Sunday, March 15, 2009

Belated Pictures

Haven't captioned or edited/rotated any of them yet, but just to give you an idea of the scenery here!

Until the captions are written, you'll have to infer where I've been ... sorry!

Australia Pictures


Edit: I'll actually be moving the pictures to picasa soon since they have a 1GB total upload limit rather than Flickr which is 100MB per month. Just for future reference, most likely, I'll be uploading pictures Sunday night my time. Melbourne Uni's wireless caps how much bandwidth you use per week at 256MB per week and it resets at the beginning of the week.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Valentine's Day

Melbourne is a freaking romantic city. And if you're not in a relationship, then walking around the streets of Melbourne at night will just make you feel like crap.

There are people selling roses on the street, and heaps of couples are holding hands. Love is in the air. Bleh. I mean normally you see tons of people holding hands and performing PDA's in Melbourne, but on the night of Valentine's day, the number of couples increases exponentially. Plus, ALL the Italian restaurants on Lygon Street (this huge Italian district that is lined with fabulous Italian restaurants) were booked since I guess getting Italian food is the more romantic thing to do?

So what did I do the night of Valentine's Day? Went to a pub called Puggs. Where all the single people are, haha. Didn't drink but just checked it out. And then I went home. Yay.

9.2.2009: Crazy Day, Australian Museum, Sydney to Melbourne

Today was a crazy day. Like crazy. But let’s talk about the Australian Museum before I get into the craziness.

A couple of friends and I went to the Australian Museum. So original, no? What else would you call a museum. I think around this time, I was already starting to get tired of all these touristy things. I went to an aquarium, saw a bit of the botanical gardens (and they had what looked like bats on some trees! Except … they weren’t bats. They were flying foxes?), saw some religious monuments, and now I’m going to a museum. Again, my lack of student ID deprived me of a concessions ticket. Moral: bring your student ID everywhere!

The Australian Museum was pretty huge. Ton of stuff in there: rocks/crystals, bones, birds, insects, dinosaurs, a mummy, kids-zone, and cool animal pictures. I think that when they designed the Australian Museum, they weren’t really thinking about how sometimes, less is better. They had a huge room completely dedicated to birds and insects. And seriously, there were so many birds, insects, and information about both of those that it was an information overload. Glass cases would have like 30 different species of birds and there would be about eight of those cases in a row. I do not know how viewers could possibly follow it. The same is true of the insect, skeleton, dinosaurs, and rock galleries.

The coolest exhibit involved different pictures of animals/plants. Basically it was just showcasing the results of this photography contest that the Australian Museum held. And there were different themes for these photos, like animals in their native environments was one of them. What made this exhibit so interesting was the fact that beside each photo, there would be a couple of paragraphs that contained a first-person account of the mindset of the photographer, like how they came up with photo and what they had to endure. I wish I took a photo of all those photos, haha, but I’m sure you could find them online.
The Australian Museum’s gift-store was more like a walk through Toys ‘R Us. I really don’t get it. A lot of the things they were selling were not even related to the museum. Remember poppers from middle school? Yeah they had those. They also had colored bouncy balls. How is this at all related to the museum? Not to mention that everything was ridiculously overpriced. But that was to be expected.

And so now the crazy part of the day begins. So let me explain a bit about the situation. EAP’s orientation in Sydney is from Feb. 6th till Feb. 9th. Melbourne Uni’s orientation isn’t until Feb. 20th so I basically have a few weeks to play in Sydney. So I had booked a flight with VirginBlue to fly out of Sydney the afternoon of Feb. 14th. But I hadn’t booked any nights at a hostel because I wasn’t sure who I’d be staying with or better yet, where I’d be staying. Yeah I should have done my homework beforehand, but I had no intention of doing any work after mcat’s were over. Come today, the only group from EAP I knew who were staying in Sydney until the 14th was this group of four girls. I would hate to have to explore Sydney on my own, so I felt my best bet would be to hang out in Sydney with them. However, they had already booked their hostels beforehand. They were staying three nights at Coogee Beach (which is close that famous Bondi Beach I was telling you about earlier) and two nights in the city. So I start looking for hostels around Coogi/Bondi ...

