Friday, July 29, 2011

Melbourne, Round 2: The Food

Melbourne is widely considered to have the best food in Australia, and my exploration around the city confirmed that.  My days were planned around food, though I barely made a dent in my Melbourne food wish list.  I was super excited to finally get good Ethiopian food on my last trip to Melbourne.  This trip was equally as satisfying.  Just like last time, I dined with Melbourne Charlotte (along with a co-worker and a whole table filled with Kiwis – the people, not the bird or fruit).  And the experience was… deliciously different.

We had Thai food.  Sounds simple enough.  But my yellow chicken curry came served atop a puff pastry.  Combining one of my favourite meals with a delicious, savoury pastry?  Win!

And then there was Charlotte.  She ordered the Pad Thai, and was pleasantly surprised to find it “gift wrapped”… in an omelette!  Yes, that’s right – the menu clearly stated it was “gift wrapped!”  What a nice present!

But it’s not just dinner that Melbourne is good at.  The day begins at breakfast along Degraves Street – a narrow laneway in the CBD that is lined on both sides with the cutest cafes!  The cafes even share all of the tables in the middle of the lane.

Next stop:  the South Melbourne Markets!

The markets have plenty of delicious options for those who love fruit and veggies…

But I headed straight for a delicious coffee:

And maybe some chocolate!

For dinner, I was pleasantly surprised to pass by a TGI Friday’s in South Yarra.  So, I talked Kei & Chris into coming with me for dinner.  We don’t have TGI Fridays in Sydney, and it was nice to have a little taste of the old country.  We had fried mac n cheese for our appetizer and I had chicken tenders for my main meal.  Woohoo!

But the real good stuff in Melbourne can be found along Acland Street in St. Kilda.  There exists a mass of bakeries beyond anything you’ve ever tasted.  Cakes and cupcakes and cookies and croissants and pastries of all sorts.  Oh they are so delicious look to at – and even more delicious to put in your mouth.  You can satisfy yourself at one bakery and then move next door – and then all up and down the block.  Awww yeahhhh…

Oh yeah!  That’s hot!  More!  More!  More!  Oh god!  It’s so good I can’t handle it all!



Was that as good for you as it was for me?

No?  Well, you just don’t appreciate a good cookie like I do.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Melbourne, Round 2: The Sights

Back to Melbourne I went for a follow-up visit to my trip in April.  David & Elcid were heading down for the weekend for a wedding, a co-worker would be there along with a good friend of hers that I’ve adopted as my own, and I really was itching to see more of the sights in Melbourne, so it seemed like the perfect time.  The first time Melbourne was tacked onto the end of a trip.  Tired and worn out, I did more relaxing than sightseeing.  I was determined not to let that happen again.  I put my tourist cap on (figuratively) and off I went!

I popped by the Jewish Museum of Australia to see how it compared with Sydney’s.  It had a generic display on Jewish religion, but had a nice section on the history of Jews in Australia.  There was also a special exhibition on Yiddish language down under.

The little old Jewish ladies at the museum took a liking to me real fast – wanting to know more and more about my background and why I came to Australia.  One of them took me on a tour of the St. Kilda Synagogue which was across the street from the museum.  But then their true colours came out as they got me to make a few purchases from their gift shop.  Sneaky old yentas!  I may or may not have purchased a kippah with a kangaroo and boomerang on it…

Next up for the political science nerd was a tour of Victoria’s Parliament:

The tour took us into Victoria’s House of Representatives:

Interestingly (if you’re a nerd like me), the Parliament of Victoria served as the Federal Parliament way back when Australia was a young, fledgling nation.  That really wasn’t that long ago…

I wandered around some parklands and stumbled upon a random JFK Memorial:

There was no other explanation as to why a random JFK Memorial was in a random park on the opposite side of the Earth, but I like that there’s a little bit of a connection to the USA.  Then I found the Dolphin Fountain:

And Olympic Park – home of the 1956 Summer Olympics:

But most of the time I was just checking out the architecture.  Some of the buildings in Melbourne are just cool looking, like these new skyscrapers below.  The one on the left is the second tallest residential tower in the Southern Hemisphere, and the fourth tallest in the world.

Then there are the crazy looking buildings:

That appears to look like slime on top.  And no, it was not Nickelodeon Studios.  Random.  And this colourful one below has little windmill-type things on top to help generate electricity.

Even the scaffolding on the buildings looks different!

And while I was looking up at all the buildings, I never forgot to look down every once in a while.  They like to give friendly reminders…

Note:  I merely walked by the baths inadvertently.  I did not go in.  I would never go in.  Bleh.

When all that walking around got me tired, I decided it would be good to slow down and take in the nice city views along the Yarra River:

Hey – what’s that thing in the foreground?

