Thursday, December 4, 2008

Last few days

So, I am sitting in the computer lab with my friend Anne. Our last few days in Australia have been spent not doing much...last minute souvenir shopping and attempting to make meals out of all the food her roommates, who have already gone home, have left in her apartment. Also, watching TV. (We're trying not to spend money.) It's strange saying goodbye to everybody, but it also is making me excited to go home myself. It's been a really awesome semester overall, and I'd recommend studying in Australia for anyone thinking about it, definitely.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Adventures in Sydney and Cairns

This will probably be a pretty long entry...

First of all, a couple weeks ago I got to see Australian Idol LIVE. It was amazing; my friend Anne got free tickets and decided to take me and our friend Claire. I was so excited; I've never seen any TV show live, and Australian Idol seemed so incredibly more exciting to see live than American Idol, even though I haven't actually been following the show here.

We waited in line for probably three hours before they let us in. The studio was tiny! We volunteered to go in the "mosh pit" which was basically four rows of screaming teary-eyed teenage girls in front of the stage (some with signs!) My two favorite parts of the show were watching the hosts read off the teleprompter, and the way the producers attempted to entertain the audience during commericials. It was all very exciting. The show was the final three performing two songs each. I was surprised that all three were male...but actually, not so surprised when I took the demographics of the audience into consideration. Anyways, I found myself (frighteningly) becoming an Australian Idol fangirland desperately reaching my hand out to try to touch these Australian celebrities every time they came over to high five the girls in the front row. I failed at this, being near the back of the crowd. However, at one point I was successfully able to reach my hand over the crowd and poke Mark, the bald contestant, on his head. The most popular of the three with the mosh pit girls was, by far, Wes (at the end of the show he was my favorite as well) and a week later he ended up winning the title of Australian Idol. But yes, it was a quite random but very fun night.

But, even more exciting was that, because of the fact that I worked two jobs this semester I was able to go to Cairns for a week, the 19th to the 26th. I went with my friend Claire, and it was the most amazing week ever. We spent a great deal of time just swimming - in the pool at our hostel (Geckos backpackers; it was really nice and I'd definitely recommend it), at the "lagoon" a giant, pretty public pool, and in the ocean. We, of course, snorkeled at the great barrier reef during one of our first days in Cairns. At first I had a bit of trouble with this, as basically the boat stopped in the middle of the ocean and we jumped out with our snorkels and fins on. It was then that I remembered that I am an awful swimmer and I clung to the side of the boat for dear life. Eventually I obtained a small floating device which I tied around my waist, but I was still unable to handle the huge waves. Eventually one of the guides threw down one of those floating rings, and I hung on to that. It turned out to be a pretty sweet deal as she snorkeled with me, pointing out fish and coral of interest, and I was able to...you know...not drown.

A lot of the trip was spent lounging on the boat, which is where I realized why Queensland has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. I, not lie, reapplied sunblock at least three times over the course of the day, and came home from the trip super excited about seeing one of the great natural wonders of the world, but with the worst sunburn of my entire life.

The next morning I woke up at 3:45am to go on a hot air balloon ride. I was SO EXCITED about this, as going on a hot air balloon ride has been a life goal, a dream of mine since I was probably about six or seven. They do the balloon rides so early in the morning because that is when the wind is the least strong...or something like that. Luckily, the fact that I was soooo so excited made getting up so early bearable. The shuttle driver brought us all to the site, and it was crazy foggy out. There was talk of the flight getting canceled and I was really nervous that it would happen. But it didn't, and soon I was climbing into a hot air balloon basket, one of the largest hot air balloon baskets in the entire world, with a number of Japanese tourists and a girl from California, who, weirdly enough, had been on my boat cruise the day before and who immediately recognized me.

The flight was amazing. Absolutely incredible. You can see pictures here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2020261&l=6c409&id=22702016
Along with some other pictures from my Cairns trip.

After the flight we all got to help pack up the balloon which was a very interesting an amusing experience in itself. Then they treated us to breakfast. At the breakfast site there was a man with a bunch of animals; I wasn't quite sure what he was doing at the breakfast site but we got to hold his owl and a baby crocodile.

The next day I went bungy jumping. That was terrifying. I went with Claire; it had been my idea but she said she'd come along. Of course, when we were on the top of the platform I was the one completely freaking out with Claire comforting me, telling me it's just like a high diving board. She jumped first, and afterwards she told me that she had said to the guy "I don't think I can do this" and he had blocked her way back off the platform and had just started counting down. I thought that was kind of funny. I was really nervous, but I never thought about backing out of it. Even so, when I was on the end of the platform, about to jump off, I still couldn't, in my mind, comprehend that I was really going to jump off this thing. Of course, the guy starts counting down....5,4,3,2,1...and you have no choice but to jump. You can't just be standing there when he gets to one. Still, in my absolute terror I forgot to breathe as I jumped and it ended up being somewhat painful feeling in my chest. I was also terrified I was going to die. Which I didn't. And the adrenaline rush afterwards was so awesome. Oh, and I bought the DVD. If you wanna see my bungy jump I'm more than happy to show you haha.

