Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Green Point


Yesterday I sat at my old thinking spot and watched the sun go down.

I hop along the basalt blocks that make up the breakwater and I am ten years old again, picking my way across the tidepools at BlackRock and exploring the Red Bluffs, survival kits made of matchboxes and stuffed full of string, matches, sandpaper, a magnifying glass for burning ants, and other essentials in case we kids got stranded and had to spend the night on the cliffs [not likely under the watchful eye of the Beach Rd mansions that look out across the bay].

The water of Port Phillip laps gently at my feet, its surface tension palpable, like a vast rippling carpet gently rolling to the horizon. It is tempting to step onto it and start walking out towards the light. The indigos and oranges of the setting sun dance and shifting, allowing me fleeting glimpses of the rocky bottom beneath the surface. The air is still, crisp, and cold against my cheeks ...this was where I was to come for solitude in later years, after I had made friends with this new place.

I went to elementary school not five minutes from here, my first introduction to Aussie culture when the family moved to Melbourne 21 years ago. Melbourne was cold and grey and unfriendly at that time in my life, full of spoiled little rich kids teasing my American - pidgin english and dark skin, distinctly uncomfortable in my new, alien, british-style school uniforms [socks pulled over calves, shorts above the knees, shirt tucked in, tie and coat to pull the whole ensemble together...].

The awkwardness of being a pre-teen while my older classmates were beginning puberty only added to the confusion finding myself in the midst of transitioning to a new country, a new culture, a new life. I tried out many different identities and began asking myself, "Who am I?" In so many ways, I am still on that quest, and still asking that question.


The Bay has many moods - the water is always freezing cold - the complete opposite of the tepid bathwater-temperatures of Hawaii. In winter, my brother and I used to dread the capsize drills at the local yacht club where Dad has enrolled us into sailing lessons; I don't know what was worse, the bone-chilling waters, or the itchy woolen undergarments that we were told to wear in order to keep us warm.

The stark Melbourne summers brought stifling heat and humidity, the unforgiving Aussie sun beating down mercilessly on the beaches and brightly colored beachboxes and pale skin of Brighton, while the dark waters of Port Phillip stung with icy contrast.

I have only just left home, only to arrive home again. It's a warm and fuzzy feeling, as if I am existing in two places at the same time.

Question of the Day: Is home where the heart is?


Monday, April 27, 2009

Malcolm's Magical Gardens

1. "Home Among the Gum Trees", by John Williamson
2. "Sounds of Then", by Ganggajang
3. "DILLIGAF", by Kevin Bloody Wilson


It's often the simple things in life that yield us the most satisfaction... I've spent the first weeks in Melbourne enjoying the crispy autumn air, sleeping in and relaxing in the magical garden that Mum & Dad have created over the last ten years. The southern sun has been breaking through the clouds at around 9 o'clock each morning, and I have been sneaking outside to enjoy the morning sunshine with a hot cup of tea, crumpets and toast, and a great book [currently "Shapes on the Wind", an autobiography by Kiwi explorer / adventurer David Lewis who, among other feats, sailed on the Hokulea and helped prove that early Polynesians were capable of navigating, and populating the Pacific].

Melbourne's weather, however, has been typically Melbourne.... beautiful one day, bloody hopeless the next...turning cold and blustery just in time to welcome my brother home to celebrate his 30th birthday.

"Sustainability" seems to be so much more ingrained into the psyche of your average Melbournian: Mum explains to me one morning as we search for a good latte how the city's dams are only at 27% capacity, putting everyone on water restrictions as a result. This seems to be common knowledge, with the data being talked about on the nightly news and in the daily newspapers. There is even a massive billboard outside a major train station with a digital update of Melbourne's water catchment system status - an awareness born out out of necessity.


Only 1 month ago, Melbourne was experiencing unseasonably warm days, in the 40s [100+ F] and with drought-like of the factors contributing to the massive bushfires that the state suffered just a little while ago. Thousands of acres of farmland and bushland have been burnt to a crisp, entire townships were leveled and many lives were lost. The cleanup and recovery efforts will likely continue for years.

The recent cold rains, therefore, while not conducive to family reunion barbequeues, have been a welcome relief to locals. It is interesting to experience how this level of awareness seems to strengthen the bonds of community, a sense of "we're all in the same boat"; our survival depends upon each other.

There has been a behavioral shift, which has affected large-scale social change... on a level that makes it unacceptable for one to be a "Wally with water"; ie wasting water. To be seen by your neighbors watering your lawn on a restricted day would be akin to casting yourself as a social leper - it is a great working example of the Pooper Scooper Effect can be used to affect positive change in our community.

In Mum & Dad's neighborhood, watering of lawns is only allowed on Tuesdays and Saturdays. So, in order to keep the lawns green and the garden veggies growing, they have installed a rainwater catchment: two 500-gallon drums in the back garden catch rainwater from the shed roof, while two massive garbage bins collect water redirected from the house's roof in the front yard.

