Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ob la di Ob la dah, Life Goes On

Hello friends,
Must start this entry with 2 apologies and a quick reminder to post your comments (especially the positive ones!). One apology is for my reticence of late. I've been busy at work (and on facebook, I admit it) organising simulated patients (SPs) for the upcoming end of semester exams (OSCEs), and haven't had much time to organise my thoughts (And yes, I am well aware of the affected Aussie spelling I'm using.) The second apology is in advance for the wordiness that is to follow. You may have had a vacation from my musings but I certainly haven't, so without further ado, here are some of my recent experiences.

Last week I had a work trip down to Gippsland. This is the country, or as they say here, "the bush". Saw my first roadkill 'roo and plenty of warning signs for both Kangas and Wombat Xings but none of the live version of either. It's about a 2 hour drive each way and I was going to the rural campus to meet with their simulation guru who let me watch some of the work she was doing in her spiffy center. It was a nice change of pace and a good contact not to mention a fun little road trip.

One of the things I noticed on the way was the contrast between the two types of street and town names. They tend towards the continental on one extreme (Pakenham, Windsor & Churchill) to what I can only assume are bastardizations of Aboriginal languages (Kooyang, Oroong and my favorite, Koo Wee Rup) . Colorado does much the same thing with Boulder and Pearl vs. Arapahoe and Laramie, though it also has the odd Spanish influence thrown in, the most infamous example being my neighborhood's main thoroughfare- Table Mesa (directly translated it means table table).

Speaking of language, I'm starting to pick up some Aussie. I regularly say "How ya going?" to colleagues when we pass in the corridor and today I asked more than one person what they had ON for the weekend. I haven't quite started using some exclamations I love, like "brilliant" to mean perfect and "gorgeous" to describe someone who is a great person...the true definition of beauty from the inside out, I suppose. I'm learning to abbreviate everything though. One of my SPs is named Barry and I wrote his name down as Baz, which is a popular nickname, without any prompting.

In other developments, we've had a few interesting moments with our neighbours (yup, spelling it that way on purpose). The popular soap of the same name is filmed here in Melbourne so I thought we were destined for our neighbours to become good friends. It says so in the theme song every night at 6:30 PM! Two weeks ago, exhausted after a long week and Adi's regular Friday night gig, we came home and crawled into bed. No sooner had we turned out the light then the folks across the hall came home, apparently bringing everyone in St. Kilda with them. They aren't smokers but apparently some friends were, so they kept going up and down the stairs for a smoke, making absolutely no effort to be quiet (am I turning into the bitter old lady neighbour or what? But at least when I was a young partier living in communal areas, I made a semblance of an attempt to be quiet even when drunk!) They left their door wide open and their (bad, no less) music was pumping out into the street. Considering that we live in a big family neighborhood (and by that, I mean a neighborhood with big families!) I would normally assume that one of these responsible parents would call the authorities. It dawned on me when no such call was made that the members of these large families don't call anyone on a Friday night! Oy!

Then, last week, as we carried Adi's keyboard (and by "we" I mean "he") upstairs, we ran into a neighbour going 'round and inviting people to her and her bf's flat. She made it sound like the whole building would be there so Adi and I reluctantly went downstairs and found the only other person she'd cajoled into joining them was Adrian, a nice single guy who lives below us. Along with him and the residents there was one non-Goathlandser (our street name) there and he quickly made Adi and I feel uncomfortable. He was captivated by my "cool accent"- the first Aussie I've met who was- most of them have the opportunity to hear Americans every time they turn on the radio, the tv or go to the movies. He asked where I was from and after a few times of insisting that yes, I really was from New York he said, "but what about all the- wait, I don't want to be anti-seminiteic", or something along those lines. Then he looked at Adi and said, "You're not Jewish are you mate?" to which Adi said, "as a matter of fact, yes, I am Jewish." You can imagine the relaxed feeling in the room at this point. Luckily the drunken genius said "oh, ok then, I won't say what I was going to say then," and looked at us as though we should appreciate this restraint. An awkward silence soon followed so I pointed out that in our neighborhood, its a pretty good guess that someone was Jewish. I guess we just tricked him by not wearing the right costume. My feeling is if you're going to be anti-semitic, you should at least learn how to pronounce "anti-semitic!"

