Monday, May 23, 2011

Weekend Report

Haven't done one of these for awhile...

Friday- Dressed up like a pirate and went to see the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie with a bunch of my soccer teammates. Since I left my old costume collection back in the USA, I had to improvise- a silk scarf with whales on it that my mother had sent me was put to use, and I fashioned a hook hand out of a coat hanger, cardboard tube, some tinfoil and a sock- MacGyver style. As for the movie, it was fun, and I do say it's more enjoyable if you're dressed as a pirate while you watch. And another lesson learned is that if you ever want to pick up men at a bar, go with a bunch of girls dressed in pirate attire. Seriously, EVERYONE talked to us.

Saturday's most notable achievement was paying off my the last of my credit card debt. Hooray! During grad school I had a bit of trouble living within my means (in my defense, my means were unreasonably low) and managed to rack up over $8,000 in credit card debt within a year. And like a mullet, that shit takes ages to get rid of, especially when you're living on a stipend rather than a salary. However, now that I have a real job and the Australian dollar is doing well, I'm finally starting to get my finances in order. Next up: outstanding student loans.
The rest of Saturday was spent running errands, then going to dinner at a local restaurant and watching a movie (Vicky Cristina Barcelona...Woody Allen goes Almodovar and Penelope Cruz steals the show).

Sunday- Some soccer, some beer, and a trip to Wagamama- a winning weekend, overall.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Australian planking meme goes global

Someone recently asked for a post on planking, and who am I to deny a reader's request?

For those of you who aren't aware of Planking- it's an internet meme that began in Australia where you post a photo of yourself lying facedown and straight like a board (or a plank...get it??) in an unusual location. Sounds innocuous enough, right? And it was, until some kid fell off a balcony and died, prompting a ridiculous amount of planking press and a planking backlash. Now schools are banning planking, which just strikes me as absurd. What if the "dangerous trend" were sitting? Would sitting be banned as well? For the record, I do find some of the planking photos humorous, but I'm so tired of the hullabaloo (grandma vocab!) that I might just have to go plank in my bed.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Eurovision and Moldova's amazing hats

For those of you unfamiliar with Eurovision (i.e. most of the world other than Europe), it's an annual song contest in which several European countries compete for the best original song, performed live. It's also the contest that brought the world ABBA. I watched Eurovision for the first time this year and it is oh so much more ridiculous and entertaining than I ever imagined. The costumes, the variety of music, the over the top performances, the fact that the voting is unabashedly biased (Finland votes for Norway, the eastern European countries all vote for each other, etc...), the whole thing is amazing. There were way too many cheesy ballads, but aside from those we were treated to the likes of Jedward- Ireland's ridiculous twin singers and Icelandic men in vests.

But the country who stole my heart was Moldova, with their ska music, a girl in a fairy costume riding a unicycle, and the tall, pointy gnome hats. Behold the hats:

I fell in love with the hats, and I wasn't the only one to appreciate their awesomeness, as this photo soon circulated around the internet. Moldova hats are the new Aretha inauguration hat! YES!

My friend Maria, clearly a photoshop genius, made these for me.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The new pinnacle of cuteness

I've found something EVEN CUTER than interspecies friendships! OMG you guys...

Animals with Stuffed Animals

Seriously, I cannot even handle some of these. Eeeeeee!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Movie review: Incendies

I went into the movie Incendies knowing very little about it, other than the fact it was nominated for Best Foreign Film and was some sort of family drama. The story begins when Jeanne and Simon, twins in their 20s in Quebec, are given some unusual instructions following the death of their mother Nawal- rather than a traditional will, the notary hands them two sealed envelopes addressed to the father and the brother they didn't know existed. Their task is to find the recipients and deliver the letters, and in the process they must travel to their mother's middle eastern homeland and learn about the history she had kept hidden from them. When you see what Nawal lived through, in a series of flashbacks, you fully understand why she never spoke of her past.

I spent the first thirty minutes racking my brains trying figure out what country the movie was set looked the the middle east, but I hadn't heard of any of the cities mentioned, and the two warring factions were Christians and Muslims so it couldn't have been Israel. It turns out that my confusion was intentional- the film is set in a fictional country so the names of the places are made up, although in truth it's filmed in Jordan and takes place in Lebanon- the home of the playwright (the film is an adaptation of a play) and the setting of a lengthy civil war between various armed Christian and Muslim militias (of which I was completely ignorant).

Early on, Nawal's boyfriend is shot dead by her brothers, who do not approve of their Christian sister dating a Muslim refugee. She's pregnant, and in a moment of sympathy, Nawal's grandmother tattoos the baby's heel before he is taken away to an orphanage, giving Nawal hope of finding him again someday, but a brutal civil war gets in the way. I won't divulge more of the plot but let's just say Nawal's life gets a lot worse, and the story unfolds like an ancient Greek tragedy as the twins unravel the mysteries of their mother's past. Incendies does have a few lighter moments, mainly involving dedicated notaries and the drinking of tea, but it's definitely one of the most intense and haunting movies I've seen in a long time. For that reason, I can say that it's a very good movie and certainly captivating, but traumatic enough that I can't quite say I recommend it, even though it's been on my mind ever since. It did inspire me to read up a bit on the history of Lebanon, though. Here's the New York Times review.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Hot cross buns

Before I moved to Australia, my only exposure to hot cross buns was that song you play when you're first learning the recorder...a la these kids. However, in many countries they are traditionally eaten around Easter, on Good Friday in particular, and it turns out they have an interesting and somewhat controversial history. Considered a symbol of Catholicism, they were banned in England during reign of Queen Elizabeth I but eventually allowed to be sold at Easter and Christmas. To be honest, I've never been a huge fan of raisins in bread products- but here in Australia everyone eats them on Good Friday, and the lapsed Catholic in me still loves a tradition, even if the idea of eating baked goods to celebrate a crucifixion strikes me as a little odd. And this recipe for hot cross bun french toast looked like a winner. I'm happy to report that it was delicious.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

New Zealand vacation

My friends Yuki and Jonathan came to visit Melbourne, and then the three of us took off for a week on the south island of New Zealand. Six days, four stops, and 1900 kilometers later (that's 1180 miles for you non-metric folks), we saw and did as much as we could pack in and ended up happy and exhausted. The south island is sparsely populated (the major highways are all two lane roads) and the oft-quoted statistic that there are more sheep than people is indeed a fact. We lucked out with absolutely gorgeous weather- it's late fall (or autumn, as they say in these parts) and it was a bit chilly but sunny and clear for our entire trip. We started off for a couple of days in Queenstown, which feels a lot like a ski town and is famous for adventure sports- bungee jumping, skydiving, zorbing, etc. We decided to partake in paragliding. Tandem, of course, as even in New Zealand, letting novices jump off of cliffs on their own in generally frowned upon. The day I went the winds were quite strong, so rather than running and jumping, once the parachute was unfurled we were pulled backwards and lifted off the ground. It was really fun! I'm not a big fan of the idea of free-falling, but this was much more like flying or floating through the air, and therefore quite enjoyable. In addition to the paragliding, we took a scenic drive up to Glenorchy and took the gondola up to the Skyline restaurant and had some fun on the luge track- an alpine slide, essentially a go kart track down the side of a mountain (see photo).
After that, we drove down to Milford Sound for an overnight cruise in the fiordlands. In addition to sheep, the south island has a lot of lakes and waterways surrounded by mountains. The boat set off in the late afternoon, and we did have the chance to kayak before the sun went down. After that, all of the passengers hung out for dinner and (many) drinks and then eventually retreated to our tiny beds.

The next day we had a looong drive back to Queensland and up the west coast, finally arriving at Fox Glacier. Based on a friend's recommendation, we signed up for an all day hike on the glacier. What goes on your feet and rhymes with tampons? Crampons! They actually work better than I had imagined, although my legs were pretty tired by the end of the day. We had a lovely meal at the Plateau Cafe- good food, a friendly staff, and a free glass of wine is enough to win me over any time.

We left bright and early the next morning for our last adventure, a cave exploration trip further up on the west coast. Decked out in wetsuits and flashlight helmets, we hiked up to the top of a cave and crossed the top level on foot until we came to an underground river and floated through on inner tubes. They don't have many bats in New Zealand, but the roof of the cave was covered in glow worms that look like stars, so we all turned off our lights and floated our way down to the cave's exit. It was really cool and nothing I've ever seen before.

We spent our last night in a cute little seaside town called Punakaiki. I was feeling a little bad that Yuki and Jonathan didn't get a chance to see the Great Ocean Road while they were in Melbourne, but sunset at Punakaiki was almost as good. After that, we drove across the center of the island through Arthur's Pass and made it to Christchurch in time for our flights home. The driving wasn't so bad- Yuki and Jonathan did fine driving on the left, and although Jonathan was by far the speediest driver, an ill-timed passing attempt led me to keep my title of the scariest driver. And luckily for us, the only animal we hit was already dead. (lots of roadkill on those windy mountain highways) The only snag of the trip happened right at the start, when Yuki got nabbed at customs for forgetting to declare her hiking boots- a $400 (!) fine. So look for us on Border Patrol, right behind the Vietnamese father and son with the enormous bag of mushrooms. Almost everyone we met was really nice and friendly, and good thing I'd been watching New Zealand's Next Top Model, because I could decipher the accents. I'd love to go back, especially to check out what the north island has to offer.