The story so far

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

A History of Australian and Korean BBQs

It’s interesting. I started off in Australia telling myself that life here was great and at some point this positive frame of mind eroded until all I could see was the negative. My last blog article gave me the chance to confront this and convinced me that the negative effect on my health was largely due to my state of mind although mould, damp and excessive consumption of beer probably also contributed.

With these thoughts, for the past six weeks, I’ve been trying to climb out of the mental hole I have fallen into and look on the positive. At last, it seems to be working. I’m beginning to feel a bit better, I can see a number of steps which we will take to improve our quality of life and I’m becoming more and more interested in the various projects I am getting at work.

With this new found positivity, I am beginning to feel better, less lethargic and happier more of the time. If I can feel this way now, just imagine how happy I will be when we are living in a real house and Hannah has finished her course and is able to devote some of her time to the family again.

One of the major contributors to our stress has definitely been the search for a house. I’ve already discussed the finance issues and the competition, so won’t do that again, although I do have new information to contribute since we took part in an Auction at the weekend.

The stress it was causing me was anecdotally evident when, On Sunday morning I woke up at 8.00 a.m. after sleeping for nine hours in a row. Once the auction was over and we had decided not to participate, I was able to relax and sleep for more than four or five hours for the first time in months. It didn’t last though. The following evening, Hannah stole the covers and left me feeling cold and unloved.

At least the worlds loudest frog, who seemed to have spent the last three months doing his version of "Wherefore Art Though Romeo" outside our bedroom window has realised I'm not interested and gone elsewhere to croak someone else into insanity.

So, yes, it is very hard establishing yourself in another country but I reckon the main thing is to stay positive and now I’m on the way out of my doldrums, that is what I intend to do.

I’ve even had the enthusiasm recently to start returning to my observations on Australia and in particular to experiment with the language. I’ve discovered that some Aussies pronounce "Data" correctly even if others pronounce it “Darter”. Maybe it’s like Northerners in England getting a lot of their pronunciation wrong “Graph vs Graff” for example. I am leaning however to pronouncing some words like the Aussies do. “Router” for example, they pronounce “Rowter” like the Americans. There is good reason for this though because they use the word “Root” more commonly than in England and the meaning is not appropriate for use in many contexts.

I’ve also started calling ponds “Dams” despite the fact that they are ponds. Where most people refer to a dam as a barrier built across flowing water to create a reservoir, Australians refer to any kind of artificial pond as a “Dam”. I looked this up in Wikipedia and it even makes reference to this misuse of the English language, specifically in Australia (I’m not sure if it extends to their Kiwi neighbours)

The Australian way of speaking is also interesting and I reckon this is where I’m most likely to pick up Australian habits. One thing they do is say “How are you” or “G’day, Howyadoing” a lot. I’ve found myself doing this a lot, although I find that I am still inhibited by my European reluctance to spending too long over pleasantries before getting down to business.

They also shorten word by putting “o” at the end a lot. Bottleshop becomes Bottl-o in the same way Off-Licence becomes Offie. But they shorten more words than we do in England such as Presentation: Preso, Registration: Rego, Service Station: Servo, Renovations: Renos, Relations: Relos, Afternoon: Arvo. It seems that this rule can be applied quite liberally to shorten any long words or even place names. When we visited Matt and Fiona in Coffs Harbour, they took us to “Bello” and when we couldn’t find it on the map, they revealed it was really called “Bellingen”. They also took us to “Dubbo” which is even printed that way on the map. We couldn’t find any reference to the original long form of its name though.

Having said this, there must be rules. I say this because when Hannah asked me to find out if anyone knew a good Paediatrician or a Homoeopathist to treat Esme’s psychological issues, my attempts at enquiries in Aussie slang met with a “mixed” reception.

Another recent encounter with Australian culture has been at the Putty community fair, which is an opportunity for the locals in a small rural and remote community to showcase their performing talents and to try and sell unwanted VHS video cassettes to others who made the switch to DVD ten years ago. Since there were a lack of volunteers at the fair, I got to take an “inside look” by manning the barbecue stall with Matt, my brother-in-law.

Matt did all the cooking, probably because he has the BBQ interference gene. The one that prevents Australian men from watching others cook meat on a barbecue without wanting to get involved. The one that has them telling you that you should rotate sausages only in angles of precisely 39 degrees, or 42 if using a propane fuel. The same one which causes them to twitch if you have the wrong elbow position when turning the steak. Part of me though wonders if my reputation for burning chicken on the barbecue is the reason.....

I’m glad Matt cooked. For one, he was serving a long line of demanding Aussie men and women, most of them “carriers” secondly he was smelly like a garbage disposal machine by the end of his eight hour shift. I just got to serve the public, take their money and enjoy the spectacle that was the beer tent as the local undesirables drank their monster juice and, in some cases did passable impressions of primates on heat.

To be fair, with the exception of some local idiots who did their best to ruin things, the event was a big success. There was some rain, but the kids all had a good time, there were some good performances and I believe that they made enough profit in the beer tent to make the whole day worthwhile. Having enjoyed that day so much, I’ll be going back to Putty in two weeks for the Halloween fair. I only hope it is as good as the community fair.

