Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why did you go to college?

This question is pretty straight forward: Why did you go to college?

Was it because you craved the expansion of knowledge, or the "experience," wanted to try it away from home, or simply wanted to come out on the other side with more opportunity than the other Average Joe next to you?

As I was slicing my umpteenth loaf of bread yesterday - I believe it was white, of course, because the majority of block loaves we sell is plain, unhealthy, unnutritious white bread - I had a moment of clarity. I love college. I love non-fiction books and preparing to discuss them with my peers. I love going out to dinner with my friends and regurgitating the information that I had consumed during the day, about baby development, about the Middle East, about psychology experiments. But when I was in college, I did not love college.

It takes a while outside of the box to see why you were in the box to begin with. I was in college because everyone else was doing it. That's right, I'm a college chain smoker. High school said "You have excellent grades, what college are you going to?" so I went through the motions and wound up, thankfully, at somewhere with a good fit. That doesn't account for my first quarter, where I came home crying every weekend and by the time Christmas rolled around, I never wanted to see a UC again. But standing outside the situation now, I love that I stuck it out.

And yesterday, as I was serving my umpteenth customer a cheese and bacon roll (they obviously didn't read my blog post about why they shouldn't eat cheese and bacon rolls), I had another moment of clarity: I went to college so I don't ever have to sell cheese and bacon rolls again. It's true. I have no desire to return home every day and talk about how many customers didn't say please or thank you, how many babies had tantrums in the mall, how much wastage we had at the end of the day or how burnt the wholemeal loaves were. I have every intention of directing my life differently, to discuss politics, history, science and interesting popular culture around the dinner table, with my friends, with my family, and even with total strangers.

It has taken a year away from university, doing completely different things, learning completely different skills and people, challenging myself not intellectually but in mental strength toward the world - it has taken all of this to finally think: Thank you to everyone who helped put me through college. Thank you for my officially notarized Bachelor's degree. My entire life is definitely going to be better because I went to college.

I made motel beds, for goodness' sake. I now wear a work uniform comparable to Hot Dog On A Stick, catching a glimpse of myself in the mall mirror is like seeing a stranger. But not worries, mate! Work ends Monday, and then I can continue looking forward to life, love, intellectual development, travel, and helping everyone I know do the same.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Change Is As Good As A Holiday

Of all the odd and senseless Australian sayings and idioms, one very special one is "Change is as good as a holiday," (And of course, we mean "holiday" in the British sense, like a vacation, and not like having the day off on Martin Luther King's birthday.) Speaking of which, I heard the Stevie Wonder "Happy Birthday" song the other day in a dollar store and couldn't get over how weird it was.

Everything seems to be changing bit by bit. The season has changed from...tropical summer to something a lot like Davis winter. All of a sudden it's socks, sweatshirts, wood fires, scarves and tea - which I do enjoy, especially because I missed out on most of winter this year. But I'll be honest: The thought of only being in the cold for another two/three weeks tickles me. I only hope that cheating the seasons doesn't come back to bite me some other time in my life.

Toby the dog has gone to bigger and better pastures - and by this I mean to a new home with a huge family, and not the other pasture. Gone are the days cooking with his giant face next to the stove, but the upside is that he is with possibly the best family for him ever. So, the change: less trips to the dog park, less nose in the bum.

The house itself is all but gone. That's right, I am no longer over on Bognuda Street, rather, I now find myself completely moved to the Stalker family home (which I absolutely love). It doesn't hurt that it's only a ten minute walk from the gym and a five minute walk from work, or that it has a fireplace, or a completely stocked kitchen for me to play around in, or a new friend to play with (James' sister.) We're still technically moving out, as I will spend my day off tomorrow moving the last of the furniture, wiping out cabinets and cleaning windows.

I told work and the hospice about my plans and got a lot of "We'll miss you!" but no major trouble beside that. Thank goodness. Work has nearly worn out its welcome and I now am positive that retail is not my permanent calling, though a good way to save up cash. Hopefully my last day will be June 3rd, which gives plenty of time to pack up and ready myself for the best change: seeing my family and friends.

I realize this blog is more of an update than insightful, but it's what I needed to do! Insight later: for now, back to the bread world (UGHGHGHGHGHGH), and the moving world, and would you believe that I have been cooking soup like crazy because it is just that cold...

Love to everyone. I am SO excited to see you!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Next Move: Mine

I've been putting in some serious brain hours thinking about what I'm going to do with my upcoming days. Sure, I could stay here and sell bread and attempt to grow vegetables, but I'm beginning to itch for a little education. I'm ready to learn something new.

This is what lead me to China. No, I'm not in China, but I will be (I think.) If I think hard enough about what I know nothing about, the answer 9/10 times is China, Chinese, Chinese history. What's more? It turns out China is a hotbed for teaching English, with or without certification. DING. I'll take a number.

I spend most of my free time now (when I'm not slicing bread or kicking my own hiney at the gym) researching different programs to teach with. It takes a lot of analysis: how much do they pay, who are you teaching, do they provide housing, airfare, health insurance, holidays, etc.? You can literally pick any city you want, if you look hard enough, except that I hardly know what any of the cities are. The sky is literally the limit, though possibly a polluted sky, since China isn't exactly the world capital of clean air. Coincidence that I want to live in another "communist" country? Perhaps not... I am unbelievably excited. You should be too! You know why?

Caitlin's coming home!!! (Eventually.) Yes, before I embark on my next journey, I will be coming home for a stint in my home land. I speculate this will be some time in late May/early June. I love surprise parties, I love Mexican food, hint hint.

