My lovely friend Sophie is leaving Australia in two weeks to go and work in Hong Kong. So, what to get a good mate who is flying away, with no set return date, as a reminder of the good times we have shared here in Sydney? We caught up last night for farewell drinks and as I passed the tacky gift shop at the ferry terminal on my way to the pub, a few goodies caught my eye. I went in and, despite the crazy prices ($8.99 for a tea towel? Really?) I found it difficult to choose. Mostly because I was choosing on the basis of reducing the stock of the most hideous things so that they didn’t end up in the hands of unsuspecting tourists.
There were many interesting items, but insisting on only the best for our Soph, I settled on the following to accompany her to the East.
Needless to say, Soph was speechless and a little overwhelmed by our gifts, I think. I said she could perhaps have the key ring made into a giant pendant if that suited her better – I think she is taking that suggestion on board. Bon voyage, Sophie – we will miss you very much but look forward to visiting you later in the year! And you’d better be using that fabulous (yet traditional) shopping bag when I come over, lady…
Australia’s national airline is nicknamed ‘the flying kangaroo’, due to its logo that looks like a kangaroo in mid-leap. I guess ‘the leaping kangaroo’ didn’t have quite the same ring to it, especially when trying to give the impression of smooth travel over long distances. Anyways, people tend to give Qantas a hard time – complaining about the service, the food, the cabin space and pretty much every aspect of the flight. ‘Airline X is soooo much better than Qantas’, you’ll hear the cool travellin’ kids say. But I say boo to that negativity – and I’ll tell you why.
Sure, it took me a really long time to check in my bag in Sydney because there were only two Qantas desks attended. But then the nice lady turned a blind eye to my slightly overweight suitcase (I still don’t understand how that happened – on the way back, of course I get it, but on the way over?!) and told me there was another much faster check in desk I could use next time. Good to know.
Sure, our flight was delayed as the plane was late arriving from its previous voyage, but they were working as quickly as they could to make up the time. I don’t like hearing that, as my mind immediately wonders what corners they’re cutting in order to load us on sooner. I have visions of the cleaning crew darting around the cabin as their team leader looks on, stopwatch in hand. Changing the little pillows? No time! Swapping the head rest covers? Don’t even think about it! Floors? Just pick up the biggest bits of rubbish, peeps!
All seemed in order when we boarded and I experienced that feeling of pure childlike hope as the two seats next to my window seat remained empty as most passengers settled into their spots. I kept looking down the aisle at the incoming prospects – fat guy, please no; giggly girls, uh oh; and finally a pretty blonde lady took the aisle seat. I liked her because when they said the doors were closing, she realised we had an empty seat between us and gave me an excited ‘yesssssss!’ with a little fist pump.
You may have read of my disastrous menu troubles on a recent long haul flight where the beautiful menu promised many delicious treats, including Banoffee Pie. Then when my vegetarian meal turned up, the delicious treats were nowhere to be found. Even though that was a different airline, the pain of that experience lingered and so I’d boldly cancelled my vegetarian meal request for this flight online. Good move – the ‘normal’ vegetarian penne option was actually ok. And it came with cookies & cream mousse. And a little chocolate bar. This is how it’s meant to be, I tell you.
But the real reason that I love Qantas? Cadbury hot chocolate. Oh yeah. They make a special trip down the aisles to peddle it from their little carts, along with peppermint tea, and pour the steaming chocolatey goodness from special giant purple jugs. And then they add a marshmallow, which melts to a gooey mess, so you know it wasn’t one of those cheap, crappy marshmallows that never change shape. I guess it probably makes me shallow, but that’s what I look for in an airline.
So let the cool kids whinge about how the flying kangaroo doesn’t measure up to other global airlines. I’ll take their real Qantas mousse over non-existent Etihad Banoffee pie any day. And I haven’t yet found another airline that offers rivers (ok, cups) of delicious creamy hot chocolate – it’s like flying with Willy Wonka, I tell you.
In exciting news for people who love animals, people who love Australia, or people who just love strange looking creatures with funny names, Sydney’s Taronga Zoo have announced that they’re now looking after a 40 day old puggle (that’s zootalk for ‘baby Echidna’ to you and me). Its name is Beau and it was found in a caravan park on the central coast. Presumably not on a surfing holiday, given Beau’s tender age.
Although, Beau might have been relishing an early taste of freedom – in what seems to me like a pretty severe form of grounding, adult female Echidnas generally “stash their young in a burrow from about 50 days old”, according to experts from the Zoo. And they don’t let them out for months. Although, they do home deliver food to their puggles, so that’s a plus.
And while we won’t know whether it’s Mr Beau or Miss Beau for some months yet, we do know that young Beau has a healthy appetite – according to the Zoo, “Beau resembles a mini vacuum cleaner, going back and forth making sure every drop of milk is sucked up – contributing to its ever growing belly”. You go, Beau.
