Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Around the World in 101 Days (and counting!)

In the classic novel, Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, Phileas Fog wagers a £20,000 bet that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days or less.  Using a combination of steamer ships, trains, and alternative modes of transport, such as an elephant, Fog and his trusted valet battle a herd of bison, a mutiny and hurricanes until they arrive back in London…. well, I can’t tell you the end!  You will have to read it yourself.  But I will say this, if it was up to me, I would gladly hire Phileas Fog any day to move my belongings from the U.S. to Australia because… they STILL haven’t arrived.

After 101 days my belongings are “in Singapore indefinitely.”  No joke!  The woman from the moving company used those EXACT words.  When I pressed her for more information she told me she had “no idea” when they would be put on a ship to Australia.  You might be asking yourself, “Hmmm… I don’t understand.  You live in Australia.  So why are your things in Singapore?”  Yes! My question exactly.  Here’s the best part.  I looked it up on a map and the distance from Brisbane to Singapore is roughly the same distance as from Brisbane to Hawaii.  Let me back up and give you the back story.

When I signed my contract with my moving company in February I was informed my things would go from Texas to… Actually, let’s take a show of hands.  If you were going to send my belongings from Texas to the east coast of Australia, how would you do it?  Texas to California and then on to OZ?  Brilliant... Well, that’s what they told me in February.  My shipment would go overland to LA, then it would take 19 days on a ship from LA DIRECTLY to Brisbane.  Woo-hoo!   Sounded like a great deal to me.  Ahh, the best laid plans.

May 18th: Talk to moving company and find out my things are bound for Australia.  I am very excited because I figure my things should arrive around the same time as I will (July 1st).

June 11th: Follow up with moving company about shipment.  Am informed my belongings left Texas two days prior and are on their way to New York.  New York?!?!?!  So they are going the LONG WAY around the world?  Two nasty emails from yours truly to moving company about how they need to look at a map and 7,100 miles (LA to Brisbane) (and a straight line!) is WAY shorter than the 21,156 miles from New York to Brisbane.

July 3rd: Send another obnoxious email to shipping company asking for the name of the ship which is transporting my belongings.  They refuse to give me the name until the third email.  Finally discover my belongings are on the YM Maturity.  Do a Google search and discover online.

July 19th: Despite having tracked my ship online daily for the past three weeks, the novelty has not worn off.  However, today I see the Maturity is off the coast of Somalia.  If this rings some alarm bells for you, you are correct.  That’s where Captain Phillips was captured by pirates.  Check my insurance statement from the moving company regarding what happens in the even my shipping container is lost at sea.

July 28th:  According to the Maturity has stopped in Singapore.  Strangely enough, it is her final destination.  Woa!  This is news.  What happened to Australia?  Promptly contact the shipping company rep who informs me, “The ship was NEVER supposed to stop in Australia.  We knew the whole time it was only going to Singapore.”  Naturally, I asked when my shipment would leave Singapore, and was told, “We can’t be sure.  But it’s two weeks from Singapore here and then of course, your things will sit in Customs and Quarantine for at least two weeks.”  Kelly: “So, in other words, even if my things left today they wouldn’t get here before September 1st?”  Moving company:  “That’s right.  But just so you know, they won’t leave today.”

August 25th:  Call moving company again for an update.  Am informed my belongings are “in Singapore indefinitely.”

So, to recap, this was Phileas Fog’s round the world trip, which he managed to make in 80 days.  ALL the way around the world mind you:

This is the one-way trip my belongings are making:

This would have been the trip if my shipment had gone the western route.
So, what have I learned?
1. I have a strong dislike for shipping companies.  (I’m not allowed per Phelan family rules to use the word “hate.”  Hence, this was the best way I could think to express myself.)
2. I figure by the time my clothes get here they will have gone out of fashion and then cycled back around to be trendy again.  Kind of like bellbottoms.
3. I can’t live without a slow cooker.
4. In the event I ever move from Australia I will sell or give away everything.  I plan to walk on to the plane with my passport, credit cards and only what I can carry.

