Sunday, April 5, 2009

More Australia Pictures

I've switched from flickr to picasa: Australia Pictures

Yay for more storage space!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Groceries: Safeway, Coles, ALDI, The Big W, Queen Victooria Market

So first things first. Safeway is still Safeway, albeit a subsidiary of this Australian company called Woolworths. Wal-mart is known as "The Big W". There's also a grocery chain called Coles which, for all intents and purposes, is just like Safeway with respect to what kind of things they sell and how much things are priced. I don't know how people decide whether to shop at Coles or at Safeway since frankly, they're just too similar. Finally, there's a smaller chain that sells really good cheap stuff called ALDI. I personally do not know how ALDI even makes money. Everything there is ridiculously cheap and in some ways, you can think about it like a 99cent store from the States, but the quality of the products are much better. They'll have random influxes of certain types of items. For example, a few weeks ago, they were selling heaps of camping gear, i.e. tents, sleeping bags, torches, tarps, fishing gear, and this week, I could buy acoustic guitars. I think the way that they compete with other larger supermarkets like Safeway is that they have a smaller selection of items and their hours are not as expansive. I recently bought a spindle of 50 DVD-R's from ALDI for A$20, which is like ... US$12? Yeah I don't know how they make money.

I confess that the first few weeks that I was at Melbourne, I was just eating out all day. There are massive amounts of small Chinese restaurants in the Chinatown District, so I can get a big bowl of noodles for A$8 or fair lunch meals for A$5. I mean even if I bought the ingredients and cooked it myself, I don't think I could make it under A$5. The main reason being that I was talking with older Unilodge residents and they said that it becomes pointless to cook during the year since the shared refrigerators become so packed with food that you can't even put your food in them and so many people use the kitchen that you can't find space to cook. So thus I didn't buy any food containers or cooking needs like oil, soy sauce, rice, salt ... And I would just eat out. It was fun. But in hindsight, it was stupid. Not that many students cook. It's more than what I'm used to at Berkeley, but honestly, we're all Uni students and how many actually cook for all of their meals. I'm currently in week 5 at Uni and the kitchen is rarely packed and the fridge always has extra space to stuff more food.

Now, I cook all of my meals and I rarely eat out. It took me a while to get a little routine going. When you get to a new area, you don't really know where the best place is to get the cheapest groceries. However, there are some things that just never change, no matter what part of the world you're at: Safeway is ridiculously overpriced. It takes a bit of time buying groceries, since not only are you using a new currency, the groceries are also being sold by the kilogram versus the pound. I try not to think of things in terms of US dollars since I feel I'll become more Aussie if I learn to take things for what they are: in Australian dollars and in kilograms. You just do a ton of window-shopping and get a feel for what are good prices and you slowly pick up what are the "right" prices. The price of groceries here (even more so than in the US) really fluctuate. For example, there was a flooding in Queensland (northern Australia), and bananas were like A$3/kg, but then the next week, they were suddenly A$1/kg. Price fluctuation for groceries is massive.

For all of my eating needs, I mainly shop at Safeway, ALDI, and the famous Queen Victoria Market. At Safeway, I get a lot of the processed foods, like muesli (rolled oats+nuts+dried fruit), yogurt, bread, spreads (hummus, Pate), roasted chicken. At ALDI, I buy many canned foods, like canned tuna and odds and ends like shampoo, soy milk, and muesli bars. Queen Victoria Market is the fabulous place where I buy all of my fruits and veggies and sometimes, meats.

Now grocery shopping (or shopping in general, for that matter) is pretty interesting in Australia. First off, the smallest unit of Australian currency is this dinky coin that's A$0.05. There are no pennies in Australia, but that does not preclude things from being priced in non-factors of A$0.05. So what they do is round the final total to the nearest factor of A$0.05. Round up or down, however the math works. Which brought me to an interesting thought. Say there's a product, ItemX that's A$0.06. Suppose I wanted to buy three ItemX's. Should I buy three of them at once or go through check-out three times separately? You follow? If I bought them separately, the rounding would make it so that ItemX was actually A$0.05, but if I bought them together, the final total would be rounded up to A$0.20. Chinese people like myself are so darn cheap ... Secondly, what's interesting is this idea of self check-out, where there are a set of booths in which you scan what you bought and check yourself out. You can even check-out if you have produce! You just put the fruit/veggies on a scale and select from a screen which fruit you bought. Of course, there's a store employee watching that you aren't hustling the store. But imagine that freedom they offer you! Another amazing fact that takes some getting used to is that home brand products are actually not that bad in Australia. Home brand at Safeway is the Woolworths brand, and I swear that their products actually taste good! It's something you would never believe if you're from the States. Remember Safeway cereal? Or Safeway pasta sauce? It's just all unpalatable. But in Australia, home brand is amazing - both cheap and tasty. So amazing.

