From Austin to Oz. I'm planning to flee the country for 7 months - working for 4 and traveling for 3.
Departure = 03 Sep 2003 / Re-entry = 03 Apr 2004

Tuesday, October 28, 2003


I quit my job. Four days after I began.

No regrets.

The job just didn't fit. Promises of quick money in just days did not justify the long hours, daily footpain, sunburnt lips, a tie in 34C degree weather. My quality of life diminished; I did not travel all the way to the other corner of the globe to work 60-80+ hours a week.

This job really wasn’t made for me and vice-versa. I am too much of a nature boy, smelling flowers, looking at spiders and crickets, listening to crows and lorikeets, petting dogs and cats, watching people go by, following butterflies, sniffing and staring at frangipanis, etc. Knocking on doors and making sales got in my way of enjoying my walkabouts.

There will be other jobs. To me, a job is a means of making money. It is not my identity.

In fact, I’ve already applied online for two places: one at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and one at the Tangaloomba Wild Dolphin Resort (40km from Brisbane).

(P.S. If you are curious of how much money I made after four 10-hour days of peddling discount cards, the total is AUS$65 / US$45.50)

Monday, October 27, 2003


As of last Thursday (24 Oct), I now have a job! (Insert heaps of relief, here.) Being trilingual, degreed, and with a strong I/T background, what kind of work do you think that I have found after several fruitless weeks of responding to on-line job ads ranging from Lotus Notes DBA to night shift stocker at the local supermarket; phoning people about posted work announcements in the Saturday newspaper spanning from web content editor to night porter for a backpacker hotel; and dropping off my resume at countless bookstores, restaurants, bars, and hwhutnot in search of some little "hobby" that would pay my bills? No, not the spot for "Brothel Hostess/Receptionist" at Intrigue of Marcoola posted in the 11 Oct 2003 edition of the Courier-Mail, (Brisbane's newsrag) -- altho the announcement mentioned "no experience necessary".

Door-to-door salesman.

After searching for about 6 weeks now here in Brisbane and learning that there really isn't much short-term work in Australia outside of Melbourne and Sydney, I am now an independent contractor who goes door-to-door selling discount cards along the line of those Entertainment Books. Sorta like an Avon Man, I guess. It's pure commission, and I get paid between A$10-20 (US$7-14) for every card I sell.

Sales. This is so unlike me. The skeptic that I am towards salespeople, the shoe is now on the other foot. But, I figure that I'm here in Australia to try new experiences, so I took it. I'll only be doing it for 8 weeks, too, so it's an opportunity to learn new skills that I could always use later, right? And, no one else in Brisbane has offered me work (except for door-to-door appointment setting for TimeLife books while traveling around Oz).

So, what is it like to be that guy who at one time or another, knocked on your door offering "the next big something you can't live without"?

I arrive at the office at 10h15 AM, when the other salesmen and I have almost 2 hours of meetings and motivational talk. Then, from noon to about 8 PM (minus a 30/45-min lunch break), I am on my feet, knocking on doors in various Brisbane neighborhoods and trying to persuade people to part with A$35 for a movie rental, restaurant, cinema, or whatever discount card that we are distributing that day. Not very glamorous. Lots of extemporaneous speaking. We return to the office around 8/8h30 PM and have a recap of how our day was, which techniques worked and which did not. Plus, the leaders reiterate the "GIFTS" of good salesmen (or, how salesmen persuade people to buy things):

G - Greed. Using words like "free", "unlimited", "bonus", "2-for-1", etc. answers the question "What's In It For Me?" that customers have while you are explaining the product.

I - Indifference. Present the product and act like you don't care if the customer buys the product or not. That way, you don't appear desperate and the customer believes that s/he is buying something instead of you selling something.

F - Fear of Loss. Mention "well, I started out with 2'000 of these cards and only have 77 left." That makes customers think that they will miss out on a good deal that hundreds of other people have snapped up.

T - The Jones Theory. People are sheep and want everything that their neighbors have > "Keeping up with the Joneses." If you show that other people bought the card, it evaporates skepticism and makes people think that they are not being swindled since all their neighbors are buying the card, too.

S - Sense of Urgency. Tell the customer that you will only be in the neighborhood until 8PM and this is their only opportunity to purchase the discount card. That forces on-the-spot decisions and to "act now, supplies are limited".

And, so, that's it. (And, as a sidenote, I had no idea how many men answer the door wearing nothing but underwear.)

