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Three More weeks
It's more than three weeks since we reported in. That has more than doubled the amount of time we've been in Sydney and we are well into our second month here. We are already beginning to think that our stay will be too short for us to "catch our breath" sufficiently to see enough of Sydney to satisfy our appetite or catch up on the 1001 projects that we thought we would get to once we were "settled" for a while. We are enjoying what is simultaneously a very relaxed life and a very filled life here. We are always astonished to hear that people our age fear retirement and wonder what to fill their days with. We feel that the days are all too short to cram in all that we would like to do.
We see the weather report everyday for a good part of the world — and thus sympathize with all those experiencing chill or increasing heat. The weather here is great. Not too hot, not too cold. Just what Goldilocks would like. That weather has allowed us to go out and sit twice in nearby Rushcutters Park, reading and enjoying the view of the yachts returning to their moorings after a day's sail in the harbor. Twice we've been to an outdoor swimming pool, located right on the harbor and filled with semi-salted water rather than sweet water. It is named for Andrew "Boy" Carlton, one of Australia's first Olympic swimming champions. The pool is Olympic size and we are pleased with our ability to do 600-700 m.
At the end of November we extended our cultural life a bit. By accident we attended the Scottish Festival when we were on our way to see, for the first time, the far side of downtown Sydney. That day we intended to walk across Sydney Harbor Bridge. We got close but couldn't find the stairs to take us up to the height of the bridge. Later we had it explained to us and we'll try again sometime.
We also spent a day at the University of Sydney where we had some interesting accidental conversations about religion and evolution and about American "colonialism", all incidental to attending two talks by world-famous people (even if we didn't recognize their names) and a visit to the Nicholson Museum. That gave us a brush-up course on Greek and Egyptian antiquies; the former of which we were immersed in last year.
Gerry has been anxious to buy a bike ever since we got here but somehow we just couldn't find a good source of second-hand bikes. After much searching we found satisfying purchases. Last Friday we went off on our first outing having finally equipped ourselves with the statutory helmets. We rode out to another suburb of Sydney, Alexandria, ostensibly to find an electronics store that might stock the small-format external hard drive that Gerry wants to buy, but in fact it was just an excuse to get us out of our chairs and onto the streets. We spent an hour and a half getting there, ate some lunch, did some shopping, and then an hour and a half to come back both feeling pretty pleased both with our purchases and our ability to sit on those saddles for all that time. Suddenly much more of Sydney is within easy reach and we now consider ourselves in training for an outing to the Royal National Park (on the coast 25 kilometers south of Sydney) which has quite a few cyclable trails. If we accomplish that we'll consider doing something really outside the city.
We're still mostly cooking for ourselves. When we do go out, you'll never guess where we've eaten out the most: a gambling hall. Yes, no kidding. Our first time there we didn't know it was a machine-poker parlor; we had just come out of the nearby K-mart and saw in their window that they had a daily-special seven-days a week. Next time we were in Bondi Junction we planned to eat there. That's when we discovered the poker machines and that people are either members or need to apply for temporary membership (always granted). The special is always meat and potatoes; the servings are always generous, and we are always happy in the bright surroundings where we eat first and then read our newspaper.
We had a rather unusual Thanksgiving. Unusual in the sense that it wasn't American style, with turkey and all the trimmings, and it wasn't just the two of us, as it has usually been the last seven years. This time we had an apartment and a guest, Fleur Cools. We met Fleur (she's Dutch, about 25) as we were getting on the Pelni boat from Batam (near Singapore) to Jakarta. After Jakarta she went her way and we ours around Java and then Bali. We were rather surprised to learn when we got an email from her that she was also in Sydney. So we had her over — for stir-fried beef, a la Gerry.
We are still quite bemused by being back in the English-speaking world, as evidenced by being able to understand those around us without any great linguistic effort. Sitting in our apartment it is hard to resist the temptation to jump up and look when you hear a snippet of conversation from the street below. In many of the foreign countries we've been in, it would have meant that rare occurrence of another English-speaker nearby, but here of course, it's the norm. But as any language student will tell you, pitfalls await the unwary. We are fast learning that Australians speak English, yes, but a dialect of English with its own flavor, its own slang, and its own set of dialect words. Here are some of them:
Isn't life fun? Luckily, our Oxford computer dictionary speaks some Aussie slang which solved some of the mysteries.
