Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Over the years, I've come to associate certain things with Chinatown. These expectations have been supported by visits to Chinatown in a number of cities - Sydney, Melbourne, London, Vancouver, and San Francisco.

Some of these Chinatowns are small and quaint (hello London! hello Melbourne!). Modest in size but charming, nonetheless.

Others are massive. My weekend in San Francisco was nowhere near enough time to fully discover its Chinatown.

No matter what, they all have a lot in common. They have more than their fair share of shops which look like they belong in an episode of Hoarders (I haven't actually watched it, but it taunts me whenever I browse through the shows for instant streaming on Netflix).

The buildings are beautifully jumbled, close together, and crowd the narrow streets and laneways that are a standard for districts found within walking distance of other city attractions.

San Francisco
They are always cheerful and full of colour. Vibrant.

San Francisco
I thought these qualities were a must for Chinatowns world-wide.

Until we visited LA's very own Chinatown last weekend.

Sure, there were the Hoarder-qualifying shops. And I guess it was within walking distance of other city attractions, if you count the Dodger Stadium - which is only really accessible by car. This is Los Angeles, after all.

But jumbled buildings on narrow streets? I didn't know it was possible for Chinatown to do sprawl. On wide, can't-cross-quickly roads. The closest resemblance to bustling laneways were depressing, dark arcades which would have felt right at home in the communist era.

How about some colourful vibrance, you say?

Los Angeles
Um, not really. I didn't take any photos of the buildings, because I wasn't feeling terribly inspired by them. At all.

Happily, there were plenty of shops with all kinds of products spilling out onto the footpath. After walking past the twentieth shop selling turtles the size of your middle toe, the Faery now has a new obsession and wants one.

And of course, it wouldn't be Chinatown without seeing some kind of food product to turn your stomach (as well as drooling over the more appealing food).

Los Angeles
I'm sure that Lady Fish Paste is tasty for some, but I think I'll pass.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Equinox has officially been and gone. The mornings now have a chill in the air - requiring jeans and layers - and the mercury is taking longer to peak each day. Daytime still feels like summer, but then the late afternoons cool down quickly, bringing the kind of whispy clouds that like to be seen in autumn. The sun sets in an incredibly massive crimson ball (thanks smog!), and the nearby mountains turn all kinds of hues of purple.

It's quite beautiful, but I'm always sad to see summer going.

Monday, September 26, 2011


Already, four weeks of full-time school life have flown by in a blur. A completely new routine, for all of us - out the door by 7.30, every morning (somehow it seemed easier when I was working), into the car, drive, find a parking spot, walk a block or so to the school, reign in Miss Pie, wait on the school's front lawn for the Kindergarten teachers to appear, hurried kisses goodbye, watch the class line disappear into the building, kids waving goodbye one last time, walk back to car... then do it all over again in the afternoon, but in reverse - with homework thrown into the mix.

Only four weeks, but it feels like we've been doing this forever. I haven't decided if that's good or bad.

What I do know is that I'm grateful for how well the Faery has adjusted to it. She's not in an ordinary Kindergarten programme - she's in a dual language immersion programme, which means half her day is in one classroom, with all of those lessons in English, and the other half is in the classroom next door... with her lessons 100% in Korean.

Roughly a third of her classmates are from Korean families who speak little or no English at home, another third are from families with some kind of Korean ancestry and speak little or no Korean at home (maybe one parent is Korean, or they might be third generation Korean American), and the other third have no physical or cultural ties to Korea.

The Faery falls into that last category, and I've already copped some horrific judgements from other people for enrolling her in such a programme. I don't care, but I wish they'd mind their own business all the same. It's not like the Faery is their child. A lot of soul searching went into this decision, and it wasn't made on a whim - "Hey, let's screw with our child's education for fun!"

Firstly, with my background in teaching English - both as a second language, and as a foreign language, which require different approaches - I strongly believe it's great to learn another language at an early age. The benefits are enormous, in many ways, regardless of the language. The younger, the better, too.

There's a mountain of evidence, from countless studies, to support this. I'm sorry, but the negative nancies (including some family members) are simply being ignorant. Too bad for them.

It's true that children in bilingual programmes are a little behind - academically - for the first couple of years while their brains assimilate everything in two languages, but then they fly ahead of the rest.