Mum tells me that people had taken to posting signs in their yards declaring: "RAINWATER SYSTEM IN EFFECT" so that suspicious neighbors envious of green grass growing next to their brown yards wouldn't report them to the City Council.

There is also a very high-tech greywater system that has been installed: more garbage bins collecting greywater from the laundry room. After each shower, we are to carry out the bucket which lives in the bathtub to collect even more greywater; these soft, soapy waters are used to wash the cars, water the lawns, and srub down the patio to keep it clear of all the lovely bird blessings which accumulate.

Curbside recycling, which was instituted well before I left Melbourne for Hawaii, is a given. We were wheeling city-issue bins filled with empty beer and wine bottles the mornings after our infamous Lynch BBQs as eighteen-year olds celebrating our newfound ability to drink alcohol legally - over 12 years ago!

Back in the garden, an olive tree is fruiting in the front yard, hibiscus and plimerias are blooming next to the herb and veggie garden, which features [of course] parsely, sage, rosemary and thyme... well ok there's no sage but it rolls off the tongue so much more nicely when you say it that way... the spinach, kale, and romaine lettuce, are doing well, as are the oranges, tomatoes [pro-nounced toe-mah-toes in Oz], and peppers in the backyard.

There are even a couple of possums living in the tarps which form the roof of the tent in our backyard BBQ area! On my first day back, Dad shows me a conspicuous bulge in the roofline underneath the tent and tells me to push up on it. The lump is warm, and squirms grudgingly when I lift gently to feel its weight:


Aussies are obsessed about their yards and gardening - local celebrity Don Burke made his name with the iconic TV show Burke's Backyard [now a popular magazine and radio show, with weekly re-runs], which ran from 1987 - 2004, was one of the most beloved shows on Aussie television, and inspired many spin-offs [and take-offs (watch both videos!)].


How about "grow food...and lawns" instead of "grow food, not lawns"?
"Great Social Transformations - the end of slavery, the women's and civil rights movements... the birth of environmentalism - all began with public awareness and engagement" - Jeffery Sachs, author of "The End of Poverty"-
Perhaps sustainable living practices like planting our own gardens would be more readily and widely accepted if it were considered by the mainstream public to be less "extreme".

Now don't get me wrong, I agree that extreme and drastic action is necessary in order to effectively address climate change. Al Gore's Nobel-prize winning "Inconvenient Truth" was perhaps one of the greatest recent catalysts to raise massive awareness of the environmental crisis; there is little doubt that we are aware that change needs to occur...

However, awareness ≠ action.
So many of us, myself included, are often left wondering "What can I do? What difference will one person make?" It can be so overwhelming...

Climate change is something that this community is experiencing first-hand - Melbourne's water catchment system is running well below capacity, the experience of the hottest summer on record is still raw, with the Black Saturday bushfires the worst in recorded history,

I wonder what other lessons we, living on our tiny island paradise, can learn from our continental-island neighbors across the Pacific? Do we need to experience our own version of Black Saturday before we can achieve widespread acceptance of such drastic - and simple - measures as watering our lawns and gardens only two days per week?

I hope not.

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melbourne by mobile - a photo/video tour


by The Shins, from the album "Wincing The Night Away"
Nosebleed Section: by Hilltop Hoods, from the album "The Calling"

Note: for best effect, click on the image to enlarge... and enjoy!




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Sunday, April 19, 2009

farewell Honolulu, hello Melbourne!

  1. Honolulu City Lights - by Keola Beamer. This is a pretty random video, but it was the only recording of the song I could find on YouTube!
  2. The Horses - by Aussie singer Daryl Braithwaite, from the album "Rise"
  3. Back in Black - by rock legends AC/DC, from the album "Back in Black"


The weeks and days counting down to my departure from Honolulu are a blur of laughs, first-time experiences, and happy good-byes. It is surreal how quickly my departure day was upon me, as I boarded the plane it felt like I was watching a movie of myself, you know the one with Jim Carrey where he runs down the jetway yelling, "It's OK, I'm a LIMO DRIVER!!!"

Funny how when you are about to leave a place, all of a sudden you meet the coolest people and start to do all the funnest things you didn't do but wanted to the whole time you were there: paddling on a stand-up board and then a one-man outrigger canoe off Kaimana Beach were firsts on the 3rd-to-last day in the islands [i'm hooked!]. And, I've done more rockclimbing, hiking, camping, motorcycling, volunteering, and just hanging out with loved ones in the last 2 months than I have in the last 12 years of living in Honolulu.


Since I pulled an all-nighter to pack 12 years worth of accumulated "stuff" into two oversized suitcases, I slept through the 9-hour flight to Sydney and awoke in a new hemispehere, a new country... the 60-minute connecting flight to Melbourne was over by the time we finished the tiny butter chicken dinner with peas swimming in a tasty curry-like sauce over rice that they served up; QANTAS always did have decent airline food...

...but this was nothing compared to the delicious meal Mum, Dad, Sis and I enjoyed at the Pacific Seafood House, a new contemporary asian restaurant in its new location at the edge of Melbourne's Chinatown. This neighborhood smells just like Honolulu's Chinatown: a mix of five-spice, char-siu, and steamed dumplings on the main streets, with the faint underlying stench of hum-ha, stale beer and urine wafting through
the air from the back alleys. Chinatowns smell the same all over world.

