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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

We adventured Uluru!

With a long weekend for Queen's birthday a trip sounded like a good idea. (It should be noted that the Queen's birthday is actually in April but observed in June...because, as one Aussie suggested, "it would otherwise be too close to the Easter long weekend of Good Friday and Easter Monday and we wouldn't have any public holidays again until October...unless you're lucky enough to get Bank Holiday off in August.") We had originally planned to visit the Whitsunday Islands (more specifically Hamilton Island) for some serious Great Barrier Reef exploration. Cyclone Debbie swept through in early April and changed our plans. We checked our growing list of places we'd like to visit and decided on Uluru.

Uluru, previously called Ayers Rock by non-Aboriginals, is a massive sandstone monolith in the heart of the Northern Territory’s arid "red centre." Uluru is sacred to indigenous Australians, particularly the Anangu, and is thought to have started forming around 550 million years ago. It’s within Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which also includes the 36 red-rock domes of the Kata Tjuta formation (sometimes referred to as "the Olgas").

The nearest large town is Alice Springs, about 450 km away (about 280 miles). The population in Alice Springs is around 28,000. All this is to say: you don't just stumble upon Uluru.

Thank you for the map, Larry Rivera for tripsavvy.com

Lucky for us Uluru has an airport (two gates! even smaller than XNA in Bentonville) and two daily nonstop flights from Sydney. A lot of people travel to / from Alice Springs but we flew directly to Uluru.


You walk off the plane old-school style and into the airport baggage claim area.

One of my favorite signs in the baggage claim area.

Our first sights of Uluru were stunning! The world appears flat as far as the eye can see. The land has sparse desert vegetation and the dirt is red. But then a massive monolith emerges from seemingly nowhere. It's awesome!


We had a well-balanced three days and enjoyed all of the activities we planned!

Our first evening we toured Bruce Munro's art installation 'Field of Light.' According to the official brochure, "More than 50,000 slender stems crowned with frosted-glass spheres bloom as darkness falls over Australia's spiritual heartland." Visitors can walk among the art installation along a guided pathway. Groups of lights "dance" in color unison. It's challenging to describe in words, and pictures don't do it justice. The entire installation is connected by fibre optic cable and it's all solar-powered, making it even more amazing.

Iterations of Field of Light have been exhibited in other places around the world but Munro's 1992 visit to Uluru inspired the idea. It has been so successful in Uluru it has been extended until 31 March 2018.

Here are some pictures.




It was much colder than what we've experienced in Sydney thus far.

I tried...

E really wanted to take our picture. Luckily Aaron's head isn't actually cut off.

The next day we had a full schedule: AM camel rides; PM museum; late PM family astronomy tour.

Off we went to the camel farm. What a hoot! I (Julie) had ridden a camel once before in the Negev and it wasn't the most pleasant memory. The camels were stubborn and defiant. I'm happy to report this was quite different! From what we could tell, the farm takes great care of their camels and it showed in the experience we had.

Getting ready to mount the camel.
Lean back as the camel stands up!


E was terrified! We thought he was going to jump off but he stayed on and enjoyed the experience. So proud.


Mommy and M on Trevor

Riding near the National Park with Uluru over the shoulder.

All smiles by the end!

After our ride, we spent some time at the camel farm. They have a great petting zoo (?) and someone at our hotel told us of an emu that dances with excitement when she sees visitors with a $2 bag of animal feed. This is a true story, though our thunder was stolen a bit by it being lunchtime for the animals.


After a full day, we did a family astronomy tour after sunset. It was a full moon so our views were hindered by the brightness but it was still awesome! We learned you can see about 70% of the stars in the sky from anywhere in the world. We got to see the big dipper! We also saw the southern cross (and can now positively identify it back in Sydney) and if we sing anymore Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young we're pretty sure the boys will disown us.


It's not easy to get pics in the darkness, but here are two pics from the astronomy tour (Jupiter and the moon)!