Is that a double-headed human lizard horse with winged intestines?!?!?

The public art is crazier than the architecture.  So strange.  I really like this place.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Costco Shit Show

I know, I know.  I haven’t blogged in ages.  But I have two very valid excuses.  The first:  I was away for a week, gallivanting across the continent yet again to gather more things to blog about.   The second:  COSTCO OPENED IN SYDNEY!!!

Yes, yes – Sydney now has a Costco, and it feels a little bit more like Seattle!  (Costco is from the Seattle area, just in case you didn’t know…)  The first Costco in Australia opened in Melbourne about 2 years ago, and Costco’s experiment down under paid off:  the Melbourne store became Costco’s most profitable store… anywhere.  So, the next logical step:  open up a shit ton of stores all around the rest of Australia.  This past weekend stores # 2 and # 3 opened in Sydney and Canberra, respectively.  Of course I had to get in on the action.  Did somebody say Costco field trip?!?!?

The scene was… manic!  The line for membership was ridiculously long, and the line to get in was just as outrageous.

Once we were inside… we could barely move.  Mayhem.

Bojan, Adam, Charlotte, and I sought refuge near the baked goods:

And I slowly started to realize how like home this was going to be.  They had Costco’s famous big muffins!

And fresh baked cookies, which Charlotte thoroughly enjoyed.  Look at that satisfied face!

For a little taste of America, they had apple pie!  Maybe they’ll have pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving?!?!?  Maybe?!?!?

But, I soon realized that even though I was in a Costco, I was not in America.  I was in Australia.  And Aussies need to buy things in bulk.  Like tubs of Vegemite:

And maybe a few massive boxes of TimTams:

But then I looked a bit closer… and I started seeing Uncle Sam at every corner again… starting with the massive jar of SKIPPY PEANUT BUTTER – not even an Aussie brand – it was Skippy!  Normally I’m more of a Peter Pan kinda guy, but I’ll take the Skippy and run!  And the price:  $5.69.  I normally pay $7.99 for a jar half the size at my local Coles or Woolworths.  Oh the oligopoly is ending… hehe!

And if you’re gonna have peanut butter, you gotta have some Ritz too!

And then you can wash it down with a nice drink of Dr. Pepper or Cherry Coke!  Ahhhh!!!!  Only the random American candy shops carry Dr. Pepper and Cherry Coke, and they are usually $4.00/can.  This is INCREDIBLE!

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I turned a corner and the lights of heaven shined down on the big display of pita chips.  Pita chips.  Such a simple thing.  But you can’t get them in Australia.  But you can now at Costco!!!!  And with those big bags of pita chips, I needed a BUCKET of hummus.  Because why eat hummus unless you eat it out of a bucket?

I looked long and hard for Cheerios and Cheez-Its, but unfortunately, Costco employees confirmed that they didn’t carry them.  They then referred me to the suggestion box in the front of the store.  Let’s see if this works.

We got in the checkout line and realized that all of the checkout lines reached to the back of the store.  This photo was taken several minutes after getting in line, from the line, looking toward the checkouts in the front of the store.  Madness.

We had plenty of time for a little photo shoot with our soon-to-be-purchased goods:

Where else can you buy decorative pillows AND fish?!?!?

We finally got through the checkout queue and were released to the area with the restaurant – just like in the US.  And, just like in the US, Costco Australia has their famous hot dog special:

Take note that the sign says “with refill”.  With refill!  They had fountain drinks with all the ice you can fit in your cup and all the refills you can drink!  This is soooo not Australia!  And don’t even get me started on the pizza.  They had pizza.  Big slices of pizza.  And whole pizza pies.  For next to nothing!  You have no idea how hard it is to find good pizza in this country unless you go to a fancy Italian restaurant and pay $25 for some thin-crust gourmet crap that doesn’t even fill you up halfway.  This was a plain and simple cheese pizza - no gimmicks - no hefty price tag - no knife and fork - just a plain old piece of fold-it-up-and-eat-it-with-your-hands cheese pizza complete with grease dripping off of it!  This was the American way - big and thick and greasy and cheesy and orgasmic!

And then there was the Caesar salad.   I stared at the sign for a few minutes and noticed something very special.  I got to the register and asked the lady behind the counter:  “Does the Caesar salad have egg and bacon in it?” Her response:  “No, it’s a Caesar salad.” Ahhhh!!!   A Caesar salad that hasn’t been bastardized by the Aussies!  FUCK YEAH!!!!!

And just when I really started to think that I had been teleported to Seattle without realizing it, this on the menu took me right back to Sydney:

Note that they include the word “Aussie” in front of “Meat Pie”.  Hilarious!

