Two Yanks Downunder

A blog about the experiences of two Americans on their first visit to the fabulous continent of Australia

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Longest Day Ends … In MN!

All right, so the title is a giveaway, but I could be practicing lies, deceptions (… things we are only just beginning to learn about… cf Galaxy Quest).

As far as readers are concerned, the suspense intensifies as Don disembarks in Los Angeles with multiple hurdles to cross before he can even contemplate catching his last connecting flight to MN. Do not worry about the mule, just load the wagon. These words serve him well in this situation. Go to baggage claim, wait, wait, wait, pick up checked luggage. Stand in customs line, hand over passport and declaration form to the agent, after a brief wait, get waived forward and he is free to leave the international terminal. What happened to the promised thorough security check? Do not say anything, just keep walking. Do not look back, do not stop, do not pass go!

The distance between the international and domestic terminal was a pleasant walk in the evening air five weeks earlier. Now it is a brutal shuffle in the summer desert heat with an extremely heavy bag that is difficult to balance. Nonetheless, Don arrives at the correct terminal and then plunges into the chaos of the NWA e-ticket line! A woman who asked him if her teenage children (who mistakenly stood in the wrong line for who knows how long) could cut in front of him met with the response that he had a 12:15 to catch, after which she disappeared. Thankfully, when he got to the front of the line, he had his NWA ID number handy and that quickly produced a boarding pass.

Afterwards was when he began to quickly learn more about the new world of security. He went to check one bag and the employees that were previously so helpful placing tags around his bag did not take that same supposedly NOW checked bag

and place it on the conveyor behind them. Rather, they made Don lug it over to yet another area and stand in a new line. There was so little room in this terminal between the doors to the outside and the ticket counter, that all the people inside who were going from one gate entry to another cut across perpendicularly through security lines and this was the situation here.

The employees who were to take our checked baggage and run an electronic scan while we waited had to reach across the flow of people passing by to take our bags and then we had to find a way to cross over to them to see if our bag passed or if they would make us open it up. Such was the crush and the speed of those passing by who had other business that a person could try to cross through them only to be caught up in the pedestrian contra-flow and wind up at the security check for another airlines! Somehow I managed to avoid this and my bag passed the scan and I was waved on to the gate.

However, at the gate entry ways we all discovered that everyone was converged into a single line for a ID and boarding pass check. Moreover, there were about 200 Japanese teenagers in line in front of us! Once through this check, we all were split into two lines for a carry on luggage scan security check. Of course practically all the Japanese teenagers needed three or four grey plastic bins to hold all of there various and sundry small carry on items and all of the things in their pockets! This fact really slowed things down and then we were able to observe that there were very few security personnel present. There was one at each of the two scanning machines and then one at each of two metal detecting doorway frames that passengers walk through. So there were four security employees to cover hundreds and hundreds of people and their luggage being checked and scanned. Every so often one of them would have to collect all of the plastic grey bins from the far end of the scanners and bring them around for waiting passenger!

I stuck with a couple about my age and I mentioned that us over 21 year olds needed to stick together. They were amused by that and then when I added that security was so much more efficient at Sydney I found out that they too had been in Australia. They went to Queensland to briefly join their growth daughter who was doing a summer long tour of the entire OZ continent.

Shortly thereafter, I managed to make a small contribution to slowing things down. As I was finally able to place my things in the grey bins and then move them over to the conveyor belt, one of my shoes fell out of the bin and over the other side of the conveyor and onto the floor. I looked over to the agent at the scanner and she made eye contact with me. I could tell that she did not want to get up so I shrugged my shoulders, leaned over onto the conveyor belt and my feet left the floor and my hands touched the floor on the other side of the conveyor. I grabbed the shoe and pushed off of the floor with my hands and righted myself on my feel and placed the errant shoe securely into the bin. The security worker looked at me again and mouthed Thank You.

So, I got through security, quickly arrived at my NWA flight gate with 10 minutes to spare before boarding. I slept most of the 3 1/2 hours of this flight and woke up in the Twin Cities. I got to ride the little shuttle train from my gate to the MSP baggage claim area where we all found that the luggage from five different NWA flights would be sent to one and only one whatever they call them that go round and round. Nicole, who had been house sitting for us for five weeks appeared and then after some time so did my one piece of checked luggage. We got out to her car and drove to Avon, which took quite a bit longer than usual as I-94 was down to one lane on both sides just east of Monticello, and this will be the case on weekdays until some time in October or November. So, at about 9:00 p.m. on August 17, 2006 I arrived home in Collegeville Township after about 30 hours of traveling.

All was well with the home and our two cats and large canine. I settled our bill with Nicole for her excellent house sitting and animal care services and thanked her profusely. Her earnings will help fuel her own study abroad semester in Greece and Italy beginning next month.

