Monday, March 28, 2011

The Travel Side plus the Great Barrier Reef

First, the Great Barrier Reef is still the most amazing "wonder of the world" I have ever seen. It ruins all future snorkeling forever.  And Hamilton Island is one of the best ways to do the reef.  Pouring rain for part of the time there, including getting to the airplane (we were soaked when we finally got onboard), but still as amazing as I remembered it. Cue the slideshow.

Dan Fogelberg, in his song "Same Auld Lang Syne," said about his career that "the audience was heavenly but the traveling was hell."  That also describes this journey.  Indeed, the destinations are heavenly, but the travel part is hell.

I don't know how anybody did this pre electronics.  Thankfully, bad parents though we sometimes feel, the boys can spend hours and hours on airplanes as long as they have the Ipod Touches and/or the Laptops.
A Gadget for All on the Airplane
However, it also makes things much more complicated.  We are constantly trying to keep track of all of our equipment, and we have already lost or broken the following:

1. Micah's MP3 player (lost)
2. Jonah's battery extender (broken)
3. One of our two Kindles (broken)
4. Two of our suitcases (still useable, but one ripped and the other's rollable handle doesn't work).
5. Ipod Touch Case (lost)
6. Slingbox (something that allows us to watch our home DVR and TV), though through our tenant's help, it still works).

Obviously, none of these represent any great tragedy, but they are annoying and stress-inducing.  And this is just for Fiji/Australia, the easy, familiar part of our trip!

Another modern problem is keeping our suitcases within the weight limits, which can be as low as 40 lbs. on some of our flights.  When you're traveling for 5 months, that's pretty hard to do, and it requires a constant moving around of objects to make each suitcase work.  We can't just each have our own and put our stuff in it, or some would be too heavy.  So it takes much longer to pack in each place than you might think.

Despite Yelp, Trip Advisor, and other sites, some hotels do not work out.  The Hotel Formule One in Sydney by the airport is one such example.  We stay in "budget" accomodations in lots of places, but not only is this the sparsest room ever (no closet or dressers and a bathroom where the shower is the bathroom like in a motor home).  But the worst part is the lack of amenities.  Even though it is only a 10 minute walk to the airport, with luggage you have to take a shuttle, which is $6 per person.  Plus we couldn't store our luggage there, even though we were staying there twice (both before and after Hamilton Island), so they make you rent lockers, and I ripped one of the suitcases trying to get it in the locker. 

Still, who am I to complain?  That's part of the travel adventure.  And worth it when considering those three magic words:  "Great Barrier Reef."

Now, off to China, where the real adventure begins. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sydney, Australia--Being a Tourist

My first post was about the Jewish/synagogue related side of Australia.  This post will cover more pedestrian topics.  Here's a slideshow of our adventure with some great Aussie music.  If you don't have the patience, just don't press play and read below.

The Family.  They're all doing well.  Karen is in Heaven here in Sydney, and my boys love it too.  They are a bit tired of each other at this point, as you might imagine, as they have to share a bed and spend virtually all their time together.   Overall they've actually been quite well behaved, but they have had their moments, to be sure.

The Food.  Speaking of food, that's part of the reason we seem to be spending so much money.  Food is fresh and plentiful.   One of the highlights for Karen and me was a visit to the Sydney Fish Market, one of the largest in the world.  Karen had sushi, and I had fish and chips, grilled instead of battered.  You can get any kind of fish here, but our favorites are John Dory and Barramundi.  I'm not a daily coffee drinker, but here, I seem to crave the "flat white" with one sugar scoop.  It's similar to a Cappucino,, but slightly less froth and somehow better.  There is fresh squeezed juice everywhere, and not just orange or carrot, but pineapple, watermelon, pear, rockmelon (cantaloupe), passion fruit, mango, and more.  We want to try every kind of candy bar and ice cream bar.  There are vegetarian pies (more like quiches) and salad sandwiches.  I had Thai food at a food court, and you could choose from a dozen different kinds of noodles.  I chose green tea.

And we can't seem to pass a bakery without wanting what they call a caramel slice, or a vanilla slice or a sticky date pudding, or a variety of mocha cakes.  It's too tempting all the time, and it is not cheap, which brings us to...

The Money.  Sydney is one of the most expensive cities in the world, and that's under normal circumstances.  The weakness of the U.S. Dollar is making it infinitely worse.  When we lived in Sydney 13  years ago, an Australian dollar was worth about 60 cents.  Today, it is worth about 95 cents.  Meals, or even a bag of fruit seems to cost a small fortune.  Plus, we want to see and do everything, so going to see the Aquarium and the Wildlife Park and the Sydney Tower all seem to burn a hole in my pocket.
The Lingo.  Nobody says "good day, mate!"  But they do call people matey.  And they say "how you going?" And if something good happens it's "good on you."  And we ask for serviettes instead of napkins.  Micah got to meet some kids at the synagogue, and they had a good time comparing how they pronounced "grass" or "grahss" as it sounds to us.

And, of course, the wildlife is amazing.  But you still have to visit the zoo (or, in our case, the Featherdale Wildlife Park) to see it.  It's not like koalas and kangaroos hop through the streets of Sydney.