Overall, the trip to Costco was fabulous despite the crowds and lines.  I’m sure it will die down once the novelty wears off, but even if it doesn’t, I’m still going back all the time, even if only for the free refills, pizza, and Caesar salad.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Aussie Doctor Visit

“The amazing thing is there are people who’ve never left this country, who talk about the fact that we’re the greatest country on Earth.  How fucking dumb is that?  Because you don’t know!  If you haven’t left here, you don’t know.  There are countries that may be giving shit away every day.  Canada is one of those countries.  You know what they give away?  HEALTH INSURANCE!”  - Lewis Black

Australia gives away health insurance too, but there isn’t a Lewis Black quote about that.

My first experience with socialized medicine came in 2004 while studying abroad in Spain.  After a few days of fever and coughing, I decided that it was time to go to the clinic.  One doctor visit, two chest x-rays, and four prescription drugs later, I was out a grand total of… €65.  Not even shitting you.  I paid €65 for all of that and I didn’t even have insurance.  Pretty spiffy.  Fast forward to 2009 in Seattle.  I came down with a similar respiratory infection, went to the doctor, got diagnosed, and took my prescriptions to the pharmacy.  The grand total:  $120 including my doctor visit and prescription co-pays.  There wasn’t even one x-ray involved let alone two!  Now tell me, how can I pay so much less in Spain for so much more – a country where I am not a resident nor do I have any form of health care – than I do in the United States – a country where I am a citizen and have a halfway decent medical plan?  The answer:


The stress of a hectic financial year end at work drove my health into the gutter last week.  After a few days of coughing and achiness, I decided that I best make a trip to the doctor.  This was my first trip to the doctor in Australia and I didn’t really know what to expect.  I don’t get Australian Medicare as I am only a temporary resident at this point, so I was going to have to pay out of pocket and send the receipts to my private health insurance company.  So I checked in, sat down, and prepared myself for the endless wait that is the inevitable when seeing a doctor.

Or not.

I was in to see the doctor in about 3 minutes.  And I think I spent about 5 minutes total with him.  He asked me about my symptoms and listened to my breathing with that little device that doctors always have, then told me that I have a respiratory infection.  He then asked about any allergies or bad reactions to medications I’ve had in the past, gave me a prescription, and sent me on my merry way.  Grand total at the doctor’s office:  $65.

$65.  That’s it.  Do you know how much going to the doctor in the United States would cost without insurance???  Probably upwards of $250… AND they make you wait for an hour.  Hell, even with insurance, $65 at the doctor is a pretty good result.  And better yet – I get a full reimbursement from my insurance company here because this doctor’s office charges Medicare rates.

And then there were my antibiotics.  A whopping $23.50.  That’s less than most co-pays for the same damn drug in the US.  How is this possible???

Taxes appear to be substantially lower for lower and middle income earners in Australia than they are in the US, though Australia taxes the rich a lot more (as they should).  Now, let’s make sense of all of this.  Lower and middle income-earning Australians pay a lower tax rate than they probably would in the United States AND they get government funded health insurance and what appears to be subsidized prescription drugs.  This makes too much sense.

In summation, this place is great.

Oh, and America’s health care system is fucked.

p.s. Mom, if you're reading this, I'm fine and there is no need to worry about me.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The High Price of Living

“Back in the old country, you would never pay more than a few dimes and a nickel for a banana.”

No, no.  This isn’t a quote from Sophia on the Golden Girls.  And the old country isn’t Sicily.  It’s me, talking about America.  That’s right, I am now officially referring to the USA as “the old country” to give me more of a sense of being an immigrant (::shudder::).  Just like the penniless immigrants from the poor countries of Southern and Eastern Europe probably experienced in the USA when they first arrived decades and decades ago, everywhere I turn my mind drifts to the same thought:  everything is fucking expensive here.

I’m serious – EVERYTHING is fucking expensive.  Food, toiletries, clothes, linens, electronics, alcohol, everything.  Where do they get off?

Let’s run through a few examples.  The differences on the spendy items don’t seem so bad:

iPad 2:
USD price - $499
AUD price - $579

Toyota Corolla:
USD base price - $16,700
AUD base price - $22,990

So, maybe this is a product of the prices not adjusting with the rapid rise of the Aussie dollar and the equally rapid fall of the US dollar.  Maybe.  Or maybe not.  Let’s look at a few more examples.

DVDs: I price compared 127 Hours because it was the first one to pop up on JB HiFi’s website.  Here in Australia, the “Red Hot New Release” prices are as follows:

DVD - $24.98
Blu-Ray - $34.98

Remember, those are sale prices.  Best Buy in the US is substantially cheaper:

DVD - $16.97
Blu-ray - $20.85

The DVD is 47% more expensive in Australia, and the Blu-ray’s price is a whopping 68% higher here.  This is assuming parity, but the Australian dollar is several cents stronger than the US dollar at the moment – and it is expected to strengthen further into early 2012 – so really, the percentages should be higher.

