Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Rest of the Week

Okay, so I haven't been able to post as frequently as I'd like. I now find myself behind in writing. I will therefore try to quickly summarize my week so far.


I went to the mall and opened my Australian bank account. It was a relatively painless process. The staff at ANZ were very nice and helpful, and my bank card is on order. I got to choose from three colors- pink, black and blue. I chose blue so it wouldn't get mixed up with my Visa card. I also bought my University of Sydney Student Union Access card, which gives you discounts and special deals on things. It was very pricey at $99. And finally, I went to set up my gym membership at the gym affiliated with UniLodge.

Now this is an interesting story. There are a lot of posters for the gym around the residence building. They all say how easy it is for students to sign up, how there are many services available, and how you can even get a discounted session with a personal trainer. I thought, "Hey, this sounds great! I'm definitely going to keep in shape now!" and so I went. When I got there, however, I was confronted with blasting gangsta rap, a bunch of shaven headed, muscle-bound men with tattoos and cut-off tank tops, and a reception staff member who brusquely informed me that the gym has tons of "real" members, not just students, and so they don't cater to student needs. Students have to figure things out for themselves, the gym is just what you see, and there are personal trainer services available, but AT A COST. Heck, the guy even seemed to begrudge me my gym key tag. But, I signed up anyway, and I paid my $2, so in spite of the fact that the staff hate students and most of what they have are free weights and I was possibly the only female there, I am going to the damn gym. After all, I come from the official Most Dangerous City in Canada. You can't scare me.

I also bought a bunch of exciting groceries for my fridge. I should be eating quite well now.


I got up relatively early and set off to the university to enroll in my classes. By going straight to enrollment, I missed the International Student Welcome session at 11:00, but I met my first Sydney people in the lineup to enroll, so it was time well spent. I ended up chatting with a Masters student from Korea and an undergrad from China. The Masters student and I finished up about the same time, so we headed off to find the free BBQ being offered that day. After following a long lineup of students, we found it.

The student BBQs are quite interesting here. The food consists of a roasted sausage, ketchup or BBQ sauce, and a single piece of white bread. You roll the sausage in the bread with whatever sauce you're using. I have no idea whether this is standard Australian practice, or whether the university just can't spare the money for hot dog buns. Either way, the food is filling and good, and at this event we even got our choice of apples, oranges or pears included. My pear was delicious.

Anyway, at the BBQ we met two other Masters students- a girl from Micronesia studying Art Curatorship, and a boy from Malaysia studying Medical Physics. We all sat on the grass and chatted. It was really nice, and the first time I really felt like a part of the university. Then the Art Curator left and the Korean and Malaysian students and I decided to head down to see if we could join some day trips that the university had organized for international students. It turns out we couldn't because they had just informed everyone that morning that you needed to register the day before to be allowed to go on the trip. (Yeah, I know. I'm confused too.) But the Korean student wouldn't hear of us being left behind, and because he owns a car he offered to drive us down to the harbor area so we could join the tour as well. We all piled into his Volkswagen and headed to the sea, where we left the car in a parkade and made our way through downtown Sydney to the Circular Quay. 

My friends and I in downtown Sydney

Check out the shirtless businessman in the middle. It was a hot day!

The downtown area is very different from the suburbs. Everywhere you look there are enormous skyscrapers and men and women in business suits catching time for a cigarette or a snack from the fruit cart. I've never seen such tall buildings, even in Vancouver. I would hate to work in one. There are also lots of sculptures, museums and art galleries which I was dying to visit. We walked down a small, windy street lined with palm trees, and there we were- on the quay beside the ocean, with a fine view of the Harbor Bridge that locals apparently refer to as the Coat hanger.

Harbor Bridge. The little flags are where the bridge climb is.

Harbor Bridge aka the Coat hanger

Writers Walk plaque
The Quay is beautiful, and obviously touristy. There were lots of people wandering around taking photos, and there were many very expensive restaurants catering to them. Giant white cruise ships and smaller yellow and green ferries sat in the water. The Quay is home to the Writers Walk, a series of bronze plaques set into the pavement that give quotations and history about famous Australian authors, and authors who've written about Australia. I took photos of quite a few of them, although I only recognized a handful of names.

Sydney Opera House
Just as impressive when you see it live

The Opera House!
We saw the Opera House up close and climbed right up the steps! It is a beautiful building, and it looks much bigger from close up. We actually found and briefly joined the university tour group, then wandered away to explore the Customs House and the Royal Botanical Gardens before heading back to the car. The Gardens are gorgeous, and you'd need a whole day to really see everything. We turned back pretty quickly because the sun was absolutely blazing that day. My new friend drove us home and we decided to meet up again that night for the Welcome to Sydney party.

