Monday, March 26, 2012

The Wonderful Animals of Oz

There’s a lot of animals right around our place, which I guess isn’t surprising. To most locals they’re probably no more exotic than I’d find a crow or a raccoon, but it’s still pretty cool given that I’m not a local, so they’re all new to me. Let’s start with things I have actually seen in my backyard:


Mockingbirds are all over the place. Having just read The Hunger Games while here, it’s pretty cool to have these around since they’re the template for the mockingjays that feature heavily in the book. As a short sideline, The Hunger Games is fantastic, please read it before you see the movie if you can. And if you can’t then read it after. It’s an incredible piece of writing, although if you actually think it clocks in as a “Young Adult” novel after reading it you might as well break out Grimm’s fairy tales for your 5-year old. The movie leaves some of the grisly out, for sure.

And then someone pointed out that these are actually Magpies not Mockingbirds and totally ruined for me.


Our tree filled up with Rainbow Lorikeets and they were swooping and singing all over the place. The written medium may not be the best place to convey the moment but I’ll try anyway.

Cawoot! Woot! Woot! Tweee… tweee… tweeeoo! Tweeeoo!


Cawootwee! Cawootee! Tweetweetweeoot! Cwa! Cwa!


I think you get the point.


This is a mosquito that I crushed. Eff you mosquito.


Geckos are awesome because they:
a) Eat bugs that annoy me, and
b) Move faster than I thought anything was capable of. 100% fast-twitch fibers these guys.


Yes, that is a whole tree full of bats. Flying Foxes to be exact, and they all have bodies about the length of my forearm. These suckers are so big that they actually glide. I didn’t know bats could glide.


These guys have only showed up in our backyard once, but they were pretty cool. Some kind of woodpecker? No, it's an honest-to-god Kookaburra! Did you know these things eat meat? I thought they just chewed gum or something like that. Regardless, they clearly have a sense of style. Judging from the thickness of their necks they need to spend a little less time in the gym though. C’mon guys, maybe take a spin on the elliptical next time?


This is our neighbour’s cat. Although we haven’t seen our neighbour in a long time, and he lives on our porch, and he tries to come in, and he meows at us when he’s hungry. So maybe he’s our cat now. I call him Cat, although we’ve since learned his name is Natasha. So I’m mulling over the idea of referring to him as her now. Anyways, we’ve only fed him once when we had some extra prawns, but I’m hesitant to let him get too attached since the possum controls him with its mind at night. Seriously, I’m not joking:

It’s fucking creepy.


Speaking of creepy, we have a wormhole to another dimension in our bathroom window:

Actually, it’s just this crazy spider who started to build a web in our bathroom window (which doesn’t close, but that’s another story). At first I didn’t know what he was doing, it looked like there was no rhyme or reason to the web and I’ll admit, I thought that maybe he wasn’t as far along the evolutionary chain as the spiders back home. But who cares, if he protected me from mosquitos I’m on board. Then after a while I realized that not only was his web not random, it was freaking complex:

He’s built a damn tunnel to funnel bugs into our home so that he can catch them en route!

Hmm… funnel web. Where have I heard that before? I should look it up. I’ll try “funnel web spider” and see what comes up:

#4 Deadliest Spider in the World - Funnel Web Spider
Funnel-Web spiders are found in Australia close to Sydney. The bites from these spiders are dangerous and can cause a number of frightening symptoms in as little as 10 or 15 minutes. Of greatest concern are symptoms such as difficulty breathing and coma. Lesser symptoms include chills, fever, vomiting, numbness of mouth and lips and drooping eyelids. If bitten by this spider, seek an antivenom.

