Lazy Anglos, Green Fairies, and Louis Armstrong

Posted in Australia on September 14, 2012 by Ian Huyett

I’d resolved to, at some point, narrate an entire day of my adventures in Australia. That day may as well be 9/11.

Tuesday is my one class-free weekday (a lot of Australians have class only two days a week) so it’s an opportune time to sleep in. I woke up close to lunchtime, put chicken in the oven, and talked to Elizabeth via skype.

After lunch, I walked to the library to print off a stack of resumes and continue the job search I’d begun the previous week. There I ran into my friend Matt, an argumentative right-wing atheist from England who I met in a class on Australian politics. We decided to head to Black Mountain Tower – a Canberra landmark – with Matt’s girlfriend that evening.

I spent the rest of the afternoon thoroughly hunting for employment. In ecological terms, I’d decided to switch from being a K-strategist to an r-strategist; rather than hassle a few prospective employers, I hit all potential targets within walking distance in the hopes that one of them would work out.

On my way back to campus, I called Matt and arranged to meet up. While Matt was talking to me, his girlfriend – also from England – was on skype in the background with some other chick from England. So there were a lot of posh accents emanating from my phone.

Black Mountain Tower overlooks the whole of Canberra and is readily visible throughout much of the city, so finding our way there was relatively easy. We walked a few blocks and took a short bus ride while Matt and I discussed Richard Dawkins and Alister McGrath. Within twenty minutes, we were at the foot of Black Mountain.

Where the trails to the summit began, we happened upon a government security guard. I asked him for the best route to the tower. The guard was baffled that we intended to walk all the way to the top. “You don’t have a car?”

Although we were over halfway to our destination, the uphill walk apparently daunted Matt’s girlfriend; the guard’s bewilderment was doubtless not reassuring. While I spoke to the guard, she whispered loudly to Matt that she was exhausted from walking. When the guard had finished giving us directions, she announced that she and Matt were calling a cab to take them back to campus.

Moments after I bid my indolent companions farewell, I ran into a second security guard. “Walking to the tower? That’s a bloody long walk mate!”

(What’s with this aversion to walking? We’re bipeds, for God’s sake – we evolved for it).

It took me less than twenty minutes to reach the summit. The sun set as I walked – which meant Black Mountain Tower became increasingly impressive as it lit up like a torch in the dark.

Hiking to the tower – especially in the evening – was definitely a better experience than driving would have been. Rather than having the alien structure appear before me all at once, I discovered it with graduating awe as its detail slowly became more beautiful and its size more commanding. Walker Percy would have approved.

When I reached the ramp at the base of the tower, I was ambushed by some Australian woo girls who had never met an American before – and were drunk on absinthe. They didn’t actually call it absinthe – they used some Aussie name – but I deduced this on account of it being green and their thinking the tower was about to fall on them.

After we’d discussed the fact that people are universally unaware of their own accents, they asked me if I’d ever shot a gun. Presumably because of Australia’s strict gun laws, (which it’s very good at enforcing, for reasons I’ll go into elsewhere) it sounded like they were asking me if I’d ever used a lightsaber. I pointed out that, while Australians might not enjoy the same gun rights as Americans, the absinthe they’d just purchased from the liquor store is illegal in the United States.

Maddeningly, when one of them discovered that I’d walked from the base of Black Mountain to the summit, she looked astounded and said “What are you – a machine?”

“It was a twenty minute walk!” I replied. (At this point I’d dealt, in one hour, with five people to whom a short walk was an alarming proposal. Though I’ve noted their probable heritage in the title of this post for the sake of convenience, my theory is this has something to do with all of them living in large cities).

My new friends joined me on the elevator ride to the tower’s uppermost observation deck. The view – a 360 degree sweep of the city – was more incredible even than those offered by the St. Louis Arch, the Sydney Tower, and the Eiffel Tower in daylight; at night, the lights of Canberra stretched across the earth in every direction.

We took the elevator down to Alto – the tower’s revolving restaurant, and parted ways. Alto’s soundtrack consists of late 60s traditional pop (that to me might as well be Fallout-esque 40s stuff). The restaurant has a gently rotating floor – perfectly timed so that you’ve completed one full rotation when it’s time to pay your bill – white tablecloths, a spending minimum, and courteous waitresses who lay your napkin in your lap for you. I’d never been to a restaurant this expensive, so I don’t know if this is a rich Australian thing or just a rich people thing.

When I sat down next to the window, I abruptly felt tremendously serene. I’ve been to some fun parties since I arrived, but this was definitely my favorite moment in Australia thus far. I don’t know if it was the endless procession of lights thousands of feet beneath me – which made me feel like I was on the Citadel from Mass Effect (I’m using a lot of video game references today) – the gradually moving floor, Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” playing over the speakers, or if a modest amount of absinthe is incredibly relaxing – but I was suddenly overcome by a sense of clearness and centered-ness.

