Gary predicted I wouldn’t last three months, and yet here I am. However, my health has taken a bit of a beating and Tanya hasn’t been the most healthy.
The funny thing is that when you live elsewhere you have the impression from the meejia that all Americans are fat. I’ve been to Cleveland, OH, Pittsburgh, PA, Miami, FL, a little place about 30 miles outside of Philadelphia, Washington DC, and obviously here in Columbia. There are very few fat Americans. I am usually the largest sphere of influence at geek meetings. In fact, most of the folks in my company are fitness freaks and play a game called 3 coin to make the “winner” do flights of stairs as a reward/punishment. So much for the usual stereotypes of fat slothful folks. I was sort of hoping that I would be able to find clothes that better fit me as more folks needed them, but I’m still having to buy from big and tall shops. Luckily, one of my bosses is a gentle giant from the sky, and he put me onto where I can find the bigger stuff at one of the local malls.
The lack of fat folks is a miracle as the food is totally yummy, totally huge, and so, so wrong. I’ve gained 4 kg and high blood pressure, taking me to a new category of bad overweight. I don’t know how folks maintain their svelte appearance if they eat like me, and most seem to. One thing I have noticed is that they have great salads. Maybe I should eat those instead of the double heart attack on a plate.
My doctor sort of yelled at me for being so unhealthy and so we agreed that I would try to lose some of the weight. The problem is that Tanya is so unwell most of the time, and what she can keep down, is not necessarily good for me. Plus, when I come home from a long day at work, if Tanya is too unwell to cook, I really don’t feel like doing it. We have to break the pattern soon, or else my doctor will yet at me some more. I was referred to a ENT specialist to deal with the dizzy spells I’ve been having, and luckily, the beta blocker heart pills (I call them my “dried frog pills”) seem to have capped that sucker. However, I was worried about hearing loss and so they tested me. I was really surprised to find that I still have all of my hearing. I don’t think I do; I find it really amazingly hard to understand folks in noisy environments, and it was made worse by the dizziness spells. However, the hearing test was nothing if not thorough and they basically declared me to have “perfect” hearing, which is extremely unusual for adults over 25. Damn my perfect hearing.
The USA is an intriguing mix of up to the minute technology and ancient conservatism. The banking system is in the dark ages. We had to get a cheque book. I’ve never really had one before. We had to ask what to fill in the blanks as we simply didn’t know. Online banking is a joke. It’s like they heard about it from someone who went on a trip overseas, and then forgot all the important details. Not only can our Internet Banking not see what transactions are in play at the moment, most of the transactions take days or sometimes a week or more to resolve themselves. Yet if you go to an ATM and get a mini-statement, it is mostly accurate. The anti-phishing controls are like it was like in 1999 in Australia – i.e. none. There’s no real security – the URL changes to somewhere completely different than you typed and the lack of features would have made a small cash strapped bush credit union back in the mid 1990’s blush. Our bank? Citibank. Most folks are completely wary of electronic transfers, and it’s no wonder. The online banking system is crap and needs a good competitor to come in and shake up the moribund bankers here with a few modern features like, ooh I don’t know, electronic bill payment. Yes, we’re paying our electricity bill by cheque because they complain when we ring up to pay via credit card, and we can’t do it from the online banking system.
Many places are able to take credit cards now, but we cannot pay the rent by credit card or electronic means. Don’t even bother trying to get in a cab with a credit card – they only take cash. Even the ones who say they take visa on the window. They’re lying. It’s a total crapshoot if the place is totally modern taking contactless payments or if they are still in the dark ages requiring cash on the barrel. Even places with EFTPOS don’t always take debit cards. I was in a hotel suite not long ago that would have refused my good money if I didn’t already have a standing authorization from work. And yet, we order our pizza and Indian food online and pay via credit card.
Winter was fun. Never really had much to do with seasons before, and so going outside when it was well below freezing (say -20 C) took my breath away. Literally. Snow was fun for about the first three days… until we got stuck in 20-30 cm of snow and had to spend the day at home chilling out until they plowed and salted the roads. Then spring came with a bang. One day it was like snowing and around zero. Then the very next week it’s like 25 C and the snow is melting. We had one little storm which dumped a bit more snow, but now it’s pretty mild. Most days are high teens low 20’s and it’s starting to get humid. I hope it’s not too humid here during summer. I hear it is. We’ll see – maybe like a frog in increasingly hot water I’ll get used to it.
