Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dead as a canary...

Nate and I are squeezed into the corner of the bar at Hairy Canary. The place was packed. It is 6.45pm and the rest of our dinner party had yet to arrive. The reservation was for 7 (as usual, we were unfashionably early). The rest of the guests turned up on time but our table was still not ready. We all squeezed into the corner of the bar (seven adults and a 3 month old baby) and waited. Eventually a waiter with a shaved mohawk-mullet came over and told us that there was a mix up and that we wouldn't get a table. Instead, he offered to walk us over to their other restaurant... The Canary Club.

Hmmm...The Canary Club. The one restaurant/bar that I had vowed never to return to. The portions at this place are ridiculously small for the extremely high prices that they command. Sure, some of the offerings are quite tasty but the last time I was there, I couldn't help but feel a little ripped off forking out 11 bucks for a slice of 'grilled' watermelon. In fact, after that last dinner, I had to go home to cook myself a bowl of 2 minute noodles (and this was after spending $40 on my meal). This time round, we ordered more substantial dishes from their menu that were touted as being large enough for two to share. Given that there were seven of us eating (the baby, fortunately, had an ad libitum supply of breast milk), we decided to order 4 serves of the 'substantial dishes' and 4 tapas for good measure. The tapas arrived first. The two serves of slow cooked lamb were very tasty. The two serves of squid, on the other hand, were miserable...3 tiny pieces on each plate, propped up with a few sprigs of rocket. With seven people eyeing off the minuscule molluscs, there wasn't even enough to go around. Then came the more 'substantial' dishes for sharing. Yeah right. "Substantial" my arse. I could easily have eaten two serves on my own. Immediately after our dinner, one of the guests remarked that she was still hungry...glad I wasn't the only one.

Don't get me wrong...I don't mind spending good money on food but the food itself has to be good and it has to be satisfying. There is nothing worse than over-priced portions of wankiness served up on a bed of greens.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sunday shopping

I spent the day in search of presents for friends. It is only a few days before my departure to the US and I have a mental list of stuff I need to buy (centred mostly on toys for my friend's kids). My first stop is the Queen Vic markets, where I pick up some koalas with akubras that belt out 'waltzing matilda' when you squeeze their left foot. The chinese shop owner assures me that these are good quality toys from Australia; not the cheap chinese imports. To try to reassure me, he brings out a sorry-looking koala from under the bench which looks like it was suffering from mange. "See this", he says, tugging at the toy and yanking out clumps of faux kola fur. "This poor quality from China. You buy top quality from Australia". Yeah right. I am not entirely convinced. first of all, there was no "Made in Australia" logo. Instead, a similar shaped tag assures buyers that it was 'designed' in Melbourne, Australia. The word "Australia" was written in especially large font but the grammar on the label gives it away. Sly shop keep. I thought about exposing his scam in front of all the other mingling tourists, and telling him that what he was doing was a contravention of Australian consumer laws. Instead, I ask him if it would be cheaper if I buy two koalas and a small wombat with a similar foot-squeezing musical capability. I figure...what would my friend's kids care? A koala is still a koala and a wombat is still a wombat. And merchants have been ripping off unsuspecting tourists the world over. I was under no grand delusion. I am not a tourist and I know I am not buying Australian made. So no one was being misled in this transaction. I pay for my purchase and head home. I dropped off the toys, had some lunch and then took off to Brunswick Street to look for another baby's toy. This time, it was for a friend's baby whom I will meet for the first time later in the week. Given that sh is a local, a koala from the markets just simply wouldn't cut it. I head to the first funky shop I can see. I go in, survey the scene and gaze upon a bright yellow hand-knitted stuffed lion. That'll do. It looks like something someone's nanna would make and sell at a school fete. Nostalgic, I think. A one off. Perfect.

The warehouse

Got a call from my friend Zac on Saturday morning. He had just come back from a holiday in Thailand (lucky bastard). He asks me if I'm doing anything. I told him I would be free in the afternoon. He invites me over to check out his new pad. I accept the invitation.