Hmm… the 4th deadliest spider in the world? Well that’s grossly inconvenient. Sure, I enjoy not having a mosquito problem but isn’t that like preventing mosquitoes by throwing some DDT in my drinking water? I figured I should take a picture of him up close so I could verify the identity:

Well THAT didn’t calm my nerves. Fortunately for us, when we sent a picture of the guy’s nest to the natural history museum (who is amenable to this kind of thing) they said that he’s actually a black house spider, which isn’t dangerous. They also eat red back spiders which ARE dangerous. So that’s good. In fact, the only problem we've encountered is that he laid an egg and we spent half an hour the other day squishing dozens of baby spiders all over our bathroom ceiling. I don’t think I’m very good at guessing animal genders.


Speaking of spiders, some of the ones kicking around here look extremely badass. Probably the most badass one of the lot is this crazy web-spinner guy who does the job of orb spiders back home:

If they made tiny Harley’s this guy would drive one. And their webs aren’t small either, they’re about 2 feet tall and 3-dimensional with all sorts of different planes to catch bugs. This guy knows his shit.

Crazily enough, everything I've shown up to now we’ve seen in our backyard. Maybe the bats weren’t hanging there, but they’ve definitely done a flyby. So here’s some things that we saw elsewhere.

This weird curved-bill guy is an Ibis, but I call them “banana storks” which I think we can all agree is a better name. You only see them along the shoreline or on the part of the grass at the university that students aren’t supposed to walk on, so I assume they have PhD’s or something. Which would make them Dr. Banana (yes, I know it should actually make them “Dr. Stork” but work with me here).


I don’t know what this is called, might be a Noisy Miner? That's not a joke by the way. We saw it in the Blue Mountains, it dive-bombed Erika, and she freaked out a little. Then I laughed and she hit me so I filed a spousal abuse report. It’s the only protection I have.


Let me tell you, did this guy ever catch us by surprise. In retrospect I can't believe Erika even got a picture off. We were just walking along the shore and BOOM, he tries to take Erika’s leg off. Obviously I pushed her out of the way but he got her purse (probably because it was leather) so I had to dive in after him. I’ve seen Crocodile Hunter enough times that I figured I could handle it. Still, it’s harder than you think. If you don’t grab the snout juuuust right you can get a finger caught in there. Which sucks I might add. If I had to do it again I think I’d do a much better job, mostly because I don’t have that finger to get caught.


This is a Purple Swamphen and if you didn’t believe that birds descended from the dinosaurs you’ve never seen one of these guys walk. It looked like a friggen velociraptor. And c’mon… doesn’t that thing look like a dino with feathers?


Really cool and REALLY flat bug.

Yep, so those are the animals we’ve seen so far, or a reasonable chunk of them anyway. There’s also lots of ants, but you’ve seen ants for crying out loud. If you want to know what they look like just do this: Close your eyes… now picture an ant. That’s what they look like. Oh yeah, and Erika saw a spider the size of a dinner plate.

See you next week!

I say “see you next week” because we still don’t have internet. They say it takes 10-20 business days. Yes, a month to get internet. Tomorrow is Day 20, and they also say that billing begins when service starts, or at 20 days. Whichever comes first. So if they think I’m going to pay a dime for internet that I haven’t gotten that I waited a month for they can kiss my rosy red behind. Which means that I’ll probably have to cancel my order, swich companies, and wait again. It’s FANTASTIC! And this is why I only get internet on the one day a week that I walk down to the pub and check it. I like Sydney, I really do. But the companies here couldn’t give a popcorn fart about customer service. I think every call center has a poster on the wall that says “Always remember: The customer can go fuck themselves.”


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sweet Merciful Crap!

Did I ever tell you about the time I dropped my asshole off a cliff? More on that later.

Last weekend Erika and I went to the Blue Mountains so Erika could catch fish for her research as well as doing some sightseeing. This is what we knew about the Blue Mountains before we left:

1) They are blue in some manner
2) They are a mountain of some sort

We’d also been told that they were an awesome must-see but we really didn’t know why. It had also been noted that when they say “Blue Mountains” what they actually mean is “Blue Hills” by Canadian standards, so in general we expected to be underwhelmed by the scale of things. With that in mind, off we went.

