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Here are Fergus’ observations on our experiences.

Merry Sunny Christmas!

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on December 17, 2008

We were talking about Christmas the other day because we haven’t made any plans. It’s just too hard to think about Christmas with summer being here. I grew-up in Southern California where it only snowed once when I was about six or seven and it only stayed on the ground for a few minutes – but it was still winter – colder than the rest of the year. After discussing this Fergus told me he posted a blog entry about Christmas here – I usually don’t read Fergus’ blog about anything we’ve done before I write my own because he writes everything so much better than I do.

Well I read his Christmas blog and I think you all might enjoy it (for those of you who aren’t on his regular email list just click here.) I have a couple of more entries to add before Christmas but thought I’d send you to his blog to give you an idea of what it is like for us.

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More NZ Adrenaline Adventures

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on December 17, 2008

Whale watching and swimming with the dolphins were not enough excitment for Fergus so when we got back to the North Island we added a few more adrenaline adventures for fun. Since the moment we started talking about going to New Zealand, Fergus started talking about Bungy Jumping. So when we got to Taupo we checked out the jump area. NOOOOO WAAAAYYY was he going to talk me into this one. I don’t like rollercoaster or stomach whirly-likes rides so jumping off a platform and whirling upside down  with a bungy cord attached to my feet just wasn’t going to happen.

I was happy to film it from the sidelines and crossed my fingers that he wouldn’t be the first person to die at this Bungy Jump site. But before he took the dive we went to Huka Falls for an easy going boat ride – in a jet boat. What a blast. I thought we would be riding the rapids but we only got close to the falls.  If you’d like to a video from the jet boat company click here

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After a blast of cool down spray from the jet boat ride we headed back to the Bungy site. I will refer you to Fergus’ blog for his personal experience ( docdownunder ). From my side I have to admit it seemed like a pretty silly thing to do and I was a little scared for him. Fortunately it is was a quick experience and after almost two weeks of anticipation it was over in seconds – we were able to  enjoy our last days in New Zealand without having to talk about and think about -“do it or not?”

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Skiing…shopping in the Snowy Mountains

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on August 9, 2008

Fergus couldn’t wait to hit the slopes of the Australian Alps, I went along for the ride since I just don’t find skiing to be as much fun as it use to be. I hate the cold and the hassle but I do enjoy the LOOK of snow and the idea of being somewhere different. You will have to read Fergus’ new blog at docdownunder.wordpress.com to find out how the skiing actually was. I can tell you the shopping at Thredbo was okay for an afternoon – nowhere near Vail or Aspen – but enough to keep me busy while Fergus skied with Mike and his daughter, Emma. The next day Fergus and I went to Perisher Blue and I didn’t have much to do. It was cold and foggy and there wasn’t any wireless Internet so I couldn’t work on my blog.

I did see an emu walking along the side of the road and we heard and spotted our first kookaburra – awsome!! We stayed and Mike & Caroline Miller’s townhouse in Jindabyne about 20 minutes from the ski resorts. Our friends, Pat and Britt are suba diving at the Great Barrier Reef – sun and warmth, now that sounds like a vacation. Here some pictures of our trip.

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Fergus’ Observations II

Posted by Anne Marie Serrano on April 18, 2008

Some of you get these from Fergus directly but if you don’t here are his most recent observatons.

From the pen of Fergus Thornton…

 

Day 2 (of work)Less administrative stuff to do today and I actually started seeing patients with some of the junior staff (interns and residents). I did have session to learn how to access medical records; you know, one of those learning experiences where they pack 5 minutes of information into a 45 minute time slot. [And there’s always that one person in every group who has to ask questions which apply to no one but him/her and delay the conclusion by 15 min, right?]

I found out today that I will get an office (I’m jumping up and clicking my heels, “Yippee”). But I’ll need some help. You see, I’ve never actually had an office so I’m not quite sure what to do with one. I guess I have to decorate it. Maybe I’ll start with the requisite ficus tree. Some pictures on the wall of me shaking hands with the president. Since I’ll also have my own computer there I do have one idea. Instead of coming home and having Anne nag me, “you’re always on the computer. You never talk to me.”, I can call and say, “Sorry, honey, I’m tied up at the office”, and then browse to my heart’s content. . . . .Yeah, I don’t think it’ll work either.