I'm using suncreme / sunlotion and drinking lots of water, since summer has begun here in Australia just a few weeks ago. Also, I am going to start taking a lunch with me because our lunches are usually at fast-food places, which I don't like at all. What good is walking all day going to do me if I eat bad food? Further, I have been taking the train to work, but I will begin riding my bicycle to the office (about a 15-minute ride). That will save me A$2.70 (US$2.00) in trainfare every day.

Things that I don't like:
* Wearing a tie
* Wearing a long-sleeve shirt
* Having to work from 10h15 AM to 8h30 PM every M-F and 10 AM to 5 PM every Saturday
* Not having guaranteed income
* No health insurance
* Lunch is fast-food

Things that I like:
* I get paid in cash at the end of every day.
* I can choose which days that I work. If I want to take a day off, I do. Of course, I won't be paid that day.
* Saturdays are optional, so I probably won't work those days, since I will have already worked almost 60 hours by then.
* I learn about Brisbane neighborhoods
* I am exercising at least 8h every day by walking
* I ride my bike to work

In order to convert my work visa to travel visa (which will allow me to travel in Australia for 3 months after my work visa expires), I need to prove to the Immigration Office that I have at least A$3'000 (US$2'000) in my Australian bank account. I think that I can earn A$3'000 in the 8 weeks (@ A$375/week) that I will have this job. I worked last Friday and Thursday and have already made A$65. Only A$2'935 more to go!

Sunday, October 26, 2003

A Maple Leaf Wondah Down Undah

Earlier today, I was in the Myer Centre, a large 4-story mall that fronts the pedestrian Queen Street here in Brisbane. While in the food court, I came across a New York Fries fast-fooderia. On the menu was "poutine", a Quebec invention involving fries, brown gravy, and white cheddar cheese to which my friend David Pinard introduced me when I was visiting him in Montreal in 2000. Huh? How does a uniquely Canadian cup of cuisine wind up offered in a store named after the Big Apple in a mall located in the southern shore of the Pacific Ocean?

Turns out that New York Fries was started by two Canadians after a trip to NYC in 1984. There are restos all over Canada, the United Arab Emirates, and South Korea. And now, there is a New York Fries in Brisbane -- Australia's first.

A bit of Warwick, Quebec, Canada, on the other side of the Pacific. Byew-dy, that.

Oddly, there are no New York Fries in the USA. I reckon McDonald's had something to do with it.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

El Tortillero

Two Sundays ago, 05 Oct (or maybe Monday, I don’t remember), Robin and I invited our neighbors David and Karina to our apartment for a Mexican dinner on Thursday, 09 Oct. We decided to make the meal entirely from scratch -- no mixes, no shortcuts, no easy-way-outs, and definitely NO OLD EL PASO KITS.

Food is love, simple as that. Mexicans believe that food absorbs the emotions that the cook had while cooking (read Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel). Thus, if the cook felt love for the diners, then the diners will taste the cook’s love for them in the food. Nothing tastes like the love in a home-cooked meal, and fast food is tasteless because McDonald’s does not love you (and if it does, McDo Love is as artificial as the flavors and colors smashed between two sugar-sweetened buns). Faux love is no love, baby.

Tuesday, we lined up a menu:


Appetizers (or “Entrees”, as they are called in Australia)
*Tomato/habañero salsa w/ chips
*Guacamole w/ chips
*Mushroom quesadillas, Mexico City-style

*Chicken enchiladas with a raspberry mole sauce
*Black beans
*Spanish rice
*Black bean and corn relish

*Pumpkin flan

Now that we had a goal, this gave me impetus to make homemade tortillas, something that I have not attempted since 1994 (when I used powered sugar instead of flour, but that’s a different story), so I was determined to make them well. My heritage was on the line, even if it was represented by a flat, Mexican pancake. After having scanned the Internet for corn tortilla recipes (integral for the quesadillas and enchiladas) off to various locales I sped on a Tuesday. It involved a trip to Coles (the local supermarket), Big W (the Australian Wal-Mart), and a stop at the Indian grocery store located in Chinatown for a peep into their “South American Goods” section. (Is it just me, or do I find meself in an odd version of globalization: rummaging thru the meter-wide selection of a bottom shelf displaying tins of escabeche, bottles of Tapatio, jars of mole poblano, and bags of corn tortilla mix --- all made in Mexico, imported to California, then imported again to Australia ---while in an Indian grocery store full of Sri Lankans, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, and curious Australians, right off the pedestrian street of Chinatown lined with stores selling wares from Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and Thailand?)