Our final morning before departure was spent at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Out of respect for the Anangu (the traditional aboriginal owners of Uluru), they ask that no photography be taken. We spent our time at the park in the cultural centre learning about the Anangu people, their struggle to protect the park, the taboo of climbing Uluru, the land's native vegetation and wildlife, and so much more.

Archaeologists believe humans settled in the area more than 10,000 years ago. In 1873, William Gosse was the first European (non-Aboriginal) to discover Uluru. He named it after Sir Henry Ayers who was the premier of South Australia at the time. The name Ayers Rock stuck for a long time.

In 1985 the land, already part of the national park, was titled back to the Anangu. The Anangu agreed to lease the land back to the government for 99 years; they also requested that visitors be discouraged from climbing the rock. While you still can climb, it is strongly discouraged. The path crosses sacred land for the Anangu and the Anangu feel a great sense of responsibility for the safety of visitors. The Park visitors guide says "the climb is not prohibited, but we prefer that, as a guest on Anangu land, you will choose to respect our law and culture by not climbing." Many people walk or bike the base of the rock but I didn't hear of any climbers during our visit. I hope it stays that way.

The respect of the indigenous at Uluru really got me thinking about how the US has treated our Native Americans. Food for thought...

When we returned to Sydney we took the boys to Vivid at the Taronga Zoo. It was amazing! More on that next time 😉

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Taronga Zoo, by E

Hello my name is Eytan and I am going to tell you about the zoo. The Taronga zoo is fun. We can get there by ferry, car, bus or many other ways.



I like that it has a lot of animals. There are some new animals we aren't used to seeing at zoos in America, like koalas, kangaroos and quokkas.

Quokka's are nocturnal and herbivores. They are also marsupials. This means they have a pouch for their babies. Quokka's live on Rottnest Island. It's far away.
Courtesy Jean Holy Smithereens
This is what a quokka looks like. You can also watch this video to see them move around.

Video courtesy Sara Kate Raymond

Koalas are also marsupials. They sleep a lot. A 17 year old koala will have slept 15 years of its life. They eat eucalyptus. 



We cannot touch them where we live. They are protected by the government. You can touch them in other states in Australia, like Queensland to our north or Victoria to our south.

One day we were at Taronga zoo looking at the chimps and all of a sudden they went crazy. They were hungry and fighting over food. We tried to post a video of it but it didn't work. 

We can walk through where the lemurs live. You cannot touch them. They live in Madagascar and eat mostly insects and fruit. 



  


They like to move it! Move it!



They have a seal show at the zoo. They jump off a fake cliff. They jump up and catch fish. I like to watch it.

They also have a bird show. The birds swoop down and do tricks.

The zoo has a sky train that takes you across the zoo over the animals. It was scary at first but then I liked it. It's a good way to get from one end of the zoo to the other instead of just walking. I also like the view.

There are kangaroos at the Taronga zoo. Kangaroos are big marsupials. There are different types of kangaroos such as grey kangaroos, antilopine kangaroos, and tree-kangaroos and they live in different places.

This is a grey kangaroo!

We joined as members of the zoo because we love visiting it so much. It's nice to support the animals at Taronga zoo.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Am I Uncle Traveling Matt?

Autumn is most certainly upon us here in Sydney so it's pretty bizarre to jump on social media sites and see our American friends wrapping up their school year, swimming, boating and enjoying the arrival of summer (even if the solstice is still a few weeks away).

Temps in Sydney are in the teens (remember that is Celsius; the conversion is T(°F) = T(°C) × 9/5 + 32, whatever that means). So today's high of 17°C = 63°F. That seems really pleasant but - HOLY MOLY - I've climatized! I'm in a t-shirt, jumper (hoodie) and puffy vest. I wouldn't scoff at gloves. I am cold.

Graphic courtesy of igetanswers.com

The kids have been a bit slower to climatize. Just this morning, when the temps were a crisp 10°C (52°F) I bundled them in three layers each. E was displeased but went along with my shenanigans; M loves new clothes so was thrilled for a new jacket. By the time I collected them from school they were both down to just their t-shirts (and pants!). I guess as long as they're comfortable...

