Anne Marie's Australian Adventure

Follow the Adventures of Anne Marie, Fergus, Cooper and Bean Sidhe in Australia!!

Fergus’ Observations – thus far.

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on April 2, 2008

Some of you have gotten these from Fergus directly but for others you might find his perspective and his writing style much more interesting.

From the pen of – Fergus Thornton:

Hello All, Just arrived safely in Sydney. 16 hours flight thanks to the fog in Sydney forcing us to divert to Brisbane. The hardest past was putting our Airedales in the cages 4 hours before the flight–so for them it was 20 hours! Every so often one could hear barking from the cargo area. We’ll hang here tonight so we can go see them tomorrow (40 km west >of here) then fly on to Canberra tomorrow and get established. Kriky, >it’s hot here. We left KC when it was 20 and it’s 80 here. I’m using a >$2/10 min internet Kiosk (read ripoff) so that’s it for now. -FergusArrival part 2 or . . . How I learned to love Dr. AmbienOne thing I should mention about this long flight is how, with the right preparation it can be quite manageable. We arose at about 5 am in KC and it wasn’t until midnight that we boarded the QANTAS flight. We visited some friends in LA which included dinner and wine; by the time we boarded, we were exhausted. Then we did the smart thing: we took some Ambien. I didn’t wake for 9 hours! And had the flight not been delayed, then, for me, the flight would have been only 4 hours i.e. 4 conscious hours. Not so bad especially when stuck back there in coach. I was awakened to the largest breakfast I’ve had in years.Day 2

We checked into an airport hotel about 11am; what they consider a hotel is apparently, based on this one experience, what we might refer to a as a Motel 6 (yes, the lights were on). The first tipoff was the answer to a common question we’ve all asked at a new hotel: “Eh, what’s an ice machine?” Uh-oh. No porters so I had to schlepp all ten bags up three flights. The TV received but 5 stations: one in Russian, a Law-and-Order rerun, a CSI rerun, a Discovery channel program on mudslides in San Bernadino, and some rock music thing.

We then went for a long walk in Sydney. Now we had read that 9 of the ten most dangerous animals are native to Australia. They never mentioned the traffic patterns! Now of course we all know they drive on the left; no problem. But what is a problem for us is when we’re pedestrians; you have to look the opposite way! We’ve almost been hit several times stepping out into traffic. [At least one person on this list knows about what happened to me the last time I did that.]

Several things have struck me about Sydney as first impressions; one is that the Asians outnumber the Caucasians. This may not apply elsewhere as Sydney is a very cosmopolitan city of 6 million.

For most of us, bird calls are simply one of a hundred other elements of the background noise we live with; but change one of those elements and it really takes front stage. Walking about in Sydney and now Canberra, our ears were assaulted by myriad new birds calls/songs none of which we’d ever heard. Once, we went off looking for a lamb which was “baa-ing” somewhere in the neighborhood; turned out to be some kind of crow-like bird at least a foot tall.

Another element of the background of life is the aroma/the smell of the milieu. It’s clearly different here but hard to describe; perhaps the vegetation, dominated by eucalyptus, explains it.

Day 3

We checked out of the hotel/motel early, stowed the luggage and then challenged the Sydney rail system for a ride across town and out to the suburbs to visit the dogs at a quarantine center. This system is splendid; about what one would expect in Switzerland. Very accurate, very user-friendly, beautiful cars; just what every system should be but usually isn’t. However, one thing I should note should any of you decide to avail yourself of this system. There is absolutely

“NO TOUTING!” And if you do “tout”, then, as they say down here, “fines apply”. So for you touters out there, perhaps Sydney isn’t the place for you.

What, you say? What’s touting? Well, I don’t know. And neither did three natives I asked. I’ll keep you posted on that one.

When we got to the quarantine center (after a six km walk from the rail station) we were taken to the cages. Boy, you’ve never seen tails wag until you put your dog thru a 36 hour nightmare and then suddenly appear. Cooper, who is usually quite reserved, started howling, which he never does. Bean Sidhe (pronounced Ban-she) was so happy she peed a river for us on sight. Unfortunately, we noted a fair amount of blood in the urine and some blood around the urethra. Apparently, this is not unusual after long flights; dogs try to hold their urine for over 24 hours and develop infections. Just what we needed: more guilt. We returned to the airport after only a 20 minute visit, reassuring them we’d be back in a week. [Visiting hours are Tues/Thurs 1:30-3:30.] Then we had a 40 minute flight to Canberra, and found our apartment where we’ll be for the first month.

