Monday, May 28, 2012

Eurovision Party for Everybody! Dance!

Now, you’re probably wondering what the heck Eurovision has to do with Australia and why the hell am I blogging about it.  Well, it’s quite simple:  Eurovision is huge here.  Actually, it’s fucking huge.  Oooo… “F” word added for emphasis – it must be big!

Yes, Eurovision is big in Europe and it is broadcast in a few other countries, but it’s really big in Australia.  So big, in fact, that the hosts of the Eurovision Song Contest give a special shout out to everyone watching in Australia at the beginning of the Eurovision final each year.  I’m not even joking.  It’d be like Ryan Seacrest giving a shout out to all American Idol viewers in some random faraway country like Madagascar or Mongolia at the start of an episode.  Seriously.

Most European countries send one or two commentators to Eurovision each year… most European countries… and Australia!  That’s right, we have our own commentators and Aussies can even vote online to pick the unofficial Australian winner.  You know I was all up on that.

My mates Ross and Jonathon introduced me to Eurovision when I first arrived in Australia.  They – like so many other Aussies – hosted a Eurovision party every year.  Unfortunately, I was unable to attend one before the boys moved to China.  That’s where the Ross and Jon circle of friends came in.  Determined to keep the tradition alive, we all convened to select a new location for Eurovision 2011.  Same crowd.  Same fun.  Different location.  That location:  Glen and Mooney’s apartment.  And everyone had to pick a country to represent and bring food from.  Naturally, I picked Israel because I’m a big Jew and because food from Israel is easy:  falafel, pita, hummus, and tahini.  Yummilicious!

This year, the hosting duties rotated to me, which was totally ok because I love a good, tacky party.  And just like last year, everyone had to pick a country for food.  To spice it up, I opted to not go for Israel again.  My favourite song was Norway, but Norwegian food is notoriously fishy, so I opted for one of Norway’s neighbours:  Denmark!

Denmark’s song entry was really good, but probably a bit too radio-worthy for Eurovision.  But that’s ok – it’s on my iPod anyway.  I branched out and made a trio of smørrebrød – or Danish open face sandwiches.

They were a hit!  And I washed mine down with a refreshing Carlsberg from Denmark.

To show my support, Amy even suggested I get a photo of myself with Denmark’s entry when it came on the TV:

Good thinking, Amy!  My flatmate, Clinton, chose the United Kingdom and made cucumber sandwiches.  Jessica brought a pizza from Italy, and Guy brought some cookies and liquor from Cyprus.  Brent delighted us with Portuguese chicken, and Mitch brought sausages on skewers from Germany:

Of course, I was totally fine with David bringing falafel and hummus from Israel:

And we washed it down with Elcid’s sangria from Spain:

There was Guinness from Ireland courtesy of Glen, baklava from Turkey courtesy of Belinda, and some “Azerbaijani” food that looked suspiciously Greek to me.  Amy brought a delicious homemade Greek cake:

And Michael made a French tart.  Oui!

The award for best food went to Bojan’s palachinke from Croatia.  They’re like crepes but less French or like blintzes but less Jewish.  They were homemade and we put Nutella on them.  Yay!  Oh, and I gave Bojan a little trophy for his efforts.

Clinton also got a mini-trophy for winning a little contest that I did about which countries would do well and which wouldn’t (damn you European public for screwing up my score by placing Norway last!)  And we (and by “we”, I really mean Clinton because it was all him…) even decorated our door and put flags out and made the little toothpick Danish flags for my smørrebrød.  And at the end of the night, I sat waving the Norwegian flag to support Tooji and Glen waved the Irish flag to support Jedward:

And both of us felt super defeated when our countries didn’t do well at all.

Also we were drunk from Belinda’s Jello shots so that probably didn’t help.

But, aside from the tragic outcomes for Tooji and Jedward, the party was a blast and I’m already counting down to next year’s when the rotation dictates that the fabulous Amy and David takeover the hosting duties.  I need to get thinking about my country selection and what food I want to bring.  Only 364 days to go!