Then, when I was already perfectly content, the waitress brought me the menu. Immediately I noticed that it featured “kangaroo pithivier”. If you followed my exhausting, fruitless search for prepared kangaroo meat, you know that this discovery is the only thing that could’ve made me more euphoric. I had a black cherry tart for desert, and then took a cab from the summit back to campus.

My Indian American Australian cab driver had been compiling a list of differences between American and Australian culture – the content of which I may detail in some other post – and wanted to run them by me.

I decided to count the long walk as my daily workout and enjoyed my regular (approximate) Green Monster smoothie. I watched the latest episode of Alphas online (note to self: write a review of this addictive show for the Collegian next semester) at the library, and then concluded the day with George R.R. Martin’s A Feast For Crows.

Roo Photos to Date

Posted in Australia on September 7, 2012 by Ian Huyett






Political Climate: Oz vs. the US

Posted in Australia on September 7, 2012 by Ian Huyett

Having been arguably harsh on my current nation of residence in my last couple posts, I’d like to briefly commend Australians for their relaxed, blokey sense of humor / criticize Americans for being uptight, hypersensitive wimps.

During this 2008 session of Australian parliament, Coalition (≈Republican) MPs, irked at having to work during the weekend, cheerily displayed a cardboard cutout of then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – to the hysterical chagrin of Labor (≈Democrat) officiators.

Compare this to American politics. In 2009, when a congressman interrupted President Obama with two words – “you lie” – it was a national crisis. If Joe Wilson had walked into congress with an Obama cardboard cutout, grown men would’ve collapsed into epileptic paroxysms on the house floor.

Kangaroo Meat Odyssey

Posted in Australia on September 7, 2012 by Ian Huyett

When I chose the name of this blog, I had no idea how prophetic it would turn out be. I’ve spent the better part of this last week pursuing what’s ammounted to a kangaroo-shaped hole. In Canberra, apparently, kangaroos are everywhere except on dinner plates.

When I wrote that “kangaroos are a popular source of meat”, I’d been given every reason to believe this was the case. The Canberra Restaurants association boasts that its members offer “typical Australian fare including kangaroo steaks.”  I’d even seen two Aussies become defensive when a Canadian remarked that she’d tasted kangaroo and thought it was gross.

Yet when I began my search for Canberra’s most palatable kangaroo by polling Australians, most were unable to name a place they’d eaten kangaroo. Only a few could recall specific restaurants – and even then unenthusiastically and with some effort. Of these, Anise and Ironbark were recurring, and Rocksalt was mentioned once.

After dedicating a day to a lengthy hike through the city, I discovered that Anise and Ironbark had both shut down. I checked out the menus of nearby restaurants, but none of them featured any macropods (or, for that matter, anything I couldn’t get in Kansas City). I resigned to having lunch at Subway, where an Australian bus driver named Dave told me about the time he was robbed by Aboriginals in the desert.

I was experiencing, at this point, what might be called “reverse culture shock.” Culture shock, presumably, occurs when one anticipates a certain default but encounters something alien. Conversely, where I’d expected to find a distinct Australian cuisine, I’d instead found America.

The next day, after my legs had recovered, I journeyed in the opposite direction to Rocksalt (this time having checked online to make sure the place was still in business.) When I arrived at Rocksalt, the manager explained to me that they’d stopped carrying kangaroo a few months ago because nobody was buying it.

I began to strongly suspect that kangaroo tasted like crap – and I’d been chasing after the fleeting traces of a failed effort to float it as a national dish.  Still determined to try it for myself, however, I resorted to googling “kangaroo restaurant Canberra.” The very first result confirmed my suspicion.

Hi everyone – in order to make good on a promise to an American colleague, I was hoping to get some recommendations as to restuarants serving good kangaroo steak in Canberra.

So kangaroo meat is so terrible, apparently, that the only time Australians actually eat the garbage is when entertaining the preconceptions of yanks who don’t know what they’re in for.

When I saw this, I gave up trying to find kangaroo at a restaurant, bought some kangaroo meat from Coles, and prepared to be disgusted.

But it was awesome. I wish I could convey more detail about its flavor, but unfortunately I’ve yet to eat any rodents or horses. The only other meat it brought to mind was emu (which I ate in Kansas, where we have a ton of emu farms and probably eat more emu than Australians), but I suspect this is only because emu was similarly difficult to compare to other meats.

So what gives, Australia?

Think of all the great reasons for Australians to eat kangaroo:

  • It’s a lean meat.
  • It’s high in conjugated linoleic acid, a potent anticarcinogen.
  • You blokes already cull thousands of the things annually, so you might as well use the whole buffalo.
  • It’s distinctly Australian, for God’s sake. Where’s your sense of patriotism, mate?

