Guest Post: Postcards from Canada.

As you may already know, my bestie April has jetted off indefinitely to Canada.

In this new monthly post, I will be collating the best (and worst!) of April’s adventures from her travel blog, Explorational: An Aussie’s Adventures Abroad, for your vicarious pleasures.

Here, she details her feelings about her first overseas flight, trekking around Los Angeles and its theme parks, and arriving in Canada:

Parting is Such a Sweet Sorrow (26/04/11).

The whole airport thing went surprisingly well. All that worry for nothing! My mum and step-dad, as well as three very special friends, came to wish me “bon voyage” and help me navigate check-in, money transfer, and, most importantly, attempted to calm my nerves.

We had a lovely, sophisticated breakfast at good old McDonalds, checked in my luggage, got me some US and Canadian dollars, and then said our goodbyes at the rather non-ominous doors.

The goodbyes were the hardest part. My mum had already worried herself sick and I don’t know how she was after I left but she was crying, and making me tear up, as I was leaving.

My friends were very encouraging, rather than teary, but Scarlett didn’t want to let me go from our hug! I like hugs, but goodbyes have always been awkward for me. I don’t often feel like it’s going to be the last time I am going to see someone. Perhaps I can liken it to feeling it to be more of a “see you later”…

Going through all the departing procedures was reasonably breezy but waiting something like 2 hours for the flight to board was painful. I got fed a substantial amount on the flight. I had a yummy vegetable curry for our big meal (Mum would be proud!), and then a frittata which had mushrooms not mentioned on the menu.

Everything being free was great. I watched a series of movies including: Despicable Me, Due Date, Tangled, Gulliver’s Travels, The Social Network, It’s Kind of a Funny Story and Love & Other Drugs (bar the last 15 minutes – shattered!).

Not long after I unsuccessfully tried to sleep on the plane, while listening to an excellent playlist, we touched down in LA. The girl next to me decided it was a good time to vomit in a sick bag, making me feel kind of queasy.

I then headed through the initial customs checkpoint, grabbed my bag (which conveniently came round the conveyor belt as I walked up), and waited in line for baggage check. After looking at my passport, the overly burly customs officer waved me straight through. No one even asked me about the food I declared. So my Vegemite and Cadbury crème eggs made it in just fine!

The Happiest Place on Earth! (29/04/11)

My second day in Anaheim was planned as a California Adventure Park day but after waiting 45 minutes for the shuttle, I decided to follow a family for the walk to Downtown Disney, a place I didn’t even know existed.

Hooked from the first glance, at the Pin Traders store, where I subsequently spent $50 on badges, I decided shopping would constitute the day’s events.

I then visited the Lego store where I got a Ron Weasley Lego man keychain.

My next thought was food but I got distracted by Build-A-Bear (and the lack of appealing food options). I went into the store with one intention and left with exactly what I wanted—a chocolate brown-coloured Downtown Disney 2011 exclusive bear in green scrubs named Turkleton! He is absolutely adorable. Build-A-Bear also gave me some great ideas for presents so my plan is to return to Disneyland for one day in February before I head home.

I also discovered D Store and Mr. Potato Head versions of Chewbacca and C3PO. Very merrily purchased!

Upon entering the ultimate Disney store and making one last purchase, a stuffed Cheshire cat (to go with the Alice & Mad Hatter I’d got the day before), I asked for the nearest post office and set off to send my bulky loot home to mum. $80 later, my $200-ish worth of purchases were homeward bound, making me happier not to have to lug them around.

Next stop was California Adventure Park, and it definitely had some good stuff going for it. Not the lines I encountered or the confusion about how to get around thanks to the construction of the new Tron “experience”, though.

So I headed for Paradise Pier. I decided a fifteen minute wait for the California Screamin’ was acceptable as I had my chocolate soft serve to keep me occupied. (FYI: It was scrumptious!)

I seem to have developed quite a knack for consuming unstable foods right before discovering, and boarding, vomit-inducing rides. Thanks to my iron stomach, and the lack of “heart in throat” sensation (as my cousin Lizzie would call it), I kept everything internal. For a roller coaster, it wasn’t even as much fun as the good old Pirate Ship at the Rye Carnival!

I also went on the Mickey Mouse themed Ferris Wheel (opting for the non-swinging section as the wait was 25 minutes less), where I met two other Aussie travellers. We chatted about our impressions of the US and our plans for the rest of our trips.

The Silly Symphony swings were next on the agenda, followed by my favourite ride of the day, the Grizzly River Run. I met a couple of 20-something American boys in line who ended up with me on the ride. We had a good group in our “raft” and I spent the whole time in stitches. Was so much fun even if I ended up completely water logged (pun intended!).

