Archive for February, 2011

Sunday Shopping at Paddy’s Market

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Ah Sunday, the day of rest, and if you aren’t tired,  grocery shopping. Wednesday through Sunday in Haymarket (about a ten minute walk from my Glebe residence) Paddy’s Market is open. Paddy’s Market is basically a large warehouse where vendors rent stalls and sell all sorts of clothes, giftware, australian souvenirs(read: TACKY t-SHIRTS), discount (probably illegal) electronics, UGG boots, and all sorts of other odds and ends. If you can manage to hold onto your money past that, you get to the back area which houses the fresh fruit and vegetable stalls.

Yaella (resident of apt 29, the whose internet we have all been stealing) is an orthodox jew, (how do I always find the jews? or how do they find me?) and she and I had discussed on friday that we should check out the market over the weekend because we had heard tell of crazy low prices on locally grown produce. Because she is orthodox she could not do anything on saturday (she isn’t even allowed to use electricity on saturdays, im learning so much about judaism) so we agreed we would go sunday.

We discussed meeting up at 11 am but true to form I slept till 11:30 and we didn’t end up leaving till closer to 1. She was a great sport about it though, and after getting general directions from another girl in our program who had been to the market the day before we were off! Little did I know that I had made a friend who was more directionally challenged than I was. Yaella and I did very well for the first part of the journey (which basically involved going straight until we hit the broadway, the main road through our neighborhood) but then we got a little turned around. Being females, we felt no shame looking for an Aussie who could point us in the right direction.

DO WANT!! Spotted this puppy as we were waiting to cross the street. ADORABLE!!!!

We approached a friendly looking man with two kids and a stroller and politely asked in which direction the market was located. Before he could summon the breath to push out the words to answer us, a burly fellow with tattooed arms literally jumped in front of him and launched into a boisterous and detailed explanation of how to get to the market with a big goofy smile on his face. He was so enthusiastic and seemingly thrilled to be giving us directions we half expected him to rip open his shirt revealing a street map tattooed to his chest and tell us to go around the left nipple and stop when we reached the belly button.

Fortunately Yaella and I had not reared off course, and only needed to make a right and continue down the main drag to reach our destination. We wandered for a few minutes through all the stalls selling clothing and touristy junk. Yaella kept wandering towards the vendors selling Kangaroo pellets. I told her she should get one and put it on the floor in front of a fireplace. Her intention was to snuggle with it. Frankly I think my suggestion was less alarming.

We wandered around quite aimlessly for a few minutes before growing impatient and wanting to know where all this cheap produce we had heard so much about was located. We asked a friendly teenage girl working at an information desk, and on her instructions found it without incident.

Inside the fruit market. There are so many vendors, and most of them are selling locally grown produce which is awesome!

There was an obnoxious amount of produce, it was glorious.

We walked around the fruit market for a few minutes and while I was just marveling at the buffet of colors and smells Yaella was busy using her jew powers of observation and bargain hunting to find the cheapest prices. What she noticed was that the produce stalls located around the perimeter of the market had the highest prices, but the further into the center you walked the cheaper things got. This is why I hang out with jews, I don’t think I would have ever noticed this on my own. Shalom.

I purchased six bananas for $1.50, which in Sydney is an ABSOLUTE STEAL because things here are so expensive. I also split a 60 cent bunch of basil with Yaella because there is only so much basil one can use at a time. I got six tomatoes for $1.30 and 250 grams of dried mango for $4.00. Basically we got away with produce robbery because the prices we found were insanely low. I am never buying produce from the grocery store here ever again. Lesson learned.

We spent at least an hour walking around checking out all the different types of produce. We found all sorts of weird things we didn’t recognize, and some things we did recognize but were weird none the less. I present you with exhibit A:

Giant mutant sweet potatoes. What. The. Heck.

There was lots of Dragon fruit, also known as the strawberry pear. To me these looked like some sort of poison grenade from an alien planet, but apparently they are chinese in origin, I would be very interested to learn how to cook/prepare one.

There was also a fair amount of Papya, also called a pawpaw, which I never knew, even though I grew up singing "The Bare Necessities" from the Disney movie "The Jungle Book"which says "when you pick a pawpaw or prickly pear, when you prick a raw paw, next time beware! Don't pick the prickly pear by the paw, when you pick the pear try to use the claw!But you don't need to use the paw when you pick a pear from the big paw paw. Have I given you a clue?" I feel like my elementary education failed me since it has taken me till my third year of college to properly decipher these lyrics.

After a few hours of bumming around the market we headed back to the apt and Yaella made some homemade soup with the fresh basil, pieces of the mutant sweet potatoes and some rice. It was quite delicious, and she was generous enough to not only allow me to steal her internet from inside her apartment while she was cooking, but let me sample some soup once she was done. I spent the rest of the evening hanging out online and catching up with the roomies. It wasn’t until late that evening that it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to figure out when and where my classes were taking place the next day. I grabbed my laptop and headed out into the hallway and OF COURSE this would be the one time since I’ve been here that the internet was completely down. There are people that will tell you that it doesn’t pay to procrastinate, but it does, it just deals in the currency of agony and stupidity.

I resolved that I would get up early the next day to check my schedule, because there was nothing else I could really do about it. Thusly my lazy and thrifty sunday ended in a brief moment of panic, a sudden realization that I am an idiot, and an equally swift separate realization that there was no use having a panic attack over something I could do nothing about.