4:30pm: get back from australian museum and use their internet kiosk stand (A$2 for 20 minutes of internet) to look for hostels at coogee/bondi
4:45pm: realize that there are no hostels available in either coogee/bondi beach
5pm: start looking for flights online and seeing when i can check-in to unilodge (place where I’m staying for the semester at melbourne), check if i can change the flight time of my VirginBlue to an earlier date, i.e. a few hours from now, but because of the class of ticket i have, i don’t have flexibility
5:05pm: borrow my friend's cell phone and call unilodge and realize that i can't check-in even if i fly to melbourne because i won't have this bond ready (like security deposit, but dumb unilodge requires it paid in a money order form, only available at post offices and banks) since post offices and banks close at 5pm
5:10pm: about to book virgin blue flight but then friend tells me to check qantas because they have more flexible luggage weight restrictions
5:12pm: start running out of coins to pay for internet kiosk; friend lends me some coins
5:15pm: looking for hostels around melbourne area, find one, type in all the info, and book it. costs around A$26 total for one night in 6-male room
5:17pm: find a decent qantas flight (~A$106 total) that leaves around 10pm and arrives at melbourne at 11:30pm (which is pretty darn late for going into a city that i've never been to), type in all the info to book it. it's actually cheaper than the virgin blue flight! but virgin blue flights leave earlier: there were flights around 8pm, 9pm, 10pm. but around A$125 total
5:20pm: deliberate whether to submit the forms for the qantas flight. talk to a friend about it. i contemplate the option of just staying in sydney and forfeiting the fee at the hostel for no-shows. she convinces me that i should book a flight even if it's pricy b/c if i stay in sydney, i'll be spending that and more for hostel stays. so i book the qantas flight. copy down the confirmation number. look for online check-in on the qantas website but can't find it. friend tells me that they don't have online check-in.
5:25pm: talk to the front desk about the sydney airport coach which is A$12, but they said that i have to book it three hours in advance. my flight's at 10pm and there's no time to wait three hours. luckily, there's a taxi waiting on the driveway of the hotel that i stayed at the previous three nights. quickly run out to tell him to wait while i get my luggage. he waits, i get my luggage, and then i'm off to sydney airport. the driver's chinese and we talk mandarin for a while. he's really cool but makes me feel bad that my chinese isn't really up to par for someone my age. when he drops me off, he tells me to learn my chinese better and wishes me well. taxi wasn't bad. A$35 as opposed to the A$45 my friends and i paid in total to get to the hotel from the airport.
5:55pm: at some bench at the airport, i quickly rearrange some of my luggage to hopefully help it pass the weight restrictions. i also dispose of any liquids i have since i don't know if they'll allow that on the airplane. i don't have a scale on me and just make some quick guesses about how much my luggage weighs. go to one of the check-in kiosks to check in. luckily i have my confirmation number which i wrote down on a piece of paper.
6:10pm: i check-in my luggage. lady tells me that while my luggages both are under the weight restrictions, the smaller one i usually use as carry-on is over the carry-on weight restriction so i have to check that in. i quickly grab the free money i have lying around in my luggage so that security people don't snatch if/when they check my bags. then she asks if i want to fly out earlier seeing that it's on 6pm and i'm here for a 10pm flight. so i'm like sure! she says she's not supposed to do this because the flight ticket i bought was a cheap one and doesn't have these special features, but she's willing to put me on the 7pm flight. i ask her if i'll make it in time and she says no worries and that i'll have plenty of time.
6:15pm: i pass security check-in
6:20pm: start waiting to board airplane
6:40pm: board airplane
7pm-8:30pm: flight to melbourne. qantas is pretty cool. even thought flight was about 75min, they gave us dinner on top of the usual drinks. dinner consisted of a roll and rice+chicken/teriyaki sauce. pretty tasty stuff.
8:40pm: arrive at tullamarine airport which is melbourne's international airport. have no idea how to get to hostel i booked from airport. i just have hostel's address and only vaguely recall it's name. recall that hostel website said i could take some form of airport shuttle to get to the hostel's frontdoor for about A$15. i ask an employee at qantas info desk and she says that the street the hostel's on is in the city and that i should take this skybus service and said it costs around A$15, which is what i recalled when reading the hostel site online.
8:45pm: get my check-in luggage, go outside, get a ticket for skybus.
9pm: skybus arrives. i really hope that this hostel i'm going to be living at is close by to the unilodge that i'll be staying at cuz i don't want to take another taxi from one edge of melbourne to another. skybus takes me to this place called central station or something.
9:30pm: i ask around to see how to get to my hostel, which i vaguely remember is called melbourne international hostel or something. i ask around at the station and they say there's a connecting shuttle service that takes me to the front door of my hostel.
9:45pm: i finally get to my hostel. there seems to be a problem when i check-in, since i booked it only 4 hours ago. but it all works out. hostel life seems kind of sketchy and i'm not a big fan of it. just not that clean at first glance. and that's saying something considered that this hostel is one of the more recommended, i.e. less dirty, than most hostels. i decide to lock all my stuff in a locker which i have to pay $5 for 24 hours. i feel it's a small price to pay to assure my stuff is safe. these lockers are on the ground floor instead of in my room. lockers in my room are smaller than one in my locker and while i did buy a lock, it wouldn't fit all my stuff so i just used the downstairs locker.
10:30pm: only brought enough stuff in my room for contact lenses and oral hygiene. walk into random room of six guys. luckily they aren't too loud.
10:45pm: i put on the sheets to my bed and then lie down and fall asleep. don't even change clothes. sleep in jeans and socks.

