A Travellerspoint blog

See this? This is my new haircut.

new country, new style: chopped!

semi-overcast

Looking back over old photos of myself, I realized I've had the same hairstyle for most of my life: long, straight, light brown mixed with dirty blonde pieces that I dyed all different shades in high school, with bangs either cut straight across, swooped to the side, or (God forbid, why did I think this was cute?) parted down the middle.

Over spring break, after tying my hair into yet another high ponytail, I decided this just wasn't going to fly anymore. I anticipated it would be too hot and humid this summer to keep my long strands, so when I got back from Brisbane, I took the plunge: I chopped it off.

This was the October result...

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...and yesterday's summer touch-up:

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Much better. Helloooo summer!

Posted by Alykat 19:52 Archived in Australia Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

A Spontaneous Week at the Beach

I decided to be especially fun and adventurous in the Gold Coast

sunny 26 °C

Bonnie's folks were in the city last week to visit their recently graduated daughter (Bon walked in the SF State ceremony last spring but finished her Video Production classes at UTS), but last weekend they decided to rent a car and drive the 11 or so hours up to the Gold Coast (an hour south of Brisbane) for a few days of sunshine and relaxation in Surfer's Paradise. Guess who they invited to tag along? Yours truly. Score!

Since Friday was the last night we had to spend with those students heading home (namely my friend Brian, who was going back to New York for good to finish uni, and Matt, my friend from England who went home for the holidays), most of us were out at Purple Sneakers (my favorite indie club not far from UTS) having a blast for a good portion of the night. While this made getting up to leave at 7 a.m. the next morning a bit of a challenge, it was totally worth it to spend one last night partying with those I've become close to over the past few months. Unfortunately, this also meant that I slept through most of the drive - similar to when I took the Greyhound down from Brisbane at the end of spring break. Oh well, I woke up in time to see the famous "Big Banana" in Coffs Harbour (an area known for its banana plantations) and other bits of the lovely landscape.

Upon our arrival at the hotel, we dropped off our bags at the room (which overlooked the ocean. Mmmm) and headed across the street to find dinner, ending up at this great (albeit slow) restaurant next to the harbor called Saks. Ordering a couple bottles of wine, the four of us spent the next couple hours talking about everything from Sydney to family backgrounds and careers you can have with a masters' degree in Geography (which Bonnie's dad has from SF State.) Since we were pretty drained from the drive, we turned in early that night and fell asleep to the sound of crashing waves. Ahhhh.

The next morning (Sunday), Mr. and Mrs. Smith woke up early and headed to the comfy lounge chairs by the pool while Bon and I slept in (sort of, til 8:30) and then went to breakfast at this adorable little cafe across the street. That first day was pretty chill: reading our books in the sun, breaking every so often to jump in the pool/ocean, pick up a sandwich across the street, or order a drink from the poolside bar (because I can do that now!) That night, deciding to venture down the beach and check out the nightlife further into Surfer's, Bonnie and I walked into the first bar we found: a classy-looking place called the Southport Yacht Club. Ordering glasses of white wine, we walked out to the balcony and checked out the sunset, listening to the two-guy live band playing Sister Hazel covers and noticing that, with the exception of the table of cute guys near the stage, we were the youngest people there. Fortunately, the guys noticed this too, and promptly invited us to come join their table.

Funny enough, we ended up spending several more hours with these guys, sharing pitchers (or "jugs") of Hahn's beer and enjoying their stories about life in the Gold Coast. Later into the night, we were joined by my friend Liam, a guy I'd met last semester while he'd been studying at SF State (he commutes from the GC to the Univ. of Queensland in Brisbane, where he's originally from). That night, I think I started to understand why they call it Surfer's Paradise: there are a LOT of men! During this time, the bars and the streets were also packed with "schoolies": groups of 18-year-olds fresh out of high school on what we'd call their "senior trip." (I learned later that each state - Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland at least - have a designated week to send students on their schoolie trip.) Since we were there during the same time, we were known as "toolies." Charming.

