Saturday, January 31, 2009

It Was Only 45 Degrees, but It Was a Scorcher!

45 degrees Celsius.  That's 113 degrees to those of us in the States who never learned the metric system.  That's how hot it was in Melbourne, Australia, on Friday, the third day of a brutal heat wave.   The weather wreaked havoc on Melbourne's train system, causing cancellations and stranding commuters.  Because of these unusual circumstances, I had an arduous journey from Healesville Sanctuary to Melbourne.  

After taking a bus from the sanctuary to the town of Healesville, I boarded a bus to Lilydale train station.  The driver of that bus informed me that "the trains are in great strife" and that I would probably be waiting a while.  After a winding bus ride through the vineyards of the Yarra Valley, I arrived at the Lilydale station to find the trains weren't running.  A somewhat flustered but extremely helpful Connex worker told a small group of us to wait for a replacement bus that would take us to Ringwood.  From there, the trains would be running to Melbourne.  

Parched, I decided to walk to a nearby fast food seafood restaurant to buy a couple of bottles of water, and I ordered a cheeseburger.  It took forever.  My fault for asking for a cheeseburger in a seafood joint.  When I finally returned to the train station, I discovered the bus to Ringwood had departed and my cheeseburger was actually a fish sandwich.  

I eventually caught another replacement bus that took me to a train station. After some confusion on the part of the train and bus folks, I made my way via train back to Melbourne.  In all, my journey from the sanctuary involved three buses and a train and took just shy of three and a half hours.  I encountered very pleasant people - transportation workers and passengers alike - and I didn't hear much grumbling at all.  One guy said, "That's ridiculous" in an even tone.  If this had been New York . . . I don't even want to think about it.

Australian Animals Abound

65 kilometers (40 miles) from Melbourne, in the Yarra Valley, is the Healesville Sanctuary, a safe haven for Australia's native creatures.  I spent a splendid, albeit sweltering, afternoon there, walking among the animals in their natural setting.  I walked the entire length of the roughly 2.6-kilometer (1.6 miles) trail  in 108-degree heat.  I can't believe I did that, but I really wanted to see these animals!  

I started with the emus and walked clockwise through the entire sanctuary.

Next stop: koalas!  

An echidna waddles through its habitat.

I fed this joey a chunk of carrot that a Healesville staffer gave me.

I made friends with a couple of rock wallabies.

I was stunned by the giant eyes of this pelican.

I sat on a bench about five feet away from these sweet wallabies.

My new friend, the Tasmanian devil, burst from behind the brush to say hello.

The frill-necked lizard is one of the more unusual creatures I saw.

As this dingo noshed on a hunk of meat, I could hear his teeth crushing the bone.  Eerie.

Australian white ibis were everywhere around the sanctuary, even in the parking lot.

It's not a typical zoo where animals from around the globe are locked in cages behind bars and forced to sit on concrete slabs.  These are Australia's own animals in their own habitat.  Sure, there are birds in mesh cages, and some animals are contained behind a thin rope stretched between wooden stakes. But the biggest surprise to me was how accessible the animals are.  I spent more than three hours at Healesville, enjoying the nature around me.  Although I was disappointed that I didn't see a wombat - he was probably keeping cool underground - I was happy that I made the trek from Melbourne and dripped perspiration from every pore in my body (nice image, huh?). 

Thursday, January 29, 2009

There's No Ken at This Barbie

I've been fortunate enough to meet some nice locals here in Melbourne while working at the Australian Open.  Simon and Emily, a lovely couple who are to be married at the end of the year, invited us to their home for a real Aussie barbie.  

Simon expertly grilled different meats on the barbie.

We had snags (sausages) on white bread with tomato sauce (ketchup), macaroni salad, potato salad, chicken wings, lamb, and Caesar salad.  It was all quite yummy!

Our guest, a little Australian possum, wanted us to share the feast.

The food and company were great, but my favorite part about my first Aussie barbie was meeting Jemma, Simon and Emily's cat.

She was shy until I broke out the camera, then she wanted to pose.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Nando's - A Chicken Sensation

I'm fortunate that I'm working with a group of people who have been to Melbourne several times.  They give me advice about good places to eat, and they are most passionate about Nando's, a fast food joint not found in the States.  The chain uses African-influenced spices to Portuguese-style flame grilling to create delicious chicken dishes.

I can't do spicy, so on my first trip to Nando's, I had this slab of lemon and herb chicken:

This reminds me of one of my favorite blogs, Lunch, where the girls take pictures of their meals every day.  Anyway, Nando's is great food with spicy options for people who can stomach it and several sides.  It differs from American fast food in that it's much more expensive - the meal above cost 19 Australian dollars, which is roughly $12 US - but it's probably healthier, except for the fries, of course.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

More Marsupial Madness!