Another reason why we decided to go ahead with this is that the Faery is not your average child. She is super bright, and was speaking exceptionally well from a very early age. She mastered the Roman alphabet - reading, writing, sound recognition - long ago, and thrives when being challenged, so this option for her education seemed like an excellent fit.

I'd be lying, though, if I said I wasn't worried about how she'd handle the initial stress of being in a classroom and not understanding a word, but she's taken it in her stride so far. At the end of only her second day, we stopped for a treat on the way home, and she wrote her name in Korean on a paper bag for me:

Two days ago, she came bounding into our bedroom not long after 7am, and asked "What day is it?"

"Saturday," and I kept my eyes firmly shut as she lay down next to me.

I heard little sniffles, soon followed by muffled sobs, "But I really want to go to school today..." and then a howl.

Later that day, she sat herself at the table with her crayons and paper, and busily set about creating her own worksheets - just like the ones she does at school in her English class. The alphabet was witten out twice, once in upper case, once in lower case. For both of them, she'd circled the letter h. Underneath, the same letter was written repeatedly in both upper case and lower case. Several other puzzles were drawn underneath, where the solution involved the letter h. All of this was her own undertaking, and the worksheet copied purely from memory.

Did someone say nerd? I'd better enjoy this love of school while it lasts.

Seriously, though, I am deeply impressed, amazed, blown away - all of those cliché superlatives - by this child of mine.

I could not be prouder.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ay to Zee

Here, just for fun, is my definitive guide to Aussie/American translations. Some are obvious and well known from years of exposure to American TV and films; some are minor... and some can just be downright awkward.

I wasn't sure how to classify it on my list, but let's just say that while fanny can be innocent enough amongst Americans, in Australia, we'll think you're referring to your vagina. True. The word fanny pack will still make us double over in laughter.

I had to learn some of these the hard way - cornflour in the US (strictly for baking use) is entirely different to cornflour in Australia. I had a few failed stove-top sauces and soups before I worked that out. I mean, it looked different in the packet (I should have realised then) but so do a lot of things here. Turned out cornstarch is what I needed to thicken things. Thank you, Google and Chowhound.

Then there was the time I spoke to the staff at the leasing office of our apartment complex. We'd been having issues with the kitchen tap, and you should have seen the blank looks I received when I asked for the tap to be fixed. Yes, I knew the word faucet, but I'd completely forgotten about it - this was in the first few weeks here, when I was still getting by on the broken sleep of a newborn.

More recently, every time the Faery's teacher talks about trimesters, I keep glancing at her belly. It's a word I've only ever associated with pregnancy.

Anyhow, the language teacher in me felt the need to compile a list. It's by no means complete - feel free to suggest words that I can add - and I'm not even touching phrases, spelling or pronunciation. Not yet.

(My Australian vocabulary may be Sydney-centric in some examples, as things can vary from state to state - likewise, some of my American examples may be more Californian-speak than general)

I am such a language nerd at times.

arse - ass
autumn - fall
bill (restaurant) - check
bin - trash 
biscuit - cookie
breastfeeding - nursing
bonnet (of car) - hood
boot (of car) - trunk
bubbler - drinking fountain
bum - butt
bum bag - fanny pack
CBD (central business district) - downtown
capsicum - bell pepper
caster sugar - baker's sugar
car park - parking lot
chickpeas - garbanzo beans
cinema - (movie) theater
cornflour - cornstarch
cot - crib
cutlery - flatware
doona (quilt) - comforter
dummy - pacifier
fairy floss - cotton candy
flat/unit - apartment
fringe (hair) - bangs
footpath - sidewalk
g-string - thong
give way (driving) - yield
grill (cooking) - broil
holiday - vacation
hoodie - sweatshirt
ice block - popsicle, ice pop
icing sugar - confectioner's sugar
indicator (car) - signal
jam jelly
jumper - sweater
kebab (skewer) - kabob

