Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Benefit and the CBD

Last weekend we spent Saturday evening helping to end Genocide and Sunday being a bit more self-indulgent. SKIF sponsored a benefit using music to raise awareness about the Genocide taking place in Darfur. The closing act was none other than 10/2 Goathlands very own Adi Diner who was upstaged only by a member of the local Sudanese community sharing his story. Adi played a few tunes in line with the theme of the evening, including Stevie Wonder’s “Saturn” and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”.

Earlier in the day we’d attended a 1st birthday party for a friend of his’ daughter and another HS friend of his- not a SKIF person-, when told of Adi’s plans for the evening said, “What’s Darfur?” I was personally shocked. You don’t have to read a paper cover-to-cover to be aware of this horrific situation that has been going on for over 6 years. And this guy isn’t an idiot—he went to the same magnet school as Adi so that should count for something. Adi retold the story- much less judgementally than I have, and acknowledged that clearly awareness still needs to be raised.

The speaker from the Sudanese community went out of his way to thank the Jewish community. With Melbourne’s Jewish community being predominantly made up of survivors, there is a heightened sense of urgency about this situation amongst them. While the small benefit raised only $700 it was nice to do some small part to help.

And at the Russian Bar we went to after the gig I even felt moderately guilty about the $17 (!) chocolate decadent martini I had, but since my friend Helen bought it for me, isn’t it really her that’s the decadent one? (thanks, Hels)

Sunday was much more about us then the greater good of the world. After all, it’s exhausting to spend too much time making the world a better place, so Sunday we focused on appreciating the culture of Melbourne. I’d been kvetching of late that we never did anything “Melbourne-y”…how many of you regularly take advantage of the cultural offerings of the place you live? (Boulderites, you are excluded from the conversation since I know you all probably went running this very morning before going for a bike ride and climb! Unless you’re reading this blog from your I-phone as you hang off of a rock wall!)

In any case, I wanted to see some of the excitement that the city has to offer. Adi’s original plan to visit a seaside town was cancelled by Mother Nature so instead we hit the CBD. Our first stop was the National Gallery of Victoria. This museum has two parts- one focusing on Australian art, the other with an International focus. Adi had never been to either so we hit the international one. One interesting note is that the museum is a bit of a misnomer now. It began before Australia was unified in -oh I don't know, but it was after the first world war I think! So at the time, it was Victoria’s National Gallery. Since Victoria is no longer a nation, it should technically be called the state gallery but that doesn’t sound nearly as impressive. In fact, the State Gallery of Victoria sounds almost as though the art has been committed and is being held against its will.

The building is unique, with right angled escalators and cut outs in the wall as well as a huge stained glass ceiling. Given that it was built prior to the new push to house museums in destination works of art, I found it pleasing and less of a forced architectural entity. The collection itself is a bit eclectic. In the ‘European Art of the 19th and 20th Century’ room, for example, a Matisse is hung by a Manet which is next to a Rothko and then a Lichtenstein. Because the museum isn’t’ particularly well-funded—even by the poor funding standards museums have- it seems that when a piece by someone famous is available, they grab it. The result is a bit of a hodge-podge without much cohesion.

That said, I still enjoyed the parts I enjoy- notably impressionism and abstract expressionism, because I am not a very smart art person. I got annoyed by the post-modernist BS…in particular, a group of plywood letters, painted black and arranged to read “Infiltrating the Living Room of the Bourgeoisie”. This has inspired me to create a companion piece called “The Self-Indulgent Problem of Post-Modernism.” I think I’ll make a fortune.

After seeing about 2/3rd of the museum, we’d exhausted the cultural part of our brains and took our leave, guilt-free since there was no charge. I pointed out that we could return at any time and Adi’s reaction seemed to indicate that it would be at least another 27 years before he did so. And this is a guy who likes museums!

The weather had cleared a bit so we walked up the road, slowly due to Adi’s over-exertion at Squash earlier in the day. We headed for Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance which, unlike the museum, Adi had been to previously. The last time he was in High School in a marching band. Feel free to mock him for being a band geek here.

The Shrine was built after the First World War and is dedicated to all those who have served in Australia’s three branches of the military: The Royal Australian Air Force, The Royal Navy and The Australian Armed Forces. Or something like that. The important thing to remember is that these are kids who were serving at the request of a Monarchy a half a world away.

