Foreign Sport in Foreign Lands

And now more dispatches from the front lines.

The weather in Perth hasn’t been fantastic for us, but we’ve been making due. Saturday it was a bit on the drizzly, overcast side of things, so it became an Australian sports primer of a day.

I’m going to state for the record, that I am now firmly sympathetic to women who learn about sports later in life. Asking the average American male when he learned about football or basketball is largely like asking when he learned to walk. “Hell I dunno, longer than I can remember.” Sports ends up being a second language, and most guys really can’t understand how anyone doesn’t understand these “simple” games. There are comedic monologues, constant blog posts and a whole cottage industry within humor related to teaching a girl how to be a sports fan.

Try picking up a foreign sport that you’ve never watched a minute in your life at 26 and then get back to me.

Instead of battling weather, Benny and I grabbed some food and watched both AFL (Aussie Rules Football) and international 20/20 Cricket.

Benny has been training me over the past few years on footy, which is a rugby-esque game with fewer rules. The long and short of the game is that two teams of 9 men compete to kick an oblong leather ball through a set of uprights extending upwards from the ground. There are no pads, tackling is constant, and the rules on illegal hits are more based on the “sniff test” than some canonical law. It is a fun game to watch, and while strategy takes a while to understand, the rules are largely simple enough that most people will have a decent grasp by the end of their first 4 period (20 minute/period) game.

Cricket on the other hand is a convoluted morass of rules, tradition and abject jackassery that requires 2 whiteboards, a scale replica, and a first year law textbook to explain. Some forms of cricket go on until one side concedes (this could take literally 5 days) while others have a pitch count for expediency (until the bowler (pitcher) rolls a non-ball, the definition of which has more loopholes than American corporate tax law.)

Cricket is essentially a game which resembles baseball in the most general of senses, but with an esteemed rulemaking assembly of demon monkey trial lawyers. After watching about 2 hours of the Australia/West Indies 20/20 Match, I now have a reasonable idea of the vocabulary/scoring but will still be surprised every 15 minutes as something completely inexplicable elicits a round of golf claps from the crowd, commands the highest announcer praise in British commentary “OH HO, good form there,” and causes the nearest Australian to pour another large drink while shouting about an obscure rule that he is either unwilling or unable to divulge to me.

To all the women who learned about sports later in life. You have my sympathy.

More to come after we attend a polo match on Saturday. I’m told it involves heavy drinking while wearing bowler hats in the presence of ponies. It all sounds terribly exciting.

On the Ground in NZ

⅔ of the trip to Perth is finished and all limbs are currently accounted for.

Got off to an inauspicious start in Chicago; our pilot got in a car accident on the way to O’Hare, so the ORD-LAX leg was delayed by 1.5 hours. Thankfully some distance sprinting and help from the TSA agents at the LAX airport got me onto the plane just as they were ready to shut the doors.

Flight from LAX/AUK was uneventful. I had a center row of the 777 to myself so I was able to lay out flat for the whole trip. Beats the hell out of my seat from ORD/LAX where I was sitting between two 250 lbs gentlemen, one of whom was wearing snake skin boots but apparently couldn’t afford deodorant. After getting dinner, I passed out for about 5 hours and woke up just as we crossed the Equator. I was officially down under. (I can’t wait to see a toilet flush counterclockwise.)

The only drawback to being in the middle of the plane was that I only got to see slivers of NZ on the way in. From what I saw, it is absolutely as lush and verdant as advertised. Since I had a 6 hour layover in the Aukland airport, I was hoping to get to see a bit more, but the only NZ air that I’ve been allowed to breathe was on a smokers porch surrounded by grey rooftop. There are a few windows here, but not much to see past the massive 777s sitting all around.

Got myself a newspaper at the bookstore, and took a leaf through it over my coffee. Breakfast was a lamb pie with a tomato chutney, really good stuff with a phyllo dough crust. Ordering coffee was a bit of a struggle though. Apparently no one will just brew a cup of coffee. You’ve either got to get an espresso, or a flat-white, which is a type of expresso drink similar to a cappuccino with a higher coffee to milk ratio. It was quite good, just wasn’t nearly as large as this coffee hound is used to.

