Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Australia Part I

Sydney Day 1 (Sunday, Nov 21)

I slowly trudged up a steep, narrow stairway in The Rocks, Sydney’s oldest neighborhood, burdened by a brand new over-stuffed Gregory backpack and a weighty suitcase thumping each stair as I ascended. Short of breath with sweat pouring out across my already greasy face, I resembled a newbie contestant on “The Biggest Loser” suffering the agonizing shock of exercise to the unconditioned body. For the past several months I had completely ignored my preparatory fitness goals, always deferring them to the near future. For the first time in my life, a budding gut constantly poked and prodded my T-shirts while underneath miniature love handles in the making were hugged tightly by the waist of my jeans. I had planned an ambitious, physically exacting trip and knew that my now-soft body was in for a shock. Even though the morning was warm I wore a sweatshirt to mask the potent stench that surely had accumulated beneath as the result of a 13 hour plane ride and subsequent physical demand of hauling my luggage across the central business district on a warm summer morning. I arrived at my hostel a sweaty, exhausted mess. I dropped off my bags, cleaned up and headed out to play tourist.

As I walked to the Circular Quay where the Central Business district meets the water I quickly realized why Sydney’s Opera House is the international icon that it is. It’s absolutely gorgeous! Located on a small but prominent outcropping of land in Sydney’s Harbor, its bright tiles reflect the mood of the sky, its distinctive white sailed shape accentuates the city skyline behind it, creating one of the most picturesque urban scenes I have ever witnessed. The Opera House’s asymmetrical architecture ensures that each vantage point from a variety of harbor spots and ferry routes reveals something new, which had me, a typically restrained photographer, feeling like a trigger happy Japanese tourist at Disneyland. Two rules sum up photographing the Opera House around Sydney as a tourist.
  1. It’s nearly impossible to take a bad shot. Each photo will leave you feeling like a professional photographer.
  2. Considering rule one, you can never take too many shots of the Opera House, even with the strong risk that they will all look identical when you get home.

The cities other icon, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, consists of an absolutely massive steel arch bookended by imposing grey brick pylons. While not as photogenic as the Opera House, the imposing size of the bridge makes for an equally surreal sight, more likely to be appreciated in person than on film. I spent my first afternoon in Sydney tackling the pedestrian path across the bridge. I paid an exorbitant amount of money (my only, but frequent complaint about Sydney was the prices) to climb up the interior of one of the bridges pylons to one of the cities better vantage points.

While planning my trip, as a bit of a foodie, I had envisioned sampling some of Sydney’s finer restaurants. My parade was rained on after glancing at several sidewalk menus. A good rule of thumb is that everything in Australia; food, gas and boarding is twice as expensive as I am accustomed to in the states. Indicative of how un-thorough of a planner I am, the egregious cost of everything came as a completely unexpected revelation to me. The creature comforts I had planned on for my vacation, nice hotel rooms and fine dining were quickly downgraded to sleeping in hostels, and relying on fast food for sustenance.

All of this walking has gotten me hungry. Deterred by sky-high prices, rather than eating at a sidewalk cafĂ© I opted for Hungry Jack, Australia’s version of Burger King. My jaw dropped as I was handed the drink to my whopper value meal in what might as well have been a Dixie cup with a lid. It took all of about 5 sips before I was slurping ice. One thing that travelling has made me appreciate about America is how we embrace the concept of “unlimited”. We like free refills, unlimited minutes, data plans, etc. I rarely get refills at restaurants, but am comforted knowing that the option is there. It has been the case in both Australian and South African restaurants that no small amount of discipline is required to ration a 12 oz. soft drink throughout a meal so that enough liquid remains to wash the last bite down.

Winding down the afternoon, I mosey down to Royal Botanical Gardens which affords me a completely different view of the city and Opera House. Dozens of photographers, most with fancy equipment and tri-pods, line up along the waterfront capturing the Opera House Vista. Although I have already taken dozens of pictures of the Opera House from various points around the city I continue snapping away. Without any plans for the rest of the day I decide to hang around the gardens a few hours until sunset. The gardens, water and the skyline are reminiscent of Chicago’s Grant Park. Of any city I’ve been to, Sydney most reminds me of Chicago, with the added perk that its weather is similar to Southern California’s. Although I have already captured dozens of pictures of the Opera House, what are a few dozen more? I join the throng of photographers capturing the Opera House backed by a variety of brilliant colors of the sunset perfectly framing the scene.

