Friday, April 17, 2009

Cheese on a stick

Last weekend was Easter here on this side of the world (& yours too, of course) & we got to experience a distinctly Aussie tradition … going to the Royal Easter Show in Sydney.

It was actually quite an Aussie weekend. After a lovely (although neck-wrenching) surf at Avoca Beach, I spent the rest of Saturday afternoon immersed in a movie called A Town like Alice, which a co-worker kindly lent me. It’s a 5 hour TV miniseries based on the book by Nevil Shute. It’s a love story set in Malaya during WWII & Northern Queensland after the war. I remember my first introduction to the Aussie TV miniseries being the Thorn Birds (released in 1983 … yikes!). The dreamy Richard Chamberlain playing the wayward priest *sigh* to Rachel Ward’s feisty Meggie. 

If anyone remembers that classic, you may also remember Bryan Brown playing the bloke Meggie ends up marrying & he turns into kind of a bad guy (through vague pre-teen recollections anyway). Well, Bryan Brown plays the hero in A Town called Alice, so I couldn’t help but be sceptical that he could win me over. Good job, Bryan (although a tad shy of dreamy, I mean, really, who could compete with a twelve-year old's memory of  a hunky priest) … I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. While this soapy marathon was going on, my Brian was having a distinctly Canadian day … jamming with some Canadian musicians & then playing hockey, followed by beer.

Monday was back to Aussie again as we took the train to the Olympic grounds in Sydney. They had the Olympics here in 2000 & it’s interesting to see their legacy. It makes me wonder what sort of mark the 2010 Olympics will leave on Vancouver, hmm. 

Anyway, a huge area was marked off for the Easter Show. It was similar to the PNE is some ways and very different in others. They have the rides, animal displays, dog shows, disgusting food, etc.

I mention fair food only to say … a deep-fried fist-sized lump of cheese on a stick … I really wanted it, but I knew it would make me sick … I was deeply torn. Every year I’ve gone to the PNE I’ve made myself sick on mini-donuts (sadly absent in the Sydney show) … eating food destined to give you gastric distress & technicolour dreams is supposed to be part of any fair … right!?! Apparently though, nothing in the world compares to the Minnesota State Fair where it has almost got to the point that they will deep-fry your own shoe for your eating pleasure … thanks Gayle for braving that fair & coming back intestinally intact to share the stories of deep-fried delights. Long story short, I gave the cheese on a stick a miss … I cannot help but feel a bit wistful that I will never know its charms.

Another cool thing at the show was the sheep herding display. They have dogs here called kelpies. They are like shaved border collies with rottie colours. Equal to or surpassing border collies in intensity as well. One thing they do a bit different is that they like to leap on the sheep & walk on their backs. Very serious little canines.

The best part of the show & the part we stood in the pouring rain for half an hour to see was … the diving pigs! 

I was a bit unsure of what we’d actually see when we first heard about this … is someone pushing pigs into a pool of water? Hmmm … I was intrigued, if a bit horrified. It turns out that these pigs actually do seem to enjoy their jobs. The first little hammie trotted  out up the ramp, minced around a bit on her tiny hooves (perhaps because of the rain) & then leapt in. She dog/pig-paddled to the other side of the pool, where she climbed out & shook herself off like a dog. She then got some treats from her trainer. The next pig was Smokey he just ran right out & threw himself into the pool with what looked a tremendous amount of glee. Really quite fascinating to watch … Here’s a picture from the Sunday Telegraph … Now, there is a porky little dude who loves to go to work every day, no!?! … 

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Back to School

So some people have been wondering what I've been doing with my time over here in the magnificent world of Oz. Well lots of things really and I'll share them with you in upcoming posts. For now I'll start with the educational aspect. Interesting how when growing up school was nothing short of social.  Ultimately for me it would become the thing I did when I wasn't playing ice hockey at night, mornings or weekends...a place to hang with friends and (try to) impress the girls. When I wasn't out with mates I was probably practicing guitar or combining the two and jamming with friends. To round things out, the paths of hockey and a rock band often inevitably lead back to girls. Funny how that works. 

The bottom line was the institution of school didn't really have my focus in terms of actual learning. If I learned anything at school it was most likely through some teenage form of osmosis. Hockey, parties and music, while technically a 'focus,' didn't result in an abundance of studying to say the least. Of course that all changed when I went to college and especially when I started majoring in music. Since leaving highschool, education has been a passion of mine (both teaching & learning) and my plans are to continue with it whenever possible. Wonder what my secondary teachers would think about that?

One of the first things I did when we were checking out the area near Steph's work was pay a few visits to the University of Sydney. With the costs of attending fulltime as an international student far beyond our travel budget I opted to take a couple of courses part-time so they wouldn't interfere too much with our travel plans. First up was a class on jazz guitar. Some of you might know I have a diploma in jazz studies from VCC but that was back in the mid-90s so to say the least I am very rusty in that area. Having not played jazz in about a decade I was very excited to get back on the horse and give it a go.

So my journey began every Wednesday at about 3:40pm as I'd head down to the Gosford train station and catch the express. Here's a photo of what the train looks like inside.

