Thursday, February 27, 2014

Scavenger Hunt

Sunday (Feb 23) was much more exciting than the White Night, though it was exhausting, especially when the night before it was difficult to go back to sleep after being woken up by the fire alarm.

We were going present our flashmob dance to a crowd of unsuspecting strangers in Federation Square! Plus, we split up into groups with a list of tasks we had to do and document doing. We ran out of time and didn't complete them all, but by the end everyone was too exhausted to complain about anything more than sore feet. Everyone was so exhausted, the stairway battles were even cancelled that night.

I don't have the pamphlet with all of the tasks, but I will list off as many as I can recall, especially the ones I participated in. Also, I haven't seen any of the photos or footage, yet, but I think they are in the process of editing it first. This is the list that I can remember off the top of my head: (if I don't list that we didn't do it, we did it)

Propose to a stranger, arm wrestle with a stranger, eat Crazy Wings (they are the hottest wings on the planet; grown men cried eating these), eat hamburger whole (bonus points for paying for it in 5 cent coins), hero pose with statues in the city, jump up so everyone's feet off the ground in front of Parliment, make fish face with fish in aquarium and get bonus points for getting strangers to do it too (didn't get to do this one), recreate a famous sports action in front of arena, catch the other groups off guard and Moose them so they have to lay down on the ground and call out like moose, find a misspelled word in the city, find a comic book shop, find a book written by Richardson's namesake, have someone in the group wear underwear on outside of their pants (Dylan), swap shorts with someone else (points for extreme size difference) (I did this with James; he proudly work my only stretchy, PINK shorts, while I wore a belt to hold up his), count the number of levels in Eureka tower, take photos of all stations on the city loop, sing on train or tram (points for getting strangers to participate), act out a superhero vs. villain scene with unsuspecting strangers, find night rider stop,  do the Hoky Poky in front at Flinder's Station, squish as many people into a phone booth (I sat on Jame's shoulders), poise as mannequins in the window of a shop, act out a natural disaster in public, collect coasters from at least 18 bars (We didn't make it to 18), spell RICHO with your bodies, etc.

In the middle of the scavenger hunt we had to meet up in Federation Square to dance in the flashmob to the song Keep on Moving by 5ive. It is now officially our theme song! Everyone danced the moves out during toga night when they played the song. And every time I hear it now, I want to break out and dance!

Our group got side tracked on our mission to complete it before our free dinner at 6. We all witnessed a it and run. And our very own Captain Underpants, Dylan, stayed behind to call the police and report he license plate number. It wasn't a major accident, but the reaction of the driver whose fault it was was what made us so willing to react negatively towards the situation. He/she bumped into another car, then sped off into the middle of a four way stop through a red light to get away. It wasn't priority, so Dylan never got a hold of personal to come to the scene but it was logged. Everything turned out alright; I just hope some form of justice or karma occurs for the sake of the drivers who got minor dents and scratches to their car.

White Night

Saturday (Feb 22) was White Night, but first I was going to the mall, Chadstone, fondly known as Chatty by the locals. I had to return my cheap, broken Kmart clock, which I was planning to set for Eastern time so I always knew what time it was back home. I met Yvonne, from New Mexico on this trip. She had just moved in and needed a few things. I discovered she is an Airforce brat, who flew from Japan because that's where her family is based at the moment. She is well traveled, and loves crazy socks. I knew we would become friends. Her, and Talli, Corinne, Marni and quite a few others also have are huge fans of Marvel, DC Comics and any other geeky fan based movies and books you can think of. I will never feel alone in the world of geek culture as a woman again. I know I have never been alone, but not many of my friends back home share my enthusiasm, and some of them are even crazier than me about certain cult following (and I mean that in a good way).

I have had conversations on Fringe, Game of Thrones (which I am practically being forced to catch up on since I had only seen the first episode), Thor, Spiderman, Sherlock (BBC), Dr. Who (which I don't personally follow but I am told I will), John Green vlogs, comic books (I am now borrowing Corinne's first Fringe comic), Almost Human, etc. The list is endless.

The first time I really bonded with Talli, who probably tops any of us on her fan Fiction collection, youtube video knowledge, etc (she is appropriately studying Literature) it was over remixes, dubstep, and mash up music. She has such an odd back story of a small town girl with parents who work on a pig farm (but they have moved jobs frequently in the farming business), so fiction became her escape from the confines of the town. Strangely enough her mother was born in France and raised in England. Anyway, I don't want to pray tell everything, because this is such a public blog, and I don't feel I should divulge too much without her permission. Let's just say, she and I have probably gotten to know each other the most out of everyone else I have spent time with thus far.

During shopping, I finally got a clock I was happy about. I didn't want a digital alarm clock, but I didn't want it not to be digital because I admit I don't read analog clocks that quickly. Then, Talli showed me to this retro shop called Typo, and they had one of those old closes that flips when it changes time. I will be bringing that one back with me!

That night we went to White Night. It was a dud for some and a blast for others, but everyone can agree that it was packed, not crowded, packed. I couldn't make a step in any direction with about rubbing shoulders with a stranger. Our group had to make a chain to stick together. And for us it was a dud. I feel if we had went in pairs of two or three it would have been more fun and longer lasting. If it weren't for heading back early karma wouldn't have bitten back either. The fire alarm went off at one in the morning, when most people were just drifting off. I got a few photos, but we walked a few feet down Swanston Street, headed towards one of the music events, gave up, and went back into Flinder's Station, and that was the end of White Night for me. Sad, huh. Don't feel too bad for me. Many other events are to come, and I am still high of spirits!