Adi, Adrian and I all shifted uncomfortably in our seats as the conversation moved on. Then drunken idiot guy started marveling over my accent again. He tried to imitate me, laughing and saying "New Yawk. You gawt it. F-in' N- word." This is actually NOT how I think I sound given that the last phrase in particular isn't one I frequently invoke, and I was ready to bring the visit to a fast conclusion when he started telling me how great it is that in NY, they have zero tolerance and how if you steal a candy bar you can go to prison for 20 years. I told him I was unaware of this, but that I would try to see if I could find a lawyer to verify this information. Lawyers....? Before he had a chance to start speaking pejoratively about Asians, we decided to call it a night. As we stood up to go, Adrian almost hit his head on the ceiling, jumping up quickly, so thrilled was he to have an out from this impromptu gathering.

So, I guess not everyone in Melbourne has good neighbours. Luckily this is the first such blatant anti-semitism I have witnessed and other than walking quickly past the door of these people now (and we fault them only for not calling their stupid friend out for being an idiot), no permanent harm has been done. In fact, I feel we've now bonded a bit more with Adrian, in the same way hostages might after sharing a traumatic experience together.

Home is not the only place where I've found ignorance however. As I prepare for the upcoming OSCEs by recruiting SPs to portray a variety of roles, I was shocked when reading one encounter yesterday. The character is a black woman, which is a challenge in and of itself as all of my SPs are white. Beyond this, however, is the name. What did the case-writer decide to call this black character? JEMIMAH BLACK . Why not give the Irish character Cirrhosis and make the single mom suspected of child abuse reside in a trailer park while you're at it?

For the most part, though, work is going really well. I'm busy and there is much work to be done in terms of "training" the case-writers (obviously) as well as some of the medical faculty as to the educational possibilities SPs provide. But the folks in my department as well as in the office I share are all really fun and nice and I'm staying out of most of the politics thus far.

Free time is good too...went to Vic Market last week finally. This is the standard market/ wharf/ mercado..whatever you want to call it, most cities I've travelled to have at least one. A place selling cheap stuff in open air stalls alongside fresh produce. Adi's dad used to have a stall selling ladies "unmentionables" so Adi enjoys returning to his youth every now and then, recalling his days of hawking dad's wares and making change for customers. Here are some photos...the donuts are his favorite treat on offer at the market and he'd been talking about them for weeks prior to our going there!

At Vic Market with Adi enjoying the famous donuts.

This is me at the market:

And here's a relative of my Terra...for those out of the loop, that's my Highlander Hybrid that I miss every time I get into May-Z. Here, it's called a Klugger (they say "Klu" like Clue, I say Klugg like chug like gas chugger since it's not a hybrid!)

And these just make me giggle when I see them in the store!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Some Aus-bservations

We finally had a mellow weekend last week which means I can post some general thoughts and observations I've made about life here in Melbourne.

My driving is coming along well..unless it's an empty road at night, I generally remember to stay on the left side. It did occur to me that when I get myself a bike, I'll have to remember to change my hand signals too. But for the most part, my commute is now as annoying as any other, though its rarely more than 30 minutes.

One of the things I drive past daily are a number of pubs. When I think back to my time living in London, I fondly remember the pub lifestyle. Nothing seems quite as British as an establishment with wooden floors and dark greens and reds inside, complete with a name containing two unrelated nouns ('the elephant and whistle' or 'the pauper and wheelbarrow' or 'the lion and chainsaw'). I never worked out where the random nouns came from, but they had a very distinctly queen-like feel.

I expected a similar type of pub here in the southern Commonwealth. While there is an English pub in St. Kilda, the Aussie "pub" is a different breed. Just about every town- which is a smaller distinction than suburb- has it's own and they all seem to be similar.

They are generally called the name of the town + hotel, such as the Notting Hill Hotel or The Balaclava Hotel. Indeed, they are former hotels but now the only people sleeping here are the aging patrons who arrive to start drinking cheap spirits early in the day and end up passing out on their table in the dark corners by midafternoon. The upstairs generally has boarded up windows, though occasionally an air/ con unit or a window box with long-dead flowers is spotted. The mustard brown exterior paint is often peeling and they all have the name of one of the two "pokies" brands prominently displayed. Pokies are the video poker machines that are rampant here (a recent news report suggested that lower middle class Sydneyites spend more than 70 % of their disposable income on these machines!) Just about all of them have drive through "bottle shops" (aka liquor stores) attached and usually a fenced in outoor area where you can see the smokers sucking down a cig as they toss back another drink in another wasted day. I find them, as you might have guessed, quite depressing.

In other news, my verbiage is gaining some aussie-isms every day. I now regularly greet my coworkers with "How ya going" instead of "How ya doing?" I've resigned myself to the fact that neither idiom is grammatically correct and the Oz version doesn't even sound strange coming out of my mouth any more! With my "chips" the other night, not only didn't I ask for Ketchup to accompany them, when asking for 'tomato sauce', I said 'tomahto' instead! And I am always excited to eat my brekkie after working out.

