Thursday, July 2, 2009

Down Under Times volume II

(See: Back from the Memory Hole for an explanation of why these are posted now...)

Down Under Times Volume II
February 2001
All the news that no one really needs to know, but is going to hear anyway!

The Big Experiment
Ok, all you budding scientist wannabes, here's your chance to perform an experiment right in your own home! This will either prove or disprove the one central question everyone in the US wants an answer to: Which way does water flow down the drain in the Southern Hemisphere? First, however, beware the danger of spoiling this experiment by using the toilet - this will prove nothing as water is forced a certain direction both in the US and in Australia.

The proper conditions for this experiment are simply an empty sink or tub filled several inches with water (more tends to work better than less), and no people, animals or other paraphernalia cluttering the water. Then pull the plug and watch the result! Here in the Southern Hemisphere, water flows clockwise as it empties down the drain in our bathtub. Perform your own experiment and email the results to us - I must admit to having no idea how water flows down the drain back home!

The school year got off to a somewhat rocky start for us, primarily because Tommy missed the first three school days with a bad fever and cough. This was complicated by the broken arm he suffered while falling out of a gum tree in the company of Dave's new principal, just days before the school year began! The rumor at my school was that the principal pushed Tommy out of a tree - luckily the principal has a healthy sense of humor!

Sophie had a great start to the year, has a very nice teacher, "Mr. V.", made several good friends right away, and is currently reading well beyond her grade level here. Of course, nothing compares quite like teachers and friends at home, but so far school has worked out quite well for her in this first month.

Tommy is stretching himself now that he is back in school. He was just elected to the Junior School Council by his class, and has joined the school choir. He will also be participating in a special choir that is organized for the centennial anniversary of Australian Federation, and will be performing several concerts at the Melbourne Concert Hall, right in downtown Melbourne. We are all excited about the prospect of our little Yankee singing to celebrate Australian Federation!

Kate is enjoying more time in school with the kids, and if it were up to the kids' teachers, she would be there full-time! She helps with Sophie's class in reading three times a week, and has just been asked to be the lead room parent for Tommy's class, as well. In addition, she has met several nice parents who have invited her to join a book club and to go walking here in the hills several times a week. Next up is joining a gym to work out together, or taking a class or two in a continuing education course.

Dave has had a bit of a tough transition, but things are beginning to settle down now. Since developing the course four years ago, he has been used to teaching one course (Civics) to five classes of kids every day, all week long. Additionally, he has one classroom decorated as he sees fit to create as enriched an environment as possible, and the kids come to him in that room.

Now, he is teaching (kind of) eighth, ninth and tenth grade English (remember that he is not an English teacher!), eleventh grade history and an eighth grade geography / history combined class. To complicate matters further, none of these classes comes with a syllabus or course outline, so he is basically free to do what he chooses - not a bad situation if you are familiar with the content of the courses, but somewhat stressful if you're out of your element! Five different courses are not terribly unusual here, and teachers travel to MANY different rooms as well, just like students. He currently travels around campus to five different rooms, some of which are simply portable rooms set off from the main campus about 1/8 mile. Quite a change from the stability of home, but then if he wanted everything the same, he could have stayed home!

Nasty Bugs
Well, it had to happen. We saw our first Huntsman spider recently. Fortunately, it was not in our house. The Huntsman is described by everyone here as a "friendly" spider, whatever the heck that means. It can grow to be as big as the outstretched hand of an adult male (human male, that is), and while not poisonous, it can deliver something of a bite. This particular specimen was sitting pleasantly, minding its own business, on the hinge side of a doorjamb. The impulse was to immediately smack it with the closest available shoe, or to close the door effectively terminating the bugger. However, we had also been warned that due to their size, they make quite the mess when smashed inside the house.

Given that we were not in our home, and not in the mood to upset our hosts by leaving a huge slimy mess, we instead opted for a run through the house, not quite screaming, for some helpful assistance. Our hostess resolutely came armed with the ever-helpful washcloth, simply covered the poor creature with it (before it could scitter away), and closed it around his extra large body, to be carted out into the garden to live yet another day. Australia does not have capital punishment on the books, but as we are not Australians, when it comes to spiders in the home, we will enthusiastically engage in such behavior!