I walk back to my hostel through the hypnotizing lights of the city feeling a bit lonely. I was accompanied on my last trip to South Africa by some of my best friends, who I frequently reminisce with about it. Without any travelling companions this time, my trip will be much different in nature than my previous trip. In a similar vein as the philosophical riddle “if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears, does it make noise?” I begin to wonder about the value of experiences shared with nobody. If I’m going to get bang for my buck it will have to come in the form of introspective moments afforded by solitude, from the blank notebook I’ve brought to dabble in some creative writing, from the 1500 pages worth of books weighing down my bags, and perhaps some inventive photography.

Sydney Day 2 (Sunday, Nov 22)

I’m slowly awoken at 2am by the muffled but relentless drone of one of my hostel roommate’s alarm clock. I’m clearly the only one whose sleep has been disturbed, as there is not so much as a rustle from any of the other beds in the room. My agitation increases with each bleep of the alarm that the guilty party peacefully sleeps through, my temper ready to boil. At this point I am coherent enough to do some math. 2am Australian time would be 7am pacific time, the time I routinely wake up for work in the morning. On second thought, that alarm sounds awfully familiar. Damn…Right as I have the epiphany, someone in a neighboring bed rolls over and grumpily demands that someone turn the #@$% alarm off. I hop down from the top bunk and frantically fumble around my luggage looking for my phone, the room getting restless as I finally silence it. I climb back up into bed with my tail between my legs.

First thing in the morning, I’m eastward bound on a train for a day trip to the Blue Mountains. Given the underwhelming state of my fitness, I am hoping todays 10-miler will kick start my body in preparation for Tasmania. The sand stone cliffs, dense eucalyptus forests, and numerous waterfalls make for a pleasant afternoon. As a connoisseur of good swimming holes I find myself in heaven, with significantly more deep, waterfall fed pools alongside the trail than I have time to sample. Even better, for the most part I have it all to myself.

The euphoria of the morning’s novel scenery and swimming stops quickly wears off down the home stretch of the hike as I ascend an endless of barrage of stairs over a thousand vertical feet to exit the valley. My complete lack of fitness is painfully exposed as I climb 15-20 stairs at a time, until I am short of breath, and wait a minute to climb a few more. By the time I reach the top, I am completely winded and feel like I just did a bunch of squats.

I’m feeling ravenously hungry after my hike and I peruse the town of Wentworth Falls small Main Street for a food joint, finally deciding on a Fish and Chips take-away shop. My fish and chips are accompanied by some curious looking ketchup packets, the likes of which I’ve never come across before. Think McDonalds chicken nugget dipping sauce packets, except the bottom plastic portion is divided into two equally sized regions and instead of the thin foil covering, a thick plastic seal with a small but stiff peak in the center. I’m sitting at the only table in the place, when a cute twenty-something blond approaches and asks if she can share the table with me. I acquiesce with a smile, and continue trying to crack the impossible code of my ketchup packet. I try everything from pealing the top, to puncturing the packet with a fork. I bring the packet close up to my face to examine it, squeezing the packet in half from the bottom. A Jetstream like blast of ketchup sprays across my face and I immediately feel the sharp sting of its spices in both of my eyes. Momentarily blinded, I fumble around the table for my napkin and quickly relieve my eyes. I sheepishly look up across the table at my neighbor, who didn’t appear to notice a thing. I strike up a conversation with her.

“Excuse me…Do you have any idea how to open these ketchup packets? I’m completely baffled.”

She picks up a packet and stares at it curiously. “I’ve never seen one of these before,” she says in a European sounding accent. She picks at the plastic top, tries to peel it off and then squeezes it down the center in the exact same way I had done moments earlier. A bullet like stream of ketchup shoots across her low hanging tank top, bra and cleavage.