The next day was more of a chill out day, exploring the town and the beach. The day after Claire went on another reef trip but me, too cheap to pay all that money again, went through every brocure in the hostel looking for the cheapest tour I could find. I ended up finding a really cheap all day tour and decided to go on it, and I ended up having an amazingly fun day. The tour guide, this guy named Stewie, was maybe a little nuts, but he cracked me up. Weirdly enough, nobody else on the tour seemed to find his jokes all that funny but I thought he was hilarious. Like, we passed a cementary and he said, "Hey guys, this is the dead center of town!" Well, I thought it was funny.

We explored the rainforest/jungle type areas (and saw the famous "stinging tree" which, apparently, if you touch you experience awful awful pain that lasts six months and has led many dogs and horses to suicide) and went swimming at this beautiful waterfall. Also we were all forced to lick this bug that tasted like lemon. Stewie kept climbing up really high and jumping down into the water which made us all really nervous as the water was not very deep and the bottom of the water covered in rocks. He didn't die. He also didn't wear shoes the entire day which was sort of interesting. At one point he said to me, "Aly, give me your camera and I'll take a picture of you," and he did take a picture of me. Later I looked through the pictures on my camera and to my surprise, before the picture of me there was a picture of him sticking his tongue out he had taken when I wasn't looking. I laughed out loud.

Basically it was just a really entertaining day, and it was cool to hang out with a real Cairns local. It just always fascinates how I end up loving the cheap tour the best.

Today I went to a YouTube gathering in Sydney. I found out about it on youtube and I couldn't not go, even though I'm not exactly a huge youtuber, and I also don't watch the videos of anybody who was there. (I had hoped to meet Frezned, but apparently he had to go to a wedding instead). Anyway, I went with my friend Anne, who doesn't use youtube at all, and basically it was just awkward. We kind of just stood around watching people, not sure what do to. I ended up talking to this one guy, Fredrick, because we had the same sunglasses. He is that guy on youtube who does that special effect to his eyes to make them look huge. Anyway, he taped me for a couple seconds and said he is going to put me in a video so I will have to keep a look out for it haha. He has like 7,000 subscribers! Oh...youtube. Anyway, Anne and I ended up ditching it pretty quickly and went to Chinatown and got delicious Thai food and I was a happy girl.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

OBAMA!

I watched the election coverage this morning, which was really interesting because it was this Australian news station, but they mostly just kept switching over to the American coverage. Then they would do a bit of commentary, and they talked about things like how electoral colleges work and such. Very interesting. It's times like these I wish I lived with Americans, or even Australians, as the guys I live with did not seem at all interested in the election (or maybe they were just really busy?) They are from India, China (possibly Korea?), and Germany.

Anyways, I had to go to class eventually. Luckily, a girl in my class was receiving text message updates every 2 minutes on her phone regarding the election. And so she told the entire class Obama won when she got that text. Oddly enough, although there are three Americans in my small class of about 10, it was an Australian girl who was getting these every 2 minute text updates. It's amazing to me how incredibly interested Australians are in American politics compared to...most Americans?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Unexpected Surprises

1. I have two part time jobs. In Australia. I've never had two part time jobs at one time in my entire life. I think all of my English lesson writing for fourth graders is actually helping to improve my own spelling in a weird, ironic way.

2. I am completely addicted to online Scrabble. I play at least 2 to 3 games a day. I can't stop. I am pretty good too, if I may say so myself. I've got pretty much all of the two letter words down.

3. I am also addicted to peanut butter and honey sandwiches. I eat, on average, two a day. They are cheap and delicious and I had never had one before coming here. And I never would have had one if I hadn't heard people talking about them, and then a random company just HAPPENED to be handing out free honey samples. Bizarro.

4. I have a blue ukulele that I bought in Sydney. It was cheap. I have trouble tuning it, but I can play "Build me up Buttercup" and "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots part 1".

5. I have made friends with a guy from Wales who is hired by companies to ride his unicycle around and juggle clubs. How is it that I manage to always become friends with the most Hampshire-like kids whereever I go? Anyways, he is teaching me how to juggle and refreshing my memory on how to tie rock-climbing knots.

