. Posted at 7:50 pm on April 5th, 2005
Warning: This e-mail, like Lou Ferrigno, is bigger than big. It’s huge.
I’d like to extend a warm thanks to all those who wished me a happy birthday. I’m not really a big believer in the hocus-pocus, but somehow it worked. Your wishes came true and I had a most wonderful Birthday. We went to the beach and played a little sand rugby, which was light hearted, good natured and a heckuva lota fun. Before that, my housemates brought out two delicious chocolate cakes – and they did a bang-up job on the Batman/Superman emblems. As a man who has doodled quite a few of those over the years, I was impressed. Then I got my gifts – a copy of The Australian (a kicking Aussie newspaper), and a sampler of the best root beer in Australia. I also got that pair of $6 Aviator sunnies that are in all the pictures and make me look soroguishly handsome. Or is it handsome rouge?
My Fam also sprung out and got me what didn’t know I needed: a website. So if you’ve got some time, head on over to joshuastravels.com. It’s not much more than a photo-dump (who’s ready to see more pictures of Josh in front of things?) right now, but in time it’ll be the best little website ever. Hopefully I’ll be able to stop clogging up your inbox and you’ll be able to read these very words on the site.
Speaking of the sampler I got, we’re going try something. On my part, I’m going to stop saying what a responsible drinker I am. Sure I have my fun, but at the end of the day I’m about twice as sensible with the ‘ol cough medicine as any twenty year old should be. And on your part, you’re going to promise not to flip out if happen to see any bottles in any of the pictures I post, okay? Groovy.
The concert was awesome. Loved the Jack. His opening acts, G. Love and Special Sauce followed by Xavier Rudd (an Aussie that plays like seven instruments at once, including the dij(eridoo]. And OMG, Jack was awesome. He played for almost two hours and it was great. I almost passed out from excitement when the whole building sang “posters” from his first album. I was about a foot from the stage and maybe eight feet from the man with the guitar. I wasn’t the only one that loved him, either. It took the girls behind me about 40 minutes to take all my feminist, non-objectification-of-women theories back to square one. I wasn’t comfortable hearing half of what they yelled, so I won’t even think about repeating it.
The original plan was to hit up Hobart, Tasmania the day after the concert, but life rolls and you’ve got to roll with it. So the concert ended at midnight and I left for the train to Sydney at 4AM, with no sleep and the Jack still raging through my system. The last couple of pictures in the “birthday_Jack_etc” section are of me, pre-concert. I didn’t take my camera to the concert because that’s just dumb. The picture with the “6” in it is my new door decoration, courtesy of somethingawful.com. It’s a parody of a public service ad and I love it. Also in that sub-section are pictures of me with my mate’s Cricket bat, pictures of me with another mate in our national-pride shirts, and a picture of me with Emily Hillerman. She’s the only other Trumaner to make it to the southern hemisphere, I dropped her an e-mail and we met up for pizza.
So, after I got off the train in Sydney, I hopped it to the Domestic terminal, where I flew out to Melbourne. Melbourne had a Euro-vibe to it and totally rocked. The Queen Victoria Market’s almost came close to rivaling Portland‘s Saturday Market. I saw the US Consulate (Embassies are technically US soil, so they’re only in capitals. Consulates are basically the same thing), the House of Parliament and the garden where the hung Ned Kelly (the Aussie’s own homegrown Robin Hood). There’s also a picture of me with three girls about my age. The conversation with them went something like this:
Me: “excuse me, could you point me towards Federation Square”
Them: “sure <looking at the map>.. [are you] from Canada then?”
“no, no, Los Angeles, actually. And you guys?”
“Unbelievable. I go to Truman [Sate University]”
And it took me about ten minutes to convince them. But in the end, we wound up doing the one thing there was left to do at that point: take a picture.
This is also a good time to illustrate my slow progression toward major cities. Initially, when asked, I’d tell people I’m from Portland, Oregon. It’s a fairly big city (bigger than, say, Troutdale) and I figured most people would know where it was. When they didn’t, I started saying Seattle. And now I’m on LA, except when I say “LA” it sounds a lot like how Aussies pronounce Adelaide (duh-lay). So now I’m on Chicago, but that won’t last. I just know I’ll leave Australia telling people I’m from New York.
So the Fitzroy suburb or Melbourne was pretty rocking and so was Chinatown. The Lt. Collins and Collins streets run parallel and are right next to each other, which I thought merited a picture. Incidentally, all Aussie cities will have an Elizabeth St, no matter how small. Just like all US cities will have a MLK or JFK boulevard, or both.
I also visited a little place called Batman Park, which made the whole semester abroad twice as great. It’s named for John Batman, who discovered the Yarra river and founded Melbourne (the city was initially called “Batmania”), but I like to think that John Batman was named after some rodent. Some rodent that flies. And sometimes, when I’ve had a lot of sugar, I like to think that John Batman might’ve been Bob Kane’s inspiration for creating the Dark Knight.
