Thursday, June 30, 2011

Warning: This is a major crib post so if you're feeling annoyingly happy (annoying for others, not for yourself) or are pissed off with people in general, you may be better off not reading beyind this.

The past couple of weeks have been so hectic! I've been running around since I moved to Sydney. For one, I need to be at work latest by 9 every morning, so I'm getting an hour & a half less of sleep every night. Less sleep makes me cranky and perpetually exhausted. And just when I had started feeling settled into my service apartment, it was time to move house.

I moved in on Saturday and since then I've spent all my evenings buying things for the house, so I can set it up and make it feel like home. To be fair, it's a reasonably nice house - fairly big for one person, fully furnished with stuff from IKEA, and very conveniently situated right in the heart of the City so that it's a 30 second walk from the bus stop, 2 mins from the train station and a couple of minutes from 2 of the biggest supermarkets in Australia. So why am I complaining? Well, it doesn't FEEL like home. And it's obviously not as luxurious as the service apartment I was staying at, neither does it have a harbour view :(

Australia is so far away from the rest of the world that traveling anywhere is a hassle. A round trip to India costs approx. $1500 (Rs 65-75k) if you book 3 months ahead of your travel date, and the connectivity is so poor that unless you're supremely lucky you will end up with a 10 hour stop over in South East Asia! You can forget about traveling to Europe unless you have $2000-2500 lying spare to blow up on flight tickets and you get a kick out of flying (24 hours flying time to London). You would think that with the technology that we have access to today, life in Australia would be simple. It is a developed country after all. But the truth is that this is one strange country.

In many ways, Australia is ages behind other developed countries. Internet is shit expensive. So are fruits & vegetables because Australians won't open their economy to imports. They have a number of protectionist policies for their farmers & retailers, which is a good thing, but it also means that consumers pays ridiculously high prices for the basic necessities. If there's a flash flood in Queensland, which happens only every month, bananas will cost you $13 for a dozen. Which is beyond ridiculous, it's insane. It's cheaper to drive to work than take public transport. A 500ml bottle of Coke costs $3.50 and pizzas don't have enough sauce. Subway makes horrible sandwiches. Their coffee is too bitter and luke warm and they look at you like you've just escaped from an institution if you ask for milk & sugar (I have baristas offer to put chocolate in my coffee instead of sugar since sugar is high in calories. Really, since when did chocolate become health food?). And no one in this country seems to have heard of plastic bottles! (They still make glass bottles that you have to uncork & pop the lid of, to store water).

You know I'm thinking maybe Australia should increase its minimum education requirement from high school to college. They could certainly use a couple of Eureka! moments.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

They say that expectations kill relationships. But you can't have a relationship without expectations, can you? The same holds true for friendships, and that's one of the things that distinguishes friends from acquaintances.

I expect someone I consider a friend to be there for me when I need him/her, and I would do the same for them. But 31 years and I still err when it comes to separating my friends from acquaintances.

The key is to remember that there IS a reason why you aren't "friends" with someone you may have casually known for some time. People who're meant to be friends click at the first go. If you didn't - or it didn't occur to you both to take things to the next level - it's a sign that you should invest your emotions, time and energy elsewhere. If you pursue something that's not meant to be, you WILL be disappointed sooner rather than later.

I'm very lucky and blessed to have the friends that I do - friends who are there for me when I'm going through a rough time, who stick by me through thick or thin, who lift my spirits when I'm low, and who know when they need to put me before themselves because my need at that time may be greater than theirs. I try to be there for my friends as much as I can. And that is how the cookie crumbles.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Does Art Work for You?

You see I'm just not an art person. I don't know how to appreciate art and honestly, I couldn't care less.

Yes, I can appreciate a painting and if that's something you're good at, I respect your talent. But it's the pseudo-intellectualization of art that escapes me completely. You draw a face and the person to whom it belongs has a story behind themselves which I'm supposed to guess, how?

And then there's the fact that no art exhibition is complete without a few paintings whose sole intention is to create shock value. All in the name of artistic freedom of course. And you see people, "art connoisseurs" supposedly, over-analyzing every single stroke of the brush, every color on the canvas as if they've been inside the painter's mind and back.

I'm sorry but art just doesn't work for me. Not even if there's unlimited free champagne involved. And definitely not when my feet are killing me from the high heel torture I've inflicted on them all day, and I'm expected to spend 2 hours walking around looking at paintings that make no sense to me and making small talk with strangers.