I can only conceive of a few potential explanations for the conspicuous unpopularity of kangaroo meat.

1. There is a mildly unpleasant odor released as you cook kangaroo, but the stench doesn’t stay with the meat after its prepared. Australians could avoid the smell by ordering kangaroo in restaurants, which they clearly don’t do.

2. I’m crazy, and kangaroo meat just isn’t very good. So far, all four Australians I’ve asked have given me this explanation. “It’s gamy,” they complain.

Have you ever noticed that “gamy” seems to have several totally different definitions?  Sometimes it refers to an animal being grass fed instead of grain fed. Since no mammal – including humans – is evolutionarily adapted to grain consumption, grass fed meat contains 4 times the amount of vitamin E.

At other times it seems to refer to meat being tough and chewy. Not only can this be avoided by serving kangaroo rare, but numerous studies have shown that having your meat rare lowers your risk of cancer.

And personally, I think the meats people most often describe as gamy, like bison, taste awesome. Either way, “gamy” always sounds positive to me.

3. There have been some instances of foodborne illness being contracted through kangaroo meat. When a few Americans become sick after eating beef, however, the American market demands cleaner beef – it doesn’t pitch all beef out the window. It would seem this can’t be the only explanation.

Additionally, I’ve just listed a few ways – CLA, vitamin E, and being traditionally served rare – that eating kangaroo can empirically lower your cancer risk. Anyone who’s more afraid of foodborne illness than cancer has never looked up the leading causes of death in 1st word nations. (Hint: salmonella isn’t one of them.)

4. I have a vague sense that fuzzy moral objections to kangaroo consumption may have contributed to its unpopularity as a meat source – although no Australian has told me this directly. I really hope this is not the case, because it would be enormously hypocritical.

  • As previously mentioned, Australians keep electing governments that annually cull thousands of kangaroos.
  • Only 2% of Australians eat a vegetarian diet – less than America’s 2.5%. What’s so special about kangaroos? Cows care for their young, are reasonably intelligent, and plenty of them are cute.
  • Omnivores who think of themselves as caring about animal welfare – like myself – generally prefer to eat “free range” meat, right? Kangaroo meat is from wild animals. How much more free range can you get?

And don’t give me any of this “chicken isn’t meat” nonsense (my German neighbor Katya just tried to pull this.) Otherwise you’ll force me to use “dead animal flesh” as an umbrella term.

Things I Don’t Like About Australia

Posted in Australia on September 7, 2012 by Ian Huyett

Don’t let the title give you the wrong idea. If there’s a fleeting “honeymoon stage” involved in living abroad – as my pre-departure orientation cautioned – I’ve been in it since I stepped off the plane nearly a month ago.

However, given that my writing about the country to date has consisted entirely of boundless praise, I’ve decided to color my Beautiful Libertarian Utopia portrait with a healthy measure of negativity.

1)      Poor Energy Drink Selection

America is the Eden of Energy Drinks. In the states, grocery stores and gas stations have entire walls displaying a dozen different taurine beverages – perfect for an energy drink connoisseur like myself.

In Australia, a Coca-Cola drink called “Mother” monopolizes the entire energy drink market, barely leaving room for the occasional Red Bull. 

A few months ago, I decided to nix every beverage with more than a few grams of carbohydrates or sugar from my diet. In America, this means I’ve still got a selection a selection of widely available energy drinks to choose from – namely Monster Rehab and Rockstar Recovery.

In Australia, this leaves me with almost nothing. Mothers are loaded with so much sugar it tastes like you’re drinking syrup. I bought one when I arrived at the airport in Sydney: after I drank it I felt like I needed to take a shower.

2)      All The Food is Expensive

I estimate that the average edible product in Australia is at minimum twice as expensive as its American counterpart – not adjusting for the currency exchange rate (in case you didn’t guess, the Australian dollar is more valuable – Australia doesn’t have a Bernanke).

Vending machines, for example, sell soft drinks and candy for 3.45.

Except for bananas. The price of bananas is perfectly reasonable. Maybe I could save money by being a fruitarian – then again, the high-carb thing didn’t work out too well for Steve Jobs (too soon?).

3)      The Internet Is Serious Business

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opened a purportedly legitimate Australian newspaper and seen a headline reading “Internet Trolls say Mean Things about Issue X” (I’m paraphrasing). My indignation makes it difficult to count them.

I have several Aussie newspapers in my room. Allow me to pick one at random.

Here we go: the August 22nd edition of The Australian. Sure enough – on the front page, no less:

A FRESH wave of racial hatred against the Jewish community, including calls for a Hitler clone and ethnic cleansing, has been sparked by the anti-Israel boycott campaign of the Max Brenner chocolate shop chain.