Returning home with a messenger bag brimming with hardware and soft goods and gathering all the resources in front of me, I set to my task. Of course, ingenuity reigned, as all that I needed (fresh corn, comal, metate, molcajete, palote, tortilla press), I could not readily access. Before me lay:

-2 kg bag of nixtamilizado corn tortilla mix of imported ingredients packed in Australia that I bought in the Indian grocery
-Pyrex measuring cup made in the USA
-electric kettle made in China
-crockery bowl from China
-SAFE unbleached wax paper made in Australia
-wok from Taiwan
-empty bottle of Shiraz from the Yalumba Wine Company (Aus) as a palote/rolling pin
-wood cutting board from Thailand
-skillet pan made in China for a Swedish company for use as a Mexican comal
-orange tea towel made in India and decorated with Aussie animals
-plastic box made in China to store the tortillas

OK, OK, I will admit that took a shortcut and used a mix, but so do Mexicans (if they don’t buy their tortillas already made from the local tortilleria). I started by measuring the mix into the the bowl and added hot water (boiled in the electric kettle), mixing the two with my bare hands -- YOW!! (I don’t know how my grandmothers accustomed themselves to plunging their hands into hot water on a daily basis. One never appreciates others’ efforts until one puts one’s feet in another’s moccasins, right?) I continued squishing, squashing, and squeezing the ingredients until I formed a large ball of masa.

First, I pinched a glob of masa and rolled it in my palms like Play-doh, forming an apricot-sized mini-ball. (See? The things that one learns in kindergarten do help later in life.) I set the mini-ball of masa between two sheets of wax paper resting on the cutting board, then smashed the mini-ball with the bottom of the wok to get a uniform thickness. Next, I used the empty wine bottle to roll the masa from the center, extending the diameter (and making the poor thing irregular, uh, I mean “each one was a one-of-a-kind”). After peeling the raw tortilla from between the wax paper sheets, I laid it in the hot skillet to bake. Flipping it until done, I slid it between the folds of the tea towel lying inside the plastic box. I kept doing this until all the masa became tortillas. About an hour, an hour-and-a-half later, I completed 18 tortillas. I stored the tortillas in the refrigerator for Robin’s use the next day in assembling the enchiladas. I decided to make a smaller ball of masa on Wednesday for the quesadillas. Cleaning up my mess, Robin continued to make the tomato y habañero salsa. Home made is hard work.


What would motivate someone of Mexican descent and third generation Texan (thus American) to want to make tortillas as homemade as possible for an American couple where David (the American husband) is of a British mother and a German father and Karina (the Chilean wife) is of a Ukrainian mother and a Spanish father, and Robin --- she herself of Danish, Choctaw, and Irish descent? It’s the human desire to reconnect with memories. Memories of my Grandmother González making homemade flour tortillas. The bowl. The slurred puff of the stove when the gas burner lit. The whistle from the kettle of boiling water. The snow of flour on a large wooden cutting board. The small bags of White Wings flour tortilla mix that long ago replaced the need for large calico bags of plain flour (whose cloth she used to makes clothes for her seven children). The slosh of my grandmother’s hands as she mixed the scalding H20 with the flour.

Hands in clay, she created a flour ball. Then, she would let it sit for a while, cloth covering the bowl. Returning, she would make a small army of deflated balls from the masa and line them along the edge of the cutting board furthest from her. She then heated the cast iron comal on the four-burner gas stove, wetting her hands and sprinkling drops of water from her fingertips to test if the black circle would make the drops dance vivaciously. When the drops would roll on the surface and hiss angrily, the comal achieved its required hotness.

Next, she would take a deflated ball, plop it in the center of the wood rectangle, and quickly roll the palote over it, creating an ivory disk of uniform thickness. Then, she peeled off an edge of the tortilla until she released it from the wood slate. Tossing it onto the hot comal, she would shift it with her fingertips until one side was baked and flipped it to the other side, repeating the flipping until the unleavened bread had sprinkles of honey gold on each side, indicating that it was baked to her satisfaction. At the point of ready, she would then slide it between the layers of a folded kitchen towel to keep warm as it cooled. Grandma González kept redoing the process until all the small soldiers of masa were a stack of mess hall plates. Tortillas done, we could now fill them with arroz con pollo, frijoles, migas, carne guisada, chayote con pollo, barbacoa, riñones, tripas, lengua, or anything else she cooked from the motions of her ten fingers that day.

