Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Month of Five Figures

Figure One
So I am now officially finished my first semester. That means that I am halfway-through the year! It happened so fast that I'm reeling. And since my first week of freedom is nearly over and I am mostly recovered from the dragging bone-tiredness that was causing me to fall asleep when my inaccurate microwave clock registered 9:37 pm(meaning it was only 8:37), I will attempt to write a quick catch-up post.

Of course, there is no way I can record everything that happened in one post, so I won't try. Let's just say there was a lot. Some spine-tingling migraines, endless bus journeys, surprise, despair, hope, Party Mix, more despair, many episodes of The Block, thrills, a lot of essays. And quite a few museum visits. But now the semester is past and my winter is my own! Here's a brief summary of some things that I did.

1. I started an internship at the Mint building (Figure Two). See Figure One for a pic of me geeky as anything and raring to go on my second day.
Figure Two

Figure Three
2. I went to the Museum of Sydney with my friend for the first time. I loved it! The museum has a series of models of every ship in the First Fleet, and on an interpretive sign are the stories of each one. It was fascinating. There was also a small theatre with videos of various fictional historical characters telling their stories, and the display incorporated a neat technology where you could pair two videos and the characters would talk "to" each other. So for example, you could place a contemporary Sydney businessman with a convict laboring on the treadmill. I tried it. It was inappropriately hilarious. I think the businessman ended up trying to sell the convict real estate.

Figure Four

3. I went back to the Museum of Sydney and ended up writing a paper on the exhibition Public Sydney (Figure Four). I loved the exhibition. As soon as I went into the gallery, I felt that I recognized things. It did a wonderful job of presenting noticeable elements of the city. Although it could have used a few pigeons, it was a fantastic and creative display. So then I wrote my essay. In my opinion, it was my best essay yet. I was able to use my anthropological training to discuss identity and representation in some depth. I also counted every single person in the photos on display.

Figure Five
4. This is a set of lawn chairs placed outside on some AstroTurf by the museum. It was part of the exhibition, and tried to create a comfortable space for people to sit and enjoy public space. There was also a giant chess set. Ironically, a few feet away was a sign forbidding skateboarders from using the museum grounds for their own purposes. So as with any attempt to celebrate the public, "the public" doesn't include everyone. There are preferred publics, such as chess players. All of this was covered in my essay.

Anyway, it was a good semester. I have finally created the perfect vitamin cocktail to help me manage stress (the secret is Fish Oil!) and I have started collecting strange postcards once again to hang on my walls. So I guess things are going well.

A Note on Party Mix:

Some of you may be wondering what the mysterious substance known as Party Mix refers to. If you are unfamiliar with it, I should explain that Party Mix is a delectable mixture of gelatin-based candies (or lollies as they say in Australia) in different sizes, shapes, flavors and consistencies.

There are gummy bears, fruit jube jubes, milk bottles that taste like marshmallow, tiny fruity frogs, two-toned race cars, and blobs that don't really resemble anything but are brightly-colored and as delicious as everything else.

The mix comes in a small bag that smells heavenly when you open it. Every mixture is random, and the best part is that you can buy it for only one dollar!

Since I arrived here, I have become a Party Mix addict. Around the time of an essay, or a stressful day, or a bout of homesickness, I get cravings for it. And then I go out and devour an entire bag bit by bit, and am happy the rest of the night. One bag is all I need, since Party Mix is always completely satisfying.

(I do not promote or condone any form of addiction to food or other substances. Seek help if needed.)

I'll try to include a photo next time I buy some.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Bats, Musicals and the Miserable Month

Hello people!

I know. It's been a terribly long time since I've written. My first baby steps exploring Sydney have given way to a steady trot, albeit with much wheezing and panting along the way.

In the last month, I went to Royal National Park, started class, patted koalas, photographed wombats, worked on getting a museum internship, made friends, had sponge baths, attended a stand-up comedy night and a circus festival, hit new emotional highs and lows, and joined a gym. Oh, and I've also been to three of Sydney's major museums: the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Australian Museum and the Rocks Discovery Museum.

Koalas! Since I've come here, I've realized that I really love koalas. They are such cool animals. These two are mother and daughter.