A Taste of Colombia

I had some errands I ran on Thrusday, the 20th, which made me late for the Monash Abroad Bushfoods event. I still got to have some food, but they were all out of kangaroo, so I still haven't tried it. This will be a short post, but I have to mention my Colombian food discussion with Miguel.

I have had many cultural discussions including how to ask for Beer in at least three other languages, but I have to say my favorite one at this point in my journey was the discussion on Colombian food. I meet a Colombian during the Bushfood event named Miguel. He was wearing the Flash T-shirt much like Sheldon sometimes wears on the Big Bang Theory. And I swear he looks like a shorter version of Sheldon himself. He is studying Physics for goodness sake! He has a tattoo on his arm of Euler's Identity (e^i*pi + 1 = 0), and during Toga night I soon discovered he had a more complex tattoo of many different equations all depicted in a photo of the sun rays onto a flower or something.

Anyway, the discussion revolved around a meal that is the epitome for his region of Paisa called bandeja paisa. He tried very hard to describe what was in it and how it tasted, but we ended up having to look it up on wikipedia. I thought it was just one dish, but it's a whole entire meal! Here are the main ingredients: read beans, pork belly, white rice, ground meat, chicharon, fried egg, plantains, chorizo, arepa, hogao sause, black pudding, avocado, and lemon. When I looked up how to make it, I discovered it probably takes four hours in total to whip up each individual part of the meal. I cannot even describe the joy I have had from then on asking others what traditional food their families make.

I also was excited when watching the band teach some partners how to dance an Aussie old hoedown sort of traditional step dance.

That night I had been invited to the Nott by a few groups of people; The Nott is the local bar hang out for past and present Richardson Hall residence. I went that night after so many people asked me to come (it was positive peer pressure, though, because I wanted to go to the local bar at least once, just so I could say I went) unlike tonight. I am not going tonight because tomorrow morning I am getting up to go to Healsville Sanctuary. I have already been to two animal sanctuaries, but I thought it was such a reasonable price, and it would be another way for me to hand out with and meet the other exchange students. I probably waited 30 minutes at the bar to order one single drink. Eventually, after sitting down on a chair (not the booths, they were sticky from spills). Krishna and Evan started bromancing. Seems that when guys drink they all turn gay no matter what sexual orientation they actually are. I have some good blackmail photos of them. They probably won't see the light of day on the web; I am not that evil, but I like sharing it with the other Richo residence. Talli, Matt and I left early because we would prefer hanging out where everyone can talk and hear each other rather than at a loud music bar with drunk college students. Matt doesn't drink anyway, and both Talli and I were sober. We did get a little lost (we knew we were on campus so we weren't really that lost) walking back, and strangely enough ended up in near the Engineering faculty building, which made it easy for me to lead the rest of the way.

Some girls walking ahead of us got stopped by campus security; they were looking for McDonald's. We pointed it out, but I will never know if they found their way. It was pretty obvious to campus security, who didn't even drive by us, that while the girls (who were walking in the middle of the road) were drunk, while we were minding our own business. I hope they got home safe.

Queen Victorian Night Market

With the combination of Richardson Hall events, Study Abroad Orientation Events, and Orientation Events, I have had my hands full for the past week and a half.

Wednesday night, on the 19th, we went to the Queen Victorian Night Market. I was supposed to go with the exchange students, but when I found out Richardson was going to, I thought, why not go with them instead. I had been hanging out with many of the exchange students already because the day before was the Monash Abroad Orientation, which was long, boring and a lot of information thrown at us. Ever since the day after my Dad left many days here have been cold and rainy. The skies decided to rain really hard on that day in particular. Richardson Hall canceled the outing to Queen Vic Market.

It turned out alright, though, because another hall was still going so us Richo residence that were willing to risk the skies opening up on us again, went out. I was extremely comfortable getting to and from the Market, since it was right next to the Radisson, which was where my Dad and I stayed before moving me into my room. We ate first. There was a who section of the market that was so smoky and hot because all they were doing was cooking food. I had the most deliciously odd fires of my life. They were made from chick peas. It was delicious. I sat down and saved a seat for Talli for what felt like 20 minutes while she went to take out some cash at an ATM. I felt so bad. I must have turned away 10 couples who asked me if the two seats next to me were vacant. She apologized for the wait. There had been a ridiculously long line for the ATM machine, and while I had gotten her number I had forgotten to text her mine. That got corrected quickly. While I had been waiting, I entertained myself at people watching. The two women next to me were chatting in a French accent, and this very kind old woman who was the one of the Market's janitorial staff received a kind tip from a woman who pretended she found some money on the ground and handed it to her. This old lady gave me the sweetest smile when she saw me see what happened. She looked like a lady who would have wonderful tales to tell.

Talli and I had gotten separated by Saffron from Australia and the two siblings, Allen and Franchesca from Mauritius. We soon ran into them again as we explored each "tent" to marvel at their wears. I was so tempted to purchase one of the cacti from this one shop. They had some that were in mini pots with magnets! They were so cute. I wish we had more time, because we didn't find the vintage clothing section until we only had 10 minutes before we had to meet up with the group to head back. I tried some almond flavored fudge, and because Talli owed me money for her dinner, she bought me my first macaroon. My words cannot describe the delectable delicacy that is a macaroon, especially my raspberry one.

I ended up getting some jewelry. I found a ring with a typewriter key for an "H," and two earrings: keys and toy robots. I am definitely going back!


So yesterday (Feb 17) was the start of Monash Abroad Orientation. We started at 8:30 and ended at 3. It was a long day of lectures. I guess I should start getting used that again. Eventually classes start, and my free time will slowly lessen until it disappears all together just like any other college year.