 

Another word about the taxis: after the debacle on Monday, I called Monday evening to schedule one to Tuesday am @ 0730. He was there 5 min early! And they’re all so clean and smell great. No cloudy plastic windows with slots between you and the driver. None of that curry odor one gets in the big city cabs.

I was approached late this afternoon, rather timidly, by a resident who asked me to review an x-ray with her. While we talked, I realized she had a funny accent. I asked where she was from. Colorado! It seems that I’m already getting so used to the Aussie accent that an American accent strikes me. Still later, I met a “Senior Registrar” (about 4-5 years out from residency) who was from Georgia. He had been an ED Doc for many years there but emigrated 3 years ago due to his (similar to mine) disillusionment (dare I say disgust?) with American Medicine. He decided to go through with the Australian certification process (much longer than ours) and was in his last year of that. He agreed with me about the high prices and the taxes.

Hey, did I mention the taxes? Yikes!! For personal income, it’s $14,500 of the first $50,000, and then (ready?) it’s (are you sitting down?) 47% of the rest! Then they add on Social Security so essentially it’s 50% of income over $50,000. After hearing that, I spoke with the agency which retained me and the hospital admin and we may be able to re-do the contract so that I’ll get paid in the US and then just have some of that sent down here. I’ll lose something because of the failing dollar but gain a bit more by avoiding Aussie taxes. Also, there aren’t the usual deductions allowed in the Aussie tax code, i.e. house mortgage, dependents, etc.

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Remember when I mentioned the lack of tips? I thought I was getting away with something. But after talking to a few natives and having a few more restaurant experiences I now have a different take on their system. It seems that “wait-people” make a pretty good wage; about $15-$20/hr. In America, as I understand it, they get a minimum wage and essentially live on tips. Not so here. But the upshot of this system is troubling and I think the principle is one I’m going to run into more and more in this partially socialistic country. You see, without tips, there is no incentive. The waiters aren’t tied to certain tables; they all take care of all tables so one might order from one waitress, be served by another, and order your second wine from a third. But there isn’t any drive to deliver good service and that’s been reflected in a few more recent experiences. If the service is bad . . . .well, too bad. I guess the same holds for taxi drivers but we haven’t seen it. Today, we had a ride which totaled $20.70; I gave him a twenty and a ten. He looked at them for a moment and turned to me and gave me the ten back and said, “let’s just call it $20.” I was astounded. Again, with a good wage they don’t worry about tips. [Anybody reminded of unions?]

While working in the ED on my third shift, I noticed a very obese woman waddle in. Similar to the resident from Colorado (with the “American accent“), I wondered why this woman’s appearance struck me. Then, after a bit of reflection I realized why. I just hadn’t been seeing the vast numbers of obese folks in Australia that I was used to seeing in the states and so she really stuck out here (no pun intended); she would go unnoticed in the US [Obesity as camouflage?]. And since that observation, I can confirm it on a daily basis. Very few obese folks down here.

A word about toilets (hope you’re not eating breakfast). Isn’t it strange how toilets differ around the world? I mean, the principle is the same but there are all these minor variations I find fascinating. The weirdest were in Germany where the “target area” (trying to be tactful and mindful of your next meal) is a large flat “shelf” with the exit way in the back. It was as if you were supposed to examine it before flushing. Now if worms are a concern of yours, then maybe this is the toilet for you. Australian toilets have buttons rather than levers and the tank is often built into the wall with just the button protruding. And the opening is gigantic. (maybe their diet has more fiber than ours?) But here’s the variation: many toilets here have two buttons. One for a regular flush and one which includes soap with the flush. For times when you need to erase . . . .well, you can figure it out.

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Right now I’m writing whilst on the train from Sydney to Canberra; thought we’d try this in lieu of the plane. Have you ever taken a cross-country train? Not used much in US but here, as in Europe, used quite a bit. We’re seated in economy which is roughly like first class in a plane: wider seats, foot rests, and huge aisles. A few other differences which will take some getting used to: I don’t know how many times I’ve tried to buckle my non-existent seat belt. And, of course, huge, panoramic windows (which are washed after every trip!). Just hanging about in the train station was so redolent of all those late night, black-and-white, 40’s movies we’ve all seen. And it’s so quiet! I’m guessing we’re going about 50-60 mph (I really should say about 100km/h, shouldn’t I?) and we can whisper to each other. Another difference is that special car, two forward of ours called the “buffet car”; you can get a full hot meal (brought to your seat), all sorts of hot and cold snacks, and, wonder of wonders, wine! Since it’s a 4 hour afternoon journey, I suspect I’ll be ‘exploring’ this whole train (wink,wink).