At this point it was getting dark and I was a bit over the rides. So I ventured into yet another store where I found the build your own Mr. Potato Head section that my friend Eddie had told me about, which actually made me want to visit Disneyland. (In case you didn’t realise yet, I collect Mr Potato Heads!)

It, sadly, wasn’t as impressive as I was expecting from Eddie’s description. I had the option of a Pirates of the Caribbean, Tinkerbell or Mickey Mouse potato. After grabbing my box and stuffing my potato’s insides with little pieces, like eyes, noses and tongues, I realised the box, which must be closed upon purchase, was only really designed for one full ensemble. Determined to beat the system, I applied my practical application of Tetris skills and maneuvered all the pieces I wanted and shoved the lid closed. It was quite a process, as I had to decide what I really wanted and then make it all fit just right. I eliminated the pirate pieces as I already have two pirate themed potatoes at home and then worked with the Tinkerbell and Mickey pieces. Upon realising that Tinkerbell’s hair took up a ridiculous amount of space I knew I had my work cut out for me. But everything successfully fit in the end so I took my one of a kind Mr. Potato Head to the counter and handed over my $19.95, plus tax.

I consider Disneyland: defeated.

GTL: A Venice Beach Story (01/05/11).

I realised I hadn’t eaten all day and after nearly passing out and/or vomiting on the 733 Santa Monica via Venice bus, so I hit up UrbanSpoon (which has been my saviour!) and had all but decided on Mao’s Kitchen until I saw Bondi BBQ. As the website claimed it to be Aussie inspired, I wanted to try it for myself. It was just across from my hostel but was boarded up (never a good sign) so I headed for Mao’s Kitchen instead where I chowed down on my favourite: beef with black bean sauce (mum would be proud!), and it was pretty damn good.

My second day I made the effort to walk the 45 minutes along the boulevard to the Santa Monica Pier. I’m not quite sure what the appeal of it is; same goes for the whole of Venice Beach. It’s not my kind of place. I only decided to stay here because it was closer to the airport than downtown Los Angeles or where I’d previously been in Hollywood. The whole place had an unsettling feeling about it.

But if tanning and/or pumping iron, street vendors and beggars are your thing, then maybe you should visit. [Early Bird note: Maybe the next season of Jersey Shore should be filmed here?] I somewhat regret not staying downtown but I will be back in August and will still have somewhere fun to explore.

First Impressions: An Open Letter to Canada (01/05/11).

On my last night in Venice Beach, my lovely German roommate, Marco, informed me he had received a text that Osama Bin Laden was dead.

All it said was: “Osama Bin Laden has been killed.”

So we did some internet research and watched a video confirming the news.

Barack Obama was to do a speech to confirm it.

I really didn’t think at all about how this news would impact on me until the next day, when I was waiting in line for security scanning at LAX for my flight to Toronto and overheard someone exclaiming, “Why did I have to fly this day, of all days?!” It dawned on me that today was, in fact, a day to be concerned about travelling in the United States.

Security leaving the US was a lot harder than entering, much to my surprise. Shoes and jackets had to be removed and as I jumped in the shortest line I realised I was about to be body scanned! Thinking it a bad idea and contemplating a shift to a simple metal scanner in another line, I read a sign that said if you refuse to be scanned you will be frisked. Deciding someone seeing me naked for a few seconds was far less invasive than someone frisking me for about a minute, I stayed in line and experienced my first body scan.

Having arrived at the airport 4 hours before my flight, I ended up with about three hours to kill, so I tried to write some stuff for my blog and just waste the time away, while enjoying a Starbucks breakfast.

My flight was rather boring and uncomfortable. American Airlines, despite the higher price they charge, doesn’t seem to offer much more than what I would imagine a budget airline here in North America would have. I felt cramped and overcharged. ($25 for one piece of checked luggage on top of a $300 fair—seriously?!) Nothing like my fabulous V Australia experience to LA.

Arriving in Toronto was a rather subdued affair. I had my working holiday visa processed, sadly only for one year, and was lucky to once again pick up my luggage the baggage carousel just as it came round the corner.

Then came the real security check. Having not been questioned on it arriving in the US, I was a little thrown when the Canadian Customs officer asked me if I had bought any food into Canada. I declared my Vegemite and half-eaten bag of Cadbury crème eggs and he let me straight through. I guess neither have been deemed threats to Canada so I was free to enjoy them at times when I missed home.

Again, with no plan, I headed out of the airport, found a shuttle and made a beeline for my new home, the Global Village Backpackers, in downtown Toronto.

 My lodgings are nothing flash; just the bare essentials. But the staff are nice and it provides the bed I need at night for a reasonable price. I’m set to stay here two weeks but I can always extend it if the accommodation search doesn’t go quite as well as I am hoping.

From my first few days here, Toronto feels a bit like Melbourne. There’re trams, which they call streetcars, and it’s rained a lot, just like home! Not sure yet if I like it here but it is going to be my home until August whether I do or not. So bring on the Canadian friendliness and the swooning over my intriguing accent.

