Sunday, January 27, 2013

No Strings Attached

If there’s one group of people I don’t meet on the road, it’s Americans.

South African-turned-Aussie.
Here’s the list since I jumped the pond:

A bevy of Brazilian college students who took me into their home, cooked for me, made my birthday something special after knowing me less than two days.
One South African-turned-Australian conducting our Great Ocean Road tour.
Four English boys I shared a hostel room with.
A German-turned-Irish girl working in said hostel for her keep.
Two Scottish Gals, a German boy, a Swiss girl, and Chinese girl road-tripping.
A Dutch policewoman taking the night bus to Melbourne from Canberra, backpacking for her holiday.
A Korean girl backpacking to Apollo Bay.
Australian-Asian woman traveling to Hong Kong to visit her sister who watched the tennis with me at the airport.
Four Canadian girls who were mortally offended when I asked if they were Americans.
A German girl on working holiday here in Warkworth, just north of Auckland.

Spend the night for $10!

Why are Canadians appalled to be mistaken for their southern counterpart? Why are folks from every other continent besides ours, getting out and about? Why are their young people so much better traveled than ours? They have courage that Americans don’t have, practical knowledge and practiced wisdom honed by months of uncertainty and flexibility on the road.

Spend time in parks. Places that aren't America have amazing park life.
For instance this one, Federation Square, where hundreds of people
camped out for hours to watch Federer and Murray slug it out.
They travel alone; they travel as couples; they travel in groups. They study abroad; they hitch-hike, they do a working holiday[1]. They live between cultures, learning quickly to accept others’ oddities and the ambiguities of this and that (see what I did there?). They’re young, they’re brave, and they’re open with themselves and with others.

Where are we, America? Holed up in our lovely little U.S. of A. I admit—it’s a great place. I love it; it’s comfortable. I know well that comforting familiarity should never be undervalued, but is it worth the price we pay for becoming, somewhat arrogantly if unintentionally, isolationist?

Time to grow
I don’t mean to deify travelers. To some extent, you’re quite right, you who think we’re wasting time, avoiding careers, slumming it. One of the English boys I met—he was only eighteen—vows that he will always hate work. The German-turned-Irish girl had worked a number of dead-end jobs before her current one and didn’t have much motivation to go anywhere from there. Yes, some people are wandering—but they are very honestly doing so, while many people who wander (Americans, I’m looking at you) keep it buried in dead habits and empty goals.

As Bonheoffer wrote and as a friend of mine reminded me of recently, we ought to “Bravely take hold of the real, no dallying now with what might be. Not in the flight of ideas, but only in action is freedom. Make up your mind and come out into the tempest of living.”

Yay dumb pictures! I'm still not sure what is inevitable in this picture, but I hope it's not
talking about ageing or grey beards but more about the inevitability of me one day picking
Brad Pitt's nose. If wishes were fishes, amiright?

Brighton Beach!

 P.S. I fudged a little. I’ve also met two American girls—one of whom lives in Oz married to an Aussie and the other who works at a coffee stand in Auckland, NZ. But the point still stands—an overwhelming number of Americans utterly fail to travel with no strings attached.

[1] How many Americans actually know what this is?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Love Tennis

       a.       Ice-cold nerves of steel
       b.      Flowing brown locks
       c.       Artistic backhand
       d.      Committed marriage to a normal-looking woman

 These are the choices for the multiple choice question for the Australian Open 2013. The question is: which of these best answers the question “Which of the amiable characteristics of Roger Federer is responsible for making him an irresistibly sexy tennis beast?” (There’s an obvious answer that I’m sure the hard-core fans out there will recognize)

But even if the Australian Open didn’t have Roger Federer and Roger Federer didn’t have all those characteristics (as well as a serve with the coiled energy of a striking cobra and adorable tennis shorts and matching headbands), I still would have gone to the Australian Open when the universe conspired to put me in the same city as it for one of its two weeks of duration.

Last Monday—day 8 of the tournament, January 21st—with my cheap-o ground-pass in hand and plenty of sunscreen on my already peeling nose, I broke into the professional tennis world. Blue courts! Rolex-sponsored clocks! Eager-beaver ball-boys (and girls) in funny hats and impeccable shorts!

Sports are magical. Only those without an ounce of competitive drive, lacking a single bone of artistic appreciation, and completely dead to the thrill of this world of glory, skill, victory, and beauty don’t understand. For the rest of you, know that—even if tennis isn’t ‘your’ sport—it’s the stuff that’ll give you chills.