Zac has just moved into a huge old warehouse, right beside a railway track near Anstey station. I get off the train and he meets me halfway. We walk back to the warehouse together and he leads me through the door and into the warehouse. I surveyed the scene before me....It was absolutely amazing. An old rusty wrought iron chandelier dangled from the ceiling in one corner. Across a wall on the opposite side, hung a series of paintings leading towards the bathroom, toilet and communal kitchen. It was like a mini art gallery. My eyes, however, are drawn back towards another wall plastered with the black and white photo of a huge palm tree , its fronds reaching up towards the 5 meter high ceiling and arching back towards the ground, beckoning visitors to enter. Zac guides me under the frond towards a doorway to the rest of the warehouse, pointing out the newly constructed bed rooms on the right that were still in various stages of completion. These belonged to the other housemates. We soon reach a space at the back corner that was a room without walls. I quickly realise this wasn't just a social get-together. Piles of wood were laid out according to size. Each had already had brackets screwed into them. The task: to build Zac's room.

I'm no good with construction. Still, despite my protests and assurances that the project would be better off without my involvement, I soon find myself bolting together lengths of wood. Zac's vision is an ambitious one. Not satisfied with vertical walls, he wants to build a dome inside the warehouse. Well...not a full dome; just a section of a dome (which is by no means an easy task). We get to work. The pieces start to fit into place like a jigsaw. Zac meticulously checks his drawings (I noticed he had earlier implemented a design on his laptop). We make do with what we have....old bits of rope to tie the structure in place as it began to take form (the idea is that it would eventually be free standing), a purple sofa and an old yellow velvet Louis-style high backed arm chair (to stand on to bolt the higher higher beams into place), and the dodgiest, most wobbly ladder you can imagine. Thank God one of Zac's other friends is an industrial abseiler and doesn't mind scaling the heights to get to those hard to reach places. By early evening, I had to leave to get ready for a birthday dinner. By then, only a mere 3 hours into our construction, Zac's vision was starting to come together. I give Zac a big hug. He thanks me for helping. I walk out the warehouse and head towards the station, eagerly anticipating the next visit to check out the finished product.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Lentils, oats and other healthy stuff

The priority this week is to start eating better. I started a few days ago at brekky with a big bowl of oats, topped with a handful of ground linseed and finished off with a couple of capsules of fish oil. Yesterday, I cooked up a huge pot of lentils which, I reckon, will set back Australia's greenhouse gas emmission targets (and keep me and Nathan regular) for at least a couple of weeks. Today I have vowed to join the hippies for lunch at the local organic food outlet. Yes folks...I have decided to eat ENTIRE meals devoid of meat. Let's see how long this one lasts...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Back in Melbourne

Arrived back home this morning on a flight that actually ran on time. The landing, however, was terrible. I think the pilot misjudged our distance from the ground and was going way too fast. In any case, the plane's wheels hit the tarmac with a huge thump and the plane kinda bounced a little. A passenger screamed and everybody became very tense as the plane started to shudder violently down the runway before finally slowing down and taking a right turn towards the airport terminal. "Well folks, we have definitely landed in Melbourne", said the flight attendant. Passengers chuckled nervously.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Weekend in Canberra

I woke up this morning to the smell of food wafting up to my bedroom from the kitchen...I love coming back to Canberra. Am up here this weekend for a birthday surprise. The wife of one of my oldest friends decided to throw a surprise party for him last night at a local pub. At 7pm, we all waited eagerly for an unsuspecting Dan as he walked through the front door of the pub. When he did, we all yelled out 'surprise' in unison. Dan smiled, gave a big wave and then headed straight to the bar. The rest of the night was spent eating and drinking and catching up. It was quite a nice crowd at the party. Dan's parents were there, along with his sister and husband. There was me and a couple of other mates from school. And then there were the folks from Dan's work...a lovely bunch of guys that get to design and play computer games for a living.