Hostel environment just isn’t for me. Hostels are kind of like inn’s? I don’t know how to explain it. You just have to go to a hostel. I guess if you have to order hierarchically the places you stay for the night from good to less good: hotels, motels, inn’s, hostels. Communal bathrooms and kitchens are fine, but it’s kind of weird sleeping in a room with people you don’t even know. It’s best if you book a room at a hostel if you know everybody else. There are lockers since I theft is a common problem in hostels, when you start rooming with people you don’t even know. Hostels are also called “backpackers” because they’re where backpackers go to stay for a night. Basically all they offer are beds to sleep on. No room service or anything. Just a bed to sleep on and facilities for personal hygiene and cooking. Basically all you get is a mattress is your room. And when you check-in, you get a card-key and some sheets to put on the empty mattress, both of which you have to return when you check-out. I think my hostel was cool in that it offered breakfast, but I just wanted to get the heck out of there. The scary thing is that my hostel was actually ranked really highly from reviews, which means if I thought this hostel was bad, what about the more lowly ranked ones? Things could get pretty sketchy pretty fast … Looking back, I think I was being overly judgmental of the hostel. It’s not like there were holes in the walls or yellow stains all over the mattress. The bathrooms were really clean, bedrooms well-kept, and the kitchens were pretty nice too. I think I was just judging it because of how I arrived there around 10pm and was rooming with five other guys I didn’t even know.

So now I’m Melbourne. More about my experiences here soon …

8.2.2009: University of Sydney, Manly Beach

After our morning orientation, I went to visit the University of Sydney carillon because their carillonneur told me that I could visit and play their carillon. I took the CityRail (Sydney’s public transportation, kind of like BART but slower speed-wise and much more extensive … it goes freaking everywhere!) to this place called Central Station, which is the ultimate transfer point for trams on different lines. Then I walked over to the Uni.

I did not get to see much of the University of Sydney, but what I saw was a darn large campus. It’s really spread out. Complete antithesis of Berkeley. It spans multiple streets and I think there is public transportation to get around the campus. Too large of a campus for my taste. Their tower was also pretty short. Only like four stories. And they don’t have an elevator! All the musicians have to walk up there to practice and play the real carillon. Man I am spoiled at Berkeley.

Not only did I get to listen to a recital, but I even got to watch one! At the University of Sydney, they hook up a camera to downstairs so that people can watch how the carillonist performs throughout the hour-long recital. I was familiar with some of the pieces because they’re common carillon pieces. I even got to play their carillon! That was fun, except I think I hurt many people’s ears downstairs. Their carillon’s clapper was much farther from the bell than Berkeley’s so a lot of notes would not really strike because I wasn’t used to pushing so far down. Also, you cannot really hear all the notes equally so that made listening to what you are playing trickier. I think whoever was the architect of the tower wasn’t thinking because they put two carillons (the practice carillon and the one actually connected to bells) in the same room. I mean that just defeats the purpose of having two keyboard, since only one person can play at any one instance. It turns out that the carillonist who performed is also the University Organist. Carillon to her is just a hobby. Pretty crazy stuff. So she let me play the organ a bit too. That was awesome. Such a rich tone. And the organ has all these variations – you can pull or push a whole slew of buttons to vary the tone and tune of the instrument.

Afterwards, the organist/carillonist dropped me off at the Circular Quay, where I took a ferry to Manly Beach, one of the beautiful beaches Sydney has to offer. It took about thirty minutes and you could either sit on the inside and be protected from all the wind/sun or could go outside and catch the views.

Manly Beach is BEAUTIFUL! And you know what the scary thing is? It’s not even the most famous of beaches in Sydney. The most well-known one is Bondi Beach, which I sadly did not get to see. But a beach is a beach is a beach, no? I mean I think seeing one beautiful beach is enough. A bit about the beach … the swells are huge compared to swells in SoCal. It makes Huntington Beach or Seal Beach seem like kid’s stuff. The sand on the beach is white as can be and there really is no trash around on the beach. The winds were pretty strong because I went in the late afternoon, but the experience was gorgeous nonetheless. As a whole, the beach did not smell of seawater like some beaches do, but it was just clean air. Walking around the beach really reminded me of walking towards the pier at some of the beaches in SoCal. Bunch of people in swim-attire, carrying boogie-boards or surfboards, their legs all covered in white sand. Just the environment of a beach-town. I ate a fish-burger while I was there. Cost around A$6.50, but it was big and more than worth the price. It was just a regular burger with fried fish, some white cheese-sauce, and some green’s. It’s interesting that a lot of restaurants here in Australia do not use lettuce when they cook things so much as they use mustard greens or ones that we associate with higher quality salads in the States. Like I had Pad See Yu with kale in it the other day. I guess it’s cheaper there?

Back to beach. I took a walk along the scenic Manly Stroll, which is like 3.8km in total length and basically weaves its way along the coast of Manly and highlights some of the historic landmarks. There were a lot of people running along the walk-way, which is all pavement. Not good for the shin splints! All along the coast, there were small pools setup by I guess the government that had enclosures of water separated from the ocean by rocks that were strategically placed. The pools were for people to play in without worrying about the swells/waves. Swimming in the waters of Australia is sort of dangerous for multiple reasons:
• Poisonous animals: box jellyfish and blue-ringed octopus can kill you, but it’s usually not that bad of a danger because coast guards will demarcate with flags the parts of the beach that you can swim in
• powerful undercurrents that can just seize you without letting you. In these situations, you’re supposed to actually swim parallel to the shore instead of directly at the shore. It’s a bit counterintuitive and I still don’t quite understand why.
• large swells – self-explanatory

I did not actually walk the entire length of Manly Stroll. At some parts, it just got boring. You’re like walking along the coast and all you’re seeing is more and more ocean. I mean sometimes you see some boats and some cool houses. But I don’t really think it’s worth it walking the entire length of it.

Random notes from today:
-McDonalds is awesome. Why, you ask? Because they give you free WiFi. And if that isn’t awesome enough, then I don’t know what is.
-When you crossing the street in Australia, you have to learn to look right first for the first road and then look left for the second road. It’s taking me some time getting used to it. I still feel kind of unsafe crossing since I feel at any instance some car could come from nowhere and hit me.

7.2.2009: EAP Orientation, Sydney Opera House, Darlington Harbour, Sydney Aquarium

Surprisingly, I wasn’t jet-lagged at all. I fell right asleep and woke up promptly around 7am. The hotel provided this complimentary breakfast (which I guess wasn’t actually complimentary, since we did pay the hotel for the rooms …). It seems that when it comes to food, Australians are big on this thing called GI, short for glycemic index . It’s like an extra thing added to the nutrition facts of foods. Apparently, low GI is good and conversely, high GI is not so good. From Wikipedia:

The Glycemic index (also glycaemic index) or GI is a measure of the effects of carbohydrates on blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates that break down rapidly during digestion releasing glucose rapidly into the bloodstream have a high GI; carbohydrates that break down slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the bloodstream, have a low GI. For most people, foods with a low GI have significant health benefits.

Anyways, breakfast amounted to a bunch of fruit for me – peaches, pineapple, rockmelon (Australian for cantaloupe), honeydew, grapes, orange juice. I think the taste buds on my tongue felt numb after, but what can I say, I love fruit. And if it’s all you can eat, I’ll eat all the fruit I can get. I tried some vegemite (this salty black/brown yeast extract Australians add to their toast) and I actually kind of like it, even though most of my friends thought it was gross. I feel that one’s liking for vegemite is acquired. Then it was off to the dumb orientation. I feel that overall, the orientation was just a huge excuse to get UC students drunk/partying. I mean seriously, the first event is a cocktail night. There would only be like four hours of orientation total over the three days. And where are we situated? In the middle of the red-light district. Just do the math. Plus EAP drags us all the way to Sydney the beginning of February when most Uni’s don’t even start until start of March. Some highlights from the orientation:
• (somewhat taken out of context) the EAP director said: “Australian government pay you about $5000 per baby”. A ton of guys laughed pretty hard at that. She meant it in the sense that Australian government is more supportive of certain things like maternity/paternity leave.
• the Australian accent that two of the Australia EAP personnel had. It’s just so fun to listen to and I really want to learn it! It’s kind of British but harder to follow. I always find myself asking Australian people I’m conversing with to repeat what they’re saying.
• Australian slang: (pissed: drunk; fags: cigarettes; root: sex; chemist: drug store; yum cha: dim sum; musk sticks: kind of candy; dim sims: a dish in dim sum; tim tams: this chocolate cracker snack; esky: ice chest/cooler; ta: thank you; china plate: your domestic partner)

Then we took a bus to this harbor-area called the Circular Quay. It’s where the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge are located. Gotta go to the touristy places. It was hot. Sun just beating down on you, but good thing there was a bit of wind. You know that hole in the earth’s ozone that we keep hearing about? Apparently that hole is right over Australia. King of sucks doesn’t it? That the world’s contribution to pollution hurts the Australians more than it does other countries? As a consequence, the Australians have the highest incidence of skin cancer. Gotta wear sunscreen when you’re in Australia! Anyhow, the Sydney Opera House is gorgeous. The Harbor Bridge? Not so much. In fact it looks kind of ugly. I could look at the Opera House for hours. It’s so different from all the buildings you’ve ever seen before. The white domes even have scales! I thought it was all just one cohesive white shell but you can see that it is composed of a ton of smaller white squares connected together.

Then we went on a cruise around the Sydney harbor. And guess what there was on the cruise? More booze! Lame. It wasn’t a special cruise for UC students. There is this company (Captain Cook Cruises) that has a monopoly over all the ferry services in the area. I wonder how they control price gouging … Anyways, ferries are more than just for seeing what’s around the harbor. They’re used to transport people from South Sydney to North Sydney and such because the attractions are spread throughout the Sydney area. And there are like six different docks from which you can go onto different ferries and go to different suburbs of Sydney. From the ship, the sights were pretty good, just touring the different parts of Sydney. The gales of wind were darn strong. Blew my hat right off my head, but luckily not into the ocean. There were battleships docked close to the shore that basically looked like toy battleships but much larger in that they had that grey/green’ish tint. All I took away from this is that the Sydney area is BIG. There are a lot of places that you can see.