The trains are double-deckers and as you can see this one has a vintage look to the decor. The seats backs flip either way depending on which way you want to face. During peak hours when Steph commutes to work the train can get rather packed. I on the other have the luxury of a full bench to myself and its good as I need it dragging along my guitar and bag-o-stuff. The commute is roughly an hour and a half which I begin by getting some reading done, inevitably ending in a snooze. Something about the peacefully repetitious journey on the train just knocks me out almost every time. Then again I often fell asleep getting my head shaved w/ an electric razor back in BC but I think that was more deprivation of sleep than anything else.  Somewhere along the way Steph and I passed each other as she's heading home from work...ships passing in the night. Luckily, Central is the end of the line so I don't have to worry about missing my connecting train while off in dreamland.

One of the best things about the trains in Australia that we noticed is that there's humans who actually work there. Thats something we're not used to back home w/the automated & "honour" system of SkyTrain and let me tell you its a refreshing change. I can see this being a great thing for tourism as transportation in a new city can be very confusing and there's also the safety factor. There's people at the teller if you want to purchase a ticket from a human, there's people near the turnstiles if you need some help, there's people walking around cleaning up garbage, there's people making sure everyone's on the train before the doors close (they hold up a white flag and blow a whistle), there's security walking around on the train and about the stations and *gasp* there's an engineer who drives the train! Its safe to say less people cheat the system and there is less crime as a result. Translink could learn a thing or two from Sydney. To be honest there's nothing like this back home, just imagine trains that could get you from Pemberton/Whistler all the way to Richmond, UBC, Mission or Hope running all day long both ways. People here complain about the transit but they've never lived under the tyranny of Translink Corp. That would have them singing a different tune pretty damn fast.

If you think I'm kidding, I'm not at all. Publicly owned CityRail runs the trains in New South Wales (the buses are run by a private corporation like TransLink). Next to health and education, the state of NSW puts more money into transportation than anything else. Its very important to the people here and it shows. If you're going to drive then you're going to pay because there seems to be tolls everywhere including some major bridges and all the main short cuts through Sydney. However the good thing is there are options if you don't need to drive your car. 

One thing I absolutely love about Australia is the architecture and the preservation of it. Every town you go to you'll find buildings that have kept their heritage exterior intact while restoring and modernizing the interior. Everywhere we go its not unusual to find sandstone hotels and banks with dates on them from the 1800s. Central station is no different. I love the way its wide open in several areas allowing birds to fly freely anywhere they please within the station. There's a small food fair type area that is frequented both by hungry commuters and pigeons looking for a quick bite. The best thing about it is the birds are apparently accepted as part of the deal and not seen as a nuisance as far as I could tell.

So from Central I go down a couple sets of escalators to get on my short Bondi Junction connection which will take me to Martin Place. 

Here's the view as I leave the station and approach Macquarie Street. 

If I cross the street right there I'll come upon Il Porcellino (The Little Pig), a fairly famous bronze statue of a wild boar that sits in front of the Sydney Hospital. Legend has it if you rub his snout he will bring you good luck. By the shiny looks of him he's been busy.

Not quite sure what rubbing the boar's privates will bring you but oddly enough they seem to have received almost as much attention. ...Moving along - so from there I head down Macquarie and past the Parliament House...

Then I pass Steph's place of work, The State Library of New South Wales...

Next I pass Trim who always puts a smile on my face.

Next week I should grab a cappuccino at Café Trim. Gotta admire an explorer with a sense of humour (even if he didn't know it at the time).

Crossing the street to the Botanic Gardens

Its a gorgeous view with heavy traffic (going the 'wrong' way) so one must make sure look the correct direction before crossing...

Looking back at the prestigious Mitchell Wing of the Library...

Heading down the columns of palm trees along the Gardens...

Approaching the University, note the tips of the Opera House peaking over the horizon. 

Normally its very sunny as you can imagine but the day I took these photos it was overcast. Turning to the right the Conservatorium now comes into view, perhaps my favorite piece of architecture in all of Australia. This building, believe or not, was actually built to be the horse stables for Governor Macquarie. Inside the stables are music offices and a large concert hall. The black circle in front is the skylight for the music library below. To the right of the castle inspired stable building is the modern expansion of the music department.

Down the stairs and to the left at the end of the hall is where I took my class from 6-8pm. 

Really enjoyed revisiting the language of jazz, here's a video example of some of what was covered in the 8 weeks.

(press play - "Here's That Rainy Day")

Our instructor Steve wrapping up the final class, really enjoyed all he had to share. A fantastic musician & improviser. 
So after that it was a walk down to the train at Wynyard Station on George St. for a different route back to Central. 

Time to get a good seat, not a difficult task in the evening, get comfy and dig back into my book for the commute back to Gosford. Like clockwork I fall asleep somewhere inbetween Chatswood & Hornsby...luckily I wake up just before Woy Woy pretty much every time. I have yet to awaken in Newcastle which is a very good thing as I'd be getting home closer to midnight instead of 10:30ish. Perhaps its the good luck of Il Porcellino.

Right now I'm in the middle of taking 2 further classes. One is a Pro Lab on sound engineering based around Apple's Logic, music recording software and the other is Blues Piano. The cool thing about the piano class is the instructor teaches with the oral/aural method which is how musicians would have traditionally learned the blues way back in the day. Ultimately that means no reading music and no jotting down notes, it all has to be by memory. By the end of the class I should know how to play 3 old blues songs including one by Ray Charles. Being that I'm not really a piano player that may be optimistic. We shall see.