It was wet, and apparently far wetter than it normally is, which is to say that it was Vancouver wet. The morning we left it was actually raining so hard in Sydney that we didn’t bother leaving for several hours, so I guess the fact that it was wet in the Blue Mountains hardly qualifies as surprising.

We stayed in a place called Wentworth Falls at a little hotel above an Irish Pub. On St. Patrick’s Day nonetheless, which was cool.

*SIDE NOTE: It was so busy that we ended up waiting an hour and a half for dinner. Actually, it wasn’t – our order never got put in by the bartender. So when I told the server we’d been waiting an hour and a half for dinner she gave me this “Why the hell didn’t you say anything?” look, to which I responded with a “Lady, I’m Canadian. I didn’t want to bother you” shoulder shrug*

We figured that since we were in Wentworth Falls and had a few hours to kill before dinner we should at least go to check out these alleged falls, and conveniently there was a trail that led from right next to our hotel down to the falls.

Let me tell you about hiking the Darwin trail in the rain:

1) No spiderwebs across the trail.
2) Did not get bitten by snakes.

1) Got soaking wet despite my craptastic gore-tex jacket that can just go fuck itself already.
2) Had to take four lateral steps for every one forward to avoid the mud.
3) Was following Erika who is about a hundred pounds lighter than me, meaning she just skips over ground that I sink up to my ankles in.
4) Being at the bottom of a ravine with houses on either side the entire way, which is an oh-so magical experience.
5) Getting slapped in the face like a Japanese game show contestant every 8 steps by some spring-loaded Eucalyptus tree that is trying to violently moisturize my face.

To say my expectations were low when we finally got there after an hour and a half of hiking would be an understatement. And then we were rewarded with this:


Wait, let me put Erika into the shot so you have some perspective of scale:

Not exactly worth our effort. Dejected, we set off to return home. Along the way though, we saw a sign that said there was a scenic view ahead. Or we could walk to the carpark and call it a day. We figured meh, what the hell. Let’s check out the view.

And that’s when I dropped my asshole off a cliff:

Oh yeah, and those waterfalls? Apparently that was the Weeping Rock. This is Wentworth Falls:

So, yeah. Maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to jump to ornery conclusions.

By the way, you should check out the YouTube video I made, just follow this link. It does a WAY better job of expressing the scale of what we saw, although to be honest nothing can match the real thing. It was friggen amazing.

You know what else is awesome? Eating at IKEA. You can jam back a plate of meatballs and mashed potatoes for $6, and you can even get them to substitute extra lindenberry sauce instead of the disgusting gravy. And that’s not all… hot dogs are a dollar! A freaking dollar! If this place were in walking distance I’d probably jam back an average of 12 hot dogs per week. Not only would I save money but the nitrates would likely preserve me so well that I’d live past the century mark. Top it off with a 50 cent ice cream cone and you’re golden.

For the record, I’ve never eaten a plate of meatballs & mashed potatoes, a hot dog, and an ice cream cone in the same visit. And a piece of schnitzel. And bought a half kilo of chocolate for $5, which would be a great deal if that happened. It’s all lies and conjecture if Erika tells you otherwise.

More visitors, as Erika’s grad school friends Amelia and Daniel, with their kids Cailin (Kaylen? Caylen? K’aylin?) and Hannah! And these one’s don’t even live in Australia!

Visitor update #3: Amelia, Daniel, and family
#1: Sylvia
#2: Timmaaaay!
#3: Amelia, Daniel, and family

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mmmm… Zesty!

Despite my previous comments about the affordable nature of K-Mart, don’t make the mistake of thinking that impression can be extended out to Sydney at large. Sydney is hella expensive. For instance, our place is $380/week (they do everything per week here). That’s roughly $1680/month for a place that while nice, isn’t exactly the Shangri-La. Granted, we have a terrific view, but considering most of the places we saw were complete hovels for $350 I think it’s more a matter of us having gotten a great deal than anything else.

