Because I don’t post here very much anymore (Facebook has taken over real-life stuff) I’m giving up the “iamthetiminator.com” domain. I’m therefore going to let this blog return to the free “timinator.wordpress.com” subdomain. I don’t imagine there will be much wailing or gnashing of teeth.
I will admit to being a user of the Oxford Comma. Its occasional improvement of clarity outweighs any downside.
Taste of Sydney is a foodfest. Dozens of restaurants, and food and drink producers, from the area set up outdoor tents where you can sample their wares. I went last night on a pass courtesy of the good folks at Yelp.
Last night was the first night for Taste of Sydney and it runs until the end of Sunday. It’s held in a fenced-off area of Centennial Park and is made to be very comfortable. There are lounge-y areas, tall tables for standing, live music, funky lighting and bar areas, and a general atmosphere of laid-back foodiness.
Most of the food producers had free tasting samples, and I hit quite a few of them. Nibbles of cheese, meats, pastas, juices, dips and much more were easy to come by and almost uniformly delicious. All the exhibitors had packaged goods you could buy to take away of course.
The restaurant stands each served a small menu of appetiser-size dishes. This makes it an excellent opportunity to sample some of the popular, high-end Sydney restaurants without actually getting a reservation (if any of them do that anymore) or splashing out on an entire dinner. The queue for Porteno‘s stand, for instance, was very long.
As I walked around I realised how many food-related TV quasi-celebs there are in Australia now. Besides the real chefs like Kylie Kwong I spotted about a dozen folks I recognised from peripherally catching popular food shows like My Kitchen Rules and Masterchef over the last few years. Each season of those includes so many contenstants that it results in a huge number of recognisable faces. Lots of exhibitors last night were taking advantage of them.
The vibe at Taste for Sydney was fun, the choices were many, and the grub was very good. But if I’d had to pay the $30 entrance fee just to get in and try the tiny free samples I would not have found it to be good value. The food for purchase were in very small portions and none were priced cheaply. I’ve never felt bad about paying to properly try out a restaurant I wanted to go to, so paying for the privilege to sample last night wasn’t the thrill it might have been for others who like to test things out first; for those folks this would have been heaven. And there certainly seemed to be lots of people there.
So thanks Yelp for spotting me entrance to something I wouldn’t have tried otherwise.
Tonight was the last of our Sydney Festival events: The Secret River at Sydney Theatre. An adaptation of a popular recent historical novel, it tells a possible story of early English settlers on Aboriginal-inhabited land north of Sydney.
The story is a moral tale, and a very likely settlement scenario. It shows how the backgrounds of the early convicts could easily have a played a part in both their desire to find land for a new life as well as well as their attitudes towards others (especially those they viewed as savages).
While parts of the play felt compressed and melodramatic I think this was a necessary consequence of the compression of a very long novel. The second half was nonetheless pretty moving stuff.
It was excellently staged. My favourite part of a play is often the mechanical and imaginative tricks they use to create their imagery. Boats, gunfire, and animals are all some of the things that are cleverly imitated or symbolised.
It’s a gripping, relevant piece of theatre that can make you think about how things got to be the way they are in Australia.
Coursera is a year-old American internet company that gets world-class university professors to run free, massive online courses that anyone can sign up for. They’re the largest online provider of free courses now, with tens of thousands of people signing up for courses. You can learn more about Coursera here.
I signed up for an 8-week course in Data Analysis which started this week. I did this for my own interest and because it’s good for me to challenge myself once in a while.
I’ve found the experience really interesting and engaging. The professor’s videos are extensive but focused. You can stop and start them whenever you like, and there are HTML and PDF versions of the course notes to download. This course has an online quiz every week, and will have a couple of full-on assignments that get graded. There are too many participants to interact directly with the prof, but there are extensive online discussion forums where we students can communicate with each other.
