Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Great Afternoon: A Dramatic Play in One Act

here is a play I wrote in 2003 - it is a drama (?!?!?!) and it seems like a whole other lifetime ago when I wrote it - and it's really really really long - and possibly full of cliches about relationships - don't worry the next thing i publish will be a return to form (good new weird and silly stuff)

A Great Afternoon
A play in one act


Charlie – He is a grade 12 student.  In this scene he is wearing glasses, and has a polo shirt and a pair of jeans on.

Julie – She is also a grade 12 student. She is wearing a nice summer dress with a light cardigan over top.

Setting: bus stop outside school

Time: after school in spring, nearing graduation

Lights come up on a bus stop outside of the school, with the opening music still playing. The music should be some up-tempo jazz music. After a moment, Julie walks in carrying a big bag of books. She looks exhausted and her hair and clothes reflect that. She looks down the road for the bus, and then checks her watch and sits. She opens her bag and takes out a compact and tidies up her hair and clothes. The she takes out a novel and starts to read. After a few moments, Charlie runs up and sits down. Julie looks up, smiles, and moves down a bit to give him room. As Charlie sits, the music fades.

Charlie: (enthusiastically) Hey Julie!

Julie: Hi Charlie, what’s up?

Charlie: Not much. It’s nice to see you. Are you waiting for the bus?

Julie: No, Charlie, I’m currently walking home.

Charlie: (laughs) Right. Why are you here so late today? I never see you around at this time.

Julie: I was at the library trying to get some work done. I’m a bit behind and then, you know it was so warm, and I’m so tired these days, I just sort of dozed off, and then I woke up and it was after 5. What about you?

Charlie: The debating team had a research meeting for our debate next week against Van Tech. Mr. Morris was there to help us, and he had us going over the key points and arguments again and again. We’re working pretty hard at it all.

Julie: I’m sure, you guys always do. What’s the topic this time?

Charlie: Mandatory expulsion for students that get caught drinking or using drugs at school functions. We are arguing the “pro” side.

Julie: I remember when we were in grade 8 how the senior boys basketball team got caught drinking on that trip to the Island and nothing happened…

Charlie: …and the administration tried to keep it a secret.

Julie: Which didn’t work, and then two weeks later Chad Mora got caught drunk at the school dance and he got expelled. Athletes always have a double standard. God, I hate that!

Charlie: Yeah, one rule should definitely apply to all of us, but I’m just not sure if expulsion is the way to go. It is pretty harsh, especially if you never had done anything bad before, like Chad. The basketball team should have got in trouble, but they were never going to expel the whole team and the team managers – some of them were top students and others were lined up for scholarships to university. Also, many of their parents made key financial contributions to the school.

Julie: Right. But all of that just makes the school rules seem hypocritical.

Charlie: I’m going to argue that maybe we need some sort of “three strike” system. So offenders get a couple of chances and the ability to improve themselves. Depending on the seriousness of what they did, of course.

Julie: Sounds like you’ve already been thinking about it a lot; I’m sure you’ll do well. You’ve always been good at arguing a point and thinking on your feet.

Charlie: Thanks.

(A long pause where both look like they are trying to think of what to talk about, then they both look up the street to see if the bus is coming)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

email number 8 from oz

The final email of my 2003 exchange in Australia.

Well, here I am again.

Before I get into it all - it just wouldn't seem right if this one, the last one, wasn't extremely long. There is so much to say - I won't even bother apologizing for the length. I know you like it.

Hope everyone is doing well. As you are all in the midst of winter, here I am sitting in the beautifully air-conditioned staffroom of my school (I can't imagine what it used to be like inside on 35 degree days before air-con was invented). And, as of this writing, I only have a few days of work left, and then some parties, some cleaning (actually a lot of cleaning) and then I drop my car off, and then up to the airport and I'll be off and up out. But, I am getting ahead of myself  - there are a lot of stories and opinions to share from the past months.

Before I talk about recent stuff, there is one funny story that I forgot about from a long time ago. During the April holidays, I went to Canberra and visited the Parliament. What a spectacular building with a huge grass lawn on the roof and awesome views of the city. I had a small picnic lunch and then packed up my stuff into my knapsack and went in. They checked my bag and the horn thing went off and it sort of freaked me out. It turns out that I had forgotten a butter knife in my lunch stuff. I had to check this item and then get it back in the end. I mean, what harm would I do with a butter knife? I didn't even have any butter with me.

Driving for the year has been easy. Aside from the first few weeks when I had to re-orientate myself to the opposite side of the road and car, it has been a breeze. I am so used to it all, that when I see a TV show or a movie from North America - it looks so weird seeing people on the right side of the road. The one great thing about driving down in the countryside, is it is like a real life video game - especially at night. So, I am driving back from a student's place where I was kindly invited for tea (dinner) at about midnight. And country highways are already a bit narrow and can be windy. You are there, driving along, all relaxed and stuff and then you round a bend and there is a koala sitting in your lane (happens all of the time), you swerve around it and then a kangaroo bounces in front of you. And then there are a few wombats and possibly some rabbits. Then the stupid magpies (birds) swoop out of nowhere in front of you (I’ve had three fly into my car this year). It is a bit scary. Everyone has hit a kangaroo here, and I see at least two dead animals on the side of the road everyday. This morning there was a huge kangaroo on one side and another on the other side, killed overnight as they weren't there last night when I drove home. Very sad, and it makes me wonder how animals can evolve and all of that survival of the fittest stuff and that these species haven't evolved into ones that don't walk in front of these huge shiny things that kill your friends? “Hey remember when Joe got smushed over there last week? Yeah, let’s go this other way instead” Possibly kangaroos are a bit egotistical thinking they are all fast and stuff, and most likely the koalas are ripped on the gum tree leaves, which leaves wombats, foxes and rabbits  -man, they are stupid! Ha ha ha. Just today there was a family of ducks crossing the highway. Ahhh. I stopped. My killing days are over. I joked with the school at the final awards ceremony that they can all come and visit me and we can drive around and kill some Canadian animals like raccoons, skunks, squirrels and moose – it got a big laugh. I’ve killed lots of animals this year, and for that I ask for your forgiveness.

So, as I have already pointed out, I am living in a very small remote area this year, which while being beautiful and peaceful has its drawbacks. It was, and has been, quite a tough acclimation for a city guy like me to get used to. I’m used to the hard streets of Vancouver. Honestly, as much fun as it has been being in Australia (and it has been lots of fun, as you can tell by all of my stories), I am very excited about returning to city life. I have enjoyed the more relaxed nature of the lifestyle and the people down here, but there is very little to do, especially on weekends (that is why I go up to the big city almost every weekend). So, one night in my small country home, I was starting to make dinner. I cut up my veggies, got out my fish, and was already to start cooking, but I had to no gas. The gas cylinders on the outside of the house seemed full-ish, but I couldn't tell and I didn't want to fiddle around with all of the valves as I might explode everything if I did the wrong thing. And, everything that serves prepared food (like take away stands  -they call it "take away" instead of "take out" here) closed at 6pm and it was 7pm. It would take 50 minutes of roundtrip driving to get to the nearest store in the next town over, so I was stuck with no gas and I was starving. I ended up having peanut butter sandwiches for dinner, something similar for brekkie the next morning and then finally, my exchange partner's sister called me back and explained what to do with the dials and it was very easy and I felt stupid and then the gas worked. Every once and a while I have an experience like this that reminds me how different life has been this year (like if my water tanks ran out of water, no water would come out of the taps). Makes it fun. Really makes me impressed with the Aboriginees who lived outside year round and had no appliances.

Now, on the subject of the car, selling the car was quite the experience. My car, first off, is an old car. And a classic car – a Holden Commodore, which is the quintessential Aussie car. Now, to sell a used car in the state of Victoria you need to get your car to pass the “Roadworthy” test. This is one tough test to pass – they are extremely picky and you could have a huge bill to pay before selling it, and consequently no one will buy a car that hasn’t passed the test. If it passes then you know you are buying a good car. I originally advertised a price of $1500 in the local paper and said that I had passed the test, although I hadn’t got it done yet, and because the car is very popular I got lots of calls. But, I had my local mechanic look at it for me, and he said that he thought the test would cost at least $600 dollars. Luckily one person said they would give me $1000 for it and get the test done themselves. I drop it off for them on my way to the airport. I got a good deal with that.