Sydney hasn't seen measurable snow since 1836. That is not a typo. It has been 181 years since there was enough snow in Sydney to accurately measure. Farther out of Sydney -- the Blue Mountains especially -- will see some snow. I hope we're not here to see that 181 year old record broken.

If you walk into a chemist (pharmacy), variety store, grocery store, etc. you'll see gobs of winter gear. A few weekends ago ALDI released their middle aisle winter gear and it was the talk of the playground. You would've thought a shipment of 100 Hatchimals were begin stocked on Black Friday in the US. Proper winter boots; ski jackets, pants and other attire; space heaters; heating blankets; fleece-lined slippers / blankets / everything; hot water bottles...the list goes on and on. 

Thank you, Sydney Morning Herald!
This pic is from an ALDI in Melbourne during last year's winter gear release.

Aussies prepare for the tundra, but get mostly San Diego (with more precipitation). I really wish I knew how to order a proper coffee here to keep myself warm.

When preparing for this move, one adult in our household convinced the other adult that it was insane to bring heavy sweaters, gloves / hats / scarves, serious winter jackets, etc as it wouldn't get cold enough for any of that. But what we've learned is a) it does get cold enough, especially in the shade or when the sun sets (remember the sun sets early as we head into winter); and b) insulation in buildings isn't a thing here. As in, I'm pretty sure we have no insulation in our walls.

I guess I get to (have to?) go shopping.

The boys have gotten really into Fraggle Rock lately. It's such fun to watch with them and relive my childhood. Many days I feel like a less clumsy Uncle Traveling Matt exploring this new world! I have ventured out of the Rock and into Outer Space.

Image courtesy of Muppet Wiki

Monday, May 22, 2017

Where are you from?

Though the kids had showed tremendous interest in another guest blog, that interest waned when it actually came time to put words down. So you're stuck with me (Julie) again. I've been thinking a lot about what to write next. I have several blogs already drafted, but this one is tugging at my heart.

Once we open our mouths, it's quite obvious we're not Aussies. Instead of assuming we're Americans, people ask where we're from. We say the States, then they ask where. That's where things get tricky.


Courtesy HowToInstructions.org
We've come to realize this is an incredibly challenging question for us to answer. We usually respond with "We most recently lived in Arkansas [blank stare]. Our "forever home" is in Washington, DC [name recognition!]. Most of our family is in Michigan [maybe?]." 

Someone once dug a bit deeper, and that stuck with me. They asked "well if you were going back to the States for holiday, where would you go?" Michigan. Yep, Michigan. Of course we'd want to hop all around the country to see friends and family, but Michigan would be home base. Funny since we haven't lived in Michigan as "adults." 

Cool shirt from Spreadshirt.com

I've been thinking about Michigan a lot lately. A lot. Simply put: we've hit the homesick stage.

I'm learning there are many stages of a move like this. I'm summing them up as follows:

  • Honeymoon where everything is magical
  • Homesickness where you ache for the familiarity of your previous country
  • Coping where you begin to integrate into your community
  • Living where you've fully integrated

I think we're wandering between homesickness and coping simultaneously -- very normal and healthy. The homesickness isn't getting us down or stopping us from doing anything. We're not moping around the house or laying in bed. We just miss "home." 

We've made wonderful friends, are enjoying Sydney, are experiencing a lot of great things together; but that doesn't change our ache for "home."

The kids have a long winter break in a few weeks (eek!) and I've been eyeing flights to bring them to Michigan. I've come very close to booking them. Then I remember that I can't fathom driving on the right-hand side of the road just yet; its a ridiculously long flight; a ridiculously long flight to be outnumbered by children; a crazy time change; and defeats much of the purpose of this experience. 

But how do you convey - without whining or suggesting you want pity or need help - your feelings of homesickness? The ache for family, friends, familiar foods. We don't want to pack up and move back, so that's good! But when I floated the idea of a trip to Michigan, the boys were very, very excited. You probably want this blog to end with me telling you we booked the trip. We haven't.