Nah, not happening.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Fun Monday. They Happen.

Going by the number of comments my posts have been getting of late, I don't think many people read my blog anymore :( I don't blame them though, I've hardly been updating this space of late. Anyway, on to happier things...

I had the most fun day at work today (apparently that IS possible) and I just have to share it with you guys!

So, today was 'Team Building Day' at work. Which means that clients were duly informed that we would be out for fun 'n' games and wouldn't be available all day. We were divided into teams and during the first half of the day, we had to write, script and shoot an ad!

The theme for the ad was 'the advantages of riding a horse to work' (!!!) and we were given props that we had to use in the ad - a horse that made strange noises if you pulled its ears and a bunch of Hula skirts.

Our ad revolved around bringing chivalry back. Horses are integral to that theme, of course. We did a very cool old Hollywood style British voice over talking about how men have, since time immemorial, been trying to impress women. In the medieval times they used to do it through chivalry, however over time they somehow seem to have lost their way and it's all about "getting laid" now. And they go about it in the most tacky, crass manner.

In line with the theme, we shot scenes where a White Knight slays a Dark Knight so he can rescue damsels in distress (with women wearing blond wigs and acting all helpless, of course), scenes with men opening doors and pulling out chairs for women.

Cut to modern times and we have men wearing Hula skirts and holding up 'Honk if you're horny' signs heckling women on the streets (basically to show how stupid men really are these days...LOL). The women were disgusted of course. We had a restaurant scene where the man pulls out a chair for his date but goes on to sit on it himself. And we had a scene in a club where men in pink cowboy hats are "accidentally" falling over women and trying to pick them up by using cheesy pick up lines.

We closed the ad with a scene where we showed a woman walking out of work and waiting for a taxi. A guy in a Porsche stops and offers her a ride, which she declines. And then a man gallops up to her on his horse and she rides with him into the sunset. Our closing line was "Riding a horse to work will not only get you noticed, it will also increase your chance of getting laid...because when it comes to choosing between a Porsche and a horse, she'll always choose the horse."

It makes no sense whatsoever, I know, but we had a blast shooting it b/c men in Hula skirts running down the streets and trying to act seductive is a hilarious sight.

During the second half, we were divided into teams again and we did a Masterchef Australia-like team challenge! We were taken to a restaurant called 'Cooking for Blokes' (need I elaborate further?) Each team was given a dish to prepare along with the recipe and the food we cooked was our lunch! My team made corn tortillas with a chorizo sausage filling (yumminess!), salsa & guacamole!

At the end of the challenge we had 2 starters, 2 main course dishes and a dessert! We also had judges and the team that came up with the best dish won a team dinner. There was also unlimited beer, champagne and sangrias, and by the time lunch ended we were all quite "happy" on spirits and were told that we didn't need to go back to work. Not a bad way to spend Monday at all, is it?

PS: I guess we're not done with the spirits yet. I'm now working on a half finished bottle of bubbly that's been lying in my fridge for a few days. Some days, you've just gotta let it flow. Cheers people!!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Finding My Groove

Sydney is growing on me, and I'm sure the sparkling blue water of the harbour has got a lot to do with it.

I grew up in a rather land locked part of the country, but ever since I moved out of home I've been ending up in places that are either on the coast or very close to it. Which is ironic given that I'm hydrophobic (I love the sea but I don't like getting in). Maybe it's the Piscean in me that seeks out places close to the sea? My favorite cities in the world (amongst the ones I've been to/lived in) are all near a water body - Bombay, Chicago & San Francisco. It's to be seen whether Sydney makes it to that hallowed list but what I can say right away is that it's one of the most livable cities in the world.

For one, it's clean and green and all those things that seem to occur so effortlessly in developed countries.

Secondly, the people are extremely friendly and helpful. They smile at you in elevators, they'll happily help you with directions and will ask you to walk with them if they're going in the same direction, they'll stop and ask if you want them to take a picture of you/your group. The only other friendlier people I've met are the Americans but it depends on which part of America you're in!

Getting around in Sydney is really convenient thanks to the excellent public transport the city has. It's very well connected by buses, trains and ferries, all of which are clean, comfortable and run on schedule.

Sydney really takes care of its people. There are plenty of free attractions for citizens such as the Vivid Light Festival (that I wrote about in my previous post), and weekend fireworks & street performances at Darling Harbour.

