Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Melbourne Day 4 (Wednesday)

Breakfast in the room again and caught up on a lot of email that came in overnight. I decided, based on the weather forecast, that today is the day to go explore St Kilda, a beach area just out of town. Took a long tram ride there, and had a nice walk through town, along the famous Acland Street with its cake shops (found a very yummy apple crumble that was calling my name) and then sat by the beach reading for a bit. Had a delicious lunch of dim sum and then took a tram up to the Jewish Museum of Australia. It's a small but interesting collection of exhibits, largely about how the Jewish community in Australia has gown, and from where and when the immigrants came. I was hoping to see their exhibit on Maurice Sendak (author of Where The Wild Things Are), but it turned out that was a temporary exhibit that ended some time ago.

Back to my hotel for a siesta in mid-afternoon. As dinner time approached, I took a longish tram ride up to Clifton Hill, in pursuit of a neat bit of synchronicity.

Rewind to my drive from Adelaide to Melbourne. I was driving along listening to music from my iPhone, and the Bare Naked Ladies song "Another Postcard" came on. The song and the driving reminded me of a trip 30 years ago, when my friend Philomena and I borrowed my mom's car and drove out to the maritimes. We were heading to the ferry to cross from PEI to Nova Scotia (this was before the bridge to PEI), and saw two hitchhikers with a sign that said "Out of Here!". We picked them up, and quickly became friends with Andrea and Rupert, camping with them in Nova Scotia for a bit. Later I had a fun little tradition of sending them postcards from the wrong city when traveling - for example a postcard of Toronto sent from Merida, Mexico. The driving and the song brought all that back, and I started wondering how I lost touch with such great people. When I got to Melbourne I tried to look them up, Googling Rupert's name first as it's less common. Sadly what I found was a memorial notice; he passed away two and half years ago. I did manage to find Andrea on Facebook and reconnect. When she found out I was in Melbourne, she asked if I could try to find her a CD of an Australian musician, Enda Kenny, whom she had recently heard and met at Summerfolk in Owen Sound. When I looked him up I realized he was playing a gig nearby tonight, so I figured I had to go! Was it a sign that there is a tram line running from a block from my hotel to a stop right outside the hotel where he's playing?

Had a nice dinner of "parma" (what Australians call chicken/veal/eggplant parmigiana - in my case chicken) and a local beer, and then tried my first alcoholic ginger beer (who knew there was such a thing?!) which was very nice. The music started at 8:30 with a pair of singers, and then Enda Kenny came on. He's a folk singer who Andrea described as singing about a lot of political issues, though tonight it was just simple folk songs about people. I really enjoyed the whole evening, especially Enda Kenny's set. I talked with him a bit, extended Andrea's greeting, and he was really pleased that I had come, and that I was able to put him in touch with Andrea by email. I bought her a CD, and he was kind enough to give me another for free.

I caught the second-last tram back to my hotel, and got to bed after midnight - a very unusual late night for me, but a really good one.

So What's Different Here?

After my trip to Russia last winter, this one is a lot different, in that it's not so much different from home. In a way that's a little disappointing, because I travel mainly to learn about other (different) cultures. Language is a part of that, and there are a few subtle differences in Australian English I've been picking up. My latest new word is "hoon", which refers to one who exhibits anti-social behaviour, specifically in terms of wild driving. There was an article in the paper about how the hoon schools are seeing much lower attendance than expected based on the number of infractions recorded.

Anyway Australia is a lot like home. The cities look a fair bit like Canada, though the trams here in Melbourne are a nice difference. The people here even say "sorry" when you bump into them, just like at home. And everyone has been very friendly, perhaps more so than at home. But there are some subtle differences:
  • Most restaurants don't have much table service; you order and pay at the counter and no bill is delivered to your table. Usually you're given a number on a tall stand to put on your table so the server can find you.
  • No tipping! The credit card machines don't even offer the option to tip. At first I found the prices quite high, especially for food, but then it sunk in that the extra 30% I would usually add for tax and tip is already built in. Beer is still pretty pricy though, often at $9/pint. But it's decent beer!
  • Speaking of beer, the choice of sizes of beer glasses is a bit perplexing. You might get a "pot", a "schooner" or a pint, depending where you are. Here's a guide.
  • Credit cards here are combined with debit cards on a single card, so the payment machines ask you to select which account to charge. That's caused my card to fail a few times when the clerk assumed it was a debit card.
  • More people seem to smoke here, though this Wikipedia page suggests the rate is about the same as in Canada.  I guess I'm just overly sensitive about smoking.
  • The electrical plugs are different, and apart from the different shape of the plugs, the outlets tend to stick out from the wall, and each outlet is separately switched. That's led me to fail to recharge a device at least once, when I forgot to turn the outlet on!
  • They drive on the left of course. And while I didn't have trouble adjusting to that as a driver, I'm still often confused as a pedestrian, not always looking the right way when crossing the street. Yesterday I waited at a tram stop going the wrong direction until I noticed where the tram was headed, and had to cross the street to go the way I wanted.
  • The trees and other flora are quite different, which I noticed the most in the Outback and on the drive along the Great Ocean Road. The fauna are very different too of course, but I've seen less than I expected, and mainly in zoos so far. The exception are birds, of which I've noticed a bunch of different and beautiful ones in the parks.

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