Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Con(door)

In addition to a central location and amazing view, the Condor Tower also has historical importance. The project, which took a vacant 10-storey building and added an additional 18 floors, is believed to be unique not only in Australia but worldwide. The transformation of an obsolete building into a state of the art landmark won an award which recognized the major engineering challenge that faced the architects: the strengthening of the existing foundation to support the additional weight. By overcoming structural obstacles, the architects were able to demonstrate how existing structures can be recycled and transformed.
With the Condor being such an outstanding example of innovative Australian engineering, I have to question the entry into this world class building.
The brass and silver doorway falls short of capturing the grandeur that should accompany such an architectural feat. Perhaps the artist had hopes of demonstrating how the mighty condor is the king of the urban jungle. Unfortunately, the etched v-shapped bird fails to represent the strength behind of the condor. Instead the bird brings to mind a common seagull, and there is nothing majestic or powerful with this association. Could it be that the artist felt that the building could stand alone in its own glory? I don't know but each time I enter the building I can't help but wonder if who ever commissioned the door feels like they were conned? If so, perhaps, that is what the artist was trying to convey with his masterpiece.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Twinkle Little Firefly


Our recent holiday in Kuala Lumpur was planned as a long city trek, and we hadn't made plans to do any traveling outside of the city. After two full days in the of hustle and bustle we knew we had made a mistake and we needed to escape to the local countryside. Unfortunately, we didn't have a guide book or access to the internet to help us plan a day trip. We decided the best thing to do in this situation was to head down to the concierge, where after discussing our options we decided on a group tour to Selangor River, home to millions of fireflies.
Our tour ended up being us, the guide, and the driver. At first, we were a bit worried about having to keep a conversation going for the next six hours, but within moments we knew that there would be no problem keeping the conversation flowing with our very knowledgeable guide, Raj. In fact, by the end of the evening we really had a better understanding of the history and present day situation of the multi-cultural country that we were visiting.
The start of our journey took us past old rubber and palm oil plantations and small villages as we worked our way towards the Firefly Sanctuary. Kampung Kuantan is one of only two places in the world--the other being along the Amazon River in Brazil-- where millions of fireflies can be seen congregating in the same area.
When we arrived at the mangrove, we had to wait until sunset. Then, we were loaded by fours onto a small sampan--a traditional boat powered by a standing man rowing from behind.



We were surrounded by pitch black. It was as though everyone was holding their breath in anticipation, and the only noise was the rhythmic splash created by the oars. Suddenly, as if a power supply had been tuned on, the trees on the horizon began to twinkle. It was as though thousands of Christmas lights had been strung in the trees, but as we pulled closer to the banks it became very apparent that this was not man made show but a natural phenomenon. Once again, Mother Nature showed here true power as she took my breath away.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Signing On The Dotted Line

We sat at the table with a stack of papers between us. With a simple signature our dream to live at the Condor would become reality. We knew there would be some struggles but were sure that we could overcome them. I had always complained that the flat in Glenelg was too large, so maybe it was time to downsize. Getting rid of some of the junk we have collected over the past couple years wouldn't be a bad thing. In fact,  we could use a cleansing. But, I couldn't help but wonder if we would be able to adjust to the single 16 inch bar in the closet. As I looked at my forearm, the approximate length of the bar, I tried to visualize just how much clothes we would be able to hang. At least we would each have our own closet and our own little bar. Still, it looked like I'd be making a trip or two to Salvo's with some donations.
Fortunately, we hadn't overlooked some of the more technical issues like the lack of a heating/airconditioning unit and sunshades.  Luckily the owner had agreed to install them, though he didn't believe we needed shades since it would be impossible to see into the 23rd floor. He eventually understood that it wasn't peeping eyes, but rather the sun's searing afternoon rays that we wanted to keep at bay.
Of course, we knew there were some other issues that would be impossible to resolve. We would have to learn to ignore the scratched walls, blemished marble counters, and stained window pane. We knew the pool pump would not be fixed before the end of summer. An empty car space in such a prime location would necessitate the constant need to call in maintenance to clamp illegally parked cars.
As we discussed and debated the severity of each and every one of the issues, we agreed that in the end they were insignificant when compared to the choice location with a perfect view.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Aptly Named


This week's PhotoHunt theme is license plate.