Then a couple of us walked over the Sydney Aquarium. Too bad I didn’t bring my Berkeley ID with me on the trip. Deprived me of a concession ticket! Darn it. Could’ve saved A$10. Note to self, always bring a college ID to get free discounts. And even more so in Australia, where there are concession prices for like everything! Zoos, museums, … shoot I think some Subway stores even has concessions! The hands-down highlight of the aquarium were the dugongs! I thought they were spelled dewgongs from Pokemon. Dugongs are these huge, grey, seal-like creatures. They’re bigger than seals though and I think they’re vegetarian? I’m not sure. There was this huge tank where the dugongs resided and we got to through these tunnels under the tank and look up at the dugongs. We watched them feed on lettuce. I even got to see dugong poop (verb and noun)! That was immensely hilarious to watch. Watching it come out and disintegrate …okay that’s enough.

I even got to see sharks! In another large tank like the dugongs were in. There were so many sharks … I wonder how they all don’t start killing each other. I was impressed by the size of some of the manta rays. They were enormous! Probably around a meter in diameter. That large. And the way they swam was cool. They just flapped around like you imagine a rug would fly in Aladdin. Then there was this large shy turtle. I could not quite get a good picture of it but I was in awe nonetheless.

We ate a food court by Darlington Harbour, which has a theatre with the largest IMAX screen in theatres. Imagine watching the Dark Knight there, which they were playing by the way. They were also showing this animated film called “Fly me to the Moon”. Darlington Harbour was a happening place, right next to the water and bustling with people. About 15 times more packed than nights at Huntington Beach or Seal Beach. Everybody was so well dressed, though girls more so than guys. It was as if everybody and their mother decided to suddenly go to prom. All the women were in formal black dresses and men were in a button-up shirt.

All of us felt ridiculously underdressed. At first we thought that Aussies just had a huge desire to be fashionable and dress-up on Saturday nights. And while that may be true, it might also be because most clubs won’t let women in unless they’re wearing the proper attire. The dress codes are less strict for men.

And if we thought Darlington Harbour was happening, the Kings Cross was happening x100. Clubs were jam-packed and there were so many people on certain streets that it was kind of hard to walk. Like at Darlington, all the women were in black dresses and many of the guys in button-up shirts. It was pretty crazy. Aussies like to have their fun. I guess it doesn’t hurt either that Kings Cross is like party central.

6.2.2009: First Day, Kings Cross, AU/US Differences

I flew in around 8am in the morning (Australian time) to Kingsford International Airport, which is Sydney's international airport. Local time in Sydney 19 hours ahead of US time. The first thing I realized was the humidity. It wasn't crazy humid like summers in Texas, but more humid than in SoCal. First thing I observed was how nice their airport was, compared to international airports like at LAX or SFO. Everything was clean and signs were large and legible. When I got money from airport’s ATM, I was pleasantly surprised by the Australian currency. Bills are colorful rectangles of plastic, with a certain part of the being even see-through! They only have $5, $10, $20, and $50 bills. Their coins come in the $2, $1, $0.50, $0.20, $0.10, and $0.05 varieties but unfortunately, they are not colorful nor partly see-through like the bills. Haha yes I know what you’re might be thinking about the $2/$1/$0.50 coins: finally, coins you can actually use! Just in case you’re curious, US$1 roughly equals AU$1.4. Go dollar!

