Friday, February 24, 2006

Real Australians

Similar to in the US, Australians celebrate the end of their work week with Friday drinks after work, and thanks to my new job, I was invited to partake in this Australian experience. After spending all my time so far with other backpackers, it was an interesting change to hang out with a group of locals. From when I first got there, they made fun of me for everything, starting with the kind of beer I was drinking (Tooheys), saying that no Australians actually drink that. Also along the lines of beer, they all think Foster's is disgusting and none could think of a bar that actually serves it. They also teased me for my accent and how I say words like "Melbourne" or "mate". I was pretty impressed with their imitations of American accents.

I'm not so sure I like and/or understand their perception of Americans--they wanted to know if I had ever been on spring break, and were very disappointed when I told them how much I disliked Cancun. They also wanted to know if I'd been to band camp. Sigh.

On the other hand, I would guess that Americans' perceptions of Australians are not much more accurate. They had all been to the US a number of times, and all said that their conversations with Americans consisted of the Americans yelling "G'day mate!" and "Put another shrimp on the barbie!" Sadly, I'm not too surprised. I just hope that I didn't come off as being quite as ignorant. They did invite me to come out with them again, so either they are really enjoying making fun of me, or I am actually a decent representative of my country.

Your Australian Fun Fact for the Day: Burger King in Australia is called "Hungry Jacks" because there was already a Burger King restaurant in Australia when Burger King began franchising here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Down in the Garden

A lot going on, as usual, but I'll start with my new favorite place in Sydney, the Royal Botanic Gardens (obviously, having been in Sydney for a whole week I have seen/done everything and am therefore in a good place to judge the best place in the city).

I went to the Gardens for the first time on Friday, and walked from the Opera House all around the perimeter along the harbour. It turned out to be a way longer walk than I expected, but it was beautiful. If you check out this map you'll see why. The gardens are just amazing. Plants from all over the world, lawns stretching in every direction and--my favorite part--signs everywhere encouraging you to walk on the grass and enjoy the park. There are people everywhere picnicking, running, and just lying around reading. Sorry Central Park, but the Botanic Gardens win.

Although I am trying to see something new everyday, I went back again today. I first tried to go over to the observatory, but couldn't find it, so I thought I'd go read for awhile in the Botanic Gardens. I took a new path this time and went to some of the interior gardens. First I visited an herb garden and then moved on the the mini-rainforest. As I was walking, I heard a rustle and saw something dart across the path. I assumed it was a kangaroo rat, because I saw one the other day. Okay, I actually have no idea if the animal I saw the other day was a kangaroo rat, but it was a rodent (hence "rat") and I am in Australia (hence "kangaroo"). Flawless logic, no?

Anyway, the animal I saw today was definitely not a kangaroo rat, or any kind of rat, but a lizard, and it was a good 3-5 inches long. It ran away, but about a foot away from me I saw another lizard, this one about 8 inches long. It was not bothered by me at all and just stood there. I wish I could upload my pictures because it was pretty cool. A nice gentleman noticed me taking a picture and pointed me around the pond, where there was a gigantic lizard. I'm sure it wasn't an iguana, but it was about the size of one--at least two feet from head to tail. Again, just chilling, not worried about anyone.

I kept walking through the mini-rainforest and came across a sign that said "Want to see a bat? Look up." I did and wow, the sign was not kidding. The trees were literally filled with giant bats hanging upsidedown. To give you an idea of how many, it is comparable to the winter/spring on the U of M campus when those giant crows line the trees. It's a little scary. These suckers are huge! says their wingspan is up to 79 inches, and I don't doubt it. The picture doesn't really do them justice, but you'll have to deal with it. Or just Google them and see if you can find a better picture.

If the wildlife in a downtown city park is this awesome, I can't wait to get out into the national parks.

