Friday, June 26, 2009

Day 8 – Thanksgiving in Gladesville

I think I've finally started to adjust to the +19 hour time change. Waking up at 7am feels much better in Australia than it ever did in Los Angeles. In a feeble attempt to catch up on my travel journal, I hammered away on the computer this morning. Since today is Monday, the house is quieter than during the weekend. Mum and Gerry went out to look at rental properties to draw a comparison to Gerry's rental unit in Avalon, and Aunt Carol was out running errands and making preparations for tonight's Thanksgiving dinner. No, they don't celebrate Turkey day here in Australia, but Carol thought it would be nice to have the whole family (in Sydney) over for dinner. Mike, cousin Sally's American husband, had longed for a Thanksgiving meal ever since he moved to Sydney from Boston thirteen years ago. With Mum and I here from the States, this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Dinner wasn't for a few hours, and I had a rare day to myself to do what I pleased.

Since Mondays in Oz bring Sunday football from the US, I had a couple of NFL games pre-recorded on IQ, Australian version of DVR/TiVo. It only took me two hours to flip through six hours of a football telecast, as I fast-forwarded past all the downtime between plays that "gridiron" offers spectators. As the games start at 5am Sydney time, I was done watching football by noon. My team performed well, and I am optimistic about a return to the fantasy football postseason, when money can be won! Having gotten my football fix with the entire afternoon to spare, I decided to take a walk around Gladesville, a town I only knew from inside a car thus far.

My first stop was at the newsagent, an Australian newsstand which also contains certain elements of a bookstore and a convenience store as well. A friend back home wanted me to get a couple magazines pertaining to Australian television / film, so I figured this would be an ideal place. The magazines sold down under are fairly similar to the ones sold in the US with few subtle differences: Sports magazines share a similar format to, say, Sports Illustrated. But instead of covering NFL, college football, baseball, basketball, and hockey, the Aussie sports mags cover rugby, cricket, Aussie Rules football, the Australian PGA, and the Australian national soccer team, the "Socceroos." As for gossip rags, the commentary seems a bit more scathing than what I'm used to reading in Us Weekly. After I paid for a couple of entertainment-related magazines for my friend, I noticed cigarettes for sale behind the counter. Not only does a pack sell for $9-15 AUS, but the warning labels are so bold and over the top, that it's quite comical to look at them. While American boxes have a finely printed advisory down the side of the box, Australian cigarette packs have a white-on-black bold sign printed across the top of the box, "SMOKING KILLS" with an accompanying gruesome picture of a carcinogenic lung or a withered emphysema patient on her death bed with tubes coming out of multiple orifices.

Half a block from the newsagent was a Thai massage parlor. Thanks to the scant legroom afforded by the seats on my Virgin Blue flights from Sydney to Cairns and back, coupled with the luggage I schlepped around from city to city, I was in dire need of a rubdown. For $35 AUS, I was able to get a half-hour massage; not quite as cheap as the open parlor in Cairns, but still fairly inexpensive by American standards. Since tipping isn't a custom in Australia like it is in the US, I was able to get out of the parlor for only $35! I changed out of the hospital gown that was provided, and departed for lunch. After nearly getting killed by a passing car after forgetting to first look right instead of left for the umpteenth time before crossing the street, I arrived at a Turkish hole-in-the-wall restaurant. The proprietor inside looked lonely and bored, so I ordered a yummy beef falafel which was curiously served with barbecue sauce instead of hummus/tahini sauce. For dessert, I purchase the most delicious pistachio-encrusted baklava ever! I thanked the pleasant owner before I left, and he resumed his lonely afternoon. Turns out most mom-and-pop restaurants tend to close on Mondays, as this seems to be the least busy day for eateries in Gladesville. Luckily, I found one that was both enjoyable and affordable, as I only paid about $8 AUS for the falafel and baklava. I would then proceed to National Australia Bank (nicknamed NAB) to cash a check.

While I cannot be certain if this applies to all banks in Australia, I found it refreshing how this Gladesville bank came without bulletproof glass separating the teller from the banker, and also there was no security guard on duty! However, there was a television playing Everyone Loves Raymond, as well as a set of tellers that hardly moved at breakneck speed. However, they were very nice, and I refreshed my memory on the multitude of colors Australian currency comes in after the check cleared.

When I came home, I wrote my Day 4 journal entry from when I was in Cairns with Mum and Gerry. The completion of my writing coincided with the arrival of my cousin Luke, who came straight from his job at Fox. This would be the start of one of the highlights from my Australia trip.

Sally was the next to arrive, but without her husband Mike. Ironically, Mike was the catalyst for this Thanksgiving-in-Australia get-together, but a vicious flu bug was running throughout their household. First, their two sons got sick, Sally was next, followed by Mike. Since Aunt Carol had already rescheduled Thanksgiving once, she didn't want the turkey in the fridge to go bad, and reschedule again. Thus we were having the dinner tonight – with or without Mike. I found this disappointing because I wanted to revel in the glory of an unexpected victory by our Denver Broncos in New York over the Jets. Mike and I happen to like the same football team even though we are from completely different parts of the States.

The last people to arrive to the dinner party were my older cousin Jacob, accompanied by his lovely fiancé Gabby. They drove 45 minutes from beachside Avalon to get to Gladesville. I will describe Avalon further in the future, as I plan to visit it next week.

We took some pictures outside, as there happened to be a gorgeous purplish-orange sunset providing a majestic backdrop for some fine family photos. Finally, dinner was served.

Although Aunt Carol apologized for the dry turkey, I thought it was delicious. She also prepared yams, stuffing, peas, carrots, and mashed potatoes. For dessert, we had pavlova topped with mango and passionfruit. Sally complained about not having mango on her pavlova, but Carol, her mum, had to remind Sally that she is deathly allergic to mango. It must suck to be allergic to foods you like. We finished a couple bottles of wine, which were quite nice in spite of the screw top. We also reminisced about the previous times I had visited Oz back in my formative years, back in 1986 and 1996. I proposed a toast to Carol and Gerry, thanking them for taking Mum and me in for so long. I also gave a briefly cynical history of Thanksgiving involving Pilgrims, Indians, the Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, and us thanking the Indians by kicking them off their land, only to endure sweet revenge by way of the casinos they've opened up in recent years. I also discussed the importance of the holiday to the Hollywood box office, and how the movie Australia tanked in the US, citing mediocre reviews. Mum then broke out the laptop, and showed the family our pictures of the trip to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef together.

By 10pm, Jacob and Gabby had to hit the road, as they had a lengthy drive back to Avalon awaiting them. Luke and Sally are collaborating on a desktop publishing project for a local RSL (Returned Serviceman's League) restaurant/bar. After they reviewed some mock-ups on Luke's laptop, they called it a night, and left as well. I then helped Carol clear the dishes, thanked her for bringing Turkey Day down under, and went upstairs to check email and what's going on back home in Los Angeles.

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