That is all for now. I am too busy planning my future.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bacon Rolls, Wine Tasting, and How I Am Becoming Awesomely Healthy In One of the Fattest Cities in the World (and how you can too!)

Please don't let me ever catch you buying your child a bacon roll for breakfast.

For that matter, please don't let me ever catch you buying yourself a bacon roll for breakfast, or a mustard-pickle swirl, and for goodness' sake, ignore the Cheesymite scrolls.*

These are not healthy, they are do not contain sufficient or productive amounts of energy, and they will certainly make you fat if consumed on a regular basis. And your children? They will probably grow up to be bacon roll craving cretins.

I say all of this in a more or less rant because I currently live in the fattest nation in the world: Australia. According to this article, there are 9 million overweight people in Australia...and there are only 22 million people in the whole country.

To add to this statistical excitement, I currently live in one of the fattest cities in the fattest country in the world. Ipswich apparently admits to having over 62.4% of its residents overweight or obese. I know this first hand because most of them probably walk (sometimes more slowly than others) past me at the mall where I currently work. Many of them buy bacon rolls. I love that spinning roll animation action.

This is a blog to talk a bit about my job, a bit about nutrition, and a bit of practice doing hyperlinks on my blog. You like? It's a new experience, like most of my experiences.

About my job: It is a job, and it allows me to pay for my gym membership. It also allows me to practice my Australian jargoning, such as saying "How ya goin'?" as a standard greeting. I generally stick to a cheery "Hey there!" but it never hurts to practice. Hot cross bun season is over (Australians use Easter as an excuse to eat billions of sticky hot cross buns because they can't justify drinking to excess over a Christian holiday weekend.) But I also have an excuse to observe the crazy behavior of mall patrons. My favorite quote was a mother saying to her child "It's too early for a Fun Bun, you have to have something better like McDonald's first." Whoa, absolutely whoa.

Therefore, about nutrition: I have started a bit of a health binge to combat the effects of living in a country where a healthy breakfast is a Happy Meal followed by a meat pie, followed by a Coca-Cola, followed by a custard filled donut. We buy insane amounts of produce. At the moment, we are stocking zucchini, fennel, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumber, mushrooms, rocket and spinach, jalapenos, cabbage, carrots, red and yellow onions, avocado, oranges, apples, bananas and a giant bag of limes (possibly for Cuba Libres.) The challenge for me is this: how can we possibly eat all of this before it goes bad? So I set out of put vegetables and fruit into everything I can get my hands on. Tonight for dinner is pumpkin/potato soup and bell pepper/avocado/tomato/red onion/greens/cucumber salad. Lots of slashes for lots of deliciousness.

We are growing a cute little veggie garden which hopefully will include carrots, leeks, broccoli, bok choi, salad greens...and something else I can't remember. We also fertilized the garden with home compost which accidentally contained tomato and pumpkin seeds...so those are also growing. We got this great perennial cilantro plant at a farmer's market which works great, even with Mom's black beans, and a huge basil plant that I'm still figuring out how to preserve. It is absolutely amazing to bring yourself a teeny bit closer with the things you eat. Being as it is now Spring at home, I challenge each of you to plant something, watch it grow, and eat it.

I love cooking. Taking time to cook keeps me sane, and healthy. Heck if I'm going to eat lunch at the mall. Heck if I'm going to take the bus if I can walk.

And walk, I do. This weekend I walked up a mountain. Mount Warning to be exact, the first place in Australia to see the sun, and because it is the first place to see the sun, you must hike at night if you have any chance of seeing that sun too. So we hiked at 3:30AM (!) up the mountain to find it smothered inside a cloud. Though a bit disappointed to miss what I'm sure was a glorious sunrise, I was absolutely ecstatic to have bounded up a wet, muddy mountain (9km roundtrip) in the dark (though I did fall twice on the way down, nicely banging my knee, shin, and ass). So I challenge you, find a mountain and climb it.

Finally, as a celebration of mountain climbing, having the day off from work, and a gorgeous sunny day, James and I took a quick romp around the "Scenic Rim" wineries - that is, the wineries within an hour of our house. James as the chauffeur, me as the tasting narrator, we spent a fantastic day in the country. As both of us are relatively new to the experience, I was lucky enough to start piecing together some patterns: I like chardonnay, especially wooded chardonnay, especially chardonnay that somehow tastes like creamy nuts. I also like shiraz (so does James), and I have somehow developed a taste for fortified shiraz. We also like oddball vineyards, like the one that served up wine on the lawn with their giant husky dog sitting in our laps. I came up with a half-witty saying about wine tasting:

"Wine tasting is the way classy people can get intoxicated for free."


In conclusion, eat sensibly, love veggies, and drink good wine for as cheaply as possible. And these are my lessons from Australia this week.

*Cheesymite scrolls are pastries similar to a savory cinnamon roll, but smothered in Vegemite and "tasty" cheese. "Tasty" cheese is the Australian equivalent, though not equal to, cheddar cheese. Vegemite is disgusting.

Cheesymite is not to be confused with Cheesybite, a new Vegemite product that adds Vegemite to something like Cheese Whiz.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Flat Out

I finally have an excuse for not keeping up with my blog: I got a part-time job.


I know what you're thinking. Caitlin is awesome! I bet her job is great! Well, it's certainly better than what a lot of backpackers end up doing. I could be door knocking, trying to sell people cheap electricity. (Heck no.) I could be delivering newspapers. (Heck no.) I could be picking fruit, which sounds great, especially because I love fruit, but when you consider that most jobs involve 8-10 hours of outdoor work per day, in 30 degree heat, it really starts to stink.