The Shrine include the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and an eternal flame and a museum showing all the different medals and such. Apparently anyone who has ever served for Australia is written in some book there. Lucky for them, they can close the book on Iraq since their Prime Minister has brought home his troops. Some pillars recount all the places various branches served during World War II, and it’s not the places we generally hear about. Such battlefields as Borneo, Singapore and Malaysia factored in heavily to their military story.

Our day of site-seeing complete, we made our way back to the CBD, towards Chinatown) or China lane as I call it because it is so compact) to Camy’s, our favourite dumpling spot. As we walked past federation square, the final remnants of the weekends’ Industrial Design Expo beckoned, so Adi grabbed a seat to watch the giant outdoor screen footy game and I took a look at the plastic pods displaying the ideas of the next generation.

My favourite was the emergency housing that could be transformed into permanent housing, for victims of disasters. So what starts as a canvas shelter at a disaster site is easily covered with timber to become a permanent dwelling in a relocated space in the after-math of the disaster. I’m sure there are folks in Myanmar and China who could use these now (unless they’re all housed and cared for at this point. Given how much news coverage they are all still receiving, that must be the case!)

Finally, we made it to Camy’s where we ordered way too much food. I’ll spare you the details as my mother has complained that no one cares what I eat…but trust me when I say it was really yummy, especially the pumpkin cakes!

It was a good weekend, made even sweeter by some huge sports victories…2 out of 3 at Fenway AND the Bombers beat our Red Sox-like rival, Collingwood in our match!

Enjoy the photos!

Smiling, Adi sings about a wonderful world. But it isn't :-)

Adi is in front of the wall of water

I smell the fresh flower in the statues hand...he was a great Australian army doc but I forget his name.
The pathway to the Shrine of Remembrance

A view of the Yarra River and the MCG.. the Melbourne Cricket Ground (footy happens there too) which holds 100,000 fans!

One of the plastic pods displaying the design show ideas.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Radio Therapy for Embarrassing Moments

Now that I've been here over 4 months, I felt it was time to raise my public profile. Conveniently, Adi's friend Josh is an MD who takes part in a weekly radio show entitled "Radio Therapy". The show has been airing for about 15 years on the RRR (Triple R), which is one of the local versions of NPR.

According to the RRR Web site, Radio Therapy "(e)xplores the lighter, more eccentric side of medicine. A team of irreverent doctors lampoon sacred medical cows, and shed light on a range of medical and psychiatric conditions with special guests from around Australia and the Globe."

Last week, one of their segments was a discussion of the use of Simulated Patients and the guest from "around the Globe" was none other than yours' truly.

Mind you, this was not my first foray into the bright lights and glory of radio. When I worked @ CU's Center for the Study of the Prevention of Violence" I was the mouthpiece for the Center during a live broadcast in Mississippi (or maybe Alabama- I can't recall). The topic then was a discussion of two mothers who'd been in a knife fight on school property on behalf of their offspring. No one else happened to be in the office at the time which is how I was able to comment, given my illustrious background as a field rep for a bullying program.

And when at the Y, shortly before my departure to Israel, I had a phone chat with Brett Saunders of the famed KBCO to discuss the Y's summer camp offerings, most notably our Garage Rock camp. That interview would have been fine had I not tried to be cute at the start and tell Brett what a fan I was by quoting the stations' advertising tag line "I am KBCO" Little did I know the tape was already running.

I was determined not to embarrass myself in such a way again. I prepared some short sound-bites and brought an ally with me, a long-time Simulated Patient. I've gotten good responses from my supervisors and friends. I myself can't vouch for the quality of the program because I couldn't' stand to listen to it. I sound SO AMERICAN with my accent interwoven with all the polite Aussie ones. But if you'd like to have a listen, here's the podcast:

My segment starts about 15 minutes into the show...though the beginning of the show does have some research related to the Viagra-like properties of watermelon that might be of interest to some.

Please, let me know if you think I embarrassed myself.

Luckily, I refrained form doing just that when I finally figured out the meaning of an abbreviation I often see here. When I first arrived, I noticed a Hebrew word printed on the sides of some buildings all around my neighborhood. "hazchem". I kept meaning to ask Adi what Hazchem (pronounced hahz- CHem) meant in Hebrew...I thought perhaps it denoted a kosher, blessed place or perhaps the places where you were allowed to carry things on Shabbos. As I ventured out into the city, I was surprised to frequently see this demarcation all over Melbourne. Now, Melbourne does have the large number of Holocaust Survivors outside of Israel and has a healthy Jewish population of over 50,000. But the majority of Jews live in my neighborhood and its environs so I wasn't sure why there was such respect of Jewish traditions on the other side of the river.