I wish to thank my wonderful spouse Wendy, director of the fall 2006 CSB SJU study abroad program at UNDA in Fremantle, West Australia, for encouraging me to accompany her for part of this grand adventure and giving me such an opportunity. I am filled with appreciation for her and all that she has done for me and for us. I will miss being away from her but I know that she will help create an outstanding overseas experience for our excellent group of young men and woman who have the courage to travel so far in search of knowledge and adventure.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Longest Day or Jindabyne Disparu (part 3)

Well, Qantas 11 did commence boarding on time thirty minutes late! Unlike our LA to Sydney flight five weeks before, Don was not seated right behind the galley with no leg room, rather he was one row behind that very same row and that meant two children right in front of him!

A lesbian couple with a two year old boy were directly in front of him and then a thirty something mom and a several month old girl to his right. The young boy of the gay couple did not utter a single note of crying or complaint during the whole 13 plus hours! The little baby on the other hand, had numerous prolonged bouts of discomfort that she was not shy about loudly and vocally sharing with the rest of us.

Compensating for this baby noise was the fact that there was no one seated next to Don on the right (he had the aisle on the left of the middle section) and so he and the passenger on the other side of the empty seat could divide up the space for their things or to stretch out a bit to one side. A really good pair of headphones and lots of entertainment and music with quality sound systems took the sting out of baby noise like nothing else.

This flight turned out to be a feast of movie viewing for Don: Spike Lee’s lauded Inside Man with Denzel, Jodie, Clive and Christopher (Plummer); V for Vendetta with Oz’s own Hugo Weaving, the UK’s John Hurt, Ireland’s Stephen Rhea and Natalie Portman representing the US; Thank You For Smoking with Aaron Eckhardt and Robert Duvall; and that slippery Jindabyne.

A lot of these hours and hours of viewing had to do with the fact that it is more difficult to sleep properly on a long east bound flight with time compressing rather than stretching as when headed west. Although of course the observant reader will undoubtedly indicate that when the International Date Line is crossed that Thursday August 17 gets a whole new lease on life (hence the Longest Day) which stretches time. Still, the night is short on this east bound flight and sleep was not easy to come by. Even with a significant sleep deficit from Wednesday, Don could only catch short stretches of sleep, to which he added many 20 minute sessions of meditation. Once again, just as Jindabyne was entering its final 20 minutes the entertainment system was taken over by the cabin crew and all transmissions ceased. The mystery of this film remains to be solved for this viewer. Laura Linney is searching for some answers or resolution, how do things conclude, a mystery that Don shall live with until DVD releases occur.

Once again all praise to Qantas and their cabin crew for taking such good care of us. We were well fed and attended to in spite of having the employees totally outnumbered. Some of the more adventurous and curious wondered how things must be in Qantas first class if we were so well looked after. However, the plan to take a serving cart and crash through to take a serious look at this secure and secretive world came to nothing.

Eventually, after about thirteen and one half hours we landed in Los Angeles. We were over half an hour late, so it was after 10:00 a.m. instead of the scheduled 9:30 a.m. Don had to catch a 12:15 p.m. NWA connecting flight to the Twin Cities that would start boarding at 11:45 a.m. Both baggage claim, customs and security check were mandatory before he could even leave the international terminal. At least he was back in the United States, but how long would he remain in California?

The Longest Day: The Jindabyne Jinx Begins Part 2

Aug 17 part 2
Qantas 574 to Sydney was a large Airbus with two aisles and ten seats across, (very much sized like the flight from LA to Sydney five weeks earlier), it also turned out to be only about 25% full so there was plenty of room to stretch out. Each of us had our own screen with access to the large Qantas database of films, TV shows, documentaries and music.

Once the entertainment system became operational, I planned to watch the recently released Australian film Jindabyne by the director of the much praised Lantana and starring Gabriel Byrne and Laura Linney ; which for some reason was accessible on this flight!

Wendy and I had planned to view this film in Fremantle at the Luna SFX and had failed to do so, but I would have my chance right now. If only I had not been tempted by another Australian film, the dark Candy starring Heath Ledger, Geoffrey Rush and Abbie Cornish from Somersault. So Candy it was, even before breakfast!

Breakfast was served during Candy and with tasty scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausage and baked beans Don clearly violated the gluten protocol. However, skipping ahead, there would be no significant repercussions due to this lapse during the course of his travels to MN.

This was a lucky break and should not serve as an example for any of our gluten intolerant audience at 2yanksdownunder.

The dark intensity of Candy (wherein Heath and Abbie are a young married couple who descend into heroin addiction. Their attempts to leave the drug behind then have an unexpected impact upon their relationship) required a nap before any further viewing could occur. Upon dozing fitfully off and on for a couple of hours, distractions also presented themselves the eventually fully wake passenger in the form of the wonderful sunny day that allowed for amazing views of the outback 10,000 meters below us.

So, after an unknown interval, Don began to view Jindabyne. Here we have another dark themed work in which a group of male friends on a fishing vacation discover the body of a young murdered aboriginal woman. However, rather than interrupt their vacation, they continue to fish until they have caught a sufficient haul and only then notify the authorities.

