Friday, 19 February 2010


In South Africa, we used to moan about the call centre people and their ability to communicate in English. Well over here in Aus it is little different. I had to share this absolute classic blog of another expat, check it out:

Thursday, 18 February 2010

It's not often that I'm wrong... but I'm wrong again.

So I am back from my trip into the rural areas of New South Wales. The scenery was great most of the way. Lots of rain has fallen so everything was green. Not much to report to be honest except 2 things: Fruit and Griffith.
I had heard that in some places of Aus, when you travel interstate, you are not allowed to transfer fruit between States and have to dump it in specially marked bins because of the cross contamination danger of fruit flies. Ok, understood. But within the same state? Well, in preparing for my cross-country trip, I knew on the Wednesday that it would be Ash Wednesday which for us Catholics is a day of fasting and abstinence, so I had planned instead of a normal lunch, I would have an apple and nectarine in the fridge in my car chilled nicely. Well about 350km in the middle of nowhere, I suddenly start seeing these huge road signs with fruit flies: DO NOT BRING FRUIT INTO THIS AREA. FINE: $200. DISPOSE OF IN THE BINS PROVIDED. Well I thought, I'll take my chances, I mean my fruit isn't sweating in a car: it is in a sealed fridge in the boot - no fly would live in that temperature. But the signs became more frequent and I started to get more concerned and feel more and more guilty. Breaking the law - on Ash Wednesday nogal! So to still my conscience, I got angry and started practicing what I would tell any cop who dared pull me over. A one man heated argument happening in my car: ' Besides, Officer, which bin should I put them in? - the signs are there, but there are no bins!' (It was true, there were no bins) About 15km into this tirade, the signs became angrier and then I saw it: a bright yellow bin clearly marked and above it the sign read: FINE: MAXIMUM $11 000. I pulled over and tossed the perfectly chilled nectarine and apple into the blasted bin.
Griffith. Now as the title says, It's not often that I am wrong, but boy was I glad I was wrong again. About 600km West of Sydney in the middle of ... well, nowhere, lies a town called Griffith - for those in South Africa, think Beaufort West or perhaps Fargo for those in the US. Now online I saw a couple of pictures - how bad could it be: The Grand Motel. (Better than The Royal Motel? who knows?) But you know the image it conjours up? Synthetic carpets, a dodgy character at reception, some stains on the carpets and sheets - Roach Motel. And Griffith is remote - it is supposed by all reports to be Hickville. And on the way, there are some real backwater towns with signs:- 'Come and see the largest playable guitar in the world! The largest stone sheep....etc.etc. But boy was I wrong! Immaculate Chinese porcelain tiles, double volume room airconned, natural stone counters, Wrap around frameless glass showers, free Broadband - I was gobsmacked - it really was better than a 4 star hotel in Sydney! The third photo is of the room but doesn't do it justice - I suck at photography. The top 2 - excuse the camera-phone quality was of our meal - the pudding was my colleague's - I was a good boy and just had the fish and chips - in the motel restaurant - the ambiance and furnishings and the presentation and quality of the food could have been in an exclusive waterfront restaurant in Sydney, it was so good. I only also realised afterwards that I had ordered fish - 600k's inland, but it was good. No website but the next time you are in Griffith:
Pictures don't do it justice.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Roadtrips and Rednecks

I am psyching myself up mentally for a road trip this coming week. I will be doing a couple of thousand kilometres in 3 days - down to ACT, Wagga Wagga and Griffith to install some machines. The 'psyching up' is not for the long drive - the drives around here are normally quite picturesque - though Griffith is certain to be dry, but because this is the heart of Australia in some senses - and I am not sure what to expect - or perhaps I have an inkling...

In the week, I had to travel South to do a presentation on one of our more complex units and took a technical expert with me for support - he is an Aussie. We arrived at the place which was a large mine and after the initial presentation were ushered into the maintenance offices where a group of their technical personnel peppered us with questions. About halfway through this session, a rather large guy wandered in and collapsed into a chair, eyes puffy, hair kind of greased / combed to the side, tattoos in evidence and at least one or two missing teeth. He looked familiar, but only in an iconic kind of way: the redneck sitting in a faded deck chair on a porch with a rifle on one side, a mongrel called 'Killer' at his feet and the remnants of some rusted vehicle a few feet away peeking out of the jungle that is his front yard. (You see this often over here in Aus by the way - in the city nogal!) Anyway, this character beetles in and the skinny (also heavily tattooed) man who had gone to call him plopped himself down in a chair nearby, grinning for no apparent reason. I heard later from their colleague that 'the missus' had kicked the big guy out of his house after some domestic altercation (I didn't ask) and he had taken up residence in an old caravan behind the workshop. At lunch time he would go 'home' for a nap and that's what he was doing when we arrived, so skinny, his sidekick had shot off to go and bang on the outside of the caravan to call him when we city slickers had arrived.

And then he really got stuck into us with the most obtuse questions he could muster - which to his credit, my technical expert was able to respond to very well. In the middle of all of this, when we initially tripped over an answer, I heard a maniacal cackle from behind me that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I turned and saw that there was what looked like a twin of this big guy sitting in a corner nearby who we hadn't noticed as our eyes had taken a while to adjust to the gloom after the bright light outside. He had a sneer on his oily face and laughed as his brighter buddy tried to trip us up. When my partner finally concluded with the correct answer, he slumped back, obviously disappointed and amused himself for the rest of the session by glaring at us and chasing his two brain cells around his not insubstantially sized head in stony silence. What gave the whole redneck thing away was when we were talking about ongoing support for the equipment we were discussing. These guys had owned some of our equipment before and most agreed that our after sales service was really good, but our interrogator ventured that 5 years ago a technician had come around who wasn't an Aussie. He began: 'I'm not trying to be racist, but... I couldn't understand a word that that guy was saying!'
I looked at him non-plussed. Racist? I had met all the guys and we happen to have no Black or Asian technicians in NSW so I sort of blurted out without thinking: 'It can't be one of our technicians. We actually only have white guys working for us?' I could see he was uncomfortable that this was now been expanded on - I think he was hoping to make his point and let it rest.
'No,' he answered, 'as I say I'm not trying to be racist, but the guy had a funny accent.'
'But he's white!' I launched undeterred. (come on I'm from South Africa, if you are racist, it must be a colour thing). And then I clicked: 'O you mean, you're not xenophobic! Sorry, mate - I think we had a language gap there!'
He tilted his head at me - not sure if i had just sworn at him...
My fellow technical expert jumped in to rescue me and try and limit the damage: 'O you mean Viktor! (he is Romanian), yes don't worry', him and I both laughed, 'nobody understands what he is talking about half the time at our company but he is a highly qualified engineer... did you guys not get good service from him? Did he mess something up badly?'
'No, as I was saying', he said testily, 'I am not being racist, I was just saying he wasn't an Aussie and I could hardly understand his foreign accent. The new guy (who is an Aussie) is much better.'
Mercifully, one of his embarrassed colleagues threw another question at us and we moved swiftly along.

Afterwards, I asked my colleague about it cos I had never met anybody who disliked Romanians. He said not to worry about it, and that every country has them and then asked how come my Aussie accent had gotten so broad all of a sudden for the rest of the meeting?

I will try and blog next week about my trip to the deep Outback and let you know what exactly is out there...