Back on the subject of wildlife – I want to really make it clear to people how cool it is to have so much wildlife just around the place. Aside from the dead stuff, I have had koalas in my trees, ‘roos hopping around and even echidnas on the side of the road (ant-eater-ish creatures). The only thing I haven’t seen in the wild are platypus. And the birds are awesome too. Dingos are only up north, as are crocs and I saw some Tasmanian Devils in, of all places, Tasmania. I heard about the famous, almost revered, Tasmanian Tiger which has been extinct for 100 years now. Lots of great birdcalls first thing in the morning used to wake me up, but I am more than used to it now. Actually, a family of birds has made my roof in the back their home. I little cheeps and lots of noise from the porch all of the time.

“What is up with cork hats?” I asked last weekend when I saw a few people walking around with these wide-brim hats with dangling corks hanging from it. I found out that the corks are for keeping flies away from your face. Obviously an advanced technological improvement to the regular hat, which have next to no fly defenses. My next question was let’s say the fly evolves into some sort of super fly and they learn how to avoid the swinging cork  -what will you do next? This question was appropriately ignored. Pretty funny looking hats though.

Some people asked me after the last big email why I hadn’t mentioned the Rugby world cup. Just forgot I guess. It was a very big event. Canada played, as I’m sure some of you know, and they did win a game. I was cheering for New Zealand to win, but it was exciting that the Aussies did so well and that the final was very exciting. I was up in Queensland for a long weekend and since that is a huge rugby state I had no problem finding an awesome pub to watch the game in. The pub was full of British fans and there was lots of playful heckling amongst the patrons of the pub. It was a fun time. I still don’t love the game of rugby, but the final was awesome. Another huge sporting event was the Davis Cup final that was in Melbourne. I listened to it driving up to the city on the radio. Tennis on the radio is not so great. But, it was very exciting watching the final match on TV. The Aussies love their sport and they love winners. Philippoussis is not everyone’s favourite, but after winning the final match he, and the others, were treated like returning war heroes.

Tasmania was beautiful. I took a few days off at the end of October and hired a car and drove around Tassie. You could easily spend two weeks doing the same trip that I did in 4 ½ days. Tasmania was very different from the rest of Oz. Lots of rolling hills with sheep grazing. A few snow peaked mountains, and much colder weather. I landed in Launceston (in the north) and drove to the very picturesque Cradle Mountain national park. There was this big lake and a snowy mountain in the background (sort of an Aussie Lake Louise). And it was freezing! I went from home, where it wasn’t hot, but I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, to this, where it was like Canadian wintertime. Then, the next day I drove down the east coast and stopped in some quaint seaside towns and then got into Hobart that evening. Hobart was a really nice city with an excellent harbour. I had the best fish and chips that I’ve had this year down there. We don’t get Barramundi (I don’t think) in Vancouver, but it is sooooo good (and so is Gummy Flake). The next morning I drove up to Mount Wellington and it was this really hot 26-degree morning and I was driving up this winding road and I thought I saw a flake of snow, but that would be impossible as it was really hot out. And I kept driving up and up and up and I got to the top and not only was it snowing, but it was amazingly cold and windy. I was in my car in shorts and a t-shirt and I saw people scampering back to their cars bundled up beyond belief and all of my warm stuff was in the trunk. I parked the car, burst out and threw on a millions layers (or 3) and went off to see the view. Wow. This was an incredible panoramic view of the city and the harbour and the national parks. We were really high up and it was cool seeing the snow and then the bright sunny skies below. The weather systems were moving through there very quickly. And the clouds were enveloping the top of the mountain, and then moved through and you saw the view again. I then drove to a national park in a place called Huonville and did an amazing treetop walk. Very awesome trees, including the appropriately named “Big Tree” – it didn’t disappoint. But, snow, it was really snow. I just can’t believe that it was snow.

The next day I woke up and went to the botanical gardens, yes they were “Royal”, and then off to the Cadbury factory. Yes! Lots of free chocolate and Cadbury makes some good stuff. Cadbury is an Australia company – I was wrong earlier in the year when I mocked some students for saying that it was, as I reckoned that everything is American. Cadbury/Schewppes is originally British, but now mostly Australian and the Hobart factory was huge and the tour was informative and yummy. And for those who sort of reckon that Hersheys, Nestle and Cadbury are all very similar, we are wrong – Cadbury kicks ass. Hersheys is not so great. My final day in Tasmania I drove down to Port Arthur and got exposed to convict history. Let me just summarize for you – if you were a petty thief in England in the late 1800s/early 1900s, the threat of being sent to Australia and the horrible life of the convicts there, should have been enough to make you stop your thieving ways. The cells were silly small and it would have been a really bad existence. No loaf of bread would have been worth that. And then back to work…

The bass player from Men At Work teaches bass guitar at my school every Tuesday. That’s cool.

Immunization shots suck. Any type of shots, or anything to do with needles, suck. Then, what sucks even more is being afraid of needles. Really afraid. So, choosing to travel to an area of the world where you need to get shots done to go there, is almost, in my way of thinking, almost a good reason to not go to those areas. But, that would be silly. So to the doctor I went and two things (1) shots are damn expensive - $120!, and (2) I don’t know if it is psychosomatic or what, but those shots REALLY hurt (I didn’t faint like I did at school once) and I couldn’t lift my arms above shoulder height for two days. I didn’t cry, but I was crying inside and my shoulders were crying. That is the most pain I had felt in Australia, but that pain was soon to be beaten by…

So, I took a few days off of work (I work hard, and I might not be in Australia again for a long time) and flew up to the Sunshine Coast (just a few hours north of Brisbane in Queensland). The flights were free as Virgin Blue (the domestic Aussie airline) messed up on some flights early in the school year and gave me two free flights. It was awesome. Great beaches, once again and lots of great walks. I took it pretty easy and just lay around and read and swam and ate good food and got the worst sunburn on my back. I am very careful about that sort of thing and use a lot of sunscreen, and had, in 10+ months not got a real burn. Then, one morning I woke up in Noosa Heads, got a boogie board and down to the beach. Lathered up with sunscreen, lay around, read and then went swimming on the boogie board. Came out and then repeated. It was so much fun. Except, that I forgot one thing – when you are on the boogie board, your back is face-up out of the water, almost the entire time and wholly Christ, my back got burnt. I couldn't lie on, or twist, or even put by backpack on. It really sucked. I took a day off of the beach and then went swimming with a shirt on the day after. I also ran into a particularly unfriendly Aussie!?!?!?  So, not every Aussie is friendly. I was on the beach and wanted a photo with me in it and I asked this lady walking on the beach if she would take the photo and she looked at me and kept on walking. And she had her teenage daughter with her. And they were speaking English. How rude! And what sort of message is that for how to treat people to your daughter (unless they were practicing not talking to strangers). It was beautiful up there, but I sort of felt all travelled out. I just sort of feel like I've seen enough beaches, and that in the end a museum is a museum and a walk is a walk – regardless of how nice they are. And I know that once home I will miss all of this stuff, but at some point it is hard to get totally thrilled by another great view (sorry if there are people reading this who feel jealous of me and are hating my blasé-ness). I do love it all and have loved all of the amazing traveling, but at some point you just get a bit tired. The final note on Northern Australia - bug bites, bug bites, bug bites. Damn bugs. I hate them so much. Great weather the whole time though. “Sick” from school for two days and then back on a Monday with coloured skin (no I didn’t show anyone my back) – a bit suspicious…
Now, I understand the whole post 9-11 security thing as much as the next average person. But, why can’t I store my bags at the airport!?!?! Now I understand that they would want to search them and look for anything bad, but then after only finding non-sharp and non-explosive stuff, then what is the problem, especially if they are locked up and I’m the only one to have a key? What’s the problem? I do understand, really, but all I’m saying is that my life would be easier if I could have done that on the way home. 
Played in a few big and fun Frisbee things and they were great. Melbourne hosted the Mixed National Championships and the Melbourne Hat tournament. For those who don’t know, a hat tournament is where they literally make random teams by drawing names out of a hat. Both weekends were full of lots of games, great parties and a chance to hang out with Frisbee people from around the country. I am impressed that in less than a year, I’ve already met so many cool people, and feel like I have started to make some good friends – considering that I only came up to the city once every two weeks and that there were only 6 tournaments in a year. Our team had a disappointing (to say the least) Mixed Nationals – we didn’t win much, but still had a great time. I played awesome the first day (including dominating a game against that weirdo captain guy from earlier in the year who didn’t respect my game – that felt good), and then as the team’s fortunes vanishes, so did my great play. We ended up losing three games by 1 point. Ouch!
But, after leaving the Frisbee fields for the last time on Sunday, it just made me think about how great the ulti community really is. It is such a great sport, in many ways, but mostly the generosity and warmth of the people. It is also just fun and relaxed and there are so many people with wacko senses of humor. And since it is a uni game by origin, it ends up being a pretty intelligent group as well. I didn’t know anyone really when I got here and now, at the end of the year, I know so many people and when the Aussie national team visits Vancouver on their way to Finland next summer, I should have a bunch of friends coming to stay. I’m having two final parties this weekend before I fly away.