We’re returning from our one week visit to see the kids. A bit of a disaster, actually. It’s only a 35 min flight from Canberra to Sydney but because of winds we were held in a holding pattern over Sydney for 2½

hours! So we got in at 1pm and needed to be at the quarantine station by 1:30 and it’s about a 90 min rail ride from the airport vicinity. Visiting hours, as I’ve mentioned are from 1:30-3:30 and we didn’t get there until three so we didn’t get much quality time with them. We brought them some tins of their favorite food which were devoured with great enthusiasm made somewhat difficult by the force of their wagging tails.

[Well I’ve just discovered one inevitability this train has in common with flying: the damn crying baby two rows in front of us. I may need that wine sooner than I thought.]

We returned to a B&B near the airport we booked on line and learned yet another lesson about this country and the dangers of assumptions. I don’t know about all of you, but when I reserve a room, whether it be a grand hotel or a motel six on the road, I (and maybe it’s just me) kinda expect a bathroom is included. Now, be honest with me, is this asking too much? I looked around the room, opened a closet door expectantly, then turned to the host and inquired. “Oh, it’s just up the stairs and down the hall,” he said as if I should have known. Well, excuuuuuse me! I’m thinking, good thing my prostate is still normal or I might be waking up more tired than when I retired.

After I stewed for awhile, we spoke with him about our dissatisfaction and he arranged for us to switch with another guest for a room “en suite” which, having taken German rather than French in HS, I’m guessing is Aussie for “with bathroom”. I’m not that particular, but I didn’t really relish sharing a bathroom with a dozen strangers, but if I did, well then, I’d hope they’d all use that second button!

The next day, we bought a “day tripper”, an all day ticket for the trains, buses, and, best of all, the ferries, for $16. Well worth it, and maybe the first thing we’ve thought that about since arriving. We got off in “The Rocks” area of central Sydney, so named because of all the prisons which were there in the eighteenth century. We explored a bit and then headed over to the famous opera house.

Now we’ve all seen pictures of this most iconic image of Australia but it is so much more impressive in person. Simply extraordinary! And the mathematics involved in the shapes (Don’t hit delete!! I’m not going there!) is equally amazing. Across from the opera house is the almost-as-famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. As you’ll see in the photos which I’ll be providing soon, one can take a walk to the top of the bridge. Couple of problems, though. First, it’s a 3

 

½ hour walk up and back. And it’s $150 per. Also, they don’t allow you to take ANY possessions (not even a camera which kind of defeats the purpose, don’t you think?). And they dress you in a special one-piece monkey suit (think flight suit) and you are roped in to cables similar to climbers. There was also a poster there with exclusions: can’t go if you’re pregnant, have heart trouble, vertigo, out-of-shape, under 10yo, etc. If they’d had a line on a panel indicating minimum height allowed, I might have thought we were lining up for a ride at Disneyland. Why would I go through all that and not be able to take a picture? Ah, but these Aussies are no beginners operating tourist attractions. You can have your photo taken at the top by them. And for only $50! Anyway, we passed.

 

 

 

[Another plane-train similarity: extremely loud and strident announcements.]This is sooooo cool. Just walked up to the buffet car and purchased two small wines and a cheese & cracker spread for $15. The doors between cars are operated by a button mounted on the wall. When pressed the door makes a hissing sound; I swear, it must have been modeled on the sound from the Star Trek series.

Okay, I want you to know I’m not making this up: I’m leafing through those magazines similar to the ones all the airlines have in ”the seat pocket in front of you” (ever heard that phrase?) and there’s an ad for a product from Hyundai. No, nothing to do with cars. Again, I’m not making this up, folks. Here’s the big print from the ad: “IMAGINE that you are sitting on your toilet, and, with just the press of a button your toilet seat cleans you automatically without the need of toilet paper.” It goes on to say that “apart from cleaning you, it cleans itself and the toilet bowl.“ It shows a picture of a toilet which looks like a computer: full of buttons with a screen mounted on the side of the padded and warmed seat. You know, I really don’t want to know what the screen says nor what the options are. Sounds like something from the “Jetson’s”, doesn’t it?