To paraphrase Peter Allen, a part of me will always call Australia home.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Shabbes, Shabbes, Shabbes, Oy Oy Oy


The title refers to a chant Australians use at sporting events.  Someone chants "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie" or "Sydney, Sydney, Sydney," and the audience responds "Oy Oy Oy,"  Trust me, it's fun.

Australia is an amazing place--exotic and beautiful on the one hand and yet very familiar and comfortable at the same time.  At times it feels like you're not even in a foreign country.  Much of it is like being in California, but with way better beaches, even better weather, (though we've had some rain), and a much better health care system.  Plus they do everything a day ahead, on the wrong side of the road, upside down, and backwards. 

Micah and Jonah at Bondi Beach, having actual fun not on a computer.
Being in Australia, and spending Shabbat and Purim at Congregation Emanuel in Australia, was like coming home for Karen and me.  I spent one year working here replacing the Asst. Rabbi who was on sabbatical in 1997-1998, and it was probably the best year of my life.  Emanuel is an amazing congregation, a combined Reform and Conservative community, and the place which literally saved my career.  I was coming off of two miserable years in New York and ready to quit the congregational rabbinate and return to marketing when this opportunity came up.  They treated me like gold and restored my faith and confidence in congregational life.

Brian Fox, the Rabbi who
probably saved my career.
Emanuel, the place that
probably saved my career.
Whether it is because of the comparison to my New York misery, the fact that it was only for one year, the wonder of being down under, or that it was such a great match for me personally, I tend to idealize the experience.  But visiting only keeps that ideal on the pedestal.  Arriving at shul on Shabbat, Karen and I both had a very emotional reaction, greeting old friends, davening old tunes, and just feeling like we were home.   We both shed quite a few tears, but that's not unusual given what crybabies we both are. Beth Abraham and Oakland also feel that way to us, of course, and the fact that it felt like Emanuel in Australia made us knew it was a great match as soon as I started working there.

The service is not terribly different from ours, except that they do a full Torah reading, two full Amidah repititions, and Anim Z'mirot.  The synagogue itself is not especially beautiful; it's the people that make it so.  Two special surprises greeted us this Shabbat in Sydney.  First, Rabbi Brian Fox, who was the Senior Rabbi when I was here but is now in England, was also visiting, so the feeling of reunion was amplified even more.

Secondly, there was an Aufruf, and the bride was one of the few kids from the Hebrew School that I remembered from my time here.  She was 11 and is now getting married at 24.  Apparently, it's quite common in the Jewish community in Australia to get married in their early twenties.  Still, it was both gratifying and strange to see this little girl all grown up.  When you don't see someone for 13 years, they become fixed in your mind at the age they were when you left.  Almost as if in a movie, the sign flashes "13 years later," and there they are as full grown adults.  I loved it, but I prefer watching the slow, natural development of our kids in Oakland.  I'm still waiting to perform my first wedding for a kid I Bar/Bat Mitzvahed or even confirmed.

The Purim Spiel was phenomenal (though combined with the megila reading and evening service was more than 3 hours!). The spiel itself was an hour long comedy combining Apple technology, Fairy Tales, Elvis songs, and the Purim story.  It had set design, stage lighting, stage makeup, sound, and more.  Very well produced by people in the business and written by one of the rabbis here, Jackie Ninio.  Lots of jokes about the Australian government, pop culture, and everything in between.  My favorite was the "Oy Phone" and the "Oy Pad," spoken by a New York accented Esther. I still miss the Rock & Roll TBA Purim, but this was a lot of fun.

More on the sightseeing, the family, and the food in Australia in my next post.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Interesting Shabbat in Fiji

I'm thinking of Psalm 93 that we recite every Friday night.  Mikolot Mayim, the sound of the waters, is the part we sing.  The exact words I'm thinking of are "The rivers have raised, Adonai, the rivers have raised their waves.  More than the sound of the many waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea, mighty in the heights, are You Adonai."

Water is the force of life, mayim chaim, but it can also be the force of destruction.  It is so fascinating, yet tinged with guilt, to be surrounded by the beautiful waters of the Pacific in Fiji while the water of the Tsunami destroyed so many lives in Japan.  It is mysterious, tragic wonder, but gratitude also runs through my mind as I experience all this.

I also missed Shabbat this week.  I try not to travel on Shabbat, and when I booked our flights, leaving California on Thursday night, I didn't realize we would miss Shabbat.  But it takes two days to fly here, and once we crossed the International Date Line, it was still Friday daytime in California, but late Saturday here.  I missed lighting candles and Kiddush, which saddens me, but there are few things more restful than what I'm doing, or rather, not doing here.

At the risk of boring everyone with "my summer vacation," this should give you some idea.

Off to Australia tomorrow.  It's a hard knock life.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ready to Roll

We are very excited for the trip and can't believe we leave tomorrow!  3 days in Fiji relaxing, two weeks in Australia, one week in China, one week in Dubai, and 4 months of study in Israel.  No major project, just Torah lishma, study for its own sake.  .

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Journey is About to Begin

This blog will follow Rabbi Mark Bloom and family's sabbatical travels, which include 3 days in Fiji, a week in Australia, a week in China, a week in Dubai, and four  months in Israel!  Mark Bloom is the Rabbi of Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland, California.