Scale model of Sydney under the Customs House floor

Rose garden at the Botanical Gardens

Someone told me this was hibiscus.
When I arrived home, I realized I had a sunburn. Not widespread, but quite deep on each shoulder where my messenger bag had rubbed off the sunscreen. Luckily I'd bought some aloe vera gel the day before, and I applied some to my shoulders and rested a bit before heading back out to the party.

The bar where the party was held was packed. I didn't see any of my new acquaintances. Instead I waited in vain for french fries that the bar was providing free to the hordes of hungry students (I never did get any, because every time the server brought out a new tray the cartons would be lifted off and eaten before he'd even put it down on the table), drank my free beer on an empty stomach (not a great idea), and was standing around wondering what to do on the patio when I was miraculously befriended by some Chinese Masters students studying Commerce. This was a very welcome change for me. I sat with them and met a lot of new people- a girl from Thailand, a boy from Vietnam and another boy from Japan. We had a great time chatting and taking photos together, and when I suggested dancing, they even came with me and we all spent some time on the packed dance floor. It was a lot of fun. Afterwards the Japanese student and I walked home together. There was a crazy full moon and I think I saw an owl fly overhead. Or maybe it was a bat. We had all exchanged facebook names and phone numbers, and I hope we stay in touch. They are such nice people- the friendliest I've met since I've been here. They even shared their french fries with me.

I got home around 10:30 or so, and dragged myself to bed.


I got up and felt sick. Well, nauseous anyway. This was not good, since it was the first day of O-Week and there were going to be all kinds of fun events happening at the university campus. Amusement park rides, concerts, food, and all the clubs and societies' information booths. I went back to bed for a while, then finally got up and showered. I still felt sick. Darn that beer. I should have had some water before sleeping. I couldn't eat. I nursed a cup of chamomile tea and read more of Jack Maggs until my stomach had settled a little. What a great book. Anyway, finally I left home resolved to attend the Evangelical Union's free BBQ if nothing else. I arrived just in time, but at first I couldn't find the venue. The campus was transformed into a sea of colorful tents and students walking impossibly slowly through them getting freebies and information. By the time I had found someone to ask directions of and she had kindly led me to the place, my stomach was better and I was feeling weak with hunger. As a result, I didn't really meet anyone at the BBQ. I was too busy devouring white bread, ketchup and sausage so I wouldn't pass out.

When I had recovered, I started walking up and down the avenues of booths, getting information about all the societies and signing up for way too many mailing lists. It was tons of fun listening to each group make its sales pitch and then getting a candy or brochure. I love information fairs. I signed up for the Humanitarian Program, the Wilderness Society, several Socialist groups and the Women's Collective as well as a bunch of others. I briefly ran into some of my new friends, too, but they were headed back down the avenue I'd just come from and I was headed away. I offered to meet them at the band shell area afterwards, and continued on my way. Finally I sat down under the band shell tent to watch some performances by the Recreational Circus Arts Society and the Queer Revue. While I was there I noticed a young guy sitting nearby and decided to practice my small talk skills by engaging him in conversation.

And that's how I met my first Australian person. The guy was fun to talk to, and we ended up wandering around the fair before retiring to the International Student Lounge to get tea and chat. The Lounge is great- it has air conditioning, it has beanbags, and it is where many people go to sleep in-between classes (his words). We had a lot in common, decided to go to a comedy festival together and then I found out he was five years younger than me and we parted, both with the sense that we'd met the wrong sort of person unintentionally.

That night I talked with my family on the phone and then talked with a friend on Skype. It's great to have that connection. I really enjoy it. I also finally did some laundry and discovered that the last person who used the washer must have washed something extremely fuzzy. My clothes are now covered in fluff.


Today I got up and headed to the university to finish signing up for clubs. I really have joined way too many. Today however I narrowed my focus to subjects that I find interesting, and clubs you have to pay for. There are many clubs with membership fees, and I budgeted $25 for them. Today I joined the Japanese Culture Club (they gave me a prize for being the first to sign up that day- I now have a chocolate lollipop mold!!), the Tea Society, the Bocce Society and my personal favorite- Darcy Soc- a club for people who like Jane Austen and period drama.

Tee hee hee.

I'm sorry, but it's my favorite. I can't contain my glee at the idea behind this eccentric club. They have all these banners with Colin Firth's head on them, their newsletter is called "Alas!", they have membership cards reading "Tolerable- but not handsome enough to tempt me," and they have posters with a picture of Oscar Wilde and the words "What Would Oscar Do?" I don't even care what the club does, I already love it. Apparently they're fans of Dickens as well. They have high teas and book clubs and who knows what else. BEST CLUB EVER.