On Monday, I decided to retrace my steps and find a different cafe to enjoy a cup of coffee with the morning paper while the Smiths went to breakfast. Today the weather was a bit overcast, but the air was still warm, so I took my time walking along the beach, relishing the feel of warm sand under my feet and the cold salt water swirling around my ankles as I chatted on the phone with my SF friend Beth about what I'd missed over Thanksgiving break. All I had to do was hold the phone out towards the ocean so she could hear the crashing waves, and all my jealousy over her pumpkin pie making was washed away. :)

That day, our last before we were due to drive back the next morning, was also pretty low key: a little sunbathing, a dip in the pool, then off to shop across the harbor at the Southport stores. When Bonnie's parents left to search for a pizzeria for dinner, we headed back towards the hotel side of the harbor to meet up with Liam for a few drinks, then some of the guys from the previous night. While chatting over our schooners, I realized something: I was not ready to leave the Gold Coast yet. Over spring break, we'd run out of time to explore Surfer's when we'd been in Brisbane (because of my academic schedule, we had to endure that infamous 17 hours bus ride straight back to Sydney), and I hadn't done much more than read and sunbathe over the past couple days. I shared this with Liam, and we came up with a brilliant solution: since I didn't have to be back in Sydney for anything until Saturday (the all-Aussie music festival, Homebake, which I'll write about later), I could stay with him for a few days. He'd have to work during the day, but said he'd give me his keys so I could come and go as I please, then we could hang out at night. Um, a free place to stay near the beach with someone I could talk to about traveling? Sold!

A quick phone call home and an explanation to Bonnie's dad the next morning sealed the deal, so I hugged Bonnie goodbye and waved as their car pulled away from the hotel, my bags stacked next to me and a dopey grin plastered across my face. For a moment, I wondered if I was crazy: had I just screwed myself over, letting my ride and the comfort of parental security drive away? I looked out at the ocean, up at the beautiful clear sky, and decided I'd just made the best possible decision. Storing my bags at the hotel, I headed off to treat my spontaneous self to waffles.

Liam didn't get off work until after 5, so I spent the day hanging by the beach, bopping around the Australia Fair shopping center, and then going to the cinema to see Australia. I'd heard mixed reviews about the movie (particularly from non-Australians) and I thought the script had been peppered with more Aussie witticisms than were necessary ("crikey!," which I never hear people say here, and Hugh's reference to the dingo who ate a woman's baby - that's a true story, actually), but I can honestly say I loved it: Nicole Kidman played a perfect stuffy English woman who had no idea what she'd gotten herself into with Faraway Downs, Hugh Jackman was every bit as gruff and sexy as my mother had promised (haha), and I completely adored Nullah, the little Aboriginal boy who gave the movie a much deeper meaning. After taking that class about Aboriginal representation in the media last semester, I was curious to see how Baz Luhrmann portrayed his characters, Australia's history, and the Stolen Generation. Seems like he did a pretty fair job.

That night, I met up with one of the guys from the yacht club, an aspiring teacher named Lachlan. Since he had a car, he took me further into Surfer's to see the beaches at Burleigh Heads and Coolangatta (he said many music artists often stop at the Coolangatta Hotel between shows in Brisbane and the Gold Coast or Sydney.) With the city lights reflecting off the water, the view from the rocks was pretty impressive.

On Wednesday, I spent the day at the Currumbin Wildlife Sactuary. Finally, I was going to see some kangaroos!! The bus ride took forever, but when I walked up one of the paths and saw half a dozen sweet little koalas dozing in a tree just a few feet from me, my heart melted. I must have stood there for 10 minutes just watching them squirm in their sleep before moving on to check out the other animals.