Naturally, their delay in reporting this serious crime leaks out in spite of their conspiring to get the story straight for the police and causes all sorts of commotion in their town and in their private lives. Before the film was even halfway completed, the cabin crew took control over the entertainment system for supposedly important announcements regarding such trivial matters as catching connecting international flights.

Such was the spell cast by Jindabyne that Don almost ignored information that was vital to my return home! Then, to top it off, since we were within about 45 minutes of Sydney, the entertainment system was shut down with the exception of music!

Soon enough we were in Sydney and many of those few of us from QF 574 headed directly to the special international flights lounge. This small area soon began to fill up to capacity and some of us wondered how many increments of 10 minutes had to pass before the once every 10 minutes shuttle buses to the International Terminal would begin to move. The correct guess to the question was two increments, and Don only had 90 minutes between flights and over 1/3 of it was already gone!

The first shuttle began to fill up and not until it was totally full with plenty of standing passengers did they begin to divert folks to a second bus. That one was only half full so they traveled in relative comfort and it therefore paid to be last in line for once. This was actually the only time at the Sydney airport that procedures compared to the way things can go on back home at airports. Be that as it may, we had an interesting ride across different runways and past terminals with all sorts of unfamiliar airlines parked at them.

At the International Terminal we were all put through an extremely thorough search. This was not as time consuming as it might read or as the reader might anticipate since the Australian security folks had more than adequate numbers of employees present for this. They did a wand sweep of everyone and a pat down and then searched every carry on bag thoroughly.

Ironically, almost all of the security employees had name tags that led Don to believe that they were immigrants or OZ citizens of Indian or Pakistani decent. The kind and polite Sayid who searched his carry on bag (taking almost every item out) did not know what vegemite was and set it aside. His coworker (with a Hindu name that Don has forgotten) did know what it was and seemed willing to let it be taken back to the U.S., but it was not his decision. They gained the attention of their supervisor, and he indicated that the small jar of vegemite could not cross the Pacific to Los Angeles. This callous decision deprived Don’s coworkers back in MN of an unforgettable culinary experience.

Now Don was free to go to the gate with only 10 minutes to spare before boarding was scheduled to commence. Was the security check that he would face in Los Angeles at the end of his upcoming Qantas flight 11 to be as rigorous as that in Sydney? Would the fact that he would also have to collect his checked baggage and go through U.S. customs still allow for him to catch his connecting Northwest airlines flight to the Twin Cities?

Before any of these questions became important, it was announced that Qantas was delaying departure of QF11 by 30 minutes! What sort of ripple effect would this have in Los Angeles where he had a three hour layover. That term, layover would just not do any longer, someone would have to invent another one to more accurately reflect the amount of time travelers would now have to invest in standing in security check lines and such in this new world of ours.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Longest Day: pt 1 Or Time To Use The Wayback, Sherman!

Our alarm clock was not really allowed to go off early on Thursday morning since Don woke up on his own at 2:50 a.m., proudly beating the alarm setting by ten minutes! Not close to the world record, but sufficient in the circumstances. After getting cleaned up and sorting through some last minute packing decisions, it was time to awaken Wendy. Well, it would have been but she was already somewhat awake and quickly got ready for our departure.

One travel hurdle and been overcome when the British made recent terrorist arrests. The flight attendants for Northwest Airlines had a pending CHAOS strike set for detonation on August 15, 2006. Following the new security standards implemented in the UK and the US, the flight attendants postponed their strike by ten days. So, if Don could get to Los Angeles on schedule he had an outstanding chance of making it from there to the Twin Cities!

New challenges arose with the many restrictions on carry on items. Some plans to bring certain gift items to the US were changed and others were determined to be worth the risk of declaring at security check and letting a decision come at that time in places and by persons as yet unknown. A known unknown or an unknown unknown?

We actually got everything (including ourselves) into the UNDA Hyundai and were on the road by 4:20 a.m. Don even remembered to leave his keys to the Henry Street residence behind for Wendy even though it would deny them a well earned time for international travel and adventure.

Although the theoretical route to the Perth domestic airport terminal was simple, Queen Victoria Street to the Canning Highway and then a straight shot to Beardsley and our destination, the unusual pattern of one way and disappearing roads in downtown Fremantle were a hurdle not to be underestimated. This was handled with dexterity by Wendy who insisted upon driving since she would have to make the return journey on her own and wanted practice with the car on the road. No significant objections were raised.

Don got a bit nervous since the travel was taking longer than he thought. However, given his sleep deficit and pumping andrenaline fueled anxiety he was clearly not a great judge of the true situation. Wendy got to the airport near 5:00 a.m. but parking was difficult to find since it was pitch dark and signs were not well lit and there was more and more traffic everywhere consisting of drivers who exceeded the speed limit and took turns in aggressive fashion and did not show a bit of politeness. Don had one of his low moments and needlessly and thoughtlessly lost his temper at Wendy for not parking in what seemed an obvious area. He decided to grab his things and go into the terminal and let Wendy find the parking on her own. It was 15 minutes till boarding time and he needed his boarding pass right now! Or so it seemed.