We were invited to evening events last night. Never again will i go clubbing like I did yesterday. It's not like I drank a lot; I only had one hard cider. The reason for my negative outlook is it's a waste of money and in the end my feet hurt, my throat was sore from yelling over the music as well as from the people around in the area who started smoking, my ears rang, and I felt more alone in that crowd of people (not all alone, though, I did enjoy hanging out with my new friends) than in my hanging out in my single bedroom. I ended up spending $30 plus the cost of using the train to get there: I spent $10 on two hard ciders when I meant to order one (it was so loud the bar tender didn't get my order right), $6 to get into the club Cheers, and $10 of a $60 split cab fair back to campus.

I had some fun, yes, but all in all, I prefer exploring shops and buildings or chatting in a group over dinner and a drink than going to a place like Cheers. And I did enjoy going to the first location because it was more of a social bar than a club where talking is impossible over the music, plus it was a rooftop bar, so there was a roofless area where you could enjoy the skyline overhead.

Some interesting notes on that night: One Girl in the club thought I was from Argentina! And the chivalrous Eddie from Canada walked me back to Richardson when I wasn't sure how to get from the Hall the other residences lived in to mine.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Great Ocean Drive

February 17th:

I have almost caught up. I skipped some of my  holiday trip, but I think the now is a little more important. Today was the last day that my Dad was going to have in Australia, so I took off socializing and making new friends to spend one last day trip with him. As much as I love him, I was glad for the day of reprieve to collect myself on Sunday, because I have a hard time traveling with him for long periods of time. We just don't always see eye to eye, especially when it comes to how structured scheduling (know what time things start, what time it is, and how long it takes to go somewhere), mapping, and planning is. I would much rather have an unstructured day of leisurely walking  and stop to smell the roses than one where all I feel like were are doing is running from place to place just so we can squeeze everything in. In the end, though, I understand the importance of time and why he does/did what he does/did. 

I had a great last day. There were no complaints; I posed for all his pictures. I wanted this day to be a good last day since I wouldn't be seeing him for quite some time. Thanks Dad! There were many ups and downs, but in the end we got to see and do everything on your list!

Day Two

February 16th:

I met a lot of people! I probably cannot even remember all of there names. If I do, I will be impressed with myself. It's a good thing. I am making friends quickly. It's easy at this time of year, because while at home this is considered second semester, this is their first semester, so pretty much everyone is in the same boat as me when it comes to not knowing anyone. Now, I probably know over 40 people.

I wanted to spend my Sunday being productive because I knew on Monday I was going to be out with my Dad all day on the Great Ocean Drive, and Tuesday orientation week began. I got to read through some of the packet I got on move in day. I even caught up on my blog some, but the first thing I had to do was laundry. I forced myself out of bed before everyone else to get my laundry done before our free pancake breakfast at 9. While I was waiting, I couldn't help but go to the music room to try out the piano. I soon found out that the room isn't very sound proof. There's an air duct that connects the music room to one of the other public rooms, and it can sometimes be great background sound, and other times not. Some of the other girls that night during our free Subway dinner (once again vegetarians ate first), was asking about if anyone knew who the talented piano player ways that she heard that morning. I was flattered and a little embarrassed that more people than I thought had heard, but I didn't say a word about it being me.

There was supposed to be a group walk in the park, but the morning was rainy and chilly. We ended up doing a shopping run instead which was a good thing. I needed quite a lot more than I thought or hoped. A group of us took the bus. I sat a little apart from everyone on the way there while listening to some of the guys talk about scholarships and other financial things, but I got to know some of the group better as the spree went along. We went into Kmart for an hour, and stopped for lunch where I sat with two very nice Brazilian girls, Yasmim, and Paula, and we chatted about how the iced tea they bought was much different from what they were used to. I had meet Yasmim the day before. She was in my trivia group. I liked the fact that she is into musicals like me, and is a design student, which means she is my new shopping buddy!

The bus and other public transit in Melbourne is terrible, especially on Sunday because buses only come every hour, and they are often times late. You would thing that if you have to pay to ride the bus they would be better on time. Anyway, I left with one of the RA's, Corinne because she and I wanted to leave soon instead of sticking around for another hour. I discovered she likes dance like my, and she is a vegetarian, and at dinner she talked about how usually everyone forms cooking groups where each person in the group cooks for everyone one else once a week. Of course, anyone with dietary requirements need to stick together, so she was happy to know I could be counted on. She also has the same cell phone as me, and being I know little about how it works, that's a bonus.

That afternoon, I taught a huge group how to play Egyptian War (card game). I doubt any of you are reading this, but I really want to than all of my High School friends back home for teaching me this game and playing it almost every lunch time because it was a really good ice breaker. I also learned a new card game that's helpful for learning people's names. I will definitely keep that one for the books. I also want to note, that Egyptian war came in handy the next day two, when I hung out with all of my new friends from Brazil! It became a huge tournament (one to add to the Winter Olympics!): Brazil vs. US. It's all in good fun! I enjoyed hanging out with them after my long drive down the Great Ocean road.

I meet two more American exchange student. I had met Morgan from Montana the day before, and now I know another student from Montana, and one from New Jersey. I feel like when orientation for abroad students rolls around tomorrow, I will know over half the participants! I am so glad to know I will not be walking or sitting alone tomorrow.

Move In Day

February 15th:

Move in day was hot. Getting from downtown to Clayton isn't complicated, but when you are carrying luggage, it can make a five minute walk feel like 20 minutes. I was exhausted when we arrived, going from tram, to train, to bus, yet as soon as we got off a student kindly directed us to where we needed to go.I had a good feeling about this place after that.