Eurovision 2012

Last night was a big night here at my place.  It was Eurovision night!  Now, for the Americans reading this, you probably have no frickin’ idea what I’m talking about.  But, brace yourselves.  I’m about to blow your mind.

“Eurovision” refers to the Eurovision Song Contest – an annual contest held every May since 1956.  Created by the European Broadcasting Union as a way to help unify post-war Europe, the contest is hugely popular in Europe and beyond and has remained a constant for over five decades.  Basically, the contest is sort of an American Idol style event, except that instead of having young hopefuls from Podunk towns across America singing for a record deal, each country in Europe submits a song for a chance to win the opportunity to host next year’s Eurovision Song Contest.  I’ll take the record deal.  And instead of having really talented, fresh singers belting out proven songs, it has a mix of mediocre singers and really bad singers ranging in age from fetus to nearly dead trying their best to sing original lyrics that have been poorly translated into a language that they don’t speak.

All of this makes it completely fantastic!

Ok, so I’m exaggerating – some of the songs and acts are actually quite good, and occasionally someone famous comes off the show.  For example, ABBA was launched to stardom after winning the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with their hit Waterloo, and Celine Dion was propelled to fame after winning the 1988 Eurovision Song Contest.  ABBA represented their home country of Sweden, and Celine Dion represented Switzerland, which makes no sense because she’s French Canadian, but I don’t make the rules.  This year saw a really good blend of one or two fantastic singers, quite a few really catchy songs, and our fair share of eye candy.  Take Pastora Soler from Spain, for example.  Her power ballad starts off slow, but fires up toward the end and she delivers some amazing notes:

Then there’s Cyprus.  Ivi Adamou was a contestant on the Greek X Factor (which includes Cyprus).  Sure, her singing isn’t all that great, but the song is totally catchy and there are fun dance moves!

And then there’s the eye candy:  Tooji from Norway.  Originally from Iran, Tooji moved to Norway at a very young age where he grew up to be totally gorgeous, quite a good singer, and most likely gay.  He’s a social worker when he’s not singing, so I’m going to make the somewhat safe assumption that he is actually gay and that he wants me bad.  Right.

Aside from those, there was also an adorable pair of twins from Ireland (Go Jedward!), a man with gorgeous eyes from Germany, a multi-platinum French singer with her topless male backup dancers, a Romanian band singing in Spanish with a Cuban sound (it actually worked!), and the Italian version of Amy Winehouse.

Now, all of this sounds like a recipe for success.  And it sounds like something that the gays would totally be into (come on, how many good-looking men did I just mention?)  And you know what:  the gays are totally into it.  Eurovision is totally gay – and fabulous.  All across Europe and beyond, the gays flock to Eurovision and Eurovision parties every year.  It’s become like the next biggest thing to the gay pride parade.

Now, aside from the handful of really good voices, catchy tunes, and gorgeous men, there’s also the bad stuff.  And yes, it’s bad, but it’s often times really camp.  And that just brings the gays in more.  It’s the really bad stuff that makes it all really entertaining.  Just to name a few, this year’s contest featured a song about Facebook from the tiny country of San Marino, an Albanian woman screaming in agony, a rap duo from Austria called “Trackshittaz” (note:  Austrians cannot rap), a very confused man with a giant donkey from Montenegro, a decent song by Dutch girl which was completely ruined by the Native American headdress she was wearing (WTF?), a skank from Greece singing about absolutely nothing, and a song from Turkey which I’m pretty sure was about a pirate.  But the biggest train wreck of the contest actually turned out to be quite fantastic:  Buranovskiye Babushki.  Representing Russia, this group of grandmothers from a tiny village in the middle of nowhere won Russia’s qualifying round and came to the contest with a song called Party for Everybody.  While the title and very short chorus are in English, everything else is in the grandmothers’ native language:  Udmurt.  Not even Russian.  Udmurt.  Lyrics, when translated into English, include “And my cat is happy, and my dog is happy!  And my cat is happy, and my dog is happy!”  Good thing they sang the lyrics in a language we couldn’t understand…

Now, you have to admit:  the song is fairly catchy, and the Russian grandmothers are quite adorable.  Really adorable.  Super adorable.  So adorable… that they got enough votes to put them into second place.  Crazy!