Aaron's grandfather encouraged us to keep journals of our experience here in Australia. While that sounds like a lovely idea, physically writing down our thoughts these days just doesn't seem practical. I guess that's how the blog was born. It has been an incredible outlet for us (mostly me / Julie) to try to put our experiences into words. Thank you for being my journal.

Sunday evening in Breakfast Point with friends from the cruise. Loved the crunch of leaves under our feet!


Friday, May 12, 2017

What'll it be, mate?

Coffee is serious business in Australia. I mean it. I don't really know how to describe the coffee culture here, but it is strong. Like double espresso at 8PM strong.

I've only been brave enough to order coffee in Sydney four times. Yes, that's correct. In 3.5 months, I've consumed all of 4 coffees. I'm not a huge coffee drinker, but I previously enjoyed a nice cup of decaf a few times per week. I can certainly go without it.

The first time I ventured for a coffee was the first day of school for both boys. I was a bit lost as to what to do with myself as I'd been schlepping the kids around for a few weeks. I stopped by a coffee shop on my way to buy mattresses. I fumbled through an order and the lovely barista helped me translate what I wanted. It was disgusting.

The second time was at a kids Purim (Jewish festival) party early on a Sunday morning. The event organizers were smart enough to bring in a special coffee stall for the parents. Genius. I think I went weak and got a cappuccino out of desperation. Meh.

The third time I ordered coffee was at a meeting with parents from school. My lack of Australian coffee knowledge became a very fun topic of conversation. The server and several parents tried to determine what I wanted and helped me order. It was better than round one or two but still not quite to my liking.

The fourth and final time I tried coffee was at my favorite cafe on Darling St. in our neighborhood. They have the yummiest eggs, and I thought I'd have a go at a cup of something. I've been back for food but haven't ordered a coffee again.

In researching (?) for this post, I stumbled upon this great guide to coffee in Australia. Apparently I'm not the only foreigner who doesn't know how to order coffee:

Thank you, Sydney Moving Guide!

As you'll see form the above guide, there's no drip coffee.

The guide above also fails to mention iced coffee. I don't have firsthand experience in this area, but I did hear a story about a younger American businessman meeting with an older Australian businessman for a cup of coffee in Sydney. The younger bloke orders an iced coffee and -- seeing this was a business meeting -- the server tries to dissuade him. Younger man politely pushes for his iced coffee. What shows up, according to legend, is nearly dessert: many shots of espresso, whipped cream, chocolate syrup and ice cream. Ha!

Image courtesy Sydney Food Lovers
We're learning so much and experiencing so many new and interesting things. Our global perspective is shifting right before our eyes. Its pretty spectacular to be a part of. I am thankful every day for this experience for our family.

Next up, if I'm brave enough, another post from M & E. Pray for me 🙏

Monday, May 8, 2017

Three numbers that have changed our lives

The process for obtaining visas to come to Australia was a bit atypical for us as compared to most. Since Aaron has a chronic illness – though he's lucky enough to be pretty healthy – our visa required Aaron to get a medical exam. It was a nerve-wracking process with almost no information / communication. After all, we were under contract to sell our house (YAY!), had booked flights, paid deposits to school, etc, etc, etc. and we had no idea if our move would happen or be blocked because of the health screening. Then one evening during a festive Hanukkah party at my sister-in-law's parents house our visas came through. With no warning. Just BOOM! We're really doing this! Sh*t got real.
Image courtesy of Yimin-Visa.com

We're here on the Temporary Work (Skilled) visa (subclass 457) which allows skilled workers to come to Aust​ralia and work for an approved business for up to four years. This visa is commonly referred to as the "457" in Australia. As in "are you here on a 457?"

After all the waiting and uncertainty we experienced in December, there was a HUGE disruption to our lives while we were on our cruise in April.

During our trip, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton announced that the 457 visa will be abolished and replaced with a new work visa that is “manifestly, rigorously, resolutely conducted in the national interest.” Um. Okay. Deep breath.