There was the whole schpeel of having to get a packet, watch a video, fill out some forms to just get your keys. As soon as we got over with the help of one of the RA's, Kevin, we were able to drop off our stuff in my new home.

Lunch was free, I was getting my first free T-shirt, and my room was on the first floor! Things were looking better and better. The room was much similar to other dorms I have lived in, but there's no air conditioning and the halls are set up different. Instead of having one floor of bedrooms sharing certain public areas like a kitchenette, bathroom and showers, it's a stairway suit. So my room was on the ground level along with the RA's room, and a bathroom. On the next floor there's four more rooms plus a toilet, shower, sink, and kitchenette, then another floor, etc. And this goes on for I think 4 levels. It's quite odd from what I have experienced before. Instead of having a high rise for a building, things are a little more spread out. Now, separate from all of the suits are some public common rooms for all Hall residents. And all of the provided areas are kept up so well, and are much more than I could have ever asked for. It includes, a music room with a piano, a pool room, a game room, a study room, a lounge room, a theater/projector room, a huge almost restaurant like kitchen, a laundry room (laundry must be included in the fees because the units are free to use), and even with all of those rooms listed I think I might have missed a couple!

Of course the first day consists of ice breakers and get to know you games. First, the stairways had meetings and tours of the building. In our meeting, the group ended up making up a really complicated hand shake where each person in the stairway added a piece of the puzzle. I highly doubt I remember the whole thing. In my stairway there are also four other exchange students. One is from China, one is from Malaysia, one is from Brazil, and the last is from the UK. We are a pretty diverse group.

Later on, the whole of Richo (that's what they call the hall; it's short for Richardson Hall) played some games out on the courtyard. My favorite part was when we split up into groups to play the knot game where everyone in the group grabs hands with two of the other people, and then you have to untangle the circle by all facing away from each other. My group couldn't figure out how to get out of our literal twisted predicament, but I suggested a round of NINJA (thanks you to my first roommate for that one), and all the other groups ended up catching on!

We took a break to get free pizza, and I realized there there's a bit of a perk for having a dietary requirement. Vegetarians get a quicker shorter line!

We ended the day with a trivia night, but I cut off short because I still hadn't unpacked, and most importantly I hadn't made my bed (it was already 10pm by then). I wasn't used to how the sheets were, and--in my frustration--just threw them on any which way temporarily. It was a hot day without a fan (there were none when my dad took a trip to the local stores before all of the activities started), so it didn't much matter how well I had made up my bed.

On a final note, I love how sustainable Monash Residential Services (MRS) is. They have reminders all of over the bathrooms about how precious water is, asking you to conserve. They make suggestions for electricity, and other means of conservation as well.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Traveling to Kangaroo Island

February 7th:

My dad rented a car to drive from the CBD in Adelaide to Kangaroo Island. If anyone doesn't remember, Australians drive on the left side of the road just like in the UK. I became the designated navigator. Getting out of the city was hell, yet once we got out to the country the road had entertaining scenery, and there was practically no one one the road on a Friday afternoon. It was much like driving on the coast of California: huge rolling hills directly on one side and a ledge down to the sea on the other. We took our time, stopping for photo opportunities, like olive orchards, and great coastal photos.

On the top of the hill towards the ferry, there were windmills on the hills. It was a wonderful sight. Then, when we got onto the ferry, which had an different rule that only the driver is allowed to be in the car when it drives on to the boat. I had to walk on separately. The inside of it was much like being in an aircraft without the cramped spaces and seat belts.

The first thing we got to do one the way to Kingscote, where we were staying, which is about an hour drive from where the ferry docks, was climb Prospect Hill. There were 59 stone stoeps plus another 453 steps wooden steps to the top. I counted.

On arrival in Kingscote, it felt like the post Apocalypse! It was very remote. There was no wifi, very few cars on the road, no air conditioning, and one grocery store. We had to hang our laundry to dry with a clothing line. Plus we had to hunt for an open restaurant the day we arrived, because most restaurants closed at 7 pm and most stores closed by six, including the information center. I felt so isolated, yet for the time being I was content.

Because my Dad didn't have his games on his iPad or iPhone to keep him occupied after his work was done for the day, hen ended up finding himself with enough time to help me do the dishes and Laundry. And, Dad if you are reading this, you know very well that you was dishes with soap, soap and water, not just water.

Barossa Valley

February 4th: Day left for Adelaide

In the morning, we went back to Jak + Hill for breakfast before heading out to the airport once again. That morning I had my first encounter with the infamous Vegemite! I would describe it as follows: the texture was much like Nutella, while tastes and smells like eating a whole vegetable bullion cube (extremely salty).

The security to get to our  domestic flight from Brisbane to Adelaide was surprisingly easy! While there are some precautions in Australia that weren't there before 9/11, they are definitely more lax about getting into an airport.You don't need to show your passport OR plane ticket! It's a lot like 20 years ago in the US when family would walk in with their loved ones to say goodbye before getting on the plane instead of before they went through security. We didn't have to take out liquids or take off our shoes. My Dad said Australia is the most relaxed airport security he has seen in all his global travels. Although, it's the first time they had asked him to pull out his bottle opener to make sure it wasn't a weapon. And as our trip continued on, Dad got pulled to the side every single time for an individual, "random" search. I don't know what makes him look so sketchy.

February 5th: Wine Tour

We were picked up a little after 9am from the hotel by a bus to travel through the Barossa Valley for our wine tour. Dad was a little worried they weren't going to be on time, yet they promised to be there between 9 and 9:10; they were true to their word.

The first thing I seem to notice about a new environment is whatever music is playing. The song was Blame it on the Boogie by Micheal Jackson, which from then on has become a reoccurring theme song for me as it cropped up twice later on in two different cities! It reminded me of the comedian, Boy with Tape on his Face's, routine.

Then, on the way out of town, I noticed my favorite modern composer was performing at the Adelaide Festival Center, Ludovico Einoudi. And there was an area of town that had decorated the trees with knitted sweaters just like Raleigh, NC had done recently.

The only others on the bus  when we first hopped on were three people about my age. I later learned that two were from Germany, Isabel and Felix, and the other was from Canada, Jackie. They all were staying at the same hostel, yet they had only met the day before and just happened to all be going on the same wine tour the next day.

I think I had the most fun on the tour just because the three younger aged people were on the trip. I probably would have enjoyed myself without them all the same, but that gave variety to the group dynamics, and gave me someone to talk to whom I could relate more.

All three of them were on work holiday visas, backpacking through Australia. I have a lot of respect for their bravery in doing it alone like that, but I know I would never do the same. My travels are little more set in stone, so the comfort of being in a campus community makes me feel secure.

We had multiple stops, and along the way our tour guide and driver, Russel, discussed the geography and history of Adelaide and the Barrossa Valley. He himself had an interesting story. He is originally from South Africa, and on his holiday travels to Greece he met an Australian woman. They fell in love, and the rest is history.

We made a stop at the Whispering Wall, which is a damn that unintentionally made a perfect curve that someone on one end could hear the people on the other end as if they were speaking right beside them.

Russel was the first person to point out the Australia would have been the most boring named country in the world if it were not for the Aboriginal names for things. Everything else was just some word like "Great" or another flourishing adjective in front of the basic name of the geographic location.

I learned a myriad about grapes and wine that I'd never known before. One of the faces I liked the most was that grapes do better when they suffer in arid soil because they go into survival mode and make more seeds and thicker skin. Those two characteristics of grapes are what make up the wine's character over the amount of juice the grapes produce.

Another factoid is that many German Lutherans left Germany when the Lutheran faith wasn't as accepted. They brought their knowledge of making wine with them to Australia. They ended up doing very well, only because during the same time Europe's vineyards began to suffer from an infestation of bugs that could only be eradicated by burning entire fields and starting from scratch.

Much more was said on the tour, but these were my two favorite trivia.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

It's Been a Looong Week

To friends, family, and whomever else reads this, I am sorry it has been so long since I last posted something. When I got to Kangaroo Island, there was no connectivity. It was like living in a ghost town. And then once we got to Sydney, each day was as busy as the first, and once I got back to the apartment, I was to exhausted to do anything but sleep to recuperate for another crazy day.

Before I backtrack, I want to talk about today, February 13th; the day before Valentines day at the last destination: Melbourne. The other cities I have written notes about my impressions and adventures to help me recall it later, but today I didn't do that. First a recap of all the cities I have visited: Brisbane is like Florida, Adelaide is like a coastal town in California, KI (Kangaroo Island) is like a foreign planet (in a good way), Sydney is like New York, and Melbourne is like San Francisco. That's the quickest recap I can make. Now, I am not saying they are perfect comparisons, and Australia is not like America in many ways; these are just the best comparisons I can make for my own understanding and knowledge of the country I hail from.

My first impression of Melbourne was, where's the city? The airport is in the middle of rural no where's land full of trees and yellow grass covered fields. As the express bus took us into closer, we finally met with city heights. Many buildings are covered in bits and pieces of colors. For example there was a building with huge letters that said "Custom"; it was painted like one of those black and white stripped illusions that have the strips not aligning evenly in each row  (up and down) and some parts of the rows (right to left) are thinner or thicker than the rest. On the very same building there were hollow aqua circles on top of the strips that stuck out of the building, and the bottom part of the building--where the doors were--was orange. There was also a building that's revolving door was inside a sphere ball much like the Science Museum in downtown Raleigh but smaller, and multicolored.

Melbourne is definitely less organized (in being initially clear) than Sydney. It's sort of a looser version of the uptight, power hungry feel I got from workers who passed by me in Sydney. This doesn't mean the people of Melbourne don't have that same drive; it just means that they like to bend the rules and let their freak flag fly higher and more visible.

The place we ate at was on trip adviser called "The Long Room." It's name like everything else in Australia is a pretty straight forward description of the location or other marker that would just be an obvious off hand comment to describe the street, shop, bridge etc. If a church is by the bay, it's Bay Church; if the street goes from east to west, it's East West Street,...etc. Therefore you can assume this restaurant was a long room. You'd be right. You could almost miss this restaurant, and I think we were the only tourists in there. It was set in the basement level of what looked like a mall. The lighting was dim, and the seating felt like the VIP room in a club. The bar stretched the full length of the room on the right and a DJ stood behind that. The seats varied from long tables and couches surrounded by a shared coffee table for big groups to shared tables with cold, steel bar stools for couples (two people sat on one end, a  black, Greek column surged through the middle, obscuring the other two people on the other side). It was cold like a cellar, but the music the DJ was playing could be found on my remix playlist on my ipod. There was a section with fire coming from the floor in front of a huge, random moose head. And the area we sat at, which was the odd shared tables with columns through the middle was divided from the couches by oriental  flourished and flowered almost gate-like metal barrier. The served all-you-can-eat tapas for a little less than $30, so it wasn't on a college budget. I will probably never go there again. I loved it, but it's a little pricey. And because it is so popular with the local working class, it took sometimes over 20 minutes for each grouping of 4 tapas choices to come out of the kitchen. It was my first taste of the Melbourne atmosphere in a nutshell.

Before we left for Melbourne, we had some time to chill in Sydney. I had been using public transportation a lot while in Sydney, especially the ferry system. On this day we had officially used every single ferry route possible in the Sydney harbor. It was quite fun to use the waterways as a means of travel, although the wind could get extremely cold in comparison to the actual temperature.

We took the ferry to Cremorne Point. Whenever you walk on the coastline of any of the separate harbors that make up Sydney harbor, all you see are expensive homes that look like beach mansions and castles. It is prime real estate on the beach, so I can only imagine the costs of those places. We took a leisurely stroll on one of the public sidewalks alongside these homes built on their cliff sides out looking the water. There was a distant view of the bridge and the opera house. And the cove had many sail boats docked, like most  of harbor. We people watched and admired the rain forest like foliage. There was an interesting marker on the walk that pointed out an ancient rock overhang where aboriginals used to burn their fire and stay protected from the rain and wind. You could still see the charcoal blackening on the rocks.

We also, enjoyed our very first hearing of the kookaburra call in its natural habitat.

On our way back from Cremorne Point, we had to switch ferry's at Circular Quay, where the Oprah House and tourist boulevard lay. We were taking our time (for once) this morning, and took a detour.We people watched while drinking coffee for the last time before getting back to the apartment to make our final departure out to the airport. It became a game called spot the local. The rules were to search for a local in the crowd of tourists, and they couldn't be a jogger or someone in a work suit. It was an entertaining 45 minutes.

Getting to the airport after saying goodbye to our hosts was probably the worst part of the day, since we had to carry our luggage to the train station up stairs, down stairs, and onto two separate trains because we had to switch. But we made it! I am finally at my final destination.

I promise to reminisce about past events as soon as possible. I definitely have a lot to say, and I want to get it down before I forget the funny, emotional, frustrating, or exciting details.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Koala Sanctuary

February 3th 2014:

To sum up a koala: the only fast movement they make is a yawn. The reason they sleep 20 hours a day is the food they eat, eucalyptus leaves, has such a small amount of sugar and other energy supplying fibers. I will add more details to this post about the other animals we saw.

The bus ride to the Sanctuary was a good 40 minutes. It gave me time to finally realize how the malls set up in Brisbane reminded me of somewhere else I had been. They looked a lot like Puerto Rico. The signs for the stores all sort of look like used car dealership, with bright, big, bold lettering that jutted out of the roof overhang. And everything was just row after row of shops all attached as if they were one store. The malls were nothing like home where you went inside and there were two stories of separate stores and glass doors. There were still glass doors for window shopping, but rarely were their two story malls. I like how some of the names are, too. They must originate from aboriginal names because many of the names had multiple double O's. For example Toowoomba, or Indooroopilly.

When we returned to the CBD by bus, we still hadn't had very much to eat. This had unintentionally been our to-do day. So when we got on the bus to go to West End, we were pretty hungry. The bus we had intended to get on never arrived, but we took an express bus, and I became the official navigator because my Dad's eye sight isn't what it used to be. We were flying a little blind, but one of the streets on the map, Vulture St. was a shoe-win to get us to the man street. Before we got of the bus we hadn't intended on riding, I was smiling and nodding (I am glad this is the bus we took in the end) because the bus driver was singing to songs like "California Dream." I have never seen some many bus drivers who enjoy their job in my life. I took the front door entrance of the bus out just so I could express my gratitude to the drivers good singing! He was a very amicable and helpful to a disabled man who got on with his daughter, too. The was the first and probably last time I have ever heard a bus driver sing.

When we finally reached the main boulevard for West End, the first comment I made was that it was the Australian version of Boone. There were very many odds and ends shops, book stores, record stores, etc. And our lunch became a loaf of bread from the "Organic Sourdough Bread Shop" with a support local shops sign hanging in the window, and apples from the a mini farmer's market. My sister would have loved it there. It was just her style.

On the walk back from West End, I convinced my dad to take a step in the Science Museum. It was a nice break from all the outdoor sight seeing. It had an eclectic display that included a section on the animals and plants (geography) of Australia, dinosaur bones dug up in the deserts of Australia, Aboriginal history, WWII, and an odd section that was just on collections of locals who donated it for people's viewing pleasure. Some people have very odd collections. I will leave it at that.

Family Day

I am now up to February 2nd; it was appropriately our second day in Brisbane. I like that it is easy for me to know how long I have been here just by checking the day. I have taken a little longer to get this far in my trip because even though I have typed out my experience, the wifi service stopped working for me in Brisbane, and the first night in Adelaide, I never got the opportunity to take a hour to get things posted.

I am going to try and catch up to at least the other two days I spent in Brisbane, but it may be another day or two before that happens.

Here we go!

On this particular day my Dad and I were planning on having a family day. Yes, I have a distant relation in Australia!

On our walk to the train station. There were signs and security setting up for filming! On the very street we were living on, it looked like there was going to be a chase scene filiming! We are lucky we left when we did because they looked like a few minutes later they were going to close off the streets.

The train ride was pleasantly quiet. It was during the ride that we realized that Brisbane liked to decorate its city with wall art. It was a beautiful way for the citizens to express themselves in a subtle simple way. It was such a quiet train that they actually had  labeled some of the cars quite carriages for those tired travelers who wanted some shut eye. The cars also said they had wifi available, but my dad soon discovered this was very limited. I enjoyed this time to compare the structure of homes which had mostly tin roofs. I later found out that this used to be a sign of wealth because mining stones and metals like tin is so prominent in Australia. I was happy to observe that were quite a few with solar panels on the roof, too.

When we arrived in Loganlea to meet our relatives, we got so caught up in trying to locate where they wanted to meet us, that we forgot that the temporary go passes we had used not only have to be tapped on when you get on any form of public transportation, but you also need to tap off so that they know the distance you have traveled and charge you based on that. Luckily it only cost us four extra dollars, but I will never make that mistake again because money adds up here.