After each country performs, the public votes by calling or texting, just like on American Idol.  The public vote is then balanced out with the votes of a jury of music experts from each country, and then points are assigned to each country.  It’d be like having the American Idol judges voting and then averaging their vote and the public’s vote to determine the winner.  Each country’s votes are given equal weight regardless of their size.  For example, whichever country wins Russia’s vote gets the maximum 12 points from Russia, and whichever country wins San Marino’s vote gets the maximum 12 points from San Marino, regardless of the fact that Russia’s population is over 143,000,000 and San Marino has a meager 32,000.  The top ten vote getters from each country get points.  One of the biggest criticisms is that voting often times seems political:  Portugal and Spain always vote for each other, Greece and Cyprus always vote for each other, Turkey and Azerbaijan always vote for each other, and the former Soviet republics stick together, as do the former Yugoslav countries (despite the fact that they hated each other a decade or so ago).  The Western European countries seem to be a bit fairer.  But even with the politics of the vote, this year all countries had one thing in common:  they all loved Sweden.  The song Euphoria by Loreen took home the gold and the prestige of hosting next year’s Eurovision Song Contest.  The song was good, but there are at least ten that I thought were better.  Oh well.  At least Turkey’s pirate song didn’t win (it came 7th… again, WTF?)

And as for my beautiful Tooji from Norway:  he advanced from the 42 country semi-final round but did not do so well in the final.  He came in last of 26, which I think is totally bullshit because the song is good and he’s a pretty good singer.  Ugh.

He’s probably sad.

I should fly to Oslo to comfort him.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Man vs Burrito

My friend Lisanne was in town from Seattle this past weekend, so I decided to give her a taste of true blue Australia.  So, I took her to eat a giant burrito!

Because nothing says Australia like a giant burrito.


My favourite local burrito joint – Mad Mex – has a challenge every May to eat a giant burrito.  Weighing in at 1 kilogram (approximately 2.2 pounds), the kilo burrito is roughly twice the size of a regular burrito.  If you eat the whole thing in one sitting and present the wrapper to them, you get a t-shirt to commemorate your victory.  Sweet.

This just goes to show:  you can take the boy out of America but you can’t take the America out of the boy.  (But I am all for universal health care and gay rights, so really, my love of Mexican food is really my “most American” characteristic at this point.)

Michael and I went to The Big Burrito Challenge last year, where we both conquered the beast.  Oh yes, that’s a kilogram less in the basket and a kilogram more in my belly:

And Michael even got to shake the really hot employee’s hand after he finished!

I was jealous.  This year we amassed a larger group.  Michael, having felt satisfied at defeating the burrito last year, opted out of this year’s challenge but came along for moral support.  Of course there was Lisanne, but the thought of 16+ hours on a plane back to Seattle the next day with a kilogram of burrito sitting in her stomach was enough to put her off.  Valid excuse.  Fresh-off-the-boat from America insurance dude Jarrett came along as well.  Being from California, I fully expected him to chow down.  He also declined the big burrito.  But there was no valid excuse.  I was actively judging him and the ruling was not in his favour.

So, let’s get to it.  Time to meet the beast:

Doesn’t look so ominous at first, but then you compare it to the regular size burrito:

For the Americans reading this, the regular size burrito is roughly the same size as a Chipotle burrito.  Now, let’s meet the team!  Of course, my favourite Arkansan-turned-Aussie Jessica and I were up for the challenge:

All I had to say were the words “giant burrito” and Jess was on board instantaneously.  Now, if Jess was going to do it, her lovely husband Guy was going to have to do it too, you know, because eating a giant burrito is definitely a couple’s thing.

Cade was away traveling last year for the whole month of May – hence why I dragged Michael along in his place – but Cade was super eager to give it a go this year:

And last but not least, rounding out the pack with the fifth giant burrito was Vince:

Let’s get to it.  Ready?  Set?  Go!

Oh yeah!

So hot!