Got a newspaper, the New Zealand Herald. It prominently displayed a record of 150 years, but the front page story was about priests selling holy oil as a fix from everything from cancer to bad marriage. I checked the other newspaper offerings, but none looked much less tabloid-ish. I paid the NZ $2 (exchange rate is roughly 1.2NZ/USD) and started leafing through.

Past the tabloid-ish front page, I found articles about a prominent Kiwi cricketer who had been caught up in an international match fixing scandal, and a curious fixation with a man named Kim Dotcom (I assume its legally changed) a German who founded a now largely defunct website called Megaupload.

He’s now started a political party in NZ called the Internet Party, the basis of which seems to be free broadband, increased bandwidth for rural areas of NZ, and dropping out of the so called Five Eyes Internet Surveillance Cooperation network. I’d never heard of Five Eyes, but it is an interation of a Cold War surveillance bloc between Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the US. In light of the revelations from Edward Snowden, New Zealand seems to have had some political backlash against being a part of such a group.

Kim Dotcom and his Internet Party seem to be some mix of comical/marginal/ and completely media unsavvy. There have been allegations of Dotcom having Nazi sympathies (he owns a very rare signed copy of Mein Kampf and there is a picture of him as a younger man wearing a Nazi Helmet) as well as the fact that he’s started a New Zealand political party even though he’s a German citizen. Interesting, and I’d never heard the name before I opened that newspaper.

Other matters of note in the paper were, Maori rights, a helicopter rescue funding issue in Auckland, rugby, horse racing, and an American style argument over poverty and the political solutions to fix it. All and all the paper resembled a USA Today, nothing really hard hitting, but a great way for a foreigner to spend 30 minutes getting a reasonable feel for what’s going on.

Finally wandered up to the premium lounge, where I got a shower and a couple of beers. Really wish I’d done this two hours ago before I bought coffee, breakfast, and a newspaper as they are all included up here. Oh well. Live and learn. The NZ $55 is money well spent though, as I spent 15 on a reasonable breakfast, whereas up here I got a shower, lunch, beers, and access to a host of newspapers and periodicals.

I see some golf on though, so I’m going to go see if my other dream chasing buddy from the trading world @Caddie_Olson and his golfer Will Wilcox are making any noise on the PGA Tour.

An Unexpected Beginning

“Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” -Kurt Vonnegut

Waking up at 5:15 on a -15 degree Chicago morning, I realized that the grey hairs on my head had decided to take up permanent residence. They weren’t going anywhere and neither was I. Locked into my job as a commodity trader, I had reached a point in my life where the only objective was putting more money in the bank. Sitting in front of 8 computer screens for 10 hours a day wasn’t doing much for my soul, and the prospects for adventure were limited to checking out a new bar or a 3 day ski trip to Colorado. The Chicago winter had kept me from seeing sunshine on a weekday for the past 4 months.

Something had to change.

That something was me.

Life has a way of reaching a stasis, putting us into a rut that seems impossible to escape. After a contentious bonus negotiation, I realized that more money wasn’t going to do anything to change my life. I would still be waking up every morning, trying to make money by clicking a mouse and swearing at computer screen.

I’d seen the old guys in my industry, miserable millionaires addicted to the next purchase or bonus check. I’d always known that I didn’t want to become one of those, but here I was, coming closer to that undesirable end day after day.

I knew that buying a condo or a shiny new Lexus wouldn’t do anything to make me happier. They’d just put more bills in my mailbox and keep me further locked into a job which I no longer enjoyed.

So I walked out.

The subject line to my former world travelling Australian roommate read simply:

“Quit my job. Need an adventure. Call when you can.”

Less than 24 hours later, I received a call from my favorite dingo kicker. In his coarse Aussie accent, Benny cut straight to the chase. “I’ve got two mates driving the perimeter of Australia. Fly into Perth and we’ll drive 1800 miles to Broome. We’ll fish, surf, camp and dive up the coast, then you and I will go backpack through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and wherever else tickles our fancy.”

Suddenly I had an adventure waiting on me on the other side of the world. It certainly wasn’t how I’d imagined my week going when I woke up on that cold Chicago Monday morning.

A week later I had a plane ticket in hand, vaccines stuck into my arms and a 90 liter backpack which would be the extent of my worldly possessions for the next half of a year.

This is the story of that adventure.