The Gold Coast features a few animal sanctuaries, but I chose Currumbin for a specific reason: they let you pet the kangaroos. My earliest childhood memory is of doing just this in North Sydney around age four, and I've been dying to relive that memory ever since. Walking into the paddock was surreal: all around me, groups of kangaroos - at least 30 of them, all different sizes - laid in the sun, rooted for food in the grass, or hopped slowly over to the little kids eager to reach out and touch their soft hair. I took out my camera and started snapping away, wondering if I could sneak out a baby 'roo without anyone noticing....

After the kangaroos, I visited the bird sanctuary, the fresh and saltwater crocodiles, the snakes (which was creepy; I pretty much ran through that dark exhibit) and the dingoes (who looked much more like cute, docile pet dogs when they weren't running around your campsite on Fraser Island!) On my way home, I wandered through the streets near Liam's apartment, checking out the upscale boutiques and classy restaurants that lined Tedder Avenue.

Since Liam didn't have to work on Thursday, we woke up early and headed down to Byron Bay, a hippie beach town just an hour south of Surfer's (and home to my flatmate Awa and friend Anja.) Awa's always telling me to come visit and I've been dying to see Byron since before spring break (when I slept through it...), so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. What I saw was this: palm-tree lined streets, bungalow-style houses, streets lined with yummy cafes and beachwear retailers, and a long stretch of beaches. Awesome doesn't even cover it - it was love at first sight.

After stopping to get coffee (causing Liam to laugh at my "Yank" ways - since when do only Americans drink coffee?!), we drove up to the lighthouse located on what he called the most eastern point in Australia. Sweet! The lighthouse decks featured fantastic views of the surrounding beaches and headlands, so we decided to go check out a few of them. We drove down and stopped at White Beach, King Beach, Wategos (or something like that) and The Pass, stopping to have a swim at a couple of them (the water being much warmer here than in Sydney) before heading back to town to chow down on OZ kebabs (essentially a Turkish wrap filled with vegetables, meat, various sauces and in this case, eggs). Delicious. Kebabs are all the rage in Australia, particularly after a night out (no Dennys here!) After lunch, Liam went to go read on the beach and I went shopping, popping into the swimsuit shops and Aboriginal art galleries. If even possible, I found the Byron locals to be even more friendly than the typical Aussie.

I was sad to leave the following morning, but even more disappointed when my flight home was delayed. By the time I finally boarded the plane and settled into my seat, preparing to dive into my book (Scar Tissue, a biography about Red Hot Chili Peppers' frontman Anthony Kiedis - quite an intriguing read), I was joined by two loud guys in their late 20s who appeared to be friends with the 15 or so other loud twentysomethings filling the back of the plane. Fantastic, I thought, so much for the peaceful flight. The guys introduced themselves as Nick (who promptly whipped out a camera phone and began showing me photos of his adorable 3 month old son) and Nathan. They explained they were from Red Frog, an organization that sent them out to the bars and clubs in the Gold Coast to keep an eye on the schoolies and ensure they stayed out of trouble each night. They were headed back to Sydney to start preparing for the Christmas Spectacular their Newtown church was putting on the following weekend.

Okay, so they were kinda cool.

We spent the next hour doing card tricks and playing mind games (remind me to teach you "The Love Game" and "Snaps"), swapping tales about our trips and discussing the best places to get coffee in Sydney. By the time we landed, I had scored a ticket to their Christmas Spectacular production and a ride home from the airport (oh, and a free lunch - Nick and our driver James were hardcore craving kebabs from this Lebanese cafe they visit often.)

It was the perfect way to end an exceedingly random week of fun.

See photos: http://bubbles21.myphotoalbum.com/albums.php

Posted by Alykat 03:49 Archived in Australia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Kicking Off the Christmas Season

the hyde park/martin place tree lighting that had nothing on the good ol' danville tradition

semi-overcast 23 °C

I'd like to brag about how I get to spend the holidays in hot sunny weather, but as I write this, it's storming outside: thunder, lightening, torrential rain, the whole package. There have been some warm days, but when it gets cold, spring is officially the worst season in Sydney. I miss the crunchy leaves of autumn, but for now, I'll suffice with a steaming flat white (coffee with milk) and the Christmas cd my mom sent me.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving (since I'm a day ahead of you all) and I'd planned to honor it with a turkey/cranberry sandwich, but instead, I decided to kick off the Christmas season and attend the tree lighting ceremony in Hyde Park (which reminds me of a smaller Central Park) and at Martin Place (a block downtown). I convinced Bonnie and her visiting parents to join me, figuring she was the only other person who's into corny Christmas traditions.

