Our home in the hills

We’ve written a few posts about our new house, but none of them have said anything about what part of the city we live in, so now seems like a good time to introduce you to our suburb.

First, in a mini version of How to Speak Australian, suburb is an actual Australia Post designation of where people live in their city.  In Edmonton, we lived in Terwillegar; that was a neighbourhood and our mailing address was still Edmonton and designated by a very precise postal code. In Wagga, we live in Bourkelands; this is a suburb ‘in’ Wagga, as opposed to a suburb ‘of’ Wagga, which is what a place like Sherwood Park or St Albert would be in relation to Edmonton. So our mailing address is Bourkelands, but the postal code is less precise – the 2650 one covers hundreds of square kilometres, whereas our T6R 3H8 code in Edmonton covered the south side of Terwillegar Blvd in the 2-block stretch between Town Centre Boulevard and Thibault Way.

Welcome to the ‘hood…

And then, to make it more complicated, we actually live in Hilltops. Hilltops is a neighbourhood (or according to the real estate sign an ‘estate’) in Bourkelands. Which is in Wagga Wagga.  But not a suburb… Confusing. There seems, often, to be multiple uses of names.  Just over the hill from us (or down, because we are at the top) is Glenoak. But they were just told by the government that they can’t call it Glenoak, because there is a Glenoak somewhere else in New South Wales. Instead, they will be calling it Glenoak Estate, a neighbourhood in the already existing suburb of Springvale. Which to us seems like part of Tatton…which is part of Wagga…all in the 2650 postal code…as are many little towns around here… ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…good thing the posties get to ride cool little motorcycles, otherwise who would want to do such a confusing job?

We don’t have vineyards on hour hills, but we do have wattle and kangaroos.

Now, to make it more confusing, there is another part of the state (NSW) called Hilltops. It is the wine and stonefruit growing region about 100 km north of us, situated around the lovely little town of Young (the cherry capital of NSW, which we’ve written about before).  Unfortunately, our little Hilltops isn’t a wine region, but we do hope that our neighbourhood is good for growing some citrus and veggies, and maybe some day we will branch out to cherries and apricots. But for now, as we drink those wonderful Grove Estates nebbiolos and Ballinaclash viogniers, and the stunning Clonakilla Hilltops shiraz (Clonakilla, one of the best wineries in the country, is in Canberra, not too far from Young and sources some grapes from Grove) we can pretend that the geographic designation on the bottle is our backyard.

The view from our front porch, out to the uni in the distance.

So what are our Hilltops like? First off, it is in the far south of Wagga, pretty much as far south as you can go before people start calling it something else (not sure what that would be though).  Central Wagga is about 8 km north of here and CSU (where we work) is another 8 km from there. On a normal day, the commute, by car, is 20 minutes – 10 into town, 10 back out; cycling, it takes Dan 36 minutes to ride to work – 18 to central, 18 more to the office.  People here think we are crazy…many seem to have the European mentality that this is a long way (even though on a national scale, Australians think nothing of distance).  But for us, compared to Edmonton where we lived the same distance from work but it took at least 45 minutes one way, sometimes over an hour depending on traffic, this is nothing. And hey, on an average day we might see a kangaroo or two (either near our house or on campus…central Wagga is a bit less marsupial); an array of wading birds like egrets, herons and spoonbills; a couple dozen ducks; some kites and kestrels; and probably at least one kookaburra.  And this is not to mention the ubiquitous parrots, cockatoos and galahs, and paddocks full of sheep and horses and, recently, some really cute calves.  It is a pretty enjoyable commute.  (Dan edit: even moreso on a bicycle, where you not only see these things but hear them, despite the killer magpies).

Another view from our porch, this is a fairly typical morning in the park across the street from us. Or maybe this was afternoon…they are there a lot!

As described in the name of the neighbourhood, we are in the hilly section of the south end of Wagga. This, for one thing, provides us with some pretty spectacular views. We can see for miles to the north, out over the city and to the uni. And these hills also provide us entertainment: there’s roos in them there hills! Hundreds of them it seems. Many days, they come down to graze in the park across the street from us; days they don’t come here, we can easily find them on the hillsides around our house, either just by looking from our back yard or wandering 5 minutes up into the bush.  And that bush also has given us a new hobby – one day when out on a roo walk, we realized that this was an ideal spot for biking.  But our bikes weren’t up to the rough trails, so we toddled on down to Kidsons and bought some mountain bikes. Fat tyres and front suspension are great for playing in the hills here and in other spots around Wagga (Pomi, the local mountain bike park, got the best of us last week…but maybe we shouldn’t have attempted it on our second day of riding!).