Friday, August 21, 2015

I Hereby Challenge the Dallas Cowboys: Why Professional Athletes are Cooler in the Southern Hemisphere

Last weekend, all across the country, my country that is, Australia, everyone gathered around their televisions to watch the Bledisloe Cup.  The Bledisloe Cup is played annually by the Australian and New Zealand national rugby teams, the Wallabies and the All Blacks.  Australia lost.

If you’ve never seen a rugby match in which the All Blacks (New Zealand’s team) play, I highly recommend you make the effort.  And if you don’t want to watch the whole thing, at least watch the 10 minutes before the game to see the Haka.
The Haka is the war cry (and dance) of the Maori people of New Zealand.  When my dad visited me in Africa a couple years ago, the South African Springboks had just played the All Blacks.  For several nights afterward, the game was aired and my dad watched it repeatedly in part due to his fascination with the Haka.  When the All Blacks play in international competition, they always take the field before the game begins to perform the Haka and “challenge” their opponents.  The Haka is second nature to us down under because we see it so frequently.

If you have never seen the Haka, here it is:
Well, the All Blacks are now taking their singing and dancing skills to the next level.  The All Blacks recently “starred” in Air New Zealand’s newest safety briefing video.  But they didn’t give the typical “in the event of an emergency an oxygen mask will fall…” instructions.  They didn’t even go the Southwest Airlines route by being funny.  No, no, that would have been too pedantic for them.  Instead, they took the Men in Black theme song, reconfigured the lyrics, sang, danced, and included cameos from some of rugby’s biggest names (from Australia and New Zealand).  Here’s the video:

So, I hereby challenge the Dallas Cowboys to do it better.  Of course, the Houston Texans could also step up to the challenge and offer to record Southwest Airline’s new safety video.

I’m quite sure no U.S. professional sports team would ever consider lowering themselves to such a menial (and non-paid) task.  That’s the difference between the professional athletes here and in the U.S. The highest paid pro rugby player in Australia earns $1.5 million a year.  One and a half million is the salary cap and there are only FIVE players which get $1 million or more.  And there are limitations regarding endorsements as well.  You can’t exceed total compensation (your rugby salary + endorsements) of more than $1 million.  So those FIVE million dollar men?  Nope, they will never be in a Nike ad or on the side of a Wheaties box.

However, due to the salary caps and the limitations to endorsement deals, teams (they are called clubs here) lend their famous faces to pro-bono type advertising- as in the case of the All Blacks safety video.

In case you are curious, the average salary for a National Rugby League player is $200,000 and the minimum is $80,000.  This is a significant contrast from the National Football League (American football) where the average salary is $2 million, but ranges between a low of $420,000 and a high of $35.25 million!  And there are no limitations to money earned from endorsements in the U.S.

This is actually an interesting social experiment because here in Australia the average NRL player makes about 1.3 times my salary, but obviously, I make considerably more than the minimum-wage guys.  In the U.S., the average NFL player makes 20 times my (U.S.) salary.  I take this to mean that educators are more appreciated and therefore better compensated here in Australia.  That, and we just don’t believe in paying pro athletes ungodly amounts of money.

Until next time, watch an All Blacks game, check out the Haka, and next time you fly suggest to your flight attendant that their airline consider something like Air New Zealand’s epic new safety video.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Happy World Elephant Day!

For the past five years, April 12th has been designated as World Elephant Day in an effort to raise awareness about poaching, the mistreatment of elephants in some locations (particularly Asia) and the human-elephant conflict.  The elephant is my favourite animal, and despite seeing thousands of them during my time in Africa, I continue to stare in awe whenever I see them in the wild; I don’t think I will ever go to a zoo again.  In honour of World Elephant Day I would like to share my favourite facts and stories about elephants.

1. In African elephants, both sexes have tusks, but only males have tusks in the Asian species.

2. The African elephant is the world’s largest animal, averaging over 20,000 pounds.  Asian elephants are about half that size.