And then there's the water front! The Sydney harbour is beautiful and they've done the most of using their water front to enhance the appeal of the city. Two of the most happening places in Sydney - The Rocks, home to the iconic Sydney Opera House, and Darling Harbour, a strip of restaurants, cafes & pubs - are situated along the water front.

Darling Harbour is home to some of the best restaurants in Sydney and has a number of cultural events going on at any given point of time. You can even catch free street performances if you're not in the mood to shell out dough for entertainment on a Saturday evening, and don't want to spend it cooped inside your home either. Twice a month, on Saturdays, there are fireworks!

And if you're from India, you can find comfort in brands. Many food and personal care brands available in India are available here as well - Lux, Dove, Nivea, Palmolive, Sunsilk, L'Oreal, Garnier, Olay, Nescafe, Tetley, Lipton are the ones I've seen till now. They even have Maggi here though they pronounce it differently (maji) and they don't have Maggi Masala noodles here of course!

The downside of living in Sydney is the ridiculously high cost of living.

Sydney is prohibitively expensive. Everything from real estate to groceries to clothes are e-x-p-e-n-s-i-v-e. The cost of living in this city is 1.5-2 times that of living in a similar city in America, and that's one of the reasons why I miss the US so much. People here can't go out for movies/dinner/drinks every weekend and end up spending most of their Friday/Saturday nights watching TV at home! Ask any Sydneysider what's the one thing he/she doesn't like about the city and you won't need to wait for an answer.

Having said that, I'm starting to enjoy living in Sydney. I guess it's about finding your groove. It's about finding like-minded people to hang out with. It takes time but you do end up finding your place in the city.

Do I see myself settling down in Sydney? I would have to say 'no', as of now anyway. Once you've explored all there is to Sydney it can become quite a boring city to live in (SWB, are you listening? :P) But I can definitely see myself spending a couple of years here enjoying the spirit of the Aussies and soaking in the sun at the city's water front.

Oh, and did I mention the here food is awesome?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sydney Blues

The third season of Masterchef Australia is on air right now and I'm hooked to it. The format is just as engaging as the second season that I saw in India. But unlike last season, I don't find myself rooting for any one contestant. Maybe it's b/c I don't find this year's contestants to be as culinarily capable as those from Season 2. Remember Marion, Adam, Callum & Jonathan? There's no one as good as them this time around. Instead there are people who make very basic home cook mistakes all the time, who crack under pressure and come up with disastrous, under-salted food, and who it seems are there just by fluke!

I clearly remember last year's contestants being able to rustle up French, Spanish, Russian, Indian, Asian dishes with equal elan. The furthest this year's contestants can stretch is Asian food, which is no achievement given that the Australian food scene is heavily dominated by Asian cuisine.

Having said that, it's quite comforting to be able to watch shows that I watched in India as well. That's the thing with Australian TV - most of the shows are American. Friends, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, and other shows that are aired on Star World in India. I do miss the trashy reality shows of India though. I wish I could watch 'Khatron ke Khiladi', Indian Idol, Big Boss etc.


This was a long weekend for us but the weather wrecked all my plans! I had plans to walk across the Harbour Bridge and take pictures of the harbour, to walk around Kirribilli Village (it's this cute little hilly neighbourhood near where I stay, with adorable houses and small shops & restaurants), and to go to Darling Harbour. But the cold, incessant rain made sure I was under house arrest for most of the weekend. I did brave the rains and go to The Rocks though....yay!!

You know, the thing is maybe I'm being too demanding of myself. I've been in Sydney only 2 weeks and I expect myself to be in love with the city already. Which I think is an unrealistic expectation given that I came here without any friends.

I think I need to give myself 5-6 months to fall in love with Sydney. That's the minimum amount of time it takes to find a set of consistent friends, get to know your way around, and generally feel "settled" in a city. What d'you think?


The good news is that I move into my new house - which is in the heart of Sydney - in a couple of weeks. Yay!!

I'm staying in a service apartment right now, in a very upscale part of Sydney. Which means there are no supermarkets around, hardly any people walking the streets, and all the shops & restaurants shut by 4pm on weekdays and remain shut on weekends. This place is a ghost town after 5pm on weekdays and practically throughout the can't even get a cup of coffee or a sandwich if you're dying of hunger and are out of food at home. Whereas I'm a city girl thru 'n' thru. So you can imagine how excited I am to be moving to a more lively part of Sydney. Heck, it doesn't get more lively than the City and soon my blues will go away...yay!!