Dan calls this his new roo hunter. And we did have a pretty close encounter with one a couple days ago on this very track! He also had a couple close encounters with trees out at Pomigalarna Park on Sunday.

So that’s an intro to Hilltops. It’s a great place…if it weren’t for the internet issues (we’ll get to that in an upcoming post).

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between their joke and smiles

Continuing on the theme of the last post, we have to say that Japan is a bit of a strange place. We’re not trying to be disrespectful to the people, because were actually very nice and helpful…we were pretty much illiterates there, and managed to function by the good graces of people understanding our gestures and pointing. But, that said, there’s some weird shit going on there!

Right from the start, we knew it would be odd. First, the people actually cue very formally for the shuttle from the airport. Very formally! In lines, in order of the next bus. Lisa (and Becky who was travelling with us) loved this in an OCD librarian way. Dan had to be told to get in the proper line. But then, as our bus was pulling away from the curb, the people loading the luggage actually bowed. We’re not sure if they were acknowledging us or the bus.

Tokyo is a very tidy city. There was no garbage on the streets, despite the fact that it is almost impossible to find a garbage bin. There are no bins because they removed them after the sarin gas attacks a few years ago. But the Japanese people just seem to keep it clean somehow. To take tidiness to an extreme, at the Meiji Shrine there was actually a guy sweeping a few fallen leaves off the gravel footpath. It seemed a bit much…

Our visit to this shrine was part of a day-long bus tour we took. It also stopped at the Tokyo Tour, a Japanase replica of the Eiffel Tour.

Dan’s opinion of Tokyo is that it is a city where you can get, or do, anything…if you think of it, some Japanese entrepreneur or company has beat you to it and it will be available. This, however, is something that no westerner could ever think of – at the Tokyo tower, you could buy souvenir dried cuttlefish. ‘Nuff said…

One of our apprehensions about this trip was that we would have a hard time communicating. And yes, not many people speak English, but that is dealt with by most restaurants displaying wax food.

Yes, wax food effigies outside of restaurants, beckoning you in to try their real counterparts. Most didn’t look very appealing, but the real thing was usually fantastic. And often, those real things were almost the most bizarre things you could imagine. Or not imagine. We ate things that we had no idea what they were going to be, and often still didn’t know what they were until hours or even days later (thanks Natalya for the dango on the Mt Fuji trip – it was divine!). And there were things that we (well, Dan mostly) ate that we might wish we didn’t know what they were (raw horse!). There are probably things that we (well, Dan mostly) ate that we still don’t know what it was. Such as things from these bins:

Pickled swimmy things. Or not swimmy. The Tsukiji fish market is a cornucopia of odd and wonderful things from the sea. The items above were from a stall on the touristy edge of the market, and tame compared the still-live critters that we saw floundering (and trouting and mulleting and prawning and frogging!) around in eskies.

And then, in the same touristy area, there were vendors who just sold silly foodstuffs that weren’t fishy but uniquely Japanese:
Dan couldn’t resist the egg on a stick! Where else but Japan would you get that?

And who could resist pickles on a stick? Actually, we both did, because there was so much other amazing street food. Like…

whatever the hell these things were… they probably swam once, or did whatever shellfish and crustaceans do. Or if you were a bit more peckish, someone would hand you:

a whole grilled octopus to eat, by hand, as you wandered the streets and alleys of the market. While Dan did sample some of these water-based items, both raw and cooked (not live…though there were Japanese people there swallowing things that still looked to be squirming) Lisa (and Dan too) opted for the more palatable choice of

extremely yummy pork buns. Wagga (most of Australia? most of Canada?) doesn’t have a good street food culture and that is a shame, because it can be wonderful! These little gems were under 100 yen a piece and both filling and delicious.

But enough about the food.  To finish off, we have to point out that Japanese culture is an odd blend of modern (these are the people who are at the forefront of technology), traditional, and silly. And nowhere was this combination more obvious than in an amusement place – sort of like an arcade…or the lucky dip alley at the Ganmain show but more hi-tech…where there was what we affectionately dubbed Taiko Wars. Something like RockBand or GuitarHero for taiko drums. Well, not something like…exactly like…

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Comode (Oh!) Dragon

Japan is a bit of a strange place – raw seafood, bowing, etc… – but nowhere is that more obvious than in the toilet.  So for a quick entry, written on our last night in Tokyo, here’s a bit of fun before we get to the really interesting and more broadly appealing stories about our trip.

No, we didn’t fly here in first-class and these aren’t the controls for pod seats on the plane.

We’ve often complained that our toilets in Wagga are a bit chilly. Well, modern Japanese technology has come up with a solution for that with the heated toilet seat. The toilet seat in our hotel room is heated. Among other things. It has a variety of functions for ‘post-bodily-function’ cleansing and it makes noise.  Yes, noise.

