The Good, the Bad, and the Pretty

As a silly American, I notice that some of the small nagging things that I miss while in bonsai1-0513171237a_HDRAustralia are actually more reflections about me.  As my wife and I enjoy our last week together (she is going back a week early to help our youngest son move home from college summer break), I listed off a number of irks that might have contributed to my geek/homesickness:

  • Amazon prime “everything” – back home, there’s solid 50/50 that there will be a package waiting on my porch any given weekday.  “Hi, my name is Ryan, and I am an online shopping nerd.”  It’s coming to Australia soon – they are building warehouses – God help us all.  But for now, I have suffered serious UPS withdrawal.
  • Speeding – since getting my little Mazda 3 hatchback with a modest “performance” mode, I have become a more dangerous driver.  I crave that downshift, being pushed back in the seat, passing cars like they were stopped.  You can’t do that in Canberra much less NSW or Vic – you can’t even go 10kph over the fairly modest limits without risking losing your license.  There are fixed and mobile cameras everywhere here – I’m afraid to even scratch my nose.  Besides, rental cars here … meh.
  • Gobs of Internet – there’s public internet most places around Canberra, they even post signs.  However, you’re limited to a measly 250 MB per day, unless you hack the MAC on your phone 🙂  That doesn’t even get me 15 minutes of downloading updates and heavy social media diving.  I was unable to get reasonable landline broadband for my “short” stay (4 months) – it would have been 50 GB relatively slow ADSL for $500. As it was, I ended up with a LTE MiFi from Vodafone for $75 no contract – quite speedy but a bit of stuttering.
  •  Parking – I’m used to cruising the destination radius looking for a primo free parking spot, anything to avoid putting the coins in the meter (wait, what?) There’s no free daytime parking here, anywhere, period.  Everything has been taken over by ParkMobile, Wilson’s, or even a government franchise.  It’s anywhere from $1 to $2.50 per hour, but at least tap-to-pay at the kiosks makes it seem less painful.
  • Autumn – The leaves started to turn, then the next day, poof, trees were bare and mornings were below freezing.  There is more transition between two chapters of a Danielle Steel book than between summer and winter in Canberra.  Mother Nature seems to be able to put a big blue dot on Anzac Day that says “turn it off here”.  I’m sorry, but I like a little foreplay with my frost.
  • Television – there’s quite a bit of American TV on the networks in Australia.  The syndicated news shows have their own anchor personalities (imagine the Today Show with accents) and there’s a heavy BBC influence (including my beloved Attenborough).  But we do miss some of the current not-so-crummy sitcoms.  We also don’t have a DVR, so it has been practically unbearable actually having to sit through and wait for commercials.  However, it has been fun to establish a routine of watching old re-runs while cooking dinner: Friends, Next Generation, and my favorite, M*A*S*H.   This morning, the Brady Bunch is on in the background, while I type this – I don’t just _feel_ old now…
  • Outdoors – there were times back home when I went on a 4-hour geocaching hike with little more than a phone and a water bottle.  I must admit you have to be a bit more safety-conscious here.  Snakes, spiders, thirst, sun, terrain, immediate loss of cell coverage…  Even the beautiful magpies seem lethal when you realize their long, loud calls will drown out your cry for help.  It’s just a different mindset

Speaking of outdoors, we toured the National Arboretum yesterdawollemi1y, with a marvelous “100 forests” and almost as many gardens.  We actually got to see a small stand of wollemi pines – these were grown from seeds of the original discovery site by an Australian forester hiking in 1994, who thought the tree was unusual – it was, thought to be extinct, because it was only known through fossil records dating the species to 200 million years ago in the Jurrasic.  There is no other known species still alive like it.

The Arboretum is also host to a fantastic bonsai garden. It’s amazing to see some of these living works of art that have been in “training” (sometimes you can see the little wires) for decades or hundreds of years.


Most phenomenally, we got to make our own souvenirs for this trip, some blown glass tumblers of our own design, a 40-minute endeavor with an experienced artist at the Canberra Glassworks.  Before watching the process, I had no idea of the technicalities, skill and risks involved in making some of the beautiful work.  Ours won’t be museum pieces, but they will be something to use and look at.


We have had some wonderful experiences here.  I really wasn’t expecting Canberra to be so enjoyable and beautiful.  It’s hard to call it a city – although it’s got a population of 300,000, anyplace that has less traffic during rush “minute” than a 7-11 has visitors at 3am, is all right in my book (oh, wait, the one 7-11 here is only actually open 7 to 11).

And, when I come back in October, I am hoping for better internet, pretty spring flowers, and lots of brown cardboard boxes.


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