"All sorts of entertaining" - Elizabeth Seckman

"Michael and his pals make me wish I lived in Adelaide" - Cherdo

"If I had a daughter, I'd send her to Australia to meet him (and marry him)" - Robyn Alana Engel

"An Australian version of me. Only younger. And Talented. And better looking. Okay, nothing like me." - Al Penwasser

"Whom must I fuck or pay to get a quotation at the top of your blog post?" - Janie Junebug

Friday, 26 August 2016

New Experience Challenge Week 39: Salsa Class

Originally published on 29th Sep 2014.

My friends Brooke and Jerida took up a salsa class last week. As soon as I heard about it, I was in. No reasons, no rationalization, just sign me up and let's go. They were keen to have me on board, because there are never enough men who enroll in dance classes.

The place was at 223 Flinders St in the city. I rushed straight over after my work at the radio station was done. Let's see, 217... 219... 221... I arrived at a building titled something like "German Social Hall". Was this it? I looked at the buildings either side of it. None of them seemed like places that could hold dance classes. A man pulled into the carpark behind me, jumped out and headed into the hall. He was an athletic looking guy with olive skin and wearing a cap. As he got to the door, he stopped and turned to me.

'You look lost mate, come on in.' He must have known I was there for the class. I followed him in and we stepped into a small carpeted room with lots of tables and chairs and a bunch of nerdy-looking middle-aged men sitting around, eating dinner.
'You're here for the boardgame club, right?' He asked.

Now there's something about me that I've never directly mentioned, but you've probably figured out for yourself by now. Whenever anything weird happens, I always wan't to play it out and see where it goes. I guess it's the comedian in me, always looking for a funny story to tell.

'Yeah, I am,' I said to the guy who brought me in, and I got my phone out to text Jerida and tell her I wasn't going to make it.

The men finished their dinners and started discussing which games they wanted to play.
'Have you played Archipelago?' asked the guy who led me in.
'No, but I've heard of it.'
'That doesn't help,' he joked.
'Well, I can learn...'
'I think the other boys are playing Kingsford, that might be a better game to start off with.

I walked over to the other group that had formed.
'Hey boys, I heard you're playing Kingsford over here. Got room for another player?'
'Well we do, but we're not playing Kingsford. We're playing Brass. Have you ever played it before?'
'No, what's it about?'
'It's a Euro game.'
'Oh... I see. Is it a strategy game?'
'Not really.'
'Because I've played a lot of Risk.'
'..................................I don't think you'd find this very fun. Kyle! We need a fourth player for Brass! Are you in?
'Yeah, sure.' Replied Kyle and jumped into the empty chair.

I guess I'd been excluded. I felt like I was back in high school. I faked an urgent phone call and made an excuse to leave, ducking across the hall to where a sign said "Salsa Connection Dance Class". Jerida arrived a few minutes later and gave me a quizzical look.
'I'll explain later,' I mumbled to her as the rest of the class filed in.

Brooke had been held back at work, so it was just Jerida and myself. At the front of the hall was a very handsome couple just casually dancing away while the students arrived. I was blown away by how effortlessly sexy they looked. And a little annoyed that I knew I wouldn't look the same.

There were 6 people in total. The six of us gathered in a group and the man from the couple introduced himself.
'I'm Paul, this is Charli,' He said, motioning to the girl next to him.I had a sudden embarrassed flashback to a similar incident involving a hot instructor named Charli. 'For those who weren't here last week,' (he looked directly at me) 'we'll just do a recap of the steps we covered last week. It shouldn't be too hard to pick up, it's just what we call a basic step, a side step, and a right turn. Then when we continue into the rest of the course, we'll get into more complicated stuff and start working on mixing all the moves in together.'

I gave Jerida a nervous sideways glance. Hadn't she told Paul I was only coming in for a week? I was starting to disappoint a lot of people by only turning up to things for one week and then never seeing them again.

We partnered up and went through the steps. It'll be too hard to explain them, so I'll just let you watch this video. It's a little bit repetitive, so feel free to fast forward through a lot of it.