lemonade (such as Sprite) - lemon-lime soda
letter box - mail box
lift - elevator
lolly - candy
lollypop person - crossing guard
minced meat - ground meat
mobile (phone) - cell phone
nappy - diaper
notes (dollars) - bills
old-fashioned lemonade - lemonade
overtake (driving) - pass
pedestrian crossing - cross walk
petrol - gas
plain flour - all purpose flour
poo - poop
porridge - oatmeal
postcode - zipcode
pram - stroller
queue - line
rocket (lettuce) - arugula
rockmelon - cantaloupe
rubbish - garbage
sultana - raisin
scone - biscuit
soft drink - soda drink
tap - faucet
teat (on baby bottles) - nipple
term (school) - trimester
thongs - flip-flops
thrush - yeast infection
timber - lumber
tinned (food) - canned
toilet (public) - restroom
toilet training - potty training
tomato sauce (condiment) - ketchup
torch - flashlight
travel cot - playard
trolley (shopping) - cart
tunic - jumper
ute (utility truck) - pickup truck
zed (alphabet) - zee
4WD (4 wheel drive) - SUV

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Where I'm From

I am from fruit cordial, from Weet-bix and sunburnt holidays at a dolphin-friendly bay.
I am from a fibro bungalow, lavender-light walls on a street named for love, heavenly jasmine punching the air in evening September showers. 
I am from eucalyptus, tall and strong; from orange blossom and frangipani blooming in the backyard, competing side by side.
I am from rummy and stubbornness, from Chris and Jenny, and the best grandmother of all.
I am from memorised repeats of Fawlty Towers, and secretive books tucked under pillows .
From 'you're too honest for your own good' and 'you can be whatever you want.'
I am from no place of worship, with a fierce sense of right and wrong.
I’m from Sydney and Northern Europe, meals devoid of ethnicity, and passionfruit-drizzled pavlova.
From young newly-wed parents, the remarried grandfather who refused to know me, and the widowed grandma who loved me times a million.
I am from yellowing round-cornered photos on sticky-lined pages, contained within crinkling plastic;  glossy black '70s vinyl LPs, encased in worn sleeves from another era; stories buried in chests, their keys discarded, the things that are unsaid yet somehow defining.

Mama's Losin' It
This piece was motivated by my lovely friend Angie's post at The Little Mumma. She had been inspired by this writing prompt over at Mama's Losin' It

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Universal truth #15

No matter what country, continent, or hemisphere you happen to be in; no matter how far away you are from home... when you're going for a walk and get hit by the aroma of onions frying, this always smells heavenly - any time of day.

It's the smell of home.

Monday, September 19, 2011


There's a family-run diner - not far from our place - that we like to go to for a weekend brunch, every now and then. A treat. They do great pancakes, milkshakes, omelettes, spicy breakfast burritos as large as your face... I could go on.

The fact that this diner isn't part of a franchise makes us love it even more. I don't know if it's typical of American restaurants, but it seems that in our neck of the woods, the majority of restaurants and diners belong to nation-wide franchises that specialise in bland food: Appplebees, IHOP, Marie Callender's, Olive Garden... again, I could go on. Those places hold no interest for us, though.

So, yesterday, we found ourselves at our diner. Endless coffee? Check. Toddler in high chair, throwing everything within reach onto the floor? Um, check.

When it was time to order, I began with, "I'll have a Californian omelette, but without the tomato-"

"It's tom-AY-to, not tom-AH-to, Mum!" The Faery shook her head, and gave the waitress a knowing look.

Wow. Looks like I have a little five-year-old smart arse on my hands.

Yeah, that's right. A smart arse, not ass. I am too old to change the way I speak, and I don't want to.

At least she still calls me Mum, not Mom...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Money Drawing

My previous post may have been scraping the blogging barrel with talk of certain medical procedures, so - with that out of my system - I'm going to move on.

One of the cooler things about living in LA is the Hispanic grocery stores and sections in the supermarkets. In most of the supermarkets I've shopped at, the Hispanic section includes colourful pillar candles in tall glass jars. The jars are adorned with images of Jesus, Mary and any Catholic saint you can think of.

Given the wide range of saints, I assume the candles are for prayers... but I just love the kitsch value.

This morning when I was doing my usual round of grocery shopping, I decided it was time to invest in one of these candles... because, you know, $1.49 is such a lot of money. Our apartment still feels a little bland - decor wise - and I always love splashes of colour. I'll never be someone who decorates in only tasteful shades of taupes and greys.