Whhhhat, you say? I know it's confusing, but I really don't have time to explain. I'll try to reminisce as I go.

What I really wanted to say, though, it that things are now actually starting to get tough.

I've had three weeks of non-stop papers- one paper due per week for three weeks in a row. I am tired. What's more, I am starting to have serious doubts about my ability to continue with this program.

That old anxiety issue that's been eating at me for years? It's back, and more powerful than I've ever seen it before. There were a few days there where I wasn't sure I'd make it. I've had nightmares, headaches, stomach problems, unconscious nighttime jaw-clenching (I should really buy a mouth guard), moments of emotional paralysis and despair, and times of extreme exhaustion and forgetfulness. I actually had a scary experience a few weeks ago when I was on my way to school and suddenly couldn't remember where my classroom was. After ten minutes of distress and disorientation I happened to try the correct direction and just barely made it on time.

Of course, thanks to this sort of thing, I'm finding it nearly impossible to concentrate on writing papers, which makes me feel worse.

Anyway, to make things more interesting, I had a period of several days where my apartment had no hot water (that's where the sponge-bathing comes in), and a stretch of about a week and a half when my internet was not working. Of course, both happened to occur in the middle of my assignment-writing.

It was terrible. I spoke to the desk staff at UniLodge and they did take a look at the water. And after many desperate pleas on my part to BigAir, the internet connection was finally repaired.

Nevertheless, the whole experience has made me look into reducing my course load, although it looks like the process is extremely complex and difficult for international students.

Luckily, even during these dark days, I've had good people around me. My family has been listening and supporting me when they can, and so have a couple of friends from home. And I've been able to meet up with friends here at least once a week or so.

I've also been learning a little more about Sydney's bats. There are numerous families of bats in the parks in this area, and they are BIG. Some look almost a meter long. You can see them flying around at twilight. Sometimes they fly quite low over the roads. After a little research, I've figured out that they are actually fruit bats, aka flying foxes. 

And lucky me, I've had some great opportunities to see them. A while ago I went with some friends to a movie in Parramatta. The venue was outdoors on a riverbank, and during the film I actually got to see a bat swoop down and skim the river surface, drinking the water. They are such amazing animals. I love seeing them. I haven't got any photos of them yet, but I'll work on it.

My golden ticket

And... last weekend I went to see Les Miserables the musical!!! I went with a group of friends, most of whom I'd never met before. We saw the play in Chatswood at the Concourse Theatre after bonding over lunch. It was a dream come true to go see it. It was my first time seeing it as a stage musical, although thanks to my sister I am familiar with the songs and I have seen the films. It was incredible, and the singing was fantastic. What an exciting, moving, engaging show! The actors were all fantastic. We sat in the balcony section and had a pretty good view of the stage, which was mostly empty except for a large, tattered French flag as a backdrop. During the intermission the ushers went around handing out rolls of crepe streamers to select people, with the instructions to toss them over the balcony at the right time. And I got a streamer!

A nice collage that one of the other folks put together from our outing. I didn't take these. Check out the actors building a barricade, third picture down.

All the way through the second half, I was waiting anxiously for my cue and worrying about whether or not I'd be able to throw my streamer far enough to reach the stage. Then, at the end- perfection! Joy! As the cast assembled for the final song, the ushers threw, and then we all threw our streamers so that they were raining down on the stage, unraveling as they went in beautiful stripes of blue, white and red. My streamer flowed down beautifully and it made it all the way off the balcony. I was ridiculously proud, and I still am. After all, for that last scene, I participated in a small part of the show.

Friday, 8 March 2013

The Day of Three Spiders

The Powerhouse Museum, once I had found it
My 2nd photo essay.

Tuesday I went to campus to find my classroom, picked up my first reading package from the copy center, hung out at an EU club BBQ and played giant Jenga. My class today was in the Old Teachers' College building, a place I scoped out thoroughly. I also made the mistake of sitting on the grass on campus, which was very pleasant and relaxing but also allowed me to bring a spider home without realizing it. That afternoon I had a phone call from my family and in the evening I went to my first class, which was okay. We have to sit in rows, though, and that makes the class seem a lot bigger than it is.
Another shot of the museum. So nice!

