Sunday, 28 February 2010

Passport photos ....

I'll have whiter teeth please .... 

Everyone knows the joys of getting passport photos taken, the no-smiling, the way every blemish seems to show up on your face, the horror of looking at the photo that will haunt your license and passport for years to come.  A few days ago, I had to get some passport photos taken for my Canadian working visa and it reminded me of Chinese style passport photos.  Just before I left China, I had some photos developed at the local photo shop.  Whilst I was waiting, I watched a young, pimply, skinny teenage boy have his picture taken.  White background?  Check.  Not smiling?  Check (although this is common in normal Chinese photos anyway).  However, the process didn't stop there.  The woman taking the photo, the boy and his posse of hangers on gathered around a computer and before my eyes, I watched as this boy was transformed into a grown man, complete with unblemished skin, broader shoulders and a little more hair.  I do wonder how he managed to get through customs.  Perhaps I could ask for this at the local Australia Post?

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Mardi Gras!

Mardi Gras was all about passion!

I arrived in Sydney holding the assumption that Sydney would not have as many cultural activities as Melbourne.  I'm on a mission to prove that assumption wrong, so I'm trying to do as many cultural activities as I can in the next month.  I began with the Mardi Gras.

These guys were very popular as the crowds gathered

Since I'm still finding my way around Sydney, I was a little unsure how to get to Oxford Street, but I soon discovered that all I had to was follow the crowds of gay couples and teenagers.  It seemed to me that the Mardi Gras was an outing for teenagers (many complete with braces) to show their open mindedness and their individuality.  For many teenage girls, 'individuality' came in the form of a slutty police outfit and over the top make up.  You can only imagine their disappointment when they arrived at Oxford Street to find that 1000s of other teenage girls had the same idea.  Perhaps next year, they will be more creative and go for a nurses uniform.

People jostled for a good spot to view the parade

My favourite float - the lifesavers.  Mmmm, nice bodies!

Arriving on Oxford Street, I was unprepared for the huge crowds, and was unable to reach my friends who had arrived super early.  So,  I hung out by myself before a group of gay Englishmen felt sorry for me and took me under their wing.  We hung out for the whole night, sharing seats and taking photos for one another.  Seats, stools, milk crates, rubbish bins ..... these were in high demand for good viewing.  As I walked up Oxford Street, I came across groups of entrepreneurial backpackers selling plastic stools for $10.  'Who would pay $10 for a cheap plastic stool?' was my initial thought, but after searching for a good viewing spot (and being told by security to climb down off a rubbish bin), I sheepishly went back, parted with my $10 and climbed up on my hot pink stool to enjoy the parade.  I figured that it was cheaper than seeing a movie.

Taronga Zoo float

 A gay parade would not be complete without some YMCA!

The parade itself went for about 2.5 hours (a bloody long time to stand on a plastic stool in a crowd!) and I was completely entertained the whole time.  The range of floats was very diverse.  My favourites by far were the life savers and water polo players (hello, hot bodies!), the choreographed dance routines and those pumping out iconic gay tunes such as 'YMCA', 'I will survive' and anything by Kylie.  Although I consider myself to be quite an open minded person, there were several floats that I felt a little uneasy about, namely the full on leather and bondage float.  Each to their own, I guess!

Camp-Berra - The Queens Capital .... your thoughts Dad?

Mardi Gras colours

The spirit of the Mardi Gras was fantastic, the crowd was as diverse as the floats and everyone was out to have a good time.  Interestingly enough (insert sarcasm), it was the straight people who seemed to cause the most trouble in the crowd and with the usual drunken behaviour to be seen all around, it was a messy place to be at the end of the parade. 

This rental truck looked like it may have toppled over, these guys were loving a dance!

Gay Camping NSW - Camp as a row of tents

Something that didn't make sense to me on the night was that on my way home, I was approached by two different men wanting my number.  What is it about gay events that makes straight men try to pick up?  I declined both, one was a little odd and the other was lovely but only came up to about my shoulder.  

Even the Sydney sightseeing buses were in the parade

The parade was multicultural - the Scottish float .... I love a Scotch Finger!

So, the first cultural event on my list was a success - Melbourne has Moomba, Sydney has Mardi Gras - I know which one I'd prefer to go to!  Next on my list is the French film festival.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Spoilt rotten ....