So, back to Sydney. We took a ferry across the Harbour which is huge. Now I’ve been to several “Harbor Cities” (grew up in SF, been to NY, Seattle, etc.) but this one dwarfs them all. You could hide the whole SF bay system here and not notice it. Ending up in “Darling Harbour”, we went to a “wildlife center”, in the heart of Sydney which has many of the unusual animals found on this continent. Now, let me say this: I HATE ZOOS. I HATE WHAT THEY DO TO ANIMALS. I HATE SEEING THE POOR ANIMALS TAKEN FROM THEIR NATURAL HABITAT. Having said that, this was an utterly fascinating one-hour tour of examples of Aussie wildlife. In defense of our visit, it mostly exhibited insect and reptilian species, with very few mammals. As some of you may know (and I think I mentioned this) 90% of the most poisonous species in the world are found in Australia. So it was very instructive to view these under controlled environment before I run across them in real life. They had the famous, “Funnel Web” spider, and most of the poisonous snakes found here. (Photos to follow, I promise.) I have a picture of me holding an Aussie version of the walking stick, the insect which looks like a leaf+branch. Except, in contrast to what I’ve seen in the US, this one is about 20 inches long! They had delightful Koalas, munching happily on leaves. Wallabees (like small Kangas) hopping about; and they had the Cassowary, the second largest bird in the world (a familiar bird for crossword aficionados). Apparently very dangerous, too, with huge powerful, razor-sharp talons. I left there whistling that song from the early sixties, “Tie me Kangaroo, Down, Sport, . . .” We then went to an Imax presentation on ancient sea monsters; ironically, the whole story started with a fossil finding in . . . .Kansas! How nice to see pictures of Kansas down here (NOT!!!!).

Then, after a dinner of tapas at a Spanish restaurant, we ferried and railed back to the B&B (en suite!). And that brings us back to our train ride now.

One more item, just heard from the overhead announcer: “Next stop is Bowal. Those who hope to disembark please get ready to do so.” Hmmmm. One takes a chance getting off? Geez, we’re hoping to get off at Canberra; what are the chances? Could we pay more and be sure?

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 So I can just picture 3 husky, macho guys in a garage: “Okay,” says one, in a deep voice. “Here’s the plan: we’ll finish mounting this turbocharger on the engine, then head down to Sears to pick up some Craftsmen power tools, then over to Sam’s for some beers. Sound okay?” They all nod but then he adds, “But first I gotta poo.” The other two guys would flee in the US. Never happen here. It sounds so childish to us. But the other day I had an attractive and intelligent 25 yo woman with abdominal pain. In answer to a typical question about bowel movements she says, with a straight face . . . . . with family and friends standing around . . . . “Well I “poo’ed” this morning and it was okay.” Typical American that I am, I was embarrassed. She wasn’t, and nor were the spectators.

 

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First Drive.

Today, being Thursday, it was time for our visit to the kids in Sydney so we rented a car (don’t ask why; I’m still pissed off about the lack of a car which was promised me by the agency which hired me. The hospital is paying for this one.). This was my first opportunity to drive down under, on the left side of the road. Having a “Y” chromo, I was pretty sure this would be easy. There’s one rule to this that is universal: the driver is always closest to the centre of the road.

Now one thing which may not occur to you until you actually try driving like this is that when the manufacturer switches the controls to the right side of the car, they also reverse the column controls. But the fact that you’re driving from a different side doesn’t change your habits vis-à-vis the column controls. Does this matter? Well, for me it does. You see, every time I signal a turn, the windshield wipers go on. And every time the windshield wipers go on, Anne asks, oh, which way are you turning? At first, this was very embarrassing but after a while it became rather humorous. What’s really funny is when I actually TRY to clean the windshield on the freeway; she thinks I’m turning at 110kmph! For the first few hours of driving, each time we came to an intersection where I had to make a right turn (crossing traffic), she would unbuckle and say, “Let me our here. I’ll meet you across the street.” And no wonder: faced with a right turn at a big intersection, I’d sit there for a moment and rehearse where, exactly, I needed to end up. It’s great when it’s busy; I just follow the car ahead of me. But when I need to “solo” a right turn, it’s downright *******.

Fortunately, after leaving the rental agency, just two left turns (the easiest; think rights turns where you are) got us onto the main highway and then it was 2 hours without any turns giving me a chance to get used to the change. The speed limits are a bit lower than in the US and, as I’ve mentioned before, much more strictly enforced. The main roads (2-4 lanes) are usually 80 km/h (~50mph), and the freeway is 110 km/h (~65mph). A school zone is 40 km/h (24mph). All over there were signs referring to the speed cameras and the penalties if caught.