On the housing front, as discussed, Hannah and I did find a house which, although not our dream home, was just within our affordability range and would have provided us with a large family accommodation and met our needs for years to come. In our area, a lot of houses sell by Auction (or Okshun as they call it) and this was no exception. The only issue with this way of doing business is that you have to pay for surveys etc in advance because if you win, you are committed.

Having done the surveys and conferred with a number of friends including architect Tim and estate agent Simon, we decided the Termites, Rising Damp and Dry Rot seemed like too big a risk to proceed, but we went along to see how it went.

The most amusing part of the auction was the performance by the agent, who was clearly desperate to get us and another guy involved in the bidding. I think his goose stepping backwards and forwards between us amused everyone enough to be glad they came. He used a variety of whispered messages and incredulous facial expressions concealed from the omni-present lip readers by a carefully hoisted ring binder to try and bring us under his control.

With only one bidder, it was always going to be unlikely that the top price would be reached, despite the fact that owner was also bidding. The house was “Passed in” which means it didn’t sell at Auction.

When this happens, often further negotiation takes place behind closed doors. As the crowd dispersed, the lasting memory is that of the head of the agent popping round the door of the house and beckoning us, the imploring look on his face and the bulging eyes, convincing me that he was indeed using some form of mind control technique.

"Just don’t look into the eyes." I whispered to Hannah as we walked away.

Otherwise, I’ve had a couple of good nights out recently. The first was with the two Davids, my Father in law and brother in law. I’ve not done a Friday afternoon pub crawl for a long time, but last week I met David number one at the Greenwood Hotel in North Sydney and after a couple of “Golden Ales” we made our way on foot across the bridge and to Circular Quay to meet the other David. Having been waiting alone at the Greenwood and browsing Facebook, I noticed that a lot of people were using the new “Places” feature which allows you to post you current location along with a comment.

“What a good idea” I thought “I can use it to keep track of my evening where my organic memory may become confused and inefficient. What a bad idea that turned out to be. I forgot the golden rule about never writing anything on Facebook when you are drunk. The next morning I discovered a number of embarrassing comments and deleted most of them. Still, I’ve seen worse.

We finished the evening early, by catching a ferry from the Quay to Kirribilli Wharf and to the flat where David and Sue were staying for Steaks. What a great way to end Sue and David’s latest trip and only slightly marred by being scalded by Sue for leaving my “accoutrements” on the dinner table.

Last night I was supposed to be meeting my other brother in law, Matt at around six pm for a drink and dinner. At 5.30 I decided to go to the pub and wait for him there. Luckily I bumped into Glen, a friend of mine at the pub and killed the two hours it took Matt to get there chatting about work and life and organising “an official drink” (Chance meetings at the pub don’t count)

It turned out Matt had not had a great day. He’d had the hire car bashed at the airport, work had been hectic (hence the delay) and as we left the pub, we realised he’d parked illegally and had a ninety dollar fine.  My suggestion that bad luck comes in threes didn't go down well either.

That was when I decided to suggest going for Korean BBQ.

I drive past this place on the bus every day and like the look and smell of it. Basically people sit at tables with a “BBQ hole” in the middle, and cook meat and slowly eat. Matt seemed keen to give it a go, so we made our way out to Chatswood.

When we arrived there, we knew it would be a challenge. First of all, it was more of a supermarket than a restaurant so there was no maitre’d or even waitresses.  Secondly, there was, what appeared to be a blacksmiths forge in the corner which seemed to be part of the dining experience and finally there were no toilets in sight.

I had dashed to the local fitness first to use the toilet which made me pleased I had the membership and legitimate in its use as I definitely felt fitter after emptying my busting bladder.  After Matt had dashed to the local pub for very similar, if not identical reasons, we located the sole English speaking lady in the establishment. She explained to us that we should buy meat and veg in the supermarket and for a small fee, we could cook it and eat it there and then.

We bought the meat, found a table and waited, waited and waited. It was strange not knowing how to communicate in an English speaking country, but we had found an enclave where English was definitely in the minority. I re-located the lady with the language skills and explained we didn’t know what to do next and that we really needed help in knowing what to do. By the time I got outside again with her, a man with a blow torch and an iron smelting cupola held delicately in metre long tongs and filled with white-hot charcoal had already come and set-up our table.

The lady looked bemused and explained in a slightly patronising, but friendly way that what was on the table was called a “Barbecue” and that you put raw meat on it and after some time, it became "cooked meat" which you could then eat.  Anyway, embarrassment aside, we were ready and I witnessed for the first time something I have not seen in an Australian male with ”The Gene”. Matt was furtively looking around trying to figure out what other people were doing with their barbecues.

He soon recovered though when he realised that they were just chucking the meat on, waiting for it to “become cooked” and then eating it. It took us ninety minutes to eat our meal, but we really enjoyed the experience of chatting, slowly cooking and exchanging barbecue techniques.  It's something neither of us had done before and something which clearly not many non-Korean speaking Australians do either.

Most of all, I was happy to have seen an Aussie looking nervous around a barbecue.  Matt had hypothesised that it would make a good blog article and that he probably would bear the brunt of some merciless piss-taking.  I wouldn't want to disappoint


  1. I may just be procrastinating from the calculus I must attempt to understand but it is very good to see by old lovely husband back to his true form!

    I even want to live where he is when I read this!


  2. No wonder Matt was nervous around the b-b-que - he'd only had one drink he told me. How can an Aussie man possibly b-b-q when he is sober?