Vince and Cade finished first and third, respectively:

The speed at which Vince ate the giant burrito was… pretty hot.  I’m not going to lie.  Most people are attracted to men with lots of money, brains, good looks, and a nice car.  But not me.  Is it weird that the speed at which a man eats a giant burrito tops my list of criteria?

Well, that and air-conditioning in the summer months…

Ok, enough of my lunatic ramblings and back to reality.  Guy completed the challenge second and I came in a respectable fourth, but in my defense, I was busy taking photos and such.  And really, slow and steady wins the race.  I finished.  And I was proud.

Jessica’s burrito was determined to fall apart and make a mess, so she switched to a fork part way through.  It was a bit rough toward the end:

But she downed the last bit of delicious tortilla to a round of thunderous applause!

Five contenders.  Five kilograms of burritos.  Five empty baskets.  Five full stomachs.

Well, not totally full.  Just like last year, we decided to go for ice cream after.

Yeah.  We’re hardcore like that.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Intense Magnum Pleasure

The word “magnum” can bring to mind many different images.  It could be a type of gun, a type of car, or even a dude from a TV show.  But the very first thing that comes to mind is very different for Australians and Americans.

When Australians here the world “magnum”, the first thing they think of is this:

Sold in a wide variety of flavours, Magnum ice cream bars are a staple of Aussie supermarkets and convenience stores – probably even bigger than the Snickers Ice Cream Bars are in the States.

But when Americans here the world “magnum”, the first thing we think of is this:

A brand of condoms.  Extra large condoms.  For men with really big penises.

So, when I see an advertisement like this:

I have to giggle.


And then giggle again.  And of course this photo was taken from the entrance to my apartment – it’s right across the road – so I see it several times daily and it makes me giggle each time.


All you have to do it put a picture of an erect penis wearing a condom in the exact spot where the ice cream bar is and you’ve got a whole new advertisement.  You don’t even need to change the slogan.  The slogan actually works better for a condom advertisement.

This just goes to prove what I’ve been saying for years:  ice cream is a perfectly reliable substitute for sex.

Or something like that.

Are Aussie advertising firms just totally clueless?  Or do they know what the other type of “Magnum” really is and do these things on purpose just to make the American expat community blush a little?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Drag Queen Two-Up

When Americans think of Memorial Day, they think of a barbecue and a day off of work.  When Australians think of Anzac Day, they also think of two things… cookies and gambling!

This is better already, isn’t it?

I’ve already discussed the joys of Anzac Biscuits, but the gambling part is just as fun (unless you lose money).  The Anzac soldiers were said to pass time playing two-up, a very simple gambling game.  When they returned from overseas, they kept the game alive.  The basic rules are as follows:

People place their bets and then the “boxer”, or game manager, says it’s time to stop betting and let the action begin.  Then the “spinner”, a person holding a little paddle with two coins on it, tosses the coins up in the air.  The “ringie”, a person on the sidelines watching every move, ensures that there’s no interference and then collects the coins after each toss.

If both coins land heads, then heads wins.  If both coins land tails, then tails wins (hence the name “two-up”, because you need two coins facing the same way up).  If one coin lands heads and the other lands tails, it’s a re-toss.  Some versions of the game utilize three coins instead of two thus eliminating the need for re-tosses (if two of three or all three coins land heads, then heads wins, and the same with tails).

If you want to bet heads, you hold up money in the air and someone who wants to bet tails will come up to you.  The person betting tails then hands the money to the person betting heads.  The person betting heads always holds the money.  If heads wins, then they keep the cash.  If tails wins, they give the lot to their opponent.

It’s a very simple game.

Despite being simple, it still is a gambling game, and is therefore illegal outside of a casino.  Back in the day, secret illegal two-up gambling rings sprouted up all over the place and had to be shut down by the police, though authorities generally turned a blind eye to two-up on Anzac Day as a token of appreciation to the soldiers.

Nowadays, two-up has been legalized for play on Anzac Day only, and people fill up their local pubs to get in on the action.  I met up with Jessica, Guy, and their posse at the Beresford in Surry Hills for a little Anzac Day action – gay style.   Why gay style?  Because of this:

Yes, the Beresford is a quasi-gay venue in a gaybourhood, but I was totally not expecting a drag queen to be the boxer – especially a drag queen with monster rubber tits and a camouflage dress.