Today was the big end of year finale for school – the end of year mass. Now, as I described earlier in the year, mass is long (and I mean lllloooonnnggggg  -even for the true Catholics.) There is lots of standing and saying “and God be with you” and then sitting and listening to long passages, then standing and hearing the choir sing, and then sitting and then standing and so on. And to top it off (this makes NO sense) the students and teachers have to wear full uniform and it was 34 degrees today and the students were NOT allowed to have a drink bottle!?!??! What!?!?!?! Hey, I’ve got a great idea – how about we make them eat salt the whole time too. Or maybe, we should use heaters, instead of fans, maybe light a big fire, possibly throw water on hot coals the whole time? No water?!?!? And the mass and awards made the whole thing 3 hours! Yeah! But, it was an awesome day still. As the days have been drawing to an end, more and more students have been showing their appreciation for me and the excitement of the end of the year and my leaving made for a fast and fun last few weeks. Today, at the awards thing they said all of this great stuff about my contribution to the school and then I went up and made them all laugh with my quick run down of the year. Not only were all of the students there, but lots of parents too. They gave me some awesome framed photos and a nice book. I got lots of great photos too. Then, to wrap it up, I performed “Fight For Your Right To Party” by the Beastie Boys with the school rock band and we were awesome. People were standing and clapping at the end. Then, just before all of the students went home – I had a whole bunch thanking me for an excellent year. It all makes you feel pretty damn special.

So, I keep getting asked how it feels to leave, whether I’ll come back and what I like better Australia or Canada. And these are difficult questions to answer. Plain and simple – home is home. I am very excited to come home. But, I really feel like I’ve lived so much in this one-year and it is sad to leave it behind. People keep asking me if I am sad to leave, and I wasn't really until today when I said goodbye to many people (mostly students) who I may never see again, then I felt sad. Now, I know they are just students  - but my style of teaching has always been a friendly style and even though they are young, they are “friends” at work. Many say they will stay in touch – we’ll have to see  -I hope so, and I’m sure that a small group will. I promised that I would come back and visit – maybe in 2006 when Perth is hosting the World Club Ultimate Frisbee Championships. It is very odd saying goodbye to people you have spent a lot of time with, both at school and in Melbourne and at squash. Unlike leaving Vancouver, when I knew I would see most people again  -and there are a lot of people I really hope to continue to know. In the end – I miss home, I will miss here – which is, I think, the way you’d want it to be. If I didn’t miss home, then that would be depressing as hell to have to go back and if I didn’t miss here, then it would have been a horrible year. Life is about experience and I have experienced so much this year – I would do it again and I hope to a few more years down the road. I am so proud of myself for having finally done this and done it to the fullest. It wasn’t an easy thing to do – going away for a year, to a remote country town where I didn’t know anyone, and leaving everything and everyone I know behind – but not that I have, I have developed a large amount of self-confidence (yes, even more of that), and I have come to even more appreciate things at home. I will 100% come back here someday – and I’ll have a lot of people to visit.

What I won’t miss is the isolation of where I am living (although it is very peaceful and quiet) and I like city life better (although I have come to really appreciate country life this year). I won’t miss the math teaching – that is better at home (I have to yell for quiet at least 5 times a class with my year 7s and 8s – and less than ½ finish their homework and maybe 1/3 study for tests ever). I will miss the fun-ness of the students – great sense of humour, I will miss being the “oddity” for the year, I will miss the laid back nature of everything – it just isn’t that intense here. I miss Vancouver’s restaurants and other options of things to do in the evenings. I will miss the wildlife (seeing kangaroos and koalas on a regular basis still is very exciting), the awesome beaches and the great parks. In a short time, I’ve met so many great people – which will “force” me to stay in touch and “force” me to come back at some point. I would love to do another exchange someday (or find some good reason to be in the Melbourne area for a good period of time again – I have a whole bunch of people who I can stay with now). And I know that there are small nuances and stuff that I won’t notice missing until I’ve been home for a while. I’m sure that I will be thinking about this year and stuff that happened it for the rest of my life. 2003 will always stand out as one incredible year.

I look forward to seeing everyone again in just a few more weeks. I hope that a whole bunch of grads will pop by and say hi in January, if they get a chance. It has been a pleasure writing emails for all of you this year. It has been a great year away. Thanks for all of the excellent emails from all of you. I get home on December 29th and I hope to see or hear from all of you in the early part of the New Year. It will be nice to be home



Questions I Have

Would I rather be attacked by a cow-sized mouse or 100 mouse-sized cows?

If they didn't want me to eat cat food why do they make it so tasty? I...I mean why does it seem so tasty? Actually, why...why does it look so tasty? And easy to digest....ummm...this is embarrassing. Oh look, what a nice dog over there.

Why are the good ones already taken and where have they been taken too? Am I the only one who is worrying about this?

What is up with Greg and who does he think he is and how did he get up there and why can't I stop looking at him and where am I and is this all there is to life?

If I had to experience blisteringly, suffocatingly high heat or bone-chilling, spirit-sucking coldness or extremely, eerily, paranoia-inducing normal temperatures, which would I prefer? Am I overthinking this? 

Could I still call it an apple, if it wasn't spherical, didn't have an edible skin, wasn't juicy and didn't have a core with pits? Could I?

Highlighters - is there anything they can't make lighter? (btw- the answer is yes, with the deep, recesses of my heart being one. And not just my heart, I mean the insides of all hearts must be dark. I'm just sayin'. For all of you who were nodding their heads in agreement at the idea of my heart being dark...thanks, I'll remember that next time you need someone to help you with something that requires some compassion.)

Where have all the voices gone who tell me what to do and where to go and who to talk to and why to do things and who to laugh at and why it's funny and where the door is and what is up? Oh right, I moved out of that hellhole last week.

If everyone in the world woke one morning to find themselves growing tomatoes, would we make an incredible gazpacho or what?

Why does everyone want killer abs? 'Cause you know who they will question first when something is amiss. And may I also say calling them "killer" is just in poor taste- think of how the thighs must feel.

Is it wrong of me to want to see what life would be like with either no belly button or multiple belly buttons?

Would I feel any different if I ate considerably more peanut butter? Only three ways to find out and two of those ways involve experimental surgery - my favourite!

Which would be more fun answering every question with "yes" or answering every question with "no" or just screaming "free the geese" as a reply to everything?

If a tuna melt is a good comparison to use for me lying in my bed covered by my quilt, then what does the pillow represent?

Why do I weigh less on a good day?

If I hear the wolves call my name should I applaud? Those are some pretty talented wolves.

Is it my fault that my wife often rolls her eyes repeatedly? Probably. So to help out  I often want to suggest that I should just do somersaults while she watches, relaxing on the couch just to give her eyes a break.

Can I be both rigid and inflexible and also have a gooey centre?

What good is being ignorant if I cannot enjoy the requisite bliss to complete the experience?

