music is equally as annoying here and I don’t even own a radio.  Some of the girls at work were blasting it on our Christmas Eve half-day.  I put my headphones on and turned up the Martina McBride in rebellion.  One of the gay nightclubs played Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” one night when I was out.  I was actually ok with that but it did seem a bit strange for a gay club.  Then there was the Myer – one of our local department stores (equivalent to Macy’s).  I went in one day looking for clothes and a new pot for the kitchen.  I had to leave the store twice and work up the courage to go back in because the Christmas music was just too strong that day.  Ugh.

There are some strange traditions here.  One:  everyone goes to the beach on Christmas.  Try that shit in New York or Toronto or Chicago or Seattle or Dallas (Dallas is inland so this is actually irrelevant but I say it to make a point).  Two:  Christmas Crackers.  No, they aren’t edible crackers.  Christmas Crackers are these paper/cardboard things that you and a friend pull apart and a little firecracker goes off when you split it and then inside there’s a paper crown for you to wear and a little toy.  I think the crown is because Jesus was king (what, does he think he was Elvis???) and the toy is because he was a baby and babies love toys.  Or something like that.  If you want to know ask an actual Australian.  I bet they won’t know either.  (My housemate, Vicky, said it’s just because crowns are festive.  WTF?)

One thing about Christmas – just like Thanksgiving – Christmas is tasty.  One:  everyone keeps baking and baking and buying chocolate and there was a whole sweets buffet lined up in our area of the office for the entire month.  While the Grinch’s heart grew three times the size that day, it was my stomach that did the expanding.  Two:  they have turkey.  Christmas turkey.  Turkey is not a prevalent meat in Australia.  Cold cuts are rare – and ground turkey at the grocery store is even rarer – and even restaurants usually always favor chicken to turkey on the menu.  But everyone gets a Christmas turkey.  Unless they have a BBQ.  That’s big here too on Christmas.

So yeah, I could keep blabbing about Christmas, but I think pictures are more fun.  Our Orphan’s Christmas dinner set up:

Notice the thing on the plate right at the bottom there.  That’s a Christmas Cracker.  There’s shit inside and it pops out when you pull it apart.  For example, David got this lovely red plastic paper clip which he applied as an earring.

And I got a black plastic mustache which clipped onto my nose.

Elcid obviously thought my black plastic mustache was sexy.  Oh – and don’t forget the Christmas paper crowns which we’re all sporting!  Mine dyed my forehead turquoise or aquamarine or something.  Lovely.

Of course we had food – lots of it!  Including carrots and peas and pierogi (it’s a Polish thing maybe?) and I of course made my mac n cheese and Elcid made this stunning sweet potato thing with pineapple and marshmallows and brown sugar maybe?  Whatever the hell was in it I swear my taste buds were in heaven.  Seriously.

And there was Christmas turkey made by my favorite heterosexual Canadian male housemate:  Nick!  (I could’ve said favorite Canadian, but I think a few people may have been really upset with me.)

And just so I don’t get yelled at tomorrow, here are photos of the hosts and hostesses from our Christmukkah Party a few weeks earlier:

That’s Elbeth and Karen and me and I have no idea what’s going on in that photo.  And below we have the lovely Tara and Simon!

(Tara’s the one on the left and Simon’s the one on the right, just in case you couldn’t figure that out.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dirty Jokesgiving

As the old saying goes:  “You can take the boy out of America, but you can’t keep the boy away from American food.”

That’s a famous quote, right?

Anyway, the weeks leading up to the end of November were marked by talk of nothing other than… Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is a holiday which revolves around delicious food, and seeing as there is no delicious food in this country, Australians don’t celebrate Turkey Day.  No turkey.  No mashed potatoes.  No cranberry sauce.  Neither Pilgrims nor Indians.  No Black Friday sales.  Australia carries on as usual on the fourth Thursday in November.  Strange.

Actually, outside of the United States and Canada, nobody really celebrates Thanksgiving except for some small town in the Netherlands, a barely populated island in the Pacific, and Liberia.  So really, outside of the United States and Canada, nobody really celebrates Thanksgiving.

So, how can we Americans abroad celebrate our favorite fatty holiday???

There’s a formula.

We started with a team of Americans, united to bring Thanksgiving to the land down under.  Actually, it was a team of five Americans, three Australians, two Germans, a Dutch, and a partridge in a pear tree.

