Rather than providing a chronological list of my adventures, I think I will instead provide a chronological list of the strange and wonderful things that I had the pleasure of seeing while I was on vacation in the lovely land of Australia. Which is...um...the same thing.
1)We slept in a van
My dear brother and his girlfriend are spending three months living out of what might be among the greatest vehicles ever put together by man: a 1985 Toyota Lite-Ace. This beast boasts 300000 kilometres abusive vehicular smack-down, thoughtfully administered by contractors and backpackers. Not overly powerful or even fashionable, this was among the last vehicles built before Toyota realized that selling cars that last forever puts a serious damper on new vehicle sales.
Anyway, between the bed in the back of the van and the tent that I brought along, cheap accommodation was always on hand. If you ever want to travel around Australia, going where you want to go and not spending all that much money, buy an old van. Preferably, you leave the van in the colours in which it arrived.
2) Camping on the beach is cool.
We camped on a sand island called “Stradbrooke Island”. As you might guess, a sand island is made from a lot of sand, which makes for cool campsites. Our site was about four feet from this beach. After several trips to what the Japanese call “washing potatoes”, (based on the number of people jammed in per square metre of surf), seeing such a wide expanse of sand was very welcome.
Stradbrooke island is famous for a surfing spot called Cylinder Beach, which was about a fifteen minute walk from our campsite. Three days of sand and surf, including all of the key camping essentials:
- lots of beer
- cheap, carb-heavy food, including Kurt and Katie’s $.75/plate staple: pasta with beans.
- more beer, for extra carb-heavyness
- men being manly men by mannishly trying to manufacture a fire of man-chest pounding massiveness in the provided barbeque, but which results in masculine mental madness because making a man-fire hot enough to cook takes much longer than men ever expect. We got the campfire going in the end, but not before we got too hungry and cooked the food on the gas grill.
- sketchy neighbours! Two older fellows with large beards offered us chemical fire starters. They said they were fishing, but they made enough derogatory comments about “dudes queering at you in the shower room” that I’m sure they snuck into the same tent at night.
The island also featured some inland freshwater lakes, such as Blue Lake (which is blue) and Brown Lake (yup, brown). Brown lake is brown because of all of the tea trees that surround it: their leaves dye the water. Neat!
Kurt enjoying Blue Lake.
3) Our next stop was the tourist trap called “Surfer’s Paradise”.
This little town was transformed into “the Las Vegas of Australia” through some slick manipulation of the tourist market …via boobies.
Back in the 1960s, the town installed parking meters along the main streets. Local businesses worried that tourists would avoid a town with such conservative, traditional-family parking values. So, one smart guy realized that good looking women make anything better, and smartly hired some local girls to put money into the meters and keep people from getting tickets. For an official uniform, each girl received approximately 10 square centimetres of gold bikini fabric.
Today, they look like this:
Surfer’s Paradise is home to an F1 race which, fortunately for our cheap-accomodation-seeking selves, was held the week AFTER we pulled into town. The main road into town serves as part of the track.
This is a windshield view of our ‘85 Lite-Ace living up to its performance dreams.
Today, Surfer’s Paradise is home to a huge number of expensive high rise apartments, including the “tallest” residential building in the world (if you count the antenna, that is, otherwise it’s a distant #2).
I quite enjoyed the beach here as well. The fact that massive high rises have been built just metres from the beach gives the place an entirely futuristic appeal.
Of course, the absolute best lure for the tourists was clearly the “Adventure Duck”. After all... everyone loves a good amphibious bus.
I tried my hand at surfing as well. Suffice to say that I am not a natural, and that unless “Swimming with a surfboard” can bring in the sponsorship dollars, I might relegate myself to floundering in the waves without any additional props.
5) My Japanese lessons paid off!