Not the best photo but Kermy was a no tortoise. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Where's The Beef

If you ask me what I miss most about Adelaide, and if I speak from the heart, I have to say my butcher. It is not because his meats were a cut above the rest, but because he would put up with my Yank vocabulary when ordering and he was easy on the eyes. A patient and cute butcher, what more could a woman want?
So my arrival in Perth has involved a search for the perfect butcher. There is no doubt my quest has unveiled everything from inexpensive prices, quality cuts, to exotic meats. Unfortunately, I have yet to find the "perfect" knife bearing individual.
So this past Monday I found myself in a bit of dilemma. With St. Patrick's Day less than a week away I needed a slab of mammal for my home-corned beef brisket. Of course, I didn't need the choicest cut, but I wanted something fresh that would ensure that the once a year dish would live up to its full potential.
I decided to bite the bullet and take the 30 minute walk over to Northbridge where I was sure I could find a point-cut brisket, that when prepared correctly, would become something special. My only fear was that I had yet to establish a working relationship with this "new" butcher. I was worried that my server would be able to understand my foreign vocabulary, and I couldn't help but wonder if an American brisket is the same as an Australian brisket.
I took a deep breath before entering the small store. No eye-candy here, but I was quickly waited on by a young gentleman behind the counter. As I asked for a brisket, I watched his face for a reaction, and was thrilled that the only response was how much. My answer of no more than 2 kilos, had him quickly leave to the back room. He soon returned to inform me that I would have to wait since he need another guy to help him move the meat from the hook. I imagined a half-cow hanging from above, and pictured the butcher trimming away a small roast from the breast section beneath the first five ribs, behind the foreshank. My image was soon shattered when the butcher returned  with a whole flat cut brisket--about 10 pounds worth--and threw it on the scale.  Ooops, perhaps I should have explained what I was looking for!
No worries, after a bit of a chat we were able to determine the boneless point cut beef brisket was in need of is, in fact. a piece of silverside (at least here in Australia). I even learned that a scotch fillet is just a rib-eye with the bone removed.  So he may not exactly fill his predecessor's shoes, but it looks like I've had a little Irish luck and found a new butcher.


Home-Corned Beef Brisket (Silverside)

1/2 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, cracked
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1/2 tablespoon paprika
2 bay leaves, crumbled
2 kilo point cut beef brisket (silverside)

1. Mix salt and seasonings in small bowl
2. Spear brisket 30 times per side with metal skewer. Rub each side evenly with salt mixture.
3. Place in 2-gallon-size zipper-lock bag, forcing out as much air as possible. Place in pan large enough to hold it. Cover with second, similar-size pan, and weight with two bricks or heavy cans of similar weight.
4. Refrigerate 3 to 5 days, turning once a day.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sculpture By The Sea

Every Summer, for three weeks, one of Perth's most popular beaches is turned into a sculpture park that showcases the work's of over 100 Australian and overseas artists.

The annual event, the largest of its kind in Australia, was first hosted in 1997 at Sydney's Bondi Beach. In 2005 the companion show in Western Australia was established.

The free show can be seen daily lining the beach and foreshore of Cottesloe Beach until March 22nd.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Seeing Red

Many years ago on a small, dark street in Juarez, Mexico, we stopped at a tiny bar for a night cap. We were with another American couple, seasoned travelers who were up to ending the evening at a local dive. It wasn't until we had secured our spot and ordered drinks that we took a good look around. It didn't take us long to realize that we had ended up in a puta bar. Lindsey and I scooted our seats closer to our partners and as we sipped our tequila we were entertained by the working girls and their clients. We didn't stick around too long, and as we exited the bar, we noticed a bright red light next to the door and laughed about how we had missed what, for some, would be a beacon but, for us should have been a warning signal.
A couple of weekends ago, we found ourselves in a similar situation. We weren't in Mexico but halfway across the wold in Kuala Lumpur. It wasn't late at night and we had been forced into a bar by a violent rainstorm. The need for immediate shelter had dictated our choice. The bar's location and prices signaled that we were in an establishment frequented by tourist. At first the place was fairly deserted--a few people here and there enjoying an expensive beer on the covered patio--as the rain came down in buckets.