3. Elephants are also Number 1 in terms of pregnancy.  As in, they are pregnant for 22 months.  That’s almost two years!  And when the baby ele is born it weighs about 250 pounds.

4. Throughout their lifetime, elephants have six sets of teeth.  Each set lasts about 10 years, so if an elephant lives past 60 or so they end up dying from malnutrition and/or starvation.  As they get older, they can only eat soft food (grasses that are waterlogged) and have to break their food down before they eat it, otherwise they can’t chew and digest it.  Here is an example of how they do this:

5. Elephant poop is huge!  Like, bigger than my foot!
6. Elephants are nocturnal animals.  Yes, you often see them during the day, but for every one you see during daytime there are 10 more than come out at night.  Also, their eyes do not reflect light, so it is incredibly difficult to see them.  I know what you are thinking, “How can you NOT see a 10 ton animal?”  Trust me, I tell you this from experience.  More than once I’ve come face to face (within a couple of meters) with an elephant because it was night time and there was no advance warning.

7. They are a matriarchal society.  This means if you see a lone elephant, it is probably a male.  After the males hit puberty they are kicked out of the herd.  A herd is anywhere from 10 to 100 elephants, which consist of the mommies, the babies, and pre-pubescent males.

8. Elephants are incredibly intelligent.  When I lived in Botswana, every other day I heard about how elephants would “break into” people’s gardens and steal their produce.  One of my students told me his father spent a week building a fence around their property to keep the elephants from destroying his tomato plants.  During the time it took to build the fence the elephants never entered the garden (they would normally do this at night, of course).  My student’s father went to bed the night he finished the fence, only to wake up the next morning and find the fence missing!  The elephants had patiently waited and watched him build the fence.  As soon as the project was finished, the elephants uprooted the entire fence, seemingly making it disappear without a trace.  The dad found the fence later that morning three miles down the road.

9. Even though they are really smart, I’m not sure that they necessarily read the elephant warning signs:
10. Or maybe they do read the signs and try to be considerate, like this elephant here who, instead of walking through the fence, actually stepped over it:
I like to think of myself as a “pseudo” park ranger, at least when it comes to elephants. I could go on all day with stories, videos and pictures of my elephant encounters, but I think that should suffice for now.

Happy World Elephant Day to one and all!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Things That Make You Go WHAAAAAAAAAT?

As I’ve mentioned before, whenever I travel I particularly enjoy visiting the supermarket because I always see products we don’t have back home.  When I move overseas it always takes me a while to get used to shopping because they don’t organize their stores the same way, or they use different names for certain products, or I can’t find that one thing I’m looking for.  Or I spent a lot of time looking at products I’ve never seen before.

As per usual, today’s trip to the grocery store took over two hours and I only purchased 31 items.  Part of the reason for the prolonged trip is that I had to look at EVERYTHING.  As I was wandering down the potato chip aisle I saw something which made me go:

I don’t eat potato chips often because I don’t really eat sandwiches.  But I think of potato chips as a side dish to either lunch food (like a sandwich) or bar-be-que food.  But the point is, you normally eat potato chips WITH some sort of meat.  Well here, it appears potato chips are intended to emulate meat. Let me give you an example.  Normally you might eat potato chips with a burger.  But, it seems a little redundant to have burger flavoured potato chips AND a burger:
Hungry for a hot dog?  Should you eat a hot dog potato chips AND a hot dog?:
Or maybe you should pair your hot dog with chicken potato chips?:
But, would that be a faux pas because they aren’t complementary proteins? I don’t know the answer!

Then again, you know how whenever you eat a meat no one is familiar with, like crocodile, and someone asks you what it tastes like, the answer always seems to be, “tastes just like chicken?”  By the way, in case you are curious, crocodile kind of does taste like chicken.  But now, that saying applies to potato chips too I suppose.  “Chicken potato chips?  What’s that taste like?”  “As a matter of fact, it tastes just like chicken… and potato chips.”  The truth of the matter is; we will never know what they taste like because I did not buy any of the meaty potato chips.  Maybe next time. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

UGG-ly Americans

“PLEASE!  Tell your American friends they are doing it all wrong!”