Although it's hard to see, this is a green parrot with a  blue face that was sitting on my windowsill one morning. My preliminary research tells me it might be a lorikeet of some kind. You can see it has a blue head, red and yellow ring around its neck and a green body.
For some reason that day, I kept seeing spiders.
The first spider I saw that day, and the largest live one I've seen so far in Australia. This was about the size of my thumb, and I saw it on a web in Victoria Park. It was eating a dragonfly.

The second spider of the day, this was in the Old Teachers' College biology display. It's one of Australia's giant spiders- a Funnel Web Spider. It's about the size of a human palm.

This is the full display

One of the cool old-fashioned windows inside the Old Teachers' College

Hall inside the Old Teachers' College

Old Teachers' College exterior- Charlotte Bronte anyone?

A newer building on campus. I think it's the New Law Building.

My school with people!

It's still the height of summer here. This is a flower that was blooming on campus.

Another view of the pond in Victoria Park

Okay- it's really hard to see, but you see that dark spot on my Australia book? It's a jumping spider I discovered in my apartment that evening just before I had to go to class. In my apartment! I was terrified it might be a crazy deadly biting poisonous spider. I caught it in a glass and took it outside, but I  ended up being late to class.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

I think I'm going to play around with templates a bit. Because I am just starting school in a quirky yet respectable old university, I think the books are appropriate for now.

Pancakes On The Rocks

The rest of the weekend was actually enjoyable. I got a call from home at 7 am, before I'd even got out of bed yet, and I was quite grumpy and negative on the phone. (Sorry, folks!) But the rest of the day went well. I got some errands and chores done, including cleaning my kitchen and bathroom, doing laundry and course readings, and buying enough groceries for the week. My cupboards are full of food, and I was actually under-budget! Woo hoo! I'm going to try setting it to $25/ week now. I also bought myself some nice soft blankets, since I've been a bit cold at night lately. It was a great investment. That night I slept a lot better.

And I finished Jack Maggs, so I was officially out of novels. On Monday I had nothing to do for a good portion of the day, so I spent the morning finding my way to the Powerhouse Museum, which I was supposed to visit with my class later that week. The UniLodge staff members helped me figure out my route, and the walk itself was actually very pleasant and uneventful. It turns out that by passing through a lot of nice, shady neighborhoods with park benches and cafes, it's basically a straight shot to the museum, and it only takes 10 minutes or so. It was a beautiful day, and finally I found the building across from a nice little corner pie shop. The museum is housed in a big new building with interesting architecture. It's air conditioned, and the guards were very nice and let me use the washroom before I left again. The admission price is $8 for students, and because I was expecting a tour with my class, I didn't want to go through the museum yet.

On my way out, I decided to venture out to the area with Paddy's Market, just a block and a couple of ramps down from the museum. The market is apparently known for having good deals, and you see it advertised a lot. It's housed in a big brick building across from a monorail track. Unfortunately it was closed when I went, but I did wander into the big mall next door for a while. It was a nice mall, and they were having a bargain book sale on the first floor, allowing me to snag a new novel for quite a good price. Hurray for books that aren't $14! I also learned that that mall has a bunch of factory outlet stores on the 2nd level.

I was fairly hungry by then, so I went home and had lunch, then waited for my family to call (since I had been feeling quite low the previous day, I had asked them to call me again). We talked for a while, and then I left for the Postgraduate Welcome Event in McLaurin Hall.

That event turned out to be another highlight of my experience so far. After the addresses were over and we were mingling and eating the food, I ended up meeting the friendliest bunch of students I've met yet. Most were Masters students, but a few were PhD candidates, and they actually seemed to want to talk to me. In fact, we kept the conversation going so well that everyone was quite comfortable by the end of the event. I met 3 more UniLodge residents, one of whom is from Ontario, one of whom is Malaysian and the other who is from Mongolia! They are all extremely nice people. There was also a woman from Germany and another woman from Malaysia who both seem fantastic.