I have been utilising (see the "s"!) the gym a bit and even have a trainer, a former female wrestler! Gladiators here I come.

And I've been getting involved in the community. I spent this past week volunteering at the St. Kilda Film Festival which shows the top 100 Australian shorts as well as prizewinning short films from around the world. The opening night was apparently awash with local celebs but I only recognized one, a guy from Underbelly (which we are way behind on!)

I'm also taking part in a 4 week training course to prepare me to mentor a young teen. Whilst the training is a bit tedious given that I could have written it, I'm excited about having a connection to a local kid.

Work is going really well and they haven't revoked my visa yet, so all is good.

We're having brunch at our house for mother's day tomorrow...will think of all of you mum's out there...have a good one!

Monday, May 5, 2008

It was Great and near the Ocean and on the Road

After three weeks of work, I'm happy to report I finally got a day off. Anzac day, the 25th of April, conveniently occurred on a Friday, making it a 3-day weekend for the whole country. Unlike in the states, the day, which memorializes the thousands of Australian and New Zealand troops that lost their lives in the battle of Gallipoli, is always the 25th, even when it is stubborn enough to arrive on a Tuesday. So, rather than celebrate the somber day on the Monday closest to the 25th of April, the three-day weekend is a rare occurrence that happens only twice every seven years (well, plus the whole leap year thing but I can't do the math!) Even worse, next year, when it falls on a Saturday, the Aussie's don't get a day off at all! Another contrast to the US' memorial and veterans' days is that at least the first half of the day is really dedicated to remembering those soldiers, with dawn services around the country.

The afternoon, however, is the most famous regular season footy match, with my Bombers against their biggest rivals, the Collingwood Magpies. This year, the Bombers were duly patriotic, getting decimated by their enemy much like the Anzac soldiers did in Turkey all those years ago.

While we stayed in town to watch the game- happily not going to witness the routing firsthand-and celebrated a Passover Shabbat dinner with two other couples, we did get out of Melbourne on Saturday. Toby's cousin from Israel is in town and was the impetus for a bunch of us to take a road trip down the Great Ocean Road.

Considered the most beautiful drive in all of Victoria, the Great Ocean Road (or GOR as I call it, appreciating the poetry of such a beautiful environmental place sounding like the former VP) is akin to California's highway 1, with twists and turns opening into quaint and/or tacky touristy beach towns with overpriced real estate.

We had a lovely morning and stopped for a (unfortunately Kosher for passover) breakfast with the sea to our side, but as the afternoon wore on, foreboding clouds made their appearance. By the time we reached the penultimate site on the drive, the misnamed 12 apostles, we were chilled and prepared to get wet. Nevertheless, we parked at the carpark and crossed the highway, skipping the visitor center to go see the famed apostles themselves.

The 12 apostles are considered Australia's most famous rock formations. How Uluru escapes this glory, I don't know but I believe it is a semantic issue as the large rock in the center of the country is a monolith and not a rock formation. In any case, the apostles stand sentry in the Southern Ocean, their former connection to the cliff side the distant past.

The 12 apostles were never 12; there were 9 of them when first named as such. Now, due to the wear and tear of the elements on the remaining apostles, there are only 6. The tourist council decided that 12 apostles was more likely to be an attraction than just 9. I'm assuming the nearby steps down to the beach, named Gibson's steps, were not named after the Mad Max actor. However, I did enjoy the vision of Mel standing on the shore, cursing the Jews who were responsible for the continuing collapse of the remaining apostles.

Just as we finished shooting our photos the heavens opened and i began to rain sideways. We rushed back to the car and completed our Ocean Road journey, ending up at the only motel we'd found with openings on the holiday weekend. We soon found out why, but luckily, never actually ran into Javier Bardem with his oxygen tank and creepy haircut!

I ended passover with a mediocre pasta at a pub (next blog will examine Aussie pubs) and had a fun night playing backgammon and taboo. We drove through the bush- aka the country- on the way home the next day after a few more stops along the shore. A fun first road trip in Oz!

Here are some shots from the road:

Given the sharp, dangerous curves on the road, this sign strikes me as too little, too late:

Here is a shot of the steep cliffs along the Southern Ocean's coast:

Just a shot of me and Adi...another hemisphere, another coast:

Here are the 12, i mean 9 I mean 6 apostles:
If you look closely, you can see the apple-shaped cutout in the rock. Adi called this the I-postle:
The view from the beach by our creepy little motel in Petersborough, VIC:
Another rock formation we saw on Sunday's return trip:

And here's the whole gang (Sarit, Nat, Toby, Dor, Adi and Alon)