Pacific Sun, Surf, and The Best Mexican Food I Have Ever Had

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Today was the first day I have been able to sleep in, and it felt lovely. I awoke around 11 (still way earlier than I get up at home, so there is progress to be made.) After a quick spot of brekkie I grabbed my laptop and camped out in the hallway for a few hours for wifi access. Then I got a call from Matt Ballew, a friend from high school who is also studying in Sydney through a Boston University program. He told me where he was and said that we could meet at the bus station and head to the beach for the day. He didn’t have to ask me twice.

He gave me directions to his apt, which of course I proceeded to get wrong, but a few phone calls and U-turns later I had figured it out and found him and three of his BU friends at the central bus station. We got on the bus towards Bronte Beach, about a 40 minute bus ride, but we were actually headed for Tamarama Beach, which is just a short walk from there. The way beaches work here is that instead of it just being an endless expanse of shoreline like it is on the east coast of the US, the beaches are all these cove type areas, and each one has a different name, although they may be less than 1 km apart, such is the case with Bronte and Tamarama. Even though the beaches are often close together, each one has a different culture attached to it, in the same way that Rehobeth beach has a different culture than Virginia Beach or the Outer Banks.

Tamarama beach is often referred to as “Glamarama” due to the number of gays that tend to frequent its shores. This is of course why Matt wanted to go there. That and because last weekend was the kickoff of the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras celebration, the largest pride celebration in the world, so there are lots of gays arriving in Sydney for the festival. The festivities generally stretch a few weeks, with the official kickoff being in late Jan, and the big street parade in March. The universe has aligned in my favor for this particular celebration as the street parade falls on my birthday!!! I can think of no way I would rather celebrate my birthday than with all the flamboyant gays of Australia in a giant drinking, dancing street parade. I can’t wait to write that blog post, its going to be wild.

So we arrived at Bronte Beach and walked the 1 km over to Tamarama. The views on the way were spectacular.

Bronte Beach

Tamarama

Bronte Beach is where the first surf lifesaver club originated. Surf Lifesavers are volunteers who are trained to perform life-guarding duties, but it is also a social club that hosts competitive surfing events and other social events. The yellow and red tent on Tamarama beach is where they sit. They also post yellow and red flags on the beach and you are supposed to swim in between the flags as that is where the rip tide is not, so it is where it is safest.

The ocean is so brilliantly blue here.

Sunbathers/potential skin cancer victims.

After some swimming and a good amount of catching up with Matt he suggested that I grab my camera and we climb some of the rocks that line the cove. Never having seen real tidal pools this was actually really neat. When we were there the tide was in, so many of the rocks were underwater, but he said at low tide you can walk a good 100-200 feet off shore just by climbing over the rocks.

The rocks were very slippery, but the views were well worth it.

Some of the tidal pools were a few feet deep and so people brought their little children over and treated them like baby pools. Dogs are not allowed on most Australian beaches, but over on the rocks is fair game, so we saw a bunch of dogs playing.

Dogs playing in the ocean!

I wonder how much these houses go for. I would guess minimum an arm, two legs, and your first born son. And thats probably lowballing it.

Tidal pool

Tidal pool wildlife, also Matt's toes.

Sea Anemones!...or rather ocean anemones....?

Ugh. So lovely.

Yep, still reflecting sunlight. Awesome.

After an afternoon of sun and surf we took the bus back to central, and after Matt had changed and rinsed off went to my apt so I could do the same. My roommate Jill ended up talking to Matt for a good 20 minutes about boston related things since she goes to Mass Art College and he goes to BU. Once we left my apt we headed up towards USyd, because on the way is this little mexican restaurant called The Flying Fajita Sisters. While I had been cautioned by my sophomore UMW roommate Mary Cait not to eat the Mexican food here (she studied in Australia last semester and had a bad experience with a burrito where they put parsley on it instead of cilantro) I was willing to put my faith in Matt when he told me that it was amazing. It sounds odd to say, and even more bizarre to have lived the experience, but I had the best mexican food I have ever had…IN AUSTRALIA. This seems completely counter-intuitive, as when you are in rome you should do as the romans, and when you are in Australia you should probably not try to eat cuisine that is from the complete opposite end of the earth, but I did, and it was life-alteringly good.

For an appetizer we had chips with three different dips, made from scratch on the premises. One was some sort of cheese with fresh chilies on top, one was refried bean infused with some sort of delicious spice, and the other was a green mystery dip that was just as mysterious as it was deliciously amazing. All three were served hot, and the chips were also warm and made form scratch on the premises. Because it was a saturday evening I had to of course get a cocktail (T minus six days till I’m legal in the states!) After giving the drink menu a careful look over I settled on a water melon, mint, citrus concoction that had some sort of tequila in it. AHMAZING. Next course was grilled fajitas. Since Matt and I are both vegetarians we opted for the grilled mango and cheese fajitas. I squealed with delight when I saw this on the menu because my love of mango is passionate and endless. However, the addition of cheese is an odd thing that I never would have thought of, but works amazingly well. The outside was crunchy, and the inside was sweet, thick, and had a hint of nutty saltiness due to the cheese. My taste buds reached a state of nirvana somewhere around the second bite.

