Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bouddi Bouddi Bouddi Bouddi Rockin' Everywhere

Easter long weekend featured a lot of sitting, a lot of napping, and a lot of movies on the couch.  I desperately needed that.

But it also featured a day trip up to Bouddi National Park on the Central Coast.  I’m pretty sure “Bouddi” is pronounced like “Booty” so I pretty much giggled whenever I said it.  The Central Coast is an area north of the Sydney Metropolitan Area but south of the next biggest city, Newcastle.  The Central Coast is full of retirees and people who wanted to buy a house but couldn’t afford one in the city so they purchased one for a lot cheaper in the Central Coast and don’t mind sitting on a train for 90 minutes each way every day.

I’ll take my 8 minute walk to work, thank you very much.

The Central Coast is also full of bogans – Australia’s answer to the redneck.  If you want an idea of what the Central Coast is like, here is a video which pretty much sums it up.  If you’re not from Australia, and particular not from the Sydney area, you’ll probably only get about 20% of what they’re saying.  I myself only get about 60%, and I think that’s about as high as I want to go.  Ignorance is bliss.

We spent most of our day at Bouddi National Park doing hiking trails down to a few of the beaches.  While the 92 kilometre drive to the Central Coast takes around an hour and a half mostly on highway, it’s just across the water from Palm Beach – which is 50 kilometres closer to Sydney by road and less than an hour from the Sydney CBD on busy city streets.  It’s because the Central Coast is separated from the Sydney metropolitan area by Broken Bay – a large inlet of water comparable to but probably somewhat larger than Sydney Harbour.  As there is no bridge over Broken Bay like there is over Sydney Harbour, you have to drive all the way around.  It seems a bit ridiculous that we drove so far just to end up right next to Palm Beach.  We could see the Barrenjoey Lighthouse on Palm Beach from Bouddi National Park:

The trip was a mini Tassie reunion as I went with Cade, Michael, and Vince.  We wandered around on the beach in the sun before heading to our next trail.

Next up:  another corner of the national park which was the site of a shipwreck.  A monument at the park’s visitor centre memorializes the sinking of the S.S. Maitland, which was flung onto the rocks by gale force winds in May 1898.

26 passengers perished with the ship.  114 years later, pieces of the ship actually remain on the rocks.  I ventured out on the slippery surface to see if I could find anything.  Surprisingly I did.  Right there on the rocks was a rusted out something from the ship:

I named this piece of the ship Tetanus.  What a cute name.  And I’m pretty sure this may have been an anchor... or some other piece of a ship... probably:

Further out – where it was too slippery to walk – sat a larger piece of the ship.  If you look right at the middle of this photo, you’ll see what looks like a big slab of wood sticking up from the rocks.

That’s a piece of the ship 114 years later.  Amazing.

We headed up to the top of the headland to check out the views:

When we had enough of the outdoors, we headed to the town of Avoca to check out their popular beach, and then to a town called The Entrance for dinner in a trashy pub.  That’s real Australia.  There is a renowned Mexican restaurant on the Central Coast, but it was fully booked that night.  I think we’re going to have to make another trip.

I’ll make sure to pack the bogan repellent.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Flo Becomes A Kitty

She was probably the biggest celebrity in America when I left.  No, no.  It wasn’t Oprah.  It wasn’t Ellen.  It wasn’t even Taylor Swift.

It was Flo.

You know:  Flo…

The Progressive Girl!

Oh yes.  You know her too well.  You love her too much.  But you still probably aren’t moving your insurance away from Geico.  Though, I must say, Flo is way more attractive than that gross little gecko or those unkempt cavemen.

We all love watching Flo on TV, and the year she debuted saw 60% of all females and 20% of all males in America dress up as her for Halloween.  Oh, it takes me back:

I noticed something amazing a few weeks ago.  All of a sudden, Flo has a cousin who lives in Australia!  No way!  Her name:  Kitty.

Hehe.  Kitty.  I wonder if Progressive is choosing quasi-vaginally-related names on purpose or are they just totally clueless?

Or maybe  Kitty isn’t Flo’s cousin.  Maybe she’s her sister.  Maybe the CEO of Progressive separated the fraternal twins at birth sending Kitty off to a faraway land to be raised by strangers as part of an evil scheme of world domination involving the sale of low cost car insurance to people all over the world.


Or maybe not.

Or maybe Progressive is making a go at the Australian car insurance market and they’ve taken all of their American advertising expertise and mimicked it with an Aussie twist:

I like my first theory better.

First it was Costco, then Peter Pan peanut butter, and now Progressive.  The Americanization of Australia continues.