6. There is an ice-cream truck that plays "Greensleeves" and drives around the Macquarie University Village on Saturdays and drives me insane. INSANE! Blasting Greensleeves all afternoon...dum dum dum de dum da de dum de dum da de dum de dum...GAH! Why Greensleeves, WHY!?

7. Now my German roommate is humming Greensleeves downstairs in the kitchen. Great.

8. Also, there has been a number of BIRDS in my apartment. This is because I live with boys. Messy, messy, messy boys. Who don't know how to wash dishes/take out the trash/close the door. And so birds come in. It makes me unhappy to go downstairs for some cereal and instead find a bird.

9. I got my story back from my creative writing teacher. I was very nervous about being graded on my creative writing for many reasons including the fact that I'd never gotten graded on it at Hampshire, and also because after I handed it in I realized I misspelled my teacher's name on the cover sheet. It seems it didn't matter because there was not a single comment or correction on the entire paper. Then, on the very last page was one word: "Brilliant!" I am still completely awestruck, as my teacher seemed to hate the story I workshopped in class, but I have achieved brilliance with this one it seems. Especially since she told the class that she was really critical in grading these pieces because she wanted us to improve for the final.

10. That being said I got a "pass+" on my sociology paper which I think is equivalent to a C+ but I'm not completely sure. This is odd to me, because my creative writing class is 300 level, and my sociology class is 100 (introductory) level. But it seems my sociology teacher is a quite tough grader. I also think I did the assignment kind of wrong, and also I think I got points off for spelling "yogurt" the American way instead of the Australian way. Luckily that paper isn't a big part of my grade and I'm pretty excited about our next paper.

11. I have eaten approximately 16 boxes of cereal since I've been here. That's way under my normal cereal consumption

12. I have discovered the children's section of the library. I'm doing Judy Blume right now; finished "Forever" and "Are you there God, it's me, Margaret?" and now I'm onto "Blubber". Roald Dahl and Jerry Spinelli next.

13. Not to sound like a creepy stalker or anything but I remember reading Jonathan's Australia blog before coming here and he talked about the crazy cigarette boxes and I always see them on the ground and they really are crazy, the pictures on the backs are so disgusting. Not quite on the same page as him with the collecting though...I don't think I want those images in the room I'm sleeping. I wonder if they really do deter people from buying them.

14. You know that "Whatthehellit's5:30already?WhatdidIdoallday!?" feeling that always seems to come about when you have a bunch of stuff due soon? Well, just got that. Even in Australia.

Monday, September 29, 2008

NEW ZEALAND

Last Monday was the start of Macquarie's 2 week semester break, and the first day of my friend Anne and my adventure to New Zealand for a week.
I am completely in love with New Zealand.
At 5:50am on Monday we caught a shuttle to the Sydney airport, and we flew with Emirates into Auckland. The flight in itself was awesome. It was only three hours long, but we had over 600 movies to choose from, games, TV shows, operas, pop music, even the classical sounds of New Zealand! Also, they served me a vegan meal, something I've never actually received on an flight, including my 13 hour flight from San Fransisco to Australia. From the Auckland airport we took a shuttle to the youth hostel we were staying at for the night. It was an 8 person dorm room, and when we opened the door the lights were off and somebody was sleeping (even though it was early afternoon), which was awkward. So we left to explore the city.

Auckland is full of scary mannequins in shop windows and Japanese restuarants. We ate vegetable tempura at one, then we went up into the Auckland sky tower which holds the title for the tallest tower in the southern hemisphere. There are panels in the tower where the normal floor in cut out and instead there is clear glass where you can see the road below. You can stand on them, and Anne and I did while pondering bungy jumping. Bungy jumping was invented in New Zealand and we had been considering doing it, but the fact that just standing on those panels terrified both of us made us rethink this plan (also we were both on major budgets). But we stayed up in the tower basically until in closed (seeing as although Auckland is a major New Zealand city, everything closes early, and we wanted to avoid awkward hostel encounters). We had deep philosophical conversations. Sort of. Anne's an English major which I like, because most of my friends at Hampshire are more interested in media/film and I don't have many writer friends, so we talked about writing for a while, too.We got back to the hostel a little before 11, and now five people were sleeping and so we joined them.

The next morning we started our trip with Stray, the bus that would, over the course of 5 days, take us all around the North island.

Our driver, Natalie ("Nat") introduced herself and drove us up a big hill to a look out point where we would supposedly be able to see some big Auckland sights such as the famous One Tree Hill (not Chad Michael Murray related, although, actually, the show was named after the U2 song which was inspired by actual location in Auckland). Unfortunately, after driving all the way up to the look out point, all we could see was fog, which although disappointing, was sort of funny, and Natalie made jokes about it.

