Around the World With a Vagabond

Party Like a Geriatric April 30, 2011

Filed under: What Happened in Australia — christynichols @ 10:07 am
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An alarming incident occurred on my tram ride home from the city today.

As I entered the house, thinking about this incident, I was greeted by my roommate.  She was on her way out to a geriatric-themed house party.  She was wearing purple with blue eye-shadow and horrible gold shoes.

“How do I look?” she asked and applied lipstick to her teeth.

A geriatric party?!  I had just witnessed the raging antics of a geriatric on my tram ride home. He didn’t seem much of a party animal.

At a tram stop outside a supermarket, the tram doors shuttered and closed only to be frantically beat upon from someone on the outside. Muffled shouting could be heard, and as I peered out my window, I could see the balding head of a frail old man.

The tram driver re-opened the door.Slowly, and agedly, a scrawny man with a cane boarded the tram.

“What is the meaning of this?” he shouted, rather loudly considering his slight frame.  He was upset because the tram doors had shut before his feeble footsteps could carry him all the way to the tram doors. I felt a little bad for him, but he kept shouting at the driver.

“What is the meaning of this?” he repeated, and shook his cane at the driver. I’ve never actually seen an old man shake his cane before.  It’s actually more threatening than you might think.

“This is an outrage!” he continued his rant, “I’m an old man! I can hardly walk!”

The tram driver, safe behind the plexi-glass, seemed to just ignore him.  The tram lurched forward and I watched the old man in his high-waisted trousers wobble to a seat, half-expecting him to lose his balance and collapse on the floor.

“This is bullshit!” he shouted again.  He took the seat next to me, glaring at the other passengers through his thick, black-framed glasses.  “This is the problem with transportation today!” he told us all.

Only 1 minute later he stood back up, hobbled over to the tram driver, and began to berate her again.

“I need off at the next stop!” he raised his cane and smacked the plexi-glass.  “Can you let me off at the next stop? I need to get off at the next stop.  Can you hear me?? The next stop!” and held on as the tram lurched again.

At the next stop, the tram doors opened.  To his credit, the old crotchety man was as vocal about his gratitude as he was his vexation.

“Thank you! Thank you for stopping the tram.  Thank you.”  Then myself and the other passengers, half-alarmed, half-sympathetic, and half-amused, watched as he very slowly exited the tram.

He put one foot down one step.  Then another step.  He moved his cane forward.

Then stepped his right foot down again to the second step.  Then his left.  A little more cane action.

Again, his right.

. . .

Again, his left.

Then he baby-stepped and cane-tapped his way across the street into the twilight, and continued on his meandering way.

Perhaps he had a party to get to.


Chinese Proverbs and Songs with Strangers March 17, 2011


I realized it was going to be another unpredictable and crazed night in the city when a man boarded the tram wearing no pants.


For the 10 minutes I remained seated, the man with no pants firmly gripped the handle bars piped along the tram’s ceiling.  He had with him a small, seemingly well-kept suitcase, which I could only assume packed no pants.  The man seemed a little agitated, but wasn’t bothering anyone.  He was clean-shaven, odorless (or not offensively unhygienic), so I don’t think he was homeless. Deranged? Possibly.  But he wasn’t very old.  Although he seemed a little too old to have been a user of any kind of drug – at least presently.


It’s possible he was victim of a very unkind prank, it being about 4 in the afternoon of a weekday teeming with commuters.


What the man’s circumstances actually were, I’ll never know. The crowded tram rolled along the rails, leaving me behind on the corner of Chinatown, amidst street chatter and red glowing lights.


Melbourne has been an incredible place to explore. But after nine months, I feel I have only circled the city, with a few sneak-peaks and toe-dips into some of the cafés, gigs, and showcasing promenades that make this city so vibrant.


A few days earlier, Chris and I had been wandering aimlessly down Swanston Street when we came across a few marquis set up for the Food and Wine Festival.  An “edible garden” was on display: baskets of vine-ripened tomatoes, jungles of chili peppers, and even a rustic old car from the 50’s or 60’s, its back seat piled high with gourds of all kinds, and its doors open and spilling leafy pumpkins and squash out onto the pavement in a beautiful display of autumn harvest.


Courtesy of Peter Lim

We sat for a bit, flipping through the guidebook to find out where the wine part of the festival was being held.


As we did, an older Chinese man sat next to us and asked Chris if he wouldn’t mind taking his picture. Chris, always obliging, set about adjusting the lens.  This simple gesture of politeness unleashed a whirlybird of unexpected conversation.


