On the 12th Day of Australia

No photos with this post because I'm in the mood to press RECORD and babble, not fidget with Flickr et al.

(Okay, maybe one photo. Inserted out of nowhere, like a photobomb. I took it today, or rather yesterday, as today just ended, except for in the States, where today hasn't even had lunch yet. Anyway, brace yourself!)

I'm having more fun and dumbstruck happiness than I ever expected, here in Australia. Of course, it's easy to be a twee Anthropologie cork-stoppered hand-blown vintage glass bottle of sunshine when...

  • you're currently unemployed by choice (although not by ideal plan)
  • you've just reunited with your husband after being physically apart for nine months (not to knock Skype, but you know)
  • said husband has two weeks off (love the Aussie school calendar)
  • you're still teetering around on the baby gazelle legs of culture shock and jet lag, so your husband is doing the cooking and most of the cleaning and driving you around in the hopes of your amusement

Hearing about all of the above would probably make even my dearest friend roll her eyes, so I hesitate to waft around my glitter farts in the crowded, sweaty elevator of life, but it's pretty damn idyllic in Oz so far. Like, so amazing that more than once I've wondered with all sincerity whether I'm dead, and honestly? I'm still not sure that I'm not. Everything has been too perfect.

Before I came here, I mindlessly mentioned something about being lucky. My Dad corrected me. "No, you had a plan and you've worked hard, and now things are coming together."

Well, okay. And of course there've been upsets along the way, and nothing on the large scale is perfect whatsoever yet (not while we're on a single income and I have to live in two places and normal walking continues to try my post-fracture ankle, etc.), but I do feel lucky. The best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry, and all that.

Actually, I feel like I'm kind of in an after-afterlife. Like, I was dead and blank for awhile, and now I'm reforming, rebirthing, re-stabbing myself in the throat because this floopy unicorn talk makes me gag.

But, really, I've been pretty lifeless for nine months. Last July Mike returned to Australia to finish his certification and secure a job. I was alone in the Vegas apartment, always either packing or uselessly hobbled by my ankle. Introspective at best or blank at worst (or is the other way around?).

Then I moved to Texas and was living in the absolute surreality of my parents' existence, which I hate to play coy about, but it's hard for me to discuss the specific black humours of my mother's early-onset Alzheimer's while said cruel joke is still spinning on the turntable. Lifetime-like movies would have you believe that heartbreak lies in the gentle dementia of a loved one forgetting your name. Maybe it's that way with regular Alzheimer's (I doubt it), but my mother is only 65, and the disease brings new surprises all the time. My poor father, her caretaker, readjusts his standards (all kinds of standards) almost weekly as a result. Suffice to say that it has been easier to remain blank, boring, neutral, non-threatening, a non-entity who attempts to introduce no new stress or chaos.

(So, to start a prancy kickline with a kangaroo on each arm seems a little in poor taste, as I've left Dad alone to be, as his doctors put it, slowly killed by the burden of care... but Dad doesn't hang a bit of that on me, and Mom would be horrified if we were both sitting around slamming back the same hot cups of duty and love, and meanwhile leaving Mike without his spouse, so I almost have to not just have a wonderful time when I'm here but make a big deal out of it, too. Maybe not everyone would feel that way, but it's been decided as a family that celebration is in order, so we'll try the grateful, joyous path and see how that goes.)

Which means I can now talk about what I've been doing for the past 11 1/2 days since I was waved through the double doors past Customs, saw Mike standing just on the other side (like the old days, when everyone came to the gate!), and started bouncing like a pogo-stick behind the slowpoke in front of me, grinning, grinning, grinning.

Bird Photobomb

(See, it really is a photobomb! Naughty rainbow lorikeet...)