And with that exclamation, I bring you today’s blog post.

At my previous university, I used to take my students to New York City each November for the Hotel Show.  During those trips we stayed at The Wellington Hotel on 7th Ave, just south of Central Park.  Directly across the street from the hotel was an UGG store.  The first year I took students on this trip UGGs were becoming all the rage in the U.S.  My students went to the store, eager to make their overpriced purchases, and exited with their boots and the decision that is was “unfortunate that UGGs only come in two colours.  They should have more variety.”

Here’s the secret: there is a WIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIDE variety of UGGs available here in Australia.  Purples and electric green.  Leopard prints and Swarovski crystals.  Open sling-back versions and knee high boots.  And everything in between.  However, they apparently don’t release all those styles overseas, particularly in the U.S., because as my colleagues proclaimed at dinner last night, “Americans are doing it all wrong!”

Shortly after arriving at my friend’s house for dinner, I realized the entire family had removed their shoes and were all wearing UGGs.  I didn’t mention it at first, but started to think about it, and soon realized that I had never seen anyone wearing UGGs outside or in public here in Australia.  I explained that in the U.S. people wear UGGs outside, to the store, or to class.  It’s not atypical to see young Americans wearing them in bad weather, sometimes even in the snow (often with short shorts).  You would have thought I had cursed in church!  “Oh no!  You don’t wear them in public!  They are house shoes!  Only bogans (the Australian form of rednecks) and uneducated foreigners wear UGGs outside the house!  PLEASE!  Tell your American friends they are doing it all wrong!”

And there we have it.  From the experts themselves.  So, to recap, this is wrong.  Kim Kardashian, you should know better!:
This is the correct way to wear your UGGs:
Here are the UGGs sold in the tourist shops:
And the UGGs sold in stores where only the locals shop:

In fact, I almost think it’s a super-secret club of some sort because the saleswoman in the “real” UGG shop told me I shouldn’t show any other Americans the “real” UGGs. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Cecil the Lion

Similar to a DJ, I love to take requests for blog topics.  And this week I had several messages from loyal blog followers asking that I address “Cecil the Lion.”  Well, first I had to figure out who Cecil the Lion was.

Cecil the Lion did not make the news here in Australia.  However, it was the second most popular Google search topic in the U.S. last week.  I read the newspaper articles, watched the YouTube clips of all the late night hosts, and I have some information you need to know if you are going to speak intelligently about this situation.

The first thing you need to be familiar with is CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).  If you want to know whether a fish, bird, animal or plant is in danger and needs protection, you can find out on the CITES website.  CITES categorizes living fauna or flora into one of three “appendices.”

Appendix 1 is for animals needing the most protection because they are in danger of becoming extinct.  There are about 1,200 species in appendix 1, including the mountain gorilla, the Asian elephant, and all rhinos.  In short, it is illegal to trade in Appendix 1 animals without a licensed permit.  According to CITES regulations, Mozambique is permitted to export 60 lions (as wild-taken trophies) annually so long as the required permits are obtained.

Most species (about 21,000) are listed in Appendix 2.  They aren’t necessarily likely to become extinct, but may become so in the future if trade in these animals becomes more popular.  Import permits are not required from CITES for Appendix 2 species, but individual countries may prohibit these items from being permitted.  For instance, Australia prohibits importation of almost any animal product regardless of CITES or anything else because we like to control our borders like Fort Knox.  The great white shark and the American black bear are Appendix 2 species.

There are only about 170 species on Appendix 3.  An animal can be listed on Appendix 3 at the request of any CITES member country because that one country is having trouble controlling the species.  Costa Rica has placed the two-toed sloth on the CITES Appendix 3 list.