Peter Lim was a 71 year old Chinese man with quite a bit to say. For the next 20 minutes or so, Peter, laughing and eyes all a-twinkle, explained to us his wife’s three loves (her sister, roses, and thirdly, Peter himself). He told us about his life growing up in Malaya and how he had practiced playing violin since he was 5.


As we nodded and listened, Peter interrupted himself to tell Chris how very good looking Chris was, and that he should go to Hollywood and be a movie star.  Peter continued on again, and told us that he raised his children to understand that life is full of disappointments, and that it is very, very important to be positive.


To demonstrate to us just how important being positive is, Peter suddenly burst into song. The Italian opera poured out of his open mouth – Puccini – and Peter sang the verses, briefly, but with gusto, as the emotion rippled across his face with each crescendo. Peter explained that it was the last song Puccini sang on the day Puccini knew he was about to die.  Puccini had been an exceedingly positive person.


Away and away Peter chatted to us there, among the quiet vegetables and clamorous city street, and told us we seemed like very happy people.


He insisted on having a picture with us, and called over to a nearby child to snap the photo for us (“You, boy! Come here boy! Boy!”). The kid was gorgeous, and as Peter handed over his camera, he told the young boy how good looking the kid was, and that he should go to Hollywood and be a movie star.


In the Edible Garden with Peter Lim, courtesy of Peter Lim

Peter was lovely and charismatic, and pleasantly offered to send us his poetry and links to his songs.  I am glad he did, because I am sure my memory would eventually blur and I would forget bits of our conversation.  Meeting Peter reminded me of how alive a person could be, how quirky and funny, and serious all at once, for absolutely no reason, with perfect strangers.


But Peter isn’t the first stranger in Melbourne to burst into song without warning.


One Saturday morning I was weaving in and out of market-goers at Queen Victoria Market, heading towards the food court to meet a friend. As I entered the covered eating area, my ears were greeted with a rising hum.  Over the sea of heads, the hum became more of an “ahhh” – such as the “A” sound of a choir singing “A-men”, only this “ahhh” was being held a very long time.


The food hall was very busy, but nearly everyone was either sitting, or standing still, facing something just above to my left and singing “ahhhhh” and then louder “AHHHHHH”.


What. was. going. on?


The entire lunching crowd were being lead by what looked like “Gandolf” in casual surf wear.  Or perhaps it was Einstein.  Either way, the conductor had the whole long white-shaggy-hair-and-beard look going on and he pulled it off quite well.


His voice was the loudest, and no doubt he was the leader of this spontaneous choir.  He lifted the “ahhhHHHHH”s, and then dropped the “AHHHhhhhhhhhhh”s deeply with his smile, his voice and his gestures, and the people’s voices followed like happy puppies.


Their vocals echoed in unison as rising and dropping “ahhhhs” filled the hall, lifted to the rafters, and floated out onto the market square, where an un-singing crowd was quickly drawing closer.


“What’s this about?” I asked my bemused friend as I sat down at his table. Cameras flashed around us.


“I don’t know. He just started singing,” nodding at Gandolf, “and then everyone else started to sing too.”


I looked around at the smiling, surprised, spontaneous singers at the Saturday morning market, who were “ahhh-ing” still, and glancing grins at each other as they sang.


The lunch hall, usually a din of chatter, had transformed into song. Something about it was soulfully uplifting.  It made my day.


In fact, Gandolf (whose real name also happens to be Peter) has made the days of quite a few people. This clip isn’t quite the same as my experience at Victoria Market, but if you replace the trees with roofed market stalls, and the hand-holding hippies with families carrying bags of produce, then you’ll get the idea. Gandolf is in the rainbow jumper.


Back in Chinatown, the man on the tram without pants had escaped my thoughts. I was now with friends and unpredictably erupting with our own songs. We moved through the evening, the last of the summer nights, dining (gorging) on dumplings and singing (shouting) the lyrics to “Eternal Flame” and karaoke-ing way past our abilities and our bedtime.


Ironically, this same night ended hours later with my friends and I stumbling home, still singing, and parading an extra pair of pants that had inexplicably found its way amongst our bags.


I remember briefly thinking back to earlier that day and the awkwardly undressed man on the tram who certainly needed pants.  He wouldn’t have fit into the tiny women’s pair of Hurley’s now draped over my friend’s shoulders, but it was still a strange coincidence.