Other quick highlights:

  • Today was my first (and not last) day at a job! I went to a temp agency yesterday and they found me a six-day assignment at the New South Wales Department of Corrections, starting today. It was pretty boring, but it will make me enough money to put a security deposit and some rent on an apartment. And hopefully this means that temp assignments are easy to come across.
  • The other night I was at a club and some techno/Europop song came on that sounded strangely familiar, but I couldn't place it. Everyone got excited and knew all the words by heart. Then the chorus came on and I realized that it was, no joke, a techno/Europop remix of "Take Me Home, West Virginia." Everyone loved it and had clearly heard it before. I couldn't stop laughing. I wonder what kinds of foreign songs I am listening to that have strange roots.
  • The beach was awesome on Sunday. I was tanning when it was 7 degrees (that's Fahrenheit, not Celsius) in Michigan. Can't go wrong with that.
  • It is amazing who I am meeting. The other day in my hostel room we were all sitting around talking and I realized that I was the only native speaker of English, but that was also the only common language for everyone. Very interesting!
  • Now that I've found a job (sort of), I'm working on finding an apartment. Got a few leads, we'll see what happens. I have been spoiled by having my own room since sophomore year of college, and I'm not ready to share with someone else, so this may be a challenge.
Your Australian fun fact for the day: 1 in 3 Australians has skin cancer. Time to reapply my sunscreen!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

First and Last Day on the Job

On Saturday I set out to get this job search fully underway. I put on my nice clothes, grabbed 30 copies of my resume, and headed out to pound the pavement. I didn't know what I was looking for, but I figured I'd go into every shop and cafe I could find until I ran out of resumes.

Soon after leaving the second place I went into, the manager I had talked to came running after me. "I just had someone call in sick," he said. "Would you like to take that shift and I can see how I like you?" Sure! If he was willing to test me out for a shift, I figured I could probably get the job pretty easily. To find a job within the first 10 minutes of looking sounded pretty good to me.

The store was an Italian imports store selling lots of designer label clothes, accessories, and perfume. I was "trained" by a Finnish girl who basically showed me around the store and told me that all I needed to do was talk to customers enough to keep the manager happy. She was on working holiday also and had been at the store for three weeks. I asked her if she liked the job and she said no, it was the most boring job in the world, but she could come in hungover, so she didn't care that much. There was another girl working who was from Korea, and she barely spoke any English. She said it was her first day working at the store, and she seemed bored out of her mind as well. Hmmm... Not boding well for the employment situation.

My job was to greet customers and try to sell stuff to them. Selling stuff is not my forte. I am great with customer service when someone comes to me with a question (thanks, CIC!), but I'm just not good at trying to convince people to buy something that they don't need. I also got the feeling that a lot of the designer label clothes were actually fakes; makes it a little harder to sell something you don't trust. Everyone who came in of course said they were just browsing, and knowing how much I dislike hovering salespeople, I just left them alone. Then the manager would tell me to talk to them more. The Finnish girl who I was working with was really nice, but we got yelled at for talking to each other. So I did a lot of refolding clothes and standing around.

Man, this was the most boring job in the world. I don't think I have ever been more bored in my entire life. I have had pretty interesting jobs up to this point in my life, but having worked a lot of 6-hour summer shifts at the Pierpont Commons front desk, I figured I could handle boring. But at least at Pierpont I was sitting down. This was a lot of standing around pretending to be busy. The Finnish girl said she worked 7-hour shifts, 5 days a week. No thank you!

Finally the manager asked me what I thought and if I thought I could sell clothes. I said no. He said he wanted to hire me, but the thought of standing around in that store for even another 10 minutes made me want to kill myself. I said I'd "think about it," and left with the intention of never ever returning.

Although it would have been nice to already have a job all secured, I think the boredom of working there would have killed me. I also figure that if it's that easy to find a job, I can be a little more selective in what kind of work I take. I already have a couple of interviews set up over the next few days, so hopefully I will have something by the end of this week. And if all else fails, I can go crawling back to that horrible store.

On Sunday I went to the beach.