Earlier in the day, I had gone out for lunch with my folks after picking up one of my sisters from her work. We headed off to my favourite roast duck restaurant in town and ordered chicken. After dropping sis back at work, we decided to go the National Gallery to walk off the lunch. We headed up to the New Pacific Gallery to check out the display of Oceanic art. It was a nice display with some fantastic pieces. One of my favourites is a huge carved house post by the Iatmul people from the middle Sepik. The post would've originally been set into the ground on top of a human skull. It had a strong spiritual presence, as did most of the pieces in the collection. One of the most prized items there is a carving called the Ambum stone which dates back to 1500BCE from the Western Highlands of New Guinea. It was excavated in the 1960s, and bought by the gallery in the 1970s. Sometime afterwards, whilst in the gallery's possession, the stone was dropped and smashed into three pieces (I wondered what happened to the person who dropped it). It was subsequently patched up and is back on display. The conservators did a fine job...apart from a few surface marks, you cant even see the joins where it had been re-glued.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Back to the gym

After a long hiatus, my gym buddy, R, and I finally decided to get back into some weights training. R's motivation was an expanding waist line. Mine was the fear of growing man boobs.

Attempt no. 1: Late last week, we finally got our shit together, primed ourselves, and trudged over to the gym only to discover that our memberships had much for subscribing to a 'continuing membership'. On the bright side, at least neither of us had been charged for not going in the past 4 months. Since we both wanted to salary package our gym membership, this meant that we would have to postpone our first session and, feeling satisfied that we had at least spent 10 mins walking to and from the gym, happily went back to the office to fill in the paper work. Hmmm...the health check.

"Are you over the age of 65?" No.

"Do you have diabetes?" No.

"Do you have asthma?" No.

"Have you experienced pains in your heart, chest or surrounding areas?" (Ummm....define chest pain...) No.

"Do you often feel faint or have spells of severe dizziness?" (Hmmm....) No.

"Have you experienced unusual fatigue or shortness of breath?" (Doesn't everybody? Isn't that the whole point of going to the gym? ) No.

Attempt no. 2: This time we made it. After an uneventful warm up, involving the rowing machine, we moved our way around the various pieces of equipment (torture devices). We both decided that we weren't going to go hardcore. It was important to pace ourselves. So while all the other muscle-bound gym-goers were pushing and pulling the entire stack and grunting their way through their sets, R and I settled for more modest targets. After 45 mins, we had had enough (it was all about the pacing). And besides, R had a meeting and my left knee was feeling kinda dodgy. And so it quickly as it had begun, our first session was over.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The spectacles

I feel really awkward going to the optometrist and buying new frames. My problem is that it is near impossible for me to pick out frames that I like. Sure, they look good in the hand (when I have my existing prescription glasses on) but when I go to put them on my face, I have difficulties seeing how they look and I end up feeling rather silly with my nose up to the mirror trying to compensate for my short-sightedness. The bloody sales people are useless. Talk about conflict of interest. I often get the impression that they are trying to exploit our visual impairments by recommending the most hideous frames in their stores. And what is it with sales people that are not, themselves, visually challenged? What about maintaining (at least) a perception that the sales person actually knows what they are doing?

Salesman: "What are you looking for?"

Me: "Something with thicker rims"

Salesman: "Try these. They're rimless."

Me: "Oh. Ok.... How do they look?"

Salesman: "Great. They sit very well on your face."

Me: "What about these ones?" (pointing to the style that I was actually thinking of).