So where do I work, I know you're wondering. In a shopping mall.
Caitlin works in an Australian shopping mall? In a bakery? Selling people bread and scones and hot cross buns? Does she have to wear a baseball cap? YES! Does she have to wear 2x too big khaki capris? YES! How about a nice polo shirt? OF COURSE!

In short, my vanity is getting a nice vacation and my bank account is getting a lot of stimulus. And of course, malls are excellent places to people-watch. On Monday, I saw a little boy pull his pants down and run around for at least three minutes before his mom noticed. I love watching the tweens come in after school and practice social hierarchies.

I serve bread, I get paid. And this is why my blog is neglected.

There is a short sad story I would like to tell about a situation involving potato chips and native Australians, otherwise known as Aboriginals. Australian Aboriginals are certainly some of the most marginalized and neglected peoples on the entire planet. The situation makes all of the sympathy you have for Precious and her cranky mother completely silly, and definitely reminds me of the United States' own forgotten natives, shoved away to remain social welfare cases because our government simply does not now how to reconcile centuries of wrongdoing.

What is different (as far as I can see) about Australia is that many Aboriginals live in urban/suburban areas, and while there is obviously native land - Arnhem land in the Northern Territory - I feel like I've seen more native Australians in four months than I've seen native Americans. And white Australians are damn racist about it. I'm not going to name names or specifics, but it's simply not pretty.

So the potato chips. I was waiting for the bus when I spotted a little native Australian boy, no older than three and wearing only some tiny thugish denim shorts with a diaper hanging out and some tiny sneakers, holding a bag of potato chips. He smacked the bag repeatedly until it burst open, all over the dirty sidewalk. He was very pleased. He was so pleased, he decided to stomp all over the potato chips as if they were a big sheet of bubble wrap. He then proceeded to eat them. At this point, I became excessively disgusted. I look around for mom. Mom? She was either the woman staring vacantly at the street or the one staring vacantly at her shopping cart. Eventually, mom or mom's accomplice with the cart sees the little boy eating sidewalk chips, and joins him in stomping them into chip dust. Stomping and eating the bus stop sidewalk chips.

I couldn't help thinking, God, these people need HELP. Sure dirt doesn't hurt too much, but this is a dirty city. This kid has no shirt. This woman is pushing an empty cart.

What do I do?

Not a clue, but it sure makes me think just a bit more about urban poverty, and how no one can escape it.

PS. Went to pig races. Did some wine tasting at pig races and was very happy. Pigs were very cute and wore sparkling vests. Coo-ee!

PPS. "Flat out" is an Aussie expression meaning "Very busy".

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lost In Metric Translation

Well hello again! I suppose we haven't connected in a while because I've been too busy with my grubby mitts busy in the kitchen. That's right, Caitlin is pursuing self-guided culinary excellence Down Under. And sometimes, like today, I fail miserably.

I like to blame the metric system for my issues in the kitchen. But this is not particularly usual. To date, I have managed to satisfyingly create my own pesto, ratatouille, curry with self-soaked garbanzo beans, minestrone soup, a yellow cake with chocolate frosting, profiteroles, sticky date pudding, and about half a dozen banana/carrot/zucchini inspired bread/cake/muffins. (This list does not include my failures, including berry muffins that tasted oddly of vinegar, vegan rice krispie treats and a botched batch of royal icing). Today's adventure? BREAD MAKING!

I was given some wonderful baking books to borrow from Michelle, my "boss" at my Hospice volunteering gig. Yes, I've decided to not get paid to hang out in a dying home. This is actually much more uplifting than you think, and as I told my mom this morning, it's somehow spiritually satisfying. Where do I happen to work? The hospice kitchen, of course! And boy, you should see how pureed convalescent lamb looks.

Moving on, Michelle has taken to me (who wouldn't!) and we chat each other's ears off about baking and cooking all day long. She has so far inspired me to try this very strange dessert thing called Sugo and to try making my own ricotta cheese - stay tuned for that disaster. But today was all about bread.

Let me say that so far, I have adapted quite well to some parts of the metric system. A pleasant afternoon is about 23 degrees C, sunny. An oven for baking muffins is about 180 degrees C. An acceptable speed for a car, on the wrong side of the road, on the highway is about 100-110 km. I walk about 1.5km to the train station. A bottle of wine is 750ml, and everyone should drink 2L of water per day. Impressed yet? I'm haven't even begun to learn. What the heck is a gram? Who cares about a centiliter? And this is where the bread making comes in.

I read the intro about making a simple white bread recipe. I don't have a bread cutter, I don't have a stone tablet, and I don't have a scale, but I figured, people have been making bread for centuries without this stuff - of course I can do it!

It wasn't long before I snagged: I had a sachet of yeast with a quantity of "7g", but the recipe called for 10g. Furthermore, I had dried yeast, while it was talking about wet yeast. It called for 500g of flour. This is where my reading skills failed me. I interpreted 500g as "500ml". Are you still with me? If you know anything about metrics, of which I know very little, you might remember, as I did not,, that Liters are for liquid (CRAP). I should have used about half of my bag of flour and ended up using only about 2 cups. No wonder i was mixing and mixing..and mixing...a ball of goop for about 10 minutes, as it did not change at all. Ii realized my mistake too late. I added some more flour (no idea how much), but somehow it ended up simply making one of the strongest glues I have ever encountered. So I threw up my glued hands, put a tea towel over my bowl, and resigned myself to a ball of adhesive, which is still stuck to my arm hairs. We'll see how it goes in an hour, but I don't have high hopes for anything rising.