Is it wrong of me to enjoy the end of your yodelling so much? Not that you are not a good yodeller (you're not) or that I don't like your company (the jury is still out), just that there is only so much yodelling and so much of you that I can handle.

Why is a cat that occasionally coughs up hair balls still considered cute and I am disgusting and "someone to keep an eye on" when I do the same?

Would I prefer eating one really large, chocolate chip cookie while I dangle on the ledge of oblivion? Yes, yes I would.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Dear Diary: October 4th

October 4th

Dear Diary,

I am just so excited I can't sleep even though it is late and I should be tired. I finally start my new job at the advertising agency tomorrow and I just can't wait. 

To say that it is the job I have always wanted would be inaccurate as between the ages of 9 and 11 inclusively I was dead-set of either fighting or starting fires or a living. But being in the field of advertising has been a goal for the last few years and this is so amazing to land this position. 

I want to show them all of my amazing ideas one day for the next 10 days. On the 11th day, I will take a break and hopefully someone will suggest we go for a coffee or a game of bowling, before resuming my one-a-day idea sharing until I am either out of ideas or the apocalypse begins- either way really as I am prepared for both scenarios. 

will show them that I am a team player. I will prove to them I am a difference maker. I will show up at work and carrying out the exact roles and responsibilities that they expressly stated and made clear in the interview and had me agree me in no fewer than ten spots.

 I will also provide freshly baked scones every third Thursday with the possibility of blueberry jam as well.

I'm sure they will all love me and may even spontaneously hug me or offer me the opportunity to hug them or at least sit next to them, on a trial basis, at the lunch table the very first day. 

Then again maybe they will discover that I slightly exaggerated my skills and experience during the interview where I got a bit carried away. I wanted to impress them so badly; it's not my fault! I have a history, as you are well aware of diary, for getting carried away once by what I initially thought was a grizzly bear, but it turned out to be my father wearing a large new brown sweater and matching hat.

For the first few weeks I need to strike a balance between confident overachiever and blubbery-at-the-drop-of-a-hat hiree given the job only to make the other employees feel better about themselves in comparison. 

I need to march in to the office every morning and announce my presence and then maintain that level of presence for as many hours as my vocal chords and abs will allow. I need to both suck up to my veritable murderer's row of bloodthirsty managers as well as both literally and figuratively rubbing the toes and bunions of the office staff.

I trust your judgement completely, diary, and I am all ears which I'm sure a diary like you is aware is an expression and if you are not, considerably fewer ears.

As you know, I use expressions and figures of speech when a bit anxious and I am quite anxious right now. 

I need to do well. I need this job to work! And yes, I know that no matter how many dishes of fried rice or packages of rice paper or hats specifically intended for rice farmers I provide or how many unprompted breakdancing demos I perform at some point I will be judged solely on the projects I create and the money I bring in for the firm.

Wish me well, diary!


email number 1 from oz

Jan 7, 2003

This is the first in a series of unedited emails that I wrote in 2003 when I was on a teacher exchange in Australia

Well, as my Killarney friends finish their first day back at school and my squash team plays their first game without me, here I sit in a backpackers' hostel in a small surf town named Warrnambool about 5 hours west of Melbourne. I arrived last Wednesday night after an insane amount of flying and a little bit of sleep in Singapore. Had fun meeting up with the ultimate crowd and have been to a few practice  -seems like a great group of people (already been to a few dinners), a bit on the intense side once on the field. Had fun going around downtown Melbourne, checking out the stores and the beautiful parks. Very similar to Vancouver in many ways, but also quite different - the whole driving on the wrong side of the car and road just makes everything look a bit odd. They have some cool new buildings downtown, that my guide (my exchange partner's sister) told me weren't that popular with the masses (stands out sort of like our library). I bought some tickets for the Australian Open for the third round  -which should be awesome. I also plan to go watch some cricket at the huge Melbourne Cricket Grounds (capacity 110 000)  -I wouldn't say that I'm a fan, but my friend here is REALLY into it (and that seems to reflect everyone's opinion) and I've been explained all of the rules and have watched a bit on TV. Aussie Rules Football (or footy) seems much more interesting and I've been told that I can even play with a local, informal team - which I don't think I'll be doing (I guess I'm a bit of a wuss).

After a few days in Melbourne, I got driven down to the countryside by my exchangee's parents. I live about 1 hour and 45 minutes from Melbourne if someone else is driving, or about 2 hours and 45 minutes on my first, slow attempt on the left side of the road and right side of the car ("look right, stay left" I keep repeating to myself outloud as I drive). The countryside is amazing (that is after you drive past an hour's worth of dairy farms - at least the cheese is plentiful). One thing that surprised me is how different the plant life is here. Everywhere I look I see new plants, bushes and trees (even the seaweed is different)  - I even saw my first palm tree in the area of Melbourne where I stay on weekends (St. Kilda), which is full of them. I hung out at my new house for less than a day, unpacked a bit, checked out the place, watched a little aussie tv in the evening and went to her parent's beautiful place in Venus Bay (sort of a summer surfing getaway place) for my first aussie bbq. Lots of fun!
Drove into Melbourne the next day (after finally getting insurance for my car  -by the way, the hood is called a "bonnet" and the trunk is a "boot") - going about 15 km under the speed limit (I only passed one car - they were a learner). After a fun, and exhausting (can you fall totally out of shape after 5 days of inactivity?) ultimate practice I took off on a road trip. I drove west along the absolutely amazing Great Ocean Road which winds along the southern coast of the country. Amazing! I swam and hung out on two different white sand surf beaches (will get around to taking some lessons once I get back to my place), walked through two big national parks (one of the trails took me through an actual rainforest), and stayed in two hostels - the first was the coolest - I had dinner with a lady from Richmond, two guys from Bombay, some Kiwis, a German and a couple from Brisbane. Tomorrow, I take off for the national park called The Grampions, the next day the colonial town of Ballarat and then back to Melbourne on Friday, only to jump in a new buddy's van to take off for an ulti tournament in Canberra. School starts on the 27th.

So far, I've seen no Koalas (but I've been promised that I will see a bunch tomorrow, as well as some in my front yard during the year), only one Kangaroo (which unfortunately was no longer breathing), a few geckos (one freaked me out as it was on a trail I was walking on and it was the thickness of my wrist and about 30cm long) and a snake that was sleeping in front of yesterday's hostel (curled up, the size of a bike tire).

Anyway, my minutes are up - hope everyone is doing well! I will write again soon.


Friday, February 21, 2014

Season's Greetings From The Greens

Another exciting and busy year for the Green Family is coming to an end. In many ways the year felt sort of like a skit from Saturday Night Live – short, full of funny and enjoyable moments - except that the majority of their scenes are completely exhausting, minimally humorous and go and on and on - which is actually like our year as well. Days and weeks went flying by and it is incredible that we are almost at 2012, which will hopefully be very unlike John Cusack’s family’s life in the movie 2012 and a whole lot less excruciatingly dreadful to experience (could I somehow get that 2 ½ hours back?). We all have our health, and for that we are thankful. I could make a list of things we are not thankful for, and the first thing could be aunt Maddie's fruitcake! I kid, I kid (seriously it's all kinds of horrible as food, but surprisingly useful as grout).

2011 was a year of setting and forgetting goals. As always saving money was a main goal (not as much for the kids, whose personal goals were cutting back on carbs, experimenting with new ways to torture each other and spending more time in forts and castles). Initial plans for how to save money involved eating less pork (not no pork, mind you, that would be crazy talk, just significantly less), only turning the heat on every other evening and buying fewer luxury items like purple satin place mats with matching housecoats. Of course, the decision-makers in the family decided the best way to conserve funds was for the parents to go to Japan, one of the most expensive places to visit on Earth, for 12 days. The kids got treated to a spa and massage package at Grandma and Grandpa’s palatial estate, while mom and dad were treated to the upper-belly of the Land of the Rising Sun – incredible Kabuki theatrical shows, an exciting Sumo match, multiple museums, amazing sushi restaurants and samurai lessons. The only downside of the trip was the ridiculously cold temperatures – we never found out the exact wind chill on the coldest day, but its quite possible some our extremities are now permanently blue. Aside from trying to save money, two other, more achievable goals were to paint the town red at least once a month and to buy more red paint.