I picked up the basic step straight away. The side step was exactly like the basic step, except - as you can imagine - done from side to side rather than front to back. I picked that up straight away too. The right turn was a bit harder. I kept moving too much horizontally, I couldn't pivot in one spot like in the video. But it wasn't horrendous, so we were able to move on. We were told to partner up and everyone naturally went to the person that they came with. Paul put on some music and we tried doing some of the steps with our partner. Then he paused the music, gave us a few more tips and told us to switch partners. Oh geez, way to make this uncomfortable. I made my way around the room to a girl who I think had been there a few times. I grabbed her hands (or she grabbed mine, I can't remember) and we did the same thing again. I'm sure you've been in a situation like this before. Whether you've been put through dance classes in primary school or high school, or if you taken dance classes yourself... But it's often very, very awkward. I could only half concentrate on the steps because I was too busy trying to figure out where to look. If I was more self-confident, I think I'd just have looked into her eyes, but as it was I could only last a few seconds before it felt creepy, so I would turn to look at the instructors. Then I would look back at the girl. Then I'd find a spot just above her head. No, then she'll know that I'm trying to avoid looking at her... I eventually settled on looking at our feet, to make sure that we were doing the steps right. Um......... okay, maybe that's too long. I'll look back into her eyes again. Oh, that's enough, back to our feet. Finally the music stopped and we were told to switch partners again. I moved around the circle to a girl named Kate, with whom Jerida was good friends. We held hands and started dancing and I was annoyed to realize that she was staring at a spot just above my head. What, did she not like me or something? Why couldn't sh stare at our feet like a normal person? The song finished and we moved back to our original partners. Paul turned from the middle of the room to congratulate me. 'You've already got a great sense of rhythm. You know where the beats are and when to step.' He must have seen my blank expression, because he followed it up with 'You'd be surprised at how many people come in and can't find the rhythm. It actually takes them weeks to pick up. But you've already got that part, so it's easier for you to learn the rest of it.' I didn't quite know how someone could not know where the beat of a song is. I did once hear that when a man gets older, he loses his sense of rhythm as a way of advertising that he's no longer fertile and shouldn't be mated with. So I guess Paul was complimenting me on my fertility. Thanks Paul. The final thing we learned was a move I think he called a crossover. It's where the man basically steps aside and lets the woman step over to where he was a second ago. Then he steps back into place where the woman just was. All without letting go of each other's hands. I'd like to tell you how much trouble I had, because that would have made it more interesting. But unfortunately, I was picking it all up quite easily. I certainly don't think I made it look sexy. But I didn't embarrass myself. And in the end, isn't that all that matters? We made our way around the room again, putting all those things we learned into practice. I found I was getting better at looking into my partner's eyes without feeling weird and so was Kate. I still had a bit of trouble with those right turns though. As I made my way from Kate back to Jerida, Charli came and intercepted me so she could give me some pointers herself. 'Just try and pivot on the spot, otherwise you're stepping too much into the girl. It's like "Woah, hello!"' she said. We tried it out and I ended up making it worse, I was thinking too hard about it (I over-analyse things) and it meant I couldn't keep up with the music anymore. 'That's okay, this one's a fast song,' she said. But could tell she was really thinking "It's okay girls, no need to mate with this one anymore!" The song finished and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Paul congratulated me again on being able to pick up two weeks worth of classes in one and encouraged me that in the next few weeks I'd be able to flip a girl over my head if I wanted to. I realized I still hadn't told him I was only here for one week. What was I going to do? Disappoint him? As I left the hall, ducking past the window so the boardgame players didn't spot me, I thought about all the things I'd done in this challenge up until now and what the point of the challenge was. Jerida said 'I'm coming back, with or without you. I love it.' I sighed and resigned myself to the fact that I'd found it a lot of fun too. 'I guess I'll see you next week,' I said.
This post was part of the monthly Flashback Friday bloghop, where participants dig up an old post that needs to see the light again. I found this one pretty funny, so I brought it back up. In the chronology of my New Experience Challenge, this came a few weeks before last month's post on pole dancing.
If you'd like to take part in this too, it happens on the last Friday of the month. Just join the list below so all the other participants know where to find you.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Is It Racist: Apu

I've heard the accusations made, particularly in the early seasons of The Simpsons. Apu is the Indian character in the show who works practically non-stop at a convenience store in Springfield. It plays on a stereotype that many of the people in those positions are also Indian. Does that make Apu a racist character?

