Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cash, Thongs and Haich-es

I've now been in Sydney a little more than a fortnight- 17 days. It's amazing how fast the time has gone, and how some things have radically changed while others are still plodding along. What has struck me the most, however, has been the little everyday things that are becoming part of my life here.

To begin: The company I am working for installs a fair bit of HP hardware, and all around the office I hear phone calls and discussions about Haich-P. Haich. It didn't really occur to me that the way someone pronounced a letter (such as our Zed and the U.S. equivalent Zee) would bother me that much, but seriously – hearing it as part of a brand name I'm accustomed to is jarring. And the woman who works at the desk the other side of the partition has a last name with two h's, which she often spells over the phone.

Then there's tomahto sauce, not ketchup. EFTPOS, not Debit (which I can only assume stands for Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale). The first thing I learned here was, “How you going?” and I am still trying to figure out the correct response. And my latest today is courtesy my office mate, who told me the proper phrase is, “Do you have two secs?” instead of “a minute.”
It's very rare to leave a tip. Cabdrivers don't always know where they are going. I like taking the train, but I have yet to ride the monorail. You generally can't transfer buses and you cannot take a return trip on your first fare. Sometimes you have to go downtown to get anywhere. And they're very fond of acronyms for places: QVB is Queen Victoria Building, CBD is Central Business District. It took me days to learn that Pde in Anzac Pde, a street, stands for Parade.
A regular coffee is 8 oz – I've seen a 12 oz as a large – and it's cheaper than water in many places. It's not often you'll find drip coffee, but cappuccinos, lattes and mochas are everywhere and very reasonable. (And I can drink the milk! No more soy!) I haven't had bad coffee yet, but then I have been frequenting nice coffee places and restaurants.

People here love their thongs. Although many women wear heels daily, a lot of them wear flip flops to their destination and then switch. A lot of the men wear thongs, too. But Jody bought a new pair of Keen sandals at the outlet mall on the weekend, and I only have the brown and pink ones that match my swimsuit – so we'll have to get some.
But first! We must get a flat – er, apartment - of our own so we have somewhere to keep our thongs, our haich-es and our sanity. It seems most flat-hunting is done on Saturday, but we've booked one appointment for Friday lunchtime (which is tomorrow for us; it's nearing 11pm Thursday as I blog) and another for Tuesday. Tuesday's is promising, but it's also our last shot before we have to leave Mark's and go to a hotel again. That reminds me, “unfurnished” does not mean it includes a fridge, and “laundry” sometimes means hookups only, or just a dryer – washing machines are easy to take when you move, so apparently it's pretty standard to just have a stove and dishwasher. We're really hoping for air conditioning because Jody's already too hot.

When Jody was away the other week and I was walking near our hotel, I happened by an Irish pub called Scruffy Murphy's. And it was playing, not pipes or horns or Celtic, but Ring of Fire. Johnny Cash, folks, in an Irish pub. And in case you were wondering what kind of cash I was talking about, I can mention the other one too. The money is colourful and has little clear windows in it. If you're coming to visit, though, make sure to bring a change purse – the coins are hefty. The $1 are larger in diameter than the $2, the 20 cents are bigger than a quarter, and the 50 cents are larger still! bigger than a toonie, I think! 5 and 10 cents are more sane. Supposedly there are 2 cent coins and no single pennies, but as most people round here, I haven't seen one.

Tonight I finally got a good view of the harbour; because Jody's boss was unable to attend, he passed his invitation to a cruise ship schmoozefest on to us. We enjoyed champagne with guava juice and canapes, some lovely live music and a little dancing, and a harbour tour. The tour, cleverly, ended just after sunset – so we should have some good pictures forthcoming. There were some very friendly people aboard, several of whom Jody will come into contact with as he is part of the FOSS4G planning committee. FOSS is a yearly conference taking place in Sydney in 2009; it was in Victoria fall 2007, so Jody's already had experience with it.

I'd love to write some more but I think for now I am going to have to call it a night. I am typing on my Eee to give my Mac a little more time to dry out, but it seems that it has miraculously recovered from its bath in Jody's tea three days ago. The Apple guys couldn't believe it. Still, unless my travel insurance happens to cover replacing it, my warranty is void because liquid damage isn't “normal” wear and tear – so this voids anything else that might go wrong later. That it is still working at all is impressive. Jody turned it upside down and removed its battery immediately, so that gave it a good chance of recovery – and we found the Leatherman and unscrewed the hard drive about ten minutes later. The mic and camera still work and the screen is fine – the only lasting damage seems to be the loss of functionality on the left-side Opt key, but since there's a second Opt key I'm not worried. Yay Mac!

Jody is playing on his PSP and seems to be on the last level of some Joan of Arc game where monsters are kicking his butt. He might be a while and I am tempted to keep writing. Oh,he has now gotten “Stage Cleared” so there might just be a cut scene left before the end. So I will say goodnight.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

No Kangaroos yet, but plenty of feathers!

Pictures will have to come later, as I've nearly used up all my Internet time- despite typing this blog post offline throughout the day.

Late this morning, I took a train to meet Jody at the bank. Here are photos of my walk and my solo train venture. The train was underground, and had two decks! I was very grateful to have had some experience with the Light Rail Transit in San Francisco, because it was similar in terms of tickets and train platforms. It was quite exciting, and although I had to ask where the correct platform was (turns out it was down two levels from the main floor) I was otherwise able to find my way.

I've just been watching the Melbourne Cup with my new office mates. Like Durban July is to South Africa, Melbourne Cup is to Australia – the largest, most publicized horse race in the country, topped off by a plethora of feathery headdresses and couture dresses. The country slows to a crawl for the first hour of the races, and in Melbourne it's a public holiday. The trams have been packed with people going to the races; the streets are teeming with feather-festooned heads and high heels.

Speaking of high heels, I was walking near our new bank this afternoon and saw JIMMY CHOO! And FERRAGAMO! Jody, naturally, had no idea what this meant. To me, it meant that I could at last look up close at shoes I will never be able to afford – but at least I can now covet them from a reasonable distance! There was also a Tiffany's and a Gucci. All within a block of each other. Someone pinch me.

-Break to watch more racing-
Woo hoo! The second race is over, and my horse won! I won 18 dollars in the office pool, randomly betting on Juggle the Books. Go, Books!

And now we're off to check out a conference centre.

Jody and I went back to the hotel and found drinks and snacks on the way, including HELLO PANDA biscuits! I haven't seen these in years. Vitamin Water is prevalent here too, and regular water is more expensive than coffee. Chocolate bars are also more expensive, but they do sell KitKat here, so I'll survive.

After changing into more comfortable clothes, we headed off to find dinner. A Lebanese restaurant offered kebab, hummous, falafel and some sort of sauteed chicken. I ordered a chai latte and there was barely any tea in it. The nice woman who ran the place plunked a teabag into my cup so it could steep longer. By the time I finished my drink it had more flavour (previously it was like drinking steamed milk with nutmeg), but I think my search for the perfect chai will continue.

So, we succeeded in having three meals today; taking public transit; opening our bank account and applying for credit cards; winning a bet; and using cynicism in the workplace. More another day!

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