We then drove to Thames for a grocery store shop on the way to Hahai. We all checked into the hostel and had the option of going sea kayaking or taking a scenic walk to Cathedral Cove. Anne and I went with the free one. The walk was very beautiful and we stopped every 3 seconds or so to take pictures. We were told some scenes of Prince Caspian were filmed at Cathedral Cove, but I've haven't actually seen the movie...





After the walk I took a quick nap then it was time for dinner, a "real kiwi BBQ". (with vegetarian options!) Natalie cooked us sausages, veggie patties, and hash browns, along with serving salad and chips with pineapple crisp and custard for dessert. Anne and I talked to a guy named Alex from England. He has been traveling through and around Australia for the past several months, working when he needs to. (As the week went by I realized that most of the people on the bus were 20-something year olds in similar situations, wanting to see the world on a budget. The more I talked to them, the more I want to backpack through Europe, explore Asia, see EVERYTHING.)
After dinner Natalie drove us to the famous Hot Water Beach. She said we would be able to dig holes and make our own hot tubs. I had no idea what she was talking about. She parked the bus and we started walking across the beach, shovels in hand. It was pitch black outside, and I looked up at the sky and all you could see were stars, everywhere. I've never seen the night sky so vast and beautiful. It was overwhelming. I began banging into people as I tried to walk while staring up at the sky (not to mention the fact that, besides the one or two people with flashlights, nobody could see where they were going, anyway.)

After about a five minute walk we came across a giant hole somebody had obviously dug earlier. People began dipping their feet in the water, remarking on it wonderfulness, and eventually stripping off their clothes and soaking in the hole. Anne and I joined them, and soon there were a dozen or so of us, sitting in this hot tub hole, staring up at the beautiful sky. I couldn't stop giggling, I was so amazed at the random wonderfulness of that experience.

The next day Natalie offered us the ($85) option of going surfing, which everybody declined, and so most of the day was spend traveling in the bus, stopping at random locations such as the site of the giant L+P bottle (L+P being a big drink in New Zealand. Its slogan is 'World Famous in New Zealand since ages ago' and it is sold in most stores). Mostly everybody in the bus, myself included, was more interested in the public bathrooms next to the giant bottle, however. They included lots of silver buttons and a talking voice that, once you locked the door said "Your maximum time is 10 minutes. After 10 minutes the door will unlock. You have 10 minutesremaining." Then elevator music played. We spent at least half an hour there as everybody wanted to explore the talking toliets.

Eventually we got to the hostel we were staying at that night, and it was a super cool one in the middle of the "bush" with bush walks, a free flying fox which me and Anne ran to immediately, and an evil ropes course which me and Anne didn't really understand how to do as there was nobody there, and we both ended up falling off and getting slightly beat up by the ropes. We went for a bushwalk, and to the hostel's look out point where they said we'd be able to get a really nice view of the sunset. Alas, it was much too cloudy that night.

The next day was our most jam packed. It started with a drive to Waitomo, a town the boasts a population of 41, to explore the caves. While some people went abseiling and black water rafting, Anne and I chose a cheaper, mellower trip, and soon we were in a van with our tour guide, a very friendly man named Norm who insisted that everybody in his van introduce themselves (including the children) and tell about any personal problems. "Free therapy!" he said, chuckling. The drive was very scenic and we got to see many sheep and hills. Then we got out of the van, put on helmets with flashlights, and walked into the first cave, where we got on a raft and were told to turn our flashlights off. Then very slowly we glided down the cave, thousands of greenish glowworm dots above us. (Did you know that glowworms are actually cannibalistic maggots, the glow of which comes from their snot and poo? sweet, huh?) After leaving the first cave Norm skillfully served us tea, coffee, hot chocolate, and biscuits (which is NZ speak for 'cookies') before going into the second cave.

After the caving Anne and I went ZORBING. Yes, yes - we rolled down a hill in a giant plastic ball! It was a true New Zealand experience. And it was amazing. Because we didn't have our bathing suits (they were in the trailer in our luggage) we had to buy the OFFICIAL ZORBING GEAR PACKAGE. And so, if I ever go zorbing again, I am ready. With my official zorbing t-shirt, shorts, towel, and matching bag.





