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November 22, 2007

Ok, I am back! Family packed off back to the UK, I now have slightly more time available. I think it was actually a pretty good effort for my 80something year-old grandparents to make the trip from England to Australia. It’s a bloody long way at any age!

We did, of course, spend a lot of time at Sydney’s tourist spots, which was actually quite a nice way to re-engage with the city. Living in any place you tend to get a little blase about its attractions so it was good to get out on the ferries, visit the beaches and do the things that in my ‘normal’ life I’d stopped doing.

Anyway, I think they were glad to have made the long trip too – I don’t think they believed that at that age they would travel to the other side of the world. My Grandad even bought a Sydney cap and a boomerang 🙂

More soon.


Take A Day Off, Get Fit

October 5, 2007

Our office in Japan is closed on Monday for ‘National Physical Fitness Day’. I think that’s great! That’s the way public holidays should be (and why you’ve got to love the wacky Japanese). My experience of Japan tells me there will really be physical fitness activities aplenty that day. If they had that here though (or the UK and US) my guess is it would become “sit on your arse, eat junk and get drunk day’.

Relevant public holidays are a much better idea. Who needs a day off for Saint Smorgastine’s day when you can take time to enjoy ‘lazy bastard Monday’ or ‘national walk to the kebab shop Tuesday’. Or how about ‘national melons day’, which was actually a real public holiday in Turkmenistan a few years back.

Any other suggestions?


The Rudest Travel Book Ever?

October 2, 2007

Not quite, but there’s a great article in the Irish Independent about Mrs Favell Mortimer’s definitive travel guide to the world. Written in the mid 19th century Mrs Mortimer had a view on pretty much everywhere and everybody. She was truly the Peter Biddlecombe of her day.

The only problem is, she’d never once left her native Shropshire!

I’ll leave you to read the full article in-situ, but here are some of Mrs Mortimer’s thoughts:

On Wales: “Though the Welsh are not very clean, they make their cottages look clean by white-washing them every year, and sometimes they white-wash the pig-sties too.”

On Norway: “The greatest fault of the Norwegians is drunkenness. They are too fond of a spirit called finkel – something like gin, only it is made from potatoes.”

On China: “It is a common thing to stumble over the bodies of dead babies in the streets. In England it is counted murder to kill a babe, but it is thought no harm at all in China.”

On Americans: “Idle and ungodly”

Note these are Mrs Mortimer’s views not mine!

I have to say, for someone who had never set foot in any of the places she wrote about, Mrs M sure seems to have either done a lot of research, or had a very active imagination (probably both).

Not entirely accurate, but pretty creative and a good read nonetheless 🙂


Beer or Whine?

September 27, 2007

A hot topic for debate here in Sydney currently is mayor Clover Moore’s proposal for more intimate ‘Melbournesque’ bars and lounges. I have to say I am in 100% agreement with her. Sydney has some reasonable cool bars and a lot of pubs, but for great little Euro-cafes, bistros, wine bars, lounge bars, supper clubs and hole-in-the-wall cool venues, Melbourne wins hands-down.

Right now, Sydney laws mean that in addition to expensive alcohol licenses, you also have to pony up for a ‘social impact analysis’ at roughly $60,000 plus associated legal fees and other nonsense. In Melbourne, a handful of virtually penniless students could open a bar in an upturned skip at the back of an alleyway. And they do. And it works.

The crusty old folk at the AHA, who seem to be stuck in some 1960s timewarp, believe that Sydney folk don’t want to have a nice glass of wine in a small quiet bistro and that large pubs with pokies and sports on TV are what us bogans really enjoy. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!

I’m glad to see that support for Ms Moore is coming from people like Neil Perry and other notable nightlife owning Sydneysiders too.

I do enjoy Sydney, but having recently returned from a trip to Grenoble in France, we need some good old Euro-chic. Bring it on Clover!


If You Can’t Take the Heat ..

September 25, 2007

I noticed that somebody (probably the owner or manager) at the Bird Cow Fish restaurant in Surry Hills took exception to my review on the Thursday Club site.

At first read I felt bad for caning them. On reflection though, I think it’s they who are missing the point. I do accept that the way we review on the Thursday Club can be somewhat flippant at times. It’s always tempting to go for the cheap laughs, and it’s easy at someone else’s expense.

But here’s what they are missing. For whatever the reason, I had a bad experience there. Happened to be noisy kids, which they couldn’t do a lot about short of ejecting them, and grumpy service – which they could easily fix. It doesn’t really matter why I didn’t like it, the point is, I chose to tell people about it. I didn’t just tell my friends, I told a bunch of strangers. In fact, I told multiple thousands of strangers (going by our web stats).