My friend Rembert spotted this critter in a park across the street from our hotel here in Melbourne.  Luckily, I had my real camera with me, so I was able to take a couple of photos of this sweet Australian Possum.  I love him!

A Delicious Melbourne Breakfast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right?  It's a good thing the Corner Cafe is here in Melbourne to provide me with a hearty meal before work.  The place is run by a delightful lady with a French accent (sounds French to me, at least), and she has something pleasant to say every morning.  

The Corner Cafe is conveniently located on the way to work.

My first breakfast there was this yummy ham, egg and cheese omelet.  The ham and cheese croissants are divine, too.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Best Pub in Melbourne, Australia

Okay, so it's the only pub I've been to in Melbourne, but no matter.  Bridie O'Reilly's is an Irish pub a short distance from our hotel.  The people who work there are some of the friendliest I've ever met.  Many members of our crew have made Bridie's our stopping point after work.

Bridie's tap 

Our favorite cozy corner of the bar

Cara serves a couple of guys enjoying a pint

But It Doesn't Look Like a Possum

This picture doesn't do him justice, but this little guy is so cute!  We saw him scrambling around the trees that line the entrance of our hotel in Melbourne, and the only thing I had on me was my iPhone and not a proper camera. 

We were in formed by a local that he's a possum, and we couldn't believe it because possums as we know them are nasty creatures with rat-like skin tails.  Our new friend's tail is long and fluffy.  A Google search confirmed that he is, indeed, an Australian Possum, and unlike its namesake in the States, this guy is actually loved by many Australians.

I haven't seen him - or any of his brethren - since that night, but I'm on the lookout.

Apparently It's Made of Yeast

Vegemite is not made of vegetables.  It's some kind of yeast by-product.  Whatever it is, I actually like it.  I had my first taste yesterday at work when a friend who has years of experience with the Australian foodstuff brought in a lovely cracker topped by cheese and a dark paste.  

Vegemite is the dark matter under the cheese.

The Australian spread piqued the collective American consciousness in the early 1980s due to the popularity of a song and a band that I refuse to name on my blog.  It caused many Americans to pick up a dictionary - since we didn't have the Internet - and throw our hands up in despair because we could not find the meaning of vegemite.  Since it's a spread, most people unfamiliar with vegemite glop it onto a slice of bread as if it were peanut butter.  Please, don't do that!  Apply a nice, thin layer on your bread or cracker and enjoy the salty goodness of the yeasty ingredients.  Whatever they may be.

So, What Exactly Happened to Last Wednesday?

I've been in Australia for a week now, working the Australian Open tennis tournament for ESPN, and I'm still looking for the Wednesday I lost on my 24-hour journey here.  I left New York on Tuesday, January 13, and when I arrived in Melbourne, it was Thursday, January 15.  Wednesday, January 14 disappeared.  Where did it go?  Did I sleep through it on the plane?  How does crossing the International Date Line make one lose an entire day of one's life?  

Interesting questions that I can't begin to answer.  All I can say is that Melbourne is a great town from what I've seen so far, which isn't much considering the hours I've been working.  But I have had a few adventures, which I will share in the coming days.  In the meantime, here's a look at Australia from the plane:

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Butter Teeth

I'm irritated.  

An annoying American girl - she looks twelve, but is listed as twenty-two - has taken Japan by storm simply for staring into the camera of her laptop. She goes by the name Magibon.  She's a sensation in Japan for sitting in front of her computer and staring into the camera for a few seconds.  At first glance she does look cute, but after watching an interview of her on Japanese television, I discovered why she doesn't talk much on her YouTube videos.  Yuck!

I'm not the only one who is annoyed or questions her existence in Japan's realm of pop culture.  I like this post from last year on, even though several people commented on the blog entry how intrigued they were by her.  I'm with this post from last April boldly proclaiming that "Magibon is a Fake." Nevertheless, the Japanese love her, and that makes me unnecessarily jealous.  

Friday, January 9, 2009

"Happy New Year" in Japanese Explained

Someone commented about my nengajou blog entry, saying that what was written on the card seemed awfully long for the three-word phrase "Happy New Year."  He's right; I didn't translate the meaning verbatim.  I blame laziness.

This is one way of saying Happy New Year in Japanese.  In English it is pronounced shin nen akemashite omedetou gozaimasu. Literally translated using Yahoo! Babel Fish, it reads "New Year Opening, you question with the [me], it is."  Hmm, I don't think that helps much.  Basically it means "Congratulations on the beginning of the new year."  

This phrase, kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai itashimasu, is very polite Japanese, which Babel Fish translates as "This year we ask may."  Okaaaay.  The concept of this sentence essentially asks the recipient of the New Year's card to continue being nice to the sender this year as in the past.  We English speakers don't really have such a tidy phrase, but we should.