Now that you have some background, let’s talk about elephants.
In Botswana, elephants are a CITES Appendix 2 animal.  That means they are NOT in danger of extinction.  This means that Botswana has every right to allow hunting of elephants.  However, because Botswana likes to play Big Brother to Africa, and rightfully so, they’ve earned that honour, Botswana decided to banish elephant hunting 18 months ago.  And Botswana is REALLY regretting that decision right now.  Botswana figured if it got rid of hunting other countries would follow suit.  Other countries have not necessarily followed Botswana’s lead, and there have been some negative repercussions for Botswana because the elephant population is now exceeding carrying capacity.

Botswana has half the elephant population in Africa, and one-third of the entire elephant population in the world.  Previously, when elephant hunting in Botswana was allowed it was strictly limited.  I think they only sold about 100 permits a year.  At $100,000 a piece.  That’s $10 million dollars in permits only.  Then they also had to hire guides, hunters, pay for accommodation, transportation, and plenty of other services while in country.  At a conservative estimate let’s call that $25-30 million in economic impact from hunters ONLY.

Now, here’s the deal.  You can’t just kill one elephant.  Elephants understand when one of their herd dies from natural causes or from an attack by a predator.  They do NOT understand when a family member is killed by a human.  Herds are typically about 30-50 elephants.  When one is killed by a human the rest of the herd goes rogue and can’t deal with the depression.  So, one hunter kills one elephant (for the permit he purchased) and then the village that is responsible for that permit kills the rest of the herd.  This is called culling a herd.  This may sound cruel, but it isn’t.  The elephant which the hunter killed, and the rest of the herd, is used to feed the village for the year.  So, while this is generating a lot of money for the government and the village, it is also a form of subsistence living.

Back to today.  We have over 200,000 elephants in Botswana.  When we used to hunt, we used to eliminate about 5,000 elephants each year, which helped to control the elephant population.  The population continued to grow, but not at the fast rate which it grows today because there is no external method of controlling it.

Adult elephants eat about 300-400 pounds of food a DAY!  And they are herbivores.  That means they eat grass.  What else in Africa eats grass?  Giraffes, zebras, rhinos, impala, and the vast majority of African wildlife.  Elephants also live to be about 70 and they eventually starve to death because their teeth wear out and they can’t actually get enough nutrients to survive.  So, in truth, I think killing a 60 year old elephant is actually very humane.  But, back to the food issue.  As a result of the growing elephant population in Botswana other species have actually decreased in number because they are competing for the same food.

OK, now let’s talk about Cecil.  In truth, I find it rather difficult to talk about the Cecil situation because there has been so much media coverage, and media is there to sell a story.  I’ve read and hear a lot of conflicting reports, so I think it’s a bit difficult to know the truth from the fanaticism about this story.

What I will say is that there is a HUGE difference between poaching and hunting.  I actually just wrote a research article on this topic.  Perhaps I should write a blog post summarising that academic article.  The poaching you hear about is normally of elephants in Kenya and Tanzania.  The poaching that occurs there is truly unfortunate and in most cases the money earned from these illegal activities is used to support extremist, terrorist groups.

Hunting in Africa is closely regulated.  There are permits that must be obtained, particular rules that must be followed, and the legal repercussions are worse than any social ostracism you could possibly experience in the U.S.  The locations which permit hunting are highly dependent on that income and there are strict requirements regarding how the meat must be utilized.

In short, if the hunt was TRULY illegal then I’m against it.  However, Zimbabwe is no saint.  Mugabe’s government has been corrupt from the beginning, he has been guilty of human rights violations for years, and he’s starving his people.  The hunters involved in the Cecil situation were thrown in jail, and Zimbabwe’s call to extradite the dentist is likely an attempt to sensationalize this and drag the U.S. into negotiations for something.  If the U.S. elects to extradite the American dentist to Zimbabwe it will be his death sentence.

If you are unfamiliar with Mugabe, this Nando’s (a popular South African fast food chain) commercial depicts him with Kim Jun Un, Idi Amin, Gaddafi, Saddam Hussain, and all the other 20th century dictators.  The commercial is pretty accurate as Mugabe IS the last one standing: