Big Question Marks

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Culture Sponges

To kick off Adrian's mid-semester break, we figured it was about time to get a little culture. The Gold Coast is beautiful and all, but we're realizing more and more that we're truly city people. And although many people call the Gold Coast a "city", we'll argue that a place without museums, an art scene, live concerts, intriguing bars and cafes (in our opinion at least), a Chinatown, or any old buildings just isn't really a city. Lucky for us, Brisbane, Queensland's capital city, is only about an hour and a half away by train. So we hopped on the train early Easter Saturday, and made a beeline for Brissie's museums and skyscrapers.

Actually, Brisbane isn't entirely new to us — we visited Brisbane 3 or 4 times on our last Australia trip, but only to visit people, dash to the airport, or run exciting errands like filing tax returns. And just the week before Easter (this year), we actually ended up in Brissie by accident, when we took a wrong turn on the highway on the way to a farmers' market with our friend Tim, and ended up downtown. But this day was our first of our real exploring — grabbing a map and soaking it all up, just like sponges.

Brisbane's CBD was totally what we were craving: oooold ornate buildings (OK, not Europe-old, but Australia-old!), stately downtown shopping malls, stores selling cufflinks and high-end men's business clothes, pedestrian streets, and people everywhere! In a flash, we'd found a camera shop selling a Canon battery charger I was having one hell of a time sourcing in Oz, Starbucks frappuccinos, and signed a petition against animal testing. We soon reached the Brisbane River, a wide ribbon of water that loops through the city centre (and can be credited with some of the flood footage you would have seen back in January). Crossing over the bridge to Southbank, the views were pretty awesome, and we tried to imagine what it was like when the river was carrying boats and pontoons swiftly out to sea...

We'd heard great things about the "21st Century: Art in the First Decade" exhibition, which was about to close at the Gallery of Modern Art (aka the GoMA). It was a totally unique exhibit, and so cool to see some work by great present-day artists, as we're usually looking back at artists from previous decades and centuries, even. We only wished we had two days to spend wandering the exhibition, which was a collection of works by present-day artists from all around the world. Highlights included a massive 'cloud' of plastic shopping bags (Pascale Marthine Tayou, Cameroon), a cardboard-box installation, a piece by exiled Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, and a performance by an "iPhone Orchestra" (seriously!). A lot of it was really interactive, like a huge table of skyscrapers made of white Lego being constantly rebuilt into new forms; Rivane Neuenschwander’s (of Brazil) I wish your wish had visitors making wishes on paper and swapping their wish for someone else's wish, which was printed on ribbon and hung on a huge wall (somehow we both ended up choosing "I wish to travel through time and space"); a postcard sending project, and all kinds of other cool concepts and ideas. And it was all free! [Sadly, I don't think we would never find an exhibit this good — and free — at the AGO in Toronto!]

We still had a few big things on the to-do list, and kept wandering. Turns out Southbank is a pretty great place to hang out — there were tons of people out at the huge park along the river, which was almost finished from the post-floods fix-up. The Southbank Markets were really cool — full of way better arts/crafts/fashion than you'd see at the Surfers Paradise night markets each week, for sure. And there were so many great spots to stop and have a snack or a beer! We were introduced to Fat Yak ale and we're big fans since...

As it got dark, we found ourselves crossing the river again, this time ending up in the Botanical Gardens, where we met an interesting fellow that gave us a good rundown of what those flood days were like, pointing out scraps of plastic bags and debris still in trees. As we started to get really hungry for dinner, we found ourselves totally lost in a part of the map that looked fairly ordinary — reminding us of our least favourite part about Australian cities: street names often change by the block and there's absolutely no grid or logic to the majority of the urban planning. We ran into a Kiwi couple in the same boat as us, and somehow found our way to Fortitude Valley, where the plan was to have a nice-ish dinner (too hungry- went for Grill'd burgers!) and check out the nightlife (Adrian was promptly turned away from a bar because he was wearing shorts!). But anyway, it was a long and eventful day where we got a good taste of Brisvegas. And little did we know, we'd be back two days later to have some Anzac Day beers — with a lot of sailors! — under the massive Storey Bridge, at the Storey Bridge Hotel. It's certainly no New York, but it'll definitely do for an urban fix while we're living down in Gold Coast!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Adventures in Snoopville

If anyone's wondering where Snoop Dogg is right now, don't worry, we've found him. Yes, just in case you're wondering, he's just hanging out Southport.

I learned this after finding myself in a totally new part of Gold Coast yesterday, attending to an appointment in the nearby suburb of Southport. Until now, Southport — which is a little north of us and just inland of the ocean — was just a place with a big shopping mall (Australia Fair) that the bus careens through on its way to Griffith University.

Southport is Gold Coast's main business area, and if you don't look across the lagoon (the inland waterway that known as "The Broadwater") at Sea World, is totally absent of the touristy vibe of Surfers Paradise. At 3:30 in the afternoon, the streets and the mall are filled with uniformed schoolkids, skateboarders, and office workers in collared shirts and heels. With low buildings and street-level shops lining the sidewalks, and benches positioned under big leafy tropical trees, it's got a bit of a tropical country town feel to it. Then throw in a dash of urban America — think vacant storefronts and lots of bargain warehouse shopping and a few hoodlumish types hanging about... and you've got Southport. Think Cairns, Australia crossed with Buffalo, New York (and maybe throw in a dash of Tully, QLD for that true tropical country-town feel). It's a weird place.

Fast-forward to 6pm: I'm in the moisturizer aisle of Chemist Warehouse, trying to make a choice amidst the endless shelves of skin products, when I catch a snippet of conversation from the pharmacy counter:

"So, really, you just saw Snoop Dogg? Like where?"
"Yeahhhhh, he was just here."
"Here in Southport? But where? What was he like in person?"
"Yeah, they've been talking about him a lot on the radio lately..."

That's when my brain interrupted with a whole lot of "Huh? Snoop Dogg? Really? Here in Southport? Wait, which moisturizer was I just looking at?" and unfortunately accidentally tuned out all the good stuff of the conversation (if there was any). And that's when my internal paparazzi grabbed hold, made my purchases for me, and led me out onto the street. First I saw a group of teenagers in cornrows and big t-shirts gathered in a group — aha! Snoop must be in there somewhere. I walked by very slowly and it turned out they were just gathered around a cell phone that was playing music.

And then I saw Happy High Herbs, a shop which I'd passed by earlier. Eureka! Where else would Snoop Dogg hang out? I reached the shop and peered inside, getting my camera ready.... and saw a lot of rainbow, and a couple of hippies. Strike two!

I started to think perhaps I had imagined the whole Snoop Dogg conversation as I wandered a bit more through the now-creepy streets of Southport in the dark, and decided to call it quits on my futile search. Because, thinking about it more in depth, I started to wonder why someone like Snoop Dogg would come to the bustling metropolis that is Southport.

But as soon as I got home, internet sleuth Adrian was on the case. And fo' shizzle... Snoop is in the neighbourhood! Just check out his tweets and the local news. Apparently he was just doing a little bit — $25,000 worth — of shopping. At least the Aussie government let him in this time. (Thanks Russell Crowe!) Well, maybe we'll run into him today instead.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Other Reason

Wow, more than a month has passed now since we made our big move to the Gold Coast, and it is still pretty great. We've probably droned on about the beach enough to make you all roll your eyes and make pukey faces, and whenever people ask us the reason we made the move, we'd still probably answer, "the beach," or perhaps "the warm climate". But, in case any of you are on the fence right now, thinking hard about relocating somewhere warm, we've got another, very awesome reason for you. The fruit!

Yes, over the past few weeks we've been enjoying the most delicious, perfect avocados we've ever seen. And these are apparently the "battered" ones, the cyclone survivors. Sadly, Australia lost a massive amount of produce during all the weather disasters during the past few months. It's probably an awful time to be a farmer here — but then again, is there ever a good time to be a commercial farmer in this crazy country?

We're not sure how much an avocado used to cost in the grocery stores here — it's between $1.50 and $1.78 an avocado at the moment — but it's worth it for our new favourite breakfast — avocado and tomato, with cheese melted over top on an English muffin. Yum! And we've been spending a lot of time drooling over recipes on this website.