For dessert we went with fried bananas finished with coconut creme, sprinkled with toasted coconut and white chocolate and a coconut and lime brulee. Words do not express the sheer blissful delight that washed over me with each spoonful. I had truly died and reached culinary cloud nine.

Banana, coconut and white chocolate. Brilliant.

Blurry, but o so tasty. Brulee is french, not mexican, but so wonderfully tasty.

Drinks, chips, and a dinner cruise to culinary nirvana.

After we had finally pulled ourselves away from this small island of mexican heaven we walked back to Broadway st (the main drag that separates where he lives and where I live) we hugged, said our “see you laters” and went our separate ways. I spent the rest of the evening catching up with my roommates and watching odd australian movies on tv. I collapsed into bed around 3 am full and happy. This country continues to surprise me in the most wonderful of ways. I mean mexican food in the pacific on the complete opposite side of the world? WIN.

First Uni Week

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Well, the first week of Uni has officially come to an end!  It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon and I’m about to settle down and prepare some homework for the coming week.

The classes are extremely different from UMW.  Having class only once a week feels very strange, not to mention the fact that each class has a total of 3-4 assignments (final exams work 50%) that make up the ENTIRE GRADE.  It’s therefore probably very difficult to get a good grade. :/

The internet situation at the Student Lodge is getting to be ridiculous.  I’ve been unable to access this blog all week because the internet would just time out.  I will probably have to end up walking to the library on campus every time I need to actually do some work because literally nothing will nicely load here. -___-  How frustrating.

The slow internet prevents me from easily sending e-mail, loading websites, and even videochatting with my parents.  Remind me why I am paying for the internet access?  Ugh.

It wouldn’t be nearly so frustrating if 100% of my school material wasn’t posted online and I can only access it via the internet.  They better fix this crap soon. D:<

A Freshman Once More, Now Internationally!

Friday, February 25th, 2011

So after a week of orientation I got one day off, and in that one day I must have somehow become askew again because I had to go to a different orientation today! I am going to be the most oriented human being by the time I return to the states.

My orientation for the University of Sydney began this morning at 10:30 am, and I had no problem waking up for it. (Miracles do happen, you just need to go to Australia for them to occur apparently) My roommate Courtney and I are both attending  University of Sydney so we set out together and ran into a group of about 10 or so other kids living in our building who were also headed to orientation. The University is about a 20 minute walk from our apt which means I am going to have to carefully budget my time to ensure I get to class on time. (pray for me)

Most of the walk to Uni (as they say in Oz) is through suburban glebe, but once you get to the main drag you cross the road and this is what you see:

Large public park that backs up to my Uni

The fountain in the center is HUGE. We saw a guy showering in it as we were walking to orientation this morning. Although we suspect it was some sort of hazing thing as he did not look like a hobo, more like an idiot.

Once we had walked through the park we moved onto the main campus of The University of Sydney. The main buildings on campus are modeled after Oxford, and even knowing this could not prepare me for the striking similarities. To me, when you say something is “modeled after” something else that means “inspired by” or “in the same style as” but in actuality the main building at USyd is an EXACT REPLICA of the main building at Oxford. The very same building in which the great hall scenes were shot for Harry Potter (the oxford building not the USyd one).

walking up the hill towards USyd. There was a huge club carnival going on which is what all the colorful tents are about.

EXACT replica of Oxford building. USyd was established in 1850, which makes it the oldest university in Australia but a spring chicken compared to many of the universities in the states. It also has a student population of 47,000. Which is nuts.

We were met at the bell tower (the big pointy structure in the center of the above pictures) by the international studies organizer. She was very lovely and had a bubbly personality but a name that I have sadly forgotten. She walked us across campus (our group was about 40 or so once the kids living in the other housing options joined us) to a classroom where she proceeded to go through a powerpoint presentation with us on how we go about adding/dropping classes, finding our schedules online and other administrative issues. We were given our registration paperwork and had to fill out some forms to finalize our enrollment and then she left us in the care of this chubby guy who seemed very bored. His lack of enthusiasm seemed to stem from the fact that he was leaving for vacation as soon as he got through the orientation program with our group (something we were told by the lady who presented after him). People began to ignore him and he didn’t seem to mind as he continued to talk. Once he had finished and told us we were done we all got up with more questions than answers. We were supposed to get our student ID cards, but where ? and how? We were supposed to go to the international student office at 1 to do add/drop but where was that?? Once we got there how did we add/drop? Did this all have to be done today? WHERE WERE WE?!

All these questions would have been nice to get answered, but since they weren’t, me, Courtney and a small contingency of our fellow Glebe-ers set out on the scavenger hunt from hell. Rules of the scavenger hunt: You have a vauge idea of what you need to get, but not a clue as to where it is, how to get to it, where you are, what time you need to have it by, or how to get back to where you started once you have finished. ReadySetGo!

Any of the adult uni employees we asked for help gave very conflicting information. One lady told us that we could not acquire our student ID cards until we had finalized our schedules, which meant going to the international office first. This turned out to be false. A different university adult employee told us to get our Uni ID cards in the basement of the Law Building, this was false as well. Someone else sent us to the international student lounge which is in no way the same thing as the international office. We were also told that we were exchange students, which we are not. Exchange students are students who directly enroll at the university as opposed to doing it through a program as we did. Exchange students are treated differently from study abroad students, which is what we are. This is an important distinction to be aware of when dealing with administrative matters.

Luckily for us Australian students  are super friendly and find bewildered americans endlessly amusing, so we were able to locate the international student office and the student ID services center after 20 or so minutes of trial and error and running around in circles. We had to laugh at ourselves when we discovered the two buildings were basically next to eachother. We asked one australian guy where the ID office is, and he stopped what he was doing to walk us there. They are such a friendly/helpful people.( with the exception of the university employees who deal with international students apparently) So once we had acquired our IDs (and waited in a line that would rival those at the DMV to do so) and finalized our registration at the international student office we spent some time wandering through the club carnival.

In order to join any of the clubs on campus (of which there are hundreds, and there are things like scuba diving club, rock climbing club, rapelling club, cocktails club, basically awesome things that you want to be able to join) you have to purchase a “Uni Access” card for 70$. Having this card also gets you a 15-20% discount at hundreds of local bars, restaurants, and shopping locations. It also gets you all sorts of student discount prices and free stuff. Although I was hesitant to purchase it, when I looked at the brochure that explained all it could be used for it seemed like something that would in time pay for itself, so I ended up doing it. Once you have the access card you get a nifty gift bag with USyd gear in it, which kinda softens the blow that you just spent $70.

I got this towel in my gift bag, its way cooler than I could show in this picture being so close up.

Courtney and I looked into a bunch of clubs but many of them are kinda pricey to join because they go on trips(which is just obnoxious because college clubs are free to join in the US, which is the way I think it should be done, wether that sounds internationally prejudiced or not) but we decided to join a club called “Beat the System.” While this sounds like a political activism thing it isn’t at all. It is actually a music club that puts on local music events. They organize shows with live bands and DJs both on campus and in the community. Plus if you bought a tshirt for 5$ and wore it to any of the events you get a free shot when you come in the door. So now I have a “Beat the System” tshirt- obviously. I mean, free booze? Come on. They really know how to market to college students.

After all was said, done, and oriented, it was about 3pm and we hadn’t eaten lunch yet. Courtney, Lindsay (who lives in the only apt that has internet right now) ventured back to our Glebe residence, and stopped on the way at this adorable outdoor cafe called BYO. I got a pumpkin, sun dried tomato, capcium, brie, and eggplant sandwich on wheat bread (they don’t use white bread here, at least not that I have been able to find) and it was DELICIOUS. I also had a pumpkin, squash, tomato salad on the side. It was an amazing lunch. The amount of healthy food options here is glorious. And when the check comes, you just leave the money on the table because there is no tipping. Minnimum wage here is 12-18 dollars, and increases depending on your skill level and age.

My Beat the System tshirt (punny!) and USyd ID card. I am official now!

After our cute and healthy lunch we headed back to the apt and Lindsay (the fabulous human being that she is) showed me a sketchy website that enables me to watch Glee and all my television shows overseas. We are going to be best friends, I can already tell.

A Pacific Playland

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

UNSW courtyard

Today was the first day where I had no scheduled activities. It felt odd to be set loose in this wonderful city and have nothing but my whims to guide me. Of course the first place my whims wanted to take me was the beach. It was 85 degrees and sunny today, the ocean beckoned.

Jill needed to get some administrative things taken care of at the University of New South Wales, which is close to Coogee beach, so I told her I would tag along and we would navigate the Sydney bus system together so long as we got to end the day at the ocean. She agreed and we were off.

The bus stop is less than a 6 minute walk from our apartment, and being a beautiful day (read: LOW HUMIDITY, a blessing I do not take lightly growing up in the sweaty hell pit that is Virginian Julys) the walk was very pleasant and the suburb we live in is quite cute. The tricky part about getting on the bus is buying the bus pass, which wouldn’t be hard if anyone who worked in grocery stores in this country spoke English. Much like in the United States, Australia seems to have a problem with the lower income inhabitants not bothering to learn the native language. Such is the case with most of the grocery store owners across the city it would appear. We spent a good 8 minutes trying to explain that we wanted one way student bus passes to zone 3. I don’t know what this small asian grocery store owning woman thought we were asking for, but she seemed very flustered by our request and didn’t understand enough to grant it until we had repeated ourselves in at least six different ways with animated hand gestures.

With bus passes finally in hand we found the bus we needed and 25ish minutes later arrived at the University of New South Wales. We had to ask some friendly aussies for directions to the main admin building, but once we found it Jill was able to take care of everything she needed to do quite quickly and without difficulty. I was kinda amazed at the ease at which we were able to accomplish everything. American universities could use a crash course in university management from the aussies.

I thought this was really unique looking

Apparently childrens cancer is a huge issue in Australia. I saw a poster on the UNSW campus that said by your 16th birthday your chances of surviving a cancer have decreased by 50% or something like that. I though this logo looked alot like the street artist Banksy.

UNSW Logo

UNSW walkway. The whole campus is very modern.

After getting all of Jills academic issues sorted out it was time to find the beach. We were told by a student guide at UNSW that we should take a bus, but looking at the map we decided we would save the money, enjoy the beautiful day and just walk. The nearest beach was Coogee, and with a map in hand we headed for the shore.

We probably walked a little under a mile, but just as we were getting tired we saw the ocean peaking out ahead of us. Suddenly our strength was renewed and we booked it the last .25 miles or so all the while watching the water line draw closer to us.

Getting close!

SO CLOSE!

COOGEE BEACH!!!