Day One: Bopped in after the airport to (finally) meet my mother-in-law (face to face, that is), specifically so she would have no time to worry or vacuum or put on lipstick, and so I would be (extra) messy and probably smelly and (even more) ditzy with fatigue and excitement. She pronounced me as better looking than my photos (which might sound bad if it weren't already so widely acknowledged by loved ones), then we played with her cat, and I believe we were mutually satisfied by the low opening bar and the appropriate critter-based bonding.

I don't really remember the hour-plus ride afterward to our new home or how I felt about seeing the place (other than, like me, it looks better in person than on a webcam), but I think I crashed soon? A king-sized bed for reality's own Mike 'n Molly at last.

Day Two: I remember that it began with a gorgeous sunrise. For the entire first week of being here, I took dozens of sunrise photos every day. I knew I was going somewhere where I'd see more than a dozen stars at once again, but I never considered that gorgeous sunrises were included in the sky-view package as well. 

I had my first taste (ha) of dining out without tipping. My Fellow Americans, this is amazing. I might even be all web-meme-cliche and pronounce it amazeballs. I'm a tipper who always errs on the side of generosity, and of course I don't want to abolish tipping in the US while our ridiculous current system of not paying wait staff a proper wage is in place, but having the cost of service built into the menu prices is just brilliant. I didn't expect to notice or care as much as I have, but having that cultural dance jettisoned from the dining out ritual is strangely liberating.

And no, the service hasn't been any worse for the lack of tipping. People are paid to do a job, and they do it. I thought I might find wait staff to be cold or distant, since in the US we do expect personality as well as skill from our kitchen liaisons, but so far that hasn't happened. (And you know we've been eating out every day.)

(People sometimes complain about the cost of dining out in Perth/etc. When I look at the menu here, I deduct 30% before comparing it to the US: 20% for the tip, 8% for the sales tax we were charged in Nevada, and 2% just because Las Vegas has an unusually competitive restaurant scene. So, my $22 plate of fantastic penne - with cashew-cilantro pesto and cream! -  in a trendy eaterie is now $15.40 in Vegas dollars. That's nothing to fret about.)

On the second day I also contended with the way Aussie supermarkets are inside of malls (so unsettling), confirmed that the ocean is a 10-minute walk from our place (after eight years in the desert, I almost want to cry), began to ponder why there are so many more "Aged" crossing signs than ones for children, noted the wild cockatoos everywhere (ooo, the Petsmart street value!), was hauled around to every store Mike wanted me to see (yes, we shopped like girls), and snapped a pile of sunset photos.

Day Three: Time for a daytrip! (Perfectly timed collision of Mike's pent-up enthusiasm as he has waited sixteen years to show me Australia, and my still being too tired to protest but awake enough to enjoy.)

We headed to Busselton, home of the famous Busselton Jetty, the jetty so long that you can buy tickets to ride a train to the end of it, I kid you not. I did put up some photos from this day on Flickr but am too lazy to link them here. (But you know where to find them. Click the big image on the right.... unless you're reading this post five years in the future and I've redesigned the site... although given my recent rate of redesigns, better make that fifteen years.)

We reached Busselton through a scenic drive in the Tuart Forest, but we saved the jetty for another day since the underwater observatory at the end was sold out for the next few hours. We ate at a place that played Australian music videos from the 1980s.

Come Said the Mike

Yeah, I'm too lazy to link to the jetty, but I can link that. Here's why, though. Like all the other "alternative" suburbanite 15-year-olds in the midwest circa 1985, I was a good new waver/punk rocker/ska appreciater/new romantic with mesh shoes and a hat collection worthy of being invited to Duran Duran's next photo shoot in Sri Lanka. (For me, the 80s ended right before the neon and the jelly.)

But I also seemed to be exposed to more Australian new wave than the average bear in my woods. Like, to the point where when I met (the younger) Mike (for whom the 80s may have lasted well into 1987), I was able to inform him about some Aussie music. ("Some Aussie music" = "The Expression." So underrated.)