—April Bonnick.

[Explorational] Homepage.

[UrbanSpoon] Homepage.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] United States of Ameri-Canada.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Yet another reason to “really dislike Katy Perry”.

On the other hand, yet another reason to “Be Pretty Damn Euphoric You Live in New York City”:

“We are, as a group, anti-fanny-pack as much as we are pro-gay-marriage. Hetero marriage… we can pretty much take or leave.”

Dr. Katrina Warren on “The Grief of Losing a Pet”. Be warned: this is a tear jerker. I was bawling by the third paragraph, possibly because this story is close to my heart. I lost my dog Ben (above), who’d been with us for seven years, last year, and I still miss him like crazy.

While it may be summer here in the Southern Hemisphere, Gawker lists the “10 Things I Love About Winter”, one being winter movies (which we see here in summer):

“So while Pirates of the Caribbean 18: The Scullery’s Scourage, Transformers 8: This Time It’s Impersonal, and Men in Black 3: Will Smith’s Kids Can’t Make All the Money may make your July 4th jam, I’d rather pass the popcorn in December.”

Satah from This Ain’t Living mourns the loss of “the fun, campy, musical romp of high school TV shows”, Glee.

From “Harry Potter and the Incredibly Conservative Aristocratic Children’s Club”:

“Maybe, incidentally, the reason no other woman as smart as Hermione appears in the books is that J.K. Rowling, like the Turk, can bear no sister near the throne. Her volcanic ego burns down everything in its path. Where the Twilight books are works produced from and for a state of sexual yearning and frustration, Rowling’s ‘wizarding world’ is a fantasy place created for the benefit of Hermione Granger, for her infinite sagacity, foresightedness and teacher’s-pet-hood to be rewarded at every turn.”

I wish Dolly Parton was my fairy godmother.

Elizabeth Wurtzel on the sex appeal of Sarah Palin. Sure, she may be a “kind of sexy librarian, kind of a MILF” but “unfortunately, Sarah Palin is not very bright, not very thoughtful and not very qualified to run a country”. Well said.

“This is a post about judgement”, by Mia Freedman.

’Tis the Season…

… for office Christmas parties.

As opposed to the boring lunches a few of my friends have mentioned their workplaces hold, my employer happens to go all out on the Christmas party front.

Last year’s theme was horror (odd for that time of the year, I know), and I came up with a Bride of Chucky costume, complete with doll. However, I was struck down with the flu a few days beforehand and was unable to attend. The fact they had a dance instructor teaching partygoers “Thriller” just added insult to injury.

This year, however, the theme is pirates.

As a member of the planning committee, I fought tirelessly (and by I, I mean my friend Laura, as I was in the midst of a wisdom-tooth haze when the theme was being chosen) to push through our original idea of cartoons, and failing that, 1920s/’30s swing.

Unfortunately, misogyny won out, and a pirate theme it was.

Talk about unoriginality, though. There are about three options of pirates in popular culture to use as a reference point: Pirates of the Caribbean (how many Jack Sparrow-wannabe’s but could-never-be’s will there be walking around?), Pirates of Penzance, and Peter Pan. If someone were to really think outside the box, they could get a party of five (pardon the pun) or six together and go as The Wiggles and Dorothy the Dinosaur, with Captain Feathersword as the MVP of the group.

Notice that these three ensembles have very limited roles for women. And as a workplace that employs just as many women as men, pirates is very limiting to the fairer sex.

Serendipitously, I happened to happen upon a three-year-old post by Rachel Hills discussing exactly this.

“‘I didn’t realise the boys were meant to come as pirates and the girls were meant to come as skanks,’” Hills’ friend laments at a pirate-themed party.

My point exactly; pirates is all well and good for men who are young-at-heart, and men who perhaps want to get their gear off and go shirtless, and men in general, but women are faced with exactly two options: slutty pirate or slutty wench.

Now I’ve got some co-workers who are happy to go as more masculine pirates. (One friend, Lana, sent me a picture the other day of her costume, and you can hardly tell it’s her and she looks great.) I haven’t come across many friends who are going as wenches, which may be a testament to my own views (and thus the changing views of society?) on the topic, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of buxom babes letting the stress of the year off their chests. In what was a poignant throwback-forward, perhaps, from my friend and former co-worker Tess, she came dressed as a pirate for my Halloween-themed birthday party this year, and managed to retain her dignity.

Sure, wenches are traditionally slutty by name and by nature, as noted in the comments of Hills’ abovementioned article, but that’s not the problem I have with them.

I’m the first to put my hand up (whilst simultaneously holding my skirt down) to embrace my inner sartorial slut when it comes to hitting the town (Hello?! Have you seen my Halloween costume?), and while I will not be attending my Christmas party as a wench, there will still be a hefty dose of slut in my outfit (pictures to come next week).