Except that it was really hot on Monday. My little ground-pass didn’t get me into the two big arenas—you pay hundreds for one match for those tickets—but it did give me unlimited access to everything else, including the three main doubles courts and all the warm-up courts. The first match I watched was a show match including three French guys and a Swiss guy, none of whom I’ve ever heard of.

That’s where the lack of awesome ended. Because it wasn’t a serious match, all four were relaxed and playing their best and showing off for the crowd’s enjoyment. They yelled at each other, addressed the crowd during rallies, and, during one game, allowed the ball boys to finish the point, while they went for a water break.

Entertainment ^^
The other doubles matches I watched—quarterfinals play—were furiously intense. The women’s match was vicious, with aggressive net play and killer serves. The men’s match was . . . intimidating. They’re so tall, their wingspan so wide, and their play so fast that it was violent. Most people, when they watch tennis, they see it on the t.v. and those matches, with the most famous players, are usually singles matches. I love me some Federer, some Nadal, some Sharapova (actually, I don’t; screaming is weird), but singles tennis, especially the TV version, feels clinical. When both players are slapping the ball back and forth—one occasionally centimeters over a line, another politely collapsing into the net—it’s easy to forget the speed at which they’re reacting and the ferocity with which every single shot is smashed and the beauty of their years of carefully honed talent:

The high arch of the service toss. The precise foot patterns, practiced into unconscious muscle memory. The wide sweep of a forehand ground stroke. The split-second angling of a racket-face for a body-shot volley. The efficient chop of a slice. Fifteen. Thirty. Forty. Love. Game. Set. Match.

What do I love about tennis?

       e.       all of the above.


Lydia, Camilla, Elaine, Martina and Martina (Hingis and Navitrilova)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

But Who Do You Say I Am?

As I sit here in Macdonalds (Macca’s, as the locals call it) watching skinny beautiful people in shorty shorts walk by, having just finished my batch of three Subway cookies dipped in my 30 cent ice cream cone, I have to wonder about the big questions in life. Perhaps The big question:

This should be a picture of the cookies and ice cream, but
I was way too busy eating them to take a picture. Here
instead is my peanut butter and nutella sandwich. Glory.
Was I created to be a dessert genius?

Or was it the nurturing education of my ingenious dessert-wise father that trained me in this mysterious and ancient way, the way of the Raspberry Cheesecake cookie dipped in sweet, sweet vanilla ice cream? Was it evolution-manipulated genetics that provided my metabolism that works at a high enough rate that I’m able to taste-test dozens of peanut butter/cookie combos in one sitting? Or is it the hand of God that designed it so in conjunction with my work ethic that gives me the strength to walk from pantry to freezer to couch and occasionally drive out to Dairy Queen?

I am indeed fearfully and wonderfully made.

I’m also in Canberra! (or I was, at the now somewhat dated time of writing this). In Canberra where the buses are infrequent, the flies are copious, the winds are nefarious, and the Subway workers are cute boys so susceptible to my charms they’re liable to give me cookies for free.[1] My troubles here began when the city bus terminal did not, as the website said, have lockers for large backpacks. They continued when the 3:45 bus blew right past my stop, leaving me waiting an hour for the next, effectively decreasing my chances of making it to the war memorial before closing to about 0.

Travel is a reflective crucible.

Maybe I'm wrong, but if I'm right and this is a sculpture of
nuzzling kangaroos, it gives me warm fuzzies.
Try it sometime, if you want to find out what you were created to be. Go traveling—and figure out what brings you joy in the midst of stress, because I’m pretty sure that is how you figure it out (the whole adolescent “who am I” thing anyway). Travel is, somehow, both sides of the coin: stressful and joyful. It heats you up, exposing all your little cracks—for me, workaholism, discomfort with spending money, hubris of map-reading abilities, a paradoxically tendency toward relational loner-ism[2]—and forces you to deal with them.

Or perhaps that’s only my introspective bent forcing me to find meaning in all the mishaps of the world. I have been reading David Keiersey’s book that picks apart the Meyers-Brigg personality test and if that doesn’t make you think about the whole “Who am I[3]” thing I don’t know what will. Though brevity is rarely my strong suit, I have a simple answer for that eternal question—simple enough to sum up a blog post. Simple enough, even, to fit into a shortened haiku, of the 3-7-3 variety:

Who am I?
I am a dessert genius.
Yum. Yum. Yum.

[1] Er, actually it might have had more to do with him having to get rid of them before the end of the day. It’s all in your perspective!
[2] I wish there were a footnote explaining this too. Made you look!
[3] 2-4-6-0-oooooooooooooone!