Having said that, I so miss my mom and my dad and my sister and my friends in India. We usually don't know what we have until we don't have it anymore. The good thing is I now know exactly how blessed I am to have people who love me as much as my family & friends do, and I know never to take them for granted EVER again. Moonshine, Knife, Serendipity - I love you guys! :((

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sydney Lovin'

'The Rocks' is where it all began for Sydney. It's the place where the first European settlers in Australia disembarked, and still hosts an Overseas Passenger Terminal for those arriving in Australia by ship. The 19th century warehouses have since then been converted to restaurants & pubs, and the narrow cobblestone streets are now home to The Rocks Market where you can buy arts & crafts, clothes/jewellery etc. as well as fresh produce. The Rocks is also the place where Sydneysiders can go to enjoy free events such as the on-going Vivid Light Festival.

Yesterday was a bright & sunny day, and this being the last weekend of Vivid, I decided to go to The Rocks with a couple of friends for a little bit of Sydney lovin' that I so seem to need right now. Besides, there was the lure of having a mocha at Guylian, a place highly recommended by The Knife. Unfortunately, the weather turned by the time we reached Circular Quay, the area leading up to The Rocks.

The Circular Quay is home to the iconic Sydney Opera House. Being adjacent to the Harbour Bridge, The Rocks also offers stunning views of the bridge. We were wet and cold to the bone but we just stood there watching the rain meet the open sea. It reminded me of Bandstand during the monsoon...there were so many times when my roommate & I would walk down to Bandstand in the rains, sit inside the Barista with a hot drink and watch the rain lash at the swollen sea. Then we'd take a walk down the promenade, get drenched and go back home wet, cold but utterly satisfied. I miss Bandra :-(

Anyway, back to Sydney and The Rocks. The mocha at Guylian didn't happen because there was a 20 minute queue to be seated inside the cafe, and being almost soaked, we weren't feeling adventurous enough to rough it out in their outdoor seating area. But a double cheeseburger with fries from Hungry Jack (Burger King as it's known in Australia) and a hot chocolate later, we were good to slum it out for another couple of hours to watch the Vivid light show and the fire dance.

The Vivid light show is this thing where they decorate the trees with dancing lights of various colors, project 3D lights on to the Opera House (I think they were trying to go for fish shapes but they came across looking like sperms!) and have choreographed fire shows and the likes.

It was a long evening...felt longer because we were wet and cold to the bone. But it was such a lot of fun. We shared umbrellas, took horrible pictures (thanks to the rain & cloudy skies!), and I realized once again how much I really love cities that have the sea.

PS: Should I kill myself before I admit that I'm in love with Katy Perry's 'Firework'? Or is it acceptable to like her? :p

PPS: I have a retarded wi fi connection. I just spent an hour uploading 4 pictures on Blogger and then I lost them all. There's no way I'm going thru' that painful process again, so picts will come when they come. @#$%^&*%$#@@!$%

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sydney, Part I

It’s been a month since I last posted, and what a month it’s been! I packed up my house and moved continents! I’d call that pretty eventful.

Today is a week since I landed in Sydney.

Sydney is a beautiful city and pretty awesome too (I’m sure the fact that I'm currently staying a stone's throw from the Harbour Bridge in a service apartment with a Bay view, and that the walk to work includes includes a 5 minute stretch with breath-taking views of the Harbour Bridge with ships & ferries floating about, has got nothing to do with my perception of the city :P). But like any big city in the world, including Bombay, Sydney is fun only if you have friends . Else it can get pretty lonely.

Here are my first impressions of Sydney, Australia and Australians in general:

1. There are 2 parts to Sydney - Sydney & North Sydney. The area to the north of the Harbour Bridge is called North Sydney and that to the south is Sydney. Both have their own CBDs (Central Business Districts) and are both self-sufficient, but are very different in terms of ambience.

2. The part of Sydney you live in is directly proportional to your state of happiness. I work in North Sydney and am currently staying in the same area. And let me tell you something - this area can get pretty deserted & lonely after 6pm on weekdays and on weekends. Safety isn't an issue but if you're a city person like me, the kind of person that likes to have people and activity around, there's a good chance you'll find North Sydney depressing. In that case I'd recommend living in the City area. It's more expensive than other parts of Sydney - obviously - but it's alive and kicking till 10-10.30pm on week nights and pretty buzzing over weekends as well. Not to mention that everything from supermarkets to pharmacies to pubs/restaurants/cafes to shopping to healthcare centers will be within 5 minutes walking.