In 2011, the Greens took up some new hobbies. The parents took a few courses in deboning and trussing poultry. Hours upon hours of our free time were used perfecting the craft. The kitchen was like a chaotic maze of bird feathers, tendons and string for much of February and March. In the spring, the entire family got into collecting bath salts and taking unsalted baths often dangling the salts over the bath, as if to tease and tempt ourselves with the salty goodness. We are trying to eliminate all salt-teasing on principle alone, except, of course, the use of soy sauce as a medium for taunting, as it results in much hilarity. In the heart of the summer, we were doing our best to stay healthy and play outside and the activity that monopolized our time were survival games in the nearby forest. We went one whole week catching our own food, bathing in the small streams and re-purposing bushes, leaves and sticks into both makeshift shelters and clothing. At the end of the week, we all returned to the comforts of our home with multiple cuts and bruises. The one upside is how smooth my skin was after being covered by caked on mud for seven days. It is true what they say, you do learn much about your seven year old when the two of you have to fight over the last wildberry. In the fall, the family turned to indoor hobbies and this year we decided to collect pine cones that resembled people and photos of people who would make awesome pine cones. 

It was an amazing year and, of course, the leading roles in this play were the scene-stealing kids. The kids continue to be the most incredible little boys that are equal parts intelligent, exhausting, funny, exhausting, playful, exhausting and beautiful. Easily the cutest, most amazing boys we've ever seen - we did conduct a cross-continental, exhaustive, completely non-objective search to find the most amazing boys and ours won and the rest of you are losers (thanks for participating though). This year, young thirteen-year-old Steven started to show real entrepreneurial skills when he converted our kitchen into his own store renting out plates, napkins and the use of the salt and pepper shakers and selling food either as completed dishes or served a la carte. When we argued that we in fact bought and cooked the food and that it made no sense at all that he was then turning around and re-selling the eating and drinking of this food, he got really angry. There was the threat of lashing and more lashing and a ban from the store. You have to admire his business acumen at the same as being frustrated that the prices are bordering on illegal (a few calls were placed to the Better Business Bureau, but their investigation found nothing. It is hard to press charges when he is just so smart and cute and he did start offering us a 2.5% kickback). His younger brother, Bruce turned seven this year and was completely enthralled with skating. Not actually skating mind you, just the whole skating culture and the mechanics of the sport. He would spend hours in his room watching frame-by-frame skating competitions taking 9-10 hours to watch a 5 minute routine. Afterwards he would make these impressive three-dimensional skaters out of modelling clay and analyze the event and his experience watching it on his video-blog that had thousands of followers. Bruce tracked the lives of the top skaters like they were rockstars and his room was covered not with the pictures of the skaters he loved, but with pictures of himself watching the skaters he loved. He dreams now of becoming part of an elite skating entourage or failing that a neuroscientist (we aren't sure if that will be his hobby next year - following the lives and near-criminal underbelly of the whole neuroscience scene).

June marked the end of elementary school for our little Steven and he aced his standardized PHSAT (pre-high school aptitude test) and with his brother, embarked on a serious, regimented, intensive summer program of parks, pools, playgrounds and beaches. The summer truly was a special time – the boys are such a great pair and have so much positive energy. Steven took early morning swimming lessons while Bruce and dad enjoyed relaxing in the hot tub. Then Bruce had his mid-morning lesson, while Steven and dad enjoyed the hot tub. Then Steven and Bruce went to the pool to have fun with flippers and snorkels and dad enjoyed the hot tub. Then it was lunch and, only then, after hours in the pool, did someone think to check on dad in the hot tub. I mean I didn't move for hours and no one thought to check on me?!?!?! Even when I didn't respond to questions or flinch or make a noise when that seagull flew into me?1?!? Anyways...hours upon hours were spent biking in the park, building sand castles on the beach and swinging on the swings. Much fun was had by all. The only unfortunate result of the summer was that dad had to go through EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy to recover from the trauma associated with being exposed to so many surrounded by screaming kids and their nannies (who also, occasionally screamed). Throughout the summer we visited over 35 different parks and playgrounds as part of an longitudinal study of mine looking for a direct correlation between hours in parks to the rise of certain beta-peptides. The evidence is inconclusive so far, mostly due to the bottle of sunscreen that was accidentally poured onto my computer when I thought a small red spider had landed on my nose. This spring and summer also involved many many hours biking up and down the driveway in front of our town house. Mom spent many jealous hours working and plotting against management. Not wanting to give too much away, but she is trying to take them down slowly and subtly from the inside or with the use of excessive force from the outside or just to drink fewer espressos. Check twitter for updates! The best part of her day was always the huge scream “MOM!!!!” from the boys when she came home from work followed closely by the screams of the boys racing away from her while she playfully ran after them with a bat. Oh mom! Such a jokester! Days were long in the summer for all of us, but much more so for mom who was routinely and literally rolling out of bed at 5am to go to the gym to workout every morning before work. In the most flattering way imaginable, she could be described as a “hot zombie” in those early-mornings. In a more accurate, realistic way she is starting to scare us all, especially when she rolls over in the night and her abs nearly crush my esophagus.

Evenings, lazy afternoons and rainy days were filled with reading, painting, practicing water torturing techniques and mind games. The first half of the year was dominated by an addiction to puzzles and frosting, while the second half has seen the focus shift seismically to games and pudding. What typical family activity and dessert fixation will come next? (My money is on creating rock gardens and flan) As Bruce has grown, he has become more focused and is able to not only sit still and play by the rules, but has, very very quickly, already started challenging Steven’s supremacy in games. Steven may be older, but Bruce is playing with a fuller deck if you know what I mean (a couple of Steven's clubs went missing a few months ago). Steven is still the stronger of the two, but he is having to really try (Bruce doesn’t get any freebies or help from Steven anymore like he used to). Both boys are very good winners and not so good at losing, but the “ha! ha! you lost”, the “I only want to play if I can win” and "give me the money you owe me or I'll cut you" comments have been replaced by crying and burying the head in the couch and occasionally some small appreciation for the other brother who was victorious. This has all happened somewhat organically, but I have to admit that the family gambling anonymous meetings did help a lot. Both boys still get ultra excited (in a bit of a sad way) whenever dad seemingly miraculously wins a game that doesn't involve solely luck. The boys will scream "yeah" and give me a big hug that is equal parts congratulatory and sympathetic when I win. Dad may have to start trying much harder soon so the boys don’t get the impression that dad is “special” and a bit of an idiot. The way things are going, even if dad starts really trying, we've got us some smart cookies and dad may not fare too well regardless. 

When summer turned to fall, dad’s tomatoes were still green (maybe someday he’ll learn you can’t grow tomatoes when no part of your backyard is considered full sun), and leaves started to change colour. The family spent much time collecting and sorting fallen leaves. Initially we sorted based on colour, then we re-sorted based on size, and finally settled on arranging them based on a detailed 10-point rubric that took days to arrive at. September was the start of many new and exciting activities for the family – mom attempted to relive her more youthful days by growing her hair out, going to the gym and joining a cult; Steven began his high school career and Bruce enjoyed some extended time without his big brother. It is always very heart-warming to see the boys say goodbye to each other in the mornings – there are very occasional unprompted big hugs and “I’ll really miss you's" from both boys. Much more often they either lean in and touch foreheads and murmur what sounds like ancient Sanskrit or perform an intricate skit all in mime. As far as Dad is concerned, I utilized what little free time I had in the fall plotting revenge on my enemies, making freshly baked cookies for my friends, and preparing very mediocre, nearly-revengeful cookies for my acquaintances. I also wove a lot. All in all the family was happy and healthy, aside from the "melted cheese" incidence that is too long and totally inappropriate for an all-ages greeting card to go into right now.