All we need now is Entenmann’s and a decent bagel and we’ll be good to go.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

National Anthem of Naps

I hadn’t really heard much of the Australia’s national anthem until Glen’s citizenship ceremony in February.  I didn’t really think anything of it, but a few weeks later, Vince and I were chatting about it one night in Tasmania and it occurred to me that Australia’s national anthem is… completely uninspiring.

Sorry, Australia.

Chosen as the national anthem by popular vote as recently as 1977, Advance Australia Fair wasn’t formally adopted until 1984.  Let’s take a look at the lyrics:

Australians all let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;
We've golden soil and wealth for toil;
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in nature's gifts
Of beauty rich and rare;
In history's page, let every stage
Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross
We'll toil with hearts and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands;
For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.

Snooze-a-palooza.  Wake me up when it’s over?

Ok, a national anthem should be a bit more inspiring than that – something that riles the masses and builds patriotism – not the musical version of a landscape painting.  Let’s examine what an awesome national anthem should be like.  Note that all translations are rough translations according to Wikipedia.

Vietnam’s national anthem starts out strong with their soldiers marching, united in determination to save the country.  Later, the anthem says that the country’s flag is red because it’s dyed with the blood of victory, and that their glorious path is built on the corpses of their foes.   I thought the road was a little bit bumpy.

Now, that’s a bit direct if you ask me.  I mean, paving your roads with your dead enemies is quite harsh.  Let’s take a more metaphorical approach, shall we?  And maybe something that invokes the great history of a nation?

Italy’s national anthem invokes the name of Scipio, one of Rome’s finest military commanders who lived well over 2,000 years ago.  In the anthem, Italy awakens with Scipio’s helmet on her head.  But never fear a battle, for the lyrics also say that victory is Rome’s slave.  So yeah, looks like Italy is going to win this one.  But even if victory wasn’t Italy’s bitch, their foes may be scared shitless by the screaming “We are ready to die!” over and over again in the last verse.  Either way, this anthem leaves Italy sitting pretty on top.

Next door, France has a similar concept, but they invoke more scare tactics.  I love scare tactics.  The French national anthem starts with something along the lines of the enemy coming to kill your wife and children, and then goes on to insist that, in lieu of letting the enemy kill our families, we should water our fields with their blood instead.  That will teach them.

Is the guillotine ready?

And speaking of France, Algeria’s national anthem is a direct assault on the French, which of course I just have to like.  Winning independence from their colonial rulers in 1962 after a bloody war, the Algerian national anthem explicitly says: “O France, the time of reproach has passed” and “O France, the day of reckoning is at hand”.  Them’s fightin’ words.

Furthermore, the Algerians “have risen to revolution in life or death” and they “have taken the drum of gunpowder as their rhythm and the sound of machine guns as their melody”.  Holy shit they are angry.  And afterward do they each get 70 virgins?

Ok, finally, let’s tone it down because all of these murderous anthems are going to give me nightmares.  How about America?  The good ole U S of A!  I hate to admit it, but The Star-Spangled Banner is pretty frickin’ awesome as far as national anthems go. 

O! say can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

It’s not at all violent or murderous, but still manages to rouse patriotism in every American – even the not-so-patriotic people like me.  Telling the story of a battle during the War of 1812 against Britain, Francis Scott Key writes about how, through the light produced by bombs and rockets, he is still able to see his country’s flag flying high – the British never able to capture it.  Awesome!

Now, I understand that Australia – though having fought alongside its allies’ troops in various wars – has never really fought a war itself.  It hasn’t really been attacked and hasn’t invaded another sovereign state since its independence from Britain in 1901.  Also, Australia’s independence was completely peaceful (Britain learned its lesson after the whole American thing went horribly awry for them…)  So I guess there really isn’t much in history to inspire some incredible, war-filled national anthem.  But still, every line of Advance Australia Fair may be totally true about this great land, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that it makes me want to take a nap.

Let’s compare:

Summary of the French national anthem:  “Our enemies are coming to kill us, but we will kill them instead and use their blood to water our fields.  They have evil plans for us, but we will never give up!”

Summary of the Vietnamese national anthem:  “United and determined to save the country, we are spirited and will pave our roads with our enemies.  We will never stop fighting!  We are everlasting!

Summary of the Australian national anthem:  “Our land is really pretty and big, so we should be happy. Let’s say it louder!”

Which one of these is not like the others?

Or maybe instead of the lyrics, let’s compare the authors:

American national anthem:  Written by a patriot witnessing a bloody battle between his nation and an evil imperial power.

Algerian national them:  Written by a nationalist imprisoned by the French… on the wall of his prison cell… in his own blood.