I actually think I owe the success of my first bread ball to the United States education system. Get with the program, people! No wonder we're neurotic and annoying travelers - we can't understand anything, from the temperature, to the time (21:45, oh come on), to the quantity of a stick of butter or a Coca-Cola.

Off to try my hand at lasagna. At least this doesn't require any measuring.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Australia Day and Increasing Encounters of the Insect Kind

So I'm sitting here munching on some celery, basking in the 35 degree heat*, which is a nice and healthy 95 to those of you in Farenheit land, reminiscing about Australia Day: a day that all Australians look forward to as a day to drink many beers, grill many snags (sausages, of course), get very sunburnt and run around with Australian flags tied around their necks like superheroes.

This delightful day falls annually on the 26th of January. Wikipedia dutifully reminds us that Australia Day commemorates the first landing in Sydney Cover in 1788, which is about as accurate of a "discovery" as Columbus Day in the USA. But they LOVE it, and I love it too.

For my first Australia, I was lucky enough to start the day with a nice big helping of housekeeping (back up in Kippa Ring.) I cleaned like lightning, took a very quick shower, and then embarked on a nice long bus/train ride, about two hours in total. (Considering my past history with trains, this is fairly simple and time is easily passed.) Riding the train from Kippa Ring to Bundamba is practically the entire train line. I watched beer drinker after beer drinker board and disembark, until finally, I came HOME!

Of course by 12:30, the party was in full swing. Wading pool, cricket, sausages and lamb and white bread (because the Australian way to eat a sausage is to wrap it in a slice of white bread...), and the radio is playing because they do a Top 100 countdown, and everyone sings and plays cricket (they even let me take a couple swings, even though I still don't get the point), and makes merry. So all in all, such a successful holiday.

But the big shock came at 3:00 AM, when I woke up wrapped in a bathtowel on the couch and a giant red splotch on my arm. The splotch was itchy and the circumference of a baseball. Upon further inspection, it was revealed that this was no mosquito bite, but a juicy spider bite gone wrong.

I have no problem with insect bites. At the moment I have about a dozen itchy mosquito bites, mostly on my feet, hands and arms, and I hardly feel them anymore. But a spider bite? A spider bite? That requires a spider crawling onto me, without permission, and sinking its disgusting venomous teeth into my skin, without having been provoked. I fretted over it for a while. What if it were a redback spider bite, which could have latent effects that would put me into a hospital? What if I lost my limb? I circled the bite and watched it increase outside of my lines.

Well, after many hours of scaring myself into thinking I had met my journey's end, the bite began to regress (not after itching so bad I could have chewed my arm off.) And all was well, and I continued to make beds and scrub toilets.

That is, until I came back to Bundamba last week and awoke to yet another spider bite (this time smaller). Then, I start seeing baby spiders around every corner, and somehow, the bigger cockroaches start perching on the walls - have you ever had a cockroach waggle its 2 inch antennae at you? Gross! - and ants suction onto my feet, and heck, I feel like a regular Bear Gryllis except I'm not willing to eat them, embrace them, or promote them...or kill them. I just tend to run away or shake hard to get them off. I was weeding yesterday and had no less than three multicolored arachnids on my arms, which provoked a dance of award-winning performance to shake them off.

Tomorrow, the bug spray men are stopping by.

* 35 degrees and humid is pretty much enough to make me want to throw everything I own, including all the dried food goods, my clothes, and myself, into the standard size freezer.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Our First Date (Belated)

To begin this story, let's just say that I will not be employed at Cocoawoo in Downtown Brisbane. But that is an insignificant part of this tale.

Last Friday, I had a job interview in Brisbane CBD. Have I explained the significance of “CBD?” (pronounced Say-Bay-Day, of course). It's Central Business District. In urban Australia, you are either in the CBD or in the suburbs, but it is still technically Brisbane. So at home, it would be like saying that I am from Alameda, San Francisco. And when I take BART to Market Street, I'm going to the CBD. Makes sense, I think.

But anyway, because I have no car, and because I'm in yet ANOTHER armpit of nowhere (North Brisbane), I am resigned to the bus/train regime of transportation. I looked up an itinerary online and wrote down th best option. Now, i had two options. I could take one bus and one train, and arrive at 6:10, leaving me 20 minutes to walk to my interview, or I could take TWO buses and one train and arrive at 5:46, leaving me a more comfortable fluff time.

I obviously opted for the more complicated schedule with better timing, because I like to be on time to things. There was a period in my life where I was over-borderline obsessed with timing. This is one this that travel has generally aleviated. But anyway, my second plan of the evening was to meet James on the same street as my interview at 7:00, upon which we would go to dinner, on our very first “date.”

Of course, this wasn't the first time we've had dinner together, the first time we've met, etc., etc. I mean, I live with the guy (when I'm not sniffing comforter covers in Kippa Ring.) But we've never had the opportunity to do it the old fashioned way, getting dropped off at separate locations at the end of the night, rather than our adapted routine of eating dinner, going to Bognuda Street, opening up a bottle of Viognier and watching Planet Earth. This was much more special.

I needed shoes for my interview. It simply isn't suitable to turn up in my beat down Rainbow sandels, especially since I haven't removed/fixed my toenail polish in two months. There is a shopping mall across the street from where I work, so I thought, I'll pop over and find some before I go. Push came to shove and I was running late. My bus was at 4:15 and I left the motel at 3:45. Somehow I managed to run through the mall, find a pair of delightful Kmart shoes and even a new dress(my first piece of Australian style clothing!) and still get on my bus.