I couldn't decide which saint we need the most help from (all?), so in the end I went with this:

The bottom of it proclaims it to be a 'Money Drawing Candle'. Apparently there is even a lucky number inside.

Hey, who couldn't do with more money coming in? Of course, it might help if I actually played the lottery...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

OTT - Let's get physical

I had no intention of writing about the following, but a good friend suggested it, and I've (sort of) warmed to the idea. If you're male, you may want to move along - nothing to see here.

Last week, I finally had a long overdue check-up. A simple enough procedure, but of the variety that I think most women put off doing.

First of all, a nurse ushered me into her little office to check my blood pressure, weight, height, and ask all the routine health-related questions.

Next, I was led to the consultation room to wait for the doctor. I was told to get undressed, put one of those backless gowns on, and that the doctor would be there shortly. Having never worn such a gown in either Australia or the UK, I'd always thought they existed solely for  American TV shows and movies. I first realised I was wrong about that when the Faery had to have a paediatric physical in order to attend preschool last year. She was four, and they produced a mini backless gown for her to change into. Really? That, right there, seemed like an OTT moment to me.

So, naked under my medical-centre-issued gown, I waited. The doctor arrived, and told me she just needed to wait for the nurse to come and assist. For a pap smear? Really? 

The nurse arrived, wheeling an entire tray full of shiny implements. Really?

The doctor instructed me to get on the bed, and place my feet in the stirrups. REALLY? 

It's not like I'm afraid of stirrups, but I've had this procedure done numerous times, had countless pregnancy check-ups, given birth twice... and never once saw a pair of medical stirrups. It felt so... unnecessary. OTT.

The Aussie equivalent of this procedure involves half-stripping, hopping onto the bed for the doctor, the doctor tells you to pop your heels on the bed's corners, shuffle your bum as close as possible to the edge of the bed, take a deep breath... and... then it's over and done with. Relax. No assistant on standby.

The British version (yep, I've been around the world where pap smears are concerned) is pretty much the same, except they call it a smear test, and registered nurses are also able to perform the procedure.

This American version? OTT, if you ask me. I guess the backless gowns could be interpreted as an attempt to provide some dignity by protecting one's modesty.... but then the stirrups go and do away with any sense of dignity.


An interesting aside - in Australia, pap smears are recommended every two years. In the UK, every three years. In the US, it's recommended every year. I wonder what the stats are for rates of cervical cancer in each country, and just how much difference yearly, versus every two years, versus every three years really makes.

At any rate, at least I can now cross this off my very long to-do list...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


One day last year, the Faery and I were having a conversation when she began staring intently into my eyes.

"Mum, what are those cracks in your eyes?"

Was she talking about my crows feet laughter lines? "They're called wrinkles."

"No, Mum, not your wrinkles. I mean, what are those red cracks in your eyes?"

I was confused, but then the penny dropped. My eyes must have been looking red, so I explained to her about small veins, and the role of veins in our bodies.

Wrinkles, blood-shot eyes... either way, boy did I feel attractive. Yeah, baby.

Apart from a quick status update about it on Facebook that day (which resulted in many amused comments), I'd forgotten about this particular exchange.

Until the other day.

I was going through the wad of school worksheets from last week that the Faery had brought home in her bag. She is currently in a bilingual Kindergarten program, and learning Korean, so it seems like there is double the amount of stuff to sort through each day.

Amongst her worksheets, I found this:

In case you missed it, take a closer look.

I felt compelled to ask her what the red lines were. Don't ask why.

With a roll of her eyes and a big sigh, "They're veins, Mum. Remember? You told me eyes have veins."

I wonder how long she's going to add this detail to her rendition of eyes. How often do her teachers encounter children who insist on drawing eyes in clear need of Visine?

I consoled myself with the fact that at least my eyes are green. That stoned, blue, blood-shot eye belongs to someone else...

Monday, September 12, 2011

8 am

I'm not a morning person, but... 

...scenery like this makes the school run a little easier.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Welcome back

Her music has been a spectacular backdrop to many significant occasions in my life.