So, there you go. A little story about Beau – from a trailer park on the central coast to a prime harbourside pad in Sydney, without the constraints of gender or hair. Good luck to you, pretty puggle.
You can check out more photos and videos of Beau on the Taronga Zoo website here.
Last week, EverydaySparks received an invitation to attend the worldwide finals of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup2012, here in Sydney. I must confess that I’d never heard of the Imagine Cup before this, but the very name appealed to my fondness for both competition and creative geekery. I was hooked. Turns out, the Imagine Cup is A REALLY BIG DEAL. This year saw its 10th anniversary as the world’s premier student technology competition, aimed at finding solutions to real-world problems. Uh huh.
A truly global competition – since 2003, more than 1.4 million students have participated in the Cup. And it’s HUGE – last year, 358,000 students represented 183 countries in the competition. Just think of all of that brain power focussed on the key theme: Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems. And yesterday, as I spent the whole afternoon wandering around the last day of the Imagine Cup worldwide finals as a guest of Microsoft, I got a glimpse of that world. And let me tell you friends, it is freakin’ amazing.
At the Imagine Cup, they’re University students – with a difference. They have all had to compete in intense knockout competitions in their home countries before making it to the worldwide finals. Not for them the student traditions of waking up after midday, trying to scrape together enough coins for the beer & pizza special at the local pub, and frittering away countless hours staring at the cracks on the share-house wall. Or maybe they do get to do all those things, it’s just that with the rest of their time (in addition to studying to pass the killer exams for their demanding technology courses), these kids do other stuff. You know, like DEVELOP A MOBILE APP THAT TURNS YOUR SMARTPHONE INTO A DANGEROUS EXPLOSIVES DETECTOR (way to go, Poland’s team ‘Armed’). Or, a fun game on your phone that teaches you all about RECYCLING AND ATMOSPHERIC POLLUTION (nice work, France’s team ‘Ecosia’). Then there’s the Australian team ‘StethoCloud’, with the clear goal of REDUCING CHILD MORTALITY FROM PNEUMONIA.
I mean, seriously. Did you ever know of any students who thought about such things, let alone students who dedicated months and years of their lives to developing technology to address these world problems? I am in awe and left feeling a little guilty about spending my early 20s worried about utter nonsense. Instead of Alzheimers Disease, clean water, blindness and dyslexia, to name just a few of the Imagine Cup projects.
I’m going to save the detail of some of my favourite teams for other posts, but wanted to share the overall experience with you today – I’m still buzzing after an incredible day celebrating some amazing geeks of the world. And, not only are they super bright with brilliant, innovative ideas, but they are all required to present their projects to the tough panel of judges, running live demos and answering serious technical questions. IN ENGLISH. Which for the vast majority of the contestants is their second (or third or fourth) language. Unbelievable.
We were invited to the Award Ceremony, where the atmosphere was electric. Better than a concert, there were flags and inflatables and crazy chants as the students enjoyed the last hours of their magical Imagine Cup experience. As the backdrop to the stage changed from the Sydney cityscape to an outback sunset, a lone didgeridoo and the fabulous Bangarra Dance company gave the crowd an unforgettable traditional Australian experience. And then there were inspirational speeches (including Jessica Watson, round-the-world sailor and another amazing young person), awards, tears, hugs and lots of laughs. I tell you – if these kids are responsible for the future of our planet, I’ve never felt safer.
You can read all about Microsoft’s Imagine Cup here. And I’ll be posting more about some of the sparks I saw there in the coming days.
Sock monkeys seem to be everywhere at the moment. Well, not wandering the streets or catching buses or seeing movies, but everywhere in shops that sell cool toys. I like them a lot and think they’re a great gift for young and old alike, but they can be a bit same-same looking, without a distinct personality or style. Enter the clever people at You Make Me…Me, who sell their ‘handmade sock softies and baby books’ on my beloved Australian handmade market site MadeIt.
These are more than sock monkeys. These are movie stars. Whether you’re a fan of Star Wars, Harry Potter or a whole heap of other films, you’ll find your match here. It was this Yoda who first caught my eye – firstly, because he is a favourite beacon of wisdom in an often dreary world, and secondly, because in this incarnation he looks a little bit like a dodgy gremlin or an old man you might see in the park…
Or if Wookiees are more your thing, then here is Chewbacca in sock form. I find him almost as scary in this form as on the big screen, but since he means no harm (at least, that’s how I remember it), he’s probably a safe addition to your home security detail.
Then there is that pesky boy wizard Harry Potter, complete with dorky glasses, scar from that failed homicide and a little wand to cast a spell on those around you. As always, I take no responsibility for whatever happens if you bring Harry into your life – that kid did get into quite a lot of trouble…
You can also get custom-made supporter sock monkeys in your team’s colours, along with a range of more traditional looking sock friends. If you’d like to brighten your life with the company of these ‘sock softies’, then check out the collection in the MadeIt shop here.