Friday, January 18, 2013

4 Rules for Framing a Photo when Someone Hands you their Camera

Rule No. 1: Don't give your primary subject a hat using the secondary subject.
Photo taken by a lovely man with a super-cute hound dog named Wolfgang.

  Rule No. 1b: Don't allow your primary subject to obstruct the view of the secondary subject.
There's  really cool bit of coast directly behind my buttocks. I promise.
Rule No. 1c: Don't forget to include the secondary subject, perhaps by zooming out. . .
I know it doesn't look like it, but there was lots of water and a beautiful panorama somewhere behind me.
...or perhaps by using a horizontal frame, even when the person is standing up.

Rule No. 2: If you don't understand how to frame the joke/perspective shot, say something.
Please. Say something, but don't take this picture. Thanks, Walter.
Rule No. 2b: For the love of all that's holy. Say. Something.
This was supposed to be an Atlas holding up the world reference. Fail? You be the judge.
 Rule No. 3: You don't have to take both a horizontal and vertical shot of every subject. 

Okay, okay, secondary subject only slightly obscured, extra background, but overall not bad . . .
Perhaps the obligatory vertical and horizontal shot is a remnant of a bygone era. This
photo and its massive amount of sky complements of a friendly older lady.
This is my favorite unnecessarily vertical shot. But I want to give kudos to the
elderly woman who took it, particularly because she thought I was committing suicide
mid-shot and still kept her composure and minimized the ground like I asked. Good on you, milady.
 Rule No. 4: If you don't know what you're doing with a DSLR camera, don't use it. It's a red-herring for the rest of us looking for competent photo takers.
Me: Hey can you take a picture for me?
Dude with DSLR: Sure.
Me: It's a large aperture setting, so if you could just focus on me. . .
Dude: . . . I guess. Maybe . . .*shrug*
*takes 2 photos*
Dude: Don't worry. I took two, one with the focus on you and one with the focus on the background.
Me: . . . thanks.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dragon Siting in Sydney

 I saw a water dragon.

Never heard of them, have you? Or if you did it’s only because you saw one on the cover of some book that kid with the bad haircut in your geometry class was always carrying around. You’d never read stuff like that, so you wouldn’t know what a water dragon looks like.

But I do—I’ve seen one.

The Lair
Actually, I only saw part of it, really, today when I found its lair. It’s called The Kiama Blowhole, which is such a terrible name for anything remotely touristy it should have given the dragon away, right? But no one else seemed to realize it was the home of one of the largest of all the dragons in the southern hemisphere!

The famous Snorting Water Dragon of Australia!
Known for both its stealth and beauty, the water dragon is electric blue, has exactly seventeen ridges on its back and nine spikes on its tail. It can breathe underwater and, according to legend, if it swallows enough water it can sustain a non-breathing life above the water for upwards of eleven months. It has been decades since the last siting of this endangered and dangerous species—when in 1944 a Japanese kamikaze submarine gunner washed up on the coast of Malaysia claiming to have been saved from the sea by a sinewy bold of electricity. Purportedly, the Malaysians, convinced he’d been a little too into the sake, never saw the tail of the great beast waving goodbye.

But I have—I’ve seen it. Or part of one, anyway.
Actually, I didn’t s much see it as hear it. It was rolling around in its lair as it slept, half-submerged in its water-cave. He snorted water into the air, through the hole in the top of his cave, booming as he breathed in the surf. But how could it have been anything else?

Oh I suppose you could believe that the tide comes into this volcanic rock formation where, due to the pressure of the water and the odd shape of the grotto it splashes into, the waves spring up a little higher than normal, misting into the air and spraying the rocks with the sea. You could believe that. Your choice, really.

(wow my blogging has been terrible recently, hasn’t it? In my defense, I’ve been furiously planning my next couple of steps. They are now mapped out and hopefully I’ll have time to write less random, more substantial updates. Hang with me!)

These two lovebirds claimed they couldn't see the dragon, but they'd fed me kangaroo rump,banana cake, cheesecake, muesli, and given me my first taste of fish'n chips. Also, driven me around for the last week, washed my clothes, and let me read their theology books.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Great Ocean Road: Day 2

Another bright and early start on day 2 led us to Mait’s Rest Rainforest wherein reside carnivorous black slugs and 300-year-old trees. Our drive took us away from the coast and into the rolling hills just a few kilometers parallel.

Walter’s driving is a thing of beauty. Thousands of repetitions have given him the ability to pull even the sharpest curves smoothly and at top velocity. Our little mini-bus hugged curves, passed station wagons, practically flying through the Otway Forest and back to the coast by mid-morning.