I am starting to get a bit jaded by the tipping. For those who don’t know, in Australia we pay our serving staff reasonable living wages, so tipping is entirely voluntary and is usually only given for superlative service, particularly in the posher restaurants. Here, because they pay absolutely appalling wages (one serving lady told me $2.95 per hour at our favorite diner), they live on the tips. So why isn’t the food cheaper at most places? They’re not paying their staff, which has to be one of the biggest costs. I’ve come to expect $30-$40 bills (About $50-60 AUD) for simple lunch for me and Tanya, something that will cost in Australia no more than $AUD20-25 for a much higher quality meal.
However, saying that, serving staff are generally extremely polite and helpful. Australians do not make good serving staff as we expect to be treated like humans no matter what. I like that. However, getting stuff I want is also nice.
Driving on the roads here is a load of fun. There’s no speed cameras (yet), and although the surface of the roads make some of Sydney’s roads look like F1 race tracks, everyone speeds here. Usually 10-15 mph (a good 20-30 km/h) above the speed limit. The local freeways are 55 mph (88 km/h). If you don’t do 65, you’re going to get nailed by big ass trucks. The cars usually do 65-70, and a bit more in the left lane. I don’t mind speeding, but sometimes these folks are nuts. It was hailing cats and dogs the other day, and I was still tailgated by a moron in a large SUV.
The SUV is king here. And they’re bigger and more numerous than you’d expect. The lady next door has a truck which could fit in an entire kindergarten of kids in its massive flatbed, but she only has a small Chihuahua (which suffers from insane tiny barky dog syndrome), and as far as I can tell, she doesn’t garden or go off the road. This is pretty typical. I’m glad we bought something that weighs nearly 1400 kg as if we’d gone with the 1200 kg Jazz/Fit, we’d probably be flattened by now.
Our car is going well, even if it’s drinking like a V8 and putting out like a lethargic 4 cylinder. The old VW 2.0 was derisively called 2.slow by many folks. VW made this I5 engine specifically for the US market and it’s crap. My old 1.8t NB would have caned this engine’s arse. The engine just doesn’t feel like 110 kW or one half the engine of a Gallardo’s (to which is apparently related). I would have preferred the current 2.0 TDI found in Australia and Europe, but it’s not coming to the USA until next year, and may be not at all for the Golf/Rabbit. The 2.0 TDI absolutely canes this engine. It’s faster, quieter, much more economical (easily 40 mpg instead the 15 or 16 mpg (about 15 l/100km) we’re getting now) and it cruises the highway with authority due to its immense torque. The I5 just has a fabulous noise when you press the loud pedal. Oh well. This is the car we have, and we’ll have to live with it.
We’re going for our driver’s license soon. One thing we have noticed is just how long it can take to do basic things. It took us three trips and over four hours to open a bank account. Beyond providing additional paperwork, this is unbelievable. Laura took nearly 6 and a half hours to get her license. I’ll let you all know how we went soon.
We’re suffering from a series of break-ins at the moment. Some thieves are targeting this complex, stealing car parts to order. Last night, all the Civics lost their airbags. Last week, it was SUVs and tires. They stole all four wheels from the SUV right outside our window, leaving it on Pepsi crates. The Pepsi crates couldn’t hold up so much truck, and so by the end of the first day, the truck was resting its weight on the disk brakes. The bastards doing this had better watch out – most of the folks who live here are military types and are pretty buff. I personally wouldn’t want to cross paths with them. We’re pretty spooked at the moment, and we’re taking photos of suspicious activities. Hopefully, the police will catch them before some of my neighbors do.
On the positive side, work is great. The guys are a cut above anyone I’ve worked with before in terms of web app security. For the first time, I’m not the only one who knows what they’re talking about and in fact, I may not be at the top end of the curve. They’re also really understanding of our little health crises. Jeff’s wife, Jen, is encouraging Tanya to get pregnant. Jeff – you need to watch out man, Jen wants another one. 🙂
We looked after Jeff and Jen’s elderly dog, Daisy for a month whilst they were on holidays. Daisy is such a cutie; she wasn’t a burden to look after her at all and I know Tanya loved the company. I know I miss her snuffling and snoring, and the way she lies on our feet when we were watching TV. I know Daisy made Tanya pine for her boys back in Australia. Tanya is looking into volunteering at the animal shelters. I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up as a temporary adoption center ourselves, particularly if the rescued dogs look white and fluffy.
Lastly, the travel to all these great places has been wonderful. Next week, I’m in Miami again, and after that I’m in NYC for a day. Awesome. More photos will appear shortly.