Thursday, September 30, 2010

Why I'm here

Last night we had a big family dinner again. Sophie was entranced with her cousins, giggling and smiling every time they looked at her. She fussed and fidgeted until I held her close enough to get her tiny hands into the Play-doh the other kids were playing with. She wanted so much to do what they were doing, to be one of them.

And I remembered why I'm here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Customer service

I was at the store today, trying to find Shake 'N Bake. The clerks recognized the name even though they don't carry anything like it. I'm not sure how that works - do they see too many American ads? How odd to watch advertisements for things you can't actually buy.

While I was shopping a clerk came up to me and said she remembered me asking for American stuff a few days ago. So she told me about the USA Foods store (where my brother-in-law got me the A1 sauce).

When we went to the bank to cash an American check, the teller closed her station just so she could walk us to the front desk and hand us over to our account rep, who opened a new (interest bearing) account to hold the funds. The account rep asked about the baby, even though we'd left her at home with Grandma.

All of this incredibly personal customer service strikes me as so... inefficient. American business practices have been pared to the rational minimum, and trained me to expect it, to the point where it's weird for clerks to remember my name. It feels, and this won't be the last time I say this, like the 80s.

At least there's no disco, though.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Turning around

Australians cannot turn a car around.

Seriously, they will drive around an entire city block, making left hand turns the whole way, so that they can park facing the right direction on the street.

Today I demonstrated my advanced technique involving the Reverse gear and a convenient driveway. My sister-in-law dismissed it as "American."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Grand Finals

I watched the footy Grand Finals over the weekend. "Footy" refers to Australian-rules football, a sport invented to keep cricket players fit during the off-season and now the biggest thing going in Victoria (100,016 fans showed up at the stadium on Saturday).

The game is, as all British sports are, largely incomprehensible. It is also incredibly undignified. It's played with a football, and you can tackle people; but you can't run more than 10 meters with the ball. Instead, you move it down field by kicking it.

Soccer has a certain elegance, with its graceful trajectories and immense control over the very predictable ball. You can run the length of a soccer field, chasing the ball with kicks, while dodging enemy players and seeking a shooting position.

Needless to say, you can't do this with a football. As soon as it touches the ground it caroms off in a completely random direction. It does this every time it touches the ground.

So footy starts out looking like football: the ball flies through the air from player to player (though kicked instead of passed), but as soon as a catch is missed, it degenerates into the spectacle of a thirty-odd grown men scrambling around like lunatics. They're large and scary men, so I wouldn't say that part out loud, but it's true.

The teams were St. Kilda's Saints and Collingwood's Magpies. Collingwood occupies the same social rung as the Dallas Cowboys: the team everyone loves to hate. They got an early lead and held it until the very end, when the Saints kicked 3 goals in a row and caught up.

Then the impossible happened: in the last two minutes, the score became tied. The teams fought hard but no more points appeared before the final whistle. I turned to my brother-in-law and asked how long the over-time play would be.

The answer was, a whole new game. That's right, next week the teams have to come back and play a whole new game. Apparently ties don't happen enough for anyone to have figured out how to fix it (r decide that it needed fixing). So the Aussie version of the Superbowl has to be redone.

Sometimes it feels like the whole country is run by amateurs.

But of course, that feels right at home for me. The frontier spirit, which actually lasted only twenty years but defined how Americans wanted to think of themselves, still smells fresh in Australia. No wonder so many Yanks idolize the place.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A kingly gift

My brother-in-law showed up last night with a kingly gift: two bottles of A1 Steak Sauce. Hooray for brothers-in-law!

There's a store down by his house that sells imported American goods. It is a measure of my desperation that I think $13 for a medium bottle is a fair deal. The next day I rushed down there and picked up some non-essentials like a can of enchilada sauce and a jar of kosher dills.

The place is just a tiny store-front attached to a warehouse, but it was packed with 20 or 30 younger people. Oddly, I was the only American there. I can't imagine what possesses Aussies to pay those prices for common foodstuffs.