3. That's the other thing about Sydney, you've got to be prepared to walk. ALOT. But then that's true of most big cities, isn't it? You'll need to walk to the station, walk from the station to your office/home, walk from parking to office, walk to the supermarket, walk if you want to shop.

4. Sydney is an EXPENSIVE city!!! Phew!!!!! Be prepared to shell out big bucks for everything from rent to eating out to entertainment. Even public transport, though excellent, is fairly expensive. Sample this - a tube of 100gm toothpaste costs $5, eating out at a decent (not fancy) restaurant will set you back by $20-25 per person, on average, (I'm talking one dish and a non-alcoholic beverage to go with it), a regular cup of mocha will cost you approx. $4, movie tickets are $20 (!!!), the minimum fare for a one-way train ride is $3.20. You get the picture. I'd say the cost of living in Sydney is approx. 1.5 times that of an American city. You'll get used to how much everything costs here but it will take a while.

5. Sydney has excellent public transport - trains, buses & ferries. Public transport is the way to go if you want to avoid getting stuck in traffic snarls. Trains & buses are clean, run on schedule, and though crowded during peak hours, it's never an unpleasant experience as people are civilized and courteous towards each other. A word of warning though - public transport in Sydney isn't as cheap as one may think. But there are weekly passes available at 7 Elevens and news agencies, which allow unlimited travel and therefore work out to be slightly more economical. You can get Weeklies made for trains, buses & ferries separately, or you can get a Multi-zone pass that will allow unlimited travel by any mode of public transport.

5. The food here is mind blowing. Name any cuisine under the sun and it's available here. You need not go to a fancy place if you feel like having Thai or Lebanese or Turkish food. There are moderately priced restaurants/take away joints all over the city (when I say moderately priced in mean $7-10 per dish) where you can get authentic global cuisine, cooked by natives (part of the reason it's so good?). And they don't skimp on portions. The flip side - you need to really watch your weight.

6. Most shops and shopping complexes here close at 5pm on weekdays & Saturday and are shut on Sunday. If you're living in North Sydney the thing to bear in mind is that all shops, including restaurants & cafes, close by 5pm, are open only half-day on Saturday & are shut on Sunday.

7. Bank accounts are the easiest thing to get in this country. Everything else is a bitch. The only document you need for a bank account is a valid photo ID and an address (can be your employer's address). However, God help you when it comes to looking for a house to rent, a post-paid phone connection, cable or internet. You'll need more documents for this than you did for your visa! You'll be asked for your passport, health insurance card, bank statement (showing a fair amount of money in the bank), credit card, employer letter (in some cases), driver's license (if you have one), lease agreement etc.

8. People in Sydney are always dressed up. Quite like Europeans. The normal dress code for women in winters is jeans tucked inside boots, or short skirts with stockings & boots. The color code is black, grey & off-white. Everyone wears make up all the time. It's rare to find people dressed in jeans, sweatshirt and walking shoes.

9. Work starts early. Like reallllllly early. Working hours are usually 9-5pm. 9-4 if you're lucky. Most people are at work by 8.30-8.45am, so if you're not a morning person, think twice before moving to Australia.

10. Aussies are friendly people, very willing to help. Contrary to perception, they're not arrogant and snooty. I'd say they're mid-way between Americans & Europeans in terms of their culture and disposition.

11. They're very proud of their country and their nationality. This is very evident in TV shows and advertisements. They take pride in and support everything that's Australian grown/made.

12. Unfortunately, people in most parts of the world - including India - are not exposed to any part of Australian culture be it TV shows or news. Aussie culture is very different from the rest of the World, so be prepared to feel a little lost in group situations at the beginning. The best way to get up to speed would be to watch TV, including commercials, read Aussie magazines and visit Australian websites.

These are my first impressions of Sydney. It's a wonderful city even though a little bit lacking in history (there's a reason Australia is part of "The New World"). I miss the history that cities like Bombay, Calcutta, London & Paris have and that's reflected in their architecture. But I visited the City area today and fell in love with it. It's everything that one looks for in a city and more. You have to be a city person to appreciate it, of course. I'll do more posts on Sydney as & when I experience things. For now I need to go do my laundry. Ooh, what a fun way to spend to Saturday night!