I LOVE Queen Victoria Market. It's like a huge flea market, with a section for meats, veggies/fruit, and another for souvenirs. It's an outdoor market (except the meat section), and people lay out all of their goods for you to check out and buy. There are aisles upon aisles of produce. I would say that fruit/veggies are about two to three times cheaper there than at Safeway. I'm always surprised how much produce I would be able to get with so few bills. I would also argue that some of the prices I get there are even cheaper than what you can get at those cheap Asian grocery stores. And when the Queen Victoria Market is about to close, all the sellers lower all of their prices for their fruits to dirt cheap prices in an attempt to get rid of the fruit since the fruit had been sitting outside all day. So if you go near closing hours, you can get prices that are cheaper than cheap. Sometimes I feel like I'm stealing since the prices are so ridiculously low. To me, Queen Victoria Market is like heaven - I can live forever on those fruits and vegetables. The variety is also quite impressive. I can get anything from yellow capsicum to butternut squash to pomegranate.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Some Australian Slang

In the format of "Australian: American" ...

How you going (sounds like "hey you going"): How are you?
Hey?: Conversational term used like "pardon?"
Brekkie: Breakfast
Bushwalking: Hiking
Thongs: Flip-flops
Subject: Course at Uni
Course: Major at Uni
Bogan: Red-neck, derogatory term
Piss (multiple uses):
1. Take the piss out of you: Poke fun of, laugh at
2. Off the piss: Stopped drinking
3. Hit the piss: Get some beer
Barbie: BBQ
Esky: Cooler
Roo: Kangaroo
Joey: Baby kangaroo
Heaps: Lots of

Australians also like to use "reckon", i.e. you reckon we should ...

Differences - Melbourne vs. California

In many ways, Melbourne reminds me of California. As I'm sure you saw/heard/read in the news, there were the bushfires which burned much of the countryside. The fires made the air of the CBD area very smoky. Reminded me of a time when I was in Fontana and fires were raging, and I would be inhaling this soot and dust. Weather-wise, summers are also quite similar. Temperature hovers around the 30's (which is 86 degF for those disinclined to the metric system). A week before I came to Australia, there were record-highs, like 45 for a week. That is bloody crazy. People would just stay inside all day. And that was during the Australian Open so poor tennis players had to grit it out during those environmental extremes.

Melburnians in general here are also very laid-back, similar to Californians, but perhaps even more so. I think that the environment is a bigger part of their lives, in more days than one. You will find people who are extremely outdoorsy and will go bushwalking every weekend or go exercising everyday. They just seem to really enjoy the environment. And they do so many activities, i.e. snorkeling, kayaking, bushwalking, rock-climbing, caving, to name a few. I think rogaining also originated in Australia. You can wiki that, and it's definitely quite intense. But also, Melburnians (and Australians in general) just care more about the environment. There's a huge push to be environmentally-friendly and people here kind of embrace it. The grocery stores sell those eco-friendly bags, and you see many of the shoppers bringing in their bags so that plastic bags stop getting replenished as quickly. They're also big on water conservation and there's a push called Target 155, which is to try to get persons to use less than 155L/week. Shower timers are passed out so that you can take them in four minutes. There's the half/full toilet flush that I was talking about. Signs are everywhere not to leave tap water on when you brush your teeth and such. Many are into being energy-efficient. All in all, they just make the environment a greater priority. And that's something I can't see in many Californians. Melburnians really love their life. They try to make the most of everyday and when they aren't working, they're out having fun. They're a very fun-loving group. They try to go out and do things and aren't so glued to the computer screen and television like most Americans. There also do not seem to be as high an incidence of overweight/obese individuals here. Perhaps the hyperconsumption is mainly in America?

The things I do not like about Melbourne are few and far between. But one of them would have to be the amount of people who smoke cigarettes. I think it's a carry-over from the British culture. In any case, I wish fewer people would smoke. It's hard to get some fresh air and I often wonder why people who are so healthy continue smoking. When you're walking on the street, it's hard not to be following somebody who's smoking a cigarette. So that I don't like so much. Drinking here is also a much larger part of the culture. Pubs are very much part of the social scene. I don't really like that as much. Sometimes you'll walk home and have some wanker shouting or trying to pick a fight with you. It's more a public nuisance than anything else. The cultural diversity here is also a bit lacking, at least in my eyes. You could argue either way on this. Compared to Sydney, Melbourne is darn diverse, but compared to some places in California, I think Melbourne still has a bit to improve on. With respect to Southeast Asians, Melbourne is really diverse. There are heaps of Malaysians, Singaporeans, Indian, and Chinese people. The white population is also quite diverse - British, Aussie, Greek, Italian, etc. But that's pretty much where the diversity ends. I often feel it's just White and Asian people. Mexican people are non-existent and black people stick out from the crowd. There are heaps of Asian people in Melbourne. I am starting to understand why there was racism against them many years ago when Australian was still in its early years. I guess diversity stems from the location of the country. Australia is really close to Southeast Asian and California is really close to Mexico. Hence, you have what you have.

