Category Archives: challenges

First impressions of Sydney

View of the City

Apologies for the picture quality, and for the pause, everyone, but moving is chaotic (as all of you probably know), and we have yet to buy rechargeable camera batteries. We’ve been in Sydney for a little over two days, and so far, life hasn’t been too bad. But moving countries is nothing like going on a holiday, even if you do have a nice view from the balcony of the place you plan to call home for maybe a week or two. I figured I’d record a few random thoughts about my new surroundings, more for my own amusement than anything else.

  • Clothing-wise, the shiny : non-shiny ratio is much higher here than in the states. Also, hot pants seem to be in? Either that or people just wear them because they can. Excessive temperatures seem to lead to bravery in terms of the amount of skin people are willing to show, but anyone who has been to LA knows that already.
  • You can buy sunscreen in bulk. Correction: I will be buying sunscreen in bulk.
  • Who gives a guy a lap dance in the front window of a fast food place? I mean, seriously – at least find somewhere a little further from the checkout counter if you have the sudden urge to simulate sex in public.
  • Government bureaucracies are a pain in the ass everywhere, particularly if you don’t easily fit into the boxes said bureaucracy must check in order to help you do whatever it is you need to do.
  • Being on a temporary visa means you have two governments to deal with, both of whom will take full advantage of the fact that it’s rather difficult for you to complain when they make you jump through hoops and still tell you it’s impossible to actually give you what you need.
  • Being a citizen doesn’t guarantee that things are any better, at least at first. On that note, how is a 6 month lease and a utility bill more of a guarantee that you’ll stay in your country than the fact that you can no longer legally work anywhere else in the world?
  • Finding peanut butter without Emulsifier #417 (whatever that is) is virtually impossible. We finally discovered that health food stores are the place to look, though you shouldn’t expect that it’ll taste the same as the stuff back in the States. Maybe they grow a different variety of peanut here?
  • Live on a train line in Sydney, and for the sake of your own sanity, pick one that gets frequent train service. I cannot tell you how long I have waited for trains collectively here, mostly because the suburb I’m staying in is at the end of the line. And that’s only in the last two days!
  • I want to live close to the city, but not in it. This may partially be due to the fact that I haven’t yet internalized walking on the left side of the street, and constantly feel like I’m playing chicken with oncoming pedestrian traffic.
  • Malls often involve a wide variety of food stores, including a grocery store that competes with butchers, fruit stores, and bakeries positions just outside of its entrance. Usually, the grocery store stuff is nowhere near as pretty as the stuff in the specialty shops, so prepare to browse.
  • EVERYTHING is expensive here. For some things, the prices are a factor of 3 or 4 times what I’m used to paying. And everyone seems to pay cash or uses debit cards. It’s going to take a little while and some planning before we figure out how to live cheaply here, and discover all the best places to buy whatever food we normally buy.
  • American != Australian.
  • Newspaper-wise, The Australian is like Fox News in print. The Sydney Morning Herald is more my style – it seems like they actually take themselves (and the ethics of journalism) seriously, though that last point will take a little more research.
  • Sports make the front page. Top fold.
  • I cannot wait to have our own apartment. These corporate apartments are nice, but they aren’t home. Of course, I may revisit this when we sign a lease and find ourselves sleeping on camping mats on the floor until we find a bed we can actually afford.
  • Cricket IS sort of like baseball. Though they run back and forth instead of around in circles, bat underhand, and can take anywhere from 4 hours to something like 15 days to finish a game, depending on which game you’re watching. Maybe I’m oversimplifying?
  • People are genuinely nice here. I’m going to have to get used to people actually being friendly, because all this greeting and looking people in the eye for no other reason than to smile and be neighborly is shocking to someone who has been living in the North East for a decade.
  • Nothing is particularly modern or efficient here. It’s like a 1950’s movie version of the US, except with accents and costumes designed by Britney Spears (ok, maybe only in Cronulla).
  • As James said, Australians don’t seem to require the same attention to detail as Americans require. Mostly because we are trained from birth to pull out legalese to get our way, I suppose.
  • I find myself suddenly caring about how my toenails look.  And when did I get so pale? Not that I could ever be considered “tan”… Maybe lobster-like.
  • The artisan bread movement has not yet made serious in-roads in Australia. I can tell we’re going to be doing a lot of baking once we get settled.
  • Customs and immigration were a lot nicer than I expected them to be. I think they’re more suspicious if you’re coming in for a quick visit than if you’re moving to Australia for a while.
  • Why, oh why, do referee reports always come in just after they would have been convenient?