2009 birthday - Shanghai party

My birthday in 2010 was a day of being spoilt.  The kids filled the 'classroom' with balloons, took me out to lunch and then baked me a gluten free chocolate birthday cake.  Straight after school, I treated myself to a massage where I promptly fell asleep before rousing myself to head off to training (no rest for the wicked!).  After a world record changing time, I went out for birthday bubbles with some friends before roaming the streets in search of a midnight ice cream.  It may not have been Shanghai, but the party time will come on Saturday night ..... Mardi Gras here we come!

Real Chinese massage ....

Enjoying one of my last massages in China

You know that it's going to be a Chinese place when the sign reads 'Real Massage'.  No fancy names, just real massage.  As a birthday treat, I splashed out on 80 minutes of real massage, including a full body and foot reflexology.  As the sign revealed, it was a real Chinese massage, tough but so good for you.  The only downside was that I had to close my eyes as I handed over my cash - $80 for 80 minutes.  Not bad for Australia, but I couldn't stop my mind from calculating how many massages I could have had in Wuxi!

Monday, 22 February 2010

Gigibaba ....

The restaurant's only signage

Smith Street in Fitzroy is not a place that you would normally find the Range Rover driving folks of the other side of the river, but it is exactly where they are flocking (albeit a little nervously), for an amazing little restaurant by the name of Gigibaba.  It's hard to find, with only a simple A4 piece of paper as its signage and its flexible approach to when it opens.  My dear friend, Diane, and I have tried several times to eat there but never seem to be there when they are open, so we arrived nice and early on Sunday night to bag the window table.  The much anticipated wait was definitely worth it - the food was brilliant, the wine was wonderful, the service was fantastic and the company, as always, was good fun.  A highlight of the evening was the fact that we didn't even have to order, we simply told our lovely waitress how hungry we were and out came the food.  The night rounded out with a second bottle of wine at Cutler and Co., another popular restaurant with a 3 month waiting list.  I can certainly say that if I were a Range Rover driver from Toorak, I would be venturing across the river for the Gigibaba experience on a regular basis.

First in line .... we wanted the window table!


Cauliflower salad ... my favourite dish of the night


Orange salad

Lamb sausages

Clams in a pea broth

Beetroot salad

Pistachio baklava

Turkish coffee

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Melbourne for the weekend ....

What a great night for it!

It was with much excitement that I boarded the flight home to Melbourne on Friday afternoon.  Being away so often really does make you appreciate home all the more.  The weekend began with dinner and drinks at the Maribynong Boathouse with Mum and Rob, it was a hot balmy night, perfect for sitting outside.  Saturday night was spent at the zoo, listening to Tim Freedman (The Whitlams) with the lions in the background.  I just love events like these, there is something so simple about spreading out a picnic rug, popping a bottle of bubbles and enjoying the summer evening.  Afterwards, a few of us went to Polly, a great cocktail bar on Brunswick Street, just right for a gossipy catch up.  A fantastic weekend to share an early birthday celebration with family and friends.  Stay tuned for a foodie blog entry tomorrow!

Mum and Di

Libby and Julie

The pregnant one .... lovely Anita

Cocktails in hand .... 

Note - I did intend to take more photos so that everyone could be on the blog ... but I was sidetracked by a bottle of Verve!

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Finding friends .....

Just like old times ... only in a much classier setting

One of the joys (or stresses .... depending on which way you look at it) of moving to a new city is finding new friends, and in my case, reaquainting with old friends.  Since moving here, I've been lucky enough to catch up with a friend who I spent my GAP year with in the UK and it was just like old times.  Then, out of the blue this week, I had a text from her - another one of our GAP mischief makers was in town from NZ.  Needless to say, a gossipy catch up over dinner and drinks was in order.  It was  a wonderful dinner of reminicising over the fun we had as 18 year olds in our first 'away from home' experience and catching up on the last 10 years of our lives (note to self - must grow up, buy a house and get married).  On the ferry home, I began thinking about the eclectic groups of friends I've made here from all areas of my life ... friends from training, the kid's babysitter, my internet friends, an old school friend, even a friend from China.  Right now, I 'm looking forward to heading back to Melbourne this weekend for a catch up with old friends, yay!

I promised the girls I wouldn't do it, but I couldn't resist .... a trip down memory lane to 1999, Aussie and NZ GAPpers in the UK.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Family visit weekend ....