Where the Twelve Apostles waited:

"Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb? When I made the clouds its garment; when I
wrapped it in thick darkness; when I fixed limits for it; when I set its doors and bars in place; when I said, "This far you
may come and NO FARTHER. Here is where your proud waves halt."

Above is not actually an apostle, but the Salt and Pepper Shakers.
Actually, there are only eight left standing—or seven, or nine, depending on who you ask. And the name “The Apostles,” created by the Australian government in 1922 when it decided sailors’ name “Sow and Piglets” didn’t have the right feel, carries very little actual significance. Coincidentally enough, though, they are falling one by one as the waves slowly wear cracks into them until they collapse into the sea. But by that same order, the waves will continue to create new apostles. Surely there’s a Biblical metaphor in there somewhere.

Don't remember this formation's name. Perhaps "Wall"?
Loch and Gorge is host to a shipwreck and the cave that hosted the only two survivors of said shipwreck—Tom and Eva. The cave, to which I didn’t bring my camera for fear of getting it wet, would have made my 12th grade English teacher proud, as it perfectly demonstrated what Plato’s Cave was supposed to describe. Plus there were cool shells!

The remaining stops were similarly beautiful, but I have no stories to tell about them. Pictures, I think, will suffice.

Rebecca and Luciane - my two mates on tour . . . who happened to be Brazilian

Upon this rock I will build my church?

London Bridge's first arch fell down, creating only one little island arch instead of the previous two. Apparently when the other arch fell a few years ago, a couple had been parked on what is now an island. They had to be rescued off the
suddenly-created island by helicopter. At first thought to simply be camera-shy, it transpired that the couple was
conducting an affair and the publicity of their "accident" outed them. Justice?

Shipwreck coast (wonder why).

The Great Ocean Road: Day 1

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.”
-Rabindranath Tagore

Good for the butterflies. As for me, “time enough” is a concept more foreign to me than physics. Where is “time enough?”

Time enough to write this blog post before I do something else blogpost worthy.
Time enough to plan the next blogworthy event.
Time enough to learn Portuguese and Korean and Japanese and how to be a Writer.
Time enough to read All the Books.

Torquay surfer
Perhaps I’m missing the point of the quotation. All that to say, here’s the sparknotes version of the GREAT OCEAN ROAD (I capitalize because, truly, it’s great and truly, I’m a little obnoxious in my heart of hearts):

I took a two-day tour with Around and About Tours, run by Walter Edgar (who I didn’t ask if it bothered him that he’d been cheated out of a last name by having two firsts). Day one started with Torquay (pronounced tor-key), the surf capital of Victoria. Despite unseasonably cold wind and weather, tons of people were out surfing. Also, swimming. Apparently when we Americans say “go jump in a lake” the Aussies take it above and beyond by jumping in the ocean—and then swimming across it. While I sat looking over the bay around Point Danger (I’m not making that name up, by the way), three guys swam halfway across the bay in less time than it took for me to wrap my mind around how big the waves were.

Airey's Inlet
We saw kangaroos at Bell’s Beach and on a golf course in stop three, Anglesea. After that was Airey’s Inlet and the Splitpoint Lighthouse. Near Fairhaven Beach—at which I talked to a couple of friendly local fishermen—the Memorial Arch straddled the Great Ocean Road. The arch commemorates the Australian WWI servicemen who made it home from the Great War and were given one of the only jobs available to them: crafting an enormous highway on the side of a mountain with little more than pickaxes, shovels, and dynamite. The road is, technically, the world’s longest war memorial.

Fairhaven Beach
Lunch at Lorne where I watched surfers be awesome. A lot of places we went, surfing appeared to be simply the art of tipping over. Not at Lorne—a group of five or six people rode wave after wave, pulling 360s and walking back and forth on their boards. I—novice surf-watcher that I am—was suitably impressed.

From Lorne to Apollo Bay was some of the most amazing driving. Walter, our tour guide, was a pro driver, taking the curves fast and controlled—and I got to sit shotgun for the entire ride, enjoying view after view.

The Great Ocean Road
We stopped and saw a few waterfalls, which were more like waterdrips. But I didn’t care too much because we also got to stop and see some koalas. Again, I don’t know much about koalas—besides that apparently koalas from different regions only eat the type of eucalyptus grown in that region and refuse other types—but I can’t say it matters. Those little things are cuter than ewoks and I want one.

Apollo Bay, our stopping place for the night, is literally a one-street town with nothing besides a beautiful seaside to attract people to it. I spent the night in a room with four English boys—no, not my first choice mom and dad, but the cheapest!—who, along with this full-of-personality hostel, deserve a blogpost all of their own.

