Maybe we’re finding Sydney depressing just because we’re so sad about leaving this wonderful country. But it’s more likely that we’re feeling down because the city is so eerily empty. Just look at this photo of the harbor at the Circular Quay next to the Opera House. It’s normally buzzing with boats of every size and shape. But today it’s empty. Same with the usually crowded sidewalks.
You might not believe this, but we do not think Australia is perfect. This photo of a freeway off-ramp just south of Sydney illustrates its major flaw — it’s too damn Americanized.
We spent the night in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales on the way to Sydney. There’s really no story here. I only mention it because I’ve always wanted to do the “Hubba hubba, Wagga Wagga” headline.
Last night I read a short biography of Clint Eastwood. High Plains Drifter was one of the first films he directed. Aussies pronounced the word “hay” the same way Americans pronounce the word “high.” So I couldn’t help but think of Clint today when we drove across the Hay Plain on our way from Angaston to Sydney.
America is big and has appropriately big monuments — the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Gateway Arch, Mount Rushmore, the list goes on and on. But Australia’s a small country with a much shorter history so it makes sense that it has a much shorter list of smaller monuments.
But it’s hard to believe just how short the list is.
You have the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, and…uhhhhh…the Dog on the Tuckerbox in Gundagai.
No, seriously. The Dog on the Tuckerbox is a famous Australian monument. We drove miles out of our way just to see it.
In case you’re wondering why one of Australia’s most famous monuments features a dog sitting on a box of food, here’s the story: It was inspired by a poem titled Bullocky Bill that celebrates Australia’s settlers. It tells the story of a loyal dog that continued to guard his owner’s tuckerbox long after the pioneer had died.
It’s all part of the charm of the Land Down Under.
ONE ADDED NOTE: I’ve been reminded that Americans probablly have no idea what a tuckerbox is. Tucker means food, something to be tucked away in the stomach. So a tuckerbox is a place to store food, a lunchbox of sorts.
Australia is a land of extremes. It can flip from years of drought to massive flooding almost overnight.
This sign post on the “other” side of the Murray River shows the highest flood levels in recorded history. The base of the sign probably sits 20 feet above the normal level of the river.
1956 must have been a crazy year, huh?
If you’re old enough (like me) you’ll remember Gerry & the Pacemakers, an English invasion band that had a 1965 hit called “Ferry Across the Mersey.” Today we took an early morning ferry across the Murray.
Americans may have a little trouble believing this but the narrow stream shown in this photo is the largest river in Australia. They called it the Mighty Murray. That’s pretty much everything you need to know about Australian aridity.
It’s difficult to drive away from Angaston because we’ve made so many friends and feel so at home here. It’s an emotional moment. On top of that, it’s a rainy morning which prompted the headline on this story.
But spellcheck didn’t like the headline.
It keeps changing The gods wept to The god swept.
The former feels more emotional, which Jamie would prefer, but the latter sounds tidier, which wins my obsessive-compulsive vote. If there’s some Roman god of cleanliness named Broomius who’s going to tidy up in our wake, well, who am I to argue with “The god swept?”
We’ll be back. Sooner rather than later.
We’ve been talking about how lucky we are that we got to Angaston before this whole Wuhan Flu thing broke out. It’s beautiful, prosperous, and full of happy, friendly people. There’s nowhere we’d rather be quarantined.
But what about the opposite end of the spectrum? There are a few places we wouldn’t want to be quarantined — places we’ve visited that we laughingly call “once in a lifetime” destinations because we never want to go back. Places that were bad when times were good.
It’s a short list because we’ve loved most of the places we’ve visited. But there are always a few exceptions.
The Trans-Siberian Express. Seven days and nights with no contact with the outside world. No shower facilities. A toilet shared with everyone in our train car. A shared faucet that sputtered a weak stream of water into a filthy sink. Insufficient, overpriced food. Rude railway workers. Just imagine if you had left Moscow just before this thing hit and then ended up stranded when you arrived in China.
Sri Lanka. We actually loved Sri Lanka, but never felt really safe in the capital city. We arrived on a warm, balmy night and asked our hotel desk clerk if it was safe to go for a walk in downtown Colombo. She said, “Oh, yes. It’s very safe. Just don’t go beyond the security guards in the parking lot.” We took a pass. It’s just impossible to imagine being quarantined where it’s not safe to take a walk.
Madagascar. Gut-wrenching poverty and zero sanitation. Our hotel was surrounded by a wall and an armed guard roamed the courtyard. The airport featured a mob scene reminiscent of The Year of Living Dangerously. And who cares about the Wuhan Flu when there’s bubonic plague to worry about.
The Russian cruise ship. Heaven help anyone quarantined aboard this rusty old scow.
China. It goes without saying that you wouldn’t want to be quarantined for the Wuhan Flu when you’re anywhere near Wuhan.
If you have to be stranded somewhere, let it be the Barossa.
If you thought TV game shows had taken JimandJamie.com off the beaten track, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
You know that phenomenon where you learn something new, let’s say it’s a word you’ve just seen for the first time ever, and then it suddenly starts popping up everywhere?
It has a name. For reasons I won’t bother getting into here, it is called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.
ScienceAlert.com explains the psychology behind it:
…because the information is new, you suddenly force yourself to believe that it’s new to everyone and has suddenly popped up, when in reality, you’ve just stopped ignoring it.
I bring this up because I just had a Baader-Meinhof experience thanks to our Aussie psychologist friend Mark. You’re about to have one, too.
I had never heard of Armenian mystic George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff until earlier this week when I attempted to plow through Mark’s doctoral thesis. And then I stumbled across his name again today in this online article:
Pacific Bell Was Accused of Brainwashing Employees With The Teachings of A Mystical Guru
In 1984, executives at Pacific Bell decided that the company needed a little shakeup. Naturally, they turned to the ideas of early 20th century Armenian mystic George Gurdjieff, who returned from travels in the East claiming to have synthesized the teachings of the “monk, yogi, and fakir” into a “fourth way” of transcending our mental limits. The company decided to spend $140 million training its employees in Gurdjieff’s mystical techniques for attaining a higher level of consciousness.
This was not some optional little side course. The company’s employees could literally be fired for not fully embracing the pathway to a higher state of being, via such concepts as “the Law of Three” and “end-state visions.” Baffled engineers suddenly found themselves sitting through seminars on Gurdjieff’s impenetrable writings, informing them that “only he will deserve the name of man who has acquired data for being able to preserve intact both the sheep and the wolf entrusted to his care.” Can you imagine calling your phone company and hearing “Thanks for calling Pacific Bell, how many I preserve your inner wolf today?”
Standard corporate press releases were suddenly replaced with impenetrable tracts declaring the company’s intent to pursue “the continuous ability to engage with the connectedness and relatedness that exists and potentially exists, which is essential for the creations necessary to maintain and enhance viability of ourselves and the organization of which we are a part.” It’s probably not a great sign when your PR department appears to be communing with the Architect from The Matrix.
Employees quickly started to complain about brainwashing and several went to the press with concerns over “thought restructuring” and “mind control.” The ensuing scandal forced Pacific Bell to shut the program down after spending a mere $40 million. As a bonus, the creator of Dilbert was actually working at Pacific Bell when all this happened. And not having the wacky office from the comic strip slowly devolve into the Heaven’s Gate cult is probably that guy’s worst decision yet.
It’s the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon in action. I swear I’d never heard of Gurdjieff until four days ago and suddenly this obscure Armenian mystic popped up again this morning.
The only thing that could possibly make it stranger is that it lead directly to the Dilbert comic strip.
How weird is that?