Afterwards we headed to Maketu to our accomodation for that night, with local Maori. We were served a 'Hangi' meal and got to see a cultural show. Afterwards, the boys and girls were split up, and while the four boys on the bus learned the battle chant (I forget the name of it), the girls learned how to poi (although, due to my complete lack of hand eye coordination, I was awful at this. We then had to perform in front of each other!


video

That night we all had mattresses in the room where the show had been held. Anne and I stayed up talking to some of the other backpackers on the trip. We all compared drinking/smoking/sexual consent ages in our countries and talked about where else in the world we had traveled too. Then we got on the topic of cereal. I am a HUGE cereal fan. But, I'm talking sugary cereals. Cap'n Crunch, Reese's Puffs, Cookie Crisp, Honeycomb - I love it all. But when I confessed this to the group they all laughed at me. Apparently cereal is a total U.S. thing. There barely exists cereal besides corn flakes and granola in at least any of the countries represented by the people in the group I was talking with (namely, Denmark, Ireland, and England). And in Australia the only sugary cereal I was able to find was Froot Loops, and I couldn't even find that in New Zealand. (Also, I set up a bank account here and one of my security questions involves my favorite food being cereal and once I had to call the help desk because I was having problems and the lady at the bank read me the questions and laughed when I answered that one, saying, "Well, that's a new one!")

ANYWAYS, eventually we went to sleep and were awakened when Uncle Boy (the chief and owner of the house) blasted ABBA at 7 A.M. Yes, Dancing Queen and Mamma Mia in the wee morning hours...it was pretty ridiculous. He later confessed that ABBA was his favorite and he only listened to them.

As we packed our things on the bus, Natalie said, "Now, everybody, make sure you have EVERYTHING, as people always forget things here and it's hard to get them back if you forget something." She reminded us of this multiple times, really emphasized it. When we finally got going, about 4 minutes into the ride her phone rang, and she answered it saying, with attitude, "What did they forget this time!?" There was a pause, and then she looked back at us and said, "It was me!" and we all laughed, and it was such a sitcom moment.

We explore Rotorua, a geothermal area, very smelly but interesting. We did some shopping and ate lunch at a Thai restaurant. Then we headed to Taupo, and walked around there for a bit. It was a pretty easygoing day. Later that night a lot of the bus got drunk at the bar that was part of the hostel. I had one drink, a heavily advertised, very cheap "James' love potion". It was passionfruit mixed with vodka and as the bartender poured it he said, "FINALLY I've been trying to get rid of this stuff all night" and I was like, "hmmm." But it wasn't terrible. Some people went skydiving, and one guy bought the DVD, and we all gathered in the TV room to watch. It was very funny, and I was very jealous I didn't have enough money to go. I'm determined to go skydiving at some point in my life though.







That night was Anne and my last night with the group, as we were taking a bus back to Auckland the next day. We said our goodbyes, which was kind of sad, and the next day we had a wonderful (ha!) 4+ hour ride back to Auckland.



We bought a kumara, a big vegetable in New Zealand. It tasted like a sweet potato, and I liked it. Then we went to Minus 5, a bar completely made of ice, including the cups the drinks are in. That was fun. The next day, our last day, we took it easy for the most part. We didn't want to spend much money, so we walked around the city taking pictures of the bizarro mannequins and puns (puns are HUGE in New Zealand. From stores in alleys called "Right up your alley" to pretty much every advertisement I saw while there). We also hung out in a library for a couple hours. I read teen magazines. One of them was a specifically New Zealand teen magazines, which I found especially interesting because they interviewed American celebrities and asked them questions such as "Have you ever been to New Zealand?" (for which almost all answered "No, but I would love to go someday!") We ate a Burger Fuel, a big burger joint in New Zealand which I LOVED (vegan options, kumara fries, and soymilk shakes! i got a burger called "Tofu Combustion" For serious!) We ended up staying up all night as our flight was at 6:25, and they said we needed to be at the airport 3 hours early. And so our last few hours were spend having very sleepy conversations about past relationships and a trek to a 24 hour McDonalds for apple pies (which I've decided taste better in NZ than in Australia or the U.S.).

Friday, September 12, 2008

Itchy Kangaroo

I took this video during the Blue Mountains trip, actually... (I told you we got close to the kangaroos!)


video

Pictures (part 3)

I went to a Chinese Moonlight Festival last night with my friends Anne and Claire. Here is a picture of them with some scary mannequins.


The festival was really pretty. It was inside the Chinese Garden in Darling Harbour. There were lion costumes and drums and a show and music and lights and fireworks. All very pretty. None of my pictures came out very good, but here's one anyways. (It looks like something crazy exploded...actually it was during a part in the show when fire shot up into the air...)


My pseudo roommates in the Herring Road apartments are planting crops in their backyard. Corn, beans, and watermelon. Also, take note of Richie's "W.A.N.G." t-shirt. It stands for "We All Need Grub." Apparently the WANG club gives out free sausages every two weeks if you are a member. Not for me though, being a vegan and all...