As John was still in town, I decided to take off work on the Thursday and Friday in commemoration of Thanksgiving.  And in typical Thanksgiving fashion, the day revolved around food:  first a meal at Bill’s – one of my favorite brunch spots in the neighborhood – then off to the David Jones Food Hall and Coles to purchase all of my ingredients – and then back to the kitchen to cook, cook, cook!  And then, we hopped in a taxi and we went to our multinational Thanksgiving feast!

We were greeted by our lovely hostesses with the mostesses:  Karen and Elsbeth!

Of course, there was turkey!

And a whole buffet of delicious carbs:  mashed potatoes, rolls, mac n cheese, candied yams, green bean casserole, stuffing, more turkey, and cranberry sauce!

There were plenty of ridiculous antics... involving oven mitts... especially as we drank more wine (you can’t imagine how many bottles of wine and beer the 11 of us went through – we nearly finished it before we ate so John and I collected funds and ran over to the liquor store for $150 worth of reinforcements!)

Did I mention that Karen made pumpkin pie – from scratch???  Like, she actually bought a pumpkin and scraped out the innards because they don’t sell pumpkin in a can here.  If only Karen was a man.  A gay man.  A gay man with a thing for Jews.  That would be so hot.

And then we all sat down around the table to dine.

And instead of saying what we’re thankful for, we went around the table and told dirty jokes.  So there’s our formula for Thanksgiving in Australia:  take the U.S. holiday, add tasteless jokes, and douse in copious amounts of booze.  It's very Australian.  I do believe we have a winner!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Big Daddy Sugar Daddy

I usually don’t blog two days in a row, but I just can’t wait!  Our team at work had a welcome lunch today for a new girl that had joined the company.  I was seated down at the end of the table with the bosses just chatting away as usual.  One of them asked me if I missed the United States.  And I said no.

Hellz no.

But I do miss the shopping and the food that the U.S. has.  It’s true.  I’ve gone shopping the past two weekends in a row and even the holiday sales have proven too expensive for me.  And what I’d give for some Chick-fil-a waffle fries and chicken nuggets or a big slice of New York cheese pizza or soft chicken tacos and a frozen swirl margarita from Chuy’s in Houston or some fried green tomatoes and hush puppies from the Kingfish Cafe in Seattle!  Whoa – I need to cool down…

Now, it must have been fate, but when I arrived back to my desk after lunch there was an e-mail from our receptionist:  “You have a parcel that has arrived and the label says chocolate.”


I ran up front, grabbed my parcel (because they don’t call it a package here) and tore it open.  I felt like I was at the gates of heaven.  Inside the beat-up Scotch bubble mailer was a little glimpse of deliciousness…

Oh yes!  John sent me the Theo Seasonal Holiday Bars!  One of each flavor – just like I asked him to!  For those of you who have ever spoken to me, you’ll know what Theo Chocolate is because it always seems to come up in conversation.  For those of you who have never spoken to me, Theo Chocolate is this uber-delicious chocolate factory in Seattle.  They are organic and fair trade but really they are just plain delicious.  They do some pure chocolate bars - and by pure, I mean the ingredient list contains cocoa beans, cocoa butter, sugar, and milk powder (in the milk chocolate only).  No preservatives.  No waxes.  No chemicals.  Just good ole chocolate the way it should be.  I really should just quit my job and move back to Seattle and become a spokesman for Theo.  Seriously.

And then they sometimes jazz it up with some fun flavors – like the Milk & Cookies, Nutcracker Toffee, Gingerbread Spice, and Peppermint Stick flavored bars which I received today.  OMG I can’t wait to try these!  I even went out and bought a new bottle of milk for the occasion.

Did I mention that all Theo bars are Kosher?  That’s extra points right there.

Chocolate in Australia has proven to be substandard even to Hershey’s (and to clarify, I don’t eat Hershey’s because why would I eat a Hershey’s milk chocolate bar which has 11% cacao when I can have a Theo milk chocolate bar which has 40%... I rest my case).  Because of the heat here, chocolate makers pump their chocolate bars full of preservatives and other chemicals to stop the chocolate from melting so easily.  It just doesn’t taste as good with all that extra shit in it.  And even though Cadbury is the biggest brand of chocolate in both the UK and Australia, you’ll find Brits here heading to the British candy shops to buy Cadbury bars that have been imported from England because those Cadbury bars have fewer chemicals and wax and preservatives and whatnot than the Aussie bars and taste a lot better (and cost two or three times the price as with most things imported to Australia).