Slowly the place began to fill. From our seat next to the street we watched groups of western men come in and order  beer. Soon, a stream of taxis pulled up out front and single Malaysian women entered the bar. It didn't take us long to realize that something was up. Upon closer examination of our surroundings, we noted the red lights that adorned the walls.  We chuckled about our predicament, yet we were unable to leave because of the torrential storm. Over the next hour as we watched the interaction between the men around women around us, the scene became less and less comical. By the time we were able to leave I was filled with feelings of disgust and despair as I reflected on a serious case of tourism gone wrong: money, power, and privilege versus poverty, need, and lack of choice.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Home Is Where The View Is

Fortunately, this past month when we relocated we didn't have to worry about finding a place to live since we had taken care of this several months ago. Back in November when Mark was offered his new position was already temporarily working in the Perth office. Since I already had a ticket to join him for part of his secondment we decided it would allow us a head-start on the apartment hunt.
For an entire weekend we hit the streets, visiting the neighborhoods that potentially could be called home. We had clearly defined our needs--a small flat, easy access via public transportation to the CBD, small stores for grocery shopping, and a good place to run. In the end we decided that it was not a neighborhood or suburb that would best meet our needs, but instead we were ready for an inner-city urban adventure. With all the construction of new apartment buildings in the downtown area, it didn't seem like it would be too hard to find what we were looking for.
With notebook in hand we walked amongst the concrete towers jotting down names, locations and amenities. We would sit at doorsteps observing tenants entering and leaving, keeping in mind that the last place we wanted to live was in a building full of students. We peeked behind walls and over fences, attempting to determine the potential of unfinished construction sites; a jack hammer is no friend at 7:00 am. When the sun went down we set out in search of the boom-boom-boom of nightclubs that would keep us awake 'till dawn. When Sunday afternoon rolled around, as we sat at a riverfront bar sipping a cider, we scanned the city one final time knowing we had decided where we wanted to live--the Condor, one of Perth's newer, centrally located residential towers. Now, all we had to do was find an available apartment in the building.
It seemed that this would be an easy enough task. Especially since we had seen the sub-penthouse advertised in a local property management company's window. So first thing Monday morning we headed into the office to file our inquiry about the property. Our expression of interest brought a loud chuckle from the property manager as she told us that everyone in Perth wanted to live in the Condor. She then kindly offered to show me another listing and it was my turn to scoff--she couldn't possibly expect me to be interested in that student dump.
As we left the office we couldn't help but worry. The only thing that was keeping me from a panic attack was that our move was still a couple of months away. Mark headed off to work and I returned to our room and began to search the internet for available properties. Fortunately there are several local sites that not only list all available properties, but also the hours of open viewings--which last exactly for 15 minutes! For the next several hours I mapped out a week's worth of appointments. There were still a couple of buildings that I refused to even consider, but my list included properties across the downtown area and heading up the hill towards Kings Park. I was even considering furnished apartments--after all, Ikea furniture was never really built to move. At lunch I shared the list with Mark and he agreed it was probably the best strategy, and declared he would join me at viewings when possible. Within a few hours we began viewing flats. That evening as we sat in our dark hotel, listening to the music from the bar across the street blaring, we couldn't help but feel discouraged. Our afternoon visits had shown us that competition in the urban jungle was ferocious. I never imagined that over a dozen "kids" would show up to view a 1 bedroom place listed at AU$500 pw (per week)!  By Thursday I was frustrated and exhausted. I was ready to throw in the towel, but we had two final viewings. Both happened to be unfurnished places, and offered privately scheduled appointments--at least we wouldn't be fighting the masses. The first place was a possibility. The bedroom even had a view across the Swan River. My only concern was if the place would be professionally cleaned to remove the smell of smoke. The property manager tried to deny that a smoker lived in the apartment, but even if I could not see the ashtrays there was no hiding the stench, a smell that would linger in the heavy curtains and rugs long after the current tenants were gone. Perhaps we would revisit once the apartment was vacant and clean.
As we walked to the final place on our list I tried not to get my hopes up, but we were about to visit a brand new apartment at the Condor! We were not sure what floor, but it had a river view. We met the agent in the foyer and she was a bit surprised when we declined to see the pool--we didn't bother to mention this was the 5th unit we were visiting in the building and were already very familiar with the amenities. I could barely contain my excitement when we entered the lift and she pressed level 23. Just outside the door the agent stopped to apologize that the apartment had not yet been clean. As we entered the flat the dirt and dust were easily overlooked when were greeted with an unobstructed view across the Swan River. We knew that we had found a place to call home.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