Well, using the automatic e-ticket machine even with the correct version of his name to match the Qantas computer only resulted in a print out that told him to stand in a particular line, probably the one for ‘problem individuals’ which would be no surprise for him. This line was fortunately short as all sorts of folks were anxiously waiting to catch flights for any number of points in OZ and were feeling the time pressing. A stranger even asked Don if he were flying to Cairns, although the pronunciation of this was so unusual it was only in retrospect that Don figured out what the guy had actually asked, to which he automatically replied NO.

Wendy then seemingly magically appeared as an even further downcast Don was getting to the front of the problem line and he was really glad and relieved to see her. It would have been terrible for their last moment together for many months to be one where he thoughtlessly took his nervousness out on her in bad tempered fashion.

So, it was off to another line, also blessedly short. A boarding pass and seat assignment were given out, a heavy bag was checked and then security questions were asked. Revelations were made about sensitive liquids and gels of medicinal nature and prescription then checked by the airport employee upon which all was approved for carry on transport! Now to the security check and a last bunch of kisses and hugs for that noble, creative, forgiving and wonderful spouse that is Wendy. We exchanged further waves as Don got through security scans and retrieved his carry on companions and ascended to the upper level for the gate.

There was time to dash to the loo and then the boarding of QF 576 commenced.

On(ward) Donner, On(ward) Tasha!

16 August 2006 (Don's rendition of the 16th of August - Yes, class, it is a review, there will be a test on Monday)

Don’s last full day in Fremantle was to be a busy one. Errands were first on the agenda since Christine and Natasha from UNDA were going to drop by for an early dinner. However, just when Don was preparing to leave the residence for the grocery store, the bell rang. Christine had dropped by at that moment to drop off her contribution for the evenings feast, her creation being the dessert Pavlova.

(Giant chess board on the main square in downtown Fremantle):

This treat was invented by an Australian chef in the early 20th century to honor the visiting Russian prima ballerina of that name and has been a noted feature in Oz since then. Wendy came downstairs to chat with her a bit, but for some reason Christine felt that she needed to get into the office. This was understandable, but Don tried nonetheless to convince her to come in for a few minutes, saying that he would telephone her office and let her mates know that Chris was having an “episode” and would be in a bit later after she calmed down. In spite of the mirth ensuing from this quip, no minds were changed and Chris soon disappeared saying that she would be by after work.

Don and Wendy made the rounds of their errands acquiring everything except a bottle of wine. They came by the Sail & Anchor Bottle Shop about 10 minutes prior to it’s scheduled opening and decided not to hang around but to return home with the heavily laden shopping bags.

After a quick lunch, Don did most all of his packing for the next days travels, or rather refined some of the preliminary packing from the night before. Wendy worked on her Thursday class preparations and then in mid afternoon they both went over to the P & O to meet up with a group of students.

Today was to feature a visit to the local Fremantle lawn bowling club for those interested in this unique sport. Wendy had made arrangements with the club contact person, Bryan, to bring over two groups of interested CSB and SJU students, but the rain on Tuesday had necessitated canceling the event for that day.

Some of those on the list for Wednesday were waiting outside the P & O by the Orient Bar with some of their mates who were not going along. After lingering about for a few others who were scheduled for that day, Don went over to attempt a round up of the missing. Instead of locating those who had signed up, he managed to convince Zach and Tom to go along, but somehow Tudor got left out. Laura, Maggie, Katie and Bethany thus outnumbered their SJU counterparts, a rather rare occurrence to date in their OZ adventures.

After a pleasant walk through town we all arrived at the lawn bowling club. A few of the members helped our students select the appropriate bowling balls for their size and then all of us went over to the playing area. They were divided into two teams of three with Laura, Maggie and Bethany on one side and Katie, Zach and Tom comprising their opponents.

To commence play, one player on each team rolls a small white ball down a marked line in the grass. After it comes to a rest, then the team members alternate rolling much larger balls towards this small now stationary ball. The rules of engagement were not clear, but it seemed that having the larger balls stop in close proximity to the smaller one was a good thing.

The veteran players instructing our students and observing could usually tell almost immediately what was a good roll and what would be significantly off course. Zach and Tom got themselves each a mug of beer to sip on during play and seemed to be really enjoying things. Katie remarked how she was just putting too much effort into her rolling of the bowling ball and therefore not getting close at all. She was getting all too familiar with the gutters that lined the perpendicular edges of the field, in contrast to the gutters in American bowling that run parallel on the sides of the lane. The other team was more quiet and determined and was quickly picking up on more of the physical finesse of the rolling techniques. Of course, they lacked any SJU teammates and were not having any beer.