Such has life been in Melbourne; people flittering across my path unexpectedly in the most remarkable and memorable ways. Whether singing over dumplings in Chinatown, or being sung to in street-side gardens by  Chinese men, or as an audience for Gandolf leading crowds into chorus, this city has me captivated.


Exotic Vegetables are Not Funny February 28, 2011

Filed under: Exotic Vegetables Are Not Funny,February Doesn't Suck — christynichols @ 11:05 am
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This summer my roommates decided to grow a vegetable patch in the backyard. I think they are growing quite an assortment of veggies, but I never go back there unless I am fetching my iPod.


I don’t know what superman vitamins are in the soil, but the vegetables seem to be doing quite well.  The zucchini in particular, are considerably well-endowed.  They are shaming the corn. It’s almost embarrassing.  But size doesn’t matter . . . . . .  Right?


Every few days, one of my roommates wanders to the garden, the skipping dogs at his heels, and carries back armfuls of homegrown rhubarb, spinach, and zucchini, and this is what happens to our kitchen table:


The zucchini are huge.  So enormous, that we can’t possibly put even a whole zucchini in a single dish.  They look more like sculptures, and I keep forgetting that they are food for eating, and not table centerpieces or kitchen knick-knacks. You know, like those dumb little ceramic chickens in some people’s kitchens?


Anyway, I forget that I can eat the zucchini, because they are just too big.  They are even too big for the vegetable drawer in the fridge.  When I cook, I take out the veg from this drawer.  Empty veg drawer = no veg. So tonight, even though these gigantic zucchini are stacked right on my table, I still ate my cous cous dinner without any veg, and I could have chunked it up with giant zucchini parts.


There is a reason I don’t consider the zucchini to be food. The one use I have of these rather impressive zucchinis is to put them on display in somewhat obscene positions after my roommates have gone to bed.  This way, when they get up at stupid-o’clock in the morning, they can have a little chuckle over coffee.

Who doesn’t like to start their mornings by having a chuckle at vegetables that look like genitals?


Immature? Yes. Funny? Yes.


I know this is juvenile, I know! I should be embarrassed, but I’m not, and I’ve done the same thing in public when fruits and vegetables are left out unattended:

The first night that the boyfriend and I arranged the green giants on the table, tomatoes and onions suggestively placed, we snickered and took photos.  We couldn’t wait to get scolded by our teacher-housemates.


But the next morning –  nothing! Not one word was said.  When I woke up, I discovered the erotic zucchini art had been dismantled. I was confused why nothing had happened! No note. No comments. No nothing.  How disappointing.


So. . . the next night the boyfriend and I arranged the zucchini again. This time using a few pornographic lemons:


Again, nothing.


We were absolutely determined to arrange the vegetables as obscenely as we could. If only there were cantaloupes in the house.  We were bound to offend. We desperately wanted our dirty vegetable joke to be appreciated! Or at least we wanted to get in some kind of trouble!


Every night, every night for 10 days, we put the zucchini on shameful display, and not once were we rewarded with reprimands. Not once.


Then one night, before we could come up with more creative and more obvious  ways to offend our gardener roommates, the zucchini was baked. Sliced, cut up and baked.  We were so disappointed that our roommates never caught on to our immature zucchini penis jokes.


Oh well. Perhaps our jokes will be got when the pumpkins are picked.




Most Unpersuasive Advertisement . . Ever February 26, 2011

Filed under: February Doesn't Suck,Most Unpersuasive Advertisement Ever — christynichols @ 12:16 am
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Usually, when I see posters for movies or museum events on billboards or in train stations, I am suckered right in.  Doesn’t matter what film is coming, what broadway show, or exhibition, it looks amazing to me.  I am every marketer’s dream target.


Except for this exhibition poster on the tram through downtown Melbourne:


Everything about this advertisement screams: DON’T GO!


I could carry on with my lists of why this advertisement is completely ineffective, but I think it speaks for itself.


Don’t go.  And don’t take your children.




A Success Story February 24, 2011

Filed under: A Success Story,February Doesn't Suck — christynichols @ 12:03 pm
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Today I accomplished the laundry.  This is a huge feat for me. There are so many steps! I end up losing interest half-way through the process and then don’t finish the laundry for days.


Last week, in another botched attempt at good house keeping, I washed the bed sheets.  The sheets were hung out to dry in the warm wind for a while, and then I tumbled them up and threw them in our room to land wherever they might fall. That’s as far as I was willing to go to finish the laundry.


Later, Chris began to finish the cleaning that I had abandoned. He opened up the bundle of clean sheets and as he did, about two shovels-full of twigs and sticks and leaves and dirt drifted off the sheets and onto our carpet.  Parts of the twigs and dirt still clung to the bed sheet. One twig was almost an entire flowering branch.


“What’s happened?” he asked me.


Blank-faced, I looked at the dirt and twigs on our bedroom floor and the plant stuck to the bed sheet.


“I cleaned them for you.”


I like to think the look he gave me as one of amusement, but it was probably more a mix of confusion and disapproval with my explanation.


“There’s plants and a bush near where I hung them to dry. The wind probably blew the sheets into them.”


He looked at me. In his head were probably thoughts of frustration, but Chris is very good about keeping these kinds of thoughts quiet.


“What?” I say. He can’t understand how I didn’t notice that I had grabbed parts of the outside lawn and brought them in with our clean laundry.  I guess he has a valid point.


Chris proceeded to take the twiggy bed sheets outside and give them a good shaking. Then he came back in and folded all of the sheets neatly and put them away. Then he got out the vacuum cleaner and vacuumed up all the dirt from the carpet, and then put the vacuum away.  He then made the bed, hung some lights, and cleaned up the dresser.


How did I help? I laughed with my housemate about the dirt on the bed sheets, and then had some coffee.


He probably wonders all the time why I can’t manage to finish simple tasks.  Or to not muck up the simple things.


But today, I did the laundry. I did every step and I didn’t get distracted by 8 different things along the way, even though the sun was out and the dogs were playful.  And I didn’t bring in dirt and plant-parts with the clean clothes, either!


Yep.  Today, laundry day, was a success!


. . . . . . . . I know. My life is sad.


Bittersweet Victory February 23, 2011



My nephew is nearly 9 months old.  He has been wiggling around and trying to crawl for weeks.  The other day, he managed to hold on to the coffee table on his own and lift into a standing position. He was so proud of his little self.

In the last week, this little boy has had an enormous breakthrough in his infant months, and has managed to pull his plump baby body up the staircase all on his own!  My sister was so proud of him! She emailed me a video of this victory, my little nephew, all baby smiles and cheery drool.


His parents didn’t revel in his accomplishment for long, however.  The picture I was sent today was not of Logan propped up on the couch, and not of him holding himself up against the coffee table, or achieving a long-distance crawl.


In this photo, my sweet little nephew had been jailed in a playpen.  His face and hands are mashed against the sides in playful protest, as the sides are far too high for him to crawl up and over to freedom.


He looks happy enough, sitting there with all his toys, but I feel for the poor kid.


He’s achieved one mammoth challenge, only to be presented with another, almost immediately.


Such is life, kid.  Such is life.



The Coffee Posture February 21, 2011

Filed under: February Doesn't Suck,The Coffee Posture — christynichols @ 11:58 am
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If making hot coffee was a yoga posture, I’d be in better health. Like my step-dogs.


When I was working in Savannah, Georgia, I came across an advertisement for Doggy Yoga hosted by the Save-A-Life animal welfare organization every Sunday. Strange, but it’s popular, and my dogs seem pretty bendy.


The first time I ever tried yoga, I was immediately put off.  We took an hour to do 5 postures that, in trying, I discovered I couldn’t do and left in a huff of frustration.  I think it was the tree frog position that broke me. I didn’t go back for years.


When I did, I learned to love it, so much that I took up hot yoga, then challenged myself to do hot yoga for 60 days straight.  I managed it for about 45, but this was in England and I had to unexpectedly fly back to California, and so my streak was broken.


45 days isn’t bad though. I really got into yoga. For a while back in California, I even taught Power Yoga.  To people who are hesitant or intimidated a little by the seemingly physical demands of yoga, Power Yoga was terrifying.  I should have called it Empowering Yoga.  The lexis of language is so important.


Anyway, since December, I have let my yoga practice fly out the window, and with it has flown my posture, my flexibility, and an over all feeling of good health.


There is a Hot Yoga studio not far from where I live, and I think I might just throw down the big bucks in exchange for a sweaty towel and healthy pores. Lord knows I need it.


Every morning when my dogs wake up they make me feel guilty.  Crawford, who does the Upward-Facing Dog straight after waking from his sleep, and looks at me for his breakfast. Sewell surpasses him (and me) when she wakes by beginning with a Downward-Facing Dog, then stretches, pauses, and flows smoothly and beautifully into her Upward-Facing Dog.


Yeah, yeah,” I think as I move into my post-sleep routine and make a cup of coffee.

My dogs do this better.