Read more about this lovely cultural tradition of Japan here, and check out an Americanized version of a nengajou here.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Best Street Name in all of North Carolina

Yes, the sign reads "Jones Sausage Rd"!  At Exit 303 on I-40 outside of Raleigh, North Carolina, Jones Sausage Road is my favorite street name in the Tar Heel State.  Apparently it's named after the Jesse Jones Sausage Company, a subsidiary of ConAgra Foods.  GoodMark Foods, the company that formed when General Mills bought Jesse Jones, makes Slim Jims at its plant in Garner.  The product isn't appealing to me, but I still like the name of the road.  

GoodMark Foods, Inc.'s address is located on my second favorite street name in North Carolina: Falls of the Neuse Road.

Nengajou for the New Year

This is a picture of the Japanese New Year's postcard (nengajou) that I wrote for my family and friends who live in Japan.  It says "Happy New Year."  

I was supposed to send them out two weeks ago so that they would arrive on New Year's Day, but that didn't happen.  My mother told me to send them anyway and that my family in Okinawa will understand that an American is always late.  I try to follow the etiquette rules of Japanese culture, but I suppose I'm just too American for that.  

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Grocery Boy Jr.

At a random exit off I-40 outside of Raleigh, North Carolina, we found a convenience store called Grocery Boy Jr.  The name is a departure from most gas station/snack stop combos in the South; names such as the Pantry or Kwik Stop (or Qwik Stop or Quik Stop - the word "quick" is never spelled correctly) are more prevalent.  I thought Kwik Stops were synonymous with the South, but a Google search led me to convenience stores of that name in New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and even Washington state.  Who knew?

Anyway, the intriguing thing about Grocery Boy Jr. was that it seemed to be a family-oriented establishment, as evidenced by this sign/warning posted next to the entrance:

It's pretty sad that a nice, little town in North Carolina would have citizens who behave in such a way that warrants a sign like this.  At least Grocery Boy Jr. appears to urge zero tolerance against that behavior.  

The fine folks at GBJ may be strong on family, but they're not particularly strong on grammar, as evidenced by another sign on the premises:

It's a lovely sentiment, but since GBJ is talking about a gift from God, God is possessive, so there needs to be an apostrophe: all about God's gift to us.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

My 40th Birthday: Japanese Cute!

My birthday is the day after Christmas.  The worst part about having a birthday on the day after Christmas is that, well, it’s the day after Christmas.  A college friend of mine remarked about twenty years ago, “It’s hard to make a big deal out of your birthday when Jesus was born the day before.”  How does one respond to that?  

There is, however, an upside to being born the day after Christmas:  an extra day to open presents!  Yay!  When I was little, my parents gave me one birthday present and a birthday card.  These days my husband showers me with gifts!  It’s because he loves me and feels sorry for me, but it’s also because his birthday is December 30, so he was shafted all is life, too. 

After serving me breakfast in bed (Marc makes the best scrambled eggs!), Marc presented me with birthday cupcakes and my presents.  My presents were wrapped in Carolina blue paper.

The cupcakes came from Eleni’s, a bakery in Chelsea Market.  

The chocolate and yellow cake baked goods were piled high with thick, swirly icing and sweet, sprinkles (or “Jimmies” as they say in Massachusetts).  Marc topped each cupcake with the cutest candles ever!

Marc has a knack for finding the cutest Japanese gifts for me.  The first present I opened was a book about Nyan Nyan Nyanko traveling through Japan.  

These are cute little kittens that dress up like Japanese food and cultural icons.  I’d like to note that the kittens are merely dressing up as different Japanese dishes; they are not to be eaten!  The book is a cultural and gastronomical journey through Japan with pictures that depict regional foods.  Look for a translation/review in blog entries to come. 

Shiba Wanko is a new character for me.  I found her (is she a girl?) on TVJapan one day; it’s a short animation that features a dog (Shiba Wanko) that teaches all of us about the proper Japanese etiquette and the cultural treasures of Japan.  She’s so cute.

Tokyu Hands is one of my favorite stores in Japan, and it’s my playground for one of my obsessions: office supplies.  

Marc bought me a bunch of cool pens . . .

. . . the smallest pair of scissors ever . . .

. . . and paper clips in the shape of rabbits.

I’m so excited about my big birthday gift.  It’s a kanji translator!  It’s cool.  Once I figure out how it works, I'm sure it will help me with my Japanese studies.

This crazy computerized pen scans Japanese text and translates it into English.  I'm still trying to grasp the ins and outs of the device, but in the coming days I'll be blogging about how great it is. 

A few years ago we saw a commercial for a pen like this that translated English text into Japanese.  We wondered if there were a pen that would do the reverse.  Marc found it in this issue of Japan Inc. during our stay in Tokyo in September.

Here is the tip of the pen.  It lights up when it's being used to scan text.  It translates kanji (Chinese characters), but not entire sentences.  I know it doesn't work with handwritten characters - I tried that at my mom's house last week - and it's tough when dealing with small text.  I'll figure it out.  がんばります.