I got on down to Phillip Island, where every night a whole bunch of penguins come out of the water and onto the land. They were neat-o and looked like a bunch of cockroaches swarming around. I don’t have any pictures because they’re strict about the no-flash, but I did snap a few of the little birds below the walkway and of the animals we saw on the trip down. We saw some crazy animals on the trip down: the coo-coo-burgh-ah, a bird that sounds like the laugh right before the song “Wipeout.” Those little things are hilarious. The Gippsland worms are pretty wack, too.
After three days in Melbourne, I’d decided I’d had enough and high-tailed it to Adelaide. Now there’s a song by Warren Zevon called “Mr. Bad Example.” And in the song, Zevon sings “14 hours later I was down in Adelaide / looking through the want ads, sipping Foster’s in the shade.” I realize that’s a song nobody’s heard of by an artist nobody’s heard of and I don’t think I’m cooler or indie-er than anyone, but Zevon rocks socks.
Anyway, I bet you can guess what I did roughly 14 hours after I touched down. I found a paper, a Foster’s, some shade, and somebody to take the picture. It’s hard to find Foster’s in the Great Down Under, too. When you ask for it, they laugh at you and tell you to try a real Aussie beer, like Victoria Bitter (VB) or Toohey’s. Or they laugh at you and tell you, in the voice they reserve for obnoxious Americans and the mentally disabled, that Foster’s is their export beer because it’s so bad that they make the Kiwis (New Zealanders) drink it.
Saw an Aussie Rules Football game, too. It was the opening game of the season and boy howdee, was that was an experience – the first time I’ve ever seen a busy or rude Australian (he got pretty steamed when I didn’t understand the system of lining up to get into the stadium). I won’t even try to explain it. Gleneg beach, right outside Adelaide, was pretty schweet, too. In conclusion, Adelaide is prolly the place I’d live, if I was Australian. But I won’t try to snag Permanent Residenceship there, because the Australians seem to have a problem recognizing my unalienable right to bear arms. They’ve got some of the strictest gun control laws in the world.
So after Adelaide, I was off to Tasmania. But before that, one sour note: I had a free day Wednesday, where I was stuck in Sydney for about 10 hours. Being the studious person I am, I took off to the library and got some work done, planning to nap in the airport until my early early flight. I returned to the airport, than got kicked out a half hour later when it closed. What kind of first world country has an airport – in its major city, nonetheless- that closes? So I caught the last train to Sydney proper and scrounged for a hostel. I checked seven, and they were all booked. It was Easter weekend, you see. I couldn’t have bought a bed for $200. I thought about bumming it in a park, but I’ve read way to much Batman to be comfortable with sleeping on city streets between 11PM and 3AM, so I took a cab back the airport to see if maybe I could sleep by the doors or something.
Bottom line: after 7 days of frugal backpacking, only paying for what I need and staying hungry, life hit me upside the head with a fairly large cab fare I shouldn’t have paid anyway and a cold, cold night hiding from security, sleeping on the cold asphalt between terminals and the car park. That is not a recipe for a happy Josh. Karma owes me big.
Tassie was pretty sweet though. Hobart was very Oregon-ish; very protective of its great outdoors and very, for lack of a better word, “weird.” I saw Port Arthur, which was the Alcatraz maximum-security prison of Australia and reserved for the baddest of the bad convicts. It was a pretty rough place, but it was also where they started a lot of the “rehabilitation” stuff. It was the first time anyone tried to teach a con a trade so they wouldn’t have to steal, that sort of thing. Smith O’Bryan, an Irish journalist revolutionary lived in a cottage at Port Arthur, too. He was pretty much allowed to do whatever he wanted, except leave. As a self-proclaimed revolutionary journalist myself, I thought that was pretty darn cool. The ride to PA was neat-o, too. We stopped and saw some beautiful parts of Tasmania – Devil’s Kitchen and stuff like that.
It was only a day trip, though. Back in Hobart proper, I ventured out to the carnival-thing “10 Days on The Island” with a few fellow backpackers. There I saw this Hula Girl perform. She must’ve been hula hoping 25 hoops around her stomach, and then she had diagonal ones from both shoulders, still rotating. Then she kicked a leg straight out and hooped there, too. All at the same time, and in a crazy rhythm. It was indescribable and by far the most aswesomest thing I’ve seen in Australia yet.
A friendly word of advice: should you ever run into a Tasmanian, never insinuate that they aren’t part of the mainland. They take moderate offense to that. Finally, it looks like Emelia Udd (one of those women in my life that defies classification – confident, best friend, cohort-in-crime and a list of other descriptors) is the only person who is taking me up on my offer to come visit me in Australia. I won’t end with anything fancy, it’s now 1900 words since I said “thanks for wishing me happy birthday” and I’m sure you’ve got more important things to do.
Josh Van Helsing
PS – Please forgive mistakes, this e-mail was scrunched between assignments. I figured it was better imperfect than never.