Each album holds its own piece of magic in my heart, and is associated with times of growth - making the transition from girl to woman; learning abut myself as a university student; forging friendships with people I'll love forever, over bottles of red wine (you know who you are); giving my Discman a heavy workout on red double decker buses, the London Underground, Melbourne trams and Sydney trains.

Her music is warm and burns with intensity. Sometimes it crackles, sometimes it roars. Listening to her voice, her words, and her music is like having a large fireplace, glowing and bright, in a corner of my soul. Her more mellow tracks warm my insides like a smooth wine; the raw songs burn on the way down, like rocket fuelled whiskey.

She's an enigma to me, and I'll never forget the evening I saw her perform live: An unusually balmy night in Melbourne. The beautiful Forum Theatre. A small figure in a one-shouldered red dress and red cowgirl boots. A guitar trapped to her. A huge voice. Tears in my eyes, a lump in my throat. It had been one of the most stressful weeks in my life and I was alone, but for a few hours, I floated.

Years later, when J and I were deciding on a middle name for Miss Pie, we realised she would have the same initials as this amazing artist. It was a total coincidence, but a happy one. Little PJ.

This week, PJ Harvey won her second Mercury Prize. No one else has ever done so. When I read that news, I realised I'd been neglectful and needed to hear her latest offering... so that's what I've spent the last few days listening to.

I can already feel it entering that large fireplace in my soul, clearing out the cobwebs, and settling right in.

Welcome back, PJ.
(Photo source)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


I'm not much a of a soft-drink girl, but I've been drinking an awful lot of this lately:

Thirsty? That's my problem. This heat makes me crave super sweet cold drinks more than usual. Normally, Coke is just a hangover cure for me (not that I have much of a call for that these days)... but over recent weeks, I've found myself buying a small glass bottle on an almost-daily basis. Bad.

These bottles of Mexican Coke are only $1 a pop at my local shops, and meet several of my rules regarding Coke.

The first rule is that it always taste nicest from glass. The second rule is that Coke sweetened from sugar cane (as opposed to high fructose corn syrup) is always going to taste better than its American counterpart. Oh, and my third rule is to never drink the diet or sugar-free versions. Not only is it a taste thing, I just don't see the point.

An added bonus is that this black liquid solves my conundrum of settling for less-than-mediocre coffee when a caffeine fix is also required. That's what I call a win.

And hey, this Coke habit is definitely cheaper than preferable to the other kind of Coke habit. I have so little in the way of vices these days... no one stands between me and a good old sugar hit.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Heat, quakes and dust

How Southern California feels  (Photo source)

It is damn hot right now. So hot, that even the notorious LA smog has retreated from the sun.

Fahrenheit is something I've yet to master interpretation of, but I know one thing without having to reach for my conversion chart - triple digits equals serious heat. It also sounds far more dramatic in fahrenheit.

101ºF versus 38ºC... see?

The heat has been fairly consistent over the last few weeks. I can't really complain - I'll take heat over cold any day, and we're lucky to have access to a swimming pool. We also have air con in our apartment, but I'm not a big fan (sorry for the pun).

The air con is usually switched on as a last resort to cool our place down. I hate having to keep all the windows shut, and I hate having to forever nag the Faery and her playmates to close the door - again - as they run in and out.

Anyhow, we've not had much choice lately. It's air con, or roast to death.

Spending the days inside - what feels like - hermetically sealed quarters has had its advantages, though. I've finally been able to tackle some DIY projects I've been wanting to do for a while. Well, one project.

That project was to start a photo wall. I've wanted one for the longest while, and J is able to get a lot free photo printing done through his work - perfect for showing off some of my better photos of us, the girls, and travels.

Having rented for so long, I was never able to build a collection of framed photos for the wall, because our leases usually prohibited us from putting hooks or nails in the walls. However, our current place seems to be a little more lenient about that, so I decided to go for it.

Last week, I began the process of selecting from the stacks of photos I asked J to enlarge and print for me, and sorting them into different frames. Only a dozen pics for now, but it's a start until I get some more frames. It's a convenient excuse for another trip to IKEA.

Despite recommendations in California to not hang anything above sofas and beds (earthquake safety), I thought to hell with it, and sprawled some photos above our sofa. My reasoning was that if an earthquake does strike, and we do happen to be on the sofa, we'll just get off it - how hard could that be?