I climbed aboard and asked “Does this bus connect to the 690 to Sandgate Station?” and the bus driver stares at him with a “GUH?” look on his face. So I ask again, and he says, “Where are you going?” and I say, “The CBD, Central Station.” The guy sells me a ticket and I go sit down. I tell him which stop I need to get off at and ask him to please tell me when we've arrived.

About 10 minutes later, the bus driver gets on his walkie talkie and says “Hey 690, are you at _______stop? What's your ETA?” and the bus driver mumbled something back, and he says to me “We should make it!” He lets me off and tells me to cross to the other side. I look around and see that he has dropped me at Pelican Beach, or something like that. The sun is going down and the bus should be arriving. Except that it doesn't. And I wait, and wait, and wait, and the bus never comes. I start to get a bit anxious. There are no payphones around and I have no idea where I am. (Coastal, yes, but besides that, no idea.) There are no other 690 buses for an hour at least. I see a 693 bus, the same one I came in on, and I wave it down, hoping to ask the bus driver where MY bus is, but he keeps driving! And what do you know, it was the same driver who kicked me off in the first place...

I start to plot. Maybe I can hitchhike to the station, it can't be too far. I find a pen in my bag and write “SANDGATE STATION” in attemptedly dark letters on the back of my resume. I figure, what good is the resume if I can't even get into the city. Then, a fire ant crawls inside my shoe and starts biting my toes. So I'm kicking and screaming obscenities and the ant flies out, leaving residual pain behind. I watch cars drive by and see that most of the drivers are teenaged boys, and I think, there is no way I am hitchhiking with these kids.

I plot again. I need a phone, to call James. At the very least to tell him I will be late to get to him in the CBD, and at the most, he can look up different bus routes or something. I see a barefoot middle-aged couple walking a dog and decide to prey on them. I ask politely if one of them has a phone I can use to make a local call. They ask what's going on, and this leads to that, they offer to take me to the station themselves. My heroes! So they took me to Sandgate, told me some stories, were altogether so pleasant, and restored my faith in humanity.

Whoever you were, nice people, thank you.

I get out of the car and walk into the station. My God, the train is there! I run furiously over the tracks (up stairs and over) and make it just in time. I'm going to make it! I'm going to make my interview! I do some ipod listening and finally relax a bit.

We arrive in Central Station and I look for my cross streets. Albert? Charlotte? Anyone? No one seemed to know where I needed to be going. So I walk six blocks in the wrong direction. Now I've missed my interview. I ask a man selling magazines(I knew he was crazy, but he looked local), where Albert St. was and he proceeds to pull out an envelope and ask me to write my email on it, so he can have an American penpal. I quickly made one up and got away. I found the street. It was a street James and I had been on only a week ago when I took him to an eye exam. I couldn't believe I didn't remember. I walk to Cocoawoo, disheveled, my bobby pins lost in a crosswalk somewhere, sweaty, etc., only to apologize to the woman I had “stood up.” The woman was very nice and interviewed me anyway, though I'm sure she was just filling time. I didn't care. It simply wasn't meant to be. Besides, the place didn't have that nice coffee smell that I like so much about cafes. Again, wasn't meant to be.

But it's not over yet. Have I rambled too much? TOO BAD! Remember that dress I bought in the mall back in Kippa Ring? I still needed to put it on for my date, and apparently Cocoawoo had no public toilet. I'm walking down the street, its 6:58, and I see an antique bookstore to my right. I walk in. The store is enormous and smells terrific (booky.) So I smile at the owner, walk straight to the back of the store, pick a stack (plays and scripts, I found myself in) and put my dress on in what must have been 30 seconds flat. I gave another smile on the way out. Oh yeah. I just changed outfits in your bookstore and you didn't even notice.

And at 7:00 on the button, I found James parked in a loading zone. We had Tibetan food, we had drinks, we had walks, and it was simply magic. If this had been the first time we met, I would have flown to Australia just to see him again. Oh wait, check.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Motel Buisness, Week 1 (Belated)

Everything was going fine until Graham decided to show me the rotten tooth that had broken out of his mouth.

Imagine that. How many times in your life have you been minding your own business when someone mentions, Hey, my tooth just broke off. A broken tooth is disgusting. It makes you feel like spiders are crawling up your calves. And just like that, this whole hotel job temporary appeal was lost.

Not that I haven't already crossed “Hotel Housekeeping” and even “Hotel Owner/Manager” off my lifelong dream list. Let me tell you: you go batty. I have never had so much appreciation for the people who have to pick my hair out of the shower – something I still haven't mastered. The hair just sticks to the floor and you keep wiping it around in circles, hoping it will grab onto your cloth. I certainly never suspected that queen sheets were so heavy, or that people will let their children wet the bed and then just...leave it.

Promise me something: if you are in a motel, hotel, inn, friend's house, and your child wets the bed, or even if you wet the bed, strip the sheets off yourself. Say something to housekeeping. Because (and this is gross, I rate this experience PG-13 for horror) seeing a spot on the bed, wondering if its water, coffee, etc., and then having to SNIFF it to figure out what it is happens to be one of my least favorite experiences. Because sometimes it is pee.

Where I'm working, we get a lot of “tradies.” These are people who travel for work, most often in trade professions like construction, and are away from home for weeks at a time. Its mostly very tanned men who like their XXXX Gold beer and to say “G'Day”. I swear, I get “G'Day”ed at least three times daily. Pretty darn cool.