Well, I'm glad I never asked for I finally realized that "Hazchem" is Australian for HazMat...Hazardous Chemicals. So I saved myself from humiliation-- or at least I had until his blog.

So, with that I leave you to listen to some down under talk radio!

Till next time, watch out for Hazchem!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Happy Chilly Independence Day!

Since last we met, I’ve worked my way through Independence Day… a novel concept I had to explain to my Aussie friends who have yet to cut the cord from the Queen. I spent the 4th seated at an outdoor table with my friend Maria because we’d failed to book but were stubborn and wanted to eat at this tapas place. The food was good and I gained renewed appreciation for the Melbournian propensity for heaters on every sidewalk patio and cafĂ©. Though it was one of the colder nights of the year, with the heaters on and my puffy jacket zipped up, it was quite pleasant.

Afterwards we took a walk around the suburb a few “K” down the beach from St. Kilda. The best way I can describe Albert Park is to say that it makes Scarsdale seem edgy. While its location is prime in that it is sandwiched between the ocean and the large lake inside its namesake park, the town itself short of about 3 interesting restaurants and numerous over priced beauty salons, has the personality of a doormat. Now this is a doormat in front of a grandiose, posh and well-manicured home, but a doormat none-the-less. As we rounded a corner onto the oh-so-continental sounding “Beaconsfield Parade” (I would love it if we could someday live on one of the numerous byways called parade…how fun to always come home to a parade!), we encountered a group of 20-somethings outside of a bar which was closed for a private party. As we passed by, they started saying loudly “there’s lots of alcohol inside” and ”come in for some free drinks”. Too late, Maria and I looked at each other and pondered the thought of crashing the party. My idea was to go and push our way into every photo so the next day, everyone would be confused when they saw the pics on facebook. But we were not brave enough- or shall I say, desperate enough (or, for that matter, drunk enough) to do so and instead, we just headed home, having enjoyed a fireworks free 4th of July.

While I haven’t really partaken, binge drinking as a pastime is quite the topic in Victoria these days. A new law has instituted a 2AM curfew for bars around town. This doesn’t mean the bars must close; rather, it simply means that wherever you are at 2 is where you have to stay. This results in a mad rush around 1:30 as people flood the streets to try to find where the best looking prospects are going to settle. Of course, more than one fight has thus erupted in the street as a result. News media are jumping on the bandwagon with one reporting that a new study reveals that 3 glasses of wine equals binge drinking. The cover of our free, local ‘real estate guide-disguised as a magazine’ had a hilarious photo (see below) depicting one bar’s efforts to keep the drinkers on site. They have a “little person” standing on the bar, pouring Jaeger down revellers throats. Mostly, I appreciate this photo as the cover picture of what amounts to a listing of the most luxurious properties in South East Melbourne.

The other item generating lots of news lately is Australia’s illustrious rise to the top of all westernised nations in obesity, surpassing even the US. I’m trying not to fret that this shift comes in conjunction with my relocation but I hope I’m not the only figure tipping the scales. And in discussions with friends here they say that while Oz may have more fat people, the fat people in the US are REALLY REALLY fat, as evidenced by the fine Learning Channel shows rebroadcast over here, such as the ½ ton (aka tonne) man and “I lost 800 pounds”.

Aside from the news of the day, I’m still doing great. This week I’m getting a chance to live out my Matt Lauer fantasy, as Adi has a casual, one week only job that has him leaving the house around 3AM. In case any of you were wondering, being with the Today show host ain’t all it’s cracked up to be! And I”m not even getting a trip to Bejing out of this.

Work continues to go well. I got accepted to present at a conference in September, so I’ll be blogging from Brisbane then (something to look forward to!)

The biggest work news is that I had a meeting with the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences the other day. When first invited, I imagined having tea and scones and sharing stories about life on both sides of the pond. Alas, about 19 other people were also invited to the lunch so my glory days will have to wait. Nevertheless, it was an interesting meeting of all the University minds that deal with simulation in health care. There were representatives from the various schools of the faculty, like nursing, paramedics, physios as well as medicine and folks from many of the clinical hospital sites. Most of these people are more interested in what they call “high-fidelity simulation methods” which translates loosely to “toys”...the super expensive computer-assisted mannequins that respond to oxygen and the like for doing run-throughs of clinical skills.