Don’t like the high price of movies?  How about a song?

Standard price of a new release iTunes song:
USD price - $1.29
AUD price - $2.19

Ugh.  Fine.  I’ll read a book.  How about I grab a Lonely Planet and plan my trip to China?

Lonely Planet China:
USD retail price - $31.99 (or $21.11 on
AUD retail price - $49.99


Some say shipping costs add to the price, but isn’t half of this shit made in poor Malaysian sweat shops anyway?  The last time I checked, Malaysia was a hell of a lot closer to Australia than it was to the US. 

It may be because there are no economies of scale.  Products to the US and Canadian markets are manufactured and distributed to roughly 350,000,000 consumers.  Australia and New Zealand combined have around 25,000,000 consumers, making a big difference in manufacturing and distribution costs.  There is less competition here – only two major department stores compared to endless options in the States, and only two major grocery store chains too.  The supermarket oligopoly keeps prices high, but that may all change when Costco opens its doors in Sydney on July 20 – woohoo!  For the things that are manufactured here at home, the minimum wage is substantially higher (ugh, you mean we have to pay our workers a living wage???) and there aren’t really too many illegal immigrants to do the crappy work for us (it’s a lot easier to wade across a barely flowing Rio Grande illegally from Mexico to Texas than it is to boat across shark infested waters from East Timor, then have to land on a crocodile infested coast before trying to hide out on the snake and spider infested land… yeah…

But still.  Some of this is just ridiculous.  Need a new outfit for tonight?

Mossimo Graphic T-Shirt:
USD price - $14.99 @ Target
AUD price - $34.00 @ Myer*

Levi’s Slim Straight Jeans:
USD recommended price - $54.00 (but always on sale for $39.99)
AUD recommended price - $169.95

That’s not 169 dollars.  That’s 169 fucking dollars.  Seriously?  Weren’t they made in the same Jordanian factory?  Why are they more than triple the price here?  Are the employees making the jeans bound for Australia required to use gold looms and diamond machinery?  Also: *Yes, Mossimo is sold at one of our upscale department stores rather than at Target like in the US.  WTF?

But don’t even get me started on food prices. 

Chipotle Burrito (USA) - $5.95
Mad Mex Burrito (Australia) - $10.90

That’s a lot of money to be spending on a burrito that’s not Chipotle.

A trip to the grocery store compares like this:

USD price - $1.00 for 20oz
AUD price - $3.91 for 500ml (approx. 17oz)

That’s more money, for less stuff!  Apparently Australia is the Anti-Wal-Mart.

Listerine, 1 liter bottle:
USD price - $4.39
AUD price - $9.39

Garnier Fructis Shampoo:
USD price - $2.50 for 13oz
AUD price - $9.62 for 400ml (approx. 13.5oz)

They really mark up that extra half of a fluid ounce.

Peanut Butter:
USD price - $4.29 for 28oz  (Jiff brand)
AUD price - $8.55 for 780g (approx. 27.5oz) (Kraft brand)

Gillette Mach 3 Turbo Razors:
USD price - $15.39 for a 5 pack
AUD price - $17.40 for a 4 pack

These are my two favorites:

Ben & Jerry’s, pint:
USD price - $3.99 or 2 for $6.00 with your Safeway Club Card
AUD price - $12.00


USD price - $0.79/lb
AUD price - $13.98/kg

Doing the math, that’s $6.34/lb in Australia.  That’s over 700% higher.  And suddenly nobody likes bananas anymore.

And then – finally – alcohol.

Corona, 12oz / 355ml:
USD price - $7.99 for a 6 pack or $27.49 for a 24 pack
AUD price - $16.99 for a 6 pack or $41.45 for a 24 pack

Guinness, 12oz / 375ml (slightly larger):
USD price - $10.99 for a 6 pack
AUD price - $17.99 for a 6 pack

Sapporo, 22oz / 650ml:
USD price - $3.79
AUD price - $7.99

Note that when we last purchased a Sapporo, the label clearly stated that it was made in… Canada.  Huh?

But surely there must be one thing that is cheaper in Australia:  Australia’s famous wines!

Jacobs Creek Cab Sav, 750ml:
USD price - $5.99
AUD price - $9.99

Yellow Tail Moscato, 750ml:
USD price - $6.99
AUD price - $10.99

Just to clarify, these are Australian wines made right here in Australia by Australian people who grew the Australian grapes on Australian vines.  So that must mean that it costs 60% more to ship a bottle of wine from Adelaide to Sydney than it does from Adelaide to Maine.