Last Thursday, I hung up two more frames in the morning. In the late afternoon, I switched on the TV to catch some news, and saw that there had actually been an earthquake at 1.47pm. It was 4.3 on the Richter scale, so apparently somewhat noticeable... but, nope. I didn't feel a thing (J informed me that everyone who was sitting down at his work felt it, and that's only a five-minute drive away). I'm hoping this means our apartment building is exceptionally sturdy.

The framed photos on the wall didn't so much as wobble a millimetre.

I've been admiring my handiwork ever since but this week, it just occurred to me that there's a downside to having a lovely collection of moments framed on a wall - dusting.

I've never been particularly diligent when it comes to dusting. I've never had big collections of pretty knick-knacks that collect dust, for two reasons. One, I hate dusting. Two, small chubby hands of destructive toddlers. It's a system that's worked fairly well for me in recent years.

Not any more. I've gone and put up the biggest damn dust-collecting collection of all on the wall...

Friday, September 2, 2011

Desperate Housewife

A lot happened over the second half of July that I didn't really have time to sit down and write about.

One of the cooler things was seeing a frenzy of film crews in my neighbourhood. One morning, I was heading north along my street, up past my local supermarket, on my way to the park. The traffic outside my apartment complex and local supermarket was insane. There is never traffic built up on those streets, but as I went past the supermarket, I could see why - everyone was rubbernecking. Half the supermarket's carpark was cordoned off, and police on motorbikes were standing on the street curb, directing the flow of traffic. Within the carpark, massive bright lights were set up, surrounded by cameras and large white trucks. That was all I managed to see, though.

That evening I had to buy some milk and after paying for it, I asked one of the staff members what the filming was for. "Desperate Housewives," she answered, "I can't believe I missed out! I had the morning off, and it was all packed up by the time I started work in the afternoon." I knew how she felt. I haven't actually watched an episode since about 2007, but still, it would have been interesting to see some of it being filmed. Given that most mornings involve a walk up to this supermarket, I felt a little cheated that this happened on the one morning I did something different.

That same day, driving back from the park and along some of the back streets, I saw another group of large white trucks parked outside one of the fancier houses. My mother-in-law was in the car, and got a better look than I did - she told me that the trucks has CSI written on them. I guess my neighborhood was in demand as a filming location.

The following day, I had to take the Faery to her preschool. We walked (it was only two blocks away) and I saw more filming equipment being set up along that street. Once we arrived at her preschool, half the carpark was full with catering vans and marquees. I asked the preschool staff what this was all for, and again, it was for Desperate Housewives.

That afternoon, on my way to collect the Faery, I was crossing at the intersection where filming was taking place and heard, "And... ACTION!" So many people were standing around the set that I couldn't really see anything. I made it to the other side, doing my best to look blasé and cool - as if I'm used to being surrounded by film crews, and then I heard, "CUT!" I looked back and got a clearer view of the set. A brunette woman was sitting in the driver seat of a car, and a police officer (or actor) was leaning over and talking to her, with his motorcycle parked behind her car.

Hearing those calls for action, and to cut, put a big smile on my face. If that isn't living in LA, then I don't know what is.

As the Faery and I began walking back home, we had to cross that same intersection. While we were crossing, she asked me what the filming was for, and I explained they were making a TV show called Desperate Housewives.

The Faery, "Well, why are they filming it every day? And what is a housewife, anyway?"

I replied that a housewife is a woman who doesn't got to work, and stays at home instead.

By this stage, we were across the road, and within earshot of the immediate crew and set. In a loud, clear voice, the Faery exclaimed, "THAT'S JUST LIKE YOU, MUM! YOU'RE A DESPERATE HOUSEWIFE!"

A few chuckles erupted around us, and I'm pretty sure my face was turning pink as I grabbed her hand and pulled her along faster.

I'd forgotten all about that day, as the next few days were filled with the Faery's birthday, followed by a trip to San Diego. However, I recently picked up one of those gossip magazines, and in the 'star' photo section, I saw:

(Photo source)
I also found a site with a series of photos taken that day, here. Yes, I had to google gossip sites for the greater good of this post. It needed a photo, right?

Oh, and Teri says hello.