However, other than that, what was exotic to me in the wilds of Michigan was overplayed and tiresome to Mike, the greatest example being "Come Said the Boy" by Mondo Rock. When I was 15 or 16, not only was the once-heard song (where? MTV's 120 Minutes, maybe?) alluring, but it got me all kinds of cred as a tastemaker among my similar-minded friends.

But for Mike, "Come Said the Boy" was a monstrous earworm (to be too kind) that he could go the rest of his life without hearing again.

(So, it was amusing to have it come on in the middle of our meal. At least to me. To Mike, it was probably inevitable. The horror.)

The lyrics spoken by the titular boy direct the girl to "go down to the sand" and "do what we want to do," and that's exactly what Mike and I did. We went to a beach south of the jetty and picked up enough seashells to fill a freezer bag. (Why Mike carries freezer bags in his trunk is my fault but for completely cool reasons that have to do with teaching writing - I'll tell you about it later.)

The lyrics also say "let me be a man for you," which suddenly doesn't seem as applicable to seashells, but Mike was very manly when he took this photo while I ignored the jetty in favour of running around all crazy (and hunched over), grabbing at pretty sea litter. 

Busselton Jetty by Mike

So, see, you do get a jetty photo after all. (No photos of sea shells, though, as they really deserve their own post. I have so much to say about sea shells. I also have so many sea shells. Possibly a sea shell problem, even. This is a beautiful country.)

(Just remember that the jetty doesn't end where it seems to end, but instead curves out for another kilometre or something. Also, the water is like glass.)

Clear Water at Busselton Jetty

Then we "just kept going," a la Thelma and Louise, and drove to Dunsborough, where we hit up a 72-year-old bakery for yums and also where I learned that spearmint-flavoured milk is A Thing here. I really wish I could unknow that.

From Dunsborough we drove to Sugar Loaf Rock, which Mike says is one word, so FINE, "Sugarloaf Rock," out on the very tip of Cape Naturaliste, which probably means nothing to most people but you can appreciate that it sounds cool. 

And how it looks is incredible:

Sugar Loaf Rock

Mike at Sugar Loaf Rock

Coming back, we stopped at the Old Cheddar Cheese Company, where I failed to get a good photo, but if you need a good pickled onion vintage cheddar (and you do), this is the place. (Also, they memorialized their pet with a shrine on the front lawn, so you know they're good people.)

After three incredibly lovely days in a row, I was set for weeks to come.

Day Four: This was ANZAC Day, so almost everything was closed. ANZAC Day is sort of like Veterans Day, if the general population on Veterans Day was out attending sunrise services and laying wreaths at prominent war memorials before going on to lunch in cafes instead of just spamming Facebook with stock photos demanding that we CLICK LIKE IF YOU SUPPORT OUR TROOPS AND ARE NOT A DIRTY, WORTHLESS HATER.

(Yeah, yeah, I know that many US cities have beautiful parades and recognition events, just like I know that not everyone in Australia makes an overt gesture on ANZAC Day. But even just when riding around in the car, I could tell it was a special day, and I can't say that we're usually pulling that off in the States.)

In the afternoon we went to Bunnings, which is a big-box home improvement clone of Lowe's or Home Depot, except none of the signs are in Spanish. Yes, that actually threw me. No "piso mojado" cone over the wet floor? Whaaaat?

We then went a bit south of our beach to - what else? - add to the shell collection. I kept marveling that this gorgeous beach was just sitting there, being a pretty, clean, accessible, mostly empty beach.

Shell Blur

Shell Cup

(I remembered that I had photos of the some of the very tiny, round shells already online. But this is it! I haven't uploaded any other photos already, so it's all text from here on out.)

Speaking of noticing things, it was around this time that Mike casually mentioned the cleanliness. YES! That's what I couldn't put my finger on. Everywhere we went, things were so clean. Back in the States, Mike used to marvel at all the trash in parking lots. I don't think he ever quite believed me when I spoke of all the trash by the sides of the roads back in the 1970s (he totally didn't get the park scene in Anchorman) and how far we'd come since then. (Specifically the number of hoots we've given in obedience to the owls.)