We spent several GLORIOUS hours at the beach. It was a warm day with low humidity ( it doesn’t have to feel like you are inside someone’s mouth when you walk outside?! WEIRD.) We swam in the pacific ocean and watched all the surf school students paddling out. They had some monster seaweed in the surf there but otherwise the sand was white and the ocean was blue and the houses in the surrounding area were adorable.

THE PACIFIC OCEAN!! I wish I could adequately describe the excitement level I was experiencing in this picture but I feel like my face says it all.

My darling roomie

What a perfect way to end a day.

On our way back from the beach we stopped in this very small privately owned pizza place for dinner. It was completely adorable and as we were sitting there families were coming in and shaking hands with the owner and ordering “the usual” it was adorably quaint. Of course getting home was tricky as we had walked from UNSW after taking a bus and now would need to find a bus station and a different bus route. Despite our best navigation skills (read: Jills, not mine as I am well aware of my limitations and they certainty include navigation of any kind) we managed to get lost. But the wonderful thing about getting lost in Australia is that the people are super friendly, the weather is warm, and the scenery is wonderful. So even though we ended up wandering around the city for about an hour and a half we didn’t really mind. As it got dark I finally suggested that we catch a cab, and within moments of deciding this one pulled up next to us, we climbed in and zipped home to glebe.

We were both laughing about it and ended up seeing a good portion of the suburban areas of the city, including two of the big parks here. I guess it is true what they say, not all who wander are lost. We thought we were lost but really it turned out to be an adventure. Once we got back to the apt we were exhausted from a long day of sun, surf, and sightseeing so after a few hours of catching up with our other roomies and internet-ing we passed out. Another day in Australia extremely well spent.

The southern hemisphere sun is intense. It requires a cool demeanor.

Checking Out, Moving In

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

With orientation having come to a close it was time to get situated into what would become my life in Sydney. At 10 am I met up with the other students who elected to live in Glebe, which is a suburban area in the northern part of the city.

The bedroom I was leaving in the Metrion World Towers

Incredible views of Sydney from my hotel room for Orientation. The white circle looking thing in the upper right hand corner is the olympic stadium

Stunning Sydney views from the 72nd floor

My apartment in Glebe where I will be spending the next four months is very nice, and a lot more than I was expecting out of temporary student housing.

New bedroom in Glebe apt! One guess as to which bed is mine.

Out my window on the second floor.

One of the many birds of this variety that frequent the tree outside my window

Kitchen/living room/ roommates.

Kitchen with our nifty space age dishwasher drawer. Its the silver thing to the left. Its a drawer that pulls out. Whenever we put dishes in it we say we are sending them to space.

Our living room. We are going to treat the wall behind the couch as an ongoing art project and keep adding to it as the semester goes on.

Bathroom! The steam shower has a waterfall shower head that is DIVINE.

My lovely roomies. Jill (the feisty brunette) and I share a room while Kayla is living with our other roommate Courtney who was stuck in New Zeland due to the earthquake when this picture was taken

SO after I got moved in and situated to my apartment I of course wanted to get on the interent because I had been without it for five days (read: an eternity) but only one apt had their internet already set up, number 29, and I live in apt number 18. Since we were all told this, the kids living in my building have taken to sitting in the hallway to steal the wireless connection from apt 29, the inhabitants of which have been great sports about it. Its actually turned into a funny bonding experience and a quirky way to meet people. So after catching up with the world via wireless internet connection Jill and I set out to find groceries. Our apt is about a 10 minute walk from the main shopping mall here which houses a grocery store and a K-mart and Target. As you can see only the absolute best parts of American culture  have made it to Australia.

We purchased a few household items like a bath mat, hand soap for both bathrooms, extra pillows, and a shower organizer. Then we made our way to the grocery store and spent the next hour or so trying to figure out what was what. There are almost no american brands to be found in an Australian grocery store, which turns grocery shopping from a menial task into a grand guessing adventure. I think we may have gone a little overboard in terms of number of items purchases as we were loosing circulation in our fingers about 4 minutes into our 10 minute walk back to our apartment. Never the less we made it back with all of our digits in tact.

Once all the groceries were put away and we had settled in it was about dinner time. Jill and Kayla were very sweet and made three cheese tortellini with chunky tomato sauce and salad for dinner. My contribution to this, since I was told that it was their meal to cook, was a frozen tirmasu that we all ate with spoons out of the plastic container. It was a wonderful bonding girly thing to do. After the dishes had been put away in the dishwasher drawer and a few more hours had been spent sitting in the hallway stealing the wireless connection from apartment from apt 29 my two roommates and I along with one of the residents of apt 29 set out in search of some nightlife in Glebe.

We walked past a few sketchy looking dives illuminated by neon lights and not wanting to sell our bodies on this particular evening landed instead at a karoke bar. Based on the miniscule population sample I observed at this random bar I am prepared to force the following mass generalizations upon the entire population of Australia.

1) most australians appear to be tragically tone deaf and without a sense of rhythm even when not intoxicated

2) They do not produce any music in this country, either that or nobody likes australian music, as every song we heard was from the US.

and

3) Australians dance like awkward elderly white people. Meaning, with lots of peculiar hand motions and without touching the person they are dancing with at all. It’s kinda precious, they are so adorably innocent seeming even at their most inebriated.

We stayed until last call and then sang our way all the way back to our apt building. Exhausted, we all fell into bed still chatting about anything and everything.