Don and Wendy had to leave mid way through the lesson to see about picking up the UNDA car they had reserved to take Don to the airport early the next morning. However, when they got to the security office, Kathy was away so they decided to check back later on. So, it was back to the Henry Street residence to prepare dinner for our soon to arrive guests.

Again, Wendy took control of the kitchen and Don took care of cleaning up the place and putting out the place settings, silverware, and other accoutrement for the meal. Wendy prepared a chicken stroganoff with noodles and an accompanying dish of green beans and mushrooms. There was also bread and then for dessert Christine’s Pavlova and the last of Don’s shortbread.

Our guests arrived on time and Natasha did us all the honor of bringing along a fine bottle of red wine. With the wine for starters, conversation soon flowed freely. Although Don wondered how his female guests would get an accurate picture of the usual Don and Wendy kitchen dynamics since she was doing all the visible work while Don’s lot was to converse and occasionally offer to help!

We discovered by stealth conversational tactics necessary in intercultural communications a great deal about Natasha’s immediate future plans. Unlike many young Americans, she was not interested in world domination or absolute power in the business sphere, but was planning to continue to travel.

She was taking vacation the following week to go to Uluru with a friend from Melbourne (who has a young child and whose partner is a musician in a well known group in OZ. They would wind up in Darwin for some concerts and sightseeing, all much anticipated by Tasha (sounds like Tasha’r’ to American ears) as she encouraged us to address her. She showed us some photos of a fairly recent trip she had taken with a friend to Indochina, seeing amazing sights in Vietnam and Laos in both urban and rural conditions. A brave and adventurous traveler!

Christine has also traveled much in Asia and lived in Japan for several years. She said that she would eagerly return if the opportunity presented itself and Wendy remarked that if she was offered the directorship of the CSB SJU Japan program she would contact Chris about going along as her assistant director and an agreement was made on the spot or is it spot on!

The dining experience was quite tasty as Wendy had done most excellent food preparation and presentation. The most excellent Pavlova followed and the last of Don’s shortbread made an appearance as well so that Tasha could try it. Don failed to find the time to make a batch to leave behind with Wendy as he had planned to do, so this was the bitter end of his baking or the sweet finish to look at it another way.

The pleasant and enjoyable evening filled with good conversation, laughter and ample food and wine came to an earlier end than it would have on another evening. With Don facing a 5:45 a.m. flight from Perth, our guests did not want to stay too late and arguments to the contrary were not accepted. Hopefully Wendy will be able to build upon this time to create more opportunites to socialize with Chris and Tasha, two clever and welcoming folks who made our time in Fremantle that much more pleasant.

So, after the departure of our guests, Don handled the lion share of the clean up and dishes which was only fair given Wendy’s amazing creative efforts that provided the bulk of our tasty feast. Meanwhile, she made use of her time on the computer to get ready for tomorrow and to catch up with important e-mail both foreign and domestic. Then they both went over to the UNDA security office and checked out the Hyundai for the trip to the airport. The compact car did fit nicely into the Henry Street residence courtyard and was easier to handle than the Toyota from Bayswater rental even though or perhaps because of the fact that it was a standard shift.

With all that needed to be done, bed time was not until after 11:00 p.m. It would be a short night as Don set his alarm for 3:00 a.m. with the intention of leaving for the airport by 4:15 a.m. This was the first time the alarm had been set on this clock in a real world situation, as opposed to a drill. Would it go off on time or would someone miss their flight and go into high anxiety? Find out in the next thrilling installment of 2yanksdownunder!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

A Subiaco Saturday

While the Dockers and the Eagles battled it out. Christine and I decided to do something more intense. We went to see a movie at the Leederville Luna Cinema.

I had originally planned to go to King's Park in Perth this morning but the weather looked a bit rainy and dark, so after waiting a bit and doing some grading, I decided I would take the neighbor dog, Mick (the Irish Terrier) for a walk.

I took him down to Dog beach where he was very excited to meet other canines. He needs a bit of work on his manners (He is a teenager after all), but the other dogs were actually also a bit uppity since they were off leash and kept running over and getting him all excited.

Then after lunch I heade4d out toward the train station to meet Christine in Subiaco. On the way I saw a man with a mostly bald (or shaved) head who had a little tuft of pink hair on top. He was sitting with a woman at a noodle shop eating a wonderful looking soup so I stopped and asked if I could take his picture. Thus I met Dave and Jenny and learned about some really good places to eat in town (including Maya Masala and this little Vietnamese place).

Christine met me at the Subiaco train station and wow was she looking glamorous. She had a new hair cut with a new red color and was wearing elegant black with a red glass necklace and an orange scarf to set off the new hair! She took me by to see her house. What a perfect place! She has the decor matched precisely in colors of blue and white. With cool drinking glasses with geometric blue shapes on them and a dazzling white kitchen with matching appliances.

Her couch has blue cushions which match perfectly the lovely Japanese cloth on the wall that has (blue of course) drinking gourds as its main theme.