And I met my Art Curatorship acquaintance from the very first Welcome BBQ again. After the event ended she invited us to go for pancakes with her, and introduced us to her friends- a French student studying interior design and an American student from Virginia. We walked down to a restaurant called Pancakes On The Rocks which is in the Darling Harbour area. It's amazing! She was right- they must have the best pancakes in Sydney. And what a variety. You can order pancakes there with practically any kind of topping. Some pancakes are chocolate, and nearly all of them are served with a generous helping of vanilla ice cream. The portions are also fantastic- I could barely finish my delicious strawberry jam pancakes. Even the prices are good.

So, yeah. The restaurant was great, but even better was the conversation and congeniality. We had a fantastic time and ended up exchanging contact information and discussing doing all kinds of Sydney activities together, from seeing musicals to going to the beach. We talked and joked for two hours! It was late when we left. The American student thoughtfully gave us a ride back and my fellow UniLodger and I walked the last block home together. She's a super cool Linguistics student. I'm so happy to know people who live in my building!

It was a truly wonderful night, and even if we don't stay in touch I'll still have had an awesome experience. I'm a little cautious now about saying that I made friends, but I definitely met friendly people, and that made all the difference in my week.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Fear and Loathing in New South Wales

Thought I'd continue chronicling the rest of the week before moving on to other subjects. Here goes.


So I got up early and went to the Info Session for International Students at 9 am in more of Sydney's exceptionally wet pouring rain. I used my Reject Shop umbrella for the first time. It broke slightly, and eventually I got tired of fighting the wind turning it inside out, so I put it away and relied instead on my lovely new rain jacket, Dante. As usual, I had a hard time finding the session room, but a kind volunteer helped direct me and soon I was inside a tiered lecture theatre much like the ones at home. The room was crowded, and as the session started more and more and more bedraggled international students poured in until the aisles were lined with students unable to find seats.

There were a number of speakers who welcomed us to the university and gave us information about services for international students. There were two question and answer sessions and eventually the talks were really dragging on. There's only so long you can stay in a crowded steamy room with sodden clothes and a stranger alternately coughing and passing gas behind you. After a lot of fidgeting and talking amongst ourselves, the organizers let us go early. On the way out they gave us freebies, including a nice little nylon drawstring pack with the university logo on it and free U of S T-shirts. Woo! I love the T-shirt! My old school would never have been so generous. On the other hand, at my old school we didn't have to pay for buses or gym memberships, so I guess it evens out.

After the session I met a student while waiting for the campus tour to start, and she's Canadian! Turns out she lives in UniLodge too, on the same floor! What a coincidence! I was thrilled to meet her, and during the campus tour we chatted about our impressions of the university and city. It's strange, but talking to someone from my own country was like a experiencing a bit of home. There was an instant feeling of comfort and connection and... relief. Finally someone with the same accent, someone who wouldn't assume I was American when I spoke, who would understand my references to geography and weather and pop culture. What a joy it was not to feel shy when talking to someone. I can't overstate how happy it made me. I rattled on with her in a way I never would have if I'd met her in Canada. Somehow in my head "Canadian" meant instant friendship!

Anyway, we went on the tour and then I invited her to come to the Unimates BBQ with me. We finally found it after much searching, and it turned out that they had cancelled the BBQ due to the never-ending rain, so the club had relocated to a sheltered patio and were paying for people's cafeteria lunches. Mollified by the fact that for once I could order anything I wanted at a cafe, I got a somewhat dry tortellini and a cappuccino and went to sit with the others. I met a few people there. The treasurer of the club in particular was very funny and personable, though he did make fun of my program choice. When the lunch was over we headed to Hermann's Bar to see if the O-Week team was still running Giant Chess. They weren't. Everything had shut down early because of the rain, so I walked back to UniLodge with my new Canadian acquaintance, stopping on the way to find out how to change my classes.

After changing out of my damp clothes and hanging everything I could over my mezzanine railing to dry, I relaxed for a while and then headed back out to pick up my bank card. Unfortunately, it wasn't ready and they told me to come back on Tuesday. However, with their typical thoughtfulness and efficiency the ANZ staff did print me out a bank statement so that I could buy a mobile phone. And I got one! Strangely enough, I went to the post office to find it. The Sydney post offices have quite a wide array of merchandise in them (gift products, candy, toys, books, travel accessories and office equipment as well as stamps), plus a currency exchange and a mobile phone center. I bought a little Samsung prepaid model for about $50. I found a plan at the Optus store, so my little phone is now serviceable and can connect to the internet as well as text and phone. I took it home happily, then stayed up late watching movies on TV.