I met up with some other EAP students and we took a taxi to our hotel in the Kings Cross suburb of Sydney. We have this three-day orientation at Sydney that all UC students have to attend. Haha I think the first bit of culture shock came when getting into the taxi. Shotgun's on the left! And people drive on the right! I think that's how things are in most parts of the world and the US is just weird. Just like how the rest of the world uses metric while we're stuck with this inches/feet thing. When the taxi driver started telling us about how hot it had been in Sydney, I had trouble following him when he started talking about temperatures in degrees Celsius. Some rule of thumbs is that 40degC is hella hot (about 110 degF) and 20 degC is like SoCal weather (about 70 degF), but ask me any temperature in between and it'll just be a guess. It was also confusing looking at the speed limits on the roads since they'd be listed in kilometers per hour versus the standard mph I'm accustomed to. The music we listened to was just like what one would listen to in a car in America. Some things just don’t change. However, not tipping the taxi driver at the end of the ride felt weird. But in Australia, tipping is rare and only happens in return for extremely good service; apparently, people in Australia are paid a good enough wage so that tipping is not a necessity for worker's paying off living expenses.

Let me start by telling you that in general, this Kings Cross suburb is not the most awesome of places to be living. I mean I guess it depends on the type of person you are, be it promiscuous prostitute or anxious mother of four, but anyways, Kings Cross is the red light district of Sydney. Luckily, the hotel that we lived in was pretty nice. In the evening, we had our first activity. It basically amounted to an ironic occasion where the University of California was encouraging drinking of alcoholic beverages. Basically the event (I forget the title … bring your own cocktail?) amounted to students purchasing drinks at the hotel’s bar and socializing with the other UC students in EAP. Legal drinking age in Australia is 18, so regardless of what year EAP students were in, we were all eligible. I think there were 73 UC students studying in Australian Uni’s for either the Fall/Year 2009. That’s right. Fall 2009. Things are a little different in the southern hemisphere, haha. There were WAY MORE girls than guys. And WAY MORE white people than any other race. So yeah, that just means one thing: ton of white girls and not many other people. I think that there is one black student. And it seems most people are either going to Uni’s in Sydney or Melbourne. A few people are going to Queensland and an even paltrier few are headed to Perth, which if you know nothing about Australia, is on the western coast and is basically the only city amidst the enormous outback. Most of what’s happening in Australia happens on the eastern coast (i.e. Great Barrier Reef and Sydney) or in the southern coast (i.e. Melbourne, Tasmania …); nothing really happens in the middle or western coast.

Even things in Australian hotel rooms are different! When I wanted to flush the toilet on top of the toilet, there were two buttons. Two button! I mean what gives?! How many ways can you flush a toilet? The left button had a circle with the bottom half shaded while the right button had a circle that was completely shaded. I would later find out that the left button was half-flush and the right was full-flush, and that this is part of an ongoing attempt at water-conservation which has become necessity since Australia is undergoing its worst drought in ages. Flushwise, half-flush was as good as full-flush at … flushing. I mean I couldn’t really tell the difference. Stuff seemed to go down all the same. I know that toilets are supposed to flush in the counterclockwise direction in the southern hemisphere but it was really hard to tell. The water did not drain in a vortex-fashion so much as it just receded and elevated. Outlets are pretty cool because each one has to be turned on and are not automatically on. Plus they use 240V compared to the 110V we use in the States. I’m no EE-major but I guess that this helps with preventing power dissipation?

There was a ton of food around the area. From all different backgrounds as well. Greek, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, but more influences from Southeast Asia, like there is more Malaysian/Singaporean food. I had Thai food for lunch and a Falafel for dinner. Cost around A$7-8 each so that was pretty decent when you convert it back to US dollars. While my hotel did not provide free internet, it did have these net kiosk stations where you pay for a certain amount of time of internet. It was A$1 for 10-min, and while that was crazy pricy, I had to somehow let my folks know that I arrived in Australia safe and sound. Didn’t have a cell phone since I had not yet purchased a SIM card. Something that you have to get used to is how long the days are. Sun rises around 6am and doesn’t set until 8:30pm. That means you’ll be out all day and then by the time you get back home, the sun’s still up.