Friday, February 17, 2006

That's More Like It

Well, the new hostel is definitely an improvement. Much more what I was thinking when I thought "hostel." When I came back to the room at the end of day, all my roommates who were there introduced themselves and then we all discussed our plans for the night. They are all solo travelers like me, and we all went out with a group from the hostel. I felt so international--in the large group I was the only American. There was one Canadian, and her accent made me feel at home. Others were from Japan, Denmark, Finland, Argentina, England, and a large group from Sweden. There were even two Aussie brothers who were down from Cairns for a concert, but they had both been born in and lived in Fiji for the early part of their childhood. They promised that if I went to Fiji I could stay with their grandparents and get a real taste of local island life. Not a bad offer.

Here are a few things I learned from this social experience:

  • Club music in Sydney is pretty much the same as club music in Michigan. The only difference is that here they play Europop instead of Reggaeton.
  • It is very much true that Scandinavian people are ridiculously beautiful. How can they stand to travel abroad and be around all these non-beautiful people?
  • Fosters may be Australian for beer in the USA (and also in Finland because my Finnish roommate knew that commercial too), but not so much in Australia. I still have yet to see Fosters being sold anywhere.

So many new things to take in!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

New Digs

This morning I decided to move out of the hostel I was staying in, the Sydney Central YHA (part of the Hostelling International group, if anyone is familiar). I was warned before I left the US that "the people who stay in YHAs just want to do tourist stuff during the day and then write in their journals and go to bed." I wish it was that fun at the one I stayed at.

As one would imagine, it's the people who make or break a living arrangement. While the facilities at the YHA were excellent (they even had a swimming pool and sauna!), the people were not what I was looking for. First of all, there was a wide age range, everyone from small children to people old enough to be my granparents. While I do love small children and grandparents, they don't exactly create the kind of social atmosphere I was looking for.

Worst, however, was one of the roommates I had. I only time I know of that she left the room the entire time I was there was once to use the bathroom. Not that I was in the room a lot, but I was in and out a good amount and there everytime, just reading or sleeping. This also meant that I had to be super-quiet (she glared at me when I was just trying to get some stuff out of my bag). She said she was from Tasmania, so maybe it is not as exciting for her to be in Sydney, but I still can't imagine wanting to just sit inside a hostel all day and do nothing. Maybe that's just me.

So now I am checked in at a new hostel and it already looks like a younger, livelier crowd. Hopefully I will not have to spend too long there either because at some point soon I would like to move into an apartment. Guess that means I should be job searching instead of writing a blog entry.

Oh, a lot of people asked where they could send letters. Here is my mailing address:

C/- Locked Bag 21
Royal Exchange
Sydney, NSW 1225

That is the address for the program and they will forward my mail anywhere in Australia for me. Pretty nifty, no? But don't send me any plants, animals, fruit, veggies, or dirt, because I know you were going to. I got a brochure in my orientation package from the customs people warning me that they take quarantine very seriously.

Monday, February 13, 2006

I am in Australia

I am writing this post from "Global Gossip," an internet cafe in Sydney. Not the same as my laptop at home, but it'll do.

Everything went as planned on the 26-hour trip over here. Pretty uneventful overall, but there were a few highlights:

  • Meeting another backpacker, who was also traveling to Australia, while waiting in line at the LA airport--looks like they're not lying when they say other people do this!
  • Celebrating with a glass of champagne on the flight to New Zealand
  • Landing in New Zealand: an amazing view of the sunrise over the lush greenery of the North Island as the waves crashed against the shore. Breathtaking. I can't believe that I will actually be living there.
  • The nice ladies on the flight to Australia who gave me the name and phone number for their friend who runs a jackaroo/jillaroo school in Tamworth.

I made it from the plane to my hostel very easily. As an American, it looks like it will take some time to get used to how nice everyone is. At the airport, some man approached me and I immediately got nervous, but he was just trying to help me find my shuttle. On the shuttle, some guy was giving his business card to a couple he had just met and told them to call him up if they were ever in the area. I am still very much in the American mode of ignoring anyone who tries to talk to me. But being friendly to strangers seems like a good change to undertake.