I had stayed up very late the night before and I'd also indulgently given myself the treat of not setting my alarm, so I woke up late. After getting cleaned up, I watched some TV and checked emails, and basically did nothing until my sister called me on Skype. It was so much fun talking to her! We had quite a long call. Then I did some reading, had supper, and decided to contact my new friend, who had told me that that night the famous Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras was happening in the downtown. Getting there was going to be tricky, but I'd asked the desk staff for directions and I was looking forward to the challenge of finding the street. I contacted her via Facebook and asked if she wanted to go. First she told me she wasn't leaving until later, and I said that I'd wait and we could meet up. Then she told me that she was already halfway there with a group of friends, and she'd forgotten to invite me.

Well, I can take a hint. I was crushed that my new friend who I had so much in common with didn't want to at least politely show me how to get to the parade. But I was determined to go anyway, and so I went, following my map and the large crowds of people heading down towards the harbour.

The parade was great! I really enjoyed the floats and the music and the costumes. I didn't enjoy the crowds. It was packed with people standing along the parade route and cramming onto balconies, park benches and step stools- anything they could stand on to see over the wall of people in front. To add to the obstructions, everyone had their iphones out and were holding them above their heads to record the parade. That's the kind of self-absorption that is enabled by mobile technology, I'm sorry to say.

I eventually found a spot on the curb where I could see a bit of the participants' heads. It was amazing. Every major political party was represented, plus non-profits, sports teams, the City of Sydney, and various churches (yes, churches!) and universities. It was great! I've never seen so much institutional support for LGBTQ people before. The parade concluded with two floats focused on the campaign for marriage rights for gays and lesbians. It was quite dramatic. Afterwards of course it was all a big drinking party with loud obnoxious young people acting stupid in the streets. It was a good thing there were so many police out.

The Mardi Gras, shortly before my camera battery died.

One of many drag queens in the parade. She didn't actually look this Halloweeny in person. Note the umbrella overhead.

Then came my ordeal. I started to follow the crowds going back, checking for landmarks and consulting my map when I could steal a moment safely away from the packed sidewalks. I made it fairly far, the crowds were starting to disperse, and then... I got lost. Twice. The streets all look the same at night, and drunken students were heading in every direction, so I couldn't even follow the general flow of the crowd. Three times I stopped and asked police officers for directions. Unfortunately, there were times when the streets that they pointed to curved back on themselves, joining other streets with new names or getting lost in overpasses and bus stations. It was frightening, especially as it got later at night and the other students started disappearing with their friends. I was lost downtown at night on the streets of a big city in another country, and I was no longer in a well-populated area.

Eventually I found my way back to familiar streets, but the experience was very discouraging. I was lucky. No one had robbed me or even made me uncomfortable. But thinking about the could-haves still scared me. And maybe it was unfair, but I couldn't shake the thought that if my "friend" had only let me accompany her, I wouldn't have gotten lost at all and overall it would have been a much better night. Being at home felt surreal and I went to bed hoping to feel more like myself in the morning.

Motley Folk, Battles and Wizard Sports

Juggler, courtesy of the Recreational Circus Arts Society. So cool!

Just a little photo-essay of Thursday at Orientation Week. It really was a fantastic day. Here's some of the stuff I saw during the day.

The main stage

Okay- you asked for it. This is live Quidditch.

Ravenclaws play Gryffindor. This is the starting lineup.

The fairgrounds at the university, where you can join all kinds of strange clubs.

Clubs from many lands, many with freebies

A live performance of The Jabberwocky, in keeping with the Alice in Wonderland theme. That puppet is amazing. To me it looks like an ibis.

Intense Quidditch game between Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff.

You can see the hoops at the edges of the fields.

My delicious tea and self-decorated cupcake, courtesy of the Tea Soc.

The musical theater soc performs a number from their upcoming show

Between performances, the White Rabbit, Alice, and the Mad Hatter relax. Well, maybe not the Hatter.

Not to be outdone, the Historical Anachronists pit a fully suited knight against an unarmored man with a lightsaber. (No, not really. I think it's meant to be a sword.)