This Sucks


The landscape around Australia's Opal Fields is filled with truck mounted blowers like the one pictured above. The machine, a giant vacuum cleaner that sucks dirt from up to 30 meters underground and dumps it on the surface, was designed in the 1970's and continues to be used today . 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Friday, March 4, 2011

Groomed To Travel

Unfortunately, I was unable to participate in this week's Travel Talk On Twitter. I selfishly chose to miss both session to attend a Pilates and Yoga class. What can I say, other than I take my exercise classes seriously. However, as I read through some of the chatter on the topic, "Traveling As A Kid," I couldn't help but reflect on my childhood travels and how they impacted where I am today--a person who has spent more than half her adult life traveling and living abroad.
In many ways, I think I was groomed to be a world traveler. My story is not like many  that can be seen and followed in today's media where parents give up everything to travel the world with their children, providing them with a global education.
It all started with an old book that told the story of Thomas Stevens, the first man to ride a penny-farthing around the world. After reading the account, my father couldn't fight the desire to follow part of this historical figure's footsteps, or, perhaps, I should say pedal strokes. It didn't hurt that my grandfather just happened to have the same model of bicycle--A Columbia 50-inch Standard--sitting in his garage.
I was just shy of 4 years  when my father began his epic journey that would take him from San Francisco to Boston. The transcontinental ride lasted 49 days and I was there for all 3,400 miles. Of course the ride was too daunting for a small child, but my mother and I had a road-trip of our own in our Volkswagen Bug. Our role was to provide my father with physical and mental support, contact local media, and set up our daily camp--we only slept in motels for 5 of the 48 nights. This early experience in my life taught me the true meaning of physical stamina and showed me how to follow one's dreams.
Not long after our trip across America, we left our home in New Mexico for the Midwest. As a young child I quickly adapted to my new home, but it was a difficult time for my mother who had never been away from her "homeland." This was a time when flying was a luxury and the long pilgrimage for her to see her family was made overland, mostly by car; but one year we took the train. Oh what an exciting experience that was for a seven year old. I remember feeling so important as we sat in the dining car being served as the cornfields of the midwest passed by our windows. Unfortunately, the return trip was filled with sorrow as my mother was once again faced with leaving her family. But as we sat on that train with the burlap sack of green chile and my purple elephant piñata on the seat next to me, I realized that a small part of home can be replicated through traditions and foods. A lesson I still carry with me as an adult.
Over time, the road trips between Indiana and New Mexico became monotonous and my desire to become autonomous  became stronger. On one of our final trips, I decided to sacrifice the company of my parents and make the journey alone in the back of our covered pickup truck. I was on my first solo adventure! Actually, I didn't make it the whole way, for the final leg across Texas I sat up front. However, for a 10 year old, two days alone in the back of a pickup felt like a huge accomplishment.
In my pre-teen years, we returned to New Mexico, but traveling didn't stop for me. As an only child, I was often sent to spend time with cousins over the holidays. It wasn't always possible for a ride to be arranged so I learned to travel by bus from Albuquerque to Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado. Even though I was introduced to the bus driver and placed at the front of the bus by a family member, I became an independent traveler by the age of 13,
My preadolescent travels notwithstanding, it  was at the age of 16 that I really decided that I wanted to see the world. I had hit a dead end at school and was not doing so well. My parents were at wit's end, and it was my father who came to the rescue. Rather than try force me into the right decision he suggested they raid their life savings and send me on a ten day school trip to Europe so  I could see what really was out there. As I sat on the Champs-Élysées eating a croissant I knew what I needed to do.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Move Continued