It was this regularly occurring memory that led me to making my own batch of tortillas on that Tuesday. My grandmother and I have the same-sized hands; her palms are small with long fingers, and my palms are big with short fingers. I let the hands of my grandmother guide the memory of her tortilleridad. Thousands of kms away from Corpus Christi. Fifteen hours ahead of the US Central Time Zone. Seven years after her death.

The love she baked into those tortillas of my childhood years ago, I retain to this day.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Fiji v. USA

Earlier today, Robin and I attended our first Rugby World Cup match -- actually, our first rugby game, ever. Fiji v. USA. Most Americans probably don't know where Fiji is located (just NE of Australia), but then again, most Americans probably don't know where Canada or Mexico is, either.

We found our seats 40 min into the game, Aisle 640, Row 66, Seats 30 & 31. Some bloody wanker was sitting in my seat, so the usher yanked him faster than yucky tucker at Macker's.

The score was USA 6 - 3 Fiji.
Then, USA 11 - 3 Fiji.
Then, USA 13 - 6 Fiji.
Then, USA 13 - 13 Fiji.
Then, Fiji 19 - USA 13.

The very last second, and I mean the very last second of the 80-minute game, the USA scored a final try ("touchdown" for fans of gridiron/American football). Fiji 19 - USA 18. If USA Eagle rugby player Hercus could make the extra point, it would tie up the score and go into overtime. Of all the games played since the start of the World Cup, this one was by far the closest.

The crowd is frenzy. Fijian and American flags flying boldly throughout the crowd of 30,000 spectators, many with faces painted black & white or light blue (for Fiji) and combinations of red, white, and blue (for the USA). The "wave" spinning faster and faster among the three tiers of seats. Chants of "FI-JI" / "U-S-A" / "FI-JI" / "U-S-A" drowing the announcers' comments.

Hercus prepares the ball.
No time on the clock.
He runs towards it.
No second try.
The crowd hushes as the sound of the impact of hit foot on the white oblong.
No "do-over".
The ball soars across the field, arching towards the goal post.

The ball falls outside the post. Fiji wins. The USA loses its second match, thus far. Emptying the stadium, the crowd sings along with the speakers to Fijian songs.

I have a hunch that on the way back to the USA, the USA Eagles will open the airplane door over the Pacific Ocean and push Hercus out. He may be lucky and land in Hawaii. Or, worse, Fiji.


Afterwards, Robin and I walked up Caxton Street, home to many outdoor restaurants and bars. Happy. We found a pizza parlor whose exterior reminded us of The Parlor on North Loop. Altho disappointed by the pizza (well, really, can ANYTHING compare to The Parlor?), I have found a new juice drink: Nudie. Has the same sound as Priscila's dawg. And a right cheeky name, isn't it?

Friday, October 03, 2003

Going into Shadows

Today was my first of two days of volunteering at the Brisbane Writers Festival. I function as a "Venue Technician", which means that after the panel of speakers is done with their talks, I walk around the room passing the microphone to audience members so they can ask questions to the panel. I did this for four panels. The first one discussed the Advancing Public Debate Award that was presented last night to the winners for their book of investigative journalism. David Marr and Marion Wilkinson's Dark Justice exposes how the Australian government manipulated the facts and the press to cover up its policies during the MV Tampa scandal involving Afghan "illegal migrants"/refugees/asylum seekers in 2001. Throughout the entire discussion of the book and Australia's policies, I comparing how Australia has begun to mirror the United States' policies and mindset towards attacking other countries whose leadership we feel is corrupt, yet when citizens of those countries flee to find asylum, the US suspects the refugees to be terrorists. [sarcasm]Oh, if only the Yugoslavs, Albanians, Somalis, Iraqis, and Afghans could just stay put and die while we bomb their countries![/sarcasm]

The second panel featured Witi Ihimaera (the author of the novel Whale Rider), Dorthy Porter (a prolific Australian author and poet), and Julianne Schultz (the writer-half of a brother-sister opera composing duo). All three discussed their experiences with writing opera librettos. Me, I'm not a fan of the opera, yet I truly enjoyed their insight of the entire production of an opera -- just short of a miracle, that. Half of the audience were members of the Wagner Society and became quite animated with all the operatic references that Mr. Ihimaera made during his presentation.