“I am SOOO sorry,” I say with a look of shock on my face, trying incredibly hard to stifle a laugh. She looks up at me, clearly turning red with embarrassment, and starts to laugh. I can no longer hold it in, and I break down and start laughing uncontrollably. I get up and grab her some napkins. We continue laughing, as she cleans herself up. I offer the only thing I can think of to say, “You just made my day!”

Riddle solved, thanks to my new French Canadian friend. I grab the sauce packet and squeeze it seal side pointing down at my fries, and dispense ketchup on my food. We talk over our early dinner for a half hour, and I eventually reluctantly decline her invitation to repeat the hike to the falls due to pure exhaustion. I sleep most of the train ride back to Sydney, arriving back late at night and proceed straight to bed.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Eavesdropping on a Journal

The highway split the featureless desert out to the horizon. Yawning, I pulled out my pillow and propped it up against the window. I was exhausted after spending 4 hot summer days in Zions National Park, tagging along with my girlfriend at the time, her family and the young women from her parents ward. As I prepared for a nap she pulled out her journal and began writing.

Four days straight with no breaks was really testing the limits of our relationship. At the moment there was a palpable tension between us. In a group full of strangers I felt clingy and she felt clinged to. As an introvert, the constant presence of obnoxious 12 and 13 year olds girls had worn on me. With her dad always within a close proximity, I had not even neared first base throughout the course of the weekend. At one point we arrived back at camp well ahead of the rest of the group and entered the tent for what was sure to be a cathartic make out only to be thwarted by a squirrel that had chewed a hole in the tent and made a sizeable mess with a zip loc bag of trail mix. By the time the tent was cleaned up everybody had returned to camp.

An hour earlier in the drive I had escalated the tension by embarrassing her in a conversation. She envisioned herself a ground breaking innovator for espousing conservative principles in a liberal world.

“Nate, don’t you think I’m revolutionary,” she asked.

We had engaged in similar conversations before. Usually affirmative, this time I fought the urge to roll me eyes. “Revolutionary? Why do you feel that you are revolutionary?”

She seemed caught off guard that I wasn’t playing along as I usually did to her self perception. She paused and mentioned something about having the truth and not being afraid to share it with others. “It’s impossible to live a fulfilling life without having the truth of the gospel.”

“Don’t you think that sounds arrogant? I don’t think being Mormon is a pre-requisite to a fulfilling life.” I replied. By this time all ears in the mini-van were focused on our conversation. After going back and forth on this point for several minutes I could tell that she had become embarrassed that I had challenged her in front of everybody. Trying to diffuse the tension I agreed that she was indeed a revolutionary. That was the end of our conversation.

As I rested my head against the pillow I realized that from this angle I could see what she was writing in her journal. Assuming she was writing about me, I closed my eyes and began to wonder what her unfiltered most initimate thoughts were about me. Despite the current friction between us, we did have a number of memorable and intimate moments on the trip. I had played the role of supportive boyfriend throughout the trip and encouraged her to follow several of her dreams. After fighting the urge to peak for several minutes I lifted my eyelid slightly so I could see her journal, but still appear to be asleep. The only line I could make out was “Nate is a simple minded but good man.” I closed my eyes again wishing I had been more disciplined.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Smiling Jesus Caption Game ©

"We’re geniuses!” – Nate Fuller, Smiling Jesus Caption Game © co-creator

“HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” – Stacy Lawrence, Smiling Jesus Caption Game © co-creator

The Smiling Jesus Caption Game© is sweeping the nation by storm. As co-conceiver of this wildly fun, hilarious, fun for the whole family game, I offer an exclusive behind the scenes story of its conception and real life examples of how to play.

The initial inspiration for the Smiling Jesus Caption Game © was a sacrament meeting program featuring a painting of a smiling Jesus which looked an awful lot like Jesus was posing for a modern day senior yearbook picture. I featured the picture on my blog and my faithful readers were quick to award him a variety of Nazareth class of 18 A.D. superlatives including best beard, most likely to succeed and best personality, although unfortunately he came up way short in the biggest flirt and class clown categories. It was immediately clear that smiling Jesus provided an amazing amount of untapped comedic potential.

