Sunday, May 14, 2006

Peace Out, Oz

Well, this will be my last post from Australia. Since I've been here, I've naturally liked some things, and been underwhelmed by others. I've actually started keeping lists of "Where Australia gets it right" as well as "Where Australia gets it wrong." I thought I'd share them with you. A couple caveats, of course. Most of these are comparisons to life in the US, or at least my life in the US, so just because something is good/bad for me here, doesn't mean it would be for everyone. Also, these are of course generalizations and seeing as I have only been to a limited number of places for a short period of time, they probably don't apply to all of Australia or all Australians.

Where Australia Gets it Right

(This list seems like it's kind of short, especially compared to the other list, but I'm sure it will grow once I leave the country. It's always easier to see how good something was once you no longer have it.)

  • Hostels. I am amazed at how many hostels there are, how nice so many of them are, and how easy it is to find them. With a lot of the places I stayed, I'd defintiely choose there over a hotel because it had stuff like cooking facilities. Of course some were dirty, but so are a lot of hotels. It's a pretty great way to travel cheaply, and I would expect that overseas 20-somethings would be more than interested in backpacking around the US if they had the kind of options that I do coming to Australia. Are you listening tourism industry?
  • Green bags at grocery stores. Every single grocery store sells these $1 canvas bags that you can use for your groceries. They encourage you to reuse them, and people actually do! I definitely bought one and have been using it most of the time. And now I'm much more conscious of using plastic bags and plan to keep using my canvas one at home. I can't imagine how many plastic bags this saves and how much better this is for the environment.
  • "Monopoly money." I love that the bills are different colored--it makes it so much easier to go through my wallet.
  • People who travel internationally. Most Australians I've met have not only been out of the country, but have done some serious traveling out of the country. So much better than most Americans I know who have only been to Canada, and then only to drink at age 19.
  • EFTPOS (Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale). This is catching on in America--where you can pay with your debit card at the store and get cash out at the same time. But it is everywhere here, even in the middle of the outback. Plus, you can get a card to use even if you just have a savings account. Very convenient.
  • Tim Tams. These are maybe the most delicious cookies ever. It's chocolate mousse sandwiched between two chocolate cookies, and then covered in a chocolate coating. The best way to eat them is a "Tim Tam shooter" where you bite off opposite corners and use it like a straw to drink your coffee. Awesome.
  • Potato wedged with sweet chili sauce and sour cream. A delicious combination that I would never have thought of.
  • Friendly people. People are always up for a chat, and are happy to share all kinds of information and hospitality. Much friendlier than in the US, I think.

Where Australia Gets It Wrong

  • A lack of clocks. I can't seem to find a clock anywhere! In offices, hostels, on the streets, or anywhere. I guess maybe it means that Aussies are more relaxed, but that's just not working for an uptight American like myself.
  • A lack of trash cans. I can never seem to find one when I need it. This especially seems to be true on public transportation. They tell you not to leave trash on the train, but then there are no trash cans in the stations. And very few on the streets. I don't understand how the cities stay as clean as they are.
  • Skim milk only comes in small containers. I haven't been able to find more than one litre at a time, even though other milk comes in big jugs. At home I usually drink about a gallon a week, so I have been spending a lot of time in grocery stores here.
  • Terrible music on the radio and in clubs/bars. Now, I have to of course note that America's pop scene is pretty horrible as well, and a lot of the stuff on the radio is American. But I am consistently amazed to be in a bar and hear one hit wonders from 10-15 years ago--and everyone gets excited! It's like the closing hour at Rick's or Scorekeeper's all the time. Also, there is this weird thing with playing TV theme songs as pop music. Popular right now are the Baywatch theme (seriously) and the theme from the Biggest Loser.
  • Crossword puzzles. In the US, each square of a crossword puzzle covers two clues. Not so here, and I think they're like that in the UK too. But it means that I have no hope of finishing a crossword puzzle if I don't know just one of the clues.
  • A lot of people, especially in more rural areas, walk around barefoot all the time. Like on the street and into stores and things. I just don't like it.
  • In small towns, I've found that there don't seem to be a lot of street signs. There are lots of signs pointing to tourist attractions and things, but no names of actual streets! Even though the towns are only a few streets big, a few times I've just had an address and street name and can't find where I'm going.
  • Food. Okay, I saved this for last because there is a lot of say about how much I've disliked the food here, and I'm not just talking Vegemite (but I didn't like that either). My number one complaint is a lack of flavor. Perhaps this is a leftover from the British legacy, but there just doesn't seem to be a lot of flavor in anything. Except for salt. Food here is super-salty. Often you can actually see the salt on your food, and that means there's too much. I can feel my arteries hardening even as we speak. There also seems to be a big under-use of sauces. When you get ketchup ("tomato sauce"--which is usually very vinegary, even the Heinz) at a place like McDonald's they will give you one packet for your fries ("chips") and expect that to be enough. Most sandwiches come with the option of butter on your bread or nothing. The pizza I've eaten just had a couple of spoonfuls of sauce on top. And I won't even get into the chicken parmigiana debacle. That's not to say that every meal has been terrible. Things I've enjoyed have included a few restaurants in the Blue Mountains, the kangaroo steak I tried in Alice Springs, and a delicious meal in Adelaide (where I was luckily treated by locals who knew where to go and could point me to the good choices on the menu). On the updside of things, I've learned a lot more about cooking for myself.

So those are my immediate reflections on some of the good and the bad in Australia. Like I said, I'm sure there will be more later on as I am further removed from the situation. I have had a good time in Australia and seen and done a lot of once-in-a-lifetime things. I'd say my favorite part was the sailing trip in the Whitsunday Islands and my least favorite part was, no surprise, tomato planting. There are some other things I wish I could have seen, like Tasmania and parts of Western Australia, but I am ready to move on to New Zealand.

Final verdict on Australia (for now, so not actually final): A great place to visit, but I'm pretty happy living in the USA. I guess that's probably the way it's supposed to be, right?

1 comment:

Peter W said...

I agree with many of the negatives, although the food is better than you suggest (at least in the city ... the bush is another story). The lack of trash cans on stations is because they took them away through fear of terrorist attack. There was a famous incident years ago (The Hilton Bombing) where a bomb was placed in a trash can.