Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Pub Quiz

Another way I have occupied myself after work is by going to pub quiz with one of my co-workers. They have this at several bars in the Sydney area; I usually attend at the Scary Canary on Tuesday nights. O likes it when I go because I can almost singlehandedly complete the music round. On occasion I have even corrected the MC.

This week we won for the third time - the music round was "glam rock" which I initially thought I would tank. It turned out to be hair bands from the '80s. I can do this deaf in one ear. Everyone was flabbergasted that I knew titles such as Unskinny Bop and that Wanted Dead or Alive was on Bon Jovi's "Slippery When Wet" album. Americans are useful for some things. Enjoy the $50 bar tab, mates!

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Final Countdown

My folks left tonight. So it's just me in the apartment for one more week, and then I too am setting sail (wings?) for home. I will miss being coddled. Almost strangled my father with his cell phone charger cord last night for plugging it into my brand-spanking-new all-in-one international adapter and burning it out. (He forgot to check if the charger was dual current; it wasn't.)

My parents really packed it in this week - Tuesday they went to see the Blue Mountains, and Wednesday they did a brutal all-day tour to Canberra. Why my father wanted to see Canberra I still don't know; he still pronounces it can-BEAR-ah (Note to folks at home - the correct Ozzie pronunciation is CAN-bra). Needless to say, they are wiped out.

I will be home in eight days. This has gone really fast.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Texas Hold 'Em Aussie Style

Every Wednesday my mates and I from work head over to the New South Wales Leagues Club for Poker Night. It used to be free, but this week I had to pay a AU$10 buy-in. It's good fun - we get AU$8 steaks for dinner, have cheap drinks, and take the piss out of each other when we go out. Usually I make it past the break, but today I was first out. At least I won a gift certificate to eat here next week. I believe I am currently tied for 15356 place. At this point I have no desire to succeed because the prize is entry into the big tournament in November, by which point I will be home.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

How To Eat a Tim Tam

Tim Tams are quite possibly the world's perfect food. They are the best Australian cookies ever, and are responsible for at least half of the five pounds I've gained here. I bought a heap of them at Woolworths this weekend since they were on sale, in all different flavors. So far my favorite is the Classic Dark, but I haven't tried them all. Some I will share with co-workers, and some I will bring home for lucky friends.
The cool thing about Tim Tams is that you can not only eat them, but also use them as a straw, which is quite yummy with hot drinks. As you drink with them, the insides melt and get all gooey and melted. All you have to do is bite off both ends (length-wise), stick in the mug, and suck. Easy eh?

My folks and I had a busy weekend. Saturday we did some shopping - I bought a black opal - and went to the Taronga Zoo. It was very enjoyable, except for the fact that they have a no-patting policy (that sounds so pervy). This means that you can't touch the animals, which I was looking forward to. My parents went to the Featherdale Animal Park and patted koalas, kangaroos, wombats, you name it. We did get our picture taken with a very unagreeable koala - she kept looking away when the photographer was taking our pictures. The Tasmanian devils were awesome, they are these short, stocky little runts that kept running around in circles. Most of the other animals were pretty sluggish. Afterwards I took my parents for Chinese food at Marigold Citimark. It was OK, pretty much what we could get back home.

Sunday we made a trip up to Hunter Valley for wine tasting. This region is probably the closest winegrowing area to Sydney, about two and a half hours north. We stopped at Mount Pleasant for lunch and wine pairing, where luckily they stock the Botrytis Semillon for which J and I have been searching far and wide (they are part of the McWilliams group). I am bringing home a case of it, not taking my chances with trying to find it again; it is cheap enough that I can do that without breaking a sweat at the cash register. The other winery we visited was McGuigans. I was warned ahead of time that it is a bit corporate, and the tasting was pretty no-frills, get-to-the-point. The wine was better than I expected though. The newly-released Private Reserve Port was to die for, probably the best I've ever tasted.

Friday, August 18, 2006

How to Speak Australian 3 / How to Eat Australian

arvo = afternoon
tick and bash = check off
sweet as / good on you = nice!
brekkie = breakfast
ta = thanks
yum cha = dim sum
my oath = I swear
fair dinkum = real-deal or true blue (although this is a more hokey stereotypical phrase that no one really uses)

People also say I reckon here, which transports me to the American South for a split second.

An important part of being in Oz is eating the local fare. Still have not eaten kangaroo or crocodile meat, but I have been told that roo is often fed to pets. Meat pies are great; a local fave in Sydney is Harry's Cafe de Wheels. The best option is the Tiger, which is a pie with mashed potatoes, mushy peas, and gravy on top. It is not the neatest thing to eat, particularly sitting on a block beside the wharf. Of course, my dad being contrary, ordered the Hot Dog de Wheels and proceeded to drop the frank on the birdshit-covered ground. I almost retched when he picked it up (after much swearing), sanitized it, and kept eating.

There is some great fish, including varieties such as barramundi and jewfish, but good shellfish such as mud crab and lobster are over double the price of what you would pay in the US. Took my parents to Aqua on Monday night, which overlooks the North Sydney Olympic Pool (not the 2000 one) as well as the harbor; this pricey but quality resto mostly has fish on the menu. Chinese restaurants are the cheapest place to eat them - Mum and I had mud crab with ginger and shallots at Red Chili in Chinatown, along with their famous chicken with chilis.

As mentionedd previously, I have been generally not impressed with the sushi here. Sydney has some great Chinese restaurants, although apparently Melbourne claims best yum cha. I recommend going with friends for yum cha - I went to Zilver by myself, and ended up stuck behind a supporting beam so it was hard to flag down the dim sum carts. Plus it's hard to order a lot of things for one person since the portions end up being larger than what one would eat sharing with others. There are also wonderful Malaysian (took J to Malaya to celebrate his new gig), Thai (Thainatown and Sailors Thai are both fab), and Spanish joints.