Any reservations I had about this trip, or feelings nervousness I felt in the days prior to leaving seem far away from me now. I am so excited to be here and get to know all the people who I have met. I am so glad everyone in my life pushed me into doing this when I wavered, I am so glad I did.

Over and Under the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Tuesday was another early morning that I had no trouble getting up for (I don’t think I will ever get used to that). Today we were scheduled to climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge. This is a very pricey activity that we had the good fortune of being able to do on the cheap because we bought group tickets for a group of 80+. Normally I think it costs $180 a climb, and ours was less than half of that.

After waking and meeting in the lobby of the hotel we all boarded a bus and were taken to the Sydney bridge climb headquarters, which is located at the base of the bridge. http://www.bridgeclimb.com/

We were in groups of 14 and went into the processing area at 15 minute intervals. The first step is to get breath tested. If you blow a BAC of over .02 you are not allowed to climb. This is the legal limit for judgement impairment in Australia, and obviously if your judgement is impaired you have no business climbing a bridge at 9 in the morning. Our orientation leader told us that every year somebody failed this, and this year was no exception. Some frat boy bro from Maryland (there are an OBNOXIOUS amount of people from maryland here, and they all seem to belong in frats and be idiots. One girl said ” I only brought shorts and tank tops to this trip, I didn’t realize it got COLD HERE” I mean, did she do any research into this country other than to find out she would be legal to drink and the boys had accents?? I have never had a reason to dislike maryland but some of the people here are providing me with one.) failed the test. He was escorted back down to the lobby area where he had to wait a good 4+ hours for everyone to finish their climbs.

While waiting in line to go into the processing area we were all given lovely blue Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb hats with special clips on the back of them that would attach to our jumpsuits for the climb

Very sexy hat.

Once you passed the breath test and filled out a form declaring any medical issues everyone was given a gray jumpsuit to wear over our clothes. The jumpsuit is  very specific color of gray as to match with the bridge and not detract from tourists taking pictures of the bridge. Whoever came up with the color to paint the bridge certaintly did not work for crayola as his most creative idea was “sydney harbor bridge gray.” Who hires these people? WHere can I get a stupid easy job like that? It would be like working at a kitchen appliance naming institue. You just say what the thing does and add er. WHat does this do? that toasts, o well then thats a toaster. What does this do? that refrigerates, o well then thats a refrigerator. I’m going on break!

You were only supposed to wear a shirt and underwear under them so we were sent to a bank of changing rooms to do this and then assigned lockers to store our personal belongings. Next we were given harness belts that had a clip on them that would connect us to the railings as we climbed. There is never a point on the climb where you aren’t fenced in, but this is a precaution as it can get quite slippery and windy up there.

Next we were given two bags to clip onto our belts, one containing a rain jacket and one with a polar fleece. These came in handy. Next you are given a radio with a headset so you can hear the climb leader when you are out on the bridge since you walk in a single file line and its very windy. Once everything was clipped and secured to our person including hats and sunglasses it was time to climb! The whole process from check in to return takes about 3 hours, most of that is the climb, which isn’t scary at all. You are very secured and there are railings everywhere. Meanwhile, as you walk the tour guide provides information about the creation, maintenance, and history of the bridge.

I learned that when the bridge was built in the 1930s nuts and bolts were thought to be to expensive so the bridge is constructed with 6 million steel rivets. The Eifel tower by comparison only has 3 million. It is the worlds largest long span bridge and it is the tallest steel arch bridge in the world, measuring 134 metres (440 ft) from top to water level. The granite pylons at either end of the bridge are purley cosmetic, and hold no structural importance to the bridge itself. During its construction only 6 people died, which considering there was no use of safety harness or safety nets of any kind is hella impressive. The total cost of building the bridge was 10 million dollars and this was not paid off until 1988 when construction officially began in 1923.

The way the climb works is that you go up one side, across the summit and then come down the other side. Since you are not allowed to take any loose articles with you nobody had cameras. You do get a picture taken of your whole group at the summit but since I am without a scanner I can’t provide that here. Instead here are some other peoples pictures that I am shamelessly lifting from various places on the internet. Enjoy.

Lovely gray suits that everyone is given. These guys make them look far more attractive than they actually are.

The climb is very steep at the beginning and at the end but in the middle things even out and its more level. The views were spectacular even though it started to rain once my group got to the summit.

Despite the fact that it was overcast and rainy for a majority of the climb I somehow managed to get a very mild sunburn on my face. After the long climb we were taken back to the hotel for free time (read: NAPTIME)

At 4:30 we walked down to Darling Harbor for a harbor dinner cruise which would mark the end of our orientation. We cruised for 3 hours and watched the sunset over the harbor. Again, spectacular views and an amazing day. If I keep having days like this I may never come back to the US. 

The Orientation Process Continues!

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

I don’t know what is causing this but everyday almost everyone is waking up around 6 or 7 am without an alarm, myself included. I am sure it has something to do with jet lag/being on the wrong time zone but its a very odd feeling to wake up and have no idea why. Usually when this happens to me its 2 pm when I needed to be somewhere at 9am, so I ususally wake up in a panic and scramble to find some device that tells time to confirm my fears. While the fleeting moments of panic are still there I have been pleasantly surprised to find each time I found a clock that I have woken up 1-2 hours earlier than I needed to.