These seats, that cost between 160000 and 500000 yen ($2000 – $5000) are something that most Japanese households have. Because Japanese apartments are small and have rice-paper walls, sometimes (according to our tour guide today) papa-san might want a bit of privacy to he can turn on the ‘flushing sound’ feature so no one can hear him do his business.

These things (what the Japanese call ‘washlets’) have a huge range of features, with some even having a “Powerful Deodorizer” function. It all seems too hi-tech for us, and we have to admit that we just used them in the old-fashioned Aussie/Canadian way.

We could have put in a photo of an actual traditional Japanese toilet, or the great hand-drawn instructional picture our tour guide had, but this one, stolen from the web, was just too good not to use! You really have to click on it to enlarge and see the last image.

But as much as we sometimes think that Aussie toilets are a bit lo-tech (heat the damn things!), we are glad our Japanese hotel had modern toilets rather than traditional Japanese-style ones. These are odd things that are becoming less common (hey, who needs a hole in the floor when you can have the controls to a starship?) but are still [too] easy to find in public places like airports, train stations, etc. Our friend FFG, who gets off on doing leg workouts, would probably love these, but most people prefer to sit on a warm ring with a calming flushing sound around them.

The transition from the hole to a Western-style throne must have been a bit of a challenge, because these instructions are quite common in toilets with modern facilities.

Unlike a lot of European countries, the Japanese still have segregated toilets. But there is no gender equality, as the men don’t have this baby holder in theirs!

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Hello kitty!


When we moved here, we thought being in Australia would open up a new area of the world for international travel. We’ve gone to Europe a lot, because it was easy to get to from Canada. We thought Asia would be closer to Australia. So here we are on our first trip…and oddly we have figured out that Tokyo was closer to Edmonton than it is to Wagga. But we’re on our way to Japan! Will be posting silly pics all week.

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Profapalooza – Part 1

In an earlier post Dan mentioned that Lisa was traveling the country like a rock star and unable to keep up with posting blogs. Now, while some would argue that this was an accurate status update (she is a pretty hot ticket, after all), he was actually referring to her tendency to hit the capital cities while ignoring the rest of the country. This, after all, is how the rock stars do it; a tour here almost always includes Sydney and Melbourne, sometimes Brissy and Adelaide, rarely Perth. Hobart? No so much. Interestingly, this also defines Lisa’s work-related travel schedule; hmm… she always wanted to travel alongside Metallica. Maybe there’s something she’s not telling us…

Love this building! Very different from the Parliament buildings in Canada, but an intriguing design. Inside is a hall with marble and wood from various parts of the country. Oh yes – and a great gift shop.

In the past six months or more Lisa has visited most of Australia’s capital cities. All of these trips have been for work, but Lisa is also very good at squeezing in some shopping, dining, museuming (is that a word?) and other down-time activities around the edges of a crazy work week. Her Oz tour (Hmm… Profapalooza needs a cool t-shirt; perhaps our next contest?) started shortly after our arrival. Stop 1 was Canberra, which is just a short (2.5 hour) drive from Wagga. This is also a regular shopping work haven for Lisa, as she’s been appointed to the Australian Research Council this year. Her first trip included lunch at Parliament following a tour of the Parliamentary Library (yes, the politicos were in the house having lunch and yes, they serve meals on their very own special china! Very cool — at least for geek librarian types). Regular readers may even remember that Lisa had a real rock star moment on this trip — a live (20 minute!) interview on ABC radio!

A true rock star moment! Note that the ABC’s call number is 666; who knew that Iron Maiden owned a radio station in Australia?

Melbourne became stop 2 on the national tour, visiting the state library, meeting with staff at RMIT, meeting with a colleague at Deakin, and other cool prof-like activities. Of course, this included a major shoe-shopping excursion to Sole Devotion. Yes, Lisa does have some work-life balance (“work hard, play hard… especially if that involves Fluevogs”). We had been to Sydney a couple of times before we moved, but Melbourne was new territory – and it reminded us of Toronto (the street cars helped, as did the little alleys with cafes). The city is also home to some fabulous restaurants, including Movida Aqui and Cumulus, Inc. — two favourites that we will visit again, for sure.

Stop 3 on the tour was Perth in February. This was a formal ALIA accreditation visit to assess another uni, along with a visit with a colleague at Curtin University – this time, a close friend of ours who moved from U of Alberta in the exact same week (!) that we moved from Canada. The fates were aligned on that one… resulting in a great dining and site-seeing companion for the future! And Perth is a really interesting city; there are beaches, different birds and lots to explore in the surrounding area. We’ll definitely be back. On the flight there (from Sydney) Lisa was even reminded of Canada, as the plane was filled with young burly men heading to the mines (in Edmonton, that would be the oil fields). She was also introduced to Weis bars (mmm…mango/cream ice cream bars!) on the Qantas flight — just a free little treat at the halfway point on the journey.