We get home late, and as I walk into the house that my family has lived in for the last 12 years, it feels like I am home. Mum says, "I'm glad you're here," before turning in for the night, and I am fast asleep in the back room soon after.

I wake up to an empty house as everyone has left early to get to work, and Yuki the cat greets me with a loud meow before settling into a chair to wait for a beam of sunlight through the windows she can bask in. She doesn't have to wait long, as I am making my breakfast of crumpets with honey and tea, the autumn sun appears and streams through the windows to both of our delight.

The crisp Melbourne autumn morning is too inviting to stay inside the house, so I take my breakfast and the old naval war novel I am reading [thank you, Hawaii Yacht Club book exchange] and find a warm sunspot in the garden to sit and read in. Mum interrupts [it's "Mum" when I am in Australia, "Mom" when I am in Hawaii] 1 chapter before the thrilling finale of the book - she only has a half day at work and has come home to take me out for a Melbourne latte and lunch.

We go to Batch Espresso in Balaclava, a trendy cafe three stops up on the train line. Young families, artistic types, dapper executives, and orthodox jews in black suits, hats and sporting beards and sideburns bustle about the street here, which is lined with cafes, restaurants, and specialty shops. This kind of vibrant street culture is one of the things I miss most about this place, and is something that Honolulu could certainly learn from. No newbie police officers pouncing on their prey to hand out jaywalking tickets here!

The cafe's menus are cleverly presented in old refurbished hardback novels, with notches in the pages cut out to the places where the menus are hidden - reduce / reuse / recycle at its best in the artistic simplicity of the idea. I order the avocado-feta mash on ciabbata bread [toasted], with a side of bacon [thick, satisfying rashers that are far more decadent than the thin, crispy, burnt stuff Americans are so used to], while Mum goes for the fish special, a pan fried fillet of "roughy" served on a bed of pilaf lentilis with a glass of rose.

I order myself a latte, and soak in the whole scene. There are two ladies seated right next to us, bistro-style so that our elbows are rubbing, talking animatedly about their clients' latest purchases in her boutique, while an artsy lesbian couple sip lazily at their lattes on the sidewalk tables, scratching their dog's belly with their feet. When my drink comes I grin broadly and breathe in the java; there is nothing quite like a Melbourne latte.

It is difficult to describe why a Melbourne latte is so special; perhaps it is the hormone-free milk that is used in every other country in the world except for the united States, or maybe it is simply the sheer volume of espresso that Melbournites consume, forcing barristas everywhere to be on their toes because their discerning audience demands it.

A good Melbourne latte is velvety smooth and doesn't have the bitter bite that many Kona blends do. You could drink three or four of them at one siting and still want more. Think of the creamiest, most expensive, espresso ice cream you've ever had....and imagine that coming out of the espresso machine steamer into your steaming mug...and that is close to what a Melbourne latte is like. Glazers' in Honolulu comes close, but Melbourne still has my vote when it comes to "Best Latte in the World"... is good to be back in my new old home.


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Thursday, April 9, 2009

momentary lapses of reason

The days grow shorter, each passing moment is increasingly hyper-real if etching itself in my memory banks to take on the road with me....


Colors are more vibrant, soundscapes more symphonic, the smallest details jump out at me and scream

I ran into some people over the weekend that I had not seen in a while, and the first words out of their mouths were:
"You're still here?"

They have a point really, I haven't really been here for the last month or so; my adventures have already started and I am evolving into a traveler...content to live day-to-day, out of my backpack, in search of daily adventure

My body is still in Hawaii, but my mind, my heart, my soul on the road already.

Old friends that I have not seen in almost a year are startled when they run into me again - I am happy, I am tanned, I am wild, and hippy, and free!


I am catching myself in moments of bliss, thinking to myself, " I LOVE my life!!" How many people can truly say that they are doing exactly what they want to be doing with their life right this moment??

It may not look pretty, with utility bills going unpaid and foreclosure notices being delivered and strange, vapidly hopeful realtor / investor types knocking on my door offering a surefire solution to my housing woes... clucking their tongues with a reproachful shake of their head, then swooping in to "rescue" me...

...I am HAPPY. In the midst of all the financial turmoil and doom and gloom we are bombarded with every day, I am blessed ad fortunate enough to be listening to my soul, following my heart, and striking out on a completely illogicial, unfunded journey around the world to seek ADVENTURE, and opportunities to be of SERVICE...

I've been presented with so many ways to make lots of money in this market, and some of these ideas are going to work, and going to make some people a lot of money. AND, I have found that I am simply not interested in money right now.


I am fascinated with PEOPLE. HUMANITY. CONNECTION.

Relationships, old and new, have become newly minted, each moment shared standing out in stark contrast to the rush of the last 10 years spent chasing dollars, each moment precious with the knowledge that we may never see each other again....

...Or at least, not for a long time...

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