We plan to update this list from time to time. See Oz Speak
We are gradually getting to know the main Australian politicians and political pundits. We'd heard of Prime Minister John Howard before arrival but besides him every name is new to us. One of them is Kim Beazley. Just as we were getting to know him as the head of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), the Official Opposition, rumors started to abound that there would be a revolt in the ranks and that he would be out on his ear. He of course denied it and assured everybody that it wasn't in the cards. Did Margaret Thatcher say the same? (Or Donald Rumsfeld?) Two weeks after these rumors became serious, and now a week ago, there was a challenge: Kevin Rudd put himself forward and won. There seems little difference in policies between Rudd and Beazley; both have semi-leftist policies, including leaning toward what labor unions want and being strongly in favor of Kyoto, etc. If we understand it right, Rudd is more understanding of the U.S., perhaps because he was formerly in the Australian diplomatic service, including serving in China.
We watched the full cycle related to the release of the Iraq Study Group report, including rumors about what it would contain, Baker and Hamilton's appearance on PBS' Newshour, and part of a Senate hearing in which John McCain was pretty negative about their recommendations. To us they really don't seem to have come up with anything new. To be cynical, how could they? "Train the Iraqis more" as if that hadn't already been going on a long time. "Talk to Iran and Syria" as if that hadn't been attempted. We want to see success in Iraq, where we define that as a democratic, non-sectarian government, that provides considerably more safety to its people than is now being done. Our bottom line is that voters and politicians should now decide it is worth the US lives and treasure it will take to defeat the terrorists or if it isn't then get out. We, like Bush, Blair, John Howard of Australia, McCain, and Lieberman, believe it is worth it and think the majority of Democrats think that too but don't want to say it.
It seems that about once a week we pass a good used book sale. We were on the way to the Sydney Art Gallery when we came across one at a nearby church-chapel. In sort of an uncontrolled frenzy we doubled the collection we had started at the Newtown Festival. Of course we put aside some of the books we'd been reading to take up one of the new ones. That was "Enemy at the Gates", about the Battle of Stalingrad. It is a rather bloody tale, with thousands getting killed every day, and gives rise to a rather strange mixture of feelings: we are sorry for the young men who get killed and maimed and happy to see both totalitarian countries, led by Hitler and Stalin, weaken each other. The steady diet of death has made Jan put it aside for a while, perhaps to never return to it.
Gerry continues with his reading of a 50-year-old book by Peter Drucker on Management. It is a bit strange to see computers described as the wave of the future! In our first few days here, Jan finished Balzac's "Les Illusions Perdues", in the original French of course. She loved it and now plans to read the rest of the novel series "La Comedie Humaine" to which it belongs. She's still spending at least an hour a day reading Russian but sometimes picks up an English novel for some light relief. Her current choice is "The Peppered Moth" by Margaret Drabble. As someone who writes about Yorkshire, where Jan went to college, Drabble should be a pleasant read, but Jan prefers her sister Ann Byatt's writing if not her novels.
We're still trying to sort out the future. We've now made two trips to the RTA, as the local driver's licensing agency is called. We thought (really just hoped, since it seemed implausible to us) that we'd gotten together all of the papers that we needed to get licenses. We need one of a small set of papers that is proof of address. We could use a bank or credit card statement but only have a delivery of new credit cards. We could use a rental agreement but only have a hand-written one signed by the wrong person. Our doctor's statement with our address on it doesn't count.
We've seen a great round-the-world air ticket, valid for one year, that would take us to South Africa as well as Europe and the US for about $2000. We worry that if we wait too long, the offer will expire and then we won't get the tickets we want and won't have driver's licenses either. So if we get the licenses in the next two weeks — say before Xmas — then we'll probably commit ourselves to paying the money for visa extensions (about $200 each including the required medical tests) or spend a bit more for a short trip to Fiji or New Zealand and then come back to Oz,
Now as the end of 2006 plays itself out we are looking forward to some Christmas Carols at various churches and then the great Sydney New Years Eve Fireworks. We've seen pictures of past ones and they really look terrific, especially with the reflections on the water. We've staked out a good place, at Embarcation Park, which is about 100 ft above the water and overlooking it from a sharp cliff. We'll go there early in the day, taking our folding chairs and a good supply of nurishment, to ensure that we get a front-row place.