After I got settled at the hostel, I walked around downtown Sydney for a bit. Did some window shopping, sat in Hyde Park, and visited the ANZAC (Australia New Zealand Army Corps) memorial. The signs around the memorial said "Let silent contemplation be your offering." I like a country that encourages introspection. I also like a country where most of the people wear flip flops, as seems to be the case here.

I have my orientation tomorrow, and I will get to start all the fun stuff like buying a phone, opening a bank account, and finding a job and a place to live. Pretty exciting, no?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Thank God for Email

My plane leaves in just a few hours, and yes, I am nervous. My stomach has been churning since I woke up at 7am and couldn't fall back asleep. The good news is that it is currently 70 degrees in Sydney--a fabulous contrast the wind and snow outside my window right now. Too bad it will be a 26-hour trip until I get there.

It has been a packed and difficult week. Since last Saturday, almost everyday has involved a goodbye. It's not very often that in the course of a week I get to see or talk to pretty much every important person in my life. I wanted to wait more than four entries to get sappy and philosophical, but this week has really made me think about the people in my life and how lucky I am to be surrounded by such wonderful people. What I'm most nervous about at this point--more so than packing or finding a job or being able to sleep on the plane--is not having these people so easily accessible all the time. The good times are the Thursday TV nights or gourmet cereal and soup dinners with my parents or the email/chat sessions that last the entire day. Not as easy when I'm halfway around the world. Hence the title of this post: Thank God for Email.

So here's what you've been waiting for: the pictures from last night's going away party. Many, many thanks to everyone who came and called. It was exactly what I wanted.

This was the only appropriate picture of Maggie and Jenny. Aren't they hot? (guess which caption is by Jenny)

I am sad that Beto is not in this picture :(

Charlene and Rica: your job is to keep me informed of the TV goings on.

Here I am with my bodyguards.

Burt, I fully expect you to keep DVRing your cartoons, and Chris I expect you to keep doing the dishes because Burt won't.

Depression sets in that I am leaving: Scurvy drowns his sorrows in a dirty martini.

My next post will be from Australia!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Remember 1997?

Yeah, me too.

Besides being the year that the Spice Girls released their first album, 1997 marked the year of my first trip to Australia and New Zealand. Thought I'd pull up this gem of a picture as proof that I was actually there. Or at least proof that I've held a koala.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Countdown: 1 Week

Time is sure sneaking up on me. I keep thinking I have all this time left before I leave, and now all of a sudden tomorrow is my last Monday in the United States (for awhile, at least). Right now I am feeling pretty good about being able to get everything done, but on the other hand, feeling like I am on track makes me think I'm forgetting something.

Major goals for this week:

  • Move my stuff out of the condo and back to my parents' house
  • Pack, pack, pack
  • Finish reading all of my Australia travel guides
  • Wear my favorite clothes/shoes/purses that I can't take with me
  • See everyone I want to see before I leave
  • Eat at the following restaurants: NYPD, Stucchi's, Madras Masala, Gourmet Garden

Can I do it?

Thursday, February 02, 2006


One of the biggest challenges I have encountered so far with this journey is how I'm going to pack for a whole year and a half. At the suggestion of BUNAC, I am taking a backpack--and only a backpack. Now I guess I am real backpacker.

But having a backpack doesn't mean I actually know how to fit all my stuff in it. So I did what any good anal-retentive backpacker would do and put together a plan for packing. There's even a chart. Here is the general idea:

Step 1: Create a packing list, tracking which items I need to research and/or purchase
Step 2: Refine the packing list
Step 3: Research and/or purchase needed items
Step 4: Practice packing backpack
Step 5: Revise packing list, as needed
Step 6: Return backpack and buy a new one, if needed
Step 7: Practice packing again and try walking with backpack
Step 8: Revise packing list, as needed
Step 9: Pack for real

Currently I am on step 5. The good news is that the practice packing went really well. I was missing a few things, but for the most part everything fit. So that's a relief. The bad news is that my sleeping bag takes up literally half the backpack. Check it out:

That giant red ball is my sleeping bag.

If nothing else, practicing packing made me a lot less interested in moving around a lot.