That’s all I have for now. I promise pictures and more once I get a little more settled.

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Filed under Australia, challenges, stories

It’s personal this time

Healthy food

Balance

So, I tend to avoid really difficult subjects on this blog. Well, lately, that’s been the case, anyway. Aside from the occasional Obama bakesale and donation, I haven’t been all that devoted to anything but trying to get through this Ph.D. and procrastinating with wedding planning of late. But I’ll take a break from the 4 am posts and discuss something that’s been on my mind for a while. It ends in a personal challenge of sorts, so hang in there.

At this point, I guess you’re a bit sceptical. People talk about health in relation to food all the time. We’ve built up an entire science around the attempt at defining a healthy diet, and a healthy individual. Society has decided who should eat cookies and who should not, usually based solely on one’s pant size. But it’s not that simple, as many who have struggled with some diet or another have probably found.  Thin does not necessarily equal healthy, and healthy does not necessarily equal thin. Anyone who tells you otherwise is sorely mistaken.

I’ll use myself as an example. Most people would say I’m fairly thin. I’m tall, and have been wearing the same few pairs of size 8 jeans since the start of college.  I’m well proportioned, for the most part. But none of this means I’m actually healthy. I have my grandfather’s sweet tooth, with all the danger associated with that, and since I moved in with James, and started having to take night shifts once a week, it’s kicked in like crazy.  I’m still thin, relatively. But am I healthy? Not so much. I exercise, and try to eat relatively healthy stuff most of the time (whole grains, homemade meals, etc), but I’ve gained about 5 pounds a year since I turned 25. And I’ve watched my blood pressure creep up in return.  It runs in the family, as does heart disease.

The funny thing is, when I took better care of myself — two years ago — the girls in my office thought I was too thin. They’d tell me so, on a regular basis, in worried, scolding tones. I don’t think they meant badly, but it made me self-conscious. I started eating more. Candy from the snack room, plenty of cookies at cookie time, a bit more meat.  I gained weight. My blood pressure went up. Running got harder. But the comments stopped, and I felt a bit more comfortable in my skin.

Perhaps I’m too sensitive. I realize it’s my responsibility to take care of my own health, and I really shouldn’t listen to what other people have to say about my physical appearance. But the point is that external expectations for physical appearance — expressed in harmless comments, perhaps, or in the media — do have an effect on how people view themselves, even if other, more reliable indicators of health, tell them they’re doing just fine. And this problem goes both ways. Tell a perfectly healthy girl that she’s anorexic, and she may try to gain weight. Tell another perfectly healthy girl that she’s a fat pig, and she’ll spend her life feeling like she constantly has to diet. Neither situation is particularly healthy.

Anyway, the economy actually got me thinking about all this lately.  I know, that sounds strange. But it makes fiscal sense to eat only what you need, at least most of the time. It also makes financial sense to try to maintain your health to the best of your ability. Health care costs for diseases associated with poor diet (diabetes, heart disease, cancer) are atrocious. And who wants to live with those diseases? If only the US government would realize, and actually prioritize preventative medicine, rather than allowing (some) private health care companies to ignore patients until they’re almost too far gone to act, or letting those without healthcare coverage use the ER as their primary health provider … Oh yah, and there’s the whole US food system. But I digress.

I’m presenting myself with a bit of a challenge for the next few months. I’m going to go back to my mostly vegetarian diet. I’m cutting out all the sugar, except on special occasions (my birthday, holidays, graduation, wedding, occasional gatherings with friends). No nightshift snack-bin raids. No sugary mochas to get back on schedule. And I’m getting back on a running schedule. I think I’ll try to document how well I’m sticking to my plan, as well as the amount I save, on a monthly basis (as well as I can) on this blog.  To give myself an incentive, I’m going to save those amounts for road race entry fees (if you’ve never tried them, do — they’re an awesome way to see a city in a new light). Double incentives are good, right?

To go with this, James and I have agreed we’ll both skip meat one day a week. So, I’ll be posting healthy, vegetarian recipes that even meat-eating Australians might be able to stomach.  He doesn’t like soy, beans, or tofu. He lives on bread, cheese, and salami. And he claims vegetarian meals don’t fill him up. Um … yah. I think this last bit will be my real challenge.

I should clarify: there are actually three motives behind this challenge. The first is my desire to improve my health (and James’s), the second has to do with my long-term goal of lessening my carbon footprint (check out my post on Mark Bittman to see how decreasing meat consumption will help with that), and the third is my concern about the economy.  All good reasons, I believe…

We’ll see how it goes, I suppose?

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Filed under challenges, economy, weight