My faves so far (in no particular order):

  • Harry's Cafe de Wheels - cheap eats, esp after partying in Kings Cross
  • Thainatown - good, cheap Thai
  • Fish Face - great seafood
  • Pasteur - not much to look at and surly service but great cheap Vietnamese, esp the pho
Last, but definitely not least, is the wine. Australia only exports 20% of its wine, and most of it is not too expensive at the local bottle shop. However, that could change, since grape crops have been very good and there is a saturation of the market. Unlike NYC, it is very common to BYO bottles of wine to a restaurant for a small fee. A few varieties are grown here which I've never heard of, such as semillon. While here I've drank exclusively Aussie and New Zealand wines. Unfortunately I cannot bring much home to share with friends - grrrrrrrr.... Will try to look into where to buy the better ones and write back later.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Another Observation

The Australian "dialect" is quite interesting. Aussies sound a lot like Southies and other New England types, particularly with the elimination of r's. I get made fun of for pronouncing them. There is an interesting economy of speech; often syllabes are skipped - e.g., Canberra = CAN-bra. Nicknames are shortened to either -azzer or -o, such as Gazzer for Gary or Johnno for John or doco for document. One that I particularly find icky, for lack of a better adjective to describe how it makes me feel to read it in work emails, is spreadie (for spreadsheet). That word just gives me the heeby-jeebies, but I can't really explain why.

Contrary to what Americans see on TV or in Crocodile Dundee, g'day is said g'day, NOT g'die.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Home Stretch

The City 2 Surf is one of Sydney's big road races, spanning 14km from Hyde Park to Bondi Beach. It is Sydney's unofficial start of spring, kinda like how Memorial Day kicks off summer for Americans. It's not taken too seriously - I saw several people running in full body paint or in costume, and I walked/jogged along the side without entering. It took me 2 hours and 21 minutes to jog/walk the 14km, stopping for water, Gatorade and photos along the way. It was a nice way to see other parts of Sydney.

I am damn sore two days later, mainly in my quads. Now I am also sleeping on the couch because my parents are here now. I have company again!

Friday, August 11, 2006

F*ck Terrorists

This latest foiled terror plot could not have come at a worse time. My parents left today and will probably hit major delays on the way here. My mom is not checking bags and cannot bring me some items which I had requested. Plus, it is highly doubtful that I can bring home enough Aussie wine to have a proper tasting party at my apartment now.

I love Arabs and Muslims, heck I love everybody. But I have no love for extremist jihadi terrorists. As if it's not enough that I will be flying home long-haul in less than a month, now I have to change my packing routine so that I am not carrying any liquids on board.

It's been lonely without any houseguests, so at least I will have some company soon.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Bad Hair Decade

I've noticed several dudes around Sydney with bad hair. When I picked up Jason at the hairport I counted five mullets, two or three spiky "things", and two rattails in the arrivals area, mostly on Asian or Arab guys. Because I did not want to get my ass kicked, I resisted the temptation to photograph the offenders. On Oxford Street I spotted a lullet in its natural habitat. I've also seen some western-suburb folks sporting variations on the mullet theme, with the sides shaved, spiky tips highlighted, or other general mulletness going on. Some folks at work claim that this is an "American" thing. Then when they showed me their joke History of Mullets slide show, I noted that all the pictures of "Americans" are from 20 years ago. Yecch.

Note to any Ozzies with mullets or those contemplating the haircut: Mullets went out of style in the 80's for a reason. Americans make fun of mullets. They inspire every stereotype and caricature of ugly-Americanism and redneck-dom you can think of. Even Johnny Damon got rid of his shaggy quasi-mullet (thank you George Steinbrenner). To resurrect another relic from the Go-go 80's - JUST SAY NO!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Blue Mountains

J and I took a trip up to the Blue Mountains. Initially we wanted to go to the Jenolan Caves, but it seemed that the tour would be too much travelling for the amount we would get to do. (I wish J could have stayed longer, but he has a new job to start.)

As it turned out, we should have booked a tour to the Caves. The trains up to the Blue Mountains were not running over the weekend due to track work, so we had to take a bus. This added about an hour onto our transit each way, and the ride was so herky-jerky that I got really nauseous. (I have been plagued with motion sickness since childhood, and it's really bad on car rides that lurch a lot with not much fresh air.) The screaming rugrats didn't help. In addition to the sucky ride up there, it started to rain. It stopped while we did an easy 3km hike around Echo Point, and then started after dinner when we had to catch the return bus.

J left this morning. I miss him already :(...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Hey Big Spender

To celebrate on J's last night in town, we went to the most critically acclaimed restaurant in Sydney - Tetsuya's. For AU$180, we were treated to 10 courses of small plates, 5 fish, 2 meat, and 3 dessert. Jason and I also opted for the oyster course and the wine pairing for an extra hundred. It was worth it. The Riesling and the dessert wine were like nectar of the gods, and the other wines were not drainworthy at all. I loved their signature trout and the Tetsuya interpretation of the strawberry shortcake. Everything was fab and polished off, yet I did not feel ready to explode at the end. The lack of music is a little eerie, but overall it was a definite fun experience.

Jason and I both enjoyed East Ocean the other night, but J got freaked out by the hanging animal carcasses and the live fish being hauled in plastic bags to an imminent death. We missed yum cha (Australian for dim sum), but the regular menu was quite good.

We all agree that, for better or for worse, Sydney is really not so foreign when compared with the US. The two J's best described it as being like "California, but with nicer, more genuine people." (My Cali friends excluded from the description, of course :) )