Last year, we conquered the Great Wall of China, this year it was the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Five weeks into my new job, I was ready for a visit from family.  Dad and Carla visited last weekend with Charlie (the dog), who stayed with me for the week.  Rob arrived on Friday night and we spent the weekend seeing the sights of Sydney.  On Saturday we headed into the city where we explored the markets at The Rocks before tackling the Bridge Climb, a 3.5 hour adventure to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  We just missed the rain, unlike the last time I did the climb which was in howling winds and rain.  

Expresso martinis

Hugo's pizza

We spent Sunday in Manly, mostly on the beach running, swimming and snorkelling, despite the overcast weather.  It was also a weekend of culinary delights - we found two lovely Italian restaurants that served gluten free pasta and pizza, yum!  Both restaurants are in premiere locations - in Circular Quay with views over the Harbour Bridge and the other is the famous Hugos, perched on the edge of the Manly wharf.  The second lot of visitors arrived for Sunday lunch - a special Valentines lunch with Dad, Carla and Rob.  Before Rob left, we had a few drinks at my favourite bar in Manly where Rob introduced me to the expresso martini, a dangerous combination considering I don't drink either coffee or spirits!  Now, I'm just looking forward to a birthday weekend in Melbourne, I can't wait to see everyone there!

Charlie enjoys the ocean views

Thursday, 11 February 2010

A thrifty year ....

After 18 months of living it up in China and doing some amazing travel, my bank balance is not looking so healthy, so 2010 is going to be a thrifty year for me.  I've spent some time thinking about which areas I can cut back on ..... perhaps three massages a week is a luxury?!  I like spending money on sports and healthy (but sometimes expensive) foods and I like eating out, so those two areas will remain.  After some thought, I've chosen to tighten the belt in two areas - books and general day-to-day stuff that all adds up.  I've joined the library and my bookshelf is brimming with books, magazines, CDs and DVDs from the Manly library.  For the second area, I've consulted my friend Google for budget and environmentally friendly cleaning and beauty products.  My bathroom is gleaming after a scrub with baking soda, which is much more efficient, less potent and cheaper than normal cleaning products.  Also, sitting in my shower is a huge yoghurt tub filled with a homemade exfoliating scrub.  There were many recipes for this on the net, but I chose for the simplest - white sugar and olive oil.  A word of warning though, add the olive oil very slowly!  Whilst my skin was silky smooth, I was slipping all over the shower that quickly became slick with olive oil, not to mention the oily feeling on my skin.  I wonder how else I can become thrifty without compromising my lovely lifestyle?!

Monday, 8 February 2010

Back to school ....

That's right, I'm heading back to study.  I've just enrolled to do a Masters of Education at Monash University in Melbourne.  I'm very excited about it because I've wanted to do my Masters for some time but never really had the time.  Now that I am only teaching two children and don't have school meetings,  report writing and parent teacher interviews, I will have plenty of time to study.  The plan is to specialise in gifted education but I am yet to decide whether I go down the path of the 8,000 word professional project or the 16,000 word thesis.  Right now, it's bright and sunny outside, so the thought of study is not so appealing, but on the ranch in the cold Rocky Mountains, it might be just the thing!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Ocean swimming ....

Start of the Cole Classic from my employer's balcony 

No, I haven't achieved my goal of swimming from Shelly beach to Manly beach.  But, today, I was a little more inspired as I watched the 4500 participants enter the water for the annual Cole Classic swim, a 1km or 2km ocean swim.  There was a great atmosphere in Manly as people participated, supported or just enjoyed the entertainment.  I spent the morning viewing the race from my employer's balcony before having lunch at a beachside cafe followed by Sunday afternoon drinks and live music with a friend I haven't seen for 11 years .... what a great way to spend a Sunday!  Ready to start to training for next year's Cole Classic .... maybe!

Swimmers begin the race at Shelly beach .... the only Australian beach to face inland (a useless fact from Google!!)

Friday, 5 February 2010

Dining out ...