The problem I have with the limiting theme is that there is no room for originality or diversity, particularly for the female members of the payroll. It’s one slut fits all.

[Musings of an Inappropriate Woman] Attractive = Hot = Not Much Clothing On?

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Witching Hour: Halloween/My Birthday at Witches in Britches Cabaret.

[Rabbit White] In Defence of Slut-O-Ween.

[Rabbit White] Defence of Slut-O-Ween II: Straight People’s Pride?

[The Stranger] Happy Heteroween.

Movie Review: The Expendables.

When I first expressed interest in seeing The Expendables, those who don’t know me well wondered why. But those who do know me well, know that I’m not as girly as I appear to be.

My dirty little secret is… I love wrestling. I haven’t watched it in about six months, because my body corporate doesn’t allow it in my apartment building. But I’ve been devoted to World Wrestling Entertainment for almost ten years now, and anyone who is remotely familiar with the product will know the name “Stone Cold Steve Austin”. And anyone remotely familiar with the action-hero line-up for The Expendables, will know that “Austin” is one of the names that appears alongside “Stallone”, “Lundgren” and “Schwarzenegger” on its poster.

While there is a storyline per se (The Expendables, a group of elite mercenaries, are commissioned to overthrow a Latin American dictator, General Garza, on the island Vilena in the Gulf of Mexico. Whilst there, writer and director Sylvester Stallone’s character, Barney Ross, meets their contact Sandra, who turns out to be Garza’s daughter, and makes it his own personal mission to rescue her from the tyranny of her father and her country, and in turn, open his mind and heart. Gag me.), it’s so badly written that I didn’t even know that Jason Statham’s (my new action hero crush, BTW) character’s name was Christmas until a friend mentioned it to me days later!

But the reason movie-goers flock to a film like this (as opposed to Eat, Pray, Love, which opened the same weekend as The Expendables) isn’t for its storyline. My fellow patrons at the cinema were a primarily male audience, obviously into action films, weaponry, fight scenes and professional wrestling. Jet Li, UFC fighter Randy Couture, former NFL player Terry Crews (who is one of my favourite comedy/action actors, and was relegated to cheap one liners and blowing stuff up in favour of more screen time for surgery-damaged, pillow-faced and drawn-on-facial-haired Stallone) and Austin got the best pops from the audience, especially when those actors were utilised for their talents, with Li taking on Dolph Lundgren’s character Gunnar Jensen in an entertaining fight scene, Crews throwing an explosive as if it were a football, and Couture and Austin pulling out their street fighting skills/wrestling mat moves (Figure Four leglock, anyone?) in the final scenes.

I definitely know my wrestling trivia, but as far as action films go, The Longest Yard (another Austin/Crews collaborationgo figure), The Fast & the Furious and The Scorpion King are about as far as my knowledge extends. So I asked my friend and fellow Expendables-watcher, Eddie (returning soon for more movie madness), to point out his top five throwbacks to the great action films of the ’80s and ’90s, which this film is meant to emulate.

1) At the start of The Expendables, they are taking down The Pirates. Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the past decade’s most successful action film franchises, in which the leads are played by pretty boys Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom; a far cry from the rough and tumble action heroes of Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s era.

2) “The Stormtrooper Effect”: Garza’s henchmen have their faces painted as they go into battle with The Expendables. This is known as the Stormtrooper effect, where the enemy’s face is obscured so as to help the audience deal with them being killed off by our incomparable heroes.

3) The Expendables all wear different hats (Li’s character Yin Yang in a baseball cap, Couture’s Toll Road in a bucket hat, Ross and Christmas in black military-style berets) so that the members of the audience with a lower IQ can tell them apart during the fight scenes. And let’s face it; with a movie like this, the majority of its audience tend to lean that way.

4) As the team is descending on Vilena for the final showdown, Ross switches their plane’s controls to autopilot, and from there on in, the rest of the film travels on autopilot also. That’s funny; I thought the whole film was travelling on autopilot.

5) In the closest scene to character development, Mickey Rourke’s character Tool divulges to Ross his inner torment about not saving a woman when he had the chance to, and encourages Ross to go back for Sandra. Similarly, when Christmas discovers his ex-girlfriend has been beaten by her new boyfriend, Christmas ambushes said new boyfriend and his friends on the basketball court, bringing the beaten ex along for the ride. The whole movie, disguised by boys club banter and blowing stuff up, is about a man’s desire to save a woman. It’s most guys’ dream to be the knight in shining armour, as Stallone and Statham are here, and come to the rescue. Sure, this is a dated and highly sexist ideal, but it is a biological truth ingrained in most men.

Certainly in the man who wrote and directed The Expendables, wouldn’t you think?