One of the most entertaining things about Surfer's Paradise was the little bit of Japanese that I managed to use. Australia gets a fair number of tourists, so Japanese is more common than one would think. First, after much goading and entreating by my brother, I successfully ordered our sushi lunch entirely in Japanese. Secondly, I happened to notice that one of the fellows we partied with happened to have the kanji for “Fire”, “Water” “Earth” and “Air” tattooed on his arm. I mentioned them, and he asked me if I spoke Japanese. After telling him that I understood a bit, he proceeded to pull back his shirt and say…
“So…um…What does this mean?”
(note Kurt’s approval)
Anyway… I didn’t want to leave the man confused about his own body, so ….while I didn’t really understand it (悟－ I did pick out the elements ( “五go (five?), 口kuchi (mouth) and guess that it was pronounced “Go”. (I was right! Wheee!)
This Kanji actually has a pretty cool meaning – “Spiritual Growth/Enlightenment”, or to grow wiser and stronger through experience and thought. However….if you are Japanese, you are probably chuckling right now.
You see, ... when I checked up with a friend, her email started like this:
i'm at Shin-chan's bar. i showed the picture to everyone and we laughed at it. but it's not bad meaning.....
While the meaning is good, unfortunately… there is a rather famous anime/manga/cartoon character that sports the same kanji as part of his name… and on his workout jacket.
In fact… you may have even heard of the character. He has “Go” as part of his name, and he is probably one of the more famous Japanese cartoon characters around...
Here’s a shot of the tat in a video game…
Want a better hint?
This is “Goku”, the main character from a series called Dragonball Z that has even been syndicated in North America.
I want to reiterate that this kanji isn’t bad – and in fact the Go-ku is kind of a hero here. Think of it as getting a giant Superman “S” or Batman symbol tattooed on the front of your chest. Amusing, but still kind of positive.
To prove this point, I pulled it out and showed the people at the local Sho-chu bar. There was some hilarity, but overall, the bartender thought it was cool. Thus, a silver lining: if you are ever in Tokyo, you can probably get this girl's number. She doesn't speak much English, but you can bet she likes comic books, which you might enjoy almost as much.
6) What other sweetness, you ask?
Well… the Aussies have mastered a certain form of vehicular awesomeness. Imagine this situation:
You want a sports car, but you also want to hall your shit around.
Now, the North American solution is just to put a huge engine into your pickup truck, and haul your shit around very fast.
The Aussies seem to have taken an alternate, el-camino-esque route.
Voila! The Aussiemobile, in all of its glory! Hauling your shit, without sacrificing as much performance.
These are everywhere. Mustang (or old chevy) in the front, giant metal box on the back. It’s kind of like the sweet mullet of family transportation.
7) BBQ Awesomeness.
I’d like to close this (lengthy) post with a photo of me achieving what has been a lifelong ambition of mine.
You see, Aussies take their barbequing very seriously. Every campground is fitted with a communal grill. People gather together and cook their dinners, meet and talk. It’s all very social and quite fun. I’ve known about the Aussie obsession with Barbequeing for many years, so I was very keen do to a lot of it.
Ah…here it is….
Me putting another shrimp on the Bar-bie.
Go-ku-chan: Japanese people often add “Chan” as a suffix to show affection.
Queering: “Queer” is a term for homosexuals (オカマ). It used to be used as an insult, but many gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered people have “reclaimed” the term, in other words, using it for themselves as a positive thing. Here, it was used in a negative way, as changing it to an –ing form makes it sound like “Peering” or “Leering”, which both mean “to look at closely”.
My joke here about sneaking into the same tent is related to the idea that people who make a lot of negative comments or are uncomfortable about that sort of thing often have a very deep interest in it. People who loudly express their “hate” for things like homosexuality are often secretly excited about it and cover this up with how much they “hate” it.
Amphibious (adj): something that can move on land and in the water. For example, Frogs are amphibious.
Mullet: hair that is short on the front and long on the back. Also called “hockey hair” and “the short-long”. It’s a symbol of sketchy, sketchy people.
Shrimp: yeah… I know that Aussies call them prawns. Sometimes things get lost outside the borders…. Kind of how “Foster’s is Australian for beer” is the slogan used to hawk absolute piss that Aussies don’t actually drink.