We also get a lot of old people who lock themselves out of their rooms, and families with young kids who apparently like to throw cereal around their bedroom.

Hotel work makes me temporarily lose faith in people, sometimes.

But the good news? I'm writing again. I'm writing, reading, knitting, reflecting on the future (even though it hasn't happened yet) and consequently growing more fond of my situation in the armpit of the world, Bundamba, Queensland.

Do you remember when I was in Ireland and I could hardly sleep at night because I was so excited to fly to Australia? I sure as heck do. And today, two months later, I feel the same. Especially because at the end of these 2.5 weeks, I feel better (can you believe it?), better and more excited than I was dreaming in Dublin, beside myself in Belfast, even spinning with excitement in Spain.

This is beside the point of the travel blog, but I am enamored.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lessons in Road Travel, Part III (New Years in Nature)

It doesn't take a genius to point out the obvious similarities between the coast of southern Australia and the coast line of California. This doesn't make too much sense to me though, because the sensible thing might be that since the east coast of OZ and the west coast of the US share the same ocean (Pacific, for those trying quickly to picture mental map.) But no, the coastline closest to Antarctica (I swear, I can hear penguins cawing...or rustling...or chirping. What do they do exactly?) looks just like driving down Highway 1, the highway my great-grandpa helped build.

What are these similarities, exactly? Well, it's a bit cooler - though they are at this very moment experiencing a heat wave of almost 45 degrees, which is like sitting in your oven with a snowsuit on. The ocean water has a bit more chop and is certainly cooler to swim in. The beaches are covered in long kelp bulbs and tidal pools are abundant as you peer down the sand. The road is ocean on one side and rocky cliffs on the other (think, Half Moon Bay), covered in mosses and grasses. And when you drive just a smidge from the coastline, you are in Point Reyes, expecting to see elk or something bound out of the brush, when in fact kangaroos line the roads at dusk, faking you out, making you think they will be your next favorite hood ornament.

This is what the Great Ocean Road looks like.

***I interrupt these stories for a quick blurb about bread. I love Australian supermarket wheat bread. Hell, it is expeeeeeeennnnsive - about five bucks a loaf (although adjusted for the OZ dollar inflation, it's more like three). But it comes in so many delicious good-for-you flavors and it is MOIST. When was the last time you ate dense, moist, thickly cut wheat bread from a supermarket? I'm eating it right now. My poison of choice: Burgen bread.

Anyway, the Great Ocean Road. There are the most beautiful, idyllic seaside towns on the Great Ocean Road, the kind you would sell your own home and buy one of these homes for, just so you could live this peaceful seaside life, full of greenery and salt air and fish and chip shops. I wanted so much, though, to like the city of Lorne, but it was overrun with teenagers attending a music festival, and they were all dragging around beer cases an taking up my walking room on the sidewalk and shouting an smelling musty, etc. So I didn't like it too much. Plus, I scraped my back on a pole and it really hurt, compounded with the fact that a tapas restaurant I really wanted to go to was closed (even though I had talked to them the day before and they said "See you tomorrow!") and then I was hungry. Cranky Caitlin almost burnt Lorne down. Thank goodness it's still there, for you to possibly see it one day, and pick up my tapas torch.

We ended up finding this campground by chance using the "Campground Search" function on the GPS, and I liked the name because it was listen as "bimbiparkcampingunderkoalas" - and because I like run-on words so much, and it sounded so silly, we went for it.

What I would like my readers to appreciate a bit was how much trouble we had over the two weeks finding places to stay. Because the seasons are flipped, we are now experiencing summer holidays here, where families are off work and kids are out of school, and apparently every sheila and her brood likes a nice seaside caravan park. So most of the time, we would call them up and ask if they could just...squeeze us in. And squeeze we did. Luckily, squeeze at Bimbi Park wasn't too bad, since they had some "non-designated" grassy space we comandeered. And guess what? It really was camping under koalas. As in, at any time of day, you could see a koala somewhere, doing its thing - eating, sleeping, climbing, etc.

I remember seeing koalas at the San Diego Zoo when I was nine years old and I also remember being very disappointed. They looked like muppets, or puppets, and they didn't do anything. They looked like Lawrence Hall of Science dinosaurs, you know the ones that move only their heads very slowly in the same motion.

Real koalas are much more exciting. They move, they climb. I saw one climb down from a tree and cross right in front of us, literally running on the ground while grunting this awful koala grunt. Koalas make disgusting noises, and they do it all day and all night. It's like...a squak/grunt/rumble. It is a mating call. I saw them mate. You hear an awful, awful screaming noise, and that's the female. He grabs her from behind, while she tries to scramble away, and...does his thing. It's just disgusting. That was New Year's Eve.

New Year's Eve was also fish and chips, pasta made on the Trangea, relaxing under the koala sex, drinking fruity white cask wine in camping mugs, then watching Home Alone in the outdoor movie theatre (full of kids, of course, and then us with our wine), and having a nice loud count down with a rousing round of Auld Lang Syne, whatever that really is. It was so different. I loved it.

That's all for my poor fingers for now. (Eventually the whole story will come out.) I forsee a special edition posting on my opinion of Australian English later today. But for now, I would like all of you out there to listen to the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack, like I am doing, and revel in the good things - health, happiness, sunshine, wheat bread, home lip-waxing kits, intellect - just like I am. Until then.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lessons in Road Travel, Part II (A Lesson in Wine)

I bet you're wondering what it looks like. Well, unless you've been here, and then you already know what Australia looks like.