Settling Into Melbourne

I'm in Melbourne. I live in an apartment/hostel complex called Unilodge @ Melbourne. I have a single apartment and it costs a ridiculous amount. It's about A$961/month; I think that's more than what I normally pay at Berkeley ... Anyways, it's right across from Melbourne Uni and I suppose that I am paying for that convenience. Thank goodness I am only living there for a semester. The reason why I say it's both an apartment and hostel is that I do not have my own kitchen or bathroom, but I do have my own sink. The bathrooms (not co-ed) and kitchen are communal. It's like dorm life again with RA's here and the while shbang. There are a few differences, however. Most of the rooms are singles and there are only like three or four double rooms per floor. I wish I got a double. Double rooms are apparently only around A$1200 but they're way bigger! I think there are around 20 singles and 3-4 doubles per floor, so around 30 people per floor at unilodge. But unilodge is a huge building. 12 floors in all, and that's considering that in Australia, what we commonly call the first floor is actually the second floor and there's a ground floor. So I guess thirteen floors in all? Communal kitchens are a great idea because no person really needs their own kitchen. Most times, people don't even use it. And since everybody shares and eats in that room, it's a really easy place to meet people.

I arrived in Melbourne February 9th and that was pretty early compared to most people, since school does not even start until March 2nd. So for the first few weeks, unilodge was quite dead. Nobody had moved in. I was just there.

During those weeks, I honestly did not do that much. I ate out a lot because I did not know where were the best places to buy groceries. I often frequented the State Library because they had free WiFi there. The Victoria State Library is quite weird since it's a non-borrowing library. I mean isn't borrowing part of the definition of a library? Anyways, you can just use the stuff there, but you can't check anything out since apparently, some of the materials that they have there are very unique and they don't want to risk losing it. So on top of the non-borrowing aspect, they don't allow you to carry anything bigger than a small bag into or out of the library. This would be the prevent stealing. They have these 3-D metal outline of boxes and your bag had to fit inside it in order for you to get it. There are guards there and all. Pretty crazy. They also have locker rentals so you can put excess stuff that won't fit into that little metal outline. It's like A$1 for 6 hrs of locker rental so not a bad deal. All in all, the State Library is damn nice. Tall ceilings. Heaps of computers. A room for video games. Chess boards so you can play chess. Interesting things no less.

I was there really often because so many of my errands required the internet. I skyped with my parents, registered with the US consulate, got a pre-paid phone, applied for dorm housing back home for next semester, figured out which subjects (Australian lingo for what we commonly refer to as course; 'course' actually stands for your major, i.e. course of study), etc. Even got some of AMCAS application done there ... Figured out what things I needed to buy to get settled in.

I spent a good amount of money eating out, which I now regret. I mean I didn't eat at the five-star restaurants, but I checked out a ton of restaurants nonetheless. Other than that, it was a pretty uneventful few weeks. Doing things that I have to do, but not things that people love to do. It's all planning.

In general, I really like Melbourne. It reminds me a ton of SF. There are trams that people actually take for work-related reasons unlike those trolleys in SF. Weather isn't as ocean-esque. But there's a huge business district (called CBD - corporate business district), gorgeous buildings, heaps of people, but it still has a somewhat laid-back feel. I live pretty close to the main part of the city (about 5 minute walk), this central square that is considered downtown. Melbourne itself has a ton of suburbs and is darn huge. I can't even list all of the suburbs. And apparently, each of the suburbs have their own feel, but I have yet to experience it. Some ones are more rich/poor or densely populated with certain ethnicities. Some are not that safe. I feel overall, Melbourne is a very well-run city. It's pretty clean and they really give you all the tools to go out and have fun. The amount of public transportation is just massive. There are trams, buses, and then different kinds of trains - metropolitan and the V-line. People talk about how good the BART is, and don't get me wrong, it is good. But the amount of good/efficient public transportation Melbourne offers just puts Northern California to shame. The network is HUGE! I really don't know why the US jump on this public transportation bandwagon.