Salesman: "Ahhh...Yes... they actually look better"

The yum cha strategy

The problem with yum cha on a Sunday at The Sharkfin House is not the impossibly long queue of eager patrons blocking the sidewalk. No. The problem is the positioning of your table vis a vis the main kitchen and the other diners (herein refered to as "the competitors"), as well as the circuitous route taken by the waitresses as they push their food-laden trolleys around the restaurant. On Sunday, we were seated up in the mezzanine level with all the white folks. This, of course, meant that we were automatically offered a pot of 'generic' jasmine tea. It also meant a long wait for all the 'good' stuff as waitress after waitress attempted to unload spring rolls, chicken salad, and fried wontons onto our table. No thanks... It was the steaming bamboo-ladened trolleys that we were eagerly awaiting. Eventually they arrived and we had to nervously watch as the competitors from nearby tables first made their selection. The bamboo steamers were disappearing fast. I have noticed in the past that some, particularly sneaky and insidious, competitors would actually approach the trolleys rather than wait their turn at their table. Bastards. Queue jumpers. Totally un-Australian. Fortunately there were none of those yesterday. After an anxious wait, the trolleys finally arrived at our table, and I went crazy. Like a man possessed, I picked two serves of everything on offer (dumplings came in multiples of 3 and there was four of us). Our table was soon packed. Little steamers brimming with glorious, succulent morsels of dim sum, chicken feet and pork spare ribs occupied every inch of available space on the table and then some (thank God the steamers are stackable). As soon as we emptied one steamer, it was quickly replaced by another. And so it went; on and on for a full two hours...eating, waiting, watching and only half listening to the conversation at the table as I eyed off the competitors and the next approaching trolley. To some, yum cha is a relaxing, care-free and mindless way to enjoy lunch on a sunday. Ignorant fools.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Nigerian Prince

Nate's got a friend, P, who has been chatting online with a guy from Nigeria who claims to be a prince. It now seems that the Nigerian Prince wants to come over for a visit and wishes to stay in P's apartment (God knows'd think the prince would be staying at a plush 5 star hotel). P's flatmate is not terribly impressed. I think he is probably worried that Nigerian prince might turn out to be a Nigerian scammer. Still...P reckons she knows best. "I'm not stupid. It's not like I just met him", she says "we've been chatting for 3 f*cking months".

Game on

Went to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image last night to check out the exhibition Game On. The queue to get tickets was longer than any exhibition I had been too in recent memory and there was definitely a disproportionate number of geeky-looking guys waiting in line. The exhibition was highly interactive....basically a bunch of games consoles for people to play with (in a scene reminiscent of a video games arcade). Lack of hand-eye coordination, however, ruled me out from all but the most rudimentary of games. There was definitely a flashback to early childhood.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Waterfront and cocktails

My cousins are visiting from Sydney. They decided to take the scenic drive down the east coast of Australia and reached Melbourne at 1.30 am on Wednesday. I guess it wasn't terribly scenic after all... driving in the dark. I left them to their own devices during the day and caught up with them for dinner. It's been ages seen I last hung out with them... in fact, I hadn't seen my cousins since mardi gras in Sydney last year when I ended up ditching mardi gras to go and eat steak at Kingsleys.

I decided to take them to the Waterfront on Southbank last night which does a pretty satisfying 900 gram aged rib eye plus tons of fresh seafood. The only downside to that restaurant was the staff. The maitre'd is a surly indian man who looks like one of the many barramundi swimming around in the fish tank at the front of the restaurant...He seems to have a perpetual frown on his face and I am now beginning to suspect that he may lack the pivotal facial muscles needed to smile. Normally the wait staff are much nicer but we ended up with an overly pushy asian guy who insisted on pouring me a glass of wine that I didn't want to drink....I felt like clobbering him with the giant king crab sitting on the front counter (though, at $85 per 1/2 kilo, it was a temptation I decided to resist). Fortunately, the meal was as delight.

Afterwards, we headed across the CBD to the Sofitel hotel for drinks. I had never been to the Sofitel before and it was plush, plush, plush. Wow! Talk about a view. And that's just from the toilets! Wall to ceiling glass beside the urinals made for a rather interesting peeing experience. The cocktails at the bar weren't half bad either.