My answer is no, and here are four reasons why.

The term "stereotype" is very often linked with bigotry. It can pigeon-hole an entire demographic into one key characteristic. But I would say that isn't always racist. The stereotype has to come from somewhere. In my experience, the vast majority of convenience store workers, taxi drivers and bus drivers I've seen have indeed been either Indian or Middle-Eastern. But there are two ways to acknowledge that. One is to say that all Indians work at convenience stores. I think that's the racist way to go. The other is to say that all convenience store workers are Indians. Of course that's not totally accurate - I do know Caucasian people who have that job - but I think it's far better than the former.

Second, there are many jokes made on the show that are based around Apu's Indian ethnicity. And this is something on which I can comment more authoritatively. When The Simpsons came to my country, Australia, they took every stereotype and observation they could and ramped them up to an insane degree. Some Australians were offended. Most weren't. The majority recognised the kernel of truth inside each joke and understood that the rest was just hilarious exaggeration. It wold be exactly the same in the situation of Apu.

Third, like the rest of the characters on the show, Apu has a lot of depth. The Kwik-E-Mart is a big part of his character, but that's because he loves it. He lives to work and loves the idea of American democracy and capitalism and everything else the country stands for. He's often more politically aware than his Caucasian counterparts. He goes home to his strong, intelligent Indian wife and his eight (eight) children, who all have subtle differences in their personalities.

And fourth... How many other strongly Indian characters do you see on television? With the exception of Raj from The Big Bang Theory, I can't think of any. The fact that here is a character with a very strong, undiluted display of Indian culture, attitudes and mannerisms is a fantastic thing to promote diversity. It acknowledges that there are people who are vastly different to their white American counterparts. Sure, they could have made him a suited lawyer character, someone who's high on the social ladder. But I think that would have been much less helpful than what they did. We've seen it with the African American people of the US. During the civil rights movement, there were black people wanting the same respect, opportunites, rates of pay etc as white people. But there were also people saying "No, fuck you. We don't want to be a new generation of white people. If we're going to flourish, we'll do it our way, on our terms." Now, thanks to that and to characters like Apu in popular media, people who are minorities in their own countries can thrive without having to give up their culture.

Friday, 5 August 2016


I found out a while ago that there's a few people in my umpiring group that see me as being opinionated. I was sitting in the change room after a match and my co-umpire asked me what I thought of the whole Brexit situation. I hesitated before giving my answer.
'Ah... No strong opinions,' I finally said. I was definitely interested in the situation but I didn't have a clue how it really affected me or the people in those countries. My co-umpire bawked.
'What's this? Michael without an opinion? I never thought I'd see the day!' he boomed. I found that perplexing.
'What? When did I get this reputation of being opinionated?'
'Our coach reckons you are. And you're always going on about your quiz nights.' Not wanting to be too argumentative, I left it there.
'Yeah, I do talk about that a lot, I'll give you that,' I said, giving a fake laugh. I decided not to ask him how on Earth talking about one's passions could translate into that person being opinionated.

When I left the change room and went off to my next thing, I felt troubled. I wasn't at all sure why. I don't view being opinionated as a particularly bad thing. It's people who have uninformed convictions or people who drill their opinions onto others that you want to steer clear of. In fact, I've often found myself wishing I was more opinionated. I tend to just be an impartial observer in most situations. I won't take action until I have all the information I need to make the right decision. I assume nothing and if I do assume something, I eventually realise it's an assumption and factor that in my decision-making process. I do love that about myself, but sometimes I just wish I was like everyone else on Facebook who seem so sure of the difference between right and wrong and where they stand in it.