Goodness, that’s terrible! Calls by whom, I wonder? A rising far-right politician? The head of a rogue state?

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry has blasted some coverage of the pro-Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign that has fuelled the online attacks.

The YouTube report has attracted a wave of offensive and racist anti-Jewish comments that have been posted for weeks without being moderated.

Among the comments were: “Keep spreading the word against the Jew cancer, bro or sis!”

 …Another alleges a Jewish banking and financial conspiracy in Australia while another declares: “We can only wish that Hitler or someone like him will return.”

A third post states: “know anyone who doesn’t HATE JEWS(?)”.

And here I thought American journalism was an outrageous, Idiocracy-esque parody of itself. In Australia, picking through anonymous comments on the internet for offensive statements and using them to denigrate your political opponents is standard fare.

Here’s Koori Mail – on the very same day – reporting on a totally separate issue:

(The – now deleted – page had 2,000 fans).

4)      Warm Milk in a Box:

 

My first grocery shopping trip in Australia was at Woolswoths, which markets itself as sort of an Australian Whole Foods. To my bemusement, I noticed that one isle was labeled “fresh milk” and another “UHT milk”.

UHT milk is kept un-refrigerated in basically a cereal box on a shelf. It’s somehow been engineered to last for several months. I don’t quite understand how this works, but the process that’s used to treat the milk seems to sap the nutrition out of it:

Though some people might not detect taste differences between fresh and UHT milk, others may notice a slightly sweeter or “cooked” taste to UHT products, due to the higher heat treatment.

Yeah, no thanks.

From a Wiki article on UHT processing:

In June 1993, Parmalat introduced its UHT milk to the United States.[10] However in the North American market, consumers have been uneasy about consuming milk which is not delivered under refrigeration

No shit.

5)      “You Sound Really American”.

 

Last night was the third time an Australian has told me this. I’ve received the – much preferred – “I like your accent” (I have an accent?) only twice.

What exactly does this mean? Americans hear a fair number of British accents in our media. Are British people who visit the states ever told “You sound really British”?

Until I figure this out, I’ve made “thank you” my standard response.

Nature Boy Overload

Posted in Australia on August 29, 2012 by Ian Huyett

The Three Sisters and a Cassowary

After spending a day exploring Sydney – the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen – my orientation group hiked through the Blue Mountains (described by Charles Darwin as “stupendous” and “magnificent”). “It’s like Jurassic Park,” said one of the Canadians.

In 2010, CNN ran a bizarre story about people becoming depressed after watching the movie Avatar – presumably via contrasting the movie’s awesome landscape with their own boring surroundings. I’d venture to guess that these people have never crossed the walkway that hugs the Three Sisters and heard the screams of cockatoos echoing up from the ultraviolet shroud over Jamison Valley.

(Linked is the first YouTube clip of Jamison Valley I found – the cameraman also happens to mention Jurassic Park midway through).

All of Australia’s avians – not just the ones that live among Blue Mountain eucalypts trees – seem more feral than their North American counterparts. Since the gigantic cockatoo that kept pace with my taxi from the airport, every wild bird I’ve seen, from ravens to magpies, has been larger and noisier than my parents’ Yorkshire terrier – the lone exception being the freakishly fast fairy wren.

Searching for a new television show to watch on the plane ride over, I briefly considered Six Feet Under before ultimately settling on Breaking Bad (the hype is not unwarranted). While doing so, I happened to read that Quentin Tarantino sued creator Alan Ball over the “obnoxious pterodactyl-like screams” of his Macaw parrots.

Tarantino would be out of luck in Australia. Here, all the birds sound like pterodactyls – excluding the (highly intelligent) Australian Ravens, which sound like aliens.  That the director of Reservoir Dogs needed government protection from a few measly parrots is perhaps relevant to my earlier point about Americans being comparatively divorced from nature.

One of the most amazing things about Australia is that there’s such a relative abundance of wildlife you can’t keep track of it all. If I spot a possum (not to be confused with our backyard demon-spawn, which should technically be called “opossums”) in a tree, I’m immediately distracted by a passing rainbow lorikeet or a family of kangaroos hopping through campus.

Kangaroos, by the way, are a popular source of meat that have even inspired a diet. Since tasting a wide range of fauna is a significant personal goal of mine, I have every intention of eating kangaroo at some point in the coming months. There’s kangaroo meat aplenty at grocery stores, but I’d like to enjoy kangaroo cooked by someone who knows what they’re doing before I risk botching it myself. More on this in the near future.

I took this

I Discover Broderick Smith

Posted in Australia on August 29, 2012 by Ian Huyett

On a related note, I recently discovered that a group I was already familiar with – Dead Can Dance – hails from Melbourne, which is apparently Australia’s music capital.

(Previously, if you’d have asked me to name some Australian musicians I’d have started and stopped with ACDC).

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