Bananas are another story. Delicious as they are, it's pretty hard to pay $12.98 a kilogram for bananas when we remember them being more like 49 cents a pound back in Canada (just over $1/kg). There's a touching little notice posted next to the outrageous banana price signs at both of our local supermarkets, explaining how most of the country's banana crop was wiped out from Cyclone Yasi, but we should keep buying what's left and do our part to help Aussie farmers. And of course, these bananas can't compare to the bargain ones shipped across the entire continent of North America while still green, and sprayed with gases to ripen at just the right time on the truck. But still...

So when we found cute little lady finger bananas for sale at a stall at the local Carrara Markets this past weekend for $6 a kilo, we were stoked! They looked a little beat up so we didn't buy very many — even though the lady at the booth assured us we shouldn't worry about the deep black scrapes in the peel, which were "left by the flying foxes" (or bats, to our Canadian readers). But now we're wishing we bought enough to fill a backpack! These lady finger bananas are tasty little things... and the lady at the market was right — the marks were purely surface blemishes. And the other amazing thing about these bananas is that they were grown in Tweed Valley, only 50 km south of where we live. Forget eating apples all winter because it's all we've got while the fields and the trees are buried under the snow. If there was ever a good time and place to try out the 100-Mile Diet, subtropical Queensland would be it! If you're looking for us this weekend, we'll probably be at a farmer's market somewhere. Or maybe imagining up new avocado recipes.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Third Time's a Charm?

Today began in the best way imaginable — with a little surfing! While Adrian headed off to school, flatmate Julie and I decided to brave the waves before getting to our daily business. And even though our flatmates both own surfboards, I was happy to learn that we're all at around the same level in surfing- extreme beginner!

Adrian and I have hit the waves twice now since we arrived in Gold Coast, with varying degrees of success. On our first day surfing, we tried desperately to remember those little tidbits of surfer wisdom from our lessons in Coffs Harbour back in 2008. The waves here are a lot bigger than in Coffs and have a strong sweep sideways, meaning it's a battle to stay anywhere close to your original spot on the beach. That day, neither of us managed to stand, but we had fun flopping onto the board, beached-whale-style and riding the waves in on our bellies. Aside from mildly sore ribcages from all that flopping, we were ready to try it again. (Note: this is absolutely not one of us in the photo below)

We took a day to rest our aching muscles (we forgot that surfing is hard work!) and headed out again the day after that. We returned to the same spot, as it had a nice shallow sandbar that was pretty easy to paddle out to the first day. However, I'm not sure if the waves were bigger or how the conditions had changed, but it seemed so much more difficult that day. And while Adrian made it past the sandbar and even managed to stand up on his board (yay!), I found myself stuck in that horrible spot right by the shore where the waves crashed, unable to get past them and, to make things worse, kept getting whacked by my surfboard! A couple puffy knees (see left), a big purple fin-mark on my thigh, and a bump on the head later (lucky me!), we decided to give the surfing thing a bit of a break....

But nearly two weeks since that memorable day, my knees are back to their usual selves, so when Julie was pondering a morning surf, it seemed like about time to give it another go. I don't want to be developing some kind of ocean phobia when I'm only a month into our stint in Gold Coast, after all!

It was cloudy and a bit windy this morning, and we got to the beach and realized neither of us had any idea how to pick a good (ie. easy) spot. Finally, we just picked a place to jump in and were soon back on the beach in defeat, as the waves were huge! Not ready to give up though, we tried another plan- ask a lifeguard! We figured if anyone would know the waves, the guys who watch the beach would. It was a little hard explaining that we just wanted a spot with "very small waves", as most people here head straight for the giant tube waves that seem miles from shore. The lifeguard guy looked around and said it all looked "pretty ordinary" (eek, really?!) but after I repeated the words "beginner" and "easy" enough times, he got it, and pointed us toward a flatter spot down the beach where the waves were crashing further from the shore and some lady was riding a boogie board. Aha!

Turns out asking a lifeguard is the way to go, as neither Julie nor I got beaten up by our surfboards or swallowed gallons of water. It was a lot of fun! And even though we are still too terrible to jump up and stand on our boards (plus, swimming against the crazy sweep is really tiring!), we had a good time and at least rode few waves in on our stomachs. We agree it's definitely a way more fun type of exercise than going for a run, however, I'm reminded once again of having weakling arms - which are all wobbly now, and yet don't even have the power to push me into a standing position on my surfboard. Bah! But we'll see how Attempt #4 goes...