So why did it bother me to be called opinionated in such a matter-of-fact way? Was it because I didn't think it was true? Was it because maybe it was true? Maybe I couldn't see it from my position - like when I friend has to tell you you have something stuck in your teeth, I was being opinionated the whole time and just couldn't see it. I eventually realised that that was the problem - I, like most people, work hard to control how the rest of the world sees me. Somehow, I was doing something that gave off this impression that I'm opinionated. And without knowing what it was I was doing, I couldn't stop it or control it in any way.

Coming to understand why that accusation had made me feel that way was great, but it didn't alleviate the feeling. It took me a couple of weeks to feel okay about it, and it took a number of events to gradually achieve it over that time.

First there's umpiring. When I give a free kick during a game of football, it's very rare for the infringing player to agree with my decision. No matter how blatant the free kicks are, during the game I'll get constant complaints from the players, the coaches and the spectators - even the spectators of games involving 9-year-old kids. It's a constant bug-bear of mine, but those people just see events in a way that I never will.

Then, I was listening to a podcast that talks about each episode of The Simpsons. The podcast has a segment where they talk about what people were saying on the internet at the time the episode first came out. The comments are almost exclusively overly negative. From as early as season 2, people were proclaiming every episode to be the worst ever and that The Simpsons was coming to an end. They said the worst bits of the show were the bits that we now view as absolute classics (think "knifey-spooney" from Bart vs Australia and Sideshow Bob with the rakes in Cape Fear).

Third, it came up during conversation that when I was much younger, my Dad would get it in his head that I'd done something wrong. It didn't matter what evidence he had - it would often be as little as he saw something out of place and assumed I'd done it. I could swear black and blue that it wasn't me, but the stronger I protested, the angrier he'd get and the more trouble I'd be in.

This all brought me to a realisation - sometimes, people will just see things that just aren't there. No matter what you do or how hard you try, there will still be people who see things in a way that's so far out of how you see it that it's like their opinion came from outer space and asked to be taken to your leader. I never like proclaiming that some opinions are just plain wrong, but for my own sanity, I need to accept that it's sometimes the case. I had no clue what I was doing to give the impression that I'm opinionated, and that's because I wasn't doing anything. That small group of people just made something from nothing. Now it no longer bothers me, it just makes me laugh.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Question of the Month: The Best Beach

It's time for Question of the Month, where we answer a question and then visit each other's blogs to see what everyone else answered.

This month's question is a simple, easy one.

"What's your favourite beach?"

I'm lucky to come from Australia, where 90% of the population live on a coastal city. Australia's one of the cleanest places in the world and we get a lot of sun. And because we're such a big country, you can get a good variety of Summer climates - from the dry, searing heat of Adelaide to the humid, sticky heat of tropical Gold Coast, to the more English-type semi-heat of Hobart.

In my home city of Adelaide, my first choice of beach is Glenelg (pictured). It's the biggest social hub on the coastline, with the delightful Mosley Square just behind it.

With its rows of palm trees, pretty fountain, restaurants (both fast food and sit-down) and well-designed levels, it's a great place to hang out and grab an ice cream. It's the most accessible beach we have - not only is it right at the end of ANZAC Highway, just one road that connects it directly to the CBD, but it's also the terminus for Adelaide's only tram (I know, right?), which gives it an even bigger feeling of importance.

There used to be a major attraction at Glenelg called Magic Mountain, which was essentially a mini fun-park. They had dodgem cars, bumper boats, mini golf, arcade games and I believe there was also a type of cable car which users would propel through the building with bicycle pedals. the Mountain has since been sold off and demolished, and was replaced a few years later with a new building called The Beach House. It's more modern and as far as I can remember, a lot more expensive. It looks better from the outside, but for me it doesn't have the same charm as what I experienced in early childhood.


That was fun to answer. If you'd like to join the bloghop, put your blog in the list below and I'll email you the new question when it comes time. It takes place on the first Monday if each month.

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