PM Malcom Turnbull (L) and IM Peter Dutton (R) announcing plans
to scrap the 45 visa.  Image courtesy Kym Smith / NT News



So here we are, out of the country we reside in. Away from home. A new home, maybe sometimes unfamiliar, but still HOME. Will we be able to re-enter and get back home? Will we be detained at the border by immigration? Will we have to apply for a new visa? How will Aaron's Crohn's disease impact us staying?

Luckily, anyone already issued a 457 visa can continue on as usual. It took some patience to determine this (remember: we were on a cruise!) and though one of us was 100% certain we'd be welcomed back to Oz the other wasn't nearly as sure (Aaron’s note: I’ll let you all guess which one of us was more relaxed about this).

I hadn't previously thought of a label for our family during this experience. I guess temporary worker. But think about what that term means to you. And think about WHY you think of that meaning. This has made me incredibly introspective and cognitive about my own prejudice when I hear certain terms relating to immigration or job status and role.

We aren't immigrants as we're not seeking permanent residence (though I do love it here!). We also don’t think of ourselves as a class of people who are threats to take Australian jobs. We’re here legally with Aaron focused on building up an office that will add jobs to the Australian economy. We’re paying taxes and have insurance to cover our health issues. And we've been welcomed by the Australian people with open arms. 

Would we do the same in the US? Would it depend on where the foreigners hailed from? If they had insurance? If they had a high paying job v. a low paying one? No answers here, just lots of thoughts on the subject.

I've noted this before -- I pushed (hard!) for us to make this move. I wanted to push myself and our family outside of our comfort zone (cliche!). Taste new foods, experience a new culture, live on a different continent.

When did borders start to tighten? And why? Or have they been this way for some time and I just never noticed because it didn't impact me. And is that really the right attitude to have regarding immigration (or other, for that matter!) policy? "It's not going to impact me, why should I care?" But you know what? It might impact you one day. Or a friend. Or a neighbor. Or a child.

This isn't meant to stir up a political debate, but it's had me pondering for quite some time and I encourage you to think about these things, too. What is a “good” immigration policy? Why are so many people skeptical of immigrants? Why shouldn’t people that don’t live in our country of residence have the chance to experience what we experience? Aren’t nearly all of us descendants of immigrants?

You can point fingers many places, but sometimes we also have to look in the mirror. Are we really just scared...?

Monday, May 1, 2017

Trouble in Paradise, by M

Hi, I am Micah and I am 5 1/2 years old.

I got stuck in the toilet in Fiji. Here's what happened: the lock came off. No one knew how to get me out. I was almost stuck in there for an hour.

How did we get me out? The man came with a big knife and he told me to stand back. Mommy said he jabbed it into the toilet stall door. He tried to cut it open. That did not work. 

He came with a tall chair and hoisted me out. "Stand on the toilet" the man said. Some people helped him and he picked me up and pulled me over the toilet wall. 

When I got out everyone was happy. I hugged mommy and wouldn't let go. I was so sad I didn't want to go back to Fiji again in my life. I still don't feel happy about that.

 

Back at school, Micah drew a picture and wrote the above document about his holiday. All grammar and spelling have been corrected to protect my sanity. It reads: In the holiday I went to Fiji and I got stuck in a toilet.

[Some editor's notes and fill-ins: Micah did, in fact, get stuck in a toilet stall at a lovely resort near Lautoka, Fiji. Being the incredibly confident human that he is, he ventured to the toilet himself, locked the stall door and the lock broke. He did inform me he used the toilet before calling for help. He was not in the stall for an hour, as he claims; probably 7 minutes before we knew he was in distress and another 4 minutes until he was freed. Micah was a local celebrity upon reaching freedom. Our taxi driver mentioned the excitement without realizing he was driving the same child who was stuck. M is still experiencing toilet terrors. I predict this will be one of his earliest memories as he grows up. In lieu of another trip to Fiji, we may set that money aside for his future therapy.]