But even the British Cadbury bars don’t compare to Theo (actually, the British Cadbury bars taste equally as gross as the Aussie Cadbury bars, but I have a more refined palate for chocolate so maybe you should ask a Brit…)

But Theo – Theo is what I’ve been missing!

Actually, no.  I haven’t been missing Theo.  I’ve been eating Theo.  I picked up $200 worth of Theo Chocolate when I went back to Seattle in May.  TSA had some questions for me on that one.  “Are these presents?” “No, I’m just a fast ass.”  And Nick brought 15 bars of reinforcements when he came to visit me in July.  And, of course, I had long run out by the time John came to visit (mainly because I made the mistake of bringing some bars in for my co-workers to try and some bars to a gay Jew thing and I really should’ve been more diligent and hoarded them all for myself) so the incredible John lugged about $100 worth of Theo across the Pacific Ocean to me in November.  I paid him back of course (with money and my awesome tour guide skills!)

John brought me some bars from the 3400 Phinney Collection – their most interestingly flavored bars – including Vanilla, Coffee, Fig Fennel & Almond, Bread & Chocolate, Hazelnut Crunch, and my favorite – Chai Tea!

And he threw in some mint for good measure (they are flavored with real mint – not fake mint like most “mint” chocolate).

And of course, I needed me some BIG DADDIES!  Two boxes of marshmallow.  Two boxes of peanut butter.

Now that I’ve had my big daddies, I just need to find me a sugar daddy who can afford to ship this stuff to me whenever and wherever I want it.  Applications are currently being accepted.  Apply within.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Pretty Pictures From A National Park With A Strange Name

Ok, sorry for the interruption, but I just had to blog about the whole Chrissie thing.  Now back to John’s visit.  After our Palm Beach excursion, John and I headed to Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.  Ku-ring-gai either (1) means something in an Aboriginal language (2) is a tasty Chinese noodle and egg dish or (3) is how “Cool ring, guy!” sounds when you have a mouth full of crackers.  I’ll assume it’s the first option, but the second and third totally sound right too.

We had a pleasant few hours at the park, and there really isn’t much all that entertaining to write about.  So, I’ll just show you tons of photos instead.  Starting with the view of Lion Island and the Pacific Ocean from West Head (haha – I said “head”… haha!)

And a view of the peninsula where Palm Beach sits (it’s on the other side facing the ocean).

To get from Palm Beach to where we snapped this photo took about an hour by car.  Thanks, nature.  I could’ve swam that faster.  Though I guess the highway had a lower chance of shark attack.

It wasn’t all nature at Ku-ring-gai Chase.  There were historical artifacts too, like this Aboriginal cave painting of a hand or a Thanksgiving turkey

(Only the Americans are going to know why this looks like a Thanksgiving turkey, but any Aussies who can convey an understanding of this will get two points which can be redeemed at a later date for my respect and/or affection).

We did some hiking on the loop trail.

We got about 80% of the way along the loop trail when we realized the loop trail doesn’t quite loop back to the parking lot like the map said it would.  I wasn’t a happy camper.

Ok, let’s keep moving.

We went down to Resolute Beach.  Notice the kayaks…

There was a straight couple in the water having sex or at the very least getting awfully frisky with each other.  They must’ve kayaked over from Palm Beach and didn’t think anybody would hike down to the beach.  They were wrong, but I don’t think they cared.  And people wonder why I’m heterophobic…

Then we had to hike back up.

That’s probably why the beach is so resolute.

In addition to the cave paintings of the Thanksgiving turkeys – err – I mean hands… there were also Aboriginal rock carvings.  There were some of dudes!

And some of fish!

And some of kangaroos and/or wallabies!

And look!  John made friends with that guy from the rock carving!

And there are the wallabies that look like beavers or lemurs or anteaters!

We drove a little further to the other end of the park were we found this very high peninsular ridge surrounded by gorges on both side.  It was… gorges!  (haha – get it???)

Well, that’s the extent of my outdoorsy-ness for the year.

Oh crap.  A new year just began, didn’t it?  Does drinking wine on a patio count as outdoorsy for 2011?