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.