Day 4

We’re still a little off on our “clocks” so we were up and drinking tea @ 5 am. We were picked up by a delightful lady from the hospital to take us around the city of Canberra and do some necessary and official errands. A visit to immigration for the “work visa” stamp in our passports and to the medical board for my official license took only a few hours. Then we went to a local but huge mall for grocery shopping. I think that if any of you were placed in one of the aisles for a few seconds, you wouldn’t be able to differentiate this store from Dillon’s or Safeway or any other major grocery chain in the US. To be sure, some of the names are different: “Uncle Toby’s” is apparently Nabisco (the name is different but the box pictures are the same. And I bought a box of Kellogg’s “Sultana Bran” (raisin bran). And this may seem gross and I hate to offend anyone but I bought a pack of “Kanga Banga’s” (98% fat free ‘hot-dogs’ made with . . .you guessed it . . . Kangaroo meat). I also bought a kangaroo steak. It seems that kangaroo meat is valued for its taste and its extraordinarily low fat content. Many Aussies have a problem eating it because of their feelings about these beautiful animals so, knowing my sensibilities, I know I’ll get that way, too so we’ll try it now before we’ve seen any. They have an “olive oil spread” here; think margarine with OO. Can’t wait to try it. Another difference is the price of lamb. It’s cheap here! We bought a large lamb roast for about $8. It would be about $25+ at Dillons.

The folks here live up to their reputation for friendliness. And, yes, they really do say, “G’day”. And here’s a big difference: No tipping! I had the hardest time leaving the restaurant tonight without leaving a tip for a hard working waitress. We live near a popular area for restaurants and we checked out about 20 of them before we selected one. The prices were very high, higher than the “average” restaurants in US. But, if one deducts the 15% tip, then it may be in line with US prices. I’m not sure, but I think/suspect the alcohol content may be higher; I had two beers with dinner and Anne had one and, BOY!, did we feel it!

Taxi Anecdotes: After loading our bags into the back of the taxi van, I went around to the right side front seat; being a guy, I wanted to be up front and see where we’re going. The taxi driver put his hand on the door to keep me from opening it and said, “I’ll be driving!”. Whoops. Wrong side. Did he really think I was going to drive? Or was I another geocentric American?

We were at a long red light when suddenly the left front passenger of the car in front jumped out and walked away. We were incensed! How dare he do this, leave his car in the middle of traffic. We’ll be stuck here for hours. Can we call the police? Then the light turned green and the car in front moved on and we looked at each other rather sheepishly. Whoops.

And now for some bad news for me and people like me (you know, love cars, love to drive . . ahem . . a bit faster than allowed). Here they have cameras at most large intersections and most long stretches of roadways. They detect any “red-light” infractions as well as any speeding (gulp!). Can’t argue with a camera, you know. Very few police cars around (or so it seems) but I guess they don’t need many with those &%^$$#$#@&^% cameras around. Clearly, the MB is the luxury brand on the streets with the Audi a close second. Very few BMW’s. I haven’t seen any Buicks so I KNOW I’m not in Kansas. [Is it a law in Kansas that if you’re over 40 you must drive a Buick?]

*********************************************

Next:

Today, Saturday, started off waaaayyyy too early when we awoke at 0500, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed; we still can’t get our bio-clocks adjusted. After coffee, tea and a crossword puzzle (a shared addiction), off we went to a local fresh food market, open only on the weekend. If you’ve been to Pike Street market in Seattle, you’ll know what this one is like. [And if you haven’t been there, then you need to get out more!]

One great aspect of living in another country is seeing, not only the differences, but the similarities. So far, the latter have dominated. Part of this is wondering why your country isn’t doing things the way your adopted country is. For instance, most folks here have “shopping bags” they bring with them to the market which cuts down enormously on the use of plastic bags. Why can’t we do that?

Here’s another: cell phone use in the car is illegal and is aggressively enforced!

So we left our apartment and there, just across the street, is game of cricket! We watched for awhile but we were unimpressed. The bowler was a real biffer; couldn’t avoid that back-foot-contact. In spite of that, he was able to throw a googly mainly because the wicket keeper was a lazy slogger. It was a tied test with side-on when we left. Can you blame us for leaving under those conditions? I thought not.

The market itself was typical of “farmer’s markets” with an abundance of fresh stuff. Particularly amazing were the fresh flowers. Some were buying these flowers which were about 4-5 feet tall! No idea what they were. Another had an excellent selection of raw and cooked ’sprats’ but, hey, who wants more sprats? Then there were the “balman bugs”, a picture of which will follow. They look like giant ticks; or maybe one of those parasites we used to see under a microscope in med school.

Next, it was off to a giant shopping center/mall, replete with teenage mall rats, food courts, and those little stalls selling cheap watches, cheap jewelry, or personalized items (cheap). No different from what you’d see stateside. Anyway, I needed a new cell phone and that took us about two hours. Mainly because I have no credit and no ID; I had to empty my wallet and prostrate myself before the manager to get a phone. I even showed him my Aussie med license: he couldn’t have been less impressed.