On my way to the park, I stopped at Starbucks for a holiday hot chocolate (nothing says "holiday season" like those bright red coffee cups!) and a bagel (there wasn't a deli nearby) before we settled on the grass to watch the festivities. We listened to an Aboriginal man talk about the tribe whose land we were on (can't remember what it was, as most of the tribes have these ridiculously complicated names) and a short performance on the didgeridoo (a long wooden instrument played by subsequently breathing through your nose and mouth or something. I imagine it's quite challenging.)

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Next up was what looked like a family band, complete with island-print shirts and fronted by a teenage girl who called herself Babycino. As if that weren't embarrassing enough, they sang songs about jungle animals and made animal sounds through their microphones while Babycino jumped around like a monkey and imitated an elephant. Bonnie and I were pretty much dying of laughter at this point, and her parents were giving me pretty strange looks. Hehe.

A young boys' choir appeared next and led the crowd through a series of Christmas carols, which were all the usual winter-themed songs except for this one:

Dashing through the bush (bush = outback, country)
In a rusty Holden Ute (think General Motors)
Kicking up the dust
Esky in the boot (esky = cooler, boot = trunk)
Kelpie by my side (kelpie = sheep dog)
Singing Christmas songs
It's summer time and I am in
My singlet, shorts and thongs (singlet = tank top, thongs = flip flops)

Oh, jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Christmas in Australia
On a scorching summer's day
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Christmas time is a beaut
Oh what fun it is to ride
In a rusty Holden Ute

Engine's getting hot
Dodge the kangaroos
Swaggy climbs aboard (can't figure out what "swaggy" refers to)
He is welcome too
All the family is there
Sitting by the pool
Christmas day, the Aussie way
By the barbecue!

(chorus)

Come the afternoon
Grandpa has a doze
The kids and Uncle Bruce (how random is that?! I have an Uncle B and he used to live in Sydney!)
Are swimming in their clothes
The time comes round to go
We take a family snap
Then pack the car and all shoot through
Before the washing up

(chorus)

Bet you'll be singing this version next month. I'm already obsessed.

Our friends Maud and Raul (both from Holland) came to join us, then we left to watch the other show over at Martin Place (where the Hooley Dooleys - probably similar to the Wiggles or something) were performing on stage. After watching the dancing monkey, kangaroo, and ballerina for a while, we decided to head home.

(Okay, so we didn't actually stay to see the tree lit up. I'll leave you with an image of the one they were probably going to illuminate - a pretty crazy sight next to the palm tree...)

Xmas_tree_..ing_006.jpg

Posted by Alykat 22:25 Archived in Australia Tagged events Comments (0)

Pumpkins & Waitressing

gearing up for the summer break

all seasons in one day 21 °C

In terms of celebration, Halloween appears to be exclusively an American holiday. I asked my friend Dylan, who grew up in the country a few hours south of Sydney, if he went trick-or-treating as a kid - something I cannot fathom a childhood without - and he remembered going once. He and his friend went door-to-door and apparently his neighbors, disgruntled about being bothered, would simply hand out a few dollar coins or bags of chips from the kitchen. Doesn't sound quite like the traditional group outing around Blackhawk or Greenbrook I remember, where we'd stake out the houses with the king size Hershey bars and haunted houses, filling our pillowcases with enough sweets to last us until Valentine's Day.