SO in other words, this country has caused nothing short of a miracle to occur in my life. Let us all pray this blessing does not soon pass.

The first order of business when I awoke for day two was to find my luggage! Luckily it had in fact arrived when they said it would, and was waiting for me in the lobby of our hotel at the concierge desk. I have never been happier to see suitcases in my whole life.

I scampered upstairs with my suitcases bounding behind me and quickly found my shampoo and clean clothes. This was blissful.

45 minutes later it was time to head down to meet up with the rest of the group. Today was going to be all about living in the city and learning where things were. Our tour guide Russ, a native Aussie took us on a three hour walking tour all over the city. We started our tour in Hyde park which is very central and houses the Australian War Memorial.

Australian War Memorial

This building has four corners and there is a statue on each one. A member of the airforce, marines, navy and the fourth one is a woman. Russ was explaining that Australia was the first nation to grant women the right to vote, and that equality has always been a big part of AUstralia culture. Since women ran the country while the men were away at war during every major conflict, they are featured on the memorial. Inside of it is a sunken statue of  solider. It is sunken in so that you have to bow your head to look at it, assuming a position of reverence. The statue has three sets of hands supporting it that represent his mother, his wife, and his daughter. These women symbolize the past, the present and the future of Australia.

Also in Hyde park is this statue of James Cook. Much like Christopher Columbus he did little more than stumble into a large land mass, mistake it for something else, and get credit for finding it when someone else was already there. Essentially he is the Christopher Columbus of Australia. Why we can’t properly credit people for discovering our countries baffles me. I took the picture from this angle because our tour guide showed it to us from this angle and made some interesting comments about his….telescope.

As we made our way downtown towards the shopping district we could see the Sydney Observation tower. At the top there is a very fancy revolving restaurant. Being that the hotel we were already staying at was 80 floors high we were told not to waste our money to see the views from atop this thing as it would be expensive and no better than the ones we already had in our hotel.

This is part of the shopping district. Almost all the stores are located in open air alleyways like this. They are really quite beautiful and you can just wander in from the street without having to go through doors.

Throughout Sydney there are a bunch of public parks that feature the work from local artists. The design in this fountain that Russ is standing in front of is from a local artist. Also- since the soil in Australia is so nutrient poor the trees there never loose all their leaves completely since they don’t have the recourses to replace them all at once like the trees in the US do. Instead they loose a few all year round.

We also walked through the Botanical Gardens. When you first walk in the sign says “feel free to pick the flowers, climb the trees, walk on the grass and feed the animals” I thought this was really refreshing how they encourage a hands on experience when in the United States it would be very “NO TOUCHING”. The big white bird in this picture is really like the pigeon of Sydney. THese things are EVERYWHERE. They are very friendly and will eat out of your hand. Here, Russ is demonstrating how they will sit on your shoulder and eat out of your hand if you let them. They have a particular fondness for banana bread we found out. Many of the students tried this, one guy even had about 4 birds on him.

The botanical gardens back up to Sydney Harbor, where the famous sydney bridge and opera house reside. Of course everyone wanted a picture of this stunning view. I’m fairly certain all 80 kids from my program have this exact picture only with a different person in the foreground in every one.

Harry's Meat Pie Stand. These things are world famous apparently. None of our group was incredibly blown away by them. They were kinda bland, and not great food for an 80 degree summer day.

After our walk around the city we stopped at Harry’s meat pie stand for lunch off of the Harbor. Supposedly these things are amazing and quite famous in Sydney. I didn’t eat the tradition version, because it has meat in it, but instead opted for a veg version.

Harry's Meat pies with potato, mash pea, and gravy. Mine was a vegetarian one. Obviously this is not mine because I would never put coke zero (read:POISON) into my body.

It’s like a pot pie with a serving of mashed potatoes and smooshed peas on top covered in gravy. Its good but certainly not the life changing experience it was built up to be.

After lunch we all were loaded onto a bus and taken to Featherdale Wildlife Park http://www.featherdale.com.au/

It is a very nice facility that is a hybrid between a park and a zoo. While the birds and more dangerous animals were kept in cages the more docile ones were allowed to roam within the permitters. So you could be looking at a pretty exotic bird in a cage and all of a sudden a kangaroo goes bounding past you. Its really awesome. This darling little guy was the first animal we met. He is a newborn baby wallaby, and very sleepy as you can see. But o so incredibly soft and cuddly.

Baby Wallaby

There were also Koalas EVERYWHERE Almost all of them were sleeping in trees, which looks very funny and uncomfortable but they don’t seem to be bothered by it in the slightest.

To me they kinda look perpetually hungover. But also very cute and cuddly. And so incredibly soft.

The Kangaroos and Wallabys are very docile creatures and do not mind at all if you play/pet them. They are very friendly/indifferent. Also super soft. I think one of the major genetic traits of marsupials is that they are really soft.

tiny penguins! They huddled in a little group like this and it was adorable. I was so tempted to scoop one up and let it live in my bathtub for the next four months.

My favorite. So beautiful

Being that Australia has been so isolated from the rest of the world biologically the animals have evolved quite differently, or sometimes very little evolution has taken place at all. This lizard is a very close decedent of the dinosaurs, and he looks it too.

This crocodile is MASSIVE. The inclusion of the girl on her cell phone in this picture was intentional to give it some sense of scale. It was FRIGHTENING to be that close to such a gigantic and ferocious creature.