SO I NOW HAVE AN AUSSIE PNONE NUMBER AND HERE IT IS (IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT SOMEONE WOULD LIKE TO HEAR MY MELLIFLUOUS VOICE): 011 61 408696044

As I’ve mentioned before , I’ve been amazed at the high prices here. How do people live? Now there’s no sales tax so I guess that makes a difference but I figure that’s part of the price. It is, however, a wonder to get change back for a $20 bill for an item costing $19.95. No more estimating the cost+tax.

I know you’re all wondering about the Kangeroo food; stay stuned, we ate this 2 lb lamb (cost only $8) tonight. Wow! They also have lamb sausage which is spectacular. Roo steaks tomorrow night–who’s coming over?

*********************************

3/30 (3/29 in America–you slowpokes)

First, a few mysteries unveiled: the following definitions were found to clarify previous epistles.

TOUT:

1: (British) someone who buys tickets to an event in order to
resell them at a profit [syn: ticket tout]
2: someone who advertises for customers in an especially brazen
way [syn: touter]

Likewise, SPRAT:

1: small fatty European fish; usually smoked or canned like
sardines [syn: brisling]
2: small herring processed like a sardine [syn: brisling, {Clupea
sprattus}]

Okay, on with the log.Today was the first quiet day in possibly a month for us. Up at 0600, and a mug of Lapsang Soochong (my favorite tea). Not enough for this adrenalin junkie, so then, an hour later, a few cups of ‘French press’ coffee. We then settled down, as a billion others, to the Sunday paper (Canberra Times). Typical of our Sunday papers, it was replete with all the different sections–real estate, jobs, op-eds, social, entertainment, etc–but there was something odd about it. Ah, I know, it’s huge! I mean, it’s about 2-3 columns wider than newpapers in the US. So when try to read the news section and I open it up, my arms are about as widespread as they can go. I feel like the Sugar mountain statue in Rio. So I got to thinking: what about short people? Can they read this? I mean, they couldn’t possibly open their arms wide enough to read the inside. Do they spread it on the floor? Or maybe there’s a “Canberra Short Times”? I guess if you’re a short Australian, you’d better catch the 6 o’clock news.In a similar vein, the standard paper size here is 8½”X12”. No idea why but it apparently causes problems for academics here submitting papers to the US. They have to buy paper from the US. Who establishes these standards anyway? And why can’t countries get together on this? The rest of the world should switch to 8½X11, right?

But I digress. We left the apt. with backpack, cameras, and, most importantly, maps and headed to a weekend crafts market. [Once again, I had to stop at the park across the street where about 25 guys dressed in white were obviously getting ready for a cricket match. I stayed for awhile and watched. They stretched. They tossed the ball around (without gloves, mind you), and took batting practice. The speed of the pitch is slower than what we’re used to here but it bounces first. And the “pitcher(bowler)”, gets a running start. Think of this as if the pitcher in baseball ran from second base to the pitcher’s mound and then threw. Still, their bat is flat and wider than our bat so it’s definitely easier to make contact. I guess what fascinates me the most is seeing this game as the progenitor of baseball; like being a sport anthropologist and watching ’Lucy’ and other Homo species in real time.] You’ve all been to them. Again, if you were set down in the middle of this, you’d have a hard time knowing this was a fair 8,000 miles away. There was a guy who printed photos on huge eucalyptus leafs and a guy who had this amazing ‘see-thru’ machine which took whole oranges, cut them in half, pushed each half onto a ‘mound’, squeezed the life out of the half, separated the pulp from the juice, and spit out the rind. Having a “Y” chromo, I was, of course, absolutely fascinated by this machine. I want one!! I can just see it collecting dust downstairs next to the stair climber. But I settled for a pint of fresh juice.They had a whole floor dedicated to food. And I was hungry. Bad combo. One could have eaten lunch here without buying anything because all the vendors were generous in their sampling policies. Most had plates in front of their displays full of samples. I had to be forcibly restrained and taken off from the Macadamia Nut Factory (after sampling ~10,000 cals worth). They had’em coated with every known sweet–the caramel ones were to-die-for. Being mature adults (?) we restrained ourselves and bought only a loaf of bread (with sun-dried tomato, rosemary, garlic baked in), some tea, and a unique hair “device” for Anne. Then, with a backward glance at that orange machine, we headed for an area of Canberra known for its–how should I say it–hoity-toity shopping. It was okay, but about 70% of the establishments were restaurants. Which got me to thinking that maybe the Aussies are more sociable than we are. Is that just the projection of this anchorite? Not sure, but they do seem more friendly. One of them–Ironbark–proclaims itself as serving “authentic Australian food”; we had to check out that menu! My eyes focused on only one thing: Combo #6–>Emu, croc, and kanga steaks with some veggie! Can’t wait. Gotta do that one, right?We returned to the apt. and got started on the real estate section, looking for a house to rent. We have this furnished apt for 30 days then we need a house compatible with the two Airedales. I hate to keep echoing this, but the prices are astronomical!! An average 3 bdrm, 2 bth house in an average suburb will be about $500 pw!! (That’s per week, the way they charge.) And we’re trying to rent our house (four bdrms, 4 bths, with 33 acres) for $900/mn AND CAN’T FIND ANY TAKERS! You’d think they were running out of land here. Yet, in a continent the size of the US, there are only 40M people, compared to our ~350M population. Trouble is, no one wants to line anywhere but the East coast, particularly the south, and the area around Perth.