Let's put it this way: yesterday was Day Eleven and I finally saw some trash - a plastic yogurt spoon on a median in the parking lot of a mall.

On Day Four, I also saw pink galahs in the trees and on the (power? telephone?) lines. I'm now almost jaded to the colourful birds everywhere.

(Total lie. I'm still completely amazed to look up and see something other than endless black grackles.)

Day Five: Sure, everyone is so respectful during ANZAC Day, stores closing like it's 1982 in the South on the Lord's Day, but they make up for it in shopping the day after. It was like a practice run for Black Friday, but without the deals. 

Mike took me out to his school because 90-something hours had passed and I still hadn't seen a kangaroo. Sure enough, en entire herd was in the field by the school. I put a terrible video up of it on Facebook, which if we're already FB friends you can see, and if we're not FB friends, well, that's easily fixed. (If you know where to find my FB link in the "about" section and you mention that you know me from here, otherwise I assume you're trying to sell me something or get me to play Farmville IX: Revenge of the Sheep. Listen, I can't even catch up with Candy Crush Saga, although I did finally make it into the Salted Caramel Ravine, I think it's called.)

So that (the 'roos) was pretty spectacular. Then we went to a museum/store of wood carving. Oh hi, woods I've never seen before and which all rhyme: karri, marri, dinglebarri... (something like that). 

My camera lenses arrived safely via the combined efforts of the US and Australian postal services. (Thank you again, uncompromising Air New Zealand carry-on luggage weight restrictions. /tired sarcasm.) I used them to take 900,000 photos of Mike's chili plants (or "chilli plants" as they say here, but for some reason it's a "vegie burger" and not a "veggie" one), which deserve not just their own post but a guest post from Mike, farmer of many unpronounceable (and, some would say, deliberately inedible) pepper plants. But, you know me and you know Mike, and somewhere on my hard drive is a folder called "Post to Flickr Later" with photos from 2006, so we'll see how that goes.

I saw my first movie at an Aussie cinema: Warm Bodies. I liked the movie. I'm iffy on the cinema (seats don't recline). I miss buttered popcorn. The popcorn was good, but I will make it my (not-so) secret mission to convince Australians that popcorn with (real) butter on it is a tasty thing. 

Day Six: This was deemed a day of rest. (Finally.) I played with my shells. I took another 900,000 photos of Mike's plants. (They're on Flickr, actually.) We caught up on some of The Walking Dead, all of Game of Thrones, and a few Bill Mahers. (Don't make me get into my complicated opinions about Maher.)

Day Seven: Time for another trip!

No, wait, I went back to sleep.

But then a few hours later I was up and feeling spunky (which I'm aware may mean something a bit different in Oz, so please keep in mind that I type with American fingers), so Mike booked a room and we packed a carry-on and drove away.

("Wait, a room? Like, we'll be gone overnight?" See also: "You booked a room? You planned a trip? You planned a trip without my long hours of Googling and debate? I didn't even know that was possible. Exciting!")

"The South West" was our destination. (It's two words in Australia for some reason.) It really deserves its own post. Really. I promise I'll write it.

Day Eight: Still in the South West! Land of tall trees and unexpected rams and toffee factories and - HERE WE GO AGAIN - even more shells.

Day Nine: Guess what? Yep! Still in the South West! Land of mericless land formations that broke away from Antarctica. Land of sandalwood oil factories and politically charged rose gardens. 

It shall be blogged. I swear it.

Day Ten: I remember wanting to sleep. That's all I remember. Hm. Seem to be missing a day. Maybe we had another TV day? I didn't take any photos. The 1st of May passed undocumented. Eeep!

Day Eleven: Thursday is "late night shopping," which is this remarkable thing where shops sometimes stay open to, say, 6 p.m. (Later in the big cities, like Perth, or the more populous cities in the east, but this is a small city in the west.)