Well, except for the A1. I can totally understand that; the local equivalent, HP Sauce, is just dreadful.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The high price of a socialist economy

Australia is, by current American terms, a socialist nation, although they in no way consider themselves socialist. The Republicans keep warning us that if we strengthen our social security net, we'll have exactly what Australia has: the dreaded socialist economy,

I can now tell you first-hand some of the effects of that wretched affliction. I took a niece and a nephew to the corner store for chocolate bars. Total bill, for 3 candy bars and one super-size candy bar: $16.95.

Then Sara and I took them to the movies. The tickets alone, for 2 adults and 2 children, were $61.00.

Yes, folks, everything costs twice as much here. I honestly haven't figured out how people survive on salaries that are basically the same as in the USA (except that the minimum wage here is $12 an hour). Yet everybody has plenty of stuff and they do plenty of things.

On the other hand, health care is not only subsidized, but cheaper. Even if you didn't apply to the government for reimbursement, you would still spend a lot less on health care here than in the USA. And the quality of care is about the same.

What that tells me is that Americans are getting really shafted by the health care industry - the same folks who raised insurance premiums %8 in a deflationary economy.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I can't tell which way North is. I keep getting confused and turned around.

Sara had the same problem in Arizona, but I just assumed it was because she never went outside. Now I think it must have something to do with the switch in hemispheres.

We're also struggling to bring our money over. The government doesn't want you bringing sacks of cash, and the banks don't want you doing it electronically. At least getting shafted by the banks and tripped up by the government makes me feel right at home.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A1 Sauce

I cooked steaks tonight (at $26 a kilo!). What I really, really wanted was some A1 sauce.

So I Googled it. I found two recipes. One was insanely complex with 30 ingredients, including some I'd never heard of, and the other was pretty simple. Obviously I tried the simple one, and obviously it didn't work at all.

What I wound up with was a brown sauce that tasted like oranges. I honestly have no idea why I thought it would produce anything vaguely like the real thing, but it was a cheap and easy hope for a while. I guess we can all fool ourselves when something important is on the line.

Meanwhile, it's back to convincing myself to spring for that $30 bottle from the USA store.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Beautiful Baby Bounty

We spent our first day at home, being welcomed by various branches of the Creasy clan. On the second day we ventured out to attend to the siren's song of Universal Health Care.

This is the part I like best: Medicare has a little office in the mall, between a department store and a chemist (i.e. pharmacy). People come in, hand over their medical receipts, and the government hands them fistfuls of cash. I like to tell this story to conservatives and watch their heads explode. To be clear, that's the part I like best.

We signed Baby and me up (Sara narrowly dodged the expiration date by a few months), and then we had to sit in the corner while a social worker lectured us. On all the different ways the government was about to give us money. Seriously, when she started talking about immunization payments, I was thinking, why do I have to pay the government extra when Baby gets her shots... and then I realized they were paying me.

The good news is that we still qualified for the baby bonus. So it turns out Baby isn't just beautiful, but bountiful as well. $5,000 AUS! I immediately spent part of it on a new pair of shoes. Hmm... maybe the conservatives have a point?


Sunday, September 19, 2010

A gut-wrenching decision

Literally. On the second day of moving, I got out of bed and started packing a suitcase. Then I fell over and spent the next 12 hours in moaning agony while my intestines tried to kill me.

We spent most of the day at our friends', who happen to both be nurses. Between their expertise and Google, we determined I wasn't currently dying, although the possibility that I might start that process was not out of consideration. However, the possibility that I would wind up in the ER that night or the next day seemed likely.

This would have several consequences. First, obviously, we would miss our flight. As bad as that is, it was worse because Sara would have no place to go - our entire household had just been packed into a shipping container. It would mean I would miss my job interview the following week in Australia. And best of all, it would mean a trip to the hospital without medical insurance. My insurance had expired at the end of August, and I had decided not to file a bunch of forms and pay a thousand dollars for 2 weeks of protection.

The professional diagnoses were either the beginnings of diabetic ketoacidosis or food poisoning. Neither was a good fit, since I only had some of the symptoms of the former and Sara had eaten all the same foods the day before.

My highly subjective opinion was that it was emotional stress, my body's last desperate act of sabotage. Who would have guessed I had Al Queda in my guts? But by the morning I was fine, and the worst pain I suffered since then was 15 hours of airline seat padding. Reason prevailed, and my carefully considered will was carried out despite the howling of the partisan mob.