The view from MAD’s condo looking at the Perth CBD

She also thought it was quite funny that the Aussies were really gearing up for the flight (it’s about 5 hours), bringing along pillows, picnic baskets with food for a week, and other gear that one might expect to find on a long-haul international flight. For someone who used to fly for 4 hours to Toronto as the first leg of her journeys — and who now needs to fly for 13+ hours to get to her home country — Lisa found this all quite amusing.

Watch this space for part 2 of Lisa’s Oz tour. Up next? Adelaide and Brisbane!

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A new world record


Well at least a new Ganmain record. But not set by Dan.

It is late winter here in the Riverina and that means the agricultural shows are starting again. We made our second visit to the mother of all shows, the Ganmain show. Once again, Dan competed in the pie eating contest and set a new PB – last years time was 3 min, 2 seconds and this year he hoovered down 3 pies in just 2:15.

But the dude beside him in the photo is a pie-eating freak: the former Ganmain pie eating record (set last year) was 1:30; this guy smashed it by somehow swallowing all 3 pies in 57 seconds!!!!!!!
Dan does hold a record though, as the only Canadian to have competed in this competition twice (this was the third year it has been held, do he can pretty much be sure of that). He isn’t the only Canadian to compete though…that story will come out soon.

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How to speak Australian, Part 5

Snag: We often see people fishing in Lake Albert or in the Murrumbidgee River, and like any other closed water fishers, one of the big annoyances for them will be getting their hook snagged on a submerged branch. This is, of course, nowhere near as bad as the perils that face the open-water ‘rock fishers’ on the NSW coast…if you care to know more about that lmgtfy…survival of the fittest…but we do regularly see people fighting with…nothing. Just the branch of a gum tree that has fallen off and is causing havoc in the inland fishing waters of NSW. But that has nothing to do with this definition of ‘snag’.

Does this look appetizing? No…not to Lisa either, who refuses to try one. But it is the Saturday lunch of choice for the hundreds of Waggans.

We probably explained ‘sanga’ in a previous HTSA post…these are what you buy at Bunnings on a Saturday, or at any local event – a thin sausage (this ‘thin’ distinction is very important, as you will see later) on a slice of white bread. Sort of like what you get at those charity hot dog sales outside the grocery stores in North America. But in NA, they call that (horrible) thing that they wrap in a bun a wiener. Here, that thing that gets wrapped in a slice of white bread is a sausage or, in some people’s terms, a snag. We’re not sure how common this word is. We don’t discuss sausages with people that often, so it isn’t something that would just come up. But one day recently we were at Blake Street Country Meats, our favourite butcher shop (we love living in place where there are real butcher shops…and of the dozen or so in town, we prefer Blake Street [and they love Lisa…when we want a special cut like the fillet steaks the good restaurants sell, she just loiters until Kerry comes out and asks “what can I get you love?”!]), looking for something for dinner and decided on some coconut curry sausages (these aren’t your normal Aussie snag…this is an award-winning sausage maker…but then pretty much every butcher in NSW displays a sign that they won some award, just like all the bakers have won an award for their pies) and the bloke at the counter said “just the snags?” We both quickly processed the fact that we aren’t in a country that speaks English any more (Dan was having flashbacks to trying to buy croissants in Paris!) and just said “Yes”, paid our $3, and went to the car. Where we immediately and simultaneously exclaimed “he said snags!” and praised ourselves that we knew what it meant.

Knights is one of the many butchers in town. We shop there frequently, but it isn’t our butcher of choice. We like their deli though, which has an amazing cheese selection. And our favorite butcher isn’t very photogenic so we just used this picture.

But what we don’t actually know is: just what is a ‘snag’. In the early days, before we started shopping pretty much exclusively at Blake Street, Dan was in Kooringal Butcher (near where we lived, and still a good butcher but not our first choice), looking at the sausage selection. They had two types in the cooler that looked the same but one was thin and one was thick. So he asked what the difference was. And the guy at the counter said “one’s thin, one’s thick.” That’s it… so he bought the thick ones and had a hell of a time cooking them on the barbie. Since then, we stick with thin, regardless of where we buy them. The thin ones are good for sizzling, the thick probably better for…not sure why anyone would buy them!

Anyway, the point of this story is that regional Australia takes its sausages/snags very seriously, and if you are planning a sausage party you have to know if you like it thin or thick.

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