So, the drag queen boxer (right) said it was time to play and the spinner (middle) – some random girl from the audience – tossed the coins and the ringie (left) – Miss Anzac – called it heads.

And I lost $10 to some not-all-that-attractive stranger that I bet against.

And so I went back to the bar and bought another pint of Coopers.

I’ll win back my $10 next year.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Anzac Biscuits

In my opinion, Anzac biscuits are the best part of Anzac Day.  Because the best way to make a holiday better is to add cookies to it!

Anzac biscuits (cookies for Americans) were thought to have developed around World War I in Australia and New Zealand and have since been associated with the Anzac Day holiday.  You can find them year round in supermarkets, but you have to look hard.  In the weeks leading up to Anzac Day every year, however, it’s hard to avoid the sweet delights as they are everywhere – every store, every office, and everyone’s homes.  While Anzac Day is supposed to be a somewhat somber occasion, these cookies add a little delight to it.

They biscuits aren’t just for fun – they actually do have a meaning.  It is thought that wives sent the biscuits to their husbands who were stationed overseas because the biscuits didn’t spoil and kept well during the long voyage.  The reason for this:  the recipe for Anzac biscuits contains no eggs.  The lack of eggs not only kept the cookies from going off, but also was very convenient since many poultry farmers joined the war effort and eggs were scarce.  Also, lack of eggs leaves the cookie dough without risk of salmonella or e coli or any of those nasty bacteria – so make sure you make some extra batter because half of it is sure to disappear before it makes it into the oven.

Anzac biscuits are protected under Australia and New Zealand law, which is a bit strange to me but totally awesome when you think about it.  It’d be like the US government protecting the recipe for pumpkin pie around Thanksgiving time (which they totally should so that we could avoid any unfortunate bad pumpkin pies).  Everyone is free to market Anzac biscuits under the name “Anzac biscuits” as long as they stay fairly true to the original recipe.  Subway found this out the hard way and had to pull Anzac biscuits from their stores after the government told them they’d have to adhere to the original recipe which would have cost them more money.  Ha!

This year, I was fortunate enough to be invited to make Anzac biscuits with my friend, Michael.  So I put on my baking suit and wandered over to his house the weekend before Anzac day.  The recipe was incredibly easy.  So, for you Americans who are interested, you may want to give it a go!

1¼ cups plain flour, sifted
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup caster sugar
¾ cup desiccated (shredded and dried) coconut
2 tablespoons golden syrup
150 grams unsalted butter
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons water

So, we had a few substitutions because Michael is a bit healthier than I am.  We used wholemeal flour instead of plain flour and margarine instead of butter.  Michael needs to keep in mind that a skinny bitch is an evil bitch and she must be destroyed.

(I’ll be using real butter next year.)

Anyway… we also substituted brown sugar for caster sugar (which it seems most people do) and maple-flavoured Aunt Jemima-style syrup (but not actually Aunt Jemima because I don’t think we have that here) instead of golden syrup.  I had never heard of golden syrup because it isn’t prevalent in America (thanks, corn syrup), but from what I can tell, it’s sort of like molasses but not nearly as strong or dark.  I’ve also heard of people substituting honey for golden syrup and I’m totally going to do that next year (and maybe real maple syrup in one batch too!)  Also, we used self-rising flour so we didn’t need the baking soda.

Step 1:  Combine flour, oats, sugar, and coconut in a bowl

Step 2:  Combine and melt the butter and syrup and water in a saucepan

Step 3:  Realize that’s silly and use the microwave instead

Step 4:  Combine the wet mixture with the dry mixture and stir well

Step 5:  Taste the batter.  Fuck yeah.

Step 6:  Place tablespoon size balls of batter onto a greased cookie sheet

Step 7:  Flatten slightly with a fork

Step 8:  Bake at 170°C for 10 minutes or until golden brown

Step 9:  Take photos with your cookies.