Then, to complete my euphoria, I got to eat a cupcake I decorated myself and drink tea and cookies provided by the above-mentioned club while watching a demonstration of live Quidditch by- you guessed correctly- the Quidditch Society.

Live Quidditch is very interesting. It's like handball, except that everyone goes around riding sticks, leaving only one hand free for catching or throwing the balls. The Snitch is apparently a little skinny guy with a yellow pinny and wings. All I've seen him do so far is run away. I don't know who catches him. Everyone else is busy colliding with each other and/or trying to score goals. They use hoops just like in the films. It's great. After the first game, they invited members of the audience to try playing. I didn't play, but I took quite a few photos of the resulting chaos.

After this incredibly fun time, I took a ride on the Scrambler on the front lawn and walked back home so I could try to pick up my bank card. It turns out it hasn't arrived yet, but I did deposit $10 into my account so I can get a statement printed tomorrow. And with a bank statement, I can buy a prepaid mobile phone.

I also attended to some health business of mine, and bought milk and rice cakes made out of corn and flavored with cheese (!?). They were on sale, and made a good cheap snack.

Finally I headed back down to campus for the Postgraduate Welcome Session. The Session was held in the Great Hall, a really beautiful building that looks like a medieval cathedral and has secular stained glass windows depicting various kings, queens and scholars. The ceiling is arched, and where each arch reaches the ceiling there is a life-size stone angel with a golden crown. It's really amazing. I was one of the first to arrive in my program, and luckily they let me register at the door so I could attend, even though I'd missed the registration deadline.

There was champagne, there were speeches by the Dean and dignitaries, and I finally got to meet my colleagues and professors. It was good, and got better and better. I did find out I have to switch up my schedule a bit, but hey- I can go anywhere in the world for an internship, so long as I pay the travel cost. My professor said North America would be a good option for me with my background. I hope that doesn't mean she wants to send me home. I couldn't afford the airfare, anyway.

We ate little bits of gourmet food, drank wine (not me. I'd learned my lesson) and talked. I eventually fell into conversation with the Art Curatorship students, and we started discussing perceptions of Canada and the U.S. and Australia. One of them became quite friendly with me and invited me to her house near the Blue Mountains for a bushwalk sometime. We walked back home together. She's a great person. I might just go for that bushwalk sometime.

Anyway, buoyed up by these positive things, I wanted to talk to someone, but it was too late in the evening for conversation with my Canada friends, so I decided to write it down here. I will include some pictures tomorrow.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013


I went to campus for the first time on Sunday. I had been hoping to ask about my enrollment and where my faculty was, but absolutely everything was closed, even the library. I had been hoping to explore the library a little bit because I only have one book here (the wonderful Jack Maggs) and I get panicky when I think I might run out of things to read. That's all right. There are two bookstores nearby, not including the one in the mall, and if I am willing to splurge I can find other literature.

Victoria Park

Lodge at Victoria Park

The campus being closed down was not a huge loss, as I got to take photos of the lawn, the buildings, and nearby Victoria Park. Victoria Park is attached to the university campus, and leaving my residence building it is the first thing you see when you walk down to the crosswalk (crosswalks do exist here! They even have push button signals like we do at home!). It is a beautiful big grassy space with avenues of ancient gnarled Australian trees, a large pond with ducks and a bridge over it, a fenced area with an Olympic-sized swimming pool, picturesque stone lodges, and many paved trails. Every time I go through I see lots of people lolling on the grass, talking, eating, jogging or cycling.

The front of the University of Sydney

University Grounds

Inside the Quadrangle-lawns

More lawns

The flag

Stained glass windows in the Great Hall

Then I came to the university itself. My geesh, it is wonderful. When I describe it, I have to keep saying the word "gorgeous" over and over. Because that's what it is. The buildings are made of sandstone and built in an imposing Victorian style. They have carvings and gargoyles and stained glass windows like a cathedral. Inside the main arch are two bronze war memorials. It's like being at Oxford. The lawns are lined by shady trees, there are fountains and sculptures, and the architecture is amazing. I am so glad I am attending! It's such a beautiful campus that I wish I'd spent my undergrad here too!

Unidentified bird

Cockatoo in the Park

Australian ibises

A White Ibis up close

And to encourage my interest in birdwatching, there are some amazing exotic birds both in the park and on-campus. White and yellow cockatoos screeching and performing acrobatics in the trees, all kinds of ducks, small birds that look like finches, these grounded black and white birds that are Australian White Ibises and look like ancient Egyptian paintings, and I think I even saw a swan!