The beginning of grade 8 has not been without its growing pains for Steven – learning to navigate the multitude of different relationships and stay “on” for the entire day has been challenging. All who work with him have noted that he is quite bright, complex, has a strong voice and is very confident. Bruce has enjoyed the time without big brother – Steven tends to dominate the scene when present, and Bruce has come into his own this fall and has really enjoyed the school year. He is a funny little kid, who, from a very early age, has been able to push all of Steven’s buttons. Bruce really enjoys being silly and we have a variety of games we play at home that involve various family members pretending to be monsters – we have “the momster”, “towel monsters”, "pillow monsters” and the increasingly more sinister monsters that dad has derived that has given everyone an ongoing case of the "night shrieks". Bruce loves saying “ROAR” and running around the island in the kitchen trying to chase one of the cats. Both boys, annoyingly so, still see the cats more as “playthings” and less as actual living things with feelings. Mom and dad are trying to learn to stop yelling “leave the cats alone!” as that approach doesn't seem to be working and instead have tried ignoring the torture or treating the kids how they are treating the cats. In fact, one weekend in November, I petted Steven for four consecutive hours and mom, sat on Bruce and pulled his ears while watching the news. Bruce is like a little comedian right now - but every joke or sentence when he is being silly involves “poop”. Just a mention of the word “poop” and he breaks down in uncontrollable laughter. "What do you want for dinner?", "How was school?" and "Why are you howling like a wolf?" all are answered with the single word "poop". It's funny how a young boy can share the same taste in humour with gross-out comedians! Steven can frequently be heard yelling “please stop saying poop!” – which is one of those things we will all look back on and laugh someday unless he is still saying it as an adult while sitting, shaking in the corner, swatting at invisible moths.

To say mom has been busy would be an understatement. To put it simply and clearly, try to imagine someone who is very busy. Got it? Okay now try to imagine someone who is even busier. How are we doing? Mom is even busier than that. I hope that is clear now. Her picture should be in the dictionary next to the word busy (there are a few others words I'd place her picture next to if I was offered a two-for-one dictionary picutre placing deal). While mom has been working like a slave only with infinitely more freedom, absolutely zero racist remarks and next-to-no reprehensible treatment from her husband, dad has had the tough task of getting the kids up and out of the house on time in the mornings. A task that has gotten slightly easier as the routine solidified and also harder as the mornings have become darker. We are sure that an outsider viewing the daily scene of two giggling boys running around often naked upstairs with dad barking “you have to get dressed now!”, "maybe I'll just take you to school naked!" and "you will let me brush your teeth now!" would say “awww, so cute”. The morning rush often takes on a “Groundhog Day”-esque feel to it down to exact conversations being repeated ad nauseum, cajoling the kids to somehow eat their toast faster, to putting on their own socks, to letting dad easily brush their teeth, to putting on their coats and shoes without being asked and to putting off their plans of world domination until they have each passed grade 10. Not that mom has a break – she is up significantly earlier and is out of the house on her way to the gym and is currently having to manage some complicated, time-consuming tasks at work that occasionally result in lipstick being smudged. The boys have stopped asking “where’s mom” and I've stopped saying that mom has upgraded to a better, less-Jewish family in Los Angeles (although the joke is on her, because as we all know, many of the better families in Los Angeles are Jewish). At 8:45pm when the kids are finally asleep in bed (or quietly singing to themselves in the dark – something that would be creepy if in a horror film) and the kitchen is clean and lunches are made – mom and dad enjoy some alone time, zonked out on the couch watching cooking shows with cats clawing at us and meowing for more food.

As you can tell, the year has been busy and, while it is often hard to catch your breath and not be exhausted, hopefully you can tell that we haven’t lost our sense of humour! As tired as we ever are, we see our boys growing up fast before our eyes and it is exciting and also hard not to get choked up and emotional that time is flying by. As much as we try to live in the present, it is impossible not to think about how much we will miss these years with our two little boys when they are teenagers who don’t want to be tickled all the time and carried upside down.

Some plans for 2012 include practicing smiling only using our eyes, spending Friday evenings counter-intuitively or counter-productively but never at the same time- possibly alternating weeks, learning a new language for the purpose of espionage, working on our back bends and developing our own line of bathroom soaps and hair gels. And, of course, putting aside some more time to just reflect, appreciate and enjoy what we are so fortunate to have in our lives - we have chosen March. If the end of 2011 is any indication, 2012 is sure to be an incredible year for the Greens and we wish the best for all of you as well - not quite as good as us but close.

Thanks for reading! We hope everyone is happy, healthy and able to spend good quality time with their loved ones this winter and that we can see and/or hear from everyone in the New Year. Take care and all the best! Now if I could only get rid of this embarrassing rash...

Friday, February 14, 2014

email number 7 from oz

Getting near the end- email #7 of my teacher exchange in Australia in 2003.