The Pacific Highway is a stroke of road genius. It stretches the entire length of the east coast from Brisbane to...well...Eden, I think. And this is no joke. The last coastal city before the car turns inland to the south is Eden. It weaves through Jurassic Park forests and through gum trees that smell like the Oakland Hills. The ocean is sometimes green/grey but usually turquoise fading into dark blue.

The east coast is dotted with tiny drive-thru towns (literally driven through, at about 50k an hour) that look like the color versions of what old black and white films used to make movies of. Two of my favorites? Milton and Portland. Oh wait, Portland is on the south coast, but nevertheless, they are one banjo towns with seamstress shops and bakeries and general stores. Oh yes, I bought a set of knitting needles and three skeins of yarn in a Haberdashery Emporium. Have you ever heard anything like it in your life?

Bakeries: you hardly buy bread in bakeries. You know what you buy in bakeries? Pies. Meat pies. Meat pies and sausage rolls and something called a pastie, which I have yet to explore. A bakery in Bundamba sells pies with ham, cheese, bacon, and an egg baked into the center in a weird hard/not hard texture. Eating a bakery pie is like opening up a sea salt grinder over your open mouth and just going for it, for maybe five to ten minutes, depending on what kind of a vacuum eater you are. The only solution: cover the entire thing in ketchup, which is not ketchup but tomato sauce, and is usually not free. It is so not free that they don't even leave it in a tiny tub for you to grab handfuls, not even at the drive-thru. Because there are drive-thru pie shops, just as there are drive-thru liquor stores. Bought my first six pack, icy cold, delivered to the passenger window. What a world.

Anyway, we made our way down the coast at breakneck (though not too fast, because the highways here have speed cameras everywhere and they actually work. We stopped in Nambucca Heads, where a nighttime walk led to hearing what must have been thousands of crabs clacking on the sand in the pitch black night, we stopped...well, did we stop? On the 29th, of course, we were in the Yarra Valley, one of the lovely, Napa-y wine regions of Australia (there are many.)

Yarra is special, or perhaps just plain unfortunate, because it is in an area that though only two hours from the coast gets very hot, and last February had a terrible fire people here refer to as Black Saturday, where hundreds of people died because the gum trees sparked up so fast and the houses were so rural. Anyway, Yarra winemakers are hurting from the lack of tourism ever since then (though to be honest, you can't really see too much of the damage a year later. It is just beautiful). So we decided to pay them a visit.

I don't know too much about wine, but I can assure you I have a lot more to compare to now than I did before. It's great fun to pretend like you know what you're doing. You stand at the counter, request two glasses, start at the top of the list, but make sure you don't try everything. This makes you look young and naive. Always start with the whites and move to the reds. The wine-givers, as I will call them because I forgot their proper names, in the Yarra really liked to tell you what the wine tastes like. I had a problem with this. I'm pretty darn sure my taste buds are tweaked a tiny bit differently than yours, buddy. The people at Chandon, which is a lovely location and really nice green grass, kept trying to describe me their wines, but I felt like everything had once been wine until they mixed it with three parts water. Really, if I wanted watery wine I would just backwash a few times.

If you really want to impress the wine-givers, you swirl your glass and sniff like you're using Vicks. Then you take a tiny sip. If you like it you guzzle when the employees look away. If you don't, you give a sigh and pour it into the spitoon. Ah, I love me a good spitoon. And since James was playing birthday chauffeur, I got to do a lot of finishing seconds, and using of spitoons.

I had an awesome lunch at a winery/brewery in...a town in the Yarra, including (and this is mostly for the benefit of my mother, who probably likes to know how many toilet paper squares I use each time I take a toilet break here) smoked trout and endive salad and woodfired mushroom feta pizza. The best part? Surprise flourless chocolate almond cake with a candle in it. The metrosexual waiter brought it out nice and smiley, without any embarassing singing. Perfect!

I would be doing my first wine tasting experience a disservice if I didn't mention my favorite winery, Sutherland Estates. And to my parents, who think they can find it online, not a chance. You can't even ship the good stuff within Australia, let alone overseas. This place was amazing, with a giant glass wall overlooking the whole valley (in writing retrospect, I think a glass wall is known as a window...). And the best thing ever, to this day debated because neither James nor I can remember the grape, was either a champagne or a pinot chardonnary that was possibly the best fluid I have ever consumed. I wish you all could have some. It was like creamy nutty fruity bubbly heaven. And he was only letting us taste it for free because he had run out of bottles to sell. Oh, the humanity and the bottle that got away.

That night I'm pretty sure we ate crackers, brie and olives on the fluffy hotel bed and drank a bottle of chardonnay (not the heaven one, but still great) from Sutherland. Oh yes, and there was chocolate ice cream. Happy birthday to me!

...And the thing that really gets my goat is that Sideways was on two nights ago and there were some really great wine quotes I could have been floating around all day, such as "The wine is...quaffable...but hardly inspirational" and "We are not drinking ANY FUCKING MERLOT!" I invite you to relive these moments in your DVD player, or just imagine me saying them.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Lessons in Road Travel, Part I

I'm back and better than ever, fresh from the road and full of beautiful images and stories. Bear with me: to properly chronicle the past two weeks, I'm going to have to use a very fancy device, the sub-heading.

Christmas Day

What did you do on Christmas day? I bet it was cold. I shiver every time I think of all the people i England, the last place I had my foot down in Europe, bundled up in their cookie-cutter Harry Potter suburb houses in weather that is apparently only two degrees warmer than the North Pole. Santa must have loved delivering presents this year.