And that’s the price of entry of doing good business nowadays. Whether buying a car, taking a vacation, picking up a book or choosing a restaurant, you can read the views of potentially millions of other people prior to making your choice. There’s a huge oversupply of everything for those with the means right now. Even in the microcosm of Surry Hills, you can walk down the street and pick at least twenty or thirty alternative venues to eat. If I’d read about someone who had a similar experience to me, where do you think I wouldn’t have eaten?

I’m with Peter Sheahan on this one: if you want a seat at the business table you need to be timely, on quality and perceived good value – *pick three from three*. And then something else…

Bird Cow Fish could have said (should have said): ‘oops, sorry you had a bad experience. We pride ourselves on being a family friendly restaurant [the something else], but why don’t you come back on a xxxday night when things are a little quieter, we have some jazz and it’s a bit more grown up. We’d love to show you our bistro menu’. You get the idea.

I’m not angling for freebies, and I’m sure they really don’t give a stuff if I never darken their door again. But those hundred, thousand, ten thousand other strangers? That’s a whole different story.


Dine With the Dutch

September 10, 2007

Here’s an ‘interesting’ (and for ‘interesting’, read ‘completely nuts’) idea from those craaazzzy Dutch: why not have dinner with a Dutch person?

Crazy Dutch

Yep, if you’ve ever had a hankering to get into some fish soup with a Dutch taxi driver, or discuss politics over a Schoenlapperspudding with a suburban housewife, the above site will be right up your alley!

Maybe I’m missing the point, but having lived in Holland for a year I think I’m reasonably well placed to say that the Dutch, as friendly as they are, are also a bit, well, boring!

Give me ‘dinner with a drug lord’, ‘lunch with a loony’, or ‘meals with a Masai warrior’ and I reckon that could be kind of fun. Scary, but fun nonetheless.

Still, I guess it beats ‘breakfast with a Belgian’ 🙂


Notes From Indonesia

September 7, 2007

(having just returned from Jakarta I thought I’d write these down. Oh, and I’m not complaining, it’s generally a very friendly place with great people. Plus I did marry an Indonesian – although I’m not sure she shares all my views 😉 ):

1. Not only is the volume of traffic mental, so are the drivers of the buses, cars, vans, motorbikes, bicycles, horse-drawn carriages and every weird and wacky vehicle on Indonesian roads.

2. Much like Beijing, I have no idea how there aren’t car or bike crashes every five minutes (see 1)

3. It’s traditional for every menu in Indonesia to have at least one item unavailable. This is almost guaranteed to be the item you’d like to order.

4. No matter how many times you’ve been, getting woken up at 4:00am when the call to prayer starts will still scare the crap out of you (especially when staying right next to a mosque who found a cunning way to stick the megaphones in my window every morning).

5. Security is tight at most western hotels and shopping malls. It is, however, completely pointless so long as you stick your guns on the passengers side of the car (but don’t tell the ‘evil-doers’ that!). You probably have to experience that one to see what I mean.

6. One in three people in Jakarta seem to be employed, or appoint themselves, as some form of parking attendant…

7. .. which is actually good, as it means that despite the traffic you can normally stop right outside where you needed to be, even if you are in quadruply stacked parking and have to reverse out into four lanes of traffic madness.

8. Shopping is cheap, but be prepared to not only haggle but: have a drink, take a seat, deal with thirty different shop assistants and look at (or more likely be shown) half the stock and all the crap things they can’t shift.

9. You are more or less guaranteed to find that at least one of your cheap fake CDs/DVDs is mangled at some point on the disk. For DVDs, get them to play it in the shop first – there are two distinct types of quality (with option 1 being really bad, mostly unwatchable handheld handycam recordings from the cinema. Option 2 is normally pretty decent).

10. Shopping in the big supermarkets in Jakarta like Carrefour will surprise you (in a nice way). Puts Australian supermarkets to shame and almost made me miss living in Europe again.

11. Forget nice parks and lakes for your family outing, just stop on the side of the road for your picnic or spend your lunchtime sitting by a hole filled with trash with five hundred of your closest friends

12. There is nowhere in Jakarta where there isn’t at least one person (see 11). Doesn’t matter where you go, or what time of the
day or night. If you’re after solitude, you probably want to head elsewhere.

Luckily Indonesia has 17,508 islands for you to explore instead 🙂

I’m sure I’ll think of more, but off to bed now.

Goodnight!