Australian national anthem:  Written by a Scottish composer.  Probably wearing a kilt.

Again, I ask:  which one of these is not like the others?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get to work on my proposed new national anthem for Australia, titled “It’s A Tough Place”.

Australians all let us rejoice
For we have come from far
To conquer land where the sun burns man
And the drought can kill us all
Our land abounds in nature's gifts
But also species rare
Snakes, spiders, sharks, and cassowaries
Will kill you so beware
Apply more sunscreen or the sun
Will kill you so beware

Beneath our radiant Southern Cross
We wander treacherous terrain
Our ancestors shipwrecked the coast
Many perished - could not be saved
The Japanese bombed us once
So we interned them all
Stay away when bushfires blaze, they
Will kill you so beware
Dingoes will eat your favourite child, they
Will kill you so beware

I fully expect Ms. Gillard will be calling me soon to discuss this.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Vegemite In 8 Easy Steps

Look – there on that toast!  It’s an oil spill!  It’s battery acid!  No!

It’s Vegemite.

2 years, 2 months, and 10 days after arriving in Australia, I finally broke down and tried Vegemite.  I had resisted trying what is basically Australia’s national food for so long because of all of the horrible things I’d heard about it – from everybody who isn’t Australian.  Aussies, on the other hand, love the stuff and will defend its honour no matter what the cost.  They’ll tell you it’s like the Aussie version of peanut butter or Nutella.  And maybe based on popularity it is.  But I can say with 100% confidence that Vegemite is not peanut butter.  It’s not Nutella.  It’s not even close to either.  In fact, I’d say that a comparison between peanut butter and Vegemite is about as appropriate as a comparison between pizza and sewage.

So, let’s start with the basics: what is Vegemite?  Vegemite is a spread made from yeast extract.  And by “yeast extract”, I mean the by-products of the brewing process.  So, basically, when brewers make beer, all the nasty shit at the bottom of the vat at the end gets scraped up and becomes Vegemite.

I’m not even shitting you.  See – read the ingredients:

Then, they take the leftover beer gunk and add a bunch of vitamins and minerals to it, and then pour in a few dump trucks full of salt to mask the taste.  So, in all fairness, Vegemite is one of the world’s best sources of B vitamins.  It’s also one of the world’s worst smelling foods.  Step 1:  Open the jar.  Step 2:  Take a whiff.


Heinous really.  I’ve never smelled anything like it before.  Now, the smell is somewhat reminiscent of a brewery – that stale, quasi-feet odor that makes you gag anywhere else other than a brewery.  But with Vegemite, it’s slightly off.  It’s sort of like some evil former Soviet republic invaded and hid their nuclear waste in the brewery, and the two smells fused together to create a newer, more foul odor.  I imagine that smell would be similar to Vegemite.

Now, I told a few people about my plan to try Vegemite, and they all said the same thing:  eat as little as possible.  For first timers, you’re supposed to get a piece of bread, add enough butter to make pre-diabetes Paula Deen proud, and then add the thinnest layer of Vegemite imaginable.  That goes in direct contradiction to the serving suggestion on the side of the Vegemite jar.  That looks like a lot of Vegemite to me:

Step 3:  Have a backup plan.  Now, I prepared a whole spread for an afternoon tea party – complete with fancy breads, crackers,  cheddar, feta, labnah, pita chips, hummus, nuts, honey, tea, bubbles, and of course, Vegemite.  If I was going to suffer through this, I was going to ensure I had plenty of other foods to eat to assist in ridding my mouth of the flavour.  Step 4:  Invite friends for moral support.  I was joined by Paul and Charlotte:

And Bojan and Adam:

Step 5:  Proceed with the preparation of the bread.  I put on an overly zealous amount of butter and then tried to go for a thin layer of the beer gunk – I mean Vegemite.  See this:  the Vegemite really does look like an oil spill:

Step 6:  Take a bite.

Step 7:  Make a face like you’ve just witnessed some kinky sex act performed by a group of senior citizens.

Step 8:  Question your decision to take a bite.

Ever since I arrived in Australia, I’ve been told that Vegemite tastes like a long list of different, gross things:  battery acid, bugs, aluminum, sadness, etc.  To me, any flavour in there was masked by the ungodly amount of salt in the small amount of Vegemite on my bread.  I can definitely see where people would say battery acid or aluminum, but the thing that came to my mind first was really salty water.  You know when you’re at the beach and you go for a swim and a wave catches you unaware and you end up with a mouth full of nasty saltwater with traces of whale piss?  That was what Vegemite reminded me of.  It wasn’t the world’s most horrible experience, but it was definitely unpleasant, uncomfortable, and it took a few seconds to recover from.  And I had a headache later that night and I can only guess it was due to the unusually high amount of salt in my body.