I spent Christmas eating prawns the size of my hand, drinking wonderful beer held in little beer cosies (everyone uses them..the proper term escapes me), sitting in a cold hot tub, and eating my very first Christmas pudding. For those not familiar, it' kind of like dense fruit cake with rum, covered in ice cream and whipped cream. Absolutely delightful.

This way of doing Christmas is highly recommended. You eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner all day with your family. You listen to music, have a dunk in the cold spa, exchange a few presents (I had a UNICEF chicken purchased in my name - just like Mom does with Heifer International), watch a movie, drink a LOT of champagne and beer, and make silly home videos.

What do you think, family? Sound like a plan?

The "Plan"

The initial plan was the hoof it down to Victoria, Australia, to go wine tasting on my birthday. To get a sense of the distance, it is 22 hours non-stop, no traffic from Brisbane to Melbourne (so, from about halfway up the East Coast to the bottom of the East Coast, plus over a bit). Of course, for anyone who has ever gone on a road trip, this is a virtually impossible non-stop distance, especially for someone as curious as me. There are simply too many weird and interesting and beautiful things to see.

The most constantly fascinating observation for me is how different the flora and fauna are here. There I go, using odd terms like flora and fauna. But saying "plants" and "animals" is just too plain. They aren't just plants and animals. It's things like...the particularly stunning moss growing on a rock, or the oddly colored blue mosquitoes (oh, the mosquitoes). Or it's seeing cockatoos flying along the side of the road like we would see turkey vultures on the way to Tahoe - they are simply everywhere, even though in my slowly-expanding mind those birds should definitely be overly expensive and caged. And loud. Oh boy, do those things make NOISE.

Then there are the road signs. Australia is really, really committed to reminding you to try to be a better driver. Every minute or so you will see "How Fast Are You Going?" or "Stop Every Two Hours" or "Even A Roadside Nap Is Better Than No Sleep." Some nearly yell at you about drunk driving. I think this is particularly brilliant, but I have no idea if it actually works. Australia is also really committed to having the weirdest city names in the world. Wagga Wagga? Condong? Toowoomba? I felt a bit rude for laughing when I found out that most of the names are Aboriginal words. But really. Maybe the Aboriginals just have a really good sense of humor.

Back To The Learner's Permit

James gets the "Most Tolerant Passenger Seat Companion of the Year" award. He let me drive. Well, he let me drive sometimes. And sometimes I simply elected not to drive. We would generally try to swap every 2-3 hours, just for change of stimulation and a stretch of the legs. James' mom told me cute story that reminds me, when driving on the Australia side of the world, "Passenger in the ditch!" meaning, keep the passenger in the gutter. Oh boy, do I know how to keep the passenger in the gutter. A bit too much, perhaps. My left arm likes to pull the car left...into the ditch. Sometimes this results in the white line making that noise at me. Sometimes there is gravel in the ditch. In city driving, there are always other cars parked in the ditch.

The worst was driving through Sydney. We accidentally took the route that put us directly into urban traffic and ran us straight through the city. The lanes are made for clown cars and people drive like they are all driving their urgently water-popped wives to the hospital. Well, they aren't. They are just speedy and the lanes are just tiny. Needless to say, there was some yelling. Do you remember the scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off when jennifer Grey is driving with her mom and she is pounding on the steering wheel yelling "I CAN'T DRIVE WHEN YOU'RE YELLING AT ME STOP IT!!!!" Yeah, it was something like that.

But I am improving. I avoided hitting an echidna taking its sweet time crossing a rural highway. I drove in the pouring tropical rains. Of course, I took an opportunity to stop at every Driver Reviver stop on my shift. The government pays for volunteers to give out free coffee, tea, lemonade, and cookies about every 100k down the major highways during the holidays. BEST. IDEA. EVER. Thank you, OZ government, for all the bickies. Oh yeah, bicky=cookie. Short for biscuit. Biscuit is both a cookie and cracker. They do not have biscuit biscuits. But that is another story for another time.

In short, we drove a LOT. And we read a lot of maps. And sometimes, car tension rode high. But at the end of the day, after you pitch the tiny tent and set up the chair and pull out the box of wine, there really can be no complaints.

Making My Father Proud

My dad's idea of camping was never like other families. No caravan, no Colman stove (well, hardly ever). No blow-up mattresses and no multi-room tents. God, I always wanted a multi-room tent so big you could stand in it.

My dad would be ultra-proud to learn that I went camping for nearly 11 days in a tiny two-person (one and a half is more like it) tent, using only a tiny backpacking stove, two tiny ground mats, a plastic knife, and no pillows. We forgot the pillows. We bought some at Woolworths...

And boy is camping here variable. We had at least two nights of torrential rain. It was MISERABLE, mostly because it was so loud and right above your head. We had at least two nights of miserable sub-tropical heat. We ALSO had a few nights of bizarre freezing temperatures. Oh yes, and at least two nights, there were awful colicky babies right next to our tent. And at the end of every hardly-slept night, we would roll everything up, throw it back in the car, and do it all over again.

Actually, I really liked it. It was pretty much as roughing it as you can get when you're in the car every day. Toward the end, we stopped caring if the campsites had showers. We cooked pasta and thai food and we barbecued (because everyone knows that's what the Aussies do) on this tiny pot stove thing and hey, we drank a smidge of wine. The Aussies love that too. But more about wine later, I think. A LOT more.