We had a pleasantly laid back brunch with Inge and her husband Ken and later their son and his wife came by for lunch and to meet us Americans. Everyone was very polite, and the conversations varied from sports, language, politics, road systems, religion and everything in between. It was my first frank cultural look into the lifestyle of Australian citizens. Most of their views and perspectives are quite similar to America. And in some ways Australia is still in its training wheels because they are still in the developing stages of acceptance of immigrants from certain countries (tolerance takes time and certain races have not been in the country as long as they have in America), while in other ways such as their respect for the disabled (they have so many public ways that they make it easier for the blind to walk like any other citizen) and energy usage that they far advance us.

Come late afternoon, we took a short trip to Inges' daughter’s house. Which I learned used to be a truck stop, and sits right next to the train tracks. It was a bit in the bush, much like my uncle’s house. I didn't get to talk to Inge’s daughter, Nicole, and her husband Steve very much, because their children took up all of my attention. All three of them were such sweet kids. They took some time to warm up to me (I didn't expect anything less), but once they opened up the flood gates flowed it was hard to keep track of who wanted what from me. Gabriela, their littlest, was a sweetheart, and she really wanted to share every single toy she owned. She is especially fond of dogs. And when I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up she said she wanted to spend her mornings as a teacher (she had her first day of school recently), and her nights as vet. When we gave the chocolate American money to her she cutely made a mess of her face and hands as it melted all over her. The second youngest, Harry, is the active one. He wanted to know about what kind of car I drove and how much it costs. He also is very confident that when he gets older he will play for the Australian cricket team. He asked me if I wanted to play Uno; we ran out of time before I we could play. Finally, the man of few words, Jayden, took the longest to open up, but I feel that I had the most in common with him when he finally started talking. He reminded me of my sister's boyfriend. He knew a lot about computers for his age. He had taken an old laptop apart, and another one was only the keyboard, yet it could be hooked up to the main computer. He had also set it up so that the mouse could pass from the main computer screen to his tablet computer (windows 8) screen. I had seen this capability before, but I would never know how to set it up myself. I had heaps of fun playing push-me-pull-you as they each asked questions about differences in America to here or they just wanted my attention to play with their toys with them.

(They have chickens. I got to pet one named Penny.)

I later discovered from my Dad's separate conversations that my Dad and I were the first Americans that Nicole's husband, Steve had ever met, and he is as old as my Dad. Also, Inge and Ken hadn't visited the CBD in 10 years, though it was maybe a 20 minute drive away. I do like that they have a sedentary lifestyle, but that still surprised me. 

On the train ride back, I felt I went from a rated G movie scene to a PG-13 movie scene. It was something new for the books, yet I could have lived without seeing this. On one of the stops, two girls who came with some boys were asking where the train traveled. They stepped on, and right away my dad pointed out their apparel was inappropriate. It wasn't extreme, but it looked like one of them was wearing almost a bra top. As the train began to move again, they started to head our direction, asking the passengers they passed for money in exchange for twerking in front of them. I made a quick decision to pretend to be asleep. Since most of the passengers around me were already dozing, I didn't look out of place. To my dismay, they started to twerk their way back to their seats ahead of us. (I will make a quick note that this was also the designated quiet carriages I raved about earlier) As if it couldn't get any worse, they added a tune to their twerking that I cannot forget even if I tried. There were two consecutive rhythms between the words they repeated over and over again, but the sentence was the same every time: "Shake that a** for me. Shake that a** for me." I think I am not wrong in thinking that more people would pay NOT to see that than to see it. I did like that one guy shook his head disapprovingly in response. I felt embarrassed for them.

The rest of the night went along fine. We ended up eating dinner at the restaurant attached to our restaurant called "Jack + Hill." The name is cute, and the fish and chips I had were excellent tasting at an excellent price in comparison to how much they were on some of the bars on Queens Street.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

First Day In Brisbane

I woke up at 5:30 am today, which is normally unheard of, but hey that's 2pm at home. I have a lot to talk about because I have been preblogging notes on my feelings and events that have been going on, but I haven't had access to the internet until now, and last night I was exhausted. I will also apologize in advance if there are any mistakes in this post, because I have a tendency to ramble, and I only have a small window to get my thoughts down. So lets check my notes, shall we?

Day of Before Land:
On January 30 I landed in Los Angles and after waiting in the Business Lounge with my Dad for a few hours, we went down to our gate. What my tired mind decided to observe was what songs were lulling us before we got onto our Qantas flight.  Let's see if you can spot a theme! Celine Dion, John Mayor (Daughters), D.H.T (Listen to Your Heart), Adele (Rolling in the Deep) is the list of songs. What do you thing? Is the airport trying to get us into a pleasant mood? I think the motive here is to prevent angst, exhausted travelers from having terrible outbursts.

The second thing I noticed as a way to entertain my mind while standing around in a limbo between one flight connection and another was that there was a Best Buy Express vending machine! Yes, an all time low for Commercial America. They were hoping that someone would have lost or forgotten their phone, camera, headset, or other important technological necessity for traveling.

I know at this point you are thinking all I am is complaining, but I am rehashing the emotions I felt at that time. And travel can make you cranky. However, if I flashback a little, you would know that I was enjoying some peppery pizza for dinner while chatting with my sister about her internship before she went to bed. Then, while waiting at Los Angle's huge second floor Business Lunge I had one of the softest chocolate chip cookies I can remember, and drinking a Mocha from their fancy coffee making machine, although the coffee made me quite hyper in addition to the adrenalin coursing through my body from the excitement of what was to come. We kept busy with our lay over time of three hours by chatting up about Johnny Cash's history, and we made some attempts at learning the basics of cricket rules. Australian kids probably know more than me about the rules of cricket. I have a little better grasp of it, especially because of its similarity to baseball.