This year, my Halloween was a bit different. After getting off work at 10:30 p.m. (oh PS, I got a job. More on that later.) I had planned to watch The Shining with Bonnie and make pumpkin spice lattes (yeah, we're having autumn Starbucks drink withdrawls.) However, since I got off an hour before her, I ended up meeting up with my friends Alex (from LA/San Diego State) and John (from Manchester, England) at a bar near our university. I wasn't dressed up, but they certainly were: Alex donned a cardboard Rubix cube with red spandex leggings, and John was a very realistic-looking iPod. Needless to say, they were fun to walk around with! After Bar Broadway, we headed over to Purple Sneakers, a dance club down the street that was full of other UTS students. John and Alex attracted a lot of attention and had to pose in several girls' photos on the way in...haha.

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So, my new job. Just before spring break, I interviewed to be a waitress at Cafe Otto, a restaurant set in the trendy Glebe neighborhood just 10 minutes from my house. Besides one day of catering at a wedding, I've never worked in hospitality, so I was a bit shocked when the owner, Neil, told me I got the job. In no way is it easy; you're under constant pressure from managers, cooks, and customers to run food to tables, greet and seat patrons, take orders, clear dishes, and handle bills. Quickly. I've been working for three weeks now and at times I still take wine to the wrong tables or forget to set tables up with cutlery, but I'm lucky in that my fellow coworkers are all extremely patient and willing to help me out when I have questions. I like the customers too, and I can tell they enjoy guessing where my accent is from (I've gotten Canadian, Irish, Australian, southern Californian, and American in general.) The pay isn't bad ($16/hour) and while tipping isn't customary in Australia, people often just round up their bill (say, giving a $50 bill for a $48 meal.) We combine all our tips and receive a percentage of the total based on the amount of hours we work, so I end up with 5-20 extra bucks depending on the night. Not too bad! I like that I'll be able to use this money to help fund my future travel plans. Nothing's been decided, but there's been talk about a trip to Western Australia (between Perth and Broome) this summer. :)

Lalala_001.jpg

In other news, I have officially voted in my first presidential election! Since my absentee ballot got lost in the mail, I was able to get another one sent to my email and I faxed it from UTS yesterday. People keep asking me how likely I think it is that Obama will be victorious, and all I can do is cross my fingers. If the world could vote, he would win by a landslide. I hope that's the case with the red and blue "United" States of America.

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I have set up a separate photo site that I plan to update continuously. Check it out!
http://bubbles21.myphotoalbum.com/albums.php

Posted by Alykat 03:21 Archived in Australia Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Ah, politics.

the aussies are obsessed with the US presidential election.

semi-overcast 21 °C

While on break between business classes last Thursday afternoon, I wandered into the student union on campus to watch the last presidential debate. The TV was tuned in to Dr. Phil, but no one objected (or noticed) when I switched it to the news station broadcasting the entire debate. At first it was only me watching the program, but within ten minutes the chatter volume began to decrease, then silence as a white screen dropped down from the ceiling and Obama's confident face was projected for all in the room to see. Upon learning that I was American, a few students asked me questions about which candidate I supported and how voting works in the States (as a sidenote, they were shocked to learn that the voting age is 18 but the drinking age is 21. Go figure.) I spent much of the debate making fun of everything McCain said with a guy named TK, who is an accounting professor at UTS originally from Malaysia. (We made particular fun of McCain when he tried to defend his confidence in Palin if she were to become president: "She really cares about disabled children. Autism is a big issue in this country, and she understands that." I'm still trying to figure out where the autism comment came from - doesn't Trig have Down Syndrome?) From the conversations around me, it was clear most of these students had their fingers crossed for Obama.

I was quite surprised to arrive here and learn how closely the Australians and other international students here have been following American politics; in fact, they've invested more time in our presidential election than they did in the Australian election for Prime Minister (incumbent John Howard vs. the eventual victor, "Kevin07" Rudd) last year. I knew this was so when one of the first Australians I met here (my neighbor, Zach) engaged me in a long conversation about Hillary's policies. This guy knew more about the Clintons - heck, about America's whole political history - than anyone my age back home. Crazy.