Step 10:  Eat them all and don’t save any for your friends… mwahahahaha!

Nom nom nom!!!

I think Michael just realized that he used margarine instead of butter.

Makes approximately 24 Anzac biscuits.

So you might want to double it.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Every April 25th, Australians celebrate Anzac Day.  The day is Australia’s version of the United States’ Memorial Day.  Australia’s military history is nowhere near as long and devastating as the military history of the US, but Australia is a much newer country with a much smaller population.  With that, Australian troops have fought alongside their allies in many wars over the past 100+ years and their smaller losses shouldn’t be discounted when comparing them to the population.  Anzac Day here is as big or probably even bigger than Memorial Day in the US.

Anzac Day marks the landing of the Anzacs – the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps – at Gallipoli in the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey) on April 25th, 1915.  Fighting alongside other Allied troops, the goal was for the Anzacs to take the Gallipoli Peninsula and open up access for the Allied troops to the Black Sea.  The 8 month siege was unsuccessful, with over 8,000 Anzac casualties and 18,000 more injured before they retreated.

As the name suggests, Anzac troops came from both Australia and New Zealand.  The countries had a combined volunteer force to assist Britain, France, and Russia in their attempt to defeat Germany and pals.  Troops from the two countries had previously fought as part of the British empire in the Sudan Campaign in 1885 and the Boer War in the 1890’s, but World War I marked the first time that troops fought as Australians and New Zealanders under their own command.

On the first anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli, services were held in both Australia and New Zealand to commemorate the day and remember those who sacrificed for their country.  Services continued on subsequent anniversaries, and the holiday was made official in New Zealand in 1920 and Australia in 1921.  From then on, the public holiday became a national day of commemoration for all 60,000 Australians and 18,000 New Zealanders who died in World War I.  After World War II, the holiday took on a greater meaning and now commemorates those who have fallen not just in World War I, but during all subsequent wars in which the countries have participated.

Popularity of the holiday has increased and decreased over time.  One notable decrease was during the Vietnam War when anti-war sentiment ran high.  More recently, the holiday has seen a massive resurgence as younger generations have not directly experienced war.  A greater sense of national pride may also contribute to the holiday’s resurgence.

Anzac Day is celebrated with marches and memorial services at war monuments around both countries.  One of the most well-known features of the holiday is the dawn service.  Dawn services are held across both countries to commemorate the peaceful moments before dawn – right before the Anzacs made their charge ashore at Gallipoli.  The roughly one-hour service features hymns, prayers, addresses, bands, dedications, wreath laying, and a moment of silence.  Also played are the national anthems of both Australia and New Zealand (both are played in both countries), along with the now Royal Hymn which was the national anthem of Australia during most wars fought.

In Australia, many Aussies wear rosemary on their lapels as rosemary was abundant at Gallipoli.  In New Zealand, poppies have taken on this role.  In Sydney, the main dawn service is held at the Cenotaph, a World War I war monument located in Martin Place right in the middle of the city.  As a future Australian who missed out on most Anzac Day activities during my first two years here, I decided that I should probably get up and check it out.  Third Anzac Day is the charm, right?  So, my alarm went off at 3:45am and I met a co-worker outside my apartment at 4am.  We wandered over and found a place to stand for the 4:30am start to the service.  They really should call it the pre-dawn service as there were no traces of the sun anywhere even after the service ended.

I didn’t take any photos during the service as it was quite solemn and I thought it would be very disrespectful.  I did manage to snap a few afterward.

The City of Sydney installed a big screen for the service first in 2005 as too many people were attending and not all could see:

People crowded around the Cenotaph right after the ceremony concluded:

I was amazed at how many people actually woke up so early for the dawn service.  I only live less than a 15 minute walk away, but not all of these people have the luxury of rolling out of bed and walking down the street.  And so many of them were dressed up!  I was wearing pajamas…  Ooops.

And while many people went off to breakfasts and prepared themselves for the next ceremony and morning marches, I… crawled back into bed and slept for a few more hours.

I am definitely glad I went to the service and actually would like to do it again next year, but that being said, 4:30am is still an ungodly hour.