By the time we had finished checking out the toilets and consuming our beverages at the bar, it was already quite late. There were no more trams in service so we decided to stroll back across the city. All in all, it was a rather pleasant way to spend a Wednesday night.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

G'day USA

A little under a month left before I head off to the US. It'll only be a fleeting visit this time (off to a conference on the east coast). Will be travelling to Boston beforehand to catch up with some friends. Am looking forward to seeing the city now that the 'big dig' is over. The last time I was there, it looked like a giant construction site. Cant wait to get into my first big bowl of clam chowdahhhhh's been 4 years. Mmmm...creamy clammy goodness.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Storm in a tea cup?

Looks like the whole 'child exploitation versus art' debate is back in the limelight thanks to an apparently controversial picture of a naked child on the cover of Art Monthly Magazine. The picture was taken several years ago by a female photographer of her then six year old daughter (now 11) and has been exhibited previously. Where was the outcry then? I do wonder if we'd be having this same debate in countries that have a much more comfortable (and less sexualised) view of nudity than our own. Take Finland as an example where mums, dads and kids would often have saunas together as a family...naked. Imagine the outcry if that were to happen here. I think this debate exposes as much about the way we sexualise nudity as it does about what constitutes art, consent and the rights of the child against sexual exploitation.

The weekend that was

It hit me quite late in the afternoon yesterday that the weekend was already coming to an end. Bugger. I certainly could have done with an extra day to recuperate and mentally prepare myself for the working week ahead. As planned, Nate and I spent Saturday night at different birthday gatherings at opposite ends of town. Nate headed off to a 21st. I attended a 31st. His was at Hoppers Crossing. Mine was at Claypots in St Kilda. I don't think I've ever eaten as much seafood in my life in a single sitting (and that's saying a lot). The food just kept coming to our table...prawns, mussels, crab, and various kinds of fish. It was sad to see a lot of it go to waste because we couldn't physically fit any more down our gullets! The company was great too. I met the birthday boy's step kids for the first time. These are amazingly well adjusted children. Not only are they completely cool about having two dads but they have got to be some of the most intelligent young people I have ever met. And not at all shy like I used to be when I was their age. After consuming (as best we could) a seemingly never-ending barage of seafood, the dinner party went home, some of the guys went off to the Laird while the remainder (myself included) headed off for some drinks at a quiet bar/cafe nearby. I was in bed by 2am. Spent Sunday catching up with friends from Canberra that had just moved to Melbourne (minus most of their belongings which was still in the ACT thanks to a delivery truck break down). Took them to the dodgy but delicious Melbourne institution off Little Bourke Street, The Shanghai Dumpling. I think the ex-Canberrans were suitably impressed by the food and will no doubt be regulars. Made ham and pea soup for Sunday dinner and settled into the couch to watch my very first episode of Dexter.

Friday, July 4, 2008

I should be so lucky...

According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald today, the RSPCA recently confiscated a lobster, a silver perch and two abalone from a chinese restaurant that had closed down. The lobster has now been given a home at the Sydney Aquarium and has been given the name of Lucky. Lucky indeed. If it was up to me, it would have ended up on a dinner plate, smothered in garlic butter. Mmmm...lobster.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Bring on the weekend

What a terribly uneventful week it has been. Work has been busy but not very exciting. I guess the last minute decision to go to Michael Kirby's talk on Tuesday night was probably the only highlight. I'm looking forward to the weekend though. A friend of a friend (and now a friend in his own right) is having a birthday dinner at St Kilda on Saturday night. Should be fun. Both he and his partner are super nice people (this despite the fact that both came from NZ). The very first (and last) time I went to the Laird was actually on Jono's bucks night many many months ago. It is not a venue that I will forget anytime soon (I have never before seen so many big hairy gay guys standing around drinking beer in the one place). Dinner at a seafood restaurant on saturday night should be relatively tame by comparison....I think.