New Friends
It just so happens that while we were meeting our first nasty bug here in Australia, we were also meeting some wonderful new friends. The International Teachers Association puts together several weekends throughout the year so those of us from abroad may gather and see some wonderful Australian sites, and at the same time stay in the homes of some wonderful Australian people. We spent a great weekend staying in the home of Russell and Anne Ogden and their two boys (James, 10 and Tim, 8). They are both teachers, and had spent a year in Scotland on exchange several years before.

The kids really hit it off and we spent a pleasant weekend exploring the town of Inverloch. We hiked a 7-kilometer walk along the beautiful shores of the Mornington Peninsula - fantastic scenery, and Russell (being the science teacher that he is) informed us that while the shoreline covers only 2% of Australia's coast, it has 14% of its marine life. It was truly magnificent.

My first Breath-a-lyzer
OK, it sounds bad on the surface, but let me say this right off the bat - this is routine here. Upon our return from the wonderful weekend in Inverloch, Dave drove several friends home that had travelled with us. As he was driving along, singing along with ABBA or some such drivel, he calmly noticed a long line of police squads, lights blaring, along his side of the divided highway. They were in the process of squeezing traffic to one side of the road, where they proceeded to give absolutely everyone a breath test, ten at a time.

Now, we were prepared for this. We had read long before we left the US that Australian police regularly perform random breath tests for anyone who happens by, and that you are required to perform said test or risk losing your license. It actually was quite a fascinating experience, giving up privacy rights so easily. He pulled the big red bus over to the side of the road (he was driving Rowan's car, a Nissan Patrol - kind of like a Pathfinder - from about 1993, diesel, and a five speed!), and submitted his private air to the Victorian police. As he waited to "blow green" (or whatever the phrase is back home), he asked this 20-something officer if he had any literature on the topic of random stops and breath tests. He blushed and laughed, and said no. He told the officer we don't often conduct these kinds of operations in the states, and he just laughed again (maybe embarrassment?) and let him go on his way.

Depending upon where you are in the US, this may or may not be common practice, or even legal, but as the saying goes "When in Rome, do what the police say and get help later", or something to that effect.

A Language Barrier?
Here's a test: "Put some sausage rolls and a dead horse in an esky, throw them in the boot along with some jaffles and tinnies, and you'll be right!" If you can adequately translate this sentence, then "Good on ya, mate", you are a closet Australian! It is fun and interesting to hear the constant accent and how people play with words here, and even more fun and interesting to play along. Now, no American should work too hard trying to sound like the Crocodile Hunter or Mick Dundee. All you will get for your efforts is laughter at your expense. It is, however, mildly entertaining to respond to a clerk at the grocery store with a hearty "G'day mate!" and then remain silent for the rest of the transaction, until you can mutter a quick "No worries" under your breath as you leave. Fun with language!

While we're at it, there are some rather peculiar things about the spoken version of English here that our American friends might also find intriguing, for example:

* Students in school don't study math, they study "maths".
* Sports fans pay attention to the news for updates on "the cricket", not just cricket.
* If you are injured while playing the cricket and can't study maths, you should "go to hospital", not to the hospital.

Web Page Update
Our plan to have a web page going to post pictures and other fun anecdotes didn't go as expected, although we're still working on it. We're hoping to have it up and running sometime in the next few weeks, so hopefully you can check out some of the cool photos of us in really cool places!

Well, that's all for this month. Hope to hear from any and all of you sometime in the near future, and don't forget to email us the results of your experiment! (By the way, Aussies don't call the movement counter-clockwise, it's called "anti-clockwise".)

Oh yeah, I almost forgot - here's the translation of the puzzling statement from above: "Put some sausage rolls and tomato sauce (aka ketchup) in a cooler, throw them in the trunk of your car along with some sandwiches (that are sealed in a press and toasted) and some cans of beer, and you'll be all set!" Isn't Australian English fun??

Ooroo for now!

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