And it’s not just the housing. Pretty much everything here is more expensive than Vancouver and certainly more than Seattle. For the most part it’s not so bad though, once you commit to living frugally you can get by. Ground beef is $16/kg? We’ll eat sausage for $5 a pack. Coca-Cola is $3 for a bottle? I’ll have tea at home for 5 cents a bag. Cigarettes are $17/pack? Good thing I don’t smoke! Beer is $17 for a six pack? I guess we’ll just… wait, what?

BOTTLE GUY: That’ll be $17 dollars.

ME: Come again?

BOTTLE GUY: Aht’s $17 dollars therer mate.

ME: For a 6-pack of beer? Um, would it happen to be some kind of magical beer where the hops are watered exclusively with unicorn pee and harvested at midnight by pixies? I don’t need that kind of luxury, just give me the “water and migrant workers” beer, where does that get us?

BOTTLE GUY: Well, therer’s Unilever Lite. Tastes like it was filtered through a koaler if you ask me.

ME: How much is that?

BOTTLE GUY: $15.95.

ME: :o

BOTTLE GUY: It’s a little weak through, only 3% alcrohol.

ME: Well that’s just ridiculous, back home we use that for mix. What’s the unicorn stuff clock in at?


(bry the way, if you want to do an Australian accent yrou need to thrower in a lot of extra r’rs. Ir’m still wororking on irt. Of coorse, if yoo wahnt too doo ah Cahnaydiun ahccehnt yoo joost nehver yoose heyrd vowels, eh? Now brawk to ourer regularly schredruled bloggring)

You have no idea how weak the beer is here. In all fairness, for a mere $17.95 you can get a 6-pack of beer that’s 4.8% alcohol, but the majority of it is 3.5%. I told them that it wasn’t uncommon to see 5.5% at home and they looked at me like I was asking where they kept the rubbing alcohol. Clearly beer is not going to be part of the day-to-day rotation for Erika and I, and hard alcohol is right out of the question. The crappiest vodka you can find is $30 for 700mL (when you buy two at once) and you have to mix it with a dollar’s worth of 7-Up per drink. It’s even worse at a pub or restaurant - check this out:

Don’t expect a classic USA overpour either, they’ll measure that thing out like it’s a uranium shipment to North Korea.

Which understandably leaves us in a bit of a pickle. What are two forlorn globetrotters to do when accosted by high priced liquor on a small bankroll? Enter this bad-boy:


4.4 Litre box ‘o wine? Now you’re talking my language!

I would assume that at this point you, the reader, are wondering “What might a box of wine like this cost? Surely a classic dry red which is full of richness and body yet soft on the palate would be at least $50?” I concede your argument, but it is less than that.

“$35?” you say? Nay, lower still.

“$25?” Alas, you are still too high.

“Certainly it couldn’t be less than $20? Below that a merchant would feel too deep a sense of personal shame to sell such a product!”


For $12.95, you can get 4.4 Litres of wine. Here, I’ll save you the math on how many drinks that is, it’s printed right on the box:

Mmm, preservative 202,220... gluuahhhh...

Now let’s see… $12.95… divided by 42…

Well then, that’s $0.31 a glass! This means that beer is 864% more expensive than the delicious boxed wine I brought home one sunny Sunday afternoon. That said, I guess “delicious” is a subjective term. When we first had a glass Erika was unhesitant in her judgement:

ERIKA: “It’s awful.”

ME: “I don’t mind it.”

You see, Erika had forgotten the fundamental law of tastiness:


Once reminded of this fact, Erika quickly came around:

Yes, that’s her squeezing the last dregs of the wine bag like it’s the udder of the mystical beaux vine, patron animal of poor-assed drunkards. And is a whole lot more affordable than unicorn piss!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Where Humour Comes From

I think I’ve been relying on ranting too much as a source of humour for this blog and as a result have come across as a bit too negative about our experience down here, particularly given how many people are sending messages of a “don’t worry, it’ll get better!” nature. We’re actually having a really good time so far, and with our place all set up now we’ll be able to turn some of our downtime energies towards exploration and entertainment. It’s just that... well, most humour at its root is complaining. Think about it:

Seinfeld: “What’s the deal with…?”