Hey Everyone, it's me again!
Just sitting back and relaxing at my sweet ol' country home, and I thought it was just about time to catch up with everyone. I'm sure everyone is getting right into fall at home - sounds like the weather was absolutely great even into October and then the rains have come. Nice to see the my frisbee teams and squash team have gotten off to good starts in their new seasons and that life at Killarney sounds pretty much the same. I've really enjoyed the updates that people have written me.
The second school was over on September 18th, I had to race up to the airport (a nearly 3 hour drive) to hit the beaches of sunny Queensland. Queenslanders are made fun of by everyone. People say that they speak slow and that they say "eh" at the ends of sentences. I'm not sure about those two things, but Queensland is in perpetual summer. The average temperature per month only has a range of 6 degrees all year - the overall average is about 29 degrees. The major change is that the summer (Dec-Feb) is VERY humid and northern Queensland gets a wet season just like the Darwin area. On the subject of areas that people make fun of, my next destination is Tasmania (Tassie - EVERYTHING is abbreviated) and everyone says that you are supposed to ask people there about their scar on their neck (the less-than-totally-obvious reference, is that they are all in-bred and that they had to lop off their second head - I don't think I'll be saying that).
The last week of the term was full of heaps of rain and heavy winds. I flew out of Melbourne and the flight was delayed because of the winds and the temperature was about 5 degrees. Landed in Cairns at midnight and stepped out into 25 degrees. Feels like holidays. Cairns is less than a totally exciting place on its own - just really touristic (is that a word?). But, instead of a destination in and of itself, it is more a launching pad for the rainforest and the reef. First stop - the rainforest. I took a bus up to Cape Tribulation (more about the history of the area in a bit) which is where two world heritage sites meet  -you go out to the Cape Trib beach and in front of you is the Great Barrier Reef and behind you is the oldest rainforest in the world. Wow! The beach is kick-ass! I spent an extra day just hanging out on the beach and it is this amazing view and I was totally alone - what a peaceful, fun day. The rainforest is also just plain amazing. The density of growth and the size of the trees and the incredible variety of plant life is awe inspiring. One tour guide said that botanists are constantly discovering things in the rainforest that either everyone thought had gone extinct or no one has ever seen before. The Daintree Rainforest has so many plants that only exist there and no where else. I even got to see a castuary (sp?) in the wild - it is a big, relatively rare relative of the emu - pretty cool.
The wildlife was fairly non-existent in the wild, but I went to a wildlife habitat and got to see an amazing number of crazy colourful birds, got to feed some kangaroos and check out all varieties of animals that exist in Queensland. Crocodiles are around, and that means that many beaches are unsafe  - we went on a riverboat "cruise" and saw a bunch of crocs (not as good as Kakudu, except we got to see two male salties fighting over a woman. I mean a female crocodile).
The famous deadily jellyfish  -here is how it all works. They are bred in the rivers and when the wet season comes the water in the rivers rise and flood into the ocean carrying the jellyfish out to sea. There are a number of varieties, with the box jellyfish being the worst (I think). If you get stung - it is pretty bad news. At every beach they have a container of vinegar (which they have to really label its use as for jellyfish stings only, as there was a major problem with people using it on their fish and chips!?!?!?) which you are supposed to pour on the sting and then wait on the doctors. If you have no vinegar (this is great) you are supposed to pee on the sting, and since most of us can't pee too accurately on ourselves, that is what friends are for. Hee hee hee.
It is pretty rough going in Northern Queensland, another day, another fantastic beach with perfect weather. Don't find yourself missing the Vancouver rain much at that point. It is funny - I'd say the two most common discussions/arguments I hear where I am are (1) which is the best footy team and (2) which is the best beach. Newsflash - all of the beaches are great. Yes, some have better surf, and yes, some are longer or more secluded, but all have the softest sand and the most beautiful coloured and temperatured water (in summer we are talking about of course). But, I will say that the ones in Cape Trib. are the palm tree lined ones you see when you see images of the "perfect" holiday.
Here is the brief history lesson that was promised above. Once upon a time there was a massive southern continent entitled Gondwana. Then a whole bunch of stuff happened and all of a sudden there was Australia, and supposedly no one lived there (but the world's oldest algae or something were discovered on the West coast of Australia). They guess that some Indonesians came by boat and somewhere on the journey they became Aboriginees. I'm sure I left out a few things. Then one day, after the Dutch and French (and others perhaps) had passed the place by, Captain Cook, who was actually not yet a captain, landed on the North Eastern coast (current day Queensland). The boat crashed into the reef and Cookie and his botantist George Bankes and their men came ashore and they landed at Cape Tribulation (makes sense). While the boat was being fixed they came upon some of the native peoples and named a bunch of stuff. The best naming story that I've been told is where they drew a picture of this big hopping animal that they saw, and showed the picture to an aboriginee and asked what it was and the reply was "gangaroo", which, of course, became kangaroo. Current day researchers have found the word "gangaroo" to most likely mean "I don't know". I like that story. Cook got the boat fixed and eventually made his way back to England, became a captain and then came on over to North America and got more places named after him. He got around. So if he hadn't accidently crashed into the reef, and became a captain, I might not have been a substitute teacher at a Vancouver elementary school called Captain Cook for one day 8 years ago. It makes you think...
Back to the present - there are both cool things and not-so-cool biting things about staying in backpacker's hostels. First the cool things - you get to meet travellers from around the world and it is really interesting to talk to, discuss issues and compare and contrast your view of the country with the real thing. You come to really realize how much living in a country where most of our media is American-based effects of our knowledge of the world - many of us fight through those biases, but it is tough. It is also funny how true some stereotypes are - I hung out with a group of Germans, shared a room with a bunch of Japanese guys and saw more than my fair share of American students (I apologize to the American readers of this email - but a large group of rich, American students is possibly the most annoying thing to run into - so loud, walking around like they own the place - now, individual Americans that I've met are great, it is just the groups that really get a bit too much to bare). I've met some Canadians, but not that many - it is funny how when you've been away from home for a while, how much fun it is to hangout with a couple from Calgary and a girl from Winnipeg.
"Don't let the bed bugs bite"  -never had really given that expression a second thought, and then I stayed in a hostel in Cairns and I woke up one morning and had a shower and sort of was scratching my arm a bit and then I went up to the mirror to check myself out and holy freaking God my arm was COVERED in bites. Like 30 of them all in one spot on my left arm. I thought I could use some cortizone cream that I already had and it might go away on it's own, but 4 days later in the Gold Coast, it was still there and I went to a doctor and I had scabies! How exciting! Never had those before. So, for those who don't know, scabies are body lice that burrow into your arm and go to the washroom and that process is what causes the itchy bump-like bites. Gross and itchy - never two good things to say together. They are gone now - but I've come to realize that the north part of Australia has too many things that want to bite me a lot (remember my sand flies in Darwin?).
On the subject of insects, when I was up in Kakudu and then again in Cape Trib, our tour guides showed us these cool cocoon like things with leaves that these green ants make. Pretty neat, but the cool part is that they got us to...lick the green ants' bums. Yes, you read that correctly. And it tastes like a slightly bittersweet lime. Not a great flavour, but not so bad either. I think I'll draw the line quite sharply at green ants when it comes to licking that area.
So, I came back from Cape Trib and stopped in Port Douglas for a day - another beautiful beach resort sort of place and then back to Cairns (bed bug central) and off to the reef. Of all of the plans that I made this year, these were the ones that I was most excited about. There are so many companies to choose from that go to the reef, and I decided to once again go with a smaller sized group that gave me more activity time for more money. Most tour groups take high speed catamarangs (I have no idea how to spell that word), but I went on a sail boat. So it took longer to get there, but it was sweet as. A fun crew, excellent food all day as part of the cost, and a great group of excited travellers - spirits are infinitely high on this trips. A full day on the boat under Queensland's sun - it didn't matter how much sunscreen I used - I got a bit red. And you have free snorkling and they offer dives for certified people and also introductory ones for those who want to give it a go. I know Maja will be surprised that I went for it, and I was surprised too. I thought about it, and the cost wasn't really an issue - I was quite nervous about being under water for 30 minutes, but then I decided that I might only come here once and I already got this far and that I should just do it. And I did. And it was easily the coolest experience this year. It was soooooooo awesome. Heaps of colourful fish, amazing coral and it was just breathtaking (not literally, because you need to breath the whole time when you are underwater). I was so impressed and proud of myself that I did it - there were 6 others like me out of the 30 who tried it and we were all like little kids afterwards - giddy and silly and it was just amazing!  Finding Nemo my ass! It is cool how right on that movie was - the reef looks like the movie. We had wine and cheese on the ride back and it was just so great.
I know that I've said this before, but so many travellers smoke. I just don't get it and I hate that my clothes stink so much. It was funny, in the Gold Coast I shared a room for three nights with a bunch of Japanese guys. These guys, and their buddies next door were hilarious, they slept in until 10, went to the beach all day (they all had these brand new surf boards, but had never really surfed before - ahhh, to be young and rich), got back in and lay around reading Japanese porn magazines (I walked in the first day and saw this innocent-enough looking magazine on the floor and I opened it up and...let's just say that innocent was the wrong word to use) listening to Japanese punk music, then they stayed up all night drinking and smoking and gambling. Full on, to say the least.
The Gold Coast is tourism to the extreme. Theme parks, shops, Surfer's Paradise etc. It is buzzing all day and all night. I went to the waterslide park, but enjoyed the beach more. Enough said. Fun, but too much after a short while.
Then I was off to Newcastle for the Australian Uni Games. Newcastle is 2 hours north of Sydney (I was there when I went to the Hunter Valley back in April). Newcastle is a place that used to be a big industry area and then about 10 years ago a few industries closed down and there are now some pretty bad areas, and a well known rule to not walk around alone at night, and also a scary train stop - where the travel guides warn you to sit near the security guy. Fun. The Uni games were great. The whole team stayed in these apartments together and it was a great time - cards games, team meals, spa baths and fun times. The team was seeded 7th, finished 7th last year and finished 7th this year, so I'm not to sure how much I accomplised as a coach. The team really liked my coaching and the organization that having a coach brings to a squad. I had fun, but I was itching to get out and play myself. This AUG is great - all uni sports are there and it is like a mini-Olympics. We went and watched soccer and squash as their venues were near by. It was great.
So, back in Victoria for school and the winter is slowly ending -we had beautiful sunny days last week followed by a hail storm yesterday, but the tide is turning. I am mailing home a lot of warm clothes (which hopefully is alright). It is cool how this feels like deja vu - reminding me of the beginning of the school year and how far I've come and how different I feel now to when I first arrived. And that the year is long - it is great, but I do miss home and I am getting excited about coming back (as well as feeling sad about saying goodbye to all of the people and things I've gotten into this year).
Hope everyone is well!

email number 6 from oz

This is email number 6 of 8 in my exchange year of 2003 in Australia.

G'day mates!

Just reaching the 3/4 mark of the year and nearing the last week of term 3 too - which mean, yes you guessed it, more holidays. A few of you have pointed out that it seems like all I'm doing is vacationing, and some have wondered if I'm doing any real work. The answers are yes, I am working a lot, I just choose to focus on the "fun" stuff in these emails. Having said that, I can't complain about the holiday time - it is pretty awesome. Others complained about the length of the last email - part of me wanted to make the next one even longer out of spite, but that would sort of defeat the purpose of writing them in the first place, so I've decided to write one before and one after the holidays. Next Friday afterschool I fly up to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef and I plan to explore the Daintree Rainforest and then travel down to Brisbane and do some stuff around there and then head down to coach at the Australia University Games where my ultimate team I'm coaching is competing.