These guys are wonderfully fuzzy. And as long as they can still get to their food they don't really care what happens to them.

kookaburra!

So after we finished up at the wildlife park we went back into the city and had the rest of the night off. I went with some friends out to dinner at a sushi bar. I am not a big fan of sushi but they were very hell bent on having some since it is so plentiful and cheap in sydney. The quality of fish here is also a lot better than it is in the states. The water around Australia is actually very clean. SO clean in fact that they have begun to attract sharks. While this may seem alarming and unrelated, if the plankton and organisms at the bottom of the food chain have food to eat and can swim in the water then they attract bigger organisms, and this goes all the way up the food chain. So if you have a body of water that is attracting large predators like sharks you have a very flourishing and healthy ecosystem. So if you ever get bit by a shark, look on the bright side, you were swimming in a very healthy ecosystem when it happened!

So after my sushi dinner experience I have gone from a casual dislike of sushi to a passionate one. Luckily it was cheap and I didn’t waste too much money discovering this. After that some poeple elected to go out, but after a long day of marsupials and walking I was quite exhausted and decided to hang out with some friends in the hotel and then call it a night.

Pre-Production Blog

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Here’s a quick run through of the ideas I have for the opera:

  • Given that we have a large number of vocalists and a small number of instrumentalists I would suggest we focus on vocal melody over rich instrumentation.
  • Having looked over some of the other pre-production entries I think Sarah’s idea of using leitmotivs is a very good one and would play to the strengths of everyone involved.
  • I think it would best, and possibly easiest because we have no English majors in our group, to adapt a pre-existing text. We could either adapt it and create our own libretto or adapt say a play and take the libretto from the source. The latter is dependent on how comfortable our composers are with using already written text, but either way I think it would be a good idea to consider using something that’s already written as at least a foundation for our opera.
  • Finally, given our numbers and given the space we have available to us I think it might be a good idea to consider doing a more stripped down opera instead of something along the lines of grand opera or Wagnerian style music drama. While we could incorporate musical elements from both styles, in terms of staging and production it’s unlikely we could pull either style off well given the above restrictions and also the comparatively limited amount of time we have to put all of this together.

. Hopefully this will be helpful as we put together our opera. Nora

Getting Oriented: Turning Right Side Up In the Land Down Under

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Getting Oriented Via Orientation

After being picked up from the airport we were taken to a hotel conference room at the Vibe Hotel in downtown Sydney. We were given the chance to pick up pre purchased cell phones or buy one ourselves and then were given an overview of what would happen for the next few days.

Then we were given our hotel room assignments and our roommates and walked over to the hotel we were actually staying at which was a block or two down the road. While everyone else struggled to cross streets and get into elevators with their luggage, this was not an obstacle for me seeing as I was still without mine.

Our hotel accommodations for orientation are at the Meriton World Towers, which is GORGEOUS. It is one of the highest buildings in Sydney and no one in our orientation group is on a floor below 68. The rooms are more like apartements, each one consisting of a full kitchen, three bedrooms, a common room with couches, tv, and dining area, two full bathrooms with steam showers and Jacuzzi tubs and a washer and dryer. And all of this is set on a backdrop of the whole city. The views from every window of our room are spectacular. From my bedroom window I have a sweeping view of the whole city clear to the ocean. I can even see the Olympic stadium. At night it is even more stunning.

We were given a few hours to shower and change before we had to be back downstairs for dinner. Not having any clean clothes to change into I washed the ones I had on and then put them back on after I had showered. Once back downstairs we were led downtown to Darling Harbor where we had our first meal at the Yellow Bird Café which faces the water.

We were encouraged to order Kangaroo off of the menu. Apparently there is a national movement to eat more kangaroo meat since it has only 2% fat and a much higher protein content than traditional beef. Kangaroos are also not farmed or raised commercially; they are just so plentiful that they can be caught out of the wild. I didn’t order it, but almost all the boys did and the consensus seemed to be that it tasted a lot like steak, but since the fat content of it is so low it can’t be cooked for very long, so it is served fairly rare.

While I passed on the kangaroo I did not pass up an opportunity to get my first legal cocktail. I felt so dangerous ordering one. But here in Australia where the drinking age is 18 I am legal and apparently they are not nearly as uptight about carding as they are in the US. I ordered a drink called a “greek date” which had mango liquor in it along with lime, lemon, peach and something else. It was quite tasty, and the view we had of the ocean only made it that much better.

It is an odd thing that happens when you put a large group of people together who do not know eachother, but they tend to typically separate by gender. It’s like kindergarden all over again, they boys sit with the boys and the girls sit with the girls. At dinner our group of 80 or so were given four very long tables to sit at. There were three tables of mostly girls and one table of mostly guys. There were a few exceptions but generally speaking you would think we were afraid of cooties or something.

After dinner we were given the rest of the night to do as we pleased. While a few people wanted to go out and explore the nightlife, I knew that jet lag was soon to catch up with me and deliver a swift kick to the arse, so I headed back to the hotel and checked on the status of my luggage. The front desk informed me that it would arrive that night between 7-10 pm, and since it was close to 9pm at the time I figured I could stay awake till 10. Wrong. I attempted to watch television for about 4 minutes before beginning to nod off and then I finally gave in and crawled into bed. Seconds after my head hit the pillow I was fast asleep….