Now many jokes are made about road kill in the US; armadillos and deer are common with, sadly, the occasional cat or dog. Here, one sees wombats, kangas, and rabbits. Also, there are many signs giving a phone number to get someone out to remove the carcass. Speaking of phones on the freeway, as you approach a toll road, a phone number is flashed on the numerous electronic signs along the way; one calls this number to pay the toll so that when the “toll plaza” is reached . . . . . well, there isn’t one. Traffic just flows through. There are, of course, the ubiquitous cameras so you can’t really get away with anything.

The main roads are generally as good as those in the US although the cars, on average, are smaller (gas is MUCH more expensive). But get off the “beaten track” and you may have problems. The reason for the poor roads is the limited tax base; in an area close to that of the US, there are only about 25 million taxpayers so the money gets spread pretty thin. Because of this, SUV’s are more common here than in the US and many have the optional exhaust pipe which extends above the hood.

Every 10 kms or so there is a sign advising you to stop every two hours of driving: the slogan is, “Revive, Survive, Arrive.” They must have a lot of accidents due to sleepy drivers. That may be true because of the distances involved in driving through the empty outback. Once one leaves the coast there isn’t much in the way of civilization until one reaches the opposite coast which can be days. The legal limit of alcohol here is only .05%; in the US it’s .08% in most states, a few are higher. And they’re very serious about SB’s; even the taxis won’t depart unless yours is buckled. America could learn a lot from Aussie driving laws (no cell phones allowed in cars, remember?).

Now here’s an aspect of Aussie driving I DON’T want to see exported to the US: parking rates. Instead of parking meters, each block has a machine much like a vending machine; when you park either curbside or in a lot, you must go to this machine, deposit the appropriate coinage or scan your card, select the length of time you need to park, hit OK, and then get a receipt which states the expiration time. This is placed on your dash so the police can check on you. The cost is usually about $4 for the first hour; I’m not sure how it increases. We couldn’t afford to park longer!

Another aspect of driving here with which many of you may not be familiar is the ’round-about’ which are used (seemingly) world wide in lieu of intersections. In theory, this makes a lot of sense; the flow of traffic never stops, no lights to install (cheaper), and, since everybody is going in roughly the same direction, fewer accidents. In theory. Now there is one cardinal rule with the round-about: the car “in” the round-about has priority over any car wanting to enter and therein lies the rub. Traffic gets backed up waiting to enter. And once in, your troubles have just begun. You have a choice of three left turns to exit and you must position yourself (inside/outside) to be able to take your exit without either blocking another car or being blocked. The smaller ones aren’t too bad but the larger ones, with two or three lanes in the round-about can be a study in Brownian (random) motion. Remember the chariot scene in “Ben-Hur? Now you have the idea.

Now writing 2 days later: I’m getting pretty good with the right-hand turns, even solo. (I’m so proud.) But there’s one more danger I haven’t dealt with but did mention it above. GAS! Yikes! Regular is . . . you better sit down . . . .$6.40/gal! And you’re all thinking the price back home is high? Spare me the whining. So a drive to Dodge and back from Wichita would be about $130. No wonder the cars here are so small. The gas pumps don’t have slots for your cards as you’re used to but they do have a meter into which you enter the amount of gas you wish to pump and it shuts off automatically.

 

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After a delightful 90 minutes with the kids, we struck out for the Blue Mountains, about 80 miles outside of Sydney. These aren’t really mountains as we think of the Sierras or the Rockies with sharp, angular peaks jutting upwards, but rather a series of ever taller hills rising to about 1200 m (~4000 ft). The “Blue” is from the blue haze which forms from the evaporating oils of the dominating eucalyptus trees. It snows occasionally here and this is one of the two most popular “refuges” for the 6M people in Sydney (the other being the south coast beaches).

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Remember a while back I mentioned the high pay waiters and other service people received in lieu of depending on gratuities? And that without the incentive, perhaps service wasn’t as good? Well, perhaps there’s another side to that. We’ve noticed that people are very friendly here even when we’re not buying anything. And why not? They’re not dependent on us. A good example of this was today where we entered a booking agency (here one “books” rather than ‘reserves’) for B&B’s to get directions to one they didn’t even handle. They spent 5 minutes with us, giving directions, getting maps out, and chatting. They knew we weren’t going to be clients, yet took the time to help.

 

 

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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?]

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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?

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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!

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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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