I haven't really had any culture shock (what with years with Mike), and I've known about the "funny" operating hours for ages, but it's still throwing me for a loop. All throughout our tour of the southwest, I kept being surprised by attractions that close at 3 or 4 pm. In a tourist town? At a tourist trap? During school holidays? What is happening here?

But even more confusing to me is how so many everyday shops can close at 4 or 5pm on weekdays. What about all of the people who work? Is Saturday just a madhouse? (I haven't really experienced Saturday out-n-about yet.)

On Day 11 I took a photo of a major toy store (a chain, even) that had closed its doors a few minutes before. I posted the photo and a tip to Yelp to note that on Thursdays the store closed at 7 p.m. My American friends on Yelp were probably wondering why this toy store closed early on Thursdays. Here in our new patch of bizarro-land (I say it with affection), that's actually a bit late even for a Thursday.

One could make a big essay about consumerism and values linked to time and so on, but it's been done before. I'm not saying the very limited trade hours here (specifically here, south of Perth, not speaking for anywhere else) are bad or wrong, just a big change - probably even bigger than having to go indoors and pass ear piercing huts and muffineries (it could be a word) on the way to the grocery store.

I noticed the shopping hours this past Thursday because Mike and I strolled downtown for a bang-on scrummy Italian dinner followed by a walk further down the street for a cone of gelato. (Mike chose Jaffa-cake flavoured, and I picked Ferrero-Rocher. The existence of F-R gelato almost balances my new inability to browse a bookstore after the sun goes down.)

The story here isn't the gelato or the meal or what was open; the story is the STROLL. We can walk from our home to downtown without having to summon an ounce of ambition. It's a vibrant downtown, too - not just there for history or commuters.

To repeat: I can realistically walk on a moment's notice - gimpy ankle and ample butt and all - to cafes, the movies, a regional museum and gallery, and the beach. 

If I am dead, I'm not going to worry about it. This is all already better than I deserve.

Day Twelve: This day is either in progress or just passed, depending on how we're measuring it. This was another "I really want to just sleep a lot, okay?" day, although I earnestly offered to help Mike write lesson plans. (And lest you think I've become a completely lazy wifey whose chief contribution lately has been lining windowsills with seashell overflow, I graded half of the essays for Mike's class on Day 11. He does still have to grade them himself, but another set of eyes and someone to provide more feedback than the students would usually get always helps.)

Mike talked me into going to the wildlife park about five minutes away, and I admit that I only went because I felt bad for my husband. He has to return to work on Monday, whereas I can spend the day rearranging the closet just-so, daydreaming about a stressed-out future when I kick myself for not doing 100 Brilliant Things with all of this free time, and hoping Mike will want a sandwich for dinner since I don't like to (or really remember how to) cook meat (pesky vegetarian is pesky), yet I know he's getting a bum deal to pay all the bills and still have to fend for his own supper. (He'll never notice the housework, not that I'm complaining to have married someone with lower standards than mine.)

So, yeah, agreeing to haul myself up to go look at adorable things in nature was really the least I could do. (I really am tired, though. I'll be glad when adult gummy vitamins come to Australia - supposedly in about another week.)

What can I say? The park was INCREDIBLE. Forget all the other kangaroos encounters (I haven't even talked about the kangaroos of the South West) - I got to sit on the grass in the middle of an empty section of the park and pretty much just snuggle kangaroos for as long as I wanted. Yes, snuggle. They're so soft!

And then Mike and I wandered around two aviaries for hours as giant parrots - yes, parrots - landed all over us and one fell inappropriately in love with me (is my theory), but that's a story for the blog post that I have to write, should living ever slow down enough to permit it. (And should the gummy vitamins arrive.)

To sum it up:

I (probably) don't know who you are, but I'm having a great time, and I wish for your sake that you were here. I may have to knock the wood of the tallest tingle tree for saying this, but so far, Australia is heaven.

04 May 2013 |






Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)