Ya’ll should check out Google Earth and take a look at Australia.

BTW, this city is pronounced Can-Bra–two syllables, not three.

Enough. Time to sample some Kangaroo; nobody’s shown up so I guess there’s more for me!

*****************************

3/31

Before we get to my first day of work, let me tell you about last night’s dinner. Now remember, we’re staying in an apartment with few amenities, and have few cooking accoutrements. So we took the “Kanga Banga’s” and sliced them and microwaved them a bit and then into a pan to saute with a bit of olive oil. One should think of these more as a sausage of roo meat, than a “hot dog”. We wrapped them up in bread and . . . . . .WOW!! They’re great! Now many of you know my feelings about eating beautiful mammals, and , as I mentioned, I probably won’t be able to eat this meat after we meet a few, but for now–we’re getting more!

Apparently, because Canberra is the Capital, there is a huge influx of people every Monday morning. So what, you say. Well, that explains why I was late for my first day. All the cabs go to the airport in the am and ignore poor schmucks like me, trying to get to work on time. Anyway, got there after a 90 minute wait for a cab, at 0930 instead of 0800. I was met at the hospital by Karen, who has been our “one-woman welcoming committee”. She took me around to get my photo for the ID, my beeper for codes, my magnetic ID to open doors, and then to the ED.

Okay, so here’s the hierarchy: There are med students, interns, residents, junior registrars (3-4 post-grad years), senior registrars (4-6 PG yrs), and then the Consultant (that’s me :<)) By title, I’m a “Staff Specialist”, or CMO (Career Medical Officer), or something else, I forget, but I’m at the top. Yippee!! Of course, if it’s like the US, I’m sure some nurse will be telling me what to do but that’s okay; I’m used to that.

Oh, before I go on, I have to mention two things. One, while waiting for the taxi, a woman we don’t know came out of her apartment and said that she’d noticed we’d been waiting for a long time and would we like to come in for some tea or coffee? How often does that happen in the US? And, even better, along comes this nice, older gentleman with an . . . AIREDALE!!!! Geez, that dog is probably sore from all our affectionate rubs. We needed some “doggy-love” and there he was. Name was ‘Jag’, after the TV show. Really hit home how much we miss our two ‘Dales.

After some of the administrative stuff, I was taken to the ED and met Dr. Greg Hollis, a consultant, whom I followed around for most of the day. The ED is a study in contrasts: very old structure with the latest monitoring equipment, smart Docs practicing dated medicine, electronic/computerized tracking of all patients, yet the Docs have to fill out forms for some Xrays. All day, for me, it was wow/oh no/wow/oh no/wow . . . you get the picture.

I mentioned before, I think, that Australia imports about 50% of it’s docs; probably higher with experienced ED docs (hence my appearance). So about every 4-5 hours the Consultant, as the ranking Doc in the ED (that’s me, remember), assembles all the troops and reviews each and every patient in the ED, in terms of progress, tests pending, and disposition. I would guess that when assembled (all the hierarchy), no fewer than 10 nations were represented!! Isn’t that amazing? I didn’t talk to many, but there were Indians (dots, not feathers), Pakistanis, a few Africans, one from NZ, and numerous Asians, not sure which countries.

I’ll write more about the “medical day” but just a note before I retire: we had a nice meal at a local Italian restaurant. For two entrees (slightly better than average, but not extraordinary, and two glasses of wine each came to $60. That seems high to me. What do you think? Maybe it’s because we’ve been living in Wichita that everything seems so expensive. Perhaps, if we lived in SF or LA, or NY, this wouldn’t seem to expensive. Dr. Hollis bought a small sandwich (think ½ subway) and a coffee at the hospital café, and it was $11! What an expensive town. Well, early day tomorrow, so that’s it for now.

[NBà Several people from California have written to me that the prices here seem quite reasonable compared to what they’re used to; so I guess it has more to do with Kansas.]

***************************************

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