It's amazing here! I think I'm going to enjoy my studies...

A Tour of My Room

Because I haven't posted many photos of it yet, here is a short tour of my room.

Beside the door, my dining chair and table
My wardrobe and staircase leading to the loft


"Salon-style" bathroom doors. At first I thought it was a closet. No lock.

My bathroom

The shower

My favorite part of the flat is the living room, with my armchair, TV, big windows and desk.

The loft portion. Note the large Beam intersecting the room. It is at shoulder-level, so I have to duck around it a lot.

The air conditioner in the loft
My bed with matching bedclothes. I am may need another blanket soon, since the quilt is very lightweight.

So, now you know where I live! I keep thinking that the empty side of the loft would make a great yoga studio, but then I realize that I don't know yoga.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

First Day in Sydney

My first full day in Sydney, it poured rain all day long. The water was coming down in curtains that made it hard to see, then it would subside to a drizzle, then curtains again. I saw on the news last night that the city was actually hit by a superstorm that day. Many homes were damaged by the wind and rain. Also, in the middle of the night I woke up to thunder and lightning.
My view of the street on the first day

Bilbo stands against the rain
I had planned to walk to the university campus, but I decided to stay in until the weather improved. I set up my internet connection using a company called Big Air. The process was actually quite easy. What a relief to have a reliable means of communication again! I have never been so happy to have Facebook. It keeps me feeling connected to everyone even when I'm far away.

While I waited, I took some photos of my room and made my next shopping list. I went out and bought groceries and my bedding and towels the night before, but I keep realizing that there are more things I need to get. Setting up an apartment seems to require a lot of shopping. I've been buying stuff that I never would have thought about at home. Toilet paper and laundry detergent and cleaning rags amongst other things.

The rain eased up around noon, and I headed out to buy stuff and maybe try to set up an Australian bank account. There's a giant mall across the street with everything you can think of in it, and the Kmart and I have become fast friends. When I got there, however, I found out that the banks are closed on weekends, so I did more household shopping for myself. The stores were a zoo of students preparing for school. It was very busy and uncomfortable. People seem to walk in front of you or block you into aisles a lot, and no one apologizes to each other. One or two people said "excuse me." Is this a cultural difference in retail behavior between Australia and Canada, or was it just the rush of last-minute shopping in a big city? Anyway, I brought back saucepans, an electric kettle, utensils, dish towels, cleaning products, a microwave-safe container, a tea mug, a veggie peeler, a can opener and a frying pan. I should be set up to cook now.

Around four I talked with my family on the phone for a long time. It was wonderful to hear from them. It makes me feel less lonely. Afterwards I had supper and watched some Australian TV, including a rugby match between Leeds and Melbourne teams. I went out and explored the residence building a bit, locating the laundry rooms, rooftop, garbage room, gym, and mailroom.
The rooftop barbecue area. The AstroTurf  is swimming in water.

An unusual bird

An amazing sight! While I was wading around on the rooftop in inch-deep water, I heard some unusual bird calls. I looked, and there were two black birds ducking and swooping around the roof area. Their calls were human-like. I took a few photos, and when I looked it up later I found out they were Indian Mynah birds! I've never seen a Mynah bird outside a pet shop. Apparently they were introduced to Australia once and now they scavenge around cities. I will probably become a birdwatcher here, since Australian birds are so cool and different from the ones I know.

I also did my all-important room inspection with the forms the staff had given me. Much of the room's wear and tear is already recorded, so the staff won't think I did it. I did add notes to a few places. When that was done, I headed out to explore the neighborhood. It was still drizzling, but it felt great to be outside. There are lots of little cafes and pubs nearby, but all of them are too expensive for my budget. I did find a beautiful big bookstore with an upstairs level, and right next door is a used bookstore with a cafe in the back. I wanted to buy an old bird identification guide there, but it was $14 and I didn't want to spend the money. Moving on, I saw a sign reading "Just's Art Exhibit Opening" leading to an open doorway and a flight of steps. I wandered in and saw that it was indeed an art exhibit put on by some kind of church youth group. The art was secular and very good. I stayed to look, then left again.

After these adventures I headed back to the residence and hit the hay. I think I actually may be jet-lagged, because I fell asleep before I'd turned the lights out.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Moving Into UniLodge

Hello friends and family!

