I don't know how much of this is characteristic of the country or just the Gold Coast, but here are some random observations that crossed my mind while enjoying Australia.
- Australia is more of an ethnic "melting pot" than America. The lady in the information booth at the airport was from Japan. The hotel receptionist was from New Zealand. The maid was from Indonesia. The restaurant waiter was from India. The Gold Coast is a mecca for tourists from around Australia, India, Japan, SE Asia, as well as England and the United States, but it's hard to tell the locals from the tourists.
- Paper money comes in different sizes for different denominations.
- Australians don't have pennies.
- Australian coins are easy to get used to. Dollar and two-dollar coins are gold-colored. Lesser coins are silver-colored, with size relative to value (larger coins are more cents).
Which is a whole lot easier than trying to figure out England's oddball denominations, or for foreigners trying to sort out American coins.
- Don't go into a sports bar unless you want to sing. They seem to do a lot of that.
- Despite its American TV ads ("Australian for beer"), I didn't see Foster's Beer anywhere. No "Bloomin' Onions", either.
- Rugby is great fun to watch. It's what American football might be like without so many rules. The action is more continuous, without so much down time. Evidently, they have two different kinds of rugby.
- Unlike the British, they call soccer, "soccer". ("Football" means something else, not soccer.)
- Australian Rules football ("Footie") is fascinating. The field is oval, and they have four goalposts at each end. On TV I watched a quarterfinal playoff between the Magpies and Crows, and it was one of the more exciting finishes I've seen in a game of any kind -- even without knowing the rules.
- They use technology relatively well here, especially for government administered activities. The toll bridge (near the Brisbane Airport) has no toll booths. It's all done photo/electronically.
- The public transit system (buses, trains, ferries) is well integrated. And government run.
- Public internet access is as ubiquitous as public phones -- sit down at an internet kiosk and put some coins in the machine. (We used the internet kiosks, but frankly never figured out how to get a public phone to work.) Expensive, though -- $2 per 15 minutes was typical. Places that let you bring in your own laptop were comparatively few.
- Hotels don't like to give you free wireless internet access. Pay $11/hr to connect your laptop in your room, or put some coins in the public terminals in the lobby.
- One place worth mentioning is the "Chat Room" restaurant, in the Chevron Renaissance plaza in Surfer's Paradise. Buy something to eat or drink and you get an hour of free wireless laptop access.
- Can you believe they actually named the town "Surfer's Paradise"? Audacious. It doesn't seem to be a particularly impressive place for surfing, either. At least not at this time of year.
- It took us a few days to figure out what kind of rental car we had. Turns out it was a Holden. Nice car! Never heard of them in the US, but they seem to be the predominant car manufacturer over here. So big they don't even put their name on the car -- everyone here seems to just know the lion logo.
- Australians drive on the left side of the road. I won't say that's the "wrong side" of the road, because...
- They don't honk their horn very much. Apparantly they think it's rude or something.
- They (almost) always use their turn signals. Imagine!
- Brisbane has a rush hour, just like the Bay Area. Except other drivers actually let you change lanes.
- Even the "GPS lady" in our rental car was polite -- never getting angry or irritated when we took a wrong turn.
- Aussie drivers keep left (the slow lane) unless passing. Unlike Californians, who are sure California's "Slower Traffic Keep Right" signs only apply to other drivers, not them.
- Aussies don't even need highway signs to remind them of that.
- Yes, some drivers are in a hurry. But when nobody acts like they own the road, and they use the passing lane for passing, and they use their turn signals, and they let others merge ... traffic moves more safely and efficiently.
- They play football without pads or helmets, so I guess they don't need to express how macho they are by driving pickups and behemoth SUVs the way Americans do.
- Which makes it easier to navigate in traffic because you can actually see beyond the vehicle in front of you.
- Roundabouts are cool, and let traffic keep moving. Except for the occasional roundabouts with traffic lights. Weird.
- Roads are not so well marked, so roundabouts are a welcome way to make a U-turn when you missed the road you wanted to turn onto.
- And it's easy to get confused because lots of names are aboriginal-rooted in this part of the country. It took mental energy trying to remember one place from another. Currumbin, Cornubia, Conungra, Chinderah, Cabarita, Clagiraba, Coombabah, Coolangatta.
- All of this makes driving on the left less stressful for us tourists, even when we turn on the windshield wipers everytime we want to turn or change lanes.
Posted by Dan 09/18/2009