The front of the house has a little garden and the back has a bigger garden partitioned off with matchstick blind type fencing. The second floor has bedrooms and a bath with laundry and then the really extraordinary aspect about her place is the third floor; a sunroom that she calls the library (pictured here). You can't see the huge windows here.

What a marvelous place to read in winter. (It has Northern exposure with a huge window facing the park (Remember everyone that north faces the sun down here).

We took a quick peek around town and then headed for Leedrville. Here is part of the shopping district in Subiaco (so readers have a sense of suburban areas.)

The cinema is really interesting because it is spread out in a labyrinthine design (with long halls to theaters 3 and 4 (the small ones). On the way there is a snack bar with this interesting space!

We saw the very depressing film 2:37 about some very demoralized highschool students. It was nicely edited with the stories of 6 teenagers (7 actually) being intercut with commentary by the characters. Eventually the interconnections of their stories become clear and there is a very nice use of repeated time to form an intensely interesting plot structure. Each teenage character looks initially happy and well adjusted, but each also has a secret (as characters in films so often do that leads to their misery and the audience's suspicion that he or she may be the person who has committed suicide behind the locked door of the highschool bathroom. The end is a wrenchingly realistic protrayal of a suicide by wrist slitting that seems to go on for ten minutes. Both Christine and I were a bit shaken as we navigated our way out of the theater.

So, for decompression it was off to a truly wonderful Japanese restaurant where after debriefing on the film, we relaxed a bit and eased into a delicious meal. Christine had a chicken ramen soup and I had a combination Sushi.

The interior design of the restaurant was also fun! The chairs had screen-like areas in the backs that revealed the image of a woman's face and although most of the decor was drop dead elegant and serious in blacks and reds, there was this funky mural on the wall of an old anime (cartoon really) character, Astroboy.

With such a fantastic ambiance, we chatted about the movie and other big events in Christine's life and had a marvelous time.

Four More at the Door Ready to Explore

Tuesday August 15

We had quite a few errands to take care of around town on Tuesday, but the main event (which in fact necessitated most of the errands) was to be dinner with four of our students at the Henry Street Residence. Invitations for our second small group dinner had been offered to Kyle, James, Brent and Laura.

None of them had any schedule conflicts, nor did they know that it might have been better to invent one, since the first dinner group from the week before had given their comrades a good review of the evening. Evidently those that disliked vegetables found other aspects of the evening more than compensated for having to consume plant matter. Or, they were really into the whole schadenfreude scene and wanted to let the next group take the same or similar dietary hit that they did completely without warning?

Wendy has undertaken a mission to expose the students in the small dinner groups to some new and different foods within the context of providing a home cooked meal. Don knew that after making a small objection to the nature of her mission, that the wisest thing to do was not to interfere unless absolutely necessary; and even then what real impact would he have?

So, Wendy took control of the kitchen while Don focused on the clean up and getting all the appropriate dishes, glasses and silverware set out. Lamb was to be the main course with green beans, potatoes and Wendy’s special Louisiana style ‘dirty’ rice accompanying. Ice cream, chocolate and shortbread would be available for dessert, if things got that far.

Everyone arrived and it turns out they brought a bottle of wine to contribute to the feast. However, we started them out with a session of beer sampling, four different types of local brews of differing varieties (Pilzners, ale, etc.). So, beverage sampling began and appetizers were served as we all became conversational.

Dinner was served and with little persuasion everyone moved over to the table and wine was poured. Kyle told us he was soon to travel to Melbourne to take his MCAT exam. He hopes to enter medical school and would like to become a pediatrician or a family practitioner. He and Bethany have been going out for six years! Laura says that she has more free time here than back in MN since her participation on the tennis team at CSB demands a lot from her. She has been running regularly to maintain her physical conditioning in the absence of the usual training and competing. She has also been exploring the shopping options in Fremantle with some of her mates.

Brent’s enjoyment of baseball led him to bring his glove along and has led to him having an interesting conversation with an American woman he met while playing catch who also loves the game.

We cannot speculate at this time what implications this will have for Mr. Mergen, James told us a bit more about the theology class that most of our group is taking and considers to be difficult and or confusing. Don tried to practice his sense of irony by getting James to talk a lot about quietism, which he was willing to do. Don and James had a detailed discussion about U.S. geo political policy and world affairs under Bush II.

Desserts came out and all of the options were put on the table: ice cream, chocolate and shortbread. Don explained how with the tradition established just the week before, that Laura would get to take the left over chocolate back to share with the other CSB students as Jaya did previously. There were not too many overt objections to this, maybe due to everyone having had their fill. Soon enough, as conversation wound down, our responsible group pleaded the necessity to return to the P & O to grapple with homework assignments and they were gone.

Don promptly set about cleaning up and washing the dishes while Wendy saw to her e-mail and class preparations. A full evening that seemed to go very well. Only one more full day for Don in Fremantle before his long journey home to MN.

Monday August 14th (Now with more stuff!)