After a long series of airplane trips, I made it to Sydney, Australia. The last flight through Air New Zealand was great. They were quick and efficient, the seating was comfortable (something that was definitely missing from the overnight flight) and the food was amazing! We had salmon, mashed potatoes and peas for lunch with a macaroni salad and creamy cookie ice cream for dessert. They gave the passengers water as well as their complimentary drinks, they provided headsets, pillows and blankets for free, and before landing they even gave us hard candy to help our ears deal with the pressure changes. Kudos to them!

Lord of the Rings is a huge draw in New Zealand, and the airport has created this section of Moria-like Dwarven columns complete with epic choral music for Middle-earth fans.

Bilbo finally arrives at Auckland Airport

Morning at Auckland Airport.

I arrived at the airport and lined up for customs. We were told to be very careful about bringing in food or animal products, and any airplane food had to be left behind. Australia is very concerned about invasive species, and we even had to declare any soil on our shoes. When it was my turn, I declared the pasta, instant noodles and tea I'd brought. I mentioned the chocolate too, but apparently that doesn't count.

Our baggage came right away and we passed into the bright and pretty Arrivals section of the airport, which looks like it's worth exploring. I should have looked for a pay phone, but I was feeling sweaty and tired and I desperately wanted to get to my lodging, so I went past that section and went outside to find the taxi queue. 

Taxi area at Sydney International Airport

The balmy air hit me like a wave outside. The temperature was 26 degrees and it was very humid. A taxi driver helped me load up my stuff and we set off at an incredible pace through the highways and heavy traffic in Sydney. On the way I chatted with the driver a bit, and he told me that Sydney is becoming a very expensive place because of all the immigration and new development. We saw many condos being built. It reminded me of Vancouver, except not as neat-looking. There were quite a few empty warehouses and businesses covered with graffiti and soot, then there were incredible strips of green with beautiful trees and new buildings. They seem to exist side-by-side.

The driver pointed out the University of Sydney campus, which is just across the street from UniLodge and probably only a few minutes walk through absolutely beautiful parkland with palm trees and shady lawns. I saw a lot of students relaxing on the grass and I asked about poisonous spiders. There are some apparently, and also ants. I will have to be careful when I sit there.

We got to the residence and Google Earth does not do it justice. It is older, but the ground floor is gorgeous black glass and it reminds me of a hotel. The lobby is huge and again is very like a hotel, with armchairs, coffee tables and several elevators near the reception desk. Everything is well-kept. The staff at the desk were helpful and gave me the forms I needed as well as answering my initial questions. They accepted my bank cheque for the first two weeks' rent (hurray!) and gave me a trolley to bring my stuff to my room, which is in the far corner of the fourth floor.

Wardrobe and staircase in my room

My kitchenette after shopping
My room is empty of personal effects of course, but it is very nice with the same spiral staircase I saw in the online picture, a kitchenette that is larger than I first thought and a tiny living room with tall windows and a flat-screen TV. I also have a wardrobe, a small table and chair and a small armchair. The bathroom has doors like a closet and is covered with industrial tile, but it has a low-flush toilet and a shower curtain.

My bedroom is nice and roomy, with a low ceiling. There is a giant beam running along the length of the room overhead so you have to duck to get around it. I have put my alarm clock on it. There is no furniture except for the bed, and the weirdest thing is, the bed is on wheels and rolls around a lot when you get into it. I have to try not to move too much, or else my bed will go shooting across the room. It has potential as a ride, I think. 

The Beam across my bedroom

Next comes the hassle. I was told that phone cards were available in the shopping mall across the street. I went and bought one, only to be unable to use it in my room. I went downstairs and asked for help. I tried again. I went downstairs and bought a different card from a shop the counter staff indicated. It didn't work and I had to go back to the counter staff. After several more trips I was exasperated and worried that Mom would be freaking out because I hadn't phoned. Finally however one of the reception staff came with me to my room and helped me figure out the card. She seems very nice, and I am incredibly grateful to her for actually taking the time to help me.

Sydney seems like a beautiful city. There are lots of big trees everywhere, some of which are gum trees, and the buildings are really big. There are many old townhouses painted in bright colors sporting Victorian-era wrought iron. From my windows, I can see a new apartment building, a tree-lined avenue, an old stone bank and some tall buildings with businesses in them. There is also a red brick building that looks like a church which has a rooftop garden on it.

Anyway, I went shopping that night and bought all the stuff for my bed from Kmart (saving about $40 by not buying it from the residence), plus some towels, dish soap and food. It took a long time to make up my bed, so I ended up having my granola for supper late while watching Star Trek Voyager. (I have yet to find an Australian program on the TV.) Then I went to bed listening to all the noisy activity of a big city on Friday night. Good thing I have earplugs!