Messy dining in local Chinese restaurants

Since arriving in Manly, I have sampled many of the local restaurants and I think I'm still not back to the reality that there are so many multicultural options available here, unlike China.  But I do miss the eye opening experience of dining in a local Chinese restaurant, the mess, the noise, the smoke, the smells and of course, the tastes.  I was reminded of all of this when reading an entry by WoAi ('I love' in Mandarin) on his blog, 'I love China', about Chinese dining habits.  Here are some snippets .... 
  • It’s perfectly acceptable to rest your foot on the adjacent chair, or even on your own chair.
  • When the bill comes, it’s polite to make at least a weak attempt at fighting to pay the bill, although you should allow the host to eventually win the battle and avoid losing face.
  • Playing on your PSP / Nintendo DS, reading magazines or sending texts while ignoring your other dinner guests is perfectly acceptable.
  • Screaming at the waitress to bring you more beer while she’s busy taking the order of the table next door is completely okay.
  • Bringing your own food and drinks to consume in the restaurant is perfectly fine.
  • Finishing every last bit of food is NOT fine as it indicates to your host that he was not generous and did not order sufficiently.
His blog entry was prompted by an entry on Wikipedia ..... 
  • Strong alcohol, called baijiu is often served throughout the meal; and it is customary for the host[s]/hostess[es] to insist that guests drink to “show friendship.” If the guests prefers not to drink, they may say, “I’m unable to drink, but thank you.”  The host may continue to insist that the guests drink, and the guests may likewise continue to insist upon being “unable” to drink. The host’s insistance is to show generosity. Therefore, refusal by the guests should be made with utmost politeness. Beware: If a guest drinks alcohol with a subordinate at the table, the guest will be expected [if not forced] to drink a glass of the same alcohol with each superior at that table, and possibly at other tables too—if the guest has not passed out yet.
  • When the hostess says her food is not good enough, the guest must disagree and tell her it is one of the finest foods they have ever tasted.
  • Belching, smacking, and sipping is allowed. Talking with a full mouth, eating with the elbows on the table and tasting from a table guest’s plate is also allowed.
  • When eating food that contains bones, it is customary that the bones be spat out onto the table to the right of the dining plate in a neat pile. Spitting onto the floor is almost never acceptable.
  • When people wish to clink drinks together in the form of a cheer, it is important to observe that younger members should clink the rim of their glass below the rim of an elder’s to show respect.

Now isn't eating in a western restaurant boring compared to this?!  Happy dining.

The 'Ah ha' moments in teaching ....

Walking the red carpet on Teachers Day 2009 in downtown Wuxi

Many people criticise teachers for their extended hours and long holidays but when asked why they didn't take the teaching path, the standard response is 'Oh no, I couldn't work with children all day!'    But, all teachers know that the job provides a lot more than great holidays and will recognise the buzz you get when a child has an 'ah ha' moment in their learning.  You can almost see the understanding sink in and it brings on a warm fuzzy feeling and a satisfaction that you got it right (well, for that child at that moment at least!).  Today, I had one of those moments.  B, aged 9 (10 in a few days as I am frequently reminded) is not a reader.  In the last month, we've had tears, rude words, dirty looks and even a tantrum in the library over reading books.  It's a painful and frustrating process for all involved but from today, no longer (well, fingers crossed).  We've finally found a book he is in to ... 'Viking Adventures' by an unfamiliar author ... and today there was no stopping him.  Our deal is to read one page each and today, B found himself reading more than one page and begging to read the next chapter.  Before you knew it, we had read the whole book, 1 1/2 hours of reading!  The look of happiness on his face was definitely an 'ah ha' moment in teaching.  Now comes the challenging part ... what will we read next???  I'm hoping that the King Arthur stories will provide enough fighting and 'manliness' to provide another 'ah ha' moment.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Once a Green Queen, always a Green Queen ....

Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve ...... protected by the Manly Environment Centre

I took a detour on my way home today and discovered a little treasure in Manly - The Manly Environment Centre - and with my Green Queen hat firmly on, I stepped inside for a moment.  Nearly an hour later, I emerged with my arms brimming with (recycled) pamphlets about ocean life and mining in NSW, the two areas of study for my students at the moment.  Not only did I find some great information, I met some really lovely people who are incredibly passionate about the environment and great to chat to .... a very pleasant surprise on my way home!

(for the uninformed .... the Green Queens is an environmental group that I set up at the MLC Junior School several years ago)

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Wild, windy Manly

Some people braved the wild, windy beach this morning

It's a wild day here in Manly today.  The beach was 'closed' this morning due to big swell and dangerous waters.  It didn't stop many surfers and paddlers though ... All morning, we have been watching the crazy ones get dumped by the wild waves crashing against the cliffs below us.  Still, the view is spectacular, a welcome change from the construction site views in China!