I am pretty exhausted as I write this email, we just finished two long nights of parent-teacher interviews and the school play that I directed had its performances the two weeks prior to that. The weekends have also been packed full of practices and rehearsals and there haven't been too many sit back and relax evenings. I think 4th term will be more relaxed, but I already have big plans for all but 2 weekends of my remaining time away. It will all go quite quickly - which is both okay in that I do miss home and look forward to all of the people and new things I have planned for when I return, and not okay, because I have made a number of friends and gotten close to many students and their families (one student gave me a dozen eggs as a gift - I've never been given eggs before). Through the play and all of the frisbee stuff and the teaching I've made a name for myself at the school and in the community and I'll be missed and I will miss many people too. So, sort of mixed emotions at this point about the year being slowly nearing the end. A great experience so far, that's for sure. 

I hate to admit this, but...I'm a kangaroo killer. And not just any kangaroo, a baby kangaroo. I know much of what I write is meant to make people smile, but this ain't one of them. It was both sad and scary. I was driving home from squash and in a blink of an eye this kangaroo hopped right in front of my car and bounced off my fender hard - thank god it was a small one. My heart was beating SO fast. On this note, there is a new dead animal on the side of the road every few days - usually bunny rabbits or wombats (neither are considered a great loss), and occasionally koalas (which is very sad  -they are just SO CUTE). Every adult I've talked to in the countryside has hit at least one animal somewhat recently. Too bad I'm a vegetarian.

Over the course of the year, I've grown accustomed to some of the bizarre Aussie ways of doing things. Some of these still make me shake my head and still others I just can't even get used to. One of these is that in Leongatha (and all country towns) pedestrians yield to cars. In Canada, it is the opposite, and this seems to make sense as cars can cause us much more damage then the other way around. So, you'll be standing at a "crosswalk" (I don't think they call them that, since you aren't supposed to cross or walk most of the time) near one of the many busy traffic circles and you'll wait and wait and wait - it has taken me over 5 minutes to even get a chance to cross sometimes. NO ONE slows down, and they shouldn't because I am supposed to yield for them. When I'm driving, and I see a woman pushing a baby in a stroller and I stop to let them cross - they give me a strange look, and I've even had someone honk at me from behind for stopping to let some teenagers cross.

We watch some bad TV in North America, but they watch some really bad TV here too, and it seems worse for some reason. Australian soap operas are HORRIBLE and so many students, and adults are addicted to them. The two most popular are "Home And Away and "Neighbours", and they are like the American ones but to the nth degree - so bad that "Australian Soap Opera" is a TV genre on "Whose Line Is It Anyways?". There are also Aussie versions of so many TV shows - from Millionare to The Price is Right to Big Brother. Now, I never watched the crap that was Big Brother when I lived in Canada, but I did know that outside of my family, most people didn't watch it. But in OZ, it was so popular. In the staffroom, on the radio, in class everyone was talking about who said what to who and who was being voted out etc. It seems the same to me except that they show much more of the "bedroom antics". Aussie TV, on the whole, show stuff that we'd never be allowed to show during prime time. And no one is complaining, not even me...

The Australian film industry is strong. I watch a lot of movies and this year I've tried to see a number of Aussie ones. I have 3 categories that I put them in (1) ones that become huge at home (Muriel's Wedding, Priscilla, Rabbit Proof Fence, Ned Kelly), (2) the really odd and funny - these are MUST sees (The Castle, Snapper, Bad Eggs, The Dish) and (3) the down-right weird (Chopper, Mullet, Bad Boy Bubby). Special mention needs to go to my friend Colin, who had the foresight to watch Bad Boy Bubby and fully recommend it. I watched it this year and it is the most bizarre film I've ever watched. I couldn't use the word "enjoyed" to describe how I felt while watching it, but it was...yeah, I don't know how to put it.

Student: "Hey, Mr. Paley, what do you think of Australian chocolate? Pretty good, hey?"
Paley: "Um, what chocolate is that?"
Student: "Cadbury"
Paley: sigh..."no, it's not"
Student: "But it says 'made in Australia'"
Paley: SIGH
Kids think lots of things are Australian that aren't. From food to magazines to tv shows. My favourite things are ones that ARE truly Australian. I was, and continue to be, disappointed over how many American things there are here. I thought with the distance, it wouldn't be like that, but it is. Whenever I see a young Aussie with a Snoop Dogg shirt on I feel like smacking myself. Having said that, there are a lot of very popular Aussie music groups, some are way too "pop" for my taste. Have Delta Goodrum and Holly Valance become popular in Canada?

I continue to have great success in sport for the year. I continue to train hard and am really fit. I won my event in the Melbourne Open squash tournament. I didn't just win, I dominated. It was really cool and I got a really nice trophy. Then this past weekend, I won my third ultimate frisbee tournament of the year. I will say that the tourneys have been smaller than home, but a win is a win, and it is lots of fun. All I had to do was leave Canada. I plan to play in a few more ulti tourneys, including the co-ed nationals which are in Melbourne in late October. My team WON'T be winning that one.

For those that weren't sure, Australians don't all sound like the Crocodile Hunter. The accents are there, but not nearly as strong as I thought before I got here. And on the topic of the Croc Hunter, Aussies laugh at him as much as we do, if not more. But, they also respect him and he is one of the more popular "stars" here. I'd say that the kids love football players the most, Ian Thorpe is up there, Cathy Freeman and Jana Pittman, and some of the cricket players (they are hugely popular). Everyone loves Nicole Kidman, most hate Russell Crowe (who was born in NZ, but calls himself Australian), and they all like Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce. Kylie Minogue was not popular for years, but is really big the past 3 or 4 years.

Just one new expression for you, that I love saying a lot. Whenever people, in my case students, aren't behaving or are doing something that I just don't want them to do, I say "that is just not on". Pretty self-explanatory and pretty fun to say. If it starts to rain, someone will say (to God, maybe) "Oh, that is not on." I love it!

My school has livestock. When you drive in, there are cows and pigs walking around their fenced area. Not much more to say about that, except that you never forget for a second that you are teaching in the country.

I am a "man about town". I have been in the local newspapers 6 times in the past 8 months - this includes squash stuff, stuff about my play and about the frisbee clinic I was running. It is cool. Everyone seems to know that I'm the exchange teacher (the accent gives it away - yes, I still sound "Canadian"). I even had my picture in the Catholic Life newsletter, and there was mention of my play on the local tv and radio news. If you reduce the population from a few million to 5000, you increase your chances of being noticed.

The play is over! Four months of rehearsals and 5 tremendous performances! It was a lot of hard work and more stress then I'm used to - the actors were lazy and quite inexperienced, but very enthusiastic. Over the last month of rehearsals they worked really hard and the play really came together. We transformed part of the school into a studio with a great stage and set. The teachers really helped me put in all together and the school really got excited about the play. We had over 500 audience members over our 5 shows, which is a lot of you consider that the school only has 370 students. And it was the first play that they've had in years. It went really well. It wasn't the best play that I've done, but considering where the actors were when we started and how troubled it all seemed halfway through, this was quite an accomplishment. The parents and teachers and students just loved it - I get told so many times a day how great it was and the praise after the shows was incredible! What an amazing feeling to be told continually what a great job you have done. It is sort of overwhelming, but it just makes me feel quite proud of myself and my ability to organize and direct a huge school production and very proud of the actors. I didn't become as close to them as my actors at home, but then again I've only known them for 8 months, compared to 3-5 years for the students at Killarney. It gives me a great group to remember and hopefully stay in tough with (a few are definites). It wasn't all great along the way, and I'm so exhausted still, but it was a great way to make a name for myself in my one year at the school. If my goal was to not be forgotten and to make an impact, which it was by the way, then I absolutely accomplished that. It was great bringing fun drama to a school that had none. They loved the play.

Well, I'm off on holidays to Queensland and to Newcastle. It should be great! I'm taking lots of photos, but the scanner is too damn slow, so people will have to wait to see photos until I get home.

Take care and I hope to hear from you soon.