The first week was actually quite challenging, much harder than I thought it would be. Luckily the quiz wasn’t timed. I was able to get a good score on it so I feel I absorbed the info (I have some background in statistics and programming which helps a lot). While I wouldn’t be taking this if I was worried about employers recognising the Coursera qualification – most do not – I’m very glad that I enrolled. I’m really going to learn something.
Yesterday was Australia Day, the national day of the country I now call my home.
It marks the day in 1788 when the British First Fleet landed in Port Jackson (the actual name for Sydney harbour). That group of eleven ships held a few dozen British citizens, a couple hundred officers and their families, and several hundred convicts. It was the first wave of European settlement.
For the Aboriginal population that was already on this continent 26 January has been referred to as Invasion Day. As a person descended from Europeans who invaded and settled North America I feel I don’t have much to say about that other than sorry.
I didn’t spend yesterday thinking about this. I spent it thinking about Australia and about where it’s going. This is important because I’m not here by chance: I chose to come here. Most people do not do this and that’s by both opportunity and inclination. Most people stay and live where they were born with some of them finding extra fulfilment by traveling to other places for a visit.
It’s also important because Australia is – in its current form, without moralising about what it took to get it here – a very young country. It formed a Commonwealth only in 1901. It has very few people, and is one of the least-densely populated countries in the world. It’s also a country with a lot of recent immigration with 25% of people here born overseas and 50% of people here either born overseas or from parents who were.
Most of my thoughts around Australia are that it’s going to be just fine.
It has problems. People here wring their hands and complain just like all people do in every country around the world. The complaints here are the same as they were in Canada and the UK: they are the complaints of a people who are successful, safe, and prosperous. Lots of people would kill to have lives like Australians do which is why we have a lot of people who want to come here or choose to come here when their home country is no longer safe. That immigration of course becomes one of the things that some small-minded people complain about: that immigrants are changing the Australian way of life. I usually can’t hear those people over the roaring sound of their own hypocrisy.
Australians are worried about money and jobs and global warming and whether it’s safe to walk the streets at night and what kind of world they’re giving their kids and why their politicians have to be so short-sighted and adversarial. Like everyone else in the world.
But Australia is a very positive place. Deep down people here know they have it good. Most people see the great diversity of ethnic backgrounds as a good thing. Australians travel overseas a lot. Employment is high. There are vast natural resources here. The streets are very safe. There is breathtaking natural beauty on everyone’s doorstep. Fruit and meat and wine are all very high quality. Federal legislation means every employer has to set aside a pension superannuation fund for your future. Costs are high but so are salaries. Everyone here loves to have a laugh.
One of the most striking signs of this positive feeling is rather mundane: it’s the tendency for Australians to go for variable-rate mortgages rather than fixed-rate mortgages. In many countries homebuyers prefer knowing exactly what their mortgage payments will be for the next few years, especially if they buy their house when interest rates are low (in Canada about 60% have fixed-rate mortgages, while in the US it’s more like 90%). But about 80% of Australian mortgages are variable-rate which I think is an indicator of the optimism they feel that things will always get better. I know there are probably many other reasons for this but I think there’s something in it.
This positivity is a good sign of a country that will do well. It will come up with ways to get past obstacles, to work with or around the naysayers and troublemakers. It will see the bright side of things. It will move on and flourish.
Later this year I will be able to say “we” when I talk about Australians. I’m definitely continuing to hang my hat here for a while.
In each performance of the one-hour play actor Bojana Novakovic is greeted in a karaoke bar by a different, surprise (to her and to the rest of us) actor playing her blind date. How the night proceeds is up to how they improvise with each other and via stage direction sent by text message to their phones by the director. The audience sites in the karaoke bar and watches it all unfold.
The night I went was great. There was expected blind date awkwardness, getting-to-know-you games, a whole lot of humour, a whole lot of flirting, and exposed secrets. The date is suspended a couple of times when the participants have a go at karaoke but it’s a welcome relief from the so-ordinary-it’s-bizarre interpersonal exploration. Some of us might be used to living that but watching it is weird.
It’s a funny, exciting, brave little theatrical adventure each night. I expect it was a lot of fun for the actors too.