Naval Leaves or Don Plays Ketchup in OZ from MN

Don’s last few days in OZ promised to be busy ones as we had filled up the free time in our schedule with a variety of social gatherings.

A last view of our little gated community street for Don (ws):

(The Cappaccino strip in Fremantle)

For Monday, Wendy had class preparations to complete for her Ethics course later that afternoon and then afterwards our landlord John Lynch was to come by that evening at 6:30 p.m. and the three of us were going out to dinner. It was still early in the morning in the wilds of Western Australia, so the big question was would anything get in the way of these plans? It was soon clear that the U.S. Navy would not be interfering.

While Wendy toiled on the computer, Don witnessed the departure of the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk when he was returning to the Henry Street residence from a grocery trip to Coles. The carrier steamed out of port at quite a brisk pace with far, far fewer sailor and officers visible on the deck than when it arrived the previous Thursday. Don of course wondered what happened to all the sailors? Perhaps some of our men and women in uniform had decided to stay behind? With places like Fremantle or Perth to explore, it could have been tempting for lonely and adventurous sailors to go A.W.O.L. Warning: not meant as words of encouragement for bad habits! Do not be late!

Wendy finished off her class preps and Don prepared a lunch for himself and Wendy. After she left for class, he wrote about their weekend trip for their blog. When she returned a couple of hours later, they took care of some household chores and then got ready to go out.

While Wendy was teaching her afternoon class, Don was preparing for all of our students to arrive at the Henry Street residence to celebrate August birthdays and February half-birthdays with ice cream and cake. Plastic plates, plastic ware and plastic cups were all brought out of careful storage and placed in the staging areas in the kitchen and dining areas. Cold drinks, cakes and three flavors of ice cream made their way to the counter.

This time, Zach and Kelsey were the celebrants, so Wendy had an easier time of it with writing names on the cake she baked (there were seven celebrants last month!). Since Zach’s actual birthday fell on the day of the upcoming Thursday Ethics class, he tried to barter with Wendy to have class cancelled, or at least to give him walk. The reader can use their imagination and try to figure out what kind of answer he received. Don thought Zach should have just sent the Zachbot 2006 to class while and not said a word to her while the real Zach could go out.

While Don was helping everyone to get their plates and bowls full of treats, the students turned the tables on him by revealing that they had decided to add a farewell to Don component to the group celebration! In fact, they had passed the hat around and purchased a Stella Floonie for Don at the Fremantle Markets that past weekend. Don graciously thanked one and all for their generosity and said how rewarding it had been to be a part of the program even if only for a few weeks. He noted that having another Floonie to take home to MN would help remind him of good times in OZ.

Mass quantities of treats were consumed and then our group was off to the P & O to prepare a group dinner feast. We were invited, but already had made dinner plans with our landlord John Lynch.

So, in the wake of the mass departure, Don and Wendy got intensely busy cleaning up before John Lynch could arrive and see any chaos or disarray in his place.

John Lynch showed up on time and Don met him at the door with a mock look of concern and said: “Oh John, didn’t you get Wendy’s telephone call?” He was quite startled and was clearly wondering if we had canceled on him, so Don had to confess that he was just having a bit of fun. In spite of having been told that Australian humor tends to be dry, almost all of Don’s attempts to use this type of humor have not been understood by local residents. When I later mentioned this to John, he informed me that Australians do not expect Americans to have a dry sense of humor, that we are also known for lacking a sense or understanding of irony. I guess that this will have to go uncommented upon here for now.

With quite a bit of effort, we talked John into coming upstairs and having a chat and a beer before we sought out a restaurant in Freo.

Once we did set out, we wound up at a place that John knew would be open on Mondays (when many other places are closed) since it catered to a substantial business clientele; this was the Essex which turned out to specialize in sea food. Wendy had prawns prepared in a way that only she could describe and John and I indulged in sumptuously prepared fish with accompanying vegetables and salads. John had a bottle of good white wine brought to the table and opened up and so we were forced to take a share of that as well. Dessert consisted of a plate with slices of a variety of fresh fruits: strawberries, pears, apples, and oranges. There was some really good conversation too, but since I cannot recall it so well after nearly ten days, that can be kept confidential by default.

After dinner Wendy wanted a coffee, so we stopped in at Ginos. Christine Sullivan our liaison had recommended the place as the best breakfast spot in town, but was there was not even the tiniest bit of room for food, we had beverages instead.

The decor was fantastic, with lots of beautiful art on the wall behind John and a nice flashy counter with pictures of sail boats
onthe wall near the cash register. Wendy plans to go back as the atmosphere pleased her greatly.

It was a little sad to walk home that night, knowing that Don would be leaving all this behind in less than 48 hours! (ws)

The evening ended with John strongly encouraging Don to return to Australia for the last few weeks of the semester in spite of the cost and the long, long distances to travel.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Hello Emptiness

Wendy here. Well the honeymoon is over. Don has flown away home and I'm feeling cranky, lonely and tired.