The game really began to take shape several weeks later when Stacy’s Grandma Henry, famous for circulating faith promoting emails, forwarded an absolute gem to Stacy entitled “Pictures of Jesus Laughing….Precious”. Little did she know the revolution that she had just set in motion (I still don’t think she knows, so please keep it on the D.L.). Attached to the email were 7 pencil sketches of Jesus laughing, having a good time, being the fun guy that he rarely gets portrayed as. It was clear to the games co-founders that these pictures were missing captions, hence The Smiling Jesus Caption Game © was created.

I promised real life examples at the beginning of the post, so I included several of the now famous pictures from Grandma Henry’s email along with some of the captions that Stacy and I came up with. Enjoy!

"and then i said, 'peace be still'... yep, nothing to be concerned about, ladies... all in a days work." -Stacy

"Jesus: Suffer the children to come to me, that's my motto!
Woman 1: (thinking) gosh! it's so hard to find a family guy these days!" -Stacy

"You give such snuggly wuggly huggies!" - Nate


After feeling a forceful rumbling from the baby's rear end, "Whoa Jr...Let's get you back to nursery Pronto!" - Nate

""The smell of his hair is unmistakeable!! I love Johnson & Johnson No more tears!" -Nate

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New Niece

Yesterday afternoon my new niece Kierra finally arrived! I'm digging her hairdo.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Engines Revved at a Stoplight

Late Thursday evening I made a trip down to UCSD’s Giesel library to check out some of their Mormon themed books. As I was skimming through Thomas O’Dea’s classic “The Mormons,” a folded printout fell onto the floor. The counter-cult had left there calling card, a print-out from Mormon Research Ministries about the Book of Mormon and DNA. I pulled it out and set it aside.

Next, I thumbed through Hardy’s “Solemn Covenant” and once again found the print-out compliments of Mormonism Research Ministries. This time it was a testimonial from a lady who had spent 20 years as a Mormon and then decided to get the heck out of dodge.

UCSD has an extensive Mormon Studies section, completely taking up 2 bookshelves, comprised of 200-250 books. Given that the randomly selected books that I had picked up from different shelves had both had been visited by concerned Evangelicals, I wondered about the rest of the books. Sure enough, somebody had taken the time to pain-stakingly produce several hundred printouts and insert one into every Mormon themed book in the library.

I removed the print-outs from the dozen or so books that I looked at that night. As I did, I imagined somebody returning the next day to take tally of how many printouts were missing and reporting back to his counter-cult ministry that twelve people had been exposed to the “real” Mormonism through their diligent efforts. Nobody would be there to burst their bubble and let them know all their efforts were wasted on an already slightly disgruntled Mormon who found their stealth tactics disingenuous.

I felt defensive for a moment. I contemplated going through all the books and undoing all their tedious preparation. Standing there in the library I was reminded of something I had concluded years earlier: The Evangelical counter-cult is riding the intellectual short bus. I had spent way too many years in my teens and early twenties playing cat and mouse games with them. I would feel all the dumber for playing along on this night. I couldn’t be bothered to go through a dozen more books, let alone two whole book shelves to undo their work. I dumped the dozen or so printouts that I had collected in the recycling bin on my way out and walked out of the library with a smirk on my face, feeling satisfied that the short bus had revved its engine next to me at the stop light and I had refused to race it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


On June 3rd Microsoft launched its new search engine Bing. While I haven't been able to make the jump from Google to Bing, there is one feature about Bing that I L-O-V-E. Every day the search engine adds a new background image. Generally, the images are of places around the world. The images are consistently amazing.

I found myself always adding them as my desktop wallpaper at work, so I spent a couple of hours writing some code that downloads the days image and sets it as my wallpaper. I have slowly been building an impressive repository of the photos. Here is my top 5 from the last 6 weeks:

5) Cinque Terre, Italy

4) Moorea Island, French Polynesia

3) Chocolate Hills, Phillipines

2) Preikestolen, Norway

1) Pemmukale Tavertine Pools, Turkey

Wednesday, July 8, 2009