Seriously, the level of salt in this thing should classify it as semi-edible.  Though I’ve never tried it, I imagine a salt lick would be similar to Vegemite.  And you know why I’ve never tried a salt lick?

Because I’m not a fucking horse.

The Vegemite section should be moved to the pet food aisle.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cancerous Advertising

Today was the first “cold” day we’ve had in Sydney – a sure sign that winter is on its way.  That means that all of the summer advertisements will soon be coming down.  In the lead up to summer every year, Sydney suddenly becomes invaded by advertisements for all things summery:  cold beer, flip-flops, cocktails, sunglasses, and more.  It seems every billboard, every bus, every bus stop, and even public toilets become prime targets to place an ad to boost summer sales.  Let’s take a look at a few ads that I snapped photos of this season.

Summer isn’t summer without this main ingredient:

Ice cream!  Oh yeah taste – explode in my mouth!

Who said that?

Fancy something with more of a kick?  How about a nice chilled bottle of bubbles to “spritz your summer”?

Or maybe something with a bit of a stronger kick?  I was recently informed that Midori was “my mix for summer”.

And for the kids?  Well, they might want a nice refreshing something after a long day of playing out in the heat.  How about a slurpee?

Notice the beach scene there on the slurpee ad.  It’s amazing how many posters featuring beach scenes are splashed all over a city where you can very easily see beaches in person.  But still, I suppose they are pretty to look at and boost sales.  Take this one for example:

Pretty beach, topless dude, and perfect conditions for… wait a minute.  What?

That’s right.  For every advertisement you see for ice cream or alcohol or slurpees or flip-flops or board shorts or whatever, there’s probably one nearby for skin cancer as well.  Is that really necessary?


Australia and New Zealand have the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, including the highest instance rates and mortality rates for deadly melanoma.  Skin cancer rates in Australia are four times that of the rates in the United States, United Kingdom, or Canada.  80% of all cancers in Australia are skin cancer, and 2 in 3 Australians will be diagnosed with some sort of skin cancer by the time they are 70.  Doctors in Australia have over 1,000,000 patient consultations for skin cancer per year, and roughly 450,000 people are treated for one or more skin cancers every year.  Those are incredibly high numbers for a country with fewer than 23,000,000 people.  For super deadly melanoma, the figures are equally as frightening.  1 in 24 males and 1 in 34 females will develop melanoma before the age of 75, and melanoma is the most common form of cancer in Australians aged 15 – 44 years.  Scary.  But why?

An ozone hole located over eastern Australia and New Zealand lets through more UV rays than in other parts of the populated world.  This makes prolonged unprotected sun exposure very dangerous.  To add to the problem, both Australia and New Zealand are full of fair (pale) people of northern European ancestry.  Migration patterns over the past few centuries have moved all of these people to a place that their skin pigmentation just isn’t suited for.  Being pale and pasty in cloudy Britain is fine, but bring ‘em to a sunny climate and they burn to a crisp in no time at all.

For these reasons, every summer without fail the Cancer Council puts up advertisements everywhere – including on the radio and TV.  The goal is to educate the public that they need to be wearing sunblock and that broad-brimmed hats and long sleeves are ok in summer.  Sometimes the ads are fairly standard like the one on the bus above.  Last year, however, they weren’t nearly so subtle.  Previous versions featured pictures of stitches from moles that had to be removed, with an explanation of why each stitch was there and an indication that the person on the photograph was going to have more cancer down the line.  And let us not forget the television.  Everybody in New South Wales who owns a television probably knows the name Wes Bonney.  Wes was a 26 year old Australian who died of melanoma in 2010.  A series of TV commercials told his story, featuring tearful testimonials from his family and friends about the dangers of not properly protecting yourself from the sun.

So, friends, when you come to Australia to visit me, please come prepared.  Bring a hat, sunglasses, and plenty of sunblock, and don’t hesitate to sit in the shade.  Most importantly:  brace yourself.  Every person you meet will ask you if you are wearing sunblock – it’s a standard question posed to visitors here.  And when I say every person, I truly mean every person.  You’ll be asked several times during any given day.  And if you say no, you’re sure to get a story about how someone they know lost an ear or a nose or died because of skin cancer.  It’s real.

It’s not just the sharks, rip tides, snakes, spiders, heat, and jellyfish that will get you in Australia.  It’s the sun too.  This only adds to my postulation that everything in Australia wants you to die.

Rough place.  But having to apply sunscreen every day is still way better than having to deal with Republicans.  Australia still wins.