Our student magazine, Vertigo, even featured a piece titled "Who Will Be Our Next Prez?," a questioned answered by the magazine's editors. There were a range of responses: doing away with the election and relying on chance (in the form of a Magic 8 ball - "War in Iraq? Signs point to no"), electing an inanimate object - a lake, Mount Rushmore, a blueberry pie - to run our country, or just plugging ourselves into Nintendo systems and forgetting our problems. Another student from the Univ. of Queensland (in Brisbane; I pick these magazines up everywhere I go) wrote an editorial for his university magazine (aptly titled "The Golf War") that bashed Bush and his supposed golf strike in support of the troops (the ending was brilliant: "Perhaps we should all take solace in the fact that fairly soon, President Bush will find himself at the constitutionally mandated 19th hole.")

Becoming increasingly more interested in the Australian take on American politics, I was thrilled to receive an invite from the UTS Journalism Society to a student-run "Meeting of the Minds" dinner featuring a presentation called "Hope Versus Experience: The US Election and the Future of the World" by Peter Hartcher, political editor for the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. The night would consist of meeting (and networking with) students from other uni's in Sydney, listening to the presentation, then discussing our own thoughts and ideas over a salmon dinner. Works for me!

Walking into the room last night, I noticed two things: 1) I was the only person there who knew absolutely no one else, and 2) I seemed to be among a select few students who weren't studying business, international affairs, politics, economics, or finance (or some combination of all these.) It was like a scene from Legally Blonde, where I was Elle Woods in a room full of Harvard elite. I befriended a guy named Patrick (who helped coordinate the evening), and he took it upon himself to introduce me to several of the students. Again, because I was an American student (one of two, actually - there was another guy from Chicago), people fired questions at me, and for the most part I was able to hold my own in the conversations. I'll be honest though: trying to BS your way through a discussion about national security with a group of guys about to complete their theses in politics and hoping to earn their PhD abroad from an Ivy League school is no simple task.

I was delighted to discover that Peter Hartcher is actually quite hilarious. "American politics is like free entertainment," he began. In reference to the debates, "we needed a laugh after the financial crisis. The economy is so bad, Cheney has invited his stock broker hunting with him." He had an especially good time at the podium when he started talking about the vice presidential debate that attracted 20 million viewers - more than the first Obama/McCain battle. "Palin appeals to Joe Six-Pack because her answers make sense after six beers." Ha! Funny man.

At our table, the post-presentation discussion mostly revolved around the "kitchen table dynamics," or the issues that hit closer to home: abortion, gun control, and stem cell research, among others. Since America relies on a voluntary voting system, Peter explained later, these more personal issues are seized as opportunities to bring in votes. In Australia, where voting is compulsory (their elections are held on Saturdays, rather than Tuesdays, and people are fined $75 if they don't at least show up at a voting station), politicians don't need these issues to drive people to the polls. I doubt this kind of voting system would fly in America, but now it makes sense why Aussies would be so enthralled with our politics. I'm planning to take an Australian history and politics class next semester and I look forward to comparing their system to the US - already I can tell it's a whole separate ballpark.

This year marks the first time I'll be eligible to vote in a presidential election (I was 17 1/2 in the Bush/Kerry year) and even though I'm separated from the US by 7,000 miles of ocean, I still feel connected as a voting American citizen (yes, I can still mail my ballot from here!) I've never followed an election so closely (it helps that it's been so controversial and entertaining) and since I couldn't be in the US for the recent coverage, Australia, with its extensive broadcasts and news segments dedicated to what's happening overseas, was the next best place to be. Plus, this way I was able to hear different perspectives on the issues from a diverse group of students.

I guess you could say I've gained a little foreign policy knowledge by osmosis. ;)

GO OBAMA!

Posted by Alykat 21:53 Archived in Australia Tagged educational Comments (0)

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