When we finally got off the ground, heading further West across the Pacific, we got our dinners. I was curious to see the results of my dinner because I had decided to try out the online request for a dietary preference. It was called Vegetarian (lacto ovo). What's lacto ovo you might ask? It's quite simple if you break it down, especially for someone such as myself who has studied spanish. Lacto means milk and ovo is for egg, so a Lacto Ovo Vegetarian is a vegetarian who opts to still eat food with milk and eggs. The meal ended up consisting of spaghetti with cheese and a side of a fruit cup and bread roll.

Now, flash forwarding a few hours of watching a Canadian movie I had been wanting to see called "In a World" and playing around with the personal tv which had such a range of options varying from monitoring the flight path to movies, tv shows, music, games, etc. We definitely weren't going to be bored, and I almost didn't need entertainments that I had brought like a crossword and Sudoku book because they were already available. Anyway, I am rambling. I was about to flash forward: it was 2 am in Brisbane, Australia and we had just crossed the equator. We were at the point in our flight where the time left was equivalent to our flight from North Carolina to California. It was the last 6 hour home stretch. I had slept on and off, but I could tell my body was straining to comply with such a long trip, as my muscles ached and were sore for no other reason than the lack of use. The less cramped space of this cabin than the LAX flight now seemed (also literally) miles away as the comfy chairs turned stiff and the fuzzy blankets turned cold. I was grateful that my Dad had asked me to sit on the end seat with the expectation that I would get up to go to the toilet more because it allowed me to have a little extra leg room.

 It was during these parts of travel (the wee hours of the night and halfway through a 13 hour flight) that you ask yourself why are you doing this? Yet, then I started to picture my destination, and extracted myself from my current state to go into Lala Land (I couldn't help it. I to use that description to explain my imagination because that's what my Dad had pointed out was the aptly given nickname for LA) where there's still sun and space in my mind's eye.

My as my preblogging notes said at that time. "Good morning January 31 it would have been to my NC people and a continuum of night and sweet dreams of what is to come, but still out of reach but almost at my fingertips."

Day After Land:
I have lost a day. It's February 1rst, Saturday a little past 10am (though we landed at 8am, but nothing to interesting in between this time frame). The first thought I had when I stepped outside was, "This breeze is delicious!" After feeling like I was going to fall asleep standing up during the pain stacking few minutes of waiting once the seat belt sing was off, I felt refreshed by natural sunlight.

We got checked into our hotel by noon and went out to find some lunch. As we took our 8 minute walk to the main strip, Queens Street, I noticed what a striking contrast of architecture there was in the CBD (Central Business District). Victorian aged buildings from the late 1800's stood side-by-side with 20th century alienesque buildings. There was one building in particular that my dad pointed out was new called the Mereton, but I liked calling the lipstick building because it looked like a gigantic lipstick case with a small, thin, white line horizontally wrapping around the whole center of the cylindrical building for where you separate the bottom from the top of a lipstick case. I also observed the people and their style of dressing. I saw quite a few people with their hair dyed every range of the red color scheme possible. I was also proud to see not one, but TWO women wearing mustache T-shirts, much like the one my Mom got me for Christmas. A huge majority of the people were of Chinese decent, which makes sense, since China is close by. I saw some pre-Chinese New Year celebratory festival dragons (the people who dress as a dragon and dance in a hypnotizing motion) and lanterns.
The outdoor market was very busy since it was a beautiful 24 degrees Celsius with a light breeze, much like Florida weather on a Saturday. There were couples holding hands, friends getting coffee and lunch, and lots of shoppers going from place to place in the close enclosed shopping center (they sometimes call malls arcades by-the-way). Our particular goals were to find some food and buy me a prepaid phone plan. I now officially have an Australian phone number!

That same day, it took some time to find a place that my dad was satisfied with eating at. It became almost a hunt for food like in the caveman days. He had his eyes  so set on eating by the riverside, that when we discovered there wasn’t any place that did that, we were lost (not lost by direction though; Brisbane’s CBD is pretty easy  to navigate). We finally seated ourselves at a restaurant called JoJo’s. It was the most interesting spaghetti I had ever had. I had never experienced spaghetti where there was more vegetables than there was sauce. It was a simple buttered spaghetti, but the contents made it more colorful and great to eat than any sauce ever has. Although, you must remember by this time I would have eaten anything placed in front of me. The contents consisted of peas, stringed carrot strips, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, and (drum roll) pumpkin! The pumpkin was actually really delicious, and I don’t normally like pumpkin out of the squashes I have tried.

The reason it ended up taking so long before we sat down to eat is because we were also hunting for a phone. The optus shop my dad had scooped out before we even got in the country was closed, and another one looked to be under repairs. We ended up realizing we must have walked by the new one twice before we saw it. I now officially have an Australian phone number!

 By 6pm (3am at home), I was a shell of my original self. I felt purposeless. It was like looking at a zombie in the mirror, craving brains but not knowing that’s what I craved. I had a lovely day of walking in perfect weekend outdoor park weather, until walking turned to trudging and trudging turned to dragging (crawling would have been the next level, but that would be an exaggeration). I definitely had mild blisters on my feet, yet the only way we felt most awake was by walking, so we kept it up until after 7pm. Just like finally getting off your bike after a long trek, you don’t realize you’re sore until you get off. And once you do get off the bike, it’s hard to get back on again.