I felt a bit like the youngest kid in the neighbourhood, scampering alongside the “big kids”. As they talked about playing baseball and having parties at the new local playground, I kept piping up “And i can fly my kite. And i can fly my kite!” I’m not sure the Dean cares very much about my kite, but it was still cool to have a presence at the table.

The days are slowly getting longer but I can’t really notice it yet. This has been one of the coldest weeks since I’ve been here, but made miserable more by rain and wind than by actual cold.

That’s the latest on life down under. A resounding MAZEL TOV to my friends Cassie and Joe on the birth of their beautiful daughter Josie!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Some Sundays

Over the last 2 weekends I've gotten in touch with both my "sporto" (if you will) and my artistic sides.

Two weeks ago, I woke early to a day of wind and rain- typical Melbourne winter weather, they say, though we've not seen much of it so far (happily). Nevertheless, I forced myself to leave the house...mostly because I'd boated of my plans to friends the night before, and huddled in my rain jacket, hat and gloves, wandered down to the train station. I felt a little better when I saw others dressed like me out on a chilly Sunday morning, running shoes tied in double knots. I figured these folks were, like me, going to run the Melba-Melbourne...okay, it isn't called that but that's what I named it.

This race-- or actually, collection of races- was renamed this year and isn't quite a Melbourne institution. But my fears that I'd be the lone runner foolish enough to get up in the cold were unfounded and I arrived at the start with many companions.

The race offered a choice of a half-marathon (no thanks!) a 10K run, a 7K walk or a 5K run or walk. I'd been vacillating between the 5 and 10 K but the miserable weather and my lack of any specific training created a game-day decision to do the shorter distance. Especially since the 10 k was merely two laps of the 5K course, I wasn't motivated by the chance to see new sights.

The 5K course did offer a chance to run past some downtown Melbourne landmarks, through the big park- or technically group of parks- that are a highlight of the CBD. I ran alongside the Yarra river for a bit and finished with a run past the downtown Ferris wheel. While I didn't bring home the purse, I wasn't the slowest by far, a fear I often have when running in public.

Then, this weekend, I went back even further than my illustrious running history to remember my youth as a dancer. Helen (whose husband (and Adi's cousin) David is in Israel) and I had a girls' afternoon. We went to the National Theatre to see the national Ballet School's end of term recital. The school not only has a conservatory program much like NYCB but also offers decidedly less-competitive classes, a fact I was unaware of when we bought our tickets.

We were treated to four pieces. The first, Musee D'orsay in Paris recreated a collection of scenes of the great paintings housed in that museum. From the youngest kids basically standing onstage tugging at their leotards to the full-time diploma students re-enacting Renoir, it was a fun show and I really enjoyed seeing the paintings come to life. The next two pieces were for the advanced and diploma students only. Don Quixote lost a bit in a truncated form and the second piece, a modernist interpretive piece, said it all with its title "Pretense, Past, Present, Future." Pretentious it was and while some moments were enjoyable I'm basically a plebe because my favorite was the finale. This was again performed by the school in it's entirety, or at least the jazz and tap classes. The theme was songs of the 70's and it was staged as a 70's disco with great costumes and again, adorable children, this time tapping their little hearts out.

The long afternoon- almost 3 hours of dance- was fun and we left the theatre ready to disco. Instead, we decided to do our part by making up for the meals that the diploma students are CLEARLY skipping.

Since we hadn't eaten lunch, our dinner was well-deserved. We went to a St. Kilda institution (its even in my Lonely Planet!) which I've been wanting to check out since my arrival. Lentil as Anything not only offers organic, vegetarian food, it does so with a "pay what you feel" philosophy. Not sure if Radiohead brainstormed their latest record release plan whilst dining here, but the pumpkin curry and Japanese style onion tofu were so good we shared another curry! We put our $$- a fair price, we thought- into the yellow box on the counter and left, full of culture and good food.

I'm really feeling like I'm a Melbourner at this point and my permanent residency shows that Melbourne likes me too. In fact, my medicare card came in the mail today so health care is mine for the taking!

The photos show off my my post-run look, though you can't quite see the mud dripping off of me or feel how my hat is soaked through! You can also see my new documents...but don't try to forget them or I might get in trouble! Finally, you can see that Aussie cockroaches are just as disgusting here as in the northern hemisphere...ah the joys of city living!

As always, I look forward to your comments!!!