The third panel featured a discussion of celebrated Australian historian Henry Reynolds' book North of Capricorn, which chronicles the undocumented history of Australia north of the Tropic of Capricorn (from Broome to Townsville). The book reveals how the xenophobic "White Australia" immigration policy (in place until after WW II) affected the North of Australia and the North's strong Asian presence. Mr. Reynolds documents how the white part of Australia (in the South) had always been terrified that the yellow (Asian) and brown (Aboriginal and Melanysian) parts (in the North) would out-populate the white part and take over Australia. Once again, sounds like the US. California has already become less than 50% "white", while Texas and Florida are well on their way. What is this "whiteness", and why is it so important?

The fourth panel's five participants had heaps of laughs discussing the relatively new audio books genre. Actor William McInness, audio books editor Bernadette Neubecker, audio books producer Libby Douglas, and author Shane Maloney discussed how audio books have created new audiences of readers/listeners who may not have enough time to dedicate to reading or just love storytelling. I asked a question during this panel, wondering if the Australian storytellers (Aboriginal, Outback, immigrant communities) had been recorded, and if those recordings are available for purchase. (I was aware that my question was a bit out of the scope of the panel, since the panel deals with condensing published novels for audio recordings. Storytellers are pure oral, not a scrap of a word formally published.) The panel perked up at my request because I don't think they knew but had that "sounds like a good idea" chirp among them. Ms. Neubecker, the editor, mentioned that there are a few Aboriginal storytellers recorded, and her company is working to expand that section. I felt smart. You know, that feeling when other people in the room have "I wish I had thought of that" jotted in the corner of their eyes. Yup, that one.

After the fourth panel, the panelists, audience members, and volunteers mingled at a rooftop balcony post-panel cocktail reception. My venue manager looked at me and said something to the effect of "You've been here all day. Why not get a glass of wine?" Ah, hard work does have its payoff.

Then, I walked over to another venue to help set up tables and chairs for the "Deconstructing the Lyric" panel. The chair of the panel had this Gwen Stefani look going on, with a vest, tie, man's shirt, jeans, and Adidas shoes, topped with a mop of superbleachedblond hair and red lipstick. (Actually, her name is "Willow Willis", but I will call her "Gwillow," because I'm mean like that.) One of the panelists was a 22-year-old hip-hop DJ who mentioned that when he was younger, the only hip-hop was American. Altho he loved the music, he could not identify with being black, being from a ghetto, being shot, or being American. Since then, Australia has nutured its own hip-hop artists, to which he finds himself listening exclusively; he identifies with them. In addition, he invited the audience to a show of Brisbane rappers next Sunday night. I'm there.

With that, my shift was over and I headed home (2 blocks from the venue). As I was reflecting on the day, one special morsel kept nagging me, like when you stub your smallest toe; jump around, shake your foot, and curse for a while; the pain subsides; you forget about it; and then you stub the same toe 2 hours later, repeating the same cycle. During the second panel, Ms. Schultz was taking about her opera Going into Shadows. In an interview with the Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC), she describes the opera:

"The kernel of the story was a... was the terrorist incident which occurred, or something similar to it, something that occurred in the mid-1980s, where a woman got on a plane and was found to be carrying an explosive device. And she was pregnant and her lover was allegedly the person who'd placed the explosive in her carry-on bag.

And so we took that as the sort of kernel of the story and stretched it and made it up and we gave it a beginning and an end with a sort of a dramatic twist at the end. "

Inspired by events in the 80s such the Lockerbie crash, the IRA, and car bombs in London, Ms. Schultz wrote a play set in London about terrorists and terrorism in the early Nineties, the beginning of a period of peace when all the terror was over. People denounced her idea stating that the topic was still too "fresh" in the public's mind. She argued that she wanted to analyze the motives behind the terrorists' concepts of reason, extremism, justice, and fear. A nobel cause, that. She and her brother completed it in 1991, yet it took 10 years to secure a venue and funding for the project. As a collaboration between the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London and the Queensland Conservatorium in Brisbane, it premiered in London in early 2001, then ran in Brisbane in late 2001.

Going into Shadows began its 5-night Brisbane run on 09 Sep 2001.

Thirty minutes after the curtain fell on the third night's performance, Australian televisions received their first images of airplanes slicing into the WTC Twin Towers.

The performances for the next two nights were cancelled.