And even worse FAT. Yup I finally had to face reality and recognize that living on all the pastries, icecream and cookies I could possibly imagine is not doing good things to my waistline, so... it was time for the inevitable - a diet. So although I had to spend the major portion of my day grading.I have slowed down the calorie intake and when my brain got too tired to think, instead of eating, I took a walk up High street to see what I could find. Here is the view from Pakenham of our little gated community.

I actually headed off in a different direction at first, but ended up trying to find hills to climb and this brought me back around to High Street. On the way I encountered colorful parrots flying around. (This never ceases to amaze me - they are so bright and cheerful and they chatter noisily even though they can be hard to find once they land in the trees.)

High Street climbs a hill that leads to a large war memorial on the top. Each side of the memorial is dedicated to a different war effort. One side says 1918, one says Gallipoli, One says Palestine and the fourth is dedicated to the Fallen Sailors and Soldiers. Along the edges of the hill crest are smaller monuments - to the Dutch for their martial support for example - This monument had fresh flower bouquets laid upon it. At the central monument here was some kind of religious gathering. I heard praying and then saw the group head off in a little mini-bus. They looked very serious.

You can see Perth from the top of the hill off in the distance tothe East:

The way home gave me a chance to look at some of the typical historic architecture.

This was an interesting car parked along the side of the road.

This is now a hostel or hotel of some kind, but is a beautiful long colonial building with the most gorgeous iron-work I've yet seen here. Unfortunately the picture does not really show the details of the work.

On the way home I crossed through the High Street Mall (pedestrian and shopping zone.) I include this photo because I pass this way almost every single day that I am out and about. Past the same buskers with their off-key singing and cracked voices and the people reading their newspapers and all the tourists looking for the perfect plastic souvenir to remind them of their stay.

On the way home I ran into Ros Fairhead and so I accompanied her to her volunteer office. She donates her time once a week to a place that offers inexpensive legal counselling for the poor. She was looking stunning and imposing in dark clothing with her hair pulled up. I was sweaty from my hike wearing my cheap souvenir t-shirt and jeans (My underwear even showing as I had forgotten I was wearing low-rise jeans after visiting the ladies room and had tucked my shirt in! (How embarrassing!) She had taken me to the theater the night before and it was a fantastic production!

"Tough Girls" is based on the real life events in Victoria, about police corruption and a gang war that was the sensation of Australia during the 1980s. (There was even a major mini-series written about these events) The web site explains it better ( ) says:

Victoria’s underworld is tearing itself apart, and the new order is yet to be revealed. Tough Girls is a new musical theatre work by one of Australian theatre’s brightest stars, which looks at the women crucially involved in these events.

Tough Girls is about the tough girls in crime families, inspired by the very public life story of Kath Pettingill, the matriarch of the criminal family involved in the Walsh St police killings in Victoria. Set in a caravan park on the outskirts of Melbourne, the play is about the similarities and complicities between the good and the bad guys, the banality of evil and the Australian underworld that is busy destroying itself.

I really enjoyed this production. The music was great, the acting was fantastic and the writing was excellent. The play presented real thought-provoking commentary on some major ethical issues and on the difficult lives for women in worlds that are dominated by men. I suspect this play will win some major prizes in the next few years.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Caversham quatro

(Couldn't resist yet another attempt at that silly Honey darter - grin)

Well now, in the continuing saga of the Caversham park experience...

after the camel rides (and before she left us to our own devices) the guide took us around to the Koalas. This is of course a very exciting part of the tour, because Koalas are cute and soft as well (a quality lacking in the luxuriously lumpy, but more cuddly wombats). Koalas are eating machines that do nothing much besides eating, (having sex, I hear) and sleeping.

They are slow animals, that have to eat huge numbers of leaves to keep going and so they spend most of their waking hours feeding singlemindedly and are pretty much oblivious to the human fuss going on around them. We were fortunate to get to see a couple of baby koalas (who were not as secure and jaded as their adult companions.) With all the noise and flash of cameras the poor little baby was shaking and took refuge on the back of an adult who was not her mother.

Another animal that we got to see for the first time is the Tasmanian devil.

These creatures from Tasmania have a bite 4 times stronger than a dog and are known to be quite ferocious.

On my own, I set out to see things we had whooshed by on our tour. I really enjoy the reptiles and here were some lizards who were out in a pen enjoying the sun:

Here is a wombat in his pen. They can move amazingly fast and this one had just come from feeding and was covered in
food from the feeding trough.

There were several exhibits of bats. They were hard to photograph because they are dark creatures back lit against the bright blue sky. Here are a few (Fox?) bats that I managed to capture on disk.

There are all kinds of rodent like animals in Australia. These (I believe) are Quokkas, an animal found on Rottnest island not too far from us in Fremantle. There were several other similar animals including one that sounded something like pademum ( I keep thinking of Starwars - when I hear it).

We had a wonderful time at the park .I'll close this section with my favorite picture thus far. This is exactly how I felt when I left after all our wonderful adventures.