We hadn't slept well the night before and it wasn't because we were camping on the floor of our new flat. In fact, the first few nights, sleeping in our bags on the floor, in our new place provided a peaceful sleep. Instead, it was the anticipation of the arrival of our stuff. We weren't really anxious about getting our belongings, but we were  worried about the dramas that the day would hold. After our experiences in Adelaide, we couldn't envision the unloading of 99 boxes from a container up to the 23rd floor of a high-rise in the center of the business district as a smooth move.  However, we had been offered a glimmer of hope when the previous afternoon one of the elevators had been outfitted for a move-in--the walls and mirrors draped with thick curtains. Unfortunately, we still had some doubts about how everything would unfold.
To our relief the movers arrived right on time and they didn't seem too daunted by the task before them. Mark headed down with them to the Building Management Office to pick up a key that would give the movers solo access to one of the lifts for the day. I stayed upstairs and from high above and I watched three of the workers open the van doors and begin to unload boxes into the street. It wasn't long before Mark and the team leader appeared and the 5 men formed a huddle. I didn't need to hear the conversation to know that something was amiss. I was able to deduce a problem from the body language--flaying arms and use of cell phones. Within moments our belongings were being reloaded into the van, and Mark--with his mountain bike in tow--headed back into the building.
I was soon informed that not only had the company not applied for a parking permit but they also had failed to notify the building of the delivery. Had they done this, they would have been informed that all boxes must be brought through the garage. A garage that was too small to accommodate the size of moving van that was currently parked in front of our high-rise. Thus a ute was needed to transfer our belongings from the truck to the garage, and one would not be available until that afternoon.  So, they guys headed off to another job and we were left waiting.
A second crew arrived at 3:30 that afternoon, just 30 minutes later than our scheduled time.  With rush hour just around the corner the movers had exactly 30 minutes to unload the van before the lane they were parked in turned into a clear away zone. I could only shake my head in disbelief as I watched from my bird's eye perch boxes thrown from the truck and stacked on the crowded sidewalk. It seemed doubtful that our belongings would arrive intact. Unfortunately, with the masses of people, cars and boxes there was nothing that could be done. Mark, who was ringside, finally rolled up his shirtsleeves and joined the chaos. I was just glad I didn't have to hear the curses of those passing by.
Two young Maoris from New Zealand had been put in charge of the elevator and of delivering our belongings high into the sky. As each item passed through the door a number was called out and I checked it off the inventory list. Of course, it didn't take too long for us to have a duplicate number. When I looked up from the list I saw that the label had a different last name. Fortunately, there was a second label on the box with our name on it. Apparently our boxes were reused and no one had bothered to take off the first label. I could only wonder how many wrong numbers had been miscalled to this point.
To my surprise for the next hour things went relatively smoothly. Of course there were a few minor issues like when I went down to pick up my cherished Alice Brumby artwork and personally deliver it to the apartment; as I stepped off the elevator I found the workers surfing the moving carts down the hallway. I also suffered a bit of trauma  when I heard a loud screech as a box was drug across the floor leaving a meter long scratch on the brand new bamboo floors. But the biggest issue was the stuck elevator. At least no one was trapped inside since it is not air-conditioned and the temperatures were climbing into the upper 90's. However, it did delay the arrival of the last load of our belongings to the apartment.
By 7:00 not only had 99 items been moved from a moving truck, to a ute, to an elevator, up 23 floors and into our apartment; most the boxes were unpacked and our beds were put together. As I perused the inventory list most things that remained unchecked could be accounted for-like the parts of the beds (after all they were assembled). There was just one box called laundry that had a blank after it. It isn't like we had a whole lot in the laundry room and I could pretty much account for everything, so I put a check next to the box. I then proceeded to give each of the hot, tired and thirsty workmen a six pack of beer and sent them home. I can't express the relief I felt that it was all over.
Of course it wasn't until a few days later that we came to realize our iron was missing--wouldn't you know it, the missing laundry box. To our amazement it only took a couple of phone calls and our iron and some laundry detergent were delivered to our door--just 6 hours later than the scheduled time!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Exotic Animals Arrive In Perth

It is not uncommon for some unruly beasts to fill the streets of Northbridge, Perth. However, this past Friday night it wasn't the normal drunks that were causing havoc. Instead it was nine giant red giraffes, an overdressed opera singer, a mad ringmaster and some cheeky clowns and clumsy acrobats that were running rampant. 

The one-of-a-kind show--a fusion of street carnival, circus and opera--meandered through the streets entertaining both young and old with song, music, fire, and explosions. Unlike traditional opera this urban operetta had something for everyone.

For me a highlight of the modern art performance was the red burlesque giraffes. The 8 meter tall stilted kinetic sculptures moved effortlessly through the streets bringing exotic animal wildlife to the urban jungle.