Expect the sparknotes of day 2 tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Soccer Time: Aussie Style

KFC! KFC! (this was 20 minutes before the game; the seats were full for
the game)

On my birthday, I bought myself a ticket to an Australian soccer league game: Melbourne Victory vs. Wellington Phoenix. Heading into the game I had very little idea what to expect. The last professional soccer match I watched live was nearly three years ago: a between Turkey and the United States. I was in the nosebleeds, and it was a very unimportant game played in front of an American crowd (American soccer fans are the Eeyore of soccer fans, if Eeyore was dumb as well as unenthusiastic).

Australia did not disappoint me—my tickets were the cheapest I could find, and I still got to sit in the second row—and Australian fans definitely didn’t disappoint. From what I understand, there’s a lot of British culture underpinning Aussie culture—they drive on the left, incorporate the union jack in their flag, and have an incomprehensible appreciation for cricket. And they speak with funny accents (surely that’s a British thing!).

And—like their forebearsthey know how to appreciate a good soccer match, with all the illogical fervor of true fans. They cheer and groan in all the right places. The layman fan behind me was explaining strategy to his kid will a level of competency that made me want to turn around and pump his hand as a fellow connoisseur of the Beautiful Game.

After Melbourne’s first goal, the cheering/taunting/loudmouth-competition with the Wellington fans (two sections to my right), opened up. The loudest, longest, and most widespread Melbourne cheer that involved all four sides of the field’s participation and a lot of pointing and yelling was on the topic of bestiality. However, due to the incomprehensibility of most of the shouting to American-accent trained gal like myself, I have no idea who was supposed to be shagging whose sheep under which circumstances or for what reason. It shall ever remain a mystery.

Queuing or Coup-ing, which is worse?
(Sidenote: I’m writing this in the beautiful Carlton Gardens, next to the fountain on the South side of the Royal Exhibition building and everyone with children in a two-mile radius has chosen to descend on me. Moreover, I think the local pigeons are going to make a move in the next few minutes. They’re coup-ing ominously. Heh.)

But my favorite cheer and, indeed, the best part of the game came early in the second half when Marco Rojas took a beautiful corner kick (fifteen meters from where I sat!). The ball bounced back out to him and he attacked the goal with speed before laying it off to his fellow player at the top of the goal box. The shot was just wide, banging against the post back again to Rojas, who easily netted it, despite the sharp angle. The crowd around me erupted and broke into this little cheer:

“Marco Rojas! Marco Rojas! Marco Rojas! He scores when he wants! He scores when he wants!”


I wonder how many beers it would take to get an American crowd of 18,600 to cheer that for a soccer player.

And now, a birthday picture!
Birthday cake!!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Melbourne: Setting the Scene

Melbourne, January 6, 2013
Skater park (actually called Lincoln park, but there are gangsta white boys working on their skateboard trix as the trams go by on Swanston Street, so “Skater park”)
Temperature: mild enough to make you forget it’s summer
Windy: always

I have been to Vienna, I’ve been to London. I’ve been to Tokyo and Beijing and Seoul. I’ve seen Bangkok, Siem Reap, Hong Kong, Guatemala City—Chicago, New York, Washington D.C.

And Melbourne—in the summer, in the windy windy summer, with its green parks, its clean trams, classy cafes and second-hand book stores, both cosmopolitan and comfy—Melbourne is the loveliest of them all.

Perhaps I’m just basking in the aura of a new city (I’m prone to) or perhaps, confined to the grey of Busan and the winter of the Midwest, I’ve been coveting the glories and greenery of summertime and this is a long-awaited payoff that couldn’t have gone ill.

Perhaps I’m influenced by how beautiful people are here—stylish, zany, smiley—or by how helpful they are. Australians are westerners at heart, so they don’t attack you with niceties but help asked for here is help given—with a friendly nod and a g’day.

I love that the weather is beyond bipolar. Tri-polar? Quadripolar? Hot enough to melt you one day and jeans weather the next, and all the while wind to blow your skirt above your face. Seriously. It’s a hazard, and on the windy/hot days it feels as though you’re living in a hair dryer (the analogy compliments of Camilla, my newest in a bizarre string of roommates).

I promise to write more soon, blogosphere. I think I’m too much in love with the city right now to do it proper justice. And it’s a lazy kind of love, too—one in which I’d rather bask in its beauty than discover its insecurities—

I’m rambling.

Perhaps perhaps perhaps I’ll have a more coherent thought soon and very soon. In the meantime: pics.