Chris Rock: “You know what the problem is with…?”

Not to mention the gazillion sitcoms that revolve around insecurity, which is essentially complaining about yourself. In general, nice and happy just isn’t all that funny. You need some sort of oomph to push a good joke forward. Now granted this isn’t a universal rule, not all humour needs to be complaining. For instance: Australians want nothing more than to stop for you at the crosswalk. It doesn’t matter where, when, what time of day… they will slam that car to a halt for you in seconds, waving you across with smoke still streaming from their tires. The other day I walked up to the crosswalk and this guy was roaring down the street. He saw that he wasn’t going to be able to stop in time so in desperation he jammed on his brakes and jerked his car into a truck full of kittens. I think his last living act was to wave me across. True story.

That said, I generally do find that if you throw complaining into an otherwise boring anecdote you can really start mining some comedy. In the interest of proving my point I’ve taken the liberty of providing some examples:

Story #1:
Up the street from us there’s an avocado tree, which is awesome because I love avocados and if they’re growing on a tree I get them for free. Just one of the things I love about our place. (Great story right? Not really)

Now add the complaining:

Does anyone have any idea how to tell when an avocado is ready to be picked? I want to pick some of these avocadoes but I’m at a total loss: avocadoes are green when they start growing, green when they’re ready to be picked, green when they’re ripe to eat, and green when they’re past their prime. They spend their entire lives looking exactly the same. Not to mention there’s a 45 minute window where they transition from “Pre-Judge Dredd Stallone abs” to “Bat guano jammed inside shoe leather”; if you don’t grab them somewhere in that timeframe they’re pretty much inedible. Granted you could bludgeon a cow to death with the ones currently on the tree, so I’ve probably got a little waiting to do.

Story #2:
We live in a really pleasant neighborhood with a good mix of folk. It’s not uncommon to wander past a guy in a suit, then a girl with hair dyed pink, and then a young family taking a stroll.

Now my complaint:

Ok. I get it. Babies require a ton of stuff to keep them alive. It’s not the 1970’s and nobody carts their kid around in a stroller that folds up smaller than an umbrella anymore. But when you’re already marching around with your kid in a stroller the size of a pregnant rhino do you really need the extra coffee holder that juts an extra 6 inches off the side? I just want to get past you without doing the steeple chase through an adjacent cafĂ©!

Story #3:
The University here is really quite beautiful. It has a much more British flair to it than what we’re accustomed to in North America – very well-manicured lawns and majestic stone buildings. It’s kind of neat to see the cricket pitches all over the place as well. I’m sure Erika will enjoy working there.


Why on god’s green earth would you build a university like a fortress? Honestly, this place is impenetrable. Did Vikings range this far south? Were seaborne samurai a threat from the north? If you’re going to build a University shouldn’t the students be able to navigate it? To illustrate, here is the official campus map, which I assume was passed out to invading forces:

For starters, this map is ungodly hard to read. On top of that, once you go to the school it is also abundantly clear that the map is also totally inaccurate for purposes of navigating the campus. Seeing as how the school of cartography isn’t quite up to snuff, let’s help them get a more accurate representation of the university (click the images for a larger view):

Not only is it virtually impossible to even get into the school, once there you discover that every possible route across campus is cut off. There are no shortcuts, and I’m fairly certain that even if invaders did manage to broach the walls they could just retreat like Russians in winter. I’m surprised anyone even graduates.

So don’t fret folks, the moral of the story is that Sydney is great. We’re having a good time so far, and even though it’s been a torrential downpour the last couple of days it’s still warm enough to sit on the deck and watch it fall, and cools things down enough to sleep well at night. What’s to complain about? Well… there is the internet. Who gives an install window of 1-20 days for crying out loud!

Visitor update #2: Timmaaaay!
#1: Sylvia
#2: Timmaaaay!