But to all of you left at home, you should know just how painful it was to leave you behind. Seriously painful. As in, where was my percocet?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Moving day

The movers showed up today. They very nicely agreed to box up our computers tomorrow morning, so Sara and I are sitting at our desks in a house full of boxes and brown paper bundles.

It occurs to me that I am actually moving... for reals!

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Last Goodbye

We had a big going-away party yesterday, just a little over a year after our house-warming party. It was a good party, with way too many desserts (which is the way I like it) and lots of kids playing in the pool. Sara raffled off our household electronics that won't work in Australia and we sent all of our left-over canned food to Dad's church. I didn't get to spend enough time with everyone who came, but then, I never do. These are the kind of people who never grow old, never outwear their welcome, because they are always interesting and fun to be around.

What I liked best about the party were the new connections that were made. Dad spent a lot of time talking to Sara's critique-group partner's husband about their common history on several continents. My co-worker's son discussed magic with some of my college buddies.

What I didn't like is that these new connections will be lost, now that I am leaving. Pool parties at my house were a tradition we had just invented, and now it's over. It joins the other traditions we are leaving behind: young people who realized that we had never missed a single one of their birthday parties. Thanksgiving with a friend in Phoenix for 20 years, where sometimes the members of my family outnumbered his. All of these traditions will be lost, like "tears in the rain."

Afterward, I wanted to stay.

But it's not canceling the plane tickets or finding a new job that carries me forward on this seaward current. It is Sophie, and the decisions we hope will lead to the best future for her. This is the first time I've given up what I want for her best interests, but it won't be the last.

So I keep packing, knowing that there are lots of people in Australia who are eager to recreate their traditions with Sara and create new ones with me. I know that man is the creature that adapts; wherever we find ourselves, we make the best life we can. It's just that the transitions are so hard.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Socialist Nanny State strikes again

I just found out I can't take my RenFair dagger to Australia.

I tried googling to see how out of control the dagger-murder epidemic was, but the FBI only classifies murders by "edged or stabbing weapons." No differentiation between hunting knives, meat cleavers, swords, and the dreaded dagger.

I can't take my nunchuks, either, but that's no surprise since even Arizona classifies them as illegal (even for martial arts instructors like me!).

Yes, that's right: in Arizona you are allowed to carry a concealed semi-automatic pistol with enough firepower to crack an engine block, but if the cops catch you with two pieces of wood attached by a cord you are going down!

And in Australia I can import swords. Nice, authentic katanas sharp enough to behead a man in a single swing. Or bayonets - it's OK to have a double-edged stabbing weapon if it can also be attached to a rifle.

I can see that my inability to hold simultaneous and contradictory ideas is a bar to serving in government. Sucks to be me.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Slightly less honest thieves

I flew out to LA today to file for my daughter's passport. While I was checking in at the e-ticket kiosk, I was presented with a choice:

"Would you like priority boarding?"

The machine offered me a chance to board early, and listed "first access to the overhead bins" as a benefit.

For only $19.00.

Here I am, trying to check in, and if I slip and hit "Yes" instead of "No" I get charged an extra $19. I don't know about you, but when I am trying to convince a machine to let me on the plane at 6:00 AM, I tend to just hit the "Yes OK whatever just let me on the plane" button.

But it gets better. The flight contained a total of 10 passengers. Nobody needs priority boarding on a flight so empty the attendants had to ask us to move to balance the weight load.

And the cursed machine knew that. It knew exactly how many people were on that flight, and it still offered me its rip-off faux priority.

This is worse than those gas pumps that ask you if you want a car wash. At least those I can avoid; I'll just drive an extra block to a gas station that doesn't view every interaction with me as a chance to pick my pockets if I don't pay close enough attention.

But I can't do that with the airlines. I can't just change my mind at the last minute and go to the next one.

On the other hand, what I can do is leave this @#$%^&* country. Maybe Australian corporations haven't devolved to a business strategy that consists of rifling through my wallet when I'm not looking. Australia is generally 20 years behind the times, but in the case of airlines that's a good thing (remember what flying was like 20 years ago? Ya, it's like that right now on Qantas).

Sucks for the rest of you, though. Sorry.